Maddy Alley

Spring break in Europe.

Maddy Alley with Livie Jacobs and pigeons in Milan. — Courtesy Maddy Alley

Every year The MV Times asks several recent high school graduates to write about their experiences during their first year after graduation. Maddy Alley is attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. This is her fifth dispatch.

I realized within the first few hours of my spring break that I needed to start writing down everything I was doing, because I was sure that each moment of my trip would be filled with a memory that I would never want to forget. After surviving seven weeks of classes, essays, projects, and tests, I had two weeks off before the second half of the semester. On March 12, I met up with Olivia Jacobs, a high school friend from the Vineyard, in Geneva, Switzerland. Over the next 10 days, we traveled through six countries, visited five major cities, and indulged in countless scoops of gelato.

The magic commenced at our first stop: lunch in Geneva, where we discovered that I had close family friends eating at the cafe next to the one we were in. We spent the rest of the day with them, sipping hot chocolate and touring the pristine city from the caboose of a trolley. After saying goodbye, we left Geneva, which is unrealistically expensive for two college students, and stayed in a residential town called Annemasse in southern France.

After growing up pointing tourists toward “Oaks Bluff,” the blatant touristing didn’t excite us much, so touring towns like Annemasse were great because they weren’t built as much on tourism as on local culture. This did mean, though, that significantly fewer people spoke English. Our Airbnb host, for example, spoke no English. For the most part this was OK, except when he got angry upon our early arrival and tried to yell at us over Google Translate. I hope we didn’t do anything too wrong, because we had no idea what he was angry about.

Our trip continued to Italy for the next week. We stayed in Milan, but traveled out of the city most days. My favorite day of the trip, or of my year so far, was hiking the Cinque Terre, five coastal towns connected by a gruelling but gorgeous path. After a 12-mile hike, we jumped into the ocean at the last town, then hopped on a bus to the Alps to go dogsledding the next day.

Back in Milan, we meet up with Silas Berlin, another kid whom we graduated with, who had been traveling in Europe for two months. I have tried to meet anyone that I am acquainted with from high school who is in Europe, because, as Silas put it, even though we were never close before due to different sports and classes, anyone who chooses to travel Europe like this is going to have enough in common to have a good time together.

In the spirit of spontaneity, on our last day in Italy we walked to the closest train station and bought tickets for the next train departing. After a ride in some unknown direction, we found ourselves feeding swans out of our hands on the shore of Lake Como, in a picturesque town surrounded by mountains.

From Italy we flew on to Brussels for the second half of the trip. Though bigger, louder, and more built up than Milan, Brussels had lots of character and charm, and of course, Belgian waffles. Day trips from here included Amsterdam and Luxembourg.

On our last day we rented bikes and followed a riverside path out of the city and through the Belgian countryside. Eventually we arrived in a eerie little town. There was a carnival coming in a few days, so all the rides were running and food stands were cooking, but no one was riding or eating. The streets were empty. We finally found locals when a large group of elders in wheelchairs came rolling around the corner toward us. The rest of the town was just as odd, with narrow winding streets that were all connected to a central stereo system blasting American pop songs translated into Flemish. That night when we told our Airbnb host where we ended up, even before telling her about our odd experience, she interrupted to say that she had been to this town once, and refuses to go back because she had been so scared that she didn’t know if she had gone crazy or if everyone else had.

I am now back at school, appreciating the spring weather with my textbook on the beach. The textbook might be used as a pillow, but at least it’s there. Laughing about my recent carnival experience, I am starting to look forward to another Vineyard summer, filled with beach days, family dinners on my Mimi’s beloved back porch, and a more crowded and fun fair.