The next leg of our journey consisted of Spain and Switzerland. We have all gotten much closer over the past three weeks and it is starting to feel much more like a family, or “tribe,” as our professor likes to call us. This makes traveling much easier, and way more fun.
As we left France we headed to Bilbao, one of the largest cities in Spain. This was one of the most interesting spots we have stayed in so far, and the culture was so different from anything I have ever experienced before. The people of Bilbao are not actually Spanish for the most part, but Basque. Going into the trip I was aware of this, but I didn’t realize how different the Basque and Spanish actually are. They have entirely different languages, traditions and even music. It was very cool to go to a place expecting one thing, and arriving and realizing it was the total opposite.
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had on the trip happened while in Bilbao. We went to visit a Basque high school and talked to kids that were learning English. We sat in groups and they got to practice their English while asking questions about the United States. I was thoroughly impressed and humbled at how much they knew about American politics, while I barely knew anything about theirs. I got questions about our new president, relations between Cuba and the United States and even Area 51.
From Bilbao we drove to Barcelona and went on an extensive sightseeing tour. The first day, we wandered around what could be considered the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona. We looked at all of the amazing designer stores and beautiful buildings. Many houses we saw on these streets were designed by a famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, in the late 19th and early 20th century.
After we saw the houses we headed towards Las Ramblas, a pedestrian street that is lined with shops, food stands and bars that are all geared towards a very social type of living. This is the thing I noticed the most about Barcelona: how social and warm everyone was. From cab drivers to locals on the street to people you meet while going out at night, everyone seemed very willing to interact with each other, especially if they find out you’re from New York. The conversation usually goes something like: “Ahhh you’re from the Big Apple? What do you think about Donald Trump?”
From Spain we headed to Évian, France, where we ended up taking a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland to visit the United Nations. We had the once in a lifetime chance to be able to listen in on a meeting of the Human Rights Council as they talked about violations of human rights in different countries and suggested ways to approach resolving them. We were also lucky enough to be able to take a tour, and be in the same rooms that Winston Churchill and President Woodrow Wilson would have been in, sit in chairs that were sat in by people that created disarmament treaties and gaze at the beautiful art that plastered the walls all throughout the complex.
After the incredible day at the U.N., we went back to our apartments (complete with a beautiful view of Lake Geneva), ate a home-cooked meal and prepared for our 10 hour drive to Italy in the morning, excited for what yet another new country would bring us.
This trip is only three weeks old, and the majority of it is still yet to come, but I still can’t come to terms with how incredible everything has been in Europe thus far. There have been so many exciting “pinch yourself” moments that leave me in awe, but also make me question how I am supposed to remember every detail like I want to. The lessons I have been learning – not only in class (yes, we do have actual classes) but in life – have been invaluable and I can’t help but feel lucky for every moment I have had on this trip.
Correction: In the previous “Kelly’s Quest” column, the island in France that changed with the tide was Servon, when it is actually the island of Mont St. Michel.