Category Archives: The Travel Bug

Preparations

I’m moving in a matter of days. No, worse than that. Since it’s after midnight I’ve moving the day after the day after tomorrow. Holy shit.

I’ve known since January that I would be moving to DC. There have been times when I thought the day would never come, and times when I wish I didn’t have to go at all. But the day has nearly arrived. I have only a few last minute things to pick up and to finish packing all of my clothes and then everything will be sorted. I fly out on Thursday, and my parents will follow in their mini-van on Saturday with a bunch of my stuff.

How do I have so much stuff? I promised myself I would minimize all the things I brought on my move, but somehow I have more stuff than I ever could have imagined. It doesn’t help, I suppose, that my mother thinks it’s necessary to stock up on paper goods before the move. This is the same woman who snuck a roll of toilet paper in my suitcase when I studied abroad in England, because she wasn’t sure about there being toilet paper in that country, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It seems as though I  have more toilet paper, paper towels, and now paper plates than I could use in a year…

Everyone keeps telling me that I’ll be so tired when I get home from work that I won’t want to do anything at all. Well… maybe that’s true. But I hope it’s not because I have some big plans.

1) Learn Dutch – Ik leer Nederlands! I’ve been trying to learn/teach myself Dutch and so far it’s going all right. Although I usually don’t know what they mean, I can read most Dutch words. I have a pretty solid grasp on pronunciation and the sounds that all the letters and vowel combinations make. This is due mainly to a YouTube channel called dutchforn00bs. Seriously, she’s incredibly helpful, especially because there aren’t any easy, well-designed websites for learning Dutch as there are for other languages. Which brings me to…

2) Learn French using Duolingo. This site is seriously amazing. I have no idea how they can do what they do for free, but it’s awesome. They offer French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German, hopefully with more to come. It’s like a game, where you rack up points based on how well you do in each practice. There are discussion boards, and you can go as quickly or slowly as you want through the program. I’ve yet to see if I’ll retain anything from the site, but it’s still pretty freaking cool. There’s also an iPhone app, so you can practice on the go!

3) Before I start work, go to as many free or inexpensive museums and attractions as possible.
To Include (among others):
The (new) NPR Headquarters
The National Zoo
National Air and Space Museum
FDR Memorial
Jefferson Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Library of Congress
National Building Museum
National Museum of American History
National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum
The Holocaust Museum
Rock Creek Park

Perhaps I shall write blog posts about these?

4) Spend a month exploring each neighborhood and it’s offerings.
Excepting Downtown and the mainly residential neighborhoods, I want to spend all the weekends in one month exploring a particular neighborhood. Starting with my own, then moving to Georgetown, Dupont, Adams Morgan, etc.

5) Find my favorite spots.
Perhaps this should be higher on the list. I want to run around and explore enough that I can pick favorites and know them to be correct. Favorite coffee shop/cafe, favorite bar, favorite brunch place, favorite… grocery store…? You get the idea.

6) Cook good food.
I intend to cook ‘from-scratch’ dinners at least 3 nights a week. This allows 4 nights for leftovers, frozen and partially prepared meals, and dining out. I think I can manage that, even if I end up eating grilled cheese once a week.

7) Write.
I’m not certain whether that means keep writing this blog, which I hope to do (maybe I’ll even add pictures, yay!) or actually branch out and start writing stories again. A little of both, if I’m lucky.

Next time I post here, I’ll be in DC!!!

Reflections

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about a great many things. I’ve said all my goodbyes and though many of them still sting, there’s not much I can do about it. I’m gone from Bloomington, but I miss it. I spent the weekend in Columbus, Ohio with friends from high school, and oddly, I missed Bloomington more there than I did when I first arrived at my parents house. Perhaps the fact that I graduated a week ago was setting in… Columbus is nice. It’s a big city, but it’s very spread out. It’s not really feasible to walk anywhere, at least from my friends’ place, and it took us 30 minutes on the bus to get downtown.

Seeing the OSU campus just reminded me of why I went to IU. IU is GORGEOUS. The trees, the limestone, the flowers that seem to magically appear but which are really planted by landscaping workers at 6:30 in the morning at the beginning of spring… Bloomington is this lovely, idyllic town with friendly people and fairly quiet streets. It’s a utopia of forward-thinking, patient, and genuinely kind people. OSU is mangey and dark. Also, they renamed the street that their football stadium is on “12 and 0 row.” I know that IU is a bit preoccupied with sports, but really? Really? Ugh.

I have nothing against people that go or went to Ohio State. We all go to different places for different reasons. Still, seeing that campus for the first time in 7 or 8 years made me so glad that I decided on Indiana. Not that I ever even considered attending Ohio State – I didn’t even apply there. Nonetheless, it made me happier in my decision, and it was that happiness, I think, that made me miss the place even more.

Hanging out with friends from high school made me realize how changed I am since I started college. I was this shy girl, who’d never done much. I was afraid of everything – of failure, of rejection, of making too many mistakes, of making the wrong decisions, of misbehaving… I spent my time reading and living vicariously through fictional characters who were far braver than I. Even then, I had an intense desire to travel, having already visited England on an AP Lit tour and several islands in the Caribbean on two cruises. The interest in travel was there then, but the need hadn’t developed yet.

I was bad at meeting people – too afraid of rejection to put myself out there. I like to think I’ve changed from that, but I know that at heart I still fear rejection more than almost anything else. It has lessened, but it’s still there. I was once afraid to speak my mind – that has changed significantly… now, good luck to anyone who wants to get me to shut up! I’ll rant about my beliefs for as long as I have a captive audience.

For many years, I was preoccupied with the notion that I was waiting for my life to begin. I was waiting for things to happen to me. In the past 12 months, I’ve realized that my life has been here all along. Waiting around isn’t what makes a life worth living – doing things is. If all you do is sit back and wait for things to happen, nothing will. When I went to England to study abroad, and travelled, and made friends with people from all over Europe… That’s when I realized that they only way to live is to do so on purpose. Sometimes, okay, most of the time, it’s difficult. There’s a reason that most people do not end up very far from their hometown. Family brings them there, and comfort prevents them from leaving. It’s certainly easier to stay at home and watch movies than to walk or drive across town or the state to see a friend. I am guilty of doing so on more occasions that I would like to admit.

I want to keep challenging myself. To do the scary things. To remember that no reward comes without risk.

I guess that’s what moving to DC is really all about.

Changing Perspective

I’ve been looking at things the wrong way.

For the past month, I’ve been sad when I should be happy. I’ve been so worried about leaving that I haven’t considered the fact that I’m going. Yes, it’s true. I have loved my time in Bloomington and at IU. I will be saying goodbye to lots of friends and meaningful places.

Things are going to be different, and I’m scared. But since when has being scared of something ever been a good reason not to do it, not to run towards it? It’s like when you jump off something high – you have to get a running start.

I’m moving to a city. A huge, important city, with history, and people that matter. Maybe I’ll get lost in the shuffle, but wasn’t I afraid of the same thing when I came to IU? I know that, just as I did here, I will find my way out. I’ll find my niche, even if it takes a while.

I’ve always had this problem… I get stuck in the past, stuck thinking about all the things I’m going to miss instead of all the new things I’m going to love. I’ll meet new people, make new friends. And it will be hard. But I will feel that much stronger for having done so.

There are concerts in DC, and bars, and a fast-paced lifestyle. Public transportation that doesn’t suck. There are museums that I vow not to take for granted. I’ll go to the Smithsonian once a week for the first month. I’ll go on the White House tour until I get on one that’s surprised by the President and the First Lady. I’ll go to NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. I’ll go see live comedy, and live music and plays. I’ll take a train to New York City, or Boston, or Philly or wherever. I’ll rent a car and go to Polyface Farms for freshly slaughtered chicken (I’ll try not to think about it when I’m eating).

For the first time since the beginning of January when I was offered the job, I am really and truly excited to move. It’s going to be scary, and it’s going to be difficult. Saying goodbye is going to suck. But if I plan to enjoy all of the time I’ve got left (and I do) it will be a lot easier if I’m not moody and sad half of the time.

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La Tour Eiffel

The Eiffel Tower is not that beautiful. It’s gigantic and brown (I didn’t expect it to be brown. I’m not sure why. I never knew anyone who’d ever been to Paris and for some reason I just assumed it was green, like at King’s Island, or silver or something…). It’s phallic and the idea of it is sort of silly. Sure it’s surrounded by a nice park. And it’s got the names of famous Frenchmen wrapped around the side. It’s a tribute, or something.

In all it’s Phallic Glory

But despite the fact that the Eiffel Tower isn’t all that beautiful… it’s still extremely difficult to peel your eyes off of it. It’s the idea of the Eiffel Tower. Seeing the Eiffel Tower means one thing. It means that you are in Paris. It means that you are in Paris, France; a place that, I think, every single person on the planet has probably dreamed of going, or at the very least thought, “hey, yeah I’d like to visit there someday, if I could.” Paris is this culturally rich, incredibly unique city and seeing the Eiffel Tower means you’re there.

I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. There’s even a photo of it, because I, like many of us, have a friend who is extremely shutter-button happy and also a fantastic photographer. My thoughts weren’t particularly eloquent at that point. I’d slept maybe 2 hours out of the last 30. But my thoughts were these: “OhMyGOD That’s the Eiffel Tower. That’s it! That’s IT!” And later, when I was at the base of the Eiffel Tower, drinking cheap French champagne (that was still plenty good because, HELLO we were in France), I was incandescently happy. Because I was in Paris and I was with my friends and it was a beautiful day, despite the dark clouds that were rolling in behind us. Every few moments, I’d have to stop, remind myself to breathe and think. Because I was in PARIS. And that tall brown thing behind me was the EIFFEL TOWER.

Photo taken by Christina Shelley

And when I think about that day, my first day in Paris, I can’t help but grin. Partly because of the memories, partly because of the people. But partly because it reminds me that I have been to Paris. Which is pretty fucking cool. 

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Jane Austen Addict

I love Jane Austen.

When I was 14, I found an old, dusty, leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice on my parents’ bookshelf. It had belonged to my father’s grandmother – my great-grandmother. I had wanted to read Pride and Prejudice for a while – I’d already read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and knew that Jane Austen should be next on my list.

This was 2004 – before the Keira Knightley version of the book that reinvigorated society’s obsession with all things Austen. I started to read the old, musty copy, turning every page with care. I was worried, though, afraid that I would damage this vintage copy, so I raided my junior high school library for a copy. The one I found was almost as old as my great-grandmothers…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (For the record, I did not look that up, I have it memorized.)

I devoured the book. It was the first book I ever “fangirled” over. I despised Caroline Bingley, liked then hated Wickham, hated then loved Mr Darcy. My Jane Austen obsession did not end there. Over the next two years, I read the other five of Jane Austen’s complete novels, and as of now, I’ve read all of them at least twice (I read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year).

I’ve been to England twice in my life – first on an AP Literature tour that took us to see Dickens’ London and Shakespeare’s Stratford as well as York, Oxford, and Bath. Jane Austen despised Bath, but she set two of her novels there, and there exists the Jane Austen Centre – a bookstore and museum dedicated to the authoress.

I almost didn’t get to see Jane Austen’s house in Bath. We were on a tour of the city, on our way to the Royal Crescent, and as if as an afterthought, the little old woman giving the tour called back to us, “Oh! And that little blue door back behind us. That is where Jane Austen lived when she was in Bath!” Needless to say, I was not pleased to be denied a proper photo of the place…

That blue door on the corner is where Jane Austen lived.

When I went back to England for my semester abroad, I managed to visit Winchester – the final resting place of my heroine. I took the train and went alone, taking the time to pause everything and devote one day to seeing a place I had needed to visit for ages. After gathering my nerve, I paid the entry fee to get in to Winchester Cathedral, where I immediately found Jane Austen’s grave. I stood there for a few minutes, taking in the feeling. I took photos of the markers, and placed my hand on her grave, almost praying to her, willing her to hear my thanks.

Jane Austen’s Grave Stone in Winchester Cathedral

Then, I took a bus to Alton and walked from there to Chawton Cottage, where Jane lived in the last years of her life. I saw her writing desk, and the bedroom that she and her sister Cassandra shared.

I had made the entire journey by myself, and most of the time, was silent in thought. There were daffodils in Jane’s window – my favorite flower.

Almost every book I’ve read has influenced me in some way. From Harry Potter, to the Princess Diaries, to The Fault in Our Stars, to Catcher in the Rye. But I can think of no author whose work continues to inspire me to this day.

Jane Austen’s heroines have character. They aren’t spineless women who don’t know who they are. They are strong, intelligent, sometimes foolish, sometimes wise, sometimes proud or spiteful. But her characters make difficult choices. They choose to marry for love instead of money. They make decisions based on their heart. They make mistakes, but they learn from them. In everything they do, they are true to themselves.

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Topical Sunday: The Olympics

I’ve watched every Olympic Games since the 2004 Summer Games in Athens – every opening ceremony and as many of the events as I could manage. I watched Phelps win every single medal in Beijing and I watched as Bode Miller disappointed everyone in Turino.

The kind of sports that I like best aren’t the kind they show on TV. I like sports where an individual competes. I like sports that involve as much mental warfare as physical, where you may have many rivals, but none greater than yourself. Tennis, to me, is like this. Tennis is a mind game. Yes, you must have great form and technique to do well, but so many tennis matches are lost in the head of the player. I’m intrigued by gymnastics, where athletes compete amidst immense pressure from themselves, their parents, their teammates and everyone watching. One slight misjudgment, and you fall flat on your back  – or worse – and must greet failure instead of success. Even archery is a mental game, where you must fight your own stress and inner doubt to conquer the bow and shoot straight. When you race, you are fighting not only against the people to your left and right, but your own inner limitations as well.

Though I admire the athletes, team sports do not impress me half as much as individual events or those with only a few teammates. But this is not a popular viewpoint among my countrymen and with the exception of tennis, it is almost exclusively during the Olympics that these sports are given air time. I take great pleasure in watching these events, and try to imagine what the athletes go through, mentally, to come out victorious. I guess I’ve always loved trying to figure out the way people think…

I love the idea of the Olympics. I love that we, as a world, come together every two years and send our best athletes to compete against one another in good spirit. I love that politics are put aside, to an extent, and we fight not with guns and bombs, but with human might and the unending desire to push – higher, faster, stronger.

This year though, the Olympics are more dear to me than ever. They are more than a chance to watch my favorite type of sport, more than a spectacle of patriotism. This year, the Olympics are in London.

Having just returned from a most life-altering five months in England, I miss the place desperately. I miss ancient buildings, the likelihood of seeing a random sheep on a daily basis, the food, the smells, the hard cider, and well, the accents.

I was in the UK for the lead up to the Games. I listened to residents grumble about the ruckus to be caused. I saw the signs for the changed traffic patterns and read articles about whether or not the country was ready and whether or not this was all a very good idea and how many British citizens are going to run very, very  far away during the actual Games.  I imagine that London was a bit miserable between the Jubilee and the Opening of the Games, especially counting in the fact that this June was their wettest on record (I left just in time!). I’ll admit that I am actually quite glad to not currently be in London – it’s a mad enough city when the population is it’s normal eight million, rather than the additional eleven million expected in and around for the Games.

Still, every time NBC shows a sweeping view of London or Great Britain, I get a strange feeling. It’s a combination of immense joy, because I’ve BEEN THERE!! and deep sadness because who knows when I’ll be there again.

The Opening Ceremonies on Friday made me tear up on several occasions, but none more so than the Cauldron lighting ceremony. Two hundred small copper pots lit simultaneously, raised in the air to form one giant Olympic Cauldron. Individually, we shine. We glow, we burn brightly. But it is when we all join together that we create the greatest light of all.

If there is anything that I learned during my time abroad, it is that people from different parts of the world are not so different as we are wont to believe. And when we join together, either in conversation or in some great effort, we can bring light to the world.

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