Published: April 17th 2012April 1st 2012
SPAIN TRIP TODAY !!!! I literally could not supress my excitement as we drove towards Angular station in Liege Today at around 7pm, because for the next 11 days, I’d be travelling around in a foreign country with a big bunch of young, rowdy exchange students and being able to see some pretty amazing monuments and sights along the way. So Chris and I went along with Alain to the train station, where we would meet the other students coming from Brussles on the 22 or so hour bus ride to Spain. We met up with all the other people going from Verviers and Liege, and once the bus came we piled in and started making the rounds and getting to know people. The atmosphere was awesome, and we literally got no sleep the whole way there.
Once we left Belgium, we crossed the French border and began to drive through France. Every three-or-so hours, we’d make a stop at a gas station for people to get off and take a piss, have a smoke, and stock up on food. It was a weird feeling to just be country hopping so easily… But the majority of the rest
of the trip was just talking and weary stops at gas stations.
When we finally crossed the Spanish border, a huge cheer went up, and we’d finally made it !. Our first actual stop was at a cute little Diner that sold real typical Spanish type food (Bread rolls with bacon and egg pie inside, Bread rolls with ham, bread rolls with chicken e.c.t), and we were given ten euro for lunch (which became the norm for the majority of the lunches we’d eat while travelling in Spain). Of course, the usage of the money was easily exchangeable. Ahem. But from there we continued our mammoth bus tour until we finally stopped at out first hotel in Spain, “Hotel Castellano II”, which was a two star hotel in our first City we stopped in called Salamanca. The boys had to exert our manliness and help unload the seemingly endless avalanche of bags from the bus, and we decided our rooms and went up to check them out. I was rooming with Jack and Cory, an oldie from Canada. The rooms were… snug, and we had a bidet, which sprouted a whole tonne of laughs on who’d be
the first to use it, and the absolutely essential role the bidet plays In life. We then were taken on a tour of Salamanca, and visited the incredible ‘Plaza Mayor’, which is a huge (actually a trapezoid, not a square) area, surrounded by huge walls that are really expensive apartments, and where music concerts and important events are held. Later that night we’d go there again, and I’d take this picture which is one of my top ten most beautiful I took in Spain.
After this we were allowed free time along the lines of about an hour to do what we wanted in Salamanca before we had to meet up again and head back to the hotel. Of course, we all headed to the pubs, and we were given flyers advertising cheap drinks all along the Salamanca streets by people employed by the bar to hand them out. We eventually gravitated towards one that we’d end up spending the majority of our free time during the nights at, which was this really crazy one that had deals like ‘5 shots for 3 euros’, ‘1 euro Sangrias’, and ‘1 euro beers’. So after this when the time came close
to going back, we rounded each other up and sang our way back to the square, and then back to the hotel.
First thing today was a breakfast of stale croissants. But the coffee was okay, so we kick-started our tired minds with a cup or two, before we got out day packs ready and headed into Salamanca city for a more in-depth tour than last night. Our tour guide explained to us the significance of all the faces etched into the walls surrounding the walls of the ‘Plaza Mayor’. Many of them were conquerors, or survivors of the Spanish inquisition, but there were also famous writers and kings up there too.
From there we visited the Old University of Salamanca, and were shown around all the buildings and told of how people would enter the university, and where they’d take their classes and so fourth. The really interesting part was when the tour guide told us of an old tradition that used to take place following the final exams of the year. The ones who passed the exam were allowed to exit through the grand gates of the university, and given lots of praise and
a ceremony. However, the ones that didn’t, had to do the shameful act of exiting through a small, easily miss-able ‘Burro Puerta’ (which literally means in English ‘Donkey door’) on the less beautiful side of the university. There were also really unusual things like an astronaut and a demon eating an icecream etched into the ancient pillars, and a rabbit that people touched in order to gain luck. And as you can imagine, the tourists just love these kinds of things, so we all took our turn stroking the lucky rabbit on the front two doors of the old university.
Another unusual tradition that happened here was that the university students were told that there was a frog etched into the front pillars of the main gates of the university. It was a small frog, and the gates themselves are massive. But they were told that if they could find the frog, therefore showing great signs of persistence and dedication, that they could then in turn pass their exams with the perseverance they displayed in order for them to find the frog. As it just started to rain as the tour guide told us this, he showed us where
the frog was, so we could run out into the rain quickly, spot it, and run back under cover. Even after being told where it was, the sheer size of the gates made it nearly impossible to spot the little fella.
Being that it was coming up to lunch, Rotary took us to a typical Salamanca café, which had cups of liquid chocolate and things called ‘Churro’s’, which are basically sticks of crispy doughnut. Oh my gosh, gaining weight has never been so easy… So from here we visited another building which another old university. This one had a cool room over 400 years old that still had the same benches and everything. We learnt that the students here almost never took notes, partially because paper was so expensive in those days, and also because all the previous people had learnt by just listening and paying attention to practical lessons instead of jotting down endless notes. There was also a really cool projection in the room that looked like a real professor of the time giving a lecture, complete with sound. At this university , there were all sorts of professions people studied, but the one with a great
story was about the doctors that achieved their degree here. What happened once they passed all their exams and after the initial celebrations, is that the doctor would go into a bull ring, and on the back of a guarded horse, use spears and arrows to kill a bull. The bull would then turn into a feast, and the blood from the bull (mixed with iron oxide and something else) would then be used as paint and the name and degree of the successful doctor would be written on the sandstone walls of the university. And there are still today names from the original days where this tradition existed (not any more of course), on the wall perfectly preserved, and the sandstone absorbed and captured the blood ink well.
So after the university journey ended, we were given free time to wander around Salamanca. Jack, Bradley and I decided to go hunt down some souvenirs, and so we went hunting for some. What I found was a haunting statue of a KKK member with the words Salamanca underneath. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it… But we bought a few things and made our way back to
the hotel. That night we ate at the hotel, and had frites and snitzel, along with crusty-ass bread and soup. Following this, you could choose to either go out, or catch up on some sleep back at the hotel. You can guess what the entire population of the exchange students did. It was a great night, and we went back to the same cheap bar we visited the night earlier and had an awesome night.
Today we all awoke, with the same assortment of malnourished pastries from the earlier day, and got on the bus, destined to arrive at another Spanish city. Our next stop was in the city of Segovia, and we were staying in the area called Avila. The first place we visited here was a full blown castle, with the entirety of the (early) city encompassed by the four massive walls of the castle. The tour guide explained to us that if there was ever any plagues or diseases being spread around, the noblemen and kings and queens would be locked inside the gates, separating them from the potentially harmful commoners who carried the fatal diseases. On the outside of the walls of the
castle were really interesting little protrusions that we were all puzzled at what their use could have been. It turns out (the tour guide explained in her surprisingly good English, awash with a thick Spanish accent..) that they would store rock, and hot oil, and things up on these things that when they were being invaded, they would toss various things onto the attackers in order to stop them. Many had fallen down over the years, but there was still one perfectly preserved one that was a cool example of the ancient war tactics they used.
As we eventually moved inside the city, we visited an old Spanish church inside the gates of the castle, which housed some very ancient Spanish architects. One thing that has started to pop up is that you can’t take pictures inside these kinds of buildings. This sounded like a load of crap, but there were two reasons behind it. The first is that the flash can actually damage old paintings, and you can imagine the amount of flashes one painting would have with over 2000 tourists snapping photos per day, every day, for years and years. The second is obvious. They just want
you to buy postcards and souvenirs and things at the gift shop. Photos are free, cheesy copies of the paintings are 3 euro 50 a pop. But poor exchange students don’t have that kind of money to spend at EVERY stop, so of course, the sneaky art of under-cover photo taking was invented, and the rest is history. It became a challenge to take the best, clearest pics of the various things without the security guard seeing you. As you can imagine, we were all caught at least once, but the guard knew the weakness of the donkey they were thrashing, and there was little they could do more than tell you to put it away.
For lunch again today we all headed out in little packs to explore the town. I was with the New Yorkers, some Italians, some Auzzies, and a few kiwis, and we pulled into a Tapas bar. Tapas are like little plates of an assortment of meats and cheeses that you share. We were all incredibly indecisive, and I ended up pointing to something on the menu I didn’t even know what it was. Screw the safe option right ? What I ended up
getting was the result when you throw a potato, an egg, and a little faith together. It was called a Spanish tortilla or something, but it wasn’t fantastic by any means. For future reference, don’t fall for tourist traps. Walk a little to the edge of town and order something there. You’ll get more, and it’ll be cheaper than the shops who pay more for rent in the centre of town.
So after lunch we had some time to go souvenir shopping, and I found the PERFECT t-shirt. I’m the complete epitome of a tourist. I love CLASSY shirts that you can wear without looking like a dick, but one that still can start a convo on how or where you picked it up. I found one with a black ‘Toro’ (Bull) surrounded by red, with the name of the town we visited (Avila). Now all that was left to find was a patch for the shoulder of my rotary blazer, which I have recently made quite an effort to find and collect. So we then headed back to the hotel, the boys unpacked the car (as always), and we got into our new rooms and had an hour
or two to rest a bit. Dinner came and went, and we spent the rest of the night in the hotel messin’ round.
Up bright and early this morning for our bus ride to one of the biggest attractions in Segovia, and debatably the main reason why UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) included Segovia on the list of the World Heritage Cities. When we got there, the sight was utterly breath-taking. This massive structure, designed by the romans to carry water from one side of the city to the other (because the entire city is basically a giant canyon), has an angle tint of 1 degree, is 28 meters high at its highest point, and is 32 km long. It is designed to carry fresh water from nearby towns to Segovia. Of course, many pics were taken here, and we were taken by our English speaking tour guide to our first stop which was a very unusual house at the gates of the town.
The story goes that when the Jews were being persecuted, many moved to Segovia to find peace, and many found refuge in this house. But they feared that social
prejudice would mean that their house would find the name ‘Jew House’, which could lead to danger in the future. So the owner of the house built all over the walls, little spiked pyramids, so that the building would become famous for being a ‘spiked house’, and not a Jewish one. This ended up saving those who lived inside and is now a big tourist icon. We went on to see a massive ancient cathedral, but only the outside as it was in restoration, and shown an amazing spot to take panoramics from. We then walked around to a seemingly identical Disney castle look-alike, simply because of its pristine condition, and the moat that surrounded it. The let down was the 7 Euro charge they wanted you to hand over for a walk around on the top of the thing.
Next came lunch, which we found at a cute little diner on the edge of town. Here they sported all kinds of foods, but the ones that caught especially the Auzzies and my eyes was the plate of bacon and eggs and steak, many of which we hadn’t eaten on the same plate for this particular meal since we’d
voyaged to Belgium. So that was it, and we enjoyed our lunch outside (which you also had to pay more for).
After lunch was basically free time, so we hit up the souvenir shops and bars. We also found these amazing things that were like Trumpets (the icecream), except the outside shell was completely chocolate, and it was filled with chocolate and cream and flakes of chocolate. I’ve never really tasted anything quite like it before, it was incredible. By now it was basically the end of the night, and stocked up with supplies, we headed back to our abode, and kicked back outside on the deck of our friends room, and played songs and spent the night in a total Spanish/ Belge fashion.
Today was a morning full of rushed packing, as we struggled to be on the road to Madrid by 8 in the morning. When you think Spain, you think of a beautiful golden sunshine lit place, busting with thinly-clad beauties bouncing down beaches. We got snow. I’m not joking, we were on our way to Madrid, when we passé landscapes covered in Snow. Apparently the night before it had snowed, and this
was an extremely rare occurrence for Spain. So here we were in Spain taking pics of ice on the hills around us as we drove early in the morning to Madrid. Our first stop was the incredible “El Escorial”, which is a massive Church with the graves of all of the most famous forefathers of Spanish history inside. The interior was exquisite. Just the amount of work on especially the ceilings was incredible. So after walking around there for a while, we finished the tour and went outside, where we were all chilling in the semi-sun. Then someone busted out a guitar, so what else can you do but sing a bit of Bob Marley on one of the highest points in Spain, with a group of awesome people from all corners of the world ?. So there we sang 3 little birds, after which we piled on the bus and stopped at the Madrid stadium, which was a massive highlight for lots of the Latinos, as they are really heavily into their football. We got a few photos here, and nature was on our side, as just as we began snapping pics, the clouds parted and all across Madrid
the sun shone brilliantly for around 4 minutes. It was so jolie….
So now that we were in Madrid, we had to go find our hotel. This hotel was a considerable step up from the last, and the rooms and the general look of the hotel was nicer, which was sweet. After getting (the same) rooms and unpacking, we were taken on a tour of some of the most famous structures in Madrid. We walked through these amazing gardens, which for the next 2 days would prove to be essential points of references for us trying to find our way back to the hotel after being out on the town. Following this was a giant monument I didn’t catch the name of because we weren’t allowed in, but we took pictures none the less. From here, we were given 3 hours of ‘us’ time in which we could do pretty much anything we wanted until dinner that night. So easy decision, I went with Dani, Hugo and Chino to a local bar, and we tried out one of the local brews, ‘Bishops finger’. Despite the name, it was actually a danm nice beer, one to definitely be enjoyed slowly
with the complimentary salted peanuts (NZ needs to introduce this custom ASAP). When we were joined by Emma, she was wearing a poncho, that just looked so warm and cuddly, we couldn’t resist but go to the shop she’d seen selling MATCHING ponchos for 5 euros a piece. So off we went, and the rest is history. We all had matching ponchos, that we warm as hell, and the only oldie in the group (Emma from Hawii), had the chief poncho. As we were walking back to the general area of the hotel, we saw a little flea/ Gypsy market that we also just couldn’t resist, and ended up spending ages in there checking out all the cool little things. The boys ended up buying ‘Bro Rings’, which were matching rings that span around, which turned out to be our bored activity if we were ever not doing something, we’d just spin the hell out of these little rings we bought, each with a different design. Jason had a Chinese pattern, Hugo a tribal one, mine had 3 stars.
Dinner eventually rolled around, and at the conclusion of the dinner, I was sang happy birthday in three languages, given
a card they’d sent around that everyone had signed, and a t-shirt one of the chaperones had bought for me in Segovia. I was on such a buzz from the collective thought… Anyway, tonight was going to be a stay in night for everybody, but earlier in the day one of the oldies had talked to one of the chaperones, and they’d agreed to let us go out, a big factor of which was because it was my birthday. So we walked to the hard rock café (which was a solid 2.5 hour walk), and then we proceeded to celebrate in style, before we had to take 2 trains back to our hotel, and hit up our beds when we got back. All in all, an amazing 19th
birthday, in Madrid, with my friends from all around the world, in the Hard Rock Café. Life really doesn’t get much better than that my friends.
Today was a bit rough for some of us. Certain reasons meant we were not as…. Fresh as normal. But there was no time to be on a down buzz, and after (a heavily improved) petit-dejeuner, we were on our way to ‘Tolede’,
a cute Spanish city awash with history of the Spanish inquisitions, which since embarking on this trip I’ve found heavily fascinating. How people could do those atrocities, what kind of societies existed beforehand, and just how certain orders was carried really portrays some of the worst moments of human history. And I’m sorry to say, but it wasn’t over land, kingship, or money. It was in the pure name of Religion. Christianity to point the finger. But hey let’s not dwell on the past. We visited one of the best photo sights of the entire trip, and were taking some great photos. We then met with our tour guide, and she took us through the early city, showing us the first church, and what a colourful history it had. It was first built by Muslims, employed by Jews to build a synagogue for them. It can be seen in some of the panels near the roof the inscriptions made by Muslims working here in Arabic.
After all that, we went to yet another church. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork in there was absolutely stunning. In fact it was one of the best churches we’d visited so far. It’s
just after the 5th
on, if you’re not really really knowledgeable on religious history or ancient architecture, it all becomes a little monotonous. After this visit however, we were given free reigns for lunch, and we all split up to find a feed. Hugo, Emma, Dani, Jack, Chino, Chris and myself ended up finding a nice pizza/ paella place, so down we sat. Again, as we were outside, we paid premium price, something we would have avoided if inside wasn’t absolutely packed. So outside, huddled around a heater in Spain we drank 5 Euro beers, 4 Euro bottled water, and ate pizza and Paella. What happened next was murder. Somehow, with only 6 people eating (Emma didn’t), we racked up a ball-busting 130 Euro bill. Jaws dropped. On top of this, was a 8 euro surcharge for tax. If wallets could bleed….
On the way back, we found a little zebra crossing, and Jack with his eagle eye spotted and exact Beetles ‘Abbey Road Crossing’ scene moment. So we all ran out when the light turned red, and attempted to look like we were walking. It’s a lot harder than it looks. For example, you have to
have the back of your back foot and the front or your front foot pointed up, so it looks like you’re actually walking. We got a danm good picture though, and once we got back on the bus, Chino and Hugo slept on each others shoulders. So freaking adorable. That’s one thing you cannot do on a bus full of exchangers, because you just don’t know who has your photo, and how they may photoshop it. Risky business.
On the ride back, we were offered to either go on a scenic walk, or go back to the hotel and catch up on some sleep. Well, I dragged the boys along with me on the scenic walk which ended up being so much longer than any of us had thought. But guilt tripped me into thinking, ‘hell, this is my last day in Madrid for quite possibly the rest of my life, if not for a very long time, so go on the freaking walk’. So off we went. We actually saw some pretty danm cool things, Like giant brass babies head statues, and cute ponds where couples would hire boast, and row around in them. Also locks that couples
would write their names on, and their date they got together on, and lock it to a specially allocated statue. I thought that was so cool, made me miss home… But we continued on and saw some amazing sculptures, a library made almost completely out of glass, and one of the most famous museums in Spain. So all in all, despite us all being in a bastardy hungry mood when we got home, and having dead feet, at least I for one knew I wouldn’t regret it in a week having all those extra photos and memories to show for.
What I didn’t mention, is that on the way back, me and Chino (whilst buying Spain souvenirs) got somehow separated from the group, and ended up losing contact with them. Great, now we were lost in the capital city of Spain, bustling with over 3 MILLION people inside. That’s almost New Zealand in a city. Wow. We ended up finding this guy from Japan who’s also on exchange with us, and he took us the way he was certain would lead us back for around 20 minutes. Yup, you guessed it. We were being lead in the complete wrong
direction, and this added only an extra three-quarters-of-an-hour to the journey that we otherwise really did not need at this point in time. But miraculously we found the park again, and got back to the hotel to find the others who’d just got back having baths and such. I hadn’t personally had a bath in probably about 10 years, so I took one to try and help my now aching feet. Well danm that was a good decision. Stepping out half an hour later I was granted a seemingly new pair of feet, and made my way downstairs for a hotel dinner. After which we stayed in, sang songs on the deck, and had a merry ol’ time.
Basically today, we spent 18 hours driving from Madrid to Barcelona. 18 hours. You can imagine the collective amazement, when we got to our hotel and saw this view outside (see photo). Right outside mine, Cory’s and Jack’s apartment, was the perfect view of a golden beach, blue seas, clear skies, and acres and acres of beach shacks, which are basically bars on the beach, with cool island themes. What a way to end the trip. We didn’t waste
any time, and for (unfotunatly) the first time in Spain, we didn’t waste any time getting down to the beach and getting a bita sun on our otherwise relatively pale southern-hemisphere chests. Although it wasn’t hot, it was perfect for around 2 hours, after which it was getting cold so back on went the shirts, and we began partying exchange student style. Of course, we had to go back for dinner (which was also the best food we’d eaten in a hotel since we’d arrived), but after which we were granted free time until 12 o’clock at night. That’s right. 4 hours to do whatever we wanted to before we had to be back at the hotel. Let’s just say a DANM good night was had by all…
Today was one of the highlights of the entire trip, going to see the Sagrada Familia. This is one of the most amazing things I think I’ve ever seen in my life. This is an incomplete (unfinished) church that is deemed one of the World Heritage Sites by the UNSCEO. Truly it’s one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. A vertical panoramic picture couldn’t even capture the
incredible height of the central pillars, some of which are over 170 meters high… Incredible. Of course, the cameras were snapping like crazy here, and we all got these headset things that were so crackly and ineffective that we didn’t end up even using them, but they were designed to have info about the Sagrada Familia playing through them I think. So after a gaze around, checking out the unfinished side, we went to a small local fair where I got for my host family this glass hologram thing (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, the classic touristy thing that you look at from all angles, and its inside glass) that I knew would look amazing on a window sill in the Comperes house. Then the ride back to the hotel just couldn’t be longer, with the gorgeous Spanish sun setting in the distance, we were eager as hell to get back to the beach for quite possibly the last chance at sunbathing that we’d get for quite a while. But by the time we were back, the chance was gone, and we headed to dinner, unsure of what was the plan for tonight. Turned out we had
free reigns again, which we promptly headed to the beach huts and clubs having heard.
Last day in Spain ! Today we got all packed up in the morning , and headed off to our first stop which was the ‘Casa Mila’. This was a building that architect Antoni Gaudi (The same architect of the Sagrada Familia) designed, and you can just tell from its instantly apparent unique aesthetics, the sheer shape of the building, and from the fact that everything from the chairs to the doorknobs that were completely redesigned for this project, that’s it’s also a true piece of art. So we walked around and checkout out some of the rooms available to see, and the attention to detail was really stunning about this place I found. This man didn’t do things in halves, completely re-designed sofas were everywhere, and it looked definitely like more of a living art gallery than an actual apartment. But that’s the awesome thing about it. It was actually a fully functioning hotel for a while.
After this we spent the rest of the day around the ‘St Josep’ shopping area in the centre of Barcelona. Me, Tucker and
Alden just walked around town for the rest of the Day, checking out our last sights of Barcelona we’d see. Around the start of the afternoon, all the students collected on the walkway, and took a walk down the waterfront, which was so beautiful. There were all kinds of abstract art done by Picasso here on display, all weirdly different and unique in its own right. From here came the dinner, where we all had a walk-through style server, and packed out this one restaurant on the outskirts of Barcelona. The one highlight here was a really drunk homeless guy that just wouldn’t leave us alone, but it was pretty funny at the same time. He couldn’t speak any languages, just drunken gibberish. Good ol’ Barcelona, he was drinking the same cheap Sangaria we’d come to know.
Today was such a sad day. It was the 20 hour bus ride back to Belgium, and it marked the end of the Spanish trip for all of us. We left after dinner, and made the same routine stops every 3 hours during the night, to which a few of us made every one, because although being just so tired,
we were savouring the last of Spain, and just couldn’t sleep. So we talked most of the time, which probably annoyed the hell out of those in that just-before-you’re-out-of-it sleep stages. But we gradually made it to Belgium, where I was greeted by Chris’s host dad at the first stop in Liege, where they would then go on to stop in Brussles, and drop off the people who live there afterwards. All I remember from the trip back in the car was getting in, saying hello, and then I was out of it. Getting home was the same story, but I managed a brief recount, promising a photo slideshow later to Sonia and Alain after a few days sleeping. Lucky, because as we were in holiday mode, this was entirely possible, and did happen.
So that was the trip ! Good on ya if you made it all the way down. I only spent an entire week of nights worth of time to type it up, but it’s just oh-so worth it in the long run.