Travel

Thoughts from Back Home

I can’t believe I have been home for just a few weeks already.  It’s weird, because all at once, I feel like it was just yesterday and also months ago. My life there was so completely different than it is here, that is almost impossible to understand how I could have just been there. I know that I need to write this blog post, but I have been dragging my feet about it, because once this is written, I’ll know this adventure is really over. I don’t really know what I want to say in this post,so I think I will just try my best to sum up what I want to say about my trip in general.

First, I want to talk about Oviedo. I have taken to calling it “my home very far away from home.” The precious jewel of a city, nestled between the mountains and the Cantabrian Sea with bright green parks, obsessively clean streets,and astounding amounts of history. I already miss the cozy beauty of the city. Don’t get me wrong, I live by some beautiful beachy scenes, but I will miss being surrounded by mountains, historic cathedrals, and rolling green countryside. The city itself is beautiful too. The colors of the buildings and streets are amazing, especially when lit up by Christmas lights. I loved walking at night after the rain when there were lights up, because the slick streets would reflect the lights above them and the whole street seemed to be shining. I will miss the vibrancy of Oviedo’s streets. Just walking home from an English class in the afternoon was a fun experience. There are street musicians, people sitting en terraza eating churros or drinking wine, little kids chasing pigeons, old people sitting on benches and gossiping, people watching their dogs play in the park. (Vignette: I was walking through the center of town, and I passed the old man who plays his violin in that area nearly every day. He is very talented. I noticed a family watching him, two parents with a 7 or 8-year-old daughter. Her parents stood on either side of her, each with a hand on her back, where she was wearing a violin case. They watched from a little ways away, and the little girl’s face was filled with such admiration and aspiration. The look in her eyes so clearly said, “I want to do that. I want to sound like that.” And the old man was playing right to her, showing her how it’s done. This doesn’t really fit into what I’m talking about, but it was such a sweet and picture perfect moment that I wanted to record it.) I will miss having that vibe in the streets of my city. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before and I really loved it.
I will miss lots of other things about Oviedo and Spain too. Like the food! While I did miss a lot of my favorite foods while I was gone (Southern food, Asian food, Mexican food, health foods, anything my mom makes), I really enjoyed Spanish foods and drinks. American espresso cannot hold a candle to Spanish (or Italian) espresso. I will miss being able to pop into a cafe or bar and order a coffee for €1. It is the perfect little recharging break. I will also miss their sweet croissants. Why aren’t we topping our croissants with sugar? We’re really missing a huge opportunity on that one. Also, I already miss all the delicious fresh sea food I had. Everything was more fresh over there: fish, meat, bread, produce. It was great. It’s not hard to see how I gained a couple pounds this semester! Although despite that, I still feel healthier than I have in a long time, because I had very little processed food the whole time I was there. We could take some notes from the Spanish on that one too.

I will miss the mobility I had this semester. I already miss living in a place where I can walk wherever I want to go in the city, and I can get a bus or train to wherever I want to go outside the city. In Spain, I could decide during the week that I wanted to go somewhere across the country that weekend, book the hostel and buy a bus or train ticket (or book a BlaBlaCar) and I was off. I will miss having that sort of mobility. I’m not even old enough to rent a hotel room most places in the US by myself. That being said, even though it’s more difficult and expensive than it is in Europe, I do want to start traveling around the US. This country is so massive and diverse, and there’s so much of it I haven’t seen. (High on my list are New York City, Chicago, the Painted Desert, Portland, the Grand Canyon, Maine). Of course, there are so many places outside of the US I want to see too. As I predicted, I have been bitten by the traveling bug.

I learned a lot this semester, both about the world and about myself. Before September, I had never traveled anywhere without my family, nor had I left the country. Now I have traveled to four countries, and upwards of 20 different cities, without them. Now, this was not a completely independent trip. I was still living with a family (who did practically everything for me), and I had an amazing coordinator who was there for whatever I needed her for. But my friends and I handled pretty much all of our travel on our own. I learned that I can plan and prepare well enough to have an enjoyable trip, but still be flexible enough to deal with whatever problems arise without getting all bent out of shape. I learned that hostels can be scary, but usually they’re not. I learned that eating out is really expensive, and buying food from the grocery store is much cheaper. I learned that if you try to speak people’s language a little, they will be much more willing to switch to English (or Spanish) for you. I learned not to believe everything you hear about a place; you just have to see it for yourself to know how it is. I learned not to entertain stereotypes about people from different countries (even though they are sometimes very accurate.) I learned that oftentimes it is better to cut corners and skimp to save money, but sometimes spending a little extra can make your day way, way better (ie getting the occasional taxi, especially when you have luggage, or eating at a little bit more expensive restaurant because it will get you out of the cold and rain faster). I learned never to be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I learned to take a lot of pictures, but not to care about getting the “perfect shot.” I learned that I need a lot less things than I think I do. I learned that wine is awesome. I learned never to leave without having a water bottle, a snack, and tissues. I learned there is a beauty to going to mass in a language you don’t understand. I learned sometimes it’s okay to skip class if it means you get to see the Pope. I learned that people will assume things about you because you’re American. I learned that I’m both better and worse at Spanish than I think I am( I can communicate better that I think I can, but I still make a lot of mistakes and have a lot more to learn.) I learned that good travelling partners are invaluable. I learned that no matter where I am, sometimes the only thing I need to feel better is to talk to my mom. I learned that just texting my parents (almost) every day makes a world of difference to them. I learned that I am so little and the world is so big. I learned that if I want to do something, I can figure out how to make it work. I learned that I still feel a child-like joy whenever I get the chance to see something new and amazing. I learned not to sweat the small stuff so I can get on to enjoying the big stuff. I learned A LOT!

On top of all that stuff, I also gained a deep understanding of Spanish culture, especially Northern Spanish culture, for which I am very grateful. No amount of reading and learning about a place can compare to living there when it comes to understanding the people and culture. I fell in love with this rich, passionate, complicated country, and there is so much of it I still need to see. I will be back. I left a piece of my heart in Asturias.

If I keep talking about how much I love Spain I’m going to get all weepy, so I’m going to move on to thank yous. I want to thank Angeles and Nacho, my host parents, for everything they did for me this semester (even though they can’t read this!). I want to thank Ana, our coordinator, for being absolutely stellar and always going beyond what she needed to do for us. I want to thank everyone at the International Programs Office at Rollins for all the hard work they do to make sure everything goes as well as possible for all the students abroad. Thank you, Catey and Shannon for being the best travelling companions a girl could ask for. Thank you to my incredible family for all you did to make sure I had this amazing opportunity- this would not have happened without your support, and I cannot express my gratitude to you all enough. Thank you to everyone who wished me well, told me they missed me, and who lets me talk to them incessantly about my travels. And last but not least, thank you to all of you reading this!! I started this blog mostly for personal reasons, because I wanted a record of all the things I did this semester, but hearing how much other people were enjoying it really encouraged and motivated me to keep up with it. It has been an amazing experience to get to share all the things I’ve been doing with you all. I have really enjoyed doing all this personal writing, so I’m going to try to keep up with the blog in the coming months. Since I won’t be travelling in immediate future, I’m not sure what I’ll write about, but I’d really like to keep writing, so I’ll try to find something! Thank you again for keeping up with my travels and listening to my ramblings. It has been so fun to share everything with you all.

It is sad to see the sun set on this amazing adventure I’ve had, but I know 2018 and all the years after it hold more adventures than I can even imagine right now.
Mil gracias y hasta luego!

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Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 4: There and Back Again, or Barcelona and Epilogue

Previously on Our Great Italian Adventure:  The next morning, we had a 10am flight to Barcelona. We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport bus and plenty of extra time at the airport too. Everything went off without a hitch, which considering the bad luck we had had with transportation, was nothing short of a miracle. We even had time for a yummy breakfast in the airport, including fresh squeezed orange juice and a last cup of Italian espresso. We flew Ryanair again, which if you read my blog about Dublin, you know my feelings about, but we had some beautiful views of snowy mountains on our flight.

Photos for Barcelona here.

We even got to the hostel without any problems. We couldn’t check in, but we left our bags before trying to see what we could of Barcelona in the short time we had. We got some bocadillos to eat on our way to the metro. Our trip to Paris really boosted my confidence with metro systems. I much, much prefer them to buses. The Barcelona one was intuitive and easy to use, and only 1€ per trip if you bought ten trips (which we could split between the three of us). We took the metro straight to the Sagrada Familia. It is stunning to see in person. Initially, we weren’t planning on going in, since it’s pretty pricey and we didn’t have much time in the city. But since they still had tickets available for 4:45 and Catey really wanted to go, we decided to buy tickets to come back and go in. In the time we had to wait before five, we went to Park Güell. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any tickets available before 4, and there was no way we could’ve gone in at 4 and been at the Sagrada Familia by 4:45. We tried to buy tickets ahead of time, but the website wasn’t working for at least 48 hours before we were there. Oh well! There is still a lot of the Park you can see without tickets (just none of the architectural stuff) and since its pretty high up, you have a great view of the city. We headed back with plenty of time to get into the Sagrada Familia. I am so glad we went inside. It is so impressive. It is unlike any other Basilica/cathedral I’ve seen. Obviously its much more modern than the other’s, and its just so different. The vibrant colors of the stained glass and the insane shapes of the ceiling are breathtaking. Since the sun was setting as we were visiting, the colors of the windows changed and it was amazing. I love Gaudi. I am a big fan of traditional art being reinterpreted in a modern way. Stained glass has been used in churches for hundreds of years, but he used it in a totally new way. Soaring ceilings can be found in many churches, but they don’t swirl and curve like Gaudi’s do. (I feel this way about all art forms: literature, theatre, music, dance, etc.) Also, I’m a big fan of bright colors (hence why I’m fan of people like Raphael and the neo-impressionists), so the crazy vibrant windows were just amazing to me.

After this amazing visit, we had to find a place to go to mass, since we wouldn’t have much time to go in the morning. Unfortunately they only celebrate one mass a week at La Sagrada Família at 9am on Sundays, which would have been cutting it close to make it to our train. We went to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pines, because masstimes.org told me they had a mass at 6:30. They did not. It was still cool to see the church though! It was very old and traditional, a great foil to the Sagrada Familia. After some more searching, we found that the Cathedral of Barcelona had mass at 7, and it is only two minutes from our hostel. We had to convince the guards to let us in. We asked, “Is there mass at 7?” (Because now we didn’t know if we could trust what church websites say) and they told us yes there was mass, and we couldn’t go in until it was over. We tried to tell them we were going to mass, and they said “Mass is 45 minutes, if you go in, you can’t leave until it’s over.” We finally got him to understand that we were actually going TO mass, and he let us in. Our Spanish didn’t deteriorate that much in a week of disuse, so I’m not sure what the confusion was. It might have been because the mass was in Catalan, although he didn’t mention anything about that. Fortunately, after traveling in France and Italy, we’ve gotten used to going to mass in a language we don’t understand (even in Spanish, I don’t understand a lot of the biblical language, although now I follow the mass parts easily). Catalan is more different from Castellano than I thought it was.  It was actually lot easier to follow mass in Italian than in Catlan. It was a nice mass, with an adorable old man cantoring. It is a beautiful cathedral, too. It reminds me a lot of the one in Oviedo. After mass, the streets were absolutely packed with people. Barcelona is always a busy city, and this week is a big travel week in Spain because the 6th and 8th are holidays (which is why were traveling).  We went back to the hostel to check in and regroup. Catey did some expert googling and found a cheap, delicious looking Mexican restaurant/bar that was only a fee minutes from the hostel. Like Chinese food, we are deprived of Mexican food in Asturias, so we were super excited. The place was packed, and the loud, friendly atmosphere let us know we were back in Spain. We had to wait for a table, but it was super worth it. We celebrated the last night of our adventure with fresh guac, frozen drinks, and giant burritos. We were back in the hostel by 10, and we were getting ready for bed as everyone else was getting up from their evening nap to get ready to go out. (Typical Spain!)  It had been a long, busy day, after a long, busy week, and we slept like logs.

And that brings us to today. I am writing this on our 10 hour train ride back from Barcelona to Oviedo. I am thankful to have the time to write about all of this, because today marks the beginning of my last week in Spain. What a wild ride it has been. I can’t believe this week I’ll be doing things here for the last time, seeing things for the last time. The last time for a while, at least. I know I’ll be back to Oviedo. This quiet little city has my heart. Anyway, a mushy post about Oviedo is going to be a different post! This about Our Great Italian Adventure! (Note: I wrote this last Sunday…today is Friday. I leave tomorrow night!).

I can’t believe that in the past two weeks I saw the Eiffel Tower and the Pope. What a weird life I’m living. I can’t believe how many things I am getting to do that I’ve wanted to do for so long! Seeing Rome satisfied a very old longing for me (old for a 19-year-old, anyway.) Seeing Florence was a reawakening of my love of the cultural craziness that is the Italian Renaissance. And seeing Venice was the realization that a city known for it’s sunny summer scenes is still beautiful on a drizzly December day. And seeing Barcelona was a tiny taste of a vibrant and complicated city. People are already asking me what was my favorite. I have to say that I saw my favorite things in Rome, but as far as the city overall, I loved Florence. It literally looks like a painting. The people were very friendly, it was easy and nice to walk around, and the food was fantastic and cheap.

I am super proud of this trip. Shannon, Catey and I made it through a ten day, four city trip without any of us trying to kill each other. We faced a few challenges and got through them with relative ease and only a moderate amount of whining. We avoided the famous pit-pockets of Italy, although that was luck more than anything I think. And, very importantly, we had an absolutely amazing time. I am so thankful that we were kept safe and happy during this trip, and that I have two great girls to travel with. It’s not easy to find people who will put up with you for that many days at a time! And it’s even better when they keep you up giggling like you’re at a sleepover and you turn heads at museums because you’re all laughing about something or other.

thebabes
The girls in Florence!

In the bigger memory that is my semester in Spain, I will always have this memory of my amazing trip to Italy, where I saw some of the greatest works of art in the world and explored three of the most historically important cities in Europe. The five big trips I’ve gone on: Santiago de Compostela, Sevilla, Dublin, Paris, and Italy each has it’s own distinct flavor. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, so I hope when I reread my blogs and look through the pictures I can remember the exact way these different places made me feel. I will hold the awe I felt in St Peters Basilica, the amazement I felt watching the sun set over Florence, the wonder I felt seeing the glittering ceiling of St Marks, and the joy I felt reflected in the windows of La Sagrada Familia in my heart with all the other feelings I’ve experienced here.  It was an amazing journey that I’m so incredibly thankful for. As I head back to Oviedo, my home very far away from home, I feel very blessed and very happy. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my novella. I really appreciate everyone who has read my blogs these past months! I’m going to try to post one more time before I leave, and if not, I’ll post a goodbye to Oviedo after I get home. 🙂

Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 3: Vamos a Venice 

Previously on Our Great Italian Adventure: The next morning we were heading to Venice! We took a fairly early train because we were only going to have one full day in Venice. We went back for more blueberry filled croissants and then headed to the train station early, because we were not going to have a repeat of the Rome to Florence train situation.

Photos for Venice here.

We made it on the train and figured it would be smooth sailing (smooth riding?), until after about a half an hour, when they announced that the train would be delayed by 90 minutes. -sigh- It was going TOO well. Fortunately, we didn’t have anything planned for right after we were supposed to arrive. But still. 90 minutes is a long time to be delayed with no explanation or compensation. (Technically, we could be compensated. But we had to wait 24 hours until after our train arrived, and then go in person to a TrenItalia office and we could receive 25% of our ticket price as credit to buy another TrenItalia ticket. So basically if you’re a tourist, they can do whatever they want and you can’t get anything back. Annoying.) Fortunately, we had plenty of time to check in to the hostel and get lunch before the gondola ride that Catey planned for us. It was really beautiful. Although, it did give me sailing class flashbacks that I was not a fan of. I’m not afraid of boats (I was on my uncle’s fishing boat this summer without a problem), but something about how close the gondola is to the water, and the slight heeling that happens when the gondolier turns the boat brought me right back to a year ago, where I was very unsuccessfully piloting Sunfish and ending up in the lake. But other than the slight panic it gave me, I really enjoyed it! (Similar to my Cliffs of Moher experience. Mostly excitement, slight terror.) Venice is really a precious city. It has the painting like quality that Florence has. It was dark by the time we finished our gondola ride, and we wandered around for a while, exploring St Mark’s Plaza before heading to the vigil mass at San Zaccaria’s for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. There was only about 20 people there, half of which were little old Italian ladies who kept smiling at us. The priest was one of the cutest little old priests I have ever seen, and he had a smile that could make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. San Zaccaria’s is a beautiful little place. For dinner, we got more pizza. The waiter spoke the funniest English. He had clearly learned it from watching American movies. He kept calling us Charlie’s Angels and using really odd phrases. On our way back to the hostel, we noticed that some parts of Venice turn into a total ghost town at night during the off-season. It was creepily empty. A note about Venice in the cold: the canals smell better than they do in the summer. We did get a few whiffs of what my family used to call “river butt” when we lived by the river in Titusville, but it wasn’t ever-present, as I’ve heard it can be in the summer.

For our whole trip, we had really good luck with weather, except for Friday. Considering we’re traveling in December, I’d say that’s pretty good luck. But this day, it stayed below 44° and never stopped raining. It was a light rain, but it never let up. But since this was our only full day in Venice, we were not going to let that stop us! We started our day with the Galleria della Academia. Not the one in Florence, the one in Venice, obviously. It was large and had some very nice pieces, as well as some really interesting information on art restoration. (I think that is so fascinating.) At this point, I think we were all suffering from what I like to call Acute Museum Fatigue , which is where you’ve seen approximately 700 museums in the span of a week and all the Madonna and Childs and martyrs’ deaths and portraits of rich people and ancient sculptures  start to run together in your head and your brain begins to turn to mush. Despite this, we still enjoyed this museum a lot. From here, we continued on to St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco). It is famous for its intricate  mosaics and its extensive use of gold. It is extremely impressive to see. Unfortunately, there was no sunlight coming in the windows because of the bad weather, so we couldn’t see the top of the ceiling hardly at all. We were pretty sad about it, but accepted it for what it was. Once you’re in to the museum part of the basilica,  you can also go outside a few stories up and you have a nice view of the plaza and the water. Before we left, Shannon noticed they were having an organ concert a little later, so after going through the museum we decided to go get some coffee and come back. We were supposed to go to Duke’s Palace, but the ticket office closed earlier than Catey thought so we couldn’t go. Fortunately, this meant we could go to the organ concert. When we came back, they had all the lights turned on! The entire ceiling was illuminated. It was absolutely heavenly, and everything was shimmering gold. I spent the whole 20 minute concert staring at the ceiling. We were so happy we got to see it!! It really worked out perfectly. We had an early dinner at a what was basically the Italian version of a diner, and headed back to the hostel early. Shannon had lost a contact and had a headache, the weather was still bad, and we had a plane to catch in the morning, so we decided to get home early to pack and shower and get some rest. Well, when we got back, our room was freezing.  The heat the first night had worked great, but it had turned off during the night and was off in the morning. We figured it was a fluke or a timed thing. Because they are pretty stingy with heating in Spain, we didn’t think too much of it. But it was very cold in the room, and it quickly became apparent something was not right. There was also no hot water. I went over to reception to find out what was going on. Long story (relatively) short, reception was technically closed, but there was a student working the desk. Apparently they ask the students who live in the adjoined complex to work at the desk one hour a week. I knew none of this was the poor girl’s fault, but she wasn’t terribly helpful. After taking her to our room to show her that the heat in the hallway was off too, and that there was definitely no hot water, she decided it was probably best to call someone. Considering that she didn’t know how to rent Catey a towel, I was not shocked to find out she didn’t know how to fix the heat. She called the owner and kept trying to tell me that she was sorry, and that she didn’t really work here, and how the heat being broken was the city’s problem and not the hostel’s, and how I would just have to be patient. I hung out in reception because it was warm in there. After an hour, I asked if she had any updates, and she said the owner had fixed it. I made sure to take down a phone number I could call just in case it never warmed up in our room. Of course it was still freezing in our room for a while before the heat caught up, but eventually it did warm up and we were able to sleep well before our busy day. So, y’know. It could’ve been worse but it also definitely could have been better. That’s how most of the problems we had on this trip were. Frustrating, but not the end of the world.

The next morning, we had a 10am flight to Barcelona. We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport bus and plenty of extra time at the airport too. Everything went off without a hitch, which considering the bad luck we had had with transportation, was nothing short of a miracle. We even had time for a yummy breakfast in the airport, including fresh squeezed orange juice and a last cup of Italian espresso. We flew Ryanair again, which if you read my blog about Dublin, you know my feelings about, but we had some beautiful views of snowy mountains on our flight.

TO BE CONTINUED IN A FINALE

Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 2: Friends in Florence

PREVIOUSLY Our Great Italian Adventure: The train was old, and they turned the heat off half way through, and we got off one stop too early ( we just got on the next train), but we made it to Florence in one piece. (Part 1)

Pictures for Florence

We arrived hungry, and when to a restaurant across the street from the hostel, which was pretty good. This time, we actually did have a private room, which we were thankful for. ( A note on our hostel in Florence: We stayed at Leonardo House, which is not named for DaVinci, but for the owner and seemingly sole operator, Leonardo. He was so sweet and accommodating, and the hostel was probably the cleanest and most comfortable one we’ve stayed in during our semester of travel. And it was only 57€ a person for three nights! Highly recommend.) So we were in Florence! And now I didn’t have to worry about plans because Shannon was in charge of this leg of the trip. Tuesday morning we went to a cafe where you could get an espresso, a croissant, and fresh squeezed orange juice for 4€. We got blueberry jam filled croissant, and it was basically a jelly filled donut. It was sinful, but delicious. The orange juice was amazing too. They’re big into fresh squeezed OJ in Europe (or at least in Spain, France, and Italy) and I am all about it. Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the espresso in Italy is heavenly. I know they’re famous for it, and rightly so. It is amazing. Spanish espresso is much better than what I’ve had in the US, and Italian espresso is much better than Spain’s. It is extremely smooth, with no hint of acidity or bitterness. Just dark, dark, caffeinated yumminess. And it’s usually only 1€. I don’t know how I’m going to survive in The States without it. Anyhow, enough about breakfast. Our first stop of the day was the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is a relatively small museum, but it has one very important piece: The David. He is a sight to behold. We’d already seen the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, so it  was amazing to see this third masterpiece of Michelangelo. I learned about him in elementary school, and again in my AP European history class but I would really like to know more about him. If anyone has an interesting biography to recommend, let me know. Again, the David is one of the most famous pieces of western art, so to see it in person is impressive. The detail, the movement, the expression, and the sheer size of the sculpture are all breathtaking. Catey fell in love with him and was very sad to have to leave him behind. We eventually convinced her to leave, and we went to get some lunch. We picked up some sandwiches to go. As has been the trend in Italy, the workers were very accommodating and made sure we got exactly what we wanted. The sandwiches were delicious- and they cost less than 5€. They even had a little dish for us to pick buttons out of for good luck (which, after our train “ordeal,” we needed!). That was the trend of food in Florence. Friendly staff, affordable, and delicious. We ate our sandwiches in the Piazza della Signoria, since we were blessed with another beautifully sunny day. We were soon surrounded by pigeons and finches, but we didn’t mind them too much. We followed lunch up with gelato, naturally. I thought I would be really missing out because of my dairy intolerance, but most fruit gelati have no dairy in them at all. Lots of  places also have a dark chocolate one that is dairy free too. This place had a dark chocolate with orange gelato that is probably my favorite thing ever. We even came back the next day to get more. The “very small” size is only 2€ and is still more than enough frozen dessert to satisfy you. (Especially if gelato is sometimes a twice a day occurrence.) After our delicious food, we headed to the Pitti Palace, where the Medicis lived. On our way, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and I really thought  we had fallen into a painting. The river and the buildings and the trees and every looked too perfect to be real. When we got to the palace, it was bigger than Shannon remembered it being, and we wandered around for almost two hours without seeing everything. It had the royal apartments, but it was mostly an art museum. I cant imagine living in that kind of opulence. It seems like it would be overwhelming! I learned all about the Renaissance for the first time in fourth and fifth grade, and reading about the Medicis brought me right back to that. It was very cool to spend a few days in a city that was so important in that pivotal period. Travel tip: If you are in Florence, and don’t have time to see the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Uffizi, and the Pitti Palace, this is the one I would recommend skipping. It was cool, but I would definitely prioritize the other two. Shannon had planned for us to go to the Bobobli gardens after the museum before going up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset. We hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time though, and Catey and I were pretty beat. We hadn’t done that much that day, but we had walked about 10 miles the day before, and it was catching up with us. So we decided to sit down with some coffee before heading to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This place is up on a hill, so you have to climb a lot of steep stairs to get up to it. We were sucking wind and starting to question Shannon’s judgement until we reached the top. The sun, already low in the sky at 3:30, was shining golden light over the whole city of Florence. There were low clouds in the distance, giving the city a fuzzy quality and really making it feel like a painting.

sunset in florence 11There was a man playing guitar and singing songs that everyone likes, like “Hallelujah” and “Imagine.” Couples, young and old, families, and groups of friends, were all sitting on these steps, enjoying the view. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and dream-like. (You can see a video I took here.) I’m glad we took pictures, because otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve believed it was real.  Shannon really took the cake with her planning on this one. Down the stairs, we could see people looking over another ledge, so we went down to see what the view was like from there. It turns out what the people down there were looking at was a professional model shoot! There was girl in a beautiful black dress doing a photo shoot. They had a multiple cameras, trucks, wind machines, and a man whose whole job seemed to be hair-spraying the model. The poor girl looked like she was afraid she was going to topple off of the ledge they had her on, but she was being a real trooper about it.  Her dress was beautiful and I said, “Wow, that dress is gorgeous, but that kind of cut only looks that good on girls as thin as her. I could lose all of the fat in my body and my hips and ribs would still be wider than hers!” I wasn’t even trying to be self-deprecating. I was just observing how slight that girl was and how that dress looked good on her body type. (If you know me, you know I have no problem with my body type at all.) Shannon and Catey were agreeing with me, when this American man standing in front of us turned around suddenly and said, “You could pull it off, girl. You could pull it off.” before walking away. It was so sweet and funny,  and we couldn’t stop laughing about it. The sun was setting for real now, and the sky was being reflected beautifully in the river. We took some more pictures, but then decided to go before it got too cold.

It was too early for dinner, so we decided to wander for a bit. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a Christmas market. There were tons of stalls selling food, candy, spices, ornaments, soaps, things made out of wool, pretty much everything you could want. I bought some candied orange peels, and Catey bought this cinnamon roll thing that was seriously delicious. We browsed the stalls until it was an acceptable time to eat dinner, and then headed to a place Shannon’s dad had recommended to us for dinner. It was a really cute and affordable place, and the food was very yummy. After dinner, we met a friend of Shannon’s for some more gelato. (We ate a lot of gelato on this trip.)

The next day, Shannon had big plans for us, starting with Il Duomo. Unfortunately, even though we had “skip the line” tickets, we still waited about 30 minutes to have our tickets scanned, at which point they told us we needed a reservation to go up the dome. It turns out we did have a reservation, but we just needed to click on a different link in the confirmation email. There were lots of other tourists confused about this, too. Considering this must happen every day, you would think that the staff would be pros at dispelling this confusion and rectifying the situation. This was not the case, but we eventually got everything situated and made in the door, if an hour later than we expected. The ascent up to the Dome was more brutal than I expected it to be. I’ve climbed several lighthouses, and I expected it to be like that. But the 400+ steps of Il Duomo were more taxing than any of the other towers I’ve climbed. Also, at some points it gets very narrow and steep. I would not recommend it if you don’t like enclosed spaces. But wow-was the view worth it. You can see all of Florence and it is breathtaking (not just because of the stairs). Also, you get to see the inside of the painted dome of the church, which is impressive. Unfortunately the interior walk way is surrounded by a  very high clear plastic wall, making it difficult to take pictures. But the pictures you can take from the outside are great! After we descended from the Dome, we poked our the museum of Il Duomo that was included in our ticket before meeting up with Shannon’s friend again for lunch. We went to a place called Panini Toscani that is right next to Il Duomo, and I had what is in the running for the best sandwich of my life. The man who I think runs the place clearly loves his job. He was downright jolly. He lets you (makes you) sample their three cheese and three meat options before choosing what you want on your sandwich. All of their products are fresh and authentically Tuscan. And all of their cheeses were sheep cheeses so I could sample all of them!  I settled on a smooth, creamy sheep cheese, with a fennel salami on a seeded wheat bread, with arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers as my toppings. And then they heated it up. Yum! And only 6€! My grandpa told me the best food he had in Italy was in Florence, and I would have to agree. We, of course, followed this up with gelato. With happy tummies, we conquered our next museum: the Uffizi. This is where the Venus is housed, along with other gorgeous Botacelli pieces. His works were my favorite of those we saw in the museum, but there was so much to see there. The building itself is also impressive.

After the museum, which took a while because it is huge, we headed to the laundromat.  Packing for 10 days in a carry-on necessitates a load of laundry, especially when you have cold weather clothes with you. We managed to clean all our clothes without shrinking anything or flooding the laundromat, so we were feeling pretty successful. We decided to celebrate with something we were all craving: Chinese food. I know it sounds funny, but we have been ~deprived~ of our Asian favorites in Oviedo. Asturias has Asturian food and essentially nothing else. (I was trying to explain to my host mom how good Asian food is, and she said that there’s a Japanese restaurant or two in Oviedo, but they don’t go there because it’s too modern for their taste. She said, “ We have Asturian food, which is delicious and has variety. So why would we need anything else?” From what I can gather, this is the general sentiment in Asturias.) So, for three American girls who normally eat foods from all different kinds of cultures, the opportunity to have Chinese food was irresistible. Also, one can only eat so much pizza in a week. The place we found was amazing. We had spring rolls and Oolong tea, two of my favorite things ever. And then I had curry rice with spicy Thai style chicken. For desert, I had this gummy rice ball, rolled in toasted coconut and filled with black sesame paste. It wasn’t what I thought it was when I was ordering it, but it was really good! So while it is a little funny to say we had Chinese food in Italy, we had no regrets because it was delectable.

The next morning we were heading to Venice! We took a fairly early train because we were only going to have one full day in Venice. We went back for more blueberry filled croissants and then headed to the train station early, because we were not going to have a repeat of the Rome to Florence train situation.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Travel

Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 1: Roaming in Roma

I went to Italy! I realize that I start almost all of my blog posts this way, exclaiming that I’ve been some where. But I don’t know how else to start these things! So I guess that excitedly saying the name of the place I’m going to tell you about will have to do. But yes, we went to Italy. We had two days off of school (we thought we had three but our coordinator told us wrong), so we took the week off and went to Italy for 9 days, leaving Friday night and coming back the following Sunday. We started in Rome, then took a train to Florence, and then to Venice. Then we flew from Venice to Barcelona on Saturday morning because that was the cheapest flight back to Spain, and then spent the night in Barcelona before heading back to Oviedo on a 10 hour train (where I wrote the majority of this). I went with my friends Catey and Shannon. The three of us went to Dublin together, and I have traveled with them separately as well. They are great travel buddies. Since planning what to do in a city is a lot of work, we divided the work between the three of us, so each of us planned what to do for one of the cities and then was in charge while we were there. This worked out perfectly because that meant that we each only had to worry about the itinerary in one of the cities, and the rest of the time we were just along for the ride. I planned Rome, because that was the place I was most excited about. Shannon planned Florence because she has visited all three cities and Florence was her favorite, and so Catey planned Venice. We worked together to pick a thing or two to see during our short time in Barcelona.

I’m going to split up posts between our different destinations, because otherwise the post would be entirely too long and overwhelming to read. Since it is practically the length of a book, I am posting it in chapters. This is pretty much a play-by-play of what we did. If youre looking for a more concise version, I’ll link to Shannon’s. But if you want to read my blog, you’re gonna have to read about what kind of gelato I had and what color purse I bought, because that’s the stuff I want to remember when I read this years from now! So bear with me.  Pictures for Rome: here

Our first stop was Rome, which like I said, I was in charge of planning. The title of this “chapter” is ironic, because we didn’t do much roaming. We had a lot to see and not much time to see it in, so we normally had a pretty clear idea of where we were going. However, we did have time to wander in the evenings, after the museums and monuments were closed. (Don’t worry, I didn’t rush Shannon and Catey across the city the entire weekend haha). On our way in, both our flights were a little delayed, but otherwise uneventful. We had late flights so we weren’t to the hostel until about 1am. (Yay, cheap international flights!) Our hostel was great. It was a converted convent, and we had a semi private room. It was just our three beds in the room, but the ceiling was super high, and the walls only rose to a normal height, leaving a large gap, so we had to be quiet. But considering we didn’t pay for a private room, it was very nice. We slept soundly.

The next morning, it was supposed to be raining so I planned for us to go to the Vatican Museums. Our tickets were for 10:30, and I heard the lines (even for ticket holders) get crazy by 11, so we got up and out the door. We ended up not having to wait at all to have our tickets scanned or to get through security, which was nice. The Vatican Museums were incredible. It is insane to be surrounded by that much art and history. I especially enjoyed seeing Rafael paintings in person. The vibrant colors seem to leap off of the canvas. And of course, the museum includes the Sistine Chapel, which was breathtaking. It was not at all how I imagined it would be. For some reason, I always imagined that the ceiling was a circular dome- I don’t know why. But it was really incredible. Every single inch of that room is filled with detail. It is also a really cool feeling to see an image you’ve seen a million times in popular culture in person. The museums were really crowded,even though we are in the “off” season, but we didn’t mind. After the museums, we needed some lunch. We went to a place I had looked up ahead of time, that served sandwiches, smoothies, and juices. It’s called Fa bio’s, if you’re interested. It was very tiny but we managed to grab some stools to rest our feet. The workers were super nice and accommodating, and recommended what was best, even taking my intolerance into consideration. I ended up having a delicious sandwich with a glass of fresh pressed carrot and orange juice with ginger ( it tasted like summer!). The healthy and affordable lunch fortified us for the rest of our day. Since the forecast had said it was going to rain all day, I planned for us to go to a second museum that we could get to by metro. (The metro in Rome is easy to use but very limited in where it goes. This was the only time we were able to use it during our stay.) It didn’t really rain, it was just overcast with the occasional sprinkle, but we stuck to out indoor plans. We arrived to the second museum , which was focused on ancient Roman statues and artifacts. The ticket also included access to another museum across the street, which had huge Roman baths. By this point, it was already completely dark, even though it was only about 5 oclock. Because Spain is in the wrong time zone geographically, we lost an hour of light going over to Italy, even though the hour didn’t change. It was a weird adjustment. Anyway, we wandered through this other museum, which was mostly empty. We came across a room that was showing a film about how the baths might have looked during their use. A couple was sitting in the first row, and the woman had a cat in her lap, that was happily accepting her petting. We thought “how weird is that!” We figured it was some sort of service animal, but thought it was pretty strange. We saw the couple in another part of the museum later, but didnt see the cat anywhere near them. The lady had a bag, but there was no way the cat was in it. Catey ran back to the movie room to see if the cat was there, but it was no where to be found. Pretty freaked out at this point, we joked that it must have been a ghost cat. An ancient Roman ghost cat. As we were getting ready to leave the museum about a half hour later, we were still joking about the cat, when I noticed something move in the corner of my eye. “Oh my gosh, there it is!” I exclaimed. Shannon, who had been standing right by the kitty without noticing it nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise. But the cat was very sweet, and no sooner than we had seen her, she was in our laps, purring and enjoying the attention we were giving her. She was clearly a well taken care of museum cat. She even knew how to work the automatic doors. We told the man working the exit how surprised we were to see a cat living here, and all he said was “Oh, yes. It is nice cat.” To be fair, his English was limited.

After that, we headed to another restaurant I had looked up, where I had an absolutely delicious marinara pizza, which paired perfectly with the house red wine. We felt like we were really in Italy. We headed back to the hostel fairly early and fell into bed.

Th next morning, I dragged Shannon and Catey to 9am mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Maybe dragged isnt the right word, because they were great sports about it. But we needed  to go to that mass so we had time to explore the Basilica and then get a good spot in the square to see the Angelus (more on that soon!).  I can’t describe St Peter’s Basilica. I really can’t. I have seen many cathedrals since I’ve come to Spain, most of them extremely impressive (others merely beautiful), but none of them compare at all to St Peters. Fittingly, it is the cathedral to end all cathedrals. The shining marble floor is complemented by soaring ceilings, and flanked by grandiose pillars and walls all completely covered in artwork. Gold, glass, marble, and paint cover every single square centimeter of the entire massive sanctuary. It is unimaginably huge. Mass at the high altar was incredible. The statutes behind the altar are gigantic. The priest and deacons sitting beneath them were dwarfed by the giant figures above them. The center of the wall behind the altar features a circular window filled with golden glass, the middle of which has the dove of the Holy Spirit. SO. BEAUTIFUL. It is a place I loved so much that I want everyone I love to see it. There was so much beautiful art there, the pinnacle of which, to me at least, is Michelangelo’s Pieta. I have long loved this image and this particular piece, so I was super excited to see it. The Pietá is one of the most moving images of the Passion of Christ, to me. It is displayed directly to the left when you come in the main doors and it took me by surprise. No picture in a textbook or online can convey the emotion that seeing this in person does. The delicacy and care with which it was carved (over 500 years ago ) is so apparent. So much emotion can be seen in Mary’s face, and Jesus’s face looks so real. Every bit and piece of the sculpture is just right. After mass, I went back to stare at it again ( I went back like 5 times before we left) and I was so moved. It felt exactly how I thought it would to stand in front of this incredible work. It was amazing. Eventually, I did have to rip myself away from it because, as I mentioned, we had to get a good spot for the Angelus. This is when the Pope gives a reflection and a blessing from the window of the Papal apartments. It happens every Sunday at noon, when the Pope is in town. Luckily, Pope Francis had just gotten back from his trip to Bangladesh when we were there. So we saw Pope Francis! We had great “seats” (stands?).  He was very tiny from his window, but there was a screen that showed his face and we could hear him loud and clear through the microphone. It was surreal! And I got blessed by the Pope! It was crazy. A group of Spaniards next to us started a chant of “Viva el Papa!… Viva!” as he was waving goodbye.( They also call him Paco, the nickname for Francisco, which I think is adorable. )

I couldn’t stop smiling ear to ear after we saw him. I couldn’t believe we actually saw him! Afterwards, we got lunch from a food truck and then took a bus over to the Pantheon. Well, we headed to a pharmacy to attempt to remedy Catey’s toes, which  and were being pinched by her shoes, and then we took a bus to near the Pantheon. We ended up going to a Basilica right near there first that was really gorgeous inside. Then Catey and Shannon split a canoli while I was drawn in by a leather handbag shop. I knew I wanted to buy a leather purse while I was here, and I found a gorgeous red/burgundy one in this shop that I just had to have. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but Catey talked me into it and I have had no regrets. I love it. Eventually, we made it to the Pantheon, which was pretty cool. Its one of those things where it probably would’ve been cooler if we had seen it /before/ the Basilica instead of after. From there we went to the Trevi Fountain. Now that was impressive. It was really beautiful, if crowded. And then from there we went to the Spanish Steps. When we reached the top, the sun was setting, and the view was really nice. I hadn’t planned it out that way, but we got lucky. We decided to sit on the steps and eat a few crackers to tide us over until dinner. Unfortunately a guard came over to us and told us “ No eat!” So, beware if you go to Rome. “No eat” on the Spanish steps. Who knows what damage your cracker crumbs might do. At this point, Catey’s pharmacy remedy for her toes wasn’t working, so we found her some slipper-like boot things which were  much more comfortable. For dinner, we stopped in some place we hadn’t planned on because the waitress out front sold us on it. Other than the affordable menu of the day, I think what won us over was her telling us “You sit inside. Warm.” This wasn’t the best food we had in Italy, but it was decent and they played good music in the restaurant. And it was warm. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at plaza to see a pretty fountain. There was a beautiful building there, and we could see people going in, so we decided to check it out. It was a beautiful little church, and there wad a concert happening! Two men and two women, all with amazing  and clearly profess voices, were singing beautiful classical songs, all about Mary. We only caught the last 10 minutes or so, but how awesome is that? It was such a nice way to end the night.

And before we knew it, it was our last day in Rome. We packed up and checked out in the morning, but left our luggage in the hostel so we could go to the Colosseum. On our way there, we passed the Italian National Monument which houses the Unknown Italian Soldier from WWI. It is a very eye catching building, so we went in and looked around. There’s a museum there too that we didn’t have time to see. Eventually we made it to our destination. We started with the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It was a beautiful sunny and chilly day. The Hill was really cool, and almost didn’t feel real. The ruins are scattered everywhere. We felt dumb because we couldn’t find the exit for a while, but we eventually figured it out and made it to the Colosseum. Again, I definitely recommend getting your tickets ahead of time. All we had to do was wait in a short line for security. The Colosseum was really impressive and we spent a while wandering around. I just saw Gladiator for the first time in History class in Oviedo, so I thought it was pretty cool.( I think I should probably watch it in English at some point though.) As we were leaving, we were dying of hunger, so we went to a pretty touristy place for lunch right near the Colosseum. If you can swing it, I would recommend waiting to eat until you’re farther away from this area, but we’re a group of girls with wacky blood sugar, so it was better for us to eat then. When you’re in areas like this, you will be constantly bothered by people trying to sell you overpriced tickets, selfie sticks, and crappy souvenirs. And in Rome specifically, chubby older men dressed as Gladiators will want you to pay to take pictures with them. No one takes no for an answer, but just keep repeating it firmly and keep right on walking. It worked for us. Now it was time for us to head back to the hostel to get our stuff. We needed to take a bus from the hostel to Termini station. Our next stop was Florence!  It would be about a 25 minute bus ride, and we left with enough time to have about 25 minutes when we got to the station to find our platform (we already had our tickets.) Everything had run pretty smoothly at this point, so it was about time for our luck to run out. The bus became absolutely packed after got on. And the traffic was horrible. It was only about 3:30/4ish on a Monday, so I don’t know why it was so busy. Maybe rush hour is different in Rome. I also think there might have been an accident that was causing back ups because we saw some police cars going the other way. Well, long story short, our bus took 25 minutes longer than estimated, and we ran to our platform and watched our train pull away as we got there. Perfect.We had to buy new tickets, which was another 20€. They were the same price as our first tickets, but they were on a much older train, and it was a three hour route, instead of the direct one hour route. And we had to wait a half hour for it to arrive at the station. To rub salt into the wound, it was delayed by 5 minutes. Why couldn’t our first train be delayed by even two minutes?? I was more upset about the lost time in Florence than the money, but luckily Shannon hadn’t concretely planned anything or bought tickets to anything that night. The train was old, and they turned the heat off half way through, and we got off one stop too early ( we just got on the next train), but we made it to Florence in one piece.
TO BE CONTINUED….

Travel

In Dublin’s Fair City…

Yes, we went to Dublin! It was my first trip out of Spain since I’ve been here and it was amazing. In order to get the best ticket prices, we ended up spending five days there (including the travel days), which worked out really well. We didn’t have to rush all over the city, and we had time to take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. And on our way back to Spain, we got to spend 24 hours in Madrid, which was an absolute treat. Click here for pictures of Dublin, and here for pictures from Madrid.

Some of you international travelers out there are probably familiar with the budget airline Ryanair. It is basically the equivalent of flying in an old school bus, but it is dirt cheap. Ryanair doesn’t fly out of Oviedo, but adding a 50 Euro round-trip bus ticket between Oviedo and the Madrid Airport still made it considerably cheaper than flying with any other airline. So, on Thursday night Shannon, Catey, and I got on a bus and spent the night trying desperately to sleep on the way to the airport. When we arrived in Madrid, groggy but excited, we quickly discovered we were in the wrong place and had to take a shuttle bus to our terminal. But, without any further mishaps, we eventually made it to our gate with time to spare. The two and a half hour flight in the old school bus was not terribly comfortable, but it went by quickly. By lunchtime, we had made it out of the airport and we were in Ireland!! It was pretty much everything I had hoped it would be. Our bus into the city was a double-decker, everyone had an adorable accent, everything was so green, and there were redheads everywhere you looked. We checked into our hostel (which apparently is the most famous and best rated in Dublin), and quickly fell into a tourist trap for lunch. We paid too much for our fish and chips, but man were they good. I think any hot food tastes good when you’ve been traveling for 12+ hours, but there’s nothing like real fish and chips (with malt vinegar-yum!).

We had a fantastic time exploring Dublin. We saw Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Grafton Street, the River Liffey, the Spire, Temple Bar, Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals- all of it. On Saturday, we decided to take a free walking tour about  Irish myths and legends. Free walking tours are common in many European cities and I would highly recommend trying one. Our guide was fantastic! The tour was over two hours long and we learned a ton. He was very engaging, and we couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to the city. (We tipped him well.)  Actually, all of our tour guides on this trip were fantastic. We really lucked out. When we visited the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail), our guide was an awesome lady who was not only incredibly knowledgeable, but very passionate about the history. She turned a tour of an old jail into an inspiring lesson about learning from the mistakes of the past and how we can keep history from repeating itself. (We learned a lot about the Irish Civil War, and the War of Independence, which was fascinating.) Our Dublin Castle guide was an adorable lady who could be the poster girl for the country itself, between her blue eyes, blonde curls, and accent. And our guide for The Cliffs of Moher tour, who we were with all day, was also great! He was very funny, and thought that Shannon, Catey, and I were hilarious. He also had the ability to drive a huge tour bus through roads that I couldn’t comfortably drive a Honda Fit through. Classic Pete.

cliffsofmoher.jpgThe Cliffs of Moher was definitely one of the coolest part of the trip. On Sunday, we had to be at the bus by 7am, and we didn’t get back to Dublin until 10pm or so. The bus was very comfortable, and we stopped along the way to see various beautiful sites. We ate a delicious lunch in a tiny fishing village before spending two hours at the beautiful cliffs. I knew they were going to be amazing, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was breathtaking, and we happened to be there on a particularly clear day, so the view was fantastic. The selling point of this tour for me was that this is where they shot The Cliffs of Insanity for The Princess Bride, which anyone who knows me knows is my favorite movie. It was totally worth the drive and the money. I will say though, that it is a pretty steep 5,000 foot drop off the edge. The grass and mud were pretty slippy, and although the rational part of me knew that as long as I didn’t do anything stupid I would be fine, there were some parts of the walk that definitely made my hands sweat. I am not afraid of heights in places where I know I can’t fall (ie lighthouses, airplanes), but when there is nothing between me and a long drop, I get a little nervous. Even so, this was a great experience-I just didn’t get the aesthetic “sitting on the edge of a cliff” picture that Shannon and Catey did.

I fell in love with the overall vibe of Dublin. There is history, culture, and folklore, there are cute, funky stores, bright green grass, vibrant fall leaves, and tons of adorable pubs. It was cold and occasionally drizzly, but to me the city was downright cozy. One of the nights we were there, we went to this pub that was all decked out for Halloween. We were drinking cider at the bar and we ended up making friends with this older couple sitting next to us. They asked us to watch their drinks/save their seats for them while they got up. We got to talking and they welcomed us to Ireland, and they were interested to hear about what Northern Spain is like, because they had only visited “the hot part” of the country. They also teased us and told us we didn’t look old enough to be drinking. We talked and laughed for a long time, and they ended up buying us a round of cider. They were a great example of all the people we met in Ireland. Everyone is nice and many will go out of their way to help you, but they are also constantly making fun of you in the best way. It is so different than the people you meet in Spain, and in the US for that matter. It was delightful.

I was sad to leave Dublin. I could totally see myself living in the city, with the greys of the sky and the river being balanced out by the warm fall leaves and the crisply green grass. I could live with the cold and rain, as long as I had adorable wool accessories and lots of good Irish tea (and cider!). The people are simultaneously proud to be Irish and exceedingly self-deprecating, willing to help you but ready to tease you. I loved the contradictions of Dublin. We did all the touristy things in the city, seeing the castles, doing tours, trying Guinness, but what I will remember and love the most is the feeling of the city itself, and its people.

On our way back to Oviedo, we had 24 hours to spend in Madrid. We used it to the best of our ability, seeing The Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and just a tiny bit of the Museo del Prado. We did not get nearly enough time in the museum, but I got to see my favorite Goya pieces, so I was happy. I will say, the cathedrals in Ireland pale in comparison to those in Spain. If I had seen St. Patrick’s Cathedral three months ago, it would have been the most beautiful church I had ever seen. But to me at least, nothing can compare with the staggering architecture, attention to detail, and complete ornateness of Spanish cathedrals. So, our short time in Madrid was well spent.

This trip was such a great time! It really built my confidence about travelling internationally (although inter-EU travel is only sort of international). Catey, Shannon, and I had a great time together, and I am so excited to see more of Europe with them. So thank you, Dublin, for an amazing trip!