Emily Cox – Europe (2011) ‡

A Bigger, Better Me – All Because of You

I’ve seen the world, and the world has seen me. The Globetrotter Grant gave me an opportunity I could have only dreamed about.

When the Globetrotter team awarded me, I received more than money to fund some travels, I received an opportunity to experience the world. I traveled all over Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona. I got to lie on the beach and dance the night away in Portugal. I went to the big city of Paris and the small southern town of La Rochelle, France, where I enjoyed the best latte. In Italy, I started in Rome and made my way to Florence, the most beautiful city in the world. On a budget I got to see four countries and seven cities. I will never forget where I have been or what I have seen and Globetrotter gave me all of that.

I was studying in Granada, Spain, before I started traveling so it was easy to pick up my bags and start in Madrid for a weekend. It was hot when I got there but the hostel was shady and tranquil. Just around the corner from the Royal Residence, I had found my place in the center of the city. I stopped in a small Turkish bar to grab lunch – I tried Shwarma for the first time. It was amazing watching them shave the meat from a roasting stick and serve it fresh. After that, I headed to the Plaza Mayor, the center of the city, and I took pictures of the towering buildings surrounding the plaza.

I walked on to join some friends, also traveling in Madrid, at the Museum of Modern Art (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) to see Picasso’s Guernica, the highlight of my trip. The painting, more of a mural because of its size, was breathtaking. I couldn’t leave Guernica’s side for over twenty minutes, enjoying the bustle of tourists also enjoying it around me. When the initial shock of its beauty was over we headed back to the main part of the city to eat. We immediately found an all-you-can-eat sushi bar only a few blocks away and took advantage.

Royal Palace, Madrid

The next day we headed to the royal palace, an interior designer’s dream (or nightmare), as every room was themed, and the embroidered walls and porcelain decorated bathrooms were all done by hand. The amount of gold used just to decorate the porcelain in the king’s “shaving room” was remarkable. I wanted to take pictures of everything; I couldn’t believe I saw it all.

Barcelona was incredible, definitely one of the most fun cities I went to in Europe. I spent the first day walking around, taking in the sights. I walked down Las Ramblas Calle (a famous shopping street in downtown Barcelona) and stopped in the fresh market where Spanish and Catalan people go to buy their fresh meat.

Barcelona market

Some stands I had to run by, covering my eyes, as they sold the parts of the animal we don’t see in America. The fruit stands were spectacular, stacking fresh strawberries, kiwis, figs, and tangerines. When I was done drooling over decorative candy, I made my way down to the older part of the city. In the old part of Barcelona five-story buildings are separated by seven-foot alleys that date back to the time of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand (the Catholic monarchs of the late 15th and early 16th centuries).

The next morning I found a city tour group called “Fat Tire Bicycle Tour: Barcelona,” which was more than worth the money. During the four hours of the tour I was taken through all the historically significant areas of the city, including the steps where Queen Isabel gave Columbus the approval to find the new route to India (the discovery of the New World). The Palau de la Música Catalana was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, but even more beautiful was Park Güell by architectural genius Antoni Gaudi, who also designed and decorated many other buildings throughout the city.

View of Barcelona, with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia

The combination of old Spanish and Catalan cultures with the art  of Gaudi, including his life’s work, Sagrada Família, make Barcelona one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Spain. Barcelona was one of my favorite destinations and I cannot wait to return there in the future.

I bought a bus ticket from Granada, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal. The weather was supposed to be nice so my friends joined me for the weekend. The bus ride was long so we caught an early bus from the bus station. The ride was beautiful. As the sun rose over the far off mountains we made our way across the border, I couldn’t stop thinking that I might have forgot to bring a second bathing suit, and that I wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible. When we arrived in Lisbon we booked into a hotel right on the beach, just a 20 minute walk from town. We dropped off our bags and ran to the ocean. The beach was down three flights of steps, sitting under massive sandstone cliffs, and in the water stood large eroded rock pedestals. The water was crystal clear and I could see kelp deep on the sea floor.

After a few hours of relaxation at this postcard-perfect beach we headed off for our first adventure – the “Booze Cruise.” I bought a ticket onto a sailboat with endless Sangria (a drink made with wine, diced fruit and a lot of sugar). The boat anchored just off the shore and we did jumps and flips off of it into the ocean, just swimming in the Portuguese water was like a dream. About an hour into the cruise we were taken on small boats to see the “grottos,” a tourist favorite, and now I know why. As our dinghy captain entered what appeared to be low-tide caves underneath towering cliffs he turned off the motor and we drifted into an open-topped, water-carved grotto with emerald green water and arches of sandstone rock surrounded us. He told us the names of each of the caves and tried to explain to us, in broken English, how they were formed when Africa split from the Spanish peninsula and that this sandstone was thrust upward from the ocean floor.

After the cruise we were tired from the sun but we wouldn’t miss a minute of our experience in Portugal so we headed to town. We stopped at a quaint restaurant we found, a Portuguese-Italian fusion restaurant on the main shopping street. We enjoyed seafood pasta and fresh baked bread. The next day when we woke up we headed to the small town to look around. The people were so nice and everyone spoke English. I picked up some postcards for my family and we laughed about the souvenirs in a small shop just off the main street.

That night we caught a bus to the most western point of Europe, the seaside cliffs of Portugal, only 20 minutes away. We watched the sunset with a hundred other vacationers, and when the sun sank into the Atlantic Ocean the crowd cheered. We went out that night and danced at a local bar which played Meringue music. It was a beautiful night, as the cobblestone streets were decorated with patterns and then lit by street lamps; the light is just different there. In one word, Portugal is paradise.

Street view of the Eiffel Tower

France was amazing. Paris actually is just as it appears in the movies. The streets were crowded with tourists and the museum lines winded around corners and off down the streets. We checked in to our hostel, in the center of the city, and headed off to the Eiffel Tower, which was more amazing than pictures or words can describe. The sheer size of this monument, towering over Paris is breathtaking. Taking the elevator up, I stared out the window –  as I was cranked up above the city it became clear that here I had hit a milestone. I was standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, with the city of Paris at my feet, this is what traveling is about – these memories that can never leave you, the stories that you can’t embellish because they are already so great.

Versailles

We also visited the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, both of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The Palace of Versailles was so grand that it was over an hour walk to the residence of Marie Antoinette. The architecture, and decoration was only as over-the-top as the French can do. For my last couple days in France I headed to the southern port of La Rochelle, a quaint, dream-like city on the water, with the rolling green hills and small buildings of the South of France. My sister married a Frenchman a few years ago and moved here, so in some way, it’s like coming home to my sister since I get to see her so little. I tried to speak with my three-year-old niece, who already prefers French, and then we went for coffee in town – in fact this was the best latte I had on all of my travels. France, overall, was an amazing trip, which completely changed my feelings about Europe, giving me more confidence to go out and explore it. It was lucky then that I had such an amazing trip planned next.

Roman ruins

I had a three-day-weekend off from my Spanish Language and Culture classes so I headed to Rome on a cheap plane ticket with a plan to see a couple of the best cities in Italy. Rome was the first stop because it contains so much history and therefore was a good jumping off point for the entire country. I enjoyed the Roman ruins and themed street performers.

One day of the historical aspect was enough so I bought my train ticket to Florence – the most beautiful city I have ever been to. Upon exiting the train station, the first thing I noticed was the old towering buildings, stacked up along small cobblestone streets, no bigger than alleys back in the states. The small cars, and hundreds of Vespas, mix with hundreds of people and buzz in and out of the buildings, up and down the streets. The light doesn’t shine in this part of the world like anywhere else, the sun comes down in rays of light, illuminating rich color, and it is indescribable.

Florence, with the Duomo (at left)

The city is walled, reminiscent of times when this city was protected under rich aristocrats like the Medici family. I visited the Medici family home in Florence, a sprawling garden behind a hill top mansion, it was spectacular. We had plans to head off to Venice but we decided to stay in Florence for the last day, as we felt that it was important to get to know – and we liked it that much. On our last day we headed outside of the walls surrounding the city to the Tuscany Valley. My trip in Italy was so amazing that I wished I was never going home.

These travels can’t be taken for what they are in literal form – otherwise it would seem that they simply existed to entertain a college student and get her outside of her small world, these travels mean so much more than that. The Globetrotter team gave me an opportunity to grow into who I wanted to be. I experienced so many different cultures and languages, opened my awareness of the world, and eliminated a lot of close-mindedness that we all carry with us.

I attempted to speak four different languages (at least the basic “hello” and “thank you”); I tried to be as respectful and accepting of different cultures as possible, including dress and attitude; I learned about the people’s histories and struggles, something that can mean more to a group than you ever thought (as it shows mutual respect and interest); I saw people, talked to people, and enjoyed their culture and spirit.

The Globetrotter Grant gave me all these opportunities and I’ll never have a way to thank them enough, but here’s some:

¡Muchas Gracias!

Gracies!

Obrigado!

Merci!

Grazie!

Thank You!

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