Helga Sierra
Helga Sierra

Journal: Stories on Creativity & Adventure

Learn about the artist's process, photo stories, traveling & more. 

Hello Europe


I sit on a balcony chair, hearing the children playing in the park with their parents and grand parents keeping watch.  Below me I hear men laughing, having a drink at one of the many local cafés with a terraza (outdoor eating area).  Is this real?  The pintoresque reality of Europpean life is three floors below me.  People walking everywhere down little streets with 8-10 story buildings and beautiful windows and doors.  Children and women wearing their traditional Spanish sandals as they walk through plazas, museums, cafes and shops.  The sun is setting and the clouds are starting to turn pink.  I wait for my friend Ashley, as she gets ready before we go out for the infamous Spanish Tapas.  I can't wait to experience more of the local gastronomie.  


 Almost 24 hours...of traveling...

Saying goodbye (farewell), was awful; unlike what I expected I didn't cry  during the whole first flight.  Then again I had been saying bye to people for almost 2 days and cried plenty, by myself, with people, etc. With my second flight over, and the longest one of the journey, I arrived in Frankfurt Germany.  I made it. I was in Europe.   I didn't take any pictures of my trip here, so I'll share some pictures of Zaragoza as I share a cool story. 

 It was on a trip to Germany and France, with my family, in 2004 that I took my dad's small handheld video camera and started taking pictures of all the buildings that looked interesting to me.  Back then I wanted to be an architect, that didn't remain my dream; but it started a journey where I would use a camera to forever remember a moment.  Once I click, not only is it stored for posterity, but I'll most likely remember where that was forever. 

I had to catch a connecting flight to Barcelona, then get my bags, hop on a regional train transfer to the main train station in BCN and then catch 9:30pm (or 21:30) train to Zaragoza, my first destination.  After 24 hours of travel I really had not talked to many people, but I was also exhausted.  

Estación de Trenes de Zaragoza 

Estación de Trenes de Zaragoza 

After waiting in the Barcelona train station for 2 hours (which I didn't mind at all, I arrived and saw the FC BARCA team store, and fan girled just because I was there), I finally hopped on the train.  I set my big bag on the luggage compartment by the door on cabin 5, and proceeded to find seat 9A.  I was ready to put my headphones in and listen to my friend's new adventure playlist on spotify, but alas 18% of battery left...I had to make this last for 1.5 hours.  

Right before departing, a young guy with dark hair who was somewhat confused (after walking back and forth with a giant suitcase), looked over and finally sat down, in seat 9B. He said "Ca Va?" and something else.  The first registered, the second did not. I then asked him where he was from, thinking surely he spoke English. He did not.  I talked to him in spanish, he did not undertstand.  Somehow we started communicating and wondering where each other was from. So I pulled out my .5 pen and journal to start drawing a world map. As I got over to Africa, he took the pen and drew out a line: Morocco.  Finally, "Tu Parles Français?" (Do you speak french) I said?), "Oui, arabic et français" ("arabic and french").  So I started pulling out all my rusty French as we learned the basics about what we did and why we were on a train ride to Zaragoza.  "Me llamo Helga" I said in Spanish,  "Je m'appelle Saad," he replied. 

Church in Zaragoza, muslim influence in decor. 

Church in Zaragoza, muslim influence in decor. 

He left his country some months ago for a job in Italy, but once he got there he could never find the man who had promised him a job.  He had come to Spain looking for a job, France, but the work visa situation is difficult.  Something that sounded familiar.  We kept talking and I share why I left Nashville, why I was in Europe and that part was interstingly very funny to me.  Here I am traveling for a few weeks and then going to Portugal to meet new people as they start a church (I'm a missionary?).  As my dad said, we are all missionaries every where we go (and I do believe that), but this is a literal description of what I'm doing.  He's from Morocco (so I had a feeling he's muslim).  


So I said, "I'm here visiting friends throughout Europe and I'll be in Portugal to help start a church." There it was, I said it.  

I could not hide the fact that I'm a Christian.  Normally, its easier because I've lived in a Christian bubble my whole life, sometimes it's not a question on whether I go to church or not, or weird that I go to church.  In that moment, even though I knew we may not go into much of a conversation about religion, I had to be honest about who I was.  

I call this one: she crossed the road. 

I call this one: she crossed the road. 

I could tell the stress the job situation had placed on him. I know the stress that trying to get a Visa can be. So as I shared why I was going back to Honduras after my Europe trip, I kept thinking about how that has been a dream of mine for so long. I thought about how cool it is that right now, my work is flexible that I can travel (another dream), and that throughout my travels I'm getting to see so many friends (I won't be alone for any part of the trip!). 

It was late and we needed to sleep/ I was probably pestering with all my questions.  I was able to share that I knew where he was.  I told him I knew it wasn't easy, but I got to encourage him to persist.  He is just one of many immigrants coming to suffering economies because their native countries have even worse economies.  Then I started thinking about the refugees from all over the world, who come with nothing. I started thinking about the people back home, who many times can't keep a job, or don't know where their next meal is coming from.  So I wrote away in my journal to calm my thoughts and get to that spotify playlist.

We talked once more, upon arrival. "Bon chance Såad, enchanté," (Good luck (or best wishes) Saad, it was nice to meet you).  

23:30pm: I arrive in Zaragoza (23 hours)

My new friend, Kasey was waiting at the station.  He is best friends with one of my good friends in Nashville. Him and his wife, Ashley, are wonderful hosts.  They've only been in Zaragoza 6 months, but Ashley knows all the ins and outs of the city.   After 2 days of trying to adjust to the jet lag, I've made good use of the siesta.  The whole city takes a break from 2-5, which is why everyone is out and about late at night.  Stores close, people take naps, or meet up with friends.  We've come back in for the night close to midnight everyday, and for many families here that is considered normal. 


Living near the city center is a great thing.  We've walked to the main Plaza (Plaza del Pilar several times).  I've seen many of the shops, churches and the beauty of architecture permeates the city.  Zaragoza, is the only city named after Ceasar Augustus (14A.c.) , it still holds some of the Roman buildings, and since then it has kept its laid back yet vibrant lifestyle.  


Yesterday was probably my favorite day.  I woke up early to go on a run, and ended up at this giant park by the river. I kept running because I was curious about the trails and all I could see (something I my legs would pay for after walking all day everywhere).  I came back and we were on our way to see the Goya Museum.  Being the art enthusiast and artist that I am, I was quite excited.  Goya, is native to Zaragoza and one of city's biggest names.  On our way we heard the beat of a drum in the central square so Ashley and I walked over.  The major was inaugurating a festival celebrating dance and folklore, featuring dance teams from Spain, Greece, Senegal, Russian, Romania, and Colombia.   I loved it all, and even took pictures with some of the dancers.  I think the celebration of culture has been one of the main draws as to why I've always loved Europe. 

We left and walked towards the Museum.  Inside this old building lays a modern treasure full of a man's works throughout his lifetime. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed (but some of the sketches are in my brain for a long time).   My favorite part was seeing an evolution of style and themes throughout his career.  A couple of months ago, I saw some Goya's at the Frist Museum in Nashville, I never imagined then that I'd be walking the streets where he grew up. 

Museo de Goya

Museo de Goya

We went back because I needed to get some work done and at 9PM we set out to enjoy "Jue Pincho".  A local pub crawl every Thursday where people meet up to eat tapas and try the local beer or wine. The multitudes were out. Children, teenagers, parents, young adults.  Everybody met up to try these tasty TAPAS ( or small snacks).  I was in food heaven.  Trying out the local cuisine, surrounded by the local people, I loved every minute.  Everybody stared at me because I had a camera and was documenting everything, but I didn't care.  We tried 6 tapas, including mushrooms, fried cheese, serrano, calamari, meat balls, bacalao, and more.  I would have kept eating, but I was quite full.  I think my favorite was the bacalao and the mushroom tapa. I also learned that napkins are to be thrown on the floor, if you put them on the table or bar area it is considered rude.  It was a little weird, but I adapt quickly, so it was fine.   We came home around midnight and people were still out. 

On Sunday I leave for Barcelona to meet up with one of my best friends from growing up.  Up next on the blog: more food, modern architecture, a palace that belong to the Aragon family (Spanish monarchs in the 1400s, as well as had been part of the Mulsim empire), and a modern art museum.   Next post will have those pictures (and hopefully less words). 

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