The Final Stretch

After being on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase and staying in hostels, the thought of going home is strange.
It’s bliss to imagine all the comforts of home: Understanding the language, sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights, not having strangers coming in and out at odd hours while I sleep, actually eating regular meals… The list goes on. Continue reading

Adventures in Amsterdam

The second chapter of my European adventure is well under way!

I arrived in Amsterdam on Monday night, which was an adventure in and of itself.  My flight from Scotland was delayed, which was okay, it just meant I got to my hostel later than expected.  Getting from the airport to they city’s center was an easy train ride, followed by a half-hour walk through the dark streets.  I got to my hostel at 11 PM and promptly went to sleep.

Two full days proved to be all I needed to check all the boxes in my “To See” list.

Yesterday was spent in art museums.  My first stop was the Rijksmuseum, which is the Dutch national museum.  I spent a few hours wandering the galleries, soaking in the country’s history through paintings.  There were a few of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings in the collection, which were amazing to see in person.

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Stereotypical tourist shot featuring the “I amsterdam” sign, tulips, and the Rijksmuseum.

I lingered for a LONG time in the Van Gogh Museum, which might just be one of my new favorites.  I feel like I appreciated the collection more than anything I’ve seen in quite a while.  Going from room to room reading about Van Gogh’s life and viewing his art, I actually felt like I was getting to know him.  It was more than just empty information.  I feel like I encountered a flesh and blood man.  The collection was impressive–there were at least a hundred of his works on display.  (To think that, in the States, just having one is a big deal!)

This morning, I got up early… but not early enough to beat the crowds at the Anne Frank House.  I arrived right at opening, but the line was already stretching down the street and around the corner.  Half-expecting this would be the case, I brought my Kindle and read a book during the two-hour wait.  The museum was definitely worth it.  To walk through the Secret Annex (entering through the original concealed door), to see Anne’s handwriting in person, to watch videos of her father reflecting on the experience… it was incredible.  I was deeply moved.  At the end, they had a book with all the names of the Dutch Jews who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis… the book was the size of a Bible.  Over 10,000 names.  That really hit me–I can’t even wrap my mind around those kind of numbers.

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Dutch tulips!

My second stop today was the Rembrandt House.  Although not as moving as my first stop, I thoroughly enjoyed touring the rooms and studio of one of my favorite painters.  Like Van Gogh, I learned a LOT about the artist that I didn’t know before.  At the end, there was an hour-long video (produced by the BBC) about his later career.  I watched the whole thing… partially because my legs were tired from walking all day, but mostly because it was fascinating.  They examined several of his paintings in-depth, which gave profound insight into the painter’s methods.

Aside from grand museums, it’s been enjoyable just walking around Amsterdam.  It’s a great city, filled with beautiful buildings and picturesque canals.  The city definitely has its dark corners and dodgy bits, but I was able to avoid them.

Also, bikes!  There are bikes everywhere!  I have to continually remind myself to watch out for them, lest I get run over.

One of my favorite bits has been meeting locals.  I had a long discussion with a man in a cafe this afternoon–he told me all about Dutch art, history, and even pointed me to some lesser-known museums (which I will have to visit if I’m ever back).

So… that’s Amsterdam!

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Canals in the Jordaan neighborhood.

 

 

Lakes District Video

Over the past few months, I’ve been growing a great deal artistically.  Being around creative people rubs off on you in amazing ways.  I’ve loved having the freedom to explore new mediums in addition to the ones I tend to favor.  I’ve spent time sketching, painting, and even singing.  It’s brought me so much life!

When my friends and I went to the Lakes District last week, I decided to tackle a new medium: videography.  Throughout the trip, I examined the world with an artistic eye and captured footage of things I found beautiful with my iPhone.  On the six hour Megabus trip home, I put the skills I picked up in my Visual Journalism class to good use.

This is the result.  I hope you enjoy!

Lines and Dots (Writing 101, Day 18)

Lines and dots… that’s all a map really is.  Lines and dots printed in tiny colors on sheets of paper that you can never seem to fold the same way twice.  You don’t want to be seen with a map, else the locals pushing past you on the street mutter about annoying tourists under their breaths.  So you try to be as inconspicuous as possible, shoving it quickly in your purse, backpack, briefcase, or pocket to avoid notice.  The lines and dots are helpful, but can sometimes make you stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s what the dots mean and where the lines go that make a map important.

Consider the image below.  At first, it doesn’t mean much.  Can anyone guess where this is?

MyLondon Places (for blog)

If you guessed London, you’re right.  It’s nothing but a series of lines and dots.  In this case, the white and yellow lines signify roads.  The blue windy line is the Thames.  The dots here have numbers, symbolizing how many of my Facebook photos are tagged at different locations.

A map can tell you so much, but there hits a point where its meaning is different for everyone.

When you look at this image, you may see nothing but meaningless lines and dots.

When I take a peek, though, I see memories playing in the back of my mind of my semester abroad.  I picture myself walking through the campus of my host university, squeezing my way into a Tube train at Piccadilly Circus after attending the theater, and nipping in for a few minutes with my favorite paintings at the National Gallery.  The lines are paths my feet have taken.  The dots are places I’ve stopped to explore.  Part of my heart aches when I look at the image, wishing desperately that I could be back in that place.

A map can tell you all about a place, but it can’t tell you what it’s like to be there.  It gives you facts, but not experiences.

Great writers, though, can give meaning to maps with words.  Most fantasy novels have maps at the beginning of them, giving a guide of lines and dots to follow and the story fills in the details.

I don’t claim to be a great writer, so I’m not sure I’m able to give meaning to the map of London that I have shared with you.  However, being an English major has introduced me to lots of great writers who know the city even better than I do.  I have a complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf, but she gives you a pretty good idea what London is like in her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”

There.  Do you feel it?  For a moment, you were right there with Clairissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, and me, walking the streets of London and basking in the bustle of life.

Do you have any maps with special meaning?  What places are most special to you and why?

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.