Tag Archives: Europe

Postcard: Leon, Spain

Posted by on August 15th, 2014


Consider this one of those postcards that you get and then notice rather than being sent from the exotic location pictured on the front, it didn’t get postmarked until about a week after the sender arrived home. I had ambitions of doing an update (or two) from my time in Spain but after the first couple of days of working well into the night and next morning, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Continue reading

The European Odyssey: Here we stand at the end of all things

Posted by on July 30th, 2008

I thought I might pretend that I had been keeping up on the blog and post three updates about Avignon, the Alps, and Rome; hoping you would think that I’ve been matching your enthusiasm for reading with mine for writing. However, the truth is that I am sitting in the kitchen of our last hostel in London and this is the first chance I have had to use a computer this week. The last week of this trip was quite the whirlwind tour. Starting with a few days of rest in Avignon, then a race up, down, and trough the Alps, a very late (early) night in Rome, the Vatican, seeing the rest of Rome in one day, and finally a flight to London which put us in our hostel around four in the morning. Like the rest of this trip, there was a lot of taking the good with the bad, and like the rest of this trip the good won out in the end. If I had to do it all again, all the stress, all the planes and busses, and all the sleeplessness I would. Below you will find photos from the last week, keep checking back in the next few days as we will probably write a few more blogs after we get home. See you all soon.


The European Odyssey: Almost Homeless in Rome

Posted by on July 26th, 2008

Two in the morning, lost, and tired. No one wanted to say it but everyone was thinking it “this is like Paris all over again”. We departed Chamonix early to ensure that we would arrive on time at our apartment in Rome.  Everything was going smoothly until Brig where our train was delayed.

By the time we reached Milan we could not catch a train that would get us to Rome before dark. The train from Milan to Rome was further delayed placing us in Rome in the dead of night. At one in the morning we arrived in the Trastevere neighborhood and started looking for the apartment. We were using directions that I had written from Google Earth but it was getting us nowhere.

Finally Ben and I headed into downtown Rome to find an internet café or an adaptor for the laptop because Italy is on different plugs than the rest of Europe. Around seven we found an adaptor and wifi and wrote down new directions. These directions proved to be as useless as the first making us wander aimlessly around some very steep hills. I trekked back into Rome (I think I saw the entire city in one night) and found the correct directions in an old email. We tiredly trudged across Rome one more time arriving 12 hours late but glad for a bed.

The European Odyssey: Walking Granada at Night

Posted by on July 21st, 2008

Granada, Spain — I have just returned from a hike through Albayzin, the Moorish district of Granada. I began my trek from the top of Alhambra down a cobblestone lane so steep and so slick that the brave mountain bikers who attempted to descend it couldn’t use their brakes. The lane flanked the north-eastern wall of the Alhambra, blood-red in the sinking sun. I continued down through the Sultan’s gardens and into a modern neighborhood. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Luke Hawkins Remembers Granada

Posted by on July 21st, 2008

By Luke Hawkins — Take me back to Granada. As my pipe smoke curled and swayed in the half breeze above Plaza del Carmen, I stood staring from our balcony at the cathedral lit in the distance, listening as an accordion player paced the alley next to our hotel. The sound of moped exhaust and clanking tapas bars blended with animated Spanish voices. We’re leaving Granada tomorrow, and I’m already missing it.

I understand why my mom fell in love with this place years ago. I understand how it could become one of those oddly familiar memories that lodges itself in the back of your brain. I could love this place for its narrow streets cast in detailed stone work, its walls and alleys artfully lined with evocative graffiti, its kebab shops, and its unrestricted moped daredevils. And I could love this place for its romance – the flamenco foot stomp and the mother pushing her son in a stroller through the plaza at midnight.

Granada stays up late. The city starts breathing heavy after ten o’ clock, with tapas joints filling up and benches being claimed by elderly couples jockeying for prime position in front of the one of the city’s many fountains. It’s at night when this place starts to sound like it looks – when the old Spanish architecture, touching old Moorish tradition, blends in the hot moonlight with flamenco guitar, winding accordion melody, and occasional lamenting vocals of one of the saints of Granada, soaring above everything, aided by Spanish wine and the flavor of age. With this swaying sound, Granada moves under the moonlight.

 Some cities move fast. They run at such a break neck speed that there’s no time for faces or names. In Granada, it’s a different kind of fast. It’s like a racing pulse. It’s like a dance that stays hot and locked in ten steps. It moves and it blurs, but it keeps the music; it honors people. It is a speed that is utterly human. Even the heat here is human – you can watch the local people walking down the main street at noon with glistening foreheads from the direct Spanish sun, and you can sense some esoteric vibration that links them to one another.

During our three days in Granada, we played the part of witnesses, with ice cream or kebab in hand, we sat and stared as the city carried on its work. African immigrants hawking sunglasses and Lacoste polos on the sidewalks blurred with the Turkish Kebab shop employees and homeless men sitting shirtless on park benches. The Alhambra in all its detailed glory – boasting Arabic carvings with 9000 praises to Ala, hundreds of chambers with thousands of years of history, fountains, marble, domed ceilings, geometrically stunning gardens, and the terraced houses, sitting stacked on the surrounding hills – it amazed us, enveloped us, and because it was massive, made us thoroughly tired. And near the Alhambra, the narrow Spanish alley-ways melted into the Moorish neighborhood, called the Albayzin, standing as a testament to the historical interplay between Catholicism and Islam. We came into this place from a completely different world, at a completely different pace. The more we saw of Granada, the more we loved it. I think we’ll miss this place.



The European Odyssey: The Healing Power of Music

Posted by on July 21st, 2008

Granada, Spain  — I don’t think that I have hidden the fact that Paris was not my favorite place on earth. I had fun seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Seine but other than that it was stressful and trying.

After we dropped Caleb off at Charles de Gaulle Airpot Luke and I were heading back into the city on the metro. A woman in her late 50’s or early 60’s walked up to the door a few seats in front of me. She announced in French that she was going to sing and she appreciated our attention. She began to sing a haunting melody in Arabic.

Her voice was remarkably good, and the song so powerfully I could not help but feel calm. After she finished, she walked around the train with a paper cup collecting tips, I gave her two euro because she had done a great service of healing Paris for me. From that moment on I no longer felt the stress that had been associated with getting people to the right train or plane, I just felt happy.


The European Odyssey Seville: Port to the New World

Posted by on July 18th, 2008

Granada, Spain — Eighteen hours into a bus from Paris to Madrid, I was beginning to have doubts about Spain. The bus was not as intolerable as flying, and I was glad to be out of Paris, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was driving through the central valley. The countryside was comprised of small houses, a little smog, and nothing but dry flatland for miles around. Madrid’s bus station didn’t do much to ease my worries. The station is located in a very sterile section of town, filled with carbon copy apartments, freeways, and rows of well groomed trees. Thankfully the metro was located in the same station sparing our travel weary legs from walking. As with London, and Paris I’ve seen more of Madrid’s Metro than I have seen of the city itself. Madrid possesses one of the best metros I have ever seen. Although London may surpass Madrid in convenience and consistence Madrid’s metro is modern, clean, and spacious. After some fancy Navigation around closed lines we arrived at Madrid’s train station. The train station in Madrid echoes the metro, modern and spacious. It is hard to imagine that only four decades ago Spain was a in the throws of the Franco regime.

Even though Europe has presented challenges at every turn; reservations, transportation, and language barriers it still is extremely enjoyable. There is only one thing that completely depresses me here… the apartments. London, Dublin, Paris, Madrid; all filled with apartments that could have been made in one factory and shipped out across Europe. Six stories, square corners, slapped on exterior decoration. The worst part about these cookie cutter abodes is that they are made of concrete slabs and stone. Americans are often criticized for being wasteful; these apartments are the opposite of wasteful. Monstrosities of symmetry have loomed above the European skyline for at least the last 40 years and will be around for perhaps hundreds more. I think my depression stems from two roots. First I can’t help but feel that some of the magic of Europe is lost in the shadow of the high-rise. Secondly, as Luke Hawkins so eloquently put it, “Everywhere has the same kind of ugly”. The ugliness does not come from the architecture; the ugliness comes from what the architecture represents. Poverty, segregation, stagnation seem to emanate from the buildings. The influx of immigrants and the need to modernize have made quickly build-able apartments necessary. While there is no going back one hopes that the soul of a place will not be completely sacrificed for an easy fix to complex problems.

Excitement mixed with tiredness is a funny blend. On the one hand, you make mistakes like thinking a metro line is a river, and on the other hand you’re using the bars in the subway to do pull-ups. This blend of exhaustion from the bus ride and excitement about reaching our destination followed us as we prepared to board the AVE bullet train to Seville. A few miles outside of Madrid, I knew I was going to like Spain. The flatland had been replaced with rolling hills. The landscape was dotted with whitewashed houses, olive groves, and red soil that evoked scenes from Hemmingway and Gladiator.

When you walk out the front door of the Seville train station, you see the top of the Giralda bell tower, peaking out above the rooftops. Rick Steves said to head for the city center right under the tower, so we did. Rick Steves also told us to get a cab, but we didn’t. One hour and forty five minutes later, sun burnt, sweaty, and in search of water, we arrived at our hostel. Triana Backpackers Hostel has the best atmosphere of any hostel we have stayed at so far. The entry way leads through a teardrop archway into a lounge filled with Moorish tile work. The floors are marble and refreshingly cool durring hot Sevillian days. Two flights of stairs reach the open rooftop cabana filled with couches, hammocks, and exotic plants. I know Seville is littered with nice hotels but for €19 a night I would recommend Triana Backpackers to anyone visiting Seville. We were located in the Triana neighborhood which is where the locals live and eat. Two streets to the north west of our hostel lies Calle Del Betis; a river front street with eateries open until the wee hours of the morning. One particularly good place to stuff your face is Ali Baba’s, located about 50 meters south of the Isabella II Bridge. I have found a new love for kebabs on this trip; for €5 at Ali Baba’s you can have a huge amount of meat rolled up in a tortilla.

One of our best discoveries in Seville was the Sevici bicycle system. You pay a €5 subscription and a €150 refundable deposit and you can pick up and drop of bikes at any one of the many kiosk around the city. You are charged an hourly fee to encourage returning bikes to keep the system running smoothly but it is minimal (I paid €5 in fees over three days). Exploring Seville while dodging cars, pedestrians, and trains, is definitely a highlight of this trip. If you’re young or young at heart, Seville was made to be seen from a bicycle.

Triana Backpackers offered a free Flamenco night so we headed off through the streets of Seville surrounded by crowds of Americans and Australians looking for an “authentic” Spanish experience. As we walked we met Suzy, a girl from Canada traveling Europe for a few months. She was reading Shane Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution so the Lukes got to have a long conversation with her about what God was doing in all of our lives. She said that we reminded her of her brothers and that it was good to have someone to talk to about God. We arrived at a bar overflowing with tourists and sangria. I had some Tapas (small appetizers); my choices were chicken pepper salad and couscous. Tapas are pretty much the same no matter what bar you visit €2 for a saucer sized plate of one of the many different dishes. A man in his 50’s walked up to the stage and commanded the crowd to be silent. He explained the rules; no photos, no talking, and concentrate. Spanish singing is a haunting mix of an Islamic call to prayer mixed with a heavy lament. There is nothing like a flamenco guitarist gracefully strumming and picking the guitar at blistering speeds. After three songs the dancer rose from her seat and began to twirl and tap with such intensity that you felt she was always on the verge of collapse, yet she continued to dance. Even if the atmosphere of the bar did not live up to our expectations, the performers had us standing in awe of their skill.

Seville’s business hours run on the siesta clock. Open in the morning, closed in the afternoon, open till late at night. The reason for this is the sweltering summer heat of midday. We found our selves in the Barrio de Santa Cruz (the winding old Jewish district) during the afternoon heat and in desperate need of food and drink. We found one of the many cafes and decided it would be a good place to eat because of the hunks of dried meat and garlic hanging form the ceiling. The food was a little “tourist” priced but it didn’t matter because we were starving a parched, Coke has never tasted so good. I ordered a delightfully cool bowl of Gazpacho relaxed to the sounds of a blaring radio reporting football scores in Spanish. To top off the evening, a thunderstorm blew in just as we were leaving the café, blanketing the town in magnificent light and clouds.

Two things attract visitors to Seville; the cathedral and the Alcazar. The Cathedral and the Alcazar dominate the eastern end of the town square and behind them lays the Barrio de Santa Cruz. The three locations reveal much about Spain’s cultural past. The Cathedral represents the Catholic influence, the Alcazar the Moorish, and Santa Cruz is a stark reminder of the country’s Jewish past. During the Moorish rule of Spain, Christians and Jews were allowed to live but were taxed heavily. After the Reconquista, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella dreamed of a Catholic empire ruled by divinely appointed monarchs, leading to the forced expulsion or conversion of virtually all the Jews and Moors in Spain. People still suspected the converts as secretly practicing their old religions and conspiring against the Christians. People blamed the Jews for everything from sacrificing babies to poisoning water sources. Finally the Spanish Inquisition was initiated vast numbers of people (historians differ on the exact amount) were tortured, made to confess to heresy and burned at the stake.

Perhaps it is the history behind it or perhaps it was the shear grandeur of the thing itself, but entering into the cathedral was an awe-inspiring experience. Luke Gebauer said it best when we entered into the massive, arched sanctuary: “it’s like Lord of the Rings”. I have never seen architecture so grand in my life. We approached the high alter with 40 images of Christ life. The entire gospel set in wood and gold was truly a sight to behold. I have, for most of my life, been critical of the extravagance of the Catholic Church. I have felt that the money could be better used in the service of the poor or in aiding missions. Now I wonder if my criticism is the same as the disciples when Mary poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet. Looking at that alter was a truly spiritual experience.

Seville was what we needed as we reached the halfway point in our trip. Good food, great sites, and a relaxing old world atmosphere. Seville was just the gateway to our Spanish adventure which will lead us to Granada and Barcelona but that is another story, so keep checking back.


The European Odyssey: The days when you know it is worth it

Posted by on July 13th, 2008

Bayeux, France — There are days when you spend the night on a bench in the sex district of Paris and then there are days in Bayeux. Sleeping off Paris in the warmth of an upstairs bedroom in a house older than your grandparents is perhaps one of the most refreshing things I have done on this trip. Bayeux is what I was looking for in our stay in France.

Warm people, warm food, and an amazing small town feel. One way streets paved with cobblestones and the smell of crepes wafting from every corner. We stopped in one of the many creperies and for €6.40 I had a delicious Normande sausage and mustard cream crepe. After that it was on to desert crepes, of which I have never had better. 

The streets were lined with inexpensive boutiques and live music. Luke’s French still saves us at every turn but the stress we had in Paris is gone. We still are trying to figure out our trip to Seville but life here is good. Bayeux is one of those towns that you could spend hours getting lost in.Bayeux also has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen.

It towers above the small town and its majesty feels almost out of place with the humble surroundings.The town’s architecture is timeless; you could imagine a horse and cart rolling down the street just as easily as you could imagine an American tank on D-day or the cars and mopeds that currently occupy the streets. We are still off a little schedule and the constant travel is wearing some of us down but when we stay in places like Bayeux I know that it is all worth it.


The European Odyssey: One Wild Night

Posted by on July 13th, 2008

Bayeux, France  — When you fly into an airport that calms to be in Paris you generally expect it to be in Paris. The “Paris” airport we flew into was, in fact an hours drive away from Paris. On top of this our plane was delayed and the bus to Paris cost €13.This put us in Paris two hours late at 12:30am, by this time the metro had closed as well as internet cafes.

This meant we were dropped off in the middle of a parking lot with no idea where we were.There were friendly people there but they all wanted to sell us a cab ride “very cheap”. After convincing the cabbies that we didn’t want a ride they recommended an all night café to us. It must have been at least a three mile walk to the area where the cabbies said the café was located. All the way there the cabbies followed us hoping we would give up.It turned out that the district the supposed café was in was the sex district.

The café was nowhere to be seen. We spent a few hours sitting on a bench in front of the Moulin Rouge. The only advantage to this place was that it was well lit and most of the bars were open all night so there were lots of police and tourist. We began to be suspicious that the cabbies had sent us to this part of town because they wanted us to get mugged.

Finally we met a drunken Italian who said he knew the way to the train station and contrary to what the cabbies had said it was open. As we walked he began to give us nicknames such as “Sumo” and “Bart Simpson”. He also proceeded to show us his five bullet wounds that he said came from his time in Bosnia. As we walked we hoped we weren’t making a massive mistake, our suspicions were only more aroused by his insistence that we come back to his house that was “very close”.

By God’s grace and Luke’s French we reached the train station at 4:00am. We were at the end of our strength. We sat on the steps of the train station and waited. Finally 5:00am arrived and the station opened.We set up camp in front of platform 22 and slept for the next two hours. When we awoke we were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of rush hour in Paris. The floors in that train station may have been the coldest I have ever felt but after surviving a night homeless in Paris it didn’t matter.

The European Odyssey: Off the grid

Posted by on July 8th, 2008

We just made it to dublin and are about to board a flight to Paris.  We will be out of contact untill sometime Late Wed. or Thurs. We had to scramble to make weight on our bags but every thing worked out, our flight is only two hours and cost around €80 which is the same as the boat would have cost.

Travel Tip:

If you use the low cost airline Ryanair be sure to look at the extra fees. 1 bag will cost you €15 and the tax plus fees will be almost equal to your ticket price.

Ryanair allows 15 kilos (appx. 33lbs) per bag and 10 kilos (appx. 22lbs) for carry on. If you go over the weight there is a €15 per kilo charge.


The European Odyssey: Taking the Good with the Bad

Posted by on July 7th, 2008

Cork, Ireland — We are officially one week into our trip. Things are going quite well but we would fail to report our trip accurately if we didn’t mention some of the roadblocks along the way.  Today we missed the train to the ferry and spent the afternoon trying to figure out how we would get to France. We ended up with a flight to Paris that puts us in France about 12 hours late and forces us to sleep in the airport. We then had to book another night at our hostel in Cork. Fidel made a mistake or cheated us and we had to pay for an extra bed. When Luke Gebauer paid for his bed Fidel used the money to give Caleb change and then told Luke to pay him.

When we informed him of his mistake he said it was not open to discussion and we could leave without our money if we liked (out of spitefulness or just a convoluted sense of justice I will mention that the name of the Hostel is Kinlay Hose in Cork and that the code to room 215 is 5 2 4). With all the hardship there is always some good. Our room that we booked for tonight is a privet suite even though the toilet and shower are pulled out. Because we missed the train we got to see Blarney Castle. Also we paid about the same for the flight as we would have for the ferry and missed the 17 hour ferry.

Around 3 o’clock we headed off for Blarney Castle.  We had heard from a friend that Blarney was not really that great, so we didn’t have high expectations.  The bus trip to Blarney was a great stress reliever. Just getting out into the country was a welcome change for an urban heavy trip. There was a cool breeze and the country was Ireland green. The walk to Blarney Castle let us take in the Irish countryside.

We then walked up an extremely narrow spiral stair case and dangled backwards, hundreds of feet in the air to kiss the Blarney Stone. Blarney far exceeded our expectations and it is a must see if you ever visit Ireland (I think the pouring rain may have put our friend off). So now I hope we have the luck of the Irish to keep the rest of the trip running smoothly. If not I know we will just have to take the good with the bad.