One of the first times I remember thinking, consciously, This Is Who I Am was while walking alone through busy, cobble-stoned European streets. I was freshly 21, had broken a heart and been broken-hearted, knew I was still finding myself, and had dreams that were both bigger and smaller than I knew how to handle.
Before those solo strolls during the summer I studied abroad, I could have painted a fairly detailed picture of the Laura I was trying to become. It included coffee shops and journals, rainy days and strong lipstick. But the first time - and then each subsequent time - I walked with purpose through the old streets, a bookbag over my shoulder, I was overcome with the unpredictable notion that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, always.
It was that familiarity, the complexing exhilaration of anonymity and history a city brings, that sent me out of Oklahoma and to LA. That makes me feel alive in the same way that mountain climbers claim while ascending, that makes me less intimidated and more confident in a foreign bustle. Some people find it in nature, in wide open spaces, but for me it's a series of buildings that makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.
I forget it for months, sometimes years, at a time. But this afternoon, when I set out for a few hours in Amsterdam alone, I wasn't half a block from the hotel before I wanted to break into a run. I didn't, of course. I stopped, instead, on one of the many bridges over the canals and heaved a big sigh ending in a full-faced grin. I had forgotten, and then I remembered.
I think I feel this way in Los Angeles sometimes, but less and less because I've lived there so long and nobody walks in LA. In Amsterdam today, I walked and walked for over two hours. There was a seemingly endless row of boutiques, coffee shops, bicycles, doors. I wandered through the most tourist-y areas until I found quiet rows of streets, and through that until I was somewhere busy again. I got lost once, twice, and pure intuition circled me around to a large department store I recognized from earlier in my walk.
Somewhere along the way I stopped and bought hand-cut french fries, watching the man prepare them in a wok with plenty of salt and then served in a cone. Why doesn't America adopt this? Less cupcake shops and more french fry joints.
I got back to the hotel windblown and satisfied, just a bit before my massage appointment. I passed a lazy early evening, then met up with people I love for a long dinner at a restaurant accessible only through a side alley.
What I'm telling you is that today I slept in, took a boat ride through the canals, walked myself happy, had a massage, then a bath, then a good dinner. Was a better travel day ever had?