We didn’t start the Firenze

I do not know how to sum up the last two cities we went to except to say that they made an incredible impact on my relationships with the people I am now proud to call mi familia. Time seemed to fly by, but the unique culture of each city impacted each of us differently and ultimately brought us much closer together.

I will always look back and miss the art and the views and the food, but all of that pales in comparison to what I will miss most, what I think most of us will miss most: being in these incredible places with each other. Never have I so quickly bonded with 15 strangers on such a deep level in my life, and I sincerely miss each and every one every day.

I will do the briefest summary I can muster of the impact these people have had on my life, because they are all too incredible and unique to not be celebrated individually.

Emma

Emma lived two doors down from me and we hardly spoke a word together until we reached Berlin. This is probably one of my biggest regrets of freshman year, because Emma is a wonderful person. Through CR I learned how incredibly kind and devoted Emma is. Her openness about her struggles inspired me to be more open about my own, and her incredible prevailing faith radiated from her in her amazingly positive attitude. She is hilarious, she is strong, and she stands firm in her beliefs. She has direction; she knows what she’s doing and she guides others through everything; from failure to joy, she’s there for it all.

Audrey

Audrey seriously surprised me when it came to CR. I had been in a class with her and knew her to be quiet and introverted; I didn’t mind that, I consider myself to be an introvert as well so I know how taxing it can be to constantly be around people for 3 and a half weeks. But Audrey never had a moment where she looked like she was struggling; she embraced her struggles and made them clear to us so we could help her through them and in doing so, I think they became less of a burden to her. Audrey taught me that it’s okay to admit you’re introverted so maybe you want to observe and don’t wanna scream on the train all the time, but it’s also okay to get outside your comfort zone and explore as much as possible. She taught me it’s okay to express who I am, because everyone loves you regardless. I am so thankful to her for that, as well as the incredible quote book she kept for all of CR. May the Crecade always live on through those memories.

OC

OC is a wordsmith, and she’s a lot smarter than most people give her credit for. She knows what she’s saying; there’s a reason the quote book is 90% OC quotes, and it’s because she’s hilarious. She says whatever she is thinking, and most of the time it’s funny. When it comes to actually writing, OC is one of the best writers I’ve ever actually met. She can articulate feelings and encapsulate moments in words in a way I don’t understand and honestly, I envy. OC taught me to never be afraid to say a dumb thing out loud, because who cares what other people think? She also taught me the importance of humility; she is absolutely brilliant, but she doesn’t constantly talk about it or brag about her accomplishments. She makes self-deprecating jokes and is always a good sport, but is genuinely one of the smartest and most humble people I know.

Wales

Ahhh, Olivia Wales. You could say we knew each other coming into CR (go Chi-O), but that didn’t stop me from learning more about her as the experience went on. She is enthusiastic about everything and will put 110% effort into everything that she’s doing, which is such an important quality to have. Her energy lifted others up when we were all exhausted and I’m sure she was exhausted too, but she always had a smile on her face and was ready to go to the next thing. Her incredible spirit and love for life inspired me to be more energetic and enthusiastic and made me realize what an impact my own energy and actions could have on the people around me. Olivia also taught me that it’s okay not to be too open; she showed me that there is power and nobility in keeping some things to yourself.

Lauren

Lauren filled every day with more love than I have ever seen in my life. She is a constant light to everyone around her; she is always smiling and always reminding everyone how truly loved they are, not only spiritually but also by those around them. Lauren was open to every conversation and every time I talked to her I came out feeling a thousand percent more loved than when I went in. She has a way of inspiring the best in people, and though I know she struggles with it, I so admire her wonderfully positive outlook on everyday life. Lauren taught me how to start difficult but necessary conversations and make others feel so incredibly loved.

Brittany

I honestly wonder how I made it all year without Brittany Harano. She is goofy, she is caring, she is graceful, and she is my soul sister on about 1000 levels. She spent an entire day doing horrible British accents with me, trying to teach me ballet, and coming up with the weirdest possible poses for the camera, most of which involved both of us almost breaking our backs. She taught me to be unashamedly myself; who cares if German people are staring at how weird you look? You’re never going to see them again. Like, actually never. She also taught me what to do when I felt uncomfortable; there were days when everyone felt stressed and were getting frustrated and it would start to make me panic, but Brittany would just remain at the back of the group with me and goof off, doing ballet in inconvenient places or posing like statues. I’m so very grateful for Brittany Harano and the lessons she taught me.

Brooke

Brooke and I sat right next to each other for an entire semester of Spanish and spoke maybe 10 words to each other the whole time and I am so mad at myself for that. I was mainly embarrassed at how bad I was at Spanish and didn’t want the pretty nice girl sitting next to me to think I was a complete idiot because she was, like, a genius. But Brooke is so much more than an incredibly beautiful genius; she is also kind, and independent, and a leader, and one of the strongest people I’ve come to know. I think I learned the most from Brooke the day we went to San G; I don’t deal with stress well, so when our plans completely fell apart I checked out and just tried my hardest not to have a panic attack. But Brooke thrived under the pressure; she helped people calm down, dictated who needed to call who and when, and got our schedule back on track so that we would make it back on time. It was like watching Wonder Woman work. She didn’t even bat an eye, she just leapt into action, thinking only of how to solve the problem and how to keep everyone as calm as possible and make sure our experience was still enjoyable. Brooke always puts others first and is never afraid of a challenge. She has worked incredibly hard to get where she is and she will continue working incredibly hard to get where she wants to go, and that dedication and work ethic inspires me.

Indigo

Indigo is joy. I don’t know how to describe her other than that. She literally oozes joy wherever she goes; I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it’s nearly impossible to not smile in Indigo’s presence. She sings everywhere she goes, and her voice sounds like an angel; Kyle was right when he gave her the award most likely to sing in the shower and not annoy anyone. Indigo has passion for musical theatre, for bringing joy to the world, and for life. It was amazing to observe her constantly positive attitude; no matter what had happened that day, Indigo would pop in the shower and sing her heart out, and the spirits of the entire room were lifted. She taught me how to bring joy to those around me, and most importantly, she taught me what it looks like when you’re truly in love with what you do. I aspire to love what I do as much as Indigo loves singing, and to do as much good as she does through it.

Taylor

Taylor taught me how to get rid of my discomfort, and as someone who is uncomfortable a lot, I am eternally grateful. Any time there was a lull in conversation, or just quite frankly a really awkward conversation arose, Taylor was there with a hilarious remark or an “Anyways…”. She was never afraid to admit that a situation was awkward, and would always laugh it off or pull me to the side to get out of it. And she wasn’t just funny when things got weird; she was positively hilarious 100% of the time. I believe the quote of the trip comes from when Ryal was flexing and Taylor blurted out “is that the statue of David?!” It’s not just her comments, but her comedic timing, her inflection, her facial expressions; Taylor can have everyone on the floor clutching at their sides within seconds. I loved Taylor’s jokes, her honesty, and her willingness to be open. She inspired me to admit when I was uncomfortable and maybe even find a joke out of it. I’m so glad to have found a friend in Taylor, because she truly is a genuine, sweet, comedic genius and I miss her already.

Ryal

Ahhh, Ryal Reddick. Did someone say high school hero? No? Must’ve been the connotation subconsciously attached to his name. No, but all jokes aside, Ryal might just be one of the best friends I’ve ever found, which was definitely one of the biggest surprises that came out of CR. Sure, I may make fun of him a lot, but that’s just because I’m mean. He inspires me in how much and how deeply he cares for everyone around him. Anytime someone found themselves having an off day, or struggling with something, Ryal was there for them, walking alongside them and helping them find the path to get better. I had my fair share of bad days and he was never impatient; instead, he listened and did his best to tell me what I needed to hear. He truly was Superman on our experience, always being everywhere and taking care of everyone who needed it, and I appreciate it so much. I learned from him how to put others before myself and watched in admiration for his love of all those around him and his need to protect them at all costs. I never expected to come out of CR with Ryal Reddick as one of my role models, but then again I never expected half of what happened on CR to happen. So here we are.

Jacob

Jacob (triple J) is one of the kindest people I know, and watching him interact with everyone was truly a great. He has admirably strong faith and is willing to have an open discussion about it with anyone and he is very comfortable with where he is in his faith and his life. He is not afraid to ask questions that may not go over well or to question aspects of his own life when valid points are made; overall, he remained an open-minded person for the duration of CR. He didn’t know nearly anyone coming in, but his infectious charisma and genuine kindness made him somewhat automatically grow very close to nearly everyone. He cared about everyone on the experience and it showed through his actions and words. I was inspired by his openness, rawness, and overall kindness.

Jake

Sorry, I meant Mr. Lynn*. Mr. Lynn is absolutely one of a kind. He is the man who makes sure everyone is having fun at every event while also being the life of the party, he is the guy who will ask you the most serious question about life very lightly on the way to dinner and then stare you down with his icicle blue dagger eyes, he is simultaneously a dad and in love with Dr. P. He is so constantly happy, and seeing his smile makes it almost impossible to smile back. Mr. Lynn taught me how to balance fun and serious, joking and thought-provoking. He was always down to do whatever spontaneous activity whenever, be it laying in his boxers in the park or buying Amplemann socks, and he was always practically giggling as he did so. But he was also not afraid to ask questions that other people might not, and he would always find a way to get people outside their comfort zone (in a good way). Jake brought so much happiness and so much discussion to the experience, and I’m so glad I could learn from his kindness.

Marat

Marat taught me how to be a true and genuine friend, and I am incredibly grateful. He was often a silent observer, but it was never without reason; he was always looking out for everyone and making sure they were okay. There were several instances in which Marat noticed that I was not having a great day, or that I was thrown off, and he would quietly pull me aside and make sure I was alright. Marat would keep an eye on the men in the streets of Italy to ensure all of our safety, and he pulled me out of the way of moving cars many times. He was a listening ear when I needed one many times and I rarely heard him complain. I aspire to be as true and genuine a friend as Marat.

Nishu

Nishu is a DJ, a doctor, and a great friend rolled into one. He has an infectious laugh, an amazing music taste, and a caring heart. Nishu would thrive every day on 3 hours of sleep and I rarely heard him complain about it. Instead, he’d use the time to work on his music, or journal, or blog, or shower, or do anything productive. Nishu was an expert on not wasting the day; I was getting 7 hours of sleep a night and I was exhausted, he was getting half that and he still managed to produce music. But Nishu is more than a machine; he has an incredible, infectious laugh that makes everyone in the room stare incredulously, and he has a kind and caring heart. I learned so much from Nishu, and I’m so excited for how much more he can teach me.

Kyle

Kyle, or as I prefer to call him, Lentil, is my brother who I was tragically separated at birth from and no one can convince me otherwise. Kyle learned how to push my buttons on this experience; both emotionally and physically. Whether it was calling me “Gail” or getting into elbow fights in the streets of Rome, I found myself resorting to my old sibling rivalry tactics to attempt to win our apparent battle. But Kyle (Lentil) didn’t just push my buttons on a sibling level; he also asked me questions I was in no way prepared to answer. We would be walking down the street, and all of a sudden he would ask one of the most difficult, personal, thought-provoking questions ever, and I would find myself learning more about myself as I answered him. He would always listen carefully and comment and thank me for being so open, and then if there was an awkward lull he would go right back to elbowing me in the side. I admire his deep-thinking, his vulnerability, and his observational skills. Most of all, I’m glad I found out that I have a brother at college.

These 15 strangers lifted me up and helped me through things, be it an emotional breakdown or physically canyoning through the Swiss Alps. What’s truly amazing is they didn’t know they were teaching me these amazing lessons as they did it; they just carried on as they normally would and I learned from the incredible ways they lead their lives. I am proud to call them my best friends and I love them all so much.

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot,” -Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

These people gave me so many wonderful things, and confidence may just be the top one. I owe them my whole heart and soul.

Thank you all for the wonderful impact you have had on my life. I will cherish CR10 forever.

Roma Familia

As I’m boarding my final plane ride home, everything is starting to hit me. I’m not going to see our familia tomorrow, next week, or even next month. After reading Olivia Wales’ blog post, I started tearing up, and I’m sure some people were giving me looks in the airport, but I’m gonna miss our familia so much! No rivers nor roads will separate us, because love will bring us together forever.

Rome was the perfect ending to CR10. In a city rich with ancient history, art and culture, we got to experience it together. And our game of Whai Whai truly brought it all together for me.

On our last team day in Rome, we had some senti moments, one of which was a conversation between me and Ryal. Ryal is one of the most loving, relational people I know. I also respect him so much and value his insanely high emotional intelligence. In this conversation, we asked each other for constructive criticism, and if that doesn’t show love and trust, I don’t know what does.

Our game of Whai Whai truly tested if we were able to trust each other and work together as a cohesive team. I can confidently say CR10 is the dream team. After 3.5 weeks of doing life together constantly (literally together all the time), we know each others’ ins and outs, strengths and weaknesses, and highs and lows. Each of us has an integral role in each others’ lives.

Each Whai Whai team was completely randomly selected, and each team collaborated so well! For example, on our Whai Whai team, the BlueBerry Bunnies, Jake was our navigator, Abby set an incredibly fast pace, Indigo kept the morale super high, Taylor kept communication with Dr. P, and I asked locals for directions. None of this was pre-assigned, it’s just what happened because we trusted each other and knew each others’ strengths.

In Rome, our CR10 seemed so close, and everyone got a chance to showcase their talents: culinary, navigational, motivational, artistic, humorous, interpersonal skills and more. We experienced so many different occasions together that let our strengths shine through: from our cooking class allowing Brooke to show her bomb pasta making skills to our tour of the Vatican Museum showcasing OC’s incredible knowledge and love for art!

And at our final dinner, we got to give awards to each other, sharing words of affirmation and our love for one another. Our team has come so far, and I could not be more thankful for each and every incredible part of the familia.

Rome was amazing because each part of CR10 is amazing. We are committed to being all-in for one another 24/7 and that will never change!

A 2000 Year Old Wall

One of the coolest things in Rome, in my opinion, is the Basilica di San Clemente. What appears to be a normal church – at least normal by the standards of Italian churches – turns out to be the location of a part of history quite unique to the city. Rome is the lasagna city, as the new Rome is built on top of the old one. This is why there’s no subway system: every time they dig, they find some 2000 year old ruins and have to call the archeologists and stop the excavations. Another name for it is the eternal city, as it’s history has been preserved so well.

This basilica models this theme perfectly: it is built on top of an older church, which is built on top of some aristocrat’s house where they held cult meetings during ancient Roman times. So you can quite literally walk through time and see how Rome has progressed through the years in its architecture, theology, culture, artwork, etc. It’s truly amazing. Jake Lynn and I walked through most of the ruins together and spent most of the time trying to understand what the cult believed in. We’re still lost, but that’s okay. The rest of the time was spent trying to wrap our heads around how old the stone we were standing next to was. Our conversation looked something like this:

*touches the wall*

“Dude, this Stone is literally as old as Jesus.”

“Yeah, like when people lived here, Jesus to them was some guy from Nazareth.”

“2000+ years ago…”

“Wow… what does that even mean?”

“It’s 100 times as old as us.”

“It’s 10 times older than the founding of our country.”

“It’s almost 150 times as long as we’ve been in school.”

We stood there with our hands on the wall for a good 10 minutes going back and forth about ways we could understand what 2000 years meant. We probably looked like idiots to the rest of the tourists – but what tourist has ever looked like a rocket scientist? Once we finally felt like we had a good grip on what something that old meant, we realized how much history had been going on before that house was built. We didn’t even try to wrap our heads around that. The realization we came to was we are playing a role in a story so much larger than our own lives, and that was humbling and empowering at the same time.

We’ve seen a lot over the course of the last month. We’ve learned about how to respect the memory of those that are oppressed and how to maintain the knowledge of what can go wrong based on what has gone wrong; we’ve seen how even the biggest castles can’t defend us from Gods plans; I jumped out of an airplane and experienced one of the most beautiful places on Earth; we climbed to the top of the Alps, we felt the gentleness of the breeze on the sea and the peace of Riomaggiore; we learned from some of the greatest minds in history about art and its significance to the world as well as how generations can change and shape a culture, enjoyed world class gelato in the countryside of Tuscanny; and our experience came to a close in Rome. It’s amazing how much we have accomplished on this experience: it’s more than words can really convey.

But very little of that matters to the majority of the world. Few people are going to care that I skydived, or ate a bunch of gelato, or went in a bunch of museums. What matters is that we spent the last 3.5 weeks getting closer to each other and figuring out ways to relate to people who would have no connection to us from the outside. The reality is, we are all human beings, and human beings have been around for a while. And since everyone had to come from somewhere, there’s a good chance we all have a connection to every single person on Earth through the history of humanity and its struggles.

I have no idea who walked through that ancient Roman ruin when it was in its prime back in the day. But I do know that they were human beings, that they had families whom they loved, kids they were trying to raise, bills to pay, and a job to do it with. Something some random dude in Riomaggiore told me was that his son had just finished traveling around the entire world, and the one thing he learned was that it doesn’t matter where you are, or how far from your house you stand. People are people. They all have so much more worth than any adjectives can prescribe them.

We have this shared humanity that spreads across time and space, and it’s necessary to recognize the intrinsic value that we all hold. When you think about all of this, it’s hard to treat anyone with anything other than love and respect.

So as Cultural Routes 10 comes to an end, I feel all of the same bittersweet emotions as everyone else. And I think that we all recognize how powerful the knowledge we’ve gained is, and how much influence we can have in helping the world out by working together.

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 Chambers’ Debate: Transportation Edition

Preface: My mom, the wonderful Catharine Chambers, was a military brat and went to High School in Vicenza, Italy. Cool, I know.

Hearing of our two options for Sunday travel away from Florence, San Gimignano or Venice, I was torn; which way was I to go? So, naturally, I texted the expert: my mama. Right away I got a response back, “OMG!! You’re so lucky. Venice. It will be very worth it.” Decision made, train ticket bought, and group organized, the adventure was locked in. Venice, here we come.

Venice lies only 30 minutes from where my mom went to high school. Being in Italy has already given me a small glimpse of what it would have been like to be living in her shoes as a teenager. I have had the opportunity to eat the combo of lemon and chocolate gelato like her, go shopping on cobblestone streets like her, and last but certainly not least, take trains to fun places like her. The stories she told always left me engaged and in awe. Yet, throughout my years, I have had a special ability of twisting these adventures back on her. Whenever my mom didn’t let me go out in high school, I predictably pulled one card: “When you were in high school, you would to go to other cities and countries with your friends on weekends, mom!”

Of course, this was always combatted with her go-to line: “that’s very different, Olivia. You’re not driving tonight. End of story.”

Needless to say, she always won. And now, as a wise, sagacious, enlightened 18 year-old, I finally see her side of the debate. Train-travel (and foot-travel for that matter) is game-changing and America really needs to take note for the sake of the high-school Olivias out there. Here is a mental list of the benefits I have conjured up:

1. Train-travel eliminates the problem of drunk drivers at night. Trains get rid of the risk for inexperienced teen drivers (like me) being on the road, in the dark, with other more reckless drivers. If I could of hopped on a train to make it to LA, instead of hopping on the 101 to the 405 in Friday night traffic, I bet Catharine would have been much more at ease with my outings.

2. Trains facilitate the exploration of other countries and cultures. With the ease of buying a pass and hopping on a transportation system with a flexible schedule, they offer an easily accessible opportunity to learn. Just by traveling, young adults (and anyone for that matter) has the opportunity to become more cultured and respect the ways of other places. In America, by contrast, it’s not so easy to just hop in the car and see another country.

3. Trains give a sweet time for some reflection. As we were making our departing voyage from Venice back to Florence, I realized one monstrosity of a problem—my phone was dead. That meant that I had to sit in dreaded silence for a two-hour train ride, yet I learned that it’s ok to listen to myself, be in my own thoughts. Just by sitting there, I allowed my soul a time to reflect on everything CR has been and where I wanna go after the experience. I learned that sitting in my own thoughts isn’t such a bad thing, and maybe I should have my phone die more often.

4. (This one combats Catharine Chambers’ biggest fear for me and my friends) Train travel eliminates the problem of a group of young girls breaking down in a car on the side of the road in the middle of the night, being stranded on the side of the freeway. Although this has never actually happened to me, I have heard the hypothetical one too many times from my mother.

5. Train travel is a real bonding experience for everyone involved. We have had some funny train stories, but the greatest of all is the triumph our group felt as we successfully made it to Venice and back with no train debacles. It made us feel independent, yet also humbled us, as minds as we saw the stress firsthand train days are to Dr. P.

All in all, after our adventure to Venice, I feel more connected to my mom by seeing her teenage arena, but also by seeing her side of the recurring transportation argument. America is much different than Italy; it’s like comparing apples and oranges, you just can’t do it. So mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry that sophomoric Olivia argued with you weekly about the contrasting transportation styles of our high school adventures. You win.