If you read my post about Porto, you know what big fans we are of Portugal. And as I said in my last post, if Porto has the Portuguese charm, Lisbon’s got her spunk.
I think we saw more of Lisbon at night than during the day. The city has a bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco, a statue like The Christ Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and clubs that stay open till 6am rivaling those in Madrid.
Make sure to check out at least one club if you visit Lisbon. We partied at the popular club, Lux, right on the harbor (only about $15 USD per person cover charge and that included two free drinks). Compared to the States, that’s a steal.
If you are thinking about visiting Portugal…stop thinking; go! This little country surprised us. Although often overshadowed by its bigger, more suave, European neighbors like France, Italy, and Spain, Portugal packed a big punch. Don’t underestimate this lil’ sport.
Portugal competed at all levels (except for maybe in Fútbol) with all the other European countries we visited, but at a fraction of the cost. She had hospitable locals, beautiful architecture, historical monuments, gorgeous coastline, hip nightlife, and tasty wine. And between Lisbon and Porto you can experience all of the above.
In my opinion, Porto holds the charm and Lisbon’s got the spunk.
As I hobbled in to El Burgo Ranero, my right knee had mostly healed, but four new blisters had formed on my feet after several days of walking in the rain. And what had started as a slight tickle in my throat in Hontanas had now turned into vicious fevers, aches and chills. So in need of a good night’s sleep and to be sure I didn’t spread my germs to the other pilgrims, Tom and I decided to take a break from the albergue and get a private room.
After unloading our bags, Tom took off his shirt to take a shower. I squirmed when I saw his entire back and arms still covered by itchy, small, red bumps. Bed bugs attacked him a few nights prior in Fromista. The bites were itchy, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part about bed bugs was fearing them.
Climbing into bed at night after a 25km+ hike should feel like a warm hug for a tired pilgrim, but because of these little pests, going to bed was now a fear-ridden ritual of checking seams and praying that we make it through the night bug-free. We were completely defenseless against these microscopic nocturnal monsters and we knew it.
We sat down for dinner with 25 strangers; we enjoyed dessert with 25 friends. On our second night on the Camino, Tom and I stayed in a small village named Larrasoaña. The town had a crummy albergue with no heat and squeaky beds, and only one restaurant. As such, almost every pilgrim in town ate there for dinner. We took our seat at the end of the table across from unfamiliar faces. But by the end of our meal we had sparked several new friendships that would last beyond Santiago.
Later that night, when Tom and I cuddled together on the lower bunk (the only way for us to stay warm without a sleeping bag), we looked up to read inscriptions from previous pilgrims. One in particular resonated with us, “Why am I here?” I believe that the night’s communal dinner was the Camino’s response to our doubt.
The rustle of bags and the sound of zippers beat our alarm to its job. I reluctantly rolled over to check the time…4:45am, ugh. It must be someone getting up to go to the toilet, I thought to myself. But the sound of snoring that I had grown accustomed to throughout the night had ceased and I began to suspect these people were actually waking up to start their walk.
I looked to my left and in the dim moonlight filtering through the window, the shadows of pilgrims zipping their bags, lacing their boots, and fastening their headlamps confirmed my suspicions. What did we get ourselves into?
With sore feet, new friends, lessons learned, and lots of wet socks, we made it to Santiago!
Tom and I just completed a month-long hike through Northern Spain on the Camino De Santiago. As you can imagine, I can’t possibly summarize the last thirty unique, wonderful, and challenging days in one blog post, so the next 4 posts (including this one) will be about our journey.
But before I jump into telling you about our experience of the Camino (and it was quite an experience), let me begin with a high-level, birds-eye perspective of this age-old journey in case it is unfamiliar to you.
What can I tell you about Rome that you don’t already know? It is a well-toured destination with gobs of guides and information on the city. It is home to many top-toured sites including the Coliseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Pantheon and so much more.
Tom and I spent five days in Rome and one blog post would not be enough to tell you about everything that we saw, did, ate and drank, so I decided to take a different approach to this post. I’m going to tell you what we learned from Rome.
We first heard about Cinque Terre in the Rick Steve’s “Europe Through The Backdoor” guidebook. He described it as the authentic, untouched, Italian Riviera. Of course, it's no longer untouched because Rick has quite the following. But the views were stunning nonetheless and the towns still possessed lots of charm.
We took the train from Florence to Monterosso (the first of the 5 towns that comprise Cinque Terre). As good ‘ole Rick described, we enjoyed flashes of the Ligurian Sea as the train whipped through the Mountain tunnels along the coast.
My heart raced a little as a true California girl that loves the coast and sights of the ocean. After weeks of staying in big cities, the sights were refreshing and lifted our moods.
Florence is known for their museums. Look up Florence Attractions on Trip Advisor and you’ll find a long list including the Uffizi, the Academia Gallery, and more. So if you love art, buy a pass and start working your way down the list.
But if you’re just a casual admirer of art, like Tom and I, try enjoying Florence a different way. Below are 6 ways to see Florence without ever paying an entrance fee or walking through a turnstyle in a museum.
And since we are self-proclaimed foodies, I’ll start with our gastronomical encounters:
When Tom and I first stepped out of the train station in Venice and began to make our way to the famous Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), we were overwhelmed by the dizzying array of fanny packs and running shoes. Like one large spineless blob, the monstrous crowd of tourists absorbed us into itself.
At times, I couldn’t tell if I was in Vegas or Italy. The only difference seemed to be that the street vendors in the real Venice peddled cheap toys and Prada knock offs, while those outside the look-alike Venetian in Vegas flick little cards adorned with naked women.
I thought to myself, so this is Venice. And although the town itself and its winding canals looked beyond charming, I was disappointed overall. This was our first stop in all of Italy and the authentic mamma mia experience I sought was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were more tourists than Italians in this little corner of their country.
But then something changed.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!