Oranges and Palaces: Seville, Spain

Royal Alcázar of Seville.

Our December adventure continued as we flew from Lisbon to Seville. Lonely Planet’s Top City of 2018, we wanted a warm, relaxing place to visit between the blizzards in Ohio (where we were prior to Portugal) and the cold weather in Hungary. This was my first trip to Spain and I LOVED so many things that Seville has to offer: beautiful architecture, good food, a ton of walkable green spaces, and the site for Game of Thrones‘s Dorne.

Get ready for all the GoT gifs.

Where are we?

Located in southern Spain, Seville (pronounced Suh-vee-yah) is known for its well preserved historical sites and streets lined with beautiful trees filled with bitter oranges. The city is over 2,200 years old (!!) and the landscape shows the impacts of the many cultures that have influenced the development of the city over time. The earliest signs of humans living in the area dates all the way back to 8th century BC when Seville was still an island (geology that I am not even going to try to explain #knowyourlimitations).

Las Setas (The Mushrooms) was constructed in 2004 and is the largest timber framed structure in the world.

Originally founded by the Romans (and named Hispalis) the area was renamed Ishbiliyya following the Muslim conquest in 712. Muslim rule ended in 1248 after the area was taken over by the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III. The transitions between cultures and religions can be seen in a number of buildings throughout the city.

In 1478, the first tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition took place in Seville. Following Columbus’s expedition to the New World, Spain became a political powerhouse. Due largely to its location on the Quadalquivir River, in 1503 Seville was the only city given the monopoly for trade with the Spanish colonies and taxation of goods (and people) through the port. This was the “Golden Age” for Seville as the economy grew due to the the imports from the Spanish colonies, particularly gold and silver. By the 16th century a number of factors ended Seville’s Golden Age: the Great Plague of Seville killed nearly half of the city’s now booming population, the New World port monopoly was broken when the city of Cadiz was also given access, and the loss of the Spanish colonies in America.

I wanted to share the lesser-known story of the people that were forcibly sent from America to Europe and sold into bondage. The first victims of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were brought from Cuba and sold in Seville: the indigenous Taíno were not only the first New World natives to meet Christopher Columbus, but also the first of the Caribbean indigenous groups sold as slaves in Seville. The colonization (and resulting genocide) of the New World was profitable for Spain (and Seville).

I know, I know, this is a pretty heavy history introduction. I promise this post has a lot of fun information too, but I also wanted to include these important historical stories as well. They’re important and they matter.

Unofficial fact: Sevillanos and I have the same color–mustard yellow.

Seville’s official motto is N08DO: “No me ha dejado“, which translates to “She (Seville) will not abandon me.” You can see the sentiment across the city.

The Sites:

Canal Walk Near Arsenal:

This beautiful day we walked alongside the canal near the Arsenal neighborhood.
Triana Bridge
Canal de Alfonso XIII
Love this beautiful place! Can you spot the mustard yellow??

Torre del Oro:

The Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) was built in 1200 by Abu Elda.

Parque de María Luisa:

Again, one of these places where photos simply can’t do enough justice for how gorgeous the landscape is in real life.
The park is Seville’s principal green area and is a short walk from the Guadalquivir River.
The grounds were donated by the Duchess of Montpensier in 1893.
Chris and Karl: “When is Super Smash Brothers being released in Spain? Is there a kebab stand in this park?”

Plaza de España:

I think Heather and I could have spent hours here. Absolutely breathtaking!
Located in Parque de María Louisa, the Plaza was built in 1928.
The Plaza is a mix of Art Deco, Spanish Renaissance Revival, Spanish Baroque Revival, and Neo-Mudéjar architecture.
The walls of the Plaza have tiled alcoves, each representative of different Spanish provinces. These alcoves also contain bookshelves with books on that particular region. Visitors are encouraged to take a book and leave one of their own, so these “free little libraries” continuously change!
The Plaza was also the site for Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
Forever one of the best gifs on the internet.

Seville Cathedral:

Seville Cathedral is the largest church in the world. Technically by size it is ranked third, but because the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil) and St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City) are not seats of bishops, Seville Cathedral tops the list.
The cathedral was first built as a mosque prior to the Christian conquest of Seville. Construction on the grand mosque started by Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Ysuf in 1172 and was completed in 1198.
Ferdinand III converted Yaqub Yusuf’s mosque into the cathedral for the city.
In 1401, Christian leaders decided to build a bigger cathedral on the site: “Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos” (“Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad”).
Construction on the site was delayed until 1434 and finished in 1506.
The La Giralda (bell tower) was previously the main minaret for the mosque. It was converted to the cathedral in 1248 but still maintains many of its Moorish features.

Alcázar de Seville:

The term “Alcázarderives from the Arabic word al-qaṣr” meaning “the castle”. The palace is absolutely beautiful and you can spend hours walking the gardens.
Also the site for Dorne, one of the seven kingdoms of Westeros in HBO’s Game of Thrones. So excited to tour this beautiful site (and let’s be honest, an excuse to find the best Ellaria Sand gifs).
The Christian basilica of Saint Vincent was first built on the plot.
In 712, the Umayyad Caliphate took over Seville and destroyed the basilica to use the site for military work. During the 12th century, under Abbadid rule, the area became the site of Al-Muwarak, a large palace the doubled the size of the space.
Then, under the Almohads, new buildings were constructed on the space for the now residence of the Caliph and the court.
Pictures just don’t do this beautiful place justice.
Following the Castilian conquest of Seville, the Abbadid fortress was destroyed and the palace was for Christian king Peter of Castile built in its place.
The palace and gardens have Christian, Muslim, and Jewish influences.
Today Reales Alcázares de Sevilla is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe; the royal family still uses the top levels as their official residence.
One of my favorite locations I’ve experienced in Europe.
Okay last GoT reference, I promise.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Taqueria La Lupe:

Fresh jalapenos! What a treat after living in eastern Europe for so long.
Homemade tortillas, fresh ingredients, and a solid carnivore and vegetarian menu, Taqueria La Lupe is a great taco spot.

La Jeronima:

A spot for brunch, books, and craft beer! What else do you need in the world?
La Jeronima famously made the top three of my favorite brunches of 2018 list. Stuffed croissant for me and a ham toastie for Chris.

La Tradizionale Pizza:

Great for a late night slice of pizza or empanada, La Tradizionale is an awesome spot for a post dinner snack. Be warned, the lady at the counter will not be easy on your spotty Spanish skills.

Taberna del Dragón Verde:

A bar specializing in all things dragons and swords, we went to Taberna del Dragón Verde after dinner (based solely on the name, obviously) and had a lot of fun.

And, of course, ice cream:

A Heather and Ashlyn staple

Highly recommend Seville! We had so much fun wandering the city and snacking on churros (just don’t eat the oranges!).

That amazing mustard yellow though…


Reading: Malawi’s Sisters (Melanie Hatter)

Watching: Game of Thrones (HBO)

“It’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse”: April 2019 Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG

“We demonize the Nassars & the Sanduskys and they’ve done horrible things, but it’s the ones who covered it up that made it worse & created more victims.”

At the Heart of Gold Documentary

If you need a recap, check out my previous blog.

Whelp, bad news if you opened this link thinking: “It’s been over a year since the sentencing. USAG has a new CEO and that At the Heart of Gold documentary I saw on HBO waiting for the new Game of Thrones episode seemed really positive. Surely, we are moving in the right direction!” Unfortunately for all of us, there’s a lot to unpack here. Grab a snack and take a seat as this is a long post.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shaking_head_breaking_bad.gif
I have news for you, friends.

This quote from ESPN sums it up:

For a moment, it felt like gymnastics was turning a corner. After three years of turmoil, and hundreds of accusers detailing Nassar’s sexual assaults, the sport and its amazing athletes were finally starting to be back in focus.

But then USAG’s new president and CEO had to remind everyone just how much work there is left to do to save the sport in this country.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W.

Here is part “who even knows at this point” of my ongoing (and looks to be never-ending) series: “How Institutions Totally Mess Up Actually Holding Themselves Responsible for Enabling Sexual Predators and Make False Promises to Create Meaningful Change”.

Michigan State University

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ed8cd802-f1f1-4ea6-a0d9-8306bea9c690-medium16x9_SisterSurvivors1.JPG
Part of the new MSU exhibit: “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”.
  • On April 3rd the Michigan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Larry Nassar; his forty year sentence will still be carried out. However, the state appeals court is still reviewing Nassar’s separate appeal based on the grounds that his rights were “violated” by statements made by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
  • In late March Detective Andrew McCready of Meridian Township, Michigan, formally apologized to Brianne Randall-Gray, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. McCready was tasked with investigating Nassar in 2004 and admitted that he was fooled by the former doctor; he sided with him over Randall-Gray, who filed the complaint after she was molested during a scoliosis exam. The police launched their own independent investigation and Randall-Gray stated that, “They made a mistake, a mistake that they will live with the rest of their lives. I offered my forgiveness in the past and I continue to extend my forgiveness to them.”
Wow. A positive step? Accountability? Moving forward to enact policies toward change? What a concept.
  • Christine Moore, MSU’s Title IX investigator for the 2014 complaint by Amanda Thomashaw against Larry Nassar defended her actions and findings in court on April 8th: “I did the best I could at the time.” The Title IX conclusion favored Nassar; two reports were generated (one for Nassar and one for Thomashaw), which was the first in the history of the university. Moore is now an MSU assistant general counsel. She stated that she never informed then-president Lou Anna Simon of the complaint, although she did notify her supervisor, MSU police, and MSU general counsel.
  • MSU Assistant Chief Valerie O’Brien and Detective JJ Bradoc, a married couple employed at the university, were placed on paid leave administrative leave. O’Brien oversees the investigative division for Michigan State, which includes sexual misconduct. O’Brien handled the Title IX investigation brought against Nassar in 2014 by Amanda Thomashaw.
  • During a hearing to determine whether former MSU president Lou Anna Simon knew more about the complaints against Larry Nassar than she originally told police, Paulette Granberry Russell stated that she “cannot recall stating to President Simon a matter involving Larry Nassar” but:

Sometime between May 14 and May 19, 2014, Paulette Granberry Russell created an agenda for a meeting she would have with then-President Lou Anna Simon, was notified of a sexual assault complaint against Larry Nassar, exchanged emails with university officials about that complaint and other ongoing issues and met with Simon.

Banta, Megan and Carol Thompson. 15 April 2019. “MSU Official Says She Can’t Recall 6-Day Span Around When She Learned of Nassar Complaint.” Lansing State Journal.
  • Prosecutors believe Granberry Russell (senior adviser in the university’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives) and Simon discussed the Title IX case against Nassar during a meeting in 2014.
  • “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak”, an exhibition in special collaboration with sexual assault survivors, was opened on April 16th at Michigan State. The exhibit includes a wall of 505 titles (one for each known survivor), a timeline of the abuse, sculptures, and a triptych by sister survivor Jordyn Fishman. The exhibit will be on display until 2020. It’s a beautiful and impactful exhibit.

USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a23a83b5-0d3e-4ab3-acb6-e88db3904932-_W1_3073.JPG
  • On April 24th, new CEO Li Li Leung stated in an interview with NBC News that she too was treated by Larry Nassar but that she wasn’t abused because her coach was present. This is a troubling statement because many of the women assaulted by the former doctor had parents, coaches, and other athletes present at the time. Remember: your own experience does not mean that others did not suffer in a similar environment. As CEO, this is insulting to all the athletes she clearly hasn’t listened to enough:

While it’s a relief Leung didn’t have to experience the horror and trauma, it’s astonishing how tone-deaf she sounds. So many of the survivors had parents or coaches in the room with them while their abuse happened, so to say that’s all that’s needed to prevent this is frankly insulting to all those who have come forward. Did she not take the time to watch any of the victim statements? So many of them talked about that very detail at great lengths.

Maine, D’Arcy. 24 April 2019. “Just When Gymnastics Started to Seem Right Again, Enter Li Li Leung and her Unthinkable Answer.” ESPN W.
  • After outrage over her comments intensified, Leung tweeted:

I understand how my comment seems insensitive to the survivors and their families, and I apologize. My intent was not to diminish what they’ve been through. I should have clarified that my experience was completely different from theirs and it is wrong to suggest I could have a solution based on my experience alone. I cannot know all necessary steps to take until I hear their stories, and hope they will have a dialogue with us regarding athlete safety and well-being going forward.
  • 1984 Olympic All Around Champion Mary Lou Retton furthered the terrible-ness that is tone-deaf commenting with your foot in your mouth by saying that athletes could avoid sexual assault “by going to a reputable gym.” What. Does. That. Even. Mean. The top elite athletes from the very top gyms in the country–Madison Kocian/WOGA, Gabby Douglas-Chow’s Gymnastics, Aly Raisman/Brestyan’s, Jordyn Wieber/Twistars, Simone Biles/Aimee Boorman–were abused at the National Training Center, ran by Retton’s old personal coaches, Bela and Marta Karolyi. The Karolyis are still under investigation for their involvement and “reputable” coach John Geddert has been abused by numerous athletes for allowing, and being a part of, abusive practices. The fact that Retton mentioned she had a call with Li Li to “pick her brain” when the CEO has yet to speak to Aly Raisman or Simone Biles speaks volumes.
  • On April 23rd, Senator Chuck Grassley formerly asked the United States Olympic Committee for more information on the halting of the decertification process against USA Gymnastics. In the letter, Grassley references the idea that USAG filed for bankruptcy as a way to stop decertification and gave them until May 10th to respond. The bankruptcy also places a hold on any lawsuits against USAG.
via Gymcastic Twitter
  • Last month USAG paid a total of $1.4 million in legal expenses (including $700,000 in legal fees to six law firms).
  • Nearly 200 girls assaulted by Larry Nassar at the Twistars Gym owned by the now-disgraced John Geddert, settled with the 2012 Olympic head coach for $2.12 million, the maximum payout allowed by Geddert’s insurance coverage. Remember that Geddert was a long-time friend and supporter of Nassar, who walked in on the former doctor abusing an athlete and responded by laughing at the gymnast’s discomfort.
  • On April 29th, the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company filed a lawsuit in Denver against the the USOC stating that leaders of the organization knew of prevalent sexual abuse since at least 2010 but claim they had no cases brought forward by athletes; the insurance company believes they are not liable to cover the Larry Nassar lawsuits against the USOC because the organization “denied it had ever had an allegation or claim of sexual abuse” when filing for insurance coverage in 2015. This is counter to 2010 USOC documents that state: “the issue of sexual abuse is very real in sport and that a call to action is needed”. Sexual abuse claims were filed in the sports of gymnastics, field hockey, karate, swimming, curling, archery, rugby, rowing, snowboarding, and skiing.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that she can not meet with survivors of Nassar’s abuse due to a “legal conflict.” DeVos was under scrutiny, particularly in Michigan, due to her changes in how sexual abuse cases and Title IX complaints are handled at the collegiate level.

But DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, rejected the request to meet with Nassar victims until after the changes to Title IX are finalized, Slotkin said. 

“Therefore, I want to thank you for your request that I meet with Michigan State University Title IX survivor-advocates to hear about their experiences and views on how to prevent sexual assault on college campuses,” DeVos wrote. 

“However, as you are no doubt aware, the law prevents me from doing so at this time.” 

DeVos has criticized campus sexual misconduct rules established by the Obama administration and said her proposal is meant in part to be more fair to students who are accused of misconduct, saying one person denied due process is one too many.

She stressed that confronting sexual abuse on campus “head on” is one of her highest priorities as secretary. 

Burke, Melissa Nann. 8 May 2019. “DeVos: ‘Inappropriate’ to Meet Nassar Victims Due to Legal Conflict.” The Detroit News.
  • Women’s Athlete Representative and a member of the selection committee for competitions for USAG, 2004 Olympic medalist Terin Humphrey, posted online that “what some consider coaching, others consider abuse.” The meme further stated that athletes should “get ready” to be screamed at by coaches. 1984 Olympian Kathy Johnson Clarke replied: “Yes, at times elite athletes need to be called out for a myriad of ineffective, unproductive, behaviors, but in your face “ass-chewing” is abusive & destructive.”
  • USAG named Dr. Edward Nyman as the first full-time Director of Sports Medicine and Science for the organization. There was an almost immediate backlash from survivors and athletes (most notably Simone Biles, who tweeted: “I’m sorry…. what”). No real communication was made on what that job entailed or how the new director would interact with athletes. For the record, this position was purely administrative; he would not have been treating gymnasts personally, although no one knew that at the time.
  • The following day, USAG stated that “Dr. Nyman’s employment will not continue due to a conflict of interest, and we will immediately renew our search to identify a qualified individual to lead our sports medicine and research efforts.” They further replied: “To provide clarity, the decision to terminate Dr. Nyman’s employment was not based on any comments made on social media platforms or anywhere else. In accordance with our employment policies, we cannot comment further on this personnel matter.” WHAT. THE. HELL. What kind of disqualification does a director of sports medicine have and how did you not catch this before offering him the position?
  • USAG then stated on May 7th that Nyman was terminated “for his failure to disclose athlete safety complaints involving the club with which he is affiliated to USA Gymnastics.” His wife, Amy, owns the New Heights Gymnastics Club in Ohio and USAG has known of allegations of misconduct against the club (including intoxication of coaches in front of athletes) since at least 2017. The complaints are bad enough that USAG referred the club to the U.S. Center for SafeSport in February 2019. That’s right, THIS FEBRUARY. AS IN THREE MONTHS AGO FEBRUARY. Nyman countered that he discussed these complains with USAG in-house counsel Mark Busby before being hired by the organization. USAG released a statement citing:

“This demonstrated poor judgment and created a conflict of interest that disqualified him from serving in this important role. We are confident this was the best decision for the welfare of ‘our athletes and our community… We have learned through this process and received important feedback from our community about this position. Athlete safety is our north star and it will guide us to make the right decisions, no matter how difficult or how they may be perceived.”

Reid, Scott M. 7 May 2019. “USA Gymnastics was Aware of Allegations Against Nyman’s Gym Since 2017.” The Orange County Register.

Wait, where have we heard that statement before? Right. Every. Single. Damn. Statement. Released. By. USAG.

  • Nyman then countered with his own statement explaining that he was open about the allegations and goes into detail on A LOT of issues he reportedly saw in his 24 hours working for the organization (no one is concerned with athlete safety, Li Li is focused on the image of USAG, and that the “change” he advocated for “scared” those at the top of the organization). If what he is saying is true (are we really surprised by them?) then USAG is in even worse shape than we thought. Nyman was tenured assistant professor at the University of Findlay and he states, he didn’t “need” to take on the role. The issue is the lack of communication and transparency here where USAG releases vague press releases and those wanting to tell their story are forced to do so through a Facebook post (rant).
  • His statement also mentions, by name, yet another potential case coming out of USAG: trainer Stephanie Peters’ complaint against a male national team member. Is a Facebook post the best way to “out” this information? Yikes. Double Yikes.
  • Nyman says he is not the co-owner of New Heights. But that has also been a source of controversy (yes, even more), considering he was listed as such in a BGSU press release.

The point here is simply WTF. The back and forth between Nyman and USAG demonstrates the serious lack of ability of USA Gymnastics to successfully investigate and hire someone in a position as important as head of sports medicine in the aftermath of the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of sports in the United States. On top of that, the failure to communicate the position and how this person would interact with athletes–some of whom are survivors still competing for the organization–is baffling to to me. Firing Nyman makes sense; but the point here is how the hell was he even hired in the first place? How inept and incompetent can you be?

If, and that’s a big if, USA Gymnastics is decertified, the big question is who will be in charge of not just the national teams, but the hundreds of clubs that make up the organization of the sport of gymnastics in the United States. At this point, could anyone or literally any other governing body do a worse job at mismanaging communication, athlete well-being, and safety? Even the mess that would be left in the wake of a decertified USAG would be better than the dumpster fire that is currently running the show. Can we truly trust an organization that has failed to learn from its mistakes? Is the USOC even capable of overseeing these governing bodies when they have allowed this abuse and mismanagement to thrive?

Remember that this goes beyond Larry Nassar. Shenea Booth, a gymnast who was abused by her coach over 200 times, starting at the age of fifteen, stated:

“Everything should change about USAG,” she wrote in a survey submitted to the organization last year. “The focus needs to be on the safety and well being of the athletes.”

Meanwhile, she wants to make sure the public knows that the problems with USA Gymnastics go beyond Larry Nassar — and didn’t end just because he went to prison.

“Unless people continue to speak… there’s a lot of stuff that could just kind of fall away.”

North, Anna. 30 April 2019. “Beyond Larry Nassar: Hundreds of Athletes are Fighting USA Gymnastics in Court Over Abuse.” Vox.

Taking a page from My Favorite Murder, here are the fucking hooray moments to get us through all this negativity:

  • The Believed Podcast won a Peabody Award.
  • Maggie Nichols (Athlete A, who originally started the investigation into Larry Nassar) won the 2019 All Around NCAA National Championship and won the Honda Award.
  • Trinea Gonczar and Amanda Thomashaw created Survivor Strong, an organization to advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and educate institutions on creating change.
  • Simone Biles is in the current issue of Sports Illustrated looking (and feeling) AMAZING.

Who needs a rage nap?


Reading: What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Carolyn Forché)

Watching: At the Heart of Gold (HBO Documentaries)

Sitting on the Edge of the World: Peniche, Portugal

While in Lisbon we took a short bus ride to the small seaside town of Peniche, Portugal. Heather planned our day trip and it was fun to the visit during the off-season. During the tourist months Peniche is crazy busy, but while we were visiting the city was a ghost town. This meant we could wander the cliffs as we pleased and more importantly, the line for kebabs was non-existent.

Walking around the coast of Peniche makes you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. In some areas we were staring toward North America and in others, to Northern Africa. It was beautiful.

Up until the Middle Ages the coastal town was actually an island! But over time, the water in the channel between the island and mainland began a pretty intense siltification process caused by the winds and sea currents. As a result, the channel eventually evolved into sand dunes.

Me when I explain geological processes.
This cat enjoying his best cat life.

The biggest sites for the town are the old fortress and the beautiful views from the cliffs.

The fortress was first built in 1558; it’s currently undergoing renovation to convert the entire location into a museum and closed to the public. We tried to commit a little light trespassing to see the interior, but unfortunately were unsuccessful.
The fortress was abandoned following the Congress of Vienna (1815), which established peace in Europe.
Historically, the Peniche Fortress was used for a number of purposes: in 1824, the fortress was converted to a prison for political prisoners, Germans and Austrians were held there during WWI, it was a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1928, and in 1938, deemed a national monument (although prison labor made many of the fortress’s repairs). During the 1934-1974 revolution, the Fort of Peniche held prisoners against the Fascist state including António Dias Lourenco, who famously escaped the prison in 1961.
The fort has an “irregular” star shape due to the expansion of the compound in 1645, when it was determined that the fortress should be improved during the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668).
Heather braving the rocky landscape. I was really nervous to make way to the edge, but eventually did.
Chris: “Yeah, okay this is nice but can I play Switch?”
3/4 of the Archer appreciation club.
I still can’t believe I walked out there! I’m so glad I did.
These stairs were a little too narrow for glitter keds but Chris and Heather made the trek to the water.
Absolutely beautiful.
Thankful for this day.
Chris at the edge of the world.
The islands in the distance were one of the world’s first established nature preserves.
During the summer visitors can take a ferry out to the islands, but the water is too dangerous in the winter to journey from the mainland.
I wish I could have captured the sound of the waves here. It was amazing.
Half of the Keanu Reeves fan club.
Santuário Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
We trekked back to the bus station in time for snacks aka an excuse for mas Pastéis da nata.

❤ ❤

Photo credit: Heather Walbright

The above moment comes back to me all the time. I felt both overwhelmed at the pure hugeness of this instant of time–sitting at the edge of Europe and staring out into the vastness of what. is. life–while also feeling so small and thankful to be for this experience. Last month, during a mindfulness exercise, we had to choose a location where we found peace. For me, it was this moment in time. Calmness does not come easy for me and I’m eternally, incredibly, grateful for this very small moment in my life.


Listening: Homecoming (Beyonce)

Watching: Homecoming (Beyonce)

Oney “Ona” Judge

via Vice Media

Oney “Ona” Judge is a name you should recognize but have probably never heard before. In the US we consistently misteach and mischaracterize the history of slavery in schools; sometimes the entire era is completely glossed over or “white-washed” to the point of erasing the struggles of those in bondage completely. Like all people, Oney’s life and identity was intersectional–she was a woman, a woman of color, a mother, a slave, and poor–also factors for her story not as often told. She defied one of the most important men in the United States for a freer life.

via the National Park Service

Oney was owned by the Washingtons. Yeah, those Washingtons. Coinciding with the absence of black narratives in American history books, we’ve also failed to have conversations around what it means when many of the “founding fathers” owned human beings. Washington himself knew that slavery was wrong (he wrote in his will to free his slaves after his wife’s death) but still passed some of the harshest slavery laws while he was president.

But the focus of this story is Oney Judge. She escaped slavery and lived her life constantly fearing that she could be recaptured. Oney suffered crippling poverty and heartache, but for her, the struggle was a small price in exchange for her own freedom. Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar states:

“We have famous fugitives, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass… but decades before them, Ona Judge did this.”

Schuessler, Jennifer. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.”

I first learned about Oney last year on a November flight from Charleston to Cleveland. We had a crazy early flight (6am, no thank you) and as I scrolled through my podcast app for new episodes, I saw that I had an alert from Uncivil, the amazing Gimlet Media program hosted by Chenjari Kumanyika and Jack Hitt. “The Fugitive” is one of their last episodes of 2018 and if you haven’t subscribed, you need to reassess what you are doing with your life.

Born around 1773 to a slave (mother) and white indentured servant (father), Oney’s entire existence was serving George Washington’s wife, Martha. As a child she moved with the family from their plantation in Virginia to their mansion in Mount Vernon, New York, and finally to the then-capital of the United States, Philadelphia, when George became the country’s first president. Oney was a house slave and later interviews told the story of the harsh treatment she experienced while enslaved by the Washingtons. Her interviews helped rebuke the idea that slaves outside of the fields lived an easier life.

Oney was one of only nine slaves chosen by Washington to move to the President’s House in 1790. Philadelphia had its own set of laws regarding slavery, different from the rules set by New York and Virginia. The Gradual Abolition Act (1780) stated that enslaved people living in Philadelphia for longer than six months would be given their freedom. Washington, who claimed himself a resident of Virginia and not Pennsylvania, rotated his nine slaves every five months outside of state lines so they would remain his property. For Oney, this was her first time witnessing what life could be like for free black Americans as Philadelphia had one of the highest free black populations during that time.

In 1793, George Washington helped pass one of the most important slave laws in the United States, the Fugitive Slave Law. This law:

“gave slaveholders the right and legal apparatus to recover escaped Africans and criminalize those who harbored them.”

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

It also provided an enforcement arm to the constitutional slavery clause. This meant that now even “free” states were required to assist slave owners with the re-capture of their runaway slaves.

For Oney, the punishment of recapture was not as terrifying as returning to the south. In 1796, just three years after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, she discovered the Washingtons’ plan to present her to Eliza, Martha’s granddaughter, as a wedding present. On May 21st, while the Washingtons were hosting a dinner party, Oney quietly left the President’s House and walked toward the Delaware River. There, she took a boat operated by free blacks to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While it took five days to reach Portsmouth, it took even less time for George Washington to begin the hunt for his runaway slave. Embarrassed that she may have left on her own accord, the Washingtons invented a story that the 20-year-old fell for a Frenchman, who tricked her into leaving the house; a plea to find “Oney Judge” with a $10 reward was published in the advertisement section of the Philadelphia Gazette just two days after her escape. Even in a “free” state, Oney still had extremely limited options as a runaway slave. She lived an impoverished existence and maintained a low profile as she knew at any moment she could be forced to return to Philadelphia.

Artist rendering of Oney Judge

A friend of Martha Washington’s granddaughter spotted Oney in Portsmouth and immediately informed her grandfather, who was still the President of the United States at the time. Washington contacted the Secretary of the Treasury, making the “federal government into his own personal slave-catchers” through the power of the Fugitive
Slave Law. John Whipple, a customs agent, was sent to New Hampshire to bring Oney back. Whipple’s family recently freed their own slaves and he did not believe the story that Oney had been bewitched by a Frenchman into leaving Philadelphia. Whipple wrote Washington, asking for Oney’s emancipation following Martha’s death. George responded:

“that the request was ‘totally inadmissible’ and granting Judge any say in her fate would only ‘reward unfaithfulness’ and give ideas to others ‘far more deserving of favor.’ Washington also reminded Oney that her family still remained under his ownership.”

Schuessler, Jennifer. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.”
Letter from George Washington to John Whipple (1796).

While Oney lived in poverty and in constant fear of being recaptured in Portsmouth, she did experience joy; she married Jack, a free black sailor and gave birth to a child, Eliza. For Oney, her fear of losing her freedom intensified after her children were born:

“All the while, she was property because the inherited status of slavery followed the apron strings of women. So, Ona Judge passed the disease of slavery through her lineage to her children, making Ona and her children the property of Martha Washington.”

McCarthy, Hannah. “Unsung: Ona Judge.”

Even though Oney had escaped to a free state and her child born to a free father, she (and her future children) still remained the property of the Washingtons because of the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1799, Washington attempted to bring her back once more by sending his nephew to Portsmouth, but Oney disappeared with her children before he could recapture her.

Artist rendition of Oney’s escape.

Although George Washington passed away after this second attempt to bring Oney back to Philadelphia, she still was not free. Washington freed his slaves in his will, but on the condition that their freedom would only be granted following his wife’s death. Even after Martha changed George’s will to free his slaves before her own passing, this did not change Ona’s situation:

“The grandchildren would inherit the claims to Ona’s body. Because
of the laws that George Washington helped to put in place Ona’s bondage would just be passed down for the remainder of her life.”

Kumanyika, Chenjari and Jack Hitt. “The Fugitive.”

Living the rest of her 45 years in New Hampshire, Oney was in constant fear that she could be recaptured and her children enslaved. After the passing of her husband, she continued to live in extreme poverty, outliving all of her children before her death in 1848. Following the lineage up to the emancipation of the slaves, Oney’s last owner was Martha Washington’s grandson’s daughter, who married Robert E. Lee.

Oney Judge’s interview with the The Granite Freeman (1845)

While living a fearful and impoverished life, Judge died at age 74 knowing that she had defied one of the most important men in American history for a freer life. Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar states:

“She lived as a fugitive for the entirety of her life. But she lived as a
free person, and that, to Ona was worth more than pretty dresses, nice shoes, stockings. It mattered not. She was able to live her life.”

McCarthy, Hannah. “Unsung: Ona Judge.”
Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 made it legal for George Washington to pursue and recapture Oney even after she escaped to a free state. Two years after her death, the federal government passed an even stricter second law to protect the interests of slave owners: the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Oney Judge’s story should be remembered as a fight for freedom at all costs. In interviews with The Liberator (1847) and The Granite Freeman (1845), Oney was asked if she regretted escaping slavery when she suffered so much in New Hampshire. She responded:

“No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means.

In 2008, Philadelphia began celebrating Oney Judge Day at the President’s House. Thankfully, her story is becoming more well known and celebrated.

via the Historical Marker Database


Glass, Andrew. 2014. “Congress Enacts First Fugitive Slave Law.” Politico. Available here.

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York, Nation Books.

Kumanyika, Chenjari and Jack Hitt. 2018. “The Fugitive.” Uncivil, Season 1, Episode 13, Gimlit Media. Available here.

McCarthy, Hannah. 2019. “Unsung: Ona Judge.” New Hampshire Public Radio. Available here.

Mires, Charlene. 2012. “Invisible House, Invisible Slavery: Struggles of Public History at Independence National Historical Park.” Culture and Belonging in Divided Societies: Contestation and Symbolic Landscapes, edited by Marc Howard Ross, University of Pennsylvania. 216-237.

Schuessler, Jennifer. 2017. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.” The New York Times. Available here.


Reading: Heavy: An American Memoir (Kiese Laymon)

Watching: The Kroll Show (Comedy Central)

Pastries All Day: Lisbon, Portugal

View of Lisbon from the castle.

Last winter we had the amazing opportunity to travel with our two favorite exploring friends, Heather and Karl, on our now annual European trip. Chris and I had just spent nearly a month in the US and were able to tack on (always the planner!) a short trip to Portugal and Spain before heading home. Our vacations together are very much walk around+drink wine +play cards+make fun of Philip Rivers and this was no exception.

Loved this weather after weeks in gray Ohio.

Lisbon is a beautiful city to just simply walk through. I like to think of myself as a constant wanderer with an eventual destination. Thankfully, Heather is also in a similar mindset (typical conversation: “what kind of succulents are these? Do you think there is gelato nearby? Wonder what kind of recycling streams they have here?”) much to the chagrin of Chris and Karl, who as Heather says, are always in a hurry to get nowhere.

Pastéis da nata! These pastries were developed in 1837 and remain a staple in Lisbon. For us (minus Chris) these pastries were consumed throughout the day: breakfast, after bus snack, post-dinner snack, random do-you-smell-that-bakery-snack.

Where are we?

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and archeological artifacts show that tribes from all the back to the Neolithic period inhabited the area. The history of the city is absolutely incredible. While Lisbon is recognized as the capital, this designation has never been confirmed officially; its simply the “de-facto” capital of Portugal as the designation was formed through constitutional convention, rather than written form (any other Poli Sci nerds out there fascinated by this? Just me?).

View from our apartment.

Located right at the mouth of the Tagus River, Lisbon is the westernmost capital of a mainland European country. During WWII, as Portugal remained neutral, the country’s dictator, António Salazar, allowed spies from both the Nazis and Allies in Lisbon. The connection supposedly inspired Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond series. The capital also houses the world’s smallest bookstore, although I missed that when I was there.

View of the city from the castle.

The Sites:

First Soccer Match:

Our first match ever! The hometown team Benefica scored four goals on Feirense for the win! The atmosphere was AMAZING and the crowd was awesome. We had great seats (thanks Karl!) and a rowdy group in front of us actually broke a few of the seats on accident. You can watch the highlights and look for us here!

Wandering this Beautiful City:

We stayed in the historic district of Alfama which is absolutely beautiful but also meant we were working those calves climbing up all the narrow streets (worth it!).
View from our street.
I love the holidays in Europe. Every street was decorated and bright.

The Waterfront:

Wandering aimlessly. I loved living near the coast for ten years and I really miss views like this now that I live in a landlocked country.
Tagus River.
Love these painted and stacked rocks.
Chris: “Where are they? When are we playing Borderlands?”

Praça do Comércio:

The Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) is located on the river. On the right is the Statue of King José I that was finished in 1775.
Special holiday edition of the plaza.
A closeup of the Rua Augusta Arch that was completed in 1873.

Rua Nova do Carvalho:

Rua Nova do Carvalho (Pink Street) was previously the Red Light District in Lisbon. Now home to a ton of popular bars and shops, we walked along the Pink Street on our way from lunch.
Photo Credit: Heather

National Azulejo Museum:

National Azulejo Museum (National Tile Museum) was a beautiful stop and a great way to learn more about the tile that is used across the city landscape.
The museum is located in the former Convent of Madre Deus (1509) and became a national museum in 1980.
The museum includes exhibits from the 15th century to present-day.

Speaking of Tile:

The blue tile used across Lisbon is incredibly beautiful.

Castelo de S. Jorge:

Originally built as a citadel, the castle’s walls and towers can seen from the city below.
Archeologists have found evidence humans lived here in the second century BC and some type of fortification was built as far back as 48 BC.
Hi Lisbon, I love you.

Random Sites:

Stay mindful.
A reminder (graffiti at the LX Factory).


Copenhagen Coffee Lab:

We were super lucky to have Copenhagen Coffee Lab up the street from our apartment and we stopped by for breakfast on our way to Spain. If you remember, this breakfast made my highly prestigious “Best Brunches of 2018” list.
Chris: “Seriously can I just eat my breakfast sandwich?” Karl literally ordered this for second breakfast after he saw how good it looked.
Heather and I both ordered this avocado toast + egg combination along with sweets for the flight because great minds and all that.

The Time Out Market:

The Time Out Market is a giant cafeteria-esque building that has over 40 restaurants to choose from for all of your lunch needs. Seafood, burgers, dessert, and wine were all represented. I was mostly focused on this gorgeous pudding and now realize I should have documented everyone’s Portuguese seafood dishes.

The Saj Bakery:

We stopped at the Saj Bakery on our way to lunch (#vacation) and grabbed a spicy wrap to go. I was really excited about this spot because I LOVE Lebanese food and I don’t often have the chance to eat a vegetarian wrap in Hungary. All the heart in eyes emojis.

The LX Factory:

Or as Karl referred to it, the FX Factory (which ended up sticking in my head even as I went through my pictures looking for this post. Blame it on Archer).
Located in the Alcântara neighborhood, the LX Factory is a converted 1846 fabric production plant that now has over 200 business–markets, restaurants and shops.
Hi, I’m here to buy all the meat, cheese, wine, and honey. We stocked up for our infamous card games. Sadly, I was caught attempting to smuggle the honey to Spain where my “But is honey truly a liquid?” argument was not met with amusement from the airport security staff.
Heather and I stopped at this adorable food truck for sangria.
How beautiful are these cabbages?

Primo Basilico:

This. Pizza. Though. Primo Basilico serves pizza “al taglio” (by the cut) and they have options for everyone. We stopped by after our day trip to Peniche and each ate about half a pizza. It was sooooo good.


In classic Heather and Ashlyn fashion, we had to find the best gelato in all of Lisbon. Giallo definitely meets the requirement. Located in the Alfama neighborhood, they had a variety of super cool and interesting flavors, plus breakfast! What else do you need in this world?
My apology for the shaky picture; I only had gelato on the brain. I ordered the pistachio and mascarpone/strawberry.

So happy to experience this amazing place with awesome friends.

Friendly Reminder: You can see all my favorite travel spots on the fully downloadable Middle World Adventures Map.



Reading: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson)

Watching: Game of Thrones Season 5 (HBO)

Larry Nassar Abuse at USAG & MSU: March 2019 Update

Check out my latest update here if you need a recap of where we currently stand in the wake of Larry Nassar’s abuse.

Ready for the next steps in our continued journey of “how institutions totally mess up actually holding themselves responsible for enabling sexual predators and make false promises to create meaningful change”?

Michigan State University

Survivors and supporters gather outside the Hannah Administration Building on Michigan State’s East Lansing campus.
  • In January, the U.S. Department of Education found Michigan State University in violation of federal law “by failing to comply with requirements that aim to ensure a safe campus, systemically underreported crime statistics, and — in the handling of sexual assault allegations against former athletics physician Larry Nassar — demonstrated ‘lack of institutional control’.” These violations of the Clery Act (passed in 1990) spread across MSU and included Greek Life, athletics, residence halls, and others; the report found that the university did not even have a “minimally adequate” system in place to report sexual abuse. Some of the violations include:
    • (2016) A strength and conditioning coach failed to report a call from a former MSU athlete detailing how Nassar had “touched her inappropriately.” Rather than adhere to the rules required to report abuse, the trainer instead brought the report to an associate athletic director. Neither the coach nor the associate athletic director reported the incident to area police or MSU’s Title IX office.
    • (2016) MSU’s Sexual Assault Program did not know they were required by federal law to report abuse on campus. As a result, the crimes reported to SAP were never included in the campus’s safety statistics. Additionally, “the Sexual Assault Program couldn’t give federal investigators any documentation at all about the crimes reported to them because ‘the University stated that the SAP office did not maintain such records’.”
    • (2014) Mandatory Reporting Training is basically, yikes. In 2014, the institution could not identify who on their staff qualifies as a a campus security authority. This designation is important because federal law requires anyone considered “campus security authorities” to report any serious crimes that occur at the university. MSU records state that they believed there were 50 such staff members at the time (today that number is 1,500). The training for a CSA included a Powerpoint and quiz that is emailed to the employee; however, the university “has no way of knowing whether the CSAs complete the training and quiz, and thus, no assurances that the CSAs are capable of performing their assigned duties”.
  • The Clery Act requires institutions to report accurate crime statistics including publishing reports of sexual abuse. Currently MSU’s application for recertification is on hold while they work to actually adhere to the requirements of the law. Their punishment includes lack of federal financial aid ($423 million dollars in federal funding per year) and fines per violation. It is important to note that the largest fine charged was the $2.4 million levied against Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky abuse was reported.
  • On February 28th, MSU opened a temporary fund for survivors of abuse and their parents. To receive funding for counseling and mental health services, the abuse had to occur either at MSU or to an MSU student-athlete. Remember that the old fund was halted in July of 2018 amid concerns over “possible fraudulent claims”. Then-president John Engler stated that the money set aside for the fund could be used instead for lawsuit payouts.
  • The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs filed complaints against two MIchigan State University trainers for “giving false statements to police about their knowledge of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar”. Destiny Teachnor-Hauk and Lianna Hadden (who both still work for MSU) can face fines and have their licenses suspended or revoked. Remember that Teachnor-Hauk failed to report abuse stated by softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and also was one of the medical experts interviewed for the 2014 Title IX investigation of Nassar, an investigation which eventually cleared him of all charges. Two student athletes disclosed abuse to Hadden in 2000. Teachnor-Hauk was her supervisor at the time.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated in her first news conference on February 22nd that “a full and complete cooperation of MSU, frankly, continues to be a challenge… They have fought us every step of the way. It’s time for Michigan State University to do the right thing.” The university did not turn over 7,000 documents to her office; a portion of the documents (1,000) were eventually given after the state took MSU to court. Nessel further pleaded with the Board of Trustees to promote transparency and help with the investigation.
  • Former Michigan State student and athlete Nicole Casady, shared her story of abuse by Larry Nassar. First assaulted at a training camp and later at the university, she said she abused over sixty times.
  • The preliminary hearing for former MSU president Lou Anna Simon, charged with lying to police about her knowledge of Nassar’s abuse on campus began on February 5th.
  • Kathie Klages, former MSU gymnastics coach and one of Larry Nassar’s longtime friends, is currently awaiting trial for two counts of lying to police (seeing a trend here?). On February 7th, she filed a motion to “prohibit the release of certain personal information”.

USA Gymnastics

Li Li Leung is the new CEO of USA Gymnastics and is the fourth person in the position in two years.
  • Li Li Leung was named the new CEO of USA Gymnastics. Leung is a former gymnast at the University of Michigan and a vice president for the NBA. She also has a sports marketing background. She replaces Mary Bono, who resigned after four days in the role.
  • On March 5th, USAG filed a motion in bankruptcy court to pay Leung an annual salary $450,000 plus discretionary annual performance bonuses and a moving allowance of $15,000. It is important to note that USAG “forgot” to pay salary claims made by 2018 world championship coaches.
  • Leung’s announcement was met with controversy from survivors who found her background too similar to former CEO Kerry Perry and her work with the NBA (an organization with its own issues of abuse by athletes and staff) discouraging. Many were not happy that they were not represented in the hiring process.
  • USAG is suing 30 of their insurers for failing to pay the organization’s legal costs related to the 100 lawsuits brought against them by 300 women and girls relating to Nassar’s abuse. The battle over their insurance coverage (and whether their insurers will foot the $150 million bill) is related to the organization’s decision to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court is now responsible for deciding whether USAG had the proper coverage and if the organization was negligent in their responsibilities to their insurers: “the potential ultimate payouts to the victims is complicated by the mix of negligence and fraud claims USAG faces. Fraud and other intentional conduct claims are usually not covered under typical general liability insurance policies, experts said. USA Gymnastics is suing over both comprehensive general liability policies and directors and officers policies, according to its complaint”. They certainly failed the responsibilities they had to keep athletes safe.
  • During the bankruptcy hearing, survivors Rachel Denhollander, Tasha Schwikert, and Sarah Klein questioned the CFO of USAG, Scott Shollenbarger on the process. He could not answer many of the questions raised; Schwikert, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, called the meeting “one big I-don’t-know.”
  • The deadline to file claims against USA Gymnastics was extended to April 26th.
  • The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will double the funding to the organization’s Safe Sport program to $6.2 million annually. Safe Sport is funded by the Olympic governing bodies in the US and is charged with investigating any reports of sexual abuse.
  • One of the USOC’s insurers, Arch Specialty, claims that the organization knew about the Larry Nassar abuse in USA Gymnastics before applying for their $8 million policy in 2017 (!!). In a Colorado court Arch Specialty reports that their policy only covers sexual abuse that could not have been foreseen by the organization and they are therefore not liable to pay out for any settlements related to Nassar’s abuse.
  • As of March 8th, the USOC has paused steps to decertify USA Gymnastics as the governing body for the sport. USOC chief executive Sarah Hirshland stated: “We believe that USA Gymnastics’ intention in filing bankruptcy was an attempt to resolve litigation they are facing in an expedited and organised way… We believe that is a really important step for USA Gymnastics and don’t think disrupting that in any way by pursuing the section eight hearing at this point is helpful to that process”.
  • A bill extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases an additional three years in Indiana was stalled at the statehouse last month. The bill, designed to give survivors of abuse more time to file reports, was developed after Indianapolis based USAG was found to have allowed years of abuse of athletes. The Judiciary Committee’s Chair, Sen. Randall Head, sent the bill to a summer study committee stating: “The topic of statute of limitations have some implications that have not been testified about this morning. If we open the statute of limitations for everyone until 2022, it’s possible that victims could get justice. But then 10 years after that there could be other people that say, ‘Wait, you need to open it up again.’… I don’t think we’re ready in this committee this morning to make a decision regarding the statutes of limitations and all of those implications”.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also stated that her office will investigate former coach and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach John Geddert. Eaton County began an investigation into Geddert after multiple survivors came forward with stories of physical and mental abuse in his gym, Twistars; “no timeline” was determined for when that investigation would be completed. Nessel has now taken over the case and put prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark in charge of leading the investigation and that “any and all potential crimes will be pursued”.

For all of our sanities, I want to end on a high note.

This quote by Simone Biles will hopefully get you through this madness:

“A badass is a woman who has confidence in herself, along with a bit of attitude and some swag.”


Reading: The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)

Watching: Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Listening: Lux Prima (Karen O & Danger Mouse)

Extra special thank you to Gymcastic for all of their continued coverage.

Today’s Rain is Tomorrow’s Whiskey: Edinburgh, Scotland

View from Edinburgh Castle and one of the times I’ve broken my strict “never climb an old volcano” vow.

Sigh, Scotland. Edinburgh has been at the absolute top of my travel list since I first saw Danny Boyle’s (equally both amazing and scarring) Trainspotting. 

Well, but me and Scotland

Edinburgh is a gorgeous city filled with a ton of history, culture, and of course, whiskey. Get ready for a loooooong post filled with Scottish adventures including murder legends (obviously), cocktail villages, and of course #alltheharrypotterthings. Somehow I even managed to find Russian pierogi (but are any of us actually surprised?)

Old Town, Edinburgh

Where are we?

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom. Its name derives from the Brittonic Celtic word “Eidyn” and although the meaning is unknown, scholars believe the term references Castle Rock, the location of Edinburgh’s Castle. Castle Rock was formed over 350 million ago out of volcanic rock. Often compared to Rome, Edinburgh was built on seven hills.

Earliest human inhabitation of the area goes all the way back to 8500 BC. In 1706, the Treaty of the Union combined the Parliaments of Scotland and England to form the Parliament of Great Britain. This was largely opposed by many Scots, which led to numerous riots in Edinburgh. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Edinburgh was occupied by the rebel Jacobite Highland Army until their defeat by the British at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom today.

Or as we all know, the premise to the first season of Outlander.

Known for its distilling, brewing, and printing industries, the city’s Old Town has its trademark smoke-stained buildings and the winding, cobblestone streets feel like you’re stepping out of a Harry Potter novel, which of course makes sense because much of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the series came from the time she spent in the city.

There is so much to see in Edinburgh! We only had a couple of days but you could easily spend a week just wandering and exploring this beautiful, historic city.

The Sites:

Overwhelmed by all the things Edinburgh has to see? SAME. Friendly reminder that you can find all of the sites (including my personalized Harry Potter walking tour) in the Middle World Adventures map.

Trainspotting Dreams Coming True:

First #myheartisexploding moment came immediately after exiting the bus from the airport into the city. Our stop on Princes Street is the location of the infamous “Choose Life” scene at the beginning of Trainspotting, when Renton and Spud are being chased by police officers.

While the storefronts have changed (there’s now a Next department store and a greeting card shop), it was still such a cool nerd moment for me to be standing at that stop.

Lovely Places:

The National Art Gallery of Scotland first opened in 1859.
The beautiful Princes Street Gardens
St. Giles’ Cathedral contains buildings built in 1124.
The Merchants Hall in New Town

True Crime Spots:

I wish we had time for a tour of the Surgeons’ Hall Museum! They have the Burke Death Mask on display. William Burke, half of the infamous Burke & Hare team, murdered 16 people in Edinburgh during the early 1800s. During the time there was a huge demand for bodies by anatomy schools in Edinburgh; Burke & Hare delivered the corpses of their lodgers for cash. After being discovered by police, Hare was granted immunity for confessing the murders. Burke was hanged and his skeleton (and face mask) was put on display where it remains today.
The view from Mary King’s Close. A “close” is an ancient alleyway and Mary’s is one of Edinburgh’s most famous as well as most haunted sites in the city. This passageway (to the left of the picture) is named after Mary King, an affluent merchant who lived here in 1635. After years of disease (including haunting descriptions of the bubonic plague and how it was treated yikes), overcrowding, and poor living conditions, the Close became a site for underground trading. Parts have been demolished, but a portion under the city remains open for tours.
View from Grassmarket: Grassmarket was the site of public executions in Edinburgh. One of the most famous stories is that of Maggie Dickson. The wife of a fisherman who deserted her and left her destitute in 1723 (#boybye), Dickson left the city for Kelso. There, she found work for an Innkeeper and also fell in love with the Innkeeper’s son. After becoming pregnant, Dickson gave birth to a premature baby who passed away a few days later. The baby’s body was found, traced to Dickson, and she was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and the murder of her son. After being found guilty, she was sentenced to death and hanged in the Grassmarket Gallows on September 2nd, 1724. After being pronounced deceased, her body was transported to Musselburgh, where, on the way, she awoke. Since the sentence had been carried out, Dickson could not be tried again, and she lived another forty years with her husband (boy, welcome back, I guess).

Harry Potter Tour:

Nicolson’s Cafe, now Spoon, is where J.K. Rowling wrote many of the chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This plaque is located at the corner of Drummond Street.
The entrance to George Heriot’s School, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Me about to break into Hogwarts (via Kristin Ariel Photography)
Victoria Street is rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a graveyard near Old Town that was established in 1861.
One of the graves, Tom Marvolo Riddle, is said to have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling ( He-Must-Not-Be-Named’s dear old dad)
Searching For Tom Riddle’s Grave: Our Edinburgh Adventure
One of my absolute favorite places in Edinburgh. I could have easily have spent hours here just wandering around. Photo credit to Casci for capturing me #livingthatbackpacklife

Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2018:

It was a (very) happy coincidence to visit Edinburgh during their 2018 Storytelling Festival. While I was hopping-up-and-down-ecstatic at all the nerdy possibilities, my friends were the absolute best and came along on a couple of stops. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we had in the city, I could really only see a couple of exhibitions.

Absolutely breathtaking to see in person!
The National Library of Scotland featured an exhibition of the work of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, born an American slave in 1818 and making his escape to freedom in 1838, is one of the most famous activists of the anti-slavery movement. He arrived in Edinburgh in 1846. The exhibition was amazing.

Edinburgh Castle:

Image by Kristin Ariel Photography
View from the trek up to Edinburgh Castle
Photo by Kristin Ariel Photography

Jack White:

We saw the always amazing Jack White during his Boarding House Reach Tour.
I only cried twice. Okay, three times.

Restaurants & Pubs:

My Favorite Meals in Edinburgh:

The Painted Rooster: We found the Painted Rooster for breakfast and happily, take-home pierogi. I had vegetarian haggis while a friend braved his first haggis tasting. After speaking to the Russian server and owner, Chris and I 100% brought back to-go pierogi, promptly eating them as soon as we were back in Hungary.
Elephant & Bagels: The most adorable cafe located smackdab in the middle of our Harry Potter tour, Elephant & Bagels has a great menu and was absolutely packed when we stopped for lunch. I had my go-to: everything bagel with honey, brie, and walnuts.

Edinburgh Cocktail Week:

Happily, we were in town for the 2018 Edinburgh Cocktail Week and were able to visit the Cocktail Village–a large tent filled with the city’s best bars and their unique cocktails created just for the event.
We loved the Cask Smugglers stand (Kristin Ariel Photography)
Our favorite stand was the Pop Up Geeks! They were fully immersed in the world of Willie Wonka (Kristin Ariel Photography). I was 1000% fan-girling the bartender.
I love this so much.
Best Marketing ever?
❤ this girl! (Kristin Ariel Photography)

Whiskey & Folklore Class

How can you not sign up for a whiskey and folklore class while in Edinburgh? We attended this class and had a blast. Our host discussed the history of whiskey distilling in Scotland as well as the city’s best true crime murder stories (be still my heart). It was an amazing start to our trip. Whiskey tasted: Auchentoshan (Lowlands), Glenlivet (Highlands), Old Pulteney (Wick). and my favorite, Lagavulin (Islay).

The Pop Up Geeks:

The Pop Up Geeks is an absolute must-visit while in Edinburgh. Every few months they choose a different nerdy theme and apply it comprehensively to the entire bar including the menu, the decor, and the marketing. While we were visiting it was everything Lord of the Rings (“There and Back Again”). My friend Kristin was SO EXCITED and not being a LOTR fan myself, I was just thrilled to be there with her. Make sure to reserve your spot.
Photo Credit: Kristin Ariel Photography


Located on Victoria Street, John Kay’s Shop is a beautiful combination of new and antique books right in the heart of Edinburgh. I was eyeing a couple of special edition Brontë novels but exercised my limited self-control and purchased postcards instead.
“Smell the Old Books for Yourself!” proclaims Armchair Books, a used bookstore located in West Port near Grassmarket. The “very nearly” organized chaos of this shop made my heart incredibly happy.
Absolutely adored this bookstore.
Happily, Bonkers Gift Shop was located right next to our Air BnB and I was able to pick up on all of my favorite tourist purchases: strange, hand-drawn postcards, obscenely specific greeting cards, and various pet-related gifts. So cute.

Edinburgh absolutely tops the list of my favorite places. I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Darling, I love you more than whiskey.
(Kristin Ariel Photography)

Extra special thank you and love to Kristin Earwood, an insanely talented photographer and wonderful friend. Check out her amazing work here.


Reading: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (Sherry Jones)

Watching: Lorena (Amazon)

Listening: Boom! Lawyered (Re.Wire: Season 2)

The Larry Nassar Sentencing: One Year Later

Survivors of Nassar’s abuse are awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs in July 2018.

One year ago Larry Nassar was sentenced to, or as Judge Aquilina stated, given “his death warrant”. The largest sex abuse scandal in sports history now has over 500 survivors. What have we learned? What has changed?

Judge Aquilina in 2018.

While Nassar is behind bars for the rest of his life, it is important to remember that both the culture and institutions that allowed him to abuse hundreds of girls over twenty years remain intact. Nassar didn’t act alone. People in positions of power helped cover up his abuse and silence victims. We still have a long way to go to change these institutions and hold enablers accountable.

Part of creating change is to continue to talk about it. Warning: this a wordy post but let’s get up to speed with the hot mess that is Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State University

Banner at MSU supporting survivors of abuse.

Insanely enough the backlash against MSU has grown due to continued missteps by the institution. Let’s update their latest disasters:

  • Special counsel Bill Forsyth, tasked with investigating MSU, stated that “nearly a dozen MSU employees learned of Nassar’s abuse from the victims themselves. It said employees were aware of the abuse allegations as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2015. But in nearly every case, the employees — who included coaches, athletic trainers, fellow doctors and the school Title IX office — did nothing…”.
  • President John Engler resigned last week amid even more statements against survivors of abuse at the university. Remember that Engler was the interim president after Lou Anna Simon was forced to resign following reports of the administration’s failure to hold Nassar accountable surfaced. Engler has continued to speak negatively against survivors, first by offering $250,000 to Kaylee Lorincz and lying that others had accepted cash. Then, just this month, he accused survivors still working for change as “enjoying the spotlight.” Engler also canceled an issue of the campus alumni magazine that detailed the abuse and made seriously questionable decisions regarding hiring. He released an 11 page (!!) letter along with his resignation. Also important to note that if he did not resign, the board would fire him.
  • The Healing Assistance Fund, put together by MSU to pay for survivor counseling, was closed in July of 2018 amid concerns over fraud. The alleged fraud never materialized and the fund was not reopened. Then-president John Engler wrote that the remaining balance of the fund could be used pay out the lawsuits brought forth by victims of sexual abuse (classy right?). The university recently voted to establish a new fund for mental health services, but details have yet to be released.
  • Former president Lou Anna Simon was arraigned in November for two felonies and two misdemeanor accounts of lying to police.
  • Former coach Kathie Klages was arrested for lying to police and currently awaits trial. If convicted, she faces four years in prison.
  • William Strampel, former dean for the College of Osteopathic Medicine (and Nassar’s direct boss) will go to trial for four criminal charges: felony misconduct for using his position to “harass, discriminate, demean, sexually proposition, and sexually assault female students”, a sexual assault charge, and two counts of willful neglect of duty in relation to the Nassar’s 2014 Title IX investigation.
  • Michigan State University will pay the legal fees for Klages, Simon, and Strampel as the institution has a policy to “support trustees, officers, faculty, and staff who were acting in good faith with the university.” All of the legal fees incurred by Klages and Simon (both charged with lying to police) will be paid for by the university. Strampel, who is currently awaiting trial for sexual assault allegations and misconduct, will have his lawyers and civil lawsuits footed by the university as well as 50% of his criminal defense.

USA Gymnastics

Sure, USAG. Sure.

Similar to Michigan State University’s stumbles, USAG continues to crash and burn rather than actually work to create tangible change:

  • Former CEO Steve Penny was arrested for removing documents from the Karolyi Ranch connected to Nassar’s sexual abuse; he has pled not guilty. The felony charge means that if convicted, Penny could face ten years in prison. Remember he pled the fifth to the Senate last year.
  • USAG’s Chief Operating Officer Ron Gallimore resigned in November. Gallimore was one of the largest holdovers from the Nassar era and held his position even after the CEO and Board of Trustees were replaced. He was one of the officials that provided Nassar with a cover story in 2015 while he was under investigation. Rather than explain why the former team doctor was not at competitions, Gallimore and others maintained that Nassar was ill. He continued to abuse patients during this time (remember that USAG and MSU both employed Nassar and separately investigated him).
  • Debra Van Horn, a former trainer for USAG, was indicted on one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child. She was charged as an “acting party” with Nassar.
  • The United States Olympic Committee filed to revoke USA Gymnastics’s status as the governing body for the sport in November 2018. However, it is important to note that there is evidence that the USOC also knew about Nassar’s abuse as early as 2015 and did nothing. Too little too late USOC. You don’t get to be the good guys in this shitshow.
  • In December 2018, USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy. With over 100 lawsuits representing 350 individuals, the decision could potentially mean less funding for victims (although the organization stated that their insurance is still intact) as well as maintaining documents that could protect USAG. The filing also includes a “restructuring” that delays the decertification process brought on by the USOC.
  • Documents published on January 18th, 2019 show that USA Gymnastics paid former CEO Penny $470,000 in severance. These payments were made even after he was arrested and included a check for $36,666 days before filing for bankruptcy. Survivors of abuse have yet to receive a payment. YIKES and DOUBLE YIKES.
  • Additionally, several other severance payments were made in late 2018: $425,000 to former CEO Kerry Perry, who held the position for 8 months before being forced to resign and $18,000 to Mary Bono, who was in the role for less than a week after also being forced to resign.
Anyone else relate to this gif after reading this?

I know there is a long way to go and a lot more people that need to be held accountable. Keep holding their feet to that dumpster fire.


Reading: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (Sherry Jones)

Listening: The Teal Album (Weezer)

So It Goes: Dresden, Germany


I’m incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to visit Dresden with a group of friends last autumn. On the quest to visit the town where my friend was born, we had quite the adventure as a group wandering the streets (and festival foods) of Dresden.

Embracing my inner book (and history) nerd, Dresden has always been one of the cities I hoped to visit while in Europe. Get ready for #allthethings Kurt Vonnegut and WWII debates (or just keep scrolling).


Me while packing my bag for the trip.

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2019-01-16 at 5.14.28 PM.png

Dresden is the capital of Saxony, a state in Eastern Germany. The first settlement in the area is thought to have been established in 7500 BC by Slavic people, then grew due to the an influx of Germanic populations. The name Dresden (Drežďany) is Old Sorbian and translates to “people of the forest”.


The landscape and population of the city drastically changed during WWII. From 1935-1945, the Jewish community fell from over 6,000 to 41 due to Nazi persecution and migration. Yeah, you read that correctly: 41. By the time of the US and UK bombing in 1945, the city housed over 600,000 refugees, nearly half their population.


Between February 13th and 15th 1945, British and American forces dropped 1,181 tons of incendiary bombs and 1,477 tons of high explosive bombs on the civilian city of Dresden. The combination of the bombs both damaged the city’s buildings while also burning their wooden structures; the historic inner city was destroyed and scholars estimate that 25,000-35,000 civilians were killed:

“Victor Gregg, a British para captured at Arnhem, was a prisoner of war in Dresden that night who was ordered to help with the clear up. In a 2014 BBC interview he recalled the hunt for survivors after the apocalyptic firestorm. In one incident, it took his team seven hours to get into a 1,000-person air-raid shelter in the Altstadt. Once inside, they found no survivors or corpses: just a green-brown liquid with bones sticking out of it. The cowering people had all melted. In areas further from the town centre there were legions of adults shrivelled to three feet in length. Children under the age of three had simply been vaporised.”

Even today, seventy years after the bombing, many argue whether the event constitutes a war crime by the Allies: the city held no military significance, caused thousands of civilian casualties, and had no real impact on the war. Kurt Vonnegut, an American POW who survived the bombing and later based the novel Slaughterhouse Five on his experience stated in an interview:

“VONNEGUT: . . . Only one person on the entire planet benefited from the raid, which must have cost tens of millions of dollars. The raid didn’t shorten the war by half a second, didn’t weaken a German defense or attack anywhere, didn’t free a single person from a death camp. Only one person ‘benefited’ — not two or five or ten. Just one.

INTERVIEWER: And who was that?

VONNEGUT: Me, I got three dollard for each person killed. Imagine that.”


A digital composite image of the Theaterplatz Square in 1946 and in 2015 (via The Atlantic)


The city center in 1945 and 2015 (via The Atlantic).

Regardless of how you align in the debate, the bombing did impact the way we define “legitimate use of violence” in war. The history, culture, and rebuilding of Dresden are truly incredible. Our few days wasn’t nearly enough to explore everything.

The Sites: 


Dresden Frauenkirche has one of the largest domes in Europe. Originally built as a symbol for remaining Protestant under a Catholic rule, it is now a sign of reconciliation between the two religions.


The church was destroyed during the bombing and the ruins served as a war memorial until the reunification of Germany. From 1994-2004 the church underwent reconstruction.


Dresden Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) is the largest church building in the Free State of Saxony. The southeastern corner existed as far back as 1168.


The interior of the building was destroyed in 1897 and again suffered fire damage during the bombing of Dresden.


One of the oldest buildings in the city, construction on Dresden castle began in 1533 (!!). The castle has now been connected to the Dresden Cathedral.


Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral) is one of Dresden’s most important landmarks. The church was founded in 1739 and was rebuilt after the bombing of Dresden and further restored in the 1980s and early 2000s.



Dresden Castle


Kunsthofpassage was one of my favorite spots! The pipes on the outer wall “sing” when it rains. A location outside of the historic part of the city, but definitely worth the short tram ride. Also the site of an AMAZING craft beer shop on the first floor. 


The five courtyards are now an art experiment known as the Ginkgo Project and are filled with adorable shops and art installations.


The Panometer is an absolute must visit! This display is held in an old telescopic gas holder (built in 1879) and is 89 feet high and 344 feet around.


There are two displays: Baroque Dresden (which depicts how Dresden may have looked in 1756) and Dresden 1945 (showing the city after the bombing).

(via Panometer)

The Food:

Dresden Farmers Market:


We stumbled on this gorgeous farmers market our first day in Dresden. There was a ton of amazing cheese, meat, and vegetables for sale.


Technically not food, obviously, but how adorable are these?


Happiest Ashlyn is post-farmers market (via Kristin Ariel Photography)

Cafe Toscana:

Brunch at Cafe Toscana was amazing and the perfect way to start our trip to Bayreuth. I ordered an omelet with homemade vegipan, a seeded bread that is perfect with butter and coffee. Thankfully, a friend and I went halfsies on porridge and it was one of the best ones yet.


Cutest coffee timer EVER.


The most gorgeous porridge on the planet.

German and Hungarian Festival:

How lucky are we that a German and Hungarian fall food festival was taking place while we were visiting? We ate here at least twice and the food was amazing.


So cute! (via Kirstin Ariel Photography)


Hi, I’d like all the potatoes and mushrooms you have. Extra garlic sauce please. The woman who served me definitely remembered us the next day when we stopped by for breakfast.

Slaughterhouse Five:

Technically this should be listed under “sites” and it certainly is, but my love of the book requires me to give Vonnegut his own section. Slaughterhouse Five inspired me to study history and political science.


I first read the novel in middle school and was immediately enthralled with the structure and writing of the story. The life of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier during WWII, is described by the narrator non-linearly, jumping back and forth in time (and space as Pilgrim is abducted by aliens). Pilgrim (and Vonnegut) survive the bombing of Dresden by taking cover in Schlachthof-fünf, or Slaughterhouse Five, an underground meat locker.

The first description is described as:

“The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.”

I can second the loveliness of Dresden. The landscape and buildings are absolutely gorgeous to the point where you can imagine the cast of a Disney movie stepping onto the stone walkways. Pilgrim later emerges from the locker and found the previously “heavenly” skyline to look like “the surface of the moon… the entire city was gone.”

Today, there is a small Google Maps marker for the location of Vonnegut’s shelter. Completely destroyed during the bombing, the site is now a sports complex on top of the former underground meat locker.  The basement houses a small memorial to Vonnegut.


Unused nearby building.


Miraculously, the statue of the bull survived the bombing. The sports complex (back) now sits on top of the old underground meat locker.

Slaughterhouse Five is a novel and very much so. The point of the book isn’t the number of bombs dropped on the city or the number of people who died. The point is that the destruction of Dresden is just another massacre. It’s not the first, it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. One of the greatest aspects of the novel is simply the humanity of it.


(via Kristin Ariel Photography)


Reading: The Souls of Yellow Folks (Wesley Yang)Ashlyn (2)

Watching: Outlander Season 2 (Netflix)


Check out my girl Kristin’s beautiful photography (so many photos featured here!) on her site.

Further Reading:

Overy, Richard. 2006. “The Post-War Debate.” in Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945. (editors: Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Craig). Ivan R. Dee: Chicago. 123-142.

Taylor, Ann. 2015. “Remembering Dresden: 70 Years After the Firebombing.” The Atlantic. Available here.