Leeches, Thai Teeth, and Barcelona

Hey y’all!  So excited to get back and hear everyone saying that instead of giving me the occasional weird look.  It’s officially less than 30 days (29) till I touch down on US soil, and everyone here has been getting so antsy to get back.  I think it must have hit this weekend, as we watched the facebook statuses from our friends brag about going home for Thanksgiving!  But, as much as part of me just wants to bolt now, I still have 29 days and a couple trips left, so I’m hoping to do my best to enjoy it.  So, without further ado, Barcelona!  

Let me begin by saying it’s possibly the coolest city in Spain.  Great architecture liberally bestowed on even the most random of buildings.  This picture above is the post office.  Can you believe that?  Our brick rectangles look so sad in comparison!  I flew in Friday night and stayed till Monday.  In that time I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (which was a complete snooze), the market at La Boqueria twice (which was a blast), La Sagrada Familia (an unfinished church designed by Gaudi, the two pictures below), the church of Santa Maria del Mar (apparently an amazing example of churchy architecture), the Museum of the City of Barcelona (complete with Roman ruins underground), Parc Guell (Gaudi), and did a whole lot of wandering on La Rambla and throughout the Gothic Quarter.  Barcelona definitely embraces its European heritage over its Spanish one, which made for a unique city.  
Another great thing about Barcelona is the International Church of Barcelona.  English services, and the assistant pastor’s parents live about five minutes from mine (plus he’s an Aggie fan).  What a difference being in a body of believers makes!  I have undoubtedly had the importance of Christian community reinforced during this semester.  After church I went out for pizza with Sini from Finland and Emma from England– “international” indeed.
The entrance to Parc Guell:
“I got people who will take teeth and leeches for me?  I’m a lucky guy.”  The line from this week’s Chuck had me smiling, and not just because it was Chuck.  This semester has also reminded me of how amazing the peope back home are.  I know I still have 29 days to go, but thank you all so much for always checking up on me, for putting up with awful phone calls where we can hardly hear each other, and for all the prayers.  Can’t wait to see you all soon.

The Cathedral in the Middle of a Mosque, etc.

I first must apologize for my absence.  Much thanks to Kenny Long, my computer finally works again, and everything is about back to normal.  The last few weeks have passed in a blur of buying flights, taking midterms, and cheering for the Aggies from across the ocean.  (So proud of our boys!  Whoop!)  It is crazy to think that I have barely over a month here!  I’m still not sure where the last three weeks went.  I’ll be ready to be back, though, I’m sure of it.  George Moore said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”  I’m inclined to agree. 

This weekend went by in the usual quick fashion that most of our excursions exhibit.  Friday morning we took a bus to Cordoba to see the Mezquita.  I was so incredibly excited to see this cathedral, because I studied it in an architectural history class a few semesters ago.  I walked into the cathedral, and the pictures we saw then immediately came to mind, and it amazed me that I was suddenly under those polychrome voussoirs that I had studied!  The cathedral was originally a Christian church, built in the 600s by the Visigoths.  Then when the Moors came to Spain, Emir Abd al-Rahman began building a mosque on top of the church.  In 1236, Cordoba was reconquered by Fernando III, and finally, when Carlos I (Charles V of Germany) came to power, a Roman Catholic cathedral was built on top of it.  The Muslim patio is still intact, and much of the architecture is still visible.  The rest of the city was relatively unimpressive, and I’m glad that we left that afternoon.

After a bus trip to Granda, we checked into our (gorgeous) hotel and grabbed dinner before our flamenco show.  We actually had Burger King, which tasted exactly the same, only significantly more expensive– about ten dollars for a combo meal!  But welcome to Europe, right?  After dinner, we hiked (and hiked and hiked) up to a nieghborhood that overlooked the entire city, including the Alhambra palace, built by the Moors in the 1300s.  It was such a breathtaking view!  Then it was off to the flamenco show, an informal hour-long presentation with two groups.  It was a lot of fun, and definitely worth the climb, despite the cold.  The next morning we went to the Alhambra, and toured the palace and the gardens.  It was absolutely gorgeous, and I’m so glad things like this are well preserved!     
The next few weeks will go by even faster, I’m sure.  I’m going to Barcelona this weekend, Paris the next, then Italy for 8 days.  The next weekend I’ll be studying for finals, and then it’s an overnight bus ride to Madrid for my flight to Berlin!  Christmas will be here before we know it and I will barely beat it to America.  I hope you are all doing well, and can’t wait to see you soon!

The Times in Between

I finally have my debit card, yay.  I booked my flight to Italy for December, and now am trying to fill in the weekends in between.  It’s scary to see I only have three left!  I have a feeling that November is going to fly by, and I don’t know how I feel about that.  On one hand I can’t wait to belong in my own life again, but at the same time, I’m in Europe, for heaven’s sake.

Last Friday we went to a little town called Ronda.  Two hours away, it’s a quaint place of about 40,000 residents.  One of the last to be reconquered by the Christians in 1485 (Granada was the last, in 1492), the city is a neat combination of Roman, Spanish, and Moorish designs.  One of the most striking features is the bridge, and the gorge that it spans (Google it for pictures; I can’t post them yet).  I hiked a bit down into it, was almost attacked by a mule, and met some lovely Dutch people.  We were certainly ready to go when we did– it’s really not more than a day trip, but it was adorable.

This weekend is one of a more local variety.  Yesterday the Cathedral, the Alcazar (palace/administration building built in 913 by the Moors), the General Indian Archives (as in Indies, not either people group), and today, finally, Italica, the first Roman city built in Spain.  It was great to finally see the Cathedral and the Alcazar, since I pass them so often.  The view from the top of the Giralda was well worth the trip up the ramps to the top (we’re debating whether ramps are better or worse than stairs), and the many, many peacock-populated gardens at the Alcazar were beautiful.  The Archives are all in Spanish, and we didn’t feel like putting in the effort to translate them, but it’s still a neat building, built hundreds of years ago. 

Molly is in Morocco this weekend, and I think, after the supermarket trip with my host mom where I heard Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun”, that I’m okay I’m here instead. 

A Month In

So it’s official– today I’ve been in Spain for a month.  31 days away from my friends, my language (ish– we all still speak English at school with each other and at home), my food customs, my job…you get the picture.
Still, I’m good!  There are some things I really miss, and there are some things I know I’ll want here as soon as I get back to Texas.  Some lists, because it’s a Wednesday:

Things I Miss:

  • Living next door to a country that’s not been warned of an imminent terrorist attack.  Honestly, I’m not worried, and would visit France in a heartbeat, but to my knowledge, Saudi Arabian intel hasn’t warned Mexico that’s it’s going get hit pretty soon.
  • Driving, and listening to music really loudly in the car.  That first drive back to College Station, with my new iPod and my new Taylor Swift CD, is going to be bliss!
  • Desserts.  Even Oreos are less sweet here.  They love fruit and cheese for dessert, which sounds more like a mid-morning snack to me.  Can’t wait for some brownies/7Layer Bars/cake/homemade cookie dough/Marble Slab.  I don’t care that it’ll be December when I get back.  Bring on the ice cream!
  • Deciding what I want to eat, and when I want to eat it.  Now I have to say that the schedule of meals has not been nearly as bad as I expected.  Dinner at 9:30 would have shocked me, but it’s pretty standard here, and I sneak in a few snacks here and there (which is very American of me, I must say).  And while our host mom has told us we can request things, neither of us feel comfortable with that, and so we just cross our fingers and hope dinner does not consist of a million fried and/or previously frozen items.  We love our host mom dearly, but a cooking aficionado she is not.
  • Y’all, undoubtedly.  I’m super excited for some amazing hugs.  I’m so incredibly grateful that I live in the age of internet, though.  I can’t imagine living here with just snail mail to substitute fellowship.

Things I Love About Spain:

  • Serrano ham.  Google it.  It’s like bacon, but like lunch meat, and so so good.  I am going to miss this one so much.  I am half-seriously considering smuggling a whole pork leg into my suitcase.  Someone told me that a guy tried to do it in a violin case….
  • The weather.  It’s like Texas but without the humidity. 
  • My walk.  Granted, I know I said I miss driving, and I do.  Walking 7 miles for class is not my idea of a party.  But, since I am walking, how lucky am I that I get to walk past the Cathedral of Sevilla every single stinking day?
  • Cooking with olive oil.  It took me a bit to get used to but I’m a huge fan.  I don’t, however, want to consider my trigycerides.
  • Being so close (relatively speaking) to a million other countries that I could theoretically visit if I had my debit card.
  • Vanilla ice cream.  So much better here, and I love Blue Bell as much as the next person.
  • Learning something new everyday.

It’s been a great month, absolutely.  It has also been exhausting– losing my purse, my debit card getting delayed, my computer exploding after catching a virus– but I am so incredibly thankful for the help and support I have back in the States.  Thank you all for everything that you do.  See you soon!

At the castle in Lisbon:

And back to Portugal we are!  I’m not complaining– I am convinced that Portugal is Spain’s cooler, prettier, more accessible, incredibly polite younger sister.  This weekend was definitely a different side than what I saw in Lagos, but a blast nonetheless.  It was quite a drive out there– about six hours, though part of that was because we were on buses and took a couple breaks.  The countryside is so much prettier than in Spain.  When we got there we walked (read: hiked) up to a castle on a hill and looked down onto the city below.  Que bonita!

Then it was off to the commercial plaza for a quick walk around.  It’s right next to the river and was gorgeous.  Smelled like fish, and a not much of a commercial center, but what a view!
The next day we went to Belem, a historic neighborhood, and saw the monastery of St. Jerome and the church with the bodies of the navigator Vasco de Gama and assorted royalty.  That afternoon I went to the aquarium in Lisbon, considered the second best in the world.  It was definitely worth the metro rides, and I’m so glad I went!  After seeing some of the bizarre creatures, I’m further convinced that God has a sense of humor.

Lesson Learned

“Don’t leave your bags unattended.  Keep a close eye on all your things.  Don’t let your guard down.”  Yes, Dr. Greenwald/numerous online sources/ISA directors, I know, I know, you’ve told me.  I got this.  I’m practically a Spaniard by now!

So it’s official– despite the fact that multiple people, including Spaniards, have asked me for directions, and the fact that I’ve more or less mastered the bus system and map of Sevilla, and the fact that I’m a million times better at navigating narrow, unmarked streets–I’m still a tourist here.  My bag was sneakily stolen out from under me yesterday.  There I was, a studious American looking over her terrorism notes and learning about St. Thomas Aquinas’s theory of just war at La Plaza de España, enjoying the breeze and the people, perched on a beautiful tiled ledge, my bag a foot below me on the ground, when all of a sudden I saw a flash of a shirt out of the corner of my eye and five minutes later I looked down and my bag was gone. 

And by “bag” I mean: iPod, books, class notes, wallet with ID/money/debit card/insurance cards, sweater, liquid soap, homework, and phone.  

It was my fault for leaving my stuff unguarded (who knew just war theory could be so engrossing?), and much of it can be replaced with relatively little hassle.  Funny, I’m most upset about losing my iPod, because I had just fought a thirty-minute battle with it, and about losing the soap that I had literally bought an hour before.  The irony abounds– I had debated taking my phone with me, but did so because I thought it would be wise; and so on and so forth.

But this gets to be another one of the seasons that the Lord is still God over.  These things are just things, and throughout the chaos yesterday the Lord showed mercy many times over.  Dad had the day off and so was available to call Visa and shut the card down, as well as handle things with the DMV.  My host mom was incredibly sweet and helpful, and her son kindly accompanied us to the police station to help translate.  So many more people offered help and sympathy, which just blows me away.  I am continually reminded of the amazing people in my life, and for that, I am so grateful.

Cádiz, Spain

The End of the World and Back

I’m not going to lie, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to run off to Portugal for the weekend.  The rest of Europe must agree with me– I’ve gotten to hear so many great accents in the last few days!  I’m tempted to ditch Spain and stay in Portugal for the remainder of my time in Europe.  They speak English, they’re really laid-back, and it is possibly the prettiest place I’ve ever seen.  What’s not to love?  Top four:

1. Whitewashed buildings everywhere
2. The Dona Ana beach literally one minute from our hotel
3. Cabo San Vincente (aka “The End of the World”) to watch the sunset
4. Stairway to the grottoes and caves (possibly the best place on this planet)
Throughout the whole weekend, I was continually amazed by the beauty of creation, and how much the Lord loves us, just to give us such beauty for our experiential pleasure.  I was constantly reminded of the verse of these being but “the fringes”– makes me excited to see the whole picture one day!