Just Like Starting Over

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“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” – Kurt Vonnegut

People will often describe something as their “great love”, the thing that drives them wild and captured their hearts for a lifetime. I believe in my soul, I will not get the chance of encountering my great love, for my emotions are too fleeting and I fall in love with new places and people every day.

Instead, I find my heart intricately intertwined with smaller, more profound lovelies: the many places I go, the silences shared over coffee, the comforting sounds of nature, the feel of time passing by all around me, and seeking solace in the kindness of strangers.

Yet, no matter how much of a skeptic you are, there are things that just take your breath away.

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Friday morning I woke up in Faro, Portugal, around 7:30 am, hopped out of bed, repacked my bag (greatest downside to all travel is unpacking and repacking your bags), freshened up, and skedaddled my way back to the bus stop so I could grab a taxi and make my way over to the airport. I had about 8 hours to kill before my bus to Seville and made a rather rash decision at 1:00 am to rent a car.

First of all, automatic cars are hard to locate outside the US and I paid nearly double to get this one. But, my plan was to make a nice tour de Portugal to go see the great cave of Benagil and get that one marked off my bucketlist. I had also decided my offline Google maps would be more than enough to steer me in the right direction.

Me, being who I am and all, didn’t get the car picked up until 11:00 am. I was pressed for time, and needed to get back by 2:00 pm for my bus check-in. Yet, I managed to get my yuppy butt going the wrong direction outside the airport for the first 15 minutes of my jourmey. After noticing my error and turning around (thank gawd for European roundabouts), I still managed to end up in the neighboring town of Benagil, and not Benagil itself. Luckily, I managed to get directions and find the cove where I could reach the caves of this little fishing village.

I had an hour to get back to Faro (or so I thought) and I came to find out that for 20 euro I’d be able to take a boat trip to see 20 caves (including the one I wanted to see), but it was only accessible by boat and the boat had just left. The next one wouldn’t leave for another hour…

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The Benagil beach

After returning the car, I realized I still had an hour before my rental was up. The car’s dashboard clock was somehow set an hour ahead. While the “check-in” for the bus that needed to supposedly be 2 hours before the bus actually left, consisted of me having a ticket printed by a lady, in a what seemed to me to be a travel agency outside of the bus station, who never even asked for my passport and told me to be sure to be at the station 15 minutes before 4:00 pm.

Instead of wasting two hours at the ugliest bus station I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering (remember the toilet story from my last post), I went across the street to have gelato and espresso instead.

I counted the experience as one of those “I’d rather have tried and failed than not try at all” lessons.

Now, since Friday, January 22, I’ve shuffled from one Spanish city to the next. Starting with my arrival in Seville.

SEVILLE

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View of Seville from the Giralda tower

Coming back to Spain, was like returning to the arms of an old friend.

The air was refreshing, the language was one I could decipher, the landscape is vast and open with rolling hills every few meters, and even the bustling sounds of an old city felt chillingly familiar.

I studied in Valenica, Spain back in the summer of 2012 and always knew I was meant to return.

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Me in Valencia circa July 2012

Valencia was where I learned how to come out of my shell. It helped me grow, and gave me fresh perspectives of the person I longed to become. Here, I began questioning all my beliefs, made friends outside my comfortable bubble, and by the end of it, upon my return I found myself without a job (the store I was working for was being closed by corporate), which would then lead to me having one of my most meaningful employment opportunity.

In Valencia, I was pleasantly out of place.

No wonder that at a time when my life feels totally chaotic, returning to a country I would wander the streets alone contemplating all of life, would seemingly feel comfortable.

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From the Plaza de España

Seville is no Valencia. Although, it does have its own unique aesthetics that deserve credit.

The Friday I arrived, I was reminded of how I am not 20 years old anymore and staying up past 4:00 am when still mildly jetlagged will not feel good. Which is why I promptly saw myself back to my hotel room by 3:00 am after a few feel-good midnight drinks.

I’ve met up with an old college friend in Seville and my compadre was not as keen on turning in at such an early hour, and stayed out until 6:00 am (by the way, 6:00 am is still a fairly early hour to quit partying in Spain).

The following day was the real day I got to take in the city: the cathedral, the plaza, and most of all I was reminded of how much i dislike most Spanish food.

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Look mom! I’m not totally alone! (These strangers had no idea a photo was happening)

My two days in Seville proved largely uneventful unless you count the minor mishap where I nearly lost my new sunglasses at the plaza. The second night, siesta turned into a full-on night’s sleep and my companero and I didn’t make it out.

After some more sightseeing, on Sunday afternoon, we began making our way east to Cordoba.

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That ledge at the Alcázar had a good unobscured two story drop. Vertigo was real.

CORDOBA

Cordoba was much more to my liking than Seville. Probably because I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going since the first time I came to Spain.

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It’s much smaller than Seville but getting around proved to be difficult. We spent a good hour and a half circling around the city center trying to locate our hotel only to find we were being given directions to the wrong hotel.

Sometimes it takes getting hopelessly lost in order to remember the joy and relief that comes with being found (keys, sunglasses, directions, hearts, etc.)

 

 

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Some of the amazing street art

Walking down streets that are older than twice your country’s age does something to you. I was washed with a sense of being. It sent me spinning down the rabbit hole of thinking and all of a sudden, I was faced with the true concept of my own morality. I remember seeing a sign for a hospital that declared they had been serving the community for over 900 years. 900 years is insane! In America, it’s an honor to be even 100 years old. Will I ever be able to create or be something that can outlast my own lifespan?

Not lost, but definitely not too sure of where we were, we managed to follow a large tour group to Cordoba’s mezquita.

I paid about 8 euros to see all of the mezquita and I’d probably pay double to do it again.

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First, let me tell you the history of the mezquita so you can understand my deep attraction to it. When the Moors conquered Spain, in 711, the new Muslim conquerers took the Visigoths catholic church and divided it into Christian and Muslim halves. They shared this space until 784, when an Emir demolished the site and built the grand mosque of Cordoba on its site. The work took the craftsmanship of thousands of artisans and laborers. It didn’t reach its current dimensions until 987 (with the completion of its outer naves and courtyard.

In 1236, Cordoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castille and it under his rule that the mosque was then converted to a Catholic church. How did he do this? By building a massive Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the mosque.

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When I walked in, the scene is nearly overwhelming. The arches that seem to go on forever, the stone floors, the patterned ceiling. And this was only the bits of the remaining mosque that I was seeing.

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Someone was playing the old organ and the whole of the experience brought me to tears. Sometimes, things just build emotion in you and steal your breath right from your lips.

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RONDA

By Monday night we arrived in what is now my new favorite town in Spain. We drove southwest from Cordoba, through the winding hills and mountains (over the river and through the woods) until we reached our destination.

The site that would later be called Ronda was originally settled by the Iberian or the Bastulo Celts (it was so long ago that no one is really sure). They chose the site because it was so easily defendable, nestled on top of mountain. When the Romans came along around 218 BC, they naturally liked what they saw and took it for themselves and essentially created the foundation for the Ronda that stands today.

The Guadalevín river runs through the city, forming the El Tajo canyon on which the city is perched. The bridge that stands today connecting the two sides wasn’t built until 1751.

After the downfall of the Roman empire around 400 AD, Ronda stood in ruins. Mutiple groups came and left until 713 AD, when the Moors took it over. The city was conquered by the Spanish Christians in 1485 when they cut off the city’s water supply and finally took the mine of Casa del Rey Moro.

The city can be separated into two halves: ancient and modern. No wonder Hemingway was obsessed with this place.

No place stole my heart and took my breath away quite like Ronda.

 

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Viewing the Tajo gorge

The sunsets, the valleys, the rain, the mountains, the people, the paella are somehow all somehow sweeter in this city. I spent one day and one night there and am assured I somehow emerged a better person just for physically being there.

Ronda captivates you the moment you look out on to the gorge.

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View from Puente Nuevo bridge

The night we arrived, I spent a good amount of time just staring at the views. But once I collected my jaw from the ground, my compadre and I set off to have dinner at a place suggested to us by our hotel, and if you ever make it to Ronda, I highly recommend St. Christian (just behind the cathedral – don’t worry, you can’t get lost in Ronda).

We had to call ahead make a reservation for the paella. And since I was starving, they even make an exception for us and made it early (so it would be ready by 8:00 pm). It was phenomenal. The way the spices and the rice and the meat all mixed, it was the best paella my compadre or I ever had. Our waiter was delightful (good service in Spain is hard to find), and when the chef came out to greet us, we gave him our sincerest compliments. He cheerfully told us he was also the restaurant’s owner but the boss was most definitely the esposa.

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My compadre and I at the Puente Nuevo bridge (he doesn’t want to be featured which is why I have the silluette but I still want you to know he really exists!)

The next day was for exploring. I awoke to a rainy, slightly overcast day and wasn’t in the least bit concerned. I could describe the day to you, but instead I’m going to give you the following picture story.

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Walking outside the city walls to take in the views

 

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Some sheep casually doing their thang

 

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The Casa del Rey Moro (not open to visitors, falling apart, and hauntingly beautiful – wasn’t actually built until the 18th century)

 

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The mine underneath the Casa del Rey Moro

 

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Once at the bottom of the mine, your met with this amazing view

 

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See that kind of dark shadow thing where the shadow and the light meet? Yeah, that’s me. (Sorry mom!)

 

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Did some dangerous hiking and rock climbing to get to its point, even scraped my leg, but it was definitely worth it

 

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View of the valley from where I was sitting

 

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View from my right side of the cascading falls

 

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Puente Nuevo bridge (I was nestled up there on that rock right next to tears first big waterfall)

 

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What true freedom feels like

 

 

PUERTO DE SANTA MARIA

Here is my last stop in Spain. It’s counterpart, Rota, once helped protect the city of Cadiz from being conquered by Joseph Bonaparte.

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What’s left of the great defence tower

 

 

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What is left of this great defence system can be seen in El Puerto Sherry, where a wall stands crumbling, and the tower has broken apart.

No single place has the same touch, same heartbeat, just as I have found in the people I’ve stumbled across.

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I’m thrust into a need for solitude because in these moments I feel whole. Yet, just as much through others I discover bits of myself.

Today I leave for Milan, Italy. In fact, I’m writing this from the Seville airport waiting to check in (YAY Ryanair) and will soon be discovering the beauty of a new country.

My takeaway point from this week:

  • Life always feels as if it’s broken between “then” and “now” – but I’ve come to find it’s a continuous journey between ruin and repair, resilience and hope. All things come full circle.

And I’m working to make sense of it all.

Chau, until next week from Prague!

-XO-

Katie


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