Monday, 25 November 2013

Lisboa, Portugal: Portugal Take 2

After a Bla Bla Car from Mérida with Portuguese and Brazilian guys that drove from Madrid and picked me up along the way I was in Lisboa. I arrived at 1am Portuguese time (2am in Spain), incredibly tired and with no accommodation. I found the address of a hostel and walked in at 1:30am, I grabbed a bed for 2 nights.

Why do I always show up in cities and walk into hostels without booking online? Many reasons!
1. It keeps my plans fully flexible; you never know who you will meet on your journey there.
2. I will usually have a forum post on CS so people can contact me last minute to offer accommodation and their time.
3. It can be exciting not knowing if you have a place to sleep that night.
4. I get looked after by the staff. If you book a certain dorm online for a certain price they would have already arranged the bed you will be sleeping in before you arrived. It will usually be exactly what you booked. When I walk in and start up a conversation so many times I will pay the lowest price for the highest priced dorm (e.g. I will pay a 10 bed dorm price and get a 4 bed dorm and on rare occasions a private room).

I will apologise now because I didn't carry my camera around much in Lisbon. It truly is a beautiful city but I can't show it.

On this occasion I didn't get offered a couch before I walked into the hostel but I had messages from 3 people offering a tour/meet up. After a good sleep I decided to get lost in city without a map to discover the hidden parts.

That night I met up a Turkish girl volunteering in Lisbon, Merve. We tried some Portuguese cherry wine from a street stand. We received a chocolate cup about the size of a shot glass, they fill it up twice with the cup being eaten after the 2nd time. This was followed by a big tour around Lisbon then a visit to a bar for a shot (of something?) in a glass made of ice.

The next day the hostel was fully booked out for the weekend. I decided to store my luggage and meet up with a German girl for lunch hoping my accommodation problem would sort itself out... it did! After a ridiculously huge, cheap and tasty lunch I was off to my new hosts' place, a Portuguese/Brazilian family. It was mum, dad, grandma and 4 kids, plus another Couchsurfer from Korea. We ate like kings in this house.

The Korean guy and I were off to explore the town of Sintra the following day. It is a very old little town to the north of Lisbon, famous for a castle of the Moors and many other ancient monuments. It is very nice but packed with tourists. We decided to go on a massive hike outside of town.

The following morning I was off again but not quite as planned. When I searched Bla Bla Car for a ride south I saw a ride north for 27 Euro... back to Vigo. So I was heading 500km in the opposite direction to visit a friend. Except after I made my decision it turned out the Bla Bla Car was full so instead of 27 Euro 5 hour point to point it was 2 metro rides in Lisbon followed by a highspeed train to Porto, a metro ride in Porto followed by a 3 hour bus ride and finishing with a city bus ride in Vigo. So 47 Euro and 11 hours later I was once again at Olalla's home, 1000km away from where I expected to end the day.

Lessons Learnt:
Keep your plans completely flexible and do what you want.
I love Spanish culture.
If a city doesn't quite life you the experience you want then leaving early isn't a bad thing.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Mérida, Spain: Hispania, a Small World

After a 3 hour car journey I was in Mérida. Mérida is city with many Roman ruins including a colosseum and a Roman theatre. It was named Emerita Augusta under the Roman rule beginning with emperor Octavian Augustus and was one of the two original capitals of Hispania (Roman Spain). It is no longer a major city, although the city has played a part of every Spanish war from the conquest by the Romans to the Spanish civil war.

New before the Old

My host, Ricardo, was actual the boyfriend of my host in Salamanca, Elena... small world. He lived with 2 girls (Patricia y Alba) and another guy (Mario). They were all very cool and chilled out university students.

Family Portrait in my room
My first full day in Mérida I was off to record something for my pop's funeral. Somehow I just happened to be in the only area of Spain that had sun on this day. It was something I didn't mention to most people I met and didn't think about it when in the company other people but I thought about it a lot when by myself. Everything just worked on this day.

That night I cooked a family dinner and shared a few beers. The next day I explored most of the amazing ruins of Mérida.

The Roman Theatre

A Roman ruin in the centre of town

The Roman bridge

The theatre

The Colosseum

Part of the Aqueducts with birds nests

The Aqueducts

The fortress used by Romans, Visgoths, Moors (Muslims), The catholic kings in the reconquest, Napoleon, the republicans and the nationalists in the Spanish civil war.

The Roman Racetrack

The Roman Arch
The next day I decided my destination for the night, I played ping pong on the dining table with Ricardo, experienced Patricia's awesome parking skills, helped Ricardo discover a special bottle, ate a 2 euro family pizza and enjoyed it, and said goodbye to an awesome group of people.

Next Lisboa (Lisbon) via Bla Bla Car, 1am arrival and another game of sleep roulette.

Lessons Learnt:
The Roman Empire was huge.
Sometimes it's better to enjoy the company of awesome people than kill the mood with problems.
It's a small world.
When you are positive things always just work when you need them to.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Toledo (& Madrid Part II), Spain: The Medieval Town of Awesomeness!

After a 30 min ride on the high speed train from Madrid I was in Toledo, the capital of Spain during the Visgoths' rule (from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Muslims conquered Spain in the 8th century). Toledo is unbelievably beautiful. It is a true medieval city that looks like it is straight from a movie. Knights on horses would not look out of place. Half of the city is surrounded by high walls and the other half by a river with rocky cliffs, mountains and emptiness beyond these. The city is very famous for making swords and blades... There are only 2 entrances to the city. Not great for traffic flow but it's pretty cool.

Inside the city walls around the main square is packed with tourists during the day and well into the evening. They start to clear out at night as most people just do day trips from Madrid. Apparently 20 percent of all tourists to Madrid will spend one day in Toledo. Madrid is a city of millions, where as Toledo is a city of only 60 to 70 thousand. Although, you would be very surprised how easy it is to get away from tourists. I just walked down the bendy narrow uneven stone streets until I was incredibly lost. That's where I saw a menu del dia for 6 Euro (compared to 12 to 20 Euro in the main squares). Menu del dia (menu of the day) is always 2 plates of food, a beer or bottle of wine and dessert. When I finished I pulled out my map to try find where I was, I didn't even know what quarter of the map I was in and streets are so small. So I just thought I will keep wandering until I find a church or a square.

The following day I walked around the outside of the entire city. I was very surprised that I was alone in most places outside of the city, considering the hundreds of visitors inside. The rocky hills on the opposite side of the river provided spectacular views.

A king with his foot on a decapitated head.

A map of Toledo.

After another quiet night (night life is very limited in Toledo) it was time to return to Madrid to continue on to my next destination.

In Madrid I returned Pepe's place, first Madrid host who also attended my Madrid farewell. He was also hosting 2 Polish girls and a German boy. After getting a couple of 12 packs for less than 3 euro the drinking began. We were due to go to a house party organised by friends of the Polish girls but during the pre-drinks I received news that my pop passed away so I wanted to be alone.

The next afternoon after a lot of walking and a lot of thinking I was off to Merida via Bla Bla Car.

Lessons Learnt:
Some cities are amazingly beautiful.
Some news you can't be prepared for even when expected.
In any city pick a direction when in the centre and walk, then watch the prices drop.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Madrid, Spain: A Week in the Capital

I arrived in Madrid with Violeta, my Bla Bla Car driver, who offered for me to stay at her place. I already had plans that night but accepted for the next day. She dropped me off in the very centre of Madrid. I was a little overwhelmed by Madrid at first, it had been 4 months since I was in the major cities of Paris and London. The centre of Madrid might be busier than both and has the craziest drivers I've seen so far. Madrid is a city of many squares, many statues and many bars... The garbage men/women were on their 4th day of strike when I arrived. The locals kept telling me to ignore and that Madrid is usually an incredibly clean city. I was actually impressed.

I was soon at my host's place, Pepe. That evening I went out with 2 of his other CSers, a French couple. I took them to a bar I had heard stories about from travellers all over Spain. The bar is El Tigre (The Tiger). When you buy a drink at this bar you get a huge plate of tapas gratis (free). 3 drinks meant 3 plates. This place really is a must visit in Madrid.

The next day I went to Violeta's place. Her father made Fideuá (Paella with pasta instead of rice) for our Friday lunch. It was amazing. Violeta had only just returned from 3 months in France so she took off to a friend's place for the weekend leaving just her father and I for the weekend. Since I only met her the day before this was very random but I went with it. I bought a bottle of red wine and cooked my famous risotto for dinner. Her dad, a physician, was actually pretty cool.

The next day I was off to explore the city.

The following day I met up with an Argentinean traveller and new friend, Jani, that I briefly met in San Sebastian 2 months earlier. We went to the famous Sunday market, where I bought my first ever scarf for 2 euro. After the market 100 Montaditos made its 3rd appearance in my Spanish adventure. It was Sunday so 1 Euro for 500ml beers. Then one of Jani's Argentinean friends joined us for some delicious (disgusting) Argentinean tea, mate (mah-te), by the pond.

Jani and I

The next day I said goodbye to Violeta and her father, and moved to a hostel for 3 nights. After another visit to Montaditos for lunch I met back up with Jani (50 cent mini sandwiches, "Montaditos", on Mondays. Yes, there are 100 to choose from on the menu). We were off to watch the sunset over Madrid.

Then we were back at 100 Montaditos for dinner.

Girl with a beer, man with a red wine and lemonade!

It was time to say goodbye to Jani, a new  friend that I will see in Argentina next year.

The next day I toured more of Madrid.

pick pocket circle

At night it was finally time for some more sport! My 2nd ever Padel match. This time I won. It was a guy and I vs a guy and a girl. It turned out the girl, Carolina, had lived in Australia for a year. I met up with Carolina, a 27 year old radio news girl, again the next day. She drove me to a few places outside of the city. She doesn't like losing so I tried not to mention the match (or maybe I squeezed it into the conversation whenever possible).

Camera Shy

It was my last night in Madrid so after the photo shoot we were off to a little farewell I had organised (yes, I organised my own farewell from a city I had only spent 7 nights in). The venue... 100 Montaditos! It was Wednesday so 1 Euro for 500ml drinks. This time I opted for Verano Tinto (Summer Red Wine), it is red wine and lemonade. It actually tastes pretty good but I prefer the basque Kalimotxo (Red wine and coke).

The next day I was on a train to Toledo!

What Madrid keeps in its train stations

Lessons Learnt:
Sharing a ride with a stranger can lead to cooking dinner for their father the next day.
The world is small and you never know who you will meet again.
I prefer smaller towns to experience culture and meet people but it's good to enjoy big cities too.
100 Montaditos should sponsor this post.
As always it's the people you meet that make the experience, nature and pretty buildings are just a bonus.