Nearly a decade ago now, I embarked on a two-week journey in Spain. During this time in my life I was soon to be recovering from a failed on-again/off-again relationship and the completion of a nine year position with an international corporation. The timing for this trip, without knowing it, was impeccable.
The winter before going to Spain; I spent a good deal of time reading biographies about musicians and bands, which is still a hobby. I can’t explain it, because I don’t play a musical instrument. This one particular winter, I was reading a biography on Michael Hutchence, former front man for INXS. It was a really harsh winter for Atlanta, with one full week of being snowed in. Seriously, in Atlanta. Anyway, this dreary winter experience made me naturally think to a warm and sunny summer. I wanted to make it a memorable summer and I wanted adventure. Michael Hutchence would have it no other way.
Perusing the internet, I started thinking I wanted to volunteer internationally. I was determined to find a volunteer opportunity overseas during the summer.
I understand limited Spanish, but I do speak fluent English and found the perfect opportunity, Pueblo Ingles! “Volunteer to teach English in Spain with Pueblo Ingles!” I applied right then and there. However, I was concerned that perhaps I would not be accepted as I do not speak fluent Spanish, but about two weeks later I received a letter confirming my participation and dates in mid-August. My only requirement was getting to Madrid.
Madrid is fast-paced. To me, it felt a little like New York City. I arrived two days before the volunteer program began and stayed in a hotel in Puerta del Sol (“Gate of the sun”). This area is to Madrid what Times Square is to NYC. Before leaving the States, I connected with a lady from south Florida, who was also volunteering for the Pueblo Ingles program. We exchanged emails and planned to meet up in Madrid. She had spent time in Spain before and was a fun companion! We went to see a Flamenco show, which was a lovely surprise, walked the city and enjoyed lots of good food and drinks.
A day later we took a cab to a meeting location in Madrid to jump on the Pueblo Ingles motorcoach bus for the four-hour ride to La Alberca, a small town very close to the border with Portugal. It is not far from Salamanca, Spain.
I have to mention this experience was magical. Almost every person I met on this trip, and there were quite a few, I felt like I had met them all before. Maybe it was some sort of precognition, but I was meant to have this experience. There were about 30 English speaking volunteers who all met in Madrid for the journey to La Alberca. Every volunteer represented a few English speaking countries: Australia, England and the United States all had representatives. The purpose was to really teach the nuances of the language in different English-speaking regions of the world. I was sure to confuse folks with my southern dialect and accent.
The location for the program was idyllic. Located in the Spanish countryside, surrounded by mountains and olive groves, the Pueblo Ingles complex included about 20 chalet living space buildings (the English-speaking volunteer has a room downstairs and the Spaniards had a room upstairs), a mess hall kind of area, with a bar, meeting space and dining. The bar area was generally always packed. There was also a pool on site.
The days were filled with different activities, all spoken in English. I recall a good deal of laughter with fun-loving people. Every single person I encountered was enjoying life. At night, we would have dinner followed by a few drinks, laughing, talking and occasionally some dancing. I have kept in touch with many from the program.
One day, we walked to the tiny, medieval village of La Alberca, it was basically a 30-minute walk through an olive grove to arrive there. During this time, I was suffering from a cold, a sweet friend I met during the program, helped me communicate what meds I needed at the pharmacy in the village.
That afternoon we walked around the narrow streets of the city. Naturally, we found ourselves in a Bodego (wine cellar). Of course we did.
Later we had lunch in a restaurant where a suckling pig was brought out to the table. I opted for the vegetarian dish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a carnivore but that kind of presentation always turns me off. It’s the American in me.
I remember an explosive conversation over lunch about Fidel Castro. I listened and drank wine, but how anyone could defend the way Castro treated the people of Cuba is beyond me.
When the program was complete, we loaded up and headed back to Madrid. After saying our goodbyes, it was a sad, lonely feeling. But the next day, I hopped a plane to Barcelona! I was going to be spending a few days there before returning home to Atlanta.
Ah Barcelona! One of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. From Gaudi inspired buildings and cathedrals to palm tree lined streets, everything about this city portrays beauty and grace to me. I know not everyone is as crazy about Barcelona, but to each her own.
Five languages are spoken in Spain: Castilian Spanish, Galician, Basque, Asturian and Catalan. Catalan, which sounds to me a lot like French, is spoken in Barcelona.
I spent my two days here visiting the majestic Sagrada Familia, walking around the district of L’Eixample, taking in Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. The Gothic Quarter (Bari Gotic) is not a throw-back to your hard partying days in the 90s at the Limelight nightclub, but instead encompasses some of the oldest parts of Barcelona, including remains of the city’s Roman wall.
On my third day, I went down to the shore in Tarragona, exploring ancient Roman ruins and then on to Sitges, to spend some time on the beach. I am always looking for ways to spend time on a beach. I met a few new friends on this trip, two ladies, one from Boston and the other from England. I remember in Sitges, we were buying bottles of water in a convenience store. A man in line started to talk to us and thought I was Dutch. This made me laugh, because I thought my look screamed “American!” Then it dawned on me, hell it must be my height. I should’ve acted like I was Dutch though and spoke no English.
Being raised Catholic, I naturally opted for a tour of Montserrat on my final day in Catalonia. Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat, and the oldest publishing house in the world, which is still running, with the first book published in 1499. The Virgin of Montserrat is believed to have been carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the church. Legend has it that the monks could not move the statue to construct their monastery, choosing instead to build around it. The statue’s sanctuary is located at the rear of the chapel, where an altar of gold surrounds her, and is now a site of pilgrimage. What a bad ass, she made them build around her schedule and surround her in gold. Nice. The line to see this virgin was way long, and being that I am more of a ‘diet’ Catholic, I opted to sit that one out.
And just like that my Spanish adventure was over. It was an amazing trip, filled with even more great experiences to add to my most precious account, my memory bank.