Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Chance Meeting on the Sidewalk

I was hustling down the street this morning, on my way to turn in an assignment for class, when I was stopped by an older couple who were looking at a map of St. Andrews. I was in no way presentable—I was clutching a bundle of 15 loose pages, I was still wearing the gray sweatshirt that I sleep in, and I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet. But, despite being in a hurry and feeling unnaturally gross, I slowed when they hailed me.

“Are you a student here?” the man asked me.

This week has been one of the major weeks for prospective students, so I smiled, figuring they needed help finding a building. “Yes.” Come to think of it, I actually probably wouldn’t be much help at finding building here, still.

Instead of asking for directions, though, the man asked me what I was studying. I responded with “English,” to which he laughed and made the typical joke, “You seem to speak it pretty well!”

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After a few pleasantries, the couple told me that they were in town for a visit and for a few rounds on the Old Course, and that they were just curious about the university. I confessed that I’ve only been here one semester, and that I’d be heading back to the states soon.

They were actually even more interested in the fact that I was studying abroad, and they asked me where I was from.

“Well, Washington State,” I said. “But I’m studying in Iowa.”

They both reacted to this. “You’re not a Hawkeye, are you?”

“Actually, yeah, I am!”

The man let out a breath of disbelief. “Our son graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002! We’re huge Hawkeye fans!”

 

The funny thing is, this isn’t even the first time this has happened this week. In Dublin, my mom and I participated in a literary pub crawl one night and when we started walking, we noticed that one of the guys in the group was wearing a Hawkeye sweatshirt. He had recently finished grad school there, and his family lived in Iowa.

 

To be fair, our school colors aren't hard to spot in a crowd.

To be fair, our school colors aren’t hard to spot in a crowd.

It’s so interesting to me, these connections. I’ve talked before about fleeting encounters with strangers, and I love it. I love that out of anyone this couple could have picked out on the street, they picked me. Pieces of home follow me wherever I go. Rather than highlighting the smallness of our world, it gives me a sense of the enormity of it all—as we grow and travel and learn, so our bubble of existence expands. The more we take part in this world, the larger forces we become in it.

 

I think that’s beautiful, and I think it’s beautiful that somehow, miraculously, I can pluck the strings that tie me home even from across the globe.

 

And, of course, as a word of parting: Go Hawks.

 

 

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Journeys through My Journal

Real talk.

I am pretty terrible at keeping up with regular blogs and regular journaling, but I am excellent with travel journals. When I go on vacation, you can be darn sure I write down every detail of every day before I go to sleep at night, because I know I will regret not having those place names and random events later on. Now, I’m not saying that the writing in these journals is good, because they often happen in darkness, by the light of my phone screen, and scribbled with the knowledge that I get to pass out once I’m done. The entries are often illegible, hurried, and filled with prose so bad it makes Twilight look like A Tale of Two Cities—but I’m so glad I have them to look back on.

As many of you know, I just completed a two week trip through Amsterdam and parts of England, a trip that I am proud to say I planned and executed independently. There was so much I wanted to say on the trip itself, but, since I was traveling alone, I was not exactly keen to publicly share my life story. Now that I’m back, it seems like too much has happened to adequately convey in a single blog post, or even multiple. I may be periodically releasing posts about specific events or places, but for now I wanted to give a bit of an overview of my time—and what better way to do that than through snippets of my travel journal?

Through random observations, funny situations, and details that can’t be conveyed through pictures, these little pieces are here to give a taste of my weeks. I hope you enjoy this trip through instances, this collection of minutiae: unedited, unfiltered, unassuming.

Without further do, here are a few snapshots:

Sometimes literal snapshots!

Sometimes literal snapshots!

I started off with a weekend in Amsterdam, following a tour group of seven other people. The flight there was entertaining enough; in front of me on the flight were two Scottish guys who talked nonstop for the entire hour.

“Still, I am amazed at the progression of their tie together. From what I gather of their drunken conversation, one of them had perhaps slept with the other’s girlfriend. That was an interesting conversation in itself, but the added bonus came with the frequent interjections of ‘I would rather spend a lifetime being your best friend than spend another day talking to her,’ a sentiment that was repeated by both.”

I describe my hostel in Amsterdam as “hip” and “smells of weed.” In true Amsterdam form, I’m sure. Despite my strange first impressions, Amsterdam actually came to be one of my favorite cities. Between its brooding canals and its striking contradictions, it never ceased to fascinate and challenge me. Because of the language barrier and the obvious cultural differences (especially in the Red Light District), I was happy to have an Amsterdam resident as a guide to lead us around like lost children. But even in Amsterdam, thousands of miles away from home, home still found me:

“On the way out [of the Anne Frank House], in testament to the novelty of a small world, I signed the guest book just after two women also from Seattle. I noticed one of their Seahawks hats and said, ‘Go Seahawks,’ which stunned them at first. Then, one of them grinned with a ‘Heck yeah!’”

The mottos which followed us through Amsterdam are noted with particular exuberance: “Doubt and die” (in regards to crossing the street, which is particularly challenging due to the thousands of bicyclists in the area) and “Where is the Dam (damn) Square?” Our guide taught us both of these mottos, and we would mutter them under our breath multiple times a day.

On the last day,

I returned to the Fault in Our Stars bench, because I didn’t feel I’d had enough time with it before. I spent the better part of an hour sitting on the bench and writing. In a touch of cruel poetic justice, my favorite pen died just as I was beginning to write at the bench. I named the pen Augustus and clipped it on where the locks were. As the Norwegian translation of the book’s title goes: ‘Fuck Fate.’”

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And you too, Green.

After many entries of “I got lost in Amsterdam,” I finally left to head back to the UK. I spent a day in London and was blown away by the musical “Memphis.”

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“I had tears pouring down my face at the end of Act I. By the curtain call, the whole audience was on its feet, and everyone was dancing. Even the music director/conductor was lively, rocking out and jumping around the stage while everyone exited.”

The next day, I took a bus to Nottingham on the pretense that I was doing “research” for my next novel, which is about Robin Hood. Really, the “research” was just me wandering around the city inwardly screaming at every Robin Hood –themed thing I saw. I never did go inside of Nottingham Castle, but it was the first thing I saw upon entering the city, and it blew me away.

“Perched on a cliff face, the castle looks out over the town menacingly. The cliffs are scored and pock-marked, and the castle itself looks as if it might tumble over the edge. At the base, tucked in amidst the rocks, is the pub [Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem].”

It was here that I had my first true pub meal by myself, something that became one of my favorite activities in my travels.

A highlight of the two weeks was my trip to Sherwood Forest while I was in Nottingham—an entry that begins simply, “I truly am drunk on life.” I was beginning to feel the thrills of traveling alone, of taking a whole day to walk through the Greenwood, of determining my own choices. In the forest, I walked for about four hours, with various misadventures including accidentally ending up inside the fence that blocked off the Major Oak.

Down one of these totally not-sketchy paths.

Down one of these totally not-sketchy paths.

“I crossed paths with a man and his dog a few times, and we would compare notes on the trails we’d just completed. At one point, his dog actually started following me up a trail, and he called, ‘Hey! You stole my dog!’….Random stranger encounters are great.”

After Nottingham, back to London I went, to spend a bit more time exploring.

“I remember last time the defining moment of London for me was coming out of a tube station and seeing Big Ben. This time, I got out from the Westminster station and looked around, noting the nice architecture of a building across the street. A few minutes later I looked up and—surprise!—it was Big Ben!”

Then, of course, the Harry Potter studio, which was an event in itself.

”We went through and into the Great Hall. It was amazing just being in that huge room, knowing that was where the actors had spent any of their days. While in the Hall, a woman gave some commentary. She asked for a roll call of every house, and I was the only one to cheer for Hufflepuff.”

I soon got distracted by Neville's bed though.

I soon got distracted by Neville’s bed though.

“The quote displayed at the end of the tour really summed it up: ‘Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.’ I felt that today—I felt like I was there, like I’d never left. Because, really, you never do.”

The next few days were spent at Oxford, which also ranks among my top cities. Though I’d been there before, It was much different being back as a university student. It also became a pure Tolkien pilgrimage, which was wonderful; I stayed in the college where he studied, I visited his old haunts, and I took a trip to his gravesite to pay my respects. It’s the small things like that, I find, that are the most impactful, the most memorable, about a trip. The best two hours of the entire trip, I think, were my simple visit to the Eagle and Child, where the Inklings would meet for beer and literary discussions.

“In a word, it was magical, maybe—maybe—even more magical than the Harry Potter studios. I was sitting in the room where the Inklings sat and shared their work, probably sitting at the same table, even, writing my own fiction. And there, at that table, I finished my novel.”

There’s also a line in my journal,

I’m, like, really excited about those mushy peas.”

Mushy peas changed my life.

Mushy peas changed my life.

My trip concluded with the city of York, but even reading back on those two days’ entries, I can sense the overlying depression about having completed my novel, nearing the end of the trip, and finding very little to actually do in the city. I attended a few events for York’s Literary Festival, did some obligatory sight-seeing, and had a few nice discussions with a couple girls in my hostel, but, apart from that, my time in the city was underwhelming. The best part, undoubtedly, were the walks along the old medieval walls.

“What followed were some pretty intense wall walks. I finally found the entrance to the wall I’d wanted to go on, and I followed it all the way around half the city….Some spectacular views, plus very quiet and lonely. Though perhaps that’s because it started raining during that time.”

The rain was a proper send-off, a kind of tangible way to mourn about the end of my trip, a picturesque backdrop for the English landscape that zoomed past on the train out of the city back to Scotland.

Pictured: English countryside.

Pictured: English countryside.

When I arrived back home the last day, though, I felt complete.

“It still feels surreal, and I wonder how long it’ll take for the thrill of adventure to wear off. This was honestly one of the best things to ever happen to me—this trip—and I am extremely blessed to even have this opportunity. I’ve learned a lot, not only about traveling, but about myself. I love Europe, and I love the adventure. It calls me back already, and I can’t wait to answer.”

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