Today we woke up ready for a morning with a Blue-Badge tour guide in Edinburgh. He showed us around the city including a short stop at Holyrood house which is the Queen's official Edinburgh residence. After that, we went to Edinburgh Castle where we went through a historical exhibit of Scottish Royalty. We then saw the Scottish Royal Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and the small room where King James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots, was born.
Lunch was an interesting experience where more than half of the group got brave and tried a true Scottish dish; Haggis.
Then there was some free time for shopping and exploring. Some of us made our way back up to the Royal mile to go to a Tartan factory, and then the rest of us stayed down and around Rose street for more souvenir shopping.
Soon after, we met at the Sir Walter Scott monument, and headed towards the train station for our four and a half hour train ride to London. I think we're all excited to be in London and even the little bit that we did get to see tonight seemed to get us all excited. We drove passed Madame Tussauds, Baker Street, and many other exciting places just on the way to our hotel and I think it's safe to say that we are all excited to see more of this famous city tomorrow.
Today was mostly a driving day, therefore we where able to get up way later then normal. Immediately after breakfast we got on the bus and traveled about three hours to the Lake District, we spent about an hour or so wondering around a old house [Rydel Mount - William Wordsworth] and the surrounding gardens. Afterwards we traversed in the bus for around another three hours until we crossed the Scottish boarder and stopped at Gretna Green for a snack break [where illicit marriage ceremonies were preformed from 1754 onward]. Then weathered the remaining two hour drive to Edinburgh for supper and then straight to the hotel for the night sleep time!
We’ve moved on from the land of leprechauns and shamrocks, and have moved on to the country of dragons, castles, and sheep upon sheep upon sheep.
The day started off with a three-hour ferry ride through the Atlantic separating Ireland with Great Britain. The weather we’ve been experiencing over the course of this journey has been outstanding, especially considering the hurricane-like weather and hail and sleet that had been predicted for this week during the days leading up to our departure. It just goes to demonstrate the power of prayer. Sometimes I feel guilty to pray for ‘frivolous’ requests. I feel selfish and greedy… and even annoying. But God loves to give good gifts to His children. It doesn’t mean we deserve them, but He loves to lavish His blessings and unfailing love on us, His followers. Sometimes it doesn’t come in the way that we would imagine, but sometimes, as I’m reminded now as we drive under the bright blue, sunny sky, He grants our wishes.
John 1:17 ~ “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
When we arrived in Wales before noon, I was immediately struck with the structural differences. The houses and buildings already had such a different flare to them than Ireland had, which was interesting considering their proximity. The homes have a Dutch look to them, lots of light colours with criss-crossing dark trim. This country is quaint and quiet, and gives the sense of a nation of people who love peace. Nonetheless, this is a proud nation. The Welsh flag is sported everywhere, the patriotism is evident, but the atmosphere is tranquil and picturesque, antiquated, and charming.
We made a quick rest-stop and the longest-named town in the world, “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,” which translates roughly to, “The Church of Mary in the hollow of the White Hazel near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave.” I suppose it basically speaks for itself, so I’ll move on.
After driving through cute little towns and enjoying the lovely scenery, we arrived at our sight-seeing destination: Conwy Castle. The grounds of Blarney Castle back in Ireland were spectacular, but the castle itself had nothing on Conwy. Conwy was the castle of King Edward I, and even its ruins today sent shivers up my spine. The mighty castle overlooked the bay, and it gave me goosebumps to imagine the enemy soldiers sailing up towards the Welsh castle, having to gaze upon its obvious power and strength and fortitude, and still somehow muster the courage to approach it. As I walked through the castle, up each of its towers and along its walkways and into its rooms and furnaces and even the King’s Chamber, it wasn’t at all difficult to imagine the palace in its prime.
At last, after more driving through the rolling hills of Wales, we arrived in Llangollen. The Hand Hotel, our home for the night, is recognized for being placed amidst a very old church graveyard, and also for being haunted. Classic. We ate a splendid supper and, while we originally assumed we would be heading to bed early or simply have a lie down in our rooms, we instead made the decision to take a spontaneous hike up to the ruins at the top of the hill. “Hill,” however, is an understatement. We ran out the door without a second thought at 8:00 PM as the valley was already growing dark, we began our brisk march up the steep, towering peak that once stood as the foundation for a magnificent castle. The hike was long, tedious, and breathtaking in every sense of the word… but entirely worth it.
As we reached the summit, one by one, we finally caught sight of the ruins. We were standing in the middle of what once was a stronghold. A Citadel. A Fortress. And here it lay, at our feet. We could see the general outline, but it was nothing more than a shadow of what it once was. There were piles of stones, a single crumbling archway, the remnants of a former moat, and a short length of wall about six feet high on just one side of the plateau. We walked it, climbed it, sat on where the throne might have stood, once. We took pictures where people were once knighted, or sentenced to death. Many people had carved their names into the remnants of the structure that once stood tall and proud and intimidating.
It got me thinking about the flow of time. What sort of things have I spent my life designing and constructing that will someday meet the same destiny as the castle on top of the hill? What possessions do I prize and show off to others to admire, that will someday meet the same fate? From ashes to ashes, and from dust to dust. That is the fate of every material thing.
After taking a slow walk around the ruins, I finally took a look at the information stand. The castle had been built in the 1200s… and it had lasted less than two decades. It did not even last for twenty years before it was besieged, pillaged, and burned. After such a daunting and wearisome hike and imagining the poor souls who had to build the incredible stone castle, it made me sick to my stomach to think about how quickly it was destroyed and abandoned. And yet, we will all experience that. The things we put time and energy and effort in that will not last, it is just as pointless as that castle. The materials things we focus on and obsess over- they will fade away before we have time to enjoy them.
I think if we lived in that reality consistently, we would be much more aware of how we spend our time. Maybe, if we lived in the knowledge of the brevity of life and the frailty of this world, we would spend more time storing our treasures in heaven, rather than wasting our years toiling away at a castle that is bound to crumble. I think if we lived in such a way that we were consistently aware of the end that is rapidly hurtling towards us, we would actually be able to focus on eternity, rather than mortality.
I think we would live life the way it is meant to be lived. A life without regret. A life of eager expectation for the eternity that awaits. The life of a good and faithful steward.
The good life.
Our main objective of the day was to drive to Dublin, the capital of Ireland, and along the way visit tourist locations. The best of these was the Blarney Castle which holds the legendary Blarney Stone. Many people kissed this stone, which according to Irish tradition, gives these people eloquence. Another tourist site was the castle on the Cashel (large rock) where St. Patrick was said to kick out Satan at one point, however, our stop here was short. Once we arrived in Dublin, we did a bit of touring, mainly on O'Connels Street. There was lots of unusual festivities as it was Easter Monday. After a while, we went for dinner, Irish stew, and then went to an Irish dance and music concert where the audience consisted of people from many parts of the world.
When travelling, it really pays off to become a morning person. With a 6:30 wakeup, the day went by so wonderfully slow. It was like we experienced 3 days in one. Jumping at every opportunity, running to take chances, going the extra few steps just to get a better view, and exploring from morning til night... I'm in my element. Being Easter Sunday, we started off the day with a 6:30 wakeup and a service at St. Mary's Cathedral. It was eye-opening, being my first experience at a Catholic Mass, but the 200-year-old ethereal sanctuary was a beautifully serene place to reflect and ponder. The quiet, reverent service was refreshing, and it was incredible to see that when it comes to the foundations, there is not much that separates us. Worshiping in a still and solemn way was different, but brought new perspective to my typical view of Easter. It was hard to give a single thought to bunnies and chocolate eggs or even flowers and sunshine when we were in that massive stone cathedral. While our beliefs may differ on a number of points, one thing was sure: I was reminded today of God's holiness, and my lowliness. I had a chance to be still and patient and speechless before God, and simply close my eyes and reflect on His sacrifice. No music, no performance, no over-the-top production. A little bit of tradition went a long way today, I guess. We had the lovely opportunity to spend a few hours before lunch exploring Killarney at our leisure. One of the options was a jaunty cart tour and me, being the eager beaver that I am, leapt at the chance. Our guide took us to meet Delilah, our noble steed. She was midnight black, and full of sass. Getting in to my spot in the front seat beside the driver, she actually started to leave the lot... with the driver a ways away sorting things out with another jaunty cart. I grabbed the reigns, naturally, and stopped the horse from abandoning our guide, but the situation was hilarious, nontheless. We've gotten to experience the authentic Irish weather here in every way. Today, we saw all four seasons. On the jaunty cart ride, we were pelted with ice-cold rain and had to snuggle under a tarp. Our faces were freezing, but the experience was incredible. We were taken around the lake. There were castle ruins on an island in the middle, and crumbling stone structures along the way. A group of sika deer came to greet us as we trotted along, but as we were riding past the National Park, we actually spotted a red stag- a rare sighting, according to our delighted cabby. About halfway through the jaunty cart ride, the skies cleared up and the sun made its first appearance of the day. We were all feeling like we'd been touring for days already, only to find out it was not even 11:00 in the morning. We piled on the bus, and set off for the next venture of the day: The Ring of Kerry. Wow. That was the word of the day, and I predict it'll be the word of the week. 180 kilometers of such natural beauty. 180 kilometers of some of the most scenic, vast, and boundless landscape I've ever seen. The wild wind that had earlier brought us sleet and hail and rain, continued to blow, even in the sun, which turned out to be the best thing ever, and I'll tell you why. Along the Ring of Kerry, there were a number of stops we made. Different lookouts and towns dotted the way, and made for some jaw-dropping spectacles. I was finally introduced to the Atlantic Ocean, in person, for the first time in my life. I've been a Pacific person for 18 years, never having a chance to see any other coastline. That changed today, and it was unbelievable. The mighty winds that made it impossible to walk straight made for the hugest waves I've ever seen. The tide was as wild as anything. The powerful wind and the incredible surf was indescribable. We stopped by the beach, and spent the time running from the rapid tide, and simply staring at the gigantic waves crashing against the rocks and tumbling towards the shore. Aside from the thousands of sheep spread across every other field, Ireland has proven to be more green, lush, and pure than anywhere else I can think of. The immense mountains and the deep valleys and the narrow, winding roads made me giddy as we drove for hours through the beautiful, sunny panorama. I felt like we had stepped into a calendar; a living, vibrant postcard. From visiting the locals in the tiniest little villages to beholding the paramount swells and rushing, towering, thundering waves... today was beyond belief. So much awe and wonder in such a short amount of time, small wonder people get addicted to travel so easily. I know I do! Every minute we step foot into somewhere new, there's no better place to be. Turning around and backtracking is secondary to moving forward, rounding the next bend, and discovering the next part of the story.
We made it! We are in Ireland safe and sound, and are now in our lovely hotel. Even though most of us cannot think straight due to the lack of sleep, we are all very excited to be here and start our tour.
As we bused down from Cork to Killarney, we saw beautiful green fields, and houses that look so different from the ones back home. One thing that stuck out to me today were the ruin castles on our journey here. Most of them seem to be in fields, surrounded by sheep or some other sort of livestock. It's strange to think how these pieces of architecture, are just there without any big importance. We have jumped into a completely different culture, and we are slowly coming to realize this as we make our journey. All of us are so excited to learn more about this land and their people who call it home. We are ready for another full day tomorrow. Please continue to pray for us as we continue our journey!
Day 1 - Minus 13 Hours
I am sitting here going over a thousand things, only to conclude that I am a bit OCD for my own good! I packed on Monday and so I have nothing to distract me from my excitement! I hope the students are having better luck than I in this regard, but I dare not look at Facebook to confirm my suspicions that they too are too excited to sleep. As we go I think it is important, more than anything else, that we hold true to Psalm 72 (from which our theme verse came). I ask that when you pray for us, which will hopefully be often (as we will for you), that you would ask God to make these verse live in our hearts, so we may be His hands and feet wherever we go. Of course your prayers to hold the rain in abeyance would also be more than welcome :P
Psalm 72 - ESV
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
5 May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
7 In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
8 May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
9 May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!
12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.
15 Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!
17 May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!
18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!
20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.