Sunday, March 22, 2015

Romans, Hostel Parties, Harry Potter, and Port

I realize it’s been forever since I’ve posted a blog. My apologies. The month of March has been hectic to say the least. Just as February concluded, my study abroad program took a day trip to a town about 2 hours north of Valencia called Tarragona. Tarragona, like Sagunto (see my post here), is important because of the Roman remnants. Unlike Sagunto, Tarragona is very well preserved. We saw the wall that would have surrounded the whole city, though now the city expands outside of the wall. We also climbed one of the wall’s towers that features amazing views. We walked the path that would have been the chariot circuit. Finally we saw the amphitheater that sits on the sea.

I thought Tarragona was breathtaking. It’s on the Mediterranean like Valencia but the water is the most beautiful blue and the town is very quaint and small. Unfortunately it was very windy on the day we were there but that’s pretty typical of Tarragona. I asked the tour guide what the flag here on the left represented and he said it was Tarragona’s flag, similar to Catalonia’s but wavy because of the wind.

The following weekend was my big Portugal trip. I went to Lisbon and Porto in three short days. The weather was amazing all three days and I think I may have actually gotten a tan sitting out on the pier in Lisbon. After exploring the Praça do Comércio and trying some seafood (a must in Lisbon), we rode the quaint tram to the end of the line and climbed the hill to the Castle of Saint George (Castelo de São Jorge). Watching the sun set from a castle is one for the books.

That night was the birthday of the hostel we were staying in. This hostel, Good Morning Hostel, is probably my favorite to date. Not only was it hip aesthetically, they were welcoming and knew the secret to getting all the people staying there to hang out together: free food (and sangria). Their birthday party was very fun and unfortunately it was our only night there. The next morning they were taking people to the flea market. I would have loved that too but instead we ate their complementary waffles and hopped on a plane to Porto.
            Our first day in Porto we spent checking off the touristy things from the list. The main plaza, the train station with beautiful tiles, the cathedral, the skyline-dominating tower, the book store, the (somewhat disappointing) crystal palace, and the famous café. You could pay to climb the Torre dos Clérigos and get the amazing views of the city, but we decided to find our own views which worked out really well in the end. 

            The Lello & Irmão bookstore was especially cool. Porto is known for having influenced the Harry Potter series because J.K. Rowling spent some years living and teaching at the University of Porto. This bookstore inspired the series’ bookstore in Diagon Alley, Flourish and Blotts. The second I walked in I could see the resemblance. Sadly for me, they were out of copies of Harry Potter. I also took creeper pic of girls wearing the University of Porto uniforms that inspired the Hogwarts uniforms. We concluded our adventures the first day at the famous Majestic Café where Rowling supposedly worked on the first Harry Potter book. That night at the hostel they served us Feijoada, a Portuguese/Brazilian bean and meat stew that is to die for.

            The second day in Porto we decided to get off the beaten track a little bit more. We took a metro out to the shore. Even at 11 in the morning it was warm and the beach was packed. There was a Zumbathon for the fight against cancer in honor of International Women’s Day and my friend Abby and I got free daisies. There were plenty of people out surfing or sailing on the water. That was the closest I have been to the US in a few months. I pretended I could see home on the other side of the Atlantic. 

            Next we explored the Cais da Ribeira. We sat and ate lunch, the famous dish Francesinha, which is a loaded meat sandwich with melted cheese and a barbequey sauce. Yum. The rainbow houses along the river were just the most picturesque backdrop for our meal. Then we wandered through the market stands that sell the cork products that Portugal is known for, jewelry, and linens. We crossed the river to the side where the port wineries are and did a port tasting. We tried the white, ruby, and tawny and got to see one of the storehouses. It was pretty cool and from the other side of the river, at the top of the hill is where I finally got my view. Then again, the whole trip was full of spectacular views.