Camino de Santiago: Portuguese Coastal Way

I will start off with a small disclaimer: I didn’t finish. My blisters became too much and on top of that, I fell ill with a whooping cough and was unable to continue. I pushed my body too hard in such a short amount of time and I wish I had done things a little differently (read about how I prepared here), but I had a great time seeing what I could on my 80-mile pilgrimage up the coast of Portugal and Spain. I will write a more in-depth reflection piece in the days to come, but until then, enjoy the bones of my journey!

Saturday, 16 September: My flight to Porto left at 5AM, so needless to say, I had to be up really early (about 2AM) to get the coach to the airport. By the time I got to my hostel and looked up things to do, I found a walking tour that was leaving promptly, so I ran to make it. The walking tour gave us a taste of the city’s interesting history. My personal favorite parts were the Santa Clara church, cathedral (which is actually the original starting point of the Camino, so I started my Camino passport with a stamp from that cathedral) (for those who don’t know, you get a certificate of completion for you get stamps twice a day from hostels, churches, tourist offices, etc. along the last 100 kilometers of your walk) and the riverside. With the early start I had, I took a nap, ate dinner, blogged (the hostel had some desktops computers from which I wrote this bit of the post), read and got an early night.

Sunday, 17 September: I took a train from Porto to Vila do Conde to save myself an extra 16 miles (25.6 kilometers). The first part of the day took me along the beach, then through small rural villages inland leading me to the seaside village of Esposende, where I stopped for the day. The hostel I found was full, but thy let me sleep on the sleeper sofa in reception area for a discounted price, which was surprisingly comfortable. Then again, after the walk I had, I could have slept comfortably on a slab of stone.

  • Walked: 18.2 miles (23.3 kilometers)
  • Highlight: A few miles along the coast, I found a bar where I got my first stamp and encountered my first distinct signposting, what a relief!
  • Lowlight: The language barrier. I don’t understand a lick of Portuguese which is really difficult in villages where English is hard to come by.

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Italy

Friday, 21 March: I arrived at my hostel in Venice in the early afternoon. For those who don’t know, the only way around Venice is either by foot or water bus; there are absolutely no place for vehicles bar the bus and car park immediately after the bridge. My hostel was on a island called Giudecca separate from the main cluster islands, so that left my options limited to the water bus. Although it’s slow and a bit pricey, riding the water bus is defiantly a neat experience. Once I got back to the main islands, I visited some main tourist locations like Piazza San Marco, bits of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, although it was disguised by scaffolding.

Saturday, 22 March: I took a walking tour in the morning. It was an interesting tour in that we didn’t hit the main attractions, but rather less known places with some history such as the smallest street, oldest bridge and several churches. After that, I took one final walk around the Grand Canal before heading out. That evening, I rented a car (thank goodness I know how to drive a manual transmission) and dove about forty minutes northwest to a venue in the middle of nowhere (hence the car rental) to see Enter Shikari. I saw them about a month ago in London with a crowd of about 10,000 people, but this venue had no more than 500 people. During the opening band, Modestep, the guitarist for Enter Shikari, Rory, was standing right behind me! A little later, the singer, Rou, and drummer, Rob, were hanging out at the merchandise booth. I got a few pictures and the two of them signed my ticket. Their set was amazing. Although it was the same songs they played last month, it was a totally different experience in a small venue. At one point, Rou brought an amplifier in the crowd and stood on it for a song while the crowd made a circle pit around him and during the last song, Rory came into the crowd and played and the crowd promptly lifted him up. Not to mention, they both were climbing on things throughout the set. After the set, I waited by the merchandise table, hoping to get the other two members to sign my ticket. The crowd was dying down and I assumed they went to bed, which I understand, it was a late show (it ended at about 12:30AM). On social media, Enter Shikari was running a contest: for everyday of the tour, they autographed a group photo (Polaroid) taken in front of the venue they were playing that night. Although I didn’t win, the winner didn’t show, so the merchandise manager gave me the Polaroid before I left. It was an amazing night, I’m thankful I got several signed items and got a chance to talk to Rou and Rob. After returning my car in the wee hours of the morning and waiting for the hourly night water bus, I was finally back at my hostel, at least for a few hours before I had to catch my train that morning.

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My Top 5 European Destinations

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve been asked is, “What has been your favorite place so far?,” to which, I usually reply, “Don’t open that door.” All the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit have been great in their own way, but I obviously do have favorites, so here they are as of now:

Nice, France

Nice is a change of pace from a lot of other European cities: there isn’t particularly a whole lot to do, but who needs to get out when you can lie on the beach in the year-round mild weather? Nice is characterized by its colorful buildings, blue water and amazing views from Castle Hill. Not to mention, it’s a short bus ride away from Monaco, a small country with a big personality, known for its casino and grand prix.

What to do: walk up Castle Hill, get lost in Old Town and hop on a bus to Monaco.

You can read about my time in Nice here.

Budapest, Hungary

I was pleasantly surprised with how much there is to do in Budapest and although I didn’t stay long enough to do everything I wanted, I hope you don’t make the same mistake I did. Budapest is relatively cheap compared to other countries, with a one-way public transit ticket costing about $1 and most full meals costing well under $10. The night life is buzzing thanks to its historical ruin bars and pubs. The two different sides of the city have their own unique identities worth exploring individually.

What to do: walking tour where you major highlights like the castle district, St. Stephen’s Basilica and Chain Bridge, visit a ruin bar in the Jewish quarter and take a dip in one of the thermal baths.

You can read about my time in Budapest here.

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Budapest, Hungary

Thursday, 11 February: On the train from the airport, I met two Americans who are also studying in England. We also happen to be staying at the same hostel, so that night, we went out to eat together at an affordable and critically acclaimed restaurant where I had beef goulash. After that, I turned in early to save energy for my busy day that was to come in the morning.

Friday, 12 February: I started my day with a walking tour of the city, where I saw several beautiful squares, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge and visited the castle district, which included a walk up Castle Hill to get stunning views of the city and hills, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Then, I visited Heroes’ Square and walked to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, where I took a dip. It was an impressive structure with multiple pools both indoors and outdoors, but I think I preferred the outdoor baths as the cold weather made the water feel even nicer. After that, I met up with my Dublin-based friend Rachel and her boyfriend, Craig. I met them both when I visited Dublin in September and by some awesome twist of fate, we happened to be in Budapest at the same time. We went up to the top of the St. Stephen’s Basilica for an incredible panoramic view of the city. We then visited the Jewish quarter and went to a ruin bar, which can best be described as a ruined building transformed into a bar with mismatched accessories. It made for a really fun and interesting atmosphere.

Saturday, 13 February: Before I left for the airport for my afternoon flight, I took a rainy morning walk along the Danube to the Parliament building to see one last sight. Despite the weather, it was a nice, peaceful morning and good way to end my trip.

I loved Budapest and wish I had a bit more time here, but I’m glad I pushed through I did a lot for the short time I got in this wonderful city.

If you would like to see pictures of my journey, check out my album on Facebook here.

Germany

Over the last ten days, I’ve been traveling throughout Germany, part of which was with my grandfather (mom’s dad) who was stationed near Wurzburg for eighteen months.
Thursday, 21 January: After my grandpa’s long flight from Los Angeles earlier that day, neither of us were in any mood to go out the evening of my arrival. However, the next day, we took a drive to the south of Munich, where our first stop was a little town called Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After that, we went on to the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, where we took a tram to the summit. It was cold (about -15°C/ 5°F) and windy, but the views were breathtaking. Our final stop of the day on the way back was Oberammergau, a small tourist town in the shadow of a grand mountain. That night, we had our best meal of the week, at least in my opinion. We went to a large (I mean, really large, with several different floors and rooms, this place never seemed to end, but even with its vast size it was crowded) Bavarian restaurant where we enjoyed smorgasbord of sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes.
Friday, 22 January: The next day, we took another drive to the south to explore a few castles. First was the Hohenschwangau Castle, a smaller castle  with intricate bedroom designs. Then, we visited the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle supposedly inspired the Disney castle and righteously so, it has a gorgeous exterior and a grand interior. I enjoyed visiting both castles (as the Hohenschwangau Castle gave us some background on the history of the family who lived there, particularly the son that went on to build the Neuschwanstein Castle), but the Neuschwanstein was my favorite of the two castles.

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Great Britain Exploring (Second Term)

A piece of advice that really resonated with me before I left was “explore a lot of your home country.” With that in mind, I made time to do so. Last term, I took time to explore Southampton, Bath, Eastbourne, Kingston, Lewes, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and, of course, London. This term, I got to see Birmingham, Bristol, Newquay and Edinburgh and visit London and Southampton again.

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Paris, France

At first (this may come as a surprise), I didn’t consider Paris a priority destination. But with nothing but amazing reviews from my family (especially my brother, Ryan, who went there in June), I decided to make it a reality for myself. I originally planned to go with Emily, but with the recent terrorist attacks, she didn’t feel comfortable going. I coaxed Ben into going with me instead and with that, we set off.

Saturday, 12 December: After getting in fairly late on Friday night, Saturday was our first real day in Paris. First, we went to the Arc de Triumph. We admired its vastness, then went to the top, which had amazing views of the city. From the top of the Arc, we saw a climate demonstration starting. For those who don’t know, major legislation regarding climate change action has been being reviewed in Paris over the last couple of weeks, with awareness marches all over the world. In fact, Ben and I (and another friend of ours) were at the one in London. However, due to the terrorist acts from the other month, the march in Paris was banned, but an alternate protest was held. After that, we went to the D’Orsay Museum. There were several interesting pieces and an intriguing temporary exhibit.

Sunday, 13 December: We started our day by visiting the Lourve, first taking a walk around the nearby park before going into the museum. The museum itself was really impressive. Like The Met in New York, you could spend days in that museum and still not see everything. With that in mind, we chose a few exhibits we were interested in and saw those, including the Mona Lisa. After that, we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral and admired both the inside of the church and the view from the top some 400 odd steps up.

Monday, 14 December: Monday was Ben’s birthday, so I treated him to a trip up the Eiffel Tower. While the view from the lower levels were amazing, the view from the very top of the tower was clouded by fog, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, right after we exited the Tower, the sun came out. It was the first time I’ve experienced a sunny day since who knows when. We sat along the river and enjoyed the weather for a while. To end our time in Paris, we went to a wine tasting. I was just getting over being sick, so I wasn’t in any mood to drink, but Ben enjoyed it.

I loved Paris more than I anticipated and it has been one of the only cities I feel like I still have a lot to see and do.

I am heading back to Arizona tomorrow morning for Christmas break. I can’t wait to be reunited with my friends, family (including Bailey) and American delicacies like Chipotle and Target.

If you would like to see pictures of my journey, check out my album on Facebook here.

I have updated my Great Britain traveling post here with my time in London for the climate march and other various tourist attractions.

Prague, Czech Republic

My grandparents (my dad’s parents) have gone to Prague many times and if they happened to be there the same time I was in Europe, I would gladly visit them. With that, Emily and I hopped on a plane to do so this last weekend.

Saturday, 21 November: We got in late Friday night and went to bed after a quick dinner. We started off our trip by visiting the Prague Castle. It actually isn’t a traditional castle per say, but rather a gathering of government buildings with an impressive cathedral (the St. Vitus Cathedral) in the center of the complex. After that, we took the long way back to the flat and walked across the Charles Bridge for the first time (little did I know we would be crossing it several more times during our time in Prague). Once we got back on the other side of the river, we had what was my favorite meal in Prague: an appetizer of baked goat cheese with fig jam and an entree of tortellini. We then visited the Lennon Wall. The area was incredible: with an area of candles presumably in solidarity for the events in Paris, as well as related paintings on the wall. I even made my own addition: “We are one,” a lyric from a song about international unity I felt appropriate. To end our day, all four of us went to the opera. The opera was Carmen and I’m glad I had the experience to see such a popular opera with such great seats.

Sunday, 22 November: The four of us walked through Old Town. A lot like Nice, it was a series of narrow streets with unique shops and equally unique eateries. Emily and I even got a famous Czech pastry: the trdelník, a hollow treat with your choice of goodies inside. We walked through the streets and across Old Town Square to the Municipal House, where we had lunch. After that, we went our separate ways, where Emily and I got fish pedicures; a treatment where fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It tickled at first, but I soon learned how to relax and not think about it. My feet turned out surprisingly smooth!

We left early this morning and now it’s back to real life, and by real life I mean my mountain of coursework. I really enjoyed this weekend and it was nice to get a taste of my home life by seeing my grandparents.

If you would like to see pictures of my journey, check out my album on Facebook here.

I have combined all my Great Britain adventures into one post here and have updated it with my London daytrip last week to see The Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots.

My next adventure: Paris, France!

Great Britain Exploring (First Term)

A piece of advice that really resonated with me before I left was “explore a lot of your home country.” With that in mind, I made time to do so. I took time to explore Southampton, Bath, Eastbourne, Kingston, Lewes, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and, of course, London.

Wednesday, 15 October: I went to Southampton for a Senses Fail show. I arrived at Southampton Central and walked through town (including a quick pop into a Lord of the Rings themed pub, The Hobbit) to meet up with my long-time friend, Alex. We are both huge Senses Fail fans and it was surreal to see them together after years of half-joking, half-fantasizing about it for so long. The show itself wasn’t the best; they were an opening band so the crowd was really low energy, but they sounded great and I got a drumstick! I wasn’t overwhelmed with Southampton, but it was nice to spend time with Alex.

Saturday, 17 October: My friend, Chris, goes to university in Bath and was always on about how beautiful it is. When I made my way up there, he showed me around the city. The architecture was really unique and the rolling hills and the fall foliage were beautiful. After that, we hung out with his roommates by playing board games, watching movies and taking random online quizzes. It’s awesome having friends all around England, it makes the experience much more personal when they know all the worthwhile places to see and you can retire to a comforting place rather than a noisy hostel.

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