While the last two months in Italy have been incredible, my excitement reached an all time high when fall break rolled around. Arcadia gives all the students a week-long fall break the week after mid-terms, which is a prime opportunity to for all of us to travel to whatever countries we have always dreamed of. Travel throughout Europe is much cheaper than traveling through the United States (thanks RyanAir!), so my classmates and I are currently all over the continent. Some go country-hopping in groups (countries this time around include Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria), some go backpacking through beautiful cities on their own (like Brussels, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen), or, like me, some spend all week in one country.
I am lucky enough to have a very close friend named Angela who lives in Pamplona, Spain, and I have been staying with her and her family this week. They have been unbelievably accommodating, and this has given me the ability to experience life in northern Spain the way the natives do: loud, and full of life. In the days that I’ve been here, I’ve gone to San Sebastian for a weekend, seen two very small, ancient villages where Angela’s parents were born, attended a class at the Universidad de Navarra, tried traditional pintxos, paella, and pacharan, and in the coming days will hike to the top of a mountain in the Pyrenees Range.
And while all of these things have made me fall completely in love with Spain, my favorite part of Spanish culture is one I had always heard about, but never knew was true: the siesta. I flew into Pamplona on Saturday night, and after a quick drop-off of my duffel bag, we went out for dinner and drinks on a popular street in Pamplona, not returning home until late, so naturally, we were exhausted the next day. After attending a traditional Spanish mass, we spent the rest of the late-morning/early-afternoon walking around the streets of old Pamplona (I highly recommend finding a way to get here if you’re ever on the Iberian Peninsula), and returned to the apartment for a nap at 3pm. Naturally, I assumed everyone was just tired from the events of the last 24 hours or so, but as the week went on, I realized how necessary this nap was. When waking up at 8am for classes at the university (or, going to work, for her parents), and going to sleep at 3 or 4am every morning, the blessing that is an afternoon siesta is not at all lost on me. I wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t implement such a helpful way of life. And it is not simply that the nap is necessary for functioning; it makes me feel better. Whether it is solely because of the adjusted sleeping patterns, or maybe it is the fresh mountain air, I am more awake and energetic in this city.
I cannot preach the beauty of Spain well enough for anyone who has not yet been here to comprehend, but there are a few comparisons I can make that may slightly convey the sentiment. First off, after spending two months in Rome, the heart of the Catholic empire, I did not think I would ever again experience churches with such ornate beauty. I was wrong. In my opinion, the Roman Catholic churches have nothing on the image of Spanish gothic cathedrals. Every time I walk into one, my breath is taken away, and everyone literally falls silent. Now, I am not Catholic, but even I can feel the ancient tradition and honor the churches hold. The next discovery is the view in the Pyrenees mountains. I have been to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, and while that view is breathtaking, too, the crisp air and rolling hills around the mountains in northern Spain are exactly where I would want to be if my goal was to disconnect for a while, or even to reconnect with nature. The land here is unimaginably green and filled with little signs of life: sheep grazing in the hills, a farmer driving his tractor through acres of olive groves, a tiny (but archaic) cathedral on the top of a village.
I know I will always look back on my time in Rome as life-changing and wonderful, and I love that city as much as I possibly can, but I also know that I will look back on just this one week in Spain with the same infatuation and wonder.