Weekend of Oct. 3-5: Exploring in and around Sevilla

On Friday the 3rd, Lauren and Kiana (two other girls in my program) and I headed to Matalascañas (yes, you may have heard me mention this beach before!) Matalascañas is a beach that is a quick one-hour bus-ride away and is absolutely beautiful. It also has this very old ruin that is just chilling about a meter out in the water (it’s illegal to go near it, but all the Matalascañas tourism things picture this ex-building on it!) Unknown-2

Anyway, Lauren, Kiana and I arrived at the beach after a bit more than an hour on the bus (it turns out the bus doesn’t go non-stop on weekdays). However, it was even more amazing than last time because the beach was almost completely empty! Without exaggerating, I think there must have been between 1,500 and 2,000 people on this maybe one-mile long strip of beach when we went on that first Saturday that we were in Sevilla (back in September). Today, however, there were maybe 100 people.

And today turned out to be one of my favorite days in a long time, simply because I didn’t have to do anything. That’s right, I just slept and read a bit by the beach, ate some lunch, went swimming and all was well with the world.

On Saturday, Lauren, Naomi and I had a lovely picnic lunch in Parque Maria Luisa (a pretty big park in the middle of Sevilla). After that, we walked around the park a bit and also wandered into some museums.

On Sunday, I had signed up for another CIEE excursion (my study abroad program, CIEE, has this great offering of things to do in and around Sevilla that you simply have to sign up for and get to go on, for free!) On Sunday we headed to Carmona, a little town about 45 minutes northeast of Sevilla.

In Carmona, of the coolest (both literally and figuratively) things we got to do was climb down a ladder into an old Roman burial site. The site itself was pretty anticlimactic (it was essentially an underground room, but everything that was once inside it had been removed) but it was a very interesting feeling getting to go under the earth. We looked at a few more ruins and burial sites and then headed into the accompanying museum for a bit.

We then walked into town, where we were given free time (which, in case you don’t know me, basically means “snack time.”) Lauren, Naomi and I walked into a lovely looking “Creperie” and I had THE most delicious Nutella-filled crepe. I had a brief moment to chat with the owner and she assured me that these were “authentic” crepes, since she had studied gastronomy for three years in France before opening her café in Carmona.

Once the snack break was done, we headed into an Alcazar/Palace-type building. Well, more like we headed up the building. Each level we climbed gave way to more and more impressive views of the Cathedral and surrounding city. At one point, as we looked below, we first heard a lot of commotion and excitement and shortly thereafter saw a bike race barreling through the (relatively narrow!) streets below.

Later we headed back to Sevilla and I was able to attend a special mass. The church around the corner from my house is called Parroquia San Roque and was under construction when I first arrived in Sevilla. It’s been open for a few weeks now, but on Sunday, the archbishop was celebrating an official opening mass (and the church was PACKED). It was a very special and fancy experience and was a great way to end a relatively tranquil weekend at home in Sevilla (and some surrounding towns).

Portugal Weekend (26-28 Sept.)

Around 4:15pm one random Monday, something flashed across my Facebook screen – Portugal trip, ½ off, 5 spots only! This trip had been on my mind for a while, but the 99-euro price tag made me hesitate for quite some time. This time (for once) my hesitation paid off (ok I’ll stop with the puns) and I quickly snatched up one of the five trips for less than the cost of one of the textbooks for my university courses. My friend (and freshman year hall-mate) Sarah was also able to snag one of the five ½-off spots.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to Portugal with a tour group – I had no idea how large the group was going to be, I was worried I’d be speaking in English the whole time, and I wasn’t sure how safe and/or how much fun we’d really be having. Classic Julia, I worried a lot, and everything was fine. No, everything was pretty close to perfect (mainly thanks to great weather!)

First of all, we were a small group – only about 35 students (the weekend after ours, however, looked like it was about 70 students in two busses!) While I did speak a bit of English, there were also some ERASMUS students (i.e. students from other European countries who are studying abroad in Spain for the semester or year). For example, a bunch of girls from France didn’t speak English very well, so it was actually easier to converse with them in Spanish!

We traveled via bus into Portugal with literally zero fanfare. Here I was thinking I’d get a lovely Portugal stamp in my passport (and that we’d be stopped at the border for half an hour while everyone’s passport got checked) but I literally slept through the Spain-Portugal border crossing.

We then arrived at our hotel and it was GREAT. Sarah and I had our own room, and not only did it have two beds and a bathroom, but it also had a private patio, a FULLY-STOCKED kitchen (plates, utensils, pots/pans, etc.), a TV and a fridge. After we unpacked, we took a five minute walk and arrived at our first beach of the trip. The water was actually pretty cold for late September, but someone told me that that was because Portugal doesn’t get to benefit from the Jetstream – they receive water/currents from the artic instead. Regardless, it was a great afternoon swimming (a little) and playing games on the beach.

Next up was our boat rides. Yes, plural! The first one was on a “pirate ship” which really was a sailboat with some pirate costumes. We got to jump off the boat into the water and I think there was coral underneath us (though it was a little far to see sans-goggles!) After that, we headed onto a speedboat to look at (and go through) caves all along the cost of Portugal. I’m not kidding when I say I think we covered at least 1/3 of the southern coast of Portugal – we were FLYING in this boat, and it was such an exhilarating feeling watching the shore (and caves) pass by.

After that, Sarah and I ate at a nice diner-like place and were later joined by some of the French students. We then went back home, took a little nap and then headed out for the night. We went to three different clubs and they were actually pretty fun.

The next day we had breakfast in our room (we had bought stuff the night before) and headed to Sagres, which earned the nickname “the end of the world” since it was the most south-western point in all of Europe. There were gorgeous views as well as a lighthouse from this rocky spit of land, which reminded me a lot of the “other” end of the world I visited in Cape Town two summers ago.

We then headed to Doña Ana beach, one of the most popular in Portugal. The skies were grey and the water was a bit chilly, so Sarah, our friend Patrick and I decided to walk along the dunes/cliffs. We were able to see some gorgeous views and came down and had lunch right as it started raining. Soon the sun was back out, and I went straight into the water. This time (unlike the beach from the previous day) there were actually some pretty big waves and had the best time swimming in the water.

As the tide came in, a certain large rock seemed like a (relatively) safe thing to jump off of – and so Patrick, Maddy and I decided to do just that. It was a wee bit terrifying climbing up (there was only a rope to hold on to) but we all made it and proceeded to jump into the water one by one.

After that we swam a bit away from the crowded beach and came to a different beach that you can only access from the water (i.e. you can’t walk along the shore to get to this beach!) We lay on the sand, trying to warm ourselves and eventually took off towards the end of this beach towards some more caves. It’s pretty hard to explain how awesome these caves were, but after quite a bit more climbing, we came to the most secluded beach – we were essentially surrounded by 360 degrees of rocks, except for one little opening where water was washing up onto this beach. Although I have no photographs of the experience, it’s one of those things that will stay in my mind for quite some time.

After swimming back to the shore where the rest of our group was, soon it was time to go to Punto de Piedad. Here we encountered another lighthouse and a set of probably 200 or 300 stairs leading down to the level of the sea. There was also a little trail you could take to essentially get to 270 degrees of stunning water views. We had a little time to explore the town center and have dinner, and then headed out again for the night.

On Sunday, we went to the Playa de Albufeira, which was yet another stunning beach. Sarah and I had a nice chat while swimming/wading in the water. We then climbed this tower at the end of the beach, and had lunch at a GORGEOUS waterfront restaurant, situated at the top of the cliffs. After that, we headed back to Sevilla, thus completing one of the best weekends of the year for me!