Thursday, March 31, 2011

T-Con. T-Rex. Or just Trav.

You can call him whatever you want, but this guy is my absolute best friend--has been for four years. Probably from the very day Junior year of high school that he walked into seminary with a fleece blanket wrapped over the entirety of his body (even his head) and sat down, acting dead for the first twenty minutes of that very early morning. I noticed movement to my left, so I looked, only to discover he was pulling out a salad mixing bowl, a full cartoon of 2% milk, and an entire box of Rice Krispies cereal. He had a feast, even managing to look a very annoyed seminary instructor in the eye after having taken her entire class' (already) groggy attention.

He finished two bowls that morning.


Two days later he walked in, late, dressed in proper school attire (without the infamous brown caribo-or-something fleece blanket). He discreetly went to grab his scriptures while the instructor continued teaching. "Rarrrrrmmmm." We all look to see where the loud sound came from. He had sounded a horn he found in the Primary's toy closet.


A few weeks later. We are driving in his car. I'm fiddling around in Angelina's (the name of his monstrous white truck, who just so happened to have just gotten some new "kicks", as he so proudly pointed out) center console, discovering all sorts of treasures like his light-up mouth "grillz" and diamond studded chains. The kid thought he was a rapper, especially on the days he wore his navy jumpsuit. But today, he was singing Michael Buble. It was a very important day. This is the day I found out Travis could sing. I tested him by choosing a few other songs on his genre-diverse ipod. Flawless on every single one. We have sung Chris Brown & Jordin Spark's duet of "No Air" in the car together ever since.


A year later. Senior year is winding down, but the final activities are just starting to gear up, including the first year of Mr. Wolfpack, which I was stressfully planning. I begged Travis to be one of the contestants (it was a male beauty pageant). I knew he would make it unforgettable. At one point, I even think I recall using blackmail....he was nervous about the talent portion. I told him to sing. And I recited his car-concert repertoire. He had it in the bag. No practice was even necessary.

He sang "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." I was so proud.


We graduated. I moved away to Utah. He moved away to Utah. I was overly depressed about this strange, new phase of life and the loss of a boyfriend that meant a lot to me. He was overly depressed about the strange, new phase of life and the loss of a girlfriend that meant a lot to him. He got me through it. I tried to do the same.


He moved back home. We both lived our separate lives and he eventually started preparing for the day I hoped would come but was dreading at the same time, his mission.

To Concepcion, Chile.


I received this in an email from him a few days ago: ".... next good story has to do with a noche de hogar (family night) we had with my favorite fam here, the Oportus'. They are hilarious. They think to speak English you just put a -tion at the end of any spanish word haha. Like to pray, orar, but to make it english they say oration. Ha oh man. Anyways, ya somehow even here in Chile they found about my singing. Yes that's no lie my friend, my singing at Mr. Wolfpack. Oh my word, thats all I have to say. Soooo..they made me sing it in front of 20 Chileans, haha it was so funny. My companion died laughing."


It's been days and I'm still dying of both laughter and nostalgia. He's the best, funniest, kindest person I've met. Amongst all the hilarious moments he's provided, he has also had some that are more mellow and sweet--like the time I was extremely sick from food poisoning and was left in charge of house sitting and two children under the age of four for a weekend. While I was doing my best to keep my head out of the toilet, he was playing Animals with them upstairs and folding the laundry. Or the time he fed my horses for a week while my family was in Hawaii. Or the time he stayed up until three in the morning quizzing me for an exam I had to take the next day. Or the time he made me the best birthday card the world has ever seen, complete with rhinestones and the Trump towers. He's a one-of-a-kind friend. And again, I'm beyond proud of him.




For those who aren't as youtube informed as the Chileans:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The magic of a bus and this continent

...is that you can get on one and be in another place, cultures apart, within a few hours. Emphasis on few--we are talking like one, two, three tops. Not double digits, like the states. It's quite the luxury these Europeans get to enjoy. And that I get to enjoy, at least for a few more weeks.

Amiens, France.

It's not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, I realize. But it's the home to the biggest cathedral in all of Europe, charming French neighborhoods that make you want to swoon, and the Somme Battlefields of WWI. Which is just as cool. 

Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens:
The head of John the Baptist is alleged to be here, a relic brought from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. You could see the wear and tear of time on the ceiling and walls and for whatever reason, it made the building even more beautiful. It made it real.
Why I would want to be French: 
(Excluding the pretty language, fashion expertise practically a part of their DNA, and delectable cuisine). We found this area just outside the cathedral. I couldn't help but imagine a life of waking up in one of the cute, curtained homes and eating a small portion of baguette and Brie cheese with the sounds of a violin being played down the street at a nearby cafe. I'd make my way to my home design studio across the square, where I'd then boss employees around for not getting the right bolts of pretty fabrics and materials for my latest and most pressing projects, all before meeting a few darling, fabulous friends for a late lunch. You should also know that in this day-dream I had some very chic bangs....I go for the complete picture.

In Flanders Field  WWI Museum: 
We do have scholastic requirements. I mean, this is school. Even if everything you do seems too fun to be. This museum was one of the best, most well-done and interactive museums I've ever been to. Their use of audio and visual tracks was chilling.

This isn't intended to be a political statement, but the last room really got to me. WWI was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." In a short two decades we were fighting another, perhaps larger war. There have been over 126 armed conflicts since (as of 2008). I've had John Lennon's Imagine stuck in my head ever since (no, not the Glee version :).

The WWI 2nd British front-line trenches: 
I got to walk through these! I've been to the South and visited Civil War battlegrounds. I've been to the east coast and seen sites of the Revolutionary War. But neither of those experiences compared with this. It was beyond moving. Truly an unreal experience. This was the earth that the German and British soldiers fought each other from. Where they lived with dog-sized rats and picked up all manner of diseases. Where they died. Where a lot of them are still trapped in and buried. It was one of the coolest things I've done. And I almost feel like a different person because of it, as silly as that sounds.


The entire group. It's not often we get a picture. (Notice our cute professors & their families--the Crowe's and Dursteler's. They are the best.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Soho to Trafalgar Square.

My last and final London walk. Hooray!  

I didn't intentionally save the best for last. If I had, I would have thought it through a little better and made sure I wasn't the only student to do so. You see, as fate would have it, I didn't think things through and DID have to go at this walk alone--in all my Asian tourist-esque map-following glory. But this isn't me complaining. I actually quite enjoyed being able to go at my own pace.

This walk was the Jack of all [walking] trades.
Diverse. Cosmopolitan. Rousing...plus a plethora of other positive adjectives you'll only roll your eyes at because I have a problem condensing my vocabulary. But you hopefully get the idea.

It led me through the center of both the textile & fashion industries, past the Twentieth Century Fox offices, to William Blake's (the poet) birthplace, into the hub of the music and film industry (I was quite twitterpated here....), around the red-light district (which is almost nothing in comparison to that found in Amsterdam--a good thing), among the jubilee of Chinatown, and against the throng of protesters in Trafalgar Square. Eventful would be an understatement. 

The highlight of the walk, I will admit, was reaching the arches of Chinatown's main street. I've been mistaken a time or two of having some sort of Asian heritage and now can't help but feel an abnormal kinship to their fun, vibrant culture. Once I was even approached and asked by a true Asian continental resident. (I probably wasn't wearing enough eye make-up that day.) Kaylee was waiting nearby for a Chinese feast we'd had planned, which was delicious though devoid of fortune cookies. I wish I could understand the unfortunate overlook...the cookie is my favorite!



Thursday, March 24, 2011

fries, lace, waffles, & a little something called CHOCOLATE.


Yes, I'm talking about Belgium
The most amazing place I have visited to date. 

To start, I need to address the fact that I'm starting to feel like a celebrity on tour....or something. Not because the Europeans gawk at my American presence in their streets or because I have an entourage that follows me around to make me look pretty (it's actually quite the opposite--they think we are silly & I've never felt this hygienically gross in my life), but because for the last month I've very literally been waking up each day in a different place. 
It's been crazy. I even woke up the other day not remembering who or where I was. 

It was nuts. 

Anyways. Let's talk about the quiet, quaint town of Brugge. Our introduction was made with a canal boat ride that very literally bewitched me. The canals forked all around the city center and provided the best scenery, especially of the many tall church spires reflected along the serene surface of the water. Mmm. So lovely.


The sites only got better by night. (As if that was even possible.)

You know those times when something is so physically stunning your gaping mouth can't close? Or the happy, invincible feeling you get from endorphins after running? Ya? Are we on the same page? Can you imagine what it was like to see and smell chocolatiers on every street?! It was pure bliss and torture all at the same time.

The woman at Depla Chocolatier managed to pull out ahead of the competition, beating even the experts at the Chocolate Museum (which you better believe we visited). She's a confection genius. Somehow, by some twisted miracle, I conjured up the willpower to limit myself three pieces--one of which included the truffle. It changed my life. It rocked my world. It penetrated my soul.

And I'm not even being dramatic.

The Choco-Story Museum gave us some laughs with their chocolate statue of Obama AND their frequent depictions of the cocoa bean (NOT a potato). 

The next morning we woke up to sunny skies & warm weather. We rented bikes. I learned tandems aren't so easy to steer.... But we were on uneven, cobbled surfaces. And my mind was aloof on the blossoms. That's the story I'm sticking to.


Other aspects that made Brugge so great:


A. The cute man playing the accordian on the street. Yes, the accordian. My mother used to play it, too. 
B. Exploring the city at night & reaping the benefits from Brenden's unsung photo-taking dexterity.
C & D. The fries & waffles. And hot chocolate, oliebollen, and croques. It's so nice to travel with these boys because they NEVER pass up the opportunity to experience the edible culture. They order everything. Which means I don't have to. They allow me a nibble. It's a great system we have worked out.
E. The evidence of spring's presence could be seen everywhere. I relished having sun shining on my face and being able to play outside in the fresh flowers without a constricting jacket on. London is still behind..
F. One of the exhibits in the Choco-Story Museum was this toy set of a dentist--the exact same lego toy set I used to play with when I was stuck at my dad's dental office for the afternoon in elementary school. It brought back a river of memories. The exact same toy! So random.


And as if our visit to this country wasn't already perfection incarnate with the included, we came across this carnival during our quick stop in Leper to visit the In Flanders Field WWI Museum. But that's a different story for a different day...


Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's been said, "many an opportunity is lost because a man is out looking for four-leaf clovers."

Lucky for me I only feel the need to look for those gems on St. Patty's Day (no judgment if your preferences aren't the same). Also lucky for me, I spent this year's in Ireland. So I didn't have to look very far. They were on every restaurant menu, store window, and child's painted face--including my own.







Spending this holiday in Dublin was insanely festive. They really pulled out all the stops with decorations (most buildings changed out their light bulbs for green ones!), park carnivals, street clog dancing, and the most bizarre parade I've ever experienced. I was thinking high-school marching bands and floats....but it was more like interpretive dancers in creepy, artsy costumes that seemed to last eons of times and was a lot like this (sorry Mom). Except times a thousand. I had to leave early and grab lunch before I became too disturbed.



They DO do the holiday right, though. Especially when we drove to a more village-y like place called Kilkenny and spent the entire evening circulating through their four pubs and following fighting, intoxicated couples for sheer amusement. The Irish go out hard. In fact, I was a little bit surprised that we saw so many people when out and about the next morning.


The sites here were gorgeous; though after watching movies like P.S. I Love You, would you expect anything less or different?





This trip documentation wouldn't be complete without mentioning:
1. The six-pack of apples I consumed EVERY DAY for just 79 pence.
2. The discovery of the best tv channel ever (the Vault), who played an endless amount of my childhood's most beloved music videos (that I used to record on blank vhs tapes and dance to in my bedroom for hours). So what if I still do.
3. Brenden's Abe Lincoln/Elf & Mike's Leprechaun with an Asian-Tourist-Twist costumes. The people of Dublin loved them. They were asked for numerous pictures. I felt like I was with US Magazine's most revered celebrities.
4. Brazen Head Pub and the satisfying salmon I consumed there--thank you program funds.
5. The Falling Gems game app I was introduced to and now can't put down. I always refused to allow myself to download AngryBirds, but I think this is pretty comparable in addiction potential. Download with caution.

Oh, and upon arrival we made a little stop at Guinness. (Not the world's most prestigious record keeping title--the other one.)


It all makes sense after seeing it in SO much action.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cwtch.

A Welsh word. Do not bother asking me how it is pronounced. Apparently the Welsh language feels no need for vowels, and therefore must have another winning strategy for the games of Hangman and Wheel of Fortune.
                                                                                                      ....They'd have to, right??


Just a few snippets from my recent trip to Wales:


The most savage winds I've ever encountered. We are talking human movable winds.


Monastic ruins of Tintern Abbey. Pretty, pretty. I'm not peeing my pants, in case you were curious.


Exploring cute new towns.

And fitting in the modeling work we do on the side...

*Not pictured: An excursion into the very dark shafts of Big Pitt, a coal mine. Definitely the highlight of the entire trip, mostly because a) how many people can say they've done that, and b) our 60-something old tour guide Robert was a hoot....and I developed quite the serious crush on him.


P.S. This is my 100th post! It's been an inconsistent and (I realize) a prolonged journey, but it's kind of crazy to me to think that I started this out as a sophomore in high school, hoping to someday be a Cougar at BYU.....to now being a sophomore Cougar at BYU. Ra, ra, ra, ra, ra.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Westminster and St. James's.

There's something so indulging about looking at Big Ben. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet--if it's the gold anatomy, the quintessential London tourist fulfillment, or the political/aristocratic heritage of the vicinity, but it really does something for me. It doesn't even matter how many times I go to see it.

This walk takes you in a circular path around Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, 10 Downing Street (the abode of Mr. Prime Minister), Buckingham Palace, St. James's Park, and Westminster Abbey. It's basically the celebrity home tour of England. It's great fun. Sharon, Kaylee, and I (we started a walking crew if you hadn't noticed..) didn't feel like we were doing a required walk at all.



I've come to view Big Ben like one of my favorite movies that I'll never tire of. It was great this time around, and I'm sure he will be great the next ten times I walk around too, as I'm confident I will do before I leave.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kilt.

      -noun; a costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland.

        Obviously it's the latter I'm talking about here--to get in touch with my Scottish heritage.

                                                                 My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
                                                                 My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
                                                                 A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
                                                                 My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

                                                                           -Robert Burns


Scotland is such a pretty place. Green everywhere. Endearing accents everywhere. Friendly people everywhere. Basically, happiness to be found everywhere.



According to my family history, I'm practically royal. Mary Queen of Scots is (or was?) my great, great, great, greattttt-something grandmother, ergo you could say I'm kind of a big deal.

I'm totally kidding. But seriously, I felt a deep kinship to this place. The name Walker was everywhere and considering I spent my entire life relentlessly being told I came from outer space (the UFO one), I found comfort and identity being among my true people.
                          
                                             .........You can excuse my obvious exaggeration.


I just really did have a lot of fun. Especially when Blake & Ramzi were man enough to embrace their inner-Mel Gibson/William Wallace and when I got to see my resemblance to the nine-month-old grandmother queen.









(the Edinburgh Castle.)



We also had the opportunity to stop in New Lanark, a cotton mill of the 18th, 19th, & 20th centuries. I toured the factory, their small homes, learned of the conditions of daily life. It was an eye-opener. And to think that even this, which appeared pretty bleak to my vain eyes, was the utopia that people of the working class status could only dream of being so fortunate of arriving to (thanks to the philanthropoist Robert Owens). Small one-bedroom homes for a family of six children. Working hours of 5am-8pm. A childhood spent not playing, but working. Crazy. But I didn't mean to turn this into a history lesson...


As the Scottish say, aye.




P.S. I should mention that these aren't my pictures. Thanks, Brenden!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kew to Hammersmith.

I'll be honest, this wasn't my favorite. The last three-fourths walking through an American-like suburban housing development and the much too prolonged stroll down the less commercial parts of the Thames River were disappointing. However, I did make three fairly important observations.

1. The area around Kew station is where I would chose to live, if by some odd miracle of fate I had the chance to do that here. It's the perfect place; it's far enough from the busy parts of the city but close enough to still be in the city, if that makes sense. There was an artsy, almost small-village like vibe about it that was only enhanced with its presence of young couples and families wandering into the charming family-run stores. 

2. Kew is an interesting name. How do names and words come about anyway? How do languages emerge into the established systems they become? I mean, Chinese calligraphy makes sense. They drew pictures of what they saw. But words. Kew. Hammersmith. Haley. It's like I'm seeing these for the first time. It's weird.

3. Anything, and I really mean anything, can be made into a good time when someone runs into a pole unexpectedly. Kaylee, acting again as the leader, was looking at her book to brush up on coming directions when she walked right into one. We all stopped, not really sure if it had really happened, but then got caught up in five-minutes worth of rolling laughter. You should have someone try it. It was great fun, for us observing at least.





Monday, March 14, 2011

Regent's Park.

"Mind over matter." That's what I had to keep telling myself when this walk started out with a hike up the only fraction of elevated land to be found in this great city. There was a man doing his cardiovascular regimen up and down it, wheezing like a man about to die, so you can understand my initial qualms. I booked it to the top, probably giving the man a run for his money, (maybe), but only because I wanted to get the ordeal over with and eat my pb&j atop Primrose Hill, overlooking a pretty stellar panorama view. I had never realized until looking across that fine landscape of green and blue that all the major elements of the city are that close close to each other. The subway is a tricky work of magic; it totally threw off my perception of space. I can easily walk everywhere my heart so desires and squeeze some of my own exercise in, while also.....this is a tangent. Moving on.

I really enjoyed this walk. It took us through a cute, trendy shopping area (where rumor has it, Jude Law resides) and through the beauties of Regent's Park, which made me quite reminiscent of my days in Central Park (the New York one) simply because it had a little something to offer to everyone, besides the obvious satisfaction in walking. Is that a run-on sentence? Sorry. There was a boating house, open theaters, duck ponds, football fields (the soccer version), and a zoo. I would have said they only needed to add an ice-skating rink to be complete, but truth is, I really enjoyed the sight of the first spring flowers blooming in Queen Mary's Park. The last portion led us through a posh neighborhood, which I'm about 74 and a half % positive is where they filmed The Parent Trap. Maybe 75 and a fourth % positive.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list.

The program gave us one week to go and do whatever we so desired.
I chose to backpack my way through the more subtle/less romanticized areas of Europe that I otherwise probably would have never had the opportunity to see.


Germany & the Czech Republic. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

Berlin.

The flight was an adventure in and of itself, dealing with the super strict packing regulations of such a cheap airline (that being Ryanair). Everyone in our program came back with horror story after horror story of liquids being thrown away, having to pay an exorbitant amount for an extra bag, wearing four layers of pants, etc. I had the good fortune of being paired with a TSA (do they call them that here?) agent that was blonde and in his young twenties. He took me to the side and was like, "okay, here's the deal. Your plastic bag is too big. They were about to throw everything away before I took it so hurry and put it in your bag before they see!!"

I wish I had a phone number to give. I knew right then and there that it was the foreshadowing omen of a good trip.

In our efforts to find something to eat for dinner at eleven at night, we found instead a kareoke bar. Perfect for Mike's birthday. The TERRIBLE male attempt at singing "I Want It That Way" by a german/asian Backstreet Boy meant we couldn't resist going in. And okay.....I guess I wanted the opportunity to show my perfected "Oops I Did It Again" number too. Completed with the music video dance, I'll have you know.

It was crazy to walk through a city that in some ways, still seems to be recovering. Checkpoint Charlie, and the Brandenburg Gate were surreal experiences.

More than anything though, when I think of Berlin, I think of the surprising urban culture. The graffiti art was insane. I wrote my name on the Berlin Wall with the only thing I had-- black nail polish. Actually, I did it twice because it turned out really sloppy the first time around and I couldn't accept that as my debut/legacy. Spring's still looked better than mine.








Prague.

I kid you not, the prettiest place I've ever been in my entire life. It trumps everything these eyes have ever seen--even Nick Lachey's face. I would be walking on narrow cobblestone roads that would be surrounded by the most intricate, old buildings that would then open up into these gorgeous squares with eclectic covered markets and have my breath taken from me. Literally.

It was untouched/unruined during the wars, which is pretty incredible considering it is surrounded by the key European players of the day.









That night we couch surfed at a stranger's apartment--a new experience for me. His name was Martin. He was about fifty-five and was a Czech research scientist/possible spy. His place was like some place straight out of That 70's Show. He spoke German, English, Dutch, and Czech. He could read Braille. He wore bell-bottoms and old, wool sweaters. He had a blind son. We accidentally came across naked pictures of him as a child in the 1,939,398 photo albums he had kept in the apartment, at our disposal to peruse through. Brenden wore his clothes to dinner.


Munich.

What would a trip to Germany be without visiting Dachau, a concentration camp.
It was so eery. You couldn't help but feel disgusting, dark, and heavy.
The gas chambers. The cramped beds. The cold! The cremation ovens. I'm literally baffled that people could be so cruel....and that the Jewish people could be so brave and enduring to face it.






We also took a train up into the mountains to see Neuschwanstein Castle--the castle that Disney modeled after! It was King Ludwig's project/obsession....it made him so crazed that he even committed suicide during it's construction. And I was there! And I saw why. I felt like a princess and wanted to climb to the top of the tower and let my hair down.



Like, oh-my-valley-girl yes, it was the best week of my life ever. I can't say enough good things about it, the places, or the people I was with. It made for oodles of lasting memories, not limited to:
-a photo shoot in the futuristic subway systems of Munich.
-the german television we fell asleep to.
-an endless consumption of Haribo candy. (I'm a fan.)
-walking more than I ever have in my life.
-passing out on trains & buses.
-Goulash soup.
-a great, ending-celebratory German feast.
-lots of group cuddling.
-the very confusing Czech koruna.
-the very confusing language barriers in general.
-an attack of gypsies.
-too many bratwurst wieners.
-kofola, the communist rival of coca-cola.
-"NEIN!" to a charging chicken.
-having the back of my heels rubbed raw from inadequate socking.
-wearing the same outfit EVERYDAY.
-being treated to the first nice meal I've had in months, by Mike's family friends. (Thank you!)
-the scary witch dolls that came to life.
-feeling cool by saying "danke", the only German word in my repertoire.