Spain, Portugal and Two Visits from Germany

We had a week off school in February so Randy and I decided to visit Spain and Portugal. In the past we have spent one or two nights in a few different cities in an effort to see as much of each country as possible. This time we decided to pick one city in each country and stay put for a bit longer. We spent four nights in Barcelona, Spain and three nights in Porto, Portugal. It worked out well and was not nearly as exhausting to stay in one city for a longer period of time. We chose to visit Barcelona because it is on the coast and we had heard so much about the architect Gaudi and wanted to see his work. Also, several teacher friends had recommended Barcelona plus when our daughter, Elizabeth, spent a semester abroad in Luxembourg, she said her favorite European city to visit was Barcelona. As you will see by our pictures, we were not disappointed with our choice.

We found that using the Barcelona subway to move around the city was easy to figure out plus it was efficient and inexpensive.
Loved the look of our hotel hallway!

Photos from an early morning run.

Park Guell is a 40 acre private green space which features the designs of Gaudi.

We took a half day trip out of Barcelona to visit Montserrat which includes a Benedictine monastery in a gorgeous setting. There are currently 80 monks living within the monastery. The photo on the far right are two angels carving the “teeth” of the surrounding mountain which is one of the legends of how the mountain was formed.

The apostles above the entrance to the church. Can you recognize Judas on the far left? He is the only apostle looking away and down.

If you zoom up and look carefully at the photo on the top right, you will see a cross. After touring the church, we took a hike up to the cross, beautiful!

One evening we attended a Flamenco Show which is native to southern Spain and includes dance, singing and guitar playing. This was the setting for the show, beautiful!
Flamenco dancing is known for being very passionate which I think you can see in this video and the following video.
Here we are arriving at the La Sagrada Familia. This is a large Catholic Church that started to be built in 1882 and is scheduled to be complete in 2026 although that date has been extended many times. Gaudi was the designer and architect for the church and devoted the last 40 years of his life to working on the construction of the church. He designed it to have a total of 18 spires symbolizing the twelve apostles, four evangelists, the Virgin Mary and the tallest spire to represent Jesus Christ.
You can easily see the different artistic styles between the nativity and resurrection sides of the church.

Look at the gorgeous inside of the church. Earlier in the blog I said that Gaudi had three passions in life: architecture, nature and religion. I can see how clearly these three passions come together in these pictures. By the way, Gaudi attended Mass daily. He died at the age of 72 when he was hit by a tram on the way to church.

After spending four nights in Barcelona, we flew to Porto, Portugal. I originally thought we would take the train because the train system in Spain is excellent but then I learned that it was an 18 hour train ride. We debated as to whether to visit Lisbon or Porto for three nights. We settled on Porto because we had just spent time in the large city of Barcelona and we wanted to spend time in a smaller city. Porto is more walkable and is full of Old World charm. We loved our time there and hope to go back some day.

One of the first things we were told when arriving in Porto was that if we did not know how to speak Portuguese, we should only communicate in English. The Portuguese people do not appreciate it when people speak Spanish to them and expect them to respond.
These street performers are students at a local engineering university who enjoy making traditional music together.

Porto is all about blue and white tile. In the 17th century the Portuguese imported massive amounts of tile from the Netherlands because they liked the look of it so much. Much of the tile work tells the history of Portugal with pictures. In the case of the church tiles, Biblical stories are told.

Exploring Porto…

The Livaria Lello is known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and after visiting, it is easy to understand why. After the death of her mother in 1991, J.K. Rowling moved to Porto where she taught English, got married and had her daughter. Porto is also where she wrote the first three chapters of the book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I am not a big Harry Potter fan but Randy is and he said this bookstore was like the Hogwarts Library.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of reflections in these pictures so it is hard to see but outside of the Livaria Lello there is a vending machine that sells coffee and books!

Codfish is one of the more traditional dishes in Portugal. It is seen on almost every menu. Portugal is the world’s largest consumer of codfish. What we found most interesting is that Portugal does not produce any codfish. All of it is imported from the UK and from northern Canada. Portugal imports codfish in such large quantities that they also supply Spain with codfish.

We took a day long tour outside of Porto to visit the Douro Valley which is known for it’s beautiful landscapes, wines and history. The Douro Valley is listed as a World Heritage Site.

When we toured the winery we were told that Portugal is the world’s largest producer of cork. 50% of the world’s cork comes from Portugal and is primarily used for wine bottle stoppers.

A couple other interesting bits of info we found out about Portugal during our visit is that during World War II, Portugal was neutral and actually supplied canned sardines to both sides of the conflict. Lastly, another random fact about Portugal is that the three most prevalent religions in Portugal are Catholicism, Church of England and Judasim. We were not surprised that Catholicism is the most popular. There seems to be several close connections between Portugal and the UK but I do not yet understand the history of why that is true. The Portuguese people hid hundreds of Jews during WWII so that is why the Jewish population is so high in the country. We loved our three night stay in Porto and would readily return if the opportunity presents itself. As usual, we felt like we did not have enough time to explore all that we wanted to see.

In mid-March Peter and Julia came to visit in Albania. You may remember from previous blog posts that Peter stayed with our family in Fairport for a year when he was 17 years old. We have stayed well connected since that time. While Peter and Julia were here we went for coffee (at one of the many coffee shops in Tirana), took a walking tour and they visited my class at ACT.

We took an overnight trip to Berat, visited a winery and spent the night in the castle. Julia is an artist and took many of these beautiful pictures. Also, Peter and Julia are looking forward to the arrival of their baby daughter in early June.

Recently I finished teaching a unit called Where We Are in Place and Time to my grade two students. The unit centers on the children learning their family history. The children marked the origins of their families on a map, interviewed an older family member, made a personal timeline, created a family tree, wrote an autobiography and brought family and personal artifacts to school. They then invited their parents to come to school to help them present what they had learned to children from other classes. It was a fun unit to teach and the children really loved learning about their own history.

Later this week my cousin Chris and his wife, Cathy, will be arriving in Albania. It will be good to share this beautiful country with them. Next week is our spring break when we will be heading to Turkiye for a week. Chris and Cathy have visited Istanbul before so it will be good to be introduced to a new part of the world through them.

As you read this blog I hope all is well with each of you. Thanks for taking the time to follow along on this adventure.

April, 2023

18 thoughts on “Spain, Portugal and Two Visits from Germany

  1. Thank you, Sarah for this detailed update on your travels! I loved hearing all about Spain. The photos of your beautiful students did turn out well! Happy to hear your have family coming to visit! Have a great time!
    Sarah K


  2. Sarah, thank you for another wonderful post, with captivating photos and enlightening information! You write so well; it’s almost as if we are right there with you. And I especially love how you always bring it back to your teaching and your students and how you continually enhance their learning. Excellent job! ♥️Ann P.


  3. Love to read Sarah’s blog. This looks like a wonderful trip for them. Taking advantage of their time out of the country for sure. 😊


  4. Sarah, I love going along with you on your travels. I feel like I’ve visited those places now. Did you know that a Dan Brown book (his newest?) takes place in Barcelona and talks a great deal about the architecture there. You might like reading it now that you’ve been there. Thanks again for letting us travel vicariously with you. ❤ Monica


  5. I was in Barcelona when they were having a lot of protest a few years ago. They really want to be their own country. We went to Montserrat for a few days also and it was wonderful. My strongest memory is of a young boys choir singing in the church and their angelic voices. In August. I have a trip to Portugal so your information about Porto was very helpful.
    This is my last year of teaching. I need a few months off to recover from a knee surgery. I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to leave so maybe this international teaching will be in my future too. Thank you for posting this Sarah. I feel like I’m living vicariously through you.


    1. Sorry for my slow response, Lynn. Congratulations on your upcoming retirement! We heard that there was a boys’ choir at Monserrat but unfortunately we wee not there at the right time to hear them sing. I would have loved hearing them! So glad to hear you are headed to Portugal. Enjoy! Yes, yes, you need to consider international teaching!


  6. It’s so interesting learning more about Spain & Portugal through your travels, Sarah! Those 2 countries are definitely on my retirement bucket list. Your students are lovely & what great experiences they’re having with your classroom guests! I always enjoy your blog, my friend. Take care & enjoy your next adventure! 💕



  7. Sarah- As always I loved reading this and seeing all your beautiful photos. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. It’s easy to see why you and Randy love Albania & all your travels. You students are precious! Thank them for letting us see their photos !
    Mary LaShomb


  8. Always love seeing your blog Sarah!! Beautiful photos of Spain and Portugal! I used to visit Barcelona frequently in my HP days so good memories seeing those photos! I’d love to go back and see the progress made on La Sagrada Familia looks like a lot has been done since the 90s!!!! I guess it’s been 30 years!!


    1. Sorry for my slow response, Karl. Yes, I would also love to go back to La Sagrada Familia sometime after 2026 to see if it really is completed and simply because we enjoyed Barcelona so much.


  9. I love reading your blog, Sarah! We loved visiting Porto last October and were given the same advice about speaking English or Portuguese, no Spanish. What wonderful experiences you are having and what special memories you are making!


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