Moon over Moscow By Nancy L. Held, Towson...

MY BEST SHOT

January 09, 2000

MY BEST SHOT

Moon over Moscow

By Nancy L. Held, Towson

Moscow lay gray with massive buildings during the day. At night, though, red stars blazed above the Kremlin's spires, guiding its populace to beautifully lit fountains and shops. Interlocked arms of lovers and children with parents still heralded romance and hope in a struggling country. In this picture, the moon snuggled itself between the domes of St. Basil's Cathedral and then sat atop the pines outside the Kremlin.

A MEMORABLE PLACE

The classroom of London

By Jennifer Walker

Special to the Sun

Spitting rain that never ends, gray overcast days and a five-pound cup of frozen yogurt. New York? Antarctica? Not quite. After my first week in London, in what many proclaim to be one of the most fabulous cities in the world, I began wondering if I possessed some gene that allowed me to see this dreary city for what it really is ... just plain depressing and expensive. But, as the weeks turned to months, I started to see what all those people were talking about: that London is one of the most wonderful, unique and diverse cities in the world.

I stepped off my plane, ready to embark on a four-month study-abroad journey of self-discovery, into the chaos and confusion that is Heathrow Airport. I had become part of the sea of Irish, Indian, Spanish, French and American visitors who were just like me. We were foreigners in a strange and scary place. I was no longer an individual who belonged to a country, and I suddenly felt very small.

For the first few weeks, I did not fit in. I knew only three people in a city of millions. Maps didn't make sense to me. I had never lived in a place where I was required to cook my own meals, and I lived on peas and beans for weeks. An old, drunken man screamed that I was a "stupid American" as I walked past a pub, though I hear this happens to everyone at least once.

But after I began to let go of my self-absorbed thoughts that said everyone in London was criticizing me, my experiences began to change.

I began to carve myself a very small niche. I learned the tube system, England's version of the subway, and then almost entirely stopped using it once I learned to use maps. I cooked myself pasta with vegetables and even made vegetable lasagna one night. I learned how to use our washing machine and to deal with the fact that the dryer never really dried clothes.

My morning regimen included running and walking in Regent's Park. I experimented with ethnic cuisine, eating Japanese at Wagamama's and frequenting the Sunday Indian buffet. I knew that 2 p.m. was a good time to begin the line outside of Shaftsbury for tickets to "Rent" that night. I even began giving other people directions!

London had become my second home. I grew up more in those four months than I had in the preceding 20 years. I'm more independent, optimistic, humble and curious than I have ever been. My experience forced me to open my mind, allowing some of the haze and confusion about life to be lifted from my body. I have never felt greater admiration for the loved ones in my life, and I found inner strength that I never knew I had.

Jennifer Walker is a student at the University of Maryland in College Park.

READERS RECOMMEND

South Dakota

Thor Young, Annapolis

"The highlight of our trip to the Black Hills was a 50-mile mountain bike ride along the central section of the George S. Mickelson Trail. This 114-mile trail follows the old Burlington Northern rail line north and south across the entire Black Hills. The trail was surprisingly uncrowded on the beautiful June day when I took this picture of the unspoiled landscape just north of Hill City, S.D."

Japan

Theodore Lewis, Severna Park

"In the town of Kamakura sits the `Giant Buddha.' He was cast in the year 1252, weighs 274,428 pounds and is 44 feet high. I arrived at 8 a.m. and was the first one there. I had him all to myself for about seven or eight minutes. I was stunned by the sight of him sitting there and not another soul in sight."

LET US HEAR FROM YOU

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In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150)

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