a time for everything

Posted in random on January 15, 2006 @ 8:14am

Following our Parisian jaunt, we returned to London having planned to get away to Bath and Salisbury. The hire car was upgraded (again!) from a Vectra to a much larger Renault 5-speed with many bells and whistles. There was a lot of touring around the countryside, a lot of driving on the British highways and a lot of exploring overnight accommodations. Breakfasts were in the true English style, either with cereals, toasts, croissants and tea or the full English breakfast of sausage, egg, bacon, mushroom and tomato.

The touring was par for the course, with many crumbly buildings and a couple of guided tours through the respective cities. I now have my own pictorial collection (royalty free!) of Stonehenge, and out of about 20 shots I got one which worked in Cafe Nero, which, I can finally say, was my favourite coffee franchise during my time here.

An interesting highlight of the British highway system is the high quality rest stops which are spaced about 50 miles apart. The one we visited, called “Welcome Break”, had a full food court with KFC, Burger King, some delicatessens, a small shopping spot and a game hall. Outside was brilliantly landscaped with a running water feature and tall green trees. Wow.

And now, the end is near… We’ll visit Hillsong London tomorrow morning and then we’ll begin our 24 hours of transit time to get back to fabulous Australia. I’m looking forward to coming home.

city of louvre

Posted in random on January 11, 2006 @ 7:16pm

Our time in Paris was brief but good. After meeting the folks at the Paris airport on time and successfully navigating through an obstinate French bus driver, we arrived at our hotel and were pleasantly surprised. It was a Best Western, and it was warm, sparkling clean and the staff were friendly. A stroke of good fortune meant that Tim and I had a twin share room with space for an extra bed, which meant extra floor space and actually a bigger bathroom. We spent a little while getting used to everything (and scamming the complimentaries so they’d be replenished the next day) and then went out and about for a walk in the neighbourhood.

The Eiffel Tower was in view as soon as we walked out of the hotel. Flying in I had thought it looked small, but that was simply an illusion of distance. Up close, the thing is huge, and a remarkable feat for something more than 100 years old. On the first night we hunted out a local “main street” with plenty of open cafes, restaurants and street vendors. We bought bread, sweet pastries and other delicious things right on the street. Once again, these French people showed their skill with making plain bread interesting enough to eat on its own.

The next day came after a warm evening in the room, despite the cool outside. Our beds seemed to retain all heat, so we were toasty toasty to the point of exhaustion. We got up and out fairly early to jump on a bus tour which circled Paris. We got out at the Louvre Museum expressly to see the Mona Lisa (I think I dragged the rest of the family, they didn’t seem too impressed), and we had coffee and croissants afterwards. Back on the bus to see Notre Dame, Pont Neuf and a whole heap of other sights.

That night when the others were back in the hotel room, Dad and I went out for a night time view of the Eiffel Tower. We were standing under the monolithic construction exactly on 10pm, when we heard a cry of enchantment from other passers by. You see, on the hour every hour after dark, the tower is lit up by hundreds of strobing white lights. It looks like stars sparkling all over the tower. We made a pact to keep hush hush about it and get Tim and Mum there on the hour the next night before our trip up to the top. The hot chocolate we bought from a street kiosk was simply delicious.

The next day we got on a boat tour down the Seine, which looped around the Notre Dame island and back to the Eiffel Tower. It was an enjoyable cruise and much more interesting than the one we took in London. After that, we headed off to the Latin Quarter for lunch and to buy some trinkets to remember Paris by. I found these cute little espresso mugs which will surely get good use…

After lunch we went back to the hotel and had some strange interpretation of pizza for dinner, which didn’t taste terrible but looked confusing with an egg plonked right in the middle. A little relaxation followed until 8pm when we went out to visit the Eiffel Tower once again. Unfortunately, they closed the very top level for one month starting that very day, so we could only go up to the second level. Quite frustrating given that we saw heaps of people travelling up the night before! But it was still nice to be on the Tower and Paris looks nice at night. One interesting thing to note is that Paris has basically no skyscrapers at all in the scenic centre – a credit to historically-minded town planners.

And that’s that. We finished off with the family photo in a cafe on the second level, went back to the hotel and crashed. The next morning (yesterday) was the usual pack up, breakfast, rush to train, wait around for train, get on fast international train and wait again. The Eurostar, which travels under the English Channel, wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be but the experience was another to add to the list of firsts.

Paris is a beautiful city, and the people are nice enough if you try to give them some French before gesticulating and muttering in English. And the fact that we didn’t get to the top of the Eiffel Tower simply means I have reason to go back one day…

walls keep falling

Posted in random on January 7, 2006 @ 10:06pm

Well, now this is weird. Only three days ago I was doing something similar in the same place, but that was before I had experienced the grandeur, scale and beauty which is inherent to Berlin. Now, I’ve got so much to think about from even such a short time in Germany.

I arrived at the airport at 8pm Berlin time without having ever seen my host or contact’s faces, and without having actually heard back from them whether they received the date and time of my arrival. I had been told that they were good people (which indeed they most certainly are) so I trusted that all was well. My contact, Gerrit Scherf, caught my eye as I came out the arrivals gate, and with him was my host, Carsten. The first challenge was snapping back into German, and that’s always a bit more difficult than it should be. The hardest thing is pronouncing the German word forms properly, because we never use them in English.

We went from there to Carsten’s place, where I was staying for the next couple of days. Carsten’s flatmate Christoph was still away at Uni so we had dinner as just the two of us (bread, cold meat, cheese and my favourite, “meat salad”) and spoke about life, church, music and everything else. My German came back in dribs and drabs, but I could express myself fairly well with a little stilted speech.

The next day it was as cold as usual, but that didn’t stop us from seeing Berlin. We went to all the sights pictured in the gallery (hint, hint). All I really had wanted to see was where the Berlin wall stood and the Brandenburger Tor. But Carsten didn’t need to work these two days and offered to take me around Berlin, which was very kind and very helpful of him. We ate lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant which is apparently fairly well known in Berlin, and that was fabulous. Let’s face it, it was all great.

That evening Carsten’s church had a leaders meeting which I attended. They’re a smaller church than ours but they’ve got a people with a great heart. It was a vision casting night so I listened intently as the individual group leaders stood and presented their vision for 2006. Then we sang a song together (in English, and I knew it too!) and prayed together, and celebrated afterwards with champagne. There was a girl there who studied for two years at Hillsong, and she bowled up to me after the meeting speaking fluent English (with a wonderful world-English accent, but still with a bit of Aussie in there too). It was so good to join with a church group in Berlin and see that God is indeed with us all over the world.

Christoph came back that night (before the meeting, I forgot to mention) and once we got home at 11pm(ish) he and Carsten began cooking dinner. We had chicken wings and some vegies with potato. Yum. At 2am we finally made it into bed.

The next day we slept through our alarms and got up at about 10am. Carsten had more to show me and so we went out straight away. We saw plenty and for lunch I had a real Berlin-style currywurst (sausage with a hot tomato sauce and curry). That was brilliant, particularly because it was ridiculously cold and there was a nasty chilling wind blowing. We saw the government building in the middle of Berlin and climbed in a great big dome to see all over Berlin. To get rid of the chill we then sat down in a posh cafe called Einstein Kaffee to have a hot chocolate with cream. I don’t think I’ve ever had a hot chocolate which tasted better.

That night I went over to Gerrit and Alex Scherf’s place for dinner. The Scherfs were in Australia in 2003 (Gerrit is a doctor – he worked at Modbury Hospital) and connected with Adam Low when they were looking for a church, hence my contact with them. Alex made some pizza which was just wonderful, and we looked at some photos of Adam and Clare’s trip through Germany with the Scherfs. Gerrit and Alex have a young daughter, Noami, and a younger son, Josiah. The other older girl in the photos is a niece who stayed the night. With dinner we had alcohol-free beer and also malt beer; the latter was very nice, even to this beer hater. After the pizza (did I say how good it was?) Alex asked me whether I had had a Berliner berliner, and when I responded in the negative Gerrit basically went straight out to a corner bakery to pick some up. The Berliners know how to make berliners, that’s for sure. Then we simply chatted about language and life and church and travel and heaps of everything else. Gerrit and Alex are great people – I can tell they’re fantastic parents and good friends, and I hope to see them again.

At 11pm(ish) Gerrit took me back to Carsten’s. By then my German was coming more automatically, with less English-German translation in the head before it had to be spoken. But I had to hit the sack pretty much straight away, because the train to the airport would leave the station at 7am the next day. Craziness, this 8:45 flight was. Who thought that up? Oh, right, me.

Carsten came with me to the airport to see me off. I can’t believe how welcoming and hospitable he was (even at 6:30am) and how comfortable and even befriended I felt throughout my short time there. He seemed so happy to have me there…

We arrived at the airport and checked in (with automatic check-in machines) and now suddenly our time was up. We said our farewells, I got in the security line and Carsten headed back home. I find that my heart is as heavy here now as I write as it was in the line up in Berlin just then, and the tears make the screen hard to see. Somehow I feel like I’ve left family behind, that our two days were meant to be just a beginning of some sort, yet I don’t actually know if ever I’ll see these great people again. They opened my eyes to a wider world of Christian friendship and fellowship, made me feel totally safe and loved and showed me what it really is to trust in God and follow him completely. They set the bar high, and I only hope that I can live up to the standard which they displayed so beautifully.

wandering minstrel

Posted in random on January 5, 2006 @ 12:05am

This is great. I’m writing to you today in a brief pause during my trip from Toulouse – Paris – Berlin. I’m sitting in Paris airport in front of my laptop, with continental lunch and a macchiato to drink. Surely it doesn’t get much better.

After overcoming the cold-induced bleakness before New Year’s Eve, the house had warmed sufficiently for us not to be frozen solid during our sleep. Tim hasn’t been well so we spent a fair amount of the day just chilling out at the house while the others ventured out and explored some more crumblies in France. It was good to just take a breather, so to speak, watch a movie and play a computer game or two. Following that we’ve had the chance to visit some more photogenic places, as evidenced by the gallery.

And now I’m off to Berlin! It’s exciting to be journeying alone, but Maxwell was right: it’s quicker to travel on your own, but it gets lonely quicker too. I finished his book, “Winning With People”, and devoured Matt Redman’s “Facedown” on the plane today. If travel downtime is good for one thing at least, it’s reading and contemplation.