Reading break travelling is a widespread phenomenon at Sciences Po. Though I usually spend that week catching up on readings back in Toronto, it is almost a pathological need in Paris to visit the half dozen countries on my travel list. Spain seems as good a destination as any. A word of advice, the few days you leave before or after the trip for ‘studying’? They won’t be very productive days.
An hour and a half flight gets you from Paris to Barcelona.
Stepping off the plane, I was hit with the most pleasant humid warmth. Even at midnight, Barcelona was about 22 degrees Celsius. It was a much welcomed change from Paris’ perpetual rain and chill. Contrary to what I had first believed, Paris is not a very sunny city. Rain is a very familiar companion now that the weather has cooled.
The three cities I visited: Barcelona, Seville and Madrid were exceedingly lovely. The food was amazing. I have never had that much delicious food for such a relatively (relative to Paris at least) inexpensive price. I went to a sangria and paella-making class that gave us unlimited sangria and fresh made-on-the-spot paella taught by a chef all for 20 euros. I would recommend this to anyone who visits Barcelona. The street performances, in Madrid especially, can be somewhat bewildering. I have seen men with faux baby bodies making cat noises, but I have also heard truly talented operatic singers performing along Calle Mayor. The architecture, without a doubt, is beautiful. From La Sagrada Familia to Plaza de Espana, Spain is a feast for the eyes and the camera lens.
If I could redo this trip, I would try to learn more Spanish (a language with which I had no previous knowledge). French won’t get you very far in Spain, even if Catalan seems to be a mix of French and Spanish to me. Success with English also varies depending on your location. I had thought to learn the few greetings and gratitudes in Spanish, but it is never ideal not to be able to communicate with the locals properly. I was unprepared when I found myself lost at the Seville train station at night, not seeing the promised shuttle to the hostel and unable to ask for directions from the train station help desk. After half an hour of hand gestures and a few completely made-up words that sounded vaguely Spanish, I decided to bite the cost of roaming charges and called for help with my phone.
Madrid also saw my biggest tactical error: not checking the weather of the city beforehand. I had assumed that Madrid, due to its southern location, would be considerably warmer than Paris (think Barcelona). And consequently, packed only short-sleeves with a very light jacket. Big mistake! I spent my stay in Madrid doing some desperate shopping for warm clothes.
Despite the few downs, I loved my time in Spain. It was definitely well worth the sleepless nights spent studying for midterms the week after. I am of the belief that people should shape their exchange experience in any way they desire, but please keep in mind the opportunity to travel. An hour flight from Paris will take you to at least 6 different countries. The same cannot be said for Toronto. Wherever you go for your exchange, maximize your experience. Don’t hesitate to fly out and travel.