Terminal C of Barcelona’s El Prat Airport was nearly empty. I sauntered inside, unused to the feeling of an airport terminal being so calm and checked the list of departures. Across the entirety of the double-sided digital screens, my flight wasn’t there. It was around one thirty and my flight didn’t leave until five minutes before five. I ordered a cappuccino from the only café in the check-in area, sat down, and began to do the only thing that could possibly keep my mind occupied for the remaining three and half hours before take-off-- journal. My luggage consisted of very few items: clothes for the three days I’d be gone, toiletries, a charger, sunglasses, shower shoes, and my journal. I didn’t want to bring anything that wasn’t absolutely essential, for comfort’s sake, but also, I didn’t want to risk anything being stolen. A solo traveler was an easy target.
Sitting uncomfortably on the plane, and after hours of waiting around in the airport, I was relieved finally see the view of a city reveal itself from under the clouds. Upon arrival, to my surprise, passing through customs took no time at all. In a matter of minutes, I’d gone from the plane to a taxi, chatting with the driver about the best local foods and the Portuguese football league; a conversation about Portuguese football with a Portuguese guy wouldn’t have been complete without the mention of possibly Portugal’s most famous player ever- Cristiano Ronaldo- who the driver dubbed ‘the best player in history.’
Following a brief check-in at the hostel I’d be staying at, I pre-loaded directions to a nearby pasta restaurant; not very Portuguese I know, but my hunger had surpassed my patience to care about finding local cuisine. With my energy restored, and a revitalized motivation to go out and continue exploring, I wandered out into the night. The city was a maze of silhouettes, streetlights, and vendors selling stuff on the sidewalks. But despite the darkness and light drizzle of rain, I could tell it was beautiful.
The city is built on numerous hills, meaning almost everywhere I went that weekend was either up or downhill. I have to say that the hours I spent over the few days I was there, traversing the narrow sidewalks made of cobblestone, was an exhausting endeavor. Well worth it, as I got to see and absorb much of the city in a way I simply couldn’t have if I’d gone everywhere by taxi or public transit, but tiring, nonetheless. However; the silver lining to this hilly terrain also meant there were a multitude of jaw-dropping viewpoints dotted throughout the city. These were easily my favorite part of Lisbon. Each one gave a unique perspective on the city of red-tiled roofs and multi-colored houses. To add to the sense of serenity was the fact that during my time in Lisbon, almost everywhere I went I could hear music. Whether it be from a café, a store, a busker, the chirping of birds, or just from somebody practicing an instrument in their apartment, everywhere I went, the music followed. The greatest instance of Lisbon’s musical character came on my first night after I left the pasta restaurant. As I walked down the Rua da Augusta towards the Praça do Comércio, a man playing the guitar had sat himself in the middle of the pedestrianized street. He’d gathered a sizeable crowd, all of whom were stood in a circle around him, and most of them dancing and singing along to his music. A hobbled old man in what I could only guess to be clothing that was fashionable when he was my age, was one of the most steadfast participants of this group of dancing onlookers. A younger woman, maybe in her forties, had adopted him as her partner, and they laughed as they spun each other around while everyone clapped in rhythm to the tune of the guitar. I felt a huge grin spread across my face as I watched.
During my stay in Lisbon I opted not to complete the tourist’s checklist of landmarks. My family holidays as a child, while I have incredibly fond memories of them, usually ended up including lots of sight-seeing, which I got bored of fast. It’s been a childhood dream of mine to schedule my own holiday, where I do all the things that I want to do, without having to account for anyone else’s interests. This is the great freedom and luxury of solo travel. You do what you want to do, and only what you want to do. What I wanted to do, above all else was walk. I’ve always found a tremendous freedom and catharsis from simply walking without too much of a plan. There’s so much to absorb and register, even in the most minute details of a place, from such a simple activity as walking.
Lastly, traveling alone forces you into becoming comfortable with your own company. Being alone for this trip gave me space to appreciate the actual experience of being on holiday by myself. Without the social obligations that comes with traveling in a group, I had more time to properly take in what I was seeing, to force myself into striking up conversation with strangers, and bide my time going about my day as opposed to rushing everywhere. Other than one boat tour (which was an incredible experience) I hadn’t booked anything for the whole trip; I had all the time in the day to decide where I would go and what I would do.
I had an incredible time in Lisbon. I did the things I’d wanted to do, got a feel for the character and dynamic of the city, and met some great people. As I departed the city, I felt proud of this solo journey. A solo journey that I’d planned, and I’d undertaken, myself.
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I have a passion for storytelling, I like to spin mundane thoughts and pass-times into narrative spectacles on paper or in my mind. I think everything we do is part of a story and there is no such thing as a boring life.