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A few weeks in Ibéria! Portugal, to be exact. June 6, 2013

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I’d always hoped to study abroad, and with my Spanish studies in high school and now Tech, a chance to use and hone those language skills seemed like the best way to go! So, here I am now less than 3 weeks away from my study abroad experience in Spain! Since the program doesn’t start until July, I decided to spend the early weeks of the summer in Portugal; my mom’s birthplace and where my grandparents live for most of the year. I hadn’t visited the country or my Portuguese family in years, so I am incredibly appreciative of the time I have now!

Having traveled to Portugal a few times before, I expected to arrive to sunny skies and balmy beach weather. Unfortunately, I forgot the fact that even vacation spots have bad weather.. and I arrived to rain and cold.

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My shorts and t-shirt were definitely not the best travel outfit of choice. However, immediately after picking me up from the airport in Lisbon, my grandparents and I stopped for breakfast at a cafe down the street from the apartment we’re in. Some fresh pão (bread), a pastel de nata (a DELICIOUS egg-based pastry very famous in the country), and a bica (Portuguese espresso) made things right. After that, we headed straight to Portimão – about 3 hours south of Lisbon in the Algarve region. The drive passed quickly since the scenery was beautiful: the plains of Alentejo, the region of the country between Lisbon and the Algarve, made for great views. Oh and not to mention I fell asleep after about an hour.

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After 12 hours of airplanes and airports and 3 hours in the car, not to mention a day and half without sleep… the first thing I did upon arriving to the house in Portimão wasobviously to go for a run. I planned on checking out this gym I’d found online – it was supposedly only a couple miles from the house, so I figured I’d jog out there and back. I now know there are absolutely zero gyms in this town, knowledge that would have been helpful on that run. As it was, I wandered around town for about an hour. After giving up on finding the gym, I decided to run out to the beach and back – I ended up putting in like 9 rambling miles that first day. The next day I decided to embrace my nature (that is, my unique lack of any sort of internal compass) and just explore the nearby countryside. Runs with no plans never fail to disappoint. I stumbled across some pretty scenic views and, after aimlessly running up a maze of cobblestone streets, even found a picturesque little church at the top of a small town.

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The only downside of my unplanned run was getting caught in a rainstorm, but it wasn’t so bad. And my previous fears of encountering unfriendly wildlife proved to be unfounded – the only living things I encountered on my route were some curious street dogs, a couple disinterested horses, a flock of sheep and a few baffled citizens. Turns out running (and all organized exercise in general, for that matter) isn’t a “thing” here. I’ve gotten some pretty odd looks for sure.

After a couple weeks in the south, enjoying the beach and my afternoon runs, we had to return to Lisbon to pick up my brother and mom. We headed up a couple days early so that I could check out some of the sights in the city. In one day I saw tons of churches – I swear there’s one on every block, each one older and grander than the next! – and monuments all over the city. Though I have to admit, my most exciting moment was finding the Lisbon rowing club. It wasn’t too fancy, but some people happened to be working there at the time I walked by, so I got to check out their facility and some of the boats. It definitely made my day to have a little rowing experience, especially after the disappointment early on in the summer of finding out the rowing club in Portimão (which I had hoped to row out of while I was there) had been closed.

The next day, after picking up my mom and Sam, we headed back out to see some more sights – mainly Os Jeronimos and the Monument to the Discoveries. Both some of the most famous things to see around Lisbon, and both incredibly huge. The Jeronimos, for one, is just impossible to capture in a picture. Started in 1501, it took around 100 years to complete, and the cavernous monastery is probably my favorite church ever. Which is saying a lot in Portugal! Not to mention it holds the tomb of Vasco da Gama, arguably the greatest explorer ever to have lived. And then, right across the street, you have the Monument to the Discoveries, with over 30 famous Portuguese heros (all related to the many Portuguese discoveries) depicted on it. Both sites are awe-inspiring, and remind me what an incredibly history stands behind this small country.

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After our time in Lisbon, we were definitely ready to head back south towards warmer weather and beaches! It’s always nice to visit with family, which we have a lot of around Lisbon, and to see all the sights in the city, but there’s nothing like home. Here’s the view from the roof – overlooking estuaries stemming from the ocean a few miles from the house.

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For now, I’ll be enjoying the beach and the town – getting some sun and brushing up on my Spanish while I wait to begin new adventures in a new country! 3 weeks and counting!

Until then.. you’ll find me at Praia da Rocha.

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The European Union, through an American’s Eyes July 14, 2010

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View from our hostelMay 14: Today we had a class at the university with Paulo Barcelus. He started explaining the government of Portugal to us, but then remarked that we cannot understand Portugal fully without understanding the European Union. This was strange to me, because albeit that I have heard of the European Union, and I have a rough idea of what it is, I didn’t fully understand why it was necessary to understand the European Union in order to understand Portugal.  Is Portugal not its own country? Are the people not citizens of Portugal? Well, as I found out during this lecture, the answer to these questions is both yes and no. (more…)

BULLFIGHTS&BEACHES May 25, 2010

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Inside Evora's Famous Bullfighting Ring

My short stay in Portugal is officially complete: I attended a bullfight yesterday! It was perhaps one of the most amazing things to happen to me this trip, despite the fact that I was so nervous about attending because of all the blood I knew would be present. Something about harming innocent animals for sport just isn’t that attractive to me; however, the bullfight was not what I was expecting. Apparently, Portuguese and Spanish bullfights are completely different from each other, which made me actually enjoy the experience so much more! I ended up sitting next to a friendly Portuguese man who gave me a running commentary of what exactly was going on during the fight, and I felt very lucky to have had such a good guide to bullfighting!

The first difference between the two countries’ fights is how the bull and the fighter interact: in Spain, a matador fights on foot, while, in Portugal, a horseman fights the bull. This changes the type of interaction between the bull and fighter, and, in my opinion, leads to a less graphic fight. Also, because the horseman must also honor the bull throughout the entire fight, he is not just evaluated on his bravery, but also his ability to showcase the bull and his horse. As such, there are only a limited number of small javelins that are put into the bull’s back, usually between 4-6, and the point of this first phase is for the horsemen to exhibit their skill in the arena without mortally wounding the bull or causing it dishonor. (more…)

From flight delays to Pope delays… May 15, 2010

Posted by Becky Byler in Travel Log.
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Our view of "o Papa Bento XVI" as he passed through the streets of Lisbon

I arrived in Lisbon late Monday night due to flight delays from the volcanic ash, but couldn’t have been happier, even if the flight was almost four hours late! The timing was perfect- we flew over the Tagus River just as the sun was setting, and the sun’s reflection off the water made for a gorgeous backdrop. The quick taxi ride to our hostel (Lisbon Calling) took us right through the main parts of town, so my first glimpse of Lisbon from the ground was dominated by bright streetlights and honking taxis as we drove up and down the hilly city.

Our hostel is positively gorgeous. I don’t know how we found this place, since it is literally a hole-in-the-wall, but we are very lucky to have done so! There are a ton of bright colors, and the staff here is so nice and helpful.

Our first day in Lisbon was essentially an introduction to Portugal: we went over transportation, useful words, culture, and safety (among other things), and then spent the day walking around the city. However, the most exciting thing was Pope Benedict’s visit to Portugal that night! While we only saw him briefly, he is actually visiting Portugal for a total of four days.