When I was a junior in high school and was starting to think about applying to college, a family friend who was tutoring me through the process gave me an essay to read from a student that had been accepted to NYU. In the essay, which is apparently very well known in the world of college admissions counselors, the student responds to a question about formative moments in his life that define him as a person by listing a combination of real and clearly fictional experiences that he has had; a gutsy move, if you ask me. Although I think I was supposed to be inspired by the creativity of the piece or the author’s impressive application of every adjective and adverb in the English language, what it actually made me think most about what how little I’d done, seen, and experienced in my own 18 years of life. For some reason, this essay came back to mind yesterday as I was on the last leg of my week of travel.
This past week I was lucky enough to travel to 3 different cities in 3 different countries: Barcelona, Dublin, and London. I’m still wrapping my mind around all that I saw and did…and how many miles I walked in the process. For fear of forgetting anything, I’ll go through them individually. Heads up: this is about to be a really long post. Now would be a good time to get a snack before you get in too deep
We (2 friends in my program and I) took a 10:30 flight from Granada to Barcelona after returning from a day excursion to Cordoba with our program. After riding a bus from the Barcelona airport to our hostel, we were exhausted and decided to go to sleep and get an early start the next day. The next morning we woke up early and decided to participate in a free walking tour around the city. During the tour we covered over 1,000 years of Barcelona history and countless miles of Barcelona sidewalk. It was a fantastic way to see the city, regardless of the Spanish sun enveloping us in the heat of the day.
Later that day we made our way across town to visit one of Barcelona’s/ Spain’s most well-known sites: The Sagrada Familia. Let me just say now that there are no words or pictures that can explain or encompass what this building is really like, but I’ll try. From the outside, it’s a unique hodgepodge of modern, religious, organic, and artistic forms; the inside a perfect mix of similar features and vaulted ceilings, cloaked in the light from the towering stained-glass windows. After standing in awe for a few minutes, we got in line to go up into one of the finished towers. Looking at the Sagrada Familia and the city of Barcelona from a different perspective, so high above the architecture and crowds of tourists, was a refreshing juxtaposition from the earlier part of the day.
To end the day, I was lucky enough to meet up with my friend Erik, another Redhawk in Spain, who showed me around the nightlife of Barcelona. Coincidentally, it was the first day of school back in Seattle, so it was really nice to reunite with another SU student to mark the occasion in our own way.
The next day I spent the hours before my afternoon flight exploring a massive market off of La Ramblas, a popular street in Barcelona. Overall, my time in Barcelona was unforgettable and helped me to expand my understanding of Spain as a whole country.
As soon as our plane dropped below the clouds and I saw the rolling green hills of Ireland, dotted with sheep, I fell in love. Then when I stepped off the plane and heard the accents, I knew I was in love. As it happened, we arrived in Dublin on one of the best Irish holidays: Arthur’s day. The day that celebrates Arthur Guinness, who created this beer that people kinda seem to like in Ireland. Early in the evening we strolled around the beautiful campus of Trinity College. When we reached the “football pitch” we found what seemed the be the campus bar, which was flooded with Trinity students enjoying a pint or two. In an attempt to embrace the local culture, we decided to join in and try our hardest to seem like locals. I don’t think we succeeded, but it was so much fun nonetheless. The rest of the night consisted of hopping from bar to bar in the Temple Bar District of Dublin where local bands were playing traditional Irish songs (Galway Girl was my favorite) and there was no scarcity of pints of Guinness.
The next day started with walking around almost every part of Dublin, seeing the major churches and cites, and finding Claddagh rings to take home. Then, our last stop in Dublin was, of course, the Guinness Storehouse. Besides learning about how Guinness is made, I also learned how to pour my own pint of Guinness! I even have a certificate to prove it. A lunch of beef stew with mashed potatoes on top and Guinness bread capped off the tour, and my time in Dublin quite nicely.
The last leg of my trip took me to London, England. After getting in at 1:00am, sleeping for a few hours, and meeting up with my roommate and another friend from my program, we started the next day by taking the tube to Portobello Road. After walking around the market and enjoying some hearty Sudanese food from a food cart, we jumped back on the tube. The rest of the afternoon consisted of seeing famous London landmarks like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Tower Bridge. The day ended at a cozy little bar in Camden Town where we enjoyed some craft beers while resting our tired feet and watching football (the proper kind, as the British say) from comfy leather couches.
My final day in London started with attending a service at Westminster Abbey. Hearing the voices of the choir echo off of the ceiling and ornate tombs of famous Brits was something in itself. I still can’t believe I was there. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures during the service, but it would have been impossible to capture the experience in a photo anyway. After the service, I ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea from a cart outside of the Abbey and set off to walk past Buckingham Palace towards Hyde Park. I was lucky enough to catch the end of the changing of the guard, even though it meant getting stuck in an ocean of people. Once my friend and I reached Hyde Park we decided to rent bikes in order to see more of the park. We spent the afternoon riding around Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens, occasionally getting off to walk through some smaller gardens or to get a better look at a building. Zipping through the parks and feeling the crisp London air on my face was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.
Begrudgingly, we finally docked our bikes to eat lunch, get overwhelmed while walking through Harrods, and make our way to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus (which, as it turns out, is not a real circus). Our last ride on the tube took us to Regent Park where we found the quaintest book store in all of London. I bought a copy of Jane Eyre because I need a book in English to read, but mostly because I felt rather “posh” buying a classic piece of British literature there. In Regent Park we stopped to sit on a bench, watch herons land on a pond, and discuss just how content we were. The final stop of the day was a British pub where I got a Sunday Roast, roasted parsnips and Yorkshire pudding included. Since I won’t be home for Thanksgiving this year, it almost felt like a tiny piece of what has become our traditional American-British fusion holiday meal. I must say, Dad, your Yorkshire puddings are better than what I had in London.
I hate to play favorites, but if I were to pick one, I think I’d say that London was my favorite of the three cities. I could totally see myself living there in the future. I don’t know if it was the cold weather, the food carts, the fact that everyone spoke English, or that my second family is British, but London just felt like home and I was a bit sad to have to part with the feeling of familiarity again.
On Monday I boarded the last of my flights for the week, this one taking me back to Spain. On the brief bus ride back to my apartment in Granada, I again thought of that college essay I read years before. But this time it evoked a completely different thought in my mind. I’ve been lucky enough to do and see so much since my days as a Junior in high school. The list of experiences and events that have formed and defined who I am now has grown exponentially in the last few years, and now I can add the experiences from the whirlwind that was this last week to my list.
I’m so blessed.
PS- I’ll work on adding pictures from my travels soon, so stay tuned!