Tag Archives: travel

How To Visit the Past

A long time ago, a nurse in the Dutch army met a seaman in the American Navy at an officer’s club in the Philippines. He was composed of wasn’ts: he wasn’t an officer, he wasn’t Catholic, he wasn’t going to be her husband. And yet, they dated. And yet, he proposed. And yet, she said no (due to his lack of Catholicism). And yet, he became Catholic (one of the most devout I’ve ever known). And yet, they got married. And yet, despite the wasn’ts, they lived happily ever after.

Or something like that.

I inherited many things from my grandmother. My curly hair, my short, thick, graceless fingers, my Dutch heritage, my liberalness, and this story. This is the story of how my grandmother met my grandfather, how I moved to Europe, and how, for one week, I got to revisit the past.

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The church where my grandparents were married in Joure.

 

 

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The courthouse room where my grandparents were officially married.

 

When my older sister turned 13, my grandmother took her and my two other cousins–also Dutch, also 13–to Holland. They spent a few weeks traveling as my grandmother introduced them to the place that she’d come from.

We come in sets, my cousins and I, like littermates. We’re grouped in increments, occurring every few years. Katie, Meredith, and Dennis were the first set to be taken to Holland. They were also the last. Beppe died four years later.

I grew up knowing that, one day, I’d go to Holland. I thought it’d happen with my grandmother, then later, there were talks about aunts or uncles or parents stepping in to finish the tradition that never was. Because, if there was one thing that my grandmother valued, it was the connection between her old country and her new. We always had cousins and great-aunts and family friends visiting. She hosted nieces and nephews, sent her own children to spend summers in Holland, visited at least once a year. She never moved back but she never moved away.

A year ago, I had some last-minute time-off. Almost immediately, I knew: this is it. It’s time to go to Holland.

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A bicycle for sale in Heerenveen

 

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A bicycle (not for sale) in Amsterdam

 

Things exactly one year ago were a whirlwind. I had a puente where I went to England, then I was home for two days, then I was on a train to Cadiz for carnival. And then, directly from carnival and still very much hungover, I’m on a plane to Amsterdam. I’m going to the grandmotherland.

I arrived in Amsterdam late on Sunday evening with a bit of a hangover, a bit of a cold, and a lot of exhaustion. I still hadn’t planned out all of the details of my trip.

This is where the family comes in. Number one travel suggestion for visiting Holland? Be Dutch.

My cousin Maryke has informed the clan, through the power of Facebook, that one of Sirpriana’s own grandchildren will be returning to the home country. The Dutch relatives come out in surprising force. In Amsterdam, Sjoerd and Fransizka book-end my trip: collecting me from the airport and hosting me when I first arrive and then putting me up for the remainder of my stay in the tiny house in their backyard. In Eelde, I spend a night with Maryke and meet my cousin Jesse, who I’ve heard so much about. In Joure, I stay with my Tante Ide, Maryke’s mother, who shows me the courthouse where my grandparents married, the old family farm, and also Giethoorn.

Maryke is one of the few familiar faces I know in Holland. She visited us once or twice when I was little and I remember her vividly. When I stay with her, she buys me antihistamines and a cheese slicer: the only things you need to win me over, apparently.

Tante Ide is Maryke’s mother. Maybe I’m supposed to remember her from when I’m little, I’m not sure, it was all so long ago. But before long, she becomes familiar. From the Dutch accent to the way she cuts her food, it’s like being with my grandmother again.

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Tante Ide in Giethoorn

 

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Franziska showed me around my last Saturday in Amsterdam (and Holland). We went to the Rijks, for bowls of soup, and a market where I got a leather journal, a sundress, and a bitchin’ handkerchief for less than 25 euros.

 

My grandmother, Sipriana Minnema Adams, died when I was only eleven or so. Now, at the age of 23, there are so few things I remember about her.

Mostly, I know the stories that my family tells me.

Like three weeks ago, I was at dinner with my aunts Mary and Lisa and we get to the topic of Beppe and Granddad. Aunt Lisa tells us, “Once I asked Mom, ‘why did you date Dad?’ And she told me, ‘because he fed me.’ And then I asked Dad, ‘why did you date Mom?’ And he told me, ‘because she was on time.'”

Or the one that my mother told me, about how, years and years after my grandparents had been married, my grandmother told my grandfather about a bank account she’d started when she’d first come to America, some seed money, in case this whole marriage thing didn’t work out.

The impression I get of my grandmother is that she was fearless. That she was independent and strong. She was confident. She was kind. She was punctual. She was stubborn and, probably, she was sometimes wrong but, in the end, she was usually right.

She was also a saver, hence the secret bank account. When each of her grandchildren were born, she bought us stocks. It was those stocks that I sold to finance my trip abroad.

Going abroad was hard and scary. Not that my family would’ve ever told me not to go, but let’s just say they would’ve been perfectly okay if I’d changed my mind last minute and decided to stay. So, finding the courage to get on the plane and leave was something I had to do on my own.

I thought about my grandmother, leaving Holland for a new country with a new husband and a new future that she’d probably ever imagined. And then, several years and five kids and fifteen grandkids and one happily ever after (and a flesh-eating bacteria and a bout of pancreatic cancer and a few other maladies) later, here I was. I was made possible by one adventure, committed to by two people in a courthouse in Joure, all those years ago.

So I got on the plane and I moved to Europe.

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It is my DREAM to one day live in a tiny house. Franziska let me live my dream for the weekend by setting me up on a cot in her office aka MY VERY OWN TINY HOUSE. Also, not their cat.

 

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The ceiling of the Hetsheepvaartmuseum, in Amsterdam

 

I don’t know how it took me a whole year to post about being in Holland. Even though I wouldn’t have been able to make a spur-of-the-moment trip if I hadn’t been living in Spain, my time in Holland seems separate from my time in Spain. This trip wasn’t about traveling with friends, about taking in new sights and unforgettable memories and cheap hostels and even cheaper beer.

This was something different, a connection with my past. It reminded me of being six and seeing my sister off at the airport. It reminded me of being five and picking bluebonnets and buttercups in the field behind my grandparents’ house on Sunday mornings after mass. It reminded me of the red toenail polish my grandmother fastidiously wore, it reminded me of the blue and white of her extensive collection of Delft china, it reminded me of cake on Sundays after mass. It also reminded me of my grandfather, not because he was from Holland as well, but because of how much he loved my grandmother.

If you were hoping for some step-by-step tourist guide to Holland, I apologize (though I do heartily recommend the Hetsheepvaartmuseum, the Rijksmuseum, and Hortus Botanicus!).

Sometimes I forget that I ever went to Holland and I guess I just wanted to remind myself of the reasons I went, and the reasons it meant so much to me. And also, for the future.

I never would’ve had Spain or Italy or carnival any of it, if I hadn’t gotten on that plane. And I never would’ve gotten on that plane if it wasn’t for my grandparents. So let this serve as a reminder to myself in the future: get on the plane, marry the foreigner, move to a new country, be independent and stubborn and kind. Because fortune favors the bold and adventure always follows when you’re willing to take the risk.

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How to Adventure in an Accidental Manner

I chose the name Accidental Adventurer for the blog shortly after my college graduation, when the inevitable stream of questions started up.

“So what now?”

“I’m headed to camp to work as a horse wrangler for the summer and in the fall I move to Spain.”

“Have you ever worked with horses before?”

“No.”

“Do you speak Spanish?”

“No.”

The next question is easy to guess: how did you get from where you are to where you’re going? And the answer: purely by accident.

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The upside to always traveling (besides the fact that you’re always traveling) is that you make friends everywhere. So when I needed a place to stay in Portland for the night, I hit up a friend from Spain who’s from the area who texted her friend who let me crash on their living room floor and wake up to this view.

As a kid, I always knew I wanted to travel, I just figured it’d be a little more planned out: I thought I’d spend months saving and counting down days and then I’d go for maybe a weekend and then come home to my normal life.

I never planned on moving to Spain (as evidenced by the fact that I promptly forgot all of my high school Spanish before I’d even finished with the class). Before I’d landed up in Spain, I’d been in the process of applying for the Peace Corps, planning to be placed in some African country where I could put my years of college French to practice. And then, seemingly by accident and with no planning at all, I was headed to Spain.

A year later, I came back, torn between wanting things to be normal and not knowing what that even looked like. After a month in Texas, for lack of anything better to do, I moved out to California. And four months later, for lack of anywhere better to go, I’m moving back to Texas.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

“But what are you going to do when you get back?”

Hell if I know. But, like the time that my aunt and I went through the usual post-grad script and I explained my plans and she asked me the follow-up questions and then snorted and said, “So how are you going to do this?” (this being ride horses and speak Spanish), and I said, “I don’t know, I’ll figure it out I guess,” I guess I’m just gonna figure out what happens next.

I never planned these adventures, not the way I imagined as a kid when I thought I would have more than a few months or weeks to process my spur-of-the-moment decision (“I want to go to Montana.” “I’m moving to Spain.” “I’d like to be a horse wrangler.” “I need to quit my job.”) but they happened and, despite the outcome, good or bad, I’ve got to figure it out.

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The road north.

One of the good things that has come out of my sudden decision to depart from California was my equally sudden and equally emphatic decision to spend a week in the north before I relocate to the South. Moments are I realized, “I have to quit my job,” I realized, “I’m going to go to Seattle.”

So here I am, on the floor of my college friend Caraline’s room, day 1 of a week long adventure that is entirely accidental. And in a week, a drive back to Texas. And then a week after that, a move to Dallas. And then a week later or maybe two or maybe ten, another plan and another adventure.

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See you in Seattle!

If you’d like to follow along with the adventure in progress, be sure to check out the old Insta, lapetitemadelyne, or any of my other forms of social media, links to which can be found on the Contact page.

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How to Settle

I’m not good at dating. I’m impatient and I’m bad at bullshit. If I had things my way, I’d skip straight past infatuation and dive right into the staying-home-in-sweatpants stage of the relationship. I want to settle.

The key word is want. I want to settle, but I’m just not sure I’m made for it.

I’m on the road again and it makes me feel like myself for the first time in months. Traveling is my drug and I never want to give it up.

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

#drinkingourwaytoDenver begins at Sierra Nevada Brewery

I’d like to formally apologize for the seeming rootlessness of my life as documented via Instagram and Facebook. I do have a job and a home (of sorts) and sometimes responsibilities. It’s just that sometimes those responsibilities involve forsaking all other responsibilities in the name of travel.

On Thursday last, I and a boy band from Colorado took the world’s smallest commercial airplane from San Francisco to Chico, CA where Kristen collected me from Chico’s one-room airport and we headed straight for the Sierra Nevada Brewery to brainstorm possible road trip hashtags. #DrinkingourwaytoDenver was born over a brewery tour and the fact that we both enjoy a nice adult beverage (or two or three or five) at the end of a day.

On Friday, after ignoring several alarms and one shattered rear window later (Papa Dufour’s, not our’s), we hit the road. Some highlights of the long drive through NorCal, Nevada, and a portion of Utah include history lessons (Louisiana was purchased from France and the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio), chats about nipples, and some very enthusiastic singing of the ‘America the Beautiful’ at the sight of some purple mountains majesty.

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Those are some real, live purple mountains majesty. Ignore the fact that this picture seems to be taken out the driver’s side window while moving at high speeds.

By Friday night, we were in Park City, UT at Kristen’s uncle’s house. On a whim, I texted a friend from Montana who I knew spent winters in Utah working for Deer Valley. In a surprise turn of events, even though it was out of season, she was living there and we met Saturday morning for breakfast.

Later, as Kris drove me to the airport in Denver, I reflected on how grateful I was to have friends who travel. It’d been two years since I’d last seen Mel but it was like I’d only left Montana the day before (which sometimes it still feels like). In high school or college, you have friends based on proximity–class, extracurriculars, history–but as you get older and get to choose who you keep in your life and who you lose touch with, you realize that distance is irrelevant. If it’s meant to last, it’ll last. So seeing Mel, who from her tattoos to her kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude, inspired me all summer, after two years with all of my new tattoos and kick ass, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools attitude I’ve been slowly and surely developing felt like coming full circle.

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Hiking on a mountain in Utah. “Are these aspens?” “I don’t know but I still have reception; why don’t we look it up?” Conclusion: these are, in fact, aspens. 

If you didn’t know, I’m casually afraid of heights. I quantify my fear with ‘casually’ because it’s not something that gets brought up within the first five minutes (or sometimes the first five years) within meeting me. It’s something that I myself often forget, right up until I’m standing at the top of a turf-covered hill in shorts and sawed-off skis with my PE teacher holding a fire hose shouting, “Just go already!” And then I think, “Oh, right, I HATE heights.”

So as Kristen and I get on the ski lift to take us to the top of the mountain for our hike on Saturday, I mention, oh so casually, “By the way, I hate heights.”

What this really means is that she has to start talking me through the whole getting-off-the-lift process five minutes before we arrive because it bears repeating (“What do you mean I just stand up? What if I can’t? What do you mean I just walk off? What if I don’t? What if it knocks me over? What if I stand up too soon? What if I die?”) and it takes some convincing to get me to let go of the bar so that we can raise it in preparation for our descent.

And Kristen, the sweetheart, doesn’t even tell me to shut up (as I totally would’ve if I was in her situation) when, as she tries to convince me that the ski lift will slow down for me to step off the ski lift without having to jump and roll, as one would exit a moving vehicle, the ski lift fails to slow down and I start to, with a slowly increasing volume insist, “It’s not slowing down, Kristen, it’s not going to slow down. Kristen, it’s not slowing down. Oh God, Kristen, look, it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t going to slow down.”

Spoiler alert: it does slow down, we get off, the ski lift operator keeps from laughing until we’ve safely exited the platform, and then Kristen and I hike back down the mountain.

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Utah, Ualright. (See what I did there?!)

Over breakfast, Mel casually mentions that she has an extra room in her house for rent and she’d love to recommend me for a job at the resort where she works in the winters. Her offer sticks in my mind all through our hike, all along the drive through the rest of Utah and into Denver, on my flight to Texas, as I’m sitting here in my hometown’s public library writing this blog post.

And why shouldn’t I give up five months of my life to live in Utah and figure out how to function in snow? I stayed home from another year teaching abroad to give this whole “settling down” thing a try and, so far, it’s limped along with mixed reviews.

But–as when I wrapped up a summer in Montana, as when I contemplated a nannying gig in Italy or seven months teaching in France–I have to wonder where does it stop? If I keep saying yes to five months here and a summer there and another seven months somewhere new, at what point do I say no? Because when it’s Montana, Utah, France, Hawaii, why would I want to say no?

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“Do you ever think about cloud shadows and just how dang neat they are?” -an actual question asked by an actual person, i.e. me, quoted verbatim

I think, maybe like dating, I’m just not built for settling down. Some people are doctors and some are lawyers and some live in houses and some live out of their parents’ guest bedrooms in the middle months between seasonal jobs.

Maybe I’m asking for now, maybe I’m asking for future reference, but how do people do it? How do they settle? How do they silence that voice inside of them telling them that the next adventure is over that mountain, waiting in line with the taxis at a new airport, at the bottom of just one more beer at the next bar in an unexplored city’s downtown?

Because society needs travelers just as much as they need doctors and lawyers. Okay, maybe not just as much, but still, they’re pretty important. You need people to explore and to ask questions and to push boundaries and to boldly go where no human has gone before.

So maybe this is my part in the universe? Maybe this aversion to standing still is my lot in life and my cosmic purpose and all that jazz. Or maybe I’ll settle down tomorrow. Everything is uncertain but any and all suggestions and advice would be fully appreciated, from travelers and settlers alike.

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Cheers to the end of the road!

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Jefferson Memorial

It’s been over two months since Italy, a month since Iceland, and almost a year since I sat in this exact same room, in this exact same bed, in this exact same house, puzzling over how to make sense of new beginnings.

After school ended back in May, I walked out of Cura Valera for the last time and straight to the bus station. My principal Laura, the same one who’d picked me up from the bus station nine months earlier, was the same one who dropped me off. Once I got to Almeria I took my last taxi to 26 Paseo de Almeria and let myself in with the key under the mat. That’s when it hit me: this is it. No more Ex-Pat Thanksgiving, no more rounds of King’s Cup, no more tapas at Bambalina or Coke & Hope Floats (or was it Hope & Coke Floats?) on Sunday nights. I had twelve hours to say goodbye so I put my luggage down, pushed aside my early-onset homesickness, and forged out into the night. And at 9 AM the next morning, after two rounds of discotecas and a sunrise skinny dip in the Mediterranean, I boarded my last ALSA bus and began the journey home.

Fast forward three flights, two countries, four time zones, and one week later and I’m back on American soil. After a long metro ride with someone I can only assume was my future self (my future self told me I’m going to marry a Navy man and have three boys) I scarfed down some REAL AMERICAN PIZZA WITH RANCH AND A DR. PEPPER and crashed mega-hard (I say things like mega-hard now that I’m back in the US). In the morning, because I’m still in traveler-mode, I get up at 8, lace up my Chacos and hit the streets.

This is my sixth time in DC.  It strikes me with particular poignancy (or maybe this is just the jet lag) that my time in DC has come full circle. Once, six or seven years ago, I left home for the first time to spend nearly a month in DC. My first week was spent hiding in a basement, terrified of my own shadow, let alone those cast by some of the buildings. And then one day the Downeys took me to these botanical gardens in Virginia with a greenhouse full of lily pads bigger than my entire body. And just like that, I fell in love with adventuring and I fell in love with DC.

One day, I walked the monuments, from the capitol all the way down to Lincoln. I sat on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to kids recite “I Have a Dream” in childish unison and felt my feet hanging dozens of feet above the ground but felt surprisingly rooted in the magnitude of history and my place in it. And then, with one last monument to visit, I took a right instead of a left and landed up in Foggy Bottom and GWU rather than the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Each time I’ve come back, I’ve tried to squeeze it into my schedule and failed each time.

So, three more trips, six years, and so many countries, I’ve finally made it to the Jefferson Memorial. And I’ve been walking all morning trying to make sense of things and this is what I’ve got: some things take years to get to. Forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, a surprisingly illusive monument.

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Some things take years to get to. At the Jefferson Memorial (FINALLY!).

When my dad was twenty, he and a buddy took a road trip out to California. Ever since I turned 18, I have been begging and planning and dreaming of the day when I would finally make what, to me, amounted to my coming-of-age pilgrimage to the Golden State. And tomorrow that pilgrimage begins; some things just take years to get to.

But I’ve come of age. I moved to Spain and I spent a week in Iceland and I finally saw the damn Jefferson Memorial (in real life, not just stills from Scandal). Why am I going? What am I going to do? How long am I going to be gone? All questions I’m looking forward to learning the answers to. I didn’t go looking for this adventure, I just kind of stumbled upon it by accident.

Back in May, I was sitting on a beach in Cabo de Gata with some friends on one of our last weekends together before our bus back to Almeria and I had to fight to keep from screaming, “BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” I didn’t expect the answer to be Texas. I also didn’t expect the answer to be California. I don’t think that the answer is France (for now).

So by Saturday I’ll be the newest resident of San Francisco where I’ll be somewhat of a nanny, sort of a housekeeper, maybe an employee of a software company. I didn’t say anything sooner because I didn’t want to jinx it; not even 48 hours before I received the offer to move to California, I had just finished accepting an offer from the College Station Parks & Rec department to teach swimming lessons. My month back in Texas hasn’t gone slowly and now, without even planning for it, I’m leaving again.

Back in Spain, I wondered what would happen to The Accidental Adventurer. Not surprisingly, she’s accidentally stumbled upon another adventure. Tomorrow, I move to California.

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Home is wherever I’m with you. At Houston Intercontinental Airport. 

Once when I was in college, on a school night, I drove down to Austin for a concert. At the concert, I stood so close to the speakers that the bass moved through me, shaking down my collar bones and shimmying up my spine until I couldn’t tell where my heartbeat ended and the music began. This past month, I’ve been driving all over Texas, from Shiner to Fort Worth and all around the hill country. And everywhere I go, I get the same breathless, lost-my-heartbeat feeling. And then I see it: my heartbeat, in the hills and the trees and the sunsets and the highways and the rivers and the weddings and the reunions and the families and the friends. How am I supposed to leave this? How am I supposed to leave the place that makes my heart beat?

I don’t have the answer to that one either. I just know that coming home wasn’t as hard as I expected. I just know that today I picked up my Heart of Texas charm from James Avery, freshly polished for new adventures. I just know that tomorrow a new adventure begins and I’m just as prepared for it as I was almost one year ago, when I sat in this same spot preparing to go to Spain.

It’s been a hell of a year, hasn’t it?

 

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A Special Set of Skills

I’ve been applying for a whole slew of jobs lately, particularly in the field of hospitality and customer service. While my actual work experience is rather limited, I’m playing up other skills, like my success in completely random and unrelated fields (pottery painting, horse wrangling, whitewater rafting), my dubious Spanish skills, and things I’ve learned from this past year. Somewhere after “functional-ish Spanish” and “traveling hungover,” is the skill of flexibility.

On no trip was my flexibility tested more than my time in Italy. Here is a short list of setbacks that required flexibility whilst journeying across the Italian countryside:

1. That time my flight got canceled three days before I was supposed to leave.

2. That time I had to book a new flight and bump up my departure time, giving me 24 hours to pack, give notice at work, and get ready for a week in Italy.

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This is what last-minute packing looks like.

3. That time that I got all the way to Malaga and found an email from EasyJet that basically said, “JK, original flight back on. All that drama from the last 24 hrs? It was for naught.”

4. That time I had to beg EasyJet at 6 AM to let me on the plane.

5. That time that Laurel and I arrived in Milan and got lost right out of the gate because we spoke no Italian.

6. The time immediately following that when we bought the wrong train tickets in an effort to get to Como.

7. That time that Laurel and I successfully made it to Saronno, transfer to a new train for the last leg of the journey to Como, take that train all the way to the end of the line, find out that its not the right train, head back to Saronno and try again.

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Oh hello, Saronno train station, you look familiar!

8. After getting on the right train, finding the water taxi, spending too much on the water taxi, getting to Menaggio, Laur and I read the sign pointing towards the hostel, then walked in the opposite direction for twenty minutes.

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The expensive, but worthwhile, water taxi.

9. That time that we hiked several hours up a mountain and to a waterfall and then got lost on the way back down.

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The waterfall in Val Sangra. Worth it? The near-heart attack given by the sight of the world’s largest cows that live in this part of the mountains might beg to differ.

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Ehh. In Val Sanagra.

10. When there was a train strike (naturally) and we couldn’t make it to Venice.

This is what cancelling your trip to Venice looks like: sailing on Lake Como with new friends from Australia.

This is what cancelling your trip to Venice looks like: sailing on Lake Como with new friends from Australia.

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SAIL.

11. Even though it didn’t happen to me, that time that Christina missed her flight out of Barcelona, booked a new flight to Milan, couldn’t catch a train to Como because of the strike, got on a bus that left her at the Swiss border, and joined us for a brief 24-hour stint in Menaggio.

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Reunited and it feels so gooooooood.

12. When the train strike ended, we cut Venice from our trip itinerary, and made it to Milan, we bought the wrong train tickets and made it to the right train to Cinque Terre with a few minutes to spare.

13. That time we got lost in Vernazza, an Italian town with exactly one road, and couldn’t find our lodging because we couldn’t find a street sign.

Vernazza

Vernazza

14. That time Christina wanted to wear her hiking boots with her sundress and Laurel and I outvoted her and then we ended up hiking for an hour and a half.

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I see Italian trail markers every time I close my eyes.

15. Whilst hiking the trails connecting the cities of Cinque Terre, we were finally coming down from the mountain that we had to climb to get to Manarola and came to a fork in the road. Naturally, we took the path that led us along the cliff with no handrail.

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Quick, 2-hour accidental hike. Corniglia in the distance

 

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Manarola, as viewed from the edge of a cliff.

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The end of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore

16. The time when, taking the train back from Riomaggiore, we didn’t buy tickets since we hadn’t had our tickets checked the entire time we’d been in Italy, and this happened to be the one train where they were checking tickets. We were also on the wrong train.

17. The time that I packed only skirts and dresses (and one pair of pants) for a week in Italy and then it was rainy and miserable the three days we spent in Rome.

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The colosseum is smaller than expected #secfootballproblems

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The most breathtaking landmark I’ve seen to date.

With the year wrapping up, my fellow ex-pats and I are making plans for the future. The majority are coming back for a second year in Spain, while others are pursuing new paths back in the States. For them, Spain helped them figure out what kind of career they want and what they want to do with their lives. Me, I’m still trying to sort out my emotions from New Year’s.

But one thing I have figured out is this: I want to work for a company whose creativity and passion matches my own. One thing that my scattered work experience has in common is that I’m at my best when I’m being challenged.

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Saturday market in Como

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Watermelon bike in Florence

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Lemon tree in the mountains that run along the Mediterranean

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Ruins in Val Sanagra

I was watching Charlie Day’s commencement address this morning and, if anything, it resonates more with me a year out from college than it would’ve a year ago. Because when you’re sitting in an auditorium in a funny hat and gown, anything seems possible. The future is a big uncertain thing and you don’t know what the next adventure holds.

Well, I’ve made it through the next adventure after college. Sometimes, it felt like a continuation of college. Sometimes, it felt like I was just born and living for the first time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m back in that auditorium wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

So I’m staying flexible. I’m taking a bus to Switzerland and skipping Venice and hiding in a bathroom from the man who’s come to check my non-existent ticket. I’m applying for any and everything and I’m refusing to settle for a job, a career, a new life in a new city, that doesn’t excite or impress or inspire me. I’m terrified, but I’m going with it.

“You do not have to be fearless, just don’t let fear stop you.” –Charlie Day’s Merrimack College Commencement Address

 

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The Last Month

If you’ve noticed a lack of silence around The Accidental Adventurer, that would be because I’m trying to break some non-existent record (that only exists in my head, like many of my travel games, apparently) by traveling for the last 9 weekends straight (in backwards-chronological order: Almeria, Cabo de Gata, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Lake Como, Almeria, Granada). The blog posts have been piling up and I still haven’t even finished my damn post about the trip to the (grand)motherland (aka Holland) that occurred back in February and has been hiding in my drafts folder for the last few months.

So, in an effort to procrastinate even more, I thought I’d pull together a list of things that, with only a month left to go, I’m just now realizing.

1. I’m a competitive traveler.

This was brought to my attention whilst abroad in Italy, specifically Rome. I like to think of myself a student of crowd dynamics: it’s all about reading the bodies, seeing a break in the crowd, and going for it. When I get into a metro station or historical monument, I don’t dilly-dally. It’s a get-in, get-out mentality and I’m blazing a path that all others in my party must scurry to keep up with (sorry Christina and Collin). In my mind, I’m racing (against myself? Who else is playing this game, Madelyne?) to make it through the crowded situation as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Another explanation besides OIC (Obsessive Internal Competitiveness; don’t look it up, I just coined it), could be the fact that I’ve got a bubble and I like to keep it intact. Fun fact: having a bubble is how I avoided getting pickpocketed on a metro in Rome (um, why are you standing so close to me? Oh, it’s because your hand’s in my purse? That makes sense.)

Another game I like to play when traveling is called Get Me the Heck Out of This Security Line Without Any Hangups. Hangups include: forgetting to take off belts, being told you can go through with your shoes on but then going through with your shoes on and setting off the detector and having to go back through and take off your shoes, forgetting to wear a tight enough shirt so that the security guards can visibly see that you’re not hiding anything under your shirt and therefore can refrain from doing the awkward credit-card-swipe-between-your-boobs thing.

2. My couch is more comfortable than my bed. 

Figured this one out when my friend since forever, Luke, came to visit and I “selflessly” gave up my bed for the few days that we spent in Huercal. Score one for manners!

We're pretty much an old married couple.

We’re pretty much an old married couple.

3. My TV does speak English!

Also a realization from the Visit of Luke. Whilst trying to find the Bayern-Real Madrid match on the telly, I got distracted, as I do every time I turn on my television here in Spain (a thing that’s only happened a handful of times since I moved in), with trying to switch the language to English. And this time it worked! So Luke and I chowed down on burrito bowls and watched terrible celebrity news about the richest babies and a really bad Charlize Theron movie and I fell asleep on my mega-comfortable couch and it was all so American I could’ve cried.

4. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore.

I was walking to school sometime in early May when it hit me.

I remember the first day I arrived here. Saying I was cautiously optimistic would’ve been a stretch; I was convinced that this was going to be the biggest mistake of my life to date and I would have to just grit my teeth and suffer through the next 8 months. I had a survival strategy: drown myself in Friends episodes, write copious amounts, and travel to Almeria to see my friends on the weekends every chance I got. And that’s actually pretty much how it went down. But, also, it became my home.

When I first arrived, everything was a Big Deal. Going to the supermarket for the first time left me soaked in sweat, for the first month I had to force myself to make my daily visit to the bank to try and sort out my bank account yet again, and every so often I’d reward myself with a walk to the British goods store and a Dr. Pepper: I’d run these errands then I’d scamper home and stay there until it was time to work.

And now, it’s not. I know people, I know places, I know words in Spanish necessary for communicating. Spain doesn’t scare me anymore. It’s going home that’s got me terrified.

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Things that don’t scare me: Spain. Things that do scare me: a two foot drop and a three foot gap between my toes and this boat. In Barcelona.

5. I’m good at simple.

I figured this one out a little over a month ago, when I was packing for Italy. One week spent on trains, planes, and automobiles starting in Milan and working our way down to Rome, and I’d crammed all of my necessities into a smaller-than-necessary backpacking backpack. Much credit is due to H&M’s pañuelo-sized tank tops, but more credit is due to my winter break training when I made it through 2 weeks and 2 major holidays in 2 different countries with a slightly-bigger-than-said-smaller-than-necessary-backpacking-backpack-but-still-impressively-restrained suitcase. One pair of pants, no jacket, and too many skirts meant I was often ill equipped for the springtime weather but not throwing out my back with a child-sized backpack that also doubles an effective weapon and shield (ahem, Laurel) (broma, Laurel, I actually really want to make the Purple Beast my own).

But this has spilled over into other areas of my life. I can sleep on almost any surface you give me, I can stay up at a disco until 5 and I can wake up at 7 to catch a train, I can survive a weekend in Barcelona with a pair of shorts, two skirts, and a tank top (not that I did, I’m just trying to prove a point).

And it’s freeing (not just because I’m confidently striding ten feet ahead while Laurel is crushed under the weight of the Purple Beast). Less money spent on clothes and extravagances like a bed (because I really should’ve just been sleeping on my couch the whole summer) mean more money spent on the important things, like plane tickets and beer and books.

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Simplicity personified

6. This is the end. 

With one week to go, I’m finally starting to realize what this all means. Hint: it means that I’m leaving in a week.

As in, no more Spain. As in, no more weekend trips to Almeria. As in, no more puentes in Barcelona. As in, no more cheap RyanAir flights to Dublin. As in, no more binge shopping at H&M.

When we were hiking in Italy, Christina (or was it Laurel), asked the other two of us what we were going to say when we got back to the States and people asked about our time abroad. I had a dialogue ready in my head.

Well-Meaning Person: So, Madelyne, what’s changed since you’ve been back?

Madelyne: [Gaze off into the sunset dramatically. Whisper:] Everything.

Well-Meaning Person: [naively chuckles] What’s that supposed to-

Madelyne: EVERYTHING.

It has. It has changed everything. It’s changed the way I talk, the way I think, the way I cook, the way I dress, the way I look, the way I walk, the way I feel. Everything.

There’s really no good way to end this post because there’s really no good way to end this year. I’m gonna shoot for going out with grace and dignity but will DEFINITELY fall short of the way. In the mean time, I leave you with this picture of a Spanish sunset and the promise of tears.

Sunsets in Almeria

Sunsets in Almeria

 

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Ex-Pat Games

In honor of my flight to Italy being cancelled THREE DAYS before I was supposed to leave, while I’m scrambling to find some travel alternatives, I thought I’d enlighten you on some games that us young ex-pats like to play whilst abroad.

How Can I Get There for Very Cheap Game

Objectives: Get there for very cheap.

Rules: Pay little to no money.

Directions: Employ every method you have in your arsenal: Skyscanner.com, Hostels.com, Alsa, BlahBlahCar, basic human interaction. Fly Ryanair. Buy a suitcase that fits their stringent luggage requirements, then load that baby down and take it everywhere. Speak the language when necessary, play the mute card when necessary.

Be flexible. The cheapest flights are usually the ones that no one wants, i.e. early in the morning, or too late to make sense. Prepare for 4 AM check-ins.

And, if your flight gets cancelled three days before you’re supposed to leave for a week in Italy and the only other available flight means that you have to leave TOMORROW, book it.

Guess What Nationality I Am Game

Objective: Guess my nationality. (I’m like the Lily’s dad from HIMYM of board game titles)

Rules: Don’t ask, just assume.

Directions: Identify the person as non-Spaniard, guess every nationality that doesn’t make sense and then some. I have been identified as French, German, some kind of Scandinavian, British, and Australian multiple times, but never American. Have you heard my accent?

Sunday Night Dinner Game, Or, Alternatively, The Saturday Night Mercadona Game

Objective: Feed yourself on Sunday.

Rules: Everything is closed on Sunday.

Directions: Depending on your plans for the weekend affects how you play this game. If you stay in your hometown, then choose the Saturday night version. If you’ve spent the weekend away and are only returning on Sunday night, please select the Sunday night version.

SATURDAY NIGHT VERSION: Lounge about your room/apartment/village until the last possible minute. Realize that the grocery closes in 30 minutes. Grab your shopping bag and wallet, make a dash to the Dia/Mercadona/Lidl/Carrefour of your choice. Have absolutely no plan so that, when you arrive at the store, you buy things like spicy mustard and chicken seasoning, but nothing that makes sense like cheese and water and bread. Wait for Sunday, wonder what you’ve done and why you have nothing to eat.

SUNDAY NIGHT VERSION: Return to your home, collapse in your bed and lay there with your computer propped on your boobs watching SNL until hunger prompts you from your nest. Realize that you have nothing edible or easily prepared. Create a masterpiece that would make your drunk, college-self proud. Recent hits include:

-egg, beef, pepper, onion, rice, or, as I later realized, essentially a breakfast taco

-marinera, greek yogurt, and mayonnaise for pasta sauce (created by Laurel Hess)

-toast and ali-oli

Meet the American Game

Objectives: Introduce an American to all of your friends and family

Rules: Must be Spanish.

Directions: If you’re the American, you don’t really do much. Besitos, smile, basic Spanish greetings. Answer the same questions over and over. This is actually usually a really fun, if exhausting game. People are so nice and, usually, considerate enough to speak slow enough for you to follow. Sometimes, they tell the same story over and over, and if they’re 83 year old Spanish grandpas named Pablo and the story is, “En ingles, me llamo Peter,” well, then, it’s just downright adorable.

Street-Crossing Game

Objectives: Cross a street without a crosswalk sign.

Rules: Don’t die?

Directions: Prepare yourself. Bounce on the balls of your feet. Look left, look right, even if it’s a one-way street. Be confident, swagger if possible. Move so slowly that it appears you’re about to be hit by that car that just stepped on the gas to hit you, let it graze your leg, leap the last few inches to the other side, triumphant. It’s a rite of passage and you’re not really Spanish until you recklessly cross a street.

This game is, obviously, played in other countries to varying degrees. Check your local listings for appropriate rules and directions.

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My sidekick for the next week, apparently starting tomorrow.

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bootswriting

On Sunday I had a bus to myself

Day 17 is a photo post, with the prompt “Something I never would’ve seen at home.”

And the question is raised: what haven’t I seen that I never would’ve seen at home? Dublin, Paris, Lagos, Sevilla, Granada, Madrid, and Almeria to start. Cadiz, Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, and London to follow. Mountains and the Mediterranean and cliffs and monuments and cultures. I’ve seen it in boots and Chacos and sneakers. I’ve carried the same maroon satchel that’s become an almost cartoon-like staple for my traveling wardrobe. I’ve traveled by trains and (too many) buses and planes and the occasional automobile.

It’s impossible to choose just one picture so I chose one taken on the last place that I ever expected to become my second-home: seen over the pages of a notebook, the aisle of an ALSA bus.

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Left Behind

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Close up of all of its beautiful, color-coordinated glory.

Does it need any more explanation than this?

Something possessed me, the day before I was moving out of the room where I’d lived for two years, that instead of packing clothes and boxing stuff up for storage, this is what I really needed to be doing.

My parents owned the house that I lived in during my last two years of college. When I first moved in, as the only girl in a house with one older brother and one older male cousin, I was lucky enough to get the master bedroom with attached bathroom. When I moved out, two cousins remained, uninterested in relocating all of their things into the bigger bedroom. My old bedroom then became a guest room for visiting friends and family. All of my art, furniture, and books remained while everything else was boxed up and stacked in the closet.

I’ve come a long way from the days where I used to hide in my closet just to get some space to read in space. The funny thing is, even though I have this perfectly lovely nook, my favorite place to read is still halfway under my bed, wedged between the wall and the bed frame. But it’s just so dang pretty to look at!

Not to mention that I reread books the way some people reread movies. It’s heaven having all of your favorites within reach of your fingertips. Long car trip? Please turn your eyes to the pink section of (mostly) chick-lit fiction. Feeling a little lost and needing some perspective? Dark blues and blacks contain some thought-provoking literary fiction that both entertains and instructs.

And each book has a memory. Just looking at this grainy picture I can already put together shapes and colors. I read about 200 hundred pages of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead on a six hour car trip to Frisco with my grandfather; Rebel Angels by Libba Bray on another such car trip. The yellow copy of the Writer’s Market on the second shelf was a graduation gift of sorts from my high school English teacher. The blue and white yearbook is a year-long labor of love from my senior year as editor of the yearbook (I’m still fuzzy on how that whole thing happened; not the yearbook, but how I got the position of editor of it). I reread Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility every January and The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is one of a handful of books that has ever made me cry.

I miss owning things. I love how simple my life is become, how little I need and how easily maps and postcards become equivalent to canvas and pottery in terms of decoration, but I’m a child of consumerism. I grew up in a house with space for things and there is always a part of me that buys something with the explicit purpose of the one-day promise of a place where I can have all of my things in one space.

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The full nook, complete with plastic duck “borrowed” (indefinitely) from a bar in Montana.

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The Empty Seat

Growing up, 203 Nottingham was a nest of chaos. I mean, it’s not that surprising. With five kids, ages ranging over a 12 year span, there was always something: soccer practice, Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, school projects, and then the usual scuffle and bustle of everyday life with seven people living in one house. To get my alone time I used to spend it reading books in closets and playing with Barbies in the sliver of space between my bed and my wall.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making up for a lifetime of alone time. A pueblo of 16,000 in a foreign country is a pretty good place to start.

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New graffiti find. Photo courtesy of Kristen DuFour.

I like traveling alone. It’s easy. When you’re in a state of anxiety because you missed your bus, there’s no one to calm down but yourself (and no one knows how to calm yourself down better than yourself; for me, it is a book and maybe a piece of candy). You can drown the world out with a pair of earbuds and the latest Beyonce, pretending that she is the soundtrack to the movie that is your life.

I spend a lot of time in Spain traveling alone. Not necessarily at the destination but usually on the journey there. I live about 2 hours away from the capital of my province and the hub of all things transportation. Before I can take a weekend trip anywhere, I first have to get to Almeria. Those 2 hours on the bus are my zen time, better than any yoga. I pull out my green notebook and my To Do list of writing (finish this chapter, plot out that storyline, brainstorm for this blog post, jot down some notes about that revelation), plug in a playlist and get to working. Two hours later I have a cramp in my hand and a peace in my soul that I couldn’t get if I was traveling with someone else.

cat

When you travel alone, there are a lot of artsy pics of cats and landscapes. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess.

I’ve never loved Granada the way you’re supposed to love a city, like the way I love Madrid. What I do love about Granada are the trips that I’ve taken there: with my parents, with Belen, with friends. I do love that I’ve been here so many times there’s none of the usual pressure to run around and see every sight possible in 48 hours. I do love that I have my favorite places–Cuatro Gatos for carrot cake, Little Morocco for souvenirs, the road along the Darro for art, the Makuto for lodging–that I can single out and revisit.

do love sunsets over the Alhambra, I love taking it easy in a familiar place, I love finding new graffiti and trying on harem pants and giving in to the notion that purchasing said harem pants might be the greatest decision I will ever make in this city. I do love listening to the rain and snuggling up in “salas de chill-out” and triple bunk beds (I actually only love these in theory; middle bunks seem like a good idea but are actually the worst idea ever) and watching We’re the Millers and conversations on Sunday mornings in a room full of bunk beds that makes me feel like we’re a family at a ski lodge.

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Solid purchase. Photo credit Kristen DuFour.

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Too many possibilities to choose just one in the stereotypical, chill-out-room-at-hippie-backpacker-hostel photoshoot #noragrets. Photo courtesy of ME, via Kristen DuFour’s phone.

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If there is an Irish pub, you must go. Photo courtesy of Jenna Cranston.

In Washington D.C. in the main greenhouse of the National Botanical Gardens, there is planted a ravenala madagascariensis, or a traveller’s tree. Said to get it’s name from it’s storage of water and alignment of leaves from east-to-west giving travelers nourishment and bearing, there is an accompanying sign that says “Stand in front of a traveler’s tree and make a wish in good spirit and it will come true.”

And so, standing under the tree of my future, four months before I was getting ready to leave and practically catatonic with peace at being engulfed by so much green, I made my wish.

I wished for someone travel with. At the time, what I’m really thinking is, “Please let me walk out of here and bump into some gorgeous young senator who’s going to make it impossible for me to want to leave but will fund a fabulous 2 month tour of Europe as our honeymoon.” Or, given the shortage of eligible young senators that look like Corey Stoll, maybe more realistically, “Please let the empty seat on my flight back to Texas be inhabited by someone who is intelligent, single, travel-hungry, and gifted with a beard.”

Just three months shy of the anniversary of this wish, I realize that I already got it.

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The Traveller’s Tree

The question has come up recently, “Madelyne, what is the favorite place you’ve been so far?” My knee jerk reaction is to shout, “ICELAND!” but then I remind myself that I haven’t actually been there yet so it doesn’t count (ONLY 4 MORE MONTHS, THOUGH!). And then my second thought isn’t where but with who.

After 13 miles and 24 hours in Cabo de Gata, we were running to catch the bus back to Almeria (shouting “Americans, assemble!” in an attempt to leave no man behind but also an attempt to avoid being that man left behind). Not a crowded bus, we had our choices of seats and so the nine of us dominated the back five rows with our obnoxious English chattering and our overstuffed backpacks.

Listening to these friends I had never imagined making, I realized that this is my favorite place I’ve been so far: the in-between of Leaving and Being There with people that you know.

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Another important thing about traveling with friends: they can call you out on it when you say “I’m going to go take a nap” and then find you fifteen minutes later awake and snacking. Photo courtesy of Laurel Hess, that snitch.

It’s weird to say that we’re friends. We’re somewhere between and a combination of friends and colleagues and family and confidants and passport booty calls and therapists and the American embassy and a gang and not even close to being acquaintances. And when I wished for someone to travel with, I was thinking of someone that I could share my hopes and secrets and faults and weaknesses and strengths and wanderlust with and not a damn one of y’all has a beard.

But still. They are my traveller’s tree, my water and my bearings, and they’ve saved me countless times since I’ve been abroad with tea and travel tips and an American accent.

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