North America, Europe · 5 Days · 15 Moments · August 2017

A year later and back in Europe (Portugal)


18 August 2017

After our siesta, we went out to a dinner a little on the nicer side, expecting to have a nice long Spanish meal for a few hours. Unfortunately, we arrived at 11:15 and to our surprise we informed when ordering that they were closing at midnight. It wasn't the leisurely experience we were expecting, but ohhh man were the gazpacho, octopus carpaccio, rice in squid ink, and duck leg confit incredible! From here we decided to explore Spanish nightlife. We made it to bed before 4am!
After the museum, we headed to Retiro Park, a beautiful park in the middle of the city filled with monuments and sculptures, beautiful water features, and carefully manicured gardens. We wandered through the park having all sorts of meaningful philosophical discussions, especially enjoying the gardens and the crystal palace. After that, we grabbed another bite to eat at a place called 100 Montaditos where you can get any of 100 varieties of tiny sandwiches for less than 2€. We split 3 and then headed home for siesta time!
Between the morning (I use the term loosely, in the Spanish sense) in the museum and the afternoon in the park, we stopped at a Spanish chain restaurant called Indalo Tapas. Their thing is that when you order any drink (beer, wine, soda, bottled water, etc) for around 3€, you get to choose a tapa to have for free! We got to try a Hamburgueresa Iberico (hamburger with fancy cheese and ham), a smoked salmon toast, a tortilla sandwich, and salmorejo (a soup sort of like gazpacho).
After breakfast, we headed for the Prado Museum, a famous art museum in Madrid recommended by Caroline's friend who studied abroad in Madrid and also everyone who has ever been to Madrid. There aren't many pictures from in here as they don't allow photos, but the Bosch and El Greco works along with the sculptures were highlights for us.
We woke up the next morning excited to explore even more Spanish cafe culture. We sat down at a restaurant in the Plaza Santa Ana at the beginning of our walking tour and enjoyed a truly wholesome breakfast: cafe con leche, orange juice, chocolate and churros, and jamón iberico with a tomato spread. So, maybe not the healthiest in the world, but absolutely delicious and a perfect start to a long day of exploring.
We were also told that bars will oftentimes serve tapas for free when you order drinks, so we set out to find some free food as well. We decided on another bar nearby, which had outdoor seating, perfect for admiring the beautiful stone streets and the breezy Spanish night. We sat down and ordered drinks (local wine for me, local beer for Zac) and enjoyed the olives from the bar. While we were seated there, a large group of men with thick accents walked by talking about the cultural phenomenon of receiving olives with every drink. Zac leaned over and asked me what language they were speaking, and I informed him that they were actually speaking English. They stopped by the bar and stayed for drinks as well, sitting across from us, and we found out that they were from Manchester and one of them really, really loved Chicago. At least in Spain, I think English tourists (and their fascinating refusal to speak Spanish) might have American tourists beat as far as awful travelers go.

17 August 2017

Both Zac and I (Caroline) adore Spanish food, and going out for tapas is one of our favorite ways to eat a meal. So we knew we just had to try them in Spain. What we learned from our host, however, is that tapas as we know them in the US are a bit different from Madrid, as we Americans order them for dinner while the Madrileños serve them with drinks in a restaurant. So we decided to try tapas, Spanish-style. We ventured down a street called Calle Cava Baja that was lined with little restaurants and bars, and took our pick of which to try. We then ordered a glass of wine each and three toasts to share: one of jamón iberico, the famous Spanish ham, one topped with a tortilla (not the Mexican wrap but the Spanish potato omelette), and one featuring goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and sweet honey. It was almost impossible to pick a favorite.
The walking tour took us all around Madrid's central tourist district. Though Madrid is a big city, its astoundingly walkable, and we only used the extensive metro system once when getting from the first train station to our Airbnb. We walked everywhere else. Photos are from the Plaza Santa Ana, Opera, Royal Palace, and Plaza Mayor, to name a few. Madrid is absolutely full of tiny stone streets and alleys to wander in, and the buildings are all beautifully ornate but so well kept. This made for a photo op at every street! The walking tour ended with us deciding to stop for a late lunch at a well-named sandwich place called Museu de Jamón. This was a spot that had been recommended by our host as a good stop for eating on a budget. You really can't beat sandwiches of classy charcuterie and Spanish cheese for a euro apiece! After that, we decided to take a tip from the Spanish and siesta, heading home for a much-needed shower and nap.
Finding the overnight train to Madrid out of Coimbra was easy--we just followed the crowd of people wearing travel backpacks bigger than themselves, as only silly young people are willing to take an 8.5 hour train overnight in regular seats. So when we arrived in Madrid, we really couldn't have been more excited to grab a cup of coffee and relax a bit. The Airbnb ended up being a strike of luck, as our host switched the booking on us. We were concerned at first since we didn't have too much information and the new place was priced lower than the original. The price turned out to be an Airbnb fluke--the new place was much nicer, with a private bathroom and an even better location! Our host, Lisa, directed us to her blog, where she had designed a two day walking tour of Madrid. After dropping our bags in the apartment, we were on our way.

16 August 2017

After lunch in Porto we made our way back to pick up our bags and then to the train station. The first leg (Porto to Coimbra, Portugal) went smoothly. The next leg went slightly less smoothly. Coimbra has two train stations. The Coimbra station is in the center of the small city, and mostly just runs to the main train station a bit outside the city (5 minute train or 30 min walking). We got off at Coimbra B and the ticket agent there didn't speak any English. He told us to go to track 7. We got on the train on track 7 and started moving. About 10 minutes into what should have been a 5 minute trip, the ticket checker came by and informed us that we were going the wrong way, so we got off, waited 30 min for another train, and went back to Coimbra B and then to Coimbra. By the time we arrived we only had a few hours, but we explored, had delicious pastries and a lovely dinner while listening to traditional Portugese Fado, and made it back to Coimbra B for our 11:30 train to Madrid!
We woke up and packed our bags, then went out to get some breakfast in Casinha Cafe (right under our room). It was a wonderful little cafe with lots of outdoor seating and delicious croissants and espresso. From there, we made our way back towards the river to finally see the city in daylight. It is spectacular! The colors of all the orange roofs and painted buildings next to the river (SO BLUE) is truly amazing. We crossed the river on a tram, walked (hiked?) down the steep roads to the water, and walked until we found a port cellar. We ended up taking a tour (and doing a port wine tasting) at Cockburn's, which was very interesting, though neither of us were wild about the port wine, which is extremely sweet and syrupy. After the tour we grabbed a cheap lunch (7 euros for both of us) at a tiny cafe tucked along a side street away from the river.

15 August 2017

We made it to the Douro river (the center of the old part of the city) right at sunset and walked along the river until we found a place with seats. The seafood rice dish we shared was incredible and the vino verde that went with it was also delicious! The city is so gorgeous at sunset, and more pictures will be coming soon!
The first morning in Portugal we got started a little late (we needed the extra rest) and made our way to a supermarket to buy breakfast and materials for a picnic lunch at the beach. We bought some sausage and ham, rolls, and nice fresh peaches for lunch, and had a filled croissant, a pastel de nata (a small Portugese custard pastry), and some espresso in the grocery store cafe. The total for breakfast and lunch was about 6 euros. Go Portugal. It was a fantastic way to start the day and from there we made our way to the beach. We relaxed on the beautiful beach for a few hours, walked around and explored, and took a bus back into the city in the early evening to shower and get ready to go find a nice seafood dinner

14 August 2017

We arrived in Porto on a 4:45pm flight and it took us a bit to get through Customs. Once through, though, the public transit system was amazing. It took us close to our AirBnb and our host met us there to let us in. The AirBnb was wonderful. They had personalized a welcome sign on our door and even left us candy on the pillow. $30/night. We set out to find some dinner and on recommendation from our host looked for Francesinha, a Portugese specialty consisting of layers of bread, many kinds of meat, and melted cheese, all topped with a sort of gravy sauce and french fries. It was as intense as it sounds, and so great to be full and satisfied after a lonnng day (and night) of traveling. We were both glad we had it once, but don't think we'll need it again.
Airport lounge shower in JFK!!! And another airport wooooo for 6 hour layovers in Casablanca!