Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Live and Learn...and Live.

Europe has spoiled me with enlightening adventures one beautiful city and culture at a time. Wonderful memories such as the incredibly friendly locals of Amsterdam, the breathtaking view of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and the rustic gondolas floating on Venice’s water canals can all be easily revisited by browsing through my Instagram photos and camera roll. Despite the artsy candid photos and clever captions, I must admit, behind every photo is a lesson that can’t be relived through a camera lens, but can be shared through a story. Experiencing such a variety of newness and stepping outside of my comfort zone daily is exhausting, but so rewarding. As an independent traveler, I’ve been able to reexamine my experiences thus far and reflect on some of the key takeaways from my travels.

In March, I traded in ciao for bonjour as I recalled some of my high school French while taking a scenic stroll down the Champs-Élysées. With the spring-time air, dark blue skies and the hourly Eiffel Tower’s glisten, I couldn’t help but notice the countless couples soaking in Parisian romance. Lovers were everywhere shoulder-upon-shoulder, lip-on-lip and palm-in-palm, and all I can think was, “Wow, Paris truly is the city of amour.” It must be something about the crisp air, aesthetically perfect buildings and the spark of energy on every corner that enables these hundreds of couples to love as loudly as they do.
I was simply an onlooker navigating Parisian social dynamics and adjusting my visions to this new never-before-seen footage . Traveling with an open mind and no expectations is the best way to immerse oneself into a new culture and atmosphere,  even if it means casually walking past some PDA alongside the Louvre. What I say to my fellow lovebirds, continue spreading the joy of lip lock while I enjoy the baguette and Nutella crepes under the tower’s twinkle.

I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Rome, the big, big city swimming in historical currency and an overwhelming amount of tourists. The impressive Roman Forum has a somewhat mysterious and eerie quality that keeps one mesmerized, fascinated and questioning ancient Roman moral conduct. Our lovely tour guide walked us through tsunami like crowds as she pointed out special areas and historical monuments throughout the city, including the Fontana di Trevi, famously giving birth to the “Lizzie McGuire Moment.” It was in this rich city that I had a poor experience when I was almost pick-pocketed by a young boy on the subway. Constantly monitoring your surroundings is absolutely crucial when traveling, no matter how easily distracted you are by the crowds of people and beautiful buildings. Needless to say, after this incident, my survival instinct is at its peak and my ninja reflexes have never been this agile. Violence is never the answer; however, I do have a few self-defense moves up my sleeve if I need them.

Crystal-clear sea water splashing through rocky coasts, narrow streets winding through hundred-foot cliffs, and colorful three-story homes tiered with Tetris like precision all make up the lovely Amalfi Coast and Salerno. One sweaty cab ride, a 45-minute train ride and shuttle bus-ride later, I went from my hotel room on the tip top of the hill back to the rocky beaches of Amalfi. After enjoying some Mediterranean sunshine at the entrance of an abandoned grotto and eating some nice southern Italian gelato, I was ready to call it a day when the only bus leading back into town never showed. Two and a half hours later, I was able to bypass the frustrated mob of Italians and make my way towards the only bus that drove about 60-plus tourists and locals back to the nearest train station. Squeezed in an aisle of what should be a 30-person shuttle, I watched the sea water splash along the shore as the driver fiercely drove down the windy narrow roads with Ferrari intricacy. “At least I’m holding on for dear life while watching a gorgeous sunset over the Mediterranean,” I optimistically thought to myself. Rest assured, I made it safely back to ground zero with some new Italian friends and new fixation for sunsets. Having the ability to anticipate abnormalities by observing non-verbal expressions and doing a little research on logistical information, such as public transportation, is absolutely critical when traveling. Despite day one’s transportation hassles, day two in Amalfi was a piece of cake as I hopped on and off trains and buses like it was my job. Still I can’t take all the credit; it helps when bus drivers arrive to and from bus stops on time like it’s their job.

I developed a new traveling mantra: Everything in life must be done twice: once to learn and another to live. It’s important to experience frustration, losses and uncertainty to better live excitement, achievements and confidence during your travels. After all, nothing about traveling is easy, but everything about traveling is worth it!

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