Note: “Across the Pond” is an ongoing column in which freelance writer Grace Schutte will write about her study abroad experience in Valladolid, Spain.
For readers wondering why their study abroad friends suddenly turned into travel bloggers-National-geographic-historians-extraordinary, I have an answer for you: spring break.
More or less.
A more accurate way of saying it would be “Holy Week», a religious holiday celebrated by Catholics in Europe. Valladolid in particular, the city where I study, offers a world-famous spectacle for this.
The celebration consists of a parade decked out to nine, with wooden replicas of the death of Christ and even the eyebrow “cofrades(better known as Ku Klux Klan balaclavas in the United States).
I have been told more than once that they are in no way related. Either way, it’s annoying sometimes.
Dodgy strings aside, Semana Santa is celebrated the week before Easter and is a big deal in Spain. So much so that international students have two weeks off to get out of dodging and travel.
Semana Santa: religious holiday or wacky holiday? You decide.
With our exams over, we scramble to pack 16 days of Instagram-worthy interchangeable outfits into a singular backpack smaller than the one I use every day for school.
I am currently in the middle of my own travels during Semana Santa. As I write this I am on a plane from Naples, Italy to Palermoa town on the island of Sicily.
What am I writing about, you ask? A stack of napkins I stole from a cafe. It’s the journey, baby.
The trip started with a flight from Madrid to Pisa, Italy. Yes, it’s true, the Pisa with the leaning tower.
I am happy to report that he is indeed lean.
After taking all the cheesy pictures, my group and I had our very first Italian pizza and Aperol Spritzthe latter being a kind of bitter alcohol that resembles orange soda.
(It has nothing to do with orange soda.)
Shortly after, we were on our way to Florencehome for Statue of Michelangelo’s David. The statue itself is much larger than expected – not all the pictures you’ve seen do it justice.
That same evening, we listened to a drunken karaoke that was happening in the bar of our hostel. I will forever associate Florence with the drunken Brits who sing while shouting”The fox (what does the fox say).”
Too soon we left for Rome. The hustle and bustle was overwhelming and, to be honest, our first few hours there felt ingenuous.
There wasn’t much time to admire the Sixtine Chapel when the throngs of eager tourists had us speedrunning.
However, upon encountering quiet side streets, the experience immediately brightened. Once we had a chance to catch our breath, visits to the Trevi Fountainthe Pantheon and Coliseum were much nicer.
And then we ventured out Naples – one of the most fascinating places I’ve been to.
The city places less emphasis on tourism and, therefore, is more authentic compared to places like Rome. While walking through the crowded city center, I forgot I was in Europe.
Gone are the sparkling cathedrals and clean cobblestones; here are the narrow, winding streets with the balconies kissing above.
As excited as I was, I felt a degree of culture shock. Ordering in the cafes was again a challenge as neither of us speak Italian. Acts as simple as crossing the street again required closed eyes and whispered prayers.
Watching “The Godfatherin Sicily concluded my week in Italy, but the adventure is not over yet. Paris, London and Madrid will end these 16 days of airport navigation, subway rides and dress rehearsals.
So have some patience with your study abroad friends (and I – I’m no different) and their endless Instagram stories.
Schutte can be reached at [email protected].