Rockin & Rollin & Coastin

I think I laughed more in those days than in all my life before.   -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

chicahio3People ask me how I travel so much, and honestly I don’t know: a couple months ago I was sitting in an ice cream shop in Nashville during a music festival (see previous post) and got a call from Elias asking if I wanted to go to Chicago after Haiti (see also) and visit my brother in Wisconsin and of course I couldn’t turn that down but didn’t know if I had the financial capabilities for such an adventure but then I discovered my parents were flying out to see my brother as well five days later so I just moved my flight upandflewfromOmahainsteadofMontana. (Now breathe.)

So that’s how I travel. (I still don’t know.)

Sometimes the pieces just fall into place.

One thing leading to another, networking, keeping in contact with friends, combining trips, living simply while on the road.

chicahio2Both halves of the trip encompassed museums, restaurants and general upper-Midwest-city exploration.

Chicago: Elias and I had three days to explore Chicago, and my brother Kevin and his girlfriend Megan joined us on the second and third days. The first night Elias and I stayed in the Wrigley Hostel, which I highly recommend: superb location near downtown, clean and spacious rooms, a plethora of bathrooms and reasonable prices. In the basement common area Elias and I made Dutch, Danish and Australian acquaintances over a pool table and a game of Jenga. The hostel was friendly, comfortable, and safe–I regret I only stayed one night!

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Sharks!

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Ugly-cute fish

Sites: We were hoping for the $8 entrance fee for the Shedd Aquarium which we saw online, but that only included the main floor. Granted, this area was expansive: exhibits showcased critters from all parts of the world. Those from the Amazon River were undoubtedly the ugliest (but, like, in a cute way. Mostly). However, the lower level housed whales, sharks, otters and a young dolphin. We also pet starfish and watched penguins play and swim. For a one-time event, the $35 ticket was worth it (student discounts were also offered).

We debated between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but decided on the latter. The exhibits featured nine captivating videos by artist Keren Cytter which felt like rewatching old dreams; an interactive exhibit by Kris Martin in which we walked inside a tipped-over hot air balloon into another room; and my favorite, a handwritten lecture on music made almost entirely of questions, titled ‘Silence,’ and mounted on a wall page-by-page on yellow legal paper.

chicahio14Is it possible that I could go [on] monotonously asking questions forever? Would I have to know how many questions I was going to ask? Would I have to know how to count in order to ask questions? Do I have to know when to stop? Is this the one chance we have to be alive and ask a question? How long will we be able to be alive? Contemporary music is not the music of the future not the music of the past but simply music present with us: this moment, now. This now moment….That moment is always changing….We are thinking, I am talking and contemporary music is changing. Like life it changes. -Silence

chicahio9The four of us made our own art by capturing the moment ourselves, or sometimes capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment:

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Megan photographing the hot-air balloon; Kevin, her; Elias, Kevin’s ear; me, the whole hilarity.

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Back-of-the-head selfies are wildly popular right now. (We’re starting the trend.)

Of course we could not leave Chicago without spending some time on the lakefront with the Bean, which I recently learned is officially titled ‘Cloud Gate Sculpture.’ There was a symphony playing in Millennium Park, and a large crowd had gathered to listen, mostly lying on blankets on the lawn in front.

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Buckingham Fountain

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Cloud Gate at night

Friends: Anthony and his roadtripping buddies were passing through Chicago after a jaunt through Canada, and happened to be going to the Shedd Aquarium at the same time. My college roommate Hannah and her fiancé Joe were also passing through the city, so we chatted for a few minutes beneath the shadow of the Bean. The more I travel the more I cross paths with friends–and the more I realize this is probably setting the stage for more spontaneous encounters. (I travelled with both Anthony and Hannah when I went to Florida and Nashville in June.)

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Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee: Kevin lives north of Milwaukee, so Elias and I walked around downtown all day while he went to work. The Third Ward has plenty of coffee shops and boutiques to satisfy us college-students-ish. The paved lakefront sidewalk runs past the art museum and through a park with a statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Apparently he was a third-generation Milwaukean.

Sites: Mainly food, for us on this trip at least. The Milwaukee Waterfront Deli delivers sandwiches to the second floor with a tiny open elevator which was fun to watch. Also the deli has great sandwiches, but of course that takes second place to a dumbwaiter that goes around corners. This was my first visit to a classy Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, and it was well worth the visit.

chicahio17We also paid a visit to the British-style John Hawks Pub, but we opted to sit on the deck next to the river to enjoy the view instead of going inside. On our final night in Milwaukee, Kevin took us to Safe House, an espionage-themed restaurant that requires a ‘password’ to access through an alleyway door! It was originally the meeting location for the Milwaukee Press Club, so I enjoyed the journalism as well as the espionage décor.

Riding surreys and bikes

Riding surreys and bikes

Muskegon: The ferry across Lake Michigan saved several hours of driving around the south side of the lake. We took the earliest boat so we could have two days at our destination. We rented surreys (two-person side-by-side bicycle carts) from The Depot and rode six miles back to the lake at Pere Marquette beach. The path followed a main road, but we only had to cross traffic twice. The beach was lovely, far nicer than I expected. The gigantic waves apparently provide some of the best surfing opportunities in the country, as well as a prime location for sailing, kiteboarding and other watersports.

chicahio19Sites: Muskegon’s two World War II museums were different than most: one was located inside a landing craft used on D-Day at Omaha beach and also in Sicily, and the other was, in part, a tour through submarine USS Silversides! The former museum included memorabilia from all of WWII, and a vast amount from D-Day itself, while the latter museum focused mostly on the history and mechanics of submarine warfare.

Sandusky: Ohio held the crowning moment of the trip, the day for which Mom and I have waited…for five years…to conquer every roller coaster at Cedar Point, the ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World’! After succumbing to wind last May, we were ready for action. We planned two days into our stay instead of one, which was a good idea since high winds which force the coasters to close are common on the narrow peninsula. We finally made it to Millennium Force, voted the world’s best roller coaster several years in a row. We also rode Top Thrill Dragster, one of two strata coasters in the world (height drop of more than 400 feet), which reaches 120mph in 3.8 seconds during ascent.chicahio26 chicahio27

Sites: Cedar Point itself was incredible. As a die-hard Disneyland family, we keep high standards: but Cedar Point met all those standards in hospitality (friendly, clean, safe) and fun (attention to detail, creativity, enough thrill rides of varying degrees to keep a family occupied for days).

Hotel Breakers on Cedar Point property provides simple, stress-free access to the park. Additionally, HB guests receive one-hour early entry to the rides and access to several restaurants and bars located inside the hotel, pools, kiddie pools, hot tubs, and a beautiful beach facing Lake Erie to the east. In the mornings we rode the coasters before the wind kicked up, and in the afternoons we spent time enjoying the other perks of HB. Some beach activities included jet skis and parasailing for extra cost: we took advantage of the latter.

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Beginning my 900-foot ascent

Cleveland: Our last stop. We were flying out the following morning, so we had an afternoon to visit the city.

Sites: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see. We spent five hours in the six-floor museum, watching scores of great videos of hundreds of musicians from the 1950s to the present. A musician or band must have recorded a song at least 25 years before consideration for the Hall of Fame. Five or six groups have been selected each year since the museum’s opening in 1986. Besides the videos, there is also an array of famous garments, guitars and handwritten lyrics. The travelling exhibit was dedicated to rock photographer Herb Ritts, who took many of the famous portraits of rock stars used for magazines, etc.

The Rock Hall is a well-organized museum if you proceed the correct way: but I admit that wasn’t easy. From the beginning when we couldn’t find the entrance to the parking garage from the street, to passing through the science museum to get to the Hall of Fame, to circling the lower level of the museum right to left (it was designed to be viewed left to right), the Hall could have spent a little more time on proper signage.chicahio22

Our final activity was a Cleveland Indians game that night. They were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, but I rooted for the Indians because…well, I admit, I’m worse than a fair-weather fan–with all the travelling I do I find it hard to choose allegiance to one team or another, so I just root for the home team, whoever that may be! Indians won, and we had a great time. PS – Barrio, across the street, has great late-night tacos (and tequila), if the stadium hot dogs leave something to be desired.

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Bird & butterfly sanctuary north of Chicago downtown

It’s not a true Jarvis vacation if every day isn’t jam-packed full of fun!

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Chicago

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I Failed Italy?

“Travelling opens the mind.” -Blue Is the Warmest Color

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I was on the public bus one morning while going to school and a woman yelled, ‘Mamma Mia!’ when the bus stopped suddenly and another woman fell on top of her. I smiled. I didn’t know Italians actually said that.

Itali5.1ans really do talk with their hands, too. We even learned important hand gestures in class one day. Thanks to this helpful and informative picture my friend Maddy sent me, I learned how to communicate clearly. I laughed out loud whenever my host mom Cristina made this same face and gesture.

And Italians really eat pasta with every meal, but here they do it ‘backwards’: pasta is the appetizer, and the salad is the main course.

Also the mafia still actively exists.

That was news to me.

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My host mom, Cristina, and I sat down for a talk before I left Italy.

‘I guess I failed at this semester,’ I said. ‘I’m not Italian.’

When I first arrived in Florence and began to observe the lives around me, I said to myself: ‘If, by the time I leave in December, I don’t nap in a park on warm afternoons, I don’t eat tomatoes with every meal, and walking face-first into someone still makes me cringe, then I will have failed Everyday Life in Tuscany 101.’

There were two ways to mix with the Florentine crowd: act like a local or act like a tourist. Either way you blend in with half of the population. I did both, depending on my mood, but trying to be local as often as possible. I had Italians ask me for directions on a few occasions, so that counted toward big bonus points I think. The tourist population died down by the end of October, then picked up again in early December as Christmas season began to roll around and the blissfully magical Christmas markets rolled out in Piazza Santa Croce.

5.2I waited until that break in tourism to climb the duomo and the bell tower. I stood for a long time at the top, memorizing my beloved and now-familiar city as much as possible. I was able to pick out many of the places I had frequented and explored.

I also saw the city stretching away to the northwest, beyond the Santa Maria Novella train station and the canal that runs from Piazza Liberta to Cascine Park, the area I had sadly left unexplored. I saw thousands of buildings, and treetops scattered here and there like weeds poking up between towers of windows and arches, showing where the numerous city parks were located.

5.8With only two days left in the semester, I finally ventured in that direction. I sat in a park just beyond the extent of my previous wanderings. I looked back towards the city center, the Oltrarno, Gavinana, Bagno a Ripoli, Fiesole, and all of the city which lay between these areas.

‘I need to come back,’ I said to myself. ‘I haven’t seen it all yet.’

Not being able to do everything I wanted to was perhaps the most difficult realization I had to deal with before leaving Italy.

And yet, exploring never ceases. If I’ve been in Florence four months and haven’t ‘seen it all,’ what of the tens of thousands of other cities in the world?

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So. The semester is over. Did I fail?

Well, I’m not Italian, and I never will be. If that was my goal, then yes, I flunked study abroad.

But I did nap in a park, and I eat tomatoes all the time now. Slathered in pure olive oil when possible.

Some Americans complain about our country and wish we were more like someone else’s country. I found just as many Italians who wished their country was different as well. And I have found Americans who aren’t fans of Italy and vice versa.

5.3The truth is, whether or not I would like to be Italian, or whether or not I tried to be Italian, I am American. I was born on American soil. I was raised with a certain perspective, with certain freedoms and rights, and with a certain political system. Had I been born somewhere else, I only hope I would still have the opportunity to explore other parts of the earth as I am now.

For the moment, I’m glad to be back on American soil. Today I walked around barefoot all day, I heard a sermon in English, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and the living room, I drove my truck. It’s not better, it’s just what I’m used to. This is America to me. This is where my roots find suitable soil.

That certainly doesn’t mean my travelling days are over. In fact, I have had multiple opportunities open up for the next seven months, so I have decided to keep this blog open in case anyone is curious what the Jarvite Gypsy is going to be up to, Lord willing.

Travelling is broadening perspective, learning empathy and grasping the humanity of mortal life.

Perhaps I didn’t fail too hard.

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