Semana Santa in Spain

It’s hard to believe that I’m already heading into my final week of my time abroad – how am I already here? This past week has been full of mental list making, trying to think of all the final to-do’s, to-eat’s, and to-see’s before I leave. But of all the things I have to look forward to this coming week, these past weeks have been focused on reflecting as I consider my amazing and memorable recent trips throughout Spain and Europe.

I’m going to throw it back to just a few short weeks ago to Easter. Here in Spain, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a huge deal, rich in tradition and history, and celebrated

Santander Procession Semana Santa
One of the pasos from the processions in Santander

throughout the entire country. In most cities or towns there are processions throughout all of Semana Santa (usually until Holy Saturday) that consist of townspeople marching through the streets of the town, some holding large floats (called pasos) on their shoulders that have a statue of Jesus, Mary, or other saints on them. These pasos are no doubt very heavy, but carrying them throughout the roads are meant to be a form of suffering to remember the sufferings of Christ in his final moments. With each synchronized step of the men and/or women carrying the paso, the statue atop moves and almost appears to be walking. It is incredible and touching to watch, and brings to life the last days of Christ, as well as the history and traditions in this country.

 

I spent my break for Semana Santa (April 7 – April 17) traveling solo, seeing three towns

Bilboa Daytime
A view from one of my walks through Bilboa

in the north of Spain on my own (…more or less – I’ll get to that later, though). I started off in Bilbao, a city that used to be a dirty and not-so-pretty city due to the industrialization and ports that took over the city in the 1900s. But thanks to the famous El Museo Guggenheim, the city was transformed and is now a beautiful place for tourists and those traveling along the north of Spain – like me! Although this city is known for being rainy, I got lucky and had two and a half perfectly beautiful sunny days to get to know the city. I visited the Guggenheim, saw an exposition of art in the nearby modern Iberdrola Tower, ate plenty of delicious ice cream, and sat along the river to soak up sun and read. I left Bilbao Sunday morning, sad to be leaving the beautiful town, but I knew that my next week was sure to be just as fun, if not better (which it was)!

 

After a two-hour bus ride, I arrived at my next destination: Santander. I would be spending the next six days here, luckily not by myself but rather with family of mine who live in Madrid with deep historical roots in this quaint beach town. The entire week was full, and do I mean full of food, but more importantly family who, by the way, speak very little English. Therefore we only spoke Spanish, something that proved to be the most difficult yet most rewarding experience of my time abroad. I met three of my younger cousins, and we essentially became best friends even though they ranged in age from 7 to 12 years old. I visited nearby towns and parks, grew familiar with the town and its small roads, and learned more about my family’s history in Santander. I went to the Semana Santa processions every night, and ate as much fresh seafood as I could possibly have. When my time in the town came to an end after six incredible days, I was sad, mainly because I had grown so close to my family and had cultivated a love for Santander. Saturday afternoon, I had a final large lunch with my family and left that evening via bus to spend my last two and a half days of Semana Santa in San Sebastián, another nearby beach town.

Even though I arrived in the late evening to San Sebastián, I decided to drop my luggage

San Sebastian Cathedral
The Cathedral in San Sebastian, where I attended Easter Mass!

off at my hostel and explore the nightlife of the town. I discovered beautiful churches, streets for shopping, streets numbered with bars packed with people, and (of course) one of the stunning beaches. After a bit of walking, I headed back to the hostel ready for the next day, Easter Sunday! For Easter, I decided to go to Mass at the Cathedral, which was just down the road from my hostel. The Mass was beautiful, as was the Cathedral itself. Afterwards I went on a daylong journey to see more of the city, and revisit the sights I had seen the night before. I walked around literally the entire day, hitting the 14-mile marker by the end, but I believe that is the best way to get to know a city! Needless to say, my back ached, my feet were sore and my body was exhausted by the end of the day. But I slept well that night and left the next morning, the final day of my Semana Santa break, to come back home to Madrid.

 

Semana Santa proved to be one of the most amazing yet difficult weeks in my months here. Spending time with my relatives was no doubt the high, but I learned that traveling alone, while fun at times, is also just as difficult. Despite the difficulties, however, I was able to do things I had never done before (like plan and travel completely on my own), and I am grateful that I was able to complete such a feat. That in a nutshell is studying abroad: doing things you’ve never done before, develop new skills, refine others, and in the end learn how to become (relatively) independent. My head cannot wrap around the fact that the semester is ending because it feels like yesterday that I was sleepily stepping off the plane from The States into what I saw at the time as “The Unknown.” Reflecting on then and now, I can see how my experiences here have shaped me and helped me grow, and for that I am unbelievably appreciative of study abroad as a whole. I am glad that I have been to study in a foreign place and learn all about the culture, the language, the good and bad, the fun and the frustrating. I am excited to return to the comforts (and heat) of Houston, to see my family, and to eat some Mexican food and Texas barbecue, but I will never forget the ways my journey here has made me who I am today.

–Virginia

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