After a sunny vacation in Parga, Greece, our next stop was Bruxelles, Belgium. We’re talking of a whole different kind of weather. Though it was the beginning of July, it felt more like autumn than summer to me, with winds and occasional rain. Despite the not so lovely weather, the city has a lot to offer and it is difficult to get bored there. If you ever feel you’re getting bored, just visit another museum. Fries, beer, chocolate, take your pick – they all have at least one museum. Apparently you can find over 80 museums in Bruxelles. All you need is time. And of that, I only had a handful – 4 days. Those days were all so rushed, I’m afraid my recollection of them will also feel like a rollercoaster at full speed.
This trip took place back in 2017 so it’s already a bit hazy in my mind. Luckily, the pictures we took will help freshen up my memories. This trip was also a bit different, as it was group travel. We enrolled in an Erasmus+ project involving both dance and foreign languages, so we took part in different activities, which made for less time to wander the streets. However, with my somewhat newly found appetite for travel i still wanted to see as much as possible, hence the rush.
We, of course, began by visiting the city centre, Grand-Place and its surroundings, walked up to Monts des Arts and further to the Royal Palace of Bruxelles. On the way, I stopped to visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, which was far bigger than I initially thought (I know, “that’s what she said”) and really interesting – definitely worth the visit. Besides, the building, this museum is in, looks amazing! You’ll find here instruments from all over the world and from all periods of time. For music lovers, it’s music heaven.
Returning to the city centre, we stopped by the MOOF Museum (a museum that features vintage cartoons and comic books). We didn’t go in, as it was around closing time already, but spent some quality time with the statue of the smurf guarding the entrance. It’s definitely a good place to take as many pictures as possible.
At some point, we stopped to drink flavoured beer. I think i got banana-flavoured beer, which though it might sound disgusting, was actually really tasty. If you find that curious, you’ll be interested to find out, if you didn’t already know, that Bruxelles and Belgium on the whole are very famous for their beer, whether “regular” or flavoured. The most popular flavour is cherry and you can try different types either in bars or directly in breweries, which abound in the city.
By the time we reached Grand-Place again it had started to drizzle but we kept on strolling. We took a look at the windows of the shops in the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert. Luxury shops and especially chocolateries stole my attention. The windows of the chocolateries looked so good, and cozy (in a luxurious way), I felt I could move in…I wish I could move in. Everything would steal my gaze in such a way I almost felt dizzy, going round and round, just staring at the windows like a proper lunatic.
In the evening, i got to meet my high-school desk mate – in Romania, back when i was in school, and even nowadays, in most schools, a desk had two seats and we all had a desk mate. She lives and works in Bruxelles and I was so excited about it, I almost missed the group gathering at a local brewery, after losing track of time while catching up. Luckily, I didn’t. I finally got there and tasted some beer, which, to be honest, was not as good as the one we had earlier in the day. But, i’m not a connoisseur, so don’t take my word for it.
The next day, the whole group had an arranged tour of the city, with a professional guide. I don’t remember much of the tour, to be honest, as it focused mostly on Grand Place. The guide was telling us about each building as my attention was drawn to a formation parading around, other groups of tourists bumping into us and the fact that the rain was starting to pour again. I know the guide was very nice though, and that she took us to both the “peeing boy”(Manneken Pis) and the less known “peeing girl”.
Afterwards, we had dinner with the group at a nice restaurant, where everybody (or almost everybody) had the house specialty: mussels. Just like beer, mussels are some of the stars of Belgium cuisine. I struggled, along with the others, to get all the yumminess out of the shells and enjoyed the whole thing, though it took me a while.
Third day came packed with project activities. I did, however, skip on a few of them to go to the Atomium and Mini-Europe. Had to pick just one to visit and I went for Mini-Europe. I had fun taking pictures of the different miniatures of the most representative buildings of each European country. This is a really good place to visit with children as most miniatures are interactive. After playing with the Tower of Pisa, a volcano and some toy trains, I headed over to Parc Cinquentainaire and the Military Museum, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. And, of course, could not leave Bruxelles without taking a tour of the Parlamentarium.
After a “tour de force” of visiting these places in roughly 4 hours, i finally got to join my project colleagues for a French class, where we played games, trying to guess words.
The whole trip was wrapped up with a huge intercultural party in the evening and we left for home the following morning, where i needed an extra day of vacation to recover after this packed and exciting trip.
The winter between 2016 and 2017 was rather uneventful in terms of travel, so we eagerly planned a trip to Greece at the beginning of June. We managed to drag my parents and sister along, so now my whole family was packed in the car for a very long ride. It took us 12 hours to get from Bucharest to Parga, Greece. Parga is a small town on the North-West of the country, very close to the Island of Corfu, except Parga is on the mainland, occupying a golf and the hills guarding it.
Our stay wasn’t long, but it was packed with activities. The hotel we stayed at was decent and the host, Kostas, gave us a lot of good tips for what to visit or where to eat.
We got there in the morning and so we had a full day ahead of us, which we filled with exploring the town and its beaches. To get to the main beach, we had to go through a labyrinth of tiny streets packed with souvenir shops and gyros restaurants. However, we chose to have a moussaka instead, at a restaurant near the beach and left the gyros for dinner. Near the main beach, we found a cheesecake place that had the biggest diversity I have ever seen and where we stuffed our faces with cheesecake pretty much every day.
For that day, we stuck to the town and its narrow streets. We climbed to the ruins of the Castle of Parga. It oversees the city from its spot at the top of a hill, almost like a sentinel. There’s a beautiful view of the town from up there and you can also see the large sprawling beach on the other side of the hill, the one beach we never got to visit. Not because we didn’t have time, but because, to us, it was very similar to what we had back home, so we were hoping to find something more exciting.
And that we did. The following day, we got in the car, drove for 3km and stopped at Lychnos Beach, a large golf, mostly empty, where we spent the first half of our day. What was different about this beach was that there was no sand, only rocks. Round, colourful rocks, that looked pretty, but hurt your feet. So, if you ever plan to go there, pack your watershoes too. From there, if you’re lucky, you can rent a boat or paddle boat to get to what they call Aphrodite’s cave. However, as it was a Friday and not in full season, the shop wasn’t open, so we were stuck on land. We did, however, enjoy a nice ice-cream at the beach terrace. Coming back to Parga, all sun-soaked and starving, we went straight for a gyros and some of that delicious cheesecake.
On our third day, we took a longer trip, visiting the Acheron River, the one Greeks used to refer to as the River Styx. In Greek mythology, the Styx was the river that acted as a border between the world of the living and the Underworld. The river runs through a National Park and you can even go rafting on it. Don’t worry, it’s not a dangerous business. The waters of the river, though ice cold, do not make for a bumpy ride. And I mentioned the coldness of the river, because i just had to “bathe” in the River Styx, so I dipped my feet in it just enough to have some pictures taken and just enough to have my feet frozen too.
Once my feet got back to a normal temperature, we headed to the Nekromanteion, a sort of temple built in the name of Hades and Persephone, where funerary ceremonies were performed – a House of the Dead, if you will. The writer, Rick Riordan, possibly used it as an inspiration for his novel The House of Hades. Or, well, at least I believe that’s where I first read about it, but don’t take my word for it. Anyhow, the Nekromanteion does give you the creeps a bit. After seeing some of the above ground ruins and the remnants of some huge, ancient pots, we descended into a crypt, barely illuminated and cold. Getting back up into the sunlight, sure felt safer…and warmer too.
After the brief immersion into mythology, we decided we’ve had enough of Hades and turned our attention, and car, towards a more cheerful location. And so, we lost ourselves trying to get to a secluded beach, that Kostas, our host, told us about. I’m pretty sure we drove through someone’s land and crops, though my boyfriend swears that’s not true and that the drive was ‘so much fun!’. The grass reached the car windows and there were rocks everywhere. We clearly have a very different definition of fun. However, we did manage to reach our destination and it was worth it. Our GPS announced that we arrived when we got to a sort of meadow that opened up above the sea, to a beautiful view of a small golf. After taking some pictures, we went down to the beach, called Alonaki. This one also had rocks, and these ones were not round. However, there was sand too, so you could lay down your beach towel and enjoy the view. The water was nice and most people were swimming from the beach to a huge rock in the middle of the golf. They would climb the huge rock and then jump into the water from there. It looked like a lot of fun, but since my swimming skills are next to none, I resorted to basking in the sun, taking walks from one side of the beach to the other and taking many pictures.
When we had enough of this beach and got terribly hungry, we packed and returned to Parga. There, we tried out a small family restaurant, also recommended by Kostas. The restaurant was on a tiny staircase street starting right from the seafront. The owners didn’t speak much English, but when it comes to food, I guess language becomes universal. We had some amazing dishes and I personally enjoyed some shrimp saganaki. This is a dish that contains cooked feta cheese with a red tomato sauce that can be combined with pretty much anything, hence the shrimp.
We ended our day with a walk on the seafront, taking pictures, admiring the view and avoiding the very eager Greek men trying to get you to eat at their restaurants. If you’re not hungry, you might want to walk as far away from the restaurants as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get caught up in several conversations that go more or less like this: “Hello! Welcome! Come! We have fish! Fresh fish! Best fish! Where’ you from? [insert country here] Oh, I know that! Beautiful country! You don’t have fish like this there! Come eat!”
The day before our departure, we separated, as my parents and sister decided to go to yet another beach, a tiny, hidden one in Parga. Though it was a nice, more intimate beach, my partner and I felt we’ve had our taste of beaches for the trip and drove instead to Ali Pasha Castle, or better said, the remains of a structure dating since the times of the Turkish occupation. Once we got enough of the ruins, we drove to a nearby town, called Agia, nestled on top of a mountain. There, after struggling for a bit with the steep, curvy roads, we stopped for a cappuccino at a café that offered a beautiful view over the area. The owners were great hosts that spoke, to our surprise, great English.
In the evening, we all went for dinner at a restaurant near the Castle of Parga, which was slightly more expensive than the ones situated downhill, but where the food was really good and worth its money.
Our time in Parga ended with my dad and I drooling over some delicious-looking sandwiches, that we eventually decided to get for the road. They turned out to taste as delicious as they looked, and boy, were the two of us proud. In case you’re wondering about any souvenirs we’ve brought back, I bought a rock from a little boy selling them at the market, and my parents bought a bag full of onions. I know, weird choices, but the little boy had to be encouraged in his artistic endeavours and that onion was truly amazing – no tears, almost like a Johnson’s Baby commercial.
Bottom line is: if given the opportunity, I would return. There is so much more to the region than just the beachside. You have the atmosphere, the breathtaking scenery and, of course, the food. All in all, it ended up being worth the 12-hour ride.
I remember Istanbul being one of those cities I really wanted to visit. Partly because I’ve heard so much about what an eclectic mix of cultures it is, partly because its’ location on two continents fascinated me and partly because I actually had friends in Turkey, and I was excited by the opportunity to visit them.
So, obviously, I was really looking forward to going to Istanbul in October, 2016. I was already getting the hang of making plans for itineraries and places to visit, so I felt ready. It was also a cheaper trip than the previous ones to Barcelona or Lisbon. I spent about $300 on the whole thing with round-trip plane tickets, accommodation, meals and museum entrances for 3 nights and 4 days. A bargain, really.
We stayed at a hotel that was listed as being very near Taksim square, a fact which is still competing for the top overstatement of the decade. Although the actual distance might not have been that big, the road to the square, buzzing life and subway station respectively was an everyday adventure, going through uphill streets, some construction areas and lots of traffic. However, we got over the hassle of it and started enjoying the city.
On our first day, besides inevitably visiting Taksim Square, and after a quick brunch of incredibly tasty cheese toast in the Karaköy hip neighbourhood, we went to Galata Tower, located on the European side, the somewhat more modern part of Istanbul. This is where we climbed a too long (for my taste) flight of stairs and got to see a beautiful 360-degree view of the city. The area around the tower is also very nice, with steep cobblestone streets, and brimming with colourful souvenir stores and quaint cafés.
Later on, we went to the ferry station and boarded one that presumably would take us on a tour of the Bosphorus. I’m still pretty sure that was not the case, as we only got to the Asian side of Istanbul where we were promptly ushered off the ferry and onto another one that took us straight back. Regardless, it was a pleasant and relaxing ride, after all the walking we’d done. My partner even took the opportunity to have a short nap, although he’ll probably never admit to it.
Although I carefully planned this trip with a thorough itinerary, it turned out it took us a lot less to visit different attractions and we ended up doing and seeing a lot more that day. After the ferry ride, we went on the other side of the river, the more traditional one, where we stepped into the world of mosques and palaces. We took a stroll in the park in front of the Topkapi palace and then continued with Ayasofya and Sultanahmet, two enormous, beautifully designed structures. What I most liked about them though, was the fact the we reached them in time for the afternoon prayer. Therefore, we got to hear what sounded like two prayers, one in answer of the other, blasting through the square between the two mosques. Speaking of mosques, if you plan on visiting one, make sure you are not wearing shorts or mini-skirts and, if you are a lady, have a scarf with you at all times, in case you are required to cover your head.
After enjoying this, we finally decided we’ve had enough for the day, and took the tram back to the river, where we stopped at a big, embellished boat, where fish in bread was made and served. There was a huge line and a lot of people around eating the sandwich, so it appeared to be a good idea. Wrong! Although the fish was indeed tasty, there was way too much bread, too much onion and too many bones. I gave up on eating it about halfway through the sandwich, getting tired of picking out the bones. However, it did fill me up, so, when my partner, also unsatisfied with his sandwich suggested we go on the other side of the river, where a fish market awaited just on the bank, I didn’t want to eat anything else.
Now, this fish market is an interesting place. Around it, there were several street food vendors, cooking fish and making wraps. I was wondering how safe it would be to try one of those fish wraps that smelled really good and my partner, who had visited Istanbul before and had already tried the street fish wraps assured me he kept on “being alive” after eating them. Huh, you don’t say…
However, while we were having this conversation, we saw commotion around us. All the street vendors were quickly packing, taking the tiny tables with them and running away. The police were coming. All fun and games until my partner realized the police had just left him without dinner. Or well, second dinner (or whatever the hobbits call it). Luckily, on a side street, at the back of the fish market, there was one vendor that kept his ground. He had a slightly larger work table, plenty of regular and pita bread or tortilla and not a care in the world for the police. He worked in a clean and steady way, carefully and easily de-boning the fish, adding spices and vegetables and making an amazing fish wrap with no bones, which I also tried the following day. I’ve never had a juicier wrap. Not to mention one that felt this healthy, with it’s grilled vegetables and lemon juice and the never-absent pomegranate sauce, that you can find in many turkish dishes and which I bought and brought back home to successfully use as a salad dressing.
The next day we went to the Dolmabahçe Palace. It sits on the bank of the Bosphorus and it is a large and impressive structure. Built to resemble Occidental architecture, as a way for the sultan to show off his knowledge of the world’s latest fashion, it is a mix of French architecture, British chandeliers and Turkish hammams, and, in a weird and fascinating way, it all works well together. There are guided tours only, which is nice, as you find out more about the history of the place. The courtyard was lovely and the whole visit was enjoyable and relaxing. It’s probably one of the places we spent the most time in. Once we finished visiting the entire palace, as well as the Harem, the building that held the women’s quarters, we rested on a bench, in the backyard, and watched the royal chickens (yes, they have those there) minding their royal chicken business in the beautiful and serene setting of the palace. I strongly recommend visiting this place, but do it during weekdays, as it can become crowded over the weekend.
After Dolmabahçe, we took the tram again to the other side of the river, planning to visit the Grand Bazar. I’ve already mentioned the tram a couple of times before, so I feel I should give it the full credit it deserves. I’ll begin by saying it is probably one of my favourite trams. Although crowded at all times, at least you don’t have to wait for it forever. To get to the station, you have to validate your ticket first, just like you’d do for the subway. No ticket – no access to the tramway station. There are ticket vending machines at the entrance of each station, where you can either buy tokens or top-up your card. The trip is smooth, as the tram line doesn’t mingle with the rest of the traffic. All in all, the no.1 tram in Istanbul is the no.1 tram for me. I know, puns, I’ve got them.
Anyway, the tram quickly took us to the other side of the city where we went straight into the bustling crowd of the Grand Bazar. All vendors try to sell you something. And by try, I mean almost harass you into buying something. They like to negotiate and they will not appreciate it if you don’t. If you only happen to glance over at their shop, they will immediately follow you to the end of the aisle, and try to get you back and talk you into trying out their shoes, leather jackets, dresses and so on. We spend a couple of hours in the bazaar, being taken from one stall to another by different gentlemen, who tried to convince my partner to buy a leather jacket. If they didn’t have what he wanted, they sure had a friend/brother/cousin, on the other side of the bazaar, who did. All the products were “original”, “best you will ever find” and all the vendors were “the first to make/sell” said product – again, “original”. All in all, they were nice and hospitable and offered me apple tea every time my partner was trying on a new leather jacket. It was a fun adventure and we got out of the bazaar two hours later, laughing and with no money spent.
I was keen on visiting the Basilica Cistern, which I knew was in the area of Sultanahmet, where we were the day before, but yet, I hadn’t found it. So, this time, I decided it was time to bring out the big guns. Therefore, I used my phone and Google maps, which I really don’t enjoy using while travelling, to make sure we reached our destination. The thing is, I’m more of a papermap-person. I understand we live in an age of technology, but there’s just something about holding an actual map in your actual hands that just does it for me. You know, seeing the whole picture without having to scroll or zoom in and out.
As it turned out, the Cistern wasn’t really out of sight, I just wasn’t paying enough attention the other day, being wrapped up in the calls to prayer and all. So, we found it and went down into this enormous hall, full of columns and some water too. The cistern was made to store water and it was built with construction material from ruins of ancient structures, which lead to some of its columns having huge Medusa heads at their base – which, obviously, makes for the main tourist attraction of the place. However, I enjoyed the whole place, with it’s eerie red-ish lighting, its impressive columns and its labyrinthic vastness.
Because by the end of the second day we’d already seen most of the main attractions of the city, on the third day, we decided to walk from Taksim Square to Galata Tower, on the route of the old tram. The street is more of a shopping street, full of modern clothing stores, mixed with Turkish delight shops, cafés and fast food restaurants. We stopped to eat a loaded potato, which was really tasty and really loaded. We caught the vintage tram only for a couple of photos, making a mental note of riding it the next time we are in Istanbul.
In the afternoon, we switched again to the other side of the river to meet one of the friends I mentioned in the beginning, a girl who lives on the Asian side of the city, but who took the ferry to meet us at Sultanahmet. We went to the restaurant of a nearby hotel , from which you could see a beautiful view of the city, and where I had an apple tea, except, as opposed to the ones I had in the bazar, this one I paid for. Apple tea is really nice. It’s actually instant tea with a nice apple-ish flavor. Of course, the “real” tea, is black tea and the Turkish people drink lots of it.
We also took a stroll in the Spice Bazar, which I loved for its richness of colour and flavor and for the fact that no one was pestering you to buy their pepper or cumin. Another place I really like in Istanbul is the Galata Bridge. This bridge connects what I call the “modern” side of Istanbul, that holds Galata Tower, Taksim Square and Dolmabahçe Palace to the more “traditional” side that holds the Topkapi Palace, the mosques and the Grand Bazar. What’s special about it is that it basically has two floors you can walk. The one touching the water, which is full of cafés and pastry shops and the one above, where the tram crosses the river and where fishermen are catching whatever it is they make fish wraps with. Just like the main tourist attractions, the bridge is also a crowded place and offers a beautiful view of the city on both sides.
On the fourth and final day of our trip, with not many attractions left to visit and each of us with a pair of heavily tired feet, we decided to enjoy a coffee at a quaint hidden café near Galata Tower. I couldn’t leave Istanbul without trying the famous Turkish coffee, which came in a delightful tiny china cup that was half full with coffee grounds and half with what I could actually drink. Of course, this made it very strong, more like a shot of coffee that can actually take you throughout the day, rather than a full on tall-grande-cappuccino-chai-latte-machiato-you-know-what-I-mean.
And with this shot of coffee I conclude my story of Istanbul (part I). I shall tell you all about part II in a while. In the meantime, we still have to cover stories of Greece, Belgium, Italy etc. etc. To be continued…
Have you ever heard of Pescara? If you haven’t, this story might give you an insight into this fine coastal town in Italy. If you have, I hope you’ll still enjoy the story and my view on this trip.
This story is going to be a short one. Not only because we didn’t spend too many days in Pescara, but because the days we did spend there were rather uneventful ones. We also, unfortunately, did not take many pictures…
How did we happen to go there? Well, I believe a direct flight from Bucharest was just inaugurated, so the prices were down, we’ve never heard of Pescara before, but it sounded like there should be fish* there (*in Romanian, pescar means fisherman), and since we’re fans, we figured ‘why not?’.
We landed on one of the tiniest airports I’ve ever seen and took a bus to the town center. From there, we decided to walk to the accommodation that was supposed to be somewhat close to the center. It wasn’t. Maybe it was the heat, but the walk there seemed to take forever. We walked through a neighbourhood of small apartment buildings, where laundry was hanging from everywhere and dogs were barking at us from balconies, so of course we stopped to talk to every dog along the way. Once we passed the apartment buildings, we reached some quaint streets with houses huddled together.
We finally made it to the villa and found it surrounded by a garden of lemon trees. The inside was also nice and clean and very well-kept. The lady that took care of the place didn’t speak English. Luckily, my partner surprised me and quickly charmed her with the few Italian words he knew, so we were good.
Breakfast was included and consisted of many types of pastry and espresso that we had to learn to make in a very small stovetop espresso maker that only made one espresso. Our little espresso experiment went a bit like this: we spilled some coffee, we spilled some water, we spilled some milk…there was a lot of spilling, but eventually, we did enjoy our morning espresso.
Now, for the town. Once we got past the neighbourhood of houses and the one of apartment buildings, we crossed the railway and got into what you could call the town center, taller buildings, some of them looking like business centers. Once we passed those, we reached the seafront and, eventually, the beach and the sea. Right, I forgot to mention, Pescara is a town on the Adriatic coast of Italy, about two hours east of Rome by car, in the Abruzzo region.
I really liked the seafront. It was the meeting place of young people and street performers and it had a youthful, modern, playful vibe. The beach was very large and very empty, to our surprise. Although we were in September, the weather was still warm and sunny. At least that’s how it seemed to us. The Italians had a different opinion. Very few of them were sunbathing and we saw many wearing jackets, while we were only wearing t-shirts.
We walked for a while along the seafront, until we reached a big, modern bridge that went over the river and into another part of the town. We found out that Pescara was actually formed of two different fishing villages on each side of the riverbank. We didn’t explore much of the other side, since in this trip we felt very lazy. However, I can tell you this, that side seemed to hold much more history, it had older buildings, at least one museum and pretty much no tourists in sight.
After getting tired of the bridge, we went along the riverbank and found a small gelato shop, that had one of the best ice-creams we’ve had. And many many flavours. Suffice it to say, we returned to that shop every day, I believe even twice one day.
And since we are talking about food, unfortunately for us, we didn’t find as much fish as we expected. We thought that there might be a fish market and street vendors, but we did not find such things. Instead, we did find plenty of fancy, overpriced seafood restaurants on the seafront, that we steered clear of.
But we did have to eat. So, we ended up eating at an American style restaurant. A sort of diner that served steaks, burgers, and burritos. The place was decorated in a kind of vintage style and it probably gave me the most “American” feeling I’ve ever had (up until I went to a diner in the US, that looked nothing like the one in Pescara). It was like stepping into a different universe. And then, you stepped outside, right into the Italian seaside. Made no sense, but I loved it. And the food was good too. We did eat some pasta one day, at a very pretty and tiny place that only served lunch. Now, that I remember it, I’m thinking it’s such a pity we only discovered it on our last day there.
Two other things are definitely worth mentioning. One: we did go to the beach and spent about two hours sunbathing and staring at the warm clothed Italians, who stared back at the two crazy tourists in swimsuits. In our defense, it was about 24 degrees Celsius, no wind and not one cloud in the sky.
The second one: we found the best, in my opinion, street art. An entire wall with Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, one of the cartoons I was quite fond of as a child. So, needless to say, I was very excited and asked for many photos.
All in all, our trip to Pescara was very relaxing and lazy. We found some surprising things in this town we’ve never heard of before and maybe, someday, we’ll get to explore its surroundings as well, as I’ve heard that the Abruzzo region has many beautiful places for us to visit.
The trip I took to Lisbon, Portugal was about a month after the one in Barcelona, Spain, so in July 2016. Lisbon has a warm partly Mediterranean, partly Atlantic climate, which makes July a very hot month. Luckily, there was a breeze, so I didn’t completely dehydrate.
In my last story I was telling you about the very important things you need on a trip, which I mostly skipped in Barcelona, but thankfully I was now a bit more prepared. Besides comfy shoes, I also had a plan and I decided to make use of the hop-on hop-off buses, which my feet were surely grateful for.
The hotel was in a rather central area and had a subway station just 2 minutes away. The hop-on/hop-off bus station was also there, in a big square – Marquês de Pombal. This neighbourhood looked pretty high-end and was full of hotels. There was also a huge park – Parque Eduardo VII, which was nice for a relaxing stroll.
The first day we started at Sao Jorge Castle, a castle located on top of a hill that offered a gorgeous view of the city and the sea, or better said the Rio Tejo. I will probably continue to call that river the sea forever, just because as long as I’ve been there, I was constantly under the impression that the river was the sea (I know, wishful thinking). And speaking about the castle and the hill and me trying to save my feet, I still had to climb to the top, as the bus doesn’t reach the castle, which is not a bad thing, but boy, was that a steep climb. But it was worth it, nevertheless. The view was indeed great and the castle walls were quite impressive too.
We then walked towards Praça do Comércio, a huge square that is just on the shore. At some point on our walk, I had a very good and filling lunch of soup and fish and a drink too, all for a very cheap price, my guess is it was something like 8€. Many of the local eateries are quite small and hidden from view, but if you pay close attention you’ll find some treasures. Mostly family businesses, they offer good food in big portions at good prices. Of course, you’ll stumble upon the occasional high-end restaurant, but after the experiences I had, I would definitely go for the small family-owned restaurants.
We also visited the Fado Museum, where you can learn about the history of fado music, a type of music that originated in Portugal. On another day, we had lunch there, though I don’t clearly recall when, but it’s when I had my first tuna steak ever. Despite any of my expectations, I completely fell in love with the dish and my mouth still waters, to this day, at the recollection.
On the second day, we went to Torre Belem, a very famous landmark in Lisbon. The tower is located somewhat in the water but it is reachable via a bridge. Again, we decided not to go in (long line) and only enjoyed the outside of the building which is really nice. Nearby the tower, there’s also a monument in honor of the geographical discoveries made by the Portuguese, called Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of Discoveries). It was being renovated when I was there, so only a part of it was visible. It is quite a large structure and worth seeing at least for the idea behind it.
Also nearby, there is the Jeronimo Monastery, a huge building, beautifully designed, that, guess what? Also had a huge line of excited tourists outside. We were on our way to take the bus to Cascais, so we skipped that too. I know this sounds like a lot of skipping, but after walking for a while in the heat, and seeing many monuments and museums and churches on the inside, the idea of looking at them from the outside only starts getting more and more tempting. And no, I couldn’t say I regret not entering these places, and the same goes for many future locations.
And so, we took the bus to Cascais. Cascais is famous for its beaches and is very popular among people looking for relaxation and a tan. However, neither I, nor my companion are big fans of the beach. I get sunburned easily and direct sunlight gives me severe headaches. He, on the other hand, gets easily bored and laying on the beach doing nothing is at the top of the list of boring things for him.
However, we did find something really cool there, which was Boca do Inferno. One of the most spectacular sceneries I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. A rock structure beautifully sculpted by the sea waves, named “Hell’s Mouth”, not only because of its shape but also because the place was quite dangerous for boats and ships.
After getting back from Cascais, we spent the afternoon taking a stroll through the city. We passed Elevador de Santa Justa, an old, vintage looking lift that can give you a nice panoramic view of the city. We decided not to go up, as the line to get in was huge and we did get a nice panoramic view of the city from the castle the other day, as you remember. We headed to Mercado da Ribeira, which is very similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona. A food market with many stalls where you can eat. However, the prices here seemed to be a bit higher than in other parts of the city. But it’s sure worth a visit. To get there, it’s nice to pass through the Baixa-Chiado neighborhood, one with small, uphill streets.
The following day, we decided to go to the aquarium, known as Oceanario de Lisboa, also one of the biggest in Europe. Nearby, you can also see Torre Vasco da Gama and relax your tired feet on a trip in the cable car.
A building that I really liked, although it wasn’t on my list, was the train station, which I went to on the fourth day to get on a train to Sintra.
Sintra is a town, about one hour away from Lisbon by train. For its size, Sintra has incredibly many attractions. It’s almost as if the entire town is a complex of attractions. There are several castles and museums you can visit. We limited ourselves to only two major ones, as we were planning to reach Cabo da Roca too.
Once off the train, we exited the station and got a bus to the top of the mountain, where Pena Castle is located. The castle has a lot of charm due to its lively colours and it sure is worth visiting. After this, we climbed down a bit and visited the Moors Castle, or better said, its ruins. I loved walking the walls, although by the end, I could barely breathe and I was in desperate need of water (do take plenty with you, if you decide to visit).
We got the bus back to the train station and from the same bus station, took one to Cabo da Roca. I don’t really remember how long the ride there took – must have been around one hour. The road there is quite twisted and “curvy”, but the drivers seemed to be very experienced. It was probably one of my favourite places in Portugal. The view is stunning and the thought of being at what I called the “end of the Earth” is really great. I even paid about 11 euro or so (which might sound nuts – but I was crazy excited) for a certificate with my name on it that states I was at the end of the earth. Also, for those of you who plan more time there, you can find Praya da Ursa nearby. It is a gorgeous beach with huge rocks. Be careful on the way down and get ready for a steep climb back, but other than that, it’s by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, scenery wise.
After this one-day trip, we got back to Lisbon and somewhere behind the train station, in the Baixa-Chiado neighbourhood, if I’m not mistaken, we found a street full of tables and chairs from restaurants. They were dangerously inclined, but we took a chance and had something to eat at one of the restaurants. I’ve personally haven’t thought before that, of ever eating pork and mussels in the same dish, but it was delicious!
Another cool thing you can do in Lisbon is take the tram, which climbs a hill, so it works like a funicular. You’ll see plenty of photos of that tram on the internet.
All in all, this was a really amazing trip, a bit more organized and it is definitely one of the places I would like to revisit someday.
The first time I really felt like a traveler was back in 2016, when I went to Barcelona in June. And in case you were wondering, yes, it was steaming hot. But, the sea breeze did help and even encourage me not to toss away my long-sleeved shirt. For those of you who are having trouble pinpointing Barcelona, this is a city in North-East Spain, the capital and largest city of the Catalonia region, located right on the shore of the Balearic Sea.
Now, in Catalonia, the first spoken language is Catalan and then Spanish. But fret not, everyone will understand and speak Spanish. Some will also speak English, especially the young. In case of vocabulary malfunction, turn to sign language – just point to the yummy pastry you have your eyes on and it will come to you.
Barcelona seemed to me like one of the most touristy places I have ever visited. The main reason for that was the huge amount of tourist objectives available. Another reason were the crowds, especially in the city center. And another reason was, of course, my thirst for seeing EVERYTHING.
This, obviously led to the following: by the time I’ve finished my first day, I could barely walk. The next day was even worse. Possible solutions: comfy shoes, breaks, organization and hop-on hop-off bus tickets. I only had the shoes.
Being such a greenhorn at this, I didn’t really make a plan. I only had a list of things to visit. And so, I started checking them off, one by one. First stop – Parc Guëll – not to sound Carlsberg-y, but probably, the best park in the world. Why? It’s a mix between a park and a museum. You’ve got grass and trees and flowers and houses and columns and this amazing terrace created with stones and coloured tiles, so beautifully shaped and so sea-like, I could spend the entire day there (I spent half). And if you think that’s the one you see in all the pictures #barcelona, you are precisely right. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the genius author of this place – Antoni Gaudi. Do google him.
Next on my list were the two famous houses, by the above-mentioned artist and architect. Casa Battlo and La Pedrera. Now, I’ve only entered La Pedrera. The reasoning went like this: I took some pictures of the front of the Casa Battlo, which by the way is by far one of the most impressive structures I’ve seen and while taking pictures, I kept hearing the house is the same on the inside and you’re not seeing anything new. Now, keep in mind that might be wrong, so if you have decided to visit this museum, by all means, do it. There was also another reason for me missing Battlo, which was the ticket price. I was on a low budget and I can tell you museums in Barcelona are not making it easy for you to keep to your budget. The same goes for food. I had a lot of sandwiches there ☺)
So, skipping Battlo, I decided to visit La Pedrera and I was not sorry. Although not as impressive on the outside, the roof of the building is quite an attraction and the ventilation system is really smart. In the exhibition, you could also see Gaudi’s thought process behind his creations, including a simple mock-up of the Sagrada Familia. That might not seem like a big deal but it was one of the things that really struck me and will stay in my mind forever. Not to give spoilers, but it was upside down and mirrors were involved.
Another place I managed to visit, one which seems to be regularly overlooked by tourists, is Palau de la Musica Catalana, a music hall of great architecture and beautiful sound. I visited it as a museum, but you can also buy tickets to see shows there.
Besides different museums, this is a beautiful city to just have a stroll in. The most famous streets are Avinguda Diagonal and Las Ramblas. Here is the heart of the city. The biggest crowd, the most cafés and shops, and the quaint but buzzing La Boqueria – a food market where you can both buy produce and have lunch or dinner. If you go further towards the sea, you’ll also find the Barcelona Cathedral, a gothic structure, as well as Santa Maria del Mar, recently made famous by the novel and now tv-series Cathedral of the Sea.
And, if you get to the sea, you can visit the Maritime Museum, see the harbor and visit the aquarium which is one of the largest in Europe.
In a different part of the city, there is Plaza d’España, where you can find the Magic Fountains. Why “magic”? Because at night, for about one hour or so, they light up in colours and music accompanies them in their water choreography. So, yes, quite magic. But expect huge crowds and lots of hands in the air carrying phones and cameras.
There is also a castle in Barcelona, called Montjuïc. I have never managed to pronounce it correctly, but regardless of the name, it is worth visiting. It’s located on a hill and you can take a cable car there, called “teleférico”. To get to the top of the hill, you can also take the funicular, a sort of train that climbs up the hill.
One day, I also took a short trip to Montserrat. This is an impressive mountain, home to an equally impressive Monastery. Needless to say, the view from the top is amazing. It takes about two hours to get there from Barcelona and there’s another funicular there.
Now, I must admit, I’ve been a very touristy tourist and focused on seeing as many things as possible and forgot about doing things and experiencing the Catalan culture, as I should have. I was young and disorganized and completely in awe with this great city and especially its architecture.
But bear with me through my other stories. I promise it gets better 😉