Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh Dam!

Mansfield Dam, Lake Travis - Austin, TX

Tonight I found myself awakened, yet again to my ingrained trust in temporal things...literally. I was driving across a bridge next to the Mansfield Dam and it hit me - if the water happened to break through right at this moment, I'd be toast! I held my breath the following seconds until I was safe on solid ground again. Once I stopped praising God for my saftey, haha, I started, i have a lot of trust in men. Men who built this bridge, this car, this dam. Men who are imperfect, who cut corners, who merely survive in this world. So, why do I have such trouble trusting the perfect one who CREATED this world? He is the only safe solid ground, yet I turn to all these false securities. 

When will i listen? 
When will i see? 
When will i recognize He is the only truth for me?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Santorini: Save the Best For Last!

I <3 Santorini.

I didn’t see any of these famed “I <3 NYC” style shirts on the island, but I’m thinking it would be a great business venture alongside my authentic Tex-Mex restaurant I’m going to open in Santorini! (ok maybe not, but I should!)

In case you didn’t know, Santorini (Thira) is the cited as the MOST BEAUTIFUL of all the Greek Islands and also as the MOST ROMANTIC. And I decide to explore it alongside the company of 3 college girlfriends, haha! Don’t regret it one bit!  We definitely turned heads and left our mark on this lovely remote island. Not sure they’ve experienced anything like us 4 young, fun, gregarious, full of life American girls. On multiple occasions we had the locals and other tourists telling us they had seen us before. Prime example: One evening after a long day at the beach we strolled back through the quiet sunset hotspot of Oia (where throngs of people gather for the most gorgeous sunsets) decked out in our bright colored dresses and armed with our neon colored blow-up air mattresses. Picture the four of us barreling through the narrow crowded streets in an attempt to get back to our room and drop off the weapons in time to watch the sunset…it was comical, but we made it! I can’t imagine why they’d remember us ;)

Santorini is truly spellbinding. It had been talked up to me for years by doting visitors, yet I truly wondered if it could live up to all the hype – there’s nothing worse than being disappointed by something you have such high hopes for. The verdict: it surpassed my most vivid dreams. The contrasting winter white and ocean blue architecture against the backdrop of earthy brown cliffs and liquid blue waters is a force to be reckoned with. I honestly, couldn’t keep myself from OCD photography tendencies. Everywhere I looked was a picturesque view, door, flower, sunset, meal, church, hotel - just waiting to be solidified in the history of my mind and camera for years to come. My computer actually got filled up with photos during the trip!

As I mentioned, we stayed in Oia, which I believe is the best place to stay on the island…especially if you’re a honeymooner. The views far surpass any other on the island and the streets of the town are so narrow that it’s pedestrian only, which adds a perfect isolated feel to the place. Restaurants with rooftop views allowing you to see all of the island and quaint shops abound. We were lucky - the economic crisis in Greece and the recent riots has significantly decreased tourism so we got a sweet deal on a 2 story villa right on the edge of a cliff in Oia for really cheap (also booked it the morning of) and pretty much got the town during high season with the feel of low season!

Seeing as tourism is pretty much the sole economic sustainer of the island and with the hard time they are going through, you’d think they’d be a little bit nicer and more service oriented. Nope! Poor and inconsistent service is my only complaint about the island. Some waiters and storekeepers were flat out rude (Haley even got cursed at)! Sometimes you’d get a ticket after every order (such is the law) and sometimes we were tracking down the waiter after a 3 hour meal. Not that we had a schedule or anything, haha.

Here’s a little breakdown of our days on the island:

Day 1: Check-in to our surprisingly amazing villa (cave house).
            Rooftop dinner to watch the sunrise.
            Lots of picture taking.
            Hanging out on the chairs of our balcony under the stars.

Day 2: Breakfast overlooking the sea.
            Bus to Fira to ride the donkey’s up and down the side of the cliff.
            Bus to Kamari, one of the many black stone beaches (brutal on your feet) – also the place we    bought the rafts and the 4 of us floated out to sea to work on our   tans.
            Pizza dinner in Oia.
            Wine on a cliff watching the sunset.
            Go out on the town in Fira, bar-hopping in an effort to find the best “American” music, lol.
Day 3: All day catamaran cruise around the island to the volcano (ask Ashley if it smokes), red beach, white beach and the thermal hot springs!
            Dinner at our favorite rooftop restaurant (we reserved the best table for sunset).

Day 4: The girls leave bright and early.
            I stay and layout by the pool and then trek down to the rock beach hundreds of steps below our hotel for one last dip and photo shoot.   

Staying in Santorini at the end of my trip was the epitome of “save the best for last”. I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I highly encourage everyone to visit and experience the enchantment that awaits!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mykonos or tell me!

We spent a solid 1.5 days on the wild and crazy island of Mykonos and it was definitely a good time. The talks of this little island being a BIG time party town are true. Bars open at 2am and don't quiet till the wee hour of 8am!!! We did our fair share of partaking in the nightlife...apparently the Scandinavian Disco (yes they still call them discos) was the hott place to be, esp for Americans and Australians! We made our way out at 11:45pm decked out in our dresses and hoodies (to keep us warm) as we rode our 4-wheelers into town to go out. There's a first time for everything, right?!? We made some Greek friends who took it upon themselves to dance the night away with us!!!

Aside from the hopping night life, Mykonos offers beautiful rock/sand beaches and crystal blue waters. We first visited the quieter (more expensive) beach Elia and enjoyed the views and the crazy curvy narrow roads to get there. I have video footage if you'd like to see the drive! Then we made our way to Paradise Beach (right by our hotel) and found our niche - this was the 20-30 yr old scene and much less expensive, yet more fun! American music blasting and dancing people abounding, we relished this crazy mixture of people and cultures bound by one common bond - music...American music! They apparently love American music, movies and esp reality TV over here, who knew? They also reeeaaallly like speedos too, hahahahahahaha!

The whole time we've been on the islands we've been really fly by the seat of your pants with our hotel/transportation arrangements (I know, can you believe me?). Basically we've been booking our hotels the morning or day before we need them and have been getting killer deals in ridiculous locations! Our fab find in Mykonos was the Paradise View Hotel in Paradise Beach, Mykonos. The owner George was so hospitable and took care of our every need - even picking us up from the port at 2:30am! We loved the rooms, the pool, the view and the location. I would HIGHLY recommend this hotel to anyone regardless if you want quiet and laid back or party, it's got both!

Also, a tip for getting around this island...i would def suggest renting a scooter or 4-wheeler! They are the best and most economical way to get about the island! We rented ATV's  for 24 hours for only 12 Euros each! (about 15 USD) And they are just so fun. I just hope you have better luck than us...our 4-wheeler was super slow and had no go. On our way home from the beach we actually couldn't make it up a hill and I had to get off and walk, lol, I felt like a fatty. It was hilarious b/c i was carrying 2 designer purses, wearing a dress and walking up a hill in the middle of the country. Needless to say, we traded that one in and had better luck the 2nd go around! Pretty much everyone rents them and they are perfect for the narrow windy streets. Just beware of oncoming tour buses at night...Ashley and I almost got creamed by one on our way home from going out. It was definitely a near death experience - but don't worry mom, we are ok! :)

I'd say that Mykonos is a great island to for the party scene, but if you want beauty and relaxation, I'd search elsewhere! Glad we made it part of our trip!!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Going Greek!

Day 2: Anything for the View

Yassou (Hello)!

Seeing as our travels thus far have left much sleep to be desired, we took the liberty of getting some extra shut-eye. Around 9am we start to stir and slowly collect ourselves (and our belongings) to check out. There’s a lot to see and do today and little time. The whole of Athens awaits our eager exploration.

Round about noon, we make our way out of the hostel and get our expedition started. Acropolis is our first destination, however, we wind up stopping at multiple accessory shops along the meandering marble streets. What can we say? Girls will be girls and fashion has its place in our hearts. After a few good purchases and a Starbucks stop we finally make it to Acropolis and start the climb to this wonder on a hill. Looming high above our heads, prominent Ionic and Doric designs invite us to come and admire. And we oblige. One by one the magnificent structures resign us to awe: the Archaic fountain, Pelargic wall, Sanctuary of Nymph, Temple of Dionysos Eleuthereus, Temple of Nike, Temple and of course the famed Parthenon – home of Athena (of which Athens gets it’s name).  Each providing ample photo opps for the four of us to strike a pose. BTW, the views from atop the Acropolis are unbelievable. Perched high above the sprawling city of Athens you can see as far as the mountains and to the sea.

After a long couple of hours we embark on a wild goose chase to find the Acropolis Museum - where many of the artifacts and sculptures are stored. A few wrong turns didn’t deter us. Now, museums (well history in general) aren’t my forte, so my expectations were pretty low (fortunately so was the price - 5 Euros), but this museum totally took me by surprise. The museum is built over the top of ancient ruins that are being excavated so as you walk on the glass floors you can see the ruins below you – pretty awesome! Also, we were able to see tons of artifacts – coins, pottery, knickknacks and sculptures that were soooo old! I’d highly recommend it!

At this point we are famished and desperate for Greek gyros. Unfortunately, we are in the one neighborhood in all of Greece that is absent of any sign of the quick, cheap, hand-held type, so we opt for a sit down restaurant for a gyro meal that turned out to be delish!

Once we’re fueled we head off to see the mighty Zeus temple. Except it wasn’t so mighty. We collectively agreed that Zeus was the least impressive of the ruins and spent all of 5 minutes politely paying our homage.

Now’s the part where our day gets interesting. After several failed attempts we catch a taxi to take us to the “Church on the Hill”. From the first day, this impressive hill has captured my attention and I won’t leave till I conquer it. Fortunately, the girls were up for an adventure. First off, the cab driver has NO idea what we are talking about when we tell him where we want to go (mind you, it’s a GINORMOUS hill in the middle of Athens with a prominent church on top). Frustrating. We end up driving around and stopping to ask not one, or two, but more like 8 people how to get there. I’m pretty fed up with him at this point because he is driving in circles like a maniac running up our fare. Finally, upon passing another taxi driver a second time I take the initiative to yell to him and see if he can help. He tells us that our destination can be reached by a set of stairs only feet away from where we are and we decide to get out of the taxi. I open my door and am trying to figure out the cost as our driver rudely tries to drive off! I tell him to stop and that we are getting out and he tells me no and tries to pull off again while my door is open. I am livid at this point and tell him to stop and that we are getting out.  I tell the girls to get out and we do so at once. He’s lucky we paid him at all! That was undoubtedly the worst cab experience I’ve ever had and I was glad for the hike we had ahead of ourselves to let off some steam! It was a pretty long jaunt, but so worth it! Not only did we get an incredible 360 view of Athens, but also got ourselves into a little pickle…and by us I mean Ashley and Lindsay! They decided it was a good idea to
sneak into one of the back rooms at the church and put on the robes they found and take funny pictures. It was all fun and games until a loud crashing metal object alerted the church attendant who frantically runs over shouting who knows what in Greek at them. The girls shimmied out of their robes at lightning speed - I’ve never seen them or an old man move so fast! And we all bolted for the door and down the steps with the fear of God, and man, close on our heels.

It was probably best that this was our last stop of the day. By the time we plowed down the hill we were the epitome of weary travelers. Nothing a little gelato couldn’t take care of. J  An hour or so later we are in yet another crazy cab headed to Piraeus, the port of Athens for our 9:30pm ferry departure for Mykonos. We are excited to spend 2 nights on this crazy beautiful island! 

Mama Mia!!!

It’s day three in Greece and I’m in love. Athens was far too kind to four young twenty-something Oklahoma/Texas girls (Ashley, Lindsay, Haley & Me). The people love us almost as much as we love their country. On many occasions people have come up to me and stroked my hair and face in utter awe of my blonde American-ness! It’s quite awkward and flattering at the same time. Who knew we’d be such a hot commodity?!

Day 1: A Great Introduction (well sorta)

My long-awaited trip to Greece did not come without a few hitches…Apparently, the Greek aviation transportation peeps tend to go on strike whenever the mood strikes – and today was that day! Unbeknownst to me, the airlines had called my cell phone (which doesn’t work overseas) to tell me my flight was cancelled. So I show up at the Samos airport after a brief ferry ride from Kusadasi, Turkey that am. I am early, so I grab some lunch and plop down to wait patiently for my flight to show up on the departure screen. After about an hour or so it’s getting nearer my departure and still no flight listed…hmmm…I decide to check with the ticket office and my worst fear has come true – CANCELLED! “What?” I ask almost in tears. The next flight wasn’t for 4 hours later and it was full. My next option was the next morning. I opt to do standby and then head into town to the Internet café to email the girls that I won’t be arriving as scheduled. A few hours, 2 green teas and 2 Danish boys later, I am back at the airport. I decided to pray that God would provide me a seat on the plane….and in the midst of my prayer I hear my name called! Whaa la! God is good. I’m headed to Athens! At this point I think I’m in the clear, however, upon arrival in Athens I find that all the city bus and transit workers are on strike too. This means a 45 minute taxi line for me! I fortunately found a Greek couple to share my cab and cut in line with me and they returned my favor by covering the fare! All’s well that ends well I suppose!

The first night in Athens while walking along the narrow cobblestone streets we were offered free wine, drinks, dessert and the likes just to stop and eat at their restaurant. We finally chose a quaint place nestled at the base of the mighty Acropolis with stunning views, tasty food and unmatched service. We were presented with roses and another restaurant owner sent us over fresh mint leaves as a token of his affection – too bad we couldn’t get them to make mojitos out of it! After an A-mazing dinner (fried cheese, chicken kabobs, rice, French fries and watermelon) we set out to explore the streets of Plakos (our neighborhood). After dinner, a street performer and his stray dog caught our eye b/c the man was playing the trumpet while the dog howled along to the melody of his tunes (video to come).

Before long we are whisked away to a rooftop café with even closer views of Acropolis and all it’s glory! We treated ourselves to a hearty dessert – a banana split and vanilla ice cream and strawberries. It was DIVINE!!!! Then a few photos later, we were walking off our dinner and dessert till the wee hours of the morning. This city is captivating! We were so enthralled with the sites and quaint European streets that we totally lost track of time and space finding ourselves absolutely lost and not too disturbed. Especially when we found a street vendor selling fake Louis’ for pennies! SCORE! Circles later we found our hostel (The Student and Travelers Inn) and tucked ourselves in for the night.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Refiner's Fire

Refiner's Fire

Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver. Purify my hear, let me be as gold, pure gold.

Refiner's fire, my heart's desire is to be holy, set apart for You my Lord. I choose to be holy, set apart for You my Master, ready to do Your will.

Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within. 

This song struck a chord in me during my time at camp and I couldn't let it go. It became so real to me how much I need to be refined....daily. Through witnessing the lives of those who have forsaken a lot the world has to offer for the calling of the gospel I was encouraged and compelled to really examine my heart's desires. And what I found wasn't as bright and shiny as I had hoped. Nope, I'm broken. I'm sinful. I'm in great need of the ultimate healer and giver of all good. Thank you Jesus for that. 

This past week at camp God really showed up in BIG ways. On Thursday night we baptized 7 people in the Mediterranean Sea! A few of the campers and counselors felt God's prompting to publicly proclaim their belief and desire to follow hard after Him! I can't tell you how encouraged and touched I was by this. One of my High School girls got baptized and through this I was able to better understand how much different belief in Christ is for people living over here with Muslim families. Because the campers are under 18 we are required to ask their parent's permission to baptize them. This girl's mother is a Christian, but her dad is a Muslim. She had wanted to be baptized for 2 years, but feared her father wouldn't let her. He had told her previously that she needed to wait until she was 18 to decide. Wow. It was so hard for me to understand because where I come from it's such an accepted and encouraged decision. I never feared my parents wouldn't approve! We talked to her mom on the phone and she was really doubtful that he would allow it. So we prayed, and prayed and prayed. And 24 hours later he said YES! Praise the Lord! She was so in awe of God's working and so excited to finally be able to tell the world and camp she lived for her savior! I was seriously in shock and on cloud nine when i found out. The baptism was incredible. So many tears of joy and hope shed. 

There are so many of these stories. We called out and God answered! Please be praying that I can continue to be refined, daily.