Today is the next to last day in December. The month has just flown by. I wrote about our trip to Turkey in my last entry (by the way the kabob restaurant we visited the last night with the gracious hospitality is called Cigeristan) but I actually took two additional weekend trips to Europe after we returned from Turkey and a weekend trip to NM as well.
The first weekend in December I flew to Krakow for a “mile run” to log more Delta miles for the year in order to re-qualify for Diamond status. Jonathan has already crossed the status threshold so he opted to stay home. I flew via NYC, Montreal, Paris and Warsaw for maximum miles and via Warsaw, Paris, Amsterdam and Detroit on the return for even more miles. If there was a way to squeeze out any additional miles on one trip to Poland I’m really not aware of it. A bit exhausting to be honest but a lot of fun. As a bonus, I met a group of older travelers (55 years+) from Italy on the flight from Warsaw to Krakow and we hit it off very well. They gave me a free ride into downtown Krakow and invited me to dinner. Their tour leader was excited that I spoke a teensy bit of Italian and was very demonstrative in his appreciation with cheek kisses and asked his friends to take several pictures of him and I. Once in the city, I spent a lot of time walking around old town Krakow by myself, feeling the icy wind on my face and thinking about everything I’ve been through this year. The Christmas markets were open and I did a bit of shopping and sampled Polish cuisine. I also went to a Polish mass in a beautiful old cathedral.
I carved out one morning to visit the Auschwitz concentration camps. It was emotionally overwhelming to walk through the camps and stand face to face with the history of horrors that took place within them. I didn’t understand how everyone else on the tour seemed to hold it together when I could not stop crying. One room is filled with human hair that was cut from the victims and found in a warehouse when the Allies freed the camps. Another room is filled with shoes- thousands and thousands of pairs- each representing the person they belonged to who was forced into the camps. Walking alongside the long railroad tracks that lead into Auschwitz Birkenau was the most somber experience of the day. I wish I could take you there with my words, to that feeling that welled up inside of me when I was there. To stand on the very same sorting platform where others stood while uniformed men decided if they were to live or die that day. To look down at the far end of the tracks where the gas chambers stood and then to walk the dusty path toward the chambers as thousands had walked toward them before. It was agonizing to be there but I thought it important to go and honor those whose agonies in their victimization put mine in pale comparison.
The next day I had a more lighthearted tour of the salt mine outside Krakow. It was my first visit to a salt mine and it was really neat. The guide took us down into the mine via an old metal elevator and then walked us through a large part of the mine over an hour or so. The miners built beautiful chapels underground and they are really peaceful and ornate. We were encourage to lick the walls- any wall, anytime during the tour – and so of course I did. Very salty. Germs are not an issue because the salt mine is a sterile environment (salt prevents bacteria from flourishing). In fact part of the mine is designated as a recovery spa for victims of respiratory diseases and ailments. The air is fresh and clean smelling; it’s very nice.
The second weekend in December I did another mile run to Poland by myself. This time I was to have one day in Warsaw and one day in Amsterdam before flying home. I think the stress over my sister’s death, the heavy workload at my job and the physical exhaustion from traveling for so many consecutive weeks (I didn’t blog about it but I went to LA in August with my best friend and then Jon and I went to Italy, Seattle and New Mexico in September followed by a trip to Hawaii in October and San Francisco in early November) caught up to me. When I landed in Warsaw I just wanted to shut the world out and rest. So I checked into the hotel and took a short nap. I woke up in the late evening having missed the whole day of potential sightseeing. I’m ok with that though- sometimes the body just needs to stop and rest. I hadn’t really taken a Sabbath in a long time. The next day I was much more energetic and walked around downtown Amsterdam a great deal. I visited the Anne Frank hiding house. I had just read her diary in preparation for the trip and between the diary reading and the previous week’s visit to Auschwitz (where she was taken) it really afforded a clear perspective on her situation and how everything unfolded. I was haunted by the vision of her stepping off that train and walking through the same pathways I had walked the week before.
Over the Christmas holiday weekend Jonathan and I flew to New Mexico to visit with family and friends. Spending time with people who love us was medicine for the soul and it really helped to lift me out of this persistent grief more than anything else has in months. I have friends strewn all across the country and here and there around the world, but there is a core group of people in Las Cruces who were formative in my Christian walk and seeing them is always a joy.
As 2011 winds down I am finding the optimist inside of me peeking out again. She came through the year battered and bruised (and for awhile I thought she was lost to grief forever) but it looks like she is going to face the new year ready for adventure. Meanwhile the rude, short tempered, flip-out-over-totally-inconsequential-annoyances (like a restaurant running out of my favorite salad dressing) girl that rose up out of the stress and trauma is fading. I did a little cheerleading kick inside my head when I realized after something didn’t go my way last week that I hadn’t cried, screamed or otherwise freaked out as a first response. Progress! My pastor suggested that once I’ve reached a place where the grief is further behind me I might be in a place to help others who are grieving in the church in a way that “the innocents” (that’s my new nickname for people who haven’t felt the sting of death yet) cannot. I will pray about it and see where God leads me as far as that’s concerned.
2011 Travel Milestones
According to flightmemory.com I spent 248 hours in the air this year between 30 different airports on 72 different flights on 6 different airlines. I visited 10 different countries (Canada, Netherlands, Poland, France, Thailand, Iceland, Japan, Turkey, Laos and Italy) and flew the equivalent of five times around the earth. I also visited the continent of Asia for the first time ever this year (and went there three separate times).
2011 Events of Note
Earthquakes I experienced:3 (Chaing Mai, Thailand, Tokyo,Japan, Washington, DC)
Family Deaths: 3 (Daddy, Jenna, Suzie)
15th Wedding Anniversary
One year with CSC