iceland

there are places that you travel to that you enjoy. places that are lovely, that are good, that are memorable. places that you saw and liked.

and then there are places that you travel to that consume you entirely. places that capture your heart just as much as they capture your eyes. places that seem to reflect a part of your very soul.

i have only felt that a few times in my life. once in britain and ireland.

and once in iceland.

*

i honestly didn’t know what to expect from this country.

i knew that i would enjoy it. scandinavia (i should say the nordic countries, as iceland isn’t technically a part of of scandinavia. but, you know, semantics—ANYWAY so scandinavia) has long held an endless fascination and mystery for me. i have studied and loved various aspects of its culture, yet it still felt rather like a stranger to me—perhaps because i had never been to a scandinavian (nordic) country. in any case, i was very excited to go to iceland.

i didn’t really expect to fall in love with the place.

*

megan and i arrived in iceland late thursday night—or rather, very early friday morning. we were exhausted, but at least our flight had been pleasant enough. i spent the whole of it reading neil gaiman’s norse mythology, which felt very appropriate, all things considered.

after catching a few hours of sleep, we spent the morning in reykjavik. it’s quite a small and quiet thing for being the capital city, which made me like it all the more. we stopped by hallgrÍmskirkja, a very lovely church that has a statue of leif eriksson in front of it (as all lovely churches do). we wandered through shops upon shops, looking at icelandic woolen goods and wooden carvings. we bought books on elves and trolls (which icelanders still believe in, and which made me like them more) and even a copy of the original icelandic sagas. (i’m going to be even more versed in norse mythology once i finish reading it.) and, most importantly, i got THE BEST SWEATER TO EVER SWEATER. it’s beautiful and lovely and icelandic and i wore it for like five days straight.

IMG_1522
symmetry. sort of. 

(i have a lot of feelings about sweaters, in case you couldn’t tell.)

we didn’t linger in the city for too long, as we were most eager to set out and begin exploring the country. so, after stocking up on the necessities (namely chips and chocolate), we drove out of reykjavik and into the wide expanse of iceland.

*

we spent the afternoon in the golden circle.

(that’s a lovely image, isn’t it?)

in actuality, the golden circle is the name for the region just above reykjavik, containing many of iceland’s iconic (and perhaps touristy) features.

and it really is very lovely.

like, i don’t even know how to begin to describe the beauty of iceland. it’s wild thing—vibrant and mercurial. the landscape changes as soon as you have a moment to wonder at it. sometimes it’s wide and almost plain-like, which you would believe save for the stark gray mountains surrounding you. sometimes it’s endless and green, undulating fields of bright moss that seems like it should be the land of trolls and elves. and then sometimes it’s hard and black, rocky expanses and beaches reminding you that this is a chaotic place, a place of fire and of ice. and it is not to be trifled with.

(but for serious, i couldn’t let myself think about the volcanoes. the paranoid in me expected them to erupt every second of our stay.)

*

the nice thing about driving in a country like iceland is that you can stop whenever you like. the roads in iceland are like blockbusters before they shut down—open, that is, but quite deserted. we could have well been the only people in the country, for all the cars we passed on the roads. this made stopping and taking photos and rambling very convenient and very enjoyable.

IMG_1520
views from the road

and on these as-fancy-strikes wanderings, we stumbled upon some hidden beauties. for example, on friday afternoon, we stopped at this lovely mossy field for some pictures. but my heart heard that familiar urging that it does when i’m out in something beautiful—the call that says walk on a little further, walk on until you can’t go anymore, walk on walk on walk on. perhaps it’s the remnant of my study abroad speaking to me, perhaps it’s lady nature herself. i don’t know. all i know is i want to listen.

anyway, i suggested to megan that we follow the path for a little bit. so we did.

IMG_1524
watty fall

and as we went farther down, we discovered an overlook into a gorge, lovely and rocky and inviting. so we continued on again, walking until we happened upon a waterfall, named öxarárfoss. turns out it’s one of the most popular waterfalls in þingvellir, the national park within the golden circle. the more you know.

*

we saw a fair few waterfalls during our stay in iceland.

however, my favorite was one called bruarfoss. it’s a little less popular than other waterfalls, and a little harder to get to. but i think those qualities just make it more lovely.

it was rather challenging to find it, though. after parking in a rather snowy and seemingly close position, we decided to walk in the general direction of the fall (at least, the general direction we supposed it to be in). this included climbing over barbed wire fences, trundling through thick mud, and moving (carefully, cautiously) over ice and river. quite a bit of fun, to be honest.

we didn’t really know where we were going, but we could hear the distant roaring of water, so we followed.

and eventually, we found it.

IMG_1525
watty fall 2

bruarfoss was unlike any thing i had ever seen before. it was, as a waterfall, so impressive and lovely. but the most unusual thing about it was the wide stream of bright blue bisecting the water. the melted glacier water flowed right along with the river, but it made a most unique and amazing thing. and to complete the moment, it began to snow.

cold as we were, we couldn’t help smiling.

*

before our day ended, we stopped in the geothermal area in haukadalur, where there are, among other things, a lot of geysers. (one of which is called geysir, from which we derived the english word. fun fact of the day.)

as i said before, iceland’s landscape astounds me with its diversity. megan and i had just before admired a glacial waterfall, shivering from snow and biting winds. and now we were standing on warm earth, the scent of sulfur thick in the air. mist and vapor encircled us as we walked around the different geysers and geothermal pools. geysir is unfortunately quite dormant, but we were able to watch another geyser, strokkur, burst through the air.

it was a rather spectacular way to end the day.

*

early the next morning, we set out on a long drive east. we were going to see the glacial lagoon jökulsárlón, and it was going to take a while to get there.

but i really enjoyed our three-hour drive there. we made several stops to see lovely waterfalls and wide black beaches. we listened to a lot of music and did a lot of singing. in any case, iceland is so gorgeous and varied and diverting, making car rides much more delightful.

we arrived at the glacier around noon. the weather had become clearer and brighter as we travelled east, so by the time we saw the glacier lagoon the day was rather picturesque. jökulsárlón itself was unlike anything i’d ever seen. as we had driven there, we had spotted many glaciers, icy giants hiding between mountains. but it’s something different seeing a glacier so close. the lagoon was brimming with ragged chunks of glacial ice, floating along quietly in the clearest blue water. it seemed so odd that this was a thing that existed, and that i was seeing it.

IMG_1531
ice ice

after wondering at jökulsárlón, we crossed the road to the black beaches of the atlantic coast. the ocean was filled with icebergs, as well, many of which sat on the sand. which made me want to sit on them. so i did. (we both did. megan got her bum wet though cuz she wasn’t wise and didn’t wear waterproof pants.)  as you might surmise, iceland has some good ice.

IMG_1530
babes on ice

before we were to make the trek back to our hotel, we decided to stop a moment to see fjallsárlón, which is another glacial lagoon like jökulsárlón except smaller and less crowded—mostly because people don’t know about it. the sun was beginning to set and everything was becoming all nice and golden. fjallsárlón was a lovely glacial lagoon. the hills around it were open and vast. it was a bit of a climb down to see the lagoon, which sat just in front of the glacier. i decided to walk down to it, as i heard a curious cracking noise and wondered what it was. (it took me a moment to realize it was the ice. the ice was melting and moving and cracking. it was a little frightening.)

IMG_1528
golden 

we didn’t stay too long, as we wanted to be on our way when the sun set. but both jökulsárlón and fjallsárlón were awesome, in the original and truest sense of the word. they create awe in me. as does all of iceland.

*

sunday, our last day, was short and quiet.

we went to church in the morning, but not before stopping by kerið, a volcanic crater lake, on our way. we stayed a moment to admire the scene before deciding it was too cold and rainy to properly enjoy it while wearing church attire.

and then we headed to the airport.

sunday was a bit of a sad day.

*

in the end, i don’t know how to describe why i loved iceland so much. yes, it’s lovely and amazing and exciting, but it’s more than that, too. there’s a real heart and soul in iceland, or at least one that found mirror in my own.

i want to go back so dearly. i want to move there and become an icelandic sheep herder and spend my days knitting scarves and socks and sweaters. i want to say that i’m kidding about the sheep herder bit, but sometimes i actually consider it.

one day.

iceland, you’re lovely.

*

also, i did make a video for iceland. one of my better ones. it’s got jose gonzalez singing so that’s always good. watch it here.

prague

(no pictures for prague, but i did make a little vid for the city, which you can watch here.)

*

i don’t think there’s anything more magical than an old european city. being surrounded by a place that’s existed for so long is somehow strangely exciting and comforting all at once. they feel rather like how i think the world should be like, or what i wish it was like. rather vague, i know, but i don’t really have the words to describe my love for these places.

anyway.

we went to prague a couple weeks ago. it’s a lovely old place. i had never been before, and megan was particularly excited to revisit it, as it had been one of her favorite places she’d seen on her study abroad. in any case, she’d made a promise to herself that if she ever visited prague again, she would do it right—more specifically, she would stay at the marriott hotel, which seemed to her tired, collegiate mind the paragon of comfort and leisure.

so that’s what we did.

(it was quite comfortable and leisurely.)

*

saturday morning, we set out into prague’s old townthe medieval heart of the city. the morning was grey and beautiful as we walked into the old town square. it felt like walking into another, long forgotten time.

as we wove further into praha, we passed the astronomical clock, which is arguably the most interesting clock in the world. not only does it tell time, but also the position of really relevant things, like the sun, the moon, and the zodiac. (gotta keep up on that astrology.) it’s like the medieval version of the apple watch. but mostly it’s intricate and beautiful and mysterious in a way that makes me want to write novels about it. maybe i’ll do that one day.

we spent most of the morning wandering through shops. (prague is really nice because everything is quite cheap and makes you feel okay when you buy a bunch of souvenirs.) our list of souvenirs includes (but is not limited to) tiny music boxes, books of folktales, and marionettes. (yes, megan actually bought puppets. their names are franz and josephine.) whether you buy things or not, prague’s shops are just really charming and good for a gander.

during our shop-wandering, megan and i often passed shops and stands that sold these odd-looking concoctions of dough and cream and other lovely sorts of things. naturally, our curiosity was piqued. upon closer inspection, we saw that these sweets were called trdelnîk and that they looked dang delicious. (as we waited in line to order, we could see a man rolling and twisting the dough for the cone-like things. mesmerizing.)

i like to think of my life in two separate time periods: before trdelnîk and after trdelnîk. my best, truest life began in 0 AT (after trdelnîk).

it was just such a lovely eating experience. a warm cone of fresh, sugar-coated bread, a rich chocolate lining, a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. it was like the better, eastern european version of a drumstick. i would go back to prague just to eat trdelnîk. 

(as usual, i have spent too much time talking about food. apologies.)

*

after quickly dropping our czech goods off at our hotel room, we went back out into the city for some lunch. (pizza—always a good choice.) when we were done, we crossed the river vltava towards the malá strana, or, literally, the lesser town of prague.

and then, we went up—and up—and up.

you see, we wanted to go to petřín mirror maze, as megan had gone to it and said it was rather fun. but to get there, we had to get to a slightly higher elevation.

so we walked up the hill of the park, the upward movement quickly warming our bodies. which was good, actually, as the hills were decidedly snowy. it was quite odd. although we visited in the dead of winter, the streets of prague weren’t snowy or icy at all. but i suppose the parks and hills are different sorts of creatures. despite our concern of slipping, the walk was rather picturesque in all its wintry glory.

*

eventually we found the maze and thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the mirrored illusions. (but for real, mirror mazes are so trippy. this one was quite small and i still had no idea where i was going.) the maze also had a hall full of those distortion mirrors that squash and stretch your reflection, which gave megan and i more than a good laugh.

when we left, the afternoon had begun to darken and a mist had swallowed the city, so thick that we could hardly see a few feet in front of us. it was rather lovely, actually, and made me think we had the whole of prague to ourselves. we wandered towards the castle, although we couldn’t quite see it, and eventually crossed back over the river on the charles bridge as the night descended in a hazy light.

we spent the evening reading each other folktales of princesses and golems (which for those, like megan, who don’t know is a different thing from gollum aka smeagol.)

one of my favorite ways to end an evening.

*

sunday was a lovely, quiet morning.

after attending church, we walked back towards the castle, since we could actually see it in the clear daylight. we crossed over the charles bridge again, over those stones that were placed there hundreds and hundreds of years ago. we visited the jewish quarter, admiring its beauty and history and grace. we ate another trdelnîk, because why not.

and soon, as always, it was time for us to leave.

i very much liked prague, that lovely old place.

paris

i feel that to be any sort of serious traveller, you have to go to paris at some point.

i mean, i don’t know how serious a traveller i am, but paris—the city of lights and love—it’s just one of those places everyone should visit.

needless to say, i was very much excited to go to paris. it’s always held a charming, sentimental place in my heart, ever since i watched movies like the aristocats and anastasia as a child. and as an adult, paris became even dearer to me when i fell in love with the movie amelie. (i could go on about that movies for ages, but this isn’t a post about amelie—it’s a post about paris.)

like on our trip to belgium, we booked tickets for the eurostar towards paris on a friday evening. except, like on our trip to belgium, we arrived early, so much so that we were able to walk out into the streets of paris before the evening could rightly be called old.

i immediately became aware of some of the things i dislike about paris. it a loud, bustling city—naturally, because it’s paris. but cities swarming with tourists often put me off, disconnecting me from experiences that i want to fully embrace. paris is also a very dirty city, filled with smokers and rats and trash. and while i had been warned of both these things beforehand, warning doesn’t quite resonate as strongly as experiencing them for yourself.

anyway, after checking into our hotel, megan and i embarked out into the parisian night for a good old wander. we headed in the direction of notre dame because it was nearby. (relatively, that is. nothing is really “nearby” in paris.) and then we came across the seine and i remembered why you come to paris—why wanted to come to paris. as we crossed over the river towards the île de la cité, the seine glittered and moved with the lights of paris, like something from a van gogh painting. in the background, far away, the eiffel tower rose out of the skyline, bright and golden and shining. it was a little magical, i have to admit. such a sight makes up for all the bad things.

after admiring notre dame for a moment, megan and i began to walk west along the river, towards the eiffel tower, as megan wanted to get a better view for her pictures. but the walk was so lovely and quiet that we ended up walking all the way to la tour eiffel. by that time it was quite late, and there was hardly anyone around—kind of amazing, since it is paris, after all. i had never really cared about the eiffel tower before, as it always seemed very gimmicky and overrated. and perhaps it still is, but seeing it so close and in such a secluded atmosphere allowed me to experience it for myself and relish its charm. it was a good way to end a good night.

16251966_10209974822381536_623133412922621741_o.jpg

the next morning, we departed our room and hopped on the metro towards montmartre. this area of paris holds a lot of the city’s iconic features: the moulin rouge and the sacré-cœur, among others. but to me, it was the home of amelie.

img_4620

the metro led us right in front of the red mill itself, so we stopped a moment to take some selfies and hum a few bars of “elephant love medley” to ourselves. and then, we walked a couple blocks over to find le café des deux moulins, which is where amelie worked in the movie. i was so excited to see it, to enter it, to pretend—for a moment—that i was amelie herself.

but for some reason, the cafe was closed. more than closed, it looked like it had been shut down. i couldn’t understand it. from what i had read, the cafe was a popular tourist destination. there was no news of it being closed permanently. in any case, i couldn’t go in and had to resign myself to just a few photos in front of the window.

i tried not to let it ruin my day, but not being able to go into the cafe rather broke my heart.

IMG_4635.JPG

anyway, after leaving the cafe, megan and i walked into a random bakery to pick up a few pains aux chocolats, which, naturally, were divine. i think everyday should begin with a warm, flaky, gooey chocolate croissant. they do wonders for the soul.

we then walked up and up to the sacré-cœur, the highest point and fairest view of paris. the sight of the basilica heartily cheered my spirits, as it was used to film one of the scenes  in amelie. looking at the bright carousel and the basilica behind it, i could hear the very music used in the film as amelie led nino back to his photo album.

(okay, this is somewhat turning into a post about amelie, but i promise i’m almost done.)

crêpes in hand, megan and i admired the scene before taking the funicular up to the basilica. the sight really was lovely. i could recognize the arch de triomphe and the eiffel tower amongst the sea of buildings, the whole of paris sitting at our feet.

we spent the afternoon walking through museums. la musée d’orsay. la musée de l’orangerie. le louvre. (well, the outside of the louvre. we decided we didn’t have the time to do the louvre proper justice.) i saw rooms full of some of my favorite impressionist paintings and recognized more, thanks to my art history class. i sat in front of the wall-length beauty of monet’s water lillies. i could have spent hours staring at it.

okay. it’s time to talk about food. (we all knew it had to come up eventually. it’s paris, after all.) now, i’ve already mentioned pains aux chocolats and crêpes. which are amazing, but non-specific.

while drafting our list of things to do in paris, megan read about this cafe called angelina’s that was supposed to be, simply put, amazing. (like i said last post, you can always count on women to do chocolate right.) after leaving the louvre, we walked down the rue de rivoli towards the cafe. we knew we had arrived when we saw the line strung far down the sidewalk. luckily, angelina’s had take-away, and we were able to grab some hot chocolates and pastries quite quickly. the hot chocolate was literally just straight-up melted chocolate—which is to say, delicious. the pastries were also perfect. 10/10.

next, as we walked down les champs elysees to the arch de triomphe, we stopped at ladurée, which our uncle said we had to go to for chocolate macarons. and holy crap batman, that place. for one thing, the interior was gorgeous. for another, their packaging is adorable. and lastly, and most importantly, their macarons are some of the best things i’ve ever eaten. true to my uncle’s word, the chocolate macarons are a thing of beauty. megan said the vanilla macarons are equally, if not more, amazing, though i’ll have to take her word for it, as she ate the only one. i’m not bitter.

after visiting a few more sights—the arch de triomphe, shakespeare and company, etc.—we decided to head back to our hotel for an early night in. as fun as they are the bustling crowds of paris are quite draining. so we watched the man from u.n.c.l.e. and ate in our beds instead.

IMG_4663.JPG

sunday was dedicated mostly to versailles, the palace of the sun king, good ole louis quatorze. (that was what we called him in my french classes. i had to look up how to spell quatorze. i was never very good at french.)

aside from thinking this place is hecka busy, my first impression of versailles was this place is hecka decadent. which, i mean, is natural, as it is a palace and louis xiv was the definition of extra. but versailles does astound you with the opulent, yet refined, beauty.

before we toured through the palace, though, megan and i beelined for angelina’s, which just happened to have a set up in versailles. (as did ladurée. i’m not one for grand homes personally, but i would def live at versailles if i could have access to those beauties every day.)

after having a fancy lunch in a fancy palace, we toured through the grand rooms. we saw the hercules room. we saw the room that has the painting of king louis with his leg stuck out all sexy. (you know, this one.) we saw the hall of mirrors, which is very lovely and excellent for selfies. but we didn’t linger in any one place , and unfortunately, since it’s winter, the gardens were rather dull, so we didn’t stay too long at the palace at all. (to paraphrase richard ayoade, we gave versailles the whole forty-five minutes that it deserves.) anyway, once i see a woman take off her pants and underwear in front of me, i call the day good.

img_4669
shadowy selfies

before taking the train back into central paris, we took a gander at the new lds temple, which isn’t too far from versailles. the open house and dedication aren’t for another few months, but megan and i were still able to see a good view of the temple. the building was lovely, and i’m just sad we couldn’t go inside.

the rest of the afternoon was a bleary haze. after leaving the versailles area, we thought we’d spend the rest of our time walking around and such. so we headed to some road and walked towards the champs elysees again. but i was so tired i almost fell asleep while walking. so we didn’t do much at all. we sat down for some crêpes. and then we went back to our hotel, where we headed to the station for our train home.

i’m glad i went to paris. i don’t know that i would call it one of my favorite places in the world, but i’m grateful to have gone. it’s the kind of city you have to pay homage to, to thank for its magic and wonder. because, whatever the city may be, it is paris.

à bientôt.

belgium (ft. the netherlands)

for our first proper weekend excursion—just the two of us—megan and i travelled to belgium.

this was exciting on many accounts. first, neither of us had been before, so we both had a new country to discover. second, belgium is, like, The Best at making chocolate, the greatest thing ever to have graced this good earth. and not only that, belgians are also The Best at making waffles and fries. so, um, we were pretty stoked about that.

early friday evening, we arrived at st. pancras station for our train to brussels. so early, in fact, that we were able to switch to an earlier departure. very soon, we were through security and sat aboard our train, settling in for the two hour ride to belgium.

i don’t know why, but trains have always seemed very romantic to me. perhaps because i’ve always associated them with an older, long-forgotten time, or maybe because i’ve always wanted to take the magical express to hogwarts. in any case, i was looking forward to our ride on the eurostar, despite the fact that a portion of our journey would be under water. (is anyone else amazed that we can ride a train under water? because i think it’s amazing. and weird.) the time passed very quickly. i remembered that i had disney’s cinderella (the new one, of course) on my ipad, so megan and i very happily spent the ride watching it.

and when we got off the train, we were in brussels.

in light of the recent terrorist activity in the city, we were cautious about walking through the city late at night. however, after checking into our hotel (and ordering some much needed room service), we decided to take a little stroll, as the night was calm enough.

after wandering through several lanes, we found ourselves at la grand place—the central square in brussels. it was a lovely old thing. the edifices shone brightly against the dark night, and although it was late, plenty of people were still up and about. megan shot a few pictures of the buildings before we continued down some of the side lanes, scoping out the different chocolatiers. after a while, we returned to our hotel, where we finished watching crazy, stupid, love before falling asleep.

16487599_10210023126349105_4534131474959344235_o

the next morning, we went out into brussels again, ready and willing to be convinced of the quality of belgian chocolate.

first, though, we had to find the infamous brussels landmark manneken pis. or, translated, little man pee. much as the name describes, the tiny fountain statue depicts a boy peeing into a basin. so scandalous. before we left, my parents told megan and i that the statue was really hard to find, as they had failed to find it on their trip years ago. but apparently it’s really close to la grand place and has many signs pointing to it. very hard to find.

img_0174
the ickle pee man himself

anyway, after taking an appropriate selfie by the little pee man, we set out in search of waffles. but not just any waffle—The Best waffle. and to be honest, the waffle we found was pretty dang near The Best, if not The Best itself. soft and warm, covered in chocolate and strawberries and fresh whipped cream, that waffle was made of dream stuff. my mouth waters just to think of it. i wish i remembered the name of the place we bought it from, but at the time i was mostly thinking, mmmmm this is so good. 

before our time in brussels ended, we also stopped at elizabeth chocolatiers for some chocolate and truffles. you know, as snacks for the road.

we arrived at antwerp around midday. belgium being so small, it didn’t take long at all to arrive at the city. it likely felt longer to megan, though. the roads in belgium—antwerp in particular—are interesting, to say the least. chaotic and confusing are more accurate terms. we weren’t honked at nearly as much as we deserved to be, and i’m somewhat surprised that we made it out of the city so unscathed.

16463510_10210023138869418_7953769700051617127_o

while we weren’t muddling through the perilous and nonsensical highways of antwerp, megan and i walked through the main parts of town, admiring the window displays of diamonds and such. we ate fries in a gorgeous old train station. and … that’s about it. we didn’t spend too much time at antwerp, as fun as the name is to say.

since we still had quite a bit of the afternoon left before we needed to be in ghent, megan suggested a drive through the netherlands.

why not? i said.

so we travelled northward, crossing into the dutch country. the sun was just beginning to set, turning the sky a clear, pale blue as it did. we passed several windmills as we drove—mostly modern ones, white and tall and slender, though a few tradition mills popped up as well. the netherlands is flat and endless, the only trees planted in neat lines along the highway.

our time in the netherlands was probably only about thirty minutes, but it was lovely all the same.

that night, we stayed in ghent.

 with each city that i visited in belgium, i liked each one more and more. ghent was lovely and calm at night. our hotel sat right in front of the river, lit up by the reflections of building on either side of it. we walked along the bank, across the bridge, through the city.

16422500_10210023113708789_7799781323458494731_o

16487452_10210023047147125_489208564196365001_o

for dinner, we happened upon a fondue restaurant. i had never had fondue before and was very intrigued by the idea (as well as by the prospect of chocolate fondue). it ended up being a beef fondue, where we cooked our steaks in a hot oil of some sort. i, a non-steak eater, was a little perturbed by this, but i enjoyed the meal all the same (especially dessert).

all in all, a wonderful night.

our last day was reserved solely for bruges.

after attending church, megan and i headed for brugge—the venice of belgium. it was easily our favorite of the cities we saw. for one thing, bruges was much easier to navigate. or rather, it was less busy, which made it seem easier to navigate. we parked our car without much hassle and decided to walk into the town center, as it wasn’t far and the weather was nice.

bruges on a sunday morning was gorgeous and relaxing. save for the main square, most of the streets and alleys were quite empty, which made them excellent for wandering. and that is what we did. we wandered our way through street after street, going wherever our legs took us.

16403323_10210023222551510_4726188406016133990_o

as we were walking down one of the many streets, megan noticed a sign that read chocolate bar upstairs. 

i mean, when you see the words chocolate bar upstairs, you have to go. no question.

after walking closer up, we saw that the store was called the old hot chocolate house, which made it even more appealing and inviting. the interior was warm and cozy and lined with shelves full of chocolate confections. we followed upstairs to the alluded chocolate bar and were seated at a table by the window, overlooking the quaint street outside. it was rather picturesque.

then our food arrived.

oh, buddy. let me tell you about the food.

our hot chocolate came out first. we were both given a cup of steaming milk and a cup of solid chocolate. as in, the cup was made of chocolate and was filled with smaller pieces of chocolate which we were then to put into the milk. i, being the chocolate fiend that i am, plopped the entire thing into my milk without hesitation. (megan did the same.)

img_4565

literally the best hot chocolate i had ever had. i could write odes about that hot chocolate. epics, even. it’s that good.

chris-traeger-literally

 

 

our waffles came next. we ordered one with a butterscotchy sort of syrup, and one with chocolate and hazelnut. both were divine. i felt nearly sick afterward. but #worthit.

we spent the whole day as we wished, stopping for pictures where we liked, doing things as they came to us. at one point, we passed a museum dedicated to french fries, and so, obviously, we went in. (very informative. gives you a coupon to buy fries at the end. 10/10.) when we wanted more chocolate, as we naturally did, we stopped at the shops that looked the most charming. (pro tip: if you want to buy good chocolate, always go to the stores named after women. for example, we went to mary’s in bruges. literally makes chocolate for the belgian royalty. what can i say.)

16422501_10210023201830992_6024490229867546651_o
classy fry lady
16487847_10210023039586936_7296439130195871582_o
sister spuds for life

16402920_10210023190790716_1680326858948295288_o

by the time we headed back to brussels for our eurostar home, we were very happy, full, and loaded with chocolate to eat at home.

and yes, for all those wondering, belgian chocolate is The Best.

phantom limbs

it’s been an odd few weeks.

on the surface, i am living a dream. i am in england, the home of my soul. i am traveling every weekend to new and exciting places, eating foods and seeing sights beyond description. i am filling my days how i wish, writing and researching and reading to my heart’s content. i should be so happy.

(and i am, i am.)

but i have also been thinking lately about the things i am not doing. like getting a job. or building my skills and experiences. or connecting with new people. my future is as vast and daunting as the sea. i can see out into it, but it gives me no indication of what it holds.

i was texting with a friend the other day, just chatting about her new semester and how life was treating both of us. and at one point i said something to the effect that i was experiencing phantom limbs. i feel so much anxiety for things that no longer exist or have yet to come to be. for weeks after finishing my degree, i would have nightmares about school projects or responsibilities that i had forgotten. work shifts that i would fail to attend. each time i’d wake up with my chest a tangle of knots, trying to get myself to breathe again.

my future is also a phantom. i feel such pressure to have everything aligned and in place, but instead, i have nothing. no job prospects. a rather lack of experience at all, really. and with taking these few months off to travel, i feel like i am further separating myself from the hope of ever having a solid future under my feet. that i have already failed before i ever began.

must it be like this? is it really so kind to demand that college graduates, and young adults in general, have their lives so clearly figured out? i am twenty-one years old, but i still feel too young for my body.

i have always struggled to live in myself and my experiences. i am always longing for rose-colored years of the past or idyllic versions of the future. anything better than now. (now is too near, too frightening.) the only time i have really been happy, really felt a part of my body was my summer in england. for once, i let myself simply exist where and as i was, without unnecessary concern for unnecessary things. i slept in beds of daisies and felt nothing but the sunshine on my skin.

my memories of my study abroad were the main reason for my current stay here. i wanted so much to feel that stability, that solidness in my life again. i thought simply being in england was the key. but as happy as i have been to be here, england is not enough.

i’m not sure where exactly i am going with this post. i’m not usually one to tell such personal things to my own friends and family, let alone to the whole of the internet. but i needed a place to put these thoughts that wasn’t near me. they have been heavy to hold.

mostly i just wanted to remind myself that it’s alright to be a little lost and alone. it’s alright to not have a set plan. but that those are no excuse for not enjoying my life, because it’s a dang good one. i am so lucky. i am loved and i am taken care of.

and that makes all the difference.

 

 

die burgenstraße // germany

a few weeks earlier, my sister megan came to my mother and i and said, “so.”

(this is how all important and unimportant conversations in our family begin. in this case, however, it was an important conversation.)

“so,” megan said, “we have one weekend together. you two pick from spain, france, or germany.”

this was especially cruel, giving us three options. (the women in my family are notoriously Indecisive™.)  i wanted to go to each country at some point or another, and my mother really ought to have been doing the choosing, since this was her last weekend with us. but my mother would not decide, so i surprised all by being the one to assert a choice.

“germany.”

and that was enough to set megan off to Plan. (megans don’t need much incentive to make a plan.)

this was the plan: to drive along the burgenstraße (which is german for “castle road”) and see as many dang castles we could.

this is what happened: we arrived at the frankfurt airport and, after waiting through customs, grabbed our luggage and our rental car. megan had never driven on the autobahn before, but quickly fell in love with the german highways. (though, at one point, she did ask me to double check if there was a standard speed limit for autobahn. “just whatever speed that lets you remain in control of the car.” “okay.”)

an hour later, we drove into heidelberg.

heidelberg at night was lovely and romantic. the castle was closed for the night, but we wandered up to it anyway, admiring the way it sat golden against the dark sky. lights were glittering on the river neckar down below. even though it was rather late at night, the main street was still lively enough. we all cooed at the displays of lederhosen and carefully crafted cuckoo clocks. (how’s that for alliteration, mom?) megan and i tried some currywurst, which i, a hater of sausage, did not hate. at one point, it started snowing–the light sort of flakes that sit so nicely in your hair. it made a most charming scene. (except for the fact that i was freezing.)

the next morning, we returned to the main part of heidelberg to do a bit more exploring and moved through a series of shops. multiple bakeries, for bienenstich and other delicious confections. a custom design store, for a heidelberg sweatshirt (my mother had bought one when she visited the town at my age and wanted to pass the tradition to me). the clock shop, for a cuckoo clock that megan could not resist. and the lindt chocolate store, for a cup of hot chocolate to warm our bodies from the cold. (i’m still dreaming about that cup of dark hot chocolate tbh.)

it began snowing again, and the bells of the cathedral were ringing. it seemed a moment out of a fairy tale. i smiled at the thought.


but the time soon came for us to go back on the road–the burgenstraße, to be specific. (we said the word burgenstraße a lot during our few days there. particularly in a really loud and terrible german accent.) we had plans to visit a lot of castles on our way to colmberg, our home for the night. but the light snow came down a bit more earnestly, and we couldn’t really see anything.

so we headed to colmberg, a lovely castle on the hill. we walked through the snow and admired the wintry valley below us. megan and mother snapped away the scene, capturing the sun as it began to set. snow ball fights ensued. (don’t ever challenge megan to a snow ball fight–she plays dirty.) but when the winds picked up, we retired to the hotel for a surprisingly delicious meal and an early night in.


sunday brought more snow and lonely castles wanderings. hot chocolate in a chilly city. emphatic cries of burgenstraße! soon enough, it was time for us to return to england.

but our time in germany was absolutely lovely. it’s no wonder so much folklore emerged from there–the entire country is laced with magic.

-natalie

yorkshire

a weekend or two ago, my mom, sister, and i took a late night drive into  yorkshire for a lovely few days there. (this is to be my life now–traveling to new places for a lovely few days there. how is this my life now?) i was the only one to have been to yorkshire before, having visited a year and a half ago. in any case, it made me all the more excited to see the county again.

i wrote in my journal once that being in yorkshire felt like being in a brontë novel, and i stand by that. yorkshire is moody and gothic and eerily beautiful. it’s a wild sort of thing, changing from the green rolling hills of the dales to the heathery desolation of the moors. i can never decide which one i love more.


we girls had a gorgeous day walking around brimham rocks and fountain abbey. i climbed some rocks and chased some pheasants. the usual. later, we wandered through the moors , watching as the sun set into horizon. it was a funny feeling driving through the county instead of hiking. the last time i was in yorkshire, i did a twenty mile hike whilst being rather dehydrated and ill. i didn’t miss the sickness, but i did miss the feeling of the earth moving under my feet.


on our last day, we mostly drove around, skirting the lake and peak districts. we took a ramble through sherwood forest, which was an unexpected pleasure for me. (i’ve always been rather obsessed with disney’s robin hood.) we arrived back into southern england far into the dark of evening, but yorkshire was well worth the drive.


like with cornwall, i made a video for our weekend in yorkshire, which you can watch here. enjoy watching me fall in some sheep poo.

-natalie