Monday, July 15, 2019

Ep 5: Better Endings [Memories of Portugal]

This post is part of a series on my life in Lisboa.
5.1: The tale of a time-traveler
Cloudy beach in the midsummer!
Porto was a city that we enjoyed most during those days. After my return to Portugal in 2014, we always wanted to go back to Porto - but we never did somehow. Every time we ended up in another city. It became close to reality during the 2016 Christmas vacation. But we ended up going to Zurich (and Liechtenstein and Austria) instead. This time, for my Ph.D. defense, I flew from Brussels to Porto airport. Of course, first I had to fly from Atlanta to Brussels. Interestingly, my stay in Porto was on the same days, as in 2013 -  25th - 27th June. That was a coincidence, not at all planned. Since I never had a chance to visit Porto after 2013, coming to Porto was like opening a time capsule, wrapping up a story which I left half-written six years ago. I had to work on rehearsing my Ph.D. defense presentation. Therefore, I did not have much time to enjoy Porto or Portugal until I have defended my thesis on the 1st of July. Porto airport was remarkably similar to that of Lisboa airport, in its size, shops, and decoration.

Beautiful view from the bus
I bought the 72 hours Andante card for 15 Euros, although I knew I would not optimize it as I would not have much time left after spending a few hours presenting my thesis presentation every day. My hotel was in Matosinhos. It was in a walking distance from  Praia de Matosinhos, the beach we enjoyed in 2013. Unfortunately, and weirdly, Portugal was colder than Belgium. Almost in the 20s while Belgium was reaching the 40s! So I could not go into the water. I cannot catch a cold and lose my voice before the defense. The beach was empty except for the surfers, a few tourists who did not want to miss their vacation to the unpredictable cloudy and cold weather, and lots of seagulls! There were also people just starting at the beach in their street clothes. Anyway, it was still lovely to be in Porto 6 years after, and in Portugal after one whole year - the longest I have ever stayed away from Portugal after moving to Lisbon in 2012 August from Sri Lanka. It was like picking the pieces of artwork and stitching them together. Memories scattered everywhere.

The beautiful Douro River
During our last visit to Porto, we missed the opportunity to visit Povoa de Varzim, the town in the far northernmost end of the red line of the Porto Metro, unfortunately, due to a metro/train strike. Not this time. I made sure to make a metro trip to Povoa de Varzim. It was a cute little neighborhood. Every time I went on a train/metro trip, I kept a copy of my presentation slides with me so that I can go through them whenever I wanted to. Although I passed through the Douro riverside a few times, I did not take the river cruise this time. I also walked from the metro station Jardim do Morro to Sao Bento in the night, enjoying the river view in the night lights over the bridge. The river had a romantic atmosphere. Probably, it is just my memories. I cannot say for sure.

Night view from the bridge over Rio Douro
The main streets of Porto, especially, Avenida dos Aliados and the Marques neighborhood, all felt so familiar, even after six years. I did several random walks, without using a map of any sort. Not once I got lost! Eventually, my time in Porto came to an end. I had to take a train to Lisboa. It was precisely six years ago, on the same day, we were leaving Porto to Lisboa full of sadness. That time too, I knew I would be leaving Portugal soon after. This time, I leave Porto with more positive thoughts, somewhat excited and a bit nervous too - as the defense is approaching and I was still fine-tuning my presentation. I also had a feeling I had prepared for this presentation much more than for any of my previous presentations. Overpreparation is not good either, I usually say. But still much better than going to your Ph.D. defense unprepared. Anyway, I got on the train, saying goodbye to Porto. I will be back to Porto on the 4th of July from Lisboa - to return to Brussels. I won't have any time for sightseeing in Porto on that day.

5.2: Just once more - Just once more
A cat made of trashbins
Finally, I arrived in Lisboa, my most favorite city I have ever lived. First things first. I  reached my hotel in Saldanha neighborhood. The hotel itself was horrible - but close to my university. So I could comfortably reach my defense without a commute by public transport.

I had to go to Povoa, a village in the Vila Franca de Xira region to collect our suitcase from a friend. I downloaded an offline Google map of the village to my tablet so that it was easy for me to locate the apartment. I also had a mobile Internet on my mobile phone in any case. I purchased it from Vodafone, as Vodafone had locked my phone when I bought it and did a half-job unlocking it when I requested and paid for that in 2013 January. My phone, therefore, never worked with other carriers for data. We had left 23 kg worth of a suitcase with a friend before we left Lisboa last year. It was nice to recover our old things. I also repeated one of our favorite walks from Moscavide to Parque das  Nações once more. But this time, from the Moscavide train station, rather than the metro station. Little did I know that Moscavide train station is much farther than the Moscavide train station to Parque das Nações. It was also a heavy walk since I had just collected our old suitcase. A long walk indeed, reaching the bottom of the Vasco da Gama bridge from Moscavide train station and continuing south towards the Centro Comercial Vasco da Gama.

Tagus river and the Vasco da Gama bridge
I met my supervisor at earliest on Friday to get his final opinions on my presentation. I had previously received the opinions of my co-supervisor in Belgium before leaving Belgium as well. Over the weekend, I iterated over the presentation based on the feedback I received. Later at the hotel, I eventually moved the contents from that old suitcase to my current checked in luggage. Then I tried to sell the old suitcase to the Cash Converter. They rejected it as apparently it was a bit too old for their taste. Therefore, I left the suitcase near the donation box. I had to throw away some old clothes in my current suitcase to give space to the things from the last year.

View in Sintra
I decided to do a "quick revision" of all the places I have visited during the past 7 years. This included many places that I had visited several years ago, such as Belem, Sao Jorge castle, and my apartment of 2012 - 2014 in Arroios / Rua da Ponta Delgada. Overall, my time in Lisboa was really a time-travel kind of experience again, often with a feeling of overlapping timelines - as if searching for my younger self. The only difference was, I wasn't alone when I visited all these places during the past years. This time, it was mostly a solo trip.

I had a walk over the Parque das Nacoes riverside, not once - but thrice during this visit. The area was full of memories, from the range of 2013 - 2018. I felt like searching my 6 - 7-year younger-self - and also the younger selves of her and our friends. I almost felt like we are still here after six years. The memories kept me in a state similar to intoxication! I truly missed this place — lots of deja vu. I also realized that my preference for Lisboa, and Portugal in general, comes mostly from the fact that I had great memories there. It was nice to meet a few friends in Lisboa - of course, the majority of my friends had left the city over several years. I was the last to leave among our Erasmus Mundus friends.

The large waves of Praia das Maçãs
I had lunch at Restaurante Kathmandu and Canela e Açúcar restaurant. The former is a Nepalese restaurant in Rua da Ponta Delgada, the street of my first ever apartment (2012 - 2014) in Lisboa. We used to visit it frequently in 2013, almost daily at a certain point - sometimes twice a day! The latter is close to my lab. My friends and I used to have lunches there in 2012, almost daily. Sometimes also dinner. Both restaurants maintained the price. The price did not increase over the years. I could not say the same about the quality or even the quantity of food for the same option in the menu. But it was good to relive those memories.

On the day of defense, 1st of July, I woke up early. The hotel had a balcony, from which the early morning sunshine reached my room abundantly. I left to my lab and met my supervisor again. The defense (30 mins of presentation) and the following question-and-answer session of up to 2 hours went pretty well. I passed with a distinction. Now two free days before leaving Lisboa, to Porto, and then on the same day, to Brussels airport from Porto airport. The first day, I decided to go to Praia das Maçãs, and the second day, a random trip across Lisboa.

Good bye, my romantic Lisboa
Praia das Maçãs is where one of my most favorite songs, Inna - Amazing, was shot. Finally, I had a chance to visit this lovely remote beach myself. I had to take a train to Portela da Sintra, and then a bus from there. The waves were very strong and quick! I enjoyed some cocktails and a frozen shot in a nearby cafe overlooking the beach. On my return trip, I took a toy train to Portela da Sintra from the Praia das Maçãs village. The beach is a red flag guarded beach. That means not suitable for swimming due to its strong currents. Good for surfing, as I observe the big waves hitting the rocks and the beach as well as the surfers riding the waves.

The second free day, my whole day was in Lisboa. I was doing a random metro ride and bus ride to cover as many places as I can. I was revising my six years in Lisboa (2012 - 2018). I even went to Belem, which I hadn't visited for several years. I went to Restauradores, Rossio - Praca do Comercio, Baixa - Chiado, Bairro Alto, Alfama, Alameda, Arroios, Cais do Sodre, and several other neighborhoods. The day eventually came to an end, and I did not have many things left in Lisboa that I did not cover during this trip. Of course, I did not visit Centro Comercial Colombo and ISCTE-IUL, two of our most frequented places. But it is not necessary to visit all the places again during this short trip, I reminded myself. I had visited the most important ones, where I had the strongest memories. I felt like a time-traveler most of the times. I was checking whether I could run into my old friends or our younger selves from 2012 - 2013.

Back to the starting points..

Finally, it was time for me to leave Portugal again. I felt this was a better ending than what I had in 2018, exactly a year ago. I now have defended my Ph.D. thesis. That leaves me with no real attachment to Portugal or Lisboa. Of course, I have a strong cultural alignment with Portugal after my six years of life there. This trip also completes my seven years of student-life in Portugal. I still have to defend my thesis again in Belgium, since this is a double degree. But that has nothing to do with Portugal or my Portuguese university. I thank Portugal, as I eventually leave Lisboa to Porto in an Alfa Pendular fast train. I came to Portugal for my studies in 2012. I searched and found myself in Portugal over the years to follow.
Now, in Porto, I was switching from the past and the present at the same time, as I was waiting for the metro to the airport. My Portugal trip was successful and now is a return trip. It truly felt like time traveling since I felt many things were frozen in time as if it was 2013 summer again. I am also leaving Porto once more with a more positive note, compared to 2013, when I left Porto with lots of questions. At present, from Porto airport, I board the flight to Brussels. Goodbye, once again, Portugal. Until I see you again another time!

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