Thirty-some People, Seven Days
…to rave or rant about, depending on if one is an optimist or a pessimist. For the subject at hand, I am an optimist. I am not, however, a sugar-coater. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean and then some with this many people is not only not a walk in the park because that is too cliché and sometimes walks in the park can be quite taxing, but also because of the less cliché clichés of travel: the multiple cramping legs in airplanes, the delayed flights making the next flights ones to run to, the seemingly endless bus rides full of naps and headaches and limited air conditioning. But then the bus pulled over to a view of the Mediterranean Sea.
This was where the truth that the travel has a destination became apparent and a wave of relief settled in. The wind rolling off the sea is better than air conditioning because it was not created by a machine and the water is a color that one cannot find in a Crayola box. From here forward, all the cramming was proven worthy of enduring. In fine soccer team fashion, the first evening a practice was held. There were no strenuous drills or equipment to carry. There was, however, a laugh-filled game, a beach full of bare feet, and a sea to race to.
The next morning we met a professional coach for another practice, and the language barrier was not tall or wide enough to keep the universal language of fútbol out. Inconsecutive days of this language followed; we played three teams of varying talent. Winning the first one and losing the second and third didn’t keep us from improving and teaching not only our lungs at a different elevation but our minds molding to situations we had not previously been presented to.
The soccer didn’t end at playing. We were lucky enough to attend two professional team stadiums: Estadi Cornellà-El Prat (RCD Espanyol), to watch the semi-final match against Athletic Bilbao, and Camp Nou (FC Barcelona). Both stadiums’ monstrosities could remind somebody that there is more than a game here; there are fans whose dedication goes beyond the definition and in sport, dedication is the most important ingredient.
The soccer experience was as unbeatable as the rest of it. Visiting the Botanical Gardens at Lloret turned us into school girls planning future weddings and dreaming of honeymoons because the beauty had only been exposed to us in movies and fairy tales. These fairy tales were revisited in castles we explored in Barcelona as well as Hostalrich. They both held views of their cities that made the panorama settings on our cameras grow tired.
The magic did not end there. There were basilicas and cathedrals one can’t find in America. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona held detail that Gaudí, its creator, implemented within every nook and cranny of the masterpiece. The stained glass windows held every color of the rainbow and painted it on the awe-struck visitors—great enough to remind us that human beings are capable of creating beauty that can steal words, too.
Natural beauty was a given. The top of Montserrat might have been a nine mile, slow bus ride making eyes close hard because of the winding and the increasing height, but reaching the mountain’s carved-in town was worth the fear. It was enough to make an indoor person an outdoor person and provided awe that was comparable to that of Gaudí’s creations.
Girona, Spain was a smaller city, kept alive by tourists, but for reasons that it is a must-see in its entirety: intact city walls running the length of it, ancient baths always full, cafes that keep you out of the rain, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a lion’s behind that a visitor kisses in hopes of returning one day. This beauty was not limited to the specific excursions we went on.
It was in everything we passed. It was in our freedom to explore Girona. It was in the Hostalrich café where we found Spain’s hot chocolate was simply melted chocolate consumed with a spoon. It was in the endless streets of Barcelona. It was in Marta’s cooking class, ran by a woman whom everyone wished to be their long lost grandmother, and it was in the fact that the Mediterranean Sea was a short walk from where we stayed.
We were sleep deprived, we were sore, we were stuffed with the places and food and culture we had divulged in. We had, without a doubt, happy hearts. We ended what we started with: there were more cramps and headaches and flight delays. What we left with, however, we couldn’t put in our suitcases: memories, culture, experience, knowledge. The delays and the cramping were miniscule prices to pay for what we received in return. Something has to slap us back to the realization we’re returning to North Dakota, right?
Within this trip, there are thanks to give. We thank our coaches for putting up with us and joining in the fun, our Lisa (tour guide) for showing us the city she calls home, our opponents who may have had different pregame rituals but were willing to play foreign strangers, Premier International Tours for obvious reasons of opportunity, Advil for lessening the travel pain, our multiple bus drivers for being timely and patient, our selfie stick and cameras for resisting breakdowns, and ourselves for completing the fundraising necessary for this incredible journey. Our cameras, as tired as they may be, will never do the experience justice. What will do this trip justice are the stories we have from it. And that is the most beautiful thing.