It's been three weeks since I flew home from Europe and I can honestly say I've been bitten by the travel bug. Even after contracting the flu on my solo-two day journey home. This trip included many firsts. From my first transatlantic flight, to my first time eating octopus (it was delicious!), to my first girls trip—Spain and Portugal did not disappoint.
You know, it's funny how small the world seems when you leave your comfort zone. Even though customs were different (took a few meals to get used to asking for the check—"La quinta por favor"), visiting a different country where I didn't speak the local language didn't feel all that foreign. Every day was a new adventure. New flavors, new words, new sites. I embraced it all.
I meet up with my college roommate Justine and her partner Benoit in Barcelona. Having experienced travelers as tour guides gave me the peace of mind I needed on my first international journey as an adult. And anytime my anxiety spiked—sangria came to the rescue! We stayed at an Airbnb in El Borne—my favorite neighborhood in the city. There was charming alleyways, cute shops, and fresh filling food all within walking distance. And the tapas! I feel fast for the tapas, which were all over town, but the best were in Borne (check out Cal Pep and El Xampanyet for local approved bites). But—for me—the best part of Barcelona was Gaudi. From Park Guell to Casa Batllo to Sagrada Familia, each architectural wonder filled my inspiration tank and left me speechless and shutter snap happy.
After Barcelona, Benoit flew home and Justine and I took the high speed train to Sevilla. Only first class tickets were left and let me tell you, traveling first class on a train is worth it. Think warm towels, leg room, fresh free food, and complimentary drinks (alcohol included) all for the price of a cheap coach flight. When we got off the train, the heat hit us hard! It was humid in Barcelona, but it was blistering hot in Sevilla. We ate dinner at El Rinconcillo—an old school tapas bar—where I got my first taste of Iberian acorn fed ham and now I'm addicted. This is where Justine pointed out that most classic restaurants in Europe exclusively employ male servers. Only the newer farm to table restaurants employed a young diverse wait staff. After wandering the cobblestone streets, we explored the Royal Alcazar— a Spanish palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings—also known as the set of Dorne in Game of Thrones. That in and of itself was enough to make me fan girl. The ancient architecture was just the icing on the Dornish cake.
For our last leg of the trip, we crossed the border to Lisbon, Portugal. Apparently some folks affectionately refer to Lisbon as the San Francisco of Europe since they both are hill heavy, fault line centered port cities with near identical bridges (ie. blend the Golden Gate's infamous red paint with the Bay Bridge's X shaped suspension pillars and you've got Lisbon's 25 de Abril bridge—designed and built by the same company that made the original Bay Bridge). Lisbon Highlights included hand painted ceramic tile adorned century old apartments, slick mosaic Portuguese pavement that I surfed on in leather soled shoes, stelar seafood (our top spot was Taberna Da Rua Das Flores where they read the menu to you off of a chalkboard), and the local Flea Market Feira de Ladra which has been in the same location, bi-weekly for four centuries. We lucked out booking a central hostel just two blocks from the Santa Justa lift— the only remaining vertical elevator in the city completed in 1902 connecting the lower streets in Baxia to the Carmo Square neighborhood.
Every stop on our trip brought new adventures and insights. I learned to embrace the unknown, to push through to the top of each hill (and let me tell you—there were lot of them!), and even attempted to overcome my odd aversion to sweat. But the most important lesson that I learned on my trip—I'm stronger than I know. I can take on the world! One transatlantic flight at a time (barf bag included).