Living in Europe makes other European countries feel extraordinarily close. There’s no ocean between us?! Sure I can go there! No problem! It’s easy to forget that a plane ride and a wad of cash still separate you from the rest of the EU. Thus, when planning our spring break, my friends and I decided to go big—for some of us it might be our only opportunity to get outside of Italy. We chose to spend 10 days in Spain and Portugal, making a loop around the coast: Barcelona, Valencia, Granada (for me. The rest of my group went to Seville.), and finally Lisbon. So much happened. We saw so many sights and had countless adventures (one day when I had a moment, I wrote more than 10 pages in my journal) that it’s impossible to contain all of them in one post. So I’ll describe the high and low of each city, and then add some observations about each.
BARCELONA March 28-30
Low: We paid far too much for a tapas place in a touristy area. It was delicious but we learned from our mistake. I also paid as much for a bottle of sunscreen as I paid for a night in our hostel.
High: Visiting Park Guell! The weather was beautiful and we sunned ourselves in 70-degree weather on Gaudi’s serpentine bench.
Observations: The architecture (at least where we were in downtown Barcelona) is unbelievable. Every building is different from the next, and some are downright bizarre. Almost immediately we noticed the very chill vibe in Barcelona—lots of young people, lots of happy people. I was shocked to find there’s a culture even more relaxed than the Italians.
VALENCIA March 30- April 2
Low: Quite a few things weren’t open because it was Easter weekend, but that’s about all that I can think of. Valencia was fun and welcoming!
High: We spent all of April 1 on the beach, took a break to eat delicious bocadillos, paella, and sangria, and then returned to the beach.
Observations: Valencia was a great place to relax and be a tourist. Everyone seemed very happy to share their culture with tourists. One owner of a small take-away store gladly helped us figure out what to order, and then treated us to cups with ice for our water (it’s a big deal) and desserts on the house.
GRANDA April 2-5
Low: Neglecting to bring my camera on my first trek through the city, which turned out to be hours long and beautiful. After that day, the weather never cooperated and instead stayed gray and rainy.
High: Meeting new international friends at my hostel, and connecting with friends from UW studying abroad in Granada (like Jenna!!). Also, my visit to La Alhambra magically coincided with the final hours of sun while I was in Granada so I was able to absorb all the beauty of the primarily outdoor palaces.
Observations: Although I was able to meet up with friends in Granada, and met people everywhere (such as a German international architect living outside of Granada who was doing some of her work in a tea shop) it was easy to feel isolated while travelling alone. I also noticed that fewer people in Spain seem to speak English than in Italy, which made it very difficult for me to communicate. This was especially problematic while trying to figure out whether I had missed my overnight, international bus to Lisbon or whether it was late. Fortunately I befriended some English, Spanish and Portuguese speaking Brazilian women also going to Lisbon who were able to figure out that our bus was in fact half an hour late.
LISBON April 6-7
Low: Due to the time difference, my overnight bus from Granada arrived at 5AM instead of 6AM and I had to sit alone in the Lisbon bus station with sleeping homeless people while waiting for the metro to open. Perhaps representing the current Portuguese economic crisis, one man woke up long before everyone else, put on his sweater vest and tweed cap, packed his belongings into a black suitcase, and appeared to head off to work.
High: Eating the signature pastry of Pasteis de Belem after hanging out on the Atlantic coast and stopping by Starbucks for a frappaccino (there are no Starbucks in Italy. None).
Observations: The people in Lisbon were very friendly and (again) extremely relaxed. The party scene was fabulous. An entire neighborhood is devoted to the bar scene. Our hostel’s bar crawl moved from a small bar, to a Latin dance themed bar, to a more traditional club within 2 blocks of each other. We passed countless bars in between, and the streets were filled with revelers.
After ten days of intense traveling, it was nice to return to Bologna. I am beginning to consider this city and my apartment home, and it was refreshing to speak in Italian instead of struggling at basic words in Spanish and Portuguese (out of left-field, the word for “thank you” is “obrigada” in Portuguese). I had my first “orale” on Thursday morning (April 11), so as soon as I returned to Bologna, I began intensively studying Emilia-Romagna’s ancient history. Wednesday night, my roommate watched me pulling my hair out and highlighting my notes then observed that she never studies the night before a test, choosing instead to relax (apparently cramming is not a concept in Italian university). Regardless of when I studied, I managed to do very well on the exam! In her office, my professor prompted me on certain topics, I would discuss them, she would add something, and I would jump off of that or ask a question, and so on and so forth. It felt more like a conversation than an interrogation. And that conversation resulted in the entire grade for a 3-credit class. It was anticlimactic yet terrifying that my grade rested on a 20-minute conversation. Now I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend in Bologna filled with gelato and long walks.