Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
This week, Rikki takes us on a spring break trip to Lisbon.
- - -
This spring break, my friends and I decided to take a trip to Lisbon, Portugal. My personal reasons for going were more or less lukewarm at first—the plane tickets were reasonable, and the weather promised to stray no lower than 60°F. I didn’t really stop to consider the cause of this initial apathy, but in retrospect, I can narrow it down to two reasons. For one, not many people really ever talk about going to Portugal. At least, amongst my peers, whenever we discussed going abroad or traveling Europe before the end of our 20s, we’d always list the major cities: Barcelona, Munich, Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam—but Lisbon remained curiously absent. Second (and perhaps the more concerning reason) was that I had become complacent with my life in London. Without me knowing, every day had started to blur together in a whirlwind of robotic activity—wake up, go to class, do my internship, come home, make dinner, go to bed. Rinse, repeat. In some ways, this kind of result is inevitable. A part of being human is to adapt to wherever we are. To find patterns in disorder, to set routine where there is chaos.
But that’s not what I wanted from studying abroad. I came abroad for the very reason of shaking up my routine. In the past several weeks, London had become my new home, but in the process, had also lost some of its spark.
Traveling to Lisbon was the perfect remedy. In the absence of any prior expectations, I was floored by both the vibrancy and beauty of the city. I had forgotten how much a warm sun and open skies could lift a person’s spirits. How being surrounded by a foreign language could feel like mental freefall. How there is comfort in the swelling, shining heave of the sea.
Lisbon is a city full of color and activity. Buildings are painted in bright pinks, yellows, and blues, and almost every door is covered in a glossy, forest green lacquer, sometimes with tiny brass hands as knockers. The majority of buildings however are paved with tessellations of ceramic tiles, called azulejos in Portuguese. Because of these unique azulejos, no street looks the same. Citizens hang their laundry from window balconies so they can dry in the balmy current, fluttering high above like multicolored wings. On the streets, waiters stand outside of their restaurants trying to cajole you into sitting down for coffee or fresh seafood, and vendors roast chestnuts on every other corner, stirring clouds of diaphanous, earthy smoke.
In the heart of central Lisbon, vintage bookshops can also be found by the handful, where you can lose yourself for hours at a time in between the stacks of French plays and gold leaf atlases falling apart at the seams. There were books on almost every subject—15 minutes into our exploration, we found a 1800s guide to poultry diseases wedged between hand-drawn diagrams of the lymphatic system. In accordance with the warm weather and swaying palm trees, my friends and I also stopped for gelato at Santini, which is said to be Portugal’s most iconic ice cream parlor. Mouth full of mango and toasted coconut, I was able to relive, for just a moment, the timelessness of summer.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about Lisbon however is that it’s built on a series of hills. You are almost always going uphill or downhill. The city makes you work for its beauty. Fresh off our 6am flight from Barcelona, my friends and I decided to harness our delirious second wind to climb all the way up to São Jorge, a Moorish castle located on the apex of Lisbon. After over 60 flights of stairs worth of cobblestone and seven miles of winding, sloping road, we finally reached our destination, where all you could see for miles and miles were burnt red rooftops and blue, blue sky.
In that moment, slumped over warm stone and buffeted by wind, I think I reclaimed something that I had lost. A sense of self perhaps, of being in touch with the world, sharpened by my sore shoulders and burning calves. I was simultaneously filthy and exhausted and alive, and it was magnificent. Obrigada, Lisbon. You’re just what I needed—a fissure in routine, a reminder of singular, human triumph, to burn away the aggregated cobwebs and just breathe in the sun.
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.