The Importance of Being Earnest, Cambridge, and The V&A (London days 8, 9, & 10)

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So once again I’m thrown off by slow internet. My pictures are taking a million lightyears to upload onto WordPress… and you can’t have a blog without pictures because apparently people have the attention span of a two year old now and mere words aren’t going to cut it…. By the way, did you know London supposedly has the worst wireless connection of any capital in Europe? Not hyperbole; it’s a fact.

But anyway. Tuesday wasn’t too action packed so I can talk about that along with yesterday and today’s happenings. We started the day off with another class period, but this time we went out to Kensington/Hyde Park to read some scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest (since we’d see a production of it later that night). As soon as we gathered, however, it immediately went from pleasantly sunny to chillingly cold and windy. I like cold weather, but I also like to be prepared for it. Simple decisions like what clothes to wear are made stressful by this bipolarness, and no matter what you do you’ll always make the wrong choice. You’ll either heff around a jacket that’s too warm to wear, or wish you’d opted for long pants instead of shorts.

So we only read a few scenes before dispersing. Faith and I ended up finding this little butterfly pavilion next to the Natural History Museum and spent some time playing with butteflies in a warm, humid tent.

We rested some more at our flat before heading out to the West End to see The Importance of Being Earnest. I’d read this play back in high school and watched a live production at Fresno City college. It’s one of my favorites, so I was quite excited to see this one. It’s playing at the Vaudeville theatre, which is one of the many old, expensive venues along the Strand that’s supposed to have the best shows.

hhh

And the best curtain…

Though my seat was a little off center, it provided a great view. The play itself was fantastic. The big talking point was David Suchet cast as Lady Bracknell, the first man to play that part here. But what I loved most was the chemistry between the two main male characters, Algy and Jack. The scene where they argue over muffins almost had me in tears. For class we had to write a response to the play, focusing on an aspect of it that particularly captured our attentions. Here’s what I wrote:

On Tuesday we saw a live performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I remember reading this play in high school and seeing a Fresno City College production, and absolutely loving it. The dialogues are so witty and the characters so ridiculously lovable. I was quite excited to watch a performance here. The Vaudeville’s production was stellar, in my opinion, and there were many things that stood out to me.

Coming from a background in theater, I was immediately drawn to the actors’ use of space. Good performances find a balance between delivering lines sedentary and moving all about while talking. I feel like this production found that balance. Their movements complemented their lines rather than distracting from them. They interacted with props and each other with realistic fluidity. And though each act only had one stationary set, the actors were able to make their space feel dynamic. For example, the actor playing Algernon made his character stand apart by his movements, from laying on the back of the sofa to throwing his cigarettes around. Compare this to Lady Bracknell, who kept her (his?) movements to a minimum, maintained proper posture, and relied more on facial expressions than body language. You could get a sense of what these characters were like simply by the way they interacted with their surroundings, which I felt rounded out the story and made for a quality performance.

Combined with the excellent delivery of lines, the well-designed sets and costumes, and the chemistry between the actors, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest did not disappoint!

Faith and I decided it’d be best to go straight back to our beds right afterward, since we’d be waking up early for the ride to Cambridge the next day (Wednesday). I was a little disappointed the itenerary had been changed from a day trip to Oxford, since I’ve already been to Cambridge. But it was a still a nice day out.

Plus it finally rained!

Plus it finally rained!

As a class we toured a cathedral of one of the colleges. It wasn’t quite on the grand scale as Westminster, but it had its charms.

This ceiling, for instance.

This ceiling, for instance.

For lunch I managed to find Tattie’s again, since I happened to be craving a baked potato. We also explored some other shops for a while, including Hardy’s candy. We hung out under a tree for a bit, then it was time to head back for the evening.

Literally hung

Literally hung

Today, Thursday, Day 10 if you can believe it (I can’t), our plans were reworked due to a tube strike. Apparently those things happen around here, despite the massive inconvenience it causes both locals and tourists. So since the underground was partly non-operational, and the buses were packed as a result, our class went to a museum that was fairly reasonable to walk to. The Victoria & Albert, otherwise known as the V&A.

View from the inner courtyard since the street view involved construction.

View from the inner courtyard since the street view involved construction.

We took the scenic route, which led us through a different part of Hyde Park. We saw the outside of Kensington Palace…

Plain, but still grander than any house I could ever afford.

Plain, but still grander than any house I could ever afford.

Walked through the Kensington Gardens…

Are those hedges in the shape of ducks, or deformed Mickey Mouse heads...?

Are those hedges in the shape of ducks, or deformed Mickey Mouse heads…?

Rested beneath the Albert Memorial…

A bit too gaudy for my tastes.

A bit too gaudy for my tastes.

And walked past Royal Albert Hall.

Royal.

Not to be confused with Peasant Albert Hall.

The V&A museum is another one of those I-could-spend-a-week-living-here-and-still-not-see-everything places. So we went through a few of the more well-known rooms and toured the limited-time exhibits, and then chose something to “focus in on” for our class assignment.

One of the questions we have to explore is “What is British?” In other words, many of the items on display here, as well as in other museums, have come from other parts of the world (whether through trade, gifts, or theft). So how do they symbolize British culture? Why display them in a British museum? Etc. I ran with this into an area I’ve been studying: Asia. There were several Asian rooms; I skimmed through some but really spent some time in Korea (surprise, surprise).

It was a pretty small room, as you can imagine.

Mostly looking at pottery.

There were several floors, so we viewed the “cast” exhibits from a balcony above.

Statue of David

Statue of David

These aren’t the actual statues and columns from Rome, France, etc, but just copies. If my research on England’s trade with Asia doesn’t turn out, I might write about this idea instead. Should the countries of origin have the originals, and other museums have copies or replicas? What is the purpose of displaying items from other parts of the world? If you see a cast of Trajan’s Column in a museum in England, is there incentive to see the original in Rome, too?

Maybe

Answer: probably

I’m glad that this is a study abroad trip, and not just for pleasure. I might have thought of these questions on my own, but being in an educational mindset I think helps me really consider and analyze this City that much more. I’m not just sightseeing, I’m learning. And this is the best time in my life to do that because I’m still young enough to accept most information I receive without first running it through 40+ years of other knowledge and ideas I’ve built up.

Faith and I also briefly went through the Natural History Museum before walking the looooong trek back to our flat. On the way we passed by the hotel I stayed in three years ago.

Does this mean I've come full circle?

Does this mean I’ve come full circle?

We took a nap, cooked dinner, did some homework, and that’s pretty much it. *phew* All caught up now. Tomorrow begins our three-day weekend where we can “make like Burger King and have it our way” (actual quote from our professor, guys). Faith and I (Felicity, too) have some pretty exciting plans, even though we’re the only ones staying in London. The rest of the class is either off to Paris or Amsterdam. Whatever. London still has so much more to offer. I’m excited to experience more of it!

Cat Counter Update: 4. This place just keeps getting better and better.

Cat Counter: 4. This place just keeps getting better and better.

HelloEurope! Part 4: Wherein I represent my country by watching other countries in the Olympics

HelloEuropePartFourSweet, sweet English!!

Those were pretty much the first words to come out of my mouth after arriving at Stanstead airport. Nothing too memorable about this airport experience other than almost getting in trouble with immigrations because I didn’t know what hotel we were staying at. Seriously, no one prepared me for any interrogations! I’m barely a legal adult, so stop asking me adult questions!

I realize there are too many exclamation marks in these first five sentences, which the TA in my fiction writing class last year said makes for bad writing, but I hated that guy so I’m going to leave them there. (Is retroactive spite a thing? It is now.)

Eh em.

Sweet English. When you’ve been in a country where you have to decode signs just to figure out where the bathroom is, you’ll be glad to move to a country that speaks your language, even if the culture is a little backwards (like driving on the left/wrong side of the road, or saying chips instead of fries). Okay, I’m only joking. Cultures are never “backwards,” they’re just different … and I happen to enjoy many of the differences in British culture.

But at that moment I was just really, really happy they spoke English.

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And sign language.

I’m not against speaking other languages, mind you. Taking the fact that I didn’t prepare myself for visiting Germany and the attitude I had while there I hope you’ll forgive me for being an apathetic a-hole (pardon my German, I just liked the alliteration). I would like to think if I was plopped in the middle of a non-English speaking country right now, that I would embrace the language barrier and not complain about it. I guess that’s another one for the regret list. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in the culture that speaks it. I went to Germany but didn’t learn much German. And now my current dream of one day being a polyglot is still a long ways away. Thanks, naïve younger self.

But what am I doing still talking about Germany? It’s time for England!

Alex and I rode into the City on a bus and met Dad on Baker Street, where we then ate dinner at a nearby pizzeria before going to the hotel to see Mom and Emma. They had arrived earlier that day, so the boring parts like getting Oyster cards and picking up Olympic tickets had already been taken care of. We were also already accustomed to the time difference (London is only one hour ahead of Sttutgart), so no naps were needed for us. Emma, on the other hand, fell asleep almost everywhere.

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So cute.

We did some things as a family, but most of the time we were split up. Mom and Emma did a lot of things around the City like seeing a live production of Shrek and going to a tea party. Dad, Alex, and I went to the Olympic events. That is, after all, why we had planned this trip in the first place. The first event we went to was water polo.

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Not the first sport I would’ve chosen, but you can’t be too picky with these things.

Now, quick interlude about getting our tickets. I don’t know if anyone remembers the backlash London got for their ticket system, but it really was awful. Many empty seats at a lot of games. People secretly trading for better tickets in back alleys…. And as Americans, we had no information about what teams were playing when we ordered our tickets months before; we just picked an event and a time and hoped for the best. With water polo, we ended up watching Montenegro vs. Hungary and Spain vs. Croatia.

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Ethnicity aside, they’re just men in tiny speedos.

It was pretty fun, though, and it was the freaking Olympics, so no complaints.

Once in a lifetime...

Once in a lifetime…

Afterward, we met back up with Mom & Em to tour the Churchill War Rooms, where I accidentally skipped a whole section and ended up exiting ahead of everyone and had to wait outside with no clue where anyone was for fifteen minutes. It was around this area that a train of cars with lights and a security detail drove by. We’re convinced it was Will and Kate.

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Cross “kind of maybe see Royalty” off the bucket list…

We ate dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, because Mom’s a big fan of him. We discovered after our meal that Brits don’t do “doggie bags.” You eat what you can, and leave what you can’t. It’s a bizarre idea for an American. (PS: remember to keep checking in on my food gallery to see yummy food pics!)

The next morning we toured the Tower of London. This place is amazing. If you ever go, I highly recommend you join one of the free tour groups because the tour guides are retired armed forces and dress up as “Yeomen Warders.” The guide we had was hilarious and kept advertising his Twitter account.

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

Pictures of the actual Tower will come when I visit again in less than a week!

We then split up again so the fun, sporty people in the family could watch a soccer match at Wembley Stadium.

*tear* It's so beautiful.

*tear* It’s so beautiful.

There are some things that just get me about this experience in retrospect… For one, it was South Korea vs. Gabon, which I would be pretty stoked about today because I’m kind of in love with Korea. But this was before I even knew what Gangnam Style was, so I rooted for Gabon just because Dad and Alex were.

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They tied 0-0 so it didn’t matter anyway.

The other thing is that apparently we were sitting next to The Fine Bros (of YouTube fame). Alex knew at the time but didn’t say anything because I had no idea who they were. Again, I would’ve been so much more excited than I already was if I was the person I am today.

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Someday when I’m famous on the internet, I’ll show them this picture and we’ll have a good laugh.

The next day we toured Westminster Abbey and quickly looked at Buckingham Palace before going over to St. James’s Park for women’s beach volleyball.

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Dat view of the London Eye do…

The first game was Germany vs. Netherlands, and because we were sitting behind a bunch of Dutch fans (the people in orange) it was pretty entertaining. Then it was Great Britain vs. Russia… the energy was just wild; everyone was rooting for the home team. And finally, much to our satisfaction, was USA vs. Spain. Though it was the second string team (no Misty Trainor or Kerri Walsh), we were still happy to actually watch our own country play something.

And this guy was pretty fun to watch, too…

We had one last day in London, which we spent as a complete family walking around the City. We went over the famous bridges, took pictures of the famous sites, and stumbled across this cool place called the Burough Market. Lots of yummy food everywhere. Emma got wild game on a stick and Mom found a raw milk truck.

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Farmer’s markets have never been more stylish.

For dinner we went to a quintessential British pub. However, our waiter was from Spain and there were some translation issues in regards to the menu. One of the items was listed “gammon.” We’d never heard of this kind of meat, so we tried to ask the waiter what is was. Here’s a rough sketch of what that conversation was like…

Edins: Is it like beef, or pork, or…?

Waiter: No, no, no. It’s gammon. You know, gammon.

Edins: No, we don’t know. What animal is it from? A cow?

Waiter: No, no, no. Bigger than a cow.

Edins: Bigger than a cow? So what, like an elephant?

Waiter: No, no, no. Smaller than an elephant. Between a cow and an elephant. It’s gammon!

So Dad ordered it just to see what the heck this thing was. Turns out it was just pork. Apparently pigs are somewhere between the size of a cow and an elephant in Spain. You learn something new every day, kids.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms.

This blog not sponsored by the Devonshire Arms pub.

But after such a great time eating and sightseeing and watching Olympic games, it was only natural that things would start going sour. Later that night at the hotel, we got some pretty upsetting news from back home. We’d left our bulldog, Tonka, with one of Dad’s coworkers since he had a bull terrier that got along well with her. But apparently Tonka had escaped under their fence and was missing. My grandma emailed us updates all night (well, all night for us) as they looked for her. She was eventually found by a neighbor, but the damage had already been done. The rest of our trip would have some merits, but we’d also be going through quite a lot of stress and illness, too.

The illness part happened right before we left the next morning to spend the weekend in Cambridge. Emma started throwing up, probably from her meat on a stick earlier, and would stay sick in bed the whole time in Cambridge. The rest of us had to rotate shifts staying with her so we could all get a chance to see the town.

It pretty much looked like this.

It pretty much looked like this.

That first night we had tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare in the Park type of deal. Mom volunteered to stay behind, so Dad, Alex, and I were once again off on our own. The park it was in, however, was weirdly designed and didn’t have signs anywhere. We spent probably a good forty-five minutes walking around, looking for anything Shakespeare related. By the time we found the right spot, tucked away in a corner with nothing but a little poster on a nearby fence, we’d missed the first twenty minutes.

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It was a good show, though.

Our last day there we mainly rested and leisurely walked around. Because it likes to sporadically rain in England, we had to duck into some shops every once in a while. One of them was H&M, which I had never heard of before, so when they built one here in Fresno not too long ago I thought it was a British thing (it’s Swedish, in case you were wondering).

We also went in the famous Hardy’s candy shop, walked through another farmer’s market, and ate baked potatoes at a place called Tattie’s.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

And dramatically looked at whatever this thing is.

It was kind of hard to really enjoy anything, though. Our BnB was small and smelled weird. The weather was a little warmer and more humid than in London. And to top it off, the night before we would leave for Rome, Alex started vomiting too.

And thus the “fiasco” part of our journey would begin…

Sneak peak: it involves airports

Spoiler: it involves airports

HelloEurope! Part 1: Wherein I embark on the most epic adventure of my life with only 4 hours of sleep

HelloEurope Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

I’ve never considered myself, or my family for that matter, very travel-y. Sure, we’ve done the Disneyland thing a few times, and ventured out-of-state to the wild and distant land known as Oregon. But I’ve never been to Yosemite. Or the Grand Canyon. The one time I went to Vegas was with my dad on a business trip, and it was pretty freaking boring. My family’s “big vacation” every year was to the same small town on the coast – which is my favorite place in the world, mind you, but the only part of the Pacific Ocean I ever saw for the longest time. And this is just typical West Coast stuff. Forget cross country road trips and time zone changes. As a family, we just didn’t go anywhere.

That’s why the summer of 2012 was a pretty big deal for my family. For some reason, as soon as it was announced that London would eventually be hosting the summer Olympics, my dad had it in his mind that we were going. As the years went on and we began to save and daydream more, the plan expanded to include “nearby” places like Rome (a weekend in Paris was on the list at one point but we later opted for the less-stressful Cambridge, which – foreshadow alert – ended up being stressful anyway). My uncle had recently moved to southern Germany as well, so Dad decided to send my brother and me over there two weeks ahead of the rest of the family, because why not? In the year of turning 18, graduating high school, and acquiring a driver’s license, this was supposed to be the best thing that had ever happened me.

And, spoiler alert, it pretty much was.

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Though poor Luna would probably consider it the most tragic thing to ever happen.

Now, I considered London to be the heart of the trip, so that was what I talked about and planned for. The other places seemed cool, but I didn’t know what to expect (and didn’t really feel like researching) so I figured I’d let Germany and Rome surprise me. But in retrospect, I could have really done with some research on Germany. I knew nothing about the country outside of history lessons. The only German word I knew was hallo, and I’m pretty sure a two year old could guess what that means, so it doesn’t count as any level of language proficiency. I didn’t even know what we would be doing the whole time. German things? It was a mystery, and added a level of ambivalence, to be quite honest.

That said, I was still pretty excited to be traveling, and thus barely slept at all the night before. Later, as I would begin to get my feet wet in college and try a whole assortment of new experiences, I would find this to be a pattern with me. First day of school tomorrow? No sleep tonight. Job interview the next day? Not gonna sleep. Whether I’m excited, nervous, or a little of both, the thought that something new is going to happen, something I have no experience with, just sucks all the sleepiness right out of me.

But anyway. No sleep. Airport early in the morning. I felt great. Completely clueless about what was coming, but eager to embrace whatever it was anyway. Alex and I sat around the Fresno Airport Terminal (a stunningly bland name until you look at the initials and burst into a fit of juvenile giggles, which I totally did not do) with Dad for what seemed like forever, only to go through security and then wait around some more. Apparently that’s the thing about airports, if you’ve never been in one. It’s all about waiting. Check in early, and then wait. Go through security, and then wait. Board the plane, and then wait. Land, and then wait. It’s pretty insightful to see how certain people handle their impatient-ness, because let’s be honest here, nobody is perfectly fine with that amount waiting. For example, there are the pacers and the fidgeters. Then there are the snackers, and closely related, the I’m-just-going-to-keep-going-to-the-bathroom-until-it’s-time-ers. You’ll also find the sleepers, the talkers, the gamers, and every once in a while, the complainers. It’s all very fascinating to witness. Maybe that’s why I later ended up being an Anthropology major….

I don’t remember the exact times or anything, but eventually we got to board the plane. It was just a small connecting flight to LAX, where a much longer flight awaited, but memories were still made on that little puddle jumper. Once we took off, I discovered that I loved flying. All the other flights I’d take on this trip would just reinforce my enjoyment. I can’t explain what it is, but I just really, really love flying! The rollercoaster-like thrill of gaining speed and taking off. The occasional turbulence that reminds you of being in the heart of Mother Nature. The perfectly portioned sugar and cream packets they give you to pour into your complementary tea. Mmm. I’m getting warm fuzzies just thinking about it. Of course, this particular flight also provided a beautiful bird’s eye view of California, which if you remember from like an hour ago when you began reading this post, I hadn’t previously seen much of. I’m sure my plane ticket price went toward things like aircraft maintenance and worker salaries, but I’d like to think I really paid for the view.

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Hey look, the Hollywood sign! I wonder what landmarks I’ll see in Europe…

We arrived all too soon at LAX. I remember Dad going over with us the week before how to get from our landing terminal to the international one. Something about an island and a shuttle? It all seemed very confusing, but ended up being incredibly simple. That’s the other thing about airports: they are full of long hallways and signs with big arrows that are really hard to misinterpret. Though it’s foolproof in getting you where you need to go, for someone like me who likes to get a “big picture” look of wherever I am, it’s a little disorienting to blindly follow arrows all the while ignoring all the other hallways and doors and places because if you dare feed your curiosity about them, you’ll get horribly (and probably illegally) lost.

The LA airport involved, you guessed it, more waiting. We couldn’t even go through security and stay at the gate for a while, so we just hung around the terminal. Sparing you the more boring details, we basically just ate at an overpriced Panda Express and browsed through random shops (I bought a discount copy of TRON: Legacy on DVD, because adding an extra, unusable item to my luggage was a smart thing to do, obviously). We were also convinced, for some reason, that we would see someone famous there. LAX is a popular airport so surely a celebrity will be going somewhere international while we’re here, was our line of thinking. It turned out to be very wishful thinking, and this was the closest we got to making it come true:

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A motorcycle racer nobody’s heard of. This will go far in the bragging circles.

After going through security (which, I’d like to briefly mention, is not as bad as everyone likes to believe) and finding our gate, Alex and I discovered that our seats were in completely different parts of the plane from one another. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. My dad, who has more travel experience than the rest of our family combined and then some, somehow overlooked the seating arrangements when booking our tickets. I personally wouldn’t have minded sitting all by myself, but Alex insisted we get it sorted out. Through some sweet-talking, and more waiting, we were able to snag two seats smack in the middle of the plane. No legroom. No window seat. No problem. Even through a long flight, I was happy. We were flying British Airlines, so the flight attendants had accents and wore ascots. Every seat had its own screen, so Alex and I took advantage of this independence by choosing the exact same movie and hitting play at the exact same time. I don’t remember anything else about the flight except that I still couldn’t sleep, and that Alex got a special vegetarian meal that smelled weird.

We landed in Heathrow, and would later rub it in my parents’ faces that we, technically, were the first ones in London. I don’t remember the exact timing anymore, but I do know that a whole day had passed despite having only been in the air for… well, I don’t remember how many anymore, so let’s just go with ten. Ten hours, but it was the next day. Time zones are trippy, man. We followed some more arrows and passed through another security check and did some more waiting, and then we got on our final flight to Stuttgart, Germany. On board with us was a troop of young British teens, part of a school trip it looked like. They screamed practically the whole time. It was very annoying. (And a detail that will become relevant again, so lock it in your memories, folks.)

The view, however, more than made up for it. The biggest thing that struck me about entering Germany was how green it was. Trees everywhere. Even the farms had sprawling grasses and hills. Land in California (especially here in the Central Valley) seems to consist of a few spotty patches of green, surrounded mostly by various shades of brown. We also noticed several solar farms, large areas filled with rows of solar panels. I’d never seen anything like it. Germany would prove to have many more beautiful, novel, and somewhat odd sights see.

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Guess the country by color.

As I (finally) wrap up this introductory post, I would like to point out that these airport exchanges for us went very smoothly. Alex and I were pros at figuring things out calmly and cooperatively. The two of us hadn’t really fought since we were in the single digit age range (though “fighting” really just meant throwing slices of bread at each other and tattling to mom; we were very mature for our age). So there was no drama, no communication issues, no public scenes being made. Just a brother and a sister making their way through the world hand in hand. Not literally, of course, because that would be gross. But figuratively, because that’s sweet and touching and will later help prove a point when we join up with the rest of our family and all hell breaks loose.

PS: You probably didn’t expect to read a whole post about airports, not after being tempted with a such a juicy title. But if you’ve managed to wade through and get to this point, hopefully you’ve seen how the journey can be just as important as the destination. From here on out, though, it’ll mostly be destination stories with just a few journey anecdotes. Promise.

Up next: mouthfuls of letters

Up next: details about the German train system you’ve always wanted to know