By the end of April, after traveling every weekend, my CEA friends and I had seen twelve cities in the southern half of Spain, three countries and a barrio in Granada inhabited by mountain dwellers. By the end of my study abroad term, I had been to the Prado art museum in Madrid four times, the Louvre in Paris twice, the Cathedral of Sevilla for Sunday mass, looked down from the top of the cupola at Saint Peter’s Basilicain Italy, and seen Christopher Columbus’ tomb.
Each week was similar to the last. At school Tuesday, we would talk about where we had been. Wednesday we would talk about where we wanted to go. By Thursday, we would have plans and Friday morning we met at the Plazade Cuba, bocadillo (Spanish baguette) in hand, ready for our next adventure. This week was just like all the others and the destination was Alicante, a beach town just south of Valencia.
Of all the places we had gone and all of the things we had seen, the end of April was nearing and we had yet to just go to the beach. The Spanish Riviera, the most exotic and luxurious spot on the peninsula. We weren’t expecting much historical value or days filled with site seeing. All we knew about Alicante was that there was a lighthouse that was on the cover of Lonely Planet Spain. But more importantly, we knew there was a beach and a nightlife that didn’t begin until 4 a.m. That weekend four girls that I had known for four months packed into a mini two-door rent-a-car with only our bikinis, towels and cameras for the ultimate weekend getaway at the Mediterranean coast. However, our dreams of sun were questioned once we passed through Granada, the half way point. The mountains were covered with snow all the way to the highway. Snow… in May… in Spain? Spain was supposed to be tropical. This trip was supposed to be a trip to the beach. The snow didn’t faze us and we charged on, all four more hours to Alicante.
Jackhammers greeted us in the morning of our 10 euro hostel room. It was fully equipped with five beds lined along the wall, a missing shower head and acouple of four-legged friends in the closet. The sheets had holes and the cots had springs coming through the mattresses. When we woke, cot to cot, we simultaneously began to hum “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” But something else was in the midst of the prison cell and construction site across the alley; it was rain.
It rained for three days straight. During our spring break getaway to the Spanish Riviera, we never stepped foot on the beach. Marie woke up covered with our jackets one morning because her bed had no blankets.
The next day, after 20 years of the same straight blond locks, she finally decided to cut her hair, eight inches. Kat found out that her absentee election for president of her University, which she had presided over for three years, was lost to her Vice-President. When she turned from the phone and her devastating news, she realized that she found four new friends to lean on. Lexi found a fly in her salsa. Instead of a free dinner, the Italian waiter who spoke neither Spanish nor English, gave us a bottle of tequila, Mexican birthday hats and red carnations on our way out.
Molly was determined to make our trip worth while. She led us around the city for more than two hours in the pouring rain in search of the notable (so said Lonely Planet) Alicante Aquarium. It promised to be bigger than the Monterey Bay Aquarium, more diverse than San Diego and out of the rain. Our excitement, however, for Mediterranean fish was squashed when instead we found a three-foot tall fish tank outside in the middle of a plaza that contained one species of fish – gold fish.
And I, I left for Alicante thinking I had seen almost everything. Cathedrals were all starting to look the same and Renaissance Art was becoming the same old bible story. I left yearning to turn off my brain and bask in the sun. But I returned to Sevilla with the most important lesson of all. Sometimes you lose elections, salsa attracts flies, and there aren’t enoughblankets. Sometimes Aquariums are only fish tanks.Sometimes it rains on luxurious Mediterranean beach vacations. Sometimes studying abroad can be unpredictable. But always, always experiences are defined by the way you chose to describe them. And the people you are with are the words.