For the Love of Nashville

Jeff Zentner has said that his latest book Goodbye Days is his love letter to Nashville. There is one passage in particular that made me want to visit this city:

“Even though the skyscrapers don’t have chimneys, downtown Nashville somehow always smells of woodsmoke by mid-October. And it’s perfect jacket weather. The night air tastes like chilled apple cider and the sky breathes with stars” (63).

Isn’t that gorgeous?

When on a Zentner pilgrimage, it was only fitting to grab a chocolate shake at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip (page 63). We also spent some time wandering around Centennial Park (page 63). However, there weren’t any cooperating squirrels. We stopped in Provence Bakery (page 263) for a chocolate croissant. We checked out the self-guided tour at the Ryman Auditorium (page 306). Even though I had a mild chicken sandwich at Hattie B’s (page 329), it still made my mouth tingle.

In my opinion, the best spot Zentner’s book took me was Fall Creek Falls (277). The days we spent in Nashville had been equal parts unbearable humidity and thunderstorms. We weren’t sure if the weather would cooperate for this Nashville adventure. However, on our last full day, the sky held, we rented a car, and then drove the 2+ hours. We parked up at the overlook and then hiked down to the base. It was a workout and a half. We met lots of other people on our descent. I was surprised by the number of dogs making this trek. We hung out for a bit (obviously took advantage of the photo op) and made the even more exhausting hike back up to the car.

Zentner places I missed: Percy Warner Park (52), Bellvue Library (234), Parnassus Books (324), and Shelby Bottoms Greenway (343).

My overall review of Nashville is that I can’t wait to go back.

We stayed at the Union Station Hotel, which was amazing. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.

We visited the typical tourist spots like the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Patsy Cline Museum. Did I squeal when I saw Chris Stapleton items? Perhaps. We also didn’t have a bad meal. I would 100% go back to Biscuit Love and Adele’s.

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The closest I’ll get to Chris Stapleton’s clothes.

One of my favorite things we did was take in a performance at the Grand Ole Opry and then afterwards we also did the backstage tour. It is a must-do.

I have had the opportunity to see firework celebrations in several states now and I can confirm that no one is doing it better than Nashville. We made our way over to the Pedestrian Bridge and were able to get a spot. I thought it was the finale six different times – thinking there was no way they were going to top that display, and they did each time. They had fireworks that I’ve never seen before. There was one kind that looked like a flock of birds. If you ever have the opportunity to see Nashville on 4th of July, I highly recommend it.

Of course as has become our new tradition, I donated books to a Little Free Library in Nashville. Since I also used Book Crossing, I am able to track where my books go. The copy of The Serpent King I donated was already scooped up and brought to a neighborhood in Oregon.

 

Verdict? This Jersey girl might have come back just a little bit country.

Check out my Nashville readings on YouTube.

 

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Book Review: The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

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When we first meet 16 year-old Kyle Donohue in Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things, he is making his way across the Brooklyn Bridge. He is heading home from school among the many others who are scrambling toward safety after terrorists have attacked the World Trade Center. In the midst of this exodus, Kyle’s attention is drawn to a figure on the edge of the bridge. He thinks it could be a large bird. He soon discovers that this figure is a girl wearing wings. “On the bridge, in those wings. Covered in ash. Then, leaning out like she was going to fly. No, like she wanted to fall” (111). Kyle is compelled to rescue her and bring her back to his home.

The Memory of Things might be set during September 11th, but the novel chronicles all of the challenges that Kyle faces. His father and uncle are working at Ground Zero which brings with it great uncertainty. His mother and younger sister are also supposed to be flying home from California. This leaves Kyle as the only one available to care for his favorite uncle, who is home recovering from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Lastly, his “bird girl” seems to be in shock and is perhaps suffering from a case of amnesia.

Gae Polisner’s writing delicately and deftly captures this heartbreaking day. Her novel will allow teen readers to experience the uncertainty many of us felt, while sparing them the graphic images seared into our own memories. Through their reading, they will come to understand the events of the day like Kyle: “So, now I get it. Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something. Permanently. And, in the process, they’ve changed everything. And everyone” (153-154). While those of us alive during 9/11 might be hesitant to relive it, our students are curious. After reading a synopsis of The Memory of Things, my readers expressed an interest because they felt the events of that day have been filtered mainly through adult voices and they thought experiencing it through a teenager’s perspective (even a fictional one) would speak to them in a new way. They know to speak of that day using words like “tragedy,” “devastation,” and “helplessness.” But these labels seem empty in their ability to convey the loss felt by those affected. It is through Kyle’s story that readers will find insight about this event that shaped the America they live in.

My readers are drawn to books that have multiple narrators. Many of them also love reading books written in verse. The Memory of Things offers both of these features. Readers will get to hear from both Kyle (prose) and the “bird girl” (verse). This offers the opportunity for readers to think about how the format of each character’s voice reflects who they are and where they are emotionally. I think another praiseworthy quality of this story is Kyle’s exploration of masculinity. He feels pressure from the men in his family to be a certain way and he is trying to reconcile that with his own ideals. This is an important tension to explore with students. Kyle is an earnest character, one who readers will want to follow on this journey. Ultimately, while The Memory of Things is set during tragedy, it is a story of healing, in its many forms.

Initially, I will be using this book in the spring for an after-school book club that typically draws about 40 students. Next year, I plan to include it as part of my curriculum. I envision a literature circle with several other novels like ElevenNine, Ten, and Towers Falling. Although each book poses their own important questions, I’d like to focus our overall exploration through the lens of resilience and how people survive experiences that seem insurmountable. Each novel approaches the same historical event from a distinct perspective, which is why I believe using them in a literature circle would be an enriching opportunity for students. Other teachers can easily make the case for such a choice. This literature circle would fall under the 7th grade Common Core standard RL9: “Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.” It also opens up possibilities to collaborate, especially with your history or art department.

And I will close with perhaps my favorite section of the book: “Change comes in two ways. The first is the blindside way that comes without warning. Like Uncle Matt’s motorcycle accident. Or the Twin Towers collapsing one Tuesday morning as you’re minding your own business in school. Or a girl showing up out of nowhere, covered in ash, and wearing some costume wings. That kind of change takes your breath away. But other times, change comes gradually, in that sure, steady way you can sense coming a mile away. Or maybe a day away. Or, maybe, a few short hours. And since you know it’s coming, you’re supposed to prepare. Brace yourself against the stinging blow. But just because you plant your feet wider, doesn’t mean the blow won’t take you down” (225).

 

Wherein I am the Worst Blogger and How I Ended Up in Nebraska

I have been telling myself to write this blog post. But I haven’t. So a year in the making, here it is.

“Why are you planning a trip to Nebraska?,” most people asked. I thought planning a trip to Nebraska was the obvious choice for our second literary pilgrimage. Even people IN Nebraska were surprised to find that we did not fly to Omaha to visit relatives. To them I say: Go get you some Rainbow Rowell. Then we’ll chat.

This pilgrimage was quite different from our TFIOS one. Primarily because TFIOS was one book and in Nebraska I was juggling several. Shout out to Rainbow Rowell for tweeting me specific locations and answering any follow-ups I had.

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I knew before we arrived that quite a few locations mentioned in the books had closed. For example, the movie theaters mentioned in Attachments and the bowling alley are now defunct. While that was disappointing, there was still a lot to do.

Our Attachments landmarks included eating a piece of French silk pie at the Village Inn and visiting the Lithuanian Kafe. I had never had French silk pie before. Honestly, I had never even heard of it. But chocolate and whipped cream = what’s not to love? The Village Inn was not what I imagined. Something about it made me think it would have dark wood with window treatments in shades of wine. It was actually more like a Jersey diner. One thrilling twist in our night was that the diner’s garbage had actually caught fire. We essentially walked into an inferno for French silk pie. I have no regrets.

 

Eleanor & Park led us to some residential locations like North High School on Ames

Ellison / Sherman School. I was surprised at how neglected the neighborhood around Ellison still was post-1980s. It was rather a rather depressing sight to see people still living in what appeared to be abject poverty. One night we basically recreated their date in the Old Market by eating at Zio’s, hitting up Drastic Plastic and topping the night off with ice cream at Ted & Wally’s. We also spent some time at the Gene Leahy Mall (or Central Park in the book).

 

Fangirl brought us to South 24th Street where we found Taco Trucks, South High School, and the International Bakery. We also took a drive about an hour away to Lincoln toward the University of Nebraska East Campus, Love Library, Andrew’s Hall, Valentino’s, Downtown Starbucks. Maybe if Fangirl was written before I went to college, I would’ve ended up in Lincoln. It seemed like a great college city.

Although Landline takes place mostly in California, we do have some pivotal moments in Omaha. Namely, the airport and Rainwood Road.

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I am not sure if I will ever back it back to Nebraska so in addition to our Rainbow Rowell spots, we tried to see as much as our time would allow.

We visited Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. It is under some serious construction and it sounds like it is going to be amazing when they are finished. We rode the Skyfari. Did I mention I am scared of heights? We walked down through the Heartland of America Park and saw the cool (and massive) fountain there. Our first day in Omaha it was raining so we visited the Joslyn Art Museum. One of my favorite stops was the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, where you can ostensibly be in Nebraska and Iowa simultaneously. We hit up the Sunken Gardens, which were quite beautiful. What is a book pilgrimage without a trip to an indie bookshop? We popped in The Bookworm, where they instantly recognized my telephone shirt as a nod to Landline. We didn’t get to visit Carhenge because it was too far away (Just Google it). Maybe that means I’ll be back in Nebraska.

I consider characters to be the most important element of stories for me. I would never think that setting would play a pivotal role for me as a reader. But here I am – going on pilgrimages so what do I know?

Nobody writes relationships like Rainbow Rowell. She will make you swoon and fill you with hope. Now go buy all of her books immediately.

Things I Learned about Nebraska:

  1. The food is delicious. My favorite meal might be the breakfast we had at a little trendy spot called Overeasy. I had vanilla pancake sticks stuffed with bacon. It was heaven.
  1. There is something happening in Omaha with balconies. They.are.everywhere. I consider it their signature architectural trait.
  1. Nobody does Independence Day like Nebraska. When our server at Over Easy found out that we were visiting, she asked what our plans were for the day. We mentioned that we wanted to see some fireworks and she told us her church had to best view and invited us over. She wasn’t lying. We sat on a steep hilltop and had a 360 degree view of fireworks. In New Jersey a fireworks display lasts for a few minutes. In Nebraska, it lasts for hours.
  1. You have not seen green until you’ve been to Nebraska. There is a rich, deep green. It needs its own name.

    PS: You can check out our on-site readings on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BG9LICRDc0

An Open Letter to Josh Boone:

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Need an Invite to the June 2nd NYC TFIOS Premiere

 

10. Where else better to rock the TFIOS book purse I bought from Etsy?

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9. I am a TFIOS ambassador as I have bought copies for people and have recommended it to strangers in bookstores as a must-read. Also, I advocated for it being used as a high school wide book discussion book the year it was published. I spread the gospel of John Green like it’s my job.

 

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8. I own 9 different versions of the book: 1. My pre-ordered copy signed by John Green, 2. The hardcover I got signed in person at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C., 3. The silver-covered special edition, 4. The English paperback version I bought in Amsterdam, 5. John Green’s audio, 6. Kate Rudd’s audio, 7. Kindle version, 8. Signed Target-edition with bonus DVD, and 9. The paperback movie-tie in . . . Because really you can never have enough copies.

all 9 versions of TFIOS

all 9 versions of TFIOS

 

7. I donated many inches of my hair to Children With Hair Loss. I was inspired to do so after reading Shailene Woodley’s Tumblr post.

 

6. I collaborated with the awesome salon my cousin works at (Northern Lights) so other people could donate their hair too. In addition, we were also able to make a cash contribution.

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5. TFIOS compelled me to travel to Indianapolis. I loved TFIOS so much that I planned a trip to Indy with my best friend from high school, Emily. And it was the BEST TRIP EVER (literally). I loved Indy so much that I even looked at teaching jobs out there. I am convinced it is America’s best-kept secret. I can’t wait to go back. More pictures can be found on my original blog.

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4. I read TFIOS on location in Indianapolis. We posted these on YouTube (something I would never normally do).

 

 

3. My TFIOS travels were not limited to domestic borders. I also went to Amsterdam with Emily. We even stayed at the Hotel de Filosoof. I have seen online that some people have gone to Indianapolis and others have visited Amsterdam, but I know of no other fault fanatics that have crossed the Atlantic and back to see both. More information is available on my original blog.

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2. I read TFIOS on location in Amsterdam (even though I was super cranky). I wonder what people thought we were doing.

 

 

1. I had the opportunity to attend, but unfortunately had to miss, the May 3rd fan screening in NYC. I saw that Vulture was running a contest on Twitter so we started tweeting our pics from the pilgrimage. Emily got selected and I was crushed, because I found out that the screening was on a day when I would be chaperoning the senior class trip to Orlando for Grad Bash. Had it been any other commitment I would have found a way out of it. This was a devastating blow. It was actually physically painful. Instead of the screening and Q&A session with you, John, and the cast, I was in Florida with 46 teenagers whom I love dearly. [Insert shout out to the Class of 2014 aka the best class ever in the history of graduating high school seniors] The trip was beyond amazing, but missing the screening still haunts me. But it is true “the world is not a wish granting factory.”

In conclusion, I hope you will see that this is clearly a wrong in the universe that needs to be righted. I feel my devotion to TFIOS is evident for the aforementioned reasons and hope that you believe the same. Inviting me to the premiere would make my life. Okay???

 

All good things,

Nicole Warchol

 

P.S. This year I also went to the Museum of Modern Art to see the Magritte exhibit. My main motivation for catching this exhibit was to see The Treachery of Images as referenced in TFIOS. I didn’t expect to love the rest of the exhibit as much as I did. I also went to the Whitney to see their Robert Indiana retrospective, also motivated by our trip to Indianapolis. Look how TFIOS got me cultured and stuff 😉

 

TFIOS pilgrimage – Amsterdam Part 2

Although John Green’s book was the driving force behind this trip, it wasn’t just about TFIOS.  This might be the only time I ever get to visit Amsterdam so I wanted to make sure that I also made time to see and do everything else the city had to offer.

The Van Gogh Museum was one of the first places we visited.  It was crowded so we started at the top floor and worked our way to the bottom.  One of my favorites was a skull with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth.  It reminded me of Augustus and his metaphor so I bought the postcard.  This was definitely a place worthy of checking out.  I enjoyed seeing the original paintings of works that I recognized like his Irises and the Almond Blossoms.  I also learned a lot about his life and his process.  I have a replica of The Bedroom in my classroom so I was interested in learning about how the colors have faded.  What I have come to know as blue was actually purple.  I have also dubbed Van Gogh as the original king of the selfie.  Seriously.  Check it out.  Ok, he didn’t have filters, but he was able to paint himself in the finest Parisian frocks even when he was actually in pajamas sooooo same difference, no?

The Artis Royal Zoo wasn’t originally on my must-see list.  It seemed to get mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but I was willing to give it a chance.  I thought it would be cool to go see the oldest zoo in the Netherlands.  I think I sold Emily on it when I told her it had a planetarium.  When we first walked into the zoo there was a beautiful area set up for camels and other animals.  Our first stop was the planetarium.  The timing seemed perfect, because there a show was just about to start.  The title was in English, but the narration itself was not.  I think the language barrier did influence our decision to leave the show early.

One thing I noticed was that there were lots of sea birds hanging around the zoo, perched on buildings.  I bet some of them mock the other animals locked in their pens.  We got to see lions, an alligator, and seals.  We also went through the butterfly house, and really I don’t think you can ever go wrong with butterflies.  I was excited to observe the Silverback gorilla, since the title character of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is one and I will be using it in class.

Traveling to Amsterdam so soon after returning from and loving Indianapolis made it difficult to avoid points of comparison.  While some areas of Artis were beautiful, I found a few of the areas unsettling.  I realize that Artis is 175 years old, but sometimes an upgrade is necessary.  The penguin area was pretty filthy.  The wolves looked sedated and there seemed to be a mud pit instead of a watering hole.  The elephant pen was sparse and sad.  I could only think of the lush oasis the elephants in Indianapolis enjoy.  I feel like I can’t recommend the zoo as a must-see attraction.

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I stumbled upon the Flower Market and that is one place I can recommend.  I thought they had the best selection and value for Amsterdam-themed souvenirs.  There were also some street musicians who were pretty great.  Another spot I checked out was The Tulip Museum.  It was pretty small and I didn’t really find this place worthwhile.  It would have been cool if I could buy tulips and bring them home.  But tulips need to be U.S. certified and the ones they had weren’t.

The Rijksmuseum was mentioned in TFIOS, but the characters know that physically it would be too much for them to handle.  I believe the Rijks has just undergone like a decade of renovation and just reopened many of its rooms.  There were some interesting works here, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with its amazingness.  They had some Van Gogh’s, one of which was another selfie.  They had a Monet.  I found a room of these funky dioramas, which were interesting.  There were some interesting portraits, especially the ones of Napoleon and his brother.  I took a quick dip into the Rembrandt section, but found it to be too rambunctious.  It was good that we hit the museum up early, because when we left there was a decent line outside.

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We took an evening canal ride at 10 pm. One of the things I did not know about Amsterdam in the summer is that it doesn’t really get dark until 10:30pm.  Our canal ride gave us beautiful sunset views.  When the buildings that border the canal turn their lights on, it is definitely magical.  This experience was one of my favorites on the trip.

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Food in Amsterdam is pretty eclectic.   Our first night in Amsterdam, we walked to De Italiaan.  I had the pizza crudo and it was delectable.  Our second day in Amsterdam we ate at Cinema Paradiso.  There were two reasons that I was interested in this restaurant.  First, I like the movie of the same name.  Second, the restaurant was the location of a movie theater, definitely cool.  The food was delicious and the service was fantastic. And although the volume was turned down on the movie they played, I was riveted. Our last morning in Amsterdam, we ate at Pancakes!.  It was a small place, but the staff was very friendly.  I ordered apple pancakes and they were divine.  We ate dinner at another place and it was pretty comical.  We must have walked around for over an hour, because we couldn’t find somewhere we wanted to eat.  Then we wanted to order and we both wanted a burger, but they only had one left.  And then twice the dessert I ordered, they were out of.  I basically broke it down for them: “Why don’t you just tell me what you DO have since the menu hasn’t been working out for me.”  The meal was good, but it got a little ridiculous.   I was also instructed to indulge in French fries with mayonnaise and so I did.  It tasted ok.  I don’t think it is something that I will continue to eat.

I leave you with some other random thoughts.  In Amsterdam many of their beverages are served in glass bottles instead of plastic.  And I have to tell you they taste different, better even.  My soda of preference is not Coca-Cola.  However, served in a glass bottle, I found Coke to have a very crisp taste.  It makes me hesitant to drink things out of plastic bottles and aluminum cans.  COME ON.  Get with it, America!  If you go to Amsterdam, I would definitely recommend getting the I-Amsterdam card.  We got three days worth of tram rides, free admission into some attractions and discounts at others.

I hope you watch our vlog when we post it.  We have other surprises from our trip yet to be revealed!

DFTBA

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TFIOS Pilgrimage – Amsterdam Part 1

We arrived in Amsterdam and made our way to the Hotel de Filosoof.  Since it was too early to check-in we dropped off our bags and headed to Vondel Park with the goal of sorting ourselves out a bit and finding something to eat.  Our first meal in Amsterdam was at the Hard Rock Café, admittedly not our first choice.  This Hard Rock was really no different than any other that I’ve been to (New York, Orlando, Rome, etc.).   But something auspicious happened at the one in Amsterdam.  I had just gotten off the stool and was heading out when one of the women seated at the table next to us stopped me.  She noticed I was wearing my TFIOS “okay” shirt from Barnes and Noble.  It turns out that the two of them were on vacation and decided to stop in Amsterdam to visit some TFIOS spots.  Luisa had traveled from Brazil and even had her copy of the book with her.  I think it is only right to interpret this as a sign from the universe that we were destined to both to travel to Amsterdam and end up in the Hard Rock Café.

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Vondelpark was definitely a cool spot and was bigger than I had envisioned.  I hadn’t realized that it would be filled with so many people.  Friends hanging out, families enjoying a beautiful day, men playing soccer, people biking and roller blading, family dogs jumping in the water.  There were other less trodden areas with beautiful flowers. We stopped in the pop-up café in Vondelpark and I very much enjoyed the gelato there.  I feel like this has to also be the café referenced in TFIOS.

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I didn’t planned to look for Peter Van Houten’s house.  It wasn’t until listening to Kate Rudd on my I-pod that I thought his house might be a real location.  And found it we did.  I was happy and surprised that it really existed, because I figured like Oranjee it would be a fictional setting.  One quick thing I have to comment on are the windows in Amsterdam.  They basically go from floor to ceiling.  I think they are aesthetically and architecturally beautiful.  All I am saying is that if I move anywhere, I wouldn’t turn down windows like that.

Peter Van Houten's dwelling

Peter Van Houten’s dwelling

Emily and I knew the Anne Frank House was going to be a popular tourist attraction, but I think we underestimated how mobbed it would be.  The first afternoon we strolled by to scope out the situation.  The line was down the street, around the block, and then some.   With our limited time, Emily and I were definitely not going to wait in that line.  We even checked back again around 9:15 pm, because the travel guide said the crowd would be clear by then.  Perhaps, they too underestimated the draw of the Anne Frank House or at least summer tourism.  There were still people waiting to get inside!  We decided to come back early the next morning instead.

The next morning we arrived an hour early and soon other people arrived.  Clearly, we made a good call.  I am not sure that anything I write will do this experience justice.  The first room you walk in has a video.  But what was really cool about this space is that it has phones in the middle of the room so non-English speakers can listen to the content of the video in their native tongue.  It was surreal seeing all the primary sources throughout the House.  The fact that they were able to preserve any of their letters, documents, or other items is amazing.  One of the things that was surprising about the Anne Frank House is that canal buildings are actually deceptive in regards to their size.  I found the rooms much bigger than you would think based on how narrow the buildings are.  I learned that Otto Frank requested that the rooms remain unfurnished, which I found fitting.

I think one the most amazing parts of the House was walking through the original bookcase that concealed the annex.  You almost want to hold your breath, because it definitely feels like a sacred experience.  It was also overwhelming to see some things preserved like the tick marks on the wall where they tracked their height or the pictures Anne put on her wall.  Being in the Anne Frank House there were multiple layers going on.  It was Anne’s real story mixed with Hazel and Augustus.  Like when I saw the book listing the other Aron Franks that Hazel vows to remember.  Also, the video with Otto Frank concluding that no parent can ever really know their child.  Hearing it one time is ok.  But the video loops. I would say by the fourth time, it really started to weigh heavily on me. I also liked how the people who knew her as a child spoke about her.  Anne was not painted as a saint.  It made her seem more like a real person than a symbol of the Holocaust.

The most impressive part was seeing the diary itself.  There it was.  Resting on a pillow encased in glass.  Reading her writing from a paperback is nothing compared with seeing her pages and imagining her hunched at a desk pressing the ink onto those very pages.  One of the most disturbing parts for me was a picture that had been blown up from the Montessori school Anne Frank had attended.  Each child was labeled and their fate was also indicated.  It was odd and uncomfortable to look at tiny faces and then read what became of them.  I don’t have any photos, because they request that you don’t take any.  I did buy lots of postcards from their gift shop.

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I wanted to visit the American Book Center, located in Nine Little Streets.  I was not there to browse; I was there to locate The Fault in Our Stars in Amsterdam.  And that I did.  They had the paperback edition, which is not available in the United States.  So of course I bought it. Can one have too many copies of this story? . . . . Wait don’t answer that! Nine Little Streets was a little too crowded for me.  I didn’t really love the stores and it shut down pretty early.  But I am sure for others it is an ideal place to do some retail damage with their credit cards.

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A little about the Hotel de Filosoof. I think it is obvious that we elected to stay here, because it is where the characters stay and also where John Green stayed during his time in Amsterdam.  The knowledge that European living standards are smaller than what Americans are accustomed to, led us to inquire about the different rooms available at the hotel.  We requested the Spinoza room, because I think we might have read online that it would accommodate our needs. We had flown thousands of miles across the Atlantic. We had spent the entire morning walking in 80-degree weather.  We had lugged our luggage up and down and up and down very narrow and steep Amsterdam stairs.  What this Jersey girl needed was air conditioning!  And a shower.  “It is a very old hotel,” the girl said.  “We will look and see if we have a fan, she continued.  Maybe she heard the desperation in my voice.  Girlfriend came through though.  Hours later we were given a fan and I had never been so happy.  I have been to Europe before, but never have I stayed in a hotel with a smaller bathroom than in this hotel.  I think it was my biggest gripe with staying here (even more so than the lack of ac).

Now that I have complained a bit, I liked to explain the merits of the Hotel de Filosoof.  The staff was great.  They were friendly and accommodating.  They were even nice enough to make sure my postcards got mailed.  The hotel itself does have a certain charm.  It has a garden out back from their main building.  Our room was across the street.  Our room had a very high ceiling and some nice pieces of furniture.  I think my favorite element of the room was the veranda.  We left the windows open and our first morning I got woken up before 5 am by lots of birds.  My initial response was to be annoyed.  But then I thought what better way is there to wake up?  And it reminded me of a Robert Frost poem called “A Minor Bird”: “The fault must partly have been in me. / The bird was not to blame for his key. / And of course there must be something wrong / in wanting to silence any song.”  I appreciated the birds even more when I returned home and got woken up by a feral cat skirmish in my backyard.  If I ever go back to Amsterdam, I think I would stay in a more modern hotel, I am glad to have had the opportunity to stay here for the TFIOS pilgrimage.

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Our final night in Amsterdam was reserved for our “Drinking the Stars” dinner.  We took the tram to Jordaan and started wandering around looking for a restaurant with canal seating.  It got off to a rough start, because one of my new sandals broke and then gave me a blister.  We also had some difficulty actually locating a restaurant with canal seating.  However, I was determined to have this meal.  We found a place we saw during our canal ride, but all the canal seating was occupied.  I would guess we wandered around for more than 40 minutes, until finally stumbling on a little place that didn’t exactly have canal seating, but was close enough.  We ate in what I would describe as canal view seating.

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I am so happy to have had this experience.  I never would have planned a trip to Amsterdam if it weren’t for reading The Fault in Our Stars.  I hope this isn’t the last time I am so moved by a story that I am willing to travel thousands of miles.

To my students: you never know what will happen when you open the pages of a book.  Keep reading!

TFIOS Pilgrimage – A Love Letter to Indianapolis

Before I went to Indianapolis, I really did not expect that there would be so much to do or see.  I know better now.  We were exhausted each day and actually ran out of time, because there was so much going on.  Emily and I had to prioritize what were must-sees versus what we would only do if we had time.  Indianapolis offers the culture of a city but the feel of a small town.

Our first day in Indianapolis happened to be the 4th of July.  Emily and I were stoked about celebrating Independence Day in the heartland of America.  We ended up back at the Promenade.  Here is where things get a little confusing.  Fireworks were being set off in every direction.  I did not know where to look, which is also kind of awesome.

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We were excited about visiting the Indiana State Museum, because we wanted to see the 3D shark IMAX movie.  We could have spent all day here.  In addition to the exhibits on the floor, they had other IMAX movies and a special Star Wars exhibit.  But since our time was limited, difficult decisions had to be made, decisions I wouldn’t wish upon any traveler. The exhibitions were cool.  I enjoyed seeing bones of long extinct creatures.  Wait, that sounds evil.  Must clarify.  It was educational, and I enjoy educational experiences.  I liked seeing the artifacts from generations past.  It was interesting to see things like old coal mining equipment since parts of my family had been coal miners in Pennsylvania.  Also, we have Indiana limestone to thank for the Empire State building.  The IMAX movie was a cool experience.  P.S. The cafeteria serves the best chocolate cookies in the history of cookies.

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The Indianapolis Zoo wasn’t initially high on my must-see list, but it was actually pretty cool.  Emily and I went on Friday afternoon, which also the day of Zoolapalooza (which is an event on summer Fridays with live music and late hours).  Our first stop was the Butterfly House.  There was this unbelievably blue butterfly that everyone was either trying to capture on their cameras or trying to get to land on their finger. The butterfly was not cooperative.  In fact, he or she (do butterflies have genders?) refused and flitted about erratically before landing in the middle of the plants and closed its wings depriving us of its striking beauty.

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We passed through the ocean section stopping to pet some dog sharks.  Watching the dog sharks behavior was interesting.  Some of them swam vertically, almost rubbing up against the side of their enclosure.  I really wanted to know what that meant.  Also, there was one who seemed to really enjoy attention and swam to the surface more than the others.  I positioned myself near their resting area and found that was a better spot if you wanted to touch them.  We watched the dolphins swim in the underwater viewing area.  Who doesn’t love dolphins?

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Emily really wanted to make sure we saw the elephants before our phones died (Google Maps requires a lot of juice) and we couldn’t take pictures, so we kind of raced through some spots.  The elephants were also of interest to me because I am going to use Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan with some of my classes this fall and two of the characters are elephants.

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We retraced our steps a little to have a look back at the lion and two lionesses, one of which was very vocal.

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Mass Ave was a neighborhood on our to-visit list and it was also recommended as a place to check out.  When we arrived it was still pretty early and so most of the stores were closed.  But what we saw reinforced that Indy is a place that values art and health.  We ate brunch at the Hoaglin To Go Café & Marketplace and it was delicious.  I think it was my favorite meal on the trip, which is saying something, because every meal we ate was extraordinary.

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We stopped in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.  It was small but had great items like Vonnegut’s typewriter.

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Our last stop of the night was a gondola ride on the canal.  I would recommend that anyone visiting Indy experience it.  The company does one “public ride” a night at 7 pm for $36 a person.  Joining us on our ride would be a couple celebrating a birthday and their anniversary.  Our gondolier serenaded us in Italian.  What more could one ask for?

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Every place we ate served us amazing food.  The first spot we hit up was Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles.  I ordered the smothered chicken, which was good.  But really my favorite parts of this meal were my side dishes.  The macaroni and cheese was probably the best I’ve ever had.  It just melted in your mouth.  Literally.  And then I had a biscuit with peach butter.  I don’t typically like peach-flavored anything, but this was delicious.  Who even knew such a thing existed?  But I am thankful it does.  I also tasted some of Em’s sweet-potato waffles.  I also don’t typically like sweet potatoes.  However, the waffles had such a sweet taste to them that you didn’t even need to use syrup.  Maxine’s is a must visit.

We had dinner at The Slippery Noodle, the oldest bar in Indianapolis.  It was conveniently located near our hotel.  I had a migraine that night so I only ordered a grilled cheese.  I also had their apple pie, which was very good.  We also visited Creation Café.  I enjoyed their pulled-pork sandwich.

We stayed at The Alexander on South Delaware and loved it.  From the minute we stepped out of our taxi from the airport, they greeted us and took care of everything.  We really appreciated the contemporary-artistic vibe, courtesy of the art from the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  In Indianapolis fashion, they were ecologically conservative.  For example, our room keys doubled as light switches so when you remove your key from the slot, the lights turn off. One night we ordered room service.  The gelato was especially delicious.  I would definitely stay there again and would recommend it to anyone going to Indy.

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Other observations about Indianapolis: I found Rocco’s doppelganger by the canal.  I think his name was Jack and he was so cute.  The Indianapolis Airport is my favorite airport and also has a really clean bathroom.  The city is health conscious and seems to prioritize the wellness of its residents.  I even saw an animal wellness center on our way to Broad Ripple.

I want to send a thank you to the people of Indianapolis (yes all of them) for being so welcoming.  Indianapolis is really a beautiful city.  It might just be America’s best-kept secret.

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DFTBA