Stairway to Jesus, Ghandi, and Abby Souder

If I could mark my time in Riomaggiore by something, I would say it was the beauty and nature, the amazing culture and closeness of the people, the incredible number of flowers, and the delectable food.

If I could mark it by only one thing, it would be stairs.

I consider myself a relatively in shape person. However, there was scarcely a moment in Riomaggiore where I was not panting or keeled over, begging for water.

Perhaps it’s due to the absurd amount of gelato I consumed in our mere two day stay, or perhaps it’s because climbing directly uphill for 8 miles is kind of difficult, but I’m currently doubting my physical state. There was more sweat on my body than I thought was humanly possible.

That being said, Riomaggiore was also marked by a much more important word for me: peace.

Watching the city operate in harmony every morning through evening, hanging their laundry out on their patios and walking to each other’s markets, I felt a great sense of inner peace. Riomaggiore was unburdened by the stress of modern technology, and I found myself enjoying the nature and beauty that surrounded me rather than needing to constantly check the screens around me.

The sheer number of flowers that surrounded and seemed to enclose us on our hike astonished me; they were indigenous to that region, no one had to plant them there. The city was just filled with natural, unfiltered beauty, and no one tried to force it, and that’s how they found peace. I admired the respect they had towards their city and their culture.

Riomaggiore was different because it felt like a screeching halt in the middle of a high speed train. For the past few weeks on CR, we’ve been going going going all day every day, and any time there’s a chance for rest I found myself collapsing, even for a 15 minute nap. But Riomaggiore wasn’t about seeing everything or going to all the places we could; it was about admiring the beauty that surrounded us and understanding what made it so special. It wouldn’t have made sense to speed around Riomaggiore, because that wouldn’t fit the culture of the place we were in.

I spent the time in Riomaggiore getting to know not only the culture and beauty of my surroundings, but the wonderful people that accompanied me on this experience. Being in an environment where we could relax and talk about what we were feeling without being in a rush helped to get to know my friends on a much deeper level, and I am incredibly grateful for it. I am also so grateful for the role they played in my growth and how they helped me through my struggles. I don’t know what I did to deserve such amazing people, but I love them more than anything.

Emma Hoffmeister talked to me about Christianity as we walked through the beautiful hills of Riomaggiore and as I was telling her my story and listening to her own, I felt as if a part of my tale was being built through the conversation. Her openness, empathy, and encouragement inspired me so greatly in not only my faith, but my life.

Nishu and I discussed a variety of topics, from amazing music to what bothered us the most to a stream of consciousness of what was running through our minds in that moment, surrounded by such beauty. We were having a conversation that could’ve been had anywhere, but it happened in the hills of Riomaggiore and that made it so much more memorable. Nishu’s passion for music and justice and family and life is something I admire so wholeheartedly and hope to bring into my own life.

Kyle Hepting challenged me and my beliefs in many ways. I had fun teasing him and saying I was a superior being, and when he challenged that notion by saying Jesus and Ghandi were better than I was, I admitted to being okay with being third. Third place is alright on that list. But Kyle also uses vocabulary very carefully, and I can see him fully thinking through an argument before he starts it. I’m astonished by his intelligence, his patience, and his willingness to walk alongside others.

I learned so much about the people around me and what values I hold closest all the way up in the hills of Cinque terre just by admiring the beauty of nature and feeling my spirit settle in peace.

Riomaggiore, thank you for your peace. I’ll miss all that you taught me, but I’ll never forget it.

Step By Step

You learn a lot about yourself while hiking nine miles across the hills surrounding Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, is a city in Italy that is composed of five towns or districts. We stayed in Riomaggiore, the fishing district. The town was beautiful! I’ve never seen a town quite like it. The buildings are all on different levels on the side of the hill, painted in bright colors. The cobblestone streets were alive with joyful people greeting each other in Italian. The ocean in the distance was sparkling in the sunlight. We had so much fun exploring the city before going to dinner and going to bed the first night.

Our only full day in Cinque Terre was a hiking day. We had two major hikes – one to climb the huge hill right next to Riomaggiore to reach the church on top, and one to hike along the hillsides to some of the other cities. I love nature, but I haven’t done a significant amount of hiking in my life. My brothers have been far more exposed to it due to Boy Scouts, but I didn’t get a ton of those experiences as a kid. Riomaggiore sure changed that.

The first hike was beautiful! Because it led up to a church, there were stations of the cross set up along the path. I spent a lot of time in the back of the group, pausing at each station to reflect and look around. Along the hike, we could see the terracing all across the hillsides. Every now and then, a view of the water would peek out behind the trees. When we finally arrived at the church, I became speechless. We were able to see all five towns of Cinque Terre built into the harbors, with the sea to the left and endless hills and farms to the right. Looking out across the sea, I couldn’t pinpoint the place on the horizon where the sea stopped and the sky began.

We then came back down and began the second hike, which was much more difficult. We had to climb hundreds of steps to get to the top of a nearby hill where the second city is located. Exhausted, sweaty, and in pain, we hiked the whole way to the top before getting lunch. Everyone was so wiped out by the end of the hike that lunch was extremely quiet compared to normal. After lunch, we climbed and hiked along a path that gave us a stunning view of the ocean to our left. We walked along the path past dozens of vineyards into a forested area and eventually hiked down to one of the further away towns of Cinque Terre.

I was frustrated with myself for the majority of the hike because I was feeling grumpy and lonely. I was having a hard time keeping conversations going with other people. I kept asking myself why I was feeling down when I had these wonderful views all around me and when I had incredible company. I spent some time reflecting and realized that I was having a difficult time engaging with other people because my body was telling me that it needed to recharge. I am naturally an introvert, so I recharge when I am alone. However, being an introvert makes it more difficult for me to initiate conversations with people I don’t know very well. That was one of my personal goals for CR – to practice engaging in conversation with other people and to step out of my comfort zone. I realized while on the hike that I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone to the point of exhaustion. I can’t become discouraged with myself if one conversation doesn’t go well or doesn’t last a long time; it is perfectly natural. I have been beating myself up about spending time alone when I could be talking to people and getting to know them better, but that is how my body naturally recharges. Of course I felt exhausted and grumpy; I was refusing to let myself take a break! I was pushing myself too hard to become something I’m not – an extrovert. I realized that it is perfectly okay to be introverted, as long as I don’t allow it to inhibit my interactions with others. Once I discovered this, I was content to be alone in my thoughts for a while.

Later that night, everything turned around. We had a wonderful seafood and pasta dinner, ate gelato by the harbor, and had wonderful conversation. It was a reminder for me that it is okay to sit back and recharge. Conversation can’t be forced, and sometimes my instinct when I am trying to push myself out of my comfort zone is to force conversation even when my body is exhausted. I can’t help being an introvert. I can, however, spend more time reflecting and determining when I need to take a step back to give myself a mental rest and when I need to engage with others and establish and strengthen new relationships.

Magic Moments

I have a playlist on Spotify titled “A Good Soul Jive” which consists of R&B and soul music. On said playlist is the lovely song, “This Magic Moment” by The Drifters. It gets me thinking about how some moments in our lives are so amazingly unreal that the only word to describe them is…magic. If you’re an avid reader of our quaint CR10 blog, you might notice I haven’t blogged since our visit to Dachau—this is due to a mixture of exhaustion and writers block, but mostly because everything I want to blog about is a brief, “you had to be there” kind of thing. Instead of writing about each of these times, I waited until now to describe multiple (but not anywhere near all) of my magic moments from Interlaken to Florence.

1.) The Train to Interlaken

To get from Munich to Interlaken, we had to take a series of trains. The first one left bright and early, so many of us slept through it (In a strange turn of events, I ended up sleeping on the floor of the compartment. It was oddly comfy). The train I found the most magic in, however, was our very last one. Though it was only 15 minutes long, it had many of us transfixed. Our first view of Interlaken, Switzerland was something I’ll never forget—after being in a dark tunnel for a hot minute, the sun suddenly burst through our train windows and all we could see was the dazzling lake and mountains and trees and sky. The train went silent at first,then all of a sudden we started buzzing about how breathtaking it all was. I’m pretty sure about half of us remarked that we wanted to have our honeymoons here (watch out future CR spouses). We saw a whole new side of God’s creation and it was topped off with paragliders floating down all around us. When you have 16 sleep deprived teens and a beautiful mountain view, magic just happens.

2.) Jumping out of a plane

11 of us thought it would be a grand idea to fall through the sky from 13,500 feet. And it was. After we all got suited up (and took some Top Gun level pictures), we jumped out of planes. It honestly felt fake, and I didn’t even scream because I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were free-falling with a stranger strapped to our backs (shoutout to my guy Craig) with the stunning terrain of Switzerland under us. It doesn’t get much better than that. The only reason I knew for certain that it happened was the fact that my ears didn’t pop back until the next day. Also I threw up in the bus on our way back—I blame that more on motion sickness induced by our crazy skydiving instructor lady’s mad driving, but it counts. I would definitely skydive again if I knew my ears and stomach would cooperate, but nothing beats doing it with these 10 rockstars with me.

3.) Hiking Through Cinque Terre

Don’t let the idyllic, chill Italian beach town vibe fool you, Cinque Terre can be home to some hardcore & sweaty activities. Hiking is one of them. Our day started by going all the way up a mountain to a church, then going across vineyards and valleys to the other “lands” of Cinque Terre (“five lands”). CR is all about the deep talks, especially while walking. Everyone is wanting to grow closer together, so what better way to do that than by asking simple, easy questions like “what was your biggest struggle in life?”, “what are your faults?”, “who are you now vs. who you were in high school?”, “tell me about your family and how they’ve shaped you”, “who do you most look up to?”, “what are your dreams/aspirations?”, “what are you passionate about?” Obviously these questions will help you get to know someone, and I’ve realized they are good questions to ask yourself for you own personal growth. Kyle and I were having one of these CR-deep-talks as we walked, and it was so special listening to and sharing what we are passionate about and why. Kyle, like everyone on CR, is incredibly wise and thoughtful, and truly strives to make the world better using the talents and interests God gave him. He is super involved and passionate about combating human trafficking, and it was eye opening and heartbreaking to hear about how deep it runs in our world and how no easy solution exists. I admire people who see things like human trafficking and, rather than getting discouraged or downtrodden, use all their drive to fight it. Every person has passions and dreams, and learning about them is something I will never tire of. People are far more complex than we can ever imagine, and I’m so thankful everyone on CR has the courage to ask each other about our deepest fears and greatest triumphs.

4.) Floating Down the Arno River

Our very first night in Florence, we had a big surprise waiting for us: we got a nighttime boat ride down the Arno River! What a way to see Florence. The weather was perfect, the river was sparkling, all my newest pals surrounded me, and we got to see Florence from the only boat in the river. People on land were taking pictures of us and waving because we were that big of a deal. We floated under the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and remarked how we all were peaking in life at that very moment. Our Italian boat-rower-dude was teaching us how to say some Italian words and describing the rich history of the buildings we were passing. If you ever get the chance to have a suave Italian row you around Florence at sunset, jump in.

5.) Street Musicians Playing Their Hearts Out

I love music. It’d be kind of hard not to considering my career path, but it has nonetheless been something that moves me and shapes me. After grabbing some gelato, we headed to hear some street musicians outside the Uffizi. I danced around with Lauren (she’s the next Odette in Swan Lake I’m tellin ya) then we all cruddled together (CR + cuddle = cruddle) to listen to a guitarist, flutist, and violinist. There’s something amazing about a group of people going silent just to listen to and enjoy someone creating music—all of us hear the same notes being played but hear different things and find different meaning in the songs. Some of us took videos or audio recordings, some of us listened blissfully, and some of us fell asleep (*cough* Marat). All of the musicians played a beautiful variety of songs, but they all played “Time To Say Goodbye.” Weird, but cool. Despite Dr. P telling us to be all in 24/7, it’s hard not to think about how soon CR will be over and how quickly approaching our “time to say goodbye” is. We are already in our last city, and the pressure is on to make the most of every moment. I can assure you there will be many more magic moments to be had in Rome, and I can’t wait to update you on them. But for now, I will try to get in my 4 hours of sleep before we wake up to go to Vatican City. Ciao!

The Power of Curiosity

After testing death in Interlaken, we did a complete 180 and headed for the coast, Cinque Terre. It went quickly, but I fell in love with the quaint town on the water. Regardless of the brutal uphill climb to the hotel, I knew this would be a place that would be hard to leave. The highlight of my time in Cinque Terre was the hike. We embarked on a path that the locals take every Sunday to Church. This path being a fairly substantial hill, it did nothing but remind me that I need to go to the gym. However, on this hike, deeper conversations were had that allowed us to open up even more of our lives and our past to one another.

Once we reached the top of the hill, I was taken back by the vastness of the sea. As I stood in front of the church trying to find where the ocean and the sky separate, gratitude was the only thing I could feel. I have gone from city life to the top of mountains to the ocean, I have been so incredibly blessed to be on this trip and what excites me the most is that this experience never ends. The friendships never end, memories never stop, and the growth occurring will change my life forever.4FF1AE91-A744-415D-A55D-B38E11FA6D8B.jpg

Florence was next in our journey. I was blown away by the drastic difference in culture between Germany and Italy. Germans: Always on time, Italians: fly by the seat of your pants. Needless to say, I fully identify with my German heritage. Florence offered a culture I had never been a part of before. The depth of its history amazed me. This first occurred to me in the Galileo Museum of Science.

Science has never been my strong suite, but I have never felt more appreciation for it as I walked through the museum. The first idea that hit me was the thought of navigation with the stars. It has taken me a whole year to find my way around Fort Worth with Google Maps while the first navigation used the STARS. Talk about a hit on your self-confidence as a directionally challenged person. Aside from feeling a little self-conscious with my mapping abilities, I began to think about my dad. Growing up, I was a bit of a feisty one. I was not hesitant to spout out my view point, regardless of if I was completely right or completely wrong (I still struggle sometimes). My dad, someone who has an incredible way of handling me, taught me the beauty and value of questions. Questions can offer different viewpoints, greater understanding, and could end up changing everything we have ever known. Walking through the museum, I gained a greater understanding of the power of questions. I came upon a quote on the wall that read, “The profound shock of that revolution, undermining faith in man’s privileged position in the universe, aroused violent antagonism that was to claim Galileo himself a victim.” Galileo was not afraid to ask questions when he was challenged with the problems around him, and most importantly, he had the drive to answer those questions. I believe that as a society, we can sometimes take the knowledge we are taught for granted. We learn from a young age that the world works in a certain way but never truly try and understand why. We believe it’s that way because it has always been that way. World-changing discoveries happen when someone asks a question and has the courage to challenge and solve the issue. Change for many can be scary, but if we are willing to ask questions we just might end up changing the world. Curiosity is a gift, and we have the power to use that gift that is in each and every one of us. Ask questions to further understand, listen with intention; we can never learn enough about the world around us.

Similar to science, art is another area I have lots of room to grow. I had to opportunity to visit the Uffizi, one of the most famous art galleries in the world. I am certainly not going to try and convince you that I know everything about art, but I will give you my observations while walking through. If there is something that the Uffizi is not short of, its paintings of baby Jesus. I am talking the entire top floor is Mary and baby Jesus. Do not get me wrong, there is absolutely no such thing as too much Jesus, however, throughout the museum, I noticed that of the many painting of Jesus were of His birth or  of His death. The birth and death of Jesus Christ changed our lives and our world forever; I am not trying to discredit that at all. Back then, not everyone was allowed to read the scripture so paintings were an incredible way of sharing the gospel. I understand what a majority of the paintings involved those two events but I was a bit surprised that there were no paintings of the life of Jesus. Jesus lived a sinless, remarkable life. He had the ability to bring people together, pour into the most difficult, and carry the burden of the world on his shoulders. To me, that is something worth painting about.

I also noticed the depiction of women in the museum. Often iconic women such as Mary, Athena, and Venus were painted in the most glorified and respected manor. I enjoyed the amount of respect that women had in the museum but also found it very hypocritical. Women are depicted as powerful, intelligent, and beautiful, but that is not the way they were treated for a very long time. They honored those women and their contribution to the world but had no intention of implementing that same respect to the women right in front of them in their daily lives. Italy’s culture, when it comes to women, is quite a confusing one. Italian boys have the utmost respect for their mothers and their contribution to the family and their own lives. However, when it comes to treating other women, their actions vastly change. There is cat-calling and women are looked down upon. The message that the paintings were portraying from an early age just did not match what I was seeing in front of my own eyes. Among the beauty of the Uffizi, it did raise conflict within me.

These are just two views into the ways Florence both awed me and challenged me. I didn’t even crack open the stories of the mounds of food ate and memorable dinners had. Long story short, I know what I will remember the most is the people and the laughter, and I have been blessed with an abundance of both.

I also want to give a quick shout-out to the Venice crew- seamless train travel, stunning gondola ride, in a one-of-a-kind city with wonderful friends made for an incredible day trip. I am beyond excited to conquer Rome, here we go!

Two Beauties

Within 48 hours I was immersed in these two views:

The top of the Swiss alps

And the top of a hill next to Riomaggiore

There is a stark contrast in the beauties presented by Switzerland and Riomaggiore, but they are both remarkable and truly difficult to process. It was almost a challenge to make myself fully aware of the wonder around me, as it was so much to take in. Photos don’t do a justice; In Riomaggiore (where the second picture was taken), you couldn’t see where the sea ended and the sky began, and both were a deep, calm blue. The diverse array of colors in the flowers around us presented a rich landscape that is usually found only in paintings. The valleys of interlaken were also rich in their colors, but the white mountain tops presented a more rugged, dangerous beauty. One showed God’s power, and the other showed God’s peace.

The top of the Alps was breathtaking. Everything around us was white with snow, and everything beneath us was a warm summer green. The mountain air was brisk and fresh – so brisk that we were able to bust out the micro d fleeces. I never would have thought I’d be able to have a snowball fight in May with 15 of the most amazing people on Earth, but here we are. I also think it’s worth mentioning that we had an amazing meal at the top of this mountain. We ate at an all-you-can-eat, American style buffet and we Americans went crazy with the croissants. Few things in life last forever, but those mountains are going to be there for a while, and so will the memory of sharing a magical meal on top of them with the familia.

As I mentioned in a blog post before, a stereotype of Americans is that we are extremely loud and obnoxious, so we usually have to be extra cautious with how loud we laugh at dinner, constantly shush each other, and look over our shoulders to make sure no one is giving us an evil look. However, when we were at the top of this mountain, we could talk as loud as we wanted and no one would bat an eye. We needed that desperately.

Here are some more pictures from that day to put a smile on your face!

48 hours after being at the top of Europe, we found ourselves sitting on top of a hill next to Riomaggiore taking in the sight of the sea. There were vineyards surrounding us, flowers blooming all over, a gentle breeze, a hot Mediterranean sun beating down on us, and a beautiful city at our feet. I sat there for a while and journaled some. In my journal, I jotted down notes about the beauty we get to experience here on Earth. The crazy thing is in both Switzerland and in Riomaggiore I thought to myself, “this could be what heaven looks like,” but the reality is that I believe that heaven will blow those locations away with its beauty. I wrestled with that though for a while and felt a rush of joy and appreciation for the majesty of life and the plan of the Lord.

Here are some more pictures of what we saw, but just know that they don’t even come close to doing a justice.

We all felt like we could just sit by the church at the top forever, except for the fact that we got hungry. It took a hike and a half to get to the restaurant Dr. P wanted us to experience, but it was so worth it. The seafood was so fresh, and the view didn’t cease to overwhelm us. The whole rest of the day was filled with taking in the sights and enjoying the peaceful cinque terre, or five lands (we only saw like 2 of them though).

While this post isn’t the most insightful one on this site, I think that was part of the point. We spend so much time looking for deeper meanings in everything all the time, which is good, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the gift of the world that’s around us. There’s so much to appreciate in the world, and all of it is unique. But the most profound thing in all of this is that God created all of those mountains, valleys, hills, and the sea, and then He deemed Man the pinnacle of creation. How loved we are is unimaginable, and I think that these locations are evidence of that.

My First Taste of Italy

My first taste of Italy was gelato, of course.

While this creamy, smooth gelato was the best I have ever had, we had to work for it. Riomaggiore is built almost vertically on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. We pushed our 50 pound suitcases up a hill that made the Greek hill at TCU pale in comparison, and by the end we were exhausted. When I took my eyes off of my suitcase and had my first look at Riomaggiore, it made the climb worth it. The colors were vibrant, coming together to create a bubbling, lively atmosphere conducive to our energetic personalities. However, there was also a simplicity about this place that was intriguing. The shops were small, and the people were mostly local. People hung their clothes outside their windows on lines to dry them, and hiked up the steep mountain to attend church. Moments after reaching the top of the hill and observing all of this, we ran for the gelato.

Riomaggiore was a place where we were all able to reset from the tough history of Germany and excitement of Interlaken. It was a much needed time of rest and reflection as we embark on the tail end of CR.

On our last day in Riomaggiore, we hiked 10 miles and 180 floors. Needless to say, my calves still really hurt.

We hiked to the top of the mountain overlooking the colors of Cinque Terre and the clear blue sea below. The wind blew softly, the sun drowned the valley in warmth, and it was a beautiful day. As I looked out across the sea, I could hardly tell where the water ended and the sky began. It all blended together to create a feeling that the sea was endless. The sea always makes me feel small, but a good kind of small. Small in that there’s someone else who has me in their hand, who has a plan far greater than mine.

I sat at the top of the mountain and I was still. Honestly, being quiet and still is a rarity for us. All of our CR days are spent exploring and adventuring, discovering through experiencing. I have always packed my days completely full with lists, appointments, and plans. I enjoy being busy. I find fulfillment in being busy and doing. Our culture places importance on busyness, and at TCU there is a culture of competition centered around who is the busiest. Who stayed up the latest studying? Who has the most meetings? Who is sprinting from building to building?

I glorified being as busy as possible until someone told me last semester, “every time I see you, you are running somewhere else.” I didn’t want that at all. In running from place to place, person to person, and scheduling myself to the 5 minutes, I missed depth of relationships and the passion that should come with the day to day things that I did. Glorifying business makes life fly by without any reflection. I think we get lost in the competition. In the busyness. We miss the point. The point is not to run through life checking things off of a list, and winning a busyness competition. I realized at the top of the mountain overlooking the sea that ultimately it all falls short. Our busyness does not satisfy, that is why we will always crave more. At the top of Riomaggiore I tasted the beauty of being still. I experienced a clear mind and a still heart that did not crave a new adventure. I was content right where I was. I was able to reflect on the past few weeks and do hard introspection that I often shy away from.

When I took a step back from idolizing busyness, I found that in constantly doing we miss the still, quiet moments that catalyze true growth. We miss the small things of beauty that give us a glimpse into God’s heart. We miss diving deep into relationships and truly knowing one another. While busyness is inevitable in our fast paced world, idolizing it is not. I want to take more moments to stop and look around at the beauty of the world.

Riomaggiore, thank you for the killer calves that I know are coming, the start of a gelato-only diet, and a pause from the busyness.