How I accidentally went backpacking for a month

Saying Goodbye to Madrid…was something I did NOT want to do. As I lied in my twin sized bed, situated perfectly in every way in my little (big) attic of a room, I thought about how comfortable I was and how I was never going to sleep there again. I looked up at the skylight window above me at the moon and the stars and reflection of the cars passing by underneath that created the illusion that there were cars flying upside down in the sky. If I was a baby, than my bed was my protecting crib and the flying cars were my baby mobile that lulled me to sleep. I am a baby so this makes sense. That night I had went out with friends like any usual weekend but half way through our festivities, the night took an unusual turn because instead is saying goodbye to my friends for the night I was saying goodbye to them for potentially forever. What do you say to someone in that situation? I felt like I was sitting on my deathbed begging each friend to remember that one inside joke and think of me whenever it came up. I found myself lost in my words trying to quickly describe to the wonderful people I met just how wonderful I thought they were. I told them they’d have a place to stay and a tour guide if they ever visited Texas and that wasn’t a kind gesture I am completely committed to that (if you’re reading this ‘broady friends I MEAN IT). It seemed as if everything was falling into place just as it was ending. My life in Madrid had just reached a comfortable peak happiness and just as it was concluding. I guess that’s what that call a happy ending (although, spoiler alert, I’m far from the ending of my abroad story). 

Earlier that day I had finished my last final at school and the past few days before that I had spent most of my time preparing for tests, taking tests, and writing papers.

All of this distracted me from the fact that I wasn’t actually going home like the rest of my friends, I wasn’t going home for another month.

So I packed very conservatively and ventured of to my first of a several stops, some not yet planned.

I flew into Bologna, Italy where lived my cousin Isabella who was having her own adventures abroad that were also coming soon to a close. Thanks to her I got a pretty insightful experiences of the place complete with cooking Italian youths and exclusive piazza tours. I never had to pull out a map either because I was whisked by foot from one Italian corner to the next. I also enjoyed one of the most savory and authentic meals of my entire life there which consisted of spaghetti Bolgnessa, delicious cheesy saucy bread thing, and red wine. Isabella and I even had an accidental run in with the Cardinal of Bologna on his way to being inaugurated as he was followed by a crazed mob of Italian lay people and…religious paparazzi?

As that weekend came to a close I nervously approached my second destination: Venice. What made me nervous was that I would be spending the day there by myself. What I didn’t know was that that would be the first of many places I would go by myself in my month of wondering around.

I am not good at being by myself and I don’t like being by myself. My biggest fear is cars because cars are one of the leading causes of death and injury. I look both ways an excessive amount of time before crossing streets and I myself drive right at the speed limit, never over. Behind that is my fear of being left alone, a fear, by going places by myself, I wanted to break.

I don’t have much to say about Venice. It was very pretty, very cold, and like no place I’d ever been before. I wondering around the entire island (?) without noticing where I was going and walked into a couple of stores and churches, that was it. Reflecting back on it, I learned that on your own, no matter how much effort you put into enjoying them, views are just views. People are what turn views into an experience. So I saw a lot of views.

After having not talking to anyone in what seemed like ages (although was less than 8 hours), I got to Amsterdam, Holland late that night with a lot more fear that I’d continue to be in that state for the next few days. I also learned that when I spend long amount of time by myself I start having conversations with myself in my head that can get a little creepy.

Luckily, that was not the case. I set out to explore Amsterdam to next day on a walking tour (and then later that day a Red Light Distrcit tour) and that’s where I met 4 fabulous girls. Sweet little Peggy was traveling all on her own at the age of only 17, yet she is still the most prepared and aware traveler I’ve met so far. Lauren and Alana were holidaying it up in Europe and were a blast and a blessing to have met. Story, the only other American among the other Australians, had the most beautiful heart. Together I valued their friendship so heavily although it only lasted (in person anyway) for a weekend too short. We explored museums, coffee shops, canal after canal, and the nightlife as well.

Before I knew it I was on a plane back to Madrid to meet my mom. My mom and I had a packed two days in Madrid in which I dragged her from one important sight to another as she tried to keep her eyes open long enough to see them.

A couple days before Christmas mom and I made our way to Vienna, Austria where we would spend Christmas with my Aunt Melissa and my cousin Elissa in their amazing flat. By this time, I was tired. We spent a lazy two weeks there which consisted on an endless amount of cheery little (and big) Christmas markets, German words I don’t understand, and me snuggling up on the couch in my pajamas refusing to move.

After that, mom went home and I was sent off to the industrial city of Berlin, Germany to meet up with Dani and Haley, friends from school. We spent as much time as our bodies would allow us outside but the cold forced us inside more than once. But yummy food and nice friends can make any environment a happy one. 

I hoped on a train to Prague, Czech Republic. Prague, where pure magic lives. All I wanted was to see snow fall. Being from Texas, I rarely get to see snow and even rarer do I get to see it fall. I stayed in the appropriately named Old Town Square. Prague looks like a storybook. When I was little and I pictured princess that lived in castles and princes that fought dragons, I had no idea but I was picturing Prague. We went to castles and ancient chapels and, even though it was January, Christmas was still sticking around. The warmth that comes from each little tent when visiting a Christmas market on a cold cheery-red-cheecked night is something that cannot be replicated. So imagine this place in the snow. I cannot but this kind of things into word. I was standing outside listening to a tour guide explain the significance of an old building in a British accent when I saw a tiny white flake. Then, there were hundreds. It was so beautiful that my eyes got teary. (The lesson I learned from this is that there is so much magic all around us but it is sometimes difficult to see. Because I am so not used to snow, I felt that magic that those who are surrounded by snow don’t see. I know that sounds cheesy but I feel it in my heart. That also sounded cheesy so I’ll just stop.) Anyway, the snow fell and my dream came true and I spent several minutes staring at the sky, thinking about how far I’d come. (When I got to Europe it was in the 100s and all I did was sweat.)

I took off from there to London. It wasn’t anything too special. I’d been to London before. I enjoyed the English. I was so baffled by the fact that I could use my own language to get across what I wanted to say. I hadn’t been able to do that freely in quite some time.


Lastly, I spent one more night in my beloved Madrid on my way back home. I met a girl at my hostel from Israel who was going to be living in Madrid for some time and I taught her everything I know, it was only right. We scurried through the bustling Madrid midnight. I will miss this so much, I thought. But I looked at my new friend and the wonder in her eyes, all the the magic that haunted my past would enchant her future. And with that comforting realization, I went back home.

Published by Mia Olea Garza

I am a photography, videographer, and filmmaker in Austin, Texas.

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