Saturday, April 16, 2016

Exploring Quedlinburg

Y'all.  If there is a town in Germany as adorable as Wolfenbüttel, I finally found it.  Quedlinburg is a small town not far away, but across the border into the state of Sachsen-Anhalt (I'm in Lower Saxony, by the way).  Full of half-timbered construction, haunting churches and cemeteries, bright spring flowers, and several cats that let me pet their heads, Quedlinburg was a total dream!

I didn't have much of a plan going in, except that I wanted to see the Romanesque "Stiftskirche" (monastery church is the rough translation) and its treasury museum.  The church sits atop a peak of the Harz mountains, and is visible from nearly everywhere in town.  I hiked up the cobbled road to the "Schlossberg" (palace mountain, sort of) that the church sits atop, and the views were super!  It wasn't nearly as scary as the Notre Dame towers, don't worry!

St. Servatii, Stiftskirche, Quedlinburg
Inside St. Servatii Stiftskirche
View from the Schlossberg

Several grave stones of former abbesses of the monastery are kept in the crypt of the church, and they were probably my favorite part of the treasury.

The Crypt

After having a coffee break basking in the long-awaited spring sun, I visited St. Wiperti church and cemetery.  The 10th-century church (formerly a Premonastratensian monastery) itself was closed and appeared to be under construction, but the cemetery was super cool!  Rather than a vase of flowers near the headstone, all of the plots were planted like flower beds and gardens.  And of course, there is nothing as spooky and simultaneously beautiful as an old cemetery.

A nice place to relax and bask in the spring sun!
St. Wiperti Cemetery-- B&W edit by Volker
Next on the agenda was to hunt down the church that belonged to the enormously tall bell-towers I had been spotting from all over town.  It was St. Nikolai, and it is nestled among, and looms large over, the half-timbered streets of Quedlinburg.  St. Nikolai was built between the 13th and 15th centuries as the parish church for Neustadt.

Next I sort of stumbled upon St. Blasius, which was closed, but it was surrounded by lovely blooming trees so I was entertained nonetheless!

St. Aegidii was the final church of the day, and it was also closed (noted, churches close early).  St. Aegidii was originally built in the 13th century, and now neighbors a 19th-century cemetery.

Now to the important stuff-- I ran into three cool cats in Quedlinburg.  The first one had the coolest markings I have ever seen.  All black with a bright orange patch on its head!  Next cat was a big puffy thing perched on a crumbling stone wall, looking all ominous and stuff.  And last but not least was another black cat (without orange hair) that let me pet and love on her for a while.  The old guy across the street seemed slightly weirded out that I dropped everything and talked to a cat in the street.  Priorities.

So next time you're in Sachsen-Anhalt, stop by Quedlinburg!  I hear that have a super Christmas market too!!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Facing Fears: The Notre Dame Towers!

I guess all fears start somewhere, and I distinctly recall the first time I felt a fear of heights. As a very small child, I was never afraid. And then all of a sudden in fourth grade, around the time my panic attacks started, it happened. I was at Joyland, a small amusement park in Lubbock, with my friend Sam and her family for a work party sponsored by Sam's dad's employer at the time, Gandy's. Sam and I stood in line to ride the gondolas that coast along the tree line around the park, and as soon as we went up I was frozen. I wanted out immediately, but had no choice but to ride it out until we returned to the ground. I remember closing my eyes and Sam (lying) telling me how close we were to being finished and that we really weren't that high.
Joyland "Skyride"
Since then, I've done my best to avoid situations in which I am stuck at great heights and cannot bail out at a moment's notice. To be clear, I am not afraid of falling. That is never the fear for me. It's the vertigo, not being in control of my own head (powerless to stop the spinning), the inability to snap my fingers and be back on the ground instantly, feeling trapped up there. It's a fear of fear, brought on by heights.

Flash-forward to 2009. I did a short summer study abroad program to London and Paris. It was my first time abroad, and only my second flight ever. Though it was one of the best times in my life and opened my eyes to the fact that I'm much braver than I ever imagined, I was fearful and anxious. So when the time came for my best friends, RachelGaddie and Dave, to ascend the towers at Notre Dame, I quickly volunteered to hold their backpacks and wait for their return on safe and stable ground. I had already encountered my fear of heights at the Centre George Pompidou, where one must enter the museum on the third floor via an open-air escalator or clear glass elevator, and the underground tube stations in London, with their steep and never-ending escalators. So at Notre Dame, I chose to not even try.
RachelGaddie, Dave, and me in Paris in 2009
Since that day, I have regretted not trying. Sure, I may have had to turn around and climb back down the narrow spiral staircase, slithering past droves of people unphased by the terrifying ascent, annoying others around me who cannot and do not understand my terror and panic. But I have always felt I should have tried. What if I really could do it, and I just let fear tell me I couldn't?

And that brings us to the present-day. I told Jeremy about my regret at not attempting the Notre Dame towers in 2009, and he promptly placed that at the top of our Paris priority list.

Notre Dame de Paris, 2016
So on Monday March 28, we joined the line of people standing outside Notre Dame to face a fear. It had been cloudy and even a little rainy for most of our time in Paris and Monday was no different. After about two hours in line (yikes), it started to rain. And pour. And monsoon. I pulled my hood up, and Jeremy held tight to our collapsible pocket umbrella, but we were soaked. It was freezing and wet and should have been miserable. But we laughed and laughed at how ridiculous it all was! Jeremy was holding the edge of the umbrella so it wouldn't blow inside-out, which created a perfect gutter for all the rain to pour directly into his sleeve. My shoes were filled with water and my toes were pruning. Our umbrella had snapped at the joint where it collapses, and Jeremy was fumbling to keep it functional at all. Jeremy kept yelling, "Is that all you got?! Wooo hoo!" (a la Lieutenant Dan on the mast of Forrest Gump's shrimping boat during the hurricane or Jim Carrey in Truman Show trying to escape his fake world) and I kept feeling like we were on Splash Mountain!

Eventually I noticed the line had shifted away from the cathedral wall, and looked around to see why. We were standing directly beneath a gargoyle, doing its job very well, spewing water all over us! The rain was nowhere near as bad as it seemed because we were standing beneath the gutter!!

This video that I found on YouTube basically demonstrates what it was like that day:

Finally, the storm subsided and we made it to the front of the line! I didn't feel nervous. I felt excited to have a second chance, and confident I had improved in my fears since 2009. We started up the narrow, spiraling, slanting staircase. Finally, there was a trefoil window in the tower that allowed a glimpse outside. A pang of panic. Oh my, we are already REALLY high and we're not there yet!! Don't look. Focus on the stairs. All of these people are fine, and so am I. Then we arrived at the landing. The first place you exit the stairs is on a balcony 114-feet (roughly 10.5 stories) high, marked in this photo:

First Viewing Platform
I hid in the stairwell for a minute, letting everyone behind me go first. I peeked around, and glanced outside. I was slowly able to come out of the stairs, look at the statues, and even enjoy the view! We could see all of the places we had visited on our trip- the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, the Seine, etc. We took some photos, and I felt surprisingly good! I was doing it! I was still amazed that it doesn't seem to affect some people at all, because even though I was not terribly afraid, I was still by no means "comfortable."

Then you have to walk along the entire facade of the church, including across a small bridge between the towers, to (ideally) go up the stairs of the second tower to the very tippy top (226-feet or 21 stories). Then you exit by going down the stairs of the second tower, all the way to the ground. Like this:

It was time to walk across the bridge to the second tower. You have to go out around this narrow little ledge to get to the bridge. I didn't like this part, but we did it. But as soon as we got out to the bridge, I panicked. I could feel the wind whipping around me, and I no longer had the safety blanket of a large, stone building on one side of me! I panicked, quickly told Jeremy (whose hand I was surely crushing in my clammy grip) that I wasn't okay, and squirreled back around the corner to "safety." As I worked to gather myself, slow my breathing, and calm my spinning head, the bells rang loud and that didn't help! I was terrified. I had lost my confidence!

Jeremy scouted ahead and came back to tell me exactly what to expect on the other side. Knowledge is power, you know. I tried a few more times to cross "The Bridge" but couldn't make myself do it. My anxiety flares when I feel trapped in a "bad" situation, so anytime someone came up behind me I felt like I couldn't easily go back, and that terrified me. After a good long while hugging the stones and working through breathing exercises, I decided it was time to go back down. I went down the entry stairs, the way we came up, and Jeremy went ahead and crossed and came down the correct way.

I'd be lying if I said a few tears didn't fall on my way down. I'm not sure if I was proud of what I'd done or disappointed I couldn't do more. But I was filled with both emotions. As I waited for Jeremy to come out the other side, I looked up at where we were. I finally tried it. And I even did some of it. And maybe next time I go back, I'll be able to cross the bridge and exit the proper way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Herr Jeremy Joins Frau Bevin's Adventures!

We had so many adventures during Jeremy's visit!  I debated breaking our adventures into a few different posts, but decided to do one mega-blog instead, so buckle up!

Possibly the most important photo of Jeremy's entire trip.
Jeremy flew into Berlin, so we began our adventures there.  We checked into our hotel and then had dinner with Corine at a lovely Italian place near our hotel.  Jeremy and Corine had never met, and I was so excited for them to get to know each other!  We had great conversations and food before finally letting Jeremy crash back at the hotel after a very long day of traveling.

On Monday, Jeremy and I spent the day wandering around Berlin and seeing some important sites.  We started with Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin)  and the Mauer Museum (Mauer=The Wall) first thing in the morning.  It was a very crowded museum, but the history is so neat!  There are portions of Mauer in the museum, and still standing at certain points around town.  After Checkpoint Charlie, we walked to the Brandenburg Gate, a monumental triumphal arch built in the 18th century.

One of Jeremy's favorite artists, Keith Haring, painted a portion of the wall, and it is in the Mauer Museum now.
Sign from Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie, complete with men in costume
A section of The Wall
Jeremy with The Wall
Brandenburg Gate
Next we went to the KunstHalle museum in Berlin to see a small exhibition surrounding a very famous painting by Jackson Pollock in 1943 called Mural.  We continued walking around town and checked out the Berlin CathedralSt. Hedwig's, and Marienkirche  (you know how I can't pass up a church!) before heading back to our hotel to rest our ailing feet!
Mural by Jackson Pollock
The Exhibition at KunstHalle
Berlin Cathedral
Tuesday was museum day in Berlin!  We began the day by trying to go to the Bauhaus Museum, but it was closed.  So we went to the nearby Kunstgewerbe ("craft") Museum and Gemäldegalerie ("painting gallery").  The Kunstgewerbe had an extensive Medieval and Renaissance section, which I enjoyed greatly.  Previous attempts to email the museum have gone unanswered, but I will try again now that I have a better idea of what is there.  The Gemäldegalerie was a total optical feast of paintings from the thirteenth through eighteenth centuries all across Europe!  Here we saw works from such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Hans Holbein, Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer.  Mega cool!

Even though we didn't get to go inside...
Me and my good friend Rembrandt
After these two museums, which are located in a district called the "Kulturforum," we went to "Museum Island," so-called because it is located on a small island in the Spree River which runs through Berlin.  On Museum Island, we first visited the Neues Museum which houses mostly Ancient Egyptian, Classical Antiquity, and Pre-historic art and objects.  Their main attraction is the bust statue of Queen Nefertiti.  We also visited the Pergamon Museum, which is a very famous museum for its life-size reconstructions of monumental architecture including the Ishtar Gates of Babylon and its namesake, the Pergamon Altar from Greece.  Unfortunately, the Pergamon Altar is closed for restoration, so we didn't get to see that part.

Me standing in the Market Gate of Miletus (2nd Century Roman)
Jeremy with the Ishtar Gate (ca 575 BC)
With some Cranachs at the Neues Museum
Jeremy at the Neues Museum
After two and a half exhausting but thrilling days in Berlin, we hopped a train to Wolfenbüttel on Wednesday morning.  We arrived just in time for Jeremy to accompany me to coffee time with my fellows at the library!  I got to show him off, and it made me happy to introduce him to all the people I have told him about and and vice versa.  After coffee, we walked all over town (which admittedly doesn't take long...) and I showed him all my favorite spots.  That evening, we ate traditional German food at the Brauhaus im Ratskeller ("brew house in city hall cellar"), which is where George Clooney ate dinner when he was in the area filming Monuments Men!  They have a photo of him in there to prove it.  We figure he probably sat right where we did and ordered the same thing Jeremy did, so basically Jeremy=George Clooney.

Some Wolfenbüttel Blooms
Some Wolfenbüttel Ducks
Jerm drinking local German beer
Thursday we went to coffee at the library again, and wandered around town a bit more before having a nice dinner with some of my friends for more fellowship and chit-chatting!  I really enjoyed showing Jeremy my home here, and introducing him to my friends so that he has a better idea of what I'm up to all the time!  

Jeremy and I at dinner in Wolfenbüttel
Meeting friends!  Me, Jeremy, and Katja at dinner.
Friday morning began the journey to Paris!  Approximately seven and a half hours on the train from Wolfenbüttel to Paris, and our Parisian adventure began!  We arrived around 5:00pm, and after checking into our hotel right by the Pont Neuf, we spent the evening wandering about the Seine and taking it all in.  What a beautiful city!!

Looking over the Seine at sunset
Pont Neuf on the Seine
Notre Dame across Saint-Michel
On Saturday, we were top-notch travelers/tourists and explored more than anyone thought possible in a single day!  We began by visiting Shakespeare & Company, the famous English bookstore on the Seine, on our way to Sainte-Chapelle.  Sainte-Chapelle is a beautiful jewelry box of a building, filled with floor-to-ceiling thirteenth-century stained glass, originally built to house the relics of the Passion (including the Crown of Thorns).  After Sainte-Chapelle, we stayed on a medieval kick and went to the Musee Cluny.  Talk about a super collection and thoughtful display!  The collection lives in a wonderful building, and includes top-notch medieval sculptures and a full set of Unicorn Tapestries!  Hooray!

Shakespeare & Company
Musee Cluny
Musee Cluny-- Sculpture heads from Notre Dame
Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Cluny
Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Cluny
Then we strolled through the Tuileries Gardens, enjoyed some gelato, and visited the Musee de l'Orangerie, a delightful little museum filled with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist delights.  I especially love the round rooms where Monet's largest Water Lilies are displayed!  Some of you may not know that my first interest in art history was as a child, when I was in LOVE with Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir.  The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements were the first I loved, and as a child I studied my page-a-day Van Gogh calendar trying to memorize title/artist/date for each day.  No wonder I became an art historian!

Jeremy at l'Orangerie
Jeremy at l'Orangerie
Monet's Water Lilies at l'Orangerie
Me with my Water Lilies
Close-up of Water Lilies
Because we simply had not had enough walking and standing yet, we journeyed to the Eiffel Tower by foot, and I was again amazed at just how enormous it really is.  That never gets old.  We circled back around to see the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees before heading back to the hotel to rest our feet a bit.  That evening, we had dinner with my friend Lindsey and her boyfriend Arnaud at a delicious Moroccan place in a less touristy part of Paris.  I always love seeing familiar faces in not-so-familiar places!

La Tour Eiffel

The Arc de Triomphe is so very enormous!
Arc de Triomphe

Easter Sunday was definitely one to remember!  We began the day with an Easter Mass at Notre Dame!!!  Super music and fanfare, even though we didn't understand most of what was said!  It truly felt like a trip back in time, as the clergy walked in with the processional cross held high and the priest wearing a colorful chasuble!  After church, we went to see the Musee d'Orsay, a museum housed in the former train station built around 1900.  We both love the building, with all its natural light and token train station clocks.  Not to mention, there is a fun collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Easter Sunday at Notre Dame!
Notre Dame on Easter Sunday
Notre Dame on Easter Sunday
Notre Dame on Easter Sunday
Notre Dame on Easter Sunday
Musee d'Orsay
Musee d'Orsay
Me with Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge dancer!
Van Gogh
Van Gogh
Jeremy with Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe
In the evening, we went up to Sacre Coeur, a church built between 1875-1915 on top of the butte in a district known as Montmartre, for Compline prayers sung by the nuns!  Totally cool.  I kept hoping they would bust out a Sister Act style "Oh Maria," but no such luck (watch this).  After the prayers, we had dinner at an adorable cafe with live piano music.  We requested "La Vie en Rose" (listen here) and "Complainte de la Butte" (and here) and had a totally stereotypical and wonderful dinner soundtrack all to ourselves.

Sacre Coeur on Easter Sunday
Sacre Coeur on Easter Sunday

Monday was our last full day in Paris, and we spent most of it at the Louvre.  We also had another adventure, which I will be telling you about in a separate post soon.  The Louvre was PACKED with people carrying selfie sticks and bumping into each other!  But once you escape the room with Mona Lisa in it, it opens up a bit and you are able to move about more freely.  Because it would take an eternity to see everything there, we picked the highlights and moved with purpose!  We spent our final evening eating delicious food, walking around Paris at night, and soaking up every bit of vacation goodness we could stand!

Chaos around the Mona Lisa-- You can barely see her above everyone's heads!
We had to search very hard to finally find Michelangelo's slave sculptures!
Jeremy with El Greco
Tuesday morning, we took the seven and a half hour train back to Wolfenbüttel, ate dinner, and packed up to head back to Berlin for Jeremy's flight.  Wednesday we went back to Berlin, had time to walk around the city before dark, ate a nice German dinner, and went to a movie.  Then on Thursday morning, I had to take him to the airport and let him go back home.  So sad to see him go, but had the best eleven days a girl could ever ask for with the best man and husband anyone could ever dream of!  I laughed so much, smiled non-stop, loved every second, and filled up my senses for the next six months!

Sony Center-- Where we went to our movie
Sony Center ceiling