I arrive in Lisbon after flying overnight which I always vow I won’t do and then always end up doing.
It’s colder than I expect and when I leave the airport on my way to the metro, I am immediately hit with the smells and the sounds of a place that I deeply wish to be in. Europe holds my heart in every buzzing street car that passes and the scent of the bakeries on every corner. It constantly feels like a coming home and a re-birth all at once.
I make my way to my hostel, amazed that I am able to read maps and understand long words in new languages after the dreary past few months.
The hostel is sunny and bright and has crown moldings like the Parisian apartments of my dreams and there is jazz music playing on the record player.
I meet a guy from Israel who is on his way out to buy a phone after his was stolen in Brazil.
“Well, I feel like that’s exactly what happens in Brazil.” I tell him.
“Yeah. That’s why I’m not mad.” He smiles.
That night I wake up from a jet lagged nap and meet a girl from Boston who tells me she is going out to look for sangria. This sounds like the best plan I’ve ever heard, so we join forces and head out into the night. We walk up hills and down hills and eventually we stumble into a restaurant that could just be someone’s kitchen. There are drunk men in the doorway and a woman who looks like she might work there and we order one thing and she brings us another but we don’t complain. We eat and drink and talk about the guys we love and the places we’re from and the work that we do and what we are learning about ourselves as we grow.
New Year’s eve comes and I want to spend my sunny afternoon exploring Alfama, which is known for its colorful buildings, gorgeous tiles and its proximity to the river. Because Alfama is simply just a very old neighborhood, I stop at the hostel reception desk on my way out.
“I’m going to Alfama today. How will I know when I get there?”
“That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. You’ll sort of just know.”
A metaphor for my entire year if ever there was one.
Am I there yet? Have I arrived? Is this where I stop? Can I rest now? How much further until I’ve made it? And then listening to my own answers. This is good enough, I’m happy enough, I’d like to stop here and rest awhile.
I follow the street car tracks up, up, up and just when I think I can’t climb any more, I turn around and there is color everywhere. The tiles in Lisbon are prettier than I’ve read and the color surrounds me and I can’t believe my life. The sun is shining and I get lost in the winding streets and the colorful hills for the rest of the afternoon.
The night turns into the next day and it’s all a blur of new friends and fireworks and wandering and ginjinha. In between moments, I wonder if I could live here. My nights are ending in the morning hours and I’ve made connections with people from Australia and England and the US. We stay up late debating and discussing and challenging. I go to sleep happy and full.
I head into my next few days with these friends at my side. We explore Belém and museums and the shops on Rua Augusta. The evenings are chilly so we retreat to the comfiest spot in the hostel that brought us all together and plans are made to visit each other in new cities after we part ways. Hours pass and the sangria in our glasses disappears and we decide to delay our parting for a few more days.
I am a firm believer in New Year’s Day as a sort of religion.
I like resolutions and goal setting and fresh starts.
In the past I would choose a word or a theme for my year, something to meditate on, a loose goal to strive for.
And yet as I begin 2019 wandering the streets of this new place with new friends by my side, I can’t help but to feel curious about myself. I have set no new goals and not one resolution. But as I look around, I can’t help but feel like maybe the theme for my new year has chosen me.
When I look around me, all I see are the new people I’ve let in and the deep connections I have made. Connecting with others is a thing I believe in and for once, when I look ahead, all I see is all the time I have to devote to these friendships. The universe has worked in my favor and I decide to say yes to traveling with kind souls. I say yes to bus trips and road trips and new countries I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. I allow myself to say yes to being uncomfortable in the safest way. Lisbon is showing me my healed parts. This city with its color and tiles and hills and sunshine is showing me what I am able to say yes to and how far I’ve come.
I get on a bus to Porto with one of these friends and we’re exhausted and excited about what’s to come. After Porto is A Coruña, and after that will be another adventure we’ll say yes to.
I get sick because it’s freezing cold and I am wearing a spring jacket and have been living off of port wine. I’ve never had a more blissful runny nose.
We have late night caldo verde at a restaurant where the bill gets written on the paper table cloth with a pencil pulled from behind the owner’s ear.
I don’t even know what kind of trip I’m on at this point but I am saying yes to it all. I can’t believe this is how one year is ending and how the next one is beginning.
Lisbon and Porto are teaching me that if I can just stay present, remember to breathe and go with the flow and rhythm of things, then life can actually feel like magic again.
I’m learning and growing and being supported and isn’t this the kind of life I’ve always wanted? Portugal is my own personal thanksgiving.