Our theme for the month of March is “cities.”

Author’s note: Clara Visser (Calvin, 2022) and I flew to England on a “workaway” volunteer month two days after graduation. On a weekend off from our volunteer work, we took a train to St. Ives, a coastal city in Cornwall. We wrote this with prompts, but without looking at each other’s work until we put them side-by-side–Clara in italics, myself in regular case. This is St. Ives: one city from two perspectives.


St. Ives was confidence wrapped in fresh Cornish air.

St. Ives was the bluest waters, the freshest air, the quaintest shops. St. Ives was the most dangerous streets–I’m serious, no one should be allowed to drive like that—the rudest seagulls—I feel lucky to still have all my fingers—and the thickest rain. St. Ives was beautiful, and for three days, St. Ives was home.

We let the sloping, grassy cliffs guide us into the city. My rain jacket felt ridiculous now—how could anyone think England was dismal and gray when it looked like this?

It was all crisp blue water and green cliffsides, purple oysters clinging to midnight rocks. Fishermen pulled into the shore where St. Ives natives ate ice cream.

There were four beaches. Four. Can you imagine? Four beaches walking distance apart from each other, like each direction of a compass.

We arrived on a warm evening and were greeted by an orange sky, salty air, and cobbled streets. A steep ascent led us away from the sea and into the city where a hostel of friendly surfers, a small, clean room, and cozy bunk-beds awaited us and our tired feet.

Houses were squat, lining nonsensical streets to create a jagged arrow to each beach—Porthgwidden Beach, Porthminster Beach, Porthmeor Beach, The Harbour.

In our hostel beds the first night, I had this feeling that this was our chance to do something incredible.

I just didn’t know what yet.

I went to bed, heart full, Cornish air in my lungs, and a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait for the morning. Even having been here only a mere two hours, I already knew that I wouldn’t be ready to leave when the weekend came to a close.

I booked a surfing lesson.

I vacillated between being horrified and thrilled as we walked the beaches, ate cream teas, and navigated crowded streets. Clara couldn’t pull her eyes away from the displays of fresh bread. The seagulls couldn’t pull their eyes away from the sandwich she bought, eventually swooping down on her, hitting her over the head, and stealing a beak-sized gob of toastie.

I kept thinking that I shouldn’t have booked a surfing lesson when she couldn’t do it with me.

Clara had a bad knee.

So naturally, I had us hiking up cliffs to St. Nicholas’s chapel, wondering if St. Nicholas had ever seen it. We listened to the waves and found the grass was mossy patches full of clovers.

Clara sat. I took my rain jacket off and sat with her.

We spent the next three days walking thousands of steps along rocky seaside cliffs, wading barefoot through tidepools, eating scones and clotted cream, straining our eyes as we scanned the water for seals (we saw one!), and enjoying the world’s best fish and chips.

We wandered the city’s meandering streets, and dodged cars whose drivers seemed to think sidewalks were merely extensions of the road. We couldn’t have known we’d have to dodge seagulls too, and our sandwiches suffered from our ignorance.

I surfed the waves at Porthmeor with Otto, who told me it’s the steady people that make it farthest in surfing. The people that balance chaos and calm of the sea.

I looked over at Clara sleeping on the beach when I bailed off my board on a bad run, sinuses full of salt water, and thought, she’s missing the incredible bit of St. Ives.

Gabbie went surfing and turned out to be a natural! I took a nap in the sand and called home to tell my mother all about our adventures. We took a dip together after the surfing lesson concluded and very nearly froze.

We visited the Tate—not the real Tate, the smaller, lesser known Tate of St. Ives—when the weather put a halt to our hiking. We stayed until they kicked us out, then ate an enormous pizza in the rain. 

Clara jumped in the ocean with me after I had returned the surfboard. We were freezing, only to be thawed by a full pizza split between us—no seagulls allowed.

I learned the ocean has a rhythm you can harmonize to. I learned how to wash salt out of my hair to the sound of a girl retching all of her food finds from the day. I learned how to experience something incredible with no witnesses.

I learned I did need my rain jacket after all—at the end of the day, it poured on us.

We went to England to see what we could see before we couldn’t.

We went to England to prove we could.

It was—or so it seemed—now or never. School was barely behind us, and the “real world” that we’d been ceaselessly warned about for the last four years seemed to lurk just around the corner, but for now, for a brief moment in time, we were free. The world was ours, and we took that to heart in the most literal sense.

It was a great big step into the unknown and we were excited, terrified, overwhelmed, and over-prepared for it.

We both needed something out of that small coastal England town. I wanted it to show me how brave I could be. I think Clara needed the sea breeze to stop time.

I think it was both of those things for us. And that might have been the incredible thing after all.

We watched another sunset, just as beautiful as the one that had greeted us on our first night. Then we waved our goodbyes to the cliffs as we boarded the train to London.

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