Taking the Road Less Traveled

Connor R. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire.

While travelling, a good plan is a plan abandoned. While this might sound foolish or ignorant, hear me out. While the idea of romantically strolling through a storied museum or old quarter may be attractive at first, more times than not a wrench is thrown into the works. For example, you may find yourself in awe not of the grandeur and beauty of the attraction upon arrival, but the sheer length of the lines and crowds of people with their noses buried in their mobile phones that gather at these sites.While this discouraged me at first while travelling in Bilbao and Madrid with my friends, it became a source of inspiration to veer off the beaten path, in search of the lesser known but just as extraordinary attractions. Often, it can seem that the most famous attractions are the end all, be all aspects of the trip itself. For example, what is there to do when one arrives hours early before their assigned time to visit the famed Royal Palace in Madrid? Or when the most visited galleries of the Guggenheim in Bilbao become so full you cannot hear yourself think? The answer, believe it or not, is to literally step outside and look around. Perhaps my favorite memory of my visit to the Royal Palace in Madrid was not the palace itself, but it’s intricate and enchanting gardens just around the corner from the entrance, where my friends and I took advantage of the warmth from the inviting sunshine. Likewise, after venturing from the more accessible installations in the Guggenheim, I found myself in largely empty galleries surrounded by some of the most iconic works by artists from Eugene Delacroix to Jean-Miquel Basquiat. By simply allowing yourself to wander, entertaining spontaneous whims, you can see truly phenomenal things that the masses won’t see.

Similarly, it can be frustrating when you are continually spoken English to at the most visited attractions. After all, one of the main goals of travelling for a language learner is to foster the use of the target language, or at least inspire them to study the language. I found this especially common in Madrid, and because my friends and I took the opportunity to take the road less traveled, I discovered one of my favorite neighborhoods in all of Spain: Malasaña. Despite its proximity to large tourist attractions and chain restaurants on the Gran Vía, Malasaña is a quiet little pocket of Madrid with a unique identity of its own. It was in Malasaña where we ate the richest food in the most interesting and one of a kind places, and interacted with interesting and one of a kind people; be they trilingual bookstore owners or micro-theater directors. Had I not been open to venture a little further from the familiar facade of the Carrión building, I would have never spoken with some truly interesting people.

Despite the initial frustration that comes with a perfectly crafted plan falling through, I was able to see beautiful places, interact with unique people, and learn more than a brochure could ever teach me by allowing myself to wander a little.

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