Back at it – reflections and updates from TLV.

So what’s new or in Hebrew, ma hadash? Well, I’m back in Tel Aviv and I’ve never been happier to be familiar with the bus system of a country. Seriously — Europe was amazing and wonderful and beautiful and so much fun but travelling is exhausting. I missed my own bed and my own kitchen and knowing where things are and Shabbat with my cousins in Ra’anana and, to put it simply, my Israeli life. I’ve been back for a few days and after doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and watching Gilmore Girls it’s safe to say that I have recovered from Lane’s European Adventure 2014.

When I last blogged I had just gotten to Barcelona, and I think I had expressed that my few hours in the city had already impressed me. Well, impress me it did! Barcelona was one of my favorite places we travelled by far. Maybe it was Spain in general or maybe it was the beautiful weather and the Gaudí architecture, but we loved it so much that we actually spent an extra day there. After being advised by everyone and their mother that seeing all of the architecture by Antoni Gaudí was a must, we decided to go to the Sagrada Família our first day there. None of us were terribly pleased about spending €18.50 just to get into the place but we knew we had to go, and boy was it worth every Euro.

Woah. Woah.  Now, we saw a lot of churches in Europe. Like, a lot of churches. As someone who was raised Jewish, I guess churches don’t usually have the same effect on me as people who were raised Christian. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is kind of creepy if you ask me. It has the potential to be really cool and historical and interesting but instead it’s dimly lit and slightly oppressive and there are three different sects of Christianity who have staked their claim inside of it and it feels kind of awkwardly divided. Most churches I see are either one of two things – beautiful or confusing. So I expected the Sagrada Família to fall pretty staunchly into the first category. Beautiful, interesting because of the architecture and Gaudí and such, but not necessarily my cup of tea. I guess I just didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, or even feel spiritual in a church, but I have never seen anything as impressively beautiful and thoughtful as the Sagrada Família, and I doubt I ever will. It’s such a beautiful tribute not only to Jesus but to religion and worship in general that I couldn’t help but be moved by it. Every inch of the magnificent church is so meticulously planned that you almost think it shouldn’t work, it shouldn’t be so powerful, and it shouldn’t be so pretty, right? Come on, at some point it should be overkill, like the guy was just trying a little too hard? It’s not. It’s mind-blowing. I could have spent ten hours there staring at just one of the façades, trying to take it all in. And over the course of my tour I learned a lot about Gaudí, architecture, Christianity, and the Sagrada Família’s 132 years of existence and construction.

I guess I’ll start with the outside of the church. As of right now, there are eight spires, but Gaudí’s original plan calls for eighteen. They represent the twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and Jesus himself. The church has three facades, the Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade, and the Glory Façade. The first is decorated with stone-carved scenes of nature and celebrations of life, which combined give it the overall impression of being like both waves of the ocean and, although you might not think this a terribly romantic description, curly-edged leaves of lettuce. In very stark contrast with the Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is less opulently carved. It has a lot less going on in general, which makes it easier to understand, but in my opinion slightly less impressive. The façade depicts the passion of Christ, or the final period of his life including his entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Agony in the Garden and his arrest, his trial, and his crucifixion. In reflection of this period of time, the façade features harsh lines, sharp edges, and bone-like columns. Each stage of the Passion is illustrated by sculptures, so as you listen to the audio guide you can go from event to event. The last façade has been under construction since 2002 so we didn’t get to see it, but if the name – and it’s brothers – are any indication, I’m sure it will be glorious.

(P.S. All these events and things I’m casually tossing out are all things that I learned at the Sagrada Família. If you had asked me before I went there what any of these things were I would have done the awkward grimace and apologetic shrug of having no clue.)

The interior of the church is just as intricate and just as magnificent.Light was extremely important to Gaudí, so there are stained-glass windows everywhere that pour in different shades of color based on what time of day you visit, each of which represents different aspects of nature – blues for water, greens for earth, etc. The columns all extend an inconceivable length upwards where they proceed to branch outwards, like a canopy of trees. The experience is both overwhelming and cocooning. On one hand, the enormity and complexity of the church is a lot to take in. On the other, you feel almost protected by the tree-like columns.

Even though I feel like I’ve ranted to you for hours about the Sagrada Família, I can’t stress enough that this is just a fraction of what I saw, and furthermore that it’s truly indescribable. I can throw a bunch of fancy architecture terms at you and tell you what style Gaudí favored but in all honesty, it’s something you have to see for yourself. Other recommendations on what to see include everything else Gaudí. We also went to Casa Batllo and Park Güell, both of which were just as impressive. Gaudí’s love of light and nature weaves its way into every inch of his designs, and his reverence for life and all its minutiae is wonderful, moving, and breathtaking.

Anyways, back to the trip! Much to our dismay, we left Barcelona and headed for Madrid where we decided to mosey around and relax. By this point, we were so tired of traveling that Madrid was kind of a blur. Sure, we saw the palace and a cathedral but we saw a lot of palaces and cathedrals in Europe, and I hope nobody takes offense to this but for me, Madrid didn’t have the same spark that Barcelona did. Madrid was by far more urban and fast-paced, but it lacked the vibrant, festive, yet easygoing atmosphere we found ourselves loving in Barcelona. We did, however, go to a Flamenco show.

We found ourselves at Cardamomo after braving a monsoon. Let’s backtrack to before the show, when Ginsey and I put on cute clothes (cute clothes =/= rain jacket) and makeup and left our hostel to a light drizzle. We debated taking a cab before deciding that the rain wasn’t bad enough to stop us from saving some money by walking and taking the subway and my oh my what a mistake that was. When we left our hostel it was drizzling. When we got to the subway station it was raining. When we got off of the subway at the station we needed it was pouring. I’m talking a foot and a half of water in the streets, wading to our destination pouring. Ginsey and I hiked up our maxi skirts (the outfits of choice that night, also possibly the only clean clothing we had left) and braced the storm because if there was one thing we knew, it was that we weren’t missing a show we’d already payed for. Within minutes we were drenched. The scarves we’d draped over our hair to try to protect it from the rain were entirely pointless, providing neither protection nor warmth, and we arrived at Cardamomo completely soaked…. and also the only people there who were even remotely wet. I don’t know how that happened, truly, it blows my mind, but I do know that we were greatly entertaining to the staff and patrons of Cardamomo. Maybe there’s something inherently amusing about two college-aged backpackers laughing hysterically and asking the wait staff if there’s somewhere to dry our belongings while debating how rude it would be to wring one’s hair out. In any event, we enjoyed the show, which was very impressive. The venue was small, the stage very informal, and the musicians basically just hung out on stage, strumming guitars and singing whatever they wanted in a mixture of shout-singing and wailing that was weirdly enticing. The whole production, musically, felt like a jam session and the interaction between the dancers themselves and the entire cast felt like we were watching one big, dance-filled jam session. Also, Flamenco dancing seems like a very intense workout. For that matter, Flamenco singing also seems like a workout.

We left Madrid, flew to Geneva, bummed around in Geneva/the Geneva airport for about 15 hours, and then headed towards our flight home – FINALLY! I had a great time in Europe, really, but I was so ready to go home at that point. I was so ready to understand even just parts of conversations and snippets of bus chatter. Except, just our luck, the sailing was far from smooth. After two prior easyJet flights where nobody questioned our luggage, the Geneva airport officials decided to continue holding their weird grudge against me (I would direct you to my first blog post about Europe, or as I like to call it “The One Where Lane Left Her Wallet On The Plane And Almost Punched The Lost And Found Lady”) and told me mine was too big. Not only did they tell me that my backpack was too big, they also told me that my daypack had to go inside of my backpack which, naturally, only made it larger. After getting no sleep other than a quick nap on the cold marble floors of the Geneva airport and having the carrot/dream of being home in Tel Aviv dangled so close to my face/horse (in this metaphor I guess I would be the horse, take that as you will) that I lost it. I made a total scene which, looking back, may have been slightly irrational but I was in no emotional state to deal with my luggage of all things. Despite all of our misadventures being hilarious in the aftermath and all of the amazing things that we had done on our trip, to sleep deprived and uncafffeinated Lane, this was the last straw. I ripped open my bag and started tearing clothes out of it, throwing them all over the terminal as I donned layers upon layers of clothing and smooshed by daypack inside of my larger backpack and proceeded to smoosh the entire thing into the luggage sizer. I caught the attention at the nearest easyJet employee and said “May I go?” while brandishing my Michelin man-like arms towards my suitcase. In his snobby Swiss French accent, he told me there was no need to get upset (commence heavy breathing) and that my bag was upside down. It apparently needed to be right side up. I wrestled the thing into the sizer once more, glared pointedly at the man, and boarded the plane. During the ordeal, Ginsey looked on, apologetically, while I breathed angrily (we were close to fire-breathing frustration, folks) and held back tears. But all was well after that because tears or no tears I was finally on a plane to Tel Aviv, the land of hummus and pita and familiar bus lines.

In more recent news, my classes have started and this time so did regular Israeli classes! Campus is full of students, there’s been a cool farmer’s market-y thing on campus with lots of enticing jewelry, and the weather has been great. Highlight of my week: when my Essence of Judaism professor posed that chauvinism and sexism in religion are the product of self-serving interpretations of the text (specifically the creation story) that are rebellions against God which, naturally, I loved. Other highlights include finding that I didn’t lose all of my Hebrew skills being away for a month.

Until next time!