“Every headstone, every cross has a story. That is the way to look at cemetaries.” (Carl Ooghe)

IMG_0494The Western Front is a place of stories. Each monument, each structure, each grave tells a story. The landscape, the topography still cradles stories of a century ago.

Super beautiful in the evening...but this crater was made during WWI. Welsh (and other British miners) would dig tunnels under the German trenches there and plant explosives...successful attempts made craters like this one.

Super beautiful in the evening…but this crater was made during WWI. Welsh (and other British) miners would dig tunnels under the German trenches there and plant explosives…successful attempts made craters like this one.

Now we get to the focal point of this trip–the Western Front. Talk about classroom on location! We had three days in Belgium and Northern France. Needless to say, this was a much different pace than our time in London with very long days, and being together with the group all day.

First, a note on our amazing tour guides. Our “head guide” was Carl (yes, the one who is quoted in the title of this post), who is basically a walking history book, and the landscape of Belgium is his reference. The first two days I rode in his van in the front middle seat, so as we drove between memorials and monuments, I got so much additional information! Driving along, every other minute he’d see something in a field or along the skyline and be telling a story about its significance in his Belgian accent (which, fun fact, sounds a lot like a Scottish one, with its long, rolled r’s!). The second was Lucas, who was in his late-20s, but was also a fountain of knowledge. Carl did most of the talking on the tour, but when I rode with Lucas on the last day, I found that he had just as much knowledge and stories to share…plus his commentary on Carl’s driving was hilarious too!

Overall, Belgium is very different from England. First of all, it is almost completely flat except for a few ridges (which were, understandably, very important during the war). Also, Belgium is farmland! I was feeling very at home that first day when we stepped out of the vans and inhaled that very distinct farm-smell. ;) We could still find fields of leeks, cabbages, and brussel sprouts growing in the wet, clay soil (and I’m pretty sure I was the only one constantly fascinated by this aspect the whole time!…haha).

Belgium also has much more of an “old Europe” feel, with rows of red brick houses and patches of cobblestone roads. This is actually a little surprising, however, since pretty much the entire area of Ypres had to be rebuilt after the destruction of the war, with full reconstruction not ending until 1984.

Poppies everywhere. Lest we forget.

Poppies everywhere.      Lest we forget.

There are so many stories I could tell from these few days (so please ask sometime! :)), but a couple stand out.

On the second day, we stopped by an Australian Memorial that was pretty much surrounded by fields. As we were looking at the monument, Carl ran out into a field to pick up a few bits of shrapnel that he had spotted. Lucas too told us how farmers today still continue to find live, unexploded shells in their fields–100 years after the war began! They then have to call the army to pick them up and dispose of them safely. And even as we drove around, Carl was constantly pointing out remains of German bunkers in fields. As someone who lives on a farm, this was all so crazy to think about. When we rock-pick, we always collect our ‘treasures’–golf balls, bits of glass, pretty rocks…but I can’t even imagine finding bits of shrapnel, or worse, possibly dangerous shells. I don’t usually consider the impact history can have on our landscape.

The powerful Australian Memorial that was surrounded by fields.

The powerful Australian Memorial that was surrounded by fields.

The second memory/story will probably seem a little strange at first–basically, it’s a really miserable day. Our second day was characterized by lots of rain, 30-40mph winds, and just all-around cold. While we stood outside in the wide-open landscape and listened to Carl talk. Yeah. Super interesting stuff, but super miserable weather, with no chance to go inside or warm up or dry off. But that afternoon as we had a chance to walk through some preserved trenches, I had a little realization which was this: This is real. This is the climate of this place. This is exactly what the soldiers had to deal with as they fought 100 years ago. At least we get to go back to the van after 30  minutes. They were stuck here for 4 years, never to feel completely dry or warm. Or safe, for that matter. Their lives were on the line as well.

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Walking through a preserved trench

So…classroom on location isn’t always fun, happy, easy. But neither were the things we study; we get just a small taste…

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We decided to take a group pic on that miserable day (Not sure whose idea that was?? haha) while we were soaking wet and freezing cold–which I think is pretty evident by our expressions in the picture. (Now it just makes us roll with laughter)


Western Front Highlights:
-Everything Carl and Lucas said!
-Being back among farmland ;)
-Really getting a sense of where this history happened and what it was like
-The Welsh dragon WWI monument
-Walking through preserved trenches
-Endless rounds of WWI-themed Mafia with our group every night at the hostel

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The grand Welsh Dragon Memorial. It’s distinct because it’s not a Commonwealth memorial–it’s fully funded and cared for by the Welsh people. <3

Day Trips From London

During our first week abroad, we got to see a little more of England than just London.

We had one day completely free of class and group activities while in London. A group of us chose to spend that day taking the train out to a smaller town–St. Albans, about an hour out of the city. This was England. This took me back to my semester in Wales. Riding the train as wind whipped the rain against the windows. Watching the landscape transform from city structures to rolling green hills dotted with dark brick homes with colorful gutters and slate roofs. This was the UK that had stolen my heart and been my home.

The town itself was super charming. It boasts a beautiful cathedral which is one of the oldest sites of continual worship in the UK. It is also the site of an ancient Roman city and hosts remnants of a Roman theatre. Overall, St. Albans provided a lovely day at a different pace than the busy city.

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Great sights, good eats, and awesome people!

And of course, what would our group’s travels be without some delays and transportation fiascos? When we arrived at the St. Albans train station to hop on a train back to London, we found the train there packed and not going anywhere. We were told that no one was certain when the next train would be leaving–they were waiting for a conductor! We settled ourselves in to wait for at least an hour…when, in a stroke of luck, I overheard one of the station workers saying there were a few spots left on a bus that would take us to a train station 40 minutes away where we could get on a train to London. We dashed to the bus and all got seats, only to see a flood of people coming off the train and out of the station. It was yet another adventure for us, but we eventually made it back to London!

St. Albans Highlights:
-The huge outdoor market stretching several blocks
-The beautiful cathedral
-The Roman Theatre ruins
-Afternoon Rosebuds tea at The Merchant

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Nothing beats a good cup of tea!

Our second day-trip out of London was as a class to Oxford. This was a place I had been bummed about not seeing while I was studying in Wales, so needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the home of the famous university as well as important place for both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Welcome to Oxford. Dreams really do come true!

Welcome to Oxford. Dreams really do come true!

Our afternoon tour was led by a man named Alastair who used to work for the BBC and knows pretty much everything about the university. He focused on how the university was affected by the war, which was pretty crazy–some of the smaller colleges shrunk down to just 7 men after war broke out.

And of course, we had to close out our day with dinner at The Eagle & Child pub, famous meeting place of the Inklings.

Oxford Highlights:
-Touring Magdalan College
-Prime tea stop at the Congregation House
-Dinner at the Eagle & Child!

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“When a Man is Tired of London, He is Tired of Life Itself” (Samuel Johnson)

Well hiya! Now that I’m back in the States, I can finally share some of my stories from my incredible j-term trip abroad, since time for blogging and consistent wifi access (shout-out to #WIFIAP) were few and far between while on the trip.

3 weeks ago, we arrived in London, but actually getting there was half the adventure! With the lovely Minnesota-January weather comes lots of airline delays. From waiting to just check in for over an hour, to our flight to D.C. leaving almost 2 hours late, it was quickly apparent that we would not be getting anywhere fast. We constantly eyed the clock nervously–our flight to London from D.C. was scheduled to leave at 10PM, giving us just 50 minutes for our layover. When we finally arrived in D.C. at 10:30, we sprinted to our gate…only to find that our plane had left just minutes before. Cue more waiting….and eventually we were given vouchers for a nearby hotel and for food at the airport or hotel (good thing it was almost midnight at this point and everything was closed! ;)). We were ready to just get to the hotel and relax before a flight out in the morning, but–surprise! We had to wait over an hour and a half for the hotel-airport shuttle (sensing a theme yet?).

Okay, so it all sounds pretty dramatic, and it kind of was, but everyone honestly stayed surprisingly (and thankfully) calm. Our mild frustration mingled with humor and a sense of flexibility; it was already evident we’d picked a great group to travel with!

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When it sunk in that we had actually missed our international flight…

So in the morning, we boarded our plane and were off! (Okay, after 2-ish hours of delays…again…classic). Around midnight (UK-time), we finally arrived in London, got our luggage (no problems–yay!), and started the long trek to the hostel. I think we finally made it to bed around 3am that night. It had been some very long days of travel and we were exhausted, but also stoked to finally be in London, and to finally be on this new adventure.

Having been to London before, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back–and for a week this time. Yet I quickly fell back in love with the city and country again, and I never ran out of things to do or got tired with the city. It was also so interesting to experience the city from a news lens–WWI. I was finding tombs and memorials in cathedrals I’d been to before and learning more of the context surrounding monuments both new and familiar. The Imperial War Museum was a huge highlight, having been redone for the WWI centenary. There was an incredible amount of information presented in such an interactive way.

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On another note, London was a great place to bond with the group, whether that meant exploring the city during lots of free time, stopping in for High Tea and crumpets with clotted cream (fave!!), or late-night gelato excursions. We were quickly thrown into comfortability with each other. And sharing a small hostel room with 7 girls and floor space the size of my dining room table may have helped too! ;)

The first of many group-selfie-of-the-day pics to come with our awesome group!

The first of many group-selfie-of-the-day pics to come with our awesome group!

London Highlights:
-the Imperial War Museum
-the Tate Britain art gallery
-High Tea at the Tea House Theatre
-Attending an evening service at Westminster Abbey
-Making friends in the evening in the lounge at our hostel
-Just being back in the UK (aka my second home <3)!

Revisiting Hogwarts and some other London faves

Revisiting Hogwarts and some other London faves

Leaving on a Jetplane…

i do believeYes, yes I do believe it’s time for another adventure! In fact, I’m off for one in just a few hours!

I am stoked to be heading back to Europe for almost all of the month of January with a class from Bethel to study World War I over J-term. I’ll get to revisit some familiar places with a new lens as well as explore a few new places too!

The trip will begin with about a week in London where we’ll visit sites like the Imperial War Museum, the Tate Britain, Trafalgar Square, and several war memorials. Considering we are currently in the  100-year anniversary of World War I, this will be the prime time to be there! Plus I’ll get to continue to explore this city I’ve already gotten to get a glimpse of a couple times. And eat my weight in scones, crumpets, fish & chips, tea, vimto, and all of the other amazing British foods and drinks I’ve missed desperately over the past year!

The classic phone booth pic

London, we will meet again soon in all of your classic-red-phonebooth-glory!

While staying in London, we’ll get to take a day-trip to Oxford and learn a little bit about how men like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien experienced the war. And basically I’ll be geeking out hardcore the entire time.

Then we’ll chunnel on over to the continent and spend a couple days in Ypres, Belgium. There we’ll experience the Western Front and walk through the trenches used in WWI (talk about bringing history to life!). We’ll also get to attend the Last Post ceremony, a tribute done in the town every single night of the year to honor those who died defending the town during the war.

Next we’ll be on our way to Paris (aka a city I’ve DREAMED of seeing). Here we’ll hit up a lot of the typical must-sees: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and we’ll also take a trip to Versailles (stoked to see the famous Hall of Mirrors!). And I definitely see a trip to the Louvre in my future!

Our trip will close out in Munich. There we’ll shift our focus to the transition from WWI to WWII as we learn about the rise of communism and fascism as well as visit the nearby Dachau concentration camp. This may be one of the hardest, but also impactful, places of the trip.

And on a lighter side, I’ll get to continue to explore one of my favorite cities in the world, fake my way through stores with some very shaky German, and eat my weight (sensing a theme?) in Milka chocolate!

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Oh yes, Munich, I am excited to return to you!

And that’s that! I’m sure these next three weeks will fly by, but lots of adventures and new experiences await!
bonvoy

And please, do not hesitate to let me know of any of your favorite sites visited, shows seen, or places eaten at in any of these cities! Visiting a new city for the first (or even second) time is always overwhelming, and I love building my plans around the recommendations of friends and family!