Home is What We Make It

A Sonos speaker and a charging dock. Two inconsequential household items, yet I was sucker-punched to see them as we settled into the Sundial House in Lyme. In my house in Shoreview, we have both and use them regularly; they have become part of the landscape of our home. To see items from my house in a dining room across the world felt like a mockery of the life I missed. But I refuse to spend the next month in self-pity and nostalgia; I will be present and soak up the blessings that surround me like the constant rain.

A day later. I am stubbornly clinging to optimism and gratitude in the face of exhaustion and social burnout.I want to get out of this weather and away from these people. I want to go home, We plod up the hill, defying the droplets that heckle us from above. I don’t want to be here any more than the next person, but I know I will never experience these moments again, and I refuse to let them pass me without gratitude. I brandish my umbrella, a talisman against the rain and the resentment. I will drink up every moment of these next 29 days. Within 30 minutes I have traded my umbrella for sunglasses and am veritably traipsing through the same woods that I fought through moments earlier. I have always felt at home under a blue sky and green trees, wherever I am in the world.

After the hike, eggs and French toast and bacon rest in serving dishes around a table. Eight mugs are brimming with warmth, eight distinct voices blend into a soul-nourishing clamor. What was a mockery of a home has become a reinvention, an adaptation. It may not be the home I am used to, but it is a home nonetheless. We create this home by serving each other, by creating intentional community time, by laughing and living together. I refuse to waste these precious 29 days. I will sink into the blessings and lessons of each day,

It is Fawkesgiving, our own special holiday. The eight inhabitants of Sundial House have spent a collective 24 hours preparing potatoes, roasting chickens, and concocting a pumpkin dip that is a delightful danger. We set the table and document our aesthetic efforts for social media. It is the calm before the storm.

Chicken and sweet potatoes and green beans and French silk pie lounge on my plate. Our pumpkin pie awaits devouring and the creamy pumpkin dip is already half gone. After five hours in the kitchen, we have opened our home to our friends and created something beautiful. I had been expecting to be bowled over by homesickness throughout the evening, but my only tears fight through during the gratitude exchange, a moment to truly celebrate each other and the amazing journey we are blessed to share. I enjoy reaping the fruits of the labor of the day, but once again Iam overwhelmed by the number of people in our house. The eight of us have created a home perfect for us, and the sheer number of guests feels more overwhelming than welcoming. When the party dies down, the eight of us gather in the basement to just be together and nourish our souls with community. The storm passed and we found comfort in relaxing in our own home.

Eight hours later my housemates join me again, and we share the quiet vulnerability of an early morning, laughing about homework progress and nibbling our Thanksgiving leftovers. The basement is a mess of Monopoly but the kitchen is clean, a testament to our diligence and collaboration. This is my home now, and I never want to leave.

I do miss the community of my home, but sterling moments of new community exist right in front of me. They exist around a shared table, each scholar fighting against a deadline. They exist in the kitchen, as we stand shoulder to shoulder, staring down the suds. Home is what we make it, and we have made an oasis of community and rest.

Divine Healing Then and Now

On Friday the 1st, we went to the Roman hot springs of Bath and took a tour. I was fascinated by the holistic approach to healing. The waters and exercise treatments refresh the body while temples and altars refreshed the spirit.

There was a lovely exhibit on the story of Sulis Minerva, the goddess of the hot springs. Local tribes had named their patron Sulis, and worshiped her as they bathed in the benefit of her blessings. When the Romans arrived, they brought their goddess Minvera with them/ The goddesses blended into Sulis Minerv, healing triumphing over cultural barriers. I see Sulis Minerva as an example to follow of proper prioritaztion.

The thing I was most impressed with is that the baths are still in use 2000 years later. The main pool of the museum has been corroded with algae, but the springs still bubble and burst and water still flows. The healing powers of nature are immune to time. I was fortunate to experience the healing waters myself the next day.

I almost skipped spa night. It was already dark and wet before we left and it would be dark and wet on the way back, but I would rather go than regret it. The Thermae Bath Spa was well worth the £40.

We floated around the rooftop pool. The November air in Bath is cold enough for discomfort but won’t cause hypothermia, and the warm pool is a lovely complement. I looked out over the Abbey and the smaller church steeple, drinking in the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The steam rooms were a bit intense for my taste, but I joined my friends for as long as I could tolerate them. I breathed in the burning air and felt both my body and soul release the buildup of two months of travel and chaos. We hung out in the Infrared sauna and I felt at home. In Minnesota, my mother and I frequent the infrared sauna tt the Awaken for Wellness health center. Sitting in a similar room across the ocean I felt at home again.

The starlight room was the star of my night. Visitors recline on mosaic chairs, viewing images of space backed by a soothing melody. The first image is of a spaceship crossing the moon, and when I first saw it I thought the ship was a face. I rested in the dark and let my mind be still for once.

The spa night in Bath was the perfect restorative thing for me. I’ve always felt at home in water, wherever I am. It was such a priceless privilege to explore historic healing and couple that with my own experience. The reset helped fuel me for these remaining weeks of travel and gave me some amazing memories. Onward!

Downward Slope

Hi everyone! I know the sudden flood of posts may be jarring, I’m just trying to keep my events straight and up to date. This one is more of a summary of the funk I’ve been in this past week. Tomorrow I will share what broke me out of that funk, but there are only so many hours in a day to write. ❤️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🇬🇧

I have a confession to make: the post that you are reading right now is primarily a procrastination effort on my part. It’s also not going to be all sunshine and roses. Our free travel ended on October 23 and we reunited as a group in London. It was jarring to go from luxury and solitude with my mother to chaos and rest stops with our class.

There’s been a shift in the group since we got back from free travel. For one thing social dynamics have changed to my sudden shock. There’s been some subtle tension between people that I’ve been totally unaware of until recently, and this has resulted in many splintered tribes rather than one cohesive whole. At first I was disappointed, but it is the nature of humans to form tight packs. Many of us have formed deep friendships prior to embarking on this semester and it’s only natural to stick to those we know. I tend to be a more solitary person so I’ve spent part of the last week in isolation. Independence is good, but not at the expense of necessary socializing, so it’s still a process of finding a new balance.

Because I’ve been more isolated this last week, I’ve been writing a lot more and rediscovering my old work. The downside is none of what I want to write is assigned school work. I want to watch the entire filmography of Cillian Murphy and devote a review series to him (Murphy Monday will start when I get back) instead of reading our Victorian novel or writing a paper on literary Modernism. It’s a balance between pursuing my own interests and staying on top of my assignments. Many of my classmates are also starting to feel a decline in focus and motivation, but we band together to commiserate and encourage one another and press onward.

Today I cried two different times in the space of a few hours in Starbucks. One of my classmates has suggested a Thanksgiving meal in the next week, and the homesickness twists like a knife in my heart. I am sure the actual event will be fun and heartwarming, but I don’t appreciate the reminder that I cannot spend a favorite holiday with the people I love most. I let many tears fall and I let myself be comforted by true friends. I was homesick and homework-weary, but also reminded of the people I can lean on.

It hasn’t been the easiest week of the trip by any stretch, but I’ve been able to lean on those around me I know I can trust, and find comfort in balancing productivity and pleasure. As I continue the journey, I look forward to practicing trust and balance and independence, ever growing and evolving. Onward. ❤️🇬🇧

The Panorama of Time

Hi! This was originally two separate pieces but I have combined and synthesized them. Let me know what you think!

The sensation of time is different from the keeping of time. Time can seem to contract or expand to our liking, but the sun will rise and set with reassuring consistency. I was reminded of this truth while exploring Durham Cathedral and Melrose Abbey, two very different houses of worship that have reacted to the marching of time in very different ways.

We entered the hallowed hall and were immediately overtaken by the opulence. The vaulted ceilings towered over us and stained glass in every color dazzled our eyes. Durham Cathedral is a feast for the senses and the spirit. The ancient house of worship was built between 1093 and 1133 AD (Durham World Heritage Site) and has remained standing and active through the centuries, watching the rise and fall of empires with a removed steadiness.

One poster lists the name of every bishop, dean, and prior for the church-1000 years of history on a sheet that I can cover with my hand. Staring at this sheet, I wondered who all of these men were (because it took many centuries for the church to catch up with egalitarianism) and whether they enjoyed their vocation. Seeing 1000 years of history in such a small space made me feel I stood outside of it all, observing the passage of time from a divine vantage point.

Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 and used as a monastery until 1590 when the last monk in residence died. (Historic Environment Scotland). It was there that I saw this faded gravestone and was overwhelmed by surprising questions. To my knowledge, the stone reads “In memory of David Wayness who died June 4th… aged 51 years”. Knowing that he had half a century of life doesn’t have as much impact without knowing the era. He could have led a long life in the 1600s or a short life two centuries later. Furthermore, knowing the length of a life doesn’t say anything about the quality of it. I wonder if he was respected in his community, if he felt fulfilled in his vocation or secure in his faith. The faded year is a symbol to me, and David Wayness lives on adrift in my memory. The sensation of time is different than the keeping of time, and this experience reminds me that time is an anchor, grounding us within space and providing a context.

I saw the list of names and years, and felt a reassurance that the gravestone lacked. The gravestone had a name and some information, but no anchor in an era. These names were all anchored into eras of history, and one could assume they were pious people if they worked in a church. Both images evoke awe and reverences but the poster offers comfort where the gravestone evokes a wistful pity

For the majority of my life, I’ve held cemeteries at a distance, being respectful if I must visit them but avoiding them as much as possible. I would not call myself superstitious, but I shudder at the idea of treading on another’s resting place, and I respect that there may be some lost souls about. However, the experience at Melrose showed me that cemeteries are good places for reflection and philosophy, and I no longer need to approach them with fear or hesitation. I present myself as a humble student of the past, honoring those who came before me.

Back at Durham, the Shrine of St. Cuthbert was set up with kneelers and candles and a little prayer inscribed into a plaque. I knelt and offered a prayer of gratitude, but what really awed me was the stained-glass window to the right of the shrine. A nearby poster reads that the window was commissioned in 2012 in honor of Sara Pilkington a college student who died of a mysterious heart condition. One died in 1104, the other in 2012 and I knelt in reverence to both equally. The fresh loss of Sara did not make her any less worthy of respect and adoration than the enduring memory of the saint. Both were humans, both were blessed children of God, and both are remembered with honor, no matter how much time elapsed between their lives,

After a while, I became overwhelmed with the holy power of the interior, so I decided to climb the tower, which ended up being an equally holy experience. When I got to the top, my breath was stolen by the wind and the incredible views. While the cathedral itself has remained mostly unchanged, the centuries have drastically altered the surrounding landscape. In place of wild fields, houses and cities and roads have risen. Civilization has steadily crowded into sacred land and turned up the volume but still Durham stands,

I sat with a friend at the top of the cathedral, listening to the bells chime the quarter-hour, and pondered the sensation of time. My friend commented that “the sensation of time is different than the keeping of time.” We were only eleven days into our semester at that point and it already felt like we had been gone for at least two months, so I felt this dissonance on a very raw level. Sitting on the top of a building that was older than I could comprehend, I began to gain a marginally increased understanding of the wide margins of time and how my minute life fit into the grand stained-glass window of history.

After the shrines and the views, I was ready for some music and quiet reflection. I heard faint strains of a timeless classic hymn and followed them to a private communion. I lurked outside the service until the female service leader invited me in. I stayed in the back for a few minutes and listened to her wisdom on the Gospel of Luke and the exemplary life of St. Cuthbert. Listening to a woman preach the word of God allowed me to anchor myself in the present day and witness the effects of time on the interior of the church.

The sensation of time is different than the keeping of time, Both of these monuments have been able to bear the weight of centuries and display it proudly, allowing us to see the past through the lens of the present and revere the constant fluctuation of time.

Belfast-Recovering on Eggshells

Hi. I posted the original draft of this piece when it occurred but I’ve revised it since then so here is an updated version.

War-torn cities aren’t always in active conflict, and Belfast is a prime example. The city isn’t as overtly sketchy as Dublin, but the war is hidden just below the surface. My tour of the city was heartbreaking, enlightening, and unforgettable. It was a privilege and a burden to walk among the fault lines of a divided community and witness the beginnings of true healing. The city is in the process of recovering from a century of conflict, but small acts of empathy and solidarity can have ripple effects of healing.

We met our tour guide Paul and I was instantly impressed. He was a teacher who transitioned into being a professional mediator between the broken families. The conflict in Belfast has been between the Irish Republican Army who support Ireland’s independence and are mainly Catholic, and those who support Ireland’s union with Britain and are mainly Protestant. As a professional mediator between warring factions, Paul is making tangible changes in the community, helping rebuild friendships and stretching the boundaries of coexistence. There are Protestant tour guides who won’t even walk into the Catholic part of the city or vice versa, and Paul got recognized by a local for being willing to walk through both sides.

On our walk, we saw two memorial gardens, one for each side of the conflict. The IRA garden felt angrier and more militaristic, with imagery of particular faces of activists and martyrs The faces were not serene and calm, but many seemed to be in the middle of shouting. The martyrs also held a plethora of guns and weapons, fighting for freedom even after death. The anger and grief make sense, given that the Irish garden was illegally built without a permit after the IRA was forcibly disbanded by a ceasefire. The British garden felt much tamer and cleaner, like a common cemetery, with uniform and tidy flower arrangements and generic epitaphs differentiated only by the details of the deceased. While the air of clean and orderly reverence makes sense, there is also an air of impersonal distance. A viewer can tell that the British cemetery is meant to honor.a long-forgotten victory while the IRA memorial garden offered validation for a still-smarting wound. The British military formally left Belfast in 2005, when the policies of the 1998 Good Friday agreement were finally enacted, meaning the violence ended just over 15 years ago and locals are still adjusting to new ways of life.

These two memorials stand in sharp contrast to many American cemeteries. In America, people are usually buried with an individual epigraph and a decently decorated tombstone, showing a personal touch and a desire for decency and reverence and honor. But in this city, even a garden makes a political statement.

This wall divides the Catholic neighborhood from the Protestant. The gates at the end of the streets, are known as “dead zones” and are locked at 7 pm each night to minimize the chance of violence in the no-man’s-land. As the walls have risen since 1969, history rises around the people of Dublin rather than disintegrating beneath the earth as history tends to do.

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This mural on the International Wall struck me because of the powerful contrast of these two images. On the left, the Irish Uprising of 1916 is memorialized, when the Irish Republican Army first began their fight for an independent nation. On the right, 10 hunger strikers from 1981 are represented. For almost seventy years, Ireland has been at civil war. As Paul said, “the electricity of tension that used to dominate daily life has softened”, but it can easily be triggered. While I don’t necessarily feel safe alone in Belfast, I respect all that the city has been through and pray for healing and recovery. Paul told us that more people died by suicide in the last 11 years than by direct conflict in the previous 30. It’s not just about individual trauma from isolated violence, as awful as that is. It’s a raw national trauma that spans multiple generations.

With the many posters and memorials on common streets, the daily lives of the citizens of Belfast are haunted by the past. Even on the sides of such simple buildings as supermarkets, there are political posters such as this one. It was made by the British supporters to ask the IRA “Where is the integrity in murder?” It is a valid question. Paul told us that both sides have made political statements throughout town, unwilling to truly lay the matter to rest,

This sign was outside the church in the middle of one of the “dead zones”. The sign says “peace” in both English and Gaelic, and the church is making tangible strides to bring a divided community together in small but powerful ways, such as having Protestant and Catholic women work together in childcare. Paul talked about how successes in politics and international relations are typically widely shared, but leaders in Belfast are hesitant to do so, for fear of jinxing the progress. The fact that success has to be kept a secret shows just how gradual the healing process is here.

The eeriness of walking through a war-torn city was a lot to think about in one day. The memories of many of the recent memories of townspeople are corroded with violence and grief, even as the next generation continues to slowly turn the walls of religious conflict into bridges of understanding and empathy.

It was an enlightening weekend to say the very least. Belfast is unlike any other city we’ve been to and I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to explore this unique perspective. It definitely redefined how I think of abstract ideas of “conflict” and “civil war” in modern Western society. Belfast has been through so much over the century, but I have faith in people like Paul, taking small steps that have ripple effects of healing.

Rome-Touring, Training, Tasting!

Hello! It’s been a hot second since I’ve written anything. First off, I am on free travel for the next ten days! My mother and I spent a day in Paris, two whirlwind days in Rome and then we spend a week in Florence before I meet up with my group in London.

On our first night, we took a walking tour of Rome’s fountains and monuments. We got a lovely walking tour of some classic a Roman viewing points such as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain. I threw two coins in so here’s to coming back to Rome and bringing my future soul mate!

We also learned about Jordano Bruno, a progressive psychic rebel who was burned in the 16th century for opposition to the Catholic Church. He sounds like my kind of odd duck and I hope to do more research on him soon. Our guide Luca was much like Paul from Belfast-refreshingly honest with a touch of cynicism.

The next morning we did CrossFit, which I haven’t done in six weeks, and it was an awesome challenge. CrossFit muscles are very different than daily walking muscles. There was a woman in the back of the room redoing the 20.1 Open workout because she was unhappy with her first result. That level of dedication echoes many of our coaches and fellow athletes at The Athlete Lab in MN. A lot of the signs around the gym were also very similar to what I’m used to, and the familiarity was a nice anchor point, reminding me to stay with my body and feel the challenged muscles fully. My mind wanted to wander off to the most random paths, but workouts are an awesome form of meditation and focus.

One thing I’ve struggled with over the last few days is trying to control my future. I currently have no idea what classes I will take in the spring or what hours I will be able to work. I’m the kind of person who builds tight routines for myself like a comfortable blanket cocoon, and automating certain patterns frees up brain space for creative pursuits. This is a great chance for me to just relax into the present moment and let the unknown rest. I can cross any bridge when I get to it.

After our workout we took a walking tour of the Colosseum! Somehow I missed all the classes on the history of the monument so I was a little surprised by the sheer gore, but our guide Lorenzo was lovely, with a good sense of humor and endearing frustration with the crowds.

I’ve found a new appreciation for walking tours. They’re essentially like a class session, an overview and a deluge of important knowledge. I find myself taking copious notes from the guides and marking points to independently research later. I enjoy living in a student mindset and the tours are a great way to continue learning even while on vacation.

Our Colosseum tour rounded off an increíble day of learning,. It was wonderful to reunite with my mom again after six weeks and explore her favorite city with her 20 years after her first visit. This week is an amazing chance for me to refuel my mind and body and spirit and I am so grateful for it!

Bon Voyage 🇮🇹 E

Albert-Scars of War

On Monday the 7th we toured some important sites relating to the Battle of the Somme in World War One, and it felt like going through all five stages of grief in one day. It was absolutely heartbreaking and maddening and confusing, but it was also an incredible privilege to walk through history and understand the true cost of war and how this region has processed the trauma, particularly in contrast to Belfast.

Our first stop was Devonshire Cemetery, where our tour guide informed us that some of the youngest casualties of the Somme were boys as young as 12. Twelve. I have cousin who are twelve years old and I am appalled at the thought of them anywhere near a battlefield. Many of the recruiting officers were so desperate for troops that they turned a blind eye to thousands of underage enlisters. I believe that World War One was an industry and men were products in the eyes of many generals and military strategists. Whoever moved the most human units and had the lowest loss statement was the victor.

Four thousand men lost their lives between the spot where I stood and the edge of the wood. Four thousand men died in the space of a few yards, under the orders of one greedy general. This haunting stretch of land is just opposite the red dragon that guards the Welsh memorial of Mametz.

While we marveled at the Lochnagmore Memorial Crater, left to memorialize an exploded mine, we were visited by this friendly little pup. He seemed a little skittish and didn’t want to be pet, but he sat and listened to our lecture for a while. Having him around was a nice way to lighten the mood in the middle of the tragic history.

This sculpture, simply titled “The Empty Chair”, rests at the Lochnagar left after a mine explosion and symbolizes the place left around dinner tables and fireplaces by the 37 million total lives lost in World War One. Seeing this chair was a powerful supplement to the names on the Thiepval Memorial of the Missing.

Theipval Memorial of the Missing was a hard site to walk through and a terrible sight to see. All the names on the pillar add up to 72,000 men whose bodies were never found to be buried. There were actually 1000 more men, but they have been found and buried. 72,000 men, who had families and passions and hobbies and favorite foods. And they died on a hellish battlefield without so much as a proper burial. Our tour guide told us that four bodies were found and buried in the last year, and explained the archeological process of identification and burial. This process makes me wonder, at what point does history become history? At what point is it a logical matter of preserving data instead of a somber funeral for a life lost unfairly?

This was our final site of the day and it was a fitting note to end on. We ended at a preserved battlefield at Newfoundland Memorial Park. The catch is that they removed all evidence of battle for security reasons and decided not to alter the land in any way. The result is that nature has proven that beauty triumphs over violence. The grass has grown in, and the trenches have naturally filled in so that craters are now small valleys in a miniature mountain range.

This overgrown valley is a perfect visual of the internal processing that the people of France have undergone, and serves as a stark contrast to Belfast. While Belfast was a town still very much in the throes of conflict, northern France has made peace with the world, despite frequent reminders of the horrors. They have the distance of 100 years while Belfast has less than 20. The people of northern France have been able to honor their dead and carry on quiet lives and I admire that, and hope that Belfast can reach that point of healing.

Monday was a very intense day and I had a hard time handling the heavy grief. It was also an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t tend to dwell on heavy topics, simply because I’m not wired that way. The tour was a way for me to stretch my emotional boundaries and pay my respects by absorbing the vital knowledge. Knowing how France has housed these traumas has also reminded me that humans are resilient and able to find beauty and peace again.

Bon Voyage ❤️🇫🇷 E

Paris-Aesthetic Paradise, Overwhelming Knowledge 🇫🇷

Hi! I haven’t blogged much about Paris because I’ve felt more overwhelmed than inspired here. Even so, there are a few iconic things I’ve seen that are worth noting.

For one, the Eiffel Tower has been amazing and I’ve been there three times in the last four days. Seeing the lights dance across the Eiffel Tower was the definite highlight of the first day in Paris. I had felt lost and confused in a big new city and very tired and homesick, but seeing such an iconic image in person reminded me why I’m here and warmed my heart. Having the bragging rights is also pretty sweet.

On the second day, the only thing I did was go to the Louvre, but that was more than enough for one day. We walked through centuries of priceless history and only took in a fraction of it. We walked through Ancient Greek and French and Roman and Egyptian art but we were only after the Mona Lisa. Of course, it’s an iconic painting and everyone wants to have the proof that they were there. But beyond that, why? What is the appeal of the Mona Lisa apart from the mythic status among tourists? I ask myself this as I get in a 20-minute line, as I am funneled through endless escalators with practiced and indifferent efficiency. Why do I want the bragging rights to the Eiffel Tower but not the Mona Lisa? I don’t have a particular connection to either, and Mona is the older and more iconic of the two. Yet I stood in the line, marveling less at Mona herself and more at the sheer amount and diversity of those seeking to stand in the presence of history.

Also, this is the origin of the popular meme, so that was an unexpected surprise. But again, the idea of commodified history puzzles me. Many people know this picture not because of historical significance but because of an internet fad. How did this painting in particular become an internet sensation?

There’s so much here that I’ve gotten overwhelmed. But I needed to get to Shakespeare and Co and it is AESTHETIC HEAVEN!

The original shop was opened in 1922 by Sylvia Beach and remained until 1941. Many literary expatriates gathered there such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. The second shop was opened in 1951, and has remained an iconic tourist destination for those seeking to drink from the fountain of knowledge and inspiration.

I only saw the “no pictures” sign at the bottom of the stairs when I was done. 😊

If I spent every minute of every day of the rest of my life reading the books in the store, I might get through a quarter of the entire collection. The entrance of the shop is deceptively small, but there are easily over 20,000 books in the shop. Everything from Shakespeare to Michelle Obama to Sophie Kinsella. I wish I hadn’t brought my backpack because i kept bumping into people and shelves

I enjoyed chatting with the local cashier and the sales associate from New York. I wanted to ask the New Yorker how he ended up in Paris, but he didn’t have time to chat.

I bought two books-“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller and “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference” by Greta Thunberg, and I can’t wait to read them and support two world-changing women. Greta Thunberg has shot to accolade for her striking speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action summit, and Chanel Miller is the real name of the woman who came forward against Brock Turner and got abominably screwed over by the justice system. Both women have unique experiences and powerful messages, and it feels fitting to buy their stories in a shop that is a shrine to a golden literary age.

It took me four days to feel comfortable enough to walk four blocks, but it was absolutely worth it. I’ve fallen in love with Paris at the worst possible time, seeing as we leave tomorrow. But I will return shortly and explore more of the quiet local streets and fill my well of inspiration.

Bon Voyage 🇫🇷 E

The Soundtrack of Nostalgia

Hi. Although Belfast was an externally challenging city, I was able to enjoy the hotel and explore memories through music

We were in Belfast for the weekend and stayed in the Malone Lodge, by far the fanciest place we’ve stayed. This place has felt more like home than any other, which has been incredibly comforting but also made me miss my real home even more

I went down to the Knife and Fork restaurant for dinner on Friday and found it was completely empty. It was definitely a shock but it was also the best evening of solitude I’ve had in quite a few weeks. I ordered a burger, enjoyed the playlist of 80s American classics, and had some lovely conversation with Susie the bartender. There’s something so comforting about chatting up strangers. The obligations and shared history are gone and it’s a chance to build an entirely new connection.

Breakfast on Saturday was a similar experience, but the playlist made me more emotional. I ate with our main leader, who I’ve taken quite a shining to. She reminds me of my mother in a lot of ways and has been serving as a stand-in for me on this trip. “Put Your Records On” played when I walked in and I knew I was in for a good time. When Howie Day’s acoustic rendition of “Collide” played, I felt like I was back in my home kitchen or dorm room, just having a quiet breakfast. I nearly started crying when James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” came on, because that song took me back even further. When I was about five, James Blunt was an indie radio staple and I liked his music without understanding a word of it. I just thought he had a pretty voice. I laughed a little when I realized they didn’t censor the curse word, but the Irish are known for their coarseness. Later in the lobby I heard Ray Lamontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing” and basked in the memories the song brought back of special times with my family when I was about 14.

As I spent more time in the restaurant and heard more of the playlist, I became convinced the creator took the entire 2005 track list off my local indie radio station back home and organized it on Spotify for my personal enjoyment. A lot of my favorite alternative or pop songs are from 2000-2010, when our local station played more indie music and I was too little to understand the emotional lyrics. It is a strange feeling to be so reminded of home and yet to know I am not at home. I am comforted by the reminder but it also makes me homesick.

During a normal school year, we have the same classes from week to week and follow the same patterns so they’re cemented in our memories. Here, we move every 3-5 days, so just as we get used to a new place, we’re off again. This makes organizing and retaining specific memories of the trip all the more difficult. But I am awestruck at the strength of my memories that are attached to music. A few intro chords from a song I know well and I’m back in the memories.

Last night, I had a random flashback to the first few days in Edinburgh and I could feel just how much has changed. Traveling changes a person, if they really embrace the experience. It’s wonderful to explore new versions of myself while remaining grounded in my memories of family and home.

Slowing Down in Sligo and an Overview

Hi. It’s been a hot minute since I posted a thing, but that’s because we’ve had a very restful and reflective few days.

We left London on the 16th, and I was ready to leave by that point. I was a bit fed up with the noise and chaos and constant attachment to my companions. We flew to Dublin and then took a three hour Coach to Sligo.

Sligo is the most magical town I’ve been in so far! We’re actually staying just outside Sligo in Mullaghmore, at a retreat center called Star of the Sea. It’s been a very restful period in a new way.

On the first day we went horseback riding and also found a barn kitty named Pixie.

She was incredibly affectionate and followed us around begging for attention. The horses were all amazing. We rode along the beach and just took in the views

We had one day to fully immerse ourselves in the land of Yeats. We saw St. Columba’s church where he is buried, took a boat ride on the Lake Isle of Innisfree and stopped at Glencar Waterfall. This day remains one of my favorite on the entire trip, a perfect day to soak up the restorative quiet of nature and honor a poet who stood at the intersection of many styles and themes. Aside from that, we honestly haven’t done much here. This week has been about having the independent time and space to do what refills our unique souls. It has been amazing.

( saw this tree at Glencar and the first thing I thought of was “the receiving woman”. I’m not sure why that particular tree spoke to me, but it was a wonderful blessing).

One of the best parts of this trip has been losing the rigidity of time. I’ve always said that hours, minutes, and seconds are human constructions and unnecessary to live our lives. This trip has given me a chance to ignore the passing of time, and that allows me to live at a slower relaxed pace.

We had some downtime earlier in the trip, but it definitely wasn’t the same. Our week in Lindisfarne was early enough in the trip that we were still getting to know each other and basking in the novelty of it all. Our week in Coniston was interesting-when we weren’t visiting the homes of classic authors, we were all crammed in the same house, many in the same room. There was bad weather the entire week, some of us were sick, and it was generally not the best. Sligo is nothing like that. Our Star of the Sea retreat and conference center is large enough that we each get our own room, and the beach and nearby village provide enough entertainment to satisfy us.

It’s been interesting to see how the dynamics of our group have changed since we left home. I listened to a podcast that talked about being in proximity versus being in community, and that’s where I feel our group is right now. At first this thought annoyed me-I assumed we would be closer at this point in the trip. But one of my friends pointed out that we still have two full months in Europe, and some of my companions may be “pacing themselves” to avoid intense connection and burnout. This makes sense to me. A lot of people on this trip have prior relationships, and it’s wonderful that these friendships get to deepen and evolve. It’s also awesome to get to meet new people and just be silly college kids together.

If I give the impression that this trip has been all sunshine and roses, it’s not. At least once a week I have dissolved into a puddle of tears, for myriad reasons. I’m going through a lot of self discovery and confronting a lot of old unhealthy habits. Being in close quarters so far from home, along with moving every week, is pretty stressful. Some of us have gotten sick. Some of us have gotten into conflict. It’s challenging at times, but the amazing adventures we’re on make it all worth it.

About a year ago I got accepted into this study abroad program, and I spent the time planning superfluous details and imagining what the trip would be like. Suffice it to say this trip is more than I could have ever imagined, in all areas. I lay on a porch in Ireland, listening to the trill of the birds and the roar of the waves, and reflected on the last month. We’ve received incredible hospitality from perfect strangers. We’ve seen and experienced things many people never even come close to. It’s been an amazing month of exploration and discovery, both internally and externally. Our next stop is Dublin, a packed week of adventure. Stay tuned!

Bon Voyage 🇮🇪 E