A Quick Adventure to Connecticut

Travel

A few weeks ago, I did something I haven’t done in over a year: I took some time off from work and I left the state of Virginia. For someone who has literally traveled around the world, it may seem ridiculous to be so excited about leaving the Mid-Atlantic region, but it was a long time coming (also we were avoiding part of cicada season).

I took a Thursday and a Friday off from work, packed up a car with my (retired) parents and we started the long drive up the East Coast to Connecticut. (If you want a full recap of our road choices, my father can inform you; I was asleep in the back seat for most of this.) Why Connecticut of all places? Well, I have deposited at a law school (!!!) located in Hartford, Connecticut and wanted to go for a visit.

Side note: law school is strange because it is a rolling acceptance system. You can be accepted in September when you apply or you can be accepted from the wait list during Orientation Week. So though I have deposited at a school, I don’t know what the summer may bring. As of right now, I’ll be heading to Connecticut, but I also have my options open until I move there.

Our main goals for the trip were to avoid the beginning of the cicadas in the DC area, to see campus, check out a few apartments, and also go on a little vacation. Also my mom wanted to see a beach – it’s the little things in life. We successfully managed to avoid cicadas on our trip. So, one point to us.

We made it up to Hartford with plenty of sunshine left and decided to head to Dunkin Donuts Park for a baseball game. It’s been a while since we sat in the stands for a game, so we really enjoyed the opportunity to watch the Hartford Yard Goats (#NoGoatsNoGlory) and eat some junk food. Our weekend was made great by some beautiful spring weather (something we don’t really get in DC). So we soaked up some Vitamin D while we could and enjoyed the light breeze. Alas, the goats were defeated but it was a pleasant night nonetheless.

Our first stop on Friday was a visit to the law school. Everything is closed down, but I still wanted to stop by. We made a loop through the buildings, peeking in windows when we could, and marveling at how collegiate it felt. We made mental notes of parking availability and the various names of buildings, before we set off for breakfast (at Dunkin of course!).

Our Friday and Saturday were spent driving around the area, exploring Hartford and West Hartford, taking a couple of apartment tours. Previous attempts at organizing a lot of tours for the weekend were foiled and we were too early for most of the apartments that might be available in August, but the driving around and tours we did take were helpful.

The last time I was in Hartford was looking for colleges for my brother – in 2009. We had vague recollections of this park or that building, but if I was planning to move to the city, I needed a little more information. Our drives showed us the variety of neighborhoods and what driving routes would be available. We spotted a couple of places and made notes. We ate at local restaurants, soaking in the spring weather and the vacation vibes we hadn’t seen in over a year. Generally we ate, explored, and enjoyed the nice weather. We also did get a brief chance to visit a beach for my mother, despite there being absolutely no waves and gross seaweed/moss keeping us from dipping our toes in for too long.

And then it was time to drive home. We got a Dunkin on the road home and made it back with no problems (once again, I was asleep in the backseat). By the time we pulled into the driveway, there was a low buzz – the cicadas had awakened in our time away. My father got a nice bike ride in and my mother and I spent the afternoon washing the cars.

Despite the short timeframe, the lack of an apartment lease, and the long-ish drive, I’d call the trip an overall success, but that might just have to do with all the donuts I ate…

Those Who Can’t Travel, Quilt

quilting, Travel, Uncategorized

I find that my stress about being imperfect is lessened when I remind myself that the fabric I’m using is already scraps from a previous project. I finished a blue and yellow quilt almost a year ago, zoomed through a rainbow quilt made from scraps and made three other quilt tops, including a boat on a blue ocean. But my productivity hit a bit of a standstill. Partially life got in the way and partially I didn’t know how I wanted to quilt the most recent quilt tops, so I took a pause.

Recently a friend of my mother’s has been downsizing her fabric stash, sharing fabrics and scraps with us to put to use. One of the side effects of becoming a quilter is accumulating a whole lot of fabric, some wanted, some not so much. As our house is currently overstuffed with fabric, I’ve used scraps from the friend and my mother’s various projects to make my quilts in the past. (I was actually encouraged to start quilting after years of inaction by my mother’s concerns about having too many scraps.)

However, a recent delivery from the friend included a panel of quilt blocks that were travel themed. As I can’t travel right now, I decided that instead of tucking the panel away with a plan for later, I would tackle my idea and make a quilt top. And a week later, my mother kindly put the binding on and it is ready to be donated.

The fabric panel included fifteen little motifs representing cities around the world, framed in colorful borders. I chopped up each city into a block and made borders out of solid fabrics, drawing from the colors used in the illustrations. So often, I find myself sticking to a simple color palette or trying to make fabrics match perfectly, and it was a little fun this time to use such bright colors and allow them to be bold and clash a little.

Fifteen wasn’t an ideal number of blocks for the quilt size I wanted to make, so I began a (fruitless) search for a simple block pattern for an airplane or passport. When that came up unsuccessful, I found a suitcase quilt online that I thought could do the trick. Using “Dear Friends Suitcase Quilt Pattern“, my mother and I mathed out the right size for a little suitcase to give me sixteen blocks.

Once the suitcase was made (remind me later that I hate paper piecing and small pieces of fabric), the borders were in place, and the order of the blocks was decided, I got the top finished. I forgot how quick a quilt can come together when it isn’t made up of thousands of tiny scraps.

Hoping to avoid the fate of the other quilt tops waiting to be quilted, we quickly put the travel quilt on the longarm machine, used a pantograph called “Bora Bora” and let the machine do its thing. My mother kindly put the binding on the quilt and voilà!

This lovely little quilt (with fabric from Susan and many hours of assistance from Ginny) will be headed to Project Linus. Hopefully the recipient will live vicariously through the quilt just like I was inspired to!

I counted out that I’ve visited 9 out of the 15 cities in this quilt. How many have you been able to travel to?

The quilt features panels for London, Sydney, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Montreal, Reykjavik, Mexico City, New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Cairo, Rome, Nairobi, and Paris.

Nomadland

Travel, Uncategorized

Sometimes you watch a film or read a book and every scene makes you want to hop off your couch, get in the car, and go. Watching Chloe Zhao’s film Nomadland was that kind of experience. The film follows a woman learning the ins and outs of being a nomad in the American West. With stunning visuals and superb acting from Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, the film is a wonderful exploration of solo van travel and the emotions that drive people to want to see the world this way.

Nomadland shows the beauty of the American landscape right next to the reality of living in a van. It’s the juxtaposition of the beauty and the mud that makes this film so appealing. Sometimes with the multitude of travel choices, it is hard to remember that the United States has just as much variety in its travel options as international travel might provide. You can be on the windy coast of Oregon and then the desert landscape of the Southwest and then the Redwood forests of California. With international travel grounded for the moment, the lingering landscape shots used throughout the film serve as a reminder of just how much America has to offer to those looking to find themselves in nature.

But the reality of living and traveling in a van isn’t always gorgeous landscapes – the film features the main character sleeping in Walmart parking lots and at gas stations; it features the need to downsize your belongings to just the essentials; it features the moment when your van is dying (as a vehicle will do at some point) and the realization that it isn’t just your transportation in trouble, but your home as well.

What I loved about the film in particular is the way it showcased the solitude of solo travel. Some days you’re surrounded by friends and noise and chaos, and the next day you’re alone. You are the driver, the navigator, the entertainment. Some people thrive on the solitude and others don’t, but you never really know until you test it out for yourself.

Watching this film reminded me of all the travel I want to do in my lifetime and how much I enjoy the freedom of minimal possessions and maximum portability. It served to scratch the itch of wanting to get moving, while also inspiring me to look a little closer to home for my next adventure.

Overall, Nomadland is a wonderful watch and I highly recommend it.

My Time Down Under: Australia

Travel

In 2015, I spent almost five months in the Southern Hemisphere, studying in Sydney. Partially because I had relatively few interactions with the very dangerous species that populate the island, I had a wonderful time there. I lived in one of the suburbs of the city, close to my university. And while my time spent studying in Sweden involved quite a bit of travel around Europe, my time in Australia was mostly spent in and around Sydney. Because now feels like as good a time as any to reminisce, I thought I’d share some about what I enjoyed while living down under.

Because I lived outside Sydney, I spent the majority of my time in that area. I truly delved into the university experience with four Sociology courses while living in a dorm near campus. My dorm experience was unlike where I had lived in the U.S. The social life was vibrant to say the least and unlike college in the U.S., where drinking for the first few years happens almost exclusively behind closed doors and at frat houses, drinking in Australia was normalized (the drinking age is 18). Instead of hiding from the R.A., we drank with the R.A. It was a mental shift, for sure. Some of my favorite memories involved long conversations with friends late at night over a game of pool or after a big event. One of the best parts of studying abroad is the people you meet.

Now I spent a surprisingly little amount of time on beaches during my time in Australia, but there’s plenty of beautiful waterfront in Sydney. Though I stopped by Manly Beach and Bondi Beach with everyone and their mother, I also enjoyed the lesser known Palm Beach and the climb up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. My personal favorite activity was the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. The walk goes along the coast, giving you views of the ocean, smaller beaches, and occasionally some art to enjoy. I’ve done this walk with friends, as well as jetlagged parents. What’s nice about it is that at any point you can stop and find the closest bus or cafe to take a break. (The whole thing will take about 3 hours or so.)

Other highlights of the Sydney experience included the quirky, like Luna Park, an amusement park on the water, or Wendy’s Secret Garden, a garden built like an art piece. Taronga Zoo featured animals with breathtaking views of the Harbour, Darling Harbour featured cultural experiences and food every time we wandered through, and of course, Sydney featured the Opera House (which I never actually ventured inside) and the Harbour Bridge (which I never climbed).

But I didn’t only stay in Sydney. About halfway through my time in Australia, my parents came to visit. While jetlagged, I took them on the aforementioned Bondi to Coogee walk, but we also ventured outside New South Wales.

We took a plane to the middle of the country to visit the iconic Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We stuck with your classic tourist adventures, but I’ll never forget a nighttime meal near Uluru with no lights and the Milky Way above my head. (Yes, I cried.) We also took a few hikes around Kata Tjuta and learned a little more about the relationship White Australia has with its Indigenous communities.

We also went South. After retraining our brains that “south” in the Southern Hemisphere meant colder, we made it to Melbourne. Five years later, my parents still reference the cute streets of Melbourne as one of the best places they’ve visited. We loved the graffiti art spread throughout the city and the alleyways turned into outdoor dining and the tram that allowed us to circle the city so easily. But we also wanted to see some of the wildlife – so we ventured down to Phillip Island for the Penguin Parade.

Despite mostly sticking to cities or tourist destinations, my parents got a trip worth the jetlag, but I wasn’t done yet. After powering through four classes’ worth of assignments, I had some free time during the exam period to explore Sydney before flying back home. With the knowledge that I might never get the chance to fly over 24 hours to Australia, I decided to hit up the ultimate bucket list item: The Great Barrier Reef.

Two friends and I travelled north to Cairns in Queensland. We had two goals – snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and hold a koala. (There are restrictions in Australia about handling koalas, which meant that if we wanted to snuggle one, we’d have to find an appropriate place to get our cuddles.) It was relatively easy to check off our goal of visiting the Reef once we were in Cairns. We were able to not only snorkel on the Reef, but also scuba dive with guidance. I’d never snorkeled, much less scuba dived, but I have to say it was incredible. A full day was spent under the water watching fish and pointing out anemones.

In order to check off the second part of our trip’s to-do list, we traveled by bus to Palm Cove. We stopped at a wildlife zoo and saw all the animals we’d happily avoided for most of our time in Australia, we held koalas (mine was named Violet and she was a sweetheart), and then we grabbed a snack while we waited for the bus home. But we realized we had way too much time to kill, so we did the only logical thing: Paddle boarding. We found a shack along the water where a kind man helped up suit up to paddle board. In retrospect, the crocodile sighting sign just down the beach should have been a deterrent, as well as the man’s warning about “stinger season“. However, we went for it and had no animal encounters on the water.

Despite warnings about crocodiles and sharks and spiders and snakes and dingos and drop bears, I managed to survive down under with only a few sunburns and plenty of memories. Here’s to hoping I make it back down there soon!

Five Favorite Things: Sweden

Five Favorites, Travel

I’m coming up on five years since I flew to Sweden.

For those who don’t know, I spent six months in 2016 studying abroad just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. My time there allowed me to travel extensively through Europe and enjoy Stockholm from darkness to never-ending light. When I arrived in January, the sun began to set at 3 p.m. and it would be pitch black outside by 4. While this didn’t stop me from taking trips to IKEA or adventuring around European cities like Brussels and Prague, it did put a hamper on my ability to enjoy Stockholm. It wasn’t until later months, when the sun never really set, that I found myself learning to love Sweden and all Stockholm had to offer. I thought I would reflect on my five favorite things about Sweden five years later.

Number one: the mixture of the new and the old. Stockholm, in particular, is a great example of how Sweden mixes the new and the old. Gamla Stan (the old town) is filled with rich history and is right across a bridge from modern style buildings. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, before stepping across a bridge and eating a hamburger (at Max Burgers) in the modern day. Not far away is The Vasa Museum – a museum dedicated to a failed war ship pulled mostly intact from the bottom of the harbor – located right next to the Abba Museum.

Number two: the smaller cities. I’m not a huge fan of big cities – there’s too many people and too much going on. But the smaller cities that I was able to visit in Sweden were wonderful. Sigtuna, Sweden’s first city, is a small town that is a day trip away from Stockholm. You can spend a day wandering the town, hanging out by the lake, and eating along the pedestrian street. Stockholm is nice, but I really loved my time wondering roads in Malmö and Gothenburg; though not as small as Sigtuna, they offered a reprieve from the big city.

Number three: the public transportation. The biggest thing I miss about Sweden (but also Europe in general) is the public transportation. You can get just about anywhere on a train or bus. Relatively easily (and for relatively cheap) you can go from the suburbs where I lived in Flemingsberg (near Södertörn University) to the Royal Palace in central Stockholm, to Drottningholm Palace to the coolest cemetery, Skogskyrkogården, to the airport. Even when there’s a disruption to the service, you have multiple options that will get you where you need to go.

Number four: the adaptability. Though I might complain about how cold it was in Sweden when I first arrived or about how dark it got at 3 p.m. for the first month I spent there, I loved that the country adapted as needed. Sure you didn’t stay out as late in the winter months, but you still bundled up and powered through – a blanket and a space heater to eat outside and some proper shoes will keep you going. And then just six months later, when the sun never fully sets, you spend as much time outside as possible. I try to keep this adaptability in mind when I’m freezing on D.C.’s one cold day a year.

Number five: the Swedes. So much of my enjoyment of my time in Sweden was based on the very basics of life in Sweden. Things were efficient. People were polite, welcoming, and orderly. Everything was clean. There was an emphasis on living with nature, rather than fighting against it. And everything just felt balanced.

Sweden is definitely on my list of places to return to and explore so more, but I might just do that when it’s summer. I’ve had enough cold, dark days for now.

Living in Excess

london, Travel

Perhaps because I’ve spent too many hours watching The Crown, or perhaps because I’ve just finished reading Rebecca (or more realistically it is probably due to my current existence in a tiny studio apartment), but I’ve found myself reflecting recently on the grand homes and palaces that I have visited over the years. As a kid, the large estates were home to magical boarding schools and princesses, and as an adult they are home to the question “how many clocks is too many clocks?”.

Home to thousands of years of aristocracy and royalty, Europe is filled to the brim with old historic homes. Of course, the Brits are prominently featured in my current entertainment choices, but my appreciate of palaces in England has been mostly via Instagram accounts. I’ve visited a surprisingly small amount of grand estates in the U.K. Without counting the times I stood outside Buckingham Palace‘s gates wondering if the Queen was home or when I walked past the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, the only visit to a home worthy of a period drama that comes to mind was in Brighton. I visited Brighton when I was living in London and my morning was spent in the Royal Pavilion, a strange former palace that brought weird mixes of Asian influences inside its walls.

Another visit included a tour of the Queen’s House in Greenwich with its beautiful spiral staircase. (Many of these grand homes are maintained as museums, allowing you to wander about under the guise of a history lesson, while you’re really trying to decide whether that weird looking panel is a secret door or not.) Unlike visits to cathedrals throughout the U.K., I’ve somehow managed to miss the grand estates so prominently featured in my media consumption.

Scandinavia has provided quite a few palaces over my travels (partially because I spent a decent amount of time there, both alone and entertaining my parents). The question about clocks comes from a tour of a room at the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm – apparently royals run out of gift ideas just like the rest of us! I think its particularly interesting to visit the Swedish Royal Palace because you’re in this grand old building, while daily life is happening just outside the window. There’s no distance between the old and the new – unlike Drottningholm, a Swedish castle on the UNESCO World Heritage list, that’s located further out of the city of Stockholm and still maintains a large grounds and garden around the building.

Copenhagen is home to a pretty good Royal Palace or two, but I really enjoyed venturing a little further out for Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. The castle is now a museum and is genuinely in the middle of a lake. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it also features a really gorgeous (borderline over the top) chapel. [If you’re bored, please feel free to look up the history of royalty in Scandinavia and enjoy the chaos that is the region’s history. Whether they borrowed a prince after winning their freedom or named every single king some variation of Charles Gustav, Scandinavian royal history is fascinating.]

If you’re looking for over the top, the most extravagant palace I’ve ever visited was outside Paris: Le Château de Versailles. Each room is incredibly stunning and filled with an abundance of history. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Versailles and if you’re a fan of ogling at excesses of wealth or the strange French royals, you will be too. The gardens are so ridiculously over the top and the entire place is a good day trip from the city of Paris. I really enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors (an addition to the earlier question about clocks, “how many mirrors is too many?”).

A friend recently posting on Instagram asking if anyone had been to Asheville and paid to visit the Biltmore. A response she received was that it was a “poor man’s Versailles“. They weren’t wrong. The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina is an American’s attempt at the grandiosity of European estates. If you can’t hop across the pond and want to see the excess of a grand palace in person, this is one of your best bets in the U.S. The tickets are a little pricey, but the tour is interesting just to pretend you could one day be rich enough to own an estate like royalty. Another option in the U.S. that isn’t quite the same is the White House. Visiting the White House on a public tour is less of a “princess running down the hall” experience and more of a “history happened here” experience. When you consider how young the United States as a country is in comparison to most of Europe, our half-hearted attempts can be forgiven, right?

Either way, if you’re going to hoard wealth, you might as well build a grand estate with perfect gardens and an interesting story for me to learn about through an audioguide. Until my bank account catches up, I’ll have to live vicariously through Keira Knightley period dramas and the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Williamsburg in the Fall

Travel

Yesterday, I took a day off from work for the first time since February. This special occasion was used to take a family trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

The trip had a few core goals:

  1. get out of the DC area. Sometimes it’s necessary to venture out of the city for a bit.
  2. fulfill some autumnal traditions. We wanted to see orange and yellow leaves, and enjoy the few weeks of cool, crisp fall weather before we descend into winter. A bonus perk: our favorite fall tradition was moved online this year, so we needed something slightly autumnal and slightly historic to replace the hole left by the Waterford Fair.
  3. give my father an excuse to bike somewhere new and give me an opportunity to peek at a possible law school option. (Spoiler: both were successes.)

The drive usually takes about 3 hours, but due to light traffic and the fact that we drove down in the middle of the morning, the drive from DC to Williamsburg was pretty easy. The leaves aren’t quite ready to change yet, but every once in a while we would spot a bright orange tree. Once arriving, we had two priorities: park the car (preferably for free) and get something to eat. We were able to find a parking spot next to Bicentennial Park, just a few blocks from where we wanted to eat lunch.

Some basic preparatory research led us to having sandwiches from The Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square. Though the house dressing had been slightly overhyped, the bread was yummy and the cookies that came with our meal were perfect snacks for that mid-afternoon nibble later on.

Once we’d finished eating, we set our game plan. My father would ride to Yorktown and back, which he guesstimated would take two and a half or three hours. During that time, my mom and I would pop over to William and Mary Law School and take a peek, before wandering around Williamsburg for a bit. Unfortunately, there are no tours right now and the campus is pretty quiet while most folks take their classes at home, but it was still nice to see the location and size of the school. (I’m a big fan of the idea that the most important part of applying to schools is getting to know their vibe and feel, and then going with your gut about whether you’d fit in there. Those feelings are tough to experience through a computer.) Fun fact: William and Mary Law School is the oldest law school in the U.S. (bonus points to anyone who can guess the oldest continuously running law school – W&M had to shut down for the pesky business of a civil war taking place just miles away.)

Unlike college campus visits, law schools don’t tend to be particularly large, so we decided to continue our walk. We lucked out that the date we’d picked a few weeks in advance for our visit ended up being a gorgeous day in the 70s with the sun in the sky and the occasional breeze. We made our way back towards Merchant’s Square, turning early into the neighborhood. Our path led us towards William and Mary‘s undergraduate campus. Despite many visits to Williamsburg over the years, neither my mom nor I had been on their campus and we were both surprised at just how large it is – every time we thought we’d reached the end, there were more buildings.

Once we’d finished with our campus tours, we decided to stop for a snack. We grabbed milkshakes from Baskin-Robbins and found a bench in the shade in Merchant’s Square. While resting our feet, we had the chance to do some people watching, an activity I haven’t really been able to do in the last six months. The nice weather brought out tourists, locals, students, and the occasional puppy to entertain us while we rested a little.

Following our break, my mom and I made our way through Colonial Williamsburg. There’s no ticket required to just wander about and there were very few tourists or groups out and about. We walked the length of Duke of Gloucester Street admiring the historic homes and the blue skies. For our return to the car, we opted for a side road, Francis Street, that would provide a different view. It rewarded us with a shady walk and a field of sheep. Our timing was pretty good as we made it back to the car just as my dad arrived.

I cannot vouch for the length of the car ride home as I was worn out and took a nice nap in the backseat, but overall, I’d say the day was a success. Now to plot the next day trip…

Pics or It Didn’t Happen

Travel

I was very fortunate as a child in that my parents took my family on many an adventure. In between trips to visit family in Indiana, upstate New York, and West Virginia, they dragged my brother and I from coast to coast. This started when I was very young and can’t remember much about some of these earlier adventures. My mother however refuses to let me complain because she has photographic proof that I had an adventurous childhood. As an adult (though I struggle to admit I’m old enough to fit that category), I’ve re-added some of those places to my list of places to explore. Yes, I have photographic evidence of my toddler self in these places, but it’s not quite the same as an adult memory.

First up on my list is one that is relatively close: Chincoteague Island. As a child, my mother and I spent a day on the beach here and the ocean tried to claim me. Fortunately, a kind lady was able to grab me before the waves pulled me too far from our spot on the sand. I have no memory of this, but the story remains in the family history book. I’d like to revisit this beach (though I will try to avoid being swept out to sea). This is on our list that reappears each summer of places we want to take a day trip and just haven’t managed to quite yet.

Next up is San Francisco. Allegedly, I’ve been to the Bay Area and I’ve heard all sorts of things about that part of California, but have no memory of any time spent there. After seeing friends visit over the last few years, I figured I would like to see for myself whether or not it’s a place I’d enjoy.

Let me paint a picture: imagine tree lined roads curving through the wilderness with bison blocking your path and pull offs for gorgeous waterfalls. And imagine you want to take a video of said waterfalls but the audio of your video is just a Nintendo soundtrack. That would be most of the footage from our family trip to Yellowstone. Sorry, mom! While I remember this trip more than others mentioned, there is so much to see and do in Yellowstone that it seems unfair to not include it on this list.

Another family trip was to Montreal. (See photographic proof above.) Now my memories of this trip include being stung by a bee on the back of the neck outside a McDonalds with a menu in French and forcing my mom to spend way too long waiting for me to get my hair wrapped like all of my friends did each summer. Unfortunately neither of these memories are particularly about the city, which I would like to revisit (perhaps once I brush up on my French).

Some of the places that might have a place on this list have already been revisited, including London and Luray Caverns. And I’m sure I’ll post this and my parents will both say “Well, what about….” and they’ll be right. But for now, I’ll stick with this list as my starting point.

Cities Worth A Wander

london, Travel, Uncategorized

The United States is not particularly conducive to walking about. Yes, you could point out that I have made posts about wandering Georgetown and Old Town, and you could try to convince me that New York city is walkable, but the perferred mode of transportation here is not by foot – we prefer our cars. And don’t get me wrong – there’s something to be said about driving hours at a time with constantly changing scenery and your favorite music playing on the radio. But it doesn’t have quite the same experience as wandering down streets and stumbling upon little spots of sunshine and history.

Unlike the U.S., where our cities were built with straight lines and strategic planning, Europe is a great place for wandering. European cities contain thousands of years of adapting and expanding with the practicalities of day-to-day life with no straight lines in sight. (For instance, when someone in Europe asked how far a store is, telling them it is four blocks away means nothing.) Through my travels, my feet have carried me through many a strange alley and up plenty of subtle hills, fulfilling my monthly step count in just a few hours. And I truly enjoy the experience of getting just a little bit lost and having to work your way back to a landmark or pulling out a good ole fashioned map to check street signs.

The city I think of the most when I speak about walking is Venice. Because of the canals and the narrow streets, there’s next to no chance for a car to get you from point A to point B. Your feet are your best option (and we won’t speak about the super expensive gondola rides every tourist seems to want to take). I loved my time in Venice, because I felt like a little kid again, walking down streets, into courtyards, and generally getting lost. The best part: once you hit the water, you know you only have two options to get back home – left or right.

Sweden in general is not particularly compact, but the historic section of Stockholm is really wonderful. Gamla Stan is a small island connected to the rest Stockholm but a series of bridges, but it feels like a completely different place. Whereas most of modern Stockholm is, well, modern, Gamla Stan (literally Old Town) is not; instead, Gamla Stan is a series of smaller streets, which all kind of look alike, but each have their own personality. In the center of the island is the Nobel Museum, from which you can head any direction and find cute streets that will lead you back to the edges of the island (similar in many ways to Venice, but without the overly expensive gondolas). Bonus shoutout to Malmö and Gothenburg for also being really wonderful to wander.

If you’re a big fan of canals, let you tell you about Amsterdam. Like Venice, Amsterdam is a city of canals, but unlike Venice, they’re a little larger. One of my favorite parts about my time in Amsterdam was wandering from my hostel towards the more central parts of the city. Every time I’d cross a bridge, I had to stop myself from taking thousands of those perfect Instagram shots. And once you get past the bridge, you’re faced with a cute line of buildings with someone biking by with a basket full of groceries. The entire city is a dang postcard.

London is a wonderful city for a thousand reasons, one of which is its walkability. I loved exploring its various neighborhoods, hunting for Wisteria in Kensington or exploring the classic look of Notting Hill. Now don’t get me wrong, London also has great public transportation. But just like with all of these places, when you’re walking through London, you get to spot the little things you might have missed, like a historic plaque about who lived in a home or a little pocket garden tucked away behind a fence. These kind of little sparks of personality are hard to catch when you’re in a car or on the second level of a bus.

Now, maybe you’re not in Europe or not able to get there quite as easily. Well, I have a spot for you: Melbourne, Australia. I loved my time in Australia, but if you have to ask my mom about the best part, there is a strong chance she’d say Melbourne. Despite being on the other side of the planet, Melbourne has a lot of the personality of a smaller European city. There’s the compactness of its central city, its alleyways filled with graffiti art, and its general walkability.

Basically, what I’m saying is I miss wandering through European cities. Did I miss a lot of good ones? Yes, yes I did. Will I be heading back as soon as possible to get lost a few more times? Yes, yes I will. Maybe, we’ll run into each other…

The Good and The Bad

Travel

Not every travel experience is great. Sometimes it rains your entire trip or your travel companion sucks or every mode of transportation is delayed. It happens – and when it does you just have to power through and make the most of it.

When I think of some of my favorite and my least favorite travel moments, I am reminded of my trip to London and Edinburgh in the spring of 2016. As one of my many short trips through Europe while I studied in Sweden, the trip included a few days in London, an overnight bus to Scotland, a few days in Edinburgh, an overnight bus back to London, a day in London, and a night in the airport before an early morning flight. As twenty-somethings trying to save money, we thought using our transportation hubs as ways around paying for hostels would be ideal – spoiler alert: it was not.

By the time we took this trip, my friend and I were well seasoned travelers who had learned quickly what was needed and what was not when hopping Ryanair flights around Europe. So fortunately, we only had light backpacks to lug around with us for most of our adventure. The first few days in London were fine, we checked into a hostel that I have no memory of positive or negative, and we explored. (This trip played a huge part in my desire to move to London for grad school a year and half later.)

Then came our trip to Scotland. Due to the travel distance and time restraints, we made a compromise to spend time in Edinburgh and explore the city, rather than spending our time moving from sight to sight. To save money, we chose a night bus, rather than a train or a plane. (We used Rome2Rio to plan our transportation and sometimes it gave us cool routes for cheap and sometimes it failed us.) So, we had an eleven hour bus ride from London to Edinburgh that made quite a few stops on its way up. Unfortunately, as this all occurred at night, we saw nothing outside of the windows. It was freezing and with the frequent stops, the doors opened to let in the outside air regularly. Sleeping wasn’t really an option – and it was eleven hours on a bus. Not ideal.

Then came the great part: seeing Edinburgh. Genuinely one of my favorite cities I’ve visited over the years, Edinburgh is the perfect mixture of old and new. We mostly stuck to the old, because ya know, history, but found ourselves thoroughly entertained. (It was also apparently a very popular place for hen parties – we saw way more bride-to-be sashes than we did kilts…)

We stayed at Castle Rock Hostel, which was one of the best hostel experiences we had, literally within sight of the Edinburgh Castle. We walked everywhere, including on a free walking tour of the key sights. We wandered through Princes Street Gardens and stopped by St. Giles’ Cathedral and Greyfriars Kirkyard (I love a good cemetery), and visited the Scottish National Gallery. We wandered over to the castle, but didn’t go in (though we stumbled upon an exotic car event). We made our way down the Royal Mile to visit the royals at Holyroodhouse.

But our big triumph of the trip involved venturing a little further from our hostel home. We decided to climb Arthur’s Seat. And fortunately, we got good weather for our hike. Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a climb and it was muddy. It was a breath of fresh air.

After such a pleasant time in Scotland, it was time for another eleven hour bus ride (still not fun) and another day in London. Because our flight was early the next morning, we had figured we would skip a hostel and sleep in the airport. Simple, really. Except that meant we had a full day to fill on next to no sleep. Except that meant dragging our bags with us for an entire day after sleeping on a bus. Not great.

To finish a long day of exploring London, we decided to see a show – there was no rush to get to Stansted, so we might as well enjoy our wait. The show was wonderful and we hopped a bus to the airport arriving (unfortunately) after security had closed. So we (and many other like minded travelers) were stuck in the lobby on chairs with individual armrests and a man who paced past the automatic doors every fifteen minutes letting in the cold air. Seemed fitting to round out our trip this way…

We did survive the night and we did get on the plane and we did leave with positive memories (and books written in English bought from the airport bookshop at 3 a.m.!), but we also learned never to take a hostel for granted.