The Timeless Beginning

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My life has become sitting down. And sitting down. Hallo-ing again my dear friends the clouds. Eating whenever food is brought, and sleeping when I can, and no longer caring how my hair looks, and wondering vaguely just what time it is here – there – how long have I been traveling anyways?

I believe the answer is about 17 hours. 3 of those hours were in the Tokyo airport and the rest of been in flight. My tailbone would appreciate it if I could be vertical – horizontal – just straight, someday. Movies are great (especially a rewatch of Guardians of the Galaxy, yeesss), but a current count of four + no human conversations (as my seat neighbors sleep) is quickly turning my brain to mush.

Fierce hugs and prayers from my family 17 hours ago officially sent me back into the world of travel, aka everything revolving around figuring out where to be when and clinging onto several small possessions (passport and boarding pass), constantly worrying I will misplace them. In the Tokyo airport I was returned to a world where everyone speaks a different language, writes in a different language, watches TV shows that are… not American, and has way more buttons for toilets than are necessary! I am reminded how huge the world is and it is wonderful and daunting all at once.

In about 3 hours I will land in Bangkok (10:45pm their time), and hopefully with little ado make it to my hotel and a horizontal position fairly quickly – then the rest of the team will be landing and joining me tomorrow afternoon. Our first few days will be spent in Bangkok, adjusting and orientation.

I am hoping… along this trip to take you with me. To show you the sights, through my eyes. That’s dependant on me getting thoughts together, on having time to type things up, but I hope to. Thank you for thinking of me, for loving/supporting/praying for me during this trip, depending on who you are reading this. :)

Since I’ve gotten on the plane, the trip has felt unreal, like I’m floating outside of time and space, inbetween worlds, just waiting to land. Planes are weird portals, but I’m sure glad not to be on a rickety ship for 3 months, all of my things packed in a coffin in case I die on the way/there. But what a great commitment that required from people in that age, during Hudson Taylor’s life.
Anyhow. My brain is half lucid right now, as for me it’s about 6am and did I mention I’ve watched four movies…? I just wanted to let you know I’ve (almost) made it. :) 

Soundtrack during blog post: Prince of Egypt. Singing along silently while the rest of the cabin sleeps.
P.S. Posted after flight, once I had internet again.
P.P.S. Forgive any spelling errors por favor, I am typing all this on my tablet. ;) 

Take Courage, Dear Heart

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Well, that figures.

“But on the other hand…” Describes my life. A lot of the time.

I let this blog gather cyber dust on a cyber shelf for four months, still in its ‘Christmas theme’! Work at World Vision was replaced by a lot of free time – and a lot of mental turmoil over what’s next as I trod everywhere through the web, researching the millions of options. My mind turned into Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” thinking well on this hand… but then on the other hand… I learned a lot through the roiling but nothing I could solidify into a post. My waiting blog danced in the back of my mind, asking for a life update, but I didn’t know what to say, how to summarize what was going on.

Annnddd now college classes have started with a fury, I have enough assigned reading to fill every waking moment, and what do I suddenly have a desire to do? Write a blog post! Yeah for the strange productiveness produced by procrastination.

It is bizarre to think that it has now been four years since I was last taking community college classes. But before a mournful sense of stagnation attacks, I remind myself of just how many places I was able to work at and visit over those four years – from Rainier to the Tetons, Oregon to Europe. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it feels like I’ve gone full circle, but that I am coming back with a better sense of direction and purpose, with lessons learned and most importantly, so many wonderful friends made!

On my first day of plunging back into a world of papers and lectures and *gulp* thinking, I was reminded of a few old friends that went on their own journey. I’ve been encouraged to reflect that what they obtained is what I need. Let me set aside my terribly interesting International Relations book about the military-industrial complex and liberalism, and take just a moment to share with you what these folk say it takes for school – and life.



“Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.” – The Wizard


The Strawman = always my favorite.

An incognito elder due to my baby face, plunked back among the aimless freshies straight out of high school (or still in high school), I am finding my brain has become just a wee bit rusty over the years. Last week, I puzzled over why I was so tired driving home one day, and determined it’s probably because my mind has grown lazy and now has to start up and work again! So after a long day of school, my brain was tired.

As a believer in God, I think I can tend to compartmentalize what He gives me. I thank Him for food, for income, for the people in my life. I can tend to forget that my capacity to even reason and think comes from God, and that the moments when I am inspired or understand something, God deserves the glory!

As I face every school assignment, every stretching moment throughout life, it is a reminder to rely on the One who makes my body move, my lungs breathe, and my brain work – and to thank Him for it.



“All the same,’ said the Scarecrow,’I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.’
‘I shall take the heart,’ returned the Tin Woodman, ‘for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”


It’d be great if this guy had a heart. Because he’s carrying around a sharp ax…


I always need to remember to have a heart, whether at work or school or on a city street… it is more comfortable to slip into disengagement. Seeing my fellow co-workers and students as faces, with no lives or history or dreams within them. Losing sight of why I want to study and obtain a bachelor’s. I slip into seeing things on the surface and cease to see deeper relationships as worth it, or focus on just getting by with a good grade without caring about the life impact I could let the class make on me.

In the very first class my sociology teacher lectured on the ‘Why’ – specifically, why were we taking his class and attending college – and how it was important to understand undertaking anything in life. A lot of students don’t think enough before they start college, and they simply get a college degree because their parents and society tell them ’tis the fitting thing to do, and they should get a good edj’macation so they can get a good job, so they can earn a lot, so they can buy a great house and retire well, so they can…? We live every today for the future, and yet do not look far enough.

Though I’ve plunged back into classes with a renewed zeal, it can get rather tedious turning in assignments and plugging through the thick textbooks (though there are pictures!). Enthusiasm for a subject, when it encounters some bumps and difficult areas, can wane quickly unless there is a bigger goal in mind. This may sound contradictory, but to keep my heart engaged requires keeping my eye on the present – right now – and on the why, the future goal. I’m not exactly sure just what degree I am getting and what it’ll look like when I graduate, but I know that I want to get involved in ministry serving the Lord overseas and a degree will ultimately equip me and open doors. And I’m OK with the unknowns. Mostly.

Which leads us to the last fellow and his quest for…


“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz.  “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

Fullscreen capture 4242015 113445 PM.bmpLife takes a lot of courage. Like, a lot a lot. It takes courage to wait on the Lord. It takes courage to move. It takes bravery to tell the people in your life this is what you are headed towards… because what if the direction changes? Or what if you never make it?

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them. -Thoreau

It takes courage to stay undefeated. To be an enduring dreamer. It takes courage to try without knowing everything first. To engage. It takes courage to let go of a dream, and courage to choose God’s dreams above the world’s. It takes courage to pursue – when it feels like everyone else is better at everything than you. It requires a brave person to take the blows of failure without letting go of hope.

This school quarter is already a quarter of the way done. And then who knows what’s next, and next, and next. It’s not for me to worry about. I want to simply focusing on having a brain, and a heart, and courage – for today.

As Joshua was told – Be strong and courageous

As a disguised King once said – You will have troubles but take heart – I have already overcome

And as another Lion once said – Courage, dear heart.



Now back to Kant-


See Beauty// Again

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Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods. Yet we are often impressed with a conviction that if we were elsewhere in other company or employment or in no company, in turrets near the stars, or in caves underground, enlarged by science, or melted by music, or kindled by poetry, we should come into the conditions of sight & the universal cloud would roll up and disappear.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes the attributes people comment on and compliment in me are areas where I am aware I am deficient, so I work harder to make up for my lack. Such as I am not graceful, I am not observant, I am not good at removing myself from myself and fully listening to people, I am lazy. But I am aware of those weaknesses in my life, so I work harder on those areas. Do you find this true for you as well?

One of the areas I always work hard at is noticing the beauty in everyday life. It is so incredibly easy; all it takes is the pause to look and appreciate. My short breaks during my workdays give me just enough time to wander and take in whatever beauty is casually unfolding.

The woods behind World Vision’s buildings are small, like the last thought in the building plans, a green scribble in the architect’s empty squares between buildings and concrete. But they are just large enough to hold small ponds, holly and ferns and dewdrops and God’s miraculous, living art that needs no encouragement but space to be. Before the pond froze, there were frogs that flew for watery cover with a -zip- and a squeak of panic when I came to the pond’s edge. The water was clear enough for me to see straight through, to the moss and sunken branches and vibrant green on the bottom. If I stayed still and looked long enough, I could glimpse the frogs’ heads as they floated, but with the slightest move from me they disappeared deeper and further into the pond.

Once the pond froze, I could skip rocks and figure out just what size would break through the ice. And when the temperature rose the bare branches, dark silhouettes against the winter sky, filled with caught beads of winter rain that glistened. The sunlight, weak but still gold, and the remaining autumn leaves add a touch of warmth to the winter landscape.

I don’t have to tell you about the beauty in this world. You see it too in a million facets – in the glow and color of Christmas lights, in the vibrant colors of Divine and mortal art, in the smiles of every person, in the laughter with a loved one, in nature’s wild yet calm. Sometimes so instinctively felt and sometimes so forgotten, yet always so obvious when we lift our eyes and take in. For me, it takes a conscious pause to reflect on the wonder of what I am seeing.

In Anne Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (click for full chapter), she muses about seeing, and what blind people experience when their cataracts are removed and they see for the first time. She speaks about the bewilderment that comes with the new sight as the patient has to learn height and depth and size, formerly non-existent perceptions that now dawn and overwhelm.  But when the person is able to move beyond the disorientation, there is wonder. “The newly sighted,” Dillard writes, “see the world as as a “dazzle of color-patches.”

A little girl visits a garden. “She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as ‘the tree with the lights in it.’” Some delight in their sight and give themselves over to the visual world. Of a patient just after her bandages were removed, her doctor writes, “The first things to attract her attention were her own hands; she looked at them very closely, moved them repeatedly to and fro, bent and stretched the fingers, and seemed greatly astonished at the sight.” …Finally, a twenty-two-old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize the objects, but, “the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’”

I worked on this post in the airport waiting for my flight to board, feeling a bit like I was in school again as I became engrossed in trying to capture my thoughts in words and musing over Anne Dillard’s essay. So engrossed, in fact, that there was a “last call for Sarah Ulrich” to board the plane. I wrote this on the plane to Boise as well, the wing from my window seat gleaming from the eastward sun. We floated over mounds of clouds – one of my favorite views of one of my very favorite things. Though “floating” is not quite the right verb, more like “bucking.” The plane shook from the air turbulence and I felt like an unperturbed horse rider, letting my body loosen and sway with the movements so the jolts became somewhat relaxing. I am so sorry for those of you who do not like flying. Talk about a way to enjoy beauty, and wonder.

But back to Annie. Continuing on from what she had read in the observations of the cataract surgeons, Dillard writes:

I saw color-patches for weeks after I read this wonderful book. It was summer; the peaches were ripe in the valley orchards. When I woke in the morning, color-patches wrapped round my eyes, intricately, leaving not one unfilled spot. All day long I walked among shifting color-patches that parted before me like the Red Sea and closed again in silence, transfigured, wherever I looked back. Some patches swelled and loomed, while others vanished utterly, and dark marks flitted at random over the whole dazzling sweep. But I couldn’t sustain the illusion of flatness. I’ve been around for too long. Form is condemned to an eternal danse macabre with meaning: I couldn’t unpeach the peaches…Martin Buber tells this tale: “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbie Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things any more.’”
Why didn’t someone hand those newly sighted people paints and brushes from the start, when they still didn’t know what anything was? Then maybe we all could see color-patches too, the world unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names.

Giving names and raveling the world into reason can add to our appreciation, or it can lead to a loss of wonder. Especially in this day and age, when we can explain so many “hows” with our head knowledge, and in the midst of dissection forget about the “whys.”

Break from the instinctive labels of “trees” and “sunset,” “water” and “peach” and look as if for the first time. Marvel again in colors. In the miracles of the oddly shaped, two-legged breathing creatures that lumber and dance and chatter and smile all around you. In the miracle that you are, from your body to your mind to your soul.

Most of all, remember anew the One who made you.

Remember again the wonder of an eternal God choosing mortal clothing, for the sake of restoration. Consider afresh the undeserved, attentive grace  of our God manifested in the large and small. Today, this Christmas, break outside of the labels and rote lessons and words that have worn ruts in your mind. Consider if you’ve placed God in a box. Personally, I know I can become so inundated with sermons and books and words that I become like one who looking, does not see, and hearing, does not comprehend.

Recall how precious that grace, the hour you first believed.

This time of the year there are voices clear and subtle, clamoring at you to buy and give and come and do… you may even have a lot of voices with good intention reminding you of “the reason for the season,” and to find peace and joy in the midst of the bustle. Humbly I add my voice to the later cause.

Take a moment, right now, to see God and His wonders again. Talk to Him about His love for you. Dwell on Him, in stillness and peace. Pull out a sheet of paper – even just a sticky note if that’s all that’s near. And give to Him whatever comes.

Close your eyes. Open your eyes. And maybe you will find… “It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.” (Dillard)



Home: Overlaid & Ebenezer

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All right, folks, I admit it. I’ve been avoiding this post. I’ve been hemming-and-hawing over starting it like it’s a scary thesis paper. Because how in the continent of Europe do I sum up that summer’s trip? Those 4 months, that were packed tighter than a can of sardines? More full than a clown car?

SAM_3257I was ready to come home – I had seen so many churches and paintings and sculptures and… old things, they were cramming into my mind and blending together. I was ready to come back and process everything, clear out my mind, get a little uncultured by watching the Simpsons or something… just kidding. I do miss the aura and streets and cafes and money and maps and languages and something-new-everyday from traveling in Europe. But I am also so glad to be home, smelling the autumn rain, hugging my glorious family, and spending time with my amazing friends.

When you have a home to come home to, it becomes a funny timewarp. I came back after a crazy four months of more culture, new friends, lessons, and new places than ever before in my life. Yet my bedroom still holds the same posters, the same books, and the same dust I hadn’t shooed away – with company. My computer has the same wallpapers I picked out four months ago, the packing list for Europe I created. It feels like a movie where myself from four months ago and my current ‘experienced European traveler’ self are being overlaid in one scene.

I felt that even more when I cracked open my journal from the months before I left. At the time I was working two jobs and saving my money, buying the items for travel that I still needed, and seeing friends one last time before flying out. One thing I realized as I read my entries was that the lessons I feel I came back with from my trip weren’t really new, I just re-learned them. They were retraced on my mind and heart.

So what did I bring out of my trip? To quote from my journal…

I am one servant in the Kingdom – no matter how big or small my job, how big or small the visible impact, my obedience to God and rewards in the Kingdom are most important.

I do not have to make 100% right choices, right from the start… God does not have one role for me to play in this life. I may squander some years, but even in that time (especially?) I will learn and grow.

And I re-learned something that I feel is important for… anyone that feels dissatisfied with where they are. The winter before I left, before I even knew I would go to Europe, I felt extremely restless. Reading what I wrote in my journal brought back to mind something I’ve thought of before, even touched on in previous blog entries

Why am I always so restless?

Important note: Travel will not fix my life. It will not fill this hole. It will not satisfy me. Only travel with God. Only life with God. To be on His errand, being His hands and feet, finding Him in every face, every scene and sunset.

Traveling, God has reaffirmed on my heart that it does not matter where I am or what I am doing – He can and will use me. The most important thing is my relationship with Him. The most important thing is my relationship with Him. To know God, and to make Him known. To love God, and to love others. And might I add, to know and love myself – because that is what a journey with God includes.

SAM_0687While we’re chugging through this blog post, please join me in reaching out your right hand and taking hold of that pole passing us on our right. Let’s hold on and let momentum swing us, oh, about 37 degrees that way. Because I want to make a switch before I sign off.

I want to say thank you.

Where to start?

Thank you to my aunts, to my grandparents, who supported me and cheered for me.

Thank you to those at church who prayed and followed my journey, feeling the ups and downs with me.

Thank you to my friends who understood and welcomed me back heartily.

Thank you to those who have been following my blog, and for some reason caring about this young woman making a summer trip.

Thank you to my Denmark family for feeding me strawberries and fresh cream, letting me become stronger, for showing me a different life.

Thank you to my German family… for letting me become a part of your family. For your open hearts and open hands.

Thank you to my friend and travel partner for 3 months – for putting up with my need to hold the map, for bringing me water and chicken noodle soup when I was sick, for helping me to see the places we visited with excitement and wonder.

Thank you to all of the people that welcomed us into their homes: in Germany, in Austria, in Italy, in Paris, in England, in Ireland. You gave us food, beds, but so so much more than just that. You gave us acceptance, help, smiles, and love. You made our trip possible, and wonderful.

Thank you to my family, for letting me go, and receiving me back.

Honestly, thank you one and all. I am always blown away by the love I receive in my life.

Thank you God, that You always provided a bed every single night, and food, and someone there to help. Ebenezer – “thus far the Lord has helped.”

So, what’s next?


Connemara Cycle

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Well I wasn’t planning on doing another blog post until I got home, pulled out my laptop which has a real keyboard, and sorted out my who-knows-how-many thousands of pictures I’ve accumulated.
But then I went on a bike ride today, and it was just so beautiful I had to share.
So I’m skipping the Louvre, Paris, Londonx2, Downham Market meeting relatives, and the first 2 weeks of Ireland. We can come back to visit those memories and trips, if you’d like. Let’s just jump to my today…

I’m currently in a town called Letterfrack, a town 2 hours by bus from Galway. Olivia and I split up for a few days, since she wanted more time to see the Cliffs of Moher, and I wanted to see more of the West Coast in our few days before we head back to London. So on Tuesday I took the bus from Dublin, after saying goodbye to my mother who flew out that morning, and got here around 6pm last night. As I was walking down the street looking for my hostel, a man ran up to me and asked if I was looking for the Old Monastery Hostel. Now, everyone in Ireland has been exceedingly helpful, but locals running after you to make sure you know your way? What next?
It actually turned out he was Steven, the owner of the hostel for the last 23 years. He gave me directions then disappeared back into town, probably to the pub. The door to his hostel was open and a sign invited me to make myself welcome. So I plopped my things down next to an unoccupied bed and became friends with a German couple that walked into the door a few minutes later. They had also run into Steven, but they had asked him for directions to a different hostel in town. He’d gave them the directions then added on directions to his hostel.
This place has quite a character – besides the easy going manager, who collects your money whenever you hand it to him. There are stacks of faded paperback books in the dorm rooms, animal skulls and bones around the dining room on the bottom floor, mismatched furniture in the lounge, blue twinkling Christmas lights for the bathroom lighting, and a few peat fires keeping the whole place warm (one is in the bathroom – but don’t worry, there is a loveseat in front of it so you can lounge and enjoy).
A ginger cat named Messieur (sp?) seems to live here, and a random local woman showed up to invite us to music in the pub. No, not traditional Irish music, just 3 locals taking turns starting a tune and the others joining in as they will. Ghost Riders in the Sky, Ring of Fire, and a song called Spaces were a few played. The woman did convince Steven (who was also in the bar, of course) to sing part of “The Rocky Road to Dublin.” I wished I knew more songs, could play the guitar better or at least sing well, as I was reminded that night what a universal language music is. After we walked back through the park, where she stopped and took advantage of the wet grass to let us watch her practice her fire twirling skills.
But I was just going to tell you about my bike ride! :) This morning I rented a bike from Steven and set out to do part of the Connemara loop. I rode past Kylemore Abbey, past hills and peat bogs, sheep fields and large lakes, out to and along the oceanside. It was gorgeously sunny. Wild blackberries, fuschias, roses, ferns, and rhododendrons grew lush by the sides. The road had hills, but I surprised myself by being able to cycle up them. At home I can’t even cycle home from the mailbox. Must be the Irish air. Due to places being closed this season, I didn’t find a place to stop for lunch until three, when I paused at a pub for a huge fish and chips meal – the fish took up half my plate! I relaxed in their windowsill reading “The Princess and the Goblin” by George MacDonald.
After the lunch the road went up and down more, winding along the coast and past homes perched for ocean views. Cars passed me occasionally, and the driver always waved hello. At one spot I stopped to walk onto the beach, and had the entire sandy strip to myself. I could easily read the story of the few prints trailing along, and left my own temporary tale.
I had to walk up hills more at the end, as my legs started to question what in the world I was making them do, but in the end I had biked 40 kilometers and was proud of myself. I made one more stop before the hostel – to balance out all that exercise with a surprisingly large slice of cheesecake and nearly a whole liter of water.
But let my pictures tell the rest – describe half of the beauty, that is. Seriously, you can’t even know. The crazy part is this area is so secluded and untouched.

Dancing in// Tuscany

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Every traveler – of the world, of life – knows that the best parts of a journey are the parts you don’t plan. The moments that come out of the blue, that just happen, and end up becoming the highlight and a memory you will always try to hold onto. Like people and places and a hundred other small things are ingredients, and sometimes as the hours slip by you find a combination that makes a particularly wonderful recipe.

As travelers, we also hope to see the land’s culture outside of the museums and tourist landmarks. To break bread and share stories with the people, to see close up all the similarities and differences between us as well as the freckles on their faces. To clasp hands. To step over their doorstep and drink tea together. To stop up the thoughts that put my way of life as the best, but just to listen and take in.

We got to do all of this and more for two brief days in the countryside an hour from Turin/Torino, Italy – smack dab in Tuscany.

Tuscany has always been especially beautiful to me. I still remember sitting in a doctor’s office, maybe 5 years ago now, flipping through a travel magazine and coming across an ad that had a typical Tuscany photo – a sprawling white house on top of a hill filled with vineyards and cypress trees. Everything was washed in sunset warmth. I asked the receptionist if I could take the magazine home, and I still have the photo tucked away in my room. From then on, I’ve wanted to see Tuscany.

Obviously two days – all the time we could afford between leaving Rome and heading north to Paris – was just enough to dip in the tip of the toenail of our tiniest toes in, but it was a great taste (literally).
First off, Turin gets tops in Couchsurfing. In the beginning we were hoping we could spend our few days close to the now-popular Cinque Terre or somewhere on the west coast, but research into hostel prices and CS requests didn’t produce anything. So I sent out requests to Turin, where our bus to Paris was leaving from anyways, and not only did we hear back overnight, but we had three invitations, so had to choose! O life’s dilemmas. We chose to stay with a guy in the country Thursday night to Saturday morning, then to travel into Turin and spend the night with another couchsurfer there so we’d be all ready for our Sunday morning bus.

On Thursday we used rideshare to get from Rome to Casale Monferato, a small town an hour from Turin. The other three people in the car only spoke Italian, so we didn’t talk, but they were obviously jovial and easygoing people, and it was entertaining during the ride just to watch them talk and joke. They dropped us off right in town at the train station, where our host Cristhian picked us up. He was born and raised in Italy, though he’d traveled all over, and now lived a simple life with his 5 month old cat. His house was a skinny two story whose front windows looked into his overgrown, jungle-like garden, and the back windows onto fields and the train track. He made us some tea and we talked until it was time to leave for a folk dance he invited us along to. Apparently it was a once a year event.

We met up with a few of his friends along the way, who were from the UK and Gemany and Italy, and carpooled to a tiny town called “Rinco.” One part of the drive was especially beautiful, where we puttered along a ridge in his old car and could look down on the hills and lights of scattered houses on both sides. Lovely, Italian cypress trees.

In Rinco they had a large, white tent with a stage and a hardwood floor set up, and the band (made up of accordions, a bass, some sort of woodwinds, and one other instrument I did not recognize) was already playing away. They played a variety of songs, but a lot were native to that region, of Southern France, Northern Italy, and Eastern Spain, collectively. They told me the name of the region but it didn’t stick in my mind, being in Italian.
Olivia and I hung shyly on the side for a while, sitting in the chairs and just watching. None of the dances were taught but everyone seemed to know what to do, like they’d learned the steps from birth, which they probably had. There were also people that seemed clueless but were just having fun and laughing, which made us feel better. After we watched for a few dances, like standing on the diving board eyeing the pool, Cristhian came over and convinced us the next dance was an easy one. And once we caught on, it was.

We danced for almost three hours more, taking breaks only for the really hard dances or to use to the nearby water pump. Most of the dances were in groups, in circles, but we never lacked in men to lead us in (they were all at least above 35 – don’t get any ideas, Mom). One in particular seemed to enjoy dancing with Olivia, while another grandfather seemed to like dancing with me. He didn’t talk, just smiled at me, his eyes almost hid by wrinkles.  When the dance would end and the next one was announced, he would immediately strike up the pose, holding my hands, and smiling at everyone else that meandered into position until the song started a few minutes later. At the end of one dance, close to midnight, I suddenly found myself next to him and in a line of people with their arms around each other. The grandfather suddenly straightened and puffed out his chest, now my height, as everyone sang heartily a few songs in Italian.

And thus ended our first Italian folk dance! Before we left we exchanged info with some of the other young people there, who were actually from Germany and on vacation. The next day we met up and went to the swimming pool, then walked around the town. Per Cristhian’s orders we invited them back to the house for dinner. It turned out that that day was the birthday of Cristhian and the British lady we’d met at the dance, so we had a celebration that night with about 9 people in all – which completely filled Cristhian’s tiny dining space. Every spot on his oven was also full, and we enjoyed a dinner of homemade ravioli, cooked zucchini, figs, red wine, and fig cake for dessert. Even the cat joined the party, moving from lap to lap as he wanted. The party stretched on until midnight when people dissipated in groups.

We enjoyed one more breakfast and conversation with Cristhian the next morning, before taking a bus straight into Turin, where we spent the night at the flat of another CS and his girlfriend. They were very welcoming (and Miyazaki fans!) and served us – what else? – pasta for dinner.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance to spend more time with our hosts or to really see the city of Turin, which I’ve heard is beautiful, as we had to catch a bus the next morning for a 12 hour ride to Paris. From Sunday to Sunday, we’d gone from Bologna to Rome to Turin to Paris. Whew!

Written on the way from Paris to London
Soundtrack: Needtobreathe. Always and ever Needtobreathe.
And Death in His Grave/John Mark McMillian, Remember What You Believe/Mumford and Sons, All of Me/John Lennon

Packing Our Bags & Headed South… // Bologna & Rome

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All roads lead to Rome… except for those in the Americas. And Australia. And Greenland. Etc, etc, etc.
But before getting to Rome, what better way to truly appreciate its immense global and cultural significance than first visiting a city that is… marginally less significant?
Thus, Bologna!
No, not the nasty mystery lunch meat, the city in Italy. We had a few days before we needed to be in Rome, and at first were planning to stop by Florence, which I’ve heard is very beautiful. But there was a rideshare leaving from Bologna to Rome when we needed it, so… Although Florence is on the way from Bologna, so maybe he could have just picked us up on the way…
I just like to pretend I don’t have those after-the-fact-better-ideas.
We faced the typical situation of “hello, we are in this city, now where shall we rest our sweet heads tonight?” situation upon arriving in Bologna, except this time it was early afternoon, not 8pm. We would have gotten to Bologna earlier but there were long, long lines to book tickets at the Venice train station, and only one person behind the desk. One poor, poor person who was probably supposed to have had a lunch break by then.
Once in Bologna we discovered an espresso bar with free wifi (Italy is fantastic for coffee, you can find espressos/lattes everywhere for about one euro). We hadn’t heard back from any of the CSers, so we rattled and creaked our luggage to a B in town. As in, a B&B called a B&B, that did not serve breakfast. It was really just an Italian grandma, that had decided to make money by hosting people in some of her apartment’s bedrooms. She spoke no Italian whatsoever but chattered away to us as if we understood what she was saying. We eventually figured eveything out and had an exchange of euros, towels, the wifi code, and keys. We walked to a nearby grocery store for some ice cream cones (we weren’t that hungry, so skipped straight to dessert), and relaxed that night watching a Romcom.
The next day our ride wasn’t until the evening, so we headed out to see eveything of interest in the great city of Bologna. Actually, we were just focused on finding food first. It was Sunday, so most places in town were closed. We stopped to peruse a few places that were too expensive, and it wasn’t until past 11am that we spotted a good place to eat. We bought a delicious pastry at a bakery, for breakfast, then crossed the street to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant that was really reasonably priced. It was run by a small Chinese family of parents and their daughter. The daughter was our server and we struck up a great conversation with her. She had a beautiful, radiating smile and gave our morning a great start. Her parents had owned the restaurant for 20 years, and she had started helping out as soon as she was old enough. Even though she couldn’t go where or do what she wanted, she had no bitterness, but was content with helping out her family. We exchanged info and invited her to come to Seattle someday, since her parents were talking about retiring soon.

We then continued on our city tour…but Bologna seems to have even less to see than Aalborg, which is amazing. We did have some gelato – the prices here for ice cream are twice as much as Germany, but here you get portions twice as big – and found two towers, big landmarks for the town. I choose to pay €3 to climb to the top while Olivia decided to wait for me at the bottom, at a coffeeshop.
It was about 500 stairs to the top and took a while because only one person can fit on the stairs at a time, so you have to stop at the corners and wait for people to pass. The view at the top was beautiful, a dizzying sea of brick red at the tower’s foot, that changed to the rolling Italian hills, dotted with villas and cypress trees, in the distance.
Reunited at the bottom, we wiled away the couple remaining hours until we had to drag ourselves away to meet up with our ride to Rome.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try Spaghetti Bolognese in the place of its origin during our short stay. Missed one of the two things to do in Bologna, drat. I’ll just have to go back..

Since everyone in Rome was on holiday, we couldn’t find a couchsurfer at home and able to host. But we were able to find a place owned by a CSer for only €15 each a night. From there it took us only about 20 minutes to travel into the city center on a very old, rickety tram.
The unique thing about visiting Rome is that it was really the one place we visited on this trip where our sandals could walk where Paul’s sandals walked… beyond just seeing Christian artifacts and catacombs, for the first time we slipped into the outskirts of Bible lands. And that was neat to think about.
We spent three whole days in Rome and saw all the highlights – the Coloseum, the Pantheon, an overlook of the city, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Stairs – and we spent an entire day in the Vatican City. The line into the Basilica was long and wound in a circle all around the huge courtyard, but it moved quickly. Italy is the first place we’ve been that has signs about what you are allowed to wear in churches – but the Basilica was the first place I’ve seen that enforced those rules. Your shoulders and knees had to be covered to enter. They also asked for silence, but obviously with the whole church packed, that wasn’t going to happen.
All of the ornate, lofty churches I’ve seen on this trip have been blurring together, but I think I can say that the Basilica is probably the largest and most lavishly decorated place of worship I have seen so far (To get an idea of just how big it is, click here). My favorite part was definitely the Pieta, by Michelangelo.
We then headed to the Vatican Museum, and it only took us 20 minutes in line to get in. The main attraction in the museum is the Sistine Chapel, and the museum is nicely laid out so that you walk through most of the museum in a loop to the Chapel. The Chapel is nicely simple, besides the paintings, so that you can give them your full attention until your neck gets too sore to look up… I don’t know when they were restored but they were in better condition than I’d been expecting. My favorite of the paintings is definitely the classic, of God reaching towards Adam…
We had a great time at the place we were staying in Rome. It is always a nice change to have a kitchen and to be able to buy groceries, not to mention cheaper! We would eat lunches out, usually pizza, and cook up some pesto pasta when we got back.
In Rome the street vendors are much more pushy as they try to sell water, hats, parasols, and other trinkets. This is also the first city where we really have to be more careful with our bags, as thieves abound. I felt someone try to unzip my backpack once as we were walking between metros and turned fast, but he slipped into the crowd. It was a good reminder to be careful.
On our last night in the city we met up with a couple from France/Germany that were renting the other spare room in the flat. We walked to a few churches, watched one of the street spray paint artists, and ate dinner at one of the streetside cafes.
The next day we left the “Capital of the World” for northern Italy, cooler weather, and some more – mmm – pasta!

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