europe is rad: part 1

Y’all!!!! I miss you all. Europe is rad. I spent our first travel break in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic with Laura and Adeline. For a week, we landed in one city just to slip into another by train and walk and walk and walk and walk. I am grateful!!

We met the Saturday morning sun at the Copenhagen airport, currency exchanged and bellies full of coffee and chocolate muffins. By lunchtime we had stepped out of the Cologne, Germany train station only to gape at the majestic Cologne Cathedral. I’m convinced the next Disney Pixar movie should use this place as its backdrop. All week, I alternated between wide-eyed gazes out to the world and quick typing on my phone so I wouldn’t forget the week’s stock of worth-remembering moments.

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We ate brats drenched in ketchup and waffles and schnitzel. We sat around the dinner table with Caroline, one of my friends from Vanderbilt who showed us a little picture of what it’s like to be a college graduate. Caroline is traveling for the year with the Keegan Fellowship program. She is studying end of life care all over the world, in places like Ireland and Brazil and Japan.

We probably laughed and listened around the table for almost three hours, Adeline picking Caroline’s brain about the program. Caroline’s thoughts about how we live and how we die are really special, and you can read her blog here.

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On Sunday morning we boarded our first train, for Salzburg. Our ride to Munich, the first hub on the way to Salzburg, was about five hours, and everyone on board hunkered down pretty quickly. My seatmate downed a beer and burger while the elderly man across the aisle munched on broccoli and carrots. I pulled out my plastic fork and ate chunky peanut butter by the forkful. We were in it for the long haul. But the trip that I thought was going to be a massive waste of time turned out to ridiculously beautiful. The train car was a little moving conglomeration of people, luggage tucked above our heads, all scanning Kindles or newspapers or just gazing out at the German countryside.

The train chugged along the Rhine river for hours, and dotting each side of the bank were white houses with gingerbread cookie trim. Their flowerboxes spilled over big blooms, pink and magenta and sunshine-colored. 

After the beauty of our train ride, the rest of the journey felt a little less worth celebrating. We had to get off the train before crossing over the border of Austria, and took a shuttle bus from the closest point in Germany into Salzburg. This was because of the refugee crisis. It was impossible to miss the border because tents and camps and sleeping bags were packed into a makeshift camp right in front of the Austrian police. We saw families walking along the highway, mothers carrying children and fathers carrying bags. I wanted to cry. It is overwhelming being here while this is happening; we’re walking straight through a high school history class movie.

We saw refugees escorted around the Munich and Salzburg train stations, too. What kept running through my mind the whole week was confusion. I see families fleeing for their lives into the countries I am visiting as a tourist, and feel upset because I’m riding around in a coach bus for the Sound of Music tour and making sure I try the traditional food in each country. But if these better-off countries didn’t have money coming in from tourism, wouldn’t they be in an even worse place to care for their people? I’m still really sad about it and I don’t have any answers. More on this later when I’ve had time to process.

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Regardless of our emotional upheaval, we really enjoyed our time in Salzburg. It’s a beautiful city of only about 150,000 people. Monday morning called for the Sound of Music tour, a 4-hour venture around Salzburg and the surrounding mountains. We saw Nonnberg Abbey and the Cathedral where Maria and Baron von Trapp were married and the original gazebo that Liesl and Rolf leapt around and Mirabell Gardens from the “Do Re Mi” scene. The three of us could not stop smiling the entire time!!

Something really special happens when the songs you’ve sung for years and years come to life. “Edelweiss” is a special song to me, as is “My Favorite Things” and really the entirety of the soundtrack. Our tour bus was full of young engaged couples and families and older couples and the three of us, American girls who sang “Climb Every Mountain” for at least 48 hours after the tour. My favorite bus buddy we had sat across the aisle, a woman my mom’s age who sang the soundtrack opera-style every time we got back on the bus. She was the best. Outside the Cathedral, we downed tomato soup and apple strudel with ice cream for lunch and got to talk about how traveling is the biggest blessing.

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After the Sound of Music tour, we took a cable car up Untersberg Mountain, which is the mountain you see often in the skyline during the Sound of Music. We fondly refer to this part of the trip as “all the Salzburg we cannot see” or more specifically, “all the schnitzel we cannot see.” There were a lot of clouds up on Untersberg and not a lot of views. The cable car took us most of the way up the mountain, straight through some clouds. That was pretty scary. When we got out of the car, visibility was zero. Absolutely nothing. It was pretty funny. The hike to the summit took about 20 minutes, and at the top there’s a cross that reads “Im kreuz is heil,” or “the cross is salvation.” I get happy chills when I think about all the mountain climbers and winded tourists who have seen this redeeming message.

After a few minutes of standing at the summit laughing at our joke of a mountain, I turned around and screamed because the clouds were breaking and we could finally see! It was beautiful. Worth waiting out the clouds and goosebumps from the cold!! God’s creation is dang amazing.

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This is just half of our trip–I’ll write about the second half in a few days once I catch up on school work!! Life is dreamy here in Europe and I want to hear all about how life is dreamy back in America. Europe and the Middle East are experiencing a tragic crisis right now, and I sometimes feel petty writing about the joy in my life. But my being able to travel is a generous gift from my parents and my school, one that I don’t want to belittle. I love y’all very much!!

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