So after ten crazy days, I returned from Fall Break last Sunday. Although I did get a good bit of time out of the classroom, all of the traveling that took place over my break was more tiring than school itself. No complaints here, though. All of the great experiences I had were completely worth being a little more tired than usual.
The first notable event of my fall break happened before I even left Rome. On Friday morning, I was supposed to get up at 3:15 to meet up with my friends and make it to the airport early enough to catch our 6:45 flight to Paris. I tried to get to bed as early as possible on Thursday night, but had accepted the fact that my “sleep” that night would be more like a “nap.” After resting for a bit, I rolled over and momentarily woke up in the middle of the night. Feeling a little too well-rested, I checked the time just in case. It was 5:00! I stormed into my ISC Paolo’s room and demanded that he call a taxi for me, and I rushed to cram things into my backpack at the last second. I told the driver in the best broken Italian I could muster to get me to the airport as fast as possible. Luckily, I made it to my gate just in time to meet up with my friends and board the plane. Next time, I’ll remember to actually turn on my alarm.
My time in Paris lasted from Friday morning to Monday morning, and every moment was occupied. Our activities on Friday and Saturday included eating some delicious crepes and escargot, jumping around a bounce house replica of Stonehenge, riding a carousel, and walking pretty much all over the city.
We saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and every pretty building in between. On Sunday, we left the city to visit the palace at Versailles, and it exceeded every grandiose expectation. The building itself was beautiful, but the grounds on which it was situated were even more impressive. We rented some bikes to ride around the property, and then saw the amazing fountains that are peppered throughout the palace gardens. Everything that I saw in France was generally great, and I wish that I could say the same of the people. While I’ve come to expect friendliness from Europeans, I realized in Paris that I’ve been truly spoiled by the kindness I’ve seen from Italians. I found the French to be rather cold, stuck up, and unwelcoming to Americans. The city was amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the attitudes with which I interacted were enough to deter me from hurrying back in the near future.
I was happy to fly to Spain on Monday morning. After waiting for a two-hour RyanAir delay, that is. My cousin Laurie is teaching English at an elementary school in Madrid, so I stayed with her in her apartment until Friday morning. While she was at work during the days, I walked around the city by myself, taking all of it in. I hit all of the main sights, like Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real, but I also got a chance to see the inner workings of the city by walking around its various neighborhoods. During my stay in Madrid, I also managed to meet up with two friends from Wofford, Peter and Jen, who are studying abroad there! The reunions were great, but the Spanish food I got to eat was a close second. I ate some dishes that I’d never even heard of before, sampling everything from chocolate churros to bull’s tail. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Although Laurie was originally supposed to ride the bus with me to Barcelona, things didn’t quite go as planned, so I made the trip solo. I was certainly alright with this, but I wish I could have spent some more time with my cousin. The bus left early on Friday morning, and consisted of eight hours of listening to music, sleeping, and enjoying the view. When I finally arrived, I managed to find my other cousin, Katie, who was vacationing in the city. I stuck with her and her tour group all weekend, and made some new friends doing so. We ate a lot, walked a lot, and got a taste of the famous Barcelonan night life. I even got interviewed by a Barcelonan TV station about parks! Katie and I were sure to tour the beautiful Basilica de La Sagrada Familia, per the request of my mother. The weekend ended sooner than I wanted it to, but I really had an awesome time. I left the hotel at 3:45 on Sunday morning to return to Rome, and despite what I thought, my adventures weren’t quite over. I still had one more debacle left.
Just before taking the shuttle from the hotel, I saw the driver trying to speak to one of my fellow travelers in Spanish. This conversation wasn’t going so well, so I tapped into my Spanish knowledge, having three semesters of class and one month of immersion under my belt. I managed to figure out what he was saying: we weren’t allowed to pay for the shuttle with a credit card–cash only. This was fine with me, since I knew that I would split the 38-euro fare with the three other people that were also going to the airport. However, things got even better for me when the tour group’s guide showed up and informed us that the shuttle fare had already been paid. Glad that I didn’t have to worry about money anymore, I enjoyed the early morning trip. First, the driver dropped off my three companions at Terminal 2 of the Barcelona airport. We said our goodbyes and they were off. As the driver pulled up to Terminal 1 for me, he asked for his 38-euro fare. Using my Spanish again, I explained that the balance had already been paid, but he wouldn’t stand for that. Apparently, I had misunderstood him before our departure. There had been some sort of error with the original credit card payment that the tour guide had made, which meant that we were going to have to pay cash for the ride instead. Neither of us could call anyone to help resolve the problem, since I didn’t have any of the necessary phone numbers and it was too early for his office to be open. Grumbling about the misunderstanding, I went to grab the money out of my wallet. To my horror, I discovered only 20 euro, and remembered, as the driver had mentioned earlier, I couldn’t pay with a card. I didn’t know what to do. I was stuck in a shuttle, 18 euros short of being able to pay the fee. I didn’t have any fellow travelers to ask money, or anyone to call for help. I had a flight to catch in about an hour. And the only way to cope with this horrible situation was to converse in Spanish. I eventually told the driver to wait in the shuttle while I went to search for an ATM inside the airport. He demanded that I leave my bag in the car as a source of insurance. I sprinted through the airport in my desperate quest for an ATM, but wasn’t having any luck. I started considering the pros and cons of selling the clothes off my back when a true miracle happened: I ran into a girl from my program in Rome! She lent me the 18 euro that I needed, and I managed to get home safely.
I spent all day on Sunday laying around and relaxing after my crazy week.
So that was that. Fall Break was busy and tiring, but amazing. I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to travel to so many new and fun places. Now that the semester is beginning to come to an end, I’m running out of opportunities to do so, but I’m going to enjoy every one that I get!