[Administrative Note: If you are subscribed to Dinosaur Bear, use Gmail, and are having the emails sent to your SPAM folder, please read the notice at the bottom of my last post.]
Greetings and welcome to Dinosaur Bear!
This post marks my return to blogging after an ehm… roughly 3 month hiatus. But, in the words of a one demented individual who now happens to be trapped in an animatronic, “I always come back.” I hope this return will be marked by more frequent posting, or at least more than once-every-3-months-posting. A lot has changed since my last post, but I’ll get to all that in due time over a series of forthcoming posts.
For this post I’d like to focus on what could rightly be called SB and I’s “culmination” of living abroad – a trip so large that yes, even the Ring Road or a circumnavigation of Ireland seem small in comparison. We’d known since even before moving to Iceland that we wanted to return to “mainland” Europe at some point during our time abroad, so this trip was planned even before the start of our move. We didn’t necessarily know what we wanted the trip to entail, just that we wanted to make the trip in some abstract sense – and make the trip we did. We were fortunate enough to spend 20 days in mainland Europe, a voyage which took us from the beaches of Normandy, to the mountains of Andorra, to the Royal Palace of Madrid, to the Rock of Gibraltar, to the Moorish castles of Portugal, and beyond. Or, put differently, we traveled from France, to Spain, to Andorra, back to Spain, to the U.K. (Gibraltar), back to Spain, and then to Portugal. Thus, as our travel document/cheat-sheet was properly titled the “France to Portugal Extravaganza,” a title which this post rightly mimics.
As this journey was 20 days long I felt that it was proper to share 20 photos, one for each day (with minor exceptions for the first, 16th, and final days) of the journey. While it is true that 20 photos can scarcely document such a large trip – for instance much of the Normandy and notable “Battle of Normandy” (to which I have a personal familial connection that I hope to cover in more detail in a future post) sites are skipped, as well as famous spots such as Bayeux, Versailles, the Louvre, the Museo del Prado, Notre-Dame de Paris, Musée de l’Armée (or more specifically Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb), Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, El Parque del Buen Retiro, the Alcázar of Segovia (or the lesser known but equally interesting to me nearby church – Iglesia Vera Cruz – which was built by the Knights Templar in 1208), the Alfama and Belém areas of Lisbon, and the town of Sintra itself are not present here. These and many more are the places that we visited – be they major or simply “hole in the walls” such as the highly recommended Quimera Brewpub of Lisboa – but which I’ve “pruned” for the purposes of this post. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy them, but merely that I’ve chosen another way to visually express our voyage. 🙂 For those of you who know me in the real world, you’ll likely have a chance to see all the photos at some point anyways.
For the rest of us, let’s get started on the Taco Household’s “France to Portugal Extravaganza!”
It all started early.. very early on a chilly Icelandic July morning. Now, it was chilly, but at least the sun was already up – which at that point the sun was still staying up pretty much constantly despite being over two weeks past its “Midnight Sun” prime.
Our first stop was France, as we had a direct flight from Reykjavík to Paris which was thankfully only slightly delayed (we were still in trauma from last time). Once in Paris we picked up our rental car (named Garçon), left the City of Lights behind, and then headed North to the famous white cliffs of Étretat.
From there we headed west to Bayeux.
We started off the day with the famous Bayeux Tapestry and a Battle of Normandy Museum before moving on to see some of the D-Day/Battle of Normandy sites themselves.
On Day 3 we continued our tour of the Battle of Normandy sites, including Omaha Beach – but more importantly we traced the route of a family member who landed at Omaha and fought South to the town of Saint-Lô.
On Day 4 we left the Bayeux area behind and headed west for the idyllic commune of Le Mont-Saint-Michel.
While we technically spent most of our time walking around Saint-Malo on Day 4, the following photo encompasses how picturesque the medieval part of town (where we stayed!) still is.
The next day, after having traveled to Saumur the night before, we went to the simply awesome Musée des Blindés (Museum of the Armored Vehicles), or as it is often more simply referred to, “the Saumur Tank Museum.”
After the tank museum we headed toward Paris, partaking in a late-afternoon romp of The Palace and Gardens of Versailles, before SB bravely drove Garçon straight into the old-city center of Paris where we dropped him off and headed to our hotel.
The next day we hoofed ourselves all over Paris, including all the usual hot-spots such as Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chappelle, the Conciergerie, the Panthéon (not the Parthenon as my dumb self kept mistakenly saying), the Musée de l’Armée and Les Invalides (where we saw Napoleon’s totally-not-Napoleon-complex-sized Tomb [despite him being above average height in reality, sorry younger Taco’s grade school teachers]), the Arc de Triomphe (where we saw a fender-bender in that crazy-ass traffic circle and also a military ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the arch). We also, of course, saw the Eiffel Tower. After much debate on the waiting and price, we decided to just go for it later in the day and still ended up waiting a lot, lol. However, we walked up as high as you can go (Second Platform) and then took the elevator – which is required to get to the top (Third Platform) which both saved us time and money and burned off a few of those vacation jelly calories we’d likely gained.
Day 8 saw us return to the streets of Paris… or.. perhaps more accurately, we went under the streets – as in literally under the streets, to the famous Catacombs of Paris.
After rejoining the living above ground we headed to Place de la Concorde (where many folks lost their heads during the French Revolution, including ole’ King Louis XVI himself) and the Louvre (where presumably far fewer people have lost their heads) were we proceeded to get lost in its countless hallways, but also did the required stuff like seeing the Mona Lisa (which in reality is way less impressive than many of of the other pieces, but still a hard-coded Parisian tourist requirement, or so I have been told).
The next morning we were up early to catch a train to Barcelona (Barthhhhhhhthelona). This was, however, Bastille Day in Paris – and we got to see the Republican Guard trotting their way through the streets which was pretty awesome. Once in Barthhhhhhhthelona we took a free walking tour of the city’s famous Gothic Quarter, and on our way back to our AirBnB we even came up from the subway to find ourselves in the middle of a Catalan independence rally.
While the Catalan Declaration of Independence has since been deemed moot, it doesn’t mean the issue has been dropped – far from it in fact.
On Day 10 we traded a train for a bus and headed up into the mountains of that tiny European country you will probably henceforth pretend you knew the location of: Andorra. Andorra, neither a member of the EU or EEA, is a place that keeps to itself by and large, though they still (or at least their economy) still loves them some fat tourists. Regardless of Andorra’s “sandwiched” status between France and Spain, it is most definitely worth a visit, if only for a day trip as SB and I did.
After a day hiking in Andorra we took the bus back to Barthhhhhhhthelona for the evening.
The next day we hopped aboard a train from Barthhhhhhhthelona to Madrid. There we hit the streets and took in a variety of sites – handpicked by SB from when she lived in Madrid – such as the Museo del Prado (where I got to see my favorite painting of all time – an experience I can’t recommend enough, seriously, go see your favorite painting in person someday), and the massive Parque del Buen Retiro (complete with famous sites such as the boat rental and less famous sites such as a statute of Lucifer, no seriously, Spain gives no shits).
On Day 12 our tour of Madrid continued with sights such as the Royal Palace of Madrid (and it’s armory!), the Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza Mayor, the Plaza de España (where Tristen “met” Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as well as Miguel de Cervantes himself), and the Puerta del Sol (where Valentino “met” the famous Strawberry Tree Bear).
Day 13 saw us a take another day-trip (which is a funny concept, a trip within a trip) north to the town of Segovia, one of SB’s self-declared favorite places in Spain. After having visited it myself, I can definitely see why. The entire town feels and looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of a fairy-tale, and with sights such as the Aqueduct of Segovia (built by the Romans, yes, that old), the Alcázar of Segovia, and the Segovia Cathedral, and even a Knights Templar site (Iglesia Veracruz), its not hard to see why the town has such a fairy-tale feeling. Between the train from Madrid, seeing the area, and the train back to Madrid it was a long day in a manner similar to our Andorra trip, but it was definitely worth it!
On Day 14 we left Madrid behind and headed south – way south – to the town of Algeciras (a town which SB’s Spanish host mom lovingly referred to as muy feo or “very ugly.”) We weren’t actually there for Algeciras though, as as soon as we dropped off our things we caught a bus over to La Línea de la Concepción (or, far more commonly, just La Línea) where we then proceeded to walk across the border (first for us!) into the British Oversees Territory of Gibraltar. There we crossed its infamously dangerous runway on foot (required to actually get into town, unless you want to pay for a bus) and then marched our way to the base of what we came for: the Rock of Gibraltar.
It was a hike just to get to the hike, and we took the Mediterranean Steps, which are one of the Rock’s more difficult marked trails and which might better be called the Mediterranean Hapzard Rocks (as they are not, in fact, steps as one might assume – ok, aside from a few parts that do actually have steps, in fairness). Once at the top we saw a bunch of wild Barbary macaques – including some babies! (and got to see them steal things from people, lol) and both Lord Airey’s and O’Hara’s Batteries.
A nice shot of the Straight of Gibraltar as we hiked up the Rock – at many points during the hike we could see all the way to Africa as we had been blessed with such a nice day!
After that we made our way down the rock, partially via the Charles V Wall and then back across the border to Spain and from there back to Algeciras.
On Day 15 we boarded a bus to Seville (roughly prounced Seh-vee-uh [rapidly] in Spanish) from which you probably know a famous barber – or rabbit. Alternatively, Seville is also famous (or, more recently, infamous) for its bullfighting and bullfighting culture. There we took in Seville’s own Alcázar and explored the city’s beautiful and historic center.
On Day 16 we hopped aboard an early bus which took us all the way from Seville, Spain to Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal. This bus ride was quite miserable for the first portion, but as soon as all the beach-destined-teen-and-twenty-somethings got off at the southern beach-towns of Portugal the bus became quite pleasant. I opted to not share any photos from this day, not because I didn’t get any, but because if you’ve ever spent a whole day on a bus then you know that the best parts of the day are bathroom breaks at gas stations – though the giant bird nests on the power-lines brought SB and I a lot of joy as well. It was later in the evening by the time we made it to Lisbon. I’ll share two photos from Day 17 to make up for it.
On Day 17 we woke to the city of Lisboa and hit up its famous Alfama district, inclusive of sights such as the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square – also, did you know that in 1755 Lisbon got SLAMMED with one of the deadliest Earthquakes in history? – bet you don’t remember that from school, I sure don’t), the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral), Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Viewpoint), and of course the Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George Castle).
Brave warriors Pigsten and Broli sitting upon the ramparts that were attacked and defended by Christian and Moor alike during the bloody Reconquista.
After lunch at the Mercado Da Ribeira (Time Out Market) we went to Lisbon’s other famous district, the riverfront area of Belém where we tried to visit the Belém Palace – former residence of the now deposed Portuguese Monarchy and present residence of the Portuguese President – but got denied because, as Tristen would say, we are “plebs” (but not him, he got in). We also passed up on Belém’s famous Pastéis de Belém, because we had already had mighty-fine pastéis de nata elsewhere and also because the line was super long and in the direct sun. We did however see the Belém Tower and Padrão dos Descobrimentos, both of which are free to see but not go in – and we didn’t go in and have no regrets (much like the Arc de Triomphe). Insofar as going “in” goes, we did the Jardim Botanico Tropical (Tropical Botanical Garden) which is just behind the Belém Palace and which was lovely – and also had lots of animal friends so I am oh so frickin’ biased, also peacock babies. The most famous thing we went in in Belém was Jerónimos Monastery, which required a long wait in the blazing sun, but which was ultimately worth it because of the architecture alone.
After our time in Belém we headed a bit back toward the center of Lisboa where we had dinner and drinks at the AWESOME (and aforementioned, so you know I like it) Quimera Brewpub – in fact, the brewers of some of the beer we were drinking were at the bar as the same time as us, way cool! Then we walked for a bit and caught Lisbon’s ultra-famous Tram 28. Notice how I underlined it – it’s that important. So famous is this otherwise mundane line of public transportation that you can find entire guides on how to ride it. Seriously, just Google “Tram 28” – no need to type Lisbon or Portugal. Here’s what I suggest. Go late and start at the non-central terminus of the line. I’m not going to share more, but do a bit of research and you’ll find yourself happily seated for a wonderful Tram 28 ride and you also won’t get pick-pocketed (a problem so bad that even the Lisbon city government put out a notice about it). It might seem crappy of me to not share with you what SB and I did to be literally the first people on the Tram, but if I told you then the plebs would know now wouldn’t they? 😉 Honestly though, just do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you imagine a pompous, lazy, scared of after 7pm city-life, child-toting tourist would do and you’ll be grand. Tram 28 was an amazing experience for us, but having seen those suckers packed, it could also be a freaking horrible experience too.
Day 18 was a glorious beach day. I mean glorious in that it was a vacation-during-our-vacation (this might sound incredibly first world, but I think you know what I mean), but it was also glorious weather (and the next day was the one rainy day of our entire trip.. so talk about timing). We headed out of Lisbon proper by taking the metro to a ferry, and then hopping on a long bus ride (but not Seville-Lisbon long, oh lawds no) to Fonte da Telha – an more obscure (and local-y) town south of the much more known Costa da Caparica – so much more obscure in fact, that our bus driver was convinced that we were moron Murkans who had no idea where we were going. 🙂
The beach was lovely, and Pig taught us some yoga while Pigsten and the other boys built a sandcastle. One of my highlights of the day was a little beach train which runs between a few of the seaside towns, it’s how we moved from Fonte da Telha up to Costa da Caparica where we caught a bus back to Lisbon (ironically enough we stumbled across a direct bus which was faster than the bus we were planning on taking, yay luck!).
On Day 19 we got up and about and took a train from Lisboa to Sintra. As mentioned, this was the one day of our entire trip that was rainy. It had started to rain in Barthhhhhhhthelona on the day we left, but Sintra was our first dreary day out of the entire trip (we scored on weather). Further, it wasn’t heavy rain, just sort of a constant misting with intermittent light rain. Turns out Sintra was actually pretty cool in that ambience. Our first stop was the super interesting and unique Quinta da Regaleira, where we traversed all over the grounds and even went down the initiation well and into the initiation caverns (where SB promptly got scared and left 😛 ).
After that we had lunch in Sintra proper before hiking (yes, in the rain, though SB was a trooper!) up to the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) which was simply awesome on the cloudy and rainy day. Sure, we couldn’t see far but we could still see much. Plus, as the final “stop” of our epic adventure there was something oh so magical about a literal castle in the clouds.
After breathing deep of both history and mist, we made our way back to the station and returned to Lisbon for our final night, we were shared some of Portugal’s famous “vinho verde.”
The final day of our adventure started with a yummy breakfast in Lisbon, then a metro ride to the airport. We didn’t have a direct flight back – we had a layover at Gatwick (London) – but fortunately there were no delays to speak of and we made it back to Iceland around 11pm. It was odd to fly in with a plane full of what were largely tourists, knowing that our time in Iceland was nearing an end while their brief period was only just beginning (plus it was funny to hear them talk about the sun not setting, which at that point it was in fact setting [just very late, and not for long] – they should have seen June 21st).
Once we were home, which took awhile given the distance from Keflavík to Reykjavík and FlyBus’s newfound insistence on not being on time, we were quite happy to be in our own bed. Yes, it was a crappy bed made of cut up furniture, haphazard and oversized mattress pads, and literal discarded plastic, but it was our bed nonetheless. From then on out it wasn’t a whole lot longer before we had to get ready to go “home” – but that’s for another post.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief recounting of our “France to Portugal Extravaganza.” While I’d certainly like to share things in more detail, as any writer knows, at a certain point you just have to share what you can. I feel like these 20 (technically 21) photos encapsulate our experience well, and more importantly they show it through a specifically Taco-and-SB(-and-the-Boys) lens. As mentioned, I hope to share more in a future post about our time in Normandy, particularly in relation to World War II, as I have a direct family connection there.
In the meantime, writing this post has helped me revisit and reflect on just how fortunate SB and I have been in our opportunity to travel. We are not wealthy, and much of this trip was done on a shoestring budget (oh the night in the smoke-filled-86-degree-dive-tier-hotel-room-with-motorcycles-reving-outside during the French victory in the semi-final of the World Cup shall never be forgotten), but we made it work thanks to LOTS of planning and budgeting, but we are still very fortunate nonetheless! While I now hope to focus a bit more on “domestic” travel for awhile, I feel profoundly blessed to have been able to embark on this epic “culmination” to our year abroad.
Trips like this remind me not only of how small I am (in a good way), but also teach me more about who I am. As such, Hans Christian Anderson was quite correct when he wrote:
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, To gain all while you give, To roam the roads of lands remote, To travel is to live.”
By the way I liked that quote before it was cool to like that quote (/hipster).
Until next time,