Loch Ness & the Highlands!

The sound of death is surely someone wheedling out a hymn on faulty bagpipes.

Like a mixture of Dory, from Finding Nemo, bellowing in her best Humpback and a blunt hacksaw taken to a chalkboard. (You’ll want to take my word for it.)

There Jonathan and i were, enveloped by the mountains of Glen Coe. Probably the most famous of all Glens in Scotland – at least, cinematically speaking – Glen Coe boasts of a film C.V. including Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the drive to the lodge in Skyfall.

highlands 02At our stop-off within the movie-star glen was a Highland lad, clad in full tartan regalia, muttering about a broken reed in between his attempts to play what i could only assume was meant to be “Amazing Grace.”

We’d made the decision to go with a tour bus, which is not my favorite way to travel. (The asinine teenage boy behind us who referred only to his mother as “Geez, WOMAN!” is a prime example of why American tourists get such a bad rep). But it was the most affordable way we could see as much as possible in one day, so we took it. As if the sights of Scotland weren’t enough to drink in, the sightseeing of thirty tourists in “Hairy Coo” fanny-packs certainly was.

Mr. Blurpity-Pipes was making a killing, asinine teenage boy posing for a sour-pussed grin as Grandma snapped a shot. Then went the Portugese Clooney-Lookalike, who posed for all his pictures like he was a supermodel: butt out, chin up, shades on, half-grimace sexy-grin. Behind him was a clattering group of Germans.

And so on, each plopping a fiver in Blurpity-Pipes’ tin, each encouraging him to play past that wonky reed. Granted, it’s a pretty stellar shot to bring home and make your profile picture: a real Scotsman in the Highlands!!1!!1!

I did my best to avoid the crowd, memorizing every curve of the mountains in our fifteen minutes of allotted time.

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The real event of the tour was to be a boating ride on Loch Ness, involving sonar technology to scan the deeps for the monster below. But as Loch Ness is some four hours north of Edinburgh, we got to see plenty of Scottish countryside along the way.

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After a lunch of disappointingly slim sandwiches (Jonathan’s face caved when he realized he had a what barely qualified as a tissue for his slice of ham) we were bound for the boat. I jockeyed my way to the front, rather than the sonar get-up, so as to avoid Asinine Teen and the Clooney Lookalike. Jonathan and i actually quite enjoyed the Loch, steep cliffsides and water so dark it was almost black really living up to its legend. This was my second time to Loch Ness, the first being a sojourn to Urqhart Castle with my Dad. It was my first time on the water, and we were delighted with the breadth of the sun.

Until, characteristic Scotland, the cloud bowled us over with pelting rain. Suddenly, all the fannypacks were clustered around the Sonar, making awkward small talk about flesh-chomping monsters.

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Our jaunt was over before we’d even made it two kilometers out, and in a pressure-cooker of a run back to the bus we made a pit-stop into a petrol station. Laden with cheese and breadsticks, we clambered back on the fannypack machine headed due south.

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And while we had to deal with the best of American culture and Blurpity-Pipes’ backdrop tunes, Jonathan is quick to say this was one of the best days of his life. Only the day before had he proposed, and i was desperate to see the Highlands one last time before i was stateside for the foreseeable future.

There is magic in those mountains, i tell you. Magic that still bathes the day as enchanting, even when set to the tune of Blurpity-Pipes.

in case you missed it: my sojourn through the highlands with my dad.

best thing: we took photos for our christmas card yesterday! who wants one?

The Season of Weeding: Abim & Kotido, Summer 2011.

It was a two-day journey from Kampala to Kotido, only half of the way on paved roads. We did it in one day once (well, i did it once, my housemates lived there for three years and i, only three months). And the one time we did in one day was hell – my stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut with its inability to keep anything down for three weeks, i was dehydrated, and i’m pretty sure i hallucinated.

But when we made the trek over two days, it was a dream. To get to Kotido, we had to pass through the Abim region.

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Abim is like nowhere else i’ve ever been. Even at the time, i think i wrote more blog posts about how voracious the colors were of the Abim mountains than i did about Kotido, which i did in fact quite love.

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You could see where the powerline stopped, somewhere in a town in the Abim region but long before we were in Kotido. Our home has a solar panel and small amounts of voltage so long as the sun was out. We’d take turns charging our laptops, running a mini-fridge a few hours a day to keep home-made ricotta cool. It was the rainy season, nothing like the dust-curling bone-heat they told me of when it was the dry season. I remember being grateful for the one sweater i’d thought to slide into my suitcase.

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In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

My “room” in the house was a mattress and mosquito net tucked in a corner, shrouded by a collection of curtain pieces like the ones in the above photo. It was Thera‘s (very thoughtful!) idea, to give a fellow introvert some more privacy. She’d even saved me some ticky tack, to hang a collection of photos and postcards on my wall.

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I was re-living this summer while Jonathan (supposedly) studied for his Greek exam.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that you did that,” he commented, the photo Thera snapped of me on a boda-boda on my screen.

Photo by Thera Freeman!

Photo by Thera Freeman!

He didn’t mean crazy as in foolish, or as in out of character. This was a hint of green in his voice. More like it was a reality unknown to him, a part of me before us. And yet it was because of Uganda the “us” even happened. We’d had a champion of awkward first dates, us alone in an Applebee’s save the one guy hellbent on making Karoke night a thing. I’d just buzzed my hair, prepped for a summer of sub-Saharan heat and lack of hot showers. I noticed his dimples, the eyes, even then. But i my focus was on the 7,414 miles to conquer and courage to find.

Thank God for my mom. A friend of ours had prepped and de-briefed with both of us, a woman who had spent the bulk of her adult like working for MCC on the continent of Africa. “You’ll need spaces to really talk, to really be heard,” she’d told us. Mom arranged for me to preach my first Sunday stateside again, at her then-new church. She let me lowercase the bulletin and screen a video i’d edited of my time abroad.

It was Jonathan’s first Sunday as the worship music leader. He was one of the first to really listen, to let me be really heard. I remember noticing the eyes again in worship planning, how he didn’t judge me for wanting to juxtapose John 15 with an E.E. Cummings poem.

The fact that it’s me in that picture feels unfathomable. Not that i had the desire to learn and see and listen in Uganda, i still have that desire. But that time in my life, the depth and wonder and complicatedness of where i was feels far, far in my past and far from here. I know it happened, for how could a summer of confronting my own white, American privilege not leave contours on my perspective today?

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Maybe it’s the coming-full-circle thing, that bite and blister and beauty of seeing the time and the growth and the redaction between lizzie on that motorcycle and lizzie getting married. I have no regrets, the loves of my life all intertwining in the most bizarre of stories. I was so young, so eighteen, so fresh out of my first year of college and so wanting to know more than i did.

I said then it was a summer of pruning, like the name i had been given: Nachap, the season of weeding. The seed that has grown the most, though, is the realization that every season is one of both pruning and growth. Sometimes the balance tips, hands deep in the earth straining with the baobab roots to come up. And sometimes it’s the blossoms, blossoms who need water and sun like all seasons but whose focus is so on being alive there’s little room for weeding.

And sometimes, i think you just have to slap on the gardening gloves and make a choice to keep planting, whatever the weather.

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in case you missed it, some of my favorite posts from my summer in east africa: south sudan’s independence daywhen we went all the way to kampala so we could see the last harry potter movieon our access to water in kotido.

New Posts of Old Things.

I named my external hard drive “the penseive” in a moment of Potter genius in the summer i lived in Kotido, Uganda. It mostly houses back-ups of my photos and comfort movies, like The Princess Bride. But, being as absent minded as i am, yesterday was the first time since March i cranked open the two-terabyte Valhalla.

Oops.

While cataloguing my backlog of photos, i came across a few old gems that i’d neglected to post/write about here. So over the next few days, i thought i’d share a mélange of old tales dating back as far as the naming of the very external hard drive that prompted this serenade down memory gig lane. And maybe some stereotypical pseudo-philosophical reflections on how these journeys in life have brought me to the woman i am today, blah blah blah.

But for today, here are a few snapshots and accompanying stories from my six months spent in love with and living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You know you’re an American expat when…

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It’s true that the cultural clash between the UK and America is no chasm. Sure, they prefer tea to coffee (i can hear the hipsters screaming: SO DO WE!) and say “schedule” the way i did when i was six. I delighted in the wee differences, the brogues and the bagpipes and the slang. But there were three big things i missed most: fresh, non-root vegetables, my mother’s fried chicken, and peanut butter. I handled the chicken-making myself, and made do with Spanish apples for the bulk of the semester. But it wasn’t until i realized Lidl carried peanut butter for under eight quid that i had a field day with my favorite fat-laden snack. I never thought i’d say it, but over a plate of artery-clogging food i basked in the stereotype: GOD BLESS THE USA.

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I snapped this photo from the topmost layer of the Scott Monument on Princes Street, wheezing with the narrowing stairs and staving off my vertigo. I’d saved the clamber for when my Dad came to visit, because he’s the macho man with zero squirms when it comes to elevation. Might be a product of his upper-troposphere height. But this same obscene scale of stature made it impossible for him to follow me to the tippy-top: the stairways were too narrow. So alone, wind ripping off any moisturizer clinging to my cheeks, i snapped this picture and plummeted my head between my knees to keep from vomiting.

‘Twas a charming view.

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My favorite sightseeing to do in Edinburgh was easily the clamber up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano overlooking the whole of Old Town. I only once got to see this marker of the elevation, because any sunny day i chose to scale its peak half the tourists in town had the same idea. On that same Dad-visit we made our way to the top, my father protesting i was trying to kill him with the hike. But it was a rare rain-free morning with no one else on the mountainside, and i insisted. He later confessed it was his favorite part of the trip – and it’s easy to see why.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

(Okay, that one was previously published, but still. Context.)

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in case you missed it: my favorite posts from studying abroad, including saying goodbye in january to jonathan, jonathan’s proposal, faerie-spotting on the isle of skye, and riding a camel in morocco.

So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

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current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

Into the Land of Scotch and Lochs.

To describe my last week spent in the north of Scotland as breathtaking would qualify in the understatement-of-the-year category.

I’ve seen more wonders this semester than i could fit in a personalized National Geographic volume; everywhere from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam to the fairytale streets of Chefchouen the brushstrokes of an intricate, well-traveled map. Every place i have seen has possessed its own magic. The romance of Paris, shared with the love of my life, will forever captivate me with its fervor and caprice. The ridiculousness of riding on a camel (for no more than three minutes, if we’re honest) retains a place on my shelf of best-ever’s. Even a frigid day trip to the coastal town of St. Andrews retains a place of glee and stair-clambering soreness in my heart.

But nowhere, nowhere that i have been contains the clash of majesty and ferocity that is the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.

I’d heard tales of the wildness of the Highlands; reminiscing travelers recalling a time at Glen Coe or reading about the Jacobite rebellions. Stories about the peoples whose audacity was paralleled only by the unforgiving landscapes they dwelled within. But it was only when we were immersed in the monsters themselves that i began to really understand that untamed enchantment. In the Talisker whiskey distillery (one of the five we encountered) i heard the hills described as “fiercely intrusive.” Like the paradox of their beauty meant my heart thrummed in my ears, the beats indecisive as to whether it was passionate love or passionate terror that i was experiencing. Honestly, it was probably both.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

Not many folks on the road, 'round these parts.

Not many folks on the road, ’round these parts.

mountains and lochPerhaps it is the mountain’s unsettling power that makes them so inspiring. When thrown off-kilter i feel brazen.

There was a pier that jutted out into a loch somewhere near Glen Coe – i can’t recall the precise location. But i remember us pulling off the road to sit and take it in, trying to capture in photographs what defies even the reality of looking with our own eyes. I ran along the pier, not caring that the coat i’d left in the car would have kept the frigidity of the wind at bay. Before me was nothing but mountains and sky and loch. The water chopped and served reflections of the surrounding hills, a kinetic storm of energy and anger and beauty and solace.

I was in love.

flag on the loch

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

I’ve fallen for places before – Uganda’s Abim region is a hot contender for the Scottish Highlands – but not like this. Not like the storm of sun and rain, the thunderous winds and snowcapped chill that made me want to cry for laughing and laugh for crying. I was ecstatic, i was terrified, i was head-over-mud-caked-boots for this place.

The best part, though, was being able to share it with my Dad. Running back along the pier, going camera-crazy and chortling off his put-on-your-coat scolding, i just couldn’t believe how blessed i was.

I’d wanted to share with him the world as i’d fallen for it. Cook him dinner in my shanty little flat and take him to the peak of my favorite place in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat. And we did those things, and they were all that i wanted them to be. We had our famous roadside conversations, passing the hours of driving with debate and honest reflection. But best of all, we got to see a piece of this planet together for the first time.

While i think i did indeed show him the city i’ve so come to adore, Scotland does a pretty good job of asserting its own prowess and power. Through seeing a new part of this country with him, i got to fall in love with Edinburgh all over again.

Maybe that’s the thick of the goodness of my life as it stands now, on the precipice of saying goodbye to Scotland and starting my last year of undergraduate school. It’s burning the spinach for our calzone dinner in an attempt to show off my cooking, but it’s also realizing the adventure doesn’t end with a diploma or a plane ticket. There are places as frightening and gorgeous as the Highlands to remind me of beauty, unmitigated and untampered beauty. Places to feel insignificant and childish and filled with significant dreams. Places that will remain as wild as they were in the days of the Jacobites, the folklore of old.

And sharing in such adventures with the people i love makes that a tremendously exciting prospect.

In Oban, on the West Coast!

In Oban, on the West Coast!

current jam: ‘dry bones’ gungor.

best thing: the highlands!

coming soon: the fairy glen on isle of skye, castle stalker, eilean donan castle, loch ness…

The Fairytale of Chefchouen.

Having awoken to mist-draped Rif mountains and the spices-and-sweet taste of Moroccan tea, i had pretty high expectations for our first full day in Morocco.

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

My expectations were met.

Chefchouen, the “blue city,” was like something painted in a fairytale: tumbled-up-together blue houses and windy closes running between them, all draped in varying shades of cobalt and azure. The town itself was situated high on a mountain, running thick with waterfalls and the sloping sounds of running rivers. Most magical of all, though: innumerable, friendly, pretty little cats. (My priorities were clearly in order!)

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We began the day with a walking tour around the city. I was too swept up in the sea of sapphire engulfing us to keep up with the guide, so the most of what i learned was that the color was meant to keep away the flies and that the mountains around us were treacherous but exhilarating to climb. The air was crisp, like the paler blues underneath roofs and washed away by rains over the seasons. But still the whole place – in the grandest of clichés – smelled rich with spice like indigo or ultramarine.

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Cats! Everywhere, cats!

Cats! Everywhere, cats!

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Wooing felines.

Wooing felines.

Wooing more felines.

Wooing more felines.

I drank in the wonder of iron-wrought window frames in cerulean and smiled shyly at the people who lived behind them. After a while, the group of some 100 tourists (mostly obnoxious Americans) were making me feel like we had invaded someone’s private space. In a very real way, we had.

So i was grateful that, after an incredible lunch on the roof of the Casa Aladdin, Joan, Abby, and i could break away from the crowd and saunter along the streets. Every sign we saw was doubled in Arabic and Spanish, and every shopkeeper we met shifted with ease between English and French. They also often started in Spanish, murmuring to coworkers in Arabic. I felt my lack of interest in language-learning burn a little, shamed.

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Besides acquiring cat-friends, i collected an incredible leather backpack and Chefchouen key-holder to hang by my door. I wanted the latter for the contours of the lock and reminder that such a place did exist outside of storybooks. (And i just have to say, i haven’t lost my bargaining abilities one ounce since Uganda. Not one ounce!)

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Where we had our lunch! Stunning views.

Our rooftop lunch had afforded us tremendous views of the town, but even seeing the spread of it underneath and around us was just not enough to capture how wondrous it all was. Like the white Spanish pueblas we had seen on our train ride through Andalucía, the houses possessed this undeniably romantic quality that stood at sharp contrast with the unfriendly and commanding peaks of the mountains around us. Such color, such vivacity.

The flatmates and i stopped for a long conversation over (more) Moroccan tea that afternoon. Watching life go by around us and navigating purring cats underfoot assured me that Chefchouen was seriously a kind of paradise on earth. And maybe i only think that because my walks took me outside the windows – seeing only the blues from the outside, and not the in. But isn’t that why we take vacation, when we are able to?

My beverage obsession.

My beverage obsession.

All too soon we were piling back on the bus, swapping bargaining stories and drinking in the vistas outside our windows bound for Tétouan. It had been a trek through a tremendous tale, but i guess we always have to leave before the happily-ever-after gets colored by the reality descending from the rafters.

And for that day, i was content to let it be so.

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current jam: “crooked arrows” rocky votolato.

best thing: my daddy is here!

Sevilla & Málaga: Spring Break Part 1!

(i’m back in edinburgh now, jetlagged and tired but happy to be back. at last, my blogs on spain and morocco are being published!)

I was struck first by the heat. When i can’t so much as leave your desk without unraveling a blanket and donning another sweater, walking outside without so much as a sweater on made me feel utterly nude. And there were palm trees! Actual greenery, not just peeps of emerald grass between halfhearted plops of snow!

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flying in over the andalucían mountains!

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Spain was looking to be an excellent choice for Spring Break.

We cleared customs in Málaga without so much as a who-are-you, acting like stereotypical Americans giggling over our stamps and mispronouncing every Spanish word in sight. We were giddy with the heat. There was a train and cab ride to the hostel, where our driver got lost in the network of Málaga tiled streets. He pointed down an alley that better resembled a linoleum-floored kitchen than a road, and we found at last our place for the night. There were drinks and tapas and superb sheep’s cheese. Really superb.

The next day was spent in jeans and tanktops – a delightful breath of fashion-themed fresh air – walking around the pier and beach. I dipped rainboot’ed toes into the Mediterranean, and before long we were on a train to Sevilla.

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Actual TILED streets. Who knew?

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And though i’d not only worn a tanktop, seen the Mediterranean, and actually tasted humidity, this was the best part of the day. Our route wound itself through the Andalucían mountains, painted in white pueblas and craggy rock-face mountains underneath the bluest stretch of skies. Fields of grapes textured the landscape. It was breathtaking.

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Once in Sevilla, where the streets no longer required mopping, we found a haunt to dine. Spain has a meal consumption time unlike anywhere else i’ve been – my guidebook (trusty Lonely Planet, as ever. I’m still waiting for my sponsorship) even bore an entire chapter devoted to the subject. You snack, at various hours, throughout the day until a MASSIVE lunch come 2 PM-ish. Then there’s dinner, around 9 PM, with more snacking.

Lucky for travelers catching mid-morning trains, it was prime lunch time in Sevilla.

Unlucky for non-Spanish speakers, we hadn’t a clue what the menu offered. So we played my favorite travel food game: ask the waiter in sign language, point at random on the menu, and hope for the best.

I’ve had delectable surprises in the past, especially at Indian restaurants. You can’t really go wrong there.

Apparently in Spain, though, you can. A steaming plate of fried anchovies on a platter of boiled carrots arrived. We looked at each other, mildly horrified. Our first course of paella (deliciously seasoned rice with a plethora of seafood) had just gone so well.

Appetizing.

Appetizing.

Real-time reactions.

Real-time reactions.

A trashcan stuffed with suspiciously fishy napkins later, we left a hearty European tip and walked out. For future reference: átun does not mean tuna.

My favorite part of Sevilla, needless to say, was not the cuisine.

My favorite part of Sevilla was, in a move totally outside of my character, the enormous cathedral-mosque in the heart of El Centro. The builders conceived it with the hope that future generations would think them mad. I think they achieved their goal.

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It’s jaw-dropping. Even after my nine-church-tour of Edinburgh/London/Paris, the 7800 pipe organ and orange grove garden was humbling. The clash and harmony of Moorish architecture with Spanish gothic sung a beautiful melody of history and beauty. Besides, i’d love being in any garden in a comfortable sixty-seven degrees farenheight. The fact that the cathedral had a darling orange grove within it made it all the better!

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The warmth of Spain had yet to abate. In two days, we’d seen the beaches of Málaga and the cathedral of Sevilla, survived a meal of anchovies and made up for it with plenty of Spanish wine. It was a delightful start to what was promising to be a delightful week!

current jam: ‘sons & daughters’ the decemberists.

best thing: cotton leggings.

Saint Giles Cathedral, High Tea, and the National Museum: Checking in with the Edinburgh Bucket List.

When J and i weren’t cowering under umbrellas in London or making moon-eyes at each other in Paris, we were covering plenty of ground in Edinburgh.

It is, after all, the best city in the UK (in my humble, obviously biased opinion).

I took J to my favorite tourist-y spot in Edinburgh on the first day: the Edinburgh Castle. We visited my second-favorite spot – Saint Margaret’s Chapel – and J geeked out over the weaponry in the Great Hall (there was a lot of rolling eyes on my end).

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Saint Margaret’s Chapel, oldest building in Edinburgh.

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The castle at dusk!

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He really liked the cannons.

My first-favorite thing to do at the Castle, however, has nothing to do with what’s on the inside. The parking lot that stretches in front of the portcullis offers some of the most exquisite views of Edinburgh and the surrounding mountains – and you don’t have to pay the 14 pound ticket fee to get in!

View from the Castle Terrace!

View from the Castle Terrace!

As much as i love going to the Castle (and believe me, i do love it – have a membership card and all) there were also things on my Edinburgh Bucket List that i wanted to make sure we checked off together. With a little less eye-rolling, we made our way through the 5th item on my list: the National Museum of Scotland.

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Jaws in the Animal Room.

The National Museum was the kind of place my elementary school would go on field trips. (I spotted more than a few clusters of children in uniform in the various exhibits). It encompasses everything from Victorian-era taxidermies to artifacts from the Scottish Reformation. It’s free, so for that reason alone, it’s well worth a visit. The best part of the museum, though, isn’t so much the stuffed lions, but the rooftop terrace. A friend had taken me up one Sunday afternoon for yet another exquisite view of Edinburgh and i was eager to share the view with J.

Alas, the roof terrace was closed. We’d run into a lot of closings because of the season: the Eiffel Tower top floor, the façade of Saint Paul’s, compressed museum times. Easily one of the perks of off-season travel is the discounted ticket prices and smaller queues. But you pay for it with the weather and minor inconveniences.

Our disappointment with the terrace’s closure, however, was abated by the beauty of the 6th item on my list: Saint Giles Cathedral. Situated along the Royal Mile with a tremendously distinctive spire, Saint Giles is a landmark i pass almost every single day. I knew it was meant to be gorgeous inside, but i’d saved the trip for when J visited.

St. Giles by night.

St. Giles by night.

I’m very, very glad i did. Calling the sanctuary lovely is a gross understatement, but anything else sounds forced. Sharing in the splendor with J was wonderful – he’s the only person i know who loves looking at old churches as much as me.

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Thistle Chapel

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On J’s last day in Edinburgh after moon-pie-eyes days spent in Paris and London, we went for High Tea at the Carlton. High Tea is just so quintessentially British, and more to the point High Tea is such a delicious occasion to dress up for a man as in love with his sport coat as J is. I got tick number 24 of of my list and J got to wear a tie (he’d packed it just for the occasion. There was more eye-rolling from my end).

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In posh splendor the tea was set out, and the trays stacked three-high with pastries placed precisely on our table. I tried not to slop tea all over my saucer while we talked about our now shared-love for Edinburgh. J plucked a treat off the tray and, before he’d finished sampling it, exclaimed “tastes like a really good Twinkie!”

Always a surprise, this exploring Edinburgh business.

current jam: ‘natural disaster’ zac brown band

best thing: the mediterranean sea!

Serendipity and Serenades at the Eiffel Tower.

So when i wasn’t prowling about the Eiffel Tower looking for a hot dog, i was busy being rather bedazzled by the tower itself. There’s magic in Paris, i swear; perhaps the secret entrance to Beauxbatons lies beneath the Seine.

eiffel tower in b&w, watermarked

Seeing the Eiffel Tower at all is striking and poetic and full of Aristocat-themed-music-making. Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is unlike anything else; the gold against the purple night, the way it lights up and sparkles for ten minutes every hour, the glow it casts on the whole of the jardins surrounding it make me understand why so many artists and writers came to Paris and never left. It’s the music itself.

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Sparkling on the hour!

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Though initially disappointed to learn that the cables for the lift to the tippy-top were too frozen to function, the mid-atmospheric snow in the air at the second level made us quite content to look out at Sacre Coeur and L’Arc de Triomphe from our frozen perch. It was stunning; the whole of Paris reflected back at us like the lights on the tower itself. Even the Seine glowed. If you’re going to Paris, do everything you can to scale the Eiffel Tower at night. It may be knee-knocking, teeth-chattering freezing, but the view is transcendent.

Windswept!

Windswept!

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Making the climb back down!

Making the climb back down!

The Tower’s magic, though, was not bound in cables and floor and vistas for us, though. In some cosmic convergence, one of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke, Saran, was traveling through Paris at the same time as us. Neither one of us had functioning phones, so through spotty glimpses of wifi we’d managed to communicate online that we would meet at the Eiffel Tower sometime that night.

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My fingers were going numb, refreshing my inbox at the base of the Tower. J and i had scouted the lines, walked the perimeter, tried every cranny we could see to find Saran. Worry we were relying too much on chance in a city too big, i began to fret we wouldn’t find her at all.

Until someone shrieked my name from the other side of the tower.

There was a running and a leaping and a hugging and an OH MY G-D, PARIS-ing. I was so delighted to see her, and a mutual friend from Paris, all basking underneath the sparkling gold beams of the most famous French landmark. We walked, arm-in-arm, to a restaurant a few blocks up and had warm reminiscing and fast catching-up over French cuisine. Entrenched in a language and culture and place not my own, i was home in the hearts of people i love.

Blurry and beautiful because of what this means to me!

Blurry but beautiful because of what this means to me!

Just when you start to disbelieve in the magic that weaves Paris together, the rug is pulled out from under you all over again. I suppose that’s falling in love: being awash in passion, falling into a place of comfortable constancy, and, just when you start to get too comfortable or edgy from boredom, something happens to make you commit and believe all over again. 

Paris certainly lives up to its reputation in that way!

current jam: ‘little bird song’ ed sheeran.

best thing: these INCREDIBLE signs advocating for marriage equality at the supreme court yesterday.

inquiry: would anyone be interested in purchasing a (non-watermarked) print of the eiffel tower (or anything, really)?

The Seven Year Pursuit of a Parisian Hot Dog (Which is Not a Metaphor)

I picked a French name for myself on the first day of French 1 – Céline, because it had an accent in it which made me feel tremendously exotic and française. Within two weeks we’d covered hellos and how-are-you’s in Mme Kelly’s sunflower yellow room. I was already amassing a small collection of Eiffel-Tower-themed housewares.

But it was chapter two of my 8th grade French textbook that captivated my imagination. The chapter on French gastronomy.

A textbook geared towards American students detailed simple translations of cuisine famous in the USA; french fries and milk and hamburgers and hot dogs. It was the hot dogs that got me. Madame Kelly’s curly bobcut bounced as she flitted about the room like a fairie, petite and clad in an ascot like a true American-gone-Parisian. “En France,” she began, “the hot dogs are très delicieuse! They come inside a baguette, so that the ketchup or mustard or whatever you like is wrapped all around the meat! What a treat!”

My parents heard nothing but je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît! for the subsequent month. I talked endlessly of how my first meal in Paris would be un hot dog without ketchup, because i am allergic to processed tomatoes (i am aware that this is really very odd, trust me).

Seven years later, i was with mon amour and we were going to Paris. As aforewritten, our first meal was a collapsing into the first restaurant we could find in Montmartre. Though it was, admittedly, a gourmet pizza place, it was still pizza in PARIS, i am in love, and la vie était belle. The hot dogs could wait.

The next day was gloriously filled with seeing the Musée d’Orsay, red wine, the Louvre, more wine, Notre-Dame de Paris, and a romantic stroll along the Seine (with wine).

But nowhere were the hot dogs to be found.

I wasn’t bothered, really, because the aura of Paris basking in azure sky warmth and sunny day smiles had me totally enamored (the wine may have had something to do with that). I also figured that hot dogs were, after all, really an American thing and the more touristy spots around the Eiffel Tower would be my best bet.

Turns out, i was right.

eiffel tower at night, watermarked

J and i arrived at the Eiffel Tower, glittering in all its golden splendor against a purpling night sky. I’m not lying when i say seeing the Tower up close literally takes your breath away (asthmatic, remember?). In our haste to get in the queue to the second floor elevator (the top was closed – frozen elevator cables) i didn’t even notice the hot dog stands dotting the massive space beneath the tower. It was only after we had un-frozen our hands from the outer railings and gone back inside the tower that J saw the café on the second floor.

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

On the second floor of La Tour Eiffel!

My big moment was here. J was fumbling in his pocket for the 2 Euro fifty as i proclaimed the most practiced phrase i know in French: “Je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît!

Désolée,” replied the clerk. “Nous n’avons pas des hot dogs. Ran out this afternoon.”

My look of disappointment must have told non-Francophone-J all he needed to know. They did not have hot dogs, so a pretzel it was. Down the stairs we went, catching sight of the glittering Seine and far-off Sacre Coeur.

Until we reached the bottom, where, not twenty feet from the elevator, stood a sign that read HOT DOGS HERE. I skipped my way over, the words out of my mouth before i could catch my breath. The guy at the stand grunted a yes, and set to work making my hot dog. I was ecstatic, i was elated, i was ready to fulfill seven years of waiting, when the clerk handed me -

a hot dog smothered in ketchup.

For the second time that evening, my eyes were painted in shades of forlorn as i shared a look with half-laughing,-half-sympathizing J. I handed him the hot dog, walking back to the  stand to ask for one without ketchup. For whatever reason, the guy refused to make me one. J tried not to tell me how delicious the snack was, and i tried not to let the inner-thirteen-year-old throw an entirely inexcusable tantrum.

I had given up, prevented by my weird allergy and longing for the magic that made Mme Kelly dance in her sunflower-yellow French classroom.

J, however, is not one so easily defeated. The next morning, we took the metro to Trocadéro where there is a large platform from which you can see the entirety of the Eiffel Tower. Lo and behold, where there are tourists in Paris, there are hot dog stands. At his encouragement, i walked up to this stand-man and asked i could have a hot dog gratine (with cheese) and sans ketchup.

His affirmative reply literally made me yelp with glee. At last, in my hands, was a hot-off-the grill hot dog encased in a baguette swimming with cheese. So there i was, overlooking the monument that had adorned the posters of my walls since i first learned how to say bonjour, when i at last had my Parisian snack.

un hot dog, s'il vous plait

It was scrumptious and cheesy and so worth the wait (in case you can’t tell by the enormous grin). I don’t even like hot dogs all that much in the States, but there was something so magical about remembering Mme Kelly and the first time i fell in love with Paris. And maybe i was always destined to have to hunt for the snack – after all, it makes for an absurd and ridiculous Parisian tale to tell.

current jam: ‘la foule’ édith piaf.

best thing: l’amour à paris!

(also also, there will be a full blog solely on the eiffel tower coming soon!)