California, Travel, United States

The First of September

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I’d lost track of the days. It had become less about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and more about Universal-day, Disneyland-day, California Adventures-day, Fly home-day. We’d packed the week to the brim, but hadn’t scheduled anything for the day of our flight. Our plane wouldn’t leave until seven in the evening, and the furthest we’d gotten in our plan was relax. Sarah suggested a beach; the rest of us had been so focused on squeezing everything out of California’s theme parks, we’d forgotten about its non- (or less) commercial entities.

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We decided on Santa Monica. I’d been wanted to go for a few years now, drawn to the idea of an amusement park on the pier. (Though we’d seen Disney’s version merely the day before. It made the experience a little bittersweet and empty.) It was very The OC/So Little Time/the-only-two-Cali-set-TV-shows-I’d-ever-watched. Yellow sand, blue water, lifeguard huts, the strip of modern beach houses along the boardwalk.

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As I stood thigh-deep in the rolling water—the waves skimming the loose threads of my shorts, the sun keeping me warm, if not a touch too hot—I thought something along the lines of, This is the freaking life. I thought about how, if I lived here, I’d come down to the shores every day, just to dip my legs in the ocean, or bring a settle down on a thin blanket with a bottle of water and a book.
But then I thought, Maybe not. Maybe I’d just get stuck in the city—whether in traffic or just in my head—and never make it out as often as I’d like to. And maybe this is just a fantastic way to spend the first day of September.

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Norwich, Travel

Norwich, I Hardly Knew Ye

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Sometimes I just want to be in Norwich. I know I romanticize the city—how well did I evenknow it, really? I abandoned it nearly every weekend. I never went to half of the coffee shops and pubs that I planned on visiting. I never even saw Riverside during the day. But sometimes in the middle of my day I check up on it—a quick Google Map search of the University of East Anglia (UEA), No. 33, Biddy’s. I just want to know how it’s doing.

These photos are from the time I showed Asha around the city centre. Not that I really knew where I was going.

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This blog post comes at a good time, actually. For one thing, it was exactly two years ago from today that I first took the train from London to Norwich—speeding into the countryside, past fields and bricked buildings and train station after train station, drinking in the town as our taxi drove us from the station up to UEA, bruising my calves as my broken suitcase banged against them, lugging my bags throughout campus, up three flights of stairs, down the hall to the otherwise pretty-well-deserted flat. Two years ago, I sat on my bare bed in my bare room, my now-useless suitcase half-unpacked, wondering why I’d come because I was very obviously not going to make any friends and oh lord this was going to be a painful and lonely three months. And then I actually met my flatmates and all was well.

So, not only has it been two years that I first wandered into the town, but last week I met a woman from the UK who, when I told her I spent a semester in Norwich, immediately burst into laughter and spat, “Oh god, how did they get you to go there?” After she continued to denounce it as an awful place, assigning something like five negative descriptors (bad, awful, so-tiny, oh-god, hahohoh) without a single actual reason, I creaked a nervous laugh and asked, “So, have you had a chance to go, or you just know well enough to stay away…?” to which she replied, “Oh, no, never been.”

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Is Norwich tiny? Sure—from what I saw, the city centre is small, and you can back and forth up and down the river and not tire, and, yes, it’s quiet. But is it bad-awful-ohgod-hahohoh? Obviously that’s an opinion, and, true, I only spent three months there and was absent most weekends, but that’s still going to be a hard no from me. Even the just-under-an-hour walk from the university campus into the city centre was nice, really. I meandered through the residential streets, peeking in windows of students and families, admiring the brick buildings and corner stores. And maybe it’s just because it’s different from what I know at home, but there was something cozy and just really fucking pleasant about it, if you want to know the truth.

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However small and sleepy I found Norwich to be, UEA was even more so. Especially Saturday mornings in Flat 29. Sometimes I’d come into the crisp kitchen before anyone else; the glass door to the balcony might be ajar, glasses and bottles strewn across the two tables pushed together to make one communal hangout surface, pots with dried pasta gathered near or in the sink. I’d scuttle across the chilled floor to boil water for tea. Sometimes Haydn would already be sitting on our stiff vinyl couch-bench, reading the paper or listening to music. If it was a weekend I wasn’t running off to catch a bus or a train—trying to cram in as many cities into my three months instead of maybe just staying put for once and chilling out—we might pop down to the coffee shop on campus or the museum café for a scone or pain au chocolat. Anyway, sometimes I just miss it all; afternoons at No. 33, nights at Gonzo’s, weekends studying at the museum, and the holiday meals, sleepovers, and late-night paper-writing in the kitchen. It was quiet, but it was a nice place to be. And every time I see ziggurat-style buildings, I think back to UEA.

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Greece, Santorini, Travel

Under the Oian Sun(set)

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People flock from all over the world to crowd into Santorini’s Caldera, clamouring over one another with DSLRs and iPhones drawn, because Oia is known for having some of the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. List 25 puts it at number five, lauding it as “probably the most famous place in the world to watch the sunset”, and if it’s good enough for a site as definitive sounding as List 25, it’s good enough for my blog. Tripadvisor even lists “sunsets” as third top thing to do in Santorini—because as breathtaking and miraculous as it is, a sunset is still something as common and mundane as a thing and is something that can be done.

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I’m no good at ranking things or memories. I’ve certainly seen some truly beautiful sunsets, but I couldn’t pinpoint the time or place. Some have happened right at home in B.C., from the office window at my work. Right before I lower the blinds, as I’m dropping all my weight on the rope, I get a clear view of the evening settling into the mountains. Everything is tinted blue—the mountains, the houses, the trees, distant apartment buildings—but as the sun slips into the west, a line of pale pink traces every outline. And if you want me to get truly sappy, some of the best sunsets have been on school roofs and chilly beaches because I was with people I loved, and, as John Lennon (but credited as Lennon-McCartney) said, “love is all you need”.

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I think the truly beautiful part about a sunset is not the descent itself, but the effect it has on its surroundings. The colours bleeding from the sky, the glow of the buildings, the creeping of goosebumps as its final rays leave your skin. I had a hard time with the Oian sunset. My iPhone’s sensitive lighting (either bleaching my screen or casting everything in shadow) and my inability to work my DSLR’s manual settings could never capture any beauty that might be there, so after a few half-hearted snaps, I usually gave up and just tried to watch through unfiltered eyes—though this too was difficult, mainly due to, you know, sun rays scorching my eyeballs. It burned a glaring gold, slipped into a harsh scarlet. Maybe my eyes are just pussywillows, or maybe I should own sunglasses that properly protect from UVA/UVB rays, but it was difficult to enjoy. So instead I’d turn away. And certain as the sun setting in the west, the moon was quietly climbing into the periwinkle sky behind the entire crowd’s back. Part of me wanted to shout at them, berate them for choosing this loud sunset over the humble moon, but the bigger part of me is a hipster-esque prat who likes to keep the best things to myself and then share them all-knowingly on the Internet.

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Greece, Santorini, Travel

To Fira!

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We hiked to Fira. I thought it would be intense but it wasn’t. If I can do it, you can do it—no matter who you are. We passed by cave hotel after cave hotel, with their luxurious pools and luxurious occupants, while we sweated and swotted.

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To quote one Aubrey Graham: “We started from the bottom now we here. We started from the bottom now we halfway here.” At least that’s how I thought it went until I looked up the lyrics for this post.

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Streets, alleyways, and rooftop terrace galore.

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Where Oia is deep blues and crisp whites, Fira is pastel washes. It’s still holiday, but not in a getaway-type like Oia. It’s bigger and busier, ruled by vehicles more than pedestrians. It has those shops where fish nibble the dead skin off your calloused feet. Most importantly, it has a bus that will cart you back to Oia.

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Greece, Santorini, Travel

The Beach

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“You can walk to the beach,” they said. “It is doable,” they said. I suppose it was doable, as we did do it. But what I imagined would be a casual stroll turned into a half-hour trek up and down hills, along unending Prairie-like stretches of road spotted with abandoned houses and crumbling bus stop shelters.

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This was the second time in my life that I accepted a ride from a stranger. But she had a child in the back seat, so she was either a loving mother or a kidnapper having a really good day. Or, possibly, a really terrible mother for unrelated reasons. Either way, one of us would be happy. 

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I was a super  n00b with European beaches and didn’t realize we’d have to pay for it. We sat on the some of the lounge chairs laid out—the convenience of which did make me wonder—forked over a few euros once a guy with a drink tray came up. Because after that half-hour desert hike, why not?

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To be real with you, I truly didn’t mind the walk. As my friends probably know, I love walking and I’m fast. I don’t mean to brag, but I have almost no other physical skills of which to boast so just let me have this. It’s just funnier to think that I was like, wtf is this. In any case, we made our way back up the hill and treated ourselves to huge bowls of pasta. So, really, a good day all around for me.

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