Wanderer

And so it begins…

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Porto. Second city of Portugal after Lisbon, with a population of 238,000, and famous of course for port wine. I’ve been here before; last September, for just a short 4 day trip to end last summer’s adventures. It was a lazy holiday to end the chaos, and I was too poor to do anything much at all, having spent all of my money in Italy and France and the various other countries that I had wandered into last summer. But this time, Porto is the first stop…

I do still love Porto, but that fuzzy haze of last summer has faded; last summer I could compare the row after row of derelict shabby chic buildings to beautiful, crumbling Venice, but now they seem very much apart to me. Maybe the fuzz will be back by morning, and it will turn out that it was just the less than perfect Ryanair flight that has clouded my opinion for now… we’ll see.

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Of course, I feel like I shouldn’t bother to complain about Ryanair; you get what you pay for and for a £50 flight (and 100000000 Ryanair flights under my belt already), I really couldn’t have expected much. It was all very same-same; they don’t even consider opening the gate for boarding until the plane was due for take off, then we are all prodded and poked like bad tempered cattle up the narrow staircase with our as-heavy-as-we-dare case, and into any available seat, while we are then stripped of our luggage and watch cautiously as it is launched from one end of the cabin to the other and following a brief game of catch between crew members during which I swear they earn points as to how many heads they can clobber with each case, it is finally placed in a luggage rack miles away. None of that bothered me in the slightest, I’m more than used to Ryanair’s typical passenger treatment by now, I’ve learnt how to just breeze by, which I think is quite impressive when I’m wearing as many layers as I can get away with without looking like the Michelin Man’s self-combusting wife.

Still, I honestly think I was the cheeriest person on that flight; everyone let the 15 minute delay get to them far too much, or maybe they were just naturally a bad-tempered bunch. Even my meagre lunch of overpriced sweaty cardboard chips and soggy salt which fell in clumps onto my food couldn’t put a damper on my mood. They tasted as if they had been re-heated at least twice. In fact, I’d swear that they had been, as they tasted exactly like a bowl of chips that I ate last year shortly before we caught the freezer out on it’s infamous game of sneak-a-defrost. Sneak-a-defrost was an irritatingly secret game played by the household freezer during which it would switch off just long enough for everything to thaw, and then magically repair itself, leaving us oblivious. They tasted exactly like sneak-a-defrost chips. Still, I’m off on my big adventure, so I can forgive a short delay and a dozen re-heated chips.

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As soon as I stepped from the metro at Sao Bento, I just so happened to bump into an old acquaintance (of sorts), Scary Mary, a local homeless woman who despite a pretty serious limp and her feeble remains of a pair of sandals can chase after you at about 100mph, jingling coins at you and shouting in Portuguese about lord knows what… my bets are she’s either shouting at me about her unfortunate living conditions as one of Porto’s homeless or a detailed fantasy about the various ways she’d like to kill me; batter me to death with the sandal remains. I bet it’s one or the other. If she wasn’t so terrifying, I’d buy her a McDonalds and a coffee, but I just don’t dare to linger when I see her charging towards me, filthy, wild-hair flailing all over the place, even wilder-eyes burning through me, limping away in her shit-stained trousers and those damn sandals scraping across the cobbles. She’s truly terrifying.

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Don’t get me wrong, Porto isn’t all homeless people and crumbling buildings (though sadly 70% of the buildings here are derelict, so I’m told). It’s a beautiful city which is a strange mix of being loud and lively and full of dancing and music and people congregating in squares and at the river to laugh and talk, and equally you can walk down eerily quiet, deserted streets moments later, which is perfect for someone like me; I like my me-time, and I like my space, which of course can be impossible to find when travelling. I find it pretty admirable how happy people are here, despite buildings around them quite literally falling down around them. It’s just one of those infectiously cheery places.

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Tomorrow I will probably head to the beach, and make the most of this lovely 30-35C heat! Are you jealous my lovely friends back home in England? I hope so.

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Wanderer

Joie de Vivre.. Part Four….

Zurich
 
I didn’t plan to go to Zurich. It just sort of happened. There I was, admiring the beautiful views from the window of the Milan-Paris train (seriously I recommend that everyone travel by train from Milan to Paris at some point in their lives, it’s amazingly, spectacularly, jaw-droppingly beautiful!) and we were passing through Zurich, and I just thought.. I’ll get off here, just for a few hours.
So glad that I did!
One of the first things that I saw was hundreds and hundreds of people just floating – not even swimming – floating down the river on inflatable green and yellow butterflies. I don’t know why, or what it was about, but I did gather that it’s an annual thing so I have decided, that is how I want to celebrate when I leave university next summer! With all of my friends of course! I saw two genius girls using orange armbands to hold a bottle of wine – definitely a plan for next year!
I only had time to spend about four hours in Zurich, and for most of that time I was either exploring the biggest, most amazing antique fair I have ever seen, (if only I was a millionaire, I’d have bought everything in sight), or just sitting on the jetty, dangling my feet into the lake, as it was ridiculously hot).
I need to get my bum back to Zurich and explore it properly. ASAP.
Paris
 
J’adore Paris ♥
As long as I don’t look too closely (and spend as little time in Gare de Lyon station as possible, as it’s filthy and has a serious cockroach problem) I love Paris. I have always loved Paris and so as much as I had to drag my bum out of Italy, I think Paris is about the only place that for me could come close in winning my heart.
I love that everyone kept mistaking me for being ‘a true Parisian’. I love the French language, I love the art, the culture, the history…. I love how friendly everyone is, despite their reputation for being rude and.. Parisian…
Or at least I loved how friendly everyone was, until I realised rather late in the day that it might have had something to do with my black top being very see through, and I had decided to go bra-less… oops.
So, I crossed many ‘must see’s from my Bucket List while in Paris: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Moulin Rouge, the Louve (more specifically the Mona Lisa), etc etc… but I also went here:
My inner child is still buzzing – I’ve only waited twenty years and I’ll admit, mock me all you like, I was the biggest kid there! Though I only met Mickey Mouse and Jack Sparrow. Oh and of course I saw the parades. Still… not a fan of this whole ‘character meeting points’ system – I was looking forward to seeing all of the characters just casually strolling around.. my inner child was a little disappointed. That’s the best part after all, right?
 Anyway…….
Montpellier (and various little surrounding lakes and villages)
 
I have fallen in love with Montpellier. As well as Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris, Bordeaux, Porto… the list goes on and on… but seriously, I love Montpellier. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait to develop my many many rolls of film before I can see any of my photographs from Montpellier itself.. I have just one for now:
My first evening there, after a lovely long walk around the city with my lovely host Mallory, just as we were walking back to his apartment, we happened to walk past this lovely group of people: (I’ve just realised that I use the word lovely far too often, but there’s really no other word to describe the lovely people I have crossed paths with and places that I have stumbled across). We perched ourselves on a ledge for a while and listened to them sing about coffee and life. There was an old woman listening from her balcony a few floors above us and a couple sitting in the doorway across the street from us. I love that about Europe – in England, people hang around the streets, and everyone else peers suspiciously at them from their windows, wondering if they’re out to cause trouble, but in so many of the countries I visited, neighbours chat to each other while sitting in their doorways or on their tiny balconys. It’s so similar but so different.
The next morning, Mallory showed me around the area surrounding Montpellier. He took me to a tiny village full of winding streets where people hang clay sunflowers on their doors to ward off evil spirits. It was exactly how I picture ‘Southern France’, it felt familiar almost to the point of deja vu.
We picnicked by the river and went for a swim, and we laughed at everything; the teenage boys posing and wading through the water like they were male models staring in a perfume ad, my tan-lines, which were pretty horrendous at the time, my failed attempts to swim against the current, the man who hesitated for ages on top of the largest rock trying to decide whether or not to jump as all of his friends had, only to finally do so while cupping his ‘special pebbles’. I spent what felt like hours just perched on the same slippery rock watching fish swim around my feet.
By the time we had reached this lake, I was exhausted. I had already been struggling to keep my eyes open in the car as we drove from river to lake. I dozed on the damp towels while Mallory went for another swim, only to return two minutes later complaining that there was ‘water plants’.
Eventually, the mosquitoes drove us away, and so we went back to Mallory’s apartment and gorged ourselves on crab, salad and blackberries.
I miss it.
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