March 28, 2012

The Britophile Diaries: Abigail's Day Out


Sometimes I wonder if I'll be able to handle a solo trip to Britain. Though I'm planning a trip* in April of next year (something I've dreamed of for so long), every now and then I wonder if I'll ever get lost, or scared, or homesick, or bored. I've never traveled; how do I know that I'll even like it?


So the other day I decided to do something totally unprecedented. I spent the whole day in town by myself! This is wild and crazy for me, let me tell you. The fact that I've never done this and I'm 19 years old should tell you that I don't get out on my own very often. As I just finished my first semester of college, I decided that I needed a treat. This was a "grand adventure" for me--a chance to spread my wings and get outside my comfort zone, proving to my family and myself that I am capable of driving, eating, touring, and navigating without creating a five-car pileup, being robbed blind, or taking a wrong turn and ending up in Albuquerque. If I couldn't handle a day out around my own stomping-grounds, could I possibly handle the streets of Liverpool or London? 



My first stop was to see an elderly friend of mine who is suffering greatly in a nursing home. It's a very sad story, but the long and short of it is that she has lost all physical and most mental power to control her own life, and everything must be done for her by others--which is her worst nightmare. This might seem like a weird way to start a "girl's day out", but it was good for me, making the subsequent pleasures of adventure and novelty all the more poignant and precious.


Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel--you'd think they could have come up with
a more romantic name....
Just a short drive away from the nursing home there is a gorgeous little chapel that I had never taken the time to see. It's a small, arching structure of wood and glass, tucked away in a quiet wood, which looks like it's in the middle of nowhere despite the fact that the highway is less than five minutes away. It's popular for weddings, and probably funerals, but when I went there it was completely empty, warm, and quiet, with natural light streaming in through the windows and muted piano music playing in the background. I took photos and spent a few minutes drinking in my surroundings, marveling at this precious little gem so close to home, and thinking about my visit with my friend. Then I packed up the camera and headed out to my main destination. 


A diorama of Crystal Bridges as it will look when finished.
Perhaps you've heard of Crystal Bridges, the world-class museum of American art that was just opened last November (11/11/11) in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is a complex of concrete and glass buildings with curved roofs of copper ribbing (which looks like a huddle of armadillos), designed to blend seamlessly into the natural landscape. This is all built in, around, and over a stream which has been manipulated into a large pool, and the buildings jut into and across it like bridges. It's an amazing place and I'm privileged to have it right out my back door, so to speak. Thanks to Walmart, admission is completely free, so it is the perfect place to drop by and spend some time marveling at the fantastic architecture and beautiful works of art. I parked in the parking garage (first time!) and went inside, checked my coat, picked up an audioguide, and set off! 





I had visited the museum once before, but it had been a somewhat hurried tour and I wanted to spend a little more time looking at some things I hadn't been able to fully "absorb". I leisurely passed through works from pre-Constitution America (they own an original portrait of George Washington), down through the Impressionist movement, around to Norman Rockwell (I got to see the "Rosie the Riveter" painting), and down to the incomprehensible modernist works. I chatted with the little people with badges who stand around the rooms and tell people not to touch the walls, and followed a couple of groups through their private tours. I took even more photos, then decided that I needed an Eleven Burger.
The Eleven Burger was developed by the museum's restaurant, and features a "perfectly grilled burger covered in local Havarti cheese, pink peppercorn mayo, crisp lettuce, and sun ripened tomato." You see why I could not resist. I did something slightly odd and ordered it to-go, striking off onto one of the many nature paths marked out around the museum to eat my meal in the open air. This is when I got hopelessly turned around (despite having a map and asking three people for directions), took the wrong path and ended up in a place I'd never been before. This doesn't bode well for future trips on the Underground, does it? It was serendipitous, however, as I discovered a lovely "shelter" on the top of a wooded hill, fitted out with a long bench that seemed perfect for picnicking. This is where I devoured my burger and fruit, in relative peace despite the sound of pickaxes in the distance (parts of the museum are still under construction) and a few startled trail-walkers.
Mmmm...mmmm...mmmm....


The Tulip Trail Shelter, in all its afternoon glory.
"Yield", a sculpture located at the museum's entrance.
This just about ended my museum adventure, and it was time to head off to another local wonder--Pinnacle Promenade. While not famous at all, this is a great collection of quirky little shops and restaurants that constitutes what I consider to be the best shopping in Northwest Arkansas. I had a lot of fun browsing, avoiding earnest salespeople, and doing crazy things like jaywalking, throwing $0.13 in a wishing fountain, and running down the "up" escalator! This last extravagance was prompted by the saying, "Do one thing every day that scares you," and I realized that I hadn't done that yet. I was afraid of someone stopping me and reprimanding my foolhardiness, or enduring the mild censure of a few alarmed shoppers, but no such misfortunes befell me. I couldn't stop smiling and giggling to myself for several minutes afterwards, and must have looked incredibly silly. What a thrilling life I lead!


I finished off the evening at Barnes and Noble, browsing the bookshelves, sipping a raspberry mocha, and reading a chapter of One Thousand Gifts  by Ann Voskamp.


It was a beautiful day, a day in which I proved that I am capable--at least to a certain extent--of exploring the world by myself. Today Northwest Arkansas, tomorrow Great Britain!


Have you ever traveled solo? What did you do to prepare for it?

*You can find out more about my travel plans at my other blog: www.TheBritophileDiaries.blogspot.com

8 comments:

  1. Sounds like a lovely day out, but there's no comparison between a day out here and a day out in Britain (in my opinion). :-) You will LOVE IT. I wouldn't probably spend my time in the big cities (except for London now and then), but there is so much gorgeous countryside, beautiful little villages, stone walls, castles, abbeys, etc. I can almost guarantee you that with your longing to go to England all this time, you will NOT get homesick. :-)

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    1. Thank you, Judy! That's a great encouragement :)

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  2. Sounds like you're at least ready for day trips, and it's not a big jump further from there. I'm more wary of being alone in places that require driving, because I don't drive at all. I've had a few days to myself in London when my travel companions went elsewhere, and it was AMAZING. I did the running in the rain like a madwoman the first time I was alone in London, and nobody looked at me twice. That's the point of Vacation - you vacate the normalcy of life. Oh, and solitary Afternoon Tea tastes just as good.

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    1. That's great to know, Catherine! I hope to run in the rain myself someday--and catch the droplets on my tongue.

      "Vacate the normalcy of life," I love that!

      Solitary afternoon tea=more scones for me ;)

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  3. And by the way...Yer Blog is getting better and better each day...Congrats...

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    1. Thank you so much, David! That means a lot :)

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  4. This sounds like good training to give yourself a sense of direction and confidence in finding your way about. I was about the same age as you when I travelled for the first time on my own to the UK's big cities. Naturally my parents were worried at the time but gradually they seemed more interested in what I had seen although the worry never leaves them. The trick of staying safe in the bigger cities is to keep to the tourist trail & have a sense of purpose by keeping on the move if the situation becomes uneasy. My confession is that I have not had the opportunity of visiting overseas on my own yet although I have been in the situation to lead many trips in Europe. I have tentative wishes to repeat a photographic trip to Venice on my own as I felt rushed last time and the film results were quite poor.

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    1. Thanks for the advice, J! One of the best things about solo travel in my opinion is that you're not rushed by what everyone else wants you to do. You really should go back to Venice ;)

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