Monday, August 31, 2009

Hola from Espana!

Wow. Wow. Wow. I like Spain MUCHO! (But as is instantly apparent I'm sure, my Spanish needs some work). The food, the people, the streets, the buildings, and the general sense of vitality that this place exudes is intoxicating. Madrid is a total melting pot, but with seemingly a unifying flavor of excitement and sauciness.

The past few days have certainly been a whirlwind of meeting new people and attempting to examine the endless nooks and crannies of Madrid's streets. There really is a lot to see, ranging from ancient castles and churches, to skyscrapers and temples. The first day I got into the city I had to take 3 metros and walk a good deal before I got into my hostel, rendering most of the day burnt up my the trivialities of travel. But I, being probably too overly ambitious and not wanting to waste a second, I threw my stuff into my room and jetted off to the allegedly best sunset watching place in all of the city: the Egyptian Temple dedicated to the goddess Isis. I don't know what was more shocking the fact Madrid, a rather cosmopolitan metropolis, has an ancient temple juxtaposed with a freshly constructed Starbucks, or the sheer magic of the sunset that evening. It was BEAUTIFUL! The sun here is really a spectacle, although at times an unwanted one due to the insane amount of heat it produces.

The next day was my museum going day. I've decided after about 9 hours of aimless wandering in and out of old Flemish paintings, Spanish art is much more aesthetically appealing to me than a lot of other masterpieces known in the Western world. Everything just seems to be more juiced with color (the obvious exception being kind sir Goya himself). I went to Reina Sofia in the morning, known for housing some of Salvador Dali's most famous works and one of my favorite paintings of all time: Guernica. Ever since using this piece in the play "Us and Them" that I directed in high school, it has been a favorite of mine. It was amazing to stand next to it in awe. The other thing that gave me a serious "awe" sensation was running into a fellow Goucher student, yet again. I feel like in every obscure place I go in life Goucher people follow, may it be a hippy commune in Tennessee, biking through Virginia, or in a random museum in Spain. Weird.

After a siesta from art in the botanical gardens and a nice floral scented nap, I made my way to Museo del Prado, one of the most extensive museums in Spain. I ended up meeting a guy from Kansas who was studying Art History and Spanish for a year in Madrid, but was an English and Cognitive Science major (so obviously we had a lot to talk about). It was nice having some one to educate me about Spanish art/translate all of the written text about the paintings. I am surprised how time flies in museums, they are like portals of misrepresented time, while as you're simultaneously shipping yourself off to different time periods, time in the present seemingly dissipates at a higher rate than usual. Lovely. I also got to see another of my favorite paintings: The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Last night I had my first tapas bar experience, as well as a private performance of flamenco in a back alley way. One minute I was cooking beans and cutting avocado slices for dinner, and the next I was friends with 15 people who had met a local person who had invited us all over for the dancing and drinks. It was AMAZING! Not only did I get a show of a lifetime, but I also got to learn a few dance moves (as well as execute them poorly). Afterward I met two girls from Michigan who I adored. :) They were SO much fun. We decided to find the most authentic tapas bar we could, eventually settling with the one with a gigantic pig foot jutting out of the plates on the bar table and mounds of pearly white cheeses. We got a bottle of complimentary aged cider from the bar tender and munched on tapas for hours (people in Spain stay up until like 6 or 7 in the morning) talking about American political problems with two guys from he Canary Islands.

Today I took a train from Madrid to Toledo, one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire, as well as the birth place of El Greco. The train ride out there was very interesting, enabling me to get out of the big city a bit and see the country. This part of Spain resembles much of what a geographic conglomeration of New Mexico, Arizona and Kansas would look like. Very arid and general goldeness about it. It is beautiful...but HOT! Toledo itself was breathtaking. Being an old Moorish city and a cultural fusion point for Jewish and Christian communities, there are countless old churches, ancient buildings and castles all stacked up on a mountain surrounded by a stone wall and moat-like river. I LOVED everything about Toledo. It was one of the first places that still felt authentic to me (although still had a fair share of tourist oriented things). But I could really imagine lace clad women with fancy fans strolling down the cobble stone streets. I sat in the plaza munching the infamous Toledo marzipan for a good chunk of time first watching an old man in a top hat feed the birds pieces of crumbled bread, and eventually taking part in the act once he saw me being intrigued by the effort. There was something tender about that moment.

Tomorrow my overall objective is to nourish my overly excited and geeky desire to go to the Santiago Ramón y Cajal museum. Santiago Ramón y Cajal basically was a pioneer in documenting the structure of neurons in the human brain, and radically reshaped the way we conceptualized our neural networks.....meaning he= kelly's hero. So yeah. I am REALLY excited for that. I think I am going to wake up for sunrise, which according to the Hungarian girl in the room next to me, is incredible from the Plaza del Sol tomorrow morning.

One more day in Spain and then off to London. I am starting to get anxiously excited to start school in a few days. I am definitely thirsty for knowledge and meeting friends I'll know more than a few hours. :)

Besos por todos.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Howdy from a Venetian window overlooking the Grand Canal. Today was my last day in this incredible country, and I am feeling a bit nostalgic (yet unspeakably excited for the Spain adventures to come).

This blog is not going to be as profound or lengthy as I'd hope, considering I am totally, incredibly, terribly, wonderfully, yet definitely, without a doubt, exhausted (how's that for an unnecessary string of adjectives!). I leave at 6:00 tomorrow morning...and I bought a tacky big blue alarm clock from the Jewish Ghetto this afternoon just to be sure not to relive the unfortunate mishap that occurred in Brussels.

Yesterday I spent most of my time wandering around aimlessly, in my ferocious attempt to step foot on every narrow passage way in Venice (knowing quite realistically it was impossible). But, with some sore feet, I did manage to make it to all 6 sectors of the island. It was totally worth it. The shimmering blue canals, white bridges, and freckled water ways reflecting pastel buildings are all eye candy you can never get sick of. I also decided to wake up at sunrise and watch the golden rays slowly make their way across the canal near my hostel while enjoying a pistachio cookie and a fresh apple from a street vendor. Luckily waking up this early allowed me to get some serious exploration out of the way and in line for San Marcos Basilica before the mobs of other sweaty tourists arrived. I think I was like the 5th person inside or something ridiculous like that, letting me not only swiftly get in and out of the cue, but take my time in peace once in the church. I have never seen so many gold paintings in my life. What an incredible place! Mankind truly is exceptional.

Afterward I bought a 4 Euro ticket to go to the top of the old clock tower near the church, which just so happens has the best view of both he ocean and the city. It was breath taking. I sat up there talking to strangers in the window for a good hour and a half. I couldn't stop imagining Shakespearean clad gents and ladies strolling the square and ships with big sails coming in from sea. Marco Polo and The Merchant in Venice have been playing imaginary scenes in my mind as well. :)

The rest of the day consisted of aimless wandering (which is the might seem mundane, yet in Venice, it is truly a treat), gelato munching on piers, dangling my feet in the water while sipping peach wine, strolling the Mercado Rilato, and being sketched by a random Spaniard on a bridge. hahaha. I could get used to this life!

Today was my "get yourself educated" day, resulting in some serious museum goings and comings. I woke up early again, made friends with the fruit vendors, who ended up giving me free apples and a glass bead necklace, and getting on the nearest boat to the Island Murano off the coast. Murano is famous for its glass blowing, a market that dominates much of shops in Venice, so I went to the Glass Museum there. I really never knew how complicated and exquisite the art of glass blwing could be. It was SO interesting to see how glass was 1. blown, 2. evolved over time periods, and 3. the cultural and societal ties. It was nice, because on the boat over I met a girl from Uruguay and we ended up becoming friends and wandering the museum together giggling geekishly in and out of the different rooms and then wandering the island. We stumbled upon a glass blowing demonstration and snuck into a few factories to get the real hands on view of the process. I really enjoyed having a friend/someone to talk to more than a few momentary exchanges of words. (One of my major qualms with Venice is how lonely it can be when you're not madly in love. is hard to be in the most romantic places in the entire world by yourself, witnessing the most beautiful sunset you've ever seen, by yourself, and being surrounded by happy couples, by yourself. Did I mention I was by myself?. Haha. So the point is: it was nice to have a friend. Although it still doesn't remedy the love problem. :)

The rest of today I spent getting lost in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, being totally floored by the insanity of some of the paintings. I love art. Like really. HUMANS ARE AN IMPRESSIVE SPECIES! Maybe I look at things too evolutionary, but the things we have produced are profound.

Anyways, just got back from roaming the streets one last time, photographing flowers, and standing on the Bridge of Rialto during the sunset and now...I am off to sleep before yet another long day of travel.

See you in Espana!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I found a camera chord thingymagigger at a random store in the Jewish Ghetto so here are some pictures of Venice to make up for not having them in the last blog (note:incredible and frequent sunburn pics):

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This song is highly relevant right now.
(Shout out to Paul for showing me it):
It’s decided. I am moving to Italy (and Brussels, and Dublin and probably every other European city I go to).
Venice is incredible! Mindblowingly incredible. I cannot think of a better adjective to describe such a phenomenon (I’ve decided it can’t just be considered a “city”). Wildly romantic, aesthetically perfect and simmering with the best smells, food and drink I’ve ever experienced. What kind of God descended upon this place back in the day and said “this shall be the most beautiful place ever known to man in every regard?” Whoever it was, proved to be extremely successful, and then some. Narrow bustling streets, overly excited Italian discussions, and crystal blue canal routes jammed with black gondolas.
But let me backtrack for a moment to my last day in Belgium (can you tell I’m excited about Italy! Hahah). After getting quite the exposure to Brussels, traversing just about every inch of the cobble stone alleys with some friends, I decided it would be a good idea to get out of the city and experience some authentic, un-tourist tainted Belgium. So I took a train out to the country side. Doing things by my usual play it by ear mentality, I walked over to the train station, found a name on the map I liked and got the first departing train. About half way through I figured out that no one was routinely checking tickets, and that it should be, hypothetically, a breeze to get off the train and back on at my own leisure. So that’s what I did. Every town that either looked interesting or I could see some kind of big statue, I jumped off and walked around for a bit. It was a really hit of miss methodology, but enabled me to at least sample some of the northern areas. Eventually I ended up in Antwerpen, which is this totally random shopping district out of New York City, except all of the Gucci stores and what not are constructed in to ancient, castle-esque buildings. It was just about the most bizarre fusion of old and new architecture I’ve witnessed. I heard that there was a world famous chocolatier who was attempting to build a church (on a slightly smaller scale of course) solely out of his homemade goods. All I can say is: my nose has never been so totally tantalized. (luckily I had a handful of Belgium chocolates in my purse form the day before). Yum, and quite impressive.
When I got back ended up talking to this guy who was on his way to Cario and had been living in Barcelona from Missouri, and a girl who had just been travelling the Middle East and been in France for 2 months. To put a long story short: it was a trio made in heaven. According to them, I had been in Brussels for 3 days and not yet experienced proper Lebanese food, and considering the fact he was fluent in Arabic I found myself being whizzed to a back alley Arabic speaking nook in the wall ordering the best falafels in town. It was cool, because all of the people in the restaurant were so interested in the fact this random white dude was speaking perfect Arabic, we were flocked by interested, talkative, inquisitive Lebanese. What was supposed to be a hour dinner, ended up being about 2 ½, with an intensive introduction to Arabic lesson for me. Eventually we had to end the diner short, since there were some other people waiting back at the hostel for us to go out, but I’d say it takes the cake for the best dining experience thus far this trip.
Later that night there was an epic thunder/rain storm, so the only natural thing to do was to run around like wild animals dancing in the rain in front of ancient churches. I think “raining in Brussels” would be an awesome acoustic guitar song. Again, my happiness levels exceeded an unprecedented degree. It was hard to say farewell to such invigorating folk, but at the same time that is the nice thing about travelling like this: it is like a constant sample of people. It is actually very freeing, since you know you can just be yourself with no restraint or repercussions in the long run, because the likelihood of waking up the next morning and never seeing them again is very probable. Biggest lesson learned so far= the power of confidence. It is a totally valuable skill to know, and one that I am hopefully getting better at as a product.

Okay…so Venice! I don’t think I’ll ever be quite sure if the fact I am in Venice is a magical experience, or it is the fact that being here was actually a gift from some dude in the sky. Seriously. As a product of my inability to understand time differences/setting my wristwatch to the appropriate one, I ended up waking up 1 hour and 8 minutes after when I had planned on taking a taxi to the airport (at 3:00 in the morning mind you!). It was bad. Especially since at that hour (being 4:08 a.m.) all public transportation is closed and the only way to get to the bus I needed to be at was to take a taxi. I stuffed all of my things into my backpack and ran out into the streets praying to god the taxi, by some miracle was still there, albeit pissed I was sure. Unfortunately it was not. So I was left with no phone, no way of contacting the owner of the hostel, and no number to the nearest taxi service…all of which were increasingly not good due to the sheer sketchy factor of Brussels after dark. So... there was nothing else to do, but to sit on the steps, convincing myself it would be okay that I was going to miss my plane, and see what the universe would present. But then, three Italian drunks staying at the hostel came into my life….and I can honestly say I’ve never in my life been so over joyed to be in the presence of drunk men. They were totally decent, let me use their phone, called a taxi for me and waited until it came to keep me safe while giving my iced muffins. You never know what to expect in life.
Unfortunately my only choice was to take a taxi directly to the airport, which was 45 minutes away, since I only had about 55 until the plane began to board. In the end, I made it with about 10 minutes to spare, as a product of me somehow explaining to the drive that speeding was okay despite a thick language boundary. The only major issue of the process was that the ride alone cost 112 Euros…yeeeah. Major bummer.
BUT! I AM HERE IN VENICE! Sipping peach juice after feasting on about a pound of fruit from a huge market nearby. When I got here I checked in to the hostel and bought a 3 day water taxi ticket. Since I was (and still am) totally sleep deprived, I decided to order a wheel of licorice, some handmade meringues and a pizza margarita and set off for the farther destination the water taxi would take me. That way I could be a passive viewer, while still getting a sense of the city. (trust me the roads that mimic Italy’s primary pasta dish are not easy on a tired mind).
The taxi ended up taking me through the major water canal and on to Lido, a small Island right off of the Venetian coast. It was quite the ride. For the remainder of the day, I sat popping meringues, sleeping on a white rock with my toes in the water, and breathing in the rawness of the ocean air. Seagulls, crystal blue water, white sand, and (as is typically European) half clad gents and ladies. It was the best remedy for a stressed, sleepless mind.
Anyways…now I am back in my hostel (which is on the 5th floor of an alley that a 300 pound person would, without a doubt, have a difficult time in regards to width.
Life is good.
And I am one VERY thankful lady.

p.s. sorry there are no pictures, I lost my camera chord. So as soon as I can figure out how to get a new one or have someone (AHEM *cough cough*MOM) send me one. Sorry!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hello from the waffle adoring crossroads of Europe : Brussels. What a beautiful, at times shocking, place! I am sitting in the hostel, adorned with wood carved moose and neon plastic chairs.

It was difficult to say farewell to the joviality of the Irish Isle, but at the same time unspeakably exciting to get on a plane for mainland Europe. My plane took off at 8:00 in the morning, meaning I had to wake up at 4:00, walk down a series of sketchy Irish alley ways, wave down a bus, and make my way to the airport cast in a delicious dose of sleep deprivation. This usually would not have been such a problem, except for two unpredicted variables: 1. I had not forgotten to mail a good deal of my things and 2. made the miraculous decision to wear my new leather boots to the Guinness Factory the day before. Both making the journey to the airport much more difficult due to a slew of random objects strung to my backpack and some delightfully large blisters on my feet. Hahaha. It was quite the trip, but needless to say I made it with plenty of time to spare and a sense of confidence with my accomplishment.

Flying over Belgium was worth the trip alone. Surprisingly the entire way was cloud free, rendering peeping out the side window a successful endeavor. The coast line was lined with hundreds of windmills sticking out of the sandbanks in the ocean. I had to take about 6 double takes before I realized that they were indeed windmills, so large they were distinctly visible from a plane. WAAAAY cool! The Belgium country side was also beautiful. Thick, tree laden rolling hills, fecund fields outlined by a lattice of dark green bushes, and little red roofed cottages snuggly fit in between it all.

I flew into the airport 45 minutes away from the city center, meaning not only were my hostel directions wrong, but I had about 3 buses, one train and 30 minutes of walking in front of me. The fact I can only say “cheese,” “duck,” and “grapefruit” in French only compounded the problem. I honestly had no idea where I was going, and ended up assuming that the word “nord” meant north, or at least praying that was the case as I jumped on a train headed in the direction. Eventually I found my way to where my directions began, which read: go out of the train station, see the large traffic circle, cross the stop lights, and go down the boulevard. Easy enough right? Right….except for the fact Belgium is basically a network comprised of roundabouts, stop lights and (especially) boulevards. Haha. It took me another 50 minutes or so to finally Sherlock Holms my way to the boulevard situated hostel.

Right when I checked in I met a group of Americans who had just got accepted to a PhD program for (of all things!) neuroscience. It was like a dream come true. We immediately became friends, and they invited me to go out on the town with them. They had been there for 8 days already, so it was nice to finally have someone to talk to and who knew their way around. To make a long story short, what I thought was going to be a few hours outing, turned out to be an all night extravaganza of neural debates, singing, dancing, roaming the streets, climbing buildings, peeing on churches (It is LEGAL, don’t worry!) and coming back to the hostel just shy of sunrise. It was a lot of fun. Laying with my back against the cobblestone at midnight, watching a massive light show synced to the “Final Countdown” in the Grote Markt square, I have rarely been so happy.

Today I woke up with the mission to 1. Eat a Belgium waffle (not the tourist ones, the real ones that old Belgium grandmas flock to in the morning), 2. Wander aimlessly throughout the city, 3. Sit in the Grand Palace relishing world class people watching, and 3. Find the best chocolate shop in town. I can proudly say I have accomplished them all, if do say so myself. I got to the Grand Palace early, grabbed a hot waffle and sat against a pillar to watch the square populate itself by tourists from all walks of life. That is the great thing about Belgium (besides the beer and chocolate of course), is that it is the capital for the EU, with a population comprised of 170 nationalities. After forcing myself to leave my prime location, I ventured out into the city to come across an African drum circle on the steps of a church. They had a line of gourd-like instruments with a group of guys performing an intricate martial arts dance in the center. It was so cool, I had a hard time not laughing out loud with excitement. The rest of the day I spent meandering in and out of cathedrals, listening to a classical organ concert, and buying a bag of assorted chocolates.

Tomorrow I plan on taking a train out into the country side to get out of the city for a bit and see some authentic parts of the country….and then I am off to Venice. It’s weird, because I feel like this trip is simultaneously going by faaar too fast, yet incredibly slow. There is just so much packed into one day, it feels like years since I’ve been on the road.

Anyways, love you all and thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hello Hello Hello!
Yet another day of happiness has passed. I really like Ireland. It feels slightly too home like for my Irish heritage blood to deal with saying goodbye to tomorrow. The people, food, nature, beer, accents, little shops, and hospitality combine to make an intoxicating place altogether. Part of me just wants to wipe myself off the map and soak quietly in to a Irish hill side for a bit. It just seems like the best place for a cup of strong black tea and a good book.

There wasn't a cloud in sight today, which is apparently rare according to all of the jovial Irish folk walking about with smiles on their faces and talk of sunshine on their lips. I was appreciative of this fact, because the ocean breezes on the coast are not only frigid, but unrelentingly strong. This morning I woke up, after 12 whole hours of much needed sleep, ate some more baguette with jam (graciously provided by the hostel, but not very sensitive to those non-gluten lovers), and made my way to the nearest fruit stand. After buying some oranges for the day's journey, I set out for the DART (Dublin Rapid Transportation) station without any idea where I was to find some such place. I figured out this is the way I like to travel. No map, no clue, and no expectations....and thus far it is a theory yet to be disproved. After weaving in and out of narrow streets and quaint coffee houses, I finally found my way to the station and boarded the next train to Howth (pronounced H-OOOOH-wth, as was strictly pointed out to me).

At first I was disappointed with Howth. It seemed to be a pretty average location as we pulled up in the train (which for Ireland is still saying quite a bit). But when I got off the train, walked by a busy fishing marina, and flung my self once again in to oblivion...I began walking up a steep, windy path that lead to a trail head. The trail turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made, leading me directly to the most beautiful place I've ever been (not even kidding). Jagged, dramatic cliffs, laced with white water crashing below, and golden fields blanketed by blossoming heather. It honestly took my breath away. As I kept walking up the steep slope along the coast, I kept getting more and more overwhelmed, almost to a point of tears a few times. It was seriously something out a fairytale. I decided to take a rest after about 2 hours of walking and gawking, in a bed of heather overlooking a lighthouse jutting out in to the ocean. It was certainly one of those "wow" life moments. Being alone along the cliff side is exactly what I needed right now. Sometimes the universe knows the best panacea to your woes, you just have to let it do its work. :)

After walking back through the town, getting totally lost, eating oranges on tall sea stone walls, and dilly dallying in and out of tiny shops, I found a Spanish rock band playing along the shore. They were singing in butchered English "Chicago" by Frank Sinatra, accompanied, of course, by steely electric guitar chords and clanky tambourines. Haha. It was so amusing I found myself dancing with a few people, laughing, and singing along.

Tonight I decided to treat myself to dinner at a real restaurant (something that I've figured out is not going to be a frequent happening due to the INSANE prices, dear lord. But I found a delightful little nook-in-the-wall Italian place, with hearty minestrone soup, a good house wine, and a pear tart to top it off. All I can say is: it was nice not to have to eat baguette. :) Afterward I went to a famous Irish bar called The Cobblestone, as recommended by my Irish adoring Uncle Dan, and listened to "Trad" music as they call it. Trad basically is short for "traditional," and in Ireland that means a good time. Although the bands were fun, I am still really turned off by a strong drinking culture, and unfortunately with Temple Bar being the hip place to be, many people come to Dublin to do just that. I think that going out is a good idea (I mean how many times do you get to be 20 in Europe?) but I am pretty sure that I'll be one of the first ones to vacate the bar as the night goes on. It is just not all that appealing to me to sit around and get drunk. But, hey, that means I have time to sleep, get up early and unearth new adventures for the day to come.

Annnnnnd! Speaking of which: Brussels just so happens to be the new adventure for tomorrow. :) YAY! I am excited for a change of place, but sad at the same time. I am pretty sure this is not my last time in Ireland (at least hopefully).

Love you all and thanks for reading!!!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Currently I am in a youth hostel in Dublin, Ireland listening to the saccharine lyrics of Madonna ooze out of creaky speakers while watching the parade of weary travelers crowd by. It's fun to be here. :)

The ride over was far from eventful. Everything worked our wonderfully. Planes were on time, baggage was the first off the belt, and I just so happen to have the exact right amount of change for the 45 minute bus ride to the city. Dandy. :) By far my favorite part of the ride was the people watching in Chicago airport. Once you check in through the international portion of security...things get ultimately juicy. I cannot express how gleeful I was sitting in the food court humbled by the total insanity of cultural twisting taking place around high school-like cafeteria tables. The fact everyone is subject to the same degree of displacement and disorientation is refreshing, husked away from their "I am this" and "I am thats." Really people are just humans in different costumes. I can think of very few things in this world that could keep me in a constant state of awe for 7 hours straight.

Ireland kicks tushy. Seriously! They have their stuff figured out. I feel like the streets are flocked by little jolly men with a general rosy check-ness. It is hilarious. I wandered around (with about 50 minutes of sleep mind you) for about 2 hours trying to figure out how to ship my large bag to Sussex...and despite the total inhospitality of the Irish postal system, the people working at the depots were incredible. I even had a little old lady walk me part of the way to a place I needed to go. But despite that, I am yet to ship my bags. Haha. They charged 40 Euros for 5 kilos, with a 1 Euro charge for every extra kilo...and in my incompetent, sleep lacking head, I forgot that kilos were different (duh) than pounds and thought that they wanted me to pay about $300 to mail two 20 kilo packages.

...yeah. Luckily I remembered and now have a box I stole from a guy loading a truck and everything in line to mail them. :) Hahaha.

Today I wandered aimlessly around the city, enjoyed the freshest Guinness in the world form the 7 story Gravity Bar with the best view of Dublin possible, went to a gypsy jazz concert, ate crappy chicken galore (so much for vegetarianism), sat at a coffee shop along side the river musing/getting attacked by a crazy homeless guy named Wally who just wanted to spell "antidisestablishmentarianism" (which apparently I cannot do), and toured the Dublin palace. Its been quite an eventful day...and I am REALLY READY TO SLEEP!

Tomorrow I plan on taking a train out to Howth, which is a rural, quirky fishing town on the other side of the island in hopes of seeing some of the infamous cliffs and sea spray. I am unbelievably excited. Ever since a friend intrigued me by suggesting walking across the country, with the desire to see the cliffs, I've been lusting over going.

oh...and p.s. MY NAME IS EVERYWHERE! Haha. It is fabulous. Kelly this and Kelly that. Ireland knows where its at. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sitting in my living room munching sun ripened cranberries, in awe that so quickly the all too familiar piles of rolled clothes have made their debut. It is packing time again. Delicately placed, awaiting suitcases, are indicative that the ritual has officially commenced. Oh man.... :)

Being my last day in Durango for the next year, I am trying to soak in the minutiae that makes home...well, home! My eastern facing window, the sun that it captures, the creaks of morning coffee quests, and the brush of mountain wind against ponderosas. Its appears that the concept of leaving itself has the power to bring fourth the most desirable details about home and tactfully mask those that are not. Leaving always places a layer of golden glaze on things....and it is here that I sit this morning.

BUT on to business: I feel like it is appropriate to make a list of goals for the next two weeks (mainly for my own self direction). Country hopping is not always sensitive to keeping a clear mind. So....the the question is: what is it I want to get out of it all (it'd be silly to waste so much money, minutes and time with family for a useless endeavor)?

And so she responded:

1. A larger sense of place. Europe is a portion of the world far from explored for me. So by simply stepping foot in foreign dirt, I hope to gain a more cohesive perspective of the world we inhabit (sounds like a college entry essay doesn't it? Gross, but true).

2. Develop more appreciation for Western society. I've done a pretty darn good job at allowing myself to love the U.S. despite its flaws this summer, and I hope to put aside my post-colonial theory packed head and extract the beauty of the western world. I hope to go to some museums, galleries, and typically "western" monuments and respect them.

3. Dabble in flexibility. Not having a plan. Doin' the Tao thaaang.

4. Be strong. Traveling alone is something I am not a stranger to. But this trip will be a little bit different than any kind of travelling I've done before. There is no one on the other side, no Rotary hand to hold, no familiar face to dabble with between stopping points. Myself is all I've really got this time....and yes, that is a wee scary. But I know I can do it. I can be an intelligent, unwavering, savvy woman, it just going to take a little bit of guts and street smarts.

5. Improve my navigational skills. The little engine said" You CAN read maps, Kelly. You can do it!"...hahaha. Yeah.

6. Not be so dang afraid of flying. I'll be on a plane just about the same amount of time I'll be sleeping the next 14 deal with it with grace. :)

7. Eat good food. End of story.

8. A bit of time alone. :) Although I love being around people (and view it absurdly necessary for basic happiness) it is important to me to go into quasi-self-directed-hermitage once in a while. I think after the bike trip and being bombarded by the (wonderful, yes) amount of familial ties, I am ready for some singularity.

9. Live in the moment. Easy to say, shockingly difficult to execute.

10. Have a few existential crises or so. Hopefully talk to a few people, see a few things, feel some feelings that will make me rethink. I am worried I feel too confident in what I believe in, which is never healthy, you should always be on the edge a bit. So a little bit of throwing me for a loop would be very much appreciated. kthxs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hello Loves.

The bike trip is sadly, yet officially, over. VIOLA! I am back in Durango, rejoicing in the amenities of stationary life, getting ready to leave again in 5 days to travel Europe before school starts in England (despite my pocket book's extreme objection). The past week Paul has been visiting Lucy and I from Missouri, working on the Trek's documentary/camping/mountain biking/hiking. It is nice being home for a bit, relishing in mountains, family, and the comfort of being in a familiar place. ....but also weird knowing it is a temporary visit, not much different than a couple nights stay in a town along the route. I am really thrown for a loop digesting what "home" actually means. Where are you to lay roots when the sand is in a constant flux? I've settled with rooting internally and walking where I go with a strong sense of place, no matter the what places are traversed. :) Hopefully this state of mind will suffice. There is very little in this world, according the accumulated tidbits of so called wisdom I am yet to collect, that is more potent than personal strength.

The Europe Game Plan:

1. Durango to Denver
2. Denver to Dublin (3 nights in Ireland)
3. Dublin to Brussels (3 nights in Belgium)
4. Brussels to Venice (4 nights in Italy)
5. Venice to Madrid (4 nights in Spain)
6. Madrid to London (2 nights in England)
7. London to Brighton (4 months at the University of Sussex)

I am not going to lie: its hard to say goodbye, again. But I know it is all a growing process. The further I go, the more I learn, the more humbled I become by how much there is to learn. Hopefully this experience will catalyze the growing process, in attempt to make myself a better person. I like to think that is where I'm headed at least. :)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hello from a suburban Denver coffee shop on a wonderfully humid-free Sunday afternoon. YAY! I am finally back in the state of Rocky Mountains and the place I fondly call home.

Primarily, I must apologize for my severe case of procrastination I've had, albeit a lack of time is equally blame worthy. :) Rest assured proper chastisement was received from multiple familial ends. I hope that I can provide a little bit of a recollection of the final weeks of the trek. Ideally not to many mental images have shifted their way around since Kentucky. But with the accompaniment of my handy chicken scratch coated walmart "receipt of events" (as I have proudly dubbed it) I will hopefully be able to write something quasi-cohesive.

Okay.... for simplicity purposes, I am going to break this up into three sections: 1. West Virginia 2. The Appalachians and 3. The finale.

1. West Virginia:

After being housed in a volunteer firehouse our last night in Kentucky (which included layers of meaty pasta, free showers, a big screen T.V. and carpeted floors to sleep on), we set off to ride across the West Virginia boarder. Just about 2 miles into the ride, once again, Kelly's not-tour-specific-tires decided it would be a splendid idea to pop repeatedly, diminishing my remaining 3 bike tubes. Stranded once again on the side of a road, hot, sweaty, and hopeless, we broke out the harmonica, ate some food, and laughed in response to the what some people might consider a problematic situation. Time and time again, this tactic has proven effective, because we soon found ourselves being jetted off in a truck and van by our lovely hosts in Huntington, WV. After going to the nearest bike shop, fixing my tire, and eating an incredible Bolivian dinner of beans, vegetables, and chicken, we were able to get in some riding for the day. We were lucky enough to try out the the critical mass route commencing later that week with a bunch of guys who were friends with our host Andrew. This kind of riding was MUCH different than any riding I had experienced before. Weaving in and out of side streets, slick cement sidewalks, river sides, and to the top of parking garages and back, we got an awesome tour the city and its night life. I say this timidly, but it made me drool a bit over one day doing some alley cat racing and the likes. SO MUCH FUN!

The next day, after a small crash/wheel smashing/Lucy's arm basically falling off due to crappy pavement, we were on our way to Charleston WV, where we were to meet the 30 something other riders of the Trek. Unfortunately 4 miles before we rode in, Remy's spoke decided to snap in two, stranding us yet again, but this time tactfully just in time for the rain gods to open the faucet. Luckily enough we were able to crouch under an overpass and the rain subsided right when our hosts picked Remy up and led us the way in to Charleston. It was awesome, yet I must VERY intimidating, to meet up with all of the other bikers from every corner of the U.S. I was a little bit worried about what it would be like to ride with an entirely new crew, especially considering how tight knit the Colorado crew had become. But as soon as we got talking to everyone/trying our best to quickly pick up 30 some names, I knew that we had found our niche. I can honestly say I loved every single person riding. It is amazing how such an organization could attract such like minded, inspirational, ambitious people. I was humbled by how much I could learn from every individual.

In Charleston we stayed with the most marvelous family in the entire world. Herbs hanging on the wall, an organic garden out back, and a general sense of goodness surrounding the house. Jodi, a massage therapist by trade, took me over to the community garden at the Unitarian Universalist church down the street and we picked fresh greens to feed the 30 something bikers milling in and out of her house. They were actively involved with an incredibly controversial movement against mountain top removal in the area (something that if you are not familiar with PLEASE look it up. It is huge). My experience in Charleston augmented the swiftly developing assertion that there are good people in every corner of this planet.

2. The Appalachians:

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. As we pulled out of Charleston with about 10 times more bikers than I had ever rode with, I was simultaneously humbled and struck with a dash of terror as a crisp outline of a mountain loomed in the distance. Ouch. Whoever said the Appalachian were "just hills" obviously did not ride up them with 50 pounds of gear. But with that said, being able to wake up every morning and drink up thick layers of mist and be immersed in the most astonishing amount of green hues certainly made up for the daily leg pain. I often found myself sitting creek side basking in the sheer elegance of the places we pitched our tents. One night in particular, after a good amount of cheese consumption for dinner and a bit of blackberry wine, a slight crackle across the stream came to my attention. We then realized that we were not the only ones soaking up the views and savoring the smells, as a black bear cub came bounding across the stream. Although slightly unnerving for a few seconds, it made me appreciate that wildlife is still truly wild. Something that suburban soaked streets makes me forget.

There is too much to say about the Appalachians, but I think the general theme should be: take the predicted mileage for the day and add about 30 more miles and 2 more mountain passes than anticipated. Haha. But seriously. Very frequently what was supposed to be a 50 mile day, turned in to a 60 mile day, and then in to a mid 70 mile day. Or so it seemed. One day, however, what was initially a 63 mile day, turned into a 100 mile day (also marking my very first century!...something that I was super proud of, but had not envisioned would be in a mountain pass speckled terrain. haha). Due to a few wrong turns, and the decision to visit Polyface Farm (the one talked about in Omnivore's Dilemma by Michel Pollen) we rode for a total of 12 hours. I mused at the fact that my bum had been virtually sitting on the same bike seat since the pink hues of dawn, until the orange and blue tones of nightfall. After an entire bag of donut holes and being able to change out of my seriously sweaty bike shorts, it was overall exhaustion worthwhile. The farm was incredible. PLUS! I got to hold a baby chick, learn about biodynamic farming, observe rabbits suspended from the ceiling pooping on chickens to make compost, and get educated about the intricacies of the egg industry. Neat.

Soon there after we started to ride out of the actual peaks and in to rolling foothills. We crossed in to Virginia, the last state before D.C., which was an incredibly exciting step! After a near death experience in Culpeper due to Harry Potter addictions, resulting in riding 10 miles back to our campsite in the dark/rain, sitting upon historic buildings listening to free gypsy jazz, celebrating Remy's birthday, roaming farmer's markets, and hitting up thrift stores to find appropriate lobbying attire (resulting in the most grandmother-esque combination imaginable smelling of mothballs) we were just a hop skip and a jump from the nation's capital.

3. The end (AHHHHH!)

The idea that something so dangerously addicting, a lifestyle of such uncompromised freedom, could come to an end was a sad realization to make. The people, places, food, laughs, hardships and all of the sticky cliche things associated with change culminated in Manassas, about 30 miles away from D.C. That night the entire Trek sat down in attempt to reflect and rejoice in our experiences. What turned in to a 3 hour memory session from all sectors of the Trek made me realize how truly awesome the experience was. Out of many of the choices I've made in life, joining this trip was most definitely in the top 3, if not peaking the top of the list. I could write a book about why riding a bike is a serious experiment in Zen Buddhism. Maybe one day.... :)

The next morning I woke up to a heavy case of total bliss, knowing that in a few hours we'd be standing at the place we'd been peddling towards for 6 weeks. We met a representative from the Rails to Trails headquarters in D.C. who showed up how to navigate through the city. Its funny, because out of all of the hills we'd traversed in the previous weeks, the few right before we came in to the city felt like the longest. But after huffing up one nondescript hill in particular, I was awoken from my biking trance by a choir of gasping and hooting. What seemed at first to be a massive, industrial looking building soon metamorphed into a 5 sided complex: the pentagon. I turned my head and saw the legendary (admittedly phallic looking) Washington Monument peering out through the city smog. It is funny how you can have seen something so many times, but never truly have seen it. That day they finally came to life.

Our stay in D.C. proved to be another extension of the unrelenting insanity that comprised the rest of the trip. Late night metro rides, creative bike box transportation, getting lost, walking miles looking for the alleged rally, and finding ourselves dining with slickly clad Congressmen in our rugged bike gear were added zest to an already flavourful trip. Being part of the 3rd congressional district of Colorado, Lucy and I met with John Salazaar (a gentleman whose policies and political assertions I had regularly agreed with). As a typically Kelly/Lucy move, we arrived at our lobby time in thrift store bought granny gear, 6 over stuffed pannier bags, and all of our necessities for the trip across the country. Basically everything we owned minus a bicycle, since they had already been jetted off in boxes. We timidly asked if we could store them in the corner.

I was surprisingly disheartened with our meeting with Congressman Salazaar. What was a discussion rooted very deeply within me and so important after biking across the U.S., turned out to be an unheard call. I can understand that congressman must have many busy, pushy people pulling them every which way on a daily basis....but I found the family photos, sliver pen autographed picture, and bag of cracker jacks we recieved slightly inappropriate. After our stance on creating more bike friendly streets and environmental sustainability, all he said was "Welp, I agree with you!" And we were sent off. This to me proves two very distinct things:

1. Meet your politicians in person. Their political campaign may speak to you intellectually, but the actual person representing them is far from ideal.

2. The overall purpose of the Trek was not convening in Washington D.C.; rather, it was the incomprehensible knowledge extracted from the people we met along the way. It was the backward farmers, the lonely truck drivers, the kind church goers, and the random strangers that gave this trip purpose. The change that was created was not at the doors of our government, but on the streets, in the homes and on the sidewalks of the country it represents.

I can honestly say after this trip: I am proud to be an American. Although not a flawless place, the U.S. (or at least the bulk of it I was lucky enough to witness) is full of people who want to do the right thing. If I learned anything at all, it was how vital "passing on the kindness" is. If you really think about it, it is this kernel of thought that has more power to change the way our country functions than any piece of legislation bantered about in Congress. If we really want to create lasting change and the way we think about the environment:

Start with the people.