A story starts in Maine

Post graduation and Grand European Adventure, I took a job at a summer camp in the lovely state of Maine in an effort to delay the inevitable onset of Adulthood. For the record, this turned out to be an excellent plan. Besides, travelling by yourself on an airplane for the first time is kind of like adulthood…a little bit. It’s like a test run. I met a woman at the airport on the way out who asked me what I was knitting, and through conversation it turned out that she was a pretty successful children’s book author. I told her I wanted to be an illustrator (This is not an untruth, it’s just that I also want to be a screen printer, dressmaker, editor, small business owner, knitwear pattern designer, photographer, and a graphic artist. The whole point of The Void is to give me more time to choose). She gave me her card, which is excellent and very exciting! I was off to a great start- knitting in public places is one of the best ways to meet people. Especially knitting in public places with unusually colored hair.

 

This is as close as I have ever been to New York City: My flight had a connection in LaGuardia, and we flew almost right over the city.

 

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Look at all of it! There’s so much! and look how the water goes all through it! Someday, New York. Someday. When I have some money for fabric and and empty suitcase to fill with it…

Sheep had a grand time looking out the window, because he has never seen New York either. I think. I mean, he could have taken a trip while I was sleeping or something. Regardless, I get the feeling he was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing.

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Nothing screams ‘wishful thinking’ like a sepia instagram filter.

When we got off the first plane (and you must understand that by ‘we’ what I actually mean is ‘Sheep and I’)- we were greeted by a much smaller one for the next leg of the trip. Much Smaller.

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Sheep feels that he is bigger than this airplane. I tried to explain perspective but he remained skeptical.

Some already-present counselors picked a group of us up the airport, and we all headed back to camp. Upon arrival, I spent equal amounts of time being a reclusive weirdo, and attempting to present myself as a social and well-adjusted member of society (Lies! but it turns out nobody else really is either…) During the reclusive phases, I spent a lot of time wandering around camp (read: getting lost) taking photos of this new temporary home of mine.

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Treeeees. The same at home, and yet so different. Taller. And skinnier. Can trees be skinny?

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This beautiful landscape basically meant my editing this summer was minimal- it’s hard to take bad pictures of this stuff…

Obviously, I can’t post photos I took of the campers. I don’t even have them anymore- but don’t fear! I have plenty of photographic evidence that this summer happened. So much, in fact, that I’ve had to split it up into two blog posts. You’ll notice that in all these photos I have pink hair, and in all the photos of the subsequent post, I have rainbow hair. That happened.

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Spectacular sunsets are a nightly thing- and so far away from major cities makes for uninterrupted star viewing!

After a week of orientation, which mostly consisted of trying to decide whether as a photographer I was considered a counselor or admin (neither?), we were let out for one day off with our new friends. I went with a group of ten or so others to climb a mountain!

Okay, not a very big mountain and not all the way up- but it still counts.

Let’s just have an aside really quick so we can talk about this thing. I went to climb a mountain. Me. She who was in an out of physical therapy and doctors appointments for five or six years, and only recently what one might consider functional, and even then sometimes only with the help of braces and splints. She who gets winded climbing stairs, and flat-out refused ladders for years. She whose knees sound like grinding gravel, and who frequently loses feeling in her arms if she lifts them above her head.

I decided to climb a mountain. I decided to go to a boy’s sports camp and chase soccer balls so that I could photograph the action, and walked miles a day around and around so that I could catch all the kiddos at all the events. I do not know what possessed this little indoor Kat to leave her computer, but she did. And she climbed a mountain.

 

It’s a metaphor.

/aside.

 

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On our way there! Those lovely folks were all at some point asleep on the way home…Most of them the whole way.

 

Here’s the thing about Maine. You’ve probably heard that they have excellent lobster (true) and seafood (also true)- that there are a lot of mountains and lakes and beautiful landscapes (very true. you’ll see). You’ve probably also heard that Stephen King grew up there and wrote most of his horror stories based on that experience.

So there’s a certain dichotomy going on here, and if you know me then you know that dichotomy is a thing I love. We’d be driving along these country roads in the middle of who knows where, and it would all be beautiful when suddenly we’d come upon something that seemed startlingly like it was fresh out of Cabin in the Woods (related note: excellent movie. Do not watch before bed.) I don’t have photos of those things because I was for the most part busy being weirded out by ‘why is that gas station covered in hubcaps?’ and ‘who would put a boat in their front yard if it looked like that

But we were talking about a mountain.

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Tumbledown swimming hole!

So, Tumbledown is a mountain that used to be a volcano that has a crater in the top, and that crater is filled with rainwater- and there’s an entire ecosystem contained in that rainwater-filled crater lake. So we hiked up a mountain to go swimming! There’s a thing you don’t get to do every day. I have absolutely zero photos from the way up the mountain because I was trying not to die (d’you remember the bit about being winded climbing stairs?) but I did take photos at the top!

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This is what it looks like in the other direction- looking out over this from the rocky banks of a lake is pretty spectacular…

Sheep also quite enjoyed the view, although he did not go swimming in the lake.

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Sheep also instagrammed the experience, as is his custom.

So- I survived the upward journey, and I went swimming in a lake at the top of a mountain, and also had lunch and let some fish nibble at my toes- and after a few hours and loads of pictures, we headed back down.

Down was not actually better than up, but I did remember to take pictures.

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Sheep thought down was fine. Sheep didn’t have to walk.

English Peter (not to be confused with Irish Peter) led Sophie astray on the way down and they ended up lost for a period of time, but they turned up at the bottom, so crisis averted. It also turns out that walking downhill isn’t great for questionable knees (much worse than up, surprisingly) so I didn’t really do much in the way of movement for a while after that, but it was still totally worth it.

I climbed the heck outta that mountain.

It was late when we got back to camp, but we all ended up on couches in a basement watching Sherlock Holmes (The Robert Downey Jr. one)- and it was a great last day before the kids arrived. Orientation week at summer camp is a lot like actually being a camper, and it was a little disconcerting when the kids finally did show up…

 

Here’s a picture of a rock:

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Seriously, that’s all it is. A picture of a rock I found by the tennis courts at camp. I just thought it looked cool.

So, mountain climbing aside, camp started and things got hectic. I was taking a couple hundred photos a day, and uploading them to the website at night so the kids parents could see how much fun they were having. After I weeded out all the ones with the weird faces. Let’s talk about the faces people make when they place sports. It’s weird. you’ll have to take my word for it, as all those photos are safe on a hard drive in camp’s winter offices right now. Somewhere in between all the hectic days though, I had a spectacularly excellent 22nd birthday.

I decided to attempt to do all the things from Taylor Swift’s song ’22’, the first of which is ‘Dress up like hipsters’. I had to improvise with a pair of not-my-high-waisted-shorts, and at one point I had a plaid shirt. T Swift also has cat ears in the music video which I felt was appropriate, so I spent some time in the Arts and Crafts shed and made myself a pair.

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Lillian tie-dyed me this awesome Camp shirt for my birthday too!

Annie and Lindsey serenaded me with the song, and I definitely cried a little and am not ashamed. There was also cake:

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Cake! Mostly consumed by campers who came and asked very nicely for a slice, but still cake!

and Sophie and Jon left me a pile of pink balloons with entertaining things drawn on them, so I took selfies with them:

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There was also an astoundingly large bag full of candy but ‘only the pink ones’- which Jon’s bunk full of kids helped him pick out.

Overall, having accomplished nearly all of the things on the to-do list provided by Taylor Swift, this birthday was a wonderful one. There was some debate about whether ‘breakfast at midnight’ should occur on the midnight preceding or succeeding the birthday itself, but I ended up falling asleep before I could decide, two nights in a row… I did miss the ‘birthday girl gets to choose what she wants to eat for dinner’ tradition at home, but it was worth it. Especially when I went to take pictures of the littlest campers, and none of them were there until Karen yelled ‘Hi Kat!’ and they all came out from behind trees and cabins and started yell-singing happy birthday at me. Have you ever had 60 eight to ten year olds sing happy birthday to you all at once? I bet not. It was one of the best moments of the entire summer.

We’re given a few days off throughout the summer (4) and my first one was spent in Portland, which is about an hour away from camp. Portland is wonderful, and from my day-long impression, a very hipster place. Young and full of life and just a tiny bit weird- in the good way. We spent a good bit of time just wandering and observing what we came across- for example the chain link walls of this small bridge are covered in padlocks.

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The rusty ones are the coolest.

My impression of Portland was that I would like to live there. It worries me that I get pretty much exactly that impression from all of the places that I visit. Maybe I’d like to spend some time in a brick apartment building like this, and people-watch passers by from the fire escape.

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I’d have a garden on the rooftop if I lived there.

We also did a lot of window shopping, because windows is about as far as you get on a summer camp budget- but there were some beautiful things that I may even be able to make in the future- like this hanging stained glass piece made with the bases of crystal and carnival glass wine glasses. Who cares if I don’t actually know anything about stained glass…

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note the reflection of my pink hair above the bottom left glass base.

A small graffiti bird on a huge construction wall brightened up a street corner:

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swirly bird!

Do you remember how I mentioned that Maine is known for its lobster? The state is mostly coastline, and summer is lobster season- so what better time to try it than on a day out on the town in Portland?

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Complete, you’ll notice- with a baked potato! I love baked potatoes.

We stopped at a place that was built on a dock overlooking the harbor. There was live music, an awesome atmosphere, and of course- the fresh-caught daily lobster selection for dinner! Although this wasn’t the first time I’d had lobster, it was definitely the first time I’d had A lobster. They literally come with instructions. I have mixed feelings about food that you need instructions to eat, but the glorious taste of lobster dipped in butter kind of negates any argument I was going to make about that. And I am absolutely wearing the lobster bib.

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the lobster bib and the at-that-point freshly finished baby blanket, which I wore as a shawl at every available opportunity until giving it to Mom when I got home.

So, basically- Portland is wonderful, lobster is awesome, and I would absolutely live there given the chance. It was a refreshing break to be able to walk around and just pick a direction whenever we wanted to. And there were no kiddos yelling “Hey Kat! Get an action shot!”- If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me this summer…

 

Back at camp, things continued as normal. Someone left a can of temporary spray-in hair dye in my mailbox, so I went blue for a day which threw some people off considerably (“No!! I liked the pink!”). I sort of figured that the gift giver would come forward and claim responsibility for the awesomeness that ensued, but they never did- so thank you, random friend, for being such a wonderful enabler!

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The temporary tattoo says ‘party grrl’ – I matched with a couple of the boys that day. There are probably photos of that.

The next day off was spent on a beach.

Before we get further into this, you should know that beaches and I have a history, and it basically boils down to this: I am not fond of sunlight, sand, or saltwater, and beaches are all of these things.

We picked a good day for beachgoing though, because the sun remained hidden most of the day but the rain waited until we’d left. So that takes care of the sunlight problem. As for the sand, there was a bit there in the beginning where I was cursing whatever part of me agreed to this plan… (“there’s sand in my shoes! there’s sand between my toes, it’s going to get in my hair and everywhere. Whose plan was this? Why did I agree to come here?! I’ve been tricked! The cake is a lie!”)- and I spent twenty minutes or so on a bench with my feet tucked up under me and a towel over my head.

I adjusted, though. I think if this summer proved anything, it proved that I am capable of adjustment, and that I Tried New Things And Didn’t Even Die.

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The view from the pier. What a profound number of people in such a small area. And let’s keep in mind that this wasn’t normal people’s definition of ‘beach weather’.

There’s me, before I decided that I was going to actually get more than my feet wet. It was a little chilly but the kind that you get used to after you’re in. Eventually I stopped taking ridiculous selfies and went swimming. I went in all the way up to my neck, but I didn’t get my head wet. I didn’t know what the saltwater would do to my hair…

First time swimming in the Atlantic ocean in…. a lot of years! and it was just so much fun!

 

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There was a part in there where we lost track of where on the beach we’d left our stuff, but the crisis was averted once we located the loud Canadian family that we’d left our stuff near. That’s the thing about vacation spots in Maine- everybody’s Canadian and they all speak French.

There- we’re halfway through the Maine adventure, and you’ll notice that something very colorful happens in the next post. So far, the summer was turning out to be so much more than I ever could have expected it to be, and things were on an upward swing. I climbed a mountain, swam in the ocean, and took So. Many. Pictures. And- as someone said at some point- the best is yet to come!

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Sweet Home Ohio

We’re finally back in the States! Not caught up, though… There are still four or five posts before that happens. That’s what I get for being a procrastinating procrastinator. Alternatively, that’s what I get for having entirely too much fun to bother with blogging. Take your pick.

After Europe and a few days spent at home, we turned right around and headed to visit relatives in Ohio.

Part 1

We had a lot of family time, but also a lot of exploring time. We were all too young to go off on our own adventures when we lived there, but we took advantage this time.

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The Geodesic dome at ASM International! (AKA Materials Park)- it’s open to the public, although it’s also offices so some of the indoors bits are off limits. It was built in the 50’s and you can tell, which I love.

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Under the dome is a garden, which also includes rocks and minerals from around the world. Have I mentioned that I love rock gardens? It’s true.

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It’s just really cool, okay? And so hard to take a bad picture of this place.

We spent a bit of time here because it was such a nice day, and because the last time we visited I was still very very little. I only have very vague memories of it- but it continues to be excellent! It’s a very interesting feeling to be a tourist in the town you grew up in, but when you’ve been away for so long, I think it’s probably allowed.

 

We spent a day at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame which is right in the middle of Cleveland. It overlooks lake Erie, which is also awesome. I can’t believe I’d never visited before, but on the other hand- aforementioned age bracket for adventures had not been reached. Notice that Sheep has a wristband, because while I was taking photos of him in the lobby, a very nice lady called me over and asked “If your lambie would like a wristband as well” and I said YES OF COURSE, and I don’t think that lady knows how happy she made me….

Sheep visits the Rock Hall and is loved by everyone there, as usual.

Sheep visits the Rock Hall and is loved by everyone there, as usual.

A wristband. Seriously. There are the people that think I’m a weirdo, and there are the people that smile and ask questions and start conversations. I never want to stop being able to have conversations with those types of people.

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It’s a really cool place! The first thing you do is watch a 15 minute video on the history of Rock n’ Roll- and then they set you loose on the place.

There are a bunch of examples of advertising from the early stages when the older generations were contesting the new directions that music was taking. One in particular was a headline proclaiming scientific evidence had concluded that Rock n’ Roll leads to Satan worship. So there’s that.

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Of course, there’s the obligatory Elvis exhibit

It was really dark so photos were difficult, but let’s just take a moment to admire David Bowie’s butt in this outfit- (suspend belief for a moment and pretend it’s his and not the mannequin’s)

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See? Appreciate the glory of the butt. It’s like the designer was just asking you to look with that lightning bolt pointing right to it. Might as well be an arrow- “Look at me! Look at this butt!”

This place was massive- we had all day and we planned to visit the Science Center as well, but spent so long in the Rock Hall that there was no time left! I’d love to go back, too- I’m sure we missed bits. There was a whole upstairs exhibit on music festivals, and while I don’t know too much about Woodstock- I would really like to learn more about it. It seems like kind of a pivotal moment in American music culture.

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Also let’s not pretend to deny my particular affinity for screen printed T shirts…

This is the Rock Hall from the outside: It’s a very oddly designed building, but in the very best of ways. It takes advantages of its unusual shapes in really excellent ways, plus there’s a basement area to capitalize on that kind of space. I like it. It welcomes visitors from the bay as the first part of the Cleveland cityscape that they see.

 

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Big, imposing, modern, and full of Really Cool Stuff

We spent some time on the William G Mather (a boat) -which was a cargo vessel used for supplying Cleveland with all sorts of things (Coal. lots of that, and timber and similar stuff). It’s permanently docked right next to the Rock Hall and Science Center and we had a good time exploring and taking photos from the deck.

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[Obligatory Titanic Pose on any and all boats]

Sheep also had some cool Captainy adventures in assorted areas of the boat, and took many photos.

Captain Sheep of the USS William G Mather- Full speed ahead, skipper!
Captain Sheep of the USS William G Mather- Full speed ahead, skipper!

Part 2

D’you remember how I said a lot of our relatives live in Ohio? Cool. It’s time for a lesson in ancestry and knitting!

See the lovely ladies in this photo? The one standing up is Granny (my Great Great Grandmother on Dad’s side), with her mother and her daughter. Granny was a pretty cool lady- I don’t know a lot, but I know she was clever and pretty crafty. I also know she had excellent taste in hats.

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Ask me. Ask me how I know she had excellent taste in hats.

Of course, you’re wondering how I know she was clever and crafty- and I shall tell you!

One yellow baby blanket, good for snuggles and keeping babies warm, of course.

One yellow baby blanket, good for snuggles and keeping babies warm, of course.

Granny made this blanket- I talked about it in a previous post when mom first brought it home on a previous trip to Ohio. She made it for my Dad when he was younger, and it has been passed around in the family since then. To give you a bit of perspective, it was made from acrylic yarn, two years after acrylic yarn was invented. When mom brought it home, I saw it in person for the first time since I was a baby, and I realized that I could totally make it! I figured I’d just copy the pattern, but then some time later when I was looking at other patterns on the internet, I stumbled across an oddly familiar blanket…

Sorry for the random baby picture… (link to website)

That photo links to the website I found that has the pattern….in Dutch. Instead of copying Granny’s blanket, I decided to use Google Translate to get it from Dutch to English, and use that. Except Google Translate doesn’t handle knitting patterns very well… (“place 3 loop on stick 1, pin stick out. Repeat for second and third stick” anyone?)- So I sort of had to translate the Google Translate. But, translated pattern and a few months later, I had myself a brand new old baby blanket! This pattern was loads of fun- I love old patterns. It’s just exciting enough to keep you entertained, while at the same time repetitive enough that you don’t have to be constantly looking at the pattern.

Mom gets to keep this one since she brought the yarn (and, by bringing back the original blanket she is basically responsible for the existence of this one…) but I’m going to make myself another one so that’s fine. Also, maybe I’ll make one out of acrylic for some future very lucky baby. Machine wash-ability is important for babies.

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Madelinetosh Sock weight in “Antique Lace”- 4 skeins, 100% wool.

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Look at that detail! This thing was so much fun. It has a pretty obvious Shetland influence (you can tell by the scallop lace inner border) and that’s apparently where the pattern originated, but the geometric outer border is something I’ve seen in a lot of Russian and eastern-type knits as well.

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Here’s a spectacularly grainy selfie I took when I first finished it- now you can see why I’m totally making myself another one in a more wearable color. I’m going to wear it as a shawl!

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Val was kind enough to do some Vouge-ing for me- even though it’s much too cold to take knitwear photos outside.

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It’s so big! I love this thing. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and if you know me at all, you know that doesn’t happen.

We’re sort of a family that has heirlooms- there are a few, but none of them are knitted, and very few of them extend back that far. I’m so very excited that I was able to learn about the history of that blanket, and the really cool woman who made it- and that I was even able to follow in her footsteps and make a version of my own. I know knitting is all the rage these days and many people are starting to pick it up again after a sort of period of dormancy that it had in the 70’s through the 90’s- but its important to not only think of it as a newly re-modernized hobby but also as a piece of social history that goes back for centuries. So here’s the first of hopefully many attempts at making sure the awesome crafty ladies of the world- like Granny, past and present, aren’t trivialized or forgotten.

 

 

 

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The Grand European Adventure: ich bin ein Berliner

Well, here it is: The last installment in the story of The Grand European Adventure. No worries, though- There are about to be a lot of exciting things going on around here.

 

So, I’m a little mad about Berlin- and this is for two reasons. First, we weren’t even there for two full days which is just not enough as it turns out, and second because it was the last not-quite-two-days of the trip, and all involved parties were exhausted and just really wanted to sleep a lot. I would like to go back to Berlin. I would like to absorb its beauty, and marvel at the oldness and the newness and the general uniqueness of its situation. I would like to experience the culture because in the 1.75 days that I was there it was apparent that theirs is a culture worth experiencing. I would like to go to the nightclubs and raves, and be alternative and punk, and I want to spend more time in that strange world where my colorful hair is more normal than your natural hair. Berlin questions everything, and takes nothing at face value simply because it is or has been that way. I want to do that with them.

The first thing I saw when I stepped off the train in Berlin was a girl with green hair. The second thing I saw was a boy with orange hair. There is a punk culture here like you wouldn’t even believe. I fit in less for the touristy American clothes I was wearing than I did for my hair- which, let me tell you, is a new thing for me. I spent a bit of time wishing I’d brought some of my [vast] collection of snarky t shirts…

Welcome to Berlin!

Welcome to Berlin!

 

The weather was beautiful for most of the two days we spent there, so we walked all over the place and saw a great many things. Here’s an older style bridge surrounded by an entirely modern city. It’s all like that- a combination of new wedged in between old. Our hostel was actually a beautiful old hotel that’s being slowly restored. There are places where new windows lean up against walls in hallways, waiting to be put up, and the grand marble staircases are dusty with disuse but ever beautiful just the same. Someday, it will be beautiful and I would like to see it when it’s finished. Meanwhile, there’s a rabbit hutch in the courtyard- if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat. I was fond of the fluffy bunnies. It was also very close to a still standing section of the Berlin Wall, so that was our first stop.

 

Here begins the longest still standing section of the Berlin Wall.

Here begins the longest still standing section of the Berlin Wall.

The wall runs along a road, and has been covered in paint and graffiti, some of which is sectioned off murals done by artists from all over the world:

 

" I painted over the wall of shame

“The wall of shame”

Graffiti means something different in Germany than it does in the States- Here, it’s something you try to scrub off or cover up, but in Berlin graffiti is something desirable- you’re sort of more considered more authentic if your building is colored. The entire city is covered and just so very colorful. The wall is something they’re generally trying to forget about- the city is moving on, as well it should, but this section stands as a monument to prove that not all bad things have to end up that way.

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I spent a lot of time thinking about the ‘many small people’ one, especially since the Berlin Wall makes you feel so very small indeed. It sort of gives me hope that maybe the way I choose to live my life will in turn make someone else’s life change for the better as well. We as individuals sometimes feel insignificant in the Great Void of the universe, but we can move mountains.

Many styles from all over the place!

Many styles from all over the place!

Mostly, it’s just really cool that they’ve turned this into a colorful monument to hope and change, even though a lot of people want to hide and forget that particular slice of history.

After we walked down the longest still standing section of the Berlin Wall (which isn’t actually all that long, maybe a few blocks) we field tripped up a ways to see some very cool government buildings, and the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor). If you’re planning a trip, this is an excellent spot for people-watching, because it’s right on a big open space, it’s touristy but also with a lot of local types walking around too. Also the American Embassy is conveniently located immediately to my right in this photo (Just off frame)

Selfies at the Brandenburg Gate!

Selfies at the Brandenburg Gate!

We ended up here twice, mostly because it was on our way, and we spent a lot of time because there was a surprise concert that we hung around at for a while. The lead singer had purple hair!- but there were too many people for pictures. Also riot police? Berlin has this thing going on with lots of enforcement-types with big guns. Machine guns for airport security guards, anyone? Don’t think I didn’t notice. Nothing eventful happened with that, though.

IMG_1575The Brandenburg gate is right up the street from a new and very interesting Holocaust memorial. It’s large, imposing, and its job is to make you think. Right in a busy part of the city, only a few blocks from the embassies and the government buildings, it takes up an entire block.

Holocaust memorial, Berlin

Holocaust memorial, Berlin

There’s Lill in the center for scale purposes.

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The interesting thing about this place is that there’s no documentation- you can read about it on the internet, sure, but if you’re there standing in front of it there’s no sign or explanation for its presence. it just is. And it is big. There’s a small plaque with a year and the name of the artist, but that’s only if you know where to look. The general idea is that you draw your own conclusions from it if you know why it’s there, and if you don’t then you’re just mildly discomforted with its presence. That’s what art, is about, right? Disturbing the comfortable? This memorial combines Berlin’s desire to be modern with a need to remember its past.

We also visited the Jewish Museum, which was thoroughly interesting, although really deserved to have been split up over a series of two or three days. There’s just a lot to take in. It’s beautifully organized and curated, but it’s also massive and four stories and packed with stuff to look at.

 

One of the things that the internet told us to do in Berlin was visit the Charlottenburg palace, so we made a special trip out (Okay, so the public transit system in Berlin is fabulous and it really wasn’t that difficult to get to the other end of the city at all, so it’s not like it was all that hard…) to see it- even though it got cold and rainy as soon as we got off the train and had to walk 6 blocks to see it…. We took cover under a building to eat lunch somewhere in there, but our attempt to wait out the rain was nonetheless successful.

 

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OH MY GODS I only just now noticed that the buttons on my cardigan are crooked! Well then.

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I don’t think she’s even capable of being serious for a photo…

The photos we took may have been a little drab, but we had a lot of fun despite the cold and rain.

 

Berlin was beautiful. This post probably seems all over the place and disjointed because all I have to work with are these little flashes from that part of the trip- we were so exhausted and so incredibly ready to go home and I think that colored the experience a little, but it was nonetheless one of my favorite parts of the trip. Lies, it was all my favorite. If I ever have an opportunity again to go back to any of these places, I would take it in a heartbeat- especially if I could spend even just a few more days in Berlin.

Just when we thought the trip was over- we were on out way home, sitting in the airport…we encountered one last adventure. Our plane was delayed overnight due to some kind of engine failure, so the airline put us up in a hotel (we were bussed there along with the 1 or 2 hundred other people who were also on the flight), and finally flew us out the next day. There was much confusion about this, and I have never experienced a concentration of unhappy people as high as that in the reticketing line the morning of the flight. (Seriously, dude- you huffing and pacing behind me is not actually going to make this line move any faster. )

 

waiting for the plane!

waiting for the plane!

On the bright side, over the two days that we were delayed, I finished an amount of baby blanket equal to that which I had finished over the two weeks preceding. I would have finished the blanket on the way home if I hadn’t (been stupid) forgotten to get the last ball of yarn out of my checked bag.

So I modeled it in progress and took loads of selfies instead:

#selfie (not even sorry. check out the in-progress-knitting-needle-shawl-pin look)

#selfie (not even sorry. check out the in-progress-knitting-needle-shawl-pin look)

It was 67 degrees and 86% humidity when we stepped off the plane in St. Louis again, and the first thing I said when I got off the plane was “Nope! Take me back! I want to go back!” The weather is just so much more agreeable there…I didn’t even mind the rain.

I finished the last section of blanket and bound off at camp a month or two later, but we’re getting to that. Meanwhile I reentered the States with a load of passport stamps, souvenirs, and lots of worldly experience (Still not actually sure if I gained any worldly knowledge though) . I’m only sorry I couldn’t blog on the go, because I would have been able to share daily instead of in only four installments with over three months between when it happened and when I wrote about it. I’ll arrange something for my next big trip, though. Stick around and we’ll get to that part of the story too- My world traveling adventures are far from over.

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The Grand European adventure part 3: Amsterdam

Hi. Again. I sort of up and ran off to Maine for two months before I was done talking about Europe, and ignored the fact that I have a blog,  and kind of a lot of things happened in those two months- but come with me for a ride back in time to Amsterdam, and we’ll be caught up soon:

I’ve been on a lot of planes at this point in my life, but I will never get tired of taking pictures of The View From Above. The interesting thing is, it’s different in every place.

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Amsterdam may be right on the water, but our plane made a big loop around, so we came in over land.

 

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I am a child. It’s the little things.

We flew in at night, and began the next day with an exploration of the Rijksmuseum- which is large, intimidating, beautiful, and awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I would very probably go back to Amsterdam just to go there again.

There is a huge room full of model ships:

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Big model ships, but also tiny model ships. And So Many!

There is a huge room of Porcelain:

Some people are more excited about teacups than other people, and I get very excited about teacups...

Some people are more excited about teacups than other people, and I get very excited about teacups…

There’s even a huge room full of costumes and clothing from all over the world and all through history! There may have been note taking here…

Yes, let's put glass in between the fabric nerd and the historic clothes. Probably wise...

Yes, let’s put glass in between the fabric nerd and the historic clothes. Probably wise…

There were a lot of people crowded up in the paintings gallery, especially since a Rembrandt was involved. Art is awesome, but when you have to fight your way through a crowd of tourists to get close enough to something to really see it, it becomes less exciting. I’m the kind of person that likes to do that sort of examination and thinking in peace, but it was pretty cool to be in the same room as some of this stuff regardless.

Museum Face!

Museum Face!

The Rijksmuseum also has a very old, very functioning Library of Epicness. It’s the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands- and okay, it’s not that big of a country, but its rich in this kind of history and I was practically drooling at all those books.

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I want it. Can I have it in my house? Can it be my house?

We also visited the very famous and cool Van Gogh museum, where you are very strictly not allowed to take pictures or even in any capacity look funny at any of the paintings…his Sunflowers was there, but I would really like to have seen Starry Night in person, and that one wasn’t at this museum. Overall it was great to be able to see his progression as an artist and get to see in person some of the textural aspects of his later paintings that just can’t be captured with a camera.

Most of our time in Amsterdam was spent wandering about the city- it’s built and treated entirely different than the other places we’d been so far, and from anything I’ve ever seen, so I spent a lot of time being enthralled with the differences. We sat and people-watched for a while at Dam Square- a big open area in the central city that is surrounded by imposing buildings and the National Monument (WWII era).

Dam Square, national monument

Disappearing Monument Selfies!

Wandering not too far away from the astounding bustle of the central city, it’s suddenly a place that manages to be quaint and homey feeling while also feeling large and intimidating.

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Canals. Canals, and the fact that the roads are more bike-friendly than they are car-friendly. This is a city that knows what it wants.

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Old cities like this pack so much action into so little space, and I will never cease to be amazed by that.

Windmills!

Windmills!

Holland is apparently full of windmills, and you can go on a windmill bus tour, but there’s really only one easily accessible one if you’re not very mobile. This one is a 15 minute bus ride from the city center, and since I demanded that we see a windmill before we leave Holland, we went. Walked around it, played the selfie game, etc. They’re surprisingly large up close.

 

There was one thing I couldn’t figure out for a long time, and it’s something I had noticed in a few other places during our travels- all of the buildings have these odd beams protruding from or near the roofs- some of the beams have hooks on the ends. I thought about that as we were walking around, and couldn’t figure it out.

Look closely: What do all these buildings have in common?

Look closely: What do all these buildings have in common?

We spent a good portion of time people-watching in the red light district, which is home to a bit more than just what you’d expect. There are a lot of bars, restaurants, and shops of the sort, and I eventually witnessed something that solved the puzzle of the hooks and beams. It’s a hoisting mechanism! The buildings are so small and tall, and the stairs so impossibly narrow that the only way to get something large up to your second or third floor, like say, a piano, or if you’re in the Red Light District in the early evening- a full shipping pallet of Heineken- you attach a rope and a pulley to your hook, and  you pull that sucker up there.

This explains that thing about how pianos used to always fall on people in the ‘old days’… I wonder if anyone’s had a pallet of beer fall on them…

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The red lights come out after the sun goes down

Amsterdam’s affiliations with certain pleasures in life make it an interesting place, and an interesting destination. It’s wonderful to have a place that so readily displays so many Pride flags, and it’s obvious that the kinds of people who aren’t accepted there are the ones who have a problem with anyone else’s life choices. That said, it’s also a city run on tourism, and those tourists are pretty blatantly the drunken bachelor parties that have come for the sex, drugs, and booze. There are two competing factors here- one is acceptance, and one is exploitation. That’s why I have such conflicting feelings about Amsterdam. I’d like to give it more of a chance- to see the rest of Holland, perhaps, and to get away from the vulgarity of the tourists and tourist-oriented gift shops.

 

Let’s talk about Encounters with Pink Hair:

Here’s a lady who wanted a photo with me- She was there for a bachelorette party, although I’m not sure if she was the bride. She seemed lovely, and we had a little conversation- but she has a plastic penis stuck in her cleavage. Take from that what you will, I suppose.

Ladies in Pink!

Ladies in Pink!

This dude, on the other hand, was the groom in a bachelor party. I saw his pink wig on their table before they saw me, but he got incredibly excited and put it on again when his friend pointed me out.

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Ladies in Pink?

We took pictures while his friends snickered, and one of his cohorts took a selfie on my phone between photos of us:

IMG_2787These guys were profoundly Scottish, which I appreciated. The pink-haired fellow is wearing a nightgown and water wings- in case he drunkenly falls in to the canal. We watched a lot of inebriated gentlemen walk by wearing ladies’ dresses and inflatables.

Let’s talk about the other side of things for a moment:

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Stairs. This picture doesn’t capture the effect, really…

The first thing you need to know is that apparently, whoever built Amsterdam wasn’t thinking about stairs until the very last possible second.

We visited and breakfasted in a lovely little restaurant- the English translation of Pannenkoekenhau’s  is ‘Pancake House’- and that’s exactly what it is. The second story of this tiny building is a tiny restaurant, with three tables and a kitchen that was definitely smaller than the entire area of a Queen sized bed.

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Also, teapots, and we all know how I feel about those…

The place was beautiful, glorious, and perfect. The food was great, and the environment was better. There was a Pride flag flying outside the window (also window boxes! With flowers!)- and the place was run by a wonderful gay couple. One of them took orders and brought the food out, and the other was the Chef Of Amazing Netherlands Style Pancakes (somewhere between the thickness of a crepe and an American pancake. Similar to Swedish pancakes but bigger and sweeter). This is what I wanted- not drunken bachelor parties running around degrading freedom of sexuality- I wanted a gay couple working and enjoying the life they had made for themselves, and having the freedom to do that without harassment or fear. Amsterdam has the capacity to give that to people, and I wanted to see more of it.

So this is what I’m trying to say. Duality makes things interesting, and dissonance when played correctly makes you think about important issues in life, like gender and sexuality and whether or not we as a society should have a problem with boys wearing in dresses and people of any gender selling sex. Amsterdam has created for itself a place where those issues can be addressed, and it does it without putting too much strain on anyone- but there’s a right way and a wrong way to wear a dress, I suppose. Are you doing it because you have made the personal choice to do a thing that makes you happy, or are you making fun of people for being different?

I Amsterdam

I Amsterdam

I want to go back. I want to go back and stay longer and in a different area where I can choose to continue people-watching in the Red Light District and try to understand what the tourists think is going to happen to them when they go there, but I also want to see more of the safe, accepting environment that the rest of the place seems to be.

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The Grand European Adventure: London Calling

Our adventure began and ended in London- but before I begin the epic that is England, let me give you an idea about my feelings for London:

I have, as souvenirs, obtained a London Underground mouse pad, coffee mug, and poster, a union jack scarf, english yarn from english sheep, english candy, and Many Many Pictures Of Everything.

So, you can imagine my excitement when London finally happened.

 

London was an adventure in three parts: the first section, the day we flew in, was that my sister Lillian and her friend Billy the British Paratrooper were going to pick us up from the airport. Heathrow has this big Arrivals hall where everyone comes out after passing through customs, and someone famous must have been flying in because there were all these teenage girls everywhere- a bunch of them yelled that they like my hair, which was pretty funny. We met up with Lill and Billy the British Paratrooper, and took off for the University of East Anglia, where they are studying. We never made it to school because there was an accident on the M11 involving a lorry, three cars, and a ‘horse box’ – and after being stuck in traffic for 3 hours the police told us to turn around on the highway and drive [on the American side of the road!!!] back the way we came. All the other ways to get back were blocked as well, so we gave up, exhausted and hungry but having had a good lesson on the colloquial differences between American English and British English- and also on the Cockney accent- and Billy the British Paratrooper was kind enough to show us around Essex, (a traditional carvery dinner, a pub, and some sheep painted on the ceiling of an underpass!!) and then let us crash in his house- but not before making us tea the authentic British way!

(Sorry that’s the grainiest photo known to man… selfies in the dark tend not to end well, but SHEEP.)

Not only was Billy kind enough to let us stay in his house and eat his breakfast, he also drove us back to the airport the next morning at 4am to catch our flight to Ireland. Because Billy is the best.

After Ireland, which I told you about in the previous post (If you haven’t read it, at least go back and look at the pictures, because Ireland is so beautiful and so green!), we flew back to London to continue our adventure there.

We took the tube from the airport to our hostel, which was about two blocks from King’s Cross station. The automated voice said ‘mind the gap’, and I had a Huge Nerd Moment about that- you can ask Aric, I was probably embarrassing. That is why I was giggling like a mad woman every time the doors opened and closed…

The first full day was another bus trip- this time to see Stonehenge and Bath:

Stonehenge- which is not, we were told, an actual henge...

Stonehenge- which is not, we were told, an actual henge…

Stonehenge is technically an archaeological site- so we couldn’t go all the way up to it- can’t disturb the fragile earth. Also I guess they’ve had problems with graffiti in the past. It is, however, kind of located on a hill, so it was easy to take pictures of just the stones and crop out most of the tourists surrounding them.

(I am also not ashamed of the number of selfies that happened at stonehenge)

(I am also not ashamed of the number of selfies that happened at Stonehenge)

It was surrounded by pastures full of sheep, and I consider it one of the greatest disappointments of my career as a photographer that I was not able to get both the sheep and Stonehenge in the same picture. I tried, though. Oh, how I tried. Also, my souvenir from Stonehenge is an eraser that just has the word ‘ROCKS’ on it in a huge point size- which I feel is an accurate description of what we saw there.

These English sheep have a wonderful view of Stonehenge.

These English sheep have a wonderful view of Stonehenge.

After not-an-actual-henge (actual henges have some kind of ditch dug around them that this one doesn’t have…I think), we continued on to Bath, where there is a cathedral that is built tall because the angels needed to climb down the ladders from heaven.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

D’you see the ladders? With the little stone angels climbing down? Also, check out those flying buttresses! The building there on the right is the entrance to the Roman Baths, which I’m getting to, I promise.

Another view of those flying buttresses, because they're awesome

Another view of those flying buttresses, because they’re awesome

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We had to avoid the on-and-off rain to take pictures, but it was totally worth it.

After exploring the city a bit, and having lunch at a place that boasted the city’s best baguettes, (they were really good… also we met a gentleman who wrote for the New York Times there, and he and his wife were hilarious) we took a tour of the Roman Baths.

This cool chandelier is not Roman, but it was there, and it was pretty...

This cool chandelier is not Roman, but it was there, and it was pretty…

The neat thing about the Baths, is that the museum lets you explore what’s left of the original Roman architecture, and gives you a pretty good idea of what it would have looked like back in the day. Check out this still-functioning drain, for example:

Roman architecture!

Roman architecture!

It still carries the leftover water from where it overflows from the baths into a very complex drainage system. How cool is that!

IMG_0845The main area had a lot of tourists crawling all over it, but this secondary area was empty. The baths aren’t in use anymore, but there is a spa nearby that still uses the spring water for treatments. At the end of the museum, there’s a fountain where you can try the water fresh from the spring. They really played up how it didn’t taste like normal water, and it was gross and all that- but I tried it and it wasn’t actually that bad. Just a very slight aftertaste, but nothing anyone shouldn’t be able to handle. Since the Romans thought it had magical healing properties (and maybe it does- it has a lot of very good for you minerals in it), I also tried washing my hands in it. There were no immediate changes, but apparently it takes a few days to take effect.. plus, I didn’t sacrifice anything to the Gods. It has, however, been two and a half weeks and my hands are behaving normally- so maybe there’s something to it after all.

IMG_0854Almost all of the buildings in Bath are built from this same kind of stone, but this was the only one we saw with a porous version of it- part of the process that the water goes through before it emerges from the hot spring, is that it is filtered through porous rock like this deep in the ground. It was really cool to see it used in the buildings as well, since it is so integral to the city.

After not enough time at all, we were on the bus headed back to London. It was a beautiful day, and we both agreed that five hours was not enough time for Bath. We would like to go back and spend a week or so there- it’s very laid back, and every inch is beautiful.

I'm very jealous of the view these sheep have. They don't even know how lucky they are.

I’m very jealous of the view these sheep have. They don’t even know how lucky they are.

We got back into London around 7 that evening, explored the portion of the Thames along which lies the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament.

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I cannot even explain to you how much I want to live here..

Going up in the Eye is expensive, but I think it’s just as pretty from the ground anyways.

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

We decided to stick around and watch the sun set over Big Ben and Parliament, because I knew that Big Ben would be lit at night, and I sort of assumed that Parliament would be too.

It is lit a little, I guess

It is lit a little, I guess…

It’s a lot darker than I expected. Maybe because we light the White House so intensely here, I was expecting the same of such an important British building. We didn’t get a chance to go see Buckingham Palace, so I don’t know how that is lit at night. Big Ben was beautiful anyways, though.

(And I didn't do half bad for not having a tripod with me...)

(And I didn’t do half bad for not having a tripod with me…)

The next day, we headed off to see the Tower of London- which is perhaps the biggest misnomer in British History. The Tower of London is a castle. Inside some walls, surrounded by a dry moat. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is very cool, and an excellent museum with lots of cool stuff- but a tower? A tower, it is not.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

There are soldiers stationed at the Tower still, but it has mostly been converted into a museum.

Tall Hats! We got to witness a changing of the guard. These guys are serious. I took a lot of photos, but most of them are crawling with tourists.

Tall Hats! We got to witness a changing of the guard. These guys are serious. I took a lot of photos, but most of them are crawling with tourists.

Rather than one big tour, it is separated up into multiple sections, where you can learn about such things as the Kings that lived and ruled there, the history of English currency, conquests, armor and weapons- and, of course, the crown jewels. The benefit of this is that you can pick and choose what you see- the problem is that you have to try really hard to make sure you don’t miss anything. We spent almost an entire day there. The crown jewels were awesome- even if they do put you on a people-conveyor so that you can’t stand around them…and even if they don’t let you take photos.

If not a tower, the walls were tall regardless

If not a tower, the walls were tall regardless

 

Tower Bridge (which is London Bridge if you’re actually from London) was right outside the Tower walls

 

Look! Not falling down!

Look! Not falling down!

There was a little exhibit up inside there, but we heard it wasn’t all that great, so we just took pictures instead. Many pictures.

To be fair, we weren't the only ones partaking in Epic Selfies.

To be fair, we weren’t the only ones partaking in Epic Bridge Selfies.

That day was also an interesting day for pink hair and fashion sense: I actually don’t know if it was the hair or the thigh-high argyle socks I was wearing, but I was glad I felt pretty okay with how I looked because people were staring. A lot. More than usual. Maybe it’s because that area is really touristy, but whatever it was, it was weird. I did observe a distinct lack of tall socks in England, though, and that’s not something I’m willing to give up. People are just going to have to stare, I guess.

If you’re ever in London, I highly suggest you spend a day at the British Museum: entrance is free, and it has the biggest collection of …stuff… that I have ever seen in one place. They have the Rosetta stone, rooms and rooms on ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Americas. As Billy puts it, “It’s a bunch of stuff that we stole!”- and that’s accurate. We stayed until close the first day, and then went back the day after.

Here’s my story about the British Museum, though- I was wandering around one of the Egypt rooms- looking at this really cool beaded burial shroud that included a description of the restoration process that it went through before it was displayed because that’s just the kind of nerd I am…. and this 12 or so year old kid walks up to me (right up to me. 3 feet away or so)- and he holds up his phone, and takes a picture of me! Flash and everything, it was completely the opposite of subtle. So I was just standing there, with my ‘this is really interesting museum face’ on, (my mouth was probably a little open, and there was probably a bit of Resting Bitch Face involved, because that is a thing that I do)- and the kid runs back to his group of perhaps 10 or 11 friends, and he holds up his phone and points at me! So of course, all his friends hold up their phones and start taking photos of me too! Flashes and everything. I wasn’t aware that my pink hair was going to make me part of the Egypt exhibit, but there are now a dozen British schoolchildren with most likely terrible photos of me on their phones, and they’re probably also on Facebook. It’s like being famous, but with none of the perks.

Anyways, pink hair adventures aside, the next stop was Abbey Road, so we could do The Walk…

The Abbey Road Crossing!

The Abbey Road Crossing!

This turned out to be a hilarious train wreck, because there were a bunch of other people there, and at zebra crossings it’s illegal to drive through if you even so much as see someone who might want to cross the road. So basically, all these people are standing with their toes in the crosswalk waiting for the cars to go by so they could do their walks, and all the cars are stopped, waiting for people to walk. It was a mess, but we timed our walks with lulls in the traffic, so there weren’t too many cars. In order for the photo to be from the right angle though, the photographer has to be out in the road as well- so although we did the walk, the photos aren’t quite right.

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Aric and Abbey Road

We also went and found both 221B Baker Streets- first the one on Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes, and now the Sherlock Holmes Museum,- and second, the one that is the filming location of BBC Sherlock- which is not on Baker Street at all. It is, however, really and actually the home of Speedy’s restaurant and cafe, where we had breakfast!

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It was a really tasty breakfast, too- Sherlock and John are so lucky.

We didn’t actually go into the Holmes museum, because it was expensive and I heard that it wasn’t all that great. It’s a huge admission of my nerd-dom that I can say with fair certainty that I probably already know everything that the Holmes museum had to tell anyways. Fact of the day: 221B Baker Street didn’t actually exist when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his stories- the street didn’t yet go down that far, so it was a made up address. Kind of like using 555- numbers in TV shows, I guess.

check out that constable too!

check out that constable too!

Also, here is a Very Important Picture of me knitting a recreation of Granny’s baby blanket on the London Underground at the Baker Street station:

and for this photo, I get the Golden Tourist Award. Case closed.

and for this photo, I get the Golden Tourist Award. Case closed.

And some Sherlocks:

The Baker Street tube station is covered in tiny Sherlock Holmeses. Some of them even make up bigger Sherlock Holmeses!

These grainy photos do not even begin to establish how excited I was about Baker Street- I don’t believe the words actually exist.

Everything about London in one photo, right here.

Everything about London in one photo, right here.

We found these phone booths on the way to the Transport Museum, which was awesome, especially since the history of London Transport is so interesting. Happy 151sth anniversary to the London Underground, wheee! I’m especially happy about the Underground sign in the background. The Transport Museum’s gift shop is where I got the aforementioned mousepad, mug, and poster. They also sold things made from the fabric that the seats on the tube trains are upholstered with- it’s called Moquette. Each line has its own unique pattern- my favorite was the Bakerloo line, which is kind of geometric honeycomb-esque. Aric said he’s more of a Central Line man, although it is distinctly possible that he was being facetious. Here’s a link if you want to check out the fabrics.

 

So that was London. After four short days there, we were on our way to Amsterdam. I wasn’t happy to leave, but I definitely plan to go back. There is one part left to the London Adventure that I’m going to include with Berlin, because it didn’t happen until the end of our trip. There have been negative opinions about the weather there, but it seems to me like the weather is specifically designed for fair skinned, easily-burnt people such as myself- plus it’s cool, and distinctly lacking in humidity. The accents are wonderful, the people are great. People-watching on the tube is second to none. Plus, they have great television. The tea is excellent, and scones there are much better than the scones anywhere else. Basically, London is the best, and I want to go back.

Keep watching this space for the Adventures in Amsterdam with Pink Hair.

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