Although the weather wasn’t ideal, Portugal and Spain proved to be gorgeous! Portugal blew my socks off with the beauty it had. I wish we had more time to explore it…
The first day, my friend and I went on a cooking experience with SAS. It was the BEST field program I have been on yet! When we got there, we got free sausage, goat/cow cheese, bread, and red wine! They kept our glasses full with some elegant wine. So let’s just say that I was happier in the morning than I should have been. Luckily it wasn’t Sunday. :] Anyway, the experience started with our chef guide, Dave. He called us all over and we shared a station with a partner. My friend was too scared to wear her GoPro, so I was geared with a headset. I wore it for about 5 minutes until Dave volunteered to wear it as he instructed us. What a champ! We made traditional Portuguese dishes: sausage on top of cooked apples and rosemary, codfish and shrimp in green peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, all sauteed in a white wine. To top it off, we had a famous Portuguese pastry, with Porto wine and a chocolate mousse. I was in awe of everything about this experience. We then ventured next door and had the #1 best chocolate cake in the world, rated by the New York Times. If you weren’t careful and patient, you inhaled the cocoa on top of the cake and choked before you tasted anything. Tricky, and yes, I was victim to this trap!
When we got back to the ship, we had 15 minutes to get to a free walking tour, which was 45 minutes away. So we set off, determined to make it. Along the way, we were offered bags of hashish, practically ran up hills that seemed like mountains compared to the plains of Michigan, and made it 8 minutes late. Lucky for us, they had not left the first sight. While we all dripped with sweat from the quick trek, all of our group was intrigued by our background. We have all noticed we are blessed with great conversation starters, being on a ship, studying, and traveling the world–it blows peoples’ minds (ours too.)
What a beautiful place Portugal is. We were so amazed by it all, instead of heading to another city on the second day, we stayed in Lisbon. Unfortunately, it rained yet again. But we went to a flea market in the morning, which was like mini garage sales on blankets all over the streets. Not that safe, but an experience, nonetheless. A couple of friends are in the “storming stage” of their friendship, so this day was spent trying to keep everyone happy and tension to a minimum. It was semi-successful. We split them up, and I went with one of them to see some aqueducts from the 15th century. It is amazing they are still standing! We found out that they still work if need be. What a great architectural feat. After dinner, I headed to the bus station to catch an overnight trip to my favorite city of all–SEVILLA!
When the bus filled up, a French man ended up sitting next to me. He was a truck driver, age 40, heading to Morocco. It’s cool the different people you can meet if you separate from what you are comfortable with sometimes!! Anyway, we arrived in Sevilla at 4 in the morning. None of the stores or sights are going to be open at that time of the day. There were still drunks walking back from the parties! But I booked it out of the bus station, away from all the SASers and walked towards the bullfight rink. When I stepped onto the first street, a strange feeling inside me was ignited again, reminding me again that the love for this place runs deep in my bones. I got a map from a cute hotel and saw the cathedral at night. It was freaky! The ticket center didn’t open until 10am, so I needed to find something to do until then. Luckily, people are nice if you put the puppy dog eyes on, and a receptionist at a hotel let me sit on their couch, map out what I wanted to see, use their bathroom to brush my teeth and change my clothes, and I was off! I found our hostel, checked in, and went to mass at the cathedral! It was awesome!! I have never experienced something so powerful as a connection other than shared faith. I may have caught 20 words in total they were saying, and yet I still shared in communion with them. I got what was being said by gestures and key words. Come to find out, it was the same cathedral the bell tower we walked up 3 years ago is attached to. Funny how things work out that way.
I then went back to the hostel, realized I had nothing to shower with, and didn’t want to pay extra, so I used the hand soap and hand towel to take a shower. Probably the most adventurous thing I have done, hygiene-wise. But I was set and ready to explore the city I fell in love with! Hitting the streets, I wasn’t bothered by anyone: no one to slow my walking pace down, no one to tell me I was going the wrong way, and no one was haggling me about buying their products or taking their flyers. They really thought I was a local. Sometimes, I was even asked questions in Spanish. The best part–I could answer some of them!!
On my self-guided tour, I stumbled upon this Festival de Cinco Nationes (Festival of 5 Nations.) There were tents representing almost all of the world with either trinkets, clothes, or food. It was SO cool! The sun had come out and people were eating and drinking from all different countries! All of the countries we are going to during this voyage were represented. There was a huge Cuban stand that sold Pina Coladas and played Caribbean music. It got me VERY excited for all the ports we are going to.
At 18:00 (6pm) the bullfight began! (If you don’t like gory things, I’d advise you to skip over this paragraph.) I headed to the stadium, found my seat next to some SASers and a man who was a seasoned spectator. He spoke only Spanish, and I tried asking him questions about the fights, but understood little of his responses. Hey, at least he understood what I was asking him! The crowd would cheer, yell, and get very quiet. The atmosphere was beyond anything I could have imagined! There were 6 bulls being featured and 3 matadors. Picadors–the most daring–are the men who do the grunt work. They get the bull riled up, and then the man on a horse comes out and makes the first stab. The Picadors come back and distract the bull and make him run around some more to make the blood flow quicker. This is when they use the pink capes, and the closer the bull gets to the Picador, the louder the crowd shouts “Ole!” Some of them then get these long poles with barbs at the end of which they stick into the bull’s back in pairs. How they do this is run straight at the bull, dodge it at the last second, and run away as they aim and thrust the barbed poles. When 6 have been inserted into the bull’s back, the Matador come out with a sword and the red cape. He plays with the bull to tire it out as much as possible and makes the final stab. It’s a game of precision–the less number of stabs and shorter amount of time the bull stays alive, the better the Matador. The Spanish man next to me kept saying how the bulls were bad, but the Matadors were good. I thought it was all good.
After the fight, I rushed back to the hostel to meet my friend, Rishika, and celebrate her birthday! We went on a “tapas crawl.” Who needs a pub crawl when you can eat instead!? We had everything from peppers in olive oil, potatoes in a cream sauce, paella, ham and cheese rolled up together, goat cheese and honey (my personal favorite,) fried calamari, fried codfish, chorizo and of course some sangria along the way. It was a blast!
The next morning, I took her to the best sights in Sevilla and found some new ones myself! Across from the Plaze de Espana, there were MAGNIFICENT gardens and it was so tranquil. We walked for a while, and sat and daydreamed for about an hour about how this would be a great backyard. There were also birds of all species living here–a garden located right in the center of town: get out!!! We then headed back to the ship, exhausted and ready for a good, hot shower and cozy bed.
The next day in Cadiz, we started by going to their local market. It was interesting with all the different seafood they had for sale, but very little color in the market as a whole. So we moved on and found a beach. My, what a stunning day it turned out to be! It’s great to have one day in port where you take it easy and just walk around to relax. Usually, it ends up being the last day. That is exactly what the last day in Spain was for us. Don’t get me wrong, Spain is still my favorite country so far, but traveling as much as we are in such a short amount of time is exhausting. We all sleep great, when we do allow ourselves to rest for long enough.
The last day in Europe was filled with a sense of peace to say goodbye, and anticipation to welcome the next continent: Africa! Tonight we are getting ready to visit Morocco–a HUGE culture shock it is going to be! When all the lectures were over, they shut off the lights on the top deck and let us look at the stars. My oh my, how stunning it was. You could see it seemed all the stars in the sky, along with the milky way and galaxies (I don’t know if they are the same thing.) Pinky Nelson, the Celestial Navigation professor was also out there, shining his green laser at the sky to point out constellations and important stars. Oh, by the way, he is a hall-of-fame astronaut who was one of the first to be in space connected to nothing. He’s a pretty big deal. That is one of the coolest things about this voyage: all the faculty, staff, and lifelong learners. They have SUCH great backgrounds and stories, yet you get to see they put their pants on just like any other person. It’s a surreal feeling when you experience this moment after having a conversation with them about what they have done in the last country we were in… AH! So crazy the things we talk about!!!
Well, off to Morocco and camels and sunshine!!! Thank you to all who have been reading these blogs and following/supporting my travels. I can’t believe how much I have learned already, both about myself and about the world–including the country I came from!