Alas, readers. We’ve gone beyond the last pages of my journal. Unfortunately, this means that I can only remember the highlights of the remaining days of our 2016 Euro Tour. I’ll do my best to memorialize them here for the first time.
Le Fort Carré in Antibes
Picking up from where we left off in Antibes, the next morning I tried my hand at a French braid for the first time. It wasn’t good, but I figured why not do as the French do before we headed towards Spain for the last leg of our trip. I donned my beachy white tank top I purchased from Cinque Terre. Dounia and I took a stroll towards le Fort Carré, an old naval fort with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea and pebble beach beside it. While I can’t remember what was inside, the stunning views were enough to earn the fort a spot on my list of favorite things about my Euro tour.
On our way back to the hotel, we ran into a few members of our group. They were renting two small skiffs to go enjoy the water. We quickly hopped in on the opportunity. We spent the afternoon with the sea in our hair, a solo cup of champagne in our hands, and lots of laughs. Unfortunately, the water was much too cold for this Florida girl to go swimming. Nonetheless, I can’t recall a moment in my life I felt freer.
Kayaking the Rhône
The next day, everyone grabbed a paddle and a lifejacket to go on a four-hour kayak tour down the Rhône. With double and single kayaks available, I quickly took the opportunity to grab one of the singles. With my kayak back home, I knew I wouldn’t have the patience for paddle coordination when exploring a French river during the last days of our Euro tour. It was the right call because I got to slip down one or two baby rapids that everyone else avoided!
Before reaching the Pont du Gard, a stunning remnant of the Roman Aqueduct, we paused for some of our group members to leap off one of the cliff sides. While I went up with one of our friends for moral support, I had no interest in making the leap myself. I took the long way back and helped them back to the other side, where everyone was watching.
A Cheese Plate in Nîmes
After our kayak ride, most people were exhausted. I was riding the high of conquering my self-doubts from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. When Nikos offered to show us a nice place for dinner, Dounia, Rachel, and I leapt at the chance. While I don’t remember the restaurant or what I actually ate for dinner, I remember being perplexed by a cheese plate on the dessert menu. Nikos encouraged me to get it even though I had mixed feelings about cheese for dessert.
When it arrived, I could practically see him drooling as he explained what he knew about each cheese. How could I not offer him (and the others) some? As we sampled the cheeses, we all laughed about how Nikos had essentially egged me on so that he could get some cheese. We spent the rest of the night exploring Nîmes, cracking jokes between seeing the Maison Carrée and the Fontaine du Crocodile.
Pit Stop in Carcassonne
We took a very brief pit stop to explore Carcassonne, a UNESCO world heritage site, on our way into Spain. Gorgeous medieval towers plummeted toward the moat-turned-community-garden as we walked across an ancient bridge. Street vendors sold sheepskin rugs, cotton candy, swords and shields, and more. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend much time here. I could have easily lost myself in the ancient alleyways pretending I was a fair maiden of days gone by.
Summer Heat in Barcelona
Barcelona’s weather reminded me exactly of Florida. With palm trees and the beach at its coast, Barcelona has plenty to offer. Getting around is a breeze, too, with its perfect grid layout that leads you straight to your destinations. Antoni Gaudí’s influence is felt everywhere in the city. This Catalan architect has had his hands in several of Barcelona’s buildings, even the Basílica de la Sagrada Família (which is still unfinished). Also in his repertoire is Parc Güell, with his version of an ergonomic park bench and gorgeous ceramic mosaic statues.
One night, some of our group members heard of a five-story nightclub. Wanting to finally join in on the fun, I decided to head out with them. When we arrived, an enormous line wrapped around the building in the sweltering heat. After waiting for nearly an hour, I decided to hop out and grab everyone some water, but the bouncers wouldn’t let me back in. After some back and forth with one of our group members who spoke Spanish, somebody gave us a tip to check out Las Cuevas de Los Rajahs instead. The appeal? The bar looks like it’s in an ancient cavern! Although the bar was absolutely slammed, it was still a blast.
When we got back to the hostel, we decided to head up to the roof for some fresh air. We met a group of Australians and I stayed up until 5:00 AM discussing American politics with one of them. When I woke up, a little note let me know that I had gotten left behind. Everyone had gone on to have a beach day, and since I didn’t have any service on my phone, I couldn’t call them to find out where they were. Beside myself, I spent the entire day pouting. I walked around alone until everyone came back to make paella at a local restaurant. Lesson learned.
Old Friends in Madrid
Still salty about being left behind in Barcelona, I spent quite a bit of time by myself in Madrid. I spent most of my free time in the city exploring Parque del Retiro, and even then, I still hadn’t seen all of it. The stunning landscaping fell to the backdrop in front of the Palacio de Cristal. It was the first park that I’d been in that actually felt romantic. While we visited a number of museums and other famous spots, the park continued to draw me in, and I returned to it often during our last days.
On one of our nights in Madrid, I met up with Celia and Rodrigo. Locals from Madrid, they had joined a summer school program when I was fourteen. We were Celia’s homestay family for the whole summer. Rodrigo lived down the street from us with his homestay family. We carpooled often, and since I was volunteering as a teacher’s assistant for their language classes and went on all their afternoon excursions with them, we became fast friends. I hadn’t seen them since before my sophomore year of high school. None of us had practiced our English/Spanish like we promised to back then (mostly me, I didn’t learn ANY Spanish like I said I would). Nonetheless, it was incredible to see them again.
Saying Goodbye to the Euro Tour
And with that, my grand Euro tour came to a close. The next day, we said our goodbyes to the city, country, and continent with a farewell dinner. We held toasts in Nikos’ honor for being such an incredible tour guide and a wonderful person. We marveled at how close we had gotten in the last month, and how much we were going to miss our adventure. To console ourselves, we tried to coordinate our next destination. We decided on Greece so we could visit Nikos (which didn’t happen — after this trip I was officially out of all my savings!).
This trip completely changed my life. I met people who altered my entire perspective on friendship, who I really was deep down, and what my goals were. When I returned to the States, I added a second major. My friends gave me the confidence I needed to pursue something more scientific beyond my English degree. Because of that, I fell into urban planning courses. These crystallized the difference between the United States and Europe, and why the two were so different (hint: urban planning). From there, I went on to pursue a Master of Science in Planning. I have just started working as a planner in my city’s transit department.
I would be living a completely different life had I not taken this journey and met each and every one of my group members. To this day, I still think about many of them, even though we haven’t spoken in earnest since this trip. There is always something to remind me of them, whether it’s me reflecting on how I’ve grown since our time abroad or seeing something they were passionate about. I owe everything that I have today to this trip and the people that went on it, which is something that not many can say.
Thank you for reading the journeys of my Euro tour over the last few years. It’s a tale that I hold very dear to my heart and one that won’t ever be recreated.