Category Archives: Monday Travel Posts

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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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.

 

Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.