What’s the Point of Bucket Lists?

It happens fairly often. Lonely Planet, Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, or Matador will tweet or post a picture of some unearthly landscape. I’ll open said picture and then exhale a sigh that’s usually a mixture of envy (of the photographer) and wonder (of the incredible world we inhabit). I’m in love with my job teaching English in Japan, but when I’m sitting at work, elbow-deep in grading final exams or wading through three hundred essays, all it takes is a picture of some far-off city to send me to Kayak to look up the cost of plane tickets. Just in case. It never hurts to know, right? Once I pry myself off WikiTravel, I head to my desktop to open a file simply titled “Bucket List.” And then yet another experience or city or landmark gets added to an already substantial catalog. Continue reading What’s the Point of Bucket Lists?

Throwback Thursday: German Christmas Markets

Seeing as it’s the Christmas season, it seemed only appropriate that I write about one of my favorite European winter traditions: Christmas markets. When I studied abroad in Cologne, Germany, going to the Christmas markets was absolutely one of my favorite memories. They’re becoming a bit more popular now in the States (I hear the one in Chicago is particularly impressive), but perhaps I’m a bit spoiled or biased, because those in Europe, especially Germany, will always be number one in my heart. Give me the choice between doing my Christmas shopping at an American mall or spending the afternoon perusing a Weihnachtsmarkt with a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a potato pancake in the other, and that decision is a no-brainer for me.

Even when it was rainy, the Christmas market in Berlin was warmly lit.
Even when it was rainy, the Christmas market in Berlin was warmly lit.

Continue reading Throwback Thursday: German Christmas Markets

I Will Always Be a Rookie

Today I leave for India and Nepal, and my heart is in my throat. My body feels like a roiling storm of adrenaline and stress hormones, and no matter how much I try to quiet it down, it refuses to be still. My pulse is racing, and I cannot help but count down the hours until I can board my plane from Narita.

If you were watching me closely, you might see how my knee is jiggling and how my fingers are trembling. I catch myself smiling and though I try to compose my expression, my mouth refuses to stay in a neutral straight line. It’s been like this for several weeks. I’ve been stealing glances at the calendar, willing the days to pass by more quickly. To look at me, you would think that this is my first trip abroad, my first time on a plane, my first time using my passport. You’d think that it was a whole host of “firsts” for me. (Or maybe you just think I’m a little bit hyperactive, and maybe you’d be right.) Continue reading I Will Always Be a Rookie

Throwback Thursday – Helsingør

Looking out over the Øresund strait from the ramparts of Kronborg.
Looking out over the Øresund strait from the ramparts of Kronborg.

I suspect that Hamlet must’ve been smoking something hallucinogenic, because I couldn’t find a single thing rotten in Denmark while I was there. It’s a country full of impossibly beautiful people, breathtaking coastal scenery, and a relaxed, accessible cultural vibe that I fell in love with. One of my friends once remarked to me, “If you really want to achieve the American dream, move to Denmark.”

A sign that tells it how it is.
A sign that tells it how it is.

Continue reading Throwback Thursday – Helsingør

How ‘Bout Them Apples?

This post has been a long time coming – more than a month, in fact. The first weekend of November, when snow was merely a worry for the distant future, a few friends and I made the trek out to Hirosaki to pick apples. Growing up in the northeastern part of the United States, I’d always had a few apple orchards within close proximity, but somehow, picking apples was never part of my life.

The apple orchards of Hirosaki Apple Park.
The apple orchards of Hirosaki Apple Park.
Literally, golden and delicious.
Literally, golden and delicious.

Continue reading How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Throwback Thursday: Takayama

The first time I came to Japan, it was on a two-week, whirlwind tour that doubled as a sociology course under Washington & Jefferson College. Takayama (高山), a city nestled in the mountains of Gifu prefecture, was one of the places we visited, and I primarily remember it as a place of “firsts.”

Part of our W&J Intersession study abroad group in Takayama.
Part of our W&J Intersession study abroad group in Takayama.

It was in Takayama that I got my first glimpse of the Japanese Alps, so impressively craggy and beautiful that you can’t help but wonder, “Did I somehow get on the wrong train and end up in Switzerland?” It was the first time I stayed at a 旅館 (ryokan, traditional Japanese inn) and donned a 浴衣 (yukata, informal cotton kimono). It was the first time I wandered off down the streets of Japan, without having the voice of our tour guide in my ear or a map to tell me where I was. It was the first time I ventured into an 温泉 (onsen, public hot spring bath). Continue reading Throwback Thursday: Takayama

Throwback Thursday – Delos

I have been quite taken with Greek and Roman mythology for most of my life. My obsession started when my parents gave me a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology for Christmas when I was in middle school. (I also got a very early start on my nerd street cred.) In high school, I loved reading Romeo & Juliet because it was inspired by the far older myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. In college, the literature of the British Romantic period was my favorite because of its many references to the old Grecian stories. Most people dream of seeing Starry Night and Mona Lisa, but I fangirled over Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss and Winged Victory of Samothrace. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is still one of my favorite books. (And while we’re at it, Hercules is my favorite Disney movie. That counts, right?) I think myths and legends are one of the most fascinating ways to learn about a place’s culture, but for whatever reason, Greece’s stories have always held a special place in my heart. Continue reading Throwback Thursday – Delos