Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.


Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?


Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.


Bedroom in Arles, 1888.


Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 


Living in its Own History.

At orientation today, a series of photographs by former international students flashed across the introductory powerpoint. Each was accompanied by a quote about the photo – and all were something along the lines of “this encapsulates Edinburgh to me because…” One student, whose name i failed to jot down, commented that Edinburgh was a city “living in its own history.”

I find this to be tremendously true. Yesterday, in hot pursuit of an apple store (a pursuit that proved fruitless in the end), i made a gander down the main drags of town. Foregoing any desire to blend in (yet) i snapped photos every meter of the way.

There are all the quaint, tourist-y trappings of a Great Britain town; red phone booths, sprawling gothic churches and kirks, and plenty of weather that my orientation packet refers to as mingin‘ (meaning nasty, drab, and otherwise umbrella-and-overcoat-worthy).


The Royal Mile!

The Royal Mile!

St. Giles Kirk, former pulpit of John Knox.

St. Giles Kirk, former pulpit of John Knox.

But my stroll along the Royal Mile also meant i encountered some distinctly Scottish fare: a bagpiper with a cap out for change, stores advertising haggis, and more tartan stalls than i could count. My meander took me down to Princes Street, where i eventually located a SIM card for my mobile and, naturally, a plethora of postcards. (I have to continually remind myself not to purchase souvenirs just yet, since i’ve got another five months to stock up on post cards and the like.)


A view of Princes Street from the Royal Mile.

A view of Princes Street from the Royal Mile.


I made sure to pass New College, where i’ll be taking my courses (starting tomorrow! Eep!). Making my way up to Queen Street, i continued to stumble across more of what i think the student was referencing in her photograph. The city, though draped in the enchantment of dark bricks and antiquity, is very much alive and growing. The letterbox (below) was just around the corner from a TGI Fridays – and from the restaurant, there was a stunning view of Edinburgh castle. Talk about juxtapositions!







(New College is the double-spired building on the far left! And by New College, i mean Hogwarts...)

(New College is the double-spired building on the far left! And by New College, i mean Hogwarts…)

I wandered into St. John’s Episcopal church at the end of Princes Street, coming across nothing other than the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre. Naturally, i sat down for a chat with a lovely fellow and signed up for their newsletter and potential volunteering opportunities. (I’m sure most of you, dear readers, are utterly unsurprised by this!).

The rain was starting to snake down under my scarf, and it was due time i head back to my flat. With a few groceries freshly purchases tucked into my rucksack, i headed to my new home amidst a sunset Edinburgh. The sight was stunning – everything seems to really glow a bronze hue in the rare but beautiful sunshine here.



It was really a magical day. I was glad to explore on my own for a while, too, as it helped clear my head and restore a sense of independence – all while figuring out what the streets i’d committed to memory from my maps looked like in actuality. And this actuality is a living history – and one i grow more and more ecstatic to be a petite part of every day.



current jam: ‘grown ocean’ fleet foxes

best thing: facetime and a functioning mobile phone.

Terry the Angel, Or: A Movie-Like Entrance to Edinburgh.

I oft think dramatic scenes in films are really just overdone, unrealistic portrayals of real-life events that are, in fact, quite boring. My departure from the states, however, was a drastic proving-lizzie-wrong moment.

J, my significant other, and i arrived at the airport some two hours prior to my expected departure time. As RDU’s standard fare for security and ticket-counter time tends to be a mere 20 minutes on my usual Southwest flights, i anticipated only an additional twenty minutes or so to check two bags and print a boarding pass.

I was mistaken.

The American Airlines counter was amok with passengers-to-be dragging enormous baggage and wearing tremendously confused expressions. When we could not find a line that stated anything of clarity, J and i joined them in their befuddlement. Finally, after mis-printing two boarding passes at the self-check-in, i was loosely directed to the queue for “kiosk errors.” In this line we waited for over an hour.

Over an hour. There were barely eight people ahead of us, and yet there we waited. We remained calm – exceptionally calm for normally anxiety-ridden-overly-early-me – and tried to pass the time by savoring our last few hours together in the states. I kept fiddling with my luggage tags and checking the time and generally trying to distract myself from the two monstrously fretful things ahead of me: the fact that i might miss my flight, and more importantly, the impending goodbye that loomed in the corner of my every thought.

At last, a frantic first-class counter lady checked me in. “Now you don’t have to run to your flight, but you do absolutely have to go straight there after security!” she warned. It was 5:30. My flight left at 6:00.

With a flurry of rolling bags and hand-holding that hardly lasted long enough, we said goodbye. It was excruciating.

I sobbed my way through security. At 5:45, shoes re-zipped and passport in my clutch, i searched the signs for gate C 23. It was at the far end of the airport. As if in a film, i began sprinting through the throng of people. My black carry-on bag has been in my family for some fifteen years – and it’s starting to show. The right wheel clacks when it rolls – you can hear me coming from down the hall. Every airport i was in, people craned their necks to hear what that horrible thwacking every two seconds was.

However, the clacking came in my favor as it easily made a parted Red Sea for me as i dashed past parents wheeling babies in strollers and businesswomen with briefcases.

At 5:49, i arrived at my gate – weeping, wheezing, and wheeling what i now called Gimpy the Suitcase that Could. If i hadn’t been so overwhelmed by stress and sadness the whole situation would have been outrageously comical – my face ruddy, my lungs in revolt, and barely two minutes to spare.

I asked the gentleman ahead of me in line if this was the right queue for the London flight. He replied yes and, catching sight of my face, exclaimed in a lovely London accent, “Wow, you really ran here! … And had to say goodbye to someone too.” I nodded, clutching a stitch in my side and trying to wipe my nose in one very un-synchronized motion. “Call them when you land,” he said kindly, turning back.

To my surprise, he faced me once more with a tissue in his hand.”Here,” he profferred, smiling gently. I spluttered a thanks, catching sight of his face properly for the first time. For a second, i though he was Chiwetel Ejiofer – the actor from Kinky Boots and Love Actually and a million other things. The resemblance was so striking to me i almost asked if that’s who he was. Had i been in a state where i could breathe, i might have.

I learned later he’s named Terry. I learned this when he came back to check on me once the plane was in the air.

“Are you feeling better?” Terry asked me.

“I am, much better. Thank you for being so kind to me,” i replied. He asked who had made me cry so much before leaving and, before i could explain much more than J and how long we’d been together, he remarked, “Teary eyed again?” I couldn’t help it. And yet he was so sweet, telling me five months was going to fly by and that i should try and get some sleep before landing. We talked about what i was going to study, exchanged names, the usual small talk.

“I’m just – i’m letting myself be sad for 24 hours and then i’ll focus on the adventure of it all.” I was spluttering again, in spite of my every effort not to.

“It is an awfully big adventure.” He grinned again, joking about me needing some wine and crossing myself with each glass (i’d told him about the religion major). I chortled, and Terry went back to his seat.

The rest of my flight was spent in a far better state because of his compassion. I slept an hour or so, drank down plenty of water, and studied the map of the city some more.

I never saw him again. Terry, the angel in human form, whose five minutes spent in my life made it all the warmer.

Heathrow was fine – customs went smoothly, and i found my gate with relative ease. There was an all-too-brief conversation with J from a payphone in Terminal A to let him know i was safe and on time and trying to be brave.

And then, before i knew it, i was in Edinburgh. Having not slept, really, in 24 hours by then, it was a woozy greeting. I’d had a magical moment when we flew over London – snapping a few pictures of the twinkling lights spread wide like a net beneath us – but i’d had a nap then.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.


somewhere in the south of england, on my second flight.


As it turns out, the movie-like drama was not done with me yet. I’d been afraid, when traveling to Uganda two summers ago, that i’d lose my checked luggage. I had so many connections and was so worried about flying alone that it had been a constant source of stress. Not for this trip. Of course, i’d tucked extra underwear and t-shirts into my carry-ons (just in case), but this was always more symbolic than out of real worry.

I was wrong.

Half of my checked luggage came, but the bag with my sweaters and socks and books was still in London, to be sent later. In a delirious state, i gave my Edinburgh address and US phone number. Unbeknownst to me, i only gave my building address – not my flat number. Also unbeknownst to me was that my US Phone number would not work here (i’d assumed the charges would be astronomical until i got a new SIM card, but plausible nonetheless).

For this reason, the rest of my bags did not arrive until today – when i finally called from a university phone. It wasn’t really that horrible – Uganda did, after all, teach me how to be more flexible (the bags required no flexibility there, in the end – but there were plenty of other opportunities for growth!).

And, when the wooziness wore off courtesy of a chai latte, i realized: i am in freaking Edinburgh, Scotland. Birthplace of Harry Potter, home to me now, filled with kirks and a castle and kilts. 

(one of my first photos of the city - be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

(one of my first photos of the city – be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

Which is where i am now. Making friends, learning the streets. Gearing up to decorate my walls and select a choice outfit for orientation tomorrow. Grateful i studied so many maps and grateful i bought chocolate this afternoon while exploring some of the city in pursuit of a new SIM card (which i found!). Grateful for Terry the Airplane Angel, grateful for the privilege of being able to travel, grateful for the challenges and cheers ahead of me. Grateful for all the reasons why i’m sad to be apart from loved ones in the states. Grateful for the opportunity to fall so in love with this city i’ll be sad to leave it.

When i gave my (real) surname to the courier of my bags, he exclaimed “Well it doesn’t get more Scottish than that! You’re home at last, lass!”

Not yet, i thought. But soon, i will be home here. Soon and very soon.

current jam: ‘english house’ fleet foxes.

best thing: terry the airplane angel.

The Fault in our Stars

nerdfighters and our books!

(i wrote this last night after returning from the TFIOS tour…alas, the internet failed to put it up then so i’m posting it a little late. i beg of your forgiveness)

Tonight, i saw John and Hank Green. Tonight, i heard John Green read aloud from his most recent work – what some are saying to be the best book he’s yet written – and scarcely breathed the whole twenty minutes he was reading it aloud. Tonight, Hank Green sang about how he wished his high school had been Hogwarts instead. Tonight, the show ended with the brothers singing (my most favorite song in the world) ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ by The Proclaimers.’

in the signing line. the mountain goats lyric from ‘how to embrace a swamp creature’ came to mind: i try to tell you just why i’ve come/ it’s like i’ve got molasses on my toungue.

To say the least, i’m floating on a bit of a nerdy internet cloud of wonderment and thrill.

Together, as i mentioned in my Internet Blog Series Thingymabob, the Green brothers have created and fostered this worldwide community of nerdfighters. People who are reclaiming the term “nerd” as an insult and (to paraphrase John Green (again)): accepting such a term as a congratulation for being intelligent, informed, and inquisitive human beings. A community that celebrates intellectualism and silliness, stirring up conversations in radically new ways with the help of online communication – one i am so content to be a part of. Together, the brothers do this in their weekly videos, but more expansively they have spawned some incredible projects to fight worldsuck (which is exactly what it sounds like – things that suck in the world, like poverty) and increase awesome. Simple terms (the silly factor) that communicate truly intellectual and brilliant ideas: make the world a better place by being informed and living into your full capacity as a human being.

While i may reference the Green brothers all the time here, on this blog, and on my video blog found on Youtube, i’ve never really expressed overtly how much these two brothers mean to me. Both them in tandem, as the unit that is The Vlogbrothers, but also as individuals. Perhaps most of all, though, for what they stand for and what they, somewhat unintentionally, created in the globe-spanning community that is nerdfighteria.

John Green, as it so happens, articulates why i haven’t been so decided in sharing such feelings (until now) in his new book. (Note: this is from chapter 2, so it’s not a major spoiler). The main character, Hazel, is telling the reader why she feels hesitant about sharing what her actual favorite book is with people;

“My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn’t like to tell people about it. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”

As in so many things, precisely what John Green articulates here is often how i feel about books – and, in beauteous irony, several of these books are his own. I don’t tell people how much his book Looking for Alaska moved me – and still moves me – because of exactly what he (via Hazel) explains: it’s mine. Well, not so much now that i’m writing this for the MILLIONS of you out there reading this to read, but still.

I don’t share this love lightly, because it’s kind of like baring your Soul out a bit and risking the inevitable scoff from the inevitable snob who thinks the book is crap. And while, in a very real way, Looking for Alaska is not mine (as i had no part in its rendering) John himself said tonight: books belong to their readers.

This idea of an artist slaving over a piece, giving of herself or himself in a way that their very Life is pouring into it, translates for me to works on a broader scale than just books. Van Gogh is my favorite painter not because i understand the intricacy in the way he manipulated his brushstrokes or revolutionized visual art through conceptions of color and form (though, in fairness, i do like those attributes to his work). Van Gogh is my favorite painter because i can look at Starry Night and cry for the pain and wonderment at such suffering it expresses so intensely. In standing before Van Gogh’s work i see my own Self reflected back; certainly part of that is his own – the work would not be so moving were it to as inauthentic to not reflect the artist’s own hand. But i only know Van Gogh’s struggle through the lens of my own – through empathy, through learning, through my own dreaming of stars. John’s recognition of this moment for the reader or audience member or art appreciator augments my appreciation for his own work. If i may be so bold as to put words in his mouth, he sees that the art will forever be of the artist, but it belongs to the audience once it is released. Loving something means letting it go, to employ the cliché.

I guess what i’m trying to get at is that John Green’s books are more than just silly Young Adult fiction. Sure, there’s plenty of teenage angst and bad wine and high schooly romance, but the core of his writing is this emphatic and indescribable beauty made from his own attempts to question the cosmos. He is, to me, a philosopher. I don’t mean to idolize him (the man has faults (many of which i’m sure i will never know, as these things should be)) or place him precariously next to Socrates. What i mean to say is simply that, to me, John Green is more than an author. His books are more than words on a page. To use his own words once more, “I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

So meeting him tonight was incredible, in the act of meeting him alone. The fact that he and his equally awesome and nerd-tastic brother, Hank, put on a show together simply compounded the exhilaration. For the act of sharing the space with two people embracing nerd culture and all the weirdness that comes along with it, for shaking John’s hand and telling him that his books move me to my core, for singing along and dancing in the aisles and being a total goof with hundreds of other people – this is what i celebrate.

And for these moments and for this time, i am so deeply grateful.

current jam: ‘high school (this isn’t hogwarts)’ hank green.

best thing in my life right now: the above.

fifteen things challenges completed: one (item #2: shake john green’s hand and tell him how looking for alaska saved me)

in the air again.

The uniformity of American airports can be such a comfort.

I’ve said it once, and i shall say it more: airports are easily some of my favorite places in this world. There’s something terribly exciting about a place of transit, a realm meant for those embarking on a journey. Sure, its plagued with suited up professionals dreading the next conference room, and true, often my times in airports are meant as transit only to the simplest, most mundane of places.

But still. I know i was born to travel when i am at such ease in a place like this.

Despite not having been in the Bradley airport for some time (March, i think?) navigating its (albeit it only one) terminal is reeking of one of the best parts of the trip home: the anticipation. As i awoke at 6 am this morning, grumbling how i’d hardly slept five hours (thank you, Merlin schoolwork) and fumbling around the dark trying to pack the toothbrush and find the glasses, it occurred to me that, while i may detest waking at such hours, i also kind of love it. Waking when most of the world (or at least, the campus) is still to bed to take a trip is kind of a magical time. The in-between place, the time of preparing for the journey and praying all goes well and holding out for a window seat – it’s something i’m getting better and better at. Living with your home spread across the world forces you to do this, i suppose.

This trip isn’t terribly exotic, or going to be rank with whirlwind adventures, or abrim in reality shattering epiphanies (well, i suppose one  should never say never). Should all go well, it shall be full of steaming cups of tea, my cats, sleep, reading, terrible television, my cats, hibernation, writing, and my cats. A retreat from the whir, time to be a zombie and not leave my bed for anything in the world but another cup of tea or to clean out the litter box. Did i mention the cats?

But the “mundane” can be so welcome. Most welcome in a semester like this, wherein i’ve done nothing but write papers and wrangle with endless readings and want nothing more than sleep. The mundane can be even more worthy of my travel-anticipation than the thrilling, in some capacities.

Most of all, though, waiting for me on the other side of this trip are my cats, a time-transcending cowboy, and the simple marvel of home.

Happy travels, friends.

current jam: ‘you’re the voice’ john farnham

best thing in my life right now: tweed jackets and scottish accents.

words written for nanowrimo: 27,828

Thoughts from the Journey: London Edition

Once more, i am writing to you, dearest reader, from the comfort of my own desk in my own room, at my beloved Mount Holyoke College. It’s a strange feeling – being back – because there’s this sense of normalcy and regularity to my rushing to class, downing continuous cups of coffee, and making endless color-coded homework charts for the oncoming weekend. In some ways, i feel like i’ve woken up from a blissful dream to Reality, without a moment passing at all.

And while, to be fair, my time in London was incredibly brief, it was concurrently immeasurably special. England has existed in my mind for so long, shaped by my consumption of Potter novels and films, the writings of the brilliant Jane Austen, the pouring over my favorite Shakespearean plays. My thoughts and dreams of what London would be were undeniably influenced by Doctor Who, by my guidebook’s quips, and by what i longed for the experience to hold. To be on the streets i’d dreamed of while reading about Harry and Ron and Hermione, envisioned while singing along to My Fair Lady, was literally the summation of so many dreams – a treasure compounded by the fact that i could share the journey with my fantastic father.

Someone commented on my post about Day 4 spent in the city that places like London and New York exist in our minds long before we ever encounter them in person. I think this is indisputable; i also contend that my imagination will continue to paint my memories and thoughts of such places. London is tangible to me now, surely, for i can remember the hotness and cramped sensation of riding in the Tube – sensations i had not anticipated. Yet the wonder, the idyllic glow i’ve cast over the winding streets and platforms, shall persist whether consciously or not. My London will never be the same as any other’s interpretation, but my London has changed for me in the span of seven days.

It is this kind of living in the dream that is so often the best part of traveling. I didn’t stay long enough to be infuriated by the delay in traffic, or fret over the never-ending threat of rain. The time was brief enough that every moment was satiated with the exhiliration of uncovering a new place, and thereby discovering more about my own tastes and talents and shortcomings. The journey, wherever it may be, is always the greatest adventure in the scope of wandering around the world.

And, yes, I’m suffering a bit from post-travel tribulation (did i mention my weekend is now divided up according to green time for paper-writing and blue time for research?). But i know the UK has more for me to wander through, and that for everything there is a time and place. For now, my time and place is at this gorgeous university with my brilliant friends and a wicked amount of work to be doing.

current jam: ‘poison’ nicole scherzinger

best thing in my life right now: my new TARDIS mug! my friends in my life again!