December 9th, 2022 2:00 PM (14:00). Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal.
It is my first time dining alone in Europe. I’m writing in a journal I purchased at Trinity College in Dublin. The last time I dined solo in public was in New York City, back in September 2019. I ate fish and chips at an Irish pub. I think it was Irish. The bartender was Irish. That I remember. It was my first time eating fish and chips. The meal was okay. I’ve never been a fan of fish, though I try now and again.
I sat at the bar, chatted with the bartender, and eavesdropped on some production workers from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. A few blocks away a New York City street had been transformed into its set. The guys were on a break, drinking beer, and may have dropped an f-bomb, or two about some b.s., or other. That I can’t recall.
Chris worked while I wandered New York City’s easy grid of streets. I shopped along Sixth Avenue before sitting down to lunch at the bar. We were engaged. Our wedding day was a month away. The pandemic was six months away; not even a wisp of a thought in my imagination. Attending InFocus Film School in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada was just over a year away. On that day if you asked about my school plans, I’d have told you I didn’t have any. We didn’t have a YouTube channel then. I was looking forward to our honeymoon in London and Paris, my first trip to Europe.
Chris is working now. To be fair, so am I. Writing is work.
We’ve been in Portugal for over a month, staying in the Algarve. We took a five-hour train ride to Porto yesterday. The country wasn’t even on my list of places to visit someday, yet here I sit at a table in Root and Vine at the WOW museum in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto. Christmas music is on rotation here. Right now, It’s A Marshmallow World plays. I’m dining on Cevadotto (pearl barley, spinach, and São Jorge Island cheese). A server here told me that it is a fusion of Italian and Portuguese flavors. It’s cozy and delicious and if you ever need some comfort I cannot recommend ordering it enough.
There is also a basket of bread in front of me that I have no hope of finishing. It’s a Couvert on the menu. It arrived at the table along with butter, virgin olive oil, and an olive tapenade. Couverts are on most of the menus I’ve seen since we arrived in Portugal. I felt silly ordering it for just me, but the richness of the Cevadotto makes me glad that I did. The bread and rosé provide balance.
Before arriving at this restaurant and eating alone, Chris walked with me across the Dom Luis I bridge to where the Teleférico de Gaia, a cable car that goes along the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Duoro river. I rode the gondola solo to WOW, so I could take my time exploring its Fashion and Fabric museum. The Melissa sitting at the Irish bar in New York City could not have gotten onto the cable car in Porto solo without a great deal of panic, fuss, and complaining. Cable cars terrified me.
Today, choosing to buy a ticket for the Teleférico was easy. It was the pragmatic, sensible choice for getting from point A to point B. Nothing more.
What changed? Experience. Over the past 3 years, Chris and I have:
- Ridden down the side of Grouse mountain on a sky tram after hiking The Grouse Grind.
- Rode the largest rotating aerial tram in the world while in Palm Springs.
- Taken the Sea to Sky gondola in Squamish for a snowshoeing adventure.
- Went on a sky gondola to brave a zip lining adventure in the mountains of Whistler.
- While skiing in Whistler, we went on several sky gondolas.
- Rode to the top of Montmorency Falls in Québec.
When I went to board the Teleférico, I stood and watched a few empty cars go by. Then, I went over to a worker and asked how to get on one. “You just get on.”
“Oh.” All of my earlier cable car adventures had someone in charge, telling who to get on to which when.
I stood closer to the cable cars. One couple boarded. I thought I would get into one next, but I’d left too much room between myself and the fastest spot for boarding. Another couple boarded ahead of me. I went as close as I could and boarded the next. A worker came up to the door of the gondola and asked, “Portuguese, Spanish, or English?”
I cannot possibly remember all of what she said next verbatim. The gist was, “There is no obligation to buy a picture, but is it okay if I take a picture of you? We always take a picture of people riding our cable cars.” She said much more. It was like listening to the end of a car commercial promising an unbelievable APR. I let her take my picture. Why not?
I’m full, so I’ve requested my check. It arrives inside a wooden book. Porto is full of references to literature. This morning Chris and I ate Majestic-style French Toast and drank Americanos at Majestic Café, where J.K. Rowling is said to have written much of the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone.
In case any of you are wondering what Majestic-style French Toast is, it’s a thick slice of French Toast topped with Sweet Egg Cream. There’s so much for me to learn and try here. Until next time…
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