Do you believe in magic… In a Parisian’s Heart? :)

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“When this falls off, you will find love.”

And old woman handed me a thin anklet with three blue beads on it. I glanced at it through exhausted eyes. My dad and I had just spent all day in Old Towne San Diego, which is bustling with Mexican markets and freshly made tortillas. At that point, I really only wanted a burrito.

“It’s only $1 for you. You will find love,” she pressed.

Well, I do like the color blue. I fumbled around in my wallet and dropped four quarters into her hand. I didn’t put the anklet on until after I had eaten, was well-rested, and had nothing else to do. Although I love good luck charms, this one was a little out-there.

This was four months ago, in the beginning of January.

On the last day of our stay in Paris over spring break, my “love” bracelet fell off. I stared at it for a second as it layed on the ground. I certainly wasn’t in love with anyone. Yet, I had just had a life changing vacation in Paris.

I glanced up at Ivy.

“Kels, you fell in love with the city,” she smiled.

Thank God for cheesey friends. She was right.

Ivy and I both had spent our entire lives pushing away fairy tale ideas while secretly wanting to believe in the magic and love of them all. In a way, reality had tied a hankerchief around our eyes, but never completely concealed our senses.

Paris is living proof that those magical fairy tales do exist, in real life.

But more about that later…

It’s a city obsessed with the concept of beauty. It sets up this perfect, ideal world in which lacy balconies should of course overlook gardens of tulips, and where fluffy white dogs trot aside immense marble sculptures on the streets. Snails are served with style, and incredible taste, while la crème brûlée clearly has the best taste under a glimmering Eiffel Tower.

Paris was everything, and so much more, I could ever imagine. We went to The Louvre museum and were blown away by every single corridor, ceiling art, and sculpted wall. That doesn’t even begin to cover the artwork inside. Once again I realized how much history does matter, and how much dedication thousands of humans have put into artwork and beauty for thousands of years. We saw the Mona Lisa, and walked by Napoleon’s personal items. The list could go on and on.

A city that believes in beauty, simply for the sake of beauty, and nothing else…. Proof of magic #1.

We stopped by Notre Dame, which proved to be my favorite cathedral in Europe thus far. There, it was chilling to realize that those people who had spent their entire lives to build such a beautiful place really loved and believed in God. Believing in someone enough to love them is a risk. Having enough confidence in an idea to let it flourish requires courage. Yet devoting every bit of your existence to a power you have never met is something almost incomprehensible.

And there we stood, in 2012, feeling like we were about to be swept into a purple crystalized heaven because of them.

We did nothing, and those with so much faith 800 years ago asked nothing of us now. They believed in creating beauty for the god they loved. Regardless of if the universe is swept with unknown powers, or only with crumbs of lonely stars, that passion alone is an idea worth love.

Love strong enough to construct Notre Dame…. Proof of magic #2.

We made crepes with nutella thanks to the local supermarket, and had a picnic in Marie Antoinette’s palace pond in Versailles. The grass was lush and tall. A horse drawn to it’s owner by a single rope munched under a tree nearby. The lake was dotted with ducks and swans.

It was all so beautiful, and we fell asleep in the sun for an hour after our picnic. As dreams of real life started to invade my nap, I woke to the fairy tale we were in. I couldn’t ask for more.

Finally the Eiffel Tower – and the belief in love.

We Found Love in a Hopeless Place – Rihanna accomponied this moment for us.

Ok, so maybe Paris is the furthest thing from a “hopeless place” in this universe. Yet, as Ivy and I listened to this song (and all of our other favorites) at the very top of a glittering Eiffel Tower at night, we saw before our eyes something we had just begun to rediscover.

And we’re not just talking about some future, dreamy, romantic love here.

Instead, we realized that everything we had pushed out of our lives – the belief of magic, beauty just for beauty (and not efficiency), and the idea of love for life and for ourselves- was now drowning every feeling within us. It doesn’t matter what others consider “realistic”.

This was our reality.

A man proposed to his girlfriend a few feet from us, and delighted strangers snapped photos while clapping and smother the couple with hugs. Paris quietly bustled below us, and the hundreds of strangers (whose minds were undoubtedly noisy with thoughts) moved silently as black flickers. All those worries were insignificant and muted up here.

All we saw was beauty, love, and art in this city.

It all taught us that even in this world that likes to point out the negative and incorrect, those three things can still exist.

That moment taught us to find love… in a hopeless place.

…Proof of magic #3. :)

They Call it a “Bucket List”

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To write a bucket list, one must first realize that their time will run out someday. It’s not always easy admitting this to ourselves. However, those who prepare leave knowing they are taking the best parts of the world with them.

Okay, okay, I’ll spare you the front seat ticket to “Kelsey’s Philosophies”! The point is I made a bucket list, but for Sevilla. There is so much to see in this city that I had never even heard of, and it was about time to get started.

This weekend was like Sevillan culture on steroids… and I may just be addicted.

The Triana Market

The Sevillan neighborhood of Triana dates back to Roman times and adorns what many consider the face of Sevilla. It sits nestled on the other side of the river from my home in El Centro, and the quaint bars and restaurants of Calle Betis create a classic Spanish horizon at the end of the Triana Bridge. On this bridge you can find locks with the names of enamored lovers written on them. Couples will come to the bridge to attach a lock, and then toss the key into the river as a symbol of locking their relationship into place.

Ahh, only in Europe….. But, Sevilla is ranked one of the most romantic cities in the world. Hey, maybe my prince charming is hidden between the pork shops and flamenco stores in this city. ;) Just don’t come riding in on a white horse (see previous post…….)

The Triana Market is bustling with everything fresh! It is one of the places where you will feel like a true Spaniard, and it’s fun to imagine using the market as a grocery store every week. Products included everything like flowers, fruit, pig legs, fish, and pastries. Just a note of advice to the vegetarians or faint-hearted people out there: The meat in this market often still looks like an animal. This isn’t a prepackaged meat fridge in Savemart… and trust me, there’s no plastic wrap involved.

Hi, Triana!!

The Triana Ceramic District 

Sevilla is known for its ceramics – and for good reason. These artists know quite a bit about what they’re doing. An entire street in Triana is dedicated to ceramic shops, and browsing will give you an entire new appreciation for the craft. The ceramics rang from items for the kitchen, to tiles representing religious scenes. Just be careful if you’re walking through the small shops… the ceramics are often crowded onto rickety shelves. It was enough to make me a little more than nervous about clumsiness.

Perhaps one of the oldest art forms we know!

El Castillo de San Jorge

Last stop in Triana: A castle! With these spotted all throughout Europe, I can imagine fairy tales began here. Unfortunately, this castle doesn’t necessarily follow the cheery Cinderella format. From 1481 until 1785, El Castillo de San Jorge was used as the seat of the Spanish Inquisition to reform the entire country to Catholicism. It served partly as a church, and mostly as a type of detention center for those who did not reform to the Catholic faith. Most of the Spaniards placed in the castle were Jews, but those of all religions other than Catholicism were sentenced to imprisonment there.

The museum that now is built upon the ruins of the Inquisition encourages visitors to reflect, and act as protagonists in the future when it comes to religious equality.

Oh, and there were tours in English. That means a thumbs up for this place.

Sierpes Street

Balance is good in life. It’s also good in shopping, and Sierpes Street seems to understand perfectly. This well-known shopping street in El Centro of Sevilla is known for its comfortable mixture of new, trendy shops with older and more classical ones. I set out to explore not only the street, but also a clock shop I had heard is 100 years old.

If you visit this place, be sure to set your watch to the right hour! Of all places, you can trust a 100-year-old clock shop. It seems to have withstood the test of time.

This place takes "Tik Tok" way further than Ke$ha.

Palacio de Lebrija

“This lady was the best interior designer in the world!”

“I know, I want to learn from her!” 

Anyone would say something similar after seeing this 16th Century palace that was renovated and designed by the Countess of Lebrija, Doña Regla Manjón. Passionate about Middle Eastern and Oriental designs, this Martha Stewart Jr. started decorating her home in 1901 and spent 13 years perfecting all that she could. Rooms include Moroccon furniture for smoking hookah and the pottery of Chinese royalty.

I can’t begin to describe the amount of detail this woman put into her home.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures during this visit. But, I will never forget seeing a collection of coins and books dating to hundreds of years B.C. in one of the rooms. Yes, B.C. The work of those who lived and loved and fought just like we do, yet thousands of years before us. It’s a lot to let sink in.

Casa de Pilatos 

Another palace!!  I was about ready to get a tiara and a pretty dress and call it a day. Then I’d just need to pack my bags and move in… Nobody would mind, right?

This palace introduced Renaissance styles to Sevilla during the 15th century. It was created for the union of two families which had deep-rooted relationships with Italy, and thus flaunted much Roman-inspired decor. When we went through this palace, I felt like I had stepped out of Sevilla and into a completely different country.

The gardens were lush and dunked in colors bright enough to be sugary candies. There were quite a few people touring through the courtyards, yet the only sound was a resounding silence that spoke in awe for all of us.

And I had never even heard of Casa de Pilatos before making my bucket list… Thank goodness for that list.

Spent 8 Hours with Friends by the River

….Why not? :)

El Museo de Bellas Artes

I’m an absolute sucker for Impressionist art. I just love it. And the Museum of Fine Arts, within a has-been convent dating to 1612, is filled with impressionist art and much more. Walking through the museum, I softly played music through my iPod and realized how much I loved a day like this. Art, sunshine, your favorite song. It was all more than perfect.

Outside of the Museo de Bellas Artes, there is an art market every Sunday morning. Artists from all over Sevilla bring their “obras” to sell, and there is something for everyone. Prices range from 5 Euro to the hundreds, and style ranges from the eclectic unrecognizable to the standard classics of Spanish art.

At the market, I smiled when I saw an Impressionist painting of a little girl staring off into the distance in a flamenco dress. Her suit was red and flowing, and matched a buoyant red bow in her brown locks. It was my favorite piece, because it made me think about myself as a little girl and how different my world was.

Although admittedly not all little girls in Spain dress up in flamenco dresses, it’s funny to think how her upbringing and culture will make that little girl either similar or different from me. She will grow up eating bocadillos de jamón york while I was provided nutrition with PB&J sandwiches for years. She will learn tales of Spanish “conquistadores” while I learned about American revolutionary heroes. Yet at one point we were both just little girls. We both wanted to dress up and pretend to be something we couldn’t be quite yet. Our dresses were just a little different.

I guess we’ll never know how much that changed the rest of us.

Catholic Mass

Spaniards know how to be Catholic. There are Catholic churches dotted amongst the streets, and most are hundreds of years old. The interiors of these churches are astounding, and church-goers are crowded amonst incredibly detailed sculptures of Saint Mary and Jesus crisped with gold and silver adorations.

Because of this, I told myself I wanted to attend a service before I left. I smiled as I realized the church traditions remain the same. People wished peace upon each other, yet instead of shaking hands to do so they kissed each other’s cheeks. They received Communion, yet with a blessing of a different language. They listened to the teachings of good values, which tend to be universal.

And, the prayers that I was taught for so many years were exactly the same… but in Spanish. I suppose that when those of us who pray speak to our God, we’re asking for the same things. We’re looking for answers and asking for favors.

And all the while we’re hoping we’re speaking to a God that speaks every language.

Worked on Homework While Floating

Yet again, why not? A friend and I took the books to a floating cafe/bar on the river. We bought ice-cold, hot pink smoothies and sat on a table over looking the peaceful water. We smiled. Sometimes life seems to good to be true, and sometimes you feel like you’re watching yourself twirl through what should be reserved for movies.

Maybe I’m a bit dramatic. But hey, every day in Sevilla seems like a movie to me. So maybe I’m cut out for it. ;)

Please do not “Giddy Up”!

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Horses.


They’re always so calm and friendly in the movies. They peacefully lull Cinderella into her fairy tale, and they’re always there for the heroe in his moments of valiancy.

They’re romantic. They’re story book covers. They have hearts of gold.

HA… Too bad Dominoe the Spanish horse likes to break stereotypes. When we went to the beach town of Doñana two weekends ago, and breathed in the beautiful ocean air, it came with a taste of horse attitude.

It all started when he started pulling the reins away from the ranch men.

“I feel sorry for whoever has that horse….” says Cameron, one of the students.

Not me not me not me not me……

“Dominoe es tu caballo,” says the ranch man.

And….. it’s me. 

He handed me the reins like an ugly sweater gift at Christmas.

Ok, I’m not one to complain. Here we are, in the south of Spain, riding horses on the beautiful BEACH!!! That’s wonderful! I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks. I had a white horse! Sure, it was frisky, but it was my fairy tale image. I was sure we could become best of friends.

I hopped on top of Dominoe and he started trotting in directions that I didn’t approve of. Every time I pulled the reigns I got what I considered a horse growl.

Maybe he just needed some personal affection… I stroked his silky mane.

Another horse growl.

Okay, okay. We’ll be distant friends. That’s fine, because we’re cantering to the beach together! I’m sure once he gets a glance of the view he’ll calm down a little bit. 

With the rest of the group we wandered through lush green hills lined with trees. The sky was bright blue and plumped with pictaresque clouds. It was so peaceful.

Dominoe tripped once when we were walking through a muddy stream, but I forgave him. We both got a little muddy, but what can a horse do? I know I probably would have tripped too if I was walking through a stream. Dominoe and I are both clumsy.

The little stream opened into an endless beach that stretched into the horizon. We could see a ruin standing stubbornly in the waves, reminding the beach goers that it was older and wiser than our great-great-grandparents.

I was beginning to get lulled into the peacefulness of it all. Unfortunately, so was Dominoe.

My horse began to descend to the sandy ground. For a second I thought it was dying, and quickly stepped off of it. It then proceeded to roll over on the ground, and gallop off into the distance. I looked at the ranch man on his horse, my jaw fully dropped.

“Dominoe le gusta dormir!” he said, laughing.

My horse had just fallen to the ground, rolled over, and ran off into the distance because he was sleepy????

You could have at least warned me with a yawn, Dominoe…..

Once we coralled my horse, I climbed back on and finished the ride with only a few issues. The beautiful views were too distracting to be concerned about anything else.

We will certainly be planning a trip back to Doñana soon… minus the frisky horse. Who doesn’t love a day at the beach? (Regardless of which ocean it opens up to…)

Woman vs. Horse

 

Life's a beach... in Doñana.

 

Granada: My history crash course

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In my high school history classes, I had a teacher I thought was the “coolest” man in the world. He would let me leave class to drive to Burger King for a snack with my friends, and virtually gave us the answers to every test.

He was a horrible teacher.

The only thing I learned in that class was that the #7 on the Burger King menu was my favorite meal, and that it would result in three new zits a day. I never enjoyed history, and it never occured to me why I should.

When we went to Granada this past weekend, it was like opening a window and shedding light on dusty knowledge I never knew had value. I saw the palace of a Muslim king, and I walked past the tombs of Los Reyes Católicos. I saw the things I thought only existed in my Spanish history textbooks before my eyes.

Even more, I finally understood why they mattered.

Because of King Fernando and Queen Isabel, Spain became united under the Catholic faith. Because of them, many types of people were expelled from Spain. Because of them, Cristopher Colombus was given permission to sail on the journey where he discovered America.

In a strange, extended way, I am who I am because of these two people that existed 500 years ago. We all are.  It makes me wonder, what if they had done one or two things differently? What if they had never gotten married? What if their parents never had them as children?

Suddenly history no longer seemed like a dictionary of boring dates and treaties to remember. It appeared as a network of decisions that those before us made for hundreds of years, that brought us to where we are now.

Which also means, the decisions we make today will affect those people 500 years in the future…

Never had I realized I was so directly connected to people in the past that I’ve never known, or people in the future I’ll never have the chance to meet.  Granada taught me that history does, in fact, mean something. It may be hundreds of years old, but history leaves its trail of footprints on our ways of life today.

Other than my big revelation, and a sudden distaste for my high school history teacher, Granada charmed me. It is nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and is filled with people outside enjoying a beautiful day. Men on stilts and people in bird costumes danced in the streets as a celebration of the spring. Restaurants tempted passerbys with free tapas for every purchased drinks.

It was beautiful.

A few sights of Granada...

The entire CC-CS group "thinking" about history...

A weekend filled with all kinds of discoveries... Granada shed light on what I hadn't understood before.

Life is nothing but good.

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Things I have done today:

1. Tostada con Mantequilla & Jamón York. My favorite food at my favorite café, with my favorite waiters in the world – Domingo, Castro, and Richard. Since we see these boys every morning in between classes, we’ve all become pretty close.

2. Penicillin shot in my hip. That’s apparently how the doctor told me to fix my tonsillitis. Can I please just get some DayQuill around here?

3. Tossed 1 cent Euros into the Plaza de España fountain. I made a wish, but it was hard thinking of whatever else I could want in my life right now.

4. Walked through darting school children in Plaza de España. This plaza is one of my favorite places in the city. One day, I plan to go in the romantic little boats that float around its huge exposition building.

5. Made a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. I then bought chips and grabbed some Reese’s Pieces I had stashed away… It was time for my good Italian friend, Marcelo, to have his first American meal. He had never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn’t let this go on any further… and he loved the delicacy.

6. Met my intercambio for bebidas and tapas. Yum!!

7. Visited the “Cetas”. These mushroom-like structures make the largest wooden structure in the world, right here in Sevilla. From the top you can see the entire city – and we had a special treat as the sun set and the moon rose. From below, you can see ancient Roman ruins that were here before the city was built. This is definitely also one of my favorite places in the city.

And tonight… any suggestions? The city is slowly preparing for its favorite night of the week – Friday. I know it won’t let any of us down.

A Tall Americano, please! Oh wait, that’s me…..

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Sometimes we try so hard to resist familiarity, in the hope that we’ll appear strong enough to withstand new things. We push away all things that we are comfortable with, in order to show we are just fine without them.

I do it, too. Except for Starbucks.

It’s not for the overpriced coffee or the extra pumps of sugary syrup the chain dumps into their lattes. It’s not to indulge in some American obsession I’m too weak to resist.

Starbucks is my home base. It’s the place I can curl up in an oversized chair with my oversized coffee and work on my homework. It’s the place every Spaniard criticizes me for going to, and every American guiltily loves to meet me at.

It’s my American bubble in a foreign land.

It’s also the place where I realize how different things were when I was drinking this same latte a few months ago in Los Angeles.

I would have wondered if the person next to me was some top executive that could get me far in life. Now I wonder if the English-speaking girl next to me could be my best friend.

In fact, I just found out she is a flamenco dancer from Amsterdam that studied at NYU, and is now visiting Sevilla – her favorite city in the world. People like her, like my CC-CS friends, like the waiters at our favorite cafe I’ve become close with, teach me more about friendship every day.

I would have slurped up my latte and gone back for extra espresso shots. Now I realize a little siesta will do the job without the stress. I take time for myself, and I don’t feel guilty about it.

In fact, I’ve discovered pleasure through it.

As I look at the Zara across the street, the Spanish girl’s clothing obsession, I don’t calculate how many spendy pieces of clothing I can grab in one day. I think about browsing through the store for enjoyment, and maybe making a mental note of something small for a later date.

In fact, I may not need it at all.

When I get dressed in the morning, I don’t think about how I can show off everything on me anymore. I think about how I can show off my personality. Never in my life have I felt so valued as a person, as simply Kelsey, as I have here in Sevilla.

Never have I felt so comfortable with who I am, and so peaceful in my state of life. I don’t need to be a succesful young entreupeneur at the age of 18. I don’t need to be on the fast track to stardome in California. I don’t need to do something spectacular to be loved.

I can be loved by my friends and family because I am just normal Kelsey, me. And that’s something I’ve never told myself before.

Sevilla has a charm that it has rubbed off on me without me noticing for quite some time. It is a city that is quietly content with who it is, and what it has to offer.

And that’s what makes it so beautiful.

So as I finish my caramel latte in this Sevillan Starbucks, I look out at the city that is bustling outside the window.  It is changing me day by day, and I am okay with that. I just never expected it to.

NO8DO :) It will never abandon me.

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Fish and Chips… and Monkeys!!

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Today when I returned home from Gibralter, I asked my host mom if she would mind me hosting a monkey in my room.

Quiero coger un mono de Gibralter!

I want to take a monkey from Gibralter!

She laughed loudly.

Ya tenemos un mono en esta casa!

We already have a monkey in this house!

She pointed at little baby Juan, who is 3 months old today.  He giggled and waved his arms wildly.

I suppose I could see the resemblence!

Gibraltar was beautiful – for three reasons.

  1. The ocean. This city was the type of place you see on a postcard that you send home and brag about at Christmas.  A classic red and white lighthouse adorned the seaside, and boats crisped the blue waves with their silver glimmers. The Morrocon mountains in the distance blew a salty breeze into the city with a breath from Africa.

It no longer felt like Spain, but rather a peak into another land.

2. The monkeys. It’s astonishing how quickly we can become accostomed to new things. After ten minutes of snapping photos and  laughing at the furry creatures, it seemed completely normal to see a monkey sun bathing on a cliff overlooking the city. We weren’t allowed to touch the little guys, but I was still obsessed.

Gibraltar monkeys live in the caves and mountains overlooking the city, and are 100% accustomed to humans.  We were told to leave all food and extra things on the bus, because the monkeys will steal things.

I guess the pickpocketers we need to worry about are a little furrier than I first thought.

3. THE ENGLISH. Gibraltar is an English colony that required us to show passports upon entering. Yet once we entered, it was a familiar world I didn’t even realize I missed. Street names and store signs were all in English. Mostly every person we met was from Great Britain and spoke with a delightful British accent that made us melt. Five British guards even sang “Rain in California” for a friend and I.

We devoured Fish and Chips for lunch.  C’mon, we had to.