Alex is a young American studying engineering. He and I met in Barcelona last summer, where we went to see the ‘Sagrada Familia’ together, as well as a local festival. His story is one of adventure. He spent three weeks travelling across Europe alone. He came all the way from across the ocean, with nothing short of a positive mood and an eagerness to take as much of the culture in as possible. How many of us can say we took the leap and left everything behind for almost a month, to experience the wonders of the world, being sure that we’ll meet great people along the way?
I wanted to share his experience with you, because there is a lot we can learn from him. A different perspective can not only teach us a lot, but can allow us to appreciate what we already have even more. Traveling is something that can broaden your horizons and make you a more open and cultured person. It can be daunting to think about going alone – but it doesn’t have to be! He’s a living example of how this can pay off, as scary as it is, and leave you with a greater understanding of the world and yourself.
Hi! Can you tell me a bit more about yourself?
I grew up just outside of Chicago, and now I’m studying engineering here. I’ve always liked music and playing instruments from a young age, as well as reading books about different cultures and ideas.
How did the idea to travel Europe came to be?
It happened kind of quickly. I realized my summer job was ending a month before University would start and I’d always wanted to travel, so I decided to go for it and booked some flights and hostels. A few years back a friend of mine from South America visited and we went on a road trip from Chicago to New York, visiting a bunch of cities on the way; it was really cool because we saw a lot of culture and met a lot of people on the way. So I think because of that, even though I was winging it I felt comfortable that I’d meet a lot of people on the way and have cool experiences.
What did you think about the differences in culture?
I traveled to Spain, Italy, and France. The first thing that surprised me was how often people spoke English, even in less touristy areas. There were also a lot less cars and fewer roads in cities, especially in cities like Barcelona, Florence, Venice; many areas had only sidewalks or one lane streets. I think there were smaller and more unique shops too. It gave the cities a very personal and perhaps more communal feeling to them, because everyone would be out walking and talking and visiting little shops.
What did you like and what didn’t you like?
Maybe it’s because I only stayed a few days in each city, but I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like! There was always something around the corner that seemed unreal. When I arrived in Rome, my phone was dead so I just started walking around. After wandering around in the heat for a few hours and getting lost, I turned a corner and right there was the Colosseum in the middle of what looked like a normal area of town. I stumbled on the Picasso Museum and the museum with the Statue of David the same way. It was crazy! You suddenly realize you’re around all this amazing art and history that you’ve only heard of before.
What was your favorite cuisine you tried?
I think my favorite individual dish was in Florence, where they had a cow stomach sandwich. It was just this one little shop with a line an hour long outside that a tour guide recommended. There’s nothing I could compare it to, but it was wonderful. I went later when it emptied out before dinner. As it started filling up a group of Italians asked if they could share the table, and before I know it they order a full spread of meats, wine, and cheeses, and they invite me to join in. I’m having dinner with a group of real Italians! That’s what I really liked. People were very friendly and interested in other people and everything going around them.
What did you bring back from your trip?
Most of all, I remember all the conversation I had with people and all the different perspectives. I met so many different people that it really made me think.
What were some of your favorite places?
The two favorite things I saw were the ‘Sagrada Familia’ in Barcelona and the Statue of David in Florence; both were incredible. There were also these restaurants that served drinks and little appetizers, which is something we don’t really have in the US. They were ‘aperativos’ in Italy, ‘pinchos’ in Spain, ‘hors-d’œuvres‘ in France; it gave each country a unique flavor.
Do you miss Europe? Would you go back?
I was going to be studying in Switzerland for a semester next fall, but it’s probably going to be fall 2021. I hope to get to travel around if I eventually study there.
This article was written by Detelina, volunteer at Sunrise Project France since April 2020. She is a bulgarian citizen and likes to learn, write, cook and meet new people.