Ah, Semana Santa…better known as Holy Week, but even better known as spring break. One week without school or private lessons. One week of freedom to do whatever we want. So what did we decide to do?
Spend our entire life savings.
Okay, not really (I promise, dad!). But we did decide to travel, to not one, not two, but 7 different cities. I can’t promise you won’t be bored while reading this, but I can promise it will be long AF, so I will add in some comedic relief in the form of jokes between sections. Here goes:
City #1: Sevilla, Spain
We got Friday (4/07) off of school, and since Sevilla is known for having some dope Semana Santa celebrations (say that 5 times fast), Sam and I decided to start our journey there. We took the AVE train there, which was absolutely incredible. We went over 165 mph and it only took a couple hours to get there! Upon arrival, we decided to check off the most important reason for the trip: the Alcázar, which is a palace. We hoped in a cab and told the driver where we wanted to go, to which he responded, “Huh?”. We repeated, but he still wasn’t sure. Then finally he said, “Ahh, el Alcázar!” and began driving. Turns out, Sam and I had been putting the stress on the first syllable rather than the middle A, and apparently that makes alllll the difference. But we finally got there, and it was freaking beautiful! The weather was perfect, so we enjoyed ourselves as we wandered around the rooms and the gardens, wishing that we could be royal so we could live there. We even saw some of the rooms and areas used as locations for Dorne in Game of Thrones, which was pretty amazing. We later checked into our AirBnb and then were able to see one of the Semana Santa processions of one of the brotherhoods.
Which turned out to be terrifying.
There we were, surrounded by the mass of people all trying to see the same procession as us. We could feel the excitement as everyone had their cameras out and were pushing each other for the best viewing points. But suddenly all was silent as the procession left the cathedral and came into view. There, heading right towards us, was a line of men cloaked in purple robes. But these weren’t just any purple robes. No, these robes looked exactly like a purple KKK costume, or perhaps a purple dementor from Harry Potter. The giant hoods were pointy and covered the faces of the men. Those carrying candles had the hoods up in the air and those carrying crosses had their hoods down, making them look like executioners. Apparently, these hoods (called capirotes) have a long history, but today essentially represent the idea of penance during Easter season. Along with these cloaked men, there were children passing out candy (weird combo if you ask me), as well as a giant shrine (?) to Jesus where the people carrying it stood underneath and couldn’t see a thing. Instead, they had to listen to the commands of their “guides.” It was very strange, but really interesting at the same time!
The next day, Sam and I saw the cathedral and climbed one of the towers to get a view of the city. We also went to Plaza de España, which was incredible! There were even some scenes from Star Wars (episodes I and II I believe) that were filmed here! It was so pretty, but before long, we had to head back to begin the next leg of our journey.
Joke #1: Q: What does a nosy pepper do?
A: It gets jalapeño business!
City #2: Madrid, Spain
Okay okay, so you might say this one doesn’t count. But we slept here, so I say it does.
Joke #2: Q: Can a kangaroo jump higher than the Empire State Building?
A: Of course! The Empire State Building can’t jump.
City #3: Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
You know what’s fun? Waking up before the sun rises. You know who’s being sarcastic? Me. That’s right folks, our cab arrived at 5:30 am to take us to the airport to begin the next leg of the trip. When we arrived in Luxembourg City after a sleepy flight, we were surprised about how beautiful the city was! None of us had any expectations, but by the end we decided it was a city that was enchanting and charming. It reminded us of a city where a fairy tale would take place! The first thing we did, of course, was eat! We went to a little cafe where Minorka asked the server what the national language of Luxembourg was. “It’s Luxembourgish!” he said defensively. “It’s not German, not French, it’s Luxembourgish!” Well geesh, dude. We were just asking.
After lunch, we took a walking tour offered by the tourism office. One of the employees was incredibly friendly and let us keep our giant backpacks there so we didn’t have to haul them around the city. Our tour guide was really nerdy cute and taught us a lot about the country and city. For example, we learned that about 500,000 people live in the country, but only about half are actually citizens of Luxembourg. We also learned that while Luxembourgish is the national language, it’s basically only a spoken language. Instead, French and German are the written languages. After the tour, we walked around and explored the pretty city before it was time to take our next flight.
Joke #3: Q: What starts with E, ends with E, and only has one letter in it?
City #4: London, England
We landed at Stansted Aiport late at night, then took a 45 minute train into the city, then took a 30 minute cab (the cool London cabs!) to the hostel. By the time we had checked in, showered, and gotten into bed, it was past 2 in the morning! But even though we were tired the next morning, we were so excited to explore London. We started the day with breakfast in the hostel – it was only 1 pound, which went to charity! Of course, we were really confused by the money, for a minute I thought we had only donated 1 pence, but then we realized we had donated 1 pound, so it was all good. We left our bags in the hostel and then headed out to see the sites!
First up on the list: the parliament building! We took some pics, then went and checked out Big Ben. He was pretty cool. We looked at the London Eye too, but decided against riding in it. After that, we headed over to Buckingham Palace to see the change of the guards. We walked past a beautiful park, and when we finally got to the palace, there were colorful tulips everywhere! It was amazing! We got some pictures and videos of the guards walking by (they were so intense!), and then we took the Tube to London Bridge to meet up with my roommate, Lauren, and her friend Jack! They showed us London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. It was cool having some local guides show us around – they even made up some fake facts for us when they didn’t have answers to our questions, lol!
And then? Over to Camden Market, aka the best part of the day! I’ll tell you what, first impressions aren’t always what they seem. As we were walking down the street to get the food part of the market, all we saw were streets lined with shops selling all kinds of gothic/emo attire. We saw so many black clothing items and chains and spikes and I was like dear goodness Lauren, where have you taken us?! Luckily, before long, we arrived at the food area and it was so cute!! It was very hipster, contained within a brick courtyard type thing, and it was right next to this little river thingy. There was So. Much. Food! Pastries and pasta and pizza and burgers and fries and tacos and it went on and on! I got some amazing macaroni and cheese with pesto and mozzarella, and Lauren, Jack, and I split some mini Dutch pancakes covered in Nutella. We were stuffed afterwards! I think I could have eaten there all day, but instead we headed to Wetherspoons, a nearby bar, where I tried some delicious Strongbow Dark Fruits cider. OMG. I wish the US could be so cool and have that. It was delicious.
Before long, we had to say goodbye to Lauren and Jack and head to Heathrow to take our next flight. We took an Uber there, and I have to say, it was the weirdest Uber ride I’ve ever had in my life. For some reason I can’t remember, the driver was trying to get me to open the glove compartment because he said he had a surprise for us. I was like, uh, no, that’s okay (hello, in every kidnapping movie ever, the driver has a gun in his glove compartment). I joked that he probably had a snake in there and I didn’t want to risk it because I didn’t want to get bitten and die. He said no, the snake would bite me and then it would die. I pretended to be offended that my blood was toxic, and he responded with the fact that he had never seen blood because he didn’t have any, but we must see a lot of blood in Spain??? He then told us that plants also have blood, but it’s actually white blood, not red. We were like, WTF?! He then asked why Sofía wasn’t talking, so he said she should put a bag on her head, or that he should put a bag on his head. It was absolutely bizarre, but entertaining to say the least.
We finally made it to the airport (sans snake bites), and went through security, where I had to wait 20 minutes for my bag to be checked, only to have them find nothing. I was ticked, but what are you gonna do? Our flight went smoothly, and before long, we were in City #5. But overall, I was really captivated by London! It was beautiful and reminded me more of home than other places (could be the language?), so I really enjoyed my time there.
Joke #4: If you ever get cold, just stand in the corner of the room for awhile. They’re usually around 90 degrees.
City #5: Copenhagen, Denmark
It was another late night, but when we finally arrived in Copenhagen, we were struck by just how cold it was! We tried to buy a ticket for the metro to get to our AirBnb, but the stupid machine didn’t give me change, so I essentially paid for two tickets and only got one. And of course, since it was so late, there was nobody even around the airport to ask for help! But after taking the metro, we walked for about 15 minutes through the dark, cold streets and arrived at our AirBnb around midnight. Our host was there waiting for us and was really nice as he showed us around the place. He even left us a bottle of wine and some other drinks! After he left, we passed out in preparation for the next day.
We started the next day with breakfast at a little cafe with a very friendly employee. We asked him how to pronounce some of the letters in Danish, such as Ø, and he happily taught us how to say them. After fueling up, we headed to the main square in town for our walking tour! Our tour guide, Rosie, was a very energetic woman from London who had been living in Denmark the last 6 years with her boyfriend. We walked around the city and she told us all about the history, especially about all the fires and how everything in Copenhagen has burnt down at least once. We saw Nyhavn (the famous colorful houses), the opera house (where people jump off the roof and into the water in the summer), where Hans Christian Anderson lived, and learned about the Green Light district, aka the street where they sell a bunch of weed. Rosie warned us not to take pictures there or start running down the street, or the people there will think the cops are coming! She also taught us some important Danish words: (hello=hej, goodbye=hej hej, shark=haj, thank you=tak, orange=appelsin [their version of “cheese” when taking pictures], cheers=skål, and the feeling of comfort and happiness=hygge).
After the tour, we made our way to see The Second Most Disappointing Landmark in Europe, aka the Little Mermaid statue. Apparently it’s disappointing because it’s not as big as people expect, but Rosie also told us how over the years, people have chopped off her head, arms, etc. How morbid. But the statue was actually pretty cool despite everyone saying how disappointing it is. After that, we went to Paper Island where they have an indoor food market (are you sensing a them here?) where we stuffed our faces. Minorka and I split a smørrebrød, which is an open sandwich typical in Copenhagen. It was nothing special in our opinion, so we also split some duck meat fries and some pad Thai! I then got a rhubarb cake that was absolutely scrumptious. Needless to say, none of us could move after this.
But eventually, we had to leave and head over to Tivoli Gardens, aka this little amusement park/garden place. It was freezing cold and we were dying, but we walked around and avoided the rides because let’s be real, we didn’t need any more wind in our faces! It was pretty! We watched this bizarre silent play, checked out the different areas with beautiful fountains and lights and whatnot, and even bought these weird marshmallow things from a really friendly Danish guy because he talked to us for awhile and we felt bad not buying anything. Fun fact: basically all the Danish people we talked to were really friendly and also super attractive.
That night we got really hungry back at the AirBnb, so we tried ordering pizza. It was really hard to find places that were open, but we also needed one where you could order online because it’s expensive to make calls on our phones when we’re in different countries. Luckily, we finally found one and even had our entire order picked out. Unfortunately, the online system would only accept 8 digit phone numbers, which we didn’t have, so we had to abandon the pizza idea and settle for a granola bar, which Sofía compared to bird food. Then, after sleeping for about 3 and a half hours, we woke up for our 7:00 am flight.
Joke #5: Q: Why can’t you trust an atom?
A: Because they make up everything.
City #6: Dubrovnik, Croatia
In the morning, we missed our metro and had a heck of a time trying to check in, but we finally boarded our flight for Dubrovnik. Well, technically, we flew to Frankfurt, Germany and then to Dubrovnik, but we never left the airport, so it doesn’t count. But when we flew over Croatia, I’m not kidding, I nearly started crying because it was so beautiful. I don’t think I’d ever seen such blue water before! I was in utter awe.
When we landed, we took a bus to Old Town and got lunch in this cute little restaurant that had turtles crawling around in the plants! We then took an Uber to our AirBnb, checked in, and headed back to Old Town to explore. We decided to first walk the walls, which was the coolest thing! It took us a little over an hour to walk around the walls overlooking Old Town, and we got some amazing pictures. We also saw a bunch of cats running around; they were so cute! Next up was dinner…we decided to eat at a Mexican/Italian combo restaurant where we had a very friendly waiter who gave us free tequila shots! He also taught us the Croatian word for cheers (Živjeli), but told us to be very careful when saying it, because a slight change of the vowel sound changed the word to mean sex! After dinner, we went to a cool balcony bar overlooking the water where we got some cool views of the moon shining on the water. Apparently, this bar was used as a changing room in Game of Thrones! Then, exhausted, we tried to get an Uber back to our place, but there weren’t any around. Instead, we had to trek uphill for 30 minutes. When we finally arrived, we passed out.
In the morning, Sam and I got up early because we had a private Game of Thrones tour at 8:30 am! We met our guide, Tom, at Pile Gate, the entrance to Old Town, and started the tour at the St. Lawrence fortress. Tom showed us several filming locations from the show, and we even met his sister, who was an extra on the show! We went back to Old Town and he took us through the streets to show us where various scenes were shot. We even got to walk down the stairs for the Walk of Shame! Plus, Tom took us to a hostel where Peter Dinklage passed out drunk once! Some other interesting things we learned:
- The Red Keep doesn’t actually exist…it’s pretty much all CGI!
- The producers make King’s Landing look a lot bigger by using CGI to fill in the area between Old Town and the nearby island with houses.
- During Joffrey’s wedding, white pigeons flew out of the cake. Because the scene was filmed multiple times and they couldn’t catch the pigeons, they are still around the city. There are also speckled pigeons in the city, which are the offspring of a white and normal pigeon.
- Dubronik let’s HBO film for free at most locations because it brings in a lot of tourism to the city. However, if the show has to use a business or someone’s home, HBO compensates them to make up for inconveniences.
- Apparently, to make the costumes more authentic for the time period, they are never washed!
We finished the tour on Lokrum Island, which was a quick 15 minute ferry ride away and was the location for the filming of Qarth. Our tour guide left us there to hang out, so we spent some time wandering around, eating lunch, and admiring the beautiful peacocks flaunting their feathers (it was mating season). There were also rabbits that would come eat out of your hand!
Sam and I left the island when Minorka and Sofía arrived because we wanted to ride the cable car up the mountain to see the view of the city and check out the old fort that was turned into a museum. It was pretty neat! After that, we all met up for dinner at a pizza place and finished the night at a wine bar. It was a lot of fun!
Joke #6: Q: Why did the fish blush?
A: Because it saw the ocean’s bottom!
City #7: Barcelona, Spain
Because the times for the buses from city center to the airport were so inconvenient, we had to take the 5:30 am bus for our 9:00 am flight! We were all exhausted and passed out at the airport (after eating the most delicious chocolate twist pastry!). But before long, we boarded our flight to Barcelona. We had every intention of grabbing lunch somewhere before Sam and I caught our train back to Madrid and Minorka and Sofía set off for Santander, but our plans were foiled when we had to wait in line for 2 hours to get our passport checked and stamped! It was miserable, so Sam and I settled for grabbing McDonald’s quickly to eat on the train. By the time we made it home, we were ready to never see another plane/train/bus again!
The trip was absolutely incredible; we saw the most amazing places, learned some really interesting things, and got to spend some quality time together. I’m so thankful for my friends and the fact that I was able to travel this past week. I’m so sad it’s over, but I’m so ready for my next trip!
Some Other Things…
1. A couple weeks ago, my co-teacher, Anahí, had all the teachers over after school. She made fabada, which is a really delicious bean dish from Asturias, the region in Spain where she’s from. We got to meet her new puppy, Max! He’s so cute! But I feel so lucky that all the teachers are so close and we all hang out. It’s a lot of fun.
2. The other weekend, my friend Nicole and I hung out. We went to Andén 0, an old metro station that is no longer in use and is now a museum. It was cool to see how the old metro worked! We also went to Papi’s Bagels, a little restaurant in Mercado San Antón. They were so delicious, and I was glad I got to spend some time with her!
3. There was a day where I went to Primark, aka my favorite clothing store here. When I went to check out, the guy said hola to me, and I responded. He then said, “Twenty euros, digo, veinte euros.” He thought I was Spanish so he switched from English to Spanish! I’m sure that will be the first and only time that happens, lol!
4. Yesterday for Easter, I went with Sam to the Catedral de la Almudena for church! It was cool getting to see a mass in Spanish, but I almost passed out from the heat! We met some of her friends for brunch at The Toast too.
Okay, my apologies for the crazy long post! I hope everyone had a great Easter and got to spend time with family and friends. Enjoy the great weather!