Goodbye Firenze, hello Malibu, and a new chapter at home

Sometimes saying goodbye is difficult.  Sometimes saying hello and moving forward is challenging.  Sometimes, however, when the time is right the hellos and goodbyes don’t seem too bad. It has been exactly one month today since I said goodbye to Florence. I said goodbye to Europe, to my study abroad experience, and to my new found “home” on April 15. It is hard to believe that was already one month ago. Saying goodbye was not too difficult since I saw more than I ever thought I would and I grew and matured in ways I am extremely grateful for.

Many people, during our final week in Italy, rushed around the city and seemed stressed with the pressure to see and to taste the things they had previously hoped to taste and see while in Italy.  I, however, after eight months of travel and study, relaxed and did not become too preoccupied with what I did not do while abroad, but instead I marveled at everything I was able to do while abroad. Because, when I look back to my time abroad, I am thankful and fulfilled.  I was able to travel to Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Greece and Vatican City. I saw the islands Sardinia, Sicily, Santorini, Burano and Murano, among others. I was able to visit over 100 cities; yes 100, I counted if you don’t believe me. I hiked the Alps in Switzerland and Italy, road tripped in Tuscany, walked over the Pyrenees in Spain and I have memories that I cherish dearly which will last me a lifetime.  I’d say my year has definitely been a memorable one. I am excited to see where life takes me next. Even though it has been one month since I returned home, I do not think I have fully processed my journey yet. The beginning of my time in Italy was actually quite difficult since as my time in Italy began, I was still trying to process my journey on the Camino de Santiago. I have too many thoughts to think about and ponder at the moment. But, it is my hope that my journey will help me to relate to and understand others in a more impactful way in the future.

Some of my highlights include the quiet freedom I felt when hiking the dolomites, seeing the Tuscan countryside and taking in the beauty of multi-colored houses in Cinque Terre.  I will always treaure the time I spent with my Italian relatives as well; I got to spend Christmas and Easter with them and go hiking, caving, and visit thermal springs with my family as well.  Other precious moments include embracing the beauty of new cultures and customs, meeting the smiling people of Ireland, hearing the call to prayer and walking through the souks in Morocco.  A more difficult yet impactful memory was when I visited the Dachau concentration camp and felt the pain and suffering that once occurred there while I attempted to fathom the plight that the Jews once faced in Nazi Germany.  Other moments I will never forget: seeing Papa Francisco twice and watching the sunset in Santorini and Sardenia. Those are only a few moments that come to mind when I recall the past nine months of my life, but there are many more, too many more stories waiting to be told.  One thing I am extremely grateful for is that this year I learned the importance of presence and of experiencing moments to their fullest.  I learned to take life less seriously, to laugh at my rediculious tendencies, to value true friendship and relatonships.  Most importantly, I learned to love others in a deeper way.

Some pictures from my highlighted moments:

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During our final week in Florence, we had a final banquet. The Gala was held at the top of a beautiful hotel that overlooked the Duomo, I have pictures to share below!

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Here are a few photos of my Italian friends and sweet Antonella (a Florentine resident who I worked with regularly who has downs syndrome). Sweet ones Sweet Antonella Italian friends My Italian friend

The Gala was one of the final dinners we shared all together and a time we were all able to honor the teachers and talk about the year. At the end of the banquet, I read a poem that I wrote about our time we spent together in Florence. It is simple, but I will share it with you all below.

 In September we came

Feeling excited and a bit afraid

A new country, a new place

A new chapter up ahead

Strangers we all were

Surrounded by the unknown

We walked into a building

That we would soon call our home

The excitement and thrill

Uncontrollable and intense

But soon reality set in

And life seemed to change on a whim

Firenze, we never knew

The challenges we would face

The happy moments and the tears

The facing of our fears

It felt hard, it seemed impossible

But we soon did adjust

We traveled, we experienced

We began to see the world

We found our little niches

Our sweet places of freedom

We cherished new friendships

And grew in unexplainable ways

Winter break soon ended

A new semester, a new start

New faces and new transitions

Welcoming in nine new additions

We set out for semester two

Some excited others blue

Others didn’t quite know what to do

But we all did learn a lesson or two

We traveled to find

What we needed was here all along

A community full of laughter

And a household of love

Now we sit here together

Only seven days left

Where did time take us?

We think and reflect

Emotions are now flowing

The reality has not yet set in

Yet now the goodbyes soon must begin

We say goodbye to

the pizza, the pasta, the Duomo

The gelato, the palazzos,

The statues and fine art

Goodbye to the Italians,

To Viale Milton

Goodbye most of all,

To who we once were before our journey had begun

Firenze how you would change us

Was unclear from the start

But we leave here with memories

Thanks to the city of the arts

We soon will enter our homeland

But before we depart,

Goodbye sweet Firenze,

You’re forever in our hearts

As a house, we left a gift for the future students who will be studying in Florence. We decided to leave a “yearbook page” meaning that the house would come up with a superlative for each of us, which would be placed by an individual photo of our choice and a quote. I was so honored because the superlative that was given to me was “most likely to save the world.” I don’t think I deserve this superlative, but I am more than honored that my peers gave me such an honorable title. In reality, I know I will never be able to change the world. All I hope to do is to love everyone and allow God to work through me, for change only comes from God. I feel as though I have been given so much and I often wonder, “Why me?” None of us will ever discover the answer to the question “Why us?”  I think the question that I will begin to ask myself is “How can I use the gifts and the experiences I have been given to help others?”  Maybe that is the question we should constantly ask ourselves. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received; freely give” I hope to model my life after this. I hope to give to those who have nothing, I want to share the love I have been given with the voiceless and the broken hearted. It is not a command that I have to do this, but instead a burning desire within my heart, one I have possessed ever since I was a child. Whether it is through spreading cultural awareness and acceptence, contributing to the world in using strong intercultural communication skills, or helping a child who is suffering. I hope that whatever I do, I will do it for the good of others and mostly; I will do it out of love.

After my time in Florence, I flew directly to Malibu. I stayed on campus with my dear friend Jennifer for a few days. Being back at the Malibu campus was refreshing. I was able to spend a good deal everyday at the beach, have a sunrise devotional, catch up with some great friends, visit my favorite acai juice bar Sunlife Organics, volunteer in the projects in downtown LA and even go to the campus ministry formal. I have a few pictures below from my time in Malibu.

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When I arrived home, it felt like a dream. I was tired, jet lagged, excited, and my mind was overloaded. While abroad, though I did not blog about this (I will explain more in future posts), I was actually ill. Even though I did travel throughout Europe, I suffered from various health problems throughout my journey and visited various Italian health physicians. Though I had originally planned on interning in Washington DC this summer with Pepperdine, I had to withdraw from the program in order to heal. So, this summer will be one full of relaxation and healing which is a stark contrast to my last nine months abroad. Since home I have been eating a raw, vegan diet (I have been vegetarian for 12 years, vegan for 4), doing yoga regularly, reading, spending time with family, and relaxing outside. It has seemed almost like a relaxation retreat. I have also been filling out various scholarships and other applications as well. What’s next? Well, as of now this summer will be one of healing but I am volunteering at a weeklong foster kids’ camp in June and will be hopefully traveling to Puerto Rico and backpacking (if my health allows) as well. I was just accepted into a Jewish Studies Scholarship Program, which will sponsor an internship in Israel next summer (or the following one), which I am excited about. I get excited thinking about living in the Middle East, I cannot wait, but until then I will continue to rest and hopefully my body will be healed soon. I will be posting regularly throughout the summer despite the fact that I will not be abroad, so keep your eyes open! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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one lovely day in venice 

Well, I finally made it to the beautiful city (and island) known for its water, canals, carnivals, film festivals, multi-colored houses, sparkling masks, and abundant tourists.  Yes, if you have not yet guessed it, I made a visit to Venice.  Before making my way to the water-filled city, I heard diverse opinions on the place.  I heard from some that it was “beautiful” while others claimed “Venice is too touristy and not worth all the hype.”  Well, nonetheless, I wanted to travel to the city and form my own opinions on the iconic Italian city.  



This trip, I decided would provide me with some alone, me and God time, so I headed towards Venice solo.  My trip to Venice allowed me to recharge, relax and be refreshed.  I only spent one day in Venice, which for me, was the perfect amount of time.  After traveling through various cities throughout Europe this year and attempting to see everything in each one, I have learned to travel in quite a different way.   I have learned that my favorite travel experiences have not been filled with museum or monument visits but instead with relaxing strolls, pretty weather and no pressure.  So, I went into my trip to Venice without many assumptions, plans or expectations.    



I arrived in Venice around 10:30am.  I then purchased an unlimited day-pass for the water taxi boat service (which came in handy).  I first visited the beautiful San Marco church, which was wonderful. 



Afterwards, I got lost wandering through the maze-like side streets and marveling at the sweet, romantic, vine filled, bricked alleyways, bridges and sparkling blue water filled canals. I then headed to two out lying islands near the main Island of Venice.  I first traveled to Murano, which is an island about 40 minutes away from Venice (by boat).  



Murano is a sweet little island that is filled with adorable canals (if you could not have already guessed this), cute houses and is known for their special glass-making trade.



When I arrived at the island, I began to explore and found a small glass factory.  I watched a glass making demonstration which was both fantastic and fascinating and I even bought a cute (Murano made) glass necklace (a gift for a friend).  





I then walked along the canals and enjoyed the blue skied, sunny, and breezy mid 50s weather.   I found a quiet part of the island and then sat along one of the canals where I wrote, thought, and took in my scenic surroundings.  





After window shopping for a bit, I headed back to the water boat taxi stop and headed for Burano.  Burano is less touristy, more quiet, and about twenty minutes from Murano.  Burano is known for their lacemaking trade, multi-colored, bright houses (they reminded me of Cinque Terre) and had sweet charm and beauty. 



What I loved most about Burano were all the sweet little children that ran and played throughout the bright, lively island.  Burano was filled with families and sweet people.  While in Burano I walked around and marveled the adorable, bright houses.  





I felt like I was in Portugal or a different country, it was a surreal and exciting experience.  I followed the canal to a quiet, residential part of the island where I wrote, took in the presentness of the moment, and relaxed.  While walking through the canals lined with yellow, purple, green, blue, and pink homes I felt like I had stepped into the world of Crayola!  







I passed an adorable elementary school and it warmed my soul to see all the sweet children running and playing in an adorable court yard during their recess.  I window shopped for a bit and looked at the quaint lace shops and enjoyed seeing all the adorable residents of Burano walking about.  After Burano, I took a boat back to Venice where I got lost in the old, winding, narrow, stone streets and my mind for about two hours. 







I loved seeing the black and white striped shirt men in the gondolas as they quietly glided through the canals, the small houses with flower pots filled window boxes and I was thrilled to find a non-touristy area of the city.  I did not pay 80 euro for a gondola ride, so let’s put this down in the book: a traveler went to Venice without going on one of the famous (though very touristy) gondola rides. 



Despite the touristy aspects, the city is marvelous and a traveler must-see in my book.  During my water taxi ride back to the train station, I met a sweet German woman who was studying Italian (yet knew no english).  She spoke in broken Italian to me and we enjoyed each other’s company, it was so funny that we were both from different countries yet were speaking Italian to each other!  During my train ride back to Florence, I then met a wonderful Italian university student who is currently studying in Venice.  Her name is Carlotta and she studies architecture, we had a great conversation about traveling and studying!  As I have said before, I live to meet people, explore and to seek adventure, so my time in Venice was definitely a memorable experience.  Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.  Peace and love.                           

london

The weekend after I visited Prague and Budapest I headed to the land of tea, the Beatles, red telephone booths, mind the gaps, opposite sided driving, and royalty; none other than the beautiful city of London. I must admit, my entire trip I couldn’t stop replaying “Here comes the sun” in my head. Arrived to the Stanstad airport around 9am and I was forced to try to figure out the tube system to meet my friend Bailey in South Kensington. I was clearly struggling, so I asked a man, Finn, if he could help me. He did help me and he actually waited for me for 30 minutes while I waited in line to purchase my transportation pass. Finn and I chatted for over an hour and he told me about his homeland, New Zealand and about London city life. We talked about traveling and life I’m general. I couldn’t help but smile as he spoke with his New Zealand accent! I am so thankful I met Finn and he’s just an example of all of the kind, loving people I met while in London.
That Friday morning I had the plan to head to The Harry Potter Studios with the Pepperdine London program but I arrived too late due to the transportation confusion, directional issues, and lengthy custom time. I ended up meeting my friend Bailey at the Harry Potter Studios after various tube transfers and busses! I was so happy when I arrived! The Harry Potter Studios were just the day before decorated for Christmas! So, my entire tour and all of the different areas of the Studio were covered in Christmas decor, as you can see in the photos below! While there I met a kind girl from Seattle, Erin, who was actually traveling throughout Europe by herself! Before I found my friend Bailey I walked with my new friend! Side note, Erin later came to Florence and I actually met her for lunch, which was so wonderful and fun! As a Harry Potter fan/junkie it was so so exciting for me to see the studios where the movies were filmed and the props used as well! One of my favorite moments was walking through the outside town area of the studio! I got to drink “Butterbeer,” which was amazing as well! After a few hours at the studios I took the bus back to South Kensington (where the Pepperdine London house is located) with the Pepperdine London program. Bailey and I then went to her church’s youth group, which was so encouraging! Afterwards we found a cute little cafe where we had hot coco and shared a Nutella crepe. We talked for over give hours, it was so great to catch up with such a dear friend! The next day we did a serious of things! And through all of this, I fell in love with London. It was surprisingly nice to be in a region where people spoke English as well, and to be in a similar culture to my home was quite nice! Here’s a list of some of the things we saw/did while in London: we saw Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards (from up close), the Palace Gardens, Hyde Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Saint Marguerite Church, the London Eye, Thames River, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, Borough Market, The London Bridge, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden. Those were some many of the things that made me fall in love with London! It was also nice eating different kinds of food since in Italy all I really eat is pasta, pasta and more pasta! There’s so much to say about the beautiful city but again nothing could ever do it any justice. What made my trip so great though was the great company. Seeing my friend Bailey and other friends that are in the London program was so special. I loved it and I am so grateful for such a beautiful few days.Another special thing about my visit was that during that time there were handmade red poppies all over the city that represented the various soldiers that lost their lives during World War II. It was so beautiful to see and it touched my heart. It was also so special being in London during Christmas season, Covent Garden was a Christmas wonderland! After my time in London, we
I only scratched the surface of the city, if that! I’m sure I will travel there more in the future because I loved it so much!
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love

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a perfect ending and a new beginning

After spending two days exploring Santiago, I started to realize that my trip was ending. I felt that Santiago had been a perfect place to end my trip; I had such a wonderful time in the city, the cathedral, and at the festivities for the feast day of St. James. I could not have asked for a better ending to my trip. Yet, God had different plans. God ended my trip in the most perfect way, better than I could have imagined.

At the beginning of my trip I had hoped to change my flight so that I could stay a few extra days and walk the extra three days to the sea, to Finisterre. However, changing my flight would have been $250.00 and with other fees that would also arise, I knew that it then would not be possible to walk to Finisterre.
This did not, however, change my mind about making it to Finisterre. So, I decided to take a bus there. Three others from my group wanted to take a bus to Finisterre along with me. The bus would leave at 9am on Sunday and I insisted that we leave around 7:15am to ensure that we would get tickets. When we got to the station we luckily got tickets, I could not control my excitement. I had heard such amazing things about Finisterre, also known as The Ends of the Earth. I had heard about the large rock-bound cliffs, the lighthouse, and beautiful beaches there as well. I was not, however, prepared for the rich, overwhelming beauty of Finisterre.

My amazing friend Ashley and I sat together on the bus trip and admired the gorgeous views throughout our ride to the seaside village. It was quite strange being on a bus after walking for 5 weeks without the use of a car!
When we arrived in Finisterre, we saw our friend Niels at the bus station. Niels is from Germany and he traveled with us up until Leon. We had not seen Niels in weeks and we greeted him with much excitement. He was originally planning to leave on the next bus out of town, but he decided to stay with us, and he then became our tour guide.
First, we headed to the beach. As we walked up to the beach I became lost in the glimmering aquamarine sea, white sand, and glorious sunshine.
Ashley and I were surprised to find an abundance of seemingly untouched, perfect seashells on the beach; this was quite different from the California beaches that we are both used to!

After we spent some time gathering shells and taking a few photos, we both ran and jumped into the crystal clear sea. The extremely refreshing, cold water was tinted a perfectly blue color. I knew at that moment, when swimming around in the ocean, my trip was not meant to end at the cathedral, but instead at the ocean.
It’s amazing to see beautiful buildings like the cathedral that were constructed to honor and glorify God, and seems to try to bring the beauty of God to earth. However, there is something even more special to me; to see God’s own artful touch, God’s creation, this connects me with God in such a deep way. To me, I feel God’s presence in nature but mostly when in the ocean. The wholeness and peace that I feel when with the ocean, is indescribable. As I swam in the salty sea I felt connected to the sea, to the earth, to creation, to God.

Ashley and I embraced every moment at the beach with thankfulness. I could not have asked for a better friend to share that special moment with. I could not have asked for a better person to finish my Camino de Santiago journey with.
Ashley and I met at the beginning of my freshman year and were instant friends, kindred spirits. God definitely brought us together. I know that I will never forget the joy I felt when swimming in the sea. The moment when both Ashley and I felt clothed in God’s love and peace. After spending time at the beach we all went out to lunch at a seaside café. While at the café, we saw another friend of ours, Mario, whom we had not seen since Burgos. We had lunch with both Mario and Niels, which was so special. After our meal, we headed to the lighthouse, to the cliffs that overlook the sea, the area that was once thought to be the end of the western world, The End of The Earth.

As I sat on the gigantic cliff and looked out at the sea, I felt so small, so insignificant; yet, another part of me felt more significant than ever before. I felt as though I was apart of something greater than I could ever comprehend, something exquisite. While there, I imagined that my friends Thalia and Brenda were enjoying the extraordinary view along with me. I made it to the end for them. I left two small shells on the top of a high cliff in honor of their arrival. I know that they too completed their journey, they both made it to the end, to the vast ocean, to God.
I wrote in my journal and I was overcome with thought for quite some time.
I reflected about the end of my Camino. And, at that precise moment, when I was sitting on the cliff and admiring the majestic sea, I felt more ready than ever to begin a new chapter in my life. The time seemed to slip away while Ashley and I were sitting on the breezy cliff. After about an hour, I had to say goodbye to the sea, to the ocean, to Brenda and Thalia, to the person I used to be. I was not sad about these goodbyes; instead, I felt an inner sense of peace and joy.

So, here I am, now finished with my journey on the Camino de Santiago.
I am now walking on my never-ending path towards deeper growth, healing, knowledge, and faith. I know that I am not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow; I am simply the person I am in this present moment.
I bring no past baggage into the new chapter in my life; it is a fresh start for me on every possible level. Too many people take life far too seriously; I used to be one of them. Life is so beautiful and exciting. I want my new chapter to be one filled with joy, hope, and simplicity. I will take the time to smell the flowers, to smile at a stranger, to embrace relationships, to love others, to love myself, to stand up for justice, to kiss a cow, to comfort a hurting child, to embrace life.
In one short month I leave to study my sophomore year in Florence, Italy. Living in Europe for an entire year will be a whole new set of adventures, which is exciting.
So, here’s to a new chapter in my life, a new page, one of mystery and experience.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.

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the meseta

The meseta is quite different from the other areas of Spain we have traveled through this far. The beautiful mountain, rolling hill, and vineyard filled landscapes of both Navarra and La Rioja are not at all like the shadeless, wheat filled, flat lands of the meseta. The meseta, a high central plateau that makes up around 40 percent of Spain’s land, is a fairly flat region in central Spain. The meseta ranges anywhere from 400 to 1000 meters high, and is relatively treeless. The Sierra de Guadarrama and the Sierra de Gredos split this region into northern and southern halves. In the north this region is boarded by Cordillera Cantábrica and in the south by the Sierra Morena. Throughout this region one can find many grazing sheep between the abandoned, scarcely populated towns and villages. This region is filled with various uninhabited homes, and the cities are mostly populated by an older generation as many young people left this region in the 1960s to pursue opportunities in the larger cities.
This region has played a large role in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the development of Spain. When the Moors attempted to overtake the Christians, the meseta was one of the first areas the Christians were able to reconquer. When the Christians reconquered the region from the Moors, the meseta became apart of the Kingdom of Castile. This Castile region eventually became the Crown of Castile and was later known as the Kingdom of Spain. The meseta, in contemporary Spain, is apart of the Castile and León region in the northwest, while the central and southern regions of the meseta are apart of communities in Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid. The meseta is also known to be the home of the Castilian language, now known as Spanish.
The culture throughout the meseta is fairly diverse, as the region is so large. Some say the people of this region are quieter and not as friendly as other regions. I did not find this to be true, most people I encountered were kind, helpful individuals. Many of the original buildings in this region are built from mud and hay, as this area did not usually have access to stones or bricks in the past. The diet of the residents of this region is extremely meat dense and caracole soups are popular in some areas. When visiting various towns throughout the meseta, I noticed that the fruits and vegetables were more fresh than they did in other regions. Some albergues even had their own gardens which was great, there definitely are perks to traveling through this area.
Many of the people throughout this region are kind and genuine, despite what others claim about the residents of this region. I found the locals I have met to be just as kind and caring as those from the previous regions I have walked through. While in a private albergue in Hornillos, I met a kind couple, who ran the establishment. The couple was inviting and told us they wanted us to treat their albergue like “home”. This inviting couple encouraged me to practice my spanish with them which was kind of them, as my ability to speak spanish is not one of my strong points. I also met a kind man at El Nogal, an albergue in El Burgo Ranero, whose name is Christian. Christian let me play with his adorable cat and precious kitten as he talked with me about his childhood in Barcelona. Christian told me stories about his time in Spain and I also told him stories and information he wanted to know about America. I am so grateful that I met kind people like Christian and the couple in Hornillos. The locals throughout the region are extremely kind and welcoming, just as they have been throughout this entire journey.
The meseta is very different from both Navarra and La Rioja. The walks through the meseta were not as exciting as when we traveled through other regions. The flat lands, spread out towns, and not so scenic routes did provide me with time to think and reflect though, which was beneficial. When traveling through the other regions we walked on many woodland, populous city paths and we did not walk in shadeless areas or walk up busy roads very frequently. However, when in the meseta, we traveled mostly in shadeless, desolate areas and often traveled up roads and on gravel and cement rather than forest paths. The meseta was not as exciting as the other regions that we walked through, however, even though the land was flat and desolate, it was a vital part of my journey. For me, the meseta represents the times in my life where my faith will run dry, the times where I can’t feel or see God’s presence. The times that I choose to trust in God, and carry on, even when life is difficult. The meseta was just what I needed. The time we spent in the meseta provided me with time to think and reflect on my life. Though mentally and spiritually difficult at times, walking through the meseta enabled me to grow in faith and taught me how to trust in The Lord in a deeper way.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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la rioja

La Rioja, a northern province of Spain, is an autonomous community known for high quality wine and natural beauty. This region is made up of rolling hills, quiet countrysides, and agrarian landscapes. This small area has a population just over 320,000 individuals and Logroño is La Rioja’s capital. Logroño with a population around 150,000, is quite small, yet is this region’s largest city. Most of the villages and cities of La Rioja are each comprised of at most 200 residents. Alike with Navarra and other surrounding areas, this region was historically inhabited by pre-Roman tribes. When governed by Rome this area was in the Hispania Taraconensis region and the governing tribes utilized the fertile lands of La Rioja for winemaking. The winemaking throughout the region later became the La Rioja’s main economic resource. When the Moors took over the area in the eighth century, the region’s wine industry briefly plummeted. The Crusades in the 11th century, however, brought in Medieval Christianity; this led to the reestablishment of the area’s trade and winemaking began again. During this time, the Benedictine monks of Cluny in Burgundy, constructed three monasteries throughout the region as well.

La Rioja was apart of the Kingdom of Pamplona in the 10th century after the muslims recaptured the area. However, less than two centuries later La Rioja was made apart of Castile. In 1822 the region’s boundaries were set, but the area was not named La Rioja officially until years later. The northern region of La Rioja is bordered by Basque Country, the northeast border is Navarra, and Castile-León borders the west and southern areas of the providence. This small area is fertile, green, and has various valleys, and is argued to be Spain’s wine heartland. The residents of La Rioja typically have a high value for tradition as they have many harvests and festivals. The economy still greatly relies on winemaking currently, as it did throughout history. The people throughout La Rioja take pride in and are known for their high quality wine and delicious food.

In La Rioja I have conversed with various locals throughout my Camino journey. I have realized that the people here are extremely kind and friendly. When at a bed and breakfast in La Rioja, I met a kind woman named Lola, who on greeting me kissed both of my cheeks and gave me a large hug. Though I was not able to fully understand her as she spoke spanish, I could tell that she had a kind heart and was a caring woman. The host and the cooks at the bed and breakfast were all so loving. As my friend Ashley and I left they kissed both of us as we thanked them for their hospitality. To some Americans, hugging and kissing individuals when greeting one another may seem strange or like a violation of personal space but I don’t believe it is at all. I thought it was amazing to see the different love languages throughout Spain and La Rioja.

Navarra and La Rioja are similar in some ways but share many differences. When in Navarra the cities we journeyed through were very large and the region very mountainous. In contrast, La Rioja has various cities and villages that are much smaller than the cities in Navarra. The regions that I walked through in La Rioja seem much flatter than when in Navarra as well. La Rioja has rolling hills and many vineyards and Navarra seems to have more grasslands, prairies, and grazing animals. The cities throughout La Rioja have such few people many of them do not even have a supermarket or bar. However, while in Navarra, the large cities typically had various markets and restaurants. Both regions are extremely beautiful and unique, each new experience and region I have welcomed with excitement. I cannot wait to travel through more of this beautiful, unique country.

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hammocking in Logroño

Two days ago my group took a rest day in Logroño, a beautiful city on the Camino. When there, my friend Ashley and I decided to adventure around the city in search of a place to hammock (yes, I did use hammock as a verb). After attempting to hammock in the city and getting asked to leave by the police, we searched for a park! We found a perfect little park. We set up our hammocks as curious locals watched in awe, as many of them had never seen ENO hammocks before. Shortly after relaxing in the sunlight, four curious little boys between the ages 8-11 approached us. We let them try out our hammocks of course and I even played soccer with one of the little boys for awhile.
It was such a special, wonderful time. It’s moments like those that I am truly thankful for, the simple moments. Hammocking. Meeting locals. I will strive to embrace all of these precious, beautiful moments.
Every part of this trip has been amazing, I couldn’t be more thankful already and I’m only about 150 miles in! More stories to come. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.

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navarra

Throughout my travels in Spain thus far I have been traveling through Basque Country, in Navarra. Here is a brief history on the region:
Navarra, a French and Spanish influenced culture, is a mountainous region in the northeast region of Spain. The main languages of this region are Spanish and Basque. This region of Spain has various small medieval villages, is mountainous, has various valleys, vineyards, and many green pasture areas. Navarra used to be controlled by the Roman Empire and thus was originally inhabited by the Vascones, mostly in the northern mountainous regions like the Pyrenees. The Vascones, a pre-Roman tribe, have definitely left their romanesque mark throughout the region.
One can see the Vascone’s impact in many of the Roman-influenced buildings and aqueducts throughout Navarra. Historically, the southern region of Navarra is a place that various Muslims resided in. The Muslim’s conquest in Spain was in 711 AD, the Christians, however, over the next 700 years worked on pushing the Muslims out of Spain in the Spanish Reconquest. Pamplona is now the region’s capital and this city played a large role in the Reconquest of Spain. Pamplona is now famous for the Running of the Bulls, a festival that takes place in the city streets. Passing through Pamplona was so interesting, especially knowing that authors including Hemingway once walked the same streets in Spain.
There are many medieval villages, castles, and fortresses throughout Navarra because of Navarra’s location. As a border of France, Navarra has various monumental buildings and defenses, however, many of these buildings were destroyed in various fights, including the Spanish Reconquest. The Kingdom of Navarra is considered to be one of the most historically Christian regions in Spain. Navarra’s culture is extremely diverse. From Navarra’s famous wine to their midday naps called siestas, their bull runs in Pamplona, and their various religious carnivals and holidays, this all contributes to Navarra’s unique French and Spanish influenced society.
In meeting various individuals from Navarra I have found that they are kind, generous, and hospitable individuals. For example, when I lost in Pamplona on the Camino various kind individuals took the time to guide me in the correct direction. Even the locals in the small towns that I passed through when walking on the Camino would never fail to smile and wish me a “Buen Camino”.
I definitely noticed that Navarra is extremely different than Madrid. Madrid, a large, somewhat modern city was not as intimate as quaint, scenic Navarra. Though the individuals I met in Madrid were kind, those throughout Navarra seemed to be more laid back and approachable. In Madrid, the culture of late nights, loud noises, and tapas was overwhelming for me, and can be contrasted to Navarra’s beautiful mountain ranges, quiet countrysides, and high quality wine and food. I loved the time spent in Madrid, but it was too fast paced for me, the small medieval towns, mountains, rolling hills, and fields of Navarra are more desirable to me. The time spent in Navarra was wonderful and I cannot wait to return to this gorgeous region of Spain in the future. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.