A Travellerspoint blog

Day 15: Locks of Love to You, Cologne

in which your author bids farewell to another lovely european sojourn

sunny 80 °F

"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
–Benjamin Disraeli

It’s a quirk of my travel blogging persona that I don’t seem to compose my final entry for a given trip until some time after – in this case almost one month – the conclusion of the trip. (If I post it at all, which I never got around to doing on my last trip. Let's hope this one actually makes it to print!) You get back home and so instantly swept up into routine, and the rhythms and energies of a trip, like the lands where one experiences them, seem so distant. As I start teaching tomorrow, I thought I’d close the chapter on this trip as a way to neatly wrap up the Summer of 2016, in hopes of clearing the way for new, homegrown adventures.

[UPDATE! Although I composed this text in early September, I'm finally posting this all the way in October (!), seated at the AERONAUT bar. I suppose with our Allston biergarten finally wrapping up a week ago, the Summer of 2016 is officially officially officially over.]

Now, let’s see what details I recall of this last day, a month later? Day 15 (and its minor satellite, travel day Day 16, which I’ll subsume into this entry) began in Cologne, at Herr Professor’s rather clinical-feeling flat, housed in a tidy-gray building (very German?) adjacent to FitnessFirst for Women. I walk a short distance to a highly-rated, inviting coffeeshop where I sit and compose an entry for Day 10, enjoying a delicious slice of cheesecake and a couple flat whites. I chat up a few locals for recommendations. Like my refuge spot in Lisbon, the café is playing the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack: it definitely makes it to the soundtrack of this trip.

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I walk in the direction of the cathedral, stopping for a serviceable margarita pizza at an Italian joint along the touristy shopping thoroughfare, after a few minutes arriving at my immediate destination: Köln Opera House.

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Keith Jarrett has been a major influence on my life for about as long as I can remember, so much so that I wrote my master’s thesis in musicology on his aesthetical philosophies on music. By far his most famous album, The Köln Concert, was recorded here in January, 1975. It’s a thrilling musical experience, and the top-selling solo piano recording of all time. (And I believe noted musical connoisseur Dave Matthews’ favorite recording?) I put it on over headphones and walk around the building, sadly completely cordoned off due to construction. Still, it’s a moving experience to be there, all these years after the performance. I’m reminded of what it felt like to listen to Mahler’s Second Symphony sitting at the composers’s grave outside Vienna. I text message a friend who I associate with the album, and continue on my way.

On the way to the Cathedral I stop into a cozy bookshop and have some nice banter with the proprietor. I walk out with two gorgeous books: one, a stiff binded book of German poetry called Das Wandern (feels appropriate, and of course reminds me of the Schubert song from Die schöne Müllerin), and an old, beige, tattered edition of Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.

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Cologne Cathedral is massive and imposing, yet still serene on the inside, even with hundreds of tourists milling about. I’m impressed by the inclusion of a small boat by the entrance, adorned with a story about how Christ is an immigrant on a boat, in need of compassion. (Would that our right wing so-called “Christian,” “build a wall” Americans could begin to realize this. Too subtle by half, sadly.) I take some photos, exit, and walk toward the water. The cathedral is lovely, but after cathedrals in Toledo and Ghent I’m a bit cathedralled out.

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Passing through a tunnel and a somewhat barren, touristy hotel district, I reach the Rhine and call home, catching up with my folks for a few minutes and arrange my pickup time in Boston the next day. It’s so nice to hear their voices halfway across the world – when my father lived in Rome in the mid-1960s, he had to book a semi-annual phone call home weeks in advance.

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The bridge over the Rhine (which I elect not to cross) is a “love locks” bridge and it’s a bit overwhelming to see the thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands? so many) of locks attached with messages of love scrawled on them.

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I walk back toward the flat and grab a nap; I’m set to meet an old friend of my friend (and co-producer) Robin’s for dinner on my last night in Europe.

Dorothee is the epitome of lovely and kind, and we stroll through the busy streets of Cologne in search of a perfect dinner spot. She selects an Italian place with outdoor seating, and we eat delicious risotto and have great conversation about work, life, family, relationships and travel. (I suppose I don’t typically eat at posh places like this; it feels very grownup.) We end up walking in search of a cocktail bar and even though it’s a bit of a walk, I sell the idea of visiting the place I had been to the previous night. The drink is delicious and Dorothee tells me stories about working with George Clooney and Bill Murray; the film Monuments Men was based upon research she helped to compile in a book. It’s such a relaxing and grounded way to end my trip. We part ways – where’s my blue tweed tie, Dorothee?! Please visit the US!

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I pack everything that night so as to make my trip the next morning easier, and the next day goes off without a hitch, as I navigate the subway to the airport, where, as is my custom, I pick up a bit of duty-free booze. On the flight, I chat with Patrica, a native of Dortmund with excellent English, who is coming to the US for the first time and taking a month to explore about a dozen cities! We exchange information, and as it turns out I see her not only the next day, but she crashes on my couch at the end of her trip almost a month later. (We take a day trip up to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, which I’ve been reading in a gorgeous 1894 edition, so that’s kind of special.) The yellow Dortmund magnet on my fridge (her gift for the exchange of a pull-out couch) is a reminder of the last person I met on this trip. I also bought a nice frame for the Bosch exhibit photo from the Prado, certainly one of the highlights of this trip.

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I don’t know when I’ll get back to Europe again, or when I’ll travel again at all. (I suppose one never does?) I’ve been thinking about upping my level of domestic travel, as there are still so many parts of the US I’ve never seen: San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, the Grand Canyon, even Chicago. I’d also very much love to get to Nova Scotia soon, home of my Scottish ancestors prior to their emigration to the US. And yet there’s something ever-alluring about Europe. As distant as many of these cultures feel from the US, I feel we could learn a lot about the pace of life and, perhaps, its meaning.

And so, it was a charm to get back to Europe this go around, especially given that it had been a few years since my last solo trip, a style of traveling that in a way suits me. That said, I’d love to find opportunities to travel with (the right) person/group of people. I also want to reassess the best use of this blog, apart from documenting the minutiae of my days overseas. I love that six years past my first, lifechanging solo trip (see the masthead!), I can click back to entries posted years ago, over a number of trips – but I wonder whether spending the amount of time it takes me to write these entries is worth taking time away from tourist and/or scholarly adventures? Writing longform, I suppose, is the only way I know.

In any case… I’ll remember this trip as one with an ambitious, loopy itinerary, mixing familiar and brand new spots and cities, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones, and rekindling that adventurous travel bug I first picked up years ago. Serious question: is it possible to rekindle a bug, or to kindle one in the first place? Alas, it’s late and I’m mixing metaphors.

Here’s to the next… whenever that may arise!

Posted by coolmcjazz 16:19 Archived in Germany Tagged germany cologne Comments (0)

Day 14: A Summer Evening in Cologne

in which your author clears his head and finds his rainy way from ghent to germany

semi-overcast 72 °F

Considering my late-night conversation and hang with new friends Wim and Sophie, Day 14 was perhaps my roughest-going morning of the trip. (I suppose I’m entitled one of those on a 2+ week European trip, right?) After waking up, I peered out from the window looking over Ghent, the narrow cathedral towering over the landscape. Wim kindly contributes a toothbrush to my process, and after a shower I say a fond farewell – Sophie has already gone off to work – with hopes of seeing these two in the US sometime soon!

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I make the walk back toward the train station, stopping for breakfast in a supermarket, where I pick up a small bottle of Belgian apple schnapps for a friend. All is uneventful as I make it to the station, although I’m a bit annoyed to discover my round trip ticket from yesterday was only valid for the day of printing, so I have to buy another 9 Euro ride back to Brussels. My train to Cologne – the last stop on this whirlwind trip – is at 1:35pm.

When I arrive in Brussels after a short train ride, it’s raining. I can’t find a cab, and grudgingly I make the walk (probably 1.5 miles?) back to the stunning flat, slightly disappointed I only had one night to spend there. (Meeting new friends was worth it though!)

I pack up, take a few last photos, and head back out toward the train station where I just came from, at this point slightly worried about timing. It’s also near pouring now and I have my heavy bags. After a few minutes of frustration I do manage to find a cab stand, and ride in comfort to the Midi, where I pick up my train to Cologne. I have my ticket on my iPhone, but it does that utterly incomprehensible, frustrating thing where if you hit the screen wrong with an email open it deletes it forever, and apart from a PDF on my laptop (which clearly states it’s not to be used in place of a paper or e-ticket), I can’t find any record of it. I sleep half the short train trip (1 hr, 45 min) to Cologne, crammed in with four friendly middle-aged women chattering in French. Thankfully, no one ever came to check tickets!

It’s nice to be back in Germany; I haven’t been since my first trip, to Berlin, in 2010. There’s a certain efficiency and stateliness about the train stations. I lug my packed bags past the imposing cathedral, toward my Airbnb, again reluctant to take a cab. (File under: cost-saving measures one can take when one travels alone.) It’s a further walk than I would have preferred, probably about 25 minutes. The Airbnb is fine, run by a professor who (somewhat oddly and off-puttingly) makes me sign a waiver that I won’t download pirated movies. (Not that I had planned to?) It’s a room of convenience, and though she’s helpful with directions, the Professor keeps to herself. This wouldn’t be the warm environment I had in Madrid with Isabel or, especially, Mar (and Bimba!), but it will serve my needs.

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After a nap, I venture out to explore a bit of Cologne, grabbing a good slice of pizza and ending up at the Piffgen brewery, known as one of the oldest and most respected breweries in the city. Conveniently it’s only a about a five-minute walk from my place. It’s packed with people, inside and out, and I find a seat at a long biergarten table, ordering a beer – they only serve kolsch! – and some tangy, soft orange German cheese and bread. It’s nice to have an actual kolsch in Cologne – tangy, crisp, and refreshing – especially considering my go-to beer at Aeronaut Allston this summer has been the “Summer in Cologne.” (I take a few pics with an Aeronaut coaster in an actual German biergarten!) The waiters carry trays of thin beers, replacing them with any empty glasses they see, and with every beer, a Sharpie mark is added to your coaster. (I read later the way to let the waiter know you’re done is to put the coaster on top of your glass!) It’s actually a pretty efficient system.

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After one beer, I have to leave to get cash (they only take cash) and after 5 minutes away thankfully my place is still free. I pay up and head back out, making my way through Cologne’s boisterous and somewhat congested outdoor beer garden scene. I’m impressed by the effort Cologne puts in as a bike-friendly city; there are clear, dedicated bike lanes marked on just about every street.

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I read positive things on my phone about one cocktail bar, which ends up being closed for the season, and find another, high-rated one called Spirits, stuffed to the gills. The craftsmanship and vibe there are excellent, but I’m tired, and after one I make my way through the darkened, still somewhat bustling streets of Cologne back to my Airbnb. Not a terribly exciting day, and I’m really worn out and looking forward to getting home at this point – I think two weeks of solo travel, at this pace and itinerary, is about my max!

Posted by coolmcjazz 06:14 Archived in Germany Tagged cologne kolsch Comments (0)

Day 13: Flea Market Flotsam and New Friends in Ghent!

overcast 72 °F

*How temporally disjunct it feels to be writing these final entries from the comfort of my couch a week after the end of my trip – the blog must be completed! I neglected to post my final entry from my last trip in 2014 and I still feel guilty about that.

Day 13 began in Brussels, in the World’s Most Gorgeously Decorated Airbnb. I would seriously consider taking a trip back to Brussels – a city I haven’t seen very much of – just to stay here for, say, another week. It may be as close as I ever get to living quarters that feel like Versailles!

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I decide to sleep in – does one ever actually decide to sleep in? – then spend the first hour (at least) writing a blog entry seated at the couch in the opulent living room. By the time I venture out to get my “morning coffee,” it’s probably at least 2pm.

Brussels is overcast, at least ten degrees cooler than Spain and Portugal; the whole city feels slightly moody. I walk past venders and meandering locals through the center of town, which is mostly a shopping district – all manner of upscale department stores advertising, I would assume, to the wealthy international diplomatic crowd who call Brussels their temporary home. (There’s a restaurant calling itself the “Boston Café.” Call me skeptical.) There are a number of imposing, official-looking buildings, each with two armed guards at each entrance – the feeling of being a city still on edge after a recent terrorist attack seems to hang like a cloud over the city.

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I’m heading toward the famous outdoor flea market my host David had told me about. Not finding a suitable place for a take out coffee and pastry, I pop into a supermarket for a Starbucks (what else?) iced latte and a delicious éclair. (I still somewhat regret not buying the bottle of Elixir of St. Anviers, famous old Belgian liqueur, which sold for 23 Euro at this market.) I buy a Brussels magnet at a quirky souvenir store.

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After passing through a few overpriced antique stores, I finally come upon the flea market, and it’s just as intoxicating and wild as advertised. Most of the dealers are Arabic in origin, and they have their wares spread out over canvases and rugs – the detritus of lives long since past, of whom in general nothing is known today. (Otherwise, one assumes their families would have held on to all of these aged photos and keepsakes.)

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I purchase a few trinkets: a tiny box with a rose on it, a small 1950s flamenco record, four very pretty old cordial glasses with “E. Henry et Fils, Floreffes” stamped on them. I Google the name and find out “E. Henry” was a liquor maker in the nearby Belgian town of Floreffe sometime in the 1930s. (I consider just buying one for the stated price of one Euro, but instantly regret separating them, so offer two Euro for all four, which the dealer accepts. With hindsight it’s nice to have a set of four of them and have already used them at home!)

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I spot two smart Art Deco frames housing two gorgeous photos of a young girl; as the market is closing down, the box is about to be put on the loading truck so I know the time is prime for some haggling. (David had advised me to set my price and not them take advantage of my English speaking American-ness!) I offer the dealer one Euro for both. He laughs and says ten; I counter with five, he laughs again and says eight; I say six and that’s it and start to walk away and he says “Ok! Ok!” His friend, a fellow man of Arabic descent, laughs and says “Oh, the American is good!” He then proceeds to wrap the frames in newspaper for me – a kind, friendly gesture – and asks me where I’m headed next. I tell him about my plan to take a train to Ghent and he says “Stay away from this area of town! Walk in this direction,” and points me toward the Brussels Midi Station. It’s a nice interchange.

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As the dealers pack their trucks and leave the marketplace, the flotsam of the fair seems to float around the square, carried aloft by the stiffening breeze: packets of photos of family vacations from the 1950s, newspapers, small, broken trinkets. I spot a hard cardboard photo and claim it from the dumpster for which it is certainly headed. A grinning couple peer back from the mid 1930s, nameless, their story only guessed at. Did they make it through the war? What became of their lives? It’s one of my favorite items I picked up on the trip, and it didn’t cost a thing. I publish it to Instagram and my crew of vintage-minded friends agree it’s a special shot.

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Now carrying a heavy plastic bag in addition to my camera, I make my way toward the train station, stopping outside the square when I see a full case of unopened (!) Budvar, the “original Budweiser.” Who left this here? It’s probably from the 1950s or 60s. I can’t imagine this would sell for under $100 in the US, but in Europe it’s perhaps less exotic? I take three bottles to give as gifts, sad I can’t justify taking more, and continue on my way, bags now ever heavier.

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I get to the train station and purchase a round-trip ticket to Ghent, a small Belgian town I had almost made it to during my first solo trip to Europe back in 2010. All goes fine and I get on the high-speed train which only takes about 30 minutes. I get off and start walking toward the center of Ghent, using the cathedral as a destination spot in my phone.

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Along the way I stop into a junk store, picking up an old UK-printed edition of three plays by Noel Coward for one Euro. The old woman seems almost shocked someone has troubled her to give her money.

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It’s a long walk into the center of town – maybe 30 minutes? – but I don’t believe in busses! St. Bavo's cathedral is set to close at 6pm and it’s about 5:30, so perfect timing to see a bit of it. It’s a gorgeous, vast Gothic vessel, stuffed with old art and history. I can’t help thinking of the tremendous Renaissance composers who came from close to this area, most notably Josquin, Ockeghem, and Clemens non Papa, whose music and illusive life I studied in a course with eminent BU professor Joshua Rifkin two years ago.

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Exiting the cathedral, I find an outdoor café next door to sit down and have some food; I have a delicious vegetarian pasta with pesto and a Westmalle triple. (I remember having this on tap in Amsterdam and it’s a real treat.)

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I put out a tweet about Ghent with a shot of the cathedral, and a very worldly friend from my local Backbar back in Somerville responds that I ought to go to beer bar called Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, which my iPhone tells me is only a few minutes away, so I walk that way, past a well-maintained, bustling public square where hundreds amble.

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The bar is as advertised, a real connoisseur’s choice. I have a Chouffe, and settle in, having some friendly chat with one of the bartenders about local beer and what it’s like to live in Ghent.

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I make it a few pages into Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and a woman next to me asks what I’m reading. I end up chatting with Sophie and her boyfriend Wim for the next couple of hours, and we have an absolutely terrific time, buying each other beers and extending my intended hour-long stop into probably four. I mention I have to get back to the train to get to Brussels and they insist I take their spare room in Ghent, a short walk away. We stay up on their porch in their gorgeous apartment drinking Laphroaig (and water, thankfully), looking over the city with the cathedral in the horizon. Wim is a journalist/photographer and Sophie a PhD student studying animal welfare, and they strike me as the type of folks I’ll see again some day.

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It’s 3am or so by the time I get to sleep and I’m so thankful – yet again – for serendipity coming to my aid in the form of a terrific town and two new friends!

Posted by coolmcjazz 19:32 Archived in Belgium Tagged markets ghent brussels flea Comments (0)

Day 12: The Flat of Anonymous Portraits in Brussels

in which your author barely makes it to Brussels and discovers the Airbnb to beat all Airbnbs

semi-overcast 80 °F

Day 12 would be a day predicated on precise timing. My flight to Brussels leaves at 3:30, and prior to that I want to take in the Fado Museum. My Airbnb host Pedro comes by at 11am to clean the place for his next guest; he has kindly agreed to allow me to leave my bags at his flat while I see a bit more of the city. We walk the long hills to his neighborhood and after dropping my bags off I stop for a terrific sandwich and coffee in a cozy café where I catch up on some writing. (Note to self: as much as I love having these entries posted and archived, there are definitely times when I question whether my precious time in these cities is best spent on writing, especially as writing and uploading the photos for each post seems to take around two hours. I wonder if there’s a way to slightly rejigger for the next trip?)

I make my way mostly downhill – have I mentioned Lisbon is the “city of seven hills?” (seems more like seventy) – toward the water where I was dropped off two days prior, and eventually come to the Fado Museum. I should have just enough time to explore here and get to the airport to make my flight. (Anyone want to guess where that assumption is headed?)

The museum is well structured, with a mix of video, audio, and listening booths. The history of this music is so tied up with Portuguese cultural and political identity, and many of the songs tell melancholic stories about poor outcasts and love gone wrong. As quote on a wall claims, “Fado is a poem that can be seen and heard.” There’s an acute sense of nostalgia as well, which connects to my present thinking about my dissertation. What’s clear is the riveting performance style; even without understanding a word of the language, some potent flavor of the drama remains.

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I make my way back again through the winding, mostly uphill Alfama district where I began my stay, trying to time things out so that I retrieve my bags from Pedro’s flat with enough time to get to the airport.

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Close to Pedro’s I pick up a Portuguese book printed in Lisbon in 1896 from an outdoor book cart.

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Even though I’m walking quickly, all this meandering puts me behind my projected time, and I make the (probably not wise) decision to take the subway to the airport rather than a cab. I don’t have the correct change for the ticket machine, and the attendant sends me back up to break a twenty Euro; all of this is costing precious minutes! When I do finally get to the airport, I realize the terminal I need to get to requires an additional bus ride, and though the bus is full, the conductor must wait ten minutes. Gah! I have to wait to check in and receive my visa stamp, which takes another 15 minutes. Thankfully, the security line is short, but the officers dig through my entire suitcase which at this point is laden with liquids, and that takes time. I sprint to the gate…

…and THANKFULLY, they let me on board. If I had been two minutes later I probably wouldn’t have made the flight and that would have thrown off the entire rest of my trip. NOTE TO SELF: when connections like this require leaving and extra hour, leave TWO extra hours! Lesson learned.

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The flight to Brussels is fine, as I chat with a friendly mother and daughter visiting Lisbon from Antwerp; the flight attendants amusingly try to to translate the title of my new Portuguese book and one even offers me 5 Euro for it! When I leave the airport, finding a train into town, it’s much cooler than Madrid or Lisbon. There’s an eerie quiet over the city, and the streets feel almost abandoned. (I find out later I was in a business district.) There are a few moments of unsurety, as I can’t seem to find any way of getting to my Airbnb, which is too far to walk with bags, and no cabs seem are coming by. I get on a bus which takes me 2/3 of the way before turning, and I get out and walk the rest of the way.

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Any frustrations I felt on the trip to Brussels, however, are immediately ameliorated upon entering the absolute palace of a flat I’m somehow procured for myself. I’ve stayed in Airbnbs all around Europe and the US and no place has come close to the elegance of this place, run by a talkative professional art collector named David. He shows me around, and he describes his methods in purchasing all this stuff, much of which he either sells for a profit or uses to furnish the apartments of wealthy persons “too busy” to buy their own things yet who want to come off as cultured. (How’s that for a depressing and impersonal notion?) Portraits adorn the walls, mainly from the 19th century, though a few are older. David says he only knows about half of the identities, which lends an air of mystery – these people were important enough at their time to commission portraits, and yet their names are lost to eternity. It’s pretty stunning to be left alone in these rooms, and I shoot a video and upload to Facebook.

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I shower and leave the flat to walk around a bit in Brussels, not finding much that still serves food. The city is much quieter and emptier than Madrid or Lisbon – also much more diverse, as the neighborhood where I’m staying abuts an African district. A helpful waitress in one brasserie advises me to walk toward a further neighborhood and I order a falafel at a late-night Middle Eastern place. The guy takes his time preparing it but it’s one of the best I’ve ever had, and I’m bowled over by the fact that they include fresh, crispy, magical frites inside the falafel! We’ve been doing it all wrong, America.

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I find a small, cute bar a few doors down and order my first Belgian beer in Belgium. (Seems like an important travel milestone, right?)

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A young woman named Audrey (which she pronounces like “Howdree”) with a guy friend invite me up to the bar and the three of us chat for the next hour; she’s the lead singer for a band called Best Good Friends, apparently a line from Forrest Gump. I ask them about Brussels, and they tell me the city is still reeling from the terrorist attack in the airport earlier this year, and that they didn’t feel a strong sense of local culture. (I had found it odd that I hadn’t noticed any mention of the attack in the airport; the pleasant mother and daughter I sat with on the plane say they had just instantly rebuilt everything and moved right along, which certainly is different from how we publicly memorialize tragedy in the US.) Audrey advises me to leave the city the next day and take a day trip to either Ghent or Bruges, which I start thinking about. I have a couple delicious, very inexpensive local beers here and walk back to my palace. (I find out much later I was in the same neighborhood as the birthplace of a more famous Audrey... Hepburn! Somehow missed that visit.) So far Brussels isn’t terribly exciting, but at least I’m getting the chance spend a night in what for all purposes is a 19th century museum!

Posted by coolmcjazz 09:31 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon fado Comments (0)

Day 11: Lisbon, My Way

in which your author gets pleasantly lost in one of the world's most beautiful cities

sunny 80 °F

  • ARGHHH. I’m writing this from the plane and have to type this entry out again after not saving it and typing another entry in the same document. Will have to try approximate what I already wrote. #ANNOYING

After a reassuring check in with a friend over Facebook after a late and harrowing night, I venture out with my bags toward my new Airbnb, and stop along the way at a welcoming café. An employee is extremely friendly and helpful, and I get some breakfast and write for maybe two hours. They’re playing the soundtrack from Buena Vista Social Club so I feel very much at home. I have no cash on me, but even before I had ordered, the employee tells me to get cash after I sit and relax. The walk to find an ATM machine proves to be challenging, as five different people seem to give five different sets of directions, and sadly I pass by a flea market with no money to spend! (Some graffiti on the street reminds me: “Don’t worry!”) Eventually I find a cash machine, return to the café, and thank them for their hospitality, continuing on through the cobblestone streets to the Martin Muniz neighborhood where I had booked a small flat.

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My host Pedro lets me in and we climb the narrow staircase – somehow, every building I stay in in these old European towns seems to be on the top floor of elevator-less buildings. I unpack and grab a shower and resolve to explore Lisbon on my own terms. I pop into a comfortable café where a helpful waiter brings me some Portuguese wine and a plate of delicious local cheeses. The cheese is served with bread and fresh figs, which are juicy and refreshing – how have I never had fresh figs before? (Fig Newtons? Not in the same universe.)

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The view from a spot high above Lisbon is probably the most stunning of my entire trip. Lisbon is a city of many red roofs, all arranged at odd angles. About a dozen young tourists take selfies and sit on the overlook with beers and cigarettes. I’d love to see this view again some day.

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I pop into a small dive bar called O Botequim and have a drink common to the area with white port, fresh mint, and tonic.

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I’m headed to a bar called Cinco, supposedly the best cocktail bar in Lisbon, and along the 1.8 mile, winding walk there I pass by many fellow walkers enjoying the scenery and locals conversing in loud, hearty tones. There’s a lot of graffiti in this city, including on some ancient ruins and on a tram which pulls up into the popular neighborhood of Bairro Alto. I spot some street art depicting the great queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues. I stop in at a hotel bar and a Middle Eastern place where I get a falafel and watch a bit of the Portuguese version of The Voice, where a Portuguese man is singing an operatic, oddly goofy version of Sinatra’s My Way.

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Upon entering Cinco, I’m greeted by one of the bartenders with a personal welcome, a handshake, and a menu featuring an abundance of original drinks. The two boisterous bartenders are carrying on a flurry of jokes in both Portuguese and English with the other tourists who sit at the bar. I ask for something unusual and they bring a drink with pineapple and red pepper puree, with a lit sparkler on top. I follow that up with a hot drink made with Singleton single malt and Drambuie, a blazer-type which means the bartender lights the drink on fire and passes the liquid between two flaming tins. I’m a bit worried because my iPhone is now at 1% battery life and I don’t know my way back to my Airbnb; I make sure to write down the address. Loved this bar and the warm reception, but could really do without the smoking, which seems pretty pervasive in all Lisbon bars.

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On my way back I pass through the Erasmus section, where hundreds of college-age students mill about drinking beers openly in the street. As I’m taking a few photos, a young couple asks how the photos turn out, and I end up hanging out with them for another hour or so, along with a couple from Montreal. (Sadly I can’t capture their info because my phone is now dead.) It’s some nice, relaxed spontaneous fun and I’m glad to soak up some of Lisbon on my own terms. I make the wise decision to take a cab back to my flat, and call it a night. Lisbon is a gorgeous place!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 05:54 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (0)

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