The Long and Misguided Walk from Faro Airport to Faro Center

Yesterday I arrived to Faro, Portugal on the 11:30am Transavia flight from Paris Orly. My goal was to walk from the airport to the downtown area where my guesthouse was, but according to Google Maps the only way to walk downtown was to walk toward the beach, in the exact opposite direction of downtown, and take a ferry. This seemed like a good idea because I love walking, I love ferries, and more than anything I love walking to/from airports.

The flight arrived on time and suddenly I was thrust into the warm airs of a Mediterranean after just a few hours earlier trudging through the late November gloom of what is supposedly one of the coolest cities in the world but to me just seems like one massive, expensive tourist trap. And then there I was, walking down a white-washed sidewalk, through a grove of trees, and onto the road leading to the beach.

I don’t usually like to take pictures but look at this beauty. Look at the natural, soft sand sidewalk on the left. Look at the burnt-red clay bank on the right. Look at the way the road stretches to the horizon and then takes a teasing, beckoning left. It would be nearly impossible to be confronted with a vista like this and not wonder what lies beyond the bend.

After many more minutes of walking I arrived at the beach where I was confronted with an arresting sight:

The ocean in all its fury juxtaposed with the love of a placid couple!

I walked where Google Maps told me to walk and finally got to the dock where the ferry was supposed to leave. I didn’t see any ferry. I didn’t see anything at all really except wetlands and possibly a crane. I went into a lunch place a few steps from the dock and asked in my best Portuguese, refined after one quarter of “Portuguese for Spanish Speakers” at UW, “Is there a ferry that leaves from here?”

“No,” they said, “It stops in September.”

“Idiot,” they added.

Actually they didn’t say this. They didn’t say this at all. And I was momentarily dejected but then elated since this allowed me to make a lunch stop at a burger joint I’d seen just a few minutes before. The place was called Moonlight Bar & Grill or something to that effect. I ordered a Moonlight Burger. The kid working asked what I wanted to drink and I said sparkling water and he said, “We have two kinds. One is kind of light and the other is strong. Lots of bubbles.” I opted for the strong and when he brought it out he repeated the name and said, “This stuff is good.”

After the burger I walked back to the where the bus picked up and asked two elderly English gentlemen in Portuguese if this was where the bus left for the center. They started waving their hands to stop me and said, “English! English!”

The bus cost 2 euros 25 cents. This is a steal. Getting from airports to city centers is notoriously expensive, but nothing in Portugal is expensive. Almost nothing. Later that night I’d go to a touristy restaurant in the old town and spend way, way, way, way way, too much money on what was basically a few pieces of bread with octopus bits and melted cheese. And possibly some red wine. At dinner I started talking to a French girl who was also traveling alone and suddenly I had a dinner companion! Suddenly I was no longer alone!

After dinner she wanted to “walk down to the port,” I have no idea why, and I said I wanted to sleep so I went back to my guesthouse where I hung out on the terrace looking up at the night sky. And then it started to rain, which drove me inside. But even so it was a fairly successful first day in Faro.

 

Une porte coulissante

I’m at my friend Darren’s house in Paris, in the 14th arrondissement, looking out over the rooftops, because in Paris in the 70’s they made a law that buildings couldn’t be higher than seven or eight stories, so it’s this weird sensation to look out over an entire city and see a canopy of balconies and terraces that are almost all exactly at the same height. It’s like being in the canopy of a tropical rainforest, only instead of leaves you have chimneys, and instead of branches you have the roofs of entire buildings.

I got in from Dortmund yesterday after a seven hour hell ride in a bus that smelled like humans and cheese and a woman in front of me who wouldn’t stop screaming into her cell phone and a woman to the right of me who wouldn’t stop screaming into her cell phone and a little girl who was playing games on her tablet with the volume turned high and an Italian guy to my right who I thought was my friend but then as soon as we got on the bus he put his head phones in and looked straight ahead.

So much for conversation.

The overweight mom who was screaming into her cellphone had, strangely, brought a two foot high doll with which to entertain her daughter. For most of the ride the doll sat up in the luggage compartment, her little wooden hand rattling against the plastic. Every time it would happen I would bound two rows forward, grab the dolls hand and position it in a way that it wouldn’t rattle. The mom would look at me like, “You’re insane.” I never asked her if I could reposition the dolls hand.

Finally we got into the outskirts of Paris and of course there was an accident so ambulances went racing by us with that familiar European siren which goes, WAAA OHHHH, WAAAA OHHH, WAAAAA OHHHH, and the bus came to a stop and I thought, “Lord in heaven I’m going to be on this bus for the rest of my life. I’m going to die on this bus and that little doll is going to be staring down at my body.” Every five minutes the woman to the right would get a phone call and always answer in the softest, sweetest voice, “Allo?” and then commence screaming. I was trying to figure out what language she was speaking. Was it Russian? No, no. But there was the word “Da.” Turkish? Maybe. Bulgarian? Who knows. Sometimes hearing someone speak in a language you don’t understand is comforting because it’s like white noise, but sometimes it’s just maddening. On the bus it was maddening. Everything was maddening. I made the mistake of looking at the traffic map on Google and saw that all the roads were red, aka there was lots of traffic. But eventually we did make it in to Paris, Bercy. Eventually I did get off that bus. Eventually I did ask in French how to get to the metro and she said, “You have to go all the way around,” because there was some kind of concert going on. Eventually I did make it to the metro, after crossing the Seine. Eventually I did make it to my friend’s house. And eventually we had tea, and went out to get food, and talked to a funny Thai woman, and everything was OK, as it often is in Paris. In Paris everything is usually OK. The French know how to live well.

At dinner, which was a Vietnamese place, Darren and I were momentarily stymied by a door that had a sign that said, “Porte coulissante.”

Must be out of order, I thought. Maybe we have to go around. I tried to push the door in but it didn’t budge, and just on the other side were people dining and having a good time. We looked in and to the side but didn’t see any other way in. Finally someone inside motioned that you had to slide the door and we realized that “coulissante” meant sliding and that became a favorite metaphor for the rest of the night.

“Well, you see, the difference between Germany and France, it’s a porte coulissante,” I imagined saying to a group of French people in French.

“How is it being in France as an American? Well, it’s a porte coulissante.”

“Love, you know. It’s a porte coulissante.”

After dinner we stopped at a grocery store where we met a funny Thai woman. And then we went up to Darren’s apartment, which is on the top floor, and looked out over the rooftops, and that’s when I first noticed the wonder of what it is to look out on a sea of rooftops that are all more or less the same height. It’s like being on the ground floor of a jungle. It’s like being in some Star Wars world where everything is made out of machines. It’s like being on another planet.

It’s a porte coulissante.

A Lovable Nut

“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men’s sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

It’s raining in Wuppertal and has been raining all morning and all night and it rained all day yesterday and my first pair of socks got wet so I had to switch to a second pair of socks and luckily these more or less survived the trip to the grocery store in the evening where I stole someone’s shopping cart and bought cheese and meat and bread and a cucumber and brought it all back to my apartment where I made a little dinner for myself and watched videos on YouTube and thought about my upcoming trip to Paris and what I’m going to do after and also what my evening is going to be like tonight with getting to this soccer game and then getting back late.

There is no bad weather, only bad clothes, is what the Norwegians apparently say, and I think this is true. The weather is not bad right now, I just have shitty shoes that let water in and I didn’t have the foresight to plan for this kind of weather. So I shouldn’t blame the weather. I have only myself to blame and my lack of foresight. If I had my Xtra Tuffs, for example, I’d be fine. I’d wear them to the game tonight. Oh, how wonderful it’d be to have those boots. And I do have a rain jacket but it’s a crappy rain jacket and the rain no longer beads on it like it’s supposed to do but rather just soaks into it. So it sort of works, it’s better than having nothing at all, but still less than ideal.

I’ve been in this apartment all morning, not daring to leave. I’ve done jumping jacks and had tea and breakfast and listened to a couple podcasts. I’ve written in my journal, which I’ve been keeping assiduously lately. I did my physical therapy. I’ve noticed great improvement in my wrist and hand when I don’t drink and when I eat decently and sleep decently. And now that I’ve stopped drinking caffeine I do sleep decently. I sleep great, in fact. Whenever my body’s tired I just fall asleep. On the bus to Paris tomorrow, for example, I’m guaranteed, at least at some point, probably passing through Belgium, to be completely dead to the world, blissfully asleep. I hope we pass through Luxembourg but don’t think we will. And even if we do I don’t think I can count it as another country visited because my criteria for visiting a country are to at least get out of the airport and have a meal. Before it was to spend a night in the place but then I went to Lichtenstein and it seemed kind of ridiculous to spend a night in Lichtenstein, but if I remember correctly I did at least have a meal there, so that has become my new criteria.

I actually thought the rain was backing off a bit but it doesn’t seem to be at all. Apparently the precipitation is supposed to drop off sometime around the afternoon, but it’s only 10:46am. I’m going to take an extra pair of socks with me, and I should probably take my notebook so I have something for the many hours I’m going to be spending on trains today. Because you see I couldn’t stay in Dortmund because it was prohibitively expensive because of the game. I stayed in a hotel two nights ago in Dortmund for example that cost 30 euros. Granted this was a screaming last minute deal, but to give you an idea of what a Borussia Dortmund football game does to the area, this same hotel is now going for nearly $500 tonight. Whenever there’s a Dortmund game half of Germany, half of Europe, descends on the city and so there’s no lodging, no Air Bnb’s, no hotels.

I haven’t really talked to anyone in a couple days and yet I feel quite happy. The guy on the podcast just said that doing the right thing at the right time can create an upward circle, but that knowing you should do something at a certain time, even though that thing’s difficult, and then not doing it, can create a downward spiral. The question is, how to break this downward spiral? I’m sure he’ll explain.

I just made another cup of peppermint tea, which is what I’ve been drinking exclusively lately, and I’d love to go for a walk but I can’t get my shoes wet right now, not on a day like this. I need to save my shoes for the walk to the train station, and also, like I mentioned, carry a pair of extra socks. Dry feet are my number one concern today. Unfortunately I’ll probably have to leave the game early if I want to get back at any kind of a decent hour. I came all the way to Europe to watch Christian Pulisic play and he’s not even going to play tonight. He’s injured. But that’s OK, sometimes things are supposed to happen like that. It’s kind of funny and I can imagine telling my grandkids someday, “One time I went all the way to Germany to watch my favorite soccer play. And guess what: He didn’t even play!” And then my grandkids will look at each other as if to say, “Oh, grandpa, he’s got a screw loose but he’s a lovable nut.”

Maria

I have just alighted upon a train headed for the western part of the Czech Republic, and I’m imbued with that sense I love so much that comes with traveling: that anything could happen today, that anything will happen.

Last night I lay in bed wondering what would happen if the sun went out or if a meteor crashed into the earth. These are the sort of thoughts you have at 4am when you can’t sleep. Then I remembered that Tim Ferrrrrrrrrrisssssss had something in one of his books about playing Tetris before you sleep, how it helps to put the bits and pieces of your brain in order so your mind isn’t in a million places. My mind was just in one place. The day before I’d had a coffee and then promptly taken a nap, with the idea that I might wake up and go out on the town. But the nap became something of a “sleep,” and soon it was past 1am in the morning. This of course led to what it almost always leads to: Trying to find a pirated stream of a World Cup qualifying game, in this case the high-octane, no prisoners clash between Peru and New Zealand. I stayed awake just long enough to see that Peru was going to dominate, much to my chagrin since I’ve long been a Kiwi fan, and then went back to sleep. Or rather I lay there, thinking about the sun. How if the sun went out not only would everything be dark, but we would more or less instantly freeze to death. I had this notion of all of us huddled together, eating ramen noodles and thinking, Man, it’s cold ever since the sun went out — but at least we have each other. But no, we would all pretty much instantly freeze to death.

The “one place” my mind was in that I alluded to earlier and why I couldn’t sleep is something I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh at me or say, “God, here we go again” and if you promise not to judge and if you promise not to think that I’m pathetic or lost or anything like that, and if you are going to judge that you look within yourself and see that in the past you might’ve behaved similarly at some point, and thus who are you to judge, though I will be the first to admit that judging is natural, and if I read what I’m about to read I would judge too, I would most certainly judge, so I guess what I’m saying is that you have my permission to judge, not that you need it, but that you please do so consciously, or conscientiously, or, at the very least, compassionately.

Because you see I met a girl.

Her name was Maria and she was half Bolivian and half Peruvian and I think she might’ve even been a little American, too. We met by the clocktower in Prague’s old town and then wandered around a bit, talking about who knows what, looking for a bar and then finally finding a place that didn’t look like much from the outside but was student-y and weird and cheap inside, and within five minutes of getting our glasses of red wine I’d said at least four times, “This place is awesome.”

She concurred that the place was, in fact, “awesome,” but didn’t seem to be quite as swept away with the nondescriptness of it all. I said when I travel I like to see how people live. That’s why I was thrilled to stay in a student dorm in Copenhagen. She said this was something she also liked, and that before coming to Prague she’d been in Paris staying in a random part of town with a family and that one evening they’d smoked sheesha and she’d thought to herself, This is so much cooler than seeing the Eiffel Tower. This is something few tourists get to see.

After the bar we walked across the Charles Bridge because she still hadn’t done that and it’s one of the most famous places in Prague, if not all of Europe. We were ostensibly trying to find food, but the only thing we seemed to find was wine. Everyone was selling wine. It seemed like every corner we turned there was a table with people huddled around it like they were at the North Pole, drinking Dixie cups of mulled wine for 30 Czech Koruna, or $1.33. So we got mulled wine before crossing the bridge, and then mulled wine after crossing the bridge, and then we found ourselves in a bar that only had Czechs and a guy was smoking a cigarette right in my face and he looked at me and said (or at least I’m pretty sure he said because I don’t speak Czech), “Is my cigarette bothering you? Because if it is you can leave.”

I assured him everything was fine and we got a glass of red wine because the place didn’t have any food. Within a few minutes a Czech man with shoulders like a yak had started talking to us and his English was limited but his enthusiasm was not. He showed us pictures of his family and of himself in uniform. Then he pulled out some dog tags that had been given to him by an American solider, and he was very proud of them. I can’t remember why the soldier had given them to him. Maybe they’d exchanged dog tags. Either way a couple minutes later he learned that we hadn’t tried some kind of Czech national drink and proceeded to approach the bartender, a middle-aged woman who just a few minutes previous had been dancing with the old bald man who’d blown cigarette smoke in my face, and ordered two glasses of some kind of red liquid that looked like liquid rose petals or maybe blood, and then we stood around sipping it and remarking how tasty it was. A couple times he looked at Maria and then back at me and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Good job,” which was of course embarrassing because Maria saw this and Maria and I were just friends.

When we finally left the bar it was colder outside and also quieter, and it seemed as in the bar we’d gone through some kind of time warp and now were rejoining the real world where time advanced at a normal rate. We kept walking, still trying to find food, and somehow we were in the general area of where I was staying and Maria, probably miffed at our failure to find food, ordered an Uber home. This was understandable, in retrospect. But in my liquid rose petal addled state I just found it confusing, so to cope I went to McDonald’s and ordered several cheeseburgers and devoured them immediately after ripping off the wrapper. A few minutes earlier, when we’d be standing outside, I’d pulled her close to me and kissed her. That’s all I wanted to do, pull her close to me, though with the amount of jackets and layers we had on it was a bit like hugging a pile of down comforters. And then suddenly and, I might add, tragically, she was many meters away from me, a mirage on a cobble-stoned street, getting into an Uber, and I was in McDonald’s, and then I was in my apartment alone listening to classical music and drinking tea and texting her about how we should meet up the next day, and then I was in bed falling asleep and not thinking about what would happen if the sun went out, not thinking about anything at all really.

So that’s the “one place” where my mind was and why I couldn’t sleep and why I downloaded Tetris on my phone, a game I probably haven’t played in 20 years. But it’s not like Tetris requires much of a refresher, so within a few minutes I was stacking the blocks on top of each other, creating solid lines, getting the blocks to disappear. I found myself thinking a thought anyone who’s ever played Tetris has thought: “Man, I hope a long one comes soon.” Tim Ferrrrrrisssssss said you need to play for at least 10 minutes, and that’s what I did. When I stopped playing it was just after 5am, and this time I fell asleep. To say that my sleep schedule has been weird since coming to Europe would be a statement. What would also be a statement is that the day after Maria and I met I went looking for her at the main castle, convinced we’d have some kind of romantic reunion, though what really happened was we never saw each other again and now I’m on a train leaving Prague and we’re going through mountains and over rivers and next to houses that look German and in a couple hours I’ll be in a different city, Karlovy Vary, in a new apartment, enjoying my last day in the Czech Republic before heading back to Germany. The train is hot and I want to open a window but can’t. The lady in the seat in front of me has a dachshund and now we’re passing a castle and I’m sick of not knowing where my heart is, and when we get to Karlovy Vary the only thing I’m going to do is drink coffee and walk around and look at all the Russians. It’s not a beautiful day but it’s not terrible either. There’s a layer of clouds that looks almost red and everything has an air of softness about it, and even though it’s not hot or sunny one thing’s for certain: The sun hasn’t gone out yet and doesn’t show signs of going out anytime soon.

A bus to Prague

Sometimes you get on a bus to Prague. Granted, usually you don’t. Usually you wake up and go about your business. But sometimes, if the conditions are just are right, the only acceptable course of action is to get on a bus to Prague.

That’s how it was this morning, or rather right now. This morning the only acceptable course of action was to buy a bus ticket to Prague, since I couldn’t stay in Berlin because it was too expensive and I have it in my head that Berlin hostels are dirty and full of dirty people. This probably isn’t true. But maybe it is. And in Prague the hostel will cost $6 and if it’s dirty (it won’t be), or people are snoring (I’ll be snoring), I can just get a room for $20 a night and bask in anonymity and loneliness and a strange desire to drink gross amounts of pivo.

Though to be perfectly honest, I prefer tea.

People are filtering onto the bus, and one of them looks oppressively Czech. Maybe it’s the mustache. This bus continues on to Vienna, which seems a small miracle. Travel in Europe always seems like a small miracle. If you get on a bus for five hours in Washington State, the most interesting place you could go is Spokane, a city known for cold weather and felonies. But if you get on a bus for five hours (or less) in Berlin you can get off in Hamburg, or Denmark, or Poland, or Leipzig, or of course Prague.

After Copenhagen, Berlin was a boost for my soul. I’m going to be honest: In Copenhagen I went off the rails a bit. What does going off the rails entail? For starters, it involves spending too much money. It also involves drinking too much beer, though for me at this point in my life anything more than a sip is too much. I don’t know what happened, but my body no longer tolerates beer. It makes me tired and cranky. Wine I can still sort of drink. I like to have one glass of wine, sip it slowly, barely feel the effects, and then after an hour inexplicably feel relaxed and jovial. If you don’t want to drink beer, you’ll feel like a bit of an outsider in Berlin. Though to be fair this is probably also true in Prague. I don’t know. This is basically my first time in Prague, since I don’t really count the real first time. The real first time was in 2012, and it was not ideal. I stayed with a girl who I thought liked me, but it turned out, to make a long story short, as they say, to sum things up, as they say, to put it in a nutshell, as they say, to cut to the chase, as they say, to “go to the grain,” as they say in Spanish, to get to the point, as they say, to spit it out, as they say, to tell it like it is, as they say, she didn’t like me. Not even a little bit. You might even say she “disliked me,” though at this point it’s a hard to tell. The whole situation was confusing and involved sleeping on a couch and hugging at a bus stop. The situation also involved not really seeing Prague, since my mind was in another place. But this time my mind is in the right place. My mind is focusing on the already waning light of this Berlin afternoon as we struggle to make our way out of the city amidst confusing roads and hordes of cars. My mind is more at peace than it was this morning, because I know what I’m doing, at least for the next few days. I’m going to Prague. I’m going to the Czech Republic. Who knows after that, and, to be frank, who really cares?