Depression, You Don’t Win

Dear Depression,

Ever since I was a little girl, the people around me made it their mission to prepare me for any dangers in life. I was told not to talk to strangers. I was told that sometimes other people will be me mean, and it’s important to respond well to that. I learned how to spend or not spend money, how to take care of myself when I was sick, and how to do everything in between. People spent so much time teaching me how to fight external battles, but they never mentioned the biggest battles of all, the ones against myself. My little, adventurous self would have never imagined that I’d be fighting feelings and insecurities that dug far deeper than my weight or my face or a childhood crush not liking me back. As I grew older, this reality became much more apparent to me. My biggest enemies resided inside of me, and I was unprepared to fight. I didn’t even know you well, and suddenly I was face-to-face with you, living with you in my life and in the lives of those dearest to me.

Living with you has been hard, not going to lie. I’ve always been reluctant to call you Depression. I know there are some people whose lives are completely torn apart by you. Their lives are extremely difficult to live, and well, I’ve been lucky enough to only experience you in smaller ways. I’m a very happy, resilient, and positive person, so I’ve always felt afraid to put that label on myself. “Depressed.” We live in a world of self-diagnosis, and well, I by no means, intend to contribute to that.

Whatever you are though, you are not fun. You have been the source (or the result of) so much pain and isolation in my life. I remember your first time visiting me. It was in late middle school. I didn’t even know what depression was at the time, and I never recognized your presence in my life until years later. I felt so isolated and so unloved in the world during this time. Everything just felt so dark. I failed to see any worth that people saw in me, and as a result, I kind of hated my own skin. But I grew out of it. I kept going.

I didn’t notice you much throughout high school. You took a hiatus. Maybe you appeared here and there, but overall, I was doing really well. In college, it was the same thing, although I was becoming more aware of who you were. I was really thriving academically and socially, but you crept your way into it all occasionally.

I think my reaction had always been to run from you. You didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t understand how I could be so happy and successful, but at the same time feel some sort of discontentment in that. I began to literally flee. In a way, I was fleeing as I transferred universities, as I participated in a summer mission, as I studied abroad. I thought that if I could add a busy schedule or new adventures to my life, I could somehow reset everything. That excitement would make my imperfect life feel perfect again.

I’d say there have been a lot of highs and lows over the past couple years. You’re not the constant, unbearable thing that everyone assumes you to be (well, maybe you are to some). To me, you come at the most random times. Sometimes I’ll be at a good place in life. Other times I won’t be doing so well. After disappearing long enough for me to forget about you, you suddenly come back, and you shake up my world every time.

I’ve wrestled with a lot of things because of you. You made me believe that I was unloved. I felt that I was just company to people, not a soul that they genuinely cared to know. You made me feel insecure about my personality, that being an introvert was somehow a problem in this extroverted world. I felt that people wouldn’t understand me. That they would so quickly dim my beautiful, colorful world into three of the most painful words I have ever heard “You’re so quiet.” By feeling unloved and misunderstood, I felt there was no one I could run to with you.

I’m a creature of emotions. When you’re here, I feel things violently. I feel sad, and it’s like I almost want to bury myself deeper in those emotions. I always felt like I was too intense for others, and it has definitely been a challenge to maintain closeness with people because of you. Even my dearest relationships have seen you in some way or another, and I have always felt guilt in the thought of hurting a partner or friend for something beyond my understanding.

Above all, you’ve robbed me of my creativity and so many opportunities. It’s like you dull me down as a person. Sometimes you aren’t sadness. You’re simply this paralyzing, unshakable exhaustion. I don’t like who I am when you do this to me. I’ll spend an entire day in bed. No matter how productive I need or want to be, sometimes all I do (and can do) is eat and sleep the day away. As a person who thrives off of external stimulation and busy schedules, the inability to do much can be devastating. There are days where my head just feels cloudy, and I have absolutely no ounce of creativity. I’ll have ideas for poems or for projects, and either they take days to actually be completed or they fizzle out. Not cool.

I have experienced so much isolation and doubts and guilt and confusion because of you. Depression, you suck. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that you do not win. And you never will. I am a beautiful and loved individual. A resilient soul with a precious life, and I have the love of Jesus Christ Himself to destroy any chance of you breaking me.

As strange as it sounds to say all of this, I am thankful for my past battles I have had with you. They have taught me lessons I never would have learned otherwise. I have seen my abilities to come back from the hard seasons, to thrive in the midst of my battles. Every day, I am learning more beautiful truths about myself and the daughter that I am in Christ. And for that, I think you are a part of my testimony that should not be left out.

I’ve learned to continuously celebrate who I am. I am a beautiful human with unique talents and abilities. My introverted, empathetic personality allows me to really connect with the world, to really understand it. To listen, to think, to create, rather than simply talk. I’m sorry, but you can’t change that about me. I am a creative soul, an adventurer, and a lover. I appreciate who I am and what I have to offer the world.

All of these things were so perfectly gifted to me by God Himself. If the Creator of the universe, the One who made every planet and plant and particle of dust, chose to create me? If He loved me before the world came to be, and if He has a specific purpose for my life that no one else can fill, well, that’s pretty huge. These truths don’t leave much room for you to derail my thoughts. There is a Father who knows and cherishes every piece of who I am. How could I possibly believe I am unloved, alone, or without a purpose in my life?

I have learned that as His daughter, I am loved abundantly and unconditionally. God pours His love into me even when I’m struggling, and I should always cling to that. I am learning to surround myself by His love, to come to Him freely, to lean on His strength rather than my own. Things will not always be okay, and that is fine. Afterall, I’m human. I am sometimes hurt and broken, and the beautiful thing is that God wants IT ALL. He’s not waiting for me to fix everything before coming to Him. No, I’m am able to just surrender my burdens to Him, to come as I am. I can rest in His love and comfort and give Him a space to walk alongside of me and take care of me in my depression. There is so much comfort and strength in coming to the Lord.

Simply trusting in Him and giving Him everything I can, even if it’s seemingly not much, is enough to carry me through any trial in life. I find so much meaning and purpose in life thanks to the One who suffered on the cross so I don’t have to. I find healing and love in the process, and honestly, my hard seasons have only brought me closer to God. I feel a peace and joy that is beyond this world, that I could never experience without His presence in my life.

He gives me a reason to hope, and for that, I know I will be okay.

Depression, I am not afraid of you. My God is bigger than you could ever dream to be.

I am so blessed by the community of believers who have come alongside of me in my walk with the Lord. It brings joy to my soul to share stories with people who are living the same things that I am. To be raw, vulnerable humans, all praising God together. That is something incredible. I pray for everyone carrying out their own journeys. Remember, no battle, not even the internal ones, are too big for the Lord. I desire for everyone to experience comfort and joy in trusting in the Lord.

As always,

Mara

Budapest | April 20-22

 

Day 1 | April 20

Amanda and I began our journey to Budapest with our 2:30 bus to Madrid. We arrived three hours later, took the airport shuttle to our terminal, and went through security like we had done so hundreds of times before (we pretty much have). We only had a couple hours to kill before our flight by that point.

As the time neared to board our plane, we realized that this would be be far from a normal flight. A group of guys showed up, beer cans in their hands, wearing colorful wigs and tutus. I’m not sure what their plans were, but they looked like they were ready to hop off the plane in Budapest and go straight to some party. We shrugged it off. Anything was normal by this point.

On the plane, we sat behind three of the guys. None of them were dressed in costumes, but they were heavily participating in the game of “let’s get some beers every time the flight attendant walks by.” The guy in the middle turned around towards the end of the flight at talked to us a bit, mainly Amanda. He was from Porto, Portugal and he knew an impressive four languages. The friend next to him was a bit more obnoxious, telling the flight attendant that he loved her and continuing to cause some trouble. At one point, a guy behind me stood up and told him of for his disobedience. He muttered a few Spanish swear words under his breath, all of which I understood. Not sure if that’s an accomplishment or not. All in all, it was quite the party bus, and I guess that’s what you get for traveling through an airline called Wizzair.

We arrived in the city a little after midnight. I was welcomed into Budapest with some “endearing” pats on the head by the guy in front of me. We got off the plane, endured the chilly outdoor walk from our plane to the exit, and waited for our shuttle van. The worker told us to watch the screen for the arrival of our shuttle, but after a while of seeing nothing, a British guy came and asked us about it (he and his Spanish girlfriend were waiting for the same thing). The four of us decided it was in our best interest to not trust the screen. It was already late. We didn’t want to miss our shuttle, so we all waited outside in the cold. Amanda and I talked to the couple for a bit. They were super sweet and adorable. I would have loved to continue our conversation on the shuttle, but sadly, they left before we did.

Our van eventually came as well, and all was good. Amanda and I were the first ones on. We witnessed the van fill up with people and empty out again, for our stop was the last one. The entire ride was just filled with an awkward silence as the driver zoomed through the city at an alarming speed. Perhaps we were all just silently clinging onto our lives, anticipating our possible death. We made it safely to our hotel though. We checked in and passed out for the night. It was probably sometime between 2:00 and 3:00am.

Day 2 | April 21

The two of us slept in a little bit the next morning, but still managed to wake up in time for breakfast at the hotel before it closed at 10. It was one of the most impressive hotel breakfasts I have had yet (following closely behind the one we would later have in Prague). It was more of brunch style. I enjoyed some bread with cheese, an apple, tea, one of the best salads of my life, and some other Hungarian specialties.The rest of our day was spent simply exploring Budapest.

We began our adventures by strolling through a nearby park/hill that was along the way. The area had a few trails and a lot of good views overlooking the Danube River and the bridge. There were some other monuments and things such as the Philosophical garden, an area that hosted several great religious and/or philosophical figures. Amanda and I took a ton of pictures of all of the pretty views of the city. Luckily, we’re both addicts come time to taking travel photos, so we were able to stop frequently to do so.

From there, we crossed the bridge and meandered our way towards the Budapest castle. The place was an absolute beaut. It felt like a little village in itself with several open areas for people to just sit and talk. Everywhere you turned led to a new path to the top of the castle. We worked our way up, of course taking several pictures of the nearby river and surrounding city as we did so.

After visiting the castle, we kind of just walked around some more admiring the river and various buildings from each street we walked through. We had lunch at a little restaurant and got some four-cheese pasta which may or may not have had tiny meat pieces in it. We couldn’t really tell. I tried my best to pick them out just in case.

We ended up at some other touristy locations. A man from Spain came up to us and asked me to take his picture, which I happily agreed to. I fumbled my way through using his big tablet, and then we talked to him for a bit. He was super friendly. He told us about how he was just traveling through the area. He enjoyed hiking and adventures of that sort, saying he would love to come to the United States someday to hike. We told him about how we were studying in Spain and traveling through a bit of Europe. Somehow we even talked about psychology. He was the first of many cute little encounters with people during our trip.

After talking with him, we stopped in a cute cafe named Smuz to enjoy some coffee, wifi, and warmth. It was the cutest coffee shop I had ever been in. The place had a hippie vibe to it. It was decorated with mint tables and lots of plans, cute pictures, and tiny lamp centerpieces. Amanda and I ordered red velvet lattes, partially for taste, but mainly for aesthetic purposes. The workers “painted” our lattes and gave us each a tiny yellow flower on the side of our drinks. The pink color of the coffee looked beautiful with the blue cup and table. Everything there was so aesthetically pleasing, and Amanda and I spent a solid five minutes having a little photo shoot with our drinks. Definitely the most Instagram-worthy drink yet.

At the coffee shop, we talked with a couple people next to us as they asked about our lattes. There was an older guy from St. Louis with a girl from somewhere in Europe. I didn’t catch where. They were online friends finally meeting. I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation, but they both seemed happy, and they were nice. So we went with it. We finished our coffee, stopped in one of the most unique bathrooms I’ve seen, and continued with our explanations. But seriously, the bathrooms were cool. They were shared. The stalls locked with a key, and the place itself was decorated with grass and other little artsy things. It was impressive.

From there, we walked to the baths. But without swimsuits and without a desire to pay, it wasn’t a very eventful trip. We didn’t even get to see any of the baths. The building itself was pretty and definitely made it worth it. We found a nearby park area, as well as a magical castle-looking museum. I wish I could tell you the names of everything, but a lot of it was accidental discoveries, so I’m not sure. We ended up in Heroes’ Square, a plaza with some impressive monuments and the Budapest letters. Anyone who knows me knows I love my city letters. It was a fight to get a picture since everyone was coming and going, but we made it work.

We ended our day with some beautiful (and of course, delicious) donuts before taking a bus back to the hotel. We had our dinner at an Italian restaurant at a nearby hotel. It was just Amanda and I in the restaurant (maybe Hungarians eat much earlier than we’re accustomed to in Spain). But it was tranquil, and the waiter was really accommodating. It was my second four-cheese pasta of the day (oh yeah, that’s what we did for lunch. found a restaurant by the castle). Eight cheeses in one day? My life couldn’t be more fulfilling.

Our last hours of the day consisted of going through and deleting unwanted photos. Since Amanda and I both take hundreds of them, it’s a lengthy process of narrowing them down. It was fun though. We went to sleep early so we could recharge for our second (and our last) day in Budapest.

Day 3 | April 22

We began the following morning, again, with a delicious breakfast in the hotel. We then packed up our stuff and headed out to take a bus into the city. Since we needed smaller bills to pay for our bus tickets, we stopped in a little market. The man working was really entertaining. He helped us get our water, asked us a bit of where we were from, and he gave us some caramels. He was a delight.

We took the bus back to a busier shopping/tourist street. We needed to do a bit more souvenir shopping before we left. I ended up with three postcards that day (postcards are what I collect from the places I travel). I also bought a sun hat.

Eventually, we stumbled upon the cutest little outdoor market. After a quick google search, I see that it’s called the Christmas Market. I’m not sure if it’s that year-round (especially after Easter), but we’ll go with it.

The market had a Hobbiton feel to it. There were little artisan stands, vendors, and plenty of traditional Hungarian foods- stews, meats, breads, and goulash. The little stands were adorable, decorated with lights and flowers. Paper lanterns hung from the trees, and in the plaza, there was another Budapest sign for picture purposes. I fell in love with the market, and I took a ton of pictures.

This place was another aesthetic of mine. If I wasn’t sold by the pretty views before, this was enough to convince me that Budapest was my favorite place so far. Amanda and I finished up our time with a coffee and later a lunch of fried veggies with a shared pretzel. It was the only vegetarian option we had to work with, and it seemed much more appetizing then the meat options of rooster testicle stew.

Afterwards, we did one last walk through the market and then we caught our metro to the bus station. We arrived at the bus station with enough waiting time for our bus at 4:00. The station was our first experience with having to pay to use the bathroom, so that was an unexpected thing. It seemed so normal to everyone else waiting in line to pay the lady at the counter.

We caught our bus. FlixBus seemed nice. It was a comfortable bus with outlets and wifi (all of the essentials, right?). They left a good first impression, which kind of faded with time. Our bus was supposed to arrive in Vienna, Austria at 6:50 pm, but somehow we ended up arriving about 50 minutes late (10 minutes later than the departure of our bus to Prague), so of course, we missed that.

When we got to the bus station, we talked with the guy from FlixBus telling him what had happened. We were instructed to call the company, and they would get us on the next bus if there was space. We found some guys from South Korea who were going through the same problem, so we hopped on their phone call. Amanda took over with the call since communication would be more efficient that way. The guys got everything sorted out for them, but since Amanda and I hadn’t booked the buses as a transfer, we had to pay to get new tickets. All good though. We would be on the 9:15 bus.

Afterward finishing up with the phone call, the men invited us to go with them to find wifi (mainly to receive our confirmation emails) and get something to eat. We happily agreed. We stopped at a nearby burger place. Amanda and I just went with their plan to order a bunch of fries and burgers. We told them we were find simply sharing an order of fries, but somehow, we each ended up with our own. There were burgers for us as well, but we had to kindly refuse them. I don’t eat meat, and Amanda didn’t want the burger either. They were nice though, and I deeply appreciated their willingness to buy us food.

We headed back to the bus station just before our bus came… or just before it was supposed to. Again, we ended up waiting just under an hour for it to arrive. It was fine at first, but as the minutes began to pass as we stood outside in the cold, it became a bit too ridiculous. Amanda and I played it off with humor though. “Is there a bus driver here? We have someone dying… to get to Prague.” and “FlixBus? More like Flexbus, since it seems to be so flexible with when I arrives. Burrrrn.” You had to be there to understand the humor, but I promise you, it definitely lightened the situation.

We almost considered staying in Vienna since we would be arriving so late in Prague (almost at 1am). Plus, Amanda was feeling a migraine coming on. But eventually, our bus arrived. One of the Koreans came and found us to tell us so. It was cute. My phone died just as the driver was scanning our mobile tickets. There was an outlet next to me on the bus, but it was so close to the seat that I don’t think anything could have been plugged in there. Smart design, right? Life felt more stressful with a dead phone. I couldn’t pass time with it on the bus, and I couldn’t look up directions or anything. I shrugged it off and passed out for most of the ride. Our time in Vienna was short, but I am satisfied with how things turned out. We took a picture with a Vienna sign outside of the bus station (just to say we were there), and we even ate food with some new friends. So I’ll count that as us experiencing a tiny bit of Austria. I was ready to be on our way though, ready to begin our next adventure in Prague.

Uruguay & Buenos Aires | April 5-19

As part of our study abroad semester, we were given two weeks for our spring break (almost three weeks if you skip the Thursday and Friday in which classes begin again). As most of the other students, I spent this time traveling… a lot. And I could not be more happy with my experiences. My first two weeks of spring break were spent in Uruguay visiting my boyfriend, Gabriel. The two of us met in my last days of summer mission. From there, we started talking and dating. We’ve been dating for over six months now, and with finding a cheap flight from Spain to Uruguay, as well as a shared free time, it only seemed appropriate to use this as our opportunity to see each other.

My time in Uruguay was some of the most memorable two weeks of my life. It was a beautiful time, a relaxing time. I enjoyed getting to know Gabriel in a new way, taking on Montevideo, Durazno, and a bit of Buenos Aires with the one I love. I won’t go into too much detail with this post since I would be writing endlessly if I tried to capture every detail. Besides, so much of our time together was filled with little moments. Simply experiencing life together. These things are things that can really only be relived between the two of us. But of course, I do want to remember some things in the way I do best, writing about it. And I’m sure there are some curious souls who have been wanting to know about my recent travels.

My adventures began on Wednesday, the 5th of May. I left class early so that I could finish packing and preparing before my 2:30 bus to Madrid. I got to Madrid at 5:30 and had a few hours to kill before my midnight flight. Leaving went fine, but two hours into our flight, we landed in Madrid again due to engine problems with the plane. It was frustrating to add even more time to the trip, to starting this 12-hour flight all over again. When we landed, we had to wait on the plane for a while the fire department came to cool down the engine. A shuttle bus took us to a new gate where we waited an indefinite amount of time for a new plane to be prepared for us, and we started our journey again at a “lovely” 4:00am.

The flight itself felt endless, but at least God had fulfilled my desire for a cool companion. Shortly before take off, this couple came and sat in my row. They put what I thought to be a duffle bag on the seat next to me, but I was quick to find out that it was a pet carrier. I kept stealing little glances at the little pup as he’d stick his head out of the door to be comforted by his owner. It was adorable. The couple was adorable too. It almost made all of the flight troubles worth it.

We landed a little past 12pm Uruguay time. The last hour or so was spent obsessively watching the screen with our little plane icon. Little by little, we were entering into Uruguay. We were getting closer to Montevideo. I was almost back. Landing was a beautiful feeling. It was a satisfying feeling to return to a land where I had so many sweet memories. A land that I was completely in love with. I was in the same place as Gabriel. He was waiting for me. It was a beautiful, but dizzying feeling to think that it was finally time.

I got my second passport stamp of the trip and I navigated my way through security, stopping in the bathroom for a bit to freshen up and moreso “abandon” my gross airport clothing. I took some time to process how different everything would be as soon as I went through the exit. I kept eyeing the doors as I passed my luggage through security. “He’s there. This is it.”

As I walked out, my eyes just naturally found him standing right in the center of all of the people. He held a sign with my name on it (It’s always been a life goal of mine to be greeted in an airport with my name on a sign. Check that off my bucket list). He greeted me the “Uruguayan” way with pomelo and bizcochos for us to enjoy as we caught our bus. Everything felt so surreal.

We arrived at the Tres Cruces bus terminal and immediately caught a bus to Durazno, a smaller city a couple hours away, where Gabriel studies. The bus ride was just filled with good conversation and maybe a 10 minute nap. When we arrived in Durazno, we pretty much had to hurry since he had some academic events to attend. He dropped me off at a car dealership to meet the girl I was staying with for the night. Her name was Luly. She was a sweet girl. Super pretty. I adored her. I hung out with her at work for another hour before we went back to her house. Conversation was a bit awkward since I was so tired. The Uruguayan Spanish was impossible to understand at first after being so accustomed to Spain. We made it work though. I enjoyed her company.

When we arrived at Luly’s parents’ house (which was conveniently just above Gabriel’s apartment), I took the time to relax a bit. Shower. Have some much needed “me” time. I was exhausted after a long couple days of travelling. Luly, her mom, and I enjoyed a little merienda of alfajores with dulce de leche. We skipped out on the cafe con leche since Gabriel would soon be there to pick me up.

He arrived and we went to a restaurant for dinner. Our first non-skype date together. It was the first of many ravioles that I ordered during my trip. This one was the perfect compromise between a salad and pasta, for it felt like a bit of both. After dinner, we walked to a nearby plaza to simply talk and enjoy the night together. It was a beautiful ending to our first day together.

The next morning, the two of us did some various errands around the city. We also went for a little walk down by the river. The area reminded me a lot of Wisconsin, of LaRiviera park and of spending time near the river. It was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was really fulfilling to the soul. The day was lovely, and I was happy to share it with Gabriel.

We also spent some time at his apartment that day. I got to meet his roommates and some classmates. They all had a study session, and I spent some time of my own simply writing. After that finished up, we stopped at a nearby gas station to pick up some tortillas de papas (patatas) and salad to take with us to the university. He had his second day of his workshop/event, and I kind of hung out working on various things that I needed to get done. It was nice.

Afterwards (at about 6:30pm or so), we met up with Luly at her workplace again. We wanted to just hang out with her before we left Durazno a few hours laters. The three of us made plans to get pizza with another couple. It was fun getting to know more people, although I was feeling pretty frustrated with my inability to communicate. All of the energy I had for the Spanish language was going towards understanding what was going on. It was hard to talk in that, so that was a bit discouraging. It was fine though.

Gabriel and I ducked out early to head back to the apartment, grab our luggage, and rush to the bus station to catch our 11pm bus back to Montevideo. We probably could have stayed in Durazno longer, but we had already made our plans to leave for Buenos Aires, Argentina the next morning. Crazy travels, right?

We arrived in Montevideo late in the night, probably close to 2am (as you can see, specific times are not a forte of mine). My heart was happy to be back in such a familiar city. We took a taxi to Gabriel’s house and were welcomed home by a locked door that led to the houses inside. We ended up waiting outside of the door for a couple hours since we couldn’t get ahold of his mother who was sleeping and no one else was around to open it for us. By the time we got inside, showered, and packed for Buenos Aires, it was 5am. We got a solid hour of sleep before having to get up again to head back to the bus station.

We took a bus to Colonia at 7am, and from there, we took a ferry to Buenos Aires. I wasn’t expecting the ferry place to be such an intense deal (I guess it was hard to imagine what it was like since I have never taken one). It was much like an airport. There was a huge line. We had to check in, go through security, and then go through immigration control. The people seemed to be pretty strict with my passport. The person stamped it and passed it to another lady who asked me a series of questions about my stay there. It was intimidating, but hey, I got another passport stamp. All good.

The ferry ride itself seemed pretty quick. I slept the whole time. Gabriel has photo proof of that. We got to Buenos Aires around noon and then found our way to our hostel. We dropped our things off there and then headed to go find some pizza to eat. We spent a little bit of time at the hostel, taking a quick nap before heading out to see the city. We took the metro to go see the Japanese Gardens, something that we were both really excited to see.

As we exited the metro, it began to rain a bit. It gradually turned into a downpour as we continued. It was fun at first. We found the gardens, but they costed money and were closing in 20 minutes, so we decided not to go. Besides, how fun would it be to walk through everything as it was raining? We enjoyed walking around in the rain for a bit longer. I had never really seen such heavy rain before. But after a while, it became not so fun. I was drenched from head to toe and everything that I had in my tiny travel pouch was getting drenched. It was a bit too ridiculous.

We took shelter underneath the outside of a bank. A couple guys gave us directions on how to find a bus and/or metro to get back to our hostel. We were pretty far away, and I was not prepared to trek out into the new rivers that were coursing their way through the city. We waited for some time, but the rain didn’t let up, so we braved it anyway. We managed to get a plastic bag to put our stuff in to keep it dry.

Walking was miserable, so we found a coffee shop to stop at along the way. We planned on sitting outside since we were so wet, but the lady insisted that we come in and sit down. She brought us our coffees, a ton of sugar, some water, soda, and fries. Maybe she was just doing her job, but I’d like to think she was spoiling us specifically, treating us well after such an eventful day. We warmed up a little bit and continued on our way. We ended up taking the bus since the metros were closed from flooding.

We returned to the hostel, leaving trails of water behind us. I felt bad for walking anywhere. The front desk was out of towels, but luckily they managed to find two to bring to our room. We resorted to the comfort of our four-person, two-bunk room. When we arrived, our roommates, two British girls, were already there. They got to witness the direct aftermath of the rain. They were super friendly though, and the four of us talked for a bit as Gabriel and I “dried out.”  The girls gave me suggestions for my Budapest and Prague trip. We ended our day with relaxation and ravioles, cooked by Gabriel after the kitchen was closed.

The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful Argentinian breakfast. I of course, had croissants with dulce de leche and some fruit. It was good. We checked out shortly after, leaving our backpacks behind at the hostel, and then we explored some more of Buenos Aires. We walked through a street market and some historical areas and visited the obelisco. In the market, we got some amazing empanadas and ran into our new British friends. We really had no direction, but it was fun to simply exist in the city. It began to rain a little bit here and there, but it was no problem. This time we had my umbrella.

Our time in Buenos Aires ended with us almost missing our ferry. We showed up to the wrong place and had to take an overpriced taxi to the other place. It worked out well though. We made it in time. Our two days in Argentina were lovely. There were quite a few “bumps” along the way, but I honestly love them all. They make for a more memorable story. Although we didn’t do anything too extravagant, we were able to see a little bit of the city. I appreciated the “artsy”, lively feel of it. It was a little taste of Europe while being out of the continent.

Again, we got back to Montevideo kind of later at night and we passed out. The next day, we had some things to do in the centro, mainly related to banking. Gabriel took me through a beautiful park along the way. Beautiful pink trees were shedding their flowers, and I felt like a little kid as I enjoyed walking through the enchanting “petal rain.” We met up with Gabriel’s closest friend Lucas that day. Our time together consisted of videogames (which I simply watched) and then lunch. They even went out of their way to buy ingredients to make me an ensaladilla rusa. From there, Gabriel and I just sat and talked in a plaza for a bit before heading home.

Much of the week carried on like this. I was simply doing life with Gabriel. I can’t remember too many details of the next day, but I think much of it was spent just helping out around the house a lot. There were various home improvement tasks going on, as well as simple cleaning. It was enjoyable to work on these things with Gabriel and his mother. We took a break to enjoy a nap in the hammock. The day was warm, and I think that was the only time during the trip that I was able to wear the sun’s effects on my skin.

Other things that happened throughout the week included meeting another friend of his, Leandro. That occurred later in the same day. We had spent the sunset along the rambla, which was super beautiful. I absolutely loved being near the water as the sky came to life with beautiful colors, as the sun disappeared and the stars came out to decorate the sky. It was the same place my team had visited on summer mission, so feelings of sweet nostalgia and present bliss filled me. I just sat with Gabriel, enjoying the night. It was a bit chilly. I ended up with his coat.

We stopped at the Montevideo letters for a bit. This time, they were blue and painted with a musical theme. Children were playing on them, so it was nearly impossible to get a good picture. So we left, and went to the mall to do some quick errands (sadly, none of which included going into Indian Emporium. That didn’t happen at all in this trip). After the mall, we went home for a bit until we were able to go Leandro’s house.

There, we spent time with a large group of his family members, all who gathered around the table laughing, talking, and sharing photos and videos on the TV. It was a lively and energizing group of people. Leandro was cool. His girlfriend seemed nice as well. I enjoyed his family and being there with Gabriel.

The following day was a day for just Gabriel and me. I had declared it “Gabriel Day” to celebrate all of the good things going on in his life, but of course he reciprocated that. So it became a day-long celebration for both of us. We started our morning by catching the sunrise on the beach, which was just as exciting as the sunset the night before. We really couldn’t see the sun itself since it was behind the buildings, not on the water, but we were present as the city woke up. That was good enough for us. I took off my shoes and walked through the water a bit since I’ve had little contact with the ocean in my lifetime. Gabriel would follow me, but we’d run away as the waves came towards his shoes. It was amusing.

We then went to the mall to do some more things, but it was so early that much of it was closed and the people were yelling at us for walking through the shopping areas. We got some food at Burger King and then headed back home. We met up with Leandro and his girlfriend Camila in the Prado area. I don’t even know how to describe the park-place that we went to, but it was a touristy display of everything that Uruguay had to offer. It kind of reminded me of the fair in a way.

Gabriel and I spent the first portion of our time just walking around and trying to find the other two. We passed through a building with a bunch of show rabbits. Gabriel adored the rabbits, and I adored him for it. We created life stories a personalities for them. There were other buildings with different vendors, shows, and displays. We eventually met up with Leandro and Camila and walked around. We watched a show of traditional Uruguayan dance, got pizza, and found the rest of Leandro’s family. Somehow I ended up eating three huge churros filled with dulce de leche, and that was death to my stomach. I could barely look at the amusement rides as the others went on them. Eventually, Gabriel and I gave everyone besos, said goodbye, and left. We spent a little bit of time in a rose garden before catching our bus home.

We returned home, took a nap, and drank a bit of wine (not necessarily in that order). Our day had started pretty early and we were tired. There was still more to do. We got ready to go to a restaurant for dinner. We arrived at about 11pm. There were maybe two other tables of people who left shortly after, so it was a quiet atmosphere. All of the workers were super friendly and accommodating. They didn’t even seem too bothered when we stayed into their midnight closing time. We had a delicious and filling dinner. Bread and dip, cheese, and then lastly, spinach ravioles. Dessert consisted of flan. I think that meal changed Gabriel’s life. He enjoyed it, (and so did I). After dinner, we went out for the rest of the night. We were wanting to dance, and we only felt comfortable going out together. That was quite the experience.

The next morning, I slept in. I was so tired after getting home around 5am. I’m pretty sure everyone hated me for sleeping until 11. I woke up as Gabriel was leaving to go to the drugstore (he had to get some medicine, which brings me back to when we went to the hospital and saw a Jackson Avery look-a-like). I woke up, and shortly after, Gabriel’s mother came up to my room to talk with me. She invited me to breakfast, and from there we decided to go on a walk together.

It was the perfect weather to do so. Not too warm, but warm enough. Blue skies. Lots of sun. We walked to the nearby park and just had meaningful conversations on the swings. We did another loop around the park and came home. Gabriel and I might have made lunch that day. I don’t remember exactly, but we did make two pascualinas during our time together. It was Gabriel’s day to get caught up on homework, so I left him alone for much of the day and just spent time with his mother. Our night consisted of tidying up her room and drinking smoothies as we watched a movie. It was a pleasant day with her.

The next day was already Sunday. Easter Sunday. We got up and went to ChristChurch, a small bilingual church in Carrasco. On the bus, we met up with another couple who was going there. Gabriel was friends with them, and I kind of knew them from summer mission. They had taken us to ChristChurch during our last weekend on summer mission the summer before. And of course, that is the church where I first saw Gabriel. The service was nice. It was really refreshing to attend a church service again, and the people were so warm and welcoming. Afterwards, everyone just stuck around for a little coffee or tea and a lot of conversation. I got to talk with people from all over the world. It made my heart happy.

After church, Gabriel and I went out for lunch with that other couple. We found a spot outside since the weather was nice. I got some of my favorite four-cheese ravioles (hint: the motif of my time in Uruguay is ravioles), and we all enjoyed good company and silent prayers that the pigeons wouldn’t get too close to our food.

After lunch, we went our separate ways. Gabriel took me to the beach in Carrasco where we simply walked around and took in more of the gorgeous day. The weather was sunny, but really windy. It got chilly after a while. We went home and enjoyed a relatively lazy rest of our day. It was my first Easter away from home. Although it looked quite different than my traditional Easter, it was still a perfect day in celebrating the Resurrection.

The next day was our last full day together. That truth kind of hung heavy in the air that day, and Gabriel didn’t fail to make it more emotional than it needed to be. He would bring it up and go on and on about it. He made me cry a couple times by playing with his words. It was amusing though. That last day was a pretty tranquil day. We had wanted to go to Ciudad Vieja, but nothing was really open during the day after Easter, so we didn’t even bother. I believe that is when we went to the store and got ingredients to make our second pascualina though. It was fun.

And before we knew it, Tuesday the 18th had arrived. The day of my departure. Things were kind of rushed as we both packed our things (he was leaving for Durazno after dropping me off at the airport). Maybe that was a good thing. A little distraction in a way. I said goodbye to his mother, downed some bread and a banana as I stuffed my backpack, and we headed out the door to catch our bus.

We got to the airport and I checked in while he waited. There wasn’t a lot of time left before I needed to get going, so it all felt kind of rushed. That time crunch kind of killed the moment. We waited together for a little bit, neither of us actually wanting to say our goodbyes. But we did it.

Let me tell you. The thing about long-distance relationships is that goodbyes are so weird. They’re not really sad like one may think. Sure, there’s that element to it, but there are also 20 other things going on in your head at the same time. You’re reliving all of your experiences together. Anticipating your next reunion. Savoring those last moments of a loved one’s touch. Wondering what you’ll feel when you actually walk away. It’s sad, but it’s also beautiful. Too soon, the time came for me to leave. Although it was a moment we had long expected, it still felt odd, it still felt heavy, to walk away. A few minutes later, I was already reaching for my phone to return to our oh-so familiar Facebook Messenger.

My flight left at noon. It was a smooth flight home. No problems this time. I kind of slept, kind of didn’t. When I was awake, I would be reliving the past two weeks and writing a little bit about my trip. i was also planning stuff for Budapest and Prague, which was feeling like a reality now that my other trip was done with. It was the first time I had gotten three meals in one flight, one of which was ravioles. I was happy. The other two meals were ham and cheese sandwiches, but I was hungry, so I cheated and just took the meat off.

I returned to the Madrid airport at about 5am the next day and waited until 11:30 to catch a bus from the airport to Valladolid. I met up with my friend Maiyer at the airport. It was really refreshing to see her and share travel stories. I got to relive and tell a bit of what had happened in Uruguay.

My two weeks were absolutely incredible. I wouldn’t trade any second of it, and I could have happily been there longer. It was beautiful taking a long-distance relationship that had already been thriving for six months and entering into a whole new level with it. To be able to touch Gabriel, to have him touch me. To talk with him, share life with him, spend time face-to-face with him. To share beautiful moments together. It didn’t even need to be anything fancy. I just loved existing with him.

I will cherish every moment of my time in Uruguay. The times we spent stargazing or drinking wine or dancing to Ed Sheeran. The food we ate together, the sunsets we saw together, the little “bumps” in our plans that we had to deal with. And I look forward to doing it all over again. I didn’t think I could miss something so much, but I already do miss him. I miss Uruguay again. I can’t wait for more adventures by his side.

Words cannot describe just how precious it was to share my time with someone so dear to me. I hope you all can experience something just as beautiful in life, whatever that looks like for you. That you can find your source of love and joy and that you’ll chase it (even if that involves flying across the world). Travel. Enjoy life. Pour love generously into those around you, and receive the same from them. I wish you all the best.

Mara

 

 

 

café con leche | semana 11

A week ago, the weather was so warm. Definitely in the 20s (Before you call me crazy, I’m talking Celsius here). The sun definitely made its presence known, demanding us to peel off our morning layers one-by-one. I was wishing I had worn shorts or a dress. It was toasty. I laid out in the sun, adding color to my already sun-kissed skin. One week later, and it’s cloudy and chilly. Yesterday, it even snowed a bit, which was a rare sight for Valladolid. This is the type of weather that makes you want to bundle up and stay inside all day, with churros or café con leche being the only reason to leave. The weather gave us a quick transition from summer dress weather to winter coat weather, and for some odd reason, I feel like I’m in Wisconsin all over again.

This week was a really good week. A simple week. A slightly busy week academically. But nonetheless, enjoyable. Saturday (I’ll start from a week ago), I spent my day in Burgos, a city about an hour away from Valladolid. My host mom had an event there, and she had invited Kate and I to ride along. The two of simply explored the city for the day. We toured the beautiful cathedral and spent a lot of time walking along the river and through the busier streets of the city. Burgos has more of a small-city feel to it, kind of like Salamanca in a way. It was so visually appealing. The pink and orange colors in contrast to the clear, blue sky. The little fabric decorations that hung from the buildings. The European streets. The beautiful blend of nature and city. All made it to be the perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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We weaved our way in and out of various food places. We got treats in the morning (coffee and smoothies) and then later on, had our lunch. In between the two, we explored the city a lot. We stopped in the tourist center to ask for directions to the castle that was on the hill. It was a really quick walk from where we were. The walk up was a little intense (I’m so out of shape), but the part that truly took my breath away was the view from the top of the hill. The sky was a cotton-candy blue color, and it looked absolutely stunning in contrast with the pretty pink and orange colors of the city, with the cathedral nearby.

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For lunch, Kate and I found a cute little bar/café/restaurant to eat at. We ordered falafel burgers, which were absolutely delicious. The plate came with little nuggets, a few fries, two slices of tomato, hummus, and some guacamole. They also gave us flat pieces of bread. We weren’t quite sure how to correctly eat the food, but I simply dipped the nuggets in the guacamole and hummus, ate the tomatoes separately, and then used to bread to clean the rest of my plate. It was afterwards, that we realized that we were probably supposed to stuff the bread with the different food items. Oh well. Our way was fun as well.

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After lunch and after walking some more, we were tired. We ended up taking our siesta on a bench by the cathedral. The sun was really warm, and it was the perfect opportunity to tan while I was at it. Two other people were in that same area. A man who was reading a book, and a lady who was comfortable seated on the ground writing. Both were peregrinos (pilgrims) walking the Camino de Santiago. It was fascinating to see a bit of that culture in Burgos. Seeing people carrying literally nothing with them, just simply walking who knows what distance. I wish I could have read the words that the lady was writing, the little pieces of her soul that were coming from such an experience of self-discovery. I wish I could have sat down to talk with these people, to hear their stories. Maybe someday, I’ll find another peregrino, and I’ll be able to talk with them.

We ended our day with “cucuruchos” of ice cream. The word was a fun one, but a difficult one to learn for ordering. The lady simply smiled at us, and gave us our cones. We met up with our host mom in Plaza Mayor in the evening. She greeted us with hugs, and we got to share a little of our day. The car ride home was a quiet one. I think we were all exhausted.

We returned to Valladolid to some kind of running event. Several of the roads were being barricaded by police offers, and traffic was really backed up. We had to navigate our way around the city and return to the same spot, just so that we could turn where we needed to. We waited in traffic for a while and eventually got to our street. My roommate and I got out of the car to move the barricade that was in the way. We all just wanted to be home. All in all, our drive home was over two hours long, the majority of it consisting of our time in Valladolid.

Sunday, was a pretty lazy day I believe. I began the thrilling journey of studying for my various exams, but nothing too much happened. Monday was pretty much the same. With spring break less than two weeks away, it’s pretty much time for midterms. Having these seven classes is nothing until you have an exam in all of them. It’s starting to feel like the school I’m more used to. These days were enjoyable nonetheless. I got to dive into history and spend a lot of time relaxing outside of my studies.

On Wednesday, with one exam out of the way, I was able to relax a bit more. After lunch, I spontaneously asked my host mom to cut my hair. It was getting to an annoying length, and she had volunteered to cut it anytime I wanted. I finally took her up on her offer. I expected a simple haircut, but she went all out. “Soy tu peluquera hoy.” She told me, as she sat me down on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror. It was slightly terrifying at first, seeing the long pieces of hair that she cut off and laid out on the counter in front of me. It was a lot shorter than I originally had in mind, but I knew all would be good. She dried it for me and straightened it. Yolanda is definitely my favorite peluquera in Valladolid. Having short hair is such a new world. I’ve been having fun playing with it and styling it in new ways.

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That afternoon, I met up with friends at Sessenta, a nearby coffee shop. It was refreshing to just hang out with them and enjoy our time together. Some of us had intentions of studying, but it turned into socialization and trip planning, which was even better. My friend Amanda and I discussed our plans for Budapest and Prague, and the following morning, we bought our final bus tickets. Transportation is taken care of. Now we can bring everything else to life. I cannot wait.

Thursday was kind of the same ordeal. I knocked out my final week of the exam, and from there, I was able to relax even more. Thursday wasn’t even over, and I was able to treat it more like the weekend. My friends and I went to Toledo (another coffee shop) for coffee and then we did some miscellaneous shopping. We ended up back at Toledo for round two, churros con chocolate. We learned the amusing way that if you want churros for two (with two cups of chocolate), you need to order “dos chocolates con churros.” We accidentally ordered two churros, and had an amusing interaction with the lady. It was fun.

As for this weekend (and by weekend, I include Friday), it’s been rather lazy so far. Yesterday and today consisted a lot of staying in bed, working on various things such as homework and this blog post. I applied for a job and some scholarships as well. This afternoon, I went to Toledo again with Kate and another friend, Maiyer. Maiyer and I spent most of our time reviewing vocabulary lists for our oral expression exam this week. It was entertaining having casual coffee shop conversation in Spanish, or even better, looking at pictures of models and describing their bodies. Maiyer is such a bright, delightful spirit. I enjoy her company, and I’m definitely feeling a lot more confident in my ability to describe people and other things in Spanish.

I’m currently sitting in bed, planning some more details for spring break and listening to my “feelings” playlist. The oven is being preheated for a late dinner, and honestly, I am so pumped for the food. This week has been a good one, full of a lot of a lot of coffee and studies, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I look forward to the upcoming weeks, to the travel and adventures that exist in the month of April.

Thanks for following. I promise to get better with my updates.

Mara

A Day in Madrid | February 28

We arrived in Madrid last Monday after our weekend in Portugal. Since we still had Tuesday left of our Carnaval holiday, we chose to stay the night and explore Madrid the next day. It seemed like a good idea. I wanted to visit Madrid to say that I visited Madrid, but I really didn’t have an interest in spending much time there. Therefore, a day trip seemed like the perfect option while we were there.

Madrid seemed overwhelming at first. We took the metro from the airport and got off near Puerta del Sol. It was already nighttime when we got there, and it was booming. Maybe it was just that I’m used to smaller Valladolid or maybe it was just that I was tired and exhausted after travelling all day, but it seemed like there was an overwhelming amount of people. The plaza was huge compared to Plaza Mayor back home. One of the busiest places in Madrid. Crowds of people passed by on the sidewalk. Relying on our offline maps, we navigated our way to our hostel.

We first stopped at a Dia to buy food for our dinner. Again, there were way too many people in that tiny supermarket. You could barely move without being in someone’s way or without someone being in your way. It was a relief to get out of there and head towards the quiet street of our hostel.

We had a bit of trouble finding where we needed to be. The map said we were there, but the sign had a completely different name. We walked up and down the street looking for something else, but nothing. We finally stopped in a nearby gym to ask the worker for directions. He was super friendly and after a bit of confusion and google searching, he told us that the hostel was where we thought it was. It was just wasn’t on the first floor. That made a lot more sense.

It felt so good to get settled into our hostel. The weekend was an exhausting one, and I was ready for some time to just unwind in my own space. The hostel was a really nice one, almost nicer than the hotel in Lisbon. Kate, Amanda, and I had a room to ourselves. Three beds. A bathroom. All linen included. There was a kitchen for us to take bowls and utensils from as needed, which made it possible to eat the salad, chips, and guacamole that we had bought. Again, it was such a simple meal, but it was just what I needed. I indulged in that salad. I ate the guac like there was no tomorrow.

The following morning was a little confusing. I had plans to meet up with my boyfriend’s mother. She had been visiting Europe for a bit and was currently in Madrid as well. I woke up without a clear time or vision of what we were doing. I didn’t want to leave and try and do something else if she would end up wanting to meet early. But at the same time, I didn’t want to sit around and wait to know more. Leaving the hostel involved trusting that I would find wifi somewhere to keep in contact with her. It seemed like such a silly thing, but everything had to be perfectly orchestrated in my opinion.

I ended up going to the Museo del Prado with Kate and Amanda that morning. There was a line, but it wasn’t too long. I managed to get some wifi from a nearby hotel, and later, I found a cafe within the museum to finalize my plans. The museum was fascinating. There was so much art to see. You’d walk in one room, which would lead to more rooms, which each led to even more. It felt like you were being pulled to see each room, but it was so much to keep track of.

The art itself was breathtaking to see up close. I’m not that into going to museums to look at art, but this museum was impressive. There were so many pieces that looked so vibrant and alive. I remember a couple Christian paintings. They looked 3D. I had to get right up to it to see that it was in fact, just a simple painting. Each piece of art had a story to go with it. What it represented. Why the author painted it. Anything. And I think the stories and meanings were even more fascinating than the piece itself.

After the Museo del Prado, we went our separate ways. I went to meet up with my boyfriend’s mom at a wax museum. It was a really small, kind of cheesy museum. Nothing special, but it was fun to go with her and enjoy her company. She was really excited to see some of the wax figures. As for me, I really didn’t know many of the people. I guess I really am not cultured when it comes time to celebrities in general. I got some pictures with Trump, Obama, and Pope Francis and called it good.

donald trump: a little less orange, and a little more red that I would have imagined.
chilling with one of my favorite humans on this planet. Papa Francisco!

Afterwards, the two of us walked around the area a bit. We passed an Arch, I think the Fernando VII Arch, and took pictures there. It was a pretty little area in the middle of a huge roundabout (or something of the sort). Little yellow flowers decorated the green grass. I thought it was really beautiful. You could look through the spaces of the arch and see the buildings and traffic extending beyond it. It was such a simple thing randomly put in the city, but I liked it.

We then searched for a little coffee shop to sit, enjoy a little something, and chat. I didn’t have too much time before I had to meet up with my friends again to catch our bus, but the time that we did spend together was enjoyable. We ate our treats and drank our cafes con leche over conversations of Spain and psychology and so much more. I love getting to know new people, especially in intimate coffee shop settings. I think Spain will always be my home for that reason. There are so many coffee shops, and they’re just the go-to place for hangouts. Spain gets me.

Soon enough, it was time for us to get going. We found her bus stop, and I had walk the other way to meet up with my friends at Puerta del Sol. I was a little unsure of how to get there directly, and I didn’t have complete confidence in my maps, but I made it work pretty easily. The walk to Puerta del Sol was a lovely one. Again, I got to explore a little bit of the city on my own. I passed some cool buildings, parks, and other city areas that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I enjoyed it. Even though it was easy to go where I needed to be, it felt pretty exhilarating to be in a big city, exploring and navigating on my own.

There were so many people in the plaza. I stood as centrally as possible so that either my friends could find me or I could see them. Sure enough, we reunited and told stories of our days as we navigated the nearby metro station. We had troubles getting the correct tickets, but with the help of some people, we got what we needed and we got where we needed to be. I used my time on the metro to open the gifts from my boyfriend that had been sent with his mother. Some bombones and a lovely little letter. No doubt about it, the highlight of my day.

We arrived at the airport where we were catching our bus to Valladolid. To our pleasant surprise, we reunited with our other friends who were also taking the same bus back. It was so exciting to see everyone after what seemed like forever. I was beginning to feel pretty homesick for my home in Valladolid, and in a way, they were my family. It felt good to see them and share stories of our Carnaval adventures.

The three-hour bus ride home felt kind of long. I drifted in and out of a nap, trying to make the minutes go by faster. I just wanted to be there. I missed home. I missed my host family. I was ready to dump my heavy backpack, eat the homemade veggie burgers that were waiting for us, and enjoy the comforts of my own bed. My weekend was so amazing, but it showed me just how much of a home Valladolid is now, and I couldn’t wait to jump back into that familiarity.

Madrid was beautiful. Again, it’s not at the top of my list of places to visit, but I’m happy I spent a bit of time there. I feel satisfied with what I saw, and the time spent there was plenty. The entire trip familiarized me with transportation in general. Taking the bus between Valladolid and the Madrid airport. Actually navigating the airport. Getting into the city if needed. All of these things will be very valuable for future travel, especially if I’m on my own. In less than a month, I’ll be heading back to Madrid to catch my flight to Uruguay. I am much more confident in my abilities to travel on my own, and honestly, I cannot wait to see what adventures lie in store for me. Madrid treated me well. I can’t wait to experience more of it.

 

Lisboa, Portugal (Feb. 24-27)

Lisboa is the beautiful capital of Portugal. Situated along the Atlantic coast and decorated with several hills and pretty pastel buildings, it provides a breath-taking view with every street you walk past. The city gives off a charming, historic vibe. Although booming with tourists, it feels rather small and intimate (where we were anyway). In my opinion, it’s the perfect place to visit for a weekend, a week, or any amount of time really.

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My friends Amanda and Kate and I chose to spend our extended Carnaval weekend in Lisboa. After a day of travelling to Madrid, chilling in the airport, and catching our flight to Portugal, we arrived in the city Friday night. My friends and I were pretty tired by that point. We figured out the simple metro system, and with the help of offline maps, we found our hotel. We were hungry, so we treated ourselves to an early dinner at Pizza Hut. It was divine. Our first night in Lisboa was a pretty lazy one as we prepared for the adventures that would take place over the following four days.

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The following morning, we woke up and walked to the bus station. We had a little confusion with the bus lines, but we eventually ended up in one of the touristy areas of the city- Belém. There we simply wandered around, taking pictures of any beautiful sight we saw (trust me, there were many). Pretty much the entire trip consisted of Amanda and I stopping to take photos, while Kate impatiently waited or walked ahead. We walked outside of the Monasteiro dos Jeronimos, through some beautiful gardens, and then ended up down by the water. There was a tall, impressively-detailed structure, called the Miradouro Belvedere, extending out into the river. The view from the top surely took our breath away, as did the many stairs that we had to climb to get there. We could clearly see the hills on the other side of the river, the Christ the King status extending His arms over the Portuguese city. The tourists looked like little ants on the ground below us. People casually walked along the river, and the Torre de Belém could be seen a short distance away. And if you looked towards the city, you could see the many buildings of Lisboa that decorated the hills. A charming city of colors.

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Monasteiro dos Jeronimos
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Miradouro Belvedere
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Miradouro Belvedere
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View of the city from the Miradouro

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Next, we walked over to the Torre de Belém that stood confidently on the water. It was an absolutely beautiful castle.The line was pretty long by the time we arrived, so instead, we simply sat along the water and took in the view. There was something absolutely mesmerizing about the castle, about the waves gently greeting the ground in front of us. I could have spent my entire day there simply soaking in the light breeze and ocean air.

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Torre de Belem (Belem Tower)

The rest of our day was spent weaving in and out of a nearby bakery, A Padaria Portuguesa. We bought ourselves the famous pastels of Belém (pasteles de nata), which was an absolute delight to my tastebuds. If I could have, I probably would have brought 10 back to the hotel with me, and then 10 more to bring home. The pastry was delicious. Flaky. The perfect amount of crunch. Filled with a delectable cream. I have no words to describe the treats, but I would highly recommend anyone to try one as they’re passing through Belém.

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Pastel de Nata (Belem)

As the evening came, we decided once again to have a really early dinner. We walked to another part of town that was along the water. There was a strip of really nice restaurants. The three of us sat outside, enjoying the chilly breeze and the beautiful view around us. Feeding my constant desire for pasta, I ordered a vegetarian lasagna. The other girls also ordered pasta, and we ordered a pitcher of delicious sangria to share. A nice dinner along the water is exactly what I imagine the good life to be about. It was one of the many moments where I stopped to just fathom the fact that yes, I am in Europe. I get to explore this continent. I am enjoying things I never would have imagined for myself. It was great.

La imagen puede contener: 3 personas, personas sonriendo, personas sentadas, océano, puente, cielo, exterior y aguaLa imagen puede contener: comida

The second day, we walked to the Old City which was only about 30 minutes from our hotel. Again, it was one of the more touristy areas. You could tell you were getting close as the number of pedestrians increased and as you saw the postcards, scarves, and souvenir sardines that sat outside of the souvenir shops. We stumbled upon auditions or something for Got Talent Portugal, which was fun. Maybe we’ll make it on TV here. Who knows. We mainly just explored what was in the area. Some fountains and historic buildings and then several souvenir shops. Again, the people working at these shops were always so excited to have tourists. You would pick up a tiny magnet or something, and they would immediately be by your side, handing you a tiny basket to carry your items. Some people would ask us where we were from, and others would give us their thoughts on our president, Mr. Trump.

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We found out that A Padaria Portuguesa was more of a chain bakery, and to our delight, there was another one in that area. We stopped again for a light morning breakfast / almuerzo. I ordered my classic sugar croissant and fresh orange juice, while the other two girls ordered coffee and a fluffy coconut bread called Pão de Deus. We also spent a decent amount of time by the water again. A different area, just as beautiful. People were everywhere taking selfies, and we shamelessly joined in. It was a lovely day.

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Something admirable about the city is its mix of transportation. As you cross the street, you have to look for cars, taxis, trams, and tourist buses. You easily pass the metro station or train station. And if you’re by the water, the sailboats will gently sail by as an airplane passes above. It’s really unique to see this mix. As for us, we survived mainly by walking around.

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We visited several other elevated locations that provided breathtaking views of the city. I think that’s one of my favorite things to see while travelling, those good 360 degree views of your surroundings. Again, it was a close up view of the intricate tiles and beautiful pastels of the city below us. After taking several pictures, we spent a good amount of our time just sitting on a park bench in the garden just below us. There were so many perfect locations to simply think, admire the view, and savor the present moment.

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After an enjoyable, but exhausting day of walking around the city, we came back to our neighborhood. We stopped in a pharmacy to ask people for directions to a nearby supermarket (we were still itching to get groceries). The workers were super friendly and even the customer at the counter helped explain where the store was. Out of gratitude (as well as our own desire for a face mask), we bought a bottle of face mask to use when we got back to the hotel. We went to the supermarket and bought some bread and cheese for dinner as well as some individual snacks. And of course, a bottle of wine to accompany our night of relaxation.

Our makeshift cheese sandwiches were honestly perfect. Simple things like that are enough to satisfy my hunger and my tastebuds. The three of us enjoyed a night of conversation and face masks. It was very relaxing.

The next day was our last day in Lisboa. We checked out of our hotel and spent the morning and early afternoon exploring the city one last time, this time with the company of our heavy backpacks. We returned to the water and did some last-minute souvenir shopping, and of course, we spent one last time in A Padaria Portuguesa. It was a really tranquil day. To me, it felt like the perfect day of reflection. As we quietly sat near the water, a man playing the guitar as tourists walked by, everything hit me in a way more profound than before. This place was absolutely beautiful. My life life is absolutely surreal. I am here. I am able to experience new cities, new countries, new languages. I get to simply soak in the ocean air. It’s just a really magical thing to experience. Europe is an incredible place, and I am living in it. These feelings of deep gratitude, delight, and adventure completely filled my spirit. If this trip was a movie, this ending was a perfect one. Time didn’t exist that day. Just two close friends. Me. And this world. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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God is present even when I’m not

When I prepared for my study abroad trip, I knew that my walk with the Lord would look different here. I would be taking in a lot of new experiences, and I would be miles away from my intimate community back in Stevens Point. I was aware of these things, I was optimistic, and I couldn’t wait to seek out the Lord in this new environment. I even chose to participate in Cru Study Abroad so that I could be on mission while in Spain. The idea of intertwining ministry with my studies was enthralling, and I could not wait to completely immerse myself in the Lord’s plan for me. I wish I could say that my spiritual excitement has only grown since being here, that I have continued flourish spiritually, but quite frankly, that has not been happening. I’ve been struggling, growth has been slow, and I’m still trying to pick myself up again.

When I arrived in Spain, I was completely enamored by everything. The people, the places, the culture, the language. Everything was beautiful. There was so much I wanted to take in, and my spiritual life quickly found its place on the back burner. The first couple weeks here, it was kind of disgusting just how quickly I not only, “forgot” about God, but how I had absolutely no  interest in trying to reconnect with Him. I was pretty busy, and when I wasn’t, I was curling into the comforts of exhaustion (you’d be surprised by how much mental energy another language and schedule will consume at first). I wasn’t going to church, and I wasn’t putting much effort into finding one. I would look at my Bible, and just shrug it off. “I’m too tired. I’m too busy. Maybe I’ll have quiet time some other time.” I was supposed to be casting a vision for my ministry here, and I honestly couldn’t see anything. I just wanted to give up on the whole Cru Study Abroad thing. I was aware that this attitude was really dangerous, and I felt a lot of guilt and disgust in it, but yet, I couldn’t push past the things that were clouding my walk with the Lord. For the first few weeks, the only prayer I could really force out was “God, I know I’m pretty far from you right now, but meet me where I am.”

About two weeks after arriving, I had my first Skype call with my Cru Study Abroad Coach, a resource to help me cast my vision here and to just do life with me as I’m abroad. It was one of my first exposures to Christian community since being in Spain. My coach offered patience and understanding, reassuring me that adjusting is all a part of the process. The following week, I talked with my discipler (must I say, that videochat is a beautiful resource). Again, it was great to connect with a little piece of my community back home, to have someone to encourage me in my time here. Both conversations gave me a renewed energy and a direction of where I wanted to go spiritually here. That helped tremendously.

I also began to commit to daily quiet times, working through some devotionals as well as scripture. I have never been very heavily disciplined in my Bible time, but I’m getting there. Just the simple thought of that daily commitment excited me. I was getting back on track. I also found a group of other students who were starting a Bible study. I didn’t hesitate to jump in. I was craving a community in Valladolid, and the Bible study was just what my soul needed. Plus, it was great to get to know some new faces who were going through the same things in life as I was.

I’m not here to outline every single thing I have or haven’t done in my time here, but I can say, that things were a bit shaky at first. I was lost and genuinely disinterested in my faith. There were “more important” things to focus on such as traveling, making friends, and experiencing the culture. I felt frustration that I had let myself get to that point, and I just could not get out of it. And then, I found revival. Slowly, I am repairing my relationship with the Lord, giving Him more of my time and praise. Slowly, I am placing Him back on the throne. And it is so refreshing.

One thing that God has really been revealing to me through all of this is just how big He is. There are an infinite number of ways to experience God and to praise God. Here, things are not the familiar church services and Cru meetings, but that doesn’t make Him any less present. God has literally placed me in a new country and has blessed me abundantly with finances, healthy food, and an incredible host family. I get to travel Europe and see the beautiful earth that he has created. He is in coffee shop Bible studies. He is in online sermons from church back home. He is in Facetime discipleship. He is in history lessons, and He is in every beautiful piece about a new language and culture. God is so big, and His world is so beautiful, and I have gotten to experience these things in a beautifully new way.

I can promise that God will meet you where you are, and He will communicate with you. Even if you feel you can’t do much, you can at least be willing to listen, and He will do wonders through that. Be humble, and be patient with yourself when things aren’t going as well as you would like. God is always present, even if you can’t feel it emotionally, even if you’re distancing yourself from Him. He is a constant. Cling to these truths, cling to Him, and you’ll find your way back like I am doing right now.

I look forward to these weeks to come. I look forward to immersing myself in ministry here, in evangelizing and connecting with other students. I look forward to experiencing God in ways that I have not done so back in the States. I’m not quite there, but by relying on the Spirit, I will surely get there. And I cannot wait.

I wish you all the best,

Mara