After bidding Asia farewell (not forever) and then spending a few weeks with our respective families and friends back home in June, Lucas and I reconvened and relocated to Europe for the next few months.
To kick off our new route, Lucas met me in London for a few days where I was able to give him a whistle-stop tour of the capital so he could experience a bit of British culture (i.e., drink a cider, eat fish & chips, and ride the Tube) before we flew onto Palma, Mallorca – our first port of call. Pardon the pun.
Mallorca isn’t on your average European gringo trail, so to clarify, we weren’t in Palma to do any intrepid travelling or have any budget backpacker experiences – we were with my family and plus ones for a weeks holiday, sailing around the island. It’s also fair to say that we were eased in very gently, and very comfortably, to our stint in Europe. Thanks, Dad!
I shan’t gloat for too long, but our indulgently lazy days puttering around the island of Mallorca consisted of cala hopping, swimming in the bright blue waters, and paddle boarding in the bays. Interspersed with drinking, eating, and siesta-ing. It was all very continental.
By night we’d play beer pong, or card games sipping Spanish wine and Scottish whisky, before piling into the dingy and going on shore for a typically late Spanish dinner at 10pm.
It was a tough week, as you can tell, and certainly a unique way to experience this beautiful Balearic island. And hats off to Ferg who maneuvered the beast of a boat the whole time – especially during those nail-biting rough swells…
After exploring the coastline of Mallorca, luxuriating in idleness, and bonding en famille, it was time to say our goodbyes and Lucas and I set off on shaky sea legs – and about two stone heavier – for the next part of our journey.
We didn’t stray too far though, just into mainland Spain.
We’d been enjoying practicing our Spanish – which improved after a caña or two – and I’d always wanted to go to the Sierra Nevada, so we flew into the Moorish Andalusian city of Granada for a few days to get some work done post-hol, and to see the famous Alhambra, before heading into the vast mountain range for a few days of hiking.
Although we didn’t get to spend too long there, I really liked the vibe in Granada and would have stayed longer. It was different to the charming and polished nautical style of Palma; more authentic and rustic in its southern Spanish culture infused with Moorish history – and a little rougher round the edges in that cool grungy way.
Unfortunately we only got to see the outside of the Alhambra – note: book tickets in advance. It was still beautiful from afar.
But, as Lucas is more the mountain guy, and I’d had my fair share of wide open blues in Mallorca, it was time we had a change of scene so our priority was to get up into the Sierra and out of the city.
Four hours by bus south of Granada, we chose a tiny village called Capileira to call home for the next few days; one of the highest mountain villages in the Alpujarra region of the Sierra Nevada.
We’d picked the Alpujarras because it had good hiking routes and we were keen to get some good walks in, then coincidentally Lucas read about local alternative living hippie communes in an EasyJet inflight magazine, which peaked our interest of the area even further.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of said communes but we did see some pretty down-and-out junkies camped out on the streets of Orgiva on our way through…
Capileira was a traditional little town of old white houses packed in along narrowed cobbled streets, tiered down the mountain.
It was hard not to fall in love with the place – Capileira was so picturesque and the location was perfect. We stayed in one of the traditional white cottage-style apartments with a stone terrace that looked onto the impressive ridges, where we sat drinking our morning coffees and in the evening €2 wine with local cheese and crusty bread.
The weather was cooler than the city heat of Granada, which was a welcome respite, and we spent hours exploring the surroundings of our little village before tackling the area’s big 18km hike on our last day.
We rose early to make the most of the cold morning – or as the Spanish say, when it was fresquito – and began our hike: the Sendero Acequias de Poqueria.
It was a beautiful trail through the gorge, we were surrounded by huge mountains on all sides and a fresh water stream ran below as we followed the trail-marked stones and hiker’s cairns under the watchful eyes of circling hawks and mountain goats.
Six hours later and very dusty, but very satisfied, we finished the loop of the gorge and treated ourself to a few cañas and tapas to toast our efforts and the amazing Alpujarras.
We could have spent longer in Capileira – it was so beautiful and so peaceful – and it was great to experience local village life and breathe fresh air, but we were keen to move on so we could fit in a visit to Portugal before we flew to Amsterdam at the beginning of August. Time flies when you’re having fun.
To get to Lisbon we could get a bus from Seville, so we decided to have a quick stopover in the Andalusian capital, home of the famous flamenco dancing.
Despite having literally 48 hours, we could only mooch at a slow and steady pace as the barometer hit a stifling 39degrees. Nevertheless, Seville was certainly one of the most architecturally beautiful cities I’ve been to, and the people were so coiffed and elegant.
We couldn’t leave without watching a flamenco show either, of course, so we bought tickets on our last night for an incredible hour-long performance set in the courtyard of an old building. Seriously, it sent chills down my spine.
It was on that note that we left Spain, and ventured into neighbouring Portugal. I was excited to go back and this time with Lucas as I’d been to Lisbon the year before and loved it – and ask any of my friends, they’re as obsessed as I am.
Again, endless sunshine and blue skies made exploring the city even better.
By day we found a hipster coffee shop to work in called Hello, Kristoff – whose team uniform seemed to be beanies, skinny jeans, and beards – and after we would make the most of the long evenings and walk around the historic old town, the waterfront, up and down the steep cobbled hills with colourful street-art walls, and take in the views at the miradours overlooking the bay and lookalike Golden Gate Bridge.
We drank cold Portuguese beers and vinho verde, and supped on the speciality, bacalau, as well as Portuguese tapas.
Needless to say, Lisbon enchanted me for a second time and I could see parallels to what drew me to Granada with its cool understated rough-around-the-edges vibe.
After the capital we moved north, up to Porto, the second biggest city, and famous for not much else other than Port, the sweet fortified wine. The place had come recommended so I suggested we go there in the hope that it would be as good as Lisbon!
Firstly, if you think Lisbon is rough-around-the-edges, then go to Porto. But I don’t mean that in a bad way! Lisbon has its hipster ways but Porto is right behind it – just give it a few years…
For instance, you won’t find a Hello, Kristoff, but you will find a retro music shop-come-bar, or an old church converted into a restaurant, and even a craft beer pub run by a grey-whiskered old man.
Another thing that fascinated me about Porto – which I also saw noticed in Lisbon – were the crumbling abandoned townhouses, in their ruinous but romantic ways, calling out to be loved. You could still see their beautiful architecture beneath the peeling paint and boarded up windows.
Lucas can tell you how many times I made him stop and look as I lamented about the state of these wonderful but woebegone buildings, wondering about their history and how and why they were left as they were…
However, the conventional beauty of Porto, lay down by the river – where you’d also find all the tourists – with Gaia on the otherside of the old steel bridge.
And, like the tourists, we ticked the boxes: did the river thing, crossed the bridge, and drank a glass of Port at the end of it to round off our time in Portugal.
By this point, we’d experienced a fair amount of Iberia; we’d remastered conversational Spanish, nailed the siesta thing, struggled with our non-existent Portuguese but loved the country nonetheless, and finally decided that getting free food when you ordered a beer (aka tapas) was just the best.
But it was time for a culture change and our plans were to head further East, first to Amsterdam for a week in an Airbnb with a cat called Wallie, before a quick stop in Hamburg, a festival in Budapest, then on into Slovenia and the Balkans.
It’s all go – and as I said, time flies…
Oh, and in all the miles we’ve travelled in Europe so far, not once have we had to show our passports or go through immigration! The joy of travelling in the Schengen.