Saturday, August 13, 2016

Things I Learned from Europe

I still think about living in Europe.  All the time.  Right after we came back to the United States, most of my memories were about little things - missing my bike (vs. driving in a car everywhere), remembering American cucumbers (and how they really don't taste good to me anymore), having mixed feelings about everything being in English (easier, but also...way more boring).  Now I've transitioned a little bit and recently have been thinking about bigger personality/life-changing lessons I think I got from living in Germany and Denmark for five years.

Just sitting here on a Saturday morning, here are a few:

* Getting a deep, mind-exploding realization of how big the world is, how many many people (and entire lives) there are, and how I'm just one tiny tiny tiny tiny microscopic person.  It helped me grow a little bit out of some self-centeredness and/or self-importance that was still hanging on from adolescence.  It made me realize that even the biggest of my "life goals" I had before would still mean nothing.  That the world is like an infinite universe, and my little family is actually my world.

* The vast majority of people in the world are good -- 99%.  No matter where you go.  People are good.  We all share the same experiences, broadly speaking.  We all feel the same emotions.  Empathy and kindness are the default.  

* Stuff is dumb.  It's all so incredibly dumb - also, annoying to deal with.  Doing is the only thing that really means anything.  

* Quality is not dumb, though.  If you have to have some stuff, only have what you absolutely need and then only have the nicest one you can get.  Take pride in beautiful things - but only because they're beautiful, not because you want things.

* Time is the only thing I'll ever really own and, maybe counter-intuitively(?), the only way to use it well is to limit what you do with it and take it slow.  How else can I explain this?....  The best way to use your time is to not feel like you have to keep track of how you're using your time?  That there's never anything else more important than what you're doing right this moment?  

* Hygge.  A word without a direct translation.  Relaxation, calm, coziness, quiet, slow, warm and long intimate conversations, candles, a friend playing the guitar while everyone listens quietly, simple food, singing old songs around a fire, discussing abstract ideas with a cup of tea, sitting on a porch and listening to birds, running under a bus stop shelter and watching the rain, seeing the shadows of branches on your window -- these aren't pointless, silly, time-wasting activities.  These are the things that are everything.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Andalucia's Hill Towns, The Land of Ferdinand

Once upon a time in Spain...

We traveled by car from Seville to Granada, through the land of Ferdinand - one of my favorite children's books.  And on the way, we visited the hill town of Zahara, which, I'm pretty sure, was the model for the very first page of that little book about a peaceful, introverted bull.

Zahara is like a fairytale - isolated and absolutely untouched by sprawl.  The same cluster of whitewashed buildings zig-zagging up to the fortress on the hill as were there hundred of years ago.

I'm very proud to say that at seven months pregnant, I totally climbed that hill all the way to the top of that fortress tower.  Standing up there looking out into the impossibly blue lake (look at that picture!) and white buildings below, I was totally worth feeling like I was going to die trying to make that hike while seven months pregnant and in a dress.

We didn't stay long in Zahara - just a couple hours to climb the hill and gawk at its time-capsule-other-worldliness.  And then we were back on a road that kept winding up and up through the mountains and then back down through the tiny, hidden hill town of Grazalema.  

(Our only picture of Grazalema)

Grazalema isn't nearly as stunning to see as Zahara, but it is an adventure trying to drive a tiny tiny  manual rental car down and up through its even tinier whitewashed and completely un-signanged roads.  It was a tense five minutes, we try not to dwell on that time.  But the drive out of Grazalema to Ronda (perhaps the most "touristy" hill town) was through miles and miles of cork trees.

Cork trees!  Like in Ferdinand!  It actually took us a while (and some rifling through our guide book) to figure out they were cork trees in the first place.  I hadn't fully realized that cork is harvested from the bark or right below the bark, so we saw miles and miles of giant trees with a strip cut around their middles or all the way from half of the trunk through the larger branches, exposing the rich reddish wood beneath and it was so fascinating.  ...This is hard to explain, I'm going to go look for a picture:

Like this!  For miles and miles!  It was beautiful.

We had saved Ronda for the end 1) was just the last hill town on the way to Granada.... but 2) It was supposed to be the best one.

Mehhhhhhhhhhh Ronda.  Sure, it was an old town built up high...but just on a big bluff.  Meh.  And then its most famous draw - its medieval gorge bridge (which makes an appearance in Ferdinand!) - was completely not anywhere.  We drove literally three times all the way around that bluff with a GPS and trying to follow any signs and never saw even a tiny glimpse of anything that could possibly be that bridge.

I know it exists.  I've seen it in Ferdinand!  (And friends' travel pictures) But dag just decided to not exist for us that day.

But actually, that was totally fine because we now knew for sure that we had seen the best hill town in Andalusia, hands down - Zahara.  So we let it go and left Ronda for a final few hours through that dry Mediterranean landscape (strangely reminiscent of... central Utah?) and onward to Granada (!!).

(Where is this bridge, Ronda??)

Fairytale Zahara

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