Spring Break Part 3: Portugal

Early morning risers, Jenna, Tay and I caught our bus from Seville to Lagos on Monday. According to the cranky Portuguese lady at the ticket counter, it was supposed to take around 4.5 hours. Ha. Ha. Ha. about 6.5 hours later we had crossed the border to the promised land and finally made it to the bus stop in Lagos. Luckily each of us had our own little bus seat row to spread out in, it made the pain of the nonstop chatter from the classic American Dude a little more bearable. We arrived in a slightly overcast Lagos, but still had a nice walk to our hostel, which was a little bit outside of the main part of the city and more close to some of the beaches. We found our destination: the Big Chill Hostel and began my personal favorite leg of the trip. We were greeted at the door by one of the most beautiful men (and I mean both physically and personality-y) that I’ve ever met. Lee was the head manager of the hostel and the guy below the owner who runs the show. I’ve never had a hostel worker personally shake my hand and ask my name before going to Big Chill. It was a fantastic place; clean, welcoming, accommodating… perfect. We ended up getting a 4 person room to ourself  (sans bunkbeds!) up on the rooftop terrace. Bonus: our 3 friends would have the room next to us! It ended up working out perfectly because we had the entire upper portion of the hostel to ourselves. Once we got into our room I treated myself to a much needed nap. Once Kit, Kat and Julie arrived a bit later in the evening, we headed out to find some dinner and drinks. We went to a recommended Mexican place and had some fabulous burritos and margaritas! The place reminded me a lot of Surf Taco/Fins from home, so those of you know know the greatness of those places can imagine my fondness for this little Mexi-Cali joint. We headed home and got to sleep at a decent hour, we were all still recovering from the weekend in Morocco!

On Tuesday it was a little bit cloudy again but we set out for a hike along the coastline in the morning. All we had to do was walk up our road a bit and then veer off onto one of the many dirt paths that weaved in and around all of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. I was shocked that I didn’t get poison ivy from this excursion (thank heavens) because we were walking all in and around plants and dirt and trees and such. It felt good to have a nice hike, and the views were breathtaking! I really can’t describe the view from the cliffs overlooking the sea but if you look up the Algarve district on Google… that’s what my eyes had the pleasure of viewing for a few days in Lagos. Absolutely stunningly perfectly gorgeous, and easily my favorite place in Europe so far (for me, beaches > cities). We hiked all along the cliffs and up to a lighthouse along the edge. It was a perfect way to see the outskirts of the city and get a feel for the beauty which surrounded us on all sides. After our hike we headed back to the hostel to make lunch. One of our themes for this stop was definitely cooking! We had some fantastic meals for super cheap– can’t beat that! After eating to our hearts’ desire we changed and went down to the beach. Although it was still cloudy and even a little chilly, nothing could keep me from that ocean! Plus, my GoPro was practically begging for me to take it in the waves. Running and jumping into the cold, I was finally in my happy place. Wiping salt water out of my eyes with nothing but water around me and a view of the coast… pure bliss. I swam out to one of the cliffs a bit away from shore and took in the view from afar… nothing short of stunning. I could only take the cold for so long, so we headed back home to a warm shower to get some rest. After a good dinner on our rooftop terrace, we spent some time listening to music and enjoying the company before heading out for the night. To make a long story short– the girls had run into some mutual Canadian friends while on the beach earlier in the day. Though not super close with them, they invited us to come to their villa to hang out for a bit before going downtown. So that was our first stop, which was an experience in itself. There were about 20 people renting this 5 star villa in Lagos, Portugal. So after we entered the gated driveway and through the massive front door we were greeted by a huge kitchen/living room area. Basically a college kids dream party house. We were there for a little while and then made it down to the bars. Since we got downtown a little bit late, some places were already starting to close. But we managed to find 2 or 3 bars that were still going strong! We had a great night of drinks and dancing.

On Wednesday we got up (…leisurely) and headed into the town for some breakfast at a famous place called the Odeon. It was this TINY little hole in the wall, which obviously had incredible food. I had eggs and toast with the, hands down, best pancake in the world. Satisfaction. After breakfast we chose to walk around the city a bit in the daylight. Lagos is a cute little town; cobblestone roads, shops, cafes… Definitely a place you could settle into and feel comfortable (I was VERY tempted). Later in the afternoon it ended up clearing into a really nice day, so we decided to hike to another beach. Along the way we were joined by a black lab who decided to spend the day with us! I loved this. We wanted to try to get to the other side of the cliffs so we took some more of those dirt paths until we found a beach. It was about a 30 minute hike, with endless views of the ocean and countryside, until we found a wooden staircase that headed downwards. We went down a decent amount of stairs and through some trees and shrubbery and were greeted by the best place my eyes have ever seen. A small, private beach surrounded by the cliffs. There were 2 other people there, minding their own business. IT WAS HEAVEN. There were large, flat rocks for us to rest on and leave our things. So we all frolicked in the water (the dog included… this made me very happy), climbed on the rocks, walked along the sand, enjoyed the sun… took in our own slice of paradise. We spent a few hours here, until hunger basically forced us to leave. It had been a perfectly beautiful afternoon. The walk home was one of those where I walked along, not talking, and legitimately just smiled. I was entranced by the beauty of the landscape that I was exploring and had just been to the most beautiful beach I have ever laid my eyes upon. One of those consciously happy moments. We meandered back to the hostel for some dinner– Spanish omelets thanks to our Seville girls! It was fabulous, and pretty much put us all in a food coma. We got to see the sunset from our terrace to end a perfect day and a good night sleep was in store for us that evening.

Thursday was our last day in Lagos, and BOY did we make the most of it. We woke up at the crack of dawn (actually) to go watch the sunrise. We walked the short way up the road to the ledge that overlooked a beach where the sun would come peeking out. Lit up by the soft blues and pinks that only dawn can provide, the view was… you guessed it! A real beauty. This is the second sunrise that I’ve purposely gone to watch since being abroad, and it is a wonder that won’t get old for me. It’s crazy that something so beautiful happens every single day and yet I’ve only actually seen it twice since being in Europe. That doesn’t even account for the days I haven’t seen it at home… which are a lot. A ton actually. Its a refreshing view that gives you a great perspective to start the day. We went down to the sand and laid for a little while, just enjoying the warmth of the rising sun and the noises of the ocean and the birds. Once we’d had our fill of sunrise, we went back to the hostel for some good homemade breakfast. We ate on our rooftop terrace as the day warmed up, it was perfect! At around 10:00 our ride arrived, we had signed up for a kayak excursion. The truck took us down to a beach where the company had all of their kayaks and such and we suited up in some fancy life jackets (which always make me laugh) and hit the yaks! We did double ocean kayaks, which was perfect since there were 6 of us. We had a few other people in our group as well: a family of 4, a really cute old English couple, and a guy from Tennessee. Quite eclectic. We launched the kayaks and set out on the 3ish hour excursion along the coast of the Algarve. What a different perspective than from up top the cliffs! Out on the water, we were able to see all the hidden beaches that were inaccessible from land and could only be reached by a kayak or small boat. A private beach lover’s dream. We got to paddle through some of the cliff overhangs and into entranceways that had been hollowed out after years of rushing water. The ocean was so clear and blue, and perfectly refreshing under the heat of the day. Around half way through, we made a stop at a small beach to hang out for a little bit (snorkeling optional) and then we paddled back to the docks. It was a great excursion! We enjoyed some lunch after that workout and then headed down to the beach for one last hoorah before we moved onto our next city. I could say it a million times: nothing like laying in that perfect sand! I napped on the beach and then we ended up going into the water for a bit. Thanks to Jenna (I think??!) we discovered a perfect cliff to jump from! Its’ funny because the ONE thing we wanted to do so badly in Lagos was cliff jump, and here we were in our finals hours in the city. We had to swim out a bit and then climb up the side of the cliff that had barnacles and some shrubs on it but when you finally made it up (probably about 20-30 feet) it was a perfect view over a perfect place to jump back in the water. We had an audience as a bunch of boat and kayak tours kept coming past us as we were climbing around and jumping. I did it 3 times, couldn’t get enough of the adrenaline rush! And that’s the ultimate activity to do with a GoPro. I’m so glad we were able to find a good cliff before we left. By late afternoon we trudged back to the hostel to grab our things and head to the bus station. It had been an incredibly long day! We were sad to say goodbye to our new travel friends (& Lee), but we were off to our next stop: Lisbon.

We took a 6:15 train out of Lagos and arrived in Lisbon around 10 or 11. So tired, we found our hostel relatively easy after a metro ride and checked in for the night. We only had 2 days in Lisbon so we spoke with the hostel workers about the best things to do in the city since our time was so limited. Labeled map in hand, we got to sleep so that we could take the next day by storm.

…Which turned out absolutely laughable because all three of woke up feeling hungover after a night that did not involve any sort of alcohol. All of our  travels were beginning to catch up with us! But we hit the city, determined to see some of the main sights that the Lisbon natives recommended to us. Lisbon turned out to be a really hilly city, which added to our exhaustion, but we made it to a few of the key lookout points over the city and through many of the main squares. It is a really beautiful metropolitan area and I would love to go back and appreciate it more when I have the energy! We had some gelato at a famous place called Santini’s which turned out to be pure heaven in edible form. I had a fantastic mango/strawberry combo, truly delectable. After dessert, we set out to find out a Portuguese restaurant for lunch. Following our recommendations, we found a small place tucked away but so crowded! We waited in line because we knew the food would be worth it- and it definitely was. I had a fantastic chicken and rice dish for just 9 euros. It was a traditional Portuguese meal and so delicious. After lunch we had just about hit our breaking points so we headed back to the hostel for a cat nap. We woke up in time to head out to see the sunset. We headed towards a lookout that was labeled on the map, but as I mentioned, Lisbon is a pretty twisty turney city. We made it about half way there as the sun was really beginning to set. We’re missing it!!!!!!!  Comically, we jumped in a cab to take us the rest of the way up the hill. We arrived just in time, as the sun was lowering itself over the massive city before us. So beautiful and calming and a great way to end any day. Arriving back at the hostel once more, we had some dinner and just RELAXED. It was so nice to just sit and then go to bed at our own convenience. That’s a real vacation.

On our last real day of travel we got up and got on a train from Lisbon into the city of Sintra. Sintra is a really old city known for its castles. It is like a small fairytale town! We arrived and treated ourselves to some coffee and Portugal’s famous pastry (lol I forget the name) but its this little sugary creamy thing that is just really really good. (Can you tell I like the food here….) After our breakfast treats we got on the bus to take us to the top of the city where the most famous castle stands. It took about 20 minutes to get up this thing because the roads were so twisty and steep! Props to the bus driver. Unfortunately, there was a fee to get into the castle, so we got our pictures from the outside and then decided to hike back down the hill and through the city center. We found a nice path that led us downwards not on the road, so we got to see a lot of the gorgeous landscape. Sintra is also right on the west coast of Portugal, so we could see the ocean in the distance too. As we descended we passed numerous other old castles and walls until we came upon the city streets. We meandered through those as well, in and out of a few shops, and back to the train station. It was a perfect last day in Portugal, and I know I would definitely like to go back.

After grabbing our things back at the hostel in Lisbon we went to the train station to catch our ride out of the city: an overnight train to Madrid (the perils of having a round-trip flight to/from Barcelona, oops). We had some dinner at a dumpy hamburger place near the train station, it was surprisingly good, and then boarded our train around 9pm. Back when we were booking tickets, we had all kind of hit a rough patch with the website and we got all screwed up. Long story short, Tay and I ended up in the first car with beds in a little corridor and Jenna was stuck with the peasants in the individual seats. So Tay and I made ourselves at home in our 4 bed place, with our two old lady Russian roommates. They probably thought we were mental. Once Jenna’s ticket had been checked we snuck her into our room and ended up sharing these 2 tiny beds between the three of us. Not the best night’s sleep in the world but it was definitely an experience!

We arrived in Madrid early Sunday morning, which happened to be Easter. We weren’t expecting much of anything to be open so we had brought some groceries with us from Lisbon. We had an Easter breakfast feast in the train station at the Burger King tables. And by feast I mean oranges, dry cereal, digestive biscuits, and some other unhealthy things that I can’t remember. When it was a normal hour of the morning we got on a train to get to the city center. We arrived to a surprisingly bustling city and had the chance to walk around and tour a bit. We did as much as we could with our backpacks on; which included searching for wifi and then walking to see the castle and cathedral. After we had our fill of Easter spirit and sights we trekked to the other side of the city to relax in the park for the afternoon. Madrid is a really pleasant place, and we had great weather, so we didn’t mind walking along with all of our stuff. We settled down in a beautiful green park and spent a few hours napping and reading in the grass. I had no complaints there! Later in the afternoon we grabbed some tapas for a late lunch/early dinner and then headed to the airport to catch our night plane to Barcelona. We made the Madrid airport our home; we always find ourselves in the duty free shop trying every possible lotion and perfume. We were tired by the time our flight took off.

The travels continued as we arrived in Barcelona’s airport around 1am. Unfortunately, we would be spending the night in the airport because we had a 7am flight back to Brussels in the morning. So us three found ourselves a nice and comfortable spot on that Spanish tile floor and “slept” from about 1:30-4:30am. I was awakened by a grumpy Spanish security guard at 4:30 clapping in my face and shouting “No more sleep!” Jokes. So we took our time getting over to our terminal and finally onto our last flight. We landed in Belgium around 10 (I think? I was so delirious at this point…) and took a cab back to LLN. It’s worth noting that our cab driver had NO IDEA where LLN was, so we took a route from Charleroi that legitimately had us driving on a bike path and through various private roads. He ended up dropping us off at some weird entrance to the campus where cars aren’t even allowed to drive. These people. I was FINALLY reunited with my bed that morning and I don’t even remember the rest of that day because I slept forever. It was glorious to be back with no where else to be, but we had had such a fantastic 18 days of travel!! I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world, and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity. It was a Spring Break for the books, definitely going to be hard to top next year. But don’t worry Portugal, I’ll be back.

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