Oxford

When I visited the UK in May I also took a one day trip to Oxford.
Whenever people at university talked about Oxford, they would have a certain tone of awe and admiration in their voice.
Such an old town with so much history.
One of the oldest universities in the world.
So many great minds who have come from there.
Oxford is quite something. Continue reading “Oxford”

A Little Treat for Yourself

In July I was in London for the second time. Even though I was there for a conference it felt very much like a short vacation. Often it doesn’t take much to feel relaxed if we know how to grant our souls some rest.  Continue reading “A Little Treat for Yourself”

A Room to Escape

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I found this beauty in an old mansion house in the English countryside.
Whenever I visit old castles or houses I always enjoy the library most. Until now, I’ve only lived in small student apartments where space was rare. But these people, they had an entire room just for books and reading! Continue reading “A Room to Escape”

Our Father

I wrote this piece two weeks ago, not knowing how much more important its message would be just a few days later…

Last weekend I was in London. I spent Sunday afternoon walking along the South Bank and watching people as they enjoyed the unusually hot summer weather.
So many people from all kinds of backgrounds.
So many faces I’ve never seen before. I cannot help but wonder what their stories are.
Do they live in London or are they visiting? What has their week been like? What has brought them here today?
And how can this world be so diverse? Continue reading “Our Father”

The ‘Treasures’ of Traveling

When I travel I dive into the smell and taste of new food. I take in the breathtaking beauty of vast landscapes. I enjoy meeting people and listening to their stories.
When I travel I take a few pictures and collect souvenirs.
Not the objects you’d expect.
I collect stories.
In the midst of people, in a public square, on a bench at the coast – I sit down and write down all these treasures that beg to be told.

I just came back from a vacation. Two weeks in the UK with many great adventures and encounters. So here a few of my ‘treasures’ from London.

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A street in Aldgate at rush hour with one office building next to another.
Facades of steel and glass designed for people with long hours and large paychecks. In between the skyscrapers you can still detect remnants of the people who used to live here: small brick houses with coal stained chimneys next to modern art temples of money and business. Instead of tiny shops you find exclusive bars and high-class take away restaurants for the people who can’t ‘waste’ time on meals.

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Instead of low-class workers you now see men and women in elegant suits hurrying down the streets – coffee in one hand, blackberry in the other. They are no longer walking, they are running as if they can’t get away form this place fast enough. Their expensive costumes are paired with bulky trainers because their feet just can’t take it anymore after a day in high heels.

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This is a place for business, strictly business.
This is London.

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London9A street in West End at night.
Picadilly Circus is pulsating with cars, with tourists, with life. The streets are heavily trafficked by the all too familiar red Double-decker buses and black cabs. They. Are. Real.

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People are invited to get lost in the crowds or spend a lot of money in the many shops within the neo classicist buildings. If you just stop for a moment you can pick up a variety of languages and faces from all over the world. In between the shops you can see the shiny billboards of the many theaters celebrating the arts in countless musicals.

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The stories range from murder mysteries to romance to historical dramas. You dive into a world where everything’s shiny, all conversations are put into song, and in the end it will all work out well. Afterwards you walk out into real life again, carrying the stories with you and wishing that sometimes life would have a score to it.

This is a place for dreams.
This is London.

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The smells of Whitechapel.
You take the Tube to the East End and when you get off the train it feels like you step into a whole different world. Just a few blocks away from the sophisticated business quarters at Aldgate the streets are suddenly crowded with people wearing long beards, turbans, hijabs, or burkas. The mosque is located right next to the Synagogue. Shop signs are in Tamil or Arabic and advertise restaurants which sell pilaw and masala instead of pie.

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The area where workers from the nearby dockyards used to live a century ago is now home to people from all over the world, forming an incredible mixture of languages, religions, and cultures. It’s one of the poorest suburbs, but also the one where world travelers might feel most at home.

This is a place for diversity.
This is London.

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The Mall around Buckingham Palace.
Thousands of people from around the world press their faces against the iron gates to just get a glimpse of the Changing of the Guards. Men in red embroidered coats and large fur hats march up and down to the ‘James Bond’ tune. The ceremony seems like a relict from the past, and yet the monarchy is as present in the British society as ever. The English love their Queen and you can’t help but admire this lady who’s seen and lived through so much and managed to stay true to herself and her values nevertheless. Across St. James’s Park you can see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The old buildings have seen great events and heated debates, and they will soon be the place of a historical decision when the British vote on the Brexit. London and its population are crucial to the polls, and Europe is awaiting the results.

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This is a place for glamor and decisions.
This is London.

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The sounds of Covent Garden around noon.
The Piazza that used to be London’s biggest fruit and vegetable market is now filled with many elegant stalls selling everything from imported shawls to handmade jewelry. Instead of groceries you can taste original fish and chips, inhale the rich flavors of tea, or admire the delicate shapes of wooden toys. The surrounding pubs are flocked with business people and groups of friends enjoying a light lunch and a pint. Yes, it’s only noon, but it’s never too early to start drinking Ale.

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Covent Garden is the stage for all the artists who haven’t made it to the West End yet. The streets become their entertainment – jugglers, magicians, comedians, and opera singers. If you allow yourself to pause and sit down for a moment you discover something beautiful: a soft melody in the midst of the street noise. A song that makes you wonder like a child. A small glimpse of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

This is a place for celebration.
This is London.

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Four days in this beautiful, complex, enchanting and intriguing city. I take away sore feet, tanned skin, and a few pictures. There’s still so many places to discover, so many stories to tell. I’ll be back.

[Five Minute Friday] Same

Last week I was in Lisbon.
We walked up the old cobblestone streets and marvelled at the view over this old and colorful city. We enjoyed good food and great company. We explored a bit more of Lisbon’s rich history.

One day we spent at a monastery and its church.
As I was sitting in a bench enjoying the quiet peaceful atmosphere I noticed a girl. She walked through the room quite fast, her view fixed forward.
In her hand she held a phone which she pointed at the statues and the decor around her. The red ‘record’ button shone brightly in the dimly light nave.
She was there, in this beautiful old building, but yet she wasn’t.
She looked at architecture and painted windows, and yet she didn’t.
She rushed by as if everything was the same.
Instead of taking in the details, instead of collecting impressions she collected a quick recording, a mere snapshot on a phone which will never, ever match reality.

As I saw this girl racing by with her phone on record and no time to take in the real beauty in front of her, I had to think.
Don’t we sometimes have the same attitude?
We visit a new city and try to document as much as possible.
Every meal, every moment of happiness must be instagrammed before we might enjoy it.
We meet up with friends for coffee, but often we’re both on a run, so fellowship better happen fast.
We gather for church on Sundays, but the service can’t take more than two hours because everyone wants to get home for lunch on time.
We are here, in this life, and yet we are not. We rush by as if everything was the same. 

Let’s break out of this ‘same’ box.
Let’s step down from the treadmill this life often has us on and actually…live.
Let’s not put an end to a coffee date, just enjoy the time you have. Focus on the details, discover that your friend will never be the same like someone else.
Let’s travel and not be rushed. Cross off a few sights on your list and rather watch a city’s people. Learn a building’s history and take in the beauty which is often hidden in small things. Decide to not take pictures with your camera, but with your heart. 
Let’s enjoy Sundays again and experience what happens when we truly wait for the Lord.
Let’s be here.
Let’s collect moments, not things.

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Linking up with Five Minute Friday today.