Why I Run

I’m a runner, but not a real runner. I get imposter syndrome from time to time, maybe because I only started running 4 years ago in my early 30’s. I wriggle at seeing myself as part of the club of real runners. Some of you can probably relate. I’m not fast, and I don’t always love it. But often when I do run, albeit slow, I feel something that I only feel from my two feet treading ground.

It’s not about where we go physically, it’s about where we go internally. 

A wild rush of euphoria quells the noise in my head and viscerally connects me with my animate surroundings, a sacred experience that occasionally moves me to tears. Whether it’s running the same familiar trails of Austin, around my current home of Madrid, or covering new ground as I travel (literally running around the world), this intense yet comforting, fleeting feeling always finds me.  

On a perfect sunny day in April 2016, I comfortably finished the Madrid Half Marathon. I felt what many runners feel after an enjoyable finish: post-race euphoria. Later that night, despite the fatigue, I started fantasizing about the next race, and running a full marathon (26.2m/42.1k) consumed my thoughts. So, I pulled the trigger and registered for one of the world’s most iconic marathons: The Athens Authentic Marathon, a legendary route from the town of Marathon to Athens.*

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This would be my second marathon (my first was Austin 2014) and my first destination race. Visiting Greece had been on the top of my list ever since I saw pictures of Mykonos and Santorini, way before my running days. It’s one of the few European countries along the Mediterranean that I had yet to experience. Back then I originally saw myself spending a few weeks of vacation island hopping, beach bumming, mingling with fellow travelers and locals, adventuring till the wee hours of the night. Instead I found myself taking a solo weekend trip to run the streets of Athens. No beach, no islands, no late nights…just sun, sweat, and tears.

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Six weeks before race day I hit a mental block that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome. I didn’t want to train anymore. My mind started to resist long runs, waking up early, and allocating hours of weekend time for training and recovery. So I stopped. Although I knew I was setting myself up for failure, I was at peace with my decision and accepted that there would be consequences for entering a race unprepared. I reassured myself that my body would find a way to the finish line, even it if meant walking a large portion of the race. I had faith that I would find strength in the suffering.

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The original allure of running a marathon may have been the challenge of completing the distance. However, what now attracts me to the race is the journey through the distance. I have discovered that the slow and steady intensification of physical pain opens me up to an abyss of emotion and a dimension of my being that isn’t readily available. To uncover who I am, I run distances that I never imagined my mind and body could do.

“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further… past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what…running is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known.” – Rex Pace

For me it comes around mile 20, when my body starts to break down and my mental strength quickly dims, but I know giving up is not an option. With six miles to go the magic starts to happen and I’m transported to an internal cavern where I feel my vulnerability, the cold darkness and rawness of my inner self. The self-loathing thoughts enter my mind, and as I hold the space for this darkness and succumb to feeling my way through it, I know it’s only a matter of minutes or miles until the tidal wave of intense emotional pain caused by the trauma of life rushes to the surface and finds a physical form of release down my face.

As the suffering and emotional eruption abate, the focus shifts from inward to outward as I begin to observe my surroundings and marvel at the runners and spectators at my side. The collective energy of that moment, our shared experience, brings about a feeling of divine connection and unleashes a flood of gratitude that flows under and over me. This is the wild rush of euphoria I spoke of.  Its intensity exacerbated by the mileage, spreads like an anesthetic over my physical pain. Here, I tap into a reserve of strength that fills in for my lack of training, and for the last hour and a half of the race, I am consumed by this cycle of suffering to elation and back. I imagine myself as a pile of ashes, scorched by agony then reborn to unfold and rise mighty and soar like the phoenix, again and again until I cross the finish line.

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I finally cross the finish line, 5 hours and 17 minutes later. The typical external motives: the accomplishment of running an impressive distance, reaching an impossible goal, a medal to hang on the wall, an event to cross off the bucket list, are meaningless compared to what happens internally within those 26.2 miles.

That is why I run. To feel the purity of light, the sensation of floating on air, and to explore the depth of emotions that are trapped, buried, wound up tight and tucked away somewhere at the bottom of my heart, dormant and lying beneath all the other emotions I am able to access and feel with ease. It’s therapy.

With a medal and photo op at the end.

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Fun Fact

Do you know why the marathon is called a marathon? Back in 490 BC, there was a battle called the Battle of Marathon (you may remember the movie 300) where the Greeks defeated the Persians in the city of…Marathon. As legend has it, a messenger and ultrarunner named Pheidippides was instructed to send word of the victory to Athens on foot from Marathon. The distance between the two cities is about 40k/25m, more or less the distance of the modern marathon. Message delivered. Mission completed! However, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Upon arrival to Athens and exclaiming the good news, Pheidippides collapsed and died.

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Europe’s Coolest Historic Center: Graz, Austria

I arrived in Austria with my mind on Graz, all caught up in a classic case of travel envy that makes you reconsider ever wanting to live elsewhere. All the travel guides featured spectacular photos that reminded me of an I Spy book, and seeing a glorious visual treasure hunt come alive was all the encouragement I needed.

If the best historic center in Europe had to be crowned, the winner would inarguably be Graz. Nestled among Austrian mountains, this second-city is famous for its numerous, co-existing architectural periods that seamlessly blend together and flow in a way that’s unique and harmonious. Relaxed and welcoming, it’s hard to imagine anyone being unimpressed.

It’s no surprise that in 1999, the center of town was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the entire city the European Culture capital of 2003.

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A Multi-Period City

Graz began as a small Bavarian fortress on a hill before turning into the hot spot for ruling Hapsburgs in the 13th century. It’s proximity to so many other countries and culture shaped its identity and their mixed influences might best be seen in the distinct building periods including Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouvue styles.

The city’s location also made it a witness to several eras of war and has the World’s Largest Historic Armory, a super cool building chock full of old weapons and armor.

During the Napoleonic War, two of the city’s biggest landmarks managed to avoid ruin when Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops occupied the city. The citizens paid €87,000 in today’s currency to spare them, and now they’re iconic symbols you can visit. During WWII, Graz was a favorite location of the Third Reich, and consequently a portion of the city was destroyed by Allied bombs…but thankfully they missed the historic center.

Getting Around and Planning Your Trip

I have never encountered a tourist guide as fabulous as the free pamphlet available around town that threw all my “things to do” right out of the window. Rather than just a map with suggested locations haphazardly listed and inaccurately placed, the book categorized things to see based on interest and/or location. You could easily open it up to any page and it would tell you what to do for an afternoon without being overwhelming. My advice is to come to Graz without a plan. You’ll be in good hands. 

Getting around was easy with the tram, and the city center is all reachable by foot (traveling to Schloss Eggenberg requires a little bit more). Mondays and Tuesdays mean a lot of the museums will be closed, and the same concept applies to the colder seasons. I travelled in the late winter on a Monday and Tuesday, (double the luck) so I didn’t see everything I wanted to, but still found a lot of great (and free!) things to do.

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There is SO much to see and do, but climbing up to the Sclossberg fortress and seeing the view of Graz is the first thing you should do. The stairs were carved into the stone by prisoners during WWII, and the beloved Clock Tower (one of those ransomed landmarks!) awaits at the peak. Without realizing it, I had timed it perfectly and arrived at the top precisely as the noon church bells throughout the whole city began sounding off. It was glorious and the kind of travel moment words can do no justice to.

I had the Mausoleum to myself and felt bold enough to lay on the floor to enjoy the heavily decorated Baroque fresco, complete with angels popping out of the paint with limbs of plaster. The attached church was also a beauty, still crazy opulent but not as showy as others. I still haven’t gotten church fatigue from the amount I’ve seen while abroad.


Right across from the Mausoleum and Church tucked away in a government building is a double staircase that’s SUPER cool. The “stairs of reconciliation” twist and wind in different directions, separating and coming together. There’s not much at the top, but the attraction is for marveling at the craftsmanship.

 

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Despite not seeing it because it closes for the winter, Schloss Eggenberg is the most impressive pick in the city for history lovers. It’s conception and idea might make you drool since the preservation of the interior is as close to perfect as you can get with these old palaces. Like Graz, it’s also a UNESCO site.

 

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Visiting Austria may inevitably bring you to Vienna, a city that needs no introduction, but consider a visit to Graz for a more intimate experience. A quick 2 hour bus ride and throwing your plans to the wind is all it takes!

…and if that’s not enticing enough, then maybe a jaunt over to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s childhood home will be😉

Great Expectations

I’m reposting my entry for a World Nomad travel scholarship about a unique experience I had in Italy earlier this year. A 2,500 character limit it was a challenge to condense a “local encounter I’ll never forget”, but I think it was great practice as a writer!

Enjoy!

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Skepticism is every solo traveller’s default, so when a friend invited me to meet a Couchsurfing host I leered and kept my expectations low. Yet once we met, I couldn’t turn down a tour of the “green heart of Italy” by the lively Michael. As we drove into Umbria’s countryside we cooed over Easter lambs, only to be reminded they wouldn’t survive past the holiday weekend. It won me over.

The day was full of things we’d never have encountered on our own. At lunch he told us to fill our “crescia”, with veggies dripping in olive oil so that each bite was decadent and wonderfully messy. Michael mentioned a friend pressed olive oil and might be free to hang out that evening. With no expectations (doesn’t everyone press olive oil in Italy?), we went off into the night.

A massive German Shephard loomed at the edge of a long dirt road, its eyes glowing high off the ground. Jack was supposedly friendly, but I wasn’t taking the chance being so far from reliable cell service. His owner roared up in a Jeep, bleached white-blue hair popping out of the dark and clear-framed glasses catching light.

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“Welcome to Vini Tili!”

Our night was more than just a vineyard walk. Marcos is a 25th generation winemaker and the captain of his family’s legacy; a celebrated organic winery with a reputation built on superb product and limited availability. His pride was beaming as he showed us around and we were glued to every word. This guy was good at building the anticipation.

I’m not wine educated, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that his wine is top caliber. We learned the family history and moved from wine to wine, our glasses sloshing with hand gestures and our Italian bolder with each sip. Every casket held a story or sparked emotion, the great barrels muffled loud laughter and my disbelief at the situation. Jake the dog was the only one keeping their cool.

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It was hard to not be inspired by Marcos’ passion. His happiness and dedication was in each word he spoke. This was something I’ve heard about but never experienced. This wasn’t just a job. It was his life.

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A tiny wine casket was the climax of the evening. It was the last of its kind, a coveted year worth more than any sum. An ancestor put their love into it at the turn of the century and its sat there since, never to be enjoyed by its maker. It wasn’t just unattainable and unique; the family heirloom represented their legacy. Liquid only for the ones that were made from it.

And we were invited to taste it.

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Work While Studying Abroad

How working while studying abroad in France allowed me to travel Europe and learn the language better than 9 years of classes. Recommendations at end of post.

Coat check at a bar and elementary English teacher. Those were my two jobs I was able to nab while studying abroad for an academic year in Aix-en-Provence, France. Whatever student loans and small scholarships didn’t cover, I had the privilege that my parents could help me with much of the cost during the year there (the rest of tuition, dorm, round-trip flight). But any of the extras like food, entertainment, and travel was to be covered by me. Though I did have a middle class upbringing, the burden of college on my family was immense. My family lived through the chaos that was the Michigan auto industry, and I had studied in France in 2008 to 2009, when the economic recession hit. The dollar was very weak compared to the Euro, and my family and I felt it. My two summer jobs before I moved in the Fall didn’t allow me to save enough to cover a whole year of “extras”. I was determined to find a job that would feed my addiction to wanderlust while lessening the study abroad cost burden on my family.


The first month or so we were in Aix, my new study abroad friends and I would go out to the international student nocturnal spot called IPN (it’s possible it stood for “International Party Nightclub”, in English, not in French) where a few French people worked, but the rest of the workers were foreigners. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Colombian guy, Kike, attending the coat check on a slow weeknight. We hit it off, conversing mostly in Spanish. I expressed to him that I needed a job, which led him to help me get a job doing the same as him, and – BAM – I got my first job abroad! I was being paid 50-60 euros a night (depending on tips) under the table, and I was only working Saturday nights for about 2-3 months (September – November 2008). That was about $70-80 at that time, which was a lot considering I was not bartending. This covered food to experiment outside of my main choice of cheese or bread (food is expensive in France!). It also covered short weekend trips like to the French island of Corsica, for example.

European clubs stay open past 4 or 5 am , so I knew I had to look for something different or else risk my health and weekend social life (i.e. time to go on trips). There was also an incident where I once got choked by a non-French male coworker who thought he was being playful and funny. I never did or said anything about the situation because I didn’t know how to handle it. Thankfully, a fellow female coworker saw what happened and called him out. Regardless, I knew that it was time to look for a better work gig.

Through Kike, I was introduced to ALL the Colombians who lived in Aix that were around my age. This group  included a guy I would later (and briefly) date, who introduced me to his sister, Linda. Another girl, Daniela, I met randomly while working coat check because we haphazardly bonded over Shakira playing at the moment she handed me her coat, and then we became inseparable the moment we both said we were Colombian. I remain in contact with Linda and Daniela to this day. They are two of my best friends. We spent some fun nights at IPN while I worked and they came to party to accompany me, but we preferred going Latin dancing at Cuba Libre or for some cheap Rosé at Splendid.

My parents weren’t too happy that I was speaking too much English with U.S. American friends and too much Spanish with Colombian friends, which they felt defeated the purpose of being in France.  However, another Colombian, William, who was also working at IPN, worked as a Spanish teacher at one of the French public schools in the area. He told me it would be possible for me to teach Spanish or English. I was more than excited to stop staying up so late on Saturdays for work.  That way I could start having a unique and fun experience with some French youngins during normal business hours. In addition, who would have thought I would meet so many Colombians in France, and that they would make such a positive impact on my life then and now?

William organized my first and only interview with Madame Vela Tur, the principal at Bellevue Elementary School (École Primaire Bellevue), a 30-40 minute bus ride away in the bigger nearby city of Marseille, France. To prepare me before the interview, he let me know that the school was located in a neighborhood that was the government projects with low-income housing. We had one meeting, and I hit it off right away with the kids. I couldn’t believe I got the job!

I was working once a week on Fridays, from 8am to 3pm for a couple of months. I later started to work at 2 other nearby Elementary schools for about 3 hours each. I worked a loaded schedule for my remaining 3 months while still taking university classes. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of those elementary schools.  I was teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, about 2 different classes per grade. The best part about this experience was getting to know this unique part of France, different from what it’s famous for (i.e. fashion, luxury, Cannes Film Festival, the Eiffel Tower, Paris, etc). Marseille is a largely immigrant city since it is the biggest port of France in the Mediterranean. Most of my students were first generation African, Middle Eastern, or Gypsy. The majority of the students were Muslim. I wouldn’t take back this experience for the world, and I was happy to have such a genuine exchange of cultures: between my U.S. American/ Latin American/ Colombian culture, and their French or African or Middle Eastern or Gypsy or Muslim culture.

I ended up working there from about November 2008 to June 2009, and it was a challenging but beneficial 8 months out of my study abroad experience. In fact, I was able to help a fellow U.S. American classmate, Brandon, land a job teaching too. Because of this job, I was able to travel to 7 other countries in Europe. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the extra income.

Do not pay attention to criticisms from your family or friends. If most of your social network speaks your native language(s), yet you are working while studying abroad, the best language experience you will get is if you work with colleagues who are local. It’s usually hard to befriend locals, therefore this is the best way to connect with them, befriend them, and be immersed in their language in the most useful way that is not learned in a college course.

Recommendations
It can be tricky to find a job while studying or living abroad depending on visa restrictions. Here are 3 easy jobs to research online before you travel to the new country, and/or on the ground when you arrive there:

Teach. The easiest job to find as a foreigner with a student visa is teaching English or another language like Spanish or Portuguese. Many require a TEFL certification, but some don’t. Do your research to see what exists in the area you will be in because chances are there are plenty of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, and adult evening classes for you to teach. Connect with other foreign students who teach since they know direct contacts to people who hire for these positions.

Au Pair. Basically, you get room and board paid for while you take care of a family’s kids. Most times you get an extra stipend to spend for yourself and access to a motorized vehicle. This might be tricky if you have a set school schedule, but it is possible to balance the two. Daniela, my Colombian-French friend I mentioned earlier, worked as an Au Pair in the UK while she completed her studies AND worked at a nearby school.

Work at a bar or restaurant. You may be able to find a job that pays you under the table by bartending, bussing, or other jobs like coat check. Try the bars or restaurants that are frequented by a lot of international students or run by foreigners, especially if there are other Latinxs there. Be wary that “under the table” isn’t always the best option since things can go wrong or the workplace might be unsafe.

Odds and ends. Translate documents to English. Babysit. Task Rabbit offers remote jobs, or find a similar local app. Intern for a company that wants English/Spanish/Portuguese speakers. Find work you can do remotely for your university, with a connection, or for a company.

Even if you aren’t able to secure something before you arrive to your destination, remember that it’s always easiest to find a job on the ground. Network with people who are foreigners but who have lived there for at least a year, they will have the best knowledge in terms of connections for foreigners, and will empathize with you the most. You will most likely find something quicker on the ground rather than sitting at home researching online. You have to be active about talking to people or else you won’t find anything.

For more photos of my teaching experience, click here!

Stay tuned for a future post about my summer internship experience in Paris that followed my academic year in the South of France.

Were you able to find a job while studying or living abroad? What did you do? How did you find the job?

 

Welcome to Perugia:

Smack in the center of Italy, this medieval city has roots older than early Roman civilizations and its hilltop location has some of the most glorious views of the fertile valleys of Umbria. Welcome to Perugia, a culture-rich city with lots of charm!

Perugia is a stone’s throw from Assissi, and a quick 2.5 hour train ride from Rome. It’s full of winding stone streets, countless hidden nooks, and boasts beautiful surviving structures from eras long gone. It’s a great place to wander; if you get lost all you have to do is head upwards.

The region (and much of Italy) is a goldmine of antiquity for archaeology lovers, with Umbria being the heart of Etruscan treasures. Some of the Perugia’s landmarks were erected by Italy’s ancient people, and the National Archaeology Museum of Umbria in Perugia holds a wealth incredible artifacts. The Etruscans are their own mystery; they left no written account of their ways and most of what we know is gleaned from surviving pieces of art, sculpture, and pottery.

Relics from the Middle Ages also speckle the city, the most famous being the Fontana Maggiore in the Piaza Grande; a symbol of Perugia and the critical center of the city’s busiest and most important square throughout history.

To walk amongst the arches and paths is to walk through their same steps, just everyday people doing everyday things; albeit over two thousand years ago. In some places, ancient stonework is literally the foundation of other buildings and of the future.

Scheming Popes and Renaissance Art

Modern times brought an original Raphael oil painting to the San Francesco Al Prato church in the early 1500’s…which was then pilfered by a Pope’s nephew because he liked it so much and HAD to have it. The Pope arranged for an exact copy of “The Desposition” to replace it to ease tensions with Perugians. Funny enough, the copy is in much better shape that the original that lives in Rome’s Borghese Gallery.

There used to be a few other Raphael paintings in the city that are long gone, and all that’s remained of his mark on Perugia is a wall in the Chapel of San Savero. A fresco illustrating the Holy Trinity and several saints is the combined result of his efforts and of his teacher and celebrated master in his own right, Pietro Perugino. It’s tucked away in an intimate room of the chapel, and if you ever wanted a one-on-one with the work of Italian Renaissance masters, this is the place to be.

So, how’s the food?

Italian cuisine is glorious and I am very glad to be walking uphill most of the time because of it, although the bread leaves much to be desired. I know! Bread in Italy that’s terrible?!

Legend has it that the Salt War of 1540 made Perugians protest salt taxes with a boycott, meaning some pretty bland bread that still exists today. The reality is that any salt that was imported and purchased was probably used to cure meats instead. Still, people will swear that Perugians really wanted to stick it to the man and are proud of their crusty rebellion.

That same Salt War and Papal power abuses ignited Perugia’s uprising against the church that resulted in parts of the city being demolished when rebel forces failed. A huge portion of the city was bulldozed over and replaced with the Rocco Paolina, an intimidating fortress and symbol of Papal power that was built ON TOP of entire city blocks. Though the fortress is no longer standing, you can still walk through the “underground city” and see remnants of the buildings upon which it once stood.

What else is there to do?

Seasonal markets pop up with local wares depending on the month, and you’re sure to smell the truffle oil before you see the vendor. There’s an old church or building around every corner, but the most fun lies in exploring without a destination in mind.

Perugia is a hotspot for studying abroad and you’re sure to pick out the students from the locals. There’s an Italian language school as well and plenty of activities to exercise your new language skills.

I highly recommend Alphaville Coffee as a nice place to get your bearings, and if you want someone to give you ideas of what else there is to do, they have a multi-language social night every Tuesday.

It’s a glorious little city that is sure to get you hooked on the undeniable allure of an Italian romance. If the history of it isn’t enough, maybe the daily espressos and terrace views of never ending valleys and blue sky will be😉

Why Amsterdam Is One of My Favorite Travel Destinations

 By Melissa Moreno

Traveling to Amsterdam this past October was probably the highlight of 2015 for me. Amsterdam remains one of my top 3 places to visit in Europe along with Paris and London. It’s a unique small city with a lot of personality that makes it so appealing and entertaining to travelers. Travelers are able to see so many things in just one day! Everything is within walking or biking distance and easy to get around. An educational tour that starts off at the Van Gogh Museum can very well end up in the red light district to unwind.

     The first step in planning a vacation is deciding where to go ( this may actually be the hardest part) . Amsterdam has something for every type of traveler from the art aficionado to the traveler that is into the wild night life. If lounging around and relaxing is the type of vacation you want Amsterdam is not a place to relax. In fact, you will be so inspired to walk around and explore that getting a break in this beautiful locations is very hard to even think about.

  Think of Amsterdam as a classier, European version of Las Vegas. As soon as you walk off the train, you see stores selling joints, edibles and sex toys. There are lights everywhere as well as old-looking homes right next to other glitzier parts of the city. People walk around  town in a very laid back and relaxed mood, I mean anything goes in Amsterdam , why wouldn’t you feel relaxed. Amsterdam is an old city with a modern twist. The buildings look completely old; however, right smack in the middle of the city you’ll find lights and a small carnival atmosphere. As you get closer to the red light district you’ll see porn shows and strippers modeling their bodies on full body size windows. These women wink at you and try and lure you in for a fun time. I was intrigued at this lifestyle from the moment I set for here, anything that is of shock value to me immediately draws my attention. The interesting part is that you don’t get a feeling of indiscretion in Amsterdam. Everything is done in a very fashionable and legal way.

Here are a few reasons why Amsterdam remains one of my favorite places to visit:

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam maintains the world’s largest collection of works by this very famous artist. The museum is three stories and it does a good job of illustrating his life through his art. The price to get into the museum is about 10 euros which is only about 13 dollars and can be purchased in the following website, http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en. It is located in Amsterdam’s museum district and getting there is rather easy. I walked about 30 beautiful minutes to get there from where I was staying downtown. The Van Gogh Museum is a must see if you are a lover of art!

The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam is a must see!  Most of us had the chance of reading Anne Frank’s diary when we were growing up if not , I recommend picking up this book. This diary documents Anne Franks life while hiding during WWII with her family . The museum depicts an educational and devastating story about what life was like in hiding during the Holocaust. I have to admit, certain moments were completely sad and hard to read and or watch but definitely something that was worth the experience. The museum is very strict and has a lot of security and we were actually asked to leave the line because we had our luggage with us (now that I think of it , that does look kind of suspicious). The good thing about getting there is that it is centrally located to many other things. We literally walked off the train and went straight in to buy our tickets. We tried to purchase tickets online but it is better to purchase them in person. To purchase tickets online you have to do it a couple of months in advance. The line to get in is rather long, but you get to meet other travelers while waiting in line and may be able to get a travel tip or two from them. 

Traveling by car is unnecessary in Amsterdam. Roads are made especially for bikes. You will actually see more bikes than cars in this small town. I don’t think I had to take the bus or taxi at all while I was there—I was able to walk to most of my destinations. Not only do you get to lessen the pollution and save money on bus fare but, you are also able to maintain your fitness while on vacation.IMG_9057

The canals in Amsterdam were in my perspective one of the best tours I have been on. Most boat rides last from 1-2 hours and tickets can be purchased in combination with another museum tour for a discounted price. I recommend purchasing tickets when you are in Amsterdam. The unique boat houses lying on top of the water are also an extra unique aspect of these beautiful canals! Taking a tour on a boat through the canals is a great way of getting good pictures of Amsterdam as well as having a romantic time with your partner. IMG_9032.JPG

Getting to Amsterdam on the Train-Traveling to Amsterdam from Paris was easiest by the Thalys  train line. Tickets can be purchased on eurorailways.com. If you are traveling on a budget it is never good to wait for the last minute to buy train tickets. The further in advance you purchase the tickets the better. We only had to be at the train station 30 minutes before departure my ticket was only about $125 and it took less than 3 hours to get there.

  I was only able to stay in Amsterdam for a day and a half. This was a very short trip of 5 countries in 10 days and I feel so lucky I was able to experience this much in Amsterdam on such a short amount of time.When traveling to Europe make sure the city or country fit your personality. The small town, laid back and easy to get along aspect of Amsterdam completely fit my laid back attitude.

     The other countries I visited on this trip were Sweden, France, Denmark and Portugal. More reviews to follow! I hope to visit Amsterdam again and stay for a longer time. The perfect amount of time to go to Amsterdam I would say is 3 days. I hope to visit again and be able to lounge around at one of the bars while drinking a beer by the canals.

 

 

Feature photo credit: follow Juan Pablo de Miguel’s website 1x.com or Instagram @1x

 

 

Italy’s “Crumbling City”: Civita di Bagnoregio

Too many poetic, dramatic things come to mind when trying to illustrate a place as unique and dreamlike as Italy’s Civita di Bagnoregio; to walk up its heavily reinforced bridge is to enter a portal into a place without a trace of modernity. Its isolation grants it the ability to remain in a frozen trance, a small enough place where you feel both awed by its medieval charm and utterly aware of your own mortality.

“The Crumbling City”, a dying town, the victim of mother nature? A city in the clouds, an island in the sky, a kingdom above? Locals say “Il paese che muore” (the dying city), but I think “Medieval Island” better suits the tucked away magnificence of Civita di Bagnoregio. How does one even begin to describe it? To start, there’s nothing grey about this rural, Italian retreat.

Precariously perched at the top of a massive hill in the Tiber River Valley, Civita lords over lesser peaks and rolling valleys in sweet defiance of the elements. The clay and stone sides of the once great city has been steadily chipped away at for centuries, yet it looks so proud and resilient that to call it “dying” or “crumbling” seems insulting. It’s here that the Middle Ages are perfectly preserved with no reminders of what century you are in, and the very real thought of its endangered state sparks intense appreciation and awe. The only thing between you and the rest of the world is a sea of hills.

 

Like many places in Italy, Civita has Etruscan roots and ancient Roman ties. It was an important, central city in the region until an earthquake caused intense damage in the 16th century and triggered a steady decline. Its government and population gradually moved downhill to Bagnoregio and it sat a ghost town until tourism brought new life in the late 2000s. The permanent population ranges up to the mid teens, but during the summer it skyrockets with vacationing Italians and visiting tourists drawn to its curiosity. The most steady group are the well fed stray cats that know how to charm the prosciutto right out of a visitor’s panino.

Today the long, winding donkey paths used to reach the top are gone and a steep footbridge is the only way to reach town. The medieval architecture is prominent with assorted pagan remains blended in, but the place is quintessentially Italian. Several small businesses cater to visiting crowds and restaurants offer delicious local fare in cozy stone rooms, but if you visit in the winter your options are limited. Since there aren’t enough customers to serve during dinner in the off season, the restaurants take turns staying open during the week. As expected, it’s incredible.

My visit was during this off season, and my travel partners and I rented a car to make the hour and half drive south from Perugia. The town was relatively lively during the day with tourists, but the stillness of the evening snuck up on us and suddenly everything became super spooky. We were probably the only souls sleeping in Civita (besides our Air BNB host) and we had the crumbling city all to ourselves. We jumped each time the church bells rang or a cat darted out from the shadows, but the pervasive calm of the stoic stone buildings soothed us with its magic.

To feel truly isolated is this. No humming of heaters, coughs in the street, idling vehicles. No sound or movement. Everything was still. This city rises out of the ground into the sky and was an incredible look at a time long gone with no distractions. Just you and the stones underfoot that centuries of people walked on before you. We circled our way through town several times, each time noticing new details and taking in the surroundings. The seasonal bonus of a visit during the winter meant an even more intimate experience.

Intact walls hang over brutal cliffs, peeking over the sides of the hill with windows looking out into the lush, fertile valleys. They’re all that’s left of the original structures they once belonged to, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the 16th century building I was staying in was next to topple over.

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If you visit, I recommend staying the night and switching off all electronics. While Civita is small and can be appreciated as a day trip from Rome, the draw of reflection and quiet is satisfyingly therapeutic.  My AirBNB had a charming garden with fig and persimmon trees with the most incredible view of the valley, and the morning brought on a hike through the etruscan tunnels that wound down from the center and into the green countryside.

Thoughts of Civita will forever charm you with warmth , leaving you with a longing sigh of delight and hopes to see it again.

**Civita di Bagnoregio translated would mean Civita OF Bagnoregio…while this location is commonly called by that full moniker, the hilltop destination in this entry is Civita**

Islandia Parte I: Roteiro Circulo Dourado

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland
Fotos: Tom Wildgust
TO READ THIS POST IN ENGLISH: Iceland Part I: Golden Circle

A Islândia é conhecida como a terra de fogo & gelo por causa do grande número de vulcões e geleiras nesta ilha do polo norte. Existe também uma abundância de piscinas geotérmicas espalhadas por toda parte e por onde quer que esteja dirigindo, você encontrara os cavalos Islandeses que são muito fofos. Os Islandês usam óculos escuros à meia noite durante o verão e correm em busca da luz do sol no inverno. Eles adoram fazer Happy hour e a cena musical é bem badalada. Resumindo, a Islândia foi show de bola! Isso vindo de uma Baiana que mora em plena Florida, bastante quente e que decidiu ir em rumo a Islândia, latitude 64 Norte, em pleno inverno. Sinceramente, a melhor decisão de viajem que já fiz! Icelandair tem vôos diretos de várias cidades do US incluindo Orlando. Surpreso? Pois é, eu também. A Islândia tem tanto pra oferecer que vou ter que compartilhar essa experiência em vários posts. Pra começar, vai aí um ótimo roteiro saindo de Reykjavík chamado de Golden Circle. (Circulo Dourado):

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Pingvellir Parque Nacional 

O roteiro Golden Circle é o tours número um da Islândia porque se faz em um dia. Você pode marcar um tour ou, melhor ainda, alugue um carro para ter liberdade de ir, desfrutar ao seu ritmo e parar para tirar fotos no caminho. A maioria das pessoas começam a rota como nós, em rumo ao Parque Nacional Pingvellir, localizado a 45 minutos da capital Reykjavík (49 km). Saímos cedo para chegar lá na hora do nascer do sol, como a Islândia tem somente 5.5 -6 horas de sol durante o inverno, tivemos que planejar bem os nossos roteiros diariamente. Pingvellir possui grande importância histórica, o local é o primeiro e mais antigo Parlamento do mundo, datando 930 AD, e foi uma assembléia até 1798. Você pode ver uma imensa bandeira Islandesa erguida onde o Parlamento original se encontrava, e esse parque é reconhecido como um patrimônio histórico da UNESCO desde 2004. Pingvellir tem uma beleza natural simplesmente incrível, e possui diversas trilhas para você caminhar e desfrutar.

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Fissura Silfra

Dirigimos alguns quilômetros no Pingvellir até a famosa Fissura Silfra. A Islândia ésta localizada bem na Cordilheira Mesoatlântica; uma cadeia de montanhas quase totalmente abaixo d’agua entre as placas tectônicas Americana e Euroasiática, e por causa dessa separação, a ilha cresce aproximadamente 2.5 centímetros por ano. A Silfra é literalmente uma rachadura na terra causada por estas placas tectônicas que estão constantemente alterando o planeta. Se você decidir mergulhar nas águas geladas, você estará basicamente abrangendo entre dois continentes! Eu fui covarde e resolvi não mergulhar porque a temperatura média da água é de 2-4 graus. Decidi não correr o risco de hipotermia. Não me julgue não viu? Moro aqui na Flórida e esse negócio de água gelada não é comigo! Não estou afim de morrer oxente! A água da Silfra é doce, vindo das geleiras derretidas e filtrada por rochas vulcânicas. Observamos os mergulhadores submergirem das águas super cristalinas e extremamente geladas com suas roupas de mergulho especializadas chamadas Drysuits. Eu vou ter que voltar para aventurar e mergulhar durante o verão, aí sim da pra fazer um mergulho! E só pra esclarecer, na foto a agua parece preta mas é na verdade cristalina, só tem essa aparência por causa da coloração escura das rochas e terra vulcânicas.

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Geysers – Strokkur (nascentes de água)

Depois de explorarmos o parque e tirar varias fotos; continuamos dirigindo em rumo ao Campo Geotérmico Haukadalur, onde os gêiseres são bem ativos. Strokkur, o mais ativos de todos, sopra a cada 3-7 minutos até 30 metros de altura! Tenha sua câmera pronta para tirar as fotos ou gravar vídeo. É muito legal você escutar o gêiser borbulhar lentamente algumas vezes e sentir a antecipação da explosão. E se você estiver visitando no inverno como nós, cuidado porque o gelo fica muito escorregadio por causa do borrifo da agua. Lá você também encontra um hotel, um restaurante e uma loja temática caso você esteja cansado de tanto dirigir. Você pode se aquecer com um café ou com uma dose de Brennivin, um drink tradicional Islandês (sabor de uma erva com gosto de alcaçuz) e dai seguir o passeio do Golden Circle. No caminho á Gullfoss, paramos na estrada para da um alô aos cavalos Islandeses, eles estavam bem curiosos com “esses humanos” se aproximando pra tirar fotos, e pra gente foi um barato!

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Cachoeira Gullfoss

Uns 15-20 minutos mais adiante e finalmente chegamos na majestosa Gullfoss (Golden Falls), a maior cachoeira da Europa! A vista é de tirar o fôlego. Parcialmente congelada e com a vegetação coberta de pingentes de gelo, era como se estivéssemos olhando um cartão postal de inverno. Caminhamos até o final da trilha, para ver a abertura e queda da cachoeira. A trilha tinha uma placa advertindo “fechado devido ao mau tempo e pedras caindo.” Até parece que íamos perder essa oportunidade por causa de um pouco de neve antecipada, além do mais, todo mundo tinha ignorado a placa e nós fizemos o mesmo. E tínhamos as nossas excelentes botas de neve e jaquetas, então tudo bem. Valeu a pena totalmente! Nem os invernos nórdicos podem parar o enorme fluxo de água da cachoeira descendo em duas etapas e caindo 32 metros abaixo no rio Hvita, mais uma incrível paisagem graças a mãe natureza.

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Cratera Kerio

Nossa última parada da rota foi a Cratera do Vulcão Kerio, 30 minutos voltando sentido oeste, chegamos lá logo antes da luz do sol se pôr. A cratera é cheia de agua e estava congelada por causa da tempestade de neve, de qualquer maneira, é uma vista linda e a descida até a cratera leva apenas uns minutinhos. Depois, regressamos a Reykjavík para uma caminhada e jantar na cidade. É um pouco estranho vindo da Flórida onde temos em media 10.5 horas de luz solar no inverno e chegar na Islândia correndo atrás da luz do sol todos os dias para ver o máximo possível ao ar livre na metade do tempo! Foi uma experiência inesquecível. Esse é um dos motivos porque tanto gosto de viajar. Você aprende como outras pessoas vivem, você cresce como indivíduo, e ganha mais apreciação pela sua própria luz do sol. Essa vida é maravilhosa…

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Dependendo da estação em que você visite a Islândia, possa ser que você tenha bem mais luz solar e então você poderá adicionar umas paradas extras no seu roteiro do Golden Circle. A igreja Skalholt é um outro ponto legal antes de chegar na Cratera Kerio, o vilarejo verde Hverageroi, e as usinas geotérmicas Nesjavellir ou Hellisheldar. Boa viajem!

Leiam também sobre as Geleiras, Aurora Boreal e Aviões Perdidos no Iceland Part II!

BOM SABER: MAPA do roteiro Golden Circle

Só um conselho, você tem que ter um pouco de experiência dirigindo na neve se pretende visitar a Islândia no inverno. As pistas estavam cobertas de gelo e as chances de deslizamento podem ser grandes. Todo cuidado é pouco.

TO READ THIS POST IN ENGLISHIceland Part I: Golden Circle

Aqui vai um video rápido do nosso roteiro:

 

24 Hours in Salzburg

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If you’re anything like me you want to travel everywhere, and do everything, but you also find yourself juggling work, school, friends, family, and hopefully a cutie on the side, which can make finding time to travel tricky. So whether it’s a weekend getaway or you’re on that long overdue euro trip, your time is limited and precious, which is why I’m going to show you how I spent just 24 hours in Salzburg and still managed to feel satisfied without burning out.

Before I continue, I have a confession to make. I have never seen The Sound of Music *waits for horrified gasp*, but I can assure you that the enchanting city of Salzburg is more than just Mozart’s birthplace and a place where music makes the hills come alive. That being said, if you’re looking for tips on the best times to see where Julie Andrews rocked the English speaking world on those impossibly green hills, I am probably not your girl.

Let’s start the day!

Morning:

Linzergasse is a pedestrianized street across the Old City, if you’re trying to keep your wallet happy and explore off the beaten path I recommend checking out this side of the river. This street has great outdoor seating areas, shops, restaurants and bars; it might be a good place to pick up one of those delicious Austrian pastries and your morning coffee (hot chocolate in my case) to get your day started.

Afternoon:

Museum of modern art

Museum of modern art

If you happen to be a fan of modern art then I highly recommend the museum of modern art that sits atop of Mount Mönchsberg. While the contemporary architecture of the building was initially rejected by the locals, it has now become a welcomed part of the landscape. The museums location, which offers panoramic views of the old city, makes it a popular spot for tourists and photographers. Full disclosure, I did not go into the museum; I went directly to their restaurant, M32, to have lunch with a view. I absolutely loved the décor, my boyfriend and I could not get enough of the scenery indoors and outdoors. If you don’t feel like making the trek up, you can always take the Mönchsberg Lift on Anton-Neumayr-Platz. However I really encourage the ones who can, to walk back down to the river bank for continued scenery, I know some people like to walk directly to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, but I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the views on the way back to the Old City.

M32 Interior

M32 Interior

Walking down Mount Mönchsberg towards the river bank

Walking down Mount Mönchsberg towards the river bank

Once I got down to the river I followed the cobbled streets towards the Old City, and enjoyed the beautiful baroque architecture, which has made this part of Salzburg a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stopping briefly to admire the street artists doing their best Mozart impressions, I made my way to the FestungsBahn funicular on Festunsgasse. The modern elevators take passengers up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress without missing out on the views. You can get a combined ticket for the lift and entrance, for a very small price increase. Being low on energy I decided to focus on admiring the astonishing views of the city and mountainside, rather than the museum inside the fortress. You will not be disappointed,  on a clear day you can see the rocky mountains that border the city.

View of the Old City from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

View of the Old City from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

View of the mountainside from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

View of the mountainside from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

My favorite Salzburg attraction was actually found by mistake, as I walked back down from the fortress towards Kapitelplatz, I spotted the entrance to St. Peter’s Cemetery, otherwise known as Petersfriedhof.  The oldest tombstone dates back to 1288, but it was the catacombs that really caught my attention. Carved right into the Festungsberg, you can’t help but wonder just how they managed to construct all of that! Do not miss out; it is well worth the small price to go in.

View from inside the catacombs.

View from inside the catacombs.

The catacombs from the inside of the cemetery. Look at the tiny windows carved inside the rock!

Evening

At this point I was pretty beat, so I decided to head back to the Hotel to rest before dinner and drinks. Luckily this is also a perfect time to take some romantic shots on the bridge. Crossing the Old City towards the river you won’t run out of things to see.

Cloak of Conscience in Kapitelplatz

Cloak of Conscience in Kapitelplatz

Old City

Old City

Mozart rocks the selfie stick

Mozart rocks the selfie stick

Mozarts birthplace on Getreidegasse 9

Mozarts birthplace on Getreidegasse 9

Night 

I have to again recommend Linzergasse, the street has so many wonderful restaurants offering cuisines from around the world. Check out the menu before you sit down, or else you’ll find yourself with a pretty hefty bill. Don’t skip out on dessert though; Austrians are famous for their delicious cakes, pastries and chocolate treats. Salzburg in particular is notorious for their Mozartkugeln, also known as Mozart Balls. I had dinner at Stadtkrug, Aldstadt Hotel’s own restaurant. They serve typical Austrian food, and excellent Austrian wine; but for a steep price. I continued the night strolling the streets of the Old City, I always recommend seeing the sights at night if you can. And finally bar hopping on Steingasse near the Staatsbrücke, Salzburg’s main bridge.

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Kapitelplatz

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Old City at night

If you’ve read other Salzburg tourist guides you’ll notice that I have skipped over several popular attractions, however, keep in mind that these tour guides are made to appeal to as many people as possible and to provide information about most if not all the sights. I chose to wing it, and see what appealed to me the most. Remember, you’re the one traveling, you’re in control, so don’t feel forced to see everything. You shouldn’t need a vacation from your vacation, have fun!