For spring break this year, we decided to take advantage of our close proximity to Portugal and head to the western coast of the Iberian peninsula. If you haven’t been to Portugal, we would recommend it highly. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, with a mix of cultures, unique architecture, compelling history, and dramatic landscapes. Most Americans seem to head to the U.K., France, or Italy on European vacations, but Portugal is a worthy suitor. It’s quite wonderful, and truth be told, we have only seen a sliver or it.
We decided to road trip again by car in order to see a couple of places on the coast we had yet to visit this year. Our first stop was Gibraltar. I have to be honest. I have always wanted to see Gibraltar, dating all the way back to those Prudential commercials that used to play on words and allude to that “piece of the rock” we should all try and get ahold of. And it was invigorating to approach Gibraltar with that great rock protruding out into the sea. It’s quite impressive, massive really.
However, beyond the rock itself, Gibraltar the place had a real impact on us that was considerable and somewhat unforeseen. It was quite an overwhelming feeling to stand at Europa Point and gaze at the African coastline with Morocco less than 15 miles away. And we were quite taken by looking out over the Strait of Gibraltar–linking the Pacific and Mediterranean, a gateway to the cradle of so much history, and the pathway for warships to the Middle East amidst the crisis in Syria. All this at a time when the fight between Spain and the U.K. over Gibraltar has rekindled over a piece of land and a port that may indeed hold equal meaning for our future as it has for our past. As Americans living in Spain, it was impossible not to contemplate our place in the world as we stared at the Moroccan coastline. Powerful.
After getting a bite to eat in Gibraltar (they have pizza there too:), we headed to Cadiz for the night. Although Cadiz seems surprisingly ignored in a number of guidebooks, I would highly recommend it. Cadiz is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in Europe, founded by the Phoenicians in 1104 BC. The city rests on a tiny peninsula, boasts a wonderful cathedral, glorious Old Town, and beaches speckled with rowboats and fishing skiffs. The colorful buildings line the shore and the water is a clear aquamarine. Although it is slightly off the beaten path, it’s worth the detour.
On to Portugal and the Algarve in the southwest corner of the country. The Algarve region is known for its resorts, and we decided to just relax along the coast for the week. We stayed just outside the town of Lagos and could not have enjoyed our stay more. We hiked along the cliffs, walked along the beach, kayaked around dramatic rock formations, hung out at the pool, and the boys played in a futbol camp each morning run by some great guys from the U.K. They made friends with kids from Portugal, Spain, England, and Oman, and the camp was a real highlight. It was a fun week for the family with something for everyone.
From the Algarve, we headed north for a weekend in Lisbon or Lisboa as they say in Portugal. Lisboa is quite a city and the oldest in Western Europe. Older than Rome! It has faced wars and fires and earthquakes to be rebuilt and reborn time and time again–each evolution more glorious than the next. And it is glorious. It is a glorious kaleidoscope of pastels and cobblestone and castles and hills and bridges and water. A place where the ancient Alfama district and the Lisbon Cathedral can exist not far from the Hard Rock Cafe and a bright, modern shopping district. A city with a gourmet Central Market just down the street from the port where Vasco de Gama sailed for India.
While we were there, we barely scratched the surface of all Lisboa has to offer, but we made our time count – attending a Benfica futbol match, visiting Castelo Sao Jorge, strolling through the crooked streets painted with dreams from Place do Comercio to Rossi Square, and even finding time to see Fate of the Furious or as they say in Portuguese Velocidade Furiosa! Although our time in Lisbon was short, it was oh so sweet.
As always, this trip was filled with some funny stories. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are some take-aways:
1. Karen doesn’t like kayaking, but she likes when the boat tows her kayak with her in it.
2. If your car doesn’t start in Europe, your battery probably isn’t dead. You just don’t know how to operate the vehicle.
3. If you are a bartender in Portugal, you can have a boat and a horse.
4. McDonalds drive through is called McAuto.
5. If a homeless man helps you secure a parking space under an overpass in Lisbon for a Benfica futbol match, the cost is 2 euros.
In conclusion, we had a great trip. It continues to be incredible to travel just a few short hours and be in another country, with another culture, another history, and another language. For all of Europe’s influence throughout history, the land mass is startlingly small, but these countries have left the modern world so many wondrous marvels. And we just feel lucky to have the opportunity to experience them, and experience them together. While walking along the giant cliffs of the Algarve, where every view is a picture, Karen remarked that “the world is just so beautiful.” It seems that, if there is one thing worth remembering above all others, that’s it.