Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Matterhorn [Zermatt, Switzerland]

The Matterhorn

The Matterhorn is a 14,692 foot mountain, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps between Switzerland and Italy.  In the perfect mountain town of Zermatt, Switzerland.
As I quote Adnan, "What a derpy looking mountain." The mountain had a certain charm and was so recognizable.

Remaining still unclimbed after most of the other great Alpine peaks were climbed, the Matterhorn became the subject of an international competition for the summit in the 1800s. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was finally made in 1865 from Zermatt by a party led by Edward Whymper but ended disastrously when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent. That climb and disaster, portrayed in several films, marked the end of the golden age of alpinism. The north face was not climbed until 1931.  The west face, which is the highest of the four, was completely climbed in 1962. It is estimated that over 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn since the first climb in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps.  It is an iconic emblem of the Swiss Alps.

But instead of trying to climb it, we just chilled on a giant mountain next to it all day. We began a hike in the wrong direction, in snow, in sneakers, and soon turned around.  But we laughed about it and it was a good day of being goofy on a mountain top.

I also spent some time alone on the mountain.  I walked out to the cliff face and prayed on my knees.  I gave thanks and kissed the ground, surrounded by solitude and the wonder of the earth.  How scary it is that I can go a whole day without giving proper thanks to the life-sustaining earth.  Every day. To humble myself enough to give a proper thanks to our mother.

While in Barcelona, I heard the news that beloved Father Shuwey had passed.  He told me stories of the Matterhorn, so I left him the rosary I'd been praying on the mountain so a little piece of him would stay there.  I will miss his smile immensely.

We went to the top to Gornergrat and drank warm coffee and hot chocolate, while watching little Suisse children play in the snow.  We had the most perfect view from a cafe window I've ever seen.

We stayed until sunset and watched the sun disappear behind the horizon and the sky change color.
If you look closely at the above picture, you can see that as the sun was setting, it perfectly illuminated an otherwise invisible Cross sitting upon a cliff face.  A perfect glorification of God.

Fall Break [Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Lyon]

Backpacking through Spain


Madrid is the 3rd largest city in the European Union.  There are approximately 7 million people in the city.  It's located along the Manzanares River.  That's one thing I love about Europe, because many city locations were established at a much less industrialized time, they are all located along beautiful expanses of water, either rivers or lakes. It was definitely a huge city. The streets were packed and we spent a lot of time navigating the Metro system. We ended up staying in a hostel a bit out of the city (as a result of late booking) called Scout's Hostel. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but it was cheap and we survived.

El Tigre
We spent the day wandering around large parks and looking at all the beautiful architecture.  Then that night we went to a place called El Tigre.  We ordered Sangrias for $6.00 & with it came free Tapas all night. [Tapas: a wide variety of appetizers in Spanish cuisine]; When in Spain, eat Tapas. Whenever we went out to eat, we would all order a bunch of Tapas, then split them and get to try a bunch of Spanish cuisine.
El Tigre was insane. We were playing Cheers to the Governor loudly, standing, all huddled around a little table full of food. People were yelling, there was food everywhere, plates were shattering, and everyone was having a great time on a (college) budget.  Spain was soo cheap!! It's a perfect place to go on a college budget. You can get into a World Famous Hostel for anything from $9 - $15.
We also went to a 7 story club, which was fun.  Megan ended up meeting with some friends from Boston College and I was talking to a girl within the group.  Turns out, she is Alaina (my little's) cousin!! What! Crazy! I have had so many experiences like this since coming to Europe.  It is an incredibly small world.

The next day, we split up.  Annie & I went to the Royal Palace of Madrid and reenacted Princess Diaries in the garden, then toured the grand Cathedral of Madrid. After, we headed to the best Irish Pub in Madrid and hung out with all the sports junkies while the World Rugby Cup & the Real Madrid games were playing.

Strange broccoli trees

Cathedrals as a tourist attraction
Although churches are usually a second home, a place of comfort, I was really upsetted while in the Cathedral of Madrid.  People were taking flash photography.  They were laughing, talking, pointing. There was an obligatory place for donations, from people who don't care, don't know anything about the Catholic Church. Annie and I discussed after.. and I told her, "It's not a church, it's just a building." Explaining myself.. "where two or three are gathered in his name"
These people weren't there in his name, but is it okay? I couldn't help but feel a tiny twinge of discontent with these people taking photos, not genuflecting, not showing reverence.
It is sad that these giant buildings have lost their reverence and their sense of "home" to those seeking to feel God's presence.  But that's life. Why would I condemn people wanting to see a beautiful building? It's just the way it is.
I explained to Annie (who is jewish) when she asked me, "so then is it okay for me to go to church with a friend, even if I am not necessarily reverent in the right way?"
I responded, "of course" then explained to her the way that I think.. It's like a gym. I go to the gym because I want to improve myself or I am seeking something better (applicable to the reasoning behind going to church, I want to improve the world, I am seeking meaning). It's an analogy.
If I bring a friend, and although she may never come back to the gym, she will do a couple machines, at least try it out.  She will partake in gym activities, even if she is not good at it or it doesn't necessarily work for her because she would rather run, but she is trying. This is much different from being a tourist.
I told her, "these tourists are like people who go to the gym, and just sit on the equipment and eat snacks".  People would stare at them, saying, what are you doing here? You're not even trying? If you want to do that, go somewhere else.
Perhaps if this were common, we would just accept it.  We would adjust to not being able to use our equipment until they moved. Just as Catholics adjust to people creating a tourist attraction out of their home.

Favorite Memory
We took a 6 hour bus ride from Madrid to Sevilla.  I could not have been more content.  I ate corn nuts as Annie and I discussed how to rid ourselves of prejudices when contributing to evolving our world into something that is meaningful and truthful. I stared out the window for hours watching the landscape.  I have never seen landscape like it.  It was different from the dry hills of California and the fertile land of Panama or the rolling hills of vineyards in parts of Switzerland. It was dry, but there was still vegetation. There were small, then large hills and valleys.  Then rolling hills and expansive gorges. Suddenly, it would shift to vineyards or farming communities. It was beautiful and so different. That's how I remember Spain.

Sevilla was my favorite place in Spain by far.  I could move there and never leave.  It was so quaint and colorful and festive.  Although it was a "city", it felt more like a town or a village. People were friendly and there was live Spanish music everywhere on the streets.  It wasn't too touristy either, which is a necessity for me to have a good time. I had gotten so used to being up in the mountains that traveling through cities was more of an adjustment than I thought it would be. I was honestly very overwhelmed when arriving in Madrid, but Sevilla was exactly what I needed.
We stayed in a Hostel called Hostel Oasis. It was perfect. The people were SO friendly and helpful.  It had an English breakfast for 3 Euros and had super good vibes.

Sevilla is a walking city.  If you go to Google Maps and type in a location that has a driving time of 15 minutes, the walking time will be 5.  It cultivated the small-town feeling that I loved.  Sevilla had the most beautiful Spanish architecture.

Largest Cathedral in the World
We toured the largest Cathedral in the world. We entered it and I could not stop crying.  It was beyond words. It was so expansive.  It's crazy to think of all the people who aided in building the church. The architectures, the construction workers, the priests, all of work that went into this beautiful place of worship that filled with millions of songs and millions of people who searched for meaning in their lives.  Again, it is always a little discouraging to walk into a church being used as a tourist attraction, but from a perspective of appreciation of the religion and of the building, it really was beautiful.

We visited the Royal Palace of Sevilla.  It was originally developed by Moorish Muslim Kings. It is the oldest royal palce still in use in Europe!!! Scenes from the fifth season of Game of Thrones were shot here.
The best part about the Alcazar, besides the beautifully architected, colored glass covered walls, was the gardens. It was magnificent. There were gardens in the style of French, Italian, Arab, and English. They all had names including The Garden of the Deance, Garden of the Ladies, the Garden of the Prince, The Garden of the Pond, and Garden of the Alcove. 
I especially liked the Garden of the Ladies and the English Garden.  The Garden of the ladies was comprised of shrubbery trimmed tightly.  Within it were hidden bodies of water with small fountains and quaint benches.  It was a vastly green garden.

The English Garden was very different from this. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it said something along the lines of "free and open, with growth of trees and shrubbery naturally occurring, as in the English style".  It felt like a park.  The Gardens just kept going on and on. I literally felt like I was in Chronicles of Narnia. And all this was in the MIDDLE of the city!! It was unbelievable. I still felt like I was in some magical land that didn't exist, especially not in the midst of a city.

That night, Caroline and I went to a Flamenco show.  A woman told us stories of how Flamenco came to be. Apparently there are many stories. She told us..
Sevilla is surrounded by a majestic and protective wall. Outside of the wall, there was a sort of slums. There lived many Muslim and Jewish oppressed people. There was soon a large migration of Gypsies (who are largely thought of to be from Romania, but the first Gypsies to come to Spain were actually from India.) When they came to the city, they went to the King and asked if they could inhabit Sevilla.  The King asked, "where are you from?" The gypsies were afraid that they would not be accepted, so they responded saying that they were from Egypt.. which later got them their name.. going from Egyptians, to Gyptians, to Gypsies.
The King said, "sure, but you must live beyond that wall".  So they went to the slums and lived there with the other oppressed people.  They began working in the mines doing very difficult work.  The Spanish people became tired of hearing their native language during the day so they told them not to speak or else they would cut out their tongues (which they did to many).  As a result, the Gypsies (muslims and jews as well) began to sing. They would sing all the time, then adapted guitars (a cheap instrument) to the music, then eventually dancing.  The Spanish began to also practice this music.  The teenagers would partake in controversial flamenco dancing (to "tease" one another).
Eventually, the King decided he wanted to end their population, so he had all of the gypsy men castrated.
A horrible story, but very interesting. If you google Flamenco, she said, you could find many stories that depict the origin of Flamenco, but this is the most popular in Sevilla.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España is a beautiful plaza built in 1929 with a mix of Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles in Spanish Architecture.  It hosted the Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair. It now houses many government buildings. It was used in many films, such as.. Star Wars Episode 1, Star Wars Episode 2, and The Dictator. Carol and I gallivanted around the Plaza, then found ourselves a market in the Park in which we got more delicious Spanish dishes.

Favorite Memory:
On our first night in Sevilla, we ended up walking about a 15 minute walk back to our hostel in the pouring down rain.  We were huddled under umbrellas, but eventually we were all putting down our hoods and embracing the wetness.  Everyone was smiling and Grant was jumping in puddles, sliding down the sidewalks. Everyone was there and it was a perfect memory.

The famous Barcelona. The home of Hercules. It was originally founded as a Roman city. It hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics.  Barcelona, culturally is a phenomenon.  It leads Spain in Employment and has an incredible GDP growth rate in comparison to the rest of Spain.
We stayed at the hostel Kabul, which is a World Famous Hostel. It was right in the middle of the action. Had free breakfast and dinner and was dirt cheap. I would highly recommend it.
The Picasso Museum
We visited the Picasso Museum, which was amazing.  I loved seeing the paintings I have seen for so long hanging in my mother's living room. What a complex life of a man.  When he was 5 years old, he was completing paintings that looked impossible for even the most talented of artists.  I was looking at the best painting I have ever seen in my whole life.  It was part of his collection entitled "charity and science". I was so amazed at the depth in the emotion captured by the painting.  It was so heartbreaking. It depicted a family mourning a family member in a bed while fighting what looked like a fatal illness.  The emotion depicted on their faces were so spot on that I was wondering who this was that Picasso was depicting because there is no way for him to have painted it without some kind of horrific experience with these people.  I looked at the description...he was 14.  14 years old!! Amazing.
Park Guell
It was touristy and busy. I hate touristy places, but Gaudi is the man.

The Mercado de la Boqueria (The Market)
Barcelona has a huge market along Las Ramblas (the main tourist strip of Barcelona).  If you go to the market and go past the first few stands which are tourist directed, inauthentic, and overpriced, you got to the real stands.  There was an overwhelming amount of seafood and fish.  In every traditional dish in Barcelona, you could find seafood. My favorite food I ate there was Paella, which is actually (most people don't know this) not a traditional dish in Barcelona.  There are tourist restaurants all along Las Ramblas selling Paella when it's not even a traditional dish.  It is more commonly found in Valencia or Girona. But the Paella from the market was delicious!

Mediterranean Sea
I was so happy to finally go to the beach.  Although Barcelona is cool, learning where "your" places are is important when traveling. Barcelona is not my place.  It was touristy and busy and I felt like everything was inauthentic because it was catered towards me.  I had to fight to find what was actually authentically this region.  It has made so much business from tourists that the entire city has transformed.  I was reading online and one Barcelona native was telling a story of how Park Guell used to be an amazing, hidden place where people would go to read, run, and enjoy in the summer, but as soon as they put up a gate and created an entry fee, everyone wanted to go and the whole park was ruined.  It was a loud, busy tourist attraction and its beauty could hardly even be admired anymore.
The ocean brought peace. It brought calmness and gave me some time to reflect.

We found ourselves a maze garden.  I decided that I love maze gardens. We spent a couple hours getting lost, then just roaming around.  Adnan and I laid on benches and he taught me about photography and it was a lovely afternoon.

Grant, Adnan, and I decided to go on a different excursion on our last evening in Barcelona. We headed along the water towards the aquarium to check out some big fish.  On our way, there was a band playing in the streets.  We ended up sitting in a dog park right next to the band.  We laid on one another as Adnan fed us bread and avocado, watched the dogs play, and enjoyed the music.  The instrumentalists quit playing after a while, so we just enjoyed the peace.
The aquarium was dope.  The fish were cool.  The sharks were big.  It was a perfect ending to Barcelona.
Favorite Memory:
Taking photos in the photo booth at the aquarium with Adnan and Grant. I adore those men. Also, we were walking along the sea and came across a man blowing bubbles and a little French Bulldog chasing them.  He blew bubbles until he ran out.

We stopped in France on our way home, actually because it was cheaper than to fly into Switzerland.  When living in Switzerland, you get creative. But I loved Lyon! It had a totally different feel than any city I'd been to.  It was a lot more edgy and hip.  I saw a ton of people our age. Then Megan informed me that it is actually like a giant college town, with over 120,000 college students within the city. It definitely felt like it.  I saw a lot of Rock music paraphernalia and little shops. We walked around a bit, then found ourselves a little restaurant to sit down and take off our packs.  Megan and I had Crepes & mine was delicious. I will miss crepes back in the states.
We actually had an incident while in Lyon in which a beggar approached us.  Homelessness is different in the states.  There are many gypsies and beggars that live in Europe, many of whom that are not actually poor.  And because of the plethora of tourists, begging becomes a lot more popular. We were approached by a woman, who wasn't asking for money, but rather for food. Megan, being the kind, gentle soul she is, thought, "you know, this woman needs this more than I do". So she gave her a small part of her crepe.  But after that, the woman closed in on our table pointing at the rest of her meal, getting more aggressive.  We kept saying goodbye, but the woman wouldn't leave.  She was hovering for a long time and it began to get so uncomfortable, it was scary.  She pushed a closed fist into Megan's shoulder and was muttering in French, but finally left us alone.  We sat, looking at each other, so uncomfortable, but more than that, so sad.  It was devastating.  I wanted to quote Herbert Morrison, saying "oh the humanity". We need to become more acutely aware of little we are entitled to.  We are not entitled to the food we eat because we are born in a certain location.  We are not in control of our socioeconomic class, our oppressive experiences, our race.  We are at the mercy of the interworking of God.  Really sad things are happening. Women in Bosnia are suffering trauma from being placed into a rape camp.  People's children are being taken and killed by ISIS.  This woman may have been starving, surrounded by hundreds of people.  Someone can starve.. surrounded by hundreds of people.  It doesn't seem possible, but it is.

It's a learning experience.  A question of opening up to learn more deeply. To empathize and to show compassion.  I love going to El Tigre, visiting magnificent buildings, and climbing beautiful mountains, but in my opinion, what we do for ourselves is simply a tool in order to better ourselves in order to give to others. If not, what is the point.