Being a traveler is life changing. Getting to know the people of the world is an experience more magnificent than any tower, castle, or painting. In June of 2012, my family got to experience the true experience of travelling. My 15-year-old sister, my parents, and I had been to some amazing places, but never had we truly experienced the culture and way of life of a nation’s people like we did in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcón, Spain.
For this weeklong leg of our trip that included Rome, Toledo, and Segovia, we did not live like tourists. Our base was not a hotel in the city center with a restaurant, and quiet rooms, but an apartment complex with home cooked food, and great company. We were not so much staying in Spain as we were living in it. Our hosts were our friends the Bonillas, a family that included Dominic, an 8-year-old boy, Helena and Monica 11 and 14-year-old girls, and Max and Angela. When we arrived at the apartment, one of the first things Angela said was, “This is not the beautiful old Spain like you see in pictures. We will show you how Spaniards really live.” This experience was better than seeing the most beautiful place in the world. The highlights of the week were not the things we saw, but living, speaking, and interacting with the Spanish people.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Being in the capital of Spain we did see the tourist sights. My sister Marie-Claire, Monica, and I rowed around the lake in the famous Parque de Buen Retiro, we toured the unbelievably lavish Royal Palace, and we saw the spectacular Museo del Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. For most of my life I had been of the belief that a picture in a book is the same as a painting in a museum, but seeing works from the world’s greatest artists showed how wrong I was. The paintings of Goya, El Greco, and especially Picasso’s Guernica had us standing in stunned silence, observing every brush stroke as if it were a masterpiece on its own.
The paintings of the Prado and the Reina Sofía were truly breathtaking, but it was the people that were the true masterpieces of Spain. My best memories were not the beautiful park, Picasso’s Guernica, or the incredible food, but doing the things that a Spanish family does everyday. Walking through the city, going to the park, and talking with the butcher were better than even the greatest paintings of Western Civilization. The best memory of all though, was standing for two hours, with Dominic on my shoulders on a steamy Castilian summer night watching from a public square in Alcorcón as Spain took on rival Portugal in the Euro Cup. From the opening kickoff to the penalty kick that put Spain in the championship, sharing in the nerves, pain, and elation of the people surrounding me made me forget that I was from a country that spoke a different language, and was separated by 6 time zones. For that little while I truly felt Spanish.
Staying with friends who lived in Spain allowed me to talk, walk, and live life like a Spaniard. My week in Alcorcón allowed me to know the people with whom I share the Earth better than any news article, or movie ever could. My experience showed me that no matter how different our cultures, and no matter how different our languages, my American family enjoys the same pleasures, feels the same pains, and lives on the same Earth as a Spanish family.
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