London Sunday

The perfect London Sunday stretches infinitely ahead of me as I wake. I greet the Thames, running like a grey ribbon alongside the city underneath low-hung clouds of the same shade. There is vibrancy in the seemingly dull. London is a bright city of grey.

An Americano from Cafe Del Rey, Putney, in hand, I hop on the 22 bus to Piccadilly Circus, earphones bumping with old-school British tunes, to set the mood. It’s a day of immersion in this new home of mine. One hour later, past Fulham, Chelsea, and Hyde Park, it’s on to the Tube, Bakerloo line to Warwick station, which opens up to the gem of Little Venice, a taste of Italy in the middle of London.

Little Venice 1

After a second Americano accompanied by eggs in a diner overlooking the canal, I stroll along said canal, watching painters immortalize the scene, friends chat, and lovers meander.

Little Venice3

Little Venice2

Back on the Bakerloo to Waterloo and the highlight of my London Sunday. But first, a stop at Foyles for some new reading material, two travel memoirs. I’ve always been a voracious reader, but something about this city lights up my inner bookworm to no end. Maybe it’s the thought of all the literati who’ve walked these streets. Armed with my purchases, I make my way to the Southbank Centre for some tea and to wait for the 3:00 p.m. performance of the London Philharmonia Orchestra.

Symphony

As I settle in to immerse myself in the music, I can think of no better way to spend a solitary afternoon, and as I leave the concert, I feel more alive than I have in quite some time.

After a stop at the local Sainsbury’s, I head home to end the day with a cuppa. And I recall Samuel Johnson’s famous quote: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Namaste 🙂

Rachel

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Countdowns and Hairy Coos

“For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary.” – Diana Gabaldon

I’ve read countless books detailing fairy-tale settings, immersed myself in music that evokes surreal emotions, and viewed photographs that stir a sense of longing and familiarity I can’t quite put my finger on, but nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of Scotland’s countryside. I found myself quite speechless.

Last week, my friend Dallas and I trekked up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. Celebrations began on December 30 with a torchlight procession through the streets. I still can’t believe that with 75,000 people, of questionable sobriety, no one’s hair caught on fire.

Torchlight procession

Before the next evening’s famous street party, we wandered up the Royal Mile and stumbled upon a castle. This is one thing about Europe that may never cease to amaze me – how do you just “stumble upon” castles? Needless to say, they’re in pretty short supply in Canada.

Edinburgh castle

View near Edinburgh castle

The fantastic DJ, the dancing our faces off surrounded by 75,000 other people from around the world, the fireworks, and the general “Isn’t it awesome to be here” vibe all added up to the best NYE I’ve ever had.

But the best was yet to come. After a relatively quiet New Year’s Day (we still managed to rouse ourselves for a tour of Stirling Castle, an hour outside Edinburgh), we woke bright and early on January 2 for a day trip through the Highlands.

Stirling Castle

This is truly the stuff of fairy tales, I tell ya. Writers take note: if you need some inspiration for a setting for your fictional novel, do a retreat here!

Highlands3 Highlands2 Highlands1 Highlands Highlands5

Much to our dismay, we didn’t see a hairy coo (a Highland cow) up close and personal, but this didn’t put a damper on the day. The tour ended at Loch Ness – I unfortunately  have no sightings to speak of, but the body of water certainly did have a mysterious air about it.

Loch Ness2 Loch Ness

I never expected Scotland to be such a highlight in my travels, but it now hovers pretty darn close to the top. And I will be returning – next time for a writing retreat, perhaps. Any takers?

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

Merging: a weekend in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, cyclists weave seamlessly within the flow of traffic. They continually merge for brief moments into crowded intersections to find the next bike lane.

This March an old friend weaved her way back into my life, unexpectedly and to my delight. I had decided to meet a crew of friends for impromptu drinks one evening, and when I arrived at the restaurant, I found the party had begun hours ago. I immediately scolded the most raucous of the boys: “I hope you’re treating the waitress well. The poor girl!”

That’s when I noticed her taking an order at the far end of the table. “Eloise?” I said tentatively. Confusion quickly shifted to excitement. “Eloise!” This lovely lady and I had worked together as waitresses years ago in Saskatoon but lost touch. I didn’t even know she’d moved to Calgary. In the “What’s new?” portion of our happy reunion, we quickly established we had mutual plans to move abroad, and decided some coffee dates were in order.

Several months later, here we are in Europe. I made the trek to Amsterdam last weekend for a visit — and I don’t use “trek” lightly. Rather than booking the relatively cheap round-trip flight, I booked a one-way flight, Amsterdam to London, and opted for a very cheap night bus to Amsterdam. Aren’t I clever with my money, I thought.

Now I’m no stranger to the bus, but a bus inside a train inside a tunnel under the ocean? Maybe not the best option for someone with massive claustrophobia. Oh yeah. That was not a good time. Deep breaths, Rachel, deep breaths. Just don’t think about where you are. Thankfully, the Chunnel adventure lasted only thirty minutes. And thankfully, my seatmate decided to get chatty at just the right time, providing a welcomed distraction.

Twelve hours later, I arrived bleary eyed and in awe. I had heard a little of Amsterdam: people bike a lot and certain substances and practices are legal. But this picturesque gem of a city is so much more than that. I felt as if I’d stumbled upon a fairy tale.

Canal2 Canal1 Ams4

I’ve never been much of a cyclist, but I had to adapt quickly! There really is no better way to see the city.

Bike parking lot

Look what I found! What are the chances?

Ams1 Ams2

Ams3 Ams8

At the airport, after patting myself on the back for booking a flight home, I thought about how odd it was to be flying “home” to London for the first time. And as I weaved my way onto the Tube for the last leg of my journey, I thought about how people don’t just weave their way into our lives randomly. They merge when the time is right. And they remind us that home is never very far away.

Namaste 🙂
Rachel

 

A Place In the World

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place . . . Nothing outside you can give you any place . . . In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” – Flannery O’Connor

Home. It becomes a more confusing word with each chapter in my life. And I find myself intrigued by the concept of “place” in the world, and where I fit. Growing up in a town of five hundred people in rural Saskatchewan, I was blessed with the love and friendship of a tight-knit community, but I couldn’t wait to move to Saskatoon. I’d always been drawn to the idea of “the city,” a place of wonder and mystery, of seemingly endless things to do.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

Mad football skills at home in Hafford.

When I arrived in Saskatoon for the next chapter of my life, university, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Big city, fresh start. I knew it all. I was an adult. I had arrived in “my place,” where I wanted to be. But two years in, I realized I felt no particular tie to Saskatoon itself, and started wondering where I’d settle down and build my white picket fence life. After four years of undergraduate studies, I had a gap year — one not spent travelling but taking online courses and figuring out where I wanted to be while pondering the favourite question of the twenties-something: “What do I want to do with my life?”

In my university years, I spent time each summer in Calgary and came to fall in love with the city, and even more so with its proximity to the mountains. Spurred on by big dreams of building a career in a city that seemed to hold endless promise for all aspects of my life at the time, I headed west for the next chapter.

Banff    Calgary skyline

Again, when I arrived, I felt I couldn’t be happier. Bigger city, fresh start. I knew I didn’t know it all, but I was learning. My first year in Calgary marked significant shifts in my personal and professional life. Perhaps for this reason, I felt that Calgary was truly “my place,” the place where I was supposed to put down those roots everyone talks about.

And then two years into this chapter, an impromptu trip, my first solo excursion abroad, changed all that. The travel bug didn’t just bite me: it started gnawing at my core. I returned to Calgary with an ever-growing sense of restlessness that I largely ignored for the better part of the next two years. Was Calgary my place? Where did I want to “be”?

Oh beach life ...

Oh the life in Costa Rica …

Then almost a year ago to the day, a friend and I headed to Europe for a month. Ah Europe. The cobblestone, the intrigue, the stolen moments of laughter, reflection, rendezvous, and oh, the wine, the wine, the wine. And the croissants. The minute I set foot on London soil, I felt I had arrived home. There was a pull, a tie to “place” unlike any other I’d felt before. And on our last day in Europe, as I sat in Rome contemplating the month that had passed, I realized that I wasn’t done with Europe, or rather, that Europe wasn’t done with me. And with that realization, the weight of restlessness lifted. It was time to prepare for the new “place” in my life.

Monterosso

Thanks to the lovely Sarah for these photos.

Eiffel Tower  Wine in Lucca

Now settled in my new chapter in London, I’ve arrived. I couldn’t be happier. Biggest city, fresh start. I’m keenly aware of the fact I don’t know it all, and never will. In fact, I might just be more confused than ever. But right now, London is “my place.” I don’t want to imagine living anywhere else.

Underground  London BridgePutney   Daunt Books  Brighton

For the moment.

And in this contentment I wonder, am I destined to wander, forever feeling the pull of new “place”? But what I do know for sure is the most important truth I own: home is in the people we love, not the place. Home is within.

Namaste.
Rachel

Arrival