Monday, December 29, 2008

(written December 27th)

What a few weeks it’s been! I feel like I start every journal entry like this :P

Well, the semester is officially over. After a few last weeks of scrambling to finish final papers and photo portfolios, we’re finally done! The Wednesday before everyone left, we had a fancy cena de despedida (goodbye dinner) at a very traditional Segovian restaurant. Everyone came- our host families, our professors, even Manrique, the front-desk guy at the center. It was so fun to see everyone in their element with their host families and meet the people I’d been hearing stories about all semesters. We had the special-occasion meal that Segovia is famous for- cochinillo. I can’t remember if I’ve written about this or not, but it’s roast baby pig- 21 days of mother’s milk, then roasted for hours till it’s super tender…basically what we dissected in bio, minus the formaldehyde. Cochinillo is more than just a fancy tradition- it’s an entire ordeal. After two or three courses, they brought them out on this huge grill, with tons of herbs and steam. Everyone crowded around, taking pictures and oohing and aahing while an older man read this fancy speech (which Sandra said she couldn’t even understand) and then proceeded to chop up each cochinillo into 8 large parts using only a porcelain dinner plate and stick them onto our plates. Hooves and all.

Nearly the entire group took off that Friday, and it was a lot harder than I expected to say goodbye to everyone and just have it all be over like that. Those who didn’t leave on Friday left in next few days to travel with family or friends over Christmas until just my friend Kat and I remained. We spent a free week together practicing vocab, playing guitar, and exploring Segovia a bit more. Also, I moved! Sandra moved to a different apartment nearer to the center of Segovia and of course, I came with. Our new place is enormous, especially for Spanish apartments, which are typically pretty tiny. It was an insane whirlwind of a weekend with most of Sandra’s family, her boyfriend, and a few moving guys helping us with the move. I discovered anew that Spaniards tend to be more comfortable with yelling and harsh words and brutal honesty with each other, especially when stressed….yikes! One cultural difference that I’m not quite accustomed too, but I stayed out of the line of fire and in a few days, peace arrived again. :P

On the 18th, Kat and I took off to Madrid to meet up with her family- her parents and her brother Joseph who were visiting from Minnesota for the week. They had invited me to travel with them over Christmas and I was so, so blessed to spend this time with them! Within days, I felt like part of the fam and their generosity was overwhelming. We first spent three days in Madrid and visited the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the cathedral, some Egyptian ruins, an enormous beautiful park called El Parque de Buen Retiro. We ate plenty of delicious Spanish food (tortilla espanola, jamón serrano, churros y chocolate, paella, all sorts of tapas…the works!), took lots of strolls around the city looking at the gorgeous lights and nearly getting crushed by the crowds, and met up with our friend Jorge who showed us some of his favorite parts of the city.

Next, we stayed in Granada (southern Spain, in the region of Andalucía) for a day and a half, visited the Alhambra again (huge Moorish palace with some amazing gardens) and of course, took in the ambience of the Arab-influenced culture in the many markets and teterías (tea shops) there. Finally, we spent the 23rd-26th in Sevilla, also in Andalucía. We saw another flamenco show (still soooo amazing!) and visited the largest cathedral in Spain (third in Europe) again. Lots of things were closed since it was over Christmas, so we spent a lot of time walking along the river in the 70-degree weather.

Christmas was different this year, but good. The craziest part of it was that we had the opportunity to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve at this enormous cathedral! It was my first Catholic mass, and we got there early to sit in the front row, about 100 yards away from the remains of Christopher Colombus himself….how insane!! The service itself was really interesting….a lot of singing in Latin, readings in Spanish with a few commentaries here and there, ringing bells and incense and many old men with elaborate robes and hats. The congregation participated during some songs, the offering, the Eucharist, and at then end, when everyone lined up to kiss the feet of a statue of baby Jesus. Wow. Needless to say, it was very different than anything I’ve seen before. To be honest, it was all a pretty confusing experience. The altar space was no simple altar, but actually an altar with a wall probably two stories high and the most intricate carvings depicting scenes from Jesus’ life- with literally every square centimeter covered in gold leaf. Ironically, the altar area had these huge golden barred gates on all sides stretching just as high, separating the congregation from everything else and making it hard to see what was going on. I’ve never seen so much wealth in my life, and it was just strange. I understand that when this cathedral was built, all the wealth and gold and formalities were an attempt to bring glory and praise to God…but it was just odd, knowing that Jesus came not into this world of wealth and jewels but in a smelly dirty cave among animals and shepherds. I couldn’t help feeling that if Jesus was physically here this Christmas, he might be hanging out with the gypsies and beggars in the mountains of Granada instead of at a cathedral like this. That aside, it was sweet to see that the content of the mass was quite Christ-centered and that the main prayers centered around the homeless, the disabled, the sick, and that all forms of war and racial division and oppression would stop. All in all, I still don’t quite know what to make of it, but definitely some food for thought…

Christmas itself was pretty chill…we took some walks and played games in our hotel room. I got to talk to my family (the entire Schuessler side…including the Phoenix cousins through skype!!) and heard my sisters play the song they had sung in church that morning. Kind of a rougher day, but still soooo blessed to have my second family of the Melheims that day. :) Coming home to Segovia was heavenly….I love this city so much! I didn’t realize how much I had missed Sandra until she swept me up into this huge hug once she got home that night from work… good to be home here. It’s freezing cold, but for the first time in weeks the sky is clear and you can see the enormous blue snow-covered mountains in the distance beyond the aqueduct and the mass of rust-colored shingles of the houses. Breathtaking. :) These next few weeks will be full- New Years Spanish style (aka all night long?!?!), and then January 6th, which is just as big or even more important than Christmas for most Spanish families. The 6th is known as Reyes (Kings), when the arrival of the three kings to worship Jesus is celebrated. Supposedly, there’s a huge parade on the 6th, and the night before kids set out turrón (a typical Spanish candy) for the kings and water and snacks for their camels (sound familiar?). They wake up the next morning to find the snacks half-eaten and gifts from los Reyes, hopefully just what they asked for in the letter they wrote to them earlier in the month. :)

We start class right away Monday, then it’ll be three short weeks and home! After so many crazy adventures and growth experiences and challenges, I’m ready to process a bit, to just sit and sift through all of this and how it fits in life at home. I’ve LOVED traveling, seeing new things, learning to adapt….but in the end I’m finding that there truly is no place like home, as cheesy and Dorothy-esque as that sounds. I think we have different seasons of our live (shoutout to Christine Osgood’s Personal Wholeness class….:P)- seasons in which we step outside the box and experiencing new things and get challenged and stretched, and then seasons in which we step back inside to rest, reflect, cement the new things we’ve learned, and prepare for what’s to come….I’m definitely coming up on the latter.

Ready to crack down on Spanish these next few weeks, hopefully grow leaps and bounds in the language, and have some last adventures with Spanish friends and Marie and Steph. And then…..home. :) Soooo excited to run errands with my mom, have garage talks with my dad, sing and harmonize with my sisters and snuggle with them during Gilmore Girls, hug my grandparents and just BE with them, cook my own food and try new recipes, go running, play piano and guitar!!, attempt to learn to drive again, have late-night IN PERSON talks with friends, be wacko with my lovely roomies, go to Target, go to St. Michael’s and Vespers and Upper Room, and see my amazing kids at the CDC. :)

Thinking of you all these days and praying that your breaks are full of rest and relaxation!! See you soon.
written recently

Merry Christmas everyone!! Warning: tangent post…:)

“But it’s true, kingdoms and crowns
The God who came down to find you
It’s true, angels on high
Sing through the night, Hallelujah”

-It’s True by Sara Groves

What a strange Christmas, but what an amazing message that still hasn’t changed. This Christmas, stripped of most traditions and sentiment and familiar routines made the good news oh-so-crystal clear...

…this God of the stars and Mediterranean Sea and Swiss Alps and every amazing wonder of the world who broke through heaven’s floor to live a rough life, to be poor and weak and lowly and DIE because he knew it was the only way to come to our level, to have a true honest relationship with us, to wipe away this heavy, guilt-ridden debt that I carry and rip the curtain from top to bottom so that I, John the murderer or Mary the prostitute or Katie Joy, so entrenched in sin, could come fearlessly to the throne of my God and call him Father, dear Father….and be welcomed with opened arms.

“So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family- calling him ‘Father, dear Father.’” Romans 8

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Luke 4

“O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees and hear the angels’ voices
Singing O night divine

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression will cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise his holy name
O Christ the Lord, praise his name forever
His power and glory proclaim

O Lord, when you came to the earth
O my soul, my soul felt its worth
O my soul, my soul felt a thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees and hear the angels’ voices
Singing O night divine, O this holy night…”

Such good news :) That it’s true….that this God of kingdoms and crowns came down to find us.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

(written December 3rd)

How long it’s been! What a month since I last updated….let’s see what I can remember. :) In middle of November, we had our very last excursion to Andalucía, the region in southern Spain. We visited three cities over five days. We stopped in Córdoba for just the afternoon on the way down to see a famous mezquita (mosque). It was full of beautiful red and white striped arches, an elegant section that has been turned to a cathedral and a plaza FULL of naranjos – orange trees – on of the symbols of the city.

After Córdoba, we spent two days in Sevilla, which was a bit of a strange experience. Andalucía, and especially Sevilla, is where a lot of the stereotypically Spanish things come from and are still common – bullfighting, flamenco, etc. We passed hundreds and hundreds of cheap souvenir shops stuffed full of red and black lacy flamenco dresses, Spanish fans, castanets, toro (bull) memorabilia, etc. It was so different to see this part of the Spanish culture, these stereotypes of Spain, even though none of these things are part of the Spain I’ve come to know these past three months. In Sevilla we toured the third largest cathedral in the world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Needless to say, it was enormous and had an entire wall/altar space just COVERED in gold, with the most elaborate carvings and sculptures ever. Ay yi yi. I’m a bit done with seeing churches that are such storehouses of wealth, so cold and shiny and now just for touring. However, this cathedral did have a way sweet lookout over the entire city and - get this – the actual remains of Christopher Columbus!

Definite highlight of Andalucía occurred the next night, we went to see a flamenco show! I had no idea what to expect, but I was blown. away. :) We were in this little theatre-type café that boasted the “purest” flamenco spectacle in Spain. The two hour show was made up of one guitar player and two male singers (I don’t even know how to describe the singing- very loud and passionate and almost mournful), and then dancers – male and female – who danced one at a time, and then all together at the end. Each dancer did something different- one danced with castanets, another with a long embroidered shawl, and another with a wooden fan. The dance is a strange improvised mix of wrist-twisting and head-turning, all centered around this riveting rhythm created by the singers’ clapping and furious stomping/feet-tapping by the dancer. Absolutely incredible. Their dancing was so passionate and strong, every movement was fierce and graceful simultaneously….like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We were all pretty giddy afterwards and proceeded to flamenco-dance halfway back to the hotel, with Ricardo shaking his head and chuckling half a block behind us the whole time. :P

Right before heading out we stopped at the Plaza Espanola, full of gorgeously painted bridges and railings and a ceramic section of a wall devoted to each city in Spain. Then we were on to Granada! Granada was SUCH an interesting place! It’s in the very south of Spain, and is one of the places where there’s been a ton of Arab/Muslim influence. Seriously, it was like a completely different culture. It also has a huge “hipi” population. The first day we hiked up to the top of the city and in the plaza with this amazing lookout over the Alhambra, the forests, and the huge snow-covered mountains were hundreds of these “hipis” with their dreds and colorful clothes, sitting on the ground selling handmade jewelry or singing and playing guitar in a big group. Sooooo amazing. :) In Granada we took about a 5-hour tour of the Alhambra, an enormous Muslim mosque/palace. It was absolutely gorgeous! So colorful, yet lots of beautiful carvings in more neutral colors of wood and stone. Lots of nature, fountains, gardens…..incredible. We also had a good amount of time to roam the streets of Granada (with shops FULL of Indian-looking purses, wall hangings, jewelry, scarves, tea, everything) and discovered a lot of teterías (tea shops) with some pretty swell atmosphere. :) Granada was definitely my favorite city to visit after Barcelona- so full of color and contrasting cultures.

And with that, we finished our long list of weekend excursions. I’m actually traveling with my friend Kat and her family Dec 18-26 to Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada, so I won’t have to quit quite yet. :)

This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving with our group here in Segovia. Obviously, Spain doesn’t celebrate it, but Ricardo brought us to a restaurant and arranged ahead for them to make us some typical thanksgiving food. What we had was the most unique Thanksgiving meal I’ve had yet: a first course of squid fried with eggs and green peppers, turkey with a sweet red barbecue sauce, a baby baked potato and a sort of meat stuffing with cooked raisins, and a (delicious) typical Spanish dessert.  The restaurant really went all out with the turkey, and it was so kind of them! Later in the day I got to skype with nearly my entire family- mom and dad, sisters, both sets of grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins….how lucky am I?!? It was amazing to see their faces (I haven’t seen Sara since I left and Alena just once) and laugh as they all tried to cram into the camera at the same time. I was a bit homesick and definitely missed my grandma’s food, my grandpa praying before the meal, and being silly with my sisters ….but overall it wasn’t too bad at all. I was overwhelmed with how blessed I am...the amazing family I have….more thankful this year than ever before, I think. :)

Thanksgiving morning was actually really sweet, as I worked on my final project for my photography class all morning. I wandered around the city for a few hours, leisurely and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible while snapping pictures. I never would have guessed I’d like it this much, but this class has definitely been one of the best parts of the semester (tho a bit stressful and lightning-paced). I’ve had so, so much fun scouring the city for perfect moments to capture (which isn’t hard in Segovia, that’s for sure) and spending hours at a time in the dark room with my ipod, seeing how they finally turn out after 2, 3, 4 tries (sometimes many more on the bad days :P) to develop them well. I still have sooo much to learn, but I’m absolutely intrigued by this art now. :)

It snowed here! This week Spain has been completely dumped on, something relatively uncommon especially for this point in the year, and something that sends the country into a bit of a frenzy. It’s sooo beautiful, and we were like little kids again the first day it snowed this week- snowball fights, the works. :) What else…it’s been a full week or two with visits to the beloved crepería (crepe restaurant), the Oja Blanca (a sweet bar with live music late into the night- a mix of older segovian professors and young college kids playing everything from Frank Sinatra to traditional Spanish songs to “Hit the Road Jack”!), and Stephen (Emily’s boyfriend) visiting from MN! I think I’m finally adjusting to the social life in Spain a bit…The past few weekends we’ve gone out dancing or spent time with our Spanish friends until some of the wee hours of the morning and it’s been really fun, although they tell me it’s not a “true” Spanish night until I stay out till 6 or 7 in the morning and eat churros and chocolate to warm my hands in the freezing cold streets for breakfast the next morning. Hmm….may take a while to work up to that! :P

It’s so crazy…the rest of the group leaves in a mere 8 days or so. We have a few last projects and classes, our “cena de despedida”, a final dinner when all our host families and professors come, and the morning of Friday the 12th most of the group takes off for Minnesota, although some are staying to travel a bit more. Sooo weird, this semester has flown like no other! I’m crazy thankful for the chance to spend 6 more short weeks here, as much as I’m crazy excited to see my friends and family after those same 6 long weeks. A ver lo que pase en la época que viene....We’ll see what happens in this next “epoch”! (haha they use that word in spanish a bit more than english...) Love you all tons and tons. :)

p.s. Andalucía pictures here!:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

photos of Barcelona and parts of Segovia:
Written November 9th/10th

Whew…it’s been a while…where in the world do I start??

Well, less than a week after getting back from Italy, our group took off for a four day trip to Barcelona- officially one of my favorite parts of Spain after Segovia. Barcelona is on the eastern coast of Spain, right on the Mediterranean Sea, about 8 hours from Segovia. We stayed in a hotel right along this street called Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the heart of Barcelona, with a huge median filled with little kiosks and still-life actors. Each part of the street has a certain characteristic. For example, one section is called “Calle de los Pájaros” (street of birds) by the local people and there is stand after stand selling goldfish, bunny rabbits, and tons and tons of parakeets. Another section is called “Calle de las Flores” (street of flowers) and each stand is bursting with all kinds of plants and flowers. Barcelona has a really cool feel- very different than all the other big cities I’ve visited so far. It had a very hippy-ish sense to it, very relaxed and artsy and fun- tons of stands with artists and their creations- really unique jewelry or clothes or paintings or even antiques! We stopped a number of times during our days there to listen to music on the street: a way cool Cuban band complete with dancing and dreadlocks, a fun trumpet and piano duo, or just a lone guitar player singing and playing typical Spanish music.

We had plenty of free time during this trip, but spent the majority of one day touring Gaudi’s creations. If you haven’t heard of Gaudi- definitely google him. He was this Spanish architect/artist (Barcelona is known as “the city of Gaudi”) who had the craziest, wackiest style ever. We went to the Sagrada Familia, this cathedral designed by him that looks like no other cathedral- very detailed and kind of a dripped-candle wax kind of texture. We also went to this enormous park that Gaudi designed with buildings designed to look like those in the Hansel and Gretel story, the famous iguana, and some SWEET mosaics. He used so much color in his creations and seemed to break all the laws of what’s “normal” in art and architecture.

By far, the best part of Barcelona was the sea. I’ve never seen the sea or the ocean before, and our group spent a good half an hour the first day just wading, running from waves and getting soaked. We went back a number of times to watch the stars or swim….it was absolutely breathtaking. :)

Another highlight of the trip occurred when Kat and Emily and I were walking home one night and saw signs for a Spanish guitar concert in a Basilica that night. On a whim, we bought tickets. The man who played was Manuel González, apparently one of the best in Spain, and our ears were filled with beautiful classical guitar music for two hours. He was SO freaking good and I thought of my dad the whole time. :) Between the sea and beautiful Spanish guitar music (and the fact that it was 70 degrees the whole time!), Barcelona basically won me over in a snap.

The night before we left for Barcelona began the festival of San Frutos in Segovia. Every city in Spain has two patron saints, and San Frutos is one of Segovia’s. So although we had to be up at 5am the next morning, we got to enjoy the festivities that began at midnight that Friday night. We went out at about 11:30pm, only to find that every restaurant was packed and the Plaza Mayor FULL- music, entire families, everything. In the center of the Plaza was a group of middle aged women and men dancing a traditional Segovian dance. One by one, we joined in and pretty soon the circle was more American than Segovian, but they were wonderful and attempted (unsuccessfully) to help us learn this dance. At midnight, we all gathered around the cathedral (gorgeous and all lit up) where a band playing instruments like clarinets passed by. Then, at the stroke of midnight, the legendary “miracle” of San Frutos occurred, and a page in this big book at the entrance of the cathedral turned by itself (later we discovered the paper clip and string behind the magic :P). After the miracle, for which everyone clapped and whistled and cheered, everyone (half the city!!) lined up to eat traditional sopa de ajo- garlic soup. It was a night of culture, no doubt about it. :)

The last week and a half has been a lot of settling in and cracking down. We had our first free weekend since the beginning of September. I got the chance to eat in Sandra’s family’s restaurant a few times- Restaurante Gago. Her whole family works there, and I got to meet all of them and try some very Spanish food, including “sopa castellano”- a red broth with garlic, dumpling-like bread pieces, and egg. Speaking of food, I had the opportunity yesterday to really step out of my comfort zone and try some very Spanish cuisine during our excursion- paella (a yellow rice mixture with shrimp, clams, pig, and I’ m not sure what else- super espanol!), raw veal with olive oil, spices, and cheese, and a potato and bull stew. I gotta say, Italian food still ranks number one in my book, but clams aren’t so bad after all. :)

I passed survived my first exam for Modern Spain and now we’re in the midst of papers in nearly all my classes. Photography is really ramping up, and I have a ton of picture taking and developing to do before the end of the semester. I simply cannot believe that we only have a month left before the semester is over!

My Spanish has been getting a bit better after a frustrating plateau when we got back from Italy. I rented a season of Cuéntame, one of Sandra and my favorite shows about a family in Spain during the time of Franco, and a bunch of movies in Spanish to watch instead of my Friends DVDs or listening to music in English, and that’s helped immensely. I’ve spent a good amount of time with Miguel and his friends the past few days, and Stephanie and I just started meeting with Laura, a new intercambio. This also helps a ton with the Spanish…though in end, I’m a bit disappointed about the whole Spanish thing. I know I’ve progressed a ton in my Spanish, especially in speaking and understanding, but I still have so far to go. Definitely try to “aprovechar” (one of our most-used Spanish verbs- to take advantage of) the rest of the time I have, but three months just isn’t enough…..guess I’ll have to come back. :)

Yesterday we had an excursion to Avila and Salamanca- it was a pretty low key day and we toured a cathedral and the oldest university in Spain. This Thursday we take off for a five-day excursion to Andalucia, the southern region in Spain. We’ll be visiting Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada. Then it’s Thanksgiving, three free weekends, and the end! Crazy stuff.

Monday update: I just found out today that I got approved for a loan to stay here in Segovia until the middle of January! Crazy stuff part two. There’s this J-term advanced communication class that sounds absolutely amazing offered here, and I’ve wanted to stay for it since I first heard about it last spring. After this summer, it looked like it wouldn’t work out financially, but on a whim a few weeks ago I decided to email Bethel and see if there’s any way I could stay. It’s been a confusing few weeks of flip-flopping back and forth, waiting on the news….and finally I decided that if I was able to, I’d stay.

The class I’ll be taking goes from December 29th- January 16th, and it’s just me and two other girls from Bethel that will be taking it. Every morning, the three of us will go out to coffee with our director, Ricardo, read the paper, and discuss the news in Spanish. Then we’ll have an hour or two each day of intense grammar/vocab/pronunciation practice. Spanish heaven. :) The girls I’ve talked to who took it last year said it’s really the capstone to Spanish language learning, that it really propels your language abilities forward to have one more month in Spain and such a great class. I’ve realized over the past few months just how passionate I am about Spanish and this culture. This, along with just how much I love Segovia and life here….makes me know I’ll regret it so much if I don’t take this opportunity. I’m definitely grieving a bit about what I’ll be missing- Christmas with my family, seeing my sisters, seeing friends who will be studying abroad or in other states over spring semester, my birthday at home, and New Years with friends. Even now, these things are tugging at my emotions, taking the forefront of my mind when I think about staying. But I’m know this is what I need to do right now, and God’s provided so many amazing opportunites already. :) Sandra said I can definitely stay another 5 weeks with her, some friends here invited us do the typical New Years (I’ll have to write about grape-eating traditions and the like…!) shindig with them, and my friend Kat invited me to travel with her family around southern Spain over Christmas. He is sooo faithful, and I’m so looking forward to the rest of this adventure. :)

That’s all the news for now…I love you all and hope your Tuesdays are simply amazing! :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

written October 22nd

Warning: this entry may be super long and detailed, but it’s especially for my parents and grandparents who are amazing and love details. :)

Italy! It was an amazing, challenging, hard, and incredible trip. We got back late Sunday night, and so I’m halfway processing the day-by-day of this lovely adventure.

Friday, the 10th: We took off from Segovia at about noon, took a bus to Madrid, caught the metro to the airport, and flew into Rome at about 8pm that night. Sooo crazy! We had kind of a rough start because the airport was outside the city, and our hostel, the Peter Pan, was also badly situated. After a number of bus rides and learning that Spanish wasn’t nearly as similar to Italian as we had thought, we luckily met some guys who were staying at our hostel on the bus and finally made it there.

Saturday, the 11th: We got up the next morning, way excited for our first day and enjoyed the some intense Italian coffee. Our first stop was the Vatican. We waited in line for about 2 hours just for security, during which we managed to get separated, anger a German woman for unknown reasons, and be assertive city girls when people tried to cut the line that snaked down 2 or 3 city blocks. The Vatican was SWEET. Of course, the main attraction is the Sistine Chapel, but the funny thing was that they have you walk through the entire museum, following deceptive signs that say “Capella Sistina” for about 2 hours first, haha. We saw some pretty sweet things along the way, but the chapel itself….whew! The actual famous part of the Michaelangelo’s painting with God and man touching fingers was smaller than I thought, but the ceiling itself was sooo much huger than I had realized. The chapel was packed with people, just whispering and murmuring, and I couldn’t take my eyes off this part of the ceiling….God reaching out to touch man, stretching out to have a relationship, to be part of our world. So cool. My only regret is that I didn’t snipe an illegal photo or two. :P After the Sistine chapel, we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica, which was also huge and unreal and beautiful and (unfortunately) packed with tourists like ourselves. We spent the evening wandering around the streets of Rome, went to an outdoor concert for a cause unknown to us, checked out a sweet thrift store, bought pasta and sauce and cheese to make spaghetti, and occasionally looked and each other and screamed “we’re in ROME!!”

Saturday was such a crazy day, mentally. The only cultures I’ve had substantial contact with besides that of the US are of Spain, Mexico, and a bit of Japan….and all three of these I’ve had experience with the language, the culture, or the people since I was young. But Italy? nada. I knew next to nothing about the Italian culture, language, or people before coming to Rome. And all of a sudden, there I was in this other new world, as developed and unique and intricate as my own. It blew my mind. And all throughout the day, I was surrounded by tourists speaking German, French, Chinese, Russian, English with a British accent, and countless other languages. To think that each of these languages is only a hint of all the other “worlds” out there, all so distinct and amazing and different from each other, I can’t even wrap my brain around it. For all the weeks I’ve lived in Spain and settled into its culture and people and language….and this is only the first layer that I’m experiencing. I can’t believe that each country, each region of each country is a whole different world and culture….in sum, the world really opened up to me like never before. I decided then and there that I’d like to study abroad in about 20 more countries, discovering all the intricacies and quirks and passions and languages that lie within them. So, so cool. :)

Sunday, the 12th: On Sunday we visited the Borghese Gallery, which had tons of amazing sculptures depicting Greek and Roman mythology. This was definitely one of the highlights. At first, I was so frustrated because here we were, seeing all this amazing art, but without Ricardo or a tour guide or even a book to tell us the history and significance of these pieces of art. But after a while, we began to actually look at the sculptures, noticing the lines and movement and how the light hit the surfaces and caused certain shadows. And for one of the first times this semester, I found myself actually connecting with the art, being affected by it emotionally and intellectually, interacting with it. Though it’s wonderful to have all the facts and history behind this stuff, it was a really cool experience to have the chance to just breathe and take it in for what it was, visually, aesthetically, without jumping to analyze it initially. After the Borghese we headed to the National Museum of Rome…which I have to admit, didn’t hold my interest for long. Lots of history, lots of ancient stones and tablets….a bit too much for one day. That night at our hostel, a lovely Italian couple hardcore rejected our attempt at spaghetti and instead gave us tons of their own delicious real spaghetti.  We went out that night, but quickly found out that Rome is not a good place for five girls on a Sunday night in the metro station, even if they’re speaking Spanish. We had a quick gelato and were super glad to get back to our safe beds in the Peter Pan.

Monday, the 13th: What an exciting day Monday was! We started out bright and early at the enormous, amazing Colosseum. This was one place where I wished we had a tour guide or at least some more background knowledge, but the sight alone, the size of it was breathtaking. We spent the rest of the morning walking through the Roman Forum (with a few philosophical discussions thrown in there! :P) and the Pantheon, and it blew my mind again to consider the incredible history and culture of the Roman empire, with so much of its remnants intact today. We left midafternoon for Florence, and had quite the adventure getting to that city. The train system in Europe is enormously confusing for foreigners, and after we got on one train for Florence, I jumped off really quick to double check our ticket and make sure we were on the right train (it wasn’t supposed to leave for another 15 minutes). Right as I got off the train, the doors shut, and it took off for Florence, with my four friends, my luggage, and my passport. It turned out that it was the wrong train that they took (though it still got them to Florence), so I got on the train we were supposed to take and managed to look up the address of our hostel and find it once I arrived. My friends had the harder end of things, going a bit crazy trying to contact me once they got to the station in Florence and getting really frustrated with the Italian police, but we finally reunited later that night. Our first big adventure as a city girls…and I can’t say it passed without a few tears and prayers…but now- bring it on, big city. :)

Tuesday, the 14th: On Tuesday we went to the Uffizi Gallery (I saw more Madonna and Child on this one place than in my entire 20 years prior to this….) and saw the Duomo, a huge and beautiful cathedral in Florence. We spent the rest of the day wandering around a huge outdoor market, exploring the city on foot (waaaay better than the sketchy Roman metro system), and went out for some amazing pizza for dinner. In Florence, we stayed at a hostel called the Albergo Paola, and it was the cutest thing of my life. We met some really fun and interesting people, including Elisabeth from the Canary Islands and Nic from Mexico. They helped us practice our Spanish, and Nic gave us sweet tips about the best pizza in Florence and how to make a mean spaghetti using noodles, olive oil, bacon, and an egg. One of the sweetest parts of the trip was all the people we met and bonded with in one situation or another throughout our adventures.

Wednesday, the 15th: On Wednesday went to the Accademia and saw Michaelangelo’s David. This sounds cliché, but it was sooo enormous, graceful, striking, and beautiful. Michaelangelo was a crazy talented guy. Right in front of the David, we happened to meet up with the other Bethel/Concordia group from Segovia that was traveling in Italia that week. We went out with them later that night for some mean pasta and more gelato, of course.

Thursday, the 16th: Thursday was a SWEET day. After packing so much in during Rome and the first few days of Florence, we finally took it easy, slept in, and then went for a hike for about an hour to the top of the city. Florence was sooo gorgeous from there, and we spent forever just leaning over the edge of the stone wall, daydreaming about living there and picking our where we would love among the forests, countryside, and hills of Florence. :) After that, we took off for Milan and arrived at Hotel Brasil that night (without a hitch!)

Friday, the 17th: While Rome and Florence are pretty much tourist cities to the max, there’s not a whole lot to do in Milan besides, well, shop. It’s one of the fashion capitals of the world, ay yi yi! After visiting one last cathedral (and feeding the birds!), we did some hardcore fashion merchandising, haha. Sensory overload for me, but the girls convinced me to buy my first pair of skinny jeans at the H & M there in the center of Milan. :P

Saturday, the 18th: SWITZERLAND. OHMYGOODNESS. One of the best parts of the trip, by far. We knew we wanted to visit Switzerland (only about an hour north of Milan by train) for a day on the trip, but we didn’t know anything about where to go, what to see, nothing. We randomly picked the city, Lugano, the night before and bought tickets. Our least-planned day turned out amazing! On the train on the way there, we were talking in Spanish, and the girl sitting next to Emily started talking to us. Turns out she’s from Milan, but studied in Barcelona for 3 years, and was now visiting her Swiss boyfriend who lives Lugano. We mentioned that we had no idea what to see or do once we got to Lugano, and she offered to show us around for the day! We had our very own tour guide and got to practice our Spanish for about 5 hours that day. :) But goodness, Switzerland is soo gorgeous! I think I’ve fallen in love with mountains. I felt so, so small and so in awe of these huge tree-covered mountains on all sides. We went on a foggy, chilly day and it was absolutely breathtaking with the clouds resting gently between the hills. We went to Lake Lugano, and for the first time in months I was on a shore, listening to the sounds of the waves crashing up against the pebbles. After we had the chance to explore Lugano a bit, exclaim over and over about the view, and eat some Swiss chocolate, Alessia took us a little city near Lugano called Bellinoza, I believe. We went up to this old, old castle at the top of the city where the view was even more amazing. With the chilliness of the day, the stone walls, and the green all around, I felt like I was on the moors of England or the middle of Ireland or something…just to let you all know, I may be moving to a little cabin in the mountains of Switzerland as soon as I save up the $$$ to feed the chocolate habit. :)

Sunday, the 19th: And that was it! We spent the morning in Milan, finishing up some souvenir shopping and dealing with our not-so-fun hostel, and spent the rest of the day wrangling buses, metros, and airplanes until we finally glimpsed the cathedral of Segovia all lit up at about 10pm on the bus ride home. One of the most beautiful sights of my life. It was quite the adventure, a week of excitement and sensory overload and good conversations and tons of laughter….as well as a healthy amount of fear and stress thrown in there to make us grow a bit. :P

Whew! That’s it folks. Saturday morning we head to Barcelona for a four day excursion (planned by someone else this time! :))….as Sandra would say, “corriendo, simpre corriendo!” (running, always running!). Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers during this week away. I miss you all loads and loads!

PS- pictures are on facebook here:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

more pics!