After surviving an ambush in Seville, I had twelve hours to figure out my next destination. I mulled over the options like a shameless drunk shopper swiping through brands of paper towels.
I could go to Granada. I mean, it was right there. Two and a half hours by train and I could complete my tour of Andalucia with honors. My excursions to Seville and Malaga taught me to let the Spanish sun and spritzes soothe my soul. I could eat their tapas and marvel at the lack of fibre in their diet. Take a few more mediocre pictures and blame my aging iPhone. Maybe even hire a photographer to stitch my young face amongst the ancient palazzos. But maybe that’s a little too much Southern Spain for one trip. I wouldn't want Catalonia to get jealous.
Back to Barcelona? Could an extra dollop satisfy my Catalan sweet tooth? I had figured out the city. I knew the grocery store to avoid because the cashier scanned items too quickly and yelled at me for being too slow at packing my produce. I had maneuvered the metro at 6am and made it home with ease. I knew the tourist traps to avoid and had made friends, one of whom asked me to stay for his upcoming birthday.
Or I could dip into the Balearic Sea and a toss a coin between Majorca and Menorca. When the options are so beautiful, does it really matter which face wins? I was warned not to leave Spain without running my toes through the beach sands on those islands. A friend who runs an architecture firm on three continents professed the beach cured her throbbing headache after receiving a hefty, unexpected tax bill.
I could wag my tail in Valencia. Another football-mad city so I knew I could easily find pickup games. Then I’d sink my face into their famed oranges. My dalliance with paella could come to a head—since it was born in this city. Would I be converted into a believer or have my distrust cemented?
Why not try something different? A trip to Basque Country to see a people who are not quite French and not quite Spanish. A region that straddles both countries but retains its own culture, style and one of the few non-Latin derived languages in Southern Europe.
As I mulled through the options, I remembered I had overlooked a serious contender. A nearby city that had always been on my radar. It offered some sun, a warm embrace to remote workers, lots of English speakers and a stunning coastline. A sister city to my San Francisco, complete with hills, chills and a golden suspension bridge.
I wrangled through Chase’s Travel Center to find the right flight that was cheap enough and before my checkout time. I found a 7am flight. You would think there’d be a train between Spain and Portugal, because you know Europe, and because they share borders. Seville is closer to Lisbon than Madrid. Well, you would be wrong. Political problems apparently.
I didn’t sleep that night. I packed, drank some coffee and scheduled my airport-bound Uber for 3:30am. The pickup notification belled so I took my luggage outside. But the driver said the police wouldn’t let him drive up to my apartment. He asked to meet five minutes away. No biggie. I dragged my stuff and begged Google Maps to steer me to the meeting point. One slight problem.
The streets were packed again. At 3:30 am. Flipping hell. The same Easter parade that had held me hostage for hours earlier that week blocked my departure from the city. FML. Who wrote this script? I looked left and there’s no end to the heads of people. A few puzzled looks in my direction. Who is this guy dragging boxes through the street in the early morning? Didn’t he get the memo? He in fact, did not.
I turn right and try to finagle my way out of the crowd. After one or two blocks, I see it’s pointless. No end in sight. I turn around and try to go backwards to go forwards. I opt to go as far away from the crowd as possible. The Uber cancels. Perfect. Eventually, I found a taxi rack and thirty five euros later, I made it to the airport. Pissed off but early.
On the way to my gate, I found a couple doing pushups and wondered what sort of fitness routine requires pre-flight pumps. Why willingly touch the airport floor?
A short hour later and I was in Lisbon. My week there was a thrill, I tried their famed dish bacalhau (yummy!) and arroz con pato (I should’ve known better). I sipped on authentic vinho verde not the cheap Trader Joe’s knockoff I was well acquainted with.
I went necklace shopping with a friend’s friend. Our journey yielded nothing worthy of the precious real estate on my collarbone. At lunch, our waitress spoke so conspicuously quiet…as if she was trying to whisper a secret that could endanger our safety. We went to a Portuguese bookshop where I pretended to read philosophical books in a foreign language.
During the week, I played football with a supposed pro player (he was alright). I wracked my brain to find a way to electronically pay three euros to secure my spot…after cursing in multiple languages and trying PayPal, bank transfer and Revolut, I begged to pay in cash and the guy relented. For research purposes, I stuffed my face in heaps of decadent pasteis de nata.
I met a Jennifer Lawrence doppelgänger. One of those slightly annoying “yeah I get that all the time” ones. I fulfilled a lifelong dream to crash a stag do (Americans—think bachelor party) when I met some Scousers. Like a jaded San Franciscan, I checked Lisbon house prices and smiled when I only saw six figures.
My last night in Lisbon was rather eventful. I negotiated a peace treaty between two warring sets of Irish best friends. The offending friend had committed the cardinal sin of being on her phone too much on girl’s night. As an influencer, it turns out she was perhaps a bit too dedicated to the job. The offended told me how she’d lost her dad recently so I turned from UN peacekeeper to consoler-in-chief.
In the same night, I found myself at a bar full of travelers and digital nomads. I struck up a conversation with a med school student. Let’s call her Maddie (because that’s her name). Dr Madelyn claimed to have a certain party trick—she could read soccer players since she grew up around so many. I could scarcely resist.
“I can tell exactly what kind of footballer you are. A skillful type.”
My ego sufficiently stroked and amused.
“You’re right footed, but play on the left cuz you know you can figure it out.”
My mouth gaped open at that eerily accurate definition. How the hell does one read that? Was it my gait or my outfit? Or was it a lucky guess with a hint of flattery in between?
“I can just tell.”
Hmm okay sorcerer. The mindreader’s friend brings over a curiously green cocktail.
“Ooh what’s in it?”
“Something with lychee. Do you want to try?”
I wasn’t trying to be drugged alone so I wait for her to sip first.
“Wait, you’re not allergic…are you? I don’t want you going into anaphylactic shock.”
“No, but you’re a doctor. You could fix it, no?
Plus, it would make a great story. I’m a writer now. I can’t let trivial things like medical emergencies get in the way of a good tale. Didn’t I sign a contract to twist myself into reversible knots for the sake of prose?
And that dear readers is how Dr Maddie injected adrenaline through my veins and brought me back to life from the sunken place. To my surprise, I was in fact allergic to lychee…I just didn’t know. My throat got itchy and I felt a little lightheaded. You know there’s a problem when a black man’s cheeks puff red.
Just kidding, I tried the drink and what can I say, it tasted like lychee. Lisbon, I miss you and I will return. I pinky promised my necklace shopper friend I would.
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Aaaah I really savour your travel-writing Tobi! This was so light and easy, you have such a gifted voice. Loved the constant reflections on your inner world as you navigate the outer world's social, political and cultural. The piece felt so *whole*, speaking to all lenses of the journey, without being heavy or contrived, and to me your ability to do that lightheartedly feels like a REAL gift.
Really enjoyed this light-hearted piece, especially that ending!