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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a special day

This week has definitely had many ups and downs. At times, my days went by quickly, while other days seemed to drag on and became mentally difficult. I will talk about my challenging days in another post, this post is about a special, wonderful day. Two days ago we set out for the city of Astorga from Villar de Mazarife, this travel day may have been my favorite day on the Camino so far!

I walked most of the day with my wonderful friend Hannah, who is sarcastic, quiet, and extremely easy to talk to. Our journey of around 18 miles began around 7:15am. As we were walking up the interstate, I noticed a skinny, stray dog was following us. Every time I tried to walk towards him, he would run away, but he always came back. We decided to name our new friend Rigoletto, it seemed fitting to both Hannah and I. He followed us past San Martin del Camino, the first town we passed, then ran away before we entered the town Hospital De Orbigo.

As we entered Hospital De Orbigo, a small cat began to follow us and she allowed me to pick her up, we named her Posie. As we were having our breakfast in the picturesque city of Hospital De Orbigo, Rigoletto came running up to us at the restaurant! As we continued on towards Astorga, Rigoletto began to follow other pilgrims, and he then disappeared again.

As Hannah and I walked onward we passed a beautiful sunflower field. We then came to a small farming area, where we saw baby cows! I actually got in the fenced in area with one of the cows and the sweet little cow kissed me, it was such an adorable moment. After spending time with the baby cows we headed off, with much excitement and energy since we were having such a wonderful day. When we were about 5K outside of the city, we came upon this adorable little food stand and hut, we decided to stop by. The donation based stand happened to have fresh juice, tahini, peanut butter, soy yogurt, and other vegan treats! It was a dream come true! As a vegan on the Camino I have been mainly eating salads and fruit, so this stand full of other food I could eat, was so exciting to me!

I met one of the people who ran the food stand, his name was Andre. Andre told me that over three years ago when he did the Camino he came upon the stand and he fell in love with the place. He ended up quitting his job, selling everything he had, and moved to this remote area outside of Astorga. Andre, 28 at most, explained to me that he chose to move to a place with no electricity or running water. He leads a simple life, meeting pilgrims, spreading love and living in the small hut (which is pictured below). After over an hour of talking with Andre, we decided to head out to the city. I can’t wait to lead a life similar to Andre’s: simple, full of freedom and joy, always helping and reaching out to others.

On arriving to the city, none other than Rigoletto met me there! This friendly stray now found a new home in this city, a safe area where he will definitely be fed. I hope and pray that someone falls in love with him just as I did and decides to adopt him.

After we checked into a large municipal albergue, Hannah and I ventured off into the city. We stopped by a market and got gazpacho and lentils for lunch. As we were sitting outside the market, our friends Eva from Quebec and Andrew from Germany came and visited with us for some time. An elderly man discovered that we were pilgrims and took out his guitar and played us a song he wrote about his time on the Camino. That moment was so precious. After lunch, Hannah and I went to explore the city.

We came upon two amazing buildings, first the Bishop’s Palace Palacio Episcopal and then the beautiful Cathedral. Though both buildings were closed since it was Monday, we definitely enjoyed seeing the beautiful architecture of each building. I also found a small church near the cathedral that was open, it was stunning, pictures are below. We explored the town and I fell in love with the small, quaint city. My journey to Astorga and the time I spent there will always be special to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.20140716-213354-77634568.jpg

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the house of light

When I traveled to León earlier this week I made sure to stop by the León Cathedral, known as The House of Light or Pulchra Leonina. This magnificent cathedral took my breath away and gave me a sense of peace in the best of ways.
As I came upon the building, I was awe struck. I tried to take in every detail of the building, the amazing flying buttresses, the grandness of the French-styled gothic building that stood before me.
I payed 4€ to enter the Cathedral, this price included an audio tour, which was fantastic. I loved hearing the history of the majestic building. On stepping into the cathedral I was taken aback by the beautiful stained glass masterpieces that cover more than 1,800 square meters of the church. Many claim the stained glass windows within León’s Cathedral are the finest in Spain and some even believe these are among best in the world.
As I walked through the grand building I viewed the many paintings, sculptures, the various side chapels, choir area, and the intricate gold altar. I noticed that every detail seemed to work together harmoniously, making the building feel nothing short of heavenly.
The history of this fantastic architectural jewel is very interesting.
The cathedral was built from the 13th to the 16th century. The building contains over 1,500 art pieces. I viewed these historic pieces carefully and walked through the building twice. At one point during my visit, I decided to sit in a pew, where I could take in the beauty that surrounded me. I felt an amazing sense of peace. I sat in the pew for quite some time. I sat thinking, writing, praying.
Whether you’re religious or not, I definitely suggest visiting the León Cathedral. I believe that the architecture and historic artwork throughout the building could touch the hearts of people whether religious or not.
If you are traveling to León’s Cathedral, I would definitely suggest that you visit in the afternoon, during this time the sun streams through the windows in such a beautiful way.
I will always remember my visit to this particular Cathedral, because it touched my heart and soothed my soul. I can only imagine how wonderful and emotional it will be when I step through the grand doors of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. For now, I will hold all of these special moments in my heart and continue to walk on.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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