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nothing ever changes.

May 27, 2013

When I left Denver at the start of this month, I felt heartbroken and lonely [save for the melodrama often associated with heartbreak and loneliness]. As I am frequently inclined to do when confused or stressed, I cried. [Public emotional outbursts—a regrettably common theme of my blog posts.] For the first time in two years, I felt lost, the tears manifesting having grown tired of the seemingly endless stream of hellos and goodbyes… resenting that as a traveler we fall into friendships and relationships whose ends are all too often defined by flights home and new opportunities thousands of miles away… a predictable parting of ways in search of new adventures. The lifestyle we choose to live doesn’t exactly lend to prolonged intimacy of any sort, only short sprints of fierce desire and deep, raucous laughter peppered with overly romanticized dreams of the “what if” of future encounters and shared endeavors. I was moving forward while looking back, longing for past connections and experiences of recent months. Having no notion of what I was seeking or searching for in returning to Panama, if anything at all, my heart hung heavy.

Up until this point my spirit has guided me from one beautiful place to another, each adventure flowing seamlessly into the next, enriched by all of the characters who have stolen bits and pieces of my heart along the way and the experiences that mold those memories I take with me when I leave or when I am left. I’ve never stopped to question my meandering as there’s always been a “plan”, even if tentative and even if consisting of little more than a continental location; there was always something on the horizon dictated well in advance. But now, after so much sustained exploring, I can’t help but wonder if mental and emotional progress, the building of a better self, is still enough to fully satisfy me.

I want to continue living in a perpetual state of wanderlust—always learning and exploring, but I also want roots. I crave a reason to be somewhere—a person, a passion, a mere love of a place or life somewhere—and I desire some shred of constancy in my transient life. It’s a bewildering paradox having the most significant draw to life as a vagabond act simultaneously as the biggest disappointment… and at two years in, I’ve started to question at what point the frustrations and exhaustion of “starting over” outweighs its glamour—the newness of things. There grows a persistent part of me that wants more than all the glories the relatively selfish game of travel has to offer. I’ve started yearning for something that I can commit to… become enraptured in… contribute to… something that I can nurture and watch grow.

There’s something that happens though, when you board that solo flight to an unknown future. The hours in the air you’re lost in a limbo-like daze. But then you land and having your feet on solid ground reestablishes some semblance of clarity; you adjust to the familiarity of being somewhere foreign; this is your routine… and you drift so quickly and comfortably back into being out there in the world.

It always happens… but those feelings of security in voyaging are easy to forget after spending a few months sinking into normalcy. [Normalcy here? Paying rent, receiving a regular paycheck, not living out of a backpack.] Faced with the mystery of that next step as you board the plane, you question whether or not you can put yourself out there again.

Love it or hate it, Bocas is a special place. While the sun, sand, and sounds of jungle life create an initial tropical island intrigue, it’s the simplicity of life here and the strange sense of community that exists that makes this place what it is. I think of it mostly as island isolation, an exceptionally and utterly beautiful, yet likewise concerning thing.

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Without a telephone or Internet, access to consistent electricity or regular transportation, my life has been pleasantly reduced to rising with the sun and turning in with the dark. I drink rainwater, take cold showers, sleep with sand in my bed, and share my home with any number of small critters. My family consists of no more than fifteen wonderful employees and volunteers at the lodge and my “escape” from this world is taking a ten-minute boat ride to Bocas Town to purchase groceries, do laundry, and drink martinis as necessary. The inconveniences and frustrations that are associated with living off the grid can be annoying, but in their own way are also charming—they remind me that life, especially in a place like this, is simple… despite my continued attempts to complicate it.

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The concern comes with how easy it is to find contentedness living in this bubble; the physical isolation creates mental and emotional isolation and I’m living without a care or concern beyond my everyday life as it applies to daily activities at Palmar. Having tasted so many of its flavors, I know that there is a massive world out there, but here, it’s all too easy to forget. I feel myself sinking into old habits, patterns, and routines, enthusiastically willing to succumb to this vortex in paradise.

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I guess what I’m getting at then, is that my return to Panama, the place that started it all, has illuminated that I’m not quite ready for permanence [per say] no matter how much I want to be, even if I am questing for a more solid foundation of home and community. Bocas first opened to me the doors of travel, welcoming me with open arms, and being here serves as the perfect reminder that I want to keep exploring. And as I reunite with friends and rediscover this place I once knew so intimately, observing the changes and reintegrating myself, Bocas teaches me an important lesson: you may not be able to ever go home again, but you can always go back—to the places of your daydreams and those people you love. Even awash with the transformation of time, when somewhere or someone is a part of you, you’ll come to find that at least that much never changes.

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Slipping back into the life that I once knew here, I can only sigh and smile—once again I put my faith in the universe, and once again she’s brought me to exactly where I needed to be.

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[*A big thanks to KP–and her Instagram expertise–for unknowingly providing all photos for this post.]

welcome to portugal.

August 27, 2012

I arrived in Portugal in early June with a bang…or perhaps more accurately, a thud. I had spent a miserable ten hours traveling by train from Madrid to Lisbon and walking into the Rossio Train Station I was disheveled and nearly incoherent as I made my way toward the hostel. [As I am a “budget traveler” I refused to spend the extra 15€ on a sleeper car, because, well, that’s the equivalent of SIX frozen yogurts…with toppings.] Carrying the weight of a small elephant in luggage I made my way toward the escalator. A smiling gentlemen pointed me in the direction of the elevators, though in my state of delirium I assumed that reaching them was a more daunting task than hauling everything onto the deceivingly simple moving stairways just ahead. Deluded by Matilda, I was convinced that by sheer force of will I could mentally direct my mountain of personal items to the top.

What happened next can’t have been pretty. Or at least, it definitely didn’t sound pretty, my large suitcase thunk-thunk-thunking on the rising stairs left to block the entry, while I, clutching as one might while hanging from a cliff to the rest of my belongings, paper-weighted to the escalator under my thirty kilogram backpack let out an agonizing moan on my continuation upward. To ice my “Welcome to Lisbon” cake, waiting for me on level two was a woman who must have been in her seventies asking [in Portuguese, mind you] if I needed help…

What was I supposed to say? “Why yes, actually! Here—if you wouldn’t mind, could you take this bag that weighs twice your body weight up to the hostel? Yes, up that next Mt. Everest of an escalator on the top floor. Thanks.”

A level of humiliation falling second only to having my whole Kindergarten class listen to me sing “My Country Tis of Thee” from within the confines of our classroom bathroom, I realized while scrambling to arrange the items that had made the journey upward and collect my remaining baggage, still thumping away at the bottom as a persistent reminder of the strength of my spaghetti arms [or my lack-of-sleep-induced overconfidence], that things in this new place could only get better.

Now, despite my best efforts to continue the Lisbon saga beyond hour one, and regale you with any number of stories, I’ve failed. Maybe because I’ve been happy; it’s been difficult to focus on writing, to keep a story moving, when I get lost in the memories. So, with that, I give you this: everything in the past two months [picture gallery style] that has not only been better than public humiliation, but also edges out a new pair of overpriced shoes, a home-cooked meal, or a freshly made bed…and perhaps even trumps coconut gelato, but of that, I can’t be certain.

A two-week visit from your best friend who you haven’t seen for more than an hour here or there in over a year…

do not feed the animals.

best friends forever and a day…and a half.

conquering beaches worldwide.

miscommunication.

followed immediately by a three-week visit by your brother…

if law school doesn’t work out, he has modeling to fall back on.

sexy? creepy? we’re still deciding.

praça do comércio.

eating his way through portugal.

and his girlfriend…

the consultant and lawyer power couple.

intermingled with visits from friends from Spain, friends from festivals, and friends from high school…

mirror, mirror, on the wall…

all of whom have come together for big family dinners, time and time again.

mac&cheese night.

preparing enough stuffed peppers to feed a small army.

bringing friends together through the art of cooking.

New friends, who I may or may not ever see or hear from again.

before he proposed.

photo credit: filipe ganilho

 

Beaches: white sand, cold water, waves. Beaches, beaches, beaches.

my year of sunshine.

exploring adraga.

Being mermaids on beaches.

mermen.

haircut, anyone?

Fighting on beaches.

karate chops.

roundhouse kick.

good hands, bad hands.

Jumping on beaches.

starfish.

Drinking on beaches.

white sangria.

mark flexing.

Naps on beaches.

couldn’t be happier.

sleepy nina.

Hula hoops on beaches.

blissful beach day.

Hula hoops…

…and beach tours!

This bar.

These double mega gulp mojitos and capirihnias.

[Oh wait; I’m always too drunk to photograph them.]

Discovery of this bookstore.

ler devagar.

Three charming hostels, where I have taken up residency and found employment.

lisbon destination hostel.

beach destination hostel.

playing alice in wonderland on the rooftop terrace.

Mariana’s cooking.

since when do hostels serve sushi? ohmahgawz.

we are spoiled.

These people. All of them. The whole lot. I love ‘em. [Tejo—the cat-like dog who is deeply loyal to his owners and has no regard for anyone else.]

one-third of staff <3.

volunteers and friends.

A city, which after only a few weeks time, I already came to call home.

golden gate’s little sister.

In an email dated June 28th, my mother wrote:

“Maddy,

You must be loving what you are doing because we have heard very little from you.

Love you lots. Momo”

Mom, you couldn’t be more right.

“we’ve got a live one!”

June 11, 2012

Malta: a Mediterranean island set just south of Italy, where even after a week there, I haven’t a clue what to make of it. With one language sounding much like the child of Arabic and Italian and the other my own native tongue, distinctly Roman architecture, Mediterranean cuisine, a coloring reminiscent of my week in Morocco, and a community that not only drives on the “wrong” side of the road, but careens around curves and down hills at record-breaking speeds, Malta has a quirkiness about it that leaves it impossible to classify.

the old capital city.

driving in malta took me back to the days when i first got my license.

st. julian’s.

maybe work wouldn’t be half bad if this was your view?

bikes, flowers, butterflies.

At certain moments, I felt ridiculously at home. The island boasts a party culture that is not unlike what one might expect to find on the beaches in Miami [think the setting of an MTV music video] and with a large percentage of the population speaking English, frequently as their first language, the nearly non-existent language barrier made for fluid friendships, if not also for more regrettable drunken conversations. Additionally, having been on the quest for the perfect Spanish playa, I was thrilled to find the idyllic beaches and seas surrounding Malta sometimes comparable to those in Panama and even the Caribbean islands, places I associate with comfort and familiarity.

crystal clear water. white sand. cliffs. yum.

goooooozoooooooooo.

gooooo-zoooooooooo.

jess verifying that it was a jellyfish-free day.

searching for fish…and handsome lifeguards.

ryan’s pub: this is where the magic happens. regrettably, no pictures were taken inside this bar, though if any did exist they would most definitely not be posted.

However, as comes with visiting any country outside of your own, there were also those moments where I couldn’t have felt more like a foreigner, despite my efforts to slip under the American Abroad radar. And with a map in hand, rainbow Nike sneakers on, snapping photos of any ordinary thing that fascinated me [on second thought it appears my efforts to blend in were relatively mild], I’m sure I painted quite a picture of Americanism that attracted the attention of those around me.

the star navigator.

cut-outs.

disappointing pink pastry.

all smiles on day one…and two…and three…and four and five.

missing julio.

My new Maltese friends were surprised to find that I enjoyed things like scuba diving, rock climbing, and solo travel, as apparently it is uncommon for Maltese women to partake in adventure sports or jet-set alone. I’m not sure I ever envisioned my divemaster certificate being put to use in impressing men, but that’s not to say it can’t serve a double purpose in wooing my male counterparts. I was scrutinized as I chopped fresh fruit for my cereal—“Shhh! Look! She’s doing something American”—questioned about my peculiar vegetarian habits and fanny packs, and was often observed with curiosity and confusion, like a unicorn might be at the zoo, as the Bananagrams tiles scattered across every flat surface I encountered clicking and clacking in even the quietest of cafes. I attempted to counter my very “American” behavior by drinking the local beer and eating pastizzis, though I’m not sure anyone was fooled. I suppose it worked in my favor that I’m a fan of both unicorns and attention.

gozo meets bananagrams.

bananagrams and hot chocolate always bring smiles.

defeated. i swear we didn’t spend five days playing this game.

subliminal messages in the sand? don’t ignore signals from the universe.

suckering the boys into playing. what a bunch of bananas.

tom doing something “american”.

the crew of gentlemen. backside.

My focal draws to Malta were Tom and Sean, friends who I met at Africa Extrem Surf Camp in Taghazout, Morocco, as well as an impressive dive culture, though I can’t say what I had heard about the beaches and party scene were disincentives. I lived like a local, staying with Tom’s family who welcomed me into their home and allowed me to share in some incredible meals and conversation. [Made me miss you, mum and dad!] I can only hope my family has the opportunity to return the favor this coming Thanksgiving. Tom made claim on the day I left that he was glad to see me go, but I’m pretty confident he actually enjoyed having a not-so-pesky sister hanging around for a few days, even if he refused to admit it. Unfortunately due to wind and reduced visibility [and maybe an over indulgence in mojitos and vodka cranberries], the diving portion of the trip didn’t happen…but I guess that’s just one more reason to return this fall.

cappuccinos.

ferrying home from gozo.

moving on.

May 29, 2012

As I exited the shower tonight, trudging to my room exhausted, delirious, distant and dripping wet, my roommate inquired about my apparent state of gloom, pointing out that I seem to carry a post-vacation melancholy in the days after any excursion. While I typically interpret this as an attempt to readjust to “life” whatever and wherever that may be at the time, something about my most recent trip has felt different. This time, I returned home with an aura of aloofness and an unaccountable anxiousness that I haven’t had before in Spain.

While these feelings aren’t entirely foreign to me, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to place them. They are the emotions associated with transformation and a response to an approaching change in my life. Much like my students anticipating the arrival of recess and sandwich time, or more significantly the arrival of a summer without school, I am awaiting a change of pace; energy levels are heightened and focus is lost as attentions are drawn elsewhere.

Despite the fact that there are still two weeks left in my contract in Spain, mentally and emotionally I am distracted. My restlessness in school has intensified and I find myself doodling, daydreaming, and lost in the hallways more often than ever. My patience is waning for things I once found silly or endearing and I find myself stressed and irritated over insignificant issues. It’s time to give in to the signals.

For many in my program, summer vacation arrangements have been made, flights home have been booked, and bags have been packed. A place that once felt like home is again starting to feel unfamiliar as we are all moving forward into the future: each in a different direction, each on a new adventure. For me, the next step is Portugal. A summer in Lisbon holds promise; it’s a city in need of exploring and I’ve got three months to give my heart away to somewhere new.

whirlwind europe.

May 28, 2012

Thirty days, five planes & two trains, a thousand [plus] photographs, four countries & nine cities, and a whole lot of wine and gelato later, I’m back in Murcia geared up for a summer-like springtime with a brand new smile on my freshly bronzed face.

It’s mid-May and I’m happy to report that with 30+-degree days [and nights], I’m back to being the [somewhat] tan, sweaty girl I love being. Winter was rough for me, as I’m sure my more recent posts indicated, but as life would have it, the good and bad come in cycles, and I’d like to think that myself and perhaps many others have finished the climb through the cold and are now cruising down the mountain, hair flapping in the wind and enjoying the warm breeze that comes with the arrival of skirt season—Oooooh lala!—and Memorial Day.

Along with feelings of rejuvenation, however, come anxiety and excitement as the butterflies in my stomach take flight in anticipation of my next move. Since saying goodbye to my parents and sister, I’ve tried to fall back into the daily grind of teaching and tutoring, but with more or less only one other “t” on my mind: traveling.

After a few sluggish months leading me to question my motives in staying abroad, “Whirlwind Europe”, which I have come to use in referencing my recent travels has re-inspired me to quite literally get back on the train [if only it could look more like a boat?] and keep moving forward in meeting new people and experiencing new places, and has again reminded me why I left home in the first place.

paris, france

From the Eiffel Tower to the Opera House to the quintessential old European skyline, this city is packed with indoor and outdoor eye candy that is definitely worth stopping to ogle over. Even with five days there, I stood no chance of seeing it all, though made a spirited effort trekking back and forth across the city, mastering the Parisian metro and hopping on the back of scooters for authentic, even if unorganized, city tours.

sat under the eiffel for two hours…just staring.

Despite the architectural beauty in Paris, one of my favorite parts of this leg of the trip was the people. Fresh out of Spain after three and a half months planted in Murcia, I was eager for social interaction with new opinions, ideas, and interests.

My first nights were spent with Lily, one of my favorite travelers who came through Casa Verde last summer in Panama, who was finishing up her year at the University the weekend I arrived. Mutual interest in Ron Abuelo and dancing until sunrise [among other things!] catalyzed a fast friendship that was reestablished almost immediately. Although she was on her way to the South of France, before departing she did have time to introduce me to the wonderful world of French breakfasts as we walked along the Seine River taking photos of Notre Dame.

spending the morning with croissants, coffee, and notre dame.

outside the louvre.

the city of love…apparently.

The rest of my week was spent Couchsurfing with Thibault, who turned out to be a French gem. He emailed me a remarkably detailed set of handmade maps [that I will happily send you on request], which allowed me all the independence I needed to navigate the sites alone while he was in class. When available and free of a hangover, he accompanied me on many of my wanderings, guiding me to Montmartre and through the Père Lachaise Cemetery on my quest for Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s graves. He let me tagalong to a student party, which included musically themed rooms of jazz, brass, rock, electronic, and probably a couple more that I’ve since forgotten. I met Frenchmen, Spaniards, and even a student from Georgetown University, which was almost a little too close to home for being thousands of miles away from D.C. I think there was even some handholding with a boy named Adrián as we wandered from room to room sipping plastic cup cocktails and seeking something booty shake-able. I knew Paris was supposed to be romantic!

a little dc-esque, no?

spending the afternoon with one of rock’s legends.

left my heart…and some saliva too.

“big party.”

The following night we unexpectedly found ourselves at a party of afriendofafriendofaco-workerofafriend’sfriend…[OR SOMETHING]…which I can only really describe as Gossip Girl-esque. On a first floor apartment directly below the Panthéon I felt entirely out of place among the expensive alcohols, tiny hors d’oeuvres and refined French-speaking upper-Eastsiders. While it’s always exciting to see how the other side lives, my lack of French and hippie-Spanish hybrid look had me feeling a little bit like the thumb on a hand of fingers. But I quickly returned to my element as we departed for beers at more Brooklyn-style bars. Retrospectively, of course, I wish I had been the strange American tourist taking photos from the balcony, but for fear of embarrassing our connection’s connection’s connection to the party, I kept my English comments to myself and Sony Point and Shoot burning a hole in my purse.

Furthermore during my long weekend in France, I developed a food crush on crepes and macarons, and binged on green seedless grapes, which are absent from my life in Spain. I stared idly at restaurant menus, but couldn’t ever quite bring myself to sit down and drop twenty euro on a lunchtime salad at a chic café; I’ve yet to enjoy a six euro cup of tea, and wasn’t about to break stride in Paris. I felt a tinge of longing to learn French, though as it combines Spanish verbs and awkward English-like pronunciations, I think I had best master Spanish before taking on a third language. Finally, I decided that the Louvre was the most overwhelmingly underwhelming place I have ever visited.

favorite piece inside the louvre.

macarons at Ladurée.

couldn’t help but wander in each time i walked past.

when did abercrombie & fitch become cool again?

I ended my journey with an uncomfortable and intermittent chair nap in the Paris Orly airport alternated with befriending a small mouse and drawing my sleeping company, cursing as they shifted in the seats. While I dreamt, I manifested sunny days for my next week in Berlin…

berlin, germany

As far as cities go, Berlin gets a 24K gold star…because, well, it’s awesome. [Opinion influenced by the availability of Crispy M&Ms.]

However, in addition to achieving greatness in my memory, I also fully stand behind the consideration that this city presents itself as a potential black hole in my life. Much like Ocean City, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia, it’s one of those places that I found instant chemistry with, but I could never survive there for an extended period of time; not because I would tire of it, but because I would subsist on beer, cigarettes, and parties, a lifestyle which though rich in fun, provides little in terms of personal growth.

What most attracted me to Berlin as a traveler was that it’s not a city where you feel the need to “see” or “do” a whole lot. The biggest focus here is on experience: living like a Berliner and absorbing the German culture by drinking beers in the park, eating Currywurst [if you’re into that sort of thing], befriending the artists and squatters at Tacheles, and playing loads of ping-pong.

Granted, I did go on a free tour of the city, led by an extremely passionate British chick named Amy, and make it the East Side Gallery, the Tempelhof Airport, the Topography Museum, Tacheles [where I purchased a small plot of property in Kappaland], and the DDR Museum, which for recent German culture and history enthusiasts is definitely worth a stop-in.

murdered jews memorial. eerie and overwhelming.

purchasing property.

measuring out my plot of land.

smiling with…the mayor?

tacheles.

eastside gallery.

recycled putt-putt course.

checkpoint charlie’s border crossing.

authentic german dinner.

Beyond that, however, my days were spent wandering the streets with Jess and a small crew of boys from the Circus Hostel, window shopping, exploring, and more or less just familiarizing ourselves with the city, which has essentially been completely rebuilt since the devastation of World War II only half a century ago.

Most surprising about Berlin, was the affordability of life [and this from a girl living in Murcia] and the vegetarian presence there. Initially fearing I might find little aside from pretzels [yuck] and sauerkraut [super yuck] I was ecstatic at the selection of organic grocers and sushi, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, and even specialty doner kebab shops that catered to those of us who were traumatically affected by Babe.

My friend Bud, another one of my favorite finds from Panama, and his friend Alex acted as exceptional hosts, who, as respectable ones often do, made sure I experienced Berlin nightlife from all angles. I have vague recollections of bunny rabbits, machine guns, metal bars, gay dance clubs, and drinking on metro trains, all made hazy by Mate and vodka. Something tells me it was fun.

drinking on the metro.

madrid, murcia, & granada, spain

As my family’s arrival date in Europe approached I realized just how excited I was to see them. After almost seven months with only irregular gchat messages and the occasional Skype date, it was the longest period of time we had gone without any in-person contact.

However, as the date approached, I also realized how anxious I was about having them in Spain with me, considering [and stressing over] whether or not they would like the country, the people, and the cities we had selected to visit.

Living a completely independent life for the past year, since moving to Murcia in the fall I’ve spent months building a community and family here that is my own. And while I had always wanted to share this new life with those most significant to my home and past, I had never had the opportunity. For the first time I realized just how alien the experience of mixing these two separate existences after so much time might have been; wanting desperately for the past and present to mesh seamlessly, but also wondering how nearly a year apart with new surroundings might have affected me and how I might have changed.

Needless to say, with the exception of a few catastrophes surrounding car rentals, city driving, cave dwellers, and missed flights, I’d say our time in Spain was a marked success. [And honestly, without a little tension and anxiety what is a family vacation anyway?] My family had the opportunity to explore not only Murcia, but also Abarán where they met the staff at my school and many of the students who I have spent the year teaching. We toured the Alhambra and despite the rainy weather that plagued our time in Spain [and Italy, for that matter!], wandered the streets of Granada where I introduced ¾ of the Thoms to tapas culture where my fish-hating father even opened his hearts to sardines [of all things]. They embraced the concept of a daily siesta, especially after learning that in Spain we walk just about everywhere, and unexpectedly fell for Madrid after only a few hours and a trip to the Mercado San Antón.

welcome to madrid!

nicest car i’ve ever driven.

wine with lunch? she could get used to life in spain.

holding hands <3.

streets of abarán.

my favorite co-workers!

sistahs <3.

thom family sin a few key members.

overlooking abarán.

granada. sweet rain coat.

mercado san antón.

Despite wishing for another week in Spain to take Dad to Toledo, Mom out shopping, and Jamie to the discotheques, after a week of playing tour guide, translator, and driver I was more than ready for a martini and to slip back into a few weeks of playing tourist in Italy.

rome, florence, & venice italy

Of all the places I visited in April, I most attached myself to Italy. Historical, charming, and romantic, with some of the best food and wine in the world, there is seemingly something for everyone.

history:

Apart from being a major tourist destination [and therefore being flooded with foreigners], Rome is a city that I found difficult to dislike. I’ve always found myself as one to form the strongest attachments to the “experience” based cities instead of to historical attraction based ones, preferring losing myself in culture to losing myself in an infinite museum. As I’ve recently become keen on world history, however, which I attribute to both recent travels and an extended obsession with Ken Follett novels, I was intrigued by Rome where history seems to pervade every inch of the city.

Jaw dropping and awe-inspiring, wandering there was like taking a visual tour of a textbook. City blocks are lined with statues of Roman leaders and historical monuments are as common as Beanie Baby collections were in 1997. Unlike what I would expect to find in heavily regulated areas, legendary sites such as the Colosseum or the Forum whose histories far-exceed that of the entire United States have not been sheltered from the elements or separated from the curiously wandering hands of the public. Buses and taxis weave around the Pantheon and tourists eat pizza next to Trajan’s Column. And exploring Pompeii without a tour guide or the fear of receiving a slap on the wrist for touching something off limits had me smiling even through the downpour. Before leaving my Mum and I made sure to throw coins [properly] into the Trevi Fountain ensuring our return visits to Rome. We threw in an extra few coins for Dad who was off somewhere buying umbrellas #s 8, 9, and 10 of the trip—always taking care of his girls!

dancing in the rain.

making wishes.

out in rome.

going for the wet rat look.

a day when i actually needed sunglasses?

gelato round…16?

unauthentic italian pizza.

dad found a friend.

mum and dad at the colosseum.

eating and drinking our way through italy.

american-italian classics. moonstruck soundtrack, anyone?

making rain gear look good.

vesuvius in the clouds. rainbow umbrellas block rain, but will they protect from volcanic ash?

putting down my favorite souvenir to cook dinner, pompeii-style.

st. peter’s.

visit to the vatican.

christmas eve organ.

when they say large, they mean large.

clark and ellen griswold waiting for a train.

clark and ellen onboard. off to florence.

charm:

Far and above my favorite place I have visited in Europe so far, Florence is a city that I fell for at first bite. Among the incredible meals—my personal restaurant recommendations include il Santo Bevitore and  il Munaciello [try the gnudi…they look like small dead turtles, but taste like heaven]—I happily indulged in perhaps ten scoops too many of cocco gelato and American-style bagels, satisfying a craving seven months in the making.

birthday/anniversary dinner at il santo bevitore.

il Munaciello.

mozzarella, caponata, red wine.

gnudi: worst looking, best tasting.

try not to drool.

Beyond sending my taste buds on a joyride, Florence was also a mental relief. Combining tourism, a University presence, and a bustling local atmosphere, the balanced cultural environment made so I never quite felt right at home, but also never felt completely out of place. There were young people, old people, locals, and foreigners; there were enough attractions and tours offered to fill the schedule of even the most active traveler, but also enough cafes and local offerings to keep content a more relaxed visitor.

cafe in florence.

::le sigh::

duomo.

wines.

Additionally, much to my liking, the combination of the constituents—the Italian ethos, live music and art events, and the apertivo hours held at swanky, though not intimidating bars [my favorite was Santo Spirito’s Volume]—demonstrated an urbanity in youth culture; the perfect surrounding for me as a mid-20something growing tired of the average bar and club scene.

Introducing me to such social blisses though, and the highlight of my trip here was Katie B., one of my best girlfriends from high school who is currently living in Florence, perfecting her Italian and working at a new art school.

santo spirito.

reunited friends.

I would never say that we had a falling out, but as time and distance often have it we’ve found our impossibly conflicting schedules have always prevented a reunion for even so much as a cup of coffee. And, while Skype keeps us close, everyone knows that laughing through a computer screen will never replace a conversation over wine and chocolate.

After years of mere IMing, jumping back into friendship proved a simple task for Katie and I. We were both relieved to skip the small talk, reverting immediately to gushing and complaining without fear of the judgment that comes with making a first impression. In addition to comfort and empathy through recent trials, tribulations, and triumphs we provided one another with a source of support and reassurance for all questions that lacked clear answers—yes, it’s okay that at twenty-five you are not contributing to your retirement fund; yes, it’s okay to move-in with your foreign boyfriend if it’s financially beneficial even if the relationship is new; no, it’s not crazy that you want to hop on a sailboat and explore the world via ocean currents for a few months.

::sigh::

I promised myself I wouldn’t backtrack through cities, but I also hadn’t seen Florence when I made myself that promise.

goodbye for now, florence.

romance:

By Venice, I was tired [quite similarly to how I feel now after trying to recap a month in only a few pages]. I was released again to solo travel in Florence as my parents departed for Madrid for their connecting flight home to the states, but after two weeks of traveling in the company of others and with cloudy skies and two days of rain ahead, I lacked the personal motivation to see much in my limited time in The City of Water.

Despite skipping over most of the major attractions [with the exception of St. Mark’s, of course] I think I nailed the most important of the “10 Things to do in Venice” by getting myself completely and utterly lost, map-less, in its winding and picturesque streets.

st. mark’s in the rain.

st. mark’s in the sun.

rialto.

view from the rialto.

boats.

heart sigh.

gondolas.

square outside the hostel.

I will admit that overall Venice has an undeniably dirty feel to it. It reeks of age and dilapidation, and on cloudy, rainy days the tiny roads and alleyways can feel dark and constricting. Standing in doorways and ducking into cafes watching the water drip from rooftops and form puddles in the streets I couldn’t help but notice the melancholic aura of the city in the rain.

When the sun emerges, however, the grime is overlooked, counteracted by a unique romantic appeal. Substituting a series of interconnected waterways for ugly and busy streets, Venice replaces cars and buses with boats and increases human mobility between neighborhoods by countless footbridges of varying sizes. Perhaps not surprisingly, the lack of traffic and car horns had an intensely calming effect, even if the wafting smell of dirty water did not.

Though Venice was a particularly special city, when I return [and I will return!] it will be in the company of a boyfriend…or a girlfriend who loves red wine just as much as I do. It’s certainly a city that you can visit alone, but would probably be best approached in the company of others.

en route to alicante.

As I should have predicted, my flight home arrived late and I capped off the tour with a twelve-hour stint in the Alicante airport. What normally would cause me tears, I laughed off deliriously as I made base camp in a Burger King booth, scanning through all of my pictures, scribbling down memories, and waiting for the first bus home in the morning.

In closing, a million thanks to Lily, Thibault, Bud, Alex, Jess, Harry, Amir, Mom, Dad & Jamie, Katie, Dan, Angus and other A Venice Fish crew, my enablers along the way who have welcomed and inspired. See you down the road.

aguilas 2.0

March 7, 2012

When I was seventeen, there were few thrills I found more satisfying than staying out all night gallivanting and boozing in the streets. Being too poor for skydiving or bungee jumping on a regular basis [or ever] I sought my adrenaline rushes in acts of rebellion. I found underage drinking, breaking curfew and sneaking into neighbors’ pools while they were away on vacation or asleep all surefire ways to achieving this heightened sense of invincibility. I rarely needed anything [except for occasionally French fries from Wendy’s] to keep me smiling and flirtatious and quite simply, happily awake, until the morning hours.

Then around twenty-two, my brain and body raised the white flag. Refusing to put up with such continued abuses, all-night extravaganzas became fewer and fewer and I often found myself opting to stay in and watch a movie rather than further develop my social life.

Not surprisingly though, adulthood still brings thrills that I once associated with the aforementioned activities [you’ve got to find your rush somewhere, eh?]; however instead of invincibility in risky behaviors, naughtiness has morphed to take the form of the satisfaction of indulgence: purchasing overpriced lipstick from MAC or Bobbi Brown or a pair of sexy shoes that I can only wear with a specific dress, during a specific season, to a specific type of establishment [for example]; ordering champagne with dinner [or lunch]; and gluttonous desserts. Let’s hear it for chocolate and macaroons, eh?

This past weekend*, the vast majority of Auxiliares in Murcia [who I know, at least] traveled to Aguilas to celebrate Carnaval. It sounded like it would have been a blast. Honestly—despite my ever-growing lameness in the party arena, I’ve never been opposed to costumed debauchery. Unfortunately, it being mid-February it also sounded cold. Really cold. And with the plan being an all-night botellon [outdoor party] in the streets of Aguilas, stumbling on the first train home in the morning I questioned whether or not I could rise to the occasion or if I would be whiney and miserable circa 3 AM with three more hours of “fun” ahead of me.

Debating until Friday evening, I was eventually enticed by the alternative—shopping, cheese, and wine.

Now, let’s be frank: shopping, cheese, or wine could each be considered epic in its own rights, but the combined threat of all three make for a trifecta of awesome. Like, Mentos in Coca-Cola awesome: you know it’s going to be good, but you’re still caught off-guard by the fizzy explosion and the subsequent giggles.

My friend Anthony and I started the day with a Corte Ingles** shopping excursion. “I told Ben to meet us at Santo Domingo in an hour,” he mentioned upon meeting up. “I figured we wouldn’t need that much time for lipstick and shoes.”

Lipstick AND shoes in one hour? Knowing quite well that I could spend an entire afternoon at Tysons oogling at the MAC counter or in Sephora, I traced my memories for any occasion that I had bought even just lipstick in under an hour. Nope, blank.

Enter panic mode.

Feeling pressured and not wanting to be “that girl”, I scooped the first color that remotely resembled what I was looking for, Bobbi Brown’s Lip Color in Chocolate. Yum.

vixenish.

Upon further review, it’s not quite what I had hoped paired with the envisioned hair and outfit, but it adds a little variety to my overwhelming array of reds and pinks. [Just in case you were wondering in the least.] Regardless, it was completely worth the equivalent week’s worth of groceries I parted with to purchase it.

Next up? Wine and cheese fanatics rejoice! We met with Jess and Ben in the Plaza Santo Domingo and walked over to La Lechera de Burdeos—a little spot in Murcia that totally takes the cake. It reeks of stinky queso and while to some this is a total nightmare, for those of us in attendance it was a fantasy. We were presented with a sample of five cheeses and two wines selected and paired by the shop, plus dried fruits, crackers, and membrillo to snack on. I personally dug all of them*** [sopresa, eh?].

"if you give four twenty-somethings a bottle of wine, they're going to ask for a second one to go with it." and maybe a third.

starting the day with deliciousness.

cow, cow, cow, sheep, goat. happy farm family.

Buzzed from wine, but bellies still empty, we then hiked to the Plaza de los Flores for tapas [and Santo Domingo for frozen yogurt—shhhh]. I unfortunately did not record these hours as the tapas were mediocre at best and llaollao, while delicious, is not an altogether infrequent occurrence in my life here. Enough of you have experienced pretty plazas filled with flowers and me eating ice cream. Use your imagination and put the two together. Then fill in the blanks with people speaking Spanish.

at plaza de los flores. this wine? the epitome of ordinary.

At this point in the day, things could have gone in two directions: we break, nap, and then reunite for our much discussed river runs and spin classes, or we give in to ourselves, embrace Aguilas 2.0, and buy more booze.

Our sunset champagne river walk proved to be a great success. Somewhat surprisingly with our pace, we even caught the sunset. Regrettably we only bought one bottle of champagne, but quite fortunately happened upon Bar Luky during our meandering. Incredibly cheap beer buckets just as the bubbles run out? Yahp. We’ll take one.

riverside toast. ultimate splurge: plastic champagne flutes.

after a day of corks, anthony is baffled by the bottle top.

mmm: watery beer with a patatas bravas finish.

Six hours after our tapas, hungry yet again, we rounded out our European food tour at an Italian spot in the Plaza de Teatro. I’m salivating just thinking about it. [Or is that from the peanut butter banana sandwich I’m currently devouring?]

risotto&pizza party.

fear not fellow veggies, only not cute animals were harmed in the making of this seafood pizza. (obviously i kid...rest in peace sebastian.)

supersonic(knucklesandwich) salad.

cruet of spicy pizza grease.

italian food and red wine—almost as classic as peanut butter and jelly. maybe more so, if you're not american.

teamwork in recapturing the spirit of rené magritte's "the son of man".

Then?—Onward to an Asturian bar. The cons of this spot? Wine tasted like fermented sheep urine. The pros? A bottle of said fermented sheep urine cost only 3 Euros and there was novelty in drinking it—you pour drinks at your table from a funky easel-like machine that makes it fun. Who doesn’t love fake drinking games?

toy or torture device? ring the bell and find out...

unanimous vote for toy.

Wandering lastly to the Murcian rum bar I finished my night with an Abuelo and Coke. Inhaling the scent of summer I almost forgot that I would soon be stumbling home in the cold.

does that come with sea salt and a tan?

procrastination of goodbye...street corner style.

With big hugs and besitos we departed around a reasonable 2 AM, coming to a group decision that there was no shame in not finishing our drinks—we are adults now, right? Fifteen minutes later I was happy, home, and snug in my bed, drifting into dreams smirking, considering those still in the streets over an hour from home. Exceptional and unexpected, it was my best day in Murcia yet.

And you know what? On Sunday I even got up and went running.

Game over.

 

*Sometime in mid-February.

**My friend Lisha [who lived in Murcia] told me that Corte Ingles was like if Macy’s and Super Walmart had a baby. This is spot on. But, living in Spain on a 700€/month budget, purchases equate to those made at Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus. They have a bit of a paper-cut sting.

***In reality, the cheese was actually pretty delicious, but something about eating that much mold as the powder flaked on my hands and teeth freaked me out enough to shake my taste buds into thinking it was poisonous.

thawing out.

March 5, 2012

Much like a bear, I like to hibernate through winter. While I don’t sleep without pause for months on end [though sometimes I’d like to] I do retire to my apartment, often to my bedroom or bed, where I wear fleece pants, hide beneath piles of warm blankets and sit as close to the fire as possible without melting all the synthetic materials I’ve snuggly wrapped myself in. Occasionally I emerge when work or a trip to the grocery store requires it, but infrequent as these occurrences are, I am usually groggy, grouchy, and disinterested in whatever activity you want me to partake in. I wish this wasn’t the case. But it is, and I’ve accepted it: I’m made for the tropics, and when wearing shorts no longer becomes the comfortable norm my attitude can become as frigid as the weather.

January and February in Murcia were bitterly cold. My father, who checks the weather here daily, will probably argue against this point; he knows that temperatures never dipped below freezing. But I, living in this not unlike desert-ish climate, know that the cold here was much, much worse than whatever claims Wunderground and Weather.com have made. Thermometers evidenced a mild winter, but the humidity made the chill penetrating and despite layering up like a marshmallow puff, my body never adjusted.

Hence: I haven’t posted in over a month. Quite frankly, I have done absolutely nothing worth blogging about…the peak of my entertainment and exploration has been through twenty or so new movies and television series. I haven’t felt inspired. But with the turning weather, it’s time to reemerge from my cave and return to the life I love living.

Three weeks ago I saw crocuses sprouting and knew I was in the home stretch. Now here I am welcoming spring with open arms. Gone are the days of sleeping in a winter jacket and scarf. Hello cut-offs and sandals. God willing, in two weeks time I will even have the opportunity to wear the other 80% of my wardrobe. Wah-freaking-hoo.

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