The Changing Evergreen documents journeys, focusing on the people and places often overlooked in traditional media and reflecting on the extravagant grace found along the way. Whether a post focuses on travel, my personal experiences or an individual's life passion, this blog consists of "evergreen" stories chosen from our changing world - a testament to God's creativity and diversity, a call to action, a challenge to grow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities: Berlin and Rome

Falling in Love and Saying Goodbye

Berlin was the last city that captured my heart.

Berlin's beauty may not be traditional,
but it's there for those who take the time to
seek it out -- sometimes in unusual places
but always ready to surprise and delight.
We met three years ago, our relationship a little rocky at the outset. Fresh from the American countryside, I wasn’t ready to navigate its public transit or investigate its loud nightlife, dancing in the dark under neon lights throbbing music spilling out of discos. Wandering around the expansive city, I couldn’t understand how so many American offerings dotted the streets: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burgerking. Where was I again?

Living on the outskirts of Berlin, a low-key student housing complex in the southwest corner, I found the city’s first redemption outside its so-called center: Saturday morning runs around Lake Schlactensee (and evening swims there as well), long Sunday morning tram rides across town to attend a small church plant, and frequent stops for German Eis, a delicacy akin to American ice cream, but much better.

By the end of the first summer, we were on good terms, Berlin and I. I wouldn’t call it love, but maybe acceptance. Acceptance and common interest. Interest that would keep growing over the next two years, heightening with each visit, crescendoing in 2011, when I moved there again and claimed I never wanted to leave, though leave I did.

Then I met Rome.
Seeing the Colosseum in real life was a highlight of my few hours in Rome,
although next time I'll need to factor in enough time to explore its interior as well.
Whereas Berlin took its time claiming my heart, Rome was love at first sight, all ancient monuments and pillars jumping off history book pages studied long – now live and large with every glance. International enough to excuse my absent Italian, big enough to encompass its touring crowds, Rome promised the wisdom of the ancients, long hours reflecting atrocities inflicted within its center, but, most importantly, a forward-looking mien seeking to combine the best of the old with the excitement of the new.

Unfortunately, we only had eight hours to spend together. I walked and walked and walked – taking thousands of photos along the way – unable to wipe a silly grin from my face. Heightening my enjoyment of this too-short rendez-vous were a couple particular experiences, moments where I absolutely wanted time to stop. Most notably: gelato.

My first gelato: pure bliss.
Pictures are revealing, and according to countless snapshots, coffee and ice cream are my weaknesses. When I’m holding one of the two, I always look the happiest; Rome had both of most excellent quality. For years, I’d dreamed of tasting gelato in Italy, something I’d heard was ten times better than any imitation. In the US, when Baskin Robbins unveiled its 31-flavor lineup, it took me ages to decide which scoop I wanted to eat, although I could usually cancel out a few. In Rome, however, when I stumbled into a gelato shop, hints of my first Italian espresso still lingering on my tongue, I would have liked to order one scoop of everything. Since I could have never selected only two, I asked for a recommendation: Nutella and Amerana Cherry.

Trevi Fountain: throw a coin
into the turquoise basin and
it's rumored you'll return to
Rome someday. Yes, please!
Admittedly, I’d been singularly-focused on my gelato search, so I hadn’t paid attention to my surroundings – until I stepped back out into the bright Italian sun and realized I was standing in front of famed Trevi Fountain. Due to pickpockets, keeping your eyes open is generally advised in Rome, especially in very popular areas, but right then, I couldn’t help closing my eyes in absolute bliss. Face upturned to the warm sun, breathing in fresh waffle cones and sweet ice cream, I dipped my plastic spoon into the creamy concoction – and wanted time to stop.

Right. There. Forever.

It’s rumored that if you toss a coin into Trevi Fountain, you’ll return to Rome again. After I scraped the last possible drops of gelato from my cup and threw the empty container away, I tossed my own wishing coins into the clear water. Throughout the afternoon, my continued wanderings took me up and down the Spanish steps, around the pillared Pantheon, and through cobbled alleys where warm Mediterranean yellows and oranges crumbled off ancient buildings – a perfect mess.

My silly grin, it stayed until I boarded the Leonardo airport express train, heading for my transfer to TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite). To personify the rain that started falling almost as soon as my train left the station as the tears of a city sad to see me go is surely an exaggeration, although it really rained. For my part, it’d have been silly to cry after such a brief visit, so instead I just prayed a little legend would come true: that my future would, indeed, hold a return trip to Rome. 
Wandering streets like this in Rome made my heart so happy:
the crumbling yellows were sunshine to my eyes, everywhere I looked.
Being back in Berlin, however, isn’t merely a wish – it’s reality that’s manifest itself many times over. In fact, right now I’m settled into a forest green corduroy chair in Café Ambulanz at Oranienburger Tor, my favorite city haunt for coffee and pastries, writing about the last three years’ travels. Undoubtedly my best three months of the last 22 were the ones spent discovering Berlin from the inside out -- living its sunny days walking along the Spree River and watching the rainy ones from inside its coffee shops; attending press conferences and writing about the on-the-street opinions of residents; talking long with new-friends-turned-best-friends, sometimes in German, sometimes in English.
I <3 Berlin.
Especially this view taken from the relatively new Humbolt Box, a modern piece of architecture
temporarily holding space on the Berlin skyline while the old city palace is being rebuilt.
In the picture: the TV Tower and the "Red City Hall."
Yes, those three months were when I fell in love with Berlin, each return visit a reminder of the best days past. But the biggest difference between Berlin and Rome is now becoming apparent. Departing from Rome left a quick sting, like an injection needle being removed at the doctors – all the necessary ingredients left deep inside my skin. Saying goodbye to Berlin, however, is like finishing a cherished book: closing the cover on unique combinations of people and places that have rooted themselves into my memory, necessary knowledge as I continue on but redundant if repeated right away. Reading the same book again over and over would likely unveil new nuances, but it would also miss much of the breadth offered by other volumes. Maybe there’ll be a sequel someday or perhaps I’ll pass through the pages again, but as much as I love Berlin, both the reading and remembering, it’s time – for now – to return the book, to leave, and to say goodbye. 
Walking along the Spree River behind the Eastside Gallery, one of my
 favorite places to spend a sunny afternoon in Berlin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dreaming in French: Why I Want to Revisit Paris


Why I want to "Go With Oh" to Paris

The deadline for the “Go With Oh” spring blogger competition just ended (but make sure you check out their Web site for continued competitions and awesome prizes!!!), but my entry lives on in blog format: the story of a trip that was and the dream of a trip to be…

Je veux aller á Paris parce que j’adore française.

Last summer, I met the renowned City of Light for the first time; however, she must have been asleep.

On a quick five-city-stop trip with my mom, a short vacation between two years of teaching English at a German grammar school, Paris was by far my most anticipated destination, but it also disappointed me the most.

We spent the majority of our measly five hours in the French capital being bussed around, listening to our tour guide Michelle’s adorable accented English highlighting the attractions as we whizzed by:

“See, l’Arc de Triomphe…”
“See, le Muéee d’Orsay…”
“See, la Tour Eiffel…”
Grey on Grey: Tourists crowd in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris on a dreary June day.  
Unfortunately, by the time we were deposited in front of the venerable Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, its courtyard crowded by a bevy of international tourists vying to feed the flocking pigeons or marvel at the grey gothic-inspired arches and flying buttresses, the sky had taken on a matching shade of colorlessness, foreshadowing the rain that would darken our remaining hour’s stay in a city known for luminescence.

Slowly shuffling through the expansive cathedral, I paused to photograph spiral candle stands glowing under the magnificent rose-shaped stained glass windows, the muted shafts and flickering tea lights the brightest sparks we would see that day.
The two large rose-shaped stained glass windows opposite each other inside the cathedral tell the complete  story of the Bible: one window represents the Old Testament, the other the New Testament.
Not having enough time to discover the true brilliance of Paris and being stuck centrally in the most heavily tourist-populated locales made for a mediocre encounter with the city Hemingway raved over in A Moveable Feast. At the Eifel Tower, my mom and I made a mad dash down the green, umbrellas extended, to capture a few shots with the world-famous icon before our bus departed.

Despite the dreary day, the undoubtedly majestic details of the buildings we did see left me speechless, but my muteness notwithstanding, an important element – even more important than the lack of light – was missing from my mini-trip to France: French.

Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of learning French, fascinated by its lilting liaisons and curvaceous script. Nonetheless, when I reached high school and signed up for my first foreign language, French was sadly not on the proffered elective list. So I settled for German – a decision that would lead me, down the road, to my living situation of the last two years, a tiny town nestled in Germany’s hilly Harz region.

Childhood dreams die hard, though, and I embraced the chance this year to learn with the same students I teach. Graciously, the French teacher at my school agreed to let me attend biweekly classes with the eighth grade (If only we were as enthusiastic about starting language study earlier in the US), practicing my Merci’s and building the foundations of language use.

Therefore, I would love to revisit Paris, immersing myself fully in the grand City of Light awake and at her best, living locally in an apartment, not only to explore undiscovered corners of the city – sidewalk cafés, sprawling gardens, endless fashion and art – but to personally encounter the magic of French, a language that’s captivated me from the beginning but has thus far eluded my grasp.

My 5-point wish list for Paris
  1. Breakfast in a different bakery every day to sample Pain au Chocolat. I would describe the results of each day’s delectable buttery chocolate treat, picking my favorite at the end of the trip. (Without a doubt, I’d check out Au Levain d’Antan and Le Grenier à pain, winners of the 2011 and 2010 best baguette award, respectively).
  2. After finishing my delectable breakfast, I’d buy a baguette to go and spiral through the Parisian arrondissements, stopping at the open-air food markets, perhaps the Marché Bastille in the 11th Arrondissement on Thursday or Sunday or the Marché d’Aligre on Tuesday through Saturday morning, to test my French with the vendors and purchase fresh cheese and meats for an afternoon picnic.
  3. A visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without taking in some art. Since the impressionist painters always interested me the most, the Musée d’Orsay is at the top of my list, with its collection including works by Monet, Renoir, and Degas. Tickets for 18-25 year olds cost a very reasonable €6.50, or if I time my visit right, I could visit for free on the first Sunday of the month.
  4. During my stay, I plan to sample the famous Parisian dish Duck Confit, perhaps at Bouillon Chartier, a historical and tastefully decorated French brasserie with reasonable prices and typical everyday French cuisine.
  5. However kitschy my last item may sound, what better way to experience Paris’s luminescence then by ascending the Eiffel Tower at night to gaze over the expanse of twinkling lights. The Skip the Line Sunset Eiffel Tower Tour is rather pricey at €50, but experiencing the top in a small group not exceeding 20 people and avoiding the hours-long wait at the bottom may be worth the money.
Wet but determined, my mom and I used our 15-minute stop at the Eiffel Tower to run
far enough  down this path to capture a full view of the well-known landmark. We
may have been a few minutes late back to the bus, but at least we got our pictures!
Read other great entries for the “Go With Oh” spring blog competition by checking out their Pinterest page. Happy Traveling!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Beating the German Viruses for the Umpteenth Time

A week ago, I was huddled up in a coat and two scarves at Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Stadium, cheering on the home team to a rather mediocre 1-0 victory. While I was excited about my first live German soccer/football experience, the swirling cigarette smoke and currywurst fumes made me woozy rather than wound-up, and I was a little worried about the cold I’d felt coming on for the last day and a half.

By the time the game ended, and we were running along the pathway to the parking lot, determined to beat the rush of fans that had kept my friends trapped in hour-long gridlock the last time they’d visited the stadium, I knew I was in trouble. Jogging a couple hundred meters left me out of breath, and the coughing started not long after we’d gotten in the car.

Monday morning, I spent a miserable 3 hours in trains headed back to Wernigerode, and not long after I’d arrived, I was texting teachers and students, canceling all of my responsibilities for the day. On Tuesday, I wasn’t any better (healthier), and before you know it, my sick “day” had turned into a week: 7 long days of battling the German viruses.

In other words, besides sleep, my week looked like a whole lot of this:
The contents of my self-assembled survival kit:
Burt's Bees (from home), Kamill hand lotion, Heiße Zitrone Vitamin C packets, Grippostad C
cold medicine, Soft & Sicher tissues and Ricola sugar free sage throat lozenges. Ready, fight!
To be perfectly honest, I’d never considered myself prone to illness, before I moved to Germany, that is. Sure there’d be the almost inevitable cold at the end of the term, post finals, but nothing major. Last year, it seemed like every other weekend had me holed up in bed with a cold. I’ve had more problems with unexplained stomach aches this year, but apparently all the viruses were just waiting to team up on me.

Due to my less-than-desirable but considerable experience with colds last year, I felt, at least, semi-prepared to take on the bug this time around and had assembled a survival kit of sorts.

·      Grippostad C: In the states, I loathe cold medicine because the shaky, dizzying side effects are almost worse than the illness itself; however, this cold medicine pretty much fights against everything, effectively, sans nausea.

·      Heiße Zitrone: To me, the cold version of this drink is the only thing in Germany that tastes remotely like the lemonade from home and, to the Germans, it’s a veritable magic potion of disease fighting powers, packed with Vitamin C. Empty a few packets into a glass for a new spin on the “If life gives you lemons….” saying!

The rest of my survival kit consists of items you’d find in the U.S., too, but apart from the Burt’s Bees chap stick (one of the few things I’ve consistently imported), the German equivalents are somewhat superior in my mind.

·      Soft & Sicher tissues: Perhaps it’s the super thick paper itself or the multiple layers, but the German equivalent of Kleenex are super soft and heavy duty. When I blew my nose, I could be certain it’d stay in the tissue and not blast through into my hands.

·      Kamill hand lotion: Nonetheless, since I’d wash my hands every time I blew my nose (frequently), my poor skin was drying out like raisins, necessitating repair care. The orange “express” version leaves your hands instantly soft, but the green tube with chamomile extract is another favorite.

·      Ricola’s sugar-free sage drops: I didn’t need to suck on too many throat lozenges last week – thankfully, a sore throat was one of the precious few symptoms I didn’t have – but I was prepared, just in case. In the past, my apartment has been littered with the little purple and white wrappers after many bouts with bugs.

Finally, a week later, I’m feeling ready to return to society, though I’ll still have my tissues close at hand. And, of course, it can’t hurt to keep drinking lemonade…er heiße Zitrone, right?

What experiences have you had fighting bugs in foreign lands? And what country-specific remedies have you found to help get you healthy again?