Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcome to Lisbon, Portugal!

I arrived here by bus two nights ago and was promptly greeted by Frederico, a 34-year-old father of two I met on Couchsurfing.com who agreed to host me for part of my visit, and by two New Yorkers who are also couchsurfing with him. We all share a single-room studio in the heart of Lisbon´s commercial district, just by the water. Both his shower and his stove are broken, but he does have an ironing board, futon and a collection of DVDs with titles like American Pie 5 (Five?? They go up that high??)

It´s a beautiful city, with brighter, more cheerful colors and smaller, more detailed tiles and stones than Madrid. It takes on a much older feel; both the buildings and the lifestyle, the number of locals at sidewalk cafés, retain the quaint atmosphere of Old Europe. In the Moorish district, women still lean out from their second-story windows to have conversations, and grandparents sit on the stoops at every corner. The streets are winding and narrow; in some spots, too narrow for even the trolley cars to pull through.

Traveling -- specifically long-term travel, or `vagabonding´ -- appeals to me for reasons that might not be obvious. It´s not just seeing the architecture, food, traditions and people of other countries; its not just meeting other travelers or negotiating your way through new, unfamilar territory in a different language. Its not even the small details, like learning different keyboards and how different types of toilets are designed to flush (and there´s a LOT of variation!) Those are nice, but they´re not a complete list.

It´s also, largely, the lifestyle. Life is constantly new and novel and different and ever-changing. Right now I´m taking long, uninterrupted walks through the narrow streets of Lisbon, with no destination in mind and nothing to do but continue walking. Last week, I was watching flamenco dancers perform in Madrid. The week before, I was enjoying a gentle breeze from a hammock in the lush Andalucian hills, staring lazily at the wild sweet peas and tomatoes near the dilapidated camper van where we slept, broken down in the midst of rows of almond trees. Two days before that, looking at Raphel origonals in the Prado. A week earlier, sleeping on a Mediterranean beach in Málaga. A week prior, fixing flat bicycle tires on the side of the road and raiding candy stores for comfort before meeting cops in a casino that took us in for the night.

Kim is in western Spain now, working on a farm for the next nine days. She enjoys being a farmhand; she really likes hard, manual work. I don´t, especially when I´m not getting paid for it. (I liken it to trading six hours of labor for a sandwich.) We´re going to meet up in Madrid -- our base camp!!-- on the 29th of May; we and Matt will fly to Rome on the 30th.

Between now and then, I need to find ways to entertain myself in Lisbon .... with several old castles, bohemian neighborhoods and a couple of beaches, that shouldn´t be too hard to do!