Time To Go

Thank you for being on the other side of this computer screen. It has meant more than you know.

… in a bit!

from the beginning: http://wp.me/p1LfsV-5

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UNESCO’s Got Bruges

Believe all good things you hear about Bruges (Brugge). The city was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 and it more than deserves the title.

I took the Belgian train from Brussel Centraal right into Bruges on Sunday. It takes about an hour. The first 15 minutes give you an elevated glimpse of Brussels’ buildings, kind of like legos they way they mount one another, their roofs creating a beautifully-crooked line against the sky.

In a blink, you’re coasting through the countryside. Vast farmland – green and dotted with sheep, cows, and birds – is neatly divided by old fences and lines of trees. The sky is so big – so big that you can see where one type of weather starts and another stops. I could tell when we’d enter the rain (I didn’t know it would turn to snow) and I could see sun on the other side even while we were still under the clouds. It was a day of and for walking around. The sky was blue like some sort of lollipop or popsicle. When you weren’t listening to the holiday music hanging in the air, or overhearing people gush about the chocolate shops (I heard one woman say “It’s like a Giant. Chocolate. Santa Claus.”), the clip-clop, clip-clop of horse drawn carriages taps pleasantly at your ears. The spirit puts a little pep in your step. You do join a parade of tourists as you get off the train and take the first steps into the city – but UNESCO said Bruges was beautiful. Something would be wrong if there weren’t tourists. That said, the amazement of everyone at the beauty of this town is palpable, even between strangers. It is proof that people’s physical surroundings affect them. All of us walking around, sharing carriage rides, chocolate truffle samples, we were all affected by this Bruges city. Bound together instantly by the atmosphere of a place. Natural endorphins born of the impromptu creation of Community. Places matter. Places make a difference. And places need protecting. (three cheers for Bruges)

Hey, Berlin

Last weekend was a Berlin treat! It was freezing, but the Christmas Markets saved the day (every day). There are about 100 markets open all over the city right now. The glow from their white, twinkling lights is visible from trains and sidewalks and when you’re stepping up from the subway. Nutcrackers of every shape … Continue reading

The Scottish Hills

On the Sunday before last, I was lucky enough to be coasting through the Highlands of Scotland. It was green as can be, except for periodic dustings of snow. I’ve never been one for tours – or, at least I didn’t think I was. Steve turned me around. He was our tour guide and the … Continue reading

In the Land of Wool

Oh, boy.

There is London and there is Rome. There is Vienna and New York City, Berlin and Brazil, Copenhagen and New Zealand and there is Switzerland and Sweden and Singapore and Seoul. There is Paris. (there is detroit, too).

I fell hard for Scotland.

I fell as much for the hilly stone streets as I did for the tartan wool blankets, as much for the small art shops as for
those beautifully ancient castles. But it’s the people I love most. I knew it from the second I put one foot on the bus (“Excuse me, this goes to the city center, right?” “Well done, well done,” he said with the most charming grin. The
name of the bus is Airport-to-City). I’m as weary of superlatives as I am of generalizations, but the Scottish, man. They’re something special. Each encounter, male or female, young or old – they’ve all got a twinkle in their eye, an easy laugh at the ready, never hesitating behind a kind, guiding word. They are full of joy, a bit different than happy. They seem to have joy in them, like a thing they carry around with intention.

And as for those castles, they command your attention, you know. And you listen obediently. You stop in the street, let your arms go limp at your sides, and you gaze up. Awe-struck and giddy, but silently so because the majestic-ness of it all leaves you without a voice.

Scotland is a country that knows how to do ‘cozy’ well. Really, really well. I know it has to be just beautiful in warmer months, but there was something in the air this weekend. A chill, yes. (Look! A Sunday morning surprise)

But inside the air – inside that chill – there were sparks of energy, fine-tuned … those brisk, short winds that hit your eyelids when you walk out onto the sidewalk. The slick sound of skates on ice, of Nat King Cole’s voice singing to you near the Ferris Wheel, of a letter to Santa sliding into the big metal mailbox. In the center of the Christmas Market, in the center of Edinburgh, with the sun up high and the Castle over your head, Scottish cold’s got magic. 

But cold needs cozy. This meant seeking out warm spots for breakfast, with pies, pastries, and porridge on the menu.
Oh, how I fell for porridge.

It means warming your hands around a clay mug of mulled wine or warm whiskey… what about the Hot Buttered kind? Whiskey with spiced butter batter? Or, Hot Bannockburn? Whiskey, Ruby Port, Baked Oranges studded with Cloves, Nutmeg, Ginger, & Allspice? That’s a direct quote from the menu. The steam twists in the air above your mug, the spices dance on the tip of your nose, and the slow sips warm your soul.

And it means picking a pub that’s quiet on the outside and bustling on the inside, Scottish beats audible from the street. And if it’s called The Beehive Inn, twist the door knob and walk right in. The frost on the windows is real, and so are the people who will surround you, and smile, and ask you to join their dance.

Saturday morning began early for exploration. There were Cashmere sweaters to hold up, vintage stores with trunks of kilts to get lost in, museums for Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns to find. Old-fashioned-seeming taxi cabs and red telephone booths dotted the streets. Secret alleys had me looking for paperboys or men in top hats or a Medieval Queen to go with her centuries old castle. 
On Sunday we left Edinburgh for the Highlands. More photos on that to come, but if you’re ever looking to lose yourself in a landscape, do head for the Scottish hills. Really, just visit this part of the Earth as soon as you can. Your heart will swell up and thank you. 

Fall Flowers

It may be Almost-December, but how about some photos from September? They got lost in the shuffle… I found them by chance today and it was a nice reminder. Things like this always feel a little serendipitous to me, so I figured I would spread that serendipity to you. The Hortis Botanicus gardens & conservatory … Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Of Course

Patrick Crouch is the Program Manager at Earthworks Urban Farm. (If you don’t know Earthworks, or have never been, gogogogogo. today.) Each week he journals a quick update on the Farm and it’s my favorite email to open. His first sentence this week was this: “One of the best ways to gain an understanding of Detroit … Continue reading

A (gray day) Windmill

This November weekend felt decidedly November. Pumpkins and squash and potatoes made bright orange mounds at every table of the market on Saturday. Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet helpers (If you’re wondering about the political-correctness… you’re not alone) were at the Town Hall, with his red velvet chair for Christmas photos. (Sinterklaas arrives with presents on December 5 in the Netherlands, so the count is on.) It’s no longer safe to venture out sans mittens, I think, and today there was a lingering dew in the air. It’s good for ya. 

And, as I look out my window, there is a thick mass of fog in the air this evening. It’s a deep violet dark night already, even at 5:15 p.m. Here’s how charming this little European town can look on a Friday night in November:

photo credit: mizue yamada

My assignment was to ‘shoot’ s’more windmills, and quick. There are two windmills in the center of Leiden, one of which is under repair. There is a lovely story about the second one below – it is where Rembrandt’s father was working, milling grain, the night Rembrandt was born. Leiden is the artist’s hometown, and while most of his work and education was in Amsterdam, the street where he lived as a boy is still here. I cycled down it today, past his statue, to take a few photos of Mr. van Rijn’s windmill. 

It is still in use today, churning grain to flour for a bakery in town. Legend has it Rembrandt was born on a very stormy, very late night in Leiden. As his father hastened to finish his work in the mill, the structure swayed in the wind. His wife’s nurse called to Mr. van Rijn – through the rain and thunder – from their house over the bridge to get him to run over, and quick!

Autumn in Amsterdam

There is really no way to get terribly lost in Amsterdam. I think it’s to do with the concentric street designs and the way they hug the city’s main canal. So if you walk far enough in one direction, you happen back at the place you started – and you’ve stopped in shops and seen … Continue reading

And Then You Turn Around

Somehow November arrived, and while I know it has been said over and over again, forgive me for putting it out there once more: time goes so, so fast. How? 

In August you live in anticipation. It’s a gold-plated problem, really, living in the anticipation of four months worth of life in Europe. But it’s still stomach-turning, and trying to picture what days will be like a few weeks out only yields fogginess. So you do what August lets you do. The logistics, the passport photos, flounder under complicated Dutch pronunciations. But then it’s the day. And you wake up, and you drive, and you say goodbye, and you fly, and you take the train/bus/bike. After tripping on your shoelaces many times, you finally hit your stride. And here you are at November. Autumn is both the same and very different in Holland. The leaves don’t hold their color like their friends in the mitten do, but it’s been a beautiful sight nonetheless. I’ve always been a fan of season changes. I think our bodies change, too, and we evolve necessarily – right along with the earlier sunsets and crisp mornings (and the arrival of brussels sprouts).

a saturday at the market in november

It’s getting chilly here. When I’m lucky, I can smell fireplaces burning on the bike ride back to my apartment at night. Garland hangs across the city streets, from building to building. You see the twinkle lights twice: once on the branch of every tree, and a second time in their white reflection on the dark blue canal waters at night. It’s like the trees are dancing.

And when your knuckles get too cold from gripping the handle bars on your bike, you pull to the side and find a warm pub and slide into a cozy seat. Then each person orders a beer they’ve never tried before and you split an order of dutch patat. Sit and talk, sit and talk, and it’s November.