Our travel day was a time full of laughs at each other getting taken down by our own suitcases, singing songs through delays and a ton of sleeping. We took off at 11PM and arrived in London at about noon, which left plenty of time for us to check into this napping hotel and shower before catching our next flight at four. The hotel looked like a place straight out of Zenon Z4. This was the first time we registered the fact that we were definitely in Europe and things were going to be a little funkier than in the United States. After grabbing a bite to eat at Garfunkel’s (what a great name for our first food in England) we caught our plane and headed on our way to Montpellier. We touched down in France, bussed to our gorgeous hotel that used to be the city hall, and headed out to dinner. Our first tastes of French food was delicious. Sitting at long, garden style tables surrounded by French paintings and marigold colored walls, we knew this trip was going to be unforgettable.
Our first full day of Europe included a tour of Montpellier, adventures to find our lunch in the city and getting to see a professional soccer game between Montpellier and Lyon. Looking back I think one of my overall favorite parts of the trip was the tour through Montpellier. We got to see and learn so much in just a few short hours about how the city progressed and also stayed true to it’s history throughout the years. I also discovered that there are dogs EVERYWHERE in France. It soon became a goal to pet as many European dogs as we could because a few of us are dog crazy. From Saint Bernards to pit bull puppies, we certainly covered it.
Taking on lunch on our own was definitely a little more stressful than we thought it would be. Apparently, when I get nervous and someone tries to speak to me in French my immediate reaction is to respond in Spanish, which I do speak. Luckily other teammates were good at pointing to tables and giving a thumbs up so in the end we were all set. We snacked on mini sliders (which the waiter laughed at us for because they were the most American item on the menu) and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the game.
The forecast said there was a chance of rain, but we definitely were not expecting what was to come since it almost never pours at this time of year in Montpellier. About two minutes into the game, rain started pouring down in the largest drops I have ever seen in my life. Luckily, we got to see Montpellier score an amazing goal before everyone in the stands ran to get cover behind general seating. From celebrating the amazing goal and performing a capella to distract ourselves from the cold, the rain definitely did not rain on our parade; just made it a little damp.
On Monday, our agenda included touring an olive oil farm and then heading over to tour a winery. Both absolutely gorgeous locations, it was surreal learning about how long the traditions of each place were being kept alive. For example, the olive trees we witnessed were over a thousand years old. Growing up in New England weather, I had never even seen a plant last more than six months. While we got to taste so many delicacies of Southern France, the most refreshing part of the experience was the passion the people felt for what they dedicated their lives to. I hope to carry that same love with me in my future career and for the rest of my life.
Our last day in France was definitely my favorite one. With the best weather we had so far, we all piled on the bus and headed to the beach. Half of the team took advantage of the beach soccer field while half the team hung out on the beach before walking over to the seaport a few blocks down. I will admit I was the only one to jump into the Mediterranean Sea, but there was no way I was leaving Europe without going in. The whole team truly enjoyed themselves and soaked in the calmness the beach area brought. The seaport was basically a canal with shops and places to eat on both sides of the dock. They were all mostly handmade souvenirs and family restaurants that we witnessed, again sticking to the theme of people’s dedication to their authenticity and carrying on their names.
After the beach, we had some time off to grab a quick lunch and rest up for our game at night. It was great to be able to suit up with our seniors again and take the field looking to improve our game and bring some American flare to the field. We enjoyed ourselves and the ability to get to play in Europe against such a respectable club and players who truly enjoyed the game.
On Wednesday we packed the bus with our suitcases bright and early and headed south to Barcelona. It would be fair to say that Montpellier and Barcelona are complete opposites of each other. Our hotel was right in the middle of the most famous street known as La Rambla. The two lanes of the road are split in half by a wide walkway with restaurant tents and souvenirs carts lining its edges. Shops up and down the street included bubble waffle dessert cones, a market full of the freshest fruits, candied nuts and fish I have ever seen, tapas, sushi, and best of all, a Dunkin’ Donuts. We learned that Barcelona’s economy mostly runs on tourism which was made clear as the streets filled and filled the further into the week we headed. If you walked left out of the hotel, only a mile away you reached Gaudi’s House museum and Tapas Tapas, the amazing restaurant we went to dinner a few nights later. If you walked straight out of the hotel you hit the Gothic quarters, cobblestone streets full of hidden restaurants and outdoor seating that eventually opened up into a large courtyard. If you went right out of the hotel, you would eventually reach an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea with cable cars carrying tourists across the shore and over giant, beautiful sculptures and the boardwalk stretching down the entire beach. We discovered all these locations through our bike tour we started as soon as we arrived here. It was unanimous that the bike tour was perfect for teaching us where everything was early so when exploring we would have an idea of our surroundings.
On Thursday we took the metro over to Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s home field. I have never seen such gorgeous grass in my life. With displays of cleats lining the walls and trophies documenting the clubs success, we learned FCB’s emphasis on the fact that their club is a family. We walked through the press room, visiting team’s locker room, sat on the bench and pretended to be running out on the field like goons a few times before grabbing lunch to head back and prepare for our game. Most of the team decided to hit the market in between lunch and our pregame dinner, and it was a decision I would not regret. The chocolate covered strawberries I shared were the size of baseballs. We rested for a bit, suited up, and headed over to play our other friendly match against Espanyol. Playing under the lights in the middle of the city with noises all around is something I’ll never forget.
Within all the unfamiliar, the team felt at home as soccer connected us to Europe in a way nothing else could. I would go back and play in a heartbeat.
On this day we got to explore the Montjuic Castle and take in an amazing view of all of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea. The colors stretching across the land was much different the view of a city like New York where skyscrapers catch your eye. In this case, the buildings were cohesive and while standing with individual details, they all screamed Barcelona in an elegant, pastel manner. After our sightseeing, we had the rest of the day, up until dinner, to do whatever we like. My best friend from growing up was studying abroad in Barcelona, so I toured the Gaudi House museum with her while some teammates went shopping, some hunted down popular dessert places, and some just walked and took in the city. This time helped me realize that someday I could definitely handle living in a foreign country.
At night we all headed over to Tapas Tapas and enjoyed authentic Spanish food while reflecting on how great the trip had already been.
Today was pretty much everyone’s favorite day. We had the opportunity to run a soccer camp for the younger players of Espanyol and they were so much fun. Two of our players translated to the young girls while most of us worked together with them to find common understandings and successfully play soccer focused games. I truly admired the joy the young girls brought to the field and hope they recognized how much that spread to us. As a person studying psychology and possibly wanting to teach or coach one day, this experience only solidified how much of a difference you can make in another person’s life.
After the camp, we headed over to La Sagrada Familia which was personally my favorite part of the trip. I was in awe of the architecture within the walls of the cathedral. The stain glass windows wrapping around the entire building shown the most vibrant yet natural colors I could have ever imagined. It is my sister’s dream to visit it, so I Facetimed her while walking around, and it hit me right there how fortunate our team was to experience a type of trip that some people only dream about.
Today was our our last day in Europe. It was pretty depressing leaving, because when will we get a chance to travel across the world with 20 of our friends again? The flight home we were all bawling (not only because we were sad to leave, but because the plane had the movie Wonder on it and I definitely suggest watching it to everyone out there.)
Looking back, my day to day journals do not even compare to the real life experience we had going to Europe. I will never forget how close our team and coaches got and the many laughs we shared, all thanks to the generosity of so many people caring about our program. I am speaking for the whole team when I say we are so grateful to go to Northeastern University.