Last Thursday, the countdown finally ended and my family arrived in Spain! After my last class ended at 7:25 p.m., I ran (literally) to the bus stop and took a bus to Madrid, where my family picked me up. It was the happiest reunion of all time!!! We then spent the weekend traveling around Portugal before returning to Toledo for a few days.
Friday, November 16th: Salamanca, Spain and Porto, Portugal
Our first full day together was spent making the 6 hour drive from Madrid to Porto. Luckily, the beautiful city of Salamanca is a great place to stop for lunch halfway along the route. I had already been to Salamanca as part of a school trip, so it was fun to show my family what I had learned during the short time we were in the city. Salamanca has one of the prettiest plazas in all of Spain (and also lots of great photoshoot opportunities, which Lauren and I sought out during our entire week together!).
By the time we arrived in Porto, it was already dark. We checked into our Airbnb and asked the owner for a restaurant suggestion for dinner, which led to us having the BEST meal of our entire lives. I’m not exaggerating! After dinner we walked to to the Dom Luís I bridge in Porto, a famous site for a view of the city from above. The pictures don’t do it justice, but it was a magical view.
Saturday, November 17th: Porto, Nazaré, Óbidos, and Lisbon, Portugal
We woke up the next morning and were finally able to see Porto in the daylight! Our Airbnb was only a block from the river, so we walked down to the water to browse the many stores and stands set up there. I especially enjoyed the architecture of the buildings along the water.
After having some mid-morning gelato, we got back in the car and began the 3 hour drive to Lisbon. However, once again we had stops to make along the route. We first stopped in Nazaré, which has huge waves due to an underwater canyon. Though the city itself wasn’t anything special, my mom, Lauren, and I all put our feet into a new body of water – so I’d call it a success! After eating lunch in Nazaré we continued on to Óbidos, a small walled city that was already fully decked out in Christmas decorations. We then finished the drive to Lisbon, once again arriving to our Airbnb in the dark.
Sunday, November 18th: Sintra, Portugal and Lisbon, Portugal
The first morning in Lisbon was indeed not spent in Lisbon, but on a 40 minute train ride to a neighboring city called Sintra. Trains are such a fun way to travel! In Sintra we visited Quinta de Regaleira, a palace and its grounds. The grounds were especially fun to explore, with lots of small paths and towers and wells. After working up an appetite exploring, we had a phenomenal lunch. Luckily, this time we remembered to take pictures of our food.
We took the train back to Lisbon after lunch, and when we arrived we accidentally made our way to the Santa Justa elevator – but what a happy accident it was! This may have been my favorite part of our trip. The elevator takes you high above the city to a patio, where you have a 360° view of the city. The combination of the architecture of the city and the color of the sky was absolutely breathtaking.
Lisbon too is decked out for Christmas, so after admiring the view of the city we wandered through the streets and, again accidentally, made our way to Praça do Comércio, which is a large plaza on the water in Lisbon. In this plaza is “The Sexiest WC on Earth,” which of course we had to go to! Turns out it is just regular bathrooms with colored toilet paper, but it was totally worth the 1€ per person to enter.
At this point it was almost 6:30 p.m., which meant that the Pittsburgh Steelers football game had already started in the U.S. So, we found the one sports bar in Lisbon and were able to watch the entire game while snacking on nachos and chicken wings and cheese burgers. How American!! It was the first game I had watched all season, and it was great to be able to watch it with my whole family.
Monday, November 19th: Lisbon, Portugal
Our second and last morning in Lisbon was mainly spent doing one thing – me being obsessed with the yellow trolleys that are used to get around the city. I took approximately a thousand pictures of them, and then we were able to ride an old rickety trolley through the winding cobblestone streets of Lisbon. On our walk back to our Airbnb after taking the trolley, we passed a pastry shop which my mother insisted we go to in order to try a pasty she had read about. Thank goodness for my mother, because the pastry was delicious! We then began the 6 hour drive back to Toledo.
Tuesday, November 20th – Thursday, November 22nd (Thanksgiving!): Toledo, Spain
Finally, after more than 2 months of me being in Spain, my family was able to see where I have been living! I am beyond happy that they now know where my school is, where I take the bus, what supermarket I go to when I need snacks… the list goes on. How lucky I am that they were able to visit. Even though I had class during these days, we were still able to do quite a bit together!
On Tuesday, we did something I have been wanting to do since my first day in Toledo: zip-line. Toledo has the longest urban zip-line in Europe (and is incredibly proud of this fact). Apparently urban zip-lines aren’t that long, because the zip-line in Toledo is the shortest zip-line that I have ever seen. Nonetheless, we put on harnesses and helmets and flew across the Río Tajo.
On Wednesday, I took my family to my favorite place in all of Toledo: the Mirador del Valle. It is a viewpoint of the whole city (and the same place I went during my welcome-to-Toledo tour of the city). My family loved the view… and the opportunity for a photoshoot! After this, my family and I went to my host family’s apartment so that everyone could meet each other. Despite the language barrier, we had a great time. I was able to translate almost everything, but the beautiful thing is that not everything needs translating. The hug my mom gave my host mom and the smiles of my hosts sisters when my mom gave them presents were easily understood by all.
Thursday was our last full day together, which also happened to be Thanksgiving. Thursdays are my busiest day of school, and that didn’t change just because of the holiday. So while I was in school from 10:00-5:00, my family went to Segovia, Spain. Then we all reunited in Toledo before driving to our hotel near the Madrid airport. Our Thanksgiving dinner ended up being a hotel room service meal, and it wasn’t bad at all! No stuffing and mashed potatoes, but we did have some darn good crème brûlée for dessert.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so much. I’m thankful for the opportunity to study in Toledo, and for my great host family and the new friends I’ve made abroad. But more than anything, I’m thankful for my family who has supported me nonstop this semester, whether from near or far. I am beyond lucky that they were able to visit me, and will cherish these memories forever.