Breath-taking cathedrals, rich culture and exquisite cuisine-all are elements of trademark Spain. From April 4-11, 42 Westhampton Beach students and eight chaperones got to experience these elements for themselves in a school sponsored event. Guided by Natasha Mascarenhas, group members observed everything from the Sagrada Familia to a flamenco dance as they made their way from the country’s capital of Madrid to the coast city of Barcelona, all part of a tour run through the educational travel company NETC.
Fresh off the bus from the airport, the group was quickly schooled in Madrid’s city life; a senior girl was pick-pocketed before she could even make it to the hotel. Yet, apparently, there is honor among thieves as the thief returned her wallet to her shortly after he realized that it was empty.
The rest of their time in Madrid was spent without any dilemmas and Natasha led the group into a sprawling open aired market. Breaking up into small groups, the students rushed head first into the market to discover a truly unique experience that could only be described as a dizzying blend of people, noises and scents, each one more exotic than the last. They were assaulted from all sides as the vendors pulled them into their stalls to try and sell them their merchandise, which ranged from lewd tee-shirts to herbal fragrances.
For a calmer yet equally interesting experience, students ventured into both the Reina Sofia and the Prada museums. The art students on the trip delighted at looking around at the renowned art work these museums had on display.
The last night in Madrid was spent watching a flamenco dance. At first unsure if the event would be worth their money, the students’ doubt was quickly washed away as the dancers and the musicians won over the teenagers with their stunning performance.
The following morning the group embarked on the AVE, a bullet train that reached speeds of 300 kilometers per hour. Despite the breakneck pace, the ride was remarkably smooth and the students took the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Following in the footsteps of Gaudi, the group visited the celebrated Sagrada Familia, a still unfinished Roman-Catholic church of massive proportions that has long been one of Spain’s top tourist hot-spots. The students were also taken to Casa Mila where they had another chance to see the mastery of Gaudi in the building he designed for Rosario Segimon and Pere Mila.
Another hit with the students in Barcelona was La Rambla, a busy street packed with shops that sell all sorts of jerseys, souvenirs and anything else one can think of. Half the fun the students had while walking around La Rambla was that they could barter with the store owners over the price of their merchandise. The students took great pride in their ability to take anywhere from five to twenty Euros off whatever they were thinking of buying.
The last day’s overcast weather reflected the mood of most students. Nobody wanted to leave. Around every turn waited a new adventure or a new place to explore, and the fact that culture here was so different and yet so similar to back home made it a very appealing place to visit.
The students and chaperones received an education of Spain that they could not have achieved any other way. If the students got anything out of the trip, it was that the best way to learn about a country and its culture is to go there and experience it for themselves.
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