Pick a Favorite?

Every Monday, the classroom is filled with chatter about what everyone did the previous weekend.

“How did you like [insert city name here]?” “What did you do there?” “Oh, I loved/didn’t like that city” “What’s your favorite place you’ve been so far?”

Of course I participate in these pre-class discussions. How could I not? The problem, my answers tend to all be the same: I honestly loved all the places I traveled to. And pick my favorite city? How could I possibly do that? Every city was beautiful to me, each in their own ways.

Berlin, Germany

The first trip I went on. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to go when I was abroad, but I’m so glad we went. There’s so much history in Berlin, and it was cool being able to learn about a lot of it. For example, there’s a square in Berlin where there are two identical churches that face each other. The story behind it was that the two church communities (French and German) didn’t want to worship together, so they built two of the exact same churches in the same square.

The food in Germany was absolutely to die for. The pretzels, apple strudel, schnitzel, and currywurst…oh my goodness, we ate so much on that trip. We all tried new foods in Berlin. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but now I want to go back and eat more!

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was on the top of my to-travel-to list. I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Spain since forever, and it was the first plane ticket that I bought.

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to Barcelona was that I was able to see two of my friends from Hope who were also studying abroad in Europe. We planned to meet up there, and it was such a wonderful weekend.

We woke up early and went for a little run on the beach, followed by a delicious brunch (where my sandwich had a guacamole syringe in it)! Then we wandered around the city for hours, admiring the Gaudi architecture. La Sagrada Familia was even bigger and more impressive in person. After snapping many pictures, we found a small shop where we spent some time eating gelato and churros and enjoying the warm air.

The best part was by far getting to see Grant and Anna. It was wonderful getting to see familiar faces, and spend time with each other exploring a beautiful city.

Florence and Rome, Italy

Spring break in Italy? Yes, please! Oh, Italy was so sunny and warm–a nice contrast from the chilly February air in London.

In every city we traveled to (in and out of Italy) we always found something to climb that offered a view of the city. After filling ourselves up with pizza, we hiked up to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

463 steps to the top…so totally worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking. You could see the entirety of Florence. With the combination of the view and the warm afternoon sunshine, my friends and I spent close to an hour at the top of the Duomo.

Rome was also wonderful. It had history that I’d loved learning about since middle school, and sights that never seemed to end. But the best part of Rome was the pasta dish Gircia. A.k.a my new favorite pasta. It was pasta, pancetta, and percorino cheese. If only I’d taken a picture. Oh I could have eaten that pasta forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belfast, Northern Ireland

We had a very specific reason for traveling to Belfast: Game of Thrones tour. When we found out that many of the filming locations were in Northern Ireland, how could we pass up the chance to see them?

We went to the place where they filmed Winterfell, got to meet the dogs that played direwolf pups, and ate lunch at the hotel where the cast stayed while they were filming. It was a day filled with fangirling, costumes worn by extras, archery, and lots and lots of smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaga, Spain

Not going to lie, although I said I couldn’t pick a favorite, I loved Spain enough that I went back. This time to the south coast: Costa del Sol. Boy, did that name deliver. It was 70 degrees the entire weekend; warm enough to wear shorts (much to the locals dismay). We hiked up to the top of the fortress, went and experienced a flamenco show, and even took a day trip to Seville.

The Alcazar in Seville was stunning. The vibrant colors and smells that perfumed the air made the experience even better. I wanted to turn that scent into a candle so I could have it with me always.

On our last day, we spent the afternoon on the beach. I hadn’t been to the beach in so, so long. One of my favorite parts of going to the beach when I was younger was looking for shells. That’s exactly what I did.

So yeah, I can’t pick a favorite place. Each of these cities were beautiful in their own way. Honestly, they couldn’t compare to each other. It would be a shame to choose any of these over another.  I wish I could’ve spent weeks and months in these places, exploring every little nook and cranny and experiencing everything they have to offer. Maybe one day I’ll return…or I may be adventuring in a new city. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Goodbyes and Hellos

I’ll start this post by saying: I definitely picked the right country to do my study abroad. The pace of life is slower, tourists don’t flood what few city streets exist, and nature dominates most of the land.  The snowcapped mountains expand much of the island, leaving a trail of sparkling blue glacial lakes where the glaciers once stood.  Every way you turn is a new and spectacular view, and you can’t help but marvel at the creation God has displayed before you.  I love to sit and imagine in those moments just how much fun He must’ve had in creating this earth and how fortunate we are to enjoy moments like these…these beautiful, peaceful, blissful moments where the silence is deafening.  I love these moments.

Lake Tapeko
Lake Tapeko: a magnificent blue glacial lake

From Christchurch, we drove south to Queenstown, a place comparable to Aspen, Colorado. From there, we continued south to the southern most tip in New Zealand, Invercargill Bluff.

Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica
Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica

 

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Following Queenstown, we took the scenic route back to Christchurch, but, unfortunately, the rainy weather prevented us from seeing much of the Southern Alps.  We did take a short hike up to Fox Glacier despite the rain.  The glacier has retreated so far in recent years that it is now only accessible by helicopter drop-off…a true testament to the impact global warming is having on nature’s wonders.

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people

We spent the last day of our ‘holiday’ in Christchurch, seeing the city, and exploring the east coast some.  We were really surprised to find such little shopping in Christchurch for it being the largest city on the south island, but locals informed us the 2011 earthquakes wiped out much of the city and they are still in the process of rebuilding. Many roads are closed, most buildings are held up with scaffolding, and box cars block much of the damaged buildings from collapsing onto roads.  It’s hard to see such a beautiful place have to recover from such devastation.

A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
Art College all boarded up following damage
Scaffolding supported many damaged, yet to be fixed. buildings

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We ended the night early with lamb burgers and the inevitable packing/rolling/smooshing of all the accumulated souvenirs and keepsakes over the last couple weeks.  An early morning calls for an early bedtime.  Tonight, I cherish my last night of heat: heated beds, heated towel racks, and heated rooms. _____________________________________________________________________________

For the past two and a half weeks, I have played the role of tourist with my parents.  We spent over 30 hours on a plane, visited over 10 cities, drove 1,700 miles in the car, and made countless memories.  And, tomorrow I say goodbye to my parents and hello to the 13 other students who will become like family.  Actually, tomorrow is filled with a lot of goodbyes and new hellos.  I say goodbye to my tourist lifestyle and hello to ‘local living.’  I say goodbye to central heating and hello to layers.  I say goodbye to the luxury of daily internet connection and hello to human connection.  These goodbyes (particularly central heating) are all going to be difficult, but I’m ready to embrace these new hellos, to experience something outside myself, beyond myself.  I’m ready to let myself change, to let myself become someone new through these experiences.  I’m ready for Hello.