Explore with me

Welcome

Travel blogging is becoming a trend. So, I’m going to be frank. I don’t expect anyone to read this blog because there are millions of talented travel writers and photographers that should be read. I’m putting it into the world because I need to practice the skill that I plan to exercise professionally one day and make my experiences known. Maybe that’ll happen once a year, maybe it’ll happen once a month. We will just have to wait and see.

I fell in love with travel because it gave me a chance to play one of my favorite games, make-believe. A new destination turns ripped jeans into a 60s vibe and the way my smile exposes too many teeth makes me feel sexy in ways that I don’t when I am at home. I’m sure it’s I taste the freedom of adulthood.

This game of pretending became addictive because it didn’t end. Three days in a new city led to a new Makenna with excentric dreams and whirlwind love stories to write endless diary entries about. And it was all mine. Those experiences made me grow and shift my perspective, but they also got to be personal. I didn’t share them with anyone I’d see again and no one could take them or invalidate them. It didn’t matter whether home understood the importance of the man I met on the metro in DC or the sweet boy who made me smile in Charleston because I did. I guess in a way it made me feel significant in a world that usually has the opposite effect. It made moments substantial in a life that doesn’t stop moving.

Travel is about the place, sure. But, I find more value in the people I meet in that place. I’ve fought for so long to write about the different shops, streets and food joints I tried, but none if it ever seemed to spark passion. So, I’m going to write about the place in a different way now, the way that I know how. I’ll write about what makes me cry on my plane ride home and smile in the midst of a silent disco because that’s what I know best.

So, welcome to Coffee Run. It was meant for something else, but I guess that’s just how life goes sometimes. If you’re reading this, I hope you can relate to some of the love that I’ve felt during my time away from my own bed.

Featured post

A guide to cold days for the restless

My body doesn’t do the cold. My fingers and toes turn a ghostly white if I become cold (it’s called Raynaud’s) and become numb or painful. So, being outside in the bone chilling winter weather is not an option most of the time. This relationship with cold weather makes wintertime difficult. So, here is my guide to a winter day for those of you not spending it skiing and looking to spend some time at home.

Read a book

I love to read, and warming up with a coffee and a cozy blanket is the perfect way to meditate in the early hours of the day or in the dark evenings. My mom’s solution to every problem is to “choose a classic.” Right now I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m also paging through How Not to Die, a book about the food we should eat more of and stay away from, and will finish London, a historical fiction about the growth of London into the city it is now. If you’re looking for a series to spend a long period of time on and learn a bunch from, Edward Rutherfurd writes historical fictions about the development of all the major cities and is a brilliant writer.

Clean up

I’m not sure if I’m the only one who likes to clean/organize, but this is a great activity to get done while you’re stuck inside rather than spending a crisp spring day doing it. I talked about my minimalism challenge and have found that helpful, and I’m always looking for new ways to save space and get rid of junk. I find this activity reflective, it teaches me about what I really value.

Watch a movie

I forget I like movies until I watch them. For some reason I’ve missed out on most of the movies with cult followings or Tumblr posts, so I’m always catching up. Aside from watching movies in my room, I also have the AMC Stubs membership. AMC Stubs gets me three movies a week and rewards for $22 a month. I never thought I’d be a movie membership person, but it’s almost better than a streaming service because I get to see all the new stuff and it’s a cheap weekend activity for Tristan (the boyfriend) and I to enjoy together.

Learn a new recipe

I’m a big fan of grain bowls right now. They are warm, filling, and healthy! I developed a mini recipe while eating breakfast with Tristan on New Years Day. Right now my recipe includes:

Farro
Quinoa
Butternut squash
Black beans
Vegan Kaleslaw

I am not a chef, but I’ve found that a new recipe to keep me warm always make a winter evening more cozy.

Have a spa night / day

Hair masks take far too long on work days and face masks seem much more luxurious when I have the time to lounge in them. Carving out a Sunday morning to make myself feel good helps prepare for the cold weather ahead. During my spa day I usually call someone I miss or read a book, so it’s twice the amount of self care!

Winter is the hardest season for me to get through, so having a list of things that I can do to make the days pass with more ease helps keep me in a productive, positive mood. Luckily, Colorado’s snowy days are usually sunny too… so if you’re like my brother and spending the winter in a place like cloudy Wisconsin, make sure you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement and doing a few things you love everyday.

Growing into Colorado

If you didn’t know, I’m a Colorado native. I’m not the kind you usually meet, you know, the one who grew up in Boulder or Denver. Well, I guess I am now that I’ve gone to school in Boulder and am living in Denver. However, I grew up in a very different part of Colorado. It’s called the Western Slope, separated from the cosmopolitan side of the state by mountains and lifestyle.

While it wasn’t all about cows, there was a much more rural feel.

I hated growing up in my “hick town.” A few years and a whole lot of moving around helped change that perspective, leaving me with a gratitude for the state I call home and the town that shaped my path.

I felt out of place in Rifle. My high heels were the only ones clicking through the hallways and my red lipstick stood out at graduation. My short skirts were made fun of and I didn’t like the fair grounds when rodeo season came around. Unfortunately, I chose to see all the things that I didn’t click with instead of all the beautiful things people move to the area for.

A few friends from Kansas changed my mind about Rifle when they visited during my junior year of high school. They came equipped with cameras and wanderlust. Their excitement was contagious and the beautiful photos they showed me exposed a beauty I hadn’t seen in my home before. After the travelers left, my town never lost the spark they helped me discover.

In hindsight, I never gave my community enough credit (in my defense, I was a teenager). I cheered at football games every Friday night and still get birthday wishes from the moms who cheered from the stands. I never experienced a shortage of support or love, and that’s thanks to both my parents and the community they helped me build in that town.

Just a hint of high school

I’m a city girl by nature. So, Denver is probably the best Colorado fit for me. Before turning 18, I saw it as a small, lame city. Little did I know there is a booming start-up culture bustling around the State’s capital. My parents moved to Centennial, South Denver area, when I entered my freshman year at CU. I thought my love for the state started then.

Denver Botanic Gardens are a short drive, though technically not in Centennial.

Centennial’s proximity to activities excited me. In Rifle, the outdoors and Walmart were the only recreational activities in the immediate area for teenagers before a movie theater came to town, though I’ve recently visited and it seems to be growing.

Soon after Centennial, I moved to Boulder. I proudly stated that I was from Boulder whenever I got the chance. It’s the kind of city that takes your breath away before you even reach it’s limits (just drive down 36 from Denver to Boulder and you’ll know what I mean) and I wanted to brag about it.

This granola town mixes cosmopolitan with outdoor recreation successfully. It’s so good blending that it got itself rated the happiest city in the US during my freshman year.

College made it hard for me to love the town. I stressed myself out too much to fall in love with my surroundings. I am ashamed to admit that I envied the students around me because I just couldn’t seem to love the Boulder bubble as much as they did. It took me meeting friends from around the states to understand how lucky I was to call Boulder my home.

I felt out of place again. Boulder is full of rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, which are both things that I am not. I began to think it wasn’t just Rifle that didn’t fit, it was the entire state. I wondered whether being a Coloradan required a pair of Chacos, a carabiner, and a pair of hiking boots. A small portion of the CU community is fairly competitive when identifying who really fits the “Rado vibe.” The young, inexperienced freshman didn’t understand that the small pool doing that doesn’t represent the entire community. So, I chalked it up to “I don’t fit in” and left.

My sophomore year began in Washington DC, which stole my heart before I could even breathe in the muggy metro station air. Everything about that city made me feel welcome, the museums, the coffee, the always working. However, while I was there I discovered that my connection to Colorado is much stronger than I thought. While I was watching the rain, my friends were posting the snow and I couldn’t help but miss it.

When I told people I came from Colorado, they were in awe of the state and almost always said “I’ve always wanted to visit,” or “That’s such a cool state.” Hearing the praise from people on the outside looking in helped me realize just how good my happy, sunny state is to me.

Returning to Boulder felt different. I had a room in a house instead of a dorm room, a kitchen, and no freshman jitter to make me anxious about life. All of the sudden, Pearl Street invited me to explore instead of entice me to be distracted. The Flatirons served as the outdoor recreation I was missing in DC, and the mountains were a welcome sight to an unknowingly homesick girl.

In true Makenna fashion, as soon as I became comfortable I decided to leave, this time to London. You know the stories from London, and if you don’t, you can read a few here. I fell hopelessly in love with London and the rest of Europe. Their lifestyle changed my understanding of life and my values. However, my time away exposed even more love for my home state.

I missed clean air, London is a big polluted city. My lungs are used to crisp morning breaths and fresh breezes. Seeing stars at night and looking up at a sunny sky fills my heart with joy and Colorado makes that happen. I also missed going outside. While I am a city girl and will usually choose an urban landscape over a hiking trail, I like the option. If it’s warm, I’ll probably opt to hang out in the trees and would never say no to a river. It’s a little more difficult to find nature in a big city, not impossible, but harder and different. I also found that while I enjoy dressing up, sometimes a pair of comfy sandals make my feet feel good and those don’t seem to be received the same way they are in the mountains.

I would still choose to go back to London if I could, even if just for a visit, but Colorado called to me. I never realized just how connected to the state I am because I’ve met so many others who seem to do it better. However, while I was away I learned that you don’t need to be a chaco wearing rock climber to belong in Colorado, you just need to love the state and appreciate all the elements that make it your beautiful home.

It took me 21 years to come around to the idea that I do belong here. I belonged in the community I grew up in, and I’m the one who alienated myself. I belonged in Boulder, I was just too impatient and guarded to understand that. It took me moving out of it to recognize that not only is this state my home, but it beckons me. It brings me joy that I wish I would’ve known I had access to earlier, and offers community in every city it’s comprised of. Colorado, I love you.

Intentional

Slowness seeped from the wellness world into my many daily rituals. Unfortunately, I’m not a very slow person. A Sunday morning with some coffee serves as just the right amount for my week, and I think that’s fair. I found that as soon as I finished with my “slow time” I raced through the rest of the day. I wondered whether I was doing it wrong. So, I changed the action to intentional.

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Sunday used to be spent with a cup of coffee and course reading. Now, it’s an online newspaper.

My 2020 resolution is to be more mindful. I am working on making intentional choices when it comes to all forms of consumption. That means I’m scrolling through Instagram less, maybe that’s because I’ve made myself busy with more items on the todo list. I listen to podcasts, but only the ones I like. Most importantly, I say no. I say no to email subscription lists, nights out when I’m exhausted, books that have been on my “you should read” list since high school, and the aspirational morning routines that populate my screen every morning.

When I began crafting my intentional resolution, I aimed for moving more slowly. That meant reading for more than 20 minutes at night and getting up early enough to have a cup of coffee, meditate, and go through a 14 step morning ritual before cramming in the news, gym, work, job applications, LinkedIn Learning, and all the other busy items that make me better. Then, it hit me. I was trying to mix slow with a fast-paced personality. More importantly, I’ve allowed myself to be bombarded by a world of professional self-help, social media, and all the other consumerist habits I’ve built with my computer. Intentionality helped with that.

I sat with a journal (and yes a cup of coffee), and thought about my values and priorities. What did my life lack and what should I make room for?

I began with my tangible belongings. My room in my parents’ house became a storage locker when I moved to college and has stayed that way since. It makes me feel guilty and adds stress to my life. So, I should be more intentional with the stuff I populate my life with. The Minimalists posted a 30 day game that helps declutter and get rid of unnecessary objects. “Each person gets rid of one thing on the first day of the month. Two things on the second. Three things on the third. So forth and so on.” (The Minimalists) I now have donations to make that will hopefully offer others the joy I got from those items.

I then thought about media. In London I allowed myself more time on Instagram because I posted photos and tagged locations. Unfortunately, that led to a fairly harsh social media addiction that I needed to kick. So, I deleted the app from my phone and vowed to be more intentional with my media consumption, including news and newsletters.

The Good Trade published a piece about intentional living and how to get in touch with your own values. I’ve began thinking about my values by taking note of what I complain about on a daily basis. My complaints are usually broad topics like sustainability and the negative side effects I see when I scroll through social media. I’ve aimed to take those complaints and turn them into action. I complain about plastic, so I should be more mindful of packaging and products I come in contact with. The action vs. complaint helps me feel in control and in tune with what I care about.

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I found that I care about seeing new places and spending time with the people I love. If that’s a value, I should make it a priority, saving and spending both time and money on that.

Simply and Fiercely offered an introduction to intentional living that I found really helpful.

“Intentional living is asking yourself why you do things—and then being happy with the answers.– Jennifer 

Since beginning my “resolution” and working toward more intentionality, my days are more gratifying and I have more free-time to do things that I find genuine value in, like professional development on LinkedIn Learning. I don’t need to slow down and meditate for thirty minutes because it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I need to ask myself why I do something and whether I find value in that action. Slow living appealed to me because it encouraged more happiness, and I now recognize that I tried to slow down without intentionality. The two are not mutually inclusive, but they are much more connected (and easy to achieve) than I thought they were at the beginning of 2020.

Friends

2020’s quick appearance has me reminiscing about the adventures and friendships that made 2019 an astounding year. London was the most recent one, as most of you know, and the people I met there shaped my personal development. Our last night together paints a picture of the kindness I was blessed with when I became friends with my “gal pals.”

[Passage from the morning before I left]

We went to dinner last night at my favorite restaurant, Dishoom. Delilah and Caroline were 40 minutes late (if you know me at all, that means I was hungry and irritated). When they finally showed up my irritation was quickly replaced by happiness, as it’s hard to be anything but when I’m with them.

We took the tube home, the knowledge that our last night together was coming to an end made us seem almost loopy. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed on public transportation as hard as I did then.

When we reached the front door, Zehra stopped us. She asked C if she had “the stuff.” C nodded and proceeded to pull out a cap and gown, resting the cap on my head and opening the door. The room was covered in graduation decorations. D, Z and C cheered while I stood speechless in the doorway.

“I felt like you needed to celebrate this end because it’s a big deal,” Z said.

The girls explained how they pulled off the surprise (D and C were late because they were decorating while Z sat at Dishoom and distracted me). The rest of the night was filled with emotion and dancing that I’ll keep for my own memory. Some things are better left sacred.

I strongly believe there is a reason we cross paths with people. Whether it be to learn something about the world or ourselves, our energies are led in particular directions and sometimes we get lucky and run into people who touch us forever.

London is a beautiful city. It’s ever-changing, lively and diverse. I’m so grateful to call it my temporary home. But, the world didn’t lead me here just for London. It led me here to meet these forever friends. They taught me to expect the most from friendship and myself.

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Caroline taught me to smile even in the hardest situations. When her bag was stolen in Italy, she sat quietly and smiled. “It wasn’t the important stuff,” she responded. She’s the one who brings gifts when big things happen and tells you that you look cute in your boyfriend’s oversized shirt and pajama shorts. Her positivity is contagious.

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Delilah is sure of her feelings, even if they’re dramatic. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let myself feel. It’s okay to be angry or sad, negative feelings are just as important as positive ones. Her reassurance and support made me realize how much friends do for our mental states, and what I should expect from a friend when I make one.

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Zehra reminded me that I don’t need to have my life together, even if she does. For the girl who blogs for fun and has a hard time letting go of school, this was a very difficult lesson to learn. She’s taught me to see the best in people and believe in the positive energy that comes our way. She laughs easily and is quick to say yes to an adventure or favor for a friend. Her willingness to participate in life and seek out the best parts of it encourage me to do the same.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve the karma that brought me to these people, but I find myself wondering that every time I cross paths with a strong and brilliant woman. This time instead of wondering, I thank the universe. I thank the women for welcoming me into their lives, accepting me as I am and encouraging me to be a better version of myself. My semester was about personal growth, but in a new way. I learned to love people more deeply and accept their love as well. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my people, so I’m just going to say “until our next adventure.”

Amsterdam: the city of bikes

Amsterdam wasn’t the place I thought I’d love the most when I began planning trips. It seemed like a place to touch down for a weekend, scratch the surface and stroll back into London life. I was incorrect.

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The city of bikes stole my heart from the moment my train passed through the vast green fields and into the Amsterdam Central station. The air was fresh and the train system was obscenely easy to figure out. Before exploring, we ventured to our hotel, about a five minute train ride away. The Urban Lodge was cozy upon arrival. With a gas fire pit in the center of the lobby and comfy chairs surrounding it, I knew we were in the right place. The receptionist was smiley and pointed us in the direction we were all searching for: one with food.

IMG_8094Wissenkerke-Sloterdijk is a restaurant with a variety of food choices. Throwing my plant based goals to the wind, I ordered a goat cheese sandwich. It was the best sandwich my tastebuds have ever encountered. It was brown bread covered with mango chutney, creamy goat cheese, arugula, candied walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. It was by-far the best meal I had in Amsterdam and very close to equal to the delicious level of the pasta I had in Genoa. I could have also just been hungry.

On our way into the center of the city, we found ourselves in a market that seemed to be particularly keen on old photographs and books. I picked up a photograph of a model from the 70’s (that’s about all I’ve been able to decipher from the back). It was love at first sight, and finding art in markets is one of my favorite pastimes.

We found ourselves in the Red Light District soon after. I was surprised by how forward the women in the windows were. It was an interesting portion of the city to check out, but it didn’t interest me as much as the shops on the other side of the canals did.

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We booked tickets for the Anne Frank House in advance. I was skeptical because my expectations were so high and I was worried I’d be let down. That visit was the moment I promised never to underestimate a place again. The museum was powerfully moving and put her story into a perspective I wasn’t aware I could reach. After moving through the space, I can only tell you to go see it yourself and hope Anne Frank is able to see how impactful her words have been since they were published. It was really well done.

We sauntered along the canals in search of food, finally settling in at a bar. I had a delicious sweet-potato soup to warm up. Europe gets cold at night, and not the Colorado hoodie kind of cold. It is a wet, bone-chilling cold that settles under your skin. I was grateful for our hotel’s cozy lobby that provided free coffee to keep the cold out and a space to laugh with my friends. It was the perfect end to a travel-filled day.

IMG_8397We were up early the next morning. A bakery kept us busy for the hour we needed to kill before seeing the Van Gogh museum. After hearing about his work all semester during my modern art class, standing in front of Sun Flowers and The Yellow House to see the brushstrokes Van Gogh is so famous for excited every part of my brain. It was much more crowded than the Anne Frank House, but worth squeezing through crowds and waiting a few moments to see the more famous pieces.

IMG_8430Back to Black, a coffee house on one of the canals, offered a bit of refuge from the cold as we decided what to do next. We had officially checked off everything on our list. We decided to spend the rest of the day walking through the flower market and exploring the various streets of Amsterdam.

My Columbia Road market in London may be second to the market in Amsterdam. The covered space trapped in all the divine fragrances wafting through the air. Tulip bulbs stuck out from every corner and beautiful pink petals hung from the ceiling. Every space contained some type of plant.

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The market was close to a cheese shop, where we ate our weight in samples. We settled on a sheep cheese to take home with us for dinner. The creaminess made me second-guess my usual vegan habits, but I shortly recalled that cheese doesn’t always taste that wonderful.

From the flower market and our cheese shop, we made our way to Central Station where we boarded a free ferry. It look us, and a couple dozen other bike-riding passengers, across the river. We boarded a pancake cruise there.

The pancake cruise was an experience. I learned two very important things on that cruise: I am no longer sixteen and Dutch pancakes are not what I expected.

I expected Dutch pancakes to be the tiny little pancakes with powdered sugar. They were not. They were crepe-style and I had the option to fill them with whatever I wanted from the topping buffet – my favorite combination was strawberry jam and brie. I, and my friends, realized that “all you can eat” does not mean eat until you’re too stuffed to enjoy the river-boat ride that accompanies the pancakes. I ate until I couldn’t stand to look at anymore pancakes, and that was only half of what I could have eaten four years ago. Growing up just keeps making me sadder and sadder. Soon, I’ll be saying no to cheese all together because I’m old enough to register the consequences before I eat it!

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The cool air woke us from our food coma when we exited the boat, and thank goodness it did. We had 10 seconds to jump onto the next ferry to get back to Central Station. I am not proud of the events that followed my recognition that we had 10 seconds, but we sure did give our fellow passengers a show:

I said “I’m not running.”
Delilah and Zehra agreed.
I saw the 10 second timer, the space between us and the boat, and began to run for the boat.
Delilah followed, Zehra yelled “I’m not running.”
Delilah and I hopped on the boat and turned around.
Zehra continued walking and said “I’ll meet you there, I’m not running.”
Delilah and I jumped off the boat.
Zehra jogged and jumped on the boat.
Delilah screamed, I rolled my ankle. We both jumped on the boat.
The door closed and we all giggled until we got to shore.

It was much funnier in person, or we’re just nuts, and all of that happened within the span of 10 seconds. I will be amazed at the patience of the other passengers and our ability to recreate the Three Stooges in that amount of time.

We went home and drank some coffee by the fire for another night. It was cozy and gave us a chance to rest before we traveled back to our homework in London. It was the best hotel I’ve stayed in yet, and probably amplified the greatness of my Amsterdam experience. I will never be able to completely comprehend the friendliness of the people or the beauty of that city, or why it has a reputation as a party place rather than an “appreciate this gorgeous space because you won’t get it anywhere else” place. From the fresh air to the delicious coffee, Amsterdam stole my heart and I’m worried I may never get it back.

A walk through Brussels

Brussels, the capital of Belgium and home of the European Union headquarters. While the Eurostar dipped and turned, I thought about what the city might have to offer and questioned whether I’d done enough research before arriving. I only had a day and a half to experience a whole new city that would serve as my understanding of an entire country until I have the opportunity to explore a new city in Belgium.

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I read “At Home in the World” by Tsh Oxenreider during my travels this weekend. If you’re looking for a Eurostar/plane read, this is a great one. It will inspire you to see the world with fresh eyes and remind you that wanderlust never truly disappears.

Brussels Midi/Zudi station required some patience as I searched for a metro station. My eyes are adjusted to London, looking for the underground symbol instead of an M. When I finally reached the woman selling tickets, she shoveled a ticket for 2.10 under the window and told me that I’d have to transfer and to pay attention. It was an easy transfer and ride. The metro was nearly empty compared to a London or DC train, making me wonder whether the area I’d chosen a hotel in was quiet or if that was a norm for a metro line in Brussels. I opted for the latter because my hotel was positioned just a block from the EU Headquarters.

“It’s cold.” Left my mouth before I was able to register that I wasn’t talking to anyone. I hugged my jacket closer to me and stared through the fog. The glass buildings that surrounded me seemed dreamy and grey through the thick layer of bone chilling moisture in the air. Thank goodness I’d thought to bring gloves and a scarf with me. I pulled my hair out of its braid, hoping that the tangle of hair would offer a little more warmth to my ears.

I walked along the quiet street, wondering why cafes were closed at 11 am. The hotel stood between a convenience store and another hotel. They all seemed to compete for grand attention, most likely working to welcome the same types of businessmen during the workweek. Cristelle, a good friend from Austin, stood behind the rotating glass door waving.

After our introduction and handing off our backpacks to the front desk, we tucked into a health food cafe for some early lunch. My stomach gargled at me, angry that I’d been in three different countries today and hadn’t yet fed it more than a latte in the train station. Le Botaniste was the perfect lunch to warm me up with its warm green curry sauce over brown rice and carrot soup. My insides defrosted and so did my initial impression of the city. I was ready to explore.

We decided to explore the area a bit, heading toward the park and whatever was on the opposite side of it. Cinquantenaire is a huge park, housing the Art and History Museum, Royal Museum of the Armed Forces, Royal Army and Military History Museum, Autoworld, and a huge amount of green space for residents to run around or entertain kids in. While walking through the fall-colored space, I observed that Brussels is much more residential than the other cities I’ve seen in the past few months. Parking meters next to empty spaces littered the streets and runners dotted the track that lines the park.

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The homes were beautiful. It had an H Street in Washington DC type of feel with all of its beautiful color and residential homeyness. The streets made me crave a fireplace and warm coffee in front of a Christmas tree with my family.

After exploration of the neighborhood behind the park, we headed down toward the center of the city and ate some waffles and fries for dinner because “when in Belgium.”

Never could I have imagined that I’d be standing in the Grand-Place of Brussels, eating a waffle full of half melted sugar and watching as horse drawn carriages saunter past. The public plaza is a wonder to marvel at until your fingers can no longer stand being in the cold.

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Our night ended early, even for me. But, the cold took it out of us and we had a big day coming up. So, I was tucked in and sleeping by 9. It had already been dark for four and a half hours, and little did I know it would be dark until 7:30 the next morning.

I woke with the only craving I have that’s stronger than that for peanut butter: Coffee. I padded through our cold hotel room, pulled on a jacket and headed for a cafe. Skip to 3 miles of wandering deserted streets later, I was still running on no caffeine and no one I’d spoken to spoke enough English to point me in the direction of a local coffee shop. Google got the best of me and led me through the park to the area we’d been yesterday, I found myself sitting at a Le Pain Quotidien and sipping on a watered down almond milk latte.

I walked for a few more blocks, eager to explore the neighborhood more thoroughly than we had the day before. I stumbled on a coffee shop called L’Artisanal. With coffee beans from around the world, it seemed to be the perfect place to soak up a bit of the Brussels feel. I’ve never been so grateful for the curious intuition. When I asked for an americano the man behind the counter immediately switched from French to English and smiled at me.

“Strong or regular?” Was the only question he asked.
“Strong, and for here?” I asked.
“Ah, it’s morning.” he laughed and motioned for me to take a seat at the communal table sitting in the middle of the small shop.

I sat across from a couple who smiled at me and continued to whisper to each other in that beautiful language that I love so much and cannot yet comprehend. He brought my americano with a piece of chocolate and a smile. One sip of the warm liquid and I was in love, wishing I could visit this shop every morning.

The man came back, carrying three shot classes full of steaming white liquid. He placed it in front of each of us and smiles.
“It’s white tea with apple and cinnamon,” he explained.

I took a sip and my mouth buzzed with the smooth taste.

“Mmmm.” The woman across from me closed her eyes in appreciation then looked up at me, “like Christmas time.”

Cristelle texted me soon after, waking from the happy daze I’d been in while sitting in this shop. If I had one more day, I would’ve spent the entirety of it here. I got a cappuccino to go, letting the expert decide how it was made. My future self was so grateful for that decision as I walked through the chilly park.

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From the hotel we wove ourselves to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula where we listened to a woman’s violin fill the entirety of the stained-glass covered cathedral with angelic music.

We moved on quickly, recognizing that half our day was almost gone. Our next stop was the Galerie de la Reine. It had a glass ceiling and lines of coffee shops, bakeries and chocolate shops all adorned with Christmas lights. We zigzagged through, trying chocolate from all the different shops. I stopped just outside in the square for another waffle. We wove down the streets, accepting that most of the day would consist of exploring local shops and getting lost in beautiful side streets.

Our day ended near a cluster of museums by the Place Royale-Koningsplein. Here, we watched the sunset over Brussels and a man playing Billie Eilish on a saxophone in front of the view. He rounded off the day perfectly, making me ask how it’s possible to fall in love with so many different cities in such little time.

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The next morning I would be sucked into my seat on the Eurostar, wizzing back to my home in London.

Growing Pains

Black coffee doesn’t taste the same across oceans. Or, maybe it does and my tastebuds have just changed. Surely not. Instant coffee containers line the counter, waiting to be paired with boiling water and a bit of oat milk to mask the stale taste. I know what it is, my wallet has changed.

The big world makes me feel small, and continuously broke. My smile tilts differently here when I meet the eyes of strangers, everything seems like an adventure. My ears tingle with new accents and my nose with spices.

No one told me about the growing pains.

Now, I’ve finally become comfortable. Pressing myself against a stranger and suppressing the urge to make eye contact has become a routine I can’t imagine being lost.
Getting BOGO burgers with the girls at our favorite bar is a luxury that I was too busy to appreciate until we were counting how many Tuesdays we had left on a single hand.

People tell you that there will be culture shock. Sure. A multicultural city will do that. But, the real growing pains come when you’re being forced to say goodbye. When a month away from departure you have to make fast plans to get it all in. When you have to remember to look for a job and find a way to stay in touch with your new family.

I thought I had the worst of it in week 8. I missed my coffeemaker and boyfriend’s hugs goodbye. That feeling hasn’t changed, but now it’s been suppressed by the idea that all of this is almost over. I’m going to leave this world I’ve made a home in and introduce a new Makenna to everyone I left behind a few months ago.

It’ll be little things. An “I miss Z and the market” or “I wish D were here to try this matcha.” It’ll be that I have to say I don’t eat meat, stopping before I tell whoever it may be that my body’s response to cleaner meat made me never want to touch another piece of chicken in the US again. Or that I thrift my clothes because London taught me that there are hidden treasures in every charity shop.

I’m not sure I’ve voiced how grateful I am to be in this place. I’ve learned so much about myself and values. I’ve learned how to look for new neighborhoods because it’s not about the city you’re in, but the people who live in it. Every place is different, even if it’s just a 20 minute walk away. I’ve made forever friends here, and a forever connection to the Swinging City and all its wonders.

Here’s to four more weeks and a few more growing pains.

A Sunday in London

Sundays are taken very seriously in Europe. London is a city that celebrates Sunday as a day to spend with family, doing the things that will make us happy in the coming week. I stumbled on the Columbia Road Flower Market recently and found that it’s only open on Sunday. While observing the people choose lavender, orchids, tea trees and succulents, I realized that Sunday is a special day that deserves its own basic routine and that I already kind of have one. Here’s what a Sunday in London looks like to me:

Wake up early and read a good book

My larkish habits come from my dad. I’ve always been an early bird, waking at 5 am in the summer months and 4:30 in the winter. Sometimes, I sleep in to 7 if the night before was a particularly late one, but even that is a stretch.

Those habits mean that my perfect Sunday starts early. Waking to a dark world and making a warm cup of coffee to read with for a few hours makes everything from the previous week seem far behind and the upcoming week still far in the distance. I go between reading The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Dad sends me articles that he comes across quite often. This back and forth is our way of staying in touch when I’m not home. Sometimes if I’m not in a news mood, I’ll read one of my books. I’m reading Meet Me in Monaco, Little Book of Hygge, and Quant by Quant right now. I would recommend Little Book of Hygge for these winter months because it helps ease the guilt of moving more slowly and encourages coziness. It’s really helped me through my hibernation habit as the weather has changed.

Breakfast

Okay, so breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I have lots of friends who don’t like to eat breakfast and it always makes me sad. Sunday is the day everyone should eat breakfast because it’s another activity that gives you the opportunity to explore London or unwind. Sometimes, my roommate and I have vegan banana pancakes before exploring. What I really prefer is going to get breakfast at a new brunch place and heading out from there.

A Market

Columbia Road Flower Market is my favorite right now because it opens at 8 and has all of the luxury stuff for the following week. I bought lavender last week and placed it in my closet to make all of my clothes smell less like a tube station. So far, it has made putting my sweaters on that much cozier.

Zehra bought some heather and an orchid to sit next to our window. They made everything just a bit more put together in this temporary home. It’s starting to feel more like ours, and touches like this emphasize that feeling.

A market is perfect because it gets you to new parts of the city while experiencing Sundays with the locals. Columbia Road was fun because aside from the market, as art galleries and knick-knack shops were open to stroll through and look around. A good art gallery is usually fairly close to a market, and those two things together make every Sunday better.

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Coffee

A Sunday is not a proper Sunday in Makenna’s world without at least four cups of coffee. Three of those cups can be had while sitting on my couch and I can get the other while I’m out and about. This weekend, we sat in Woodlidando, near the market, and planned the rest of the day and our grocery lists for the upcoming week.

Coffee/warm beverage is an essential part of the weekend because it forces you to slow down and enjoy where you’re at. Z got a tea, which had the same outcome that my coffee did. The soothing effect of having a cup of something warm and hanging out with loved ones makes the whole day seem that much more personal.

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A Documentary

London is exhausting. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone to a market, a coffee shop, or just the grocery store. There are people everywhere and that tends to be a bit draining despite the excitement it brings.

So, I like to spend the tail end of my Sunday reading a bit more, or writing. However, Z had the best idea: Documentary Sunday. I guess it’s something people do anyway, but I hadn’t ever really thought about it. So, we came home and had some lunch. Then, turned out the lights and turned on Amy. I’ve begun saving different documentaries to my list in preparation for Sunday now. It gives me one more thing to be excited for and a way to reconnect with my roommate if we haven’t seen each other much over the course of a busy week.

Sundays are my favorite day of the week, and it is no different in London. It offers the chance to recharge after a busy week and before another. I recommend you make Sundays a day to slow down and enjoy where you’re at, whether you’re away on a big trip or spending a snowy Sunday in the bed you’ve called your own for years.

Genoa, Italy

I spent a few nights in Genoa or Genova (they’re the same thing and very confusing) on the tail end of my holiday. While here, I found that Italy is nothing like France and why people travel here for the food.

On our way from Nice to Genoa, Caroline had her bag stolen at the train station we were waiting at on the boarder of the two countries. She didn’t lose anything valuable, but the experience crushed our false sense of security. Immediately after she noticed it was gone, I knew we’d been the perfect targets because we’d all be zoning out on our phones while we ate lunch. It wasn’t a great situation, but it served as an important reminder for the young travelers it happened to: this happens to everyone and you always need to be aware.

When we got to Genoa, we were greeted by a sweet family at our 4 story Airbnb. They welcomed us into the beautiful home with fresh focaccia bread, which was mouthwateringly delicious after hours on a train, and all the tips and tricks to experiencing the area.

We headed out to find a fresh pizza and explore the area before it began getting too late. Genoa is a large city, meaning there are multiple parts of the city that are spread out. We were in a more residential/local area of Genoa, which was about a 10 minute train ride from the Genoa city center. I liked the residential area because we were completely immersed in the culture that we’d traveled to. Shop owners tried their best to understand my hand singles because I don’t speak a lick of Italian and laughed when we finally figured it out. The entire experience was an ode to humanity.

The next morning was the best part of the trip. I toured a few different cafes in the area because americanos tend to be sold for about a euro in Genoa, which makes for the perfect coffee tour.

We went to Botega Cafe Cacao first. One of the baristas spoke a little bit of English and seemed to be pleased by the opportunity to practice it on me. I ordered an americano and received a small cup of espresso with a tin full of hot water next to it. I’ve never tried an americano like it, but it might be my new favorite way to drink one. I went to this cafe two more times that day, once to get fresh squeezed orange/grapefruit juice, then again in the evening to try their signature “cafe cacao.” I think there’s something really special about a place that can make you feel at home when you’re so far away from your own.

We then went to a big, green dome for a cappuccino. Everyone should try an Italian cappuccino because they are the best, even if you’re not a cappuccino lover. They are foamy and warm, which was perfect for the rainy day I was drinking mine on.

We found that the train systems are fairly easy to figure out, but it’s helpful to ask an attendant rather than go to a kiosk because so many of the names sound similar to a foreign ear. I was turned away a few times because the attendant didn’t speak English, so obtaining information was a test in patience, but again, such a good lesson to learn as a young traveler. As a United States citizen, I’m so used to being catered to and people making things easier for me. I think it’s easy to live rather arrogantly because I was born in an influential nation. I’m grateful that the Italians brought me back to Earth and forced me to see the world through their lens. I’d never truly felt like a “foreigner” until I visited Italy. In France, I was a wanderer; and Ireland made me a traveler because I wasn’t completely uncomfortable. Here, I felt out of place and a little bit inconvenient to the locals bustling around me. The attitude of those around you makes a huge difference in what space you occupy when you’re in a new place. It wasn’t that I was unwelcome, just that I didn’t innately fit because I was so unfamiliar with the culture. I felt naive for not researching further and wished I had tried a little harder before I arrived in Italy. That feeling will stay with me forever, in welcoming newcomers into my home country and working harder to adapt to the countries that I travel through.

IMG_7171.jpegOnce in Genoa’s city center, we walked… and walked …. and walked. It was absolutely beautiful. The city is on the water, so we gasped at the beautifully colored houses. We wound our way through alleys and thrift shops, and walked up and down the shops on the Main Street. Genoa has a series of squares that you’ll find yourself walking through as you walk further from the train station. They are all beautiful, but look very similar.

The best part of our day was our late lunch. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Locanda Tortuga. They are famous for their focaccia, which I wish I would have tried. I had the seafood ravioli. If my tastebuds could marry a taste, they would have married this one. It wasn’t just the pasta stuffing that made each bite better than the next, but the lightness of the marinara sauce that coated each noodle. It was like tomato was whispering hello while the rest of the ravioli melted in my mouth. We were all flabbergasted at how delicious this meal was.

The restaurant made the meal even better because it was so cozy. The walls were stone with some wood decorations. The only other table occupied next to us was filled with middle-aged American tourists who were teaching their Italian guide about baseball. They smiled at us when they left and told us to have a great meal. Their excitement to see the city was reassuring and contagious. I couldn’t help but think that that’s who I want to be one day. I want my white head to bend over different foods in faraway places and to smile at people I’ve just met who love to travel as much as I do.

We wove our way back to the Airbnb when we were finished eating. Our evening was spent in a cafe that was close to our place. They played Pitbull on repeat, which was an interesting end to a fantastically long day. We then pooled our coins because it was our last day and went to find some focaccia and brie to eat on our terrace.

A kilo of focaccia and quarter of brie later, we happily sipped our much needed glasses of water and laughed about stories we hadn’t told each other yet.

The next morning, we called a taxi and headed for the airport. Getting a taxi had been difficult the night before because we were hung up on due to the language barrier many times. Finally, someone said to call Radio Taxi in the morning, and sure enough, we were picked up and whisked away within five minutes.

IMG_9088Italy was the most trying part of my holiday by far. Maybe it was this way because I was tired after almost a week in France. It was most surely because of my lack of preparation before visiting. Whatever the challenge was, it was the best way to learn. People were patient and taught me patience. Experiences were human and put me in touch with my own sense of humanity. I am so grateful for the country that taught me to do my homework, and be aware, and eat all of the food that my stomach can hold because flavors like that don’t just escape the memory.

Italy, thank you for putting up with my lack of knowledge and showing me such kindness in every interaction. I’ll do better next time.

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