Having realised that I’d been unintentionally rejecting this part of Europe for some time, it was only right that I put it into my plans this summer. As grand as the plan started out, I eventually narrowed the choice of cities to Porto, Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona. I thought it might be fun to add to this post as I travel in real time (kind of like a 6-year old girls diary). So here is an overview of my 10 days in Portugal and Spain.
Didn’t know what to expect of this city, never knew much about it other than this is where Port wine comes from, and they love to remind you of it… which isn’t a bad thing, the amount of free samples I’ve had is unreal. As I usually do with my travels, staying in hostels is the best way to go. When I arrived at Yes!Porto Hostel with my friend Sohail, the staff were incredibly friendly (they always are at hostels) and the lady serving us, shout out to Rita, offered us some Port to start the day, told us there is a free shot everyday at 11am, unlimited booze with 3-course dinner (which was only €10) and the only drink they really charged for was a bottle of €1 water… they were clearly in charge of making sure people had a good time… and they were damn good at it; I love this kind of living 😃 The hostel itself was very nice, secure, and just full of bubbly people from all over the world, all keen to share stories with you, can’t sell it enough!
Our first day was about settling in, getting over the ridiculously early 5am flight and heading out on the town in the evening. The hostel organised a pub crawl and we met so many cool and open people, it was a good laugh and ultimately tame outing in the end, just what we wanted for the first night. Having settled in, we spent the second day taking part in a couple of free walking tours to get to know the city better and got to meet more people from the hostel. We met Juan from Spain, Damian from Australia and Sonya from Columbia; we all hung out, explored and tried Porto’s famous sandwich; The Francesinha. This “sandwich” consisted of bread, ham, egg, sausage/steak, covered in melted cheese and a tomato & beer sauce… was so good, but needless to say we were so full that we skipped dinner that day 🤢 The city itself has so much to offer, in terms of architecture, history, rich culture and also a modern and active nightlife, a little of everything! We wondered over to Cais da Ribeira to take in the stunning views by the river, ventured up Torre dos Clérigos to get a view of the entire city, and then ended up in several wine tastings… yes we had our priorities perfectly in check. The wines were amazing! I wasn’t much of a wine drinker in the first place, but every drop they gave us was delicious, and at the same time lethal, mostly 19+%!! Overall I think it’s a great city and I would have happily spent more days here. No pub crawl tonight as it’s a Sunday and we have a 6am flight to catch… Next up, the capital city!
Straight away you see this is more modern than Porto, but it still has that classic feel with the old arcitecture and cobbled streets. Lisbon has loads of shops and restaurant names I recognised from back home, there were plenty of people so vibe was nice and the weather was a perfect 28C. Hostel wise it wasn’t as ‘in your face’ as our Porto experience, but Home Lisbon Hostel was still nice, located very centrally and had cool activities planned for its travelers, mainly bar crawls (seeing a pattern yet?).
We started with the walking tour to get to know the city better, saw the old town of Alfama, spent time by the coast, had beers with Sam and Emma who were also visiting from England and ate all the natas we could find; Pastel De Natas being a traditional Portuguese custard/egg tart pastry which are sooo good when made fresh (Lisbon natas are softer/creamier and better IMO than ones in Porto). Second day we mainly relaxed, did some shopping and ate very well, again. Something I did come to learn about Portugal was that apparently they are seen as the second worst drivers in Europe, just behind the Italians (Don’t even deny it my Italian friends). Did I experience this first hand I hear you ask… well I had to pretty much jump out of the way of a car on the first day who ran a red light, and only a couple of hours later saw a cab smash a mounted trash can on the curb… may have been isolasted incidents but damn it made me wary about roads! I’d say Lisbon is very nice, but if it was a contest I would give the win to Porto! Now my friend Sohail heads back to England and I’m off to meet my Mexican friend Diego in Madrid who arrived a day before me, I met him in the Lisbon hostel yesterday (It’s useful being a talkative nuisance like me… making friends is easy 😊).
Ah Madrid, I was looking forward to this part of the trip the most. I really think that you can get a feel of a city in the first 5 seconds (just like with people), and my first 5 seconds when I got out of the Metro in Madrid was “I love it”. Oh my god, what a beautiful city. There is a great mix of old-medieval parts of the city with narrow streets and small squares, and then also the modern areas with such impressing buildings, it felt like a cross between Florence and London. And hostel wise… oh my goodness the best hostel I’ve stayed at in a long time. It is called OK Hostel Madrid, but don’t be deceived by the name. It felt like a United Uni accommodation, you can tell it has been recently renovated and staff were fantastic, definitely recommend this place (did I mention they organise bar crawls, weird huh?). Another quick recommendation: great tapas and sangria can be found all over, but I really enjoyed it at Rosi La Loca which was recommended by a local, this place put a unique twist on traditional Spanish cuisine and it is delicious, enjoy!
Madrid has so much to see, and arguably the best collection of museums you will find in Europe (Tip: go after 6pm when they are free 😉). We saw the amazing Royal Palace, took a stroll down Retiro Park and Casa De Campo Park which is gorgeous and 5x bigger than Central Park in NYC and is great to watch the sunset, we had lots of dinners near Puerto del Sol and Gran Via (upscale shopping st.), and lastly spent some time in Chueca which is one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Madrid, and known as the local hipster (also LGBQT) area which is full of chic bars, cool coffee shops and boutique stores *shoutout to my hipster friends, you know who you are*. I have no qualms in saying that Madrid is on par with Florence and Prague in being one of my favourite cities in Europe.
Last but not least… the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia. I didn’t think anything could match my experience of Madrid, but Barcelona came pretty close. I arrived at Hostel One Paralelo and it had a very different vibe to OK Hostel Madrid, not as modern but had more of a hippy vibe and a sense of community as everyone was eating lunch together at a big table (fresh paella made in front us from an actual Spaniard, amazing). As I was checking in, this Aussie bloke working at the hostel mentioned there being a big football match on tomorrow, and after meeting for 10 minutes we bought tickets to El Classico at Camp Nou, have I mentioned how cool hostels can be?
That was for tomorrow night, but for today I had a list of things I wanted to do; Firstly, I just had to climb the mountain that Joey from Friends made famous to everyone my age… Mt. Tibadabo. It was so worth the climb just for the Instagram caption 😃. If you fancy it yourself, use the metro and get off at Avignuda Tibidabo (or Peu del Funicular), and from there the trek takes 1-2 hours based on how fast you are and how often you stop for pictures. When you finally make it to the top, you’re greeted with a beautiful view of the entire city which is made even better when it is 30C and there are bright blue skies! Arriving at the summit, you find the Tibidabo Amusement Park (kinda random) and the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, which is the church often mistaken for Tibidabo. Both were conceived in roughly the late 1800 – early 1900s which makes the amusement park one of the oldest amusement parks in the world that is still operational. There are alternatives of trains, buses and trams to get to the top, but if you have the time, the hike is definitely worth it; albeit there was no crying woman bathing in a lake as per Joeys ‘made up’ story. On the way down you can be lazy like me and take the funicular 😊.
On to day 2, and after the walking tour, seeing the amazing La Sagrada Famillia church (must be booked 2+ days in advance), hanging out by the gothic district (La Rambla) and of course chilling by the beach, it was time for the big match, El Classico. This is where Spains two biggest teams Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other and it could not be more tense! I’ve been to plenty of football games in my time, but this was incredible! The atmosphere in the second half particularly, the roar from the fans when home favourite Lionel Messi scored, how can it be anything else when there are 99,000 pationate football fanatics playing against their biggest rivals, such a great experience.
As my new Spanish friend Juan explained to me, Barcelona is very touristy, so you won’t get a feel for real Spain here… but what you will have here is good beaches, great weather, delicious food and a heck of a nightlife… no wonder it’s a popular holiday destination.
All in all, the trip was great and I finally got to experience this part of Europe a little more than I previously had. Still so many places I left off the iteneray like Farò, Seville, Granada, Bilbao, Valencia and more. It will give me the excuse to come back and explore some more, like I need an excuse.