Culture, Europe, Family, Food, Religion, Travel

Never Fear

Is all chocolate cake in Germany considered German chocolate cake? Because we’ve had some chocolate cake here and it was delicious.

We tried another GCC here as well. The German Catholic Church. I’ve never been to a Catholic service before and we have a friend in Germany who was kind enough to host us for a night, which happened to be Saturday night, so we went to Sunday morning church with her.

Church is a thing I love to experience in every country. I think it is such a cultural experience and holds so many traditions. So, if we can, I like to catch a church service. I’ve been to services in the Dominican Republic, Armenia, Micronesia, Korea, Honduras, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Romania, Jordan, and now Germany.

All church services are essentially the same, singing and a message. But, it’s the cultural nuances I like. Today, it was a pipe organ. In Cambodia, it was going barefoot for the service. In Micronesia, it was singing worship songs to a ukulele. In China, it was worshipping in secret with an underground church. Everywhere is different.

But, the God we worship is the same. And He transcends language. As I’ve said, I don’t speak any German. But sometimes I feel like I can understand some things if I listen close enough. Which totally isn’t true because during the message this morning I think I heard the priest say something about a hot shower and also gesundheit, even though no one had sneezed. So, I really can’t understand anything.

However, there was a woman who got up to read a passage. And I have no idea what she was saying. No idea what the passage was. But, I clearly heard: “The Lord is my strength, I shall not fear.”
Lucky for me, the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak German. Or Korean. Or English. He just speaks. We interpret it in our own language, but the heart message is the same.
How awesome is it that we serve a God who transcends culture, who transcends language, who is present wherever we are, and who can speak to us through the times we can’t even understand ourselves.

All we have to do is be still and listen.

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Culture, Europe, Middle East, Travel

Say What You Need To Say

I know at first glance, I may look like a Helga. But, despite popular belief, I am not, in fact, German. Nor do I speak German.

Old Town Frankfurt

I actually don’t speak any other languages. I know a little Spanish and I managed to order us water at a restaurant in Korean, (a feat I was pretty proud of) and that’s about it.
So navigating Germany is a little bit of a task for me. There is almost nothing written in English. We went to a museum yesterday and about 85% of it was only in German. This is rare around the world. I’ve been to a lot of places and almost everywhere has things written in the native language and English. But, not here.

 

No real idea what’s going on here at the museum

We have a friend who lives in a smaller town outside of Stuttgart, so we decided to take a train to see her. Navigating town is a little difficult, but navigating the train system is hard. We managed to buy our tickets at a kiosk but didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be a direct train to where we needed to go. So, I found an information desk and the guy seemed to know what I needed and printed me out a schedule. All in German.


Five transfers at train stations out in the middle of nowhere in Germany. And, it’s the slow trains, which equals about 40 mph. On the bright side, it provides ample time to take in scenes from the German countryside.


At every stop to transfer, we have about a fifteen to thirty minute wait until our next train arrives. I noticed a couple of guys who seemed a little lost (join the club) and they approached us and said hello. They also had a schedule printed out in German and I could tell they weren’t natives either. Jake explained the schedule to them and told them we would be taking the same train and they could wait with us.

 

Train to Frankfurt

After listening to them talk for a minute, I realized they were speaking Arabic. I forgot to mention that I also know a teaspoonful of Arabic. Which means I know enough to say hi, my name is Brittney, how are you?

When the train finally arrived, they boarded behind us and sat down with us. So, I tried out my Arabic skills and found out their names were Mahmood and Mahmood. And neither of them knew much English or German.

So, let me explain this. They both know Arabic. Mahmood 1 knows some English and a little German. Mahmood 2 knows almost no English or German. Jakes knows English and some German (he took two years in high school) and I know English and a tiny bit of Arabic.

But, of course, I was curious so I toiled on. They weren’t related, as far as I could tell. I was able to ask if they were father and son, which they weren’t. They were both from Syria and came here as refugees. Mahmood 1 has a family (two boys, ages 16 and 10, and one daughter, 4 years old named Houda) currently living in Jordan. He’s from a town in Syria (Daraa) that some of the other refugees I met in Jordan were from. He worked doing tile and plaster in Jordan then came to Germany and hopes for his family to join him here.

Mahmood 2 was 20 years old and studies German twice a week. He was from a different Syrian town I didn’t recognize and lived in a refugee camp. He’s been here for five years and has no family here. Can you imagine having to leave your home country at 15 years old and go strike out a life in a foreign country, with your family relying on you to bring them out too? That’s a lot of weight to carry.

As we approached our station, we said our goodbyes, in various languages, and departed. But, I can’t help thinking how quick we are to judge. I could’ve been scared of these two guys. I could easily have ignored the fact that I knew they needed help. I could’ve even used the language barrier as a good (and very valid) excuse. But, aren’t we called to love all people? To be a light to the nations? How can we do that if we refuse to look past ourselves and into the lives of others?

I didn’t impart any wisdom to these two guys. I didn’t share my beliefs with them. But, I did express concern. I did take a minute to hear their story, to ask who they were and where they were from. It wasn’t a great task. It was small. But, there’s a quote that says something like we should do small things with great love.

And, I think that can speak for itself.

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Asia, Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

Club Class

In the airport, there’s this magical little world no one ever tells you about. It’s hidden away behind glass doors, outside of the hustle and bustle and screaming babies. I lovingly refer to it as “the club”. In the club, it’s quiet and there’s free food and drinks. It’s a wonderful little oasis.

The Korean Club

We have all these amenities, not really because we’re anyone special, mostly because Jake does his travel research.

Each airline has a club, and I’m not sure technically exactly how it works, but we show up at the door and give them our passports and tickets and they escort us in.

 

The Tokyo Club

I keep hearing a waitress in heels walking towards me and am fairly certain she’s coming to tell me to put my shoes back on and to keep my feet off the furniture. I’m really probably not high maintenance enough for this travel life. In fact, there’s no probably about it. I’m not high maintenance enough for this. Seeing as how I’m currently drinking my ice tea from a beer mug, I’m pretty certain that seals the deal. (The mug was the biggest cup they had though, in my defense)


We also have access to “the lounge” at our hotels, which is another magical oasis where there are free food and drinks and where I’m known as Miss Scott, even when I walk in with bed head and Nike shorts on for breakfast. Who am I and how did I end up here?

 

Part of the breakfast lounge in Seoul

 

The lounge in Germany, where they have approximately 37 different types of beer

Short little side note: when we arrived at our hotel, the concierge asked Jake how old I was because they serve alcohol in the lounge, so you have to be atleast 18 to go in. When he informed her I was 24 (his older sister), she laughed nervously and said, oh, I thought she was still in high school. Seriously though, this age thing is getting a little ridiculous! Right?

 

Afternoon tea at the lounge in Seoul

This is all pretty fancy for me. But I am considering buying a fur coat, just to try to fit in a little more. Although, I realized I’m currently wearing socks with holes in them, so maybe I’ll skip the fur coat for now and just treat myself to new socks instead. I’ll take this fancy lifestyle upgrade one step at a time. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

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Art, Europe, History, Travel

Da Vinci Code

I have this theory that all travel pictures are repeated. And I think I’m finding it to be true.  

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

    

When we were in NYC in October, we happened by this huge church. Everything looks pretty big there, but this looked like the biggest building I had ever seen, which is saying a lot since it was situated around skyscrapers. It was just massive. So, we went in and found out that it is the fourth largest church in the world (by area). And, the fifth largest is located in Milan’s city center. The Duomo. I had no idea I was even working my way down this list. I don’t even want to know where the others are. 

The Duomo

There are lots of old churches in Milan and when we walked by one yesterday, I commented that I felt like I was living the da Vinci Code. I had forgotten that Jake bought us tickets to see the Last Supper. Which I learned later is housed in the exact church we were walking by when I said that. 

 

Santa Maria delle Grazie

 
Seeing this masterpiece was a process. You have to buy tickets three months in advance. I never knew this, but it is actually painted on the dining room wall of this old monastery. So, you have to be in Milan to see it. I guess I just thought it was a painting that could move from museum to museum. 

To see it, you have to go through two dehumidifying chambers before entering the huge dining hall. Lucky for us, while we were waiting, an English tour came through and I got to hear their guide explain the details surrounding the painting. 
  
The Last Supper was apparently a popular topic to paint during Leonardo’s time. However, all the paintings prior to this depicted the moment when Judas Iscariot was revealed as the traitor. They show Judas seated on the opposite side of the table from Jesus and the Apostles, which puts all emphasis on Judas. As Judas is sitting on the same side of the table as the viewers of the painting, it symbolizes that we are all sinners alike with Judas and that our sin separates us from Jesus. In these typical depictions, Jesus and the Apostles are showing no emotion, as the Apostles are considered Saints in the Catholic tradition and thus are above expressing human emotion. 

Da Vinci’s depiction was completely different and revolutionary. It shows Jesus at the center (the actual central point of the piece is Jesus’ temple, which the rest of the picture is painted in reference to). It depicts the moments before the traitor is revealed, at the peak of emotion when the disciples are shown trying to figure out who will betray Jesus. 

  
This was not a point of view that had been painted before, and apparently people began coming to the monastery to see it soon after it was finished. Did I mention that it took him 4 years to paint it? To think of devoting 4 years of your life to a single piece of work is a little mind boggling. Unfortunately, he didn’t use a painting technique (fresco) that was conducive to painting on plaster. He painted on dry plaster and the painting began to disintegrate soon after it was completed. Then the church was damaged due to a bombing in 1943 during World War II, which led to further destruction. Luckily, the integrity of the painting has been restored and is now closely monitored (although they estimate that the current state of the work is about 50% diminished from what it originally was).

When we went into the dehumidifying chambers, the guides covered nothing about taking pictures in the dining hall. But the moment we were inside and a lady brought out her camera, it was made known that NO pictures were to be taken. Which was extremely disappointing to me. Not because everyone needs to see the actual painting. Everyone knows what that looks like. 

I was disappointed because it is hard to explain the magnitude of it. This room is huge, with a high, arching ceiling. The Last Supper is painted on one end of the room, while a huge painting of the crucifixion is at the other end. Leonardo painted it while on scaffolding because it is so high up on the wall. The size of it really is astounding. 

So, I did what any good older sister would do. I coaxed Jake into sneaking a picture. Because we all know that I am not discreet enough to commit criminal acts. Plus, the other lady got a picture before they told her not to, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. So, here it is. 

  
Let it be known that Jake risked being thrown in a dungeon to take this. You can thank him later. 

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Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

EXPOse’

I found some new glasses today. 

  
They’re pre-transition lenses. 

  

And, yes, I have been wearing them, they’re super convenient. To be honest, I haven’t really gotten that many stares with them. Fashion is kinda weird around here. 

I met a girl from the U.S. She asked me what state I was from and when I told her I was from Arkansas, she said: what are you doing here?! 

   

Good question. Milan is the city hosting the 2015 World Fair. Just to give you a reference point, the Eiffel Tower and St. Louis Arch were two sites that were built as a result of World Fairs. The theme for the Expo in Milan has to do with food, agriculture, and future sustainability. So, coming to check it out just seemed like the thing to do. Also, it is the biggest event ever organized on food and nutrition. I’m a nerd, I know. 

  

People have asked me what it’s like, which is another very valid question. I had no reference point for it and since it’s not heavily advertised in the States, I’m sure no one else really does either. After having experienced it, I would say that it is like a composition of a bunch of museums. 

There are 140 countries represented and each country has a pavilion, which they dedicate to explaining their agriculture and food supply. Each pavilion is completely different in its depth and content. Some are a short walk through, some have videos, Romania’s had a magic show (still trying to figure out what that had to do with anything), some are really interactive and technological. Each country can decide what angle they want to take too. So, some focus on their main cash crop, say coffee, for example, while others choose to focus on what their country is doing to feed a growing population. 

I met the American girl at the American pavilion (strange, I know), which depicted the changing landscape of food in the US population. It looked at the evolution of fast food and how our focus is changing back to farm fresh and organic foods and how the collaboration of these two ideas is resulting in a new food culture. 

   

Along with countries being represented, there were also “concept” pavilions, which covered different topics. One I was interested in was future foods. I didn’t know what this would be exactly, but was interested to find out. It turns out it was a supermarket of the (probably not so distant) future. 

  

In this supermarket, I went to a shelf and picked up a jar of raspberry jam and on a screen beside me, it told me not only what I had picked up (there were weight sensors in the shelves, which were able to indicate to the computer what I had selected), but also where the raspberries had come from, their nutritional values, as well as the carbon footprint that was made in producing this jar that I was holding in my hand. 

  

It all sounds so advanced, I know, but I do think that we will begin to see more of this type of technology as people desire to become more aware of the origins of the food they eat. 

  
As you can well imagine, I didn’t even begin to cover everything the event had to offer, but I tried my best. I think we did 44 of the pavilions, so I’ll highlight some of my top picks. 

Israel: I’m headed to Israel in a little over a week, so I wanted to check this one out. Theirs focused on how Israel has become an exporter of food, despite their desert climate. Because of the difficulties with farming desert land over the years, they became innovative, which led to the creation of cherry tomatoes (a plant which was more desert sustainable and offered greater yields than the traditional size) and irrigation systems that are used worldwide today. 

 

  

Belgium: the over arching theme of this exhibit was about utilization. Belgium is a small country that wants to maximize their output to feed their people. It had a section explaining the commercialization of insects there. I assume everyone knows this, but insects are becoming more popular and acceptable as a food item worldwide because they are much more sustainable to farm (using less water, food, and land) and offer more protein per gram than most of the meat we consume. They also had a section which talked about wild, edible plants. Did you know that there are 50,000 edible plants on the Earth, but only 200 of them are currently consumed? Neither did I. We should be using these wild plants to their fullest potential, which is what Belgium apparently thinks too. Also, chocolate. Belgium has chocolate.

  

Russia: I like Russian history and culture. It’s so interesting to me how this country has changed and developed through the centuries. Their exhibit featured the Russian scientists: Vavilov, who is the founder of the world’s largest collection of cultivated plant seeds and Mendeleev, who created the Periodic Table. It also displayed pictures from their 110 year old plant collection of cultivated and wild plants from all over the world. Their work in the preservation of our food supply is impressive and more extensive than I ever realized. 

  
Other country highlights: 

Brazil had a ropes course you had to navigate to get into their building. 

  

The Czech Republic had a huge birdbath. 

  

And, Mexico had chilaquiles. Because no cultural food tour can be complete without a little Mexican food. 

  

 

  

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Craft, Europe, Fashion, Travel, Uncategorized

No Worries 

I’m currently on hour #25 of no sleep.  

Cab ride selfie

 
When we exited the airport, Jake picked the first cab driver he came to. As we were loading in the car, he said, I’ve heard Italians drive kinda crazy. I think he just has a knack for picking the crazy ones (see Thailand taxi post for reference)

About two seconds into the drive, I found that he’d heard right. The speed limit was 110 km per hour. We were traveling at a hefty 155 km/hour. I didn’t do the math, but I knew it was fast. Faster than I was really comfortable with. And my comfort level for speed is probably higher than the average person. (For those of us in the mph world, 155 km/hr = about 96 mph). People always say have a safe flight, but what they should say is have a safe cab ride once you get there. 

  
After arriving at our hotel and dropping our bags, they informed us that we would need to wait to check in. So, we went in search of a restaurant. I’m pretty much a zombie at this point and as I was coming out of the subway station, a man from Senegal came up and proceeded to tie a bracelet on my wrist. 

  
This is a common market tactic. Their rule of thumb seems to be: if they can get it on you, you have to buy it. This bracelet was tied on before I knew it and the guy was wanting paid for it. Unfortunately for him, I always have no money. I don’t carry a bag or a wallet or anything with me. So, after explaining to him that I had nothing, he let me go with a handshake and a hakuna matata. A problem free philosophy that results in a free bracelet? I’ll take that any day. 

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