Monday, 2 September 2013

My mini Euro-Trip through Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar

Absolutely incredible ...but also a great way to spend money. I miss Latin American prices! But anyway, for this little segment of my journey I was racing to see everything. I just had to fit in Morocco after spending a month in England (that's how I justified it to myself anyway!). This meant skipping San Sebasti├ín on Spain's north coast, and Granada-Malaga etc on the east... and Porto in Portugal... But besides that I think I covered most of the best bits! 

My itinerary went like this:
3 nights in Salamanca (Spain)
1 in Caceres (Spain)
2 in Evora (Portugal)
4 nights with Sofia and Nuno in Lisbon and the Algarve Coast (Portugal)
2 nights in Faro (Portugal)
A day in Tavira (Portugal)
2 nights in Sevilla (Spain) 
2 nights with Lianne (Gibraltar) 

So I started in the golden city of Salamanca. It's known as the golden city because of its many many gorgeous golden buildings: from grand cathedrals, convents and monasteries to intricately carved town halls and public buildings such as the exquisite (and oldest in Spain) university or Casa de Conchas (house of shells), hotels, palaces and the grand central Plaza Major. It really is golden too, the stone they are all built from glows golden in the half light of dawn or dusk. Which makes the perfect setting for some tapas or ice cream at 8:30pm! I met some really cool backpackers there, lots of other solo travellers which is always good! One guy Javi from Argentina was really cool, and gave us all insider tips like ordering red wine with lemonade (what the Spanish-speakers drink instead of Sangria - cheaper and more modern) and hilarious facts like "concha" having a double meaning (shell and also vagina. So... umm... the Queens's palace is called the house of vaginas). You don't read that on wiki travel!! Haha 

Then I was off to another very historical medieval city called Caceres. In transit really. I did some speedy sightseeing, checking out a few cathedrals, museums and church towers for spectacular views all in one afternoon :) then had a delicious typical Spanish breakfast (included with the accomodation) of churros, coffee and fresh orange juice at a little cafe round before getting my bus to Portugal the next morning. Perfect final Spanish meal for a while! 
My shocking Spanish skills also got a bit of a work out on the bus which was good, I sat next to a chatty Brazilian (who was also very patient!). He told me all about his family and work across Brazil and Portugal and even bought me a delicious lunch at the bus pit stop! Sweetie! He also taught me a few phrases of Portuguese which was awesome considering I got off that bus in Portugal ;) 

I absolutely LOVE Portugal by the way. It is just beautiful. And the people are all lovely. They also make incredible wine, invented Port and specialise in almond and fig based pastries... That definitely can't hurt!
The most exciting Portuguese thing I did after arriving that day was savour a glass of local port in a small square just after dusk. It was incredible. 
Evora is also another exquisite tiny medieval town, like Caceres but Portuguese. So over the next couple of days day I meandered through more quaint medieval cobblestone streets on my way to various museums, cathedrals, roman temple ruins (and an aqueduct) and international art exhibitions. Oh, and wine and port tasting at fancy places! haha I'm learning for my future ;) The hostel was super small and cute too, with an eccentric but totally harmless owner and a bunch of cool travellers around. Evora is a little off the beaten track which gives it a different vibe. It has the cool chapel of bones too :D Good spot. 

From there I went to the Capitol Lisbon and couchsurfed with an incredible couple who have hosted about a zillion times and are the best ever!!! Nuno and Sofia :) with their gorgeous cat Duchas of course. If it wasn't for their incredible hospitality and advice I would have never managed to see or do nearly as much as I did in Lisbon. And I swear I still only skimmed the very surface! Lisbon is a really awesome city.
The way it was I did a day in the city centre, a day in Belem (a suburb off-center famous for its pastries and monuments/attractions etc) and a day in Sintra (a fairy tale town an hour out, full of palaces and gardens and more incredible pastries). Plus one night I went and had dinner in the central "barrio alto" at a tiny local fado (typical Portuguese music) place because Sofia had to work late. Unfortunately staying with them I couldn't go out properly and really experience the insane nightlife that Lisbon is famous for... But it was definitely worth missing it. No question. Sofia and Nuno are incredible.

We all went down south to stay a night in a tiny little town to visit Nuno's  parents. ...they let me come with them to see it and stay a night!! Such a wonderful family!! We arrived late Friday night and even though it was a super tiny rural town Nuno, Sofia and I still went and got a drink at the local bar and there were plenty of people around enjoying the slightly cooler night temperatures! Then the following day we slept in and prepared an enormous traditional Portuguese lunch with grilled salmon and sardines over an open flame, fresh cold tomato and other vegetable soup/salad (Gazpacho but mot pureed?), local breads and cakes, a Portuguese potato dish and fresh melons for dessert. Then we went to the corner cafe for coffees afterwards. I think we finished around 3 or 4pm? Haha. amazing!!!

Sofia and Nuno took me to the beach at Portimao (via Serpa to pick up some of their famous cheese) and then to a crazy medieval fair in Silves later that day/evening too. We road tripped across most of the Algarve coast in one arfternoon! The water was a lot colder there, not the Mediterranean this time! I mention it because it reminded me so much of Perth, and swimming in the sea back home!! Made me a little homesick. Way more refreshing but you can't stay in as long ;) The medieval fair was especially authentic and amazing due to it being held in a medieval town. So cool. Absolutely enormous too! Europe has so many festivals in summertime...!

After all that I just slobbed for a day in Faro. Needed to chill! So I cant't tell you much about the place... the hostel was nice! Haha but it's got to be done sometimes. 

I left early after my second night in Faro so I could stop off in Tavria especially to visit the 11km white sand beach on the Ilha de Tavira. Only a 15min ferry from town. I'd heard many good things. I spent pretty much the entire day on the beach... read my book, worked on my tan (lol jokes). I even did a bit of topless sun baking for fun. Hey, when in Rome! Haha then I was off again, got to keep moving to reach Morocco!! I arrived in Sevilla that evening. Another awesome hostel. I think I'm getting better at picking the cheap and good ones now ;) this one had an amazing rooftop terrace and cheap sangria as well as a big and clean kitchen!! Umm... Wow!

Sevilla was cool, but not really especially different. I visited the second oldest bull ring in Spain though, and a really good flamenco dance museum! I went for a run one evening and just abut died though... So hot! And humid. Well I hope it wasn't just me being unfit anyway... !! Haha oh well!

From Sevilla I left Spain again and ventured into Gibraltar. I think it wouldn't be a great place for just anybody, there are definitely going to be those who appreciate it and those who don't. But for me, it was just priceless!! The most hilarious and crazy place... A total mixing pot of cultures. You walk down the street and pass Arabic style buildings with beautiful curly arches, flat roofs and colourful tiles next to Spanish white washed houses with shutters and distinct European features, next to English town houses... Say what!??!? And everyone speaks English, they use pounds Stirling and have red telephone booths, post boxes and one red double decker bus. Not to mention there is a Morrissons supermarket, Marks and Spencer's and plenty of pubs advertising cooked Sunday lunch and fish and chips with mushy peas and gravy ...despite the intense heat all year round. Though... the giant rock that forms the 7 square kms that is Gibraltar does attract its own cloud that likes to hang around, and that's pretty English! hahaha 
The thing is they all speak Spanish too, and there are Spanish churros places etc too. And a moorish castle overlooks everything from the top. Crazy. And there are Barbary Macaques (tailless monkeys pretty much unique to Gib.) that you can visit whilst hiking the rock and exploring the impressive cave and war/siege tunnels they have inside the rock. 
My favourite part still might be the fact that the runway for their airport crosses the only road (and the main road for Gibraltar) that goes to Spain perpendicularly. They literally have to close the road and hence all Spain-Gibraltar access every time a plane lands or takes off (!!!) ...and they only fly to England. Maybe the UK. But not elsewhere. So funny. 
While I was there I stayed with Lianne (couchsurfing again) and she introduced me to a bunch of her friends and we went out one night :) it was awesome. Great place! They all said they loved it, but liked to get out a bit too. You get the small-town gossip affect a bit it seems! Super fun couple of days. Such a cool place and Lianne was an amazing host!! I hope she comes to Aus someday in one of her many travels!! 

And there we have it, my (solo) mini euro-trip. Next stop Africa!! And I didn't even have to fly. They have ferries. Have I mentioned how tiny Europe is? And close to everything else too?!! 
These people don't know what they've got, especially now Ryan air is around! :) 

 Hasta Leugo!

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