Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memories of Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh... I love this city, the people, the architecture, the castle, the flow.  The smell brought back so many memories. It has been ten years since I was a student studying abroad at the Edinburgh College of Art, and I always dreamed about coming back with my wife someday.  



Again we found ourselves blessed by the generosity of others. My old Bible study leader, Lincoln, allowed us to stay at his flat while he, his wife and his kids were away visiting the States. We walked through the city taking in the spectacular views of the castle, which is positioned on top of a hill and can be seen from many different places around town. 


 As we walked the royal mile, which connects the castle to the palace, we experienced bag-pipers, cathedrals, quaint alcoves, tourists and of course starbucks.  We are amazed at how many starbucks we have come across in the U.K. No, we are not partaking in being their customer as we prefer to choose local caf├ęs to have our coffee and hot chocolate.  Moni graciously allowed my modern architecture curiosity to wander as we toured around the recently constructed Scottish Parliament building, designed by Enrich Miralles. The building is very unique and inspiring to me, of course we were not able to see all of it, as the building is in operation for the parliament. 



I was able to show Moni where I used to live, the College I attended, and we were even able to go to a church service at Carrubbers where I used to attend. I was amazed when I reintroduced myself to the young adults pastor who not only remembered me but remembered a lot of specifics about my life and my family.  We were able to have dinner with an old friend of mine, Peter and his new wife Heather.  We enjoyed hearing about their lives and sharing ours with them. Playing British Trivial Pursuit after dinner was enjoyable even if Moni and I were not that great at trivia.  On the last day we were in town Moni was resting at the flat while I ventured down to the Meadows, the park where I used to play countless games of futbol.  I ended up finding a game to join in with and once again had to show them that not all Americans are bad at this game. We left to the airport early on Monday morning in typical Scotish weather, wet and windy.  We found out that another volcano had erupted in Iceland and the dust was on its way to the U.K. and would arrive on Tuesday potentially affecting air travel. Again, we felt God's hand of provision over our trip as our flight was not interrupted or altered.  


 ...Now, on to Prague...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Family history...

Sheffield is beautiful.  I wasn't sure what it would look like outside of London.  We took a train there on Sunday morning and upon arriving at the train station, looked around for my aunt - we call her Meenu Bua.  We were surprised to hear a deep, male voice behind us, "Moni and Matthew?" and we turned to see a young Indian guy.  It didn't occur to us that we might meet any other family members but here stood my cousin Christopher.  As a student at a university outside of London, Chris often takes the train to visit Meenu Bua.  We enjoyed meeting him and learning more about the British culture.

Meenu Bua drove the three of us around the Sheffield area on a tour before heading to a pub for a traditional English meal of Yorkshire pudding (my mother in law would have been proud).  Matthew and I both loved how peaceful this part of the world is.  There were green rolling hills all around us with many flowering trees and fields of sheep and horses.  We continued our tour and visited a little village where they serve traditional pudding.  For those of you that don't know (I didn't), it's not the type of pudding we think of in the US.  It's more like a pie served with whipped cream and cream on the side.



After the tour, Meenu Bua took us to her home.  As soon as you walk in the door, you feel immediately comfortable.  Meenu Bua is the type of person that makes you feel at rest and natural.  I had caught a cold in London and it was so nice to be at her home to rest for a few days.  Much of our time there was spent, as my dad would say, "examining the inside of my eyelids".  During the day, Meenu Bua went to work and Matthew would go on walks exploring the town and countryside, and I slept and rested.

I hope I don't embarass her by sharing this, but I was so blessed and encouraged to get to know Meenu Bua better.  She is a doctor and a woman of great strength.  I was amazed that she would go to work all day (and sometimes all night if she was on call) and then come home and cook dinner, work around the house, and stay up late with us and then rise early and head back to work the next day.  To give you an idea...one day she performed nine surgeries at work then came home and spent the evening teaching me how to make a cake from scratch and how to cook Indian food!  Every night we would have tea in the evening and then have a late dinner and sit and talk and talk.  We enjoyed hearing her talk about work, church, our family history, and life in general.

My first cake from scratch - notice the edible glitter :)


After our few days with Meenu Bua, I was sad to leave her.  She took great care of us and is a wonderful person to be around.  She is also blessing our journey by helping us to add Spain to our itinerary!  Traveling to Spain was not part of our original plan but she offered that we stay in a house that she has there.  We are so excited to add this to our trip as it is a place that we have always wanted to go.  Thank you Meenu Bua for blessing us in so many ways!

Here are some pics of beautiful Sheffield...










On Thursday, we took the train to Manchester to spend the day with a close family friend of ours, Shako Aunty, before boarding the evening train to Edinburgh, Scotland.  My grandmother, Beulah, was a principle at a school in India, and Shako Aunty was one of her students.  She was close with both my grandparents on my mother's side and even knew my father's side of the family well.  Shako Aunty met my mother when she was almost 2 and my father when he was 3 years old.  We enjoyed cuisine at a French restaurant with her family and throughout the day, Matthew and I were captivated as she told us many stories of our family history that we had never heard before. 

That evening, we took a train across the country into Edinburgh, Scotland where Matthew lived for a year as a study abroad student.  You can look forward to Matthew's writing in the next post to share about our time in Edinburgh.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Little London Blessings...

Matthew and I were pleasantly surprised to find out that the airline had automatically re-booked our itinerary.  Since we used frequent flyer miles to get to London we were supposed to have two US layovers before our flight to the UK.  We received a message that our first layover would remain the same but the duration of our trip was rebooked to fly directly to London.  That was a huge blessing to be able to have an overnight flight and arrive in the morning.  The next blessing was that although the plane was full, there was one seat next to us that was empty, so we were able to spread out and be more comfortable.

After sleeping through most of the flight, we arrived in London in the morning and Matthew's friend Alex, who owns a flat which recently became vacant in central London, graciously gave us access to stay there for our first few nights.  We took the subway, known as the "tube" to the realtor's office to get the keys, then were able to leave our bags at the flat while we toured around the city.

During our few days in London, we walked around and saw many museums including the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Tate Modern which is a gallery of modern art.  Some of the incredible things we saw included the Rosetta Stone, a large globe with satellite pictures of the earth projected on it, a working telescope built by a 17 year old, and many, many other fascinating things.  We also went to an outdoor market called the Burough Market and sampled many delicious cheeses and fruits.



As we walked around London, I was struck by the number of languages I heard and the variety of ethnic groups and people I observed.  It truly is a melting pot here.  I was continuously trying to decipher whether people were tourists or locals.  It's very hard to tell.  Although London is a big city, full of people and activity, it does not seem to be as high paced as other big cities in the US such as New York and Chicago.  The buildings and architecture are historic and beautiful and there are many parks and trees and flowers embedded in the city.




I am so curious about the people here - how they think, what daily life looks like etc.  We spent time with some friends including Jeff, a friend of Matthew's from high school who now lives in London.  They used to play football together (or "soccer" as we call it!).  Jeff invited us to a party where he and his friends were watching EuroVision.  I had never heard of it before but apparently it's a huge event where each country in Europe sends a singer/musical group to compete.  They were shocked that we had never heard of it!  Each country performs then phone lines are opened for 15 minutes to call or text your vote and at the end of the show they announce the winner.  The show is broadcast live in every country - pretty amazing!  They told us that EuroVision was how the group Abba was discovered 30 years ago.  The voting is said to be very political as each country (since they can't vote for themselves) tends to vote for the countries nearby.  Everyone at the party joked that the best performer never wins because it's so political.  This year, the winner was the country Azerbaijan.

Matthew and I also enjoyed meeting up with our friend John and his wife Megan, for a nice pub dinner.  They are such a fun, sweet couple and we truly enjoyed our conversation together.  It was so interesting to hear their perspective about living in London - the food, the people, the reaction of locals to people from the US (like stereotypes about how Americans are very cheery or very loud!).  We had similar discussions when we stayed with Alex and Georgie for two nights.  Georgie is a Child Psychologist working in a hospital with children who suffer from OCD and other anxiety disorders.  I loved hearing about her work and the healthcare system in general (which is very different from ours in the US).

There are so many thoughts and observations that I find it difficult to capture them all.  I will end with one of the highlights (although it has all been wonderful) which was seeing Les Miserables on stage.  We purchased tickets (thanks to my mother in law Sandra!) about an hour before the show.  I have always wanted to see Les Mis on stage so it was very special to be able to do so in London.  We sat at the back of the theater in the second balcony but once the lights went down, it didn't matter.  Despite our jetlag and exhaustion, we were captivated during every moment.


The message and storyline are incredible as the main character Jean Valjean, a poor man who was imprisoned and served 19 years hard labor for stealing bread was then released from prison.  The real punishment was just beginning.  Although free from prison, he was now a marked convict and would suffer his life being known as a thief forever.  With no place to stay or means to live by, Valjean quickly finds himself stealing silver from the Bishop who was the only man that opened his home to Valjean.  When Valjean was caught for stealing again, the Bishop extends grace and forgiveness and even tells Valjean to keep the silver and begin a new life with it.

As the story unfolds, you see Valjean truly become a new man and in turn he blesses and extends grace to those he encounters.  It is a timeless depiction of unmerited grace that has the power to transform and make life new.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Beauty.

This feels so surreal right now.  After scrambling around the last several weeks, and especially the last few days, working to finalize every last detail, here we sit at the last airport in the US waiting to embark on our international adventure.  In a short while, we will arrive at our first destination, London.

As Matthew and I stood at the Colorado Springs airport we were just overwhelmed with all the emotions going on at once - excitement and anticipation of what is to come, nervous and fearful of the unknown, sadness to say farewell to our loved ones, and a deep deep sense of peace and thankfulness.  Already since those last few hours have passed have I begun to feel the eyes of my heart open to the beauty of life around me.  I can't remember ever feeling so much like smiling and choking back tears at the same time.

There was a family standing at the gate of our departure holding up welcome signs for their father coming home from deployment.  The mom stood poised with her camera to capture the face of her husband when the two children ran and hugged him followed by his eyes meeting those of his newborn baby for the first time.  The kids ran toward him screaming "Daddy Daddy!" and jumped into his arms.  Then, he caught a glimpse of the newborn and time seemed to pause for a moment as he stared in amazement.  The family then embraced in a long, meaningful hug while all the onlookers smiled, many with tears flowing.  Matthew and I smiled at each other with tears in our own eyes as what we had witnessed tipped our already brimming emotions over the edge.  Beauty.  All around us.

My life gets so full and busy as I focus on myself all too often.  I am so looking forward to slowing down and watching life happen around me.  My goal is to be a blessing to those God brings across my path.  I don't even know how to anticipate what is to come.  But I sit in wonder as I know that neither Matthew nor I will ever be the same again.