Tuesday, October 21, 2008

patricia in pula

In the week and a half between the day I got this job to Vienna and left for Vienna, there was one new destination I knew I had to visit: Croatia. There have been rumors and stories humming in my head about this lengthy coastal, homeland of Toni Kukoc for several years now--how it rivaled the scenic beauty of Greece and still remained unaffected by the suffocation of too many tourists. And so upon my arrival, I leeched myself upon Allison and Matt and their similar weekend plans toward Croatia. It turned out that none of us had too many specifics in mind--we just wanted to go. The southern part including Split was what most of those rumors included, but it seemed days away by train and not worth the exhaustion, and then, naturally, Daniel came to be our finest resource. He encouraged us to spend half our time (again, weekend...3 1/2 days more or less) in Slovenia and then go to a village in Northern Croatia that was just a smaller version of Split. So with a couple days of reviewing suggestions, booking hostels, and hoping for the best, we jumped on a train toward Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, Thursday just after noon.

We arrived early evening with slight mist and eager anticipation: we were staying in Hostel Celica, former prison turned art gallery/creative living quarters. We weren't disappointed. Apparently, some 800 Slovenian artists have contributed into the building's transformation giving 20 something individual cells unique character and layout. You should check it out for yourself: http://www.souhostel.com/

my prison cell for a night--the wooden contraption over
the window comes down as a table...yes, very cool

I thought the entire concept of this hostel was a beautiful shadow of the gospel. To take something that bred death, darkness, loneliness, and hopelessness and turn its confines into a building that supports exploration, safety, economic sustainability, and, of course, partying is an idea that we should practice more often. Death to life, darkness to laughter, toxic to restorative. Now I'm not saying that we should go ahead and close all our active prisons to open alternative businesses such as hotels, restaurants, museums, allthewhile training the former inmates in professional skills...okay, maybe I am... (: Maybe I'm just scared that our culture/world has forgotten how to use their imaginations...or perhaps it's that we never knew how.

Truman, a 21-year-old American stationed in a German Airforce base, had just returned from Iraq and was on a mini-vacation to regain his sanity. He was in search of community and proved to be a great tour guide of the town from his 4-day stay in Ljubljana. 20% of the population is university students, so needless to say, the town was humming with activity. We ate falafels and had a good conversation with a Bangladeshi man studying economics in Slovenia...of course his English was perfect and he wanted to peacefully converse over the economic state of affairs and America's next president. He was brilliant and made us some darn good falafels. The next morning thunderstorms boomed in the surrounding mountains to suggest that we move on to the coast of Piran which meant an inadequate stay in Ljub, but there's not much you can truly savor in one weekend's worth of jumping through two countries.
And it turns out that we made a great choice. Our hurricane winds off the coast of Piran offered a rather entertaining afternoon and subsided just in time for a crystal clear evening. The entertainment came when we all decided to change into our bathing suits, run through the small alleyways around our hostel and jump into the Adriatic Sea. Bernard, a Canadian visitor at our hostel saw us in the lobby, asked where we were from, and responded by, "Of course, Americans." We're representing our nation well in Slovenia, no worries. I'm pretty sure I laughed for an hour straight, and shivered simultaneously.
After warming up, we hiked up to their local church and further to the quaint castle with its grand panorama.
Piran, Slovenia
We spent a riveting night in our hostel's warm lobby resting and chatting it up with Bernard and his wife, Patricia. I would guess they are in their 50s/60s and come from Banff National Park, Canada. We bonded over a common love for mountains and the close proximity between Glacier and Banff, and realized that we were both headed toward Pula the following day. Following that conversation, the four of us decided that the Travel Channel should start airing a show entitled, "Patty in Pula"- one, because it sounds fabulous, and because Patricia would inevitably do a darn good job representin' Pula. Catchy, isn't it?

between Piran and Portoroz

We awoke to glorious blue skies and had a good chunk of time before our afternoon bus to Croatia, so we walked to the nearby town of Portoroz, drank cappuccinos, and laid out on one of the ports. I highly recommend this lifestyle. It was a pretty unanimous declaration that Slovenia is a splash of heaven on this earth, and what we saw of Croatia wasn't too bad either. All bus rides should be as pretty as the one we took that afternoon. Seriously, if Greyhound guaranteed Croatian coasts, I wouldn't even think of any other form of transportation.

And so we arrived in time for a sunset over a horizon of water, and gave ourselves a quick tour of Pula (Patricia had already headed on to the hostel, so we were lacking our guide, unfortunately).
Post-dusk we checked into Pula Youth Hostel located on the beach, went out to get oven-baked pizzas, slept, and woke up to a chilly sunrise. Then we left. An entire day of travel was performed without a glitch, except for the fact that the Slovenian train men couldn't get it through their heads that they weren't supposed to stamp our Eurail Passes. Just shake your heads along with me on that one.
After such a weekend, I am rethinking whether or not God wants me to spend the rest of my life renting out motorbikes in Piran, writing Slovenian poetry, and continuing my addiction to coffee and suntans. I wouldn't exactly be opposed.

And tonight it's Wednesday, October 22, 2008. I picked my mom up from the airport this morning, and we have quite an exciting 2 weeks planned together. We leave for fall break this weekend: Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and, of course, Osterreich.

Ciao ciao for now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

trip mom

That's what some of my sweet chillun' call me.  Here are some favorite photos of them.

Bintu & Chelsea in Budapest

Bintu, Allison & Allison pose at the Coliseum

Some of the gang at the Spanish Steps in Rome

All the ladies minus Bintu our first night in Florence

Marc, Matt & Denton in Pisa 

buona sera

This afternoon I went for a walk.  There is a park not too far from our hotel in Vienna, just south of the Belvedere, and for some unknown reason I had yet to visit it over the months/years I've been around.  I sat on a bench, Henri Nouwen in hand, and kept being interrupted by fall.  The tree in front of me wore mustard yellow leaves burnt around the edges as if they were carefully dipped in dark chocolate.  As I listened to the Amelie soundtrack and watched the tree, the bouncing accordion music made me dance from one leaf to the next and with the couple sitting across the pond, and the woman walking her dog.  So many things were happening at once:  autumn, words, sounds.  Therefore, I practiced the only true skill I've somewhat honed over the years, observing.  It's the closest thing I have to a vocation.  And as I observed my surroundings, the Spirit ended up observing me.  

(Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love)
'Acknowledge Your Powerless'
"One way you keep holding on to an imaginary power is by expecting something from outside gratifications or future events.  As long as you run from where you are and distract yourself, you cannot fully let yourself be healed.  A seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown.  When you keep digging the seed up to check whether it is growing, it will never bear fruit.  Think about yourself as a little seed planted in rich soil.  All you have to do is stay there and trust that the soil contains everything you need to grow.  This growth takes place even when you do not feel it.  Be quiet, acknowledge your powerlessness, and have faith that one day you will know how much you have received." 
Two weeks ago I wrote about travels in Cheb with Sarah, the closing of Tichy, and the hospitalization of one of our students...well, that week turned out to be our very own mini-plague.  I spent the vast majority of my time at the hospital, fixing soup for the ill in my Harry Potter cup purchased at a thrift store down the road, and passing along a well-tested thermometer.  And then I fled to Budapest....with about a dozen (healthy) students the day before we left for Italy.  I had spent a rather humorous 4 hours in the Hungarian capital 6 years ago with Holly, Hunter and Austin.  We arrived just in time to miss the spas (our main objective), grab a meal, and run to the last train leaving for Vienna.  This time, we started out in similar fashion.  We all literally ran to grab the earliest train out of Vienna to have optimum time in Buda and Pest.  The adrenaline rush lasted most of the night as Chelsea, Bintu and I had the best meal thus far (even when comparing to Italy) in Europe, and meandered down to Hero's Square with its castles, museums, statues, and climbable trees.  Since our earlier meal had given us wings, we walked the streets back toward the river.  The weather could not have been more pleasant and I could not have been more taken with Budapest.  The pleasantness turned to rain by morning, but we got up early enough to soak our sore bodies in the best Hungarian baths there were to offer.  Eleven girls and one speedo-renting Matt giggled and sighed as our skin was smoothed and muscles relaxed.  Our train got us home with just enough time to nap, pack, and pile in a night train to Rome.

hero's square-budapest

Similar to the Prague weekend one month ago, our week in Italy was a 32-member event (28 Studentin, 3 faculty [that includes me...yes, faculty], and one Daniel Kravina).  It is our second, last, and greatest group affair with 4 days in Rome, 3 in Florence and 2 in transit.  The way the week itinerary is prepared by Daniel, our week is non-stop from start to finish--a kind of baptism by fire.  Just an hour or two after we'd awoken from a restless night on the train, we were whisked away by 4'10" Roberta for the grand tour of Roman Ruins which is, essentially, the entire city.  From the Coliseum, Forum, and Arches to the remnants of where they (who 'they' is, I'm not really sure) say Paul was imprisoned while in Rome, it was an exhausting day (first of many) filled with floods of historical and artistic education (again, first of many).  

roman coliseum

We stayed in a Catholic monastery for our entire time in Rome.  Some of the nuns were crabby, but it was a delightful experience with a large garden, chicken coop, and a fancy crucifix above the front door on which Jesus was wearing a neon halo.  Pretty impressive.  Foodwise, Daniel never failed with our scheduled dinners one of which was a kind of international mission--the waitresses were missionaries from South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, etc, with wide smiles, the peace of God, and the mandatory task to lead each guest in Ave Maria. (oh, and the best gnocchi I've ever had came from the missionaries)  Then there was pizza, pizza, pizza and gelato 3 times emphasized as well.  Just stick around the Pantheon and you can not only find 101 flavors of gelato, but about the same amount for pizza.  One night, a small group of us wondered to a pub down the street from our convent (which a pub in Rome is strange anyway), and just so happened to sit at the booth where a large Jack Daniels sign decorated the wall.  And just so you know, whenever any European asks where you're from, the response to Tennessee never gets Elvis or music in general, but Jack Daniels.  International fame.  It was there I had my curry risotto...yum...and per usual, the deliciousness made me think of my Asian meals...I'm pretty sure my students are tired of hearing me talk about Nepal.  I stuck my hand in the Mouth of Truth for my love of Audrey and Gregory, and spent a long time in the small apartment of John Keats's memorial.  In 1820, he came with his friend to Rome.  One year later, at the age of 25, tuberculosis killed his genius.  And so, perhaps poetically, at the age of 25 I walked into his bedroom and thanked his tragic life for giving us 'Ode to Autumn' among others.  Young brilliance is confounding.

Then we were off to Florence where 25% of the World Heritage Masterpieces are nestled into one tiny town filled with Americans.  Daniel calls it the Disneyland of Italy.  In just two days we went to 7 museums, among of course, the Academy in which stands Michelangelo's glorious David, and the Ufizzi Gallery that holds Bonticelli, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio.  

ponte vecchio-florence

In the midst of trying to absorb at least a pinch of the Renaissance explosion, some of us went to Pisa for dinner.  Honestly, I think most of the time there was spent trying to think of creative ways to 'hold up' the Leaning Tower with both legs, or 'push it over' with an effortless pinky.  It is a strange existence.   

when in pisa...

I might have to say that I even enjoyed this long week to Italy even more than 6 years ago.  Most of that reaction is because of Rome.  It was just far too overwhelming to me back then with it's 2 lines of a Metro, but now, maybe after living in more chaotic cities than itself, I loved Rome.  Loved it.  Also, I felt this trip allowed me to get to know the group so much better.  Through girl talk, cultural observations, a common love for the man below, and thoughts of God and our response as his servants, last week was a perfect example of what makes this program in Europe so indispensable:  community.

the one, the only, daniel kravina

With only a couple days of recoop time here in Wien, I'm off again in just an hour...to Slovenia and Croatia!  Two of the three Allisons, Matt and I will be exploring three different towns over the weekend (2 being on the coast!).  I'll have stories and pictures soon and very soon.