A Will and a Way

I have spent an incredible last two nights in Cinque Terre, a cluster of five coastal villages in Italy carefully built on cliffs that overlook the sea. All of the villages can be reached by train. In fact, from the first village to the very last one, it’s only a fifteen minute ride. But, where is the fun in that?

Instead, I decided to do the coastal hike between all five towns. It’s an easy eight miles doable in five hours, including the time it takes to stroll through each town eating gelato.

Once I decide to do something, it needs to be done. So you can imagine my disappointment when I was told that the hiking trails between three of the five villages were closed due to damage. But, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

You see, when the Italians tell you that you cannot hike all five villages because the trails are closed, you say, “I ain’t no bitch,” and you lace up your hiking boots.

I knew that aside from the scenic coastal trails, the easy winding roads that hug the sea, there were also secondary routes between the villages. These routes went up and down through the hills of Cinque Terre. So, I turned my back to the ocean and began my steep ascent up, not knowing just how exhausting and exhilarating this hike would be.

You climb and climb, and you pant and you sweat. Then you stop and laugh because it’s impossible to be unhappy in such a beautiful place. Just when you think you need Jesus, a church appears on the trail, and when you’re dehydrated and dying, a stream is there to quench your thirst. You chase lizards the entire way, because you miss being ten years old with your brother and you miss the feeling of having a lizard slink across your hand.

Along the way, when I started doubting that I could do it, I met a quirky and wonderful girl named Fiona and the two of us pushed each other to make it to the end. After a grueling seven hours of climbing up and down fifteen miles of steep hills, I was sweaty and exhausted, but most of all, proud.

I came to hike the Cinque Terre trails, and that’s exactly what I did. Granted, I had to do it in fifteen hilly miles instead of the original eight, but hey, it was worth it.

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I have bought many shoes in my lifetime: cute heels, flats, wedges and sandals. But between them all, this has to be my favorite.

On Strength and Weakness

I set out on my 11 day adventure to Italy hoping that I would learn something about myself, because that just seems like something people do on this kind of trip.

In these last few days, I’ve learned about my strengths and weaknesses.

First, I discovered that taking what life throws at me and making the most of it, is one of my biggest strengths.

I arrived at the train station in Bologna and headed straight to my Bed & Breakfast. I had booked it all in Italian and was rather proud of myself. Upon arriving, I learned that the confirmation was just that of my request to book, not an actual reservation and there were no available rooms for the night. In retrospect this was all very valid, because I don’t speak any Italian and have no business booking things in a language I do not understand.

But, it was all okay because at that moment I remembered that I had an orange in my pocket. So I ate it, and it was really good. Then I strolled through the city, taking it all in, until I stumbled upon a hotel.

I got there and took my pants off, because wearing jeans is the actual worst. That brings me to my lesson on my weaknesses.

I looked at my calves and was horrified at how big they were. I mean, have you seen my calves? They’re ridiculous. Then I looked lower, and was disgusted to find that my usually perfectly pedicured feet were beaten up, calloused and missing a toenail.

It was right then that I realized that I need to be more grateful for my amazing body. These two legs just carried me about 26 miles in the last three days. That’s about the distance of a marathon! My calves are big because they are strong, and my feet are beat up because they work hard to keep up with everything my eyes want to see.

I still have about a week to go on this journey and lots more to learn, but I think this is a pretty good start.

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Just going to leave this here to save you the effort of scouring my Facebook for a picture of my calves.

Conversations with Strangers: Daniel from Araçatuba, Brazil

About him: Daniel is originally from Brazil, but has lived in the Netherlands for the last eight years. He has a background in engineering, used to participate in rally race-car events and knows a surprising amount about astrology. When we were discussing what I wanted to do with my life, he gave me a great piece of advice on waiting for the right time and the proverbial, “waiting for the stars to align.”

He said, “There was a solar eclipse last Wednesday. Did anything change?”

“No,” I responded.

“See?” said Daniel, “The stars aligned and nothing happened.”

How we met: I sat down at a cafe in Verona to people watch when Daniel, also alone and sitting next to me, struck up a conversation. We spent the the next five hours talking over coffee and dinner. He told me what it’s like to be in love, we talked about loss, I shared my dreams and aspirations. At the end of the night, I think Daniel and I felt like we knew each other better than most people who’ve known each other for years.

Coolest experience: Over dinner, I learned many cool things about Daniel. He owns sugar cane plantations in Brazil, he just ran the marathon in Rome and he flies single engine planes. But, hands down, the coolest thing I learned about him was that he use to castrate cattle. Can’t say I’ve met anyone else who’s done that.

Life dream: Daniel’s dream is to chase curiosity, which is the most thought provoking response I have gotten. He explained that he’s constantly trying to be curious, always asking himself, “Why does this motivate me?”or, “Why does this make me happy, angry, or sad?” Often, we don’t take the time to pause and understand the reasons we feel, think, or do certain things. Daniel made me realize that it’s time to start asking more questions.

Daniel

Daniel wouldn’t take a selfie, so I had to pull some ninja moves and dip out of our photo together.

Me, Myself and I(taly)

This is the beginning of my 11 day solo journey across Italy. I will travel 7 cities and 7 towns by train; marveling at the works of great Italian painters, exploring the winding streets and canals of each city and indulging in plenty of pasta, pizza and gelato along the way. It will all culminate with Easter mass at the Vatican.

I’ve been asked why I decided to go on this trip alone, and the question has completely dumbfounded me. Why wouldn’t you want to go on an 11 day trip to Italy alone?

Solo travel is a beautiful thing that I think people should do more often. I love being alone. I happen to think I make great company, so naturally I like hanging out with myself. It gives me clarity and allows me to be the master of my own time. As anyone who has traveled with me knows, I love itineraries and they’re much easier to accomplish when I’m on my own. Also, it’s nice not having witnesses to the amount of pizza and gelato I will consume in the next week and a half.

Yes, there are moments when I wish I had someone by my side. My heart drops whenever I realize I am lost and don’t have anyone to help me. That’s when I remember that people are good, and if you are good and kind and you smile, they will help you.

So today, when I got off the metro in the center of Milan, and my heart was racing because I was devastatingly lost, I smiled and asked around until the good people of Italy helped me find my way to my Bed & Breakfast.

After grabbing gelato for dinner, I was taking photographs of the Duomo when I went inside to discover an Easter concert under the direction of a world renowned Italian conductor. I sat inside the Duomo di Milano, the 5th largest church in the world that took nearly six centuries to complete, marveling at the stained glass windows and high ceilings while an Italian choir sang the Romantic operas of Verdi.

Within hours of landing in Italy, I had already found that cliché movie moment that every traveler hopes for: when everything falls into place and life is so beautiful that you’re not quite sure if you should laugh or smile or cry.

With a little faith that God is keeping me safe, plenty of asking for directions and a stack of train tickets in hand, I cannot wait to see what adventures Italy has in store for me.

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Duomo di Milano by night

 

Lincoln and the Naked Lady

My best friend, Alex, came all the way from London to visit me this week. She had good timing, as she got to tag along on my class excursion to the Dalí Museum in Figueres, a town about an hour and a half outside of Barcelona and the artist’s birthplace. Side note, excursion is just a grown up way of saying field trip. The only difference between the two is that on an excursion you get wine with lunch.

From my Spanish art class, I am officially an expert on the sex life of Salvador Dalí. I cannot tell you too much about his actual works of art, but I can lecture on the man’s personal life all day. Therefore, I was rather pleased to see an entire museum’s worth of the depraved Spaniard’s drawings, statues and painting. At everyone corner of the museum, something was twisted and dark and naked and confusing and beautiful and I liked it.

There was one painting in particular that stood out. It was that of a naked woman, the love of Dalí’s life Gala, contemplating the Mediterranean Sea. When you step back from the painting and try to take a picture of it, BAM. Abraham Lincoln. No really, the head of Lincoln fills the entire canvas. It was real weird, so naturally I was real into it.

I am not an art critic, nor do I claim to be, but I think that Dalí was quite the talented guy and he absolutely blows my mind.

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Hail to the President.

Turn Down for What?

Lent. Turn down for Lent.

This year for Lent, I gave up drinking. Yes, I really did. It’s been 28 days so far. Saying that sounds weird, like an AA meeting, but without the coffee and donuts.

Every year during lent, I try to give up one of my many vices. I have come to realize that giving up TV when you don’t own a TV does not count, and not swearing only lasts up until I stub my toe on a coffee table because that shit hurts. That’s why this year, I choose something more challenging.

I have been asked if it’s hard. Honest answer? Not at all.

Drunk me dances like a fool, flirts like no other, occasionally makes poor decisions and is kind of a bitch. But let’s be real, that sounds a lot like sober me too, so it really makes no difference. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I can’t go out and have a good time. In fact, when my friend Katie and I flew to Switzerland to party with GRiZ and I was stone cold sober, Katie confirmed that I was, “not a boner,” which is probably one of the best compliments I have ever gotten.

Giving up alcohol for lent has been a personally rewarding experience. My wallet and my waistline agree. There is so much to do abroad and so much to see, that I don’t want to skip a beat. Trust me, sightseeing hungover is a bad time. I missed out on a damn good British breakfast back in Liverpool because of it, and I’m still bitter about it.

Of course, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: Lent ends when I’ll be in Rome, at approximately wine o’clock.

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“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen. That’s how many flights I have been on in the past two months.

I’ve seen Les Misérables live in London, been bathed in Istanbul, met GRiZ in Switzerland, and flew home to Chicago for a party. It’s been a fun ride. But, I’m tired now.

All too often people don’t talk about travel in an honest way. You see, it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. It’s delayed flights and heavy backpacks. It’s a fair share of blisters and having all of your credit cards blocked in Turkey. It’s racing to the airport Thursday after class, and racing back to class Monday morning. Then it’s three days of planning your next trip before it starts all over again.

I know I do a great job of making all of my weekend trips sound spontaneous, but in reality each is a culmination of hours of researching, planning and reading reviews. Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I can make an itinerary like no other. My travel planning sessions always involve at least fifteen open tabs, and typically end in a headache. In fact, I’ve taken Advil more often after a night of planning than a night of drinking. Not sure if I’m proud or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Every damn minute. The scars from my blisters and dents in my bank account are my badges of honor, and every mishap is just another story to tell.

But, I am not afraid to admit that I am tired, and maybe just a little burned out.

The last two months have been incredible. They have left me speechless, and simultaneously have turned me into a storyteller. There is plenty more to come; I still have Italy to conquer, Malta to celebrate my birthday in, Ibiza to party on all weekend and Morocco to visit, just to name a few. But, for these next two weeks, it’s time to play in Barcelona.

Left my heart in so many places. And a curling iron too, somewhere along the way.

Left my heart in so many places. And a curling iron too, somewhere along the way.