When Julia sees Palaces and meets The Dude

February 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the last chapter of my journey through Europe in 69 days, I was in Portugal, to be more precise in Lisbon. Anyways, Lisbon kind of grew on me by the end, when I wasn’t so terrified of being pickpocketed all the time, but what I really loved was Sintra.

Sintra is a tiny city about 30min from Lisbon (train departs every 15min from Entrecampos) and the trip is included for free on my LisboaCard thingy. It was pissing down the day I decided to go. After 5min on the street I was soaked and therefore I spent the rest of the day wet.

It was still raining in Sintra, possibly even more and the Palacio da Pena, which is up up in the hill was nowhere to be seen because of the fog. One would think this was 18th Century London. The bus to go up is €4.80 both ways and the helpful lady at the train station said it was better for me to walk to the National Palace and then from there take the bus.

So, I strolled down the cute little Sintra, balancing my glasses, my bag, my umbrella, my map and most of all holding the camera up so that it wouldn’t get wet. The walk was dreadful, but the place is amazing. It’s all very quaint.

As I got into the National Palace (used to be the Summer residence of the Portuguese monarchy back in the day). If you look for pictures of Sintra is that building with two big white cones on top. It’s lovely and warm and has beautiful blue tiles everywhere and the Galleon Room is astonishing and impressive. Also free with that beauty of the LisboaCard.

Sadly, by the time I had left it was still raining, even though I took an extra time in order to let the rain calm down. I went for a lunch (tea and toast as became my regular habit in Portugal) and happy surprise, the sun came out shyly and the rain stopped.

I quickly went out and got the bus to go up to the Palacio da Pena. Great decision as is a hill and it goes on for quite a while. The whole thing is surrounded by beautiful trees and rocks and stuff that made me hope Bilbo would pop in at any minute.

The Palace is €6 with the €2 discount from the LisboaCard and it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a mixture of thousands of styles and colours outside, but the inside is equally impressive with rooms full of so much shit you wouldn’t believe. There doesn’t seem to be one free space on the walls (which are equally stunning and decorated). Pay particular attention to the giant ballroom. Then go outside and enjoy the beautiful view (luckily the fog had dissipated).

If I ever get married, I hope my husband gives me one of those palaces as well. Not really.

I took a train to Faro the next day only for a quick night before getting a bus to Seville the morning after. I’m very glad I did stop in Faro.

It was Sunday, so the city was beyond dead. I tried to got a touristy night walk at the old town, but I was truly terrified of being raped by a medieval knight. So, I went for dinner at an empty restaurant and being the only customer, became soon enough the centre of all attention. It was quite funny as we debated the worthiness of the said beauty of Brazilian women, Russian women and English men.

After waving goodbye to my new friends, including a waiter who spoke 9 languages fluently (including Swedish and Japanese) and was fully satisfied with his job, I went back to the hostel.

I was sharing a 3 bed room with a guy who had introduced himself as Steve and was playing guitar and old school rock when I left before. Now there was anew addition to our small party, an Italian who looked German and actually had a German accent and I later learned was called Matt. He had a rebel look because the long hair, Viking look and black clothes. Turns out he’s much of a well behaved person as I am. I am very well behaved.

Anyways, I assumed on twitter that I had a minor crush on him and then later he started following me. Awkward. He might even be reading this now. Not to worry. The likelihood of seeing him again is near to 1.5%.

So, the real star of the night was Steve, who told us his artistic name is “Steve The Breeze” and much like “The Dude” Lebowski, he exhaled coolness.

Steve deserves to have a book written about him or at least a movie. He has travelled widely and all over. He buys tobacco to sell in the UK. He has covered the English coast by boat. He plays every now and then and he’s bloody good at it.

He told us tales of his youthful adventures, such as waking up after 3 days of party in Barcelona with no memory of what had happened. He had dope in one hand and £1 on the other. It was the 70s (I think) and he walked all the way to France. He got there and there was a problem of where to hide the stuff. No comments.

As the night went on, he told us more stories and we debated love, sex, music, travelling and freedom. It was so far one of the best things in the backpacking. One do those random encounters that you don’t forget.

In the end, travelling is about stories, people and learning. I might have been in a bedroom in Faro on a Sunday night, but it was a lecture for life.
For instance, never hide coke in your ass.

Next chapter: Crossing to Spain, loving Seville, bus panic, good luck, Madrid and lots of museums.

To leave and to travel.

February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Between my last day at work, my leaving party with a cake, gifts and a random but lovely group of friends, then a drinks leaving reunion that ended up with me being hit by a skateboard and not to mention having a guest staying at mine for a day, I also packed my 2 years in London in what was supposed to be 2 huge suitcases, but it was more than that to be honest.

Anyways, I left London on February, 16th. One day before my student visa expired and I’m now a countriless person up to an extent. I have no idea what to say when I’m asked: “where do you live?”. To leave London by itself deserved a post alone, but I haven’t truly left yet and maybe that’s why I didn’t cry my heart out on my leaving party. I’ll be gone for good on April, 29th. Maybe there will be tears, maybe not. I think because it was a thought through choice and one I’m excited about having made, I think I might leave knowing my time there was enough for the current purpose.

To be honest with you, it’s only a farewell to London, not a goodbye.

Meanwhile, I find myself in Portugal, because not only I left my residency country for the last 2 years, I also embarked on a 69 days backpacking (sugestive number, I know) around Europe. I can cross that from my bucket list, then!

I flew to Porto to start it all. Why you ask? Because I intend to do an U/S shape trip that ends in Oslo, so I’ll fly to Dublin, Edinbourgh and then back to good ol’ London. Also, because Ryanair has cheap flights here (£12).

Porto is quite quaint and it had a very English weather (4 season in one day basically), which resulted in me having a shit cold since day one. I saw most of the city and all the tourist sights (without actually getting inside any) in one afternoon.
I was slightly lost in the city. In fact, a bit lost in the whole of Portugal, because the amazing Europe travel guide I bought from Lonely Planet doesn’t seem to think that this country is part of the continent. Also, neither are Poland or any of the Scandinavian countries as well. A bit rude, Lonely Planet, a bit rude.

I stumbled around Porto, looking for the wifi spots that were indicated in the map. LIES. It reminds me very much of Brazil. It does make sense, since they were the ones that conquered, explored and took all our gold, diamonds and etc back here. But hey! No hard feelings. At least Brazil is included in South America travel guidebooks…

So, in Porto I also met an university friend that I hadn’t seen since graduation at the famous Piolho – which is a nasty name for a place with food if you know the translation. Porto has a lovely river area and the beautiful S. Francisco church was probably my favourite. More than 2 nights there would probably be a bore. I took the train to Lisbon the next day, which has a beautiful view, specially in the late afternoon and today I went for a full on daily touristing shit around.

Sé was a bit lame for my expectations, but it did have a beautiful cloister (I’m a sucker for cloisters). The S. Jorge Castle is boring and that comes from someone that loves castles and history. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel the thrill of it at all. The guy did charge me only for a student ticket, even though I said I wasn’t a student, so not all was lost.

Later, I made my way to Belém, where we have the Tower – which is the postcard of the city – and the Monasterio dos Jeronimos, which is basically AMAZING. It reminds me of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, because of it’s looks-like-wet-sand-castles-I-did-when-I-was-a-child.

TIP: I bought a thing called “LisboaCard”, which basically gives you free access to lots of tourist sights, free use of the public transport (including trains to Sintra) and discounts in some other sights as well. Very worth the €17 for a 24h use (which counts from the hour you used it first, for instance, from 10am today to 10am tomorrow) or the €28.30 for 48h. Remember that loads of tourist sights are free on Sunday morning. No idea why.

Portugal is very religious, with many stores selling aparatus for devotion. However, in their defense, Portuguese people are very lovely. Maybe it’s because I can speak their language, but I have found nothing but complete kindness from everyone (except the lady from the tourist information office that sold me the LisboaCard).

That’s all for now. Oh, make sure you go up the Santa Justa lift at night. I nearly died going up thoose narrow steps, but it was well worth the adrenaline.

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