Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures in Europe: Stuff, so much glorious stuff to see

One of the things I always find the most difficult about returning from a trip to Europe is processing all of the mind-boggling, mind-blowing stuff I've seen. There's plenty of good stuff to see in the U.S. too, don't get me wrong, but stuff in Europe is old. And I mean seriously, seriously old. Whenever I visit one of those places, I'm in total awe at my awareness of how long they've been there. Every so often when I travel, I'm lucky enough to see a place so different from everything I'm used to seeing that I'm entirely aware of just how foreign it all is.

A stellar example of this is Bruges, Belgium. I read once that it was one of the only cities in Europe to escape bombings during World War I and World War II. Apparently, it made for a good landmark for pilots, sparing it the worst of the physical devastation that left most other European cities in rubble. As soon as you step into Bruges, you feel like you've entered a different world. The buildings all look medieval, and you can tell the streets have been around since long, long before cars were even a thought.

Another thing that boggles my mind when I go to Europe is how you can step into a church and stumble upon works of art that you wouldn't expect to see anywhere other than under lock and key in a museum. Yet there they are, just sitting in the church or cathedral, free for all to see. Bruges has one such work of art, a statue by Michelangelo that's believed to be the only statuary work of his to have left Italy in his lifetime. The statue stands in the Church of Our Lady, and it is astonishingly beautiful. One look at it is all you need to understand why Michelangelo is considered such a genius.

Beautiful as Bruges's buildings are--and they are beautiful, I also happen to love the city because it's chock full of gorgeous chocolate shops. I could stand at the windows for hours, just staring at the fanciful creations in chocolate, but eating them is a lot more fun. If you're as serious about chocolate as I am, Belgian chocolate is the be-all and end-all, and Bruges is, in my opinion, one of the best places to buy Belgian chocolate. My personal favorite shop there is a place called The Chocolate Line. I'll be enjoying a few of their chocolates later tonight and mourning the fact that I didn't buy a bigger box.

The other place that transported me to another time was Mont-St-Michel, in France. A monastery was first established there in the 8th century. The 8th century! Now, it must be said that the streets leading up to the abbey are stuffed full of touristy shops that sometimes tend toward the tacky. I'm not a fan of tourist-trap stuff in general, but I was so taken aback by the island that I could ignore it. Mont-St-Michel is a warren of narrow cobblestone streets and miniscule alleys, the buildings seeming to lean toward one another across the narrow streets. I wouldn't have been at all shocked to see women in medieval dresses or men in full suits of armor as I turned the street's corners, that's how much it felt like I'd stepped back into medieval Europe. It was awesome.

Once we got past the town and to the abbey itself, things just became even more awesome. It was, by far, one of the coolest places I've ever been on Earth. I'd have been astonished to see a modern-day building perched on top of the hill as the abbey is, and it's even more impressive when you consider that the abbey's been there for centuries. As I walked through it, I kept imaging the lives of the medieval monks, particularly when we reached the cloisters, which was like something straight out of a fantasy novel. Another amazing spot was the terrace, which felt like a platform thrust out into open sky. I could have sat there all day long, just staring out at the view and marveling.

See? All this page space and I wrote about exactly two of the places I saw, which only scratches the surface of all the places I saw and only scratches the surface of the two places I mentioned. I definitely need to write more in upcoming posts.

If you're interested, you can check out my Derailed Inspiration Board on Pinterest. I'm pinning pictures of places I write about in Derailed. Pardon me for bragging on him, but I think my husband is an awesome photographer, and there are some really gorgeous pictures pinned there, with more to come.