Traveling Around Spain

Luke M. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from Milton Academy in Massachusetts.

My friends and I in a País Vasco restaurante

Somehow, three months have already passed since we first arrived in Zaragoza. Our first days feel like an eternity ago and Spain has slowly begun to feel more and more like my home. While I have loved my routine in Zaragoza, one of the greatest privileges of SYA is the chance to travel. Throughout the year, we are given many opportunities to travel with the school, independently, and with our host families. So far this fall, I have been all over Spain and am looking forward to being able to explore the country more after winter break. 

Every November, the entire class of SYA Spain goes on a week long trip. The grade is split into three groups of about twenty students and each group is assigned to a different autonomous community, the Spanish equivalent of a state. I was placed in the group that went to el País Vasco, a small area in the northern part of the country that borders France. One of the most interesting things about País Vasco is that it has its very own language. Although everyone there speaks Castellano, most people also speak Euskara, an ancient, non-romance, language. When my group arrived in País Vasco, we were all shocked by how different it was than Aragón. The green hills, rainy weather, different architecture, and new language all seemed foreign to us. However, the differences in the location were what made the trip so amazing. We traveled to three different cities, Vitoria, Bilbao, and San Sebastián, and did both group and independent activities. Some of my favorite parts of the trip were visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, climbing to the top of a cathedral in Vitoria, and taking an oceanside hike in San Sebastian. Our week long trip really allowed me to experience another part of Spain while also bond with friends and teachers.

The group travel with SYA is amazing, but I have also been lucky enough to travel independently as well. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to travel to the Pyrenees with my friends on my local cross country team. We had a race in Sabiñánigo and stayed at my Spanish friend’s aunt’s house in Biescas, a tiny little town in the middle of huge, snow capped mountains. We left Zaragoza on Friday and spent the first night in Biescas hanging around the little town. Calling it a town is a little bit of an exaggeration, since there are only about three streets. However, I hung out with my friends and we ended up throwing snowballs at each other after buying candy at a supermarket and then playing FIFA 11 on a huge TV that looked about fifteen years old. I finished third out of four in our FIFA tournament, but I still had an amazing time hanging out with Spanish kids. The next morning, we woke up and drove to the cross country race, which was on a hill in the outskirts of Sabiñánigo with absolutely amazing views of rocky mountains peeking out from behind fluffy clouds. I loved traveling with my cross country team and look forward to more fun away races with them! 

Finally, I have also had amazing travel experiences with my host family. Although many families have “pueblos,” tiny towns where the host parents’ entire extended family lives, my host parents are from Girona and Salamanca, two larger cities. Girona is in Cataluña, in the northeast part of Spain right near France, and Salamanca is in the west, close to Portugal. I have been to Girona two times: we went for the very first weekend I was here and then to celebrate the city’s annual festivals in late October. I loved both experiences because, similar to País Vasco, Cataluña has its own language--Catalan--and it feels like a completely different country than Aragón. I have met all of my host Mom’s side of the family there which consists of about twenty people and I have been able to get to know them all. My favorite moment from Girona was going to my host cousin’s handball game. Handball is actually a really big deal here in Spain and the atmosphere at the court was shocking. A U16 game fully filled up the bleachers and everyone was yelling at the refs while snacking and chatting with family. Then, after the game ended, the entire gym seemed to relax and congratulate the winners. 

I also just recently traveled to Salamanca to meet my host Dad’s sister, cousins, and nieces and nephews. We drove there this past weekend since we had both Friday and Monday off from school. Once we got there, I met the cousins, and we explored the city at night. Salamanca is an amazing city, with churches, streets, and palaces that are hundreds of years old. The university is one of the oldest universities in Europe and students still learn in buildings that are older than you can imagine. My host brother and I were even able to climb up to the top of the cathedral and see the entire view of the city and the rolling green hills that surround it. I absolutely loved my experience in Salamanca, and think it might be the most beautiful city I have seen yet--but do not tell my host Mom!

All of my travel experiences so far have been amazing. I am so privileged to be able to see all of the places I have seen in my first few months in Spain. I know that the second semester will bring many more travel opportunities that I will be sure to make the most of. However, there is simply nothing like finally seeing the lights of Zaragoza after a long and dark car ride through the Spanish countryside. It is always great to be home.

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