Four weeks, four countries, six airplanes, one bus, 40+ hours of travel time. Couple that with class Monday through Thursday, a full workload (maybe not a full Stanford workload, but still) and the Madrileño tendency to stay out until 7 o’clock in the morning when partying, and you have my schedule for last month in a nutshell. February may be the shortest month of the year, but that didn’t stop me from packing as many travel endeavours into its 28 days as possible. Back in January when I realised I would be travelling all four weekends of last month, I figured I’d just have to stay on top of work so I could get good sleep during the week. Soon enough, I realised that I was instead staying on top of work so that I would have time to go out during the week and experience the Madrid nightlife that I would miss while travelling. Sleep? Not as important. I can sleep when I’m dead.
My first stop was Paris. Somewhat hypocritical considering I spent my fall quarter there studying for 11 weeks. Even more so considering it is the city that robbed me of my self-esteem and most of my summer savings in a matter of weeks. Nevertheless, its allure as a cosmopolitan and cultural capital is undeniable, and my desire to relive that and visit some friends who had stayed on from fall was too strong to not take advantage of the cheap Iberia Airline offers from Madrid. I vowed to not eat, drink or shop extravagantly, as I had done too many times last quarter. I managed to stay true on two out of three of those goals (if you know me, you can probably guess which one I failed on). The long weekend was spent mostly sleepless, revisiting my old stomping ground and showing my new Madrid friends all of the “cool places” — consisting of bars, clubs and that thing called the Eiffel something-or-other. One of the greatest things about studying abroad somewhere is that, when you come back to visit (or live, as the case probably is for some), you already know the city well. It’s like a second home, and I’m egotistically proud to be able to call Paris one of my many homes.
The next stop was Geneva. Not normally an international university student hub (especially not in the winter, unless it’s to ski), it was a required stop on my list as it holds the most important thing in the world to me — my mother. A tiny city, with the amount of people housed on about five city blocks in Manhattan, Geneva is one of the more efficient places I’ve ever been to. It was a great place to hide out the weekend before midterms and nurse my cold acquired from a severe lack of sleep and travel stress with some TLC from a loving parent (who, lovingly, paid for everything).
Trip number three was our Bing trip to Extremadura, the westernmost municipality in Spain where remains from the Roman Empire still exist. An exhausting weekend thanks to countless hours of bus rides and walking tours, sometimes in the cold, wind and rain, Extremadura proved that Spain could still be beautiful even when the weather wasn’t. The people were unbelievably nice, and the food, though heavy, was delicious. And it wouldn’t have been a Stanford trip if we hadn’t stayed in the nicest of hotels; one was a castle formerly owned by Carlos V, enough said.
Still exhausted from our uncountable hours of walking tours the weekend before, my final stop was the coldest of all — Berlin. Fortunately for me, it was a free trip organised by the Stanford program in Berlin, which had put together a workshop on the European Union crisis. The frosty German weather was a rude greeting to our Madrid hangovers from the night before. Still, we persevered through the conference, managing to present our panel without flaw and learn a lot from all the other groups at the same time. Since the workshop was over on Saturday night and our flight wasn’t until the next evening, we figured we would be able to relax, enjoy the nightlife in Berlin and then sleep in the next morning. Not quite. It wouldn’t have been a Stanford program if there weren’t a walking tour in sub-zero conditions organised for 9 a.m. the next day.
Four colds and a half dozen passport stamps later, I can genuinely say that there is no better way to spend a quarter abroad in Europe than travelling. The best part? I still have two weeks left to explore Madrid.
Max Markham ’12 – BOSP Madrid
Max is wondering which cities he should check out over the next two weeks. Send him some suggestions at:[email protected].