Mr. Darcy Doesn’t Exist

Disclaimer: Before I came to England, many of my friends and family members joked that I would find my “Mr. Darcy” in England. Of course, the comments were playful teases, but I heard them so often I believed it could happen. And more than that, I wanted it to.

I’m 21 now. Luckily, that isn’t an “old maid” like it would’ve been in Jane’s time, but it’s fair to say that I see more and more of my Facebook friends getting engaged (and not just as April Fool’s pranks) and many of my own close friends have met the people they will spend the rest of their lives with. I have seen how these relationships make them feel, and how they complete parts of my friends’ lives they didn’t know they were missing. My own parents met in college when they were around my age. Why couldn’t my “dream man” come from the place I’d always dreamed of visiting?

He didn’t. 

It is with a love for England, not for Mr. Darcy, that I visited Chatsworth House, which is used as Mr. Darcy’s house in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice.

***

Mr. Darcy doesn’t exist.

Fortunately, Chatsworth does.

I peer through a clouded bus window covered with the dirt of passengers gone by. Specks of misplaced wanderlust, now forgotten and shielding my view. I am not the first to come here, and I won’t be the last.

D1

Even in a dirty haze, the house is a dreamlike beauty that makes my heart beat a little bit faster. The rolling hills. The stately mansion. The light fog rising up from a trickling river. The stuff quintessential British dreams are made of.

I am in England.

There are no signs of the Chatsworth estate’s wealth out here. Just sheep. A steady waterfall. Slippery rocks with glints of rain. A silent brook that makes no almost sound as it trickles slowly. Gardens that stretch 105 acres.

D2

There is a path, but I have no map.

I don’t know what lies ahead.

So I walk heel-toe through the hedges. Rainboots plodding on the gravel paths. Past an elderly couple whose stride is matched and perfected from years of walking beside one another.  Their wrinkly pinky fingers are linked. Past a mother with permanent purple circles under her eyes. She sighs as her toddler’s chubby fingers stretch for a lollipop behind the concessions counter. Past a pair of siblings who pull on each other’s sweatshirt hoods. One trips over a tree branch, and his eyes well up as he starts wailing “Mummy!” with an articulate British accent.

This is England.

D3

I keep going. Further until I enter the edges of the gardens. And further into the silence.

I push a long mossy branch out of my way and keep walking. My rainboots are clunky and my approach is loud. Birds scatter and move to higher and quieter posts. Away from the sound. Away from me.

D4

I walk up a slick slope and temporarily lose my footing. My left hand stops my body from crashing into the hill, and I glance around, an embarrassed blush spreading over my cheeks.

Then I remember. I am alone.

I plod past an abandoned cottage that a single spider has now claimed as his own. I walk down a set of stairs and into a cave once used by miners, now marked by evenly spaced lampposts. Little lights that illuminate a path in the darkness.

D5

My entrance interrupts a private moment shared by a couple. As I squeak towards them, his hand untangles itself from her hair and moves sideways on the damp cave wall to shield her from view. She glances downward, holding her breath while waiting for me, the intruder, to pass. When I leave, their giggles echo down the tunnel and back to me.

I am alone.

I keep going. A little faster now. And then I see it. A wooded area with years-old rocks. A canopy of bare tree branches dangle. There are no birds that scatter. No spiders weaving homey webs. No waterfalls, no brooks, no streams. Just rocks and a windswept silence that is even too caught up in the moment to whisper doubts into my ear.

D6

I sit on a rock. I write. And I write.

A light rain starts to fall and I roll my eyes, but smile inside. It’s an English cliche, but it couldn’t feel more appropriate. The spots look like teardrops on my paper, but I am not sad. I am alone, but not lonely.

Mr. Darcy is not home.

He never will be.

An hour passes and it’s time to walk back past the waterfalls, flowing rivers and grazing sheep. To face the elderly couples, fighting siblings and lovestruck pairs. Past the stroller tracks, spilled ice cream cones and blooming buds. Back to the train and back to London.

D7

I stand up and brush the dirt off my jeans. With the flecks go my illusions and unfulfilled expectations.

Because I did get everything I’ve ever wanted. The hills, the sheep, the rivers, the light rain. The smell of spring. No Mr. Darcy could’ve given me the England I’d always dreamed of seeing. Of feeling a part of. Of breathing in and breathing out. Of knowing that for those few minutes, that rock, that spot, that moment were mine.

D8

I stand up and turn my back on my little writing spot. I don’t look back.

There is a path, but I have no map.

I don’t know what lies ahead.

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Seeing All of the British Treasures (Including a Prince, of course)

What have I been doing the past few weeks? Writing papers, going to work and playing a little game I like to call “cram as many Londony things into my last weeks as possible.” So far, I’ve been winning. (Against myself).

What was on the list? Fittingly enough, I started last weekend by going to the British library to look at the “British Treasures.” I think the words “British treaures” would pretty much sum up what I’ve spent the past few weeks pursuing. As you can tell from my last post, being in London at a time when so much tragedy is going on in the world has made me feel a little vulnerable, but I know I’m incredibly lucky to be in England and need to make an effort to get out and see everything I’d hoped to before I leave.

There’s a lot more to the British library than books. Of course, it does have the original Beowulf manuscript from the 11th century, which somehow survived a fire that charred the book cover. It has Mozart’s wedding contract, which says that he and his wife both cried tears of joy during the ceremony. There’s a tiny Jane Austen writing desk that looks more like a shelf than anything. Beethoven’s tuning fork. The original, handwritten Magna Carta. Scraps of paper the Beatles wrote their lyrics on. The Mendelssohn Wedding March.  The world’s first illustrated medical book, and more and more.

The pages of the manuscript survived the flames

The pages of the manuscript survived the flames

My roommates asked if my favorite part of the exhibit was the Jane desk, and while it was cool, it was nothing like the original table she sat at. I think my favorite part was seeing the original drafts of work that some of the world’s most famous authors wrote. There were rough drafts from George Eliot, Oscar Wilde and even some early edition Shakespeare papers. All of them featured notes in the margins, scratches through ideas and half-formed sentences. I felt like I got to see part of the “process,” which was pretty cool, and similar across all of the different writers.

Last Sunday night I went on a tour of the staterooms at Buckingham Palace. I brought the average age down by about 20 years and was one of the only single people there, but it was still very cool to see London’s most famous palace at night.

B2

Of course, no pictures were allowed. I couldn’t even try to snap some because the security was so tight. We had a guide lead us around, but we also had two security officers there to block the doors and keep an eye on us. And the queen wasn’t even home!

King George IV, a greedy guy that liked to spend a lot of money, acquired the palace. He made it his goal to seek out many famous works out art to feature on the palace walls, so most of what is left is his. He has a table that was made for Napoleon, hundreds of Dutch paintings and rooms filled with gold lacquer designs.

Actually, miss, there's no sitting allowed on the furniture

Actually, miss, there’s no sitting allowed on the furniture

I had always heard that the Queen hates the palace, and maybe compared to Windsor it isn’t as “palace-y” or fortress-y. For some reason, in my head the palace was a dim and dingy place that was cramped and ugly. Thinking back, that makes no sense, and Buckingham is truly stunning.

What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

On the tour we got to see the grand dining room, the picture gallery, the room where the royal family takes wedding pictures, the ballroom, the music room and a room with a trap door that the Queen uses to make her grand entrances. (It looks like there’s a mirror and a dressing table on the wall, but the entire wall pulls back to allow the queen to step through. Sadly, they wouldn’t open it more than a crack. Maybe the Queen was really inside).

Everything was very color-coordinated

Everything was very color-coordinated

The guides really emphasized how Buckingham is a “working” palace. Although it’s beautiful and full of relics, the staff makes full use of each of the rooms and is even more cautious to keep it clean and put-together. It’s only open to the public on select weekends and during the summer simply because the Queen lives and uses it every day. And no one is EVER allowed inside when she’s there, of course.

We ended the tour with a glass of champagne. Of course, I was awkwardly drinking the bubble alone so I got out of there pretty quickly, but it was an amazing “insider” tour and I was really glad I was able to go.

Speaking of British treasures, I got to see the one and only Prince Harry this past Friday! Jessica is a self-proclaimed royalist (read: royal stalker) and found out that he was speaking at a hotel to promote the Walk for the Wounded, which is a charity where wounded soldiers will trek to the South Pole. But, it was thanks to her that we got to see him at all! Harry is actually going to rough it and go with them, but when we saw him his only struggle was keeping his pants up.

Well, hello there!

Well, hello there!

We were the only girls amongst a sea of photographers, so he looked right at us. The encounter was admittedly brief. He showed up right at 2:30 p.m., got out of the car, looked at us, and continued into the hotel. The whole thing took about 20 seconds at the most. But don’t read too much into it, there was definitely a connection there. Maybe I’ll be the next member of the royal family!

My favorite thing I’ve done in the past few weeks is visit the Chatsworth House, which is home to Mr. Darcy in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. That little outing deserves its own post. I mean, you know me by now. Why wouldn’t it?

Until next time,

Allison, aka the future Princess

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

I am going to die.

We all are, actually. One of life’s greatest mysteries is when this will happen and how, but we try not to dwell on it because life is about living and all of the joys and sorrows that come from the journey.

Unfortunately, events like the Boston Marathon bombings prove that life is much more fragile than we often realize in our day-to-day consciousness. In just a matter of moments, we can vanish simply because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s a scary thought.

A thought that makes me, a 21-year-old who has a miles-long bucket list, not want to leave my brown leather couch and go out into the world. It’s also one that makes me feel incredibly far from home and vulnerable at this time when I’m living in a big city.

These events that put our lives into perspective seem to happen far too often. A few weekends ago, I went to the Anne Frank museum and was more affected by the visit than I ever expected I would be. Now, looking back, the visit seems to fall right in line with the tragic events that have been happening. I also think it can tell us a lot about patterns of human nature.

A1

I read Anne’s diary a long time ago and distinctly remember certain passages, even though I only read it once. Her diary is a profound insight into the way Jews were treated during the Holocaust, and is made all the more horrifying by the fact that she was just 13 when she started writing it.

Anne’s family moved to Amsterdam after the Nazis took control of Germany, so she lived there since she was a toddler. The museum is located in their Amsterdam home, which is the one they hid in, and ultimately, the one they were discovered in.

The self-guided tour takes you through every room in the house. Anne’s father, Otto, and the museum committee made the decision to leave all of the rooms bare. The effect is intended to remind visitors how the Nazis took everything, from furniture to memories, from the people in the Holocaust.

The set-up works. It works too well.

I felt chills the entire time I walked through. The white walls have quotes from Anne’s diary painted on them, but are otherwise blank and vacant. One notable exception is the pictures of Hollywood stars that Anne tacked up in her bedroom, which are left as if she just pinned them. The secret bookcase door also remains.

A2

In the museum, it’s easy to see how Anne was changed. In one room, testimonials from Anne’s surviving friends describe young Anne as a bossy, energetic, effervescent girl whom everyone loved. Her best friend’s mom said, “God knew everything, but Anne knew everything better.”

Over time, she became a serious, anxious and depressed teenager with one simple wish: to go outside. As visitors walk through the secret annex, they can stare at the black curtains that blocked the only windows in the rooms. The space is dark, the mood somber.

In her diary, Anne discusses how she and her family had to “tread lightly” during the day so the workers in her father’s factory wouldn’t know that people were hiding upstairs. As I went through, I too, tried to walk softly.

The room that was most difficult to be in was the room they were discovered in. How could Anne have known that when she walked into the annex, she would never be free again? The thought of Nazi boots stomping on the floorboards and the unforgiving soldiers dragging the Frank family out of the very room I was standing in broke my heart.

The checkered diary Anne received when she was 13 is the last item in the museum. It is her legacy. It is undoubtedly made powerful because the teenaged Anne describes her feelings in a mature and eloquent way. I could feel the pain from the pages while I was in the room. It’s a feeling that will stay with me both as a writer and as a human.

A4

Maybe these tragedies feel more real because I’m so far from home. I can’t imagine any wide-scale trauma happening and never seeing my family again without a word. That exact scenario happened to millions upon millions of people. Even now, the news of the bombings leaves me feeling saddened and vulnerable at the sudden, unexpected loss of life.

Anne’s death, which we can all agree happened far too early, is another eerie reminder that nothing is certain. The bombings, too, are terrifying signs of tragedy at the hands of other humans.

But both can remind of us how much good there still is. For as much as the Anne Frank museum disclosed about the trauma of the Holocaust, it also showed how many people went out of their way to keep Anne and her family in hiding. Otto’s factory staff grocery shopped for the family, bought them magazines and books, and defended the Franks until the last minute. Even in the concentration camps, Anne’s more fortunate friends snuck her extra food rations and risked their lives to come talk to her.

A3

Recently, we’ve all been encouraged by the stories of runners who kept jogging after they completed grueling 26-mile races to donate blood to the victims. We’ve seen the number of people who opened their homes to others, and are inspired by those who ran into, instead of away from, the smoke.

Tragedy is in human history. But if Anne’s story can teach us anything right now, it’s that the heart of life is good. We might be changed irreparably when these events occur, but we will carry an appreciation for our existence with us as we continue. We know that humans will rise up in the face of tragedy. Good people outnumber the bad. And life will go on.

So yes, we will die. And no, we most likely will not know when. But that’s better. There’s still reason to leave the couch. This is a privilege we have that Anne never did.

And there’s still reason to keep moving.

To keep running.

As Anne said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

She’s right.

A Weekend in the Weirdest Place on Earth

Amsterdam is the weird capital of the world.

If you know anything about Amsterdam, you’re probably pretty surprised I went there. Allison Pohle in a city where weed and prostitution are legal? Really? Yes. It happened. No, not any of those things, but me going to what I’m sure is the craziest city on the planet.

The G-rated Amsterdam

The G-rated Amsterdam

I had always wanted to go to Holland since I rode the “It’s a small world” ride at Disney. The Dutch dolls are the ones I remember the most. Apart from their painted-on, toothy grins, I remember a scene with lots of windmills and tulips and people in wooden shoes clogging around green hills. The whole set-up looked cheery and happy. Now maybe that isn’t the best reason to go, but our interest in traveling has to start somewhere, right?

I haven’t experienced much spring in London, which made my desire to go to Holland more intense. Even though I’m from Cleveland and am used to terrible weather, London’s dreariness has been getting me down. So tulips and sunshine? Yes, please.

As you know, the easiest way for a student to travel is by staying in hostels in big cities. Amsterdam is the most accessible city in Holland and it looked beautiful in pictures.

I knew it would be nuts, I just wasn’t prepared for how nutty it would be.

The first sign: our flight, which was about 80% male and 90% under the age of 30. It was also 70% full of intoxicated men drinking Heinekens. Might I add that we took off at 9:30 a.m.

When we got off the train in the city centre, I was hit with the unmistakable smell of weed. The stench never really went away for most of the trip. And neither did the joint sightings. I saw a 14-year-old with braces and frizzy red hair choking on a joint as she sat at a bus stop. I also saw a grandma and her teenaged grandson smoking joints together. Talk about bonding!

Amsterdam is very pretty, though!

Amsterdam is very pretty, though!

My friend Shelby and I were then charged with the task of getting to our hostel with no tram map. The metro system in Amsterdam is almost completely above ground and looks like the trams that go around the edges of Disneyworld (maybe my subconscious is channeling the Disneyworld Holland too much). Except instead of pictures of Mickey and Minnie, it’s all in Dutch. Somehow we managed to make it, but the Dutch tram system isn’t easy! There aren’t as many maps on the trains as there are on the tube, so I’m spoiled in London.

There may be trams, but most people use bikes!

There may be trams, but most people use bikes!

Our first stop was the Van Gogh museum. The earless artist lived in Amsterdam for much of his life.

Cypresses and Two Women

Cypresses and Two Women

I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for museums that are well-organized, and the Van Gogh museum was no exception. His paintings were arranged both chronologically and according to theme, some of which included his experimentation with Impressionism, Pointillism and Oriental Art. His favorite subjects were peasants. He went to live in peasant villages to paint them, and described their cottages as “little human nests,” which is a description I love.

Chillin' outside the Van Gogh museum

Chillin’ outside the Van Gogh museum

Undergrowth

Undergrowth

If there’s anything the museum taught me, it’s that it’s never too late to try something new. Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27. I only wish he was able to apply the “never too late” philosophy to his own life. He only painted for 10 years.

Garden of St. Paul's Hospital

Garden of St. Paul’s Hospital

Shelby and I decided to go look for dinner after the museum and didn’t have much luck. We walked down endless canals, side streets and main stretches, which were very beautiful and reminded me a lot of Venice.

We finally found a restaurant and walked inside. As soon as we stepped in, I noticed that we didn’t quite fit in. The entire restaurant was full of Malaysian people who were having a private event. They seemed very surprised to see us, but in our defense, there was no sign on the door. We had to awkwardly squeeze between their chairs to get out as they stared at us.

In what was a change of pace, I feel like I did most of the wide-eyed staring throughout the trip. As we were walking and searching for dinner, I noticed a red lightbulb in a street lamp. “Oh” I said to myself. “The red light district.” I knew from friends who had visited Amsterdam that this was the area where prostitutes went to work. Then, as if on cue, I looked in a window and saw a 250-pound woman in a thong.

A8

Walking into the red light district intentionally is one thing, but stumbling into it unexpectedly is quite another. We were shocked, to say the least, and the sightings only got worse and more graphic. As we know, in the US, prostitution is very hush hush and shameful, but here men walked right up to women on the street and seemed cocky, if anything (sorry, I can’t help my puns). It made me sad to see these women turning to prostitution to make all of their money. Especially if you look at Amsterdam as an artsy city full of opportunities for artists and dancers.

A nicer side of the city

A nicer side of the city

The red light district is also full of “coffee shops” which are a pseudonym for places that sell weed. Most of them are called “coffeshop” on the street signs, so I’m not sure how they keep them straight! But between the enormous number of coffee and sex shops I had seen, I was very discouraged with Amsterdam. It was nothing like the Holland I was imagining, and worse, it seemed to be the eternal bachelor party, where endless gaggles of men who were stoned out of their minds trounced around in costumes and approached naked women. (Yes, I should’ve known better and I realize that).

The Venice of the North

The Venice of the North

Luckily, when we were on the tram, I saw a sign for Keukenhof Gardens. This place is the most photographed location in the world, and is what I think of as “tulip heaven.” I knew it wasn’t in Amsterdam and would be a side trip away, but I also knew that if I didn’t see the tulips my Holland trip wouldn’t really seem worth it.

Spring! Finally!

Spring! Finally!

My new BFF in the petting zoo. Don't worry, he liked me.

My new BFF in the petting zoo. Don’t worry, he liked me.

Clogging all the way to Holland

Clogging all the way to Holland

So off we went. And thank goodness we did. Although they weren’t completely in bloom, the tulip fields were vibrant and gorgeous. We walked down endless paths of flowers in the sunny weather. Finally, I felt like I was having spring in Europe. The tulips were also unlike anything I’d seen in Europe so far. They looked even better than the ones on the small world ride, too.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

A15

Posing with the flowers

Posing with the flowers

A17

That afternoon we took a tour of the Heineken brewery. Our tour once again reinforced that Amsterdam caters to people living the “high life.” There were areas in the Heineken “experience” where you could lay down and watch TV screens. It was a lot like the Guinness tour I took in Dublin except this time there was a 4D ride where you got to pretend to be beer getting bottled. We got splashed with water and tousled around. It was pretty fun! We also got free samples, so who can argue with that?

Old logo

Old logo

The selfies continue, of course

The selfies continue, of course

Shelby and I took a cocktail cruise on Amsterdam’s famous canals that night. We were the only pair on board who wasn’t a couple. Oops. We had fun though, and Amsterdam proved that it could be very pretty at night, which made me warm up to it a little more.

Too bad this wasn't our boat!

Too bad this wasn’t our boat!

Views from the cruise

Views from the cruise

A22

The most memorable part of my trip by far was my visit to the Anne Frank museum, which deserves its own post. The museum was the best thing I did in Amsterdam, so the upcoming post is worth it!

We finished off the trip by taking a quick look into the diamond museum and taking pictures by the “I Amsterdam” letters. This proved to be quite the struggle because most people decided to have 10 minute photo shoots on the letters, and because a baby straddled me just as Shelby was going to take my picture (see below):

I promise this is candid. I'm clearly very annoyed at the girl hogging the "a"

I promise this is candid. I’m clearly very annoyed at the girl hogging the “a”

Getting ready to take the pic and the baby approaches

Getting ready to take the pic and the baby approaches

Um...hello there

Um…hello there

Much better!

Much better!

In every other city I’ve been to, I’ve thought, “I would love to come back some day.” I don’t feel that way about Amsterdam. It’s too cooky, too out there and, actually, too free.

Amsterdam did however give me the Anne Frank museum, which was worth the trip in itself. It gave me a greater appreciation for my ability to write freely, and it gave me a taste of springtime (no, not the leafy kind, thank you very much).

Until next time,

Allison, who is now finally having springtime in London

I Love One Direction. Here’s Why You Should, Too:

If you think they’re just teenage popstar wannabees who dress up in hipsterish clothes, sing bubbly tunes and make headlines with their female exploits, you’re wrong. They’re not wannbees, they are pop stars. And you shouldn’t hate on them too much.

Yes, I went to a One Direction concert and I loved every second of it. I got to attend a concert in a sold-out arena for one of the most popular bands of the year (their album Up All Night did debut at No. 1 in America. No other British band, not even The Beatles, has done this) and the concert was in their “home territory” as one of the first stops on their world tour.

Official merch.

Official merch.

So am I supposed to be embarrassed that I went to a 1D concert as a 21-year-old? If I am, then please talk to the 28-year-old women I saw wearing leopard print leggings who had “I heart Harry Styles” buttons on. Or the many moms toting 1D purses with the faces of the boys on them.

Brooke was so excited for the show she felt butterflies all day, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t incredibly excited, too. I had always thought their songs were catchy, but it was their music videos for Kiss You and Red Nose Day that really sold me. If you don’t watch them, take my word for it: they’re so much fun.

That’s what One Direction is. Fun. There isn’t much substance to their songs. They have repetitive chorus sections; predictable key changes and their ballads are sung with sad teenage puppy dog eyes. But their “fun factor” is what makes them so charming. (They did get Prime Minister David Cameron to make a cameo in their Red Nose Day video, so it’s clear their charm is irresistible).

The doors to the concert opened at 6:30. Yes, you read that right. I had playfully teased Brooke that the concert was “for children,” but the rules were out into effect to help parents get their children home for reasonable bedtimes. Not too long ago, the Biebs caused quite the controversy when he was two hours late for his show. He made a lot of parents angry, and a lot of kids tired the next day at school. A lot of people had to leave the concert to get the last train home to the suburbs.

Giddy selfies while waiting for the concert

Giddy selfies while waiting for the concert

When we got to the O2 early that evening, we entered a land filled with the most enthusiastic pre-teen directioners in the world. Every single girl was thrilled beyond belief to be there. Some were already crying (read: sobbing). For these directioners, the opportunity to see their favorite band in a sold-out megacomplex would make for one of the most exciting days in their lives thus far.

Maybe band experiences are a little different now because of social media. Most of the girls who attend 1D’s concerts feel like they really know the boys on a personal level. They tweet at them, follow them on Instagram and have watched all of their YouTube video confessionals.

To them, this concert was their chance to show just how much they loved them. If it wasn’t made clear by all of the posters asking for the boys’ hands in marriage, it was made even more evident by the hopeful looks on all of their young faces.

This is what a sold-out O2 looks like

This is what a sold-out O2 looks like

Before the show, they deliberately picked out special outfits, which were inspired by their Tumblr pages, in the hopes that, even though they were sitting hundreds of rows back, just maybe one of the boys would see them amongst all of the other screaming fans and want to marry them. It’s very sweet.

I think that’s something we can all relate to. A deep love for music and the work that our favorite artists put out. That feeling is intensified in adolescence. We can all remember the days of listening to our favorite pop bands on endless loops in our rooms. When no one else in the world understood your younger self, you knew that you could turn to your favorite lyrics to solve your problems and give your life a little more meaning.

Look at all those cell phones taking pics

Look at all those cell phones taking pics

You’ve surely heard “What Makes You Beautiful,” the song that launched the band into stardom, one million times. To you, it might just be an overplayed pop song with a catchy chorus that gets stuck in your head. But to 1D’s audience, which is 98% female and 90% under the age of 18, it’s personal.

“You’re insecure, Don’t know what for, You’re turning heads when you walk through the door, Don’t need make-up to cover up, Being the way that you are is enough, Everyone else in the room can see it, Everyone else but you.”

<3

<3

To little directioners, these words make them feel less alone in the world. Like someone can actually love them and think they’re beautiful just for who they are. There’s no time that’s more important to hear that than as a teenage girl.

When we were in line to get in, I heard a girl ask her friend in a low, serious tone, “Do you think I should do it? Should I yell ‘I love you’ to Harry?”

And this was only the beginning of the confessionals. Girls were not shy about their feelings as the concert went on. I heard many “I’m going to have a heart attack!” “I think I’m going to ex-plode!” And of course, endless “Oh my gawd, oh my gawd” refrains.

The concert was deafening because of all of the high-pitched screams, but it was endlessly entertaining. The setlist is clearly rehearsed and the jokes in between songs fit in as perfect introductions to the next songs. The boys jumped around the stage, sang (live, might I add) their hearts out into microphones and Niall (my favorite, obviously) even played guitar. So they aren’t completely useless musicians.

"AHHHHH!"

“AHHHHH!”

It was incredible to see the parents near us mouthing the words and swaying to the music. Some were even jumping up and down alongside their grade-school children. They have played the CDs on endless loops in their cars. The lyrics have provided the soundtrack to drives to dance lessons, the grocery store and school. Maybe these parents have even left the CD in the CD player when their kids have gotten out of the car because they enjoy it.

Because One Direction is fun. And we all need pure, uninhibited fun sometimes. I can say that I’ve never seen my sister more happy than she was during the 90-minute, 21-song set, and I definitely rode the “1D high” home to my apartment where I gushed about how great it was to my roommates.

After all, we need an excuse to scream so much we feel lightheaded, dance without a care in the world and sing at the tops of our lungs.

Hi, Niall.

Hi, Niall.

We also all need to feel like we’re wanted, and One Direction, more than any other boy band at this moment, makes its directioners feel needed. It makes them feel important without demoralizing them. They “don’t need makeup” and know that someone cares about them even though they’ve “never loved (their) stomach or their thighs.”

So bring on the bubbly songs. When 1D comes to the U.S. this summer, it will undoubtedly be received with ear-piercing screams and tears from millions of devoted fans. But as long as they continue to put on energetic shows full of fun and encouraging messages, I say they’re headed in the right direction.

Until next time,

Allison, who would gladly marry Niall

A Moveable Feast (Also known as a weekend in Paris)

I took French for seven years, but before this weekend, my mental images of France were limited to the pictures of teenagers wearing berets and ’90s clothing who filled the pages of my textbooks and of scenes from my favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. I knew that neither was probably accurate to Paris, the city of lights. The city of love.

If you’ve never been to Paris, you might imagine it as a city where people wear black berets, take long drags from cigarettes and carry around baguettes. In your mind, the joy and debauchery of the 1920s might still be present, with writers sitting in cafes and meandering the streets as they searched for inspiration.

Bonjour, Paris!

Bonjour, Paris!

In reality, you might not be too far off. To me, it seemed that Paris did try to maintain its chic, ’20s-era image that fills black and white pictures. It was a time of new excitement after the war when anything was possible, but when a certain longing and sadness hung in the air.

Paris is expected to be perfect. My friend Celia recently posted an article by a British journalist that talks about how there’s an unspoken agreement to always paint Paris in a positive, dreamlike light.  “Oh, you’re going to Paris!” people will say with jealousy when they find out you’re going. And it’s true. People don’t speak of other cities that way. After all, no one tries to hide the fact that London can be grey and dreary.

Some of the first sites I saw in Paris

Some of the first sites I saw in Paris

As I stepped off the chunnel after a two-hour ride through the French countryside and under the English Channel, I expected a city full of people wearing chic clothing while riding bicycles. Maybe even a sighting of Pierre, the stereotypical French teen from my textbooks.

I, too, expected the dreamlike Paris.

Instead, I saw a very different Paris.

I love the gates!

I love the gates!

Am I allowed to report what I saw? Don’t get me wrong; Paris is beautiful. If you just look at the buildings, Paris is tres belle. Most of the architecture seems to embody a French-Classicism style and living spaces are lined with intricate wrought-iron gates. There are also spacious parks paved with large gravel pathways and endless cafes lining the streets.

Look a little closer and you’ll see graffiti. There’s graffiti everywhere. Not street art, like in London (although we do have graffiti, too) but tags with the names of rebellious vandals who made their mark on the otherwise picturesque city.

Typical

Typical

We took a cab to our hotel because the metro overwhelmed us (the metro is a whole different story, but I’ll get back to that later), and were ripped off by a cab driver who overcharged us. (We didn’t find this out until the next day). Bienvenue a Paris! He was actually very friendly, but it’s probably because he was riding the high of ripping off American tourists.

The stadium seats

The stadium seats

We first walked to Notre Dame. I think my entire family was slightly disappointed. This year is the 850th anniversary and the entire front of the cathedral is blocked by a huge row of stadium seats where people are supposed to sit and admire the building, but are instead talking on cell phones and eating croissants (hey, I don’t blame them for the last one). Because of this, it’s impossible to take a picture of the front of the building while getting the whole cathedral in the frame.

The inside was very dim and dark and surprisingly enough, there were TV screens inside. They were put there to help people see the service that would otherwise be blocked by the tall pillars, but having TVs seems to take away from the ambiance of the old church.

It's pretty hard to get a picture without them!

It’s pretty hard to get a picture without them!

The workers also ask for silence, but then charged for audioguides to hear about the history of the church. I know that audioguides are a convenient way to give information to the masses, but it seems a little hypocritical to have noisemaking objects in a place that asks for silence. (Notre Dame isn’t the only church to do this, so I can’t single it out). On top of all of that I didn’t see Quasimodo or Esmeralda!

We also walked into this famous bookstore!

We also walked into this famous bookstore!

And watched people put locks on the lock bridge

And watched people put locks on the lock bridge

Afterwards, we walked to Saint Chappelle, which was originally built to house Jesus’ crown of thorns. The crown has since been moved to Notre Dame, but the chapel remains and has the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world.

Wow

Wow

Tres belle!

Tres belle!

We then took a long walk to the Louvre. Inside, we saw the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory and a Sphinx. You would not believe the number of people who race up to these famous pieces, snap pictures and dart away. Or the number of people who take selfies by the works.

Da Vinci Code, anyone?

Da Vinci Code, anyone?

And, of course, we saw the Mona Lisa. It was one of Da Vinci’s favorite paintings. He loved it so much he carried it with him until he died. Imagine, being so proud of something you can’t bear to let it out of your sight. And just like the movie says, the most fascinating part is her smile. There’s something about her smile that’s really calm, but seems to hint that she’s thinking about something in particular. Of what we’ll never know.

There's that smile.

There’s that smile.

We spent the evening meandering the streets. We noticed that all of the chairs in the cafes face outward so that you sit next to the people you’re eating with and can people watch. People sit to see and be seen. I personally loved how all of the seats were next to one another. It means that even if you are eating alone, you aren’t really alone. You might remember that people eating alone makes me incredibly sad, so the café set-up really touched me. Maybe it isn’t exactly that amiable in reality, but the Paris café situation seems lovely in my mind.

Not so lonely! Maybe

Not so lonely! Maybe

My favorite cafe menu item: crepes!

My favorite cafe menu item: crepes!

The next day we went to the Musee d’Orsay, which features works from 1848-1915. We mainly went to see all of the Monet pieces. Monet is my favorite artist, and in my advanced art class in eighth grade I recreated one of his water lily bridge scenes on a shelf. It turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.

My painting. Just kidding.

My painting. Just kidding.

I have seen a lot of incredible paintings in my time abroad, but none of them have meant as much to me Monet’s. I’ve seen too many naked women in my time here, and the flower scenes have always made me feel the calmness and tranquility that Monet tried to capture in his Parisian landscapes.

That afternoon we went on a tour of Paris with a guide. We spent quite a lot of time in the car listening to her teach us more about the city. We saw all of the main sites (including the Eiffel Tower for the first time in our visit), Les Invalides where Napoleon is buried (well, some of him. His penis is supposedly in New Jersey) and the beautiful Sacre Coeur, which is on top of a huge hill.

Les Invalides

Les Invalides

Missing something, Napoleon?

Missing something, Napoleon?

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

I didn’t speak too much French while I was abroad. I used basic French to help ask for directions and to order a few times, but I felt surprisingly panicked most of the time I tried to use it. My heavy American accent showed through any type of pronunciation I tried to use, and it made me feel really embarrassed. I give a lot of credit to my friends studying abroad in Paris, because it isn’t an easy city to be a foreigner in.

That night we had our own midnight in Paris adventure (I know, how many times am I going to make that joke) and went to the Eiffel Tower. Unbeknownst to us, the tower had been evacuated because of a bomb threat just three hours before we got there. It reopened just as we were stepping off the metro to walk towards it.

Family photo! Minus one

Family photo! Minus one

I think everyone in my family said “ooh” “ah” and “wow” dozens of times as we looked at the tall beauty when it was all lit up. We didn’t go all the way to the top, but the view was still amazing. While standing on the platform, I could see why Paris is called the city of lights. Tiny glowing dots were peppered in the blackness. I felt almost out of my own body and partly removed from the world as I looked down. Of course, the romanticism didn’t last too long because it was cold and windy and I was surrounded by middle-schoolers taking selfies. Still, it was nice to be momentarily removed and thinking of the world passing by underneath.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

All of the lights

All of the lights

The next day I was Belle. Just kidding. I didn’t read a book while walking through the streets, but I would have if I had one. We went to the Sunday Markets where locals were buying huge baguettes, pieces of meat and fresh produce for their Easter meals. It felt quintessentially French, with the specialized stores for fromage and charcuterie.

Name this movie: "Marie, the baguettes! Hurry up!"

Name this movie: “Marie, the baguettes! Hurry up!”

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Obviously I was drawn to this shop

Obviously I was drawn to this shop

At this point, we had been taking the metro for a full day. We knew that it would be smelly (think urine) and filled with endless graffiti. Unlike in London, lots of homeless people take up residence in the metro stations. There are homeless people in London, but they are far less visible than they are in Paris. I unfortunately saw homeless people more than I saw any baguettes or hand-holders. I realized that I was disillusioned about Paris when I saw a mom sleeping in a phone booth with two children. I also realized how fortunate I was to be on a Parisian holiday with my family and not jammed into a small rectangular space.

Back to the metro, which was, like London, very crowded, but incredibly dirty. We stepped on to go to the Arc de Triomphe, and all of a sudden,  I was hit with a wave of the smell of number two. It was so strong my eyes started to water.

“It smells like poop,” I said to my sister, and started giggling because I inherited a little bit of my mom’s 12-year-old sense of humor. All of a sudden, my sister looked down at the row of seats in front of her and saw, well, you can guess.

Shall I spare you the gory details? Yes. You’re welcome. Needless to say, after trying to hold our breaths and stifling our gags, we jumped off the metro and switched cars at the next stop. I’ve never been so thankful to gulp in the smoggy metro air, and would never take it for granted again. I’m also thankful for how clean London is.

Paris is much more gritty than I expected. A huge cloud of smoke lingers above graffiti-tagged buildings, and when I think of Paris, I’ll now always think of the smell of cigarette smoke. And maybe of another smell, too.

Afterwards, we went to the Arc, which has a tomb to the Unknown Soldier.  We climbed to the top and enjoyed views of sunny Paris, once again above the world.

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We left the city Sunday night with stomachs full of fondue. I really enjoyed my time in Paris. We ate well and saw beautiful artwork and architecture. I felt transported in a cloud of smoke (quite literally) into a city trying to hold onto its 1920s-past.

That’s good and bad. The ‘20s are over, obviously. And the graffiti and obvious sights of poverty show that Paris isn’t the dreamlike city it’s often painted to be.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. It is. It just means that even the most beautiful things have blemishes.

Au revoir, Paris!

Au revoir, Paris!

I recently read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” which might be why my visions of Paris are so skewed towards the ’20s. He sums up the city pretty well though when he says, “Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong…”

Nothing is simple when you describe Paris. Even more, he writes, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Now, I haven’t lived in Paris and I’ve obviously not a man, but the memories of the city will remain. Paris is a moveable feast for me, but I know that if I should ever return, a haze of smoke will transport me back.

Until next time,

Allison, whose moveable feast was mostly crepes

“We Are Family”: London Edition

Please excuse my blogging hiatus: Time flies when you’re having fun with your guests. I had lots of company the past 10 days! My mom, dad and sister finally arrived in London on March 23, which explains why it’s been so long since my last update. It’s no secret that I’ve been homesick, but I was so glad to get the chance to show them around the city that I’ve gotten to know over the past few months. I really wish my brother could’ve come too, but missing a week of classes isn’t easy when you’re in the middle of a college semester.

London did not reciprocate with a warm welcome, I’m afraid. The weather was absolutely terrible the entire time they were here, with temperatures in the 30s, snow, freezing rain and even a bit of hail. I’m proud of how well they marched through it!

London can still be pretty in the cold.

London can still be pretty in the cold.

We started off their London tour in Camden by going to the markets. I showed them the place where I got my tattoo (kidding, but there are a lot of tattoo shops in the market) and told them not to be fooled by the sneaky sample-givers. We went to dinner with my roommates that night and they got their first taste of fish and chips! Brooke wasn’t thrilled with the outcome, as the fish tastes really fishy, but my dad and I enjoyed it. That night I took my dad to the Earl of Camden, the old standby pub, and we had a pint together.

Sunday was a day for touristy sites in abundance. We spent the day on the south bank, first going to the Tower of London. It’s as a tourist once again that I can remember exactly why I wanted to come to London. Maybe some of the magic gets lost in the day-to-day work and class routine, because after all, I am living here. But sites like the tower, which has served as an armory, treasury, royal residence and execution site in its history, show just how much significance London has.

To the Tower!

To the Tower!

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Who sat here? Was he beheaded? (There's a good chance).

Who sat here? Was he beheaded? (There’s a good chance).

The ghost whisperer, ghost hunters and Long Island Medium would have a field day at the tower because of all of the people buried there. I didn’t meet any ghosts, and that’s just fine with me. William built the Conqueror the tower in 1078. It was here that we got to see the queen’s royal Crown Jewels, which are magnificent diamonds owned by the royal family and worn during important ceremonies.

The crown jewels were in here, but no pictures are allowed

The crown jewels were in here, but no pictures are allowed

We also got to see a lot of animals. I had no idea that the tower was once a menagerie. Rich people would give animals to the king as gifts (because what else do you give the person who has everything?) Monkeys would run rampant and smoke cigars (really). One even mauled a little girl who was visiting! Artists created sculptures of the animals to try to recreate some of the magic. (I preferred the sculptures. They were tamer and probably smelled better).

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Don't hurt me!

Don’t hurt me!

Next we went to Tower Bridge, which is not the London Bridge. Tower Bridge is much prettier than London Bridge and is the one you probably recognize from millions of shots during the Olympics. We went up to the top and got some great views of frigid, cloudy London.

Not London Bridge

Not London Bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

We also did the London Eye, which is a big Ferris wheel that was built to be the world’s tallest “observation wheel.” There’s one orange car on the eye that’s probably used as a marker to track the speed and number of cycles the wheel makes. I’ve always wanted to ride in the orange car because it’s the most identifiable. Guess what? We got put in the orange car without asking! I was as excited as I would if I got to ride in the front car of a roller coaster.

You can't see the orange one here, but it's special!

You can’t see the orange one here, but it’s special!

Eye spy...

Eye spy…

Buckingham Palace views from the eye!

Buckingham Palace views from the eye!

On Monday I got a second chance at Bath, which, as you might remember, is home to the Jane Austen Centre. I mean, yes, there is more in the town than the centre. This time it was open! Hallelujah! We took the train to Bath and once again toured the Roman baths. Bath has a lot of limestone and the hills are removed from the town, but it has the countryside charm that I was hoping my family could experience. I think they enjoyed their reprieve from the city.

Bath take 2

Bath take 2

Costumed workers. Or time travelers?

Costumed workers. Or time travelers?

Looks magical

Looks magical

The Jane Austen Centre was pretty great. Not as great as her house of course, but still worth the visit. The most important thing I took away was that, though Jane hated the high society and superficiality of Bath, the trials and tribulations she faced helped her to write her novels. No matter how hard things get, it’s important to remember that there is a higher purpose.

Life motto

Life motto

NOT Mr. Darcy. Also, he asked to take a picture with me. Eek.

NOT Mr. Darcy. Also, he asked to take a picture with me. Eek.

I got dressed up for the occasion

I got dressed up for the occasion

Tuesday was another day of touristy activities. We started off the day at Westminster Abbey, which is where Will and Kate were married. It’s also where an incredible number of monarchs are buried. There are plaques with tributes to great writers (featured in poets corner). I think there must be a lot of bad juju inside. Mary Queen of Scots is buried next to her nemesis, Elizabeth I.

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Going to a burial site always makes me uncomfortably aware of human mortality. The majority of people in the Abbey have amazing monuments that are testaments to the grand people they were and exciting things they accomplished. Of course, we don’t all need that, but I think we can do our best to make some sort of mark while we’re here.

We tried to go to Borough Market so my dad could try wild boar, but sadly the beasts weren’t there. The market is much more crowded on the weekends (and probably when it isn’t 30 degrees).

Shakespeare’s Globe was next. I had stood outside but hadn’t been in. Of course the actual theatre was closed that day (this is the story if my study abroad experience) but we did get to see an exhibit.

Globe through the years

Globe through the years

We owe a lot to the bard!

We owe a lot to the bard!

We then went to the Churchill war rooms, which I thought were incredible. During the blitz of WWII, Churchill and his staff bunkered down in rooms under the street to essentially run the war operations. Churchill was well respected by his staff even though he had some weird personality quirks (he made his staff tie papers together because he didn’t like paper clips and staples). I think he was very stressed and took his war frustrations out in idiosyncrasies.

Meeting room

Meeting room

This sign was used to show the weather above ground

This sign was used to show the weather above ground

Churchill's bedroom

Churchill’s bedroom

Foreboding poster

Foreboding poster

The museum gave such an intimate look into his life. I was sad to learn that his parents had neglected poor little Winston. He had a privileged upbringing but was sent to boarding school. He wrote his parents letters begging them to come visit him, but they never did. Poor guy. I think he turned out ok.

One of Winston's originals

One of Winston’s originals

Keys to all of the war rooms

Keys to all of the war rooms

I love this!

I love this!

On Wednesday we visited a cute Easter-themed egg display in Covent Garden. My mom read about it on Facebook, and although we didn’t see any eggs at first, you should never underestimate my mom and her ability to use Facebook to find promotions.

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Found one!

Found one!

I went to the famed changing of the guard for the first time. My experience could also be called the “view of the palace gates as blocked by hundreds of people.” It’s really hard to see over the tall tourists who press themselves against the gates. The changing of the guard is so much longer than I thought it would be. I thought it was 10 minutes, but it’s actually between 45 minutes and an hour.

Keep calm and march on

Keep calm and march on

Honestly, I was a just “whelmed” (my sister’s expression for not being over or underwhelmed, but in between). It’s a ceremony with a lot of meaning, but because of the temperatures and the man resting his camera on my head, I had seen enough after 30 minutes.

We then headed out to Windsor castle to see the queen’s “preferred” residence where she spends her weekends (well excuse me!). I had no idea that Windsor would be so, well, castle-y. It was more of a fortress than a palace, and that’s what it was built for. Windsor actually burned down in 1992 and was restored within five years. We saw the chapel where the queen mum is buried, an enormous model dollhouse, an exhibit with pictures of the queen throughout the years, and endless paintings, garnishes and priceless furniture. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but maybe the outside will give you an indication of the extent of the collection.

 

Winsdor

Winsdor

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So pretty!

So pretty!

London was chilly, foggy and grey but I think my family liked what they saw of their first visit to the international city. We saw the best of what London has to offer, and I’m glad I got to experience it with them.

I know a city vacation In a foreign country isn’t the most relaxing, especially when you’re jammed between strangers on the tube, trying to understand strange accents and struggling to make sense of the tube map. I hope they got to appreciate another culture and learn more about the history of the world and if nothing else, appreciate the convenience of driving to Target at a moment’s notice. I think this trip meant more to them than just a visit to see me (at least, I hope it did!)

This trip is one my grandparents will never get to take. This is a trip many of my friends will never get to take. This is a trip my parents worked all of their lives to take, and I was lucky enough to get to jet off before they could. I think each time they look back on this trip, it’ll only mean more to them. I’m so lucky to have been able to spend so much time with them in a foreign part of the world, snow and all.

Stay tuned for my post about our weekend in Paris!

Until next time,

Allison, who misses her family already