2016: A Story in Three Parts

As another year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect.

By global standards, 2016 was pretty much a train wreck.  Personally, though, it was a beautiful journey that I will tell in three parts.

INTRODUCTION:

A year ago, I was an unemployed college graduate with no idea of what I wanted to do with myself.  You see, for the majority of my life, my intuition has been my guide.  Until this point, early every major life decision has been guided by instinct.  College?  My gut lead me to the right fit.  Major?  My heart found home in the English Department.  Work at camp in the summers?  It just felt right.

The future, however, holds infinite possibilities and the prospective paths had me absolutely paralyzed.  I had absolutely no idea of anything.  My intuition, the little tug that pulls me in the next direction, had failed.

So, at the beginning of 2016, I felt my heart tugging me back to Europe and, against all logic, I followed. Continue reading

Day Trip to the Northwoods

This past weekend, my family took a day trip to Northern Minnesota.  It was the first time we’d been together in six months and wanted to celebrate.  We gathered our belongings, grabbed coffee at the local shop, and drove two hours to the port city of Duluth.  After a brief picnic lunch on some boulders at a little park along the shore of Lake Superior, we continued along the North Shore–enjoying views of the lake through the pine forest.

Our mission?  Hiking.  We did a 6 mile loop on the Superior Hiking Trail along the Split Rock River.  The trail was muddy and nearly impassible at points.  After attempting to skirt around the edges, I gave up and slopped through the mud.  It reminded me of the footpaths in England and wished I had a pair of trusty Wellies.  By the end of the day, my legs were crusted in a layer of slime. Continue reading

European April: A Video Memoir

Traveling alone is, in many ways, a liberating adventure… but like anything, it’s got it’s challenges.  Being able to come and go as you please is a blessing, but what is the point of experiencing beautiful places if you without someone to share it with?

Encouraged by my L’Abri tutor and several friends, I took footage throughout my month-long journey aiming to make a video.  Doing so helped me through the loneliness that can come with solo travel by giving me a way to bring others into my adventures.  As I travelled, the thought of making this video really did help me during the rough days.  Instead of feeling sad and mopey about being alone, I was so focused on and excited about capturing my experiences in a creative way that negativity was driven from my mind.  The idea kept me going. Continue reading

The Final Stretch

After being on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase and staying in hostels, the thought of going home is strange.
It’s bliss to imagine all the comforts of home: Understanding the language, sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights, not having strangers coming in and out at odd hours while I sleep, actually eating regular meals… The list goes on. Continue reading

Hiking in the Alps

I’ve spent the past few days staying with friends in the city of Innsbruck, Austria.  It’s a stunning city, located in a wide valley in the middle of the Tirol Provence.  Unfortunately… my first couple of days were rainy.  Most of yesterday was spent enjoying the city center–sitting in cafes and wandering into beautiful Baroque churches.  I knew there were mountains (after all, I’ve been here before!), but couldn’t actually see anything.  That is… until today.

This morning, I had the opportunity to go hiking with my friend Anna and her mother.  Thankfully, I’ve been traveling in a pair of heavy-duty boots and was well prepared for the climb. Continue reading

Couch Surfing in Konstanz

Staying with strangers is odd.  You spend a couple of weeks emailing back and forth with a person you’ve never met, making arrangements.  But, the whole time, you’re never really sure if it will work out… will it be a total disaster?  Will we get along?  Will I be in the way?

I’ve spent the past few days in Konstanz, Germany staying with a friend of a friend.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it’s been a really positive experience.  My hosts have been incredibly kind and accommodating, giving me a room of my own to sleep in, a bike to use, and a spare key so I can come and go as I please.  They even invited me out with their friends for an all-you-can-eat and drink meal of what they called “German pizza”.  (I don’t know what the real name is, but it looks like pizza, only with no sauce and different toppings.)

After a few weeks of exploring big cities and cultural centers, it feels good to be off the beaten path.  Konstanz is a tourist town, but most of the tourists are either German or Swiss.  It’s located on the shores of Lake Constance (the largest lake in Germany) at the intersection of three countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  On a clear day, you can see the Alps from across the lake.

On my first full day, I biked out into the countryside.  I spent the morning among rolling hills, vineyards, and blooming fruit trees.  In many ways, it reminded me of being home. I visited a nearby island filled with small, independent farms and old churches.  My afternoon was spent wandering around Konstanz, exploring the old town and harbor. Compared to some of the grand old cities I’ve explored, it wasn’t anything to write home about, but still nice.

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One of the old churches on Reichenau Island (near Konstanz) that I biked past.

On day two, I took a day trip.  I pulled myself out of bed bright and early, found my way to the bus stop, and an hour later, I was in Zurich, Switzerland.  Most of my day was spent wandering around, exploring whichever narrow, cobbled streets caught my fancy.  Sadly, I didn’t do any traditional Swiss things.  No new watches or fancy chocolates for me… Switzerland is expensive and I’m on a tight budget.  I did spent a couple of hours in the city’s art museum, delighting in their national collection.  I lingered on the shores of Lake Zurich for a long, long time, soaking in the Alps and enjoying the fresh air.

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View of the Alps from across Lake Zurich

On day three, I did absolutely nothing. I mean that literally.  I stayed in bed almost the entire day, reading and binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.  Travel is exhausting!  It sounds weird, but it’s sometimes good to take a vacation from vacation.  I did venture out to the supermarket in the morning, along with a short walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon.  Besides that… the day was all rest and relaxation.

It was a bit awkward because my main contact was away from home during half my visit.  She returned to her hometown to help a friend shop for wedding dresses, leaving me alone with her male roommates.  I felt a bit out of place, but they were nice, and I mostly kept to myself.

Now, I’m on to the next chapter of my adventure.  After a great week in Germany, it’s time to turn to it’s neighbor: Austria.

Stay tuned.

Nuremberg and the Nazis

I didn’t know that history could be so… heavy.

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in Nuremberg and, after briefly settling into my hostel, hit the city.  As the sun began to set, I wandered around the old town, soaking in ancient churches, marketplaces, and the beautiful castle.

Then I did my research.

I knew that Nuremberg was an important city for the Nazis, but not much beyond that.  Before going to bed last night, I found some old photos that were uncanny.  They depicted Hitler, flanked by crowds of swastika-waving supporters, parading through the streets.  What bothered me wasn’t necessarily the pomp–I’ve studied history and have seen such photos before.  What bothered me was that the churches, marketplaces, and even the castle gleaming in the background of the photos were the same ones I had been admiring only a few hours before.

I dedicated my day to seeing Nazi-related sites.  My main stop was the Documentation Centre, a museum dedicated to the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.  I spent hours in the museum, going from room to room.  The entire exhibit was in German, but thanks to an audio guide, I was able to follow along in English.  I encountered the Third Reich in a way I never have before.  In American schools, they don’t explain all the steps that lead to Hitler’s rise in power.

Until today, Nazi Germany was just lines in a textbook or scenes in a movie.  It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I understand now.  I understand the political tactics Hitler took on his route to dictatorship–well, not all of them, but enough to appreciate his cunning.  I understand the fear-mongering.  I understand the purpose of the rallies–to whip up the people into an emotional fervor that keeps them from rationally realizing they’re being manipulated.  I understand the indoctrination of young people.  I understand the appeal of a unified country with a single, shared identity.  I understand the dehumanization of entire classes of people.

I understand… and I feel the weight upon my shoulders.  So many times as I walked through the exhibit, I wanted to break down weeping.  For the second time in my life, I feel like I encountered pure evil.

Pure evil is intelligent. It tells lies, it manipulates, it preys on fears, takes advantage of ignorance, and silences any voices other than its own.  The most dangerous thing about evil is that it disguises itself as truth.

And, God, the consequences.

The museum didn’t shy away from the Holocaust.  It hit it straight on, explaining in detail the different concentration camps, what they were used for, who went there, and how many people lost their lives to starvation, forced labor, biological experiments, and the gas chambers.  Millions of human lives exterminated, slaughtered, killed like animals.  I don’t know if I will ever forget the photos of the malnourished naked corpses piled in the dirt and grime.

Of all the Nazi’s actions, what disturbs me most is probably dehumanization.  I believe that people are made in the image of God, therefore the simple act of being human deserves dignity and respect.  Our humanity is what links us together–we differ in language, culture, and appearance, but at the end of the day, we are all human.  To deprive a person of their dignity is disgusting.  To strip away their humanity is disturbing.  But to slaughter millions of people… horrifying.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to visit the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials took place after World War II ended.  For some reason, it was closed today.  But I did spend a few hours wandering around the grounds where the Nazis had their rallies.  The once-grand structures have fallen into decay–a remnant of history that Germany doesn’t care to preserve.  As I stood on the balcony where Hitler delivered some of his greatest speeches, I could imagine the scene: Banners waving, people cheering, thousands of soldiers in perfect regiments raising their arms.

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The platform from which Adolf Hitler gave some of his most stirring speeches at the annual Nazi Party Rallies.

I’ve loved my time in Nuremberg.  It’s a beautiful city.  I’ve loved wandering its historic streets and meditating in its grand churches.  What more, I’ve entered into–no–I’ve been sucked into history here.  I’ve encountered the past in a way that is so much deeper than storing away facts intellectually.  My emotions and deeper being have been touched.  It’s not often that I’m moved in this way and to experience it here has been incredible.

I’m so glad I came here.  Tomorrow, my adventures in Germany continue as I head south to the town of Konstanz near the Swiss border.  I’ve got an early bus and need to pull away from the blog so I can pack my bags…

Traveling Solo: Thoughts From the Road

I’m about two weeks into my European adventure… and boy, is it going fast.  It feels like yesterday that I was preparing to leave L’Abri and now I’ve been to Scotland, Holland, and Germany.  There are so many posts I want to write, but every time I sit down, I’m too exhausted to find the words.

(On a side note, if you want more frequent updates, I post photos regularly on Instagram.  My username is ameliab648.  I keep my account private, so send a request.)

Maybe some day, I’ll tell you about the two days I spent in Utrecht with my Dutch friends, Jorijn and Petra.  Maybe someday, I’ll tell you about wandering the beautiful town of Heidelberg, Germany.  Maybe someday, I’ll tell you about all the footage I’m taking on my phone for videography projects.

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Heidelberg, Germany
Today, though, I’ll tell you that traveling alone is hard, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  After months surrounded by people all the time, it is sometimes comforting to be alone. Sometimes, though, it’s not.  It’s lonely and, at points, I long for someone to share my adventures with.  Often times, I’ll go a full day without having a single conversation.  When I come to stretches of my journey where I’m staying with people, I find it hard to stop talking.  All the words that have been building rush out.

So far, I have only had one emotional meltdown and that was because I forgot to take care of my basic needs.  When you haven’t eaten or slept for a long time, your body tends to shut down.  In order to pay for all the museums and castles (and ensure that I’ll still have money when I get home) I’m keeping myself on a tight budget, so most of my meals have been supermarket food–sandwiches, yogurt, bananas, salad, nuts.  It’s healthy food and keeps me going.  I do like to splurge once in every country to try an authentic meal.

I’ve learned that half the battle is the hostel.  When living on the road, it’s important to feel secure in the place you sleep.  No matter where I am, I see my bed as a safe place, a refuge from the chaos of the world.  My bed is my temporary home. In it, I can relax, breathe, and have peace.  There are other things, though, that make or break a hostel: cleanliness, locker space in the rooms, plugs by every bed, good wifi, and a self service kitchen.  It’s important to know that my laptop and phone will have a place to charge, that my belongings will be secure when I am gone, and that I can cook a hot meal for myself.

As I journey from place to place on busses, trains, and airplanes, I usually pass the time with a book.   I’m reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, the final novel in his Space Trilogy.  It’s a pretty heavy book, so I’m taking my time with it. Being in the Scottish Highlands put me in the mood for Susanna Kearsley, who writes historical romances.  I’ve finished The Winter Sea and am close to the end of The Firebird.

Another important part of any adventure is the soundtrack!  Music helps me stay sane as I wait out long bus rides and navigate strange cities.  Since its release on Friday, I’ve been listening non-stop to The Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra. Here’s the title track:

I wish I could write more, but I’m off to catch my bus to Nuremberg… Until next time!

Adventures in Amsterdam

The second chapter of my European adventure is well under way!

I arrived in Amsterdam on Monday night, which was an adventure in and of itself.  My flight from Scotland was delayed, which was okay, it just meant I got to my hostel later than expected.  Getting from the airport to they city’s center was an easy train ride, followed by a half-hour walk through the dark streets.  I got to my hostel at 11 PM and promptly went to sleep.

Two full days proved to be all I needed to check all the boxes in my “To See” list.

Yesterday was spent in art museums.  My first stop was the Rijksmuseum, which is the Dutch national museum.  I spent a few hours wandering the galleries, soaking in the country’s history through paintings.  There were a few of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings in the collection, which were amazing to see in person.

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Stereotypical tourist shot featuring the “I amsterdam” sign, tulips, and the Rijksmuseum.

I lingered for a LONG time in the Van Gogh Museum, which might just be one of my new favorites.  I feel like I appreciated the collection more than anything I’ve seen in quite a while.  Going from room to room reading about Van Gogh’s life and viewing his art, I actually felt like I was getting to know him.  It was more than just empty information.  I feel like I encountered a flesh and blood man.  The collection was impressive–there were at least a hundred of his works on display.  (To think that, in the States, just having one is a big deal!)

This morning, I got up early… but not early enough to beat the crowds at the Anne Frank House.  I arrived right at opening, but the line was already stretching down the street and around the corner.  Half-expecting this would be the case, I brought my Kindle and read a book during the two-hour wait.  The museum was definitely worth it.  To walk through the Secret Annex (entering through the original concealed door), to see Anne’s handwriting in person, to watch videos of her father reflecting on the experience… it was incredible.  I was deeply moved.  At the end, they had a book with all the names of the Dutch Jews who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis… the book was the size of a Bible.  Over 10,000 names.  That really hit me–I can’t even wrap my mind around those kind of numbers.

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Dutch tulips!

My second stop today was the Rembrandt House.  Although not as moving as my first stop, I thoroughly enjoyed touring the rooms and studio of one of my favorite painters.  Like Van Gogh, I learned a LOT about the artist that I didn’t know before.  At the end, there was an hour-long video (produced by the BBC) about his later career.  I watched the whole thing… partially because my legs were tired from walking all day, but mostly because it was fascinating.  They examined several of his paintings in-depth, which gave profound insight into the painter’s methods.

Aside from grand museums, it’s been enjoyable just walking around Amsterdam.  It’s a great city, filled with beautiful buildings and picturesque canals.  The city definitely has its dark corners and dodgy bits, but I was able to avoid them.

Also, bikes!  There are bikes everywhere!  I have to continually remind myself to watch out for them, lest I get run over.

One of my favorite bits has been meeting locals.  I had a long discussion with a man in a cafe this afternoon–he told me all about Dutch art, history, and even pointed me to some lesser-known museums (which I will have to visit if I’m ever back).

So… that’s Amsterdam!

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Canals in the Jordaan neighborhood.