It is day three of my time abroad, and I already feel like I belong here. Germany is astoundingly gorgeous, and I think it always smells like flowers! I actually love walking everywhere (although I have this one calf muscle that hurts right now). I'm so incredibly blessed. I keep reminding myself of the beautiful blessings of Christ Jesus that brought me to this point. I'm so in awe of His goodness and gifts to me. The Airport Stage of my trip was a little rough at first. I was nervous the entire day, for reasons I didn't understand. I've been waiting for this day since February, when I found out I was accepted to the program. I couldn't fathom why I should be afraid. While we were driving to the airport, it struck me that people are always nervous before the big things. We wait and wait and wait for these days to come, and when they're far off, they're so exciting! But I think as human beings, we strangely and falsely want the Big Things to stay far off. We like them better there. They can't hurt us or jolt us from our comfortable lives. Of course, we have to do the Big Things; otherwise we would never grow or change. And this is a Big Thing that I've wanted for so long. My mother is so full of joy and wisdom, and at this moment she was exactly what I needed. She told me how excited she was for me, and she reminded me: "Sara, this is your dream. You've been looking forward to this for four months. This is your dream." She and Jesus gave me such courage in that moment.
Security was a breeze, and the only frightening thing I had to face was the takeoff. My fear of takeoffs usually reduces me to a sobbing shell of a woman, but you guys, God is so, so good. I may have been totally engrossed in The Two Towers or in the episode of Downton Abbey on the in-flight entertainment; all I know is that I was not only outwardly composed, but I had inward peace, which I had prayed for that morning. Many thanks to those of you who were praying for me at that moment, too.
The flight was smooth, but I have trouble sleeping on planes, so I didn't sleep much (no thanks to Z-Quil) -- maybe only a couple of hours of light dozing. I'm not sorry about that, though. I woke up at 3 am local time, as we flew between Greenland and Ireland. The sunrise was the most beautiful one I've ever seen. White clouds covered the sea below, and delicate flames peeked over the eastern horizon. The sky was brushed blue. We were literally flying into the morning. Even though the psalmist couldn't have imagined flight for mankind, that must have been what he meant when he wrote, "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me."
My aunt picked me up at the airport, and we drove to Wiesbaden. This used to be a town famed for its baths; there are still places where the mineral water spouts out from the ground in fountains. My aunt showed me all around this beautiful town: grand theaters, extensive parks, and lovely restaurants. I cannot get over the Rhine (auf Deutsch: Rhein) River; it is so strong and clear and beautiful. I was suffering from jet lag -- I started falling asleep whenever I would sit down -- but somehow, some way I kept going until we got home from dinner.
I'm a major morning person, but I slept for ten hours that night, which was exactly the rest I needed. I went running in the morning in a park a block from my aunt's house, and in the surrounding back streets. Everything smelled like flowers! Running was exactly the pick-me-up my body needed after a day of travel, but the best part? All the streets had names of Wagner operas and characters: Parsifalstraße, Nibelungenstraße, and more. It was like it was meant to be!
Yesterday we saw Mainz, across the Rhine/Rhein. It's the home of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press, so of course we went to the Gutenberg Museum. We ate and spent the day with one of my aunt's friends who lives there, a wonderfully sweet lady. I figured out how to order salad without dressing, so I think I know how to efficiently communicate for the rest of my time here. #sass I also know about three or four ways to order regular, non-fizzy water.
We saw three churches in Mainz, all beautiful, all different. One was the Domkirche, the main church in town that dominates the skyline. The second was St. Augustine, and the third St. Stephan's. God is so worthy of all the glory and beauty and grandeur of those cathedrals.
This morning, my aunt and I were up very, very early to catch the train. Trains are a fairly unknown experience for me, and I was nervous about changing the train in various cities. The worst part was my Monstrosity of a suitcase, which, in case you were wondering, is a 54-pound pain. My aunt is such a trooper, and she helped me off and on with the Monstrosity more times than I can count. We took three trains today, and on the long rides, we rode first class, with the compartment all to ourselves. I even got to call my mom from the train, which had a fantastic signal.
Austria is so incredibly beautiful. I cannot get over it. The train wound through foothills and at the bases of the Alps. The Alps are the most heartbreakingly gorgeous things I've seen in my life. They speak to me of freedom and crisp wind and such adventure. Isn't it wonderful that I AM on an adventure?
We pulled into Graz about 4:20 pm Austrian time, and after we found our hotel (an old, elegant place), we wandered around the city. At first impression, Graz is much larger than I expected it to be. It's the second-largest city in Austria -- Vienna is the largest, as you might expect -- so I'm not sure WHAT I expected, but this is so different. My well-traveled aunt told me it was like no place she had ever been before, and I, so much less well-traveled, am inclined to agree. Der Altstadt (the Old City) feels like a well-preserved Imperial center, and the newer parts of the city not only surround it, but bleed into it. There's a casino in the middle of the Hauptplatz. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic dominate; it's an excellent walking city. There are many nooks and crannies leading off the main streets; all are home to stylish shops and an endless stream of open-air cafés. It's a university town, so there are Studenten everywhere (Are you admiring my broken German?). It's such a difficult place to describe, but I'm sure I'll find the words at some point. I cannot believe that I'm living here for six weeks. Hopefully soon I'll be a de facto Grazer.
My aunt made dinner reservations tonight at pretty much the cutest place I've ever been. It was like eating at a French café inside an old German cloister. Best. Fish. Ever.
Tomorrow is the first official day of AIMS! Before dinner, my aunt and I walked by the Studentenheim ("Heim" for short) where we'll stay. It's a beautiful, majestic building, surrounded by trees, in the middle of der Altstadt. Check-in begins in the morning, and I pretty much HAVE to get there right as it opens. I don't know if I could stand it if someone else got there before I do. My heart is full to bursting. Soon, the hearings will begin, and I'm a little nervous. Hearings aren't a time of judgment, only of assessment, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to impress everyone.
As I write this, I'm sitting in our elegant hotel room after a run. That's right; I went running in the fitness room of an Austrian hotel that was built in the 1800s. I'm listening to my hearing music (Strauss forever), and a few minutes ago the Spotify ad that came on was auf Deutsch. I am so full of joy, and still pinching myself. I cannot believe this blessing. Praise Jesus forever.
Stick around! More to come, including new AIMS friends, hearings, new music, and how well I fare in German class. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your prayers. The dream begins tomorrow!