Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 203: Why I Travel Alone

I have a confession to make, I'm not traveling alone. Nearly my entire trip I've spent with someone who I've become very close with. Through spending a lot of time separated from other people our friendship has become strong and roots of understanding have grown deep. I wish I were hiding a beautiful Italian girl from all of you but this is not the case. I'm not hiding anyone, or at least not intentionally. I am referring to myself.

Is a traveler more than his possessions?

Everyone has a different method of traveling based on their personality and circumstances. Some plan every detail while others blow with the wind. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you might already have a sense of where I lie on this spectrum. While hitch hiking, CouchSurfing, and aimless wandering suit me, there is no superior method of travel. If I were only traveling for a week or two I would surely have a daily itinerary. Based on my personality and circumstances I have naturally discovered how I like to travel, but there is another shaping force, my reason for traveling.

Climbing a mountain near Vevey on Christmas Day.

I left the States under the mantra of "learning how to live." If I don't understand myself, how could I know how to live? Similar to how someone's method of travel is a reflection of their personality, someone's lifestyle is also a reflection of their personality. In order to "learn how to live" I needed to discover myself.

-4ºC is a facilitator of personal growth.

It's no secret that traveling provides an excellent means of discovering one's self. Every few days my environment completely changes. I separate from new friends who I've grown close to. I leave the place where I've been sleeping. I leave the town which I've just got my bearings in. In extreme cases I change countries, cultures, languages, and climates. Throughout all of this changing environment, I am the only constant. By these means, I come to realizations about myself more frequently than I would if I were not traveling alone. Sharing these experiences with someone might be more fun but traveling alone is more rewarding.

Conquering the Calanque of Marseille.

Towards the beginning of my trip I wrote an article about how traveling fuels personal growth. Personal growth only comes from discomfort. While in Lisboa, my host introduced me to an incredibly inspiring Yugoslavian performer, Marina Abramović who demonstrates this perfectly. Though my travels are no where close to the passionate magnitude of her performances, I find her inspiring because of her relentless pursuit of self. Similar to how the majority of Marina's works are solo, if I was traveling with a companion I would have someone to distract me from my feelings. Being an only child, I've always felt comfortable alone. On my trip I've made it through quite a few trying situations. If I were with a friend during these times these trials would have strengthened our friendship. By the same right, when I am with myself, I become stronger in the most homogeneously schizophrenic of ways.

My greatest period of inner exploration; meditating with Aras.

Most of my self discovery takes place when I'm alone and if I were traveling with someone, I don't think I would get enough time alone. CouchSurfing requires a large amount of my time and often I find it difficult to be alone because I'm spending time with my host or I'm sleeping in a living room or hallway. Traveling with someone would greatly reduce my alone time and not only cause me to miss more blog entries but decrease my time for meditation and reflection.

My four day hitch from Toledo to Cordoba gave me lots of 'me' time.

"One is always one too many around me... The third person is the cork that prevents the conversation from sinking into the depths" (p.50, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Neitzsche). Though I feel I'm absorbing only a minuscule fraction of Neitzsche's wisdom, I relate to his thoughts on solitude and friendship. Though making conversation with good company can often be inspiring and educational, not to mention fun. Many times in college when I was stuck brainstorming a few words from an outside source could open new doors. There is indisputably great benefit in quality conversation. However, the self is discreet and easily trampled by spoken word. Self discovery feeds on solitude. The benefits of meditation do not come till after the meditation.

Morocco was the most difficult and rewarding place I've traveled.

Continuously meeting new people, making my own decisions, sleeping when I want, leaving where I want, and going where I want are all benefits of traveling alone, but for me they are secondary. I am traveling alone because there is no other path. The way to myself must be pioneered before it becomes navigable to others. Traveling alone gives me the maximal ability to discover myself; plus, no one is judging me for how much I eat!

(I'm in Ireland)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 196: Ross' Top 10 Places to See in Porto

Before I share the secret of my 10 favorite places to see in Porto, I would like to mention that I miss the city dearly. Liverpool is fascinating and I'm enjoying myself here, but I already miss Portugal's warm weather, delicious pastries, and beautiful women. Departing the plane, watching the Portuguese shiver and whine about the cold was priceless. Let's reminisce together...

My host, Cati and her chihuahuas, Chapo and Nacha.

As finely nuanced as its wines, Porto is a curious bouquet of small town culture flourishing in a big city atmosphere. Walking through its bustling shopping streets, smelling the pastries from the numerous cafes, exploring historic landmarks, and savoring the sun set with a glass of Porto are some of my favorite experiences. Geographically Porto is a gem, benefitting from the river's calm energy and 20 minutes from the beach by metro. It has hills, but unlike Lisboa there only two. On the CS forums a CouchSurfer asked people's opinions as to whether they would rather live in Lisboa or Porto. Having just come from Lisboa I thought it a great comparison. Essentially, Porto feels more like a cozy home town, while Lisboa feels like a bustling city. Lisboa has more to see in terms of museums, landmarks, and nightlife, but Porto has a subtle mellow flavor that I came to cherish. It's difficult to describe, but while drinking wine overlooking the river with the old ships and red roofs, you will understand.

A romantic collection of buildings along the Douro River.

The people in Porto are also warm and friendly and generally speak decent English. In fact, I had the easiest time communicating in Portugal out of all the countries I've visited. Spanish isn't as widely spoken as I thought it would be, but if English fails it's a good back-up.

I clogged up my host's hallway in Porto for 11 days, 6 days longer than I planned. The delay was due to a plane ticket I bought on a whim, but I was lucky to stay an additional few days because I had a number of remarkable experiences. Since I spent so long in Porto I did a lot, thusly I'm excited to share my 10 favorite experiences in Porto.

A hugely significant landmark that I nearly missed! I knew about Casa de Musica before I came to Porto because Stephen Sagmeister designed a brilliant identity system for it. When I discovered it was in Porto I freaked out a little bit. Immediately I went and took the guided tour (€3) and felt like I was somewhere in between a posh concert hall and Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. Later that night I returned for the Balkan Brass Battle (€13) in which I experienced the hall's supreme acoustics I learned about during the tour and danced like a nut for two hours.

The Casa was built to give Porto an architectural identity.
Being inside is like walking through a spaceship.
Ingenious double glass walls allow light in but insulate from outside noise.
The 'orange ramp room' is the favorite of children.
Next door, the 'purple room' serves as a daycare during performances.
The purple room has an awesome view of the auditorium.

I've already gone into great detail about my obsession with Portuguese pastries and it's worth mentioning again. Never had I been to cafés as often as when I was in Porto (and I'm at cafés leeching WIFI a lot!). Nearly every morning my host and I would get a morning coffee before she went to school, and we would cap off every night with a café. Going out for just a coffee may seem silly because it's an unnecessary expense, but the experience of getting out, sitting on the street, being social, and enjoying the weather is well worth the €1 for a café. Plus, it's a good excuse to order a few pastries.

Yes, of course I ate them all in one day.
Blaos de Mel is made from yesterday's pastries and was my favorite!

A short ride on the metro, Porto doesn't have the nicest beach, but it sure beats the Jersey Shore. Whether you're going to work on your tan or brave enough to go for a swim, it's nice to have a beach so close. My host brought her two chihuahuas when we went and they ran around like crazy little dogs they are. I went for a swim and after my body went numb, the water wasn't so cold.

Super Chapo.
He only had one thing on his doggy mind.

An excellent contemporary art museum surrounded by a lush garden makes for a great place to spend a day off. Although they only had one exhibit I enjoyed the experience because it gave me a lot of inspiration for a show that I'll be having when I return. The modern architecture of the building is worth seeing alone, but walking around the gardens is a real treat. Offering a wide variety of landscapes, from sheep pastures to splendidly tended gardens, there are no lack of places to sneak a nap in the sun.

Big stupid shovels for big stupid goons.
José Barrias had a fascinating show of objects and ideas. 
When I have my show I'd like to use mainly projectors.
There were eerie sounds to compliment this weirdo hallway.
The roses smelled lovely.

I'm a sucker for panoramic views, so I was more than willing to pay the €2 entry fee and climb the 225 steps to reach the top of Porto's Torre dos Clérigos. Made from cut stone, the Tower of the Clergy was built in the mid 18th century and, being the highest tower in Porto, offers a stellar view of the city. From the top I could see all the way across the river to Gaia. I enjoyed myself by taking pictures and watching ants mill about the streets.

Look who's European now?
The Douro River and Gaia.
Too bad they didn't serve Port wine up here.

My arteries and taste buds are waging war over Francesinha. Slightly similar to a reuben sandwich, this classic dish from Porto is turkey, sausage, and bread with melted cheese with a fried egg crown, smothered in gravy. It's one of the heaviest meals I've ever eaten and one of my new favorite. Nearly all restaurants and cafes sell them so try one because they're plaque-a-licious.

The last meal...

After another failed day trip to Guimerães I ventured down to the water in search of a palace but found a linotype machine suspended from a tripod. Intrigued and somewhat informed by my studies in graphic design, I wandered inside the accompanying museum. There a field trip enjoying a printing demonstration, of which I saw a few. I marveled at the linotype behemoths with their keyboards connected to lead melting crucibles and an array of old printing presses.

Their collection and variety of presses was astounding.
Old metal ornaments and wood type!
They had models of seemingly every press ever made.
part of a Linotype's control panel.
Lead melting pot. Don't breathe this.

It's hardly necessary to recommend the Douro River as one of the places to visit in Porto. The river's energy provides a continual source of energy. Specifically I recommend watching the sun sink below the buildings over a dinner and taking a ride on the cable car. The cafes on the Gaia side are much cheaper than Porto, plus have a better view (of Porto). A quick ride up on the funicular is fun also.

Porto has three bridges and two are steel masterpieces.
The third bridge is around the bend.
I imagine going for a boat ride would be pleasant.
Itty bitty boats. Looks like a train set.
I met this dude named Check from Ethiopia.

Produce is cheap in Portugal, especially if you purchase it from a fruitaria or the large daily market (worth a visit). There was one store near the Bolhao bus stop that I bought an entire bag full of fruits for €3.50. Not only are prices cheap but quality is fresh. I recommend trying nespras (similar to an apricot) and these big green melons. When I was there the cherries, strawberries, and everything else were flavorful and amazing.

The fruits in the upper right are nespras.
The super cheap fruitaria by Bolhao bus stop.
The main Porto market is right by where I lived in Bolhao.

"The birthplace of Portugal." A small but historically important city, Guimarães is a cozy place with a castle and cool churches. Although I was only there for a few hours, my favorite experience in Guimarães was walking up the big hill towards the church. I didn't make it all the way because I wanted to be down before dark but the walk was beautiful with lots of nature and interesting architecture.

Guimerães' castle. Built for the first kings.
The hill I climbed. See the tiny church on top?
One of the most intense flowers I've seen. Reminds me of Jumanji.
People were using these big rocks as garages and balconies.
I wouldn't mind living here.

Here's number eleven, I lied. Porto's awesomeness cannot be compressed into ten measly blurbs (however well written). Possibly more so than the river, Port wine needs no introduction. However, I met a traveler who was not familiar with this world famous wine and it was my pleasure to introduce him. This was the first time I experienced Port, and I did so through an excellent tour of Croft and Taylor port houses. After four free samples the tour persuaded me to buy a glass of Taylor's 40 year old Tawny.

Taylor's is the longest family owned winery in Porto.
Their vintage port from 1850 was €100 a taste. 
Enjoy Porto!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 193: Free Walking Tour of Porto

I will tell you about my free walking tour of Porto but first an update on my new location.

Bloody budger bonnets! My world had turned up side down. I don't know which way to look when I cross the street and strangely I can understand (more or less) what everyone is saying. I'm in Liverpool! Land of the Scousers.

The aircraft looked rather unconventional but we arrived safely.

Portugal to Liverpool is the longest distance I've flown since my trip began. To my delight, all the Portuguese whined about the cold as we departed the plane. Indeed the weather here is hardly comparable to the paradise the Portuguese enjoy but I'm happy to wear my leather jacket.
I left Portugal in upmost style. A true feast, traditional Tripeiro Francesinha complimented with a glass of Port wine.

I'm upset that Francesinha was my last meal because I wish I ate it every day. If you go to Porto, eat this every day, no matter how big your 
butt grows.

Regardless of four plastic chairs in the airport were my bed last night or what side of the street cars drive on, I'm excited to be in Liverpool. Toss my traveling route out the window – here we go. Next I think I will move up to Scottland, maybe Ireland, then through Normandy to Paris. Before I get too far ahead of myself let's rewind to the sunshine and red roofs of Porto.

There are only two good things about Gaia, one is its view of Porto.

I was incredibly lucky as I arrived in Porto. While searching for hosts I stumbled upon a free tour that one local was having. His name is Openness on CS and he is one of the most generous and fascinating people I have had the pleasure of befrending this trip. The morning after I arrived he gave a free walking tour of Porto. Fernando and I recommend the following places:

For breakfast we went to Galeria de Paris
Downstairs, above the bathrooms hung a fleet of old bikes.
The world famous staircase of the Livraria Lello.
Two big churches next to the old university of Porto.
The magnificent inside of the church.
Just another Jesus?
Porto's wide streets meeting and splitting in the train station.
We made friends with this newspaper seller statue.
The train station is full of beautiful Azulejos tile work. 
A little off the top.
By the tourist office there's a great overlook of the city.
Hanging out with Porto.
Crossing Luis I bridge to Gaia.
The other side of the river, Gaia, with all the Port wine manufactures. 
With the girls.
A group of old men playing a traditional gard game, Sueca.
Walking to taste some Port wine.
Fernando was excited about this photo opportunity.
Alyn directs movies, can't you tell?
Sandeman one of the Port wine houses, with a badass logo.
I would prefer to be sitting in the wine truck.
The tasting room at Croft with furniture made from barrels.
Alyn was less than enthusiastic about walking uphill.
The parking lot of Taylor, Port house.
Were we going to the circus or drinking wine?
Fancy chairs for fancy wine.
This kid was so cute with his bunny.
The free tour of Taylor's Port house began.
We learned that the grapes were grown about 100 km away.
Draining the wine out of one of the big vats.
Tawny is transferred into smaller barrels to age.
I was pretty thirsty after the tour so I had a drink.
40 year old tawny was nice.
After some wine the girls were into kissing skeletons
I'm not sure what all these boats were for. Possibly transporting wine.
Getting artsy with the bridge.
The main shopping street that I lived near.
I paid the tram operator to let me drive.
Fernando with the countries present.
Great fun! CouchSurfing!

A community dinner was the perfect conclusion to a long day of walking around Porto. Fernando was an excellent tour guide, not only because he knew a good deal about history but he also had a blonde joke for every situation. I loved the tour of the Port wineries and tasting a 40 year old tawny, but the best part was that I had another week of enjoying this beautiful city. Thanks Fernado! Thanks Porto!

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