During January Term this year I had the amazing opportunity to go to Spain and the Netherlands for my parents’ 30th anniversary. It was everything I thought it would be and a little bit else. I expected 3 feet of snow in Amsterdam and a different version of Southern California in Spain. I was wrong on both accounts. Amsterdam did not have snow and Spain is closer in latitude to Northern California. I also expected to not get lost. That was also a large misconception.
Our journey started with a 10 hour flight to Amsterdam from the ice sheet that was Portland. Intercontinental travel has a few perks; the largest I have found is the (free) movie selection because it definitely is not the food. It truly is horrid and no amount of lying, salt or pepper changes it.
After we got off the plane it was about 8:00 a.m. local time and none of us had slept almost 18 hours. That part was bearable. The bad part was that we could not check into our hotel until 2:00 in the afternoon. Seeing as it was 8:00 a.m., we would not be able to sleep for another 6 hours or more because Europeans eat dinner from 8:00-10:00 at night. Despite the odds against us we forged through the day and tried to enjoy Amsterdam.
Their public transport is amazing and although there was no difference between the sidewalks and the roads everything worked like clockwork. Everything but the bikes. A local joked about how Amsterdam does not have killer bees- it has killer bikes and we soon found out it was not a joke. We were almost ran down multiple times because Holland bikers are vicious with bells that should not be as scary as they are.
We took a tour of Amsterdam the next day and it was very cold. Thankfully the locals in Amsterdam make up for that with warm personalities. We talked about the city’s history and halfway through the tour we stopped for hot chocolate at a cafe that reminded me of a giant, white mug. We ordered some hot chocolate (it came on a stick!) that was delicious and talked about our lives.
Our guide was sending his two daughters to college for €2,000 combined. (one is becoming a doctor!) For those who are unaware, the Euro is currently worth 1.09 U.S. dollars and so in our currency, he is paying for a doctorate and a bachelor's degree on $2,188 a year.
The next day we flew to Madrid. This is where those differences I wrote about earlier come in. For those of you who have ridden in planes, you know that while they are not the picture of comfort, usually your knees do not hit the tray table when you are sitting comfortably. Inter European planes are a different story entirely. They have so little legroom I was surprised we got into our seats at all. Later when we asked a waiter if that was normal he told us that that was how every plane he had been on was like. I do not know how they do it but all I can gather is that Europe in general is more compact.
Thankfully Madrid was in the same timezone as Amsterdam so we were able to take a tapas tour an hour after we got off the plane without major jetlag. Our tour was made up of my parents, myself, the guide and 2 guys from New York who made the whole experience much more entertaining. While they rattled off a few cheesy jokes here and there our guide told us about the city and its quirks. For example, businesses open for 100 years get a brass plaque in front of their stores stating their founding date and their name. We did not stay in Madrid for very long because we were coming back at the end of the trip as well but what we saw when we were there it was interesting.
There were also an abundance of local legends and theories. For example, during the Renaissance, near Christmas the King was out of town. Coincidentally the night before he removed some of the palaces most valuable paintings and then took the royal family and left for a vacation. The night of Christmas Eve the palace burned to the ground with all the other valuables and servants still inside. The servants began throwing all the art they could through the windows before fleeing themselves. Now, according to our guide, what the locals (and some historians) believe is that the King ordered the palace to be lit aflame. He could not risk using the people’s money on a new palace when the other was fine without causing a revolt and it is now one of Madrid’s larger mysteries.
We left soon after and took a train down to the Coast. High speed trains are the best way to travel: they have less security measures, more room, less people, they are comfier than any plane and many cars, they have actual tables, a great view, are quick and they are never delayed. I am severely disappointed that the U.S. does not have them and would always choose that method of travel if given the option.
On the Southern Coast of Spain, we stayed in a town called Benalmadena. Out of all the places we visited this town was the only place that was set up like home. In every other place we visited the towns were packed in and had farmland in place of suburbs. Benalmadena was beautiful with ocean view to the South and burned British tourists everywhere else. It was nice seeing a British presence though and because they were a permanent fixture in the town the television stations catered to english speakers. For the first time since we had left Amsterdam we could understand what was being said on television.
From Benalmadena we drove to and from the surrounding towns for about a week. It worked out really nice because we could go “home” anytime we wanted because of our rental car and if we did not want to go that day, we had no reason to (like pre purchased tickets).
One of the towns we visited was Toledo; the legendary home of Spanish swords. we got there in the morning and as soon as we found a plaza it was obvious they knew exactly what they were famous for. There were touristy sword and gold shops everywhere. At this point both my dad and I were on the same side. We had to get a sword. (Even though we had no idea how we would get it home). We began to walk around and browsed the windows for something we liked until a man approached us. He asked if we were interested in Toledo’s artisan crafts; if so, we should really visit their open workshop a few roads down.. (Another thing; Europe does not have muggers, they have pickpockets. Going down an alley in Europe usually has different results than in the U.S.) Inside we found a few old men working with golden wire with painstaking care as they pressed it into black dishes and jewelry. It was amazing to see them put such obvious care into what they were doing and some of their designs were so complex I was surprised they could make them by hand. After we were done ogling at their work we headed up to where they kept their goods. There were handcrafted knives, the dishes and jewelry we saw them making and wooden handpainted fans. Everything in the shop was beautiful and as we picked out our purchases and I bantered with the salesman in Spanish. We ended up leaving Spain without a sword but still got a filet knife that honestly could have been used as a short sword.
After the Coast we took a train back North to Seville. There we toured the Alcazar Real. The Alcazar is a Moorish palace so when my parents and I entered the palace sometime around 9 we had no idea that the seemingly innocent, landmark was the worst maze I have ever been in. By 9:05 I had been separated from my parents and remained lost in the Alcazar for an hour and a half. Although the palace was beautiful and held gorgeous pieces of history, stunning gardens, a cafe and artifacts from the royal family being lost in a foreign country sucks. Needless to say I was still incredibly relieved when I heard my Dad call my name.
After my debacle in Seville the last few days of our trip seemed to fly by. We flew back to Madrid and experienced a European olive oil tour. The tour was very unique for a few reasons, one of which was the fact that we only visited one olive oil mill in the two hour tour. To be fair they covered more ground than I knew was possible in the tour and showed us everything that went into making olive oil. My favorite part was the tastings though because that day it was cold out and when we went inside there was a heater beneath the table. Apparently it is common practice for large dinner tables and all I could think was that America need to step up its game because those tables were genius.
We rode the plane home soon after and while Spain was amazing, we were all relieved to be on route to the states. Everything we did and saw was irreplaceable in our memories but when you are away from home in a place where you cannot communicate, the feeling of going home is great. I love Europe and it was amazing, but nothing can beat coming home after experiencing something like what I and my parents had.