(Un)Knowingly Loving It

Written by Natalie December 16, 2014

The Schönbrunn Palace all decked out for the holidays!

As I finalized the paperwork that would send me to Italy, what I did know is that I would absolutely love traveling around Europe and experiencing the many different cultures that this experience has to offer me. What I didn’t know is that I would make some of the best friends and that I would desperately wish I was not returning so soon to the states.

I have only teared up twice in the past couple of weeks when thinking of the semester’s end. Though there has yet to be a full-blown “ugly cry”, I know there are many sessions coming soon. I am prepared to be un-prepared for these outbursts.

It’s crazy to see that the semester is wrapping itself up. As I write this, I’m enjoying a picturesque view of the mountains as I ride the train from Austria to Italy. I am in disbelief that our last weekend just ended, but I’m also outrageously happy that I spent it with my close friends.

Melissa and I decided to hop between travel groups as we journeyed from Barcelona, Spain to Vienna, Austria. As you can imagine, these are two completely different countries but despite the extreme change in weather, the weekend was a good close to the semester.

In Barcelona we met up with a big group – twelve total – and all crammed in one apartment. We were going out with a bang: seeing the sights, enjoying the cuisine, and experiencing the culture. I knew that one evening and one full day was not enough time to really see Barcelona, but had agreed to visit solely because I’ve been before with family. Once again, I meshed the memories of my past visit and the now into one trip. It is always refreshing to revisit somewhere so lovely.

Somehow, after aimlessly wandering the city for an hour or two, our group came face to face with the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t too long before everyone took a quick (and freezing) dip in the ocean. Keep in mind that this was well into the evening… and also late November. Probably not our best decision, but definitely worth it.

We spent our full day wandering the city. Luckily, before the supposed thunderstorm, we enjoyed the panoramic view from Park Güell. Over the semester, I’ve found that I personally enjoy wandering cities with a loosely-fit plan. This allows you to see what you want to see, while still being relaxed enough to enjoy it. And this is exactly what we did.

As we were roaming the city, I learned about the poor relationship between Barcelona and Spain’s government, which is why there were very few of Spain’s official flags. The Catalonian way is a bit different from the Spain that I “know”. There is always something to learn wherever you go!

Unfortunately, when my family visited the La Sagrada Familia I either had my brain wiped of any memory of visiting the basilica, or it didn’t actually happen. Though I distinctly remember climbing the towers that overlook the city center, the basilica was a blank vision in my brain. Therefore, as I stepped through the huge doors, my breath was taken away. The mere size and colorful inside was enough to pull at my heart strings. I took my time peering at everything I could, taking in the beauty, and committing it to memory.

Our big group decided to split up, some for a nap and some to keep exploring. Although I am a huge advocate for naps, I swore to myself long before leaving the states that I wouldn’t nap on a travel trip unless it was an absolute necessity — it wasn’t. We were heading full speed and ready towards Las Ramblas. This street holds some of my fondest memories from my 2009 family trip; it’s where we toasted to one another while sipping sangria, where the beloved hand-drawn picture of my siblings and I originated from a talented street artist, and where my grandma couldn’t wipe the smile from her face. This time the streets were strung with glowing Christmas lights and there was a slight drizzle, though that didn’t stop us. We wandered the street, marveling at the small vendors and what they offered the tourists. And by chance, we came across a huge market that held smoothies, candy, and food that we stuffed ourselves with. Delicious, indeed! Soon after, we went out on the town to enjoy the Barcelona night life.

Early, early, early next morning, Melissa and I drudgingly made our way to the airport to head to Austria. As we boarded our flight on Air China, little did we know it would be the best flight of the whole semester. TV screens, free food and drink, and even a pillow and blanket for the ride. Needless to say, it was quite the flight.

As we made our way into the city center of Vienna, I knew I was going to like it. The whole street was covered in decorative Christmas lights, and there were Christmas markets everywhere! We spent the first evening wandering around until we found our first Christmas market near the beautiful Rauthaus City Hall. So many booths full of delicious snacks, holiday decorations, ornaments, winter attire, and toys. Basically anything you can imagine! And let me tell you about the hot punch (punsch) they served at every market… Yum!

Since we only had one full day in Vienna, we decided that the Big Bus Tour was our best option to see the city. We hopped right on and my favorite stops included the opera house and the palace. We enjoyed a delicious meal (risotto and an american cheese burger) and did some people watching. My other favorite stop was at the beautiful palace, which of course included another Christmas market. Holiday spirit for all!

The only thing that wasn’t quite perfect was that I kept thinking about this being the last weekend. It’s hard to believe three months have flown by so quickly. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in my living room surrounded by an ungodly amount of clothes — packing to embark on this adventure. And now before I know it, I’ll be saying farewell to PdG and all of Europe until next time.

Like I said, I learn something new on each trip I take. This time I learned that I’m not quite ready to leave.

Goodbye for now,