Independent Study in Spain

It took a two-week stay with the fourth strongest man in France to get me back in the gym. Armed with what he called “pump juice” and nothing but free time on vacation, I made it to the gym for an entire week, plus a few days after that. Each day we isolated specific muscle groups – legs, back, triceps, chest, etc. – and by the end of the week I could barely walk. Could barely reach the glasses and plates in the kitchen cabinet of our Mallorcan apartment, in fact. I was sore, but it was a good sore, and I’ve been back in the gym in D.C. since returning.

This is one of the things I love about traveling. It takes you out of your everyday routine, and you discover new interests because of it — or you rediscover old interests you’ve forgotten about.

For the past three summers I’ve met up with the fourth strongest man in France and my brother, who both teach at the American School of Paris. They’ve been making the trip to Mallorca, Spain, to earn their master’s degrees in education. I’ve been completing my own studies these past three years, mostly concerning tapas and the island way of life.

That first summer in Europe I spent all of my vacation in Paris, Brussels and Mallorca. An important experience I would say, one that I was thinking about for the next year or so. I couldn’t help but think that I needed more time on that continent, a trip where I had zero responsibilities waiting for me at the other end. I was so transfixed by the idea that I decided to quit my job. I sold most of my things, including my half-dead Chrysler sedan, and put the rest of my belongings in storage in Colorado.

“You’re quitting your job?” this girl at a bar in Aspen asked me. “That’s like a major life decision.”

Yes, 100 percent a major life decision, and looking back on it, possibly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I regret almost nothing about the months that followed, passing through Paris, Normandy, Mallorca and Barcelona. That’s not to say there were no consequences that came with the decision, because there was quite an adjustment when returning to the U.S., particularly to Washington, D.C., where the lifestyle is a bit more high-paced than the ski town of Aspen, Colorado, where I had spent the past three and half years working my first job out of journalism school. When I first got back, I found a job waiting tables at an Irish pub in Virginia, did that for a few months, and then I landed a journalism job in the city.

I returned to Europe again the following summer, this summer, on a three-week vacation this time from my job in Arlington. Stops included Berlin, Copenhagen and again Mallorca, where my gym buddy taught me a proper squat and the importance of a balanced diet , consisting of seafood, of tapas and cañas. If you’re ever in Mallorca, I highly suggest making your rounds on Tapas Tuesday. It’s a great, Spanish take on happy hour, where you crawl from bar to bar drinking small beers (because it’s so goddamn hot) and eating Spanish finger foods.

After week working out with my friend in the gum, I was about ready for an 80-kilometer bike ride with my brother. Better than the bike ride itself were the views of the island, the old Spanish villages, the steep mountain climbs and the wide-open coastal roads overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There’s a tremendous amount to explore in Mallorca – the famed Spanish village of Valldemossa, the port of Soller and of course Palma, the major destination on the island, to name a few. Probably the coolest view I saw in Mallorca is at a cliff bar near Sa Foradada. It’s not far from the coastal village of Deia, on the northern ridge of the island, 15 kilometers north of Valldemossa. It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to bike from Old Towne Palma, and the view was well worth it. No words can really do it justice, so I’ll just leave a photo.

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