Monica Sok - Fall 2010
Lake Como, Italy
(Actual Travel Date: November 17-18, 2010)
The end of my European journey finished with my last travel to a lake resort in northern Italy where a number of crystal clear lakes resided underneath Switzerland. It was there where confessions were made, debates discussed, revelations inspired, and good conversation flowed. It was full of mind struggles and putting issues to rest and of some much needed tranquility. Physically and mentally.
And it happened with two lovely girls I couldn't ask more from travel partners.
We were there in off-season and ended up being the only ones in the hostel which was quite amusing, but otherwise, the lake resort was rather lonely, the waters whistling next to desolate roads and sidewalks. Many of the shops and restaurants were closed as we found out after hiking down from our hostel on the hill. Lucky for us, we did find one excellent restaurant to have dinner and lunch at as we relaxed leisurely while discussing the finer points of life.
My advice is to not go in the autumn and winter time like we did, but the quietude that greeted us was much needed for our minds having gone through three weeks of stressful travel.
The lakes were a shade of blue-gray drifting back and forth to the rhythm of the gentle breezes. They moved the ducks forward and left trailing lines of dark shades coasting through the liquid. The sounds of water swishing back and forth were soothing and dull and lulled by the small bodies of land floating atop. Alabaster sun rays peeked shyly from outside the clouds, lighting the outlines and reflecting brilliantly off the waters.
Warm gnocchi, bathed and rolled in marinara sauce, warmed my hands and stomach from the even chill outside. The triple mokaccinos stratified into a dark bronze, caramel, and a light layer swirled with white topped with nimble whipped cream. Journals laid, worn at the edges by travel and bent by the owners, ready for the trip back home.
Those last two days.
Emotions moved and crashed and crested and then fell. And despite the small waves, all was silent and all was well.
The Phoenix's Battle
Let it fall and fly away to home
Its wings sorely bent; the feathers singed
Red and gold wilted, crying away to
Ashes, proliferating pile high
There's nothing at first, silent and bare
But the match is struck and the ashes
Come back to crimson; eyes wide alert
Standing strong, appreciating all
The wings are ferociously strong
The clouds pregnant with heaven's tears
Let the strike come down! The tribulations
The trials - they come without a merciful stop
But the phoenix is flying and can see
Those rays, scintillating and beckoning
Fire is roaring despite the fatigue
It stretches in wonder and releases a cry
It lives. It soars. Eyes tilted toward the sky.
(Actual Trip Date: November 16, 2010)
To be honest, I wished I planned my travels to go from Vienna and then Salzburg. After experiencing an entire, fantastic day under the sunshine in the beautiful city of Salzburg, Vienna looked like nothing in comparison. It didn't help that my friend and I also arrived under the conditions of a chilly draft and low, gray skies pregnant with raindrops.
But my friend loved the city, and I have to say that there is something to Vienna other cities can't capture. I don't know exactly how to explain it. There's a mysterious allure that just hangs in the city air as you walk around. We spent most of our time in Naschmarkt - a long street of food vendors ending in rows and rows of delightful scarves hanging around off shelves and hooks. One of the best things at the market? If you're nice enough and you hang around a vendor for a little while looking interested, they'll usually give you a sample to taste.
It was like being back at Costco!
Normally the only things they let you taste are the olives stuffed with cheese, the falafels dipped with some sort of hummus, or the dried strawberries or assortment of fruits they're selling. After eating a delicious meal of falafel sandwich and a chicken kebab shared between us, we wandered some more, looking at the scarves and thick jackets covered in fur while ending our market spree by buying our dinner of hummus.
I've definitely figured out that I'm a huge market-lover.
One place I definitely recommend for any museum-lover is the MuseumsQuartier Wien (The Museums Quarter) which is this large vast area surrounded by a number of museums styled to different tastes and exhibits. I'm not much of a museum lover and can only stand so much museum sight-seeing, but the exhibit my friend and I saw in Vienna that day was quite the eye-opener.
We decided to see the Pop Art museum section where it was concentrated mainly on feminism. While the art inside was quite on the extreme side of feminism and made me rather uncomfortable, it was not a regrettable experience. I learned to throw myself out of my comfort area and into the complex, intrinsic world of these artists and how they think. I ended up spending the most time watching a disturbing video in the exhibit that the artist created, inspired by her childhood of abuse from her father.
The pieces to me were exorbitant, but to not take them into my knowledge and memories would be foolish.
While the night time descended, my friend and I tried to get one more sight into our day. Heading toward Schonbrunn Palace, we found ourselves tired and ready for just some dinner and settling into our night train that we were to board that night. Needless to say, we found ourselves halfway to the Palace before heading back to the train station. We did see it from a faraway glimpse and it looked spectacular so if those of you have energy and free time, go see it!
(Travel hint: You don't need to pay for any pass to get onto the metro in this city. How convenient!)
And then some of the best part of the long day?
Just figuring out we had the entire night train bed compartment to ourselves making the pretentious price we paid for it worth it. Eating pomegranate. Having good conversation with a great friend. Looking back at pictures throughout our whole trip. Then sleeping comfortably throughout the night (a rare thing on night trains).
(Actual Trip Date: November 15, 2010)
A growing peace.
And that's how it was between my friend and I as we made the last bit of our backpacking journey together, cascading through the mountains toward the country of Austria. Turning back and forth from the deep, wonderful conversation we were having to the snowy scenery outside was more than I can wish from a train ride.
Salzburg is the most beautiful city I have ever been in. My only regret was not being able to see it's beautiful and gorgeous cathedrals covered and nuzzled in a blanket of snow. Strings of music, so patiently played, danced through the air about us as we walked around with the warm sun shining over our sunglasses and scarves. Salzburg is the city of music and the birthplace of Mozart. It was only expected that music reigned the city and its parks.
Mirabell Garden only required from us a quick walk through, giving us pleasant scenery to gaze at. With the flowers swirling and twirling in ornate patterns that could only represent royalty, the garden was flat and open with its side graced by looming trees, its tops naked and bare. The city streets held many inhabitants walking around, huddled in jackets and peacoats, laughing and munching on snacks. Lights only to be lit at night were strung above us while jolly shop owners waved and beckoned us in. Eating small snacks of seafood and light pieces of Mozart Chocolate, my friend and I laughed and talked, walking around, pointing at the Mozart Birthplace and the long list of different hot chocolates a cafe offered.
The bridges extended over the rivers flowing through, heavy with the traffic of people walking leisurely. The waters, a deep blue hue, extended a chilling aura, running over dotting rocks on the side.
From the top of the city right below Hohensalzburg Castle, we received the most amazing view in the world. Watching the sun beam out and the night sky invite itself in and lanterns gleam lowly, barely lighting the cobblestone hills, we sighed, gazing at the marvelous beauty of the city as we stared from the top. Lights twinkled all around and the distant sounds of a violin permeated the air sweetly. It didn't matter that we were sitting on damp ground.
We then rounded out the tranquil day with a Mozart concert complemented with a wonderful dinner.
Sometimes it's not about trying to find the deep meaning. It's about standing, viewing, and just appreciating with stilled, calm, even waters of emotion and simple, open honesty.
(Actual Trip Date: November 12-13, 2010)
The train ride to Verona consisted of laughter, boisterously loud girls, creepy men inquiring about our oriental ethnicity, and beautiful running rivers with the colors equivalent to the pale cerulean hue Switzerland's waters awed me with. The trees had lost their leaves leaving them naked against the cold that settled in, brittle on top of a white frost on the ground, giving any passerby the illusion of snow.
Verona is a city in Italy that is mainly know for Juliet's House, now more popularized by the movie: Juliet's Letters starring Amanda Seyfried, which we most definitely watched the night we stayed at our lovely bed and breakfast.
The city is nothing like how I imagined it. After a rather daunting experience in Pisa, Italy where it was spooky around town at night and the neighborhoods gave off a dangerous vibe, Verona was not like that at all despite my initial expectations.
Verona was beautiful and lively at night, obviously a city for the rather wealthy. The plaza was vast with it's own version of the Colosseum nestled in the corner beyond an opening surrounded by trees and a fountain, lighting up the grounds around it. Families and couples walked hand and hand, peering into shop windows where the latest fashions were on display. Furthermore, the city was a bonus for us since we finally found gelato. Apparently gelato was a seasonal thing and we had quite the trouble trying to find it in Cinque Terre.
When the daytime arrived, I found Verona was actually more beautiful by night, but the overhead clouds puffed with oncoming rain could've been why the city looked damp. Nonetheless, we wandered around seeing Juliet's House (which is really nothing special besides dropping off a letter for Juliet) and poking through markets selling some of the prettiest scarves I've ever seen.
But despite the clouds, there were still parts of town that reminded me why I initially thought the city was pleasing upon the eyes. Trees hidden away tucked near bridges dropped their leaves upon the ground leaving blankets of bright gold shaped into a fan. Picking up the recognizable leaf I had only seen in textbooks before, my inner bio nerd squealed inside of me. I realized that I was holding the ‘maidenhair leaf' which is part of the Gingko species (or at least I hope I was). After slaving away memorizing that biology lab textbook for a whole semester my freshmen year and now standing thousands of miles away from the place where I studied those leaves, I found myself laughing in glee. I always thought my bio knowledge was rather useless.
Walking the path to Juliet's grave, I had gasped seeing the statue of two butterflies - the symbols of China's Romeo and Juliet which I had learned from a show during my travels to the eastern Asian country. Etched to perfection in smooth marble, cementing in time the lovers' deep expression and boundless wings, the statue stood, awakening an emotion inside of me I haven't felt shamefully for a while.
I'm moved that another country would honor another country's Romeo and Juliet's story. The creation of the statue reminds me of how far we've come in the world towards international unity and harmony. We've still got a very long way to go, and we might probably never reach that end, but these little nods and acknowledgments to other cultures mean something. Something small but heart-warming.
And as my tattered brown boots shuffle through dark hues of green leaves and rain-drenched cobblestone and large yellow fan-like leaves twirl to the ground around me, I can see the red lanterns of China whistling softly against the hints of summer breezes before I'm hit with the gusty cold winds of the Italian city ruffling my scarf.
I'm suddenly humbled by all of the traveling opportunities that have been set before me to open my eyes a tad bit more.
Photos taken by a good friend.
I write this now, despite the fact that I'm not at all close to being done with my travel blogs, because we are all about to separate and leave back to the states.
I applied for this Maastricht trip expecting many things. I expected to solidify to myself whether or not I wanted to be a physician. I expected great memories, great travels, my passport filling up with stamps, and great friendships to be formed and reinforced. I also expected school stress, the most intense semester of my life, a frenzied pace, and lack of sleep.
What I didn't expect was travel stress and drama. What I didn't expect was to be truly awed by the beauty of countries I never imagined myself traveling to. What I didn't expect was to learn so much about myself and the dynamics of relationship.
And I am so thankful for it all.
Despite anything that might have negatively occurred on this trip, we made it. We survived. We have all grown so much. This really is an experience of a lifetime and one people can take so many lessons from.
I have learned so much from everyone on this trip. I am glad to have had this opportunity to know and grow with everyone. While I wasn't able to get to know everyone deeply, I look forward to more opportunities to do so. I will see so many of you wandering around the BSB when we're back. I will share classes with some (RESEARCH DESIGN PARTY!). I will hopefully see many of you in Kenya.
The one-on-one conversations or group dinners and travels with every one has been my pleasure. I would never trade the memories for anything else. I look forward to more back at Baylor! Conversations, dinners, get-togethers. They will be grand.
We have traveled everywhere! The Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Austria, Czech Republic, Turkey, Morocco, Denmark, Norway, The Vatican, Monte Carlo, and possibly more.
The range of memories we all share. Arriving in giddiness. Attempting to read Godfrey-Smith on the plane to Netherlands. Being moved by Dr. Baker's and Dr. Abell's speeches. So many group dinners and travels. The Berlin and Padua group midterm break. Gathering all around in the Padua square together. Complications discussion. Being late to class because of a Belgium train strike. Getting attacked by gypsies. Impersonating gypsies. Seeing each other in different countries. Weekend hallway parties. Stealing mattresses. Roasting marshmallows. Cooking so much. Albert Hein and C1000. End of the year dance party and mexican food in nice clothing. Dr. Abell's fannypack. Audrey Campbell. Epi. FDA. Patho. CDM. Bioethics skype discussions. No sleep. When Nora changed its name to Amigo. Being awed and amazed and mortified by Charity Hospital and the Plastinarium. Still attempting to understand Godfrey-Smith over the semester. CDM group projects. History of Medicine group projects. Epidemiology group projects. Woah we had a lot of group projects. Costumes. Raps. Songs. Christmas music blasting. Stroopwaffles. Nutella crazy. Harry Potter crazy. Our professors cooking dinner for us. Playing on the teetor-totter. Mysterious cafeteria meat. Being hit on or called ‘hola' by the cafeteria people despite the fact that you're Asian. Shopping. Having home cravings and eating at Hard Rock Cafes. Broken dryers. Hugs. Spooning parties. So much more™
Despite the fact that our honeymoon phase is well over and our homesickness grows, we must remember that there will never be a time like this again. When we go back to the states, it will be routine again. No more waking up and hopping on a train and expecting to see new sights. Cherish the surroundings now even though so many of us crave stability.
Some of you are graduating and I wish you all the best of luck. I truly believe every one of us will be successful whether it will be in medicine or another field or combinations of both.
I really doubt Dr. Baker, Dr. Abell, and Audrey are reading this, but if they are, I would like to say thank you so much for everything. You guided us and taught us more than I ever imagined my brain could hold in the span of two months. Not only did you teach us the material well, but you taught us life lessons we could never forget. Most importantly, you have faith in our ability. And that inspires and moves us all.
Some of you have served as my buckets, and I have served as a listening ear for some. I want to say that despite my level of relationship with any one of you, I will always be there at Baylor if any of you needs a helping hand or just an ear to pour your problems to.
The end is near. I'm so excited and terribly sad at the same time.
Thank you to everyone for making this semester my best yet.
Love you all.
Cinque Terre, Italy
(Actual Date: November 10-11, 2010)
Looking back now, I have to say that I made a good choice coming back to Cinque Terre. My first time there was a hectic half-day that ended in a Milan disaster, but my second time consisted of two relaxing days filled with laughter and good food.
After meeting with some other friends early in Barcelona, taking the scariest plane ride of my life which came with side orders of the worst turbulence ever and having myself drenched in whatever liquids fell from the cart, we finally arrived in the city of five villages checking into our apartment there we had all to ourselves.
Too bad that night I had to lose my phone to a Cinque Terre train after saving it from a pick-pocketer in Spain. Oh, how I love irony...
But... Cinque Terre.
Tranquility rolled through the roads squashed between nimble shops with stands out in front tempting tourists with their luscious fruit. The skies were clear blue and the distant sounds of ocean waves crashing against the piers and smooth, ornate rocks lulled a deep sense of harmony into our bodies. The sun's rays were smooth and comforting, playing across our skin and the rims of our sunglasses as we sat in a casual order on emerald benches, savoring our pesto pizzas. The mini but highly decadently sweet strawberries gleamed in a red sheen in its green box and the home made pecan sweet pies filled with some sort of delicious caramel oozed onto the plastic covering. Bowls and bowls of rich mussels enveloped in their hard, black shells reigned the dinner tables complemented by large plates of spaghetti tossed with clams and prawns.
Amidst our apartment, raucous laughter and voices bounced off the walls as we ran around, ducking under bed covers and playing Fishbowl all night. Conversations and hugs went around only to be dulled into the late hours of the evening by sleep's powder.
The steps of Corniglia extended upwards, rendering us breathless as we climbed. The bobbing boats and pier lights enchanted the surroundings of Vernazza. And somewhere in a bustling restaurant is a kitten rubbing its paw against its face and snuggling contently against the legs of customers, turning its docile eyes upwards.
The waters at night roared in the distance, creating the perfect imagery of a biblical storm or the ending of the world. Darkness fell heavily over the waves leaving only the swinging dim lights of lanterns lighting small patches of the angry waters. Swishing back and forth they came up and crashed heavily against the solid objects around, tempting death to all those who cascaded in.
But by day and by setting sun, they gurgled and moved around side to side with ripples. Streaks of pink and orange and red blended together against the sky, casting evening breezes through our locks. Only moments later did the blend of colors swirl into darker hues, streaking across the sky in a differentiated pattern, leaving way for the land of turbulent clouds to inch in.
(Actual Date: November 8-9, 2010)
To me, Barcelona is all about colors and peculiarity. Considerably one of my favorites cities nestled with a beach, lively town life, and flourishing markets, I enjoyed the city greatly and only wished for more time there.
First of all, let me say that I love Spanish food. All the tapas they have around is like the Spanish version of Chinese dim sum. My two days there were filled with paella, Spanish omelet complemented by a Greek salad and mushrooms, and many, many delicious tapas of cuttlefish, albóndigas (meatballs with sauce), chorizo a la sidra (sausage cooked with cider), shrimp with garlic sauce, cured ham, more mushrooms, and fried potatoes with spicy sauce. Mhm. I would love some more right about now...
Funny story and a tip to travelers: There are many pick-pocketers on the Las Ramblas so keep your guard up because they can be more sneaky than you think. I was eating dinner in plain sight of all the tourists there with my cell phone on the table. Suddenly this man came up and tried to sell me postcards. Something alarming was ringing in mine and my friend's heads, but we just couldn't register what was wrong with this guy. He laid the postcards over my cellphone and slowly inched backwards as we incessantly shook our head no. I suddenly realized when I saw his pinky slip under my phone that he was trying to steal it. Swiftly, I pried his fingers off and took my cell phone away. Acting like nothing happened, he walked away nonchalantly. So beware travelers. I almost got tricked. Too bad irony slapped me across the face a day later... read my Cinque Terre blog post for that anyways...
Peculiarity reigns the grounds of Barcelona especially with the architectural works of Gaudi everywhere in the city. Anyone looking at Gaudi's work can only gawk in astonishment because I promise you it is unlike anything else in Europe. The first of his works I saw was his most famous: The Sagrada Familia – an enormous cathedral etched and twisted in intense intricate designs. It is predicted to be finished in some years, but some say it will never be finished with the city's ongoing underground metro construction. The Sagrada Familia isn't even recognized as a cathedral by The Vatican. Now that is an interesting fact! Either way, I was very impressed looking at the cathedral, only wishing there was blue skies above it to grace my pictures rather than the gloomy gray clouds.
But the cathedral was nothing compared to walking into Guell Park. One of my favorite games as a child was Candyland. Once I stood at the entrance of the park, I couldn't help but compare the similarities. If there was truly a Candyland with gingerbread houses, then it would probably look like Guell Park created by Gaudi himself. Oddly shaped towers rose from houses that looked breaded topped with white frosting and colored candies. Grand stairs twirled inward leading to the top passing the famous lizard structure and into an open area full of vendors selling cheap but beautiful necklaces. The sides of the benches were etched beautifully with broken mosaic tiles in variegated colors. Watching the sun set over lively Barcelona, leaving the skies in streaks of pink and orange made the experience of the park all the more wonderful. I rounded up my time there walking through a slanted section of the park that was used as a runway show in America's Next Top Model.
My most favorite part of Barcelona? St. Joseph's Market on Las Ramblas.
Carts and rows of fruit, mushrooms, meats, cheeses, bread, seafood, eggs, fruit candy, chocolate, and so much more was accentuated with the lively chattering of Spanish fluttering in the air. In my short time there I managed to buy two delicious smoothies of mango and kiwi strawberry for a little over a Euro. Best investment in Spain so far for it was like drinking the fruit itself. Colors reigned this market from left to right with all the different items of food they had. It was amazing to see something like this compared to the grocery stores we lounge through all the time back at home. I desperately wished at that point we had some sort of open market like this back at home.
The Farmer's Market in Frisco just doesn't compare to this.
(Actual Trip Date: November 6-7, 2010)
After spending sunshine days in Lisbon, I took a night train to the capital of Spain (Madrid) where I didn't really know what to expect. I think the only thing I expected was warm weather and good food, but I was pretty excited to travel to this country. Not to mention I was meeting a dear friend for her birthday. Upon arriving, I realized two things: Madrid was actually pretty cold and the sky was already looking dreadfully gloomy. I can't pin that on the city though since turbulent, dark gray clouds were slowing inching over all of Europe. The one thing that did live up was the food.
I loved, loved Spanish food. Of course, I ate more delicious dishes in Barcelona, but I got a taste in Madrid. I think I enjoyed the food better, knowing my lactose-intolerant brother could eat most of those without trouble. Yeah, I know. Weird reason to love the food more. Anyways, we checked into our hostel where we figured out that we were only the five people in the six bed room and finding the showers commonly amusing since it follow the regular hostel water conservation style (meaning when you press the button, water comes down for a mere five seconds = banging the button at least a hundred times before completing a shower). From there we ventured out for a late lunch because here in Spain, the time tables are different and everyone does everything late. I had the most delicious fajitas there though complete with flan dessert.
That night after eating seafood and chicken paella and sipping coffee to keep us awake past midnight, we went to see a traditional Flamenco show that ended around 2 AM. To say the Flamenco show with complementary Sangria was intense is an understatement. I'll do my best to describe my experience there.
The low, humming, throaty, hoarse voice of the singers bellowing into the microphone accompanied by the side musicians caught my ear immediately as the lights dimmed, leaving only spotlights on the tiny stage. Hearing murmurs of Spanish rippling across the crowd in waves as they cheered excitedly as the beautiful dancers took the stage, I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation, the music literally humming a beat in my body. The vivacious, rapid claps and clicks against the stage floor as the lady dancer alternated with the male dancer was memorizing as my eyes mostly followed the beautiful skirts twirling and whirling around the lady, her long mane of hair tossing angrily as she spun and spun. But, the best part? The emotions on this woman's face was raw and bare and open to the sky. Tensed in concentration with sweat trailing down, she danced her heart out to the throaty background melody.
I think my favorite part of the Flamenco show was when they brought out a young boy to sing. By the encouragements and claps on the back, I can tell this dance was much a part of Spanish family life. A tradition to be handed down through many more generations. It was absolutely humbling to witness a part of it.
As the next day dawned and I spent my morning hearing a Spanish service and eating a Spanish omelette for lunch, I found myself rather bored. I didn't even get to fully experience churros with chocolate. To be honest, besides my Flamenco show experience for my friend's birthday, Madrid was boring. The city was quite industrialized but with a Spanish flare. I didn't like it. Or maybe I found the days boring and the night time exciting, for when the second night of my time there descended, I found myself wandering through the Prado Museum (during their free hours because backpackers love free stuff!).
I'm taking Arts Appreciation right now over winter school, and I found myself super intrigued in the paintings and the styles and backgrounds of artists in each book. Why? Because I've actually seen half of these paintings now replicated in textbooks in museums like the Prado and the Louvre. It's quite amazing to point at it and also the architecture of certain cathedrals and say, "I've been there!" I find now that after this arts course, if I was to ever go back to Europe and wander through those museums, I can actually look at the pieces, analyze the style, and know the brushwork and intent behind them. Before, I just wandered to whatever painting was aesthetically pleasing. Now I feel more rounded as a person.
Going back, the second night ended with my friends and I sitting in a smoky restaurant among many Spanish inhabitants chilling and chatting while eating plenty of tapas and paella. The soccer game was in full swing on TV and loud cheers and jeers reverberated in the air while the smell of cigarette smoke lingered in our jackets.
A typical Spanish night at its best.
(Actual Trip Date: November 3 – 5, 2010)
Because Portugal looks like a mundane, narrow strip of land smacked to the left of famous Spain, not many take a chance to visit this country. But as my friend told me, her doctor recommended a trip to Portugal since it contained many hidden treasures that would make Spain look like nothing. Taking the once in a lifetime chance, I decided to go to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal where I would completely fall in love with this country.
Coming off the train and metro system of Lisbon, the first thing that hit me were soothingly hot rays of sunshine. Pulling off my jacket immediately and huffing and puffing with the heavy backpacking I had on my back, I figured out quickly that this city was made of hills of cobblestone. But after coming from a frigid Paris, I welcomed heartily the Portuguese warmth.
I say a lot of wonderful things happened on my trip here. First of all, the best hostel I ever stayed at during all my time in Europe was in this country: Oasis Backpackers Hostel (one of the Famous Hostels chains). Checking in to warm, amiable surroundings and people, the lady led us to another guesthouse which I found delightfully was almost empty, leaving the entire apartment complex to myself. The showers were clean (!!!) and the kitchen was stocked with these packets of tea I had never seen before. They (especially the orange packets) quickly became my favorite tea and I was able to find them in several boxes at a grocery store. Needless to say, I lugged them happily back to America.
Secondly, in my opinion, the best pastries I've tasted in Europe goes to Portuguese pastries! Mhm! Warm, crispy, flaky with oozing, scrumptious yellow, fluffy cream humming on the inside - it was delicious! Best part? Some of the cheapest pastries ever!
The aura and ambiance of the town was amazingly chill and full of life. I've been using this word a lot, but I have no other way to describe this city: warmth just came in dozens from the surroundings and the clear blue sky and the sun. And when I say clear blue sky, I mean not a cloud marring its light complexion! You can see the ocean from almost any part of the city, sparkling underneath the sun's beams and inviting all to its lovely beaches.
My second day in Portugal involved going on the I Hate Tourism tours which I highly recommend. While it is pricey, it's well worth the price since it comes with lunch, wine, free pastry, wonderful tour guide, an awesome van to travel in, and most of all, since they only accept a max of eight people, it feels like a private tour. The two memorable places from the tour is Sintra and Cabo de Roca.
One of the most amazing palaces with unique carvings and styles and shining in white surrounding by an enchanted jungle with secret underground passageway lit by small strings of lights to an underground well is in Sintra. We spent a little over an hour there, exploring the area, hiking and giggling over all the small staircases, rooms, hidden dirt steps, and secret caves. It was quite an adventure.
Cabo de Roca is the most western point of Europe and the closest you can stand in Europe to being close to the United States. Up on the high hills with the wind blowing around mercilessly and the vibrant, deep blue waters sloshing tranquilly around, the green grass flowing, and the lighthouse in the distance, it was amazing. It reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland again except this time with no chilling weather. While the cliffs in Ireland gives off a mysterious, daunting experience, Cabo de Roca held a friendly, almost tropical atmosphere.
After a long day of sight-seeing and a satisfying dinner of Portuguese specialty juicy codfish (don't eat the bread or they will charge you), I was all too ready for a third day just chilling on the beach. Therefore, on the third day after a delicious salad and seafood soup lunch, I spent the rest of the day lounging on one of many Portuguese beaches, writing letters, journal entries, reading, collecting shells, and dipping my feet in the icy water while the sun continued to beam happily above me. It was a most relaxing day ending with buying postcards, a box of Portuguese pastries, and watching the gorgeous sunset. To top off the night, upon getting back to the hostel, I excitedly screamed since I saw some more of my Maastricht friends who had just checked in into the hostel. Sharing a dinner with them in the backyard, the meal cooked by a local Portuguese mom (very, very delicious – recommend eating at this hostel), was a great way to kick back and chat before catching the uncomfortable night train.
So I guess the only down side of Portugal? The night trains that run into Lisbon sucks. Beds too expensive and the seats are uncomfortable accompanied with loud Portuguese men and random sleep disruptions throughout the night.
Otherwise, Lisbon is quite the recommended treasure.