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A Day in Utrecht

Now that Ken has a regular job, weekends have acquired a whole new meaning. They are the only time when he has the whole day to do as he likes; and now that I’m staying with him for part of my Spring Break, the only days when we get to spend the majority of our time together.

Last weekend, we took advantage of that opportunity and spent the day in beautiful Utrecht. We woke up early, had a cup of coffee at the train station, and were at Utrecht Centraal before late morning. We found a nice casual restaurant to have lunch, which came with a rooftop terrace. It was cold and windy, and the skies promised rain so we ate inside, but still snuck onto the terrace for a photo of the city from up high.

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Wanderlist: Where I’ve Been

I love to travel – new places, new foods, new cities. Recently, I saw a blogger compile a list of all the countries she had been to and all the ones she wanted to see before she turned 30. I was so inspired by her beautiful pictures that I wanted to share my own “Wanderlist” with you. I hesitated, though. I know how incredibly lucky I am to lead an international life, and it is a privilege that I try not to take lightly. I didn’t want to share this in a way that felt like pride – rather, I am so grateful for these many experiences, and if they interest you, I would be honored to share them.

So instead of making a laundry list, I thought I’d set up a blog “travel directory,” with photos and funny stories for all the places I’ve been. For each one, I’ll share when I was there, where I went, a favorite memory, and a funny moment. If relevant, I’ll include a blog post. I hope it makes you smile, or maybe even satisfies some of your own wanderlust – at least for an afternoon.

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Amsterdam: Ever-Present Past

Amsterdam, like all great cities, strikes every person differently. The last time I was here was the summer I turned sixteen, and what hit me then was promise. I saw a city overflowing with laughter and noise (and beer), brimming with a life and excitement that I was just old enough to begin appreciating. It was all possible, tangible, and in front of me.

But in this trip, I’ve been spending as much time looking back as forward. In talking, learning, and maybe obsessing, about the past lately, I’m almost living in a double-reality. And as a result, I’m in an endless state of reflection on time and change. But while, two years ago, I was just-old-enough to appreciate everything this world has to offer, I’m now just-old-enough to begin contributing to it. It’s time to look forward. This heritage is my inheritance. Now it’s my turn to make something of it.

Maybe it’s my state of mind, but that conflict between past and present seems to be sewn into the fabric of Amsterdam. The streets are hundreds of years old, but always under some kind of construction, endlessly being built and rebuilt upon. Everything is new and old all at once, pushing forward towards the future and endlessly, painstakingly making room for the past.

And when I first began to formulate this blog post yesterday, I wanted to write about that. I wanted to talk about walking through these streets and seeing the old and the new, walking in the shadows of history, and seeing how I fit in. But I don’t know that I can.

Since my arrival in Amsterdam on Friday, my godfather and I have been to the Rijksmuseum, the Jewish Historical Museum, the memorial at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, and the Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchief, which was holding an exhibit entitled In Memoriam. The exhibit aims to list the name and photo of each of the 19,000 children taken from Holland and murdered in the Holocaust. It’s overwhelming, and very well done, and I wish I could talk about it well. But I’m not worthy of contributing to that conversation. Even that ‘there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before’ has been said too many times.

And suddenly, I don’t yet feel worthy of contributing to any conversation. Instead of finding a footing in the past, I feel dwarfed by it. There are things, as a non-Jewish, non-Muslim, twenty-first century woman that I will never understand about discrimination. There are things, as someone who has never experienced poverty or war, that I will never understand about suffering and loss. And there are things as someone raised in the United States that I will never understand about the Netherlands, or Dutch culture.

So my generation is on the verge of inheriting the world. But when I look at these streets and think of all the miracles and tragedies that have happened here, I’m forced to ask, who are we to insert ourselves into this history, or pretend that we are worthy of continuing it?

What can we say that hasn’t been said before?


Family Fitness Challenge 2012

On Monday morning, I was sitting on my aunt’s bed as she tried to pawn off her old clothes to me.

“Is this your style?” She held up an algae-green tulle skirt. “It’s a nice color,” she said hopefully. I shook my head. She held it up to herself and made a disgruntled sound.

“I should exercise more,” she said. I jumped up and clapped my hands.

“Fitness challenge!” I shrieked. She startled at the noise. “Fitness challenge!” I said again. “Come on! We’ll get started today. It’ll be so fun. I’ve been looking for someone to do it with me.”

There was a need for such enthusiasm. Dutch cuisine is not world-famous, but for the uninitiated, let me introduce you: coffee and sandwiches.

Those sandwiches, by the way, are eaten with any of the following: nutella, hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), vlokken (bigger chocolate sprinkles), suikerbuikjes (tiny cookies), appelstroop (apple sugar syrup), or gestampte muisjes (literally, just sugar). My personal favorite is ontbijtkoek, which is essentially breakfast cake.

Eat with butter.

So it may come as no surprise to you that my body is “adjusting” to this new diet. In my defense, licorice is a food group here.

My aunt agreed to the challenge, albeit with less motivation than I had. Then the news of a competition hit the rest of the house.

We live with two men.

My aunt has since dropped out, and my uncle, who can do a headstand and casually mentioned that after the 300 mark, he finds sit-ups boring, isn’t too concerned. My cousin and I, however, are in it to win it.

In addition to completing the daily workout he and I have set up, it’s my goal to be able to do a single pull up (shush). His only goal to beat me.

But hey, I finally have a workout buddy. I can’t complain.


Bridging Gaps

For someone who promised to keep up a blog detailing my life (and reminding you all I’m not dead), I’m doing a remarkably terrible job. I suppose one issue is that I don’t feel like I’m off living grand adventures worthy of writing about. This is just my new city. This is just my new home. This is just my new life.

And this is the new coffee place where I spend time being a Very Serious Writer:

Pictured: Very Serious Writing.

I’m at a table that is clearly meant for three people, and so I feel obligated to buy three times the amount of coffee I should be drinking, also in the misguided hope that it will cheer up my somewhat moody waitress (when she asked if I wanted anything else, I said, “Wifi?” I would resent me, too).

But despite self-deprecating jokes to the contrary, I really am writing, and it’s going swimmingly. This was a bit of a surprise to me. However much faith I had in my desire and decision to write, whenever well-meaning family friends inquired into writing during my gap year, the conversation usually went like this:

Well-Meaning Family Friend: So, you’re taking a gap year! That’s so great. What are you doing with it?
Me: Well, for the first half, I’ll be volunteering and taking classes at Princeton, and then in February I leave for Holland and travel from there. And write.
WMFF: Write?
Me: Yes, I’m finishing my novel abroad.
WMFF: Oh, for research? That’s so great. Where does it take place?
Me: …New Jersey.

It seemed a little random. But I knew I wanted to travel, and I knew I wanted to write, and it seemed natural to do both at the same time. However ridiculous it may seem now, I didn’t realize how closely related the two would turn out to be.

For the uninitiated, my novel is about finding family and growing into your own. This trip is about rediscovering my own family, discovering a little more of the world, and figuring out what I want out of life. Somehow, I didn’t see the connection.

Taking a gap year was a big decision, and I sometimes doubted myself. But now that I’m more than half-way through, I can honestly say that I don’t think I could have made a better choice. If it weren’t for this year, I wouldn’t have found the direction I want to take my life in. I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for theology. I wouldn’t be 3,600 miles from home, planning trips to Dublin and Vienna, or spending a week in Berlin.

I wouldn’t have had all this time with my family, or found my place therein. And this year has honestly been one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing.

Spending the first five months at home, volunteering (and taking classes, no less), baffled some people. Writing about New Jersey at 3,600 miles’ distance may have seemed ridiculous. But the ground that all my leaps of faith have landed me on has all been coming up daisies. Whether that’s a testament to my own resilience, or a natural rhythm in the universe, I don’t know.

But I can live with that. After all, if there’s one thing this year has been good for, it’s discovery.

And excessive amounts of coffee.