Yesterday I got back from a weekend in Porto, Portugal, which is in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s not that big, so it’s not exactly overflowing with things to do, but it is very pretty and we had a good time there.

On our river tour

With this weekend came exposure to another new language. Portuguese is similar to Spanish in some ways, and Catalan in others, because it was also influenced by French. Seeing signs in Portuguese and hearing people speaking it (so crazy sounding!) made me wish that I could speak every language in the world. I am seriously so fascinated by them.

Also with this new city came a new public transportation system, and I am sorry to say that I was not impressed by it. Porto’s metro is above ground, which is a neat twist, but it is slow, expensive and confusing. Not a fan.

Our hostel this weekend was absolutely the best. It was very clean and safe, and the people running it were so nice and friendly, and they had an adorable 1-year-old daughter we got to play with. I loved being there. We also made friends with some other travelers our age staying there – a Polish girl and a German boy – and we spent the rest of our weekend exploring with them.

Making those new friends was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend, and our German friend has convinced me that I definitely have to visit Germany before I leave Europe. His logic is that coming to Europe without going to Germany would be like going to America without seeing New York City, L.A. or Washington, D.C. A good argument, only faulty because I’ve lived in America for 20 years and I have never been to any of those places. Regardless, I want to go to Germany!

View from the river

While there we dropped by a mall and were surprised to find a full-fledged grocery store in the middle of it. This is apparently normal. It was convenient for us, and we enjoyed cheap snacks out of their cafe section.

The overall highlight of the weekend was the two days we spent at the beach with lovely weather and very cold water. I had fun swimming in the Mediterranean last weekend, but I wasn’t brave enough to get more than a foot in the Atlantic this weekend. But the sand and the sun did not disappoint!

We also sampled some tasty Portuguese food, like their traditional francesinha sandwich of beef, sausage, cheese, and sauce, as well as a sausage that was lighted on fire at our table, and some Ferrero Rocher-flavored ice cream (not unique to Portugal, but so, so good).

I also loved the river tour that we took of the Porto’s Douro River. We got to cruise up and down the river, seeing the bridges and scenery and learning the history of the town. Afterward we sampled some port wine, one of the most important things about Porto. Not my favorite.

All in all, the weekend was lovely, but coming home to Madrid yesterday was really great. I wasn’t expecting the amount of relief that I felt when we got off our plane in the Madrid airport and I was once again surrounded by people speaking Spanish, but it was definitely a comfortable feeling. I’m glad to be reaching a stage where hearing Spanish makes me feel at home.

Another interesting thing about our arrival back in Madrid was that it really did feel like I was coming home. Realizing that made me beyond happy. Plus we were reunited with Madrid’s lovely and efficient Metro system, which had been sorely missed. We were especially grateful for it after having had to seriously hustle in order to make our flight out of Porto on time thanks to their slow metro (why would they have trains that only come once every 20 minutes during the middle of the day?!? In Madrid the longest I’ve ever had to wait for the metro was 9 minutes, and that was practically in the middle of the night. Good riddance.)

Today in Madrid I was faced by a somewhat scary adventure/challenge: my first haircut in Spain. This is something that I have been thinking about/dreading since I arrived here. How would I know where to go to get my hair cut? How would I successfully communicate with my stylist? And what would I even be trying to communicate? The same guy has been cutting my hair ever since I cut it short, and I have never given him instructions on how to cut it, just always left it up to him, so I don’t even know how to describe my haircut in English!

Since my arrival in Madrid, I’ve contemplated every salon that I’ve walked past, wondering “Will that be the one?” Finally my hair reached a stage where it was just driving me crazy so I knew it was time to bite the bullet. I asked one of my Spanish friends where she would suggest that I go, and she told me to go to a salon inside of Corte Inglés. I don’t even know how to explain Corte Inglés. It’s this bizarre department/grocery store that sells everything. Here they say that if you can’t get it at Corte Inglés, it doesn’t exist. They even have their own travel agency. So I was not at all surprised to find out that my friend’s salon of choice was located there as well.

I gathered up my courage and headed over today after class. You don’t need to make an appointment, which is interesting, and I only had to wait a couple of minutes before being helped. As I was waiting, I was ridiculously nervous. Possibly more so than right before I first got my pixie cut. I was basically worried that I wouldn’t be able to say the right things and that I would end up looking like a boy. But through a mixture of sign language and Spanish, I was able to communicate, and I am so, so, so happy with the end result! It looks the same, just shorter, which is exactly what I wanted.

Yesterday and today have been a whirlwind of unpacking and repacking because tomorrow our program is leaving for a trip to Andalucía, another one of Spain’s autonomous communities, in the south of Spain. I’m looking forward to a week of exploring outside of the classroom! We’ll be there all together until Friday. Then the official school trip is over, but my friends and I are staying for the rest of the weekend to enjoy my third beach weekend in a row. Basically I’m loving life and couldn’t be happier!