The Farewell Letter.

April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

So, this is the end.

I’m sitting here at an internet cafe in Charing Cross writing this blog post, surrounded by drunks in the West End that have been “celebrating” the Royal Wedding (or rather, the bank holiday + Friday) since 10am. Weirdly enough, I can’t really be bothered to actually go out drinking anymore today. It’s my last night in London from where I depart to go back home (in Brazil) tomorrow at 6am after living a little bit more than 2 years, now with a one way ticket.

The journey to London would be a tale by itself, my dream of living in the city since I was 12 years-old and then all the paths and decisions that led me here. However, living in London was probably the most important chapter of my life so far. Sure, it has been only a reasonably young life, but still. London was everything and nothing I expected. London changed me and London made me more sure of who I already was. You could argue that living abroad does that to you. Yes, it does, but London does it more.

I came here like an arrogant Brazilian who hated my country most of the time, who hated people most of the time, with a heartbroken, no plans for the future and at times unsure of what kind of person I was. I’m leaving London as an arrogant Brazilian who knows the faults of her country, but has decided to go back despite those because I believe I can help make it better. I’m leaving London as a person not with hatred of people, but with a passion for stories from whoever they are. I have fixed my heart and dealt with my shit (or at least I think I did). I have loads of plans for the future and I’m more than ever, absolutely sure of who I am.

I owe these changes as much to myself as to the city, to living alone, to having the same job for 2 years, to paying my own bills, to learning how to drink, to learning how to enjoy going out, to learn how to appreciate being by myself. More than that, I owe these changes to the amazing people I’ve met in here. Each and every single person that I came across and became friends with, dated briefly, hated for a little bit, loved for a little bit, worked with, lived with has made an impression on me and being surrounded by the magic that only London has made me absorb that in a way that – as said before – makes this time here the most important of my life so far.

I haven’t had a chance to say goodbye to everyone and I truly hope and believe I will meet them (you, in case you’re reading this – whoever you are) along the way. Either back in London or in Brazil or wherever the world ends up leading us to.

I must thank specially 4 people, more than anyone else: Lucia and Andrea, the 2 Brazilians that showed me London the way they saw it and that was the best gift I could ever hoped for. They thought me how to drink, how to accept that wearing make up was not the worst thing, that being a bit feminine and hugging your friends was not something for the weak. They showed me that friends can be soulmates (because those two were born for each other) and that London has a thousand things to say, to see, to feel, to smell, to taste and to enjoy.
Also, I must thank Elliot, the English boy who thaught me so much about the English culture, the slang, the way of thinking, the way of talking, the way of enjoying a cider in the rare sunshine, having a full English first thing after a night out and the tradition of drinking at least 2 cups of tea a day. Ah, and the “bless” (AWWW, BLESS HIM).
Finally, I must thank Brenda, the amazing American that made me truly confident that being a geek was something to be extremely proud of, that watched so much crap TV with me, introduced me to amazing people, amazing tv shows, amazing movies, amazing books and most of all who was a true friend that was never out of my mind.
Of course, there are more people I must thank, people that maybe don’t even know how amazing they were and how glad I am that I met them even if only a few times. They are American, English, Brazilian, South African, Australian, Irish, etc. They have 100 different names and I would spend too much time writing it all down and would probably forget some.

It saddens me to think of all the places I didn’t get to go (Hampstead Heath! Kew Gardens! Regent’s Park in the Summer!) and the people I didn’t get to meet. I walk around London now and think if I had gone to this party, to that pub, to this bookshop I might have made more friends and learned more about other cultures and heard more interesting stories. It saddens me to think I have no exact idea of when I’ll be back and how the city will look like then. I hope I have left my mark in here and that when I depart, I’ll be missed.

However, it was time to go. I have written a blog post about that somewhere. I have decided things need to not be stale in my life and sadly, they were in London. Due to both my laziness, people leaving, the Home Office, the new laws and a tiny bit of depression. This time in England was amazing and I’m so glad for all the places I got to go and experience, but life is always moving and with it, so will I. There’s so much I could write about this 2 years, but my time is almost up (at the internet cafe) and I have a plane to catch pretty soon.

This is not the last time London will see of me, though. It won’t be the same. I’ll be older, maybe even wiser and my views might change, but one thing will stay the same: my love for London. Therefore, I’ll be back.

PS.: I did promise to write about all the backpacking, which I didn’t. I will do eventually, but as no deaths have been reported on the lack of posts regarding my travels, I will do it on my own pace.


To eat McDonald’s in France

March 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

My bus arrived in Narbonne (a town in the south-west of France) at 3.30pm. I didn’t have a map and the counter at the bus station was closed.

I was the only person getting off there. Actually, calling it a bus station is exaggerating. It was a small parking lot with a little ticket office.

Narbonne happened to be on my backpacking plans because a train from Barcelona to Carcassone (which is nearby) would have to stop there, so I decided to give it a go.

As I don’t speak any French and I felt a bit adventurous, I decided to walk to where there seem to be some life. I got to a river. There was a sign point to where was the McDonald’s and it was a quaint little river, with a romantic bridge and some trees. The tourist office was right there. Score.

The lady gave me a map. I asked what was there to see in the town. She frowned. She circled a couple of things (literally two) on the map and pointed me towards my hostel. The city got cuter the further I walked towards the main square. It was almost medieval and quiet and lovely.

My hostel was next to the massive cathedral who was never finished (that’s all I can tell you about it, because I didn’t go inside). It looked all very promising. I walked around the square where the hostel was supposed to be for about 20min. Which means I covered the whole ground of the square 4 times.

There was this big square building, that looked like a gymnasium or an YMCA of sorts. I decided to try my luck there. Turns out the hostel was inside there. No one was younger than 50 and I had my doubts whether any of them would speak English in such a remote town.

I tried a shy: “do you speak English?” to the lady that opened the door. She smiled and blinked, as if startled and said “Yes. English…” and she looked surprised at her own knowledge. “I haven’t spoken English in years!”, she added, laughing.

When I told her I was Brazilian, things got even more exciting for her (while I thought WTF did I get myself into).
“Brazilian?”, she said “Ah, very interesting. And far! So far…and you are here!” and laughed. I didn’t want to destroy her happiness by saying I technically lived in London. She then called the other lady and said in French something that I suspect it was “She is Brazilian!”, because the other lady looked at me in awe and smiled broadly.

I left to go for a walk around it. The city seemed to have been taken over by teenagers. They were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I walked until a bit after the aforementioned McDonald’s and realised with despair that the city basically ended there. I walked a bit more. I took a couple of pictures and by 7pm I was done with it and hungry.

The problem is that the only places with food being served were a small open patisserie and…McDonald’s. It was fucking cold, so I opted for the second. By the time I left to go back it was 7.30pm and everything was closed and there was no teenagers arounds. It felt like Hot Fuzz, the movie. The creepy cathedral and the elders staring.

I ran back to the hostel to be terrified by the place at night. Creepy hallways and next to said cathedral. I fully expected to see 2 bloodied children on my closet.

I couldn’t deal with that for another day, so I decided to go for a day trip to close by Carcassonne. Which is a medieval town and a little more lively than Narbonne but only because there’s a massive castle on top of it. It’s the windiest place on the planet (citation needed).

It must be great on the Summer, but it’s awfully depressing in February. Basically, no one really expects tourists to come at this time of the year and so everything closes.

I went back to Narbonne only to grab my bag and get the hell out of there, before some cult decided to kill me. The night train to Paris was at 11.30pm, but it was 30min late. I’m glad for that because I got to see an amazing parade of bizarre people at the station. Homeless. Musicians. Hobos. Rich women with fur coats. And everyone seemed to have a dog. I don’t know why, but they did. I sincerely hoped not all these people were on my train. The police showed up at some point, with their own dog. Turns out Narbonne gets quite exciting at night.

My train arrived and gladly only one couple with a dog embarked on it. My bed was on top and it was weird and no one checked my ticket (frustrating). I wish I didn’t have any morals once in a while…

I did wake up in Paris at 7am, so that was exciting.
I’m leaving Paris for another blog post, since this was big enough and Paris deserves a post for itself.

Tapas here, tapas there.

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last time we spoke I was heading to Spain. It seems like a very long time ago, but it has been not even 2 weeks. London feels like a year ago and I already crave a full English breakfast and a cup of tea with milk.

Crossing to Spain on a bus was odd and the passport checking barely a checking at all. I arrived in Seville on time and already held my bag close to my body looking at everyone with fear, since I had heard that it was a very dangerous city. I didn’t think it was. In fact, Seville has been one of the high points of the trip so far.

I went on a walking tour suggested by the hostel. The meeting point was the cathedral and I’m glad to say my mouth fell when I saw it. It’s the third biggest in the world (or was it in Europe?), only after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. It has been creatively named ‘Cathedral of Seville’.

It was a sunny day and our guide was a Moroccan guy really lovely. He took us everywhere (the tour lasted 3h30): Murillo’s gardens, the main square with the cathedral, the so easy to get lost Jewish neighbourhood, the university and the gorgeous Plaza de España. He told us great stories and I was so pleased with it, that I booked a tapas tour at night.

The tapas tour was ok, it was mainly worth it for the people, but it did feel slightly too touristic for my taste. The following day I went inside the cathedral and all the way up to the La Giralda tower. It’s amazingly gorgeous inside and it made me want to study architecture. However, the tower was so crowded with people trying to take pictures of the views that I couldn’t have the patience to linger. Instead, I relaxed in the shade of the orange trees by the courtyard (don’t eat the oranges! Their nutrition constitutes of dog’s urine).

I spent the evening in the lovely and massive Plaza de España. It’s kind of depressing to know it was built only 100 years ago, but oh well. I was sitting there wondering why the hell would someone pay to rent a motorboat to use it in a canal that is not even 100m long, when I saw this Japanese couple with a baby.

The baby was a cute little boy of no more than 2 years. Soon, a Spanish looking lady approached with a baby girl of about the same age. They started talking, like moms do in parks (I find this rather amusing). The baby girl started running all clumsy up to the baby boy’s little pram. The Japanese lady asked how old was the baby girl.

She was – I could be wrong on this one – 11 months. The Japanese woman made impressed noises and looked at the girl running and her baby in the pram. The Spanish lady asked about the boy – who was a bit older. Then, the Japanese woman made the funniest face of disapproval and pointed at her baby with her head.

‘Ahn, he’s very slow. Hasn’t even started walking.’ and shook her head. It amuses me as she said that in a way blaming the baby. I truly hope he turns out to be a musical genius by the age of 4.

I ran into a Colombian girl that was on the tour. She lingered there, trying to talk to me while I read my book. I had to close it eventually and chat, but the conversation was full of silent awkward moments that I would have to think of something to say because she would just stand there. Why do you even bother with approaching me at all?

Eventually, I left to the bus station. I planned on taking a night bus to Madrid. As I arrived there to buy my ticket, the woman said there were none left.

‘No more tickets. Full.’
‘What about the next one?’
‘Full. No more buses tonight.’
‘When is the next one with seats?’
‘Tomorrow at 8am’
I swear I almost started crying in front of her. I had no place to stay. The hostel was closed already and panic took over.

Then, I remembered that Bill Bryson in the hilarious ‘Neither Here nor There’ when faced with a lack of seats on a bus, asks if he can stay and wait for a no show. Encouraged by this, I asked her that.

I sat there for 2h, looking intently at the lady in the counter. My heart jumping whenever the phone rang or someone approached. Others came asking for tickets and faced with the negative answer would cry, leave angry and there was even a guy who started shouting at his friends and threw his bag on the floor. What a diva.

There was a man with a crying baby who spent hours talking and gesturing. I thought this was it, of course she would give any empty seat to the father. Which is fair, but annoying.

15min before the bus departed, I went to talk to her. She told me there was a man with a baby who might cancel because the child was sick (so that’s what it was about!). I suddenly – and I’m not proud of it – wished the baby would stay indisposed for at least another 15min.

Out of nowhere, the man suddenly jumped at the counter and cancelled his ticket. I bought it and she said the bus was leaving in 2min. I ran as if there was a bee chasing me (I don’t like bees) and after seated, I congratulated myself on living up to the Brazilian expression ‘you have more good fortune than good sense’. Of course, when I arrived to the hostel, I found out I had booked it for the day before and had to pay an extra stay. Maybe not lucky after all.

I arrived in Madrid at the useless time of 5.30am. Left to the hostel at 8.30 and went to see the city. Must say, not impressed.

I couldn’t help but comparing it to Barcelona. Different from the Catalan capital, Madrid doesn’t seem to have much personality. I walked to the Sofia (the modern art museum) and spent a lovely morning there browsing. I have become addicted to audiotours as well.

In the afternoon, I walked to the area that would be what I can see as the City in London. Filled with bankers wankers and hurried people wearing suits. However, there was a much more admirable architecture than in what I had seen.

The following days were basically spent in the Thyssen and the Prado museums. I must say I like the Thyssen better. It’s more organised and easier to follow chronologically. I saw literally every painting and there were some stunning ones. I’m in love with Spanish historical painting from the 19th century. Their landscape and impressionist collections are both excellent too.

The Prado was a hurry in the end. I had only seen the second floor when they announced it was closing in 1h. I had to run to see the ‘masterpieces’ on the first floor and didn’t make it to all.

I intended to go to a flamenco show but they wanted to charge me €32. HAHA.
I also spent about 2h in the line to the Monastery of the Shoeless Sisters (I believe this is a literal translation). You would think that was the fucking Louvre given the line. It’s pretty cool inside with the painted walls and the different little chapels.

I had a lovely Italian couple as roommates. They spent the whole first night arguing (or rather she wouldn’t shut up and shout at him) and the second night engaged on a burping competition. Lovely.

I flew to Barcelona then. There was a guy on my flight that looked like the singer from The Wonders (from ‘That Thing You Do’), except he spoke Spanish. HOT.

Barcelona is gorgeous. It’s the only place I’ve been that I put it on the backpacking route. I went for a walk at La Rambla and ended up totally in an unknown place. I had dinner at a restaurant who charged me €4 for a juice and on the other hand gave me free coffees – mainly because the waiter wanted me – he asked me for a drink. Awkward.

Following day I walked by the main street with the awesome houses. I just love La Pedrera. It’s beauty combined with usefulness. I went for a quick look at the La Sagrada Familia.

It had been a year since I went there and the construction works look basically like they were before. It’s so astonishing. Gaudi totally threw out of the window all conceptions of how a church should be. He put a penis in Jesus! In the main entrance! Big Jesus! Genius right there.

Met with a friend at Parc Guell and nearly died going up to that shit. It’s gorgeous, though. Very Dr Seuss. The weather could be better…

We went for a walk at the La Barceloneta. Two things happened there: 1. I saw a guy that looked just like Robert Pattinson, wearing a tight black shirt and doing backflips. 2. A seagull left a present on my arm. Since then I’ve been paranoid with birds flying over me.

We had paella for dinner, with 2 lovely Italians from his hostel, then went to see a very cheap (€8) flamenco show. It was weird at first, but it’s very intense and passionate. It was beautiful. I expected the dancer to have an orgasm by the end of it.

And that was Spain. My early bus to Narbonne in South of France would leave first thing in the morning. The fear of the language not spoken getting closer.

In the next chapter: Oh-la-la France! Narbonne and Hot Fuzz, Carcassone and the wind, Paris and the hostel nightmare, Paris and the gorgeousness of it all, Paris and the new friends.

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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