Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

Since we drove down to Lithuania to visit Trakai Castle, on the way back to Riga, we decided to go to the Hill of Crosses.  I'm not sure of the entire history of the place, but I do know that until 1989, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and as such, religious freedom wasn't something that they enjoyed.  For many Christians, the cross is the symbol of what Christ did.  As Latter-Day-Saints, the cross is not something that we tend to focus on.  We focus more on the agony that he suffered in Gethsemene and His resurrection.
I had known about the Hill of Crosses, but because of the way we believe, I wouldn't have been disappointed if I hadn't seen it.  However, Mindy really wanted to go, so I put it on the itinerary.  We had a bit of a difficult time actually finding it, the one time Google Map directions seemed to fail me.  However, we keep on searching for it, and as luck would have it, we found it!
As Mindy and I were walking towards the hill, we were talking.  I mentioned that I didn't know how long I would want to stay, but that she could stay as long as she wanted.  I said about how we don't focus on the cross, that it was a very minor thing in the whole process.  As I got thinking about what the Savior did, I could feel the Spirit testifying again to me of the truthfulness of this, and as always happens tears filled my eyes.  Especially when we had gotten close enough to see some of the crosses.  It hurts me to see depictions of the Savior on the cross.  Especially the ones that show him in agony.  I just have a really hard time looking at these depictions, and a lot of the crosses had them. 
As we got closer, there was one thing that stood out far more than the thousands of crosses that were there.
A carved wooden depiction of the Christus.  The resurrected Savior.  This is why what he did was so important.  He was able to overcome death, and since he paid the price for our sins, he is able to interceed for us.  It testifies of his divinity and his love for us.  While I am still not a fan of crosses, I am glad that I went to the Hill of Crosses because not everyone has the truth, but this place shows that even though they do not have the full truth, they are doing the best they can and that his message will transend all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trakai Castle, Lithuania

One thing about Europe is the ease of traveling.  Countries are so close here and with the European Union, traveling around Europe has never been easier.  In Arizona, it takes me almost three hours to get from my condo in Chandler to my parent's house in Lakeside.  Well, here I can drive an hour and a half in any direction and be in four different countries!
The last weekend that Mindy was here, we drove down to Trakai, Lithuania to visit a castle.  The castle had been in ruins until a Lithuanian artist started a campaign to get it restored and preserved.  Actual preservation didn't start until the late 1960's.  But it has been restored and is a treasure to visit.
Me trying to scale the castle walls...I just can't help but take fun pictures! ;)
Pretending that I'm part of a castle coo...hehe...
Driving to Vilnius, which is the capital city of Lithuania.  I love how they have these big signs with the city's name...different than in the States where the city sign usually "welcome".  Here it is just a large sign with the city name...just in case you aren't sure where you are heading. ;)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Baltic Beach Fun

During the day, Mindy has been spending time on the streets of Riga while I work.  Then after work gets done, we head out to do something.  Whether it be walking the streets of Riga or going to the Occupation Museum or just going to dinner, we've been enjoying the long evenings of sun.
The same was true of Thursday night.  Lori, a friend from work, called and asked if we wanted to go to the beach and we said, "sure!"  So Thursday night after work, she picked us up from my apartment and we headed out to Jurmala.  As we were driving, I said, "Look at those clouds.  That looks like rain."  Sure enough it was raining in Jurmala, so we pulled over and had dinner and waited the storm out.  Then we drove to Jurmala and the beach.

We changed, Lori & Mindy into swimming suits, me into my workout clothes so I could go for a run.  I headed down the beach and turned around to try to meet back up with Mindy & Lori at the 5km mark.  However, I was running and still didn't meet up with them so I kept running.  I had turned around at the 3.5km mark and by the time I saw them again, I had gone 7 km!  So they didn't end up walking at all!  They saw a couple of people from work and chatted that whole time I ran.  I said that I'd walk a little way with them to cool down. 
The sun was setting and it was so beautiful.  Looking at this picture you'd think it was about 7 pm, right?  Well, you'd be wrong!  It was actually 10 PM!!!  Crazy, huh?  But still pretty.

Then Mindy got into the Baltic Ocean and I took a picture of her and then a couple with her (but I wasn't in the ocean...I'll get a picture of that yet!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Continuing on to Finland...

After spending Friday night and Saturday in Estonia, we took the Tallink Ferry to Helsinki, Finland.

Because it is summer, it doesn't get dark until really late.  The above picture looks like it was taken about 5 pm, doesn't it?  Well, it was actually taken around 8:30 pm!  It really skews your perspective of yawn, look at the sky and think "why am I yawning" and THEN you realize that it is 10 pm, duh! ;)

We stayed in Espoo, Finland near church and not too far from the Helsinki Temple.  Sunday we went to church in Espoo as well.  A lot of the members there speak English, so they were able to translate for us.  Although all the singing was in Finnish...and let's just say: Finnish is hard to pronounce!  But we did the best we could (they like double vowels and double consonants).  And then visited the temple grounds.

Monday I showed Mindy where to take the ferry over to the island while I went to the Embassy to purchase some food (many of you know my issue with allergies here). Then we walked around the warf, looked at the goods for sale, had a salad for lunch and kept walking around the tourist area.  We had to be back on the ferry at 4:30 to head back to Tallinn then drive home to Riga.  Which we didn't get back to Riga until midnight! (Note to self: do not take the ferry that late or stay in Tallinn! hehe)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Visiting friend and Estonia :)

My friend Mindy Sanders flew into Latvia to visit me...actually, let's be honest, she came to visit a new country!  I just happen to be here ;)  No seriously, she came to vist me and the country.  With the location of Latvia and the European Union, it is easy to visit other countries and doesn't take long either.  So, Friday after work, we drove to Tallinn, Estonia and stayed the night. 

Me at our hotel in Tallinn

The view from our Hotel

Then got up and toured Old Town Tallinn.  In my opinion, the nicest "Old Town" of all the Baltics.  Tallinn has the most of the "old town wall" of any of the countries and it has been incorporated into the city.  Of course, there are cobblestone streets, towers, flowers, and tourists.

The view of Old Town Tallinn

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A day by the beach

Since the 4th of July was on Sunday this year, we got to have Monday off from work.  I didn't want to not do anything, so I invited a few friends to go and spend the day with me at the beach.  Boy, am I glad I did!  It was such a beautiful day, the company was fun, and I even got into the Baltic Sea! (never thought I'd say that! ;))  We headed out of Riga after stopping at Rimi's to pick up a few food items and ice, then headed to Jurmala and the beach.  Since it was Monday, the beach wasn't super crowded, so we parked and staked out our "bit of sand".  We layed out, soaking up the sun-rays, but lathered in lotion (because none of us wanted to get burned!), laughed and joked, and then when it got "too hot" (according to my Latvian friend) we headed down to the water to "cool off".  My little grill was already in the car, so we cooked hot dogs for lunch and then layed out again.  All in all it was a good, relaxing day.  So glad that the sun came out! :)

US Embassy Riga July 4th Celebration

Once again I found myself in a foreign country on the 4th of July which is one of my favorite holidays.  I am just thankful that I was able to attend the Embassy's 4th of July event.  It was wonderful to spend the time with fellow Americans celebrating the birth of the greatest country on earth.  There are few countries that have the freedoms that we as Americans do, and while many countries are modeled after the freedoms that we enjoy every day, few truly understand freedoms such as we have.
Last year, I had been in country such a little time that I didn't know many people and so didn't take very many photos.  Well, I have made quite a few friends here, and so this year I was better about getting photos taken.
(Tom Butler, Dan Nice, Royanna Butler)
(Lori Littau )
(Wendy and Colin Smith) 
(Lisa, Kelly & Isabelle Busby )
(Brandon Savona) 
I even got to get a picture with the US Ambassador to Latvia, Judith G. Garber.  I actually am on very friendly terms with the Ambassador (not many people can say that and it be true!) and also got to escort other ambassadors to greet Ambassador Garber at the event.  Such amazing experiences that I am having!

It is my prayer that the Lord may continue to bless the USA and that her people will always stand for freedom and righteousness.  I am proud to be an American and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, and wouldn't give it up for anything in this world.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th of July

We celebrate the birthday of the US on July 4th, which is one of my favorite holidays.  I love the USofA and the freedoms that we enjoy because men say a wrong and decided to step up and make things change.  The bravery and dedication that this took, resulted in the birth of a nation that would inspire many other countries to change, demand freedom and be willing to die for that freedom.  This is my second year celebrating the birth of my USofA in another country.  Last year was especially emotional, but again this year, as they played the National Anthem, as I sang the words, I was taking back to the battles and the men that fought and died for our country, the founding fathers and the treasonous acts that they committed.  And I am ever more grateful that they were willing to do so because they knew that their cause was just and right.  Even though it was against all odds, our nation received it's independence and continues to enjoy those freedoms to this day because men and women still volunteer to defend those rights and freedoms.  I love the USofA, and even though I'm living outside of that amazing country, I only do so because I am doing my part to uphold those beliefs.  May God forever protect her and the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy, and may her people always stand for freedom and righteousness.