In the further adventures of Steff Sells Everything to Travel for Five Years, there’s this, written over lunch. I got inspired afterwards and walked all over town and even shot a fun timelapse video of riding one of Lisbon’s funiculars, now a “national monument,” and really, a must-do when in town. In the end, I leave with fewer regrets and an even stronger desire to return.

Nonetheless, I think snapshots like this are important in the reality of being a digital nomad, and so I’ll post it anyhow.

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It’s my last day in Lisbon and the prospect of packing for Porto begins tonight.

For some reason I’ve woken today with a weather migraine and healthy dose of regret. I feel like I somehow failed Lisbon. I chose restaurants poorly, had some underwhelming experiences, but I know it was me, not Lisbon.

Okay, so a post like this feels a bit like I'm airing my dirty mental laundry, so why not share a photo of boxer shorts drying in the night of Lisbon's Bairro Alto?

Okay, so a post like this feels a bit like I’m airing my dirty mental laundry, so why not share a photo of boxer shorts drying in the night of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto?

I have the luxury, though, of knowing I get a do-over. I’ll be back again in the fall and will likely spend two weeks and next time I’ll get it right.

I’ve felt “off” for most of the week. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it’s to do with it being Christmas-but-not; I’m not feeling Christmas but it’s kind of all around me. December 19th? Are you kidding me? It’s 20 degrees and feels like September in Canada. I might as well be a million miles from home. I get fleeting moments of homesickness, but not really, because I’m living a pretty awesome life, right? Like I say, it’s hard to explain.

The iconic Lisbon trolley by night in the Bairro Alto 'hood.

The iconic Lisbon trolley by night in the Bairro Alto ‘hood.

If there’s one thing this funk I’m in has taught me, it’s that I’m right to want to stay a minimum of two weeks anyplace I go. If I have a few “off” days, suddenly the whole week seems a waste. But with two weeks, it’s easy to rebound and explore more.

That’s the trouble with a long-term travel life. There’s a sense of guilt that comes from not always being “on,” as if one should feel such undying gratitude to be in yet another amazing location that they should be out and doing All The Stuff All The Time, but life isn’t meant to be a 24/7 party of experiences. Down times are essential.

But when all you’ve got is a few days in any given place, how do you stop and just BE there?

Sit down. Be. Repeat. That's how to be present in any given moment.

Sit down. Be. Repeat. That’s how to be present in any given moment.

I know without doubt that there is more to Lisbon than what I have seen, and sure, I have this feeling of regret that I didn’t get an “A+” for my Lisbon Explorer badge, but I also don’t care. iHuman, not iRobot.

It was my mistake to book only a week here. I feel it needs more. This is one of those cities I want to just sit on the plaza and watch life unfold around me. I want to get on a trolley with no idea where it’s going and just hop off and do my thing. I want to return to my apartment, nap, get up, and do it all over again on the very same day, living my life in shifts because this city seems to seldom sleep.

In an area likely seldom seen by tourists, a residential area where it seemed like I was the only misfit. I don't even know where I was, but I wasn't far from the "hot" areas. Felt great to wander there today, though.

In an area likely seldom seen by tourists, a residential area where it seemed like I was the only misfit. I don’t even know where I was, but I wasn’t far from the “hot” areas. Felt great to wander there today, though.

No, one week isn’t enough for Lisbon, not for someone like me who’s working their way around the world and has to time-manage on a daily basis. For someone visiting Portugal only for 2-3 weeks, then a week is plenty of time, if not too much time, because there’s so much to see elsewhere in this little country, from the little I have experienced of it so far.

My happiest day this week was when it was blissfully sunny and everywhere I went I found someone playing music, and I could stop to linger and enjoy the moment. That’s the kind of city this is, one where you’ll stumble upon beauty and magic in spots, and if you don’t stop to savour the moment, that’s when you’re failing to Lisbon properly. I feel like “Lisbon” really should be a verb. This place is pretty alive. One must Lisbon the Lisbon to feel Lisbonned. There, verby.

A woman surveils the Bairro Alto on a warm December night from her balcony. I love spying on people who are spying on people.

A woman surveils the Bairro Alto on a warm December night from her balcony. I love spying on people who are spying on people.

Despite feeling I’ve “failed” Lisbon, I probably haven’t. I saw beautiful modern art in a museum, I rode a ferry, I saw two sunsets, I people-watched all over. I ate their version of roasted chestnuts, watched Fado singers in a café, stood in an alley at midnight listening to multiple fado singers’ voices filtering into the dimly-lit streets. I ate pastel de nata, drank coffee on a plaza, dined in greasy spoons, overpaid for French breakfast, had regional dishes. I took great photos and felt like I was in the moment more than I wasn’t. I spent three hours drinking cheap vinho in a wine bar over a plate of regional cheeses and meats, sitting on a backstreet of the Bairro Alto, watching the bustle of the night unfold around me. (You MUST eat the regional cheeses. They are so damned good and you won’t find them where you live.)

Among my largest mistakes was bothering to spend excess money on food, and food not of Portuguese descent. I think there are a lot of small, simple places doing food right for value prices, and it doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. A simple bifana (pork filet sandwich) from a corner luncheonette can be a wonderful experience. A bowl of sopa Alentejano (poached egg in a garlic broth with bread and cilantro) can warm you up on a cloudy day. A casserole of arroz de pato (duck rice) is the simplest food but so satisfying.

Simple galic and water broth with olive oil, poached egg, cilantro, and bread. Once the egg is broken and mixed with the soup, the broth becomes creamy, not filled with chunks of cooked yolk, as you might expect.

Simple galic and water broth with olive oil, poached egg, cilantro, and bread. Once the egg is broken and mixed with the soup, the broth becomes creamy, not filled with chunks of cooked yolk, as you might expect. I paid 3 euros for this, or about $4.50 Canadian, in a “fancy” restaurant, but it’s a recipe I could easily make at home with fond memories of a great city in the years to come. Oh, so traditional.

These lessons on dining for less and experiencing more won’t go to waste, of course, because I will be back next November, and tomorrow I arrive in Porto, where much of this will serve me well. I will look for more blue collar experiences and skip the fancy things. I will savour simplicity over complexity, just like I would back home.

Most importantly, there will be six weeks for me to experience Porto. Time enough for bad days, lazy days, and rebound days. Time for rainy days off, sleep-ins, late nights, and much more.

Man gets a shampoo.

Man gets a shampoo.

Future travels too will come with times I feel I’ve missed out on the pulse of a place, and days when I feel like I’ve tapped into its very soul. I will sometimes feel I’ve failed to discover what makes it tick, or feel I’ve unearthed its very essence. Just because I’m living life abroad doesn’t mean I get a life without disappointments or misfortune. It just means I’ll be more exotically situated when they strike.

Tomorrow, a new chapter begins, in which I get a simpler, easier life of knowing I’m in the same place for six weeks. I’ll even have an elevator! Trust me, after a week of six flights up to a “third floor” apartment in a 260-year-old building with the dusty, musty remnants of generations between the cracks in the floorboards, it’s exciting to know I’ll be living in modern construction for a bit, with the bells and whistles afforded by an elevator to boot. *swoon*

Whatever my feelings in my migraine-fogged day are today, I have no regrets about coming to Lisbon, and I have no doubts that I’ll return. Just like Zagreb, it didn’t really go as I anticipated, but the charms and lifestyle of the city still found its way into my heart. Return, I will. Thanks for the memories, Lisbon.

My last sunset in Lisbon. It was cloudy and windy and threatening to storm this evening.

My last sunset in Lisbon. It was cloudy and windy and threatening to storm this evening.

Showing 2 comments
  • beachboxer
    Reply

    Ten days is always the perfect time for a place I enjoy. A week, not enough – 2 weeks too long. Lol. The Christmas dumps are normal. I spent one on an Islet in Thailand. Was my first experience being surrounded with really awesome crossdressing and transgendered girls. Still a bit shocked but becoming friends w many – they put on a Christmas Pageant for we tourists. Hilarious..They knew very little about Christmas, or Carols – but LOVED the Costumes. This was years before the horrible Tsunami … I hope they are ok. I splurged on a couple of tearful calls home. Strongly recommended if your blues continue. I suspect there they will have a Special Christmas though. xo You are so brave and thanks SO MUCH for sharing. <3

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      I think 10 days is too few, a month may be a bit too long. I think 2-3 weeks is about perfect.

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