Thursday, August 25, 2016

Travels in the second half of the summer

Salut la Maison!

Since the summer is coming to a close soon, I thought I ought to make a final post to tell about some trips and other things I’ve done lately.

To begin, outside of weekend travels, my times has been spent doing math work mostly, which is great.  I probably described my work a bit before, so it’s a continuation of that.  Progress has been slow, which is sort of to be expected, but I have learned many things.

I just got back from a wonderful visit to Heidelberg, Germany where Lotta has just started her PhD work!  It was great to see Lotta, and SamSasha’sJLabPartner was also able to come down from Hamburg to sightsee with us.  So Lotta guided us around the old part of town (Heidelberg is one of the few cities which was relatively unharmed by WWII, so it actually has older buildings), through the Schloss (the castle/palace looming over the city), to an absolutely top-notch vegetarian restaurant, an Aldi Süd, and more.  The main highlights of the trip were getting to see Lotta and Sam, experiencing Germany a bit, seeing the great views of Heidelberg from the Schloss, attending an organ concert, and going to Mass at an unexpectedly beautiful church.   I didn’t document the trip as well as I should have via photos, unfortunately, but here are some:
Jesuitenkirche–the unexpectedly beautiful church where I went to Mass in Heidelberg
Graffiti'd prison cell for misbehaving students
Took a train up the mountain only to find that it was too misty to see the town.
Oh well, I thought the mist was pretty cool itself.

Ruins of a building in the Schloss

The world's largest wine barrel that had been filled with wine at some point
Gate of Alte Brücke, the main bridge across the Neckar

The weekend before going to visit Lotta, I made a mini pilgrimage to Namur and Beauraing on the Assumption (August 15).  It was actually my first big day-trip by myself, having previously been accompanied to many Belgian cities by the other MISTI Belgium people (typically including Nancy of course!). Namur turned out to be one of my favorite cities so far, with its massive citadel on the hill, awesome Cathedral, beautiful parks, etc.  If you go, be sure to walk up the hill towards the citadel and explore the whole structure–they have lots of helpful historical signs throughout the citadel and the city as a whole.  Everything is quite walkable too.  Here are some Namur photos:
That same day, I spent a couple hours in Beauraing, where in the 1930s, there was an apparition of the Virgin Mary to some kids.  Since the Assumption is a big Marian feast day, it was cool to check it out, see the huge crowds by the sanctuary (note that Beauraing is town similar in size to the one I grew up in with around 8000 people, so pretty small), and pray.  I also managed to meet some cool people who were doing the same sort of mini pilgrimage as I was.  There was a Belgian priest, who had spent time in Ann Arbor, MI in the 80s and had all kinds of funny stories to tell, and then there was an Irishman who is one of the few people who works in the Irish consulate in Brussels.  As a warning, there’s almost nothing else notable in the city except the sanctuary.

View over the city next to Namur
Beautiful park in Namur

Before my trip to Namur/Beauraing, some MISTI Belgium people visited Brussels during the flower carpet display, which happens in the Grand Place every other year.  They have a massive display of flowers arranged into patterns so that it looks like a huge colorfully patterned carpet.

Flower carpet

Nancy eating a Belgian waffle

And before that: I went to SWEDEN!!!!!  My friend Erik, who was an exchange student from Sweden at my high school, organized a trip for me.  I flew from Brussels to Stockholm, took the night train to Umeå (way up in northern Sweden), then Erik and his grandpa and great uncle drove to the place where a ferry takes you to the island Norrbyskär.  Poor Erik had a big family emergency, so he couldn’t stay to hang out with me after the first day or two I was there; however, he had asked the YMCA camp on the island (where he usually works in the summers) if I could “kula,” which is their term for volunteer-working on the camp in exchange for food and a bed.  So, for 3-4 days, I got to help do miscellaneous things on the camp: tightening the rocks on the rock-climbing wall, participating in team-building and leadership activities, cleaning stuff, etc.


Looking out to the sea from Norrbyskär
The building on the campsite which houses the ledar rum where one eats mackor
My friend Erik, probably lecturing me about American politics
and complaining that he can't vote in the upcoming U.S. election.
Ship ruins on Norrbyskär
"Cliffs" on the campsite looking out to the sea
Math building at the University of Umeå

But of course, in the evenings, the group of camp leaders and volunteers would have fun by sailing, singing songs around a campfire, eating mackor (for our purposes, just grilled cheese sandwiches, but we cooked them in little griddle things which were like waffle-makers but flat).  I had a great time, needless to say!  Practicing Swedish, meeting really nice, fun Swedish people, etc.  I hope it won’t be boring if I talk about some of the cool people I met.  First, there were two current students at the University of Umeå, Ellen and Philip, who work on the camp being in charge of the high ropes course, the rock-climbing wall, and things like that.  They are both going to be middle or high school math teachers, so we talked about math a bit (in English though–I guess their math classes are often in English).  They were a lot of fun to be around though and were super helpful with allowing me to practice my Swedish on them.  Super nice pair.   The many other camp leaders and volunteers were awesome too, but I spent less time with the others than I spent with Ellen and Philip, who sort of took me under their wing when Erik left.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the cook:  the grandfatherly Ralf, an old man who makes good food and always wears a hat that says, “BOSS.”  He sometimes hangs out with the camp leaders to make jokes in his deep voice and thick (northern?) accent, which I was only occasionally able to understand.  He is such a happy sort of guy, too.  When asked what his favorite part of that day at camp had been (after a day of leadership/team-bonding activities when there was a large transition from one group of camp leaders to the next), he said something like, “That I woke up again,” or something like that (but in Swedish, of course, so like “att jag vaknade igen i morse”).  That was perhaps not the best explanation, but the point was that he was happy to be alive!

KFUM Camp Leaders for third part of the summer
Ralf is wearing his usual hat
Ellen and Philip are directly to Ralf's right (our left)

Naturally, all the Swedes asked about the upcoming presidential election, and knew way more than me or the average American.  The Socialist party happens to be especially strong in the north, so obviously they all expressed their sadness that Bernie Sanders hadn’t won the nomination.

Overall, I found it unbelievably cool to be isolated from society, experiencing true Swedish culture and having a relaxing time.  Sweden is awesome!

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