Palacios en Portugal – Palaces in Portugal

My weekend in Lisbon marked my fourth weekend of traveling in a row. I was tired from the past month’s nonstop adventures, but was ready to explore another city. We stepped out of the Lisbon airportPraça do Comércio/Arco da Rua Augusta - 2/27/15 and felt like we were transported to a summery vacation destination with the city’s sun, palm trees and sea salty air.

We then cabbed to our perfect hostel, Traveller’s House, but were disappointed when we found out from that we were overcharged on our taxi fare by about 15 €. Taxi drivers everywhere just love ripping off Americans. Our hostel was located on the street that ends at Traditional Portuguese custard tarts in Belém - 2/27/15the Arco de Rua Augusta, the entrance to Lisbon’s main plaza, Praça do Comércio.

From the plaza we hopped on the metro and headed to Belém where we saw the monastery and towers and walked along the waterfront. Belém is also known for its egg custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém. For 1,05€ we each enjoyed a warm, gooey tart sprinkled with cinnamon and powered sugar.

Park Rooftop Bar at sunset in Lisbon - 2/27/15Back in Lisbon, Sofia, Alayna and I headed to Park, the roof of a parking structure that’s been converted into a bar and restaurant. We watched the gold sun set over the water and Lisbon. The view was great, but the service was not. The menu’s carrot soup tickled my fancy so I asked our server for a bowl to which she replied, “no one likes carrot soup so we don’t have it.” We then asked for some olives, which they also “didn’t have”. We asked if there was literally any food in the restaurant and she said no. Really? Not true! We went inside where we were served olives and soup!

My friend Teddy is also a USC tour guide and is studying in Lisbon this semester. He and some of his friends joined us at Park and dinner at our hostel, too. Traveller’s House had an indoor barbecue of sorts where they prepared an assortment of Portuguese chorizo, cheese and bread with unlimited wine.

We mingled with friendly hostel guests (no Bernard-types here). Sofia and I chatted with two nice English lads who were on holiday in Lisbon (translation: we talked to two English guys who were spending some of their vacation days in Lisbon). They were so fun and friendly. I did my English accent for them and they said it was “smashing”. Well they didn’t say that term exactly, but they did say it was very convincing.

Queijadas de Sintra bakery established in 1756 in Sintra - 2/28/15

The next morning began with breakfast at the hostel followed by a train to Sintra, a fairytale town outside of Lisbon known for its 19th century architecture. We popped into Fábrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa, a bakery that has been family owned since 1756. We sampled the house specialty, the queijada, a tasty tartlet filled with egg, sugar, cinnamon and cheese.

It was then onto Quinta da Regaleira, a romantic palace situated on acres of winding gardens, grottos and wells. The fog was rolling in, but it added to the mystique of the property.

Foggy day at Palacio Pena with Sofia and Alayna at Palacio Pena - 2/28/15

I promise we are on the top of the mountain and a forest of trees is beneath us.

After lunch, the fog really made itself known. We still wanted to see Sintra’s main attraction, the Pena National Palace, that is known for its candy colored palace walls and amazing views. We took a bus up the mountain to the palace and literally drove into a giant, thick, grey cloud. When the bus stopped, we figured we were at the top, but with all the fog, who really knows.

The colorful walls of the palace were so muted behind the fog that I had to close my eyes to envision what the palace might look like on a clear day. Here is the best picture I could take compared to one from Google:

Fog over the Palacio Pena


Palacio Pena on a sunny day (from a helicopter)

For dinner in Lisbon we Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon for dinner - 2/28/15went to Mercado da Ribeira, a large indoor market with every kind of cuisine imaginable. We walked around the perimeter of the market at least twice before deciding on what we wanted. So many choices!

The next day our flight was in the late morning so it was a get up and go kind of morning. We had just enough time for breakfast and to bid farewell to the staff and our new English friends.

Back at school, my friends asked how I enjoyed my time in Lisbon. I felt like  I could not so much answer that, but felt better replying that I enjoyed Portugal. We did a lot in a short amount of time, but little of it was in Lisbon itself. Belém and Sintra were great for exploring, but they took time away from seeing Lisbon. It was another incredible city and I would love to return to properly explore it.


Vamonos a Valencia – Let’s Go to Valencia

Please excuse my delay in publishing this DSCN0409post, but here it is! Two weeks ago my program spent the weekend in Valencia. It was a viaje organized through USC and they pulled out all the stops. We made the 357.4 km journey in less than two hours thanks to Spain’s high-speed tren. Upon arrival, we were greeted by sunshine, warm weather and palm trees. Seeing palm trees in Spain felt so out of place, but yet so familiar as they reminded me of home.

We dropped our luggage off at the hotel then quickly headed out on a visita guiada of the historic city center that ended at a restaurant where we enjoyed a five-course lunch. And I haven’t  been hungry ever since! No, that’s not true, but it was sure was scrumptious!

Our itinerary left us with the tarde libre, so many of us followed our inner Californians and headed to la playa. Valencia has a beautiful coastline. We dipped our toes in the water and took plenty of pictures on the sand until the sun went down.

That evening some of my gal pals and I found a cozy Italian place for dinner. While other friends later explored Valencia’s nightlife, I explored my four star hotel’s baño where I took a heavenly bubblebath. WOW!

DSCN0462The next morning began with great promise. The hotel breakfast buffet put us all in a good mood, however, that quickly changed. We were told we would be going to an ecological park. OK, that sounds interesting, right? Wrong. The parque ecológico, or Albufera, for lack of a better term, was a swampy, brown lagoon with little to see. We did get the treat of touring the Albufera on a boat, but I would be lying if the likelihood of our barco capsizing didn’t cross my mind.

The afternoon continued with a stop at an eel farm and a boat making workshop… Naturally our spirits picked up at lunch. Paella, the famed Spanish dish, is a Valencian speciality. However, still a little bitter and confused from the disappointing tour of the Albufera, I had little motivation to do much more that day.

Our last day in Valencia ended on a high note. We headed to the futuristic La Ciudad de las Artes y Las CienciasWe started in L’Hemisfèric, the planetarium, where we watched an IMAX presentation about the lifecycle of las estrellas (wearing fabulous head gear). I haven’t seen an IMAX show since elementary school and also haven’t been to an aquarium since then either, but we did that, too. We visited L’Oceanogràfic, which is Europe’s largest aquarium. We saw pingüinos, delfines, ballenas, peces, morsas and more!

To make a memorable weekend evenIMG_5303 better, I had lunch with one of my best friends from high school, Michael. He is studying in Valencia this semester. We were compañeros de clase in many high school Spanish classes, so it was surreal for us to be hanging out in Spain almost six years after our first class together!

Valencia was a lovely city, rich with culture and color. It was unique with its blend of old and new: old found in the medieval city center and new in the ultra-modern Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Though the Albufera was not a highlight for me, the hotel, bubblebath, aquarium and visit with one of my closest friends more than made up for it. Thanks, USC, for a great weekend.

¿Qué He Estado Haciendo? – What Have I Been Up To?

When I’m not traveling, my day-to-day life does not vary all that much from my day-to-day existence in Los Angeles. However, in between classes, studying, meals at home with Gloria and the other regular happenings of a college student in Spain or America, I do have the fortune of some unique weekday experiences thanks to the USC Madrid program:

Visit to La Residencia de Estudiantes:

Located within walking distance from my school, this quaint quasi-campus was where many famous 20th century artistas, científicos and other personas creativas studied and collaborated. Federico García Lorca, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel all lived at La Residencia at the same time during the early 1900s. We peered into Lorca’s dorm room decorated with many original items and it’s about the same size as mine in my home stay!

Today La Residencia is property of Spain and is open to tours. Post-graduate students whose studies involve Spain can also apply to live there as they complete their research.

Tour of Museo Sorolla:

Also nearby my school  is Museo Sorolla. Joaquín Sorolla, an impressionist painter originally from Valencia, later took up residence in Madrid. His home and studio have since been converted into a museum featuring hundreds of his paintings from his prolific career. Some of the rooms, including his taller, complete with original canvases, easels and paintbrushes, have been preserved in their original states, while other rooms are now galleries. It’s a beautiful museum featuring works of breezy seascapes and intimate moments of his family. I highly recommend it!

Another Trip to the Teatro:

In my latest trip to el teatro, my class saw La piedra oscura: a one hour performance with just two actors that told the story of the last few hours  of Rafael Rodríguez Rapún’s life. Rapún, García Lorca’s last known amante, was executed by Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. It was an incredibly emotional performance put on by el Centro Dramático Nacional.

Between these recent events, I’m feeling quite cultured! On the immediate horizon we have a visit to el Museo Arqueológico and are going to a live flamenco show. I’m also hoping to get to Las Ventas to see a bullfight when the season begins later this month.