Spring Break Away: Escapades throughout Espana and Bonjour, France

Taylor Stessney (The Duquesne Duke) - An Instagram photo taken of Santa Maria de Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain.

By: Taylor Stessney  |  The Duquesne Duke

Taylor Stessney (The Duquesne Duke) - An Instagram photo taken of Santa Maria de Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain.
Taylor Stessney (The Duquesne Duke) – An Instagram photo taken of Santa Maria de Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain.

I was watching from the highest row of the stadium in my first FC Barcelona game. Next thing I know, I’m sitting at a restaurant along the Mediterranean Sea eating seafood paella. Fast forward a few more hours and I’m watching real-life flamenco dancers.

You could say that I experienced more in one week than I have the past two years.

For the first week of March, Professor Carolyn Trimarchi and the director of the Office of International Programs, Jean Anne Hattler, accompanied me and 20 other students to Spain for a week, through Duquesne’s Spring Break Away program.

Prior to our Spanish adventure, students paired up to do research presentations on the history of Spain and its sacred places, specifically the ones that we would be seeing in person. This was not only informative, but also increased everyone’s eagerness for the trip. Anticipation grew weekly, as we would constantly ask questions about what to pack, when we should get to the airport, and how to speak the native tongue.

The trip’s itinerary was structured so that we spent the first three nights in the Catalonian city of Barcelona, famous for when it hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and the presence of the architectural work of Antoni Gaudí. It was so refreshing to be away from the cold and snow back in Pittsburgh and to be in near-60 degree weather. After seeing the beautiful, yet incomplete cathedral that is the Sagrada Família, we spent the first night enjoying a tapas-style dinner and then rushing over to see a FC Barcelona football game, where they beat UD Almería 4-1.

The next two days in Barcelona were just as exciting. We visited other cathedrals, such as the Barcelona Cathedral, where there is a great view of the city when you visit the top, and Montserrat, a mountain just outside of the city and also the site of the monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat. Our time in Barcelona gave us the opportunity to stick our feet in the Mediterranean Sea and visit Gaudí’s Park Güell, a garden that features his mosaic works of art.

We stopped in the small city of Jaca along the way to visit its cathedral and to see its connection to the Christian pilgrimage El Camino de Santiago, or Saint James’s Way. Soon we were on our way to Pamplona, famous for its San Fermín festival, known for the running of the bulls. Once there, we saw the Pamplona Cathedral and had a chance to enjoy the city. For some of us, we munched on some delicious churros and chocolate.
Before we knew it, we were packing our belongings up again and heading on a bus to the city of Burgos, where we had the chance to tour through its gothic-style cathedral, which also is considered a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Finally our group was made its way to our final destination in Spain’s capital city, Madrid. As we stepped off of the bus, we were greeted with gorgeous- 60 degrees and very sunny. For most, it was time to break out the shorts and skirts. We saw such prominent sites, like the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Cathedral of Madrid, and Spain’s national art museum, the Museo del Prado. We also took a short daytrip to the historic city of Toledo, another World Heritage Site- known for its historical significance of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish heritages.

The final day was very bittersweet. It was spent roaming the city, shopping and eating as much authentic Spanish cuisine as I could. Sightseeing in the Buen Retiro Park included seeing the all-glass Crystal Palace and the Monument to Alfonso XII, which featured a bronze statue of the former Spanish king on a horse. There were patrons rollerblading, skateboarding, and biking though the park on such a beautiful afternoon. We spent our final meal enjoying paella and wine while we watched the brilliant art of flamenco dancing. It was truly a great way to end an evening and a spring break.

Spring Break Away Spain was a one-of-a-kind experience. It was an opportunity to dive into another culture, meet new people, make new friends and try new things. The trip revealed how big the world really is, from the wonderful and knowledgeable locals we had giving us tours through these exciting places to the people I met from Argentina, England and Scotland. We also experienced how small the world can be, as we ran into University of Pittsburgh students while at a bar in Barcelona. It is a time I will never forget and one of the best experiences I could take away from Duquesne.

By: Marnie Schleicher  |  The Duquesne Duke

Marnie Schleicher (The Duquesne Duke) - An Instagram photo taken of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Marnie Schleicher (The Duquesne Duke) – An Instagram photo taken of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

The Spring Break Away program was never really something that I considered during my first few years at Duquesne, but after I did the Maymester this past summer in Rome I needed to travel again.

Paris was a city that I’ve dreamt of visiting for as long as I can remember, and when I found out that there would be a Spring BreakAway heading there I jumped at the chance.

The program has an interesting concept. Twenty Duquesne students sign up to take a class, like art history or sociology in the spring semester, have classes during the semester and then travel with their class and professors to their destination over spring break. I registered for an art history class about impressionism at Duquesne and our class went to Paris for break, (this went for the other breakaways as well). I took French in high school, so I knew what to expect of the culture and I can speak the
language, but I was overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the city.

After settling in to our hotel, we visited Notre Dame after having a group lunch. The cathedral was breathtaking despite how exhausted we all were, and after visiting there we were free to explore Paris on our own or in groups.

That’s how the program was for the majority of the week. Each day our class would head off to a museum and see the art that we learned about in class, then have a group lunch together. After, we could go off on our own to take in the sights. When we didn’t have a group meal we were given €10, or about $14, to use while we were on our own, which can get you a lot of food. I had a panini, Coke and a Nutella crepe one night for about €6, or roughly $9.

As a class we visited the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Petit Palais, the Musée de l’Orangerie, Versailles and the Rodin Museum. We saw the works of Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir and countless others, and we learned about the paintings and their artists.

There’s an enormous difference between seeing a painting in person and seeing it on a projector in a classroom, and that became blatantly obvious when we were at these museums. The Orangerie houses a few of Monet’s water lily murals that span two rooms at the museum, where Monet painted them. Seeing them in person truly gave me a perspective of their size and how much work was put into them, where as I could never really tell in class.

One of the bonuses of the breakaway is that you spend the semester getting to know the kids you’re going on the trip with. I got to know my classmates and I really connected with two of them, so we spent the majority of our time in Paris together, visiting monuments, historic sites and other museums.

The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to honor the French soldiers that fought in the Napoleonic wars, with carvings depicting all of France’s victories. We climbed a spiral staircase to the top in order to see the entire city from all sides, and we could see all twelve streets that radiated out from the arc, including the Champs Elysees, the street with all of the major high-end shopping, which made it seem like it was the heart of the city.

Of course a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower was a must around sundown. I waited in line for an hour and a half to buy a ticket to the summit, but it was well worth the wait. The lights were shimmering for the first few minutes we were up there, and from the top you can see all of Paris lit up and it really gives you an idea of just how enormous it is.

My favorite part of the trip was our free day. A friend and I took the Metro to Montmartre, the neighborhood where the Moulin Rouge is, and we explored the area. We found an entire square filled with street artists selling watercolors and oil paintings, and we wound through tiny streets to find the Salvador Dali museum where we got to see the surrealist’s works.

Spring break is supposed to be relaxing, but I got to run around Paris. I put my French to good use and experienced a culture that I love. I ate crêpes, frogs’ legs (which I don’t recommend) and chocolate mousse, and I made great friends. I did more than I thought possible in just a week. The only thing I regret is not trying the escargot.