Sounds of Silence

Silence comes from many sources, as darkness comes in many shades. Silence from those whose lives were taken or voices silenced. Silence through technology that brings people together by keeping them apart. Silence from commercialism that values things more than people. Silence from fear that has sparked new life to nationalism all over the world. Our world becomes ever smaller and ever darker.

And so on the darkest day of the year, listening to the sounds of silence, let’s remember that when all the evils from Pandora’s box were released, all that remained was hope. People may be the cause of these problems, but people are also surely the solution.


The Sound Of Silence
by Paul Simon

(Click here for my new favorite version of this song by Disturbed.)

Frankfurt Holocaust Memorial Wall
Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall in Frankfurt

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Brussels cobblestone street

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

Dublin pub
Church behind McD’s and money exchange in Vienna

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

Watching the light show through camera phones in Frankfurt (German Reunification Day)
Paris subway station

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Downtown Dresden
“Welcome culture” for Syrian refugees caricature in Frankfurt

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

Frankfurt Red Light District
Red Light District in Amsterdam
Tourist season in Amsterdam

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

Panier district of Marseille
Revolution mural in Leipzig
Graffitti-allowed wall in Prague

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

Signs of globalization in Bucharest
Political palindromes in a London underground station
Political palindromes in a London underground station

And tenement halls

Housing in Bucharest

And whispered in the sounds of silence”


European Feast

European Feast

In honor of not cooking this Thanksgiving, here are some of my all-time favorite food and drink pictures from all over Europe over the last three years. Guten Appetit & Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: I wasn’t too big on taking food pictures until recently. A few not pictured favorites include mussels in Belgium, Indonesian food in the Netherlands, Sacher torte (a kind of chocolate cake) in Austria, stuffed peppers in Romania, Scotch and shortbread in Scotland; Guinness in Ireland, fondue and Raclette in Switzerland, pasta-sauerkraut-cheese stir fry in the Czech Republic, smoked salmon in Sweden and Norway, and gelato, coffee, pizza, etc., etc. in Italy.

Much More than Just Waffles

One of many Belgian chocolate/candy shops
One of many Belgian chocolate/candy shops

Most countries have invisible borders. A sign, sure. And sometimes a river or mountain range or some other physical boundary. Crossing into Belgium from Germany, however, seems to involve passing through a thick white curtain of fog. Last weekend this was, of course, no exception.

Once through the fog, being in Belgium is like walking through a dream. Rich delicious chocolates, world-famous beers, fresh mussels, Belgian waffles, and the birthplace of “French” fries. It seems to me that Belgians must be the happiest people in the world.

It’s been a busy month, but I can’t let it go by without sharing at least a few highlights of two fascinating cities that James and I visited with our friend Justin while he was here on vacation:

Possibly the most interesting experience in this country is traveling an hour northwest from Bruxelles (aka Brussels) to Brugge (aka Bruges) and learning that the common language has changed from French to Dutch.

Tin Tin mural. Belgium is the birthplace of Tin Tin and the Smurfs, among other cartoons
Tin Tin. Belgium is the home of Tin Tin, the Smurfs, and other cartoon characters


In short: Capital city of both Belgium and the European Union

2014 Flower Carpet
2014 Flower Carpet

Most impressive sight: The Flower Carpet consists of over 1,800 square meters of begonias in the main square (Grand Place) displayed every two years. It’s an absolutely incredible site, particularly when viewed from above. We opted for a view from the Brussels City Museum balcony so we could learn more about the city’s history along the way.

A few of the many costumes on display
A few of many costumes on display

Also don’t miss: Manneken-Pis. Actually, I guess you could skip this tiny but absurdly famous attraction which is exactly what it sounds like: a bronze statue of a brash boy peeing in a fountain. But do make sure to see the exhibit on the top floor of the Brussels City Museum dedicated to this little imp. He has an extensive international wardrobe that you can see modeled on replicas – everything from Elvis and cosmonauts to samurais and sombreros. We saw the little guy on a rainy day so he wasn’t dressed, but usually he dons a custom-made costume to show off for visitors.



In short: Quaint city of canals and UNESCO World Heritage site (the entire city center)

Brugge city overview
Bruges city overview
One of many canals
One of many canals
Swans on a canal at night
Swans on a canal at night

Most impressive sight: The city itself. With its small town feel, narrow stone-paved streets, sprawling town squares, and historic churches, Bruges is an enchanting city to explore. The canals that wind their way around and through the center of town, and the small bridges that cross them, are well worth seeing both by day and at night.

Near the market areas of town, you can see older women with white caps hand-crafting lace. This traditional art involves a complicated system of threads attached to many thin wooden knobs that the women cross over one another in a specific pattern.

Madonna of Bruges
Madonna of Bruges

Also don’t miss: Madonna of Bruges, a sculpture by Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk). Haphazardly converted in part to a museum, the church boasts this masterpiece as the highlight of its art collection.

Tip: On a tour of the De Halve Maan brewery, a wry tour guide advised visitors to limit themselves to one Belgian beer per day due to their high alcohol contents. “I know what you’re thinking: ‘What does this old lady know about what I can handle?’ But trust me.”

Saturday Afternoon in Belgium

IMG_1498Back in the U.S., a 2 ¾ hour drive northwest of home might land me in the area of Deep Creek Lake.  From the hotel in Germany the same length trip found me, James, Steve, and a few other friends in a Belgian abbey this afternoon.  There were no frills about entering a new EU country – just a sign on the Autobahn like the signs used to mark the entry point to a new U.S. state.  When we rode into Belgium we were almost immediately greeted by a thick fog.  It was only in specific areas though, so as we drove out of it the rest of the drive consisted of sunshine, blue skies, and farm country dotted with cows.  Val-Dieu Abbey is located in the town of Aubel, Belgium, near both German and Dutch borders.  The primary language there is French, although most of the signs and products in and around the abbey were written in French, Dutch, and German (but not English).

Large and stately, 17th century Val-Dieu Abbey towered over us and a church bell clanged noon as we arrived.  The abbey brewery reopened about fifteen years ago, retaining the monks’ tradition of brewing delicious Belgian beer.  We had lunch at Le Moulin de Val-Dieu, a restaurant across from the abbey inside of a mill.  Our table was next to some of the mill gears (in motion) closer to the door than the fireplace, which made for a chilly visit.  The cozy setting, tasty French-style food and abbey-brewed beer, of course, made this well worthwhile.  I probably hadn’t had to speak French since the 6th grade, but I got by at lunch with “Bonjour” and “Merci.”IMG_1499IMG_1501IMG_1506

Afterwards we toured the inside of the abbey church with its vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows.  By the time we took a walk in the garden behind the abbey, the fog had drifted there and gave the appearance of the place a muted and dream-like quality.  Before leaving, I enjoyed a hot chocolate and bought some Belgian waffles to bring back to Mainz.  The waffles taste more like sugar cookies than anything else, but have that fluffy waffle texture.  Looking forward to many more international day trips in the weekends ahead!   IMG_1513 IMG_1512