Austria: A slice of Lawrence history.

I’m finally at a point in life where I can breathe (a little),  look back at my travels, and share some of my favorite stories (or sometimes just significant moments). My adventures have so shaped the way that I live my life, so I can’t help but talk about them…just a little bit.

| Mondsee, Austria |

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I don’t know that it was this church in particular, but there was just something about Austria. Something about the fact that my grandfather was stationed in Austria in the 1950’s (during the aftermath of WWII) made being there pretty cool. It was more than just a visit for James and Alene Lawrence, it was actually their home for a while — I mean, my grandmother gave birth to her first child, my Uncle David in Austria (Which as a child, up until I was about 14, I always thought he was born in Australia — slight difference).

| James, Alene & David Lawrence |

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The ride up to Mondsee was breathtaking. We drove up and through the Austrian Alps. It was so serene, and unbelievably gorgeous. Plus, the apple streusel that I ate at a cafe, across the street from the church above, has now been placed in my Top Five Pastries, ever (that’s saying something, considering how many pastries I’ve consumed in my life). And then, there was the city of Salzburg — while I desperately wish there had been more time to spend there, based on my short time there, I could easily pack up and live there. Actually, I’d like to live on this exact street, if at all possible:

| Salzburg, Austria |

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I loved how you could get lost in these beautiful little alleys. Oh, and Salzburg has the original Aldi (called Hofer), on every corner — needless to say, having my favorite grocery store on every corner totally rocked.

My next trip to Austria will include a trip to see my grandparent’s house and a hot air balloon ride over the Alps. I must say, I’m really looking forward to it.

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How do you title a post about Poland?

As someone who craves travel more than any other verb, I have an equivalent desire for adventure. I’m sure you’re thinking of the kind of adventure that appears in The Lizzy McGuire Movie…You know, where she hops on the back of a Vespa with a hott guy in Rome, they share gelato, and accidentally eat the same strand of pasta (or am I getting confused with Lady and the Tramp…)? Now, I’m not saying this kind of adventure is unobtainable, but for me, it’s not the most realistic depiction of a European adventure. In fact, I’ve found a common theme in all of my adventures as I’ve traveled: they didn’t happen in a city (or country) that’s known for its glamour. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big, attractive cities like Rome and Paris and London, but what I’ve learned is, the less I know about a city, the more of an adventure I’m going to stumble upon.

It was the end of my semester studying abroad in the UK and the beginning of a two-week stint to anywhere in Europe. I’m not sure exactly how, but next thing I know, I’m stepping out of an airport in Krakow, Poland. The ground was covered in two inches of snow (easily) and no one was speaking English (Wait…a country not catering to the Americans?!). For the first time in my travels, I felt pretty intimidated.

Okay, I must admit, there was a bit more thought in stepping out of an airport in Poland than…no thought; I wanted to see Auschwitz. But, to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know that Auschwitz was in Poland. Nevertheless, my love of WWII history drew me there.

As I walked out of the train stop into center city Krakow, I felt like I had traveled back 50 years or so. Not that anything looked out of date, but the architecture was gloriously romantic. My traveling companions and I trudged through the snow, catching wiffs of fresh made pretzels at the stands on every corner, when we finally found the dirty, old six-story walk up where our hostel was. As we buzzed in at the bottom of the building, I was instantly reminded of that scene in every gang movie where someone got shot. But to my surprise, I swung open the giant wooden door to a colorful, artsy, quaint hostel “living room.” I would later see that this room was a perfect representation of the country right outside of those walls.

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Later, I strolled the streets of Krakow and literally couldn’t stop smiling. I had no preconceived notion of what Poland would be like; every corner that I turned piled layer upon layer of context that started forming Poland in my mind. A large chunk of that context includes food: gelato, kebabs, spicy cabbage, salty pastries, rich red wine and THE BEST tiramisu I’ve ever had (I kid you not, it was unbelievable). The graffiti jumped out at you because in a glimpse it had the ability to say something meaningful. Giant busts of political leaders made the city feel regal. Bright colors and the hands of those that crafted their art to sell lined the streets.

Walking through Krakow was like writing a book that was creating an imaginary land. On top of the aesthetics, I found something else central to Krakow. Serenity. My friend Kelsy and I kept gawking in wonder at this place we had never imagined. While the sun was setting, we turned the corner to climb up the road to Wawel Castle. We reached the top of the hill and I turned my head to the right… It was as if I was peering into dream. The pink sunset bounced off the tin roof of the castle and I was overwhelmed with absolute peace. We stole around corners, explored parts of the castle where no one was going, and stayed in constant awe of the beauty and serenity we walked through. Kelsy and I went back to our hostel in (almost) complete silence.

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It wasn’t an adventure because I met royalty or the man of my dreams, it was an adventure because I was surprised by ever corner I turned.

Sometimes I have dreams of that sunset from the balcony of the castle. Sometimes I dream of the excitement I felt walking the new streets. But always, I can close my eyes and bring myself back to the feeling of peace I experienced in Krakow.

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The Burgundy Character of Cambridge

Since being in Cambridge, we have been attending class inside of a church/community center. Once a semester, the Vicar (priest), Michael likes to talk to us Cambridge students about St. Paul’s. We were told he would talk to us for a few minutes and then we could ask some questions about the Anglican tradition and what the church in general is like in the UK, etc.

I have frequently seen Vicar Michael around the church as we’ve attended class and volunteered at community events. The Vicar, a very distinguished looking man, is normally in a monochromatic outfit of some sorts (my favorite was the burgundy sweatshirt with burgundy vest and burgundy hat, I’ll never forget this image of him). He is a very charismatic man. He’s always walking about jovially shouting at people in his thick cockney accent (East End Londoner accent – think Eliza Doolittle) and telling me to ignore his son Max, as he frequently asks me out (that’s a WHOLE ‘nother story). The first time I heard the Vicar pray, at a luncheon, I opened my eyes to find tears because it was one of the most eloquent, genuine prayers I had ever heard in my life.

Because of my strong hate of crying, God punishes me (jk….) by making me cry in nearly every church service or spiritual thing I’m involved in. Two months ago, when I realized that this man’s simple lunch prayer had the ability to make me tear-up, I knew that I needed to hear more from him.

This assumption was completely right. As he came to our class to “discuss the Anglican Christian tradition,” he began abruptly by telling us he was going to talk about his story and what brought him to where he is now:

As an 18-year-old he was given a “packet” of beliefs from his local church. This contained what he should believe, without much explanation. From that time, as a teenager, to now nearly being 60, he has been unpacking this “packet” that he received 40 years ago. As he wandered through the details and depths of his journey as a Christian, I was blown away with the relevant and challenging things he had to say.

We, as Christians, have spent too much time floating on the Biblical understanding of our parents or church or whoever. We aren’t supposed to just blindly accept the Christian practices of today or even the Bible without challenging it. If we don’t challenge something, how are we supposed to believe it, understand it or defend it?

The Christianity of our forefathers can be accused of being simply religion or lacking emotion. But then our generation (and some of the generation above us) was so anxious to “feel” something real that a personal relationship with Christ became the only important thing and knowledge went out the window. God, the God that we are meant to fear, became this:
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Now, don’t get me wrong…a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the whole point, but a supreme, all-knowing God doesn’t equivocate to a “homeboy” in my opinion. Knowing Christ has only become about playing a great worship set and sitting in His presence. Like I said, these aren’t bad things necessarily…but when we only know God based on a feeling, rather than knowledge of the Bible and our personal theology, there is a serious problem.

I want to find the balance. I want my relationship with Christ to be based on the fact that I feel His presence everywhere that I look, but I also want to know and understand who He was when He walked the earth. This concept of balance has been infiltrating every single spiritual thought that I’ve had in the last few months and I am desperately searching to find this balance.

Bottom line is this – I want to know Christ. From feeling to knowledge. Colorful characters like Michael, the Vicar, have helped me realize how important that is and have pushed me along a new way of knowing Jesus. I wouldn’t have discovered this way of knowing Christ without coming all the way to the United Kingdom, in Cambridge.

It’s funny why God will take you 4,000 miles away from home. If that’s the only reason I came here (which, by the way, it isn’t), then I am grateful.

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The world is bright, until we dim it down.

I hope I never lose my wonder of the world. I never want to become so disengaged with enchantment that something new becomes ordinary.

3:30 a.m. rolled around and I was out of bed in order to catch a bus, to catch a plane, to catch another bus that got me to Dublin, Ireland. I have always dreamt of visiting Ireland. My ancestors are from there, my best friend always talks about how much she loved it there, and I expected that I would have the exact same sentiments. Well, once I was on that bus tour of Dublin, I realized that it was my least favorite place I had ever been to (except when my mind takes me to Ohio — that’s even worse).

I’m not sure what allowed me to figuratively wake up, but after a long nap and some (horrible) Chinese food…I remembered that I was in a place I had never been before. Dublin held the potential for new discovery. No, it’s not the prettiest city in the world, but there were hundreds of streets for me to walk on, pubs to eat in and sights to encounter right around me.

I have spent the past two months in awe of how readily available history is here. America holds history and incredible displays of the past and present, but it’s almost always behind a glass wall or in a box. Here, I have been able to walk on top of walls that Roman’s built hundreds of years ago, kneel in prayer in the church where most Royals have been married for the past 400 years, climb all over a coliseum where people fought to the death, scale a volcano unhindered, and sit in the windowsill of a castle with my legs dangling off the ledge.  Every one of these experiences have been breathtaking and completely bewitching.

These are all just tiny slivers of the unfathomable beauty that this world holds.

I hate when I’m overly optimistic, which is some weird disease I have, but I really do want to spend the rest of my life approaching every day with the idea that there is new beauty to behold.

“You spend your whole life just to remember the sound
When the world was brighter, before we learned to dim it down.”

I understand the sentiments that Sleeping At Last sings about and I genuinely never want to dim the world down.

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