I don’t think I like backpacking and being in cities for short periods of time. I think comfortable travel for me means integration and cultural learning from the safety of a cave like apartment. I don’t feel satisfied with the amount of time I spent in some places, because of my attitude going into the city or the result of exploration. I don’t like leaving a place with a bad taste in my mouth. I’d much rather have a fair balance of the great and the not so great that only locals really know about.
I cut my time in Lisbon by more than half because of the disaster that was Venice. I needed to go back to Copenhagen and regroup before gathering up energy to explore again. My Airbnb was perched on top of one of the seven hills in Lisbon, owned by a hippy family and their overly friendly cat whom I loved but was extremely allergic to. To keep my mind off the fact that I was alone again I packed my days full of activities. Here are some of the highlights:
I accidentally spent 3 hours in The Tile Museum (National Azulejo Museum) and it was one of the highlights of my entire trip – surprising for me but anticipated by all the websites I had visited beforehand.
Lisbon Sofar Sounds was hosted in a start up’s offices surrounded by abandoned warehouses. I fell in love with all three bands, but could only focus on how I was going to get home.
The city is incredibly bohemian, and from what I could tell there is a general fear from some residents that increase in tourism could negatively impact the city. Understandable when looking at cities like Barcelona and Venice who now have more tourists annually than their entire populations large times over.
My trip to Venice was a debacle. At the first hostel, before even checking, I was astounded to see the police arresting a woman through the door. I held on hope and checked in, but it turns out everything was closed on site because it was the offseason and I was put in a trailer with two strangers at the back of this fake wood inlay, tikibaresque winter trailer park.
I was there for an hour, which was longer than I wanted to be, but because I had no wi-fi in my trailer, I had to sit on the floor of the office space where people check in and quickly find a new place. I couldn’t get any of my money back but I just left because it wasn’t worth it.
I took a bus up through to Venice and went to the new mystery hostel by water taxi which turned out to be great and not as sketchy. The building was new, clean and marketed to millenials.
While in the city, I mazed around the city, cramped and lost. I had my first experience of a stand up coffee bar, saw the Guggenheim, and destroyed my phone in some cold, unforgiving water. The sunsets set the city on fire in a way I had never seen before. Although 70% of the people living in Venice are foreign tourists, it is a fairytale city that holds its own special magic. Go there, even if only for a few days.
Meeting Rick in Paris, we did some amazing things like go to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, The Centre Pompidou etc. These were excellent, but honestly I would not have minded if we didn’t go to the tourist sites. It was just really good to have some pure, old fashioned family time, where we could both be present and talk.
I was overwhelmed most of the time because of the sheer amount of people, but absorbed the dilapidated beauty of the old city streets and the markets that glue Paris together.
I love London. It is multicultural, it is engaging, the museums are free, and in it’s own way it is incredibly beautiful. I met Shine there, and throughout the visit we balanced together and apart, and visiting our own interests while exploring together.
As a Christmas present to Shine was to go to Sofar Sounds, a global concert series that keeps the artists and the venue a secret until the very last minute. The show was in Elephant and Castle, in a clear glass box with fake grass. By the time got there, it was packed so we were forced to sit in the back. Immediately the man next to us, who was wearing a very intense fedora, turned to us. As the conversation about Vancouver intensified, I could tell something was up, so I asked:
“Are you one of the creators?”
And that’s how I ended up meeting Rafe, half of the dynamic duo that has been slowly spreading good sounds for around 10 years.
Later Shine would ask me how I knew, and the honest answer was I don’t know. I recognised the easy self confidence of someone who had nothing to prove, much like my parents and their friends who were or still are artists.
Brick Lane had been gentrified and cleaned up since I had last been there, pre Olympics when it was important to stay close to my mom as not to get overwhelmed. Shine and I got bagels, the most essential thing to buy while in the area. The store is what is left of the old vibe, working class people drinking builders tea that had been steeped for days, and the expectation that you should are a regular and therefore are a no nonsense customer.
I learnt a lot while in London. It is good to try and get a ticket to see a Broadway show, or eat a whole pack of shortbread cookies, because these things contribute to the wellness of my traveller’s soul. I also learnt that even if the idea of visiting London during Christmas sounds romantic and magical, don’t do it. It isn’t. Everything shuts down, to the extent that if you are staying outside the city centre like I was, you are trapped in the suburb until the 26th, and will most definitely lose an entire day to a winter festival that you may or may not celebrate.