Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

A Giant of a Bridge

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

We took a slight detour on our way south on Wednesday (12/6) to visit the world’s largest bridge, The Millau Viaduct. The bridge is spectacular, spanning the Tarn river valley in southwest France. It really looks as though the highway just took off and flew over this yawning valley supported by a few spindly pillars.

The bridge was designed by the British architect and Baron Norman Foster who also designed the “Gherkin” we saw in London, the new dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, the Hauptbahnhof roof and cupola in Dresden, all of which we have seen in the past few weeks. We hadn’t planned this to be a Norman Foster tour, but it’s turning in to one.

After observing the bridge for a while and experimenting with the durability of our Nalgenes (we weren’t able to throw them off the bridge so we soccer dribbled them down the hillside). Then, we crossed the amazing viaduct, arriving at the other side €6 poorer, but spiritually uplifted.

We then drove south through Clermont to the Mediterranean where, according to Matt, we passed “a foul bathroom and barbecuing locals, to stroll the shore. The Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean in 12 days. Whew.”

After an hour or so at the French Mediterranean beach, we headed west toward Andorra. After the highways petered out at the edge of the Pyrenees, we spent hours wending our ways through the mountains toward the tiny nation. Although none of us got sick and we enjoyed the views quite a bit–until it got dark–we did eventually tire of the switchbacks and their toll on our brakes.

We rolled into Andorra that night, stopped at a parking lot just outside of town and went to sleep.

The next morning (13/6) we awoke and I proposed that we do some work on the car. The rest agreed after a bit of democratic discussion and we set at it. Matt set to work figuring out our problems with the windshield-wiper-fluid system that caused our fluid to drain out under the bumper and caused an annoying warning light to reside constantly on our dashboard.

Dan and David took apart the passengers side rear door where the window hasn’t worked since we got the car. I went back and forth between the two projects offering advice, encouragements, and random statements. I also read the manual and our Haynes book comparing parts and instructions for all projects.

Matt fixed his problem first when he discovered a detached hose intended to lead to the headlight-cleaners–which have never worked. Our windshield-wiper-fuild was filled to the brim and it didn’t leak! Our rear and headlight sprayers still didn’t work, but those were not real problems.

The door was a bit trickier, but with the help of a zip-tie David had found on the sidewalk somewhere along the way they finished their job and everything seemed to be working!

Dan and I then set to trying to open the drivers-side rear door which had been irrevocably locked since before we got the car. While we slowly and painfully removed piece-by-piece the paneling of the door with the door closed, Matt and David collected some water from a local stream and made a soup (after boiling the water for 5 minutes, of course). Dan and I eventually deemed the door irreparable at least with the tools we had and went to get some cold cokes (it was getting quite warm) in a nearby restaurant filled with catalan-speakers and attached to a tennis court.

After enjoying one of David and Matt’s first soups (I had done most of the cooking except a few breakfasts and some couscous up until that point) we drove around Andorra la Villa, found it to be mainly a shopping mall and headed toward Barcelona.

On the way to Barcelona, we enjoyed the view from the Pyrenees once again, but had to stop at one point when our brakes began to smoke. They cooled and we took off again, even more gingerly this time. After a few hours we made it to the bottom and made our way into the city of Gaudi.

Daniel R. Ziegler

South to Praha

Friday, June 12th, 2009

While the guys continued enjoying the view of the city from the Reichstag dome, I set off through the Brandenburg Gate and returned to the Bebelplatz square. Earlier that day I had stuck my head into an atrium-like room off the square, attracted to the techno beat and kaleidoscopic light show. I learned the university was hosting a benefit dance party that night. I arrived around eleven and persuaded my way inside for half price. The party was slow in starting so I chatted with the student manning the Macbook and the music until around midnight when the real DJ arrived. I hung off to the side until working up enough courage to join the growing crowd on the dance floor for a good passionate dance. The guys were expecting me back at the car before 12:30 so I could not stay as long as I would have wished. Instead, I tried to navigate the Berlin subway system. I arrived an hour and a half late to cold pasta and toast. At junctions, I had to ascend to the surface and walk a block or so past a few raving drunks to descend to the desired subway’s station, then wait for the next train traveling my intended direction. Interesting characters on the subway at 2 am in Berlin. We departed Berlin and Ziegler drove an hour south as we fell asleep.

Mid-morning we woke and David drove to the Dresden Monarch American football team’s stadium where we celebrated with oatmeal. While Ziegler napped, the other three split up and explored Dresden’s Altstadt, the old city center. The area’s architecture is awe-inspiring, especially since it’s a recent recreation. The buildings all appear weatherworn and of ancient Baroque style, despite much of them are less than 20-years-old. It was hard to remember. In February 1945, Allied planes firebombed the city, laying waste to 75% of the city. Pictures portray Dresden as a wreckage where 40 thousand people died. During the Communists’ rule, the area was only partially rebuilt. Today, however, the skyline is adorned with majestic spires and cupolas. I admired the Semper-Oper, the opera house restored to its pre-war glory; the Frauenkirche, the impressively reconstructed 4-year-old cathedral; and what appeared to be the Dresden Schloß palace. Easily distracted, I crossed the Elbe River, drawn by cheering and music. I watched a few minutes of a beach volleyball tournament sponsored by Smart, the makers of those tiny cars only recently introduced in America. On my return through the Alstadt streets to the car I splurged on a German bratwurst, totally worth a Euro.

Reassembled, we left and headed into the Czech Republic. Shenk, my navigator, and I had some fun trying to find Terezin after signs stopped pointing the way and forced a little guesswork. We arrived too late to justify the several Euro for an hour in the small museum so we walked the town and two memorials. The town especially interested me for its history as a ghetto for Jewish artists; these internationally known fine artists and musicians would have been missed if killed by the Nazis. Portrayed as “Hitler’s gift to the Jews,” Terezin’s inhabitants were forced to act out a false cultural ideal for Nazi films and a Red Cross visit. Before that visit, the S.S. thinned the population by killing thousands in Auschwitz and threatened death on any who revealed Terezin’s true living conditions. The ghetto’s Nazi offices churned out propaganda from the Jewish painters. After hours, though, those same artists would use their propaganda materials to draw and paint the true nature of the camp, some of which were discovered later. They are powerful images, Holocaust art from the inside. I appreciate their deviousness: expose the Nazis with the tools intended to conceal.

We continued to Praha (Prague) that evening, doing some intense wardriving before we found free wi-fi (pronounced wif-fee). While we shared the access and opportunity for communication home, we followed the lead of two teens who passed and ate from a cherry tree across the neighborhood road. We ate our full until an old woman passed and scolded us in Czech. On-line, Ziegler and David looked up some Mennonite Your Way contacts along our route, whom they emailed regarding hosting four smelly young men. We also found n English-speaking church for the next morning, a change from the native services we had enjoyed until then. Satisfied, we headed out of the city for some food and shut-eye. A busy day.

Matt

Fun Facts about Estonia

Monday, June 8th, 2009

May 29th, we disembarked, drove around Tallinn, Estonia, and found a place to park the Passat near the old city. [Fun fact #1: Tallinn was made the capital of independent Estonia in 1919 and again in 1991.] Ziegler stayed with the car, both to catch up on sleep (see the previous post) and to prevent parking tickets (apparently you can pay for parking by mobile phone but why?). David and I set out toward the old city, high atop an outcrop in the center of the city. On the way, we passed fields hosting several intense soccer games played by high-school-aged youth and encouraged by peers with obnoxiously loud horns. Go team. [Fun fact #2: The town of Tallinn was first mentioned in 1154 A.D.] We picked our way up the cliff above the fields and found several impressive cathedrals, one Baroque styled and the other Soviet styled. The contrast was profound, especially when the crosses above the latter seemed to include communism’s hammer and sickle. Maybe they used the first church as their model. Both churches were open to the public and we stuck our heads in to appreciate the ornate decor. [Fun fact #3: Tallinn became a member of Hanseatic League in 1285.]

Descending into the old city, quite popular with the tourists, we intentionally walked quickly down the narrow streets on a quest for bread. I asked a friendly-looking local for help and she smiled when I emphasized our intentions to find cheap bread. [Fun fact #4: Tallinn's size is 158 square kilometers.] We followed her directions to a mall and its grocery store where we bought three small loaves for around $1.50 and six, grapefruit-sized apples. [Fun fact #5: Tallinn's currency is the Kroon.] After returning to the car, Ziegler did some exploring of his own while we wrote journal entries and organized photos. David then turned us southeast to the coast of Peipsi Jarv (a.k.a. Lake Pepsi), which separates Estonia and Russia. Unlike Sarah Palin, we couldn’t see Russia. Along the coast, we stopped for a break at a playground and Ziegler and I tried out an Estonian swing-set. We discovered David’s camera does not have a “jumping-out-of-a-swing” mode (although it has one for almost everything else). We moved along after some young teens arrived; apparently, playgrounds are hang-out spots for Estonian youth. [Fun fact #6: Estonia's national Independence Day is February 24.] We continued another half hour alongside the lake, accompanied by John Piper and humble wooden homes. Also, the Estonian church is an independent orthodox church that has three unique crossbars on its cross. [Fun fact #7: We have no idea why the crosses look like that.]

Looking for a stop, we stumbled upon camping trail that lead directly to Lake Pepsi’s edge, complete with a fire pit and several large logs, the ideal camping spot. We had parked and just started to set up the cook stove when a pickup drove up, the park rangers. Two rangers got out, a pleasant older gentleman and a beaming younger man, and they just stood there.

“Do you speak English?” Ziegler asked.
The younger man beamed, “Yes, a little.”
“May we camp here?”
“Oh yes!”
“May we build a fire?”
“Yes, yes!” he beamed.
“May we swim?”
He beamed, “Sure. You planning to fish?”
“No. Can we?”
“Sure. You can fish with a net but you need a license.”
“Can we fish with a pole?” David joined in.
“Oh yes, you can fish. You just need a license to fish with a net.”

They both continued standing and looking at us, the older man looking pleasant and the younger man still beaming. We briefly exchanged small talk, and realized they were more curious than protective and that we were pretty much free to do anything we wanted but fish with nets. Good to know. They soon hopped back in their truck and left with a wave. They had just wanted to make sure we looked like guys who wouldn’t throw a crazied, drugged-out beach party, or worse, fish with nets. Maybe another time. Instead, we cooked a delicious meal of pasta and fried canned pork over a fire. It was quite manly. Fire-cooked food on the lakeshore in the Estonian wild. The next morning we completed the experience by getting naked in the lake. I woke early and read for over an hour on a sun-drenched rock overlooking the lake until the guys awoke. We proceeded to scrub ourselves in some breathtakingly cold water. [Fun fact #8: All very manly things to do.] Cleaner, we toweled off and cooked some Scot’s Porridge with apples and raisins. The guys even strung a clothesline to let their clothing (still a little wet from the ferry) dry while I washed the dishes. We left the campsite, satisfied with our Lake Pepsi experience.

Still feeling manly, I began the day refusing to ask Estonians or their maps for directions. I relented when we tried to find the country’s highest point. I have related that endeavor earlier but it also led to us to hike at two sites sponsored by the European Union. [Fun fact #9: The EU has money.] One maintained some natural springs and the other maintained the supposed (though disputed) highest point in Estonia. Having seen these, we continued south, leaving Estonia and all its fun facts. [Fun fact #10: Estonia's national paid holiday is June 24th, Midsummer Day and that truly is fun.]

Matt

Paris: Comprenez-vous?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Sunday morning (17th of May) served as another major step in our adventure: the language barrier. After breakfast, we arrived in Pontoise with full intentions of parking and taking public transportation into Paris. Even the former was a new challenge; our understanding of French parking signs was far from perfect. The qualifications above our parking sport contained an ambiguous French word, sauf. Ziegler successfully defined the word’s meaning as either “except” or “death.” Parking there meant either that we should pay-and-display except on Sundays or that we would be killed on Sunday. I (Matt) instinctively hoped to avoid both fines and death, if possible. Transportation inspired more trepidation. We studied the train and bus station’s maps and ticket machine for such recognizable terms as cul-de-sac, soup de jour, rendezvous, or laissez-faire. After seeing our few minutes of failure, a timid young woman approached us and asked in halting English if we needed help. Oui. She generally explained how to purchase tickets on the RER train into Paris. As she led us to the correct terminal, she informed me that she was studying to be an illustrator. Still very cautiously speaking with limited English, she brightened when I told her of my graphic design minor. We thanked her profusely and I boarded the train with the broader awareness of the extent of our adventure. We were suddenly very foreign and very alone in a country that spoke very little of our mother tongue.

Upon leaving our final stop we chased the first recognizable structure, the Eiffel Tower. We circled beneath the monument and asked a random tourist to take the clique picture of us with the monument. The young man turned out to be a missionary kid from Utah, the first person we had met who spoke English comfortably. We moved on toward the Arc de Triomphe. It was a long walk past numerous buildings with illegible signage. We arrived at the famous arch during a curious lull in traffic and ascended to the top. Paris is quite the lovely city and the Arc serves as a hub for its numerous boulevards. We enjoyed the view and I, surprisingly, took several pictures before we purposed to walk along one such boulevard. First, we had to cross the roundabout encircling the Arc with its increased traffic. David informed us that the circle was the only place in France where fault was not defined in auto accident insurance claims. Instead, all involved drivers split the responsibility to avoid conflict. We decided to test this approach by making a mad dash across numerous lanes of traffic to the sidewalk. David had a showdown with a Mercedes-Benz and apparently some cops yelled at Shenk from a Police van. Still alive, we continued down the Champs Elysses boulevard to the impressive glass pyramids of the Louvre and then across the city to the even more impressive Notre Dame cathedral. Our hunger prompted a splurge on the exotic-sounding dish on a McDonalds menu, the Croque McDo. The woman behind the counter handed us a ham and cheese sandwich. Finding a train station, we returned to our camping spot for soup and sleep.

By the light of Monday morning, Dan discovered we were parked on one side of a stand of trees from a golf course; too bad we had forgotten our clubs. We drove back into Pontoise, bought some groceries (including croissants and Laughing Cow cheese), and parked the car at the station. We rode to the Louvre and ate a late lunch of our purchases before splitting up in the art museum. I could have spent two weeks in that building. Instead, we rationed our time in the three and a half hours until it closed at 5. I felt immensely torn between seeing as many works of art as possible and allowing enough time at specific works to appreciate them. As such, I had to continually remind myself that what I saw was not merely the subjects of my studies over many years but actually the pieces of art touched by the very artistic masters themselves. Da Vinci himself touched the Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks. Delacroix touched Liberty Leading the People and not Coldplay. Some master sculpture chiseled Venus de Milo over two thousand years ago. Hundreds of brilliant artists had touched the art in the museum and made each uniquely beautiful. I emerged and met the guys at five, all of us slightly dazed. We walked across the river to Notre Dame but found it closed. On a brighter note, I finally made good on my aim to kick a pigeon and it helped me relieve some of the disappointment in missing the cathedral’s interior. The four of us began the journey alongside the Rive Seine and I tried in vain to ask where we could procure bagets, thin loaves of bread. I really fail at foreign languages and our French phrase book helped very little. To tide us over until dusk, we had some Expresso coffee and a croissant at a little restaurant. At the Eiffel Tower a little after nine, we discovered we were unable to climb the steps to the first platform at night as we had orignially planned, to save 3 Euro a person. I could have kicked another pigeon but we still took the trams up. Paris is even more lovely at night and from its highest point. We did the touristy thing and took lots of pictures. On the way down I realized I, the only single guy on this trip, had just passed up the most ideal opportunity to kiss a random girl. How could a single young woman refuse me a kiss at the top of the most iconic and romantic places in the City of Love? I even considered how long it had been since my last shower but I doubted it was much longer than for any true French young woman. On another note, we didn’t see any all red pickpockets like on the tower’s cautionary signs. Shenk, in his red lumberjack coat, was similar but thankfully kept his hand out of others’ purses.

By the time we returned to earth, it was after 11 and we had missed the last Pontoise-bound train from the nearest station. The feeling of being alone and foreign returned as four young men set out to either return to the car or find a place to sleep for the night. We trained to the central station and happily discovered the last train of the night to our destination would leave in 17 minutes. Naturally our debit card refused to cooperate in the ticket machine and anxieties began to rise. We tried to explain our situation to an employee and thought he explained that because of our predicament, we could just get on the train without a ticket. We hurried aboard. In our second encounter with the law, six police officers followed us onto the train and demanded tickets. Pale, we explained our position but the tense situation seemed rapidly leading toward us sleeping on benches in that station for the night. As exciting as that would have been, we were relieved when the head officer finally relented and we barely left on the last train to our car for free. Truly an exciting beginning in the foreign language step on this exciting journey.

Matt

Edinburgh, Jewel of the North

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Morning dawned cloudy after our unexpected nocturnal adventures (ie losing ourselves in the wonders of Edinburgh during construction season). It has been raining off and on for almost a week now and to tell the truth we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Another thing we’re getting a bit tired of is having Harvest Morn bars for breakfast each morning. Although these are delicious and highly nutritious, a full week of them begins grate on the senses. That’s why we decided to enjoy a full breakfast of free-range eggs, thick-cut toast, and real scottish bacon. It was spectacular. A breakfast which will stand out in legend for ages to come.

After fully enjoying the cooking and eating of our spectacular morning meal, we set off for a full day of exploration in the capital of the Scottish world, Edinburgh. A sprawling city built between several hills near the end of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh has become a mecca for anyone seeking the “Scottish Experience.” Lining the steeply downhill Golden Mile from the ancient and stately Edinburgh Castle to the impressive and glamorous Holyrood Palace is a plethora of shops and tourist traps. The Scottish Whiskey Experience, Thistle Do Nicely, and The Edinburgh Woolen Mill share the road with two magnificent cathedrals and dozens of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Throughout the entire city, history meshes with kitsch in an amalgam of historic beauty and garish modernity. The finest example of this dichotomy was seen near the bottom end of the Golden Mile where ancient Holyrood Palace shares an intersection with the new Scottish parliament building. Built within the past decade to house the Scottish Parliament–a body devolved from the UK Parliament in 1997–the parliament building on the outside is made of shaped steel, wood and glass in a way which calls to mind an image of a bamboo forest. In any modern city (eg Chicago, Columbus, even Belfast) it would have been quite an interesting and beautiful building, but as the seat of power for the leadership of the rugged, rocky and natural nation of Scotland and when contrasted with the ancient stone cathedrals, palaces and castles surrounding it, it ends up looking simply tacky. But enough about architecture and back to exploration.

I’m not sure exactly what David, Dan and Matt did during the afternoon, but I made my way out of town in the car with our clothes only about half of which had dried overnight and used one of the first dry days since our arrival in Scotland to hang our clothes out to finish drying. I drove about 20 minutes out of Edinburgh and pulled off the highway doing a bit of exploring until I found a driveway leading to the entryway of a field. There tied up a line from the car to a fencepost and strung our laundry up to dry. It took about 2 hours even in the bright sun and constant wind, but I managed to get some reading done–I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune after finishing Starship Titanic earlier in the trip–and took a nap. It was a very nice day and no one bothered me until just as I was taking the laundry down a fellow drove up and asked if I needed any help and when I said no he asked if I had been dumping trash there–apparently a problem in the area–I told him I had just been drying my laundry and he said “Right. No problem. Cheers!” and drove off. We’ve been quite amazed by the friendliness of pretty much every single person we’ve encountered here (except for one rather curt waitress in Galway).

After my leisurely afternoon, I rejoined the guys at our appointed meeting spot in Edinburgh (the Burger King with free WiFi). Soon we were on our way (after a dash to get back to the parking lot before our time expired and we got charged €4.50). We drove steadily northwest toward Loch Ness and the Lake District of Scotland–not to be confused with the Lake District of England–and one of my ancestral homelands.

We spent the night by a stream just a few miles outside of Inverness at the tip of Loch Ness and were not attacked by monsters of any sort.

Daniel Z

Religion and The West

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Our first Sunday in Ireland dawned predicatively cloudy. The night had been a bit hard, having spent a tense and hectic half hour in the in the driving rain and gathering dark staking down our tarps to keep our belongings dry. It was with smiling, if tired faces, then, that we greeted the calls of “It’s dry!” that morning. It was about 9 in the morning and the sun was up, although low in the sky and a dry wind was blowing. We laid out the tent and tent fly that hadn’t quite dried from the night before.(leaving at 8 before the sun came out and the dew dried meant we hadn’t had time to air them out.). We also laid out the precious tarps which had so successfully kept the rain off of our bags the night before.

After a half hour or so, we left our little spot in the field for the second time and headed to Dublin.
In Dublin, we parked about a block from St Patrick’s Cathedral and walked to church, feeling a bit bedraggled without a shower, but in our best clothes.

The cathedral is magnificent. During the week the main chapel is home to a gift shop and costs several euro to enter (I always think of Jesus ejecting the moneychangers and others profiting from God’s temple when I see gift shops and admission fees at these cathedrals). On Sundays, however, mass is held at 8:30 and Eucharist sung at 11:15 and admission is free. We didn’t feel like waking up early and wet two days in a row (plus most of us aren’t big fans of waking up early in the morning) so we aimed for the 11:15 service.

A group called the City of London Chamber Choir were the guest choir and sang beautifully, although, as in most cathedrals, the words were lost in the nooks and crannies of the decorated ceilings and walls. The cathedral is Anglican now, although I’m not sure it has been always. St. Patrick is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland and his name and face are widespread throughout the country. Schools, streets, villages, restaurants, hotels, tour companies, breweries and almost every other possible variety of institution bear his name. There are a lot of people who get a lot of acclaim who don’t really deserve it, but Patrick is one who almost certainly does. There are a lot of legends about his life–many of them probably true, for example his origins in Roman Britain or his relationship with the church, which is fairly well documented. Other stories are less documented. For example, he is said to have banished all snakes from Ireland by praying on a mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. It is certainly possible that a man in tune with God’s will could ask for God to perform a miracle as spectacular as banishing snakes from an entire nation.

Back in the church, the service celebrated the 4th Sunday of Easter and was filled with some beautiful spring music and a sermon exhorting the members of the congregation to be shepherds of our brothers and sisters and not sit back and assume that the pastor (shepherd) of the congregation will pick up your slack. The congregation was made up of a number of people who seemed as though they might be Dublin-area regulars and probably about 30 or 40 people who looked like tourists. All in all, attendance was probably at about 150. Not bad for secular Europe, although Ireland is one of the most religious nation in Europe.
It was a sombre service, but seemed filled with a groundswell of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. One of the morning’s hymns, written by John Crum and sung to a traditional French melody, seemed to fit well.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
Like wheat that springeth green.

I left in a good mood, feeling reminded of what a great, international God we serve.
That afternoon we headed to The West, straight across the country. It only took about 3 and ½ hours to cross the entire nation! Along the way, we were thrilled at the the sights of the Irish countryside, damp as they were. Matt also took his first turn driving once we were outside of Dublin, and did quite well. One of the phrases we’ve taken to using here is “Driving like a European” since it seems that in the two European nations we’ve visited on this trip so far, driving in a crazy manner seems rather mundane over here. Matt learned to drive like a European.
Eventually we made it safe and sound to Limerick in The West and headed up the coast. That evening we spent at the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World (As a sidebar, who comes up with these wonders? I mean… can I just declare myself one of the 7 Wonders of the Human World? Not that I want to. Just asking.)

Pictures will do a better job of describing the cliffs, but they rise several hundred feet from the frigid and tumultuous North Atlantic below. We were all awed by how dramatic a form Creation can take, more wonderful than the most spectacular of man’s buildings. In other words, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is nothing compared with God’s Cliffs of Moher (just to clarify, I’m not dissing Wright, I really like his work!)
We left the cliffs a bit late–we had tried to see the sunset, but in typical Irish fashion, it was cloudy–and drove north through Doolin and Galway. Tomorrow we’re going to see the Giant’s Causeway built by the infamous giant, Finn MacCool himself. We’ll finish the day in Belfast where we’ll catch the 3:20 ferry to Stranrear, Scotland.

Daniel Z