I've lived by the ocean all my life. Every summer, I drive east one short hour and hit Jersey sea--complete with trashy tourists, delicious fried food, and cold, salty water. But this summer, I grew to notice and appreciate water in a very different way. It began with a 5 hour flight across the Atlantic to Reykjavik, Iceland.
In Iceland, water is a giant part of the culture (and especially the tourism culture). Tourists travel the "Ring Road" to see a variety of different waterfalls, volcanic pools, and hot springs. The Blue Lagoon attraction, right near the airport, features milky blue, steamy water that travelers can bathe in. I did both of these things--travelled the ring road and swam in the Blue Lagoon--but I also found others, more off the beaten path. My travel companion, Bruce, and I hiked to a small natural hot spring and went swimming outdoors in the 40 degree weather. The heat of the spring in contrast with the air was refreshing. We also spent a majority of our time driving. Our rental car carried us hours away from Reykjavik, and always along the sea. We drove along the Southern coast of Iceland to the farthest point, Vik, where a beautiful black sand beach awaited us. Reykjavik, where we stayed, was a city on the water itself.
Another interesting tidbid about water in Iceland is how pure and fresh it is. It is touted as being the cleanest, most refreshing natural water in the world. "Drinking cold tap water never tastes so good," the locals boast. I can't help but agree. The hot tap water, on the other hand, emits a rotten egg smell--because of the country's high levels of sulfur. It took a while to get used to showering in water that smelled like that, but it definitely made me feel extra clean.
Water was of course a main factor in my trip to Greece because I was on one of the islands, Santorini. Santorini is positively TINY. On an ATV, it takes 2 hours tops to circle the edge of the island. That being said, you can see the water from literally anywhere. Because the island is U shaped, you can also see across the water. From one main town, Fira, you can see across the bay inside the U and see Oia, the other main town. Both towns are port towns, built into the side of the cliffs with long winding paths that lead down to the water where boats dock. The cruise culture on Santorini is a significant factor in their economy. Tourism is the main industry on the island, and cruises make up a lot of that. Although Bruce and I didn't take a boat to Santorini or any other island, water is the means most take to get from Athens to island to island. Thus in the Greek islands, water plays a huge role in the economy, even if indirectly.
In Scotland, my home base was Edinburgh. From Edinburgh castle and other tall buildings, one might look out and see the ocean in the distance. But the main interaction I had with water in Scotland was from traveling up north, to the small town of Inverness, located about 30km from the famous Loch Ness. My second travel partner Alex and I took a train from Edinburgh to Inverness. On the ride through the Scottish countryside, we saw many animals, many streams and lakes, and lots of rain. The United Kingdom, as I was learning, is quite wet.
In Inverness, we rented bikes to travel north the 30km to Loch Ness. The ride was cold and wet, and much of it was along the river you see pictured above. The 30km seemed to draw on forever--but when we arrived at the Loch, it was so worth it. I don't think I'd ever seen a body of water so big that wasn't the ocean. It was still and quiet, and a soft mist hung over the surface and spread off into the distance. I could not see the end of it. We sat on the beach for a while, playing with the smooth pebbles that made up the shoreline. Alex took a drink from the Loch, just to say he had. It wasn't the worst, he told me.
For as far as we could see along the edges of the Loch, a few boats were docked at little cottages. The point we had entered onto the Loch didn't seem like a tourist attraction--we were truly the only ones there. I couldn't help but wonder what sort of community had formed by those living at the edge of such a famous body of water.
During my time in Ireland, water played a similar role as it had in Scotland. It is a part of one of Ireland's main tourist attractions, the Cliffs of Moher, which I visited on yet another rainy day in the British Isles. It wasn't quite raining as much as it was misting at the Cliffs, and although these pictures don't show it (we had a brief bout of sunshine that I captured quickly), the mist seemed to grow from the ocean and shroud the cliffs.
Alex and I visited the Cliffs as part of a touring company across Ireland. We were staying in Dublin, but got the chance to bus around most of the small country and wind up in Galway. On the way, we stopped at the Cliffs and in a beautiful rocky terrain called the Burren. The Burren was made up of giant fields of limestone that had been eroded by the ocean so that nothing could really grow (because soil got washed away). Our tour guide told us lots about how the sea water had killed the economy of the towns surrounding the Burren by removing any chance at agricultural growth--no plants means no plant food but also no food for keeping animals. It sure was beautiful, though.
In both Galway and Dublin, as in many other European cities, a river flows through. The River Liffey in Dublin was important to me because of its literary significance in the writings of James Joyce. Joyce, a Dubliner himself, included many landmarks of Dublin in his novels and stories. The River Liffey is certainly one of them. As an avid Joyce fan, I particularly enjoyed seeing the places and landmarks I'd read about in real life.
Water was a major part of my trip to London because of all the bridges that join one side of the city with the other. Bruce & I crossed almost every bridge, seeking new views of the London banks and the Thames river each time. It is interesting to consider how important those bridges are, even though we take them for granted. There is much to do on both sides of London and therefore a significant need to get from one side to the other and back again with ease. The bridges add to the tourist culture by providing an attraction, but also act as a necessity to Londoners in their everyday life--whether it is to cross a bridge for work or leisure.
In Holland, I was particularly intrigued by the canal system that Amsterdam had been designed around. The canals form rings around the center of the city and act as a means of getting from one place to the next. Although I did not take a boat ride while in Amsterdam, I saw many people who did. The canals are a large part of the tourism culture because of the beauty and romantic air that surrounds the boating culture and the impressive architecture of the canals themselves. Many people draw parallels between the Venetian canals and those in Amsterdam. I found them particularly interesting for how they were used as a living and commercial space. Boats float, docked, in nearly every part of every canal, and the bridges are built to ensure that the boats can pass beneath them. The boats themselves are used often not just as boats, but as spaces to live. I saw more floating homes than I could keep track of. I also saw what felt like a floating street--an entire spread of market vendors stretched down one canal, barely making contact with the street beside them. At night, the canals lit up with the lights strung across the bridges, a site that surely makes tourists and Amsterdammers alike bask in the glory of the city.
Jack & I also took a day to travel into the country side. We biked through a part of Holland literally called "The Waterlands" for its marshy landscape and mini lakes that dotted it. For a majority of our bike ride, we were on a narrow strip of land that was surrounded on both sides by water. Our end goal, a lighthouse near the Northern-most part of Holland, was on a sandy strip that stretched out into the Atlantic ocean. In the towns we rode through to get to the van Maarken lighthouse, we saw that water was a major contributor to the lifestyles there. The houses were often right up at the water's edge, and when they weren't, it was because boats were docked there. We saw lots of fishermen, too.
My final stop in Europe before returning back home to New Jersey was Paris. When I arrived in the middle June, the river Seine (which runs through the center of Paris) was overflowing. In the pictures above you'll see that Jack & I are standing on what looks like a beach because of the way the water laps at the stone foundation. What you can't see is that, 10 or so feet behind us, the stones sharply drop off--there is an edge that is supposed to contain the Seine. In June, it didn't. There was a record rainfall in Paris, with one of the biggest floods since a 1910 flood wreaked havoc on the city. This time, the flooding filled the streets and made the Seine rush faster than I'd seen in my last trip to Paris, but its overflow wasn't of much consequence to me. I was still able to do fulfill all of my touristy desires--visit the Eiffel Tower, eat crepes and pastries, head to museums, and more. Some of the lower floors of the Louvre were closed, but other than that, I was virtually unaffected. Looking back, I can't help but wonder how the overflow affected the Paris locals. Could they not get to work because of Metro and street closures? Were their homes flooded?
The communities and activities that form around waterways and bodies of water anywhere grow to become significant and maybe even essential to maintaining the economy, culture, and wellbeing of the people who live near them. In all of the places I visited this summer, water certainly played a major part. In late June when I returned to New Jersey, and eventually to the Jersey Shore, I looked at the ocean differently. I actually thought about the part the ocean played in the survival of the shore towns. I thought about how the shore here and the many shores "across the pond" are incredibly different, and yet not all that dissimilar. Water, everywhere, is a key factor of human life. I will never look at a body of water and not think about its benefits and implications again. I will never look at a body of water and take it for granted.
Who Am I?
I'm Rory; University of Virginia grad, writer, photographer, wannabe world traveler.
What is EU and Me?
A collection of photographs and musings from travels abroad.