Solo Travel: Portugal

I’m traveling — alone. Like really alone. I’ve been to Europe before but always as part of a tour, this trip to Portugal is just me, with some plans and mostly inspiration and spontaneity. It was time for me to do this. Alone. Because….why not? And to be serious, I want to experience other places and cultures through my own lens. I don’t need a male companion to do so, though I have spent much of my life in the quest for that one righ man. On my way to the airport I got talking with the woman driving the shuttle bus from longterm parking to the terminal. She wants to travel in the US, but her female friend says they can’t go without a man. They just can’t. She’s retired from law enforcement and chuckled as she noted that she could handle herself. But there is something in our culture that makes us feel like we can’t travel the world alone, or any number of other things. More thoughts on that later in the week.

Fortunately my decision didn’t raise eyebrows or even elicit many comments about my safety. I got more voices of concern when I traveled to DC for the March for Women back in January. Anyway, I’m in Portugal; Lisbon for now.

I arrived early Wednesday morning, grateful to hotel staff for finding a room immediately. I took a brief nap — not being an airplane sleeper — unpacked and then hit the street. Hilly, cobblestone streets. After two full days my calves are incredibly sore. There is an almost equal amount of strain in walking down a steep street as there is to walking up one.

Lisbon is a city of tiles and stones. From uneven sidewalks to gorgeous tiles — old and contemporary. Fascinating. So, expect to see lots of tile photos.

Tiled wall on park in Campo De Santa Clara

Yesterday I walked until I thought I couldn’t move one more step. Started out with a metro ride to the center of the city — then realized it was full of tourists and touristy shops. Turning off on side streets I found myself going around sharp curves and up/down tiny, tiny streets. Pausing to regroup, under a small blossoming tree, I decided to try the trolley. I had intended to go the full circuit but was drawn to this one spot so got off to walk. There are tourist suggestions on where to go and what to see, but for me the fun comes in finding the unexpected. Walking down a narrow street with no expectations of what lies ahead. Nodding and saying Bon Dia when I can — though my english slips in too often.

Street near Parque Eduardo VII

Or this street nearer to the Alfama section of the city.

I found this lovely park, see first tile wall at top of article, and sat there for a good while. There was a small cafe in the park, shaded with a gorgeous view of the Rio Tejo. The cafe owner, who spoke English, brought me homemade scones and lemonade while I rested my feet, wrote in my journal, and listened to the Portuguese bubbling up around me.

From there, around 4:30pm, I walked about 10 minutes down hill to the metro station and went back to my hotel. By that point my legs were screaming in pain. A few hours rest with lots of water and feet elevated and I was ready for dinner.

The people here move in different rhythms from mine. Dinner hour peaks closer to 9pm — way too late for me. As I was walking back to the hotel around 9:45pm there were many people heading towards restaurants. I had dinner at a lovely modern restaurant — risotto with spinach and Acores cheese, from a local island, with a nice red wine. Dessert and coffee — a petite chocolate ganache cake with the most luscious ice cream — sweeter than ours with a hint of flavoring I couldn’t name. I walked back to my hotel — slow and ambling, noticing the light and dark as it bounced around the street. The moon was out and there was a very mild breeze. I felt very comfortable walking alone — which is a good thing as I’ve failed to ask what one dials for emergency should the need arise.

Here are my first attempts at night photography — looking down from Rua Filipe Forque, close to where I dined. There are many winding roads here — I got lost in this area the day before and felt miles away from my hotel when in reality I was just a couple of blocks away, but lower. How could that be? I can’t pretend to understand the street layout here, but I do wonder about all the labor and time required to lay out the stoned sidewalks and roads. There were some men repairing the stone borders in the park — it’s slow work, each 2"square has to be leveled (sorta!) with the others, and then ‘secured’ with the fine dirt/sand packing. It’s a job that uses the same techniques used for centuries.

In my next article I’ll talk more about what it feels like to travel alone.

Originally published at Walker Thornton.