Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Hello!!! It has been a crazy few weeks, with lots and lots of travel and even more school work.
I was able to meet up with an international church plant here in Maastricht for a Friday night bible study and had a wonderful time. There were people from everywhere - Mexico, America, Holland, Germany, China, Ghana, and more. It was great to be with other Christians of all ages and nationalities, and was extremely encouraging. I got to be good friends with one girl in particular from Germany, and we decided to go the next day to chop off all our blonde hair :) I spent that whole weekend here in Maastricht just to see some more of this city, and I'm really glad I did. It has a lot to offer, and it was beautiful weather.
The weeks here really fly by -- I have about 3 days of class and then I'm off on my next travel adventure! My classes have been a lot more demanding these past couple weeks, with lots of books to read and papers to write. It's easy to forget why I'm actually here! Time to buckle down and work...
Two weekends ago a large group of us decided to do a Blind Booking flight for our weekend... A local airline has cheap round-trip tickets, but there's a catch -- they don't tell you where you're flying until after you've purchased it. They can go all over the place -- Athens, Barcelona, Vienna, London... So, of course I got about the most random city possible -- Leipzig, Germany?! My group was a little disappointed about it, but we packed up for a night's stay in the train station in order to fly out really early from Cologne that Thursday. We ended up having a great time! Turns out Leipzig is where Bach lived and worked and that weekend happened to be BachFest. Not exactly the most wild crowd, but there were street musicians everywhere and we were able to see an orchestra performing some great classical musical. Throw in a visit to the zoo, some war memorials and some exciting World Cup games, and you have a great weekend!The next weekend I went to Dusseldorf, Germany with Mike and Sam. Sam's parents have some long-time family friends from this city who invited us to come stay with their family for a weekend. This turned out to be one of my favorite trips of the summer. The opportunity to spend time with a German family (the couple has twin 12 year-old boys) is one that I'm so thankful to have had. This was such a neat family, and they took such good care of us. We went out for great meals, spent the day in the countryside viewing castles and riding chairlifts, and went to the Rhine for a picnic one night for dinner. We ended the weekend by attending a private party of some of their friends to watch the game between Germany and England -- so fun to watch!! I'm sure it would have been an entirely different experience had Germany lost, so we were excited for a win :) I really enjoyed their boys, Moritz and Nikolas. They were so fun, had a ton of energy, and taught me lots of useless German expressions. They had me say "I'm as pretty as a horse's nose" -- I'm pretty sure that wasn't a compliment, but it made us all laugh!
I'm back at school now working on a lot of my assignments. I've made good progress there in order to be free for my weekend in PARIS!!! We leave tomorrow until Sunday and I'm so excited! My good friend Leah's birthday is on Saturday, so we are going to celebrate there, maybe under the Eiffel Tower :) We have a great hotel close by, and already are planning on getting to all the museums and must-see sights. Should be an awesome time -- I promise to take lots of pictures!
Hope everyone is doing well :) I'm always happy to get emails from you guys, so don't hesitate! Au revoir!!!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I just got back last night from a wonderful 5 days with the whole group. In 5 days and 4 nights, we were in 8 different countries! Only in Europe, I guess... We started every morning pretty early to move to the next activity, and spent over 30 hours in all in the bus. Could have done without that much drive time, but it was well worth it to visit all the places we did.
We started out with a Rhine Cruise in Boppard, Germany. It was a very relaxing and beautiful tour of a different part of Germany, and we were able to see old castles everywhere! The weather was perfect and got a little bit of sun, too. After the cruise, we drove to Wurzburg to see the old Residenz Palace. It is a fantastically restored, Baroque castle where the prince-bishops of Wurzburg lived starting in the early 18th century.
That night we drove to Rothenburg (Aunt Cathy, you were right -- a Christmas town!). The city still is nested within its medieval city walls, which provide a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. All of the places we saw were even more beautiful because of how green everything is -- springtime is great! We wrapped up our brief stay in Rothenburg with a tour of the Criminal Museum.
The next day we visited the Neuschwanstein castle in Hohenschwangau, Germany. This is the castle after which the Disneyworld castle is designed. Not exactly an authentic style, but it was still beautiful, nezzled up in the mountains. We spent the night in Bregenz, Austria, and had a yummy meal on Lake Constance and hung out at a New Orleans festival - ha! The Austrians love New Orleans, apparently...
My favorite part of the trip was the 2 days we spend in Switzerland. We took a trolley to the top of a mountain on Lake Lucerne and ate lunch. It was the most beautiful scene I've ever seen! The lake water was clear and blue, the sun was shining, the grass was green and there was still snow on the very peaks. I think I'll try to get back there again. We drove that night to Lake Geneva, where we toured Chillon Castle, and jumped in the lake! It was freezing,but so much fun. I think our directors were a little embarrassed, but we provided entertainment for all the people eating right by the dock :) The next day we took a cruise around the lake and I took a ton of pictures.
Our last stops of the trip were a couple of the war memorials. We stopped in Verdun to see the memorials and the battlefields from the awful battle there in WWI. You can still see the trenches and where vegetation does not grow well because of all the schrapnel embedded in the soil. It is known as the most futile battle in world history, with over 1 million casualties and no change in the positions of either army. We also visited Bastogne to see the memorial of the Battle of the Bulge.All of us in the group had a blast on the trip. We are starting to get to know each other really well, and all have a lot of fun with each other, as well as with our directors. It was great to be able to see fun places, beautiful places, and historical places all in just a few days.
I could have spent a week in each place, but it was a great brief tour of all of them.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
So, the first few weeks of being in a foreign country are referred to as the "honeymoon phase." If this is true, then I think that I have officially had my first major fight, and am still locked in the bathroom waiting for an apology.
It started two days ago when I decided to go shopping by myself down at the town square. The thing that I have been most looking forward to buying in Europe is a new pair of jeans. Why? Lindsay came back two summers ago from Europe looking super cool in hers, so of course I have to get some of my own! So, I decide that Monday afternoon would be a great time to go shopping. I got out of class at 1 o'clock, and thought that the square would be pretty empty on a Monday afternoon. This was definitely NOT the case. Apparently no one in Maastricht works in the afternoon, because all 120,000 must have been in the same mall area downtown. I worked my way through the crowds, smiling and nodding at things said to me in Dutch, which I, of course, don't understand at all.
I quickly ducked into the first jeans store that I passed. Finally I can look at some jeans! I found a few pairs I liked, but then realized something -- I have no idea what size I wear in the Euro sizing chart. Great... As if jean shopping isn't painful enough knowing what size you wear! So, I guessed at what size I am. I grabbed a couple pairs and went to try them on. And, of course, I guessed WAY wrong. So I proceeded to ask the sales associate for a bigger size, then a bigger one, then a bigger one... until I was so frustrated that I had to leave the store and start over. Europe was blamed for that one.
My little run-ins with European culture have added up over the past couple days. There's the weird breakfast (salami is not a breakfast meat no matter what anyone says), the inability to watch the 24 season finale (American internet streams aren't allowed), the 4.5 hour Dutch Art History class (check out Jan van Eyck, he's great)... Just a bunch of minor differences that add up to frustration.
But, there's hope! Apparently the next phase in the "Phases of Culture Shock" is the "negotiation phase." I guess that Europe and I will have to sit down and decide which things are going to cause problems, and which ones we can let slide. Hopefully then we can move forward in our relationship and get past this first fight. I'll let you know how negotiations go!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Amsterdam, Prague, and Berlin
We just finished our long week of traveling around! Originally we planned to visit Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna and Salzburg, but we realized that the train ride back to Maastricht would be too long if we went that far south. Instead we headed back in Maastricht's direction and after spending 2 days in Amsterdam and 2 in Prague, we stayed in Berlin for 2 days. It was a great trip, and we did so much more than you would care to read about :)
Amsterdam is such a beautiful city! We had great weather on both days and were able to walk all over, as well as ride the city's really convenient tram system. We visited the Van Gogh museum, toured some gardens, walked around a flower market, and visited the Anne Frank House. The House was definitely the highlight of my time in Amsterdam. You can walk all through the old business building and Secret Annex, and original wall-hangings that Anne glued on the walls are still there. Touring the house was the most powerful exposure to the Frank's story that I've had; it made the book and play really hit home. There is a video of her father, Otto Frank, talking about his first reactions to reading her diary. He said that he thought that he had a very close relationship with Anne, but never realized the depth of her thoughts during their time in the Annex. He said that it made him wonder how well any parent really understands how their kids are feeling... I thought that was really interesting.
We took the overnight train from Amsterdam to Prague that night and got there at about 11 in the morning. We had a great hostel right in the center of town, so we were able to walk to all of the places we wanted to see. Kudos to Sam for finding us a great place! While we were there, we toured the castle district, saw many old Bohemian churches and buildings and ate great food! It rained on our last night there, but I went on a long walk in the rain to get a different feel for the city.
We then hopped on a train to Berlin. We got there later in the day, so by the time we found a place to stay, all we wanted to do was eat and take it easy. We ended up staying in the middle of the multi-cultural district of the city called Kreuzburg, which meant that right on our street were restaurants serving any type of food we could want! We had a huge (any super yummy) Indian dinner down the block. I think we are finally starting to get used to how long meals last in Europe... it's so different from feeling like servers are pushing you to leave in the States. We did a free walking tour of the city the next day and saw all the significant historical sites -- where the Berlin Wall had been torn down, the Reichstag, Bradenburg Gate, the memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust, and a lot more. Afterwards we went with our tour group to get what our guide said was the "best schnitzel in Berlin." I guess it was good -- I don't think I've developed a love for German food yet...
There's a lot more that I could have put in here, but I already made a longer post than what I said I would -- whoops! Hope it wasn't too boring! I'm now back in Maastricht, ready to start classes tomorrow. I'd love to talk to each of you throughout the week if you can, either by email or Skype. I am constantly thinking of all my friends and family while I'm traveling, and learning how to let homesickness and missing you all lead to consistent prayers of thanks to God for blessing me through relationships. Praying a fresh sense of His presence in your lives on this Sunday morning!
Saturday, May 22, 2010
First couple days
We landed safely in Amsterdam yesterday at about 8:00 am and took a charter bus to Maastricht. It was a beautiful 3 hour drive, and I saw lots of cows and picturesque cottages. I had a great experience "talking" to some Dutch women in the bathroom at a restaurant on the way -- it's amazing how long you can go pretending to understand what people are saying! Nods and laughing go a long way.
I spent the afternoon moving into my dorm room, which is HUGE and has a great view. I then walked around with some girls in my group to tour the city and sat at a sidewalk cafe. The time difference didn't catch up with me till about 10 o'clock, which is when the sun went down, so it worked out great! Had a great night's rest and have lots of energy today.
The group walked for about 4 hours this afternoon to familiarize ourselves with university buildings and important spots, including the train station, bus stations, and major shopping areas. The city is soooo beautiful. There are beautiful Romanesque churches, statues, fountains, and a spectacular bridge crossing the Maas river that was built by the Romans. The blisters I got from this walk inspired me to buy some cool European tennis shoes -- my first purchase :) My knee is also feeling the effects of all the walking, but I'm hoping that it gets stronger quickly.
The plan for this next week is to visit Prague and Vienna, and stop in the smaller towns along the way. Getting excited! I promise that I'll upload pictures soon. Have a great weekend!
Friday, May 21, 2010
Well, the trip has gotten off to a funny start. The group took off from Houston on Monday at 3:45 pm for Amsterdam. After being in the air for about 6 hours, and in the middle of the Atlantic, the plane had to turn around because of worsening air conditions due to volcanic ash. European air space was closed for multiple hours, and by the time it was reopened, our plane had already refueled in Newark and was on its way back to Houston. So, we took off at 3:45 pm from Houston, and landed at 5:00 am – IN HOUSTON! So much flying to have ended up in the same place™
We were given hotel vouchers when we landed, waited an hour and a half for a taxi to the hotel, only to find out that the hotel had no clean rooms. So, the 35 of us dropped our luggage – TONS of luggage – in the lobby, and waited two more hours to get clean rooms. We were able to spend an hour in our rooms before meeting back together as a group to discuss travel plans. Thursday was the soonest that we could all be booked together, so we were on our own until then!
Fortunately, my roommate from Baylor, Mattie Marion, lives right near downtown Houston. I called her mom, Mrs. Cindy, who immediately made arrangements for us to be picked up at the hotel and taken to their home. Mike, Meredith and I spent the three days resting, reading and laying out by the pool, and also managed to fit in an Astros game! They beat the Rockies, so it was a bittersweet experience J I am so grateful for the Marions!!! They were so generous and hospitable. They fed us all our meals, gave us beds, and made sure we were off in time for the airport on Thursday. We were also able to meet up with some good friends from Baylor, Emma and Jim, and I also got to meet Derek for lunch on Tuesday. If only all flight delays worked out so nicely!
I am typing this on the plane only 3 hours from Amsterdam! Praise God that we are actually getting there this time!! I will update again once we get to Maastricht. Hope everyone is doing well J
Well, I never thought that I would do a blog. I still don't think that I'm quite cool enough to be doing this, but many of you have insisted that I try. Hopefully my adventures this summer are deserving of an entry, and if they're not, I'll fabricate them as much as I can! ;)
For those of you who are not aware of my summer plans, I will be spending 12 weeks studying and traveling all over Europe. I am doing a semester study at the University of Maastricht in southern Holland (or the Netherlands, or Nederland – pick whichever you like!). Baylor has a permanent study-abroad program at UM, and works with the Center for European Studies at the university to offer courses during the fall, spring, and summer semesters for Baylor students. I chose the summer program because the courses offered apply to a greater variety of majors, whereas the fall and spring programs usually cater to pre-med students. I will earn a total of 15 hours by taking a history course, a Dutch art course, an English course, and a political science course.
Now that I've established the fact that I will be working hard and studying like crazy (I will, I promise), I'll get to the really exciting part. The program is set up so that I will have a total of 4 weeks of individual travel time, and with a 4-day school week, I will also have long weekends. After I first arrive in the Netherlands, I will have a two-day orientation at the university, and then a week and a half to travel with friends wherever we choose. Classes run from May 31st to the last week in July, leaving me with two more weeks of individual travel before I head home on August 12th. And the cherry on top – the program includes a Eurail Pass, which allows us to travel freely on the great European train system all summer long.
I know that this great opportunity to travel and study abroad is one that, more importantly, will challenge me in my daily walk with God. I believe that He has ordered my steps, and by leading me on this trip, He will teach me new things about how to better live for Him and how to serve others. I am praying that the Holy Spirit would guide me daily and that there would be many encounters with people seeking for truth, and that I would share the gospel with them. In my mind I expect there to be a shock jumping from the Bible Belt and the Baylor Bubble to post-Christian Europe, but I am praying that my spirit will be so aligned with His that I am even more confident in the truth.
As my closest friends and family, I ask that you would remember me and my classmates in prayer this summer. Please pray for our safety, for peace in troubled countries as we travel, and for favor on our group in all that we do. I will be praying specifically for each of you, and would love to hear back from you about things going on in your worlds.
Pictures and stories to come!!!