Walking through history, or today would be a good day to be in Budapest

I haven’t posted a Monday travel reflection in a while, but today I’m thinking I’d love to go back to the city of Budapest for another wander. Hungary is still a country I admit to knowing very little about – culture, history, food, people. But I truly loved spending a few days walking the streets of its capital city and getting just a tiny glimpse of some of those things.

One thing I’ve learned about myself through travel is that I make sense of a place by walking it. And walking helps me connect with its history too. Imagining those who have walked before, gaining insight into their lives and experiences, never fails to inspire, challenge, move and teach me.

What did I love about Budapest?

The architecture.

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The Hungarian Parliament building on the Pest side of the Danube is stunning …

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… as is the Castle on the Buda side.

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Linking the two sides of the city are a number of bridges, including the impressive Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

There are beautiful churches …

… as well the lovingly restored Dohány Street Synagogue.

Nationalistic pride is on display in different ways from the military memorial at Heroes Square,

to the reliquary supposedly holding St Stephen’s right hand in the Basilica.

I’m a bibliophile, and Budapest had one of the best and most beautiful bookcafes I have ever been to, the Alexandra Bookcafe, although sadly it has apparently recently closed.

What did I learn from Budapest?

What you can’t miss wandering the streets of this city are the memorials everywhere. Testaments to not just life, but death and brutality. Those who were “disappeared” under the Soviet regime.

Those who were deliberately and publicly exterminated en masse.

Jews have a long history in Hungary, and made up almost a quarter of the population at the beginning of World War II. Up to three quarters of these people did not survive the war.

 

I’ve been to a number of Holocaust Museums around the world, but found Budapest’s one of the most moving, with its honest accounts of the harrowing story and lists of thousands upon thousands of names.

It is housed in a renovated synagogue, and at the back of the prayer hall there are ‘ghost seats’ for the members of the congregation who did not return.

In the Jewish cemetery, Imre Varga’s weeping willow statue bearing the family names of murdered Jews is hauntingly beautiful.

For me personally, perhaps most affecting was the memorial called “Shoes on the Danube River” which marks the spot where 3,500 people were ordered to take off their shoes before they were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militia.

I’ve been similarly moved by piles of shoes at Auschwitz in Poland and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. There is something simply profound in imagining the lives of those who once walked in a pair that has been left behind.

How does that speak into how I think about where my shoes will be walking this day?

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Podcast Recommendations: what I’m listening to and why

Over three years ago I blogged some of my current (at the time) book recommendations. I’m still reading lots, but I’m also finding myself listening to more podcasts recently, as well as having some interesting conversations with friends about podcasts they’re currently enjoying. While I’ve given in to the kindle, I still resist audio books because they are ‘just not the same’. Yet I recognise that I learn and engage differently by hearing than I do reading. Podcasts can be great for that space. I find them a good way of connecting various strands of my life and thought – faith, culture, politics, entertainment – by listening to interesting and inspiring people, both those like me and those very different from me.

I think I came slightly late to the world of podcasts, although I know there are still plenty who haven’t yet engaged with the phenomenon. This is my current “Top 10” podcast list (in no particular order). I’d love to hear some recommendations from others as to what you’re listening to and why so please feel free to comment below!

Wilosophy

This was in some ways my introduction to the joy of podcasts and certainly the first podcast I was ‘in on’ from the start. I pretty much stumbled upon it, but listening to someone I find interesting having conversations with other interesting people about the big questions of life is inspiring, challenging, fascinating, and thought-provoking. Many of Wil Anderson’s guests see life and faith very differently to me, but as I learn about them I’m often learning about myself and my world as well. New episodes come out a bit sporadically (maybe once a month or so) and I tend to save these for a longer car or train journey. I think perhaps some of the earliest interviews were the best, but you never know whose ideas are going to resonate or provoke the most.

Conversations

I’m an ABC radio listener from way back, so have appreciated Richard Fidler’s ability to draw out stories of life from all kinds of people for many years – if I happened to be driving at the right time of day. Getting on to the podcast means I can listen when I choose, but given that this is 5 episodes a week, I tend to listen either if I’ve heard a snippet in the car and been intrigued, or I’m already interested in the person or their story. From Miroslav Volf to John Howard, to a woman whose husband went to gaol and a Saudi Arabian woman who dared to drive, Fidler always manages to draw out thoughts, emotions, and experiences that connect to my own life and easily transport me into walking in someone else’s shoes for a time.

The Allusionist

I love language, so British linguist Helen Zaltzman’s 20 minute podcasts exploring words is one I keep coming back to. Recent episodes on ‘indefinite hyperbolic numerals’ (i.e. the words zillion, squillion, and kajillion), the words we use for migrants (including how immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker have become pejoratives used for the ‘other’ whereas ex-pat is solely reserved for those who look like us), and lexicography (what it’s like to write dictionaries) have not only expanded my vocabulary and my thinking, but continue to develop my own use of this beautiful, messy tongue we call English.

Theology for Life

I work in this discipline, plus I had the privilege of meeting one of the co-hosts when she was in Australia a couple of months ago, which got me started on a few episodes of Ed Stetzer and Lynn Cohick’s endeavour of relating theology to everyday issues. These run around the 20-30 minute mark and I’ve already found a couple I want to recommend to my students as they apply issues in biblical and theological studies in practical ways.

The West Wing Weekly

The West Wing remains my all time favourite TV series and I’m pretty sure this is also my favourite podcast. Another one that I have been ‘in on’ since the first episode was released, I look forward to Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina’s recap of episodes as well as behind the scenes interviews and real life political connections. They too have influenced my vocabulary, with things I ‘bump’ on in other areas of life as well as many of my own ‘ay-ay-ay’ moments in the current political climate. The idea of the podcast is to re-watch each TV episode before listening, but I’m mostly familiar enough from multiple previous watchings to just listen to the podcast as soon as possible after it is released each week. They have already had as guests key cast members including Brad Whitford, Richard Schiff, Dule Hill, Janel Moloney, Rob Lowe, and Allison Janney, as well as series creator Aaron Sorkin a number of times. More recently they scored some impressive ‘gets’ with guest star Mark Harmon, Canadian Prime Minister (!) Justin Trudeau, and even an unaired interview with the late John Spencer. I’m just waiting and hoping for Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing …

Chat 10 Looks 3

I’m a bit newer to this podcast, whose followers are a bit of a self declared ‘cult’, and was introduced by a number of different friends. The audience appears to be made up predominantly of Australian women around my age and the basic agreement is that you listen to this because you think you would be good friends with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales if you met them in real life. Most of the time you’re just listening in on their conversation as these two intelligent and engaging women discuss what they’re reading, watching, cooking, and thinking about. Oh, and once you listen it’s pretty much obligatory to buy some saladas and make this thing called ‘crack’ at least once.

Sermonsmith

As a preacher, there are numbers of podcasts that talk about the art of sermon preparation and delivery. This is one I have found useful so far, with interviews with a range of preachers providing great insights into different ways people go about this ancient and contemporary task. I have also really appreciated their desire to hear from a wide range of preachers – women and men, people from various cultural backgrounds and church contexts, and people working in a diverse range of communities. Episodes come out twice a month and there is a back catalogue I haven’t gone very far into, but the few I’ve listened to so far have contained helpful hints and moments of good ‘solidarity’ with others engaging in the same area of ministry.

Pray as you go

I have been listening to this on and off for many years, long before I even realised it fit the category ‘podcast’. A daily 10-15 minute reflection on a Scripture reading, this uses the Ignatian tradition to provide space for prayerful engagement with the text. I find engaging with different Christian traditions at different times helps enrich and renew my own spirituality and so this is one I regularly come back to in different seasons. While travelling around Europe earlier this year, I loved using these podcasts each day, taking time to sit in the pews of one of the cathedrals or ancient churches I was visiting and ‘tune out’ the tourist noises, reconnecting with God in those sacred spaces. Back home, I try to find my own ‘sacred space’ to make the most of these.

The Comedian’s Comedian

While I have no illusions that I will ever be a comedian, I enjoy listening to them and have found that I get good insights from them about how to think and speak. This podcast is one comedian interviewing other comedians about what makes them tick and how they do what they do, which can be surprisingly poignant and moving. I’ve only listened to episodes with guests whose comedy I am already familiar with, but have found it insightful and entertaining and in particular good for listening to on long plane flights as long as you don’t mind the occasional odd look from fellow passengers if you do actually laugh out loud.

Red All Over

I recently watched The Handmaid’s Tale and found it overwhelmingly beautiful, entirely compelling, and completely disturbing. Continued watching almost required finding people to debrief with and so I went looking for a podcast to hear what others were seeing and thinking. This was the best I came across. I found it a bit hit and miss (and I wondered whether Hrishi and Josh have ruined TV show podcasts for me by setting my expectations too high), but it did give me opportunities to work through my own reactions and responses to what I think was a significant contemporary series to engage with.

So there you have it … another list that probably says more about me than I intended it to! What podcasts are you listening to and would you recommend?

Today would be a good day to be on Île des Pins

My usual preference for travel is exploring cities with culture, history, art, and vibrant communities. I love learning from the places and the people I meet there. Being exposed to difference and diversity challenges me and provokes me, causing me to question some of the assumptions of my own life.

However, I am aware that for many people the idea of a holiday that is packed full of ‘educational activities’ just sounds like more work and lying on a beach somewhere doing nothing is eminently more appealing. And that challenges me as well. I’m not so good at slowing down, being still, taking time just to relax and ‘be’. So in the midst of a busy few weeks, and in the midst of some wintery days, today I’m thinking a visit to the Isle of Pines wouldn’t be a bad thing.

What did I love about the Isle of Pines?

The beauty of this true paradise.

Sparkling white sand, crystal blue water, lush green trees. #nofiltersneeded

I’m not sure there are too many places in the world more picturesque.

And that’s even without a camera that could capture the stunning beauty that lies beneath the water on the world’s second longest coral reef!

What did I learn from the Isle of Pines?

Isle of Pines was a great reminder to slow down. To just be for a while. There is really not much to do here other than enjoy the spectacular scenery – to swim, snorkel, and sunbathe.

A small island in the middle of a large ocean is always a good reminder of perspective. In particular, perspective on my own smallness in this big world.

The friendliness and slower paced life of the local people is a challenge to my own sense of what is ‘necessary’ and ‘important’.

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These are things I need to remember in the busyness of my daily life.

And because I’m still me, I did enjoy learning a little bit about New Caledonia’s history and culture. I admit to entire ignorance before I arrived, and so visiting the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in nearby Noumea was helpful and important for me to get a sense of the people of this place. And reading a bit more about the recent political history has left me intrigued to see where the future lies for this little collectivity.

For today, I’m hoping to find some moments to just be still and ‘be’ – even without the sun, sand and snorkelling – and to notice and appreciate the beauty in my own surroundings. It’s always a good day for that.