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Backpacking through Spain and Portugal – reflections on my trip

Jeremy in Barcelona backpacking through Spain and PortugalAs my backpacking through Spain and Portugal journey ends, I reflect back on my trip and what I learned from my European travels.  Barcelona, Madrid, La Coruna, Granada, Ronda, Sevilla, Salema, and Lisbon – I learned something from all of these places.  While some things taught me a lot about traveling and cultures, I also learned a lot about myself on this trip.

Check out the entire journal – backpacking through Spain and Portugal.

Reflections on Spain and Portugal

Overall, the trip was a bit disappointing.  I expected more and was a bit disappointed by Spain.  I enjoyed my time in Ronda, Granada, and Sevilla and liked Barcelona.  However, I wasn’t as excited about this trip as I have been about trips in the past.  Maybe it was the fact I don’t speak Spanish or have never been that interested in the culture.  Even when we got there, there were things about Spain that I didn’t like as I enjoyed other cultures and countries much more.

This is not to say Spain isn’t a great place to visit.  They have a culture and history unlike any in Europe.  I really loved Portugal and wished I could have spent more time exploring that.  I am glad we took the route we did as each place got better and better.  Portugal was a great ending to the trip.

What I learned backpacking through Spain and Portugal

This trip revealed a lot about me personally.  I hate bad directions and getting lost and am frustrated when things are out of my control.  I faced some personal struggles and saw how weak I am.

There were also more down moments and frustrations than in previous trips.  I realized this trip didn’t live up to my expectations and that I had a lot to do with that.  Unlike past trips, I spent most of my time just seeing things.

There were also more down moments and frustrations than in previous trips.  I realized this trip didn’t live up to my expectations and that I had a lot to do with that.  Unlike past trips, I spent most of my time just seeing things.  I need to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone to have experiences.

Experiences like our time with Anahid and Max and Ana, our time with Leah in La Coruna, and a soccer game in Barcelona.  I can’t blame things that happened or a lack of enthusiasm for Spain as the reason I didn’t enjoy this trip as much.  If I compare this to previous experiences, the best moments are those you make and create with other people.  That’s probably true in my life here back in California.

My best memories

  • Barcelona soccer game, surrounded by locals cheering on their team
  • Time connecting and having fun with Leah, Clever, Shawn, and friends in La Coruna
  • Sitting down and talking with Max, Ana, and Anahid about life, experiences, politics, and travel.
  • Running into these new friends as we wandered around Ronda
  • Salema – local town, Figueira (nude) beach and new experiences, hiking along the cliffs over the beach, walking on the beach and looking up at the stars
  • Going to the movies in Lisbon enjoying a movie with the locals, laughing at scenes in two different languages

Looking back, the best moments were experiences with other people, with God, or just going out of my comfort zone to enjoy a new experience.

Dislikes

While every person is different in terms of the things they like and dislike, here are my lists for this trip.  These lists may say a lot more about me than the places I visited.

  • Smoke, flies, being lost and not knowing where I am going, fried foods and oils, modern art, tour groups (even when I have been on a tour, I didn’t like standing out), my negative attitude and frustrations, not knowing the language in the country I am in, places that are too crowded, people making out (not just kissing) in public places like a crowded Metro, Rick Steves’ poor directions and maps, being pressured at touristy places to buy something or eat somewhere, sidewalks too narrow for pedestrians and streets too narrow for cars, too many Euro coins in my pocket, tourist who are too loud and obnoxious and don’t respect the culture and country they are visiting, jet lag, Madrid, the Alhambra, bullfighting

Likes

  • European futbol, eating good local food, internet cafes, hanging out with old friends like Leah and meeting new ones like Clever and Shawn, connecting with a place because of the people you meet and get to know, seeing Clever’s excitement as I gave him the Barcelona jersey,  Renaissance and 16th through early 19th century art, art museums, Toledo’s cathedral, Thyssen museum, Olympic stadium and museum in Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada, Ronda, tree lined cities in the middle of big cities, meeting and connecting with Max and Ana, connecting with a local like Anahid, Salema, beautiful beaches in quiet towns, hiking cliffs overlooking the beach, first time experience on a nude beach, going to the movies in a foreign country, too many stars in the sky to count on a moonlit beach, slowing down and enjoying the beauty and peace of creation, port wine, Lisbon (city, people, and culture)

Conclusion

I never seem to travel without learning something.  I always learn something about the art or history of the city I am in.  However, I tend to learn a lot more about myself – some good and some bad.

Even on this trip, my eyes were opened and my mind expanded to never look at the world the same again.  My memories of this trip, both good and bad, are more meaningful and capture more than any of the 1000 pictures that we took.  It wasn’t the best trip to Europe I have had.  However, a lot of the blame for that falls on me for things I did and didn’t do.

Backpacking through Spain and Portugal allowed me to explore these two amazing countries.  Even though I took this trip to explore and learn about these two countries, it was these two countries that taught me a lot about myself.

Read more about my adventures and the entire series in Backpacking through Spain and Portugal

If you are interested in checking out more of Spain and Portugal, check out these Rick Steves videos on Barcelona and Lisbon.

 

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  1. Natalie says:

    Great post Jeremy and I love your photos and video. I think we all have things we dislike about a place but our state of mind at the time plays a huge difference on whether we can look past them to see the good.
    Natalie recently posted..Turkish Women – Meet A Mother Called HaticaMy Profile

  2. Christine says:

    Aw, that’s too bad you didn’t enjoy Spain as much as you thought you would. But, if you’re not too interested in the culture to begin with, it’s difficult to build enthusiasm when you’re there. Just goes to show that in travel, not everything is for everyone! If you return someday, you should really see the Basque Country in the north–it’s a gem!

    • Jeremy says:

      Christine, it’s not that I didn’t like Spain. I loved Barcelona, Granada, and Sevilla. However, not a big fan of Madrid and there were certain things I didn’t like. I don’t consider Spain bad but I did like Portugal better.

  3. Hey Jeremy! I come from a different perspective– I was a Spanish major and have traveled throughout South America. Yet I’ve never visited Spain! I would love to go. Have you been to other Spanish-speaking countries? Just wondering if you had any insight into the differences and similarities of the cultures :)

  4. Hey Jeremy,

    Sorry that Spain wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It is a tough country to go through without knowing the language, so picking up some key spanish before landing is always a good thing.

    If you ever decide to give it a 2nd chance, I found that the real charm in Spain was in its smaller town and villages and in their relaxed way of life. Next time, take a siesta, drink a tinto de verano and dont sightsee! :)
    nithya (Life Out of a Suitcase) recently posted..Photo of the Week- April 1stMy Profile

  5. I’m really interested in Spain and Portugal (especially Portgual) as I’ve got older. Both of them are mass-tourism package holiday destinations for Brits. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m the only Brit I know who hasn’t been to Spain. For that reason, I was never interested but as you get older, you realise there is actually a beautiful country and varied culture going on there! :)

    Great post by the way.

    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Turkish Food- An Artistic Antalya Spice StallMy Profile

  6. Romana says:

    Hi Jeremy, I just came across your blog. I’m Portuguese and even though I haven’t been living there for over 4 years, it makes me really happy when I hear people saying they had a good time in Portugal. If you have a chance to come back, try to explore more. Portugal is a small country, but it has a lot to offer outside the obvious destinations (Lisbon and Algarve).

    • Jeremy says:

      Romana, I just wanted to say thank you so much for your comment and for checking out the blog. I really do enjoy Portugal. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting Europe and I actually rank Lisbon as my top city in Europe to live.

      Unfortunately, I only had a little less than a week in Portugal but I will definitely get back and want to explore more. It’s a shame that Portugal doesn’t get more attention but I guess it’s location isolates it a little. I loved the people and the culture there and don’t mind if it remains under the radar. However, it surely is worth another visit (or two, or three) from me.

      Thanks again for checking this out and feel free to drop by, email, and suggest things any time!

  7. Hi Jeremy…

    It looks like when you were posting your trip report, we were actually in Spain getting ready to move onward to Portugal.
    We were really surprised to read that you didn’t have as fabulous a time in Spain as we did. We absolutely loved all of cultural sites we saw, the history, the architecture, THE FOOD, and the people. We really felt that we were enveloped in a warm hug by the country as a whole.
    We don’t speak Spanish fluently, we were surprised how little English was spoken even in the big city of Madrid! We immersed ourselves and the more we tried, the more everyone appreciated it and I believe in many cases we were their humor of the day!!

    When it was time to head to Portugal, we found ourselves wishing to remain in Spain.

    We have a much different impression of Lisbon as you did. It is one of the last places we would want to live in all the place we have travelled to in the world. We appreciated Lisbon for what it had to offer which is quite a bit especially if you take the time to delve into what guidebooks erroneously rate as 2nd and 3rd tier museums. Sadly, so many miss those. When people compare Lisbon to SFO that’s pretty accurate in many ways, mostly positive. Except this, we found some of the main hub areas of Lisbon..10x seedier than the Tenderloin in San Francisco with the most aggressive and dangerous homeless population we’ve ever encountered. Fortunately that was just in Lisbon and only a smidge in Porto.
    We also visited Sintra, Coimbra, Obidos and Porto…all places that you should try to take time to see if you ever make it back Portugal! If you are interested, here’s our itinerary and our Sights to See lists that we use to organize our days and times while in each city. (No, we aren’t checklist tourists, but travelers that make the most of our time and money on each adventure!!!!)

    http://ourpassportstamps.com/Our_2011_Adventure.html

    I hope you have chance in the future to revisit Spain, perhaps now that you know
    what to expect your experience would be soo much better!!!!

    Buon Viaggio! OurPassportStamps

    • Jeremy Branham says:

      Thanks for the great feedback. As for Spain, there are certain things I didn’t like. However, it didn’t mean I didn’t like Spain. As for language, Spanish people are probably the worst English speakers I have met in Europe. Not everyone was bad but yes Madrid was one of those cities. As for Madrid, my least favorite city in Spain but this doesn’t mean I didn’t like Spain. I liked Granada, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Ronda. I would definitely love to go back and visit all of those. I have to admit Spanish food isn’t my favorite but there are good and bad things throughout Spain. I wouldn’t say it was bad.

      As for Portugal, I didn’t experience the same things you did with Lisbon. I noticed a lot of people hanging out in the streets. Never felt threatened and never thought they were homeless. There were really some great areas of the city and I think Lisbon is underrated because it’s very isolated in Europe. It’s a big city but not too big and a great mix of culture and diversity. Sorry your experience with Lisbon wasn’t as good. Would love to go back again and see what it feels like the second time.

  8. My husband & I were happy to hear you didn’t have to navigate through the aggressivenss. We think since we were there longer and our days began at 730am and ended around 9pm each night (as you can tell by are Sights to See list) ..we saw the gamut and at times walked the gauntlet. As I said we liked Lisbon for the positive it had to offer and recommend the city to others. We just wanted to give those who read this a counterpoint on the safety issue. Also, we want to point out the tram up to Belem is developing the reputation and actions regarding pickpockets similiar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona. (Another city we both LOVE, each of us spent weeks there before we met each other)
    If you find yourself visiting a place we’ve already been to (such as Bulgaria) let us know and we would be happy to share any info we have.
    Buon Viaggio! OurPassportStamps

  9. sara says:

    OH I can’t believe you’ve been to Portugal and only visited Lisbon (is that right?)!!!
    You have to come again. This is an extraordinaire country! If you’re interested in coming again, make sure you ask me for tips. I’ll be glad to give them.

    • Thanks for the comments and advice Sara. I loved Lisbon. However, it wasn’t the only place I visited. I did go to the Algarve coast and spent a couple of days in Salema. I would love to go back to Portugal and see more of the country. I really liked the people and culture (You can read about my time in Salema as well in this series).

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