Welcome to my travel blog! Over the next 10 weeks I will be travelling throughout Europe and will share my adventure here. The name of this blog is a Latin phrase which translates roughly to mean 'to gain, understand, perceive'. It explains perfectly what I hope to experience in this trip; a sense of understanding and appreciation for life all around the world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Homeward Bound

Well, the time has come for me to pack everything up for the last time and head to the airport to make the long trip home.As I said earlier, I have two flights today and then tomorrow a flight back to Melbourne from Heathrow.

I said goodbye this morning to some Korean girls I made friends with and we had a photo together so they said they'd email it to me - a really nice ending to this trip for me.

I feel like I should have all sort of philosophical oberservations to make about travelling and discovering oneself - yadda yadda yadda. The description of my blog at the top of the page says how I wanted to discover and appreciate life all around the world. I certainly have had many opportunities for this along my travels, but I feel that what I have experienced and seen has only shown me that there is so, so, so much more out there!

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is I don't have to go travelling halfway accross the world to explore life more - I'm so excited about going back home and discovering more about my own country, my own culture and my own life. There's a lot there to keep me busy!

I don't think I will have a chance to get onto the internet again before I finally depart tomorrow in London so I take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who supported me in the lead up to and during this trip. Thank you for the emails, comments, facebook messages and thoughts. Thank you to those who hosted me and took me out while I was in Europe. And to you, thanks for reading! It's always a real kick for the ego to know people are reading your words :)

To everyone back home - I can't tell you how much I have missed you and am counting down the hours to when I can see you again. Woot!

Friday, February 4, 2011

That's it. When I am older, have made my millions and my kids have left home I am moving to Portugal. Or Spain. One of the two - I'm not really fussed. It's funny because people have often asked me on this trip where if I have been anywhere I would want to live. Although I have loved my time in the different countries I've been to, none have made me want to live there. But there's something about Spain and Portugal that has captured me. It could be the scenery, it could be the people, it could be the culture - or a mix of all three.

The Spanish guys I spent time with in Turkey told me it's not much fun to work in Spain or Portugal - they said the hours are long and the bosses are not fair. But they told me working all over Europe is hard - so many countries have economies that are tanking and so are looking for budget cuts and the cost of living just keeps on rising. I am not naive - I know that living in a country is a lot harder than travelling throughout it as a tourist. Hence the 'once I've made my millions' part. Then it's all swell :)

I've been thinking of home a bit the past few days - news of the weather has reached me here, even with the news being focussed on the demonstrations in Egypt. I'm really feeling for Queenslanders at the moment - it's not been a good summer for them. Then there's the bushfires down south - we really are a country of extremes.

I am sick again unfortunately - sinusitis again. I was really hoping it wouldn't happen when I have three flights in the next 2 days (one of them the 24 hour one back to Melb) but hey, that's life. Tomorrow afternoon I start the flights, first to Madrid, then to London. I spend overnight at Heathrow then fly to Melb at midday on Sunday. Therefore, I have nothing planned for today other than reading and resting - perhaps a short walk in the afternoon. I found a spy thriller in the book collection here so am enjoying that.

On Wednesday I went to the suburb of Belem - a very old suburb that has a few really beautiful sights. The main one is the Monastery of St Jerome. Walking through the cloisters I have never wanted to be a monk so much! It was probably the most serenely peaceful place I have been all trip - there's something about hearing nothing but the sound of your own footsteps as you walk through the cloisters, the sun on your face - the perfect atmosphere for prayer. The church there is also very beautiful - medieval Gothic in style.

Belem is kind of like a harbour town - makes sense in the old days because Portugal controlled the trade route between it and India for some time. There's the famous Belem Tower, which is in the water - about 10 metres from the bank. It was a scout and battle tower, as well as being a political prison, so there's quite a bit to see. It's not very big but there are about 4-5 levels of windy stairs. The views from it are magnificent - the water is so blue!

I spent most of the day in this suburb - it's about a 30 min tram ride from the centre of Lisbon where I am staying. The parks are green with beautiful monuments, the houses are beautiful, and there are yachts anchored along the piers strewn seafood restaurants, enticing smells coming from them. The weather here is perfect - I hate the heat, as some of you will know. But here the warmth comes from the sunlight and the skies are a perfect shade of blue. Therefore, while the air is fresh and cool, the sun warms your face. Perfect.

Just quickly, a word on the Portuguese language. I had thought it was similar to Spanish, but then I heard it. To me it sounds almost nothing like Spanish - its written form is close but the pronunciation is dramatically different. Portuguese sounds almost more Czech, with its 'sh' and 'j' sounds. This is very difficult to explain in text - I shall have to do a demo when I get home. Spanish also surprised me - I had not realised how to get the pronunciation right, one has to speak with a lisp. I thought 'gracias' was pronounced with the c being a soft s sound. But it's actually more like a 'th' sound. So, it's 'grathias', 'Barthelona' and sometimes even 'Madrith'. I think it depends on the dialect.

Yesterday I went somewhere that was first on my list of places to see when I originally planned this trip, over a year ago. That place is Fatima - home of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917 to three shepherd children, Lucia, Fancisco and Jacinta, and now the place where over 4 million pilgrims go each year. It's about an hour and a half out of Lisbon by bus.

I am not going to write anything about my experience there - I feel that written words cannot even come close to capturing what it was like to be there, and my atttempts would only sound overly dramatic and pretentious. Instead I will leave you with the words of one of the shepherd children, Lucia, who outlived her cousins and was visited by Mary throughout her life. She died in 2005.
“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the
recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is,
whether temporal or above all, spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, of
the families of the world, or of the religious communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations,
that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem I tell you, no matter how difficult it is,
that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Monday morning, as I said, I went to the royal palace in Madrid. It's obviously very beautiful and impressive, but I forgot that Spain still has a current royal family that uses the palace (I don't know if it is for living but certainly for ceremonial things like galas etc). It reminded me that as a kid I used to say that the only royal family I would ever marry into would be the Spanish, purely because I wouldn't have to change religions. Of course, there's Monaco as well but neither Grace Kelly's genes or elegance of behaviour seem to have been picked up by her children so that's off the list.

I'm pretty sure the chances of me having a story such as Princess Mary of Denmark are very slim :) But hey, that didn't stop me from walking down the grand staircase in the palace imagining for a moment I was at a royal gala. I'm sure I'm not the only person to have done so!

The afternoon was spent in transit making my way to Portugal. Given that the flight from Madrid to Lisbon is less than an hour, it seems like such a huge effort to getting to the airport 2 hours early to check in and do all that. I forgot that the budget airline I was flying with only allows one carry-on bag. Due to the amount of things I have accumulated during the trip, I usually travel on the plane with my bag pack, a handbag and an extra bag of stuff. When I realised this rule I had to somehow fit everything into the back pack. I actually did it – one of the zip handles is now broken – the effort of pulling it closed was too much for the metal clasp. But it worked! It looked ridiculous but it worked.

I arrived in Lisbon in the early evening and felt restless so went for a walk. My hostel is centrally located so I actually got to see a fair bit of the city, albeit in the dark. However, even in the dark it was obvious that Lisbon is a beautiful city. It actually has a lot of d├ęcor and architecture that reminded me of Istanbul and I couldn't figure out why until today when I learned that until the 12th century, Lisbon was ruled by Muslims – hence the similarities between it and Turkey.

I found a nifty little cafe where all the cool kids hang out – I've never seen so many facial piercings in one room. It reminded me a lot of the cafes at my uni campus. Melbourne Uni has a lot of really grungy style students – all the musos and wannabe philosophers.

Yesterday I did a lot of walking and got lost a few times but it was good – I got to see lots of little side streets and things I wouldn't if I stayed on the main roads. The sunlight in Lisbon is amazing – for all of my trip I've had to use the night setting on my camera to take shots outdoors and this place is the first time I could take shots without it! In fact, I had to walk in the shade in the end as I could feel myself getting burnt! Mind you, I'm so pale I would burn anywhere that's got any real sunlight. Indeed, walking down the streets of Lisbon it must be so obvious to people that I'm not from around here – I'm easily the palest person in a mile radius. Not even the Irish or Scottish people I have met on this trip are as pale as me. People often don't believe that I'm from Australia because they are expecting the blonde haired, blue eyed beach-bombshell kind of look. Then they don't believe me when I say that's what my younger brother looks like.

The main thing I did today was go to the medieval castle on top of the hill overlooking the bay. It's called the Sao Jorge Castle and was originally built by Muslims in Lisbon but was expanded after the country came under the rule of Christian kings in the 12th century. The view from up here were amazing – real postcard shots.

The hostel I am staying at has a library of books people have left – I haven't read anything since I finished The Three Musketeers on the plane to Barcelona so I wanted to get something out. The choices were rather slim – a book about the Portuguese tax structure, plenty of Mills and Boon romance novels and a couple of books in other languages. However, underneath a romance novel called The Wife and the Wet-Nurse (I kid you not!) I found Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I've been wanting to read this for a while so got this one out. It's pretty bloody depressing but I finished it in 4 hours. It's good – hard going and afterwards I felt cold and hungry but it's rather haunting. It won the Pulitzer Prize in any case, so if you like post-apocalyptic-end-of-humanity literature, you'll like this. If you don't, perhaps you'll enjoy The Wife and the Wet-Nurse more ;-)