Three years in Germany. Three years in Europe. So much to see. I feel like I have done a lot, but there is an immensity to what I have not seen. These three years have been the most challenging and wonderful years of my life. My perceptions of Europe, America, and myself have been stretched and tried. After visiting hallowed and tragic places, understanding history has taken on a new urgency.
I have visited a lot of cities and museums and have discovered I have opinions about art and architecture. I love medieval Christian art, especially Byzantine or Byzantine- influenced art. I think Van Gogh’s works are deeply moving, while Picasso is just not my style. I like Baroque architecture, but not Baroque interiors. Muslim architecture and motifs, with their flowers and geometric shapes are stunning and provocative.
If we were eccentrically wealthy we would build a house in Ireland with spare Romanesque stone gables, Portuguese tile work, Gothic pointy windows, Romantic painted wooden ceilings, and Art Nouveau flourishes, and somewhere there would be an onion dome. Our garden would have Mediterranean olive trees, Dutch tulips, and Bulgarian roses, and in the lily pond we would have a replica of the Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen’s harbor.
These are the things I love. What you would not find in our estate is pieces of the hideous blocky functional Communist style, or strangely shaped modern skyscrapers, anything triangular, or any “street art.” Or cobblestones. But wait, aren’t cobblestones adorable? To the uninitiated, yes, cobbles are quaint. To my ankles? Cobbles are the devil!
My love for Europe is quite idealistic, I am aware. However, I am not insensitive to the struggles that the European Union is facing. What they have managed to do was create a functioning, burgeoning union after the travesties of the first half of the 20th century. But now weaknesses are being exploited as the pressures of economically struggling Southern Europe, Putin’s intimidation of the whole world over Ukraine and Syria, and the refugee crisis come to a head. I am fearful what it means for Europe that some countries are intensifying Nationalistic feelings and shutting their doors against those who need safety and a place to start anew, or even just to pass through. So my love is mixed with a lot of fear. As the year draws to a close it is hard to feel optimistic about 2016. I want to believe that the Union can hold strong against these challenges, because the alternative is truly scary.
28 countries in three years. So much more to see. So little time. Here is a taste:
Germany – half-timbered houses and Christmas markets, Rhine river castles, Riesling
Croatia- the sea organ and sun-kissed white stone towns, DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE
Bulgaria- rose oil and language preserving monasteries, Thracian ruins
Estonia – Seto ethnic group, Old Believers, gorgeous Tallinn
France- Cathedrals, medieval towns, rolling countryside, edgy port town Marseilles
Italy- Da Vinci, ROME, pasta, Venetian palaces and canals
U.K. – cosmopolitan London, Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland and so much more to be explored
Ireland – our dream homeland, crumbly castles everywhere, sheep
Latvia – Baltic castles and forest, making friends
Slovenia- the jewel Ljubljana, art and culture, overcoming Communism
Poland- tragic Auschwitz, pretty Krakow
Liechtenstein- Walking across a country
Luxembourg- Chocolate House, medieval city
Denmark- Hans Christen Andersen, Copenhagen- city of spires, palace gardens
Sweden- Sadly, only a day trip to Lund and its amazing cathedral and University
Hungary- Unbelievably beautiful Budapest
Slovakia- Quaint Bratislava, full of charm
Czech Republic- PRAGUE A miraculous city, full of opportunity, hopefully I will come away with my TEFL, the ossuary (bone church) of Kutná Hora
Belgium- sophisticated Brussels, beer, waffles, Spa
The Netherlands- Rural, flowers, Amsterdam (my least favorite city)
Portugal- Tiles, hot, Port Wine, shiny Lisbon, funky Porto, open people
Spain- Walking across Basque country, Santiago de Compostela, spare Templar churches, Mallorca- with almond and olive trees, stone villages
Iceland- Alien landscape, friendly people, terrible food, frigid temps
Malta- Sandstone colored, Neolithic wonderland, amazing food
Vatican City- the heart of Catholicism, former ruler of the world
Turkey- Istanbul, the heart of “east meets west,” Ottoman architecture, terracotta seaside towns, Troy, sickness
Austria- postcard beautiful Alps, romantic times with Ryan
Switzerland- Expensive, chocolate, beauty, our dear friend lives there
I hope that 2016 will bring me many more opportunities to travel. My interest lies in Eastern Europe and the middle East, though the latter will have to wait some. 2016 is bringing new challenges. I may be teaching English during the spring and summer, and going back to school in the fall. We shall see. We shall see. But for now, I am grateful for our three year anniversary in Germany, the great friends we have made, the experiences we have had, and just Christmas marketing the hell out of the season!