The Mediterranean

(I was going to call this just Europe, but then I figured Africa would get mad…)

A multi-country Eurotrip at some point during undergrad years is practically a rite of passage by now. Fresh out of my last final this summer, I mixed it up a little, trading the typical train pass for a boat and 55-liter backpack for a carry-on suitcase. I spent 7 days on a cruise packed full of incredible Mediterranean ports, with a couple of days before and after spent exploring Spain’s gems, Barcelona and Madrid. It’s always been a dream of mine to cruise the Mediterranean, but I never thought I’d get to do it so soon—or that I would be sailing on Pullmantur, an entirely Spanish-speaking cruise line, without knowing any Spanish at all.

It was an adventure, to say the least, but my ten days surrounded by Spaniards has confirmed that of all the Europeans I’ve encountered so far, they are my favorite (admittedly it’s a close call between them and the Brits, but still). They are the kind of people who will spontaneously begin singing and dancing to Danza Kuduro during first seating dinner and get the entire dining room involved. They are the people who will hold flamenco lessons on the pool deck every afternoon without fail. They are loud, energetic, and happy. They love life, in the way that many of us have forgotten how to. Though we didn’t speak their language well, they made every effort to help us feel welcome.

But while the time on the ship was wonderful as well, the ports themselves were the main attraction. After one day at sea, the next five days were back-to-back, full day port anchorings, stopping in La Goulette, Tunisia; Naples, Civitavecchia, and La Spezia, Italy; and Villefranche, France, before returning to Barcelona on the final day. Since we didn’t speak enough Spanish for the ship excursions to be worth the price, we handled all our transportation and port exploration ourselves. I haggled in a small souk in the little artist village of Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. I soaked up lost years of history in the Pompeii ruins and hiked to the crater of the powerful Mount Vesuvius. I meandered through the ancient streets of Rome, slurping Italian gelato. I spartan-kicked the leaning tower of Pisa and took a ferry ride between the breathtaking Cinque Terre fishing villages. I sunbathed on the Côte d’Azur and ate a delicious crepe in Nice, France. I strolled down Las Ramblas in Barcelona and was blown away by the Royal Palace in Madrid (and got my cell phone stolen by a couple of ten-year-old kids a few hours later… luckily the cops were around to chase them down and get it back). I saw so many of the places I’ve dreamed of seeing in one short trip, and I’m still amazed every time I think about it.

I know this type of travel isn’t for everyone—when I tell some people about it, they remark that they prefer staying in one city for an extended period in order to soak up everything it has to offer. But as someone who wants to see as much of the world as she can in one lifetime, this was perfect for me. I consider my days spent in all of these incredible places as samples of sorts—small glimpses to see if these are places that, someday, I’d like to return to.

The verdict? Not a single one of them didn’t fall into that category.

A couple of important things I learned:

  1. The Italian train system is impossible to navigate (especially when they go on strike).
  2. Don’t leave your cell phone lying on the table while you eat.
  3. Tapas are so much better in Spain.
  4. As are churros.
  5. Just like pasta and pizza in Italy.
  6. And mint tea in Tunisia.
  7. Things get lost in translation (particularly when trying to communicate with Italians using limited French and Spanish…).
  8. It’s hard to find the Pantheon.
  9. You can’t go into St. Peter’s Basilica in a strapless top and short shorts.
  10. Nice has only rock beaches, no matter how far down Promenade des Anglais you walk.
  11. EVERYTHING is named after Garibaldi, even in France.
  12. The Naples shoreline is longer than it looks.
  13. Accepting help from strangers is okay.
  14. Things don’t always work out as planned, and it’s important to go with the flow.
  15. Few things are more beautiful than a Mediterranean sunset.

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