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Life in Andalucia

Monday, February 27th, 2006

I’ve enjoyed five marvelous days at Finca Buenvino, where I’ve been able to relax, read, hike, have great conversation, eat marvelous food and even work on the farm for a day. I just returned from a few hours helping take down one fence, start another, carry firewood and a few other odd jobs. My hosts here, Sam and Jeannie Chesterton, have been more than wonderful, and I’m grateful for all they, and their family and friends, have been able to offer me and teach me about life in this wonderful corner of the world. Both at this location, and my last, in Portugal (with Laura and Ricardo), I have participated in the couchsurfing program, where super special people invite you into their home to stay for free as you travel about the globe. The idea is that one day you will be able to repay them and let them stay on your couch, or they will travel to another part of the world where someone will do the same for them in return, a kind of pay it forward for the wanderlust travel spirits out there.

We will be treated to yet another of Jeannie’s fantastic meals in a bit (I smell curry in the kitchen!) and then I will get ready to head out. (She teaches fantastic cooking courses here too!) Sam will drive me in to Aracena where I will catch an hour bus to Seville. I’ll stay there two nights, then take a train to Granada for another two nights, before heading out into the country again, to another part of Andalucia I’ll write about more next week. I hope to write again from Granada, where my hostel has internet access. Adios till then, and happy monday everyone!

PS: Thanks to my great friend Tamara who took the awesome photo you see as my new banner. You can see more of her great photos at Luminous Lens. Thanks Tam!!

Hola from Espana!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Excuse the Spanglish, but I’m excited to have made it to the country where I am at least familiar with the language from my high school and college studies. A final word about Portugal first, well…it’s too hard to say in one word just how special my first week was, but I was truly touched by the kindness of so many I met in Lisbon and the Algarve. I’ll be saying “obrigada” in gratitude for a very long time!

Transport has been tricky since last night. The past twently-four hours have been filled with some train track miscalculations and a few close calls with catching buses, including one episode I will forever refer to as “The Miracle at Huelva” when the one hour time difference in Spain almost kept me from missing a very important ride. (Someone is REALLY looking out for me…) Anyway, two bus rides later, I’ve finally arrived at my destination for the next few days, probably through Sunday or Monday, in a small town in the mountains of Andalucia, near Aracena, and only an hour from Seville. I will not be writing more from here, and instead will be off enjoying the beauty of this countryside. It’s pretty cold here, colder than usual, but I’m hoping for a few hours of warmth or sun over the weekend to get in some hikes and walks around the region. And lots of writing, reading and catching up on sleep…have a good weekend!

Hello from the Algarve

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Hey all…there is so much I want to write and share but there is little time now. It is very late and I have to be up early. Quickly, I am sooo enjoying my stay in southern Portugal and have one more night here before moving on to Spain. Today I explored Lagos and other beautiful spots in the Algarve region with my Portuguese friends Laura and Ricardo who I´ll tell you more about in the future…they introduced me to geocaching, a very fun way to explore this coastal area, as well as other parts of the world. And tonight, after watching some European football (aka soccer in the US) we had a fantastic dinner and fado music entertainment at a country restaurant that was fabulous. Tomorrow I will visit Tavria and try to catch up on my journal writing… I´ll be writing at the Eurail blog next, hopefully tomorrow. Hope all is well and sorry if I have not responded to your emails/comments yet…will soon!

UPDATE: Just added to quick posts at Eurail blog! I´m off to explore Tavria for the afternoon.

Exploration and Discovery

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Good morning from Lisbon on a rainy Monday. The sun and rain do a constant dance here in Lisbon, at least as far as I can tell. Lots of on and off rain all day, mixed with bursts of sunshine. I just got back from breakfast — coffee con liete and a crossaint — I stood at the counter in the pasteleria and ate like the Portuguese do. I´ll be heading south to Faro in the Algarve this evening, but will enjoy a lazy final day here in the city.

Yesterday was another busy one, full of discovery, exploration, lots of walking and some spirituality too, perfect for Sunday. I´ll have to give more details in emails and letters to some of you, but here is a quick snapshot of the day:

I started at a fascinating exhibit all about St. Francis Xavier, which is part of the Jubilee 2006 festivities surrounding the anniversary of the birth of Xavier and Faber, and the death of St. Ignatius Loyola. This dovetailed nicely with things I had learned and discussed on the retreat I went to in MA right before leaving for Lisbon. The exhibit was housed in an old cord/rope factory, and I have cool stories and photos from that to share as well. Xavier was a missionary who traveled to India, Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere…he is one of the figured carved in the Monument to the Discoverers that I visited next, further down the street in Belem. I took the lift to the top to see an incredible view of the Tagus River and all of Belem, a neighborhood about ten minutes outside of downtown Lisbon. I visited the incredible Jeronimos Monastery next, then headed across town to the Azjuelos Museum, which is housed in a beautiful old convent. Azjuelo is the Portuguese word for tile, and this museum explains how the painted tiles that decorate Lisbon and all of Portugal are created — there are examples from the 15th century up to today.

Ahhh!! That is a quick rush one paragraph summary of a truly incredible day…I liked learning about daGama, Xavier and all the other explorers that left from Lisbon to embark on their voyages of discovery…I guess you could say I´m doing my own personal version of the same thing…setting out from Lisbon to see where the rest of this trip will take me!

Sintra, Cascais and more

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Yesterday I ventured outside the city walls, on a day trip to the medieval village of Sintra, about 40 minutes west of Lisbon by train. There are several castles there, including the magestic Palacio de Pena . It was a long climb to the top, but I decided to do it, and was joined by a French university student, Colombe, who was walking uphill as well. She was very nice, here in Lisbon for the weekend doing research on teh city for school, and we chatted between huffs and puffs as we climbed. The view at the top was spectacular, and we watched the sky go from clear to cloudy as rain approached. After a late lunch back in town (ham and cheese never tasted so good!), Colombe and I split ways and I headed on to the Sintra Municipal Library, a newly renovated one that I had read about before arriving in Portugal. I tried to get on the computer there, but the place was packed, so I justed looked around, checked out their art exhibit and headed back to the train station as the wind and rain picked up. I decided to return to Lisbon via Cascais, which is south of Sintra on the ocean, so I waited for a bus that would take me the 30 minutes to the ocean front town. I got there as dusk arrived, but just in time to see the Atlantic, hear the waves and wander along the waterside shops for a bit. I learned later that the better ocean view is really at Cabo de Roca, but I´ll have to see that on a return visit.

I returned to Lisbon last night in time to rendevous with my latest pals, who I actually met on Friday but did not get a chance to write about yet. Estelle is from Paris, and is my hostel dorm bunk mate. I met her when she arrived Friday afternoon. Earlier that day, I had asked Katrina to take my photo at the Castelo do Sao Jorge, and ten minutes later we had plans for dinner. She and her friend Jenny are from Germany, but are studying in Malaga, Spain right now. So, Friday night the three of us — me, Estelle and Katrina — had dinner together and made new friends while we ate with the four Portuguese university students seated next to us. Duarte, Joao, Filipe and Carlos helped us decipher the menu, order our meals and treated us to some beers and an after dinner drink that only Katrina was brave enough to try, called bagaço. (Don´t ask me how to pronounce this, or many of the Portuguese words I´ve been introduced to this week!) After dinner on Friday, the guys showed us around Barrio Alto for a bit, the neighborhood where all the nightlife is. The bar we went to was “tasca” meaning inexpensive, so it was very crowded and we didn´t last long, but it was a remarkably fun night that we shall all remember for a long time.

So, getting back to Saturday, last night Estelle, Katrina and I had a quick, unplanned dinner again at the place I had eaten my first night here. It was fun to walk in there again and have the owner wave to me, he remembered the funny American girl who was back! They treat us really well there, and are very friendly. It was a nice chance to catch up again and trade stories about our adventures from the day, but since mine wore me out so much I was off to bed and asleep early last night.

I´m off to visit several museums today…the hostel should be quiet tonight so I hope to have time to write again one more time tonight or tomorrow before I leave here. I´ll respond to your comments and emails then, thanks again for visiting!!!

Lost in the Alfama

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

The traveller has seen much of the world and of life, and has never felt comfortable in the role of a tourist who goes somewhere, take a look at it, thinks he understands it, takes photos of it and returns to his own country boasting that he knows the Alfama. This traveller must be honest. He went to the Alfama, but he does not know what it is. All the same, he walks and walks, and when he finally comes out at Largo de Chafariz de Dentro — after being lost more than once as he knew he would be — he wants to immerse himself once more in its dark alleys, the twisting dead-end streets, the slippery steps, until he feels he has at least learnt the first few words of the immense dialogue going on between houses, inhabitants, personal histories, laughter and the inevitable tears.

~ from Journey to Portugal, Jose Saramago

I spent Friday morning on a walking tour of the Alfama. I wrote a bit about it here at the Eurail Blog, another place where I´ll be writing a few times a week. It is now the wee hours of Saturday morning here, and I just got back from another fantastic night with new friends from Germany, France and Portugal. I will write more about them and our Friday night adventures sometime over the weekend, but I´m off to bed now. TGIF and happy weekend to all, I know it is a long one for some in the States, so enjoy!

Getting lost and making friends

Friday, February 17th, 2006

I spent yesterday evening wandering around Chiado, Baxia and some of the other neighborhoods that make up Lisbons downtown. I was definetly nervous to pick my first place to eat, so I kept walking until the hunger head spins started around 7 pm. I wound up back very close to my hostel at a small place right off the Largo do Carmo plaza where I had used the phone to call home earlier. Leitaria Academia was, appropriately enough, packed with university students enjoying some cervezas. It is a small place, but the students were tucked in a back corner room so I ordered one of the plates of the day and sat at a table in the main room. I knew when I selected Perma de Porco Assada that I was getting pork, but had no clue how it would be served. It came sliced, with salad, rice, french fries and bread. I ordered a glass of white wine and a cafe con leite after I was all done, the entire bill came to 7.90 euros, and I left the kind woman who served me a 2 euro tip since she was very accomodating and knew I was a bit nervous about all this…

But it worked out perfectly, just as I had hoped – by selecting one of these small eatieries off the main Rossio (which is beautiful but more touristy and busy), I was able to interact with locals from town. I found the courage to ask the university students, “Fala Ingles?” and the rest was history…they sat at my table with me, sang songs and invited me to join them for dinner at another location. (Of course, I had eaten dinner much earlier than most Portuguese do.) So I went with them, although I did not eat again, I did get great tips on how to order and where to go. They bought me my first Portuguese beer, a Sagres, which I drank while talking with thiem about school, New York, language, traveling and architecture, which is what they are all studying. Two of them, Rodrigo and Jose, knew english very well, but all of them knew enough to get by chatting for a few minutes or more…Saul, Carolina, Raquel, Fabiana, Natu, Rosario and Renato was so much fun, and I enjoyed their company and hospitality until I departed for sleep around 10 pm. They were all round 18-19 (drinking age is 16 in Portugal) and full of energy, but my jet lag (and age) caught up with me and I was ready for a good snooze, which is exatly what I got. It was such a memorable first evening in town…

Not sure where today will take me, but Iºm headed out soon to find out…I think a walking tour first…

Pre-departure photos

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Kel&Mom.JPGHere’s me and mom at the house before leaving for the airport yesterday. It is taking a long time to upload so that’s all for now. I’m also having a heck of time getting used to the keyboard, so I’m gonna stop now and head out for something to eat and enjoy the last hour or so of daylight…this should be an adventure, my first Portuguese meal! At least I feel like myself again, I slept for three hours, showered and organized my stuff. Thanks for all your emails and comments…this is so fun, and it is so nice to have folks following along…

So Finally, Here is Lisbon

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

The traveller regains the street and feels lost. Where should he go now? What is he to visit? What shall he leave aside, either on purpose or because of the impossibility of seeing and commenting on everything? And anyway, what does it mean to see everything? It would be just as valid to stroll through the gardens and to go and look at the ships on the river as to visit the Jeronomite monastery. Or to do none of this, but simply sit on the bench or on the grass, enjoying the splendid bright sunshine. It’s said that a ship at anchor is not sailing. That is true, but it is preparing to set sail. So the traveller fills his lungs with fresh air, like someone hoisting sail to catch the sea breeze, and sets course for the monastery.

~ from Journey to Portugal by Jose Saramago

I made it to Lisbon, although there is no splendid sunshine today — it is a rainy day which is just fine, since I am so, so tired. I hardly slept on the plane, I sat between two Portuguese men who were returning to Lisbon after a conference in Las Vegas for their company, Staples! It was funny to talk to them about brand marketing, sticky notes and such. (Dad, they coplimented the Uni pen you gave me as top of the line!) Anyway, they were very nice, taught me lots about the city, culture, and some language lessons too. The woman at the tourist booth, my taxi driver, and the staff at the hostel have all been just as hospitable. I am staying in the Chiado neighborhood…being back in Europe, instantly I´m reminded how young America is. Everything is so much older here, and so very beautiful…even in the rain.

Well, I’m off to call mom and dad then head to sleep for a few hours. I may go exploring in the early evening to get some dinner and visit a bookstore, there are several in the neighborhood.

Lotsa Love

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

What a day! A bunch of phone calls and emails from one special person after the next — some with tears, all with laughter…an endless stream of virtual hugs and well-wishes. Plus a nice Mexican dinner with Mom, Dad, Aunt Catherine, Roberto and my cousin Christian. I felt the love today, and so many times in the past few weeks…thanks for all the great meals, visits, conversations, comments, cards, laughs…

The mid-afternoon walk I took around Pearl River today was the best thing for me, to get out and clear my head, breath in the fresh air and really feel this — this awesome sensation that I’m on the brink of something I can’t quite comprehend, yet feel oddly at ease with, despite the vast “unknown unknowns” that lie ahead. Baking a batch of biscotti this afternoon in between phone calls was also a welcome activity, as was the 20-minute wait at the post office to buy one 39 cent stamp!

I just finished filing my taxes and am getting ready to tackle the backpack. I’ve got another three hours in me before I’ll crash and sleep. I feel like there is still tons to do, but I’m not super stressed about it…just coasting along, almost floating, still not believing that this is happening.

This is happening, right?!?! 🙂