Thursday, September 29

The Rest of Spain/ Beginning Adventures in Switzerland

Sooo... I need to stop blogging late at night. For one, I randomly add extra commas into my sentences and my grammar is poopy. Two, I don't include enough information because I'm tired.

Here's a summary of the rest of Espana:
1. I'm not the bragging type, but I consider myself pretty good at directions and finding my way; however, the streets in Sevilla are obnoxiously confusing. Also, the touristy map I used was missing about a thousand small streets. 

2. Malori & I went on an epic, yet extremely ridiculous adventure trying to find a place to watch flamenco dancing. We started off by following my crappy map to a place I had read about earlier in the day. Then, as we were standing on a street corner extremely concentrated on our maps, some random Spanish guys helped us with directions. However, instead of showing  us the nearby flamenco place we were already heading to, the guy told us that place was bad and drew dots on the map to where we should actually go to watch flamenco. Thus, ensued the ridiculous adventure. The flamenco place was about as hard as getting to something that is extremely hard to find. haha. Great simile- I know. After an hour and a half of walking around, we finally found the bar. It was a gem of a place. It looked like a total hole-in-the-wall type of venue. The walls sporadically had beautiful pictures of flamenco dancers and the place even had a really neat outdoor area. It was worth it! But... we decided to leave to get cheaper tapas before the flamenco show started. We found yummy tapas, but then we searched for the place for an hour yet again. I swear the bar moved or something. The only way we found it again was being guided by a British man on vacation with a fancy map. Then, once he lead us in the right direction he stopped and gave a10 minute "insightful" outlook on Spain. Basically, he told us to go to Barcelona and Madrid. haha. We were grateful for James, though.

3. The last full day I spent going to the Palace Alcazar, a beautiful historic palace with elaborate Isalmic decorated walls and  gorgeous gardens.

4. At night, I went on a "Tapas Tour" with people from all the hostels in the city. We traveled to different restaurants in the city trying the different tapas the different places serve. I met a guy from Austin, TX, two girls from DC, a Brit, an Italian couple, and a French guy.

5. Later, I met up with Malori, her inter-cambio, and her inter- cambio's best friend for drinks. Her inter cambio is a Spanish guy who is learning English, so they meet and he practices English and she practices Spanish. We spent half the time speaking Spanish and the other half in English. I definitely struggled with my Spanish, yet I was surprised that I could still communicate. It was fun and interesting to talk about their culture and lives. Somehow we discovered both of the gentlemen watched "Bob Esponja" when they were younger. It took as a moment till we discovered they meant "Spongebob Squarepants." I love moments like that in which a cultural similarities and differences become apparent.

6. I rode the train back to Malaga and took a flight to Basel, Switzerland.

Wednesday, September 28

Spain- Bob Esponja!

My second day in Espana began with me attending Catholic Mass for the first time. I went with the Vrenkens for Christmas, but before now I've never been to a regular Catholic service. Malori, Norman and I went to the service in the amazingly large and beautiful cathedral in the center of town. Since, Catholicism is such a huge part of many Spanish people's culture, I wanted to see a traditional Spanish service. Oh man, it was traditional. This made me contemplate why so many Europeans don't understand Christianity, think it's boring, and/or don't believe in God. I want to be careful not to disrespect the Catholic church or say they are doing anything wrong, though. However, popular European cities often have an elaborate Catholic cathedral that tourists and Europeans visit. Tons of money and time is put into creating these cathedrals. What about outreach? Reaching out to the lowlt, like Jesus? I know the Catholic church is known for providing many things to the poor and needy, but these cathedrals still make me question the intention behind the buildings. Malori is actually catholic and she says she struggles with the fact that these beautiful structures demonstrate the holiness of God and that we should honor the Lord with the best things, but she agrees that maybe the money should be spent elsewhere. These tourist visit these places of worship, many times little knowledge about Christianity, and see a stuffy place where one feels like they can't breath too loudly. Then, the services are soo boring, emotionless, and methodical. I respect the fact that some people prefer to worship God in such a manner and I believe it shouldn't always feel extremely easy/joyous to worship God, but if I didn't believe in God, why would a lifeless, stuffy service in an extremely wealthy building change my mind? Despite my questions with the cathedral, I'm glad I experienced the service. Also, I understood several of the "churchy" Spanish words thanks to my many years of attending a Hispanic church on mission trip. I was proud of myself. 

The rest of the day we spent exploring the beautiful city. Malori and I explored the side streets, where we found many hidden treasures. I love that Spaniards have what I would call courtyards inside their houses/apartments. Many times people leave the front door to their houses open and inside one can see a locked gate containing an open room full of plants and doors leading elsewhere. While peering into the open doorways, it made me feel like I had a chance to glimpse into the person's life- just a peek.

Also, I spent the first day trying to adapt to the different eating times. Literally, restaurants usually don't serve lunch until 1pm and then dinner until 8:30. I tried a classic Spanish dish called tortilla something. It was made out of egg, tortilla and onions. It tastes pretty bland, but still delicious. I also ate pappas with cheese. Spaniards love pappas y pappas fritas. (Fries & chips). I guess I expected most Spanish food to be similar to Tex-Mex, but that is not the case. Spanish food is pretty bland, while Tex-Mex has lots of spice and zestiness. Oh, and coolest thing EVER..."tapas." It's a small serving size that is cheap and it allows you to share dishes. You order a regular dish, but ask for tapas. It's great!

Well, I guess I'm only going to update little snap shots at a time.... Adioss!

Whitty P

Tuesday, September 27

Seville, Spain

Spain. Wow! Where do I start?

This country is beautiful! Since I flew into Malaga and not directly to Sevilla, I gained the opportunity to take the train, a fancy train I must say, into Sevilla. I think everyone should take a train through the countryside when traveling through Spain. I loved sitting, gazing out at the sun reflecting off the mountainous landscape, as quaint houses peaked through the hills, and the quiet clatter of the train sounding in the background. During my moments riding the train, I was at peace.

Since I arrived to Sevilla at a somewhat late hour and without prior knowledge of the bus system, I decided to go ahead and take a taxi to my hostel. Although, definitely much more expensive than a bus, in the taxi I got to roll down the window and let the warm breeze greet my face and see the twinkling lights of Sevilla. I immediately noticed the cleanliness of Sevilla and the fact that the city is large and bust, yet still feels small, similarly to Fort Worth.

The hostel I stayed in is much cleaner, friendlier, and comfortable than the other two hostels in which I stayed. At first, I was somewhat nervous, because I signed up for a 10 person mixed dorm room, but everyone was super friendly and respectful of one another's space. It also made for a better atmosphere to talk to other people staying in my hostel. Plus, the bathroom was super clean, which is always a good sign. :)

The first night I met up with Pearce & Malori, two of my friends studying for the semester in Sevilla, as well as; Norman, a Canadian living in London, who I invited from my hostel. Pearce suggested we meet at a pub called Texas Lone Star Pub. Normally, I would never go to a place with familiar food and people while on a vacation in another country, but since I've been away from Texas for a while now, it felt a little refreshing. American football aired on the televisions and one wall was covered with t-shirts from Texas universities.  I only wish the owners could top it all off by serving Shiner beer, but then I would just be spoiled.  Of course, we ended the night getting ice cream.

Cultural side notes: Spaniards have a few apparent cultural differences than my own. For one, staying out late, say 3 or 4, is perfectly normal for them. When a person "goes out" for the night, he or she doesn't go home until 5am or later. Even older people stay out late on weekends, according to Pearce who noted seeing a couple in their late 60's strolling the streets at 1am.  Also, eating schedules are different than in Texas. Normal lunchtime isn't until 2 or 3, right before siesta time, and lunch is typically the largest meal of the day. Dinner is usually eaten after 8pm, at the earliest. 

 More about Spain later, now I'm off to sleep in Switzerland. :)


Sunday, September 25

I'm In Espana!

Hola Amigos!

Soy en Espana por cinco dias. De ciudad es muy bonita!

I will post a longer update soon, but these tidbits for now...

1. I'm definitely learning a lot about Spain's unique culture, like staying up till 5am on certain evenings.
2. This country is sooo beautiful and quaint!
3. I reccomend taking a train through the countryside of Spain.
4. Flamenco dancing is wicked awesome!
5. My hostel is super nice and cheap.
6. I'm not sure how I feel about all of these elaborate and expensive Catholic Cathedrals. Respect but... really?!?
7. I already want to come back one day.
8. Spanish is really hard to remember after attempting to learn Dutch for so long.
9. I love meeting up with friendly faces in foreign countries.


Friday, September 23

When In Rome...

Blessings today...
- riding a train through the Italy
-Walking through the Roman Forum
- touring the massive Coliseum
- spending the day with a Bulgarian woman who lives in England and whom I met when I first arrived
- throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain
- astonished by the Pantheon
- grabbing dinner on the streets of Rome with Nadya, the Bulagrian woman, and the Italian man whose house she was couch surfing
- having a pretty decent hostel room all to myself
- meeting/talking to a room full of soon to be American Catholic Priests who are going to seminary in Rome
- drinking an Italian beer

Thanks to the Lord for the many gifts in my life!

Day 4

Thursday, September 22

Day 3

I walked EVERYWHERE yesterday. I saw parts of Florence that NO ONE has seen. No... but it was fun to explore off-the-map places. I really wanted to go see Michelangelo's David in the Accademia line, but the line was long and didn't open till way later in the day. I might try to go today. For lunch I ate a kabob on Neri street. Once again recommend by the wonderful Alison Panza. I know that kabob's are really a Turkish food and not Italian, but that kabob was fantastic! Plus, the man who works there is really nice.

Later, I went with Rachel and Lindsey exploring some of the markets. Basically, there are streets lined with tents with people selling all kinds of goods, mainly Italian leather purses. One tactic the sales people us is either calling you beautiful or I really like, "Hey, you dropped something!" Then, you are supposed to turn around looking for whatever you dropped, but since you didn't really drop anything they begin talking to you and then try to sell you something. Hey, it's kind of creative.

For dinner, we ate the best pizza EVER! Gusta Pizza. The pizza is cheap, simple, and extremely delicious. The restaurant is also simple and laid back. If you go to Florence, you definitley need to check out Gusta Pizza. 

At night a large group of us girls went to have drinks together. I pointed out how international we were because I invited two German girls staying with me in my hostel; Rachel invited a German friend and Denisa, the girl from the Czech Republic; and Lindsey invited her Dutch friend from class who brought along her Dutch roommates. I loved it! I think, being amidst different people is the most beautiful thing about traveling the world.

Tuesday, September 20

End of Day 1/ Day 2

Yes, so I landed in Florence and hopped on a bus that dropped me off at the main bus station. Instead of rushing off to find my hostel, I decided to sit on the nice grass, eat my sandwich, and absorb the fact I am in Italy. I quickly learned not to smile and act friendly towards Italian men, well at least not some of them. There I was happily sitting and enjoying my sandwich, when this late 40s Italian man stopped and said, "Ciao!" to me. Being the friendly person that I am I waved, smiled and said "Ciao!" as well. Before I knew what was happening, the man bent down to where I was sitting and starting touching my arm while talking to me. I politely told him "No, I'm not interested in pizza" and "No, we can't communicate again." Somehow he still managed to give me kisses on my cheeks. haha. Welcome to Italy!

I checked into my hostel, threw my stuff on my bunk and went exploring the city. I grabbed the nearest gelato I found and sat out on one of the "pontes"or bridges soaking up the beautiful and breathtaking city of Florence. Shortly afterwards, I met up with my friends Sarah and Lindsey from TCU who are studying abroad in Florence. They gave me a small tour of the area and then we sat outside and ate DELICIOUS Italian food. My lasagna was soo lekker!  (I keep wanting to use Dutch words when speaking.) Walking back to our beds that night felt magical. I'm in ITALY!

I stepped out of the hostel this morning to the sound of scooters and people. Florence is definitely an extremely busy city. I began my day by walking along the Arno river and admiring the morning sun. Then, I headed to the Duomo church and took plenty of pictures for Brett Peters to enjoy later. :) Thanks to my friend Alison, (who studied abroad here a year ago and gave me a list of to-dos,) instead of waiting in the longest line ever to climb to the top of the Duomo, I walked up the 417 steps of the camponello tower to get a better view of the church and the gorgeous landscape of the city. I spent some good time on the tower, because the views were just so spectacular.  Then, I visited the Bargello museum which was neat to see the ancient artwork and Donatello's David, but you can only look at pretty vases for so long before you start skimming through some of the exhibits. Mostly, I've enjoyed just walking around and sitting in random places, admiring the beautiful architecture. People watching is also, fun. I noticed that some people seem to only visit museums or spectacular buildings in order to get a picture. I watched people walk up take a picture then quickly walk away. It made me sad that they didn't sit and really take in what they are observing.

For lunch I met up with Lindsey and Sarah's roomie, as well as, Denisa, a girl studying here from the Czech Republic. I enjoyed walking around with two new friends getting to know them, while observing some great sites. Of course, we had to get gelato, too.

For diner, Rachel cooked hamburgers. It's been over two month since I've had a real hamburger and it tasted like home. Dutchies have "hamburgers" but it's Dutch meat on a bun only labeled a hamburger. After an exhausting day, it was nice to be in apartment full of good company.


Monday, September 19

I arrived in Florence!

Tom dropped me off at the Dusseldorf airport this morning,  in order to fly to FLORENCE. I left little Boxmeer feeling ready and excited for an adventure. I'm using this trip, of course, to see beautiful places on this earth, but at the same time listen to God and praise Him for his creation. I'm excited for the things I will see and experience.

Check in went smoothly. However, as I began walking to my appropriate gate number I noticed it was one of the very last gates.  Once I reached the end of the long walkway a sign with an arrow pointed me to the direction of my terminal. The arrow pointed down a tiny hall. I followed the tiny hall to a large door which displayed my gate number. The door automatically opened and I felt like I was entering a top secret lab or something. I walked through the door and down a small flight of stairs, through another automatic swinging door. Then, another. Finally! I arrived at the very small gate waiting area. I figured I must be flying in a pretty small plane...

The stewardess began calling different rows to begin boarding and I didn't notice, until I walked up to hand the stewardess my ticket, that all of us passengers first had to load onto a bus. The bus took us on a short trip to what seemed to be the middle of a runway. Then, we all unloaded and walked up the steps to board our small prop plane. Okay, I say small, but it was still fairly large for a flying craft; however, TO ME, it seemed teeny tiny.  I sat next to a nice, old German man from Cologne, Germany. His family is Polish and after talking to him, it sounds like he has traveled EVERYWHERE. I wish I can be like him and go on random road trips whenever I have free time.  Despite the baby aircraft rocking back and forth, we landed safely in Florence.

Okay, I will write more later. I know that was none of the exciting stuff but I'm too tired.

Thursday, September 8

Grocery Shopping in the Netherlands

You walk up to the grocery winkel(store) and as you are about to enter you get out a coin in order to retrieve a shopping cart. By the way, Europe has 1 euro and 2 euro coins, so for those of you who don't like spare change- you best watch yourself in Europe. You insert the coin into a slot on the cart's handle. As soon as you insert the coin, the chain attaching your cart to the cart stacked in front gets pushed out. (If you have ever been to an Aldi store, it's exactly like those carts, because Aldi is a Dutch store). It makes perfect sense. Everyone feels more liable to return their cart. I think Americans are more lazy and don't mind wasting money, though, so it might not work as smoothly back home.

You enter the small store and begin browsing around. Most grocery stores in the Netherlands are about the same size as a drugstore (CVS/ Walgreens). You walk past a machine which people can insert their plastic bottles or glass bottles and receive store credit. You can quickly make decisions about which brand of certain foods you want, because the store does not have an obnoxious amount of choices. For example; the cereal section is only a small section of a long shelf, instead of taking up an entire side of an aisle.

Now it's time to check out. You walk up to the check out line and see the cashiers either standing in front of a chair or actually sitting. Yes, most employees have the option of sitting during their shifts, as they help check out customers. How considerate of employers! If you want plastic bags for your purchased products, you must pay for large bags or stuff your items into tiny, flimsy plastic bags. You pay for your purchases and then hurry to place your items into bags and get out of the way, as the cashier begins sending the products of the next customer your way. However, the Dutchies are smart, so there is a sliding bar that can divide the bagging spot in half, so groceries do not mix once they start sending the products of the other customers your way.

You grab your bags, reattached your cart, retrieve your returned coin and head home.