Wednesday August 14th
After their overnight flight the group arrived excited and ready to explore Portugal and Spain over the next 9 days. After meeting myself and our local partners from Portugal it was off to the hotel. Having taken a direct flight which arrived in the morning rooms were not ready yet so everyone left their bags in a secure room and as a group headed down towards the river for a nice walk to get a feel of Lisbon. After the walk it was back to the hotel for lunch before heading into the center of Lisbon for a walking tour. They got a chance to learn about the city which would be their hub for the next few days while walking around and learning some history as well. After the walking tour everyone got some free time before dinner. Some used it to take the walk up the hill to one of the famed castles of Lisbon which has breathtaking views across the entire city, while others took the time to rest or shop. The group gathered together again before having dinner at one of the oldest monastery’s in the city. After dinner a very tired group returned to the hotel to call it an evening.
Thursday August 15th
A now well rested group enjoyed breakfast this morning before heading south to the ocean side village of Sesimbra. Starting at the old fort in which the town was built around, the team participated in a scavenger hunt through the city where they had to speak with locals in order to find some of the tasks and answer some of the questions being asked of them. Others did some shopping in some of the local shops and enjoyed a few beachfront cafes. After the allotted time to complete the scavenger hunt was up everyone joined together in the park and enjoyed some pizza and laughs about some of the answers. After lunch everyone enjoyed some free time which was mostly spent at the beach, and of course also eating some gelato for dessert. The next stop today was Cabo Espichel which provided views out to the vast Atlantic Ocean as well as back to the western parts of Lisbon far in the distance. Another cool part of this particular cape is that their is an old monastery and still working church which some got to enjoy on the short stop. Everyone back on the bus for one last stop which was in Setubal for a evening cruise with Dolphin Bay. This truly incredible experience included cruising out along the coast while enjoying the sunshine, jumping off the boat and into what many learned is the very cold Atlantic Ocean, as well as a Portuguese BBQ dinner cooked on the boat! After an incredible day it was time to head back to the hotel for another good night’s rest.
Friday August 16th
Time for some basketball to start the day today! It was a leisurely morning as departure was a bit later today. The group made its way to a local gym where today they were participating in Elite Camp which is known for producing some of the best Portuguese players year after year. While the team participated in everything from strength and conditioning workouts to on court drills with some of these Portuguese players the rest of the group took the morning to explore the Belem area of Lisbon before meeting back up with the team. A few tired legs were apparent after a few hours of hard work, but they were all way too excited for the next activity to not make their way quickly to the bus. The reason they were so excited is that it was time for surf school! Making our way to the beach the group was met by their instructors and eagerly started their course first learning some basic skills on land before heading out into the water. Smiles, laughs and a lot of fun ensued as they tried time after time, mostly successfully, to ride the waves. Once the course was complete everyone boarded the bus to head back to the hotel for dinner and a well-earned good night’s rest.
Saturday August 17th
Today, the last full day in Portugal, was spent just west of Lisbon in Sintra-Cascais, one of my favorite areas in all of Portugal. The first stop today was Cabo da Roca, or Cape Rock, which is the westernmost point of continental Europe. Although the wind was whipping quite a bit at this stop, and the sun was not out yet it was still an enjoyable experience and the group got to see just what some of the rugged northern Portuguese coast is like. The next stop was the fishing village of Cascais where they got some time to explore the city as well as have an excellent lunch along the main promenade. After lunch people went their separate ways to shop, check out the beach and also get some dessert. Everyone gathered back together and it was on to the final stop of the day in Sintra, Quinta da Regaleria and its beautiful gardens, fountains and secret passageways. After the group took the somewhat grueling walk up to the entrance a few went their own ways to explore everything the gardens had to offer. Eventually everyone met at the bottom of the gardens, happy they didn’t have to walk the hill again, and made their way back to the bus to return to the hotel for one last dinner in Portugal.
Sunday August 18th
Everyone was up and out relatively early today since we had a long drive to Madrid, our next stop. After breakfast and loading everything onto the bus we started the drive east with a few pit stops along the way while also stopping for lunch in Elvas just before the border with Spain. One thing of note is that upon crossing the boarder (which these days in Europe is just a sign) you have an immediate time change of 1 hour. So if you cross at 2pm it immediately becomes 3pm after getting into Spain. A few more stops, and even a team stretch at one rest stop, and the group finally arrived at their hotel in Madrid in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Monday August 19th
This morning the group was met by a local guide and started out by taking a scenic overview bus tour of Madrid so that she could explain certain things about the city. After that they were dropped by the bus at the Royal Palace and it was time to get a more intimate view of the city with a walking tour while making their way towards lunch. After exploring the city on foot a well-earned typical Spanish lunch hit the spot before moving on to one of the world’s most famous museums, The Prado. Our local guide continued her excellent service by taking the group through the museum before allowing for some free time to explore the parts she couldn’t get through, unless of course you spent an entire week in the museum! Once everyone had finished in the museum the group headed back to the hotel for some rest as it was again time to play basketball!! The game this evening was against Olimpico 64 and even though this was their first real game of the trip The Eagles started fast and didn’t stop pulling away for a 73-39 victory. After the game it was back to the hotel for a well deserved dinner and relaxing evening.
Tuesday August 20th
Today took the group outside of Madrid to the city of Toledo the former capital of Spain. Everyone’s favorite local tour guide was back with the group again this morning to lead them on their exploration of the former capital city. Upon arrival and a brief overview as well as a stop at Mirador del Valle, known for its spectacular views of the city, it was time to explore on foot. The hilltop city boasts many spectacular sights, but the cathedral is always at the top of the list for visitors and it didn’t disappoint again. After lunch it was time to return to Madrid in order to have some time to rest before another game tonight, this time vs. Madrid All-Stars. Tonight’s match-up was a bit tighter, but the Eagles certainly never got rattled on their way to a 80-70 victory, their second of the trip. After the game the group returned to the hotel for dinner and another relaxing evening.
Wednesday August 21st
Today was a free day for the group to enjoy Madrid and do some last minute things which maybe they hadn’t had a chance to do yet. Many of the group enjoyed some shopping, and it sure was easy to see that due to the number of bags in peoples hands when we all met for lunch. Others explored the beauty of El Retiro Park. After lunch myself and a group of 10 enjoyed a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu which is Real Madrid’s famed soccer stadium. The experience was unlike any other and was really enjoyed by all (especially me)! The late afternoon was again used for rest before the final game of the tour again against Olimpico 64 with a few different players arriving home from holiday. The Eagles however were again at their best and finished the tour off with a perfect record with the final score tonight being 84-53. After the game the group again returned to the hotel, but this time for one last dinner in Spain before an early morning departure home.
Thursday August 22nd
As is typical with departure day a very early wake up and trip to the airport is necessary. As with every trip you do the last day is always the toughest when you get to know a group as well as I did this one. Through some sad goodbyes I wished everyone safe travels after getting them checked in before making my way to my own flight home. This group was truly one of the best, classiest and most fun I have had the pleasure to work with. I am looking forward to watching what this team can do this year and can only hope that after welcoming me into your group as much as you did myself and Sports Journeys International were able to provide you with something you will never forget.