A tale through pictures: Colonia del Sacramento

So, this is my favorite place in the world. I haven’t been everywhere but from all the places I have visited: any of them beats Colonia.

This tiny piece of land is the oldest town of Uruguay, first builded by the Portugueses, who pretended to reclaim land western from their corresponding territory (according with the Tordesillas Treaty between Spain and Portugal). As they were getting too close to the most important Spanish port in the south, Buenos Aires, Spain invaded the town, threw the Portugeses away and re built the town. As you can imagine, the Portugueses came back for the revenge then the Spanish did the same. And they kept this sort of sick game burning everything to the ground and re building.

So, now, in peace, the old town of Colonia has part of both colonial countries. A marvelous space with rocky stones and old houses. While walking though those streets one tends to forget how was that place built.

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“We serve beers cooler than your ex’s heart”

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For the love of books

books2You know that feeling of extreme happiness that grows inside your chest when you see on the street a random person reading a book you love? Don’t you just feel instantly bond to that person?

It happened to me in Brussels, Belgium. I was lost (as usual) trying to find the train station to go up to The Netherlands when I pump with the feet of this man. He was sitting at a door step reading The unbearable lightness of being, by Milan Kundera. The story of Theresa and Thomas and how she feels special when walking with a book under her arm. I felt this urge to let him know how much I love that book, how I do feel protected when walking with a book as well.

And I did because I should be shyer when I travel. It was a short but nice conversation, otherwise I would have missed my train and it was not one of those Before sunrise moments.

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I don’t really like the most popular books. I did got like on ecstasies when I found The cuckoo’s calling in a bookshop in Vietnam, but most of the times, I like what most people don’t read. So, when this man on a bus to Colonia told me he knew Kapuscinski, I had that feeling again: we are old friends!

It happened as well, and this is not a happy story, that I went to Trieste, hometown of one of my favorites, Claudio Magris. And I even took with me the book on my travel bag everytime I leave home, Danube. I walked under the rain for no less than half an hour, dragging with me my traveling companion, to that bar where Magris used to go for coffee and writing. Only to find the place was closed.

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My friend Samantha told me she doesn’t like to buy books. She likes the smell of old books so she always goes to the library. I love to buy books. I hardly find anything else interesting enough to spend my money on (shoes and purses don’t count) than books. And that is why I thought they deserved a special place in my blog: here and now.

To return

Wordpress1 copiaMy mother’s family had their ascendants coming from Usteriz, a small town in the French side of the Basque Country. My father has his coming from the Spanish side of the same country and from the Piamonte, in Italy.

We are all from Uruguay. Born and bred in the coasts of the river Plate, where we have 7 cows per habitants, not a single battle since 1904 and our oldest town has a bit more than 300 years. Uruguay is a country made by immigrants, because of dark parts of our history, even the native people are immigrants. So we have European squares, prey to as many gods as religions in the world and we look very little as the stereotype of the Latino person that Hollywood sells.

Because I grow up in a place with such a big multicultural background, limoncello and fresh pasta was a basic, every day thing for me, as for French bread (I never thought about the “French” on the name, just assume that was how bread looked like). So what if we had to study French and English revolution at school? Or we had to read Faust for basic Literature?

It happen to me in Uruguay, but it is the same for everybody around the world: we assume things are ‘the way they are supposed to be’ at home, and everywhere else is ‘exotic’, so when I was 18 years old, living in cold Michigan and my host mother told me –with a horror face –that the Russians have to go to buy bread and milk everyday to the grocery store I preferred not to say a word. But, honestly, I live so far away from Russia and still have to go everyday for fresh (French) bread, otherwise, I can do as the American do and eat nothing fresh.

What happens in cultures with such a strong foreign background is that we recognize home when are very, very far away. So, as I was in a restaurant in St. Jean da Lux, in the Basque country, and the waitress put the breadbasket with fresh FRENCH BREAD in front of me, my little happy scream really scared her.

Most of the arguments I had to listen when I was a student were because of the excessive European background we had to study while we were putting aside our own Latin-American heritage. Well, yes, it`s true. We are from this continent. But most of the people that made the student plans for high school where from the other continent. And I totally understand that feeling of being here and there at the same time.

Something the ones from the countries that were colonies don’t quite understand. So, while I was so blissful driving by tiny Usteriz, my travel companion felt bored.

I wonder how will I feel when I make it to Piamonte. Italy it’s the country of my heart and I have been here and there, but never up to Piamonte. My next plan for vacation: my grandfather’s land.

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

London is calling

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You know how some days are dull and everything goes according to plan. Today was meant to be one of those days: wake up, edit photos, eat, edit more photos, go to work. But in between what was expected, something happened and this day became the day I got tickets to London.

I love London. I have been a few times and everytime I get there I feel like I know absolutely nothing of the place. On my first visit I went around with my brother and we biked, we saw the Queen leaving Buckinham Palace, went into the London eye. The second time I just wanted to sit and have tea t Covent Garden and visit the Saatchi Gallery. So this is my third visit to the Big City and I want to merge.

My idea for this trip is to go into Trip Advisor and check everything that they suggest to do so I can go and do any of that.

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Anyhow, I decided to visit all the tiny cafes and visit the alternative art galleries only because I have been into the top attractions already.

I had my picture in front of the Big Ben, walked by Hyde Park and visited the National Gallery, had wine at the bar of that tall glass, round building in the city. I had so much tea at Covent Garden, visited the house of Sherlock Holmes and I have been mistreated at the NHS.

For first timers in London, follow Trip advisor tips. AS for me, I will be doing what I never do: I will research. I will look for alternative places and cute coffee places with homemade Yorkshire pies.

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Passport, stamps and personal questions

Tren a Eidenhoven

Tren a Eindhoven

It was my last night before going back home after a year of coming and going with nothing more than my camera bag and a suitcase. A year that I rested my head in different pillows, walked by streets with no common sites. I learned more about myself than from the places I was passing by. A year that was meant to be unique: to travel, to live, and then go back home and live as I was supposed to. After so any years of planning and so many days of living it, I was there, drinking draft beer at a Swiss Theme party, sitting with this woman face to face for the first time. After countless skype conversations and emails, to see the mother of my (fake) brother for the first time was not awkward at all: we hugged and said: “at last!” She asked me, then, what was I going to do once I get home. I didn’t have a precise answer for that question; I did have a made up one, the same sentence I had been telling every single person asking me that annoying question: get a job. And then, there I was, being honest with a woman I had never seen before. For such a long time, I told her, all I wanted was to have my passport full of stamps and it’s what I have now. I don’t have plans for the future.   Holland1 copia     Because I am not a rational person it took me many months to realize I didn’t have other plans because I didn’t wanted to do anything else. I was not ready for the office yet, nor a task organizer nor a phone by my side. I was not ready to live the same life every single day. The friend of a friend asked me if, after being on a ship for such a long time I didn’t wanted to run away from the ports. So many years ago and I have the best memories of my life at the seven seas. Of being in Aruba one day and in Miami on the next, climbing waterfalls at Dominica, photographing the Cu-Chi Tunnels in Vietnam or having tea in Southampton. Now it’s time for a change. I still want my passport full of stamps, though.

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Kinderdijk

How to beat procrastination

This is my hinge year. The next few months I will be watching the game from the bench. It has been hard enough already to see how everybody else is moving ahead with their lives (friends getting married, moving houses, starting new careers) while I am just here, waiting.

I bought myself months and months of freedom without realizing that inspiration exist and most of the times it catches you working. So with all this free time I have for writing, I found myself doing a lot of nothing.

To be fair, I did finish a novel, about pirates, none the less! I am working like crazy taking photographs of women and kids. But I do a lot of sitting in the sofa watching series marathons. Too much of that. And too much of what causes procrastination as well: fear of failing (especially with the high goals I set for the end of this year), perfectionism and Netflix.

So, I made it to a point where my mind screams: enough! And I did a little research about how to stop procrastinating. Here are my top results, the ones I will start putting into practice right away.

I am an expert cupcake cooker now.

I am an expert cupcake cooker now.

1. Set short term goals.

If the deadline you set to yourself (or somebody else sets for you) it’s in so many months from now, you will find yourself with tons of extra time. If, instead, you set short terms goals, like: next week I will have two more chapters of my new novel, then it is something you can accomplish and feel the reward in a few days time.

It is a bit as when you want to lose weight, you take it kilo by kilo (or pound by pound)

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procrastination62. Write even if you are not typing

Especially on creative jobs, to think, to have time to sit and get lost in the nothingness of our mind, it is very important. We need to set our story straight before sit and type, we need to create believable characters and all of that takes time. If we take that time to think and create before we sit in front of the computer (or the notebook) then we will have the Blank Page in front of us (and how terrifying that is!) for a shorter period of time.

3.Take time for you and that project

Some people recommend to write 900 words every day. I think it is a wise advise even though I haven’t found myself doing it… probably if I put all the words I have written together, I discover I did accomplish that recommendation. Other people recommend setting a moment of the day to write everyday: before breakfast, at night, whenever it suits your schedule.

Well, yes, I agree we all need a moment for ourselves to write. To sit our butts down and start typing. I haven’t discovered when it is good for me yet. But it would be great to be able to write 900 words every day in a specific moment.

4. Surround yourself with beautiful things

Objects, thoughts, love letters, flowers, whatever is good for you. If the messy environment works for you, go ahead! But you need to feel comfortable in the place that you choose to create.

procrastination15. Recognize success

It is what primary school teachers do when they give us a star for good behavior or a well accomplish task. Why should we quit the pleasure of receiving something nice for our success? A nice coffee, for example, or a bubble bath. Something simple, it doesn’t need to be a Caribbean cruise as a reward, but a simple and nice gesture to recognize that we are doing a nice job.

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my parisian mug

My Parisian mug

Tips for first timers in Europe

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The Eiffel tower from the Seine river.

Yesterday I got a message form a person that is always in my heart. Patricia used to babysit for me and my siblings when she was finishing high school, and had no many plans for the future, probably babysit… forever? So my mother, who believes everybody should study farther than high school, offer her the same money she was getting every week, but to work only on weekends, so that Patricia could go to study.

Sometimes, all we need is a person who trusts we can achieve something bigger than what we imagine. And four years after, Patricia was a school teacher with one of the higher grades in the whole country. I am not lying, and to prove me right: she just won a national contest and the award was a trip to Madrid.

That was why she contacted me: she is staying in Madrid for a week, for a seminar, and then she wants to stay another week to go to France and Italy. And I found myself with this sweet sense of pride towards her. After all the years she spent taking care of me, now I can do something for her.

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The Art Nouveau Metro entrances in Paris.

Patricia told me they are not planning on spending much money on food and I remember those were my exact same words; then I went to Italy and I lost all my money eating pasta and pizza, not to mention Antwerp and the original Leonidas chocolaterie!  I found myself in the position of a travel agent trying to guide a first time traveler to one of the most amazing cities on Earth.

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  • Low coast airlines are fast and they have some amazing promotions, especially when you buy the tickets in advance. The downside is that most of the lower prices are to travel only with your carry-on
  • Trains: Rail Europe has many promotions for non-Europeans to go through different countries for some good prices. And the luggage is not an issue, but it takes more time to go from one place to the other. If you like to watch around, though, it might me the perfect way to enjoy the view.
  • Forget about renting a car! This tip was for her, who almost doesn’t even drive in a small town; she will want to fade when trying to get into Rome.Paris2-Editar copia

How to calculate money

So, my advice here would be: don’t do what I did.

My first time in Europe I spent all my savings in a two and a half months backpacking Euro trip. I did that because I am very Latina, that means disorganized to the bones, I leave everything to the last minute and I like to eat.

Calculate some money to eat everyday and also some extra money to buy souvenir. She told me she was planning on eating sandwiches, I asked her not to lie to herself. We all do the same, apparently. Now I believe: it’s better to have some money for eating and then not spending it in food, so we can spend it in something else, than to run out of money.

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The Gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris

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The Mona Lisa through technology

Museums, yes or no?

I love museums. I know I am a bit nerdy, but to go to London and not visit the National Gallery or the British Museum… or going to Paris and just taking a pic outside the Louvre… not cool. Especially ‘cause this former nanny of mine is very catholic, so she will want to go to the Vatican Museum.

Unlike in England, Vatican Museum expects visitors to pay and the line usually gets very long and it’s just a huge waste of time. So I told her, either she can go very early or contact a tour that will avoid the line for her and have an experienced guide at the museum.

The churches, on the other side, some of them expect visitors to pay, and well… they all look the same. Unless you are planning on visiting the Sagrada familia in Barcelona or the cathedrals of Milan or Cologne… I am not a big church fun.

Happy hour in Paris

My biggest disappointment in Paris was the heat. I mean, I went there on an amazing road trip with my boyfriend, in the middle of the European summer. I just wasn’t expecting so much heat in the north. Especially because they don’t know the magic of the air conditioning yet. So, all the bars and businesses are ready for the cold weather, while in the summer… I went from bar to bar enjoying the mojitos during the happy hour because I couldn’t stand myself nor my dress… nor my boyfriend.

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Saint Angelo Castle in Rome

Rome = Pasta

Rome equals everything that is beautiful. One of my favorite cities, besides the dirty streets, the crazy traffic and the slow rhythm. It’s my soul city, it behaves the same way I do. And maybe that is the main reason why I could never live there: we are too similar.

The magic of Rome is that you can walk everywhere and to get lost in this city is even more spectacular that to follow a map. I know that firsthand because I always get lost. It doesn’t matter how many GPS I have, I get lost. And I love it.

“Oh, good!”, Patricia told me, “then I can walk and lose some weight”.

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Fontana di Trevi, Rome

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Me. At the Colosseum, Rome.

Rule number one: in Italy don’t watch your weight. You cannot escape from the gellaterias, the pizzerias and the fresh pasta. I am a truth believer that you can feel the taste of the cheese only by looking at it.

And that is another reason why I could never live in Rome.