Category: walking tour

The Amazing Race: Oregon edition

Every now and then, you meet someone with whom you immediately click.  Someone with whom you can share everything with, and no matter how many miles or months may separate you, as soon as you see them again you can immediately pick things back up where they were left off.  Many people only have one or two friends like this in a lifetime.  But I’ve been blessed with several; although they’re scattered all over the world, I’ve no doubt that they will be in my life for a very long time.What’s more, I actually got to see one of them last week!  Rachel, one of my roommates in college, had the nerve to get married and go off to Oregon to go to optometry school.  But I suppose I can’t get upset, since I left her for Korea, haha.  It had been a while since I saw her, and I was blessed with a fantastic deal on the flight, so after I finished up my finals, I headed out west to pay a visit.

I must admit…I don’t think I could ever live in Oregon (**knock on wood**).  The fog and creeping chill is something that I’m not used to, and I imagine would have a very hard time acclimating myself to.  But nasty weather is easily overlooked for a few days, especially when you’re with such lovely people! 🙂

Rachel still had to take a final the first day that I arrived, so Ryan and Seth (an old friend of theirs and also their housemate) took it upon themselves to entertain me while she was taking her test.  We went to a Sherlock Holmes exhibit at a hands-on science museum in Portland.  It was really excellently done.  They had some artifacts from the time period on display, as well as a lot of biographical information about the author, Arthur Conan Doyle (did you know that he was an army medic?  The character of Watson is modeled after himself).  There was even a recreation of Sherlock’s living room!  But after that, it got even cooler.  They had recreated a “crime scene” in the exhibit hall.  We had to go through the clues and compare the evidence to the official police theory, and see if they were right or not.  Eventually we cracked the case!  The police had it all wrong :).  It really was a fantastically done exhibit…I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The next day, Ryan and Rachel and I went on a walking tour of Portland.  There’s an app called Stray Boots Tours that you can get that sends you on a scavenger hunt around the city, so we bought it and followed the clues.  I felt like I was on the Amazing Race – actually with both the Sherlock Holmes exhibition and the Stray Boots tour, but particularly the walking tour.  I had to remind myself several times that there was no need to rush, we were not going to be eliminated if we came in last.  In fact, between the clues, scavenger hunts, and trying lots of new things – from homemade beer to lockpicking driving super fast cars to videogames – the entire weekend felt somewhat like a tamer version of the Amazing Race, haha :).  They were definitely my kinds of activities, though!

One of the first stops on the Stray Boots tour was a vintage record store
Another clue took us to Powell’s, the largest new and used independent book store in the world.  We spent quite a bit of time there…. 🙂
The rare books section.  I thought I found the most expensive book.  I found out later that apparently there’s a book there that costs around $200,000!
Check out the Christmas Tree – it’s made from beer bottles.  Rather fitting for a famous pub, I’d say 🙂
A map of tea across the world in a cute little tea shop

The rest of the week was marked by board games, an introduction to the video game Portal (every level is basically solving a series of puzzles; I’m not a video gamer, but that one was pretty darn fun), seeing Rachel’s campus and meeting her friends, and oh yeah…a Tesla test drive.  Teslas, for those who may not know, are premium fully electric vehicles (they start around $70,000 and go up from there).  And they are gorgeous.  Ryan arranged for Rachel and I to have a test drive while I was there.  Oh my word.  It was like a dream.  I’ve never really had car envy, always been perfectly happy with my beat up little Subaru; but I must admit, car envy may have reared its ugly head during that test drive :).

It goes without saying that the week flew by all too quickly.  I’m so grateful to have been able to go, and I missed them even before I boarded the plane back to Atlanta.  No time to mourn their absence, though…it’s time to get geared up for Christmas!  Only 3 more days!!

Ryan really liked the Tesla shirt that Rachel got him for Christmas 🙂
Rachel’s campus – doesn’t it look eerie with all the fog and devoid of students??

India

My next stop around the world found me in Delhi, India.  India was the biggest cultural shock that I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Ever.  Including Korea, which took me months to really adjust to.  I’m not quite sure where to begin.  But as countless wise men have undoubtedly said over the ages, beginning at the beginning is probably the best course of action, so I will start there, shall I?I had reserved a place at a hostel in India in advance.  I had also given them my flight information (three times!), and they were supposed to come pick me up at the airport upon my arrival.  My flight got in around 8 in the evening, so it should have been a nice, easy night.  But unfortunately, life had other plans.  What actually happened was this: I arrived on time, exited the airport….and found no one waiting for me.  I waited for a while, with no luck.  If being stranded in the New Delhi airport wasn’t bad enough, I also couldn’t call my hostel to see where they were – there were no pay phones in the entire airport.  But even if there were, I wouldn’t have been able to use them, because I didn’t have any money.  I had brought a lot of Korean won with me to exchange on my travels into the local currency; however, the currency exchange counter wouldn’t take won, so I was left with a lot of useless money and no money that I actually could use.  So I asked a random stranger if I could use her phone to call my hostel, and she begrudgingly said yes.  Well, the hostel told me to just take a taxi and then they would reimburse me.  Which did me no good because I had no money.  However, I found a small police station and asked them for help, and they helped me find a cab driver who was willing to take dollars, of which I had a few tucked into my passport, just in case.

So I was finally on my way!  The drive lasted about 20 minutes.  We got about a block away….and then found out that the road had been closed, in preparation for Republic day celebrations that would be held the next day.  So I borrow my taxi driver’s phone to call the hostel again (I have GOT to get an international phone!!).  The guy at the hostel refused to meet me, but rather told me to go to a travel agency and find somewhere else.  Needless to say, I wrote a biting review of their establishment once I returned to Korea. I was soooo frustrated.  When I got to the travel agency, I found that because of the national holiday the next day, all of the cheap hotels were already booked.  At this point it was nearing 11:00 pm, so I finally told my taxi driver to just take me to the closest place that had an open room.  This ended up being about 10 times the price that I had originally anticipated spending…but I was so tired, I chalked it off as a learning experience, locked my door and went to bed.  It certainly wasn’t the welcome to India that I was hoping for, but even in the midst of all of that, there were bright spots.  The policeman, taxi driver, and travel agency worker were all super nice and helpful, and made me feel much more at ease.  They kept calling me m’ame, which I found amusing at first, but eventually came to realize that it’s just how they show respect to foreigners.

I must admit though, I was glad when a new day dawned.  I woke up singing “Journey to the past,” from Fox Animation’s Anastasia….”people always say life is full of choices, no one ever mentions fear.”  Hurrah for Fox, giving inspirational songs for people all over the world! 🙂  I had bought a trip with a travel agency so I wouldn’t be completely alone the entire time, so I headed out bright and early to the meeting point.  A bit too early, actually…the cafe wasn’t open yet, and so I had to wait outside for nearly an hour.  The leering stares of the men who also happened to be on the street at that time made the first time in my life, in all of my travels, that I have ever been truly honestly frightened.  It was a sensation that I experienced on multiple occasions over the course of my week in India.  At the risk of inundating you with my writings, I wrote a separate article reflecting on some of the thoughts that were going through my head when that was happening.  If you want to read it, just follow this link.

But anyway, at last the group met up – it was myself, our tour guide, and 4 Germans, and we started our tour of India.  We took a walk through old Delhi, dodging the taxi and motorcycle drivers that squeezed through the tiny alley streets with reckless abandon for pedestrian safety, walking past savory street-side food vendors and stalls stuffed to bursting with knick-knacks and tourist merchandise, and ducking under the tangled and frayed electrical wires that hung from the crowded buildings in unstable masses.  That afternoon, we headed to Agra, for the next leg of our journey.  The swirling mass of humanity seemed to multiply, if possible, once we got on the road.  Every moment we were stopped, people swarmed the car, trying to sell me something, asking for tips for simple tasks, or simply begging for money.  The worst was when we stopped for lunch.  I was the only patron in the entire restaurant, so I was naturally swarmed there too, but this time I had no car to protect me.  It was rather overwhelming, especially since many of the Indians didn’t seem to have a proper filter as to what were appropriate topics to talk to a stranger about and what weren’t.  I didn’t get to my hotel until late evening, and I promptly went to bed.

The oldest mosque in India
The streets of Old Delhi
Lunch with my German friends!!
Yummyyyyy
A moqsue that offered free lunch to everyone.  Since they couldn’t pay for it, they volunteered their time to help make it.  Pretty cool….
My Delhi tour guide, Hirdesh….super sweet girl
The lotus palace, seen from the car on the way to Agra
Typical Indian traffic

The next day was The Day!  Really the only reason (or at least the main reason) I wanted to go to India was because I wanted to see the Taj Mahal.  And let me tell you what, it certainly didn’t disappoint.  The Taj is beautiful from a distance…but once I got up close, once I actually touched it….it sent a thrill up my and down my entire spine.  The Taj Mahal has 43 million individual gems in it, the carved panels inside took 2 men approximately 8 months to make – for each panel, and it took approximately 20,000 workers 22 years of intricate, detailed work to complete the entire building.  And all for the love of a woman.  It is such a timeless symbol of love and dedication – so much more so, I think, than Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra – that it was literally breathtaking to behold.  Sure gives all of the men nowadays some big shoes to fill :).

The main gate to the Taj Mahal
The “classic” photo of the Tj Mahal
The entire place was sooooo detailed

I spent the afternoon with Mehran, my tour guide – the Germans had opted to get a massage.  Mehran took me to some of his favorite sites in the city – the Agra fort, another tomb, the shop of some gem inlayers who use the same techniques as were used in the Taj Mahal, and the moon gardens, which lie across the river from the Taj.  The Germans actually told him to go spend time with me, and then told him you’re welcome for giving him the opportunity to spend more time with me, which I found highly amusing :D.  He was a good guide and a good friend, however, and I enjoyed the afternoon immensely.  He was also a rather good storyteller, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tales he told me about his escapades in college, such as when he cried “snakes” on a crowded metro just so that people would run away and give him more space :D.

The Agra fort
Another tomb….not nearly as impressive as the Taj Mahal, but far more peaceful and quiet
The gem-inlayers of Agra
Me ‘n Mehran 🙂

Day three, Mehran took me to Fatephur Sikri, a deserted fort about 45 minutes outside of Agra.  There I said goodbye to him, and headed to Jaipur.  Jaipur was my least favorite city in India.  The guide was cold and unfriendly, and the repeated warnings I got from locals about the danger of a woman being alone in the city made me nervous about even leaving my hotel room.  Although I did get to see an Indian wedding at my hotel, which was really cool.  I also went to a ton of famous temples and shrines and forts that I honestly don’t remember much about – they all seemed to run together after a while.  But I did get to ride an elephant!!  That part I remember quite clearly.  Those great big lumbering beasts do not make for the smoothest ride, but it was certainly fun!  I can’t imagine crossing countries on one, though!!!  I also made a point to go to a Bollywood movie in the evening.  It didn’t disappoint – the sumptuous costumes, intricate dance scenes, exaggerated fight scenes, overdramatized acting, and intermission so that people could go buy food midway through to sustain themselves through the excessive length – it was everything and more that I was expecting to see in a Bollywood film :).

An Indian wedding
The ladies’ quarters of Fatephur Sikri
Parcheesi – Indian style.  The pieces were concubines, and the winner got to spend a night with the emperor…
Yay for elephant rides!!!
The wind palace for the ladies of the palace – they could see but not be seen
The water palace
The Pink City
The peacock gate to the royal palace
The largest sundial in the world
The amber fort in Jaipur
My reflection in the hall of mirrors in the amber fort
The peacock restaurant!!

My last day in Delhi I went to a saree shop.  I was only supposed to look and play dress up, but I found one that I absolutely loved, and so I allowed myself a splurge.  I have no idea where I’ll wear it, but it’s beautiful, and I love it :).  On the drive back to Delhi, my driver decided to pick up some random people on the side of the road and take them with us for a few hundred kilometers.  This is very common in India, but I found it quite awkward, and I must admit that I was glad when we parted ways.  My driver also decided to randomly stop at his home before he dropped me off.  That was also awkward – we had tea, and just sat, not talking, for about an hour.  I asked why were there, and I was told “to kill time.”  But whatevs…when in Rome…  But honestly, even though it was awkward, I actually kind of enjoyed it.  I got a glimpse, however small, of the “real India,” which is what I always prefer to see in any country that I go to.  It was nice to see a slice of what really happens in India, away from the tourist centers.

Where they made the dyes for the sarees

So I checked into another hotel in Delhi (courtesy of my wonderful friend Mehran, who booked it for me, since I had originally planned on staying at the hostel that stiffed me), spent the night there, and then caught a taxi to the airport the next day.  I had quite a few takeaways from my stay in India.  The first one, is how very very blessed I am.  I was surrounded everyday by stark, raging poverty and pain.  And I couldn’t get over the fact that I am so very very blessed to even own a passport, to live in a country where I am financially able and also allowed to travel basically anywhere in the world that I please.  Also, a smile goes a long way.  As a solo traveler, there were lots of times when I really needed help, and I can’t tell you how much more willing people were to help me when I smiled and was nice to them.  They even said as much.  Another takeaway: I realized just how much I dislike head scarves.  Actually, head scarves aren’t bad…but I realized that the more of face is covered, the more I dislike it.  It dehumanizes the wearer.  On multiple occasions, I found myself wondering, “what happens if one of these women gets hurt in the street and needs help?  Her husband wouldn’t know it was her to help her, even if he was staring right at her.”  As the week wore on, I found myself growing progressively more and more impatient with people who homogenized me as a “rich foreigner,” and were unable or unwilling to see me as what I was – a person.  But I realized that a full head scarf does the exact same thing.  I know there are religious, cultural, and familial reasons for wearing them, so please don’t jump down my throat….I’m just saying that from my perspective, they seemed to dehumanize the women who wore them a bit.  They became just a pair of eyes, and by the end of the week I had grown to dislike full head coverings just as much as I disliked being swarmed by beggars every time I walked outside.  But overall, India was a great experience – if nothing else, a massive learning experience – and I’m very glad to have gotten the opportunity to go.  Oh, and one last takeaway….know the currency exchange rate before you go!  And make sure you have money!  It will save you a whole bunch of headache and trouble :).

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!!!!

Barcelona!

So, I already know that this is going to be a super long blog, so I apologize in advance. I have 4 days of exploring Barcelona to tell you about! Feel free to read it in sections – don´t be obliged to read it all at once, lol…

Anyway, this past weekend (Friday – Tuesday) was our fall break. I flew with 2 friends, Silvia and Nick, to Barcelona for the weekend. Our flight left pretty early in the morning, so I walked to Silvia´s the night before and spent the night with her so we could all leave together. We flew on RyanAir; any of you guys who have ever looked into traveling in Europe know that RyanAir is known for it´s dirt cheap flights to countries within Europe. But cheapness has a price. It was a rather sketchy flight. There were not even assigned seats…we just had to grab a seat wherever there was an open one. But the seats weren´t too uncomfortable, and the flight was short, so I survived. Once we got to Barcelona, we had to take a train to the center of the city, where our hostel was. It was cool…I like riding pulic transportation in different cities. There was a man onboard who started playing an accordion as soon as the train started. It added a romantic, exciting tinge to the whole experience…I loved it :).

Sooo, we finally got to the hostel Friday afternoon. After we checked in, we all kinda sat on our beds and looked at each other in shock. Hostels are cheap, I have found out, for a very good reason. Our room had 14 (bunk) beds in it, tiny lockers for every bed, and little else – including space. I was on the top bunk, and my ladder was hidden by lockers, so I had to do some interesting acrobatics the entire weekend whenever I wanted to get into my bed, lol. The cleanliness of the hostel was less than satisfactory, as well. But it´s right in the middle of everything, and it´s a new experience…I rather like it. For a few days only, mind you – I was very grateful for my bed back in Seville on Tuesday :).

We spent most of Friday afternoon walking. We live right off of a super famous street called La Rambla, so we just walked around that and got lost in the little side streets all day. La Rambla has dozens of human statues who set up all day, hoping to earn money from the tourists who pass by. They´re made up in fantastic costumes, and most stand motionless until someone drops money into their hat; then they dance, or pose for a photo, or whatever. I was fascinated by them…check out a picture of one of my favorites here.

We saw a sign for a free Dalí memorial exhibition, so we popped in and had a look. There were some very strange pictures in there…here is an example of what I´m talking about. We found a cheap pizza place for dinner. There was an attic-type second floor, so we sat up there and watched the people below as they came in and out. I love people watching :).

Friday night, I spoke to my dad online for a little bit. This is not really pertinent to my Barcelona story, but I just wanted to brag on my parents for a little bit. For those of you who don´t know, they are going to Israel soon to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. What I did not know, which dad told me Friday night, is that they will also be renewing their wedding vows on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. I just wanted to point out publicly what incredible role models they are, and to thank them for the impact that they have had on my life. I am sooo proud of them 🙂

Anyway, back to Barcelona. Saturday morning I got up early, before most of the rest of the hostel. I got dressed, had breakfast, did my Bible study…(my Bible was too heavy to take, so I downloaded a Bible application on my Blackberry :D). I also met a really cool guy from England named Richard. He´s nearing 50, and has been roaming the world all his life. He picked up Japanese by going to Japan with zero prior knowledge of Japanese, and a dictionary. Talk about gutsy!! I also met 2 Americans from Maine, Kristin and Tom, who have taken a semester off from college to travel the world. Kristin worked 7 jobs last summer to pay for it!!!

Mid-morning, Nick and I went on a guided walking tour of the Gothic district of Barcelona. Silvia went off and did her own thing. The tour was free – the man worked for tips – which meant that he was very motivated to give a very, very good tour. It was excellent. I had a wonderful time. Make sure you check out all my pictures from this weekend to see some of the photos from the tour! OK, mini-history lesson time! The tour started in an old plaza around the back of the Travel Bar, a place for all things tourist and travel. Much of the Gothic Quarter was destroyed by Hilter during WWII; we saw the buildings in the quarter that were restored after the war, the contrast between the old stones and the large amount of new stones starkly evident. We also saw the church in front of which rebels in the Spanish Civil War were executed – the front of the building is still riddled with bullet holes, and there is a plaque honoring those who died there. There´s a drawing that Picasso drew on the outside of the school of Architecture (which, ironically, is probably the ugliest building in the city), across from the Cathedral of Barcelona. Apparently, Picasso wrote it while drunk, and he was making fun of his surrealist painter friends; it looks like a child´s drawing. Quite an amusing story :D). We heard about one of the first Cataluñan kings, King Wilfred, who, although rather valiant, was known as Wilfred the Hairy – for obvious reasons. We saw the first ever public exhibition of Gaudí, in the Plaza Real – a lamppost :). We also went to Plaza George Orwell, which was named after the famous writer, in memory of him and his service to the Spanish people during the Spanish Civil War. They hired an artist to make a commemorative statue for his plaza; instead of making some inspirational bust of the famous man himself, he created….a massive statue of the tuberculosis bacteria, the disese Orwell is said to have died from. The artist must have been high on something when he designed that :). Apparently, other people think that, as well…the plaza is rarely called Plaza George Orwell, but rather by it´s more common name – Plaza Trippy, and it is a favorite spot for drug addicts and alcoholics. I saw a ceramic depiction of the old space invaders game on one of the walls in the Gothic Barrier…apparently, there´s a French guy who´s completely obsessed with them, and puts them up all over the world. In fact, if you mark on a map all of the cities where space invaders have been found, it makes a giant….space invader. Cool, huh? :). So ya, the tour was 2 hours of fascinating information like that. Definitely worth it :).

For lunch, we met up with Silvia in a tiny, dinky little shop that was recommended by our tour guide, Colin. It was wonderful, and very cheap, regardless of the nearly 30 minute wait for food. After lunch we explored the Maremagnum, a huge shopping district built on the water of the Mediterranean. I´m not a huge shopping fan, but it was cool, nonetheless. There were outside artists and vendors, and a boardwalk where you could sit and watch the boats pass by. Nick and Silvia took a nap for a while while I sat and enjoyed the view – they didn´t want everyone to sleep, for fear of someone taking our stuff :).

That evening we went out with Richard, the 2 Americans from Maine, and 2 Canadians. We went to a pub called the 4 Cats. It was recommended to me by my professor at school; it also happens to be quite famous, as it was the pub that Picasso frequented when we lived in Barcelona. They all took shots; I took pictures. But it was fun, anyway. After shots, we made our way back to have dinner at the Travel Bar. There were coupons in our hostel for a free meal there…so of course, we went. It was just pasta, nothing special, but quite yummie and of course, free :).

I had had numerous people recommend to me that I go see the magic fountain, a huge light a water spectacle on the west side of the city. So me, Nick, Silvia, and Richard made our way there by metro to see the light show. That is the only thing that I disliked about our tour guide, Colin – he told me it started at the wrong time :(. So we missed the light show. But we did get to see a spectacular VIEW of the city at night, and also the Museum of Art.

Sunday morning dawned cold and rainy. I was going to go to the Parque Guell, Gaudí´s famous park, but parks generally aren´t very fun in the rain. So instead, I walked around some with Richard and an Italian friend, Roberto. Halfway through the day, we found a museum of contemporary art, and Richard deserted us to go visit it. So Roberto and I walked…and walked…and walked. We walked wayyy up north, almost to Gaudí´s Sagrada Familia. We walked wayyy east, to the man-made beaches on the coast side of the city. We walked wayyy west, past La Rambla, the huge street that runs through the center of town. And then, we decided we hadn´t walked enough, so we walked around the center of the city for a while, looking for the Museum of Picasso. We found it, but the line was interminable, so we decided not to go in. Along the way, we found Barcelona´s Arc de Triumph…ate the best paella I´ve ever had in my life (not that I´m an expert in paella, lol), watched surfers strut their stuff, and listened to a live band in a gorgeous park that I happened to stumble upon. I also found out that Roberto is a professional ballroom dancer…so we danced in the muddy park with the rain pouring down on us, accompanied by a 30-piece band playing the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean in the background. It was excellent :). Oh, and I forgot to mention, that all of this was done without a common language. Roberto speaks broken Spanish and very, very little English, and I speak no Italian. So we muddled along, me speaking Spanish and him trying to, but with liberal amounts of Italian thrown in there. It was really hard, but fun. Plus, I got to learn some Italian, which was cool :).

We finally made it back to the hostel, and Nick and Silvia showed up a few minutes later. I figured I hadn´t done enough walking for the day, so we decided to go to La Parque Guell, since it had stopped raining. And ohhhh my goodness, what a masterpiece it is. Gaudí was obsessed with nature – he hated symmetrical lines. So the entire park (and it is massive) is a fantastical display of sweeping, curving, dripping lines. We only had a few hours there, which was a bummer; I could have stayed all day. But I did get to see the sun set from my perch above the city (the park is on a hill overlooking Barcelona), and then I saw a bit of the city at night, so that was cool. Silvia and Nick and I got separated, and their phones were dead, so we had a bit of a hard time finding each other, but we finally did, and made our way to the hostal on the metro. Trying out public transportation systems in different cities and countries has become a bit of an obsession with me…I love it :).

A huge group of hostel-stayers (I think there were 12 of us) went out for tapas and shots after we got back from the park. Well, they had shots…I had orange and pineapple juice. If I hear one more person call me a party pooper or tell me to “live a little” because I don´t drink I´m pretty sure I´m going to scream. I think I´m quite good at living, and I rather enjoy it, actually…no drinks necessary. That doesn´t make me a downer, right?? But anyway, that was fun, but I was super tired from all of the walking I had done that day, so I went back to the hostel “early” – like 1 am. I found out the next day that most of them were out until 5 or 6 in the morning!

Me, I prefer to see the mornings after I´ve slept, not before. I got up the next day (Monday) around 7. It´s quite possible that some of the partiers were still up from the night before, lol. I had a lovely morning doing my own thing, exploring the nooks and crannies of La Rambla one last time. I ate a relaxing breakfast by myself in the hostel, then did my Bible study and went shopping a bit (got a really cool skirt and pair of pants for €5 each). I also went to a huge food market super close to the hostel, and took pictures of the place while munching on a warm crossaint that I bought at the entrance. By the time I came back it was nearly noon. I was trying to wait on Nick and Silvia to get up so we could explore the city together, but they were still dead to the world. So I decided to just go ahead and go. Ted, a recent graduate from New York City, came with me. We walked to the Sagrada Familia, another one of Gaudí´s masterpieces. Pictures simply do not do it justice. Even though it´s still under construction, it was totally worth the €10 entrance fee.

So I figured a good wrap-up to this post would be a summary of things I saw and observed this weekend. In the hostel, it was normal to see people washing their clothes in the sink, and drying them with the hand blowdryer. People – men and women – changed in the middle of the 14-bed room. Five or six different languages were often spoken in the room at the same time. I also met an incredibly diverse amount of people. There was Richard from England, Katrina from Scotland, Rabat from Egypt, Shauna and Lisa from Canada, Tae Koh from Japan, Roberto from Italy, Eliza from Australia, Ted from New York City, Kristin and Tom from Maine…I heard (although I didn´t meet all of them) German, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish (duh!), and Swedish, as well as English dialiects from New York, Maine, Scotland, Ireland, England, Australia, and I´m sure I´m forgetting a few. Speaking of languages, though, it´s kinda crazy being here in Barcelona. It´s a part of Spain, so everyone speaks Spanish…but the dominant language is Cataluña, and all of the signs are in Cataluñan, not Spanish. I wasn´t expecting to need a translator when I stayed within the same country :). I actually don´t really need a translator, but still, it´s the priniciple that counts, right? 😉 It really is kinda crazy, though, how much Barcelona (the whole province of Cataluña, for that matter) can be a part of Spain, and yet so separate from it.

But anyway, I finally made it back, safe and sound. We had a super early flight, so we had to leave at 3:30 in the morning to make it to the airport on time. I spent much of the afternoon sleeping, but I was back in the thick of things by the next day. I enjoyed Barcelona, but it´s great to be back in Sevilla. I missed it – and my señora´s cooking, lol :). So that was my adventure in Barcelona! Hope you enjoyed hearing about it!!