Is Happiness That Easy?

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I like to ask people if they’re happy. And, I don’t mean it as a deep, philosophical question. Are you happy? Are you having a good day? Do you feel connected to yourself right now? We don’t talk about these things enough. Because even if you’re not feeling happy – that’s important to talk about too. Either way, we should be talking about how we feel.

We tend to look at happiness as this big, almost scary, overarching thing. It’s our end pursuit – a life of happiness. But, rather than it being something that we wait our whole lives for, I like to dive into the details of being happy. The small, quiet things that we experience that are “tiny wins” for our soul.

If someone asked me, I would say – yes, I’m incredibly happy. But, as I’ve been traveling, I’ve started to realize the complexity of that. I have days when I’m not feeling great, or social, or like I’m doing a lot for myself. I have days that I feel anxious, and petty, and downright resentful. But, for the vast majority of my days, I feel happy. Why? My happiness is tied to being grateful, which is in turn tied to my faith. I feel so incredibly grateful to be alive and to get to experience the things that I do. I get to go outside and breathe in clean air. I get to pet my dog. I have a family that loves me and friends that care about me. I’m not wealthy by any stretch, and I’ve had to pinch pennies to travel –but I’ve gotten to meet people. I’ve gotten to listen to other languages and see how other cultures interact. I’ve gotten to wander around free gardens in cities I’d only read about. I am eternally blessed and so, so grateful to be here.

When you break down happiness and begin to equate it to gratefulness, I think you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to “be happy.” It’s a lot of pressure to have a “happy day,” but it’s not as much pressure to think of a few things that you’re feeling grateful for. Combat the negativity of what goes wrong by exhaling gratitude for the little things that are going right. Sometimes I’m just grateful that my ankle isn’t broken (knock on wood). It’s a little switch of your mindset that can be healing and impactful.

A friend of mine and her boyfriend have recently started a gratitude journal that requires them to, every night, share three things that they’re grateful for from that day. You’re not supposed to repeat anything, and they can be very specific – but you have to have three things. Although I’ve never been successful in journaling (my thoughts are much to sporadic for daily writing!), I think this is a good strategy for anyone who just doesn’t know where to start. What was the best thing that happened to you today? Maybe it was a really positive interaction with a stranger on the subway. Maybe you just had a great sandwich for lunch. Maybe the sun came out after a couple hours of rain and you didn’t need to lug your umbrella to the store. Being grateful is the connection to being happy that we often overlook.

Only Have A Day In Barcelona? Here’s What You Should Do

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I was really excited to go to Spain because, in my mind, it’s all red dresses and passionate people and midnight tangos. And, honestly, it’s still kind of like that in my dream world.

I went to Spain for all of 48 hours. It’s a quick flight from Paris, and Barcelona has been on my heart ever since Aqua, Galleria, Chanel, and Dorinda took it over in Cheetah Girls 2. Don’t judge me; we’ve all thought about this.

My trip to Barcelona was certainly not the gold standard of trips that you should follow, as we were strategizing on a budget and walking ourselves all over town. But it was, however, well researched. We covered almost everything that we wanted to, minus a mountain that neither of us felt like climbing at the end of the day. So, if you’re planning a trip to this fun city, I hope that our path through Barcelona will be helpful to you.

Have some tapas.
I didn’t have a bad meal in Spain. We stopped by an awesome tapas joint and drank red wine. Tip: Drink red wine with every meal. Spanish wine is spicy and inexpensive.

Check out Gaudí’s work.
Gaudí is one of Catalonia’s best-known artists, and his work is all over the city. We saw Casa Batllo, which is a topsy-turvy house in downtown; the Sagrada Família church, which is honestly the coolest church I’ve ever seen (minus the construction); and Park Guell, which is a whole park that Gaudí worked on designing for some wealthy businessmen back in the day that wasn’t finished – but it’s colorful and cool to explore. All of these things are free but you can buy tickets to Park Guell for some bonus access, which I thought was worth it.

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Go down to the beach.
We stumbled on the beach by accident, but it ended up being my favorite part of Barcelona. There is a long pier, tons of boats, and a surprisingly clean stretch of beach with little cabana restaurants. You can even walk out onto some broken rocks at the end of the pier and just sit. The water is blotchy blue and teal. It’s beautiful. I’d also recommend a frozen lemonade at this point.

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Watch a fútbol game.
Barcelona is known for having an incredible soccer team, with highly publicized players like Neymar. Camp Nou – the area where the athletic teams play – is a whole campus of training facilities and arenas. While watching the actual FC Barcelona team can be a little expensive (and, hard to get tickets!), the FC Barcelona B Team also plays at Camp Nou. This is a group of younger guys (maybe 18-20) who are scouted for the A team. They are fantastic players, and the stadium is small, inexpensive to get into, and a really cool experience. If you’re a soccer fan, this is totally worth the trip! There is also a fútsol team, which is closer to indoor soccer, that fans can support.

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Eat paella.
You may as well get some paella while you’re down in Spain, because that’s the best you’re ever going to get. If you’re not familiar, paella is a savory, spicy rice dish that usually contains chicken, shrimp, or seafood. It’s hearty and the ultimate Spanish comfort food. There are restaurants that advertise paella all over Barcelona, but be careful – you’ll start to see the exact same menu pictures at multiple spots. These places get their paella from one central company, so it won’t be as fresh. We ended up at one of these spots. And, it was good – but, I can imagine that a Mom-and-Pop Spanish restaurant could do it better. I’ve heard great things about Restaurante Arume and Gaudim Restaurant.

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The locals are friendly if you try to speak in their language. Out of all the cities we traveled to, folks in Barcelona spoke the least English. Memorize a few key words before you go (hello, bye, please, thank you, can I have the bill?) and people will be nice.

We also heard before visiting that Barcelona is one of the least safe cities in terms of pickpocketing. While places like the Sagrada Família are totally packed with tourists, we never really felt unsafe in Spain, even at night. Make smart choices, and you’ll be fine.

Rome vs. Florence – What’s Worth It?

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Whenever someone brings up Italy, Rome isn’t usually far behind. It’s the city that most tourists associate traveling with, and I’d argue that a lot of people would consider it their dream trip. It was certainly mine.

Just north of Rome, however, is Florence – a second, smaller city that doesn’t get as much attention from tourists as Rome, but is buzzing nonetheless with many similar happenings.

When I brought up that I was visiting both regions, some people asked me which I was most excited for – or, why I was choosing to visit Florence instead of just going to Rome. And, honestly, I didn’t know very much about Florence. I didn’t even really realize that it is in the Tuscany region, as I’m a new red-wine lover. But, my good friend who was meeting me in Italy said that she had heard Florence was the place to be. So, we went for about a week. Then, after our trip, I headed down to Rome to meet a second friend for a week. It was a lot of pasta, folks. A lot.

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So, if you only have a week to spend in Italy, what’s worth it? I’m not here to tell you which city is better, because you really have to make that judgment for yourself. But, I can tell you what I loved and what I didn’t like so much about both cities, and maybe it’ll help you out as you’re planning your next Italian vacation.

Florence

Pros:

  • It’s very walkable
  • It’s in the Tuscany region which means you are crazy close to Cinque Terre (my favorite part of Italy, honestly) and wine tours in tiny vineyards in Chianti (totally worth it)
  • There are tons of small cobblestone roads that are straight out of a fairytale
  • The Uffizi is a huge art gallery that has tons of notable pieces, like Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus
  • There are sculptures everywhere, including replicas of Michaelangelo’s David
  • The food alone is worth the plane ticket
  • It feels pretty safe
  • People are generally very nice

Cons:

  • Things are a little more expensive here
  • There is a lot of art, but there is less to see
  • You can explore Florence itself in about two full days
  • Almost every restaurant has a “table fee” where you pay 2-3 Euros per person to sit

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Rome

Pros:

  • There is so, so much to see. Almost everything is beautiful and historical
  • The gelato is seriously the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve now eaten a lot of gelato)
  • Food is a little cheaper because there are a million restaurants
  • There’s a sparkling water fountain by the Colosseum
  • Everything about the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
  • You can get free tickets to hear the Pope speak
  • All of the churches are literal works of art
  • People are so friendly, especially if you learn a few words in Italian

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Cons:

  • It’s a bigger city than Florence, so it’s not as easy to walk around. The metro and transportation was always super crowded, so that wasn’t a very appealing option
  • There are so many people and tourists everywhere
  • It doesn’t feel as safe as Florence because of all the people. You have to be extra-diligent in crowds and people are always trying to sell you things
  • Parts of Rome are pretty dirty, and the air kinda smells like New York City
  • There are always lines to wait in

If you like smaller cities (or maybe aren’t as into walking), I’d choose to go to Florence. It is smaller, but it’s Rome’s charming younger brother that doesn’t get as much attention (i.e., less lines). If you love history, you should go to Rome. It’s a beautiful city if you’re willing to walk it, and it has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Go have gelato at Frigidarium.

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And, Italy’s Italy. You’ll never regret choosing either place.

Why Prague Should Be At The Top Of Your Travel Bucket List

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When I came to Europe, Prague wasn’t even on my radar. I’d been looking at the map at spots that were kind of in proximity to Munich – where I’ve been spending a lot of time – and both Prague and Vienna popped up as four-five hour trips that could be cool.

I mentioned the possibility of Prague to a few travelers I know, and every one of them who’d been enthusiastically reassured me that Prague was one of their very favorite cities. I don’t speak Czech and I can’t count korunas, but why not?

My brother and I only spent about two full days in Prague, but this city has been in my top two ever since. It’s an underrated European gem, and everyone should visit. Here’s why:

1. It’s inexpensive.
One Euro is worth about 25 Czech korunas. This coupled into account with street food and vendors makes it pretty cheap to eat and shop your way around the city (although don’t use the term “cheap,” as it’s offensive to the locals). There’s an Indian buffet called “Dhaba Beas” that does a huge discount after 7PM on their food, and we ate there two nights in a row for about 2-3 Euros per person. It was incredible.

2. The architecture is amazing.
On one side of the river, in Old Prague, you have an ancient castle that overlooks the water. You can walk through the area without tickets (although if you want to tour, you will need to purchase admission) and you’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, a stunning piece of art that any building lover should witness. The Jewish Quarter is also beautiful, with lots of gilding on the archways, and “The Dancing House” is a famous work of architecture on the main drag that tourists love to take pictures of. If you walk a little father south in the city, you’ll come across a second castle, Vysehrad, that has a view to show off all of Prague. Plus, it’s much less crowded than the larger castle.

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3. There is art everywhere.
And I’m not just talking about physical art. You should definitely keep an eye out for the hanging Sigmund Freud, Frank Kafka’s shimmering head, the arch at Charles Bridge, and sculptures everywhere – but we also stumbled across musicians, fire-breathers, watercolor painters, illusionists, and graffiti artists. There is something around every corner.

4. It’s a very diet-friendly city.
This was interesting to me because I wasn’t expecting it at all. Prague has a ton of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, much to the sheer joy of my plant-based brother. And, the food is good. You can find vegan gelatos at almost every ice cream shop, which was an excuse for me to try all of the exotic fruit flavors, like dragonfruit and passionfruit.

5. The markets are just really cool.
Havelske Market is full of people with really cool products – i.e., souvenirs that are unlike anything else you’ve seen in Europe for very little money. You can buy everything in Prague, including bunches of fresh figs (which is honestly the most appealing thing I see in every foreign market). There are vendors set up along the castle to sell you Czech trinkets and trdelnik, a cone-shaped pastry that tastes like a cinnamon sugar pretzel. They can fill it with whipped cream, ice cream, Nutella, whatever you’d like.

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6. It’s completely walkable.
Prague was one of the only cities where we didn’t need to figure out the public transportation system because it is so damn walkable. You can get anywhere you need to go in about 30 minutes, and you’ll find all sorts of cool nooks and crannies along the way. You don’t need trains or buses or metros, which also makes it a cheaper visit.

Prague is a new favorite for me. If you are into beautiful things (of all varieties), this Czech city is definitely worth a couple days. It is inexpensive, delicious, and very, very memorable.

Bonus tip: Get the Brie and apple croissant from BakeShop. It’s so good.

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How To See Paris In Three Days

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I knew I’d love Paris before our train even pulled into the station.

I’ve been speaking French since the sixth grade, when my family moved to New Brunswick, a bilingual province in Eastern Canada. French has been a love of mine since I started using it. I went to French camp; I minored in French in college. Outside of my educational experience (and, my siblings), I didn’t have a chance to actually use my French – ever – in the real world. All of my French professors would tell us that we had to get ourselves to France. I missed out on the Study Abroad opportunity in college, but Paris was always at the top of my list.

And, let me tell you – it did not disappoint. A few nay-sayers told me before my trip that Paris was dirty, overrated, and underwhelming. For someone who’s always loved the romantic idea of the Eiffel Tower, the accordion music, and the baguettes, this was a downer for me. If you take anything from this post, take this – form your own opinions. No one can tell you how your experience will be, because you shape it.

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Paris doesn’t have to be an expensive place to visit. Like all the European cities I’ve visited so far, Paris can be as cheap or as pricey as you make it. If you’re hoping to stay in a gorgeous hotel in the center of Paris and eat at upscale restaurants every evening, yes – it’ll cost you a good chunk of change. But, if you’re willing to modify those plans a bit, Paris is actually pretty affordable. My brother and I stayed for about three full days, and our costs weren’t more than about 50 Euros a day (not including lodging). Here’s how we spent our time, and it ended up being an awesome, awesome experience:

Get yourself an Airbnb. We stayed in Alfortville, which was about a 30 minute commute on the Paris metro into the city every day. But, Alfortville is charming and residential, with so many authentic Parisians (because, the locals aren’t the ones affording the high rent of the inner city) and incredible food. It was honestly one of our best choices, and our Airbnb cost us about 70 Euros a night (35 each). We even took an evening to wander around just our little area, which happens to have a walking path down the Seine. Yes, really. If you end up in Alfortville, get some schwarma at Eli’s Lebanese Restaurant. He also has 1 Euro baklava.

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Day 1:

Take the train into the Eiffel Tower.
Train tickets aren’t too expensive in Paris – you can get a “carnet” (car-nay) of ten tickets for about 14 Euros. This is the perfect amount for a three or four day visit (if you walk the majority of the time).
Stop for a croissant.
Visit the Champs Elysée.
Stop at Ladurée for a world-famous macaron.
Visit the Trocadero.
Stop at the Parc Monceau.
This is an adorable park with sculptures, a bridge with lily pads, and couples literally having picnics on the ground. It’s awesome.
Walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg.
This park is also worth it. There is a little pond where kids play with model boats and some beautiful flowers.
Eat a baguette.
It’ll only cost you 1 dollar.
Pop in a French bookstore.
There are a ton of old bookstores around Paris and they’re just really cool. They usually have a cart of books outside that are between 1 and 5 Euros, so that’s a neat souvenir to take home if you don’t want an Eiffel Tower keychain.
Finish the day at the Jardin des Plantes.
There’s a cool maze here and a ton of flowers. It’s also free (yay!).

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Day 2:

Time for more sightseeing! Start the day at the Place de Concorde.
There are two palaces across the street and the Jardins of Champs Elysées are close.
If you want a good vegan restaurant recommendation, try Hank Burger for lunch.
I’m not a vegan, it’s just really good.
Visit the Louvre!
You do need a reservation in advance for the Louvre, where you choose a thirty-minute time slot to enter the museum. It’s a little pricey, but – in this writer’s opinion – the Louvre is totally worth it. It’s absolutely massive, with several very famous pieces and hundreds of other just really interesting works of art. If you have a student ID, you can also get a discount.
Enjoy pain au chocolat, a palmier, a chocolate baguette, or a crêpe.
Or all four.
Stop at Notre Dame Cathedral.
It’s beautiful and it’s by the river.

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Day 3:

Take a train to Versailles.
This famous spot takes about thirty minutes and a special train ticket to get to, but the gardens are incredible. If you want to go inside the actual palace, you should definitely reserve tickets in advance because lines are incredibly long. Plus, if you went to the Louvre the day before, you’ve probably already seen some of Marie Antoinette’s famous furniture so you may want to skip it. A ticket to the gardens alone is cheaper (about 8 Euros).
When you get back into Paris, walk up to Montmartre.
There is an iconic white basilica (Sacre Coeur) at the top of this hill that has an overlook of the whole city. The area is really artsy and cool, and it’s just a beautiful way to see the sun setting over Paris. This is a must see!
Take a ride on the carousel.
At the bottom of the hill near Montmartre there is a little park with a carousel. It costs 1 or 2 Euros to ride and it’s just fun to ride on a carousel in Paris.
Visit the love wall.
Walk over to the love wall to see the words “I love you” written in just about every language on this tourist-loved photo opp.
Finish off your trip to Paris with dinner at a French restaurant and some luscious red wine.
Any house red is the best red you’ve ever had. You may also want to order the crème brûlée.

Bon voyage!