Friday, September 21, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Before going to Amsterdam I went to Bruges for a day trip with some other faculty members. We took the morning train and wandered the streets of Bruges, which of course involved a stop for waffles as we walked along the canals and buildings built centuries ago. The highlight was definitely the canal ride, as we passed under low bridges and viewed the city from a different perspective. The next day I woke up a little tired from a night of live music in the alleys of Antwerp, but I decided that going to Amsterdam was a priority. Even though I didn't have a hotel room booked and I knew little about where I would want to stay, I walked to the train station and arrived in Amsterdam a couple of hours later. The trip would eventually become a highlight of our Antwerp stop, perhaps because I planned so little, traveled by myself for the first time during this voyage, and felt a sense of accomplishment in how I made my way around the city of canals and bridges and saw as much as I did, but initially I felt a little disoriented. For the previous several weeks I had been surrounded by friends and large groups on the ship and in port; all of a sudden I was in an unfamiliar city on my own, which was a necessary experience, especially in the sense of exploring, processing, growing, and leaving my comfort zone. Fortunately I had a break from my independent travel when I met up with Annalyn and Kate the second evening and third day. Interestingly, my independent self seems to be seeking less time with me, which isn't such a bad change. Amsterdam is a unique place. I stayed in a converted apartment in a quieter residential area along the Prinsengracht canal. The canals and bridges are entirely charming, and equally so during the day and lit up at night. I walked along the Prinsengracht the first night, peeking into beautiful homes along the canal. I had dessert in the Leidseplein and experienced the smell of marijuana that drifts through the streets. (For the record, I only had tiramisu.) The next morning I took the tram to the Dam Square, and viewed the Nieuwe Kerk, the 15th century church that replaced the early 14th century Oude Kerk, which I viewed next. Afterwards, I was moved by the powerful experience of visiting the Anne Frank house. My heart was affected most by seeing the pencil marks on the wall indicating her growth in height during the 2 years of hiding, and the attic window where she dreamed of riding a bike and playing outside. I felt a reminded sense of life's fragility and brevity. From the Anne Frank house I went on a canal ride and drifted through the canals and under bridges as the sun set and lit up the sky. I was by myself, but it was still quite romantic. Later at night I met up with Kate and Annalyn for dinner and a walk through Amsterdam. The walk through the Red Light District was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Seinfeld fans might appreciate the thought in my head for the women in the windows tapping on the glass at me, to not tap on the glass. At times I felt uncomfortable when drunk people in the streets became aggressive, when I was clearly spotted as a tourist, and when the narrow alley led to a much quieter street, but the uncomfortable feeling was in a way what I was looking for and only added to the Red Light District experience. The next morning Annalyn, Kate, and I met up to view the Van Gogh museum, which was a well-organized journey through his life, viewing his paintings in chronological order, where we could clearly view the brush strokes and feel more connected to his work and life. Afterwards I went in a houseboat, had a delicious Dutch apple pancake alongside a canal, and returned to Antwerp. The Amsterdam trip was an unexpected highlight of the stop in Antwerp, and a poignant reminder that the best things in life are often unexpected.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Monday, September 3, 2012
Driving across the country of Ireland was indeed a brilliant decision, but since I was the driver, I patiently waited for my first Guinness in Ireland in Dublin; paired with an Irish stew it was well worth the wait! A large group of us went out to the pub and I truly felt friendships developing and a growing sense of evolving together as this unique experience brings us together in a meaningful way. The next day I walked around Dublin by myself to quickly see more of the city before our ship disembarked. I attended services at St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral (I attended services for the singing and worship, but the clever avoidance of an entry fee is certainly another factor in the decision), and children in uniforms sang at St. Patrick's Cathedral, their innocent but powerful voices resonating through the high vaulted ceilings. I may or may not have had coffee and pastries for both breakfast and lunch as I walked around the Temple Bar area, Dublin Castle, and other parts of the city. Lastly, I walked through Trinity College and went to the Book of Kells exhibit. Viewing a book written so long ago was inspiring, especially thinking about the faith I believe in and how that faith was passed down to me, thousands of years later. To be honest, the old library might have been the highlight. I couldn't take a picture, although I did ask the security guard if librarians have special picture taking privileges (they do not), so look up Trinity College's old library and get a sense of how amazing the room is. The day ended with a long 45 minute walk because my "friends" Claire and Kim sarcastically waved to me from the full and last bus back to the ship, as I selflessly gave up a seat to let others on. Ireland was a fulfilling, spiritual, and memorable experience, and the country faded away on the horizon as we set sail for London.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Our drive to the Cliffs of Moher and a stop in Ennis for dinner and a pub session resulted in a very late arrival at Dingle Peninsula. Our group did a great job of holding it together even when we slowed down to approach what might have been the correct street, only to see a sign for a burial ground. For the most part, we actually were on the right roads, even though at times we, or I, doubted our path. We were greeted by the Night Enforcer, a wonderful Game of Thrones-like name for the night security guard at the hotel, and woke up to eat crepes. I am very fortunate that my travel partners, Isaiah, Kim, and Renee, enjoyed food as much as me. We ordered one round of savory crepes followed by a second round of sweet crepes. We then drove to Killarney National Park, where we visited the Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, and Ross Castle. Pictured here are the remains of Muckross Abbey, a 15th century Franciscan abbey. Tucked away by the lake in the national park, this abbey brought all senses to life and captured my imagination. We wandered around the remains, through dark and twisting staircases and signs of baptisms and worship that occurred over 500 years ago. I felt deeply connected to those who have gone before me, yet disconnected at the same time. Their faith was challenged in ways I will never know; yet we share the same faith in God, which was inspiring and ultimately left me connected to faithful people who lived a long time ago, a long distance from the life I’ve lived in the United States. The night ended with shepherd’s pie for dinner and sticky toffee pudding for dessert, for the second night in a row. After attempting to Skype with my mom, only to be yelled at to be quiet by our bed and breakfast owner, we went to bed and awoke to a wonderful and delicious Irish breakfast from the same bed and breakfast owner, who was now back in my favor. On the beautiful drive to Dublin we passed green fields of sheep and visited the Rock of Cashel, a historic site where St. Patrick converted the King of Munster in the 5th century, and the towers were built in the 12th century. Ireland was a surprisingly spiritual experience for me, but our arrival in Dublin assured that I would not miss the other defining aspect of the Irish.