Spring break part one: Impressions of Portugal

The week before we left was literally jam-packed with last-ditch efforts to finish up schoolwork before our two-week spring break. I hadn’t had much time to plan things to do, or really think about the trip at all. So, when it finally hit me that I was about to take off again, this time to explore Spain and Portugal, I got excited. I felt like I used to, the night before the first day of school in first and second grades (and still?), jittery and restless — sleep was out of the question.

After staring at the walls of my dark bedroom for what seemed like ages, I decided to drop the act and just get up and do some very last-minute research on Portugal. The various slideshows I flipped through and articles I read really only made me realize just how little I knew about where I would jet off to in just a few short hours — turns out Portuguese is not much like Spanish — and I think that made me that much more excited. It was my first big adventure!

I’ve found that on my most recent trips, certain artists or albums have been on heavy rotation and have thus came to help define the tone of my trip. This time, I had just rediscovered two old favorites: Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise and Devendra Banhart’s Niño Rojo. So, my mood was relaxed and thoughtful as we rode to the airport, these songs creating my own little Portugal soundtrack.

The flight went fairly easy (read: I slept the whole way).

It wasn’t until we were all waiting in line at customs that it hit me: I was an outsider. Almost everyone that surrounded us had beautiful tanned skin and shiny black hair. They were speaking a language I couldn’t remotely understand and I felt them looking at us. I’ve traveled to countries that weren’t English speaking before, but I always had my family as a buffer. I wasn’t really faced with the challenge myself, I just kind of followed my dad around and let him do the talking. But here, I was struck with the feeling head-on and was conscious of my vulnerability in that moment.

To take a taxi to the hostel, all I could do was hand the driver a printed map that had the address of the hostel marked on it. We hoped for the best, and eventually made our way there (only after walking back and forth in front of it about five times, bags and all). It was located in a multi-level apartment building, and had only a very small sign to mark its presence.

When we made it up the stairs to the lobby, a frazzled man working the front desk told us that a whole rugby team was expected later that day. Rugby boys. Thirty-five of them! Taylor, Emily and I all raised an eyebrow.

The hostel itself was incredibly nice — hardwood floors and enviably comfortable beds. After we dropped off our stuff, we made a beeline for the beach and just sucked in the sweet sea air for a few minutes before going to grab a bite to eat. Much to our dismay, it wasn’t actually as warm as we thought (hoped?) it would be, so we had to return to our hostel to bundle up a bit more and cover up our too-soon exposed limbs.

We were sitting in the lobby trying to make a plan when we met a guy from Australia. When he learned that Taylor and I were from Missouri, he asked if we had seen a lot of tornadoes. He told us (honestly) that he had always wanted to travel to Kansas to chase tornadoes in a pickup truck. Isn’t that what you guys do over there? He asked.

After trying to set him straight for a few minutes, we walked out of the door into very first encounter with the rugby boys. “Hello wims!” they said to to us (no idea if that is good or bad or what). I nervously responded with some form of “hey” back, distorted by the excitement I was trying to conceal over living in such close proximity to so many athletic and handsome British boys. Needless to say, the three of us erupted into a fit of giggles as we went off in our opposite directions.

About the city of Lisbon itself: I think that Europe, in general, knows how to do a great city, and Lisbon is no exception to that. Walking around, there existed a palpable tension between open and closed spaces. One moment, we were walking though claustrophobic, winding streets stacked high with small apartment windows ornamented with clotheslines, flowerboxes and electric lines. Then, they would suddenly give way to an amazing open square with an elaborate fountain or a breathtaking view of the city, full of people buzzing about, socializing and living. This interplay made just walking a pleasurable experience for the senses — never boring.

The city seemed markedly poorer than other areas I’ve seen. Not devastatingly so, but it was noticeable. In contrast, colorful patterned tiles and brightly-colored paints decorated many of the buildings, and the people we met on the street often responded with a smile. So, even though it seemed as if a lot of the buildings had fallen into disrepair the mood stayed happy and bright.

After getting the lay of the land and feeding ourselves, we tried to call it an early night — without much success. The evening ritual began, innocently enough, with a shower. The rugby boys made their presence known once in the co-ed bathroom, where it seemed one was vomiting and about four others were looking on and cheering. I found myself confronted with the bulking, loud and rambunctious lot of them once again coming from the shower in my pink polka-dotted nightgown, my wet hair wrapped in a towel and the day’s makeup streaked below my eyes…Needless to say, I was no longer impressed and, I’m afraid, neither were they.

Meanwhile, Taylor got ousted from her bed multiple times that night by John from Norway who had also had too much too drink and was shuffling around their bunk searching for a missing lens from his glasses. I would just like to say now, to everyone out there, that this was our favorite hostel of the trip.

With the aid of my trusty earplugs, I was eventually able to sleep — even with the ever-present chorus of rugby boys hooting and Norwegian man thrashing about and shouting in foreign languages in his drunken stupor. Taylor wasn’t so lucky nor do I think she found it so amusing.

Day 2: our first full one in Portugal.

We decided to go on a free walking tour of the city, with handsome Gonçalo as our tour guide. He gave us the tour in English and Spanish, for a woman visiting from Madrid — here began the trend of most everyone knowing at least two languages and making us feel very inadequate. Afterwards, Emily was feeling sick, so Taylor and I grabbed some lunch and headed towards a large castle we saw up in the distance.

The castle was fabulous. I had a lot of fun imagining medieval people running around through the narrow passageways and stately courtyards. Our long, uphill walk was rewarded by some incredible views of the city.

We got back to the hostel later that night and squeezed into the lounge area stuffed with rugby boys to have a glass of wine and talk over the day. A girl from our room, Jasmine (from Sweden who studies in Madrid), asked us if we wanted to have dinner with her and her friends that night. We cooked pizzas together in the hostel kitchen and talked, after the owner of the hostel’s mother was done with the dinner she offered guests each night. Here, we got more precious Missouri impressions from abroad: One of her friends informed us that Missouri was the state with the lowest average IQ (still haven’t confirmed this to be true).

Jasmine is studying urban planning, and talked a lot about the issues she sees with city development (too many cars, not enough nice, green gathering spaces). I don’t know if it was the subject or her enthusiasm, but she definitely piqued my interest. If only I could have a million different careers…We really liked her, and Emily exchanged numbers with her so we could all try to meet up again once we got to Madrid.

Day 3: Sintra

Based on a few recommendations from tourists and locals, we decided to get an early start and day trip to Sintra, a small town about an hour’s train ride northwest of Lisbon.

Before exploring the town, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat in a little café across from the train station. Here, we met David who was from Boston, but was currently working in Madrid. He was our companion for the rest of the day.

Our first stop was the Pena National Palace, a dreamy edifice atop a hill overlooking Sintra. It was surrounded by Pena Park, a surreal paradise only appropriate for the extravagance of the castle it enveloped.

Next, we continued a few minutes down the hill to the Castelo dos Mouros, which we viewed only from the outside.

Then, we took the bus down the hill and back up another to the arabesque Monserrate Estate. It seemed almost modest after the Pena Palace, but yet so elaborate — all colorful tiles and mural-filled ceilings. Maybe the best part was how it was so perfectly perched atop a dreamy hill. We all left contemplating how we could raise enough money to buy the place…still working on that one.

The whole day passed much like a dream — a dream we quickly snapped out of as we miraculously caught the last bus down the (windy, bumpy) hill to catch our train back to Lisbon.

At dinner we decided we all wanted to try to see some Fado, the traditional music of Portugal. Lucky for us, soon after we set out on our mission, we happened upon some beautiful music emanating from behind a closed black door. We asked the bouncer at the door if we could go inside and in response, he motioned for us to be quiet — he would have to check. He disappeared inside as we all glanced at each other, unsure of what was going on. After a few minutes, he came out and ushered us in to the last table in the small and cozy room dining room of a hidden restaurant.

We sat at what he called “the artist’s table,” which was where the performers had stashed their belongings. We sat in their seats, their coats hanging on the back of our chairs. We ordered a pitcher of the best Sangria we’d ever had and settled in. A beautiful older woman was singing in a warm, deep tone that seemed to reach every corner of that room. Two guitarists accompanied her. Though we couldn’t understand the language, her emotion came through loud and clear — giving me chills. The patrons were still and hushed, moving only to take a sip of a drink or a drag of a cigarette. We sat amazed and happy with our Sangria as she performed a few songs.

Afterwards, the man who seemed to be the owner of the restaurant picked up the pace with a few lighthearted songs including “La Cucaracha,” dancing and goofing around the whole while and inviting everyone else to do the same. He started a string of other musicians hopping up from their chairs around the room to give it a go. Each one was seemingly better than the last and their sincerity talent really struck us all, I think.

We left fairly late (to our standards), but David was just getting ready to start the night. Despite his suggestion to go to a few other bars, we regretfully had to part ways. The next day, an early flight to Madrid awaited us. As we packed our bags that night, we wistfully regretted not budgeting more time for Lisbon. It was a great start to the trip.

Coming soon (promise): the tales of our adventures in Spain.

Teaser: it will include salsa dancing, lots of Picasso and an Italian man named Fabio.

2 thoughts on “Spring break part one: Impressions of Portugal

  1. Poems of Fernando Pessoa, Lisbon, Portugal, 1888 – 1935

    I have ideas and reasons,

    Know theories in all their parts,

    And never reach the heart.
    I contemplate the silent pond

    Whose water is stirred by a breeze.

    Am I thinking about everything,

    Or has everything forgotten me?

    Winged cavalcade of me riding over all things,
    Exploded cavalcade of me riding under all things,
    Winged and exploded cavalcade of me for the sake of all things . . .
    Alley-oop over the trees, alley-oop under ponds,
    Alley-oop into the walls, alley-oop against tree trunks,
    Alley-oop in the air, alley-oop in the wind, alley-oop on the beaches,
    With increasing, insistent, frenetic speed.
    Alley-oop alley-oop alley-oop alley-oop . . .

    Pantheistic cavalcade of me inside all things,
    Energetic cavalcade of me inside all energies,
    Cavalcade of me inside the coal that burns, inside the lamp that glows,
    Inside every kind of energy,
    Cavalcade of a thousand amperes,
    Explosive cavalcade, exploded like a bursting bomb,
    Cavalcade bursting in all directions at the same time,
    Cavalcade over space, a leap over time,
    Hurdling ion-electric horse, compressed solar system
    Inside the driving pistons, outside the turning flywheels.

    Inside the pistons I take the form of raging abstract speed,
    Acting by iron and motion, come-and-go, madness, pent-up rage,
    And on the rim of every flywheel I turn staggering hours,
    And the entire universe creaks, sizzles, and booms in me.

    Whoooooooosssssssshhhhh . . .
    Ever faster, the mind ever farther ahead of the body,
    Ahead even of the rushing idea of the propelled body,
    The mind behind ahead of the body, shadow, spark,
    Hey-a-whoooooo . . . Heyawhooooooo . . .

    All energy is the same and all nature is the same . . .
    The sap of tree sap is the same energy that turns
    Train wheels, streetcar wheels, the diesel engine’s flywheels,
    And a vehicle moved by mules or gasoline is moved by the same thing.

    Pantheistic rage of awesome feeling
    With all my senses fizzing and all my pores fuming
    That everything is but one speed, one energy, one divine line
    From and to itself, arrested and murmuring furies of mad speed . . .


    Hail, hurrah, long live the hurtling unity of all things!
    Hail, hurrah, long live the equality of all things soaring!
    Hail, hurrah, long live the the great machine the universe!
    Hail, because you – trees, machines, laws – are the same,
    Hail, because you – worms, pistons, abstract ideas – are the same,
    The same sap fills you, the same sap transforms you,
    You are the same thing, and the rest is outer and false,
    The rest, the static rest that remains in eyes that stop moving,
    But not in my combustion-engine nerves that run on heavy or light oil,
    Not in my all-machine, all-gear-system nerves,
    Not in my train, tram, car, steam-thresher nerves,
    Ship-engine, diesel-engine, semidiesel, Campbell nerves,
    100 percent steam-run, gas-run, oil-run, and electric-run nerves,
    Universal machine moved by belts of all momentums!
    Smash, train, against the buffer of the sidetrack!
    Ram, steamer, into the pier and split open!
    Dash, automobile driven by the madness of all the universe,
    Over the edge of every cliff
    And crash – bam! – into smithereens in the bottom of my heart!

    Straight at me, all projectile objects!
    Straight at me, all object directions!
    Straight at me, all objects too swift to be seen!
    Strike me, pierce me, pass right through me!
    It’s I who strike, who pierce, who pass through myself!
    The rage of all impetuses closes in a me-circle!

    Heya-whooooo my train, auto, airplane desires.
    Speed, force your way into all ideas,
    Collide into all dreams and shatter them,
    Scorch all humanitarian and useful ideals,
    Crush all normal and decent and harmonious feelings,
    Catch in the whirl of your heavy and dizzy flywheel,
    The bodies of all philosophies, the tatters of all poems,
    Shredding them till only you remain, an abstract flywheel in space,
    Metallic supreme lord and libido of Europe’s hour.

    Let’s go, may the cavalcade never end, not even in God!
    Let’s go even if I should fall behind the cavalcade, even if I must clutch
    The horse’s tail and be dragged, mangled, lacerated, lost
    In free fall, my body and soul behind my abstract yearning,
    My giddly yearning to transcend the universe,
    To leave God behind like a negligible milestone,
    To leave. . . . .

    My imagination hurts, I don’t know how, but that’s what hurts.
    The sun on high inside me is sinking.
    Dusk is starting to fall over the blue and in my nerves.
    Let’s go, cavalcade, who else will you turn me into?
    I, this swift, voracious glutton of abstract energy,
    Who wanted to eat, drink, claw and flay the world,
    I, who could only be satisfied by trampling the universe underfoot,
    Trampling, trampling, trampling until feeling nothing . . .
    I feel that all of what I wanted eluded what I imagined,
    That although I wanted everything, everything lacked.

    Cavalcade dismantled over all summits,
    Cavalcade dissolved underneath all wells,
    Cavalcade flight, cavalcade arrow, cavalcade flashing thought,
    Cavalcade I, cavalcade I, cavalcade universe-I.
    Heyawhoooooooo . . .

    My elastic being, a spring, a needle, a trembling . . .

    Like a uselessly full glass
    Which no one lifts from the table,
    My unsad heart overflows
    With a sorrow not its own.

    It acts out sorrowful dreams
    Just to have to feel them
    And thus be spared the grief
    It pretended to be dreading.

    Fiction on a stage not of boards
    Dressed up in tissue paper
    It mimics a dance of sorrows
    So that nothing will occur.

    All dawns are the dawn and are life.
    All auroras shine in the same place:
    Infinity . . .
    Every joy of every bird comes from the same throat,
    Every shiver of every leaf is from the same tree,
    And everyone who gets up early to go to work
    Goes from the same house to the same factory by the same road.

    I’ve visited more lands than I’ve set foot on,
    I’ve seen more landscapes than I’ve laid eyes on,
    I’ve experienced more sensations than all the ones I’ve felt,
    Because however much I felt I never felt enough,
    And life always pained me, it was always too little, and I was unhappy.

    At certain times of the day I remember this and am terrified,
    I think of what will remain of these snatches of life, of this exaltation,
    Of this winding road, of this car on the road’s shoulder, of this sign,
    Of this transfusion, of this evanescence, of this iridescent convergence,
    Of this disquietude at the bottom of every glass,
    Of this anxiety at the heart of every pleasure,
    Of this satiety anticipated in every teacup’s handle,
    Of this tiresome card game between the Cape of Good Hope and the Canaries.

    I’d like to be able to like liking.
    Just a second . . . Grab me a cigarette
    From the pack lying on the top of the nightstand.
    Go on . . . you were saying
    That in the development of metaphysics
    From Kant to Hagel
    Something was lost.
    I agree entirely.
    I really was listening.
    Nondum amabam et amare amabam – St Augustine.
    What odd associations of ideas we sometimes have!
    I’m tired of thinking about feeling anything else.
    Thanks. Excuse me while I light up. Go on. Hagel . . .
    Posted by Fernando Pessoa at 7:20 AM 0 comments

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