When I left the west

It has become a daily habit to wake up and think about where I was and what I did the previous year on the current day. Its nostalgic and at the same time awe-inspiring. Tuesday may seem mundane, but last Tuesday I was in Paris, where I lived. This reflection began early in November, when the realization struck me that it had been a year since my trip to Amsterdam, my first time leaving France for three months. That trip solidified my love for Paris (sometimes it takes leaving to realize how much you like something) and also unleashed a cascade of travel. I traveled nearly every week last November, and last year, even though I didn't leave France, I left Paris quite frequently. Waking up day after day in Tacoma, realizing how many more places I had been in the same amount of time the year before made my desire to travel even greater.

Luckily, my family chose to go to Chicago for Thanksgiving. More than a change of scenery, it offered me the chance to explore a new city and culture. I was giddy with excitement, magnified even by getting to see my good friends from Paris. Usually, I treasure going home to California for Thanksgiving because I can get some warmth back in my bones. Fortunately, travel and exploration offer another sort of revitalization. I turned in my rough draft of my thesis the night before I left, so I was eager for rest and distraction.

Off the plane and onto the train into town with only a messenger bag and camera bag (always pack light), I immediately remember how much I grew to love city life. The bumps and rattle of the train were more familiar than jarring. I met my friend Hannah downtown and it felt no different than getting off the metro and meeting her wherever in Paris. I was happy to be surrounded by lights, tall buildings, people everywhere, fast traffic. How we grow to accept.

The night was a whirlwind of reminiscing, blues, food, whisky, snow, wide-eyed observation of Chicago and new and old friends. Hannah's housemate not only became a great friend, but has a beautiful and loving two year old husky, which of course only makes things better. A fun night makes an active day hard, but the city called, my first stop being a number of art galleries. I saw fantastic colorful contemporary art, understated and elegant contemporary Chinese art  and fantastic multimedia Turkish pieces, followed by a great collection of Miro, Tissot and Klimt. One of my favorite things about cities is how they are such great centers of art, Chicago nearly defines this trend.

From there I explored the loop, marveling at the mass of skyscrapers, iron bridges, and integration of monumental sculpture by the likes of Picasso and Calder into the dense urbanity. The millenium park complex may be touristy, but its such an awesome display of public art, with Cloud Gate (the bean) and other sculptures and a theater, offering perfect space just next to the crazy downtown area.

Chicago brought another surprise, when I met my best childhood friend Josh at a bar. We hadn't seen each other in years, but our excitement and ease together was such as strong reminder that true friendships stand the test of time, regardless of Facebook interaction or not. The bar had the best deal on food in the city, a burger, fries and a pint for only eight dollars. Indulging on friendship and good food alike is a great past time.

A whirlwind of family followed, as we had dinner then with Hannah's and my own, getting to meet parents and siblings, before returning home exhausted by the busy day and wild night before. The city may have been freezing, but the warmth that comes from family and friends combats it well.

Thursday came and I took the train into the suburbs where I was to have Thanksgiving with my parents, brother and my mom's extended family. There's nothing bad to be said about family getting together in the spirit of gratitude, surrounded by good food. The beauty of Thanksgiving is in its simplicity and warmth. Its a shame black friday takes away from it.

Friday was all about the Art Institute. Number one on tripadvisor's list for Chicago, it was also what I wanted to do most. Renzo Piano's recent addition of the modern wing was such a cool building and the collection is so vast, from Ancient times to contemporary art that I was in a constant state of awe and bliss. I took issue with the organization, the building is not wholly functional for easy viewing, but at the end of the day, the vastness of the collection overshadows any problems of presentation. I'd go back in an instant.

Saturday brought a surprise, we drove to Madison to see my "grandma" who I haven't seen for over a year, which is a travesty. For some family, 6 hours in a car is worth it. We got to wander around campus and downtown. I love going to huge universities, seeing how different (and worse?) they are from the liberal arts campus that I am accustomed to. We did hike in the University Arboretum, full of snowy trails, fall leaves and birch trees, a treat that my school could never have. We of course didn't have enough time, as we headed back that night, but any time with a loved one is better than none.

We left the suburbs and my mom's family for good Sunday morning, and little brother and I got to explore by ourselves. It was good to kick it with him. He just started school and is super busy so we haven't been in good touch. We traveled for a month over the summer, so Chicago was another to add to our conquistador list scattered across Europe.

The end came too quickly, but in came in a great way. All week I had been indulging in Intelligentsia coffee, a local roaster known as the best. Their beans were great and their preparation immaculate. But Sunday evening I got to branch out. I had been exploring the known hipster neighborhood Wicker Park and had nearly succumbed to the cold when a cool looking coffee shop caught my eye. The Wormhole Cafe, serving Halfwit coffee was a winner. Beard, fancy clothes, beanies, cool glasses, eclectic music, every type of seating imaginable in a warm atmosphere supplemented the perfect Americano. I stayed for two hours and read my French book, savoring every moment, every sensation.

All of a sudden the comfort of the coffee shop was abandoned, and I went train, security line, plane, Washington. Abrupt endings, like goodbyes that aren't drawn out are good. ripping off the band-aid leaves memories only of the good times and not near ending feelings of missing and remorse. Hannah and I said a quick goodbye, like we would see each other again tomorrow. No big deal. I'll see friends again, I'll be back in Chicago again.

Three weeks rest between the end of Thanksgiving break and the beginning of Winter break. They are hectic and packed with school, social events, and the never-ending training for next year's race season. Good thing Chicago revitalized

Downtown Chicago from Old Town
Chicago and the River
Chinese Scholar Rocks At Art Institute Chicago
Frank Llyod Wright
Wisconsin Madison Capital
Cloud Gate in Millennium Park
Wisconsin Woods
Walking in the Wisconsin Woods

me in every sense.