Well, now that we have left Lisbon, I figure it’s time to start writing about it. Our plan was to arrive in Lisbon and stay. For two and a half months. We had booked an Airbnb (with the greatest hosts ever) for the first two weeks, and we were going to use that time to find an apartment and a coworking space, to establish a routine, and to explore the city, of course. But within our first few days in Lisbon, things changed. I felt completely drained. I did not have the energy to wander far from our apartment, much less decode a new language and public transit system, hunt for apartments, or research coworking spaces. I was wiped out, and I did not have the ability to summon the excitement for being in a new and beautiful place. So after some serious heart-to-hearts, Jonah and I decided, once again, to change plans: we would stay in Lisbon for a month, explore the rest of Portugal for about three weeks after that, then fly to the Netherlands to visit some old friends who live there and to meet some friends at the beginning of their own Europe trip, and then fly back to the States.
It is never easy to feel like you’ve failed. We were planning to be gone for seven months, but by the time we return to the U.S. it will have been only five. But we haven’t failed. I always knew that this trip was going to challenge me in ways I didn’t yet know. I also knew that my going on this trip was playing with fire, opening myself up to situations that I already know are hard for me and that have contributed to my struggle with depression in the past. And so each step that we took was a little bit like walking on eggshells, waiting to see if I could or couldn’t handle it. And what I’ve learned is that, for the most part, I can. I love going on adventures, exploring new places, and making new friends. In fact, I’ve been surprised at just how good Jonah and I are at making new friends. But I’ve also learned that, as someone who is not a fan of change, there is only so much of it I can take before I can no longer grin and bear it, trying to enjoy myself in the amazing place I’m in. I love adventure and newness, but I also love familiarity and comforts. I have learned that this kind of trip is something that I love and will hopefully do again soon, but maybe not for the long periods of time I initially thought I’d be capable of. And all of that is ok. It’s hard when everyone we’ve told about this trip and this lifestyle says they’re jealous or they wish they could do what we’re doing. It has made me ask myself why I’m not as excited at this opportunity to drop everything and wander the globe. But the conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t have to want what everyone else wants. And often it comes down to wanting what you don’t have, right? People want this life because they have desk jobs or house payments. I want to be home with my friends in my city because I’m tired of always having to use Google Maps to get anywhere, of never knowing if the next kitchen will have decent pans and knives, of not being able to become a regular at the coffee shop down the street, of never feeling like a place is mine.
But now that I’ve unloaded all of those heavy emotions (blech! feelings!) let’s talk about Lisbon, shall we? I’m sad that all of these feelings hit me when they did because, man, I wish I had had the energy and wide-eyed wonder to truly appreciate Lisbon. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. And we were there in January, when it was damp and (relatively) cold! The narrow streets are paved with limestone cobblestones. The buildings are various shades of pink, yellow, and blues or covered in colorful tiles. And because everything is so light in color, the seemingly endless sunlight bounces and reflects in ways I’ve never seen before. All of the light has this sense of purity, like everything you’re seeing is the truest color it could be. I feel like I’ve never seen such a blue sky.
The virtue of this light seems to come from the water. The ocean’s presence is felt both in the quality of the air – every once in a while you’ll get a waft of sea breeze – and on your plate. Seafood abounds here like nothing I’ve seen. I mean, I’ve been in coastal towns where there is seafood aplenty, but here the range is amazing: octopus, clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp, langoustine, goose barnacles, salmon, sole, cod (and salt cod, more on that later). To have seafood this readily available at every meal makes me feel almost at home.
In addition to the endless supply of sea creatures for our enjoyment, there is also so much meat. Pork and beef are ever popular, and they are cooked simply and well. The black Iberian pig is on almost every menu, either in the form of cured, thin slices, or stuffed into chorizo, or grilled. Steak is delicately seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic and grilled to perfection, and is often served with a cream-based sauce. And the potatoes! I have eaten more potatoes since arriving in Portugal than perhaps ever before in such a short period in my life. Every meal comes with potatoes in some form: mashed, fried, boiled, or chipped. They are fresh and warm and usually still doused heavily in oil from their preparation. We have also been enjoying our fair share of delicious and incredibly cheap Portuguese wine. Last night’s glass cost €1.80, and the bottle dinner at the churrascaria down the street a few nights ago was just €3.80. There is more eating and drinking to do, of course, but so far what has left an impression is the simplicity of traditional Portuguese cooking – when your ingredients are this good and this local, the food doesn’t need much to make the flavors jump off the plate.