Experiment in European Living By Rachel Wood
Thursday, June 30, 2011: Paris has been a terrific starting point for my trip. Sitting at an outside café and watching the Seine flow through the old city of Paris, I am struck by the magnificence of it all. Notre Dame, Napoleon's burial site, and the Eiffel Tower are just a few of the stunning edifices that I have seen this past week. My dream of visiting Europe is coming true.
Friday, July 1: My trip leader is really chill; this is his first time ever leading an Experiment in International Living trip but he is well-qualified to lead our trip because he has lived and studied in both France and Spain. In addition to his job teaching English in New York City, he is a marathoner who is training for an Ironman Triathlon. Every day in Paris, he lets us loose telling us to "be safe", and to "be back at the hotel by the appointed time." And off we go to discover Paris on our own. It's really nice because we can totally immerse ourselves in the culture and we are discovering many new things on our own.
Saturday, July 2: The group of teenagers I am traveling with are so much fun. Everyone is open to experiencing new things and making new friends. After just a few days together, we all feel very close…
Sunday, July 3: After a five hour long train ride, I'm arriving at the place I will stay for the next two weeks, Saint Jean de Luz. This little old fishing town on the Atlantic coast of France feels very different from the hectic city of Paris. All the buildings are white with the typical orangetiled roofs. The Basque History of the World says that red and white are the traditional colors for the Basque culture; everywhere I look I see white homes with red trim and small, square red balconies.
Tuesday, July 5: I'm staying with a simpatico Basque family. Loving and open, I feel very comfortable living here. My biggest challenge is conversing with my family because they speak English, French, and Spanish; they switch between the three throughout the whole day, and sometimes speak all three at once.
…The cuisine here definitely has some Spanish influence, but it is still uniquely Basque. I have become addicted to the traditional Basque cake! It's a sweet pound cake filled with either cream, cherry jam, or chocolate. Every bakery hoards their own secret recipe for Gateau Basque, and they will not reveal it to anyone…
Wednesday, July 6: My host father, Orlando, is very kind. He always tries to make sure I know exactly what is happening or what is planned, and he likes to take long relaxing walks along the coastline. He loves talking about the history of the Basque, and comparing French culture to American. My host mother, Beatrice, is a woman who likes to take naps, smoke, and not cook! She is very active and young at heart. My host brother is named Andre and he's 17; my host sister's name is Charlotte and she's 15. They are both adopted from Colombia. Andre sleeps like there is no tomorrow, so one hardly ever sees him during the day. Sometimes, Charlotte and I go sunbathing or play a game of beach volleyball. At other times, Andre and I go to rock concerts on the beach. It has been awesome interacting with kids in a completely different setting than quiet New England.
Monday, July 18: After making a few short trips across the Spanish border to San Sebastian and Bilbao, where we visited the Guggenheim Museum, we went on an exciting group excursion: we put on wet suits, and we slid down a narrow river as if it were a long slide. The water had polished the rock bed to be smooth and slippery. It was very cold! One of the waterfalls was so high that we had to rappel ourselves down it with ropes while the water came crashing down on us—scary but so much fun!
Wednesday, July 20: …After thoroughly freezing ourselves in the mountain rivers, we are hiking in the Pyrenees. The trails are so steep, I feel like I am rock climbing without ropes. Above the tree line, there are spacious grass fields and meadows. Everywhere I see purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow wildflowers! But what surprises me the most are the giant purple irises popping up like dandelions. They make the whole sides of the mountains look like a surreal sapphire blue. Every afternoon we make a fire in our lodge and we all read, talk and play games. Sometimes we tell ghost stories about hikers who never came back, and monsters that eat slow hikers.
Friday, July 22: …We've moved and are now in the picturesque town of Collioure. There are multicolored buildings, large hanging artwork, and flowering plants. Instead of sand beaches, there are rock beaches. This little town is very quiet, with many street vendors selling beautiful painted tiles and tasty brick oven pizza. Saturday, July 23: …Arriving in our last city, Barcelona, my group and I decide that we are all going to run away and stay in Europe forever. Barcelona is full of vibrant colors and smells. I am enchanted by this distinctive Spanish city. The gothic section of the city has some beautiful architecture, and occasionally I come across buildings covered in intricate mosaics.
Tuesday, July 26: There is much more that I have not had the time to write down, but I know that those memories will not be forgotten. I have seen and done more than I could imagine, and my view of the world has changed. While having the freedom to explore (and even get a little bit lost), I felt safe; as a result, I am now more willing to try new things.
Rachel Wood lives in New Hampshire but loves to travel. When she is not exploring new places, she can be found in the dance studio. Rachel hopes in the future "to help people achieve their dreams, for their dreams shape our future."