By Jessie G.
Nothing is better than traveling with friends! Unforgettable laughs and memories bringing you and your friends closer together. It is truly an amazing experience!
This spring break, I traveled to Spain… with my friends! One of the teachers in our school booked his annual trip, and we made our way to Cadiz and Madrid-the perfect combination of cities to learn what Spain is all about.
After a long red-eye flight, where we munched on Shake Shack and McDonald’s, our last taste of American style food, we arrived in Madrid. Immediately, we made our way to a train station, where we were to take a high speed 4-hour ride to Cadiz. Featured on the ride were beautiful cities, towns, hillsides and great views.
When we arrived in Cadiz, we were immediately directed to our host families. Two to three roommates were assigned a host family that would cook and tend for them during our time in Cadiz. We all anxiously waited to meet our “mama and papa” for the week, while I’m sure the host parents were extremely excited, however, they had no idea what was coming (they would soon realize that we are loud kids with poor Spanish speaking skills).
My roommate, Gaby, and I met our host mom (we only had a mom, compared to other people who had full families), and we were on our way. During the walk “home”, our mom pointed out the best gelato stops, bakeries, and cafes. We ate the first night in our homes where Gaby and I had our first taste of a Spanish omelet. Later, we met up with our full group to explore the town by night.
Each day and night, we met the group in Plaza de Mina. We sampled our first gelato (dulce de leche and Nutella are my favorites) and spent that first wonderful night at the beach and roaming the streets of Cadiz. The next day, we were scheduled to have a walking tour of the city. We learned all about the different castles and churches in Cadiz, while also stopping for photos, and trying our best to speak Spanish. We ate lunch at a local Spanish restaurant, trying traditional Spanish salads and dishes. Then we were on our way, exploring Cadiz on our own. Each day, we had one activity and then were free to explore (38 kids wandering around a new city by themselves- what could possibly go wrong? :)). We explored the area surrounding the beach, walking up and down the boardwalk, climbing on top of rocks, and buying bracelets. We were soon sick of Spanish food, so we often stuck with some Italian food for a late day snack at a pizza joint called Mama Pronto.
Fast fact: In Spain, breakfast is typically a very small meal, lunch is huge, (at around 2) and dinner is often very late at 9:00. Therefore, late-afternoon snacks are always helpful.
A beautiful sunset, paella for dinner, and of course more gelato made up our next night. 12 am was our curfew so we set off on our way back home. Each group of kids was set up around Cadiz in different houses and it is the kids’ responsibility to navigate. When we arrived back at our home, there was an unexpected surprise: two Italian exchange students. Our host family happened to have both Spanish and Italian exchange students; this was truly a special experience. Luckily, their Spanish skills were sub-par like ours and they spoke English. It was super fun as they were both girls, and we always used their hair-dryers!
Surfs up- the next day we hit the 10 footers and rode the waves (or should I say 3 footers). We rode the bus to a nearby city for a surf lesson. We were geared up in wetsuits and carried our boards (in a really cool way, with two boards held between two people) down to the shore. The guides separated us into groups (which was identified by our swim-shirt color) and taught us the basic skills we needed to know to be what we believed to be “pro-surfers.” Luckily, I have surfed before, so I was ready to take on the monster waves :). I hit the waves and it was a success. I got up almost immediately and made sure to brag about it. The instructors, although only speaking Spanish, helped everyone out and it was an awesome experience! Not too cold, or too hot, which made for great conditions. After an hour on the water, we headed to lunch where we were served salads, potatoes, bread (TONS OF BREAD), and some more paella. For the remainder of the day, we stayed at the beach where the waves were perfect for jumping and diving. Although most of my friends decided to enjoy the warmth and tan, I was all up for swimming. My friends, Hannah and Caroline, and I played in the sea. The waves were huge and perfect for swimming. The boys played soccer on the sand, and ultimately I joined in. We truly had a blast on the beach! It was 100% my favorite day of the trip.
We ended the day off at a flamenco show, a traditional type of Spanish dance. Terrific singers and dancers performed for us, and a bunch of us even had the opportunity to “flamenco” ourselves as we were called up on stage to perform. We were taking in all of the Spanish culture for the week! Dinner at Cafe Royalty followed, an American style restaurant. The restaurant was very fancy and offered different options, but was a little pricey (especially for a group of teenagers) and the service was slow, as we were there for 3 hours. But still, the restaurant was nice and tasty. Gelato followed of course, and we were on our way home.
Fast fact: During our time in Cadiz, it was the holy week. During the holy week, every church brings out statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or other Catholic figures and marches them through the streets accompanied by bands, people paying their for their sins (dressed up in all white with masks), and other people dressed in costume. Each statue follows the same path through the streets of Cadiz and makes its way to the cathedral. It was very interesting to see the statues go through the streets, but also sometimes annoying as it caused tons of traffic and blocked roads. But, it was truly an experience. My house was located right next to the cathedral, so my roommate and I always had to deal with Jesus right outside of our door, blocking our way to our meeting spot. But a small text, saying “Jesus is in our way,” prevented us from getting in trouble for being late.
The next day, we visited Castillo-a 30 minute boat ride away. We loaded onto the boat and made our way to the city. When we arrived, we were left to wander the streets on our own. My friends and I made our way to a cafe that only sold “pan” and coffee, we were disappointed when we came to learn that pan (bread in Spanish) didn’t include pancakes. We continued on, tasting traditional Spanish food, at a Churreria, where we ate churros dipped in chocolate. The churros in Spain are not like the ones in America, where they are smothered in cinnamon. Instead, it is made up of dough (very bland) and the chocolate gives the churros the delicious taste. In Castillo, we went to a wine salary and enjoyed the rest of the city. Later, we took the boat ride back for dinner and gelato on the streets of Cadiz!
The next day, we were on our way to Sevilla, an hour bus ride away. We immediately noticed the stark differences between Cadiz and Sevilla, as Sevilla is much more touristy and commercial. We surely took advantage of the Starbucks in Sevilla. We started off the day at Plaza De España, where we took many photos. We next headed to one of Sevilla’s beautiful cathedrals, which was very beautiful. We headed to the Royal Alcázar of Seville where we were given a tour and took many photos in front of the cool and different plants. We sipped our Starbucks drinks and ate lunch at a delicious local restaurant. We enjoyed the warmth of Sevilla and all of the missed American food. We were on our way back to Cadiz after a full day and of-course spent the night walking around the city and sampling different foods.
The next morning we headed to Torre Tavira for our final activity in Cadiz. We headed to a building where we walked up tons of stairs to get to an awesome viewpoint of the city. We were able to spot our teacher’s bright red pants from the top. We saw the whole city, as the sun came through a hole in the building, casting the whole city down on a disk in front of us. We followed that light to the ground below, and made sure to say hello to Señor on the way. We had a farewell lunch with our host families, and then said adios to Cadiz, a friendly and beautiful city. Next up was a 4-hour train ride to
Madrid which included laughs and card games. When we arrived in Madrid, we stayed at Hostel Persha. That night, my friend and I tried octopus at a local restaurant. The energy in Madrid is truly special and created an enjoyable experience for everyone in the city.
Our last day in Spain consisted of two museums: Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. We split into two groups and toured the museums separately. El Prado consisted of traditional and intricate art. It was crazy to notice the extreme details, like small strands of hairs or even things like toenails. La Reina Sofia was much more modern. It had plenty of sculptures and modern art and was beautiful! We spent the rest of the day shopping at some commercial American stores (oops). It happened to be raining, but luckily my friend and I splurged and bought clear umbrellas. We ate lunch in a downtown Madrid restaurant, where I had great duck, and then continued to explore the city.
We had a farewell dinner with the whole group, where laughs and memories throughout the trip were shared and remembered. Toasts were made, thank yous were given, and we enjoyed our last night in Spain… without our parents. The last night was truly special. Past our curfew of 12, our leader and his troops (the kids) explored Madrid past midnight. We headed to the main plaza where we attempted different dance moves and took our last fair share of photos from the trip. We then headed towards the palace, where there were more laughs and we even learned a few things about the significance of the palace. We then made a spontaneous decision to get churros, at 1 am. Our group ordered tons and tons and tons of churros, ranging from size. There were huge and thick churros dipped in hard chocolate and thin ones too. It was all delicious but certainly filling especially at 1 am. After way too much chocolate, we headed back to the hostel, lost our teacher on the way, and truly enjoyed the last moments of a special trip and experience.
The next day we said adios and were on our way back to New York, back to our parents (Ugh!!!!!!). The trip truly was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Traveling with friends is special. I met so many new people on my journey and became close with people I have never spoken to before. Traveling to the place that is home to the language you are learning provides a far better comprehension of the culture and language that any classroom setting can provide. The trip was both an amazing learning experience and an amazing bonding experience. Way too much dulce de leche gelato and churros made the trip SWEET! And so with that being said, hasta luego (see ya later in Spanish)!