It has been nearly a month since I last set foot in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While commons lawn looks familiarly covered in snow, I am to a degree different. A lot has happened since I left on the second of January. I have been to 5 (or 6 depending on how you count) different countries and over 20 European cities. That is a lot seeing as I had previously never set foot on the European continent.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I feel extremely blessed to have been able to be part of it! In retrospect, I am especially thankful for the careful planning that went into it beforehand as well as the unique blend of people that were a part of it. It was a luxury to be able to simply get on the bus and not have to think about where we were going next. I could rest in the fact that I was in good hands. The historian/tour guide, that also drove our bus, named Joop single handedly made the trip for me. He never ceased to pull insightful details and interesting historical narratives out of his memory when we arrived at a new city.
I can hardly believe all of the places I went to. A few highlights include: the rambunctious amalgamation of a city called Amsterdam, the gingerbread-esque village of Brugge in Belgium, the city of unprecedented scale/size in Paris, the cobble-stoned city of Prague and the not so divided city of Berlin.
I learned a number of things on the trip. For starters, I learned a ton of history. Perhaps my favorite historical site was the museum Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany. The museum told the story of countless individuals that engineered ways of escape out of Eastern Germany. My favorite story was that of a man who refused to let the Berlin wall separate him from his wife.
As the first component of his escape he created a wet-suite from a couple of old motorcycle jackets. Then he created and attached a sail to an inflatable kayak which I presume he also constructed. He then launched and sailed his kayak through the blind spot of two of East Berlin’s watch towers. He sailed into the night and straight into a ferocious storm. After battling 10ft waves and bailing out his nearly submerged kayak 9 times, he was rescued by a cruise ship, brought to safety on the West side, and promptly reunited with his wife.
This is just one story of the many I learned on the trip. It is incredible to me that so much history has happened in Europe without me knowing about it! This trip, or if you prefer experience, has helped me realize how much of the world I do not know. The reality is, this world is neither majority white nor western. All in all, I am blessed to have been part of the trip and I believe it has helped me better understand my place in the world.
Cheers to increased understanding,
While traversing the European continent I have noticed a number of differences from life back in the states.
First, I have noticed that the size of portions at meals are different in European countries than they are back home. America restaurants tend to give a large amount of food at one time. Inversely, European restaurants tend to spread out a comparatively smaller portion over a number courses/longer period of time. I am not sure why this is.
Additionally, when presented with a buffet-style-meal, Europeans tend to spread their meal out over a few small plates. Americans on the other hand, seem to try and fit 2 persons worth of food onto one plate. Consequently, our group has stuck out like a sore thumb at any buffet-style-meal.
Additionally, While I have enjoyed leisurely meals due to Europe’s ¨course mentality¨, I am missing the calories associated with a good old American meal. I suppose this is either due to my humming-bird like metabolism, or the fact we have done an abnormally large amount of walking here.
But the story does not stop there. Many of you know that both the expression, necessity is the mother of invention and the fact that Innovation is a buzz-word at Calvin College . So, rather than regularly running on empty, I have resorted to stuffing my pockets with food at breakfast 🙂 On this particular morning, I procured 2 apples, 2 croissants, and a bowl of granola which I neatly packed into a hotel napkin. Bigger meals are almost within sight!
Have you ever built a gingerbread house? If so, you are on track for visualizing the picturesque shops and homes in the stunningly beautiful Belgium city of Bruges. Every building is unique, and I was consistently blown away by the cobble-stone streets, quaint waterways, and the impressive array of towers that seemed to disappear into the low hanging cloud line.
One thing that struck me about Bruges, and much of the European cities we have visited so far, was the age of everything. Growing up as a suburban boy, I am well acquainted with both new sub-developments and the “tear down” mentality. The latter being when an individual, of family, buys a very reasonable home, tears it down, and builds a bigger one. While I do not mean to say there is anything necessarily wrong with this mentality, i do want to try and understand why this mentality seems less prevalent in Europe. I presume there are a number of explanations for this difference.
I have two potential explanations for the situation. And while I do not believe they are flawless, I do believe they may both have a kernal of truth in them. First, it seems to me that Europeans perceive more value in their culture and its associated architecture. And they try harder to maintain it. (Ex: more strict demolition and building codes that aim to preserve cities original style and the associated culture).. Second, there is a lack of culture in suburban America as we know it. I am not sure why this is, but I am guessing it has to do with age. In short, America suburbs are not old enough to have established a rich culture like that of the European ones. Consequently, there is not really a culture to preserve.
Perhaps the Parisians can lend some understanding to the situation…. we have just crossed the French border and are on our way to Paris now.