Final thoughts on Egypt

Then: So. 2:26 AM, Cairo International Airport, Terminal F. We are at the end. I’m at the end! It has been a crazy, crazy couple of days here in Egypt, and those crazy, crazy days are ones I’ll never forget.

Tonight we celebrated at the house of one of our choir members who lives in Cairo, and whose parents have made much of this amazing trip possible. We ate traditional Egyptian dishes and sat outside listening to a band and talking and just enjoying the presence of the amazing, talented, warm friends we’d been making over the course of the trip, of the year, and for some for four years. While listening to music with my friends, we could hear the surrounding mosques go off for the evening prayers, which was just… a cacophony of brilliant sounds, which echoed around our garden party in the heat and made for quite an ambiance. It was a good night, reminding me why I love choir, why I love my school, and why I love travel.

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babushkas

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giza

Now: It was bittersweet leaving Cairo because it was final. It was an end to my undergraduate career and and end to my time in collegiate choirs. Some people I spent time with I may never see again, but I’m grateful to have shared this crazy awesome experience with them, regardless. Now, back in Portland, I’m disoriented from jet-lag and from a lack of belonging – I have more options and opportunity ahead of me than decisions under my belt. All in all, though, Egypt was a great extended graduation party! I’m somewhat glad I have more travel to look forward to over this summer, just so I can adjust more to being alone, while also having these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime learning experiences.

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A high point: I thought I’d end on a high note, though. Just before leaving Luxor to come back to Cairo, we were able to meet up with the supervisor of Karnak Temple and visit some of the areas of that 30-some acre ruin that everyday tourists don’t get to see (because the supervisor had seen our concert the night before – perks of being ‘famous’). We got to see some of the restoration of the paint in some of the smaller chambers in the main building, which was spectacular. One chamber in particular we ventured into, awed at the natural sunlight that lit up the small space and the intricate, precise hieroglyphics and reliefs of the pharaoh and gods. Naturally in the spirit of choral singers everywhere, we decided to sing “Lay Me Low” from our set of Shaker songs.

“Lay Me Low” arranged by Kevin Siegfried, as performed by the Washington State University Concert Choir

Around twenty seconds in, we were experiencing one of those moments that’s hard to describe, a moment that makes you choke on emotion and feel a certain connection to everyone who is participating. I had to pause a couple times during the song because I couldn’t quite get control of myself, the feeling was so strong. Think about doing something that’s a part of a close collective, that involves physical exertion and emotional investment, and think about doing that in a space that is acoustically brilliant and also happens to be 4,000 or so years old. You’d be choking up, too! The host of our final party (the one at my friend’s house in Cairo) described it like this,

“I genuinely believe that you all were touched by angel’s wings.”

Regardless of belief systems that anyone has, to hear that from someone who was not participating in the actual singing is a compliment beyond any I’ve heard in a while, and one that I will remember for years. This whole trip will be like that, in my mind, and as much as I’ve mentioned I’m thankful for sharing it with my choir, I’m also glad to have shared it with you! I think I’ll leave you with that.

See you in July, when I’m off to Florence, Italy for a monthlong stay!

nile

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Lengthy update about travels with friends (or, Barthelona/Munich in 9 dishes)

Thought I’d give you a summary of how Barcelona and Munich were, and then prepare you for a lengthy story about Switzerland. My flight from Gatwick was delayed 1.5 hours because of the Virgin Atlantic debacle. However, I landed in BCN around 8:30, with an Adele song stuck in my head and a pink, sky-lit drive to Diagonal Zero Hotel. Checked in and took an hour long shower by 10:15, and in a celebratory if wistful mood as I posted my reflective chatter on this blog. Had a chat with Devan about the following week’s plans and then spent the next three hours searching for things to do and noms to eat, most of which we never got around to doing, but hey – that’s how travelling works.

Had a breakfast of cured meats, potato omelet, fruit, yoghurt, and OJ by myself as French, Indian, Swiss, and other American families ate around me. It was certainly an interesting experience. I checked out by 11 and took a taxi to Ciutat Vella, the old fisherman’s neighbourhood in Barcelona. The Ideal Youth Hostel looked a bit like a prison or a nightclub on the outside, but my spirits were high as I checked in and paid for the group. They wouldn’t let me into the room until 2pm, but I hung around and wrote some e-mails and met a Turkish girl named Trusza who was studying psychology in the Netherlands but was on a three day stint in Barcelona on her own. She was very nice, and gave me cookies when we’d run out of things to say.

Molly, Nate, Ian and Nick arrived around 3pm, and we went up to discover that the hostel room had a balcony, even if there were no bed sheets. The ceilings looked like rubber band balls and the beds were like Nantucket Nectar tops that pop every time you move. We got out of there and bought jamón sandwiches at a take-away place and headed to the beach. We hung out for a while until it got chilly – it was a bit windy, and a bit touristy for a public beach (lots of venders trying to sell us “massajes”). After wandering around the city, we took an hour or two in our hostel room before picking Mixtli up at the train station. Upon returning to La Rambla we got cheap tapas, paella, and sangria. It was a late night, but so much fun.

The next morning, we got chocolate con churros upon Molly’s request. Parc Güell was next, with a bit of off-road hiking à la Bear Grylls (in a miniskirt, because I’m awesome) and then we wandered into the city and bought sandwich meat, baguettes and manchego and had a delicious luncheon in a skate park before taking the metro to the Sagrada Familia. When we returned to the hostel in the late afternoon, the group took some time to plan the rest of their time in Europe and I looked up restaurants as faint guitar music floated up from the clutter of back yards beneath our balcony. It was a nice little moment. Molly and I, being the foodies and the ones who tend to give a damn, organized dinner at a place called La Champagneria. It ended in disaster, so the group split. So, Mixtli, Molly, Ian and I went to a restaurant in the marina. In the end, everyone was happy, and Molly and I shared patatas bravas, jamon iberico, avocado/shrimp salad, calamari, and bread and olive oil, while the boys and I shared 2 litres of sangria. Later, we met up with Nick and Nate and went and hung out in the square across La Rambla – because it was likely I wouldn’t find myself in Spain for a while yet, I ordered more chocolate from the same place as we’d eaten that morning. There was chatter. Good times were had.

Signs for the metro system in Münich

Nora picked me up from MUC with a handmade sign reading “Wilkommen in München Ava,” when I landed in Munich from my easy-going flight on Vueling Airlines the next day. We got to Studentenstadt on the U-Bahn and bus system and moved my stuff into Devan’s room before going to one of the student bars and getting a currywurst. It’s a typical dish that you’ll get in any urban center in Germany, apparently. It was weird, though. When Devan arrived from her orchestra practice, we planned my couple days in Munich by writing down all of the foods I needed to try. Thus began the Munich in 9 dishes and/or drinks quest. The next day, we embarked on that quest.

Not buttered pretzels, but braided ones at Frülingsfest.

The day began with 1) butterbrezn (buttered soft pretzel) right from the oven, and quickly followed with a trip on the U-Bahn into Munich proper. We wandered around and I got to go up in the Neues Rathaus (new city hall) and take pictures of the city from the tower. From there we could see the Alps as well as several of the churches the girls wanted to take me to so I could hear about the art history of the town. Frauenkirche, Theatinerkirche Asamkirche, among others. Each had its special story. We had 2) Indian food for lunch, with Devan and Nora’s mutual friend, Katy, beforehand, but afterward Nora and I bought a 3) mandelrolle each (pastry with almond paste and powdered sugar) at the discount bakery. There was much wandering and taking photos of whatever I found interesting: dogs, flowers, patterns in the street, colors of buildings, funny logos and signs, etc. We headed back in the afternoon, and Devan and I decided after a quick breather that we’d go see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the cinema that showed movies in English, before getting 4) pho at the nearest Pan-Asian restaurant, which luckily was serving until 11, closing at 11:30. We passed by a “Party bus” on the way home.

Alter in Asamkirche. Probably the creepiest church I’ve ever been to.
The dome in Theatinerkirche
Vaulted ceilings in Frauenkirche

Devan and I walked through the English Garden the following day, talking about our futures and what we had learned while abroad. This is where the trip took on a competing title of “Ava takes pictures of waterfowl” to combat “Munich in 9 Dishes.”

Cherry blossoms in the park!
Devan and I enjoying the sunshine…
Goslings eating with their parents

5) Milchreis was eaten soon enough, and then we went to the library and Universitätskirche before heading back to get Devan’s dirndl and go to Frülingsfest (spring festival, which is really a carnival with beer and a flea market)! We had 6) bratwurst before meeting up with a group of LC Germany kids who provided some beer, and then we headed back in for chocolate covered strawberries, photo-taking, 7) Dutch pancakes with nutella, and the swing ride! It was so much fun.

The local library
Universitätskirche
Detail of Devan’s dirndl – traditional dress of Germans. Yes, they do wear them all the time.
Frülingsfest!
BRATWURST!
Breakdancer ride.
Dutch pancakes with Nutella
Frülingsfest from the swing ride!

Next day we started with 8) döner for lunch and then trammed to Nymphenburg Palace where I met my mom’s new boyfriend and went through the ornate rooms that once belonged to Ludwig II. The King thought he was born 100 years too late, apparently and therefore wanted to be in the Baroque period, even though he was living in the 19th century. According to Devan, he was likely gay, had tea parties with people who weren’t there, and was found dead in a body of water with his doctor at a fairly young age. He led a sad life. The carriage museum attached to the palace was proof of his wish to be in another time. Afterward, Devan and Mom and Randy and I got a beer (Devan and I got radlers – beer/lemonade) before Devan and I headed off to a pub-equivalent and I got greißnorcklesuppe (sp?), which is basically matza ball soup, and 9) kaeser spaetzle. We came back and made an early night of it, as I would be packing in the morning while Devan had classes.

Nymphenburg ballroom
Largest carriage on display, that day

Packing was a bit less efficient than I had planned – as it always is – so of course I had to get in an episode of Glee and read a bit more of my book (A Game of Thrones) before cooking myself some eggs and bratwurst. Devan came back around 4, and by then I was sufficiently packed, so we went downstairs to visit Nora and ate some of hers and Katy’s delicious three-layer cake. We headed into town with my luggage, checked into my hotel room, and partied around the fancy room for half-an-hour before meeting my mom and Randy downstairs. We went Prinz Myshkin, a vegetarian restaurant near the Rathaus, and all had delicious meals. Among those were white asparagus cream soup, curry carrot cream soup, tomato basil soup, zucchini blossom tempura, pumpkin rotondi with sage butter, tomato-mozzarella ravioli with red sauce, and sansei (julienned vegetables with brown rice and marinated tofu). I also had a caipirinha (mixed drink) for fun. Devan and Nora and I watched an episode of Game of Thrones back at the hotel before saying our goodbyes with a good hug (as we do). Missing them already, I repacked and went to bed for an early morning train to Zürich.

Devan, me and Nora at Prinz Myshkin (spelling might be off)

Münich was a blast, for sure. It ended my time with my friends and began the portion with my family. It’s a trip I’ll remember for a long time.

Neue Rathaus at dusk

I’m about to be a bit weird and publish an ode to friendship.

I debated whether this should be posted to my writing blog – yes, I have a writing blog (writetoflirtwithlife.wordpress.com) – but it’s non-fiction and a good idea of what I’ve been up to lately, so here goes:

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Don’t let anyone tell you that a girl named Molly doesn’t make the best kind of friend. The Molly I’m about to gush about, my Molly, is a girl I’ve known since we were fourteen, when I was more uncomfortable in my own skin than I am now. Now, we’ve both changed significantly, but when we’re in the same room it’s like those two years I went without seeing her never even existed.

This is a real story from two weekends ago.

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Although, it was still quite a shock when I was absorbed back into her world when she turned up in London on Thursday, 15 March.

We hadn’t talked much about what we wanted to do – and I was under the impression she was arriving later than she did – so, when I got a Facebook message along the lines of, “I AM IN LONDON,” from the lovely lady while I was lounging in my pyjamas at 10:30pm, I scrambled into actual clothes and journeyed to King’s Cross tube station where Molly’s host, Clara, had instructed me to arrive.

This is where the strangeness began.

After nearly a twenty-minute walk to the pub where Molly and Clara were parked (during which time no one in Molly’s vicinity could remember that they had smart phones to help me navigate to my destination), I arrived on scene to find darling Molly like a vision in a white trench coat, slipping into her Culpeper accent as she chatted with a man with silver-grey hair, a clear indication that she’d already had a bit to drink.

This of course made her even more charming to everyone she’d gathered about her – two barristers and a law student – whom Clara didn’t seem impressed with, but whom I assumed to be friends she’d contacted to meet in London.

Steve, the oldest, told me I had beautiful hair, to which I probably did not respond appropriately but I wasn’t feeling particularly like flirting with a man who was closer to my father’s age than mine. Sean I didn’t get a full impression of, mostly because I assumed these men were teachers and student from the NYU campus where Clara was studying. He did like to do impressions of Marlon Brando, though. James, the man who’d taken offense when I made some comment about his disuse of a smart phone when giving me directions, I thought of as the type to try too hard.

Immediately, the barristers invited us out to a jazz club in Soho, which Molly couldn’t make up her mind about, but to which I responded, “Just say yes.”

The club, after a cab ride of English-American history lessons and horribly comedic impressions, was both jarring and relieving. Here I knew what was what – I have been in London long enough to feel comfortable in a bar setting – but I also knew I was pushing myself going out with people neither I nor Molly knew, as it always happens when Molly-the-extrovert and Ava-the-introvert combine forces. A mix of all ages and types, the club had a live band and a bar with inattentive tenders, which meant I didn’t pay for a damn thing for the whole evening. That was nice, but watching James pretend not to want to kiss Molly while Sean talked about the importance of a liberal arts education while Steve vacillated between ignoring our group entirely and chatting me up by asking me what I thought of the other men around me was both surreal and a little uncomfortable. It was all very backwards – as backwards as the club we were in. As fitting as it was that Molly and I should meet again in London where we’d both wanted to be all our lives.

The evening didn’t end until we were wandering near Piccadilly Circus and eating chips from a doner stand at 3am, when James had finally plucked up the courage to hold Molly’s hand even when he’d missed the opportunity to kiss her in the glass-strewn street. Clara was still recovering from her clash with the bouncer, who’d not bothered to call an ambulance when an underage girl had passed out on drugs on the dance floor. Sean was complaining (bragging?) about the work he’d be returning home to do as if lawyers never sleep, and Steve was telling me about his political leanings. I wondered briefly if he was saying offensive things to impress me, or to test me.

Either way, I took a big gulp of air when I climbed into my cab, leaving Molly, Clara, and the barristers behind at a taxi stand. I stared blankly at my cell phone for almost the entirety of the ride, feeling less like a grown-up by the second. The cabbie asked how my night had been, but I couldn’t ask him the same even though I wished I had. The man wanted to talk, and for a moment, I wanted an endless supply of gregariousness like Molly, but instead I tipped him 20% and wished him a good night when I stepped back onto familiar ground in Kensington.

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That is not to say that being pushed into these situations with Molly isn’t always as much a reward as it is a discomfort.

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Several days later I was still feeling the strangeness when Molly and I wandered over to the Sherlock Holmes pub from Embankment after the weather had turned for the worse on Sunday. We clambered onto two stools by the window facing an alley and I bought us two Cokes at the bar before giving up the other half of the table to an older couple who had just been at the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.

In between our talks about fiction writing and high school drama, one of the couple, Heather, asked us if we were in theatre.

Thus began another lengthy adventure à la Molly et Ava, wherein we were figuratively adopted by Bob and Heather from Thetford, Norfolk, who then proceeded to adopt 1) a San Franciscan software man who wanted to show his wealth by buying us copious drinks, whom Heather called Ken, 2) a Hungarian man who neither spoke English nor had a place to stay for the night before returning to Budapest in the morning, who we discovered was named Ga’bor, 3) a Brazilian student, Leticia, who wore a leprechaun’s hat throughout, and 4) a couple from Phoenix, Arizona, Bob and Michael, whom Heather called Bob and Justin. There was discussion of politics, there was hair plaiting, there was copious alcohol consumed and repetition of the same joke five times over, but there was also singing with Molly while the whole pub went hushed, there was that one glance or two when Ga’bor mumbled to me in Hungarian, there was Thai near Goodge Street with Heather and Rob, which felt like a dinner with an overly appreciative uncle and auntie. There was hugging and exchange of information and a promise to see one another again when the Norfolk folks were back in London.

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I didn’t see Molly after that, but read and laughed too hard over her own account of the shenanigans that had passed, missed her already even as she flew back to Madrid.

I haven’t talked to her since, but I’m still carrying a bit of the accent she brought with her.  I’m still remembering how different we are and how much we’ve changed and how Molly is all over and I’m all in one place, but,

I remember what a friend had said over drinks at the Gloucester Arms, while Molly and I squabbled over some such thing, back and forth with as many insults as endearments. “You guys have clearly been friends for a long time.”

I hope that’s a truth until Molly and I are getting our hips replaced.

If not for the hilariousness of that thought, then for the chance to see how much things change and still remain the same.

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If you’d like an account of those weekends from Molly’s perspective, check out ofgeography.tumblr.com. Because Molly is much funnier than I.