Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 4 / The End

Dear Hozier,

As per your request, I will take you to church. Even though my religion isn’t very churchy at all, I’ll still accompany you… as long as it’s the Sagrada Familia.

This structure is one of the anomalies that refuses to let its essence be captured by any document. The magic is firmly implanted among the tree trunk-like basalt columns, stunning inclusion of geometric patterns found in nature like honeycomb hexagons and snail shell spirals, and overflowing abundance of color that spills through the multitudinous stained glass windows.

You can take a virtual tour here, if you’d like. It’s a fraction as amazing as it is in person, but even so, even its photographic component reeks of wonder. Try it out.

PACKED with detail

PACKED with detail

it's a long way up

it’s a long way up

Another reason I enjoy this building is because it’s so new. Although old things have their own type of beauty, the SF’s pristine basalt columns and very clean interior spoke its its young age. Indeed, even though Gaudi spent something like 16 years living in it and working on it before he was killed by a tram, it’s still being built. Not refurbished- built.

swimming in color

swimming in color

After that “religious experience”, I headed off to Park Guell, another brilliant and fun work of Gaudi. This is where everyone takes the quintessential Barcelona picture; you know, the one with them on the pretty mosaic bench with a nice view in the background?

The park had its special architecture-filled terrace, but most of it was in fact a real tree-filled park.  With some great views of the city. And illegal souvenir sellers, some of whom I, half amused, half saddened, watched flee from the police who tried to pounce on them very unsuccessfully owing to their noisy vespas. (Sorry if that was a run-on. Writing this as I’ve settled in at home on day 2, fighting off jet-lag and reverse culture shock! Haven’t experienced much of that at all, to be honest. But why am I telling you this when you should be living in my Barcelona memories?! Back to the land of Picasso and Columbus!)

Quick nap-and-rally at the hostel, then a trip to the El Born area for some much-anticipated shopping. It’s amazing how loath some tourists are to leave the main drags: Just heading down one side street brought me to a vibrant yarn and clothing shop where I had a private opportunity to view the lovely wares and see the huge loom that created them up close. Without a companion, I was able to step in and out of shops much more quickly and at my own pace, leading me to see more and present myself as a sole traveller open to conversing with the shopkeepers. With a friend, it would’ve been very different. For instance, I walked into a handmade clothing shop with lots of asymmetrical shirts and dresses, a kind owner who humored me with my limping Spanish, and her funny, hysterically sobbing 6 year old son who wanted money but obviously wasn’t receiving any. Then I talked to a man who made purses with felt and introduced myself to his nameless cat.

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I guess I’m leading to the fact that being a solo traveller makes you appear more vulnerable, even if you don’t feel that way, and there are various positive and negative consequences. I personally enjoyed it so much and look forward to visiting foreign countries alone again.

Enjoyed another dinner of tapas (mmm fried calamari!) and patiently refused a date from my very doting waiter. More moments of reflection through journalling at dinner. Wandered to the ocean, satisfied my beachy vibes quota, and retired for an early flight the next day.DSCN1315Then I packed up my life and came back home. Maybe it was the mood-stabilizing power of my pepita-plentiful trail mix, maybe it was the long-term, premature mourning period I’d begun in early May to start nostalgia-izing London before I left, maybe it was just time to go home. But so far it’s been two full days at home and I’m very comfortable. My parents have made my transition very pain-free and the ego boost from posting study abroad pics on Facebook hasn’t hurt (too much, yet, but that’s going to change very soon. I feel it.) I will say that upon landing at JFK, two immediate things I noticed about Americans are that 1) we are the nation that gives its police incredible gun privileges and 2) let no one doubt our obsession with sweatpants.

So yeah, I’m at home now. No more London until who knows when. This blog has reached its final post! I appreciate those who have taken the time to keep me in their life through my writing. Now before I get sappy or say goodbye or anything here’s a few pictures I put on my walls that reminded me of who I was amidst tough periods of self-doubt and difficulty.

While studying/living abroad definitely has its challenges, I encourage everyone to at least consider it both as a college student and as an adult looking to add depth to their life. Count me as another one in the legions of study abroad zealots.

Cheerio!

Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 3

A little note on hostel breakfasts: Yes, it’s nice when your hostel claims they can offer you free breakfast each morning, but know that because it’s included, it will probably consist of white bread and a pitiful selection of spreads. After reading my journal entry about that heavenly Irish Breakfast, I’d like to share how both of my Dublin and Barcelona hostel breakfasts compared to that one-of-a-kind feast.

My white bread pb&j had about 0.5% the soul of my last meal.

You’ve been warned.


Somewhere along the way between turning down a trip to the “must do” Guinness factory and excusing myself from a pricey ticket inside the “unmissable” Casa Mila, I realized that I have to travel for myself. Of course I’ll have to weather the disappointing looks when I tell people I didn’t do X and went shopping instead, but that’s how it goes. For some reason in Barcelona I got caught up in seeing all the academicky, artsy stuff and prioritizing that above pleasurable things like wandering around the El Born neighborhood. When it clicked that, to me, those activities held equal importance and that that was okay, I felt free. Like everyone says, you can’t travel somewhere with limited time and financial budget and do it all. You must believe you’ll be back or else you’ll go crazy. So that’s what I’m doing.

cliche travel photo shot

cliche travel photo shot. Choosing to explore the plentiful art, clothing, camera, and altogether fascinating shops in El Born instead of seeking out more Gaudi out of feelings of obligation

So, if we’re still talking about negative psychology of travel, I’ll mention that for the better half of my first day in Barcelona, I wasn’t completely happy because of all the pressure I felt to ENJOY. SO many people had told me I’d adore it, and while that’s a good thing, it’s also proof that the city is wonderful and if I don’t find that magic then I didn’t do it right and wasted all that money. Yeah, my head isn’t always the most cheerful place to be. But rest assured, I most certainly did find its magic. I think it first hit me at the Casa Ballto. Gaudi’s genius left me simply flabbergasted.

Hold your horses! We’ll get there in a moment.

I started off with a disappointing walking tour that I left in the middle of, preferring to seek out a cafe other than the affiliated one the company herds everyone into. Summoned some Spanish from the depths, which I thought it’d fallen into eternally, and ordered a sauteed zucchini tapa and fresca sandwich with tomato, brie, and avocado. Now, that type of sandwich doesn’t merit much interest off the bat. But what made it so special is that upon my first bite I thought of citrus and intensely fruity flavors: the tomato had obviously been grown in a more natural place and WOW were the results noticeable! Yes, the tomato actually tasted like a fruit!

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Went for a stroll along the Ramblas, a pretty paved walkway mostly for tourists and pickpockets. I guarded my purse like a mother hen. After going the exact wrong direction, I turned around and found my foodie destination: La Boqueria! A big organized market where the front shops cater to tourists and the back ones have chicken feet and pig snouts on display. You know where I made a beeline. (Also FYI the juices in the back were 1/3 the price of the front ones)

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Stopped by the whitewashed and striking contemporary art museum of Barcelona, MACBA. It was closed but still very lively with a gaggle of skaters taking advantage of the geometrical platforms around it.

DSCN1187Strolled down the street and found an art exhibit at the university. Wasn’t too into it but turned it into a fantastic nap-and-rally site! There were various installations all honoring/connected to a German writer named Sebald and one was a long movie with large portions of soothing classical music flowing through it. So, I plopped down in the movie theatre-like seat and enjoyed a very needed siesta.

Next stop: Casa Ballto. AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING.

caught between wonder, happiness, and shock

Amazing.

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After gazing at the Casa Mila, I found a fun tapas place for dinner. Partook in some braised artichoke hearts, steak tartare, and calamari with a glass of Catalan cava. Called it a night and went home to prepare for my next huge day.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila

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enamored with tapas


Leave for home tomorrow! So I’ll probably post my last trip post in a couple days. So long, London!

What, you thought I was travelling by airplane? Of course not! TARDIS is the only way to go!

What, you thought I was travelling by airplane? Of course not! TARDIS is the only way to go!

Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 2

There’s no way I would say this unless I truly felt it: upon sighting four redheads simply on my way from departing the plane to passport control in the Dublin airport, I felt like I belonged in Ireland. No, I’m not Irish, even as the hair would suggest.

It didn’t hurt that the national color scheme is that which best matches my skin tone, too.

One of the coolest parts of being in Dublin was that I was present on the day that the groundbreaking same-sex marriage referendum passed. I heard the cheers and dove into the rampant rejoicing that was apparent among the people and many Dublin shops, who hosted creative decorations in their windows.

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After arriving around 4, I explored St Stephen’s Green, a centrally located park, and was surprised to find a garden tailored especially for the blind. There were plaques with braille and the plants were exceptionally textured, like bunnies’ ears. So cool and inclusive.

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Explored Trinity College, snacked on some mighty fine ice cream, and mostly walked around all evening. I’ve never seen so much drinking on the streets and general bacchanalia in my life. Combine the Irish affinity for drink and a huge political victory for a subjugated group and it’s hard to imagine any other celebration tactic, I suppose.

The next day at breakfast, I met a girl from Arizona named Cynthia who had been travelling around Europe for a couple months after attaining her GED. When she told me about her time in Cardiff, I seized the opportunity to bring up Doctor Who (many scenes were filmed there plus there’s a grand tour) and she delightedly pointed out that her shirt was all about! (Didn’t notice.) So after that great start, she decided to accompany me on a short stroll around Temple Bar before our walking tour. She escorted me to a rad alleyway with tons of art commemorating famous Irish stars and culture.

She was a superb friend for the day. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such a wonderful yet extremely short-term friend before. Owing to the circumstances of “I’ll probably never see you again” and “I have no reason to be reserved”, we opened up to each other quite a bit, without much hesitation about divulging tender details about life. I can’t speak for her, but I didn’t feel any pressure to add the usual conversation helpers and other niceties that function to ensure a smooth, long-term friendship. I was completely myself and honest and it was amazing. She’s really different from me as well, saying that she didn’t have any friends and didn’t consider herself as “nice”. However, that’s not to say she didn’t have positive personality traits: we got along very easily, exchanged mutual respect, and simply had fun with one another. Travel is so great for super short-term bursts of honesty and fun.

Our walking tour was informative and hilarious. Then we dove into lunch at O’Neil’s Pub and chatted with a restaurant manager from Barcelona, a bubbly Russian named Xenia, and a chipper Niagara Falls-native. Beef and Guinness pie = YUM! Cynthia did that thing where she noticed I was zoning out (mental siesta after eating plus the conversation was waning) so she swooped in and facilitated the move to continue our day. A small gesture but to me it was a sign that she didn’t feel the need to be overly nice and accommodating to others, which I appreciated, and I felt a little taken care of. Maybe it’s hard to understand this via blog.

Lemme say this loud and clear: I LOVE IRISH STYLE.

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Super edited because this shows the lines of the dress more. Not a big fan of the necklace, although it is without a doubt fantastic, but the denim dress was just the coolest ever.

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Found a store with Irish designer clothes and vintage finds. Heaven!

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The vintage part of the shop!

Ended up with a new sweater! Next day I wore it and realized it had dried snot on the arm. Fantastic.

Short ode to the Irish breakfast: Oi. That’s all I can say. Imagine me gazing wistfully into space with the sweet thought of lovable toast greeting the luscious sausage in an embrace, the grilled tomato smiling approvingly and reaching out for its eggy neighbor. Irish Breakfast tea supervises dutifully and excels in creating a cohesively flavor-melding symphony.

breakfast for dinner is never a bad idea.

breakfast for dinner is never a bad idea.

Heard some soul-quenching folk music before joining a Literary Pub Crawl. The organizers reenacted various pieces of Irish literature at each stop, impersonating characters like Oscar Wilde and the players of Waiting for Godot. We were the youngest on this pub crawl and so were talked to by many older patrons like parents and young professionals. Everyone thought Cynthia and I were longtime friends! Altogether it was very fun, would definitely recommend. This is where I tried a half pint of Guinness and unfortunately loathed it. Also unfortunate was my pre-purchased ticket to the Guinness factory, which I didn’t feel like going to anymore. So, if you’ll be in Dublin anytime within the next year and want a free ticket, let me know!! It’s a student pass though.

I had until noon the next day to explore until I left to go to the airport. So I walked around from about 8-9:30 and popped into the Little Museum of Dublin. Was very sad to leave Dublin and plan on making a journey back to tour Ireland. I don’t know if I’ve connected with a destination as much as I did on the emerald isle. Everyone extended amazing warmth and friendliness. Makes me seriously wonder if I’m part Irish (any input, my so-called “family”???) 😉

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Love you, Dublin!

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Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 1

Remember that post where I fangirled about how you’re literally what you eat and if you eat an octopus, that renders you part Octopodiforme? Well, after marvelling through Dublin and dancing through Barcelona, I’ve come to report my current physiological makeup:

-Smidge of Guinness (NOT A FAN. Sorry world.)

-Pinch of Irish Breakfast (Final step of falling in love with Dublin.)

-Pint of bottled water (Barcelona’s water isn’t very good so everyone shuns the tap)

-Four cubic centimeters of pretty subpar churros and chocolate but it’s okay because that was enough to shower me with praise for greasy sweet chocolatey confections and when I meet them again someday, it’ll just be that much better.

-Scoop of tapas: Fried calamari ( ❤ and yes, that makes me part mollusk), steak tartare, tenderly braised artichoke, Iberian jamon…) As Molly from Spilled Milk might say, I believe tapas are akin in theory to “perfectly engineered food products” because they deliver optimal gustatory adventure, entertainment for your tastebuds, and variety. Everywhere else it seems we get one main plate of homogenous food with comparatively fewer flavors to transform a porcelain disc with edible stuff on it into a joyful experience. Tapas are about joy! and appreciating life! But more on that in my Barcelona post.)

If for some reason you can’t adequately create a mental image of my current appearance from that description, I suppose I’ll throw in some actual photos for you. I guess.

Speaking of, embarrassingly enough, a high proportion (in my standards) of my pictures are selfies. Because I didn’t have a travel companion to bug for snaps, I used a trick from Erica that lets you capture your background and your face in one convenient shot. Beware: This caused a few usually concealed second and third chins to come out and play. Perversely interested? Stay tuned.

Add the Barcelona Cathedral in the background and that’s pretty accurate.

All in all, I loved travelling alone. Often I’d happily lose myself in thought and introspection, which you all know is my cherished hobby. My days were incredibly spontaneous, loosely-structured, and without constant conversation that often demands a good load of energy from my introverted self (although have no doubt that I love spending time with friends!) One day I spent a good 20 minutes searching for a genuine tapas restaurant, whereas I’d probably have given in much sooner to mollify my companions’ empty stomachs and exhausted psyches. (How cool would it to be named Psyche?) Asking for a table for one was never uncomfortable, as I used the opportunity to thoroughly soak up my surroundings and have a think about my day, often journaling concurrently.Throughout the whole trip I was very happy and as I believe happy girls are the prettiest, I encountered some unexpected kindness that I attribute to my elevated attitude. Those stories will come.

And here’s a few preliminary photos to start off this whirlwind adventure!

First pic: Dublin hostel selfie

First pic: Dublin hostel selfie

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River Liffey

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2nd-to-last house is floral!

Headphones in/podcast on/life is good

Headphones in/podcast on/life is good

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Gaelic looks like a fairy tale tongue

Irish humor?

Irish humor?

Historic Irish Marriage Referendum Passed!

Historic Irish Marriage Referendum Passed!

un gato with no name but a passion for fashion

un gato with no name but a passion for fashion

BARCELONA you stunning city, you.

BARCELONA you stunning city, you.

Mini-piphany

I finally understand why travel is so crucial for self-discovery! In a way that’s concise and easily put into words!

We are defined by our actions. Having just spoken with my bff and giving advice that I know I’m just as likely to forget as I am to heed (a personal weakness), I know very well that actions speak much louder than words.

Travel is all about acting and reacting. How do you cope with no wifi and a delayed train? Do you sit and grumble for a minute, ten minutes, or until the train finally arrives? Then, what do those choices tell you about yourself? That you like to thoroughly evaluate your situation and let yourself experience those negative emotions, or that you’d rather try to brush them off?

By meeting other people from intensely different backgrounds, what happens when they tell you about how they’re a humanist and believe we should all get bioinic arms immediately? Do you find yourself armed with tens of arguments about why humans are doomed and we’re really no better than animals, and that bionic arms undermine our human condition and are extremely dangerous? Once more, what do these reactions tell you about who you are?

In sum, I realize travel is really all about setting yourself up with lots of situations- strange, challenging, exciting, painful situations- and by finding ways through them, you discover personal characteristics. It’s impossible to simply peer inside yourself and spelunk for a personality trait; you must find something that will provide you with an opportunity to act, then reflect on your performance.

Travel is great for finding the weirdest of the weird as well as the stunning sights that push you to your boundaries and elicit out-of-the-ordinary responses. It truly provides opportunities to figure out how to persevere amidst never-before-experienced situations.

Go studying abroad!

[ ]

The title of this post refers to the dominant shape of my mouth throughout my trip to Devon for Easter. It also describes how my mind felt after using the same superlatives over and over again, having exhausted my vocabulary that couldn’t measure up to my surroundings.

Devon is breathtaking. And vocabulary-stealing! Honestly, even though my days in the countryside were filled with good feeling and relaxation, I did worry a tad that I wasn’t talking enough, mostly because I couldn’t match any words to my emotions! I’m going to stop trying to explain it any further besides insisting that DEVON IS BEAUTIFUL and this trip was surprisingly introspective for me (lots of musing about various life/love/work philosophies and whether or not I’ll permit myself to snapchat again, come June), so I won’t be writing as much as I normally would.

To start, here’s a little glimpse of how my heart felt as I raced on the train across the country past thousands of old and young Artiodactyls. They dotted the emerald fields, little white and black specks. The little ones were the most fun to watch (obvi): they often clung to their parents’ sides or practiced being a sheep by burying their noses in the grass. However, the most dear thing they did was leap every which way. They way that they bounced reminded me of those feelings when you start to fall for someone that are just bursting with hope and zest for life and giddiness. Maybe they were falling in love with life? Or maybe I just wrote a really embarrassing sentence relating sheep and love? (no, that’s a definite.) Sticking with it. The world needs more unapologetically sappy sheepoets! (OMG LOOK AT THIS!!! “Quantum Sheep” is a type of poetry! Click here for some fine examples!!)

And now that I’ve taken a short tangent, here’s what I’ve been building up to this whole time: LEAPING SHEEP!

   

Facts about the trip: I stayed with a dear friend (and her husband) of my Auntie J, who live in a thatched-roof abode in mid-Devon. Retrospectively, I realize that they told me a ton of information about their lives, their choices, and by being with them, I learned a heap about having fun while balancing the weighty aspects of a full life. They were so gracious, warm, and welcoming (as was my quilt-covered bed!) Quaint, quirky, hilarious decorations filled the snug rooms and greenery poured out from the ground outside, with bluebells, daffodils, and violets reaching towards the sun.

Maybe it was just a product of my current reading material, but the setting seemed to have multiple connections to Frodo’s Shire. Yes, it was Easter, but imagine abundant gift-giving, cozy homes, dirt/gravel lanes, and generally convivial neighbors. The physical environment was very hobbit-esque too: full of green moss and arching hills.

Also worth noting that the morning I left from Paddington station, I briefly conversed with a ticket agent in pig latin. I didn’t just start speaking it or anything- he slipped out some humor and gave me the opportunity, so of course I nabbed it. Just as my dad does, I think the trigger that led to our unique little interchange was that I first greeted him and asked how he was doing. He immediately perked up and apparently greased the alternative-language-gears. So there you have it- a little friendliness goes an onglay ayway! 🙂

And now for the pictures! (Sidenote: I can’t believe the number of times I’ve referenced cats on this blog about studying abroad! I’m not even a cat person! What’s happening to me?!?)

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My hosts graciously drove me up to Dartmoor, a huge national park that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles during his stay in what’s now the visitor’s center! Upon standing on a hill and peering out over the stark, muted landscape, I understood how a savage monster could live here. Sheep and semiwild ponies wander around. There are also remnants of ancient communities that are now mostly concurrent circles of stone.

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And now comes a confession that undermines my entire study abroad log.

I wish I had eyelashes I could so dramatically lower like hers. Just for this moment.

When I came to London with my family, I first tried clotted cream at the Crypt Cafe below St Martin in the Fields church. As I’ve previously described, it was life-changing and wonderful and yada yada. So when I booked a trip to Devon, home of the original clotted cream, I was even more excited to taste “the real thing”.

So after seeing Dartmoor, we drove through the hills in search of a proper cream tea to satisfy the lone item on my Devon bucket list. We found a cafe, I placed my order, and this lovely thing appeared:

c l o t t e d  c r e a m .

REAL   c l o t t e d   c r e a m .

Look at that dairy delight! Lactoseful luxury! Temptational topping!

It was MUCH different that what I’d had in the crypt: it was extremely thick and very subtle in taste. Therefore, it pains me to say that I named this blog after what my hosts suggested was probably a whipped type of cream that wasn’t actually clotted. But that’s okay. I still enjoyed my Devon cream tea and obvi my first cream tea, even if it was sort of fake.

Stefon and I are a lil embarrassed.

yumyumyumyum!

yumyumyumyum!

Here are some final pictures. And to end this post, some final points about my stay in Devon:

  • Birdsong abounded
  • Sunshine wasn’t always available but the blooming flowers everywhere kept it sunny
  • It was so real. As in: authentic, genuine, true.

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Oxford + ALL the parks

What comes to mind when you picture the scenery of “Pride and Prejudice”? Softly swaying weeping willow trees bending over a peaceful pond? With swans? How about luscious green grass running into the horizon with ancient beige buildings hugging its edges? This image could probably be from a Jane Austen novel or a bevy of other Victorian classics. Instead, I’m describing Oxford.

Even in the middle of March, Michelle’s study abroad college shone with magic that could easily inspire a novel such as PP. I’m telling you, it was amazing.

I saw about half the green when I visited. But yes, people live a minute’s walk from this paradise! (From Quaint Living blog, link in picture)

Here’s a good photographer who succeeded in documenting its beauty. My pictures can’t measure up but I’ll offer them nonetheless:

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It was a special kind of relaxing/fun to walk around the campus and town with Michelle, a good Wes pal. In addition to its health benefits, walking is also a great way to get creative thoughts flowing and stimulates great conversation. Less pressure to focus on faces and interpret body language (not a strong point for me.) Just gaze at nature and converse to a delightful friend. Glorious.

(On a tangent, I realized I’ll have taken four three-hour-long walks with five people in six days by Monday! I’m seeing a trend in how I like to spend time and initiate intriguing conversation…) And on the seventh day she rested. lol jk she wrote all of her essays and wished she were outside. Essays here sneak up so quickly!!

The second walk was around Regents Park, an impressively large park with beautiful scenery. That was with a friend I met on the Venice trip. Today, I went on a long walk in search of deer at Richmond Park (to our dismay, it was rainy, so no deer appeared) with the friend I met at the Staves concert. Tomorrow, I’ll be with Matthew and his friend touring London! By the time I return to the states, I’ll be fit enough to walk back to the UK! (wait, what?)


Some Richmond Park and market pics: