August 11, 2014

Let's Go To The Beach!

Hello all!

I know it's been a while since my last post, but given that I'm just a couple weeks away from starting classes again back in the US (and consequently thinking about how much I miss my friends in Middelburg), I thought I'd write a little "retrospective" post about a trip I took with my boyfriend while in Europe.

Before traveling abroad, I had never been to the beach. My image of the beach was based on what I saw in movies: sunny, warm, sandy, know, the typical "beach scene." What Thomas and I experienced on the last weekend in April, however, was anything but typical. But wait - I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the actual trip to the beach...

We asked my housemates which beach was close to Middelburg, and then mapped it out on Google. Then we hopped on the bikes we borrowed from one of my housemates and set out for sandy shore. The directions were a times, so we may have ended up a bit lost a time or two. Given that we were trying to navigate an unfamiliar road system and read signs written in Dutch, I don't think we did too badly. But the trip took a fair bit longer than Google said it would...and in the process we saw some beautiful Dutch countryside.

Anyway, the important thing is that we got there. As I said, our afternoon at the beach wasn't like it is in the movies.The only descriptions that matched up were 'sandy' and 'breezy.' As usual in the Netherlands, the sky was cloudy and the temperatures seemed a bit cooler than average. But we decided to make the most of it, even though the conditions weren't exactly favorable for a relaxing afternoon on the sand.

As we stood, inhaling the cool, salty air, I remember thinking Wow. This is beautiful. I can't believe I'm actually on a beach! I should probably collect some shells to take home so I can remember this. And soon I'll be standing in the ocean for the first time!
So, I grabbed my camera in one hand and Thomas' hand in the other, and we started toward the water. Along the way we saw various items washed up on the sand...seaweed, shells, driftwood, and jellyfish. Yes, jellyfish. Fortunately Thomas recognized them as a non-stinging type, so he bent down to touch one. Though he encouraged me to join him, I just thought that it would feel too gross. Instead, I was content to take pictures of the jellies.

When we reached the ocean, I was nervous and excited and...humbled. Nervous because what if a shark (highly unlikely, but I still thought it) bit me? Excited because it was my first time at a beach and my first time standing in the ocean. And humbled because as I stood there at the water's edge, I tried to grasp just how huge the oceans are compared to how tiny I am next to one. Just being there, feeling so alive and free in Europe, on a beach...I felt so very blessed to have had the opportunity to travel and share so many things with very good friends.

With all that said, here are some pictures from the day. Enjoy!

It was a cloudy day, but the sky is still pretty. I love God's artwork :)
Jellyfish...are interesting creatures. The purple and white stuff in the middle reminds me of a swirled marble.
Everything about this jellyfish was clear, except for the purple in the middle.
My very first seashells!
Thomas had fun taking pictures of me as I tentatively stepped into the icy water.
The water was so cold! Guess whose feet are going numb? **points to self** But I'm in the ocean! Woo!
A beautiful place made more so by the wonderful man I shared it with

Until next time,


July 16, 2014

A Parisian Easter

Hello all!

As promised in my last post...this one will be just pictures from days 2 & 3 of my trip to Paris with Thomas over Easter. I already included a couple pictures from the Eiffel Tower in my last post, so the ones this time will be the views from the various levels during our climb. Enjoy!


Eiffel Tower

--- I didn't stop to take pictures on the first level, since we decided that the views would be more picture-worthy from the middle and top levels.

View from the second level, with the Montparnasse Tower in the distance
The Seine River, as seen from the second level
We made it! All the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower!
Same view of the Montparnasse Tower, only this time from the top level so you can tell how much higher up we actually are.

Arc de Triomphe

Unfortunately there was some re-furbishing going on, so most of the top was blocked off. But we were still able to climb up and have a beautiful panoramic view of Paris.

Underneath the Arc - the detail on the flowers is absolutely amazing
On our climb up the inside of the Arc - Wait, why does everything have to have a spiral staircase?
On top of the Arc!
Centered underneath the Arc is an eternal flame in honor of the French "Unknown Soldier" from World War I. Every day at 6:30 p.m. the flame is rekindled, as veterans lay wreaths decorated with the colors of the French flag around it.

Easter Vigil Mass at Notre Dame
Waiting in line before mass, eating Nutella and cinnamon/sugar crepes...and watching the church officials set up....
...This large pile of sticks for the fire that symbolizes Christ as the Light of the World, and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday
After mass finished, this was our last view of the inside of Notre Dame. This center space was the part we were not allowed to enter during our tour the day before.


Sacre-Couer Basilica

--- Commonly known as "The Basilica on the Hill," this monument is the highest point (by sea level) in Paris.
--- When Thomas and I got there, we decided to avoid the long line at the doors, so we didn't actually go inside. Instead, we chose to visit the crypt and then to climb the 300 stairs to the dome for another panoramic view of Paris. It was beautiful.

Just a zoomed-in view from where we are standing in the next picture...

This basilica is famous for its "perpetual Adoration"
Thomas found his Confirmation saint (St. Francis Xavier) in the crypts of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. (If you remember from my post about Rome, I found my saint in St. Peter's Basilica.)
The tomb of St. Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower") - the patron saint for China Little Flower, run by Thomas' parents. You can learn more about China Little Flower here:
Oh, you know...just hanging out on the dome, taking fun pictures...

Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay)

--- This building originally functioned as a train station. It was obvious from the architecture and interior designs that it used to be a train station.
--- Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the Orsay Museum. But we enjoyed a few hours of looking at very famous Impressionist paintings by many well-known artists. I LOVE Impressionism!
--- Some of the artists' works we saw include: Monet, Pissarro, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.
The Musée d'Orsay, as seen from the Seine River, on our first night in Paris.
Waiting in the HUGE line (on the other side of the building from the river). At least the weather was nice.
Gourmet Chocolate Museum

--- I didn't take any pictures here. There were various artifacts set up in a time-line, and as we walked through the self-tour, we learned the history of how gourmet chocolate came to France. At the end of the tour, we watched a demonstration of making chocolate molds and filling them....and then we got to sample various chocolates.

Pere Lachais Cemetery

--- I didn't even know this existed until Thomas told me. It was really nice to just have a relaxing afternoon stroll amid the beautiful tombs and monuments that covered the 110 acres; this is the largest cemetery in Paris.
--- The following information is from a website about this cemetery:
---------- The graves of the famous dead include the American musician Jim Morrison, Irish author Oscar Wilde, and French writers Balzac and Proust.
---------- Famous composer and musician Chopin is entombed here.
---------- Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened on May 21, 1804.

Montparnasse Tower

--- Between visiting the cemetery and the tower, we went back to the place we had rented to relax for a bit before venturing to a nearby restaurant that we'd found out about from our host. It was a little place called L'Amourette, and the food was good; although, both Thomas and I agreed that it could've been cooked longer.

Our appetizer - ravioli. I don't remember what was in it, but it tasted good :)
Our entrees - Thomas ordered "Magret de canard, purée de patates douces" (Duck, with mashed sweet potatoes); I ordered "
Bavette de l'Aubrac, sauce échalotes, frites" (Aubrac steak with shallot sauce, and fries)

--- After supper, we took the metro across the city to the Montparnasse Tower for a view of Paris at night. It is 59 stories high, and we took the "fastest elevator in Europe" to the 56th floor, and then walked stairs to the top. We even saw the Eiffel Tower 'sparkle,' as it does for 5 minutes, on the hour, every hour. Isn't the view just...breathtaking?

The Eiffel Tower as it sparkles

Well, that's the end of our trip to Paris. I hope you enjoyed the photos!

Until next time,


June 23, 2014

Easter in Paris

Hello from...Nebraska!

I've been back home for about 6 weeks now. I think I've finally become reacquainted with life in Nebraska. Let me tell you - life in Middelburg was quite different. But that's another story for another day. This post is about my trip to Paris over the Easter weekend.

Thomas and I decided that Paris was the third major city we definitely wanted to visit while in Europe. After discussing transportation possibilities, we asked Lindsey if she'd like to come with us. Unfortunately, she declined due to wanting to use the break time to catch up on school work and sleep. So, Thomas and I asked one of my housemates, Lilia (who was, conveniently, from Paris), what the best (a.k.a. - cheapest) way to travel to there was.
In the end, we decided to take a train to Rotterdam, and from there we took an overnight bus to Paris. We used the same bus company (Eurolines) from our trip to London. Since we had both Good Friday and the Monday after Easter off from classes, we left for Rotterdam on Thursday and returned to Middelburg on Monday afternoon.

Friday was a very full day. We began by touring Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie. The former is a beautiful cathedral that is famous for its stained glass. Once inside, we saw the lower chapel, with some small, simple stained glass:

Saint Chapelle (left) and the Palais de Justice, translated to "Palace of the City"
Part of the exterior of Saint Chapelle - This building, along with the Palais de Justice and the Conciergerie, are part of the oldest surviving buildings of the former royal palace.
Inside the lower chapel
Stained glass in the lower chapel
 After touring the lower chapel, Thomas and I went to the upper chapel to enjoy the incredible beauty of the stained glass. Upon walking into the chapel, we were immediately surrounded by this:

Our next stop was just down the block, past the Palais de Justice. It took us a little while to find the entrance to the Conciergerie because it looked like a normal doorway into the side of a building. When we found it, we explored some of the hallways where rebels from the French Revolution had been held captive until they were taken to the guillotine. We also saw Marie Antoinette's cell.

Outside of the Conciergerie
Inside the bottom level of the Conciergerie
The small chapel where prisoners were allowed a "last meal" and an opportunity for mass before being taken to the guillotine the next day.
A small courtyard where only women prisoners were allowed out for exercise and fresh air. (Notice the large, lethal spikes that ring the top of the buildings. This is to prevent prisoners from escaping.)

Our next stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. Since it was Good Friday, there was a service for the Veneration of the Cross. So, it surprised me that the place was still open for touring. We walked around the perimeter inside the cathedral, and then stopped to tour the treasury. I think the pictures explain themselves:

These are just a few of the many relics, chalices, and monstrances that we saw in the Notre Dame treasury:

My favorite chalice out all the ones we saw
Thomas and I dubbed this one the "Tree Chalice" because of the design on the base
The details on everything were impeccable, especially on this chalice with wheat designs
My favorite monstrance in the treasury. The inner circle is ringed with a mini crown of thorns.
After finishing the tour inside the cathedral, we waited in a line along the side of the building so we could climb up one of the towers (see above photos of exterior) to see the gargoyles and have a wonderful view of Paris.

The weather was cool and breezy, so Thomas came prepared with a stocking hat for me and earmuffs for him (but he took them off for the picture). Notice the Eiffel Tower off in the distance...

Once we had climbed down the tower, we got on the metro to the Louvre. There was so much to see there, and we wandered through the long hallways, enjoying the art. The main exhibits we wanted to see at the Louvre was the "Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci and the "Venus de Milo" statue. We could've spent hours - days, perhaps - inside the museum and not seen everything. It was absolutely beautiful.

Just part of the Louvre (with a fountain). I love fountains!
Sunset through the pyramid at the Louvre.
Standing under/inside the pyramid, since that's where the main entrance into the museum was located.
The infamous "Venus de Milo" statue
Thomas with an adorable smiling lion
I found little cow figurines and felt like I was home in Nebraska. I couldn't resist taking a photo for my dad *wink*
Stopped to create a "digital painting" on our way to Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa"
The room - and the huge crowd - surrounding the "Mona Lisa"
The painting was a lot smaller than I expected it to be. And, as shown in the previous photo, it has an entire wall dedicated to its display.
And there it is - the Mona Lisa. For all the hype surrounding this painting, actually viewing it wasn't as spectacular a feeling as I imagined it would be. But it's still really neat to know that we saw it.
By the time we left the Louvre, we were rather hungry. So we stopped in a small restaurant along the way to our next activity. I ordered Turkish food and Thomas got chicken cordon bleu, since we were in France. Both were delicious.
Our last tour for our first day in Paris was an evening cruise along the Seine River. We saw many of the popular / most famous Parisian attractions, and I managed to take some artsy pictures. Enjoy!

Notre Dame

After our very busy Friday and late-night river cruise, we were rather we ended up getting a bit of a late start on Saturday. That's why we made it to only the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe through the afternoon, before we needed to head back towards the Notre Dame to attend Easter Vigil mass on Saturday evening.
The lines at the Eiffel Tower were INSANELY long, and we waited for around 2 hours before making to the ticket window. We climbed the stairs up to the first and second levels, and then we decided to take the elevator to the top. The incredible views made all the time spent waiting worth it.

So...that's just day 1 in Paris. And there is already a considerable number of pictures in this post. That's why I've decided to do most of the explaining now, and then the next post will be basically all pictures from days 2 and 3 in Paris.

Here's a little preview of what's coming:

Eiffel Tower
Arc de Triomphe
Easter Vigil Mass at Notre Dame

Sacre-Couer Basilica
Orsay Museum
Gourmet Chocolate Museum
Pere Lachais Cemetery
Montparnasse Tower

Until next time,