Maastricht has tons of things that appeal to students all across the world. I was really interested in Problem Based Learning system for one. Those from big cities come for the experience of living in a smaller and a calmer place. It’s a great change. But this blog is all about the opportunity it provides to travel across the continent. Living in the center of Europe has great advantages – travel is cheap and quick.
Once done with Period 4 here at Maastricht, I and a couple of friends planned a trip to the far west of Europe- Portugal & Spain. This is my first time in Europe so I was all up for it, not knowing what to expect from this trip. And I’m happy to report it was absolutely thrilling. The culture, the food, the sights and the experiences were absolutely fantastic!
My trip started on a Friday night when I had to get to Brussels Charleroi Airport and catch a 6AM flight to the first destination- the city of Porto. But first, let me get the one and only bump on the journey out of the way. Don’t let the name of the airport fool you- the airport is as far away from Brussels as it could possibly be. A 6AM flight meant I had to leave the previous night and spend a good part of the night loitering around a deserted town…in the cold. So by the time I made to the flight, I was really exhausted but had a great book to keep me company (thanks Anton). Obviously, I slept like a baby on the entire flight. After touchdown, I was eager to get to my hostel and just lie down on a comfortable bed. But that plan changed as soon as I climbed up the stairs from the subway station and found myself in beauty and hustle of Porto’s city center.
In a tenth of a second, my tired mind received a jolt of energy and all of sudden I seemed to have forgotten about the long tiresome journey of an entire night. All I wanted to do was walk the streets and take the sights in. I don’t know what it was. It didn’t have the tallest buildings or the richest neighborhoods- quite the opposite actually. But it was still beautiful in some way that I still can’t describe. And after a long debate with myself – I must declare that Porto is the most beautiful city I have been to.
And the hilliest city I have been to. I don’t know how the residents in Porto do it. But every street is either an uphill challenge or a downhill tumble. But every street is beautiful nonetheless. And Alive! Maybe that’s why it’s had such an impact on me. Interestingly, the city is branded a UNESCO World Heritage site- and for good reason. I spent a day and a half in the city and it was adequate. The city isn’t too big and by sunset on the first day I had already walked in a circle around it.
Next stop- Lisbon! Only a 3-hour bus ride away is the capital. A train would be quicker but as students we operate on a tight budget. The opposite of small is Lisbon. I believe if we had spent an entire week here, we would still find new things to enjoy every day. But we only stayed here for half that time. Lisbon is huge (but thankfully not as hilly) and filled with loads of things to do. It’s loaded with cafes, culture and what I imagine is a shopper’s paradise. Our first day started with a bit of rainfall but quickly became sunny by mid-day. We had a formula for every city we went to which was that we begin with a free walking tour to get to know the city before exploring on our own. The way these tours work is that you start the tour without any upfront fee and tip the guide at the end of the tour. I assume the minimum must be 7 to 10 euros depending on the city.
Lisbon is full of landmarks and beautiful castles and churches. But hidden away at about an hour’s worth of train journey is the town of Sintra. Visiting this place is an absolute must for everyone and you simply cannot leave without it. It’s a little town in a mountainous region thats got castles and palaces everywhere. They look astonishing and I imagine only the very fortunate must be living there. We spent over an hour climbing the mountains and then what seemed like an eternity when climbing down in the dark after sunset, scared for our lives. All in all, Sintra is a gem far away from the liveliness in Lisbon.
Third Stop- Seville. Instead of a taking a bus between cities, this time we had a break from it and booked a car that would takes us 5 hours away to the city of Seville in Spain. Again, an absolute beauty of a city. Seville is the kind of place that I think is ideal to live in. It’s not busy and crowded like Lisbon, but it’s also not too small like Porto. It’s a great balance with its own culture, cuisines and appeal. The weather was grim, rainy and cold for the most part but that meant that we could enjoy the cafes and ice cream parlors instead. It’s the only city that we didn’t do a walking tour in. And that’s because we witnessed a little storm drag outdoor tables and chairs down a street as we were lucky enough to have been eating in a café at the time. Here, we split and left a friend behind in Seville as we headed to the next stop (Missed you Kata :c ).
Final Stop- Madrid! An anguishing 6-hour bus ride from Seville. I thought Lisbon was huge, but that was before I got to Madrid. Just like any other metropolitan city- but different. It had the obvious hustle of a big city but this time with beautifully maintained heritage throughout its historical city center. The buildings, streets and their architecture kept my eyes glued to them. Apparently, small studio apartments in the center sell for millions of euros and all they have is the appeal of being right in the center of the historical district of the city. The city was sprawling especially in the shopping district. The King’s palace and the Cathedral were built with some great craftsmanship. I also had the pleasure of visiting the Real Madrid FC’s stadium which is any football fan’s dream.
And after 10 great days of travelling like a nomad it was finally time to go home. We took a flight from Madrid to Eindhoven and then a train to Maastricht. Strangely enough, on the walk from the train station to home, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Maastricht is even compared to all those cities. It really made me appreciate this city. A random stranger asked us if we were still friends after all the traveling together. I’d like to think we are 🙂 I’ll have only one more blog after this. And I hope to write about some more great experiences then!