In my previous post, I wrote that one of the opportunities about studying abroad is the chance to travel easily to new, incredible places (when not in school). This past weekend, I traveled to Lagos, Portugal with a few friends!
In Madrid, the 1st and 2nd of May are holidays—Spain observes International Worker’s Day on the 1st, and the 2nd is a local Madrid holiday commemorating the 1808 uprising against French rule. Today, neither International Worker’s Day nor el dos de mayo are widely celebrated in a traditional sense, but many schools and businesses close, allowing for a four-day weekend referred to as el puente de mayo. So, three friends and I took the opportunity to travel to Portugal.
We took an overnight train to Lisbon, and from Lisbon, a direct bus to Lagos. I enjoyed the bus ride because it allowed me to see the Portugal countryside, which is surprisingly different from the Spanish countryside. Excluding the coast, Portugal has more consistent small to medium sized rolling hills, contrasting with Spain’s plains and jagged mountains.
Overall, the trip was really wonderful. Lagos is known for being somewhat touristy, but in early May, there are not hoards of tourists, so we experienced and learned about more of the traditional culture than I imagine is possible in mid-summer. For example, we visited several churches that reminded me of small-town Spanish churches, in that there appeared to be as many congregants as visitors. We also learned that Lagos was the first stop of the Portuguese slave trade. Now, the market site has an underwhelming small museum: the area is more noticeably covered by cheerful shops and a square through which people walk to the port. Of course, this is disturbing, though it does show historical growth.
Nonetheless, my favorite part of the trip was exploring the coast. In our three days in Lagos, we were able to hike, kayak, and swim along the coast. Thus, we were able to see many angles and aspects of the cliffs, caves, and water.
I really love the contrast of the yellow-gold cliffs with the water’s blue, and the green of both links the ruggedness of the land with the smoothness of the sea.
A couple of specific fun moments:
On Friday night, which was my birthday, we had dinner out at a Portuguese/Spanish style restaurant. The food was excellent, especially the fresh fish and the vinho verde. (Vinho verde is a typical Portuguese wine—it is a less processed sparkling wine. It can be red, white, or rosé, but is most commonly white. It’s quite light and yummy.) We asked our waiter for a picture when our food came, but he handed the camera to another waiter and ran behind our table to be in the picture.
On an unrelated note, one day while hiking, we acquired a dog friend. We had met the dog earlier in the trip while walking past his farm, but this day, he decided that he would come with us. I suppose he thought we were his companions for his daily adventure. He didn’t respond when we told and showed him to go back to what we assumed was his house, and no owner came out to get him. There wasn’t much else we could do, and so he followed us. He was a very friendly dog, knew the trails well, and was quite energetic, so he was a good hiking buddy. At the end of our hike, he happily returned to his farm. I wonder how often he makes friends with and joins hikers for the day.
I have since returned to Madrid. The Vassar-Wesleyan program ends on May 29, but I will stay until mid-June to complete my exams in Complutense (the university with the later semester). At the end of my exams, I may travel a little more before going home, but I also look forward to my last days living in Madrid. I hope to visit new museums and revisit ones I’ve been to, see the Compañia Nacional de Danza perform, walk through the city, and enjoy picnics in Parque Retiro. It is wonderful to travel, but also wonderful to really get to know a city: immersing oneself in a new place—as a student at the formative kid/adult age—is essential and unique to the experience of studying abroad.