A Travellerspoint blog

Lisbon

Our last destination on this trip was Lisbon. We caught a night train out of San Sebastian and spent the next 14 hours heading south to Portugal.

Lisbon is an interesting city. At first sight, it seems to be a tired place. The buildings are crumbling (although somehow still have a cheerful demeaner) and there isn't a level sidewalk or road in any inch of the place.

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That said, on closer inspection one realizes that Lisbon has a very artsy soul. In all the run down buildings are art colleges, architecture firms, furniture designers etc.

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In addition to this, the people in Lisbon are supremely laid back. Everyone seems to stroll around with no cares in the world. It was refreshing to be around such a mellow community. A bonus was the plentiful and very cheap vinos to enjoy!

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For our last day in Portugal, we took a train to the coast (Lisbon sits on the banks of the Tagus River) to spend a day in Cascais. It's a small and very charming beach town about an hour away from Lisbon.

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We followed the coast out of Cascais for awhile to find some very unique geography. This area is full of volcanic rock and the coast was quite impressive to behold.

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Cascais was a great way to spend our last day in Europe.

Posted by ReneeJared 20:54 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

San Sebastian

After our less than awesome experience in Madrid, we were a bit wary of our next destination but our concerns proved to be unfounded. We headed to a coastal town called San Sebastian. It was a lovely surprise. The town is very scenic with two large beach areas on each side of a river delta that the town is built around.

The town itself has very old architecture and is full of tapas restaurants and seafood restaurants.

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The tapas restaurants were plentiful and offered such cheap food and vino that we spent most of our time eating and drinking. We noticed that it was quite a casual thing for the locals to drop in to the tapas haunts, visit for a few minutes while eating a quick stand up snack with a glass of wine and then be on their way.

When we weren't walking around gazing at the town, we were hanging around the beaches.

The beach areas of the town were crescent shaped around a large protected bay and they were pristine. It was great to bum around these gorgeous bits of sandy heaven.

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It has to be said that while we were in San Sebastian, they were having a heat wave and one of the days we were there, it reached 46 degrees! The second day it reached 40 degrees...

A very interesting thing about San Sebastian is that it is in the Basque region of Spain. There seems to be quite a distinct sense of patriotism in this fact and many of the locals like to consider themselves separate from the rest of Spain. This was felt across the old and the young alike and we saw lots of separatist signs and notes to tourists stating "you're not in France, you're not in Spain, you're in Basque country!".

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Some folks even went so far as to refuse us service a couple of times (in the form of completely ignoring us as we waited to be helped) and we could only conclude it was because we were fair and therefore made assumptions about our background. It was the first time we have ever felt discriminated against. It was a very insightful thing as we were so bitter about these small incidences and could only imagine what it must feel like on a much larger scale.

That said, most of the folks in San Sebastian were friendly and happy and it was a great place to spend a few days before heading into Portugal.

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Posted by ReneeJared 14:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Madrid

After a great time in Barcelona, we headed back west again to Madrid. We were excited to visit another city that we had always heard about but were disappointed with what we found.

Our first impression of Madrid was that it was quite grimy. The streets were dirty and again, so much graffiti covered everything. As a fashion capital of the world, we thought we would find a far more glamorous place.

An interesting thing about Madrid that we figured out is that it was only the street level of the city that was unsavory. If you looked up, many of the buildings were quite cool to look at and seemed to be in much better shape the higher you looked.

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There were a few buildings and squares that were worth checking out.

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There is also the Parque del Retiro that was worth a visit. It was a nice way to escape the heat and we got a kick out of the amount of folks that were floating on the tiny pond in the middle of it.

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Two big things that Madrid is known for are two things that we just don't have much interest in; shopping and nightclubs. The shopping options were insane and there is the Gran Via which is a huge boulevard dedicated to spending cash on clothing and accessories.

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There is also a huge nightclub scene and it was obvious that half the tourists in Madrid were there strictly to hit the clubs. On the morning we left Madrid, we caught an early train and so left our hostel around 6am. We had expected to enjoy a quiet morning walk to the subway station but when we came out onto the street, it was chaos. There were people everywhere in clubbing outfits, still partying their asses off. Mixed in with booze bottles and litter were groups of folks in various states (some fighting, some laughing and talking loudly). We even saw a few folks vomiting....ugh. It was like we had walked into a huge frat party.

We only spent one and half days in Madrid but came to the conclusion that it was definitely not our scene. We were ready to find something more relaxed and were happy to continue west to our next destination.

Posted by ReneeJared 12:36 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Barcelona

Like Paris, it was love at first sight with Barcelona. This city has so much energy! When we arrived, we could hardly wait to get out to check out the scene. Everywhere you looked, people were drinking on patios, chatting, laughing and generally having a good time. We noticed right away that the locals were quite a beautiful people. Olive skin, dark hair and striking blue or green eyes.

While not as extravagant as Paris, Barcelona certainly has lots of great architecture. We stayed in an area called the Gothic Quarter which had lots of of narrow walkways, big stone walls and tiny little spaces converted to tapas bars.

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This part of Barcelona, aside from being a big tourist area, is also highly residential. We learned that there is quite a struggle going on within this neighbourhood to find balance between those that live there and the businesses who draw lots of noise and chaos. This is something that we can certainly empathize with living in the West End of Vancouver. We saw lots of banners stating 'we want to live in a neighbourhood of dignity' as well as signs meant to chase away the folks who sell beer after hours and allow the rowdy's to keep everyone up all night by partying in their hood.

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We took a walking tour and learned alot about the history of Barcelona. The folks who live in this area are called Catalonians and they are a very proud people. They consider themselves separate from the rest of Spain (they wish to separate like Quebec does in Canada) and speak their own dialect of Spanish.

The city has lots to see and we spent as much time as we could checking the place out.

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The harbour was beautiful and housed many a fancy yacht.

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We learned about the dark side of Barcelona's history and how a dictator called Franco had hurt these people for many years before finally dying. After his death, democracy was restored but there are still many scars on the city from his reign. We were told that while Franco was in power, any Catalonian who would speak their own language or practice their own beliefs were rounded up and shot. Pretty powerful stuff....

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On a lighter note, Barcelona is also known as a city of artists. We visited a cafe called the 4 Cats which is known for having a history of being a hangout for great artists such as Picasso. It was fun to know that the place where we were enjoying dinner and drinks had been shared with great men such as these.

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And of course, Barcelona has beaches! Although, it has to be noted that these beaches are artificial. Apparently, when the city won their bid for the Olympics, they re-developed their waterfront and imported sand to create the beaches that grace the city today. As these beaches are not meant to be there, they wash away every year and the city digs up the sand offshore every year and puts it back where it thinks it belongs. That said, the beaches were lovely..

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Another quirk of Barcelona that we discovered is something we called 'lunchbox birds'. Many locals carried these small cages around with them that held finches. They doted on these little birds and carried them with them everywhere. Many of the cafes had hooks on the outside that you could hang your 'lunchbox bird' on to sun and sing while you went inside to drink and eat tapas. Kind of bizarre and charming at the same time.

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All in all, our experience of Barcelona was awesome. We would happily come back to visit this amazing city again.

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Posted by ReneeJared 07:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Marseille

After enjoying our time in Paris, we headed east to Marseille for our first taste of the Mediterranean Sea. When we arrived, we were quite taken aback. The city streets were filled with litter and dog poo and it seemed every surface had graffiti on it. We had expected a glamourous city like Paris but discovered the exact opposite.

The only part of Marseille that held a little interest was the very old harbour in the heart of the city. It had a little charm and there was an old fort you could hike up to to get a view of the city.

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However, there was a saving grace to our visit here. One of the staff members at our hostel told us about an area called the Calanques just outside of town that you could visit by hopping on one of the local buses. As we had seen more than enough of the city, we headed out the next morning to check it out.

Our hostel friend had told us that Calanques meant fingers and that this area had fingers of rocks that went into the sea and areas to swim between them.

It was a 45 minute hike down to the water from the bus stop and our first impression of the place was amazement. We were surrounded by beautiful white rocky cliffs on both sides and our first view of the Mediterranean was impressive.

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After our scramble down, we spent the afternoon sun bathing on the rocky beaches and soaking up the scenery.

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Visiting the Calanques certainly made the trek to Marseille worthwhile after all.

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Posted by ReneeJared 00:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

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