By Elena R. Eberwein, FFE
After a weekend of studying and five midterm exams over the course of three long days, I was done. My spring break began on a Wednesday evening, and I spent it ironically watching the movie Taken by myself as my friends continued studying for Thursday exams. I’d never seen the movie before, and it was a good reminder to be cautious, as I was flying to Madrid on my own only a few hours later. My Dad is pretty awesome, but I’m not sure if he has the secret skills that Liam Neeson busts out in that movie.
I packed my bags, and managed to get a few hours of sleep before hopping on a Terravision bus at 6:40 am. My plane took off at 10:00 and I was off, Spain bound, a place I had always dreamed of going and now my dream was coming true.
I arrived around noon and managed to figure out the metro and navigate my way to my hostel. I had figured out an amazing plan to get to all of the places I wanted to and see all of the people I wanted to over the course of five days. I came a day earlier than my friends in order to catch my Aunt Robyn and Uncle Vince on their last day visiting my cousin Nate who lives and studies there. I found my aunt’s hotel and was greeted with so much love and excitement. It was the first time this year I’d seen a family member outside of the US.
The first order of business was an amazing lunch, completely ordered by the recommendations of our waiter. I’m not exactly sure what I ate, but it was incredible. The Spanish know how to do it right. We drank wine, ate scrumptious dessert, and Aunt Robyn filled me in on the latest family news. That afternoon the two of us headed over the Prado, while my uncle siesta-ed a bit. Spanish museums are free to students, which was a plus, just make sure to bring a student ID if you ever go, because they almost didn’t accept my student visa. The Prado is huge, and overwhelming, but we managed to take it all in. Since I’ve been taking art history this semester, there were a ton of paintings and artists I recognized. The museum gets a little repetitive with the themes of Jesus, the Virgin Mother, and Greek mythology being repeated in various ways, but we enjoyed it regardless. I wouldn’t have been able to do it with anyone else but Aunt Robyn.
That night I got to see my cousin Nate at dinner, which was again a massive feast. We had this dish of Octopus with paprika and a creamy potato and cheese sauce, which was out of this world. We also had amazing guacamole with plantain chips, and slow-cooked rabbit. I don’t really eat much meat, but I figured it was a cultural experience so I tried the bunny, and I have to admit it was pretty delicious. It was amazing to see family, even if only for a day. I went back to my hostel so happy that things managed to work out so perfectly.
In the morning, before my friends arrived, I took a walking tour of Madrid. Free walking tours have become one of my favorite ways to discover new cities. I also managed to make a few friends along the way that included a grad student from South Africa, an older adorable woman from northern Spain, and two girls celebrating graduating high school by traveling Europe together both from Brazil. After the tour I was walking with these newfound friends, trying to find lunch when I bumped into my FFE friends. I parted ways with my new friends, and got settled with my FFEs in my friend Cristina’s aunt’s apartment. Her aunt took us out for a wonderful late afternoon lunch, went to the Reina Sophia and we relaxed and enjoyed their first night in Spain together.
The next day I did some serious exploring and met up with another group of friends from FFE, with whom I set out to Barcelona with on Sunday. We went to the station and bought bus tickets, then found out we had enough time to go to El Rastro, the biggest flea market in Madrid. I found some awesome 1 euro bargains before heading back to the station and boarding the 8-hour bus.
It may sound strange, but the bus ride was actually not horrific. We turned it into somewhat of a bonding experience. Though I could have done without the little boy diagonal from me puking all over himself, the seat, and the aisle an hour into the ride. The worst part was, his mother didn’t even clean it up, just handed the poor thing a bag for the following 7 hours. Maybe it was just the company I was in, but I still managed to have fun.
We arrived at our hostel late and tired, and decided to get a good night’s rest and set out early the next day. We ate breakfast, and ventured to the meeting point of another walking tour. We were led through the city, and ended up at the beach. And it was the perfect beach day. We basked in the sun, and reveled in the glory of not having to wear a jacket for the first time in months. Some of my friends were even brave enough to go swimming!
The rest of the day was spent checking out the Gaudi architecture, and wandering through the famous mosaic park. We also saw the church La Sagrada Familia, which is a must-see if you go to Barcelona.
The next day we conquered Las Ramblas and the fresh market there. We also made our way to the Famous Arc de Triomphe. We sat and played cards and ate snacks in a nearby park for the afternoon. We ate lunch and then the first round of friends had to get to the airport to fly over to Ireland. It was only my friend Jane and I left, and we went and met up with our friend Chris who was arriving that day with friends from high school. After a bit, Jane had to head to the airport and catch a flight to London. I didn’t have to leave until 2am to get to the airport, so we had a great dinner and hung out until I had to leave. We even ran into another crew of FFE boys. Spain seemed to be the popular spring break destination.
After an hour of waiting, an hour bus ride, another hour of waiting, an hour plane ride, and an hour bus ride home, I was back in Florence with 2 hours to spare before my grandma and step-grandpa were arriving. I found Gram’s hotel and greeted her with the biggest hug I could. The first order of business was pizza for lunch, after that I toured them around Florence for 4 days straight. We managed to fit in the Duomo, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, the Salvatore Ferragamo museum, the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michaelangelo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, the Academia, the Uffizi, the Capelle de Medici, the Bargello, Mercato Centrale, and the San Lorenzo markets within those days. We also did an excursion to Siena, San Gimingnano, and Pisa one day as well. By the time they were leaving for Rome, they were exhausted, which I take full credit for.
Photo by www.happycow.net