Posts Tagged ‘God’

Another Day Hiking

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

The light of our second Siberian dawn trickled through the trees and woke me before it did Matt. I got up, packed my sleeping bag and the cooking supplies, made sure the fire was completely out (we had spread the ashes the night before, but I wanted to make sure it was cool. It was) and finished the last swig of water in my trusty Nalgene. It was looking to be a warm day and I knew we needed to find some water, but the lake was at the bottom of a 50 foot cliff, so we’d have to walk on until we found a stream or a beach.

Matt woke up after I had been reading for 15 minutes or so (I was in the middle of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot) and we set off down the hill. It was a bit of a rough trail, but after 15 minutes we came to a beach and sat down to enjoy our fill of crystal clear, filtered (thank you Mommie and Papa for letting me borrow the water pump), and frigid cold water. And we made breakfast, porridge again.

Matt was not feeling any better, his whole body was aching and he had a low-grade fever that had started the evening before. We took our vitamins and I encouraged him to drink a Nalgene of water right there. I also filled up my Platypus bladder which I had forgotten I had with me. We were much better off and as the morning progressed, we hiked on with hourly rest breaks and some delicious Wild Bill’s beef jerky from my parents that I had been saving for a special occasion.

Lunch that afternoon was a can of tuna steak (delicious) and a two hour nap on the pebbly beach of what was turning into one of the worlds most beautiful spots. Matt was feeling better after our break, and plodded on stolidly. We camped early that night after hiking just 15 kilometers, but arriving where we had hoped to make it. We set up camp under a spreading evergreen, lit a small fire and Matt went to sleep early. I stayed up for a while longer tending the fire and being bitten by mosquitoes while reading The Idiot (half of which we had used to start the fire that evening.)

That night was cloudless, but a strong wind started from the North East and smashed the coastline with oceanic breakers all night long. I slept well, waking just once in the middle of the night to check on the fire and our bags (we were just past the town of Bolshaya Kadilnaya and a bit close to civilization for my comfort).

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.

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.”

A Quick Update

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Hello everyone,
Just to let you know, we’ll be posting soon! We’re in Istanbul, Turkey at the moment getting ready for a push North to Riga, Latvia. It’s been a busy few weeks. Check back soon!

The Streets of Barcelona

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

We arrived in Barcelona on the evening of Saturday, June the 13th. Dan had been in the city a few years earlier and knew what to see. We began by searching for a hilltop park where dan remembered we could see the city spread beneath us. Barcelona’s back streets are an adventure; winding and narrow, with stop lights where you least expect them, abrupt dead ends and even more abrupt transitions from two way to one way streets, they make it a nightmare to find your way, especially if you don’t know where you are going. We finally found the park after a dead end at the top of a very steep hill and several excursions in the wrong direction down one way roads. By then it was dark and we hiked to the hilltop to see the city at night, which was quite spectacular. We stayed up very late that evening, posting blogs and searching for directions to Barcelona’s mennonite church.

The next day we managed to find our way to the church using three different maps, only one of which (Googlemaps) had the church on it. The congregation was very welcoming of the foreigners in their midst, even providing an interpreter for the sermon, which was about Christian relationships. Sunday afternoon we dedicated to exploring Barcelona on foot. We began with Güell Park, designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi. It was teeming with people and offered an excellent combination of nature and Gaudi’s nature-inspired structures. We then walked through Barcelona’s brick Arc de Triumph into the city park which had a magnificent fountain and sprawling lawns, which were shaded by trees and filled with people relaxing on the hot Sunday afternoon.

Next we walked to the port where countless mored sailboats gave the illusion of a towering wheat field. We picked out the type of yacht we will use for our next trip; sailing around the world with our wives. From the port we walked to the cathedral that is the seat of the bishop of Barcelona. A crowd packed the courtyard, at the end of which a stage with many very important catholics on it had been erected. The day was fading fast, however, and we hurried to see the centerpiece of our little tour; Le Sangrada Familia.

Sangrada Familia is one of the world’s most magnificent construction zones. Gaudi designed the partially complete building, but died before it was complete. I may do the same because the massive cathedral’s construction is funded only by tours of its already impressive structure. Sangrada Familia combines the classical cathedral motif with Gaudi’s modernist, new age design. The statues and sculptures are stylized, almost cartoonish, yet uniquely touching in their portrayal of christian stories and themes. The architecture is in keeping with Gaudi’s trademark organic designs, yet soars to the sky like a traditional cathedral. Eighteen spires are planned (Only eight have been completed thus far) and a massive tower will be built at the junction of the cross-shaped (Also traditional) floor plan. If it is finished before I die it would be worth returning to Spain just to see it. It is already worth seeing if you are anywhere near the area. The projected completion is in 2025.

By the time we found our car again we were sore, sweaty, and tired. We drove to the home stadium of Barcelona’s soccer team which won the 2009 Champion’s League final, a fact which several huge posters hung from the stadium walls made sure we remembered. As dusk fell around us we made our way out of the city to find a place to sleep before our drive to Granada the next day. We took a detour to watch and record a magnificent water show taking place in front of the palace. It was a spellbinding spectacle of splashing space utilizing spiced-up spotlights and spontaneous spouts of sprinkling spray to speculatively spell the spectacular spiel of spiffy speakers. In other words, a variable jet fountain and colored lights were programed in time to classical music. It was a fitting conclusion to our stay in a lively city of so much colorful and varying culture. Next up was Granada and people who once lived only a few minutes away from home.

Daniel Shenk