Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Louder, Louder, And We'll Run For Our Lives...

'What's the deal? Suddenly you get home and can't write? It's like you just don't want to. I mean you have a lot of great thoughts, and you keep saying "I need to write that down", but you just don't. What is it? Laziness?
That's what it is...


That's how I've been talking to myself recently. I've had all sorts of inspiration, all sorts of things to write down. I just haven't been actually doing it. Hopefully that starts to change a bit...

Here's one of my recent ponderings:

We're never alone.
We don't know how to be alone. If we find ourselves with no-one around we fill the void with white earphones, LED glow, and the tick-tap of keys clacking. We refuse to be alone. We try every single thing we can to avoid sitting in our own thoughts. We try to overpower that still, small voice with loud beats and rhythms.
We're scared of being alone with ourselves.
We're terrified of listening to our own heads. We hear a lot of other outside things. But we're petrified of slowing down and miring ourselves in... ourselves.
Clearly, I need to be alone more.

It finally happened. The day after Christmas. After showing off the photos for one more time.
I missed it.
I didn't really know what I was going to miss. The last night I asked myself what I would long for, and nothing came to mind.
Then, a few days ago, I pictured myself on the streets of London, a crisp, cool air around and the dim, warm neon glowing in the distance.
I missed Europe.
I want to speak in French for a few days. I want to drink German coffee. I want to climb Turkish walls. Basically, my instincts are going crazy. My being is just calling out. It's saying MOVE! Get out of Dodge; abandon ship; flee for your life; "what do you do when a pistol-toting Nazi is walking towards you".


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have Myself A Home Life...

The Irish say: You Never Can Quite Go Home Again...

I guess they're right... Kinda.

I mean, home still feels the same. It still feels as warm, comfortable, and kelly green (it's not actually green, but that's the color I associate with Home) as ever. But there's definitely something different.

Oh wait. I figured out what's different. Huh.

I was asked a couple times over the weekend while I was in Santa Barbara
"So, how have you changed?"
Talk about a loaded question. I kind of feel like that's a question I can't answer. It seems like the people who weren't with me on the trip, but are around me now should be the ones who should answer it. I mean, they're the ones who see the change. It's always striking how much people change when you don't see them for extended amounts of time. It's harder to see the difference when you grow with them, you know? Now, nothing against the people who ask that question. I love you for asking it, cause I need to figure out an answer...

I mean, I know that I've changed. I'm just still wrestling with the how part of the question. I definitely can't fully answer that now. And it'll be a while before I can. But, I do definitely know that I'm not going back. I mean, can you ever really go back? The Irish don't seem to think so.

Regardless of this moping/pondering, Home has been excellent. I feel so relaxed, so comfortable. So spread out. Europe has a certain feeling of crampedness... Us Americans are big, and we like our spaces to match. Colorado is crisp and bright. It's been cold, which has been amazing. Snow. Oh glorious snow. Finally.

I spent the weekend (give-or-take a few days) on the Coast. And it was like I was never gone. That's how you know true friends. You can ditch them for months, and then step right back into their lives and they'll pick things up from the last Save point. The weekend was filled with dancing, lights, neon, coffee, conversations,
(You don't really know how much you miss a person until you see them again. Heartache from missing a person is one thing, but it pales in comparison to the heart-overflow that comes when you meet that person face-to-face again and then sit for hours talking without boundaries with nothing but a table in between you)
pillowtalk, video games, laughter (such joyful laughter. Talk about the giggles), smoothies, California roads, food, handshakes, hugs, rain, smoke, boardgames, being surprised, not-being-surprised. I actually loved every minute of it.

I flew home and landed in snowy Denver at 6:00 sharp. My dad and I then sped the Colorado highway to the Pepsi Center for a 7:30 puck drop. At that point, all was right in the world.

It is so good to be home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Turkish Delight...

Istanbul. What a… strange… city. It is gorgeous. It is a lot of fun. It has some wonderful places to explore and offers great treasures. But it is still rather bizarre. The thing about Istanbul is that there is just no other place like it in the entire world. It really, truly feels like the meeting point between east and west. As our time in the city wore down, it seemed to accelerate. The last few days absolutely flew by. However, they left their memory mark. I don’t think I have ever seen a sunset like the one I saw from the roof of our hotel.  It was kind of eerie to be at the same level as the calling balconies on the minarets. It does give a stunning view, though. As we left the city for the inner country, two of our professors and their daughters left us to go home early. Their third daughter has been battling a case in the U.S. immigration court, and they had to come back to settle the ordeal once and for all. The night before they left, I bought them all (the three professors and Kristin) a round of drinks. We ended up sitting and talking for about an hour. Naturally, we talked about parts of the trip, and people on the trip. It’s too much fun to get a professor’s opinion of students, let alone the opinion of professors who have been living with their students for three months. That interaction made me miss last year a bit. The whole RA position lets you in on so many different people’s views on the situation, and there’s something unique about an authority figure’s opinion. You just gotta love that.
Anyway, we left the city for the country. Landed in Cappadocia. Apparently, it’s pronounced cap-ah-doe-key-ah, we’ve been saying it wrong this whole time, and no one told us. It’s basically the Turkish version of Utah. Obviously, this entails some very cool things. Like churches built into the sides of mountains. Think Petra, but on a caveman scale. They also have things called “underground” cities. It’s a huge underground network of caves and tunnels. They were built by early Christians escaping persecution. We explored one of these cities for probably an hour. I was like a little kid. I was jumping off the trial, into random corners and unlit caves. At one point I had my head dangling out of a hole scaring people coming through a tunnel, at another I was talking through a small hole to a girl as the voice of God.
Basically, I had a real good time in Cappadocia.
We took off after two days in the desert and headed for the beach. We literally ended our semester with a vacation. We were beachside in a five-star resort on the Aegean coast. The town is called Kusadasi, and it’s Turkey’s Cancun.
We were there off-season, which is a real good thing. You could just feel how the streets would flood with drunken university students during high time. The only bad part of being there in the late fall was a closed hot tub. Course, the sauna, spa, and Turkish Bath made up for that ;) Like I said, it was a vacation. We spent four days poolside, spa side, and threw in just a hint of touring. I mean, seeing Ephesus was no big deal right? Sheesh… It’s going to be strange to read about these places in textbooks, and, well, the Bible, now. I mean, we stood on Mars Hill where Paul spoke to the Gentiles, and we sat in the Ephesian theater where he addressed the city.
That’ll bring the Bible to life, eh?
So, that was Turkey. One of my favorite stops on the trip. And once Turkey was over, we headed to…

We headed home. Or rather, I headed home.

It’s over.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm Standing at the Crossroads, I believe I'm Sinking Down...

We stopped by Greece. Literally. Did you know it's possible to treat a country like a fast food restaurant? Cause it definitely is. We landed, got on a tour bus, drove to the Acropolis, said hi, got back on the bus, drove around, got off the bus, and hopped on another flight.
Hey, Greece.
You were pretty darn cool. Athens looks like a lot of fun. And thanks for everything, like democracy, geometry, and philosophy. We appreciate it.
Love, Westmont College Europe Semester '09
After our little Greece tour (which really was cool albeit short. I mean, we stood on Mars Hill for Gentiles' sake), we were on our way to Istanbul. Welp... goodbye Western world, hello... um... well... something else?
On the flight, I got giddy. So did Sam, Lizzy MacRae, and Megan Woods. See, we have been waiting all semester to give our city presentation, on Istanbul. Lizzy and I were in rows across from each other (Side Note: Olympic Air? Very nice. Westmont basically had a plane to ourselves. I mean, I had a whole row to myself, as did about 10 other students. They also served a meal on a one hour flight, complete with a cookie run, and two drink runs. Gotta love government subsidized airlines. Take note, America), and our eyes were glued to the windows. When Istanbul became visible through the darkness and fog, we both turned to each other. We smiled, and then simultaneously mouthed the words: "Istanbul! What the...?"
We landed in a pretty darn modern airport, and I was already taken aback. Despite reading it various times over the semester, I had somehow forgotten that Turks use a Latin alphabet. I was expecting to see Arabic calligraphy everywhere, and I wasn't. My paradigm wanted something to be there that just was not... It was weird. We took a coach to our hotel. Yes... we have hotels while we're in Turkey. As in: room-service-bringing-turn-down-service-comfortable-bed-nice-shower-in-room-TV hotel rooms. Wow... what a welcome change. I mean, don't get me wrong, the hostel thing was fun while it lasted, but Merci Dieu for hotels.
The next morning we gave our presentation. You know those dreams you have where you wake up five minutes before you have to give a big speech and you're totally unprepared? Yeah, that actually happens. I forgot that we gained an hour from Italy, and so my alarm was set to go off fifteen minutes into my presentation. Thankfully, my roommate came in 5 minutes before class and woke me up. Let's just say that I gave my parts of the speech in Kent Hotel - Istanbul slippers. Definitely bringing those things home as a souvenir.
Then, we went out to the Crossroads. See, Turkey's not quite the West... but it's definitely not the East either. It's unique. I get woken up often to the Islamic Call to Prayer (which is absolutely beautiful, by the way.), but the streets and shops here feel totally Western. It is just blatantly obvious that this is a Middle Eastern culture (as in an honor/shame paradigm, mixed with some nomadic traditions) that has fallen in love with Western culture. I have been treated SO well by the Turkish locals. Everyone wants to know where I'm from, and they will come right out and talk to you, even if English is far from natural for them. This was most evident in the Grand Bazaar.
Which has a perfect name. It's grand (it makes the Mall of America look small), and it is bizarre. The shop owners all stand outside and lure you into their shops. But they're not pushy. Italians were pushy, they'd almost guilt you into eating at their restaurant. Turks are just nice. They've got a sense of humor too. I walked by a carpet shop, and the owner looked at me and said "Let me sell you something you don't need!". I gave him a thumbs up as I walked away belly laughing. I met a really kind Macedonian who let me custom build a hookah. I'm thoroughly pleased with it. The best story comes from the jewelry shop owner though. I was hanging out with Joy in the Bazaar, partially because I didn't want her to be alone in there. It is unbelievably easy to get lost in a place that has no readable signs and where every shop looks identical. Anyway, I was just hanging with the owner ("Your name is Kurt? Like Kurt Cobain? Oh, I like Nirvana. I listen to them in high school"), while Joy shopped ("Here, sir, you sit while lady shops. It's hard when woman shops for hours. I know"). We talked for probably a half-hour about quite a bit of things, including my major ("Politics? really? Well, then maybe you can be Kurt Bush. No! Wait...Kurt Obama, that's much better."). The funniest part of the conversation went like this though:
Shop-owner (I believe his name was Ashmet, but I could be wrong, he will be referred to as "A" from now on)
A: So... how long?
Me: ... (thinking) how long? what the..? ... What do you mean?
A: How long have you been married *pointing towards Joy*?
Me: hahahaha... oh! Well, actually we're not married.
A: Oh oh, boyfriend and girlfriend?
Me: No, no... we're just friends.
A: ... Really? *looks blankly at her. Looks back at me* ... *Looks at her again. Then to me again* Just friends?
Me: Heh heh, yup just friends...

So, now the running joke is that Joy and I are married (It was really fast, I know. Heck, we can't even remember the ceremony... or the engagement, for that matter).
Anyways, back to Turkey. We have done a good amount of touring. First of all, Mosques are beautiful. Seriously beautiful. The Blue Mosque is jaw-dropping. The Haghia Sofia is a breed of it's own. It's gorgeous as a church, it's impressive as a mosque, and as both it defines the history of this place so well. The Ottoman palace was greatly impressive, but it's blatantly obvious that you have been on Europe Semester when you're in the middle of a palace and you think Eh...I've seen better. Yikes. Just yikes.
The last little anecdote begins with a pun. We were in Turkey for Thanksgiving. It was perfect cause we got a little bit of Hungary as we flew over, just got a little bit of Greece, and then had our Turkey. Thanksgiving was interesting. Our dinner was a nice attempt. We had chicken shish kabob and french fries. Almost turkey and mashed potatoes, right? The real feast was after, when 12 of us went to a hookah/tea garden. We were all around tables, just sitting, laughing, talking, and enjoying each other. I got thankful there. A little culture shock made me grateful, that's cool. If you want some more info on this event, I ended up writing an essay on it. I'm not sure it's quite what the profs want, but even if it tanks in the grade category, it's one of the best essays I've ever written.

That's been Byzantium so far... er, I mean Constantinople... ummm... Istanbul. Yeah, Istanbul, that's it. That's been Istanbul so far.

Return of the Empire...

Earlier, I described it as "reading a book for the second time", and coming back to Rome was exactly that (Ironically, I finished my third book of the semester Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in Rome. I've read over 1,200 pages on my own this semester. Hmm... maybe less textbook reading isn't a bad idea at all. Profs, take note). It was wonderful to be able to share some excellent sites with my friends this time. We stayed literally a block from Colosseum. That was rather epic. Seeing that ancient sports arena lit up at night makes the Staples Center look like a joke. I ended up at Trevi Fountain 3 of my 5 nights in Rome, and every time I ended up seeing my friend Joy. She corrected me on my mythology every time we were there. Thanks, Joyful. We're also now apparently married, but more on that later.
Trevi has a pretty magical feel to it. I mean it's these perfectly sculpted Roman gods erupting from marble slabs and the back of this building. But honestly, it was the people that made that place so cool. My friend Pecos showed up again in Rome. My only words for that were: "Yes. Please." He had just finished up his semester in Cortona, and he brought his friend John to join us on their way out. So we spent two days hanging out. The best part was at Trevi though. The five of us (John, Pecos, Sam E, and Justin D) all bought Cuban cigars, and then sat on top of one of the massive marble side railings. We puffed away, and a haze of smoke left our area and floated above all the tourists at Trevi. We just sat there; smoking and talking. We laughed hard, and even got deep into conversation. It was the ideal boys night out. Other people agreed, apparently. Sam spied 6 or 7 people set up their tripods and take some photos of us; feet dangling over the marble, stogies in hand, mid-laugh. I'm just waiting to see myself show up on some Italian anti-smoking billboard.
Having Pecos around was again a breath of fresh air. He's got this "life" thing down, and it's just plain fun to be around someone like that. You know?
I ended up at the Hard Rock Café twice during that span. It was pretty great. I haven't really let myself enjoy any of the American "exports" here in Europe (besides the occasional Starbucks), but this was just too refreshing. I actually felt at home with a massive burger in front of me. With loud music and ridiculous videos all around. With Free Refills. I didn't realize how precious those words actually are. The feeling of comfortability was absurd. It was just so relaxing to be in a place where I didn't have to be conscious of the fact that I was in a group of loud people speaking English. Course, the most ironic thing about all of this is that Hard Rock started in London...
So clearly, going back to Rome was great, but in order to get a better picture of it, there's a bit more. You have to top all of these little magic moments off with two more magical places: the Pantheon and the Forum. Pantheon is just darn impressive. Awe is literally ripped from your lungs when you stare at its dome. It actually does not make sense. Plus, it has a wonderful piazza in front of it. I brought some friends to dinner at one of the restaurants that my mom and I ended up at right out front of Pantheon, and had one of the best dinners of the trip so far.
The Forum is kind of indescribable. As I was walking over the uneven cobblestone, I literally felt like I was wearing a toga, on my way to Senate. Sheesh...what a nerd. Anyway, going through the roads of the Forum for a second time was my favorite tourist part of Rome. The first time I heard about X number of the ruins and former temples, and the second time I heard about totally different ones. Combining the knowledge from both times seriously brought those old roads to life. We also went inside the senate building this time. Yeah, inside the senate building. You know how we think? Our entire mindset, our paradigm? Yeah, that is because of the people in that building. Rome is responsible for our history, and I was standing in the room where history was written. Not the books of history, but the events. They came forth from that place.
I was standing among Titans...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks...

Gratitude. It's an interesting emotion isn't it? It's hard to put into words, so... I'll let someone else do it for me. This is a song called Give Me Strength by Snow Patrol. It's on their new album Up To Now, and you actually need to get it. I know it's a bit emotional, but hey, I think it says it nicely:

I choked back tears today because I can’t begin to say how much you've shaped this boy,
these last ten years or more.

My friends we've seen it all, triumphs to drunken falls and our bones are broken still,
but our hearts are joined until,
time slips its tired hand into our tired hands we've years 'til that day
and so much more to say.

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had, I was a mess you see,
I'd lost the plot so bad, you dragged me up and out,
out of the darkest place, there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

My friends we've seen it all, when it made no sense at all,
you dare to light my path and found the beauty in the aftermath.

Let me hold you up like you held me up, it's too long to never say this,
you must know I've always thought,

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had,
I was a mess you see, I'd lost the plot so bad,
you dragged me up and out, out of the darkest place,
there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

You give the strength to me, a strength I never had,
I was a mess you see, I'd lost the plot so bad,
you dragged me up and out, out of the darkest place,
there's not a single doubt when I can see your faces.

Thanks, everybody.

Updates from Rome the Sequel and Turkey on their way... I promise

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ashes from the Inferno...

Here's a bit more of the ashes left from the creative inferno.

This is a discription of a couple I saw on the Pitti Palazzo, which is my favorite part of Florence. Picture yourself in a sandstone courtyard that glows in a golden colour...
The young couple clutches. They embrace. It's hard to tell where her purple ends and his navy begins. He pulls away, setting up the timer on his digital camera. She poses, chin in hand, arm on knee. She pretends to be looking off into the distance. Her eyes may not be gazing at him, but he's all she sees. He gets up, comes over, and she pretends that he just entered her vision. He slides his hand under her chin, and pulls her face close to his. Their noses barely miss as love manifests in lips. Click...Flash. Never to be forgotten.

Young woman walks at a rapid pace. She throws one hand around; fluttering a piece of paper held tightly. She gesticulates, but the person on the phone can't see her desperate body language. She finds herself at a curb, not knowing where it came from. Her words slow, they become cold. She spins and sits simultanesouly. The words stop all together. Her head hangs, finding rest in the hand not holding the phone. Defeat eminates from the curb. She mutters three words.
Are. You. Sure?
Then she rises. The world seems to spin, but she isn't dizzy. She finds that rapid pace again. And goes back the way she came.

Here's my third attempt at poetry. Yeah, I know. It's real cheezy...
What is searching for the spark?
Itìs not pursuing prefection.
It's not pining for peace.
It's not looking for love,
That's always in the wrong place.
It's really the mixing of music.
It's the tracking of a tempo.
The blending of beats,
It's rhyming rhythms; it's melding melodies.
It's called hunting for harmony.
It's about knoting knowledge,
Welding worries, and building beauty.
It's grafting graces,
Or fusing fires,
It's an integrated interlace.
It's about stitiching synchronicity;
It's hand-held heartbeats.
It's called hunting for harmony.

Sorry if there are various and numerous spelling and grammar errors here. I'm typing away on an Italian keyboard, so weird keys and placements, and no spell check. Course, I should mention that I'm typing in an internet café with a view of the moonlit Colloseum.

Ah... life is sweet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Firenze is the Birthplace of the Renaissance After All...

Over a week. Sheesh... I'm ashamed. Here's what's beautiful though: I've been writing a ton. Let's recap the past 8 days a little bit shall we?

Basically, for the first week, Florence sucked. Reasons: 1)It rained, a ton. And if you know me, you know that I love rain. However, I love snow more. I wanted snow. Bad. I got rain. A ton of rain. 2) Our residence is pretty cool, but it's also pretty cool. I mean seriously drafty. So, I was wet and cold, all the time. Yuck. 3) I just wanted to sleep, but my bed was really firm, and my pillow gave me wicked bad neck aches. 4) My bed was also a buffet. For bed bugs. I got eaten alive. I was symmetrical for a while. This also made sleeping not-so-good, as I would wake up due to extreme itchiness, and then couldn't go back to sleep because of visions of bed bugs danced in my head.

Ok, so combine all that into a week, and you get suck. Blech. It was no good. BUT I'm done whining. Which is why I called this entry renaissance, or rebirth, to the lay man.

Yesterday was the brutal day. I woke up at 5 in the morning, and couldn't get back to sleep. Shower was cold. Breakfast wasn't for two and a half hours. yikes. So, I got on the internet and talked with people from home. Ah, home. Those conversations were sparks, they got a bit of a fire going. I combined those sparks with a bit of oxygen in the form of Battle Studies (I got it early and it's incredible). Now, I had a fire. A serious creative fire. You know how artists always seem to be moody, brooding, angry, dirty, and overall just un-content?
I think that they do it on purpose.
It makes for GOOD inspiration.
I went on a writing tear. I think I doubled the amount of space taken up in my journal. Poems, lyrics, quips, creative stories, observations, you name it. It was sweet. Never been in a writing inferno before.
The problem is, that this writing tear completely changed my mood. I'm SO happy right now. I'm on a creative high. I mean, I wrote a poem an hour before our café night last night, and then read it cause I liked it enough (I also read the poem I wrote about Auschwitz [Apparently there's been some confusion, but I did write that poem down there] and the lyrics to the song Wheel.)
I also have a new bed. Thanks to my sympathetic professors, who came and helped me put my old bed into make-shift quarantine, got me a new one, and gave me Benadryl. Basically, I woke up to a totally new city. I went on a walk today, totally alone, and loved it.
I'm now currently trying to emulate my writing inferno, but it's not as easy as it was.
I'm enjoying the trouble though.
I like poetry for the first time in my life. I think I'm gonna keep writing it...

Here's my second attempt:

When does a cycle become a spiral?
After all, they're both a type of circle.
What if life is just an orbit?
What if this is all just another cog in the Karma machine?
Is it just a looped rhythm-beat?
Isn't getting dirty just another form of coming clean?
How do you stop a wave's ebbs and flows,
When even a ring's got it's highs and lows?
Do we always remember the sound,
of a boomerang coming back around?
Maybe we're not supposed to change our life-ring,
Maybe I'm thinking just a bit clearer,
Thinking a circle's just a wave on a mirror.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Senatus Populus Que Romanus...

Rome. Wow, that’s a name with some history. Most of the places I’ve been going seem to have a history that begins around 1939. Maybe 1914. Rome began around 750. B.C.! There’s another one of those paradigm shifts I keep talking about. They tend to happen just when I think I’ve got my head around the world, you know?

I ventured on down to Rome about 2 weeks before my group, for a great reason.

Mama flew into town.

Over our 4-day break, we were able to travel basically where we wanted, and I was lucky enough to have my mom meet me out here in Italy. I hopped a flight from Praha to Roma. Took Czech Airlines. You’ve gotta love state-supported airlines, they treat you right. Traveling on my own was pretty nice. I do it enough in the States to have a good routine and some travel sense. The only drawback was having to actually think for myself instead of being a travel-sheep.

My first real encounter with Italy was the most stereotypical encounter I’ve had in Europe. I needed to grab a taxi from the train station to the hotel. I waited in line a bit, and then WHAM! Two Roman cabbies start yelling, gesticulating, turning red, and altogether being Italian. Here’s an excellent example of what I saw:

It was only after I got to the hotel that I could laugh.

It was so incredibly nice to see my mom. Not only was it a new yet familiar face (the first in 2 months), but it was my mama! I got to spend four relaxing days just seeing sites, walking at our own natural pace, and eating great food. Oh! And sleeping… I actually got to sleep a decent amount. That was a nice change of pace.

Rome was a pretty fascinating place, because really, it’s three cities.

First, it’s the modern-day capitol of Italy. I’ve spent a year hearing how far behind the Italian government is, and how muddled the bureaucracy is. Not to mention hearing about Berlusconi. American politics ain’t seen a guy like him. Couple that with the European stereotypes of Italians as lazy, loud, and rude, and I didn’t exactly have the best expectations for the Romans. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Every single person we encountered was extremely nice. Waiters were perfectly willing to bend-over-backwards for their diners; tour guides were patient with stupid questions. I was flabbergasted. In a good way.

The second city is the medieval/renaissance city. This place is absolutely riddled with art. GOOD art. The Trevi Fountain is astounding. Strike that, all of the Bernini’s are astounding, especially Pluto and Persephone Wow… There are remnants of artistic masters on nearly every road.

Finally, Rome is the capitol of the Western world. You know that B.C. date that I threw out there? There’s a whole section of town dedicated to the remains of the Roman Empire. Now that’s history. I stood where Augustus ruled the world. Where Peter and Paul looked death in the eye. Where Nero burned Christians for light, and Constantine gave Christianity the last laugh. It’s kind of overwhelming to stand in those spots. It certainly makes one feel miniscule.


And throw another country into that whole 3-city thing. The Vatican is impressive. I mean, really impressive. The whole city just exudes power. I was dumbstruck. A lot. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Museums (including the School of Athens) are all they’re cracked up to be. The carry the power they deserve. However, it’s very easy to see how that church got caught up in its own glory and forgot its role as a conduit for glory. It is trying, though. Vatican II has definitely made its mark.

Rome is quite the city. I’m real excited to go back with the group soon. It’s going to be like reading a good book for a second time, you notice totally different things.

Leaving Rome was no fun. Saying by to Mama was a rather large bummer, I tried to get her to come to Florence with me, but she had to get back to the States to see Britty. What a lame reason… J I then hopped a 1½ hour train ride to Florence. I now know why people take the train.

However, first impressions of Florence were rough. It was raining pretty hard. I bought a dysfunctional map. Got lost. Walked a half hour in said rain. Got to the residence about 5 hours before I could check-in to a room. Accidentally got a café to open their kitchen for me. Went out back into the rain. Sat in the outside courtyard of the residence for about an hour. Got mistaken for a homeless person due to using my bag as a pillow and my fingerless gloves. Yikes.

Well… it can only get better from here, eh? I mean lunch was real good.

How does that song go again? “Always look on the bright side of life… do do, do do, do do, do do, do do”

That was the Roman Empire after all, right?


Yup. They finally made me leave Germany for good. Dang. It’s ok though. Cool things lay ahead.

On our way out, we stopped in Dresden. I had low expectations. I thought ‘OK. It’s another World War II damaged city.’ I should have learned my lesson in Coventry.

This whole town was blitzed. Razed. I mean nothing left. Maybe three buildings, maybe. The British firebombed Dresden so hardcore it caused a “firestorm”. Basically, the whole town was burning at 1000° centigrade. The asphalt melted. In the process, St. Mary’s church was destroyed. Actually fully dismantled.

Thank God for rebuilding.

Before Dresden, Sacre Coure in Paris was my favorite church in the world. Not anymore.

The new St. May’s in Dresden, Germany takes the cake.

Before we entered, it was prefaced as a personification of resurrection (destroyed then rebuilt), perhaps this added to the beauty. It had just been rebuilt in 2006. You know when you enter anciten churches and you think ‘I wonder what this place felt like in its prime?’.

St. Mary’s is in its prime.

“Wow…” That’s all I can really say.

They call Prague the Paris of the East. I think I may like the East better. Everything from Berlin east has been phenomenal. Maybe its because it’s new for me, maybe it’s because I mesh with these cities better, or maybe it’s just being connected with the Aryan community, I dunno.

Regardless, Eastern Europe is incredible. The past 20 years have done it well.

Prague certainly feels 20. The metro didn’t even smell yet. The city itself is kind of a strange amalgamation. One can tell that these people haven’t self-ruled often. The medieval structures are all gothic and renaissance architecture, but they’ve been “baroqu-ed” (Gabriel-ism). Apparently, the Austria-Hungarian empire used Baroque architecture as a weapon in the counter-reformation against those rowdy, free-thinking protestants, The Austro-Hungarians rules until 1919. Then the Czechs got a bit of independence. They celebrated with a unique style of art. Art Nouveau was everywhere, and thus, Mucha was everywhere. That was awesome. I got to see an entire museum dedicated to my favorite artist. Definitely wouldn’t mind some Mucha hanging in my future residence.

Back to Czech history. They had their own country for 20 years. Then, the Nazis invade. Sweet. There goes all that Czech pride. So, no more neat art. Things just end up shot-up or blown-up. Then, in ’45, comes Communism. Most things stay shot-up or blown-up. Well, except for a massive Stalin statue (that eventually gets blown-up in the 50s). The poor Czechs don’t get their own place again until ’89.

Yeah, the year I was born.

3 of the countries I’ve been to are as old as I am. Maybe that’s why I like them so much.

Prague was definitely made better by Gabe’s presence. From teaching us to laugh at dumb tourists, to poking fun of couples at the castle gardens/discussing what a good date spot it is, to telling us what to do when a pistol-toting Nazi is walking towards you (RUN!), it just wouldn’t have been the same without him. Taking me out to a much-needed breakfast and discussing the information age/the 21st Century/the future was just icing on the cake.

Cheers, Gabriel. Hope to see you soon.

Best site – Prague Castle/St. Vitar’s Best stained glass ever, and incredible views

Best food – Lebanese Group Dinner – It just kept coming, and it was all awesome.

Best pun – Gabe’s talk about the victims of the 2nd Defenestration of Prague being the first bounced Czechs.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Were in Eastern. Europe. ...

I should probably preface that last entry by saying that the camps aren’t the only thing that is in Poland. We weren’t purely “horror-tourists”.

We stayed in Krakow for 3 nights. That is really a fantastic town. Basically, all of the unique and interesting things from Bruges are in Krakow, but they’re 10 times better. It’s also significantly cheaper. That’s the one advantage of traveling outside the EuroZone for sure. We had a map of the town with recommendations from Gabe on cool places. I tried to hit as many of his spots as I could. Started with an excellent Italian meal. I got the best mussels of my life in Poland. We moved onto a hookah bar from there serving some primo shisha. Not a bad night, eh?

We toured the city the next day and got to experience a rather tourist version of the Polish town. I found the pieces of information on Oskar Schindler, and the movie, really fascinating. I watched that movie for the first time just before heading to Europe with my family, so it was still fresh in my mind. Needless-to-say, standing in the filming spots was humbling. I spent that night on the internet talking with people from home and loving it. It was a perfect mental break, especially with the camps waiting the next morning.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was a sobering, awful, teaching, and otherwise overwhelming experience. The poem that I previously posted is really the only way I can describe the experience. I felt myself just hoping to get out of the place on multiple occasions, and only kept myself from breaking down by mentally repeating verses, or songs, or even God’s name.

Yeah… that was a pretty rough day.

Coming back after the camps was a totally different experience, though. For a bit, I had felt as though I was in some sort of a social funk. I think I just had the idea that the camps were coming up looming over my head and it was affecting me more than I knew. But after that day, I’ve felt much more as myself (besides being sick), and am enjoying my fellow travelers significantly more.

Now, I’m just reveling in my last three days in Berlin. Coming back here felt somehow like coming home. How’s that for eerie? There’s just so very much to enjoy about this city. Especially the people. Last night, Gabriel had us over to his flat to eat a massive Greek dinner and basically have something of a party. No, not a college-kid (emphasis on the “kid”) party, more like a yuppie party. Lots of talking, laughing, and sipping wine. That kind of a thing. Anyway, during the night, I got to talking to Gabe’s good mate, whose name I can’t spell due to its Germanity, who also happened to be the very talented guitar player from our Karaoke experience. He is just a stand-up guy. He must have asked me everything about our trip, and then always followed it up with a question about how it would affect me, or what I could take away from it. Pretty cool huh? After a decent amount of the group had gone back, Gabe gets everybody’s attention and says ‘hey, my mate who owns this really cool bar came over and asked if we wanted to come over. It’s a bar that’s in a flat building next door. It’s basically a speak-easy, there’s no advertising for it, and it’s just the size of a small flat. It’s also a haven for graffiti artists. Berlin’s been known for its graffiti, but you haven’t seen any have you? Well, this is the place where the art actually is. So, what’d ya say, you guys wanna come?’

So, I spent a significant amount of last night in an underground speak-easy graffiti bar in East Berlin.

There will not be a whole lot of times in my life where I will be able to say a sentence as cool as that one.


This was all written a bit ago, updates from Prague and Four-Day are on their way...

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Monument to All Our Sins...

There is no flowing water
Save that which falls
From heavy hung heads
For no man there
Looks another in the eye.
Nuts and leaves carpet
Moss and mud
For there is no life that lives there
Even the flowers are weeds.
Nature knows where evil lain
All that remains
Is mist and shadow
And a monument to all our sins.

Written after a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ich Bin Ein...

I have to admit, I had high expectations for Berlin. I thought it was going to be really cool. I thought it would become close to my heart, like London or Paris or Boston or Denver. I thought I would see some history, thought it would be interesting.

I had no idea.

Berlin is [insert hyperbolic adjective that I actually mean here].

Let’s break down my expectations:

1. I thought it would be cool – So my idea of cool is probably rather similar to most college aged students idea of cool. It’s definitely pretty typical of Westmont’s idea of cool. Here’s the thing with Berlin: It’s as old as I am. Or, at least the Berlin that I am experiencing is my age. The wall fell 10 months after I was born. This city has been aging at the same pace as me. It’s going through the same growing pains and trends as me. So, Berlin feels like a twenty year old in city form. It has a fantastic nightlife, but it’s a renaissance-city (a la a renaissance-man, not as in Florence). Here’s an illustration of what I mean. My weekend was made up of going to an elegant Hookah bar that’s literally a block from my apartment, and then taking over a Karaoke bar with our entire group and our tour guide (yes, that’s Gabriel Fawcett for those of you who know and love him. He really is fantastic. And he can rock out.). A live band played, and you could sing in front of them. Such a cool concept. I didn’t end up on stage, but the guitar player and I became buds and we were feeding off each other’s energy. I came home with my ears ringing and my voice lost. At 3 AM. Sunday, we went to a ballet. (I love that juxtaposition) It was my first ever. I can’t say that I loved it, but I can’t say that I dislike it either. Basically, those people are all super athletic, and I was entertained. I was also falling asleep. So, there’s that… Honestly, that’s an ideal weekend for me. It just screams culture. College culture anyway.

2. I thought it would become close to my heart – I actually dug Berlin the moment I got off the coach. It was cold. Like really cold. Like two pairs of pants, a longsleeve, a sweater, a jacket, two pairs of socks, a beanie, and a scarf cold. If you know me, you know me and the Cold. Basically, we hang out. Upon getting here, I learned that the apartment I was to be staying in (I know! An apartment! Living in it has been a nice little glimpse into the future. Guess I’m destined to be a yuppie soon) is placed in the heart of East Berlin. As in, twenty years ago, it would have been state-housing. As in, there would have been 0 business in this part of the city. As in, I’m living behind the Iron Curtain. How’s that for a paradigm-shifter? ‘Course, that just made me love it more. This neighborhood, which, I might add, is smack-dab in the middle of the city, has become a bustling, hip center for young designers and artists; giving it an indescribably chic feel. Especially when you visualize the concrete, open-air prison it was just two decades ago. The most beautiful part of the location is that its also extremely close to the historic district/arts square/museum island. I didn’t realize that literally all of this was in the Soviet sector of the city. I walked all around the area today. I took back Berlin for myself tonight. And I enjoyed every step of it. I went out on my own, which was exactly what I needed, and ended up getting asked 4 different times to take out my earphones because random people thought I was German. As I stated in an earlier post, that’s a huge compliment. The walkabout helped clear my head, and it brought some revelations: About three-quarters of the way through my walk, I realized two things. First, Berlin reminds me of Denver. The market square that’s a block from my apartment could be modeled after Larimer Square. It’s not; but it could be. Secondly, as I was walking on my own under a covered museum walkway that is still riddled with World War II bullet holes from the Red Army, this thought entered my head:

This is why I’m here

3. I thought I would see some interesting history – In every part of Europe we’ve been so far, history has been real. I’m seeing what I’ve read about in texts books. But here, in Berlin, this is something different. I’m living in history. I feel like I’m swimming in it. I only have to walk ten feet outside of the apartment complex, and see the little Communist on the street lights to live history (on the street lights, the “man-crossing-the-street” symbol is a caricature of a hard working proletariat member telling you to stop or go. He’s called the Amplemann.). Of course, the city itself is just pure history. Usually, we’ve had to go to a museum or a site to be within history’s grasp. I literally walk five minutes and see the national church that was bombed out during the war and completely rebuilt. I can walk two more and be on Babelplatz. Where over 20,000 books met Fahrenheit 451. The Berlin Wall (or what’s left) is only two S-Bahn stops away. Hitler’s bunker is one more down the line. This city actually emits history. It’s eeking out of every pore. The people here fully embrace it, too. After the Wall fell, the youth lost their main canvas. Now, the city has become one. There is gorgeous graffiti everywhere. I feel like I actually can’t help but soak it all in.

It might be hard to leave here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nestling in the Netherlands...


Shall I tell you a story?

How about from a far away place?


Good. Here we go.

Bruges was very very nice again. It was a bit of a rest. Kind of. I knew things, and felt a bit more at home, but we still lived far from the city center, and the walk was always just as obnoxious. So I took advantage of the things that I knew, and some things that were new. There was a shopping festival in the city, and Bruges actually came alive. When we were first there, the city was quiet… and old. And I’m not talking about the buildings. We seemed to be the only people under 45 in the whole city. But this weekend was different. There were tons of people, the city actually felt crowded, and we were the perfect age. The festival brought a whole new element to Bruges, it made it so enjoyable. It also brought roadside stands. These stands brought Christmas gifts for my family, and the best bratwursts you’ve ever had. Mmmm… my mouth is watering right now, in a totally different country…

We left Bruges after four days. Our bus headed North-East. Destination: Amersfoort, the Netherlands. Now, you’re thinking Ok, thanks to that movie, I have at least heard of Bruges (Maybe). But Amersfoort? Why Amersfoort? For a wonderful, wonderful reason.

The bus was buzzing, even after a full travel day. Everyone was excited, and quite nervous. We were about to hear who had drafted us. Amersfoort is our homestay town. We were being adopted for four days, and we were just about to hear who had selected us. It really felt like the draft too. Kristin (former Westmonster, and trip money/lodging coordinator) was on the microphone at the front of the bus. She would read two names, then those two people would head on down the bus aisle. I swear she would say And with the Number One pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, the New York Islanders pick… and then the names. She went through about 14 people, all in pairs. Those of us who were left got more and more antsy. Then out come these words:

And our first single! This person is going to be on their own!

Welp…guess who that was? J Soon as I heard those words, I knew it was me. First impression: nerves. Then: excitement. I thought Well this will be a nice way to get some alone time. Now, I just have to meet my adoptees…

I trekked the Aisle Walk (now I know how Matt Duchene feels – yeah, I’m a hockey fan. You should be too. It’s more fun to watch then [insert the sport you like to watch here].)

I walked down the bus stairs into the cold Dutch rain and saw a taller man with a big smile on his face. From that moment, I knew I’d be good. We split a car back to the flat, and I was introduced to his wife, and her bright, spunky smile.

This is them: Arjen and Jacobien Karssenberg. They are incredibly nice. Call them up for your trip to Amersfoort, they’ll take good care of you.

We spent a lovely evening sipping coffee (the Dutch love coffee as much as me! Hooray! No more small French espresso shot-glasses. These people drink coffee like it’s water. Perfect.) and introducing ourselves. The Karssenbergs are very into gardening, reading, and board games. After talking, they showed me one of their board games, called Regenwormen (translation: Ringworms). It’s more pleasant than it sounds. A short little dice game, it was a perfect nightcap. Then I got to hop into an actual bed in an actual house.

The next day was spent almost entirely in Amsterdam. I had to depart from the Karssenbergs, and met up with the rest of the group. We took a coach into the city and hit the pavement at the speed of Usian Bolt. Two quick museums and two quick meals in 4 hours. Yikes. Then, back on the coach back towards Amersfoort. It is here that I will place a significant shoutout: Eric the coach-driver, you’re the man. He would grab the mic during drives and tell good stories about things we were seeing or even better, he’d drop jokes (my favorite: he gets on the mic and says: The red light district is exactly behind us now. I was there a few weeks ago, and I was looking around, when I saw a woman in a window. I went up to hear and asked ‘how much?’ She said ’50 Euro’ I looked at her and said ‘Hey, that’s pretty good for a double-paned window!’ Cue Rimshot). Then, as we came into the Parking Lot that would be our pickup/drop off point, Eric slams on the gas and starts pulling doughnuts. That’s right, full, 360 degree turns. In a tourist coach. I was in the back, and I swear I was at a 45 degree angle. Three times around, and then he cranked the wheel the other way, and we spun opposite. Sheesh… Eric rules.

I spent the evening at the flat with more great Karssenberg-conversations-and-coffee. Then another great night in a real bed.

Another Amster-day. Quick toured a semi-closed Red Light district. I was a bit underwhelmed. I think that I had got myself ready for something that it is not. Spent the rest of the day just around the town. It’s actually rather pleasant. Don’t let stereotypes fool you, Amsterdam can be beautiful and classy.

Returned to the flat on my own. The Karssenbergs were in the north of the Netherlands at a good friends wedding. That’s right. I had a European flat to myself. So what did I do? Only the things that any 20 year old would do.

Called home and then went to sleep.

Wow… Maybe I need to be more adventurous…

The weekend was spent completely with host families. So I was treated to an awesome driving tour of the Netherlands. Arjen is a great tour guide, and he showed me medieval Netherlands and the new land that was created less than 100 years ago. Now that's weird. The Dutch actually create land. Weird...but awesome.

The tour ended with a typical Dutch meal back at the flat and then me getting my butt kicked at Ticket to Ride. Thought I was at least kinda good at that game. Not so much.

Sunday was a slow day. A ten minute bike ride to church. I didn't realize how much I missed bike riding until hopping on one here. The service was excellent too. The sermon was well thought out and smartly delievered. Course it was in Dutch, so....

We then rode home, had lunch, and I took a wonderful two hour nap. Then, dinner, and more losing at board games. Hey, they were a ton of fun though. And they taught me how to play Settlers of Catan... or Kolonistas (I think that's spelled right).

Now... a quick last night in the heavenly bed, and off to Germany in the morning...

Friday, October 2, 2009

La Vie...Peut Etre En Rose, Peut Etre Pas...

After a quick 4 Belgian days, we headed off towards France. No, let me change that. We headed for Paris. Yes, Paris. Oh yes, please.

I got really excited.

Paris is just great. But we only have 5 days! Will I be able to do everything I want to do in 5 days? That’s not long…

Well, see here’s the thing (see I told you we use it a lot!), Paris can be done in 5 days. If you do 13-15 hour days like we did. We actually didn’t have class for the entire time we were in France, so anything education was done via tour (see: Versailles, Louvre, Normandy tours). We had about 4 hours at both Versailles and the Louvre. Then we were free to leave when we wanted. The group I spent most of my time with in Paris ended up going to what seemed to be every single Arrondissement. We hit everything. And as a result, we didn’t sleep much. I haven’t been that tired since RAing. Yikes. But! On the plus side, my French is still functional! I can still conversate! I can understand really well, and I am understood…maybe half the time J It was awesome.

It’s funny. I didn’t recognize Paris too much when I first got there. We were pretty far to the South of the city, and nowhere near where I was the first time with my family. It was kind of unnerving. But then came time to catch a ride. We went down into the Metro station, and WHAM


I recognized Paris by the smell. No, it didn’t smell like urine, or something gross like that. It just smelled like France. I can describe it to you. Maybe I should have bottled up some Metro air to present to you when you inevitably question my sanity after I get back and talk to you. Then I would open the jar and say “Here. This is France.” They say that smell is the sense best tied to memory. I guess they’re right this time.

We made it up to Sacre Coure one of the evenings we were there. What an incredible place. It’s simply gorgeous. A white beacon of a church placed just atop a hill in the north of Paris, it seems to look down at the whole city. It reminds me of the Spire of Ecthalion in Minas Tirith (like LOTR shout out to Jay V., Ty F., and Lizzie Mc.). The inside just feels like a church should to me. You can try to continue your conversation once you are into the nave and chapel, but you won’t. It literally grasps the breath from your throat and yanks it from your lungs while your eyes are pulled upwards. (Saint Chapelle does the same thing. The stained glass there looks like gems glistening from their spots in the cave wall.) Simple stunning. I sat for a while and prayed; thanking Jesus for him and his sacrifice. I almost crossed myself afterwards, but decided against it. But really, if I had done it, would anyone have said anything? If I were to commit a small act because I felt like it sealed my conversation with the Lord well, would it have been wrong? I really don’t even know the answer. Any insight?

Then, on the outside of the church, there is a wonderful juxtaposition. Sacre Coure sits gleaming in its white splendor. In front of the church, upon its very steps, there is all sorts of humanity. Music played. Street performers juggling, dancing, and entertaining. Lovers cooing. Loners drinking. Venders hawking. You can’t help but smile as you turn to see the holy enthroned just above and out-of-reach from the people below. It really makes you think.

We made it to the top of the city about 4 times. Sacre Coure. L’Arc de Triomphe. Notre-Dame. La Tour Eiffel. It was after the second trip up stairs that I thought to myself: you can only take so many pictures of the Parisian skyline. On paper, and on screen, they really all do kind of look the same. So, I put down my lens, and just stopped.

Paris really is a beautiful city.

After the blistering pace of city life, we headed up and out to Normandy. A little bit more of the familiar, and some of the unknown. We stayed in an Abbey. It was just right. The rooms are converted from the original floor plan of the Abbey, so none of them really make that much sense. The building was pretty incredible though. I am finding that I am in awe of cities and country-sides here. Usually people are city people or country people. I thought that I was a city person, but I may not be. I can’t tell.

We spent a long Thursday touring World War II sites. Talk about a world trapped in a certain time. We went to the World War I sites in Belgium, and they felt the same way. Trapped in 1918 or 1944. Going back to the sites in Normandy was… different than I thought. They felt eerily similar. Yet not the same at all. I could tell that I was different more than the sites changing. My questioning of pride, patriotism, and citizenship has definitely shaped the way I perceive things. And I got a bit said about that. I certainly came away from the sites feeling proud of my country, and was unbelievably grateful for the sacrifices, but it took more time to get me there than I would have liked. That was disappointing.

Now…we’re back to Bruges. Time to wind down again. Time to settle. Back to the known. Back to things familiar.

When In Bruges...



Wait…we’re staying in Bruges, Belgium?

Alright. What the heck. Give it a whirl, eh?

See, here’s the thing (<- this has become the official Europe Semester phrase). Bruges is really cool. It’s a town. Not quite a city, but not that small either. I’m not sure that this town has recognized it’s size yet. There is a massive, and I mean massive town square in the center of town. However, it is never filled. In fact, there are always too few people there. It’s strange. It always feels a little haunted…A little empty.

The town itself is an interesting mix. I think that most of Belgian culture is this way. An odd combination of Flemish, French, and plain European vibes emanate from the people. Bruges is in the Flemish speaking section of Belgium, so my French did absolutely 0 good. But, most everyone speaks English, and recognizes me to be an American, so I get addressed in English almost always. Take, for instance, the competing fry stands under the Belfry. I got to the front of the line and the guy looks at me and says “What do ya want?”. Right after serving a German couple, and before serving some British tourists. Kind of incredible, isn’t it? So were the fries. There’s something strange about Belgium. The people seem to live on a combination of French fries, chocolate, waffles, and beer; and yet, they are surprisingly healthy. Those people know hot to live eh?

They’re pretty darn nice too. On our last day there (well, until we got back today that is. Kinda confusing, I know. We went Bruges > Paris > Normandy >Bruges), my friend Joy and I sat on a bench looking at the river because we had missed the tourist boat ride that the rest of our group got on. We were talking when the 50-something-year-old woman sitting on the bench behind us interrupted. “Excuse me? You are from America yes?” We both turned and Joy engaged her. They ended up talking for about 15 minutes before the woman asked If we would join her for a drink. She ended up buying a Belgian beer for Joy, myself, and Corey. Just because we agreed to talk to her for what turned out to be about an hour and a half. I think I like the Belgians J

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ireland; Four More Attempts

Hmm...shall we get into the real depths of the Emerald Isle?
Can I just reiterate how much I love that place.

First of all, we stayed in the Shire. No exaggeration. The Shire. It was incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and reveling in the green. It was such a stark contrast from the yellows, browns, and blacks that I have become accustomed to, sad as that thought is. We went shopping at a massive grocery store before we got to the Cottages and I bought as authentically as I could for the week. Let's just say that there is nothing like sitting on an ancient, creaky, wooden picnic table watching sheep on the side of the Mourne Mountains while slowly munching sausage, cheese, eggs, and soda bread, washed down with some Irish Breakfast tea.
It's easy to see God in moments like that. He must enjoy the Irish countryside as much as I did, because he seemed present everywhere. Especially at the monastery we had class at. The place was phenomenally beautiful. One of the only buildings I've ever seen and thought Ah! Contemporary architecture can be just as beautiful as architecture of old.


I went to a service there. (Yes, this is skipping a bit, but that's fine) It was lead collectively by the six monks who live at the Monastery. One would lead in the hymns, one had a sermon, one the reading of the Gospel. Each man demanded respect in his own unique way, and yet they worked together to make an enriching and powerful service. Think of it like a tapestry. The small pictures and designs can be intricate and beautiful, but the entire thing is what is breath-taking and majestic.

So, clearly, God lived in Rostrever. He was apparent everywhere, but there were places he seemed very far from.

We spent a day touring Belfast. Mainly in a bus, which took a bit away from the experience, but not much. I knew some of the history of the Troubles. I understood the division (mostly), and had heard of the murals and the violence. Really, I knew nothing. Everything I thought I knew was shot to hell when I stood under the Union Jack looking across the street to buildings covered in Green and Orange. When you stare face to face with a "peace wall" that has the names Israel, Palestine, Nicosia, and Berlin carved into it as its "sister places".

That will haunt you.

So will the murals. There are plenty of them. Around every street corner it seems. It's so strange to see something that honors men in black hoods with Kalashnikovs. It's even weirder to see that mural painted above a grocery store. And then to think that the very people the wore the masks because of live 2 blocks away, and are honored by their own loyal friends just the same.

Now, on top of all of that, do it in the name of religion.

But really, its not about the religion. Protestantism and Catholicism don't really have anything to do with it. It's all about politics.

There is some redemption in Belfast, though. There are glimmers of hope. The city itself is improving (read: rebuilding), and is on its economic feet. The Troubles have technically been over since 1998, and this is most apparent in the citizens. I had heard that the "new" generation (my generation) was trying to avoid the troubles. Trying to distance themselves from it all. I actually had an encounter that displayed this pretty well:

I was walking alone through the Belfast airport waiting for our flight out to Amsterdam (Yup, I jumped around again. This is not in chronological order at all. Think of it as a Tarintino movie). I was heading towards the airport coffeeshop (read previous posts to find out how much I enjoy these two things put together). A rather attractive Irish lass caught my attention by asking if I was interested in learning about the Bank of Ireland. I stumbled with my words at first. Originally, I was quite excited that a local thought that I was Irish, and then I realized that I was going to have to tell her I was from the States, and thus, I needed to have no accent (I pick them up extremely easily. Especially inflection. Especially when talking to locals. So this was rather difficult to do). So, I told her and her co-worker (who was later revealed to be her mother) that I couldn't exactly join the Bank of Ireland, and yada yada yada. We got to talking, mainly because people really want to know where you are from in the States if you talk with them. They didn't know Colorado, and the conversation turned into me trying to explain the difference between "mountain people" and "hillbillies". Oye. (there's a point to this, I swear). Then I was asked about why I was in Ireland (to study), if I had any Irish family (yes, to which I was told "oh yeah, all you Americans do"), and what I had seen in Belfast. At this point the mom left the kiosk we were talking at (relevant, I swear). The girl asked if I had seen "the murals, and all that stuff". I tried to be as polite and politically correct about it and just said yes, that I had. And that was it. She said something like "cool", and the conversation went on. A bit later, her mom returned, and proceeded to ask me the same question. Once again, I tried to be polite: "Yeah, we saw them on our tour".

"Well, which ones did you prefer? The Green ones, or the Red, White, and Blue ones?"

I froze. There was no real way to answer this question properly. I told her that I liked the Green ones better. I did this half trying to gauge which she would prefer herself, and half being honest (politically, I'm a bit more of a nationalist. I love Ireland so much I think it should just be its own entity completely. However, I understand the nationalistic point-of-view and its political necessity all the same. But I digress...). I chose wrong. She upturned her face and asked me why. I then realized I needed to save myself from looking like a stupid, knows-nothing-about-what-actually-happens-here American, and say something other than "I like those colors better", and I still hadn't quite caught her affiliation yet. So, naturally, I said something that made me look like a stupid, doesn't-know-anything-that-actually-happens-here American. I opened my mouth and out came "Well, the Green ones we saw were less violent than the Red, White, and Blue ones".

I got a Northern Irish death glare. Do yourself a favor and never, ever get one of these. She said "On no! That's totally backwards. Those Greens ones are so much worse." Welp. Nice going. Foot so far into mouth. She leaned in close and whispered "The Red, White, and Blue ones. Remember that." Then left. Yikes. I felt awful. I ended up apologizing later to her daughter "if I had said anything too offensive, or come across as an uninformed American", she assured me that everything was fine. I ended up seeing the mom later, and she was perfectly nice again (It was only later that I realized that I should have said that I liked the Greens better cause I am a fan of Celtic. That would have saved me some trouble).

Later, I realized that these two had perfectly epitomized the Troubles. The older generation not only cared about it enough, but she went out of her way to find out what I thought about it, and then proceeded to tell me how wrong I was. However, when it came to working, she pushed my uninformed opinion out of the way and was more than cordial again. The new generation didn't care about it at all. She just asked if I had seen the murals and then moved on. It's the classic "yeah, that's part of our past" mindset. It's incredible what you can glean from a simple airort conversation.

The Irish are a fascinating people.

Speaking of which (I promise this is almost over. éire just has a lot of good stories to offer.), let me flesh out Ned and the Five Attempts. The day before we went to Belfast, we traveled down to the Republic (see. Tarintino.). I was so excited. Dublin. Dublin! Giddy is an appropriate word. We go there and toured Kilmainham jail. Which is fascinating. You may recognize it from various U2 music videos or recordings, it has incredible acoustics. Then, we were on our own for the rest of the day.

Naturally, five of the guys headed quick for the Guinness Stockhouse. It was a really decent walk from where we were, which was perfect, because we got to see a good chunk of Dublin in a short amount of time. We went from the university area, to a shopping square, to churches, and finally to a rather depressed neighborhood before we reached the Stockhouse. I look back on this now as such a blessing, because most people only stayed around the shopping district. Then, the factory was lovely. Just a very well done tourist attraction. Top it off (literally and metaphorically) with the best view in Dublin. The top floor is called the Gravity Bar, where you can claim your "free" (with admission) pint straight from the brewery. 8 minutes from brew to glass.

So, take quite possibly the best beer you will ever have. Add four friends who are loving every second as much as you. Then finish with a 360 degree view of the town you've wanted to see your whole life. That, right there, is life.

Back to the Irish people. After the tour, we headed to a pub on the way back to the bus. We were treated exceptionally well. The owner of the bar (the previously mentioned Ned) sat us himself, asked us where we were from, and actually cared to listen to what we had to say. He took our orders, and had a witty, Irish quip for everything we said. Perfect. We, naturally, ordered Guinness with our meal. Ned then told us of how he had worked for the company for forty years before opening the pub we were then sitting at. Clearly the man knew his Guinness (I asked him if it comes straight from the factory. His reply: "Rolled it here meself this marnin'!" There's Irish humor for you). He taught us how to properly drink a Guinness. The first "attempt" as he called them, sips to us non-Irish, has to be "past the Harp". On Guinness pint glasses there is a logo with a harp right above it. According to Ned, your first sip should make it past that picture. Sip is an improper word really, gulp is probably more accurate. "You should feel it back there in the back of your throat". We all did. Then he said, "Alright lads, so if you wan' ta drink a Guinness properly, ya get 5 attempts total. That was the first." I thought maybe he was just trying to push more beer on us for profit, but when asked, he preserved that it was just the way the Irish do it. I gotta hand it to Ned, it really does make the Guinness better. Trusting an Irishman when it comes to alcohol is probably smart (or really stupid depending on the circumstances).

Sheesh...I am not succinct. 'Course, there was a lot to say about Ireland. I didn't even mention Tommy Sands (the bard of peace. He played a full three hours in my cottage. His daughter danced jigs. They played traditional songs, I sang along. It was heavenly. Just amazing.) There was a ton learned, and other things that I thought I knew that were shaken up. One thing I do know for sure though:

I'm going back. :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Wired again. Plugged in again. Online, and in the know.
Goodness...it's a strange experience to not know what the world is up to without you.
My only source of information for the past week was a Financial times....yesterday.
It was awesome.

I spent the last week in Ireland. The land of my dreams.
I loved every minute.
Quick rundown of events now, real update later.
Tuesday - 15.9
Flew from London to Belfast. Plane was cancelled so I spent most of the day in the airport. Nothing new for me. Got some good slow down time that set the pace for what was to come. Bought a new book. Life of Pi. Loving it so far. Got to Rostrever late at night.
Wednesday - 16.9
Took in surroundings. We lived in small cottages (reminiscent of small ski cabins). I took photos and enjoyed the rolling hills of the island. (Photos are up with locations tagged) Had class in local monastery. Went into the town during the afternoon, experienced a true Irish country pub. Listened to peer-made songs and poetry at night.
Thursday - 17.9
Same routine as day before. Except! Famous Irish singer/songwriter Tommy Sands came and played only for us. In my cottage. Thing of absolute beauty. Sung loudly to the tunes I knew :)
Friday - 18.9
Excursion to the Republic. Rostrever is located in Northern Ireland, and this was our only day in the actual Republic. I soaked it all in. Visited ruins and a tomb supposedly older than the Pyramids (take that Egypt...). Toured a Dublin jail. Broke off of the main group and headed to the Guinness factory with four other lads. Had an absolute blast. Got the best view in all of Dublin. Experienced a Dublin pub, courtesy of the pub owner (he taught us how to properly drink a Guinness). Returned to Rostrever.
Saturday - 20.9
Toured Belfast. Saw a war-torn city. Experienced destructive nationalism. Saw where I would align myself politically, socially, religiously, and footballishly.... Let the horror of the Troubles sink in. Prayed for Ireland. A lot. Landed on the coast. Stepped deep into the Irish Sea. Returned to the cottages. Celebrated a friends birthday (finally figured our just how to properly make a Carbomb ;).
Sunday - 21.9
Went to church at the Benedictine Catholic Monastery up the road. Thought about that service the rest of the day.
Monday - 22.9
Packed up. Headed to Amsterdam.

That was but a taste. The first gulp of the Beautiful Black. According to Ned (our Irish pub-owner [if you're ever in Dublin, go see Ned at the Pale. He'll treat you right]), that's all the way down past the harp on the pint glass. The next five attempts will come soon :)


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Please Just Take These Photos From My Hand...

Based upon the wise council of a friend, relative, and ally ;) I have put up all of my photos online! I am rebelling against the typical Facebook albums because I really don't do a lot of photos of people. But there are some cool things to see in there, I promise.

If you are looking at the albums, try using the Album Map feature. I tried to locate every picture as close to where it really is as I could. Ahh...technology.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Like it in the City When the Air is Thick and Opaque...

  1. Back in London.

    Yes. Please.

    Love this town. Love it's feel.

    Just dig it.

    But I've said that already. Perhaps I should tell some tales why...
    1. Locals are just great - There are quick-food-pick-up stores here, Pret A Manger. They're kinda a cool concept. Tons of pre-made, but fresh sandwiches and the like, just waiting for you to give them a home. You would like these places. There is one right by our classroom here in Holborn. One of the baristas is a really cool woman from Argentina. Her name is Barbara, very Spanish sounding. We started talking because of my accent (how's that for a paradigm shifter, eh?), and she likes Colorado a lot. We talked for probably ten minutes that day. Two weeks ago. I still get all of my coffee drinks for free there. Guess it pays off to go out on a limb and talk to a complete stranger. And with my rate of coffee consumption, it really pays off. See? Locals are just great.
    2. Excellent Theater - Brits love plays. Not musicals necessarily, but plays. Straight up British plays. We've been to three so far. Tom Stoppard's Arcadia was our first, and it skyrocketed itself to the place of my favorite play ever. A comrade likened it to a theatrical Gilmore Girls... Quick paced, lightning wit, heavy cultural referencing, but with a bit of Quantum Physics and Philosophy thrown in there. I've since seen two different versions of Shakespeare's As You Like It. It's hysterical. I have a new appreciation for the bard. Go see something at the Globe. And do it as a groundling, just stand for the whole thing. It makes you truly appreciate theater.
    3. Pubs - Really, that's enough said. I feel as though I was engineered to enjoy a pub. They have wonderful ambiance. Dark(er) lighting, with bold, solid colours and wood finishes. Then, they take this great ambiance, they open up the windows and doors, and they promote you taking their product (more on this later), outside! To enjoy in fresh air. How foreign is that? Then, they put on British music (which just. plain. rules. Go listen to: Franz Ferdinand, Adele, the Smiths, and Snow Patrol. Right now. This can wait.), BUT! they play it soft enough for you to have an engaging conversation. In fact, they promote conversation. Every person in a pub is talking. No one is looking around, scoping people out, or somewhere-else-in-their-mind. They're all right there, enjoying each other's company. It just forces you to have a good conversation. Or to make one with your local neighbor, who's bound to be just great (see above).
    Pictures of London are to come...


From rest immediately back to fervor.

On our way back to London, we stopped in the town of Coventry. Don't worry, I'd never heard of it either. We had a bit of an introduction by the profs as we wound our way into the town. It was bombed out during the Blitz in '41. And they took us specifically to the Coventry Cathedral. I wasn't expecting a ton (mostly because I hadn't been paying attention during the intro-lecture on the way in). We marched upon the Cathedral en masse, and I relized it might be a good place for pictures. Then we crossed the threshold, and I beheld something so much more.

Notice anything interesting about this photo? There's no roof on the church. It's been blown off for over 60 years. Here's a better look:

I passed through that threshold and was hit by an overwhelming force of reverence for this place and these people. This church was utterly destroyed. I mean dismantled. There was little left. Walls. Feet of pillars. Part of the alter. Window-frames. Some with glass still in them.


Coventry is now called the City of Reconciliation. The citizens vowed to pursue reconciliation rather than revenge. They began their quest with the people of Dresden, Germany. Dresden was leveled by the British, mainly in revenge for Coventry. And then the people, the actual lifeblood of the city, they reached out their hands and helped pick their "enemies" off the ground.

I'm not sure how to express how I feel about this, but really, this is quite the example of God. This is how humanity should act.

Kinda gives you chills, eh?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And Then... Rest.

I've spent the last few days in Birmingham, England. But not really in Birmingham (explanation later). If you don't know, B'ham, as it's called on highway street-signs, is a large industrial town North-West of London. It's a big town, and it feels a lot like Chicago. My friend, and current roommate, Sam, described it as concrete. Which is pretty accurate. Not only is there a ton of the stuff around, but for some reason Birmingham just feels concrete. Some big cities can feel warm, inviting, filled with reds, burgundies, mustards, neons, and welcoming, London is definitely this way. I think that may be my favorite city in the world. There's just something about it. Birmingham, on the other hand, is blue-white, reflective, cold, rigid, rutty, and bristly. I did not quite get comfortable there.

Although, we did stumble upon a market; this very multi-cultural, cheap, almost-flea-market area. I enjoyed that quite a bit. I found a Union Jack zippo, which is perfect for my incessant need to fiddle. I just flip it around, and open, and closed, and over and over; kinda like Pyro from X2. Without the teenage angst.

But! Most of our time has not been in the city. Quite contrarily, it has been in a small Quaker community just outside of town. Woodbrooke's population is small, and its median age dropped significantly when we arrived. It's kind of like a large bed-n-breakfast. Complete with a gorgeous garden in the back, a lake with boats, an unlimited supply of hot tea, homemade meals, and rain. Lots of rain. I love the rain. But it's keeping me from taking many pictures, so there may not be a very good feel for Birmingham on here.

This place has been so needed. There's just an overwhelming sense of peace. You will slow down and reconcile yourself with your surroundings here. There is no choice, it just happens. Which is so nice. And needed. I think I'll be ready to tackle 10 more days of London after this. I'm actually really excited about going back. Also, random, I have an excellent sense of direction in the city. How bizarre.

Anyway, more important things. Like God. It's quite difficult not to recognize Him here. It's not a human sense of peace that floods you while you're here. ' Course, the professors have set up this place to promote focus on God as well. We had the Theological Philosopher John Hick come speak to us a few days ago. It was an...interesting talk. His position is one that transcends most traditional religions and finds the truth (to live for, and love God, and live a compassionate life of selflessness) of the Ultimate Reality (God) is drafted in all the actual religions of the world. As a result, one does not have to follow the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus to reach what humans are meant to do by becoming as close to the Ultimate Reality as possible (salvation and heaven). He is brilliant, and I found myself agreeing a lot with his points. He did an excellent job pointing out inconsistencies and false pretenses among our thinking, which was needed. However, I noticed how much of the class' responses were apologetic, on-the-offensive, "this is what the Bible says...", which was quite disappointing.

I think that there is a lot to Hick's point of view. It is impossible for us to judge just who among us will end up with God after this life, God reveals His truth in ways that are catered to our own understanding (so, His love can be found in places that one might not expect it to be in), and we should recognize the incredible achievements of anyone, not matter their religion. However, after fleshing things out with one of my professors (who is a former student of Hick's), I can see where I differ from him. I still think that Jesus is the incarnation of God who died for all our sins, and should be regarded and worshipped as such. And I think that ultimately, it is up to God to decide who will be with him at the end, not for us to guess.

God is also revealing himself through his own words (hmm...imagine that). The Chaplains are reading through the book of Isaiah, which has so far been incredible. It's amazing what deep and mind-blowing truths were revealed to a relatively insignificant group of settled wanderers in ancient Palestine ;) I'm so excited to continue this practice and to continue to find God in a place that I haven't before.

Oye... I need to learn conciseness...