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Walking the Seam

Well, with five minutes of internet time to spare, Ill just give you a news flash on where I am and have been in the last week…

Venice! Another place where I definitely felt the seam between east and west. It even has a name in Venice–Venetian Gothic. Buildings that blend European Gothic styles (pointed arches and four leaf clover windows) with Byzantine arches.I loved Venice–it just felt magical when our bus drove onto the highway and all that surrounded us was water. It really felt like checking our culture at the door when the bus parked and our only options were bridges and boats! The whole city just feels like a fantasy, a gelato dream of masks and canals and delicious Italian food and sunsets over the ocean.

And now were in the Cinque Terre, Italy, our last stop on this trip, and possibly the most beautiful place on earth. Yesterday I swam in the Ligurian Sea, ate mout-watering gelato and focaccia, wrote stories on a rock by the ocean, walked the Via dell Amore, and watched the sun set in coral and gold over the sea…I feel like Ive accumulated a lifetimes worth of life experience in these last 3 months…chock full of experiences, challenges, delights, obstacles, and joys (and lots of beautiful views!) I cant wait to get home and hug you all, but its just been the most amazing adventure. I wish I could pack a suitcase of gelato for you, but what I do have a lot of is pictures…ask me about them when Im home and Ill be happy to pull out more images of adventure than you ever thought existed!

I love you all…will be home the evening of the 19th, God willing!

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Dear friends-welcome to the Slovenian keyboard. And welcome to Slovenia! Just a brief update in between adventures–

Prague finished up wonderfully. A really unique city, not as tourist-blitzed as many of the more western European cities, with lots of charm and cool nooks and crannies to explore. I really, really enjoyed the Strahov Monastery Library, with amazing views of the city and lots of old things-books, but also mummified sting rays, giant conch shells, and a 12th century coat of mail! Also really enjoyed getting to hear a classical music concert–so, so beautiful.

Next was a blitz stop of Vienna–arrived late one evening, ate Thai food courtesy of a jolly Austrian proprietor, and had just the next day to see the Singing City–where music was being perpetually played, memorialized, or advertised for later that night! We got cheap standing-room tickets for Madama Butterfly at the Vienna Opera House, and enjoyed the 1st half of the performance before deciding we would expire in the wave of un-air-conditioned humidity and body odor if we watched the end. A lovely, grand building, though. Another highlight was Wiener Melange–delicious Viennese coffee. Goes excellently with Sacher Torte (more chocolate than I care to tell you about)!

And now, Lake Bled, Slovenia! I spent a bleak Winter Quarter fantasizing about a turquoise lake with a pointy-spired church on an island in the middle (please, do yourself a favor and Google Image Search it…I spent 3 months doing it, and it is quite an effective daydreaming technique) and… today I went swimming in it!!! I walked along the lakeside, admiring the distant green hills, the church on the island, and the swans sailing the turquoise waters (they really are turquoise!) and then laid down my towel and waded in! I feel like I am dreaming! It is glorious, and now I really need a shower.

1 more week left of the Grand Adventure–after here, Italy is the final country! After doing 4 countries in a week, that sounds like a stroll in the park! It is truly lovely here, though, and nice to have a secluded lakeside town in which to relax after that massive bombardment of cities. Met an American couple on the bus who were from San Francisco. It is a small world…but not that small. I also saw men walking around the train in lederhosen today. Never a dull moment.

Well, the strange kezboard sazs, Δ†Good night!Δ† DonΔ‡t ask me how to saz that in Slovenian…

The Last 2 Weeks

Aaaaack!

So, I’ve been so busy living the last 2 weeks that I’ve had no spare moment to write about them. But I’ve been a lot of places since then, so this is going to be a panoramic post, covering snapshots of the 4 different countries I’ve been in since bank holiday weekend (Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.).

Second half of the Spain trip was spent in Granada, another Andalucian town with a strongly Moroccan flavor since it’s so far south. It was a really interesting junction of Europe and the Middle East; one of those seams you sometimes find when 2 different parts of the world crash into each other. I loved it; it was a darker, more intense flavor than Seville, with a Moroccan quarter where you could get Moroccan Mint Tea (see photo) served in Arabic-style tea rooms with glittery curtains and padded benches for reclining πŸ™‚ It’s also the home of the Alhambra, made famous by Washington Irving’s (poem? story? I have to admit I haven’t read it, but there’s a big statue of him out front.) It’s a combination of fortress-on-a-hill, fairy-tale sugar palace in the Moorish style of architecture, (see other picture) and lavish, huge formal garden that just overflowed with roses, grapevines, jacaranda, orange trees, bougainvillea, and every other kind of tropical flower you could imagine πŸ™‚ It was gorgeous. Getting back from Spain was a little hairy, though: we took 5 forms of transportation plus our feet, braved 113-degree weather, and got back to our student apartments at 1:30 AM…we were relieved to speak English again and be back in time for class the next morning!

Then it was 3 days of London to wrap up British Isles Quarter 2010 😦 It’s been an incredibly wonderful trip, and seeing it end was sad. It meant saying goodbye to 24 friends, most of whom I didn’t know at all 2 1/2 months ago. I hope we’re able to stay in contact as we go our separate ways. We had a farewell picnic in Russell Square Park, eating things as diverse as baguettes, sushi, grapes, and ‘hobnob biscuits’ (a British brand of cookies :P) and doing short scenes from Shakespeare in small groups–part of our final for the class. It was fun to get a taste of being the actors whose work we’ve so admired on this trip. See the group picture for the variety of faces that shared this quarter together πŸ™‚ Also blitzed away the 3 days pumping out 4 essays, braving the British post office to lighten my load of stuff, and visiting Westminster Abbey–I’d seen it before, but after a few years of higher education, it was cool to see how many more of the historical and literary graves I recognized.

Friday the majority of the group headed for home, and four of us–Cathy, Heidi, Ali, and me–taxied away from London at the ungodly hour of 3:15 AM to catch a short flight to Berlin! We’re beginning 2 weeks of travel on the Continent that promises to be very different from our time in Britain–but full of intense and diverse learning experiences! I’m learning that we come to know God more through his word and through his world–by walking through the long, long gallery of this Artist’s works, I’m coming to understand more facets of who he is. One of my favorite things about Berlin was getting to go to an international church, with attendees from 48 different countries, where I met girls from Australia, Germany, and Singapore in one morning πŸ™‚ It was really cool to see how the family of God stretches all over the world! And of course, Berlin was a great experience for its history: a city that has existed in its present form for fewer years than I’ve been alive, and yet has existed in some form since the 1200s. I stood in the parking lot that’s paved over Hitler’s bunker, and laid my hand on the Wall that cut the world in half and fell only 21 years ago (see the last picture). It was sobering; a terrifying history made very real. Walking through the Jewish Memorial, an acre of standing stones of irregular height in a public square, was overwhelming–realizing that, had I lived a few decades ago and on the other side of the world, their doom would have been mine. I think Berlin should be a required field trip for students, so that the horrors that happened here may never happen again.

Phew. And now we’re in Prague, in the Czech Republic! It was a little intimidating to change currency and language to something so far removed from our own, but I’m loving the city–such varied architecture and so many old buildings, many of them weathered black. Last night we ate goulash and watched the sun set from Charles Bridge. Today we walked the city with a young British guide (her accent sounded so good after a few days of being away!) and learned more of the history of this little-studied but rich location. So many bloody battles and military suppressions have happened here. And yet it’s so vibrant, another seam on the boundary between East and West–with kings named Wenceslas (yes, think Christmas carols…but the one in the song was actually a duke :)) as well as Virgin Mary sculptures on the street corners (as landmarks to help illiterate people give directions around the city :)). It’s really cool to be here.

Now I’m going to go be here a bit more. Just wanted to let you know I’m still alive and fill you in a bit more on what I’m up to πŸ™‚ I’ll be home in about a week and a half! Looking forward to seeing (some) of you soon! I’ll post again before then if I can!

Pictures!

Spain!!

So, my last post was ‘reheated’ from a couple of days ago when the computer wouldn’t cooperate…and now I’m in a different country! It’s our long weekend off school,Β  and Alyssa and I are in Seville, Spain! Oh, it’s glorious. The stats on getting here were a little scary: 1 backpack each, 2 languages used, 5 forms of transportation taken…oh boy. But then we stepped off the plane into a tropical, dusky sunset and drove past blooming jacaranda trees and window boxes full of potted red geraniums…:) Our hostel is a converted old mansion, with cool white marble floors and a rooftop terrace with hammocks and a cool-water jacuzzi! Wow, it’s nice to be warm, and to relax. The old Spanish is coming out for some exercise: I’ve asked for an ATM, booked a taxi, bought cathedral tickets, and ordered paella…blessed mother, thank you for all those years of making me do conjugations πŸ˜›

Today has just been lovely. Alyssa and I spent breakfast trying to decipher the back of the juice boxes. Juice here is ‘zumo’, not ‘jugo’, and pineapple juice is apparently gluten-free and low in calories. Fancy that! πŸ˜›Β  Then we set out wandering. We’re in the Triana district of Seville, and the buildings are brightly colored along narrow, winding cobblestone streets, overhung with wrought-iron balconies and lots of tropical plants and flowers. Alyssa will tell you, I just can’t stop taking pictures of them πŸ™‚ (see attached photos…) we visited the cathedral, which is apparently the world’s largest gothic cathedral by volume (it’s HUGE–felt like a small city in itself!) and saw the tomb of–guess who?–Christopher Colombus! I didn’t know this, but Seville’s Real Alcazar palace is apparently the site of his negotiations with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella…wow!

Next was said Real Alcazar–an amazing, old, and beautiful palace. Its oldest parts are fromΒ  the 10th century!! and its architecture is a cool blend of Spanish and Moorish–at times I almost felt like I was in the Middle East! Gorgeous sculpture and frescoes; every inch of every surface seemed decorated with something. And the gardens were also incredible–everything grows here! So many colors and sweet smells, all in the tropical breeze πŸ™‚

Oh, and guess what? We saw men sitting on the street corners playing classical guitar, while horse-drawn carriages clattered by (see photo :P) This one’s for you, Daniel!

For lunch, we got brave and ordered seafood paella in Spanish–and it came, complete with a shrimp with its eyes and claws still attached O,O The rest of it was good, though…and we tried fresh-squeezed Sevillan orange juice as well. And when I say fresh, I mean, the orange just jumped out of its peel and into the glass. It was amazing!

And just walking the streets has been one of the most fun things so far. Last night the moon was full and golden, and it was just warm and peaceful and relaxed–so nice. I’m really thankful we came, and am enjoying it a lot πŸ™‚ It’s so warm they didn’t even give us blankets for our beds, just a top and bottom sheet! Tonight we’re going out to try and find tapas and flamenco…I’m so excited!

Con carino de Espana, *can’t find the tilde on this keyboard*…

Alina

London pictures!

Hello from London!

This is the last stop of BIQ 2010! The quarter ends June 4th, but IΒ΄ll be traveling afterwards for 2 weeks in Eastern Europe, so you can keep reading if you’d like (assuming I can continue to find internet :P).

So, London…is crazy. I was not made a city girl, and this city makes Seattle, let alone San Jose, look like kiddie pools. There is no place to be alone: you share every single space, and I do mean EVERY space, with other human beings. Want to read a word-sketch I did of the Tube (London’s subway system)? If not, skip to the next paragraph πŸ˜›

a tube

filled up with

carbon-dioxide-breathing

sweating

exhaling

humanity

creating imaginary private space

in a jumble of

shoulders, bellies, elbows, necks

packed and sealed

just add tomato juice

then shipped off packing

hurtling through the

anonymous dark

without an inch of air

to call your own.

eyes dropped

to hide within

in a crowded world that would rather you fell out

to make room for more

on the daily train

to nowhere.

This is the next paragraph πŸ˜› You can see why London makes me feel squished. Also, I think my lungs are revolting against the cigarette smoke of 7 1/2 million people. Everybody smokes here. After the idyllic quiet of the Quilt and Croissants in Stratford, I’m sorry to say I’m not such a fan of London. There’s good news, however: a) it’s an amazingly concentrated center of culture and history, b) the weather has decided to be Italian summer for the last 3 days, and c) I’ve spent the weekend outside the city πŸ˜€ I’ll describe all of the above in a bit more detail.

We arrivProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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midday on Friday, dumped our stuff in the cookie-cutter Nido student apartments (Alyssa and I entered our room to find forgotten construction tools all over the floor–apparently the handyman got a bit absentminded after tinkering with the baseboards…), and buzzed around town for 6 hours on a blitz of the history of the world: a.k.a. the British Library and Museum. The Library has to be my favorite place in London, and maybe one of my favorite in the world. It’s a treasure trove of the oldest, coolest books you could think of: from the original manuscript of Beowulf to Shakespeare’s First Folio to the Magna Carta to the Gutenberg Bible to Beatles songs written on napkins πŸ™‚ I’d been here before, so I didn’t die as much as last time, but having gone to college since then, I felt like I appreciated what I was looking at a lot more. I not only got REALLY excited over the handwritten copy of Jane Eyre; I was able to read some of the Greek on an ancient authoritative manuscript of the New Testament!!! There was also a cool display of beautiful old maps. And if that wasn’t enough mental overstimulation, then we booked it down the street to the British Museum–basically the whole world in one building (also a tribute to British imperialism–most of it was lifted when most of the world belonged to Britain, and never returned…) Nonetheless, it was awe-inspiring: from the Rosetta Stone (yes, the real one!) to the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon (including the one that inspired John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”!!) and the oldest chess set in the world, the Lewis Chessmen from Scotland πŸ™‚ I went back today to see the Sutton Hoo artifacts; the 1939 discovery that unlocked Anglo-Saxon culture to the modern world.

Phew. London is insane. I might be a little insane after being here, too… Saturday, a bunch of us went on a bus tour of Stonehenge and Bath (!!!) with a lovely English guide who called us her “chickadees” as she was counting heads on the bus… Stonehenge was crowded on the hot, hot summer day, but WELL worth the visit: it’s just so majestic, standing there alone on the Salisbury Plain; these huge stones that got there so mysteriously. No one really knows what they were for, either, except that they line up with the sun at the solstices. Bath was really fun, too. The golden sandstone of the buildings practically glowed in the afternoon light, and touring the Roman Baths that have been there since the 1st century AD made me feel like I was in Italy, not western England…I also went into the Pump Room (see picture with me making a gross face)Β  and tasted the water from the natural hot spring…it was nasty. Supposed to have curative powers; whatever. I did feel like I was in a Jane Austen novel, though, “promenading” around the streets (even though I missed the costuming memo :P) and watching all the Brits on holiday πŸ˜›

Sunday Alyssa, Hannah, Laura and I went to Oxford: the university town whose primary draws for me were a) the Bodleian Library (biggest university library in the world, I think; which holds a hard copy of EVERY book and magazine printed…they own pretty much the whole underground of Oxford for storage!) and b) Tolkien and Lewis stomping grounds. I actually got to eat lunch at the Eagle and Child, the famous pub where the Inklings would sit and discuss their work on Tuesdays (!!!) and walked around the beautiful Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis taught (I even saw the windows of his old rooms!) Laura and I strolled down Addison’s Walk, where Lewis and Tolkien would walk and talk about their books and theology…we pretended to be them, and it was marvelous! There was a scent of wisteria in the cloisters that smelled like it came straight from heaven πŸ™‚

So, getting out of London for the weekend proved to be a very good thing after all πŸ™‚ Today I stayed in and had class, then met a friend and went back to the British Museum. I braved the Tube at rush hour (BAD idea–even though I think every hour is rush hour–the train was literally PACKED with people, shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into that little box. So many people, herded around like cattle…see above poem 😑 )

But, aside from the Tube, there are some very amazing things to see in London. Alyssa and I are going to Spain for our long weekend this weekend (!!! Sevilla and Granada!) and are planning to fill up the rest of the time with such amazements as seeing Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, visiting the Tower of London, and seeing Westminster Abbey. I guess you put up with the mechanics of a city in order to appreciate the treasures it encloses. Nonetheless, I would not live here for anything. Give me green fields and the river Avon any day πŸ™‚

Anyway, here are some pictures for you–hopefully they’re pretty self-explanatory, covering Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, and London in that order πŸ™‚ Enjoy, and God bless!