With the transition into autumn come chilly days, bonfire nights, warm drinks, and an array of colors among the trees. Mother Nature does some pretty incredible things all year round, but when the trees change colors during the fall months, we can’t help but look around and see beauty regardless of where we look.
I’ve always found it ironic how we awe over the leaves while they’re dying, how we take walks and take pictures and admire their life cycle. They’ve done their job for the year, and as the weather begins to get cold and winter sets in, the leaves cannot survive. They die and they fall. Then we even find joy in the crunching of them under our feet or the piles that our kids and dogs play in. I think about this every single year and realize how much these dead and dying leaves can really teach us about life.
But this year, I’ve discovered a different way to view the autumn leaves, and it’s stuck with me since. When the leaves are changing, and we are admiring their beauty, we are really admiring their “true colors”. (Hmm, maybe that’s where that saying comes from…)
See, we learn in elementary school that Chlorophyll makes plants green. It is vital to allowing the plant to use sunlight and turn it into food, thus keeping it alive. However, there is another substance that leaves produce called Carotenoid, and this is what creates the brown, yellow, and orange pigments we see in the fall. But, both Chlorophyll and Carotenoid are present in the trees all year round, but the green pigments (Chlorophyll) cover up the other colors during the spring and summer time. They’re masking their real colors because they’re trying to survive. Without Chlorophyll, the leaves die.
Can’t we relate to this though? Don’t we mask our true colors just to get through the day? We suppress our emotions, our dreams, our silly selves; because we’d rather portray the person that we think the world wants us to be. Sometimes we need to stay green so that, to others, we look alive and happy and put together. But the earth will inevitably make it’s rotation around the sun and autumn will come and our green fades away to reveal the browns underneath.
We tend to believe that our masks are more beautiful than what’s true and real. Why do we think like this when we can just look at the trees and be overcome by their splendor? Nature is the most beautiful in its truest form, and so are we. We have a lot to learn from the leaves on the trees.
So in this season, be reminded that just like the leaves, or the mountains or the sea, that you are wonderfully made and your true colors are worth showing, and I promise you, people will find them inspiring.
I recently took a road trip around the northern Midwest and one of my many stops was in Chicago, Illinois. I spent one night in the city, but man, did it take me by surprise. Chicago was full of incredible architecture, fun sights, and unique personality. The streets were clean, the people were friendly, and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. (Granted, my visit was confined to a small area of The Loop and therefore my experience is somewhat skewed, and I’m sure that there are parts of Chicago, just like any other city, that may not match my description.)
So let me walk you through my stay, where I visited, and what I ate- just in case you’re thinking of visiting the Windy City sometime soon.
Giordano’s – After the Willis Tower adventures, we were starving and didn’t want to search for food. Luckily, Giordano’s was right across the street and the sign in the window promised Chicago’s #1 stuffed pizza. Now, you cannot visit Chicago and not have stuffed/deep dish pizza for at least one meal during your stay. Just know that it takes about 45 minutes for your pizza perfection to reach your table, but it’s so worth the wait. And it’s safe to say that any type of diet or clean eating goes out the window in Chicago.
Cloud Gate / Buckingham Fountain – Two incredible sights to see in the parks and only about a 20 minute walk between each other. Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean, is the giant metal sculpture that Chicago is known for and is located in Millennium Park. It’s pretty neat considering it reflects the skyline in an artistic manner, however, every tourist will be visiting the sight and therefore any picture you attempt will be a bit crowded. Once you make it to Buckingham Fountain, which is next door in Grant Park, the crowd calms a bit and the fountain is so intricate and beautiful, you’ll just want to stare at it. One of the largest fountains in the world, it puts on a fantastic water show by day, and a light show at night. Plus, there are plenty of benches surrounding the fountain where you can sit and enjoy the view of the skyline behind the dancing water jets.
Buck’s Four Star Grill – This little food joint is right next to the fountain and can easily be missed, however it’s the perfect place to grab a Chicago style vienna hot dog while taking in the view. Order from the window and sit on their patio and try an all-beef dog with chopped onions, tomatoes, a pickle slice, and scout peppers, all on a poppy-seed bun. Add whichever condiments you like, except for ketchup! Apparently, it’s an unspoken rule that you just don’t eat ketchup on hotdogs in Chicago.
Chicago Riverwalk – One cool aspect about the city is that the Chicago River winds right through the skyscrapers and buildings. So as you’re strolling around, take the stairs down to the river and walk alongside the water, watching the boats and kayaks float by. Don’t forget to glance upwards for a magnificent view of the architecture!
Navy Pier – This is also a must-see during your stay. Extending into Lake Michigan, this pier offers view of a lighthouse, the lake’s surprisingly clean water, and another skyline view of the city. There are multiple shops and restaurants, as well as a Ferris wheel, and a variety of boat tours and cruises to choose from. Navy Pier is a premier host for many events, however it also suffices for a nice stroll on a warm day or a fun adventure as a tourist.
Cliche tourist photos and selfies in front of iconic attractions are great and all, but here are some tips I learned in London for different types of pictures that will help you remember your time abroad differently.
We are so used to taking pictures at eye level. We typically capture skylines and silhouettes, but I challenge you to look up when visiting a new place. Check out the architecture, learn the uniqueness of the city, explore from a different angle. I honestly have no clue where this picture was taken, but I can remember the story behind it clearly. We were on a photography excursion for class, and this was during our lunch break. We ate at a nearby café and, while eating outside, I noticed the interesting building art and string of lights connecting to the apartments. This picture allows me to remember unique parts of that day, because it is different from all of the other photos I took. Just look up.
Teach yourself about extended exposure and shutter speed. Learn techniques to capture motion and you’ll remember your trip in a whole new way. Luckily for me, I was taking a photography class in London and was supplied with a tripod and instruction on how to take such a picture, but a street bench and Google will do the same thing. This intersection is not relevant or important, however this picture captures the iconic red, double decker bus in a non-traditional way. When I look at this, I remember the constant bustle of those busses and their movement throughout the city. You can hop on public transportation and see all of London, traveling from one end to the other.
Don’t be afraid to look silly getting up close and personal with a plant or inanimate object. If it looks cool, take a picture, because those pictures will last forever and there are just some things you don’t want to forget. Photograph signs, flowers, animals, books, food, and your coffee cups. Embrace it! Don’t just take pictures of yourself, but really capture your surroundings. I took this picture at South Bank next to the Thames River at a little farmers market. They were selling plants and flowers and I remember the fragrances filling the air and the shelves of burlap. Yes, I probably looked ridiculous taking this, and no, the plant isn’t even that appealing, but it’s a detail of my day and a pleasant memory of South Bank that now I won’t ever forget.
Be creepy, be brave, don’t be subtle. Photograph the locals, their activities, and their culture. You’re in a new place and it’s inevitably going to have some cultural aspects that are different than back home. Embrace it! This photo is another shot from a class project, and my professor asked permission for us to set up tripods across the street. We all thought it was awkward and creepy, but a cool picture came from it. One thing I won’t forget about London is all of the business people gathering around the pubs after work for a casual drink and conversation with a stranger. There is movement, there is laughter, and there are stories. We received some humorous comments from our subjects, but nobody had an issue with a group of Americans capturing a scene that was routine to the locals. This picture encompasses what I learned of London culture.
Sometimes we forget to take a picture of the things we see every day or that are typical to us. Hotel rooms, rental cars, your morning coffee shop, the view from your window. These are the things that make your trip special and so why not capture them! This is a picture of the incredible floor-to-ceiling windows in our dorm room. Firstly, we were incredibly lucky to even score a triple room accommodation, but then the room ended up being gorgeous, so of course I took a bunch of pictures. This one is my favorite because it shows the amazing window, the light that it would let in, and the exterior of the buildings on that street. I also love that the window is open, because that’s how it remained for the duration of our stay because our room did not have air conditioning, which is typical in Europe. I am also reminded of the fact that, during the time we were in London, they were experiencing an abnormally hot summer and the longest drought they’d had in a few years, another fun tidbit from my trip.
It's coming up on one year since I spent a month studying abroad in London, England with my two best friends and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish I was still there. I'm most happy when I get to talk about my trip and how amazing London is, so here are the top five things that made it so special to me. There are so much more, but I do not have nearly enough time to put them all into words.
1. Parks, parks, parks. The weather is getting warmer here in the states and all I can think about it how deeply I wish I was strolling through Hyde Park in the sunshine. I’d give anything to be back there sitting on a bench and watching all the handsome British businessmen take their dogs out for their evening walks. Or laughing at the awkward couples out paddle boating on the lake. Or running through the groups of swans eating breadcrumbs off of the pathway. Please, someone get me back to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain so I can take off my shoes and walk the length of the stream while my best friend rambles on and on about how perfect Diana was. And if only I can rent a Barclay’s bike and cruise through Kensington Park and casually ride by Kate Middleton’s house. But of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without stopping to watch a group of Australian guys play cricket, and then maybe joining in for a round or two. And all of this magic is only a ten minute walk from our house, perfect for a daily routine. Mother Nature cures all sadness and seeing the majesty of these Royal Parks day after day is sure to foster positivity and happiness!
2. One word: Tube. Would you like to casually take a ride underground and end up face to face with the most iconic building in London? Yes, you would, because it’s amazing. One of the first Tube rides we took was to get to where our photography class was meeting and as we walked up the stairs, Big Ben was right in front of us. Like I’m not joking, you walk out of the station and good ol’ Ben is staring at you saying, “Welcome to London, everything is better here.” The fact that we could get on the Tube and go anywhere we wanted within minutes was awesome. Want to have lunch on the Thames River today? No problem, fill up your Oyster Card and you’re on your way. As expected, the ride itself was always entertaining as well. We quickly learned that during “rush hour”, we would feel like sardines all squished into the smallest, hottest, sweatiest space possible, but we’d somehow be alright with it. Oh, there’s a hot British guy next to you? It’s no big deal if you ‘accidentally’ bump into him as the train comes to a stop and hope to make small talk as you stare into each other’s eyes and he’ll invite you to live happily ever after with him and his European Greyhound. But usually it just resulted in creepers asking us if we were Americans and then explaining in great detail about how much they love Canada. On the occasions when the cars weren’t packed, then there was plenty of room to spread out, find a seat, and enjoy the lovely British voice repeat, “mind the gap” over and over again.
3. The yummiest food. This is not a drill. Some of the food I ate while in London was the best I’ve ever had (and probably ever will). First and foremost, I so desperately miss the weekly trip my friends and I took to eat gluten-free fish and chips at a lovely place called Oliver’s. We would take the Tube about 45 minutes, switching trains twice along the way. And after arriving at our stop, we’d walk another 25 minutes through some random neighborhood before we reached our destination. The first time we set out on this adventure, we had to huddle outside of a closed Starbucks to use their free Wi-Fi to access the GPS on our phones. But during the second and third trips, I’m sure anyone of the streets would have assumed we were locals (that’s if our loud and obnoxious American accents didn’t give it away). Regardless, it was all worth it because that celiac-friendly authentic British food made your mouth water and we craved it on the daily. Not to mention they also had [gluten-free] deep-friend Mars bars on the dessert menu.
Which brings me to the next thing that I miss oh so much; Mars bars. Seriously, this candy bar is heaven in your mouth. Apparently they used to be sold here in the states, but I haven’t been able to find them. There was nothing like a late-night stroll down the street to the convenience store to grab a Mars bar, or a frozen Mars bar, the perfect treat in our non-air conditioned dorm room. Thirdly, I will still wake up in the morning craving one of these so badly, and I am well aware that I can make it myself, but it will never be the same as arriving to class early in order to stop at the café and grab a tomato and cream cheese bagel sandwich. Yes, cream cheese with tomatoes on top. Don’t knock it till you try it because those Europeans really know what they’re doing when it comes to breakfast.
Another prime example- crepes bigger than your head, for only 5 pounds. Another weekly tradition that my friends and I shared was walking to My Old Dutch to indulge ourselves in, what were actually large, thin pancakes on American terms. Pick anything you want and they offered it on a crepe; Nutella, peaches, cheese, chicken, ice cream, spinach, and the list goes on. Bonus points for offering gluten-free crepes for my glutard of a best friend to enjoy! Really, I could probably write an entirely separate post simply of the cuisine in London. No wonder I gained weight while I was there…
4. History is everywhere. This is pretty self-explanatory. Everywhere you turn there is history to be learned about this magnificent city. During our month there, we made sure to do all the touristy things and took multiple tours through the must-see places such as Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, and the Tower of London, and we even traveled to see the Roman Baths (which were so cool!) We took a bus tour the second day we were there and our kind and hilarious tour guide showed us Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, and so much more. The architecture everywhere you turned was phenomenal. I’m sorry, but you just don’t see beauty like that in the US. And the museums! We were lucky enough to walk through the Tate Modern, the V&A, and the National Gallery and last time I checked there weren’t any Van Gogh or Picasso pieces in any museums around here. I just felt like it was impossible to go anywhere and not learn something new and fascinating about London, and maybe it was solely because we were tourists, but I never wanted it to stop. In addition, I also forced my friends to go on a ghost tour with me, which was also super neat!! (Our room was haunted anyway, so we really didn’t need to go looking for the paranormal)
As if that wasn’t enough history, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born while we were there and we got to watch William and Kate bring him out of the hospital!
5. Dream cars, everywhere. Now anyone who truly knows me would occasionally describe me as a dude, and that side of me definitely came out in London. I mean, how was I supposed to contain myself when we walked right by a jet black Ferrari everyday while walking to class? I could sit on our balcony and wouldn’t be able to count the dream sports cars that passed on one hand. Granted, we were living in Kensington, the richest borough in London, but I was still taken aback every time I saw (or heard) one of these drive by. One of my fondest and favorite memories from the entire trip was going to the Aston Martin Centennial Celebration at Kensington Park. Aston Martin was celebrating 100 years and they had a car on display from each and every year from 1913 to 2013. There were also race cars and cars from the James Bond movies too! Everyone there was in fancy clothes, trotting about the grass with champagne in hand. Of course, my friends decided to be super girly that day and didn’t want to go with me, so I went alone. Again, anyone who really knows me would know that I don’t go places alone, but I wanted to see those cars so badly, and I’m so glad that I did. I must have spent close to two hours wandering around and marveling at the cars that I’ll never be able to afford as the men behind me discussed payment plans and transportation arrangements. It was great to ride the London Eye and do all of the London-y things, but this celebration was a once in a lifetime chance and easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever been too!
Pretty much the moral of the story is that I need to get back to London, ASAP.
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