Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wayback Wednesday: Vive Espana!

Our FORSPRO Group--Spain 1995

I wonder if it’s possible to have writer’s block on one particular subject.  I have sat down to write this story of Spain so many times, and I have not been able to do it.  I have so many memories, but my memories of Spain are rather fuzzy.  Certain things stick out, but I have no idea of the chronological order of events.  Maybe this is because I went to Spain 16 years ago (SIXTEEN YEARS, can it really be?).  The memories are not so fresh.  Plus, I didn’t actively write in my journal  the way I did when I went to Peru and Argentina years later, but here goes.  Wayback Wednesday: Spain.

The summer after my sophomore year in high school, a school group of mine signed up for a FORSPRO trip to Spain.  There were six of us at first: Senora Baker, Andrea, Whitney, Anne, Ashley, and me.  We would study abroad in Salamanca for a portion of the summer. 

We flew from Montgomery to Atlanta to JFK and then over to Spain.  I remember being excited to be IN New York when we arrived in JFK, even though we never left the airport.  This was the first long trip I had taken without my parents, and I was going overseas.  Sure, I’d spent many a summer at Camp Seafarer, but I had never been abroad without them.  This was probably every sixteen year old girl’s dream: freedom!

We flew Iberia airlines to Spain, and we arrived in Madrid.  We met up with another group of students who were also members of our FORSPRO program.  This is when we met Andrew, his brother Chris, their dad, Karyn, Shelby, Adam, and several other people we would become friends with over the next weeks.  They were from Virginia (Andrew and his family was, at least). 

We went sight-seeing first in our air-conditioned motor- coach.  We traversed the countryside of Spain staring out at burnt sunflowers lining the landscape.  That summer was HOT.  It was the same summer that all of those people died in Chicago.  For almost the entire time we were in Spain, the thermometers read between 40-45 degrees Celsius.  Hot, hot, hot. 

We went to Toledo, Granada, Sevilla, and Burgos.  We walked through a walled city, and I remember feeling like we were walking back into time.  We watched a man make and sharpen a sword.  We went to the Alhambra, and I remember the beauty of the gardens and the architecture.  We laughed and had fun, getting to know our new friends and adjusting to the new culture, amazed at how different our culture was from theirs.  We were asked several times if we were from Los Angeles and if we knew Melanie Griffith.  This was about the time that she had become engaged to Antonio Banderas.  The Spaniards looked at us funny when we answered we were from Alabama.  Most of them had no idea where it was.
Regarding Columbus in Burgos
Whitney, Anne, Ashley, me, Andrew (top row), Dina and Andrea (bottom row)

The Alahambra -- Moorish influence in Spain
The Court of the Lions -- beautiful Muslim artwork.
Chains on the Cathedral in Toledo
The Town Hall in Toledo, Spain

After this initial period of travel, we arrived in Salamanca to begin taking our classes.  My group stayed in a building that was used as an all boys’ Catholic school during the school year.  There was a monastery behind it, and we (or at least I) thought it was so funny to see the monks walk around in their brown robes.  We were each assigned a room with a bed.  The rooms were small and simple: one bed, a tile floor, a sink (where we washed our laundry!), and a large window that looked out onto a back courtyard.  Andrea’s room was next to mine.  We quickly realized that in order to not wake up in a pool of sweat we needed to put our mattresses on the floor.  This way, at night, we could sleep with our arms stretched out onto the tile floor, thus cooling our bodies.  Having no air conditioning was a major adjustment at first, but we all became used to it by the end of the summer.  An odd smell emanated from behind the school, and there was a park that we started calling "Shit Park," because a manure plant emited nasty smells throughout the day. Senora Baker did not like us to go to Shit Park, because she thought it was dangerous.
Our Dorm: Colegio Calasanz
Anne became homesick, and she actually ended up going home.  Andrea, Whitney, and I were all placed into the same class with a professor named Julio. Whitney reminded me that we also had a large lecture-style class on Civilization, but we rarely attended this—somehow figuring out how to rig the attendance records.  The class was early, and we were usually too tired to attend after tromping around Salamanca at all hours of the night.  One of the few things I remember about actually attending school that summer was that we read a book about Francisco Franco in Spanish.  I remember thinking it was the most boring thing I’d ever read.  Julio, our professor, had good sense of humor though and he took well to his completely female class!!! 
Our Class with Julio.

We also made several other friends, Colleen and Jennifer, as well as a few French kids, Little Goman, Alice and Florence, who loved our Southern accents.  The first week we were trying to cool down and adjust our body to no air conditioning.  I remember sitting on the lip of the second floor window looking out at the courtyard and talking to Andrea who was sitting in her window.  Senora Baker came into the courtyard and had a horrified look on her face.  She told us that we could do anything in Spain, except sit in those windows.  We took her literally, and we did everything in Spain!

The food in the dorm cafeteria was horrible.  The only thing edible was the salad if you somehow managed to scrape off all the globs of some gross mayonnaise-based dressing it was drenched in.  We fairly soon came to depend on the bakery immediately across the street from our dorm and school for our meals.  We would arrive in the morning to have French baguettes.  In the afternoon, we’d usually walk down to the Plaza Mayor and I often would buy a tortilla espanol.  This became my staple diet while in Spain, and I actually lost so much weight there that at one point my underwear started sliding off!
Friends: Colleen, Jennifer, Andrea, me and Whitney

Many of our nights were spent roaming the city with Andrew and our other American friends.  We were “so” American.  We were young, and we wanted to drink.  We had two regular spots: the Chupeteria and the Liter Bar.  At the Liter Bar, we would usually buy a drink called an Orgasmo.  The bartender at the Chupeteria came to know me that summer too, and he would often cut me off. We also like to frequent Burger King, where you could buy a cheap burger and beer.  My parents wondered why I ran out of money while I was there!
Lauren, Whitney, Jennifer, Andrew, and Andrea

We listened to the Tunas play in the Plaza Mayor at night.  We enjoyed churros and chocolate, and we enjoyed each others' company. 
The Plaza Mayor -- Salamanca, Spain
La Tunas (musicians) in the Plaza Mayor performing at night.
One evening we were watching TV in the Rec Room of the dorm, and a bat flew in the window.  After initially panicking, and trying to shoo him out of the door we came to enjoy his company, and we even named him Roger. 
Roger -- the *other* dorm resident!

One night, our group was going out to drink as usual.  We stopped at Burger King for a bathroom break.  We had been there earlier for dinner and a few cervezas (yes, they served beer at Burger King in Spain!).  I went into the bathroom, and looked at myself in the mirror.  I glanced at the girl next to me and she looked familiar, but I didn’t say anything at first.  I went into the bathroom stall, wracking my brain trying to figure out where I’d knew her, and it came to me.

“Robin?” I questioned.

“Oh my God, Lauren.  I thought that was you, but what are the chances?  What are you doing here?”

In the bathroom of Burger King in Salamanca, Spain I ran into Robin Freeman, a girl I had known from Camp Seafarer in fifth grade.  She was on a study abroad too.  She normally lived in North Carolina (I think).  It certainly is a small world, and I wondered what the chances of actually running into someone you know in a foreign country are?  Strange occurrences like this have happened to me since, including the fact that Jennifer Hinckley (who we met in Spain but who lived in California) ended up being roommates with one of my childhood friends during their freshman year in college at Vanderbilt completely randomly.  I digress—back to the story…

Towards the end of the summer, we (Andrew, Andrea, Shelby, Karyn, and me) decided to go to a REM concert in Madrid.  We bought tickets, and we arranged for a ride on a bus that would take us from Salamanca to Madrid.  We were super excited, until we learned that Michael Stipe was sick and had canceled.  Instead of refunding our tickets, the Cure stepped in and took over as the main group for the concert.  We took the bus to Madrid.  The day was so HOT.  I remember seeing the HUGE digitalized thermometer in front of the Plaza de Toros as we shuffled in for the concert and it read 45 degrees Celsius.  This translates to roughly 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and honestly people will tell you Spain has dry heat so doesn’t feel as hot but when it is 113 degrees it is HOT, especially when you’re in an outside mosh pit with a bunch of sweaty people.

The concert started, and we were in a mosh pit.  I didn’t drink that day.  It was too hot.  I was worried about dehydration.  One of the girls with us drank though, and she drank a lot.  About halfway through the Cure concert she seemed to have a nervous breakdown and wanted to leave.  We told her we had no way of leaving, but we all managed to get her onto the motor coach and we waited for the concert to end, giving her water to alleviate her dehydration.  I learned two things at this concert: 1) I don’t like mosh pits—they are scary and dangerous and 2) don’t ever drink alcohol when it is 113 degrees outside and you’re surrounded by a ton of people.

Senora Baker also took us on some separate excursions, away from the main group.  Our small group went to el Escorial.  I’ll never forget the “wedding cake” tomb where the Kings and Queens of old had buried their small children who died from various diseases.  She also took us to el Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen).  We went up on top of the giant cross, and on each corner, North, South, East, and West was a HUGE statue of each of the four Saints. 
Valle de los Caidos

As the summer came to an end, I was dreading going back home.  I missed my family, but I loved being on my own in a foreign country.  I loved the Spaniards, Salamanca, and my friends.  We had a little mishap in the airport with our plane being overbooked (never good), but luckily one of the adults on our trip had some clout with the president of Iberia airlines and soon we were on our way home.  For the next few months I HATED the air conditioner.  When it would blow on me I felt like I was freezing, but I loved Dr. Pepper, which I had dearly missed while I was gone.  Oh the life of a sixteen year old.  I also had to repay the debt that I owed Andrea (from running out of money) by working in my Dad’s office for the rest of the summer.


  1. I loved reading this fun
    Cannot believ the coincidence of meeting ur friend in burger king

  2. I know. It was totally crazy. I've had other weird coincidences like that happen to me before. Always freaks me out a bit!


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