Since finishing up classes a mere three weeks ago, I’ve visited the Netherlands, France and Spain and walked off the plane in Cork with a backpack full of dirty clothes, a lighter wallet and a greater understanding of how little I understand the world.
The greatest enigma award goes to the Dutch. My fellow Crusaders and I dutifully shelled out to see the magnificent Rijksmuseum, the national art and history museum which details the country’s process of independence from Spain, accumulation of wealth during the Golden Age and domination by France under Napoleon. We dutifully did a walking tour of the city, hit the Anne Frank Huis, studied through the Van Gogh Museum, peeked into the churches and visited the strange museum of “Our Lord in the Attic” (a semi-secret Catholic church built in the 16th century). I even ate copious quanities of stroopwafel sweets and gouda cheese, tried a bit of the genever drink and sought out the highly-rated Indonesian food.
I was a bit steamed about my lack of understanding. How had I gone through the school system with only the faintest details about Henry Hudson?
Walking through Amsterdam University, I was held up for hours in the English-language bookstore (“the American Book Center”) because it was the best book store I’ve ever been inside. Moreover, no one objected to me sitting down and reading an entire book. What is this place doing in Holland?
The Dutch speak native-sounding English, house several international institutions, have given over much of their historic capital city to drug and sex tourism, have turned one of their most impressive churches (the Nieuwe Kerk in Dam Square) into a Jewish history museum and came close to electing Pim Fortuyn to high office. Color me confused.
I next spent five days in Paris, marveling at the usual delights and trying to soak up the legendary atmosphere. It was refreshing to see so many Americans again- at time I felt like I was in Washington or New York. I spent Easter Sunday in Paris, participating in the Mass at Notre Dame and wandering around the Musée d’Orsay for the rest of the day. Due to a seating shortage, I ate lunch in the museum cafe with an older woman who had taken the train up from Provence for the day just to catch the temporary exhibition on “Degas and the Nude.” Old French ladies have spunk.
From then it was on to Barcelona to meet up with a group of Holy Cross kids before embarking a trip through Andalusia with my friend Jake. I only got the quick tour through Barcelona and didn’t hear much Catalan spoken so the whole experience fed my curiosity.
Andalusia was a trek from one cheap accommodation to another, hiding from the sun and dragging ourselves into the region’s gargantuan cathedrals. However, as a veteran of high school Spanish and longtime Spanish guitarist, I got a lot out of stretches in Seville and Cordoba.
The Andalusian leg, brought the highlight of the trip. Our one full day in Granada, we hauled ourselves out of bed before sunrise to stand in line for tickets to the Alhambra Palace-Fortress nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A relic from Moorish Spain, the Berber rulers built the Alhambra to defend against attack and to create palaces and gardens that would approximate the Koran’s description of heaven. They were successful in the latter.
John Condon '13