Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 1.

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/192316251643707392

04.06.2012

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute. I might have fleeting moments of excitement in the days or weeks beforehand, but the excitement always grows at the last minute. It’s surreal – I know that I’m going somewhere but it doesn’t feel real until I land in my destination.

I made sure to get enough sleep to manage the trip on public transportation the next morning. I didn’t feel like paying for a cab this time around, at least for the trip to the airport. It went well overall; it took 90 minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad for a major world airport like Heathrow and on a holiday weekend. The only thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the price for the Heathrow Express – £19.00 one way.

I got to the airport before the rest of the group. Oh, I forgot to mention the group…

I joined Meetup about 3 months ago as a way to get out a bit more, as a challenge to myself for 2012 and beyond. (I may write a post or two about how that’s going in the future.) Among other things, I looked for traveler groups and sure enough, I found one that caught my eye: Solo Travelers. As someone who likes traveling solo, this group and its description sounded perfect. This group already planned its 2012 trips, and while I’d love to go on each one of their trips, I’m not rich. But there were a few that appealed to me, and Lisbon caught my eye first – affordable, 2 hour plane ride, long weekend (I hate very short trips). A few days after joining the group, I paid a deposit and secured my spot. While I prefer traveling solo, traveling with other solo travelers made sense to me for a couple of reasons:

1. While we arrived & departed together from each airport, staying together was optional. If we didn’t vibe together, or wanted to do our own things, we could always split up.

2. This was another way to challenge myself to more & make new potential connections.

So there you have it – I traveled with other solo travelers. How did that go, you ask? Stay tuned.

The group went to the wrong gate because of a mix-up, so the group leader sent a text message on my way to the airport and I met the group at the correct gate instead. They arrived 10 minutes later, and the group leader introduced himself & the other group members. We checked in, got our boarding passes & went through security together, but split up until we got on the plane. While we were split up, I tried getting some cash out of my account, but the ATM declined my card . No sweat, though… I’d try when we arrived, and at least I had enough elsewhere.

I should have sat next to a group member, with whom my intuition sensed good vibes, but she was gracious enough to allow a couple to sit together. That was very nice of her… but not for me because the woman in the couple was so annoying that I wanted to punch her in her jackass face & throat. 😐 Lucky for me that I usually fall asleep on flights because I slept for at least half of the flight… which meant that she annoyed me only half as much as she would have if I was awake for the full flight.

When we landed, it was a nice surprise to disembark to nice weather since the weather authority predicted rain in Lisbon for most of the weekend.

Not too bad.
Not too bad.

Before we took our taxis to the hotel, I told the group leader about my ATM issue and he said “No problem, I’ll cover you until you get access to your account. These things happen.” Quite embarrassed – it’s my issue and I take ownership of it – but relieved that it wouldn’t be a huge issue. Our hotel was a short distance from the airport, and the taxi fare was pretty cheap for European standards – well less than €10.00 for each taxi.

We arrived at the hotel, and I was quite impressed. I should have shared a room with an older British woman, but she must have made a good connection with another group member because upon hotel check-in, she said that I was sharing with someone else instead. (That turned out to be a good thing. Stay tuned.) New roommate & I went to our hotel room; were we impressed again. I forgot to take a photo of the outside & our room, but check out the view from our window:

Taken as soon as we got into the room.
Taken as soon as we got into the room.

We settled in, chose our beds, got some help with our TV & internet settings from hotel staff, and relaxed (except for contacting my U.S. bank) until it was time for dinner. For the first night, we all dined together. We weren’t sure where to eat, but at least there were options within walking distance of the hotel. We walked a bit and I spotted an ATM – perfect time to give the group leader his money back. I inserted my card, figuring that there was something wrong with the ATM at Heathrow since the bank didn’t see anything wrong with my card during our phone call.

Of course it was my card. Cash machines in Portugal are pretty damn good because unlike at Heathrow, the ATM flashed the following words on the screen:

Your ATM card has expired.

FUUUUUUCK. 😐

Sure enough, I checked the card and it’d expired 6 days before the trip. I was even more embarrassed. I told the group leader and he was fine with it. He asked if I was alright for dinner and I assured him that I was. Unlike a few years ago, I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or cry or hide away in my room for the night. I just kept calm and thought about what to do next.

We decided on a restaurant across the street from the hotel; unlike a few of the other restaurants in the vicinity, this one was more affordable and there were locals eating there, which signaled to us that the food was probably decent.

Sete Mares.
Sete Mares.

Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.
Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.

Yes, they're live.
Yes, they're live.

Some of the group members liked their food, while others could have taken or left it. The main complaint for those who could have taken or left it – the food was too oily. Thank goodness that mine was good.

We stayed for 2-3 hours, and some of us were tired so we went back to the hotel afterwards to get some rest for the next day. I called my family to tell them about the money situation, and my aunt said that she’d wire money the next afternoon. That was fine with me, as I wouldn’t be spending much money anyway, even after getting her money. It was quite annoying to know that I had money that was inaccessible, but it wasn’t worth turning the trip into doom & gloom. Thank goodness for age, wisdom, growth, and back-up plans. New roommate & I chatted a bit, then watched some TV and settled in for the night.

Stay tuned, everyone.

Boa noite.
Boa noite.

Day 2 ahead…

Bom dia (secret trip).

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/188328737421524992

Over the past couple of months, I mentioned on Twitter that I had a trip booked, but wanted to keep it a secret until my departure. Today is the day, so here goes.

I’m already on my way to Lisbon, Portugal for a long weekend. It wasn’t part of my travel resolutions for the year, but I definitely don’t have a problem with it at all, as I’ve been fascinated with Portuguese language & Lusophone countries for the past few years. Please check And She’s Off! – Spinster’s Travels for trip updates; meanwhile, as always, my expatriate writing will stay here.

Have a good weekend, and I’ll speak/write to you soon.

Take-off.
Take-off.

Melts in your mouth (again).

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/186528533475110912

I wrote a post about the Chocolate Festival a few months ago. Well, it’s back in a few towns again and unlike the last time, I went with a friend & met up with 3 people from Meetup. I also got to buy myself a couple of treats this time (no laughing ATM for now). Rather than write the same things that I wrote in the last festival post, take a look at a few new photos instead. In the meantime, I’ll have a bite of my brownie with white chocolate chips & a bite of my piece of red velvet cake, please & thank you.

Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).
Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).
Chocolate vodka chillies.
Chocolate vodka chillies.
Black River (Jamaica single origin).
Black River (Jamaica single origin).
Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).
Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).
Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.
Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.
Chocolate porter (beer).
Chocolate porter (beer).
Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)
Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)
Demarquette.
Demarquette.
Seashell.
Seashell.
The Pancake Bar.
The Pancake Bar.
Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
Philip Maes chocolatier.
Philip Maes chocolatiers.

As an added bonus, here’s some beef chilli flavored with dark cocoa and topped with pico de gallo & shredded cheese. It was surprisingly good.

Beef chilli.
Beef chilli.

And these are for me. Sorry, no sharing. 😐

Brownie with white chocolate chips.
Brownie with white chocolate chips.
Red velvet cake.
Red velvet cake.

Celebrate every day.

First things first, I want to apologize for not posting in a while. Along with being busy, I think that I’ve got writer’s block. Not cool at all, especially when I have drafts sitting in my folder; I tried finishing 1 draft but got stuck & decided to leave it alone for now. I won’t force the process though; hopefully I’ll be back to writing sooner than later.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way…

Happy Valentine’s Day 2012. Today isn’t just about romantic love. We need love every day in every way. While I’m not homesick, I wish I were near my family & friends to get & give hugs and kisses. 🙂 But it’s alright though because just like any other year, I won’t sit around sulking. Well… I’ll sit but not sulk. By the time you read this, I’ll be checking out some free live jazz with a few like-minded others. This is perfect for me because in the spirit of learning to take care of my Self, it reinforces how important my Self is daily & relaxing when my mind and/or body tell me to do so.

So single folks, enjoy today anyway. Non-single folks, here’s to hoping that this isn’t the only day that you decide to share love with your partner and everyone else.

Until next time (again, hopefully sooner than later), take it easy & take care of your Self. Bless.

Are you doing anything today other than sitting around sulking & wishing for a date or a lay? Do you have any special rituals that you adhere to on this day, whether you’re single or not? Most importantly, how do you celebrate love on the other 364 days of each year?

Love.
Love.

Travel resolutions (again).

I’m not going to wax poetic about my year in review, ups & downs, what I plan to do in 2012, etc. I think that I’ve poured out enough in my writing for you to know about my past ups & down. I will, however, wish you a Happy 2012. May you fulfill all your goals, especially your travel goals.

I didn’t fulfill my travel goal/resolution to go to Germany. I did, however, go to Italy – always one of the top countries that I wanted to visit. In 2012, I hope to visit Germany & Belgium, and I want to visit a warm island for my birthday. (I used the word “hope” in case I don’t get to those countries and/or visit different ones unexpectedly.) Everything else is up in the air and will be spontaneous, so I won’t list any other countries as definite choices.

What are your travel resolutions? How will you meet them? If you document your travels, how will you do so? And finally, if you plan to expatriate, where are you going and why?

Have a happy New Year. Don’t see it as the start of a new year; see it as the start of a new day.

Happy New Year.
Happy New Year.

Melts in your mouth.

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories?

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What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories? Does it bring back adult memories? (*evil grin*)

When I think of chocolate, I reminisce about being a kid and drinking Nestle Quick chocolate milk. I remember learning how to make S’mores in home economics class. I reminisce about the different varieties of chocolate chip cookies that my mother would bring home – Chips Ahoy, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm, Mrs. Fields, Sean’s cookies, local grocery store bakeries. I think of my all-time favorite ice cream cake, Carvel, with the layer of chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookie crumble. Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes aren’t too bad either.

The memories. *drool*

While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.

(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)

The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.

Street level.
Street level.

For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.
Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Santa Claus.
Santa Claus.
Pretzels.
Pretzels.

Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.

Click me & make your own.
Click me & make your own.

Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.

Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate with raisins & etc.  I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside.  That's how good it was.
Chocolate with raisins & etc. I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside. That's how good it was.

Did you miss the Festival? Don’t worry… it’ll be back and it might be in your area when it returns. In the meantime, check out the long history of chocolate (Wikipedia).

Thanks for coming.
Thanks for coming.

Going through the motions.

It’s been a while – well, a little less than a month – since my last post.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/132200410055323649

It’s been a while – well, a little less than a month – since my last post. My stepfather surprised me with a visit for 5 days about 2 weeks ago and we had a wonderful time. He’s wonderful and, despite him no longer being married to my mother, still considers me his daughter & vice versa. It was a necessary (albeit short) break, a breath of fresh air, in this thing called my life.

But since he left – hell, even before that – I’ve been a bit out of it. I’d rather not go into too much detail, but some of it is why I’ve not written in a while. Along with the typical “No one is reading this shit anyway” thoughts:

– I may not go home for Xmas, partly because who really gives a damn & partly because of finances

– I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck; I thought that I could leave the overworking 2-jobs-to-make-ends-meet life behind but I may have to return to it

– I still don’t know what to do with my life even though my goal is self-employment

– The list of those whom I consider family has greatly shrunken

– The list of those whom I consider friends has greatly shrunken

– Health

And more. But I don’t complain much because people have their own lives and either don’t want to or can’t hear it, and I only 50% blame them for that. But after reading another blogger’s post today, I decided that maybe I should let out a bit of it for the world to see… oh wait no one reads this shit myself.

I’m going through the motions. I survive. I live. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. But I’ll be back to blogging sooner than later… hopefully. Although he doesn’t know it, thanks to the blog author for sparking this post.

The Riots 4 – street debate.

Somehow or another, the people who live & thrive off of conspiracy theories (either one or all of the conspiracy theories) seem to find me. All I wanted to do was take a few pictures, maybe a video, go to the grocery store quick, and go back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/104262483761573888

“I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old and I don’t vote.”, said the man as we talked.

Somehow or another, these people (those who believe either one, a few, most or all conspiracy theories) find me. All I wanted to do was take a few photos & (maybe) video, go to the grocery store quick, and come back to the office. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s never that simple.
____________________

It was Friday afternoon, a few days after the riots began. Things calmed down a bit, so I decided to venture out of the office to get milk for my tea. On the way to the grocery store, I stopped at the place where the “love wall” now stands, the place where I took most photos over the past week (exhibits one & two & three). Since I’m documenting this for proof of history, I took more photos & video at the wall. The “love wall” has become a new community meeting spot of sorts; people gather to post messages of support, dialogue & debate with each other.

Part of the "love wall".
Part of the "love wall".

There were 2 men posting messages on the wall – a community leader in a black suit and a younger man in a t-shirt & jeans helping him. As people came by to watch, some would ask the 2 men different questions about the purpose of the wall. As I took photos & videos, I decided to ask one or two myself. I normally don’t approach people, but since the younger man was next to me, it was a bit easier for me to speak without being noticed.

When he finished speaking with an elderly woman, I asked him:

So what’s next? We have people posting messages here, we have people saying that things need to change. That’s all well & good, but what’s gonna happen in terms of follow-up, action? Are there any community meetings planned? How about a forum? No real change will happen if all we do is talk.

He sighed and said that he didn’t know, but has aspirations to go into politics and works at a local college for now. We talked for a bit about possible changes, community organizing & how to avoid riots of this size in the future, and the topic of voting as a tool for change came up. While we were talking about voting, unbeknownst to us, a few people were listening to us. A man approached us and said

I’m not young, yeah. I’m 43 years old & I don’t vote.

Huh? What? There are people in Europe who don’t believe in voting? It’s not just an American phenomenon?

Sigh. Here we go.

It quickly became a lighthearted debate about the pros & cons of voting: me & Aspiring Politician vs. Proud Non-Voter. Proud Non-Voter used the typical reasons (excuses?) that I’ve heard in the past (and present):

– all political parties are the same
– the bourgeois determines election results before other classes vote and, therefore, it’s pointless
– only the bourgeois class have the real power to decide their interests while the proletariat‘s interests are never acknowledged
– “the man” is keeping people down
– the government is keeping people down
– “the system” was never meant to work in our favor
– voters are too idealistic
– things will not change

I canvassed for voter registration in some rough parts of my hometown some years ago, so I’ve heard the above reasons for people not wanting to vote. In addition to those reasons, being an ex-felon is another reason (depending on which state one resides in) that people give for not voting. I’ll leave that reason (excuse?) alone for now because many states still don’t allow ex-felons to vote, so that’s a genuine reason. But the other reasons, to me, reek of reading from the same handbook. Again. At the end of the day, the reasons (excuses?) go back to 2 common fall-backs: laziness & impatience.

We live in a microwave society – people want things done in 90 seconds or less. Whether it’s voting or any other necessary changes….. If things take too long in the microwave, they’re taken out of that microwave & placed in one that gives quicker results – maybe 60 seconds vs. the longer 90 seconds. As an example, people in Western society have gone from having photos developed over a few days to having them developed in as fast as 30 minutes. (And even then, some people don’t think that that’s fast enough.) I don’t know about anyone else, but the photos of old have a special quality to them; they may not be the quality that we’re used to in this new digital world, but it’s quality nonetheless.

The same can be said for societal change. Unless I’m forgetting something from history classes, macro-level change does not happen as quickly as a microwave society wants it to. There are too many examples to post here, but 2 good examples from the past are the Black American civil rights movement in the United States and the Indian independence movement in India. (A very recent example is the Wisconsin recall vote efforts, which won’t stop anytime soon.) Are things perfect in any of these cases? Of course not. India still deals with (overt or covert) caste systems & remnants of colonialism, and Black Americans still have challenges due to institutional racism. But to look back at either of these movements & deny that any change took place is incorrect at best and disrespectful to one’s ancestors at worst.

In other words, why not vote? Why not do what it takes to foster change? Our ancestors did these things with way fewer resources; what’s our/your excuse?

I believe that change can occur even though it takes time. I hope that the dialogues & debates at the “love wall” spread beyond the neighborhood, inspiring collective follow-up, action, and change. We the people.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I’m voting in all elections next year & I’ll keep doing so as long as I’m out of the United States. Whenever I can vote here also, I’ll do so. While I understand being impatient & getting lazy, I can’t look back at the energy & blood-sweat-and-tears that my ancestors spent to gain rights for everyone and just give up due to laziness & impatience & conspiracy theories. Theories are just that – theories – and it’s a shame that so many people spit on our ancestors’ hard work.

The Riots 3 – Conversations.

I wanted to upload some iPhone videos that I’ve taken over the past few days, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that I’d have to pay extra on Wordpress to do that. So my observations will have to be seen through my words & photos instead.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/102490297132531714

I wanted to upload some iPhone videos that I’ve taken over the past few days, but unfortunately I didn’t realize that I’d have to pay extra on WordPress to do that. 😐 So my observations will have to be seen through my words & photos instead. I’m drafting a blog entry about a conversation that I had about community activism & voting, a conversation partly brought on by my short videos; it will be published within 1 week. In the meantime, here are a few more photos.

Man (white t-shirt) helps community leader (black suit).
Man (white t-shirt) helps community leader (black suit).

Community space.
Community space.
Please stop.
Please stop.
Someone else said it, not me.
Someone else said it, not me.
No.
No.

From the beginning: The Riots & The Riots 2.

Come on over (part I).

A few weeks ago, after working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home.

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“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner.

Might as well start from the beginning…..

After working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home. J is a translator/interpreter, and I acquired her services through my job to communicate with a family whose 1st language is French. We worked together before & after my Christmas vacation, and she seems like a nice woman outside of work. I don’t know her age but since she has 5 children, one of whom is in his 20s, I assume that she’s a little older than me. Therefore, I’d not think that she’d invite me to dinner. After all, I’m younger than she is….. Maybe less mature?….. unabashedly American (whether I like it or not)….. not Muslim….. Why have me over for dinner?

So it was surprising that after one of our last visits with the family, she invited me over. We left the home & walked together quietly as usual until we split to head to our respective buses, and before I got a chance to walk off, she said “Would you like to come over for dinner one day?” I was kinda taken aback because it came out of nowhere, but I managed to say something to the effect of

“Wow. Thank you. Sure I’ll come over. Just let me know what your schedule is and let’s take it from there.”

Even though I accepted, the suddenness of it still left my mind boggled. What did she want from me? 😐

2 weeks passed and we set up for me to come over on 03.11.2011. I was looking forward to it….. at first. She’s from Mauritius which, to me, means learning about a new culture and (most important) trying new food. But that good old social anxiety crept up on me as it usually does. (While I’m a private person, I don’t mind sharing my “flaws”, like the social anxiety, with others if it helps others who experience the same things.) I had at least 1 week to mentally prepare myself, but mind over matter doesn’t always work for me. My mind was racing:

What should I wear? They’re Muslim; I don’t want them to think I’m a whore (whatever that means). What if I do or say something wrong? I don’t know these people. What’s their culture like? What if I don’t like the food? Would it be rude to say something about the food if I don’t like it? Okay, I’ll stay for no more than 2 hours and then I’m going home.

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner. Nothing seemed to fit right. I forgot to look up directions to get there. Then I felt hot and changed clothes. Then I felt cold and changed clothes. Then I felt fat and changed clothes. Then I put on make-up and hated it. Then I took off the make-up and hated it. And these damn pimples! I’m too damn old to still be getting pimples! And why does my face have to look like this? And dear god, I’ve gained more weight than I thought. What if my breath stinks? My life is a complete fail. What was I thinking, accepting this invitation? I bet I’ll regret this.

I drove myself bonkers. And made myself late.

Since I was late & didn’t feel like ironing clothes, I decided on a new pair of skinny jeans even though I didn’t want to wear them. I forced myself to re-apply the make-up, checked my breath, put on my new coat & sneakers, and left the house. It was a cold but clear evening and, despite the anxiety, it was nice to get out of the house & see a different part of town. One of my unofficial resolutions for the year is to go out more now that I’m more settled into life in a new country, and anxious or not, I needed to do this. You can’t move forward if you don’t take the 1st step. Since I was running a little late, I high-tailed it to the bus to get to the train station. It was a pretty easy route despite weekend service disruptions. When I got to my destination, I called J to pick me up as planned; since she doesn’t drive, her niece drove while she & her oldest (I think) daughter went along for the ride. I anxiously awaited and wished myself luck.

To be continued…..

My sentiments exactly.
My sentiments exactly.