Au revoir! Goodbye for now!

One year and eight countries later, we are heading to another new city, excited to learn to call it home. Our time in Europe has exceeded every expectation, and we are ready to keep exploring and learning together.  From one Lady Liberty to another, we are going home knowing we will back someday soon!

Just one more thank you to all the people who made this more than a degree, more than a trip. Scotland is beautiful, Paris is beautiful, but you made our year extraordinary.

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The Statue of Liberty’s younger sister on the Seine.

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Beer! Bière! Bier!

The first beer I actually enjoyed was a mega-corporation-posing-as-a-craft beer‘s take on Belgian witbier. (I was a teenager, don’t judge me.  Besides we all liked it.) After that, outside of some other American craft brewery versions of Belgian ale, my main acquaintance with Belgian beer was Monkish brewery, a fantastic brewery owned and operated by a dude who also studied theology in Scotland. Then earlier this year while we are in Scotland I read on article on monastic brewing that reminded me of the the mythical Trappist brewers, and how Belgium is not only home to them, but some of the best beer in the world. I immediately told Hayley I wanted to visit Belgium if we got the chance, but since we already had most of our traveling planned I didn’t really think to mention it again. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA However, as soon as we found out we’d be spending a month in Paris I declared to the heavens that we’d be making a pilgrimage to the holy land of artisan beer. I imagined walking through these antiquarian abbeys sipping some of the best ale with the monks who make it. Unfortunately, as soon as I began researching our trip I realized immediately that beer tourism is not a conducive part of the monastic way of life, and as such these world famous breweries do not offer tours. Yet, I remained undaunted and hopeful. I may not get to tour the breweries but I’d get to see the grounds of a few abbeys and try the beer, even some of the most difficult beer in the world to get a hold of. IMG_6296 Finally, last weekend the dream came true. Hayley and I hopped in the car with our good friends Laura and Logan Isaac and drove up to Brugge. We stopped at Westvleteren abbey on the way, hoping to visit the abbey’s brew shop in the few hours a day they are open to the public, and have drink at the visitors center across the street. Unfortunately, neither were open on Fridays, so we had our first Belgian ales at a pub next to the train station. I had a St. Bernardus Abt 12, which is supposedly the same exact recipe as the Westveterern 12. I never did a side by side comparison, but it was amazing. A fantastic introduction to Belgium. IMG_6286 IMG_6290 Once we meandered up the coast to Brugge we settled into our spiffy hostel, and set out into the medieval town to find food. We ended up a touristy place with decently albeit overpriced food with an incredible view. Hayley made friends with an American couple who live in Saudi Arabia, because of course she did. I had a La Chouffe which paired well with my muscles au gratin and flemmish rabbit stew. (Yes I just wrote that sentence) After dinner we headed over to a small pub that I was almost as excited for as the abbeys. Staminee De Garre isa  tiny little rustic pub hidden in an alley in the heart of the town. It’s mentioned in pretty much every beer nerd blog and review of Brugge. It’s also the only place in the world to get their famous house trippel. It was amazing, and it came with cheese. At this point I was completely situated in beer heaven. IMG_6305The next day was included Belgian waffles, chocolate, the strangest Saturday market I’ve ever seen, German bratwurst, frites with artechoke maynoise, Hayley bumping into a highschool friend’s little brother and a tour of De Haalve Maan brewery before we drove back to Westvleteren. De Haalve Maan was super rad, and included probably the best brewery tour I’ve ever been on. They are super proud of their heritage, and they are the only brewery still in the city center. The tour included a taste of their flagship beer Brugse Zot. Unsurprisingly, it was a fantastic light and crisp blond ale with plenty of flavor.  IMG_6344The rest of the evening involved the capstone of the weekend. Westvleteren 12 is consistently ranked one of, and usually the, best beer in the world, and it is also incredibly difficult to get your hands on. So we were obviously excited to try the beer, but before we left for the abbey Logon suggested we see if we could attend their compline service. Compline is the last service of the day in monastic life. Hayley and I enjoyed going to a service on Thursday nights in St Andrews that was modeled on the compline service. After trying the deservedly hyped ale at the restaurant/visitor’s center across the street we went and knocked on the door of the abbey and was warmly invited to attend the service with the 25 monks in the abbey and about five other local Westvleterens. It was a beautiful and intimate service that made me think about the commitment to faith and work these men have committed themselves to. The quality of their beer is an expression of their devotion to worship God in the quality of their work. Of course, after speaking with one of the monks (who I am convinced is the brewmaster because he said he was named after St Arnold the patron saint of brewers) we headed back to the visitors center to enjoy the fruits of their labor again. IMG_6355The next day we sadly had to had back to Paris (never thought I was write that), but on the way, or actually out of our way, we made sure to stop by another Trappist abbey for good measure. Chimay, because it is also a working monastic abbey, does not give tours, but they do have a more robust visitor center, as well as a whole production and distribution organization that employs over 200 employees. I had the red labeled beer, which they also call Première because it was their original recipe. We also tried the patersbier which is only for the monks themselves and the vistor’s center. At this point in the blog post it should go without saying. Both were absolutely incredible. IMG_6379Thus ended the best beer weekend of my life.  We also did other cool things that involved stuff like Renaissance art that was stolen by Nazis during WWII. Also I could say more about Trappists monastic life and what makes Trappist ale special in the first place, or Westvleteren’s insane distribution, or lack thereof, system. But since this has already been a long blog post I will simply end by saying Belgium delivered in a major way.IMG_8488IMG_6301IMG_6334IMG_6372

The Meaning of Hospitality

There is a house about an hour outside of Lyon in the French countryside, built with river pebbles. It is 140 years old and sits tucked into these beautiful gardens, expertly cared for. The house has four flours and three times as many bedrooms, and they are regularly filled to the brim.  This weekend our friend Sam’s grandparents showed us the meaning of hospitality. Ingrid and Hans’ home gathers people from all over the world, and they lovingly care for them all. This weekend alone they had 13 guests with Sam’s sister set to arrive on Sunday with 30 students from her youth group to camp in the backyard for the week. IMG_6197Anya and Sam have always been so generous (no really, this is the fourth country we have visited them in!) and it is easy now to see how it fits into a whole genealogy of hospitality. Ingrid and Hans have created a space where everyone is welcomed with food and wine and a chance to rest, but the love they show to strangers goes beyond Ingrid’s amazing cooking. I don’t know how else to say it but that their care is an ever present feeling  in the house. As relaxing as our weekend was, it was also inspiring. They mentioned often how their lives, this house, were tremendous gifts and they couldn’t help but share everything they had. Through simple acts they demonstrated so clearly the outpouring of our faith.

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Sun!

Their joy made relaxing in the pool with Anya and Sam that much sweeter. It is impossible not to see the generations of memories made in their beautiful home, and it was a gift to add a few of our own. IMG_6220 In addition to the lounging and the eating, Sam led us through the hills of the surrounding community by bike, through fields of corn and sunflowers. Our leisurely bike ride may have been slightly more uphill then I would have originally anticipated. However Anya and I had the advantage of the miracle of the electric bike, pretty much life changing. Jeff and Sam earned their cheese. IMG_6224After repeating the glorious cycle of eat, swim, eat a few times, we manged the strength to explore Lyon a bit before our train Sunday evening.

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Lyon is divided by two rivers creating a, literally translated, almost island. The city takes advantage of many opportunities for amazing bridges.

No where close to the size of Paris, but just as charming, We walked through old town Lyon all afternoon and ate some more. Lyon is the self-declared gastronomical capital of the world. Dinner was delicious, but I think Ingrid wins. IMG_6266 FullSizeRender-2

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There was a Latin dancing demonstration happening in this square. We blended in the background and tried not to look too ridiculous.

IMG_6252FullSizeRenderIMG_6249 IMG_6247 FullSizeRender(1)Bottom line. Everyone should have friends like Anya and Sam and Ingrid and Hans.

FL Tour

IMG_6140 This morning we got up early to avoid the heat and make the journey to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Wednesday was 102. Today was so much better, but still warm. We live a little over 5 minutes away by bike thanks to our bike share membership, and hoped an early start would make the ultimate tourist attraction slightly less of an ordeal. But even as we arrived just as it opened, it was swarmed with people. It felt a lot like Disneyland as we got shuffled from one line to another. We are always conflicted about doing these kinds of things because we often get [more than] frustrated in crowds as grown adults try to push towards the front, jostling for the best position. But be it fear of missing out or just pure optimistic stubbornness, we keep coming back. And I am still torn because the view from the top is incredible. After playing Where’s Waldo with our knowledge of the Parisian sites, we spent forever watching a triathlon from above, tracking the bikers become runners. Both the beauty of city and rather hypnotic rhythm of triathlon spectating, were incredibly special. It just took some creative boxing out to make it happen. IMG_6113

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I hate heights. This is how I feel about standing on the glass hundreds of feet above the air. I will smile but my eyes will be closed.

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In some ways we actually enjoyed the tower’s first floor the best. There is space to breath and people watch. Two of my favorite activities.

We went back home that afternoon after eating croissants to fumble our way through the ultimate cross-cultural rite of passage: laundry. The experience was so taxing we napped before returning later for a picnic in the park directly below the tower with Laura and Logan, where we ate bread and cheese and chocolate and humus. Ideal. It was basically a whole day devoted to Paris’s most iconic landmarks, and I am unashamed. When you are in a city for a month you can get away with these kinds of things. Plus, Jeff on a bike with a baguette in his bag on the the way to the Eiffel Tower is pretty much the pinnacle of our Parisian experience so far. That and the fact that the weather has dropped to the point that I can sit without needing a shower.

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We bought this bottle of wine from one of the vineyards we visited in Tuscany. The vineyard’s owner and manager Maria Louisa grew found of us quickly, especially my father who is easy to love quickly. She even made us lunch with ingredients fresh from her garden. We loved the wine and her. So we packed the bottle from Italy to Scotland and now to Paris, looking for the right moment to drink it. We felt like finishing it in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower was appropriate.

Last Days in Scotland

We have been in Paris since late Tuesday, which would seem like adequate time to adjust to the fact that we have really left St Andrews.  But it has been easy in the whirlwind of moving to avoid actually processing leaving, even with our attempts to use our last week as a excuse for lots of “one last times” and “we have nevers.” Even as we put the final touches on the where we have been in Scotland map, it doesn’t  seem quite real yet.

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My favorite detail of the map is Tiree completely colored in. We literally drove/ran on every road of the island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In our last week, there were many walks along the pier when the Scottish summer peeked through. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And one afternoon, when I decided it was finally warm enough, I jumped off of it. Jeff jumped when it was snowing. I feel like I made the better choice. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks to Jeff’s mom we had the chance to play 18 holes in St Andrews. The course is a beautiful climb along the estuary, complete with many opportunities to check out the local foliage as we hunted for our many misdirected balls.

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This is a practice swing. I promise. I also failed to take a regular photo of Jeff golfing so just imagine him.

Jodi also gave us a voucher for land yachting, a cross between sailing and go chart racing. Like most things Jeff got it right away and I took a bit longer. Our guide at one point did ask me if I had ever driven a car before. Despite my initial struggles I managed to neither run into anyone or catch a gust into the ocean.  I call that a success. West Sands has always been my favorite and cruising along in sand buggy with a giant sail is a pretty great way to say goodbye.

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I believe this picture documents both my fantastic photography skills and my land yachting skills.

IMG_8115 We did one more distillery tour at Glenkinchie, a small distillery south of Edinburgh. IMG_8095Glenkinchie was the last of the twelve Classic Malts we set out to see in September. Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 10.14.05 AMIt was a strange sense of accomplishment at the close of a journey that brought us all over Scotland. In total, Jeff visited 27 distilleries and I visited 23, a small fraction of Scotland’s total production, but a good go for the year! We also stopped in that day and marveled for hours at the Rosslyn Chapel of Dan Brown, Knights Templar fame. The chapel’s legends are certainly interesting, but the carvings and their stories were incredible and more than worth the drive south. IMG_8105As special as these last experiences were, we spent most of our last few days ignoring our dissertations so we could spend a few last moments and meals with the wonderful people who made St Andrews home.

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One last Big Ben burger and whisky at the Central with Becky and Jared.

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With my favorite Finnish, British, Australian and American small group women at our goodbye open house.

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Saying goodbye to Tommi too soon at our flat.

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The ceiling of St Andrew’s town hall where Cornerstone met, which hereby represents all the wonderful people there, including our wonderful pastoral team. Thank you Mark, Jenny, Kenny, and Anna!

As beautiful as Scotland is and how wonderful each new place was, as we pulled out of the train station on our way to Paris, literally running after it moments before so I could give Becky one more hug, I wasn’t crying for the beauty of the Highlands but for the special people St Andrews brought together for just a short while. We are so grateful for all of you and so excited to see you again.

A wee joorney tae th’ northern lands

When we first set out to visit 12 arbitrary distillers all owned by the same mutli-national conglomerate, we knew there would be a few that would be hard to get to. But that in fact was largely the point, by setting aside these twelve distilleries as a goal we would take the effort to go places we may have overlooked. As a result we fell in love with Islay and the Speyside and dragged every visitor we had off Scotland’s winding roads whether they liked whisky or not.

With just two weeks left in Scotland, we looked at our list and were surprised by what remained. It wasn’t the islands left, but the two distilleries north of Inverness and the one closest to us just outside of Edinburgh. Two trips that would stretch us the farthest north and the farthest south we have been in Scotland.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.46.40 PMNow our time in St Andrews is quickly growing to a close and we are short on both time and money, but a goal is a goal. And really, we would take any excuse to go up through the Highlands just one more time.

FullSizeRender-1So we agreed we could take off 36 hours from frantically writing our dissertations and rented a car.

Thankfully, our friends Becky and Jared were easily convinced into joining us because the trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. I think the key selling point was Jared’s recent enthusiasm for wild camping.  In Scotland, with only a few exceptions and a few vague guidelines, any open land is fair game for camping. No permits necessary. This means that as long as you have a tent, Scotland’s rural north is free for the night.

FullSizeRenderI was skeptical. The last time we tried to camp there were large rocks involved and an emergency shed. But, oh man is Scotland beautiful, and there is something so freeing about scouring the hills looking for the perfect spot, and then just going. We drove out along Loch Brora to a small grove of trees surrounded by fields FILLED with deer. Like, we thought that they had to be domesticated because there was no way they all could just be here.

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Photographing the fields full of deer was difficult. They weren’t interested in standing still for me.

We had a dram and watched the sky get slightly darker. It doesn’t really get completely black any more. For instance, right now, it is almost 11pm and the sky is still light blue.

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I stole this picture from Becky’s instagram.

It was 36 hours of Scotland’s small villages, wide green hills, and unexpected fairy tale castles in the middle of nowhere.

It was about 6:30 when we pulled up to Dunrobin castle. There was no one around, so we just let ourselves in. Parts of the castle date to the 15th century, but most of it is 18th and 19th. It is the historic and present home of the Duke of Sutherland. During the day they have falcon shows. I can’t overstate how entirely out of nowhere this castle appears from large swaths of farmland. I wanted to camp right across the road just so we could wake up to the view, but I’m not sure the duke would have appreciated that.

IMG_5912IMG_5916IMG_5915IMG_5913In terms of our “destinations,” some of the scotch was amazing and some of it was just half-way decent, but the whole trip was all beautiful. Another widely successful and largely unplanned road trip where Jeff managed to deftly navigate Highland roads! We are lucky to have people who don’t bat an eye at being with us in a car for 10 hours in a 36 hour period.

One Last Whirlwind

IMG_5378Our trip to London came much later than we expected. Not to take any experience for granted, but city center is only five hours by train you think one weekend we just would have gone. But in the insanity of this year, it just didn’t happen, and almost wouldn’t have. But we were given such an amazing gift when Jeff’s mom, Jodi and James visited us in early May. They had an extra room in their beautiful apartment, right by Paddington station. Despite a few papers that needed to be finished on the train, a pile of flashcards to review, and a job interview that happened in their living room, we gleefully made our way south to meet them. Just some advice you didn’t ask for: if you ever live anywhere else in Scotland besides Glasgow or Edinburgh, and need to get to London, always take the train. It is cheaper and faster, given the 2.5 hour bus ride to the airport and the hour train from London and the early arrival waiting around in the airport, even longer if you are flying ryanair/easy jet and your flight invariably gets delayed. It was a beautiful trip and so much more comfortable than flying.IMG_5380In our week in London, we got to be full on tourists. We had an incredible (American) Mother’s Day brunch atop the Shard, the tallest building in the European Union and home to cereal themed cocktails.

The Shard London Bridge

We took a trip on the London Eye,

IMG_5383Took night walks along the Thames

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Just a little blurry, but you get the point.

and palm sweat inducing trips inside Tower bridge (I really hate heights).

IMG_5416However, the best of all was a chance to see Les Miserables live on the London stage. It was such a incredible gift Jeff cried. (This is slander. Do not believe her.) No really, when Fantine began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” there were clear sniffles in the seat next to me. He did keep it together better than the high school English/Theater teacher sitting behind us. He completely lost it, and at the end of the show his standing ovation was punctuated with a chorus of “Bravos!” that went along just a little too long. I appreciated his enthusiasm.

IMG_5426 We mostly used the Tube, but one afternoon Jeff and I braved renting Borris bikes. It is a fantastic way to see the city, but I may not have been completely prepared for city bike riding. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is hard to ride a bike on the left! I only got really honked a few times and managed to avoid causing any major accidents.  It did take us four times longer to get where we were going than google originally estimated.

IMG_5438All in all London is a city where a week isn’t enough, but we are grateful for the chance to experience in with James and Jodi. They only made fun of us a little when Jeff insisted on traveling across the city to eat at an all cereal cafe (It’s delicious. You should go. Cereal Killer Cafe),

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Peanut Butter Jelly and Nut Busters

And even less when I took a picture with the Harry Potter Platform at Kings Cross, though they may have been more concerned with getting their first coffee of the day. It was an early train! In my defense, Harry Potter is my childhood and it was 6:30 am and no one was around, so we did not wait in the extremely long line to have the professional company take the photo. Some how that makes it better. (Does it?)

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Glee!

Our train that morning was 5 hours to Edinburgh, where we rented the largest car in Scotland and then drove another 6 hours straight to the Isle of Skye. This amount of driving may be crazy, but it meant fitting in views like these.

IMG_5468Scotland is beautiful and we just can’t let people leave without seeing just a glimpse of the rough, wild Highlands or Islands. We had such an incredible day to climb the Old Man of Stor. The visibility was amazing.

IMG_5493We also made it back to the Fairy Pools, which unsurprisingly had a few more people there since our trip in January. I know it is crazy, but even though it was so beautiful when we were there, part of me missed how empty everything was in January. It is odd to have Scotland feel crowded. However, one benefit of it not sleeting was we had a chance to take a dip. Jim joined us and Jodi, the sane one, captured the moment. IMG_5494I think my face says enough.

IMG_5497The other amazing part of this trip compared to our January visit with Trevor and Rachel, was the length of the days. When we visited last the sun was setting at like 3:30 pm. This photo was taken at 10:23 at night. The sunset takes forever now and the sky stays navy past midnight. It is pretty mind blowing. I actually think we mention it every night, but it is so strange to be at a friend’s house and it be 9:00 pm and it feel like 2:00 pm.

After Skye we took the long way back to St Andrews and later Edinburgh. There are a few less pictures of this section of the trip, namely because about half way through I started cramming for my Arabic exam. I actually spent the two days before the my exam holed up in our AirBnB in Edinburgh, which was about 1000 times nicer than our apartment.  Jeff took charge as sole tour guide (and I had an exam that week) and showed Jodi and Jim all of Fife’s best, plus an extended stay in one of our favorite cities in the world.

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Home!

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Right now these yellow fields are in bloom all over Fife. It is incredible against the contrast of the bright green grass.

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Jeff atop Aruthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

IMG_5564It was an incredibly full trip, complete with amazing food and a lot of laughter. We are so lucky that Jim and Jodi braced the long flight to visit and so grateful for all we experienced with them. I may have to borrow a few pictures from them to add to our record. Especially those taken with Jodi’s Mother’s Day selfie stick.

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Oh wait! I found one!

Non-American Football

Church picnics in Scotland always seem to devolve into an inter-generational game of soccer, especially on a day as beautiful as today. I was impressed with how well the little boys maneuvered around the men. I was certain someone was going to get kicked in the face. Jeff managed to hold his own amidst our soccer crazed friends. That or everyone was being kind. They did cheer loudly when he scored.

IMG_5879We have loved being apart of Cornerstone. It is such a loving and inclusive community of Christians. The whole leadership team is so eager to build a family, and we have certainly felt at home here this year.