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Netherlands

The Netherlands are truly incredible. It’s hard to write with all these thoughts spinning in my head and finals at my tail, but something was truly great about that place, its art, and its people.

France is fast-paced, ludicrous, high tension, ever-running, competitive, ancient, steeped in history and in blood, passionate about everything and sensitive to it at the same time, where nothing is isolated and conserved by one emotion but complicated, always complicated. In France you are beholden to everything and everyone, and as a foreigner or a Frenchman you are a part of the social fabric, you have a role in society no matter what role it is, and everyone around you is intensely aware of the point in space that you occupy. There are free times, of climbing trees and seeing films, yet they are built into the structure of everyday life, planned for but embraced with the heart and soul of the people living those experiences. Two lovers in a park will completely disentangle themselves from their daily lives for an afternoon in the park, enjoying each other and the sun exclusively before resuming their wonderfully hectic schedule, allowing the meaning to seep into their infinitely productive states of being.

It’s amazing how different a society three hours north by train can be so completely different.

The language knocked me off balance at first. For someone who is moderately well-traveled, I have never been in a place where I could not speak bits and pieces of the language before. Then the people knocked me off balance. They were kind but never relinquished, well-spoken and intensely aware of the culture that they have created for themselves–it is no accident that the Netherlands ended up the way that they did. The people have a sure and open acceptance for those who come to the Netherlands looking to embrace it, not overpower it. There was very little illusion, but there was magic sewn into its architectural and artistic being. To my knowledge, there was no modern controversy over the Iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum as there was for the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre–the sign is, and will be, and has integrated itself seamlessly into what the Netherlands represent–carefree love, bound by intelligence and common sense, bordered by quiet pride.

The first day we spent in rolling through parks, stopping to glance in the Van Gogh museum (uncluttered; conscious of its own strengths; flawlessly curated) and taking a dip in a shallow fountain that became a spontaneous public pool in the middle of the spring. The gait was always fast but people walked for the joy of walking.

The red light district was dark and full of contradictions, contorted into a shadowed playground for the lost. Even in the fast-food restaurants, shopkeepers dangled sweet donuts in front of your face, eat this in place of going there, doing that. Amsterdam was electric and alive, and for once I felt not like I was walking through a ghost town populated by the descendants of history past, but as if I was in the here and now, living as history was being written.

The rest of the Netherlands thrived off of that same sense of self cultivated in Holland. I spent Sunday sailing near Zwolle in a sailboat without a motor, tied to the air and the sun and the water below me as I helped adjust the sails and direct our path, like learning to walk again after being reborn. I spent the day in quiet, sunburnt bliss.

If you’re reading this, Robert and Indira, thanks for one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

I need to start practicing my cycling.

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Friday morning, I spent the day traipsing around through fields full of spider webs at the Nancay Observatory, a lab associated with the Observatoire de Paris and full of giant (hundreds of meters wide) radio wave telescopes/inferometers, watching my porcelain skin get eaten away by the sun. As the lobster bake initiated, I was confident that I would be back into Paris with hours to spare–and I was. However, my confidence soon became my downfall.

A day earlier, Chipotle wrapped its first burrito in Paris. As anyone who knows me understands, nothing comes in between me and my chipotle unless there is literally an ocean separating us, so I jumped at the chance of seizing one of the first Parisian chipotle burritos. After taking a metro ride 45 minutes long to the north side of town, Francisco graciously agreed to wait with me for stingily-proportioned burritos at the end of a 50 person line. As time ticked on and on, Francisco and I realized that we were quickly running out of time to get back and make it to the bus station to leave for Amsterdam, compounded by the fact that we had absolutely no idea where the station was and Francisco had yet to pack.

The next two hours were pure chaos. Francisco was a trooper, but I was a mess–I’ve never been able to “embrace fate” as Francisco does, showing up to the airport past boarding time for the thrill of it. I ran my lungs off, and the two of us giggled nervously during the down time as we waited for our stop.

Miraculously, at 11:10 our Paris-Amsterdam 11:00 bus was still docked. We ran to the door, exhausted but exalting, ready to board the bus.

The bus driver was not pleased. He told us, again and again, that the ticket counter had closed, we had not checked in, and therefore we could not enter the bus in harried French. Francisco and I tried and tried, phrasing our quandary in different ways, begging him to reconsider, but he wasn’t having any of it. “J’suis desole, il n’y a pas de choses que je peux faire,” he said.

With such bad luck and my face contorted with worry, I felt like I was about to cry. Then I got a great idea. I cried.

Francisco immediately melted a bit, saying, “oh, come on, don’t cry, it’s not such a big deal,” but as soon as he finished saying it the driver’s back turned and I gave Francisco the most concentrated stink eye I have ever delivered, and Francisco understood immediately.

Faced with a girl in tears and a boy trying to comfort her in her grief, the driver ceded. “Fine, just go in,” he said, with a sigh of exasperation.

….and that is the story of how I came to be here, on the second level of a bus in Northern France, writing this story via iPad. I’ve realized that I’ve been ignoring my true calling all along–I was born to act…