Endings

Well… it’s time to stop pretending I’m off having grand adventures.  I’ve been home for almost a week and a half.  It’s time to shut down the travel blog and move on.

Over the past few months, all my wildest dreams have come true.  I learned to know and love the streets of London.  I cried over the graves of the great writers, personal heroes that have inspired me in my studies.  I became a regular theater attendee and saw a grand total of fifteen plays and musicals.  I frequented museums and beheld the greatest art in the world.  I wrote in the Edinburgh cafe that my hero J.K. Rowling used to haunt.  I learned to legitimately believe in the Loch Ness Monster.  I saw one of the supposed locations of the Round Table.  I beheld Stonehenge, toured Roman Baths, and gazed upon the White Cliffs of Dover.  I prayed in countless grand cathedrals.  I had my first drink in the pub where my literary heroes hung out.  I meandered though two of the world’s greatest universities, Cambridge and Oxford.  I stood atop the Alps and danced my way through Salzburg a la Julie Andrews.  I went to Ireland, kissed the Blarney Stone, and hiked along the Cliffs of Moher.  I explored countless castles.  I wandered the streets of Paris and experienced the grandeur of Versailles.

All my life, I’ve dreamt of seeing the world.  Now, I finally have.  My feet have tread upon layers of history.  My hands have pulled back the pages.  My eyes have caught glimpses of those who came before.

Studying abroad has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  Going alone to a foreign country is terrifying, but pushes you out of your box like nothing else.  In order to survive in the big, big world we live in, you learn independence and self-confidence fairly quickly.  These lessons will be with me wherever life takes me next, something for which I am extremely grateful.

But studying abroad also has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  I wouldn’t change a thing, but I sometimes wish parts of it had played out differently.  Although the rewards greatly exceed the downfalls, it would be wrong of me not to mention the difficulties.  I can’t forget the nights spent staring holes into my ceiling dreaming of home; the hours spent longing for familiar faces.  Independence is wonderful, but too much of it sometimes breeds loneliness.

To all of you who have stuck with me, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  The fact that you took time out of your day to read my story means the world to me.

In my very first post, I told you that I’m not very good at beginning things.  Well, it just so happens that I’m also not very good at endings.  In light of this, I think it’s appropriate to end the way I started: with Virginia Woolf.  Her words inspired the title of this blog and, after living in London and walking the very street mentioned here, I agree wholeheartedly with her description.

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”  –Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

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If You’re Going to London…

I just spent three and a half months of my life in London.  During this time, I spent a great deal of time on touristy endeavors.  The difference, though, between me and your average tourist is that average tourists only get to peel back the very top layers of the city.  They visit all the monuments and maybe get a tour in here and there.  Being there for an extended period of time gave me the ability to dig deeper, see more, and get a real feel for the heartbeat of London.

For this post, I’m going to talk about my favorite places in the city.  But I also aim this post to you, dear readers.  If you’re going to London, these are (in my opinion) places to see.  I’ll do my best to provide interesting insider tips, in case you end up taking a trip.

First of all: if you’re going to London, take advantage of how close everything is.  Half the main monuments are within twenty-minute walks of each other.  Between here and there, there are constant interesting sights and memorials that you’d miss by taking the Tube.  For example, the walk from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square has lots of World War I and II memorials, Number 10 Downing Street, and the Cavalry Brigade.  Or the walk from Trafalgar Square to St. Paul’s Cathedral brings you through the Strand and down Fleet Street past the Royal Courts of Justice.  The Tube system in London is absolutely splendid (I’d write poems about my love for it if that were socially acceptable), but if you want to really see the city, use your feet.  If you get tired, there are a plethora of pubs and coffee shops on every block.  Rest your feed, get caffeinated, and keep moving!

The problem with London is that there are so many places worth touring, and almost all of them are completely worth it.  The one tour that I absolutely recommend taking is Parliament.  Also known as Westminster Palace, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in London.  You’ll learn all about how the British government runs and some of their traditions.  I come from a very politically involved family, so I found the tour fascinating.  However, since it’s a building that is constantly in use, it is only open for tours on Saturdays!  Book ahead to make sure you get a spot!

Parliament Square is also home to Westminster Abbey.  Their tour schedule is weird, so double-check the hours online before visiting.  Although the abbey is not the most beautiful or splendid church I saw in Europe (not by a mile), it is at the heart of British nationality.  Westminster is where kings and queens are coroneted and wed, where the nation’s beloved innovators are laid to rest, and where people every say still meet to pray and worship.  You’ll get to see the ancient Coronation Chair and the graves of nearly every famous British writer in Poet’s Corner.  Plus, the audio guide is narrated by Jeremy Irons.  You definitely want to be shown around the famous church by Scar from The Lion King.  Trust me.

Speaking of Trafalgar Square, it’s one of my favorite spots in the city.  It’s where I would always go to eat lunch.  If you’re ever in London, please sit on the fountains and eat a sandwich in my honor.  Watching the tourists is always fun.  Then, when you’re done eating, take an hour or so and lose yourself in the National Gallery.  Why?  ‘Cause it’s one of the best places in the city.  And it’s free.  The galleries are absolutely stunning and brimming with famous works.  On my very first visit, I was amazed at how many paintings I had studied in school were on the walls.  It’s got rooms from every major European art movement from the Renaissance to modernity.  All the greatest painters in the world are there–Leonardo, Raphael, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Reubens, Claude, Caravaggio, Turner, Constable, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, and so many more.  It’s got all the splendor of the Louvre without being overwhelming.  In order to truly appreciate the place, I suggest making multiple trips of an hour or so.  Focus on a corner of the  museum each time and soak in the art.  I must have gone there at least ten times during my stay in London.  It’s a wonderful museum.

If you’re like me and have a passion for books, London is the place to go.  There’s all sorts of bookstores everywhere in the city.  Charing Cross Road is home to some of the best secondhand bookshops I’ve ever been in.  There’s three or four right in a row not far from Leicester Square.  All have similar interiors: you walk in and there are books from the floor to the ceiling.  Anywhere you can put a book, there is a book there.  Don’t just settle for the first floor, though!  All of the stores have basements!  They’re narrow little stairs and you may have to wait for someone to finish going up or down.  Downstairs is where you find the really good deals.  The rooms are often really small and tight with even more books crammed in odd places, but the smell of all those old pages is incredible.  One of my favorite bookshops is located in the Bloomsbury area and is called Skoob Books.  It’s located on to the side and in the basement of a shopping center and is wonderful.  Also, if you’re ever on the South Bank of the Thames, check out the book market under Waterloo Bridge.  It’s marvelous.

If you like churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral is somewhere you’ll want to tour.  In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful churches in the world.  The audio tour is really interesting and will tell you all about the construction of the church and the symbolism for all the interior decorations.  Make sure to visit the Whispering Gallery and climb the 500-some steps to the top of the dome.  It’s a long haul, but worth it for the view.

Both St. Paul’s and Westminster are functioning churches and I recommend catching a service if you can.  In the evenings at five you can attend evensong where they sing the psalms and pray for the country.  They’re beautiful services and well worth it.

A tip for getting a good taste of the city is to take a walking tour!  They have them for all sorts of different subjects.  I did a Jack the Ripper tour, which was interesting.  But I recommend a Dickens themed tour.  You’ll pass places the famous writer lived and worked as well as locations found in his novels.  If you’re a literature fan, walking his footsteps will change the way you read his novels forever.

If you’re going to be in London, take advantage of theater!  West End tickets are easy to come by–just go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and you can get day-of tickets!  If that doesn’t work, there are countless vendors in the area.  Aside from big musicals, perhaps go see a play at one  of the independent theaters.  If you can see Shakespeare, see Shakespeare.  In fact, groundling tickets at the Globe are super cheap.  If you see any theater in London, GO TO THE GLOBE.  It truly is a magical space and takes you right back in time.

There are so many other wonderful places to visit that I don’t have time to write about–the Tower of London, the Churchill War Rooms, the British Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Library, etc.

The best thing about London is that there’s something for everyone.  If you like literature, it’s basically heaven.  If you’re into theater, it’s the best place in the world to see it.  If shopping is your thing, hit up Oxford Street, the longest shopping street in Europe.  If you’re into art, there’s plenty to choose from with the National Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, and countless smaller galleries.  If you like sports, Wembley Stadium is always hosting football and rugby matches.  If you’re a history geek, don’t miss the Churchill War Rooms.  If you like museums, all the big ones are free.

There’s so much to see and do in London.  A week-long visit will only enable you to scratch the surface.  You could live your whole life there and still not cover the depth of what the city has to offer.  I’m so blessed for the few months I’ve gotten to spend in the city.  I got a taste of almost everything!

I hope that this post has been interesting and helpful.  If you’re reading and want more tips, please drop a comment!

Parisian Art

Paris is a city of culture.  And, by culture, I mean HIGH culture: Opera houses, historical monuments, great literature, and, of course, art.  As discussed before on this blog, I am a lover of art.  Put me in a gallery and I will be happy for hours.

While in Paris, my mom and I visited two art museums.  Actually, we went to both in the same day!  You know that tired feeling you get after being in a museum for too long?  When all the exhibits begin to blur together, you start to not care about seeing and learning things that would normally excite you, and your brain just feels like mush?  Imagine how that feels after 6.5 hours in art galleries and you will get a sense of me at the end of that day.  But it was so worth it.

The first stop was the Musée d’Orsay.  Built in a former train station, the museum is home to the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world.  Back when I was first discovering my love of art, impressionism was the first movement that struck my fancy.  So, although we breezed through the museum in only an hour and a half, I loved it.  I could easily have spent all day there.  There were so many masterpieces by artists I love–Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Van Gough.  Other artists represented that I admire but don’t have overly warm fuzzies for are Degas, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, and Gauguin.

Here’s a view of the interior of the museum.  I must say, a former railway station is the PERFECT place for this kind of art.

Our second and biggest stop of the day was the mother of all museums, the Louvre.  Located in a former royal palace at the end of the Champs-Élysées and Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre is the biggest museum in the world.  It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Paris.  Aside from hosting centuries of historical artifacts and works of art, the building alone has an incredible history.  It was originally built in the 12th century as a fortress.  When the court moved to Versailles, the building was used to display the royal collection of art.  For over a hundred years, it hosted a famous French academy.  What became the museum we know today opened in 1793.  From Napoleon on to more monarchs and the modern era, the collection continued to grow.  Today, the museum hosts over 35,000 artifacts.  Woah.  That’s a LOT of art.

I’ve been told that you could be locked in the Louve for an entire year, day and night, and still not see everything.  People aren’t kidding when they say it’s the biggest museum in the world.  It’s absolutely MASSIVE.  It’s split into eight different departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.  My pre-visiting research advised to pick one or two departments to cover in a day.  Although antiquities are interesting and all, what I really wanted to see were the paintings.  So, that’s where we focused our day!

There’s so much art in the museum that it’s impossible to remember it all.  I had my camera along and took photos of the famous paintings we saw, but unfortunately, my photos got lost in transit.  But, in the five hours we spent in the Louvre, we saw just about every painting that was worth seeing! We visited the Mona Lisa, of course, and were graced by her elusive smile.  We saw the elegant Venus de Milo statue.  We viewed “Liberty Leading the People” and “The Raft of the Medusa”.  There was a seemingly endless stream of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian, etc.  We saw the famous portrait of Napoleon being coroneted.  We visited the Medici gallery–twelve enormous paintings by Reubens on the life of Marie de’Medici.  We wandered through the rooms on Netherlandish and Flemish art.  I delighted in the room of Rembrandts.  We also visited the state rooms of Napoleon III, which were incredibly grand.

Here’s some photos of some of the works that we saw.  (They’re from Google images.)

All in all, I LOVED the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.

(But, between you and me, the British National Gallery will always be number one in my heart.)

Spiritual Development

One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad through Veritas was because the program had a Christian based emphasis on missions.  As I talked about in The Obligatory About-Me Post last September, I wanted God to be the focus of my time abroad.  Coming off a fantastic year of campus ministry and wonderful summer working at camp, I was pumped up and determined to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Europe.

Well… things didn’t exactly go as I expected.  As He usually does, God did something totally and completely different.  That’s what this post is going to be about–my spiritual development over the past few months and what studying abroad did for my relationship with God.

When I arrived in London, I was extremely determined to find community and get involved.  Upon meeting and getting to know my wonderful mentor, Shannon, I started attending meetings for a group called Connect UK at a neighboring university.  The group is aimed at providing a welcoming environment for international students and creating a global community.  It’s main event is a free lunch once a week, but also puts on quiz nights and promotes a student church.  Although the group is not expressly Christian, it was founded by a pair of missionaries with the hope of using it to establish relationships and share the gospel with people from all over the world.  The free lunches were the things I attended.  At them, they had a list of question at every table.  We would go around and answer the questions, sharing about our different cultures.  As the questions went on, they got deeper.  For outreach, there were purposely Christians placed at every table.  The deeper questions gave us a chance to share our faith and see what doors the Spirit was opening.

The first few weeks of Connect UK were great!  But then the founding missionaries had to return to the United States, leaving more of the student leadership in charge and other helpers to assemble the lunch.  Unfortunately, the missionaries didn’t train in the new leaders fully.  Thus, once they were gone, the people now in charge of the ministry had to figure things out for themselves.  Lunches got more disorganized, fewer people showed up to meetings, and questions at tables were forgotten all together.  From my point of view, the group became more of a hang-out time than intentional ministry.  I still enjoyed the meetings–the people were really fun, I learned a lot about other cultures, and made some good friends.  But, before my eyes, I watched the ministry go from an intentional ministry to a social club.  It was kind of sad.

I tried a couple other things–attending on campus Christian Union meetings and talking about Bible studies with some of my Biola friends–but nothing really came of any of it.  I had hoped that I would find community and growth with fellow Veritas students, but that was not the case.

As a result, my time abroad was spent in spiritual isolation.  At least, that’s what it felt like.  Although I had Christians in my life, I didn’t really have anyone to grow with aside from my mentor.  With my busy schedule, I wasn’t able to attend church for months at a time.  When I finally did have time, it was too late to settle into the community because it was almost time for me to leave.

My main source of spiritual growth and encouragement was my personal time with God.  Every morning, I rolled out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and spent the first hour of my day reading the Word and spending time in prayer.  Sometimes, I’d flip Spotify open on my computer and have independent worship time via a playlist.  It was all very simple–just me and God, one on one.

It was hard being so alone.  But despite how frustrated and empty I sometimes felt, God never once left me.  I learned so much about His immense provision.  Despite everything, God never stopped speaking very clearly and personally to me.  He never stopped giving me encouragement or whispering promises for a bright future.  No mater where I travelled and what tour group I was with, there were always other Christians present.  Even if we weren’t growing together, it was such a comfort to know they were there.

One of the biggest lessons God taught me had to do with spiritual warfare–something not often talked about, but very real in our world.  My part in the body of Christ is that of spiritual intercession, so I knew that warfare was a real thing and have definitely experienced it before.  But I had never experienced it to this degree.  It’s one thing to know about the spiritual battle raging around you in your head and something completely different to feel its implications in your spirit.  Over and over and over throughout the past few months, I have seen the lines between light and dark clearly drawn and defined.

I watched as the otherworldly powers struggled over people I knew.  I saw one girl in my program experience one brutal spiritual attack after another, causing her to go from a genuinely curious seeker to someone completely closed off to God.  The other girl in my program, at the beginning, was given the challenge to choose to go deeper in her faith or to walk away.  She chose not to choose, and as a result, I watched as her live became consumed by the patterns of the world.  Everything about her changed, from her manner of dress to her language to her academic work.

I experienced lightness and darkness in places that I travelled.  My trip to Austria had me surrounded by beloved spiritual family, which was refreshing beyond words for my beaten down spirit.  We spent time delighting in God–worshipping and praying in the streets of Innsbruck.  But then, not even a week later, I found myself in the crypts of Edinburgh, Scotland on a haunted ghost tour.  In the vaults under the city, I found myself face to face with the demonic.  Never in my life have I been in a place so dark.  I could sense the evil spirits in my heart, feel their barbed spirits reaching out towards me.  Although I knew the whole time they could not harm me, that’s an experience I never want to repeat.

The spiritual darkness was everywhere.  London is such a lost place, and I could feel the brokenness hanging on my spirit.  Some days, I was extremely depressed–something completely uncharacteristic for me.  The heaviness of the darkness was such a burden.  It was so hard to bear it some days, but it gave me insight into the world.  As Christians, we are called to live in the world, but not among it.  Well… I certainly got a taste of what it’s like to live in the world in a way I had never experienced before.  Having lived under the darkness, I have so much compassion for those whose entire existence is spent beneath its sway.  How do they carry the burden every day?  How do they live without hope?

I’ve got this notebook that I use during my one on one time with God.  When I feel Him speaking to me, I grab a pen and write.  The words that come from my hand aren’t my own.  God’s been communicating to me like this for over a year now.  Here’s something He said one morning on the subject, copied from my notebook:

Amelia, the lessons I am teaching you are different than the ones you expected.  I am showing you what it’s like to be estranged, giving you an outside glimpse at the war taking place.  From Austria to Edinburgh, from the girls in your program, you have seen very clearly the spiritual battle.  You have seen the enemy’s work; you understand the brokenness of the world.  Your soul has touched it.  You’re like a scout who goes to enemy lines to get a feel for what they’re up to.  Now you can return home bearing news so, together, you can come up with proper battle tactics.

On another note, I mentioned before that I wasn’t able to attend church regularly.  When I did, it was too late to find a home.  So, near the end of the semester, I decided to take my free Sundays and experiment.  In London, I had the chance to experience all sorts of different kinds of services and ways of worship, and I took advantage of that.  I attended Anglican services at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  One time, I went to a super traditional Baptist church where they sit in hard wooden pews and sing only hymns.  Another time, I went with friends to Hillsong London–a massive service that meets in one of the big West End theaters.  I attended a fairly evangelical community church.  I also went to a charismatic church, which I actually really enjoyed.  Going to all these places, I was able to meet all sorts of brothers and sisters in Christ.  Just about everywhere I went, people were warm, friendly, and welcoming.  It was strange meeting spiritual family members, knowing that I would never see them again, but definitely a cool experience.

There are times when I wonder if I did things wrong.  Should I have tried harder to be the hands and feet of Jesus?  Should I have made more of an effort to get into a Bible study with my Biola friends?  I don’t know.  Regarding sharing my faith, I certainly learned to be more open and bold about my beliefs, but I didn’t feel God opening doors.

Spiritually, the past few months have been incredibly challenging.  What I just wrote out are the lessons I’m aware of, but I’m sure that God did more.  I’m not sure exactly what He did, or what learning these lessons means for the rest of my life.  I don’t know why God gave me the experiences He did.  Ultimately, though, I know that the experiences I had were the ones God wanted me to have all along.  He needed to teach me these lessons and has a plan and purpose for them.  He had to push me to be faithful to Him, even when I was completely alone and even when I didn’t feel it.  He had to let my heart experience the almost physical weight of the darkness.  He had to show me what it feels like to be in a broken world.  I’m not sure why He had to do all these things, but He did.

God’s been making some pretty big promises for my future.  I’m not exactly sure what position He’ll put me in or where He’ll take me next.  I could list an infinite amount of things I don’t know, but since that takes a lot of time, I’ll tell you something I DO know: God has a plan and a purpose for my life.  The lessons He’s taught me have prepared me for what is next.  No matter what that is, it’s already in His hands and I don’t have to worry about a thing.  I just have to keep following, seeking, delighting, and abiding in Him, and He will handle the rest.

So… that’s what God did during my time in Europe.  I’m excited to see what’s next!

Château de Versailles

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to spend a day exploring Versailles.  Or, as the French call it, Château de Versailles.

In the days of the palace’s construction, Versailles was a little village not far from Paris.  Originally (I believe) it was a hunting lodge, but Louis XIV found it the perfect place to host his court.  After four major building campaigns, dating from 1664-1710, it became the grand palace that we see today.  From the court’s move there in 1682 onwards, Versailles was the center of royal society and a symbol of absolute power.  That is…  until the French Revolution in 1789, when angry Parisians stormed the palace, forcing Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to relocate.  Eventually, the king and queen were beheaded in the roils of the Revolution and the splendor of Versailles was ravaged.

Today, Versailles has been faithfully restored to what it would have looked like in its glory days.  Louis XIV was an incredible patron of the arts and, during his reign, the European cultural center shifted from Italy to France.  (Thank you, art history class, for serving me well.)

So… on Tuesday morning, my mom and I queued up in the metro station outside our hotel.  I then put my French skills to the test, I got some train tickets.  An hour and several station changes later, we walked through the golden royal gates of the palace.  And, WOAH!  What a place!  Versailles is absolutely enormous!

We learned quickly after arriving in Paris that if I explained to people in ticket booths that I was a student in London (a European Union country) and flashed my ID card, I could get into places for free.  Thankfully, this rule applied at Versailles.  After picking up our audio guides, we entered the royal apartments and all I could think of was, “Woah.  I just got into the grandest place I’ve ever been for absolutely no cost.”  Ah, the benefits of student life!

Versailles really is the grandest place I’ve ever been.  I’m not exaggerating.  The royal apartments are basically chamber after chamber of salons, each dedicated to a different Roman god or goddess.  The ceilings were ornately painted to match this theme and the doors were gilded gold in marble frames.  The famous Hall of Mirrors was absolutely splendid.  All I could do was wander around gaping at the golden statues and the views of the vast sweeping grounds from out the windows.  And the mirrors… oh, the mirrors are splendid!  The chamber really isn’t that large, not compared to halls in other palaces, but is made to look much bigger due to the mirrors situated across from the mirrors.  Talk about innovation!  The result of their placement is absolutely marvelous.

After a leisurely lunch at the palace’s café, we spent most of the afternoon touring the grounds.  Unfortunately, because of the time of year, the fountains were all turned off and the flower beds were overturned.  However, it was still a great place for walking.  I can see why the court did well here–all sorts of promenades through hedged paths for fine ladies to walk through, gossiping behind their silk fans.  We strolled down the center to the grand canal.  At one point, a cat emerged from a hedge.  It came right up to me and looked up expectantly.  Because I absolutely love cats, I obeyed and gave it a good pet.  After a minute or two, it noticed a loud group of tromping schoolchildren and scampered away into the bushes.

We angled our walk to the back corner of the property, where the Grand and Petite Trianons are located.  These are mini royal residences, grand houses where the King and Queen would escape to when the pressures of court became too burdensome.  We toured the Petite, then visited the Queen’s Hamlet, a cluster of Normandy style cottages built by Marie Antoinette (or, rather, people she hired… it would be ridiculous to assume that the queen built them with her own bare hands).  These famous gardens were absolutely charming.  I could have spent all day wandering their paths discovering orchards, fountains, and the Temple of Love–a Romanesque shrine with a statue of Cupid.

If you’re ever spending time in Paris, you absolutely MUST spend a day at Versailles.  It’s well worth the train ride from the city.  Whether you like history, art, culture, splendor, or walking out in the fresh outdoors, Versailles has something for everyone.  Some famous tourist attractions don’t live up to the hype, but Versailles is not one of these.  I highly recommend visiting.  Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t!

 

 

Last Night in London

It’s my last night in London.

I’ve spent the past three and a half months in this beautiful city.  Tomorrow, I board an airplane back to the United States.

Am I ready to go?  Yes, I suppose I am.  It’s been a long few months.  I’m ready to sleep in my own bed and see all my friends and family.  It will be good to drive again (although I’m concerned I won’t know which side to drive on) and good to be around people whose voices sound like mine.

At the same time, I don’t want to leave.  Time has been too short.  I love this city.  It’s an absolutely beautiful place, filled with all sorts of things to see and do. You could spend your whole life here and still discover new things.  I’ve loved exploring its nooks and crannies, from Dickensian walks, to palaces, to museums.  There’s always another layer to peel back.  I’ve gotten to peel further than most, but there are still more to go.

There are so many things I will miss about London.  I’ll miss attending the theater every week.  I’ll miss spending hours wandering the National Gallery and eating sandwiches in Trafalgar square.  I’ll miss riding the Tube, and minding the gap.  I’ll miss train trips around the country–Bath, Oxford, Brighton, etc.  I’ll miss being able to travel anywhere in Europe in a few short hours.  I’ll miss the bright lights of Leicester Square.  I’ll miss the big red double-decker busses.  I’ll miss strolling through the parks and gardens.

I’ve made a lot of memories in this city and I’ve also made a lot of friends.  From ISA to the Social Programme to Connect UK to theater class to Biola students… I’ve met so many wonderful people from all walks of life.  There’s no way I could have gotten through these past few months without them.  Even though we may never see each other again, we’ll always have our few months here.

How did I spend my last night in London?  Basically, I visited the main parts of the city one last time.  Parliament, Trafalgar, and Leicester Squares consecutively.  I lingered on the Westminster bridge, soaking in Parliament (one of the most beautiful buildings in the city).  I sat on the steps of the National Gallery listening to Christmas carolers before popping in to see my favorite paintings one final time.  I did the loop around Leicester Square, taking in the bright lights of the heart of the West End.  I wandered briefly up Charing Cross Road to visit all the fabulous second-hand bookshops.  In honor of my last night, I bought a small anthology of famous British poetry for only one pound.  (Shh, don’t tell.  I already have bought too many books!)  I then met up with my mom under the Shakespeare statue.  We walked up Regent Street, then enjoyed the Christmas lights on Oxford Street.  We went in a few shops, picked out some gifts for my brothers, then enjoyed a final meal of fish and chips in a pub before returning to the hotel.

Tomorrow morning, I pack three months of my life back into suitcases and hit the airport.  We’ve got a six-hour flight to Toronto, a two-hour layover, and a two-hour flight to Minneapolis.  It will be a long haul, that’s for sure.

You may wonder what will happen to my travel blog now that I’m leaving Europe.  Well… I plan on continuing it for a while.  I still have adventures I didn’t get the chance to write about and reflection posts.  I might do a post on the best places I’ve been or tips for what to see in London.  Who knows?  Within the next few weeks, I’ll be closing down shop and moving back to my normal, usual blog, which I will provide a link to when I’m done writing about my travels.  If you like my writing, I encourage you to stay tuned and follow me on there!  But, until then, I will continue here.

So… here’s to what’s been the adventure of a lifetime!  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

 

Befriending Gargoyles, Finding Heaven, and Crying Over More Graves

You’re probably wondering about the title of this post, right?  I will admit, it’s a strange one.  But, my Parisian saga continues and you shall soon understand.

First up this morning was la Cathédrale Notre Dame, one of the most famous churches in the world.  The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1163, but it wasn’t completed until 1345.  It took forever to finish, but that’s still pretty old.  The building was falling into serious disrepair by the 1840’s, but was saved by the popularity of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which sparked a petition to save it.  Thank goodness it worked, because the building is absolutely beautiful, inside and out!  We went inside the cathedral first, walking around the edge to look into all the chapels dedicated to saints and admiring the rose windows.  We sat on the benches in the nave for quite some time, taking in the grand Gothic splendor.

Next, we waited in line for half an hour to climb the 420 steps to the top of the towers.  The huffing and puffing up the narrow winding stair was well worth it for the views!  We could see all of Paris, from the Eiffel Tower in the distance to the Latin Quarter at our feet.  While we were up there, I made sure to acquaint myself with all the gargoyles.  In true Disney fashion, we are now best friends.  If you ever have the chance to visit Notre Dame, definitely do the towers.

After wandering around the cathedral’s exterior (oh, the flying buttresses!) and sitting down to lunch at a café (where I had a crépe with Nutella), we found the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore–also known as heaven.  The original store opened in 1919 and was the haunt of many Lost Generation writers like Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris in World War II.  The bookstore that is present today opened in 1951.  It’s a true European bookstore, with delightful nooks and crannies and books shoved into each and every possible space.  The place is bright and homey and you can access books on high-up shelves via movable ladders.  Upstairs is a collection  reading nooks–visitors can find an old book and get lost in it, if they so choose.  I picked out some Christmas presents for myself (A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and a Shakespeare & Co. book bag).  Upon leaving the store, my mom turned to me and said very seriously, “Now that you’ve died and gone to heaven, can I go back to the hotel and sleep?”  I told her no, of course.

On a whim, we stopped in Les Amis du Musée de Cluny, which is the museum dedicated to medieval objects.  We strolled through chamber after chamber of 12th-14th Century statues, tapestries, weapons, religious art, etc.  Our guide-book considered it an absolute must-see, but compared to the splendor of London’s fabulous British and V&A museums, it was a bit of a letdown.  I managed to get in free by showing the lady my student card, though, so that was a plus!

My mom didn’t really understand the purpose of going to our next location, the Luxembourg Gardens.  On the way, I explained to her that these famous gardens are where Marius and Cosette meet in Les Miserables (book, not stage adaptation).  Among the lovely walks is where their eyes meet and, in an intense moment, they fall madly in love.  It’s a bit of a ridiculous moment, but Hugo’s words are so beautiful that the cheesiness falls away.  The gardens are absolutely gorgeous.  There’s a large pool with a fountain before a palace.  Surrounding it are lots of chairs and benches.  Around the circumphrance are statues of famous French women, mostly former queens and saints.  While sitting there, sipping my Starbucks mocha (I have to stay energized somehow), all I could do was exclaim, “Now this… THIS is Paris!”

Our final stop of the day was a place not originally on our list.  As the day wore on and I delved further into the guidebook’s section on the Latin Quarter, I became more and more convinced that we just HAD to visit the Pantheon.  I even paid the entrance fee, ’cause my mom didn’t want to go.  It was completely worth it.  I don’t know why the guidebook only mentioned the Pantheon in passing, because it was wonderful!  Much better than the Middle ages museum.

The Pantheon was originally a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, but it now serves as a secular mausoleum.  Architecturally, it’s an example of neoclassicism, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome.  Built in the shape of a Greek cross, inside the building is basically nothing but BIG open space.  Stone floors, incredibly high stone walls, mosaics on the ceilings, and paintings on all the walls… that basically sums up the Pantheon.  I thought it was absolutely beautiful and wandered around looking at all the art.  Most of it depicted scenes from St. Genevieve’s life, but it had some fabulous paintings of Joan of Arc and some great statues dedicated to the Revolution.

The crypt of the Pantheon is basically the French equivalent of Westminster Abbey.  Everyone who is anyone (and French) is buried down there.  I didn’t know most of them, but the ones I did include Voltaire, Rousseau, and Pierre and Marie Curie.  The best, though, were definitely the graves of Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo.  Yes, that’s right, I got to see the grave of another of my literary heroes.  And I was emotional.  And it was beautiful.

So… that was my day in Paris!  Our days continue to be long, full, and exhausting, but definitely wonderful.