On Florence

Of all six cities planned for the trip, I was looking forward to Florence the most. In fact just a week before the trip we changed the itinerary by adding a day in Florence and subtracting one from Rome. A last minute switch to a trip with months of planning was risky, but the return was tenfold. By day three of Rome we were ready to move on and had our fill, but on day four of Florence we were reluctant to leave for Germany.

Above all else in Florence is the Dome. With no skyscrapers or any tall buildings of note, the Duomo towers over the city making it visible from nearly anywhere. This offers a guiding hand for tourists who can follow the Dome like the North Star to find the center of the city. It’s Florence’s identifying landmark in photos, with each street artist painting the cathedral and it’s Dome from a different perspective. The loud bells start with a 7am wakeup call and can be heard throughout the city. And because our Airbnb was right next to the Dome every day began early.

We started every morning in Florence the same way, cornettos and cappucinos at the bakery next door. One of our few rituals in a stretch of twenty unpredictable days. Although they appear the same there is a slightly discernable difference between cornettos and croissants. This is likely due to the unconscionable amount of each Corey and I have had after a week in France and a week in Italy. 

As in Rome, Michelin Star quality food can be found everywhere in Tuscany. There are slight diferences, for example Florence has many trattorias that serve steak and meat from the region where Rome valued its pasta. However food in Italy is a tier above the rest and we had no meal less than excellent in Florence. Paninis with any meat or cheese you can pronounce, homemade gelato on every street corner vying for our favorite, and pizza in its most authentic margarita way. We ate five euro prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches on a curb in the dark and never felt more like kings.

Despite its role in the Renaissaince six hundred years ago, Florence remains a young city thanks to a large population of college students studying abroad. The nightlife is vibrant and during the day there is an energy throughout the various markets. Pedestrians rule here and people walk freely in the streets as cars struggle to pass. With Florence’s reputation for quality leather, Corey and I bought leather jackets from the San Lorenzo market after haggling with countless salesmen. 

On our last night in Florence, we ate at a small restaurant with only ten tables. It also doesn’t take reservations. Our Airbnb host, a nice old Florentine man, recommended it so we waited a half hour before they opened at 7pm to get a table. We split a 20 oz T-Bone steak butchered fresh in the open kitchen ten feet from our table. Paired with a local Chianti and followed up with gelato we closed out our time in Florence the best way to spend any time in Italy, eating. 

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On Rome

Our journey to Rome was far from smooth, but we’ve grown accustomed to the inevitable issues when traveling. An expensive uber to the airport in Paris, a 6am flight on little sleep, a rush through the train station, a mile walk to the Airbnb with overloaded backpacks. None of these faze us anymore. 

But just like the rest of our difficult travel days, we were quickly rewarded by our first lunch in Rome. Homemade cacio e peppe pasta, meatballs with the best marinara I’ve had, and an Italian red wine. Great food was a recurring theme during our weekend in Rome, especially in our neighborhood of Trastevere which caters to locals rather than tourists. 

However hypocritical to say, tourists are a plague in Rome. They support the economy and allow for preservation of these ancient monuments, yes, but at the cost of killing any immersion into the city. Few attempts to speak italian, giving business to whichever tourist trap restaurant has the brightest lights rather than the authentic cuisine on the side streets. In our experience Rome is comprised of tourists and some Italians, whereas the diverse population in Paris drowns out the tourist drone much like New York City. 

To further the comparison, both Paris and Rome have rivers running through the city. The Seine and Tiber respectively. However this is where their similarities end. In Paris the Seine is a feature, a part of the city. A place for runners, bikers, a walk with scenic views, beers and teenage angst at night. The bridges are works of art in themselves. The banks are well-kept and there are many staircases and ramps down to the river’s edge. 

In Rome the Tiber is an obstacle. The riverbanks are overgrown, full of graffiti and garbage. People cross the bridges out of necessity and not for a view of the river. Garbage, graffiti, beggars and cheap souvenir vendors are on a conveyor belt down any Roman street. 

The monuments and ancient architecture are certainly worth seeing for anyone with appreciation of the juggernaut that was the Roman empire. Although I overheard a local telling his friend how depressing it is commuting to work with broken and decaying buildings everywhere. I could imagine that the Colosseum loses it’s charm quickly and then you are left with another broken building. As a tourist the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain are all exciting to see just once. The ruins, albeit historic, are ruins nonetheless and lack the elegance of Paris’ architecture. 

While it is dirty and decaying, the food and people are the city’s redeeming qualities. Finding bad food is difficult as there are more restaurants per block than I’ve ever seen, all competing with one another. And the people are lively, exciting, and passionate. Many italian stereotypes hold true in all the best ways in Rome. Also the cobblestone streets and lack of skyscrapers throughout the city maintain a neighborhood vibe that stretches in every direction. 

Rome may not have been for me, as I’ve noticed this post has revealed. But where it had flaws, there was pasta. And homemade pasta in Italy can right a lot of wrongs. 

On Paris

We nearly cut Paris from the itinerary when we were choosing which cities to visit. It wasn’t a high priority for Corey or myself, but we left it as it seemed like somewhere worth visiting if you were already in Europe and we had heard good things about it from friends and family. I even allowed four days so we could spend one in Normandy seeing the D-Day beaches. So after an early flight from Dublin and a multi-hour customs line full of screaming children and upwards of ten languages shouting simultaneously, we reached our Airbnb around 3pm. 

Our neighborhood, Le Marais, was only blocks from the Seine River. It has an array of restaurants, bakeries, and butcher shops. Almost by reflex I went into the first boulangerie I saw for a baguette and got some butter from the market next door. Hot, tired, and hungry we devoured the baguette sitting in the stairwell of our historic building waiting for our Airbnb host. After we could drop our things off, we went for dinner and to explore the city. 

In a word, Paris is beautiful. Buildings and monuments with with intricate architecture tower above pedestrians on the street. Parisians are fashionable, the city is clean for it’s size, the parks are kept in excellent shape. Everyone stops to look up at Notre Dame and the Louvre because they demand attention, all the buildings do. Corey and I walked along the Seine and saw the sunset as the Eiffel Tower and all the bridges lit up to illuminate the city. All we could muster was “wow” because no words do these views justice.

As for the people, Parisians are incredibly laid back. The laizzes-faire attitude emanates from the residents and it is easy to discern them from the haphazard tourists. Imagine New York City if New Yorkers took time to stop and listen to every street performer and sit on a bench in front of a monument. In the Luxembourg Gardens I saw Parisians literally stopping to smell the roses, a perfect metaphor for the city’s attitude. There is an appreciation for life here, a calm and zen feeling as you walk the streets.

They will spend an hour or more just stopping for a coffee or tea. Chairs are always pointed facing the street to watch the world go by with each slow sip. The Parisians show no signs of stress or urgency, as though things will simply happen as they will. They even have a word for it, flâneur, which means stroller or wanderer. At lunchtime in the park you’ll see businessmen and students alike napping on the grass or reading a book with a sandwich. 

Throughout our four-day stay, Corey and I regularly traded “I never want to leave Paris” with the other readily in agreement. Sitting in a garden next to the Eiffel Tower watching a street performer sing, drinking wine at a cafe on a bustling street, looking up at ornate buildings until our necks were sore, the simple happiness of a well-made croissant or baugette, eating a sandwich in the Luxembourg Gardens on a rare sunny day. To be stressed or have worries in Paris is swimming upstream. 

One goal of this Eurotrip is to learn something from every city. In Paris, it was a reminder that even in a large city there is time to appreciate a croisssant or a glass of wine or a talented street performer. Parisians do it and they are happier because they are experiencing life, not letting it pass by. Paris is a city with breathtaking views in any direction, food that inspired modern cuisine, and people who take none of it for granted. If there is any ambiguity in my review, I love this city and you will too. 

On Dublin- Day 1

We arrived in Dublin at 5am local time, both on about one hour of sleep from the flight. Fueled solely by excitement, Corey and I made our way through customs and out to the bus that would take us downtown. After stepping outside we quickly knew what type of weather we would be facing this weekend. We couldn’t get our jackets out fast enough as the Irish wind cut down to the bones. Although cold, the air was refreshingly crisp and clean. Even in an airport shuttle lot a deep breath reminded me of being in a forest or on top of a mountain.

Jet lagged and weary, Corey and I were dropped downtown around 6am on a Saturday morning. This meant we were the only sorry souls on the street before the sun was up. However, it gave us a chance to see the city at its most vulnerable and peaceful time. As the sun rose, we walked along the main drag on O’Connell Street and over the river to explore an empty Trinity College campus. The dichotomy of historic architecture and modern businesses reminded me only of Boston. Buildings centuries old hold Facebook and Google, statues from 1750 stand in front of shopping malls. But it works. The Dubliners are proud of their history yet remain relevant in a 21st century economy.

Once we picked up some tweed newsboy caps, we were ready for a pint. Mcneill’s Pub near our Airbnb seemed local enough so we stepped inside and back to 1834 when it opened. It went quiet and heads turned as the regulars expected to see a friend but saw American tourists instead. It felt like we had crashed a private party. In fact we had because while we sat another regular came in with a cake for the bartenders birthday. We ordered two pints of Guinness and waited with the impatience of a five year old at an ice cream shop as the nitrogen bubbles settled.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about Dublin has said the Guinness is better than in the states. This is like saying New York pizza is pretty good or southern barbeque is alright. In sync Corey and I hit our glasses, took a sip, and our eyes went wide. I knew this was the greatest beer of my life. Partly due to my bias towards Guinness, it’s already one of my favorites. And partly because the beer siginfied the start of a three week Eurotrip we had been planning for nearly a year. Smooth, creamy, refreshing and chocolately with no bitterness you sometimes get in the states. The adjectives go on but only trying it yourself can explain. We finished and went to another pub for another pint and lunch.

Throughout the day, we faced stereotypical Irish weather of a rotation between clouds, sun and rain. However the Dubliners are undeterred by rain. If you look down and back up everyone will already have rain jackets and umbrellas and carry on with their day. Even though the day began sunny everyone was prepared for the inevitable shower.

After Shepherd’s Pie and another Guinness, we went to the Guinness Storehouse where we learned how to pour a pint and proudly received our certificates. Their Gravity Bar oversees all of Dublin, looking out into a city older than my country. In keeping with the theme, we then went to the Jameson Distillery where we did a tasting and learned about the process of distilling my vote for the best budget whiskey out there. Running solely on whiskey and beer, we crawled back to the Airbnb and slept for nearly twelve hours after surviving day 1 of 20.

On Friendship

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When you think back on your fondest memories, were you alone?

I asked myself this question and found that in all of my favorite moments I was with friends, family, or both. Whether introverted or extroverted, people are social creatures and we rely on relationships more than most would admit. Of course independence has value, but only insofar as it allows us to build a unique identity that can then contribute to our relationships and society as a whole.

As I have begun to establish this identity for myself, the importance of my friendships and family has become clearer than ever. I built many of my friendships in the days of dial-up internet, before Netflix and social media were competing for our attention. Playing outside after school with friends was the default rather than a binge session of The Office.

However, today’s unlimited options for entertainment put that much more weight behind a text asking to hang out. If someone is choosing to spend time with you over all his or her other options, you are important. This realization has made me feel guilty for all the times I’ve ignored that text or said “next time.” There are only so many times. Lives diverge, people move, and a few falling outs are inevitable.

Moreover, every night out or game played or trip taken adds another log to the fire of the friendship. I’ve personally recovered friendships from only embers, and a roaring fire is something to be proud of. To belabor the metaphor, it’s also easier to tend a few large fires than many small ones. Over the years I’ve focused on quality over quantity in friendships, with the count of my best friends on only one hand.

Research shows that we need just three to five close friends for optimal health and wellbeing. The study also revealed that we are incapable of holding connections with more than 150 people and that our fifteen closest relationships are most crucial to our health. Invest in your friendships, the dividends are priceless.

Because life is ultimately about people and experiences, not things. I’ve personally seen how a new apartment filled with expensive stuff can be empty, but a treehouse with a few friends is full. A laugh caused by your brother cures a bad mood faster than a shopping spree. And a “What’s up?” text from states away feels closer than a packed subway car.

Unfortunately, too often we forget to make deposits into our friendships and focus on withdrawals. One sided friendships are doomed simply due to lack of effort. Say yes when you’re asked to come out for drinks, text someone you haven’t in awhile, plan a road trip, go to a concert. The memories last a lifetime and the relationship will thrive because of it.

And if it’s true that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, then I’m not worried about my road ahead.

On New York City

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There are certain cities that incite a feeling of longing. I imagine others have felt it too, it starts as “I think I could live here”. Though for many places the lust is fleeting, that certain feeling subsides and life continues with the memories of a city once traveled.

If the feeling persists, however, it will nag. You will think of that place on your commute and while you make dinner and during your favorite show nothing else can distract you from. And if you still refuse to give the thought attention, the feeling will get louder.

I have had this feeling with a number of cities, but New York City has always run deeper than the others. Growing up on Long Island made Manhattan a place both daunting and awe-inspiring. Somewhere to visit for a show or dinner, but only for a short time. Residence was left for those more resilient and hardened to its seemingly cruel and fast-paced ways.

As years have passed and I have lived elsewhere, the feeling I mentioned has lingered. Only recently has the feeling evolved into a glaring realization that I can be one of those residents. I’ve found there are few opportunities to live out a dream, and given enough hesitation the opportunity erodes to one missed. So I moved to Brooklyn.

In my short time here I’ve seen the skyline stop seasoned veterans in their tracks to admire. The allure of this city hits some like the smell of fresh cookies from a bakery. And much like finding that bakery, crowds and lines and weather don’t deter those living here. Because the magnetic pull that spans the world and attracts tourists has an equal impact on it’s eight million residents.

There are those who leave in search of something better only to return with greater appreciation. Like many cities, the bitter winters and unrelenting crowds can corrode the spirit of even the most battle-hardened New Yorkers. This leads to retirement in Florida as an honorable discharge after years of shoveling show and navigating maze-like subway stations.

For now, however, the only word to describe the feeling is enamored. The skyline is a frame around the countless adventures, memories, and lessons to learn in my time here. Things only made possible by listening to the nagging feeling to give this intimidating city the college try it deserves.

Writing this post reminded me of watching Pinocchio on my old VCR growing up. As a naive child, Jiminy Cricket’s advice to let your conscious be your guide held little weight. Now, with adult responsibilities and obligations, it represents a directive to give that feeling inside attention. Because it may be the beginning to life’s next greatest chapter.

On Making Changes

 

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“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.”

I read this quote amid my uncertainty on whether to leave North Carolina and move to New York City. There are countless other quotes that echo the idea. Another one I like is, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” It’s a topic belabored by bloggers and authors and self-help gurus so I was hesitant to contribute to the cliché. But this is my take on the subject.

We are all looking to make some change in life. Changing jobs, cities, relationships. It’s a product of the human condition, what we have is not enough. This both encourages positive growth, as the first quote suggests, and prevents us from appreciating what we do have. Being grateful is important and worth a post of it’s own, but I’ll focus on the changes we know will improve our quality of life.

Most posts on change offer a call to action. Imperatives such as “Just do it” and “What are you waiting for?” can provide short-term motivation, but rarely inspires lasting change or following through on quitting a job or moving to another city. In my short-tenured experience, change happens when your desire outweighs the cost. Costs such as fear, money, damaged relationships, and leaving your comfort zone.

If you or someone you know hates their job, and you ask, “Why don’t you just quit?” common responses are “I’m too lazy to look” or “There are some positives”. Laziness does not prevent change, in fact you are far from lazy if you begrudgingly show up every day to a job you’d prefer to be without. A truly lazy person would skip work instead.

Everyone is capable of making change. Perhaps some are able to change more readily. For them the costs are lower, likely less fear and a greater willingness to leave their comfort zone. However even those most stubborn make changes when they are truly ready.

My friend, with whom I discuss all of life’s intricacies, showed me an article on getting the most out of life. And the question becomes “What are you willing to struggle for?” Because when real desire exists, we make it work at any cost. Hours at the gym, hours working late, hours socializing with friends.

The ways in which we spend our time reflect our values. In a day with finite hours, we allocate our time based on what we find important. If a new job is a high priority, time is spent tailoring resumes and sending applications. If moving is a priority, time is spent researching new cities and developing a plan.

There is inherent risk in change, leaving the known uncomfortable for the potential of a better life. In my case it was leaving friends and a known city for one of the biggest in the world. Yet the desire for a new adventure outweighed the cost of uprooting. Excitement and the search for personal growth allows for a leap such as mine.

So if you have not made the change you want to make, I argue you are not ready. Change requires resilience and open-mindedness, as the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. When you are ready, the fear goes quiet. It is replaced by the fire inside getting louder until there is no choice but to act. This is where lasting change happens. Because growth is the enemy of fear, and fear will lose every time.

 

On Ocean Waves

cropped-33483953785_2437f66096_o.jpgFew things can match the serenity of waves crashing on a beach. Both in sight and sound we are enamored by the rise, crash, and retreat of waves. Why, as oxygen breathing land mammals, do we have such an affinity for the ocean and the beach? Maybe it’s proof that mankind can conquer uninhabitable places like the ocean and outer space and nothing can hold us back as a species.

We built ships to see the world before we had maps or the ability to properly navigate the planets vast oceans. Fear has never kept mankind from exploring and the ocean is a testament to that. I feel most alive gazing out over an ocean that extends to the horizon. So strangely that which can drown us and kill us is also what gives us life and fills us with wonder.

But the waves themselves are especially calming. The sound has found it’s way to nearly every sleep noise machine. Standing on a beach has an immediate calming effect as though each ebb of a wave takes a bit of stress with it back out to sea. In part it must be the repetition. The crash is predictable but not so much so as to bore, the timing isn’t perfect.

The sound is a time machine that brings us back to vacations and time spent with loved ones. Each break contains an array of memories and feelings of tranquility.

Like an eraser for the mind it wipes away stress and conflicts, problems and doubts. To find clarity, find a beach. Because we are small, and our problems are less than insignificant to nature and the expanse of the ocean.

JFK kept a plaque on his desk in the Oval Office with the quote “O, God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” The metaphor only works because the sea actually is so vast, and even our largest ships are so small in comparison. But the feeling of warm sun, an ocean breeze, and the sound of crashing waves is a strong medicine to combat our day to day troubles.

So we listen to the sound: the slight rise from nowhere, the foamy white curl, and the collision with the sand. And when we leave the sound continues, ready and waiting for our return to marvel at this awe-inspiring thing we call nature.