Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I wasn’t supposed to be in Portugal. First of all, I’d never had any desire to travel Europe. Secondly, when my friend invited me to come visit him in Spain, I certainly didn’t plan to end up alone in another country.
It was 2008. In the past decade I’d been a bit of a gypsy, living in four countries, moving to different cities 11 times, traveling, teaching, going to school, following some dreams, letting go of others, running away from who I didn’t want to be, then finding myself again.
I was about to turn 30. 30! I was living in a city I’d sworn I’d never live in again. I was single. I’d just finished college for the third time and still had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. I don’t know that I’d ever sat down and envisioned what my life would look like at 30 years old, but I was pretty sure that this wasn’t it. And despite all of that, I was EXCITED to turn 30. For the first time I actually felt comfortable in my own skin, and that was enough reason to be celebrating.
My best friend was in Spain for a semester, and although Europe wasn’t even on my travel list, when he invited me to come visit Barcelona, it seemed the perfect place to spend my birthday. Another friend and I hopped on a plane across the ocean, and so my 30th birthday consisted of Spanish markets, paella and wine for dinner, and an incredible celebration with almost 15 friends! It was perfect.
Then my girl friend flew back to Canada, and the boys were in school, so I decided to get on a train and go explore the Spanish countryside. I walked the halls of a castle. I spent hours photographing incredible graffiti. I met a Catalan gypsy who didn’t speak English, but somehow we connected (he gave me a special stone that I still carry). I shared meals in a cave carved into the mountainside. My Spanish improved in leaps and bounds. I also got sick when it was pouring rain and the hostel didn’t have any spare blankets. And I was crushingly lonely.
I was in the South of Spain, intending to circle back north, but I kept talking to people who said, “Go to Portugal instead, it’s incredible.” And so, I got on a bus to Portugal. As I crossed the border I suddenly realized that this was not in the game plan, nobody knew where I was, and I didn’t speak a single word of Portuguese. What was I doing??
But I arrived in Lisbon, and my life changed forever.