I went on a 5 day solo trip to Portugal- and loved it. On the flight to Porto which left directly from Tours, I made friends with a Portuguese couple who have lived in France for forty years. It was lovely to chat with them, to hear the dishes they recommended I try, the places I should go and the things I should see.
Arriving in the late afternoon, I decided to get off well before my stop on the metro in order to see the city before arriving at my hostel. This was great and I was enjoying roaming the streets until the large amounts of car traffic, the rundown walls and the twisting lanes started to get to me. I was reminded of the crowded streets of Bali, one of the places in which I have experienced strong culture shock. The problem was that here, unlike in Bali, I was alone and the hostel wasn’t were it ought to have been according to my map. I was lost.
I found a local mercato (small grocery store) and went inside. “Não falo português” I attempeted to say, “I don’t speak Portuguese”. I held out my map and made ambigous gestures, trying to explain the concept of lost. The man smiled at me, explained that he didn’t speak English and then had a good look at my map. Through basic words of Portuguese, gestures and drawing lines on my map, he showed me where I ought to go. It turns out I had mis-interpreted the google map location of my hostel, and it was on a similarly shaped street a little further south. I was glad to be able to say “obrigada” , to thank him for his kindness toward me.
After claiming a bed and dropping off my stuff, I sat down in the cool evening air to do some sketching. I witnessed a group of uni students half in black gowns and capes, the other half in orange tee-shirts. They were performing some strange sort of ritual, which I later learned from a friend in Lisbon is an initiation game that forms part of the entry into university. She was one of the few in her year to opt out, and I have to say I understand her choice. The power imbalance was shocking, and as a passerby, it was hard to understand the psychological forces that kept the orange tee-shirts chanting, bowing, jumping or singing according to the desire of the black gowns. I suppose it reflects some aspects of real life, but it was alarming all the same.
As they left the square, I decided to have dinner down by the river. I followed the advice of the couple from the plane and ordered a francesinha. A toasted sandwhich for meat-lovers, I enjoyed it but found that it was a little on the salty side. I returned to the hostel, chatted a little while and then went to sleep, happy to be in a land of new discoveries, so different from anywhere I’d ever been before. In the morning, I headed out to explore some of the key city sights before catching my train to Lisbon.