Travel challenge trip 4: Portugal and Spain

“For the born traveller, travelling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim’s time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort” – Aldous Huxley

Going to Porto for Easter has been on my to do list for the past five years, but other trips and plans have always deferred it, so when setting my travel challenge I knew Portugal and specifically Porto were going to be visited.

I conveniently forgot that I booked a 7am flight, so had to get up at 3:30am in order to get to the airport on time. In typical me style I ended up with lots of plans the day before, so by the time I had sorted everything, packed, dyed my hair pink and hosted a dinner party I barely managed three hours sleep before I was up and running again. Coffee, adrenaline and the warm sun that greeted me in Porto powered me through my first day. I ended up walking for hours and seeing so many  sites without feeling like I was rushing or flagging.

Porto was an absolute dream, I wandered the sun drenched streets with ease popping into cool cafes like Cubik and felt so relaxed and comfortable in this city. For me it has many parallels with Brighton, everywhere feels walkable and there is a very independent spirit in the city. There are so many things to see in Porto I went to Sé Do cathedralSão Bento, Rue de Santa Catarina, Palacio de Cristal, Livraria Lello, Casa da MusicaMercado do Bolhão. and many more.

I’m always curious to try new activities and when I saw my hostel advertising a surf class for just €20 I knew I had to give it a go. I went to Onda Pura surf school, this is a great place to try surfing with experienced instructors and small waves to learn on. I achieved my goal of standing up and although knackered by the end of the session I was definitely keen for more.

I have to be honest; Lisbon was a nightmare from start to finish. I arrived late at night much later than expected, got lost, had to stay in a couple of different hostels due to no availability anywhere and got horrendous food poisoning which left me stranded and being sick in a bus station having to get help from a homeless Argentinean man. I visited Belem and that was it, met no one and saw no other sights other than the ceiling and floor of the hostel and to be honest I was happy to leave. I have heard many good things about this city, but on this occasion things just did not fit together.

After an 8 hour overnight bus fuelled by prescription drugs and willpower I arrived in Madrid. The main purpose of my time here was to complete a week long intensive language course in preparation for my Spanish A2 DELE test. I studied at International House, who I know to be a reputable School with small class room sizes and a good teaching style as I studied with them in Valencia a few years ago. I found the classes really tiring at first for a couple of reasons; I’m not used to Spanish classes for four hours at a time with no English explanation and my body was still recovering from the food poisoning. But I took it super easy with lots of siestas and allowed myself to slow down and take in the language and although I wasn’t learning lots of new material I practiced and solidified my current language skills in a more intense and challenging environment.

The weekend after the course finished I was able to explore Madrid without feeling guilty about not studying, so I took the opportunity to visit the Reina Sofia museum I spent several hours here exploring all of the floors and seeing powerful, beautiful and thought-provoking art, photography and installation pieces. My favourite painting in the museum was Tertulia (The Gathering) by Ángeles Santos, this picture draws me in every time I look at it, there is so much going on, unsaid and assumed, each time I view it I have new questions and thoughts about what it means.

Before I visited Madrid the first attraction I ever heard of there was Buen Retiro Park, so I knew I had to visit and get the obligatory photo in front of the Monument to Alfonso XII.  See below for my take on it.

I decided to force myself out of my comfort zone while on this trip and go to an intercambio (language exchange) I generally hate these and they tend to make me question my language skills rather than refine them. But with improvement and practice in mind I headed to Madrid Babel hosted in a bar near the Ópera metro station. To be honest I’m still to be convinced by these, but I did meet some lovely people who I arranged to meet later in my trip, so some gains were made. José took me out in Malasaña (so much fun) and explained to me why Spanish people are generally divided by the films of Almodóvar.

I went for cocktails and lunch with Mariette and her sister and friends we had a great afternoon chatting about everything from love to our hopes and dreams for the future. I absolutely love having these kind of deep and inspiring conversations with strangers who become friends as the drinks pass and you understand more about each other.

This is the longest trip I have taken for the challenge so far and the first time I have moved between different cities and countries. That alone is tiring enough minus the getting sick part, but I powered through. Location-wise I loved Porto, mainly as it reminded me of Brighton. For me Madrid was amazing as it’s been two years since I visited Spain and to be at a point where I can communicate and understand is so morale boosting. I think another Spanish speaking trip has to be on the agenda before this challenge ends.

Next stop: Helsinki.

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