By Heather Eaton ’14
Heather is one of many students at Notre Dame who is expanding her education by going abroad, spending the fall semester in Dublin, Ireland. Here she recounts the start of her European experience.
Nothing turns strangers into friends faster than a good food fight.
As one of the few international programs without a fall break, Dublin students are given the opportunity to arrive in Europe two weeks early to travel. I, along with seven new and old friends, spent nine days in Italy and Spain, going from Venice to Rome before ending the trip by participating in “La Tomatina” — literally, a Spanish tomato fight.
The dynamic of “pre-program travelling” is a little unusual. You plan your trip the previous spring, before everyone heads separate ways for the summer, and you are travelling with almost complete strangers. Before leaving for our trip, I knew only four people in the Dublin program. The only interaction I had with my travel group was to plan our trip.
We were all a little nervous about what it would be like to live in close proximity for two weeks. The great thing about the eight of us, however, was that we all agreed on how we wanted to travel. We wanted to see the main sites, but we were more interested in getting to know a city itself.
This philosophy led to a laid-back trip with lots of wandering, but it also led us to some of our favorite and most memorable experiences that set our trip apart from others: we found a little pizza place in Rome, where we met a man who taught us to salsa dance; we had a long chat with a waiter in Venice, who dressed me up as a waitress and made me serve our whole group free strawberry wine and dessert; and we discovered a local event in Spain called the Wine and Water Festival.
After a day of wandering Valencia, we took a bus to a small mountain town called Requeña to participate in the festival, which celebrates a successful grape harvest. The festival starts in the bull arena and ends with a giant parade. But we weren’t just spectators — we were the parade.
Visitors bring drinking “vessels” on a parade through the city at midnight. Giant construction trucks full of wine line the parade route and the participants swarm the trucks offering up their vessels to be filled with the free local wine. The more unique your drinking vessel is, the more wine you get. Needless to say, Notre Dame students were up to the challenge. I had a bucket used for making sand castles; my friend, Peter, had a children’s training toilet in the shape of a hippo. Most of the wine is splashed on those around you in an all-out wine war. Friendly townspeople watch the chaos from the safety of their roofs and balconies, where they respond to the shouts of “Agua!” by spraying the parade-goers with water from hoses or buckets to represent the gift of rain to the crops.
The singing was plentiful but off-key on the two-mile route. We returned to the bus drenched in water and wine, content in the knowledge that we had just created a memory that we would be telling our grandchildren about.
We got home from Requeña at about 4:00 a.m. Three hours later, we were up again to travel to Buñol for La Tomatina. The Tomatina Festival is much more well-known than the Wine and Water Festival, and has become quite touristy; however, it was the single most anticipated part of our trip.
The world’s largest tomato fight begins when a local resident successfully climbs a greased pole in the town square to retrieve a ham at the top. Then, trucks filled with tomatoes come down the narrow streets, crushing the 40,000 revelers against the walls of nearby buildings. I escaped the mass of people pushed out by the incoming trucks. Five of us spent 15 minutes throwing squishy tomatoes and slip’n’sliding through streets flowing with instant marinara sauce. We then made our safe escape through the town, where kind residents hosed us off for our return to Valencia. In the end, everyone agreed that they were glad to have participated, but that the intimacy and local feel of the Wine and Water Festival made it much more enjoyable and unforgettable than La Tomatina.
When we were planning this trip last spring, we had no idea how it would go. While everyone knew at least a couple of other people in the Dublin program, we were largely strangers. The eight of us travelling through Italy and Spain had no idea how we would get along. But after nine short days, we had all become inseparable.
That is the great thing about Notre Dame. The kind of people that come to Notre Dame, and especially the kind of people that are selected for study abroad, are impossible not to love. They are fun, easy-going, and most of all, they always seek to be inclusive and establish close friendships. We returned to Dublin for the Notre Dame-Navy game with just a little more enthusiasm than before. Nothing makes being away from home easier than knowing that you will be spending it with people with whom you can’t wait to make new memories.