Student spotlight

My tour experience: Italy, Spain and Greece

Cassandra Lund has traveled on more than 15 EF tours and has tours planned through 2013. Lund is a magazine journalism major at Temple University in Philadelphia, and she hopes to write for a travel magazine after her graduation in 2012. Here, she writes about her experiences on her EF tour to Italy, Spain and Greece.

By Cassandra Lund | EF student traveler

Europe and a mall have a lot in common. They both contain an array of items and people placed into a small area. Europe’s small size, compared to other continents, helps make it a convenient area for getting around and a melting pot of different cultures. Europe’s enduring cultures in each country make it a fascinating place, one that has entranced travelers for ages, myself included.

The long-lasting culture in each country really stands out from that of the relatively young United States. Europe’s history is still on display today just as it was when it was in the making. For example, in Athens, there is the Acropolis from centuries past that can still be walked upon and viewed by visitors. Today’s traveler can trace the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence. We can cruise over the same waters that Achilles and Odysseus sailed as they headed for Troy. In Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia (or The Holy Family), one of the world’s greatest cathedrals, is still being constructed!

On our EF tour, we visited Italy, Spain and Greece. The changing of cultures from day to day is what really made it a beautiful and unique visit. We went from bull-fighting Barcelona to leather-enriched Florence to ancient Grecian Athens. From there, our group took a five-day cruise around the Mediterranean islands of Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion and Santorini.

I have watched many students travel to Europe for their first time. It is always refreshing to watch how it changes their lives. This Europe trip was no different; all the kids bonded with each other and gave out numbers and emails at the end of the trip. Seeing the young travelers get along so easily helped enhance the traveling experience for all of our group members. Traveling together, especially as young people, united them like few other educational experiences could. I watched them help and comfort each other. When a young girl’s money was misplaced, there was an endless amount of helping hands. Traveling together gave them something in common and created lasting friendships.

Traveling to old European countries never gets old. There is always something new to learn even when traveling again to the same destination. There is always something new to discover even if it’s only in the area around your designated hotel.

Equally important was the special group of travelers who visit the destination with you. Without making friends and sharing common bonds with your fellow group, you are simply wandering through a city, experiencing it alone.

As my mother put it when leaving the airport at the end of our trip, “The destination is half the importance of the trip; the heart is in the travelers.” I cannot wait to visit Europe again and learn from more first-time student travelers.

La Sagrada Familia — La Sagrada Familia (or Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona, Spain. The church (above) is still under construction and was dreamed up by Antonio Gaudí. Construction began in 1882 and will continue for at least 15 more years. This is my favorite church in Europe, and my dream is to go inside and see it completed one day. This church is unique because each visitor today is getting to experience history in the making, a rare treat. I can personally see how much progress has been made on this massive cathedral between my first visit in 2002 and today.

Gaudi Houses while on Italy, Spain and Greece tour

Ron Frazier/Via Flickr

Gaudi houses — Houses contracted by Antonio Gaudí in Guell Park in Barcelona, Spain. The houses were thought up by Gaudí and are made to resemble the houses in Hansel and Gretel. I love Gaudí’s Modernist style, and there are many inspirations and pieces of his vision found throughout Barcelona. I love these houses because of their unique architecture and how invitingly Gaudí made them look just like candy!

World Cup España — While our group was on the way to dinner, we discovered an unexpected detour. A parade for Spain, which at this point was a finalist in the World Cup. On this day, many Barcelona citizens gathered in the middle of town (above) to show their pride in their country. Little did we (or Spain) know, the next night they would win the World Cup. It was very special for our group to get to experience this symbol of national pride. It made for a unique aspect to our trip to have visited the country that would win the World Cup, which is an immense honor around the world.

Ponte Vecchio while on Italy, Spain and Greece tour

Colby Blaisdell/Via Flickr

Ponte Vecchio — Our EF tour led us next to Italy, where we visited the beautiful town of Florence. On the Ponte Vecchio bridge, there are many stores and plenty of photo opportunities. Florence is famous for its leather goods and the statue of David by Michelangelo. Our group was only in Italy for a short period of time, but Florence gave us a glimpse of Italian culture and a taste of its cuisine. A favorite of our group was gelato, Italy’s super creamy version of ice cream.

Meteora monastary — Next on our itinerary was Meteora, Greece. Here, we visited the monasteries of Meteora perched high upon steep rocky mountains (above). Our group was taken up a windy road and given a beautiful panoramic view of the town and countryside. What we did not expect to see at the end of our bus ride were many monasteries in the middle of virtually unapproachable mountains and built into the sheer cliffs. Our first day in Greece was a success with tummies full of Moussaka and a tour of these monasteries on the top of the world.

Hydra Island — Our next spot was Athens, where we took an optional day cruise. We were more than surprised by the beautiful islands we visited, including Hydra (above), Aegina and Poros. On these islands, we got a taste of Greece by swimming on their beaches, shopping in their quaint old streets and grabbing views like this. This was my first time doing the optional day cruise, and my expectations were high and were even exceeded by the different islands.

Mykonos Boat while on Italy, Spain and Greece tour

Upsilon Andromedae/Via Flickr

Mykonos cruise — Sadly, we had to leave Athens and make our way to our five-day cruise. It is safe to say almost every group member was looking forward to the Greek island cruise the most. Our cruise ship made its first stop in Mykonos (above), and the impression the island gave was overwhelming. Blue shutters and white houses lined the shore and cliffs. Mykonos was a first impression that would leave any stranger wanting more. It was a good thing it was only our first stop and we had four days to go!

Santorini — Our last stop on our cruise came far too soon with the arrival at the Santorini port. Not only did this mean our group would soon have to start saying goodbye to our tour and to each other, but hello to a return to reality. We didn’t have to try very hard to make our last stop a very special one. Santorini (above) is built into the cliffs and mountains of the island and is renowned for its dreamy appearance. Our group went on an optional excursion to Fira and Oia, two towns on the island. We discovered both of these views in Fira, the main town. Santorini looks like the setting from a storybook, and it immediately left the group with dreams of living in the mountains under white roofs and behind blue shades. Santorini left me with a little bit of sadness, being the end of our trip, but gave me a sense of satisfaction knowing the tour could not have ended in a better destination.

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