Light Lingers Here

Light lingers here in the evenings when the sun goes down and the highways fill up.

It plays in the palm trees and filters down the streets.

It drenches the Observatory and peeks around the mountains.

It stays and waits for you to get home or get going or simply take notice.

It hums and whispers, a shining, constant reminder that there are things left to do, places left to go, and stories left to tell in this city that never tires of its presence.

Look Out LA

This photo was taken a little over three years ago, the first time I visited Los Angeles. Something just felt right and I had a feeling it wouldn't be the last time I was there. 

Now I'm heading back, but this time isn't a visit. Look out LA, I'll see you soon.

Over New York City

Once, on a beach in Italy, as I looked out at the water, I had a feeling I couldn’t quite put into words at the time. Like the world was so very big, and so very small at the same time.

It’s the same way I felt as I looked out over New York City from the Top of the Rock on one of my last days on the East Coast. It’s the same way I think I’ll feel over and over again in my life.

I may not have understood it at first, but it’s a feeling that makes complete sense to me now. So big; so small. Such is life.

Baseball Season

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This is the season of ball caps and well-worn gloves.

Of stolen bases, full counts, and double plays.

It's the season of baseball diamonds and constantly murmuring crowds.

Of hot dogs and popcorn, organ music and take me out to the ballgame, strike outs and home runs.

This is the only time of year you can hear the sweet, sweet sound of the crack of a bat.

This is America's favorite pastime.

Oh how I love baseball season.

Paris

In the end, we’ll all become stories.
— Margaret Atwood

It never occurred to me the things we leave behind.

There were boxes and boxes of old letters for sale in one of the stalls at Les Puces. They were in French, so I couldn’t read more than a random word or two. As I rifled through the letters, looking at handwriting and stamps and words someone had taken the time to write down decades ago, I thought about what we leave behind when we’re gone.

I have this notebook from my favorite store in the world, a stationary shop right by the Arno river in Florence, Italy. It took me at least 20 minutes to choose which one I wanted to buy, and I’ve had it since July, but I’m still afraid to write in it. Like somehow my words aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough for its beautiful pages.

I’m starting to realize that it doesn’t matter. It’s mine. The words are mine. And I have enough of them. They should be written down. My stories — both fiction and non, all true — should be left behind.

I’m working up the courage. Soon, I’ll fill its pages

Ourika Valley

It’s been seven months since I came home and I’m still thinking about my summer in Europe. But these days I find myself thinking less about the things I did, places I went, and things I saw, and more about the experience as a whole.

My trip was nothing like I’d expected it would be, in both good ways and bad. I struggled, stuck between two distinctly different periods of my life. When I came home and people asked me about my summer, my nondescript, lackluster answers confused them. But I didn’t know what to make of the experience then, and I’m still not sure what to make of it now.

While we were in Marrakech, my mom and I took a day trip to the Ourika Valley. My conflicted feelings about Marrakech came to a head that day — I was seeing such beauty around me, was annoyed by the difficult hike that had been advertised as easy, was in a funk I couldn’t seem to break out of, and simultaneously grappling with questions about differences in culture, the value of objects, and the authenticity of experiences.

After the hike, we ate at a restaurant with plastic picnic tables and chairs right in the middle of the creek. My mom and I talked and talked over chicken tagine and, eventually, I felt better. Before we left, I took my shoes off and dipped my feet in the cool water rushing next to our table.

When I travel, I never lose myself. I’m constantly in my own head — analyzing my emotions, anticipating how I’ll react to things before they’ve even happened, and wondering why I’m feeling a certain way and not another. I feel fully and honestly, always right in the middle of it because I don’t know any other way.

I thought the way I traveled — stuck in my own head — made me a bad traveler. I realize now that the way I travel is a strength. I travel completely in the present.

It’s been seven months, and I’m still not sure what to make of my experiences in Europe as a whole. But I know that summer meant something then, means something now, and will continue to mean something for a long time. I’m not done discovering what affects Europe had on me. I’m not sure I ever will be.

Charles Bridge

The first thing I noticed was the shoes. 

I got the idea in my head that if I could spend 24 hours on the Charles Bridge in Prague, I’d learn something about the city itself. I may not have made it all 24 hours, but I did spend a lot of time there. 

Sometimes the Charles Bridge just seemed like a bridge. Simply a way to get from one side of the river to the other, from the Old Town to Prague Castle up on the hill. But other times, it was an attraction. A place to explore and linger. A place where people from all walks of life converge.

And there were so many shoes — Nikes and Adidas and Pumas and Vans and Converse All Stars. Gym shoes and sneakers and Birkenstocks and Chacos. Ballet flats. Boat shoes. Flip flops. Hiking boots. Crocs. One yellow shoe, one blue. 

It was like the amount of variation in shoes directly correlated to the variety of people on the bridge, too. Or at least, that’s how I liked to think about it. 

This is a picture of my shoes, on the old stones of the Charles Bridge. I spent the entire summer in these shoes. They took me everywhere from Italy to Morocco, Romania to Denmark, Croatia to Ireland. They smelled horrible, but never ceased to be comfortable. They were brand new when I left in May, and dirty and worn by the end of August. I ended up leaving them in a garbage can at our last AirBnB in Iceland, slightly afraid that if I packed them to bring home with me, my luggage would smell just as bad when I got back to Cincinnati. 

Sometimes, I regret not holding on to them. After all, they took me so much further than I could’ve imagined.

Ireland

When I was growing up, my family took long drives into the middle of nowhere. Sometimes we'd stay in Ohio, and other times we'd end up in Indiana or Kentucky by accident. I didn't always like these drives at the time, but they're one of the things I miss most about my childhood.

So now, I love traveling by car. Being behind the wheel gives you a kind of freedom other modes of transport simply can't. You're free to stop wherever and whenever you want. You're free to choose the scenic route, take a two hour detour down an unmarked dirt path, or pull over to photograph sheep. You're free to leave the map behind.

I always feel more connected to the places I'm able to drive. Maybe it's because I, inevitably, see more of the place than I would otherwise. Maybe it's because driving suits my personality of observer, not participant. Or maybe it's because of the kind of moments I had in Ireland.

Ireland made me stop. I was stunned by the variety of landscapes, and by the way I felt looking out over everything. Those moments — in a small, green country not that far from the United States, but still a world away — made me realize how very big it all is, and how very small at the same time. There's so much out there, and, simultaneously, so much right in front of us. We just need to look.

London

I love London, and it has nothing to do with the Britton/Great Britain correlation. London was the first place I visited on my first trip out of the country, so it will always be a little special to me. More than that though, I love the city itself — the culture, the neighborhoods, the metro, the history, the way everything moves with an air of relaxed busyness.

My expectations for traveling abroad were established when I met a friendly British painter in Parliament Square. One interaction affected my semester abroad, my summer in Europe, and all traveling I will do in the future. I never expected to meet Ian, but I'm glad I did.

Some might say London, or the United Kingdom, or Europe as a whole is too easy or typical. But Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Travel is movement. It doesn't matter if that movement takes you 10 or 10,000 miles away. It just matters that you go.

There is tremendous potential for growth when you leave home. I like to think I've learned something and grown a little bit because of every place I've traveled, especially London.

The Astronomical Clock

Celia stops walking as she reaches the open square, halting next to the towering astronomical clock where carved apostles are making their scheduled hourly appearance despite the weather.
— The Night Circus

When I travel, the things I've read in books or seen on television or in movies are constantly influencing how I interact with a place. My expectations for a city are built on the fact that I know quite a bit prior to arriving, which sometimes comes from a book or a movie, as well as actual research.

Sometimes this works to my benefit (I'm looking at you Venice and Iceland), and other times it makes it harder for me to find the truth amid my high expectations (Paris, Rome, Barcelona...). Occasionally though, it makes me appreciate a place just a little more for the sheer fact that it existed in a favorite movie or book.

That's always been the case with Prague. A scene from one of my favorite books takes place in the city, and I can't help but smile every time I see the Astronomical Clock for that very reason. It's just too easy to imagine Celia and Marco standing in its shadow, talking in the pouring rain.

Bologna

Luke and I paid the few euros to get inside and began climbing the wooden flights of stairs that led to the top of Asinelli Tower, the tallest leaning tower in Italy. We circled and circled. It seemed endless, so I didn't bother trying to count the steps.

A third of the way up, Luke looked at me, his face pale, and said he couldn't keep going. "I can feel it moving," he said. But I couldn't, and he said it was okay if I went on by myself. I still don't know where my confidence comes from sometimes, but I knew I wanted to make it to the top, so I did.

When I stepped off the ladder onto the narrow platform at the top, the wind whipped my dress up. My hair flew around my face and my skirt wouldn't stay down, but there was nothing I could do about it. I smiled as I looked across the city and found the places Luke and I had visited the day before.

He waited for me at the bottom, sitting on the ledge right outside the doorway that doubled as the entrance and exit. I sat next to him and turned my camera on to show him what I'd seen. I always know that, if he can't come with me, he'll be waiting for me to tell him all about my latest adventure.

Luke loved Bologna before we got there. I loved Bologna because I got to see it with him, and because he let me see it by myself.

The Sinking city

It's vanishing.

Gradually ceasing to exist.

"The bottom step used to be at the top of the water," Luke tells me, a simple fact that made me sad for reasons I couldn't explain at the time.

I wonder aloud about how the city was built. He tells me the answer. Wooden platforms attached to wooden stakes driven into the ground. 

I imagine all the wood disintegrating, slowly eaten up by the ever hungry water now trying to claim the city itself, too. 

I imagine the city breaking off from its wooden tethers, floating on the surface of the Adriatic until eventually sinking under its own weight. "I want to bring our kids here before it's gone," I tell him. He agrees, even though it'll be years and years. 

The eventuality of its disappearance makes the place all the more tragically beautiful. The water rises, but the city doesn't.

Venice

I love Europe because I love Venice. Or maybe it's the other way around.

There's a feeling that lives within some cities. It lives in the buildings and the streets and the history that hangs in the air. It lives in the lingering footsteps of tourists and locals and in the quiet whisper when all settles down for the night.

It's that feeling I crave, the way the city seems to speak for itself when I get there. Like it's been eagerly waiting to tell me its story.

There are gondolas and masked celebrations and mysteries. There are bridges and winding alleyways that invite you to lose yourself. There are shops full of glass and squares full of pigeons by day and water by night. The air is full of things unknown.

I had dreamed of Venice for so, so long. I knew exactly what it would be like, but I didn't. I still don't. It's a city suspended, forever in the moment between mystery and discovery.

Marrakech Medina

Before I got to Marrakech, I read somewhere that some Moroccans don't like to be photographed. They believe having their picture taken captures a part of their soul. I don't know if it's true — I never asked anyone to find out — but the idea has stuck with me. 

I often find myself contemplating why I take so many photos. Opening the camera app on my phone has become instinctive, like my brain is able to tell my thumb to swipe up on my screen before I've even realized I want to photograph something. It's easy, simple, so I take pictures of everything. 

We photograph because we don't want to forget, because we know so many moments will be lost in the gray of our unreliable memories. Photography is a form of time travel — capturing the fleeting, ever-changing pieces of our world, of our lives. 

Maybe the Moroccans are right. Maybe when we have our photos taken, it captures a part of our souls. But isn't that the point? Isn't that a good thing? 

Cascais

A moment on the beach

It's been almost six months since I walked on this beach in Cascais, Portugal.

Now that my podcast is finished and out there for the world to hear, I want to tell some of the other stories. They probably won't be in chronological order, but I think that's okay. There were so many small moments and strings-of-thought that were important during my whirlwind of a summer and they deserve to be documented, too, even if I didn't do it properly at the time.

So I'll start here. On this beach in Cascais, Portugal.

This was the softest sand I've ever felt. Warm because of the sun, heaped in piles that cascaded onto the road. I left my shoes in the car as we wandered around the dunes. That morning was the first time I'd seen people surfing in real life, and later that day, I'd be joining them. That night, we'd drive in circles trying to find a multicolored, Disney-like castle. Portugal was supposed to be a break for me, so I was trying not to think about the project that would eventually become my podcast. And in that moment, with my feet sinking in mounds of sand and a seaside breeze through the air, I imagined ditching everything and stay on the Portuguese coast instead of going back to real life.

Travel takes a lot out of me and, when I return home, I always end up thinking that I don't need to leave again, that my hunger to see more of the world has been sated. But I underestimate that hunger every time. After a few weeks or months it returns, and I dream of another foreign place to explore. These days, I hope to find myself back in Portugal again soon.

The Places I've Been

London, England

Endless escalator rides in and out of Tube stations along the Bakerloo, Picadilly, and Jubilee lines. Fish and chips, and afternoon tea. A friendly painter in Parliament Square. Double decker buses, Union Jack flags, Harry Potter, and Big Ben. This is London.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

A place where cats roam free along the stone alleyways of the Old Town. The orange and brown rooftops of a city that rebuilt itself. A stop along the gleaming coast. A place to be experienced from all angles. This is Dubrovnik.

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Budapest, Hungary

Two cities in one. Full of basilicas and temples and bathhouses and a lot of paprika. Full of tales of distraught princes, stone lions without tongues, and daring architects. Where one of the oldest metro systems rattles along the old tracks beneath the city. Where the sight of the Parliament building shimmers in the Danube. This is Budapest.

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Prague, the Czech Republic

A clock that tells so much more than the time. A bridge with more life than some small towns. A skyline dotted with towers and turrets. A history as colorful as the buildings that line Old Town Square. A place touched by World War II that returned more vibrant than ever. This is Prague.

Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower sparkles at the beginning of each hour. Pastry shops sell macarons by the thousands. Tourists gather around the Mona Lisa, the Thinker, Monet’s Water Lilies. People buzz in and out of a bookstore once frequented by the most famous writers of a generation. Artists paint by the river in the City of Love. This is Paris.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Worn, but loved. It can be seen in the winding, narrow streets in Alfama. In the way Tram 28 chugs through the city and the tuk-tuks putter up and down the hills. In the geometric tiles that mark the oldest buildings in the city. In the fado singers and ceramic souvenirs and the way the sun sets over the city. This is Lisbon.

Marrakech, Morocco

The heat hangs in the air. Stray cats lay in between the muted-red walls. People zip by on motorcycles. Snake charmers and drummers and henna artists and vendors crowd the main square. It’s hazy like an illusion, yet all too real at the same time. This is Marrakech.

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Italy

Bologna has porticoes, a half-finished — but still beautiful — church, and a pair of leaning towers. Venice has gondolas, fragile glass miniatures, masks for Carnival, and a maze of alleyways. The Amalfi Coast shines like a mirage, and Capri is a place for heroes, so blue it’s hard to believe it's real. Rome has the history and the Cinque Terre has the colors. Florence is yellow in every sense of the word. This country has everything. This is Italy.

Ireland

You need to drive here, even though it’s not easy on the other side of the road. You need to linger in the pubs until the musicians are done playing. You need to see the fields and mountains and beaches and lakes and cliffs. You need to forget about your map. You need to see the green and realize that it’s more than just a color. This is Ireland.

Iceland

A country with a dramatic history to match its landscape. Where the words and names are too hard to even try to pronounce. Where a single road circles the entire island. Where the sunsets last forever and there are probably more waterfalls than people. Where trolls, vikings, and elves are all as real as you and I. This is Iceland.