I swerved off the bike path. I needed a moment—not to catch my breath, but to gaze at the streaks of pink and orange sunset behind crooked canal house silhouettes, reflections wavering in the water. I could have sat there on my bike forever, losing myself in Amsterdam’s beauty.
The water lapped at the rocks beneath my feet. Boats teeter-tottered, covered by every shade of blue tarps, masts furled and steady. The wind gently dusted orange leaves off the tree branches above my head. A trio of children and their mother made their way to the edge of the lake. Ducks gathered as the youngest one generously threw them pieces of his chocolate wafer. They snapped them up, beady eyes bright with hunger and curiosity as they wandered closer and closer. A female duck eyed my bag of popcorn. So did the mother—that is, the human mother—expecting me to give up my food for her children’s entertainment. I sighed and tossed the remaining crumbs on the ground. Birds began to circle overhead. The kids laughed and danced among the ducks.
Mt. Pilatus, Switzerland
After a 35 minute cogwheel ride up 2,128 meters in the Bernese Alps, I saw the Earth like I had never seen before. Low clouds hugged the jagged mountain tops of the Swiss Alps. The lake, a blue sheen, containing a multitude of skies. Fast moving mist continuously covered and revealed green hills and valleys. For the first time I understood the photos astronauts take when they leave the atmosphere: a perfectly green, perfectly blue, vibrantly colored Earth.
An older woman was taking selfies at the edge of the lookout. When I got close enough she asked me to take a few for her. I asked her to do the same for me. “Traveling alone?” she asked. I nodded and gave her a few instructions of where to stand. She laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I’m used to doing this for my daughter.”
I wondered if she immediately sent her photos of herself to her daughter, the same way I sent my photos to my mother.
I woke up two hours earlier than the girls in my 6-person hostel room. Though I was bleary with sleep and exhausted from the intense heat of our not air-conditioned room, I got up anyway with my destination in mind: the Berliner Dome.
It was massive. It loomed. It stunned. I marveled in quiet solitude the history steeped in those walls as light flooded the church. I listened to the hour long audio guide that took me to every corner and up the 270 steps. On the rooftop viewing platform I looked out at the city of Berlin below me in all its glory, but took out my Polaroid and snapped a photo of two sculpted angels holding up the building. That’s what I wanted to remember.
I was afraid I had been scammed. I should have verified it, I kept thinking, mentally kicking myself all the way to Karlschirche where earlier that morning I had bought a ticket impulsively for a supposed classical music concert happening that night. What if there was no concert at all?
I breathed a sigh of relief when the same blue-robed people I had bought my ticket from were at the door and guided me inside. As two giant silver balls warped our reflection above our heads, I took in the splendor and the acoustics of the church. The five-person orchestra began to play.
In an autumnally decorated cafe filled with old couples and their friends sipping tea, eating breakfast, reading their newspapers, and softly gossipping away next to the windows, I drank orange juice and nibbled at my mango mousse cake.
For the first time in what felt like forever, I was lost in a book.
Night had fallen as I rode through Vondelpark. A dog with an LED collar and no leash ran alongside his owner, faithful but playful as he swerved smartly in and out of bike traffic. I slowed down to keep pace with him, and in this darkened city filled with unfamiliar faces whizzing by on their bikes, I felt a little less alone with this dog by my side.