When I stepped through the automatic doors of the airport in Lisbon, (or Lisboa, pronounced Leesh-boa, to the locals!) I knew that a trip of a lifetime was about to begin. I had arrived in Portugal with a group of students from my school, and our history teacher/chaperone. We were going on a 12 day tour of Portugal and Spain with a company called EF Tours (eftours.com). We were greeted by an EF Tours rep, who took us to our hotel in Portugal. You can find the link to the Sana Hotel in Lisboa here. Once there, we met out tour guide Bruno, who would stay with us for the whole trip.
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The hotel was beautiful! It was in an AMAZING location! The train runs across the street directly into the city/central square. The beach is within a five minute walk, and there are many local bars and restauraunts that we could watch the games of the EuroCup at! We didn't have to go far, though, because the hotel showed them in the lobby each night. There is honestly nothing in the U.S.A. that compares to winning the EuroCup. Our room overlooked a street, and when Portugal won their first game, everyone went crazy! People were driving around honking their horns, throwing firecrackers, waving flags, and dancing in the streets! If you think the Super Bowl is big, you obviously have never experienced the thrill of winning a single game in the EuroCup. After a solid hour of screaming on the balcony, we tucked into our beds with raspy voices and a handful of memories from one of our first nights in Portugal.
The next morning we woke up early to begin exploring. Bruno introduced us to our local guide, Rafaella. She was an expert in the field of all things Lisboa had to offer. We began our trip at the Santa Maria de Belem. It was a beautiful monument right on the water! It also shares a name with Pasteis de Belem, a delcious custard pastry. I suggest adding cinnamon on top to make it taste even better! After visiting the Lisbon Catedral, (By the way, you can get married in one of the many beautiful catedrals in Portugal for the same price as a regular church!) we saw the "Pink Palace", which is kind of like Portugal's version of the U.S.'s White House. We spent the next few days exploring Lisboa, which is a city center unlike anything I'd ever seen in the States! Street performers and human statues with elaborate costumes put on a show in hopes of earning a few Euros.
We then left for Algarve, and, in my opinion, this place should be put on everybody's "Places To See Before I Die" list. The view was straight off of a computer screen's preset background. It was so breathtaking! After Algarve, our travels took us to the Alhambra Palace in Granada. We took a walking tour of the lovely palace, Beautiful gardens and fountains were abundant! Later that night, we went to a gypsy flamenco club for a show. I was extremely thrilled about this, since I was an avid viewer of "My Big Fat Gyspy Wedding" back home. The club was called La Cueva de La Rocio, and was in the side of a rock! Afterwards, we saw the Alhambra Palace at night, another fabulous view!
Finally, we were headed to our last stop, Barcelona! We saw La Sagrada Familia, and places where the Cheetah Girls shot scenes for their second movie, which we were all excited about, even as high school students. Afterwards, we walked through the city's open air market, and drank from the Font de Canaletes! The Font de Canaletes is a small fountain tucked off to the side of Barcelona's main strip. Legend has it that if you sip from the fountain, your return to Barcelona is guarenteed! We had satisfied our thirst, but were still very hungry. We opted to pass the Subway and Burger King chains, and instead used our new favorite travel rule when picking a place to eat: Turn right. Turn right. Turn left. Take the next side street you spot. This was how we found lunch when we were exploring in our smaller groups without our chaperones. We found restauraunts far off from the main strip and away from the other tourists. My favorite restauraunt that we found using this technique was in Barcelona, and it was called Elisabet's. The menus were all in Spanish, and being a fourth year Spanish student back home, I jumped at the challenge of decoding the foreign writing. (Although I had tried my Spanish out on several waiters, locals, and cashiers throughout the trip! ) Upon finding out we were Americans, the waitress chuckled and tried her best to speak English. The food was delicious and authentic. I had rabbit, which is a favorite food of the people of Spain. That night, Spain was set to play Portugal. We watched the game in the bar of our hotel with the bar tender and waitresses as they cleaned up after the dinner rush. They were so nice and warm, traits I found in many of the locals in Spain when trying to speak their language or asking for directions. We felt like lucky charms, because everywhere we went, the country won! The reaction in Spain was just as huge as in Portugal, and it made our last night memorable, to say the least. I had never been a huge fan of soccer, but after seeing the love these people have for their country, I bought a Lionel Messi jersey and keep up with the games here at home. We departed the next morning to Barcelona airport, boarded our flight, and went home.
Europe on its own is fantastic, but Europe during the EuroCup is even better! The lifestyle over there is so different than here in the United States. People are focused on enjoying life, and living each day to the fullest. This trip has inspired me to study abroad in Europe in two years once I'm in college. I had an amazing experience and I can't wait to travel some more! This trip has been eye opening, and has encouraged me to work hard in school, keep my grades up, and eventually get back to Europe!
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