Places In Europe That Felt Like Portals to New Universes

Written by Swati

I am fully in the thrall of finals, but I wanted to get a quick light hearted post up about some of the highlights of my travels. This is a highly condensed list, but they’re the ones that’ll hold the brightest lights in my heart.

  1. Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s anything you’ve learned about me the past few months, it’s that I r e a d. And when I have the time and mental energy for it, I write. Going to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh was a particularly special experience for me because it felt like I had stepped back into time, and walked alongside some of Scotland’s most notable writers. Literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverley, and Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. Each of them had a floor dedicated to their lives and work, and personally, I connected the most to Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a sickly child, but learned the importance of travel and widening your perspective from a young age. Much of his life’s memorabilia centered around a love of travel and desire to see more and experience more. Edinburgh as a whole is a beautiful literary city paying homage to Sir Walter Scott through their train station and the Scott monument. And I’ve never found a place that settled so quickly into my bones.

  1. Venezia, Italy

When I was a child, my mom would say the only way to keep me put in a single place was a body of water. I was a pretty tireless child, switching hobbies like changing outfits and belting songs on my bed that could be heard from a floor away. The only magic that kept my attention long enough to stay still was moving water. And Venice was pure magic. I wrote in a previous blog post that Venice must be God’s favorite place. I still feel that way, the whole city feels like a dream sequence. I went the day after Carnival ended, so I got the added effect of empty cobblestone streets and uncrowded ferries. Bonus points go to the two nearby islands, Murano and Burano, chock full of colorful houses and beautiful craftsmanship in the form of molten glass and lace. 

  1. The First Floor of the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris

I’m not sure if I gave Paris the real love it deserved this semester. My weekend there was very fragmented and in the hustle-bustle of group travel, I didn’t have a chance to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would’ve liked. Paris is an acquired taste, but the Shakespeare and Company bookstore saved the trip. Everything about the store is the living heart of a writer. The shopkeepers are very strict with photography and demand respect, but I burned every moment into my brain. Gentle piano strokes dance in through the doorway of the first floor. I felt myself at every age. 7 and digging through the “big-kid shelves” at my local libraries, 12 and leafing through ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway, 17 and cozying up in a corner with my journal in hand, 21 and gingerly tracing the antique typewriter in the side room. If there’s anywhere in Paris that’s pure magic it’s the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 

  1. Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy

This might be cheating because 2 separate cities in Italy are on the list, but what can I say? It’s a country worth making movies about. Every inch has its charm. But Menaggio was a quiet lakeside town, tucked away north of Lake Como. The people have the brightest smiles and shopkeepers tuck sprigs of lavender in the corners of windows and spritz perfume by the entrances. In Menaggio I skipped rocks, collected seashells, went perfume shopping, and skipped through the streets with a gelato in hand. Menaggio is summer “city-fied.” If there’s one feeling I hope everyone feels, it’s complete and total peace and contentment the way I felt it in Menaggio. I also ran into a group of teachers on a reunion for their study abroad a few years prior who encouraged me to adventure far and wide. It’s the only way the heart stays young and the soul grows old. 

  1. Interlaken, Switzerland

I stand by my judgment that Switzerland is a fake country. The water is fake, the Alps are fake, the cheese is fake, the chocolate is fake, everything about it feels straight out of a simulation. Straight dream life, too perfect to be real. But Interlaken is a treasure. Look up and see the Alps, look down and see the emerald water of Lake Thun. The flowers are otherworldly, the water is diamonds on ice, the trees silk leaves, the pages of books coated in gold, the whole country effervesces. 

Special Mention: London, United Kingdom

You know I had to do it. The different entities within the United Kingdom have just stolen my heart whole, but London is in a league of its own. Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own unique charm, but something about London will stay with me for the rest of my life. The city felt like something I’ve always known, somewhere I’ve always been ready to be, I sent messages back to friends telling them I’d finally found somewhere I’d never leave. Not many loved London the way I did, but that’s the beauty of travel, you run into the things you need the very most right when you need them and you find the things you never knew you were looking for.

Scotland, Solo Trips, and Second Top Spotify Artists (Oh, My!)

Written by Swati

February 1st, 2023

Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? The question I needed to answer for myself this week: If you’re alone, are you ever really lonely? Recently I’ve fallen in love with traveling alone and witnessing the world for the first time. While there were times I wished I had a companion in particularly closed off, unwelcoming areas in Paris, at the end of every road I look back with nothing but crazy admiration for this body and mind of mine. While solo travel isn’t for everyone, and reasonably so, I’ve always been a limit tester. It’s the reason I studied abroad in the first place. And there’s always been a desire at the bottom of my heart to adventure alone. The sheer freedom and ability to go anywhere, anytime, do anything, to turn around and strike up a conversation with people from different corners of the world felt unparalleled. Now that I’m beginning my 20’s, I’m teaching myself to be more independent and selfish with my time and energy. This is the only decade I feel like I’ll truly be able to live for myself, by myself. At the end of this experience I want to see myself as inherently capable of anything, someone who can tackle any problem with confidence knowing I’ve navigated situations in foreign countries and had the types of adventures that people write movies about. 

While the goal of this trip was to see keshi, one of my favorite artists (top 2 on my Spotify wrapped, second only to a very intense phase I had in early 2022 with Mandopop artist, Eric Chou) The main reason the trip was non-negotiable in my eyes was the fact that my mom deems Scotland her favorite place in the world. It’s high praise coming from the homebody of my household, and I just had to see what made the city shine so bright in her eyes. And as soon as I got there, I knew. The people are kinder, the air is warmer, the sky is clearer, the water feels softer, the sun shines brighter. Scots are truly a warm and cheery bunch, the ones that remind you that life is gentle and kind. And they open their arms to the weariest of travelers, visitors who seek refuge from their abysmal, monotonous lives. In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, I felt safe, I felt comfortable, and I felt unstoppable.

I’ve always considered myself a bright and outgoing person, but after arriving in France I found myself suddenly fearful of the European eye. There’s something that makes you want to shrink under the microscope of mispronounced words and unfamiliar social cues. I talked softer, gestured more, and walked straight ahead without meeting strangers’ eyes. But in Scotland, I felt the smile come back into my eyes. I met perfect strangers who became costars in the Scottish movie that was being written before my eyes, and I’ll always look back on them with such fondness. Ryosuke, a 3rd year Japanese Computer Science student from the University of Tokyo who was on a year exchange at the University of Glasgow, gave me a little tour of the campus after a chance encounter at the Hunterian museum and let me sit in on his Information Retrieval class. Then we wandered through more exhibits at nearby museums before he walked me to the subway station with a list of Glaswegian recommendations. Seungah, a Korean international student studying Graphic Design, and Safiya, a Glasgow native of Pakistani descent and recent graduate of the University of Glasgow, two girls who stood behind me in line at the keshi concert, quickly became good friends within just an hour of meeting. We grabbed post-concert fish and chips at midnight and got Korean food for lunch the next day. Being in college and having the opportunity to venture out and meet others of the same age with similar goals is such an incredibly unique experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

If you asked me to sing the praises of Scotland, I would all day long. But at the end of the day, this trip taught me to take chances. I had researched, read, and checked all the boxes to make sure I’d be safe, but at the end of the day I left it up to fate to see how this trip would go. And I realized that life gives you some crazy opportunities if you’re bold enough to take them. And I’ll spend my whole lifetime chasing the feeling that this trip gave me. Scotland is truly where the soul grows and glows, and this trip couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it to.