I am finally done writing about my semester abroad. It’s a bittersweet moment because I know I will never be able to explore and travel the way I did when I was a student in Europe for five months. However, I am happy to be back home with my family and friends. I made the most incredible friends abroad, changed the way I think, and now am more determined to see the world. A big thank you to my wonderful roommates and friends who made it so fun to travel, the strangers who helped me when I was lost, the people who accommodated me, and my family for making this possible.
I thought it would be fitting to go back and recount some of my favorite memories from those five months. So without further ado, here is my Top Five Favorite Memories from my Semester Abroad.
The Valencia vs Sevilla game was first fùtbol game I had ever been to, and I was not prepared for the excitement and rowdiness of it. We had terrible seats (but it did allow me to get this cool picture), but almost all of us from our program had gone together and we all really got into the game. Some Spanish guys next us were nice enough to teach us the chants, and we all had a blast yelling and cheering. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event. Nothing can compare to an entire stadium of (mostly drunk) Spaniards cheering at a fùtbol match.
After my cousin and I had to cancel our Camino de Santiago, we made other travel plans. We had been in Porto for a few days, and my cousin had left to go back to LA. I was still in Porto for another day, so I decided to take a day trip. I picked the first placed I saw on Google that looked interesting and ended up in Guimaraes. I had spent the day exploring the tiny town, and was honestly a little bit disappointed. I was going to take an early train home, however, I saw a sign for a trolly that went up one of the mountains and decided to check it out. When I got to the top, I found an amazing hiking trail that led you through hidden crevices, dense forests, and to beautiful religious artifacts. Not to mention, the view of the Guimaraes below was stunning. I spent the rest of the day exploring the area and ended up having to take the very last train of the night.
For those of you who have never heard of Las Fallas, it is a week long festival that happens in our very own Valencia, Spain. I was lucky enough to live in Valencia, because I know that hostels and hotels can get extremely overpriced during this time. I loved not only experiencing the festival but experiencing it as a local. We spent a whole week eating churros, watching light shows, seeing huge monuments slowly get built, learning about the history of the festival, watching amazing fireworks displays, and partying.
Las Fallas began a long time ago when carpenters tossed their old/unused materials into a huge pile and then burned them. This tradition eventually evolved into what we have today. Each neighborhood in Valencia works together to create their own monument made out of wood, paper, and other flammable materials. Some of the monuments were pretty small, but some of the neighborhoods had seven or eight story monuments. All of the monuments are burned at the end of the week in a ceremonial burning. Throughout the week, there are tons of firework shows. These were seriously some of the most intricate and loud shows I have ever seen. For the last few days, they have a show in the main park that lasts a whole thirty minutes. Imagine thirty whole minutes of explosions, increasingly getting louder and more intense until it ends in your ears exploding and everybody cheering. The whole week of festivities is something I recommend to everyone if you get the chance.
When I first started traveling, I would research obsessively about the places I was going to. I would spend hours looking at pictures, creating a detailed itinerary, and reading other people’s reviews. I’ve realized that this influenced the way I personally experienced places and attractions. When I did this, I was going into things with a certain set of expectations, and sometimes I would be disappointed. Nowadays, I simply look up places to get a rough idea where to go, and then I do no further research. Then I talk to the locals to hear about their recommendations.
This was the case with Blarney Castle. Sarah and I decided to visit Blarney Castle because it was close to Cork, and we wanted to see a castle. We had no idea what to expect, and I think that is what made our experience even better. I have to say the castle grounds were one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. We stayed there for as long as we could, well past closing time, and explored as much as we could. We felt like little kids loose on a playground. After leaving the castle, we decided to get dinner at a restaurant in Blarney before heading back to Cork. We also ended up staying at the restaurant longer than intended because we discovered that there were live bands playing at night. We bought a couple of drinks and vibed with the music until the last bus came.
My all time favorite memory from my time abroad has to be my first time traveling alone. I had a few days between my Switzerland trip and my Berlin adventure, and I decided to visit Milan and Cinque Terre by myself. It was such a different experience being able to do exactly what I wanted, whenever I wanted. I had to cry my way out of a ticket, got extremely lost up in the hills of Cinque Terre, and waded through tons of thorns and brush, but I would not change a thing. This experience gave me a real sense of confidence and independence, and it has changed the way I view traveling.