Thursday, July 28, 2011

My last, and best, week in Italy

After I left Ca' del Buco, I slowly made my way to Pisa (after a long lunch break in Bologna, checking into Florence, and yet another train ride) where I met Bosse who was flying in that night from Spain to meet me for a week-long trip.  Both of us had already visited many of the place we had on our itinerary (mostly being selected because we couldn't afford going North, or to the sea, so back south it was!), but who could complain about seeing some of the most beautiful (and may I say, romantic) cities and sights in the world, again.  I certainly wasn't about to.

So happy to be back at
the Firenze Duomo!
Our first stop was Florence.  We were both so happy that we made a last minute change to our itinerary to include an extra night in Florence.  In our time there, we witnessed a brilliant thunderstorm, indulged in fabulous gelato (fig and ricotta/gorgonzola and walnut flavors - surprisingly delicious!) and piadinos filled with nutella and marscapone, and then we [attempted] to walk it all off by climbing the 400+ stairs of the Duomo tower and the rest of the streets around town.  Although it wasn't my first time in Florence (and hopefully not my last either, as I ensured with another rubbing of the wild boar's nose), I enjoyed it all the same (if not more), experiencing it with someone new.

We left Florence and headed to Naples.  Our trip there was a bit tumultuous having included a mix up with tickets (or rather, non-tickets), escaping a large fine by running off a train at the next stop, waiting two hours in a town called Arezzo (but not being able to do anything because of our big bags and a big hill), finally making it to Naples 3 hours later (and our pocketbooks a bit lighter) than anticipated and after the metro had stopped running, which resulted in us getting ripped off by a dishonest cabbie after also getting spooked by Naples at night.

Um, are we still in Italy?
But, we were there.  Our first day we had plans to go to Pompeii which were derailed (no pun intended) because of a transit workers strike which cancelled all trains running to the site.  So, we made the most of the day by wandering through the centro storico (which felt a bit more like Morocco than Italy), the port of Napoli, gaping at all the piles of trash overflowing into the streets and sidewalks, and making time for an authentic pizza napolitana as well as a cool, creamy gelato.
Yay!  Pompeii!

Our second day we woke up to rain, so we delayed Pompeii and did "Underground Napoli" which was a tour of the aqueducts under the city which were used as shelters during World War II.  By the time we finished the tour, the rain had stopped and we grabbed a pizza to go (we were sadly unsuccessful at the most famous pizzeria in Naples because of the massive crowd and had to settle for another) and made our way to Pompeii.  The site was much larger than we had anticipated, was fairly impressive for what it had, but was also sad because of the disrepair that it had fallen into (not including the actual archeological parts, of course).

The next day we forfeited the ultra-cheap train headed to Rome so that we could take an earlier train that would allow us an afternoon in our last city.  We were still an hour late arriving (apparently, Mussolini did NOT make the trains run on time in Italy), but after making our own pasta lunch in the B&B, we hit up all the Roman sites: the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Holy See, Spanish Steps, a stroll around Trastevere and even got in a gelato before calling it a full day.  The next day we had early tickets to the Vatican Museum.  Bosse got us a museum book so we could read about all the old stuff as we saw it, but more importantly, the Sistine Chapel.  We took our time and took lots of mental pictures (since the real ones weren't allowed).  After sneaking out the back way into St. Peter's and then leaving the Vatican, we grabbed some amazing pay-by-the-weight pizza from a hole in the wall that I managed to find from the year before.  Still not completely satisfied with our finger-lickin'-good pizza, we bought ourselves the most amazing gelatos that were as big as our faces (even though it was the "small" size).  We sat for awhile in a plaza to digest and write our postcards.  For our last evening out, we managed to find a less-than-remarkable restaurant in a charming street (not sure the atmosphere made up for the lack of taste, but the evening was still memorable) and slowly made our way back taking in one last look at beautiful Rome.

On our way out, we took a direct train to Pisa (first one to arrive on time!) and caught a little bit of the sights there (sights = the tower and... ) before we left for the airport.  For me, it was the end of 7 weeks in Italy.  I can't say that my farm experience was all that I hoped it would be, and I can't say that I wish I had it all to do over again.  As for my two trips while in Italy with an incredible guy as my travel companion: I couldn't have wished for anything better.

Bosse and I in front of St. Peter's Basilica
For the complete Facebook album, click here.

Italy: Last days at the farm

Day 39 - Friday, July 15
       The last day of kiddy camp. We were all pretty excited to have it finished that as soon as the last kid left we dropped everything and went to the Mara's town.  She had prepared a marvelously tasty dinner and after we went out for a stroll of the street fair.  It wasn't anything too special, but it was so nice to be out in the cool night air and enjoying something different without a single ounce of work involved.

Day 40 - Saturday, July 16
       After telling Paula about what American like to do most with zucchini (um... add lots of fat, sugar, and carbs to it and then call it "bread"), she insisted that I bake some of it for the farm with the plethora of zucchini that was coming from the garden.  After learning to love a metric scale and pillow talking the difficult oven, I managed to make a couple pretty delicious zucchini breads.  After we hosted a family for lunch, we all called it a day.  It mostly because Paola was suffering from a pretty bad headache and the rest of us took it as an opportunity to do absolutely nothing, which is exactly what we did - not even bothering to cook dinner that night but instead enjoyed take away pizzas and a walk in Montepastore.

Day 41 - Sunday, July 17
       I was requested to make more zucchini breads (I started calling them cakes, because let's face it, once you start adding chocolate chunks and putting it in round pans, it had no semblance of bread anymore).  I also made the wonder that is buttercream frosting (vanilla and chocolate) as they had yet to be introduced to it.  They ate it like ice cream (yes, I told them how it was intended to be eaten, and yes, also what it was made of).  As I was working in the kitchen, I kept looking out and being startled at the sight of the large cow that was left out to wander for the day.  Later we went up to the church in the valley which was having its Saint's Day celebration to donate a couple cakes.  It was kind of cool to finally get a closer look at the building that had become my beautiful sounding clock the previous six weeks.

Day 42 - Monday, July 18
       My last full day was filled with a variety of tasks, from hauling a 30kg bag of grain up a hill (and yes, it broke upon arrival), picking some figs, took down the entranceway, cleaned a room for guests, and moved dry weeds for burning.  For my last dinner with the family, they bought gelato for the special occasion (how many flavors can you fit into one styrofoam container?  A lot, apparently.)

Day 43 - Tuesday, July 19
     Before leaving, I only had time to write in the WWOOFer book (of which more than 50 previous WWOOFers had written in) and clean my room.  I was hoping to do a last walk around the farm to say goodbye to all the animals (yes, I'm serious), but as Paola spontaneous offered to drive me to the closest train stop into Bologna, I had to bid a quick adieu to the farm that I had come to know over those 6 weeks.  Paola said a brief goodbye at the metro station, and with that, my time at Casa del Buco came to an end, I must admit, rather anticlimactically.  But at least my time in Italy wasn't over.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Italy: Days 31 through 38

Day 31 - Thursday, July 7
     The day was calm without Paola there (at a conference for 3 days) and I used the day mostly helping Patricia in the kitchen or Caroline in the garden.  We finished fairly early (5pm by our standards) and enjoyed a quick beer with Roberto and a bar overlooking the beautiful valley below.  That evening Mara cooked fried zucchini blossoms which were divine and we ate a calm meal in the cool air outside.

Day 32 - Friday, July 8
       Another leisurely day without Paola.  I helped Patricia in the kitchen with her prep-work for the market the next day and prepping the pizzas for that day's lunch with the kids.  After lunch (and a brief dance party with the kids), Caroline and I tackled the pruning of the blackberry bush, after after it really felt and looked as if we really had tackled the bush; our skin was left marked and scratch as if we had been in a cat fight.  Paola returned that afternoon, but the day finished smoothly and I made it an early night to be awake for the market early the next day.

Day 33 - Saturday, July 9
       I woke up super early to catch the 6:45 bus to meet Patricia to help her with the market that morning.  I guess she didn't really need much help as the market was not more than 10 or 12 tents and not many were interested in the fresh pasta we were selling (I wouldn't be either as it was like 90 degrees outside and pasta's the last thing I would eat).  After the market, there was a long wait for the next bus back to the farm so I had lunch with Pati and Mara and enjoyed a large gelato on my walk to the bus stop.  When I got back to the farm, I was assigned the job of redecorating the dining room with "summery" things.  We all stopped early so that Paola, Roberto, and Gabriele took Caroline and I out to dinner to enjoy the most fabulous borlenghi (ultra-thin crepes filled with ground sausage) and torteloni (large tortelini) ev-ar!

Day 34 - Sunday, July 10
       I put up the decorations I had started the day before (paper cranes, leaf garlands, and big yellow suns) and did lots of other small duties around the kitchen.  Caroline and I picked figs so we could make jam later.  I ate a couple of really soft ones and they had to be some of the juiciest, sweetest figs I've ever had.  We learned how to make pasta by hand, and watching Paola do it definitely made me realize how much skill and practice it takes.  We weren't able to eat it (wasn't ready for cutting), so we ate some other fresh pasta and had a mostly lazy afternoon going between more fig picking and playing the pool with Gabriele.  That night, I made the requested paella, even though I this point it had digressed into more of just "saffron rice with meat" but it still turned out pretty well, and we were able to enjoy it with some wonderfully nice friends of Paola and Roberto.

Day 35 - Monday, July 11
      Caroline left early in the morning (we said all of our goodbyes the night before), but we woke up not too much later for the last week of kiddy camp.  The kids spent the morning cleaning out Paola's honeycombs and learning about beehives in the meantime.  After a paella lunch, Roberto took me out to the plum trees that were by the cherries and found that they weren't really ready for the picking, so I finished the day by vacuuming the guest house which had already been infiltrated by bugs (again).

Day 36 - Tuesday, July 12
       I started chopping down the jungle of grass/weeks that had grown in the short time we put the covering over the strawberry bushes.  After cooking and eating lunch, I must have looked as exhausted as I felt, as Paola suggested that I take a nap after lunch being that there wasn't much else to help out with in the afternoon.  I wasn't able to sleep much given it was so hot, but it was nice to rest for a solid couple hours.  I finally left my room because I was ready to stick my head under a cold tap, so I watered the vegetable garden so that I could be around water.  We finished later and had a later dinner, and when I got back to my room, I had a large infestation of larger-than-life moths, of which the vacuum and chair became my most valuable tools for combating the buggers.

Day 37 - Wednesday, July 13
       Nothing too special: weeded a small garden in front in the morning and then cleaned the kitchen in the afternoon.  It was beautiful when I finished.

Day 38 - Thursday, July 14
       I finally finished cutting the jungle of weeds under the cover.  Paola had prepped dough earlier and I finished making the little breads (not without burning a few first, of course).  After lunch and clean up, I took a little break for myself, and then finished with all my nightly tasks: watering the garden and feeding the animals.  We had a pot luck dinner with the parents of the kids that had been at Ca' del Buco the last two weeks or three weeks, since Friday would all be their last day there (and our last day with kids).  The kids put on a little "show" for all of us which was mostly just precious because it was just watching them play around and occasionally making jokes of which I didn't understand but laughed anyway.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A brief visit and break: Days 26 through 30

Day 26 - Saturday, July 2
      The morning was spent preparing for our two different groups of guests the next day.  There was a group that would be eating lunch here that afternoon, and it would also be the first time since I'd been here that the guest house would be all booked up (the other 5 rooms).  The morning was a bit slow to pass as I was waiting impatiently for the 3:15 bus that would bring Bosse, who was coming for 5 days to visit me.  After he arrived (big 'yay'!), I rushed through the rest of my afternoon's tasks so I could have some spend time with him until the dinner service.

Day 27 - Sunday, July 3
       We all woke up early to serve breakfasts to the guests that had stayed, and from there it was nonstop; cleaning up, preparing lunch, serving the 25+ people a three course meal (upstairs), and then cleaning it all up again.  Being that I was super eager to start my vacation and get off the farm, the hours leading up to departure were endless.  But finally, we left on the last bus to pass the farm on the way to the city and another bus, gelato, and train ride later, we made it to Rimini.  Being that it was after 10 by the time we checked into our hotel, there was only time (and energy) to take a sea side stroll and dig my toes into the finest beach sand I've ever felt.

Day 28 - Monday, July 4
      Spending a sunny 4th on the sands of the Adriatic sea didn't turn out as we had planned when we were unable to store our bags at the train station.  So, as we were stuck toting them around, we decided to do what we could in the historic center and head back to Bologna (with a train-picnic in hand).  Being that we were both back on the Spanish time-table, we weren't hungry by the time the early Italian dinner hour rolled around, so we got a late night pizza and enjoyed the simple marinara-cheese-basil offerings of Italian cuisine.

Day 29 - Tuesday, July 5
       We spent the overcast day wandering the beautiful streets of Bologna.  The city is almost entirely done in colors of the earth - reds, browns, pale yellows - rendering "sepia" on your camera unnecessary. The city felt old and not very well kept, especially outside the areas around the main plaza.  The lack of tourist made it especially enjoyable and leisurely.  After eating paninis in the plaza, we walked the 498 steps up the largest tour in Bologna to see the best views of the red city.  Admittedly, we were both intrigued by the pistachio McFlurry and McDonald's and indulged (we were both, not surprisingly, disappointed).  We finished the day in a small plaza with another late night meal of crepes and some really wonderful gelato to make up for the day's earlier mistake.

Day 30 - Wednesday, July 6
       We passed the morning wandering the narrow streets behind the plaza filled with the produce market and delis.  We found the last visible canal channel, one of the many the city still sits on.  We intentionally ate a very light breakfast so we could sit for a marvelous 3 course Italian meal (Lonely Planet recommended!) that left us full for the rest of the day (only in Italy do they serve you a bowl of pasta for the first course and chicken and potatoes for the second).  After a stroll in the park and picking up some produce, we headed back to the farm on the next bus out.  I was very sad to have vacation be over and Bosse leaving early the next day.  But I was definitely not disappointed in how wonderful the 5 days had been.

To see the Facebook album of all the Bologna pictures, click here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Italy: Days 21 through 25

Day 21 – Monday, June 27
            Packed a lunch to spend a while at the cherry trees, picking the last of them.  Actually, we were picking cherries that had dried on the tree so Paola could make her special jam.  After being brought home, I was called to fold the largest tarp in the world (took up the whole field) and then move huge rocks from one field to another.  After making more than 10 trips with the wheelbarrow, I discovered a great new exercise for personal trainers to agonize their clients .

Day 22 – Tuesday, June 28
            Started picking plums today, and I think I ate almost as many as I put in my basket, as they were the sweetest I might have ever eaten.  After lunch, Paola took me on a few errands closer to Bologna city.  We went to the mall (which blew me away with how much it actually looked like an American mall), then got the best gelato ever, then went to the bulk-supermarket, where we bought massive quantities of cheese and other things.  It was wonderful getting away from the farm for a little bit, and even more beautiful seeing the land around us: I just wanted to run through the sunflower fields that were along the way.

Day 23 – Wednesday, June 29
            It was a hot and humid day at Ca’del Buco, and we kept busy doing lots of small tasks.  After lunch, I started with cleaning out the wine cellar of all the empty marmalade jars.   Did everything I could to stay away from the zoo-escaped spider guarding it’s nest in the corner.  Having visions of Arachnophobia.  As I was in my room for the evening, one of the largest thunderstorms broke out and I sat in front of my window with the lights off (and flashlight in hand) to just watch the light show. 

Day 24 – Thursday, June 30
            It was blue skies and sun after the storm the night before, but back to many of the unfinished project from the day before: weeding, moving wood, cleaning the glass jars that were uncovered from the cellar.  In the afternoon, I was able to go with Roberto to the farm where they buy their meat.  The butcher was kind of unimpressive, but the ride there was absolutely spectacular: we drove along the top of the hill and could see through all the valleys below.  It’s hard to believe, after seeing this place, how Tuscany has all the Italian countryside fame.  On our way back, Roberto treated me to a beer in what seemed like the only pub in the area.

Day 25 – Friday, July 1
            There was a beautiful fog through the mountains today, and it was nice and cool for our couple hours of plum picking (eating one for one).  After lunch I finished the jars (finally!) and then started on lasagna.  Using a recipe from home that usually takes 5 minutes to put together with the no-need-to-cook noodles and the canned sauce.  However, when everything is made from scratch, instead of 5 minutes, it took about 5 hours.  I wish I were joking.  At least it paid off: it was Italian family approved (at least to my face) and it will be tomorrow’s dinner for the guests staying at Ca’ del Buco (as long as they can handle the spice!).  Of course, it also takes a long time to make when you have to stop midway to brace for a storm and then run around making sure the property’s not flooded in the middle of the torrential downpour.  Thank goodness for homemade trash bag ponchos.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The first 20 days in Italy

I realize I’ve been absent nearly 3 weeks and for the entirety of my Italian WWOOFing adventure thus far.  It’s been long days without much of a break.  I’m mostly enjoying the work, but enjoying more being a part of the family, who are already experienced with volunteers like myself.

I’ve done a brief summer of each day thus far, and none have even remotely been the same.  I’ll do my best to continue this, especially now that I’m caught up.

Day 1 – Tuesday, June 7
            Left Spain, crying.  Got into Pisa and then Florence quite late and without much appetite. 

Day 2 – Wednesday, June 8
            Took a stroll around Florence before catching my train to Bologna.  I walked all the way to the old bridge, passing the Duomo, and remember exactly why I still think it’s the most beautiful city that I’ve ever seen.  Made my way to Bologna and got on the next bus to pass the farm.  Missed my stop, caught the bus going back the other way.  Meet Paola (the head of the whole operation), her husband Roberto, and son Gabriele.  Then ate pasta, picked cherries with her mom, Mara, and then we all played football before dinner.

Day 3 – Thursday, June 9
            Worked with cherries from breakfast until bed, piecing on them throughout the day – they had never tasted so sweet.  I noticed the beautiful church bells in that ring through the valley where the house sits.  We picked, we separated, we sold.  We finished the day with a little bit of gelato.

Day 4 – Friday, June 10
            No cherry picking, but helped to make fresh pasta (just cracked the eggs and watched the rest), cherry jam, cakes and cookies.  Hand pitting cherries was a seeming endless job, and I was surprised that the red stain washed off in the end (but impossible to clean out under my nails).

Day 5 – Saturday, June 11
            The day started out with a torrential downpour, muddying everything thoroughly.  I first put on the rain boots to walk around the farm and show the animals (giggling over a little boy frequently sticking in mud and exclaiming “momma mia!”) and then later put on an apron and served a the group of kids and their parents lunch.   Then prepped the guesthouse for the kids camp that would start the next day.  Got really good at making beds without fitted sheets.  There were a few karaoke breaks in between everything, of course.

Day 6 – Sunday, June 12
            Still rising earlier than the family and it sort of catches up with me when picking cherries.  This is partially remedied by eating a lot of said cherries.  When picking the cherries, I usually went with Paola’s mom who cracks me up with her crazy ramblings and sounds, but makes incredible food and cakes in the kitchen.  Later that night, we check in 18 kids who will be staying the next 5 days for camp. Finish the night by reading a bedtime story and watching the fireflies before tucking them into bed.

Day 7 – Monday, June 13
             Ran around serving kids breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the activities in between.  Discovered it’s a rather interesting activity to try and tell kids what to do when you don’t share a common language, but we all seemed to manage.

Day 8 – Tuesday, June 14
            First day of complete sunshine!  We taught the kids how to make gnocchi, and they included a station for me to learn too.  We made the kids their gnocchi for lunch and low and behold they didn’t like it because it tasted like potatoes (crazy!). 

Day 9 – Wednesday, June 15
            A mix of activities between the kitchen, and watching the kids play football, and weeding between the lavender plants.  Come up with a crazy metaphor that compares the weeding process to solving life problems.  The heat has obviously gotten to me.

Day 10 – Thursday, June 16
            Was assigned the task to follow the kids around and take pictures with my camera (the only working one left), had a scare that it might have broken after some moisture got in the lens, but it was nothing that a bit of warm afternoon air didn’t cure.

Day 11 – Friday, June 17
            The kids left in the afternoon, which as kind of sad.  I had gotten used to the confusion of communication, and enjoyed their energy and curiosity.  I cleaned the rooms in the guesthouse and welcomed the new WWOOFer, Caroline, who would be here for the next 3 weeks.  We proceeded to clean everything from the kids, and I came face to face with a spider that had probably escaped from the nearest zoo and a scorpion, all within about 3 minutes.

Day 12 – Saturday, June 18
            Moved bed, cut lavender, fixed the goats pen, moved hay around, and weeded around the entire cow pen.  My back screamed for relief.  Don’t know how day laborers do it all, day in and day out, and I gained a new appreciation for those who bend over all day for a living.

Day 13 – Sunday, June 19
            Hosted the largest group yet, at nearly 100 people and I went between helping with them and picking more lavender.  There’s so much lavender.

Day 14 – Monday, June 20
            Only lavender: picking, organizing, bundling, hanging.  I really never thought it was such an intensive project (I didn’t think cherries were either, but those also turned out to be surprisingly intensive too.)  I guess I always assumed the work stopped once things were picked from the tree/plant.  HA.

Day 15 – Tuesday, June 21
            More lavender.  There was also a retirement group that came to spend a day at the farm.  It was quite funny seeing Paola do the same demonstration and activities with them as she does for the 4 and 5 year olds.

Day 16 – Wednesday, June 22
            Yes, more lavender!  We also had the chance to watch Mara build a fort out of wooden pieces and pieces of cloth and then play “Caveman” with the kids here for the week.  Listening to her shout “Oooooga ooga!” and pretend she was eating mammoth was one of my favorite moments so far.  Later, Paola and I covered the strawberry plants which entailed all things farm: jeeps, sledgehammers, wasp stings, fashioning homemade instruments. 

Day 17 – Thursday, June 23
            We started the day by wrangling a sheep, pushing it up a incline then pulling it down the hill (while it’s tied up and complete dead weight.  I never knew sheep weighed so damn much).  It was really like a bad joke: how many adults and children does it take to catch and drag a sheep to sheer it?  The answer: too many, and it takes too long.  Then there was more lavender.  Surprise, surprise. 

Day 18 – Friday, June 24
            It was little Gabriele’s birthday, so I helped with the party.  There were bouncy slides and a newly inflated swimming pool in the front yard, legs of lamb in the oven, a treasure hunt, and a gelato cake.  With the rest of the family, I later pulled on his ears 9 times (ending with a kiss!) to wish him good luck for the next year. I still managed to work a bit on the lavender.  It doesn’t stop for a 9-year old’s birthday.

Day 19 – Saturday, June 25
            Slept in until 8:30!  But was still so hard to get up.  Before our single group came later in the day, my assignment was to spring clean the barn-converted-restaurant.  The vacuum was my weapon again as I attacked all the cobwebs and their creators.  I’m pretty sure I could have started a zoo with all the critters I had gathered.  After finishing, I helped to roll out and bake lavender cookies with Mara, which tasted surprisingly wonderful.  

Day 20 – Sunday, June 26
            We hosted both a birthday picnic (completely with cookie demonstration) and a political meeting with lunch.  Everything had to be perfect for the big dogs, so hours in the kitchen were endless.  Usually the presentation is nice here, but the family tried extra hard this time and everything looked wonderful.  I was a bit scattered when I was left alone serving pasta to the group and had to ask “ragu o spinaci?” with the varying answers I would receive.  I managed, and the day went by quickly, despite the long hours. 

To enjoy pictures of the farm, house, and the wonderful children that have been here, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Leaving Malaga.

I’m writing this as I’m flying away from a wonderful place and ending a wonderful 9 months living in Malaga, Spain.

To sum up the experience briefly would be impossible.   I have had such great fortune this year between the people I’ve met, the places I’ve traveled, and the city I lived.   I know that I am truly blessed.

My school this year was awash with wonderful, kind teachers and students that embraced me and made me feel a part of the team. 

My roommates were both beautiful, intelligent, ambitious women which made the entire year exciting and spontaneous.  I’m eternally grateful that they put up with me and my particularities.  They also introduced me to other amazing women that became such an integral part of my Malaga memories.  Our routine family dinners made this year a communal experience, which made it all the more valuable.

I met amazing MalagueƱos this year, who were some of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.   Veronica will forever be part of my most precious memories of Malaga, and I hope that one day I can show her my home as she has shown me hers.

This year I traveled more than ever and witnessed some of the most iconic places in the world.  I made it to over 10 countries, countless cities, and still returned to many of the places I love most here in Spain. 

Malaga became the place of my fantasies.  Every day was a new discovery and breathtaking moment.  I will never forget the way Calle Larios looks at night, the chiming of the cathedral bells through the open terrace doors of our apartment that ushered in a cool sea breeze, and my morning runs on the dark beach sand of the Malagueta and finally catching my breath at the stone steps of the Roman Theater.  Every day was absolutely surreal.

I could have never anticipated it being so hard to leave this year.  The last days have been a roller coaster of emotions, between parties and goodbyes.  Last evening, after dinner I was walking through the city one last time.  As I came upon the cathedral steps a man was playing flamenco guitar on the other side.  I couldn’t have envisioned a more perfect moment if I had tried.

This place is too beautiful to be pushed into the corners of my memory.  It deserves a place as special as it is.  It needs to be at the forefront of my thought, just behind my eyes, forever filtering my world through the high standard of pure joy and beauty that it has become to me.  It will forever be a home to which I will always be drawn.