I have been on several trips since my last post and I wanted to talk about one of them in particular. I went to Barcelona last weekend and it turned out to be one of my favorite European cities. In this post I will touch on some of the different activities I was able to do in Barcelona, and the cultural vibes throughout the city.
In just one month in Spain, I have gone through orientation, met tons of new people (both American and Spanish), finished a two week intensive Spanish course, finalized my class schedule for the semester, and visited four different Spanish towns/cities. Yet, the lens that I viewed all of that through changed after reading an assigned article last week in one of my classes. The title of the piece is “The View from the Veranda.” The writing compares American study abroad students to colonial settlers. Years ago, settlers left their home countries to move to new colonial lands. They sought the adventure and excitement of travel and a new land. However, most only experienced colonial life through the view from their verandas: they engaged with the colonies enough to enjoy the excitement of something new, but they brought the amenities of their home countries and never immersed themselves into the native culture at a level that would be uncomfortable. Though I had never though of travel abroad in this sense, I see the truth in it. American students studying abroad expect the conveniences of home (internet, their own room, hot water, classes structured in American form, classes with the same dates as American semesters, etc.), even when it may not be the norm of the host culture. I definitely fall victim to many of these demands, as I don’t believe I could truly give up ties with my life back in the US. However, my goal is to strike a balance in which I leave my comfort zone on a daily basis. So far, I have accomplished this through my classes, my internship, and my travels.
As I prepare myself to leave for Singapore, I have spent time reflecting on my past trips abroad and why they hold such weight in my memory, why they constitute so much in the construction of my own identity. Beyond seeing new places, being exposed to new cultures and ideas, or learning a new language, traveling for me has always resulted in one essential outcome: a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and how important our connection to others is.
I just spent four days in Amsterdam, exploring the city and celebrating Queen’s Day. Queen’s Day is a holiday to celebrate the queen’s birthday on April 30. This date is actually the queen’s mother’s birthday, but she kept the holiday in April because her birthday is during the winter and the weather is nicer in the spring for the outdoor celebration. This Queen’s Day was special because it was the last Queen’s Day, for Queen Beatrix stepped down from the throne and her son ascended the monarchy. Thus, next year will be King’s Day, on his birthday, April 27. Queen’s Day differed this year because it included the king’s coronation. I saw the royal family (the House of Orange, which is why everyone wears orange on this day) enter the New Church for the ceremony. Very cool! Then I celebrated with the locals. The festivities reminded me of a mix between Foxfield and Greek philanthropy events in the spring, but on a city-wide scale. All the streets and stores were shut down as people ate cheap yet delicious food and sang and dance to loud and energetic music. It is a day to have fun and celebrate the royal family. Queen’s Day is the only day when locals can sell their belongings garage sale style, so many street vendors sell clothes and goods. Children also sold goods at a local park! They are businessmen in the making.
Two Sundays ago, I arrived back in Bath after two weeks of traveling for our Easter break. Almost all of the exchange students in Bath chose to travel around the UK or Europe during our break, and it was a fantastic opportunity to see places I’ve always dreamed of visiting! Our first stop was Venice, so my friends and I left Bath on a 4:40 am airport bus. After switching buses in London, a flight, another bus to Venice, a water taxi ride, and lots of wrong turns through dark streets in the pouring rain, we were standing outside of our building by about 7pm. Our hostel was so small that it was only a few rooms on the middle floor of an apartment building, so we buzzed the outside doorbell to let us in. And we buzzed again….and again…. Calling the hostel’s phone number just gave a voicemail message (completely in Italian of course!) Finally, someone in another apartment must have gotten sick of the incessant buzzing, and opened the door to let us in to the courtyard within the building. Up the flight of stairs, we arrived at a door that said it was our hostel, but again – completely locked, and no one answering our knocking. We had almost given up, and were about to return to a nearby hotel to ask them to translate the hostel’s voicemail message. But, a nearby window showed that there was a TV on inside – somebody must be there! At this point, we were soaked, exhausted, and frozen. Our polite knocking became wild pounding on the door and windows, until finally, another traveler heard the noise from within her room and opened the door for us. A few minutes later, the hostel owner returned, surprised to find us inside as he returned from the supermarket. I’ve never been so happy to have a bed and a place to peel off my soaked socks. Luckily the rest of our stay went uphill from there, and we woke up the next morning ready to explore!
This past week I went on a cruise with my family to Funchal, Madeira; two Canary Islands; and Granada, Spain for spring break. It was great to see my family again and spend a relaxing week visiting beautiful islands; however, I am a bit jealous of my friends who visited several cities over the week, instead of the four places I went to for a day each. I definitely appreciate the benefits of rest and relaxation, but my time in Europe is limited and I want to travel as much as possible. Fortunately this month I am going to visit Morocco, Portugal, and the Netherlands, as well as Eastern Europe in May before returning home to the States—how time flies! I am extremely excited to travel and compare the different countries I visit, both to the US and to Spain.
A highlight of the past few weeks was definitely our day spent in Oxford last weekend. It’s less than two hours from Bath by train, and was the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen! The entire town seems to revolve around the University, with over forty independent “colleges” scattered throughout the city.
Though Oxford’s dorms and classrooms are mixed in with city buildings and it doesn’t have UVA’s sprawling campus, both universities have really beautiful architecture. This was my favorite building in the whole city – the Radcliffe Camera. It was built as a medical library, but now is a gigantic reading room for an underground tunnel network of libraries underneath Radcliffe Square. A library inside of a rotunda… sounds familiar ?!
We made our first real adventure into China this weekend: Shanghai.
May 1st is Labor Day in China, so we decided to take advantage of the break from school to travel up into the mainland and see this city that we had heard so much about. Shanghai is everything and more than whatever you have heard/read/seen. The huge metropolis is the largest municipality in the PRC, and it certainly feels like it. Shanghai is a crazy combination of old colonial and huge modern China, which led to it’s nickname “Paris of the East.”
I just got back home from my first trip to Hong Kong. Some of the highlights of my trip include seeing the skyline view from our hotel’s top-floor pool, making new friends, eating dim sum, and climbing to “the peak”. I highly recommend these things to anyone going to Hong Kong for the first time. Coming back, my initial thought is that it is amazing how different Hong Kong is from Beijing or Shanghai. The energy, language, and people are all unique. It is very apparent that Hong Kong is a more western city than Beijing. This all stems from its unique history.
As of last night, my five-day trip in Hong Kong had come to end. Looking back on the trip, I can’t believe all that I had managed to see and accomplish in such a short time. It feels as if the entire time there was experienced in fast-forward.