Twenty-Third Email- España y Portugal

Sent 26.5.06


Currently typing this on the plane back from Europe. Wow, the past eight and a half months have absolutely flown by. Hard to believe I'm on my way back already (and with another year of college under my belt). I feel like a businessman or something here, working on the computer on a plane. It's currently 9 pm, 3 pm, or 4 pm, wherever I may be trying to tell the time. Sleep isn't important anyway, who cares if I'm in the middle of a 29 hour day.

So Spain and Portugal were a beautiful break from exam studying. Unfortunately, it was less of a break than intended- not because it got cut short or anything, but because I failed to do much studying before I left so I'd have a hard time calling it a break. I couldn't have asked for much better weather as I flew into Madrid- easily in the 70's, and it was that or better my entire time there. I flew in during the evening, so didn't see a whole lot of sun before dusk fell, but that didn't exactly bring cold temperatures. I found my hostel, which was in a great location just off Gran Vía, one of the main boulevards running through the city. I then stopped by a grocery store to grab some food to eat in Plaza de España, which was right around the corner from my hostel. I then headed out to get my first taste of Spanish nightlife. I didn't want to do anything crazy or stay up real late, so I headed to a jazz club which ended up being a cool decision. The cover was €5 for a jam session that lasted a good three hours, going into all sorts of crazy music, in and out of the jazz genre (and in and out of English and Spanish). It was definitely worth the price of admission.

I spent the next day sleeping in a bit- I hadn't done that in some time, not because I was getting up early to study in Ireland, but more because my window in my dorm room there faces the sunrise which has been steadily moving earlier in the morning. Even with the blinds closed, it was tough to sleep past 7:30 am. I headed off to the train station to buy my overnight ticket to Lisbon for two nights later, where I had to wait over an hour before my number finally came up; patience is a virtue. I then started my tourist business by walking from the station, which was near the south of Madrid, with plans to walk up the main boulevard (Paseo del Prado) toward the north side throughout the day, stopping if I saw something interesting. I quickly passed a used book market along the street, which wasn't of too much use to me with my limited knowledge of Spanish. On that note, it has been four years since I've taken the language, but I did notice some of it coming back (more in listening than speaking). I was able to buy things and hear a price without doing the normal look at the cash register trick. I am taking Spanish again when I return to ND in the fall, so that will hopefully jumpstart my interest in the language again. My next stop was Real Jardín Botánico, which is a rather pretty garden located next to the Museo del Prado. I didn't stop at the Museum on my walk, I planned to (and did) go back on the next day. Continuing up the boulevard, I eventually stopped for lunch and a nice siesta and rest in a park. I was treating this trip as a vacation, feeling no need to keep moving the entire day. My walk eventually ended up outside Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, where the Real Madrid football team calls home. After hopping on the metro and stopping by Plaza Mayor, I called it an afternoon and headed back to the hostel to rest my feet and grab some dinner. The sun setting over the hills outside of Madrid that night was absolutely beautiful, which I was able to see from a park not far from my hostel. The night finished by having a few of the local brews at a friendly neighbourhood bar.

I started the next day at the Prado, which was fairly interesting even in comparison to the many art museums I've seen throughout the year. There were a few different paintings in the collections that I recognized, which is always a plus. I then headed outside and spent the rest of the day enjoying the nice weather, stopping by a few more parks in the city and just relaxing. My train to Lisbon was that night, so I eventually headed to the train station to wait for it, getting some dinner on the way. I decided to be cheap and just book a 2nd class seat for the night, which are never bad on trains (it isn't like a cramped small airplane seat). Luck has it that I got booked in one of four seats on the train that happen to face four other seats, meaning me and my new (non-English speaking) friends in those seats had to spend the night trying to comfortably find a way to not bash our knees together while sleeping all night. I did manage to get more sleep than I thought I would, so that was a plus.

The next morning, I walked from our arrival train station in Lisbon to my hostel, which was a bit of a hike but a pretty scenic one, so I didn't mind. I checked in and decided to spend my day at the beach for two reasons- the weather was beautiful, and it would be a good thing to do while tired anyway, since I could just sit there and do nothing. I packed a bag with a towel, swimsuit, water bottle, and even some sunscreen (see Mom, I do listen sometimes), and headed off to the beach a short train ride away. The beach was very nice, and it was a good decision to go that day, with a few clouds every once in a while to break up the sun and a nice breeze. I loved sitting there realizing I should have been studying instead...

That night really sealed the deal that I had picked the right hostel to stay at while in Lisboa. (Lisbon, Lisboa, why the heck did English decide to change one letter and mispronounce it?) Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the hostel has a "Portuguese mother" come in and make a wonderful home-cooked meal for only €5. It happened to be a Friday, so I took full advantage of that. Not only was the meal absolutely excellent, it was also a great way to meet other people in the hostel, which isn't huge but had a lot of cool people. I don't want to ramble on much more about this hostel, but if you are ever in Lisboa (and you are my age, probably not the place for the older people), stay at Oasis. Period. I can clear up any doubts you have, just talk to me about it.

I went out that night with group of about five people from the hostel, and what was going to be just a night out to get a few drinks turned into getting back sometime just after 4 am. Oh well, it was vacation, I wasn't planning on getting up at 7 am anyway. I spent the next day grabbing some nice Portuguese cuisine for lunch with a friend from the hostel before heading out to Sintra for the day. This is the location of two large palaces/castles located on hilltops, and hilltops tend to produce good views. These hilltops were no exceptions, and the castles on them were quite impressive as well. I am not really sure how to describe the Palácio da Pena- a multicoloured mix of at least three different architectural styles on the outside, all built around a monastery used as a core for the palace. The Castelo dos Mouros just down the hill a bit was cool as well, although much older. It was the castle walls you picture when you imagine a castle, which I found really cool. I eventually made my way back through the village of Sintra before catching the train back to Lisboa, where I randomly came across a unveiling of their "Cowparade Lisboa 2006" business. That night was another great night out with the same friends from my hostel that I went out with the previous night- we all managed to be staying another night so it worked out quite well. The nightlife there is about as good as anything I've seen, in Europe or anywhere, and the people I got to go out with made it even better.

Pictures of this trip (and all from the entire year) are on my website as usual. I'm not sure how many more emails I'll write from here on out to the large group, unless I get brilliant ideas. It's been a great year and I hope you all enjoyed hearing about it, and I'm always up for answering your questions if you ask them, so feel free to send me an email or two and I'll try to get back to you with answers. I'm now off to suprise my friends after a drive from O'Hare in Chicago, since they have no idea I'm currently on my way home. Until my next extended journey out of the country,

Keep in touch,

Dan McGee
Mobile: TBD