songs: “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones and “Laura” by Girls
I knew, before I even started traveling, that this was going to be among the most epic three and half weeks of my life and as a result, I had my iPhone constantly on the ready to record all of the incredible experiences I was having. I think it annoyed the people I was with a little, but I’m so glad I did it. I’ve watched this video probably twenty times since I’ve completed it, and it never ceases to bring a huge smile to my face. It was amazing to live it and now I’m so glad that I have this video as a memento, and that some of my best memories of my travels are preserved in moving pictures for all time. I hope you enjoy watching it too!
The second week of my travels began in Stockholm, Sweden. After a week of fairly mild early spring weather in the UK, the low temperatures in Sweden felt particularly frigid, but apparently I had just missed even lower temperatures and a substantial layer of snow only a week earlier. I was able to meet up with my friend Joe, who’s a medical student in Scotland and who I met back in October when I hosted him as a couch surfer in Amsterdam, and we couch surfed with an awesome guy named Andre, who is originally from Portugal and is working in Stockholm as a software engineer for Google (wicked smart!). The three of us got along famously, and had a lot of fun walking around the cold cold city together.
Although there wasn’t any snow on the ground, there were monstrous chunks of ice floating in the river. They were huge! I wanted to ride them down the river like a surfboard! When the chunks bumped up against each other they made a soft tinkling sound, like wind chimes almost. It was a really lovely sound.
Andre took us to an epic lookout spot up on a hill along the river as the sun was starting to set. This seems like a good point to advocate for couch surfing: it is truly the best way to travel, in my opinion. Not only is it free accommodation, but it’s an opportunity to meet awesome people and have a cultural exchange instead of a purely tourist experience. I probably never would have found this amazing lookout spot on my own or in a tourist brochure, and I feel like I got to see Stockholm as a local sees it. So that’s my two cents on couch surfing: it’s awesome and I highly recommend it.
Joe left early on my last day in Stockholm, so Andre and I took a train a short distance outside the city and walked around a frozen lake. It was kind of incredible. Despite my apprehension, we stepped out onto the lake and walked around on top of the ice, and we even did a little moonwalking (or attempted to, at least).
If I thought the temperature shift from the UK to Sweden was intense, it was nothing compared to going from icy Stockholm to sweltering Lisbon. It was in the low 80s! So hot! I couch surfed with a fella named Diogo who lives in the Belem area of Lisbon, so I spent most of my first day in Portugal just walking around the neighborhood checking out the San Jeronimos monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the famous Pasteis de Belem which serves delicious pasteis, a super tasty egg custard pastry, to the hungry masses.
I absolutely ADORED the mosaic sidewalks around the city center. They’re so gorgeous and so detailed, it was difficult to take my eyes off of them while walking.
One section of the city center area used to be a largely Muslim neighborhood, and you can see that influence in the Arabesque tiled facades on many of the buildings. So pretty.
One day, I took a train out to Sintra, which is a stunningly picturesque little town about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon. There are three major castles in Sintra, but unfortunately I only had the energy to climb a formidably steep hill in the overbearing heat to make it up to one of the castles, the Castelo dos Mouros. It’s amazing that these castles were built so long ago and have remained intact and just absolutely stunning. To be so high up and looking down on the sprawling landscape in miniature below made me feel both so big and so tiny at the same time.
Seriously, it does not get any more epic than this.
The Torre de Belem was one of the last sights I saw in Lisbon, and it was dusk, right before Diogo and I went to a photography exhibition opening at the museum he works at. Isn’t the color of the sky amazing? The photography exhibition was gorgeous, and it featured five different photographers from different Portuguese-speaking countries. There was a ritzy reception afterward with endless free glasses of champagne and divine hors d’oeuvres, including pasteis! It was the perfect way to end my stay in Lisbon.
Confession: I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon making lists of European cities I want to visit during my year in Amsterdam and researching airfare. My goal is to make one trip (at least) per month for the next year, which may seem lofty, but I believe it’s doable. There are so many places I want to see, but here are five places that I absolutely must see before I return to the good ole U.S. of A.
1. Dubrovnik, Croatia
My friend Tyane lived in Germany for a year and said that of all the places she visited (including London, Prague and Edinburgh), Dubrovnik was her favorite. With miles upon miles of coastline and a Mediterranean climate, Dubrovnik sounds like a fantastic place for a beach vacation, which I’m sure I’ll need after a snowy winter in Amsterdam.
2. Reykjavik, Iceland
I’ve been obsessed with Iceland ever since reading The Geography of Bliss a couple years ago. The culture sounds fascinating (half the population believes in elves!) and I’m giddy to see waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers in the same place. Not to mention I may run into Bjork while I’m there, which is reason enough to visit.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
Another city that’s situated on the water, Copenhagen is home to the two oldest amusement parks in the world, one of which includes the oldest operational ferris wheel. They also have a LegoLand, which I can assure you I’ll be checking out.
5. Brussels, Belgium
Brussels is but a mere hop-skip-and-jump away from Amsterdam, so it would be a crime not to go. I’m dying to see Grand Place, and hope that I’m there when they roll out the giant Flower Carpet!