In January 2006, 2nd semester of my 2nd year of college, I headed off to Sevilla, Spain to study abroad for 4 months. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. At this point, my Spanish was good and I knew a little about Spain....and that was it. Before I left, a good friend of mine suggested that I pick up a travel book by Rick Steves. I went to Books-A-Million, picked up a copy of Rick Steves Spain 2006, and that was the beginning of a very helpful friendship.
I read the entire book, cover to cover, completely entralled. I had been dreading my departure date, now I couldn't wait to leave. Rick's been in the travel business since long before I was born and he's seen it all and done it all. All of his books are written in a 1st person perspective, so it seems as he's talking directly to you, leading you on tours and helping you decide where to eat for dinner. His defining characteristic is his "Europe Thru The Back Door" emphasis...meaning, don't be a typical tourist: pack light and live as the locals live, learn something new, go off the beaten path, save money and time, etc. So armed with my luggage and Rick, I left for Spain confident and self-assured. That is, until I had to leave my parents at the security check.
My flight from Atlanta connected to New York, and after a 6 hour lay-over, to Madrid, then to Sevilla. In the JFK Airport before my trans-atlantic flight, I saw a girl sitting on the floor by the restrooms. She had a lot of luggage and I noticed that her tags were labeled the same as mine: 33 Calle ___________, Sevilla, SPAIN....) Typically, I am not the person who will approach a stranger to begin a conversation. However, there was nothing typical about that day. I had said good-bye to my parents that morning, my mom and sister cried...and made me cry. I said good-bye to my then boyfriend (soon-to-be fiance...little did I know) the day before. I'd been traveling alone, struggled to find the correct terminal, pushed heavy luggage around all day....so to see someone who might understand what I was feeling was enough for me to run up to her, hug her, start crying, and then blubber for 15 minutes about how I missed Scott, was feeling overwhelmed, and was scared about flying over the ocean.
We began talking, I managed not begin blubbering, and we found that we had lots in common. She was studying abroad with Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, I was too. She left Pete behind, I left Scott. She left her mom, dad, and sister and I had too. She was nervous, I was too. But the true beginning of our friendship was when we discovered we had a mutual friend.....Rick Steves. My new friend Sally would become one of my dearest friends on either side of the ocean and many times, my saving grace during those 4 months. She and I would do everything together. On the weekends, we would pack our backpacks, grab Rick, and head off to whatever town seemed interesting in our Rick Steves book: Cadiz, Malaga, Barcelona, Gibralter, etc. We explored every inch of Sevilla together, passed the time together when we missed our boyfriends (which was quite often), and went to Starbucks together everytime we got homesick.
Over our months there, Rick Steves' knowledge was invaluable. He saved us time and money and his narratives are so specific and accurate that we thought of him as our third traveler. Many times we say, "I don't know, let's ask Rick," or "What does Rick say about that?" as we consulted our books. I saw so many amazing things and experienced so many things thanks to Rick and Sally. Thank you Sally! Spain wouldn't have been near as fun without you...please don't ever tell anyone how bad I am at dancing las Sevillanas.
So as Scott and I have been preparing to leave for Europe on Monday (Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris in 12 days), I've been reacquainting myself with my old friend Rick...which makes me miss my other old friend, Sally. Rick, again, has been extremely useful in our preparations. His book, The Best of Europe 2009 is fantastic, and his website is a wealth of knowledge. When we booked our trip in February, Scott and I decided to travel in true Rick Steves style: one carry-on per person. That's it. I'm also carrying one small bag for my camera and lenses. One backpack full of clothes for 12 days. I'm not totally sure how it's all going to work out, but if Rick Steves says that it's the best way, then it must be. Plus, it will be fantastic to grab our backpacks and head out directly into Rome and say, "Ciao bellos," to the people waiting at the baggage claim.
We leave Monday morning for Atlanta, then fly to Philadelphia, then to Rome that evening. By Tuesday afternoon, we'll be touring the Vatican. I. Can't. Wait.
Sally, Europe won't be the same without you. We should go back to Spain and bring our men with us, Scott, Pete.....and of course Rick.