Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nao Falo Portuguese

Recalling Lisbon is only strange because it seems like a dream. After my eighth hour on the bus from Sevilla, we crossed what looked like (in the dark) the San Francisco Bay, and I thought that I had magically bussed home. It was exciting and relieving until we entered the city, and I snapped out of it. At 10:00 PM I took on the Lisbon Metro system (which is incredibly clean, I should mention) and found myself in an incredibly perfect hostel for the night, being as they couldn´t recommend anywhere for me to buy food (Lisbon closes much earlier than Spain) and so they gave me a bowl of paella for free.

This is the hostel where I met the 5 Slovenians, though not so much met as heard. While unpacking in my room, I took a glance around at the remaining 5 beds. Boys, definitely boys. Then one entered in clothing limited to a towel. ¨Are you staying here?¨ I was asked, ¨Because we are five Slovenians.¨ Excellent. And what I learned? Slovenians drink a lot, and then come back to their lodgings singing loud Slovenian tunes at oh, four in the morning. Even theear plugs couldn´t drown out the revelrie. (Which, as a side note, is why I just couldn´t bring myself to book a bed in a 40 bed room in Munich, even if it was the cheapest thing.)

In Lisbon, I walked. I walked up and down the San-Francisco-esque streets (too late discovering that sometimes you could take shortcuts, like ducking into the Metro station to skip some particularly bad hills downtown. I went to a free museum at the top of the city where a man named Gulbenkian had spent his life collecting incredibly diverse pieces of global art (and you can walk end to end in an hour and a half!) I walked from the top of the city to the sea. I walked from the sea to the top of the Moorish district, and back down again.

Portugal is the half-brother of Spain that was unfortunately despised by its parents and locked in a closet for a couple hundred years. It is rustic, and it is ¨behind.¨ The buildings are all marked by a dripping conrete feeling, like the paint just can´t stand to be attached to buildings anymore. It feels just the tiniest bit like Havana, a bit smelly, a bit dirty, and the people cruise the streets oblivious to their slight disadvantage to the rest of the world. At least, this is what I saw.

I also saw a crazy possibly Russian man chase awful American tourist men who had supposedly taken pictures of Portuguese children and the Russian man was chasing them with a giant branch of peppers (?), calling them horrible things that I cannot bring myself to repeat here, eventually swinging his branch/sword at the horrible men and spraying dried peppers eveywhere, including on my lunch table.

There is a distinct type of music in Portugal called Fado, and Fado is about remembering and mourning the loss of the time in the past where prosperity and glory were to be had by the Portuguese peple, thought they will never have it again. I went with a hostel friend to listen to Fado in an incredibly crowded club (its poopular for tourists and locals alike), and though I couldn´t understand what they were saying, it was incredibly beautiful. An old man rose from the crowd and began to tell stories of Fado (in song, of course), and I nearly felt like I could understand, only from intonation and feeling. Portugal is stuck in the past, via their music, their streets, their clothing, their food, their traditions, but my God, do they love to tell the world about it.

In a park in Lisbon, in a part called Belem (the site where the Portuguese explorers set forth to colonize Brazil) another old man decided to piss me off. He told me it wasn´t safe to be alone in the park - in a park full of people, young old, families, groups of college students, etc. In the sunlight, surrounded by tourists. This was apparently not safe. He only spoke Portuguese, so I managed to tell him in Spanish (because he would not leave me alone until I answered his questions) that I was Teresa, from Madrid, I was having lunch alone because I got to have some time away from my family, who was staying in a hotel very close to the park and I would go see very soon. I´m getting better at explaining my fake self to awful old men.

I ate great food at one of my hostels in Lisbon, which had this great idea to serve cheap dinner right there at the hostel, just like being at home. And this is how I met a German girl and two young Australian girls. I say this because my ability to approach people I don´t knwo has greatly improved, especially girls. Exclusively girls. If I can´t speak the language, there is not a chance in Hell I will approach you if you are a man between 15 and 80. That´s just how the world works.

Oh yes, one more thing about Lisbon. They take great pride in a ¨Flea Market¨theyhold twice a week. It´s on the tourist map as a must see, so I set out with my German friend to go find it. The Lisbon flea market is this: a giant garage sale. At this garage sale, the good peddlers of Lisbon bring random crap they have sitting in their homes, like metal pipes, packaged toothbrushes, leather wallets, beaded jewelry, third or fourth hand books, underwear, pins, silverware, half-empty bottles of hairspray, and the like. It was terrific. It was like reading a book about Portugal in one experience. Here´s what we find valuable, here´s what we present to tourists, here´s what we possess as valuable. Here´s what we think of recycling, and so on and so forth. I liked Portugal for this reason: it wasn´t trying to impress anyone, ever, and thus, I didn´t have to either.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Gain in Spain, Part II

Free Walking Tours in Granada

"I got off the bus this morning wondering what place I had managed to travel to now. I am so happy I ended up in such a strange place, unlike anywhere I have ever been before."

It was 8:00 AM when I arrived in Granada, a place I decided to go to only because people had thrown the name around and I happened to like its description in my guide book. The train station was dirty. I went to the information counter to ask where to get the No. 3 bus, which would take me near my hostel - apparently, there were no buses. No buses? Yeah, okay. I poked my nose outside and took a good look around. Up the street were at least three buses lined up. No buses.

My room wouldn't be ready until 12:30 PM, said the slightly snippy hostel man, but I didn't care. I was certainly in the coolest spot in the city, up steep stone streets, through alleyways that smelled like incense and leather, so I took a free walking tour led by an Australian hippie with a feathered hat. He took us to gardens,views, told us history, inside an old bathhouse, etc. - though I found out unsurprisingly at the end that it wasn't free...(I only had 4 euros, sorry OZ!) By that time, I was exhausted. I passed out in my bed at 1:30 and didn't live again until 5.

I woke up to find everything amazing. I made a friend just by waking up at an abnormal time in my bed (Have you been sleeping this whole time?!) I walked down the street to a Moroccan restaurant and treated myself to a three course veggie meal (because boy do the Spanish like their meat and bread.)

The restaurant had awful service. I wasn't surprised, because I have been to zero restaurants on my trip so far with good service, except for the pub I ate fish and chips at in London (but besides her cheery attitude, all she did was bring a plate to my table.) You can't even transition from course to course without having to flag someone down and point out verbally and physically that you are hungry and now finished. And of course, water is not free. Its not free and it's expensive. Well shoot. But this restaurant peaked my interest because of an old man sitting in a corner at a RESERVED table. After about an hour, four men ran into the restaurant and carried the old man, who had either had a heart attack or heat stroke or a stroke stroke out into the street. It didn't make sense until I realized that ambulances can't drive in the Albaicin. I hope he's okay.

Two Scandinavians named Hanna and a German named Jutta later, I was conversing in international style. Add several bottles of 1 euro wine and it became even better. Girls are not usually my forte, but apparently I'm not as bad as I thought at making friends.

I spent a day at the Alhambra, the famous (perhaps one of the very most famous) Moorish palace in Granada. It was nearly a tourist trap. I waited 3 hours to get in. I paid 12 euro for my ticket. I walked in and unless you shelled out another 4 euro, you had absolutely no explanation of what anything was, so I made it up. "If this was my garden, I would have had my harem women sit with their legs exposed in this fountain.." etc. and so forth. I did this for two hours until I was finally allowed to go into the real palace (the rest was all military fluff and summer houses), which was okay. But to be honest, the Alhambra is much more beautiful as a view from afar.

It wasn't hard to leave Granada. I'm not exactly sure why I didn't stay longer in a place I loved except that instinct told me not to. This instinct has continued to guide me even to today.

Learning Park Etiquette in Sevilla

Sevilla is a college town. And the college is inside of an old cigar factory, so you know it has to be good. Sevilla also has no known maps that accurately show where streets lead in the old city, so you know there's bound to be trouble. This is why I ended up in a dark unknown plaza with nothing to defend myself but a bag of bread and brie, but also how I got to use some guts and Spanish to ask a nice looking woman to find me on the map.

Getting lost was the fun part, especially in the daylight. Streets wind in and out of plazas filled with people drinking beers in front of their neighborhood church at dusk. Each street has a different tiling/flooring, and all tourists love to peek into open doors leading to gardened courtyards in the middle of these charming apartments. White lofted tents cover the shopping district streets to shade teenage consumers. I (finally) found a bookstore where I could get something English to read - at the end of the day, I do not want to translate my literature for fun. The bookstore was the top floor of a music/movie store, and I bought a Call of the Wild/White Fang combo. Some people will know why that is.

Sevilla didn't do it for me people wise, especially not for old people. One evening I set off to find the Plaza de Espana, which was the MOST impressive building/fountain combo I have seen so far on my trip. I took some photos for some tourists and then went on my way, only to find an equally as impressive park with tropical plants and beautiful fountains. I was having the most wonderful time when an old man asks me for directions to a part of the park. I say, sorry, I don't know, I've never been here before. He proceeds to spend the next five minutes trying to walk with me, hold my hand, and give me a hug. Of course, this old bastard was A) a pervert and B) probably trying to rob me since he kept asking if I was going to take a picture of this or that (like this non-functional waterfall filled with garbage. Beautiful.) Luckily, much scolding in English and Spanish, some physical pushing and some quick walk/running later, I was happily on my way and possessing a whole new set of tools for fending off bad old men. Steer clear of bad old men.

Needless to say, I left Sevilla the next day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No Rain in Spain, Part I

I Ate Black Paella in Barcelona

In Barcelona, I learned to spend money. Boy, did I learn to spend money. On food...on paella. Tyler and I managed to eat every paella in sight, as well as buy a lot of beers.

In Barcelona I also remembered that I can speak Spanish. Stepping off the plane in Girona (Thanks RyanAir, for dropping me off in an airport an hour away from Barcelona...) it became immediately necessary to gear up for something different. I needed my language skills to buy a 12 euro bus ticket to the city.

Arriving at my first hostel was incredible. First, it was probably about 90 degrees, and humid. I walked about 6 blocks and navigated two subway lines to get to downtown. But the hostel was in the middle of everything. From the roof you could see nearly everything of tourist importance. From inside, things were a bit chaotic. 6 floors of partying foreigners. In my room was a sterile mix of men and women, including an incredibly benign and hard to shake-off Kiwi named...Jamie...yes, that was it. To ask any questions at the front desk was impossible, because there were just so many people, so Tyler and I just took to walking. I embraced it because I knew I couldn't quite do the wandering-until-lost thing by myself as confidently. We saw the crazy street performers on La Rambla, bar crawled, went to a great underground museum, etc. etc. And of course we ate. We swapped hostels on the third night to a down-to-earth hostel/apartment in a residential neighborhood - still one of my best decisions on this trip.

We took the bus to Parque Guell. Do you ever have moments when you don't think about anything except how happy you are? That was Parque Guell. (Of course, this was after I waited to use a park bathroom for 20 minutes. It was in a cave.) From the top of the park you could see the entire city, and the Mediterranean. You could appreciate the uncreative city planning that made completely straight streets in all directions, cutting the city with knives like urban butter. This is the park that is famous for Gaudi's mosaic lizards. But better than the mosaic lizards was sitting on the stone sidewalk listening to a busker play guitar in a cave for over an hour. And that was when everything was just perfect.

My last day in Barcelona (I spent 5-6) I was on my own. This gave me an opportunity to catch up on my journal writing. It was a bit pathetic though, being as I tried to go to the beach,got to the beach, realized I couldn't leave my backpack on the sand, sat on the hot sand, knew I would get burnt, couldn't find shade, and eventually ended up eating crusty bread in a planter box (not on, in), which was under a tiny tree giving the only free shade I could find. Crazy tourist...

Night Train

I took a night train to get out of Barcelona. I arrived at the station an hour and a half early, like for a flight but of course this was unnecessary. Here I gained the ability to sit for incredibly long periods of time doing absolutely nothing, including looking at the clock. Boarding the train was laughable. My backpack didn't fit through the aisles (I'm guessing obese people don't either) so I had to plow through, dragging on either side. The cabins weren't numbered well, so this created international chaos - to add to this, hardly anyone spoke the same language.

My room was me, an Australian, a Japanese, and an old Spanish woman. It was incredible. I felt like I was in a bad smelling movie. From my top bunk I could almost touch the other wall (across the other bunk). The Spanish woman liked me because I could speak Spanish and therefore was her only company (she spoke no English), so she gave me half her sandwich (which was delicious) and a nectarine, which I somehow lost.

** Yes, this was written in the same day as before. I'm catching up for three weeks of neglect.

The Very Beginning

You probably want to know what I've been doing. Let me begin by saying three things:

1. I am very fortunate to be where I am.
2. My grandma, grandpa and uncle sit in the outer flap of my purse at all times.
3. I have no idea why I'm here.

I've spent more than three weeks now dipping my toes in the water of independence. Independence from what? From papers, from the grips of reality television (Dating in the Dark, I miss you so much...) from bills, from rage. I somehow managed to trade in everything and put the most important bits in two red backpacks.

So far, I haven't managed to lose anything. Two pairs of pants two skirts, 4 sock pairs, 6 underwears (underwears?), four pairs of shoes - at least one of which will not be coming home. An arsenal of over the counter drugs, a makeup case, a charger case, a sleep sack, and I suppose I did bring some shirts...etc. What have I bought? Unfortunately nothing for you so far. I bought a shirt at a Portuguese flea market and two light paperback books. Now you know what I've been up to.

But the very beginning?

I got on a plane. You know all of those times when you sit in your solo plane seat (which I manage to do even when traveling with family) and all of the good looking young people walk straight past you and sit in the seat behind you? Well, the gods of flight spared me, because the best looking British gentleman in the airport plopped down right next to me. This was unfortunately unfortunate because I spent most of the flight running my mouth with nervous chat or sleeping with my mouth open. But I took this as a good sign, that I didn't sit with anyone smelly or with awful teeth picking habits.

In London, the woman at Immigration grilled me about my plans. It just wasn't going to fly with her, to say "I have a one way ticket and I have no idea when I am going to leave." So I made up a story...that I had a flight out of Europe on October 29th (giving myself a month buffer from my real kicked-out date.) I started to worry that I really did have no plan.

On the Tube I took up three human spaces with my backpacks. I arrived at my hostel. My room was eight bunkbeds with funky orange-red curtains and equally funky thin carpet. It was exactly like Girl Scout camp, except I missed my friends, though I did make some new ones.

The following are excerpts from my journaling about London, England:

"One of the best parts of traveling alone is that I have no one to yell at when I get hungry - this leads me to believe that I probably had a choice all along..."

"Already I have had conversations with several people I probably never would have talked to - Iranian woman outside of St. Paul's, awful and angry drunk North Irish guy, and the Canadian/Asian girl who claimed she would eat anything and then said no to Chinese food, fish and chips, vegetarian food, lamb curry, etc." PS - that was hilarious.

I kept walking past things I maybe should have seen. I took a photo of the tower of London and then walked away. I walked around the free parts of the Globe Theatre (ie. the gift shop) and then walked away. Parliament, schmarliament. Buckingham Palace, biggest disappointment ever (you call that a palace?). I did pay to go into Westminster Abbey - best 12 pounds I spent in those four days. I mean, I stood 3 feet from Queen Elizabeth I. The free audio tour wasn't bad either.

What I really did in London was start to figure out how to be alone. How to see a museum alone, how to eat lunch alone, how to approach a new group of people alone. I got a good nose-ring hold on my instincts - like saying no to the white Hawaiian pothead when he asked me to go see a free anarchaistic "cabaret" show in an unknown district of London. No thanks, kid, you give me the creeps. Went to Notting Hill Carnival alone, only to find that it was like Picnic Day on international steroids, being held in a swanky neighborhood where adults with babies in front-carriers jumped up and down to techno music while spraying beer everywhere and then peeing on someone's formally nice porch.

I decided to meet Tyler in Barcelona,and of course, almost missed my flight. Almost had a heart attack on the bus to airport, because the bus driver was so slow I almost missed my flight. Almost had another heart attack running with my backpack to the terminal, and then another one when a man with giant poles slung over his back turned and decked me in the nose (to which his elderly mother said to me "You shouldn't have been standing so close!") And thus, the beginning ended.