Walking and Wondering

I’m reading a book right now (actually three books, but this one is the coolest), and it’s about the history of walking. At least, that’s what it purports to be, but I know differently; really, it is about contemplation. As is walking.

“When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

My favorite way to discover places and to discover things is by foot. The above quote is the most perfect articulation of why this is my truth: while I walk, I move. I move through the world physically, of course. I also move through my mental world. Like writing, it is my medium for wondering.

Many times, I have wondered about myself. As I explore a city, I wander the nooks and crannies of my psyche, analyzing and processing and curiously probing the dark and far off corners. Or maybe there is something in particular that rushes to the forefront of my mind and demands to be heard. Often I wonder about other people, gripped by my fascination about perspectives outside my own. As I walk through these thoughts, I walk through the world.

Sometimes I am pulled back into it, and instead I notice the squirrel crunching through the fallen yellow leaves. Sometimes there’s someone else on the road, and I feel compelled to shoot the fellow walker a friendly smile.

Often I am tracing paths on a mental map. When I explored new places, I got lost and found myself again, over and over, until I never really felt lost. After reading this part of the book, I realized that I will never again feel lost in those places that I’ve walked.


I’ve worn a rut in my mind, and I will always recognize it. When I walk in Walla Walla again, I’ll get flashes of past walks, of the girl that walked those paths. If I somehow journey back to Paris, or even tiny Somain, the invisible crop will be waiting for me. I am inextricably linked to those cobblestones and the landmarks that line them, and they run like a map through my mind.

This is what makes me lusty, for the wander and for the familiar at once. I know that both are fruitful: one will lead me toward new corners of myself, one will lead me back to old ones. The one is risky and exciting, alluring and adventurous. The other is comforting and enlightening, reflective and revealing of forgotten truths.

I love them both and all. I walk through old and new with the same fulfillment, the same curiosity, and the same feet.

Walking and Wondering

Going Places

I use my favorite travel photos as my desktop backgrounds. I’ve told my computer to rotate through a folder of photos, all my best ones, changing every time it wakes from sleep. I love this way of remembering where I’ve been. Every time I open my laptop, a new place pops up and I’m flooded with memories of standing right there, looking at that, capturing the moment.

I wish I could capture the feeling. Sometimes it washes over me in a wave of nostalgic tears, and I sense so acutely that part of me is missing.

What part, you ask? There’s a lot of writing out there talking about how traveling changes your life, that it’s life-changing, that it impacts everything you think and believe in, thereby changing your life through all the life-changing experiences. Sense a pattern?

I kind of believe that, but I think it changes lives not in the generic just take off and land somewhere and you’re insta-changed sense, but in the sense of it really makes you think about yourself, where you came from, and where you’re going. And it makes you think about the now.

Maybe it’s a photo. Maybe it’s a song, or a smell. Sometimes I get any kind of sensory stimulus and it’s suddenly specific and transporting me back. I’m back on the streets of Valenciennes, strutting over the cobblestones with my school bag bouncing on my hip, in my no-nonsense black boots, watching out for ubiquitous dog crap (no matter how lucky it is to step in it). Other times I’m sitting in the Jardin de Luxembourg, under the Paris sunshine with my best friends, market cheese, and a bottle of wine per person. I’m alone in the deserted streets of Somain, walking to school before the sunrise. I’m in the metro, bathed in eau de métro – a mix of beer and pee, maybe some mold or garbage, occasionally punctuated by the wafting warm smell of a fresh batch of croissants from the metro cafés. I’m on a train heading somewhere I’ve never been, journaling about last weekend’s parties, my experiences with French people, my struggles with the language and with homesickness.

I was solo, all over the world. I made new friends and saw lots of things, and it was the first time I’d ever felt the true weight of my decisions. Each direction I took determined the likelihood of finding my way through a foreign land. Each social occasion determined whether or not I’d have genuine companions in my expatriation. Mulling over, making, and accepting my decisions was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I learned my own agency: I can do whatever I want, I make my own life, and I accept the consequences of what I make. At the end of the day, the only thing that mattered was feeling comfortable in my boots and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.

Being back home is like, suddenly there are more people to take into account, and way more past and future things to think about. Old friends, S.O.’s, family members, a serious 8-4 job, the next job, the life direction. There are a lot more expectations about where I’ll devote my attention, a lot more things distracting me from what I’m doing now.

Those brief moments of nostalgia are breaths of fresh air in the muggy swamp of my routine.

Then again, so is the view of Mt. Rainier at sunrise on clear days, as I drive over Lake Washington. So are margarita nights with Mom, Indian food with Dad, sushi dates with my boyfriend and house parties with friends. So is the occasional trip out of town to see more of the great Pacific Northwest, and so are the funny stories from my days spent with kindergarteners.

Being on my own in a foreign place, concentrating on the now, the great things, the adventures of every day – it taught me how to bring that mentality everywhere. When I get those waves of nostalgia, it reminds me of the gifts of the present, of where I am. And even though I’m not alone, I’m not struggling with language, or traveling, or whatever else…I’ve still got the gifts of those experiences: many tools for feeling comfortable in my boots, and confident enough to explore again tomorrow.



Going Places

Making Way for Ducklings

I disembark the Megabus in Boston right on time, with the whole day to myself. I stow my luggage and wander into the city, picking a road and ending up near the arched entrance to Chinatown. Skirting this neighborhood, because I’d be led in the wrong direction, I make my way to the center of the city — the Boston Common. Naturally, my Seattle nose, urged on by a Seattle brain, sniffs out the best coffee, and I curl up on a sunken brown couch in the Boston Common Coffee Company for my introvert blogging recharge time. The cashier asks me if I went to Emerson University, acting like he knows who I am. Instant local.

After a sufficient amount of caffeine and plugged-in time, I set out on the Freedom Trail, armed with a 4$ app and a 3$ map to find my way from dead hero to church to dead hero. I meet the ghosts of Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Hancock…all the soldiers and founding fathers, and the two or three famous women…IMG_5344

IMG_5345I also run into my new favorite store. When I was little, I fell asleep to the book on tape editions of Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings at least thrice a week. Little did I remember, Robert McCloskey was from Boston and has a store named after his work.



I pass through Quincy Market, which distracts me long enough that I never make it to the next stop on the Trail (Paul Revere’s House). A street show, featuring very loud speakers blaring “Gangnam Style” and a group of break dancers, greets me at the entrance. I stop to watch, surrounded by kids on a field trip who are supposed to be more interested in the historical square in which they stand — where the Boston Tea Party-goers got all riled up. History, predictably, loses to K-Pop. When they leave with their chaperones, I also leave, heading deeper into the market. Urban Outfitters, souvenir stands with jewelry and Boston boxers and fancy twisted paper lamps…food stalls sending delicious smells wafting through the air…I soak it all in.

I realize my proximity to the harbor and head there, called by the sea air, which I can already feel. I find a bench right next to the water’s edge, and sit and stare out at the Atlantic — all the sailboats, moored and bobbing at the dock. I watch the comings and goings of the water taxi, transporting people laden with baggage to nearby islands? other spots on the coast? The seagulls cry overhead and I can smell salt and fish. An old man with a satchel tries to sell me a newspaper that helps the homeless. I start dreaming of clam chowder, real New England clam chowder, but I can’t bring myself to leave the harbor. It’s like Seattle’s harbor but less industrial, and it’s bathed in sunlight and chilled by the crisp, autumnal Boston air.


Finally my hunger for a regionally appropriate lunch drags me off the bench. I head back toward Quincy market, where I’d seen rows and rows of food stalls earlier that day. Sure enough, there it is — The Chowda Company. I buy some chowda from a man with a Bostonian accent and sit outside to eat it, next to the outdoor games area. I rip and dump my oyster crackers, scooping one up for a delicious creamy-crunchy-soupy bite.


At first, I watch a family play ping pong. Then I become so absorbed in my chowda that I only look up when I hear….French!? 

Sure enough, there are three French people — about my age — who have started a game of ping pong. I eavesdrop, wishing slightly that I could go home with them after their East Coast vacation is over. But only slightly, as my own East Coast vacation has shown me how much I love traveling in the U.S., and how many places here I still haven’t seen…

I spend over an hour at Quincy Market, watching. An awkward young couple plays chess. Some Irish boys in green sweatshirts run by (those accents, though…). I hear more European tourists speak German, British, French, Russian, as they pass me.

Finally, it’s time to meet my friends/hosts. I walk back to the city center and discover my other favorite place, and the setting of Make Way for Ducklings: the Boston Public Garden.


I hope it’s obvious from my writing how much I loved Boston. [I’m trying a thing where I show and don’t tell, in an effort to improve my writing/try new things.]

Seeing study abroad friends, aka surfing on their couch, was fantastic. Sometimes it takes a visit to remember that faraway friends are still friends. Hospitality strikes again. I hope to return the favor by showing off Seattle!

In the words of Augustana, “I think I’ll go [back] to Boston…”


There I am, relaxing in Hahvahd Yahd.

Making Way for Ducklings


This list, of French words that English doesn’t have, crossed my path today. Among them is dépaysement: “the sense of being a fish out of water.” If you break down the word, de- is a negative prefix, pays is the French word for country, and the suffix –ment is a little bit like “-fication.” AKA, the real best translation is:


Last September, I decountrified myself, leaving the U.S., and re-countrified myself, settling down in France.

The first few weeks were a whirlwind of paperwork, house hunting, people meeting, and settling in. I had to re-learn how to exist in this new country– without attracting too much attention for being different, but also without “losing myself.”

Slowly, I adjusted to French life. I bised my friends. I ate meals slowly, in three courses. I shopped only at normal hours of the day (things close around 8 PM), and only for a few meals at a time. I walked everywhere, or used the train and bus systems. I didn’t smile at people I didn’t know. I dressed up, bought black heeled boots, and developed a city strut. I (kind of) learned how to deal with the bureaucracy, saving copies of my water bills to send in with everything I applied for. I learned to love strong cheeses and pair them with good wines.

I never became French, but I did blend in a little better, in the end. I achieved the balance: I was a version of myself that I liked, and that fit into the world around me. I could walk down the street without earning stares for being “the American.” I was able to learn from people’s new perspectives on me and my country, and to open my mind to the ways of other people, in other countries. It was a successful recountrification experiment.

And then I decountrified myself again, and came right back, Stateside. Dépaysement is the French synonym for “culture shock,” which I expected to encounter on my trip to France. But, coming back, there is another sort of dépaysement,  when you take a slightly different version of Anne and place her back in her old environment.

Suddenly, I drive again. I wear shorts. I greet everyone in English, make small talk with strangers, shop at all hours of the day or night, and I’m surrounded by family and old friends. There are mountains and lakes and people in sweatpants and coffee shops everywhere. All of this was totally normal… before my “normal” changed. And now I’m having to figure out another more complicated and emotionally charged recountrification process.

I do feel like a fish out of water. It’s hard to explain why, because it doesn’t make sense. The USA is where I grew up, its rules and norms should be obvious to me. And they are, but I sort of have to relearn them. I have to figure out where I fit in again, IF I fit in again, and who my new friends are going to be. It’s a little like starting over, which I also did when I first arrived in France, but it’s starting over in a place I didn’t expect to have to start over.

It’s because I’ve done it before that I feel like I can do it again. Despite all of this hard stuff I’m encountering, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and culturally…I feel like I’m encountering it as someone who is good at feeling uncomfortable.

When I first got back, I dealt by traveling all over the place to reconnect with people. The reason for that is obvious to me — traveling was my culture, my normal, so I sought it out again. Now I’m back in one place for a while, and the realities of my new normal hit me. I don’t start work until the end of August, so I’m left drifting around, re-familiarizing myself with where I grew up and how it’s changed. And how I’ve changed.

I never really figure out how I’ve changed until I’m back in a place I was in before, as a new version of me. I keep comparing the me of now to the me of last summer, last time I was here. I think I’m fundamentally the same, but I behave differently. I’m living more in accordance with my values. I missed having a place to work out, dance classes, hiking trails, and beautiful waterfronts when I was gone — so now, every day, I seek those out. I missed my family and friends, so now I focus more energy on them. I felt really financially unstable in France, so I’m taking this opportunity to examine my financial habits and try to live more independently. I missed peanut butter, so I eat it every morning…

Going away was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. So much of the fear and anxiety that used to rule me has become manageable. Whenever I’m afraid of all the changes — meeting new people, starting a new job, moving, etc. — I say to myself: Anne, you did all of this and more…in a different country, in a different language. That’s sometimes all I need to get me through a tricky spot.

My way of embracing being home and dealing with reverse culture shock and missing France at the same time is to remember and re-remember all of the gifts it gave me. All of the friends I made, all of the new experiences, all of the personal strength– all were made possible by going away, and all are still present at home, in the ways they shaped the “me” of the moment.

And of course, I also say to myself that I’ll keep going back. There, and back again. Probably forever!



You know you’re in America when…

…you aren’t on a budget airline (complimentary beverages?? hot hand towels before every free meal??).

…on said fancy airline, the safety video is full of Youtube characters. Seriously, this played before each flight:

…when you leave the plane, someone says, “bye now, have a great day!”

…and, in the “welcome to New York” intercom message on the plane, an attendant says, “Thank you for choosing Delta Airlines, we eagerly await the next opportunity we get to serve you!”

…you go to Hudson to get some snacks and are overwhelmed by the 5 walls of options. Everything is in 10 flavors. They even came out with a new variety of M&M! (Crispy!? Delicious.)

…the new variety of M&M is only available in “sharing size.” (Honestly though, who even shares!? Not me…)

…in the security and customs lines, you strike up conversations with Midwestern strangers (about the weather, and bottled water).

…everyone is smiling.

…there’s a big jar of Adam’s crunchy peanut butter and some fresh bagels at home waiting for you.

…there’s also a family, and a cat. Welcome home to me!

You know you’re in America when…

Gyro to Hero: Tales from the Grecian Isles

One 7-hour ferry ride later, we arrived on Santorini. After our first two days in Santorini, I was going to write a 5,000 word rave about its fairytaleness. Luckily for you all, I waited until my memory had done its thang and filtered through all the uninteresting (what!? never!) details and now I can’t come up with 5,000 words on it for you. Unless a picture is worth a thousand. LOOK AT THIS!


Sorry, didn’t mean to go all capital-letters on you, but it is just as dreamy as it looks. That’s really all you need to know. But I’ll tell you more anyway.

Dana and I followed the recommendation of a friend of ours and stayed in Oìa, one of Santorini’s two major towns (the other one being Fira). Like true budget travelers, we found ourselves in a house-converted-into-hostel, run by a charming old Greek woman and her husband. She gave us the lowdown on what to do and see and how to find the rooms in broken English, which she had taught herself (“You can look the windmill here” “Coffee and tea is for every time”).

Oìa’s laid-back, whitewashed island atmosphere inspired us to take a true vacation. We saw some sights, but at a leisurely pace. Lots of rooftop wine bars were involved in our 4 days on the island. We made some new friends  — we happened to be on a rooftop with some American girls. They offered to take our photo, and we got to talking and discovered that all of us lived near Lille, and they were assistants too! We had mutual friends and everything. We spent some time eating and drinking with them until they left, a day before us. We also met a couple from Napa on their honeymoon (they screamed SoCal)  and a group of moms who were taking a consolation vacay to commiserate about having to send their sons off to college. They were the sweetest, funnest ladies, and we want to be them when we grow up.

We went on two little excursions which both involved volcanic beaches and swimming. The first was to the bottom of our cliff, in Ia, where there was a small port (as seen in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). The water was clear blue and cold.


Another excursion was to the active crater on the volcanic island in the middle of Santorini’s caldera, and some hot springs. We had to take a boat from the capital city, Fira, for this one. We encountered yet another aspect of Greek culture: reluctance to reveal all the information about an excursion before embarking. We were on the boat when they informed us that there would be a 2-euro entrance fee for the attraction we had already paid to see! Nice one, tour company, nice one. The view from the top may have been worth the price, though.



The hot springs weren’t hot, but they were warm. But they also neglected to mention the nice little 50-meter swim through the ocean to get to them. We braved the cold anyhow, craving a swim after the long, hot hike and boat ride.


After Santorini, we moved on to Crete. It had been my dream to go to Crete ever since I’d learned about it, in 4th grade, as the birthplace of Greek civilization and where Theses slew the minotaur! We didn’t make it to the Palace of Knossos, but we were close enough. Crete was very different from Santorini. It’s HUGE. We stayed in Rethymno, a small town between the two big cities, and it took over an hour on the bus to get there. The beaches were much more familiar looking, and we decided that it was more representative of real Grecian island life.

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The water was warmer, too. That guy had the right idea.

It was also cool because it has some of everything: sun, beach, fortress, and snow! Here’s the view from the old Venetian fortress:


In short, it was a beautiful, much-needed vacation. Dana was the best travel buddy, all the people we met were fantastic, and I’ll never forget the views! We made it home from Athens after an overnight boat, one more day of touring, and a flight which we caught at 6:15 AM (so we woke up at 2:30 AM…). Needless to say, I slept most of yesterday.

Next up? Toulouse! TBC

Gyro to Hero: Tales from the Grecian Isles

Journey to the Netherlands

Every time I said “I’m going to Amsterdam this weekend,” I was met with a knowing “ohhh, Amsterdam?” I think there was an implied “capital of sex and drugs?” on the end of that sentence almost every time. I promise, that isn’t what we went for!

This trip was originally my friend from Whitman’s idea, and she invited me to tag along, and then my housemate Laura joined us. These ladies were lovely travel company! I arrived a little earlier than both of them, checked into my hostel, and set out to explore the city. Here are my first views, one by night and one by daylight.

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My biggest fears while walking were getting crushed by a tram or hit by a bicycle. Everything is fast and furious on the streets there, and the big groups of sauntering (and often stoned) tourists made it hard for everyone to get around. That said, walking was my favorite thing to do.

It was on my walk that I had the most magnificent pastry I’ve ever encountered: the kwartzbollen. It’s essentially a large donut hole covered in vanilla sugar.


My Whitman friend had decided to couchsurf, so we met her lovely host for dinner when she got in. It was great to have a Dutch perspective on the city. He taught us some Dutch and fed us pasta. Then, I picked up Laura and we all went to bed.

Saturday was the walking tour, a three-hour excursion with Kor, of Sandeman’s New Europe tours. Sandeman’s is a new-ish company which gives “free” tours. Their business principle is to have people pay, at the end, the value that they place on the tour. It makes the tour guides work harder to entertain the crowd and it puts the burden on the tourists to decide how much they’d like to pay! And it worked just like the theory said it should; Kor was fabulously entertaining, and the tour was incredibly informative. We walked all over Amsterdam: through the Red Light district, through Dam Square (where the original Amster-Dam was built to dam up the river Amstel), past the shopping quarter, Anne Frank’s House, the museums, the cute quirky neighborhoods…I felt like we saw everything we needed to.

This is the narrowest house in Amsterdam. Anyone who is taller than 5’9″ cannot lie widthwise on the floor in this house. People built narrow houses so as not to pay as much tax, as they were taxed for canal front space! Width is proportional to wealth.


Another option in Amsterdam: houseboat life! Houseboats cost around 100,000 euros, and the permits cost 500,000 euros. Maybe if I win the lottery one day, I’ll retire to a Dutch houseboat. Life on the water sounds ideal!


Other fun facts that stuck with me:

Every house on a canal in Amsterdam has a little hook that juts out of the roof with a rope attached. Because their houses are so narrow, these pulleys are used to lift things that don’t fit through the door to the upper levels of the house. This is also why most of the houses lean forward slightly, so goods are less likely to hit the windows!

In old Amsterdam, the last names of its citizens were simply their profession, or location within the city. When Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, came to take over the city, he made all the citizens pick their own last names. That’s why, if you ever meet a Dutch person, they may have a last name which translates to something funny (like “of the trout”).

Prostitutes and freelance tour guides have the same paperwork from the Chamber of Commerce.

Despite its reputation, Amsterdam’s marijuana consumption is less than the global average! First in the world, per capita? Canada. Second and third? France and Italy.

Schiphol Airport’s name literally translates to “Ship Hole” because it’s actually a dried-up lake. As such, it’s way below sea level and thus one day could become a lake again…

I found Amsterdam to be a breath of fresh air. There’s a free-spirit vibe everywhere; people dress how they want, whizz around on bicycles, help you if you look lost on the street. They’re used to tourists, but it also seems like tolerance and creativity are deeply rooted cultural values. I was fascinated by something which fascinates me everywhere I visit: how people respond to the conditions of their environment, and how that forms their cultural and linguistic identity. Innovation in house-building to deal with the swamp life, and innovation in trade, which made the Dutch East India Company one of the most lucrative in the old world, gave way to inventiveness in the arts and sciences and an open-minded cultural mentality. If I could learn about one thing for the rest of my life, it would be this interaction between culture, language and environment. Maybe I should have been an anthropology major after all…


Journey to the Netherlands