While taking notes in my art history class at the beginning of the month in October, a name of a particular city kept coming up: Mérida. The capital of the neighboring province of Extremadura, this humble city of 60,000 people was and is still famous for one very intriguing phenomenon: Roman architecture. I, of course, only had the vaguest notion that the Romans had existed in Spain at all, let alone that they had such an influential and dominating presence, so the prospect of getting to see the remnants of a brilliant world was hugely intriguing to me. And when would I ever be this close to Mérida again?
And thus, I did something I never thought I would: I took a solo trip. I hopped on a bus, hopped off that bus, and stumbled, blinking, into a deeply beautiful city where the historic relics of a long-dead kingdom rested casually and commonly next to modern buildings. For only 16 euro, I purchased a ticket to see the Roman circus, theater, amphitheater, place of worship, and funeral areas. It was wonderful. I learned everything I hoped I would, and I was stunned and in awe by the remnants of this brilliant land, and more than that, I realized something absolutely mind-blowing: this was manageable. Small adversities like the bus being late or my phone needing more power weren’t as intimidating as I thought they would be. With my entrance ticket and portable charger in hand, I could conquer any ancient empire.
And so I did. I went to visit Madrid during the puente weekend, taking the train by myself for the very first time, and immediately discovered endless streets flooded with flags and soldiers, with people proclaiming “Feliz Dia de la España!” on every street corner. It was truly wondrous to get to see and watch, and from there, my Madrid experience only got better. I went on a walking tour, was able to do some proper shopping for the first time since my arrival in Spain, and enter the most acclaimed private museum in Madrid for free. Visiting the Museo Thymus was a near impossible task, mainly because I had to see it all before the closing time at 6:30pm, and I kept getting caught up in the unique history and detail of each piece. I wound up half-sprinting through the entire level of 16th century Christian art, trying to absorb as many surrealist disproportionate images of Jesus I could before the staff prepared to kick me out.
A long time ago, I suspected I may love staying in hostels someday, and my experience in Madrid definitively solidified that hypothesis as fact. In just one weekend, my relatively unused Whatsapp was filled like never before with the numbers of new people I would probably never see again, but who cared enough to want to give me their number anyway. Each new introduction and good conversation was a place in the world where I now had a new friend, and it served to make the world feel that much more familiar.
In order to describe my Morocco experience, I need only one sentence: Yes, I did ride a camel. Everyone was equally enamored with that concept, their eyes lit up in wonder, and for good reason. It may sound silly, but I genuinely could not stop giggling the entire time. I was just thrilled. And if a camel isn’t a good enough animal for some people’s sensibilities, then they could always turn to the many cats and dogs of Chefchaouen, which was a truly astonishing city. I’m just so grateful I got to witness this small piece of Northern Africa through the ICS program. I never thought it would be something I would get the chance to do.