I have been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in the past four years, but I have never traveled somewhere completely by myself. With the cast of RENT singing in my head, I realized that there truly was no day but today.
For a bit of context, I had signed up for a company called Discover Excursion’s email listserv and they informed me that I had won a free trip to Portugal. Not one to say no to anything free (and definitely not one to say no to free travel), as soon as I was able to secure an apartment in Madrid, I decided to book this trip for the upcoming weekend.
The only “problem” was that the trip left from Sevilla. And by “problem”, I mean “amazing excuse to go spend time in Sevilla, my favorite city in the world”. I took the train down on Thursday morning and, after dropping my bags at the hostel (since my host mom was still away on her cruise, so I couldn’t stay with her!) I was able to explore the city on my own.
I’ve had many conversations with people in the past few months about what “home” means to them. The general consensus among my recent-alumni friends is that while Harvard was most definitely our home for the past four years (and particularly our home during our senior year – looking at you, 6th floor Quincy seniors) at the current moment it definitely is not our home anymore. I refer to Madrid as my “home” now, but emotionally it doesn’t feel like home…yet.
As soon as I stepped out of the Santa Justa train station in Sevilla, however, I truly felt like I was back home. This feeling became stronger and stronger as I navigated the busses to my hostel, rented a bike (which is what I used to do all the time when I was studying abroad) and wandered around the Universidad de Sevilla and the amazing Cathedral. I went to Tabernas Coloniales for dinner and finished the day eating ice cream from Rayas underneath the “mushroom” building – the only modern architecture building in the middle of this history-filled city.
The next day, I had two fortuitous events happen to me before I even left for Portugal. First, I was crossing the street while wearing my Delta Gamma fanny pack and ran into two DGs who are also studying abroad in Madrid, but had taken a train down yesterday to go on this trip to Portugal!
And then I just happened to strike up a conversation with a girl named Carol. Carol, like me, had won this trip to Lagos. Like me, she was a CIEE auxiliar in Madrid (but that’s not too remarkable since there are over 500 of us!) The most serendipitous part was that Carol will be working at the same bilingual high school as me! Carol and I really hit it off and ended up going to dinner both nights together and chatting till the early morning about our lives, our anticipation for this upcoming year, and our goals for our time in Spain.
The Lagos trip was wonderful – definitely a bit more geared towards college-aged students, but fun regardless. Highlights included learning how to surf, going kayaking and snorkeling in the beautiful grottos cut out from the rock formations along the coast, and watching the sunset from Sagres, the “end of the world” (the most southwestern point of continental Europe).
On Sunday, instead of heading back to Sevilla with the rest of the group, I caught a bus up to Lisbon. I spent two nights in a phenomenal hostel called Yes! Hostel. Not only was Yes! centrally located, but it also was clean, safe, and had wonderful, energetic staff members.
During my first day, I went on the free walking tour that the hostel offered throughout (what seemed like all of) Lisbon. After that, I decided to go to the aquarium. I love absolutely aquariums (case in point: I once got out of a job interview in Seattle early, and decided to spend the majority of the rest of my free day at the Seattle aquarium). The Lisbon aquarium did not disappoint – I wandered from room to room, looking at exhibits depicting all of the major oceans and their surrounding habitats. I completely lost track of time and was shocked when, three hours later, they announced that the aquarium was closing!
I then headed back to the hostel for an amazing dinner. Knowing literally no one, I timidly sat down next a group of Australians and ended up having such a blast talking to them about their travels, my time at Harvard, and what they had planned for the next few weeks. In the end, they even persuaded me to do the hostel-sponsored pub-crawl around Lisbon with them!
The next day, I went to the Jerónimos monastery. This beautiful building consisted of a museum, a cathedral and a gorgeous outdoor courtyard surrounded by stunning architecture. I then wandered down the river to the Torre de Belém – a tower that I would describe as a precursor to the modern lighthouse. It was an interesting climb up the 93 cramped, winding steps, but it was worth it for the beautiful views of the Tagus River and the rest of Lisbon.
I then took a night bus home to Madrid (which took about 8 hours, and during which I got no sleep, but that didn’t really matter since I was able to sleep from 6am-noon on the day that I returned to Madrid!)
TGT: 1) amazing day in Sevilla visiting all of my favorite sights and restaurants 2) delicious and entertaining dinner at Yes! Hostel 3) exploring around Lisbon
Until next time,