Oh, Europe–I love you so!
It’s May. In one week from today I will be on a plane back to the states. I have papers and projects to do this week. There are a few things about this picture that really aren’t quite right.
This post is about what I did over Easter break, but before I get to that I need to just acknowledge how crazy it is that I’ve already gotten to the point in my semester where I’m writing this. January was spent getting my feet on the ground and adjusting. April was spent travelling. February and March, however, seemed like endless hours spent planning my Easter break endeavors. And now they’re done—the trips have been taken, experiences have been made, and lessons have been learned.
On Wednesday, April 12th I left Cardiff early in the morning and walked to the Sophia Gardens bus station where I departed for Birmingham airport. I spent most of the day travelling, but by 7 PM I was standing outside of the Barcelona airport, suddenly much too warm for my jacket. Now I won’t bore you with the day-to-day itinerary of what I did, but there are a few moments I experienced throughout the few days I was there that were pretty magnificent. First, walking through the city itself is kind of magical. The trees, buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí everywhere, the sun, and just the feeling of the city had an energy that was contagious. Another part of Barcelona I loved was Bunker Hill. It was an old Spanish Civil War bunker that sat on a massive hill overlooking the city, and the view was incredible. It was the city, the ocean, and the sunset, all in one beautiful picture. It was profound and magical and worth running up a large hill for. Later that night we went to a Spanish club—my last highlight of Barcelona. It was a city that made you want to dance and that night we all danced and laughed and tried to ignore the fact that we all had flights the next day taking us away from the beautiful city.
I didn’t have much time to be sad leaving Barcelona because after a few hours on a plane I landed in Prague, Czech Republic where I met up with the lovely Meghan Mulligan who has studied there all semester. Some of my highlights of Prague include eating too many Trdelníks, walking through the Easter markets, and most importantly spending time with Meghan—a wonderful tour guide of Prague and an even better friend! The city was very different from Barcelona, but it had its own beauty and feeling. It reminded me of somewhere that Beauty and the Beast could have been set—quaint buildings, cobblestone streets, and a beautiful castle. When looking back at some of my favorite places I’ve been this semester, Prague is pretty high up on the list.
Prague was the first place on my trip though where something went wrong. Jane flew in on Sunday, but she was so sick. She had been sick in her earlier travels and simply had not gotten any better, so she couldn’t do too much in Prague. My heart hurt walking down Charles Bridge and through the Old Town Square knowing that she was too sick to be out and about with us. She stayed in on Monday and on Tuesday went to the doctor, finding out that she was much too ill to be travelling and was told to stay in Prague. We were scheduled on Wednesday to take a train together to Amsterdam, but on Tuesday afternoon she told me she was too sick to go. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to be travelling through Amsterdam with one of my favorite friends, but also glad that she was finally on the path to getting better. Being sick when you’re not home is pretty horrible, and being sick while traveling is even worse.
So I was on my own for Amsterdam, which wasn’t something I had anticipated happening, and I was overwhelmed. On Wednesday morning I found my way to the train station and hopped onto my first (out of six) trains to Amsterdam. Now if you look at a map of where Prague is in relation to Amsterdam, you will see a fairly large country called Germany. It was in Germany that I had five different train switches, ranging from five to twenty minutes in changing time—meaning that a large part of my day was dedicated to sprinting through train stations with my heavy duffle bag trying to find someone who spoke enough English to be able to help me find my next train. To say I was relieved to finally make it to Amsterdam was an understatement.
While I was unexpectedly alone for my travels through Amsterdam, it turned out to still be a wonderful experience. I met plenty of people through my hostel and was invited to tag along with other travelers. I think when other young travelers see someone else traveling alone they kind of take them in as a stray and bring them along for the journey. At least, that’s what I felt like happened to me, and I’m incredibly thankful for those who invited me to be apart of their Amsterdam experiences. Over the few days I was there I took a tour through the canal, ate yummy food, and even rented a bike to explore the city (which was kind of terrifying). All in all, I was sad to leave the city.
Saturday night was spent in London, where I stayed with my friend Michelle, who I met in Edinburgh earlier this semester. Again—travelers taking in other stray travelers. Come Sunday morning I was on an early flight to Greece; my final stop for my trip and the talisman of my semester. You might be wondering what I mean by that, so let me explain. I’ve never had a list of places I needed to visit in Europe. When I came abroad, there weren’t a whole lot of things that I just had to do. I wanted my experiences to come authentically and on their own, without planning too hard. The only exception to that was Greece. It was the place that I just had to go, and not for any particular reason. So halfway through the semester, I booked the flight and decided that I needed to follow through. I intentionally made it my last stop of my Spring break tour, and I intentionally planned on going alone. And as the semester went on I knew that if I made it to Greece that I did it. I accomplished my semester abroad, exactly as it needed to be.
So flash-forward to Monday night: my second night in Greece. I had just eaten dinner at a restaurant on the beach were an extremely kind waiter filled my glass of wine a few more times than he charged me for, and I found my way to the sand where I paced up and down the beach, my bare feet just barely touching the water. The sun was setting, I was alone, and it was the most incredible, bittersweet moment of my two weeks of traveling. It meant that my travels were over, and that when I got back to Cardiff I would only have twelve more days in a place that somehow became home without me realizing it.
Now I’m back in Cardiff trying to finish my essays before my flight takes off next Monday and praying that my Grecian tan doesn’t fade completely before I get home.