One of the greatest things about going to other countries is seeing how different they are from your own.
While the last few weeks of school are slowly dwindling down, you may be wondering what in the world you’re going to do this summer. Get a part-time job and make extra money? Move in with your parents and save money? Lie on the beach all summer and be lazy? How about meeting interesting people, eating gourmet food, learning a different language, staying out at clubs until dawn and making memories that will last a lifetime?
Don’t understand? Get off your butt and start packing. You’re going to Europe. Two years ago, I went to Europe for a couple of months during the summer. Talk about fun — it was the vacation of a lifetime. For one month, I studied Spanish in Spain, and during the other month, two of my friends and I traveled through various European countries. While I was in Spain, I stayed in Madrid for a few days. I also toured through nearby cities like Segobia, which is home to a castle that was the model for the one at Disneyland.
If you get to Spain, you must go to San Sebastian, which is on the northern coast, about 14 miles from the French border. This was where I stayed for one month, and it was one of my favorite cities in Europe. It reminds me a lot of San Diego — long stretches of beach, great weather and a relaxing atmosphere.
If you are going to be in Spain during the month of July, be sure to see San Fermin, the bull run in Pamplona. During the morning hours, people crowd along the path to watch the bulls and daring people run into the bull ring. Here, you’ll see people so desperate to see the run, they’ll climb into trees, on top of telephone booths and onto each other’s shoulders.
Nighttime is a whole different story. Drunk, wild people fill the streets looking for a good time. There is dancing and singing in the streets as everyone yells up to the people in the apartments, “Agua, agua.” And before you know it, huge buckets of water are thrown down onto the people below. This is a good thing, considering it is about 80 degrees.
Another city I really enjoyed was Amsterdam. I was expecting a small, seedy town with hash smokers on every corner. Instead, I found a beautiful town with a canal running through it.
And the houses were beautiful — kind of like the stacked houses in San Francisco. You can’t go to Amsterdam and not visit the Heineken Brewery (actually the ex-Heineken Brewery) or the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House will take your breath away as you realize you’re standing in the room where Anne wrote in her famous diary, days before she was taken away by Nazis.
You’ll also be breathless in the Heineken Brewery because you’ll be too busy gulping down beers. It costs about $3 for an hour-long tour. Then you go into a huge cafeteria-like room where you sit at tables and drink as many Heinekens as you can in a couple of hours. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a platter of cheese and crackers to accompany the beer.
And yes, the rumors about smoking are true. If you go into a coffee shop (note: not cafe or coffee house), you will find a menu from which to choose delectable items. There is even a smoke boat cruise you can take that runs through the city. And though I read in a pamphlet that smoking pot is not legal, the police do not really care.
If you’re into shopping, listen up. Venice is a must. Not only is it one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, but the shops are endless. And it’s not like Tijuana where every store has the same items. Venetian glass is very popular. It isn’t cheap, but it will look great in your house if you can get a piece of it home safely. And if you can’t afford a gondola ride through the city, no need to worry. To get from one side of the canal to the other costs about $2 per person. Sure, the entire ride is only a quick five minutes, but if you’re good with the camera, you can get those pictures to look exactly as if you were taking them from the expensive gondola boats.
Next stop, Paris. It’s true; Paris is exactly what it is reputed to be: fantastic. With the Seine running through it, Paris is absolutely breathtaking. The Eiffel Tower is cool, except for the small, life-threatening incident that occurred while we were there. We saw police asking people in line to move to the side, so I asked what was going on. “There’s been a bomb threat,” they said. It didn’t matter to me that nobody seemed to care, I was out of there faster than the speed of light. I guess the Parisians were just used to it. Beside that, everything else was wonderful. We even went to a club one night. Fortunately, it was “Ladies’ Night” so we didn’t have to pay the $25 cover charge. And we didn’t get too tanked since the cheapest drinks were $15.
My last word to you is, if you can’t find the time to go now, enroll in a study-abroad program, and go during your next semester. Or if you are short on money, get a job working in one of the many European countries. What better way to get to know the people and their culture than living and working with them in their own environment?
Or, you can also be a nanny. Here, you’ll be provided with room and board, and maybe even some spending money. But you must like being around kids because that will be your main responsibility night and day.
Every day, I think about my travels around Europe and anxiously await my next trip. So many of my friends are dying to go just because I’ve told them so much about it. Europe is a different world. You cannot go over there and expect things to be like they are here, or you will be very disappointed. One of the greatest things about going to other countries is how different they are from your own. If Europe was exactly like America, then I would have no desire to go there. But because the people, the food, the whole lifestyle is so different from my own, I found it to be one of the most fascinating places in the world.
Elana Trop’s column originally ran in The Daily Aztec, San Diego State University’s student newspaper.