Rome: A Religous Experience

Rome, Italy: April 18 – 24

Relics of another time stand frozen among the bustling metropolis of Rome. Scattered throughout the city, temple pillars and palace columns rise from the ground like stubborn redwoods. But beyond the staggering antiquity of this tourist wonderland lies a deep reverence for all things sacred.

Catholicism is evident throughout all of Europe in the days leading to Holy Week. Shops add to their wares, mementos of religious significance. Pilgrims of all nationalities flock to Vatican City for a whirlwind of services and events commemorating the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Waiting on the Pope

Waiting on the Pope

Crowds swell at monuments and popular sites as they await public gatherings at St. Peter’s Basilica. Tickets for masses throughout the week are handed out in advance, reservations made months ahead. Many however remain unaware that all tickets are free and quite plentiful.

As outsiders looking in at the time honored traditions and the magnificent pageantry of an ages old procession in a cathedral draped in grandeur, we waited eagerly without tickets and welcomed the opportunity to join Maundy Thursday mass when ushered in by the Swiss guards overseeing all Vatican procedures.

In a mix of Latin and Italian, song and verse flow in rhythmic harmony from the altar at St. Peter’s through the apses and naves reaching the thousands in attendance. Weight and poignancy reverberate in the foreign words creating an indelible memory for those of all tongues, race or creed.

Good Friday brings with it a day of mourning and remembrance before the triumphant celebration to come. The night is consumed by a moving vigil taking the cross along its stations from the infamous Coliseum to one of Rome’s seven hills.

In a subsequent trip to Vatican City to witness the beauty captured in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, we garnered tickets from the Swiss guards for Sunday’s open-air mass in St. Peter’s Square. Returning for Easter Sunday, a sea of people filed into the world’s smallest sovereign state to worship together.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

A ceremony of tradition and ritual precedes a personal message from Pope Benedict. Those of us unable to comprehend the language were left hungry for the meaning of his words bringing to tears many of those around us. Giving hint of his message were only words pertaining to current events in reference to the earthquake in Japan and unrest in the Middle East.

In final conclusion of Holy Week activities, the Pope wished the crowd a happy Easter in a parade of languages from Italian, French and English to Swahili and Mandarin. With each salutation an uproar was heard from flag waving guests representing a myriad of nationalities.

Amongst the religious fervor there was of course time devoted to the sites of ancient Rome, a mythical place recreated in books, movies and imaginations. Unbeknownst to us until our arrival, our time in Rome coincided with the city’s birthday celebrated on April 21. Once the sun sets, a free, outdoor community event commemorates the day with a live orchestra, historical readings and related images all projected upon archeological remains.

Roma Amor

Roma Amor

The preservation of much of the city is impressive with a swath of the city taken up by the marble laden forum and the elegant Palatine Hill from which the nearby coliseum looms. Via Sacra, Rome’s oldest known street, is today the pathway for tourists exploring the forum, the center of ancient Roman life. In every direction lie the white marble remains of the so called Eternal City, given its name no doubt in part due to the rise and fall and rise again of this proud city. Intact buildings once home to parliaments and emperors now stand aged a thousand years prior to the foundation of America.

Dealing now with modern concerns endangering historic landmarks, Rome faces challenges in population, construction, transportation and pollution. Buoyed by the popularity of antiquity yet burdened with its preservation, the city of Rome continues to struggle with the responsibility associated with such a legacy while planning for future generations.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Youthful Barcelona

April 16-18, Barcelona, Spain

A hip urban hotspot, Barcelona is a Mecca of culture, art and history as well as home to a burgeoning youth population of both locals and tourists alike.

Maniacally loyal fútbol fans, masterpieces from a native architectural genius and old world European charm make Barcelona an energetic and lovely city embracing qualities and characteristics from every era.

Sagrada Familia

Inside Sagrada Familia

Along the port coast, cargo ships and luxurious yachts line the docks adjacent to a street littered with bars, restaurants and gelato shops. To the north, Güell Park and other green spaces dot the hillsides overlooking the city. Nestled between the sea and foothills, Barcelona buzzes with activity at all hours.

The center of Barcelona’s nocturnal world is Las Ramblas, a lively street lined with trees, vendors, performers, shops and eateries. Restaurants serve local cuisine in outdoor seating, most popularly appetizer sized dishes known as tapas and the local rice dish, paella.

Historical and monumental sites are found throughout the city including Castle Montjuic presiding over the city with a storied history in which the defensive structure was used against the city in several instances.

Many prominent sites revolve around one man, architect Antoni Gaudí. Commissioned for cathedrals, homes and recreational spaces, Gaudí left his mark on his native Barcelona. Projects often associated with the artist are the residential Casa Batilló and La Pedrera showcasing his work with unique non-linear surfaces, intricate wrought iron and haunting geometric figures. Gaudí also devised innovative functional characteristics into his projects making extraordinary use of natural light and in La Pedrera, an apartment complex, he created a structure requiring no interior load bearing walls.

Sagrada Familia altar

Altar of Sagrada Familia

The pinnacle of Gaudí’s work culminates within Sagrada Familia, the unfinished cathedral more than 120 years in the making. Begun

in 1882, Sagrada Familia was designed by Gaudí utilizing nature as a blueprint for his masterpiece. Working on the Sagrada Familia until his death, Gaudí laid the foundation for generations to follow. Construction is expected to be complete sometime in the first third of this century.

The colossal size of Sagrada Familia from beyond its walls is somewhat unfathomable, but the manner in which sunlight throughstained glass plays upon the stone – vastly more so. In awe struck wonder, visitors shuffle across the immense marble floor with necks craned and eyes to the sky like turkeys waiting for rain. Showered upon them instead is the monumental ability of man focused in heavenly devotion.

Like the unending construction at Sagrada Familia, so too is the path of life. Our plans may change and our route diverted for a time but we remain focused on the road ahead. Come what may, be it hardships or joy, we should all strive to seize the day and revel in the thought of a completed life well lived.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Seeing Southern Spain

Malaga and Valencia, Spain: April 14 & 15, 2011

Though vastly different in size and scope, Malaga and Valencia share the warmth found on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

Often successive ports of call for sea going cruise guests, these dynamic cities can easily pass by in a blur. Take time to see the sights and indulge in some local cuisine in order to fully appreciate the locales.

Both cities radiate from bullrings and monumental cathedrals, but from there the differences are stark. Taking it’s prominence by way of tourism, Malaga is commonly known as the capital of Costa Del Sol, a holiday haven of the Mediterranean, whereas Valencia ranks as Spain’s third largest city with an important economical role in port trade and finance while agriculture thrives just outside the city limits.

Alcazaba: Malaga, Spain

Alcazaba: Malaga, Spain

Malaga however, stands apart with an ancient fortress towering above the skyline. At the city’s highest point, Malaga’s Alcazaba and Gibralfaro stand guard over aging plazas and modern advancements. A palace of Moorish origin, the Alcazaba is connected by a garden of royal value to the imposing Gibralfaro, or citadel, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city. This sprawling, labyrinthinecomplex dates back to the 11th century. In continuous excavation adjacent to the Alcazaba, lies a 1st century Roman theatre which remained hidden beneath the city until 1951.

Among the medieval plazas of Malaga, lies the Plaza de Merced. At 15 Plaza de Merced lies the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and his childhood home until his family moved out of the area. A foundation exists in the building for the preservation of the home, hosting a permanent exhibit of personal effects along with traveling exhibits of his work.

Valencia boasts national attractions in the areas of culture, education and art including the renown City of Arts and Sciences drawing 4 million annual visitors. In a shining achievement of urban planning, Valencia transformed their main water supply, the Turia River which was prone to flooding, into an expansive public park, recreation facility and gardens. After a deadly flood in the 1950s, Turia was diverted and the fertile river bed now stretches 5 and a half miles through the city providing walking and biking trails, fountains, gardens, soccer fields and dog parks for residents and guests.


Valencia, Spain City Hall
City Hall: Valencia, Spain

Showcasing Valencia’s historical grandeur is the gothic building that once was home to a bustling silk market. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Silk Market is adorned with gargoyles and arching domes throughout main market. A connected garden and adjoining rooms include breathtaking design and intricate detail.

Each city, deserving of extensive exploration, must at times be hurried through as life tends to demand. Although enough time will never be had to see each site in full detail, slow down long enough to smell the jasmine in the Alcazaba and the orange blossoms of Valencia. In enjoyment of each moment comes fulfillment and with that comes success in travel and in life.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Coastal Cadiz

Cadiz, Spain: April 13, 2011

Cranes tower above the skyline of Cadiz situated on Spain’s southern Atlantic coast. Preparations are underway giving a facelift to classical architecture for an international diplomatic gathering taking place next year.

Within the compact city, temporary construction stirs as workers ready the streets and plazas for holy week. Coming late this year, in the last weeks of April, Easter will fill this town and other destinations like it with pilgrims and devout locals.

The narrow, winding cobblestone streets are a picture of medieval Spain well preserved by imposing city walls, still intact at several key points. The remnants of these defensive barriers are found of varying ages hidden within one another ranging from the 13th to 18th centuries. Like Russian nesting dolls, the city continued to build outside of its walls increasing in area while effectively keeping its historical district alive.

Coastal Cadiz

Coastal Cadiz

This port city rose to prominence as one of Europe’s wealthiest serving as a terminus for explorers returning from the New World. Christopher Columbus set sail from Cadiz for his second transatlantic expedition in 1493. Successful explorers brought with them gold and other valuable treasures creating wealth along with a trade empire.

New World gold can still be seen adorning the altars of Cathedrals throughout the city. The ‘New Cathedral,’ as it’s known, remains one of the largest in Christendom standing above the city with its glistening gold dome. The sanctuary took 116 years to be completed and consumed the careers of several architects embodying the architectural styles of three separate generations.

New Cathedral: Cadiz, Spain

New Cathedral: Cadiz, Spain

With the advancement of the ages, Cadiz has continued to remain in prominence. Spain’s first constitution was signed in Cadiz in 1812 allowing citizens many of the same freedoms enjoyed today. The harbor continues to play a key role in the local economy spurring trade, tourism and a strong fishing industry.

Today, Cadiz sprawls outside of its walls contained only by the peninsula it perches upon. Modern Cadiz boasts white sandy beaches and warm temperatures for much of the year. A well blended mixture of new and old, Cadiz remains an enchanting city often overshadowed by nearby Seville. Cadiz may be best known by tourists for an extravagant and vibrant Carnaval, but this small coastal city with a population of less than 200,000 is a sight to be seen year round.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Exploring Tenerife

Tenerife, Canary Islands: April 11, 2011

Memorials dot the winding roadside that climbs towards Tiende, Spain’s highest peak. The evidence of tragic death clashes against a backdrop of vibrant flora vying in futility for attention amid a tropical paradise.

This road leading toward the summit along Tenefrie’s northern coast passes through several microclimates before punching through the clouds into an otherworldly landscape of obsidian fields and lava flows, testament to ancient violence. This island, the largest of the Canary Islands, boasts a population of some 800,000 supported almost entirely by more than 5 million annual visitors.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Tiede, the highest point in Spain. Tenerife, Canary Islands

A nominal fluctuation in coastal temperatures is largely responsible for Tenerife’s popularity, especially among Europeans escaping the long winter months. The raw natural beauty of Tiede and the surrounding caldera draw others hunting natural wonders.

Hiking trails crisscross the island providing an easy escape from urban areas existing below the clouds, while city dwellers may find comfort in either of the dual capitals. Rural communities are commonly dotted by agricultural terraces in place of front- or back-yards.

Although bananas, tomatoes and flowers are produced commercially, many residents supplement their incomes by farming part-time. Volcanic soil makes for rich and fertile fields; unfortunately much of the island is mountainous and steep with rough terrain. Mini-farms consist oftentimes of either wine-grapes or potatoes, both cultural staples throughout the Canary Islands.

Peculiarities set this island and the Canary’s apart from other island destinations. The range of altitude and climates create what locals call their own mini-continent. The sea of clouds, breathtaking from above, is not only a common sight but also a welcome nuisance. A thick cloud layer engulfs the islands beyond the reach of skyscrapers, bringing with it much needed water as the island has no natural rivers, few streams and receives very little rain. Trees take in moisture found within the clouds and release it to be stored in underground aquifers.

Another oddity is the island’s lack of indigenous animals. No mammals are native to Tenerife, only invertebrates and a variety of birds. All those since introduced to the island have become pests and a challenge to the ecosystem including rabbits, squirrels and goats.

The people of the Canary Islands are by and far welcoming and helpful. They are proud of their island and its history. Most that are born to the islands remain there. Whether a port of call while at sea or a special destination, Tenerife and the Canary Islands is a sight not to be missed.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The best laid plans

I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all;
but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.
- Martin Luther

Looking back on years gone by and the plans I made for myself, I can see the beauty in trusting in something greater than yourself. There is a plan for our lives written before the universe was unveiled, the one who hung the stars also knows us by name. Treating that as a side note, we often craft our own agendas based on human perception of what is best.

My own plans contrast greatly from that which I feel God has made possible in my life. Marriage was far from my mind just a few years ago. But today I have a partner to share our greatest journeys. God’s plans, once realized, shattered my ownand in their wake created a mosaic pieced together from the shards of my mistakes by the master’s hands. Crafted to fill every inch of my soul and flood my every expectation; that’s the plans of Christ in our lives.

From a broken race, the savior came. The perfect word became flesh and bone, susceptible to temptation and capable of sin. Overcoming all temptations and living a sinless life, the one man undeserving of death was crucified. The Father’s plan, His own plan, was carried out to completion so that we may have a choice.Unencumbered by laws, rituals and sacred rites, all that is asked of us is to believe and trust in Him. But even then, it is difficult for us to forgo our own plans and follow as he leads.

Guiding from above, God coordinates through the Holy Spirit as a guidance system navigates city streets. Faced with a barrage of detours and one-way streets, it’s impossible to see our destination from street level. But who’s to say the Promised Land isn’t around the next corner?

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Faith in Action

I had the privilege this week of sharing with our Sunday School class a message I feel very passionate about and one that I believe we do not hear often enough.

I talked about faith and the importance of acting on our faith. Although in print it is quite lengthy, in my excitement about the message I hurriedly breezed through the lesson. So after class, I was asked for the referenced scripture and realized others may have missed them as well. Therefore I have edited the lesson to be presented in writing and posted it here.

Read more »

Categories: Inspirational, Motivational | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

The Plan

Well, Brielle and I have made our plans official and announced it publicly (including our employers). That being said, we will steadily be adding content to this site as the countdown to the old continent continues.

We are currently in the final planning stages of preparing to set sail for Europe. We will embark on a two-week cruise to begin our trip, landing in Barcelona, Spain where we will explore Europe for the duration of our two-month rail pass.

We ask for your prayers and thoughts through this journey. Please check back regularly as we will try to update as often as possible with new experiences. Feel free to shoot us an e-mail via the “Contact Us” page or leave us a comment to let us know what you think, any questions you have or suggestions for things we should see.

Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments