Our Second Month Abroad: Italy, Spain & Portugal

Sunset in Porto

“At this point, I’m just glad the sheets are white.”

Our second month abroad crept up on us faster than the hot water runs out in a 1-star hotel.

Sixty days backpacking through Europe caused a noticeable dent in our personal standards for lodging and transportation. After a nightmare hotel in Prague (think moldy shower head) and a sheetless mattress in Dubrovnik, having clean sheets available was enough to make us content.

Carla in front of Barcelona's Arc de Triomf     Carla and Guil in front of Barcelona's Arc de Triomf

We’re steadily becoming savvier backpackers, too. I’ve learned to always carry an extra roll of toilet paper in my day pack. We buy large jugs of water and use that to fill our water bottles every morning. If we land a nice hotel for a night — the kind that welcomes you with a basket of toiletries — we stock up on mini soap bars, shampoo and whatever else we find useful. We also stockpile plastic bags.

We used to show up an hour before our bus departed; now we arrive with no more than 15 minutes to spare. Drop us anywhere on the European map and see how quickly we figure out the public transportation system — with our 30-pound backpacks on.

The last month has been all about wrapping our heads around the fact that we’re travelers, not tourists.

Where Have We Been?

Half of our second month in Europe was spent in Italy, per my request!

Florence, Italy skyline at sunset

My family has Italian roots and visiting Italy has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. Fortunately Guil agreed to cruise through the land of pasta and wine with me for a full 16 days.

We took an overnight ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari on Oct. 18, arriving in the port city in southern Italy without a plan. We had spent the previous three days partying with friends in Dubrovnik during which we completely disregarded all future planning.

Guil at Cinque Terre

We ended up in Rome, then Florence. We had to choose between visiting Venice or exploring another city in Tuscany, and we chose the latter. We spent a few days in Lucca before making our way to the Italian coast.

We visited all five villages of Cinque Terre, a gem I found on Instagram: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

Our flight left from Pisa, so we were able to catch a glimpse of the leaning tower before jumping over to Spain.

We spent about 10 days between Barcelona and Madrid.

Portugal was a blast. We traveled between various towns with Guil’s family for about 10 days.

Frankfurt was our final stop in Europe, thanks to a layover on our way to Rio de Janeiro.

The Good

We ate the best pasta of our lives in Italy. Rome introduced us to La Prosciutteria, the best wine bar we will ever find.

We spent the night in a “high-end” hotel in Rome and were met with a fantastic breakfast buffet the morning after. The other hotel we stayed in was run by an older Italian couple who spoke little to no English, yet that didn’t stop them from carrying out a full conversation in plain Italian with their confused guests, an absolutely hilarious experience.

Overwhelmed by the thousands of years of history we encountered on a daily basis, we ended each day with a bottle of wine.

We drank to the sunset every day in Italy.

Florence gave us the best Airbnb stay we’ve had so far. We rented a room in a large apartment with the most incredible view over the Arno River. It was also sandwiched between the best gelato store in town and a pizzeria. Magic.

Florence also gave us the aperitivo. From 7-9 p.m. bars host an Italian-style happy hour in which you can help yourself to a buffet of small plates and bar snacks as long as you buy one drink. Legendary.

We spent a quiet three days in a medieval town called Lucca. Biking through the Tuscan countryside was one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far.Carla hiking Cinque Terre

I promise we did more than stuff our faces in Italy: We hiked between the cliff-hugging, colorful fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre. And when we finished the tough, uphill climb, just the right amount of sun appeared for us to jump in the crystal clear waters of Monterosso.

Tapas and paella welcomed us to Barcelona, and in Madrid, we met up with a friend who became our personal tour guide. He took us to the traditional restaurants that passersby like us would never find. We were treated to Spanish delicacies like buey beef, jamon iberico de bellota and angulas.

Ahhh, protein! Finally.

Then came something we didn’t have for two months: comfort! We spent nearly 10 days road-tripping around Portugal with Guil’s family. First we spent a couple of days with his grandparents who live in Cascais, a relaxing seaside town. Their beautiful apartment overlooked the ocean, and the sheets on our bed were not only white, but also clean, soft and elegant. We were in heaven!

There we had our favorite dish yet: a seafood stew known as cataplana.

The family in Porto

We then cruised through Portugal with Guil’s dad and stepmom, eating and drinking everything the country has to offer. It was more like a culinary tour than anything else. We tasted port wine in Porto and traditional bacalhau dishes in Coimbra.

In Coimbra we stayed in a romantic hotel surrounded by gardens with an indoor spa and delicious restaurants.

The Not-So-Good

We walked off the port in Bari at 8 a.m. with no plan at all. We hadn’t purchased a bus ticket, and we didn’t have a hotel booked. Heck, we didn’t even know where we were going.

After spending a sleepless night on a ferry, we walked 2 miles through Bari with our backpacks on, caught a 6-hour bus to Rome and booked what ended up being our priciest stay yet due to our last-minute planning.

We were ripped off at a restaurant in Rome and couldn’t do anything about it. We got into a verbal argument with an Italian woman who told us all Brazilians were arrogant idiots as she filled our paper cones with seafood. These were two separate incidents.

I lost my phone three times. Three. Times. (I must have a guardian angel traveling with me because I found it every single time.)

A sick Carla and healthy Guil in Barcelona

Because pasta and pizza were the cheapest (and most delicious) meals we could get our hands on in Italy, we spent nearly 3 weeks without eating a single bite of protein. Now this could be a good thing or a bad thing… depending on how you look at it.

I caught a terrible cold in Barcelona, which had me home by 3 p.m. every day. We ate so much at a food market in Barcelona that we both caught some sort of short-lived stomach bug.

It took us two train rides, a 12-hour layover, one canceled flight, an overnight bus ride and a final, quick flight to make it to Barcelona from Italy.

All in all, the not-so-good makes for some pretty good stories.

Next up: South America!

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