one year later.

I’ve often heard people talk about how they wish they could read their favorite books again for the first time, to be able to feel the joy, the sorrow, and everything else in between when you first hear a story and get to know its characters. I have the same feeling about this trip. I wish I could relive my taxi ride into Barcelona, take a bite of paella, swim in the Mediterranean, walk through the doors to La Sagrada Familia, sing under the Eiffel Tower, breathe the crisp air of the Swiss Alps, and smell the pizzerias in Italy for the first time again. But I can’t. I will never be who I was a year ago, boarding a plane to Barcelona, both scared and excited out of my mind for all the unknown adventures that were ahead of me.

I can’t help but feel nostalgic for year-ago me. She was a completely different person than who I am now. She was straddling so many unknowns in her life, still mourning the loss of two grandparents and a step-uncle that spring, on the verge of entering nursing school, and still unsure of where she wanted her life to go. Sitting in that plane over the Atlantic, she took time to think about how she hoped this trip would change her. She wanted to have time to focus on herself for once and to broaden her world view, and she had no idea how much that self-reflection would really change her. By widening my point of view, my time in Europe helped my narrow my focus on who I am and what I want my life to be.

Now, a year in the future, my 10 weeks in Europe that I dreamt of, saved up for, and carefully planned are all memories. They’re nothing but a folder of keepsakes on my bookshelf, pictures on my computer, the skip of a heartbeat when Catalonia is mentioned on TV, ever-fading memories, and this blog. I tried so hard to savor every moment and allow my experiences to mold me, and I really think I succeeded, but in the end, I had to come home. Nursing school became the priority of my life, so I went back to eating pre-packaged meals for dinner at 6, wearing tshirts every day, and eating my breakfast while I’m walking down the street to class. My Spanish books have gathered dust on my bookshelves, and Jason and I have since split up.

But even though my life had to go on, there’s still little parts of my soul that won’t ever be the same. I watch as many Barça games as I can. I put my phone away at every meal and give all my attention to whomever has taken the time to eat and talk with me. I take the time to walk to class and coffee shops every day instead of driving because I know that my time in Auburn is fleeting, and I want to appreciate this beautiful village while I can (not to mention that walking kept me from gaining 50 pounds in Spain). I’m really, really good at finding travel deals. My subconscious still instinctively says “Vale” and “No pase nada.” I’m already familiar with the 24-hour clock times when I look up my patient’s MAR. I reminisce about our favorite Barcelona nights with Allie and Olivia. I take time to drink my coffee and do a crossword puzzle every day (almost). I feel a weird, guilty pang when I turn on the air conditioning in my apartment. I’ve acquired a taste for sherbet because it’s closer to gelato than ice cream. I’m not as resistant to talking to strangers. I get to pass on the knowledge I gained from my travel experience to my friends who are planning their own adventures abroad. All of these tiny things have molded me, little by little, into who I am now.

Even beyond my trip, this year has completely changed who I am. When I returned from Europe, I still hadn’t even started nursing school. I knew that all my hobbies would have to be put on the back-burner for the next 2 years, but I didn’t know what experiences would take their place. I didn’t know what it’s like to witness the birth of a child or to try to find the words to comfort a dying man. I had never spent the better part of 72 hours in the library, just to scrape by with a C on a Med-Surg test. I didn’t know that “pink, frothy sputum” is a key symptom of pulmonary edema or that Red Man Syndrome is the primary adverse effect of a Vancomycin or countless other tidbits of information that are second nature to me now. I had never smelled a Clostridium difficile infection (and anyone who has knows how life-changing that experience is). I had never met my classmates in my cohort, people who have evolved alongside me, built me up, and shaped me in their own ways, whether they’re aware of their effect or not. I still hadn’t seen Mumford and Sons live or watched Auburn’s football team struggle through the 2015 season or known what heartbreak feels like.

Whether I really knew it at the time or not, this trip came at a pivotal point in my life. I know this whole post has been one long cliché, but in hindsight, it really was the beginning of the rest of my life. When I look back at the seasons of my life that have had monumental effects on who I am now, they’re all connected in some way with my time overseas. I think I was able to completely recenter myself on who I am and what I want to work towards, and I had time to focus on my faith and had many experiences when I just had to put my trust in God’s hands that things would work out.

It all makes me wonder what lies ahead of me. What will happen tomorrow that will make me think, “I can’t believe there was a time before I knew this/I met them/I saw this/I went there”? This next year will see me (hopefully) finish nursing school and graduate. It will see me take the NCLEX and apply for jobs. It will see me leave Auburn, my home and favorite place on earth. Life happens so fast, and I wish more than ever that I could slow it down and go back to some of the happiest moments of my life. I’ll never know what my future holds, but I guess that’s the point. I have to do my best to savor each moment and hold each memory close to my heart.

Of course, I want more than anything to go back to Barcelona and some of my other favorite cities to re-experience them with fresh eyes and hopefully my family. But for now, I’ll just have to keep looking at my pictures every day and telling everyone who will listen about that time I spent 8 weeks in Barcelona and 3 weeks backpacking across Europe. And wherever else my future takes me, I can say with confidence that one year, two years, a decade, a century from now, there will always, always be a piece of my heart in Spain.

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week ten.

Hi. It’s actually 2016. I realized that in the whirlwind of coming home, leaving for Auburn, and starting nursing school, I never posted anything about the last week of my trip. I’m not one to leave any project unfinished, so let me try to remember how week ten went.


SUNDAY, AUGUST 2, 2015

After finally arriving in Rome at around 5 am, I was incredibly disgruntled to discover that our hotel was locked up. Jason walked around to try to find wifi in order to confirm that they had in fact advertised 24-hour check-in (I think he ended up stealing internet from the Hotel California, but that could’ve been the exhaustion setting in) while I sat on the curb and wondered if I had ever been so tired in my whole life and how it was possible for it to be so hot out before sunrise. Once we knew that we had been promised an all-night desk, we felt no remorse for banging on the front door for the next 10 minutes until we woke up the attendant, who apparently had been asleep on a couch in the lobby. After a little arguing with him when he wanted to keep our passports at the front desk to make copies of them while we took our things upstairs (Hotels usually have to make copies for their records, but NEVER leave someone unattended with your passports, kids!), we finally finished out paperwork and went upstairs for a long sleep.

When we got up, we decided to head out to see the Colosseum first. When we arrived, it turned out that admission to all the major sites was free on the first Sunday of each month, and we just so happened to be there on the 1st! There was no line, and we got to just walk straight into the ruins. Pictures will never do the Colosseum justice. It was absolutely amazing. We walked around for a while and got an American tour group to take pictures for us before we hurried off the the Roman Forum. We knew it was closing soon, and we wanted to take advantage of the free admission. The Forum was in considerably worse shape than the Colosseum, but I honestly enjoyed it more. Like so many times before on this trip, I was struck with a nostalgia for a time I had never lived in and people I had never met. The ground that I was walking on had once been tread by the likes of Julius Caesar at the peak of the Roman Empire. How many other people, whose names I will never know, have also walked here? While we were there, a very boisterous Italian man asked us to take pictures of him, his wife, and his son, who was, as all kids do during memorable family moments, loudly crying. He struck several poses with the fam, and then he offered to take pictures for Jason and me. He was unsatisfied with our pose, and made it clear that we needed to have a picture of us kissing (mind you, he didn’t speak English, and all his communication came via dramatic hand gestures). I do not enjoy PDA, especially in pictures, so he begrudgingly accepted Jason kissing me on the cheek before giving his phone back. I’ll admit it, it was a cute picture.

That evening, we walked north to see some other sights. We went to the Trevi Fountain, which was sadly undergoing restoration, so I couldn’t throw in a coin and be whisked away by an Italian pop star a la Lizzie McGuire Movie. Alas. Next time. We also saw the Piazza Venezia, the Spanish steps, and the Piazza del Popolo. We walked over to the Pantheon, too, but it was unfortunately closed for the day, so we decided to come back later to go inside. By that point, we were both hot and exhausted, so we stopped for some gelato and headed back to the hotel.


MONDAY, AUGUST 3, 2015

On Monday, we woke up early and made the trek across the city to the Vatican City. We crossed the border to the new country (alas, it was no different than crossing the street), and I have to say, the first sight of St. Peter’s Square was an impressive one. The line to enter the Basilica was already incredibly long, so we quickly hopped in and waited. It was well worth it. I’m not Catholic, but WOW do they know how to build beautiful buildings. Everywhere I turned, there was something new to look at. We walked in behind a group of nuns who were all teary eyed in amazement. I wondered what it would be like to have dedicated my whole life to God and this church and what it would feel like to finally get to see the Vatican City. I also got to go into a silent prayer room and spend some time in meditation before we set out to wait in yet another line to see the Sistine Chapel. The actual chapel is at the end of the Vatican Museum, so we took out time walking through all the art galleries first. I was most impressed with the gallery of tapestries that intricately depicted many biblical stories, as well as a hall painted with maps of the known world at that time. They were painted sometime in the late 1500s, so it was very interesting to see what the brightest minds thought the world looked like then. We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel, which was very different than I thought it would be. The depiction of Adam reaching out for God is really just a small panel of the massive ceiling in the chapel. It was basically just an open room packed to the brim with people, so Jason and I stopped to look around for a while before being herded out so a new wave of tourists could enter. Michelangelo was one talented guy.

We reentered Italy and walked through the Trastevere neighborhood on our way back to the Pantheon. Trastevere reminded me a lot of el barrio de Gràcia in Barcelona. It was much quieter and with very little tourist-geared attractions. It was a nice change from the rest of the city that tends to get bogged down by all the visitors. We made it back to the Pantheon, and I’ll admit, it was worth it to go inside. It’s basically a huge dome that’s intricately painted on the inside. The floor is a patchwork of marble, which was just as beautiful as the paintings. While we were there, we stood near a family whose toddler was lying face-first on the cool marble, asleep. I wish it had been socially acceptable for me to do the same.

We then walked to the southern part of the city to see the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, then the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla. The admission price was pretty steep, so we decided to just walk around the perimeter and peek inside. They were beautiful, and surprisingly fairly well-kept. Afterwards, we walked up to the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held in the city. It was also being restored, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see. It was essentially a really big pit with small remnants of the old stadium around it. One of the towers was still standing, but very little else was, but it was still impressive to think about what once was there. After we finished looking around, we walked back through the Forum and Colosseum area to get back to our hotel for the night.


TUESDAY, AUGUST 4, 2015

We flew from Rome back to London on Tuesday, so traveling took up the majority of our day. Like most cities in Europe, Rome’s major airport lies outside the city in the smaller town of Fiumicino. We found a bus service that shuttled us to the airport (most cities have these, too, and they’re usually cheaper than public transport and WAY cheaper than a cab), but we were a little unsure about the timing, so we left super early, just in case. We ended up waiting around in the airport for the better part of six hours, but I guess that’s better than cutting it too close! In Rome’s airport, you can’t just go through security whenever you get there. We had to wait for check-in time to begin, where we had our boarding passes and passports checked by the airline’s attendant, and then we could go back to the gate. After the couple of crazy weeks that we’d had, I wasn’t bothered at all to just sit and relax for a while.

Our flight went smoothly, other than me leaving my beloved waterbottle on the plane, and thankfully Jason was already comfortable with the London Tube system. He was able to get me an Oyster card and knew how much money I would need to get from Gatwick to our hotel up in Ilford. It was expensive, but we got to our hotel safely for some much-needed rest.


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2015

We got up bright and early and took the tube into central London for the day. Most of the main sights are right along the Thames, so we bounced around to see them. We started at the Tower of London, where we toured the old castle and got to see the crown jewels. While we were at the tower, a boat came along, so we got to watch the drawbridge of the Tower Bridge raise up to let it pass. It was one of those moments that I really wished my grandpa could see with me. It started to rain a little (which was a welcome change from dry, hot Italy), so we kept walking along the river, across the London Bridge, and through the Borough Market to see where Shakespeare’s Globe Theater once stood. There’s a replica of the theater along the river, but we went to the site where they think the original structure once stood. There’s apartments built over part of it, but there’s a big metal circle outlining where the perimeter was. We crossed back over the Thames to see St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was gorgeous, quiet, and had beautiful gardens.

After getting some Nando’s for lunch, we kept moving long the river to the Waterloo Bridge, from where you can see the London Eye, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. It was just about sunset, so we got some great pictures before we walked to each of the sites themselves. The London Eye is crazy expensive to ride, so we were content with just watching it from below. I saw a sign for a Florence Nightingale museum, which I’d really like to see if I ever find myself in London again. We walked up to Buckingham Palace, which was all but deserted because it was dark out. We decided to come back in the morning for better pictures, and we headed back to Ilford.


THURSDAY, AUGUST 6, 2015

There was a Tube strike that continued all day Thursday, so we rode the bus into the city instead. We started off by visiting King’s Cross Station, where there was a wonderful photo op area for Platform 9 and 3/4, an allusion to my beloved Harry Potter books. They even had a Ravenclaw (I took a quiz to see what house I would be in. It’s normal) scarf for me to wear for the picture. After I got my inner fangirl out, we climbed Primrose Hill, which gave us an awesome view of London. On out way back to central London, we stopped by 221B Baker Street (yes, it exists) and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The doorman was nice enough to look the other way for us to take some pictures even though we decided not to pay to go into the museum. We continued our walk through Hyde Park, which was quiet and a great place to rest for a minute. We finally made it to Buckingham Palace, which was just as magnificent in the daylight as it was at night, but much busier. After we took some pictures, we visited Trafalgar Square and got a bite to eat.

It was about 6 pm at this point, and because of the Tube strike, we knew trying to get back on the buses was going to be a nightmare, so to my delight, we decided to waste some time by shopping. We went to Primark, which is like the English version of Forever 21. I found a few bargains, and we thought it was safe to try to bus back to Ilford. We were wrong. It took us hours just to get on a bus and even longer to make the transfers that we needed. We were beat by the time we got back to Ilford, so we decided to get some fish & chips as our last dinner in Europe at the local pub, the Great Spoon of Ilford (seriously). It was as delicious as we could’ve hoped, and we headed back to get some sleep before our travel day the next day.


FRIDAY, AUGUST 7, 2015

We woke up early on Thursday because the day I had been dreading had finally come: we had to go home. We packed up and took the Tube over to Uxbridge, where Jason had stayed for his study abroad program and where our luggage was still being stored. I dragged my broken suitcase onto a bus, since Heathrow is a short ride away from Uxbridge. We repacked everything to fit the normal airline regulations, and then we were off. Just like that, the best three months of my life were over, but I was still so glad to finally land in Omaha and hug my parents.

week nine.

SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2015
On Sunday morning, Jason and I got to sleep in a little before we headed back to the train station in Zürich. I’ve realized that I love each of the cities I’ve been to the most when I see them on quiet Sunday mornings. There was barely anyone out in Zürich as we were walking, and we had plenty of time to just stroll along the river. We had a couple of transfers in small towns in Switzerland before we got onto the Matterhorn Mountain line in Visp towards Zermatt. We didn’t realize when we got on the train that we needed extra tickets besides our railways passes for this train, but thankfully it’s no big deal to just buy your tickets on the train in Europe. The ride from Visp to Zermatt was absolutely breathtaking. We got to watch the Alps growing nearer, then we weaved through a valley running through the bases of the mountains. The train tracks ran along the river, so we got to see lots of waterfalls, rapids, and of course, the mountains themselves.
It was about an hour and a half ride before we reached Zermatt, which sits in a valley at the southern border of Switzerland, right at the base of Matterhorn Mountain. It’s a very small but very tourist-centered town. Our hotel was on the opposite side of town from the train station, but it was only about a 10 minute walk there. I absolutely loved Zermatt from the moment we got off the train. It’s a very old mountaineering town, which is why it’s so touristy now. People come from all over the world to hike these trails, so the “tourists” are mostly super outdoorsy mountain climbers. Although I was wearing a sweater, jeans, and sandals, I felt wildly overdressed. We got in at about 4pm, when everyone was starting to come in from their hikes for the evening, and I saw very few people who weren’t carrying a backpack or walking with hiking poles through the town. Everyone just seemed so happy and laid-back, a welcome respite from fast-paced cities that we’ve been seeing.
We got checked into our hotel, which had an amazing terrace off our room with a view of the mountains, went to get some groceries for the next couple of days, and then set out to find a restaurant. Let me tell you, Switzerland is expensive. We ate at the cheapest restaurant that we could find, and our small meal was $60. Even McDonald’s meals were around $12.
The place we ate at, Café Du Pont, was well worth the money, though. I got rösti, a traditional Swiss dish of shredded potatoes with cheese and ham, Jason got some sausage with a side dish of rösti with cheese, and we splurged on a piece of apple strudel with vanilla rum sauce for dessert. The food was absolutely amazing, but the owner was our favorite part of the restaurant. I grew up seeing the old sailors in Massachusetts, and this guy was definitely cut from the same cloth, but in the mountains instead of on the sea. He didn’t speak English, but was happy to communicate with us using hand signals to make sure we were enjoying our meal. He then took our extra bread and whistled for the birds as he broke it up and scattered it for them. A few minutes later, a boy ran his flock of goats through the town! I love goats, so that was so fun to see in itself, but it was made even better when the restaurant owner ran after them, throwing bread at the goats for them to eat. We had a good laugh about it as we finished dessert and then headed out for a little walk through the town. It was supposed to rain, though, so we didn’t stray too far onto the trails before we headed back to our hotel to rest up for the morning!

MONDAY, JULY 27, 2015
Although we had intended to get up and hit the trails early, Jason and I didn’t end up heading down for breakfast until about 9:30. The breakfast spread was amazing and of the traditional German sort. There was a buffet table filled with fresh-baked breads, cheeses, and meats that we loaded up on, as well as fresh fruits, cereals, and lots more! We stuffed ourselves until we were bursting so that we wouldn’t have to bring lots of food on our hike, then got ready to head out. Jason had picked out the trails he wanted to see the night before, so he led the way as we began our day!
We headed towards the 5-Seenweg (5-Lakes trail) that sort of went in a horseshoe around the sides of 2 conjoining mountainsides. We later realized that we took the wrong route to reach this trail, but we were glad that we did because there was almost no one on our path, and there were lots of waterfalls and beautiful scenery to stop and look at. Even once we reached the 5-Lakes trail, we went off in a different direction for a little bit and ended up seeing the most amazing waterfall coming down the side of one of the mountains and into the river. There was absolutely no one there even though we climbed around for nearly an hour. We then made our way to the first of the 5 lakes to each the sandwiches and snacks that I had packed up for lunch. It wasn’t quite warm enough for swimming, but there were kids trying to catch minnows in the lake, and I put my feet in to cool off at least. The lake had a breathtaking view of the peak of Matterhorn, so we just sat and enjoyed the sun for quite a while before setting off again. All the scenery was so beautiful that it looked fake. It looked like a grand CGI screen that just made it seem like I was actually looking at the Matterhorn. I don’t think I ever managed to convince my brain that it was all real, but it was absolutely beautiful to see, regardless. After we finished lunch, we weaved our way up the side of the mountain to get to the highest of the lakes, Lake Stellisee. It was starting to reach evening time by then, so we started to take a more direct route down to see the remaining lakes and back to Zermatt. In all, we hiked for almost 9 hours and reached an altitude of around 2600 meters, about one kilometer up from our starting altitude in Zermatt. I wish I knew how many miles we walked, but since we’re not entirely sure of which trail we took up, we can’t know for sure. By the time we got back to Zermatt, we were absolutely beat, but we made it back to town to look at our train ticket options for the next day before crashing into bed for the night.

TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2015
On Tuesday morning, we got up and ate breakfast before checking out of our hotel and just spending some time window shopping in Zermatt. We intended to take the noon train back to Brig, Switzerland to catch our reservations on a high-speed train to Milan, but when we went to buy our tickets, we were told that the train was cancelled. No big deal, we had allotted plenty of time for these mishaps and had time to wait for the 1:00 train. We waited and waited and waited as they kept making  announcements that the 1:00 was delayed further and further and the crowd of people waiting to get on the train grew significantly. We started to get a little nervous, but everything worked out as the train arrived soon after and we elbowed our way onto it to make sure we made our connection on time. Soon, we were on our way to Milan, where we made a quick connection to Venice! We finally arrived in Venice at about 8 pm, and we set off to find our hotel. Panic quickly followed when we reached the little red dot on my Google Maps where the hotel was supposed to be, but the street number for the hotel didn’t exist. The pessimist in me decided that we must have been ripped off and that Al Campaniel Bed and Breakfast was just a big scam, albeit with excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. Jason calmly told me that everything would be fine and reminded me that we hadn’t even paid for this hotel yet, so no, we weren’t out $150.
We decided to stop at a restaurant and buy some pizza to use their wifi. First off, the pizza was fantastic even though it was far from authentic Italian, and even better, we discovered that there are multiple Campaniel Streets in Venice, and Google Maps had just sent us to the wrong one. We finished up our pizza and headed to our hotel (which did, to my delight, actually exist) for a relaxed night after traversing around the San Polo neighborhood for hours.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 29, 2015
The mornings after travel days are always the hardest to wake up for, but the sounds of breakfast being served just outside our room got us going at a decent hour. We were served by a sweet old French lady who was very excited to hear that we had been in her home country so recently. After we ate, we spent some time deciding what we wanted to go see and do in Venice.
We started off by walking out towards the Grand Canal, and we crossed it over the Ponte de Rialto, one of the oldest bridges in the city (which is impressive, considering how may bridges are needed in Venice). We then continued on to the Piazza de San Marco, which is main square of the city and the main tourist hub. We stopped to take some pictures of the plaza, and then we took a walk though the basilica there just long enough to see the beautiful mosaics and say a quick prayer. The plaza then led us to the water, where boats were entering and exiting the Grand Canal. Being an Albro, I had to stop and watch the boats come and go for  just a few minutes. I haven’t felt homesick very much on this trip, but watching boats is something that my family has always done in Massachusetts at the Cape Cod Canal and is very closely tied to my memories of my Grandpa Don, so my heart definitely hurt a little that I couldn’t share that moment with them.
We continued to walk along the water to some gardens in the furthest east part of the island, then went to look at sailboats in the harbor in that part of the city. We really enjoyed that part of the day because we were so far from the city center, and there were very few people out in the streets. We also stopped for some gelato on our walk back towards the city, which was absolutely delicious and refreshing on the hot, humid day. It’s surprising how long it takes to get around in Venice because although the city is geographically small and confined to the island, the streets are like a giant rat maze. It’s impossible to get where you want to go without getting turned around a few times and hitting numerous dead ends in the form of streets that just stop or, even more common, a canal without a bridge to cross it.
We finally made it back to the hotel to rest and cool off for a bit before we went to find some dinner. We found a little pasta joint just around the corner called Bigoi. The pasta itself was homemade, and the sauces were absolutely delicious. I had pesto, and Jason had a tomato and pork sauce on his. We were happy to finally get to eat the copious amounts of carbs that has always been told of in Italy. We absolutely were not disappointed, and we strolled the streets for just a little longer to peek in all the artisan shops and markets in the city before we went back to the hotel for some sleep.


 THURSDAY, JULY 30, 2015
On Thursday morning, Jason and I got up and packed up our things to head to Florence! We took a high-speed train, so the trip only took about two hours, and for once, we didn’t have any problems getting there or finding our hotel. We just relaxed for quite a while in the hotel before we decided that we were hungry enough to go find something to eat. I looked up some good pizzerias, which led us to O’Vesuvius Pizzeria, which ended up being absolutely amazing. I got their specialty pizza that had mozzarella, prosciutto, and artichokes, and Jason had one with all kinds of sausages on it. We each finished our entire pizzas (no shame) and had almost enough room to sample their Nutella pizza, but not quite. We headed back to the hotel feeling stuffed and satisfied.
We did, however, have plenty of room for some gelato! One of my very good friends growing up, Meredith, was in Florence with her study abroad program, so we got to meet up and chat over some yummy gelato. It was so great to see her and talk again, and it’s crazy that it took us both being abroad to finally get to meet up! Seeing a familiar face always leaves me feeling sort of refreshed and reconnected with home, if only for a little bit!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2015

On Friday morning, Jason and I headed out to see the sights of Florence! We started at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower since it was just around the corner from our hotel. It has a massive and famous dome over the sanctuary, which makes it the tallest building in the city. We took a quick walk through the basilica, which had amazing marble floors and a mural in the ceiling of the dome. We then walked over to the Central Market, where there were thousands of leather goods and other gifts being sold. I personally am not a person who enjoys bartering at all, so I was quite disappointed at how high the written prices were marked up since the sellers assumed you would try to haggle the price down. I much prefer just being given a price and deciding whether I want to spend my money without having some guy yelling about how much I need this bag. The items were quite beautiful, though, and Jason seemed to enjoy joking with the stall owners!
Afterwards, we went to see another church, this one the Church of Santa Croce, which has an amazing bell tower. We decided not to go inside that church and instead headed over to the river to see the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). The bridge has many jewelry stores lining the street, and there’s TONS of people walking, chatting, and of course, window shopping. We stopped and snapped some pictures before finding a grocery store to get some sandwich fixings for dinner back at the hotel.
Once sunset started to approach, we walked back across the river to the Piazza de Michelangelo, which is up in the hills and offers an amazing view of the city as well as Tuscany stretching out beyond. While we were up there, we also went to see the basilica, San Miniato al Monte, which lies in the hills and offers even more spectacular views of the setting sun.
Once we returned to the hotel, we realized the church across the street from us was having an organ concert! We were able to sit in and listen and ended up staying for almost 2 hours that night. The music and the church were absolutely breathtaking and set us up for a very restful night’s sleep!

SATURDAY, JULY 31, 2015

Our train wasn’t scheduled to leave Florence until Saturday evening, after breakfast, Jason and I checked out of our hotel and headed around the corner to see Dante Alighieri’s house. Dante is most famous for writing the Divine Comedy (split into 3 parts: “Inferno,” “Purgatorio,” and “Paradisio”), and he lived in Florence in the 13th century. The city has restored his house to what it most likely looked like when he lived there. It was a pretty interesting museum, but nothing to shout about from the rooftops. The one really cool thing that they did have was one of the very early handwritten editions of his Divine Comedy, which was really neat to see in person. We walked around a little longer before we went to find a laundromat to get some clean clothes, and then we were off to the train station to head to Rome!
We were there pretty early, so we played a few games of cribbage before our train arrived, and we ended up sitting even longer because the train was a bit delayed. It was storming outside, so we inured it had something to do with the weather. We finally got going, but we didn’t even make it out of the city before we stopped again. They made an announcement in Italian, so I couldn’t understand the cause of the delay, but I did catch that it would be a 90 minute wait. A bit of a setback, but not a massive ordeal compared to our earlier travels. However, we ended up sitting at a station in the outskirts of Florence until about 1 am. People ended up calling and ordering pizzas to be delivered to the station because we were there so long. They ended up making another announcement, again in Italian. I understood enough to know that we were moving to the normal rails instead of the high-speed rails, meaning that our journey would take 4 more hours instead of 90 minutes and turning our quick trip into an overnight sojourn. Alas, another terrible night’s sleep was in my future, but at least we were moving!

I think this last week has been my favorite of this trip, although I could say that about every week! Switzerland, although expensive, was absolutely gorgeous. I won’t ever forget it, but then again, Italy is living up to every expectation I’ve had of Europe. With only one week left of our trip, I’m looking forward to a million more memories and fun in Rome and England!

week eight.

SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2015

Sunday morning, Jason and I got all packed up and ready to leave Paris, but we had some time before we left for London, so we left our luggage at the hotel and went to visit the Louvre Museum! We got there about an hour after they opened, and the place was already packed. We decided to go see the Mona Lisa first, just to make sure we got there, and we figured out how to get to it just by following the horde of people constantly streaming into that section of the museum. Let me tell you: the painting is pretty underwhelming at first. There’s hundreds of people all trying to take pictures with and see this painting that’s basically the same size as the Jonas Brothers poster I used to have in my room. Anyone who wants to look at the painting for its artistic value is out of luck. You’ll get elbowed out of the way by a family who wants individual as well as group photos with every painting in the room, and God help you if you get in the radius of someone’s selfie stick. I did end up finding a place sort of off to the side that I could see the painting decently well while avoiding the mayhem, and I have to say, Mona Lisa is creepy. People are not joking when they say it looks like she’s always looking at you. I don’t know how Da Vinci did it, but it’s amazing.
After we were finished seeing the Mona Lisa, we went in the direction of the Aphrodite sculpture, which was also very impressive. It’s always really hard for me to wrap my head around how old those kinds of sculptures really are. Like, a Greek touched the same stone that I’m staring at over 2000 years later, and not much about her has changed over those years. That’s just bonkers. Even more mind-blowing was the Law Code of Hammurabi, one of the first written law codes ever. Ever heard of “eye for an eye?” Hammurabi came up with that. It was one of the first systems for holding citizens accountable with consistent punishments for their crimes. And I saw it. It was basically just a black pillar with writings and a drawing engraved on it, but it wasn’t like the markings were worn away or anything. If I had happened to be able to read whatever language the Mesopotamians spoke, I could’ve read it, clear as day. That’s just amazing to me and part of the reason why I could spend days in museums, especially one as huge as the Louvre. Alas, we only had a couple hours there before we had to head back to pick up our luggage and get to the bus station, though, so we were only able to see the high points before we had to leave.
Once we got our luggage, we headed for the metro to take us to the bus station on the edge of the city. Unfortunately, Paris’s metro system is nowhere near as accessible as Barcelona’s was, so Jason and I ended up having to carry my massive suitcase up and down countless fights of stairs to make our train connections, so we were very relieved when we finally made it to the station. The rest of our evening was thankfully uneventful. The bus got going on time, and Jason and I slept most of the way back to London. I did wake up when we crossed the English Channel, though, as I was interested to see how we would do it. Jason had taken the ferry with his bus on the way to Paris, but this time we took something called the EuroTunnel. Cars just drive in a line onto a big, long train, which takes us through a tunnel underneath the water. We got into London a couple hours later at around 9:30 pm, where we took the Tube to Uxbridge, where Jason stayed while he was in England. It was a little over an hour’s ride to the end of the line, then a few minutes’ bus ride to the Brunel University campus. Luckily, there was an extra room in the girls’ flat for his program, so I got my own room and bathroom for free! Once we got in, Jason and I ate some sandwiches and then went to get some sleep.

MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015
On Monday morning, I got up along with the Iowa State group to join them for their excursion to Dover! It was about two and a half hour trip, and we went to the castle there first. Jason is super interested in castles and medieval stuff, so it was really fun to just follow him around as he explored and got really excited about the tunnels and things. The castle is also obviously on a high point of a hill overlooking the water, so we got some really great views of the port and town of Dover.
My favorite part was seeing the St. Mary-in-Castro church that was near the castle. It was built around 1000 AD, and it was traditionally used as a military chapel, although it’s still used as a normal church today. There were tons of old memorials to fallen soldiers inside as well as some beautiful stained glass and stonework. The thing that stood out to me was that it smelled exactly like the old Dennisport church in Massachusetts where my grandfather was pastor. I plan on writing Yankee Candle about making an Old Seaside Church scent. Next to the church was a really neat tower that was built by the Romans when they originally settled in the area. It’s basically a predecessor to a lighthouse, but it was so cool to see something so old that’s still standing all these years later.
After the castle, we went over to see the famous White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs are basically chalk, which gives them their name and color. We spent some time walking along the cliffs and taking pictures. I was not as brave as some of the guys, who hung their heads over the edge of the cliffs to take a selfie pointing down to the water. There were no barriers or anything disallowing this, so apparently England trusts that their citizens aren’t as stupid as America probably would. After we finished up at the cliffs, we headed back to Uxbridge, and we played Mafia, a super fun card game the entire way back. I used to play Mafia at church camp at Guthrie when I was younger, and I forgot how much fun it is! It’s sort of a scenario-based twist on the game of Bull S**t, if you’ve ever heard of that one (or seen How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days).
Once we were back in Uxbridge, Jason and I worked on some travel plans and then went out to get some real English supper. We went to Jack’s Fish and Chips, an Uxbridge staple. We got some fish, chicken, and chips to share, and it was so good! I was just super excited to order my food in English and not have to worry about either me or the waitress having to speak a second language, so that was a big moment of relief for me.

TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2015
Tuesday was another excursion day and the last day of Jason’s program in London. This time, we went to Warwick Castle, which is about halfway between London and Birmingham to the north. It is a very old castle, but there was still nobility living there until around the 1970s. That family was deep in debt, though, so they ended up selling the castle to Madame Tussad’s, a famous wax figure company in England. The new owners have transformed the place into a tourist’s playground with workers dressed up in Medieval attire, lots of attractions for kids, and different shows. We started off with a tour led by a very enthusiastic young chap named Ben, who was very good at his job of telling us about the long lineage of families who had owned the castle. We then walked through the castle, which was decorated in a veryDownton Abbey fashion, completed with dressed wax figures and a day-in-the-life storyline. I thought it was really cool!
After that, Jason and I wandered around for a bit before getting some burgers for lunch and sitting down to watch a Birds of Prey show. The castle apparently has a history of falconry, and they brought out several massive birds to fly around and show off to we tourists. I felt an overwhelming urge to yell “War Eagle!” the entire time, but I thankfully was able to stifle it. To finish off the day, Jason and I went to see the gardens of the grounds. The first was the Rose Garden, which was inaugurated by Princess Diana and absolutely breathtaking. The other garden was the Peacock Garden, where live peacocks roamed around hedges shaped in their own likeness. They were obviously quite domesticated since we could get pretty close to them to take pictures. We headed back to Uxbridge after that, where we basically just packed up our stuff and did some more travel planning for our trip starting in the morning!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 22, 2015
On Wednesday morning, Jason and I got up and ready to set out for Brussels, Belgium for the first stop of our trip! The security office at the university in London kindly allowed us to leave our big suitcases in their office during our trip, so all we have to take with us is our hiking backpacks! After dropping off our luggage, we got some snacks and headed out for the bus station. If you’re not super into negativity, skip the rest of this day, because what happened for the rest of the day ended up being the worst travel experience of my life.
Our bus left about a half an hour late, which was no big deal, but pretty much nothing went right after that. Our bus driver got us going, returned to the bus station for some reason, then drove us through central London to get to the highway, which was under construction. Even me, a foreigner, knew that was a stupid idea, and it took us about an hour just to get out of London. Even once we got out of the city, the road we were on had stop-and-go traffic the entire way to Dover. The passengers realized once we got to Dover that we weren’t taking the ferry there, we were supposed to be taking the EuroTunnel, which was about 10 miles up the road, and we should’ve taken an entirely different highway to get there. Once we got near the tunnel, we all quickly realized that the driver didn’t have any idea what he was doing or where he was. We drove back and forth for an hour trying to find the entrance to the EuroTunnel with no avail. Eventually the passengers convinced the driver to pull over at a service station so they could help direct him and we could all use the bathroom. The 2.5 hour trip to Dover had turned into 5 hours, and we hadn’t had a break yet. Thanks to the passengers, we finally made it to the tunnel, where things just got worse. Because it had taken us twice as long as it should’ve to get to the tunnel, we missed our reserved spot on the train, and the next open slot wasn’t until 3:30 in the morning. It was 9:30 at the time, the same time that we should’ve been getting into Brussels. We hadn’t even left England yet, and we had 6 hours to wait in the service station until we could cross. Jason and I were so frustrated and tired by that point that we didn’t make a fuss, we just went in and watched some Netflix and ate our snacks while we waited. Thankfully we had wifi so I could tell our hotel that they shouldn’t expect us anytime soon. We went back to the bus at about 1 am, and at around 2, one of the passengers had to wake the driver up because it was time for us to get ready to board, and he showed no signs of getting the bus ready to go. Finally, at 3:27 am, we got on the train and got going. Jason and I tried our best to sleep, but I was so angry by the horrible service and zero apology by that point that I didn’t get much rest.

THURSDAY, JULY 23, 2015
We finally arrived in Brussels at about 9 am Thursday morning, almost 19 hours after we left London (the trip was supposed to be 8 hours long). We went to find a EuroLines representative to get reimbursed for our tickets (there was no apology or sign that anything went awry from the driver when we arrived), but we were told that they couldn’t do anything since our tickets had been bought in the UK. We were given an email address, a phone number, and a frankly BS piece of paper giving a sugar-coated version of what had transpired during our trip. I’m still confused why the Belgian representative couldn’t have called the UK for us, since, you know, it was 600% their fault, but we were so tired and at our wit’s end that we just took it and left.
We went to the hotel we should’ve stayed at in Brussels once we got out of the station. They couldn’t give us a refund for the room unfortunately, but that wasn’t their fault. We were able to check in and use our room to shower and gather ourselves for a couple hours before we had to check out and get going for the next leg of our trip, Munich! I think I will forever be bitter that the only part of Brussels that I got to see was the 10 minute walk from the bus station to the hotel, so thanks, EuroLines.
The train station was only about a block down the street, so we had quite a bit of time before our train left. We got some waffles and chocolate truffles at the train station (when in Belgium, right!?) to snack on before we headed out. Both of them were soooo good. My waffle was stuffed with apples, and even though the chocolate was a cheap brand, it was still some of the best I’ve ever had. Jason and I sat around eating those and playing a few games of cribbage before we boarded the train to Munich.
We had a couple of train transfers, and we missed one of them because our train came in late, but it wasn’t a big deal because another one came just a few minutes later. Once we got on the high-speed train, however, we stopped at the Frankfurt airport, they made an announcement (in German), and tons of people sighed and got off the train. Jason and I had no idea what was going on, so we stayed put. I asked one of the ladies working on the train, and she knew just enough English to tell us that there was a problem with the train that they were trying to fix. We took that as a sign that we were supposed to get off, so we grabbed our backpacks, but then we realized that more people were getting on the train. Jason and I were so confused, and when the same lady walked by, I pointed to the train and asked, “to Munich still?” We breathed a huge sigh of relief and reboarded the train when she nodded and smiled. Thank God for friendly Germans or that would have been so embarrassing. We later saw her point us out to the guy making announcements on the train, and heard her say “Angland,” and he made announcements in German as well as English after that, so that was really nice of her. At least she thought we were British and not some dumb Americans! We finally made it to Munich, and only about 30 minutes behind schedule, a tiny delay compared to our other recent travels. Our hotel there was also just across the street from the station, so while it wasn’t as nice as the Brussels hotel, we finally got to sleep somewhere that wasn’t a moving vehicle.

FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2015
On Friday morning, Jason and I got up to do some more travel planning for the Switzerland leg of our trip. By the time we finished, it was nearly afternoon, and we were starving. We set off towards central Munich to find some food. We camp upon the central market of the city, Viktualienmarkt, where there were tons of tents set up with vendors selling all kids of things: fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, cheese, handcrafts, sausages, and of course, beer. Jason and I bought some strawberries before heading over to another stall to get some bratwurst and bread. We also sampled some kind of apple cider-y drink, and it was so delicious! Jason went back to get a different kind of sausage, but I was stuffed. We ate some of the strawberries for dessert before we went off for some sightseeing!
Because of the bombings during WWII, there aren’t a whole lot of historical buildings remaining in Munich, but what is there is absolutely beautiful. We stopped by Marienplatz, a beautiful old building in the center of the city. Afterwards, we wandered off to the Englisher Garten, a huge park in the city. We spent pretty much the rest of the day there, just enjoying the day. There’s a river that runs through the park, the Isar River, and there’s accesses to little stoney “beaches” along the river where there were people sunbathing and wading in the river. There were also tons of people out on bikes. Like so many. People just seemed generally happy to be out and enjoying the day, which was a nice atmosphere to be around! We happened upon a beer garden in the park, where there was a band playing and lots of picnic tables to sit at. There was also a large group of people dressed in traditional German attire, all laughing and singing. Jason and I decided that we think it was for a wedding, since there was a young couple clearly at the center of it all, and they were going around having random people pour some of their beer into their shared glass, and everyone kept cheering. It was really fun to watch, and I think it’s so great that people in Germany keep those traditions for themselves, not just as a show for tourists.
After many hours in the park, Jason and I headed back to our hotel to rest for a little bit before dinnertime. For dinner, we went down the street to a little shop to get döners, a Turkish dish usually served in a pita (ours was more of a wrap) with roasted lamb, some vegetables, and a spicy sauce. It was also amazing, and super filling. After we finished, we just wandered around the city for a while longer before heading back to the hotel and to bed.

SATURDAY, JULY 25, 2015
We woke up early Saturday morning to catch a train to Füssen, Germany, where we got on a bus to take us to the village near Neuschwanstein Castle! Neuschwanstein was built in the late 19th century and commissioned by Ludwig II. It was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland, and it’s absolutely incredible! We had an early lunch when we got there since we hadn’t had time to eat before leaving Munich. We had some super delicious brats and fries, but we were so hungry that cardboard would’ve tasted like a 5-star meal. After we ate, it was about a 40 minute walk from the village to the castle. We decided not to pay to tour the inside of the castle, but instead, we hiked a little bit in the forest around the castle to get some amazing views of it. There was also a bridge that crossed a gorge and gave an amazing view of the castle and the surrounding farmland, villages, and lakes. It was breathtaking. On our way back down, we decided to get some ice cream, which of course brightened my day even more! We also got some snacks for the train at a grocery store once we were back in Füssen since we knew we probably wouldn’t have time for dinner. In all, it was such a great day trip and respite from all the big cities we had been visiting.
In the afternoon, we took some trains to get to Zürich, Switzerland, where we had a hotel for the night. It was a thankfully uneventful trip, and we made it to our hotel without any issues!

Although we’ve run into several travel troubles, the first week of Jason’s and my trip has been everything I’ve ever dreamed of. We’ve seen the sights, we’ve eaten amazing food, we’ve had a few mishaps to make for some good stories, we’ve been mistaken for German-speakers more times than we can count (it was so easy in Spain when everyone knew that I clearly do not look Spanish) and we’ve laughed more than I thought possible. I can’t wait to see what the next weeks have in store!
Moral of the week: do not travel with EuroLines if you can avoid it at all.

week seven.

SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2015

On Sunday morning, I got up and packed up my things to return to Barcelona. I still had a few hours until I had to head back to the bus station, though, so I left my bag in the luggage room at my hostel after I checked out. My dad had asked me for a picture of the two leaning towers known as The Gateway to Europe, so I spent my morning walking north to where those are along the Paseo de la Castellana. He told me later that he had taken that same picture the year I was born during one of his work trips to Madrid, so again, it felt so cool to be standing in the same place he did 20 years ago. I passed the Estadio Santiago, home of the Real Madrid soccer club. I continued on to the towers, where I took some pictures before deciding to take the metro back to my hostel since I was starting to run out of time before I needed to get to the bus station. I rushed to get my bags from the hostel, and power-walked my way to the station. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got there, but I made it! This time, the bus was more like a regular airplane seating set-up, so no personal tv or single seat this afternoon, but the ride was still fine. There was one moment of grand excitement at our stop in the airport in Madrid where there was a man being arrested for trying to steal bags from his bus. There was a lot of yelling and the bus driver holding him to the ground while they were waiting for the police to come. There was one lady on our bus who was particularly proud of having seen the whole thing happen, and she was happy to loudly narrate the scene so that everyone was up-to-date. I personally just couldn’t figure out how he thought he would get away with it since he was not of a particularly impressive physique and didn’t seem like he’d be very successful at the grab-and-run technique. Oh well. At least he was caught and nothing was stolen. It made me a little keener to keep a closer watch on my backpack in the holds of my bus, but we made it back to Barcelona with no problems! I realized that coming into Barcelona sort of felt like I was coming home, or at least back to familiarity. It was more of a bittersweet feeling, though, because I was less than a week from having to leave that area of familiarity just as I started to feel totally comfortable.


MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015

On Monday morning, I had my first two final exams, both in my Spanish Language class. One was a test on my reading comprehension in Spanish, which may have been one of the easiest exams I’ve ever taken. I was just reading about and matching information about different food dishes. The second was a writing activity, which we were supposed to write an “email” to a hypothetical friend who was going to visit our hometown. The prompt set us up to use different tenses and easily show what we had learned. In my essay, I wrote about the Iowa State Fair, which gave me lots of room to give suggestions and talk about why fairs are so popular in my home state. I’m afraid the rest of my day was filled with boring, adult-like responsibility handling. I did manage to get out and see Turó Park, one of the few places in Barcelona where you can find magnolia trees! Sitting in that park feels a lot like sitting under the trees surrounding Samford Lawn in Auburn. It made me really happy to find a piece of my home away from home in my new international home away from home, if that makes sense!


TUESDAY, JULY 14, 2015

In my Spanish Civilization and Culture class on Tuesday morning, we watched the movie Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Literally translates to “Eight Basque Last Names,” but titled The Spanish Affair in its English version). It’s a rom-com about a guy from Seville in the south of Spain who falls for and pursues a woman from the unique culture of the Basque Country in the north of Spain. It’s the second-highest grossing film in Spain (I believe Avatar is first), and I can see why! It was full of Spanish culture references and stereotypes, which I’m sure Spanish natives get a kick out of. I thought it was hilarious, and I’m not even Spanish! Most of the satire was focused on the Basque culture, which is known for being very proud of its heritage and lineage (Think purebloods from Harry Potter), but from getting to know Mireia, who is from the Basque Country, I knew that it was mostly exaggerated and tongue-in-cheek. I realized that I would not have found the movie funny 2 months ago before I really knew anything about the real cultures of Spain, and it was weird that this movie showed how much I’ve learned in such a short time here. I also had my last test of the 3-part final in my Spanish Language class in the form of an oral exam. It also was pretty easy, but speaking is probably the worst of my Spanish speaking since it requires more of a natural reaction to conversation as opposed to reading, writing, or listening where I have time to sit and think. It was in pairs, and my partner and I each took turns introducing ourselves, and then we were shown a picture to talk about. I’m pretty sure the picture was of the “Manhattan-henge” phenomenon, but Kianna and I ended up talking about the positives and negatives of living in a big city versus a small town. Finally, we were asked to talk about our best friends and how we met, so shout-out to Maddie for being such an interesting person and giving me tons of stuff to talk about. My professor now wants to visit Belize because of you!

To celebrate the end of one class, Kianna and I went out to Brunch and Cake for lunch, which we had been to once before and decided it was worth a revisit during our final days. I got pancakes drizzled with chocolate and salted caramel sauces and topped with popcorn as well as a fruit smoothie. It was so amazingly delicious. Pancakes and popcorn are probably two of my favorite foods, and now they I know they are amazing together, I may never eat anything else in my life. After our meal, I went back to my apartment to get some travel planning done and to study for my test in my civilization class.

For dinner, we had our farewell meal for SAI. Unfortunately, only Mike and I were able to meet up with Mireia, but we had a great chat and meal. We went to El Nou de Granados, which was just a block up from where I had lunch at Brunch and Cake. The food was amazing! I had a salad topped with oranges and walnuts and a veal steak with white wine sauce. That was the first time that I had eaten meat that wasn’t cooked well-done while in Spain, and it was so, so good! For dessert, I had a Catalan crème brulee. I couldn’t imagine a better meal for our final night together!


WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 2015

Wednesday was my last day of class, and I just had my final exam for my Spanish Civilization & Culture class in the form of an essay. We were asked to write pretty much everything we knew about Basque culture, so I felt pretty confident about it. I am, however, horrible at remembering dates and names, so that posed a bit of a problem, but I think I did okay. After I left class, I went back to the apartment to start packing and cleaning. I didn’t realize how much my stuff had gotten spread out in that huge apartment over the 2 months, so it took a lot longer than expected. I was also trying to deal with getting utilities set up for my apartment back home, so I was a little frantic that afternoon. However, in the evening, I went up to Montjuic Mountain to have a little final picnic with my friends from my classes. I was pretty late, and with no way to get in contact with me, my friends went ahead to the park since they assumed I wasn’t coming. Thankfully, I decided to check in the park as a last resort before giving up and going back home, and Olivia saw me and got my attention. It was one of my favorite nights in Barcelona, and it was fitting that it was my last with these friends. It was so sad to say goodbye by the end of the night, but I’m so grateful for the time we had together! I’m sure we’ll all see each other again someday.


THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2015

Move-out day was Thursday, so I got up in the morning to get the rest of my thing prepared. Brittany was flying home that afternoon, so she left before I did. Again, it was sad, but I’m sure we’ll keep in touch. I stayed and kept cleaning until Mireia and the housing agency rep came to close up the apartment. Saying a final goodbye to Mireia was probably the saddest of all of them for me. She has been such a wonderful person throughout my weeks in Barcelona. I don’t think I could’ve done it without having her checking in on us and always being available for questions. I hope someday I get to come back to Barcelona to visit, and I really hope that my mom can meet her because I know they would get along so well! I left the apartment and got checked in at my hotel in Barcelona for the night. It was at the Blanc Guesthouse, just around the corner from my apartment. It was so nice! It was air conditioned, clean, and bright, and there was an elevator (thank God). I had my own little room to get my things organized for my trip on Friday and take a little nap, which was all I really needed.

In the late afternoon, I ventured out because I finally got a ticket to see the inside of the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia. I walked past the outside of the building numerous times, but I just had never gotten around to paying the fee to go inside. It was so worth it! Neither pictures nor words can do it justice. Gaudí was truly an artist. My favorite part was the stained glass windows in the main sanctuary. There aren’t any images in the glass, but they’re made up of little bits of colored glass that meld from red to orange to blue to purple and back again. For me, it was what really put the cherry on top of the beautiful basilica. The only thing that I was a bit disappointed by was how little respect people seemed to have for the sanctity of the place. I was expecting it to be pretty touristy and not dead silent, but people wouldn’t even quiet down in the places that you had to pass 3 separate signs asking them to lower their voices. I heard one tourist say “That’s a f***ing joke,” under his breath when the staff told him that, no, he couldn’t duck under the barriers and cut right in front of the altar to get to the exit door. I know, walking the extra 30 seconds around the chairs must have been terrible for him. Then again, the same staff member went back to chatting loudly about his upcoming trip to Mallorca when he was standing right in the middle of the area set up for prayer. For that reason, I liked the atmosphere of the crypt in the basement of the building much better. It was smaller and for me, the architecture wasn’t as cool, but it was quiet and people didn’t look at me weird for bowing to pray like they did upstairs (In a church! Who knew!?). The crypt also held Gaudí’s tomb, as he died while working on the basilica, which he considered his life’s greatest achievement.

After I left La Sagrada Familia, I’m ashamed to say that I got some lunch/dinner at McDonald’s. It was around 6pm, a time when most Spanish restaurants don’t serve food, and I needed something, so I went the fast route. After I finally got some food in me, I went and just walked along the beach for a while. That was and will always be one of my favorite places in Barcelona, so I wanted to get a little more time there. I also picked up a little seashell to take home with me, a little momento to go along with all the seashells we have at home from various US beaches that we’ve visited. Once it started getting darker, I decided to stop by the Hospital de Sant Pau, just for old time’s sake. It seemed fitting that the first places that I went to see in Barcelona, the hospital, La Sagrada Familia, and the beach were now also the last places I went to see. Once it was fully dark, I went back to the hotel, feeling weird that I wasn’t going to my apartment and sad that I actually really had to leave my favorite city in the world in the morning.


FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2015

On Friday morning, I got up to finish packing and check out of my hotel because I was heading to Paris to begin my trip with Paris! I was very proud of that fact that I fit all of my things into my suitcase and my hiking backpack, although both of them were pretty heavy. I (slowly) made my way to the metro by walking down Av. Diagonal for the last time. I have to admit, I was really sad. I know how much I’m going to miss this city and all the memories I’ve made here. However, the heat and my luggage made me pretty motivated to get into the air conditioned metro as soon as possible. I had never been so thankful for Barcelona’s completely handicapped- (and therefore suitcase-) accessible metro system. There were elevators to take me directly to the platform and just a little gap onto the train. The metro took me straight to Sants Estación, the main train station in Barcelona. I was really early for my 1:30 train since I had to check out of the hotel at 10:00, but that gave me plenty of time to figure out where I was going and eat my breakfast once I made it to the station.

I finally got onto my train, which was a fiasco in itself because it was one of the high-speed double-decker trains, and my seat was on the second floor. Thankfully there wasn’t anyone waiting to get on my car since I got there so early, so I had time to struggle with my luggage up the stairs and into the luggage cart. I found my seat, which was one of the groups of 4 seats around a table. Next to me was an adorable little French girl who colored pictures of us sitting on the train and of Ana and Elsa from Frozen. She tried to talk to me a couple times, but I think she eventually understood that I had no clue what she was saying. She and her mother left a couple stops away from Paris, and I was left sharing the 4 seats with another older French gentleman. When we got closer to Paris, they came on over the loudspeaker and told us that there was some kind of technical difficulty and that we would be arriving about 10 minutes late (in French, Spanish, and English, so I understood the announcement perfectly). About half an hour later, we suddenly slowed down, and they made an announcement that the technical problem was such that we had to leave the high-speed rails and use the normal ones, meaning that we would be about 20 minutes late because of the slower speed (this time only in French and Spanish, so I understood the majority of it). The French man sitting next to me I think was a little confused about what nationality I was since I pretty clearly look like an English-speaker, but I was reading my Harry Potter book in Spanish. He kindly made sure that I saw the announcement once it came up on the screen in English and Spanish. Another half an hour or so later, the train completely stopped. They came on and made an announcement only in French, this time, and the man next to me sighed loudly, looked over at me, and shook his head, and made a “no-go” sign with his hands at me. A few seconds later, he laughed and rubbed his fingers together as if to say that we were going to be getting money back. I immediately started panicking. What did he mean!? Was the train broken? Did we have to get off? Was I going to be stranded in the French countryside with my massive luggage and zero French speaking skills while Jason waited for me in Paris? If it was so bad that we were going to get money out of it, it certainly would not bode well for me. I began sweating a little bit, but then the train lurched forward and continued on, albeit very slowly. I spent the rest of the trip with my face pressed up against the window, trying to gauge how close we were to Paris and what on earth I was going to go if the train stopped at one of these stations and I had to get off. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief when we began to pass by the outskirts of Paris and into the city itself. The nice French man watched me a little worriedly, as I think he knew that I didn’t understand what was going on, but he didn’t speak English or Spanish.

We finally rolled into the station about an hour later than planned, and they made a welcome announcement in both French and Spanish. I heard something about us getting a rebate as an apology for our tardy arrival, and my heart leapt. I didn’t mind getting money for this. Indeed, once we got off the train, there were SNCF representatives handing out envelopes, and although I don’t speak French, my Spanish is good enough to know that it said something about getting a rebate since apparently the high-speed train arrival times are guaranteed by this company. My excitement was short-lived, however, when I realized that Jason was nowhere to be found on the platform. His bus was supposed to get in a couple hours before my train, and he was going to meet me at the train station so we could get to the hotel together. I tried to stay calm and found some wifi, and I then received several messages from him saying that his bus was also delayed and that he would be late. I sent him a message back telling him exactly where to meet me in the station, but it was still over an hour until he was able to make it to me. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw him, and we started to make our way towards the hotel, about a 40 minute walk. I had noticed that the wheels on my suitcase were starting to bow pretty severely, and since one of the wheels on my carry-on suitcase broke on my trip to Spain, we walked very slowly and carefully along the streets. By this point, it was about 11:00, and neither of us had eaten almost all day, so in a pinch, we stopped by a supermarket and Jason got us some Pringles and apple juice to share on a bench so we could get some calories into our systems. Pringles had never tasted so good, I swear. We finally got up and kept going, and in one unfortunate incident, Jason helped me carry my suitcase down some stairs on a street, and the top handle halfway ripped in the process. By the time we made it to the hotel, we were exhausted, dripping with sweat, and ready to throw my suitcase out the window. We only stayed awake long enough to tell our parents that we made it safely before we crashed.


SATURDAY, JULY 18, 2015

Jason and I intended to get going pretty early on Saturday morning to do some touristing, but I was exhausted and had a really tough time getting up and going. We finally did get out, though, and our first order of business was a stop at the supermarket around the corner for some breakfast food and snacks. Once we had some food, we set out towards central Paris. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the Louvre museum, which is right in the heart of Paris. We took some pictures there, but we decided to wait on going into the museum until Sunday. We then walked across the bridge that once was famous for holding thousands of “love locks.” Couples who came to Paris would traditionally write their names on a lock and lock it onto the sides of the bridge, but the weight of all that metal was too much for the old bridge to hold, so they removed all the locks about a month or so ago. It was still really neat to see, and we got some great pictures and even a glimpse of the Notre Dame Cathedral from the bridge. We walked around that neighborhood for a while, then went down to walk along the river towards Notre Dame (For any Pixar fans, it felt exactly like I was in Ratatouille). We took some pictures of the outside, but we decided against waiting in the huge line to go inside. As with La Sagrada Familia, I felt like I would be a little uncomfortable seeing the worship space being used solely for tourist purposes. It was early afternoon by that point, so Jason and I went out in search for some lunch. Obviously the food wasn’t cheap and didn’t seem very authentic near the Louvre and Notre Dame, so we popped into a little Vietnamese restaurant for some noodles. It ended up being very good, but at one point, the waitress came up and asked us a question in French, and instead of asking her if she spoke English (which is one of the few sentences I know in French), Jason and I both just stared blankly at her for a solid 5 seconds before Jason finally spoke up and asked her if she could repeat it in English. I felt horrible and like I had further worsened the French view of Americans, which doesn’t seem to be too positive to being with. I tipped her well, though, so hopefully that made up for it.

After lunch, we headed to the west towards the Arc de Triomf. To get there, we walked along Av. des Champs-Éysées, which seemed to me like the Les Rambles of Paris. We passed by the Louis Vuitton flagship store, which I though was pretty cool, but there were just so many people. We made it to the Arc and took lots of pictures, but after we were finished, we were so tired that we decided to head back to the hotel for some rest and a couple snacks. It was a long walk back, but the nap made it completely worth it. Once evening came, we decided to head down to the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset. Since it was going to be well over an hour’s walk, we decided to buy some metro tickets since we would need them to get to the bus station on Sunday anyways. The Paris metro was pretty easy to navigate, and although it wasn’t nearly as modern as Barcelona’s, it had the pretty white subway tile stations and all that classic jazz. It did the job and got us within 5 minutes of the Eiffel Tower, which is even more amazing in person. Again, there were just so many people, though, and hundreds of street vendors trying to sell us “cold, fresh wine” (anyone else see the problem there?), which tends to make me nervous, especially about pickpocketers. We didn’t have any problems, though, and we got lots of pictures of the tower. The line to go up the tower was absolutely massive, so we decided to settle for just sitting on the grassy area to watch the sunset. There were lots of clouds rolling in, so we could really see the sunset, but the sky was still beautiful, and we got to see the tower be all lit up and glittery once it got dark. As we were walking back to the metro, we walked back under the tower, and what seemed like some pastors had started an impromptu hymn sing right underneath the point of the tower. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful, and Jason and I stopped to listen for a few minutes before we kept going. It started sprinkling a little, and Jason remarked that one of the raindrops hurt a little. Just then, the bottom dropped out and started pouring and hailing. We ran under the protection of one of the little street shops and waited for it to let up a little before we made a run for it to the metro. Although we got soaked, it was kind of fun since I barely saw a drop of rain the entire time I was in Barcelona. It was definitely something I’ll remember about our trip to Paris, and it made a warm shower feel even better when we got back to the hotel for the night!


Saying goodbye to Barcelona this week was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, mostly since I don’t know when I’ll be back, and it’ll likely be at least a few years before I can afford to visit again. I wish I could express my thanks to everyone I ever met in the city and left a memory with me. Obviously mostly for people like Mireia and my friends from my program and classes, but also to the door lady at our apartment who always smiled and said “Hola!” to me every time I left and came home, even though I never caught her name, and to the doorman at the Pau Claris Hotel down the street from the school who tipped his hat and said “Buenos dias” every morning that he was on duty, and to the waiter at the Tris-Tras café down the street who was so patient when I got flustered with my Spanish whenever I was ordering. Even though they were such small gestures, it was these people who made Barcelona so special to me and at least a little bit of a home. I will never forget them or any of the moments that I spent in that beautiful, warm, amazing city. Thank you.

week six.

SUNDAY, JULY 5, 2015

Sunday was another super lazy day for me. I got some more travel stuff done while listening to music. For some reason, I went to the website of one of my favorite Christian bands, Hillsong United, and I saw on their website that they have a congregation in Barcelona! After a little more research, I discovered that they meet 3 times every Sunday at a theater on Les Rambles. As soon as I found that, I got dressed and headed out to make it to the 5 o’clock service. I walked in just a minute late, but the entire congregation was already on their feet worshiping with the band. I recognized the tunes to a couple of the songs as Hillsong songs, but the words and general idea of the songs were a little bit different to keep the meter and rhyme going in the Spanish versions, if that makes sense. Even though “sea” and “we” rhyme in English, “mar” and “nosotros” don’t rhyme in Spanish, so the songs can’t be directly translated. I thought it was really great to learn the Spanish versions, though, and the whole church was so into it! They basically just set up chairs on the floor of the theater, which was where I sat, but the old round tables and couches of the theater were still installed, so there were families sitting around those, and there were also lots of people up in the balconies. I happened to come on the day of their first “Superdomingo,” which were 3 Sundays of guest ministry and well-planned worship leading up to the Hillsong European Conference. The guest minister on this Sunday was Itiel Arroyo, and he spoke about recognizing God’s plans for our lives and aligning our visions with Christ’s. I probably looked like the most focused person in the house because if I lost concentration for even a second, I got too far behind in mentally translating his words and had no idea what he was saying. I loved it so much and it was such great Spanish practice that I decided to stay for the 7 o’clock service, as well! (I’ve just really missed going to church, okay!?) Most of the songs and the introductions/scriptures were the same in the second service, but Itiel had a new, yet corresponding message for the later service. He talked about honoring your mother and father and his personal testimony of his broken relationship with his dad and his reluctance to fix it, even though he knew it was what God was calling him to do. Although it was a pretty personal message to his life, he had a good point: if I can’t even happily oblige to clean the kitchen or cut down on my spending when my mom asks, how am I priming myself to be a faithful servant to God, who will surely ask bigger things of me and my life? After the services were over, I headed back to the apartment for some dinner with my heart and soul feeling more filled than they have the whole trip!


MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015

On Monday, it really started to hit me that this was my last full week in Barcelona, and I am in no way ready to leave. After class, I joined two girls in my classes who are from Florida for lunch at a Thai place we had passed a couple days before. The food was amazing, but apparently the air conditioning was broken, so the air in the restaurant was hotter than our food. I had definitely missed Asian food, though, and we had fun chatting about all the things we still want to do before we have to leave Barcelona. After lunch, I went home and worked on planning my weekend trip to Madrid, which takes a while when I don’t trust Google to properly translate the fine print of bus and hotel reservations. My reading skills in Spanish are pretty good (at least I think so) but I just have to go very slowly. After a few hours, I had to stop staring at my computer and stretch my legs. I decided to walk down to the Parc de la Ciutadella, the large park near the sea in central Barcelona. There’s a huge fountain in the park that looks all old and cool, and there’s always a ton of locals hanging around in the evenings. I just enjoyed sitting outside and listening to a drum circle made up of some college-aged guys on one of the grassy areas. Once it started to get dark, I made my way back home to make some dinner and get some sleep.


TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2015

During my morning civilization class on Tuesday, one of my classmates asked Núria, a Barcelona native, what sights she thought we absolutely should not miss during our last week here. Her first answer was “Montserrat” without any hesitation. Montserrat is a mountain on which there is an ancient but still active monastery and basilica. Núria said that although she isn’t religious, there is an undeniable energy on that mountaintop that we should not miss. During the rest of her lecture, I realized that with my trip this weekend and finals coming up, I wasn’t going to have another day that I was going to be able get to the mountain. (Mom and Dad, please skip the next sentence.) Since I hadn’t missed any classes yet and I knew we were just watching a movie that I’ve already seen many times in my Spanish class, I decided that there was no time like the present to go. I hurried back to the apartment, researched how to get to the mountain, changed into athletic clothes, and I was at the train station before 12:30. The train trip to the base of the mountain took a little over an hour, and then I was given the choice between another train up to the mountain or an cable car that crossed the river valley and up the mountain in the air. I swallowed my fear of heights and chose the latter, and I’m so glad. The view was amazing, and I even go close enough to the edge to take some pictures. The car dropped us off right at the entrance to the monastery complex, but I walked down to one of the restaurants on the mountain to get a bite to eat before I started exploring. The restaurant had an amazing overlook of the valley and hills surrounding the mountain, so I went there to take some pictures.

The way the rock is formed on the mountain is almost impossible to describe. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was an attraction at Disney World. It’s almost like a bunch of towers of rock that all happened to shoot out of the ground in the same place. Mireia told me later that the rock has fossils and shells in it that indicates that the very, very, VERY old stone from when the area was underwater was shoved up due to tectonic movements to form the mountain. No one is really sure why those movements happened in that one particular spot, though. While I was taking pictures, I saw that someone had set out a cut-off bottom piece of a water bottle that some stray cats were drinking from. Some Eastern European onlookers cheered and gave me thumbs-up when I refilled the makeshift dish with water from my water bottle. Hey, if I was a cat on that mountain when it’s been consistently 100 degrees for the past week, I’d need some water, too.

After that, I went to see the basilica, which is a pretty big attraction in Spain because it holds the statue of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat, a 12th century (although many believe it is much, much older) wood carving of Mary holding infant Jesus in her lap. Now blackened with age, she holds a metal ball in her hand, which many Catholics travel from all over to touch/kiss. Although I had learned about this statue in class, I didn’t make the connection that this was the monastery that housed it. Being me, I just saw a line of people, saw the word “gratis” (“free”) on the sign, and joined in the crowd to see what all the hubbub was about. They funneled us through the side of the sanctuary and up some stairs in the back until we reached the hallway that crosses the altar, where the statue sits. I still wasn’t 100% sure of what I was in line to see. I just though it was a super cool room with bright mosaics on the ceilings and fancy sculptures in the room until we rounded the corner, and there she was. I immediately remembered the video we had watched about the sculpture and realized I needed to be even more careful than usual to be respectful and not be that Protestant girl that doesn’t know how important this stuff is. I mimicked what the clearly devout Catholic family ahead of me did; I dropped some coins in the offering box, put my phone away, and spent a few seconds touching her metal orb before leaving the room. It was such a neat experience, but I probably need to spend more time reading the signs of what I’m in line for so I can at least be prepared!

I then spent some time meditating in the sanctuary before heading out to fins some trails to hike. I was super bummed to find out that all the main trails on the mountain were completely closed, armed police and all, because the heat wave in Europe has created a huge risk for forest fires. I did, however, find a “trail” (really just a gravel road) on the front side of the mountain that ended up being really great! I spent around 40 minutes walking it, and the whole path was line with beautiful tile artwork that was cemented into the stone of the mountain. It also had great views of the city for some pictures. Once I reached the end, I had to turn straight around and come back to the monastery, catch the cable car back down the mountain (just as cool the second time around), and jump on the train back to Barcelona. Once I made it back, I was beat, so I stayed in for the night with some frozen pizza and a good night’s sleep!


WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 2015

During class on Wednesday, a few of my friends told me that they were heading up to Montjuic Mountain that evening to see a movie at the castle there! I remembered that Mireia had sent us an email about this in one of her newsletters. It’s a summer movie festival called Sala Montjuic, and they show the movies on the lawn outside the old castle. There was a shuttle that took us up to the mountain from the city, so we all met at the Plaza de España with some snacks to get there. We figured there would be a few people there, but the line for the shuttle busses was massive. They filled 4 city busses full of people before we got on, and the line was still growing. Once we got there, we bought our tickets and picked a spot on the grassy area to sit. Thankfully, they were giving out straw mats for people to borrow to sit on, so we got a couple of those and enjoyed our food and the band that was playing before the movie started. There were so many people, and very few of them were tourists! Everyone was chatting and eating, and the group in front of us even threw a little birthday party for one of their friends (the “cake” was an Oreo with candles stuck in it – so cute!). The movie finally started around 10 when it got dark, and it was The Grand Budapest Hotel. Lucky for us, they showed the movie in its original English version with Spanish subtitles. I absolutely loved it! I had heard lots of good things about the movie, but I didn’t really know what it actually was about (In case you also don’t, it’s about the concierge of a hotel and his lobby boy who get tangled up in the estate of a dead old woman during a war). I was so funny, but just mildly. It didn’t bring me to tears laughing, but just made me giggle quite often, and I liked that. It wasn’t like I was constantly waiting for the next punchline like in full-on comedy movies. The jokes were subtle and often just based on an awkward situation, and the plotline was amazing even without the jokes. It did feel weird, however, to see Ralph Fiennes as the hero of the story when he (minus his nose) played one of the most hated villains of all time, Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter films. After the movie was over, we all walked back down the mountain to the plaza to get cabs home. It was such a fun and relaxed evening, and it was definitely up there with my favorite nights in Barcelona!


THURSDAY, JULY 9, 2015

Thursday was a very hectic day because I was finally leaving for Madrid! Class was pretty normal, and afterwards, I went to the SAI office to print out my tickets and travel things (okay, and also to get a hug from Mireia), and then I went to walk around Grácia for a little bit to do some shopping. Once I got back to the apartment, it was time to get packed up and go! I traveled by overnight bus from Barcelona to Madrid, which was about an 8 hour ride. I was a little nervous since this was the first time I was traveling alone in Europe, plus I had never traveled by charter bus before. I’m a person who likes to at least look like I know what I’m doing, so the whole ordeal was a matter of a lot of stress for me. However, I had nothing to worry about! I easily found my platform and followed what everyone else was doing to put my big backpack in the stowage and hand my ticket (and for me, my passport) to the driver to check it before getting onboard. I have to say, although flying is faster, not having to arrive crazy early to deal with checking bags and security makes other modes of transportation pretty attractive. I also has splurged an extra 10 euros to get on the super-economy bus, which meant I got a snack, water, a single and bigger seat, a personal tv screen with movies and shows to watch onboard, and (hallelujah!) free wifi. For the overnight trip, it was so worth it. Thor was one of the only movies they had in the original English version, so I turned that on and took a ZzzQuil to help me get some sleep. 30 minutes into the movie, I was out. I woke up when we reached our first stop, Zaragona, which was about at the halfway point, but only long enough to stick in some earplugs and put on my eyemask before passing out again. The next time I awoke, we were in Madrid!


FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2015

We arrived in Madrid at around 7 am on Friday, and I was ready to go! I grabbed by backpack, changed out of my tshirt and into a sundress, ate a granola bar, and headed towards my hostel, which was about a half hour walk, and it was hot. Like 100 degrees by 10 am hot. My backpack suddenly felt so much heavier, but at least the heat in Madrid was dry heat instead of the high humidity like in Barcelona, where it’s just as hot in the shade as it is in the sun. I finally found the hostel, but check-in time wasn’t until noon, and I just was not mentally prepared to have to ring the buzzer and explain who I was (I couldn’t ever live in a city because door buzzers belong in hell) and ask to leave my backpack there, which I’m sure they would’ve been fine with, but again, socialization.

Instead I decided to continue on to see the Parque del Retiro, which is the central park of the city. When I entered the park, one of the street performers suddenly struck up a conversation with me. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble communicating with him, other than the fact that he didn’t understand that “los Estados Unidos” meant America, but that was more my bad. I had to laugh because he basically asked me what was wrong with my face and pointed to where my birthmark is. It’s been a long time since I’ve been asked that. In hindsight, as my dad pointed out later, he may have been making sure that I hadn’t been assaulted or something. With how hot it was outside, I’m sure my birthmark was looking pretty red and obvious. Anyways, we parted ways, and I continued on to see the lake in the park, where there were people floating in rented rowboats. I had to take a picture because my family has an old joke about a time that, according to him, my dad almost lost his legs when we rented a paddleboat outside the Jefferson Memorial in DC. We still hear his knees creak whenever the story is brought up. I thought maybe the rowboats could take his arms next. After that, I rested for a while near the Glass Palace in the park, which is a really pretty greenhouse overlooking another pond with a fountain. I just sat and people-watched for a while before it was time for me to go check in.

I know that God was with me that day because just as I walked up to the door, someone else was leaving so I didn’t have to buzz in. Once I was inside, José, the manager, greeted me and got me all checked in. Again, I was surprised at how easily I understood his Spanish even if I’m still not very good at responding. I had my own room and bathroom, and while I won’t go raving on TripAdvisor about it, it was clean and air conditioned. I basically just dropped my bag off, cooled off for a minute, and then had to get going to meet Allison, a friend from my sorority back at school, who is working and studying in Madrid for the year. We met at the Plaza del Sol near a stature of a bear and a strawberry tree. I thought it was a little odd, but didn’t think much of it until I realized that about 40 tourists took a picture of it, so I felt obliged to take a picture, too. Dad said that bears used to inhabit in the Madrid area a long time ago, so they kind of have a thing for them. After I met up with Allison, we went and got some pinchos to share, which are various types of little bite-sized food that originated in the Basque Country. We had bread topped with foie, apple jam, and Iberian ham; a Spanish omelet (with potatoes baked inside); and huevos rotos (basically eggs over-easy) over French fries and Iberian ham. They were all super delicious, and my stomach was happy to have some real food. We sat and talked for a while, mostly about each of our experiences abroad so far, since she’s already been in Madrid for 5 months with 6 to go, but we just chatted about little things like the upcoming sorority recruitment back in Auburn and the pros/cons of glitter. I know it sounds so stupid, but it was nice to just gab about a few brainless things since we’ve both been so ~cultured~ lately.

After eating, Allison showed me to some of her favorite places in the city, like Plaza Mayor and the nearby San Miguel Market (one of my favorite stops in the city), La Latina neighborhood, the main cathedral, and the royal palace. We had so much fun just wandering around and to see what we found, which is my favorite way to tourist! Sadly, Allison was heading out of town with her host family for the weekend that night, so we said our goodbyes in the late afternoon. It was so wonderful to see her and get to catch up with a familiar face!

In the evening, I walked down towards the river to see the sunset over the city. When I was approaching the riverside, a tiny little Asian girl ran up to me and said (I’m not kidding), “Hi. You’re going to the river? Okay, we will go together. Come on.” She said her name was Frieda, and she was super upset to find out that we couldn’t see the sunset from where we were on the river. I walked with her onto the bridge, where she informed me that we were going to take a selfie together, which we did (she had one of those fancy selfie sticks). She asked me where I was going next, and when I said that I was going to walk along the river for a while, she said, “Oh. I’m going back now. Bye.” And she was gone. So basically, there’s a girl named Frieda somewhere in the world with a picture of her and me on a bridge in Madrid. Weird. Anywho, I walked around for a while but headed back to my hostel with a pit stop to grab a Stromboli for dinner once it started to get dark.


SATURDAY, JULY 11, 2015

I tried to get up and going at a decent hour on Saturday because my first stop was to the Prado Museum, and I wanted to have as much time to walk around as possible before it got super busy in the afternoon. I got in free for being a student (having a university ID card is like a golden ticket in Europe), which was super nice. The museum was absolutely amazing. I spent about four hours there just so I could say that I have at least glanced at every piece in the museum. I got to see Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, which I have learned about several times now, even with my limited art education. It was just as amazing as I’ve always heard. I also saw Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Pink Dress, which may have also been painted by Velázquez (although it also could’ve been his student, Mazo). I immediately recognized this painting because it’s on the cover of a book that Dad brought home from the Prado after one of his later trips to Madrid for work. I spent hours flipping the pages of that book and thinking about the majestic and far-off land of Spain. Although it’s by no means the most famous painting in the museum, it certainly meant the most to me because five-year-old Rachel never even dreamed that I would someday be standing right in front of that painting after a month and a half of actually living in that far-off land of Spain. Existential crises aside, my favorite part of the museum was the “Dauphin’s Treasure,” a whole room filled with various trinkets and jewels that belonged to the son of Louis XIV of France. The room was tucked away in the basement, so it was very quiet, and all the pieces were absolutely beautiful!

After I finished up in the Prado, I honestly thought I was going to pass out from hunger, so I set out to find some lunch ASAP. I came across a taco place called El Estribito. Maybe it was because cardboard would have made a good meal for me by this point, but they were the best tacos I’ve ever had. I had the chicken tacos with roasted vegetables and fresh pico de gallo. I could’ve eaten 10. The owner/cook was also super nice and didn’t laugh at me stumbling over my words, so I stayed for dessert, which was an amazing (and huge) slice of carrot cake with walnuts. If you ever find yourself in Madrid, I highly recommend El Estribito if you’re looking for some authentic Mexican/South American cuisine!

After lunch, I walked past the National Library of Spain and of course had to take some pictures, and I noticed that around the backside of the building was the National Archaeological Museum. From my classes, I knew that Spain has a rich archaeological history dating back to prehistoric times. Plus, it was free on Saturday afternoons, so I decided to pop in. It was one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been in. I started on the ground floor in the prehistoric times, and each ascending floor was a more recent time period with tons of amazing things from the era that had been found in Spain. The exception was a room with Ancient Egyptian artifacts that Egypt gifted to Spain, and you know what that means. I got to see a room full of mummies. I also got to see La Dama de Elche, a sculpture of a woman’s bust from around the 4th century that we had learned about in class. It was so, so interesting, and I ended up spending another 3 hours in that museum.

After the Archaeological Museum, I made my way to the other side of the city to tour the royal palace. Again, with my student papers, I got in for only 5 euros, and I’m glad I did. The palace was super cool and fancy, as you could imagine, and it was neat to hear about previous kings that lived there that I have learned about, but to me, it wouldn’t have been worth paying the full price unless you just really like to see people who live in excess or if you’re Spanish and a fan of the royal family. For the reduced price, it was totally worth it because the art and architecture was amazing.

Once I was finished at the palace, I realized that my decision to wear my new sandals during a 10 hour walking day was a horrible decision, so I slowly and gingerly walked back towards my hostel. On the way, however, I walked past La Chocolateria San Gines, which I had read was a must-visit. Even though I was the only person in the restaurant who was by myself, I decided that I couldn’t miss out on chocolate just because I felt sort of awkward. I ordered a hot chocolate and a plate of churros, which was their most famous dish and grabbed a seat and some water. It turns out the “hot chocolate” is more like a melted dark chocolate Hershey’s bar with just a dash of extra milk. There’s no way you could drink it, but it was perfect for dipping the churros into it (and just eating a couple spoonfulls of it). It was sooo good, and I wish I could’ve packaged some up and sent it to my mom for her to try! After my sweet tooth was satisfied, I grabbed some pasta salad from a market along the way to my hostel for a real dinner and called it a night!


This was by far the best week I’ve had so far on my trip, and it’s fitting that it was my last full week in Spain. It was crazy and hectic, but at the same time, so relaxing. Trying to fit in all my last-minute touristing is really physically exhausting, but I’ve never been so happy to be so tired in my life. Thinking back on all the memories I’ve made have made me even more sure that I’m not ready to leave at all. There’s so many more things to do and see, and I really hope that someday I’ll return with my family so we can do things together like eating chocolate and going to the open-air cinema.

week five in pictures.