After 3 weeks of touring Europe, I am back in my home country. The greatest difference that I could see between The United States and the European countries was age. The places we went were ancient. Our country is just starting out in the world.
Seeing ancient Roman ruins or churches nearly 1,000 years old fills you with a sense of awe and humility. It forces you to realize the shear number of people that have come before, and the shoulders we stand on to be where we are today.
I was struck by an seemingly paradoxical observation. Europe is a testament to how mankind can fight and make war with each other, and how they can make lasting peace and fruitful progress. Virtually every nation or people group have been at war with one another at some point in the long history of Europe. You would think these people would still maintain these grudges, but instead, now most of them are unified under the same flag of the European Union and now seek to make peace, not war. In the big picture, I think this is a powerful statement that demonstrates mankind’s fallen nature and their ability to change for the better.
The United States is certainly a leading (if not the leader) country in the world, but compared to the history and culture of Europe, we are just babes.
Berlin is one of the largest cities we went to on this trip. The city is steeped in war torn history and many of its former structures were destroyed or torn down. What we see today are new buildings or restored monuments. The scars of their Nationalist Socialist past are apparent throughout the city in the forms of museums and monuments. The Secret Police headquarters were completely demolished, and in its place was an acre of stark, gray and black stones with a small, steel museum in the center called The Topography of Terror, which was a free museum meant for everyone to see and detailed the rise of the Nazis, what they did, and their subsequent fall.
Pieces of the Berlin Wall are still intact as monuments in the city. The Wall was always before my generation, so I only learned about it in school and in books, but it was quite something else to touch it, and imagine it with razor wire, dogs, guard towers, and mines. We went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which documents all the events and history and politics surrounding the Berlin Wall. It was my favorite museum that I’ve been to so far. It was filled with artifacts of what people used to escape to the west. People made ziplines shot over the wall with crossbows, built hot air balloons, built submarine and hid in secret cramped compartments of cars. There was even an entire room dedicated to Ronald Reagan and his Cold War strategy and the roll the US played in this whole mess.
Walking through city felt different than the other big cities we have walked through. Berlin just felt stern and imposing. The architecture felt militaristic grey, and stark. I stood at the site of a lot of historically infamous places and it was surreal to imagine that just about 70 years ago this place was a terror to the world.
Three nights in Paris and still there were many more sights to see. The city is quite large and you have to use the metro to get around, This was much different than Amsterdam or Bruges where you can walk anywhere you needed to go.
Everyone drives however they feel like in Paris, often pushing other cars out of the way to fit into a parking spot. The streets and sidewalks are much larger than anywhere else we’ve been, which made getting around easier. The French people seemed nicer than their reputation, They gladly spoke with us or gave us directions. A man on the metro even took out a marker and wrote all over my map to tell me the best places to go.
Seeing Notre Dame was a major highlight of my visit. Photos cannot compare to being in there. The site felt holy. It is amazing to think about how long it has been around and all the history that has surrounded it. While we were inside, a choir was practicing, The music, along with the church, stained glass, the bells, artifacts, and art made me cry because it was so beautiful and this history was so rich, Truly an awesome experience.
The terrorist attack that killed 12 people happened the day before we arrived. When we got into town, soldiers and police could be seen throughout the city at government buildings, public transport, and historical sites. I felt safe the whole time I was there, pickpockets were more of a concern to me. The city continued to function normally, streets filled with tourists and locals alike, throughout the events.
I could write pages and pages about what I did and thought about Paris, but I will limit it to a short, concluding list: the catacombs are spooky, Italian painters were the best painters, not all french people wear berets, everything is expensive, there were more lasers than I expected at the Eiffel Tower, and big US cities should have metro systems at least as good as Frances.
With Love From Paris,