I am back from spring break and I only have one word: WOW! Wow. Wow. Wow. Europe is amazing. I cannot believe that I traveled to four countries within one week. France, Spain, Italy, and Wales. I already told all of you about Paris, so now I get to talk about Spain.
My roommate from the past two years, Gabby, is studying abroad in Madrid. So, I got to spend three days with her showing us around the city.
Madrid was a nice break between Paris and Rome (two very touristy cities). Madrid is not very touristy. For example, restaurant menus are typically only in Spanish. Therefore, I was very fortunate to know some Spanish. I took Spanish classes from 6th grade until 11th grade. This really helped. I am able to read and understand Spanish very well. My verbal skills are okay. I learned from this trip that I can communicate with people around me though, which is super important. For example, I bought a metro pass that was good for 10 trips. However, my ticket would not let me through the gates of the metro at one point. All of the UF in Madrid students, Gabby, and Andrea had already gone through. One of the ladies who worked for the metro came up to me and asked what was wrong in Spanish. I was able to tell her that the machine was not able to read my ticket. Then I proceeded to tell her in Spanish that my ticket still had eight trips left on it. The worker then escorted me to a machine and put in her credentials for a new ticket, good for eight trips,and gave me the new version of my ticket. I was able to thank her and then go through the gates and meet up with my friends. I am incredibly thankful for my background in Spanish because I think it would be very hard to visit Madrid without knowing any Spanish.
Another thing I loved about Madrid is the culture. One component of this is tapas. When waiting on food or drinks at a bar, you get snacks to eat while you wait. They are almost like appetizers. Except they are free! Spanish food is so GOOD. Gabby took us to a market where there are multiple stalls that just sell tapas. Each type of tapa costs about a euro and people typically go to the market around 5-6pm for a snack before dinner. The actual time Spaniards eat dinner at is around 10 or 11pm. The Spanish culture is more laid back and going out for drinks or dinner occurs much later than British or American culture. At the market I sampled some white sangria, chicken and ham croquetas, meat paella, and some Spanish desserts. The market was easily one of my favorite places that I visited. One of the best ways to experience a new culture is to eat their food.
While in Spain we also visited a park, the palace, and cathedral. However, I personally believe that the coolest thing we did was experience the tapas part of culture.
Plaza in Spain
After Madrid, Andrea and I visited Rome. I loved Rome. Rome is easily my second favorite place I have visited. (London still has my heart though.) There was so much to see and do in only one city. We visited the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vatican City, and multiple churches and cathedrals. We explored different plazas and ate gelato daily. Rome was incredible. It was also very touristy and I was asked if I wanted to buy a selfie stick every thirty seconds (believe it or not the answer is still no thank you). I did not mind the street vendors though because the history, views, and food were worth their constant bombardment.
I am so excited to go back to Rome and explore it further with my sister and mother when they come to visit me in fewer than two weeks.
Thursday night we arrived back in London with enough time to wash our clothes and pack for our Wales Weekend Adventure trip. Most of the UF in London students had agreed that we would all do this FIE Wales trip.
We got to Wales Friday night and were fed delicious Welsh food. We then learned our schedule for the weekend. On Saturday our group was scheduled to go hiking along the Pembrokeshire coast in the morning and we were scheduled to go coasteering (jumping off cliffs) in the afternoon. On Sunday morning we would go surfing in the ocean that was less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now you’re probably wondering: “Jennifer, how did you survive jumping off cliffs and surfing in such cold water?” The answer is simple: wet suits.
This weekend we all learned a lot about wet suits. These contraptions keep you quite warm. However, in order to do this they need to be tight. That also means that they are VERY VERY VERY hard to put on. A lot of shimmying, jumping, pulling, and maneuvering occurs backstage when putting a wet suit on. Once it is past a certain point on your body, you begin to pray that it is your size because you do not want to start all over again. Once it is on though are you in the clear? Not yet. Since Wales is so windy and cold and the water is freezing you need EVEN MORE PROTECTION from the water. So you need to put on spandex-y wet suit shorts and vests on over the wet suit. The coasteerer also needs a hood to keep their face warm, wet suit socks, gloves, a helmet, a life jacket, and sneakers. Phew. That’s a lot of gear. It took us more than an hour to gear up to jump off cliffs. We were not very comfortable in the flesh squeezing clothing; however, we were fairly warm when exposed to the wind and not freezing to death in the cold water. Coasteering was a really cool experience that I’m glad I got to participate in. However, it was a lot more wet, free, rock climbing than I anticipated I would be doing. There was a small path along the cliffs and our instructors basically told us that we were going to scale down the cliff then jump in the water, which we eventually did. After this we swam to and from a few cliffs in the water and then had to climb back up the cliffs to the path alongside the cliffs. I was expecting ladders, and designated jumping areas. Instead, we just climbed all over nature and somehow made it back up. Wow.
Here’s a picture for you to visualize what some of the cliffs in Wales looked like.
Cliffs in Wales
Saturday morning we decided to go on the “long” hike which was 8 miles long. Our instructors dropped us off eight miles away from the lodge we were staying at and said “good luck getting back”. They gave us paper maps and told us to hike along the coastal path. This was physically exhausting. There were so many hills and there was mud everywhere. I slipped and fell four times. The first time I fell I cut my pinky finger and started bleeding. Thank goodness one of the girls I was with had a napkin. Towards the end of the hike at around the 9th mile (yeah we got lost a few times) we went through really thick mud. At one point we thought it was quicksand because we could not lift our feet up. It was really hard to walk through the mud. Halfway through it I lifted my foot up and the rest of my boot did not come along with it. My shoe broke in half! I knew that we were almost back at this point though, so I had to leave the sole of my shoe behind in the thick mud and continue on with one boot and a sock as protection for my feet. It was not really funny at the time because I had to walk uphill almost barefoot but now I think it is hilarious. OF COURSE, out of everyone on this trip I would be the one person to bleed at the beginning of the hike and break their shoes at the end. Life can just be so funny sometimes.
I still do not regret the hike though, no matter how badly it treated me.
Sunday morning was less eventful. We did not need as much wet suit gear to surf and we were professionals at putting one on now. I did not stand up on my surf board; however, i did catch some waves and ride them out on my knees. After surfing, we at lunch and headed back for London.
This Spring Break was the best Spring Break I have ever had. I traveled to four countries and tried many new things. I stepped out of my comfort zone and was rewarded for doing so. My internship starts this week and I’m very excited to see what I can do.
Thanks for reading,