Dancing in// Tuscany

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Every traveler – of the world, of life – knows that the best parts of a journey are the parts you don’t plan. The moments that come out of the blue, that just happen, and end up becoming the highlight and a memory you will always try to hold onto. Like people and places and a hundred other small things are ingredients, and sometimes as the hours slip by you find a combination that makes a particularly wonderful recipe.

As travelers, we also hope to see the land’s culture outside of the museums and tourist landmarks. To break bread and share stories with the people, to see close up all the similarities and differences between us as well as the freckles on their faces. To clasp hands. To step over their doorstep and drink tea together. To stop up the thoughts that put my way of life as the best, but just to listen and take in.

We got to do all of this and more for two brief days in the countryside an hour from Turin/Torino, Italy – smack dab in Tuscany.

Tuscany has always been especially beautiful to me. I still remember sitting in a doctor’s office, maybe 5 years ago now, flipping through a travel magazine and coming across an ad that had a typical Tuscany photo – a sprawling white house on top of a hill filled with vineyards and cypress trees. Everything was washed in sunset warmth. I asked the receptionist if I could take the magazine home, and I still have the photo tucked away in my room. From then on, I’ve wanted to see Tuscany.

Obviously two days – all the time we could afford between leaving Rome and heading north to Paris – was just enough to dip in the tip of the toenail of our tiniest toes in, but it was a great taste (literally).
First off, Turin gets tops in Couchsurfing. In the beginning we were hoping we could spend our few days close to the now-popular Cinque Terre or somewhere on the west coast, but research into hostel prices and CS requests didn’t produce anything. So I sent out requests to Turin, where our bus to Paris was leaving from anyways, and not only did we hear back overnight, but we had three invitations, so had to choose! O life’s dilemmas. We chose to stay with a guy in the country Thursday night to Saturday morning, then to travel into Turin and spend the night with another couchsurfer there so we’d be all ready for our Sunday morning bus.

On Thursday we used rideshare to get from Rome to Casale Monferato, a small town an hour from Turin. The other three people in the car only spoke Italian, so we didn’t talk, but they were obviously jovial and easygoing people, and it was entertaining during the ride just to watch them talk and joke. They dropped us off right in town at the train station, where our host Cristhian picked us up. He was born and raised in Italy, though he’d traveled all over, and now lived a simple life with his 5 month old cat. His house was a skinny two story whose front windows looked into his overgrown, jungle-like garden, and the back windows onto fields and the train track. He made us some tea and we talked until it was time to leave for a folk dance he invited us along to. Apparently it was a once a year event.

We met up with a few of his friends along the way, who were from the UK and Gemany and Italy, and carpooled to a tiny town called “Rinco.” One part of the drive was especially beautiful, where we puttered along a ridge in his old car and could look down on the hills and lights of scattered houses on both sides. Lovely, Italian cypress trees.

In Rinco they had a large, white tent with a stage and a hardwood floor set up, and the band (made up of accordions, a bass, some sort of woodwinds, and one other instrument I did not recognize) was already playing away. They played a variety of songs, but a lot were native to that region, of Southern France, Northern Italy, and Eastern Spain, collectively. They told me the name of the region but it didn’t stick in my mind, being in Italian.
Olivia and I hung shyly on the side for a while, sitting in the chairs and just watching. None of the dances were taught but everyone seemed to know what to do, like they’d learned the steps from birth, which they probably had. There were also people that seemed clueless but were just having fun and laughing, which made us feel better. After we watched for a few dances, like standing on the diving board eyeing the pool, Cristhian came over and convinced us the next dance was an easy one. And once we caught on, it was.

We danced for almost three hours more, taking breaks only for the really hard dances or to use to the nearby water pump. Most of the dances were in groups, in circles, but we never lacked in men to lead us in (they were all at least above 35 – don’t get any ideas, Mom). One in particular seemed to enjoy dancing with Olivia, while another grandfather seemed to like dancing with me. He didn’t talk, just smiled at me, his eyes almost hid by wrinkles.  When the dance would end and the next one was announced, he would immediately strike up the pose, holding my hands, and smiling at everyone else that meandered into position until the song started a few minutes later. At the end of one dance, close to midnight, I suddenly found myself next to him and in a line of people with their arms around each other. The grandfather suddenly straightened and puffed out his chest, now my height, as everyone sang heartily a few songs in Italian.

And thus ended our first Italian folk dance! Before we left we exchanged info with some of the other young people there, who were actually from Germany and on vacation. The next day we met up and went to the swimming pool, then walked around the town. Per Cristhian’s orders we invited them back to the house for dinner. It turned out that that day was the birthday of Cristhian and the British lady we’d met at the dance, so we had a celebration that night with about 9 people in all – which completely filled Cristhian’s tiny dining space. Every spot on his oven was also full, and we enjoyed a dinner of homemade ravioli, cooked zucchini, figs, red wine, and fig cake for dessert. Even the cat joined the party, moving from lap to lap as he wanted. The party stretched on until midnight when people dissipated in groups.

We enjoyed one more breakfast and conversation with Cristhian the next morning, before taking a bus straight into Turin, where we spent the night at the flat of another CS and his girlfriend. They were very welcoming (and Miyazaki fans!) and served us – what else? – pasta for dinner.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance to spend more time with our hosts or to really see the city of Turin, which I’ve heard is beautiful, as we had to catch a bus the next morning for a 12 hour ride to Paris. From Sunday to Sunday, we’d gone from Bologna to Rome to Turin to Paris. Whew!

Written on the way from Paris to London
Soundtrack: Needtobreathe. Always and ever Needtobreathe.
And Death in His Grave/John Mark McMillian, Remember What You Believe/Mumford and Sons, All of Me/John Lennon

Packing Our Bags & Headed South… // Bologna & Rome

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All roads lead to Rome… except for those in the Americas. And Australia. And Greenland. Etc, etc, etc.
But before getting to Rome, what better way to truly appreciate its immense global and cultural significance than first visiting a city that is… marginally less significant?
Thus, Bologna!
No, not the nasty mystery lunch meat, the city in Italy. We had a few days before we needed to be in Rome, and at first were planning to stop by Florence, which I’ve heard is very beautiful. But there was a rideshare leaving from Bologna to Rome when we needed it, so… Although Florence is on the way from Bologna, so maybe he could have just picked us up on the way…
I just like to pretend I don’t have those after-the-fact-better-ideas.
We faced the typical situation of “hello, we are in this city, now where shall we rest our sweet heads tonight?” situation upon arriving in Bologna, except this time it was early afternoon, not 8pm. We would have gotten to Bologna earlier but there were long, long lines to book tickets at the Venice train station, and only one person behind the desk. One poor, poor person who was probably supposed to have had a lunch break by then.
Once in Bologna we discovered an espresso bar with free wifi (Italy is fantastic for coffee, you can find espressos/lattes everywhere for about one euro). We hadn’t heard back from any of the CSers, so we rattled and creaked our luggage to a B in town. As in, a B&B called a B&B, that did not serve breakfast. It was really just an Italian grandma, that had decided to make money by hosting people in some of her apartment’s bedrooms. She spoke no Italian whatsoever but chattered away to us as if we understood what she was saying. We eventually figured eveything out and had an exchange of euros, towels, the wifi code, and keys. We walked to a nearby grocery store for some ice cream cones (we weren’t that hungry, so skipped straight to dessert), and relaxed that night watching a Romcom.
The next day our ride wasn’t until the evening, so we headed out to see eveything of interest in the great city of Bologna. Actually, we were just focused on finding food first. It was Sunday, so most places in town were closed. We stopped to peruse a few places that were too expensive, and it wasn’t until past 11am that we spotted a good place to eat. We bought a delicious pastry at a bakery, for breakfast, then crossed the street to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant that was really reasonably priced. It was run by a small Chinese family of parents and their daughter. The daughter was our server and we struck up a great conversation with her. She had a beautiful, radiating smile and gave our morning a great start. Her parents had owned the restaurant for 20 years, and she had started helping out as soon as she was old enough. Even though she couldn’t go where or do what she wanted, she had no bitterness, but was content with helping out her family. We exchanged info and invited her to come to Seattle someday, since her parents were talking about retiring soon.

We then continued on our city tour…but Bologna seems to have even less to see than Aalborg, which is amazing. We did have some gelato – the prices here for ice cream are twice as much as Germany, but here you get portions twice as big – and found two towers, big landmarks for the town. I choose to pay €3 to climb to the top while Olivia decided to wait for me at the bottom, at a coffeeshop.
It was about 500 stairs to the top and took a while because only one person can fit on the stairs at a time, so you have to stop at the corners and wait for people to pass. The view at the top was beautiful, a dizzying sea of brick red at the tower’s foot, that changed to the rolling Italian hills, dotted with villas and cypress trees, in the distance.
Reunited at the bottom, we wiled away the couple remaining hours until we had to drag ourselves away to meet up with our ride to Rome.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try Spaghetti Bolognese in the place of its origin during our short stay. Missed one of the two things to do in Bologna, drat. I’ll just have to go back..

Since everyone in Rome was on holiday, we couldn’t find a couchsurfer at home and able to host. But we were able to find a place owned by a CSer for only €15 each a night. From there it took us only about 20 minutes to travel into the city center on a very old, rickety tram.
The unique thing about visiting Rome is that it was really the one place we visited on this trip where our sandals could walk where Paul’s sandals walked… beyond just seeing Christian artifacts and catacombs, for the first time we slipped into the outskirts of Bible lands. And that was neat to think about.
We spent three whole days in Rome and saw all the highlights – the Coloseum, the Pantheon, an overlook of the city, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Stairs – and we spent an entire day in the Vatican City. The line into the Basilica was long and wound in a circle all around the huge courtyard, but it moved quickly. Italy is the first place we’ve been that has signs about what you are allowed to wear in churches – but the Basilica was the first place I’ve seen that enforced those rules. Your shoulders and knees had to be covered to enter. They also asked for silence, but obviously with the whole church packed, that wasn’t going to happen.
All of the ornate, lofty churches I’ve seen on this trip have been blurring together, but I think I can say that the Basilica is probably the largest and most lavishly decorated place of worship I have seen so far (To get an idea of just how big it is, click here). My favorite part was definitely the Pieta, by Michelangelo.
We then headed to the Vatican Museum, and it only took us 20 minutes in line to get in. The main attraction in the museum is the Sistine Chapel, and the museum is nicely laid out so that you walk through most of the museum in a loop to the Chapel. The Chapel is nicely simple, besides the paintings, so that you can give them your full attention until your neck gets too sore to look up… I don’t know when they were restored but they were in better condition than I’d been expecting. My favorite of the paintings is definitely the classic, of God reaching towards Adam…
We had a great time at the place we were staying in Rome. It is always a nice change to have a kitchen and to be able to buy groceries, not to mention cheaper! We would eat lunches out, usually pizza, and cook up some pesto pasta when we got back.
In Rome the street vendors are much more pushy as they try to sell water, hats, parasols, and other trinkets. This is also the first city where we really have to be more careful with our bags, as thieves abound. I felt someone try to unzip my backpack once as we were walking between metros and turned fast, but he slipped into the crowd. It was a good reminder to be careful.
On our last night in the city we met up with a couple from France/Germany that were renting the other spare room in the flat. We walked to a few churches, watched one of the street spray paint artists, and ate dinner at one of the streetside cafes.
The next day we left the “Capital of the World” for northern Italy, cooler weather, and some more – mmm – pasta!

Our Guide// Venice

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So last you saw us intrepid travelers, we were wearily rolling into beds in a tent outside Venice. We would sleep until our one other roommate got up and decided to sit and repack everything she had, at least everything that was very, very crinkly. But I guess we can’t really get annoyed at her, since we woke her up when we arrived at 2am. And it’s really just expected to have those experiences at hostels, cheap stays..
After she left we rolled out of bed and bought a few cheap things at the camp store for breakfast. The campground was large, with a restaurant, a pool, RV spots, tent sites, structured tents, and “bungalows.” What is a bungalow? What makes it a bungalow? I think someone just invented the word because it was so fun to say.
It took us about 15 minutes to walk to the bus stop, and from there it was almost a 30 minute ride into the city. But that’s all right, because if we had stayed on the city it would have been at least twice as much. At the campground it was only 13 euros a night, about as good a deal as you can find anywhere in Europe.
We had had a glimpse of the city the night before, but more like a “run-for-the-last-bus-oh-look-we’re-in-Venice-and-there’s-water!” look, not to mention it was dark. Now we started by finding a tourist info building and getting a few suggestions of where to head. The only problem about finding those places was, well, you have to know where you are. And Venice is very skilled at getting everyone lost. She winds and turns until you feel like a mouse in a maze, blocked by dead ends and guided by the sentient Maze itself. But rather than being an uncomfortable feeling, or trying to be “not-lost,” we just accepted the condition and began to feel rather fond of the city, as it felt like she showed herself to us. It was the first city that really felt like a person to me. We wandered and choose the streets that didn’t look familiar, and somehow managed to see most of the city during our 2 day visit.
It was rather hilarious to see everyone else in the city, because to a one they were also lost. Everyone was holding maps and looking at street signs and in the same boat. A big gondola of lost people.
Once you accept that you will be lost, for most if not all of your visit, Venice is a great city to visit. Yes, it was crowded in the popular places, like by the Grand Canal and in San Marco square, but then all we had to do was let the city lead us for a few twists and turns, and then we were walking down a narrow, pretty street that was completely empty, the noise behind us.
How to tell you of Venice? Honestly what is in your mind and what you see in pictures is probably 90 to 95% accurate, at least it was for me, except I envisioned the city a hundred years ago. The colors the Italians paint their buildings – yellow, white, and a sort of salmon pink – look perfect juxtaposed to Italy’s vibrant waters.
We mostly wandered the streets, popping in and out of shops to buy presents and ooh-ahh over what we couldn’t afford/pack. Gondola rides are 80 euros for a half hour ride (ridiculous!), but there are also short rides across the Grand Canal that only give you a few minutes to enjoy the trip, but cost 2 euros. So we could say we’d been in a gondola, in Venice.
And yes, some of the gondoliers did sing, in Italian as they steered.  Apparently when they get off work they all head to the same bars, so you walk past a bar filled just with striped shirts.
We splurged and ate out one evening – it came to 20 euros each but we got drinks, two courses each, and salad. And sometimes you need to eat more than an apple and bread, and try some local cuisine! :) We also discovered a very cheap espresso-and-desserts shop when we had to duck out of the rain. We came back to it after dinner to split a tiramisu.
And of course, we stayed out late to walk around the city at night. It was gorgeous… but we both agreed it would be better if we were there with husbands, haha.
We only spent two days in the city before taking a train to Bologna, but we had a good stay. Venice showed herself to us, more than any other city has or ever will, I think.

Salt and Swans// München, Salzburg

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(No judging, you try coming up with blog post titles)
Our wheels are spinning even faster now, and in the past week we
have been in 3 countries! Sunday night we left München, Wednesday afternoon we left Austria, and we are now in Italy. O.o
Our 3 days in München were all amazing. Like I wrote in my last post, we got to CS our whole stay, with a guy called Dirk that gave us a bed, towels, wifi, apple torte, breakfast, maps, and fun conversations. All you can want in life and in a CS host. ;)
Our first day in München we just walked around the city and saw a lot – a famous brewery, a large glockenspiel in the Rathaus, the large city park and the surfers that use the river (THAT was cool to watch!), one of the classic art museums… we wrapped it up by satisfying a craving for some good sushi. When in Germany…
The next day we went to Neuschwanstein (literally “New Swan Stone”), the castle that inspired the Disney logo castle. It was several hours by train from the city but we both find the train rides enjoyable- a time to read, write, get some things done, and of course get a better view of the scenery then from a highway. When we got to Neuschwanstein it had started to pour so we bought some of those geeky looking rain ponchos and waited in line at least 30 minutes to give away money and be told the next available tour was in 4 hours. We wiled away the time looking through the line of tourist shops and having some dessert in a restaurant next to the lake. When it got closer to our tour we split up for a while, Olivia took the bus while I took the foot path up the hill to the castle. It had stopped raining by then and was actually beautiful weather for the walk.
We couldn’t see the castle in the hills when we’d arrived, but now there it was – built on a rock hill, surrounded by taller forested mountains, white and loftily shaped. The image that pops into your mind when you hear the word “castle” would probably either look like the gray castles in Ireland, or like this castle.
We took all our pictures then waited in the courtyard for our tour. The place was crowded and a new tour started every 5 minutes – definitely a popular tourist attraction, plus we’d come on a Saturday. Our tour was therefore pretty fast, about 25 minutes with a guide, then we walked through the last few rooms on our own.
The castle is very new, as far as castlesngo. It had been built – or rather, started – by King Ludwick the II in the late 1800s. He built several castles in his time and Neuschwanstein was his project, aimed at copying the “Romanesque” style. The castle was still uncomplete when he died – in fact he lived in it for less than half a year before passing away! While they’ve finished some rooms since, a lot of the castle rooms remain bare and unfinished. A history major’s dream! [Insert more history on the castle here I have no time to write]
My favorite part of the tour was the view from the castle of the lake, mountains, and village below. It wouldn’t have to be a castle, I’d be perfectly content with a hut, a shack, a cave if it had that view! The sun was a few hours from setting, a sight we unfortunately couldn’t linger to see. We walked down the hill and took the bus-train-metro ride back. End München day two.
On Sunday we enjoyed a long breakfast of coffee and Brötchen and toppings with Dirk and one of his roommates, then took the train to Dachau.
Dachau.. was a work camp during World War II. It is free to visit, though I paid for an English audio guide. Olivia had already been there, but was brave enough to follow me as I wandered through, listening to the guide on one ear.
I could go off on an entire talk of my feelings about WWII… a time of history that especially tugs at me. But that would take up another entire post.. you can see some of my thoughts here. I will say that WWII… was unique (all of these words, any words seem too light to talk about it) – not because of the suffering – I do not know history intimately, I don’t know what circumstances to refer too, but I know WWII is not the biggest oppression or atrocity that has happened. No, it is unique because it was the biggest attrocity that has happened that we could then record.. movies, pictures, accounts – we have stacks. For the first time, we have the blackest side of humanity recorded, there for us to learn about and remember. To those who claim humanity can improve, like a moral evolution, here’s our chance. We have no excuse, we are told our worst capabilities, now will we repeat it?
Maybe the problem is people just don’t grow up being told about history and what’s happened. Yes, maybe the dictators and oppressors and evil people in the world are only the uneducated. Ha. Thoughts?
Anyway… I could say more.. but yes, traveling. :) After Dachau we came back to München and did a ride share into our next country – Salzburg! In Salzburg we accidentally took the right bus the wrong way (which I guess really makes it the wrong bus), so we didn’t get to where we were staying until close to midnight. The pastor of the Calvary Church and his family, friends of friends, opened their house to us during our Salzburg stay. They had 4 girls (8 years – 4 months old) that took a little bit to warm up to us, but were soon wiggling into our laps asking all sorts of questions and shyly admiring our things. One night when we watched a movie together they let us braid their hair – girl bonding!
In Salzburg we spent one day just walking around the town, buying presents for people at home, climbing into ancient catacombs formed into the stone hill, wasting money on a paper silhouette from a street artist that looked nothing like us. :P It rained all day so we were glad for the umbrellas we’d borrowed from the family.
The next day we made a short jot back into Germany for a tour of the Salt Mines – where the town earned its name (Salz=Salt). It was 16 euros and a 2 hour wait, but we got to put on jumpsuits (which are really comfortable. My new goal is to find a job where I get to wear one), slide together down smooth wood rails twice, take a short boat ride across an extremely saline underground lake, and ride a small train in and out of the mines. Quite fun! :)
On our last day in Salzburg we got an early start (after getting goodbye hugs from all of the girls) and bought a bus pass to see all of the areas they’d filmed the movie “Sound of Music” – the movie that draws a lot of tourists to the town, but a lot of locals haven’t even watched it! We saw the houses, the convent, the garden, other small spots, and even went out of our way to see the actual Von Trapp home, which is a small hotel now.
Then we took the 4pm train… to Venice! It brought us to the city close to midnight. We missed the stop on the mainland, before the train actually crossed the bridge to the city, because it was COMPLETELY UNLABELED! And we couldn’t understand anything the conductor said… (goodbye German…) so we had to take the 12:40 bus back to the stop closest to the family campground where we’d rented beds in a structured tent. It was close to two am when we finally rolled into our beds and got reacquainted with sleep.
And Venice in the next post! Whew! :P
It is a bit crazy planning everything right now, as it feels like we barely get to a place before we leave again, but every town has been a great experience, and it is good to know that in no time at all,  we can settle down a bit on the island of Ireland for our 3 weeks there.

Grace, Again //(Leaving) Stuttgart

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Another week has passed, and I again find myself with too much to say.
We left Berlin on Saturday (forgotten leftovers and 15 hrs with no wifi getting a sore bum – see last post), and arrived in Stuttgart close to midnight. A family Olivia knows through student exchange picked us up at the bus stop, and took us to their home where we had showers and wonderful, flat beds. (Sleeping sitting up is like… half sleeping. Actually more like it takes rest from you.)

The next day we slept in, then the family were our tour guides around the region. The parents, one of their daughters, and her boyfriend drove us through the winding trails of German countryside to a small village (dorf). We climbed to the top of an old church where we could see the whole town, then on the street level again the parents gave us cash for ice cream cones while the two of them enjoyed some coffee drinks at the ever-present street cafes. Then we went on, to an old cloister. That night we had Spätzle, a very traditional and o-so-delicious German meal.

Over the next couple days we again got to enjoy being a part of a relaxed, kind German family. They oooh and applaud everytime I say something in German, even though it’s infinitely small sentences, like “sleep well” and “jam, please.” We spent a relaxed day sightseeing and shopping in Stuttgart, and even tried on some “Dirdls,” the typical Bavarian- Southern Germany feminine garb and companion to men in lederhosen. We looked rather fantastic, if I say so myself, and I did not want to put the beautiful red dress back. If I had 200 euros and room in my backpack…

The next day we traveled 2 hours to a small town in the Black Forest called Bad Wildbad. The night before the family had helped us figure out where to go and how to get there to achieve the goal of hiking in the “SchwarzWald.” We didn’t have a plan except for “hike,” so obtained maps and suggestions from the tourist info center. Very useful places, those. Every town should have one (*cough* Aalborg *cough*).

The hike we found was not too long, we climbed up a hill, ate lunch on top, hiked around a bit on the ridge, then came back down with the company of an amiable old German couple. Another 2 hours back by train turned it into an all day event. Because Stuttgart is above the Black Forest, it wasn’t time efficient to travel further south, which is apparently more beautiful (of course, it’s closer to Switzerland). The forest we hiked through was gorgeous, a bit different foliage and trees than at home but pretty similiar. The part I found especially beautiful about the Black Forest was to pull back and look at the view. The rolling green hills stretched to the horizon, and the small German dorfs nestled in the valleys between, made for a charming view.

I find the idea of people telling you what is the best rather funny. I mean, obviously there is usually a good reason why something is so popular. Classics and masterpieces seem to be art because they speak to.. more people than other pieces of art. But I find it amusing in art museums when the museum makes a show of pointing out certain paintings or artists “because they’re famous,” and everyone clusters closer to ooh-aah. But… I like this painting better, I think. What makes that painting so amazing, what makes that thing better than this except that it’s popular? Is it popular because it’s popular? We’ve already been told what’s better, and we can’t have an original, unbiased like unless we… grew up in a cave?

I suppose that’s my rebellious side coming out, that makes me look anywhere but the “famous” item. I also wonder what is being overlooked. When you are on a tour, and the guide says “now look over here,” what is there where no eyes are looking? What is there in the zenith of the sky as we go about our lives?

Anyhow, on Wednesday we took an afternoon bus to Munich – or München, as the locals actually call it. The wifi on our bus did not work so I had no way to check the responses to the couchsurfing requests I had sent out… the night before. Unlike Berlin, the hostels in München were unusually very full, even on Thursday night, so if we found a room we would have to pay 2 or 3 times what we’d paid in Berlin. Once we got to München we went on a search for wifi, taking our luggage with us. It was then after 7pm, and we had no idea where we could sleep that night.

Once in Kassel, twice in Berlin, we’ve been in situations where I definitely was praying and asking God to help us out, but I didn’t feel that I deserved any help, because we could have avoided the situation. If we had planned ahead more, if we had left earlier, if we had been wiser, we wouldn’t be running or worrying. To have no bed or to be locked out of our hostel would be the consequences we were due.

When do we get our just punishment, and when are we undeservedly gifted? I don’t know the answer to that because we can’t know the answer – it’s not math equations, it’s not predictable to us. In His wisdom, God knows what you and I need at any time, and He intervenes according to His character of love, righteousness, grace… moved always by His desire to draw us to Himself, yet as a gentlemen respecting our choices.

My faith does not depend on God’s actions always being, in my opinion, “good.” Sometimes Lazurus dies, sometimes there is no water in the desert. Rather my faith rests on Who God is. Not safe, but good. A Father. A Father.

All I know is that in my life, on this trip, God has always been so much more gracious than I deserved. Everything has ended well – we have a home to stay in, and all worries are erased. Will it always be like that? I don’t count on it. But that does not shake my faith that God is acting for my ultimate good.

So yes, our Thursday night endes well. With wifi we were able to contact the one couchsurfer that said yes. He picked us up and let us join him, as he was in the way to meet friends. There was a 2-3 week summer fair going on in the Olympic park, with rides and booths, all bright lights against the full moon darkness. It was busy but not overwhelming. Him and his friends settled on a spot by the lake to wait for the fireworks, while Olivia and I went to find food, since we’d had a small lunch and it was then 10pm. Right as we started perusing all the currywurst and beer gardens set up, the booth lights and even the ferris wheel all shut off to let the fireworks show up better. Olivia and I happened upon an airbrush tattoo booth  and walked away 5 euros lighter but with some pretty sweet tats (tatts?).

We joined the huge cluster of people around the lake and watched the fireworks, which were huge and spectacular. They came out of the sky towards you, wonderfully 3D in a way I hope humans can never capture.

After the fireworks we were of one mind: FOOD. Olivia found some pizza and fries and I found some pad thai (memories of the Tetons!) and we sat down by some lederhosened men to enjoy our food. Not very traditional German fare, I admit, but we did each have a beer, courtesy of our CS host. I was good just drinking the first half… the first swallow, but Olivia goed me through the rest. Peer pressure? ;) I suppose it would be *gasp!* sacrilegious to dump out beer in Germany! I do not understand how the men next to me drank what looked like a gallon. Ok, not that much, but the cup looked big enough to drown a chihuahua.

And that was our first night in München – from having no clue where we would stay, to enjoying pad thai and fireworks with the certainty of a waiting bed!
God is good. :)

If I Was a Sculpter… //Berlin

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My gift is my blog post, and this one’s for you…
Friday was the end of our 5 day stay in Berlin. We were actually planning to travel to Stuttgart that day, but one of us accidentally bought our tickets for the 2nd instead. One of us – I won’t name names, but out of the two of us, it wasn’t me. ;)
That worked out really well, though, because it turns out there is a lot to see in Berlin. On the first day it took a while to figure out how to get to from the bus center to a station with luggage storage where we could leave our luggage while touristing (I guess tourists just tour though, not tourist). By the time we’d figured that out and had some lunch, it was almost 3pm. We took the UBahn (underground train) into the middle of the city and meandered for a while, past some Berlin sights that are apparently famous, like some tall structure that looks like a stick spearing a round marshmallow – and I assume in the spirit of the Space Needle the marshmallow holds a restaurant with expensive food – a church, a fountain, and “The Brandenberger Tor,” a large Roman style entry gate. We also went to the Humboldt University, which had a memorial to the books the Nazis confiscated from the school’s libraries and destroyed. In the courtyard that they burned them, there is a clear pane where you can look down and see white bookcases with empty shelves.
We also went to the Berlin Dome, a huge Protestant church. It looked really beautiful inside but cost about €7 to enter. Evening prayer, during which you can enter for free, was in an hour, so Olivia and I went to a nearby ice cream place and waited. Seriously, folks, it’s about one euro for a scoop of homemade ice cream, and you can find these places everywhere. It makes a great small and cheap treat during a long day on your feet.
The Berlin Dome was amazingly huge and ornate, of course. Gilded gold, statues of the 4 Gospel writers, paintings with calm people in graceful poses. I always wonder what people were thinking when they built churches like these, and as they worked on the inside making every detail so elaborate. Did they do it… cause they thought it was a church God would want? Because that was what the king ordered? Out of reverence? Or because the city’s Catholic church was also ornate and they had to match or surpass it? It sure seems like a lot of work to me, and I am always in awe of what humans can accomplish.
We spent the rest of the day in a park, where we read a book aloud while the sun set. Once the air grew cold and it began to get dark, we got back to our feet and retrieved our luggage and found our way to the apartment of a friend of Olivia’s friend who graciously hosted us.
Tuesday we bought a museum pass and set about putting it to good use. Berlin has a huge wealth of museums on a plethora of subjects, enough to keep anyone busy for weeks. We bought the 3 day museum pass for 24 euros, which is a killer deal because to visit one museum is about half that price. We went to a history museum with artifacts from Macedonia, Rome, Turkey, etc, then to an art museum. Both had three floors, and we saw everything. The outside world got a good dump of rain while we were safe inside.
All of the museums close at six, so we headed home then, with a stop at the store for some mozzarella and bread, which we turned into delish grilled sandwiches and enjoyed while watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
The next day we went to another two museums, both historical. At the end my eyes and mind were tired from taking in so much, but it was good. Everyone should visit museums at least once a year. It sounds cliche, but it is mind-broadening. At the history museums you learn more, and for a while your mind is stretched to think outside of the now as you remember all the people and cultures that have come before – the people we only have dusty pots and dead languages to remember, but who were also once breathing, laughing, dreaming people that joked and cried and loved. They lived completely different yet completely similiar lives to us.
And in art museums, in a short amount of time your mind travels through such a variety of places and moments and emotions. With a just a few short steps and a turn of the head, you move from taking in an ancient battle scene to a grecian couple in love to a portrait to a cliffside castle. Every scene speaking a different feeling, sparking different memories and thoughts in your mind, with more to be found the longer you look. Is there anything else that can give you so much, in such a short amount of time?
Outside the museums there is always at least one street performer, usually a student or group of students practicing their instruments or singing. Berlin has an alive, youthful feel thanks to its colleges. I also felt like it had an undertone of… turmoil and “Po-Mo” (Postmodernism), probably due to what Germany, especially Berlin, has been through in the last half century. The Wall went down only 25 years ago, after all.
Speaking of which, we also visited the East Side Gallery that night, which is a section of the Berlin Wall still standing, every inch covered with art and signatures despite the signs asking you not to deface it..? Some art was neat and/or thought provoking, others were just… weird.
Thursday we took a day trip to Potsdam, which has a whole mess o’ palaces surrounded by large gardens, most housed in Park Sansoussci. We had time to walk through the park, see an art gallery, and take the audio tour of the palace King Frederick the 2nd lived in. We had to put large slippers on over our shoes and slid from room to room past silk wallpapers and rococo decorations and porcelain figurines, which apparently the king had a thing for. It was all incredibly ornate and detailed. Fit for a… ahh ha ha.
We walked past a few other palaces- my favorite was the Orangerie, which was in a “simpler” style. It had a sculpture every 5 feet, like every structure here seems to have, but these were of common folk – farmers, harvesters, maidens – a nice break from the Roman/Grecian gods. Seriously, I have never seen so many sculptures in my life as in those three days. If I’d been born back then, my calculating dad would have been encouraging me not to become a scientist, dentist, doctor, or computer programmer, but a sculpter, because there’d be plenty of job security.
Whew, this blog post is getting long. Still with me? Here’s a cute picture then on to Friday:

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Aww!
And on:
Friday we took the train to Wittenberg, as in Luther. The door. Well not the door, since it’s been 500 years and there was a fire in the 1600s. But a king (love how I remember all the history specifics?) in the 1800s comissioned another, bronze door inscribed with the 95 thesises for the church, which is the door everyone takes pictures of nowadays. It is fenced off – the whole church is undergoing restoration – but you can see it.
We also saw the outside of the old monastery Luther had attended and later lived at with his family, then we had some lunch and took a nap in a grassy park before taking the train back to Berlin. On Thursday we’d moved to a hostel closer to the bus station – Thursday night I had a fun time running the whole way to the hostel from the metro station while Olivia waited at the station with our luggage, because it was the time we were supposed to check in and I didn’t want to be locked out, paying for beds we weren’t sleeping in! Praise God, we got in and got our beds and showers. God has been so faithful on our trip, even though we’re silly young people and really don’t deserve His grace.
Friday night we tracked down a highly-rated Ethiopian restaurant in the city and I introduced Olivia to the amazingness of this unappreciated cusine. We also tried some mango beer, which was surprisingly very tasty (maybe because the beer taste wasn’t that strong?). At the end of our meal the woman taking care of us surprised us with glasses of honey wine and a gift of a Ethiopian-colored bracelet and necklace for me. Because yeah, it was my birthday. :)
But while I had a great time that day – any day the last two months could have been my birthday. I’ve had great food, new experiences, and fun times with friends every day. Yesterday was just another day chock full of God’s blessings. :)
Like this morning! Our alarm did not go off, so we woke up 20 minutes before our bus left, and got to the station 15 minutes after it’d left. But we were able to get right on the next bus, and are now safely flying down the roads to Stuttgart.
But… in our hurry I FORGOT THE ETHIOPIAN LEFTOVERS!!! A huge round container that seriously weighed several pounds, full of all the sauces, and 2 more injeras the woman had packaged up for us. SITTING THERE, in the hostel fridge, a treasure just waiting to be tossed out in a few days. :( My sorrow is very deep.
*Sigh* An end for this post, Sarah?
Try to focus instead on the people you get to meet, the cheap ice cream cones, the free nights of lodging, the fact the trip to Wittenberg was fortunately not 90 euros, that you were not locked out of the hostel, and that we can ride to Stuttgart even though we missed our bus…and yeah, and that you’re spending the SUMMER in EUROPE, not that you left Ethiopian food in a Berlin hostel fridge, now cities away.
… maybe tomorrow. :(

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Halfway in Hannover

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Another week has flown by like an unlaiden swallow (European, of course), and I am now about exactly halfway through my time in Europe. But from here the pace picks up just a bit! Tomorrow we will be heading to Berlin, and from there it will be a flurry of new cities, new countries.
Weve stayed in Hannover this week, with Olivia’s host family, and the days have been relatively quiet,  but full. I apologize in advance for the went-here, did-that flavor of this blog post, which I like to avoid; I’ll try to have original and interesting thoughts for next time.
Enter bullet points!

▪ On Sunday we went to Victoria’s ballet recital. She is five, so you can imagine the adorableness filling that gym as those miniature ballerinas twirled and pretended to be birds and water fountains.

▪ Afterwards the father, Hans, took us to the Neu (new) Rathaus, or city government center. And by new I mean it was built in the 1800s, to replace the 1400 A.D. Rathaus. Inside are 4 city models of Hannover over the years. It is sobering to see the difference between the 1939 and 1945 models… few buildings remained unscathed through the war.
After we had coffee and cake by the lake, ahh.

▪ On Tuesday Olivia and I went to an American cafe for dinner. It is always interesting to see how people here portray America. We split a BLT, and Olivia was in heaven because they had root beer, something near impossible to find outside of the USA. After dinner we went to a fabulous comedy/acrobatic performance thanks to a gift certificate from Olivia’s host family. We were on the top floor of a beautiful theater with BBC Sherlock Holmes-like wallpaper. The show was well done, with tight rope walkers, tap dancers, and other fabulous feats by people made of steel. I imagined myself trying to do what they were doing and it wasn’t a pretty picture…

▪ On Wednesday I chopped off my hair, which was a bit scary – I’ve never cut it so short. It is a bit odd feeling more like a boy – like one of my brothers- but it’s fabulously quick to wash. I considered dying it bright blue, too, but I think I’ll stop with this.. ;)

▪ What else? Ice cream, barbecues on the patio, walks around the city. We saw the Aegidienkirche, which is similar to Hamburg’s St Nikolai in that it is a church destroyed during the war, that the city chose to leave as-is, for a memorial. Except seeing this church made me a bit mad, because the night we visited they had a loud rock concert with beer inside, and it sounded like that was a regular occurrence. To me that seems disrespectful to the memorial for those that died in the war.

▪ Last night we celebrated Olivia’s birthday with coffee, cake, and pizza. Lots of her friends came over and it gave them a chance to say goodbye, too. Although who knows, maybe some of them will come to visit us in WA!

▪ Friday Olivia and I went to the Hamburg Historical Museum and spent an hour wandering through, until it came to closing time. On our way out we stopped to buy some soda bottles from a vending machine, only to have an employee tell us we couldn’t leave the building with them. When you buy bottled drinks here the cost has an included 25 cent charge, which you get back if you recycle the bottles. The vending machine didn’t charge that extra cost, so the museum needed the bottles back. So Olivia and I had to chug our bottles. Europe is serious about their recycling, America should take notes!
That night we met with two of Olivia’s Hannover friends and went to an Italian restaurant. They had both been through YWAM DTS and had passions for China and Israel, so it was really cool to talk to them. And one, Silas, kinda looked like my brothers combined, so that was great for my homesick side.
We walked around the city after it got dark and met two people from Taiwan, who joined us for an hour or so. One of the neat things about going to another country is that you don’t just meet people from that country, but from all over the world. I talked to them about their lives in Taiwan, and found their answers about their schooling/careers sad. They had both taken the exam that gives you career choices based on your score. They had chosen the highest possible career because, well, it was the highest. So one was studying Finance and the other, Dentistry. But neither were excited or passionate about their subjects.
Is it a selfish luxury to do something you want to do in life? Does my belief that everyone should do something they love come from a cushioned, American, 21st century worldview? I understand there are jobs that have to be done that no one wants to do, but it also seems to me like too many people settle because they are focused on financial and cultural pressures.
Speaking of which, here are two great artworks on the subject my brother sent me a few days ago:

I’ll leave you with that, because it is too gorgeous a day to spend inside typing up a blog post. I think the shaded lawn outside is calling my name.
Tschüss!

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