By Jeannie Mai
After two flights, we arrived in Lisbon at around 7 a.m. on Sunday, March 17 and met with our tour guide, Laura. We checked in at the SANA Rex Hotel and had an hour to get ready before exploring the capital with the entire group, which also consisted of students from Hawaii and Kansas.
We took a walking tour of the Baixa, or downtown Portugal. The architecture of the brightly-colored buildings was absolutely beautiful, but the best part had to be the decorative stone pavement. It was so different from the usual gray California sidewalks.
On the second day, we started our morning off at Belém Tower, a fortification located on the bank of the Tagus River. Afterwards, we trekked uphill to see the view from the Castle of São Jorge. The red rooftops of Lisbon were the most prominent features from the view.
In the afternoon, we visited Cascais, a couple of train stops away from Lisbon. The town had a very Santa Monica-like feel to it due to its location right along the beach. It had a relaxing vibe, which we all loved. We perused the small shops before heading back to the Baixa.
Seville was easily one of my favorite cities we visited. I groggily dragged myself out of bed, only to be pleasantly surprised by the warm and sunny weather. We started off the beautiful morning at the Plaza de España. The plaza had ornately decorated bridges and towers, and, of course, roaming gypsies.
Shortly after, we visited the Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace. Everywhere I turned, the walls were intricately designed to the last detail. The palace had lovely, captivating architecture with Moorish influence. We then went to climb the Giralda, the famous bell tower of the Cathedral of Spain. Thirty-three floors later, we reached the top, where you could see the breathtaking view of Seville.
After the hike, we rewarded ourselves with lunch. I finally had the chance to try a classic Spanish paella, which consists of rice, vegetables, and saffron. It was delicious; the rice was cooked to perfection and the seafood was pleasing.
That evening, we took lessons from an authentic flamenco dancer who taught us the basic steps of the native Spanish dance.
Afterwards, we attended a flamenco show that was so different from the normal dance styles we see here. The best part of the flamenco dancing is the passion I was able to see on the dancers’ faces.
We spent our last few nights in Madrid at the Hotel Medodía. Our hotel was in a convenient location – close to the Reina Sofia Museum, the Plaza Mayor, and the Prado Museum. Madrid reminded me of New York City with its crowded streets and bright city lights. I absolutely loved it.
We arrived in Madrid in the evening and had dinner with the entire tour group at the Museo del Jamón. Dinner consisted of delicious zucchini soup followed by a vegetable paella. We then walked back to the Plaza del Sol and Hoover split up with the rest of the tour group to get churros and hot chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés.
We also got a chance to visit El Museo Reina Sofía, home of Pablo Picasso’s famous “Guernica.” I was skeptical of this famous painting that everyone spoke so highly of because I was never a fan of modern art. However, I was genuinely surprised; the “Guernica” is astonishing. I was speechless at how Picasso conveyed the destruction of the Spanish Civil War in such a unique and disturbing way.
On our last full day in Spain, we woke up and traveled to Toledo, south of Madrid. After seeing an exquisite skyline of Toledo, we went to one of the town’s most famous tourist attractions: the Cathedral. The church was magnificent with detailed stain glass windows and various paintings by famous artists such as Goya and El Greco.
Then, we went to the Church of San Tome to see El Greco’s most famous work “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.” We also got a chance to walk across the Bridge of San Martin, which was located at the western side of Toledo. The bridge was majestic; it looked like something out of a fairy tale.
The trip passed us by so quickly, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Not only did I get to experience European culture and see breathtakingly beautiful monuments, but I got closer to a lot of my Spanish Club friends.
I hope to visit again soon; my first trip to Spain and Portugal with Mrs. Cooper and Spanish Club was amazing.