Saturday, May 6, 2017

Saving the Best for Last

Call me an itty-bit biased, but when I think of my favorite place in Europe, Portugal stands out in my mind. 
This is Pena Palace in Sintra
Before coming back to the United States, my last priority was getting back to Portugal to see my dear friend Francisca. When Francisca and I lived together first semester, we were each others' first friend in Strasbourg, first confidant, first pseudo-mother, last goodnight (in Portuguese: boa noite), etc. In a period of four months, as I have previously described in this blog, Francisca became a sister to me. Our apartment became a home to me because of her, and her country feels like a home to me now as well. Getting back to Portugal before I came home to the states was super important to me, and I'm so glad it worked out.

After my trip to Castellane, France and before my visit to Lisbon, Portugal, I fit in quick trips to Barcelona and Madrid, Spain.
Barcelona was beautiful, and the weather was much better than the last time I visited. I experienced my first Airbnb disaster, but maybe a few years from now I'll look back and laugh at that one... Like probably not, but maybe. Kiersten and I enjoyed meeting up with her dear friend, Phoebe, and we had an amazing lunch at a paella restaurant right off the beach before enjoying an afternoon in the sand. Overall, Barça was everything I wanted it to be, and it was really fun to come back to a beautiful city when the weather was beautiful as well. 

Madrid was amazing as well, and I loved the slightly unusual social dynamics of this trip.

  • Firstly, I went to Madrid alone. All alone. To some American college students (shall I specify females?), solo travel is quite intimidating. I must say, there was nothing intimidating to me about this version of solitude.
  • Next, I should correct that this solo travel included visiting a couple friends. My first day in Madrid I met up with one of my closest friends from Strasbourg, Sergio. He showed me around the city a bit, and his girlfriend knew an amazing outlook spot to show me. This "reunion" was my first reminder that the world is big, but it'll never be too big to keep up these friendships.
  • A goofy part, quite possibly my favorite part of traveling alone, is the ability to meet travelers along the way. On a walking tour in the afternoon, I met a group of French people who were super fun and kind, and they invited a Swiss girl and me to join them in the evening for tapas and drinks. I swear this was an amazing last night out in Europe even though I had just met these friends. Their travel stories and welcoming attitudes will inspire me for a long time.
  • Then, the following day I ventured out to Alcalá de Henares to see Kelsey and Mary. It was so exciting for me to explore the little Spanish town that they've called home this semester, especially after getting to show them Strasbourg in January. We enjoyed all types of tapas and churros before we had to say goodbye. Goodbyes with these girls aren't even sad anymore because we all have such exciting plans for the times in between, and so soon Kels and I will be living together again in our perfect little college house.
  • Finally, I took my LAST OVERNIGHT BUS (EVER?) from Madrid to Lisbon.

Day One: Francisca took me to NOVA because she had a class, and I needed an excuse to hang out with another Strasbourg best friend, Tomás. Tomás bought me a cider, and we both laughed at how uncomfortable it was for me to be drinking on his university's lawn. It was fun to catch up with Tomás, and it was a little bit crazy how comfortable I felt at NOVA. Tomás showed me around, and I recognized a number of people I'd previously been introduced to... I really enjoyed hearing that Tomás may be headed to Canada for an exchange during his Master's Program, which means I'll probably find a chance to see him again in the near(ish) future. 

After hanging out at NOVA, Francisca and I got lunch at a hamburger joint. It was so sweet of her flatmate to suggest we get burgers since I'm American, and I have to say they were really good. Francisca is a doll and took me around Lisbon to an outlook I hadn't seen before, and we lost track of time talking about everything from friends to internships to family, boys, unrealistic dreams, etc. There's something so sweet about old friends who just get you... I swear when Kika and I talk to each other there's hardly ever any backstory because we know so much about each other that we can just ramble, and we know the other will make all of the connections along the way... Conversations in moments like these are so precious to me, and I think we both treasured this time. 

In the evening, Francisca drove us out to her home in Setúbal, where her parents live, so we could have dinner together. I was hoping I would get the chance to see Kika's family, so I was very excited when Francisca told me we would head out to Setúbal for dinner. We had an amazing dinner, and this was easily one of the most sentimental meals I had in Europe. Being in her family's home feels so comfortable, and I feel so welcomed and loved there. Our apartment in Strasbourg was great, but there's something so sterile about the green and white of 415 La Marne... her home in Setúbal, like her family's home in Arganíl where we went for Christmas, is so much more of a loving family's atmosphere. I shouldn't be surprised by this, but Kika's parents insisted on sharing amazing cheeses and local wines with me... I can't wait until someday when Francisca can visit me and my family, so we can return these favors. 

Saying goodbye at the end of this meal was harder than I expected. Francisca's mother insisted that I not thank her, and reminded me that I always have a home with them in Portugal. Her father gave me a magnet from Piódão that I'll include a picture of, and again he surprised and amazed me with his ability to communicate with me. English was the primary language used, but nonverbals with family, even pseudo-family, are just as powerful as words. 

Our second day flew by. I knew it would, but I still hated to see the hours ticking by. We got amazing pasta for lunch with Tomás, and I begrudgingly said my "goodbye for now" to him. Then, since it was a beautiful day despite forecasts for heavy rain all day, Francisca drove me out to the point on the coast of Portugal that is Europe's westernmost spot, and we continued on to Sintra, an amazing town in Portugal with an amazing castle built in the days that it was controlled by Spanish kings. We enjoyed local pastries, and I enjoyed laughing as Francisca translated conversations where Portuguese school kids heard Francisa and I speaking in English and decided that Francisca must not be Portuguese. 

In the evening, Francisca and I had dinner and hung out with her friend, Martim. I love Francisca's friends, and I always laugh to notice how similar they are to both our friends in Strasbourg and my friends back home. Perhaps the most amazing part of spending the whole year abroad is realizing how similar people are all around the globe. We all have our quirks and the things that make us special and unique, but beyond it all we're so similar... We still look for the same qualities in friends, and we all still hold quite similar values. It's a cool phenomenon to notice firsthand. 

Francisca took me to the airport at 5:30am. She was a heartbreaking goodbye, but I was too half-asleep to cry this time around. As hard as it was to say goodbye to Francisca, this is one friend I am confident I will stay close with forever. We've promised that we won't ever go more than five years without seeing each other, and we both agree that's a very do-able amount of time. Hopefully, we'll make it less than that at least here in the next few years before our careers or family life consume us (and hopefully that never happens anyway). Francisca, I love you. I always will. I'll keep you in my heart. Forever. 
Goodbye for now but definitely not for long, Portugal.
the gift from Francisca's father <3
...and this is the sunset that night. I swear Portugal loves me back.
Writing these blogs about the ones I miss is emotionally exhausting, but at least I can curl into a blanket with my mom, our pup, and a big bowl of ice cream my dad stocked in the freezer. 
Love, Jules
Why would I be sad when I'm back with my momma?

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