In an effort to better document some of my travels, I'll be doing a series of posts on my past traveling adventures. It's not always easy to recall the day to day activities of these trips so I'll do my best to describe some of the trip highlights as well as what I took away from these experiences.
When my Spanish teacher Senora Mac (Mrs. McCollum) passed out flyers in class promoting a class trip she was leading to England, France, and Spain I didn't think my parents would support me going. It wasn't a particularly long or inexpensive trip, but my parents saw it as an educational opportunity and to my surprise and delight they allowed me to go. My brother, a few of my close high school friends, and a number of other students (some of whom I didn't know well, but became friends with during the trip) signed up. 22 students (and a few chaperons) left for their 10 day trip on June 22, 2004.
Having only been out of the country once before to Vancouver, British Columbia, visiting London was my first experience with a substantially different culture. I enjoyed little challenges like learning to look the other direction when crossing the street, figuring out what change I should give using different coin denominations, and adapting to a slightly different vocabulary. I remember thinking the food was rather bland and the weather rather dreary, but at the same time being very excited about the historical significance of places I was visiting and things I was seeing.
When we arrived in Paris via the Chunnel, I experienced the difficulties of a language barrier for the first time. Having lived in Southern California my whole life, I used some Spanish occasionally, but generally speaking, it was never hard to communicate because much of the Latino population knows at least some English and I was studying Spanish in high school. Here, however, it was different and I had to rely on my friends who had taken French as well as a bit of charades to get by. I felt, as many do, that Paris was an exceptionally beautiful city and was captivated by the architecture and city life. Although, there were two things I felt Paris could have a lot less of: war memorials and smokers.
In many ways, visiting Madrid was like returning home to Los Angeles. The climate, architecture, and language all seemed relatively familiar. However, we took a day trip to Toledo where I was exposed to a mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim culture in a city that looked much as it did hundreds of years ago. It was strange to see shops close early in the day only to reopen later, but I enjoyed being able to stay up and eat Tapas late at night as is common in Spain.
An important lesson I took away from this trip was learning to come prepared to appreciate what you will see before you see it. For some of the places we visited and things we saw, I only knew as much as the tour guide could comment on in a few seconds or a brief caption in a museum could explain. I wasn't able to fully appreciate what I was seeing. When I returned to some of these same locations on later trips after having learned more of their history, I was more excited visiting the second time than when I had first been there. With just a little bit of preparation, you can appreciate so much more during your travels.
My daily recordings (The Captain's Log) for the LAB Europe Trip 2004