Lisbon, Portugal; Madrid, Spain
My first check in is brought to you from the Madrid airport, where I sit waiting to board our flight to Barcelona. I first want to apologize for the week delay in this update — traveling lived up to its exhaustive nature and every spare second I had (few and far between) was spent ~siesta’ing~.
Our three days in Portugal’s capital city, where we began our journey, were filled with breathtaking views, kind locals, bustling historic squares, and lots and lots of pastel de natas (delicious Portuguese tarts sold for €1 a pop — dangerously cheap).
Lisbon reminded me of a European San Francisco — its winding cobblestone roads were narrow and rich in color, and for every ridiculously steep hill that left me short of breath came an impossibly beautiful view of the hillside city. There were many times I found myself staring over the tightly packed houses, utterly unable to look away. I was completely mesmerized in a way I’ve found to be quite rare.
40 minutes outside Lisbon lies Sintra, a small and historic mountain town home to palaces and ruins and a lot of port wine. It led me to even more breathtaking views, like the western-most point of Europe that looks over the reaching Atlantic.
Madrid, our next stop, proved to be much more metropolitan and therefore a little less charming. We spent our days wandering through Fifth Avenue-like streets, passing high end shops and hustling metro stations. Only at the end of this Gran Vía did we begin to see the massive and intricate architectural structures typical of European cities. At this end of Madrid came also beautiful gardens with statues and fountains and landscaping rivaling Versailles.
To avoid reciting our day by day itinerary of activities, I’ll just leave you with some of the many lessons I’ve learned and first impressions I’ve had through these first adventures:
- Say YES to hostels, especially at this young age. We were originally attracted to hostels because of their price, but were left as complete advocates. Through both our hostels in Lisbon and Madrid, we met so many wonderful people from all over the world. Over this past week, we’ve explored with a Canadian, surfed with some Austrians, had dinner with Australians and French and Germans, roamed through the streets with Welsh people, and befriended fellow Americans from SF and New York and Virginia. We’ve been exposed to so many different stories and opinions and personalities just because hostels are unbelievably social and welcoming. Events are organized for the benefit of you having the most fulfilling experience possible, and they really stayed true to that promise.
- Say NO to almost nothing. Expand your tastes (a fried calamari sandwich in Madrid, raw salmon in Lisbon), expand your interests (surf off the coast of Portugal, try speaking Spanish even though you only know how to say hola and count to ten), and you’ll expand yourself in the process. I mean both mentally and physically, since you’re eating so much.
- Appreciate every second of every day and regret nothing. Every minor inconvenience turns into a story, every mistake turns into a lesson, every misunderstood menu item turns into a few wasted Euros but an understanding of how to say “raw salmon” in Portuguese. One of our roommates from our hostel in Lisbon taught us that there are only good ideas or good stories, and if neither of those, then at least a good lesson.
- Recognize how privileged you are to speak English. I never understood the gravity of the language, how widespread it is and how lucky I am to have it as a native tongue. I can walk into a large city of almost any Western European country and expect the majority of its inhabitants to cater to my language needs. I don’t have to worry about thumbing through a pocket dictionary or not being able to read the signs at the train station. Traveling is made significantly easier just from that, and I never fully appreciated in until now.
- Speaking of English: avoid using English idioms and sayings with people whose first language is not English. I ended up saying to my Portuguese surf instructor, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” and it led to a really awkward silence and me scrambling to explain that I wasn’t trying to hit on him, I was just tryna surf.
I’ll end with that for now and will be back with news from Barcelona soon. If you’re reading from America, do me a favor and drink a nice, free glass of ice cold water at a restaurant for me. I really miss free water.