Tag Archives: travel

stolen day.

Last Thursday, I got up at the should-be-outlawed hour of 4 a.m. and went downtown to catch a bus. Some of Phil’s family were in Seattle for a few days before shipping out to Alaska on a cruise, and I went up for a whirlwind day of sightseeing and family time. I’ve been to Seattle just twice before, so I don’t know it very well. This time, though, I was playing impromptu host and tour guide, so I did my research and had a fistful of maps and bus schedules.

My weather app said it would be cloudy and drizzly all day, but Seattle saw us coming and decided to be gracious. It was a perfect 70 degrees, brightly sunny and a little windy – an ideal day to spend in a beautiful seaside city. There were two things I for sure, absolutely, wanted to take us to see: Pike Place Market and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum by the Space Needle.

Pike Place Market is a feast for the senses, and shouldn’t be missed. It’s old, it’s packed with people, it’s noisy, it smells of fish, and it’s utterly magical. Stalls with rows and rows of flowers, strange and wonderful produce, enormous glittering seafood in frosty piles of ice, steep and twisting cobblestone alleys, and sudden, glorious views of the ocean. I’m always happy to wander there for hours, and we did. We spent most of the morning soaking up the sights, and wrapped up with a happy hour or so with some local beer and wine at The Alibi Room.

After that, we were off to the Space Needle. Again, I’d seen it before, but I’d never been up to the Observation Deck. This time, we took that trip and soaked up the incredible 360 degree views of the city and the bay. It was a bit windy up there, but completely worth it. It was so clear, and we could see for miles. Beautiful and exhilarating.

The Chihuly Garden was the star of the show, though, without question. Exhibits covered Dale Chihuly’s complete career from early work in woven blankets and freeform glass bowls to his elaborate, twisting contemporary glass sculptures. We all took dozens and dozens of pictures (our phone batteries died early in the afternoon), but no matter how good they are, they can’t entirely capture how alive these sculptures are, and how perfectly attuned to their settings. I’m still dribbling pictures onto Instagram, and will probably continue for weeks. I’m so glad I got to see it.

In the evening, it was back to Pike Place for cups of clam chowder, eaten in contented silence while we watched the boats in the bay. I was on the bus back to Portland by 7:30, and by the time I got to work the next morning it felt like a stolen day in Neverland. Which is a pretty good result for a day’s outing, I’d say.

Wandering in Amsterdam.

photo 2_3

Sometimes when you travel, there’s a little window of in-between-places, a bit that gets suspended in time, not touching the points on either side of it. I got one of these bubbles a couple of weeks ago.

When I’m traveling to Hull to visit Phil, I fly through Amsterdam, and a couple of times I’ve had a really long layover. If you have to be at an airport for 8 hours, Schiphol is one of the best in the world (it’s won awards for best airport to be stuck in, dubious contest though that is). There’s a museum, and a lounge with a piano for anyone to play (in a room with spectacular acoustics), there are restaurants and bars and free showers and a hotel and two spas and lots of shopping and little pod rooms you can rent if you want to grab four hours of sleep. I’ve done most of that, though (I have actually got the Schiphol Airport app on my phone. I’m that person now.). On my most recent trip I found myself with nearly 9 hours to kill, starting at 8 in the morning. Clearly, venturing out into the city was the thing to do.

As I handed my coffee cup back over the cafe counter and picked up my carry-on, I realized that I’ve never had to find my way anywhere in a strange country by myself before. I knew I had this layover, so I’d done a little research about what to see and how to get there, but until I was about to step out through customs, I didn’t really grasp that I was *by myself with no smart phone use possible in a country I’ve never seen before*. Excited! Nervous! If you’re going to do that kind of thing, though, you want to try it out in a small, friendly, English-speaking country. So I had that in my favor.

I needed to get to Amsterdam Centraal Station, so I trickled my way out of the airport to the train station on the lower level. There was a bit of a false start while I played with automated ticket machines that ultimately wouldn’t sell me a ticket due to the American-ness of my credit card. But I got a ticket from a proper old school ticket window, and then I was on a platform in that billowing current of air that seems always to be moving in large city train stations, waiting for a train to take me on an adventure. I love trains. There is always the whiff of adventure and possibility about even the smallest of train journeys.

Three quick stops later, I was in the middle of Amsterdam on a rainy morning, and being jostled down Damrak in an elbow-to-elbow crowd of people. All my reading insisted on first-time visitors taking a city tour via boat through the canals, so that was my plan. But first, I just wanted to wander a little bit, so I kept walking up Damrak. The Sex Museum is also frequently recommended, but there was a line out the door so I skipped it. Next time. (I had planned to put a link to their website here, but they’ve got horrible auto-play music on it and I like you too much to do that to you. Just Google it.) There are plenty of dim and tippy side streets to poke about in, and I wove my way through them for an hour or so, staring at enormous wheels of cheese and mystifying piles of carved wooden tulips (not one single real tulip did I see all morning), debating whether it was too early to drink a beer (it was), and eventually ending up at the top of the street in the large plaza in front of the Royal Palace. There’s a row of low stone benches all along one side of the plaza, with chess boards set into them. No one was playing – no one but me was even sitting, in the rain – but I liked the sight of them.

In fact, I liked everything about Amsterdam, in the four hours I was there. The six-deep racks of bicycles everywhere; the dolls’ house narrowness of the streets and buildings and watercraft on the canals; the cheerful potted gardens on brightly colored houseboats; the contrast between the medieval buildings and the sleekly modern streetlights on Damrak. I took photographs all morning, but none of them are very good. I was bewilderingly tired, and most of my pictures were taken while I was sitting – either on a bench or on a boat. So they’re low down and in grey light and with window and water reflections. Some of them are of places and things I can’t name, in spite of wandering through Google street-view for a couple of hours last weekend searching for them. But here they are anyway, to remind me of my four hours’ adventure in a beautiful and unfamiliar city.

 

Always it is by bridges that we live.

I’m just back from two weeks in Yorkshire visiting Phil. This was my first visit to Hull. I was looking at the city through lots of different eyes: through Phil’s, as he showed me the city he loves; through mine, as they sought and discovered all the things my eyes love; through ours as we imagined a life we could share together in this city.

It was so much fun to play tourist with Phil in a city he’s lived in all his life, and watch him see things in a new way as I noticed them. He had all the fun of watching me fall in love with the light and the street names and the oh-so-welcoming frequency of pubs. And of introducing me to a number of British foods I hadn’t tried before (pork pie, Yorkshire pudding, sausage roll, pork scratchings, and so many cakes of increasing fanciness), and making sure I didn’t step out into the street after carefully looking the wrong way for traffic. I can’t count the number of times I stopped to stare up at something in dumb happiness, only to feel a gentle hand on my elbow, steering me back to the sidewalk. No, the pavement. Sidewalk is called pavement in England. (I must also accustom myself to the word trousers, to avoid Very British Scenes of Embarrassment.)

We spent a lovely long morning rambling through an enormous old cemetery, deciphering inscriptions. It just kept going back and back and back, into ever more tangled underbrush, and then opening suddenly into little clearings full of crypts and monuments. There were two days spent hunting down 41 fish sculptures on the Historic Fish Trail (you can read about that on Phil’s blog), pleasantly interspersed with 15 pubs on the no less historic Ale Trail. (Phil did a really beautiful job documenting both of these in their entirety on Instagram.) We visited the Gentoo penguins at The Deep, and got all nerdy-giddy over the sharks and rays. I met his family, and we liked each other.

We also spent a solid amount of time sitting on the couch with the cat and watching one dumb movie after another. We’ve gotten very good at being together long distance, but it’s not easy to live 6,000 miles away from your partner. When we’re lucky enough to be in the same room for a while, the simplicity of reaching out to touch one another is a huge happiness. Reading aloud, sitting quietly together immersed in our own projects, doing the interwoven kitchen dance of preparing a meal together – these were my favorite times in these two weeks, and they’re what carry us through until we can be in the same room again.

We found this sign in the charmingly-named Land of Green Ginger. The tiny street in Old Town is also home to England's smallest window.

. . We found this sign in the charmingly-named Land of Green Ginger. The tiny street in Old Town is also home to England’s smallest window.

Side door of St. Mary's Church in Old Town

Side door of St. Mary’s Church in Old Town

Hull is the only region in the UK with its own telecom company, and has cream phone boxes instead of the traditional red.

Hull is the only region in the UK with its own telecom company, and has cream phone boxes instead of the traditional red.

The Ferens Gallery has a wonderful collection of Dutch masters.

The Ferens Gallery has a wonderful collection of Dutch masters.

SHARK! The Deep is a wonderful aquarium with several different vantage points on an impressive shark tank.

SHARK! The Deep is a wonderful aquarium with several different vantage points on an impressive shark tank.

Jellyfish at The Deep.

Jellyfish at The Deep.

We have had beer. At Wm Hawkes in the Old Town.

I fell in love with the light in Hull, especially on the water.

I fell in love with the light in Hull, especially on the water.

Art Nouveau detailing on an arcade in Old Town.

Art Nouveau detailing on an arcade in Old Town.

Waffle doughnuts with cake on top at Hull Fair.

Waffle doughnuts with cake on top at Hull Fair.

Kissable.

Kissable.

One of 25 installations commemorating Philip Larkin, found throughout Hull and surrounding towns. This was my favorite of the ones we saw.

One of 25 installations commemorating Philip Larkin, found throughout Hull and surrounding towns. This was my favorite of the ones we saw.

Yorkshire Rose at the bottom of my pint glass.

Yorkshire Rose at the bottom of my pint glass.

Archie.

Archie.

Phil photographing the sign at the Green Bricks for the ale trail.

Phil photographing the sign at the Green Bricks for the ale trail.

archives, not cheating and the floatie.

I’m going through boxes of letters and photo albums to see if there’s anything I can get rid of while I’m packing. It’s a bit of an ambush-type project, as I have no idea what’s in these boxes; I’m doing it slowly, in between other packing. Sometimes what I find is hilarious, sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s wonderfully happy. Sometimes I don’t even remember what it is I’m looking at. 


Particularly with scrapbooks and photo albums, I’m experiencing an impulse to edit them. Keep the photographs, but oh God, get rid of the gruesomely affected scrapbooks elements! That’s not how archiving works, though, so I leave them alone. Just because I wish I’d been cooler doesn’t mean the record is inaccurate. I was a very cool kid, I think – dorky and a bit elderly and shy, but interested in everything. If my thorough records of my teen years are to be believed, however, I was kind of a dull teenager. Who kept everything.


So I’m not making changes to the record, but there are a lot of things I’m just getting rid of entirely. A separate scrapbook from my year at boarding school that doesn’t really add any additional information to the photo album I’m keeping. A pile of letters from people I traveled with years ago. I found the packet, I recognized what it was, but I had no interest in reading the letters again. This is the move when these things finally go, after getting carted around for the last 6 relocations.


Yesterday I found my photo album from a trip to England the summer I turned 15. I traveled with a group of about 20 other teenagers and we spent most of the summer living on canal boats and traveling through the middle of the country. The cramped quarters and constant ducking into low doorways and never having access to clean laundry would probably make me cry now, but it was hugely fun at 15. We piloted and refueled the boats and operated the locks ourselves; once upon a time, that was a skill I could claim, although I’m sure I wouldn’t remember how to do it now.


I think this was probably the first time I was ever in a photobooth. 
I had bangs!

When you’re moving around a canal boat, you mainly use the gunwales (the narrow bit around the edge of the boat that Roxanne is standing on in this picture). They’re slippery, and it’s easy to lose your footing. That summer, I distinguished myself by falling into the canal twice. That’s twice more than most people did, and once more than everyone else did. I earned the nickname Floatie. I am here to tell you that an English canal is no place to go for a swim. They may look pretty, but they’re filthy. We once saw a whole dead pig swirling around in the lock water near Birmingham. If you fall in, even in the cleaner midstream water, you need a shower. It’s also really hard to get back on a boat from the water, once you’re off it. The second time I fell in, I lost my glasses. We were about 8 days from coming home and I said I’d just do without them, but a boy named Andy went in after them and actually kept diving in the muddy water until he found them. It was a spectacle miracle. He was kind of an obnoxious jerk and by the end of the summer we’d mostly ostracized him. I remember being profoundly touched that he would take the trouble. I don’t remember your last name anymore, Andy, but thanks for finding my glasses. I’m sorry I was mean to you.