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Kelsey Yurek

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The Best Warm Weather Spot in Europe: Lisbon

In the past few years, Portugal has started to top the list of European travel destinations. It’s unique, budget-friendly, has tasty food, great weather, and even better people. When I visited Lisbon for a weekend at the end of April 2018, I was so excited for the warm weather after 4 months in London’s cold, cloudy, and rainy climate. It was one of those solo travel experiences where I was able to explore everything at my own pace, met great people along the way, and really saw why everyone falls in love with Portugal on their visit.

 

I flew from Madrid to the Lisbon and found their public transportation easy to navigate. Lisbon has a unique tram system which is worth experiencing, but most of the sights in the city itself are walkable. I stayed in a youth hostel during my time in Lisbon, and of all the hostels I’ve ever experienced, this is my most highly recommend of them all: Good Morning Lisbon Hostel. It provides a hot breakfast every morning, had the most attentive staff, and featured lots of activities for travelers.

On my first day, I went to Belem Tower is a fortified tower and UNESCO World Heritage Site a little way outside the city. I took the historic tram to get there. Near Belem, I was also able to indulge in a pastel de nata which is an egg tart.

Portugese Egg Tart

This is an absolute must eat when you’re in Portugal, and the line out the door indicated that this, in particular, is the place to eat them.

Cooking class

That evening, I participated in a Portuguese cooking class where I deboned Bacalhau, a local salted codfish, a fascinating experience to say the least. Luckily, the hostel’s nightly happy hour of all-you-can-drink free beer and sangria was shortly after the cooking class.

The next day, I woke up and head on a Sintra day trip. Sintra is a resort town located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and possesses a ton of awesome sights. The warm weather made seeing Quinta de Regaleira, Azenhas do Mar, Almoçagema, Adraga Beach, Cabo da Roca, and Pena Palace absolutely divine. The action-packed day left me exhausted, but the opportunity to romp around at the beach isn’t one that you get in every destination. I was thrilled with the richness of Portugal’s countryside in addition to its history and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the third and final day of my trip, I spent the morning on a walking tour which covered the remaining parts of the city I had yet to see. Free walking tours are one my largest travel hacks and Lisbon certainly didn’t disappoint. Some of the most memorable parts of the tour were the Alfama Neighborhood, Santa Justa Lift, Barrio Alto, Praça do Comércio, and Rua Augusta Arch. The views of the city during the tour were spectacular, and it reminded me of San Francisco, CA with the hills, trams, and large red bridge.

I left Lisbon finally understanding what all the rage was about. Not only did the city have a lot to offer with its gorgeous weather and landscape, expansive history and culture, but the food was also incredible and every person I met was nothing but kind and gracious to me. (Oh and bonus: Lisbon is in fact far less expensive than any of my other favorite spots in Europe!)

 

 

 

 

 

Havana-na-na-na

In 2017, I spent 5 days in Cuba on a whirlwind vacation with my older brother. The trip was the perfect mix of adventure and culture as I left the United States and ventured to a country far less traveled than popular, warm European destinations.

Arriving in Cuba was part of the adventurous vibe I love in my travel experiences. My flight departed at sunrise from Washington, D.C. with a short layover in Atlanta before moving on to Havana. In Atlanta, I purchased a visa, or “tourist card,” under the “Education: People to People” category at the departure gate and excitedly sat on the airplane waiting for the short flight that I had been told would practically take me back in time. I was ready for the place I had read about—one that is “frozen in time” with the 1950s cars, no internet access, no ATMs or credit cards, and a commercial-free atmosphere.

The first day consisted of a series of trials that I encountered primarily because I have never traveled in an age without cell phones or the internet. After going through customs in the Havana airport, I had the pleasure of my first bartering experience with an airport cab driver. He spoke only enough English to cover for my poor Spanish, but I managed to negotiate a ride to the area of my “casa.” Locals open up their homes and sell bedrooms to tourists looking for an inexpensive place to stay. I found a suitable “casa” on AirBnB but soon found it was nearly impossible to locate with the address provided and the internet connection in Cuba was too poor to message the host.

For the next 7 hours, while waiting for AirBnB’s assistance, I spent time in Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, exploring the sites. Plaza de San Francisco, El Capitolio, and Plaza Vieja were some of my favorites to check out. They were perfect places to see Cuban architecture, as well as people watch, to get a vibe for the city. During dinner, AirBnB managed to connect me with my host, and I was able to make my way to my casa for the evening. The cool air-conditioned room in the back of Maykel’s home was incredible after the warm July weather I had experienced all day.

The next day was an early wake-up call to catch a shared taxi to Trinidad. I spent just a day in the beautiful town located in central Cuba. There’s a ton to do with easy access to the beach, or “la playa,” incredible foliage, and beautiful natural waterfalls. In addition to a cute town with live jazz music, I spent time with a local guide horseback riding to and from the natural waterfall and grabbing beers, or cervezas, on rooftops.

When I headed back to Havana for my last few days, I had a few things still left on my list: take a ride in a 1950s car, drink mojitos at La Floridita, listen to jazz at a local spot, and eat traditional Cuban food. I managed to check everything off the list before hopping back on the plane to D.C.

Cuba isn’t a traditional destination, but if you’re looking for something unique, consider it for your next adventure! The experiential nature of this vacation was unparalleled. I learned more about flexibility in travel during my time in Cuba than I ever have before. Being disconnected from the internet and technology provides real opportunity to seek out a connection with locals and the culture and lives they have built.