Notre Dame and Other Lovely Places

I’m sitting on a train somewhere near Brussels as I write this. We’re on our way to Amsterdam this weekend which is both thrilling and terrifying considering that I know far less Dutch than I do French, which is to say I don’t speak it all. I think I decided to go to Amsterdam this weekend because I studied the Netherlands in second grade as part of “Around the World Day” our school did every year, and one of my life goals is to visit all those countries we studied in elementary school. So the Netherlands is first. I lost track of how many trains I’ve taken in Europe so far. How odd that when I get back I’ll have to drive in my car to go anywhere instead of comfortably reading while someone else does the work. Still, I’m excited to go home and be reminded of what personal space is like. Speaking of personal space (or rather, the lack of it), we’ve had an interesting few days in Paris. 

We spent most of Tuesday walking around Paris on a tour. After making sure our feet had not fallen off somewhere near Notre Dame, we had a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Interestingly, it’s been the only proper French meal I’ve had here (apart from all that bread I’ve been eating). 

Wednesday was one of those days that makes you so grateful to be in a new place. We (as a class) spent most of the day at the Lourve. I’m not going to list all the paintings and sculptures we saw because there were so many and there’s definitely one that was the most important: Mona Lisa. 

There’s so much to say about this painting. But instead of just re-typing my notes on it from my Italian Renaissance class, let me tell you about seeing it person. Because seeing other people see Mona Lisa is so much fun. They keep her in a room with some other paintings that I don’t think anyone really looks at. They could probably wallpaper the room with money, and no one would notice. Mona hangs on a partition toward the back of the room behind bullet-proof glass. If that’s not enough, the viewers stand behind a rope three feet back. And by “viewers,” I mean small mob. Seriously, I’ve never been in New Orleans during Mardi Gras but someone once told me that if you faint on Bourbon Street, you won’t hit the ground because it’s so crowed. The same is probably true in the Mona Lisa Mob Zone. But what the hell? I’m at the Lourve in Paris. What’s a little claustrophobia? Do I really have to have Beyoncé and Jay-Z kind of money to see this thing without the crowd?  We did eventually make it to the front and took the appropriate photos. Totally worth it. (Fun fact: the Lourve refuses to restore Mona Lisa. That’s why it’s so dark- no one wants to be the person that *explative* up Mona Lisa. ) 

After going all over the Lourve (and getting lost, of course) we went to Notre Dame. I know Notre Dame from photos, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know most of the interior decoration from the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mass was happening in the nave, and it kind of weird to be more concerned with snapping photos of the rose windows than what was happening. But I’m planning to go back to Mass sometime next week. Because of Catholic guilt and art history geekiness. 

There is no way that I’ll be able to describe how beautiful this cathedral is or how much fun it was being there (looking ahead to grad school, my research will probably be in gothic cathedrals) so I’ll let these photos speak for themselves. 

After that we went to Shakespeare & Co. across the way which is the famous bookstore where people like Hemingway used to hang out. Upstairs they have a few cots which seemed weird until I read on Pinterest that night that you can stay overnight there in exchange for 2 hours work at the store and a page-long autobiography. Yes, please. The store was really cool, but while I was browsing, I suddenly felt someone drape their arms over my shoulders. I figured it was one of my friends being funny. Until I looked and realized it was just some random stranger with his head one my shoulders. I pulled away, and when he saw my face, he looked mortified. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were someone I knew,” he sputtered out and backed away. His dad (I’m assuming) gave him  a look like “What the hell are you doing?” I thought it was funny until I realized my shirt smelled like his sweat. 

That night (having rested our smelly, sore feet) we bought some champagne at little grocery store and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at 11. Absolutely incredible. We drank the champagne from plastic cups to reinforce the collective European opinion about how classy Americans are. But we didn’t care. 

The next day the museum we’d plan to visit was on strike so we went back to the Eiffel Tower instead. This time we actually went up and toured both the middle and top platforms. Then it was just a long, hot metro ride to Saint-Denis to see that cathedral. (This cathedral trip was actually not my idea. But I didn’t, like, protest it or anything.) We couldn’t go into the nave since an orchestra was rehearsing for the music festival, but we did get to see the apse and th crypt. Apart from being the birthplace of the Gothic style led by Abbot Suger, Saint-Denis is also the burial place of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. They also have prayer sculptures in the nave which are probably based on the representations of them during their lifetimes, but I kept picturing them as Kirsten Dunst and Jason Swartzman who played them in the Sofia Coppola movie. Because apparently that’s the best I can do after 3 years of art history. 

I have no idea where this train is now. My excellent sense of directions strikes again! After five days in Paris, I’m exhausted. Which is wonderful since it’s proof of the marathon of things we’ve seen this week. I think next week, I’ll spend my free time tracking down locations from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (Is anyone else starting to notice the movie theme happening on this trip?) But for now, on to Amsterdam. 
   
                                                     

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Bonjour

It was raining in London when we left. Which felt appropriate since it was raining when I arrived. In my frantic search for FedEx today, happened to go past the the office where Lionel Logue worked with Colin Firth…er, I mean King George VI as a speech therapist. Once everything was sorted, we took a quick cab ride to St. Pancras International. I got another stamp in my passport.

The train to Paris was so cool. I entertained everyone as I tried to hoist my suitcase into the overhead rack. Two older Frenchmen had to help me. Off to a great start. The train is interesting in that you’re going through London, and then suddenly everything goes dark, and you are realized you’re underground. More specifically, under the English Channel. Everyone slept until there was a slight jolt when we resurfaced in the French countryside. Once we were settled into out hotel, we had dinner (ironically) at a Cuban restaurant.

During our walking tour today, I bought a baguette for about a euro and walked around eating. Casual. Cuz that’s what people do here. I think I’m going to like Paris.

Cheers, London

I cannot believe that my time in London is over. I leave for Paris tomorrow to participate in an art history study abroad program for two weeks and then on to Italy after that. Tough work, but someone has to do it.

As l leave, I’m already making plans to come back again. Despite being here for 5 weeks, I think I’ve only seen a small bit of what this city and Britain are. So as little round-up of this leg of the trip, I’ve compiled a list of “favorites” and other statistics:

Pub: The World’s End

Side trip: Chatsworth for journey itself but Canterbury Cathedral for its own sake

Museum: The Victoria and Albert

Tube Stop: Westminster

Bookstore: Stanford’s

Books read: 3

Books bought: I’m embarrassed how many – I got a copy of Harry Potter in Latin at Oxford

Times getting lost: one major time

Missed trains: 0 but that was mostly luck

Favorite department store: Fortnum & Mason

Average daily walking distance: 10 miles

Pictures taken: about 1,000

West End shows: 3

Other highlights: seeing the royal family in parade

Last night we walked down the South Bank of the Thames to see the Houses of Parliament lit up at night. London looks her best at night, and this view was one I’d been waiting the whole trip for. It did not disappoint. London never does.

The Canterbury Tales: The Student

I have decided that my role for The Canterbury Tales would have been “The Student” because 1) school obviously a big part of my life and 2) “The Smartass” seemed like the inappropriate option. Also I will not be writing this in the poetic style of Geoffrey Chaucer (who I’m picturing as Paul Bettany. See: A Knight’s Tale) because I’m really not that dedicated to blogging as an art form.

We spent the morning at Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, an incredible exhibition currently playing at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This has been my favorite museum of the trip. It has these “plaster rooms” that are these two huge spaces filled with plaster replicas of major works of. Like the Column of Trajan and Michelangelo’s David are in there. It’s incredible. I’ll probably send them my CV when I graduate for the hell of it. In case you can’t tell, I really want to work there.

So Savage Beauty was developed after McQueen died in 2010 and ran at the Met for a while. Oddly enough my mother was not keen letting her 17 year old go to New York for an exhibition so I’ve been waiting to see this show for a while. It did not disappoint.

If you’re not familiar with McQueen’s work, check it out. It is amazing work and lends itself so well to the museum exhibition environment. The exhibition was one of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s this intense music playing throughout while each room has a different theme. Like there’s one that’s designed to look like a catacomb with stucco skulls and bones everywhere while the room with his Widows of Culloden series is in this manor house room. There’s also this encyclopedic room with these open cabinets all over the walls showing dress and headpieces that revolve. Reminded of house paintings were hung in 19th-century academic salons. Unreal.

That afternoon we went to Canterbury to see the cathedral. I spent most of the 2014-2015 school year working on a paper and presentation on Thomas Becket who was martyred there. It was overwhelming being there myself. Like meeting someone famous.

Canterbury Cathedral is without a doubt my favorite thing I saw on this trip. The place is massive and has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I’ve ever seen. You can just imagine how the place would have been filled with pilgrims in the Middle Ages. King Henry IV is buried there, too which was perfect timing since I was reading the Shakespeare play about him that week. I love it when things come together like that. Thomas Becket’s shrine was destroyed by King Henry VIII in the 16th century (which I discuss in my paper. I should probably just upload it here. I know you really want to read it) but there is a candle there to mark where it stood. Near the crypt, they have a new memorial for him where Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury once prayed together. We were in good company. So, so amazing.

We had to exit through the gift shop (typical) where I bought a shot glass to commemorate the trip. Should come in handy with the next paper I write.

The Henge

I’m a sucker for an audio guide. I usually only listen to the first stop and then give up on it, but I usually like to have one so if I want to listen to it, I can. When we got to Stonehenge, our professor picked up our tickets and the lady told him to enjoy his day at “The Henge.” The Henge? Really? Like we’re trying to make this thing hip and cool? (The words “hip and cool” are still hip and cool, right?) Thankfully someone made the appropriate Mean Girls reference: “Stop trying to make ‘The Henge’ happen!” Don’t get me wrong, Stonehenge was really cool. But had we just gone straight there and straight back instead of stopping at the nearby town, it would have been a little underwhelming. We all agreed that Salisbury properly whelmed the day.

So back to Stonehenge. Basically it’s this really old circle of standing stones, and we have no idea why it’s there. There’s a “sacrifice stone” that they thought was used for religious ceremonies but apparently not. And that’s all I know because that’s when I gave up on the audio guide. It is way more funny to watch people photograph the site. My personal favorite was the couple that was trying to use a selfie stick to take a picture of them look at the stones. Which I guess would look cool, but they looked ridiculous trying to take it. And no, I did not offer to take it for them which would have been the polite thing to do.

The more responsible one of us kept listening to the audio guide, and apparently the shut down the Henge (I’m hip and cool) during the solstice so Druids or whatever can visit. I think that’s a lie, and actually all of the archeologists who work there just get together to drink. My big question was: who is cutting the grass around these things?

We went to Salisbury Cathedral after that which was incredible. I love Gothic cathedrals and was pretty proud when the tour guide confirmed all the visual analysis I’d done before we went in. They also have a copy of the Magna Carta. Again with that damn Magna Carta. Salisbury was incredible, but it was really just an appetizer for the ultimate art history major day: McQueen and Canterbury.

Friday Night Bagpipes

There’s this Amy Schumer sketch that features Bill Nye where he stands in front of a video of asteroids or whatever and discusses the history of the universe which is then inter-cut with women discussing how “the universe” wants to lose 10 pounds or visit Jamaica or whatever. (It’s a lot funnier than I make it sound, but just stay with me.) I remember seeing that and thinking, “Thank goodness I’m not one of those people who always thinks that the ‘universe’ is controlling my life.”

A week later I was sitting with friends in their room watching the RyanAir website reject my credit card (obviously prejudiced against Americans), and we eventually decided to give up on going to Scotland. Until the universe led us to Anderson Tours which had a cheaper, all-inclusive trip to Edinburgh scheduled for that weekend. Perfect.

We got to the train station 30 minutes for our train which usually happens when I am not in charge of the timetable. We waited around for our tour guide as the other people in our group arrived and were getting nervous enough that we started looking up Anderson Tour’s cancellation policy when our tour guide arrived 15 minutes late. She wasn’t dressed in the khaki-trousers-and-polo I had expected, but apparently I’ll follow anyone with a clipboard.

The train trip was an uneventful six hours during which I read three pages of Wuthering Heights and stared out the window the rest of the time. There was an hour tour of the city where we basically spent the whole time saying “I didn’t know they were from Scottish” (Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Graham Bell, etc.). We checked into our hotel and rejoiced over our private bathroom. Being in a dorm for a month makes you appreciate certain things. We stayed at the Cairn Hotel and could not figure out to say the name. We eventually decided that you said “car” with a Boston accent and then put a “n” at the end. Easy enough.

We spent most of the afternoon wandering around. Edinburgh is divided into “Old Town” that has been there forever and has the castle and “New Town” which is organized into a nice grid. We wound up on the Royal Mile that runs between the castle and the palace in Edinburgh, and outside one of the university buildings was a bagpiper. Obviously a good omen from the universe. We ended the night at the World’s End Pub so named because it is at the very end of Old Town, and before they built New Town about 200 years ago, the end of the city was basically the end of the world for the people who lived there.

The next day we spent most of the day at Edinburgh Castle which had some of the most spectacular views of the city. It was also incredibly windy on that mountain. It got so bad that we would be standing in one of the courtyards, hear the wind coming, and everyone would brace themselves until it passed. We also had high tea there which was kind of funny since I’ve always considered that to be more of an English thing than a Scottish thing. But whatever. The food was really good. But I would like to say that watercress needs to go away. We had these cute roast beef sandwiches (like, the size of sliders) that had watercress on them. Why do we need watercress? It is the most grass-like vegetable (is it even a vegetable) that I’ve ever seen. It just reminds me of all the clover that grows back home which I would never put on a roast beef sandwich.

After that we went shopping for plaid scarves for a while. I ended up buying two which surprised since I’ve basically sworn off plaid because I spent 13 years in Catholic. But this was red plaid, so it’s totally different. And from Scotland so that’s fine. Yes, just keep justifying your purchases to yourself.

While we wandered around, we turned the walk into a mini JK Rowling pilgrimage. We saw the café where she would write the first book because she couldn’t afford to heat the house during the day. (She’s richer than the Queen now, and I’m pretty sure she owns a castle. Sometimes I think the only people who can relate to the publishers who turned down Harry Potter are the record companies that turned down The Beatles.) She finished the last chapter of Deathly Hallows at the Balmoral Hotel. Apparently, after she wrote the last words she signed the marble bust in her room. Like right on the forehead. Go JK.

We then had dinner at this Frankenstein-themed bar. I’m taking a class on Frankenstein this fall so it was basically research. Right? It was the first place I’ve been carded on this trip. Someone (not me) order haggis that we all tried. It basically looks like a pale meatloaf and was pretty good. Then we went back to the World’s End, proud that in only 24 hours we had established “our pub.”

The next day we climbed a mountain. Or just a really tall hill. Now I’ve been running (okay, light jogging with some walking thrown in) in the park while I’ve been in London and walking everywhere in London. My average as I write this (according to my phone) is 10 miles every day. Basically I did not anticipate this mountain, called King Arthur’s Seat to be a big thing. Oh, how wrong I was.

One of my friends with me apparently goes hiking all the time so she bounded up the path like a little mountain goat while my other friend and I would walk twenty feet and then sit down for a few minutes. I’m a sucker for a good view so we kept going. We made it to the top in less time than we had anticipated. I was pretty proud of myself considering I’d done it while clinging to my coat and new plaid scarf in the wind while my purse flailed around me. Because it was definitely the flailing purse and not the fact that I’ve literally had dessert with every meal here that slowed me down. Anyway, I’m all proud, taking selfies, congratulating each other when I see the four older women (white hair) walking down the path. Great. And then we saw small children just running up the path. Yeah, it was totally the purse that slowed me down.

We took the six hour train ride back to London, but I want to go back to Scotland eventually. Maybe this time to see the Highlands. I bet the universe will make it happen.

Talking to Strangers

This is one of those stories about how the journey is better than the destination. If I were older and wiser I would appreciate this as some grand metaphor for life or whatever you do when you’re older and wiser. As it is now, I’m in my twenties and therefore believe I know everything already. Sometimes the advice of the universe can be a little wasted on people like me.

Before I came to England, I decided the one thing I absolutely had to do was visit Chatsworth House. I knew nothing about the place except that it played Pemberly in the most recent Pride and Prejudice film. Don’t ask me why I fixated on this. Maybe it’s just because Matthew Macfayden is so dreamy. Or maybe because I haven’t fully excepted that Mr. Darcy is fictional. No matter the reason, I found myself delayed on the Tube last Wednesday morning and missed the first train out of St. Pancras to Chesterfield.

Late and annoyed that I was late, I wonder around St. Pancras (it’s difficult not to call it St. Pancreas)  for about 20 minutes waiting for the next train. Thankfully, it’s an international train station with lots of posh shops like L.K. Bennet (which I only know about because People Magazine is always talking about how Princess Kate shops there). I did that awkward thing where you wander into a store, telling the clerk that you’re “just browsing” even though you’re going to leave in about 5 seconds and you don’t have the heart to tell them you’re not in the mood to buy a 200 pound dress before taking a 2 hour train ride.

I made it on the next train. Apparently they divide their platforms into “a” and “b” so for example I left from platform 9a which was just farther down the same platform as 9b. Considering the success of Harry Potter and King’s Cross being right next door, you’d think it’d be platform 9 then 9 3/4. That just seems like a real missed opportunity.

After two hours on the train to Chesterfield, I walked from the train station to the bus station. Which was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Chesterfield is lousy with signage. Then I had to take the bus to Baslow (What? You’ve never heard of any of these towns?).

I don’t like buses. The fact that I have to press a button to make it stop seems kind of stupid to me. (Why doesn’t the bus just stop at all the stops? That’s what campus transit does back home.) So I’m standing at the bus stop with these older British women, and I finally ask in my grating American accent “Do you know how much a ticket to Baslow will cost?” They said they didn’t know because they had Oyster cards. As the bus pulled up, one of the ladies goes, “Would you like to go first?” But in like a sweet way. Not condescending.

Bus ticket sorted, it dawns on me that I have to figure out which stop will take me Chatsworth house. And there’s all these “Chatsworth Fish and Chips” “Chatsworth Hardware” that’s kind of confusing considering that we were still miles (kilometers?) from the House. I started to panic a little: I’ve never been to Baslow! How am supposed to know where to get off?!

Finally I ask the older couple next to me. From what I could understand Baslow was still a ways away. I couldn’t hear them that well, but I thought it’d be rude to ask them to repeat it for a third time so I just said “I’m not from here.” Good thing I said it too because I had obviously fooled them into thinking I was a local.

As we turned a corner into some other obscure town, I saw the view for the first time. All these beautiful hills and fields with little cottages tucked away. I wish I had a photo to show you but I don’t think a picture taken on an iPhone through the window of a moving bus would do the moment justice so just take my word for it.

My nice older couple got off the bus after that and I frantically asked them again where Baslow was. The desperation in my voice must have carried because the nice guy behind me (who was kind of dressed like Jesse from Breaking Bad) told me he’d let me know. I actually relaxed after that.

Once I finally made it to Baslow with help from the Nice Guy, I actually started laughing. Giddy with relief and excitement: I made it to Baslow! I just made a total ass of myself to those nice people on the bus and I don’t care! I’m so hungry!

I got directions from the local pub: Chatsworth was a 30 minute walk on the trail. Thankfully that trail is beautiful with lots of pretty houses along the way. Then you get to enjoy the Chatsworth grounds with all the sheep (more British sheep!). I listened to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack on the walk. I’m so cool.

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Houses on the walk to Chatsworth
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More British sheep!
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First proper view of Chatsworth

Chatsworth was beautiful. Apparently the Duke and Duchess host exhibitions there every year and this one had the hashtag #MakeYourselfAtHome and it was this collection of funky chairs scattered throughout the house. My favorites were these top-like chairs that you spun around in to get a view of the painted ceiling. Picture me and another older British couple (older British people are in this story a lot in case you haven’t already noticed) rolling around next to the grand staircase trying to see this ceiling. This beautiful ceiling that has all these ancient allegories about power and Roman Empire (If art history has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t have a good ceiling fresco without at lease one personified virtue) and we’re just rolling around while the uniformed guides say things like “You’ve got to hold on or you’ll fall out of the seat” and “Yes, just throw your weight all the way back and you’ll spin all the way around.” And we call ourselves adults.

Those were basically the only chairs I sat in throughout the exhibition because I feel really uncomfortable being told it’s okay to touch things in museums. But can I just say good for the Duke and Duchess of Whatever for having exhibitions at their house? I don’t know if that’s a common thing that most grand houses do, but I think that is an excellent way to use their home and influence in the country by giving a platform for new, young artists.

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Part of the exhibition

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Cute silver trinkets

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I wandered around through the house (apparently Mary Queen of Scots was there for a while), and eventually got to a long hardwood floor hallway. Where my shoes made the loudest squeaking sound possible. There was nothing I could do. And there are guides everywhere in this house. Like, several in every room. So they got to listen to the squeak squeak squeak of my shoes. Every. Single. Step. The carpeted halls were a glorious relief. Somewhere along the way they have the veiled woman sculpture that’s in the film. It’s in this dark alcove that’s lit to accentuate the folds in here veil. Absolutely stunning.

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A Veiled Vestal Virgin
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The library which they don’t actually let you into. Which is lame.

In their dining room, I talked to the guide about how they decorate for Christmas every year with a new theme. This year will be themed Toad of Toad Hall, but he said they did The Chronicles of Narnia one year and had an animatronic Aslan in the library that looked like it was breathing. He recalled that it was like “sardines” in the house that year. Children everywhere.

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Dining room
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Interesting way to display the silver behind the flowers
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They had a small exhibition in the dining room asking “Who would you invite to your dinner party?”
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The table cloth is covered in suggest guests’ names

I finally got to the marble sculpture hall that was in the movie that (naturally) leads into the gift shop. They’d covered the floor with something for the chair exhibition so I couldn’t see the black and white tiles that are in the film. Tiles or no tiles, the hall was beautiful. All of these stunning white marble statues in one room together is overwhelming. Also the space is a lot smaller in person than it looked on screen. I took tons of photos, but it was still a little odd not to see the bust of Mr. Darcy that’s in the film. Until I saw it. Through the doors of the gift shop.

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In the sculpture hall

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They know what sells.
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“Please do not kiss the statue.”

That’s right. The original is on display alongside smaller replicas that you can buy. So now I am the proud owner of a miniature Mr. Darcy bust– okay, I’m kidding those things were expensive, but still how funny would that be to have? I settled for some postcards and commemorative stamps then left to see the gardens.

I really wish that I’d left more time for the gardens. They were so beautiful and the hills were a great change from the flat lands around London. These pictures really don’t do it justice.

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Beautiful water feature in the gardens.

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I snapped some pictures of the house where Darcy catches Lizzy after she’s just seen Georgiana playing the piano. Then it was ice cream and the walk/bus/train/Tube ride back to school.

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That scene where he catches her

I would like to take a second to thank the lovely people who gave me directions along the way. I will never know your names or see you again. But thanks all the same. I literally couldn’t have done it without you.

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