A month ago I was planning a whirlwind trip to Europe and now I’m here at home still trying to process the wonder of it all. As long time readers may know, my current job is a remote-first company that is committed to empowering people to work from wherever they want. As a result of our mentorship program, I got the chance to go to Europe to meet to connect with some of my colleagues. I spent two weeks there- first in France, and then in Barcelona (Spain) and Porto (Portugal).
From Lyon, I took the train to Barcelona. I had considered a flight but the train was roughly the same price and would take the same amount of time as a flight when you considered time at the airport. As a bonus, I would get the chance to take a train around Europe- so cliche and I loved it. I arrived in Barcelona at a major train station where I found the local metro map and immediately caught a ride over to the Arc de Triomf which was three blocks from my hostel. I was in Barcelona for less than an hour before I got to see this beauty.
I promise it is way bigger and way more beautiful than any picture could capture. The sheer magnitude of the Arc was insane to me. I couldn’t explain it if I wanted to. From there, my pack and I hiked over to my hostel before planning out my evening. I decided that I wanted to dip my feet in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset (because obviously that I was something I just had to do). Before dinner, I did exactly that.
Along the way, I walked and I met locals. I asked about the best paella and the best tapas. I asked about Catalonia declaring independence. I listened as they told me variations of “it’s complicated.” I ate dinner while listening at a beach-front restaurant and ate the largest oysters I’ve ever had in my whole life.
Because I only had a day to explore all of Barcelona, I opted for one of the buses that are constantly shuttling people from tourist destination to tourist destination. It was a bit pricey, but it was the best for what I was trying to do- see everything I wanted to in the limited time that I had. I visited La Sagrada Familia and a bunch of Gaudi’s other works. The entire city was spectacular.
The most beautiful place I visited, though, I didn’t take a picture at. When I was in the Gothic district, I visited the Gothic Cathedral, known locally just as the Catedral de Barcelona. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The place was breath taking and spectacular and left me in tears. As I walked through the whole gothic neighborhood (what it’s actually called), I couldn’t help but be in genuine awe of all the details I saw. As much as I’m a believer in American exceptionalism, Europe is just older and has a different kind of spectacular to it.
Of course, I also had lots of delicious food while taking my one day to explore BCN. I was repeatedly told that Ciudad Condal had the best tapas in the whole city, so of course that’s where I went for dinner. It did not disappoint. It was absolutely unbelievably good.
I only had one day to explore BCN, but I had other time that I spent in the city while working. One of those days, I got to go to lunch with a group of my coworkers, which was super exciting! Outside of my teammate who I met in Lyon, these were the first coworkers of mine I was meeting in person! The internet is changing the way we work, people!!
My time in Barcelona was short, but sweet. Eventually, I boarded a plan and flew off to Porto, Portugal, a city on the water in the Northern part of the country.
For context here, as a Brasilian growing up in and around Newark, NJ, I grew up not just surrounded by Brasilians and the Portuguese language but also the Portuguese people! My babysitter growing up was Portuguese. My godson and his mom who will be my Matron of Honor are Portuguese. I grew up playing soccer with whole teams where we preferred to speak Portuguese over English because that way the other team couldn’t understand us. Going to Portugal meant bridging the gap between Portuguese-American culture and Portuguese culture for me, a gap that I often straddle as a Brasilian-American.
I think this really manifested itself in my obsession with food this trip. Unfortunately, there was a a lot of rain and rainy days which meant limited exploring opportunities. On the other hand, it mean unlimited eating opportunities, since eating can be done inside. #BrightSide
I ate SO many pasteis de nata this trip. Way more than I had macaroons in Paris. I probably had 6 per day. #SorryNotSorry. One night I had bitoque for dinner. It was so interesting to me because I have grown up eating bitoque- steak in gravy with Spanish fries and an egg on top. I’ve had this meal many, many times in my life. There was something I don’t know how to articulate about eating Portuguese food in Portugal when you’ve grown up eating Portuguese food in New Jersey.
One food that was totally new to me was the Francesinha. It’s like a multi-layer ham and cheese sandwich with fried cheese melted over it with an egg on top and a tomato-based sauce. I could feel my cholesterol rising as I ate it, but holy cow was it worth it.
The one day that I did have nice weather in Porto I made sure to take advantage of it, mostly by walking downtown. Being fluent in the language is certainly a luxury of travel that I don’t take for granted. How stunning is this view of the Porto train station at dusk?
I visited the most popular tourist attraction in the city, Ponte Dom Luís, and it did not disappoint. The bridge (ponte means bridge) left me with a beautiful site of the whole city. You can walk across the whole thing and be accompanied by the train and cars along the way.
All in all, the two weeks I spent in Europe absolutely flew by! I loved every second of them and could not have imagined how transformative they would be for me. I would recommend the experience to everyone.
Three more countries ✅ off my travel map.
Emilie is an Army Wife, Data Engineer, and CrossFitter with a love for working through her thoughts in this space on the internet. She lives with her husband Casey and their pup Bo in Savannah, GA.