Monday, October 25, 2010

Dare You To Move

WOW it sure has been a while!  And a ton has happened since we last spoke!  Or, well, since I last spoke I guess.  I have just returned from my fabulous solo adventure to Scotland and England for my ten day long fall break.  I guess I will just tell you about each day - because each day was wonderful and unique in itself!

Day I:  After arriving in London the night before, I took the train to Salisbury in the English countryside where I then boarded a bus to Stonehenge!  Stepping out of tunnel beneath the road and seeing those magnificent stones was truly amazing!  I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to see them, but I did!  They are much bigger than they appear in pictures.  And so mysterious!  You literally get a chill just staring at them, not just from the cold weather!

Day II:  Edinburgh, SCOTLAND!!!  I got up early and visited the Edinburgh Castle which is big and complicated and has endless possibilities for imagination.  My mind was reeling with excitement!  The view from this incredible fortress were astounding.  You could see for miles!  Even all the way to the sea.  The city of Edinburgh is nice.  Even though it's ginormous, I found myself falling for the older parts of it where all the excitement was!  And the bagpipes!  Oh the music...there was even a parade celebrating the Scottish army and there were about a hundred bagpipes marching with them - it was more than I ever could have asked for :)  That same day, I traveled to Stirling where I then went and visited Stirling Castle.  It was awesome too, although smaller.

Day III:  I went to the William Wallace Monument in Stirling!  It was a very long walk from town, but very refreshing in the early morning.  I climbed the 276 winding stairs to the very top, where the view was even more spectacular than in Edinburgh.  If Wallace had been around, I think he would have been pleased at this monument so aptly built for him.  Then, after I had gotten my fill, there was some sort of falconry display with all sorts of birds of prey outside.  They were beautiful birds and I got to hold a small owl!  I met some really cool full-blooded Scottish people there that were just as intrigued to talk with me as I was to them!  They are so much more friendly and willing to help you than the snobby Italians.  Later that day, I traveled to Inverness where I was on the same train as the Celtic Football Club sitting a mere 4 feet away from the head coach!  It was pretty cool!

Day IV:  My hostel in Inverness (Bazpackers Hostel) was the best hostel I had stayed at thus far in my trip.  I would readily go back there as the young couple running the place were wonderful, the common room had a warm fire, AND a snuggly kitty to sit with.  That day, I went to Loch Ness where I got to visit the Urquhart Castle ruins.  They don't really know much about them because of the sad state that they are in, plus the castle isn't really mentioned in Scottish history, so it's a bit of a mystery (haha - rhyme).  Loch Ness is beautiful and not nearly as murky and dark as people say.  I did not see Nessy, but that's not say she isn't out there ;)  Later in the afternoon, I traveled to Invergarry which is south of Loch Ness.  In Invergarry, is Glengarry Castle Hotel where my Grandma and Grandpa stayed many years ago when they came to Scotland.  It was Grandpa's favorite place in Scotland (in fact in the whole world besides Elk Lake!) and I really wanted to see it.  It was so moving to get to be able to stand in the place he stood and see the things he saw when he was there.  I know he was with me that day -  I could truly feel his presence :)  That place truly epitomizes Psalm 23 - you should look it up and think of a place you know that does that for you.

Day V:  I got up early and took the train to Kyle of Lochalsh where my favorite castle in all of Scotland is located.  The Eilean Donan Castle!  It was beautiful and everything that I imagined it would be.  It was nestled on a small loch in a valley between snow-capped mountains.  It was breathtaking!  I stayed at a wonderful little bed and breakfast not too far from the castle where I got to finally take a moment and relax...

Day VI and VII:  A Scottish couple I met at my B&B took me on a scenic morning drive where mist was slowly rising off the snow-dusted mountains and the trees were sparkling with moisture.  Such beauty does exist!  They dropped me off at my bus stop where I took the bus to the train which then took me to the little town of Aviemore in the very heart of the Cairngorms National Park.  My B&B was actually in Glenmore which was about 5 miles away, but luckily there was bus that took me straight there!  The woman that owned this place was the kindest, sweetest Scottish woman!  She took such good care of me!  That night she made me a full Scottish dinner and the next morning a full Scottish breakfast (complete with haggis! which is really good, by the way)!!  She sent me on a 6 mile hike around her valley - she was literally smack dab in the middle of nowhere.  I was in heaven!  She started to refer to herself as my "Scottish Mommy."  And she truly was!

Day VIII:  Mary drove me all the way in to the train station and saw me off.  She was a light in my trip and I know I will never forget her.  That morning I took an 8 hour train all the way to London where I met my friend Tad!  It was great to finally be with a familiar face (as much as I have been enjoying my time alone with just me and God and whomever He placed in my path).  We got to catch up and he played tour guide as we walked around Hyde Park where I got to see Kensington Palace, the Wellington Arch, and Buckingham Palace.  It was nice to have some company for a little while :)

Day IX:  I got up early and went to the London Zoo!  Yes, I went to the zoo.  I am 7 years old at heart so this was a must.  I loved it!  Especially the lions.  And then - THEN - I went to see Les Miserables on Broadway!!!!!!  It was a dream come true!

So.  This trip I know has changed me in many ways and has been life-changing.  However, I don't really know yet how it has changed me!  All I know is that I have learned how to rely only on God.  I prayed so much on this trip for safety and a clear mind and heart.  In turn He astounded me with extraordinary places, people, and bounds of healing.  I have been learning to trust Him, and in turn He has been opening my eyes to His creation.  He gave me dreams and visions of me and Him that are special and unique to me.  I knew this trip was good for something :)  If only to expand my faith in Him!  That's all for now friends and family, I know this has gotten quite long!  Miss you and love you all.  The time is going to fly now!!  Until next time :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Warning Sign

Just so you all know, all of the titles of my posts correspond to songs that are very prevalent in my life and are in particular stuck in my head!  So Warning Sign by Coldplay is the song of the week!  Anyways, since I last left you I was heading off to Venice.  First of all, I think Venice is highly underrated!  Whenever I talked to anyone about Venice previous to going, they said that it was smelly and small and not a lot to do.  Well let me say that there was PLENTY to do!  I never had a moment to relax!  And Florence is leaps and bounds stinkier than this entrancing city upon the water.  Those of you who know me, are familiar with the fact that I am a waterbug.  This is truly the city for me! 

When we got there, we went straight to the island of Murano where we got to watch a glass-blowing demonstration.  It only confirms my want to learn the craft!  Although I think I would probably burn my hand off.  The man made a horse and a vase in a matter of 5 minutes.  I was very impressed!  Murano was beautiful with all the colors although it was pouring while we were there.  That same evening we had the privilege of meeting up with another study abroad group from U of M to go on a private visit of St. Mark's Basilica.  First of all, let me explain that a private visit for one is very rare to be able to do.  What they did next was truly what made this a once in a lifetime opportunity.  We walked into the basilica with all of the lights off and sat down in the very front.  It was pitch black.  Then they slowly turned the lights on one by one and the basilica lit up until it blasted my eyes with pure gold!  St. Mark's is solely mosaic and the most beautiful mosaic I have ever seen or will see in my entire life!  We also got to go up on the main altar which is sealed off the the public.  AND we got to take pictures, which is also never allowed.  Truly an awesome experience.  The photo above is of Jesus at the very front and center of the cathedral.  

Also while in Venice we visited various museums like Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico, Sale Monumentali Biblioteca Marciana, Palazzo Giorgione, the Arena Chapel in Padua (about a 30 minute train from Venice), and the Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia.  I have to say that I couldn't believe we managed to see all of these things in the matter of 3 days!  It was incredible!  My favorite by far was dell'Accademia where I saw a number of Titian's, Tiepolo's (a new favorite), and many many more.  Although I was disappointed that the public is not allowed to see Leonardo's Vitruvian Man.  Our program director is a truly magnificent, brilliant woman who is a walking encyclopedia of Renaissance Art.  This experience here in Italy has truly been magnified because of her great knowledge and desire to teach us her passion.  

Of course while in Venice, it was a must to go dancing in San Marco Square at night with all of the lights :)  That's the picture that you see above.  And then my favorite picture from the entire weekend is of one of the canals at night (shown below).  I am so glad that I get to go back to Venice in December!

The excitement rages on for my trip to the UK.  And please, all, don't worry about me traveling there with this travel alert going on.  The status in the UK has not changed from what it has been for the past 5 years.  And honestly, if it's my time to go then it's my time to go!  All I know is that I have a lot of life to live yet, and I don't think God is going to take me out by a terrorist bomb on a little train to Inverness in the far North of Scotland!  God has been doing some fantastic things with me here, and I am learning how to listen to Him.  My relationship with Him has exploded like rapid-fire and I am ever so excited to see where He takes me in life!  That is all for now, blessed friends and family!  Love you and miss you, can't wait to see you in the States around Christmastime :)