Under the Sevillan sun

The sun’s fury didn’t really matter from the front row of the bus. I plugged in ear buds and listened to Los Miserables. (No, that’s not a spelling error; I really am attempting to listen to Hugo in Spanish.)

But I kept drifting into that almost dream state where thoughts don’t make sense and I happily embrace the sleep I know is coming. But then a truck and trailer tried to pull into our lane. The bus driver honked, swerved, and muttered something under his breath. That was the end of my nap.

But it didn’t matter, because tired or no, I was on my way to Sevilla.

As the Andalusian landscape whizzed by, I enjoyed the rolling olives groves, the plains of ripened wheat, the fields of yellow sunflowers, and the occasional glimpse of stubborn snow on mountain peaks.

My first impression of Sevilla? The realization that there are two bus stations and I was at one and my friend at the other.

Finally reunited, we dropped the luggage in the car and strolled through the Plaza de España, despite the scorching afternoon sun.

brick plaza with horse and carriage in forefront

We met our airbnb hosts and then set out to shop and fill our empty bellies with Udon’s veggie yaki udon.

The next morning, we visited Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation… whose name sounds infinitely nobler in Spanish), a giant structure that provides a lookout of the city. Honestly, the modern bulk seemed a little out of place in the old city; yet, there was something intriguing about climbing a mushroom. And the view was fantastic.

mushroom-shaped structure
white city of sevilla spain

Strolling toward the cathedral, we happily made pit stops to enjoy the lovely city streets and even watch a bit of street flamenco.

At the Cathedral of Sevilla, not only did we behold the grandeur of the outside walls, but were able to walk around inside and observe the ongoing mass.

elaborate facade of cathedral

We stopped for coffee in the Jewish quarter before taking a picnic lunch to the beautiful María Luisa Park. Regretfully (in retrospect), we barely made it beyond the first row of luscious trees. We were tired and hungry.

We strolled home along the Guadalquivir and topped off the evening by attempting a picnic in the Jardín Americano, a park from the 1992 Expo. Not a good idea. If ever a park could give vibes… We backtracked when the only people slinking around looked like they were not the picnicking sort.

Instead, we sat on concrete boulders along the river’s lip and dipped our toes in the water. We talked until long after the sun had gone down.

bridge over river at sunset

The next day was a picnic in the Alamillo Park (see a “picnic in the park” theme?) and time to soak in more of Sevilla’s scenery.

We also met up with friends to experience real flamenco. Photos weren’t allowed, but they wouldn’t have captured the experience anyway. Not the guitarist nor the vocalist. Photos wouldn’t capture the way the dancer’s eyes glittered concentration beneath the changing lights. Or how his face gleamed with the sweat of maintaining perfect control of his feet in time to the music, even while at times keeping his upper body motionless. The whirring fans did little to cool the room packed with eager spectators. Our tippy wooden bench always seemed to fit one more and why not?

On our final morning, we awoke to banging and drilling in the apartment below. We packed up and did a bit more strolling of the streets. Our last adventure was the unexpected and charming Parcería Cafe.

latte and smoothie on wooden tray next to plant

I thought I was ready to head back to Immigrantville, but as the bus pulled out of the station, I admit that there were tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

Belated birthday trip: Florence

Our final stop was Florence, Italy. Since we had already done a quick tour of Pisa the same day, we arrived tired… but still had a long walk to reach our airbnb (due to a [not-so-slight] miscalculation). Our little suitcase rattled long-sufferingly along behind us.

We had to wait for our host to come with the keys. In the meantime, we met some friendly Italians who were curious what we were doing so far out of tourist territory.

We spend 3 1/2 nights in Florence. During the day, we ate, napped, met a few nice people, and browsed the city. Since none of us are touristy at heart, we were less impressed by the normal touristy places and more impressed by the food.

street in florence, italy
white vintage car in front of house with wooden door
florence countryside
florence cityscape
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.
corner of duomo
The Duomo was more impressive from the lookout where you could see more than just a corner of it at a time.
flowers in windows with green shutters
bridge over the arno river
We spent a lot of time strolling along the Arno. This bridge is the Ponte Vecchio, known for being lined with little shops (and too many tourists).
crowded marketplace
The market place was not our favorite stop. We unanimously decided we didn’t need souvenirs after all and headed home.
plate of gnocchi
Give me rice over pasta any day… unless I’m in Italy. The gnocchi and bucatini were so amazing that we have yet to recover.
pasta aisle of grocery store
The pasta aisle in an average grocery store. And these are only the dry pasta options.
elderly man standing behind gelato counter
We read up on what makes gelato worthwhile. This man had nailed it… and his shop was close enough for us to swing by more than once.
cup and saucer with italian coffee
And the coffee was always worth our while, even when we sipped our cappuccino after 11 a.m. like the ignorant tourists that we were.

We left Florence at 3:30 a.m. and spent most of the day racing from one mode of transportation to the next, with several heart-stopping moments when we thought all was lost (hello, train to Bologna). We made it back to Almería by 10:30 p.m., exhausted. No one seemed interested in brainstorming for our 40th birthday trip. 🙂

Belated birthday trip: Pisa

We were flying through Pisa anyway, so joining the teeming masses of tourists was logical.

Being thrifty (or downright tight) we shared one Ryanair carry-on among the three of us. However, since Pisa wasn’t our final destination, the carry-on rattled along with us, whithersoever we went. Talk about looking like amateur tourists.

After getting off of the shuttle train from the airport, we stopped for pizza in Pisa. That was my idea. I’m not much of a pizza fanatic, but pizza in Pisa sounded like fun. It wasn’t just fun; it was delicious. And see that leafy rucola pizza? Go ahead and make fun of me but I ate all 30+ centimeters (except the slivers I traded with the others). Meanwhile, the suitcase hung out under the table while we tried to be local, practicing “grazie” until it slipped from our lips with relative ease.

three colorful pizzas on restaurant table top

We came up to the Leaning Tower from the back. In fact, we didn’t realize how close we were until we rounded the corner and there it was, serenely waiting for us to notice. As if it didn’t have enough to do posing for all of the geography textbook photographers and snap-happy tourists.

We constantly had to remind ourselves that the iconic building was indeed before our eyes. And yes, it’s still leaning, even more so in real life than the pictures we were snapping with the other tourists.

the leaning tower of pisa
tourists posing on posts

We enjoyed watching tourists trying to get the perfect pose with the tower from across the lawn.

It was a slow walk back to the train station (or should I say “slow rattle” on behalf of the poor suitcase?), where we caught a train to Florence, our next and final stop.

Belated birthday trip: Madrid

Two years late, my friend and I began to plan our 30th birthday trip. Ten years ago, we had dreams of celebrating in India. Then India morphed into Portugal. And finally, Portugal became Madrid, Pisa, and Florence. And the 30th birthday notion got a bit murky when my sister joined our group and helped plan the trip. After all, why not? None of us are 30 anyway. 

So there were three of us bouncing along in the Almería-Madrid bus. In Madrid, we met up with our airbnb host and attempted to regain our land legs by climbing the steps to the top story of a too-tall apartment building.

We had dinner in an unimpressive restaurant with a flickering fluorescent light. Madrid had to be better than that, we knew.

It was.

The next day:

But our favorite part of Madrid? The street musicians.

France and other things

Tomorrow!

My little sister and my friend are already on their way.

After lots of planning, we are still sitting on a bunch of unfinished details. But the 3 of us have decided that even if we lounged around and did nothing for 2 whole weeks, we would still have a blast just being together.

But doing nothing is NOT the plan. Instead, we have plans to attend class, visit friends, browse the market, make complete meals out of olives, tour various cities, and do lots of other together things. We will see what actually comes to pass and how exactly it comes to pass… I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, enjoy a few pictures from a recent (and brief) trip to Lyon, France. Although the trip was not a vacation, we managed to spend an afternoon touring parts of the city. During my trip, I discovered a few things about France, namely:

  1. The French are snobbier in my mind than they are in real life.
  2. French food it incomparably better than Spanish food. Sorry, Spain.
  3. French is hard to fake. I can’t even say merci with the right accent.

Giving thanks

Last year, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family just before moving to Spain. That seems so long ago. Much more than a year.

And I’ve accumulated more than a year’s worth of things for which to be thankful.

The year has been very good and very hard. But sometimes, the hard is what makes us thankful.

This year, I spent our Thanksgiving celebration bundled up in my bed with a head cold. It made me thankful for the health I take for granted most of the year. Crazy busy days make me thankful for alone ones. Residence visa struggles make me thankful to have a week left on last year’s visa.

I have not arrived at “counting it all joy” when trials come (James 1:2), but facing trials helps me see my own unthankfulness before a God who has given me His life.

So today my headcold and I have started counting a few blessings:

three young children in wagon
illinois cornfields
bride and groom with sunflower bouquet
silhouette of two women