Thursday, 3 December 2009

Bruges, Belgium and Slius, Holland

After Paris Nicole, Andy, Mysha and I decided to travel to Bruges. The trip was decided a little bit on a whim but mainly because my father and Mysha's grandfather had served their missions in Holland and this part of the world. We had no real plans once we got to Bruges so only full day that we had there we woke up and decided to bike the 19 km to Holland for lunch and then bike back.

It was so amazing! After biking through Spain, Belgium, and Holland I think biking is the way to see Europe. I probably would not recommend it in a major metropolitan such as Paris or London but through the countryside and even in Barcelona biking was the way to travel. We biked along canals the entire trip seeing beautiful countryside full of windmills. We ate lunch in Holland and walked around Slius and was a little surprised by the promiscuous shops. We left to return to Bruges but on the way back had to fight wind and drizzling rain so we came up with games to occupy our time (we also had to fight the build up of lactic acid in our legs). We stopped only to take a brief break to frolick in Flander's fields - great quality fun.

When we got back into Bruges we rode around the town stopping in the little shops and visiting the Christmas markets. I think that this part of Europe does the Christmas season the best I have ever seen. I loved learning from our favorite chocolatier the stories and traditions of Santa Claus who comes on the night of December 5th and leaves toys in the good children's clogs. I just love the traditions and cultures of this area! The trip only left me with two regrets - I wish we had spent more time and I wish that I could have experienced this trip with my Dad. The people were also all very friendly and accomodating for our lack of speaking Dutch.


I will attempt to break from tradition and not include any pictures of La Tour Eiffel - I do not know why, I just feel like being different. Maybe it is because while La Tour Eiffel is beautiful I find other sites in Paris more inspiring.

Paris highlights: having the first question asked of me in French was "ou est le Moulin Rouge?", being the authority of the French language and culture, meeting up with a high school friend and grabbing dinner baguettes from a little boulangerie and eating along the Seine watching the night boat tours and catching up, walking from the Louvre to La Tour Eiffel by myself at night, eating copious amounts of crepes, figuring out that I can navigate by myself in Paris, getting scolded in French by an angry French waitress at the family classic "steak and frites", and just enjoying life. After the Paris visit I was a little sad that I had not chosen to do the Paris Study Abroad (I still love London) as it was invigorating to use my French. But then I remembered that I would be living in the French house next semester so I will get my French fix.

I think the most inspiring image to me was the view of the bridge in the Latin Quarter. I could have sat there for hours. There is something I love about rivers - the Thames and the Seine will always enthrall me no matter how many times I have seen it. I loved going up all the stairs at le Sacre Coeur and la Notre Dame seeing the different views of Paris. Oh man my suppressed francophile definitely came out during this Paris trip. I have not been back to France since my Junior year of high school when I did a French exchange program and I did not even realize how much I had missed it.

Unfortunately I had to rush through the Louvre to meet my friend and all the while I was trying to justify it by saying that I had already been in my life and I will go again but in all honesty I could not suppress the feeling that I was betraying art and that I would probably not have another opportunity where I would be currently studying the art. Oh well! At least I was able to appreciate le Musee D'Orsay, in my mind that is the far superior museum of the two so it was okay.


Haggis! (Not the form I ate it in)

Not the best timing to make a Scotland trip but definitely worth the subsequent sleepless nights. We took the Night bus on Thursday night after an American Thanksgiving. The night bus is nothing like Harry Potter but for the crazy driving. We unfortunately came late and were given the seats next to the loo and you know the smell is bad that we rejoiced when a man who had just smoked came and sat near us and covered the smell somewhat. After a night of overheating and bad smells we arrived in Edinburgh. Luckily our awesome youth hostel (located right at the base of Edinburgh Castle and on top of the royal mile) let us crash for an hour or so.

So general thoughts on Edinburgh: a lot of men really do wear kilts and in all different circumstances and men in all different stages of their life. I was a little surprised. In fact every stereotype that I had of Edinburgh and what I expected happened. We happened to be there during the St. Andrew festival and saw cars that demonstrated the golf history of Scotland. We saw bagpipers galore and in the carnivalesque style we saw three men dressed up as old ladies sitting ontop of segways dancing. Pretty crazy but so fun. I even tried the infamous haggis and while it was not as bad as I expected I do not think I will ever be trying that again.

I felt most connected to the Scottish culture when I was hiking Arthur's Seat and had the opportunity to reflect on Orson Hyde's presence as well as the stories and legends of King Arthur. As we hiked up we hiked further and further into the fog and clouds but in random patches of the hill there would be a break and all clear around us but in the distance on every side it was foggy. The view was beautiful but I think the best part was the hike up and hanging out at the top. We took Friederich pictures - our tribute to the great painting "Wanderer Above the Sea Fog".

Overall great trip. We also ate at many cafes sampling some delicious hot chocolate and my favorite meal was at the cafe that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. I loved that while outside they paid tribute to the novels but inside life moved on. It seemed as if the decorations were exactly the same as they had been for several years and the spirit of the place had not changed. I love that they were not trying to exploit and gain profit from the Harry Potter franchise. So go Elephant House! Loved Scotland, definitely could have spent more time there.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

November 11

Today was Armistice Day to commemorate and remember those who have given their lives in past wars. At 11 o'clock the whole country had a two minute moment of silence. We were at Hampton Court and everything was shut down and everyone gathered in the courtyard and together we remembered those who gave their lives for liberty and the freedom of many nations. I realized as I stood there and reflected, two minutes is really not that long of time but in America we only do a one minute moment of silence. I do not think that this fully does justice for the occasions.

What is it with America and our failure to remember history? Last September 11th I remember that the Jerusalem Center students had to be reminded by our Israeli Hebrew professor to take a minute and think of those who lost their lives. In High school I always thought Veteran's Day was important but it was not until the spirit of Great Britain was shown to me, being displayed through poppies, that I felt guilty for my lack of enthusiasm and remembrance. For those who are not aware, poppies are Great Britain's national symbol for the fallen veterans and for any amount of a donation you can get a poppy pin. For the whole first part of the month of November and even in October you could see poppies all around London and Great Britain. This gesture is quite touching when you see the great unifying affect it has on the people of England. I just wanted to express my appreciation for those who have died for our freedoms and to say that I am proud to be wearing a poppy today.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Similarities Betwixt England and New England

  • Remembrance of a certain Tea Party
  • The colorful doors on houses
  • Our unique way of saying names
  • Peabody, Leicester, Worcester, et cetera
  • Beautiful overgrown cemeteries with gravestones dating to the 1700s
  • A great history of emigration and immigration
  • Liverpool as a religious port of significance, the Mayflower as a vessel for my ancestors
  • A period of darker history in connection with witch trials
  • Lancaster, England and Salem, Massachusetts
  • The industry and exploitation of mill workers and their importance in economy
  • Leaves changing colors so brilliantly in Autumn and the general feeling of Fall
  • And so on…

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Churches of Spain

Sagrada Familia

This is the craziest church I have seen. Started in 1882 it has been in progress for 127 years and is not even projected to be completed until 2026. Every angle of the Church seems to be in a different style. There is the more modern currently being built style that seems completely out of place with even different color building materials, the classic Cathedral gothic style, a more grotto look, and more. It was interesting to walk around and see the salamanders and frogs in the place of gargoyles on one side.

Example of the crazy facade

Constant Construction

Esglesia Sant Pere de les Puel.les

This small church had a much warmer feel than grand Cathedrals which I really appreciated. The smell of incense while present was a duller candle smell which was also a nice change. One thing that I thought was interesting was that there were timelines along the walls which hit the highlights of world events - political, social, et cetera - by Pope. It is a Catholic Church but very sedate and minimalistic. There was a large metal statue of Peter in the center of the church with smaller frescos of Christ on either side which I thought was interesting.

The Church of the San Francis of Sales

This was a gothic style Catholic church that we wandered into. Although the gothic style architecture was similar to the gothic style of England, the church was quite different. Because there was no great political movement to destroy original decoration the original ornamentation was there and very grand. There was a lot of ornate tiling on the floor and the whole church was decorated with geometric patterns (the Muslim moor influence?). There was a fresco'd angel which was portrayed very fairy-like and palm trees were present behind Jesus. The music in the church was very Spanish and the whole church felt very Mediterranean.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The War Cabinet Rooms and the Churchill Museum

So I had been excited about this museum even since before I came to London because Jen Thomas had recommended it as one of her favourite things. The War Cabinet Rooms was the area underneath the City of London that during WWII controlled basically the Prime Minister’s cabinet as well as most of the government and war effort headquarters. I loved hearing the stories of Churchill butting heads with his cabinet but still respecting their opinions and not running a dictatorship.

My favourite area was the loo that always said “occupied” and people just believed that it was a special loo for the Prime Minister but rather it was a secret telephone room. Then we went to the Churchill Museum and I learned all sorts of interesting things about Winston Churchill that I had never known. It was a very multimedia exhibit and I enjoyed learning more about the man behind all those powerful and great words. Definitely gave me a desire to read a biography on him.