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…

Not Quite Wanderlust

Travel, Uncategorized

I wouldn’t call it wanderlust – I think I just wanted to see how far I could get away before I had to bounce back. The first step had been the Midwest – would I come running back to the East Coast or would I want to go even further?

There’s a different mentality in the middle of the country. Folks from the Coasts would label it complacency or a lack of curiosity. The desire to explore far flung places wasn’t ingrained in every decision amongst the cornfields.

But I’d come this far. The next step should be easy. I’d done quick trips – vacations with supervision, first to France and Spain and second to Italy and Greece. Neither was particularly challenging – I knew that by the end of the two weeks I would be home; I knew that my lack of foreign language knowledge could be brushed away with a snarky comment about “American tourists”. It was all quite safe.

But then came the big leap. A twenty-something hour flight with layover that would take me from my East Coast home to the other side of the planet. The safety net had been pulled away, it was time to take a proper leap and not know when I was gonna hit the next ledge.

But I didn’t hit the bottom. Instead, I got my extrovert on (kinda) and met new people. I learned about a country so similar yet so different than mine. I saw fish swimming in a coral reef and stood in the middle of the desert staring in awe at the full Milky Way hanging above me in the sky. I shared my new life with my parents and explored two new countries with them while I was at – a “I must come back” trip to New Zealand and a “totally overwhelmed yet amazed” trip to Phuket in Thailand. As I boarded my plane away from Australia, I couldn’t help but think how quickly can I get back here?

The turn around was quick – a month or so to sit at home and realize I was ready to go far, far away yet again. This time the plane ride was much shorter, the stress was much less, but the destination would be much colder. It was a challenge – to fight against the seasonal depression of four hours of sunlight a day.

The cure was to move, jumping from plane to train to ferry over and over. Flights to France and Germany, Norway, the UK, and Denmark; trains and buses to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; the infamous booze cruises to Russia and Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

In the constant rush, I looked up and there was twenty-two hours of sunlight, not four. I had been everywhere except the “here” that I had traveled so far to see. I told myself I’ll be back, but it’ll never be the same. The people will have shifted, the places will have grown, and who will I be?

Once you’ve left a place, it’ll never be same.

So with a brief layover in Iceland, I returned home. My East Coast had shifted beneath my feet and the cornfields had grown while I was away.

People had drifted away and together. Buildings had been torn down and build.

So I kept going – forward momentum pushing me further and further. Until I paused. In my rush to get as far away as possible, I’d made a loop back to the start.

Notting Hill

london, Travel

As my time in London comes to an end, I’ve been running around trying to fit in adventures between library sessions. My window to cross things off my London to do list is getting smaller and smaller, so I took a (well-needed) break from the library on what was meant to be a sunny Saturday to head to Notting Hill for a wander.

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Initially my day was going to be a solo adventure (like my search for Wisteria), but my need for outside motivation meant that previous attempts to make it to Notting Hill had been limited to searches on Pinterest and a snoozed alarm clock. To get me moving, I invited a friend to breakfast at Drake and Morgan in King’s Cross before my walk. The day was dreary enough that I could justify a mocha with breakfast.

After, I managed to convince my friend to join me on my adventure, partly to help me take pictures, but also to have a nice chat. (He’d previously joined me on a walk to Primrose Hill, so I knew he’d be interested.)

We hopped the Circle line from King’s Cross to Ladbroke Grove with the idea being to avoid the massive crowds that seem attracted to Notting Hill Gate station. It worked and we were able to make our way up and down Notting Hill without having to fight for our space on the sidewalk.39871962_1991677651124066_1200271706569048064_n

I kept pointing out cute houses painted in pastels and my friend had no interest, but I loved it. Notting Hill is cute, cute, cute. We walked and we chatted and I pointed towards brightly colored doors and mini gardens tucked into corners and stairwells, dreaming of sneaking a peek inside the homes.

By the time we hit Holland Park Avenue and the Notting Hill Gate tube station, we were looking for some more snacks. Fortunately, Portobello Road and Market were just around the corner.

Because it was Saturday, the streets were packed with people and stalls. Music played from bars and vintage shops and food stalls. My personal favorite part was a man playing Dua Lipa on a steel drum. We wandered up the road, peeking into shops and people watching, snapping photos.

39917129_2135476983439104_9064656317909565440_nBy the time we hit the end of the stalls, we were ready for a nap. So we made our way back towards Ladbroke Grove and struggled not to snooze on the train.

Did this adventure write my dissertation? No. But I have a feeling I’ll look back fondly on our wanders, rather than regret spending a day on an adventure.

Wisteria Hysteria

london, Travel

London has been kind enough to give us some decently pleasant weather. The rain has stopped for now, the temperature is not too miserable yet, the sun has been shining brightly for the last few days, and the flowers are in bloom.

Because I am a master procrastinator, instead of studying for an exam, I decided to follow some blogs’ advice and take a wander to find the stunning Wisteria that has flooded my Instagram feed for the past few weeks.

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I planned out a route and decided I would take off on my adventure on Friday. The first stop was Abingdon Road, then down to Kynance Mews, then down to Elm Place, back up to Sumner Place. The map was designed to give me a loop, starting at one tube stop and ending at another, making it convenient for me to get there and back to work if need be. (Some of the later stops were left off for another day’s adventure. One of the perks of living in London, rather than just visiting.)

Thanks to procrastination and a work schedule designed for sleeping in, I pushed it off a day. So, on Saturday I woke up early (ish), went to a theatre on the most beautiful spring day to watch Avengers: Infinity War (I have so many feelings, let’s chat…), and then hopped on the tube at Tottenham Court Road to begin my walk through Kensington.

It started with a walk through Holland Park, which was packed with folks enjoying the nice weather. There were little baby moorhen chicks floating around in a pond that definitely entertained me for a good fifteen minutes. They were so fluffy. I had hoped to see some bluebells, but in avoiding the crowds, I missed the flowers. Oh well…

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I made it out of the park and grabbed a bite to eat at Waitrose, cooling down a bit and plotting out my wanders.

Wisteria was all over the place, more spectacular in some areas than others. The sun would hit a bunch and you could understand why people loved the vibrant purple colors. Drapped over a house or a fence, it seems to pop in London’s otherwise drab color scheme. Some of it was tucked down streets I would have otherwise overlooked and I definitely ran into a couple of folks with the same idea as me. The locals would give me a strange glance as I wandered down a dead end street or through an alleyway while staring at Google Maps, but at some point you know they’d all pulled out their phones to capture the same flowers as I was attempting to photograph.

I originally planned to tack on an adventure through Notting Hill on the end of my walk, but due to the pollen and general exhaustion and laziness, I made my way home, with plans to wander Notting Hill on another day.

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