AP Students Journey to Italy, Spain

Jenna Miller, Editor in Chief

During the February break, students enrolled in the AP art and language classes at Wantagh High School embarked on what may have been the most out-of-the-ordinary and exciting school trip they had ever been on. 

From February 14 to February 23, the 37 students and 7 faculty members spent 10 days and 9 nights in Italy and Spain, visiting some of their most well-known cities: Rome, Florence, Madrid and Barcelona. 

The trip was organized by Mrs. Jones, the head of the music and arts department at Wantagh High School. Joining her were middle school art teacher Mrs. Gentilesco, elementary school art teacher Mrs. Douglas, middle school English teacher Mrs. Hersch, and Wantagh High School teachers Mr. Hunter and Mr. Parlagreco. Mr. Parlagreco was accompanied by his wife Mrs. Parlagreco. 

Following a 7-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany in which many students were able to get a peaceful night’s rest and an additional 2-hour flight after that, the students arrived in Rome, Italy where they met their tour guide who would stay with them for the entire trip through both countries and each day: Monica Lopez. Though she was a native of Madrid, Spain, she was employed with EF Tours so she knew her way around each and every city. She served as both a source of vast knowledge and entertainment, because on each bus ride throughout the cities she played an exciting song or two to energize the students.

The first day in Rome was spent touring the elegant plazas in the city center, like Piazza Navona and the home of the Pantheon, Piazza Della Rotonda. The hotel in Rome was a bit cramped and had poor Wi-Fi connectivity, but it was neat and clean. The second day, the students embarked on excursions to immerse themselves in Rome’s rich ancient history, taking tours of the Colosseum and Vatican City. At night, they went to the Trevi Fountain and the metropolitan city area surrounding it which included the Spanish Steps — over 700 hard-to-climb steps named after the Spanish Embassy building located nearby. 

Florence was the second stop on the journey. It was on the bus ride to Florence from Rome that the students started to form a bond with Fabrizio, the bus driver throughout the entire trip to Italy whom Monica was an acquaintance of. As soon as Monica taught them how to say “let’s go” in Italian, every bus ride was initiated by an enthusiastic “Andiamo, Fabrizio!” The city was teeming with culture and vibrance, and had strong ties to the Renaissance. Some of the museums and attractions visited in Florence were the Piazza della Signoria where one can find many nude statues of men including a replica of Michelangelo’s David, the museum where the real David is immaculately housed, the Basilica cathedral, and the Duomo.

The students also got to experience some of the city’s beauty encapsulated by the bridge with jewelry shops across the Arno river, walking through the passageway created for the prestigious Medici family. But for most, the icing on the cake was eating cool, creamy gelato. 

The trip to Madrid from Florence began on a rocky note when the luggage of many faculty and student members alike was lost, never leaving the airport in Florence. After many hours spent at the airport waiting, the group decided to let the airport mail the luggage to the hotel the next day and just go to the hotel so their time in the city wouldn’t be sacrificed. Those who lost their suitcases got complementary packs of toiletries from the airport. The students walked around the city, exploring its center named Puerta del Sol, which is Spanish for “Door to the Sun.” Many slept in their clothes from that day and purchased new outfits to wear the next day following the guided trip to the Prado museum. 

The next day in Madrid was spent touring the Royal Palace. A bus ride to nearby Toledo immediately followed. Toledo and Madrid were like two different worlds – while Madrid was more modern and metropolitan, Toledo was ancient and looked like something out of a fantasy world. According to the Quick Facts section of Google Maps, Toledo is “known for the medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments in its walled old city.” It had mountainous and hilly walkways that allowed students to get breathtaking views of the cityscape. Students were enthusiastic to admire the beauty of the cathedral there and try the local delicacy, marzipan.

Barcelona was the final destination of the group, a 3-hour bullet train ride away from Madrid. It was many students’ first time experiencing such a high-speed train as they aren’t common in the United States. These trains, which are more commonplace throughout Europe and in some East Asian countries like China and Japan, can travel at speeds of well over 200 mph. Some of the landmarks the students visited there were Park Guell, the Pablo Picasso museum, and the colorful Sagrada Familia church in which light shines in rainbow colors through the stained glass windows. The trip culminated in a rousing flamenco show with traditional music and dancing; it was preceded by an exciting flamenco dance lesson.

Barcelona is part of an area in Spain called Catalonia, where the fascinating Catalan language is spoken alongside Spanish. I found Catalan itself to be the most intriguing feature of Barcelona, as a language buff; the language was everywhere and its interesting aspects that make it unique appealed greatly to me. 

As a student in the AP Spanish and AP Graphic Design classes, I was a part of this journey. For me, the experience in Europe was like no other. It had its ups and downs but for the most part, it was a positive journey where I learned lots about not just these countries and their rich histories, but about myself as well. When we had free moments, I’d find myself breaking off into groups with others—most often, it was students who I rarely talked to at school, but at times I was joined by teachers. This trip allowed me to really have the chance to focus on the moment and talk to people who I don’t usually interact with and form stronger bonds with teachers and students alike. Climbing up the Spanish Steps also served as a great test for my endurance…I definitely think I got the most exercise I’ve ever gotten in my life throughout the whole trip!

The biggest takeaway I got from the Europe trip was how it showed me the importance of adapting to others and seeing past myself, as opposed to expecting others to adapt to me. At times there were things on this trip that I didn’t necessarily want to do or go to, but I took them on regardless and savored the experience—and often, I ended up finding them more fun than I expected! When I was in Europe, I didn’t want to leave. The trip certainly was a great way to introduce me to the cultures of Spain and Italy and gave me a strong desire to come back.