I am a bit late on this birthday post. My birthday was February 22. But, I was traveling around the Canary Islands last week and didn’t bring my computer. So, as they say: Better late than never.
Twenty-eight was an exciting year. I spent the entireity of it in a foreign country. I had innumerable ‘firsts’. I did more traveling than I ever would have hoped to.
But, it was also a difficult year. I struggled with things I thought I wouldn’t have to struggle with anymore: Money problems, enjoying the little things, staying busy. It was a long, jobless summer in Spain. And while you’d think that I would have spent my days lounging alongside a riverbed, luxuriating in my carefree season of life, I sat inside my dimly lit apartment with my laptop on my sweaty legs, typing out articles that I desperately hoped would sell on a freelance site. It was how I was going to pay my rent, how I was going to pay for trips I’d booked to make staying throughout the summer ‘worth it.’
I’d say it was the first year I learned to hustle. I learned to enjoy the struggle. Because for every down, there’s an up. And even if there isn’t an up, you can have a goddamn sense of humor about it. But, as I make this list, I realize that the year’s highlight’s vastly outshadow the low moments. So, here are the 10 best things I did in my 28th year:
1. Swimming in Menorca
I never thought I would visit a place like Menorca. The crystal-clear turquoise water, the white-cliffed coves, the blue-and-white-striped beach chairs lining the beach so tidily. It was something out of a vacation that other people went on, but not me. UNTIL THIS YEAR! The whole experience was pretty magical.
2. Visiting Kate in Barcelona
Last spring, a friend from Boulder told me she was traveling through Spain over the course of a few weeks. We weren’t sure if we would get the chance to meet up while she passed through, but I really hoped we would. So when she told me she would be in Barcelona for a weekend, I knew I had to make it happen. It ended up being the same weekend that my boyfriend, Chris, was flying back to the states last-minute for a friend’s wedding. I could only go for a single night because of my schedule, I had to travel four hour each way by train to get there and stay in a hostel by myself.
I generally consider myself an independent person. But the entire time I’ve been living abroad, I’ve had my boyfriend to lean on, to share the responsibilities with. And that gave me room to be a little careless. On my own, traveling across Spain, it was up to me to make all the connections and navigate and communicate. It ended up being one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
3. Going to Bordeaux with my mom
Visiting stone chateaux in the French countryside, sipping pricey glasses of Bordeaux, eating escargot. A road trip to France last summer with my mom and her cousin Lori was one of the most special memories I’ve had while living abroad. My mom and I are dreamers. We’d off-handedly talk about strolling the white buildings in Grecian towns, dipping our toes in the Mediterranean – unsure if we’d ever really make it happen. We’re simple gals, after all. And being together in such a worldly place felt like we were finally living out the dream we’d idly been indulging for decades.
4. San Fermin for Running of the Bulls
Last July, I hopped the bus to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls. Because I didn’t book any accommodation, I had to force myself to stay up all night dancing in discos so I could snag myself a prime viewing position on the street at dawn. Even as my buzz wore off and the effects of no sleep set in, the anxious energy in the air kept me on edge. Runners lined the streets, stretching and clapping one another on the back. Photographers roamed the wooden gates, taking pictures. Police offers clustered and chatted under their breath. Medics snapped on blue rubber gloves. And then, there was a bang. The crowds moved through the streets. First sluggish, like people trying to make room for a wide load. And then, quick, in jerky movements as the horned bulls bucked and picked their way through the narrow cobblestoned streets.
There was this feeling of being a part of something; something big, something you only get to experience once in your life. (Although, I’m hoping to return this summer!)
5. Haro wine fight
La batalla del vino in Haro last June was one of my favorite experiences because it was so real. Rather than hanging out with the expat crowd, I accepted an invitation to spend the day hanging on the coattails of a local family that took me under their wing. They picked me up, gave me a ride to the wine fight, fed me, gave me wine, gave me champagne, sang to me, told jokes, took me on their float through the parade route. And finally, drove me back to my hotel.
It was overwhelming, being in complete immersion. There was no ‘out.’ There was no taking a break. It was an entire day of trying to speak, trying to understand, trying to fit in. I was a complete fish out of water. And when they dropped me off in the hotel parking lot, I could breathe a sigh of relief. I’d done it. That’s what makes it so memorable. For one day, I wasn’t an Americana, a tourista, looking in on the festivities. I was actually a part of it. I was on the inside looking out.
6. Visiting the Alhmabra & the tour de sur
During Semana Santa last March, I took a 10-day trip to the south of Spain. I now affectionately refer to this marathon across Andalucía as the ‘tour de sur.’ I stopped in Córdoba, Granada, Cadíz, and Sevilla.
In Sevilla, I was enchanted by the sweet smells of orange in the air, the baking afternoon sun, the lush vegetation. Sitting on the rooftop of a vacant hostel in Cadíz drinking local sherry, I was surprised to learn the ancient city was once inhabited by Pheonicians who were credited with inventing math. Córdoba is a Medieval dream with a distinct Mediterranean flair.
Visiting the Alhambra in Granada, I was taken aback to learn that these beautiful, ornate, sophisticated buildings had been built while the rest of the the ‘developed’ world was dragging itself through the dark ages. People were dying en masse from the plague and drinking water from the same sources where they dumped their waste. And meanwhile, the Moors were installing underground baths so they could stay cool during the hot Andalucían summer, planting second-story gardens where they could harvest fruit all winter, and working out the mysteries of the universe through astronomy. It was an ah-ha moment for me, realizing that history isn’t as straightforward as it appears from a textbook perspective. Every group of people has its moment in the sun. Everyone falls from grace.
7. Skiing in Baqueira Beret
A lot of Spaniards claim Baqueira Beret is the best skiing in Spain. It’s in the Pyrenees, and it’s where the king and queen of Spain ski. The quickest route from Asturias is a straight shot across Northern Spain, then across a corner of France before you dip back into Spain. It felt really European to nonchalantly pass through France on the way to a ski vacation.
The day I arrived in Baquiera, a quaint Catalan ski town tucked away in the Pyrenees, was the same afternoon that Donald Trump was inaugurated. I hung out in the hotel room, watching his speech as it was translated for Spanish TV. We hit the slopes the next morning, on a day with sunshine and warm afternoon temperatures. The skiing was good. The lift lines were short. The runs were plenty. The only let down was no sighting of any royalty.
8. Visiting my old stomping grounds
At the end of August, I returned to the United States for two weeks. There was this incredible moment on the second-to-last day of my trip when I was sitting in a park in Boston. The sun was full in the sky. Clouds drifted past the clock tower. It was late in the afternoon, around the time the lines for the food trucks disappear and they close up shop for the day. I didn’t have anywhere to be but there.
Thinking about how far the year had taken me from this spot I used to frequent on my lunch breaks, I felt anxious, but also at ease.There are many things I miss about my old job, my old life. But leaving it behind and taking the risk to move to Spain had granted me so many opportunities. It became obvious to me, in that moment, just how far I’d come – how greatly my life and perspective had changed in just one year.
9. Taking Chris to Brussel’s for his birthday
I don’t know how often I will be able to take my boyfriend to a foreign country for his birthday, so I figure this will be one of the most special gifts I get to give in my life. The weekend was full of chocolate-drenched waffles, spicy sauce dipped frites, and high-gravity beers. It was an extremely carefree trip because the only reason we were there was to celebrate Chris’ birthday. And he loved it.
10. Summiting the Teide
This one is a little bit of a cheat. It happened after my birthday, so it wasn’t really in 28 … but it was within a week. And by next year, I expect for so much to have happened that I will forget it was in 29. So, I’m including it in this year. When I visited Tenerife for Carnaval, I wanted to climb the Teide. It’s a volcano on the island, and it’s also the highest peak in Spain. We had to hike part of the way up one day, stay at the Refugio Alta Vista on the mountain and wake up at 4:40 a.m. the next morning to summit in time for sunrise.
The view was spectacular. But the bigger reward was the sense of accomplishment I got from having completed a hike to the TOP OF A VOLCANO.