Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Late and the Great- Roma, Oxford and College Graduation

For those of you who may have been wondering, I did in fact return from the British Isles last spring. Despite whatever visions you may have had of European kidnapping scandals, or romantic elopements, the truth is that I just did not make it around to publishing my final post until now.

My bank holiday weekend in Rome, Italy was one of my favorite times during the trip. Two of my friends (Katherine and Kelsey) joined me in the adventure, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, despite the fact that it was the weekend before traveling to Oxford to take final exams. We found a central, family-run hotel called Hotel Emmaus which was literally a few blocks from the Vatican, so we were in a lovely part of Rome. The tree-lined street outside our window was filled with traditional Italian restaurants so the air was always fragrant with the cuisine that Roma is famous for.

During my time in Europe, I developed a love for carbonated water, and I rarely drank anything else. In Italian, carbonated water is called "acqua frizzante" which makes ordering it at a restaurant even more enjoyable as it somehow seems more elegant. I was also thrilled by the amount of motorcycles in Rome. Due to the traffic congestion, motorcycles are the choice mode of transportation, and incredibly, almost all the women that I saw were riding in either heels or tall boots.

We did a fair amount of sightseeing while in Rome, but we also took a lot of time to just rest and have some fun. We toured the Coliseum, St. Peter's Cathedral in Vatican City, threw coins into the Trevi fountain, as well as explored many of the quaint "piazzas" that fill the interior of the city. The only low point in the entire trip was that we missed the Sistine Chapel. We saved it for the last day as admission was going to be free, but we failed to notice that the closing time had changed for that day as well. It is said, however, that you will one day return to Rome if you throw coins into the Trevi fountain over your shoulder, so I will have to see Michelangelo's creations on my return to Roma.

Pictures: Our friend Luigi whose family ran Hotel Emmaus; Acqua frizzante

The girls and I arrived back in Oxford just in time to work for the next few days on finals preparations. I ended up not feeling well the three days following Rome, so I spent almost two days straight in bed studying. As a result, I did not see a whole lot of Oxford, but I did make it to the Eagle and Child Pub- the famous site of J.R.R. Tolken and C.S. Lewis' meetings- as well as take a tour of Lewis' home, the nature reserve preserved in his name, and the graveyard where he is burried.

There was a group of about five of us that decided to tour Lewis' home, so together we made the pilgrimage via bus out to the part of Oxford where Lewis lived. When we arrived at the house, however, it was a bit of a shock to knock on the door of a traditional, English cottage-style house in the middle of Oxford, and be greeted by a petite, American woman with a Southern accent. This sweet woman ended up being a Christian who had self-taught herself Lewis' entire personal history, and had been hired to live in the house along with her husband and act as host for the several grad students who were given the honor to live in Lewis' home while they study and write their doctoral theses. After inviting us to come in, our tour guide insisted on us sitting down to tea before taking the tour as this was how Lewis would have entertained any guest who would have entered his home. After tea and a tour, I was amazed to find that Lewis' house was in lovely condition, thanks to the efforts of the organization that returned the house to its original decor and character after an unfortunate bout with the 1970s and shag carpet.

For the last final exam of my college career, I gave a verbal presentation on Charles Dickens' legacy as a novelist which seemed a fitting end to my time as an English literature major and then the group of us jetted back to Seattle for one final week of college life. With only a matter of days in-between returning from Europe and graduation, my time at university was over shockingly fast. In that last week, I had some wonderful last hurrahs with friends, celebrated with loved ones, and packed up for Portland. In fact, my life transition happened so quickly that I began a new job in a new city one week after my college graduation.

A few months later, I feel incredibly blessed to have a job that I love in a city filled with people that I love, but I will admit that I am still in shock. It is difficult to grasp the fact that my entire social realm in Seattle has dispersed to the far corners of the earth as my friends travel and take jobs in other states. While I know those relationships remain in tact, the realization that I can never return to that part of my life will take some adjusting to.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Roman Baths, Tudor Houses and the River Cam

Hello, hello!

As my title indicates, I have traveled to Bath, Stratford and Cambridge since my last post. That means that there is a lot to cover, but it is going to have to be the shortened version because I don't have a lot of time.

So... Bath was wonderful. It was incredible to see first-hand the baths that the Romans built and used so long ago. The most incredible part was the fact that the Roman plumbing is still working!

While in Bath, some of the girls and I treated ourselves to high tea in the pump room at the Roman baths. It was my first high tea since I have been in England, and it was well worth it. The atmosphere was lovely- the pump room felt a bit like a ballroom due to the chandeliers and live piano music!

While in Bath, our cultural fund paid for a side trip to Stonehenge and and a little country village as well. We got to Stonehenge rather early in the morning so we were some of the only ones there and the weather was gorgeous! It is kind of hard to take in so many sights with the full appreciation of how old they are and their significance in history, but I have been trying to reflect on the importance of everything I am seeing as much as possible.

We had some of our nicest weather of the whole trip in Stratford. After visiting all of the important sites such as
Shakespeare's house and grave, we mostly spent time reading in the sun. We also went to see "A Midsummers Night Dream" as part of our Shakespeare class so that was pretty fun. It was a great production, but I am still partial to the performance of the play that I saw in Ashland over spring break.

And finally... Cambridge has been nice as well, although we have had a lot of studying to do, so I have probably seen the inside of more coffee shops in Cambridge than I have the actual sights. We did rent bikes for the week, though, so it has been great to bike around instead of walking everywhere. One of the days, my friend Elyse and I biked to the orchard (a tea garden) to read and have tea. The orchard was very peaceful, but my favorite part of the adventure was the beautiful scenery that we saw on the way there on a bike path that cuts through fields and farmland.

Those are really all of my updates for now. Katherine, Kelsey and I are leaving for Rome at 3am tomorrow morning. It will be a long day, but we are really excited! We will spend 4 nights in Rome, take one day trip to Florence, and then meet up with the group in Oxford for finals week. I can't believe that my trip is so close to its end, but I am definitely getting excited to come home and graduate.

Best wishes to all!

Pics of Cambridge:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Beer and Bratwurst

I have just experienced Germany at its finest.

For the bank holiday weekend, I flew from London to Berlin to visit my friend Robert and his family. The Hoffmanns were incredibly good to me and gave me the best tour of Germany that I could have asked for.

I flew into Germany early Thursday morning, so Robert and I spent the day sightseeing in Berlin. I hadn't eaten a proper breakfast yet, so we decided to grab something in a local shopping area. We were trying to decide what to eat when Robert suggested pie and informed me that pie is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food in Germany. I think that this may have been when I first realized how well I would get on in Germany. After our dessert breakfast, we went up to the top of the Berlin Television Tower which has incredible panoramic views of the city, visited the remainder of the Berlin wall, and saw the local government buildings as well.

The day we were in Berlin was actually a German holiday called "Men's Day," the main event of which, as far as I could tell, consisted of men drinking large quantities of alcohol and generally making merry. We saw men riding around on bikes with baskets attached that were overflowing with beer, as well as men in boats singing what seemed to be manly, German songs. It was great fun to watch. The Hoffmann's actually live south of Berlin in a quaint, German village called Lübben, so after spending the day in Berlin, we drove back to Lübben where I got to meet his parents, Karsten and Sylvia. That night, they made us an amazing dinner of grilled steak and bratwurst, along with vegetables, fruit, and much more.

Friday morning, Robert showed me around Lübben which is absolutely gorgeous. We walked through a wooded park to his old high school where Slyvia is the choir teacher. We stopped in to say hello while she was giving a lesson, and then continued on to the "down town" area. Lübben is actually famous for its pickles, so we stopped for a fresh one on the street, and I have to say that it was the best pickle that I have ever eaten. The Spree river runs directly through Lübben so we visited "the island" which is a park area that is surrounded by the river on all sides.
After walking around town, we met up with Karsten and Sylvia back at the house, and then drove to the nearby city of Dresden. During the war, Dresden was almost completely destroyed by bombings, but was later rebuilt to its original grandeur- cathedrals and all. It was amazing to see. We had dinner that night at what I would call a traditional German restaurant, complete with waitresses in German barmaid outfits. It was great. On the way home that night, we stopped in at Sylvia's parent's house, and I got to meet Robert's grandparents. His grandmother is a part of a singing group that dresses up in traditional German dresses and sing German folk songs. She came home while we were there in her full outfit and even let me try it on! Robert's grandfather was hilarious and kept us fully entertained while we were there. The only three words/phrases in English that he can say are "goodbye," "money money," and "tipsy." We had a lot of fun joking around, even with the language barrier. Actually, both Karsten's and Sylvia's parents live in Lübben, so I had already met Karsten's parents on Thursday. I have decided that I really like the idea of families all living close together. I don't know if it will ever happen with my family, but it certainly provides a close sense of community.

Saturday was perhaps my favorite day. When I first arrived at the house, I was thrilled to discover that the Hoffmanns had motorcycles as I ride them whenever I have the chance. You can imagine my excitement, therefore, when they told me that we were taking a motorcycle tour of all the surrounding villages in their area on Saturday morning. I forgot to mention that the weather was fantastic the whole time that I was in Germany, so you can imagine that we had a lot of fun riding around all morning. At every site, they would stop so that I could take pictures, and then off we would go. One of the most interesting things that we saw was what they call the "tropical island." It looks like a massive green house and was originally built by the Russians to build aircraft and submarines, if I remember correctly (see picture). Now they have made it into an indoor tropical climate with palm trees and pools, and you can come for just the day or even camp there.
After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed out with his aunt, uncle, and a family friend for a picnic boat ride on their family boat down the Spree river. I can't remember the last time that I so thoroughly enjoyed myself! We ate, laughed, relaxed, and had a wonderful time. At dinner time, we stopped at a really nice beer garden/restaurant for a delicious dinner and then headed home.
As you can tell from my lengthy blog post, my weekend in Germany was one of my favorite memories from the trip so far. I absolutely love visiting new places in the company of people who actually live there because they always know the best activities to do and places to visit. The Hoffmanns were so good to me, and I truly cannot imagine having enjoyed Germany more.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

London Town

We have had a few foggy days in London town over the past 2 weeks, but there have been beautiful ones as well. We take a coach to Bath tomorrow, and although London has been amazing, I am excited to downsize cities.

There is so much to do in London! It has been a bit of a challenge in fact to manage my time in a way that allows me to do and see everything that seems important. In the end, I decided to focus on enjoying my time here versus feeling pressured to see everything. Not to mention that I do study occasionally, and that takes up some time as well. :o)

One of my favorite things about London is that we were able to unpack our suitcases because we have been living in flats (apartments). There is something about the simple act of hanging up your clothes that makes you feel more at home. Here are some events that I have enjoyed while in London:

* Seeing The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theater- the very theater where the musical was first performed.

* Taking a river cruise on the Thames

* Attending a performance of Shakespeare's King Lear at The Globe Theater- We were there on its opening night for the season (which happened to be Shakespeare's birthday as well).

* Attending Henry IV Part 2 at The Round House theater

* Having a picnic with friends in Hyde Park

* Shopping at Camden market and bartering for clothes

* Visiting Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, and many other sites.

* Attending church at Holy Trinity Brompton- it was so nice to be in church. I have been traveling on most Sundays so church is an exciting event.

One of my very favorite times was just this past weekend when I went to visit my friend Robert in Germany- see my next post for all the details.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Luck of the Irish

The phrase "the luck of the Irish" has taken on new meaning for me as I have found the Irish countryside to be one of the most enchanting places that I have ever visited.

Dingle, Ireland is perhaps my favorite spot so far. It might be a tie between Dingle and Edinburgh. Somehow, we managed to visit Dingle during a week of incredibly rare, warm weather. The last two days were absolutely gorgeous- perfect weather for exploring a coastal town full of ancient ruins and rolling countryside.

On Monday, our first full day, our tour guide took us on a 6 hour tour all around the Dingle peninsula (Slea Head Drive and Connor Pass) to the major, must-see spots. I believe that I said my fair share of prayers as our happy-go-lucky, Irish guide swung around the corners of the very narrow road in our massive tour van, with sheer cliffs dropping into the ocean right outside my window. He didn't seem the least bit nervous to drive at such a speed, dodging other cars, sheep and even dogs, but the rest of us were gripping our seats at several points throughout the ordeal.

Other than serving to further solidify my relationship with my Maker, the sights of the tour were spectacular. The Dingle peninsula is home to several, ancient ruins from early Christian times- it was amazing to see. The Galarus Oratory- the ruins of an early Christian church- is the oldest Christian relic in Europe. We also stopped at Kilmarkedar Church which is one of the most important Christian sites on the Dingle peninsula as it houses a 6th
century stone carved with the Latin alphabet. Outside of the church is a graveyard, and Ireland's first clock- a sundial.

Yesterday was my favorite day of the entire trip thus far. Immediately following morning class, three other girls and I rented bikes and set off along the waterfront peninsula that we had toured the day before. The weather was perfect- not too hot, but not too cold- and as we had about 6 hours, we took our time stopping at several spots for rest, lunch or just sightseeing. It felt so good to be active after about a month of travel, and we estimated that we rode somewhere in-between 10-12 miles total. Although Kelsey and Sarah ended up riding much further than my friend Taylor and I (about 31.5 miles!), the sore muscles that I have today indicate that I did about as much as I should have.

The best parts of the bike ride were definitely our lunch spot- a secluded, grassy ridge over-looking the ocean, and the little, country church that Taylor and I stopped in on the way home for some silent prayer and reflection.

Early tomorrow morning, we are driving about 2 hours north to Shannon airport and then flying to London where we will be staying for over 2 weeks. More updates to come!

Pictures: Spring lambs/ The country church/ Our bike ride view

Monday, April 14, 2008

Beatlemania and Dublin

Hello again!

Since my last update, we have once again traveled from city to country. Following the Lake District, we drove down to Liverpool for one night in order to pay tribute to the Beatles, and then flew out of Liverpool to Dublin the next morning. After spending five days in Dublin, we drove across the country (6 hours) to the countryside village of Dingle on the western coast of Ireland.

Liverpool was a much bigger city than I had imagined, and a bit run down as well. It is currently undergoing improvements, however, as it was named this year's European capital of culture, and was therefore given funds to renovate. I've never been a huge Beatles fan, but I enjoy their music, so it was fun to explore the Beatles museum- mostly because it is interesting how famous they were able to become. Liverpool is definitely proud of their rock and roll heritage, and the city is decorated with monuments to the Beatles.

We stayed in apartments while in Dublin which turned out to be the best possible arrangement because of how expensive the city is. It was unreal how much money even a simple meal cost, so it was nice to be able to buy groceries, and save some money. Dublin was much different than I had anticipated. I was a bit disappointed at first because it just felt like any other large, multi-cultural, metropolitan city. In fact, there were so many foreigners in Dublin that it was hard to find the Irish! I later found out that there has been tremendous immigration into Dublin ever since Ireland joined the European Union two years ago.

One of my favorite nights in Dublin was when I went to visit Liberty Community Church- the church that my Portland pastor- Bob Mihuc- used to pastor. It was so fun to meet people that know and love my pastor and his family. Two girls from my trip went with me for the Wednesday night service, but it ended up being cancelled so we chatted with those that were there for worship practice, etc... Mostly, it was just nice to be in a Christian community, hear their stories and fellowship.

Other highlights of Dublin were the shopping, visiting the Yeats museum, and admiring the architecture. Here are some of my tourist pics:
The rogue poet- Oscar Wilde and Trinity College

As you may be wondering, I am in fact in Dingle, Ireland now. There is simply too much to write for today, however, so I will cover the beauty that is Dingle in my next post. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

From City to Country

On Monday we left the city streets of Edinburgh and traveled by coach (bus) 3 hours south to the Lake District of Northern England. The prospect of almost a whole week in the country was a bit daunting at first, having just left fast-paced city life, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself by the second day. I didn't realize that I needed to slow down until I was forced to do so, and I have especially appreciated having time for solitude and prayer.

On our last night in Edinburgh, some of my friends and I celebrated my 22nd birthday with a night on the town. Kelsey and Katherine treated me to dinner and dessert, and then we finished up the night with a game of pool.

The youth hostel (see pic) where we are staying is an old mansion where the Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge once stayed. The mansion overlooks Derwentwater Lake and is surrounded by beautiful forest, pastures, and waterfalls- one waterfall is actually outside our dining room window. The scenery is breathtaking. Wordworth, another Romantic poet, actually grew up in the Lake District so it has been fun to read his poems describing the surrounding lakes and hillsides.

Our hostel is just 3 miles outside of the quaint, tourist destination of Keswick (see picture), so on nice days we often walk into town, and the nasty ones we take the bus. Yesterday we walked about 2 miles the other direction from our hostel to the tiny English village of Grange. I've never seen such beautiful landscape or such a pastorally perfect town. We had tea at Grange Bridge Cottage (see picture)- a family run restaurant/cafe, and spent some time reading. It was lovely.

We leave the Lake District on Sunday and head for Dublin. It will be fun to be in the city again, but for now I am enjoying my time in the country. The main thing that God has been teaching me this week is how to be comfortable being myself when those around me live differently- this is something that I have had to re-learn. Also, I am discovering that I needed this time in Britain to not only reconnect with God, but to rest up a little, and allow Him to revive me spiritually. Dr. Chaney once told my sister Erin that every 7 years, farmers let their fields rest so that can absorb needed nutrients for future harvests. The same is true for us spiritually- we often need a time of rest where we are not actively engaged in ministry, but simply take time to remember our relationship with God as it is the source of our strength. I have realized that it is time for me to be a fallow field for awhile, and I have been amazed by God's faithfulness in blessing my time of spiritual rest.

Here are some more pictures of the Lake District: