May 29, 2014 by mariannat92
A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I was about to leave for a 2 week trip through Andalucia and Lisbon for my Easter holidays. Well, I’ve been back for a good couple of weeks now so I think it’s time to let you know what we got up to! (By the way, in case you’ve never had it shouted at you in the street in Spain before, the term ‘guiri’ basically means foreigner – the jury’s out on whether it’s meant offensively but personally I think we owned it on this trip…)
And so, on the last Sunday before Easter, I set off to the bus station to begin the holidays in earnest! I caught the night bus to Huelva, so after a ten hour journey and a couple of hours wait in Lisbon I arrived at Annie’s apartment very early on Monday morning. After a quick catch up and an orange juice (Spanish food, how have I lived without you for so long) we headed straight to bed ready for exploring on Monday.
After a couple of hours sleep and another catch up, as well as meeting Annie’s amazing American housemate Haley, the three of us went for a wander up to Huelva’s shopping centre for a Primark session and the first of what would become really rather a lot of trips to Cien Montaditos over the next week. After lunch, Annie and I headed into the city centre to go exploring and found a really nice bar by the harbour for a drink or two.
After a while we got a frozen yoghurt craving and headed into the centre to find a Smooy, bumping into our first Semana Santa parade on the way! We ended up finding a good spot on the Plaza de las Monjas and watched the parades for a good few hours. Within half an hour or so we were totally hooked – the atmosphere in the crowd was so amazing and the parades were so beautiful that parade-hunting quickly became our favourite Semana Santa hobby. I also started to adore Huelva – there’s something about the city that instantly makes you feel at home!
That evening we went for my first tapas dinner in forever! With Annie being a veggie, we had the perfect excuse to buy a whole ración of cheese and another of patatas bravas – needless to say we were both in heaven! If only Portuguese food were as good as this!
On Tuesday Anwen and her friends Steph and Helen were due to arrive in Huelva from Granada, so Annie, Haley and I had a relaxed lunchtime trip to the park in the morning and then headed back to the bar that Annie and I had been to the day before to wait for their bus. As soon as they arrived, we popped back to the flat and then got straight down to more parade-watching in the centre. Alas, the crowds at the parades were getting bigger and bigger every day so by the time we had all gone home and got ready to go out that evening, every restaurant in the centre was totally full, and the bars were so busy that the only place we could find food was a kebab takeaway – keep it classy girls.
With everyone in Huelva for our first whole day together, we decided to go for a trip to the beach. Not having a beach in Coimbra or Granada, we were all pretty excited and we had a really nice, calming day getting our tan (burn) on. It was so nice after spending so long in the Portuguese spring downpours! That evening we headed back to Annie’s via Cien Montaditos (I dread to think how many montaditos I ate in Spain…) to pack up for our bus to Seville the next morning.
Another group of our friends from Coimbra (Florence, Giulia, Giampaolo and Alessia) had already been staying in Seville for two nights on their own road trip so we met up with them quickly and went down to the Plaza de España for an explore and many obligatory “Yep I’ve been to/lived in this province” photo opportunities. It was already absolutely baking, especially considering that many of us had been in Portugal just a couple of days earlier, so upon meeting up with Natalie O, we made a beeline back to the centre and went for a massive tapas lunch all together.
Oh yes, an explanation! Natalie O is the uni friend of mine who I went to visit in Valencia last semester. Natalie’s studying in Lisbon for second semester and, as I had a two hour wait in Lisbon bus station on the way to Huelva, I had met up with her on the Sunday night for a coffee. When I told her what we were planning for Easter, she was really keen to join, so we invited her along to Seville and Granada! The more the merrier, after all.
Holy Thursday in Seville is the biggest event of the entire Semana Santa, when at midnight many of the city’s religious orders stream out of their churches and parade to the main Cathedral until as late as 2pm. As such, the city was absolutely heaving and everywhere we went we were blocked hundreds of people sitting in wait of the parades. Luckily we had all been advised to find somewhere to sit a couple of hours earlier than we would need to be there, just in case any more roads became blocked throughout the night.
In the end we decided to wait in the Plaza del Duque, mostly because it had a lot of chairs laid out and huge groups of people gathered. However, after half an hour or so it became clear that we were going to be waiting a few hours yet for the parades to arrive, so we were tempted into midnight churros on the other side of the square. In the end this was a huge stroke of luck – as well as getting our fill of churros (WHY DON’T YOU HAVE THESE PORTUGAL) we ended up finding ourselves in the first row of people to see the Magdalena parade, one of the most famous orders taking part in the midnight processions that had black hoods, Roman soldiers and everything.
Needless to say us Semana Santa nerds were very happy with our positioning for session number 3…
What we hadn’t realised about the Seville processions is that each order takes about three hours to file past, whereas in Huelva each had taken about half an hour. Each church seemed to have brought thousands of participants, from the church Fathers right down to tiny little boys all roped together (yes, seriously). Unfortunately this did make it a bit more tedious than the smaller parades but the sheer wealth and extravagance of the Magdalenas more than made up for it. As I said before, amongst the hooded Nazarenos there was a proper Roman legion complete with stick on six-packs and huge feathered plumes, and their Pasos (huge floats depicting different stages of the Passion of Christ) were incredibly elaborate and moving. The Paso carrying the Virgin de la Macarena (in the photo above) was the best of all, and so beautiful and moving that the whole crowd rushed forward to touch or kiss its base. Annie and I were so taken up with the parades that after the Macarena procession had gone past, and the others had all headed back to the hostel, we went off to find El Silencio, an order that parades entirely in silence and asks that those watching do the same. This was a totally different experience even to La Magdalena; all of the Nazarenos were walking barefoot and the silence lent the procession a sense of total religious devotion that we had never seen before.
The next day, all sleep deprived due to the lack of air conditioning in our 40 degree hostel dorm, Anwen, Steph, Helen, Natalie and I decided to take it easy and just go for a wander into the centre (Annie was spending the day watching more processions with Haley, who had had to stay in Huelva and only visit for one day). After getting lost quite extremely (sorry guys), we had another delicious tapas lunch and decided to check out the bullring. Unfortunately we forgot that most of Spain apparently closes on holy days, so ended up relaxing by the river for the afternoon instead. On the way back to the hostel we ended up getting trapped by innumerable road blocks for the parades and, after a grim Chinese meal that evening, we had all had enough of Seville in Holy Week. Overall it was amazing but you can only take so many crowds!
And so, the next morning we bid farewell to Seville and took the bus to Granada, where Anwen is studying now, for part 3 of our trip!
Once again, Florence and co had already been in Granada for a day or so when we arrived so after dropping our things at Anwen’s flat we quickly met up with them for a bite to eat and headed up to the Mirador San Nicolas for a view over the Alhambra. We stuck around there taking 99 photos each for an hour or so and then went back down into the city centre via the Albaycin.
An incredible thing we discovered about Granada while in the Albaycin is that all the tapas is totally free. Yes, free. And when I say tapas, I don’t mean a couple of olives, the portions are absolutely massive – this mighty bagel feast only cost us 6 drinks! After this discovery, alas, our interest for exploring the touristy side of the city waned somewhat, and we found ourselves focusing almost entirely on tapas bars (so much so that we didn’t even manage to see the Alhambra, oops). When in Rome!
That night we all ended up going out to Anwen’s favourite club in Granada (with, of course, a view of the Alhambra) so with the next day being a slightly hungover Easter Sunday we decided to have a huge Easter lunch all together before the other Coimbrans had to head back to Portugal. Anwen and Giulia made an absolutely incredible (and enormous) lasagne for us all, which was such a lovely way to finish our time all together! That evening Florence, Giampaolo, Giulia and Alessia made their way back to Coimbra and those of us staying behind in Granada went for tapas again, this time with a huge group of Anwen’s friends from second semester, which was really fun. Our final day was spent in much the same way, with us mostly moving from meal to snack to meal again with little to no tourism in between! Even so, I loved Granada’s tapas culture and it is so unique in itself that I don’t feel too guilty about missing most of the tourism things, although I will of course have to go back one day to see the Alhambra!
After three days in Granada it was unfortunately time to leave and head back to Portugal. Luckily, I had sneakily timed my departure to coincide with my grandparents’ visit to Lisbon so I managed to fit in one last holiday before getting back to classes!
After yet another very long bus journey, Natalie and I arrived back in Lisbon at about 5am and went back to her apartment to crash for a couple of hours before their flight arrived (thank you Nattie!) After managing to ruin most of my warm clothes in Granada, much to the hilarity of Natalie and Anwen (don’t ask), I managed to go for a quick jeans-replacement trip on the way to the airport and then hurried on to meet Granny and Grandpa from their flight!
My grandparents had never been to Lisbon before so it was fantastic to introduce them to all my favourite places around the city and get to explore again properly. Grandpa had booked a really lovely old apartment for us in the Alfama which was handily just next to the Castle elevator, so we managed to be really close to amazing views over the city and still remain only 10 minutes walk from the centre! Their flight was meant to have been very early but had been delayed and in the end we were all as tired as each other, so on the first day we went for a spot of bacalhau up next to the castle for lunch and then had a lovely post-journey relax in the apartment before popping out for a drink on the Praça de Comércio in the evening.
The next day, we decided to go exploring on the opposite hill to the Alfama. We started off in Chiado with a spot of window shopping (I had mistakenly advised Granny to pack for warm weather, forgetting that Portugal always just decides on the day!) and then wandered up to have a look at the city from the Miradouro de São Pedro. Then we popped for a quick lunch in a tiny corner bakery and went for a big trek through Principe Real and down to the river through all these little side streets. Before finally heading home for a nap we went to the market in the Praça Figueira to try some traditional pastries, which were, of course, much appreciated by all! That evening we went to one of my favourite restaurants in Lisbon, Bom Jardim Rei Dos Frangos, which makes amazing piri-piri chicken – always a hit with whoever I go with!
As we were staying in Lisbon over Liberty Day (25th April) there were loads of events going on in the centre of the city to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the country’s freedom from dictatorship. One of these was a huge firework display over the River Tejo, due to start at around 1am. In preparation, Natalie came to meet my grandparents and I for a drink and, once they had gone back to the apartment to go to bed, we went and found a bar in the Alfama with the perfect view over the river. And then we waited. 1am went by with no fireworks. “Well, ok, it is Portugal after all” we thought, and resolved to wait some more. After a while we began to wonder if a tiny light show we could see on Praça de Comércio was, in fact, the ‘pyrotechnic display’ advertised all around town. But no, even austerity Portugal wouldn’t organise a celebration that miserly, it must still be coming. After another half an hour, the bar began to close and I’m sorry to say that we gave up and headed home. Luckily, however, the flat I was staying in with Granny and Grandpa had a dodgy front door, so when quarter of an hour later I was still in the street cursing my set of keys I did in fact manage to catch the display! It was pretty impressive too, so better late than never!
On our last full day in Lisbon we decided to go and have a look at Belém, as my Grandpa is a massive fan of boats and art, and my Granny and I love a good pastry – so a neighbourhood dedicated to navigation, modern art and pasteis de nata makes for a perfect day out! It was beautifully sunny as well, so as well as going to the monastery, the Confeteria and the gallery, we managed to have a proper walk around the whole area and explore properly in glorious sunshine! That evening we went back to an Italian restaurant on Praça de Comércio where we had been for drinks a couple of nights before and had a great long dinner there, followed by ice cream from a gorgeous gelateria on the Rua Augusta, where they shape each scoop into the shape of a rose. The perfect end to our time in Lisbon!
The next morning we caught the train to Coimbra for my last weekend of holiday. I had told Granny and Grandpa all about the city and they were really keen to see it, so we were all hyped up and ready for a big day sightseeing, when… It began to rain. This definitely wasn’t in my plans for the weekend, but with Coimbra you can never tell what the weather will do next, so it was really to be expected! We did try to do some sightseeing, and even trekked up to the University through a mist of rain, but at the end of the day it wasn’t really worth it, so we popped to have a look at my flat and then went back down to their hotel in the Baixa, with the plan of getting to Zé Manel dos Ossos, a famous and very traditional restaurant by the train station, just before it opened in order to beat the queue. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on our side that evening either and the restaurant was unexpectedly closed. Instead, we went just around the corner to another restaurant and then, to make up for the earlier disappointments, decided to go for a port at the Café Santa Cruz. When we arrived it turned out there was a free fado concert on inside with a couple of songs still to go, which was absolutely perfect!
The last day of our holiday, Sunday, was also my Grandpa’s 80th birthday! (Happy Birthday Grandpa!!!) The sun even came out to celebrate with us for once, so it was a fantastic day. On the way to meet them at their hotel, I bought Grandpa a pack of pasteis de nata as a birthday cake and we went to a pontoon in the Parque Verde to eat them and wish him a happy birthday. After that we went for a stroll around the park and across the river to have a proper look at Coimbra in the sun (quite a contrast from the day before!), before stopping for a slice of pizza overlooking the river and a final little cake. Eventually it was time for the train so we all took a taxi to the station and said our goodbyes until I come back to the UK for good in September.
And so, finally, we come to the end of my two weeks gallivanting! I had an absolutely fantastic time and they were two of my favourite weeks of my whole Erasmus experience – I absolutely adored going to Huelva & Granada for the first time and Seville & Lisbon are always brilliant so all in all it was a great holiday, but, of course, what made it so good was the company, and getting a chance to spend as much time together as we used to do in Coimbra! Até a próxima, meninas.