For my brother’s graduation present, my parents offered him an all expenses paid trip to Europe, the only caveat being that he had to take me along. I was a little wary, knowing my brother’s propensity for backpacking (as I write this, he’s wandering around somewhere in South America, living out of a single bag for the next two months), but my parents assured me that we could stay in hotels and do “typical tourist-y things.”
He rolled his eyes and threw a backpack at me.
“If it doesn’t fit in there, you’re not taking it.”
I don’t pack light. Ever.
Needless to say, I was a little horrified.
Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, but I might be kind of a little tiny bit high maintenance. As in, I have a skincare routine, and given the time, I could spend an hour doing my makeup. I’m also the kind of indecisive person who likes to pack a back-up outfit for her back-up outfit, because what if I don’t feel like wearing my first outfit? Then what??
My brother, Marc, asked me if there was anywhere in particular I wanted to go, but I figured since it’s his present, we’d go wherever he wanted. We didn’t have a lot of time, only ten days, as this trip was smooshed in between my last final and him taking off for his grand South America trip, aka his last hoorah before joining the working adult world in the fall. Marc planned most of the trip (read: all of it), and he chose Spain and Portugal.
We left the day after my last final, flying out to Lisbon, with nothing but a single backpack, albeit my dad’s rather large, old army backpack. Flying out from Dulles, we had a quick layover in Dublin. First impression? It was very sunny and bright for 6 in the morning, and the sun was getting in my eyes as I sipped my obligatory Guinness in the Dublin airport.
When we landed in Lisbon, Portugal, it was equally bright and sunny, and we hopped on a bus to take us into the historical center of Lisbon. We checked into our hostel (Goodmorning Lisbon, 10/10 would recommend) and set out to explore the city. We headed uphill, and after blindly following some winding roads, we ended up at the Castelo de São Jorge, a moorish castle overlooking the city.
The next day, we took advantage of our hostel’s “free” walking tour – you pay in tips at the end of the tour. Walking tours are an excellent way to see the highlights of a city while simultaneously learning about the culture and history as well, especially if you’re on a bit of a time crunch.
Three things (and a bonus) that Portugal is known for, food-wise, that you need to try:
- Bacalhau (cod) – Portugal is the #1 importer of cod in the entire world (learned that on the tour!), and the Portuguese know how to prepare it dozens of ways. Any authentic Portuguese restaurant is sure to have at least one variation of the fish on its menu.
- Pasteis de nata – An eggy, custard-y delight, these pastries are sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar AND HOLY CRAP I couldn’t explain them even if I tried. They’re good, and you need to get your hands on one.
- Wine – Portugal is known for their wine in general, and it’s easy to get a good bottle of wine for really cheap, but their vinho verde, or green wine, is a local speciality.
- Ginjinha – A cherry liqueur, though the highlight of an order is the fact that it comes in an edible chocolate shot glass. While not a definite must try, I’d still recommend it!
After spending only two days in Lisbon, we were off to Lagos, a beach town on the southern coast of Portugal. We asked the staff at our hostel (Cloud 9) what the must-sees were, as we only had one night there, and they told us to go on a kayak tour. Guides take visitors on a beautiful tour around the coves and caverns of the coast. The tour breaks at a secluded beach before towing you back to where you started from.
While we didn’t have much time there, Lagos was nice for laying out on its beaches and doing a little souvenir shopping. They also apparently have a bumping nightlife, but unfortunately, as our bus left the next morning at 6:30, we decided to be responsible and go to sleep early.
After waking up late, we just barely caught our bus. Six and a half hours later, we were in Seville, Spain, and we were checking into Oasis Backpackers Palace. Portuguese food is good, but Spanish food is amazing. One word: tapas. Yes, please! My brother got some pro-tips from a friend who had studied abroad in Seville, and under their direction, we headed to the Hotel Alfonso XII. On our way over, we passed under the Metropol Parasol, the largest wooden sculpture in the world. The hotel was very swank with beautiful architecture, being a five star hotel, but it was fun to order a drink and act like I belonged there.
It was starting to get late after that, so we got dinner (more tapas!) and headed back to the hostel. We went out that night with the hostel’s pub crawl (another plus of staying at a hostel), which was something else, because the night life in Spain gets started very late. As in, clubs will be more or less empty until around 2 in the morning. So if you’re going out, be prepared to stay out well into the morning – most nights we didn’t get in until around 5 or so.
We checked out early the next morning, leaving our backpacks in the hostel’s luggage room while we explored Seville before catching another bus. We hit the two other locations on our list, the Real Alcázar, a moorish palace, and the Santa Maria de la Sede, better known as the Seville Cathedral. We also decided to quickly pop into the bullfighting ring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla.
And after that we were off to Granada!
When we got to Grenada, we met up with one of my brother’s friends from school who was studying abroad at the University of Granada, and she showed me two amazing things. 1) Tinto de verano, which translates to summer wine, which is red wine mixed with a sort of carbonated lemonade (STEP ASIDE, SANGRIA) and 2) at tapas bars in Granada, all you have to do is order and drink, and they’ll start bringing you food. AMAZING.
We had yet to buy tickets for the Alhambra, which you apparently you either had to buy online months in advance, or wake up early and wait in line to buy them at the Alhambra itself. My brother offered to wake up at six, and go by himself, letting me sleep in (though I suspect he was hoping for some peace and quiet – I get chatty when bored). We spent the majority of our day at the Alhambra, taking pictures and making friends with the stray cats. We came back to the Hostel (Makuto Backpackers Hostel) in time for the walking tour, which toured the best viewpoints around the city just in time for the sunset. While we were definitely tired from all the walking we had done that day, we were able to rally that night for another bar crawl!
We were really in Cordoba just to see the Mezquita, the once-mosque-turned-cathedral. Due to the Feria, or the Spring Fair, all of the hostels in Cordoba were full, and we ended up staying at a hotel. If the Alhambra was beautiful, the Mezquita was truly awe-inspiring, with a fascinating blend of Muslim and Catholic elements, thanks to the Inquisition. Although Cordoba would be more ideally a day-trip, it was definitely worth going just to see the Mezquita.
On our last leg of the trip, we got into Madrid rather late in the day and ended up just wandering through the city, exploring the parks scattered throughout the city, and that night, we went on one last bar crawl.
The next day, our last day in Spain, we met up with some friends we made in Granada who happened to be in Madrid at the same time as us. We got one last round of tapas and then it was off to the airport.
We had another layover in Dublin on the way back, but this time it was an overnight layover, so we spent the night at a nearby hotel. With a noon flight, we were determined to make the most of this layover, so we woke up early and headed into downtown Dublin. After chatting with our cab driver, he told us the places we should hit are Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, and the Irish Whiskey Museum.
We headed to Trinity College, and while it was nice, I wouldn’t say it was anything too noteworthy. We moved on in search of an Irish breakfast, which was actually harder than it sounds, as it seemed that there wasn’t a single restaurant that opened before noon. But we found one, and let me tell you, it was the breakfast of champions!
While we weren’t able to make it to the Irish Whiskey Museum, we had time for the Guinness Storehouse. Less of a warehouse and more of a museum, I definitely recommend checking it out! Aside from picking up copious amounts of Guinness paraphernalia, you’ll learn plenty from how Guinness is made to it’s history to how to properly pour a glass. And to top it all off, you can enjoy a tall glass of Guinness from their observatory overlooking all of Dublin.
And by “enjoy,” I mean we downed that glass and ran to the airport.
- Pasteis de nata are absolutely delicious.
- Tinto de verano is the greatest drink known to man.
- GO SEE THE MEZQUITA.
- Guinness Storehouse = loads of fun.
- I packed light for once in my life and absolutely loved it.
Thanks, Marc. 🙂