I was born to travel. Or at least that’s the feeling I get when faced with any jet-setting adventure–I bring out the travel books and start the planning! So when my parents suggested sending my two younger sisters and me to Spain for three weeks in July, I agreed without a second thought.
To me, any foreign country is a cultural and historical playground. Blame it on the fact that I’m a double major in history. To be given the opportunity to be completely immersed in Spanish culture seemed almost like a dream come true.
I can honestly say that I have never visited so many interesting places in such a short time span. From the moment we stepped off the plane in Madrid, we were on the go nonstop, but at times I still felt there wasn’t enough time to see everything I wanted to.
That doesn’t I didn’t try. I saw Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces in Barcelona; walked in the footsteps of the Spanish royal family and stood before Picasso’s La Guernica in Madrid; visited the medieval capital of Toledo; photographed the Roman aqueduct in Segovia; stopped in the Andalusian cities of Cordoba and Sevilla; and swam in the Atlantic Ocean off a beach lined with Roman ruins in Bolonia.
Meanwhile, doing all this traveling and exploring with my sisters was interesting, to say the least. Cathy is 16 and Lauren is 15, so being the oldest, I felt that it was my responsibility to make sure they were eating properly and not wasting their money. We would argue over which stores to go into or whether to walk or take a cab. (I still haven’t heard the end of this one.) I kept a journal throughout the trip, and most days I would end with a rant about how I wanted to strangle one (or both) of my sisters, along with my impressions of whatever we happened to see that day.
My sisters are still too young to do the club thing, but I did stay out dancing until 5 a.m. one night in Madrid at this famous club called Kapital, which used to be a theater. It was probably seven floors, and each floor played a different genre of music–although the big thing the European club-goers was house music. I didn’t get home until 6 a.m., just as the sun was beginning to rise. I have no idea how all the teenagers over there party every night, because I was exhausted the next day!
And while I was lucky enough to have had these experiences, I also came to realize how lucky I am to be an American citizen. Spain is a Socialist country that is still struggling to find its place in the 21st century. Things that we take for granted are viewed as luxuries to the Spaniards, like air-conditioning in 90-degree heat. Even today, Spanish citizens attempt to overcome a civil war that ravaged their country 60 years ago, even though their country has been united since the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, before America had even been discovered.
Not only is Spain rich in history, but it also has a unique and fascinating culture. Most tourists are blinded by the sights. And it’s easy to be, since monuments dating centuries back can be found just about anywhere throughout the country. But it is important to remember to appreciate the culture and not overlook it. A big part of traveling is learning to keep an open mind. In doing so, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy your vacation even more.
With that mindset, I learned to experience Spain as a Spaniard. Or at least I tried. I ate a lot of the foods that Spain is known for and I even participated in the afternoon siesta. It made my three weeks there a little easier because I adjusted to their way of life. There’s a cliche that goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Whoever came up with that was on to something. That’s the lesson I learned: When in Spain, do as the Spaniards… and be thankful for what you have once you return home. Because as much as I love to travel, I am definitely proud to be an American.