Beauty vs. Ease

I’m not a very spiritual or religious person, but when I’m in a church I can’t help but feel the sacred power of the space. I recently toured the Trinity Church in Boston, an amazingly beautiful church founded in 1733. The space was nearly empty, and felt cavernous. Though I haven’t in years, I knelt at the pew and closed my eyes, feeling the empty space and listening to every creak and echoing step.

When I visited churches during my trip to Italy, I was in a group of 25 high schoolers who spent more time snickering at the strange-looking paintings of adult- baby Jesus than feeling the significance and beauty of the church, but here in Boston I was free to let the church consume my entire attention.

I walked around the perimeter, soaking in the intricacies of the stained glass and golden detail, the soaring pillars and the arching ceiling, every inch packed tight with as much beauty as would fit, and I began wondering why my church at home, made in the 1960s, is so plain. One stained glass window with nothing special, a decent crucifix, but really nothing but wooden pews, electric fans, and a few statues in the corner. The rug had several burns from toppled candles, and the choir sat on plastic chairs. When did we stop adorning churches with marble and gold?29.jpg

It may have something to do with the fact that my church at home is Catholic, and the Trinity Church is Episcopal, or the cost of material in the 60s, or any number of things, but I instantly equated it to this BBC article about how we are beginning to dress more and more casually to work: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160120-have-we-taken-casual-workwear-too-far

Have we stopped caring about elegance? Yoga pants and jeans replace suits and nice dresses, the casual and comfortable taking the center place in our closets. High heels become flats. Is that a bad thing, or not?

You are what you eat…and what you wear. When I have time to do my hair and makeup nice, I feel more productive at work, more ready to face the day. When I’m a bit more sloppily dressed, my work follows suit. I wonder if we would all work better if we were meant to dress better?

And, why is elegance leaving our cultural conscience? Why do we opt for cheap comedies over the opera? Comfort over beauty? Ease over effort? Flats over heels? Plain over ornate?

As I sat in the elegant church, amazed and filled with admiration and wonder, I began to wonder about the people who made the stained glass, who worked so hard to adorn the church, inside and out. They must have felt a need to make the church breathtaking. It felt sacred, because it looked sacred. Because it looked beautiful, even though it didn’t have to be. People put effort into the beauty.

And yet, I was conflicted. Shouldn’t the church have spent all this extra money on the poor and hungry, rather than on petty decoration?

I wondered then if I would have been more spiritual as a child, and now, if my church at home filled me with awe. If my church matched the power and significance of the words we were taught, would I have more readily believed them? If it looked more sacred, more important, more spiritual, would it have felt that way, too? Or would I have been made sick over the vain over-spending from a church grounded in giving to the less-fortunate?

It’s a hard subject to think about. Same with clothing–obviously, I like wearing jeans and comfy shoes. So I guess I don’t know where I stand, in the fight between beauty and ease. What I do know is that these questions are good to think about, and may only come up when travelling alone, just you and your thoughts, in a big, empty church.

 

Ich bin eine Frau!

That’s about all I can say in German so far:) it is going well, though. I’m using duolingo and reading bits online, trying to find a good online course. I do have 6 months, but I’d like to get down at least conversational German. 

It is a feat to know two languages! I wish I was taught 2 from birth, or from an early age, like so many people are. However, I don’t think that will hinder me too much. 

People often say it’s far more difficult to learn a language after childhood, and this often discouraged me in the past. However, I’m going into this German thing with an open mind: sure, it may be hard, but not impossible. Completing challenges is good for the soul.

Open mindedness is, I believe, the key to happiness. Taking chances, making changes…it all comes back to being open to new things. So, here we go. Open, and ready. Ich bin eine Frau! Hear me roar (in German)!

Learning German

I think I’m going to start learning German. I feel like I should know a second language for my Europe trip, and frankly, American Sign Language just isn’t going to be the most helpful thing. I could brush up on my Italian, but I don’t plan on going to Italy, so I don’t know how helpful that would be.

I think German, because I don’t like the silent letters of French and there’s no real reason to learn Dutch, even if I’m spending most of my time in the Netherlands, because apparently everyone there learns English. So, German seems like the most obvious choice. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m lucky enough to be the sort of introvert who isn’t terrified of social interaction, even if I do need time to recharge. It took me a lot of work, but I’m also no longer afraid to talk to strangers. If I didn’t talk to anyone, a second language would be simply unnecessary.

I was asked recently what my favorite things about traveling were, and I said art, history, and food. I could spend hours in museums or just walking around a city. I could eat until I explode out of my pants. I like eating things where they’re famous, like fresh Maine lobsters or Louisiana gumbo, Canadian poutine and Italian pizza—which by the way I didn’t like at all. And I like seeing the local art, the “flavor” of the city, and I like being where history happened.

People came as an afterthought, because I haven’t travelled somewhere where they didn’t speak English in about three years. Connecting with people was something I just did, it wasn’t something I had to work at, and it didn’t seem like a “cultural” experience, or something I could only do on location. I meet new people all the time, it isn’t something unique to traveling…or is it?

After all, why am I trying to learn a language, where English is honestly probably enough? To connect with people on their level. To make friends over the language barrier. To be a traveler, not a tourist.

So, German. I have always loved German history, and the German language is so pretty to me…I may be in the minority with that opinion, though.

We do get to visit Germany, guaranteed, on a class trip—and even if that doesn’t happen for our semester, I’ll definitely spend a weekend there. I heard Berlin is beautiful.

Six months to learn conversational German. I’ve done more in less time…Let’s do it!

Auf Wiedersehen

Time Zones, and a Big! announcement

Hello, friends. It just recently came to my attention that my WordPress clock was off for some reason, so things have been posting willy-nilly at random hours. I’m sorry if an email about my blog woke you up at like, three in the morning. I fixed my clock and now things should be posting at better hours…according to Eastern United States times, anyway.

It’s always a bit mind-boggling when I think about how people are living at different hours–even in different dates!–across the world right now. Having to accommodate for time zone changes is something I’ll have to get used to…in my semester abroad.

Surprise!

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This fall, I’ll be studying at Kasteel Well, shown above, a literal castle that my school owns in the town of Well in the Netherlands. I’ll get to visit several countries while there, all while taking a Travel Writing course.

What does this mean for Introvert Playground? Not much change. I’ll still be posting about the introvert life, but now it will include how to travel as an introvert. I’ll also be posting bits about the trip separately.

I’m very excited! It’s really the first thing I have to look forward to in a long time. It’s a well-earned break, that will help me expand my horizons and learn more about the world that I have only discovered a small portion of.

Also, fellow introverts, where should I go? The weekends are free for us to travel to any country we want in Europe. Any suggestions? Any little, hole-in-the-wall places, lesser-known cities, hidden museums, exciting locales, fun outdoor hikes I may not find myself?

I hope you’re excited as I am! I depart in September, so it won’t be for awhile, but I’m still glad I get to bring you on this journey with me, and document it day-by-day for the future. Much better than a hap-hazard Facebook photo album, no?

In the meantime, share your favorite places, and travel tips for introverts. I’m working on an introvert travel guide to post here.

 

FancySushiVille

As a rule, I don’t like to spend much money. The deciding factor between two meals at restaurants is always price, and I never spend more than $20 on a dish (and even more than $15 is pushing it). Being fancy for the sake of it has just never appealed to me when you could save that money for something more important down the line.

For example, saving those $30 dinners for holidays or vacations.

But last night my friends wanted to go for sushi, and one particularly picky friend insisted we go to one of the more expensive, fancier sushi places in the area. Now, we live right by Chinatown, which is positively flooded with delicious, cheap sushi, but here I was stuck at fancy-shmancy-sushi-ville.

Well, everyone began looking through the lengthy menu, listening to light jazz and enjoying the indoor waterfall and non-wooden (!) chopsticks. There were some cheaper options, if I wanted, but something about the jazz, the gentle snowfall, the black longsleeve I was wearing, made me want to be a bit fancy.

Even so, my separate check was the cheapest out of everyone, but what could you expect with everyone ordering $3 miso soup?! I fancied up, but couldn’t help a little sensibility sneak in.

Anyhow, I’m very glad I treated myself a bit. The sushi was delicious, truly, and the mocha ice cream was the best I’ve ever had. Not that my cheap hole-in-the-walls aren’t good too, but some frankly lacked the balance that this place had. Presentation does, after all, make the dish.

It’s good to treat yourself now and then. I’m not about to go there again tomorrow, but once in awhile won’t kill me (or my wallet). I was a much happier person last night at FancySushiVille than I would have been eating college dining hall food like I usually do. It was a great start to the week.

Part of it was also the relaxed way this particular group of friends approached eating. My family, always in a rush, doesn’t get appetizers because they believe it makes your entrées take longer to get out. We always skip dessert, and my parents never get drinks or after-dinner coffee. This group got all the courses possible, shared and traded rolls, and even stayed an extra fifteen minutes for dessert, something I’ve definitely done less than 20 times in my memory.

My boyfriend’s family operates similarly. Often when ordering around the table with them, I realize I am the only person without an appetizer ready to go.

It’s a lesson in slowing down and allowing yourself to enjoy the moment. Getting a coffee, spending that extra few dollars on the meal you really want. Not always, but not never, either. After all, we deserve it.

Out the window, the snow fell. The food was delicious, the friends were laughing, and with the light jazz playing it felt like Christmastime.

Amesbury Adventure

Amesbury is truly lovely. It reminds me of a place out of Gilmore Girls, or a Studio Ghibli movie. I have some pictures here—maybe I’ll post a video at some point?

I did get there about 2 ½ hours early, partially by accident, partially to avoid rush hour traffic. I sat in the library until they closed at 5, reading Life of Pi and charging my phone. The library creaked with every step, and was filled with the sound of pages turning and children romping about upstairs. I then went on the search for dinner

Being  New England, churches rose from every street corner and many sidewalks were made of crumbling bricks. The main road I was walking down had plenty of artisan shops, selling plants, homemade clothing, chocolate…most were closing as I passed them, adhering to small town hours I wasn’t used to. I did manage to spend some time in Nest, an adorable store with all kinds of cute fashion accessories and things for the garden, and the interior made it feel like I was walking into a treehouse—or, perhaps more appropriately, a bird’s nest.

After that I was about to turn around and head back, because I was afraid of getting lost, but I was reinvigorated by the thought that I might never come back to little Amesbury (and if I did, it wouldn’t be for months), so I kept venturing, and found a lovely bridge stretching over a waterfall. I stayed there for awhile, thankful that it was warm enough that the waterfall was still flowing and didn’t feel like ice when the mist hit my skin.

All but starving now, I almost went into Pizza Factory but it was packed, so I ended up in a Chinese food place. It was good, but nothing more special than any regular Chinese food place. I still had about an hour, and almost everything was closing up—including the sun, which set while I was eating. I spent some time in a game store, Toy Soldier. There was a tournament going on in the back, and the cashier said it was a Star Wars board game called X-Wing. I ended up buying a game called GUBS, which I’ve since played with my roommates. It’s fun, but perhaps a little slow. The artwork on the card is very nice, and I’m glad to have bought it from the cute toy store.

Not a lot of time or daylight left, I walked down to a bench and enjoyed the relatively warm breeze. What struck me most about Amesbury was how safe I felt walking around. As I sat, two people came out of their businesses and locked the doors, and began talking about closing up shop and someone’s event they were hosting that weekend. It felt like something out of Mr. Rogers, or Sesame Street. So sweet, nice, calm, quiet, peaceful. It was everything a small town was supposed to be. Perfect for an introvert, too—plenty to do without having to be in constant contact with other people.

I learned to not be afraid of getting lost, to travel slowly and without a map, and that there can be great surprises—like hidden waterfalls—behind every corner. Also, that traveling alone can be a lot of fun!

That was my Amesbury Adventure. Check out some pictures! I might upload a video soon of this, including the waterfall 🙂

 

“The real Massachusetts”

Tomorrow I head to Amesbury, Massachusetts, with plans to leave with plenty of extra time to walk around and explore.

One of the biggest tips people give you when traveling is to skip on the touristy areas and go somewhere off the beaten path. As someone who lives in Boston, a tourist hub, Amesbury is very off the beaten path. It’s one of the northernmost towns in Massachusetts, right on the New Hampshire border.

Traveling and exploring doesn’t have to be somewhere super crazy-incredible. I found plenty of amazing places just driving around my hometown—places my parents never knew about. I was amazed to find there was a lovely pond just a quarter mile from my house, of which I never knew existed! My boyfriend and I drink coffee on the sand now and then, listening to the frogs.

I’ve never been to Amesbury, so I don’t know what I’ll find. But I do know it will be nice to be somewhere new. Location can make all the difference. A change in scenery can mean everything, especially when you spend 40 hours in a box of a cubicle and the rest of the time in a slightly larger box of a dorm room. And when I say slightly, I mean slightly.

I’ve always lived about 50 miles from Amesbury. I’ve also always lived about 200 miles from Pennsylvania but I’ve only been there once or twice. It’s strange how little we explore our own area. We travel to such far places, but never explore our own towns. I know more about Aruba than I know about Amesbury. Or Groveland, or Manchester-By-The-Sea, or Worchester, any of the tons of small Massachusetts towns that I always could have visited but never have.

Why not, though? It’s off the beaten path. It’s a traveler’s fantasy, these small towns no one knows about, away from hordes of tourists. “The real Massachusetts.”

Well, now I have a chance. An hour or two, hopefully, of extra time to find a bite to eat and explore the center of Amesbury,  before the event I’m going to in the library. Adventure, ho! and all that.

So, yes. Hopefully the sun doesn’t set too quickly. It’s setting around 5 or six now, so I might not get too much light. Luckily it’s been rather warm…though that’s sure to change soon.

What do you do, when you feel the routine of life setting in? Has anyone else done a bit of backyard exploring? Tell me your stories, I’d love to hear about other off-the-beaten-path, in-my-backyard stories. If it goes well tomorrow, I’ll be sure to do more!