SU Story of the Week – Touch the Sky Under the Mediterranean Fire: But Be Careful, You Might Decide to Stay in this Paradise

Welcome to the fantastic Travel Summer University “Touch the Sky Under the Mediterranean Fire”, organized by two amazing locals: AEGEE-Tarragona and AEGEE-Valencia! You couldn’t even expact the experiences we finally had, coming to the event! Let us show you what happened during two weeks at the Eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.

Imagine that, from the big amount of applications (150), organizers have chosen the 30 luckiest participants and they start bringing the written program into life. And among them you find your name; the best summer is about to start! The time is coming closer and closer to the first day of this event, and finally it begins: in the middle of August you arrive to a small cozy city, touched by History, and some of its parts remained exactly as they were more than hundreds of years ago.  Tarragona, a city founded by the Romans, was one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean, and when you attend the city tour, prepared for you by experienced guides, you would understand why.

Walking through the ruins of the Roman Empire, you get acquainted with Roman history and imagine yourself in the Ancient Ages, when ruins were buildings and when people were riding horses instead of cars. One of the most impressive constructions is probably the Pont de les Ferreres (Devil’s Bridge). It looks magnificent and scary at the same time. Magnificent, because of the architecture; while scary – you will understand it when you go up and look down. Deepening more into history, you learn to speak Catalan, the language which appeared in the 9th century. Becoming a true Catalonian, you are ready to live the life of the city as its citizens do. Thanks to the human towers’ workshop provided by Xiquets del Serrallo, you will not only see the highest human tower (of more than five floors) in your life, bu you will also try by yourself and touch the sky. During the Festival of Sant Magí, in the afternoon, you see the real show of human castles in the streets. You have mixed feelings: “That was scary (especially when those small kids were climbing to the very very top, and when some of them fell down, fortunately they were safe); that was impressive; that was astonishing, unbelievable, amazing, awesome, exciting! I was looking at them with my breath taken away and my heart beating stronger and faster… I have never seen such thing in my life”, says Hanna Polishchuk, from AEGEE-Kyiv. And at night you go to the Holi Festival, being all painted, and the next night all the group stops by at the Remullada, where gigantic figures explode with water, showering all the dancing people around, while good quality music is playing everywhere around you. Have you experienced this before?

Next day your luggage is already packed, because for the whole day you are leaving to PortAventura, the most visited amusement park in Spain! Are you afraid of heights or speed? Forget your fears, – we are going to explore the craziest and most dangerous rides, are you ready?  First you go to the lift which takes you up, on a very-very high top, and then you experience a free drop, falling down fast in a standing position. That is something! Then you go to the highest rollercoasters in the whole park. From the very beginning you have a feeling of coming out of this ride as you are not used to such big heights, but once you stayed there you are glad you did it. It is unforgettable! Everyone should try this “Shambhala” for sure, and try it several times.

After trying all the most extreme rides, you go back to Tarragona to start a new trip in the morning, and the next city calms you down. You take a bike and discover Barcelona with the whole group. Gosh, this city is so huge, so different, and so multicultural! We were biking next to the sea, to the big gorgeous park, and then riding to the center and other beautiful narrow and wide streets. So many architectural masterpieces, one of which is,  of course, the Sagrada Família, created by Antoni Gaudí!

The next stop is Valencia. If we were to compare the two main cities of the trip, I should say that Tarragona is like a small summer house, built in the Roman style, and located by the beach, where you feel comfortable and warm, and you know all the members of this house and its neighborhood. At the same time, Valencia is a big shopping center, where you can find everything to satisfy any specific taste: popular touristic places, secret places, historical parts, poor quarter, crowded and not-so-crowded beaches. Do you want to have a fancy party, with a good music, nice interior, pleasant view and high service, – go to “Umbracle & Mya”. Maybe you want to relax in a boat sailing the longest lake in Spain – go to El Palmar and take a boat trip along the lake Albufera. What if you want to see something amazing, thrilling? Then you should go to the City of Arts and Science and stop at the biggest aquarium in Europe, the Oceanogràfic. There you will see more than 500 different species including dolphins, huge sharks, belugas, sawfish, jellyfish which were lighting underwater, and much more. You also attend the serious part of the SU with all the workshops, which were never boring, but very engaging, in Universitat Politècnica de València, which cooperated with the local.  In Valencia you will also get to see the old city with its typical architecture, streets and Serrano towers. Prepare to visit Sagunto with its huge castle, the ancient Roman Circus and Theater, go on camping by cars to El Saler, and visit Fallas museum to have an idea what is a true Valencia’s fire.

The cuisine is so different: jamón, chorizo, tortilla, gazpacho, horchata with fartons, and of course paella! The organizers prepared two types of paella for you: the original Valencian one, and the one with noodles, Fideuà. In one of the evenings we discovered different sorts of tapas and see how Spanish pour Sidra. After the sangría workshop, you will come home and prepare it for your family and friends, who are surprised of your magical tricks and delicious taste of the drink.

We had a good teambuilding in the group. At the first day one of our participants lost his luggage and spent all the SU without any of his stuff. And he survived: “I want to say thank you for the 100th time to the organizers for arranging me some clothes so I wasn’t naked during this TSU. I want to also say thanks to everybody for these unforgettable, best two weeks of my life.” Krzysztof Matuszny, AEGEE-Gliwice.

We shared our cultures with one another: “I just want to thank you for your company, for being as you are, for teaching me languages, dances and traditions, for making me laugh, for drinking with me, for always giving a smile even though you were tired; because all of you are amazing”, says the organizer Ruben Navarro, from AEGEE-Tarragona. One of participants, Zach Grenz, AEGEE-Darmstadt shares his opinion: “I hoped to meet a few people from other countries who are nice, but they weren’t nice… they were AMAZING, all of you guys I met. Everyone represented his country in a very positive way and everybody broke their stereotypes”.

What I need to say from myself is that both locals did a great job, they were responsive to our needs, they were adjusting the program to the weather and our physical abilities, some of them walked with us back to hostel at 5 a.m. after the party during one hour by feet instead of calling a taxi, only because we asked to. We took part in endless workshops and learnt a lot about the country, its history, Mediterranean and local culture and people. All the time we were like a big family, keeping the AEGEE spirit up.

There are no words to describe this unforgettable experience. But I would like to finish this article with words of Edyta Matysiak, AEGEE-Warszawa: “Some people say that all good things come to an end. Well, during this TSU someone told me something better, that the best is yet to come”.

 Written by Hanna Polishchuk, AEGEE-Kyiv