Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Break: Madrid and Lisbon!

I spent the 10 days of spring break with my friend Sarah traveling from Madrid, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. Our flight to Madrid was out of Milan, so we decided to spend the day before in Milan and visit the city. Bad idea. It rained nonstop. We visited the Duomo and pretty much gave up after that. Instead, we napped and rested up for the rest of break at our hostel. I think we would have had a better opinion of the city if the weather was nicer, but most of the other students I have talked to, also disliked Milan. It was also supposed to rain in both Madrid and Lisbon, but thankfully we were safe most of the time.

I'm going to start off by saying I absolutely loved Madrid. The architecture, the people, the museums, the atmosphere, the food! The first afternoon we visited the world famous Prado museum. They have free hours from 6 to 8 pm, but beware that the museum is huge and it may take more than a couple hours. Also, the gift shop closes early. (I spend an unhealthy amount of time in museum gift shops.)
For dinner, we met up with Jen and Diana, also from USAC, and looked for a tapas place in touristy Puerta del Sol area. 1st mistake. I ordered some very interesting tapas (duck kebab in yogurt sauce and strawberry crab gazpacho) that was very very small and equally as expensive. I had to get a 2 euro slice of pizza to compensate. The next night, we went to El Tigre, a very popular tapas place with three locations all in close proximity of each other. I went with four others. We each ordered a huge drink for 6 euros and received more than enough typical spanish tapas.

I also visited the botanical gardens in light rain (it smelled really nice), the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, and the Renia Sofia museum. I had to pay 8 euros for the Thyssen, but I think I would of had to pay double that without my student ID, so always carry that with you. The Renia Sofia was free after 2:30, which was nice because I zoomed though the museum just so I could see Piacaso's famous Guernica. I spent a good 20 minutes looking at the painting. (Piacaso is my favorite painter, so this was a big deal for me/maybe one of the top reasons I wanted to visit Madrid in the first place).

In both Madrid and Lisbon, we did two free walking tours organized by our hostels. Great way to see things and learn things you might not by exploring on your own.

Plaza Mayor (don't eat in the beautiful tourist trap)

Parco del Retiro 

In Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, the center of Spain
Churros from Chocolateria San Gines,
which is open 24/7 except for New Years. Go!

Lisbon was a lot different from Madrid. It is built on seven hills (very hilly) and is along a huge river. Our hostel was a couple blocks from the river and on the main shopping streets. Jen and Diana were staying at a hostel one street close to the river from us, and Sarah and I ended up hanging out there more often than ours. It was the coolest hostel I have seen, called Yes Hostel, and is amazing. There is also one in Porto, Portugal. The people working there treated us like guests, they had a great dinner option, a bar, free walking tours, and organized a pub crawl.

There is a huge castle on the top of one hill in Lisbon. Go up near there for the views, but don't spend the money to go inside. There is also a elevator in the middle of the city for another great view, but if you walk up a couple hills, you can get the same views for free. There are a lot of day trips/half day trips around Lisbon. Each place cost only 2.50 euros to get to and back from. We visited Sintra, which is a town with castles, beaches, and a forest. The two hilltop castles, which we skipped, are about 6 to 12 euros to explore but they offer amazing views. Instead we went to Quinta da Regaleria, the property of a King's summer residence that includes towers and underground caves and grottos. Cascais, the closest beach town, was so beautiful. You can rent bikes for free and ride along the coast. Belèm is still in Lisbon, a 20 minute tram ride from the city center. We saw the huge monastary, the tower of Belèm, and ate where the best and original Natas are made (portuguese custard pastries).

Barrio Alto is a relatively small neighborhood in Lisbon where there are about 300 bars. Its a great place to experience the night life of Lisbon. There are also a lot of less touristy restaurants with authentic Portuguese food.

The last day was rainy, so I visited the aquarium of Lisbon, which is one of the biggest in Europe. It cost 14 euros to see the temporary turtle exhibit and the main building. If you enjoy aquariums and have extra time in Lisbon, this is a great option.


The River
View from the old city, Alfama

Quinta da Regaleira
Tower of Belèm
Nata heaven