Even though I went to Greece, Italy and Spain 3 years ago, I still remember it vividly. The memories of the people, the food, the hotels and sleepless nights I will hold in my thoughts forever. A once in a lifetime experience at 16 years old and one I was so fortunate to be a part of. So, where to begin…chronologically, we went to Greece first, so I will begin with that.
I arrived with my EF tour group consisting of a group of kids from my high school including myself, a couple close friends of mine, a quirky English teacher, and two older women in their 60s. What could possibly go wrong? The city of Athens itself was a bit of a culture shock considering all I had known thus far was the trees and comfort of a small town and looking around it seemed to be a tourist metropolis which took a bit of the magic out of it. However, once we got to the top floor of our hotel building I was immediately entranced. We arrived at around 5 P.M. and had dinner on the top floor that looked out onto the city and it had the nicest view of the Acropolis and of course the gorgeous sunset. The following day we took a boat ride to three different Grecian Islands and I can honestly say those islands were each breathtakingly beautiful. The brightness of the blue ocean water, the vibrant colors of the flowers and just the majesty of the buildings and island life. It was all so picture perfect.
Next stop in Greece was the Corinthian and seeing it in real life opposed to the pictures in the pamphlets was surreal. The grandness of the architecture and careful placement of every stone and detail took me back to another time where Gods and Goddesses weren’t just mere myths but a possible reality. Imagining the streets busy with people and a bustling Acropolis was only part of this historically significant stop on our journey in Europe.
Next, Florence, Italy.
The crowded cobble stone streets of Italy will always be something I will remember about Italy, along with the street art, beautiful bridges and mysterious alleyways. Noted, were the motorbikes that replaced the need for cars as the streets were so small and always full of people and this was very interesting to me as in America automobiles are so necessary. To be completely honest, my entire experience in Italy I was hoping I would have my very own “Lizzie McGuire Movie” experience where a handsome Italian man whisks me away from my tour group on his motorbike and he would show me around the city. However, I am sorry to report that did not happen, but I did get to enjoy loads of Italian gelato that replaced my want for a hot Italian lover.
Along with exploring the city for a while, we had the pleasure of visiting and walking all 500 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome of The Florence Cathedral. We were required to dress appropriately as we were supposedly in the presence of God in that cathedral and going in and looking around at the intricate and holy building was quite spiritual. Getting to the top and looking out over the city was as if we had walked up all those steps in the dark to emerge in the light as if entering heaven and looking down upon the restless city beneath.
My personal favorite place we went to was Barcelona. I simply fell in love with the architecture, richness of the colors and city streets, the warm people and culture. It could have been because I have ancestral roots in Barcelona that made this place feel like home or that as much as it was visually stimulating, it was full of the most adventures. The mosaics that covered most of the city were stunning and especially prominent in the Park Guell by Antonio Gaudi that featured buildings covered in it and were enchanting to walk through.
Another artistically inspiring location we visited was the Sagrada Familia that upon walking up to was quite intimidating with it’s tall and huge towers. Not to mention the incredible whimsical detail to every wall and crevasse of the building. However, when we entered the chapel we were greeted by the light of breathtaking colorful stain glass windows and an elongated entrance that stretched to the end of the church. It was as magnificent on the inside as it appeared on the outside.
The next stop on our journey took us to the odd and interesting museum of the Spanish artist Salvador Dali where we were able to experience many of Dali’s best creations up close and personal. I was never really an art person before coming to Europe as I had never really seen the works of such great artists in person before, but the experience truly changed me as I found myself wandering the hallways of great museums surrounded by paintings and sculptures of famous artists that made them more real to me than the low quality pictures in textbooks. Continuing our adventure in Barcelona, we ended the night watching flamingo dancers which was as beautiful and sensual as one can imagine. The way the red dresses moved on stage and the stories they told only through dance was captivating. At the end they let a few of us dance with them and if you know me, then you know I went up there and danced with them because it was a once in a lifetime experience to dance with a flamingo dancer in Barcelona, Spain and I couldn’t care less if I was making a complete fool out of myself, I had fun.
Our last day in Madrid was so bittersweet. Of course I was homesick as 2 weeks was the longest I had ever been away from home before not to mention the fact I was half way around the world. So as excited as I was to be home in my comfy bed, I was going to miss the adventures and the people I had grown so close to over the time we had spent together in Europe. We explored a bit of the city that day and then had our final group dinner at a familiar restaurant known as the infamous, “Hard Rock Cafe.” After having our meals consist of mostly croissants and pasta and the some kind of meat, it was refreshing to have a good old fashioned burger. After eating our american cuisine we tried to find our way to the hotel and the key word here is “tried.” We ended up getting lost early in the evening and found ourselves in this beautiful garden where we came upon a lovely little glass building with tents made out of colorful fabrics that looking in from the outside it appeared the walls itself were made of the fabric rather than the glass. It was art and our group had to look at it. We went inside and took pictures and danced around a bit and then made our way to the hotel as we sang songs and pretended to know where we were going when really none of us really knew, we were just following our instincts. But somehow we made it back to the hotel, somehow. Then we were on our way back home on that long plane ride back to our families and friends. I had to leave a few destinations out of this blog post because we did so much in those 2 weeks and I couldn’t fit everything in, but every moment in Europe was cherished and those people who were there with me know how special it was and I know for me I still think about it often and want to go back so bad to these amazing places someday. So if any of those people who went with me are reading this, I miss these times with all of you and words can not describe how greatly I loved your presence and companionship on this journey.