According to the scale, my life weighed 25 pounds. I packed literally everything I could possibly need in every potential farfetched situation. For those next two weeks, I would be living out of a small, square container. It didn’t hit me the first day or the following twelve days, but it was there when I left those four beautiful countries. It was the knowledge that comes over someone when life has changed and the future is altered. Four years have passed and I still can’t shake that feeling.
It wasn’t my first choice of people to spend two weeks in Europe with. I knew all of them, but didn’t particularly like them. Despite that, it was undeniably the best time of my life. It was such fulfilling time, that I had trouble living like I was unaffected by it. Constantly, everyday events in my life evoked memories of the trip that changed me.
After I returned, I was reunited with my severely missed cousin. We met up at the mall one rainy Sunday afternoon. She and I stopped at Starbucks for our quintessential mall-going coffees. I flashed back to the first day in Europe. We visited the London art district. Jen, Faith, Becca, Sara and I explored each of the bizarre exhibits housed in shed-like structures and took pictures as we popped our heads in a cutout of an overweight woman in a two-piece. Time escaped us and soon we started off running in the direction we were supposed to meet the whole group fifteen minutes before. Our teacher and group leader, Mr. Armstrong, gave us a stern talking to and I felt as if I was a child. You would have thought that was enough to prevent any future tardiness, but my lack of a watch proved me wrong the next two days.
Later we visited the Tower of London. While waiting to go inside, Maddy who had been annoying the whole trip so far was pooped on by a bird and later she had fish and chips shoved down her pants by Tyler. That moment made me wholeheartedly sure that karma did exist. When we entered the towers, we tired quickly. Soon everyone was craving Starbucks. Luckily for us, there was one conveniently located near the London Tower Bridge. We went in hopeful and came out disappointed. It was the first of many culture shocks we experienced while in Europe. Our Starbucks favorites were replaced with unfamiliar drink names. We dared not to order foolishly only to be frowned upon, so the dream was given up. I left London the next day with an unusual present that nobody was aware I wished for. A dapper British local passed me while talking to his friend and used the word “cheeky” in a sentence. That is all I wanted from the busy natives, and they delivered.
I missed it so much. One summer day I refused to get out of bed. It was a bright and promising day, but the weather did not match the feelings within me. I looked at the clock to see it read 1:00. I was fed up with my laziness and rose out of bed reluctantly. I took a quick shower and soon I was a different woman. I dressed in a stripped black and white shirt, darkened my eyebrows, reddened my lips, and twisted my hair into a tight bun atop my head. That day, I was not Kelsey, I refused be myself. I needed to escape reality. I faked a French accent and called myself Aimée. I looked through my pictures of Paris and wished myself back in that beautiful city.
At first I was apprehensive of my visit to Paris. People said “Paris is dirty”, “there is nothing to do in Paris”, and the first impression of the city we received was not exactly a warm welcome. Our bus drove through streets filled with scary looking faces and graffiti covered almost every building’s walls. We arrived at our hotel, and it didn’t assuage any of my valid concerns. The hotel was on the outskirts of the city; we had to walk twenty to thirty minutes on the narrow sidewalks of a bridged highway to arrive in the City of Light. But once the walk was over, I fell in love. The hype of Paris is well deserved. There is a certain magic that completely surrounded me the entire time I was there.
We were given five hours to tour the Louvre. There I saw the surprisingly tiny Mona Lisa mobbed by a crowd of about fifty people. Due to my bad sense of direction, I ended up seeing the Roman statues’ room three times and didn’t see much of anything else. When leaving the Louvre, an elderly woman looked at my short dress in disgust and muttered some seemingly hurtful words in French. I couldn’t help but laugh at her disapproval. The cultural differences were apparent. Women and men alike walked the streets of Paris as if they were a models strolling down the runway. Women wore long pants, even in the extreme summer heat. The only authentic Parisian I saw dawning a pair of short shorts was a male biker. But not all the locals were stuck up.
A group of us wandered off in a different direction to explore while the others shopped. We were starving, so we bought these French bread sandwiches from a street vender. There was no seating, so we sat on the curb in an alley filled with small boutiques. As several people passed, they smiled and wished us a “Bon Appétit.”
Our lunch was much more appetizing than our dinner. The trays were brought out of the kitchen by several waitresses. To my surprise it was pizza, in Paris. I always imagined we’d get something super classy to eat, like a tiny slice of Petit Filet Mignon on a large plate garnished with leafy greens and different colored sauces. I took an apprehensive bite and swallowed. It wasn’t bad. The spicy sausage topping was especially good, until I found out it was horse. I lost my appetite and drank copious amounts of water to fill me up instead.
The second night in Paris was by far my favorite time in France. We hiked up 300 steps to reach the highest point in Paris, where the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur is located along with several starving artists. One approached me, already eerily knowing my name. Previously, I had promised myself not to give in and allow one of them to sketch me, but this one was unrelentingly persistent. It couldn’t have taken him more than ten minutes to sketch my face in its entirety, so I was expecting a poorly drawn caricature. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with an uncanny, photograph-like drawing. I paid him what he asked for and felt as if I possessed a potential Monet-in-the-making work of art. We left the next day. If I knew what I do now, they would have had to forcefully carry me away from that city.
“We’re going to climb black rock after school on Friday,” Annemarie told me. I replied that she should count me in. I doubted we were actually going to go through with it, but Annemarie was certain that it was her “great perhaps.” We didn’t end up climbing the black shale rock that covered the side of a steep hill, but we did find an alternative route to get to the top. We crawled and ducked under pointy branches and toppled over trees and finally reached a clearing. Black rock looked over the turquoise colored water in a quarry fifty feet below. In my life, there had only been one other moment when I was on top of the world.
I sunburned that day. The notion sounded ridiculous- a Swiss sunburn. Now it made more sense, that day had been the closest I have ever been to the sun. An almost completely vertical trolley took us to the top of Mount Pilatus. There, all words had escaped me. It was an almost religious experience that I selfishly will never share with anyone fully.
A bike whizzed passed me when leaving black rock and walking the trail to get home. The breeze hit my face and I skidded to a halt to catch my fleeting breath. The scene reminded me of a familiar one a few months ago. My friend Takwan and I were walking down the streets of Munich arm in arm. We were acting foolish and singing at the top of our lungs obnoxiously. As usual, I was unaware of my surroundings as we crossed a seemingly deserted alleyway. Takwan stopped in his tracks and pulled me back with great force. I looked at him questioningly, but then I realized a biker going 40 miles per hour just flew past us with only a few inches in between him and us. I thanked him for saving my life, but he brushed it off.
In Germany, somehow I became the designated candy-grabber. This job entailed grabbing large quantities of hotel candy whenever I passed by the front desk. My most memorable attempt was when I glided out of the elevator, grabbed a handful, and stepped back inside the elevator in fifteen seconds flat. Becca was so impressed she couldn’t stifle her laughter at my unusual talent. The next day, the candy bowl was no longer put out. Coincidence? I think not.
It did not surprise me one bit that the hotel workers removed the bowl of candy. Their blank and unfriendly stares haunted me each time I came in contact with them. The hotel had a preset curfew that was strictly enforced. If we were to stay out past eleven, we’d have to sleep in the lobby. They locked all the rooms from the outside at night and closed off corridors. The employees even yelled at my friend for blow drying her hair a minute past ten pm. Even with the strict rules, we still managed to have fun.
I returned home, jetlagged yet utterly ecstatic. Instead of collapsing on my bed as soon as I got home, I called my friend Keri. I gave her a quick synopsis of my trip and then we arranged to meet so I could share my detailed stories. As I handed her a postcard from each country, I realized my time would be more meaningful if I gave a piece of it to others. Since then I’m learning to miss it less each day that passes.