10 Things to Say Goodnight

Well, that’s all she wrote, folks.

I am officially home in the states, with my little dog curled up in my lap. My parents met me in the airport and as I pulled them both into a group hug, the vision I had been playing over and over again in my mind came true. It was just as sweet as imagined.

We drove through my hometown and I couldn’t stop talking. I had so much to tell them. Yet as we drove, I noticed a few things: everything is bigger in the states because there’s more space. The roads are wider, lawns are huge, trees are taller and denser, houses are bigger. It makes sense, given the tiny, wee island that is Britain. I did stop to consider whether I was making a poor comparison: a suburb of the states VS. a major city in the UK. However, given what I saw on our road trips to Bath, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Dover, the suburbs of the UK are flat, grassy rather than wooded, and quite cramped.

There’s also something quite polished about the UK (city and suburbs). It’s as if everything has been arranged for a lovely portrait. The US seems a little rough around the edges. Where the Brits try to put either unpleasant or purely functional things like factories, steam towers, or repair facilities out of the way, we just plop them wherever we have space. Perhaps it comes again to limited space. They must be economical about space because they don’t have as much of it.

My hometown has put its finest dress on. The lilacs, azaleas, cherry blossoms, the dogwoods, and the tulips are all out. My body is still trying to adjust to eighty degree weather, but we’ll get there.

I’ve been trying to gauge the changes in myself. Here they are from what I’ve detected so far:

  1. Obviously, an extremely broadened worldview.
  2. I love languages. I’ve been studying Italian on my own for about three years. My recent discovery of opera has increased my zeal for learning it. I think I always knew this, but being abroad helped me see just how multilingual other Europeans are (generally, Brits are not) and how pitiful monolingual Americans are.
  3. I am a little ashamed to be American. When in other countries (particularly when not in the UK), I would do all I could to hide my accent. I would speak quietly. I would choose words that wouldn’t give away my hard ‘r’ or spread vowels. I didn’t want people to know where I was from because I was afraid they would judge me for it. I was afraid they’d think I love Trump. I was afraid they’d think I was loud, rude, selfish, bigoted, racist, and entitled.
  4. I might be happier living in another country. America is, from an objective point of view, not the promise land it was 100 years ago. There are other countries where the standard of living is better.
  5. I was restless before I left and I didn’t know why. Being in London helped me realize that I needed a new mental challenge. I’ve been studying musical theater since middle school, delving into it headfirst to learn everything possible. But because musical theater’s history only goes back so far and is only writing new history so quickly, I hit a standstill. I was seemingly all caught up. I had learned all I could (for now) and just had to wait to actually go out into the biz and do it. So, I found opera. A related, but entirely different skill set and area of study. The perfect new mental challenge.
  6. I love writing. Writing for you all has been a blast. We also had a class with an absolutely marvelous professor, who helped us understand and practice playwriting. I love it.
  7. I will always love Shakespeare. No explanation needed for that, I think.
  8. I love nature. I need flowers, grass, trees. London is very green. North Philly isn’t.
  9. I need my family.
  10. I can’t wait to start my adult life. I used to fantasize about being on Broadway some day or doing something really amazing with my craft. Now, I just dream about getting an adorable apartment, with a garden, hopefully a partner, and a pet. I want a neighborhood. I want a weekend market. I want to be a regular at a cafe. I won’t mind the traveling that comes with an artist’s life as long as I can come home to a place that’s my own.

So, there you are. I have many more things I’ve learned and discovered about myself and others, but those are the big 10.

If you’d like to keep in touch with yours truly, please head over to my blog Quarter of Noon and subscribe. I’d love to talk with you!

It has been lovely writing for you. Emily and I loved getting emails from some of you and were so happy to hear your comments. We hope the rest of you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed writing it and maybe this blog will inspire you to take your own trip abroad!

Thank you again for reading, everyone! Best wishes!

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Fondly,

Katie H. and Emily

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La mia Gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): PART 3

So. Day four in Italy, we vacated the AirBnb in the early morning and sojourned down to the Vatican on Sunday morning. Yes, I know what you’re thinking … WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? ON A SUNDAY?? And I would normally say, YOU’RE RIGHT, I KNOW. But that was just the way the cookie crumbled this time round. And in hindsight, I can say, WELL SUCKS TO SUCK CUZ GUESS WHAT. WE SAW THE POPE.

Yes, my friends, we were in the midst of Vatican City’s mini-security check when we heard a familiar lilting voice over the sound system. I looked to Emily, then looked to Sarah, the three of us wide-eyed. Some Italians around us were like, “Il Papa!” then a woman yelled to the security guards, “Andiamo, andiamo! il Papa sta parlando!” (Let’s go, let’s go! The Pope is speaking!)

Finally, we made our way through and we saw his charming face on a huge TV screen they’d set up in the square and his tiny figure in the window. It was three weeks before Easter weekend, so he was delivering a blessing in that spirit … given my Italian-in-training and his mumbly speech, I could only piece together something about all of us having burdens, but we can surrender them to the Lord by loving and believing. What a guy. As I mentioned in Part 2, I was raised Catholic, so I have a lot to say about these kinds of things, but not about him. He is just what the Catholic Church needs to bring it first into the twentieth-century and then the twenty-first.

He delivered individual blessings to the many countries that were in attendance, each giving a hearty cheer, some complete with self-congratulatory flags that I personally found adorable. Then, he said his final farewells, gave his lovely wave and disappeared into the shadows of his room. How about them apples.

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Fleet of foot, given our unexpected celestial promotion, we ventured into St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Seeing the Pietà always reminds me how much I eventually want to be a mother. In case you haven’t figure out from my writings thus far, I’ve always had a sensitivity for mother-child relationships, given my relationship with my amazing mother and father. If I feel like I need to cry about something, but my mind won’t allow me to, I’ll crack the ice by watching Baby Mine from ‘Dumbo’ and the waterworks, without exception, will flow. There are times when I fret about how I will possibly be able to do for my child what my parents did for me: give the perfect balance of love and tough-love. Will I screw them up? Will they hate me even though I will love them beyond all measure?

And okay. I know you’re thinking … she’s looking at a statue of a mother with her dead child and that gives her the warm and fuzzies about maybe being a mother some day? Well. Yes. It’s the hopelessness in her eyes, the depth of sorrow and so, the depth of love in her expression. It’s profound. I would say I feel things deeply, yet—from what I see in the sculpture—I haven’t even scratched the surface of feeling what a mother feels for her child.

Now, as both a quasi-Catholic and theater person, symbolism is not lost on me. Therefore, as I walked away from the Pietà and felt an all too familiar ache in my abdomen, I literally stopped dead in my tracks, a blank expression on my face. Really?

Yes, despite my many attempts to anticipate and quell the pain, my body’s temper tantrum because nope, we are not, in fact, going to have a baby this month won out … even over the Pope’s blessing! (That’s some strength of will right there. Or the devil’s work … haven’t figured that symbolism out yet.) The rest of the day lost some focus; it went from 1080HD to 480, sometimes through spots spidering across my vision, sometimes through tears of pain. But, it was fun nonetheless.

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We tried to get into the Sistine Chapel and for the second time in my life, it was closed. We then found a rather expensive pizza place (do we detect a pattern here in Rome?), then, upon my request, we walked to the Fountain of the Four Rivers and observed it with gelato in our hands. LOOK: (è tiramisu e fragola … delizioso!!)

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From there, we headed straight to the airport. At the risk of beating a dead horse, but more for the sake of candor, the flight home was fresh hell. I suppose it’s an appropriately Italian tragic ending to a blissful trip. We were sat in the emergency exit row, to boot, which meant I didn’t have a window to distract my mind or to help with the nausea. At any rate, I survived without any unpleasantness for anyone else, but never was I so happy to curl up in a ball on my bed when I got home.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ITALY: I miss it so very much. These people know how to live. They eat well, drink well, speak well, sing well. I so wish I had some Italian in me. I am also madly jealous of our good friend, Nick, who studied abroad in Rome this semester. Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong and we weren’t able to meet up with him (for which I thoroughly beat myself up), but from what he’s told me and the pictures he’s posted, it seems as heavenly as our short weekend stint was. Certainly, my Italian studies would have progressed considerably. (That being said, I do not BY ANY MEANS regret my decision to go to London.) Other than a possible career in opera, I don’t know what I could do so that I have an excuse to live in Italy some day … but whatever it is, I’ll find it and do it.

Viva l’Italia!

Joyfully,

Katie H.

La mia gioia in Italia (My Joy in Italy): Part 1

Se mai ho avuto la gioia, era in Italia.
If ever I had joy, it was in Italy. 

Se mai ho visto la luce, era in Italia.
If ever I saw light, it was in Italy.

Se mai ho mangiato bene, era in Italia.
If ever I ate well, it was in Italy.

Il mio cuore appartiene a Italia.
My heart belongs to Italy.

(Ho praticato il mio italiano.)
(I’ve been practicing my Italian.)

It’s going to sound SO sappy, especially on a screen, but our trip to Rome was a nonstop stream of religious experiences. But I think those passionate, sometimes gaudy, always vibrant Italians would be pleased that their city drove me to feel only the most highly saturated emotions.

I found just how boundless the upper limit of joy is … like a domed ceiling, with an oculus gateway to infinity.

So, I’ve been here before. Just after graduating high school, I participated in a program called AMA (American Music Abroad), where high schools from a certain region sent a handful of students to four European countries for three weeks to play and sing for the residents there. With a jazz band, concert band, orchestra, and chorus, we toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy over the course of three weeks. Our first stop was Rome. What I remember: the smell, the sun, roasting nuts of unknown identity, churches, gelato, and a gargantuan building of white marble with a black horse statue in front that I could not remember the name of.

I am happy to report that Rome smells exactly the same. It’s a veritable potpourri of smells. One smell is, of course, the European staple of cigarette smoke. Another is what I think must be the smell of terra cotta in the sun, a warm, earthy scent. Another is the smell of ocean water, just a hint of salt. Another is a kind of metallic smell which mystified me last time and of which I still don’t know the origin. Finally is the smell of food: bread, meat, and vegetables.

The sun is stronger here and I, having not been south of the Mason-Dixon line since Rome the last time, was drinking it up from the moment we landed. We exited the airport, delighted to find that we were in the middle of nowhere. We caught a bus to our hostel, which was a half hour bus ride outside of the city proper, in a lovely, very hilly neighborhood, where things were much cheaper than in the city. Checking in with our AirBnB host, we dropped our things and ventured out for a bite and an adventure.

Our first stop was the first religious experience. (There will be a lot of these.)

A little pizza shop caught our eye. I ordered a margarita pizza in Italian, pleased with my first Italian interaction in a long time; my pride was short-lived, however. I was blind-sided when an employee hurled an Italian word at me, quickly and sharply. I stuttered, blinked a lot, looked to Emily, the Spanish speaker, to see if she recognized it, she didn’t, I uttered, ‘uh’ quite dumbly, and finally she said it again, pointing to a box, then outside. A wave of embarrassment passed over me as I realized it was the Italian word for ‘takeaway’, which I had never learned from a textbook. I mumbled, ‘si, prego’, took my pizza, paid, and shuffled out the door. Almost a job well done.

But the pizza. Oh, the pizza. Fresh, crispy dough with olive oil drizzled on top. You could see the light flakes of sea salt on the olive oil. Then, fresh, diced tomatoes, ruby red and oozing with juice. White, glistening mozzarella, the imperfectly ripped texture hinting at its authenticity. And finally, emerald green basil, not a hint of brown, lush, and deliciously pungent, with cracked pepper on top.

We ate it on the way into Rome on the bus. We were standing amongst maybe thirty Italians and passing Italian signs, most of which I could understand. I was standing, but I was floating. As long as I’ve been studying Italian by myself, I’ve had a shadowy thought in the back of my mind reminding me that this doesn’t do any good unless I practice with someone. If I don’t speak it aloud and hear it aloud in conversation, all of it could be for naught.

That bus ride dispelled that pesky little thought and I was buzzing like neon.

We got off at a random bus stop on Monte Esquilino (Esquiline Hill, one of the seven hills) and followed the street signs to the landmarks we wanted to see. Our informal walking tour took us to the gorgeous Fontana di Trevi, la Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti (the Spanish Steps), la Piazza del Popolo, e la Terrazzo del Pincio (Pincio Promenade). (Be advised … there are 30-some pictures in this slideshow. All of which are my favorites. Thanks.)

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The sun, smiling, began to set on Rome.

All through the day, I’d had Rossini’s La Cenerentola (starring my birthday buddy, Cecilia Bartoli) in my earbuds and his writing couldn’t have better embodied my joy. The rhythm bounced like an excited heartbeat, the singer’s voices flitted up and down the scale, the words had such vivacity, hope, humor. Cenerentola’s Rondò finale, Nacqui all’affanno, began as Rome turned golden:

“I was born breathless and crying, suffering silently at the core; but by a sweet charm, in the flower of my youth, like a lightning flash, my luck has turned … no more sorrow by the fire, to be singing alone, no! Ah, it was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.”

Out of nowhere, even though I’ve listened to this song dozens of times before, my chest expanded, my breath caught, and my eyes welled. I felt every elation, despair, rage, and shock from the past four years wallop me at once. Like looking back at an old diary or the wall-mounted ruler my parents used to chart my height, I suddenly became aware of the maturation I’d undergone since coming to college. The feeling was so immense, I could barely wrap my heart around it.

I didn’t know I was living in high school. I remember the moment in eighth grade when I developed my sharp disdain for the busywork of school and the antics of my classmates; it was the moment I calloused my hands, tucked my chin, and got through my life until I could sing, play an instrument, be with friends, write–do anything but be told what to do. Of course, I had beautiful friends that have stuck with me through it all, amazing teachers that gave me the skills and nourishment I needed, and my family was how I even survived. But I don’t think I was happy. I was happy enough, which sometimes didn’t suffice. Anything remotely negative would send me dipping below the surface. Tunnel vision will do that to a person.

Of course, not all are so lucky to escape. There were three suicides at my high school in the four years I was there. I would be lying to say I didn’t skirt around the edges of those kinds of thoughts in my darkest hours. I spent afternoons in a bathroom stall, breathless and crying. A bad grade on a test that would surely ruin my grade for the semester or forgetting an assignment because I had so many extracurricular activities (none of which I could drop because I needed them for college applications) would make me wonder if it was even worth it. But after a night’s rest or after a talk with my mom and dad, I would snap out of it. Some don’t.

So, what must change? And who’s to blame?

When I got to college, I was finally able to breathe. My luck had changed. It took some time to open and truly let people in after all the time spent closed off, but once I did, it was bliss. Although I’m further away from my parents, I feel them with me in every step I take or word I say. I made friends that complete me. If I attained any success, my teachers, whether they believe me or not, are to thank; they loved and supported me into the truest form of myself. The way of living I discovered in college is one of gratitude: finally being able to step outside of my problems and realize how much I owe to the people in my life and (it sounds gross and cheesy) how lucky I am. It’s so much easier to live. It was a lightning flash, a dream, a game, my long life of suffering.

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Questa vita è più bella e prezioso di ogni altra cosa.
This life is more beautiful and precious than anything else.

I gazed at the roman sunset, belly full with good food, flanked on either side by my best friend and a very close friend, skin warm, eyes and ears full of beauty, and thankfully I had sunglasses on as a few happy tears escaped from my eyes–not sure how I would have articulated my reason for them.

Pulling myself together, we sought out dinner and, man, did we get it. La Proscuitteria in a secretive alley just off Piazza di Trevi gave us an enormous board of antipasto-style meats, cheeses, bread, vegetables, olives, etc. all for ten euro (just about ten dollars) per person. Observe and be jealous:

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After, we wandered a bit more, then thoroughly exhausted and having been up for about twenty-two hours, we went back to our AirBnb. Of course, we found gelato first. Tiramisu. Always. And conked out.

To be continued …

Feeling spiritual and emotionally overwhelmed,

Katie H.

Irish Pride, Luck, and Beer

Is Ireland real? That’s my question.

Or did my eight-year-old mind dream it into existence after hearing a Celtic Woman album for the first time – painting in the brightest rolling hills it could think up, lighting them from beneath, spotting the people’s faces with freckles just so, and using sunlight sparingly, but intensely? If so, I did a hell of a job.

If not, Ireland is exactly what I imagined it would be.

Emily, Colin Patrick O’Neill, and I landed in Dublin, our plane touching down on a runway that was neighbor to a flock of sheep and goats. I kid you not. We took a bus from the airport into the center of the city to our hostel. Ireland was not as far into spring as London was, so what green was on the trees was light yet bright. Some cherry blossom trees were just beginning to show their colors, but the daffodils. I thought London’s random, yet plentiful patches of daffodils were spectacular … they pale in comparison to Ireland’s.

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We crossed the River Liffey and were in Dublin. The air was chilly, but crisp with sunlight. We checked in to our impromptu hostel, after our AirBnB host had cancelled barely 24 hours before our plane was due to take off. So, hastily, we booked this place, which I suppose could have ended up worse than it did; however, the digs were less than spectacular. We crept into the big room of 16, mixed-gender beds just as apprehension crept into our minds. Nodding once to shake him out, we found the lockers, deposited our stuff, and set off into the city to find some bikes.

Once on the bikes, we also found every construction worker and vehicle in Ireland, tearing up the very road we wanted to take. After some negotiating, we finally made it out of the city center just barely in tact and took a leisurely spin to the Glasnevin Cemetery.

It was positively striking and the perfect embodiment of the Irish obsession with crosses, blessings, and morbidity. As far as the eye could see, somber grey stone carved into headstones, crosses, and crypts protruded from the ground, marking the remains of an Irishman or -woman. Fittingly, the sun excused itself behind a cloud, as if to let us have our moment of grief alone.

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We wandered through the graceful expressions of loss and love. Some graves were well kept; others were not. Some had fresh bouquets of flowers, some did not, while others still (almost more upsettingly) had wilted, crackly, long-dead bouquets, as colorless as the wintered ground.

Emily and I noted quite a few headstones of families, which had listed the patriarch and matriarch at the top, with their brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters below. Yet they had room at the bottom for future generations’ names. My mind vacillated between thinking this a loving gesture, wanting to be sure the children can be laid to rest with the rest of their family, and a morbid one, leaving an open, conspicuous space that must be filled, as if completing a checklist.

We then followed signs to a botanical garden nearby and picked our way through the various greenhouses that housed countless varieties of cacti and tropical plants.

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The sun reappeared through the domed glass ceiling. My love for flowers, sun, and Ireland stimulated all at once, I experienced some kind of high. We strolled around the grounds of the park a bit more, taking advantage of the glorious sunlight, clusters of crocuses, and far-too-perfect-to-be-real scenery for some photos, then found our way back to the bikes.

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Emily told us of a very quaint, very highly reviewed, very “close” place called Howth. We biked into the forty-fifth minute of travel and I mentally declared Emily an exaggerator. But I truly wasn’t all that mad about it. I definitely wish I had taken more pictures to share with you, but, as we were travelling quite fast, quite close to unsympathetic drivers, and my phone was at about 15% battery, I did not. I regret it fully now. We were driving along one of the most beautiful bike paths I’ve ever seen. Each turn round the bend was more gorgeous and photogenic than the next.

We drove past a sprawling park, with a serene lake surrounded by a full bed of daffodils, only interrupted by a pair of swans. The landscape had several gentle hills, dotted with clusters of rock, bushes, and small, budding trees. There was a long stretch of green, bordered with a path, which was bordered by growing trees. Three older couples were walking together, one holding hands, another arm in arm. There were children on scooters. There were freely roaming dogs and their owners walking leisurely nearby. I’ve decided I’d like to retire to Ireland. If my family is far away, I’ll move them.

We drove past what we are 95% sure was the ocean as the sun began to set, as Howth was at the tip of a long, thin peninsula. The tide was out, so I had the Irish words to the folk song Dúlaman rattling around in my head, as I gazed at the wads of lacy seaweed on the rocks.

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At long last, we got to Howth, winded, chilled, and thoroughly famished. Luckily, the main reason for our adventure was not difficult to find: ‘the best fish and chips in the world’. Sitting ourselves in front of an unbelievably photogenic harbor, we sat in the setting sun and ate … or devoured.

A long, complicated, and unfortunate series of events later (that included all of our phones dying, leaving us with no way to get home, sitting in a Starbucks for far too long while Colin’s phone charged, trying to get on a bus with our monstrosities of bikes, being denied with a great deal of Irish sass, catching a train home, riding another twenty minutes to put the bikes in a shed overnight, then walking the rest of the chilly way home), we showered, got ourselves all gussied up, went to a pub, I had my first half-pint of Guinness since coming to the UK and sat quietly, a bit glazed over from our day.

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A party of rowdy Irishfolk began to gather near us and we watched quietly. They convened, greeted each other fondly, ordered a satisfactorily Irish number of rounds, and began to play a game. One man with a suit and red tie whipped out a blonde, terribly cut wig and put it on. Another blonde woman in a blue pantsuit, with purposefully terrible eye makeup took out a folder. They began to sing a barely coherent song about a wall. The three of us were stunned into silence. We watched as they played what we think was a drinking game where one man was Trump, a woman was Kellyanne Conway, and the rest were members of the press or government (we’re not sure and don’t know if they were sure, either) who asked Trump questions, to which he would give an appropriately stupid response. The three of us were shocked, amused, and a little scared they would discover our nationality. So we bounced and went to bed. We never figured out the objective and perhaps there was none other than to ridicule Trump. To which I say, sláinte!

The next day was fairly straightforward. We woke up, went to return our bikes to their rightful owners, and took a walking tour with a guy named Cathal (pronounced CA-hl, with a laryngeal ‘h’ sound), who, quite frankly, did not live up to the Irish meaning of his name (battle) as he was rather sweet.

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We walked around a bit, did some shopping, and sat in a park for a bit. The sun was coming in and out when we felt it begin to mist. No one else seemed to mind so we didn’t either and simply sat and enjoyed the beautiful park. Eventually, the sun came back out. We stood to go and looked up. Call it the luck of the Irish or a physics phenomena, I don’t care … but there was a full rainbow curving right over our heads. Tickled by our Irish halo, we took an excited picture.

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Next, we got dinner at famous pub called O’Neill’s and Colin was tempted to ask if he could drink for free. Unfortunately he didn’t because if he did, so would half of Ireland. I got shepherd’s pie and my first Irish coffee and, tummy bulging a bit, was very happy.

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To finish the night, we went to a comedy club that, while fun, wasn’t quite the entertainment we had hoped for. But it was worth it!

We returned to the hostel, showered, and went to the common room. There, we had my favorite experience of the trip. We met a wonderfully open woman with a delightful sense of humor called Amelie (pronounced Amalia) from Barcelona. She was an au pair, working in the suburbs of Ireland. She had gotten a degree in physical education in Barcelona, but was having trouble finding a job. So, she jumped ship and moved to Ireland for a year to be an au pair. A weekend trip to the capital with some friends from home brought her to Dublin. She had a minimal grasp of English, but was eager to chat and learn. Watching her listen to us and work out the sentence was fascinating. You could see she was a very quick study; she double-checked with us about a grammatical rule and when we politely corrected her, she thanked us and used it perfectly the next time it came up.

At first it was just Emily and I talking with her, but when Colin came over, it seemed she grew increasingly nervous and embarrassed when she didn’t know the word for something. She probably felt outnumbered, even though we were happy to help and talk with someone so interesting. Then, another girl from Amsterdam, named Dewy, heard our animated conversation and came over. We discussed everything from the weather from our respective homelands to what we want in life. Everything, I was happy to note, but Trump. At about 1 AM, we parted ways after friending each other on Facebook. The two consistently like things of mine and vice-versa, which heartens me. It seems we all made something of an impact on each other in the best way possible.

Next day, Colin and I did the Guinness tour, which was a blast and a half, while Emily walked around a park. We met up, got some lunch, and I caught an early flight out of Dublin, while the others found some fun things to do for the extra two hours they were there. Leaving, I felt lucky and very proud to be Irish.

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FINAL THOUGHTS: Dubliners are the best. They’re hearty people with a sparkling sense of humor and a leprechaun-esque twinkle in their eye. An example: in 2002, the Irish were doing quite well economically, with dozens of American and English corporations setting up shop in its inexpensive areas, and had wads of money they didn’t know what to do with; so, having never had so much money, they decided to build something. They built a needle in the middle of their city. Eventually, the crash of 2008 affected them and they didn’t have so much money anymore. But they had their needle. Which, in hindsight, they saw was actually pretty silly looking. So, they gave it a few Irish nicknames, my personal favorite being ‘the stiffy by the Liffey’.

They are so proud to be Irish they have launched government programs to revitalize the Irish language; they have specific towns where the people can only speak Irish and you have to have governmental approval that you speak Irish well enough before living there. Additionally, the government will check in on you to make sure you’re improving. If you’re not, you’re out.

They are proud of where they come from and where they’re going. They like their beer, their music, and maintain that they do everything better. Which, from what I’ve seen, is entirely true. Though the weather can be dull, the city’s sparkle and glow makes up for it.

Éirinn go Brách!

Proudly and luckily,

Katie H.

Part 2: Berlin Art and Walls

Okay, continuing where we left off … BERLIN!

We got to Berlin early in the day, having gained back an hour in the air. No sooner had the plane touched down than we were rushing to catch an hour-long overground train ride into the city proper. We purchased tickets and brought them to the platform. The train was sitting silently, doors agape, as if inviting us in. We sat down, relieved, but stopped. All three of us looked at the unstamped, unripped, unverified tickets in our hands.

We hesitantly got up and absently walked back out the still ajar doors, rotated once like confused dogs, then wandered back on the train. The two men sitting opposite looked at us with mild amusement. One said in a startlingly familiar American accent, “You looking to check your tickets?”

We smiled and nodded blushingly.

He pointed to a barely noticeable box on a stick with an arrow pointing down to a slit. “Just stick it in there,” he said.

We went over to it, hesitantly put our ticket in, jumped when the box stamped it, and scampered back on the train as it hummed to life again. We thanked them. After a moment of thought, Emily asked, “What would have happened if we hadn’t done that?”

“Probably nothing,” the other one said.

The group of us guffawed about this, having flashbacks to our own strict American systems of transportation. We learned that these two jovial men were both from Houston and Dallas, Texas (I ignored the sneaky, red-flag waving minion in the back of my head shouting, ‘Guns! Confederacy! Rick Perry! Run away!’) and were both architects (that shut the minion up right away). They were based in Dusseldorf, but were on a weekend trip, just as we were. We chatted with them about the various European cities we had seen, they had seen, and which ones we all wanted to visit in the future.

As we rode, we saw a Berlin in rebuild mode, with a forest of cranes towering over smaller houses, some still and stoic, others moving with mammoth slowness. I commented on the cranes and, of course, the two architects piped up with enthusiasm. One of them told us that when you work a crane, you don’t leave the cabin for the entire day; you eat your lunch, take your breaks, and even pee up there … there’s a convenient bucket that should most definitely not be kicked.

The other told us about how he was in a design meeting in a building next to a construction site, and as his coworker spoke, he watched as a crane arm swung within eight inches of their building’s glass window. He stressed that crane operators must be capable mathematicians, as well.

They eventually got off twenty minutes before we did and as the train pulled away, I realized, to my dismay, we never learned their names. It was one of the more lovely small-talk conversations I had experienced in my life. I hope they are enjoying their travels.

We discovered that the lax transportation security would hold true for the rest of the trip. Arriving at our hostel, we put our luggage in a locked closet as we couldn’t check in yet and set off to start our first day in Berlin.

We took the underground to the center of town, where we would join up with our walking tour that Emily found on TripAdvisor, which was called, ‘The Alternative Walking Tour’. It was so cool! Our tour guide gave us an understanding of Berlin’s street art culture. He told us when and why the art was implemented, anecdotes about artists, and countless other cultural facts that we would never have gotten just doing a simple walking tour. If you ever have reason to go to Berlin, I highly recommend taking that tour. Here are some pictures:

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You’ll notice LOTS of Trump propaganda. More than we have, most like.

On the tour, our guide told us about how the paintings and art connects to Berlin’s history. He spoke about how most of Berlin was destroyed in the bombings of the city in World War II and how it was pretty much a wasteland until the next government got around to cleaning it up-hence, the terrible 50s, 60s, and 70s architecture. He said that because most of its historic buildings had been destroyed, the city lost a great deal of its morale and sense of beauty. So, its people began to make it beautiful.

Then, there’s the wall. I’d have to say the most striking thing about the Berlin Wall is how recent it is. History teachers never made that apparent. I’ve always felt that my public history education stopped just after the civil rights movements, but just before the Vietnam War, Korean War, and certainly before the War on Terror. I never really understood what was going on in Berlin other than bad things involving Iron Curtains and Stalin. Our tour helped immensely with that.

After our tour, we were absolutely chilled to the bone and pooped, so we decided to call it an afternoon. Now, when I tell you our dinner that evening was the highlight of my trip, I’d only be half-exaggerating. Emily found a random Greek restaurant (having narrowed our search to Mediterranean) along a charming Berlin canal and it was pure heaven. We ordered baked feta cheese (oh my god) and tzatziki with pita (oh my god) to start. Sarah got her usual classy-AF glass of white wine and I took a chance, pointing blindly at my menu, ordering a surprise drink that turned out to be awesome! It was half-sprite (or lemonade, as they call it) and half-lager, which I found out later was called a shandy. It was so good! Then I ordered lamb over rice, with tzatziki, more pita, and other vegetables lining my plate.

In between courses, our lovely waiter came over and wordlessly deposited three shot glasses on our table. Sarah and I, the drinkers amongst us, looked at each other. We cautiously picked up the liquid, as if it were some kind of combustible liquid, and sniffed. It smelled of anise or licorice, so we immediately put them down again. I only got a picture of the feta because I got a little excited, so here it is:

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The next day, we had a fairly grim day, visiting the bizarre experience that is CheckPoint Charlie and The Topography of Terror museum. I won’t say much about the latter experience, but will instead share some of the placards I saw and let them speak for themselves.

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Afterward, we went to a huge open-air market, bought some nifty things, had some currywurst (oh my god, oh my god), then went to the Berlin Wall Mural museum. Take a look:

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From there, we had a nice dinner, went to an AirBnB near the airport, and had a long night’s rest. In the morning, we rose before the sun did (AGAIN) and caught a plane back to Britain. Unfortunately, we received a rude welcome of rain from London, but … it was good to be back from our whirlwind adventure.

FINAL THOUGHTS on BERLIN: Man, what a neat city. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but I do think I preferred it to Budapest. It was quiet and solemn, but pulsing with excitement like a blue neon sign under black felt.

More than anything, I have such a profound respect for the city. Everywhere you look, you will see a memorial. They have monuments to commemorate the memory of the Jewish people, homosexual people, or other victims of the Nazis, the lives of those who suffered during the time of the Berlin Wall, and Germany’s dark colonial past in Africa. They wear their wounds for all to see and pronounce their mistakes loudly for even guests to observe and learn from … they remember. Something we need to do more of.

Berlin may have a dark and complicated past, but it’s repairing itself and will rise even brighter.

Optimistically,

Katie H.

Part 1: Budapest Makes Me Hungary

Buda+Pest

I’m a bit late on this, but better late than never. Right? Right.

Two weekends ago, Sarah, Emily, and I sallied off to Hungary for two days and then stopped by Germany for two days. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind and made four days feel like a month.

Budapest was interesting when we first arrived. It was overcast and the wintry landscape was hardly welcoming. We took a conveniently situated bus into the city center where our AirBnB was located and as we drove through the scenery, it looked very similar to the states. Similar trees, similar dilapidated structures surrounded by barbed wire (as if anyone would want to break in to a barely-standing building anyway), and the only color provided by flashy advertisements.

We took the tube and were alarmed to see a subway car that had been taken right out of 60’s documentary about Queens.

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As we got into the city, the three of us went silent. It looked like North Philadelphia. Sheer, imposing facades of buildings, wide, unkempt streets with cars that had seen a great deal of life, and uninviting storefronts. We got off the bus and began walking in the direction Google Maps bade us and stayed close together.

We finally arrived at our AirBnB, giving a meek hello to the cheery owner. He was the brightest thing we’d seen all day. He let us into the apartment and we heaved a sigh of relief. It was delightful. He called it his ‘purple property’-presumably because he had a rainbow of properties elsewhere. It was decorated with soft purple decor, complete with fake lavender and a tall, airy ceiling. To our immense surprise, in a corner of the room was a mini-landing at the top of a scary-looking set of stairs with a mattress pallet … it was like a treehouse!

Our view looked out the opposite way we had come and we saw a lovely little park, buzzing with children on scooters and couples walking. We looked at each other and smiled, heartened.

So, we ventured out to see what Budapest was all about. We took an enchanting walk along the Danube and were left breathless by Budapest in the golden hour. Take a look:

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A few terrible, but obligatory jokes about being hung(a)ry later, we got dinner at a night market spot: a lovely meal of chicken paprikash that practically fell off the bone and the single most bizarre thing I’ve eaten on this trip yet (which isn’t saying much), spaetzle. Now maybe you’ve heard of this before … I have not and expected pasta or maybe potato. I got neither. I got an egg noodle. The consistency weirded me and my two companions out. But, overall, it was an enjoyable meal.

Next up, we explored our classical sides by going to the Hungarian State Opera to see Andrea Chénier, a rare, but compelling story about the French Revolution. So, I have never heard what I’d call a professional, mature, classical tenor in person … Wow. Wow, wow. Now I get why they’re paid the big bucks. There are very few things more exciting to hear. Here are the pictures from the evening:

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The next day, I woke up and had quite the start to my day.

Remember those scary steps I mentioned? Yes, well, I’m not a terribly clumsy person, which means I don’t fall. I trip, stumble, look generally awkward, but I rarely end up on my ass.

I was no match for these stairs.

No sooner had I woken up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I found myself ba-bumping down the steep wooden stairs in my socks, grappling onto the railing with my left arm for what seemed like dear life. I sat, stunned, at the base of the stairs. Emily and Sarah stared at me, frozen, with their hands over their mouths. I wish I could say we laughed, but the sickening sound of my ankles and butt hitting each wooden step echoed in our minds.

I was really fine. The most grievous injury was a wicked brush burn to the tender flesh of my forearm. I still have a nasty-looking scab (two weeks later) … you should see the other guy.

Having started the day right, we stopped by this ADORABLE and very AFFORDABLE cafe we’d passed the night before for some sustenance to get us up the mini-mountain we had planned to scale. At the top was a beautiful monument devoted to Budapest’s history, which I’ll explain in a bit. We got a beautiful panorama of the city (both Buda and Pest) and the River Danube. Next, we visited the baths, a collection of natural springs. Emily and I bathed, lounged, and practiced our sloth skills and Sarah splurged on a massage. Finally, we ended our Budapest experience by going to a Hungarian restaurant, Drum Cafe, and tried chicken goulash. I will give you my verdict: yes.

Our last few hours in Budapest were in the wee hours of the next morning when we had to wake up for an impossibly early flight. We walked about the city at close to 5 AM and encountered people who were still roaming from the festivities of the night before. Blessed with the luck of passing an open bakery, we exhausted the remainder of our Hungarian Forints on pastries, and if that isn’t the theme of the whole weekend, I don’t know what is.

We boarded the plane to Berlin inspired, relaxed, and a bit heavier for carbs.

Conclusions: Unfortunately, Hungary’s economy is fairly weak and as we traversed the city, we discovered the truth of its previous ‘second-world’ classification. We saw quite plainly a nation just getting its bearings after finally freeing itself from the colonization of other countries. First, it had been under the thumb of Nazi Germany; then directly after liberating itself from the Nazis, Hungary found itself being incorporated into the Soviet Union bloc. After many failed attempts at ousting the Russians, they finally were completely free of foreign influence in 1991.

You can see that in the streets. It’s a subdued nation, but not in the way the English are subdued … it seems to have an undercurrent of stoicism, mistrust, and cynicism. But, I was a guest for a very short time, so it’s entirely possible I’ve simply projected my own interpretation onto it.

Another observation (one that I’m fairly certain I haven’t projected anywhere) is regarding gender relations. Quite a few men in Budapest were intimidating. One of the first things I noticed upon coming to London was that if men did look me up and down, they were discreet about it, and if I caught them, they’d look right away. Not so in Budapest. I would find them eyeing me or my friends with a kind of predatory interest and if we made eye-contact, he would meet my eyes evenly, daring me to action. Of course, he would always win.

These two observations of Hungary, although extremely cursory, placed it in the lower percentile of my favorite cities. However, I certainly didn’t regret the trip and, in fact, loved the company.

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To be continued …

Feeling a bit Hungary,

Katie H.

(Sorry not sorry.)

Here Comes the Sun

Hey. Sorry for the radio silence.

Note to self: fall in love with cloudy London first-then find your self, your home, and your heart with sunny London.

Quick recap of the past few days:

Tuesday: classes, I made rigatoni with red sauce and sausage for Colin and Sal, they loved it, it was great

Wednesday: LONG day of classes, finally found a space where we can practice for our voice lessons and play piano (yay), went to the local pub (Flynn’s) with a bunch of friends

Thursday: field trip to the British Library and found that we couldn’t see much without a pass, but did see original manuscripts from Jane Austen and the Beatles, then went to an organized night of trivia, which didn’t live up to expectations

Friday: had a few workshops about maximizing our weekend travels to other countries, then had high tea at the British Museum! That was truly a blast. The tea and small cakes and sandwiches were absolutely delicious and delightful to discover. Afterwards, Sal and I wandered round scoping out the British Museum … we happened across the Rosetta Stone, casually.

Today: Emily and I woke up very late for the first time in a long time, which felt spectacular. We then took a sojourn to Portobello market and man, oh man, was that a good decision. First of all, today was the first day of near constant sun in a long time and I felt myself open and relax like some kind of two-legged flower. Strolling along Portobello street, we heard, smelled, and saw enough to satiate the week’s hunger for sun and spiritual nutrition. I stopped and purchased a lovely leather cuff bracelet (which I’ve been seeking for quite a long time) from a vendor with an humble manner and sweet smile; it must have been just a scrap from his larger, much more delicate and impressive leather works, because it was only a pound and of very good quality!

Emily couldn’t resist the tantalizing smells of massive vats of chicken and seafood paella cooking in a stall, so she bought an order of chicken. I stood by, starting staring contests with the roasting prawns.

I saw a passing lady with a glistening, oversized sausage sandwich and vowed to have one of my very own. We saw a cast iron vat of roasting sausages and potatoes, and immediately got in the queue. The lady who was serving was working quickly, with perhaps six words of English in her back pocket, so didn’t understand when I asked for no cheese in an effort to save a pound. She delicately placed two sticks of fried cheese on top of the heaping and steaming mound of golden onions, herbed potatoes, and sizzling, deep red chorizo sausage like it was Jenga. I swallowed my dismay and forked over my coin.

That was the right thing to do.

Biting into the fried cheese, I went weak in the knees. That foodgasm was only complimented by the one given me by the delectably greasy and spicy chorizo sausage. Quite content and practically doing a happy food dance down the street, Emily and I stepped back into the sun from the shelter of the tent.

We examined stalls of crafted silver, antiques, scarves and other alpaca products, jewelry, car and soldier figurines, produce, baked goods, flowers, all the things you’d expect of a market. We listened to countless languages wafting through the sunny, fragrant air. People considered us and we considered them.

A giggling girl, speaking an Asian language, eyed my sausage, just as I eyed her sandwich, then looked at me, just as I looked at her. We both smiled, a little embarrassed. We moved on, for all I know, never to speak again.

A man speaking Spanish to his family shoulder-checked Emily accidentally and they both wheeled to face one another. In a hiccup of a heartbeat, he gazed at her, considered, then finally blurted, “Excuse me.” She said in tandem, in his language, “Excusa me.” They smiled, enjoying the confusion, and parted.

We stayed for the length of the afternoon, then took the tube home. Walking along the city streets in the sun that just nearly held the warmth of spring, I felt a near-illegal kind of euphoria.

The city’s charm under overcast skies is one thing. The whites and greys of its architecture are made hypnotically flat by the dispersed light, and the forest green foliage and glossy wrought-iron of gates, poles, and windows are deepened in contrast. The melancholy, subdued tones of greenery, blue water, and grey skies encompass what one thinks of the British Isles. The presently naked trees are stark and while bare of life, seem to hum with a secret of spring.

But under the golden afternoon sun … colors you never knew were there come out from the woodwork, like paint bleeding from a linen canvas. Fittingly, people emerge from their houses like sleepy hibernators and take to parks, buses, avenues, their faces as bright as the day. Sunny London belongs to the tottering children, murmuring couples, and scampering dogs. Flowers burst open, the steadfast optimists among us. Birds swoop down from their elevated branches, to inspect the warmed soil. Clouds seem kinder.

And here, I’ve pictures to prove it.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Wish you were here.

Contentedly,

Katie H.

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In Transit

There are times when I think of 24 hours as a much too generous gift.

Today was not one of those days.

I suppose I never realized how fortunate I am to have lived in such relatively close proximity to all the places in my life, and how precious little of my time, until now, has been spent in transit. My next move will be to time how long it takes us to get to classes, but in the mean time, you’ll have to take my word for it … it’s a very long haul.

Luckily, we only take one tube, but we walk all over creation in the meantime. Particularly the walk to our voice teacher’s flat is a haul. A lovely walk, but a haul.

Once there, however, I think I have a lot to learn and gain from our teacher. She has a wealth of experience in the business, quite an impressive Rolodex of contacts and friends, and a knowledge of the European way of art and theater. Already, she’s given me some grand ideas about what an artist’s life could look like this side of the pond, none of which had occurred to me before, but all of which sound absolutely thrilling and fulfilling. She’s helped me make sense of where I fall in the venn diagrams of overlapping fields, in that I sit somewhere in between the circles of musical theater, classical theater, and opera; utilizing that image, she helped me realize those areas are, in fact, very easy to combine, particularly here in Europe where they value the latter two perhaps a bit more than America does. Having never truly considered being An American in London (or any other major European city), the thought gave me some tingles.

As helpful as she was, she was also long-winded. I ended up leaving her flat about 20 minutes after the hour, having no access to a clock, so had to use my long legs for something good and beat feet back to the RADA (yes, RADA!!) studio that we’re using for our acting class. What would normally be a fifteen to twenty minute walk had to be a ten minute one.

Challenge accepted.

Almost. I walked to the wrong facilities, problem #1. Had to go around two blocks to get to the right one. Problem #2 … okay, Londoners. Here’s the deal. In the US, we drive on the right, walk on the right, ride escalators on the right, etc. You can’t seem to make up your mind! You drive on the left, but go up escalators on the right, and walk dead center of the sidewalks. I have do-si-doed with far too many of you in just four days. It’s been fun, but I did almost shoulder-check a lot of people, which I don’t think would have gone over very well.

Finally, I got to my class with a professor who has worked with the RSC (what.), the Globe (what.), and countless other professional theaters in London (what.). Quite a bit happened during that class, but to sum it up, I am really excited.

After that, the majority of us headed back on the tube.

A larger thought of today that I’d like to work through with you all, if that’s alright … I’ve been thinking recently about how much of a gift it is to live in a constant state of ‘okay’. I can count on just two hands the number of people in my life that exist in a constant state of ‘okay’. They’re okay with the people around them, their life, where they’re going, and most of all with themselves. When an inconvenience comes along, when something doesn’t live up to their expectations, when someone disappoints or angers them, they greet it all with, ‘It’ll be okay and so will I’.

Of course, they have their moments of anger, sadness, grief, terror, etc., but they will eventually come back to ‘okay’.

It’s just a simple philosophy, but one that I personally find infectious. Now that I’ve experienced people that I admire with that outlook, I more easily notice others that have the opposite. I don’t mean to belittle, but they must lead such angst-ridden lives when everything is a problem or a reason to complain.

I just wonder where those ‘okay’ people learned it from. Did they get it from their parents or teachers? Did they imitate someone else, like I am trying to do? What’s the best way to pass it on? Does it come with age, and I just have to wait?

Anyway, folks, that’s all I got for today. Me and Em made a trip to a fish market down the avenue and I treated myself to my first London meat pie of steak and onions … heaven. Emily got a GINORMOUS cone of chips, which I’m sure she’ll show you. Content and perhaps a few grams of saturated fats heavier, I thank you for listening to my ramblings.

Have a good evening, everyone!

Thoughtfully,

Katie H.

That Time We Were Tourists

I’m officially a true Londoner … I’ve dealt semi-successfully with a full day of rain.

It was quite convenient, then, that today was the day we were treated to a bus tour of London, with designated places to hop off and take some pictures.

An unfortunate cocktail of the remnants of jet lag, trepidation (but mostly excitement) about our first day of classes tomorrow, the boglike weather over here, and the near-boiling state of the states renders me short of words.

But not short on pictures!

So, here they are. Of course, most are landmarks you’ve seen before, but maybe you haven’t seen them the way I’ve seen them. Please enjoy!

Also, thanks for liking and subscribing to us! We’re so enjoying telling our stories! If you have any questions or comments about what we’re up to, just let us know! We’d love to hear from you!

Damply, quietly, but starry-eyed,

Katie H.

PS: The coffee in the strainer was not successful. At all. Will resume the hunt for a funnel tomorrow. With a vengeance.

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The One With All the Pictures

Yeah, so, jet lag.

breakfastMy body was either thinking positive thoughts all of yesterday or was running strictly on caffeine. Both are entirely possible. Anyway, 8:30 dawned early this morning. We
whisked together a light, healthy breakfast because we had a very special, very important, very relatively early orientation session this morning, for which we had to meet at 10 AM and for which Emily and I may have been a tad late (we had gotten an email a while back saying 10:15 AM). We ran behind to catch up like the high school loser with a lisp that missed the bus.

“Hey, no fair, wait up, you guyth!” (is how I felt).

We received helpful information from our lovely and charming program directors, after which, we met our voice teacher! Her name is Kim Criswell and man, oh man, is she cool. Her credits are weighty and numerous, mostly Broadway and West End ones. A casual mention of Audra McDonald sent us musical theater geeks into a frenzy of gasps and giggles. Beyond her theatrical achievements, however, she is precisely what you’d think a person from Tennessee would be: warm, welcoming, gracious, and generous.

She walked us from our University of London facilities (where we’ll be having most classes) to her apartment. We walked through Russell Square and I was instantly reminded of a smaller, more pristine Rittenhouse Square in Philly. Most of my classmates hadn’t eaten breakfast, so the wafting scents of a sweet-faced man with a massive pan of paella only augmented the problem.loads-of-paella

She gave us the grand tour, discussed a few things, then walked us to the quickest tube stop to get home. We passed Brunswick Square Gardens and went into the Brunswick shopping center, delighted by the sights, sounds, and smells of a market that sets up shop every Saturday. Our self-proclaimed-adoptive-mother-for-three-months bade us a warm goodbye (complete with hugs for the huggers amongst us) and headed home.

The group of us , desperately needing sustenance, went into the nearest Italian place-not my first choice, but my stomach and I were hardly in the mood to argue. In the end, I got this so I can’t complain.

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A delicious Americano and bruschetta, eggplant and olives, and carmelized onions.

Emily and I then parted from the rest of our troupe in the pursuit of an Ikea for cheap kitchenware (and a coffee funnel for me). We took about a 30-minute tube ride, obeyed Emily’s 3G-enabled phone, hopped off at the station it named, and found ourselves at a loss. The phone was having a moment and was telling us this way … then that.

We walked this way. And took a selfie, like basic Americans.

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Then we walked this way. (The phone told us to.)

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And put the phone down partly out of spite because it then told us the opposite way. We wandered, looking clueless, but trying to use common sense to find the bright yellow letters of IKEA. Finally, we brought it back out and it sorted itself out.

We went back to the fake London trees.

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Finally, we got set, found the IKEA, found it to be lacking the supplies we needed (coffee funnel included), and promptly left. We also stopped at this store, wondering if it was a typo …

typoIt wasn’t. On the kitchen front (and funnel front), no dice. We then hopped back on the tube and went to Poundland (very unfortunate name) … a recommendation from a friend who stocked their entire kitchen with albeit poorly made, but dirt-cheap goods. Once again … there was no coffee funnel. Feelings hurt, I settled for a strainer, wondering if a coffee filter would sit up in it like a good little filter or dump the mud into the coffee. We passed this lovely street.

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I think I could live there. Gave me major ‘On the Street Where You Live’ vibes. Also, this …

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And these Easter colors on Portobello Street.

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I felt much more as-one with London today. No surprise, with all the walking and exploring and seeing I did. At about 7 PM, as we were walking along Portobello, watching the remnants of a market closing up, I felt an unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling need to slow everything down. I wanted the shop owners to stop closing up so I could observe the light they brought to the street. I wanted the cute cars to slow down so I could enjoy their charm. I wanted the interesting people that were passing, speaking languages I have a shallow knowledge of, to slow down so I could look at them, listen to their speech, know them, understand them. I wanted to stop walking to observe every structure’s architecture, see how it was itself then how it was as a part of the street.

Someone said the first stage of love is obsession.

Must have been a Londoner. Will keep you posted on the coffee.

Smittenly,

Katie H.

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