Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flexibility: The Key to Stress-Free Traveling

I cannot stress this enough. The key to stress-free traveling is to be FLEXIBLE. Some people plan things out to a T, but when you travel, many things that are beyond your control can change at any given moment. You have to be open to that change and be willing to work with it rather than get frustrated by it. If you do this, I promise it will make your travels (and your life) a lot easier.

The reason I am bringing this up is because I've already had a great many mishaps on my trip, and I've been here for merely two weeks! In the grand scheme of things, I believe everything happens for a reason, a positive one, at that. Each mishap or mistake is a learning experience. If you live with that mindset, you will have no regrets. You might even gain some wisdom.

Okay, so this is what happened. I was supposed to work with an organization called TtMadrid to teach English to a group of Spanish professionals. I was to stay
in a casa rural near Toledo, Spain for a week with all expenses paid. I had scheduled everything around this job and was really looking forward to it. In fact, that is the reason I rushed to Europe right after graduation instead of relaxing for a couple weeks at home first. That is the reason I wasn't able to spend much time in London or Barcelona. I was supposed to meet the program director at the Mendez-Alvaro bus station in Madrid at 6:45am on Monday, May 5. That is what we discussed over the many emails and phone conversations we'd had.

Well, somewhere down the road, they accidentally got my email address wrong (I believe they left out my middle initial), and so for the three weeks leading up to the program, they had been sending me emails that I wasn't receiving. I don't know how they managed to do that since my email address was on the application form and also in the emails we had been sending each other. Anyway, they thought I had flaked out on them because I wasn't responding, so they dropped me from the program and replaced me with someone else. I guess this had happened to them in the past. Well, I had no idea that they were trying to email me and thought that everything was still on, as planned. I rushed over to Madrid from Barcelona to make it in time for the program and then found out what had happened once I got there. It really screwed up my plans! The people from the program felt so bad about their mistake that they gave me the money for the job anyway and then bought me a train ticket back to Barcelona since I didn't even get to spend a full day there the first time.

The bottom line of my story is that everything worked out in the end because I was flexible. I was really looking forward to the job, but it wasn't the end of the world. I made the most of it by spending a few days in Madrid and Barcelona. I went to the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid and got to see some great surrealist paintings by Dali, my favorite artist!

In Barcelona, I was able to stay with my good friend Marcelo, whom I had met two years ago while studying abroad in Buenos Aires. It was so cute, the way we had met. I was on my way to the BuqueBus station to buy a ferry ticket to Colonia, Uruguay, and I was completely lost. I saw this guy in the street walking home from work and decided to ask him for directions. He was so sweet, he not only gave me directions, but actually took me to the station and helped me buy the ticket. He gave me my nickname "Meli", which I think is absolutely adorable! We became really good friends, but unfortunately lost contact for two years.

Then suddenly, the day before I left for Europe (exactly two years later), I received an email from Marce asking me what was new in my life and that he's been working in Barcelona for over a year now. He had no idea that I was coming to Europe. It was such a coincidence! I emailed him back and told him I was in Barcelona, but he didn't get my email because he was in Valencia for the weekend. We thought we had missed each other and were really sad. But then, because my program was canceled, I was able to go back to Barcelona and stay with him for a few days, so it was all meant to be!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Whirlwind Beginning to My European Escapade

Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog! I'm always bad about writing regularly, but I am going to make another legitimate attempt at doing so. I want to keep it as short and sweet as possible, so I will give you an abridged version of my mad crazy stories.

Well, here I am sitting in the French countryside about two hours southeast of Bordeaux, in the middle of nowhere (this place doesn't even have a real address)! I'm staying with my friend's mom, helping her out with some projects in the garden and building an arbor out of trees from the woods in her backyard.

It will be exactly two weeks tomorrow since I've arrived in Europe, but it seems like it's been a couple eternities! I've been on the constant go and had some crazy things happen to me already
, so this is a good chance for me to relax and rejuvenate before heading to Cannes for the film festival on Saturday.

So here's a brief recap of the beginning of my trip. After a long week of final exams, a 2-day photo shoot in Palm Springs, graduation, packing, and moving out (getting almost zero sleep, might I add), I finally walked onto that British Airways aircraft ready to start my European escapade, not once looking back! Boy, was I ready to turn this continent on its ear!

On the plane, I was initially sitting next to a really obese lady who occupied two seats. The flight attendant felt bad for me, so she moved me to a new seat, which worked out perfectly for me. It was in the emergency exit row, so I had plenty of leg room, and I was sitting one seat away from a girl I went to Pepperdine with. She was going home to Greece for the summer and said I should come visit her. I might just have to take her up on the offer!

Once I landed in London, I was still pretty unsure about where I was staying. The photographer I worked with in Palm Springs had told me that his nephew Craig lives in London and would love to show me around. I decided to give him a call and ended up staying over there for two nights. We had a great time, going to bars and pubs in SoHo and Notting Hill. He owned the craziest fur coat that he let me wear!

During the day I explored the city while Craig worked and then we met up in the evening. I walked through St. James Park and got to play with my brand new Nikon point and shoot, taking photos of the beautiful swan, geese, and squirrels. I also saw some of the typical touristy things like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben.

I am not too crazy about doing touristy things, but there are certain things in certain cities that you just shouldn't miss (e.g., you can't go to Delhi and not see the Taj). You just have to find the right balance of doing local activities and seeing tourist sights. For me, staying with couchsurfers or local friends is the perfect solution because they know of all the little hole-in-the-wall hangouts that tourists have never heard of.
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I was only able to spend a day and a half in London because I had to fly off to Barcelona. I will explain why in my next blog. Gotta go for now!
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."