Welcome, 33

Birthday. Again. Thirty-third one. Some weeks ago, perhaps for the first time in life, I was quite excited about the fact, not giving a shit for being older.

However, in the middle of July, I’ve become more depressed than usual and my previous excitement simply disappeared.

Thank goodness I don’t feel melancholic today, not even sad or thoughtful. I feel ok. I feel normal and that makes sense.

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I’ve never been the kind of person who’s keen on parties. Any kind of party, to be honest, and even less regarding my birthdays. So much that I only had parties when I was a child and didn’t have an alternative. As an adult, I usually spend my birthdays alone or with the less excitement possible.

I just loathe the idea of hosting people, talking to loads of acquaintances, booking places, telling about my life and so on.

That’s why, about two years ago, I decided to spend this day the way I want, and that involves being on my own and doing what makes me comfortable.

Years ago, I used to travel to be in my hometown with my parents, grandma and uncle. I’d be awesome to be with them only, but then the drama starts: “we need a cake”. We don’t need it, but that’s fine. Sometimes not the cake I’d like to eat, but let’s go. “We need some snacks too”. We don’t need them either, but ok. By the time they invite more relatives, “why not friends?” And then I had to spend all day/night long entertaining people, telling about Sao Paulo and my stuff, boyfriends (and why the hell I don’t have one), if I have a well-paid job (really, this sort of question).

Honestly? That’s not my idea of happiness. If I’m there, I’d prefer to read a book, write something or watch rubbish on TV.

In 2015, I convinced everyone to leave me quiet. I’d been back from Ireland and I was visibly down, so at the end of the day, we had a quiet dinner – only my mom, my dad, my grandma and my uncle. It was good.

Last year I didn’t manage to travel and I stayed in Sao Paulo. It turned out to be my best birthday ever, perfect in my introvert style. I went to Botanic Garden, where I had a mini and solo picnic. I walked around and, when I got a bit tired, sat by the lake to listen to music and reflect on many necessary things. No small talk, intimate conversations with myself.

This year I also preferred to live it according to my expectations. It’s Monday, so I woke up in the morning, had a lie-in and talked to my parents on the phone. I had breakfast, watched some videos on Youtube and sorted my accessories out. I had lunch and went to work (I had a class at 1 pm). I came home because the second class starts only at 7 30 pm and I’m here, writing. Before, I studied English a bit and had some delicious cake (Red Velvet, my favourite one) with coffee. I didn’t access Facebook and I’ve got only an SMS message from a housemate.

At the weekend, I was wondering if I’d feel lonely spending the day almost isolated. You know what? I feel good. Peaceful. Especially today I’m the most special person in the world for me and I deserve a tranquil day, the way I love.

I still feel a bit bad for not staying with my family today, but I guess that at some point we need to stand for our wishes. I realised I very much think about people’s feelings, but I hardly ever pay attention to mine.

At least one day I want to be what I am without any disguise. Despite my feelings, I believe my family understands me and loves me anyway.

Happy birthday for me, welcome 33.

Backpacking life (10) – The uniqueness of Granada

Granada!! Finally!! I decided to include Granada in my travel plan after discovering how popular the town was among people who go to Andaluzia. Alhambra seemed to be an unmissable attraction, with all that heritage connected to the Arabs, Islam and medieval times. I had to go there, definitely.

To reach Granada, I took a bus from Seville on a sunny morning, and from my window, I could appreciate the picturesque landscape and understand why people enjoy the south of Spain so much.

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Already in town, I had to take another bus to get to the centre. The problem: to ask that in Spanish. My solution to avoid that: find someone who speaks English. Yeah, I was lazy. Shame on me. In a shop, searching for English speakers, a woman made a frown and replied she couldn’t use English well. Oh, goodbye comfort zone. I gave it a try and, to my own surprise, I asked my simple question in Spanish with no mistake. Perfectly. She stared at me, almost amazed, and said: “Your Spanish is much better than my English”. In other words, she wanted to know what was wrong with me looking for English speakers but being able to speak Spanish. Weird, I know that.

Anyway, I followed her directions and quickly I was in the centre. I found my hostel easily, as the accommodation is close to one of the main squares. I left my stuff in my room, which would be shared with three nice (and messy) French girls, and headed to have a look at the town. First I had to eat something because I was starving, though. I stopped in a restaurant, a simple one, and order a dish called “cocido de garbanzos a la española”, made with meat and chickpeas. It was tasty and a promising beginning. From the restaurant, I began to stroll around with my camera to take as many pics as I can (I swear I look at all the photos I’ve taken from time to time).

The casco antiguo (the way people call old centre in Spain, as I recently discovered) is marvellous. Exactly the small towns you expect in Europe, full of historic buildings, churches, fountains, narrow passages, shops, walls much older than the official history of my own country.

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I was particularly struck by a market beside the central cathedral, Alcaicería. There was little movement in the morning, some tiendas still opening, and I wandered through the place thinking how many things happened there along centuries. The place was not original, though, as I discovered later, but a wonderful replica – the first was destroyed by fire in 1843. I could imagine people buying flavours, clothes, accessories and objects for countless reasons, and each reason would contain a story.

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I also loved the channel by the centre, which transports you to other times as the town is so well-preserved.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to visit Morocco while in Europe, but at least I went to Granada and somehow you can envisage how awesome must be the Arabic countries. There’s a whole Arab district, Albayzín. I walked to and fro during all that afternoon, trying to absorb the unique atmosphere.

From a belvedere, San Nicolas, you can have a look at Alhambra (at that time I had bought my ticket for the next day, as some rumours indicated that they run out quickly). Additionally, some shops have their names in Arabic to turn Albayzín into the second best quarter I visited in Europe (Alfama is still number one in my heart). Really, what a place.

I had dinner at around five o’clock – these delicious churros con chocolate that you see in the picture below and for THREE euros. I barely can afford a sandwich in Sao Paulo for a similar price these days. And it goes without saying that it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. To tell the truth, I was quite embarrassed in the café because I didn’t see anyone else alone eating that much, but who cares?

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After treating myself and my stomach, I went to the hostel. I was shattered, and I stayed there just lazing around and talking to some friends on Facebook.

In the morning, after my sacred breakfast, I joined a walking tour in the centre. I still remember the guide’s name, Maria, a friendly and chatty local girl who knows a lot of her hometown.  We basically walked around the old town and headed for Albayzín to finish our stroll. Looking at her and the work of her company, “Feel Granada”, I wondered that being a tour guide must a fulfilling experience. A tough one, as some travellers make an effort to be annoying and picky, but pleasant at the end of the day.

I had lunch in a Turkish bar while waiting for my Alhambra tour in the afternoon, Everyone I knew talked so much about that I was already excited. I went up the hill to access the property and, little by little, I felt I was in one of those TV programmes where the guys travel around the world to show you unbelievable spots to make you envious and quite quit your job and house and everything else.

Alhambra is one of these pieces of marvel that somehow remained untouched. Civilisation changed, but the palace is there.

A bad aspect? Flocks of tourists, and precisely those unbearable kinds who want selfies in front of any vase they come across. They don’t read anything, but they want pictures. If I were rich, surely I would book that place during a whole day just to study it. Read inscriptions, observe details, all the ins and outs of architecture. Perhaps to invite a historian and an architect to point out hidden secrets and curiosities, you know, this sort of stuff. As I don’t live in the lap of luxury, the remedy was to breathe and try to appreciate that wonderful construction ignoring awkward people.

I loved everything, but the garden, my gosh ❤

Back to the hostel to take my backpack, I wandered around for a while more and stopped at a bar for tapas and beer. Then I decided it was time for tea. With so many Arab houses on those streets, it would be ridiculous leave Granada without popping in one of those mysterious cafés. I saw many young people with huge narghilés, almost hidden behind tons of smoke, laughing among themselves. I ended up in a dark and decorated tea house. I ordered Egyptian tea for three euros. I wouldn’t drink a decent coffee in Dublin for that amount of money and in Granada, I got a jar of delightful tea.

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The place made me a bit sleepy, so I should move on and say goodbye to Granada.  My next destination? Madrid!

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Alhambra in the evening 🙂

I took a bus to reach the bus station and I had some trouble to find the right stop to get off, but eventually, someone helped me and I found it. My sense of direction is really terrible and I wonder how I can travel alone without getting lost forever.

My bus would depart at one o’clock and there was nothing to do apart from waiting, so I grabbed my backpack and I leant my head on it. Some guys were sleeping sound, but I barely can doze off in public spaces, so I just closed my eyes. Next day would be full of new things, as all days in that November.

Inspiring reading (6)

These are the most interesting links I’ve come across recently (or not that recently, as I haven’t posted links for ages).

I “travel fast” and don’t care what you think about it. Here’s why – I love her blogs, I love her pics on Instagram and this article is precious. A little treasure in times where people who bang on about  “real travellers” and “real travels”. Bullshit and Oneika explains why brilliantly.

10+ People Who Turned Log Piling Into An Art Form – This is just awesome, have a look to understand what I’m talking about.

The 20 Most Stunning Fairytale Castles in Winter – Castles are gorgeous, and they can be even more in winter. I visited Trakai Castle, in Lithuania, in January. The ground was covered with snow and that’s one of the most vivid memories from Europe. I paid a visit to Prague Castle too, but the weather was warmer.

5 Affirmations for Asexual People Struggling with Self-Acceptance – Asexual people have to put up a fight on a daily basis in order to live the way they want, and this article shows some of our struggles.

The Original “All Natural” Remedy For Burnout? Nature. I intend to write about the benefits of outside activities on our mental health. I strongly believe that nature can act as a remedy for many problems we face in modernity.

21 European cities you never thought to visit – but definitely should – Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to these contents nowadays because, if I do it, I pack some stuff in my backpack and go to the airport immediately. All these cities seem so fucking great!

I Love Doing Things Alone & People Should Stop Worrying About It – I just love doing things by myself, I can make myself extremely happy taking me out to restaurants and cafés, art galleries, parks and all sorts of trips. People very much annoy me when asking me about companions for everything I mention to do.

How to practice emotional hygiene – A beautiful and touching talk. I might write something about it and my perceptions about depression, anxiety and how we can deal with these issues.

Backpacking life (9) – Charming Seville

Spain was the next country to visit during my first European trip in 2014 (wow, almost three years ago). There are so many reasons to go there that I couldn’t list all, honestly. Football (Real Madrid x Barcelona to say the least), music, dance (flamenco fascinates me), history and several promises of good food and drink. So here we go!

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With some help, suggestions and lots of advice from Spanish fellows I met along the way in Dublin, little by little I mapped out a plan: to access the country on the road from Lisbon, then Granada (highly recommended), Madrid (exciting just to hear its name) and Barcelona (a dream of almost all beginner travellers).

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I reached Seville in the morning, very early – so early that I considered taking a nap on any corner at the bus station before moving on. However, I had to find my hostel and, of course, that would take some time as I hardly ever find my accommodation painlessly. Quite an hour later (yes, that much to find it), I came across the house, an old and impressive building in a historic part of the city (everything seems is historic there, though). Quickly I met the owner, who told me about a flamenco show in the evening. As the attraction was a must-see for me, I booked my ticket right away. According to him, that presentation would be the best in town. I don’t know if I trusted him very much, but it seemed a good deal. Twenty euro or something like that, but that was fine. I’m quite tight-fisted when I travel (I’m joking, I am a bit stingy all the time), but I do believe it’s morally wrong to set foot in Seville and don’t see people dancing flamenco, as the dance appeared exactly in that town.

 

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Sevilla Dream Hostel, my ‘house’ during two days in town 

 

Evening plans were scheduled, so it was time to explore the city. Seville is colourful and full of picturesque buildings. You breathe history there.


The trip would also be an opportunity to use my Spanish, as I was able to speak it fairly well (fairly well = broken Spanish, but still useful). In a bakery, I did my best to order my breakfast in that language, you know, somehow you want to feel a local for a while. I opened my mouth and… no Spanish. I was struggling to utter something, but only English came up, and eventually, the girl behind the counter asked me in English if I wanted something. Of course, a blonde girl having tremendous trouble to pronounce a couple of simple words… un café y un bocadillo… I felt quite embarrassed not because of the fact itself, as workers there must be too busy to notice someone’s effort to speak their language, but bloody hell I had studied Spanish for months. I had travelled to Colombia, interviewed people on the phone in the middle of protests in Paraguay and translated loads of articles. How come you can’t order a fucking coffee?

I put the frustration behind, though, as I didn’t have time for language failures. I should focus on exploring the town and all its precious buildings. Churches, old houses, small shops and beautiful balconies which seem to be a mark in Spanish architecture. The Cathedral of Sevilla is obviously fantastic, but even more was the chance to see many people, locals and tourists, up and down around the marvellous construction and its medieval walls.

 

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Have a look at THIS place – the famous cathedral in Seville and one of the biggest in the world

 

Although my Spanish was poor, at least it was enough to understand signs and inscriptions in monuments, what enriched my experience there. I noticed that tables and chairs are placed outside bars, which reminded me of our Brazilian bars. After ages feeling “locked” in Irish pubs (usually with their doors closed) was way pleasant to be in a “Latin” environment.

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Dead on my feet, in the evening I went to the hostel to have a shower and rest a little, and afterwards, I headed for the flamenco show. It paid off, certainly. Great dancers, enchanting music. Some people were also having dinner during the attraction, drinking wine and so on, but I couldn’t spend money like water, so watching the stuff was more than satisfying.

 

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I just love going window shopping when I travel to see what each town has in particular

 

Next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast (I NEVER skip breakfast in hostels as it’s usually free and it can support you for hours during the day) and, having eaten a lot of bread and milk and cereal, I went for a tour at “El Patio Sevillano”, a place where toradas still take place. I pretty much know that the practice is loathsome and shameful, but I couldn’t help myself visiting one of those arenas which were scenarios for Hemingway’s stories.

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You learn a lot about Spanish culture there and I do hope that this “sport” can be prohibited, so as to people can enter the building to know more about horrible events which inflicted pain to so many innocent animals.

I kept strolling around Seville (certainly my feet hated me at that time) trying to absorb all that history, its colours and details that tell so many stories that couldn’t be learned in only forty-eight hours.

Surely Plaza de España was one of the places that impressed me most in Spain. It’s hard to believe that the construction is new, as it really seems from centuries ago.

In my second (and last) evening, I hung out with Raquel and Valle, who I had met in Dublin during a Couchsurfing event months before. They helped me preparing the trip and it was such a pleasure to chat with them. I’m against the idea that your travels are only worth if you spend time with locals (sometimes you can’t do that), but when you can, gosh, your trip become so special. Not only did the girls meet me in a weekly evening, but also paid the whole bill. No words to thank them!

After our meal (diverse types of tapas and beers), they wished me a good trip to Granada, my next destination. I went back to the hostel (only men in the mixed room, but it turned out well) to get some sleep and be grateful to the universe for all my good moments.

The most surprising thing about Seville, though, I found out only when I was back to Brazil. Popping in one of my aunt’s house in my hometown, she told me something I didn’t know: that I had a Spanish background from Seville. I surely knew about my Italian roots and I had heard something about Spanish from my mom’s ancestors, but I didn’t know that it was from Andaluzia. I guess the information would have been important during the trip, as to establish even more connection with the place. But I don’t complain, as those days were unforgettable the way they were.

Reflections about Ireland, my return and how many things since then

I came back from Ireland more than two years ago.

As it happened last year (link) I did not manage to write timely as March seems always to be a busy month. However, I did want to write some words in order to reflect on this time.

Readapting to the things I was used to wasn’t easy at all, but I believe that for the first time I am able to see things in perspective without bad or unwanted feelings.

Some months after coming back, the first weeks in Sao Paulo in 2015, I met a guy, friend of a friend, who told me a little about his experience. He lived in different countries, such as Argentina and France, before settling down in Sao Paulo. Describing my mood and doubts at that time, he said: you cannot come back to the reality you had before going abroad. Everything will change, as well as you.

It made sense. All the sense that exists in the world. In a nutshell, I came back in order to escape from a bad situation and my intention was to come back to my old life. Friends, same kind of work, known places, same lifestyle. What my surprise was when those things did not exist anymore. I mean, streets are there, friends are there, but somehow they changed. Most importantly, I changed. The person who took the plane in April 2014 was not at all the person who returned one year later. That conversation in a café in Sao Paulo helped me understand a lot what was going on.

I learned a large range of things since then. Most importantly, I learned to be patient with myself as I finally understood that I went through diverse situations that overwhelmed me.

I had established something in Ireland. Not exactly a routine, far from that actually, but I had my friends, was used to Dublin, was enchanted by that easiness of travelling around in Europe. I was in the middle of a cosmopolitan place and suddenly… It was over. I was back to my hometown in the countryside cross the Atlantic. Miles away from the new world I had achieved. Although I was surrounded by loving and caring people (my family) I soon realised I wanted that life again.

To make matters worse, I made the stupid mistake to stay four months in the countryside in my parent’s house. I don’t precisely hate my hometown, I just don’t want to live there and, come on, spending four months sharing a house with your parents was just the worst decision. I was short of money, but I should’ve tried to come to Sao Paulo right away.

Back in Sao Paulo, I felt that my life was coming back to me. Friends again, my favourite places. The matter, so, was a job. I didn’t have one and I needed one. Then my money was running out and I heard those who suggested looking for a job in a language school?” I didn’t want that at all, but I had to do so.

Amazingly, I enjoyed teaching and started thinking that I could do that permanently. I was almost on the breadline, but somehow the experience was joyful.  It seemed that finally there was something good on the horizon.

 

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One of my last pics in Europe. Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, 2015

 

When things started improving and I was getting used to my routine, they I quit everything to come back to Journalism, to an opportunity that seemed to be too precious to be true. I tried, I failed and I decided to study for CAE. In other words, I had three different routines during just one year.

In January, after getting my result, I started working again. Since then I have almost a semester doing the same and this is gorgeous. I can make ends meet and despite the fact I feel I should be earning more money (you know, Sao Paulo, everyone is kind of workaholic here) I like my life now. So much that I realised, during a walk in a hot and pleasant evening, that I was happy. Not only that day, but almost every day in 2017. I wasn’t used to that anymore. Quite shocking. Two years with a constant feeling of depression. So much that I marvelled the feeling of peace I was experiencing. More: I noticed I was happier that evening than many days in Ireland.

I still have bad moments when I feel kind of lost and want to cry because it seems I’m not going anywhere (as a 32-year-old woman should be doing), I can’t complain because most of the time I feel good.

I’ll never forget what I lived in Ireland, but I put many things behind – at least I’m trying it. For the first time in ages, I wake up thinking about present stuff and, even better, about the future! If all goes well next year I set off on a new adventure, this time around South America. That means new people, new experiences, a bunch of new feelings, good and probably bad, but new ones.

 

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My feet resting in Kinsale, Ireland, 2015, my last weekend in the country

 

I also consider the idea of going back to Ireland for a while. But this is later. Now I have new things to explore, to discover, to live. As I wrote on my Facebook, Ireland was a beautiful chapter. But that one is gone.

At the end of the day, I like the person I turned into. I see my new pics on short trips close to the places I live and I like looking at myself. I see a girl who almost reached the rock bottom but survived and is willing to live more and more.

 

Learning Spanish with online courses – an experience

Today I finally finished the programme Spanish for Beginners held by Future Learn. I started the courses in January and this morning I completed the sixth and last one!

I have to admit I had a strong bias against online courses until 2015 when I had my first experience with Coursera. At that time, I took a course aimed at English teachers. Even though the activities helped me reflect on my role as an instructor, I didn’t enjoy that completely for two reasons. The first: I didn’t have much experience, especially with large classrooms, so I wasn’t able to understand many situations and concepts. Secondly, I had to move house twice during those months, and studying for an online course turned out to be too tough on those conditions.

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My second attempt was the next year when I enrolled a course about American Law (that would help me with a previous job). I fell in love with the idea of studying wearing pyjamas, without annoying peers and respecting my own pace. Since then I took courses of English teaching, language acquisition, English for Journalism and so on.

This year, as I decided to take Spanish seriously, I saw the course as an opportunity to brush up my skills and learn a variety of new things.  I had never studied the language properly, and doing a review on the basics improved my abilities considerably. Studying every week and living in a house with hispanoablantes made a difference.

The progress has not been as quick as I imagined, but no worries. I still have the rest of the year to study. At least now I know I’m not going to make the stupid mistakes as I used to.

Having said that, I do recommend this course for those who want some knowledge about this language. Also, if you’re not a native speaker of English (like me) it will give a chance to study two foreign languages at the same time, which in my case was very stimulating.

Backpacking life (8)- The colours and sounds of Lisbon

After two rainy and gloomy days (but still good) in Porto, I took a plane to Lisbon. Yeah, plane. A terrific flight ticket which cost only R$ 9,90 euro (Ryanair, miss that so much).

I arrived in the Portuguese capital in the morning and went to the hostel by underground. I immediately liked the city and I can’t explain why. Perhaps because I came across some attractive and colourful pieces of urban art in the stations and that made a positive impression on me.

The hostel is amazingly located in the centre. I still remember that, after five minutes around those impressive and well-maintained buildings, I regret my decision of staying less than 48 hours in the place. I felt quite stupid because at that time it seemed just obvious that Lisbon must be marvellous.

I left my stuff in the hostel, then a new establishment which occupies a whole floor in a building. The place was way cheap and clean. Plus its good location, it turned out to be one of my best choices during that trip.

Lisbon was almost asking Please explore me, so my moral obligation was to stroll around it. Quickly I reached the coast, in front of a famous square, and I faced that sea, which inspired so many artists to write beautiful poetry and other sorts of literature still studied at school.

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It was sunny. It was quite warm. For God’s sake, I fell in love with Lisbon.

I spent the first day to and fro admiring its architecture, food, people, slopes and history. As it would happen months later in Venice, Lisbon enchanted me. As if the place tells you a lot of stories. Each brick, each stone, each trace of painting carries a message from the past.

At midday, almost starving, I looked for a restaurant in some of those touristic areas. Definitely, they don’t rip you off in Lisbon, even though it’s a bit pricier than Porto. You can afford a decent meal for 10 euro in central spots, exactly what I did.  Waiters were smiling and polite – the one who brought my dish asked if I was from Rio, after asking if I was Brazilian. They don’t know the obvious difference between a southern and another one from Rio, that was incredible!  It was awesome to find out these differences between these two same languages.

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Satisfied with the meal, I kept my stroll and tcharan! Alfama! It’s impossible to decide which spot was my favourite in Europe, but this neighbourhood was one of them for sure. Although there are loads of visitors there, it preserves its atmosphere of a picturesque village. It’s touristic place but, at the same time, you are around local people doing their chores.

I stopped at a church built where Santo Antonio was born and I bought two gifts, one to my mother and the other to my grandma. Simple postcards, but as I imagined, full of meaning for them. Actually, now this became my criteria for gifts – I only buy them if they will be somehow special for someone. Otherwise, it’s just pointless stuff.

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In the evening I was exhausted, but still willing to walk and explore more from Alfama.  Passing by a building, I heard some music coming from its interior. It was traditional Portuguese music. Like in a film! I guess that place was a club and its members were inside dancing, singing and having tons of fun. I rehearsed one or two attempts to go upstairs and see that sample of liveliness, but I was afraid of being intrusive. From time to time I remember that moment and I wish I could have tried at least!

Dead on my feet, I went to the hostel to have some rest. Something I discovered about hostels is that you cannot rely on their description on websites. I mean, some parts of the story will be correct, whereas others might turn out to be bullshit. They also say “we have adaptors”. It’s not true. It’s better to take yours, as I do now.

Anyway, the fact is that I needed an adaptor for my hairdryer. The power points are different in Ireland, where my device was bought. The hostel didn’t have, of course. However, the guy in the reception asked where the hairdryer was from. As I said “Ireland”, he immediately responded: “I’m Irish”. I couldn’t believe that!

Then things made sense. All the time I was wondering why he used to answer me in English when I was using the Portuguese language. At a certain point, I really considered that they had some trouble with my accent and I was near frustration for not being able to use my own tongue there.

The Irish fellow kindly lent me his personal adaptor. After giving it back, we started chatting away. The Irish love talking and I pretty much love them because of that too. He told me that he was from Kerry and was in Lisbon as a volunteer. Many people are doing that these days, but it was such a coincidence bumping into an Irish guy in Portugal. In result, I spent almost all the time in the hostel in Lisbon talking to an Irish person in English. A bit weird, but I still needed to practise more my second language than my native one, so it was great. Also because he came across as a lovely fellow – as the majority of Irish people I’ve met so far. He wasn’t good-looking, but he’s that kind of guy who’s so down-to-earth and chatty that becomes attractive. It’s stunning how Irish men are particularly talented at coming across as attractive regardless appearance.

The next day and my last one in Lisbon, I continued my mission to see as many things as possible in the place. In the morning I went to visit Belem Tower and its region. Unfortunately, it was Monday and the building was closed. At least I saved some euros, which were used to have lunch in a restaurant quite near there.

Here, it’s honest to mention that I passed in front of Pasteis de Belen, the well-known bakery where you can prove some of those traditional Portuguese sweets. However, I was put off by the number of foreigners inside. I’m far from that kind of traveller who classifies experiences between REAL and UNREAL regarding the level of locals involved. In my point of view, travelling is personal and it’s up to you to define what is good or bad. Back to the point of the bakery, for me it was bad and I really wanted to be around the Portuguese fellows at that time. In result, I chose a normal restaurant, somewhat cheap and with plastic tables, to see what they eat on a typical Monday. The food was delicious. What a great way to start the week.

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One of my favourite photos of all trips – close to Belem Tower

I went back to the centre to explore some more streets. One of the things I loved most in Lisbon was the name of the streets. You find “Rua Augusta” (Augusta Steet), the same one you see in Sao Paulo. Also, there are some names which are extremely poetic and I believe you only understand its beauty if you speak Portuguese. Lucky I am.

In the evening, I had my last meal in a bakery close to the hostel. Then the weirdest moment came up. The waitress didn’t manage to understand me. Neither was I. Eventually I noticed that she was almost rude and angry with me, and it wasn’t my fault at all! I wonder that she thought I was a non-native speaker of Portuguese trying to speak the language or something like that. I would say that after this incident I stopped to freak out about my listening in English due to the impossibility to understand that girl.

Later, more awkwardness. At the bus station, I didn’t manage to understand the signs written in Portuguese. I wish they had been written in English or Spanish because then they would be somehow understandable. I’d never seen those expressions before. I tried to ask information and the guys there were bad-mannered as well. Gosh! What a bad ending. In some moments, though, I took the bus where I would have to get some sleep until to reach the last country in the schedule: Spain.

Seville was waiting for me and I felt on top of the world.

Why I want to be an explorer

Some time ago I watched one of the best videos I’ve come across about travelling. The lecturer, Tomislav Perko, is a Croatian guy who hit the road after losing his job during the international crisis in 2008.

His story is much the same of other backpackers, who have been using Couchsurfing, Workaway and similar websites in order to minimise their expenses during a trip. With almost no money, he spent five years on the road, discovering places, cultures and other ways of life.

Nowadays there are loads of people who became digital nomads or something like that, and their speech is quite undistinguishable. Is your job boring? Quit it. Are you happy? Change it. Leave your comfort zone. However, such big changes are not that easy for many across the globe, and at the end of the day, their “inspiration” becomes bullshit. In other words, I’m sick of all this “guidance”.

However, Perko came across as a humble guy, different from the majority of travellers these days, who seem to be full of themselves to pay attention to the world that exists outside their stories and adventures.

I’d say that the whole talk is inspiring, but something almost at the end struck me: the idea that we can be explorers exactly where we are. It’s always time to take a new street, try a different type of food in your own town or meet up new fellows.

His definition matches exactly with my viewpoint about being an explorer rather than a traveller. I don’t need to take a plane or a bus or even hitchhike to be fulfilled because all its beauty is already around me. For sure I appreciate the opportunity to go overseas as much as I can, but I can’t be put off by the idea that there is nothing else to be seen in my own region, for example.

That’s why I always look for new spots to visit in Sao Paulo, my current city, and in its surroundings. Since I came back from Europe with this different mindset I’ve been to so many outstanding towns, and I still have many to set foot in.

Now, not only is my goal for life to visit lots of countries, but also stick to the concept that life happens everywhere and we don’t need to wait to begin the change we want.

Backpacking life (7) – On the slopes of Porto

After buzzing around in London, I headed for Porto, one of the most famous Portuguese cities.

At this point, I need to admit that Portugal wasn’t on the list of countries I wanted to visit the most in Europe. I attribute this to a (wrong) idea that the place wouldn’t be as interesting as others due to its similarities with Brazil.

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However, I included it after many friends had described Portugal as a wonderful place to set foot in. First, I decided to add Lisbon to my precious list. Later, I included Porto too. People said I wouldn’t be disappointed – and they were absolutely right.

After a trouble-free flight, I arrived at Porto in the evening, and the experience taught me how adventurous this choice can be.

I passed with no difficulties through the immigration – the guy just asked my address in the city and made a joke about our same mother tongue. The machine to buy underground tickets bothered me a little, but eventually, I could get mine. I finally took the train – a very old one – and then the drama started.

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I simply copied the address of the WRONG hostel. The street’s name was right, but my underground directions were incorrect. I made a huge confusion because the names were disgracefully similar. I booked my bed at Cool Hostel, while the other one is called So Cool. To make matters worse, they weren’t near at all. It should be against the law two hostels with practically the same name because it’s just a hell for absent-minded people like me.

It was almost midnight and I didn’t know where to get off. I was trying to be calm, but it was quite impossible. In the end, some guys on the underground helped me to find out the station which would be more suitable to me. I wanted to reach the hostel quickly, so I tried to take a taxi. I tried, but the taxi driver refused to drive me there. He said it was too close and gave me some directions. He was sort of rude, what scared me and made me walk, even though I knew it could be dangerous at that time.

In addition, it was raining. What a nightmare. I was just wondering if my mom knew about that. She’d put a straight-jacket on me.

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Fortunately, people speak Portuguese there

So relieved I was when I rang the bell. I apologised to the receptionist, who was very kind and showed me the hostel. The place was cool, colourful, with a friendly atmosphere. I was dead on my feet, so I would look at everything the next day. I just wanted a shower, a cosy bed and some sleep.

What an amazing Saturday when you wake up in Porto! Lots of slopes to be explored, and magnificent architecture to be appreciated. At breakfast, I met two guys, one from Australia and another from Germany. I don’t remember very well the Australian lad, but the German one, oh my God. Good-looking to say the least. Blonde, blue eyes, charming, marvellous smile, tall, I just wanted to visit Germany as soon as possible.

We had that normal small talk and it was fun. I ate a lot as the food was very good and I went to stroll around. The weather was gloomy, but it wasn’t raining.

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It’s interesting when you visit London and, then, you go to Porto because it seems you go back in time about 200 years. Porto is way old. Its buildings, structures, monuments, atmosphere… Even the language for me, as our Brazilian Portuguese sounds to us much more modern in a certain way. I was delighted. Actually, I was visiting a country that was somehow the beginning of my country, at least according to the official history.

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I went up and down on the slopes and I finally saw the river. I’d seen that image for ages and I was there at the end of the day.

I crossed the bridge, exactly when the rain came heavier. I had my blue raincoat, what I bought especially for that trip. It was windy too, what annoyed a bit me because of the pictures.

I got lost at the other part of Porto (I’d do the same in lots of places), but I found my way back very fast.

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Something very funny happened at this time. I entered a sort of a cultural centre and the guy responsible for me place talked to me in English. Without realising, I answered in English too. It was ridiculous, but I was shy to tell him I could speak Portuguese, so I just pretended that I needed a lingua franca to communicate there.

Back to main Porto, I visited some more places before a break to have lunch. I learned how to appreciate Portuguese food in Brazil, because of the stepfather of an ex-boyfriend. In Portugal, of course, I wanted some fish. I was particularly keen on codfish. Choosing a restaurant to eat is always the most irritating part of my trips because I just cannot decide where to go. Many options, many people in all the places, pricey menus…  At least in Portugal you’re not likely to be ripped off as in London, for instance, so there’s a clear advantage.

Eventually, I found a restaurant in the centre, away from the crowds, and with excellent prices. There was no codfish, but the waiter, a distinctive and polite guy, told me in that lovely Portuguese accent that they had a special dish with sardines. I gave it a try and it turned out to be perhaps the best meal I had during my whole time in Europe. Sardines with some potatoes, vegetables and delicious sauce. A glass of wine too, of course. It was out of this world. I’m writing this and I can feel the taste of that indescribable food, which cost less than 5 euros – the biggest bargain in the world.

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In the afternoon, the same routine. Visiting places and stopping for a while in order to avoid the insisting rain. I had the impression that my camera wasn’t working properly, but I had the mobile too. I tried not to overthink about that.

Back to the hostel, I decided to see what was going on with the camera. In London, I went to a cybercafé (nice name for that awful place) and I copied all the pictures for one of my storage clouds.  I intended to do the same in Porto, but the card didn’t want to open. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t access my gorgeous pictures from FOUR days of London and that one in Porto. I tried to open it in lots of ways and, eventually, I gave up. I had told a friend what happened and he promised to help me in Dublin in my return (I just could recover my pictures months later in Brazil)

The German guy from the hostel had invited me to have dinner with him in a restaurant famous for its francesinha, a kind of huge hamburger with an egg on top and chips. It seemed an excellent way to stop freaking out because of the pictures and have some craic with that stunning companion.

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We queued up a little in front of the place and it wasn’t bad because the guy was so charming and so pleasant to talk with. We laughed about the differences between Brazilian and German cultures and the weird World Cup Match with its 7×1 (for them).

Our table was ready, and we finally order our francesinhas. When the dishes came we were quite surprised with the size. It’s enormous. I couldn’t help thinking how many calories and how much cholesterol there were in each of those sandwiches, but that didn’t stop me eating that appetising meal. It was so tasty! It was an enjoyable evening, and thank goodness I love travelling alone, otherwise it would be harder to have moments like that one when out of the blue you meet people and share a meal with them.

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On Sunday, the guy headed for Lisbon, but as I’m an idiot I didn’t ask him any contact. He didn’t ask mine either. We said goodbye to each other when he left the hostel, I finished my breakfast and continued exploring the city. The weather was a bit better, so I went back to the river to take more pictures. I’m fascinated by picturesque places, and it was so nice to see and remember now each window and each door, as well small shops and restaurants, and people and their peculiar way of life, where nobody really seemed to hurry.

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As many places I visited, I quickly discovered why so many people like Porto and Portugal. It seems there are treasures hidden all over the place. I remember that I saw a church close to the river and I decided to go into to see how it was. Outside, the building was not exceptional but inside… one of the most outstanding temples I’ve seen in my life. It was a mix of gold, saints and endless details. I just wonder how many places like that you can find in small Portuguese cities, for example.

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On Monday it would be time to travel to Lisbon (€ 9,90, love ya Ryanair) very early, so I went to bed quite soon to have some sleep and enjoy those good feelings that only trips can produce on you.

CAE: It’s done!

After two years studying, I finally got my Cambridge English Advanced certificate – and I don’t have words to described how fulfilled I feel right now.

I took the exam in December, and the result was released yesterday in the morning. I was trembling when I accessed the information related to my inscription. I was afraid of bad news, but I succeeded: I scored 199, which gives me grade B. It’s just one point from reaching the C2 level, the known “mastery” of the language. I couldn’t believe my eyes. One point, come on, in practice, I’m already proficient!

As I wrote on my Facebook, people don’t have any idea about how important a certificate like this is for me. I started learning English quite late in life (well-off children study it when they are in the kindergarten) and it has been a struggle for so many years.

Apart from feeling that I could learn by myself at ease (after quitting a regular course), I wasn’t able to speak. I mean, I could a little, but it wasn’t enough for a real conversation, especially with someone with a good accent or a native speaker. That situation made me suffer so much.

Related to this, an episode is an emblematic point in my life. I still remember the evening when I met a friend of mine and some of her friends in a bar in Sao Paulo. There was a foreign person on the table with us, while the others were Brazilians. All of them could speak perfect English. They have lived abroad, they have travelled, studied the language for ages… On the other hand, I had no confidence to speak in front of them. My listening at that time was terrible too, and so nervous I was to speak in front of them. I gave an excuse and I went home. Inside, I was devastated and I did believe I couldn’t speak English during my life.

Until the day I went to Ireland, whose people helped me, since the beginning, to find out that my English was better than average, almost advanced. Honestly, I didn’t know that, and now I know I suffered for nothing. Quickly I received more and more praises, particularly from English speakers, who said my level was amazing, great and tremendous.

Having said that, my CAE is not just a certificate for me. It’s a certainty that I rose to the challenge and the best proof I could have to know that I need to trust myself.

Now CPE is just around the corner. I don’t know when, but I’ll get it.

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