Across the Pond

Semana Santa shenanigans

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

Photo by Grace Schutte

What I’m writing on, you ask? A stack of napkins I stole from a café. That’s travel, baby!

Note: “Across the Pond” is an ongoing column in which freelance writer Grace Schutte will be writing about her study abroad experience in Valladolid, Spain.

For the readers wondering why their friends studying abroad have suddenly turned into travel-blogging-National-Geographic-historian-extraordinaires, I have an answer for you: spring break. 

More or less.

A more accurate way to say it would be “Semana Santa,” a religious holiday celebrated by Catholics in Europe. Valladolid in particular, the city where I’m studying, puts on a world-renowned spectacle for it.

The celebration consists of a parade decked out to the nines, complete with wooden replicas of the death of Christ and even the eyebrow-raising “cofrades” (better known as the Ku Klux Klan hoods in the U.S.). 

I have been told on more than one occasion that they are in no way connected. Regardless, it is irking at times.

Questionable ropes aside, Semana Santa is celebrated the week before Easter and is a big deal in Spain. So much so, that international students are given two weeks off to get out of dodge and travel.

Semana Santa: religious holiday or silly-goofy vacation time? You decide.

Once we finish our exams, we scramble to pack 16 days’ worth of Instagram-worthy, interchangeable outfits into a singular backpack smaller than the one I use every day for school.

I am currently in the midst of my own Semana Santa travels. As I write this, I’m on an airplane from Naples, Italy to Palermo, a city on the island of Sicily.

What I’m writing on, you ask? A stack of napkins I stole from a café. That’s travel, baby.

The journey began with a flight out of Madrid to Pisa, Italy. Yes, that’s right, the Pisa with the leaning tower.

I am happy to report that it does, indeed, lean. 

After taking all the corny photos, my group and I had our very first Italian pizza and Aperol spritz, the latter of which is a kind of bitter alcohol that looks like orange soda. 

(It tastes nothing like orange soda.) 

Soon after, we were on our way to Florence, home to Michelangelo’s David statue. The statue itself is much larger than expected — any and all pictures you’ve seen don’t do it justice. 

That same night, we listened to some drunken karaoke happening in the bar of our hostel. I will forever associate Florence with drunk Brits scream-singing “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say).” 

Too soon we left for Rome. The hustle-bustle was overwhelming and, to be honest, our first hours there felt ingenuine. 

There wasn’t much time to admire the Sistine Chapel when the mob of eager tourists had us speedrunning the whole thing.

However, upon encountering some tranquil side streets, the experience immediately brightened. Once we had the chance to catch our breaths, visits to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Coliseum were much more enjoyable. 

And then we ventured to Naples — one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been.

The city puts less emphasis on tourism, and as a result, is more authentic in comparison to places like Rome. While wandering through the crowded city center, I forgot I was in Europe at all. 

Gone were the sparkly cathedrals and clean cobblestones; here were the narrow, winding streets with the balconies kissing overhead. 

As excited as I was, there was a certain degree of culture shock experienced. Ordering at cafés was a challenge once again, as none of us speak Italian. Acts as simple as crossing the street once again required closed eyes and whispered prayers. 

Watching “The Godfather” in Sicily concluded my week in Italy, but the adventure is not yet over. Paris, London and Madrid will close out these 16 days of airport navigating, metro taking and outfit repeating. 

So, have a little patience with your study abroad friends (and me — I am no different) and their never-ending Instagram stories. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected]