You’re Invited!

IMG_5374My phone has been pinging with the most precious selfies a lady could ask for: friends with grins as big as Texas holding up their copies of Talking Taboo!

Little by little, this book is making its way out to all those who pre-ordered their copies. (And if you haven’t received yours yet, no worries! It’s coming, i promise!)

People aren’t just snapping sassy selfies; i’ve been to one fantastic event already – the Homegrown Preaching Festival in Durham, NC, sponsored by (my favorite non-profit) the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South. We had a phenomenal conversation about shame, preaching tough texts, and writing in our multitude of authenticities.

The best part for me, though, was that my mom finally got to read my essay.

With the woman who inspired my essay!

With the woman who inspired my essay!

I say “finally,” like some centrifugal force was withholding information from her. Really, it was knee-knocking me. But an hour or so before the event, i figure the caving needed to happen and she best know what she was getting into. Spoiler: my mother is the direct inspiration for my essay, as she is my inspiration in my every day. Talk about one helluva boss lady.

Needless to say, my knee-knocking was a moot point. There were tears. Sloppy, mommy-and-me tears.

So it’s going to be hard to top event #1. But i have a pretty solid feeling that the next two big events i’m participating in are going to be hefty competition.

And you’re invited to both events!

The first is the official book launch party on Saturday, November 2nd from 5 – 7 PM at the Reality Center in Durham, NC. It’s free, open to the public, and there’s going to be cocktails AND readings from some of the contributors. And, of course, there will be books available for purchase. Seriously, what more incentive do you need?

The second is still in the works, but folks in the Pioneer Valley, MA, should mark their calendars for December 3rd for what promises to be an excellent conversation and reading at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in South Hadley. Details to follow!

These aren’t the only events connected to the launch of the book – be sure to keep tabs on the event page of the official website for more readings and conversations!

I hope, for those of y’all in the NC area, to see you at the official launch party!

best thing: cabin trip tonight!

current jam: ‘marry you’ by jason derulo. typical.

The Last Five Days.

The last five days in Scotland have been some of the best five days i’ve had all semester. Last Wednesday, J pseudo-surprised me by rolling out a suitcase from the arrivals gate at Edinburgh airport. (Pseudo, because it was meant to be a total surprise, but i’m very good at guessing and also am in the middle of exams, so certain details had to be divulged ahead of time). There was a lot of nervous tippy-toe walking around until he arrived, and even more (probably embarrassing) embracing when he did.

I couldn’t believe my blessings: he was here, with me, in my favorite place in the whole world.

Yet the excitement didn’t abate there- two of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke arrived the next day for a weekend trip full of milkshakes, late night catching-up-chats, and even a daytrip to the Trossachs for some hairy coo sightings! (Needless to say, there was a lot of hugs in the arrivals terminal of the airport this week!)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.”

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

Called "THE Bridge" by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

Called “THE Bridge” by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

Our tour, which was the most excellent TheHairyCoo.com free tour, began in Stirling and made its way into the lower Highlands around a number of rather famous lochs. It was a beautiful, uncharacteristically rain-less day to spend frollicking on mountaintops and even feeding bread crumbs to the “dangerously cute” highland cows (for which the company is named!).

My favorite part was the stop off at Castle Doune, where the famous scene with the French guards takes place in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. J and i couldn’t resist clambering our way to the top to yell out our own (very poorly accented) French insults at my friends below!

Hairy Coos!

Hairy Coos!

Doune Castle - where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

Doune Castle – where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

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The view from the top of the castle!

The view from the top of the castle!

 

I was running on a high of can’t-believe-this-itis, especially when the tour guide of our day trip put on The Proclaimers as we drove past the lower Highlands. If a perfect day exists, that was it: Scottish mountains, excellent music, and a batch of my closest friends to sing along with.

Trying to get us all in the shot!

Trying to get us all in the shot!

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The last five days have been bliss, but now i have to face the last five days i have left in Scotland. And that, that’s just hard. The good-byes have been a mixture of late-night chats in the flat to quick, painful hugs farewell. My friends from MHC left this morning, and my dear flatmate Abby leaves tomorrow. It’s been a day of sad farewells.

J being here is enabling me to not ache so much for the Carolinas and their rivers of sweet tea, which is such a gift. I feel truly able to grieve for my last walks past the Scott Monument or cups of tea at the Elephant House.

It also means i spent half of my morning weeping over my cup of after-church tea, trying not to think too much about what life will be like without the hum of this rain-slicked, enchanted city.

And in the midst of this emotional farewell to the semester in Edinburgh, i have two exams to tackle and a life to zip fast in my suitcases. So the next five days are shaping up to be crammed – crammed with wadded-up t-shirts in my suitcases, crammed with farewell-to-Scotland activities, and a helluva lot of cramming for finals.

For days of auld lang syne.

Just outside the Writer's Museum, Edinburgh.

Just outside the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh.

current jam: ‘come thou fount’ sufjan stevens.

best thing: having places and friends so wonderful that the time to leave them brings mourning. it’s the double-edged sword of loving something, i guess.

Faerie Frolicking on the Isle of Skye!

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the Indiegogo campaign for Talking Taboo, i’ve let my recounting of Scottish Highlands adventures lapse. But no longer!

After our morning in Dornie admiring Eilean Donan Castle, Dad and i set off for the much-anticipated meander through the Isle of Skye.

Can you spy the Skye Bridge?

Can you spy the Skye Bridge? (Look to the right!)

Living in a flat with 11 other people and only one not studying abroad, i’d heard songs waxed lyrical about the beauty of Skye. It had only mounted my anticipation to see it myself – craggy mountains, frigid sea, ewes in such abundance i would have no shortage of puns to make.

My father, on the other hand, was not too ecstatic that the only thing i’d suggested we do, rather than just see, was the Faerie Glen south of Uig. (He was never one to clap in the Peter Pan scene when Tinkerbell fell flat). But Uig was at the northern crest of the Isle, so we took the morning to drive through Skye’s wee little towns and not-so-little countryside.

We also couldn’t resist a stop-off at a little knitwear shop called “Hand Spinner Having Fun!” Dad tried every sweater in their arsenal on, but to no avail. Being the size of a medium oak tree (as J would say) has its disadvantages. He did, however, procure for me a warm hat-like thing to keep my ears from getting redder in the cold.

The shoppe had a cat!

The shoppe had a cat!

The Cuillins.

The Cuillins.

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There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic to contend with, so i managed to snap what i think might rank in my top-ten favorite photos (of mine) of all time:

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Well, not much traffic save the rogue sheep or two.

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When we at last reached Uig we prioritized food over faeries (bet you can’t guess who prioritized that list!). There wasn’t a whole lot to be seen in town – a ferry (without wings, alas), two restaurants, and a gift shop. It was the kindly gentleman behind the counter who gave us better directions to find the odd road off the main one to get to the Faerie Glen. Suddenly, i was five years old again and half-tempted to buy the faerie dust for sale. Instead, we settled on post cards and set out for the road posted as “Balknock.”

And at its end we found the Faerie Glen.

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The Faerie Glen!

The Faerie Glen!

I clambered out of the car with a jolt, frolicking in the muddy sheep-paths and delighting in the conical hills.

“What exactly makes this a faerie glen, anyway?” Dad asked behind me. I was initially too busy clapping my hands and repeating that i did, in fact, believe in faeries, to answer.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I was all sass. “Faeries live here, Dad.” I think i even did my best toddler-pout.

He mouthed an “oh” and snapped another picture.

In the end, i think the glen won him over. We split paths, he up one hill and i its cousin, drinking in the damp glamour of this little corner of Scotland.

We took matching opposite-hilltop photos!

We took matching opposite-hilltop photos!

The rain was in a pelting phase by the time i at last un-muddied my boots and plopped in the car. Once more, i asked the universe to invent windshield wipers for glasses. We were off again, back to the south of the Isle. There was a bounty of waterfalls, a hop-off at the gorgeous Talisker distillery (we were too late for the tour, alas) and even a rainbow over the sea.

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Rainbow over the sea!

Rainbow over the sea!

We stopped in Portee for my favorite British delight, millionaire shortbread, and some hot chocolate to warm up. (I also may, or may not, have taken seven or eight maps of the island for my collection. They were free! I couldn’t resist!)

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Casual roadside sightings in Skye!

We were bound for the B&B which was nestled near more castle ruins and a seaside port. It was a charming end to a breathtaking day.

Dad would like you all to know he took this one.

Dad would like you all to know he took this one.

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I won’t say i convinced my father to believe in faeries, but i think Skye’s magic did a pretty good job of enthralling us both!

current jam: ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ janelle monáe featuring erykah badu

best thing: my friends come soon! and so does a certain non-medium-sized oak tree lad!

support talking taboo on indiegogo!

Exploring Eilean Donan Castle!

The cap off to our first day of road tripping through Scotland was the quaint, no-stop-lights-needed town of Dornie. A jig step away from the Isle of Skye bridge, Dornie promised us two conveniences: the ridiculously beautiful Eilean Donan Castle and ease for traveling to our next big destination: Skye itself.

Our first glimpse of the castle!

Our first glimpse of the castle!

So cute!

So cute!

The only place, really, to stay in the Highlands is in a B&B (we passed all of three hostels in our lengthy afternoon wander through the hills). Fortunately for travelers, these wee little stop-offs dot the towns of the Highlands in high numbers – and it means you get to have a more personal experience when traveling (and less expensive!). Our host, Jim, was a lovely and chatty man who boasted of being “born and bred here.” Our room, as the only guests in for the night, overlooked the exquisite castle itself – a serious, jaw-dropping treat!

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Jim laughed at my hop-stepping glee over the castle, saying he couldn’t even see the glamour of it anymore. But he also was quick to assure us the most beautiful time to capture the castle in photographs would be in the evening, at twilight. As far north as we were, that wouldn’t be much before 9:30 PM.

So to dinner we went, at “a pub just down the path from those wee blue gates” at the end of the B&B’s driveway. (We’re pretty sure it was one of two options in the part of town we were in). Feeling particularly British, i ordered a fish pie with a local ale.

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After dinner, we walked back through the we blue gate to drink in the blue-ing sky enveloping the castle. Just as the sun stretched its last farewell over the mountains, i snapped this photo:

Pretty excellent suggestion for a photo, Jim!

The view of the castle from our room!

It was a pretty remarkable ending to a pretty remarkable day!

The next morning we made our way into the castle itself, marveling over its pivotal role in the Jacobite rebellion and laughing at the most excellent wax sculptures in the kitchen. The castle bears a long history of Hollywood, too, having been featured in a James Bond film and a number of other Scotland-themed movies. While the interior is tremendously cool to see, it’s easily the exterior of the castle that makes it so enchanting. Seriously, the castle on an island on a loch thing never gets old.

Our first-morning look at the castle!

Our first-morning look at the castle!

Within the walls!

Within the walls!

Best photo of the day.

Best photo of the day.

And the surrounding landscape isn’t too shabby, either. In misty rain (as it was when we first set foot on the island) or in basking sun (as it turned into, ten minutes later) the castle retains a sense of awe and glamour. What a treat to see in all shades of sun and moonlight!

Barely twenty minutes passed between these photos.

Barely twenty minutes passed between these photos.

Arms laden with postcards from the giftshop, we made our way back on the road. It was only the start of the day, but it was a wonderful way for it to begin!

current jam: ‘skyfall’ adele.

best thing: kind shopkeepers.

Castle-Spotting & Whiskey-Sampling

Stop one on our epic Scottish Road Trip: Oban, a port town on the West coast. Dotted with brightly painted homes and endless wool boutiques, Oban boasts of a booming care home population and even more ferry rides to the surrounding islands.

The Oban port!

The Oban port!

We, however, were there for the whiskey.

My Dad is a connoisseur of alcohol-producing-places and the tours they offer. He and His-Buddy-Mark in their 1989 semester of living in Denmark frequented the brewery down the block so much they were unofficial tour guides by the end. When the tour guide of the Oban Distillery asked what other distilleries he’d been to, i swear he listed every bourbon in the US.

So he’d hunted, far and wide in the land of the internet, for the best whiskey distillery in the land of Scotch. Oban, he decided, held the prize: it was one of the smallest distilleries he’d heard of, so the tour promised to be up-close and personal. Looking over the boiling barley-and-sweetwater mixture in a 32,000 litre contraption, i thought the proximity divine. I also thought my Dad was going to pee himself he was so elated. “Normally, all the distillery stuff is behind glass!” he exclaimed gleefully.

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Looking gleeful with a sample of Oban scotch in hand!

Looking gleeful with a sample of Oban scotch in hand!

Two wee samples and a free whiskey glass later, we were more than pleased with our time in Oban’s Distillery (such a fun and inexpensive attraction to see, should you be planning a trip to Scotland!). Then a fish-and-chips later, we were back on the road bound for the northwest coast.

Scotland is not renowned for its weather. That whole saying, “don’t like the weather? wait five minutes,” surely was born here. Everywhere else i’ve heard the saying employed it’s been a Southern hyperbolic stretch. In Scotland, i oscillate between opening an umbrella and taking off my scarf every ten minutes.

So much for hyperbole.

But for us, blessedly, this day was of a kind i hadn’t seen in Scotland for a long while: a day where the sun was the norm and the rain, novelty. Glistening lochs and sun-dappled mountains embraced our tiny rental car, the clouds lazy white and the beauty of this incredible country unparalleled.

And then, in a serendipitous and ridiculous manner only Scotland can produce, we stumbled upon an old castle. On an island. In the middle of a loch.

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A castle! On an island! In a loch!

on the road

Dad focusing intently while learning to drive on the left - no easy feat!

Dad focusing intently while learning to drive on the left – no easy feat!

We learned, via a conveniently placed roadside gift shop, that it was Castle Stalker on Loch Linnhe. And we learned, via the stunning and uncharacteristic sunshine, that it looked like something out of The Princess Bride. Mostly, i just learned in Scotland to expect the unexpected – including random castles alongside the motorway.

current jam: ‘girl in the war’ josh ritter.

best thing: such incredible, humbling opportunities to see so much of this stunning country!

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.

malagueta

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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.

train ride

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!

Magical Montmartre.

I thought the magic of Paris was wrapped tight in the Eiffel Tower; intricately woven, measured but unexpected. Then i thought it was a potion concocted by the Seine wrapping itself around the islands in the middle of the city – the candles glowing in Notre-Dame casting a final color-coded spell. I suspected the secret ingredient to Parisian magic was the wine and the food, flavors bursting and lasting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it was when we strolled through the mountainous alleys of Montmartre that i learned where the real magic of Paris is tucked away. And it’s here, the neighborhood once home to Ernest Hemingway and Vincent van Gogh and Satine. (Okay okay, Satine is fictional. But you can’t talk about Montmartre without the Moulin Rouge!)

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Montmartre is the Paris of absinthe stupor, of romanticized memory. It’s where my mother bought her most treasured keepsake from Paris: an acrylic painting of flowers in a vase. It hung on our dining room wall, the blues singing harmony with the white curtains. She’d told me over and over the place i had to go was Place du Tertre – a cobblestone square where street artists gather, luring tourists into buying caricatures and twenty-minute portraits. My favorite artist stall had done a series of cats sleeping around Paris (so out of character for me, i know) but since J and i had already bought our recreation of van Gogh’s sunflowers i was merely window shopping.

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But Place du Tertre is not the only place in Montmartre where art is to be found; the metropolitan signs themselves are works to behold, adjacent to ivy-colored buildings covered in graffiti.

metropolitan

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The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Viva la Scotland!

The Scottish flag hanging in Paris! Vive la Scotland!

Hand-in-hand we strolled along the lanes of art on display, covetously sneaking glances at the cafés offering wine under checkered umbrellas.

Just up the hill we could make out the silhouette of Sacre-Coeur white against the blue sky. It was the last church on our list of Parisian places we wanted to see – making it the sixth church we’d see on our trip.

And it turned out to be our favorite.

Sacre-Couer is unlike anywhere else i’ve been; it has the enormity and grandeur of Notre Dame, but the intimacy and quiet contemplation of a smaller church. The windows are dazzling, bathing the whole place in the lux nova that made gothic architecture such a sensation in medieval France. No photography was permitted inside and, while i am sad to have no photos to remember it by, i was glad for the forced contemplative time. It allowed me the full breathing space of presence.

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Awed and quieted by the beautiful building, we meandered back to Place du Tertre for a final glass of wine. Our walk overlooked the whole of the city spread below, the Eiffel Tower stark against the skyline. Paris had enthralled us, the clutter of art and mash of accordion metro musicians just the backdrop to the hum of the city itself.

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“We’ll spend a whole week just in Montmartre when we come back, someday,” J mused. Our last Côte du Rhône of the trip was poised in his hand. In the Scottish wool scarf he’d snagged from my wardrobe, he looked downright European.

I scoffed-laughed, a knot of broke-soon-to-be-grad-student-woes clamping in my stomach. I knew what he meant, though. That Montmartre was the neighborhood you wanted to live in a little- learn the streets by heart, pick a favorite haunt for late-night drinks. I felt the same way.

And i knew that this trip was such a gift. A privilege to have the time and money at all to travel. But a gift to spend such time with J, who hadn’t been able to study abroad. A gift to be in love in the city most famous for romance. A gift to stroll alongside the Seine on a sun-dappled afternoon, with no agenda but being in Paris. I was grateful for all we’d seen – the snafus in getting to Paris, the chance to see my dearest Saran at the Eiffel Tower, the sore feet and the sappy smiles.

Mostly, though, i was simply grateful to share in it all with the dimple-faced man wearing my scarf sitting across from me.

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current jam: ‘lullabye’ billy jowl

best thing: freshly-downloaded boarding passes…

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 Original London Sightseeing Tour

We pause in our Parisian program today for a London-town themed update…

J and i were running on a strict budget and even stricter itinerary in our five days (including travel) in Paris and London. There was no possible way we could do or see everything that we wanted – particularly in London, where the touristy spots are pretty spread out. The nature of being a really old city and having a lot of history to tell, i suppose!

Since we only had two days in London and J had never been, i wanted to find a tour that would enable us to at least see the bulk of the major attractions. After an inquiry with the lovely and helpful crew at the Original London Sightseeing Tour, our seats were booked.

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The Original London Sightseeing Tour is an open-top, double-decker bus tour that offers three routes around the center of London to choose from (everything from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London is included). With the price of the ticket you also get a complimentary river cruise and walking tours, which my father and i had done when last we were in London in 2011.

Both the bus tour and the river cruise are best known for their engaging commentary, be it with a guide or through the multi-lingual commentaries you can access with (free!) headphones. It was from the commentary we learned tidbits about conventional London hotspots (like how the Magna Carta was signed in the Tower of London) and more unconventional details, like the filming location for the interior of Gringotts in Harry Potter was the Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

J & i atop the bus!

J & i atop the bus! We elected the open-air part in spite of the cold!

But the best part, for our compressed itinerary purposes, was the hop-on, hop-off nature of our tickets. Good for 24 hours, we were able to utilize the bus to actually see London (a luxury not afforded on the Tube) and hop off at the sights we took time to explore: Saint Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square.

The view of Saint Paul's from the top of our bus!

The view of Saint Paul’s from the top of our bus!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

In case it wasn’t already apparent, i’m a big fan of The Original London Sightseeing Tour (long name and all!). Their staff were tremendously friendly and there’s no better way to see London than by the famous double-decker bus. I’d recommend this for any combination of travelers: families, couples, friends, groups.

It is thus with great delight i have something to offer all of you – a 20% off discount code! This code is only good from March 22nd - April 22nd, but you can book your tour up to six months in advance!

So if you (or anyone you know!) want to book an excellent bus tour and river cruise for an excursion to London anytime in the next six months, use the following code for 20% your ticket price: wanderingwrites.

You can make your bookings online (www.theoriginaltour.com) or over the phone at +44 (0)20 8877 2120.

Bon voyage! And be sure to let me know what you think of your tour of London!

**Edit: please note, as of now (23 April 2013) this code is no longer valid! Thanks! xo

current jam: ‘london calling’ the clash.

best thing: adventuring!