I have both good news and bad news. The bad news is that I’m kinda behind on this blog because November=exams. The good news is that I had my first exam this week in Geotechnical Engineering and I was the first to finish so hopefully that means I knew my stuff! If that happened at Cornell I would be scared out of my mind because it could only mean that I understood absolutely nothing and gave up.
Anyway, we had somewhat of a Fall break because (with Spain being nominally Catholic) All Saint’s Day (Nov 1st) is a national holiday and we had Halloween off and I don’t have classes on Fridays so000 5 day weekend!! The logical thing to do? Fulfill the “abroad” requirement of study abroad and go to Portugal! Did I bring homework/study material for my upcoming exams? Mmmmmmmaybe…
I must say Lisbon was definitely the most…interesting…trip thus far as well as the most exhausting. Seriously, I took a nap the day after I got home. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t nap unless I’m either really sick or I pulled an all nighter (of which neither even applied in this case).
In my last post I said that I’ve come to realize how much I still have to learn (about culture, life, and pretty much everything) and this weekend definitely confirmed that. I say this because there was many a moment when it would’ve been so easy to give up and turn back, get frustrated, start complaining, or turn into a decidedly negative nelly for the rest of the day, but instead I did my very best to exercise my positivity muscles.
I could recount all of the missed trains, unplanned and unnecessary mountain hiking, hours spent trying to find a place to eat that wasn’t closed or full, the many times we arrived somewhere only to find that it was closed on that one particular day of the week, and the brief period of panic that ensued when we couldn’t find a taxi to get to the airport at 5:30 AM and were convinced we would have to buy another plane ticket home…but what good would come of that?
Looking back, my favorite part was not when we made the train on time, or finally found a delicious vegan buffet after much hungry wandering, or found a great Fado* restaurant because we triple checked to see if it was in fact open (and actually had Fado). Honestly, my favorite moments include lying on a stone bench with Priya in a plaza at 11:30 at night because we were too tired to walk home and discovering the relation between Fado and crackers, eating an entire fish that frankly was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten in my entire life (even the head, tail, and bones didn’t faze me at all), and moseying around the smaller and more intimate city streets with Michaela while pondering stress, coffee, being abroad, future plans, and the best ways to be a traveler instead of a tourist. And I realize now that many of these things wouldn’t have even happened had our plans not gone awry.
*Fado is a genre of traditional Portuguese music with two types of guitars and vocals. Our tour guide said that most people think it sounds sad but that it’s not meant to be sad. It’s meant to emulate the feeling of when you remember something very good but you simultaneously realize that you will never have the exact same experience again. In my opinion it’s more of a mix between nostalgia and bittersweetness, and can be sad I suppose, but remembering happy things isn’t mean to be sad. The Fado crackers story: I was telling Priya that one time I came home from school really really hungry for some reason and I ate some crackers that I’d had many times before, but for whatever reason in that moment I had never eaten more delicious crackers than those. Of course they never tasted that good ever again, but I still have the memory. It’s definitely a slightly sillier example, but that’s the idea of Fado.
Plus, I learned some very important lessons while I was there:
- Portugal is not Spain. Not even close. They may share the same peninsula but they’re also huge rivals. Things are on a different schedule (what I would call the normal non-Spanish timetable) and businesses close one day a week but instead of all closing on the same day one will be closed only on Mondays, another only Tuesdays, another Sundays, etc. It seemed like the majority of people (even random people on the streets) speak English.
- Don’t try to speak Spanish to the locals. It’s normally received as an insult. If you start speaking English you’re saying “I don’t speak Portuguese but English is becoming a universal language (especially in Europe) so there’s a fair chance you also speak English,” but if you start in Spanish you’re saying “I don’t speak Portuguese because I chose Spanish as my second language instead because it’s globally superior and more useful. Plus it sounds basically the same as Portuguese, right?”
- The most fun thing to do in any city is try to pretend to be a local. I’m not saying to ditch the tourist label entirely; you will get lost and need directions, and definitely take lots of pictures to help you remember how much fun you had and to share with others, but know that the best parts will probably not be the monuments that cost an arm and a leg to get into. I love wandering all the little streets, especially in the older parts of places, finding hole-in-the-wall cafés, local family-operated shops, and the hidden but beautiful sights.
And most importantly…
- COFFEE IS APPARENTLY NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BITTER AND GROSS. AMERICANS ARE JUST DOING IT WRONG. Michaela and I found an adorable coffee shop and I got a latté. Normally I would have to add tons of milk and sugar to coffee to make it even bearable (which is part of the reason I hardly ever drink it) but this was just espresso, milk, and an adorable design in the foam on top and it was absolutely perfect. No sugar necessary and no burning hot, bitter, bean-ey, watery dirt. I was amazed and Mich informed me that this is what coffee is supposed to taste like. Teach me your ways Europe.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend away from school, exploring a new culture, and learning to let all the negative thoughts go. Things will always end up being ok. Maybe not in the way you’d expect or want, but they will be ok. I’m absolutely positive.