My favorite off-campus spots

When I was a prospective student, I imagined myself traveling to Philadelphia every weekend to bask in the hustle and bustle of city life. In reality, though, a round trip ticket to center city is around $13, and, at least for me, represents a considerable chunk of time taken out of everything else I have to do for school. So, if I’m not constantly going into the city, how do I avoid feeling cooped up on campus? Over my years here, I’ve found a few places that are close enough to be practical, but far enough away to feel like an escape.

Luddington Library is only a few block away from Bryn Mawr’s campus. Filled with sunlight and comfortable study spaces, it’s a great place to get work done or relax with a book. My favorite place to go is the children’s area, on the top floor. During the school day it tends to be deserted, so it’s the perfect place to spread out all my papers and study. If you like to study with snacks, there’s also an area on the ground floor called The Reading Porch where food and beverages are allowed. Unfortunately, it seems to be a hit-or-miss when Bryn Mawr students who are not from the area try to apply for library cards. That being said, it can still be fun to browse the shelves and periodicals.

Although there’s a Starbucks near the train station, I prefer Hothouse Coffee for a more relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful wood floors and furnishings. Househouse is right next to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, a historic movie theater that has special showings and events. My go-to order is a mocha, and the rich chocolate is the exact rush of sugar and caffeine that I need to finish an essay outline.

Every Saturday, the blue bus (which ordinarily travels between Bryn Mawr and Haverford) makes an extra stop: Ardmore, another town on the mainline. This shuttle bus is totally free, and a convenient way to get to a number of stores. Ardmore has a very cute, walkable, small-town feel, but most of the retail is pretty upscale. I love browsing at Paper Source, a gift and crafting supply store, and clothing stores like Madewell and Urban Outfitters. I always stop at the Ardmore Farmers Market, which doesn’t feature a lot of farm-fresh produce, but it’s a really cool indoor space with vendors selling prepared foods, and some fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss the cheese stand, which usually has free samples, and a newer stall where you can sample flavored olive oils and vinaigrettes. My favorite place in the Farmers Market is the Argyle Bouquet, which sells plants, flowers, and adorable potted succulents. Over the years I’ve nurtured a little family of succulents, all of which have names and a special place in my heart. My last stop in Ardmore is usually the Sephora. I don’t wear makeup, but it’s fun to try on all the nail polishes, perfumes, and lipsticks.

The Ardmore Farmers Market

Ashbridge Memorial Park is located beside Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work, no more than a five minute walk from campus. This park is lovely place to connect with nature. Especially in the springtime, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting by the burbling creek as it trickles through the small wooded area. Local dogs and their owners often come to play on the gentle hill, while joggers make their way through the winding path. On a foggy morning the park looks as mysterious as a fairytale marsh where a coven of witches might live.


One of my goals for the semester was to get into a more reasonable sleep schedule. Last year I was staying up until at least 2 or 3 a.m. every single day and then sleeping as late as possible. I would rush to class groggy and over-caffeinated, and I was constantly tired. This semester I’ve decided to change my ways. So far I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve been getting out of bed at a reasonable hour—even if I don’t have class!—and going to sleep before the morning gets too wee. The truth is that although I don’t always like waking up, I love the mornings. The air seems cleaner before the day starts. Campus is chilly and empty. Light slants through the buildings and trees in unexpected ways. Eating breakfast in Erdman dining hall is a much calmer experience before everyone else arrives. When my breakfast has settled, I usually have time to go to the gym or take a walk.

I took these photos on a Bryn Mawr morning last week, before the recent snowfall. I was a little too late to see the sunrise, but I still enjoyed the chilly newness of the day. The blue sky and the bright buildings, with their long shadows, reminded me of an oil painting. The beginning of the day is hard for a lot of people, and so is the beginning of a new semester. But there’s also something beautiful and exciting about the glow of a new sun.

Back in the library

Back at Bryn Mawr after a semester abroad, I’m daunted by the thought of returning to long days and nights in the library. I steel myself for the dozens of pages of reading for every class and the papers to be turned in with alarming regularity. In an effort to remind myself of what I love about academia, I stroll through the stacks of Canaday library. Getting lost among books written about subjects I know nothing about, I think of a passage from Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Gordy, a boy from a rural and often closed-minded town, takes our protagonist Arnold to the meager-looking high school library.


“There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here,” Gordy said. “I know that because I counted them.”

“Okay, now you’re officially a freak,” I said.

“Yes, it’s a small library. It’s a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish.”

“What’s your point?”

“The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.”


This idea sneaks into my life in various ways. When I was abroad, I realized that every new experience could be explored one step further, like one of those mesmerizing fractal images. You can’t understand a country without properly understanding a specific region, and then a specific town, and then by the time you even start to learn about the lives of even a few people who live there, you find yourself returning to the airport to go home. Bryn Mawr is a good place to keep uncovering mysteries. Even without attending a single class, you can tell that this is a place sodden with over a century of stories, artefacts brought from faraway places, staircases worn down by scholars’ incessant feet. And in the library, that kaleidoscope of knowledge becomes almost overwhelming. Sometimes I pull a book off the shelf at random, wondering when was the last time it was opened. I love the specificity of these titles, the obscurity. Poems by an author no one remembers. A history of a vanished kingdom. A book is meant to be used, but it is patient; it can wait indefinitely until someone needs it for just the exact piece of information, the perfect quote to round out an essay.

The homey sight of PS on a book’s spine—the Library of Congress’s code for American literature—draws me in. I love to feel durable pages worn soft from turning. Long rows of identical volumes from a set. Dulled gold to ornament a front cover. The best find of all is penciled notes in the margins. I’m not encouraging the vandalism of library books, of course, but I can’t deny the pleasure of seeing proof that someone else was once interested in the same thing I am.

Just now, as I sat writing about library books, I remember that at the end of my first year at Bryn Mawr, I was working on a paper comparing Anne Sexton’s poem “The Starry Night” with Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same name. I picture the Sexton book in my mind and remembered the annotations, so faint as to be nearly invisible. As I struggled to finish that poetry paper, the underlines and arrows reassured me I wasn’t just imagining the importance of my subject. I make my way back to the shelf where I’d left the book a year and a half ago, and there are the same pencil marks. It’s comforting. The unknown is a vast ocean, but every so often, academia can wrangle all that knowledge into a little curated pond of words remembered and treasured.