The barren Spanish countryside passes by my window on one side, and outside the other the rising sun glistens off of the Mediterranean Sea. Having the freedom to wake up and take a train to almost anywhere is one of the best feelings in the world. If I had to pick any way to get around, it would be by train.

I woke up early and felt restless. So I took the metro to the train station, Sants Estacio, and in five minutes I had a cheap ticket to Costa Brava, a paradise two hours from the city.  Costa Brava is the rugged coastline that leads up to the border of France, stretching from Blanes to Port Bou.

I chose Blanes for its close proximity but it still didn’t let me down. I got off at the train station and typical to the fall months it was a chilly morning, but warmed up quickly once the sun made its way over the jagged hills. After getting on a bus I hoped was the right one, I got off right where the water became visible.

Blanes has three kilometers of beautiful beaches backed by the sharp contrast of stony mountains and cliffs that lead into the sea. The water is the ideal blue green color and so clear and gentle that when you swim it looks like a pool, making it popular among snorkelers. Charming white washed and blue buildings line the shoreline, and on the beach are little fishing boats of every color.

Cap. - Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Cap. – Credit: Caroline Humphrey/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

I realized recently the importance of doing things on my own. Of course it’s nice to be with friends, but I’ve found especially living in a big city, moments of quiet to myself are hard to find. And not to mention it’s nice to be able to get up and go without any plan whatsoever. Sometimes we just need to shut off our phones, leave our daily routines and live in the moment, whether it’s for a few short minutes or a whole day.

For the entire day I lay on the beach and read and swam when I got warm. At one part of the beach, a sand bar lead out to a cliff in the middle of the water. Climbing the rock stairs carved into it, I reached the top and turned to face a perfect view of the town. With my back to the town, I looked out on the water that surrounded the rocks and went on for miles, giving the illusion of being on a ship in the middle of the sea.

It was a nice escape after finals week, since I had three in two days. Yes, while studying abroad you are supposed to go to school, but I’ve found the grading system to be a lot different than I’m used to. Grades are on a scale of one to 10, but it is nearly impossible to ever reach the highest mark of a 10. The teaching and evaluation style are much more objective, and two of my midterms were just twenty multiple-choice questions. That may sound short and sweet, but being evaluated on half of an economics course in twenty questions isn’t so fun.

As November rolls around, I have the feeling my time here will quickly fly by. In two weeks, I’ll be going to Paris with my study abroad program, and then a week later to Venice. I know a lot of students who have left Barcelona every single weekend to go to other places, but for me I came to see Spain, not the whole world in one trip.

People come to study abroad with a lot of different visions and for a lot of different reasons. For me I knew I wanted to understand and live the Spanish culture, but the rest was unclear. Now, halfway through my journey, I can see this semester has taught me how to be independent. I don’t have my family or any familiar friends to rely on here, and I have to get around a city on my own every single day. I realize now I used to underestimate myself. I used to be afraid to go new places on my own and I always felt like I needed to ask someone “do you think this is ok?” or “am I doing this right?”

I guess you could say I started to become a little bit more of a grown up on this trip, which is kind of scary, but at some point it happens to all of us. Although on a day-to-day basis we might not notice it, one day you look back and realize how much you and your world have changed, and it’s a nice feeling to go about things everyday with more confidence than ever before.