Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Iberia!

Last Wednesday saw me in my professor's office on the first week of school. I was there to anxiously inform him that, however amped I was to study Dylan Thomas, I would be missing the first two lectures of the term...because I was taking a week off to galavant through Portugal and Spain...because I'm an uncultured American who's never been anywhere and a girl whose life mottos are sometimes too heavily influenced by Hilary Duff...

"Enjoy Iberia!" He exclaimed as I left, relieved he'd been so understanding. I smiled and thanked him and perhaps threw a 'thumbs up' at him because for some reason Europe's done that to me?? It wasn't until I was on the other side of the door I realized it wouldn't have been ridiculous for me to ask him what "Iberia" was instead of contemplating on my own the word I'd never heard before. It's nice that even though I've yet to have a class with him, the prof's still managed to teach me something (with a lil help from Google.)


My Iberian adventure was unbelievable.

I bought myself a bottle of wine (rose, not the normal plane size bottle -- imagine a toddler size bottle rather than the teeny tiny baby kind) on the flight in while the man next to me taught me a few key Portuguese phrases. The airport shuttle ride was me and five middle aged vacationers who I informed, very excitedly, that it was my 22nd birthday in one hour, can you believe it?! The hour long ride from Faro to Armação de Pêra soundtracked by a night club kind of Portuguese/Late 2000s hits mix and I was in awe of Portugal at every turn. They dropped me off in front of a cyber cafe/convenient store (yes...for real) when I realized I had no idea what the actual apartment number was...Also I was apparently in the wrong place entirely...After an anxious 10 minutes the sight of Alexa and Gwen running towards me from the down the street, while the two kind Portuguese store clerks looked on in amusement at the wild American girls hugging and yelling, filled me relief and elation.

Birthday excitement flowing through my veins it wasn't even that difficult to get out of bed for a beach sunrise. The serenity of a deserted oceanfront at daybreak, soft sand, warm water, everything awash in oranges, pinks, blues, yellows; I've never known colors that vibrant. It was the perfect start to an absolutely perfect day.

Dranks In The Ocean
We returned to the beach a few hours later properly packed to settle in for the day, equipped with enough wine, beer, and snacks for the afternoon...Not enough sunscreen, however, I literally emptied my bottle right then and there, which left all of us burnt in unfortunate and strange patterns across our bodies.

It was six hours of laughing, bonding with new friends, catching up with old ones, discussing the future and the past, eating everything, briefly going topless because we could. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I didn't have a care in the world. (This is not a normal feeling for me, a constant ball of anxiety.) It was the most relaxed I've ever been in my life.

I treated myself to a birthday steak dinner, obviously, and extremely overpriced Sangria, then we hit Albufeira for the night clubs. As the area's a tourist spot, the bars were mostly middle aged Brits on holiday (seriously Brits get to go on SO MANY HOLIDAYS; jobs here just let people have time off...all the time. Like, every year. It's bonkers. Get that together, America), but one club played "Gasolina" followed by "Jai Ho" and then Shakira's anthem "Waka Waka" and it was the highlight of my night.

happy girls
The next day took us to Lisbon, where we stayed at the world's greatest (medium-sized) hostel, according to HostelWorld and according to ME out of all the hostels I've stayed in so far. It's literally called HOME, it's cozy AS HECK, with a patio, living room, and full-experience three course home-cooked meals every night made by the owner Mamma for only 10 EURO. She literally takes everyone's personal dietary restrictions into consideration. It was incomparable. We saw Lisbon's open-air church and museum, the Castle of St. Jorge, and unreal views from a couple of the cities' miradouros. One of Portugal's 'things' is free shots upon welcoming someone and with every dinner and it is one of my favorite countries in the world, so far. Portugal and Ireland have absolutely stolen my heart.

Cheetah Girl's 2 gave me high hopes for Barcelona, and it met them, but October in Iberia means winter's coming and that means rain season. It absolutely poured straight through our first day in Spain, the kind of storm that doesn't allow for great exploration. I managed to see a lot of the Gothic Quarter though, and honestly, it was some of the most incredible and oldest architecture I've ever experienced, so, cool. I ate patatas bravas either with or in substitute of every meal and mixed a lot of wine and cerveza.

The overcast skies didn't deter us from what I came to Barcelona determined to do: Monserrat. It's a serrated mountain ridge, with an old church and abbey built into it, and Spain's first National Park. Astonishing doesn't begin to describe the entire impact of being there. It was by far the peak of the trip and potentially my entire life -- Four years in private Catholic school, forced to go to church at least once a week, and I've never felt closer to religion than literally above the clouds, sitting atop a Spanish mountain.


Gwen, Ashley, and I then braved the extremely aggressive club promoters of La Rambla and Plaça Reial and spent the night bumpin' and grindin' in an undeniably hip but small, sweaty basement. I'm pretty sure we left around 2/2:30, but the club showed no signs of slowing down. At all. The clubs literally stay open until the party dies and sometimes the Barcelona party don't stop until, like, 7 AM. I was busing to the airport Saturday morning at 7 and actually watched hoards of drunk people crawling from clubs to cabs with the sunrise. It was honestly kind of beautiful.

The third day was finally sunny and warm and we hit the dry pavement, covering over half the width of the surprisingly large city, passing by Gaudí's Sagrada Família and spending the afternoon wandering Park Güell. It's been hard to say goodbye to every city so far, but the end of a trip is always a confusing co-mingling of relieved exhaustion, disappointment that it's over, and excitement to move on to what's next.


Swansea welcomed me home again with clear skies and a huge group hug from my lovely new Swan friends.

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