The One

Torre del Oro -Tower of Gold, Sevilla, Spain

No, no, not that "the one." I know what you were thinking. I'm talking about the other "the one," the travel experience that irretrievably changed your life. Every traveler has one. I've never written about it on the blog so I figured it was high time. Mine was Spain at 16, which led to Spain at 21. Let's just call Spain my one.

At the age of 16, in between grades 10 and 11 in high school (age 16), I went to Spain on a school trip. Now that I look back on it, I think it is a miracle that,

 a) My parents let me do this (I wasn't even allowed to stay over friends houses most of the time, but a foreign country no problem apparently),

 b) They found some way to swing it monetarily (I didn't work start working until later that year at 16 and 1/2) and 

c) And most importantly,  that they had the foresight to see the value in sending me off to some foreign land that neither had yet been to. 

As an adult, I am still grateful for this experience and should probably say thank you to my parents again the next time I see them and every time I see them...for the rest of my life.

The trip to Spain was scheduled to be two weeks long and hit some of the most beautiful sights in the country. It was run by the language program at my high school and since I was in the higher levels of the Spanish program, it was a natural fit. There would be between 15-20 students and two Spanish teacher chaperons, plus someone from the outside company that was actually really running the trip. It was one of the hundreds of companies that run short summer trips abroad for high school students in an effort to culture them and let them spread their wings. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it.

The trip would be my first international flight, my first flight over 3 hours, and my first time going anywhere long term (at 16, two weeks is long term!) without my parents. There would also be minimal contact with my parents, before email I'm embarrassed to say, and we would have to rely on prepaid phone cards which ended up working only part of the time. Refund please!

La Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Granada, Spain
 It was a whirlwind two weeks starting in Madrid. We visited the big three museums on Madrid's Avenue of Art, the Prado Reina Sofia and Thyssen . This was on the first or second day, to say I was stunned is an understatement. Besides being in my first city outside of the US, I had never seen museums or art like that; everything was beautiful to my newly opened eyes. I loved the architecture, I was enthralled by every avenue and different looking car. I basked in the spray of every fountain I saw. I was in love and we had barely done anything. The remainder of the trip would open my eyes ever further as we visited the old fortress city of Toledo, Seville, Granada, the Alhambra, Cordoba and Costa del Sol. It was a furious pace and it was worth it. I even had my first thrilling, death defying bus ride. I say first because it was the first of many, little did I know at the time.

Cordoba, Spain
 I came back a different person. My curiosity, which was always healthy, went through the roof.  When I got home I couldn't figure out why I was so sad. I mean everyone gets the vacation blues, but this was different. I felt like I was peering over the edge of the world, expanding myself and glimpsing the infinite possibilities and then I had to go back into the box that was high school. I couldn't relate to anyone, including my boyfriend at the time. The things people would get upset about seemed silly and petty to me, I was still living in the world grand avenues and La Guernica in my head, thinking how little my classmates knew about the world. I was yelling inside at them, “I've seen it, I've lived it, I've touch the door to the world, and that thing you think is so important, isn't." It took a while but I eventually settled back into the world of heavy backpacks, whispers and note passing. I flourished in my Spanish classes and longed for the next time I would see the places we were reading about in books again. I also secretly wondered if that really was a "once in a life time opportunity/experience" like everyone kept telling me it was. I was grateful for the opportunity I had had already, but I also worried that I would never go abroad again and that actually frightened me.  The thought of never seeing the world out there, that lives so differently than we do in the US, motivated me to make sure I saw more. From the time I touched back down on U.S. soil, it was my main thought, my main goal, my obsession. All I knew was that I wanted to go abroad again. I needed to see more, experience more and meet more people.

This was my first true taste of independence. My first real try at being on my own, it tasted great and I wanted more. I’m not sure if it was Spain or just independence that was my first love. But they still coexist in my heart today.

Ask any traveler you know, what their "one" is, and they will undoubtedly regale you with such passionate stories that you might just go renew your passport. 

(Note: Sadly the picture from this trip are not scanned and living in a basement far away, so the ones contained in this post are scanned from a later trip to Spain.)