European Travel Nifty-style: Some Recommendations

Porto, Portugal

Howdy Travel Fans! NiftyNotCool here, back in Canada and feeling fine. I survived a month of hostel living, train riding, and living out of a backpack, and I managed to tear myself away from the charms of Portugal and Spain and return to you all to give you my recommendations for European travel Nifty-style (lucky you!).

I. Preparations

Guidebooks: I bought a Lonely Planet for Portugal and also one for Spain. At first they felt a little pricey (about $30 a pop) but they were absolutely invaluable. A lot of train and bus stations don’t actually have a tourism office or provide free maps of the city you just arrived in. Even though the maps in the books are rather small, without my Lonely Planet there are a few times I would not have found my hostel, the train station, the site I was looking for, etc.

I also stayed in Lonely Planet recommended hostels and hotels through most of my trip and I was not disappointed in them. They were clean, safe, usually centrally located, and, because they were recommended in the Lonely Planet, they helpfully appeared on the Lonely Planet maps.

Because I didn’t know all that much about that places I was going, my guidebooks were also invaluable in helping me plan my trip and decide where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. They give an overview of regions, history, language, transportation, accommodation, safety, and just about anything else I would wonder to myself about the country I’m visiting. Even if you get to a place and decide to just wing it, get a guidebook. I consider mine practically life saving.

Travel insurance/travel medical: I got mine through World Nomads (recommended by Lonely Planet of course) and it only set me back around $150 for four weeks. Whichever company you decide to become insured with, do become insured. I think lots of people like to think nothing will ever happen to them, and usually nothing does, but when I was sick in Madrid I remember thinking that if I got much sicker I would need a hospital (because I simply couldn’t take care of myself in a hostel) and I was so glad that I had insurance and therefore had that option.

Passports: I usually renew mine as soon as it expires. It’s a good idea because they can sometimes take a long time to obtain/renew and you don’t want to have a whole trip planned and be worrying you won’t receive your passport/visas in time. As a Canadian and British citizen, I did not need a visa for EU countries.

Itinerary: I didn’t completely plan out everything I did, but I do think it’s a good idea to at least narrow your travels down a bit. For me, having an abundance of choice is paralyzing. Once I decided I wanted to work Portugal north to south, and then focus half of my Spanish adventure on the Andalucia region, it was far easier to choose the specific cities I wanted to stay in and the things I wanted to see. Which makes it easier to pin down accommodation, transportation, etc. down the road.

If you do want to try to get off the beaten path and out of the cities, make sure you do your research ahead of time, and make sure you won’t need a car, a certain time of year, etc. to access the nature you’re trying to see. This will save you a bit of heartache and quite a big headache.

Documents: I made sure I brought my flight itineraries and my statement of insurance with me. I also brought photocopies of my passports and credit card, along with the number to call if my credit card was stolen. I left a copy of all of these documents with my TC as well, just in case the bag these documents were in was stolen. I have also heard of people keeping a photocopy of their passport in their shoe, but I did not do this.

Guarda, Portugal

II. Packing

The pack: First things first– If you’re going to be living out of a backpack for a few weeks like I was, you should have a good backpack. Schlepping 40 lbs. around the Iberian Peninsula sort of took it out of me and I was incredibly happy I’d shelled out the money not only for a swanky Osprey backpack with a zip-off day-pack, but one that was a women’s size small (because I am a small woman). The fact that the bag was well-balanced and fit me properly made a huge difference in how easy it was to lug around.

The stuff in the pack: It’s a family joke that I am a terrible packer (like the time I brought only one t-shirt on a trip to the Rockies in the heat of July because “the mountains are cold”). Thanks to some consultations with them pre-trip I was actually able to do a pretty decent job packing this time round. I checked the weather in Portugal and Spain beforehand and saw it was going to be unseasonably warm, but it’s good to be prepared for anything. I brought one pair of long pants, two pairs of capri pants, and one pair of shorts. I also brought two sweaters, two long-sleeved shirts, four t-shirts, and four tank tops (given how hot it was for parts of my trip I’m glad I had the option to change my shirt often). I brought a pair of hiking shoes, a pair of walking sandals, and (at my sister’s insistence) a pair of flats to wear to nicer places, like the flamenco restaurant I went to in Madrid. I brought pajamas, one dress, a bathing suit, my Hat With A Brim, and a windbreaker jacket. AND underwear and socks of course. I must have done a good job packing this time because I wore everything I brought except one exceptionally fluffy pair of socks, and there was no article of clothing I regretted leaving at home. And all of this fit into my pack, which I managed to carry around with me for four weeks. So congratulations me.

My major packing regret is that I did NOT take my student card, which would have saved me almost 50% at some tourist sites. Sigh.

III. Transportation

Air travel: I can’t really say much about the actual booking of flights because I am a little sucky-poo and I have a mother who is really good at finding cheap flights and she booked my flights for me. I flew cheaper airlines because I’m not made of money but I do have this to say:

Thomas Cook Airlines (the airline you get when you book with Air Transat to London) is terrible. The seats are tiny and incredibly close together (I pretty much felt like a chicken in a crate for 10 hours). Every seat had a black electrical box mounted underneath it, leaving no room for your carry-on (or your legs). The seats did not recline, not because they were broken, just because they didn’t. Words cannot describe how disgusting the food was. Terrible airline food is a cliche but this really hit new lows. Not only was it all, without exception, revolting, the portions were tiny. Basically, they give you enough food-like substance to legally claim they didn’t starve you. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Greenland (I think)

Condor airlines (the cheap airline I flew back from Frankfurt with following my connection from Barcelona) is, by comparison, fantastic. I didn’t get my own TV, but that does mean my feet actually got room. The seats were a little larger, and reclined. For our “hot meal” we received a cole slaw, a large vegetarian lasagna, a roll with a triangle of real Camembert, and a lemon square. Oh yeah, and a complementary alcoholic beverage (I declined) and all the fruit juices were REAL juice. Then we got a snack and more juice. Then for our “cold meal” a breaded chicken cutlet, potato salad, and rye bread. I know I’m gushing a bit much for a charter airline but compared to Thomas Cook it was absolute heaven. Flying over Greenland and seeing a landscape that was simply pure untouched snow as far as they eye could see was pretty great too.

Train travel: The train is a very civilized and pleasant way to see Europe. My train days allowed me time to relax (i.e. have a nap), slow down, and think grand thoughts while watching beautiful countryside fly by. It’s more expensive than busing though (in some cases a LOT more expensive) which is why I bought a Eurail Pass.

The pass was rather convenient, but in the end I don’t really think the Eurail Pass saved me much money. I bought three travel days in Portugal and six in Spain, but only used four of my Spanish travel days. To use a Eurail Pass properly, you really have to make sure you are going to be covering a lot of ground, and plan your trips carefully. I overestimated the amount of travel I’d be doing and ended up making day trips just to use my pass. Since you have to pay in Spain and Portugal to reserve seats on trains anyways, even with your pass, if you aren’t making many trips you may as well just buy individual tickets for the journeys you want.

Bus travel: Bus travel is MUCH cheaper than taking the train and the bus usually reaches more locations. Being a romantic, I definitely preferred the train but I enjoyed the three bus journeys I did take during my travels and both Spain and Portugal seem to have rather good long-distance bus services.

Real Alcazar, Seville, Spain

IV. Accommodation

Hostels: Most of the time, I looked to my Lonely Planet for accommodation recommendations (the Madrid hostel where I saw bedbugs was NOT a Lonely Planet suggestion). One hostel group I can certainly add my thumbs up to is Oasis. (I stayed in the Oasis Lisboa, Oasis Sevilla, and Oasis Granada.) These hostels were slightly pricier but they all included breakfast, free access to wi-fi and computers with internet, and safe storage (the first two had electronic safes and Granada had a locking cupboard). They had cheap food in the evenings, cheap booze, kitchens, and information about all sorts of tours, activities, and sites. The friendly atmosphere helped me meet a lot of cool people and I was probably more social and had more fun in these hostels than anywhere else.

Because I was travelling solo, I really appreciated hostels not only for their affordability (they’re SO much cheaper than staying in hotels I’m really not sure how anyone my age could afford to travel without hostelling). but also so that I didn’t have to spend my entire trip eating alone and talking to myself. That would have been quite lonely. I also appreciated the informative and helpful staff I encountered in most places I visited who could provide me with maps, tours, admission booking, and transit info.

What to bring if you are staying in a hostel: I am glad I brought a luggage lock (my combination lock was too big for all of the lockers I encountered), a flashlight (there’s ALWAYS someone asleep in the hostel room, at all times it seems), a travel alarm clock (no wake up calls in hostels!), and a facecloth (works as a towel when you don’t have one). I’m also glad I brought camp laundry detergent so I could wash things by hand. I wish I had brought a travel towel, a better luggage lock to use on the lockers, and a pair of flip flops to wear in the hostel showers.

Granada, Spain

V. Food

I believe that eating is a very personal experience, so my recommendation for food is simple but mighty: go to a grocer or a supermarket, buy food (esp. fresh fruit which I found an abundance of in both Spain and Portugal) and have some food and water with you at all times. There’s nothing as tiring and frustrating as trying to look for a good restaurant or cafe when you’re already so starving you’d eat at McDonald’s even though you’re in an exciting new city. So take food and water with you so you can hold out for an eating experience you really do want (P.S. I never did eat at McDonald’s thank the gods).

VI. And one last recommendation…

Travel itself: I recommend it. If you want to go, I recommend that you go. If you are scared to go, I recommend that you go. For some (like me), the idea of four weeks of solo travelling in Europe would be daunting. For some it would be no big deal. And that’s fine. The journey is personal, it’s what you make of it, and for me it was exactly the balance of challenge and security I needed.

This was the right trip at the right time. The reasons I had for going changed as I planned, but the good I knew it would do me stayed the same. I returned to Vancouver not disappointed with the city and the cold as I expected I might be , but rejuvenated and able to see the beauty of my West Coast life afresh. The thing I had hoped to find on my journey was right here where I left it, right where I hoped it would be. And that’s worth searching for.

Deserted: Nifty Goes to Faro

Since arriving in Portugal I don’t think I have seen a single cloud. Not one. This made it a very good idea to make Faro my last stop in Portugal. I’d heard about the long stretches of sand on the little islands that help make up the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, and I thought Faro sounded like the perfect place to slow down, hit the beach, relax, and maybe take a dip in the Atlantic.

Lagos, farther west of Faro but still in the Algarve region, is probably the most famous (and most touristy) of Portugal’s southern beach cities. From conversations I had at the hostel in Lisbon, and my own research, it sounded like by skipping Lagos I skipped a whole lot of beach, a whole lot of resort feel, and a whole lot of party. Fine by me. If I wanted only to drink and get a tan I’d go to an all-inclusive somewhere.

Despite being definitely more touristy than, say, Guarda, Faro does retain some Portuguese character. When I arrived yesterday I was mostly interested in the logistics of checking into my hostel and looking into boat trips to the Ilha Deserta for the next day, and had only the late afternoon for seeing the city itself, but what I saw of Faro’s centre was absolutely charming.

First stop, as usual, was Faro’s Se, which probably contained more gold paint than I have ever seen anywhere in my life. Best was probably the trip to the roof, which allows you a view of Old Faro’s rooftops, as well as a clear view out to the sea.

Da Silva's colourful tapestry all about Portugal's postal service

In order to get out of the afternoon heat, I then made a quick trip to Faro’s Museu Municipal, where I discovered the work of two contemporary Portuguese artists: Rosario da Silva and Faro artist Carlos Filipe Porfirio. I found their work colourful and whimsical, and, in the case of Porfirio, containing quite a bit of mystery. I didn’t really plan to see any contemporary art while in Portugal but I am quite glad I did.

Wednesday I awoke bright and early and after the usual spartan hostel breakfast I headed down to the pier to catch a ferry to the Ilha Deserta to spend the day.

Sand, sand, and sand on Ilha Deserta

By “deserta” they really do mean deserted. This little ilha is nothing but a narrow strip of soft white and coral-coloured sand. The north side has a pier, the middle has scrub bushes and a restaurant (with a WC–very important), and the south side has beach. That’s it. Beach. As far as the eye can see. It was beautiful. I kept giggling to myself because I really couldn’t believe my good luck, to be wiggling my toes in warm water and soft sand, and staring across a turquoise Atlantic. What a day!

I shelled out the 7€ to rent a sunbed from the restaurant for the day, and spent the next five hours lying in the sun, with a couple of dips into the beautifully clear, refreshing, and especially salty sea.

My big mistake was assuming, for some reason, that the sun in October would be at such an angle that I would not be sunburned, since I’d been wandering all over Portugal for a week and hadn’t been burned yet. MISTAKE. BIG BAD MISTAKE. I used sunscreen very sparingly that day, only on my nose and cheeks and the back of my neck really, and you can tell, because everything else is an angry red. In short, I have one of the worst sunburns of my adult life. I have now purchased a brand new bottle of sunscreen, which I am using LIBERALLY while I try to appease my poor burny skin.

Sunburn aside, I had one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in a long time. It’s amazing how much you can enjoy yourself on the beach when you’ve literally nothing to do but lie on a sunbed, cool yourself in the sea, and gaze at the sumptious view.

My day on the Ilha Deserta was a perfect way to end my time in Portugal. While it pains me (quite literally, at the moment) to say good-bye, new adventures await across the border to the east, and it is time to say adeus, Portugal, and obrigada, and greet my next destination with a hearty ¡Hola, Espana!

Lisbon and Evora: Old Cities, Old Streets, Old Bones

“I’m in Lisbon. I’m in Lisbon. I’m in Lisbon.”

This is what I had to keep telling myself after the man at the information desk at the Lisboa-Santa Apolon train station refused to grab me a map or help me once I arrived because he wasn’t the tourismo, and the tourismo was closed.

This is what I had to keep telling myself after I (clever me) figured out how to get from the train station to the Bairro Alto neighbourhood (where my hostel was) on the metro ALL BY MYSELF but, because I was looking at a flat little depiction in my Lonely Planet, did not realize my 20-minute hike from the metro to the hostel with my 40 lbs. of backpack would be almost exclusively uphill, or up stairs, in weather that was much MUCH hotter than it was when I left Guarda.

This is what I told myself when I checked into the hostel and realized all the other beds in my mixed dorm room were occupied by men and something got stuck in the door lock mechanism and I almost locked myself in the dormitory.

But hey, I was in Lisbon. And after a rocky start to the relationship, I eased into both the city and hostel life (lots of interesting people, drinks on the patio, a full moon for my last night). My only regret is that I did not stay longer.

On Sunday morning I set out on foot for the Alfama, Lisbon’s old Moorish district. My companion for the day was Ori, an Israeli life-coach who was also staying at my hostel and who, like me, was travelling for a month through Spain and Portugal (though he did Spain first). We got lost several times and wandered up and down through the twisting labyrinth of the district but the entire experience was enriched by our conversation. We discussed religion, politics, and world affairs, among other things, and I was particularly interested in hearing the Israeli side of the story regarding Israel’s boarding of the Gaza-bound flotilla last year. It was also interesting to be called upon to describe the Canadian viewpoint of these same events and others regarding that area of the world (as if there’s only one viewpoint, but I did my best).

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon

As tourists, Ori was most interested in the “points of view” (referred to as miradouros) from the high points of the city (it’s a very hilly city, so there are many), and I was interested particularly in the Castelo de Sao Jorge. It seemed a bit much to cough up the 7€ admission for the castelo (why oh WHY did I leave my student card at home?!), but once inside I did not regret it. The castelo is actually HUGE, and its outer walls contain not only the fortress itself, but also a museum, a garden, and restaurants. I was not all that interested in the museum (I saw enough old bronze swords and Iron Age loom weights in Guarda’s museum) but the sheer amount of battlements and towers open to the public (almost all of them) was enough to keep me entertained for a full hour, climbing up every staircase I saw, passing through every archway, and peering through every arrowslit. As I explained to Ori: ‘Nothing captures the imagination quite like a castle.’

Se, Evora

Yesterday’s day trip to Evora was also, well, plain old fun. I visited the medeival Se, of course (I’ve seen the Se in every Portuguese city I’ve visted so far) and the old Roman temple standing beside it. I peaked in at the Roman ruins contained within the Evora town hall, ate lunch in the square out front, walked along the Aqueduto da Agua de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water), and spent the siesta strolling through the Jardim Publico (public garden) and eating a pastel de nata (a sweet custard tart that Portugal is famous for). Not a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

Roman Temple, Evora

Something that was rather amusing about the university town of Evora is that I happened to visit just as the October semester was beginning and I got to see groups of freshmen undergoing a bit of hazing and public humiliation at the hands of their older peers. My favourites included the young man dressed as Miss Piggy forced to order at the cafe, and the group dressed as Crusaders and Turks, singing what seemed to be ABBA’s hit “Thank You for the Music” in Portuguese.

After siesta was over I visited the Igreja de Sao Francisco, but to be honest I was more creeped out by this church than uplifted spiritually. There comes a point when the more gold and statues you stuff into a place the less the incredible balance and heightened sense of tranquility created by the architecture can have its desired effect. I think the Igreja de Sao Francisco reached that point, and then some. But it’s still quite a sight, and I’m not surprised the Lonely Planet listed this church as Evora’s most well-known.

Bone Chapel, Evora

If I thought I was creeped out by the Igreja that was nothing compared to how I felt visiting the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) adjacent. That’s right, a chapel whose walls and ceiling were made completely of the bones of and skulls of long-gone Evora residents. Even though I felt really weird about it I paid the extra so that I could take photographs. The only way I can morally justify taking photos of people’s bones is the purpose of the chapel itself, emphasised by the inscription above the chapel door: “We whose bones are here, wait for yours”. This was a place built to remind us of the impermance of our lives, and the futility of our vain pursuits. The image is meant to be taken with you.

Even so, old bones. It’s just……creepy.

I’d hate to leave you with a startling mental image of your own mortality so instead I will leave you with a mental image of what I saw as I rode the train back into Lisbon: a full moon rising over red tile roofs, the Rio Tejo sparkling beneath, and a sense of heat and magic and colour breathing from the entire city. De nada.



Port in Porto and (Mis)adventures in Manteigas


Your favourite nifty traveller (that’s me, of course) arrived in Porto, Portugal, Tuesday evening and through the help of the internet, a map, and the kindness of strangers, managed to navigate the metro and the bus to reach the Porto Youth Hostel at around 9:00 pm. I scrounged up a towel (they don’t usually supply them to the dorms but I had my ways), called my TC to confirm that I had arrived safely from London, and fell into a deep sleep.

In case you are wondering about the Portal Youth Hostel (part of a Portuguese group of hostels called Pousada Juventude), it was clean and bright, the staff was helpful, and it had beds and showers. Otherwise it was pretty spartan. For the traveller on a budget it is a good place to stay, however, you need to bus 4km to get to the centre of Porto.

Porto Se, from the Torre dos Clerigos

Porto itself is a beautiful city. I unfortunately arrived in the centre during siesta (12:00 to approx. 2:00/2:30 pm daily) and on a national holiday, so several attractions I did not get to see because they were closed. I was able to go inside the large Se (cathedral) which dominates the Porto skyline, and to climb the Torre dos Clerigos, the large tower which allows a view of the city and also of the Se. I purchased a Porto card from the very helpful tourismo beside the Se, which provided me with free admission and discounts at main attractions, as well as free public transport in the 24 hours from validation of the card, but as many attractions were closed and I only needed to take the bus twice, I think I would have been better off to save my 8,50 euros and pay admission for the few attractions I visited.

Porto, from across the Rio Douro

Wasting my money aside, I am very glad I decided to continue my adventures from London in Porto. It is a beautiful place simply to walk around (I organized my journey so that I could take the bus to the top of the Ribeira district and walk down, towards the Rio Douro, and avoid too many uphill climbs). The Ribeira district, with its narrow cobblestone streets and tiled buildings snuggled closely together, is the reason I decided to visit Porto, and I was not disappointed. As per my Lonely Planet: Portugal‘s suggestion, I finished my little walking tour in the evening by walking across the Ponte de Dom Luis I to the other side of the Douro. There I found one of several waterfront restaurants where I could sit on a patio as the sun set and enjoy a nice glass of port.

Well, I wish I could say I enjoyed a nice glass of port. As it turns out, I do not like port. It is too sweet and too syrupy for me. But when in Porto…

Thursday morning  my 40 lbs. of bag and I boarded a bus to Guarda. I had intentions of visiting the Parque Naturel da Serra da Estrela, and Guarda is one of the small cities that borders the park. I had no problems with the bus, or with checking into the Residencia Filipe (recommended by my Lonely Planet and also by me…nice private room and bathroom, with breakfast, for less than I am paying for my Lisbon hostel). The minute I got into my room I washed my socks and underpants and hung them on a makeshift line stretching from the wardrobe to the bedpost. Clean laundry! Heaven.

That, however, is where my luck ended. The women in the Guarda tourismo were incredibly helpful, but there was nothing they could do to fix the following:

To hike in the Serra da Estrela, you must go to the town of Manteigas. Buses to Manteigas leave Guarda in the afternoon, but only go from Manteigas to Guarda in the morning. It is therefore impossible to take a day trip by bus. It was suggested that I go to Manteigas that afternoon and return the next day, but as my underpants were hanging wet on the line in the Residencia Filipe, I thought it would be a bit gauche to check out at that point. I could travel to Manteigas the next day (Friday) but as buses do not run from Manteigas on the weekend I’d be stuck until Monday.

In the end I decided to extend my stay in Guarda, bus to Manteigas Friday, make the most of an afternoon there, and swallow a 36 euro taxi fare to head back to Guarda after a lovely day of hiking (I needed to be in Guarda to catch the train on Saturday). What a great plan!

No. The bus to Manteigas was lovely, though I found myself fearing for life and limb as we navigated hairpin turns and narrow mountain roads, with a rock face on one side and steep cliffs on the other. Once in Manteigas it turned out to be–SIESTA! The tourismo was closed! My Lonely Plantet gave me no map! The town did not have signage to mark their hiking trails! I ate my lunch in the sun and waited for the tourismo to open. When it did, I almost cried when I realized the women in the office spoke no English. There were English maps, but although they listed the forty kinds of flora you might meet on your journey, the maps themselves were badly pixelated and did not tell you how to get to the start of the route (besides a land location: 40 degrees west, 700 m altitude, etc.). It also appeared as though you could not reach the start of these trails from town, you had to reach them by car. I suppose I could have taken a taxi to one of them, but at that point it was too late to start a 5km hike far from town when I wanted to return that afternoon.

It is then that I went outside and DID cry. To have gone all that way, and spent all that money and effort to see the Serra da Estrela and not be able to was very disappointing. I walked up and down the road a bit for an hour or so and did get a nice view of Manteigas and the valley below, and I suppose a small Portuguese mountain town is not a terrible place to spend an afternoon. But I had envisioned myself clambering over the granite boulders I had seen on the mountainside, buffeted by mountain winds and scorched by the heat of the sun in a cloudless Portuguese sky. Instead I was scorched on the sun on a small Portuguese mountain highway. Close, but no mountaintop for me.

Guarda, near the Se

My misadventures were caused by a lack of planning on my part and a lack of adequate information on the part of the Parque’s publicity department and tourismos and although it seemed silly to spend two nights in Guarda to see a park I didn’t see, I do not regret visiting the town at all. It was incredibly relaxing, and although I wasted a lot of time on misadventures, the centre was just small enough that there was plenty of time to see every single attraction Guarda had (the museum, the beautiful medieval Se, the judiaria, the towers, and the old town gate). I believe if I have a chance to return to Portugal in the winter, I would love to bring a car and skis, more money, and my TC and really see the Parque properly.

A note about the judiaria: during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, north eastern Portugal was one of the last holdouts against the Inquisitor zeal and many Jewish families fled to mountain towns like Guarda from Spain and southern Portugal. In the end, unfortunately, the Inquisition reached them even there, but the historic Jewish quarters remain. The small dilapidated buildings and narrow winding streets were one of my favourite finds in my explorations of Guarda.

Part of travelling is, of course, moving on, and as Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful, I boarded a train for Lisbon, watched the landscape become flatter, the earth become pink (yes pink!) and then orange, felt the weather become warmer again, and readied myself for the adventures of NiftyNotCool to continue…

In case you’re wondering about me and the granite boulders, I saw some large ones beneath the Torre de Menagem in Guarda. I could have taken the stairs up to the tower like any old sucker, but not this gal. I climbed those boulders like a champion, and reached my mountaintop after all. 🙂

Up, up, and away! Nifty’s European Adventure

40 lbs of adventure in $300 worth of backpack!

I’m no stranger to European travel. I’ve lived in Latvia, Poland, and England (in addition to Canada) and travelled through many other countries besides. But never by myself. I’ve always had a family member with me (a parent, sibling, or cousin) and most of the planning was done by them.

I’m also no stranger to adventures, though most of them are in BC, the city, my neighbourhood, or in my own head.

Now it’s time to take the plunge and have my own big adventure in a faraway place. Ladies and gentleman, for the month of October, NiftyNotCool will be coming to you from Portugal and Spain. And I will be ALL BY MYSELF.

(Ironically, my Travelling Companion, TC, will be unable to accompany me on this journey. Such is the life of a freelancer.)

My mom and I were talking on the phone the other day about my preparations for my upcoming big adventure. My mom said, “Are you getting excited or are you just scared?” I said, “I’m scared.” And I am.

I’ve bought all sorts of gear for the trip (expensive travel backpack, Lonely Planets, etc.), likely a few things I don’t need, and I think somehow I feel comforted by having done this. As in, look at me. I’m ready for this. Look at my Money Belt. Look at my Not-too-heavy Jacket That Will Keep Out The Wind. Look at my Quick Drying Underpants For Easy On The Go Laundering. I’m capital “P” Prepared. I even remembered to get my tetanus booster.

But in actual fact I am capital “P” Petrified. When I see myself in my Keep Out The Wind Jacket and my Walking Sandals and my Hat With A Brim I see an impostor. “Hey there Girl With a Hat,” I think, “what makes YOU think you’re ready for this? Who are YOU to presume you can be an adventurer and go on a caper all by yourself?”

Portugal will be lovely. Spain will be beautiful. I will meet people in hostels, drink port (that’s the plan, anyways), immerse myself in Moorish architecture and natural wonders, take trains, and look at art. I will visit places whose names whisper like a sand-worn dream: Porto, Faro, Seville, Granada. I will probably get mixed up somewhere along the line, or lost, freak out, and wonder why I possibly thought I could do this.

And that’s why I’m going. Less than 24 hours now. I’m ready. I’m prepared. I can do this. Even if I have to stroke my expensive backpack and Quick Drying Underpants for assurance.