Month: November 2010

Paris!!

Whew!! What a whirlwind of a week I’ve had!! It’s hard to believe that I was only in Paris for a little over 4 days – it feels like it was a lifetime!! Again, as in Barcelona, I promise in advance that this will be a very long blog, but I will do my best to make it interesting for those valiant readers of mine who are willing to make it to the end :).

The times for my flights to and from Paris were much more reasonable than those for Barcelona, so no crack-of-dawn rises were necessary. We left Seville around 10:00 in the morning on Wednesday, had an uneventful flight, and were in Paris by early afternoon. We had to take a bus from the airport to the city – that lasted about an hour. By the time we actually got to Paris, I was famished, and so we stopped in at the first little café that we could find. That was the beginning of our adventure. Apparently the café that we chose was not one often frequented by tourists – no one in the entire café spoke English (or Spanish), and none of the four of us spoke a word of French. After lots of hand gestures and pointing, and more than a little laughing at the dumb American tourists on the part of the Parisians, we were able to order some food. I think – although I’m not quite sure – that I got some sort of creamy ravioli dish. Whatever it was, it was yummy.

We had another rough run-in with French when we got to the metro station. Paris is a huge city, and also quite spread out, so we had already decided that the metro would be our primary mode of transportation, so we wouldn’t lose tons of time walking. The first kiosk that we got to wouldn’t change to English, and the second one was broken altogether. We finally made our way to customer service – to find out, once again, that English and Spanish are not common languages in France. In France they speak French, period. After more sign language we finally were able to purchase some metro tickets. By the time we got to our hostel, however, I had a splitting headache. There was a grocery store right by our hostel, and we bought some microwaveable food and Nick, Sarah, and Silvia made dinner while I took a nap to try to get rid of my headache. Luckily, it worked, and I was able to appreciate the rest of the evening. We went up first to see the Sacre Coeur, which was literally right outside of our hostel. In fact, this is the view that we had from our window…pretty awesome, huh? 🙂 We just walked around the sanctuary, but it was lovely. Mom told me that she had been there when she went to Europe way back when, so I kept wondering if she had seen and noticed the same things about it that I had. I’m not sure what it is about the Sacre Coeur in particular, but there was something about that church, out of all the ones I’ve been in, that struck a chord with me. I really liked it. More on that later… 🙂

We were all pretty tired by the time we finished at the church, but we decided we could sleep once we got back to Seville, and so we made our way to the Eiffel tower. That was incredible…absolutely breathtaking. Touristy to the max, as well, but really truly lovely. It was all lit up with lights, and at the top of the hour it came alive with a light display. Aside from the Sacre Coeur, which ended up being my favorite place in the entire city, I think I liked the Eiffel Tower at night more than anything else in Paris.

Thursday – Thanksgiving! – we found out about another free walking tour, like the one that we found in Barcelona. So we set out early and decided to go to mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral before the walking tour. Unfortunately, some Parisians have rightfully earned the reputation of being rude and unhelpful to foreigners – a French woman we asked for directions to the cathedral intentionally sent us the opposite way…I was told later that lots of French people do that with tourists. So we missed the beginning of mass, but we still caught most of it. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the songs that they sang during the service were absolutely lovely. Listening to that beautiful music, under the roofs of Notre Dame, in the enchanting City of Love, simply blew me away. It was definitely a wonderful way to start my Thanksgiving day.

The walking tour was just as interesting and informative in Paris as it was in Barcelona. The only thing about this one that I didn’t like was that the group was huge, and so I didn’t hear a lot of what the tour guide said. But I did learn and see quite a bit, nevertheless. We started out at the Saint Michael fountain, right across the street from Norte Dame. From there, we migrated down to the banks of the Seine River. The large metal rings on each side of the bank used to be there for protection – defenders would tie rope on rings on opposite sides of the river, and then yank it tight when enemy ships came, hopefully destroying the ship (it didn’t always work). But now they’re considered lucky rings, so of course I had to run over and touch one of them :). The bridge near the lucky rings had a lot of grotesque faces carved into the stone – apparently, one of the Kings of France (I can’t remember which one) got all of his distinguished guests drunk at a party once, and then decided to etch their faces from that night forever in stone. I truly hope the artists used some artistic license, and the guests didn’t actually look like their stone likenesses under the bridge are depicted, lol. I also saw the Samaritain Building; for you Jason Bourne fans, that was the building whose letters Matt Damon hid behind when he was staking out Conklin in the Bourne Identity. I saw another space invader on the bank of the Seine, by the same guy who did the one in Barcelona. I saw an artist sitting on a bridge painting the river that snakes through Paris, a model in the middle of a photo shoot (the poor girl must have been freezing!!), weird modern art, and lots of other fantastic buildings throughout the city.

I also met some really interesting guys, Chris from Australia and Adam and Ash from England. When I mentioned to them that it was Thanksgiving in the USA, they had all sorts of questions for me about it. It was nice to talk about Thanksgiving, which I was sorely missing, to a willing audience. At the end of the tour we all went with the guide to a little mom and pop Parisian café. It was really good. I got a quiche and a salad, with crème brulee for desert. I also tried spiced hot wine – I don’t know what they put in it, but it tasted more like apple cider than wine. It was the only alcohol that I’ve ever had in my life that I can honestly say I rather liked. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to turn into an alcoholic, lol :).

After dinner the Aussie and Brits and Americans went our own ways, and we decided to walk around the old latin quarter. No, it’s not the region of the city where lovely hispanics can be found lounging around and drinking mojitos – there used to be a university here in which all of the courses were taught in Latin. This latin influenced permeated the area, thus giving it the name which still remains to this day. We walked past the Jardins and Palace du Luxembourg, as well. That had been on my list to go visit in the daytime – I’ve heard the palace is amazing, and there are puppet shows held in the gardens that I wanted to check out. We never made it back there in the daytime, but it was cool to see them, nevertheless, albeit obscured because of the lack of light.

Dinner Thursday night was chicken cordon-blue – supermarket style. Benefit of having a hostel near a grocery store, I suppose :). It wasn’t exactly Thanksgiving dinner, but it was pretty good, anyway. I had several people send me messages on Thursday – the one from mom made me tear up just a bit. It was good to know that I was in my loved ones’ thoughts that day, even though I was physically very far away. I hope you guys know that you were in my thoughts, too!!

Friday we decided to go to Versailles. We were originally going to skip it, since Versailles is basically an all-day affair, but we decided that it was worth the trip. We didn’t leave until around 11:00, however, so I made another trip up to the Sacre Coeur before we left. I had heard that you could climb to the top of the Dome, so I wanted to try to do that. I walked all around the sanctuary and didn’t find anything, nor did I find anyone I could ask. I was about to head back down the hill, dejected, when I looked on a whim around the corner of the outside of the church and saw a sign for it!! That was the coolest thing, in my opinion, of the whole trip. Perhaps it was the solitude – everywhere else we went was so touristy, but up here, on top of the Sacre Coeur, I saw not a soul, and it was like I had a priceless treasure all to myself. Perhaps it was the fascinating system of stairs on the outside of the building. Perhaps it was the views that I saw from the top. Perhaps it was the stories etched in the stairwells of people who had come before me. But I think the largest reason that I liked it so much was that I had an amazing experience with God up there. Before I left for Paris I had taken pictures of my Bible study and all of the Bible passages for every day that I would be in France, so that I wouldn’t have to lug around the actual books. Of course I brought my camera with me on my adventure to the top of the dome, and so while I was up there I decided to do my Bible study. The topic was just what I needed to hear, the silence was serene, the view was breathtaking, and the heights that I was at made me feel as if I could almost touch the throne of heaven. Perhaps I sound like I’m babbling, but it was worth every single one of the 772 steps that I climbed to experience it, and then some.

After I came back down, we made our way to Versailles. Versailles is on the outskirts of the city, and it required 3 metro rides, an INTERMINABLY slow train, and about 2 hours to get there. But it was so worth it – especially since I got in for free, as a student (I tell you what, the student and senior discounts in Europe put those of the United States to shame!). The Palace and gardens of Versailles is probably the most extravagant display of grandeur, luxury, and selfishness that you will ever find. It was exquisite to behold – places like the Hall of Mirrors or the gardens have not become famous without reason. But it was also rather sickening, to think that the French monarchs lived in such excessive and ever-increasing splendor, while the people that they were supposed to govern and protect were dying of hunger in the streets.

But anyway, that’s enough of my philosophical meditations. We had brought food with us, so we ate lunch on the steps of Versailles, overlooking the fantastic gardens. How many people can say that they have had a picnic lunch at a palace…and not just any palace, but one of the most famous palaces in the entire world?? I truly am a blessed, blessed young lady…. As we were finishing our lunch, it started to snow, so that was pretty exciting. Sarah, Nick, and Silvia are all northerners, so they thought it quite tragic when I mentioned that that was probably all the snow I was going to see this year. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic to see any snow at all – and at the Palace of Versailles, of all places!! This is one of my favorite pictures of the snow at Versailles; isn’t it beautiful??

The train to get to Versailles was complicated and rather nerve-wracking to figure out, but we got it. The train to get back to Paris was impossible. We had no idea which train to take, and the little French woman who valiantly tried for a good 10 minutes to tell us exactly what we needed to do was not at all helpful. So we finally got in line at the ticket office. We already had our tickets, but we just wanted to ask for help. The women ahead of us turned out to be our guardian angels. They turned around and asked us something in English while we were waiting, but it was English with a strong Spanish accent, and so we answered them in Spanish. Turns out they were Mexican, and they thought it was the greatest thing ever to find students in France who spoke Spanish. It also turned out that they spoke excellent French, and were headed the same place we were, and so they helped us get back into the city. They were really sweet and sooo, so helpful – getting back to Paris required multiple transfers and 3 different modes of transportation – train, tram, and metro – and at every change they checked back to make sure that we were still with them. It was so comforting to have a friendly face in a city full of unintelligible strangers.

After getting back into Paris, we decided to pull a walking marathon and visit the Louvre the same day we went to Versailles. That wasn’t the greatest idea in the world. We made it about 2 hours, and then all of us were absolutely completely worn out. But entrance to that was also free, so I don’t feel like I missed out much. I would have been impossible to see it all, even if all I had done while in Paris was look at artwork – do you know that if you looked at every piece of art in the Louvre for 30 seconds, you would be there for 3 months straight…and that’s assuming you never take breaks for bathroom, food, or sleep! I still got to see lots of great works of art – including, of course, the Mona Lisa, which was disappointingly small and unassuming. I don’t really understand why it is one of the most famous paintings in the world – it doesn’t seem to merit its reputation.

Despite our complete exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we decided to go out on Friday night instead of making dinner in the hostel. That was such a good meal. I got a salmon brochette, walnut cheese and spinach pita sandwich, hummus, salad, French fries (in France…ironic, isn’t it? :]), and a piña colada, all for €13. The restaurant was called Le Paradis du Fruit, and their specialty was, of course, fruit. So for desert I had this strawberry and banana and coconut and ice cream and whipped cream and chocolate and waffle cone concoction. It was very tasty – definitely worth the 5 pounds that I’m sure I gained by consuming it :).

I kept thinking of the Grand Canyon on Friday. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but I think I finally came up with an explanation. It’s hard not to think of natural wonders when I see all of these man-made wonders in front of me. The Sacre Coeur, the Palace of Versailles, the plethora of diverse artwork in the Louvre, the architecture of the Louvre itself…all of them are exquisite in their own way. But I don’t really think they compare with the pristine beauty of God’s natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon. Just think, our God not only made the Grand Canyon, but He also gave men the inspiration to make the Sacre Coeur. What an incredibly vast amount of creativity He must have!!! So I think to myself, it’s really quite silly to worry and stress about resolving your problems…God’s already got you covered, and probably in a way that would never have even occurred to you. But, unorthodox or not, His way is always the best way. I find that quite comforting :).

Alright, I’m determined to stop philosophizing and actually finish my tales of Paris!! Saturday we slept in a bit – Friday had really worn us out, lol. We went back to the Eiffel tower in the morning and went up to the very top. My fear of heights started kicking in on the second lift, which seemed never-ending – we just kept going up and up and up!!! The view from the top, however, was lovely. They also had cities all over the world listed on the tower, along with the direction and distance that they were from the tower. I found Costa Rica, as well as Washington and New York City, the only US cities listed. It made me happy :).

Sarah has some friends studying in France, Maggie and Taylor, who came to Paris to spend the day with us on Saturday. So after the Eiffel tower, she and I split off from Nick and Silvia to go meet her friends at the Arc de Triumph. We found a subterranean stairway that went under the roundabout that encircles the Arc, and came out directly underneath the monument. Our walking tour guide on Thursday told us that every year there are idiots who die because they try to get to the Arc by running across the street, instead of taking the stairs. That roundabout is the most dangerous roundabout in the world. With a width of 12 cars, no marked lanes, and no rules of the road, except seemingly that all cars entering the circle have the right of way, instead of the other way around, it’s no surprise that no insurance company will cover an accident at the Arc de Triumph – one happens every 30 minutes. I actually saw one while I was at the top of the Arc, counting how many streets feed into the roundabout. There are in fact 12 major streets that all feed into the circle, none of them with less than 5 lanes of traffic. What…a…nightmare!!

After we came down from the Arc, we walked down the famous Champs Elysées, the Fifth Avenue of Europe. The only thing I could afford to buy was an éclair, and even that I split with Sarah. At the end of the street, we found a Christmas Village that sets up there every year around the holidays. Sarah had been craving a French crepe since we got to Paris, so we found a place in the Christmas Village to buy one. You actually got to watch them make the crepes – it was pretty cool. I did a little bit of Christmas shopping (I’m not telling who I bought for! :P), but most of the stuff was really expensive, so I contented myself with just looking for the most part.

The last place we went to with Maggie and Taylor was the Pompidou Center, a huge monstrosity of modern art. It’s actually a modern art museum, but the art begins outside, with the statues in the fountain, the street performers, even the building itself. I’m not a fan of modern art, so it was interesting to see, but not particularly enthralling. We did see, however, a street performer paint a picture blindfolded, standing behind the canvas, in 4 minutes flat. THAT was impressive :). After we parted ways with Maggie and Taylor, Sarah and I walked to see the Moulin Rouge. It was actually less than ten minutes from our hostel – it’s crazy how fast the neighborhood changes. Our hostel area is a good, albeit touristy, location. The Moulin Rouge is located, for obvious reasons, in the Red Light district. If you don’t know why I said it’s obvious, go watch the movie Moulin Rouge – but read a summary first, so you know what to expect :).

Sunday, our last day in Paris, I decided to go up to the Sacre Coeur one last time to see the sunrise. Paris is a late riser on Sunday mornings – I was the only person outside the church, except for the intimidating French soldiers wielding heavy-duty machine guns that are always around every famous monument in the city. I was about to head back down the mountain after the sunrise, but on a whim I decided to go into the church one last time. I’m so glad I did. The first time I went in the Sacre Coeur, I was trying to keep track of where Nick and Silvia and Sarah were. The second time, I was looking for the entrance to climb the top of the dome. The third time, however, all I was doing was drinking in every detail of the church. The prayer candles scattered all around the sanctuary, lit by the faithful who have been present nonstop for the past 125 years, day and night, praying to the Lord. The incredible stained glass windows, flooded with the early morning light. The reverent statues, paintings, pictures, and mosaics nestled in every alcove and corner of the building. The delicate smell of the hundreds of flowers that could be found all over the sanctuary. It was all lovely – but the most lovely thing of all was the music. There was an Office du Matin, a morning choir of nuns, while I was there. That was, without a doubt, the absolute prettiest music I have ever heard. They sounded like angels. I could have stayed there all day…unfortunately, though, my plane back to Seville was calling my name.

The trip back home was uneventful – 1 ½ hours in bus to the airport, 2 ½ hour flight, 45 minute bus ride home, and a 15 minute walk after that. It’s so nice to be back in a country where I can communicate with ease. I spent most of the afternoon on Sunday sleeping, and then organizing pictures and writing this blog. I went out for about half an hour to take medicine to Justo, who’s sick. I brought some of the medicine that my family had sent me when I was sick, but that I hadn’t used. I figured what better way to use it than to pass the love on, right? 🙂 I’m glad I got to see him, even if he was coughing and sneezing – I won’t get to see him again til next week, because he’s traveling tomorrow and then when he gets back I’ll be in Morocco. And now here I am, with a six-page single-spaced blog, pictures on my flashdrive ready to be uploaded, my bag packed for classes tomorrow, and midnight rapidly approaching. I’m going to say au revoir for now…next update (most likely) will be from Morocco! Check out all my pictures from Paris here. I love and miss you all tons…see you soon!!!!

The calm before the storm

This past week has been fairly uneventful – hence the resultant silence on my blog. I figured that you wouldn’t want me to tell you about the normality that I do every week – class, dance, Bible study, and the like. One day last week my Spanish Usage professor took us out for breakfast instead of having class – that was cool. I also had my final in dance class, and I feel like I did very well – my teacher told me that I should look for flamenco classes when I return to the States to continue what I’ve learned here. I might look…but I’ve got to say, I think I’d prefer to learn West Coast Swing than flamenco :). Flamenco is fun, but nothing compares to WCS… But ya, I had a blast learning it, but I must say that I’m glad it’s over. It made my Mondays and Wednesdays very hectic – I was always running from class to lunch to tutoring to dance, and I barely had time to breath. Now that I don’t have to rush to dance class I will be much more relaxed.

In other news, church last week was fantastic. God was sooo present, and the sermon, the worship, everything was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. During worship, spontaneous prayers were breaking out in multiple languages – French, Spanish, English, Dutch, German…it was way cool. I’m really going to miss the multinationality of my church here when I go back home :(.

Things are picking up again, though…this past week has been like the calm before the storm – in the next 2 weeks, I will be traveling more than I will be in Seville! This weekend I went to Grenada. We got there mid-day, and spent the afternoon walking around the city. We saw the Capilla Real, where 5 Spanish royalty are buried. We actually got to go underground and see the actual coffins – check them out here (I apologize for the poor quality). I also ran into 2 of my friends from Seville, Paola and Jess, who were there visiting for the weekend as well, so that was cool.

Late afternoon we hiked up the mountain to the old Jewish quarter, to the Plaza San Nicolas, to see the sunset. It was incredible. Plaza San Nicolas has a simultaneous view of the Sierra Nevada (the highest point in Spain), the Alhambra, and the sunset, as well. It was absolutely breathtaking. I love sunsets and scenic views; they are probably the easiest thing in the world to bring me to my knees in awe of the splendor of the Lord.

While we were in the Plaza, we met an American, Jeff, who’s backpacking around Europe for a month. He invited us to meet up with him and some friends of him for dinner later that night. Sarah and I took him up on that offer. We threaded our way back a different way down the mountain, and ended up with a gorgeous view of the Alhambra at night, with the river flowing past it at the base. Once we made it back down, we met up with Jeff and his friends (whom he had just met the day before) and went tapa-hopping. The tapas (appetizers) are free in Grenada with the purchase of a drink, so we went to 3 or 4 different places and got a different tapa and drink at every place. His friends, Palmer, Chris, and Seth, were also Americans, but they had lived in Grenada for 2 years as teaching assistants, so they knew the good places to take us to. After dinner, Sarah went back to the hotel to sleep, but I went out later to a dance club that Justo had recommended to me. I wasn’t out super late – around 1:30 or 2:00 – but I wanted to be able to say that I had gone dancing in Grenada! 🙂 Dances are never as fun by yourself, however, so I eventually just went home to sleep.

The next day I got up early and went to a market I had found the day before and bought a couple of pomegranates. Pomegranate in Spanish is grenada – so I was eating a grenada in Grenada! I found it amusing, lol… Anyway, after breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed up to the Alhambra, a 14th century Moorish palace and fortress complex. Words…cannot describe that place. The palaces were incredible, with rich ornate decorations and carvings and inlays. But what left the more indelible impression on my mind were the views. The hoary sky, swirled with clouds and pulsating colors and shapes, offset with the vibrant hues of the changing leaves on the trees below, with majestic snow-capped mountain peaks in the background and the magnificent, awe-inspiring palace of la Alhambra in the foreground, left an unforgettable remembrance in my memory. I was very sad to leave the Alhambra – there was a feeling of such serene tranquility and harmony there, especially in the exquisitely manicured gardens, that I could have stayed there forever – like Washington Irving! Washington Irving, the famous American author, fell in love with the Alhambra, and actually lived there for several years. You can read his stories about his time there in his book, Tales of the Alhambra.

We finally made our way back to Seville around 8:00 Saturday night. I had promised a friend a long time ago that I would go dancing with him, and so I went a little after 10:00, but I was pretty wiped out, and left before 1:00. What is Seville doing to me?? I’ve have more late nights here than in the rest of my life combined!! Sunday evening I spent with Justo. He corrected my second paper over dinner, and then we went and saw a Spanish movie, Bon Apetit (Spanish movie with a French title, and the majority of the film in English…ironic, no?). Well anyway, that´s about all I have to report at the moment. See all my pictures from Grenada here. Next update will be about Paris!!!

Soccer and dance make a great combo

Soccer and dance – that has pretty much been my life this past week. Oh yes, and I study and go to class every now and then ;). Don’t worry mom, I’m doing fine in school – I got a 98% on my last test. I’m not worried :P.

So anyway, back to my story. Monday night I went to a soccer game with 3 friends, Rodrigo, Lauren, and Dan. It was a blast. Seville has 2 soccer teams, in different divisions – we went to the upper division team, Seville vs. Valencia. I got to use the blanket that my family sent to me when I was sick – it was SOOO cold! I bundled up under my blankie, and was quite toasty…and quite thankful for my wonderful family, as well :). Tuesday and Thursday nights I went to Bachata class. Thursday night I stayed and danced afterwards til around midnight– it was a blast. I’ve never particularly liked latin dancing, but it seems that that was only because I could never find guys who could dance it well. Now that I have, I love it :). One of the guys I danced with invited me to have a drink with him, so we talked for a while, too. He was surprised when I told him I was American – “I noticed a slight accent,” he said, but I thought it was from South America or something.” It made me super happy :D.

Friday I spent all day working on my last research paper – I’ll be traveling the next 3 weekends, and I don’t want to have to worry about it. So I finished that, and then went to a taco party with some kids from school that night. I was told today that I should be a personal assistant or party planner – the person planning this party kinda dropped the ball, so I picked it up this morning and had everything planned by 10:30 am. I suppose it was a nice compliment – but I kinda want to set my sights higher than a personal assistant, lol… Of course the party had alcohol, so I can now say that I’ve been to a “normal” party. I must say I don’t particularly understand the fuss. I wasn’t miserable, but I’ve certainly had wayyyyy more fun at pretty much every party I’ve ever been to that did not have alcohol. But oh well, the tacos were good… 🙂 After the party, we all went to dance. I thought that I was out late when I went dancing until midnight on Thursday. This place didn’t even OPEN until midnight. I finally left around 4:00 am. It was a blast…but the next day I was soooo dead. I slept on and off almost the whole day on Saturday. I dragged myself to an internet café to skype with my family – that was so worth it. I hadn’t talked to them since mom and dad left for Israel – it was so good to see their faces and hear their laughs and catch up with them. Saturday night I went to another Bachata class and dance, but this time I left much earlier. I cannot do 4 am 2 nights in a row – I really can’t do it 1 night, lol…

Oh, I almost forgot my other soccer story!! I found out Thursday afternoon that the World Cup trophy was being displayed in Seville for that day only. So I went with a friend to go see it – 4 hours later, we finally succeeded. I’ve never seen lines like that. It was definitely an experience, I’m glad I did it – but good grief, these people’s fanatacism for soccer is a little over the top, lol. Check out my picture with the world cup here.

Random stories of the week: I went to an old palace, Casa de Pilatos, on Tuesday afternoon. It’s one of the oldest houses of nobility in Seville – it was pretty cool. Although I still stand by my previous statement that beautiful old buildings all start to look the same after a while, lol :). But I also accidentally completed one of Jon’s assignments, so that was neat. On our way to the Casa, I happened to look at a street name and noticed that we were in the Plaza Pescadería, where I was supposed to find the underground Roman ruins. You couldn’t actually go down and see them – there were just big window-like things set into the ground, and you looked down into a little section of the ruins. Nothing too exciting – I wouldn’t have wanted to go out of my way to find them – but it was interesting walking past them and knowing what they were. There was no sort of labeling at all, so if you didn’t know what you were looking at it wouldn’t have made any sense. I also climbed to the top of the Torre de Oro on Friday, when I needed a break from studying, and got a panoramic view of the city. It was way cool. Check out all my most recent pictures here. Sorry this blog has been so choppy and random…I’m having trouble concentrating at the moment :(. Love y’all!

How time flies

This week we had classes on Friday, to make up for the festival on Monday. I also had 3 tests and 2 papers due, so I was pretty tired by Friday afternoon. I went to the doctor several weeks ago and got some antibiotics to help me get rid of my cough, so at least I didn’t have to deal with that – I’m finally back to my usual self, woohoo!!! But I was still exhausted, and when I was invited to go dancing, I almost turned it down. I was just sooo worn out…plus the dance club didn’t even open until midnight. But I finally decided to go, and I’m so glad I did! I was the first one to leave – I left at 2:30 – but it was so worth the sleep deprivation. Next time I’m bringing my dancing shoes, though…I never went home on Friday, so I ended up trying to dance in flats. It was rather uncomfortable. It’s so refreshing to have finally found a dancing scene here in Seville… 🙂

Oh, I forgot to mention that I also went to the Museum of Flamenco Dance on Friday with the people from my dance class. It’s a private museum, created by a super famous Flamenco dancer, but it’s also one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It’s full of interactive rooms, and clips of different dancing styles, costumes, pictures, and more. It was quite an interesting trip. After the museum we made our way to a little store that the professor knew that sold the cool shawls that they sometimes use when dancing Flamenco. I’m sure I will never be able to use it in real life, but I splurged and bought a shawl, anyway. It’s white, all lace, and lovely.

Saturday I made my way to the Seville city cemetery, per Jon’s homework. Goodness, the comments I got from people at school when I mentioned that I wanted to go to the cemetery!!! I’m pretty sure that half of school is now convinced that I’m an emo kid in hiding, lol… But, all morbidness aside, el Cementerio de San Fernardo is really quite a lovely place. It is huge, and unlike any cemetery I’ve ever seen. There are sweeping pathways with meticulously manicured plant and floral decorations, enormous ornate sepulchers that house whole families, statues dedicated to famous personalities such as toreros or flamenco dancers, and thousands of the more “normal” tombstones. Sevillanos are not only buried under the ground here – all around the outskirts of the cemetery, there is a network of above ground catacombs, with separate crypts for each individual coffin and an inscription etched into the stone on the front of it. In the center of the cemetery, there is a statue of El Cristo de las Mieles – legend has it that . Además, a few days ago was the Festival de Todos los Santos, when everyone goes to the cemetery and cleans the graves and puts flowers or trinkets on them. All of the decorations were still there, and it was incredible beautiful and peaceful. I really wanted to take pictures, but I figured that would have been sacrilegious or something – at the very least inconsiderate to the hundreds of other people who were there.

I had been planning on going by myself, but I mentioned my plans to Justo and he would have none of that. San Fernardo Cemetery is pretty far away from where I live, and it would have been rather complicated to get there – I would have either had to take 2 buses, or walk about an hour to get to the second bus stop. So Justo offered to go with me, and we went in his car. Afterwards we went to a supermarket and got some food to make a picnic lunch, which we then took to a nearby park. Again, I must extol Justo’s awesomeness. He had told me before he picked me up to bring my research paper that I wrote for one of my classes – while we were at the park, he sat down and read the whole thing, correcting my mistakes and explaining to me why they were wrong. He’s a very good teacher. My señora absolutely loves him – he is mature, has a steady job, speaks three languages, doesn’t party late at night, and is the best intercambio (in her opinion) that any of her students have ever had. I give her lots of props that she hasn’t suggested that I date him yet, lol :).

Anyway, that’s about all of the excitement that I have to report for now. Sunday morning I went to church, and I spent the entire afternoon working on my second research paper. It’s not due until December, but I don’t have time to work on it during the week, and I’ll be traveling the last 2 weekends in November, so I want to go ahead and get it done. Can you believe that I only have 5 weeks left in Seville??? And three of those weekends I won’t even be in Seville – I’m going to Grenada to see La Alhambra, then Paris for 5 days for Thanksgiving, and then Morocco in December. It’s absolutely insane how fast time is going. I was trying to decide what I would miss most about Seville. It’s hard to choose. My church and church friends come to mind quickly, but so do my Spanish friends, such as Justo, and my host family, and the food, and culture, and dance, and architecture…I suppose I’ll have to wait and make that decision closer to my departure date :). Well, it’s off to bed for now for me…my brain hurts from reading and writing about the Restoration of the Spanish Monarchy all day. Sending all my love, as always!!

Horray for not traveling!

We had a 4-day weekend this week. While most of the students were off exploring exotic places such as Italy, France, or Morocco, I elected to stay here. Honestly, the only reason I stayed was because I didn’t have time to make plans to go somewhere. But I’ve very glad I did. It turned out to be quite a productive, eventful weekend, albeit rather quiet when I was home – my host family was at the beach all weekend. Check out the note they left me – I thought it was really sweet :).

Thursday night there was a Halloween party hosted by the school. I went, and even half-heartedly dressed up! (I wore a masquerade mask I bought in Barcelona) I’ve never really seen the point of Halloween, and don’t ever celebrate it in the USA. I find it ironic that one of the only time I actually celebrate Halloween is in a country which does not celebrate it as a whole :). Anyway, the party was pretty lame, but I got some interesting pictures. Myself and a friend, Allyx, started dancing Flamenco in the middle of the party. That was interesting, lol. After the party everyone went out for tapas. That was more interesting, in my opinion. I got to talk to the Academic Director for a while – she apparently is a Harvard graduate!! I was very impressed. Anyway, I finally made it back to my house around 1:30 in the morning. Although I didn’t have school the next day, I was waiting there when they opened at 8:00. Friday was my push day. I wanted to get a ton of homework done so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the weekend. I took a break for lunch to eat with Jess and Paola, 2 girls from the Bible study. They also brought a Spanish friend of theirs, Julia, who is really sweet. It was very encouraging to be able to spend some time with godly, wholesome, fun girls. Other than lunch, though, I was at school until it closed – at 8:00 at night. Almost 12 hours total :/. I’m so glad I did that, though – I finished one of two research papers, did all my homework for Tuesday and half of the stuff for Wednesday, and also studied for 1 of my 2 tests that I have time coming week. I felt very accomplished and on top of things :). I often get teased for being such a studious student, but I really think that I’m the one with the last laugh – I’m never stressed about getting things done, and I go out just as often as anyone else. It’s an excellent combination :).

Friday night I went to another Halloween party – this one hosted by a friend of mine from church, Nadine. That one was far from lame. I had such a blast!!! There were people there from church, from Bible study, from other schools, and some random Spaniards who were friends of other guests, as well. All in all, I’d say there were about 25 or 30 people there. There was a tone of food, and great music, and a costume party (I got to be a judge, since I was costume-less. I think I’d prefer that, lol), and just great fun to be had all-around. There was a pumpkin-carving contest, as well – not only did I carve my first pumpkin ever in my life, but I also won a prize for it! As long as you promise not laugh, you can check out my pumpkin here. It was loads of fun to do, but I hardly think it’s worthy of a prize, lol…

Around midnight, we cranked the music up and started dancing. There were lots of great dancers there – ironically enough, none of them were Spaniards. They were from Columbia, or Cuba, or Peru, etc…so we danced some Merengue, some Salsa, Bachata, a little bit of Swing…the whole shebang. Then we tried to learn the Thriller dance. We didn’t learn it – but watching people try to watch it was quite amusing :D. The party finally ended around 1:30 because half of the group had to leave to catch the last metro home at 2:00. I was very sad to go :(. I haven’t had that much good, clean fun in a long time. Check out the pictures from both parties here – they should be at the very end of the album.

Saturday morning I had planned on going to Isla Magica, a theme park in Seville. But Saturday morning dawned cold and rainy and windy, so I scratched that idea. Instead, I went back to Nadine’s house and hung out with her and Sarah for the day. We went shopping, and made pizza and brownies, and watched chick fliks and old episodes of the Gilmore Girls. It was excellent. My host family is out of town, so I spent a quiet evening cleaning up my room, and organizing my stuff, and other necessary things. It’s nice to have quite evenings to yourself sometimes :).

Sunday morning was a lazy day. We had daylight savings, so I got an extra hour of sleep, which was nice. I slept in and still had time to get some homework done before church :). After church I went shopping for presents – there’s been a festival going on since I’ve been here, and this is the last weekend it will be around. I wanted to swing by before it closed. It’s so strange to think of it not being there tomorrow…it seems to kind of be a part of Seville by now. I also ran into a friend of mine, Rodrigo, and we hung out for a few hours. I got a rather backwards compliment from him that I’m quite proud of. I was talking about how different I am now than I was when I was younger, and he asked me, “What happened? Did Jesus change you?” It was quite apparent that that was not a serious question – Rodrigo makes no claims to be a Christian, and the sarcasm was so thick I could have cut it with a knife. But I chose to ignore it and simply answer the question. “Yes,” I said, “He did.” Then Rodrigo was like, “That’s what I like about you. Most of the time when I’m around hard-core Christians I try to say things to piss them off, and it usually works. But you never react when I try to insult you.” I’m almost positive that he did not intend that as a compliment, but the fact that A) he considers me to be obviously Christian and B) I don’t react to insults in a way that turns people off of Jesus made my heart swell.

Monday was quite an excellent day. I went to Carmona, a small town about 40 kilometers from Seville, with Justo, per Jon’s suggestion. Actually, Jon’s homework said I had to take a bus, but everyone knows the cool people take cars ;). So Justo picked me up mid-morning, and we drove to Carmona. Can I just say that Justo is the best intercambio ever!! He had already been to Carmona, so he took me to his favorite haunts; he also brought along a map and tourist info, so we knew exactly what spots we should hit. Also, he printed out a history of the city from online, and made me read it aloud to him as we drove. He corrected my pronunciation when needed, and explained to me any words I did not know. He also tries to correct me during the course of normal conversation, something that I give him huge props for. I’ve been on the other side of the coin – I’ve been the fluent speaker talking to someone who’s learning the language, and I know that it’s really hard to correct them if they’re trying. As long as I understand what they’re trying to say, I tend to ignore the errors. But that’s not how to improve, and I’m so grateful that he actually tries so hard to help me get better. I need to hang out with him more often – I know my Spanish noticeably improves every time I do :). He also offered to correct my papers that I have to write for school. Besides that, we get along really well – he’s very easy-going and fun to be around, and also speaks very good English, so I can switch whenever my brain starts really hurting, lol.

Alright, now that I have sufficiently extolled Justo’s commendable qualities, let’s continue with the story, shall we? 🙂 We walked around for a while, just drinking in the sights. There was a famous convent that we went and visited – this picture is from the top of the tower. I like it because you can see the city behind us through the slats in the window :). The sunset was absolutely gorgeous – although I did snap a photo of it, it truly doesn’t do it justice. But oh well, I did my best :).

My family got back a few minutes after I did, so we caught each other up on our respective weekends. Although I rather enjoyed the solitude these past few days, it’s nice to not be in an empty house anymore. Well anyway, thus ends my lovely weekend of not traveling – see all the pictures from Carmona here. I love and miss all of you guys buckets and bunches!! 🙂

From Spain with love

Today is my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. As I cannot be there to celebrate it with them, I figured I would send them my love via the internet – ahhh, the wonders of modern technology! This blog is dedicated to my mother and father – some of my favorite memories of them, things they have taught me, and reasons why I’m so proud of them.

When I was little I had quite a flair for the dramatic…I suppose I can’t really say that I’ve completely grown out of that, can I? 🙂 I acted, and danced, and did crafts, and all sorts of other creative things. One of my favorite memories of my daddy when I was little was that of dancing with him. I was not even half his height, and didn’t actually know how to dance at all, so I would stand on his feet and he would dance with me on top of his feet. That’s one reason I like this picture so much – although the picture is of Hope and dad, I can picture myself doing the very same thing. Hopefully she will have as fond memories of that as I do. A few months ago I was able to come full circle and dance with dad again at a friend’s wedding. He said that I intimidated him because this time I actually knew how to dance…but dad, I want you to know that I loved that dance we had together. It doesn’t matter if it’s a world-class quality dance – what mattered to me was the person I was dancing with.

My parents have always supported me in everything I did – and I’ve always done a lot. One of my first theatrical performances I played Snow White. After the opening show, my dad greeted me with a card and a huge bouquet of roses – orange roses. They were so cool; I’ve never seen anything like them. I still have one of the roses, carefully dried and sitting in a place of honor on my desk at home. The memory of that is a big reason as to why the rose is now my favorite flower.

As I grew up, wanting to share dad’s hobbies encouraged me to expand my world and interests. For as long as I can remember, daddy has enjoyed tinkering with cars. So I started learning about cars with him – well really, he started teaching me about them. I would never have learned a thing about them were it not for him :). It’s quite comforting now, however, to know that now I can change my oil or check the air pressure or change a tire without having to ask someone for help. Thanks, dad! 🙂

I’ve got great memories of dad and his cars. He took me racing with him once. It was such a blast. After skydiving, that was probably one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had. I remember the year he bought his 1960 El Camino. He was so excited about it! The owner lived in Ohio, and so he decided to take a Greyhound bus up there and then drive the car back. For some reason that I’ve never figured out, he asked me to come with him instead of my brother, who was way more into cars than I. That was the most adventurous trip! Although it was rather frustrating at the time – the bus driver was a jerk, bus station food is nonexistent, the car broke down, there was a bomb scare in the hotel we stayed at, etc (ya, it was quite eventful :]) – those memories are precious to me now. I would not change that trip for anything.

Dad has always loved working with wood. So when I got a little older, I started spending time in the shop with him. He taught me how to work with wood, sort of. I do not claim woodworking expertise by any stretch of the imagination, but I have made a few things that I’m rather proud of. It was daddy who introduced me to wood burning (making designs in a piece of wood by burning the picture into it), and daddy who helped me make a wooden nativity scene for a Christmas gift for my grandparents one year. As I grew up, I started working with him on his jobsites. He taught me the value of a job well done, how to do things efficiently, and how to think creatively to solve problems.

That’s another thing that I love about my dad. He is so wise, and he has a very different way of looking at things than most of the people in my life, including myself. Whenever I was pondering a decision, or unsure about what to do, I always knew that dad would be able to help me. He has a way of distilling things down to their core, so that I can truly see what’s important. It was largely a result of my father’s council that I ended up at Berry, that I accepted the teaching assistantship in Costa Rica, and that I took the research position in Atlanta this summer. Judging how much just those 3 things alone have changed my life, it’s impossible to estimate the overall impact that my dad has had on my life.

Mom, I haven’t forgotten about you! Some of my favorite memories with my mom revolve around holidays in the kitchen. I loved making pies, and cookies, and turkeys, and casseroles, and whatever else struck our fancy. The warm, comforting kitchen filled with delicious smells, mixed with the easy laughter and conversation with my mom, are memories that I will have forever. I look forward every Thanksgiving weekend to making fruitcake with her. My biggest regret, if you can call it that, about coming to Spain in the fall is that I’m going to miss Thanksgiving with my family. Mom, we’ll have to make up for it at Christmas!! 🙂

Mom has always been a caretaker. Last Spring I got really sick while I was at school with a bronchial infection. I muscled through it for about a week and a half on my own. Mom knew I was sick, but that Friday she actually talked to me on the phone. Apparently she hadn’t realized just how sick I was. She was in the car within hours after she talked to me, on her way up to Berry to take care of her baby girl. And boy, did she take care of me. When she pulled up, she was armed with bags and bags of groceries. She made me home-made chicken soup, chicken pot-pie from scratch (one of my favorite foods!), arroz con leche, egg custard, and lots of other yummie foods. I didn’t have to cook for over a week after she left. Although I’m sure it would have been better for me to have not been sick, I wouldn’t give that memory up for anything. Mom, the fact that you did all that for me touched me deeply – even now, as I’m sitting here writing about it, I’m crying from emotion.

I’ve always been a gift-giver. My mother is not. So when she makes the effort to give me something anyway, it’s all the more special. I have kept almost every letter she (and dad) has ever written to me. When I get packages from her at school, I’m grinning like an idiot for days. Postcards, which are more frequent, are always sent by the “Official Lauren Fenner fan club”. A couple of times she has tried to throw me surprise parties. Although I ended up finding out about most of them beforehand, I want you to know, mom, that the fact that you made the effort is what made my heart swell.

Neither mom nor I particularly like to shop. So I’m not sure why my next memory of her is so special, but it is. A few summers ago she and I and the kids went up to New York City to visit my grandparents. One night they babysat, and she and I went out on a date. We hit up the town, got dinner and smoothies, and afterwards went shopping. Well, it was actually window shopping, and we were really going to just laugh at the ridiculous styles that we found, so perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Whatever the reason, that night was a blast.

Well, I could go on forever and ever with memories of my parents, but I suppose it might start to be boring for you guys after a while, so I will close with a few words about what my parents have taught me as a couple in the past 20 years.

First and foremost, my parents are a shining example of what a godly couple should be. No, they are not perfect, but they are constantly striving to be more Christ-like, both in their relationship with each other, and with those around them. They have raised 5 wonderful children in the fear of the Lord, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that. I know it wasn’t easy to do. Those of you who have only known me since college may not know this, but I had lots of anger issues when I was younger. They finally sent me to a counselor for about a year to help me work my issues out. I remember being absolutely furious with them at the time. I did everything I could to express my displeasure at having to go to a counselor, but they stuck to their guns. Mom and dad, thank you for sticking to your guns, and I apologize for how hard I made it for you. That was one of the best things you’ve ever done for me, and I appreciate so much the fact that you loved me enough to make me go.

My parents have taught me the importance of hard work. They are two of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. They never try to pass the buck or mooch off of someone else’s accomplishments. Do your best, and let Him provide the rest…that would be my verbalization of what I have learned from my parents’ example. Mom introduced the term “God’s Math” to me several years ago when she was talking about money. God’s math is what governs the lives of people who trust Him with their finances. God’s math, according to my mom, is what enables me to give 20% of everything I make to Him, and yet still be able to afford to go to an expensive private college and study abroad twice. And it is God’s math, according to me, that will look out for my parents equally generously.

Mom and dad, I cannot begin to describe to you how much I love you. I know that I don’t always act like it…but when I’m in one of those yucky moods, I ask you to go back and read this blog and know that I DO love you. Thank you so, so much for the incredible blessing and wonderful example that you have been in my life. Congratulations on twenty-five years of marriage – I pray that my husband and I can enjoy a relationship like yours. I can’t wait to see what God does in you and through you in the next twenty-five years! 🙂