EuroTrip2010: To Begin, Some Sisterly Bonding in Spain

To Begin, Some Sisterly Bonding in Spain

From  3 June 2010

Another summer abroad, but this time I’m not digging through monkey poo, nor do I have to avoid tarantulas like the plague.  I decided on a European excursion, a post-graduation gift from me to me, some time for self-discovery and cultural exploration.  My trip begins and ends in Madrid, Spain, and everything in between is up in the air.

I started out with some sisterly bonding.  Ashley, my older sister, lives in Madrid.  Way back during the ’09-’10 Ohio blizzards–followed by the sixty degree weather–the three Venzel girls decided it was time for a sister vacation.  Having put this idea on the table, it blossomed into my plans for backpacking through Western Europe.  And so it happened that for the past two weeks, Ashley, Bridgette (my younger sister) and myself, along with Ashley’s boyfriend Miguel (not a sister, but still a part of the family) enjoyed
the life of the Spaniards.

My sisters and I in front of a stone stairway over the sea in San Juan de Gastalugatxxe. At the top of the hill lies a small church.

Bridgette and I took a solo trip to Toledo, Spain (Toledo, Ohio’s sister city) where we found the Calle de Toledo de Ohio(Street of Toledo, Ohio).  Though the street was only about five paces in length, Bridgette and I were nonetheless enthusiastic, taking turns spelling out O-H-I-O under the street sign (sorry, Michigan fans).

This ancient Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain used to be the town’s only water source.

In Segovia, Spain, the four of us marveled at an ancient Roman aqueduct, an open-topped stone pipeline that used to provide water to the pueblo.  I have more-or-less become successful at navigating a city both on foot and on the Metro, but we’ll see if my knowledge of city layouts extends beyond Madrid.  This capital city had cathedrals galore and a beautiful palace.  I enjoyed the rose garden, a serene setting with a stone walkway home to more than fifty species of roses from around the world.  Bridgette and I declared it the perfect place for a marriage proposal. (Men, take note.)

The nightlife in Madrid is hip-hop-‘n-happenin’.  Stop at a bar for drinks and tapas/pintxos (little plates of appetizers) and then on to another.  After receiving disgruntled looks from bartenders when I asked for un vaso de agua (I’m not an abolitionist, but I do choose not to drink alcohol), I’ve discovered the universal virgin drink –and likely the only one in Spanish bars–mosto!  It’s a watered down white grape juice.  And it’s not free, unlike the glasses of water, so I make the bartenders happy by ordering mosto and enjoy more of the Spanish culture.  Sometimes, the mosto comes with an olive.  I don’t eat the olive.  I can’t bring myself to savor the flavor of those weird-looking grapes.

With the overcast skies, green hills and stone path, this off-the-map spot in San Juan de Gastalugatxxe looks like a blending of Irish countryside and the Great Wall of China.

All of us spent a few days on the northern coast of Spain in San Sebastian.  This city is part of the Basque country where the first language is actually Basque, not Spanish.  While riding my bike along the coast, a television reporter caught me for an interview.  I timidly (what? me? timid?) praised the beautiful coastline of San Sebastian.  Luckily, we didn’t have a television to watch the news, so I was saved from a spree of jokes.

Combing through the tidal pools in San Sebastian, I was ecstatic to come across a live sea star (starfish).

The marine biologist in me couldn’t contain herself, so I spent some time perusing the tidal pools on a rock pier at low tide.

I was ecstatic to find a starfish as well as colonies of sea urchins.  And yes, I did jump with excitement at the numerous types of algae, especially at the sight of  Ulva, or sea lettuce, my personal favorite.

Also in San Sebastian we three girls watched Miguel and a few locals take off into the air and paraglide.  Paragliding is the sport where you run off a cliff while attached to a parachute, and then soar through the air.  Low and behold, I was offered the opportunity to paraglide in a tandem with Miguel’s friend Iosu.  I accepted, I paraglided and I loved it.  Granted the only air circulation was a lazy breeze, I was still able to glide over the tops of the trees, paralleling the dynamic line below where sea meets land.  Iosu pointed
out a falcon to me, and we followed behind it, with it, for a number of meters, ourselves just another bird in the sky.

By some heavenly miracle, I’ve been able to stay up until two or three a.m. even on the weekdays, breaking my weekend routine of eleven p.m. (11:30 is pushing it).  I’m in Salamanca, Spain now visiting Marcos, a friend I met at Ohio Wesleyan who lives here.  There’s a festival going on, and we watched an acrobatic show in the Plaza Mayor.  Marcos says I have to stay awake until seven a.m. on Saturday (or really Sunday), as that’s the dia de fiesta here.  He says I have to rest lots before.  I said, okay, but I’ll still fall asleep on the dance floor.

Iosu prepares me to go tandem paragliding over Bilbao in the Basque country.

My nerves are easing some at the future prospect of traveling alone for an extended period of time.  I’ve done it successfully before, but it’s still not a comfortable thought.  I have to remember to still be my crazy self.  The locals and fellow backpackers can love me or hate me.  At the very least, I’ll entertain myself, right?  My next stop is Portugal, and by all accounts it is a beautiful country.  I will let you know soon enough!

Flying over the land and sea, paragliding is a peaceful sport that takes extreme courage, skill and patience.
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