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22 October 2013

Olá Portugal, adiós Spain

I had some of the most fun and jam-packed few days in Portugal and Spain since being on Semester At Sea. I was exhausted from not sleeping the night before; I had been sliding up and down in my bed from the rough waves we hit on our way into port (not having slept is not a good way to start off). But as I looked out my porthole window with groggy eyes, I was instantly energized and amazed at the beauty of Lisbon, Portugal, laid out before me.

The buildings are multicolored pastels with red roofs and span from the water’s edge upwards. A castle stands at the top and cathedrals were scattered intermittently.

It was so nice to be able to walk down the ship’s gangway and literally into the center of it all. After spending the day exploring the cobblestone streets that are made from volcanic rock, some friends and I booked a bus ticket to travel from Portugal to Spain instead of traveling with the ship between the two ports.

After a full day of sightseeing, my roommate and I took my Global Music teacher’s advice and went to a restaurant to watch a Fado performance, which is the traditional Portuguese music, which consists of instrumental as well as voice and dance components. As I watched men playing guitars while a woman sang, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the culture. My expectations of Portugal were far exceeded.

The following day we explored Lisbon some more (a highlight being enjoying a gelato-filled crepe) and that night at 9:30 p.m., a group of seven of us (and many other S.A.S. kids) took an overnight bus from Lisbon to Seville, Spain, which took a little over six hours. It was a good way to get to Spain without missing daylight hours, plus it gave us a place to sleep—although none of us ended up being able to.

Upon arriving in Seville at 4:30 a.m., we navigated downtown to La Banda Rooftop Hostel. We went to get breakfast at an authentic restaurant where we all ordered the “jamón tostada,” which is the traditional breakfast—toast saturated in olive oil and covered with serrano ham (very thin and crisp, and more like fancy bacon).

It just happened to be the day of the very last bullfight of the season and we heard that three of the most famous matadors were coming to Seville for the event. It was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am a huge animal lover and hated the idea of bulls being killed, but I knew that this was also a cultural experience that I would probably never get the chance to see ever again. The ticket to the bullfight was undoubtedly the best 70 Euros I’ve ever spent. It was also one of the luckiest tickets because the fight was completely sold out.

Once our stomachs were full with tapas dishes, we made our way to the bullfight. In the stadium, everyone practically sits on top of one another and the seats are more like stone bleachers. Yet, every single one of the 14,000 seats was filled, mostly by Spaniards in fancy attire.

In the center of the round stadium is the ring, which is filled with orange sand that looks like clay. A bull (a “toro” in Spanish) entered the ring, and different men waved magenta capes at it, stabbing the bull with spears to weaken it. Then a man on a horse, called a “picador,” came out and speared the bull each time he rammed the horse. The crowd remained absolutely silent and respectful, only cheering at specific moments, like when the matador came out and fooled the bull with his cape or when the bull, bloodied and exhausted, took his last breath and laid down to die.

As soon as the bull died, a team of mules ran into the ring, men attached the bull to the team, and the crowd stood to give a standing ovation as the mules dragged it out of the arena. The bullfight held my attention for the entire duration of the fight, around two and a half hours. The three matadors had each fought two bulls, killing a total of six.

For my last day in Spain, I had a field lab. A field lab is essentially a class field trip in a port city, and each class has one. I had already had my first in Hamburg, Germany for my acting class, but the one in Spain was for my travel writing course.

We went to the gothic Cathedral (which is the third largest in the world and home to Christopher Columbus’ tomb), the Alcazar (a Spanish royal house/gardens), and the Plaza de España. All were spectacular. We returned to Cádiz (essentially a gorgeous beach town) to meet the ship. We were all happy and exhausted. And we are all anxious to be in Morocco, the next port, in just over a day.