Before one can even finish saying “spring vacation”, thoughts flood in of warm sandy beaches, crazy nights and celebrating a much needed break from the overwhelming busyness of our daily lives. Like many other students my age, spring break is one of my favorite times of the year to get away, but for a somewhat slightly different reason.
It’s time for the annual father-daughter trip.
With a dedicated, hard-working mother in the height of tax season, spring break has been the time for my dad to hop in the driver’s seat. Like most travels, many of our trips have surrounded the theme of transportation. What started out as driving to sport competitions too soon turned into touring colleges and once that was done, our travels together were far from it. Last year, our flight of faith landed us in the glorious city of Santiago, Chile and with the shared pre-requisites of somewhere warm and somewhere international, this year’s imagined destiny drew us to Portugal and Spain.
After landing in Lisbon bright and early, we were eager and ready to discover the extraordinary city before us. Rich in intricate architecture and historical monuments, we basked in the beautiful day along boulevards bustling with life. Some highlights included sightseeing around Rossio Square, walking the streets of Baixa Chiado and watching the sunset from the top of Sao Castel de Jorge.
Now while traveling fills the soul, it is most certainly the food that fills the stomach. With the Atlantic Ocean to their left and the Tagus River to their right, Portugal is the port to all things seafood and “me-food”. Ranked in the top five countries with the highest seafood consumption per capita, Portugal is distinguished for its delicious and infinite fish dishes that can be cooked hundreds of different ways, complete with warm potatoes and a dowsing of olive oil. From the traditional garlic prawns to a delicious seared ahi steak, we ended our first day with a wonderful dinner at Aqui Ha Peixe.
Before heading out the next morning, we scheduled a stop at Pasteis de Belem, notorious for their pastel de nata. Originating in Portugal, this crisp, flaky pastry is filled with a warm, sweet egg custard and sprinkled with powdered sugar, cinnamon and what I think is a little bit of heaven. Apart from the infinite selection of delectable sweets, these little tarts produced by the hundreds prove their popularity and Portuguese perfection. With nothing but a car, our trip’s plan of action was to have none. And if there is one thing I have learned about traveling, it’s that all you need is a ticket and ‘to go’. No plans, no reservations, sometimes not even a map, but rather being led by adventure and discovery promises the ultimate travel experience. Driving down the freeway with the southern coast of Spain in mind, my favorite moments during our trips are our spontaneous off-roadings that lead us to the unexpected. In a fun, yet unsuccessful, search for some local olive oil, we took a trip through the city of Azeitao and stumbled upon Restaurante Eden, a local restaurant providing one of my favorite meals. Chef Mauricio’s worldly travels were shared in the savory flavors and unique creations of his made from scratch, Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine that I hope to return back to very soon.
A beautiful drive in afternoon sun guided us into the wonderful little town of Tavira located at the mouth of the Gilao River. Take the chance of tourist gone traveler and detour off the regular path. Have fun exploring the smaller, lesser known resident towns, as many end up being hidden gems brimming with the genuine culture and charm too often missed by bigger mainstream cities.
As we crossed over to Spain, the border change brought along with it a distinctive culture change as well. Tapas, little plates or small appetizers, are traditional of Spanish cuisine and are commonly eaten as small snacks served throughout bars. Both hot and cold, typical dishes include jamón ibérico, aceitunas, patata bravas, or one of my new found favorites, pulpo gallego. (Hint: it has eight tentacles.) My number one tip while in Spain? Eat tapas.
A common question people ask me is where my favorite place was, to which my whole-hearted answer is everywhere, but the city of Seville comes in a close second. Set within the heart of Seville is a set of extraordinary monuments that bare the city’s deep, historical roots. To see the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, you can tour the Cathedral of Saint Mary, a marvelous religious edifice dating back to the early Almohad civilization and Reconquista of 1248. Attached to the Cathedral is La Giralda tower, where our ascent of 34 ramps led us to a breathtaking 360 view of the city. Facing the cathedral is the Alcazar of Seville, or Reales Alcazares de Sevilla, a magnificent monarchial palace; the oldest still in use by the royal family and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moorish architecture exhibits complete grandeur as we strolled through splendid halls, lavish patios and elegant gardens that deserved many more hours to explore and is definitely a top sight worth seeing. Though we only made a short stop, another marvelous landmark to visit includes the Plaza de España set within the Maria Luisa Park that illustrates the intricacy of Spanish mosaic and architecture.
To truly experience the heartbeat of Seville is to be entertained by an authentic flamenco show. Heard in the rhythm of the steps and the strumming of the guitar, fine art expresses a story of struggle in the flamenco’s passionate and enthralling performance, rich with culture and heritage. While a top recommendation is the Museo Del Baile Flamenco, Seville’s abundant expanse of shows will provide for any and all flamenco admirers.
Anything that includes food and the ocean makes for a very happy girl, which is probably why I absolutely adored our next stop in Nerja. Situated right on the coast, Nerja is a beautiful little town lined with resorts and beaches, the perfect, relaxing seaside getaway. Leading up to the trip, my dad’s fountain of knowledge was accompanied greatly by Rick Steve’s travel video, which highlights the fresh, homemade paella iconic of Ayo’s in Nerja. Cooked fresh before your eyes, there’s good reason they give you unlimited trips to the paella as you will keep coming back for more and more and more. Just outside the town you can make a fun excursion to the spectacular Nerja caves, a sequence of underground caverns that stretch on for almost five kilometers and include the world’s largest stalagmite.
Just an hour away is the city of Malaga, also known as “the capital of Costa del Sol”. Similar to that of Seville, Malaga is an energetic and lively city that keeps on late into the night. No thoughts of sleep entered our minds as we were engrossed in complete amusement among the thousands of people out and about; walking around, shopping, listening to music, socializing at bars and just enjoying a typical weekday night. After seeing many works of Picasso and devouring even more flavors of gelato, we both agreed that Malaga is a vibrant and animated city not to be missed.
And while the big cities are top tourist destinations, it really is the adventure in getting there that makes half the fun. Taking the “road less traveled” back to Lisbon, our spontaneous stops in lovely little towns like that of Torremolinos and Aracena made for a delightful drive back.
As a college student’s spring break consisting of just a daughter and her ol’ pops, it would be acceptable to say that I am a bit of a daddy’s girl. And for a girl whose dad is her true knight in shining armor, it was only fitting that his “little princess” stayed in a castle. Throughout Spain, you can spend the night in any of the luxurious Paradores; beautiful hotels rebuilt from century-old castles, palaces and other historic structures. For our last night in Spain we stayed at the Cardona Parador, overlooking the beautiful fields and rolling hills of the country’s outback.
Eventually like all good things, our trip had come to its end. The minute I get back, the most popular question people always want to know is “How was it?” And though ‘fantastic’ and ‘fun’ are perfectly generic descriptions of my trips, I have realized a more worthy response in that above all, it was well spent.
More so than the money we spent on tickets and souvenirs; it was the moments we spent turning into memories that were priceless. More valuable than the minutes we spent getting from one place to another; it was the time we enjoyed together that was truly irreplaceable.