Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, + One Boat: A European Travel Blog

GERMANY, BULGARIA, ATHENS, AND CRETE

North Rhine-Westphalia :  This two-week adventure started out in the beautiful villages of a small part of Germany in the region of the North Rhine-Westphalia. This is a special place to me because our family lived there for 4 years, and also because we made lifelong friends there who we now love to visit. Absolutely you can and should visit the grand cities of Germany. Berlin was one of our favorites. Köln, Dusseldorf, Munich, Dresden (still haven’t been to Dresden) and many others. But like any country, it is not surprising to know that some of the best visiting can be had in the small towns and villages. They tell you a different story of the people, their history and what they stand for. Isn’t it the same in the USA? I think everyone should be able to visit and enjoy the likes of NYC and Chicago for instance, at least once! But my husband and I both agree that bringing our international friends to the rolling hills of the Texas hill country, or the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, or through the small quaint towns of the lower South like Hattiesburg, or one of my personal Southwest favorites, Oklahoma City, OK, these embody so well the diverse demographics and geography of this country. All of these places would undoubtedly give them an insider’s look at our great home and the Americans who inhabit it. A far different landscape than what is offered by the largest cities in America. So that brings me back to where we started. Yes, what I fondly refer to as the GK area of Germany. GK is a region on the borders of Belgium and Holland, so named for the bigger, but not so big town of Geilenkirchen where a NATO base is tucked away in the countryside surrounded by numerous small villages. The villages are all connected by miles and miles of intersecting farm roads useful for walking your dogs, running, biking, or just frolicking, while dodging the occasional farm tractor. On this particular trip, it was my intention to wear down my jet lag for a couple of days while simultaneously visiting my dear friends in the sleepy villages of GK before heading off to the uncharted territory of Bulgaria. (Uncharted is simply a euphemism for no stamp in my passport). I was pleasantly rewarded with beautiful sunshine and highs in the 60’s-not usual weather for February in Germany. On a practical note, you might be thinking “But Judy where would we stay? Where are the Holiday Inns? The BNB’s in these little villages?” No worries. German Guest Houses (die Gästehäuser) are peppered virtually all over the country. Many of them have breakfast options. All of thehave extreme ambience and friendly hosts! 

 I flew into Amsterdam, practically charged through customs, and with no checked bag, proceeded directly to the train ticket queue and bought myself a train ticket direct to Sittard, NL. Sittard is literally a part of GK but on the Holland side. Don’t worry they all speak English. Nederlanders (German speak for Netherlanders) have been watching American television for literally their whole lives, not to mention, they start English at quite an early age in grade school. Super friendly people. Frankfurt Airport is also just a short 2.5-hour drive to GK. Dusseldorf even closer. You’ll most likely want a car for tootling around the villages. As an added plus, they drive on the right side of the road in both Holland and Germany! You might be interested in knowing that GK is an excellent springboard to all points Belgium, Luxembourg, beautiful Alsace, even Paris. (Yes, that is Paris, France) I will let the pictures I have attached here do the rest of the work of this blog in explaining why it is I love this place so much. But remember, you don’t have to go to GK to find this! Pick a “small town” part of Germany you have always wanted to visit and go! You will find the same farm roads, the same ambience, and the same friendly people. Auf Wiedersehen for now. 

North Rhine-Westphalia

BULGARIA: Once I was in GK, I picked up a traveling partner, a good friend of mine who shares my wanderlust for travel. It was also Rebecca’s first time to Bulgaria so that made the journey even sweeter. We turned a rental car into its proper place at the Frankfurt Airport, and from there caught a flight on a regional airline, (this time Aegean Air-$34 plus about $20 for my checked bag) to Sofia. It was just over a 2-hour flight into the small super manageable airport of Sofia, Bulgaria. We were met by friends. Wouldn’t you know it? Expat friends who now live here. Such are the opportunities one exploits when one has friends living in, not only other areas of the world, but even other areas of the USA! We offer the same hospitality in return. So, I don’t have any hotel info to give you with regard to Sofia, since we lodged with our friends, but I will tell you that one of my favorite booking sites for Europe is Booking.com. You can apply an abundance of filters. I simply have them listed in order of their reviews, starting with the highest to the lowest. I find a price that works for me matched with nothing less than a score of 7 (out of 10 possible review points). It’s a great hotel booking site and the AP is super good. And about the food here, delicious and so cheap. You will not be disappointed by the quality or the price!

 Bulgaria is a fascinating country in that they were oppressed and ruled by many factions since ancient times. But in 1396, the Ottoman Empire completed its conquest of Bulgaria. And for the next five centuriesit was known as the era of the “Turkish yoke”. (BBC.com) After hundreds of years of oppression by the Turks, Bulgaria mostly gained their independence by way of the Treaty of San Stefano – signed by Russia and Turkey at the end of their war of 1877-78. But then with only about 36 years under their belt managing a very fragile and ever developing independent state, WWI started, and the Bulgarians were allied with the Germans. From one frying pan to another they did go. The same was their fate for WWII, and in 1944 the Soviet army invaded German-occupied Bulgaria adding Bulgaria to the long list of Soviet Eastern Bloc countries where communism could oppress and consume its inhabitants. Finally, in 1991 a new constitution proclaimed Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provided a broad range of freedoms. A president was elected for the first time ever in 1992. Oftentimes, I have been in Eastern Bloc countries and felt like the people there were a little stiff, rough around the edges, and not overly friendly. Well, that’s a natural fall out of both oppression and living under post war communism for years. But surprisingly (or not so) Bulgarians were the opposite of this. They were by and large, very friendly and super open to tourists treading the streets of their cities and forests. I knew not one single word of Bulgarian, but they did their very best with the English words and phrases they knew. The Bulgarians still use the Cyrillic alphabet. BUT as an added bonus for touring here, all placards and signs are in English alongside the Bulgarian language, including the Metro system. That is a huge benefit. The ability to navigate a city’s metro system in your own language can never be understated. Take it from me. In fact, I find the NYC subway system much more confusing. (I mean seriously what’s wrong with just using normal destination points for your anchors? I mean what’s with all the uptown, downtown stuff??) All my NYC friends and family members are laughing about right now. 

 In Sofia, we did a tour with Association 365 tours, https://365association.org/These are free city tours and I highly recommend them. Nikki was our guide in Sofia. His English was near perfect and his demeanor light and friendly along with a great sense of humor and large heart for his city. I love these kinds of tours especially when I am in a new place. It offers a great overview of the history and culture of the country with specific information about the city you are touring. Likewise, we did a day trip to Plovdiv and also did a 365 tour there, this time with Elijah who, like Nikki in Sofia, was a native of Plovdiv. The “old town” Centres of Plovdiv and Sofia are not going to look like the “old towns” of most western European cities. Indeed, that is a distinct difference between the Eastern and Western Bloc countries of Europe. It’s as if the personal histories of the Eastern Bloc countries were sort of frozen in time as they were oppressed by dictators. Their creativity and freedom so inhibited and squashed for so long, they are still catching up to the ambience and the quaintness of what you get accustomed to seeing in western Europe. Sofia, in the downtown area, and even stretching beyond that boundary, still have the buildings and the architecture from the Stalin era. Those geometric shapes and sharp corners seem cold and ominous compared to the more personal and intimate experience you find when you wander into the side streets of Sofia and Plovdiv. There you will find the Centre, or old town, not nearly as pristine as their western neighbors, but yet a culture (their culture) that has slowly reemerged and is even yet emerging, from the rubble of hundreds of years of violent and oppressive rule both in ancient times and during the cold war of post WWII. I found this to be a personally invigorating reset button for my own appreciation of the freedoms I take for granted. Freedoms to be creative. Freedoms to love and serve others.  And freedom to just live without the yoke of oppression in a place where I am FREE to move about, worship, work, serve, speak, and drive. Well, you get the picture. 

Sofia

Plovdiv

 One interesting story about Sofia and Bulgaria in general, then I’ll move on. According to Nikki, of all the countries from which Jews were deported to concentration camps during WWII, it just so happens that Bulgaria is not on that list. Nikki explained that in perfect Bulgarian fashion, it was one of their most annoying habits, a hallmark character trait of Bulgarians everywhere, which saved the lives of Bulgarian Jews. They simply procrastinated. They did not hand over any Jews to the Nazis for deportation, claiming, “Oh we still need them for this or that factory or for this or that task.” Somehow or another, when that wrathful war was finally over and done, not one single Jew had been deported to the concentration camps from Bulgaria. Really, that is amazing. Meanwhile, however, this was not the case for Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied territories such as Greece and Macedonia. About 11,000 Jews from these occupied territories ended up in death camps. Ostensibly, they were too far out of the reach of those efforts being made insideBulgaria. But history would certainly indicate that Bulgarians did all they could to aggravate the Nazis in their evil effort. And I think thatdeserves notice. 

 My favorite day in Bulgaria was had in the mountains just under 2 hours from the city of Sofia. It was mostly highway driving to the Rila Monastery which sits at the foot of the beautiful Rila mountains. After touring the monastery on our own, we found the untrodden, off the beaten path to the Ossuary (literally means a place for the bones of the dead). This short walk took us blissfully away from the crowds at the monastery right next to the babbling brook and beautiful waterfalls of a beautiful creek along side the Ossuary. The Church of the Ossuary was built specifically for cemetery rituals. It was completely deserted when we visited it. Golden silence so that all you could hear were the birds and the rushing waterfalls of the creek. If you visit the Rila monastery, don’t miss the Ossuary. The path entrance is located directly behind the monastery and to the right of the restaurant and shops.  After the Ossuary, we got back into our car and took the road farther still about 4 or 5 km on past the monastery, to a trail head for Saint Ivan Rilski’s cave. Parking was very easy. Rilski was the first Bulgarian Hermit. He was born in approximately 876 AD. His cave is about a 20-minute hike that is pretty rocky so make sure you have good hiking shoes. When you get to the top, you will see a small chapel. Right behind it you will find a small dark cave in the rocks – the place where the saint spent some years fasting and where originally, his remnants were buried. Enter the cave and climb the wooden stairs leading to the higher exit through a tiny rock chimney. Thankfully I had my iPhone flashlight. If you keep climbing a little further up after the cave, you will see the prayer rock where people can write down a prayer and stick it in crevices of the rock.

Bulgarian Mountains: Saint Rilskie’s Cave

ATHENS:  Another new stamp in my passport. And apparently there are multiple flights direct between Athens and various commercial airline hubs in the states. That’s helpful for traveling between the two. Even if you book extra connections in order to get lower price tickets, your preferred US commercial airline may indeed fly right into Athens. On another note, even if they don’t, they are generally allied with European partners. Like for instance, my preferred airline (UAL) is a part of the Star Alliance that includes both Lufthansa and Aegean Airlines. Delta and American all have their own alliance partners. I am just saying this because, it is yet another feature of major air travel that makes your seemingly crazy travel itinerary even more doable.  

Back to ATHENS!  The history, and as well, the bible history in Athens is incredible. The Roman and Greek history is off the chart. And I have news for all of you, Roman and Greek history is OUR American history as well. In some form or another, we have roots in Ancient Roman and Greek culture. Whether that be ethnic heritage, theology, faith, superstition, or our career fields. These two forces of human spirit and ingenuity forged a path for art, architecture, bridge building, plumbing, civil engineering (every type of engineering you can imagine), politics, law, not to mention relationships (whether good or bad). They certainly have offered us a timeless framework of leadership: how to or how not to lead others. Athens has a bigger, more modern city for sure, but it is ensconced by ancient history, rich with stories and voices of the past. Stories that bridge the ancient with the modern in an extraordinary and telling way. The Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temples of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Mars Hill-The Aeropogus. Athens is simply jaw dropping beauty and the hiking is wonderful, so put on your hiking shoes! The newer Acropolis museum is a delightful accompaniment to the Ancient Acropolis itself. And soon (I must go back) they are opening up an entire new exhibit on the lower floor, actual excavated ancient city structures that you can meander through and among. You can see the beginnings of it now under a glass walking path as you are entering the museum. The Athenians are pretty welcoming people too. And in case you’re wondering, yeap I booked my hotel on booking.com here and had a simply marvelous hotel right in the Centre of old Athens called Phidias Hotel. The breakfast was seriously off the chart, one of the best ever I have enjoyed eating. It was included in my hotel price. Delicious. Now, I was there in comfortable February weather. I don’t think this hotel comes with air conditioning (most European hotels don’t unfortunately), and I can only imagine how warm it might be in the summer. So, if that is a consideration for you…… 

Ancient Acropolis

Around Athens

            I try not to spend too much time in my travel blogs giving you the historical details of each site. I want to. I want you to get caught up in the excitement and the passion of the rich and fascinating history of these places just like I am. But, part of my goal is to get you to explore further on your own. There is an enormous amount of wonderful factual information on the web about all of these places. I just want to give you a glimpse into my own journey, maybe offer up my personal travel hacks and favorite places, entice you with the pictures, and then send you OUT to research and plan on your own, drawing on a plethora of wonderful resources available to do just that. But I want to add a personal note here about my faith journey on this trip. I was so emotionally moved while standing at nearly the very spot on the Areopagus where Paul the Apostle spoke the exact words you find in the last section of Acts 17. I could easily imagine what he was dealing with at the time. He was surrounded by temples to pagan gods as far as the eye could see. Read Acts 17 for yourselves. Include that in the research you undertake on Athens. It is a part of you too, whether you believe in God, in Jesus or not. Just like the prolific paganism of ancient Rome is an intricate and undeniable part of our ancestry and our own inheritance and theology that we have today, so is God, Yahweh. He has a place in your history too. Whether you are a believer or not, bible history is still a part of your past, a past that has shaped our own culture and who we have become these thousands of years since. 

Ancient Areopagus

ANCIENT CORINTH (Day Trip from Athens):  We did a private car tour with “Tours by Locals” to Ancient Corinth. I really like Tours by Locals because they give you private drivers! And the tour guides are truly knowledgeable. Not in all cases though will they actually accompany you to the site. They will answer any and all questions you have while in the car together, but they deliver you to the tourist spots to do a self-tour. Vassilios did not accompany us to the site in Corinth. He was a talkative and totally engaging person and full of great information and questions. Anyway, Ancient Corinth should be largely absorbed in beautiful silence, introspective meditation, and contemplation. It was also here that Paul the Apostle spent the better part of two years living with the Corinthian church he had planted in this very place, teaching and admonishing them. There is a museum adjacent to Ancient Corinth that is run by Americans of all people.  The building was designed by Stuart Thompson, following the architectural model of the “Chicago school”. It is a really terrific museum. And this is why I would say you need more time here at Corinth than what the Tours by Localstour afforded us. It was a full day tour that took in several sites in Athens before leaving for Corinth. So, I did not have enough time in Ancient Corinth to include getting through the museum. 

Ancient Corinth

            But now more on our tour guide. He had great questions about my personal faith and my church. Like, “How many times a week do you go to church services?” For instance, most Athenians are orthodox Greek and by the time they are out of their teens, they only go to church occasionally. He was stupefied by the fact that I go to church weekly and, stop the press, have a small group that meets in our home. He was further fascinated that we don’t require a priest either for our church services, or for taking the holy sacraments of communion. I explained the role of our pastors. They bring the gospel to the local churches weekly or as often as they meet, admonishing them and encouraging them in the Word, not unlike Paul the Apostle. And also, pastors are charged with challenging their church family (just like the Berean Christians in the middle of Acts 17) to open up their own bibles and read the scripture on their own, “testing” what the pastor says against what they find for themselves in scripture. Bill was super impressed by my bible knowledge. Now, I want to add here the irony of this. He would have been super impressed by most American protestant bible knowledge. Because in the Greek Orthodox faith, they simply don’t study the bible for themselves. So, suffice to say my tour guide was fascinated by our personal faith stories.

THE CORINTH CANAL:  The Corinth Canal is a waterway that crosses the narrow Isthmus of Corinth to link the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. As such, the canal separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, turning it into an island. The Corinth Canal is an important navigational route which once allowed ships to enter the Aegean Sea. Dug through the Isthmus at sea level, the canal is 6.4 kilometers long with a width of only 25 meters. Impossible for modern ships to go through, the canal has now lost any significant economic importance it once had.” (The Culturetrip.com) It was a site to behold just before heading into Ancient Corinth. 

Corinth Canal

CHANIA, CRETE:  This is my second time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Specifically, both of those visits have been to Chania (pronounced Hon-ya) So yes, I am feeling strongly like the next time I get to Crete, I need to explore another part of this lovely island. 

Getting there from Athens:  Again, you can fly super cheap from Athens.  And the flight is only about 40 minutes from push back to landing. OR you can be extra adventurous and do what my friend Clarissa and I did. We took the ferry. Yeah, finally remember the title of this blog, “Planes Trains and Automobiles, + One Boat? ”Well, the one boat was indeed the ferry. Specifically, Minoan Lines, and we sailed on the ship Myokas Palace. It’s an overnight ferry. We set sail about 8:30 pm fromThe Port of Piraeus in Athens and docked in Chania about 4:30 am. You can spend next to nothing and just sleep in fairly comfortable recliner seats all night. They look a lot like airplane seats, but they recline more, and they have triple the leg room. OR you can do what we did, still spend next to nothing (59 euro per person) and actually get a room with beds and a shower. I have to lay down in a bed and sleep as much as possible. I am getting old. The ship is loaded with bars, grills, restaurants and fabulously comfortable lounges with comfy chairs, couches and tables. For 5 euro you can get 10 hours worth of wifi. But I warn you. It’s not that good. We docked right on time and disembarked incredibly quickly. I have a feeling the ship will get much busier in the summer. Our ride picked us up and off we went. Oh yeah, I stayed with an expat friend here too. So, no lodging this time. BUT, the first time I was here (July 2016), my friend Rebecca and I, along with 4 kids between us, reserved a BNB and got a beautiful apartment, super big and loaded with amenities for 750 euros for 4 nights, which we split between two families. So, BNB’s are prolific here and don’t forget my favorite hotel booking website, booking.com. It’s always good.

Myokas Palace

            Chania’s old town is especially beautiful. The alleyways of the oldest district, which seems to be the artisan shop district, is simply enchanting. You can’t miss it. It is directly behind the Fort. Also walk through the many fun shops in the next section over which dumps you out to Starbucks (surprise surprise) and the lovely Chania harbor. Walk the long, but lazy meandering way to the lighthouse. Bask in the beauty of the Mediterranean and take a ton too many pictures because you just can’t help yourself. I was here in July the first time I visited, and it was lovely but hot. This time February was just captivating. And the mountains were all still snowcapped.

            Besides old town and the harbor, other favorite sites adorned with jaw dropping beauty and wonder are the ancient Aptera ruins just outside the city. Also, Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach are absolute must sees. The summer is especially nice because they are great swimming spots, especially Stephanou Beach. The Mediterranean Sea is by far my favorite swimming hole. NOW driving to both the Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach is a little scary. You can get on a boat in Chania that will sail you to Balos. But we didn’t know that. Yes, rent a car in Chania. It’s nice and necessary for getting around the island unless you’re literally staying in Chania town and can cab everywhere. But you won’t do that after reading this blog right? Anyway, knowing how to drive a stick shift is a nice skill to have here, but if you can’t, make a special request for an automatic. I also found the stick shift helpful for driving up up up to Balos Lagoon and Stefanou Beach (which when you arrive at each of them, you must then hike down down down to the beach). So, make sure you have go with hiking shoes, loads of sun screen, drinking water, snacks, and an off the chart anticipation of the ginormous explosion of nature that awaits you.

 On my most recent trip to Chania, Clarissa, Keisha and I visited the Gouverneto Monastery just East of Chania. We were able to park our car at the monastery and the drive there was easy! But from this monastery we hiked (yeap solid hiking shoes and a hiking stick are helpful) about 2 miles to a nearly deserted and rocky beach that had turquoise waters and offered another stellar surreal swimming experience. Between the starting point of the Gouverneto monastery and the beach is a trail which takes you past multiple ruins in the sides of the mountains of old abandoned monasteries, for instance Katholiko Monastery, or Monastery of St John the Hermit, or simply Katholiko. After the last abandoned monastery, you find yourself hiking the last few minutes in the Avaki Gorge. This was the best last day I spent on this most recent trip to Chania. I think hiking in nature is close in proximity to the very heart of God. Thus, when I am in a place like this, beholding such beauty, I can’t help but stare into the heavens and just say, “Thank you God.” I hope you get to experience this hike in all of its natural wonder and glory. The craggy beach at the end is a sweet sweet reward for the moderate hike. (Compared to the hike down to Stephanou beach, this one was easy peasy.) The water changes colors as the sun shines on it. The way it feels on your skin when you’re swimming or floating in it, is also indescribable.  

Avaki Gorge Hike

FOOD IN GREECE:  Remember what I said about the Bulgarian food? Same for Greece. Yeap, ditto! It is ALL GOOD. I mean delicious. And again, the yogurt in this place is better than the best ice cream you have ever eaten. Not to compare it to ice cream. Because it is not a worthy comparison. I just want you to know what pleasure awaits you as you eat either Bulgarian or Greek yogurt.  

Protestant churches though few, are synonymous with diversity here. You truly get an idea, at least on some level, what it must have been like for Paul the Apostle as he traveled the region with his spiritual brothers and sisters planting churches. I love my church home in Houston, and one reason I love it is because my pastor and the leadership, and all my fellow church attendees are so intent on being a colorful congregation, not full of folks who look exactly alike. But I am not going to lie. It doesn’t come natural to us in the USA to do this. We all just naturally tend to segregate ourselves in churches. Yes, some churches are a better blend of multiple ethnic backgrounds than others. But as a whole, it is still a struggle in 2019. As a general rule, this is not so among protestant gatherings when traveling in Europe.  It is so when you are in orthodox churches in Europe. But though the protestant offerings are very few, I feel it is exactly BECAUSE of that reason, that generally they are very diverse. Anyway, not to beat a dead horse, just a fascinating observation. And not only that, but they are some of the most loving bodies I have ever known. They don’t hand out surveys or have you jump through lots of hoops if you are in need. They just act and look so much like the church of Acts 2. Pooling their efforts and their “stuff” and then making sure that people who are hurting have what they need. I had the opportunity to attend a diverse Hillsong service in Sofia Bulgaria. And in Crete I had the special privilege of attending a protestant church that meets in a coffee shop. They are small but mighty. They include English, Americans, Cretans, Russians, Afghani Refugees, and many others.  What love they showed to me a complete stranger. What lessons they gently taught me about love and Godly hospitality. 

WHAT THE LOCALS SAY ABOUT……..

Their government: The Bulgarians and Cretans that we had the privilege of talking to about such things, beyond food and tourism, both cited a strong distaste for years of oppressive governments. Whether that was communism or socialism. Our Bulgarian tourists emphasized the oppression and violence that was a hallmark of their government for so long. It was stifling and murderous. In Bulgaria during communism rule, you could be murdered for being a song writer. Only in the last two decades has Bulgaria really began to emerge from the damage resulting from years of communism first, and then socialism. 

 Our Crete tour guide lamented that today, about 75% of a person’s earnings is taken by the Greek government for taxation. Shops are closed by the scores. The reason is two-fold. First, the shop owners are so heavily taxed, they cannot stay afloat. Secondly, this is coupled with the locals who themselves are so heavily taxed, they can’t afford to shop. So business stops. And we were witness to the scores of shops and restaurants closed along our route. Our tour guide said that personally he enjoys eating out and socializing at his local restaurant as well, but he cannot go often because he is so heavily taxed. He also added that the only two groups who can be bribed in Greece are the very rich and the very poor. Greece seems to be one of those countries with one foot in “developed 1st world country,” while the other foot struggles to stay out of “under developed 3rdworld country.” 

On my tour in Sofia, I made friends with “Mike,” from London. Mike was visiting Bulgaria for a dental appointment to do routine dental work with dentures. I asked why in the world would he come all the way to Bulgaria for dental work. He said, “In England, it would take a year to get this routine work done.” His additional comments were not complimentary of the health care that is available in the UK.  I have a Dutch friend who is a cancer survivor. She said she strictly sees a homeopathic provider now because the traditional health care provided by the State doesn’t pay for anything to the point of refusing standard and necessary tests. This is not a new story of how health care operates in most of western Europe. I have received many such stories from my European friends. 

And Their God:  I find a majority of people on two ends of the religious spectrum with a much smaller number in between. On one end are the devout orthodox still committed to the liturgy found in their orthodox services. And on the other end are those who have walked away from religion all together because it holds no personal meaning for them. In Europe, religions have long been a product of the state. Very seldom is there any such thing as separation of Church and state. Indeed, in Germany and many other countries, part of your taxes is paid into the state Church. Typically, you must renounce yourself from that religion in order to extract yourself from the tax obligation. Protestants have been present among the religious throngs for centuries. But their history in Europe (believe you me) is not pristine either. Centuries of religious hostility and violence coupled with longstanding legalism, form a backdrop for the total disdain you find today among much of the younger (and middle aged) people across the continent. Indeed, the bible’s message of Grace has yet to be fully injected into the mainstream of religious bodies in Europe. 

So there, a little of this and a lot of that. I hope you have enjoyed this travel blog. It is a lot different from my usual travel blog. But my goodness there are so many stories and insights and so much more to be learned about our European neighbors. Do whatever you can to get there. You will never regret it. The beauty of both landscapes, people and nature continue to blow my mind. 

Greece