I have been in Luxembourg for about 4 weeks now. It is said that every girl must experience living abroad at least once in her life, and now, here I am.
Why Luxembourg? I will explain another time.
For now, here are a few things that I have learned since arriving:
•A lot of people think that Luxembourg is in Germany. Poor Luxembourg lives in the shadows of its larger siblings.•I can’t even work at a grocery store here with a degree. Every cashier speaks almost five different languages including
Spanish, French, German, English, Portuguese, Dutch, and Luxembourgian.
• As an American, I feel so deprived of the language and cultural education I received in school growing up. On the other hand, Luxembourg natives are endowed with at least 3 different languages in school, but many feel deprived of other subjects once they reach college. The grass is always greener on the other side.•It is illegal for Luxembourg shops to be open on Sundays, except for grocery stores (which are open until 12). Shopping malls are closed and all offices are closed. Most restaurants and cafes are open. If you want to go shopping you have to go 20 minutes to France, Belgium or Germany. This means your choices are to rest and do nothing or travel, not bad choices.
• Luxembourg is incredibly culturally diverse, almost more than any other country in the world. There are people from 15 different countries, not in the EU, in my French class and I am the only American. It’s refreshing.
• The cost of living is incredibly similar to California. This is because the city has a housing deficit, so it resembles San Francisco in some ways, making me feel like home. On the other hand, the minimum wage is 2.000 Euros per month.
• There are totally good places to have American food just as modern, happening and delicious as those I see in SF or New York City.
• The grocery stores and produce are amazingly luscious compared to the US. Think Whole Foods at Safeway prices, and even cheaper. I’m always in awe.
• Unlimited choices of great Belgian beer and Rosé at very cheap prices.
Luxembourg also has their own brewed beer called Diekirch.
• There are really fun and eclectic places to go out, it isn’t boring. Some of my favorites include a live theater restaurant, an American burger place called Brooklyn where a polish guy sings amazing folk Americana music, and café where you make your own spiked hot chocolate. Not that bad for a country whose population is half of San Francisco.
• It’s easy to feel sad, especially if you move here in the middle of winter and the sun hides 80% of the time. I totally underestimated the emotions I would feel relocating my life and leaving so much behind to start new and fresh. The thing I have learned is not to be so hard on myself and to keep going out and meeting new people. Travel. Workout. Enjoy the opportunity that I have. I asked for it, I got what I wanted, now it is time to embrace my gift. Many people will never get the chance.
My visit to Rome was guided by a native Italian, my boyfriend, who had been to Rome many times before and knew that I had always wanted to see it ever since I told him I had reoccurring dreams of being in front of the Colosseum. One morning while I was visiting him in Torino, he rushed me on a train at 5 am and didn’t tell me where I was going. A few hours in he looked at me and said “Don’t you want to know where we are going? We are going to Rome.” My mind nor my imagination had nearly been prepared for what I would do if I went to Rome.I stared out the window grasping on to the idea. He had everything prepared for us. All I needed to do was get ready to walk and be mesmerized.
I had been familiar with the architecture in Italy already, but arriving in city limits, I hoped to catch a glimpse of any ancient ruins visible that would tell me I was there. As I stepped onto the streets, It felt like a lucid dream. I looked everywhere for the images I had seen in pictures, books and movies, but still, there was nothing familiar in sight.
Italians are very creative with parking spaces I know this, but the first thing I noticed in Rome was to them parking was a masterful skill in the creative art department. I saw cars parked in crosswalks, sidewalks and in intersections.Walking into Piazza del Popolo we would notice the people saying “Bella Ma!” or “Bella Zi!”and use endearing terms such as “Caro” often instead of the regular “Ciao Bella!” we were used to hearing in the North. My boyfriend would nudge me and say, “Do you hear the Roman accent?”.
I had expected everyone we passed by to have a look of wonderment on their face like I did. Of course, people were carrying on with their usual business just like they do in San Francisco, I admit that it surprised me still. As we began walking through the stone streets of Via Del Corso, I was surprised at how many beautiful and ancient dwellings along the street were stuffed with Armani and Burberry shops. The street performance artists in front were much more peculiar than those I had seen in LA or New York. I had dreamed of a naked Rome, free of modern commercialism, but still, the street artists were quite amusing. We strolled at our own pace through the sprinkling rain to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. A kiss was made under our umbrellas at every corner. I had seen so many things already and still nothing yet. I caught myself looking around wherever we went to see if I could catch a glimpse of the Colosseum. I didn’t realize that Rome is far more vast than I prepared for and there was no way I would see the Colosseum unless I took a subway ride.
On the next day the most unexpected view awaited me as I climbed the stairs to daylight out of the conventional looking subway tunnel. The Colosseum, low and behold, was just as I had pictured it. Massive in its white and silver outlines, it’s dark eye sockets peered aroundin front of a dismal sky. Many people were standing in line just in front, waiting to get in and sharing the view with their friends and family with the aid of their selfie sticks. Everywhere brown men were waving them in the air for a quick sale. Hour after hour after strolling through Ancient Rome, sitting on the stairs built by Michelangelo, I used my imagination to picture what was going on where I stood during the days of Augustus. By this time, I had toured my way to exhaustion and was almost too heavy to take a peek into the Colosseum. I thought about some Gelato and a nap back at our apartment but Matteo wouldn’t let me miss out. I settled for a nap in the Colosseum on some worn steps overlooking the center of the stadium. Instantly I dreamed. I deemed it the most peculiar nap I have ever taken.
The sight of graffiti and tiny pieces of trash strewn about in places along here and there in some of these sacred spots reminded me that the eternal city that resides in todays time, also suffers the difficulties of today’s time. It is still a city very much alive that will be alive for the passing of many generations, withstanding momentous periods in world history to come.
At last we arrived at the Vatican. Here I began to humble myself with what I had known about the world of sculpture and renaissance art.I touched and passed by many of the most famous works in the world from Van Gogh and Raphael, to Michelangelo and Salvador Dali.I felt as though it would have taken me at least 3 days to know the Vatican properly. I found myself filtering through pieces and giving glance overs to some of the most ancient and beautiful paintings I had the privilege of seeing in real life. I had reached my peak of art viewing in the Sistine Chapel, where I was grudgingly disheartened at the people who were taking pictures even though it was forbidden. I was a little tired and hungry at this point so I was less patient with the public world around me. When I reached St. Peters Basilica, the larger than life atmosphere made me forget my petty concern for human behavior. Our size was reduced to field mice in a mansion. I walked through the papal tombs in silence and wonder, under the massive dome in presence of Bernini and Michelangelo. My eyes attempted to burn to memory every last detail offered, accompanied by an eldritch atmosphere of historical figures that used to occupy these spaces. Half of the day had passed, and I sighed in relief as I discovered outside under the Columns, a line of eager humans at least a quarter of a mile long waiting for their turn to have the same magical experience. The trick was to get tickets in advance, I thought.
Leaving the Vatican, the attempt to go into another church seemed meager and unsatisfying. The only thing I needed now was food buon pranzo and my love sitting across from me. Without going further into food, that is how I remember my Rome.
Pura Vida or Pure life is a saying that I had hardly heard of before I began considering traveling to Costa Rica to see what the surfing was like. I was looking for a great place to surf with warm water that hopefully wasn’t a tourist trap. Costa Rica has some of the most outstanding surf spots in the world along with the most diverse ecosystem in the western hemisphere. Monkeys, crocodiles, scorpions, parrots, dogs and dolphins all live here.
I traveled to Costa Rica alone for my birthday in order to escape the city life and to surf. I did not know anyone else who had been there, and my family thought it could be dangerous to travel to Central America alone but this was something I needed to do. It is one of the things I think all women need to do once in their lives, travel alone. Dominical, the place I chose, is a small dirt road village of about 200 people. Home of the Costa Rican national surf competitions. Many surfers around the world frequent here as well as the music and yoga culture to make the beach a dance floor during the Envision festival.
My first experience as I got off the plane was being greeted by my driver, a laid-back bleach blonde Costa Rican native, let’s call him Toad. He greeted me to a van that made me a little weary at first, but I decided to trust in the Universe… and the girl on the phone at the hotel who sent him. By one hour in the drive we were both singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs cruising down the highway and he asked me to move to Costa Rica to be in his band. I wasn’t going to do that but a lot of girls did move to Costa Rica after the first time they visited. I soon found this out. After all of the singing in the car I made it safely to Dominical and Toad was alright in my book.
I experience so much here that enriched me. I had an iguana who hung out on my front porch. I came home to a group of crabs dancing outside my door. I had a scorpion crawl above my table at lunch. We caught our own fish, swam in crocodile infested rivers and surfed amazing waves.
The locals never really went inside their homes unless it was to sleep, there was really no need to. All of the restaurants were outdoors and the sunsets were the most beautiful I had ever seen, the water was water was a constant 82 degrees.
Here live the happiest dogs in the world. The dogs here do not have owners, but rather the community takes care of them the same. Leaving food out in different places and letting them sleep, well, wherever.
Blankets and hand woven tropical articles of clothing hang from lines connected to palm trees in a maze to give tourists something to spend their money on.
There are many places in the world where we could go and realize that people are so much happier than us with so much less. Most unnecessarily, we go against the grain, stress ourselves out and destroy our bodies to achieve what we think success might be. We end up with bodies that we don’t feel good about, poor health, in a nice car and a big house to show everyone.We are told that this is the definition of successful. We know deep down inside what we love, but we are scared of doing it. Many times we are afraid of going after our calling because it seems unconventional, or it might make less money. That takes away our sense of self and our unique identity?
We can easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, which unfortunately is easy to do now with social media. We compare ourselves with our friends and colleagues’ personal marketing campaigns for their identities. It resembles a secret competition to check in with each other and see where normal people are supposed to be in life. The humor is, others are going through the same struggle.
What I have learned from those people who live in Costa Rica, who don’t have big houses and give surfing lessons for a living, live in small cottages and have no masters degree is that they are happier than most people I have met with access to all of those things because they have friends that they see every day, they get exercise and they eat good food. Let us not forget that they have dogs running around everywhere. They are surrounded with an appreciation for natures forces and embrace all other people who come from around the world that want to spend time with them. There was no exclusion in this community. These are the things that matter. This is why I beleive that Costa Ricans are so happy.
Visiting a different country it is truly the most enriching valuable experience. Growing is about gaining new perspectives, and we have to take ourselves out of our comfort zones and go to places we have never been before in order to truly gain that new perspective. Many people wait until they are old enough and have saved enough money to travel safely, unfortunately, by then they cannot do the things that they want to do because of life circumstances or it is not as enjoyable because they cannot use their bodies as well anymore, not having the energy or the curiosity of seeing a new part of this beautiful world we live in.
I am not into seeing huge tourist attractions but rather parts of the world that inspire help me learn more about myself and other cultures. I wanted to show a little bit of a place that touches my heart because of the interesting people and history that it has. This place is Torino, Italy, a city in the Northern Piemonte region. Of all of the other cities in Italy that get attention, I figured that this places deserves just as much.
The culture runs thick in Torino. It’s roots derive from native inhabitants (Taurini) in the 3rd century BC, but it was the Romans that provided the name, Augusta Taurinorum, and it’s peculiar streets with a grid pattern still visible now are found in Rome as well, as they are based on the roman camping (castrum – The latin term used for an original Roman fortress in the earlier periods of history).Torino was the first capital of Italy before it was moved to Florence and then Rome. This region is now the home of Italian names such as Fiat, Ferrero (makers of Nutella) and Lavazza. Torino was the home of and hosted such legends as Primo Levi, Alexandre Dumas, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In 2006, Torino was endowed as the home of the Winter Olympics, deeming Torino the Sport Capital of Italy. Adding to its depth of history, the Holy Shroud, an artifact that many people believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, resides in the Cathedral of Turin.
If there ever was a place to transform you into a food and wine snob and make you go off of your sworn-in Paleo Diet then this is the place. It’s amazing what won’t kill you if you eat it in Europe. Italy will raise your standards in men, food, wine, history and lifestyle…and not in a lavish way, but with an appreciation for genuine on many different levels.
FEEDING YOUR SOUL
In Italy, you can go to any hole-in-the-wall and it’s still going to be high quality. Because Italy has a ban on GMO’s, everyone gets to live better knowing or not knowing that their food isn’t full of things they don’t need. In Torino, it’s really easy to find animal products coming from the Alps, which means that they breath fresh air and they get to roam free in luscious and mineral rich land. There is no worry that the animals have been mistreated or the food isn’t good enough. Down to the honey with its rich mineral earthy taste, everything has substance.
P A S S I O N
L I V E S
H E R E ……
There is no lack of chivalry here. Torino is full of lovers of all ages. It could be the romantic setting for the lucky ones who have found this treasure of a city to spend with their significant other. Personal experience has shown me that it is easy to see the happiness found in life from the simple things here, and from each other.
There is also a lot of passion for futbol here because there exists strong emotion and culture wrapped up in the history of these rivalries.
Juventus and Torino FC are the big futbol rivals in Torino. In the 1940’s Torino FC was believed to be the best soccer team in the world. In 1949, they tragically crashed their plane against the Basilica di Superga walls in the hills of Torino because of limited visibility, killing the entire team. Pictured below people are crowding the streets to celebrate the first time Torino FC beat Juventus in 20 years.
B E A U T Y
Being from San Francisco, I have seen many eccentric and creative things, but walking through Torino, I found Golden Gate Park’s European twin. Life is abundant in Parco del Valentino. Outdoor cafes, picnicking, sunbathing, riding bikes, young love and families. There is a free outdoor fitness center for everyone to use. Yes, free. People do not have to pay to get healthy and there are initiatives to create a rich and healthy environment for everyone here. Even if there are plenty of gyms in Torino, it is not uncommon to find free fitness centers outdoors in the parks. Extra bonus for Torino, a lot of walking plus free outdoor fitness centers! There are also hikes just fifteen minutes away in the hills that have stunning views of the Alps overlooking the city and will definitely get your heart pumping.
Sunset in Torino
Murazzi and the River Po
Old arcades and docks became a nest for the city “movida” (party) on the River Po, with several clubs and bars, heavily popular during the hot season.
H I S T O R Y
Torino has much to offer, from it’s origins dated more than 2,300 years ago to more recent days, especially with World War II history. From a bunker on display where residents would go to hide during German bombings, to the original King and Queen of Italy’s castle, almost everywhere you turn it’s a time capsule of events that have shaped our world today.
The Cathedral of Turin – The Holy Shroud, an artifact that many people believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Murazzi and the River Po
Sunset in Torino
Fontana del Frejus – This fountain was built to mourn all the workers perished while building the Frejus tunnel at the end of the 19th century, a strategic infrastructure that connects Piedmont with southern France running under the Alps. Esoteric believe it represents the black heart of the city for several reasons: its position is adverse towards the sunset, this square used to be the place for public executions, the angel on top probably represents Lucifer and underneath the statue there is a door leading to the entire sewer city network, believed to be the gateway to hell.
The Alps are always visible from the city if the sky is clear and they are amazingly huge. It will take your breath away.
Faro della Vittoria – Built in 1928 for the 10th anniversary of World War I victory and all soldiers who died to achieve it. The statue hosts a lighthouse and stands tall on the hills of Torino, facing the city. Underneath it, walkways, trees and commemorative poles create the Parco della Rimembranza.
After 20 years, finally Torino FC manages to beat Juventus FC, prompting fans to get in the streets and celebrate. An old FIAT 500 stops in the middle of the road and gets surrounded by chanting fans.
Museo Egizio di Torino – The second most importan Egyptian museum in the world after Il Cairo in terms of number (3,300 showcased, more than 26,000 stored) and quality of the finest egyptian artwork. A time journey running back as far as the Predynastic Period of Ancient Egypt (prior to 3100 BC), including statues, stones, clothing, jewelery, papyrs, mummies and much more.