I’ve used the Time Out website as my go-to throughout our travels through Europe. It is the ultimate companion for any newcomer wanting an insiders-guide to a city and the closest thing I could find to The Denizen I covet when at home. The website is full of restaurant reviews, must-do’s and and “top lists” such as Top 5 Rooftop Bars in Barcelona and has guided us to many places we hadn’t originally planned to visit or known even existed.
When reading about Lisbon, I stumbled across Mercado da Ribeira, a food and produce market managed by Time Out itself that brings together the best of the cities food and drink to create the ultimate foodie hangout. It is the epitome of the fast casual dining scene that is so effervescent throughout Australasia yet I have really noticed an absence of elsewhere throughout our journey through Europe thus far.
As it was situated across the road from our hostel, Dave and I enjoyed many delicious meals (also known as a cool five visits) at the Mercado always endeavouring to try something new each time. Despite the rule we inflicted upon ourselves, I found myself drawn to “Henrique Sá Pessoa” numerous times to try many of the delights off the menu. Henrique Sá Pessoa is one of the country’s most famous chefs and each of the meals I tried were a beautiful combination of flavours with the 24-hour suckling pig with a sweet potato puree being a true favourite followed by the fresh seafood pad thai from Asian Lab and the strawberry and beetroot ceviche.
The first thing you notice when arriving in Lisbon are the colourful streets; many buildings are painted in bright simple colours while others are adorned in bright tiles full of detail. Staying in the Alfama district, we were surrounded by winding cobble roads and little restaurants, so much so we could hear the famous Fado from our living area. We met two friends in Lisbon for the Nos Alive music festival but after our first evening exploring the streets we knew we’d have to adjust our itinerary to really take in the city. Nos Alive was a music festival true to the portugese spirit, relaxed yet vibrant, and we found ourselves sipping rose, snacking on Pao and watching the sun go down whilst listening to live world class music acts.
The rest of our time in Lisbon was spent at the Sunset Destination hostel, a truly unique and wonderful hostel on top of the Cais do Sodre train station. Situated right next to the river, a block away from the famous Pink Street nightlife area and a short walk from Bairro Alto. Not only were we right in the heart of where we wanted to be, the hostel had a rooftop terrace with a bar, pool, masseuse, hammocks and vegetable garden that the guests were encouraged to help themselves to.
After spending so much time dreaming about Italy, France and Greece, I arrived in Barcelona with very little knowledge or expectations of the city. The first morning I stepped out of our Air BnB onto a little narrow street in Barri Gotic I was instantly bewitched. We were surrounded by streets of small coffee shops, juice bars and eateries and only a block back from the famous La Rambla. With the beautiful sandy beaches only ten minutes walk away, I was puzzled how I had managed to overlook one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, especially one situated on such a beautiful coastline. We had five days in Barcelona and with the days averaging at 38 degrees, we quickly came to understand the reasoning behind a siesta. Barcelona really felt like the city that had at all: it felt alive with interesting people, like a city that never sleeps and it had beaches that rivalled the famous wide sandy beaches of California.
Underground club on the beach promenade
Hanging lights from the umbrellas
The famous La Boqueria market is a must-visit; the candy, the fruit, the cured meats and the seafood was spectacular. Wandering around the market with an assortment of salami sticks to snack on, Dave and I were enchanted by all of the beautiful colours and the endless varieties each stall had to offer. We were blown away when we realised the market is completely set-up and packed up twice daily to accommodate siesta. The spanish food in Barcelona wasn’t a highlight for me as the tapas were mostly deep-fried and/or crumbed and the lunches were centred around baguettes but, being an global city we were spoilt for choice and found divine international food on offer.
After working on a ski field in Lake Tekapo, Dave made a number of friends who we will be visiting throughout our adventure around Europe, the first of those in Andorra. Many people have never heard of Andorra, a beautiful country consisting of two valleys in The Pyrenees. We were lucky enough to have Dave’s friends take us on a tour of the whole country, four-wheel driving over one of the major ski-fields and tobotronc-ing through the forest, which I could only describe as an electric-luge-on-rails.
With only a couple of days in Mallorca, we were lucky enough to have a dear friend who used to live in Palma, Mallorca give us her own personal list of to-do’s; not only did we see some of the most stunning scenery but we also experienced some gastronomical delights.
The only thing we didn’t quite nail was our accommodation, but we made it work. We booked a studio apartment in the Santa Catalina area which was right in the heart of many restaurants and bars and right next to the famous markets. A slight oversight meant our studio apartment lacked air-conditioning which normally wouldn’t be an issue but as it was 40ºC in the heat of the day, it was still 31ºC at 11pm so we ended up moving our bed out onto the private balcony and sleeping under the stars.
Not only did we have an Eggs Benedict that would rival one in NZ at Appetite (www.appetite.es), which is a serious feat as Europeans don’t do brunch like we do at home, but we also had the most amazing South East Asian fusion food at Koh (www.kohmallorca.com). Between the Confit Duck Red Curry, the Clam and Prawn Rice Noodles and the Summer Rolls, we were in absolute gastro-heaven.
We hired a car to drive to Formentera, the most northern point of Mallorca and witnessed water so iridescent turquoise it reminded me of the lagoon in Aitutaki, Rarotonga. The lighthouse was inhabited with docile goats that are nothing like the angry goats we get at home and I was astounded when I saw little kids playing with them under the trees.
Antoni Gaudi’s touch is sprinkled throughout Barcelona and we visited two of his most well-known and largest works, La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. La Sagrada Familia construction began in 1882 and it is estimated it will be another 75 years before construction is complete. Built in a traditional Catalan/Spanish Gothic style, it is nothing like any of the Cathedrals we have visited on our travels – and we have visited many! You could spend hours exploring the winding paths of Park Güell and as it is situated in the hills facing the Mediterranean Sea, it provides the most magnificent view of the city. Mosaic isn’t my most favoured art form and it brings back memories of school art projects however it did add to the magical feeling the park emanated.