Dank je Well, or Alstublieft.

In Dutch, "alstublieft" means please or here you are (as a sort of end of transaction statement).
Dank je wel (pronounced DANK-YU VELL) is "thank you"

I've been home for three weeks.

Someone told me that you don't know what was life-changing until way later, with hindsight and everything. Before I left, my paternal grandmother told me to look at what I see, and listen to what I hear (I believe I got that right). She reminded me of this on the phone the other day.

I read this, and it rang so true thinking of the trip which has passed, that is now cemented in history.
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”
--Christopher IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin
Journaling, talking about my trip, blogging, is all developing the metaphorical film in my mind which has been under exposure for months. I wonder what pictures will come out.

Contrasting
“Despite all the romantic notions about traveling, the truths that it dulls the senses. The traveller is always one step ahead of his feelings. New impressions eclipse concern for what is left behind. While amassing experiences of the world outside, his inner being goes to waste. Such is his state of mind until the next destination"
--Arthur Japin, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi

I'm so glad to be home, to be in a place where English is what is expected, I always felt like my interactions in Europe started with an apology for not knowing the native tongue.
Hopefully the lovely Duolingo will put me on a path to be more prepared for my next trip to Europe. Yes I am of course already planning where I must go next: Iceland, Dublin, Glasgow, Barcelona, Athens, Croatia, Switzerland, Sweden.

Everyone asks how the trip was, and I think I've developed a great monologue about the highlights, seeing all the theatre and art I wanted to see, how I'm thinking a little differently now about the world, etc. I've gotten a little tired of it, but I always stress how grateful I am, how privileged I feel to have gotten the experience. If I'm with someone I am close to, I mention how although the trip was a dream come true, I wasn't 100% happy all the time -- of course -- because there were moments I thought, "everyone is having fun except for me" "I am doing this whole trip wrong" "I just want to be home" "everyone is pretending to have fun, but really this whole thing is just okay" "this is too stressful" and other negative thoughts. But right now, I have no major regrets about anything, I don't live my life with regrets (actually I wish I hadn't missed my flight in Edinburgh, but I still handled the situation pretty well...)

I wrote a fantastic final paper in my theatre history class summarizing the work I saw, integrated with movement, high on spectacle and theatricality, and how it has impacted my approach to making theatre.

For my history class I heavily researched life while the Berlin wall was up.

I feel as though this trip I learned more about Christianity and its relationship to art than I ever have before. The European perspective on the World Wars in my history class has been helpful in understanding today's situations and seeing how Europe has become what it is since 1914.

There is a moment every day where I stop and think about some moment from my semester and I take the time to be grateful for the trip I had. I can't wait to figure out what was life-changing.
• • •

Paris

I'm really glad I went to Paris. Even though it was two weeks after the attacks, I felt safe. I wasn't going to cancel a trip I would be taking with my friends Suzie and Tim, if we would be travel with them and Suzie's parents.

First of all, the bread was indeed amazing. I could use a good baguette right now.

All my life some people told me Paris was the greatest city in the world, others said it was smelly and the people were mean to tourists.

The city indeed felt romantic and gorgeous. Here's the Saint Chapel in beautifully lit glory.

My friends and I went to a famous cemetery found Oscar Wilde's grave where we recited some of his best quotes.


For theatre we went to see the long-running double-bill of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano and The Lesson at the Théatre de la Huchette.

In looking for a romantic place to sit and write, I found the Anticafé. Here, instead of buying a drink and spending all the time you want working, you pay for the time you spend at the cafe and get all the snacks and drinks you want! Cool stuff.

The Lourve was an overwhelming experience, as I expected it to be. So easy to become lost, and a barrage of religious art that I wanted to get past. I was most struck by Eugène Delacroix. And the Mona Lisa was not that disappointing, as I feel as though I've been set up for being disappointed by its size. Because of the climate of Paris I suppose, there wasn't a huge crowd around the over-hyped painting, and I took my time to appreciate it.

Leaving a taxi, the driver told my friends and I that he was grateful we came to Paris, that following the attacks the city needed tourists to keep the city alive. Police all over the city in fact made me feel safe, getting checked before going into malls or museums, I thought that as a tourist with truly nothing to hide, I could enjoy myself without fear.
• • •

Copenhagen

Copenhagen was another city that was recommended to me by enough people that I stuck it high up on my list. Surprisingly it was an expensive city. Culturally this city has so much to offer.

As with all cities, it started with a walking tour. My guide told us about Copenhagen's history of many fires and a their amazing Queen who illustrated The Lord of the Rings and speaks many languages.

I poped into the Kunsthall Charlottenborg and laughed at this exhibit from William Forsythe. I walk into the exhibit and think, "how can I avoid these pendulums!"

Jacob Holdt, a Danish photographer had an exhibit of work looking at poverty in America. It was a visceral experience looking at each photo, many accompanied with quotes (like Humans of NY) and often a Bible quote.

The theatre piece I settled on seeing first was called Come Together, this bizarre staging of Beatles songs with costumes from all over the time, reorchestrations, and lots of flying. Some of the covers were thrilling and engrossing, others were quite tacky and silly.
The theatre for this was a part of an aquarium in Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in the middle of the city.

My friends and I also spent time visiting the Freetown Christiania, this sort of hippie commune.

One of my favorite museums I have seen so far is the National Gallery of Denmark. For their European art 1300 - 1800 section, the walls were color-coordinated so you could track influences from antiquity and across the land. The museum also had a brilliant collection on modern art and especially surrealist art. Wilhelm Freddie painted some brilliant works, and I was especially fond of this short film "Porridge".

A handful of Christmas markets were popping up around the city, which made me happy to waltz around.
• • •

London

My plan for my birthday was simple:
Go to a place where English was the main language, and see a piece of theatre I knew I would LOVE.

And so, my trip to go to London and see Gypsy with Imelda Staunton was set in motion.

Round trip for my RyanAir flight I paid ~20€.

With my great friends Tim and Nora, we started our day (after getting settled) with a walk from our AirBnB near the Tower Bridge, towards the West End.
Walking around we found ourselves on a bridge looking at faraway clouds and seeing them drop rain. How fascinating. I turned around and snapped this picture.


I was in love with the juxtaposition of the clouds.

Seconds later a torrential downpour began, followed by hail. We laughed, waited for the rain to get milder, and went for a walking tour, as I like to do in order to knock out all the important touristy sites.

Here's a photo of me with the Buckingham Palace.

We moved onto getting my most important birthday dinner: pizza.

Following pizza we had some time in the National Gallery. I was probably the most prepared to go to this museum, as many of the paintings studied in my art history class are housed there. I gasped so many times from recognizing paintings that a guard asked me if I was alright. A highlight was the Caravaggios, and getting to go up close to Botticelli paintings and describe why they're horrible.

Gypsy was a marvelous time. The production itself was fresh, stimulating, and highlighted why the musical is considered one of the best written of all time. Now, Staunton's performance was quite something. The deep deep emotional turmoil was like candy to enjoy. I live to see actresses like her.

Saturday

We all woke up late on Saturday, and spent time finding theatre to see that evening. Tim cooked us pasta, and all six of us had a family brunch. It felt so nice and adult. The group trekked through rain to one of the most important sites of the trip: Shakespeare's Globe.

On our way, we passed the original site of the Globe, and went into the Rose Theatre.
 It felt magical to walk into this space, even though it was mostly empty. An outdoor theatre originally designed to squeeze three thousand people. I thought a whole lot about how theatre has changed. Back then, you listened to a play, not watched, and you could leave when you felt, so there was a lot of repeated information. I did not know that Shakespeare wrote some later plays specifically for an indoor theatre, and therefore a wealthier more educated audience, meaning that the plays had more complicated language.

I then popped over to the Tate Modern Gallery, which was INCREDIBLE. One artist I LOVED, was Nam June Paik, and I realized I saw one of his pieces at the modern art museum in Amsterdam. I love museums.

Before splitting up for theatre, we all went for fish and chips!

After that, I went to see Miss Saigon. I went into the theatre knowing NOTHING about the show, except that there's a helicopter...and it takes place in Vietnam. The spectacle of it all was such a joy. Fierce belting, exhilarating choreography. As one of many raised on Les Miserables I enjoyed hearing the composer's style stretched and explored in a new setting.

Everyone but Tim and me had classes early on Monday so they left on Sunday, but Tim and I had an extra day to explore!

Sunday

Our day started with going to the Imperial War Museum. Their WWI exhibit was spectacular, and their exploration of the Holocaust was quite good. My history teacher told me this was the best war museum in the world, and it did not disappoint. It even had a tea room, so Tim and I had afternoon tea!

We made our way over to the West End and popped over to the Courtauld Gallery, which had marvelous impressionist artworks. An exhibit of Bridget Riley's paintings inspired by George Seurat was a highlight.

Theatre it seems in the UK takes Sundays off, the way American theatre usually takes Mondays off. I wished I had planned to see some true English Shakespeare, but that wasn't available. So Tim and I settled for an English farce. I had heard that The Play That Goes Wrong was funny, and wow it may have been one of the funniest plays I've ever seen (second only to One Man, Two Guvnors I'd say). It had surprises, calamity, and brilliant visual gags (check out this preview).

One observation about London: wow it's expensive. Everything, including the exchange rate, cost approximately twice what I thought it would be, expected it to be.

Though the city was wonderful. A place I could imagine myself living. A city I want to work in. I city I really want to see again.

• • •

Two Days in Berlin, 24 Hours in Munich

I needed to go back to Berlin for two reasons:
  1. I badly wanted to see a Brecht play at the Berliner Ensemble
  2. I had more days I needed to use for my Eurail
The third reason was that I wanted to explore this city more, that I had been fantasizing about so much. I wanted to have one city which I returned to on this trip, to arrive and already be a bit familiar, to get over romanticizing and appreciate it.

So I made a plan to go see Mother Courage and her Children at the Berliner Ensemble, and decided I would go to another German city. It was between Hamburg (which would have been on the way back to the Netherlands) or Munich (six hours south of Berlin). I asked around online and someone I hadn't really spoken to stopped me in the hallway and told me everything amazing about Munich, highly recommending I go. Also I came across a fascinating arts festival in Munich that I wanted to see, plus hostels were much cheaper, so "Munich it would be" I decided!

Thursday

I skipped all my classes on Thursday, hopped on a train, and made my way to Berlin. On the ride there, in preparation for seeing Mother Courage I read different translations of the play, critical essays and articles about it, and study guides made for high schoolers. My goal was to be really solid understanding the play, since it would be in German and I didn't want to get lost.

To see a Brecht play, at his theatre, a play that I believe encapsulates his vision of theatre best, directed as close to his style as I may ever see, was a revelation. Carmen-Maja Antoni as Mother Courage was a small, seemingly harmless woman, like Sophia from Golden Girls, but as the play progressed, she became colder and ignorant to her selfishness. Karla Sengteller, who played the mute daughter Kattrin, destroyed me and broke my heart. Because of the language barrier, it was the true emotional moments that I could connect with, while looking for how the production utilized the verfremdungseffekt (distancing effect), which most Germans I believe refer to as the "v-effekt". Though at one moment I felt the v-effekt was disregarded: when it began to rain onstage, and I couldn't see where the rain was covering from. Like Brecht's placement of lighting fixtures in plain sight, I would imagine the director would put the equipment in view too. I need some Brecht-experts (Brechtsperts?) to help me break this down. Also, why was the theatre's proscenium covered with the black frame? Lots to think about.

Friday

My hostel was in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin, so I woke up and wandered around. I visited the East Side Gallery, which is a remaining section of the Berlin wall, the east side covered in murals from professional artists, the west side an open canvas for all. In a wonderful moment of irony, I snapped a photo of someone maintaining the wall.
I decided to go on an "alternative" walking tour of the city, since I had already seen the major sites. We learned about the Otto Weidt workshop (whose story is amazing) and some infamous graffiti artists of Berlin. Weidt's workshop is in the Haus Schawarzenberg, this alley that hasn't changed much since after the wall fell, so it's grungy, covered in art, and super duper cool (and where I took this selfie).
Also inside, is a clothing store that although pricey, had some of the most unique, handmade articles of clothing I have ever seen. I took a bizarre route back to my hostel following the walking tour, and passed this sculpture.

What a beard.

My other objective of the day: to find a cool European leather jacket. I went to the Humana Secondhand Shop knowing that the five story thrift store would have the greatest range of jackets. In the end I tried on over 30 coats, including this one that I ALMOST bought. In the end I found one for about $40 that I've fallen in love with.

The night continued with me going to see Mania at the Maxim Gorki Theatre. This was the main-stage, for the company where I saw Talking Straight Will Set Us Free on my first trip to Berlin. The production was an adaptation of The Bacchae, in German with English surtitles. Essentially the staging was a group of performers intensely dancing to loud club music, while monologues were delivered by someone wielding a microphone. I adored it. The final moment had pink goo fall from the ceiling. I had chills and my jaw dropped. The aesthetic of loud, pumping music made me want to go a club. I thought about how theatre is so stagnant, we sit in these seats watching something happen. But by the end, I didn't want to dance anymore.

Saturday

As I walked to the S-Bahn on Saturday morning, I passed by the corner pictured here. When I was first walking to my hostel on Thursday --  at around 5PM -- I saw someone pasting posters on the wall. By Saturday, these new ones were covering it. That's Berlin to me, always changing, building on top of the history.
I took a long train ride, appreciating the Bavarian countryside, journaling, thinking. It was quite pleasant.
Once getting to Munich I strolled through the city, taking note of the fruit carts with stunning-looking berries and nuts. For a second I thought I was in Florence, at the Piazza Delli Sigornia.
As always, my trips are focused on pastries and foods covered in powdered sugar. Munich's specialty did not disappoint.
The Spielart Festival was this huge arts festival in Munich. I planned to see two piece back to back: Sculpting Fear and The Empire Strikes Back.

Waiting for the first piece, I explored this massive art installation in the theatre complex.

Sculpting Fear was staged in a fairly large, proscenium theatre. But there were risers placed over the orchestra, so the space became a fairly intimate blackbox, but with a large stage. A fascinating moment of this was an existential drama of roombas. As two of the devices moved around the stage, a conversation of the robots inner monologues and conversations played. Of course, my favorite moment of the piece was when a mess, and chaos was created on stage. The whole floor was covered in styrofoam mats, which the performers picked at. Fans lined up stage left blew the broken down bits away. It look amazing. Here's a video.

The Empire Strikes Back was 90 minutes of...a lot of things. There were many vignettes and moments, etudes. Parts of it were complete chaos, which I enjoyed. Here's a clip from my favorite moment. I'm still making sense of it. My favorite design element was the stagehand who wore black leather pants.

Sunday

I took a walking tour, as I always do, then headed back to campus. I missed all of Munich's great museums, and most of the city. But I went on an adventure by myself. That's what matters.

My tour guide came to this building and announced that this is what most of post-WWII Munich looked like. Imagining a majority of the city like this, quite spooky.

My other favorite spot on the tour was the "Monkey Tower"


Photo by Travis Amiel

I snapped this photo, and my tour guide whipped out a reproduction of a painting by one Adolph Hitler.




My lesson though from this weekend was simple: I do not like traveling alone. People told me I should explore places by myself, and I did. But being so cut off from the world without a proper cell phone with constant internet connection, in a foreign place where English was not the main language, I did not feel amazing or gain special insight, I felt alone.

My goal: learn German, and return.

How can I not return to Berlin when such a bookstore beckons?
• • •

Travel Break: Vienna, Prague, Budapest

After midterms at Kasteel Well is the second group excursion, followed by a week for travel break. All 81 of us, three members of the Office of Student Affairs, five professors (I believe) headed off to the German speaking country of Austria.

Vienna

We started our trip like we started our trip to Amsterdam, with a tour of the city. We passed two WWII-related memorials: the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (which struck me as solemn and dignified), and the memorial in Albertina Plaza (which was a little scary and unsettling, but powerful). I love observing how European cities have central areas that are friendly for pedestrians, where there's no divide on the streets between where people walk and cars. My favorite sight on the tour was the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the school that rejected Hitler. St. Stephens Cathedral, with its color tiled roof blew me away. I had never seen a decorated roof of that style or size before. My tour guide asked what style this church was and how I could tell, proudly recalling an answer from my art midterm I shouted about the pointed arches and large windows.

Kunsthistorisches

Most my Saturday was spent in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum with my art teacher. The palace like museum itself is a stunning piece of art, here's a 3D look inside it. We spent a long time looking at Albrecht Dürer's Adoration of the Trinity. I'm entertained that below heaven, on Earth, Dürer drew a portrait of himself, perhaps in case someone wanted to know what he looked like and hire him. Our group was split in half, so while the other group was working my assignment was to write a detailed description of a work. I chose a small Hans Memling altarpiece. The activity made me feel like a real art historian. Although we looked at works by Raphael, Jan Van Eyck, the most fascinating work was this small self-portrait by the silly mannerist Francesco Mazzola (or Parmigianino), which was painted on a convex canvas, to perfectly replicate the convex mirror the artist saw himself in.

Die Hamletmachine

Of course I wouldn't let myself go anywhere without seeing some theatre. The best option seemed to be a production of Heiner Müller's Die Hamletmachine at the Burgtheater, the Vienna national theatre. I had heard of the play before, and I thought, why not see it in the original German! Take a look at the text. The only problem was that the play was sold out, and I didn't get off the waitlist I signed up for online. Somehow I convinced my friend Suzie to come attempt to get tickets with me. We end up at the theatre around 7:55 (for an 8:00 curtain) and can't figure out where the box office is, asking a security guard (who spoke almost zero English) where to go after attempting to enter through a side entrance. Finally the woman at the box office (with decent, but very basic English skills) tells me at 7:57 that the show is sold out. I press on, "any rush tickets" "no" "any cancellation/waitlist/open tickets" "no". I'm about to give up when she offers me a single ticket. Here's when I realized Suzie was a good friend, she told me I should go see the show alone, and she'd be fine figuring out how to return to the hostel. I hug her, thank her...and then the box office lady offers me two tickets!

7:59 we're rushing around the corner to the theatre, checking out coats, and grabbing the last two seats out of the 60 total. The theatre space was called the "vestibül" and it was like a gallery in a museum, with theatrical lights hanging from the ceiling, and a couple rows of seats set up. The room was covered in gorgeous marble. The set was like a museum gallery. Because the performance was in German, I understood little of what occurred; but the actress who played Ophelia was mesmerizing and watching her attempt to hang a stuffed bull head on the wall, was remarkable for some reason. After I learn German I'll reread the text and it will all make sense, because the English translations I read before seeing the play did not help me break down the hour long performance I witnessed.

Bratislava

We took a day-trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I think we went to Bratislava to get a taste of what Cold War-era Eastern Europe looked like. I remember best the cobblestone streets we walked along, and the UFO above the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. After walking around the city we got on buses and went to Devín Castle, a symbol of the Iron Curtain. On the top of the cliff, we came to the ruins of an old, grand stone castle. There was a beautiful view of Danube and Morava rivers. This part of the trip became the ultimate photoshoot, as we were at the "golden hour" of photography and everyone was together.

Melk Abbey

To bridge the gap between the studies of Renaissance and Baroque art in my "History of Renaissance and Baroque Art" class, we visited the Melk Abbey, about an hour outside of Vienna, in Austria. This was the perfect place to see what Baroque architecture is all about: overwhelming the beholder. In competition with the Protestants, the counter-reformation sought to create heaven on Earth through the glorification of God. Looking up at the ceilings, there is no vault, but the illusion of getting a glimpse of heaven above. This place was ornate, and then had another layer of gold. My pictures don't quite do it justice. The abbey itself remains a place for about 30 Benedictine monks to pray, work, and learn. Our guide said that the monks drink wine in moderation, even have computers and cell phones, since they're a pretty modern bunch.

After my trip to the Abbey, I met my mom back in Vienna and we went to Café Sperl. It had this ambiance I feel like I'm always looking for: people drinking cappuccinos and reading the newspapers, a student with a bunch of books sprawled out, and locals chatting over a meal. I imagined it as a place to meet people, important people, in their natural setting, since Vienna claims to be the "coffeehouse capital of the world".

Prague

This city was one of the first cities people recommended I go to if visiting Europe. I found it quite wonderful. It's an inexpensive city, there was a huge variety of culture (i.e. theatre), history, and exploring to be done. We went on a huge walking tour of the city our first day, to see the Prague castle, the tribute to John Lennon (who didn't have any special connection to the city), and ended with a tour of the Jewish Quarters. My favorite moment of the tour was when the guide was describing some of the Jewish cultural museums, "the one down that street focuses on the most important moments in a Jew's life: birth, circumcision, Bar Mitzvah, marriage..." she paused, realizing she needed to finish the sentence. "...and cuisine"

One of the touristy treats to get all over Prague is trdelník - rolled dough wrapped around a stick, grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. I got it, it was delicious, and I set a new objective for the second half of my European trip: eat more pastries covered in powdered sugar.

The hotel I stayed at with my mom was my absolute favorite hotel I've ever stayed in, The Hotel Agnes. The staff cared so much about making sure we had things to do in the city, that we were given tea or coffee, that all went well with us. And to finally have a breakfast with delicious coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries, it was heaven.

Sights

The Sternberg Palace and Clementinum gave me my fill of culture, along with an exhibit on death at the National Museum. As always on this trip, when I saw a church, I went inside, unless there was an admission fee.

Libûse

All the theatre in Prague worth seeing seemed to be performing right AFTER I was leaving. But for the occasion of the 28th of October, which is the day Czechoslovakia was formed, the opera Libûse was being performed at the National Theatre. In my literature class on postcolonialsm, we studied the concept of nationalism; and often the whole idea of a "nation" comes from a set of cultural performance, such as the national anthem, traditions, etc. This opera was a literal performance of nationalism. The ending of the opera was Queen Libûse having a prophecy of the future for the Czech nation: there would be some struggles and hard times, but the Czech nation would survive and triumph, foretelling the founding of Prague. Some of the performances I loved, others I appreciated. Listening to a recording of the opera as I type this, I remember how beautiful the large orchestra sounded (I love a large number of instruments playing together...) and being in awe of the strong operatic performances.

Budapest

Budapest was one of the coolest cities I have seen yet. But somehow on this trip, I went to no museums, and no theatre. When I opened the TimeOut guide (2015 edition) for Budapest to find arts and theatre, it essentially said that arts had been cut, so there wasn't a huge selection of live theatre. This was the first city (not counting the Hague) I had slept in, but not gone to see theater. I wanted to see a tour of Mamma Mia! that was playing, but I couldn't convince my mom to go.

As usual, we started our stay in Budapest by going on a tour, which turned out to not be the most exciting tour, but I got some nice photos. The roof of this church, reminded me of the church I saw in Vienna.

My mom felt as though the trip was like her going back to her family's Eastern European roots. We went on a walking tour taking us through the Jewish Quarters. We saw the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest Synagogue in Europe, and other synagogues which once were in operation but are closed today. The tour of the Jewish Quarters led us to what I think is one of the coolest neighborhoods I've seen on this trip, where restaurants and bars are packed around Kazincy Street. Our guide took us to one of the original ruins bar. In Budapest, about a dozen old buildings have been transformed into these cool-grungy pubs, which are very popular. The one we went to was filled with modern art, was HUGE inside, and right next to an alley filled with food trucks. I loved it all.

Budapest is known for the thermal baths, which I had a nice time at. I felt like a Roman, soaking in hot water from the Earth.
• • •

Halfway Through This Adventure

We leave for Vienna today.
Midterms are over. We survived. There was an unbelievably high amount of tension permeating the castle grounds this week. My friend Suzie got an ulcer.

This adventure is halfway-over.

I listen to the cast recording of Hamilton a lot. The lyric "look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now" is always echoing in my head.

Every day things appear more picture-esq to me. And I want to photograph them.

Classes

The names of my classes are: History of the World Since 1914, History of Western Art I: Reniassance and Baroque Art, World Drama in Its Context, and Topics in Global Literature: Gender, Race, and Diaspora, in Postcolonial Texts. What I notice is that three of these classes super focused on history. My literature class, in which we've read three novels taking place in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) during the time of Colonialism, have taught me a lot of history and about Dutch culture. I wonder often in my classes if I'm being awakened, or changed. People talk about semesters-abroad being "life changing events"

My favorite room

The castle is a wonder. I want to know the history of everything, and how past Emerson students have lived here for nearly thirty years. This might be my favorite room. The Barbetta Room.


It's where the acting class takes place. For me, it is like what you want your mind to be: open and empty, with an illuminating source of beauty and inspiration. As I sit alone in here, the gentle white light from the exit signs keep me in the zone. It's where I like to write my plays.

Theatre

Now I've seen eleven pieces of theater in Europe. My favorite ones have usually incorporated movement, which I'm beginning to be fascinated by. Even in a two-character drama, there's some choreography. I don't think I can generalize differences between European and American theatre, but I'm finding lots of elements I want to take home with me.

Absolute Positives So Far

  • Tipping, pretty much is not a thing
  • The benches around the castle grounds are placed SO well, in the most wonderful places, it's sad that it'll be too cold to sit outside and read, but I have had many hours appreciating moments of sunshine, on a variety of benches
  • Bike riding is so easy because the Netherlands are so flat, and I adore riding into town, getting something from the bakery, or going to the general store where I can send postcards

In My Opinion: The Negatives

  • There are definitely A LOT more spiders I come across on this campus than any other place I have called home
  • Most restaurants in Europe don't give you water, you have to buy bottles, it's horrible! Though in Scotland it was not like this
There's lots more traveling to be done.
I am excited to see more, learn more, capture more, remember more, write more.

I don't want this adventure to end, but I want to have the experience I'm gaining for home.

• • •

Cologne, The Van Gogh, and The Hague

Ralph Trost, the teacher of my History of the World Since 1914  class, lead an excursion this weekend to Cologne, Which was great. We saw the large church, climbed to the top of it (19 stories, too HIGH!) Got a tour of the museum of Roman art / artifacts there, and enjoyed the German city.

My favorite part of the day was the Berliner. For € 1 I could get TWO jelly donuts. Which made me incredibly happy.

Saturday

On Saturday I overtook a trip to Amsterdam by myself. My main objective of the daytime was to experience the Van Gogh Museum. It was so beautiful.

This was my favorite painting I saw of his ->
The Sower

Though seeing some of his famous ones (Bedroom, Sunflowers) was quite satisfying.

At the museum right now is an exhibition about Van Gogh's influence on Munch-which might be one of my favorite exhibitions I've ever seen.

I thought the museum was closing at 5PM so I went through the museum kinda quickly. At 5PM I asked a guard when the museum closed, and he said 10. So I went through the museum twice. Dream come true.

That night I went to see a piece of theater called Horror. I came across this teaser and decided I needed to go.

And this did not disappoint. Like a horror movie on stage, this was SCARY STUFF in it, on stage. And I loved every second. There was no dialogue, I think-which would have ruined the whole piece. Occasional movement of bits, and highly choreographed fights were a part of this. Not since I saw Mary Poppins on Broadway When I was 11 I have seen such astounding stage magic, so I hope I get to experience this piece again someday. I'm not sure where it would fit in the theatre-scene of America. I'm not sure it is intellectual enough to go to not-for-profits around the country, and it isn't quite commercial enough to tour like Broadway shows do today.

Sunday

I woke up in the Hague and went to the Mauritshuis. I came across Girl With a Pearl Earring, and other famous Dutch works. I time wandering the autumn-y town and thinking about my purpose for being on Earth.

Next, and the most important part of this weekend, was going to see The Soldier of Orange. A musical running since 2010, making it the longest running Dutch musical in history. The show is housed in an airplane hanger, converted into a theater specifically for this production. What made this so exceptional was how the sets were in a ring surrounding the seats, and the entire platform of seats would rotate to focus on a different place. The show was SUCH a spectacle, more than anything I think I've seen before. My jaw-dropped pretty low at one reveal. The entire production was in Dutch, but thankfully I got an English synopsis. Even without the language barrier, I felt that the vocal performances and 9 piece orchestra were really underwhelming. Still, for all the trouble it took to get to this piece, which is really out of the way from major cities, it was so very worth seeing. I feel that now I've gotten the range of the biggest Dutch musical, and a tiny production of Macbeth, for young people.
• • •

Edinburgh

In high school I made a friend named Megan. She was from Scotland, and would tell me about how beautiful her hometown of Edinburgh was. I always dreamed of visiting.

This weekend, I did.

There aren't any flights to Scotland from our local airports, so I was worried the trip wouldn't happen. But for my theater class we had plans to see a production of Macbeth in Amsterdam on Thursday the 8th. This meant I had a ride to Amsterdam that I didn't need to pay for. Normally a bus and train costs around 30€. For less than the price of getting to Amsterdam, I stayed in a hostel and was able to get a reasonably priced round-trip ticket to Edinburgh.

The production of Macbeth we saw, directed by Liesbeth Coltof, was extremely gratifying, even in Dutch (knowing the plot very well made the language not a barrier). The production was stripped down to 90 minutes, so the pacing was perfect, and there was a deep integration of movement into the piece, which I LOVED. An ensemble of entirely young actors (except for one) portrayed all of the supporting characters, and many of them had their dialogue stripped, such as Malcolm, so they communicated only through movement. Our teacher told us the production was created for young audiences, meaning like teenagers, and it definitely felt that loud transitional music and harsh lighting design catered to that. We had a conversation following the performance with the director, which made me very happy.

First Day in Edinburgh

I land in Edinburgh, take one of the very clean, new (opened in 2014) trams and meet Megan in the central part of the town. Walking to her flat I get my first glimpse of the Edinburgh Castle.


Maybe in the back of my mind I knew it would be there. But like when I first saw the Duomo in Florence, this piece of architecture took me by surprise and I was breathless. It's right smack in the center of the town, separating the "new town" from the "old town"

In the evening we went to a production of Godspell from the musical theatre school Megan is attending. Hanging out with Megan and her friends, all studying musical theatre, I was first entertained by the variety in their accents (and my (un)ability to understand them) and by their devotion to this very American art form. Most of the musicals they all seemed interested in, were the American ones. And to me, musicals represent how America took theatre, added this specific style of song and dance, and (with exception of course) removed the meaning and intelligence. The one Scottish musical I learned about was Sunshine on Leith a jukebox musical. Part of what has been intriguing during this trip, is how American culture is seen worldwide.
This production of Godspell was most entertaining for its super spot on harmonies, and wild choreography. And it was done with American accents, though I wish everyone had used their accual accents. My favorite element of the production was Jesus' costume: a Baywatch Lifeguard Outfit. It wasn't until intermission did I get that Jesus was a lifeguard, saving lives...
Their venue, an old church converted into a performance space, was awesome.
But the BEST part of the production was that Miss SUSAN BOYLE was in attendance. I freaked out. Not even 12 hours in Edinburgh and I saw one of their national treasures. Megan and her friends were less enthusiastic.

Adventures

Megan's amazing boyfriend Alex, gave a stellar tour of the city for me. We got close to the castle, saw Hollyrood Palace (where the Queen sometimes lives), and saw of course the cafe which claims to be "the birthplace of Harry Potter". Megan and Alex turned their noses up at that. Some Edinburgh streets, like Victoria Street, are built on top of other streets.


Isn't that weird!

We also went to see a Scottish touring production of Stephen MacDonald's Not About Heroes, which focuses on the relationship between WWI poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Stylized movement was incorporated into the production, which greatly helped me in connecting to this super emotionally heavy piece. I had never heard of the two poets, so this was a great way to get some more insight into WWI, a huge focus of my History of the World Since 1914 class.

Scottish National Gallery

This museum has probably my favorite layout of all the museums I've visited. Regular chronological order! It's so easy to wander through the museum, watching styles develop and change, following along with the text on the wall. Their collection of Scottish artists (of course brilliant) was my favorite section, though they had a wonderful collection of Dutch artists! This moment, of a woman leaning on a piece of art, to look at a da Vinci work they had on display, was great.

Food

Obsessed with trying all of the local foods I am proud to say that I had the following:
  • Haggis - which I think I liked, but in the end wasn't into, the consistency of the haggis I had was off-putting
  • Black pudding - I also think I was enjoying black pudding, but then I found out it was pig's blood, and I didn't want to eat it
  • Irn-Bru - a SODA, which is very popular in Scotland. I'm also told that juice means soda
  • Chippy - chips (french fries/frites) with either a large sausage on it, or something else. Chippy is a general word
  • Nandos - a decent franchise restaurant which specializes in chicken

Lasting Observations

On Sunday, we wandered one of the more student driven neighborhoods of Edinburgh. We passed cute coffeeshops, neighborhood pubs, thrift stores, and a couple locations of the food co-op which is a huge presence in the city. And I wanted to go into these stores, to write, to have a drink, to shop. This is a city I can see myself in. There's so much I didn't see, and Glasgow (about an hour West of Edinburgh) was never on my radar until Megan mentioned it. So I'll have to come back to see more of Scotland, perhaps when the town explodes during the Fringe festival.

Monday

We spent Sunday night in the borders of Edinburgh, where Megan's parents live. It's incredibly rural. But so unbelievably gorgeous. I woke up to see green hills, against red/purple/orange skies. So lovely. Exactly what I wanted Scotland to look like.

I just wish when I had finished admiring the landscape, that I had checked my boarding pass. Because I missed my flight. In my brain, I was leaving a couple hours later than what reality had planned. The most expensive mistake I've made on this trip, and I'm really hoping I never make it again.

All in all, Scotland is quite high on my return list. Perhaps this August?

Thank you again Megan, for being a splendid host.



• • •

Berlin

If you're like me, you have a romantic vision of Berlin: people in cafes smoking cigarettes, drinking, and chatting about Marx. Maybe that's just me. Or maybe I'm thinking of Paris.

Amanda Palmer (my favorite artist, and number one life influence after my parents) lived in Berlin for a year. Cabaret (which takes place in Berlin) is one of my favorite musicals. I adore Brecht. Since I found out I was going to be abroad, people have asked me where I would visit, and I always would say that Berlin was my number one city.

I decided to buy a Netherlands/Brussels/Germany Eurail, so I could take the train to Berlin. It takes a long time (from Castle to Hostel took around nine hours, including all the delays) but having a couple of solid, calm hours to read on the train is wonderful. European cities are so much more dense than American. Within a half an hour of leaving a major city on the train, you see farms. In America, we have our car culture, and it can take a long time to leave a city and find real nature.

The weather was gorgeous all weekend, which can be a sort of burden when you want to be in museums all day.

Friday

Nine other Emersonians were at the hostel with me, so we sort of stuck together.
The first thing we did was go to the DDR Museum, which focuses on Germany and Berlin post-WWII, along with the formation of the German Democratic Republic. Although it was very touristy, I think I learned a thing or two I didn't know before, and the interactivity of the exhibits was appreciated. The setup of the museum was to have cabinets everywhere, and you'd open little doors to see artifacts and read more.

After that we headed to the Brandenburg Gate, which was set up for a huge out concert/festival happening each evening that weekend.
It was there I had my first bratwurst, it was yummy.

Afterwards we explored the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It's an impressive memorial, but walking around the maze of colossal concrete slabs, I saw kids (13 - 15 years old I suppose) running around as if they were at a playground. And I couldn't blame them, I felt at times like I was in a sort of urban cornfield, where quickly I could appear around one corner, and surprise my friends around another.

Near the memorial is a parking lot, the parking lot where Hitler's bunker was, and the place where he killed himself, the Führerbunker.

Talking Straight Will Set Us Free

Someone recommended a piece called Talking Straight Will Set Us Free, after I inquired about finding something "weird that you could only see in Berlin". It was housed in the Maxim Gorki Theater's Studio Я (pronounced "ya"), the radical offshoot of the ensemble-based Maxim Gorki. The whole evening was conducted in an invented language, as in, no one in the audience knew what the actors were saying, but they were speaking in a constructed form of communication. All I'll add is that after seeing this, I think about and approach theater just a little bit differently.

Saturday

We learned that October 3rd was Unity Day, the day when the wall fell down and Germany was...unity-ified...unified. Being that it was essentially German 4th of July, most things were closed (most places are closed Sunday). My dreams of buying a dope leather jacket, and a trendy European haircut were crushed.

Thankfully all of the major museums of Berlin's "Museum Island" were open, so I visited three of the major institutions: the Pergamonmuseum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Altes Museum (the museum in the above photo). Unfortunately, the Pergamonmuseum, which houses a collection of work from antiquity, Middle Eastern art, and Islamic art, was under major construction. Although I did enjoy some of the large reconstructions of Roman buildings, I was deeply disappointed to miss the Pergamon Altar, which won't be open until at least 2020.

The Alte Nationalgalerie contained Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork. The Impressionist wing (my favorite) was closed (of course!!) but I still came across some delightful artworks. Wandering this museum I felt like I got back in touch with the play I'm working on, which made me really happy.

Finally I popped into the Altes Museum, which houses mainly Roman and Greek art. It was wonderful to connect all the art to what I've been learning in my Renaissance and Baroque Art class.

Faust

After watching a documentary that featured the Berliner Ensemble (the theater that Brecht founded in Berlin) I've wanted to see something there, to see how they do theater. Last fall in my intro theater class, we collectively watch a documentary on Robert Wilson, an experimental theater director/artist. Naturally, when I saw that Wilson's Faust would be in Berlin when I wanted to go, I jumped and bought a ticket.

The first act, running about ninety minutes, was brilliant. Even though it was in German, I was enthralled. Every scene was a different, perfectly balanced visual masterpiece, that I could stare at like a painting. Herbert Grönemeyer's music was this rock/electric mix that in musical-like moments, was the epitome of what I look for in the theater.
After a thirty minute interval (intermission vs interval, why the difference?) the second act began. Two hours later it ended. The high energy song & dance moments I cherished in the first part didn't quite come back, and the long, dialogue-heavy scenes were less enjoyable for me, having no understanding of German or the plot of Faust.

LESSON: for any classical or classical-based theatre, read a synopsis ahead of time.

Sunday

My friends left and I had a day in Berlin to myself.

Brecht Haus

High on my list was to tour the home where Brecht spent the last three years of his life, in the Mitte (meaning middle) neighborhood of Berlin, just ten minutes from the theater he worked at. Tours were given on the hour, and when a women came into the lobby and saw me standing alone, we began. In my personal tour, I saw the flat Brecht lived in, kept in the exact condition it was when he died. Hundreds of his books remain. He kept a diverse assortment of religious iconography, which surprised me, knowing that Brecht was an atheist. I walked around the main room Brecht used to write in, and host guests, which made me begin to imagine what kind of flat I'll want when I'm an adult writer. I paid a visit to Brecht's grave, read his poem "The Doubter", and wrote in my journal.

Art Hostel

Walking down the street I came across what looked like an art gallery, hosting thirty different artists. I found out that an old hostel, which was about to be turned into a hotel, was being repurposed for a few weeks to showcase art. Inside the crumbing, messy, and at times a little unsettling construction site was a range of expression. Canvases with large globs of paint (my favorite way for paintings to be) and vibrating metal wire surrounding a room are two examples. All of this awesome (literal awe-inspiring) art was such a surprise. I happened upon this gallery, with contemporary art, in a space so...well...cool.

I took the rest of the day to walk the city some more, exploring the non-touristy, more local area of Kreuzberg.

A Third Theatre Piece

The person who recommended Talking Straight had also directed me towards a theater piece which seemed like it would be good. The video had a sort of counter-culture theme, and it would be presented in English! In the end it just failed to be groundbreaking. That's all I want to say about it. Not everything in Berlin is mind-blowing and exciting.

I'll return to Berlin to explore more, with new purpose, and a realistic set of expectations.

in the lobby of the Maxim Gorki Theater STUDIO Я
• • •

Maastricht to Brussels to Bruges

My first weekend traveling freely taught me a lot. My mom says that traveling teaches you a lot about yourself. In that regard was an excellent first weekend, very educational.

Friday

On Friday, Rob Dückers lead an excursion to Maastricht, a city about an hour south of Well. First of all the city was extremely gorgeous.

We enjoyed pie and hot chocolate in a cafe, which was splendid.

Maastricht still has part of its city wall from Medieval times, which is remarkable.

The other side of the wall was torn down when the city expanded, but since the Meuse river was right there, it made no sense to tear down the wall.

One of my favorite sights in Maastricht is the Boekhandel Dominicanen, an old church turned bookstore.

I love to see repurposing like this, or when churches turn into theaters.

Rob gave a tour of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, he's a curator of the treasury there. Our studies of Christian iconography in class got put to the test as we tried to identify the sculptures decorating the church.

Do you think this is the Virgin Mary? Why wouldn't you, it's a figure holding the baby Jesus, must be a Madonna, right?! THINK AGAIN!

It's Simeon! The dude who was the first to recognize Jesus as the messiah. We can tell because of his square jawline and flat chest. Also, he's standing next to a bunch of other stains from the New Testament.
After the tour ended, I headed to Brussels with my roommates Tim and Lorenzo, along with our friend Nora!

Brussels

The second I got off the train at Brussels central station I thought, "this is not a city that has my heart"
Most of the city reminded me of Midtown East in Manhattan. Large buildings and wide streets, plus the most hills I've encountered in weeks!

We explored the central square of Brussels, enjoyed waffles and chocolate (including a chocolate museum), and walked around plenty.

Our only goal for our one full day in Brussels was to make sure we saw the Magritte Museum. You may know Magritte from his famous works The Treachery of Images, or The Son of Man. Neither of those were at this museum! Regardless I loved these three paintings I saw: Portrait of the Writer Pierre Brochures, The Central Story, and The Heartstrings. After the Magritte Museum we went through the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts (which is one giant complex of museums) and saw some gorgeous art. James Ensor might be one of my new favorite painters.

After an exhaustive search of all the theater in Brussels I could find, I decided on going to the National Theatre of Brussels to see Notre peur de n’être. Google Translate tells me this in English is "Our fear of being, Do Be Our Fear, and Our Fear do Be" (depending on which instance of the title is being translated). My friend who speaks French, says it is actually "Our Fear of Not Being". On my bucket list was to see a play in a totally different language, without any English subtitles. So I got exactly what I wanted. But also I didn't because I didn't understand anything happening in the play. There was a lot of dialogue. Yet I did appreciate the staging: the entire proscenium was surrounded by fluorescent lights (which I adore on stage) and for the first of the three parts a scrim curtain was down. While scenes were happening, one of the characters was live-projected onto the scrim. So simultaneously you were watching a scene, as it was filmed (usually a medium or close-up shot) and projected on top. A handful of moments were genuinely exciting: a woman throwing a pot of spaghetti on stage, a mess of fog coming from upstage into the house, and the final moment of a woman's death when her dress ascended into heaven. Seven of my friends also saw the show, and I think one of them truly enjoyed themselves. The rest of us agreed that although the stagecraft was impressive, the play itself wasn't enjoyable; and even if we could have understood it, we're certain we would have found it pretentious.

Bruges

Bruges is called the "Venice of the North" because it has canals. Quite gorgeous. When I told my history teacher I was going to Belgium he explained how most of the wealth is from the country's exploitation of the Congo. Something to think in both cities.

After a walk through the city, we came to the 83 metres tall Belfry Tower. Since it was such a perfect day, we climbed the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower. The view was stunning, to be so much higher up than any other buildings around.

After climbing down 366 steps, we went in search in food. And there was our fatal error. Bruges is a very tourist-y city, and most lunch places closed before three. So the rest of our day was spent wandering for food, but still enjoying the usually sunny day.

LESSON: always pack lunch, you never know when it will be difficult to find inexpensive food.
• • •

Amsterdam

This weekend was our first excursion to the capital of the Netherlands.


As this was an excursion with the school, our three days were packed. It all started with a tour of the city by Rob Dückers. The city was fairly touristy, but the architecture, canals, and sunny made me love the walk. One of my favorite sights was the Begijnhof, founded in the Middle Ages, was sort of like a convent, but women could leave whenever they wanted; and what made it special was that women could actually own their own home there.

Museums

This trip in Europe is all about the museums, and Amsterdam did not disappoint with museums to visit. I visited the:

Rijksmuseum

This is the museum with Rembrandt's The Night Watch. My Renaissance and Baroque art history teacher (Rob Dückers) lead a tour of the museum. One question brought up at a few paintings was, "is this a portrait" or an exploration of color/light/etc? As a friend and I explored the museum we remarked that many of our favorite paintings were of bad things happening to ships.

Amsterdam Museum

Part a history of Amsterdam as a city, part an exhibition of Dutch artists, it was the guide I had that made this museum an excellent trip. My favorite sight in the museum was a Mondrian painting that he made while riding on his bike.

Royal Palace


This place left me speechless. First built as a city hall, when Napoleon invaded the Netherlands it became a palace for his brother (appointed King of the Netherlands) and has stayed that way since. I wish all governmental and public space could be this stunning.

Anne Frank House

I'm not super enthusiastic about visiting Holocaust-related sights, that's not my goal with this trip. But going to the Anne Frank House felt right for this trip. I've learned about Anne Frank for so long, and always knew that the place she lived in hiding for years was now a museum for people to visit. Passing by on the city tour, I that there is a surprisingly long line to get into the museum. Opting to go as a group on this trip meant we didn't have to wait in the general admission line. And even when we were in the museum, it felt like I was always in a line, waiting to get to the next room, to see the next plaque, and read the next short sentence explaining a moment of Anne Frank's life. It wasn't as though I was wandering the home and annex, imagining myself in her shoes, I was parading through. The most startling moment was seeing the pasted photos of movie stars and celebrities still remaining from when Anne decorated her room.

Stedelijk Museum

Amsterdam's modern art museum. Wandering around I came across an empty gallery with a group of people in a circle, chatting. When I walked in they all said in unison, "welcome to this situation" and then they all turned towards the wall and collectively breathed out. It was a performance piece by Tino Sehgal. I wasn't expecting to see any performance art, but I watched alone for 10 - 15 minutes as the performers went around discussing

Phobia

Because I'm a theater student, my hope is to see the greatest variety of theater I can, from the most commercial European productions, to the weirdest and most experimental pieces. I'm trying to avoid seeing anything that I could see, or would be going to the states.
On Saturday I saw a piece at the Stadsschouwburg called Phobia. It was a dance piece from the international dance company Club Guy and Roni (originaly form Groningen) with the Slovenian dance company EnKnapGroup. This trailer shows exactly what the style and staging was: modern movement with a lot of vibrating, moment depicting violence, and a lot of fear. What you don't see are the "theater of cruelty" monologues. There was a sort of plot and mini-scenes that the movement matched with. It's rare for a production to be so engrossing and have so many elements of its aesthetic that I am deeply satisfied by. I don't think they've ever been to the US, and I hope I see more from them in the future.



The Red Light District

Before leaving on Monday, some friends had a traditional Dutch Sunday* evening: we bought chocolate and sauntered around the Red Light District. I passed lots of women in skimpy underwear, standing in glass doorways under red neon lights. As a part of our education in Dutch culture, we have learned about the tradition of acceptance in the Netherlands. Rather than hide and be embarrassed about controversial issues, the attitude is to be open. Prostitution is legal, which means that sex workers pay taxes, have healthcare and protection. There were lots of tourists walking around and gawking (like me), but I never felt unsafe in this area.

I'll probably be back in Amsterdam to go to the Van Gogh Museum, and see another play. So I'll report on that later.

*There's no such thing as a Dutch Sunday.
• • •