It’s hard to put into words what makes a place memorable for me. There have been some destinations that seem to have the recipe for greatness, yet somehow they don’t quite mix well…looking at you, Rome. And yet, there are some destinations I booked simply because it was the cheapest thing available, or I was just looking to cross off some places off my eternally-growing travel list. I’ll show up without a clue and by the end of the trip, I’m in love. Good food, entertainment, charm, pretty views…the list is pretty endless on things that’ll make me fall in love.
The last time, I covered #6-10 of some of my favorite journeys outside of Spain. Maybe some of these places aren’t even that great to other people, but for me, that combination of elements was just right. The top 5 destinations include a random assortment of places, of which, pre-Europe living, only one had been on my travel list my entire life. In a way, making this list encouraged me to continue booking those random trips to unheard of places…who knows what I’ll discover next.
I’m not going to lie: my #1 reason for creating an Instagram was to document my travels when I went abroad. I kept with it on my return to the States and when I moved to Madrid, and it’s still my preferred social media avenue. And…shocker! It is not an accurate reflection of my daily life in Spain. Most of my life involves crowded metro rides, lots of mud and nosebleeds, and plenty of black skirts ruined by white chalk.
Whenever I can swing it (pretty often given my work schedule and Ryanair), I travel. Madrid’s airport is one of the largest in Europe so I can get pretty much anywhere on the continent…as long as my bank account is feeling supportive. I’ve been extremely #blessed (hee hee) to visit as many places as I have. Some have been a bit of a let down, but in general I have managed to have an amazing time everywhere I’ve been.
One of my favorite pastimes is exploring my new country of course, but this post is dedicated to all the cities I’ve visited outside of Spain while being based here. (I promise I’ll write one with my favorite Spanish cities at a later date!) This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the wonderful places I’ve been fortunate enough to see and it was incredibly hard to narrow it down to just ten. I had Post-Its decorating my room for a month, switching orders and slowly whittling the list. And so, here it is, #6-10 of my favorite cities of all those I’ve visited.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. It was supposed to be temporary, a transition period.
But I guess love always sneaks up on people, completely unannounced. And once you fall in love and are happy, you’ll fight tooth and nail to keep that happiness.
It came to me as I sat at a small bar in the middle of Galicia, Spain. We were on the fourth day of our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The next day, all five of us would rise early, put on our backpacks and begin our final 22 kilometers to the cathedral. But for now, here we sat, drinking wine and laughing at the most outrageous pictures from our childhoods, college, and those awful middle school years. We were friends…some for a longer period of time than others, but all friends nonetheless. Yet each of us had a story, and even for those who had been friends for years, there was always something new to uncover.
Here it was, the reason that brought me on the Camino de Santiago, unbeknownst to me at the start of the journey, and even less so when my traveling adventures began when I was merely a baby. The reason I travel at all: the stories. Because each new city brings with it a thousand stories: the story of its people, the food, the culture. Each new place I go to, every person I meet there, is a new story. I travel for these stories, to learn them and embrace them. Because ultimately, these very stories help shape my own.
I have now accumulated nearly two full years of living abroad, and along the way, I have been extremely lucky to have experienced some amazing opportunities. In my time living in Spain, both as a student and now as a fake adult, I have:
- Received the new year in two of the largest European cities
- Laughed at the size of the Mona Lisa
- Bathed in a Turkish bath house
- Touched the Berlin Wall
- Accidentally took the wrong train to Versailles
But in all that time, I had never once traveled completely alone. It was something that was always on my list of things to do in life, but for some reason (probably fear) I kept putting it off. When you’re living in Europe with Ryanair at your disposal, it’s easy to find people willing to travel with you. So when I found a cheap flight to Edinburgh on Iberia, I snagged it immediately. I had always wanted to go to Edinburgh but had put it off multiple times because it was so expensive (the pound hurts, y’all).
What I didn’t foresee was that I wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to come with me.
At first, I was furious. I wanted to take I solo trip when I was ready for it, not because I’m a loser with no friends. But as my trip grew closer, I realized that the time had come for me to solo trip. In church, they always talked about how your timing might not necessarily match up with God’s. I guess in this case, my life was going a way I didn’t even realize I was ready for.
I won’t lie: I was at peace about going on a solo trip, but the thought still scared me enormously. But nearly a month after my trip’s completion, I can’t even begin to describe what an incredibly amazing experience it was. In certain ways, I consider myself a seasoned traveler, with quite a bit of frequent flier miles to my name. Traveling solo, however, brought me some lessons I could have never expected. As they say, experience really is the best teacher.
“I’m into your friend…she’s very pretty. Not that you aren’t, of course, but…you know…”
It was casual, conversational. It was near 7 in the morning, and we were standing outside a nightclub on one of the most exclusive streets of Madrid.
I knew exactly what he was trying to say. And so I raised my eyebrows, silently asking him to continue while internally delighting in the hole he was slowly digging himself into.
Maybe his mother never taught him to avoid commenting negatively about someone’s appearance to his or her face. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he was just stupid.
It was an odd sensation, finishing. There was no confetti, no large round of applause, no cannons going off in celebration. We pretty much approached the plaza much like we did the countless other towns, saying hello to our pilgrim friends and collapsing upon reaching our end point. There is a small marker in the center of the plaza marking the official end of the Camino, but we couldn’t even see it since there was a load of backpacks on it. There was this feeling of confusion. I wasn’t on the Camino for very long, of course, but there was this overwhelming feeling that I didn’t really have anything else to do once I’d finished. And it felt weird knowing that come Friday, I would not be up and walking on to the next town. I was no longer a pilgrim, but in a way I still was.
Note: this entry is a long one! I have tried to include both details of the actual Camino as well as some of the reflections I noted in my journal along the way. I’ve also included some pictures to break up the writing a bit 🙂
It started the way most things in my life do: with procrastination.
I grew up in a home where dessert was prized above all other courses. It is, after all, the last taste of your meal. One of my favorite desserts growing up was plain vanilla pudding, because I was boring and I didn’t eat chocolate. And then, one fine summer afternoon, I went to a baby shower for one of my mom’s coworkers, where I first came into contact with banana pudding. Now, bana pudding is by no means South American, so we didn’t really get it very often at home. All I had to hold on to where the few moments I could stuff my face with it at parties.
When you go to college in the American South though, there’s no shortage of the deliciousness that is banana pudding.
One of my favorite things about taking to people from home about my adventures is when they try to guess what I’m doing with my life. Approximately 94% of the time, they tend to fall back on anything and everything they know about Spain, be it 100 Montaditos or the famed running of the bulls in Pamplona. So I took the super scientific approach of asking my Facebook friends what stereotypes they held about my adopted home. And boy, did the answers roll in. I decided to take the ones that came up the most and answer the question: true or false? So let’s get rolling!