Jesus and Jolie

I spent my birthday weekend relaxing with Mama Kulka in the beautiful country of Malta.

Don’t know where Malta is? That’s okay. I’m not completely sure either, and I just spent five days there.

Malta is a little country below Italy, half way between Siciliy and North Africa, and it encompasses five islands. It is the world’s most catholic country, second only to the city-state of the Vatican. Also, the film industry is a big deal there; Troy, Gladiator, Pompeii, World War Z and Game of Thrones were all filmed on Malta.

In fact, the Maltese man who picked me up from the airport informed me that Angelina Jolie had sat in the exact same car and the exact same seat as I was sitting in. He then told me all about how nice of a lady she is and how stunning she is in person. The news on Brad Pitt is that he’s aged significantly, but is also nice.

Almost everywhere you go, you are bound to see a signed photo of Angelina Jolie or have a native tell you about the time they met her. For such a devout country, I wasn’t sure who was more important: Jolie, or the big J.C.

Anyways, I think that the reason why it took me so long to write about Malta is because nothing really happened.

Well, lots happened. My mother and I toured the main islands with very pleasant tour guides, ate at great restaurants, sampled local liqueurs and had relaxing massages at our resort’s spa.

But nothing really happened.

There were no flights that were almost missed, no peculiar strangers to talk to, no crumpled maps to decipher. In fact, things were almost too easy. We even stumbled upon an International Fireworks Festival, with competitors from all over the world, that just happened to be going on in a village we visited.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved having another relaxing vacation from the vacation that is my life, and I enjoy massages, nice restaurants and sitting in the same Mercedes Benz as Miss Jolie herself. But, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing.

Clearly, I’ve been spoiled by a steady dose of adrenaline running through my veins these past few months.

Resort

Resort life isn’t too bad I guess…

21 Before 21.

At the start of this year, I decided that I wanted to have 21 incredible experiences before my 21st birthday as a birthday gift to myself and motivation to constantly be seeking adventure. These were the moments that made me feel alive, took my breath away, made me smile or made me cry from joy. Without further ado, here are the top 21 experiences of my semester abroad up to today.

1. Moved to Barcelona for the semester.

2. Saw the Les Misérables musical live in London.

3. Climbed the Eiffel Tower.

4. Saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.

5. Ate macaroons at the famous Ladurée bakery in Paris.

6. Returned to Chicago for the 76th Annual White and Red Ball.

7. Did yoga at 5 a.m. with GRiZ in Switzerland.

8. Had a Turkish bath in Istanbul.

9. Hiked all 15 miles of the Cinque Terre in Italy.

10. Ate at a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant in Rome.

11. Experienced Easter at the Vatican, and even saw Pope Francis up close.

12. Saw the masterpieces of Italy: Michelangelo’s David, Da Vinci’s Last Supper and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

13. Ran a 10k for the first time.

14. Visited the island of Formentera, the filming location of my favorite Spanish Movie, Lucía y el Sexo.

15. Spent a day completely naked in public.

16. Met a man who makes me happy. Plot twist, not a Spaniard.

17. Visited over 21 European cities.

18. Flew on 21 flights in four months.

19. Was blessed with a few new best friends.

20. Hit 10,000 views on my blog.

21. Celebrated my 21st birthday with my mother at a five star resort on the island of Gozo, in Malta.

Just being fabulously 21 in Gozo

Just being fabulously 21 in Gozo

A Birthday

I’m turning 21 tomorrow.

I’ve talked to my mama about this and we both agreed that it somehow felt strange, considering I’ve been “21” for at least three years now. I’ve always felt older than I am, and I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I have lived more than most people do in an entire lifetime.

I use to think of birthdays as a reminder of my mortality and fleeting youth. I thought that for some reason I had peaked at age 20, and that the rest of my life would only be downhill from here. But, I’ve realized that aging is a gift, a beautiful thing that not everyone is fortunate enough to experience and I have so much more to look forward to.

You see, birthdays are great because you either have a birthday or you die.

For most people, 21 is the last of the milestone birthdays. It’s the ends of an era. You can finally do all the things you’ve already been doing but without the fear of getting busted.

For me, this is just the beginning. In fact, I’m already looking forward to my 30th birthday, because I think I would be really good at being thirty.

It’s fun to imagine what my life might look like years from now.

Maybe I’m celebrating my 30th quietly at my Californian home, on a couch with my handsome husband with two little boys asleep between us.

Or maybe, I’m a career-savvy divorcee killin’ it on Wall Street, and I’m celebrating by buying myself a diamond tennis bracelet because I am fabulous and “don’t need no man.”

Or maybe, just maybe, I was brave and pursued my dream of being a writer and published my first book, and I’m celebrating my birthday in a bungalow somewhere in Fiji, working on a piece for Condé Nast Traveler, while a beautiful naked diver lays in my bed.

Whichever path my life takes me in, it will surely be an adventure and I will be good at it.

Cheers to my 21st, and the many more birthdays ahead.

birthday2

I’m actually just smiling because there is cake.

My Own Kind of Paradise

I have come to a crisis.

Not quite a mid-life crisis or a quarter life crisis for that matter, rather what I would like to call an island crisis.

I’m no longer sure that a life involving wearing deodorant and underwear is the one I want to live. I have spent the last four days wearing the same sundress, tanning nude on empty beaches and dancing with strangers during sunset. My skin is golden brown, I haven’t brushed my hair in four days and I’m not quite sure where my bra is. I have found paradise and I hate the thought of losing it.

Last night, Francie and I drove out to a bar to check out a live band and watch the sunset. Of the entire crowd there was only one person dancing, a beautiful and lively Italian woman in her forties, Olivia, who was clearly having the time of her life. I believe that no one should ever have to dance alone, so I joined her. As the night went on and the wine flowed on, Olivia, Francie and I had an entire crowd dancing. I was pulling elderly Germans off their benches left and right to come join, and by the last song we had a crowd of people feeling alive and free, dancing and smiling.

Earlier today we spent the day at the island’s International Food Festival, listening to live music as friendly locals stuffed our plates with more Latin American and Spanish foods than one should ever eat in one sitting. But, who can say no to free fried plantains and horchata?

At the festival, I met a man from Switzerland and I asked him how long he’s been here in Formentera. 35 years. He just came one day and he stayed. He plays in a band, organizes the island’s artisan market and just kind of hangs out.

He is happy. And I am too.

We closed off the night with a glass of wine at the bar we had visited the night before, where our bartender friend, Fernando, treated us to snacks and took a shot of local Hierbas liquor with us. Then, we watched the sunset while cruising down the ocean-hugging roads, blasting Adele and singing along dramatically with the top down in our convertible.

Smiling, being free and having fun. Thank you, Formentera.

Dancing with beautiful strangers as always.

Dancing with beautiful strangers as always.

We Get Around

My friend Francie and I decided to go to Formentera, a small island just off Ibiza, for a relaxing weekend retreat. Formentera was one of the filming locations for my favorite Spanish movie, Lucía y el Sexo, and it’s been a dream of mine to see it. Also, I justify everything in April as being “for my birthday,” so this vacation from my semester-long vacation was absolutely reasonable.

Upon reaching our destination and seeing just how wonderfully secluded our little home was, we realized we would need some way of moving around the island.

It was settled. We would rent scooters.

We confidently went over to the rental shops in town ready to ride some Vespas. We quickly learned that no one wanted to rent any type of motorcycle to two 20 year old girls in sun-dressses who have never ridden one before.

We thought that was fair so we pushed for an ATV instead, figuring four wheels was safer than two. But again, they decided it would be too much horsepower for two little ladies. We then asked about a car. In Spain, you have to be 25 years old to rent a car, but we had convinced the guy that we had our licenses for a while now. Well, mine was lost when I lost my wallet but, Francie still had hers. We were set to rent a car, when the man informed us that all they had was vehicles with manual transmissions.

I had once learned how to drive a stick shift, thanks to a polish ex-boyfriend, of course. But that was three years ago, and I knew trying now would leave me stalled in the middle of an uphill street.

And that is how Francie and I ended up leaving the rental shop on two mountain bikes.

We spent the next two days biking around the island, happy with our transport. I am a big supporter of anything that does my body good and my thighs were sure getting a workout.

By Saturday morning our legs couldn’t pedal any further, so we swung by a rental shop in a different town and inquired about renting an automatic car. Turns out, they had one. Upon learning we were only 20, the renters hesitated, but after convincing them we had licenses for over three years now, they decided to make an exception for “two pretty girls.”

You see, when everyone is saying, “no,” you just have to keep trying until someone, somewhere finally says, “yes.”

And that is how we spent the next two days cruising around an island with the top down in a convertible Smartcar.

Two pretty girls and some wind-blown hair.

Two pretty girls and some wind-blown hair.

About a Wallet

On Sunday, while heading to the beach for lunch to celebrate a gorgeous day and running a 10k, I left my wallet in a taxi.

Yes. All of the nights that I have been out at clubs and bars, and of all the pickpockets on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the metro in Paris and the trains in Italy, this is how my wallet met its demise.

It all seems very anticlimactic. I felt that if I were missing all my credit cards and IDs, then I at least deserved a story to tell.

But I suppose this is the story: I lost my wallet and everything was okay. My cards hadn’t been used, and I was able to order new ones immediately. I had emergency cash and secondary IDs back at my apartment. I still had my passports. The sun was out, and I had just ran a 10k.

With wallet or without, it was still a great day to be alive.

Incidents like that are a lesson in being grateful for what you have and not sweating the small stuff, because every situation has a silver lining. We are human, and sometimes shit happens.

The other lesson, of course, was to not leave my wallet in cabs.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Pauline Ran Away

So I ran a 10k for the first time.

Since I have never ran more than about a mile without taking a break, I happen to be pretty damn proud of myself for running over six miles continuously. I didn’t train for it at all. In fact, in the days leading up to the 10k, I did the opposite of training. I went out too much, drank too much and ate too much.

I’m not naturally a runner, nor am I particularly fit. No, the only reason that I was able to run for ten kilometers nonstop without any preparation is because I am stubborn. When I decide I want to do something, I do it. And I had decided to run a 10k.

I happen to think that stubborn and determined are the same thing, just spelled differently. I suppose determination got me started, and stubbornness is what fueled me when I thought I couldn’t run any further.

You see, my friend Caroline was running as well. About four kilometers in, we started going uphill. Caroline, of course, was way ahead and her long legs were gliding at a steady pace while I huffed and I puffed my little lungs out desperately trying to keep moving forward. Running was hard and I was tired, and I began questioning my decision to even run a 10k in the first place.

But I kept running, because Caroline was running. And then I ran because the hot guy in front of me was running. Then, I ran because I had already ran too much to stop running. And lastly I ran, because I saw the finish line.

And that is how I ran a 10k without any sort of preparation. If I can do it, anyone can. The body is a tool that carries out what your mind sets out to accomplish. If you want to reach a goal, sometimes all you need to do is get in the right mindset and let your body do the rest.

The only advice that I can give, unsolicited per usual, is: Go ahead. Be stubborn.

Caroline

Caroline and I at la Cursa de Corte Ingles