Week 9: The Tale of 2 Countries

Wow, we just passed our 2 month mark! I can’t believe we are already 2 months in, but at the same time…where has the time gone?! We began week 9 by crossing over country borders from Spain to Portugal. When planning our route, we weren’t sure if we were going to include Portugal and now I can’t remember why! It is so close to Spain and has lots to offer – beautiful beaches, great food, nice people and an added bonus is we get to add another country to our list! So far, we are at 7 countries and counting!

Lagos, Portugal

Oh Lagos. You are quite a site to see. We read in HuffPost Travel that Lagos was the home to “the worlds most beautiful beach” and we were like…..”whaaaaaaat?! In like, the WHOLE world? We must go there!” So that’s what fueled our decision to visit this little beach town.

Now, we went a little crazy and found an entire apartment for the same price as a private room in Lagos (for those of you that are curious, our daily accommodation budget in Europe is $30/day and thanks to AirBnb, we have been able to stay in some amazing places! PS: we are super open about how much we have saved for this trip, how much we spend daily and how to make this trip financially possible so if you have any questions, please ask!). I did miss staying with hosts from the area and learning about their city from them, but let me tell ya – it was SO NICE to have our own space for a few days! It was a 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchen…a real kitchen!...and everything we needed to enjoy 2 days in Lagos. We were a 5 minute walk from the beach and downtown, and around the corner was a small grocery store. From our bedroom, we had views of the cobblestone roads and the whitewashed homes. Hello, Greece! Ahem, I mean…hello, Lagos!

So a fact about us which you may have picked up from this blog and from our “about us” is that we love to cook! Back home, we cooked all the time together. We would get all tangled up in our little kitchen, rock out to some music and have date nights that began in the grocery store, migrated to the kitchen, and ended at the table with a home cooked meal beaconing our name. With that being said…as soon as we realized we had our own kitchen, what did we do? We made our way to the grocery store, migrated to the kitchen, and ended the night at the dinner table! Ok, we ended the night cleaning the kitchen and Skyping our families, but ya know. Despite being in a beach town that is so far from beautiful fall foliage and warm pumpkin spice scents, I was determined to get some fall smells and fall flavors going on in the apartment. We made a butternut squash pasta with pancetta and spinach and it was delicious! It took some time to make, but that’s exactly what we wanted. Just time to take in the simplicity of cooking, of being together in the kitchen, and maybe taking a break or two to dance to the Ella Fitzgerald that was playing in the background. Extra bonus: those warm smells lingered the whole time we were in the apartment and I definitely soaked it in!

Ok, back to the beautiful beaches that lead us to Lagos in the first place. Our second day in Lagos was very reminiscent of a day we would have back home in California – breakfast/beach/burritos/beer (wow! All B’s! I didn’t even plan that. Skillz). We woke up to the sound of rain and took in the smells of fresh brewed coffee. Sean was whippin’ up some breakfast and I was planning out our route for the beach hike that was to commence that afternoon despite the rain! With our rain jackets in hand and GoPro all charged up, we made our way to the first of 3 beaches that were on our agenda. Before we set out on our hike, we made a pit stop at the Lagos Fire Department! Seeing that the firefighters were there, we stopped in to say hello and they gave us a really great tour of the station. Sean was able to compare the differences and the similarities between the fire departments in California and the ones in Portugal. They were all so nice and we loved learning more about Lagos. After that, we were walking the muddy trails of a cliff…yes a cliff. Muddy cliff. In the rain. Ok, maybe not the WHOLE trail was on the cliff but the 3 minutes that were, were TERRIFYING. But, it lead us to the most beautiful views of the most beautiful beaches.

We obviously struggled getting a good GoPro shot of us...

Ok, BURRITOS. The joy that radiated from us when we found out there was a place called “Beats & Burritos” a few steps from our apartment was just as pure as pure can be. Like giddy little girls, we walked into the smell of tortillas, guacamole and salsa and took a seat in the simply decorated restaurant. It felt like a burrito place we would find in San Clemente, CA so needless to say, for the hour we were there, we were home. This place was like Chipotle, but sit down style. They gave us a piece of paper where we could choose between tacos, burritos, nachos, burrito bowls, or quesadilla. Then you choose your meat, fillings, etc. We chose nachos and a burrito and split the deliciousness. The kicker? They had Tabascco! We haven’t had spicy food since we left CA so we doused our burritos and nachos in tabassco goodness. We were happy happy campers!

Conclusion: our time in Lagos was way too short and we already decided that we are coming back in the summertime to take full advantage of the beaches and this wonderful beach town. Until next time, Lagos!

Lisbon, Portugal

The only reference to Lisbon was had before actually going there was an episode of No Reservations. That episode sparked our interest and if anything, made us want to go there and eat the delicious Lisboan cuisine – full of fresh seafood, and…some more seafood. Also, we have been missing the beach now that we ventured more inland so the fact that Lisbon sits right on the Atlantic was just another reason to visit this beautiful city! 

We stayed in the “street art neighborhood of Mouraria – one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon. Like most big cities in Europe, this little neighborhood did not lack in cobblestone streets, small alleyways, strings of laundry decorating the homes and lots of cafes that smelled of espresso and some homecookin’. Our little studio was perfectly located, had a kitchen (we got to cook again!), and was very comfortable. Now, if you would have asked us about 3 months ago whether or not we could live in a 500 sq ft studio apartment back home, I am pretty sure we both would have laughed a little and then say, “absolutely not.” But, we are learning more and more every single that less is so much more. Less of everything: clothes, beauty products, cooking supplies, things, stuff, and all of those other things and stuff that just accumulates over time. It is so freeing to be able to have less of everything because it puts importance on other aspects of life and really makes us realize that all the extras just add weight to life. So, what I am trying to say that yes, yes we could live in a 500 sq ft studio apartment back home.

The first night we were in Lisbon, we walked around our neighborhood and explored a bit before heading back to make some dinner…and I actually got Sean to watch “When Harry Met Sally” with me! Needless to say, it was a good night. After a good nights rest, we headed out early the next day for yet another free walking tour from “Chill-Out Lisbon Walking Tours.” We have realized that for big cities, to do a free walking tour is the absolute best way to get to know a city. We learn so much about the culture and the history and it sets the path for the rest of our time there because we make note of places we want to go back to, or we get the guides suggestion on where to go next. This tour that we went on was AWESOME because our guide, Rafa, was incredibly passionate about Lisbon and told us all the stories, myths, legends, history, and facts about most parts of the city. We walked…and he talked for about 3.5 hours all over Lisbon. Our legs definitely burned after our tour and our brains were full of so much information (which I hope we can remember!) but every second was worth it. There are a lot of things that Rafa told us about Lisbon, but he also talked a lot about life, travel and his personal experiences. One thing he said particularly stood out to us, and it was about being a “tourist” vs. being a “traveler”…and I am going to do my best to relay his perspective. A tourist is someone who goes somewhere, takes some photos, sees some monuments, eats at a restaurant just because it feels comfortable and just skims over the city for the sake of being there. A traveler dives into the city. They experience the city with all 5 senses: they smell the scents of walking down the street, they eat the local food…even if its unfamiliar, they see the monuments, but they also see around the monuments, they hear the conversations between locals and engage with others, and they feel the emotion of what its like to be present in the moment while allowing the city to surround them. I loved his perspective and even though I feel like we have been “travelers,” it only encouraged us more smell, taste, see, hear and feel all that a city is. (even if it sometimes smells bad, tastes weird, looks dirty, sounds harsh and feels unsafe).

Taking what Rafa said to heart, we wanted to see ALL of Lisbon. How can you see all of Lisbon in 2 days? It’s easy! Head to the top of Grassa, and BOOM! All of Lisbon. This was by far, the best view we have had on our trip yet. We could see the bay, the ocean, the bridge, the city center, the castle, the streets, and life buzzing around the city.

Going back to the “taste” portion – oh man. Being total copy cats, we of course went to the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain went to in his episode of No Reservations. Well, I think everyone else had the same idea….or this place is just THAT GOOD. Located on the main street in the city center, "Cervejaria Ramiro" had a line that would have made you think they were giving away free puppies and a million dollars to each person that waited. It was one of those moments where we asked ourselves “Is this place really going to be worth it? How long is this going to take? Are we going to get HANGRY?”…but once I made eye contact with a guy who was just leaving the restaurant, all full and happy…he gave me the slow motion head nod of “YES, DO IT.” So, we waited and it was absolutely worth it. Once inside the insanely busy circus restaurant, everything happened so fast. We saw plates of seafood whizzing by, beers on beers on beers being poured and tables getting up and being sat within 30 seconds of eachother. In one fell swoop, we ordered 2 beers, a plate of clams and the famous tiger prawns. With you as our witness, we are going on record to say that those dishes were the best seafood we have ever had in a restaurant. There! I said it! (but homecooked seafood from my nonna, aunt, and papa will always be at least 1 notch about the best). We ended our meal with “dessert” as suggested by Mr. Bourdain himself…a steak sandwich. You read that right. A steak sandwich. The most tender steak, on perfectly soft/crunchy bread with some garlic. That’s it! We left with our hands smelling of seafood and garlic (oh the romance) and our tummies full and happy. And of course, there was no line when we left. What the heck is that all about?

After the last 2 weeks, one thing was for sure – we needed a day. Not just any other day, but a day that included a beach, a towel, a book and a moment (just a moment!) of relaxation. These California kids aren’t used to big city livin’ and were missing the big blue. (The 2 days in Lagos don’t count because it was raining and we couldn’t have a “beach day” – just to clarify.) So, we packed up and left the city in search of some sand. The weather was beautiful and everything was perfect, except for the disappointment that came over Sean when he realized that his dream of surfing in Portugal was shut down by 1-2ft waves. So once he stopped crying (just kidding, only on the inside), we laid out our towels and the rest is exactly what you would expect. Some napping, some reading, some swimming, some walking, some mega beach time…and it ended with some sunburns.

Lisbon, thank you for exceeding our expectations.

Madrid, Spain

We couldn’t just up and leave Spain without seeing the capital city! Plus, we still hadn’t gotten our traditional churros and chocolate yet so for that reason alone, we had to go back.

I think I may have mentioned this at one point in time, but we have a car. We did a short term lease so we could freely see Europe and it has worked out so great! (PS: our cars name is Peggy. Peggy Le Peu the Peugot…) The only thing that hasn’t worked out so great has been parking. Parking in big cities has been so incredibly stressful and a huge pain in our a$$. With that being said, in Madrid, we opted for a small studio a little outside of the city where we could park freely on the street. It ended up working out really well because we were a 2 minute walk from the subway that took us right into the city center in 15 minutes. Once again, I am realizing that I kind of love studios and the idea of everything in the home having a purpose. I found myself redecorating this studio in my head, where I put things, what it would look like and how we could make it work with the things we have stored back home. In the tiny kitchenette, we a made a big batch of soup for dinner and cozied up on the couch for a relaxing night of watching Hotel Translyvania so we could rest up for a day of exploring!

We spent Saturday seeing the sites. We visited Plaza Mayor which is the oldest plaza in the city and where they had bull fights, executions (sounds pretty, right?) and was smack dab in the center of the capital. From there, we went around all of the historical district and visited catherdrals, the royal palace, and “hall of kings” and the famous opera house. Then we found ourselves in a beautiful garden right outside of the royal palace where we took in the sun and the fresh air…and got lost in a few mazes!

That evening, we decided to do another “tapa-hop” since we knew the time for tapas was coming to an end! (Does France have tapas??) We began at Mercado de San Miguel which is very similar to the Packinghouse in Anaheim – lots of little pop-up restaurants and bars and then a big center in the middle with tables where you can bring all your goodies and enjoy good company and meeting new friends. We ate the STINKIEST cheese there and our breath was like dragons…such betrayal!

From there, we walked through the busy city center, rounded the corner, and as typical Californians…we found a Mexican restaurant! Ok, so maybe it wasn’t tapas BUT you try to resist the smell of tortilla chips and salsa! Of course, we got nachos and it was made with the freshest salsa and guacamole the size of our head. The not so great part? Because all the ingredients were imported from Mexico (which is good because it’s authentic but…) it was really expensive! And when I say really expensive, I mean in comparison to what we have been paying in Europe. Normally we can eat an entire meal and leave feeling stuffed for under €20 but just for nachos and 2 cervezas it was €17…ehh, for a little taste of home, I guess it was worth it.

The next place we went to was definitely a local find. No English menu’s and a group of guys who clearly just got off work and were looking for a place to grab a drink and a snack. We ordered a cerveza from the nameless, labeless, icy cold beer tap and it came with a delicious typical Spanish tortilla. The décor was funky and fun and we felt one with the city when we were in there.

Our “tapa-hop” ended with a little Spanish nightlife tradition – Flamenco! We got really lucky in finding a restaurant called "The Clan” that had flamenco for free vs. paying about €25/pp to go see a show. Trust me, I would have loved to go see a show, but our wallets just did not allow for that right now. So, we parked ourselves at this little restaurant and watched a woman dance her heart out as her dress swayed back and forth to the sounds of the flamenco guitar. After her, a man took the stage and the passion on his face for the dance, and the sweat spraying everyone in the crowd made us feel like we were really experiencing the art of flamenco.

By the time we headed home around 1:30am, the rest of Madrid was just coming alive. The subways were completely full of people getting ready to begin their evening out on the town. I looked at them with tired eyes and if I could have given them an applause for their perseverance, I would have…but I guess I am an old lady and that is used a 2am closing time when it comes to nightlife. I was happy to go to this one really awesome nightclub that clearly the Spanish people hadn’t heard about…it was amazing. It was called “our bed.”…so chic.

After a lazy Sunday morning of sleeping in, a pot of coffee and breakfast on the patio…we took a dive into the fresh crisp air and made our way to Parque Retiro to rent some bikes and spend a day outside. My heart jumped for joy the minute we entered the park and I saw things that you just don’t see in southern California: the actual act of leaves falling. Bright orange and yellow colors. Leaves on the ground. People wearing scarves because it was cold (not just because it was fall…so guilty of that). A fall Sunday in the park was what was happening right before my eyes, and we were there. We were about to experience a day that brings so much joy to my heart. I know I sound weird and obsessed, but the beauty of the simplicity just completely overcame me. As we rode on the bikes and fresh air hit my face, I felt like we were in the most perfect place ever created. We sat in the middle of park on a picnic blanket, surrounded by people and fall colors and enjoyed lunch. I just wanted to soak in that moment. But, there was one thing that could pull me out of this lovely daze that I was in……………CHURROS. Warm, crispy, fresh churros…served with melted chocolate. Psh, fallish park who? Going with the whole Sunday tradition thing that seemed to be going on, we went to Chocolateria San Gines and totally indulged in the deliciousness that was a traditional Spanish churro. It was everything we hoped it would be.

Another thing we had to do before we left Spain was learn how to make amazing, traditional, REAL paella. We looked to this website called “WithLocals” which basically gives locals an opportunity to advertise certain experiences that people can pay and sign up for. It can be anything from a bike tour of the city, to a wine tasting, to a paella cooking class. I bet you’re wondering which one we chose? Paella cooking class of course! We met our host Claudia at her apartment where she set up an amazing spread of all homemade appetizers and delicious wine from the region. We had the best time getting to know her and her story! She was born in Venezeula before moving to New York for cooking school and from there, made her way to Madrid where she has lived ever since. She used to own a restaurant but decided to go a simpler route and now, she conducts cooking classes, teaches English and does caterings for Vogue. She was full of life, passion, and had so much love for food and people. When we began cooking the paella she made sure to teach us her most important lesson: the absolute best ingredient you can add to anything you ever cook is passion and love. Sounds cliché and yes, it might be but she definitely practiced what she preached because the way she moved around the kitchen and how she interacted with the food was nothing short of love. And it definitely came through in the Paella that we got to enjoy after all the lessons had been learned and the recipe written down. Let me just say…paella party at the Call’s house when we get home!

We are sad that our time in Spain has come to an end, but where to next? France! Time for loads of cheese, bread, and wine. Oh wait, that’s what we've pretty much been eating in every country…..well, now its time for loads of FRENCH cheese, FRENCH bread, and FRENCH wine. Addios, Spain. Bonjour, France!


The Call's