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  • Jenny

I Left My Heart in Europe

My study abroad experience encompassed 6 months of my life; I would be remiss if I did not spend at least two chapters on this. After all, my adventures took me beyond my “home” in Barcelona, and in fact, contributed to a very deep sense of awakening and independence.

As a group of study abroad students, we traveled throughout Spain, from Madrid to Granada, and a few places in between. Mostly, it was architecture, ruins and art museums, all of which were pretty interesting. One of my favorite Spanish cultural experiences was to watch an authentic flamenco dancing show. I remember being captivated by their brilliant colors and rhythmic movements. But my all-time favorite place in Spain was where I had the pleasure of living, in Barcelona. Nothing beats the culture of the people you pass on the streets, those who serve you in the cafes, and the charm of the musicians alongside the metros (subways).

Embracing the different cultures was something I truly enjoyed doing throughout my travels. I was always amazed by how each country was so different, and magical, in its own way.

I had a spring break from Universidad where I had the opportunity to travel to a few different countries. As a college student, the popular thing to do was to buy a Eurorail pass and travel by train. These trains were pretty cool—and with beds perfect for traveling students, it helped us save a lot of money from staying in hostels. Packed with little clothing, toiletries and a supply of peanut butter, jelly and crackers to supplement a student budget, off I was to explore.

I mostly traveled with a group of friends, breaking up into different pairs, or going alone at different

portions of the trip, depending on our individual itineraries and interests. First up was France—and the infamous Eiffel Tower. As a girl missing her boyfriend, traveling with a guy friend she normally didn’t get along with under “real life” circumstances, the much-spoken-about romance of Paris was definitely lost on me. Maybe that was it, but I wasn’t too impressed with Paris. The tower was just a tall metal structure.

A Café Au Lait, though beautiful to sit outside with, with a view of the Arc de Triomphe down the street, was nothing more than an overrated coffee.

Even the Louvre, with its Mona Lisa and other historical paintings, did not make me fall in love with the

city. I found it to be a huge disappointment; my romantic heart was a bit shattered. Perhaps one day I will go back with the right person and see it for its possibilities. C’est la vie!

Next on the list was Italy. Ahhh, now there was a country that stole my heart.

We stopped off first together in Pisa, my guy friend and I parting ways, while another girlfriend of mine met back up with me to do some exploring. I have to quickly mention Pisa because although it was merely a stopover, luckily, right outside of our station was the Leaning Tower, and I got to take a picture of it. Now, back in “those days” we did not use digital cameras; we had cameras with film and we couldn’t see the pictures we took until after they were developed. So, when I got home, I learned that somehow, I leaned with the Tower and straightened it. Classic moment, realizing my Leaning Tower of

Pisa was not leaning because I had tilted to take it. My family had a good laugh at that.

Back to my adventures. In Italy, we visited three cities: Rome, Florence and Venice. Rome was amazing, with its cultural structures, the ruins of the Colosseum and outstanding food. Here was a place rich with history that I could appreciate. Florence was breathtaking. The whole city was made of these exquisitely

colorful buildings that were so unique, and a leather street market that was to die for. Finally, I had found a marketplace that called my name…and my wallet.

Venice was also extremely interesting to travel through, as we took gondolas everywhere. We also traveled by boat to a glassblowing factory where we learned how glass was made, and that was pretty interesting as well. I had realized that these were the kinds of experiences that really spoke to me.

Yes, the historical stuff was very nice, but to really get into modern day culture, and see how people lived and worked, and the creations they made and sold, was so much more fascinating to me.

My friend and I continued on to Switzerland together. At one point in our journey, not sure exactly when, we had been on the train that passed through Austria. Neither of our passes included travel through that country, so when we came to a stop there, we were almost thrown off the train. We had no intention of

going to the country, but the route we were taking was going through there. We took a chance and stayed on the train, since it was night time, we were low on funds and a little scared of what would await us with no hotel reservation in a country we weren’t authorized to be in. Luckily, the conductor hadn’t come through again, and the very next stop was a country and city we were planning on going to. We averted disaster, thankfully, but not without a few anxiety attacks—since neither of us were the type to

take those kinds of risks or take advantage of a system.

Upon arriving in Switzerland, we immediately were goofballs and went in search of Swiss cheese and chocolate. Oh the Americans that we were, didn’t realize their definitions of cheese and chocolate were completely different—but oh so much more delicious! It was one of our favorite countries. Very quaint and charming, as you could imagine. We decided to take the Sound of Music tour, and were surprised to learn that much of the movie was actually filmed in Switzerland, and not Austria. We walked through the gardens, gazebo and other key scenes, the two of us singing and dancing (while getting glares from the other tourists). Such a fun tour—probably the best I have been on in my entire life.

One last country I had visited was Germany, which I went to on my own. I went to Munich, thinking that I would feel so connected to my German heritage while I was there. My grandfather is 100% German, so I thought I would feel at home. But I didn’t. It was beautiful and endearing, for certain. I even decided to go to the local Biergarten; how could I go to Germany and not have a beer and a hearty meal? The music was playful (as were the gentlemen hitting on me), but that was one trip where I was glad to only have chosen a day’s visit, and went to bed safely tucked in early for a good night’s rest.

Thus ended my adventure through Europe, collecting coins, souvenirs and my hobby of buying something in every city I went to that represented it or how I felt about it. To this day, I still have every little memento in my curio cabinet, which has since grown. All in all, my adventures were full of lessons. To not believe everything you hear. To find the golden nugget of cultural difference in every place you go. To have the courage to travel on your own, whether you know the language or not, and find your way through. To treasure every moment in your heart until you can visit again.

Twenty years later, and I can still see, smell, hear, taste and feel very specific memories from every part

of this journey.

And as I sit here writing this and reliving it, I am overwhelmed with the remembrance of joy and happiness. Oh—one more place. On our flight back home, we had a stopover in Amsterdam. I grabbed a coaster from the airport, and called it a visit. Or maybe it was just a placeholder for when I returned

to Europe for another tour. I have yet to get back there (at least, to this area), but I have a dream of bringing my children back to see where I had lived, to some of my favorite places, and explore new ones, such as Greece and Austria. The door to my now internationally inquisitive heart had undoubtedly been opened.

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