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Part III: Peaks and Valleys

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I and Part II or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

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If you’ve seen any of my Instagram posts from Europe, then you’ll know what my biggest crush was on the whole trip. (Hint: croissants were a close second.)

(I’m skipping over a huge chunk of our trip, from Paris, France, to Bavaria, Germany, some 500+ miles we did NOT do in one day. Everywhere we visited, we experienced beauty and kindness. But there was something inexplicable about the Alps: what the view did to me, stirred in me, and I can’t wait anymore to tell you all about my bae.)

We toured Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was intended to be his “summer palace,” built on top of the ruins of a much older castle, perched in the most perfect spot between mountain peaks. What we learned of King Ludwig II’s life was enigmatic and sad, and his deep appreciation for the arts and sciences was evident throughout the castle. Our entry tickets included a very informative audio tour through several rooms open to the public, but I am not a history buff (#dead #oldnews #letsmoveon) and I’m pretty sure you can wikipedia all that if you want.

(In contrast, my history buff husband read EVERY. SINGLE. PLACARD. at Mozart’s birthplace. You guys. Mozart spent less time there as a child than my husband did as a visitor.)

I have always been a mountain girl, infatuated with and inspired by them, love at first sight. Something magical happened, as we were driving away from the rolling golden French countryside and back into and across Germany. A pit stop in the Black Forest in Triberg, Germany, for lunch and window shopping gave me a hint of what was in store. But even the steep mountain village of Triberg couldn’t prepare me for the deep-down soul-stir just waiting to happen.

I probably slept on the way to Bavaria, so things escalated quickly. We went from: “Cool mountains, bro,” to: “Take me, I’m yours!” as if the Alps had dropped from the sky, catching me off-guard.

I sent this very text to several friends: “The Alps: I’ve been swooning for two days straight now.”

I wrote pages in my journal during our two days in and around the Alps. I sent lengthy emails and posted instablogs. The view of those majestic (that doesn’t seem adequate enough) mountain peaks quite literally (and I’m using that word properly) made me weak in the knees, to the point where I didn’t want to move on.

The one evening we stayed in Salzburg, Austria, we booked a hotel in the mountains (The Gersberg Alm – all the heart-eyed emojis for this place) overlooking the city, and it was all I could do not to quietly hide in the closet until everyone else left and forgot I was still there.

I daydreamed about walking off into the mountains and staying there, maybe raising Alpine mountain goats, or selling pastries on the roadside, or renting bikes to American tourists. The Alps moved me, in a way that none of the other lovely, interesting, quaint, exciting cities we visited had.

When we visited Sacré-Cœur and Notre-Dame in Paris, I was predictably awestruck. Cathedrals are designed to dwarf her visitors; we are made to feel very small and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and divinity. And it worked. It was humbling, not just the size of these magnificent buildings, but the rich, long history of the saints who came before, etched and carved and painted on every surface.

But if the cathedrals made me aware of God’s divine grandness, the Alps reminded me of His intricate nearness. Every mile we drove between destinations was picture-perfect, a love letter from a creative God to the earth we stand on.

And I think that’s why that piece of the earth resonated so deeply with me. There, at the foot of those mountains, is where I experienced God’s love so clearly and closely. I did nothing to articulate it, or understand it, or even explain it (like I’m trying to do now, go me!).

I just sat in complete awe and let the mountaintop experience own me.

On the morning we left, headed back to where we started, I stood in the mountains, on the edge of Salzburg, and promised myself I would be back. I promised myself I would remember and recall – often – just how I felt taking in the view, letting the earth I could see in all its beauty seep into my bones.

I would remember and recall – though not often enough – the tenderness of a God who writes love stories with mountain peaks.

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Part II: Arches and Spires

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

*   *   *   *   *

After crossing a few time zones (six to be exact), we were understandably pretty exhausted for the first couple of days. As soon as we got in the car, I would promptly fall asleep (don’t worry, guys, I wasn’t driving). So when we left Champs-Élysées to head to Sacré-Cœur Basilica less than 5 miles away (plus another 20+ minutes of trying to navigate the narrow, hectic streets of Paris in an 8-passenger van), I was snoring/drooling on my little airplane pillow while we (my dad) made the short but scenic drive up Montmarte, the highest hill in Paris.

I woke up/wiped the drool from my cheek just as we came around the final curve to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris rising from the hillside. Yes. It was as dramatic as it sounds. It was the stuff sonnets are made of.

A Sequence of Events: I woke. I wiped drool. I looked up. I gasped and breathed aloud something like, “Oh, my heavens.”

When I was in college, I wrote a thesis on mathematical induction in ancient architecture. (It was riveting, PROMISE). I included a few paragraphs about cathedrals focusing on the innate geometry of their arches. (Yeah, are you still with me?)

Here’s what I learned in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches have to be meticulously calculated, or else the roof will cave in. Here’s what I did not learn in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches will floor you, steal your breath, send shivers down your spine.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been in many American cathedrals and other beautiful, sacred places. But the sheer magnitude and divinity of Sacré-Cœur was nothing, not a thing, like I had seen before.

And then, after we had toured her glorious sanctuary, we walked out and saw the entire city of Paris laid out beneath us. We got lucky – it was sunset and it was breathtaking. I stood on the top step of Sacré-Cœur dumbfounded, and I wanted to stretch out my arms from one end of Paris to the other and literally hug that beautiful, twinkling City of Light. I was starstruck.

The next day we had another glorious cathedral on our agenda: Notre-Dame de Paris, built sky-high on an island in the middle of the River Seine. We got there a few minutes before noon mass began, waiting in line just as the bells began to toll the hour. Notre-Dame has earned every bit of her fame and praise, with the stunning stained glass windows, the intricately sculpted façades, the fascinating chimera (un/fortunately none voiced by Jason Alexander), the thousands of years built and lived and worshipped within her walls.

Within Notre-Dame, they have learned to cater more toward the tourist, offering interesting tidbits on previous popes (and one who’s interred there I think? I don’t know, the placard was in French), the history behind the famous Rose Window, and what is kept in the cathedral treasury. I ALMOST stole from the Roman Catholic Church when I breezed into the Treasury, unaware there’s an entrance fee. Within the Treasury is the (alleged) Crown of Thorns and a sliver of wood from (allegedly) the cross upon which Jesus died.

This might surprise like, no one, but I love actual, physical touchstones. I still have the extra party favors from our wedding. I’ve kept the hospital bracelets from both my children’s births. I’ve kept every journal I’ve ever written in (SHOCKER).

So knowing these relics exist, soaked with meaning, kept behind locked glass cases and a stern Frenchwoman collecting Euros – regardless of whether or not they are the ACTUAL Crown of Thorns or fragments of the Cross of Crucifixion – awakens that too-often-dormant awe of Jesus Christ: who we as the Church believe He is, and what we as the Church believe He did.

From Sacré-Cœur and her view of Paris to Notre-Dame and her ancient religious history, touring these two awe-inspiring cathedrals were downright worship services, as meaningful and enriching as any sermon I’ve heard. Even though I’m not Catholic, the belief system I hold so dear descended from the Roman Catholic Church, and from the teachings of the apostles and saints, and from the very life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is certainly no small, brief thing. And standing on the steps of Sacré-Cœur or before the high altar of Notre-Dame helped drive even my faith deeper.

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Part I: Jet Lag

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip that we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. Sorry/you’re welcome.

*   *   *   *   *

I’m sitting at my dining room table, before anyone else has woken up, drinking coffee out of a mug I bought at Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. The mug is hand-shaped, hand-stamped, fired locally, available only (only!) for purchase in the gift shop of King Ludwig II’s summer palace. It has Ludwig’s lions and shield on it, his coat of arms, glazed Bavarian blue with a swipe of shiny gold paint to signify his royalty.

It is my favorite souvenir from the whole trip.

I drink out of this mug every day because it reminds me how I felt when we were in Europe, driving through hundreds of miles of French and German and Austrian countryside. It reminds me, a little anyway, how I felt when we first caught glimpses of the hillside vineyards on the banks of the Mosul River, and the Palace in Versailles with her sprawling gardens, and the Eiffel Tower overlooking the River Seine, and the famous glass pyramid of the Louvre, and the Mona Lisa IN REAL LIFE with her sly smile commanding crowds, and the Arc de Triomphe planted dead center of a busy, bustling, trendy shopping avenue, and Sacré-Cœur and the view that gave me shivers, and Notre Dame – THE Notre Dame with the arches and the spires and the bell tolls and the Sanctuary! Sanctuary! – and the climbing, dense mountains of the Black Forest, and Neuschwanstein castle nestled on the most picturesque mountain peak, and the very same instrument where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sat and composed nearly half a dozen of his operas, and Maribel Lake with her mirrored beauty, and the Alps – oh, my heart be still, those Alps.

It reminds me, to a degree, of the pure gratitude I had while traveling in countries so different from ours, through quintessential European villages with ancient buildings older than these United States.

Every city and town and village and tourist destination we visited was breathtakingly beautiful / historically mind-blowing / understandably fascinating / can’t-wait-to-go-back. And I could fill pages describing every last thing. (And I did, actually, in a red composition notebook I’ve read and re-read, trying to capture again and with the same gasp of surprise or flutter of my heart, any given moment of awe or gratitude or marvel or wonder. It’s not quite the same, but you knew that already.)

The timing of our trip worked perfectly; we got home to America and then to Tennessee just in time to get ready for an early bedtime, waking up late the next morning refreshed and back in the Eastern Standard timezone. My body and sleep cycle recovered easily; but my mind and my heart and the way my soul woke up are still somewhere in the mountains between Germany and Austria, or the golden fields stretching across the French countryside, or maybe on the stone steps of Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris overlooking the City of Light.

It’s a kind of jet lag I don’t suspect I’ll get over soon.

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