As the school year came to a close, I was preparing for another learning experience. This time, however, there were not text books or worksheets but culture, new languages and places fresh to my eyes. I had packed my bags and was eagerly waiting for what would come.
A few teachers had organized a 12 day trip to Europe my freshmen year two years ago, and my parents and I decided this was an opportunity I could not miss. The trip would consist of five cities: London, Paris, Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona with breakfasts, dinners, tourist attractions and traveling included in the fee. The idea of monthly meetings can sometimes be dreadful, but the Europe meetings were ones I looked forward to going to because after all, it was not a normal occurrence to be going abroad.
When I finally woke up the morning of June 7, I glanced over at the passport sitting on my desk and wanted nothing more than to smile and cry in excitement over the year and a half wait finally ending. Of course, at the same time I was thrilled I was also terrified of being away from my family and normal communication for just about two weeks. I was always in constant contact with my parents and the thought of not having that was scary, but I always reminded myself nothing terrible would ever happen to me as I was raised to know how to take care of myself.
At what my history teacher, Lisa Heilmeier, called the final meeting, gathering in the high school parking lot and getting on to a bus, every student said their goodbyes and double checked their suitcases. We loaded on to the bus and headed to the airport and the experience was like no other.
I have only flown one other time back in March to Boston, Massachusetts which is only about an hour and a half plane ride. The flights I would be taking would be more complex as we had connecting flights from Cleveland to Minnesota and Minnesota to London which is a roughly seven hour flight. On our flight, I got to experience night flying, actual meals, sleeping masks, ear plugs, music and movies. However, even though we were flying during the middle of the night, I found sleeping to be impossible as my excitement kept me awake and going for a full 24 hours plus touring London the first day.
My group and I exited the plane in London’s airport and headed out to begin our life-changing tours and experiences. During our four day stay in the city, we spent the majority of the time on walking-tours. I saw everything I had ever wanted to see such as Big Ben, the Tower of London, the Parliament Building, the Tower of London Bridge, London Bridge, rode the London Eye, saw William Shakespeare’s second Globe Theatre, the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, the inside of the famous natural history museum, Trafalgar Square, the building in which the military decisions during the second World War were made and walked on the Millennium Bridge where a scene in the last Harry Potter movie was filmed. This was all just in the city itself.
Outside of the city, I saw and toured the inside of amazing castles: Windsor Castle, where the queen stays when not doing work, and Hampton Court, where Henry VIII lived and conquered hundreds of years ago. The castles I visited had extraordinary gardens and beautiful architecture and paintings on the inside and out. Everything surrounding me, no matter if I was in the city or on the outskirts, was absolutely glorious. London crept into my heart in those four days and to this day still has not left. I want nothing more than to go back and experience London all over again.
The morning we left London the group headed on to a famous train called the Eurostar to arrive in Paris. The Eurostar was supposed to be an interesting experience because during the journey you are actually underneath the English Channel, but all you really saw were dark, black tunnels and felt a lot of bumps. However, after the Eurostar ride, we exited and followed our tour director to begin our walking tour in Paris. The city itself is beautiful and elegant, but it was not one of my favorite places to be. Ironically though, the city was home to some of my favorite places to see and those I am eager to go back to.
In Paris, our first stop was the popular Louvre museum which is home to the supposedly real Mona Lisa. The museum itself used to be a palace and is beautiful, but huge. There would almost be no way I could have seen everything I wanted to in the few hours we had to tour. With a few friends I knew on the trip, we made a point to see the Mona Lisa and a few other paintings and statues and then I headed down to the cafe to eat and rest a little knowing one day I will have to come back to see the entire museum. After the Louvre, over the course of two days, I saw the quaint and famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, the Eiffel Tower, almost everything and anything built by Napoleon, the Arc de Triumph, the largest Louis Vuitton store along with an expensive shopping district, Notre Dame Cathedral, a really cool art district where I purchased a painting a man painted in front of a crowd, and my personal favorite, the Palace of Versailles.
The Palace was home to some of my favorite memories as well as one of the events in world history I actually concerned myself with. When inside I could understand why the peasants during the French Revolution wanted to revolt because of the massive amounts of marble, gold, remarkable architecture and paintings I just knew were a pretty penny to buy. The gardens and well-known reflection pool in the back of the palace were beautiful and the weather that day was gorgeous. If there was ever a picture perfect moment, the moment would have occurred while standing at the top of the stairs leading down to the garden and looking out on to at all.
After Paris, the group and I flew to Spain where I would spend the remainder of my time abroad. Madrid, the current capital of Spain, was the first country we visited. Madrid was home to plenty of shopping around the Plaza del Sol, cathedrals, the Royal Palace of Madrid, flea markets and an opportunity for practice on my abilities to speak the beautiful Spanish language. I also had the chance to visit the glorious and famous Museo Nacional Del Prado, where I saw the works of Spain’s finest painters as well as ten paintings from Picasso. On our last and final night in Madrid, the group and I experienced the intensity of Flamenco dancing. Although the dancing was not my favorite and quickly lead to a headache, just being able to say I had the chance to witness the tradition, is absolutely amazing.
On the same day we saw Flamenco dancing, the group took a brief day trip to Spain’s old capital, Toledo, where we were graced with the beautiful architecture of the city. The streets were covered in cobblestone and the brick and stone of the buildings were something you would see in a movie. After touring an ancient synagogue and learning the history behind a very famous painting called The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, we received a plethora of free time to wander up and down the narrow alleys off of the main plaza and shop and take the city in ourselves where I was able to continue practicing my Spanish amongst the natives.
Our last day in Spain and in Europe was concluded after exiting a train in a station in Barcelona. Barcelona was stunning from the moment we stepped outside the train station to the moment we left for the United States. The entirety of our first day in the city was spent browsing around in the shops in the main plaza. We hopped on to the nearest public transportation train and ended up wandering the streets branched off of the plaza and soaking in the Barcelona sunshine. The group and I also faced the challenge of a new language as the natives speak Catalan, a mixture of Spanish and French, instead of just Spanish.
The last day in the city was actually our most eventful. In the morning, we visited a glorious private park called Park Güell, where we were graced with the presence of gorgeous architecture done by Antoni Gaudí. I remembered seeing pictures of the fancy tiles and benches in Art 1 my freshman year and I never thought in a million years I would stand right in front of something so amazing. From the distance of the park, I could see the waters of the Mediterranean Sea where we were to head to next. On the bus to the beach, we drove through the Olympic Park used by athletes and to host events during the Olympics in 1992 and also briefly visited the stunning Sagrada Familia. When we finally arrived to the beach, I was breathless. The view and the water were so beautiful and I knew I had to take it all in and wished I had more time than just the few hours we were given to inhale the Mediterranean and the atmosphere around it. The beach was home to some of my favorite memories I wish I could go back and experience all over again.
Leaving the European air felt sad and great all at once. I was eager to get back to my family, but I was disappointed I had to leave the cities behind. Each city, in their own way, discovered how to nestle themselves into my heart and have not budged an inch ever since. I will be forever grateful for being able to experience something so amazing at such a young age and I want nothing more than to return some day to see it all again.