Where Two Siblings Went

It’s been such a busy couple of months, I’ve sadly fallen behind writing updates of my ongoing adventures among the French. It feels like after I hit the halfway point of my journey here, time has started flying. In any case, I wanted to drop by and give you a glimpse of the memories my brother Jesse and I made when he was here for nearly a month back in December and January.

Winter break was special for two reasons: (1) I was able to take a break from the stress of everyday life at the university and just travel and make memories, and (2) I got to share those memories with my little (big) brother. Hence my silence on the blog during those weeks. There was just too much to see to possibly keep up with writing.

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Having a picnic on the pebbled beach in Nice

As you can see, I was incredibly busy. ūüėČ ¬†It was a unique¬†trip with several destinations and several unforgettable experiences.

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Jesse arrived around December 19th and a few days later we boarded a train and began hopping around France and England. Unfortunately, our hopping also included checking out the French emergency room at one point. You know, one should never pass up an opportunity to learn new vocab, right? Though I think we both would have preferred to learn that sort of French vocabulary out of a textbook and not from real life.

We called our adventure the Sibling Trip Winter European Edition or STWEE to borrow from the French tendency to acronym anything and everything. We explored Nice, Antibes, drove through Monaco, climbed the stairs at Eze, strolled the streets of London and later Paris, and of course, we did some hiking in the Alps around Grenoble as well as near the Italian border around Nice. The above pic was taken in the seaside town of Antibes. It was a dreamy place, I must say. I loved seeing all of the many colors of the buildings, hearing the Italian influence on the French accent there, making some new friends, and seeing some sights that absolutely took my breath away.

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Jesse and I both love French and France, but we had never been able to experience France together until now. I’m still not entirely sure that France or Europe for that matter will ever be the same after we came through. One of the best parts for us though was the people we were able to be around. Jesse got to see my life in Grenoble and meet most of my friends here including the sweet Gabins. They treated us like family and Christine made some pretty amazing Earl Grey which snapped Jesse out of jet lag and unloosed his French tongue. I’m only mildly exaggerating there. I also got to meet his sweet friends the Nadirs in Nice and Antibes.

I don’t want to give the impression that everything always went smoothly or without conflict on our trip. However, part of the beauty of our sibling relationship is that we always just keep on rolling and learn a lot lessons in forgiveness. Now, just for the record, that doesn’t mean that either of us conceded to the opinion of the other necessarily. ūüėČ

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What made this trip special exactly?

100_3218It was watching Jesse get stared at by the French on the train as he gobbled down an entire bar of dark chocolate. It was the laughs and grunts of getting our luggage up more stairs than I can quite count. It was getting introduced to the Nadirs who took Jesse and I in while we were in Nice. I still miss those Bible studies in French and the Bible quiz Mr. Nadir and family did one of the last nights we were there. It was seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane on the way to London. It was the laughs, the sibling comments and looks we shared seeing some of those paintings in museums, and yes, we did have to ad-lib what the statues were *really* saying in the gardens of Versailles. There were the mornings we’d wake up sore from walking but ready to go do some more exploring (once I found some coffee). It was that rainy day in Oxford when we both managed to forget an umbrella and walked around rather soaked trying to find the cross in the street that marked where our ancestor Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake.

One of the main parts of our trip was London, and it was an adventure pretty much from the time we landed. Just for future reference, arriving on Boxing Day isn’t probably the best plan if you’d like to actually eat something. As it was, we ended up arguing with some Indians running a gas station over a 4¬£ meal deal which was literally the only place we could find open. They don’t read their own signs and apparently, asking them to microwave a sandwich (which their sign offered) after 9 p.m. is beyond impossible. Don’t ask me why. I’ll leave the place we stayed out of it other than to say it was a big lesson in getting what you pay for. Thankfully, the rest of our adventure there went well even if we only saw the sun once maybe twice.

We crammed a lot into the 4.5 days we were in jolly ole England. It wouldn’t be exactly accurate to say that it was all completely magical. There’s a bit of disillusionment that takes place the first time you see a place you’ve always had to create in your imagination as you read. I had always wanted to go to London mainly due to my infatuation with its history and the countless books I read as a child and young adult that were either set in London or mentioned¬†London.It wasn’t quite the dirty place you read about in Dickens, but I wouldn’t say it was quite like Mary Poppins either. I think the major disillusionment came from just how expensive everything was which is a common problem even for those who call it home.

100_2322On our first day we sauntered around Baker Street and were sure to give a respectful and amused nod to the¬†Sherlock Holmes statue and later investigated the Charles Dickens House. Apparently, the Londoners we talked to later at a church service we attended that Sunday didn’t even know there was a Dickens museum. Instead of only them giving us tips, we were able to give them one or two. I’m quite the Dickens nerd, so it was a treat to get to see one of the places he lived and understand better where he got the inspiration for some of his novels. Despite our fatigue, we decided we’d catch the tube to see Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey at night before calling it a day.

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The next two days in London¬†involved my trying to contain myself and not jump up and down in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (though really few cathedrals can now compare to Westminster, sorry Notre Dame), Jesse navigating the tube map, eating in classic London pubs, seeing if London bridge was really still standing (Jesse assured me it was, but I had to see for myself), looking to feed the birds at St. Paul’s but finding none to feed, strolling around Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, seeing the Tower(s) of London and Tower Hill, having a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament which I highly recommend doing, minding the gap, and the overall feeling that the people in the tube speak a different language even if they are technically speaking English. Did we get to see everything? No, but I think we covered quite a bit in a short amount of time.

Our last full day was spent at Oxford. Of course, one can only pronounce Oxford with a highly sophisticated British accent because after all, that’s where the intellectual elite go to university. Well, that and Cambridge, but I’m going to be biased since I haven’t visited there yet.¬†100_2847

Oxford, what a historic little town! It hosts about 38 different colleges that are all under one big “Oxford umbrella.” Due to how much it rains there, believe me, they need a giant umbrella. I think they sell some in the¬†tourist shops if you’re interested in one. It was during the holidays, so there wasn’t the usual student population one would normally see there. Jesse mentioned he’d now like to transfer. He’d fit in just fine, I have no doubts.

100_2937Oxford is special for many reasons beyond the pervading feeling one senses of an ancient appreciation for higher learning. Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien were all there at one point or another to give an example. Jesse and I even ate in the Eagle & Child Pub where Lewis and Tolkien often met to discuss their works and was also the meeting place of the Inklings. Jesse and I did a guided tour of the town which was the best thing we could have done to get a true feel for the history of the place though I do wish our guide hadn’t gone on quite so many rabbit trails. About the time our tour ended it started pouring rain, and I was just about done for the day. I don’t know how they get used to it getting dark at 3:30 p.m. during winter there. It made it feel like it was so much later than it actually was. I found a caf√© and while I tried to dry off and warm up, Jesse did some more exploring around town. I think what I will remember most though was finding this cross in the middle of the street:

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¬†This was the marker where multiple martyrs including Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake. I’ve had multiple experiences so far in my time in Europe where I’ve seen a place that marked a horrible event or a difficult human struggle and have found myself at a loss for words. I was standing on the spot where some of my kindred in Christ paid the ultimate price by having their bodies burned at the stake knowing that the sufferings of this present world were nothing compared to the joys of heaven and eternity at Jesus’ feet. It is at times like this that we question whether we ourselves would do the same. I pray I would be willing and ready, and that God would give me grace and strength to stand for Him if I were to ever be met with such an ultimatum. It’s all we can ever pray.

The rest of our adventures were in France¬†mainly around Grenoble and Paris. This involved forgetting everything was closed on New Year’s Day meaning that was food scarce, my mad dash to turn in grades before a deadline, Jesse coming face to face with a bathroom floor (not my doing, I promise) and spending a day learning French medical vocab on a gurney instead of catching a flight to Ireland, my making French students nervous breathing down their necks while proctoring finals, and we wound the whole thing up in Paris before Jesse flew home.

Bruva, I think we need to figure out something called “relaxation” when it comes to our trips.

London Bridge and Coffee

This is actually one of Jesse’s photos I borrowed from Facebook. We realized we hadn’t done a selfie in London yet, so we got coffee and hot chocolate and stood on London Bridge and voil√†!

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When Ignorance Isn’t Always Bliss

By the title, you may be wondering where this is going to lead…

Let’s just say that my trip to France did teach me some lessons even some I thought I already knew. Namely, those lessons about crowds and sports in Europe…

We had a great day that particular day in Paris. We saw such sights as these:

And so on…

So, after eating supper at a very tasty Italian restaurant,

we decided to head off to see one more sight before going bed. I had made the suggestion to see the Eiffel Tower at night since I’d been unable to see it the last time I was in Paris. The two students Frances and Cassie who were with me readily agreed. We just simply wanted to take some pictures and see how beautiful it would be! Innocent idea normally. However, I as the graduate student TA who’s supposed to be “all-wise and all-knowing” in how to keep students out of danger *cough, cough*, made two errors.

1. I knew there was a soccer game. However, I didn’t know who was playing and frankly, didn’t care. Problem!
 
2. I vaguely remember hearing that they sometimes show the soccer game on a big screen at the Eiffel Tower. However, I didn’t make the connection that they would be showing this soccer game that particular night. Problem!

Can you see where this might be going? Maybe?

We jumped on the metro and headed the long way to the Eiffel Tower. I’d chosen to get off at the palace across from it figuring it would have the better view. It normally would have but for the crowd of people there.

When we arrived at the stop, there were French policemen everywhere. Frances and I both had a bad feeling, but we figured it was just because there were so many people there. We waited a little while to get through to the street. When we got to the street and to the palace area, we stopped. Things were not looking good at all.

There were not so nice looking people everywhere. I thought I heard two bangs which sounded like fireworks (probably not fireworks, Stacey). We saw the Eiffel Tower at night and it was gorgeous, but there was not a safe way to take pictures. We decided we needed to leave, but there was not an easy way to get out. There was the sound of breaking bottles everywhere and the crowd was cheering and yelling. I couldn’t tell if the French had won or lost. Suddenly there was a rush of people. Frances, Cassie, and I grabbed each other’s hands and got up against a snack stand to keep from getting swept away.

I was getting scared. We thought we would stand a little out of the way and let people leave, so maybe we could find an out to leave when there were fewer people. Suddenly, there was an even larger rush of people. This rush was so large we were pushed up against the snack stand. People were running and coughing and we started coughing too. There was a mist going over the crowd.

I looked over and saw cops with shields over their faces much like the ones you see in pictures from war protests in the sixties. They were throwing tear gas bombs! There was a cloud of tear gas going over the crowd. Our eyes were burning and we were coughing. It was miserable as we ran holding hands trying the best we could to run back to the metro stop. I felt sorry for a dad who was trying to pull his two small children out of it all to get them to the metro.

The crowd was so large pushing through the metro stop that the police turned off the necessity for tickets to get through the turnstiles in order for people to get through quickly. We made it back to the hotel safely and told other students to stay away. Don’t know that I’ve ever been so glad to make it back to safety and to a water bottle!

I will indeed say that I learned quite a lesson through it all. I felt horrible for having not thought it through well enough. I was just glad and thankful the Lord got us out of there. I prayed as we ran that He would help us get out. It could have been so much worse. We weren’t hurt or in prison, just only hurting from the effects of tear gas.¬†We found out when we got back that France had lost to Spain, one of their rivals. And, well, Europeans can get rather violent over these games. Yes, the Eiffel Tower was probably the last place we wanted to be.

My shock?

The other students were jealous!?

They couldn’t believe how out of the entire group, we three (the most unlikely) were the ones that got caught in the soccer riot. “So not fair!” said one student “I wanted to be tear gassed!”

So, I can add one experience to my list that I never ever expected to add.

Stacey has been tear-gassed in a soccer riot. 

So, there you have it. One experience from my adventures abroad. I waited until I arrived home safely to tell this story for the peace of mind of my family and friends at home. Most of them after being thankful that I’m safe then find it quite hilarious. I have to admit, I’ve had quite a laugh out of it too though the terror I felt during the entire experience never has left my memory.

Yes, Paris. It was wonderful. So wonderful, it even brought me to tears! *snort!*

Right, right, lame…

More stories of adventures to come!