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!

Castles in Kassel

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There are certain stories every traveler has to have, and one of those stories is missing the bus… not as in almost missing, or even missing it for boarding, but as in riding the bus for an hour, hopping off for the lunch break, hearing the pause length wrong because the German words through the speakers were hard to discern, and coming back outside after lunch to find the bus, with all your luggage, nowhere in sight. Because yep, that happened.

So my friend Olivia and I were stuck in a rest stop in Göttingen, almost an hour drive from Kassel, our destination. We had our small purses with us but on the bus were our backpacks – for Olivia, a weekend’s worth and for me, everything I’d brought to Europe.

Fortunately, from the times I’ve been able to try it out, I am completely calm in these situations. I switch into logic mode and try to figure out what needs to be done. In this case, we needed to call the bus company, and find a ride to Kassel. Which I was thinking wouldn’t be too hard, since a lot of people stopping at the rest area were retired couples with empty seats in their cars. I picked a likely looking couple by their car, and Olivia used her German to ask if we could borrow their cell phone. Once our situation was explained, they pulled out a map and even though Kassel was out of their way, insisted on driving us to the town. Human kindness for the win.

On the drive my mind ran through what I had brought, thinking about what was irreplaceable. Really I could buy everything again – I had the most important things like my money and electronics in my small pack, with me. I hadn’t bought any souvenirs yet, since I didn’t want to carry them around. What I wanted back most was really just the backpack itself, which had already gone with me on a few backpacking trips and held my growing collection of patches from places I’d been.

At first the couple tried to find the bus station (though we’d be too late to catch it and retrieve our stuff before it continued on to Munich), which Olivia and I would later find out is a 20 minute tram ride from the center of town. When plugging in the station’s address unfruitfully brought us to nowhere, they decided to drive all the way into town and to the Haubtbahnhof (main train/bus station), where they left us with hugs and good wishes.

Our 6+ attempts to contact the bus company (do NOT ride with Flixbus) were unsuccessful, but once we found a Starbucks and wifi we emailed them and got a prompt response (?) telling us to pick up our things from a northbound bus tomorrow around 2:30. Yippee!
By borrowing several people’s phones, we were also able to make contact with a couchsurfer and secured a place for the night.

So with our worries lifted, we passed the evening walking through Kassel, which is not a small village like we’d imagined it, but a small city with lots of construction, a large tram system, and city sounds. We bought a few essentials and a cheap shirt each, and ate dinner at one of the many Turkish restaurants off of a main street. Olivia insisted I had to try a Döner, which is rotisserie cooked meat served on a plate, or as a sandwich, or in a pita (aka gyros). It came with pommes frites/fries and was good but so much I was sooo full. Olivia was equally stuffed with her meal and we agreed that from then on, we’d split one dish.

We walked back to the Haubtbahnhof, where the couchsurfer picked us up. He was unable to host us right then, but he took us to the house of his friend, Judith. We joined her and her husband on their back patio for their dinner (people here tend to eat later, though maybe it’s just summer hours?), though we only had tea. The conversation switched back and forth between German (which Olivia can speak, and I can understand the gist of) and English. We talked through the sunset until the air grew cold and they had to light some candles. It was after ten when we said “Gut Nacht” and retired for the night. Judith’s sons were grown and gone, so Olivia and I got our own bedrooms.

The next morning they had breakfast for us, as well as a printed sheet of directions for how to get from their house to town, to the bus station, and to a few sights we wanted to visit. Breakfast was the tea and coffee with the typical Brötchen (toast usually on weekdays, but they bought the step-up of bread rolls because we were guests) with choices of marmelades/cheese/meat/Nutella to put on top.

Olivia and I didn’t have to be at the bus station until 2:30pm, so we had time to visit the Grimm Brothers museum – the main reason why we’d come to Kassel. The museum was filled with artwork for the tales, mementos and history of the brothers’ lives. I made it about halfway before going outside to lie on the lawn and wait for Olivia. My body didn’t really like me that day, my stomach was upset and I had woken up with a bad crick in my neck that hurt and made it hard to turn my head right. Whee. :P I had a great nap and Olivia had a great time in the museum, though, so it was a win-win.

All familiar Subway was our lunch, then we went to wait for the bus that was supposed to come between 2:30 and 2:50, but didn’t arrive until 4pm.. yeah, don’t ride in Flixbus. But WE HAD OUR THINGS! Backpacks on, we stopped to thank God for taking care of us.
We continued on to Herkules, a monument in top of a hill overlooking the city, with a water fountain that carpets the hill down to a grand museum. And of course the water fountains had been turned on for an hour that day…at 2:30pm.

So we missed the flowing water, but we still got to enjoy the view of Kassel. We found a trail that led into a forest park on the side of the monument and our PNW hearts rejoiced in the green nature. It was great to be out of the city atmosphere. We came across another castle built Scottish style that was a bit in ruins but still had gardens and a tree-arched walkway.
We ended at the bottom of the hill, at the large and grand museum. It was about 8pm by then so it was closed, but still very beautiful from the outside.

We took the tram back into the city and hopped off to have dinner at a streetside restaurant, where we split jagerschnitzel and fries and a dessert of fried apple rings covered with an amaretto-vanilla sauce. The waiter recommended a city park to us, which we visited for a bit before heading home. By then it was almost midnight- we’d had a very long, full day. We managed to find Judith’s house again, but had a scare when our key would not work in the lock, and no one responded to the doorbell. There were a good ten minutes- or maybe it was just five and felt like ten- where we sat on their front steps, sure we were locked out for the night. Fortunately Olivia found a way to walk into their back garden, where she found the husband and we got to sleep in real beds that night after all, a good sleep before we headed back to Hannover the next day. On THAT bus ride we only chanced stepping off the bus for 5 minutes. :)

Travel tips: clarify with your bus driver just how long the stop is going to be! Don’t bring with you what you are not okay to lose. And people are very, very kind and helpful. Thank God for those people, remember to be one of those people.

It Hurts To Hold Back

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Sometimes I feel like all life is made of is hellos and goodbyes and the moments in between. And sometimes the goodbye feelings… catch you by surprise. On the last day of missions class at Ecola, when I stepped up to my teacher to shake his hand and thank him, I was surprised to find myself suddenly choked up, with tears in my eyes. Thankfulness for what he had brought, who he was (strongly passionate about missions), and realizing this was the end of his classes, all combined into a stronger whirlpool of emotions then I had expected.
The same thing happened this Saturday, when I said goodbye to my German family. I double-checked I had everything from the room they’d given me, downloaded my ticket onto my tablet, and kissed their two girls, Ella and Glorie, goodbye. But when it came time to look at Anja and Janos, my hosts, “parents,” and friends for the last two weeks, I suddenly found my eyes filled with tears, my lips trembling. They prayed over me, blessing my travels, and then Janos and Glorie took me to the UBahn station. On the UBahn to Hamburg and even on the bus all the way to Hannover, my eyes kept blurring with tears as the parting touched my heart stronger than I’d expected.
It hurts to hold back tears.
Yet in some ways, I was encouraged by my blurred vision. In the last 4 years, I have built so many relationships, only to keep moving. With every connection, every touch felt and then gone, it is tempting and easier to let yourself dull, so the farewells don’t hurt as much. To keep a part of your heart detached from the moment you meet someone. To hold yourself back because you are anticipating the parting.
My tears comfort me that – this time at least – I have not hardened my heart, but let it open and share life. The Henches gave me a room, a phone, food, assistance – but more than that, they gave me a place in their family. I watched their patience and love for their kids and someday I want to have a heart for people like they do. With Anja we laughed several times so hard we cried, and enjoyed several days of sightseeing together, and with Janos we found our humor and tastes similar, so it was a joy to talk with him. I found an interest in football, I got to watch Ella take some of her first steps, and Glorie finally overcame her shyness enough to babble to me in German.

It is a wondrous mystery to me that, someday, goodbyes will be no more.

And sorry, I don’t have pictures of the family! When I take pictures I am blog minded, and it seems invasive and intrusive to their lives to put pictures of someone else on my blog. And I guess I still think about internet safety, however that would be unsafe I don’t know, but that’s what holds me back. BUT you can see what they put on the internet about their family and Calvary Church plant at http://www.hhench.de!
To the Henches:

How beautiful – the feet of those who respond “yes!” to Your call and step forth, sharing the Good News of the Kingdom!

All right, blow my nose, dry my eyes… I got emotional all over again writing this post! I’m such a female..
My friend and I are traveling to Kassel, Germany right now, to see the Grimm Brother museum, and castles.
And by the way, YEAH FOR DEUTSCHLAND!!
Neuer is my favorite. I call him “Captain Germany”.
Below are the rest of my pictures from beautiful Hamburg.
Adios!

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