It was 1992. I was 18 years old. I took a school trip to Alicante in Spain to learn Spanish. It was the first major trip I did where I did by myself. I had already taken 2 classes in school and thought myself to be fluent "enough" in Spanish.
From the moment I sat on the Iberia flight in Montreal, I knew I had been wrong about my proficiency. It really infuriated me because I wanted to be good at it. And I wasn't.
From my previous trips, I knew that I had to mingle with Spaniards and see the sights. If I remained with the group, I would not learn as much.
I will gloss over the nightly clubbing and parties I attended to focus on the gaming aspect. Okay, a few words: Spanish girls are nice and friendly. Make of this what you will.
One of the greatest elements of Spain is the mingling of Muslim and Christian influences in ancient buildings: like the Casino in Murcia. Wow. Just. Wow.
This mix of culture is much different and more visible here than in other places. Since the Muslim controlled the area for ~ 5 centuries before the Reconquista. Moriscos (Muslims who adopted Christianity - often nominally - to avoid expulsion) remained a major population group here until they were later expelled in the 17th century. This intermingling of culture is quite interesting in and of itself.
Alicante was built in the shadow of Santa Barbara Castle. Which towers over the port. The white stones and it old nature was much different from the castles I had seen in France, most of which dated to the 16-19th centuries. It was the site of a number of conflicts throughout Spain tumultuous history. If you never read about it, the story of Spain is as bloody as they get: from wars to revolutions to overthrowing to foreign intervention to conquest (domestic and foreign), it is full of great potential for gaming - both RPGs and wargaming.
One day, I decided to skip class and visit a few castles, namely Sax and Elda, which were both within 50kms and reachable by train. I spent the day walking through Spain - and doing some trespassing to reach Sax. Travelling to Sax, I expected to find a large, expansive fortification. But I was gravely disappointed in that way. The Castle has a main donjon, a few towers, and a wall. All of that along a narrow ridge. Basically, seeing the castle from the plain to the east, it looks huge. Looking at it from the north or south, it is pretty much a single wall. In contrast, the castle in Elda his abandoned and given over to slums.
These two castles have elements that marked me.
- The stone construction was built with defense in mind. Sax is made to look impressive from a far. While Elda is a city fort.
- Both are abandoned in that they are no longer used for defense. Because of its location, no one lived there while Elda had been repurposed by the locals.
I imagined armies moving along the coastal plains to attack both, forcing me, as a general to use different tactics - to defend or attack.
By the end of the trip, I was fluent in Spanish. Because I immersed myself in Spanish culture and the environment, I was got taste the Spanish way of living. From a gaming perspective, I got to think how a traveller feels when reaching a new place. In short: the world doesn't change, but you change for the world. On a personal side of thing, having managed to live on my own for a month, taught me that I could live by myself, that I had the skills to live on my own. It would be almost two years before I would leave home for university. By then, it was time for me to leave.