REFLECTIONS ON RETURN

As in awakening from a dream, the Lithuanian adventure is over.  Also as a dream, it seems as if no time has passed – a blink of the eye, and it’s almost as if we had never left.  But, we did.  And herewith, in our final post, my reflections on what it all meant to me, to LCC, and to my students, and what I learned along the way.

It is a big world out there, but also very small in so many ways.  I certainly didn’t expect anything too exotic in Klaipeda – after all, Bonnie and have been to too many countries to expect that – and I wasn’t surprised.  The pervasiveness of Western culture – or American culture, as many would have it – is evident.  Shopping centers look like shopping centers everywhere.  Retail outlets of all stripes, ditto.  The one exception to this rule I observed was Humana – a chain of second hand stores.  Much more prominent than I’ve ever seen in the States, and most understandable given the sky-high prices of new clothing.  (No Walmarts there.) Food was a bit different – especially pizza.  Mayonnaise on pizza?  Cepelini and cold herring soup not found much in the US.

LCC wasn’t exactly like Siena Heights.  Narrower in focus, and not quite as secular as the Heights used to be (and I presume still is), but not as religiously centered as I expected it to be.  Campus politics – there is always campus politics – were rather to the left, as one would expect in the US, with rare exceptions.  However, witnessing to the faith was encouraged, and that is certainly different. The students were essentially the same as would be found in a college here.  They are relativists, as I anticipated, although rather more proud of that fact than I expected.  Religiously they are largely indifferent, with a sprinkling of atheists and believers on each end of the spectrum..  My Seniors, or about 80% of them, strongly affirmed that “we create our own meanings” for life.  LCC makes a profound difference in a few students’ lives, but most make it through largely untouched.  But as I had long conversations with a few of my students, especially my most outspoken atheist, who knows what seed may sprout one day?

Whatever impact I had, or John, or the rest of LCC, comes against a strong and depressing background of official Soviet atheism and despair and meaninglessness of life.  Of my 103 students, only four did not come from the former Soviet block.  Although twenty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet system, its echo powerfully lingers on. Lithuania leads the world in its suicide rate, and is also one of the highest in emigration.  For so many eager to leave home – and life itself – cannot be a good thing.

My strongest impression of the whole experience was that it got better with each passing week.  After the first day of classes, when I got back to the dorm after almost continuous standing and teaching for seven hours, I thought as I took  pain medication for my aching legs, “What have I gotten myself in to?”  But as each day passed, I got more up to speed, got used to the new technologies (especially the `smart board’ – a running joke with my classes over who was smarter), got to feel more comfortable with my students, and became more knowledgeable of the culture of Eastern Europe.

Then there were the many interesting people I met on the staff and faculty.  It was a diverse bunch, from all over North America.  (Sadly, the Lithuanian staff kept to themselves, with very little interaction with the North Americans.)  Mennonites and Presbyterians were the most numerous on the ground, but a sprinkling of others were to be found.  Very surprisingly, in a country historically Catholic, with a significant Orthodox Russian minority, only the Lithuanian staff reflected these faith traditions. Personally I enjoyed many times to chat over a red pop or lunch with a few of my fellow ex-pats.  Not all – many kept pretty much to themselves.

Especially rewarding was a small Bible study group for women which met on Wednesdays at the Pepto-Bismal House – named for its color.  This group had nothing offical to do with LCC, and was started by a group I’d never heard of before that does these studies all over Europe.  Anyway, a few men had already decided to join up, and after a few weeks I decided to accompany Bonnie when, for once, I didn’t have work to do on Wednesday night.  I dearly wish we could have some type of small group here, but it has proved impossible to do.  No matter how earnestly Bonnie and I would like to be part of a group, it takes a group to make that possible.  Playing tennis alone doesn’t cut it!

All in all, it was a very rewarding experience.  If any of you reading this want to know more about a specific aspect, please ask.  Otherwise, this will wrap up our posts. I get asked if I would do it again.  Sure – if it weren’t so disruptive of life.  Thanks to church friends and neighbors, the home fires were kept burning, but one can’t go to that well too often.  Although Bonnie also found the experience rewarding, not by enough to offset the losses of being away from home.  But, as is often said, man proposes, but God disposes.

Bonnie and I hope that you, our faithful readers, have found some things of interest, and we hope that someday many of you will actually visit Lithuania.  It will reward the effort.

Some final pictures for you:

Chuck in the classroom.

Chuck masters the Smart Board–no more chalk dust.

Students

Chuck is recognized for his service by the university president and receives a LCC sash.

Addendum from Bonnie :Driving from Klaipeda to Vilnius to catch the plane home, I took the following photos–our last view of LIthuania on a lovely, but cold day.

Touring – #6 – Netherlands and back to Kiel and Klaipeda

Our last day in the Netherlands we took the train into Amsterdam again and caught a tour bus for a trip into the countryside.  It was a nice break from walking about cities.

Our first stop was the Island of Marken with it’s quaint little village of neat homes of either brick or dark green and white stripes.  I would guess all this “quaintness” has a large price tag.  Another feature of this village was a wooden shoe “factory” and a demonstration of cheese-making.

Condos in Marken

Some cottages had shutters like these.

Blocks of wood waiting to be made into shoes.

Definitely too big.

These fit but I didn’t know where I would wear them so didn’t buy.

Now I know where the word, “clomp” comes from. I’m sure anyone wearing these shoes would clomp.

Next stop was this “quaint” fishing village of Volendam which turned out to be a bunch of restaurants and souvenir shops–I didn’t see one fisherman anywhere.

“I’ll have 3 of your biggest and best sausages, please.” Too cute!

Final stop was Zaanse Schans    to see the windmills.  They are SO picturesque–hard to take a bad picture here.

We arrived back in the city fairly early so decided to stop at Haarlam on the way home which is just a couple of stops from Amsterdam because I had planned to stop there to see Corrie Ten Boom’s home.  For those who have not read The Hiding Place, I highly recommend it.  Corrie and her family lived in the back of  her father’s clock and watch making business and hid Jews there during the war.  The story is very inspirational and I was really looking forward to visiting but, unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there.  Here is the outside of the shop–in case you have read the story.

We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Haarlam and found that tacos etc. are a lot more expensive than at home.  Look at these prices–and these are Euros, not dollars.

The next morning, a Thursday, we headed north and east toward Kiel as we had to catch the ferry back to Klaipeda on Saturday night.

Some interesting sheep near our motel.

A modern building that was worth a picture.

After a leisurely drive we stayed the night just shy of Hamburg. In the morning we decided to drive up to Denmark for lunch–just to say we’d been there.  It is only a few miles from Kiel.

Along the way, in Germany, we encountered more rapeseed fields.  I love they way they look and I’m not sure if we raise rapeseed (for canola oil and also fuel) in the US or not, but it certainly makes pretty pictures.

We stopped by the Kiel canal and watched a cargo ship go by.

In the small Danish town of Aabenraa, we stopped to have lunch and look around. This picture is something you don’t see in the US–these two baby carriages parked outside a restaurant had little babies–about 2-3 months old sleeping in them-(I went over and looked in). The moms were inside the restaurant. They did come out eventually and sat at the table and ate but in the US we would NEVER leave our babies unattended. This also happens in Lithuania.  Rachel has told me but I never saw it. Seems really wrong to us but perhaps they never have kidnappers. Their birth rate is so low probably because no one wants them so they are perfectly safe.

We stopped inside a little church and the decorations were very different–especially the ship model hanging in the background.

The altar.

What could this mean?

Back in Kiel on Friday night–our trip nearly over–we once again encountered cold and wind.  The weather hadn’t improved in the two weeks we were gone.  On Saturday, I waited in the hotel lobby nearly all day while Chuck, ever the trooper, walked and walked all over Kiel.  I was totally done with walking on my sore leg in unpleasant weather–VISKAS! as they say in Lithuania–FINISHED!

Here are a couple of signs I saw when we went out for dinner.

Nazis? No Thanks.

Funny

We caught a cab to our ferry about 8 p.m. and after a long 23 hour cruise were back in our little “home-away-from-home” in Klaipeda.

We had only two days left with John, Rachel and the children before they took off for a month in the US.  We will see John and Rachel but not Chayah and Noah who will stay in Michigan with Rachel’s folks so I don’t know when we’ll see them again; it was hard to say goodbye after being so close all winter.

Professors Milliken

The last day in Klaipeda, Chuck and I braved the cold wind once again to go downtown for awhile and have dinner at one of our favorite spots.  I checked one more thing off my Bucket List (I didn’t quite get everything checked off-just ran out of time) because we visited the Blacksmith Museum.

This museum contains a collection of the Lietuviskasis Kryzius, the special Lithuanian craft of cross making which has been designated “a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.  Several of the crosses in this museum were saved from the graves when the large old cemetery was destroyed by the Soviets and the Sculpture Park (I sent pictures earlier) took its place.

This piece is made entirely of crosses saved  from the old cemetery.

Close up of name plate broken in the destruction. Can you imagine having the graves of your ancestors obliterated–as though destroying your history which is exactly what the Soviets had in mind.

This will be my last post though I may add some photos to Chuck’s as he will give a wrap-up and end to our blog.  Thanks for reading our story and I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures–I loved taking them.

Bonnie

Touring #5 – The Netherlands -2

We are home again but I feel as though our blog would end abruptly if I did not finish off the story of our trip and our final days in Lithuania. It has taken a week of dealing with re-entry into our usual life so I am just now able to find time to complete it.

On May 7, we took the train into Amsterdam for the first time and the first thing we did was take a canal boat tour–it was conveniently located near the train station and seemed a good place to begin–an overview of the city.  Amsterdam has several canals in rings around the center city.  We learned a few things on the tour–about one car each week ends up in a canal–there are 100 kilometers of canals in the city and 1,000 bridges–there are about 750,000 people in Amsterdam and 850,000 bicycles (we saw most of them)–the houses along the canals are mostly very narrow and tall because taxes used to be figured on the width of the building–because the houses are so narrow, it is difficult to get furniture in and up stairways so houses lean slightly forward and have a large hook at the top so furniture can be hauled to the upstairs windows by ropes over the hooks and won’t bump against the house.  Some houses look slightly askew because of the shifting ground underneath also.  Many people live on houseboats which line the canals.  Some of these are regular houseboats and some look like old freight boats–not too nice.  Rents are very high in Amsterdam (saw ads for two bedroom apartments ranging from $2,500 to $4,000 per month) and some of the boats are illegally there but most pay some fee–apparently cheaper than apartment rents.

Amsterdam is an attractive city but it is so crowded that it is not so charming as I had thought it would be.  The buildings are nice but their beauty is obscured by so many cars and bicycles–it is even difficult sometimes to  find a place to walk and the old boats tied up everywhere detracts from the view of the canals.  However, it certainly makes for a very interesting city–very busy that’s for sure.

Canal boat similar to the one we took tour on.

Notice skinny houses.

Notice crooked houses.

Those hooks for moving days.

Someone’s home on the canal.

Another home.

A little decoration on the front of this boat.

This seems to be some neighborhood group or civic club cleaning up the canal as we do the highways.

We watched this little lady bird and her “husband” for awhile. He would swim about the canal picking up bits of trash and bringing them to this tarp-covered boat where she had prepared this lovely nest. I can’t see how this will work at all for the eggs will surely fall right down among the trash.  Anyway, a nice supplement to the civic group noted above.

Looking at statue of Anne Frank near the building where she and her family hid for 2 years. I took the tour and it was very moving–it has been a long while since I read Anne’s diary but I think I’ll read it again now.

Bonnie visits Rembrandt in the rain.  We did a LOT of visiting in the rain.

They gave us so many delicious samples in this cheese store that we didn’t need lunch.

Shop cat sleeps beside wooden shoes.

Same kitty next day perching on cash register.

Some Delft china pieces in a very expensive shop. I liked these cows.

In the Dom Square, in front of the palace, visitors watch a  street  performer.

Carriage drivers visit while waiting for customers–Dom Square.

The Floating Flower Market — a long block of flower shops which are partly on the side of the canal and partly on floating platforms.  Flower shopping is big everywhere in Europe. In Klaipeda, flowers were appropriate for almost any occasion.  One only had to be careful with odd or even numbers of blooms, depending on the occasion.  A serious social faux pas would occur if the number appropriate for a wedding showed up at a funeral, or vice versa.  (Ed. note – Bonnie just informed me that the same custom prevails in the US.  In 69 years, I had never heard of such a thing!  Travel sure is educational.)

Floating Flower Market –street side.

One of the many pretty “tops” on the narrow houses–spoiled by the block where a hook should be attached.

Sometimes I even take pictures of modern buildings! This one is in the harbor area of Amsterdam.

This building, called Nemo, was designed by the same architect who designed the Centre Georges Pompidou museum in Paris.  Shows that bad taste knows no borders.

We visited the Rijksmuseum with its large collection of Rembrandts but were disappointed to learn, after we had paid our 14 Euros each ($19+ ) that only a small part of the museum is open–the rest is undergoing a major re-haul that has taken 10 years so far. We were able to see everything in about 1.5 hours even though we often had to wait for the crowds to disperse before viewing the more famous paintings such as The Nightwatch above.

Pretty tulips outside the Rijksmuseum.

Interesting advice on this sign in a shopping area.  Given the astronomical prices, thinking is probably counter-productive.  For any of you thinking about a visit to the Benelux countries, take plenty of money and debit cards.  For instance, a simple personal size cheese pizza can set you back $12 to $15, or more.  For a simple stew with a slice or two of bread in Antwerp we paid $17.  McDonald Value Meal will run a bit north of $10.

One thing I will definitely remember about Amsterdam is the bicycles.  Old ladies and men, young moms and dads with children on board, and dressed-up office workers–all pedaling away, rain or shine.  With gasoline at $8 a gallon and parking at $6 per hour, it is understandable.  At least their land is flat so no hills to contend with.

A bicycle parking lot near the train station in Amsterdam.

A bicycle parking garage near train station in small town.

This sort of scenario shows how exciting it is to cross the street as a pedestrian. I imagine collisions are not uncommon.

This is how you take the kids along.

A bike with covered kiddie seats.  Notice all the bicycles parked along the canal on both sides.

After two long days of walking about the city, we are off to the countryside and then back to Kiel and the ferry to Klaipeda. I’ll shortly post again on that part of the journey.

 

No more viso gero.  Now it’s goodbye.

Touring #4 – The Netherlands -1

 

From Antwerp we drove north planning to find lodging about half way between Rotterdam and Amsterdam so that we could visit in both directions without having to relocate.   We found a small hotel with restaurant in the tiny town of Zwammerdam.  Within a few minutes we could reach the train station at Bodegraven and from there catch a train to Leiden where we could switch to trains to other places.  After learning the exorbitant cost of parking in the big cities and fearing  being lost as in Brussels, we thought the train was a much less stressful option.   As it turns out, we went into Amsterdam three days and did not get to Rotterdam or Delft.

The Netherlands has a beautiful countryside of narrow strips of green  fields separated by many canals.  It was impossible to get a picture that showed this from the train window.  The fields were full of flocks of sheep, herds of cattle and many ponies and horses. Sometimes there would be a windmill and sometimes fields of flowers where those Holland bulbs we buy are grown. There were also many swans in the canals and I saw at least 10 nesting swans.  It was all very picturesque.

We arrived on Saturday late and on Sunday after church at a small country Catholic church, we took the train just as far as Leiden which turned out to be a very attractive smaller city.

Leiden

The art museum in Leiden had a special exhibit from China including 3 of the Terracotta  Warriors.  Since it was just an hour till closing, they let us in free.

Chuck contemplating Buddhas contemplating..

I forget what this building is–it has something to do with the wool industry I think. This is also in Leiden.  I loved the decoration–the sheep and the windmill.

When your city is full of canals, it is one of the main ways to travel from one place to another. Maybe this family is just out for a ride.

This fellow has his bike along for the next leg of his journey.

Next — Amsterdam.

 

Touring #3 – About Antwerp

After Brugge it was hard to be impressed, yet Antwerp also is a pretty city.  We were able to park for free outside the city and catch a tram in.  The first thing we saw was quite impressive–the train station.

Train Station – Antwerp

Antwerp had a long street of shopping–many stores of all sorts and great crowds of people shopping.  I found out in a tour later that Antwerp is one of the main fashion capitals of Europe and is also known for diamonds.  As you can see from the following pictures, it is also full of interesting architecture.  I especially noticed all the decoration on the tops of buildings, particularly in the large town hall square.

Town Hall, Antwerp

More Belgium chocolate!

After a few hours walking about in the rain, it was back to the road and on to the Netherlands—see next post.

Touring #2 – Just Brugge

Next stop on our tour was the city of Brugge which we were looking forward to, having seen the movie In Brugge and deciding that we must see this beautiful city.  It did not disappoint–everywhere we looked was a charming canal, a beautiful building or a stunning street. The pictures, as usual, do not do it justice but we heartily recommend a visit.

Here are just a few of the photos from Brugge–sorry for all the crowds of people but I could not get them to leave so I could have unobstructed pictures.

I think the one dog needs to lose weight which is why he doesn’t get to ride in the basket–or maybe they take turns.

Beautiful tulips in the square.

We visited a small lace museum and watched a lace-making demonstration.  Judging by the age of the ladies, I think this will soon be a lost art.

Some of the famous Belgium lace.

Famous Belgium chocolate.

Chocolate sheep

Belgium cat

Interesting altar at small chapel.

Goodbye to Brugge.

Touring – #1

We arrived home from our European adventure late last night (Sunday).  John picked us up at the ferry terminal and I must say we were really thankful he was so prompt–it had seemed a very long 23 hours on that ship with not much sleep due to noisy fellow passengers.  We enjoyed our trip but not so much as others we have taken because we were so continually cold and encountered rain almost every day.  We hiked around six different cities (seven for Chuck) and did some walking in four more.  So that was a lot of territory for my old legs since my knee has been bothering me so much all winter long.  However, I hung in there pretty well but toward the end of our trip I was becoming very tired of putting up with the cold and the pain and the rain.

Although this blog is primarily about our experience here in Lithuania, I will wrap it up with some pictures from our trip and hope you enjoy them as well.  We’ll have three more days here  so there will be a bit more about our time here before signing off on Friday morning.

Late on April 27 we departed Klaipeda by ferry to Kiel, Germany.  It was interesting to learn how all these big trucks use the ferry.

Chuck watched them loading these big trucks from the upper deck–some good driving needed here.

Picture of our big ferry boat.

Municipal bldgs. in Kiel.

We arrived in Kiel late Saturday and had to spend all day Sunday there because we could not pick the car up until Monday morning.  We were impressed with Kiel as a lovely, clean, prosperous-looking city.  It is mostly a new city as during the war, being an important port, it was nearly destroyed by bombing.

Monday, one of our two sunny days, we picked up the car early and were off for Luxembourg. It was a long drive, uneventful except for being stopped by a cop for having our fog lights on–it takes awhile to learn everything about a new vehicle.  We finally reached our goal–getting into Luxembourg before night–and began to look for a place to stay which proved very frustrating and, in the end, impossible, as we were directed back across the Mosel River into Germany to find a place.  As we were beginning to think we’d have to spend the night in the car, Chuck spotted, through the dark and rain, some lights and people and we stopped.  Although this Gasthaus was normally open only during the tourist season, I think I looked sufficiently pitiful (old, wet, and tired) to the owner who suddenly decided to let us stay.  So for two nights we were the only guests in a big guesthouse where the lady, Hedwig, lived. It was a lovely setting amid the vineyards on the bank  of the river.  Hedwig was very kind to us, supplying us with maps for the area and giving us recommendations of what to see.  She suggested Trier, the oldest town in Germany, which I, being ignorant of much Roman history, had not even heard of, but Chuck knew all about it.  So Tuesday morning we drove off across the fields, literally–the back roads were barely more than paths–and spent the entire day in Trier.  It is a beautiful town with both lovely old buildings and churches and also Roman ruins.  I  was snapping photos left and right but will limit myself to including just a few things. If you ever go to Germany, Trier is definitely worth a visit. This day was the only day on our whole trip that we did not need coats.

Chuck studies the map as we wend our way across the fields to the main road.  By the way, I think we had the ugliest car the rental agency had but Chuck was happy with the handling.

Just a nice scene.

Before we reached Trier, we stopped for a look at Saarburg and watched this big coal barge go by–all very picturesque.

Prince Elector’s Palace in Trier with Bascillica of Constantine  behind. I don’t know what this building is currently used for–many were enjoying the lovely garden and grounds,.

One side of the main plaza in Trier

Porta Nigra -Roman ruin in Trier–built from 186 to 200 AD.

Ruins of Roman baths in Trier.  They were built 300 A.D.

The inscription on this building, loosely translated, reads:  Before Rome, Treir stood 1,300 years in eternal peace.

Cathedral of St. Peter, Church of Our Lady, Trier

As you can see, there are mobs of people outside the cathedral and this is because it contains the relic of the tunic Jesus wore on the day he was crucified.  It is only on display for about a month and it has not been shown since 1996–and only 3 times over the centuries so when it is, it is a major Catholic pilgrimage  site.  So the lines were quite long–we waited till late in the day and only waited 45 minutes.  This tunic was found by  Helena, mother of Constantine, on one of her “relic-collecting” trips.  While it seems unbelievable that she was able to find so many significant relics, still, the fact remains this garment is more than 2,000 years old and interesting in itself because of its history.

Shows variety of architecture in Trier.  I didn’t notice the smudge on my lens till later.

When we returned to our lodgings, there was a big party going on.  It turns out it was a national holiday and folks were out enjoying the sun and at the vineyard drinking wine and chatting.

Our Gasthaus (guest house)

Back of the house–notice old wine press, vineyard above, little church at top of hill. Hedwig and her husband used to make wine but now he has passed away and she sells the use of the vineyards to others.

Our view of the Mosel River valley and vineyards–very pretty, don’t you think?

Chuck and Hedwig’s daughter, Petra, enjoy some wine and good conversation.

Bonnie and new friend, Hedwig.

On Wednesday morning, despite the rain, we took off for Luxembourg city.  It is a pretty but not outstanding, city.  The best thing was that it has a deep ravine in the middle of the city and down there is a lovely park down there.  There was also a very fancy cathedral  with nice stained glass.  We spent the morning walking in the rain and then drove on north.  Perhaps we gave Luxembourg short shrift.

We drove north to near the  border the for the night and in the morning, drove into Belgium and visited Bastogne.  The museum and tour there were very nicely done.  When John saw the pictures taken there, he noticed that the exhibit of the Christmas dinner scene depicted the actors in the movie Band of Brothers rather than the real participants.

The Barracks at Bastogne

Chuck points out bullet hole that is also seen in the picture.

Hope you can read this document.

Poster depicts MacAuliffe’s response to the Germans

Photos of soldiers who returned to visit Bastogne where they had fought.

They had a good collection of army vehicles from the period and Chuck was thrilled that he was permitted to climb around on them.

We found the whole Bastogne visit very moving.

Afterwards, we drove up to Brussels planning to spend the afternoon there.  However, it was not to be.  We missed a turn and ended up being lost in Brussels for 2 hours (we had no city map) with only one desire–to get out of there.  Finally, we got some good directions from a passer-by and got out south of town–not the direction we wanted.  Because the roads are so poorly signed (most routes have several designations so you never know which road you’re on) we went far to the south in a big loop before heading north toward Bruge.  So sorry there will be no pictures from Brussels.

Enough for now.  I will continue later with Bruge and points north.