Today marks day 171 of my world tour and as I am writing this I’m sitting right at the back of an Etihad airplane destined for Abu Dhabi (thanks to my sister Maz for hooking me up my first ever standby staff travel ticket).
During the month since my last post I have covered quite a lot of ground. Spain to Portugal then back to Spain and then over to Morocco. It is amazing how much the world changes in such a short space of time. The super relaxed Spanish seaside town of Tarifa is absolutely no comparison to the mayhem that awaits you about 35 minutes across the strait of Gibraltar in Tangier.
So without risking boring everyone to death with the detail of everything I have done, I’m simply going to list my top 3 for the final 4 European cities I visited (San Sebastian, Porto, Lisbon and Seville). You will see some similar themes (food, food and more food) – I am amazed how I haven’t put inches onto my waistline.
1. Pintxos – These are the Basque regions version of tapas (see earlier post). The food in San Sebastian was right up there with some of the best I have experienced on this trip.
2. Atmosphere – I really fell in love with the relaxed vibe in San Sebastian. I find the Spanish super chill as it is, but here it drops another gear.
3. Surf – It was great to be within a 5 minute walk of the surf beach. The last time I surfed was in San Diego in June and whilst the surf wasn’t pumping during my time in San Sebastian it was great just to get out there and get some salt water on my face.
1. Food – The Portuguese have a genuine passion for all things sweet and you will find patisseries scattered everywhere in the city. I also loaded up on the local sandwich called Francesinha which is rated in the world’s top 10 and only available in Porto. Finally the Bacalau (salt cured cod) was a real hit and with so many recipes I was spoiled for choice.
2. Port – Porto is the home of Port and along the Gaia are dozens and dozens of wineries where one can sample and buy some premium wines. I tried most wines including blanco, tawny and ruby as well as a few vintages. My favourite were some vintage ruby’s which were divine when simply matched with freshly roasted almonds and local soft cheeses.
3. Architecture – One can’t help but to fall in love with the Portuguese architecture.
1. Nightlife – Lisbon is a hotspot for nightlife and the Bairro Alto is definitely where it is at. During the day the narrow streets a deserted but come nigh time they fill with people drinking on the streets outside their favourite tiny bars and move from one to another. There are also some nightclubs which I visited, but the bars that line the Barrio Alto are definitely my choice for a night out.
2. Sintra – About an hour or so drive from Lisbon, this beautiful little town in the hills is home to some stunning palaces and buildings. The town is small and cute and one can sample sweets that are exclusive to this region as well as the local drink “Ginjinha” which is cherry liquor poured in a chocolate cup where you drink half and then swallow the lot for a mix of chocolate and cherry bliss.
3. Pastel de nata– By this stage of my trip I had sampled so many sweets and devoured several Portuguese tarts in preparation for my visit to the birthplace of the national sweet – Casa Pastéis de Belém. Fortunately we arrived at the store in the evening and the queue was minimal (they sell over 20,000 everyday). Words cannot describe how amazing they were and miles better than any other I have ever experienced. The pastry was ultra-crispy, the egg custard filling was so decadent and creamy and the slight dusting of cinnamon and sugar on top gave it that little edge to make this an experience I would never forget.
1. People – The locals in Seville have an extra level warmth that I didn’t quite experience in other parts of Spain. I was so fortunate to meet Gema who worked night shift in the hostel I was staying. I have never met a person so patient and reassuring which was exactly what I needed after my 6am car pool to Tarifa didn’t show up. She was so confident of getting me to Tangier on time and literally searched for all the options available. She then told me about her favourite pastime in Spain which was to have a traditional Spanish breakfast. So with the hour or so I had spare until my bus that was exactly what I had.
2. Tapas – Southern Spain is the home of tapas and I made sure that I consumed as much as I could in the 48 hours I had in Seville. The slightly experimental / Japanese fusion style I had at La Azotea were a standout.
3. Flamenco – I really had no idea what Flamenco was before a tour guide in Lisbon said that I must see a show whilst in Seville. I was so lucky to discover the only known museum dedicated to Flamenco and receive a deeper insight into its background and history. The performance was bursting with emotion and you could really see it on the dancer’s faces as well as feel it in the intensity of their moves. The costumes were colourful and the music played in perfect harmony which made it really difficult to break my concentration just to take a photograph.
And that marks the end of my 97 days in Europe. Looking back I really can’t believe how quickly the time passed as it only feels like yesterday when I landed in Paris after flying in from New York.
As expected my European visit was chock full of culture. I ate my way through so much delicious food, drank some unbelievably good liquor as well as admired some beautiful architecture and art. I met some lifelong friends along the way and most importantly had a real blast.
To all those wonderful people I met along the way, thank you so much for being part of my world tour.