During my freshman year of high school my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain. Her name was Patri. We were only a year apart, but at the time we were very different. I was a geeky bookworm, and Patri was bit of a wild child. It may not have always been easy living together, but after she left Patri and my family have never lost touch. Ten years ago when I studied abroad I went to visit Patri and her family in Valencia, Spain. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, and a couple years ago moved to Bristol, England. I knew I had to try to see her again on this trip, and she welcomed me to stay with her for a week.
As adults we have a lot more in common now and we had the best time reconnecting and hanging out on my visit. We are both yoga-lovers. Patri did her teacher training in India a few years ago and currently teaches at a few studios around Bristol. We have both become more in to politics and we enjoyed debating current topics. While on my trip I have loved getting to talk to people and hear international views on different topics. Patri and I bonded over food as well, with each of us being interested in more sustainable and responsible food production and consumer choices. We both also enjoy street art, and Bristol was a perfect place to be to appreciate some great pieces.
One day Patri lead me on a walking tour of Bristol and it’s different neighborhoods, with a specific eye out for street art and good food. It was great getting to see a different English city. I have visited London on several different occasions but up until then had never been to other points in England. Bristol is vastly smaller city which is very walkable. With two universities in town there is a large student and young professional population. It has an alternative vibe, with a lot of arts and activism. The animation studio Aardman, where Wallace and Gromit is made is in the city, which was neat to know as I have friends who work in stop motion.
The street art scene is huge, and Bristol plays host to several Banksy’s. The city has a yearly street art festival, with artists from all over the world converging on Bristol for a week of creativity. Together Patri and I had a great time seeking out some wonderful works of art. I also got the chance to take 2 yoga classes from Patri while I was there. It was the first time I'd taken a class since starting my trip and it was ever so nice. We also took some photos of Patri for her yoga website, and had a lot of fun doing it. I’m very happy to have visited Bristol, see the city, and most importantly, get to reconnect with Patri.
After London I was going to visit an old exchange student who now lives in Bristol. I realized that Stonehenge was roughly en route and therefore could not pass up the opportunity to go and see it.
On the bus out of London I listened to all my London related music: There She Goes, which was what played in The Parent Trap when she arrives in London, and the soundtrack from Bend It Like Beckham. Urban sprawl slowly turned into the English countryside, and eventually I made it the Stonehenge visitor’s center.
Since I was in transit I had all of my stuff with me: a camera equipment backpack, and a small carry-on sized wheeled bag. Easy to manage, but still a bit of a strange sight. Luckily there was no prohibition on bags on the grounds, but there was no place to store them and I had to have them with me at all times. So I was the slightly hilarious person who walked with her luggage around Stonehenge.
There is a historical exhibit at the visitor’s center which gives you context and a good base of what we know about Stonehenge and the surrounding earthworks. The site had many phases of construction which ranged from about 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. It's believed to be a ritual or ceremonial site, and is surrounded by different burial mounds and earthworks. The stones also line up with the summer solstice sunrise, and the winter solstice sunset.
I had heard so often from people that the stones weren't really that big and you couldn't get that close, and that really it was often a let down experience. So I went in with pretty low expectations and the mindset of getting to see some really interesting history. I was really pleasantly surprised then, because I found the stones pretty impressive, and at the end of the loop around the circle I felt like I still got to be quite close to the stones. It was really cool, and I was quite happy I had made the trek, even with all my stuff in tow.
I flew into the UK on April 11th to stay with my former DC roommate Sarah who now attends the London School of Economics. It was fantastic getting to see her again and catch up. When we lived together we bonded over Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and feminism and nothing has changed. We both gushed over the Harry Potter connections in London and soaked in all the wonderful Britishness of her new home. Sarah was in the midst of writing some major papers, so during the days I was on my own wandering the streets.
London is such a great city for street photography. The architecture, the traffic, the street art, but most importantly, the people. They’re everywhere and is such an awesome cross section of society. I loved people-watching and practicing my street shooting. Unsurprisingly I took a ton of photos, chasing the right timing, the right framing, the right focus, the right look from a stranger. So many things have to line up to get a good street photo, and I relished getting to practice.
I also used my time in London to seek out photography exhibits to both study them and seek inspiration. I found galleries, and museums to visit. There was a show on American documentary photographers and the difference between the 1930s style and the style that emerged in the 60s and 70s. I got to see a print of one of my Mom's favorite photographs, the one that got her into photography in the first place, Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Comparing the work of depression era photographers to the quirky, offbeat captures of the hippie era was really fascinating. I liked aspects of both styles. Another show looked at the history of gender presentation, cross dressing and the transgender community since the beginning of photography. One exhibit followed Monsanto, the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company, and it's impact on farming, especially small farmers. That is a topic I am really interested in, and I liked seeing how Mathieu Asselin, the photographer approached the subject. He used photography along with mixed media to tell his story. There were television clips, seeds framed and hung on the wall, and farming documents.
I visited the National Portrait Gallery as well. They had a section on the development of different photographic techniques with stunning examples. Seeing that there were examples of women photographers who helped push the artistic use of photography for portraiture was really great. The collection included some early color photography techniques which were lovely and etherial. I also soaked in the all the paintings throughout the gallery. For my sister I went and visited Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Lastly there was the exhibit dedicated to the centennial of women winning the right to vote. All my visits to the museums and exhibits were motivating both artistically and personally.
Keeping on the theme of taking in the arts, I spent one night at the theater. The play I saw was called “The Ferryman” and was set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It was so, so good. I laughed, I cried and it stayed with me after I left.
I also spent a lot of time seeking out street art mainly in and around Shoreditch. It was fun to go and appreciate it as art, and to try to incorporate pieces into my street photography. From Shoreditch I took a double decker to Borough Market. I got the best seat right in the front row on the top deck, it's my favorite way to see the city. After strolling the market I made my way to Tower Bridge, walked along the Thames and back over Millennium Bridge. This lets out right at the Tate Modern, and seeing as it's free I had to go in. I love being able to enjoy and take advantage of museums.
My last night in London I went out with Sarah, and one of our other former DC roommates Jessica, who now also lives and works in London. We had a great time getting a few drinks and talking the night away.
Even though it was a fairly quick trip to London, it was so much fun. And I took an impressive amount of photos, even for me.
After a lovely time in the French countryside, Albine and I headed to her second home of Nantes. Her apartment is above a café in a cute neighborhood on a hill. From there we were easily able to walk to the city center.
We spent our days meandering the French streets, with me stopping often for photos, and Albine finding this very amusing. She started taking pictures of me taking pictures, and I would love to see this collection.
Albine was an excellent guide, always thinking of where to go next and what to see. I just let her lead me as we talked the day away. We walked around the grounds of the Château des ducs de Bretagne, a castle in the middle of the city. Albine told me the story of Anne of Brittany who was Duchess of Brittany in the late 1400s. She is celebrated even today as a guardian of Brittany, who defended it's sovereignty from France even, or perhaps because of, being the queen consort of France. Albine said it depends on who you ask and where that person is from if they think Nantes is part of Brittany. It is on the cusp, and apparently is a popular topic to dispute.
We saw the Nantes Cathedral and walked around the Île de Nantes. Everything was lovely and I enjoyed just being in the city with my friend.
Knowing me well, Albine took us to the coolest place to eat in the city, a brasserie called Le Cigale originally established in 1895. It is an ornately decorated building, with an interior so opulent it was like being in a painting. I had hot chocolate and a decadent chocolate caramel tart. The whole experience felt luxurious and indulgent, it was such a treat.
On my last day we made sure to go to a crêpe restaurant. I had both savory and sweet with a drink of cider, which I learned was the traditional accompaniment for crêpes. My savory crêpe was ham and cheese with a mushroom cream sauce, and the sweet was the simple and classic butter and sugar. They were delicious.
The whole trip flew by, but it was such a delight to spend time with such a wonderful friend in her beautiful home country.
When I moved to DC I met Albine at a Meetup and we quickly became friends. She is a fun, intelligent person and we can talk for hours. When she graduated with her masters though, she moved back to France. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to see her again in April this year and have a local host in her beautiful country.
Albine splits her time between Niort and Nantes for work. We started my visit in Niort, a lovely old town, and Albine's hometown. The first few days we actually took some day trips to surrounding towns. Day one we went to the coastal town of La Rochelle, one of Albine’s favorite places. She says it always feels like a vacation, and she was absolutely right. It's gorgeous and the smell of the saltwater adds a relaxing atmosphere to the already laid back French vibes.
That night we were discussing the genealogy research I had been doing. Albine wanted to know if I had any French ancestry and I remembered finding someone very far back. I went to look at my research and found on my paternal grandmother’s side, an 8th great-grandfather named Nicolaus de la Peine who was born in Bressuire, France in 1635. I tried very poorly to pronounce Bressuire, and once Albine finally figured out what I was saying she got super excited. Bressuire was only an hour away! We are going, she decided, and I happily obliged. So day two was spent visiting Bressuire, which happened to have a lovely palace. On the way back to Niort we also visited the village of Marais Poitevin, which is built around canals. It was a lovely day of wandering old streets and lively conversation.
We spent a few days in Niort, wandering the streets, eating at cafés and hanging out with her friends. It was a wonderful time.
The only other time I had been to France was when I was 16. It was so nice getting to go back as an adult, and to have a local friend show me around, (and order for me in French.) This time I was completely enchanted with France. It is so beautiful! I took so many pictures, even for me, haha. There were so many sparks of inspiration. And there was more to come. When the weekend came we headed to Albine's second home, in Nantes. Stay tuned for that in my next post!
I flew out of Oslo to end my Norway stint, which meant I got one last day in the city. With my time there I visited to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It is a collection of buildings saved and relocated to the museum from all over the country, and it was an amazing way to look at the history of Norway. The buildings are grouped into mini communities based on time and location. Everything from 1600s farm buildings, to 1800s suburban houses, to 1900s apartments, to a stave church from the 1100s. By being able to see and walk around inside the structures, which have been dressed with period artifacts, you could get an amazing window into the lives of everyday people. Each new room transported you to a different time. I particularly liked comparing how kitchens evolved because I love food history in general.
There was some last wandering of the streets. I went back and re-shot one of my favorite pieces of street art from the trip thus far: an anit-neo-nazi graffiti. While walking back to my hostel one last time I happened to look across the street just in time to see a little statue on the sidewalk. It was a cast of the Fearless Girl statue that had originally appeared opposite the Charging Bull statue in New York City, which I had gone to photograph last year. "What are you doing here friend?" I literally said out loud as I crossed the street. There are apparently several casts of the statue on display in different cities. What a perfect coincidence to stumble upon it, made all the more sweet with the fact that I was currently a solo woman traveler. She gave me a little bit of silent encouragement and motivation. On to more travel!
After Bergen I headed north along the coast to the tiny village of Vevring. It's about a third of the way up the country, perched at the bottom of a mountain on the edge of the Førdefjorden. The village has one shop, one post office and one elementary school with a total of 12 students.
While there, I got to know a local family. Dagmar, her boyfriend Stein-Torald and their daughter Viktoria live on Dagmar's sheep farm a little outside the village, in a little neighborhood called Stall Gryta. Dagmar's father, Magnar, lives in his childhood house, which is the next farm over and also where Dagmar grew up. The road and tunnels that lead to Vevring from Stall Gryta were built in the mid 1960s. Before that a boat was the main form of transportation instead of cars. The closest shop in the days before the road was directly across the fjord and so Magnar and his family frequented that village more than Vevring. It was interesting seeing how much a road can impact the lives and lifestyles of a community.
When she was 19, Dagmar bought her neighbor's farm and has been a farmer ever since. She now has a collection of sheep, goats, cows, ponies and horses. Both the sheep and cows are a mix of more rare breeds. Dagmar is trying to make her money off of only breeding and supplying these rare animals to other farmers instead of raising them for meat. She would also like to sell the natural colored wool from the old sheep breeds. As a knitter, it was great getting to know the sheep and understand the origins of wool. I even got to see the sheering of the sheep. I look forward to being able to buy rare wool from Dagmar and her beautiful sheep. Her relationship with them is really lovely. She really cares for them, and they obviously adore her.
While in Vevring the village celebrated Carnival and I got the chance to join in. Norwegians, I found, are a lighthearted people with a love of humor and having fun. The small community hall was decked out in a healthy dose of paper decorations and lights. Everyone was dressed in costume, and voted on which was the best. There was dancing and singing and general revery.
Before leaving the village I visited the Ausevika Rock Carvings, which are 3000 years old. There are over 300 of these ancient artworks sprawled across a section of rock right along the water. Deer, spirals and humans are all depicted and still clearly visible when not covered by earth. Unfortunately those that you can see are exposed to the elements and thus in danger of eroding away. There hasn't been enough money raised to build a structure over the rocks to protect them for future generations. Hopefully that will happen sometime in the future.
I left Vevring the day after Easter and traveled back across the country to leave Norway after spending more than 2 months there.
From Bergen I took a day trip into the mountains of the surrounding area. It started with a train ride and then bus to the tiny town of Gudvangen at the end of Nærøyfjord. I enjoyed some delicious Norwegian waffles flavored with cardamom and topped with strawberry jam.
From there I took a ferry through the Nærøyfjord and then on down the adjacent Aurlandsfjord. It was freezing and breezy on board but I was out on deck nearly the entire 2 hours, only going back inside for quick de-thawing stints. Being on the water was magical. The view was breathtaking, with the steep mountains jutting up out of the icy water. The ferry stopped at a couple amazingly remote villages along the way, which I loved getting to see. We traveled to the end of the second fjord, and finally docked at the town of Flåm.
The next leg of the journey was in a vintage train through the mountains to the town of Voss. The retro orange-y train interior was just as much a part of the delightful experience as was the spectacular view out the windows. We snaked high up into the peaks and back down. I loved being able to sit there and soak up the wild landscape. A final train ride from Voss back to Bergen finished off the wonderful day.
After leaving Grimstad I was back to traveling solo and headed to the west coast city of Bergen. This port town was founded in the 1000s and has always been an important center of trade for Norway. You can still see the old wharf houses, known as Bryggen, stand along the harbor painted in yellows, reds and whites, which are now a World Heritage site.
On my first evening I walked to the harbor from my hostel. I found an indoor market that sold mainly seafood and settled in right by the big windows overlooking the water for dinner. I had a salmon sandwich with lemon and aioli. It was super simple, but probably my favorite meal in Bergen. So fresh and so tasty.
The next day I visited the Bergenhus Fortress which stands at the entrance to the harbor. This was the location of the historical royal complex as well as military fortifications to protect the city. Bergen was once the capital of Norway and thus the seat of the king. I was able to enter Haakon's Hall, built around 1260, and used by the monarch for large gatherings. The wooden ceiling and roof have been reconstructed after the structure was damaged by a ship explosion in the harbor during World War II. I had the whole Hall all to myself for a time and it was incredible. What a powerful presence the space had, it was easy to imagine the feasts of Norwegian nobility taking place on the stones I stood on.
I also visited the Fortress Museum, which is entirely about the military history of Bergen and Norway as a whole. There was an incredible exhibit there about the underground resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. Bergen was the heart of the resistance movement during the time, probably due to it's historically close ties to the UK through shipping routes. I spent a long time reading about the people who risked and sometimes gave their lives. There was a group who worked with the British Secret Intelligence Service forming a radio chain along the coast to pass along information of German construction, weapons and troop movements. Up until the D-Day invasion in France, Hitler had thought that an invasion via Norway was most likely and the German presence along the coast was continually built up and heavily fortified.
After the museums I slowly made my way through the twisting hillside streets of the city, taking in the architecture and street art of which the city has a really amazing collection of. For golden hour I rode the Fløibanen Funicular, a steep one track train, up to the top of the Fløyen Mountain overlooking the city. The view was stunning, as was the walk down.
Finally, I had dinner along the Bryggen at the restaurant Stuene. The fish was fresh and the atmosphere was cozy. Then I headed to bed to get ready for my day trip into the mountains the next day.
Dan and I spent some time in the southeast of Norway, around the little town of Grimstad. It's a lovely village built into the hills and right on the coast. The tangle of streets and old houses are fun to get lost in, and with the sun staying low in the sky during the winter there is always a nice soft light to shoot in. As you can imagine I had a good time there with my camera.
I got to experience some beautiful snowfalls while in the area, and went on hikes with my camera both during and after. Winter, and especially snow, has always been one of my favorite things, so I relished the chance to be in such a gorgeous winter landscape.
During my time in Grimstad I got to know a Norwegian couple, Eva and Per Christian and their kids, who were living on their family farm in a house built by their ancestors in the 1840s. The house was something like a living time capsule, with many layers added throughout the years. All the little details were amazing. From the original door, now resting inside as decoration, to the old salt box in the kitchen that was still used everyday. It was like getting two windows into Norway, one past and one present.
Finally we made our way to Norway, where I planned to spend the following 2 months and Dan just one month. As a sort of introduction to Norway we started in the capital of Oslo.
It was the end of January, and beautifully cold and white. There was a bit of ice though, and we had to tread carefully at times. That didn't stop us from walking all over the city. The first night there we visited the famous Oslo Opera House, right on the harbor. It's a beautiful modern building, with large glass windows on ground level and white stone on top. The roof is open to the public to explore, and I loved seeing people's shadows thrown against the clean lines of the structure. Inside the lobby we found some crazy modern walls in a diamond pattern, lit from behind, which I enjoyed taking a few photos of Dan in front of.
The next day we stood in line to get a spot in one of the free tours available of the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting. It's a unique building made of yellow brick with a beautiful interior. There are so many ornate details, on all the doors, covering the ceiling, everywhere you look. Our tour guide was also hilarious and told us great stories.
We learned about why coats are not permitted in the building, (we had to leave ours in a secure entrance room.) The general public are allowed into a viewing area during parliament debates. During one of these debates a group of protesters let loose a group of pigeons, having smuggled them in in their coats. Most of the birds were captured, but one perched on the chandelier in the middle of the chamber and stubbornly refused to move. It was decided that the bird would have to be gotten rid of by shooting it, which they did. Only the bird didn't fall off the chandelier. Not wanted to delay the debate any longer they pressed on, the dead bird suspended above them, which proceeded to drip blood. Everyone tried to ignore this, until it dripped right onto a member of parliament. The debate was canceled for the day, and coats were banned from the building.
We saw the lego model of the Storting, and the little group of lego protesters standing in front of it, complete with signs. As it turns out, no one knows who put the little protesters there, they just appeared one morning. No one has claimed to have done it, and in a wonderful move, the government has decided to let them stay. There are often protests in front of the actual building which can be easily heard in the parliament chambers and it seems like a good overall representation.
There was a real protest going on in front of the Storting when we exited. It was another protest in support of the Kurdish people. I took a few photos and then we moved on. We walked through Frogner Park, which contains hundreds of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Some were fascinating, some were strange, but overall the park was really lovely.
The last thing we did in Oslo was visit museums. We went and saw the Viking Ship Museum which contains three burial ships. I was thrilled to learn that one of the ships was used for the burial of a woman, who would obviously have had an important standing within her community to warrant such a commemoration. The intricate detailing done on all the wooden artifacts found at these archeological sights are amazing and I couldn't stop gazing at them. We also visited the Historical Museum which contained, among other things, more Viking era artifacts.
After that great into to Norway we set off to explore more of the country. Stay tuned for both more blog posts and photo essay stories about the people and places I met along the way.
Inside the Storting
While in Frankfurt, Dan and I took a day trip to Heidelberg. Our bus left at 6 in the morning, and that proved to be a really rather early start to our day. We got the front seat on the second floor of the double-decker, and I thought I would watch the countryside go by. Instead I definitely fell asleep. Regardless, we made it to the town of Heidelberg. We walked through the modern section and into the old town. It is a gorgeous town, and I loved finding all the hidden little details, and seeing the statues perched on building corners.
At the far end of town is a steep hill, and perched on top of it is Heidelberg Castle. It is mostly in ruins after different waves of destruction, including lightning strikes and the 30 Years War. It is free to walk the large grounds and gardens, which are beautiful and offer stunning views of the town and river below. For an entrance fee you can visit the inner courtyard and take a tour of what structures still stand or have been rebuilt. Our tour guide was very passionate, and I enjoyed learning about the castle and it's history. One of its occupiers, Frederick V, accepted the crown of Bohemia from the Protestants, against the will of the Holy Roman Empire and thus started the 30 Years War. All in all, the city and castle made a great day trip from Frankfurt, and we were back just in time for dinner.
After our quick stop in Hannover to visit Julian, Dan and I were off to Frankfurt to visit his friend Tim. Yes, that's right, the second German Tim of the trip. Dan was thrilled to get to visit with his friend from a dance intensive they both attended a few years ago. We got an evening tour of the city from Tim and his boyfriend Sydney, and we had a really fun time talking and socializing.
At one point during our walk we came across a protest of Germany supplying tanks to Turkey used against Kurdish fighters. I of course immediately took off to the center of the crowd, to the mild concern of everyone else. It had been a couple months since I had been around any protests, and I really missed documenting them. That wasn't our intent for the evening so I had to move on fairly quickly.
The two evenings we spent in Frankfurt were lovely. What I enjoyed most was our dinner the second night. I got a potato dumpling ball, stuffed with pork, on top of cabbage with gravy. It was delicious. To accompany it we had the traditional Frankfurt apple wine, Apfelwein, which was tart and refreshing. I would happily have either again.
In 2008 my family hosted an exchange student from Germany named Julian. Flash forward to the present and he now lives outside of Hannover. While I was in Germany I had to stop by to see him, and it gave me the chance to see the city for a day.
Hannover was extensively bombed during WWII, and the effects of that are still very present. The first evidence of the destruction was found a block from our hostel. A church that had been hit has been left in ruins as a memorial. Without a roof it opens to the heavens, vines crawl up the walls and sculptures stand guard. It was powerful and haunting to walk through.
We continued through the fairly modern city, eventually making our way to Old Town. It's a lovely collection of old German buildings along winding streets. These too are a hidden reminder of the destruction of the war. While these are all original structures, they are not in their original locations. The few buildings across the city that were left after the war were all relocated into one neighborhood to create what is now known as Old Town. It was strange and fascinating to think of that as I wandered the streets.
The last thing we saw before heading to dinner with Julian was the Holocaust Memorial, dedicated to the about 6,800 Jews of Hannover that were sent to the ghetto and then on to concentration camps. It was a stark square sculpture with an empty center, engraved with names of local victims.
We ended the night on a much lighter note, hanging out with Julian, eating schnitzel and drinking beer. It was great to see Julian and catch up. The next day we were on the move again, this time to Frankfurt.
While in Berlin, Dan and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Wittenberg, the location of the start of the Reformation, which was just 45 minutes away by train. Dan had grown up Lutheran so he was very excited to get to visit the house where Luther lived and the church where he allegedly nailed his 95 Theses. As a history lover I was thrilled to personally see this piece of history.
The house museum was really well done. Much of the structure has been restored to reflect what the layout would have been during Luther's lifetime, and his study has been restored to showcase extensive wall paintings that date from the end of his life. The exhibit that runs throughout the house gives you a thorough history of Luther's entire life and context of the time. There are manuscripts, paintings, books, furniture and other artifacts, all excellently contextualized. If you get the chance to visit I highly recommend it.
As night fell we walked through the sleepy little town. It was Sunday night and nothing was open, but the atmosphere was still beautiful. At the opposite end of town is the church where custom holds that Luther nailed his theses. The original structure that Luther would have seen during the 1500s was partially burned down during the Seven Years' War in 1760. So the original wooden door that could possibly have been where the nailing happened no longer exists. However the church is beautiful and imposing at the end of the main street.
I have always been fascinated with street art. I love how it is so connected to the urban experience, how it can be used to give commentary on society, how it can beautify a neighborhood, and how it is art for the masses. Street art is an important modern form of expression, not to be overlooked or underestimated.
Berlin is packed with street art. Everything from tags, stencils, paper, stickers, and murals, some for the beauty, some for laughs, many for making social and political commentary. They layer on top of one another, creating a rich texture, something greater than the sum of it's parts. There is street art everywhere in Berlin, but the neighborhood of Kreuzberg where I first stayed has a high concentration. I really enjoyed exploring it's streets and taking in the art.
The East Side Gallery, a stretch of still intact Berlin Wall, is the longest open-air gallery in the world. There are over 100 paintings by artists who originally painted them just after the fall of the wall, and they comment on the political climate at the time. There have been additions by others, continuing to connect and comment on current world problems. It's a fascinating piece of history and current culture.
East Side Gallery
Elsewhere in Berlin
I arrived to a very cold and rainy Berlin, but a very warm group of new friends and one old one. My friend Dan was also doing some long term travel in Europe and we met up to start our respective trips together.
Immediately upon checking into our hostel in Kreuzberg we made a friend. Chanel, a college professor from New Jersey (who finished her Phd just after this trip, woo!) was in our same room and we instantly all hit it off. She is a frequent solo traveler who has an incredible ability to take in all the advantages of the places she visits. We set out sightseeing together the next morning amidst precipitation that couldn't decide if it wanted to be rain or snow.
It happened to be snow when we wandered through the moving Holocaust Memorial. The stone slabs that appear so unassuming from the outside, slowly grow taller and taller as you make your way through them. They swallow you up, cut you off from the city and easily make you loose your companions in their maze. It was an impressive memorial, and a very effective thought-provoker.
In what was now rain, we visited the East Side Gallery, the longest stretch of of the Berlin Wall still intact, which is an incredible collection of street art. I will have a whole post just on the street art from Berlin, so more on that later.
The next day Chanel left Berlin, but we have stayed in touch. Dan and I got to spend time with his friend from college Gabriel and her German boyfriend Tim. We stayed at their beautiful apartment in Mitte, on a street that used to have the Wall going right down it. They took us out for some delicious German food where I got pork, red cabbage and this wonderful breadcrumb ball. We had a lovely breakfast spread with them on Sunday morning, with rolls, cheeses, meats, and tomatoes. Apart from the excellent German food, Tim who is an great cook, made us lasagna one night, and we went out for Chinese dumplings another.
The few days we stayed with Gabriel and Tim were spent wandering the city. We visited the Pergamon Museum, and saw the Ishtar Gate. We went to an exhibit of Pete Souza, the official White House photographer for Obama, which felt a little funny to go to Germany to see photos of an American President, but it was so worth it. We went by Checkpoint Charlie where my grandparents, like so many other American tourists, had crossed between the West and the East. But mostly we just took in the city. Thoroughly covering it by foot and by the U-ban. I loved taking in all the interesting details and small moments. I also for some reason could not get enough of the TV tower and took an exorbitant amount of pictures of it.
Even with the wet and cold weather I totally enjoyed Berlin and was happy to have it kick off my new experiences on the trip.
Amsterdam was the perfect city to start my year of traveling Europe. I landed on January 15th, 2018, almost exactly 10 years to the day from the first time I arrived in the city for my study abroad program. It felt right to begin here again. A nice easing in to my year of new places and experiences.
The first day it poured. I was still recovering from the flu and I was jet-lagged. Excellent combination right? But my trip was finally beginning! So running on a little adrenaline I still went out to explore and get my bearings, sans-camera though. The city glistened under the rain, and was just as magical as I remembered. After getting Asian food (because it was close to my hostel and I was so tired), I managed to keep myself up until 9pm and then promptly fell asleep.
Luck was on my side the second day and it was beautifully blue skied. I spent the day wandering the winding streets, crossing canal bridges, avoiding getting run over by bicycles and, of course, taking pictures. As the afternoon crept towards evening and I was thinking that I should head to my one chosen museum of the day, my camera battery died. It was the perfect reminder to always have my backup batteries on me, and a great excuse to finally visit the Rembrandt House Museum.
As a history and art lover I really enjoyed the museum. To be able to walk in the spaces that the artist lived and worked in was such a cool experience. It gave some insight to the artist himself and the society that he was a part of. I also really loved seeing how a seventeenth century kitchen was stocked and laid out. That's the food history nerd in me showing through there.
After stopping at my hostel for a new battery, I headed out to re-find a bar I had passed earlier that day. It was the only place I had seen a sign for Brand beer. That was the kind of beer on tap at the local bar in Well, the Netherlands, where I had studied abroad. I succeeded in finding the bar and proceeded to have a tomato soup and a delicious Sylvester Brand beer. During my study abroad we knew the 2 available beers only as "the dark" or "the light" beer, so I was happy to finally put an actual name to the dark beer. It did not disappoint my memory, and it was the best way to end my little stay in the city I had loved a decade ago.
The next day I walked to the train station and said goodbye to Amsterdam. Over the next 6 hours I slowly watched the Dutch countryside turn into the German countryside and prepared for the first new city of my trip.
Next up: Berlin. Stay tuned.
On January 14th of this year I boarded a plane bound for Europe, carrying nothing but my camera bag, a small suitcase and no return ticket. Just over a month before I had packed up my life and moved out of DC where I had been living for the past 4 years. I'm so glad I got to spend the time I did in DC but it was time for a new city and a new direction. Before that happens though my things will stay in storage while I travel for a year.
I am spending time getting to know places, their cultures and the people who call those places home. I will be staying for long stretches in each country I choose, and getting the chance to work on some self-assigned photography projects at the same time. Pushing my storytelling, my aesthetics and my craft as a whole.
The beginning of the trip, though, was 2 weeks of purely sightseeing. After landing in the familiar city of Amsterdam I headed to Germany, somewhere new for me, to explore the cities of Berlin, Wittenberg, Hannover, Frankfurt, and Heidelberg. From there it was on to Oslo to start the Norway leg of my trip. I will be spending 2 months here in Norway documenting the people that I meet, the landscapes, the architecture, and the food. After that I will continue on to the UK, Ireland, and the Czech Republic before heading back to the States just in time for Christmas.
So stay tuned for lots of new posts as I document my adventures this year!
Bye bye DC! Last picture as I left town.
My send off at the airport from Mom and Dad.
To say the least, 2016 has been a rough year for the world on many fronts. Throughout this crazy year though, I was lucky enough to be witness to a lot of love. Five different friends, from all different parts of my life got married this year. As 2016 comes to a close, I want to look back on the good as I prepare for a new year.
Happy New Year everyone, and here's to love.
My sister got engaged! Almost 2 years ago, haha. I'm a little slow with my posts, I know. She and her fiancé will be married on January 21, 2017. So before they are no longer engaged, and are actually married, I wanted to post the engagement pictures I took of them last fall. Matt was loving enough to put up with Kristine and me with our photography antics. Here is the result!
And now for everyone's entertainment, some bloopers!
The day after the close of the Democratic National Convention, which had left me tired and feeling more pessimistic than usual, I learned that Hillary was having a rally fairly close to where I was staying with my sister. So I hopped on the train and went. It was a great experience. Here were the supporters I had been missing during the convention. Here was a real cross section of the US. And also, here was lots of hopeful, positive energy. I needed it.
Other than the fact that I had my knitting in my purse and the security guards would not let them in, which I don't blame them for (I left my knitting with organizers just outside the door), I had no trouble getting in. I most enjoyed the people-watching. There was such a diverse turnout. So many women, lots of young girls. People of all religions, colors, orientations and backgrounds. The melting pot of America, I loved it. I took as many pictures of the audience as I could, finding wonderful subjects. It was also a neat experience to get to see Hillary and Tim, and hear them speak.
While in Philly for the DNC I turned my lens on the city and it's people. There was yoga on the lawn in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and guys singing on the street. There was a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The interpreter who read the Declaration was great, got the small crowd involved and gave context. Plus it was free, everyone should go and hear it. Philly was in the middle of an impressive heat wave and so there were a lot of people, both young and old, finding relief in different fountains.
I chased the light and the perfect moment.
After the RNC in Cleveland I thought the DNC in Philly would be a breeze. It turned out to be much harder on me than the RNC though. A breeze would have been nice for a start. It was amazingly hot and more importantly incredibly humid. Just stepping outside got beads of sweat rolling down your temples, let alone trying to walk around the city and photograph. The weather drained any energy you might have had.
Then there were the protesters. In Cleveland there had been a variety, from left and right and everything in between. There seemed to be only one kind in Philly: Bernie or Bust folks. And they were spewing just as much hate towards Hillary as the right had in Cleveland. Most were advocating for Bernie or another third party candidate. It was even harder to be around this than even the Trump supporters in Cleveland, when these protesters in Philly generally shared similar world views as me, or were in other words liberally minded as well.
I know they are angry with a broken system, which is amazingly valid, but they seemed to be forgetting every US History class that covered an election. Since, for all intents and purposes, we do have a two party system, any time a third party candidate has played a part it has undermined the side of the political spectrum they fall on. You can't fix a flawed system from the top down, and definitely not in one or two election cycles. I wish these people would take their passion to the local, then state, then federal level. Electing officials from the ground up. Voting for a third party candidate this presidential election, or by simply not voting at all, will hand this election to Trump. And that quite frankly terrifies me. I'm not even saying Hillary is the "lesser of two evils" as so many have. I think she is a hugely qualified public servant, who has always worked for women's rights which I hold quite dear, and I think her world views are similar to mine. Whereas Trump could not be further away from those views.
I had meant to simply document the convention, and not give much of my personal political views, but I felt this gave context to my photos. That is all my opinions are there for, context, not to start a debate. By the end of the convention I had turned my camera on the city of Philly instead of the protesters, because I simply didn't have the energy, both physical and mental, to deal with them. My next post will be those photos of the city and it's people.
The RNC came to Cleveland, so I went home to document. I was fearful, along with the majority of Cleveland and perhaps the nation, that this could turn disastrous and violent. With the history of violence at Trump rallies, and the ever more heated battle of this election cycle it seemed too easy for a spark to ignite in Cleveland. I am happy to report though that Cleveland still stands and the protests there were, on the whole, peaceful.
Experiencing a convention in my hometown was fascinating. I loved seeing people being able to voice their opinions and grievances, and it seemed that protesters hailed from all parts of the political spectrum. There were Trump supporters, gun supporters, women's rights groups, Muslim activists, anarchists, anti-Trump protesters, anti-police brutality protesters, pro-capitalist supports, even satirical protesters with signs like "God Hates Signs." There were people from all walks of life, and they all converged on Public Square.
Also with a hugely significant presence were the media, and law enforcement. Of all the people out in downtown Cleveland, about a third were protesters and the general public, and then easily a third were the media, and the last third was law enforcement.
Overall, while there was a lot of anger from all different sides, there seemed to be more calls for love, understanding and acceptance than anything else. While there were a lot of protests, there was also a lot of great human things going on. People playing ping pong on Public Square. A man making bubbles which turned adults into smiling wide-eyed children-at-heart. A band playing on the side of the street. A woman hugging police officers. A dance troupe which performed on the grass with huge bird puppets flying in the wind.
I came away from the week feeling surprisingly positive. I had seen our first amendment rights in action, and it had been peaceful. I felt proud of Cleveland and all the people who protested, especially for those who took a stand for love.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.