Salutations from Prague, Czech Republic! I arrived at 10:21 this morning. First mishap of my adventures: apparently Czech metro stations require you to stamp your ticket before getting on…France never required that. So I illegally boarded the subway to get to my hostel and got fined $60. The police officer was super nice and friendly, but no amount of cajoling could get me out of paying. Oh well – mishaps are part of the experience!
I can’t believe I’ve already been in Europe for a week! Last week was magical. We spent two days in Paris, climbing the steps up the Eiffel Tower at night, visiting Versailles, cruising the Seine, and seeing the Notre-Dame Cathedral. For all of you who are thinking of going to Paris someday: leave yourself at least a week. There was so much that we didn’t have time to do, so I’m definitely planning on returning during the fall, as it’s only two hours from London on the Chunnel!
On August 4th, Lexie and I caught the train to Lyon to visit Faustine, Lexie’s friend. We found our way to her little flat on the west side of Lyon, and it was incredible spending a few days with her. Lyon is amazing!!! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the second largest preserved medieval and Renaissance quarter in Europe. We took a walking tour of “Vieux Lyon,” the medieval part of town, and it felt like going back in time. The cobbled streets wound around tall stone buildings of cream, rose, and dark red. Singers and violin players on every corner. All of Vieux Lyon was magical, but the best part were the traboules: tiny passageways between the old streets. In the 14th century, when Lyon was a huge center of commerce in Europe, people who wanted to build houses had to pay a certain amount that corresponded to the space their house took up on the ground. Many people built narrowly on the ground and then expanded higher to save money, and this created all these empty spaces on the ground between houses and roads, which became secret passageways, if you will. There are 30 open traboules in Lyon that people still use: you’ll walk into one, wind through some twists and turns, and come out the other side on a completely different street. And to top it off, Lyon was a center of Nazi resistance in World War II, and the resistance journalists used the traboules to travel around town to distribute clandestine newspapers. Literally the coolest thing ever.
In addition to the amazing tour of Old Lyon, Lexie and I visited several museums and walked around on top of the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere, from which you can see the entire city. I even broke off from the group to illegally climb into the bell tower while the bells were ringing, because it was just too good to pass up. We randomly met a friendly guy from Ohio, Ethan, who was traveling alone, so he joined us on our visit to the Musee de Beaux Arts, and then he and I met up the next day to visit the Center for the Resistance and Deportation (where I learned that cool fact about the clandestine newspapers) and grab pizza before I left. It was crazy seeing pictures of trains full of Jews departing for the concentration camps from Perrache, the station right down the street where I was about to depart for Prague, and to see pictures of the swastika hanging on the Hotel de Ville, where we met to go to the Musee de Beaux Art. Lyon was occupied by the Gestapo in the very same places I walked. In America, we consider World War II to be a faraway war – one that affected us and our soldiers, but nonetheless not on our soil – whereas some of Lyon’s residents remember the occupation. It’s so different.
I’ve been thinking a lot about human hands when I enter the cathedrals, and I think to myself, From whence does this come? I think this a lot, in fact, sometimes when I hear music, or when I see something that I feel that I have not the capability to receive. Which is how I feel a lot when I see incredible architecture like the Basilica and the Notre-Dame, or the amazing art in the museums. Human hands have crafted this. How? Humans hands are extraordinary: they sculpt marble into the likeness of angels and men, they resist the Gestapo by hammering out hopeful words on a typewriter, they comfort and care for children, they build basilicas hundreds of feet high and paint frescoes, they coax melodies out of wooden things and animal hair. I can’t get over it.
This is the week of the three consecutive night buses/trains. The first one was last night, which was rough. Rounds two and three are to and from Auschwitz tonight and tomorrow night. Sometimes I’m amazed I haven’t had a catastrophe yet. Thanks be to God for history and for art, for friends and cultures and adventures.