If I could actually make up a major for myself, it would be “Culture and Travel.” I love traveling more than any other of my passions and hobbies, including theater. I try to take as many opportunities to travel as I can. Travel and experiencing other cultures is necessary for a healthy spirit, a happy heart, a fresh outlook, and especially a contented Debbi. And to keep these things in check, I started the year off with a VROOM. First stop: Europe Choir Tour, 2012. Here’s a short summary of our journey and what I learned from it.
Thanks to our wonderful French tour guide, Angelique, I learned what Paris is like from her inside Parisian perspective. It is not the mean, pick pocketing, scary place that I was told it was, but actually beautiful, diversely cultured, and good-natured towards tourists who respect French societal standards. I learned so many things about the culture that I was never expecting: it is standard that you always have clean shoes on or you will be looked down upon; you must first greet your server before receiving any service; the general policy is that “the customer is always wrong”; and French people normally dine for hours at a time. I also learned how to use the metro system, which was so confusing that I felt that any other city’s underground system would be cake after that. In Chartres, Chantel and I learned only too quickly that, when on a tight schedule, one must try and experience as much of a city as quickly as possible, or one will miss something beautiful, like the fountains by the Opera House and the Mona Lisa. This was the first major journey I’ve ever made without taking a camera. However, the sparkling Eiffel Tower is an image I will never forget. Unfortunately, the singing lady in Montmartre won’t easily be forgotten either.
When I was in Bali, I had my first encounter with the game of bartering. I hated it. However, with the help of Angelique, the flea market proved quite a success! Attending mass at the Notre Dame taught me how unfamiliar I truly am with my own religion (put it in French, and I haven’t a clue as to what is going on) and despite that, I still felt at home in every cathedral we entered. I learned that I could definitely live in Paris. I love everything about it, from the rough edges of the flea market to the bursting with tourists Eiffel tower to the tiny bakeries where I could only communicate via pointing.
During our morning tour of Brugge, I seriously considered dropping everything and moving there to be a nun. The town was so beautiful and quaint and the people were so kind (except for one lady I met in a chocolate shop, but she was probably just having a bad day). I love that it is very difficult to get a driver’s license there. If you really want to travel outside the city, you simply take the train or a bus. Otherwise, within the city, you walk. How cool! The best experience I had in Bruuge, however, was definitely singing at the homeless shelter. I admit to tearing up a little when they turned around and sang for us. I feel like this experience opened my eyes most of all to the real culture of Belgium. Nowhere is perfect, but you can always find a kind, caring, and helpful hand, especially in Brugge. All the residences in this particular city reminded me a lot of the houses in Bali. The culture seemed very simple and quiet, which is probably why it is not well noted, giving me little pretense of what it would actually be like. Except the chocolate—that was even better then I was expecting. The most beautiful statue I’ve ever seen in my life was in the Church of Our Lady in Brugge. I could have sat there all day, observing the statue and praying. It was the most amazing private prayer I’ve ever had and lit my first candle in years. It was only one Euro, but I would pay one hundred to duplicate that experience. Michelangelo knew how to do a statue right!
Holland, however, was my favorite country of all. Angelique told me that if I were ever looking in Europe for a man to marry, I would be happiest with a Dutch man. (Keep that in mind, ladies!) She claimed the Dutch culture was the kindest of all, especially to women. My experience told me nothing otherwise. Despite all the sketchy preconceptions I had of Amsterdam, I found the culture to be surprisingly kind and diverse. There were a few points where I got a little lost, but there was always a random stranger that helped guide me towards my destination. I was surprised to find out that it was the most international city in the world. I was also amazed at the power of perspective of architecture. From the canal ride, the beauty of the buildings was an entirely different experience compared to encountering the beauty of being up close to the doorsteps. I also had no idea that Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam. Being inside her annex was unreal. I’ve never read the book, but reading her quotes upon the walls was chilling and enough incentive to buy the book at least. I’ll read it soon. The most interesting experience I’ve possibly ever had in my life occurred in the tabernacle we visited in the Red Light District. The stories of the people who work there intrigued and inspired me. I feel like interning at an international house of prayer is something that I would enjoy doing. It would help me to better articulate myself when praying out loud. The experience was uncomfortable, I admit, but in a good way. It truly is our responsibility to pray for the cities we visit. These worldly places, tourist destinations, and sketchy backstreets all belong to mankind, and all are gifts of God. The whole Earth is my home, from the Sphinxes to the North Pole to the Great Wall of China to small town Alabama. True appreciation is to give back to every inch in prayer. I am so grateful for this experience.
the journey was only a little over a week, my life has definitely been changed
for the better. I made the spiritual discovery of my passion for prayer, the
personal discovery that I don’t really like chicken, no matter what country
it’s cooked in, and the most beautiful discovery of all—new friends. If nothing
else, I can at least pretend to be majoring in “Culture and Travel” and I have
a feeling that this education will only last for the rest of my life. I feel
renewed, my heart is happy, and I am content…. for now.
Photos by Lindsay Lindaman