Posts Tagged ‘Driving’

Relief

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

The morning of the 23rd, I (Matt) drove us across the Latvian border and into Riga. I felt relief that we had been able to contact the Millers regarding our financial plight and the ol’ Volkswagen had withstood the strenuous drive north without a mechanical breakdown. Little did I know, the capital of Latvia would ultimately add to my relief.

A little before noon, I found a parking space along a busy street near the train station and a block from our previous parking spot during our visit several months before. This time I had the same intention, finding a free Wi-Fi connection. We hung there for several hours, sharing the computer. When I fell asleep, Dan left to inquire at the station for two train tickets to Moscow for the next day. He returned with a couple price figures and the two times trains would leave each day. We agreed to leave the next night at 6 pm on the lowest class train for only 22 Lats or about $44 each. So far so good. Instead of following through and purchasing the tickets, we were distracted by the wonderful World Wide Web. I returned to the station with the group debit card to make the purchase but, after visiting two information desks and three ticket counters, I discovered the tickets had seemingly jumped in price to about 56 Lt each. Alarmed, I returned to the car, and we began discussing alternatives like air and bus fare. We had to make it to Moscow by the 27th to catch our expensive Trans Siberian Railway train. We weren’t, however, willing to pay roughly $230 to train there. Stress.

After each of us had made several more intensely stressful trips to and from the station, we understood that Dan, when he originally found the ideal tickets, hadn’t been informed of the seats’ availability, only of their existence. The one friendly clerk told Dan that only six similar tickets were next available for the 26th. That inspired more stress as we tried to determine whether a train departing that evening would allow us to make the TSR’s departure the next day. Dan searched his e-mail account but couldn’t locate the crucial time of departure from Moscow. Sweating, I returned to the ticket counter to find the clerk had taken a fifteen minute break. I was ready at the counter when she returned to confirm that the tickets were refundable and sell them. Smiling, she informed me I had purchased two of only four remaining tickets. Back at the car, I sat there, overwhelmed and holding a pair of tickets to Moscow at noon on the 27th. Then Dan found the TSR itinerary in a previously undiscovered e-mail, the moment of reckoning… We would make the TSR’s departure. Utterly relieved, we high-fived from our seats in the car. We had two of the very last four affordable tickets to make our connecting train. A few minutes later and we would have had to spend nearly three times as much. Instead, we would travel for the lower price, arrive in time to pick up our tickets, and possibly see Red Square. Relief.

We celebrated with two McDonald’s apple pies. We finished on the Internet, I fell asleep, and Dan drove us a little out of the city and parked in a pull-off. We woke the next morning early, determined to sell our car. We emptied the car, packing our main bags and collecting a significant trash pile until noon. We followed a Google map Dan had loaded to two junkyards and a couple car repair ships. No one bought used cars and I began feeling a little stress. We didn’t want much for the car; we merely needed to dispose of it somewhere before training across Asia. The next shop bought such cars, including Volkswagens. Dan received an offer from two rough-looking Latvian men eying the Passat, of €600 and successfully asked for €700. A little shocked, we grabbed our stuff from the car. We walked away with Euro bills in our pocket and our current possessions on our backs and in our hands, before they could change their minds and refuse the deal. I am in awe of the Lord’s provision on this trip. This includes my disbelief in the fact that our station-wagon, purchased in England for about $2 thousand, returned $1 thousand off the Baltic Sea, three months and 20,000 miles later. Relief.

Suddenly without wheels of our own, we caught a bus back to Riga’s train station and walked to a youth hostel in Riga’s old town. Our day’s goal completed, we settled into a comfortable dormitory room for a two-nights stay before our train journey began the 26th. Dan and I spent some time on the Internet and I walked around the old town, seeing the touristy shops and restaurants, buying some provisions at a grocery store, and touring the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The Museum outlined the plight of Latvia under the German and Russian regimes from 1940 to 1991. The country, centrally located between the East and the West, has seen its fair share of occupation and oppression. We shared the 12-bed hostel room with a man who was studying the result of Russia’s practice of deporting thousands of citizens in the Baltic States to scatter them across Russia and replace them with Russians. As a part of his Master’s thesis, he had researched for three weeks in Riga before soon moving to Estonia for two more.

Still rebuilding from its Soviet past, Riga is a pleasant city. The next two days, Saturday and Sunday, allowed us to explore its back roads. Saturday night I left the hostel and its frustratingly sketch Internet connection and intentionally got lost in the confusing network of roadways. I enjoy getting intentionally lost and I believed I could easily find my way back to the hostel by following the three impressive church steeples in the old town. Not so when, an hour and a half later, I ended up in a residential part of the city with only apartment buildings and only business buildings on the horizon. I tried to ask a few people but no one could direct me in the direction of the old town or the train station. Several people gave me the numbers of the buses I would have to take. I had gotten lost on purpose; I wouldn’t concede defeat by busing back. Finally, I had a young woman point the general direction and two hours and 45 minutes after I had left, I walked, into our hostel room. Relief.

Dan and I walked another hour, tentatively looking for a cheap restaurant before returning to pub near the train station. We enjoyed mushroom pizzas and soups while discussing acceptance and correction according to the Bible and their role in the intended Body of Christ. Fascinating. After attending two churches the next morning (merely because I slept in), we ran into each other, Dan walking with four people from his earlier English-speaking service. We joined them for a delicious meal of Latvian potato pancakes, delicious courses with sour cream or jellies. Keith Trampe, with his wife Andrea, were Nebraskans, nearly done with their year-long post as minister at the Riga Lutheran church. We shared a wonderful conversation about Latvian, Nebraskan, and Indonesian culture and our European travels with them and another couple, an Indonesian woman and a German man, the German police liaison to the entire Baltic region. I thought visiting 40 countries was impressive; the German had spent time in over 90. Fascinating.

We finished, exchanged contact information, headed for the hostel, late, and checked out. Lugging out bags behind us, we found a bench in the park by the train station. Dan read while I walked an hour to a cheap grocery store before we cooked a meal of ham, tomatoes, and macaroni stew. Soon, we left for the station, two hours early. On the way, I gave our large pot, with the stew we were unable to finish and a plastic fork, to a homeless man on the other side of the park. Dan reminds me that he may not have been homeless. Perhaps he was just a normal guy who enjoyed digging through trash cans. He accepted the pot gladly and it felt good to share out humble dinner. I explored the station and wrote a postcard to my family. Unfortunately, I only had 20 Lat cents, 30 short of those necessary to mail a postcard to America. Wolfers, if you’re reading this, know that I still have your Roman Colosseum postcard and I’ll send it asap. I returned to a nervous Ziegler, 10 minutes before the train’s departure. We walked nearly the entire length of the long train and struggled to work our way into the full car to our seats with our stuffed bags. The car portion of the trip had satisfactorily completed and the train portion had successfully begun. Relief.

Matt

On Our Way North

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Leaving Turkey we had quite a push ahead of us. We had to get to Riga, Latvia by Thursday so we would have enough time to sell our car, buy train tickets to Moscow (we had checked online while in Istanbul and found tickets for the equivalent of about $30 and were pleased with that price), and get everything repacked into our much smaller space for hoboing our way across Russia. Because of this we had only 4 days to make the 3000 kilometer drive from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It was going to be our longest straight drive ever and we were doing it with only two drivers. So, we began.

We crossed into Bulgaria early Sunday (19/07) evening with no difficulties and headed North-West. It was a rather un-exciting evening and we passed it driving over relatively nice roads, listening to some NPR programs we had downloaded in Istanbul, and snacking every once in a while on some bread with Nutella or jam. We slept in the early morning south of the Romanian border in a rather muddy spot just off the road. The next morning, bright and early, we were off heading North. We entered Romania that morning, paid for a Vignette and drove off. We soon realised, however, that the cost of the vignette for Romania had not been worth it. In fact, the roads were terrible. Just a little after we passed the border we got on a road which was alright, but we did have to dodge a few potholes. Then… Matt, who was driving, didn’t manage to dodge one. It hit hard and as we citröened away from it, something was wrong. The car started wobbling a bit and jerking to the right as a loud thumping came from the right-hand rear wheel-well.

Matt held it together well and pulled us off to a good spot along the road. Our right-hand rear tyre had been going a bit bald because it was cambered in pretty badly, so we were rather expecting it to go at some point. When we got out to examine the situation, however, we discovered that the pothole had bent our rim at least an inch out of place at one point, which explained how quickly the air had gone out of the tyre.

We replaced the tyre with the spare (which had a slightly wobbly rim, but not bad), topped up on air at a nearby filling station and made our way up to Bucharest, drove through Bucharest rather quickly, and made the turn North-West and headed for the Carpathians. Driving through the Carpathian mountain range was beautiful. Winding mountain roads didn’t make for quick driving, but they made for many interesting sights. We drove through Transylvania, thankfully avoiding Vlad’s hot-spots especially that evening when we spent the night just outside his territory and departed the next morning, glad to not have been impaled.

Hungary was next on the list. We passed through yet another border, praised the Shengen agreement that allowed us to pass so easily between so many EU nations, bought a vignette and set off to explore Budapest. The twin cities of Buda and Pest and full of beautiful sights, not the least of which is Danube River spanned in several points by scenic bridges. Our first stop was the top of a mountain at the center of the city where a castle and Victory Monument stood guard over the city. We then made our way into the center of the city to a cathedral where the mummified hand of St. Stephen, first king of Hunagry who lived around the turn of the first century, was preserved in a gold and glass reliquary.

After exploring the rest of the city a bit, including the Hungarian parliament building, modeled after the British parliament building in London, we made our way back to the car and left. North again, toward Warsaw where we arrived the next morning, passing through Slovakia in the night (paying for yet another vignette). After just a few hours in Warsaw using the internets. We also had to try to get in touch with David so that he could transfer the rest of our money out of the group’s savings account to our checking account so that we could actually access it. We were unable to make contact with David, but succeeded, eventually, in getting in touch with David’s dad. Relieved, we made our way north yet again, drove through Lithuania, and arrived in Riga after long hours of uneventful travel on Thursday the 23rd, right on schedule.

The Greeks Knew How to Build

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

It was Thursday (16/07) when we reentered Athens, found a parking spot and set out to explore one of the most famous sites in the world: The Acropolis. The rather expensive tickets (€12) gave us entrance to the Acropolis and a number of other sites in the area. Athens is a hotbed of archaeological sites, with dozens across the city. The city has been inhabited for thousands of years and a center of civilization for most of that time.

The Acropolis, for most of that time, has been the center of Athens. It was the temple, the administrative area, a market, everything. The most impressive buildings are still in the process of being restored. Much of the Parthenon was obscured by scaffolding, for example. Still, to see these places where the history of our civilization began to take its’ current form. We entered through the Propylaea, the ceremonial gate, and began to explore the grounds.

Matt and I split up at the top and visited the sites in different orders. There was the Parthenon, a huge building used as a main temple for the the city which contained a giant statue of Athena, but after having been destroyed after the Turkish occupation, the Parthenon was then raided by the British Lord Elgin (with the Turkish government’s permission) who took almost all of the sculptures and friezes to London leaving the Parthenon a ravaged tabula rasa.

The Erechtheum was just across the main open area. There, the porch of the Caryatids was the resting place of many of ancient Athens’ religious treasures and possible some of its early kings. Many of the other buildings were destroyed, but pieces of columns and other building debris were scattered around the area. Over the edge of the top of the mountain, two large amphitheaters, one of Greek origin and the other of Roman origin are still used to this day. After exploring the site for a while Matt and I met back up and went to the Acropolis Archaeological Museum—just opened in June!—and explored it. It contained much of Athens’ treasures, mainly Greek and Roman sculptures.

Matt and I met up at the car again and went for some Gyros. Cheap and delicious! Then we were on our way again. We drove north west, hit the coast and continued more west past through Lamia. We had heard from the Zimmermans about a cluster of Greek Orthodox monasteries built on top of immense free-standing rock columns called meteoron (from the Greek μετεορον which means “suspended from the heavens” or something… the same root of the word meteor) and intended to get there by the next morning. We got lost a few times on our way but eventually reached the area, although we couldn’t see any of the monasteries. We cooked dinner and slept in a small pull-off area by the side of the road.

The next morning, not knowing exactly how far from the monasteries we were, we got up and, after some breakfast müesli we were on our way. Around the very next corner, we saw it. Dozens of rock pillars rising majestically from the valley floor. They seemed so out of place, like a modern art exhibit in the middle of the desert. The tops were covered in vegetation and seemed relatively flat, the tops ranged in size from a few acres to a few dozen square feet. Within our view, the tops of three of the pillars—one small, one medium, and one venti—was covered with stone buildings with red roofs, like tile icing on a stone muffin.

The entire area reminded me of a computer game I used to play called Riven (an intense, puzzle game played in a world that looks much like the area around the meteoron). A blue sky provided the background for the greys, reds, and greens of the meteoron. There are six of these structures scattered in the area (now a national religious monument, so free of too many chincy souvenir stands, although there were a few). Five of them are monasteries and one is a nunnery. The three we could see from our vantage point by the side of the mountain road above the valley of the meteoron were a small one, I don’t know what it’s called, one medium sized-one—I was later informed is about the average size—named Varlaam, and a very big one named The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron. We decided to aim for the big one and see if we could get in, and then we noticed about a dozen tourist buses and several dozen cars… we were disappointed, but decided to go for it anyway.

We entered The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron via a hike down into the valley and a steep climb up a tunnel then stairs all painstakingly carved into the side of the pillar. At the top, we were greeted at the door by a man who we were a bit disappointed that the man taking our money was not dressed in a monk’s habit but rather a tee-shirt and jeans. The entrance only cost €1 though, so that the took the sting away. The monastery itself was more like a museum, but a tasteful museum with some exhibits in English.

The monastery itself seemed much like a normal 8th century monastery which has been rebuilt and improved and expanded several times over the past millennium or so, although the size was limited to the extent of the flat area at the top of the pillar. At the time I was reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and was pleased to discover all the parts of the abbey were almost exactly the same. Seeing a living, active monastery with its chapel, dining room, kitchen, prayer room, library, servants’ quarters, even an ossuary really brought that rather disturbing book to light.

The first section we explored was an historical exhibit in an area that had been a dormitory for the monks. It gave the history of both the Greek state: the history of the modern state and the ancient nation. It also gave the parallel story of the Greek Orthodox church culminating in Greek freedom after World War II and the modern establishment of the Meteoron monasteries. We also visited a shrine to a few orthodox saints and the stories of several martyrs who had lived in the Meteora. Photos will convey the glory of these places and how they glorify God through the way they blend with their surroundings better than I can.

We left the Grand Meteoron and went down the road a bit to a spot we thought would be fun to climb. It was like a miniature version of one of the pillars so we climbed. It was a bit tricky and a bit nerve-wracking at a few points, but enjoyable after doing quite a bit of driving the day before. When we had finished climbing and were heading back to the car, we were confronted by an American. He asked us what we were up to and what brought us to the Meteoron. We talked for a bit comparing stories and then we gave him and his friend a trip down to the town at the bottom of the mountains where their bus would take them to Larissa.

It turns out that the one fellow, Tim, was an English teacher in Madrid, Spain where he was participating in a Spanish government program. He and his friend, Savannah, who was an engineering student in München, Germany, were traveling between Istanbul and North-Eastern Greece just for fun. We had an enjoyable time swapping stories with them, dropped them off at the bus, picked up some good drinks (it was an extremely hot day). Then, we headed for Turkey, although that evening we did make a very quick trip north just barely getting into Macedonia just to add a country with such a cool flag to our trip.

An Hellenic Adventure

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

We went first West to the coast to catch a good road, then South toward the border with Greece. Roads were not horrible, but not great. Our suspension got a few more dings in it but nothing shocking. The border crossing went off without a hitch and we were pleased to be back in Euroland.

Northern Greece was partly wooded, hilly, not fully agricultural but with some fields. Small towns separated by longish distances. We hit the town of Ioninnia and continued south to Patra where a large bridge now crosses the strait to the mountainous Peloponnese penninsula. We camped that night just outside of Olympia.

The next morning we spent several hours wandering the ruins of the temple complex of ancient Olympia where the old games had been held in celebration of the festivals for many Greek gods. We also saw the point where the Olympic flame for the modern Olympics is lit and the trip to the site of the Olympics begins.

We traveled back along the norther coast of the Peloponnese peninsula arriving later in the day at the Acrocorinth, the high mesa overlooking both the ancient and modern city of Corinth. It was spectacular. We saw it from miles away, rising hundreds of feet high separate from the surrounding mountains. On the top and down the sides, walls and ruins outlined the forts, castles, citadels, temples, and other buildings of the ancient Acrocorinth could still be seen. We explored for hours, hiking to the different high points, climbing the ruins and walls, and exploring the underground cisterns. We were also pleased by the entry cost: free.

We left in high spirits and aimed our citröening black Passat for Athens, stopping at the famous canal to see a spectacular bridge that lowers itself deep into the water instead of rising up or splitting to allow wider and taller ships through. It was cool.

We knew we were in Athens when we saw the Acropolis rising from the center of the city and we headed for it. After finding a Lidl and replenishing our stocks, we found a camping spot and spent the night just outside the city.

Milan

Friday, July 24th, 2009

This trip so far has been quite laissez-faire when it comes to scheduling. We had planned out all of our necessary stops, transportation, and various events in advance, so we could get the best prices and know where we needed to be when. The rest of the trip, however, had been planned as we went—the flexibility the car gave us and the reason we were able to see so many things off the beaten path. One of the certain dates (08/07), however, was a concert of the band U2 in Milan, Italy. That concert coincided with Dan’s departure on a train to Frankfurt from whence his plane would leave the next day.

We arrived about midday on the 8th and set about trying to locate a train station where we could buy tickets (a mission complicated by the fact that the entire center of the city seemed under construction and very few of the streets seemed to be named, or at least have signs). We found one train station, discovered we couldn’t get the international tickets there, and sought out the main station where Dan and I when to purchase his tickets to Frankfurt-am-Maine while David and Matt waited in the car, parked on the road with hazards blinking. No one seemed bothered, Italian road-rules are rather lax.

Our concert was at 2000 and we had to pick up our tickets by 1930. Time was flying by. We didn’t know exactly where the stadium (San Siro) was in relation to the center of the city, but, after asking a few friendly locals discovered it was a 5 minute, cheap metro ride from the station just in front of the main train station. Matt and Dan set out to find some pizza for Dan’s Final Supper while David went to print off our concert ticket confirmation from a local internet shop so we could actually get our tickets that evening. I stayed with the car, parked temporarily by a little green area next to the train station. It was about 1830.

David returned shortly and told me that he didn’t know all the details but Dawn, his girlfriends’ mom, had been struck by lightening. I said a short prayer for Dawn and the family. Matt arrived and led us to the pizza place.

We enjoyed the delicious slices of fresh, Italian pizza, proclaimed the Italians the best chefs in the world and then grabbed Dan’s things to get him to the station. It was 1915. We said goodbye hurriedly, prayed for Dan’s safety, our own continued trip, and Dawn and her family. Then, we booked it to the metro.

A “5 minute metro trip” turned into half an hour as we realised that we had completely misunderstood the friendly locals. The trip felt interminable. It was 1920… 1930, the deadline had passed… 1945… We got out of the metro and had a 10 minute jog/walk to the stadium. It was 1955. We ran into the stadium area, found the ticket booth, got our tickets (thankfully still available) and made our way into the stadium. It was 2015. After a mad dash to find our section and our seats and an almost interminable climb up the spiral ramps, we reached our designated section and finally sat down. It was 2030 and all we had missed was the opening act, “Snow Patrol.”

We joined in a competitive wave (one section gets the wave going and whichever section lets the wave die gets booed mercilessly by the entire stadium), and Matt made friends with his neighbor from Switzerland, a fellow named Guy. The U2 concert was unbelievable. I’ve never seen such stage artistry in my life. The entire stadium was dwarfed by a giant cross between an octopus and an alien landing craft which encompassed the stage. The players were introduced: Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., The Edge, and Bono. The songs included a number from their new album (No Line on the Horizon) as well as some older ones. David knew them all, Matt knew most of them, I knew many. One apropos song was “Where the Streets Have No Name,” especially given our difficulty finding the train station earlier that day.

We left the concert at about 2330 and we were energised, Matt bought a t-shirt, while I hung out waiting by the door and somehow we lost David. Matt and I lost our way on the streets of Milan for about an hour and a half eventually making our way to the metro station, which was closed for the night. It was about 0130. We waited for a while hunting around the area thinking David would probably have hung out there waiting, but we couldn’t find him and assumed he had caught the last train out at 0100. We found a good map on the back of a bus stop and started to make our way to the car. We did eventually arrive, about 3 hours later at around 0400, Matt crashed in the passenger’s seat and I slept fitfully in the driver’s seat.

At about 0700, I got up, munched on some bread and drank some water in the gathering daylight. I stood for a while outside the car watching the sun rise over buildings and nameless streets of Milan. As I stood there, David walked around the corner of the train station and we hailed each other and exchanged stories. David, after being separated from Matt and I had made his way to the metro station getting there just after the last train left and had spent the night sleeping alternately on a nearby park bench (where he was when we had been looking in the area for him) and in the metro station when it reopened. He made his way back and arrived in good spirits but, like Matt and I, quite tired. We crawled into the car and caught a few more hours of needed sleep.

Later that morning, after we had all gotten some sleep, David checked his email once more and got the bad news that Dawn had not improved and wasn’t expected to live. He decided to fly home to support Amber and do what he could for the family, a decision Matt and I understood and supported. We spent the rest of the day with David alternately on the phone, using the internet, and repacking his things with Matt and I reorganizing the car for life with two, not four, people and making some meals. Our final meal with David was a spaghetti dish and some popcorn with seasoning salt prepared over our little stove. We took David to the airport, wished him well and again said a quick prayer for his safety and for Dawn’s family.

That evening was a quiet one for Matt and I as we drove to Venice. We pondered the changes in our trip and how insignificant those were in comparison to other changes that take place just as suddenly.

The Eternal City: Empires Old and New

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We arrived at Rome in the middle of the afternoon on July 2. Roman history is one of my favorite areas of study so I anticipated Rome with more excitement than I any other city we visited. We parked at the train station in EUR, a less than eternal suburb of Rome, and took the train into the city for an introductory exploration. It was the oddest thing to walk out of the dirty metro station and see the Colosseum, one of the greatest relics of the ancient world, right in front of me.

This magnificent stadium was our introduction to a feeling that would soon become familiar during our stay at Rome: a sense stupefied wonder that something so old could still be standing. Because it was only two hours before the Colosseum closed we decided to postpone our tour until we could be sure of enough time to truly experience it. We began making our way to the Pantheon, hoping for an opportunity to watch the rain that loomed in the Eastern sky fall through the hole in the center of the dome. The weather did not oblige, however, because suddenly the sky opened in a truly torrential downpour. We were caught in the open with no accessible buildings within sprinting distance but finally found adequate shelter under the bowl of an nonoperational fountain. We watched with amusement as mobs of shrieking tourists ran by, umbrellas rendered useless by the driving wind, in desperate search for shelter.

When the skies finally cleared we made our way towards the Pantheon once more. It proved magnificent both inside and out. Unlike most relics of ancient Rome, the Pantheon has not crumbled under the weight of dozens of centuries and still appears (except for the replacement inside of Catholic saints for Roman gods) as it did when it was first constructed. Its huge dome is still a mystery to modern architects. From the Pantheon we walked to Vatican City and St.Peter’s Cathedral before turning back towards the Colosseum metro station. On our way back we got what was to become a staple of our stay in Rome: Gelato ice cream. It was nearly as magnificent as the city itself and we had it every day of our visit.

The next morning we toured the Colosseum and Capital hill where Nero and the Flavain emperors (Vespasian and sons) built their stupendous palaces. It was spectacular to be walking in and around structures that were in use almost 2,000 years ago (The Colosseum was built 80 AD). Many aspects of the Colosseum were on par with modern stadiums (e.g., Retractable roof and efficient exit system that evacuated 50,000 spectators in minutes), though perhaps the fact that it can still accommodate visitors after thousands of years on earthquake-prone gound is most impressive. Capital Hill was also amazing in this regard. Structures towered over us, arches and half domes and tunnels millennium old, but made of brick that could have been laid a few days ago. That evening we dined on genuine Italian pizza, with beverage and appetizer, for only eight euros. It was probably the best money I have ever spent.

We spent our last full day in Rome in Vatican city. We began with a tour of St. Peter’s, which was free unless you didn’t have sleeves. Its size alone is awe inspiring, but before you have fully absorbed the height of the vaulted ceiling or the length of the sanctuary, you become aware of its astonishing sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and decorations. No where else in the world could the Superbowl be played inside while Michelangelo’s Pieta looks on. The other highlight of Vatican City was the Sistine Chapel. It was as spectacular as I have always believed, trumping even Raphael’s incredible paintings which we saw en rout. Though taking pictures and conversation were prohibited, everyone in the chapel did both with unrestrained enthusiasm in spite of the attendant’s feeble (And very disruptive) attempts to stop us.

On the Sunday of July 5 we attended mass in St.Peter’s. It was fascinating to see how many of those present were just tourists like ourselves and how many were genuine Catholics, going to church at the epicenter of their faith. To take mass in the capital of Catholicism, with your church’s most magnificent expression of devotion to God souring above your head and with the bones of Peter and beneath your feet, would have to be a truly religious experience for a Catholic. I was left a bit bemused, however. Should the Pope’s words or Christ’s be the guide of our religion? Are buildings like St.Peter’s the way God wants the Church to make its mark, or should the funds used to build it have been utilized instead to feed the poor? Should we place more importance on where Peter is buried or on the gospel he died for? Whether or not the Church is meant to be so physically rooted in this world, Rome’s power is still very real and its impact on millions of people is undeniable. Though its jurisdiction is spiritual instead physical, Rome remains the center of a mighty empire whose influence spreads across the globe. It truly is the Eternal City.

Daniel Shenk

Drive Baby Drive

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Leaving Madrid wasn’t anything too exciting, it’s a nice city and the roads are fine, although many main roads were still above ground. We drove east toward Italy, passed Barcelona that night and slept outside Avignon, France. The next morning (06/30) we visited Avignon, where the pope once lived and where one of the antipopes made their headquarters (remember when we were in Konstanz? That was the council where they ousted the antipopes, one of whom lived in Avignon). A very nice city, we decided after hiking a little hill to see the city, although the road system was a bit tricky. Then we were on our way again.

We hit the French Riviera to the west of Monaco and traveled along the winding but beautiful roads toward that famous and expensive little town. Monaco was packed with people, as was most of the French Riviera—not surprising on a beautiful June day. We found some parking and visited the port, full of sleek sailboats, ostentatious yachts, pleasant rowboats, a few fishing boats, and dozens of yachties there to do the dirty work for the rich and famous. Along the dockside a Ferrari 360 Spyder and a Porshe Carrera GT found spaces between Bentleys and Mercedes and $600 suits enjoyed debonair lunches with $800 purses at secluded sidewalk cafes.

We felt out of place, and, as a $1M helicopter launched from its seaside berth, we meekly citröened* our aging VW out of the country.

We got on the motorway and took our aim for Italy. We skirted Genova and headed to Torino where we saw the old Olympic Village, a cool bridge, a Latin-American Festival and then found a spot to eat some supper and sleep. The next day, we saw the famous Shroud of Turin (with the image of Jesus on it). Not all of us were convinced and most of us were skeptical and others of us were dubious, but we were glad to have seen the big box that contains the shroud.

The next day we got on a road and began following it figuring this was the best way to navigate since we were in Italy and all roads lead to Rome. It did not, in fact, lead to Rome, instead it led to Pisa so we stopped and saw the tower which was still leaning and the churches and other buildings in the complex were were also leaning or had previously leant. One thing none of us had known previously was how big the complex was that included the leaning tower.

We departed that evening, found a road which did lead to Rome and followed it. The next day we arrived.

* Have we explained this yet? In Bad Pyrmont we visited the VW dealership and were told that if we didn’t repair our leaking hydraulic suspension (for about €100) we would end up bouncing like a Citröen. We decided that was a risk we were willing to take. A month or so later we noticed a pronounced bouncing in the back end and christened the unpredictable and sustained trampoline-like movement “citröening.”