My first semester here at Hochschule Darmstadt has come to a close. My exams and projects are finished and I have had some time to take a break and travel! I just returned from my 10-day power trip through Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome with fellow Stout student Sam Mahoney. I could write a small essay about everything we experienced so I will do my best to keep it short and sweet.
Our trip started off on Thursday, February 16th. Our bus was running over 30 mins late to the airport and we made it to our gate about 10 mins before the gate closed. Finally, we had boarded our plane and were on our way to Barcelona!
Our first day we visited we visited La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. When we travel, we don’t usually plan out our days until we get there, so we didn’t know you needed tickets into La Sagrada Familia. We got our tickets and had to wait for our time slot. While we were waiting, we met a young American woman traveling from Texas. She overheard our conversation and chimed in. We ended up talking for an hour getting to know her, telling stories and sharing travel advice. It’s those moments and people we meet that make traveling so interesting and make me want to continue traveling the world. The next day we walked all over the city and stopped at Casa Batlló, Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona, Ciutadella Park, The Beach (Balearic Sea), Gothic Quarter, Cathedral of Barcelona, Mercado de La Boqueria, and so much more all in just one day walking through the city.
However, no trip comes without its problems to solve. Our plan to get to Madrid via bla bla car fell through at the last min and so instead of stressing about it we made a plan to go to the bus station early and get the next bus to Madrid, and it didn’t cost us anymore than what our original plans would have. We spent our last few hours before we left Barcelona soaking up the sun in a dog park near the bus station and I couldn’t have asked for a better last afternoon in Barcelona.
Next stop Madrid! Our first full day in Madrid we didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know much about Madrid, so we took a free walking tour starting in Plaza Mayor and ending in Palacio Real de Madrid. Our tour guide was studying history, really eccentric and loved what he was doing, which made the tour really awesome. We got paella for lunch and we went to see the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, the bullfighting arena, in Madrid. On the way to our hostel after the bullfighting arena, we stopped at a grocery store. One of the things Sam and I started doing when we travel to different countries is to go into a grocery store and see what they have that’s different/same from the US and in Germany.
The next day we went to a few museums and did another walking tour of a different part of Madrid. Our tour ended in the beautiful Parque de El Retiro. Next we walked to Museo Nacional del Prado for its free entry hours. We got to the museum late and there was quite a line. While waiting in line we met a gentleman from Colorado. He had traveled to 65 different countries and often flies for free with his job. It was his 40th anniversary of coming to Madrid for the first time and he had never been to this museum. He made our 45 min wait in line rather enjoyable. Sam and I powered through the museum and saw the artists we have studied in Art history. Around 10:30 pm, we went back to our hostel to pick up our luggage we had stored there that day and we headed to the airport for our long night of waiting/sleeping in the airport for our 6:30 am flight.
We land in Rome around 8:30 am and we caught a bus to the main train station so we can take the metro to our hostel. Once we are at the train station, not only did we get lost, but once we find the metro, we learned that it wass on strike for another few hours that day. Since we really wanted to get to our hostel and take a nap, we chose to walk 30 minutes.
We took a free walking tour to Vatican City from the Spanish Steps that night. Before the tour, we went to the Trevi Fountain. Even in low tourist season, Rome is bustling with tourists. We had a small group for our tour and met a girl from South Africa who had been studying in Karlsruhe, Germany. The Vatican at night was stunning there was very few tourists and we were able to sit near the obelisk and just take in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our second day we took another free walking tour and we had another amazing guide. We went to a gelato shop and met up with our group after we had gotten left behind at an ATM. Our trip was absolutely amazing but the best part may have been that this Gelato shop had a Labrador that greeted people at the door. After gelato, we saw The Pantheon and a few other interesting streets, houses, and churches. After our tour was over, we decided to go with a few other people from our tour group, a man from Texas and a girl from Poland to go see the Sistine Chapel. The chapel was by far one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life it was truly incredible. Up until this night we hadn’t even really spoken to our roommates at the hostels because we were never around at the same time, but that night one of our roommates was there and we started talking to him and learned he was a German student from Freiburg moving to Rome to study medicine.
Our last full day in Rome we headed to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. Our next stop was Trajan’s Column and Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini where we got a tour of the ancient ruins below the Valentini palace. This tour was so interesting because there are ruins of ancient villas and buildings below this renaissance palace and they created digital recreations of the ruins and the stories behind the buildings and it was pretty incredible.
That evening we went to a great restaurant and were lucky to even be seated without a reservation, it was so busy! After dinner we went to a grocery store, some of our favorite things we found were Rice Krispies cereal, butter, and cheese flavored popcorn! We can’t find these things in Germany so it was exciting.
The next morning, we checked out, said goodbye to our German friend and headed to our favorite café around the corner for breakfast. Finally we were at the airport starting to board our plane. We got stopped at the gate and were asked to pay to check our bags for the first time during our whole trip, our bags had been free until now. It started raining and we were not in a good mood anymore. The other man in our row started talking to us and completely turned our moods around. He was an American who moved to Germany, not too far from Darmstadt, to sing opera. We learned about his amazing life and by the end he was offering us free tickets and inviting us to see the auditions at his opera house.
Overall, we had an incredibly successful trip! Everyone always asks how we have enough money to do this. This is our chance to travel as much as we possibly can before life really starts. We are here and travel is cheap. Our whole trip costs us about as much as one flight from Frankfurt to Minneapolis, while I’m here and others here say this too, we are going to take advantage of the opportunity as much as possible. This week more Stout students will arrive while most of my friends from this past semester have left for home already. I’m excited to meet all the new students but it is bittersweet because I’m going to miss the many friends I made this past semester.
I have met so many amazing people over these first 6 months here in Darmstadt, I am going to miss all of my new crazy friends but I know we will find a way to meet again. I am so grateful for all of the friendships I have made here I wish everyone the best in their futures and I cannot wait to see you again soon!