“When am I ever going to have an opportunity like this again?” That was one of the thoughts that motivated me to take the leap and study abroad. However, strangely enough, it hasn’t really crossed my mind while I’ve been in Spain. That is, it hadn’t until last week, when that question helped me decide to go on a crazy, rewarding, and somewhat personal journey, one that connected me to my family history and proved that I am more capable than I had previously thought.
But before I start there, I should back up a bit.
My dad, who’s always been somewhat of our family historian, pointed out to me that by studying in Spain, I’d be visiting the homeland of some of our ancestors, particularly José-Antonio Vila Tallón (my great-great grandfather), who lived in Lugo and left for Cuba around the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, Lugo (located in the autonomous region of Galicia) is over 150 miles from Oviedo by highway, and since I wasn’t quite sure about what transportation would be available to me, I ruled out visiting my ancestors’ specific hometown.
Last Wednesday, during our break between my classes, I absentmindedly looked up information about Lugo, and I found that one could travel between the two cities by bus for a relatively low cost, though the trip could range from 5-7 hours. Still, it was possible. But, there was already a free excursion to León offered by the university, which I had planned to go on. Also, I’d have to go it alone, and it’d be a very last-minute plan. Solo and last-minute isn’t how I like to travel, especially in a foreign country.
But then it popped into my head. “When am I ever going to have an opportunity like this again?” And I couldn’t answer; I didn’t know the next time I’d have the chance to visit where my ancestors were from. By Friday afternoon, I had a round-trip ticket for a day-trip to Lugo. Everything was planned out for a quick glimpse at the city.
Remember how I said I hated last-minute plans? Well things got VERY last-minute Saturday morning when I missed my bus. “Great work,” John, “really.” Luckily, by talking to a very patient attendant, I was able to exchange my now useless round-trip ticket for a new one, heading for Lugo that afternoon and returning Sunday night. Embarrassed, I returned to my host family’s apartment to book a hotel room for the night I’d now be spending Lugo. My host sister told me, “No hay mal que por bien no venga”–sort of a way of saying there’s a silver lining behind every cloud. And she was right; staying overnight in Lugo would allow me a lot more time to relax and enjoy the city. Maybe missing the bus actually allowed me to have a much better trip…?
After a bus ride which gifted me beautiful views of the mountains and countryside of northern Spain, I arrived in Lugo at 8:30 pm. That night, I explored the city a bit and saw the town square, La catedral de Santa Maria, and the incredible roman walls or murallas surrounding the heart of town. Then, I stumbled upon an outdoor blues festival, where I got to see a concert-–completely free! It was amazing to dance with a crowd of people to great music. After getting a late dinner, I checked into my hotel, or hostel, which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or done before – a small little bed/station for me in a room full of strangers. But it was awesome.
That morning, I visited two parks, went to Lugo’s art and history museum, and got lunch at a local café. A very kind resident helped my take some pictures and pointed me towards a site of ancient Roman ruins. I walked all around the city on the walls. Lugo, though very calm, is rich with history, art, architecture, and kind people. Soon enough, I had to board the bus back to Oviedo. But not before I snagged some souvenirs for my family. After all, we are connected to Lugo, however distantly, and as I walked around the city, that stuck with me. Long ago, José-Antonio was there, seeing the things I saw. And though he left to start a new life, eventually one of his descendants was able to return, even if only for a brief visit.
Though my time in Lugo was short, I feel incredibly proud I was able to do something so spontaneous by myself. I feel like now I’m ready to do it again if I really want to, which, for me, is something invaluable. “When am I ever going to have an opportunity like this again?” has transformed into “Who knows what my next adventure will be?”
Well, we’ve arrived to our last week here in Spain. Soon we’ll be wrapping up classes, saying goodbye to our families, and heading home. But don’t fret! There’s still more to come next time as I talk about finishing up and reflecting on my time abroad.