|All good things must come to an end. Thirty-nine days ago I embarked on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean to have my first European experience. For me, this story has been so surreal. I had always wanted to visit Spain, but I had passed it off as a pipe dream. In fact, over the years I somewhat convinced myself that my life was like 'The Truman Show' and that these places called Europe, Asia, and Africa don't really exist (of course, I knew they did). I just didn't know I would ever get to these places. Thanks to the Lilly Endowment and the generous grant that I was awarded, I now know that Europe for sure exists! I know that the Eiffel Tower is a remarkable sight to behold. I know that Gaudí's Sagrada Familia is one of the most incredible architectural visions I've ever witnessed. I know how the people of Madrid live their daily lives and the vocabulary they use to interact with one another. I know the true power of standing before Picasso's 'Guernica' and being transported back to 1937 and experiencing the aftermath of war. I now know so much.
And really, that's what it's all about. I don't have a handful of souvenirs to remind me of my trip to Europe. I didn't buy a dozen books to teach me more about the cathedrals, monuments, and museums that I visited. Nor did I visit every city, eat every food, and see every work of art that I could. What I do have are 39 blog entries for each day that I've been traveling, over 2800 pictures documenting just about everything my eyes saw, 280+ miles walked in these two pairs of shoes and two pairs of flip flops, and all the memories and emotions I created while abroad that I can't possibly forget anytime soon. In short, I now get it. I don't know that I can articulate what I mean by these words, but every time I say them, I know they're the right words to summarize my experience in Spain. The food, language, culture, people, history, art—everything. I just get it. I'm no longer a stranger to the true ways of Spanish life. When I bring up topics in my classroom, I will have greater knowledge and insight that I didn't have before. That, I think, is the greatest thing I brought back with me.
I am truly, truly humbled to have had this experience. I mean, look at what I just did! I went to Spain by myself for 39 days and did it! This is a huge deal for me. HUGE. I had never done anything like this before, and now I feel so comfortable and confident about traveling abroad and surviving in another culture. I really just did all that, and I think I did it well. Ok, so maybe I'm tooting my horn a little bit, but let me have this moment, as I don't get too many like this, and I'm going to ride these coattails for a while.
I'm finishing the blog the way I started it. I'm at the Atlanta airport, once again, waiting five hours for my connecting flight to Indianapolis. This may possibly be the longest day of my life, but I'm still going! Being here right now is very bittersweet. I'm anxious to be back in the States, but slowly the realization that I'm no longer in Europe is starting to creep on me. It's sad to think that I'll no longer be walking down Calle Fuencarral like I did most mornings. Nor will I be taking any short trips via the AVE trains anytime soon. I won't be taking naps in El Retiro, and I certainly can't get some of the most amazing tacos for 1 € anywhere around here. But that's okay. I had those experiences, and I will treasure them. And hey, it's not like I can't go back at some point!
And this isn't really the end. Well, it is for this trip, but it's just the beginning of more travel adventures to come. Now that I've done it, I will want to do it again. Because it's easy. And fun! And why not do it again!? All I need is a passport and a little bit of money, and I'll be heading out of the country again soon. Traveling is such an amazing way to experience the world and other cultures, that it only makes sense that I do more of this. Maybe even in a few months I'll be heading out of the country again...
If you've been keeping up on my blog, then you know all that I've done. You experienced it with me. You saw what I saw, and you read my opinions and thoughts each day. I appreciate you coming along this journey with me, and I will never be able to express my gratitude enough. Your daily words and comments to me are what kept this blog going, and while I wanted to blog my trip so I can periodically relive the experience when I want, it was also very important to me to take you all along for the ride. I seriously hope I've made you feel welcome on my trip, and that you've enjoyed living vicariously through me.
What an amazing journey. Gracias...y adiós.