Yes, the whole charge through the night and get no sleep thing was something I was getting all too used to. But it was never for a lame reason! Two great friends from my hall in California were in Spain, Malia and Tish. They’re sisters and Malia had a work conference in Madrid for the week. How could I not meet up to hang out? I gotta admit, the circumstances weren’t necessarily the most ideal.
I’ll rewind a bit. From Zaragoza, I took a train to Bilbao. It was there that I was able to finally see my new place. My roommate Pawel is from Canada and had his friend Ryan staying with him from back home. It wasn’t just Ryan though, his wife Kath and sister Lana were with him too. So our two bedroom apartment was soon to house five temporarily. I knew that would be a sight to see, but I had a few days before I needed to worry about that. I was only in town for a few hours to drop off my stuff and get back in the air. However, I had to say I was really happy with how my apartment-to-be looked. Clean, recently remodeled, well-furnished. It looked great. I got to know Ryan and his family for a bit, as well as my roommate Pawel, who arrived shortly before I left for the airport.
So I was heading to Lisbon, Portugal. However, in order to get a flight at a reasonable price, I had to endure the worst layover ever… I flew from Bilbao to Madrid, then from Madrid to Lisbon. Not bad right? Not until you consider the overnight layover form 10pm to 6am.
Sure, most people would just go sleep as much as they could during that time. But if you know me, you know that’s not me. I wanted to hang out, and I figured hanging with Tish and Malia for a few hours would be perfect. It took a bit of convincing to get them out of their desire to stay in and sleep. But when I finally made it to their hotel, they were up and ready to roll!
It took a bit of time to sink in that we were really on the other side of the world hanging out. Pretty surreal! We got tapas and sangria (stereotypical Spanish tourists, I know) and then stumbled across a place that seemed to have some life. It was an Irish Pub. Super fun! Great live music and a ton of energy. It was just a few hours, but meeting my friends in Madrid for a bit was 100% worth it.
I got back to the airport, trying to catch at least a little nap before my flight departed. And then I was off!
The time came to head to Portugal. My friend Taylor had spent a few months assisting the English group there and my friend Mark got me set up to stay with his sister, Aeriel and her husband, Jareth.
Portugal quickly won me over. Well, after my first hour and half of time there it did (the overnight layover in Madrid, 2 hours of sleep, landing in Lisbon, two metro rides, ferry ride across the river and additional metro ride weren’t the most ideal start to the experience, haha). It was easy to see why it attracted me. It reminded me so much of California! There were port areas that felt similar to Long Beach. Hopping in an Uber to head to trendy, hipster cafes gave me flashback of similar scenes in LA. Walking along the beach with a lively downtown bustle steps behind me felt like I was in Huntington Beach. The central bridge was completely reminiscent of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. The warm sun that shone over our scenic hiking trails were reminiscent of Laguna Beach. It really just felt like home.
But of course, nothing about Portugal’s lively capital city made me feel more at home than being with the friends from the hall. The English congregation was diverse and filled with both foreigners, native English speakers and Portuguese brothers and sisters who’d switched over to help out. I was blown away by how skilled the Portuguese brothers and sisters were with their English. It was incredible how fluent they really are, despite their own self-doubts.
I was able to visit the English congregation in Lisbon, the only one in the city. I began to get ready to take the metro there, but after I read Aeriel’s instructions on how to get there, which involved multiple metros, the ferry and culminated in a “10 minute uphill walk”, I texted her back, “yeah… Uber it is!”
As could be expected, the congregation was so warm and welcoming. They’re used to having visitors, and looking like I do, there was no blending in for me. I was already getting recruited to stay and help in their territory, even after only having been there for a few minutes. That was the kind of greeting I liked to see.
I was quickly able to make friends in the congregation. I went out in the city with Taylor and her friend Jessica from her congregation back home. Sure, it felt a bit touristy, but that’s exactly what I was! After some time downtown, we met up with Vito and Daniela from the congregation me went to an area outside of Lisbon called Cabo da Rosa. This had to be a huge highlight of everything that I was able to see in the country.
The lookout points we were able to see took us to peaks overlooking the water, as the waves crashed and the sun kept us warm we found an inviting trail and figured we’d follow it and see where it lead us the pictures do the views a little bit of justice, but it’s definitely one of those things you just have to see for yourself. It was really stunning and such a huge testament to the Creator.
The following day I got to spend with Jareth and Aeriel, who served as another set of great tour guides throughout Lisbon. Although we had met only in passing back in the old days (2010 or so, back when there was a party at least every month, and everyone would go no matter where it was, ha!), I quickly got to the point of feeling like they were longtime friends. We caught up about mutual friends back home, raved about last week’s episode of This is Us, got to know each others’ stories… I was really excited to have some connection back to California by staying with them. They had a group of younger ones over to their house that night for a delicious homemade dinner, after having made sure that I got to try all the traditional Portuguese food while we were out for the day (such as cod croquettes and pastal de Nata, which is like a little pastry filled with custard)
Another definite highlight was getting to do a day in service with Taylor. She was such a pro when it came to the English search work that was going on. It was so obvious how much here time there had affected her as a person and developed her spirituality. “Bom dia,” she began whenever someone answered the intercom, “Posso perguntar alguma informação? Há alguém neste edifício que é estrangeiro?”
The householder would then reply to her inquiry as to whether any foreigners were in the building. Sometimes there were, sometimes there weren’t. But we’d go into the building when possible and try to talk to such foreigners face to face. We were able to track down a few English speakers, which Taylor proceeded to add to her territory card. It really felt like detective work. I loved it! I’ve heard that my preaching work in Bilbao will be centered around search work activities so I’m excited to start doing it there; this was an awesome way to whet my appetite for what was to come.
Jareth and Aeriel had more people over from the hall the following night. They had a solid crew of twenty-somethings in their congregation. You could sense a good level of spirituality, coupled with personality, among them. Getting to spend time with people like Vito, Daniela and Vanessa (I know it sounds like the cast of a mafia movie) really helped me to cement bonds with even more great people from the other side of the planet.
Overall, Portugal was amazing. I loved the time I got to spend with friends, both new and old, all while getting to expand my international family within the truth. Jehovah’s organization is definitely without comparison.
And just like that, it was time to shift out of vacation mode. It was time to head to Bilbao for real… to meet my new friends, my new congregation, my new way of life.
I was ready.