Why do we see the world the way we do? How do we even see it? Do we have a broad understand of our world or are we just narrowing it down to a quite egocentric perspective? This question can be easily answered by watching the news. By seeing what is talked about in Europe and what is left out. Let´s talk about eurocentrism.
The fire of Notre Dame
A fire. Burning in the sky in the city of Paris. Bright and red, burning down one of the oldest and most famous buildings in whole France. People sad, shocked and concerned. I´m sure that by now, everybody heard about it. The fire at Notre Dame. Or saw it on the news. Or the internet. It was indeed impossible to miss. But why is so much attention given to this particular event? Don´t we have more important things to talk about?
Let´s look at it from a very matter-of-factly point of view. Let´s assume we know nothing about Notre Dame. We´re someone who has never heard about it and is seeing this building for the first time in his life. In this case, we look at the facts: just a very old building burned – not even completely – down. No one died. No life was in danger.
So good so far. Let´s assume we know more about Notre Dame. In this case we know that this gothic church is a very old Parisian landmark which is visited by thousands of tourists every year. A beautiful building, a real tourist attraction. Many people might have already seen it in real life. But still – it remains a building.
What I definitely have to question here is: Why do we show so much sadness and worries about something that should be so trivial compared to the problems we are facing at the moment. I can understand that it is talked about in the news as it is an event that happened quite close to us, that has cultural and religious relevance. I understand people can be sad about it if they might have had a special relationship to that building. But I am questioning the extend the fire is talked about in the media. It covered the news completely and left everything else out.
Focusing on the wrong issues
I am questioning how a building can get that much attention when a cyclone in Mozambique was barely talked about. Which was an event where people were dying and in desperate need of help. I am questioning why our environmental problems are not covered as much even though way more important and concerning all of us. If something like the Fridays for Future movement, where students are skipping school and university for the sake of the environment, had gotten that much attention we would be way ahead of our problems. But it doesn´t seem like we neither want to hear about other people struggling in other parts of the world nor our destruction of the planet. Instead, we are focusing our attention on something else, more pleasant to think about. A tragic event, but not as tragic as people still suffering from postcolonial structures.
The Eurocentric perspective
This fire of Notre Dame is illustrating our Eurocentric view on the world perfectly. How much focus we give to certain events if they happen here in Europe and how much focus we lay on other things is sometimes more than shocking. After this fire, all I saw in the news in the morning was something about Paris. I´m sure that something more important happened overnight as well which has been left out completely. This leads me to question the reactions of people as well.
After the fire, tons of pictures of Notre Dame were popping up on my newsfeed. Many people posting pictures with the church, sad captions, crying smilies. But why are we showing so much empathy, so much sadness for a building and ignore almost everything that happens in other parts of the world – especially the global south? After the cyclone in Mozambique, nobody posted a picture to show condolences. During the war in Syria I´ve never seen anyone expressing empathy for the victims suffering the war. Why do we only express our opinion to such trivial matters? And this fire is a trivial matter if we just take a moment to look at the bigger picture.
I am also questioning people donating a lot of money to rebuild this church. Of course, it should be rebuilt, as it is an amazing expression of the French culture and history, but I am just struck by how fast people were reacting, donating and worrying. I am sure people wouldn´t spend their money as quickly on a natural catastrophe in Africa or southeast Asia. How can it be that we show more empathy for a building than people?
Questions that arise
Shouldn´t we think a little ahead? Shouldn´t we question why we see this on the news and not something else? Isn´t this a pure expression of our own ignorance? Of our Eurocentric way to see the world? Of us being very much concerned what happens to “us” in Europe but ignoring the real problems people in other parts of the word – and due to the globalisation, we as well have to face?
Sadly, we seem to be trapped in our own little European bubble that shields us from events happening in the rest of the world. In my country, there´s rarely a newspaper covering the global south – in fact I only know one: Südwind. Which is an amazing newspaper telling you about what is happening in the rest of that world that stays uncovered from our eyes in everyday life.
Nowadays, it seems to be more interesting what is talked about in the news and what isn´t. Because what isn´t shown also says a lot about us. About what we want to see and don´t want to see, about what we care and don´t care about. We can easily develop a conscience that cares about each and every nation on the planet – but therefore need to distance ourselves from the mainstream media. Otherwise, we will get sucked into a system and a way of thinking which is hard to let go of. Still, it should be easy: Think about what you see. Why you see it. How it is presented. Show concern for others. Talk about things that are not talked about. Share your knowledge. Show empathy.
Laughing meditationThis meditation was one of my favourite ones. We first built up some tension in our bodies with breathing exercises while moving our arms. Then we were chanting a mantra loudly for a while. And then we had to start laughing. At first, the laughter were quite forced, we were all not sure what to do. It was a bit strange to just start laughing without any obvious reason. However, our laughter soon got more intense. There was always a person who had a clear load and funny laugh and who kept all the others going. More and more people started laughing and soon we were no longer able to stop. We had classes in which I was laughing to hardly my whole body was hurting afterwards. It was a beautiful connection to laugh together, to free ourselves from worries and sorrows together. Even if I wasn´t in the best mood before I was always happy afterwards. You simply cannot laugh and stay in a bad mood at the same time. Laughing together felt so liberating after feeling all this tension in the body just vanished. We just kept laughing and laughing until our bellies hurt and we could not do so anymore. I even experienced moments I was laughing so hardly, I wanted to keep on but my body just didn´t let me- that´s how out of breath I was. After laughing, we had to start dancing.
DancingThis kind of meditation was great as well as we could just release all the energy from laughing. As we were sitting down for a long time before, we needed to move our bodies again. The music that was put on was just perfect, I soon let lose and just danced it off. In a space where I didn´t have to care about being judged for dancing everybody could just let go and express themselves however they felt. This experience led me to adapt the attitude and just enjoy dancing however I want whenever I can and wherever I want. It´s the best feeling in the world to move your body to the music the way you feel like. Even if it might be considered “weird” – what is weird anyways? If you feel good and people feel your energy, it will make you and everyone around you happy as well. I was always almost ecstatically happy after dancing. We were dancing for a few minutes, then we were told to lay down on our backs. Here our teacher was always talking, but I remember one time very clearly. A guided meditation experience I want to share like it happened.
Guided meditation experienceOur teacher told us to close our eyes and to relax. To think about that we are dead. That we are not our body. Our body is just the outer shell in this universe. We ourselves are eternal. We are infinite. We will live on forever. Imagine you are dead. Imagine, you are in peace, apart from your body. And that´s what happened. Suddenly I found myself in a deep and dark wood. Pink flowers were blooming between the green dark green grass, bright and shiny. A bit of sunshine was touching the ground. And there I was – or what I felt to be me as I was not having a body. I was going up a spiral towards the sky. Shining bright and golden light welcomed me on top as I was flying higher and higher. It didn´t seem to come to an end. I felt so liberated, so free, being without my body, just my soul flying through this wood. Seeing my soul in this wood brought me to tears. I could not stop staring at it, so beautiful was it. It clearly didn´t need a body it was perfectly fine on its own. Unique, beautiful. My soul. I suddenly felt so light, my soul already left to paradise and wandered through another place. I felt so liberated, so at peace with the world and myself. And just genuinely happy. When we woke up our teacher told us to hug each other and nothing could have been greater in this moment. I just wanted to hug the whole world, the whole universe! I had so much love to give and couldn´t wait to share it. It was truly amazing. And everyone else seemed to feel the same. There was such a positive energy in the room, everybody was laughing and loosened by the dancing we did before. Everybody was smiling, we were hugging each other for a long time, didn’t want to let go of each other. We were all warm and brightly smiling, everybody with so much energy to give, to share, to receive. The whole room was warm, glowing. It was truly beautiful. It was so beautiful to see how this practise even connected us more and more. It brought us so much closer together. By the end of this training, the connections would only be even more intense.
And how important it is to deal with them. During my Yoga Teacher Training in India, I learned about emotional blockages in our body and to never underestimate the power of your emotions. I experienced myself how important it is to deal with them and to eventually let them go.
A difficult road
Dealing with your emotions might not always be easy – in fact, for most people it rarely is. When are we taught how to handle them? Never. It is something you learn by experience, all by yourself. One person slower, one faster. Yet it is incredibly important to being able to cope with them. Especially if they are trapped.
Trapped emotions are feelings deep down inside you most likely don´t want to face – and you might not even be aware of it. We all have certain fears, anxieties. Sometimes its easier to push them down, put them away. Store them safely aside to not look at them too often. To close up the painful box of long forgotten memories. It is easier. An easy way out. But the thing is – nothing will stay in this box forever. Eventually, everything comes up to the surface.
Emotional blockage treatment class
For my class during my yoga teacher training and I it was time to face our fears in our emotional blockage treatment class. When I first heard about it, I had no clue of what to expect. I didn´t know anything about trapped emotions, it was nothing I had given much thought in the past. But that was about to change. We started the class gathering in a circle. One person laying in the middle with our teacher was showing us which emotion inhabits which part of the body. He taught us that emotions can be pointed out massaging a certain part of your body. For example, anger is mostly found in the elbow. While massaging this point correctly, the particular trapped emotions – in this case anger – can surface again.
After our teacher showed and explained us the pressure points of our bodies, we were free to try the treatment on each other. Of course, we were no experts and at first it was a lot of trying to find the correct points. But with time and practise you got a feeling for it. Letting your partners body guide you to where the emotion lays. There, we were putting as much pressure onto it as our partner wanted us to. As this treatment can be very painful, we had to be very careful as well. Trapped emotions can be stored inside the body for a lot of years. In a lot of years, you can accumulate a lot of hate, fear, anxiety… Just imagine all of that inside you – it will not be easy to get it out. Certain parts were very painful – the deeper the blockage the more pain you will get. But you need to suffer through it. Only then the emotion can really truly be released.
For me, my blockages were mainly laying in my legs. One particular part of it was so painful I immediately was in pain once it was massaged. And then started crying – especially once I knew what it was related to. It made perfect sense. I knew there was something there I had to resolve. It was a problem I was not even consciously aware of – an issue with an impact bigger than I had imagined.
Dealing with my blockages
This was a very powerful experience for me. Especially because I knew that all my blockages related to something in my life I had to resolve. Rather sooner than later. Something I was consciously or unconsciously struggling with. After one class in particular I could pinpoint an emotion directly related to a very close person in my life. I knew I had to do something about that. Now I had a choice – now I knew about it. I could choose to act or to just let it be. At first, I was struggling to get in touch with that person. I thought “oh well, maybe I´ll call tomorrow”, over and over again. However, I quite quickly got to a point where I couldn´t just let it be any longer. If I really wanted to resolve a conflict, I had to act. Otherwise, this emotion might have stayed trapped inside. So, I called, talked and talked it out – and was very surprised how easy it was. Once I started talking, words just flowed out of my mouth. Of course, not all conflicts might be resolved that easily, but if it is related to a person close to you, a person you love and worship dearly, it might be good to get it out of the way. Talking your feelings out feels so liberating – to finally form your thoughts into words, to let them out and let them go. As if a huge weight had just been lifted from my shoulders.
However, before calling, I actually wrote about this particular problem as well. For me, writing was the first step of taking action. If you write about something you already take the first step. You already acknowledge that something is bothering you indeed. It´s not a mere thought in your head anymore, a thought you could probably push back into the depths of your mind again. No. It´s already out there. Black on white. On paper. You can read through it, you can look at it. It won´t just disappear. You cannot ignore it. Writing is and always will be a form of self-therapy for me – and I think it can be for everyone. Journaling on how you feel, putting your thoughts into words as good as you can. Sometimes, it´s good to bring them to paper. To get some structure in the chaos in your head.
Talking to your inner child
The emotional blockage course only took place for a week, but even if it was only a week, it had a very big impact on me. Before, I had no idea how exhausting it can be to deal with your emotions. Because we never do. We never really confront ourselves to ask: What is really wrong? Is little me truly happy? The “little me” concept is something a friend of mine told me about and I love it too. She told me to talk to my heart, to my inner child and ask her “How are you feeling?” “Are you happy?” from time to time. Then taking a moment to truly listen to the answers. I find this approach incredibly powerful. Your inner self always knows the answer already. The question is only if you are ready to hear it. So sometimes, you need to dig a bit to find it.
This one-week course taught me how to look at my emotions more reflectively. I might not always be successful with it, but hey – we all just try. Admitting what you really feel – at least to yourself – is so important. Not to put feelings aside thinking they will disappear if you just ignore them long enough. That won´t be the case. They will just become trapped inside. If something bothers you, get it out. Right now. Then it will be out of your body and out of this world soon as well.
Going to India to become a yoga teacher? Such a cliché isn´t it? Cliché or not, my three months journey couldn´t have started out better. During my time in the yoga school, I learned a lot about India, about yoga and about myself. And I didn´t just go to any city. I went to Rishikesh – also called the world´s capital of yoga.
Rishikesh is the typical Indian city – with typical I mean what you might expect to see in India if you visit the country the first time and don´t know much about it. Cows are running around, freely roaming the streets. Once I even saw a new born calf in the streets. In no other city in India I´ve seen as many cows as here. As India is very diverse every single city will surprise you with different traditions, customs and colours.
Rishikesh is also a religious city with a lot of Hindu temples – every morning we were woken up by the bells of the temple on the other side of the holy river Ganges. Rishikesh lays on the two sides of this river, with the biggest temple on one side my yoga school was directly facing it on the other side. Every morning and evening we could hear the prayers, the singing and chanting coming from the temples. Sounds that grew more and more familiar each and every day.
The schedule of the training
In the yoga school, we had quite a packed schedule. As we had a lot to learn our day stared out very early.
Every morning we were waking up every morning at 6 am to practise Shatkarma – which are different cleansing techniques of your body. This ranged from cleaning our nose to our digestive track.
Followed by Pranayama, which included a lot of different breathing exercises. It was only through this class that I found out how important breath actually is for you. I also discovered how I was breathing wrongly probably my whole life. We were taught to breathe deeply through our abdomen, not only through our chest – something I used to do before. We learned exercises to heat up our body, to calm ourselves down and much more. And all of that through breathing! I would have never imagined that was possible before.
Afterwards we had our first yoga class – we would have two classes of 90 minutes every day. The first week was the most challenging one. Our teachers were hard on us – they had to be as they had to teach us a lot in a very short amount of time. We were told, for example, that we would be holding the chair pose – where you bend your knees 90 degrees and lift your arms up in the air – for 10 minutes straight. Back then, that seemed impossible. A few weeks after that, we did hold it for 8 minutes indeed. After two classes of yoga every morning and evening my body was quickly hurting all over as I was not used to such an intense training. However, that concerned only the first week. In the second week, I was used to the amount of exercises already.
Next on the schedule was anatomy, where we learned about the different body part and what to keep in mind when we have a client with back pain or other injuries and how to suggest modifications of some exercises.
Philosophy and Ayurveda
Followed by Ayurveda in the first week, which we were all fascinated aboutt. As Ayurveda and yoga both deal with living a good and healthy life, these two spiritual healing paths are good to combine. Ayurveda, however, is a whole topic for itself and we just briefly touched the surface of it – just enough to evoke our curiosity about it.
In Philosophy we were taught about the origins of yoga as well as certain traditions and practises.
Emotional blockage treatment and Meditation
At the end of each day, we also had a session of emotional blockage treatment in the first week. This class should help us to release trapped emotions by massaging certain parts of our body – a very interesting class I will write a whole post about itself.
After the first week, our emotional blockage class was finished, and we moved on to meditation. There we learned a lot of different forms of meditation. From group meditations in a circle to a dancing or walking meditation. These classes certainly helped to centre ourselves more and calm down after a long and exhausting day.
What is yoga all about?
In this teacher training, we learned that yoga is so much more than what is sold to us in the west. It´s an art of living, which is not only composed by exercise but also by awareness and mindfulness and a lot of other practises. Shatkarma and Pranyama are a part of it as well as mediation. I can honestly say that after having gone through a four-week training it only made me realize how little I know about yoga. Of course, I have my self-practise and I do know a lot about the exercise itself. But there´s still a lot to the philosophy. In India, you can study yoga. In fact, all my teachers had a bachelors or master’s degree in yoga – and they said they´re still learning. With yoga, learning never finishes. You can always improve, always go further than you did yesterday. So, in India, I could never be a yoga teacher – at least not for Indians. There´s a lot of teachers who have studied so much more and have more wisdom than I do. Which motivates me to learn more. It was an amazing experience to learn about the whole lifestyle and there´s much more to it.
My yoga group
This training was not only a great experience, because I learned so much more about this beautiful practise, but also because I met some beautiful, amazing people I will have a connection for a lifetime. We were such an amazing bunch of people, everyone different in their own way. As we were together in class from morning to evening, we got to know each other quite quickly. We were going through the same phases, had the same difficulties and struggles which definitely united us. Also our free time we spend together by discovering the city. It was beautiful to see how a bunch of strangers could become like a family to you in the end. We definitely ended up being a little family, also shedding some tears when we were about to leave. You get used to people so quickly that it is hard to let go – even though we all knew we had to from the beginning.
In the last week, when we actually had to teach classes – as this was a yoga teacher training, everyone came up with so many different ideas and every class was different and beautiful. A lot of people guided a meditation, where we had some beautiful experiences as well. There we learned how to teach a class properly, gave each other feedback. It was beautiful to be taught by your former classmates standing now in front of you as a teacher. To see how everyone evolved and grew in those four weeks was amazing.
Participating in this training was one of the best choices I´ve ever made. Not only because I gained a lot more knowledge about my body, strengths, weaknesses and abilities, but also about yoga. And I connected with some amazing people I probably wouldn´t have found anywhere else. If you´re looking for an opportunity to grow and meet likeminded people I would definitely recommend a teacher training – I myself want to try out another one as well!
When I first came to India my first impression was – well, let´s say not that amazing. Today, I can only laugh about how quick I was to judge this beautiful country at the start. After spending three months in the country, this place will forever stay in my heart. I can truly say that no other country has yet had such a significant impact on myself.
But let´s start from the very first step I set into India. I started my journey without many expectations. I wanted to let India come to me. Of course, I had a certain imagine in my mind created by the press and the media in my country, but this image just couldn´t live up to what India really is. To experience it, you need to go there yourself. You can never experience such diversity, such wisdom and on the other side of the coin, such suffering, hunger, poverty, if you don´t see it with your own eyes. Seeing rich and poor living right next to each other, watching people driving their Harley right next to children living on the streets, not even bothered to look at them. It´s a country of contrast as I already experienced on my first day.
The first place I visited was Rishikesh, the worlds capital of yoga. To go there, I had to take a flight from Delhi to Dehradun, up in the north. So, Delhi, this massive, huge city was the first place I encountered in India. Suddenly, everything was different, everything was new. I didn´t feel quite comfortable at the airport with literally every Indian man staring at me. But well, I was the only white woman around. So, I was a real attraction. At this point in time I would have loved nothing more than just to be invisible. The starring, the whispered comments was all too much for me. Soon, I would get used to it and not even notice it anymore – but not quite yet.
Then I had to change terminal – which also proved to be a challenge. At first, I couldn’t even figure out which bus I was supposed to take. When I asked at the info desk about it, I was told “the red one”. Well. There were a few red buses. Used to European structure and order I was completely lost in Indian chaos. However, I just decided to wait and asked every bus driver I came across. Later rather than sooner I finally got into the right one and off it went to my terminal.
The first Indian bus was also an experience. I still remember holding onto my stuff tightly in the crammed bus which was almost jumping over the bumpy road. I was still used to pampered European standards – everything running smoothly with people already complaining about a tiny road bump. But India is not Europa and Indian roads require Indian buses. Buses which are huge trucks with big wheels, sometimes run down but hey, they still worked.
On the way to the terminal, I experienced the contrast of India for the first time. We drove from a huge, modern, clean airport to slums with kids selling lemonade on the streets. I was shocked how rich and poor exists so close to each other without like two different worlds side by side.
A scary, crazy taxi ride
From Delhi I flew on to Dehradun where I was picked up by a taxi which brought me to my yoga school. The ride there was… let’s say…interesting. I didn’t feel very safe I have to say. There where no lights on the streets and it was already very dark. My taxi driver kept driving like we were on a race and he simply had to win it – whatever the cost. He kept overtaking every car that was too slow – even when he couldn´t see much. That was the only thing I didn´t get used my whole trip. The way Indian drivers drive. Which is very scary sometimes – and also the same with buses, most of the times.
Anyways, finally at the hostel, at my yoga teacher school, then met a lot of lovely people, got deeper into yoga and spent an amazing month. More about this wonderful experience will be found in my next blog post.
Doubting my choices
Even though I was surrounded by amazing people and felt at home at the school instantly, it still took me a while to get used to Rishikesh – and India in general. I should maybe mention at this point, that I´ve never been to Asia before, I had not even a reference of what to expect. This culture was just slammed over my head and I needed some time to adjust. The first few days I didn´t really feel the need of going out of the yoga school much. We were living right next to a very busy street, it was loud and noisy and scared little me was not at all used to having to pay that much attention to traffic. At least the cows didn´t fear as much as I did. The enjoyed their lives standing in the middle of the road, with everyone else driving around them. Traffic in India is a real chaos – there´s no rules- you just watch out for yourself. And you never driver over a cow. The streets were also dirtier than I was used to, with trash piling up at the side of the road. The very first few days I seriously asked myself Was it a good idea to come here? Will I handle this experience?
Falling in love with India
So, what changed then? A lot. I discovered how to see beauty in the dirt, in all the colours and shapes of India. In all the little shops with their owners, friendly – but also very eager to sell you something, in the river Ganges, in all the dogs and cows on the streets. I just love it now. And I got inspired from a really good friend of mine. Sometimes, the right people are just there at the right time. Especially from one friend I adopted the happy attitude towards everything, simply smiling along and seeing the beauty and magic in every little detail. Soon I couldn´t hold myself back any longer. Once I realised how much this country has to offer, I simply fell in love with it
This experience made me realise how quick I was to judge; how easy it actually is to dislike something if you don´t give it time. Don´t let yourself be fooled with first impressions. We judge in everyday life – over and over again, day after day. Which is okay. It is – to some extent – natural as we need some structure in our lives. However, being aware of your judgement is important. Once you become aware of your own biases this changes everything. You become open to new ideas, new points of views. Sometimes, it takes a while until real beauty unravels. Sometimes, you need a change of perspective. A little light. Or a good friend at your side who shows you the way.
India. A far away, mysterious country we normally don´t know much about. Most likely we will associate it with poverty and chaos. A huge country with a lot of different faces. A country I still cannot believe I will visit in only a few days, starting on the 1st of December.
I felt it now was about time to write down some anticipations, hopes and fears about this beautiful country. I want to have a clear vision of myself before and after my journey to see what I have learned and what has changed.
I will start my stay with a yoga teacher education in Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga. There, I hope to learn more about the philosophy yoga is based on. I´m also excited to learn more about the history of this beautiful practice. As yoga originated in India it is the best place to go to study. Yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years. Such a profound knowledge and wisdom you simply cannot find anywhere else. Starting to learn something from the very roots is the best decision you could make.
In India, I will be engaging in a 200h yoga teacher training. I expect this training to be very challenging – physically as well as mentally. But I´m looking forward to it. Learning more about this practice has been a wish for months now. Now working towards it will finally pay off.
Afterward my education, I will still have one month of time to travel through India. I want to use this time to learn more about Buddhism which also originated in this country. I´ve been interested in Buddhism for a while now and there could be no better time to engage in it again now that I am travelling to its roots.
So far, I´ve only listed good anticipations, good experiences I am looking forward to making. However, I am sure I will also experience a culture shock. India must be so different from what I am used to it won´t leave me untouched. Many colors, people, odors surrounding me – way more than I am used to, at least in the bigger cities. Poverty in a whole other dimension. There are a lot of things that for sure will not be easy to witness.
Taking time for myself
This trip will also be the opportunity to take time for myself, to sort some things out I´ve been thinking about for a while, to focus on important tasks. Maybe one trip alone won´t have the answer to everything, but I am sure it will help me in one way or the other.
While spending time in the Himalaya, I want to be out in nature a lot, going hiking in the mountains. Mountains have always fascinated me, I love spending my time in the arms of these big giants. To me, nothing is more peaceful than standing on top of a mountain looking down on how far you have come, gazing over the villages and cities to your feet, miles away. They feel so distant, so far away. That´s a time where I can truly calm down. This calmness is something I strive for so much, something so peaceful, so beautiful and pure.
Just imagine yourself alone on top of a mountain now. With the wind blowing your hair, the sun gently warming your face. Sitting down, your hands grabbing the grass around you. Maybe you´re up so high they even touch snow. Cold ice cooling down your hands. Cooling down your face, your mind, your whole body. This is something I cannot wait to experience and the Himalaya couldn´t be a better place to do so.
Taking a break from social media
And now it will be time for another break. A break from social media, as well as from this blog. During my trip I have decided to not post anything. Not on social media nor on this blog. So, the next one, two or even three months I will be disappearing – at least from social media. I will continue to write down my thoughts and experiences, but I want to publish them in an organized, well structured way. At the same time this is a trip I simply cannot worry about social media or uploading content. This is a trip I want to focus on myself which means having nothing else in mind, not any distractions, no obligations nagging in the back of my mind. My overly ambitious self pushing me to upload and produce more and more. No. It´s time to stop. At least for a while.
I sometimes also have the feeling of social media taking over myself which I even have written about before. I know very well that I, for example, would read way more, would be way more productive if social media didn´t exist. I am not an unproductive person, but still, it could be better. That´s why I want to take a break. To break my habits, to get away from Facebook and Instagram which are the main ones I use.
The real life is happening outside, so why bother about what other people are uploading or doing at a certain moment? I hope that this way of not using social media for a while will break my habits and I will use it in a better, healthier way afterwards. I have not decided how long my break will go on – I will do so however long I feel like it. There´s always time to go back. Social media won´t run away. But my time to live will. Any minute you spend on social media you could have done something more productive. For me, it´s my biggest unnecessary time consumer.
Taking a huge break from a lot of things from time to time something I value a lot. Taking these kind of breaks means valuing what you don´t have in a certain moment even more. Being away from friends and family makes you miss them more and value the connection you have. Maybe it even deepens your connection.
I am a very sociable person, I love to hang out with other people, travel, meet new friends and make new connections. However, sometimes, I also need time for myself. And when you feel like you need to be alone, all by yourself, you should listen to that voice. There´s a time to make new connections and there´s a time for you and only you as well. If you constantly meet new people, socialize and never leave a little moment for yourself to be alone and process everything you just experienced, you might feel overwhelmed after a while. At least when you´re travelling as this means constantly meeting new people, making new connections and interacting.
Most of the time I do get a lot of energy from social interaction, but during travelling and without any break it eventually gets too much. That´s what always happened after having travelled for a while. Then, I need to take some days off, being just by myself At best in nature surrounded by green. These are the best moments when I can truly calm down and focus on myself.
I´m sure I will be coming back with great memories, great new knowledge and way richer than I am now. Richer in experience, in knowledge, in wisdom. It will be a long journey. And I already know that a journey that long never leaves you untouched. Never leaves you the same person you used to be. That´s the beauty about travelling. It teaches you so much you would not learn in any school of this world. It´s just about you processing your own raw experiences. You alone decide what you make out of them. You decide how much you will benefit from them in the future.
Coming back will be interesting. I love coming back and to see how much I have changed. While you travel you feel like the world is changing rapidly. You change places quickly, you are confronted with new impressions every day. Like that, it is easy to forget that everything at home stays more or less the same. Nothing is changing that much or drastically. And when you come back, that´s the stark contrast you need to see your change.
Change. Something we all have to face again and again from time to time in our life. As Buddhism teaches, the only thing constant in life is change. The only thing that we can always be certain of is change. Nothing will always stay the same. No matter how much we might want things to remain as they are, no matter how much we might fight against an upcoming change – slowly but surely it is going to happen. People are moving, the earth is rotating. Constantly. Without any attempt to stop. In this rapidly changing universe we simply cannot remain still. We constantly have to learn, to adapt, to evolve, to grow.
In this post, I am mainly to referring to change in your way of thinking and in your relationships with other people. I am by no means talking about dramatic losses or anything similar as I have not experienced this before and therefor will not pretend to be an expert in this subject.
Being afraid of change
I see so many people being afraid of change, desperately holding onto the past, turning a blind eye to everything slightly changing around them. This might be a good, self-protecting strategy for a while, but certainly not forever. Often, these people are surprised and cannot believe where this change came from when something eventually does happen. Then, when everything falls apart, shattered into pieces, they can only ask themselves “How did I let this happen?” This change can be anything from the relationship with your partner, friends or children. Economical and financial changes. But especially the ones that involve other people who are dear to you, whom you love and care for from the bottom of your heart can be challenging. Ignoring that something is happening won´t be the solution in these cases. If, for example, the relationship with a person you love very much is changing, if you feel there is something going on underneath, this should be a warning sign. A warning sign you need to be able to detect and listen to.
Naturally, we are equipped with the capacity to feel, to sense, to know when something new is coming our way. Some people who are more connected to nature and to their senses might be better at this, some might have almost lost their ability to deeply look into their souls. That´s why it´s so important to get in touch with this feeling, to deepen this sixth sense of knowing when things are about to get messy. This can be achieved with a little bit of practice, with a lot of yoga and meditation which connects you to yourself and the universe surrounding you once again.
You are changing
You are constantly changing. I see it if I look at myself. We are constantly learning, evolving and growing. Some faster, some slower, but over the years no one truly remains the exact same person. We are confronted with new experiences every day which we can learn from. Evidently, not every day can be inspiring, great and awesome, but we also learn a great amount about ourselves facing dark times, days when we feels stuck and nothing seems to move.
I want to share now how I deal with change and how I learned to welcome every opportunity life is about to give me. I feel like I have changed a lot in only the last year. Living abroad for quite a while has had a big influence on me. Even more than I thought. When I came home to visit my home town for a week I can see how much I really have changed comparing myself to others. Being brought back in the city I grew up in, my well-known surroundings, streets I´ve been walking through all my life. They feel different and yet they feel the same. I feel different and still strangely the same as well. Still, a lot has changed in my mind.
Especially considering material belongings. I feel that especially our western society has more than enough of nice, expensive things, but still we keep buying and wanting and needing. When I went to university again I saw a lot of young people dressed up, keeping their laptops in their 500€ bags. Expensive coats, boots and more. And not only on a few people. Nearly everyone is wearing the latest fashion. While I am waiting with my tiny, multicolored backpack I bought in the desert for maybe 20€. Which I love so much that I carry it around everywhere I go. Only a year ago I did not notice how much materialism has taken over our society. I was completely unaware of it. It seemed to normal.
I am definitely less materialistic now. Not having a lot, not possessing a lot of nice things could not feel more liberating. Back in my old room with all my things and belongings I now feel so overwhelmed and don´t understand my younger self anymore. Why did buy all these things I don´t even need?
This is a very good example of to what change can lead. Change has no limit you can change your way of thinking back and forth, again and again. While living abroad your mentality changes and as I am for sure not done with travelling, it will continue to change. Maybe not in a dramatical way, maybe not noticeable for everyone right away. But still. Slowly but surely. And it´s time to welcome this constant change.
How to welcome change
I love seeing change in my life. Even if I might not have considered it good in the beginning, every change I experienced turned out to having been the right thing at this point of time. Every change is a new opportunity, every change provides you with new possibilities. I just love looking back and seeing how things always have turned for the better.
The key is not to be afraid of change. Yes, maybe it will lead your life in a different direction – but is that a bad thing? Couldn´t this change lead you to experience a new possibility you have never dreamed of? Whenever I am a bit skeptical, whenever I am afraid of something new, I remind myself: There´s nothing bad about change. It´s just going to be different. Different is not an equivalent to bad. Bad is only your interpretation. If you see the change as bad, well, then it is bad. But if you welcome it with open arms, if you warmly embrace it, it cannot harm you. Even if you are facing a difficult situation, even if this change is related to people you love. It can always have something positive in the end. If only it is how to cope with a difficult situation. This is already something you can learn a lot from.
I´ve decided to welcome every opportunity of change in my life and see it as a chance. As something that will help me to grow and as something that I will benefit from in the future. Because sometimes, you only see the benefits afterwards. This might be a boring job you would like to quit or an uninteresting subject you have to study – afterwards, things sometimes fall into place so easily. Then you look back and see how much you actually learned from something simple and humble.
I´ve engaged in a variety of different jobs in the last years, from waiting tables to working in a call center – all jobs mainly to earn some money while studying. Nothing for forever, nothing I would be able to do all my life. Just meeting ends meet. While engaging in these jobs I was not a big fan of them. In my head I was already thinking about the next position I could apply to which would not be as horrible as I felt my current one. During this time I was desperately begging for change, not wanting to wait tables or take calls any longer. However, when I look back and see how much I learned from these jobs I am grateful I worked there for a while. No matter how much I disliked them, in the end it was a great opportunity to learn. If I can learn from something I find annoying and terrible in the moment, I am sure I can learn from every single difficult situation I am confronted with. Seeing things as a new chance, seeing your life as a learning process has helped me greatly. I will never again take a humble, simple experience not valuable. It´s these simple experiences and changes that you will look back on and say “I am grateful for this experience. It might not have been pretty, but I survived it. Now I can move on.”
Moving on is important. If you feel you are stuck in a certain situation, you cannot move forwards nor backwards, it might be time to move on. You can be stuck pretty much anywhere – in a job, in school, in a relationship with someone you love, with friends. The most important thing here is to remember that you alone have the power to change it all. You just have to want it. You have to welcome the change you are about to experience. You have to see it as a new opportunity, a fresh start, a new beginning. Starting over. Which can be scary at first. But if you start seeing every new chance as a fresh start, you will soon see that things are not that scary anymore. If you learn to embrace change, you will never be devastated if things are not going like you would want them to be. You take the scariness out of it. It´s just the natural process of everything on this earth. We should rather welcome and celebrate it then hide and pretend it is not going to happen if we turn a blind eye.
Sevilla. My last Spanish city I should travel to this year. A place that fascinated me and I will always keep in mind – also because of couch surfing which has never failed to provide me with the most amazing travel experiences.
To Sevilla with BlaBlaCar
As I had been in Madrid before, I travelled from Madrid to Sevilla in the early morning by BlablaCar which is a great way of travelling cheaply. I just discovered BlablaCar recently as buses to the city were to expensive and the BlablaCar option popped up on my laptop. So I decided to try it out. BlablaCar is a car sharing website and I just love their concept. People who are going to a certain destination anyways share their car with strangers so that they are not driving alone unnecessarily. Way better for the environment than if everybody would take their own car. What I also like about BlablaCar is that it is not only a car sharing service, but also a very sociable concept. It´s made to talk, to interact and to exchange experiences and all my rides had been really nice so far.
Arriving in the city
My BlablaCar arrived in Sevilla in the early afternoon. It dropped in me at the bus station and then I still had to find the place of my couch surfing host. Luckily, his place was right in the center and not hard to find. I arrived with the sun shining down on me brightly, the whole city seemed to be out on the streets enjoying the sun. I liked Sevilla instantly. The unique, arab influenced architecture struck my eyes from the very first moment. The city is beautiful and not too big so that you can walk anywhere by foot. Situated at river you can also take a walk right next to the water. Which is also where I walked towards my couch surfing place.
At my hosts place I was warmly welcomed by him, another Argentinian girl he was hosting as well and another Italian girl, a friend of his. He was living right in the city center with an old man who soon joined us for dinner. While eating together, the old man told me how he loved and adored Vienna, my hometown and how he visited it many many years ago. He was nice, but his Spanish was nearly impossible to understand. With the others I had no problem at all, but understanding old people in another language can be challenging. Especially if you never really talked to an old person before. So I was mainly just sitting there, nodding politely and saying “si” once in a while. Luckily I wasn´t the only one who seemed to have troubles understanding him as the others confessed later.
My host was quite busy during my stay as he had some tutor classes. The other couch surfing girl, however, didn´t have any plans for the evening so we went to see the sunset at the Metropol Parasol together. Which are six huge mushrooms at Plaza de la Encarnacion. The viewpoint was situated on top of them. We had to take a lift upstairs and after we stepped out of it we could witness the most amazing view the sky was crazily pinkish and orange on this day. It was such a perfect mix of colors we could just stand there with our mouths wide open admiring the beauty of the setting sun. We wandered around on top of the mushrooms for a bit until the sun fully set and it was getting dark.
Food fare of Sevilla
Afterwards, we went through the city a bit, talking and getting to know the city at night. It was already late and we were quite hungry so we decided to go to a food fare close to the main square and our couch surfing place. Soon we were standing in front of a lot of white tents lining up next to each other offering food of a lot of different countries. From Australia to China to Peru and more. I couldn´t decide between a Peruvian veggie burger and açai from Brazil. In the end, I opted for the second one. Then my host and the Italian girl also joined us and we all hung around, eating and talking, our topics ranging from exchanging couch surfing and as well as relationship advice. Once again strangers whom I only had met hours ago had already become friends.
Morning yoga class
The next day, we decided to wake up early as the Argentinian girl had to leave the city in the early afternoon and I had promised her and the Italian girl to practice yoga with them. As I had told them a lot about yoga and how much I love this practice before, they were interested to try it out, so we decided to meet up in the morning and have a yoga class at home. My host unfortunately couldn´t join as he had to go to university in the morning – so it was just us girls. I am not a yoga teacher yet, but as I have been practicing quite a while already I felt confident to give a mini yoga class. It was their first yoga experience and it made me really happy to see the enjoyed it afterwards.
Discovering the city
After yoga we went on to have breakfast in a café with our host who could take a small break in between his classes. It was a typical Spanish breakfast. Coffee, toast with tomato and cheese (and just tomato for me) and orange juice. My very first Spanish breakfast outside of home I have to admit.
It was a rainy day, but still, we went on the discover the city in the rain afterwards. My host went back to university again and we girls proceeded our way through the city. The Italian girl, who was living in Sevilla for a while already was our tour guide, telling us a bit more about the city and leading us to the most important sights.
Cathedral of Sevilla
First, we went to see the Cathedral of Sevilla which is a UNESCO world heritage site – and it´s easy to see why. It´s an impressive building and was the biggest cathedral in the world for a long time. Today, it is still the largest gothic church and the third largest church in the world. We didn´t go inside as we didn´t want to pay for it, but could see a lot from the outside already. We wandered around the church for a bit, then went on to another viewpoint the Italian girl suggested. The viewpoint was situated on the last floor of a gallery. We just walked in, asked if it´s allowed to go up and up we went. From there, we could even see the church a bit better from distance while overlooking a nice little green garden in the middle of the plaza.
River of Sevilla
After enjoying the nice view, we had a quick look on one of their markets. I always love seeing such an abundance of fruits and vegetable and there was certainly no shortage of it. Then we went on to cross the bridge over the river of Sevilla. We went on to a vegan shop I discovered and wanted to check out. It was time for my traditional vegan couch surfing pizza again which I usually bake for all my hosts and I still needed some cheese. So we went there, I got some cheese and cake for myself and then we proceeded to the Ladies Garden of Sevilla.
Sevilla and Game of Thrones
Afterwards, I was told that a part of Game of Thrones was filmed in Sevilla – which was one of my personal highlights. A part of it was filmed in a hotel and a part in the Ladies garden. As Sevilla has a lot of Arabic influenced architecture, this city was the perfect spot to shoot the magical, far away land of Dorne. The Ladies garden was truly amazing – and would have been even nicer without the pouring rain. We were walking around with our umbrellas, fighting rain and wind. As it was getting a bit worse we decided to go home to not end up completely wet.
Couch surfing moments
As our Argentinian friend was about to leave we just hung around in the house for a little bit talking about anything and everything, figuring out how we all had been working in a restaurant/catering service at one point of our lives. Sharing our experiences we figures out how much we learned about life from these simple, humble jobs. This is also an experience you mainly have on couch surfing. Complete strangers become best friends in a day or even less. We were sitting in the living room and talking like we would have known each other for months. When all of that just happened in a day.
In the afternoon, our Argentinian friend already left. Me and the Italian girl started to prepare the pizza when our host came home as well. After eating together it was still raining and my host had to go to university again. He was lucky to not having a long way going back and forth all the time.
The Italian girl wanted to show me the city, but got a bit sleepy and eventually decided to stay home. So I went on to discover the Plaza España by myself – which I had heard a lot about and was really excited to see. I went there in the rain, but the Plaza is astonishingly beautiful. Built in the same Arabic style as the other parts of the city, but bigger, breath taking. Beautiful and big, made out of reddish stones. I spent almost an hour there just wandering around in the building and taking pictures. As the building is really big, you can easily spend one or even two hours there just walking around. I had seen everything after an hour and decided to take a last walk along the river.
Along the riverside
So I started following the river into the city, just walking and taking in some impressions of the city. I love doing that. By just wandering around you normally cross the most important sights and you experience the city your own way, in your own pace. After walking around for a bit, I already had to go back as my host was planning to leave the city soon and I still had to get my luggage. So, I went back and it was already time to say goodbye to another wonderful host and a great city guide. People who made my travels even more enjoyable and which I am very grateful I got to meet. But it was time to go now. To go to the airport to fly back to Barcelona. Another great adventure had come to an end. Another great couch surfing experience.
Materialism. It´s all around us. It a product of the society we are living in, of what we consider a normal life. It´s what keeps this society going, growing, producing. By buying, wanting and demanding. We drive, the steering wheel firmly in our hands, directly to consuming and demanding, leading to producing more and more. Trapped in this faster and faster spinning circle it´s easy to forget to pose a very important question: Will this constant consumption make us happy in the end?
Our consumerist world is growing. Fast. Production is booming, every day we are confronted with new inventions, every day new products are placed on the marked, screaming and demanding to be bought. Thousands of dollars are spent on advertising to convince us to buy products we don´t really need or even want. Just to keep the game going like a well-oiled machine. And we fall for it. We want the things we see on TV, on billboards or in the newspaper. If it is advertised properly we want to have it and we cannot get enough. All of this wanting and consuming already starts with a very young age. So, I will now share my own story with you and how I feel about it now.
High school times
When I was still in high school, I was very concerned about what others thought of me. Like every teenager I was mostly concerned about my other appearance and popularity. Well, the second one was almost non-existent. I was just a tall skinny shy girl wanting to fit in. I wanted to be cool, wear more expensive clothes, have a newer and cooler phone. Things with which I could show off. Materialistic things.
My best example to this day is my old phone. I was 16 at the time and still owner of one of the very few, ancient last Nokias. I was ashamed of not being the proud owner of a new smart phone, of not even having internet on my phone. Particularly because I was surrounded by friends who already had a smartphone. This phone alone made me self-conscious. When I look back I should have owned it. After all, it was just a phone. But that´s not how you think as a teenager. It´s just a phone but it becomes more. It becomes a status symbol, a symbol of coolness. Which I didn´t have. Which made me different.
When I look back to these days, I can only smile at myself. Little did I know that only a few years later nothing of these things would have mattered anymore. It took me living abroad and learning more about myself to change this way of thinking.
What meditation thought me
I believe a lot of people don´t fully know themselves. I for sure don´t. But it´s getting there. I learned how to listen and pay closer attention to myself practicing meditation and yoga. Listening to yourself is crucial as you yourself know best what´s good for you. But, by the age of an adult, most of us have long forgotten how to listen. Instead, we cover ourselves in work and studies. Constantly distracting ourselves but not taking the time necessary to think what we really want and what´s important to us. Sitting down, closing your eyes you will soon see that not the latest phone or the newest bag is of any significant importance. What truly will matter in the end are our connections, our relationships with our loved ones.
What travelling thought me
My point of view on materialistic things also took a great shift when I discovered my passion for travelling. If you like to travel you need to think carefully how you want to spend your money if you intend to travel more on a regular basis. Travelling is now more important to me than any designer clothes or brands could ever be. It´s also more beneficial than giving into the desire of nice things. So, quitting to buy a lot of clothes was quite easy for me. If you think about on what else you could spend your money on, endless possibilities open up. For me, it was the possibility to see the world, to travel to countless new places. That´s something that will truly make me happy – and will produce memories lasting way longer than the short happiness you get from buying a nice pair of shoes.
I feel so good since I decided I prefer to buy comfortable, second hand clothes than expensive ones. Not constantly chasing the latest trend feels truly liberating. Travelling and living abroad helped me a lot to understand that materialistic things will not make you happy in the long run. Once I moved I couldn´t take a lot of my stuff with me, so I had to leave a lot of my things at home. The things I carry with me now I am no longer attached to. I realized that when I thought about a single item I would be devastated to lose – I couldn´t think about anything. Except of my laptop, because all my texts and ideas are on it – but that´s a different story.
The concept of mine
This concept of “my things”, “my car”, “my phone” is something that didn´t always exist. In earlier cultures. This separation in mine and yours didn´t exist. The earth, the ground was there for everyone. People shared it peacefully. They believed there was enough space for everyone. And they are right. How come we forgot how to share and started to cling onto things, making them ours and being unwilling to share them? Wouldn´t it be better to go back to this old concept of sharing and living together peacefully?
Letting go of attachment
When I started to work abroad and had to get by with not a lot of money my attachment to my things got less and less. I was more concerned to buy delicious food to eat than I wanted to buy the newest clothes. Food is a really important choice after all. You are what you eat and nothing could be more true. That´s why I personally follow a plant-based diet, mostly also trying to avoid sugar. Good food that nourishes not only your body but your soul is one of the most important things you could invest in. Your body will thank you years later for your investment. One day, your health might be the most important thing to you.
The story of the old lady
When you grow older, attachment also becomes less and less. I recently read a very good book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, in which he told the story of an old lady. She was old and laying in the hospital. Everybody knew she was about to die soon. She just had a few more weeks left to live. One day, her diamond ring she always had by her side disappeared. The lady got angry, accused her nurse of stealing it and could not get over this loss. Then, when her psychiatrist asked her why she was holding onto this ring so much she started to explain “You see, my mother gave it to me. It´s of sentimental value.” The psychiatrist wasn´t satisfied with her answer, asked her to think about why she really clung onto this ring so much and left.
She was upset a lot of days. Every day her psychiatrist came by and asked her another time why she was so upset about her loss. One day, when he entered the room she looked differently, more peacefully. A smile emerged on her face when she told him she finally figured out that her ring didn´t matter anymore. She was about to die, she might as well let go of it. It was almost like a huge, heavy weight was taken off her shoulders. She felt so free and liberated. She felt free. Then she started to give away even more of her possessions and with everything she gave away she felt a bit lighter, happier, more at peace. This lady finally figured out that materialistic things don´t make you happy in the end. And we can all learn from her story.
You don´t necessarily have to figure it out that late. Giving away everything you have has transformed the lives of many people. Giving away your things to live a simple life or to go around to travel. This doesn´t mean that everyone should abandon all their things. Do what you feel good about. But always remember to not let things posses you. Otherwise you might hold onto grief and grudge like the old lady in the story once your precious possession disappears, breaks or gets stolen. Without this weight on your shoulders you will soon feel more liberated, freer, happier. Without the weight of materialism. Without the constant urge to consume. And without spending a lot of money on things you neither need nor want.
On my travels through Spain I went on recently, I of course, also needed to visit the capital. I´ve heard so much about the city before – a lot of my friends didn´t like the city at all, told me it was boring and not much to see. So, I went there with not many expectations and was surprised and surprised again. Madrid was a wonderful experience and not only because of the city. It was because of my way of travelling, especially the way of accommodation I chose. Couch surfing. I´ve mentioned how much I like couch surfing before, but for those of you who aren´t familiar with the concept I will present it really quickly.
Couch surfing is a website that enables you to stay in a city with local – completely for free. Sounds too good to be true? It´s even better! This way of travelling focuses on the cultural exchange, about learning from each other. The beauty is that it´s not about money at all. It´s about getting to know someone from a different background, experiencing another culture while sharing yours.
I always loved this way of travelling as you can get to know another person very closely in a very short time. While having a good time walking around the city or later at home if they are busy during the day. It´s for free, and it leaves you back even richer than you where before. That´s why I always use this means of travels whenever I can. Especially if I´m travelling alone it´s a great experience, because you can share even more and focus on the other person than if you would travel with a friend.
Arrival in Madrid
So, using couch surfing as my means of accommodation this time as well is how I ended up with two incredibly nice guys in Madrid, one from Peru, one from Ecuador. They welcomed me with open arms, I felt comfortable with the two of them right away. As it was quite late already one even picked me up from the train station to let me drop my luggage and then they took me out with them to a Bachata Erasmus event right away. A lovely welcome. As I love dancing I really enjoyed this first experience in the city. The event was really nice, a very international vibe and good music. First impression – I already really liked Madrid even though I hadn´t seen much from the city so far. Well, I´d seen the city centre we were walking through the city centre at night, which gave me a brief impression of the city as well.
Experiencing the city
The next day I could finally see Madrid during the day. On a warm, sunny day I went on to discover the city by myself as my host was busy during the day. I went on to see Plaza Espana of Madrid with a nice garden behind it. Then I went on just walking around the city like I usually do, absorbing everything around me, taking in everything I can see, smell and hear. Experiencing all the new sounds and smells around me. As the city is big, there was definitely a lot to see and to process.
I went on to walk around the city for a while, just looking at the “normal” part of the city. This part of a city is always so interesting to me. I love to see how people live their everyday lives in a foreign city, where they live, what their buildings look like and how many green areas and parcs I can spot. After walking around for a little bit, I decided to walk towards a church which was conveniently near a vegan restaurant I wanted to check out as well. Vegan cuisine in different cities is always another attraction for me. I could probably also just go on a food tour as I simply love healthy and delicious food.
After taking a look into the menu of the restaurant I decided to save this place for later and went on to see the Palacio Real of Madrid which is the official residence of the royal family in Spain. It is a huge, impressive building. If I would have had more time I would have entered to see the inside, but as gigantic queue was already lining up there, I decided to just walk into the cathedral next to it and let the palace left to discover for another time. The cathedral was comparatively small, and there was a mess going on inside. So, I listened to a Spanish mess for a bit, out of curiosity.
Plaza Mayor and Puesta del Sol
Then I went on again into the city centre to see the Plaza Mayor, the main square in the city centre which was being renovated at the time and therefor didn´t even look that pretty. After taking a look at the Plaza (or at what I could see from it) it was already getting darker. My host had promised we would meet up at the Templo de Debod, which is an old Egyptian temple, to see the sunset. At the same time, I had a great over the whole city. That´s another great thing about couch surfing – you are staying with people who live in the city, so they know which places you should definitely go to! Who knows if I had even visited this place otherwise.
The place didn´t disappoint me, I arrived a bit late, but I could still see the last glances of sunrays on the horizon while the sky was turning from orange to pink to dark blue and almost back. The darker it got the more the city was lightning up and I couldn´t get enough of taking pictures and appreciating the beauty of Madrid at night.
Dancing in Madrid
Then, my host already arrived, we took some more pictures and we went out to eat in the vegan restaurant I already knew for earlier this day. I got a burger and fries and was happy like a little kid about my delicious choices – and finally being able to sit after being on my feet the whole day.
Afterwards, we went on to a bar to dance bachata again. As my host was a dancing teacher, he could teach me how to dance a little bit better again. That´s the beauty of couch surfing! You can learn so much from another person while sharing what you do best. I, for my part, finally discovered my love of dancing again – it´s easy to lose it if you don´t practise. This bar was very nice, soon full with people dancing. That´s the kind of nightlife I enjoyed! On our way back however, I was I bit unlucky. As we needed money for the bus I wanted to get some cash at an ATM nearby. This ATM, however, decided to swallow my card and hold it hostage. First, I panicked a bit as this was literally my only money. But soon I calmed down. It was already very late and I would not be able to change the situation now.
Last day in the city
So, I waited until the next morning. Then I went to the bank right away to look for the card. Luckily, it still was there, my fear of it being stolen was soon overcome. I was relieved, I don´t know what I would have done without any kind of money. Then, I met my host in the city and he went on to show me the Gran Via of Madrid – the biggest shopping street I was already on as my card got swallowed there.
Then we went to see the Puerta de Alcala right at the Plaza de Independencia – the place of independence like the name already suggests. This arc is situated right at the entrance of the Retiro parc – a big green oasis in the centre of Madrid.
I instantly loved it. The first thing I saw when I entered was a little river you could even rent a boat on to paddle around. The parc was wonderful green, I was surrounded by so many trees and ponds and instantly felt happy. We went through the parc a little bit, to discover another pond and the Crystal Palace of Madrid which was built in the 19th century by a Venezuelan architect.
Afterwards it was already about time to go home and buy some ingredients for the vegan pizza to cook for the guys. Which is a little tradition of mine – cooking for my hosts as a gesture of appreciation that they let me into their home and spent so much time with me. As they didn´t have an oven we improvised and made a delicious pizza in a pan. It was already my last day in Madrid! I couldn´t believe time had passed that quickly. In the evening practised to dance a bit more and watched puss in boots in Spanish in the evening. A very nice stay was slowly coming to an end.
Why I love couch surfing
I didn´t stay in the city for a very long time, but I still feel like I experienced the general vibe of the city. I saw the most famous sights and spend a wonderful time with nice hosts. An experience you simply just have using couch surfing. Another reason I also really liked this city was that I felt like people would be more tempted to speak Spanish with me even though I don´t speak it perfectly. With my hosts as well as with people in the streets.
Especially my hosts made me feel comfortable enough to talk in Spanish. I still made a lot of mistakes, invented some new words and so on but we had great fun with me mixing up words. In the end, it´s always possible to communicate, even though if you are not sure if you have mastered a language just yet. This experience of communicating in the local language is also something you find staying in a couch surfing place rather than in a hostel where most people talk English, or an Airbnb or a hotel.
What makes this experience possible is that you don´t pay for you. That changes a lot if you don´t just see it as a free accommodation. You go there with different expectations, anticipations and hopes. You start thinking about what you could offer to the people hosting you to compensate their generosity. I´m always surprised of how much people actually offer you. Not only a home, but also their company, share their skills with you and you share yours.
It´s a beautiful concept and every single experience on couch surfing has enriched my life, my experience, has taught me something new. I always enjoyed it a lot and I will continue to write about it as I feel like it truly is the best way to travel. Just try it out for yourself! Especially if you are travelling alone you will be amazed by the people you´ll get to know.
Where is your home? Where do you feel most at ease, laid back and comfortable? Is it the place where you grew up? Comfortable and cozy in your familiar surroundings? Or is it somewhere far, far away from the environment that felt so close before? Could it be anywhere? Could it be nowhere?
Where do I feel at home?
This question has been with me for a long time now. As I have not been “home” for quite a while, it necessarily had to pop up eventually. Because right now, I have no idea which place I want to call home. Vienna, Austria, is definitely the place I grew up in, the place most of my friends and family live in. It is a city I know well, a city I love. But does that make it my home? Not necessarily. Especially if you are not sure if you will stay.
I´ve spent the whole year of 2018 abroad so far, and I will continue to do so. First, I studied abroad in Bordeaux, France. Then I moved to Barcelona to live with my boyfriend and work in the meantime. Did I feel at home in these two cities? Strangely, yes and no. I would say yes to Bordeaux, I would say no to Barcelona. Which might surprise a lot of people. After all, Barcelona is a city almost everybody loves. It´s the city right at the beach in beautiful Spain everybody loves to visit. I, however, will be quite happy to leave the city. I never got to feel really at home here. But why? Well, let me share my story of feeling at home with you. Let’s skip back to the early beginnings of 2018.
Living in Bordeaux
Moving to this city in early 2018 was amazing. I enjoyed my exchange semester there a lot and I met some truly wonderful people I will remember for the rest of my life. It´s not too big, not too stressful, with enough green spots and parcs to take a walk and enjoy your free time. It´s a city of students, full of international, but also French students who come there from all over France.
The city is international, but it still remains a French city. If you want to talk to the locals and to make local friends, you better speak French. Otherwise, it will be a bit difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. But that was exactly what I loved about the city. People would actually speak French to me even if my French wasn´t that good at the time. They would only rarely switch to English. I just loved this experience. I like being “forced” to talk a language as you will learn most from just trying and eventually succeeding talking it. That was my reason to come to Bordeaux. To learn the language and to experience the French culture.
I learned and I grew a lot during this time. Not during my first weeks, however. Back then I was completely torn into my first Erasmus experience. As every Erasmus student I was ready to go out and party. That´s basically how my first weeks went. After that, a general switch took place. I started to participate in a dancing class learning Bachata and Kizomba which I loved instantly. Slowly but surely, I stopped going out as I didn´t see a sense in doing so anymore. I preferred going out to dance with my friends from dancing class. Going out just to merely drink was just becoming strange to me. I went to some language exchanges where I met a lot of wonderful, inspiring, young people with a vision. People I could have great conversations with and I will never forget.
Coming back to the city for a bit, Bordeaux is also a bit more environmentally friendly than Barcelona. Now that I have the comparison, I would say people are more aware of the environment and of their influence and responsibility to keep our planet clean. In Spain, this consciousness is sadly not very widespread.
Now let’s take a look at this city. I have been wondering for a long time why I don´t feel at home in this place a lot of people adore and dream about. Granted, I experienced the city a bit different than I experienced Bordeaux. I moved there to live with my boyfriend and to work, not to study. Naturally, working life is not as fun as studying. But living with my boyfriend is. So, I was not even alone in the city. What happened then? Well, sometimes, things are complicated. But until this day, I do not feel very welcome in the city.
The first job I found was as a pub crawl leader. Which was cool at the time, but after a while I realized that this job wasn´t made for me. Before, I had been slowly moving away from the going out and drinking life. At the end I rarely even drank in Bordeaux. Now I was thrown back into a scene I actually wanted to escape from. And I had to have fun. It was my job, after all. Doesn´t sound bad, if you´re a party person. But as I wanted to do something different I felt like not being true to myself. Betraying myself, trying to convince me that this was fun and what I wanted to do. When it was most definitely not.
I am on open person, I love talking to people and getting to know them better. Something I had to do gathering people for the pub crawl. This part was fun. It was a part I really enjoyed. In one week I met a lot of people, lots of new connections. But what I didn´t like was the partying and drinking all night long. After I was into the job almost a month, I wanted to stop drinking, I was so fed up with partying and going out. This life might be enjoyable for some, but it was not for me. Every night is simply too much. I felt like going on in this manner I would just waste time, while having meaningless conversations with drunk strangers who will not even remember my name the next day. While killing my senses with alcohol. Thanks, but no thanks. It was time to look for something else.
I applied for a job in a call center and was promptly taken. Working for the German market, answering call after call every day. Not a particularly fun job either, but easy to find, easy to get. Right now, I am genuinely thankful that I applied to this job. I met so many great people, people interested in yoga, people who inspired me and brought me to where I am now. I would not have wanted to miss these connections. This was one of the good sides of the city. I also grew way deeper into my yoga practice.
Then I began to understand more and more why I could not catch feelings for this city. Barcelona is a party city. Of course, there are living a lot of people, so surely not everyone likes to party. But it´s the general mood, the general vibe of the city. Most people I encounter are here for the good life, the easy life, the party life. A life I am really interested in. People are nice, easy going, international, mixed. People are cool. I just don´t enjoy the same kind of activities most of them enjoy as well.
As I said, a very international, touristic city. Which is a good and a bad thing. If you want to meet someone who´s speaking your language – no problem. If you want to meet a real Spanish person from Barcelona, it will be difficult. I´ve been living here for six months now and can say I have one Spanish friend from Barcelona. Just one. Not more. Everyone else is from another country.
So, if you´re here trying to learn Spanish, be prepared for people answering you in English. And the real locals even speak Catalan which is a whole other story. I wanted to learn Spanish, but my everyday life I´m mastering in English. At home I talk to my Brazilian boyfriend in English. At work I was talking German or English. No Spanish whatsoever. This bothered me, as I wanted to learn but at the same time people kept responding to me in English. After a while, I kind of gave up on it. I thought I might as well learn it somewhere else. It was only recently that I discovered my love for the language again. It took me travelling to Madrid where I talked in Spanish for three days to discover that I actually do love the language. I just forgot it. Now it´s finally coming back.
Another aspect why Barcelona isn´t that great for me is that I am really missing green areas. Finding a parc in this city will be a challenge and most of the times they are very tiny with just a few trees. There is the famous Parc Güell, which is very touristic and far away, then there is another great parc at Monjuic and parc de la Citudella. That´s it. Three big parcs for a whole city. Which is simply not enough for me. The city is too grey, too busy and too big. The easy going stereotypical Spanish way of life doesn´t really exist here. I rather find Barcelona has already been transformed in a stressful business city where people work too be somehow able to afford their overpriced flats. Maybe this relaxed way of Spanish life can be found in other cities, but not in Barcelona.
Where do I feel at home then?
So, how do you feel at home in a city? When and why? When the thought of not really liking Barcelona first came up I began to wonder why this might be. What could possibly have happened that I didn´t enjoy this city so many people adore and dream living in? As I started talking with others who felt the same we discovered the same disbelief of not liking this supposedly wonderful city. As everybody tells you the city is great, there´s a lot of nightlife you start to wonder what might be wrong with you that you cannot enjoy it. The truth is, nothing is wrong with you. I´ve found that some cities are made for some people, others aren´t. Of course, you can find people who think like you in any kind of city. But for me, the overall vibe, the overall feeling in the city has to fit. Otherwise, this feeling of being at home will simply not occur. Not even if I am with a person I love – which helped a lot to still enjoy my time here even though I know the city is not made for me.
So, what does it take to feel at home at a place? For me, this depends more on a feeling that on anything else. I feel like Barcelona will not be able to grow on me. Bordeaux could. And what about Vienna? After all, I´ve just been away for a year. But in a year, a lot can change. I don´t necessarily consider Vienna my home now either. I´ve been away for too long. So far, it´s just been a year, but a year is still a long time.
Right now, I could not possibly say where I strongly feel at home. I could develop this feeling for a lot of places. For more than one. You don´t necessarily have to settle for one place in this world if there´s so much out to see. For me, there just have to be certain components that are always important. Being in a relaxed, green environment and having people around you whom you are important to. If these two factors are present I am convinced I can feel at home anywhere. If not, I will struggle and wonder what went wrong in this place, why I don’t like this place as much as I should.
This feeling of being at home is very personal, very subjective. My definition could be completely different from yours. Still, it´s important to find your definition. Especially if you´re travelling or if you´re looking a place to settle you need to know what you´re looking for. I am grateful for having experienced two very different cities for a while now. It showed me more clearly what I wanted and what I didn´t want at all. If you´re unsure yourself and have the chance to live in a variety of cities I would strongly recommend you to just go out and try. You will soon see which places will be able to grow on you and which ones you will never want to set foot in again.
Want to read more posts like this? Here you can find more about my thoughts on a quarter life crises
Recently, I spent some time outside of Barcelona again to travel around in Spain for a bit. My destinations were Valencia, Madrid and Sevilla, which are all amazing, beautiful cities. My first stop was Valencia, where I travelled to with my boyfriend. The other cities I visited on my own. But, first things first. First, let´s take a look at Valencia.
Streets of Valencia
We just stayed there for 2 days, but we had the best time ever. We were staying in an Airbnb directly in the center – the perfect location to discover the city. When we arrived in the morning we still had a bit of time to check into the Airbnb. During this time, we started to walk through the city a bit. Valencia welcomed us with sunshine, warmth and a lot of colors. Walking through the narrow streets of the city a lot of paintings and graffiti struck my eyes. I could spot a lot of shops and little boutiques lining up in the city center. A lot of handcrafted items like jewelry and fans where produced in these little boutiques. Unique and not replaceable as all of them are produced in a slightly different way. The small streets were strangely empty, not a lot of people walking around. It was only then when we discovered we came to the city on a Sunday, where not much is going on in any city.
For me, Valencia is such a colorful, lively city. Yet still calm when you walk away from the most touristic areas. It´s a smaller city than Barcelona, but there is enough to see and do for sure. It´s also less international, which is good if you are trying to learn Spanish. My first impression of this city was right away “Wow, I really like this place”. I felt comfortable there instantly.
We went on to discover a bit more of the city, went by the big, but on this day closed market hall and made our way to the Valencia Church. This church is a very impressive building. Built in the 13th century, big and majestic, located on the main square of Valencia. It´s so big it will take you a while to go all around it. We admired the church for a bit, went inside and then went on our way to the Torres de Serranos.
Torres de Serranos
Then we went to see the Torres de Serranos of Valencia which is a huge former defense tower of the city. It was part of an ancient wall surrounding the city. Now, there are only two defense towers left in whole Valencia, the wall and all the other towers have been destroyed.
Parc de Turia
The most beautiful part of the city we got to see a glimpse of on our first day crossing the bridge from the old town to the newer part of the city. The parc de Turia. The parc of Valencia. Shaped like a river reminding of a green snake curling her way through the city. The parc came to his shape due to being a river in earlier times. This river was flowing through the whole city. However, as the city was floated heavily by the river, the government of Valencia decided to transform this river into a parc. Today, this parc is a beautiful green spot in the city to relax, go jogging or just enjoy the sun.
Food in Valencia
We didn´t go inside of the parc this day though, we just saw it from a bridge above. We wanted to save the parc for the next day. When it was already getting late, we decided to look for something to eat – which had to be vegan in my case. Food is another thing I love about discover cities. I´m always fascinated by the vegan options I can find in another city. In Valencia there was definitely no shortage. I opted for one called Vurger and got one of their delicious vegan burgers. Valencia was now officially vegan approved. Then we went home it was already late, the city already lightning up, so we could admire it during the dark as well. The streets emptying slowly, temperature dropping and the cathedral lighting up in dim, warm light. It´s definitely another vibe during the dark, which I always love to see and experience as well.
Free walking tour
The next day, we opted for a free walking tour to get to know the city a bit better. The day before we had already seen the most important sights and walked through the city quickly, but this day we wanted to know a bit more about the history of the city. We went to the main square, the starting point of our tour, and chose one in Spanish – also for me to listen closely and improve my Spanish skills a bit.
Tribual de los Aguas
We started our tour at the Valencia Church where our guide told us about the Tribual de los Aguas – a reunion that is weekly taking place every Thursday in front of the cathedral. Translated it means the water court of the plain of Valencia. This court consists of eight judges who come together weekly to sort out issues about the distribution of water between the farmers in the surrounding areas. This court is a very old tradition of Valencia which was brought to Spain from the Arabs and remained until this day. The court is taking place in the open, the judges are sitting in front of the church, open for everyone to see. Always taking place at the same time and the same spot, always attracting a lot of people. This court was founded when water was a luxury and had to be distributed carefully. That way, the city ensured their water was not being wasted and equally given to everyone. Today, people value this tradition with the same respect they did years ago. It remains a unique ritual of the city as to this day, Valencia is the only city where a court like this still exists.
Then we went on to see the city, basically followed the track we did the day before and saw the Torres de Serranos again. Then we went into a small street and heard about the Valencian Paella. This dish is made out of rice, vegetables and usually sea food (which you can leave out and it still tastes awesome). We learned more about the big Paellas in Valencia, which are being prepared in a huge pan in which you can cook about 5000 meals. A lot of chefs preparing it together, cooking it while standing on a rotating bridge. This event always attracts a lot of people who come together to eat the Paella later as well!
The tour took about two hours, afterwards we quickly went home to grab our bikes which were also included in the Airbnb apartment. Then we went on a little bike tour through the city. Valencia is perfect for bikes, you will see a lot of people biking around and as it is quite small you can go around with them very quickly. We were now mostly interested in the parc of Turia as I wanted to see this beautiful place from closer. Biking through the parc with trees lining up in the middle and the side of our way was truly amazing. A great spot in the middle of a city. As this was a river once, the parc is laying a bit lower than the actual city and we were riding on the river bed. The streets above our heads, cars rushing over us on top, but seemed distant and almost unable to hear.
Museo de Ciencias de Prince Felipe
Once you ride through the whole parc you will eventually reach the Museo de Ciencias de Prince Felipe. The museum of sciences. This building is just breathtaking. Modern, new and white, seeming to float on the water surrounding it. This building is probably one of the first things you can see once you search the city of Valencia on google. It is a very known building which was just built in 2000, futuristic looking and beautiful. I was so amazed seeing it I wish we would have had time to go inside. But as we were just visiting the city shorty, we couldn´t take the time to enter it.
Beach of Valencia
The last spot to see was the beach of Valencia. We rode on hour bike for about 40 minutes to reach it. Along the port with all the boats laying and some metal statues posing in front of the sea. The way to the beach was a very nice ride, the beach itself rather ordinary. A normal beach of a city. Surely nice in summer, but as we weren´t there to swim we soon made our way back into the city center.
Time to leave
Then we went back and already had to pack our things to leave. Me to Madrid, my boyfriend home to Barcelona. It felt a bit strange to separate like this, one going home, one staying on the road for a bit. But I still wanted to see more of Spain and had gotten more days off than he had. So I decided to go to discover more cities of Spain.
Now I finally can compare my solo travel experience to travelling with your partner. Travelling with your partner is comfortable, it deepens your bond, your connection even more as you are sharing all these new moments and impressions with the person you love the most. Travelling alone is a whole other experience as you don´t have anyone you know to rely on. You have to rely on others and on yourself. You surely make more connections than travelling with someone you know.
I would say like both ways of travelling a lot – it is just a different experience. Some people might find even the thought of travelling alone horrific and could not imagine being all by themselves in a city they don´t know. Other would love nothing more than seeing and exploring a new place alone, taking everything in for themselves.
I, as I already said, like both ways. I genuinely like to see and discover new places as it never leaves me back the same. Even though I just travelled shortly I still feel I made some very valuable experiences on my way. I always learn some new things I could benefit from, meet people I can learn from. This is what makes travelling such an enriching, unique experience. More is about to come in next weeks post!