Having never been out of the United States, I got the opportunity earlier this summer to travel to Spain with some classmates and a teacher chaperone. My school arranged the trip with a company called EF Tours. It was an experience that definitely changed my view of the world and allowed me to gain so much cultural knowledge.
Out of all the places in the world, Spain was the perfect place for me to go because I have studied Spanish for four years, and along with the study of the language, I studied the culture, history, and traditional cuisine of Spain (and Latin America). We arrived at the Madrid International Airport at around 7 a.m. after having an excellent view of the sunrise from the plane.
Even before we landed, I noticed a difference between Spain and the U.S.: while most cities in the U.S. create a grid-like pattern, the cities of Spain, from above, look like exotic, curving shapes which, I later observed, reflect the bending roads in many of the old towns of Spain. And once we arrived at our hotel in Madrid, Hotel Mediodia, I realized another major difference which I would notice in different ways during the whole trip: the way of life of the people.
Late morning of the day we arrived, I was standing on the sidewalk outside the hotel watching people – tons of people – walk by. There was a lot of traffic on the street, but even with as many cars as there were, the amount of people walking was huge compared to what I am used to seeing and I loved it. How great that people are simply able to and choose to walk to most places they want to go. I found that in all of the towns in which I travelled, walking was a very practical mode of transportation to get from residential areas to the town center or plaza.
For the next week and a half after that morning, I went on an amazing adventure. We saw as much as we possible could of the vast collections in the Prado. After a few days in Madrid and a detour in Toledo, where we were able to watch the beautiful, traditional ceremonies of the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, we travelled north to the calm town of Burgos. There, we toured the Cathedral and walked a small part of the Camino de Santiago. We continued north to Segovia to see the 2,000 year old aqueduct and then to the modern city of Bilbao to the awe-inspiring Guggenheim Museum. On our way to the architecturally artistic city of Barcelona, we stopped in Pamplona where we walked the path of the chasing of the bulls. We spent our last night at Hotel Catalonia in Barcelona.
During my incredible adventure in Spain, my studies of Spanish language and history came alive vividly. What I loved the most was being completely immersed in the Spanish language. Spanish has a different personality than English which is reflected in the way Spanish is spoken. I noticed that when two people speak Spanish to each other, even if they do not know each other, the conversation seems so intimate. As I watched people speak Spanish, and even joined in on conversations, I realized that when one speaks Spanish, he or she gives a piece of himself or herself to the listener through his or her words. It is a beautifully mysterious process. Watching this process in Spain has made me determined to become fluent in the language.
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