The end is only the beginning

It’s the last night of an incredible adventure so naturally the dream-like memory of the five weeks is setting in. The five weeks have moved like the speed of light but our photographic progress and relationships seem like the only evidence that this experience was a reality.

During our final critique today the culmination of our hard work was evident. The projects had depth and complex thought behind them, even photographs of the same subject were unique from photographer to photographer. More remarkable than the work was the valuable critique that came from my peers. The thought provoking comments from trained eyes were night and day compared to our first critique.

As the discussions developed there was an invaluable element that enriched the critique and the entire trip. Our level of comfort and care for each other is that of long time friends. Sorry to get so “Hallmark cards” about this but it’s inevitable that after living in close quarters with a small group strong bonds form.

Since I graduated in May, I am especially sorry that I didn’t meet this group of talented and incredible people before yet even more thankful that I had the chance to before the end of my undergraduate career.

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The Best of Times

As excited as I am to return to America’s high five, today has been slowly breaking my heart. During critique, Marketa talked about how when she first met us at the airport in Prague and how we all said that we were determined to have a good time on this trip. I remember being in that airport while we made our introductions, and I was absolutely terrified. Looking back on that moment is funny, because I have now become good friends with all of these people, and this trip has been nothing but a good time.

It is pretty surreal to consider how much we have seen and done in five short weeks. It seems like this trip began ages ago, and yet tonight it feels like it went by far too fast. We have grown so accustomed to adventuring with one another and having days upon days of exploring new places that the idea of going home and leading a normal, day-to-day life seems strange. We have learned so much on this trip. It was obvious in today’s final critique. This is such a talented group of creative people, and it was a treat to see how everyone has progressed in their photography skills each week. I truly hope that everyone continues to share their photos with the world, because I’m going to miss seeing new projects each week.

In addition to photography, this journey has taught me more about the world and myself than I ever could have fathomed. Sometimes my patience was tested, my body was exhausted, and my brain hurt. During those times when I just wanted to lie down and take a nap, either the city, others in the group, or a combination of both would motivate me to get back out there and venture some more, and it was worth it every time. Until this trip, never in my life have I said “This is the best day of my life” multiple days in a row. Being able to study abroad has been a true blessing.

Today after critiques, we were treated to a delicious pizza lunch, and said our goodbyes to Howard and Cathy. I just returned from fulfilling my dream of visiting Abbey Road. Brittany was kind enough to take pictures of Katie and I as we screwed around on the crosswalk made famous by the Beatles.

Katie and I nailing the famous Beatles walking pose.

Katie and I nailing the famous Beatles walking pose.

We plan on spending tonight together as a group one last time before we all head off in different directions around the globe. I am so sad to say goodbye to everyone. It has been a riot spending time with such fun, crazy, wonderful people, and I’m certain we will all continue to explore this huge world we live in, because like we have been singing since day one: “We can’t stop. We won’t stop.”

Exploring Alone

Graffiti in Shoreditch.

Graffiti in Shoreditch.

It’s strange living a daily routine that involves spending most of your waking hours with 13 or more of the same people for over a month. Actually, at this point it’s kind of strange to think about it any other way. On this trip, we have become such a huge part of each other’s everyday life. But really, it’s abnormal to spend so much time with so many people on such a regular basis. It actually makes spending time alone a bit strange.

But that’s what I did for a good part of today; I spent time by myself. I slept in, then went to get food by myself. After class I grabbed my iPod and camera and took the tube to Shoreditch to take more photos. And it was really relaxing. There’s a great sensation when you feel that you can blend into a big, foreign city and just act like it’s your normal life. When we’re in a giant group, it’s obvious that we’re tourists or students on a trip. But by yourself, you can sort of just slip through and observe. It’s nice taking time to just do normal things like walk around and listen to music, instead of running across the city to pack in everything we can before we have to leave.

I’ve thought about how weird it will be when I go back home and I’m not living with 13 of my friends any more. Over here there’s always someone around to go out with, or grab lunch with, or just talk to. I can’t quite remember what it’s like not to have a dozen housemates.

And most of the time I want to spend my days seeking out adventures with my new group of friends. But some days, like today, I just want to get lost in the city.

Give Rise to or Cause

As fortunate as we have been to adventure through some of the most recognized cosmopolitan cities in Europe, I must admit that the some of the most revivifying experiences have been far from urbanite.

The Natural History Museum in London is a proud host to the world premiere of Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis, a documentary photographer whose work explores and documents the diversity of our earth. We first walked through Planet South, observing water trickle down the tails of southern right whales in Argentina and gazing into the river valleys of the Brooks Range in the Arctic. We continued through Sanctuaries, Africa, Amazonia and Pantanal and Northern Spaces. Essentially, I trekked through Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Ethiopia in under an hour. We were given the chance to experience a glimpse of Selgado’s connection with the origin and ceaseless formation of our planet and instantaneously we found our own relationship with our environment. We all understand that we are responsible for the care of our planet, but do we actually have the desire and knowledge to protect it? My responsibility has met desire and empowerment in Genesis. Desire, it is a pleasure to meet you. Earth, you magnificent creation, I promise to protect you.

And then we have Stonehenge, an ancient creation surrounded by mystery. With so many questions left unanswered, it is undeniable that this site on the Wiltshire countryside is remarkable.

Exploring the grounds of Lacock abbey and village offered us a true taste of the past. We looked through the famous window where William Henry Fox Talbot created the first negative photograph, marveled at the cloisters and antique furnished rooms, and were arguably the most thrilled to walk the hallways Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint once walked through in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Before leaving this small but rich with history town, we watched the afternoon sunlight shine through the stained glass of the Salisbury Cathedral. History, you are sacred to me, and I promise to protect you too.

Stonehenge on the countryside.

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Medieval furniture, I will own you someday.

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Reflecting in a reflection.

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To light a candle for someone.

Unexpected Adventures

Of course when you go to a big city, there are all the obvious sights and activities to check off your list. For Paris you have the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, eating baguettes, etc. But then there are the things that you may have never expected you would get to say you experienced, or ones that might not be as obvious. And I have to say that those usually end up being the ones you remember the most. So if you’ll allow me to look back just a bit into the past, this is my short list of adventures to have in Paris that might not be on everyone’s checklist:

1. Swim in the fountain in front of the Eiffel Tower
-While spending an amazing evening on the lawn near the Eiffel Tower one night, we noticed that on the hour, the large fountain we were sitting by shot off huge geysers of water. The water was timed with the lights of the tower so that the night sky was filled with twinkling lights and water vapor, creating a truly unique sight. I had seen a couple young kids playing in the fountain and thought it looked like fun, so without thinking, I just sort of ran down the hill and jumped in the fountain. Verdict: it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Fountain Swimming (Photo by Andrea Raby)

Fountain Swimming (Photo by Andrea Raby)

2. Play guitar with a street musician on the Seine.
-We hung out on the Seine river a lot; pretty much as often as we could manage. It was the perfect place to spend evenings looking at all the lights and people. One night, a street musician that had finished for the night came over and started talking to us, and we started exchanging stories and details about our lives. After it came up that I played some music back home, he immediately shoved his guitar into my hands and insisted that I play a song. Despite being a very mediocre musician, I managed to get one song out, while my friends sang along on the riverbank beside me. It felt entirely magical and just about perfect in every way. The moral is to talk to strangers I guess, because sometimes they’re cool guys who let you play their guitar.

3. Eat a pizza with egg on it.
-Not only does it look even cooler than a normal pizza, it tastes 10 times better as well. In Europe I’ve basically learned that everything is better when you throw an egg on it. Andrea and I had a sausage and egg pizza at a small café near the Moulin Rouge on one of our last nights in the city, and it was one of the best things I’ve eaten on the whole trip. My mom had warned me that sometimes restaurants will crack a raw egg on top of the cooked pizza, but thankfully this one came a bit more well done. I think America really needs to look into this one.

This is what heaven looks like.

This is what heaven looks like.

4. Investigate a Parisian art commune
-Within the first few hours that we were in the city, a couple of us discovered perhaps the strangest and most interesting building we visited in the week we stayed in Paris. I’m not sure if it had a name, but we found this art hub on the Rue de Rivoli thanks to the neon decorations covering the windows, and plaster hands hanging from the doorway. There were six floors to explore, filled with artists working in their studios and displaying their crafts. Each floor we wandered into was a new surprise. In one room, a painter gave me an out-of-tune ukulele to play and claimed that he knew Michigan because of John Wayne. Another room contained a wall of strange-looking, vintage, coin-operated machines that we had to walk through to get to the next artist area. When we left through the stairwell with a giant dragon mural and neon fetus sculptures glued to the walls, we concluded that Paris gets real weird real fast.

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British Humor is Jolly Good

After a fun day of shopping (and by shopping I mean wandering around Harrods and touching clothes that were worth more than my life), our group was treated to a British comedy. The only British comedy I have ever really been exposed to is Mr. Bean, which I have always found hilarious, but didn’t really know if that was what most British humor was like. As it turns out, tonight’s play wasn’t too far off. We saw One Man, Two Guvnors, and it was an absolute riot. We were all laughing our heads off. At first I had a very hard time understanding what was going on because the accents were so thick and the actors spoke very fast. But after a few minutes, it became easier to understand them. There was a lot of physical humor, and it was a fun and quirky play. I am incredibly happy we had the opportunity to see such a show.

The sign for One Man, Two Guvnors outside of Theatre Royal Haymarket.

The sign for One Man, Two Guvnors outside of Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Looking Back…

Our first couple days in London have been a whirlwind of activity. From museums to Buckingham Palace to comedy shows, there has definitely been no lack of activity. However, I must say that there is one event in particular that takes the cake….Stonehenge. Surviving through a 15-hour day trip on two hours of sleep has never been as appealing as it was that day. I can’t help, but to keep admiring my photos. Not out of narcissism, but out of great appreciation for what I was able to experience. It was such a blessing to be able to observe one of nature’s greatest mysteries.

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