The first time I went to Spain was with my high school Spanish class over our spring break. Our teacher organized the 10-day trip, like she did every year. Each year the itinerary would rotate between southern and northern Spain beginning in Madrid. I really had no preference on between the two. I was just ecstatic to be able to be going on my first truly international voyage.
As our teacher finalized the plans for us, I found out we would be travelling through Spain beginning in Madrid and ending in Barcelona. On the way, our travels would take us through Burgos, Segovia, Bilbao, San Sebastían, and Pamplona. We’d have more time in certain cities and less in others. I began brushing up on my Spanish and researching all there was to know about Spain, or at least as much as I could, being a high school junior at a time when I feel like Netscape Navigator was still the web browser of choice.
Once we finally arrived in Spanish I immediately began to take in as much information, history, culture, and, of course, food as I could. I still remember that my first meal in Spain was a sandwich de jamón y queso in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Our itinerary was filled with pre-scheduled guided tours and a private bus to all the sites. While not as much fun as exploring without a schedule, I can understand way it was arranged that way, since there were about 15 high school students who needed to be looked after by about 5 adults. We did have a lot of free time though, during most afternoons and just about every evening. I specifically remember telling my Mom about this when I returned, and she was freaked out that I was wondering around Spain with a few friends, all with limited Spanish, doing whatever we chose to. However, there as a strict 11:00 pm curfew, so no discotecas.
Throughout the trip, I saw many places and many things that I will forever carry with me. Looking back though, there are a few in particular that truly standout.
The Plaza Mayor in Madrid, with its stunning symmetrical architecture and lively population, be it consumers, artists, tourists, performers, or even those just passing through, truly captured a place in my heart and gives me that same feeling every time I’m there.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is an awe-inspiring building whose first glance still remains with me. I remember catching a glimpse of the shiny, crisp, smooth surface down a street lined with old tall building, which resembled the more traditional Spanish architecture while riding into town. It seemed so out of place, but yet so right.
San Sebastían and Zarautz are two special cities to me in their own rights. Many love San Sebastían for all obvious reasons of it being a beautiful, romantic city with great food and rich history. I also had my first international beer there. When visiting San Sebastían, we actually stayed in Zarautz, which is a small city just west of San Sebastían. This coastal town was charming and welcoming. There was not a whole lot to do in the city, but hiking the trails just outside the city, walking the long beach, and watching the many surfers was very appealing to me. I’d recommend it people who are looking for a small town to visit without a lot of touristy sites.
During my 10-day trip, the culture, history, people, and food all overwhelmed me, and I immediately knew that I wanted to return. There was no doubt in my mind that I would either. However, the only thing I wanted to do before coming back was to improve my Spanish. While I thought that I had seen a lot of Spain during my trip, I knew there was more I had to discover.
Do you remember your first ever international trip? What do you remember most? What stuck with you? Do you yearn to go back abroad or did you stay and never come back?