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Couch surfing in Sevilla

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.

Metropol Parasol

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Plaza España

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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.

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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.

 

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How to let go of material possessions

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.

 

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Dancing through Madrid

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

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

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The train station I arrived on – with the mascot of Real Madrid as I later was told

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.

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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.

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Palacio Real

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Retiro parc

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.

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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.

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Vegan pizza

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.

Want to read more about my recent travels? Go here to read about Valencia or about places to escape busy life in Barcelona!

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Not feeling at home anywhere?

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.

Barcelona

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 

 

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Colors of Valencia

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.

 

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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.

Valencia Church

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Paella

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!

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A big Paella of like this is being prepared during these events 

Bike tour

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

If you can´t wait to read more about my travels look into my blog post for budget friendly travel or my travels to the surroundings of Barcelona  

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Are we addicted to our phones?

Phones. Social Media. Is it helping our generation to connect more closely or is it leaving us addicted to scrolling through meaningless feeds, swiping away our creativity like dirt on a bathroom floor? Is the social network really social or is it cutting our will to produce and to use our brain effectively?

Consumed by screens

Nowadays, we spend a lot of our times in front of screens. Television, Netflix, the Computer at work, the laptop at home – and last but not least the phone. We are so used to using our phone that we might not even realize now often we pull it out and scroll through social media in a day.

Lately, I´ve noticed that I was using Instagram and Facebook way more than I consider healthy for myself. Some evenings just went by like this: Nothing special happening on the social network, but yet not boring enough to put down your phone . You´re just laying in bed spending hours and hours, not even realizing how quickly time might pass by. Soon, the night has come without you having done much more than scrolling through news feeds.

In the metro

Just imagine this scenario: You´re in the metro, standing. Everyone around you is looking down on their phones, doing everything to avoid dangerous eye-to-eye-contact with strangers. Once entering the metro they´re quick to pull out their phones, starting to answer to Whatsapp messages, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Most of use surely aready forgot how it was riding the metro without a phone. At least that´s what it seems like. Seeing people glued to their screens my grandma always shakes her head and tells me one of her famous “When I was young, everything was better, people still talked to each other in the metro!” stories. And in this case, I have to say she´s right. Today this is a very distant, almost surreal seeming past.

This doesn´t only happen in the metro, of course. It´s everywhere. But I do like the metro example as you can easily test it out yourself. Next time you´re in the metro do a little experiment. Keep your phone in your pockets and just watch. You will rarely see anyone who´s not starring at his phone. Even the older generations have come to love smartphones now. People from all ages completely glued to their screen, not noticing anything around them. Just take a close look next time and ask yourself if you´re not doing the same.

Normal cell phone addiction?

This action of pulling out our phones all the time might seem so normal to us, but if we closely examine our behavior, it shouldn´t be. We keep our eyes focused on our screens when we feel uncomfortable, when we avoid looking a person in the eyes or just don´t know what to do. It´s an easy distraction. And we know our phones. They are something we are accustomed to, something we feel comfortable with. We´d rather feel comfortable all the time with this little thing in our hands than to engage in a new, unknown situation like talking to a stranger.

Screens follow us every dain our life. I There´s no life more without them anymore. If you´re a student you are most likely doing all or most of your work on a computer. It´s practical, it´s convenient. If you are working in an office, you have your 8 standard hours in front of a screen as well. Counting all these hours we have to be in front of our screens and adding the ones we are just wasting on our phones doing nothing this adds up ton an enormous amount of time. Time we could spend otherwise. Better. Healthier.

“Influencers” and “the good life”

When we come home from university or our jobs, the first thing we do is probably opening Netflix or watching TV. Or just laying in bed, checking what´s new on Facebook or Instagram. Seeing “influencers” living “the good life”. Becoming jealous and feeling trapped at home while seeing others at the beach in Hawaii. Watching others “living the good life” makes us unhappy and leaves us provenly less satisfied with our own lives which seem boring and ordinary compared to others. If you´re always reminded that you are not travelling to the Caribbean right now, that other people have so much more money, cars, houses or whatever it might be – then it´s easy to forget that the most important things in life aren´t things. But moments. Shared, precious moments with people dear and special to you. That´s really what makes our lives happy and more special than anything materialistic ever could.

However, living in a society like ours that sadly mostly values the outside and showing off what you have, this might be easily forgotten as you are constantly reminded of what amazing life the others live. I have to say, I´m way happier when I just forget my phone for a while. It#s the easiest when I´m travelling as there are so many new things to see you don´t even have time to look at your phone in between. So many new experiences, so many new people to meet. That´s the time you completely forget your phone and just live. That´s the time you will always remember – not the one laying in your bed and scrolling through Facebook feeds.

Getting caught up in your phone

I sometimes have the feeling of being too consumed by my phone. This little thing, as amazing and convenient as it might be can also easily become a curse. I am depending on it to stay in contact with my family and friends as I am living abroad. If I don´t want to lose contact with the people I love, I need my phone, of course. Therefor I also really appreciat it. Otherwise, my life would be a lot harder. I can only imagine writing letters to every single friend or to my family every week.

However, sometimes I feel like using my phone as an excuse to do nothing – or to delay tasks I don´t like to do.  It´s like “Ah, no let´s just stay on Instagram a bit longer to avoid starting to work.” “Let´s see if there´s more interesting stuff on Facebook before starting to study. Just 5 minutes”. The problem is that these 5 minutes never stay 5 minutes. 5 minutes become 10, become 20, become an hour and I didn´t even start yet.

Breaking free from your phone

So, when I travelled through a few cities in Spain recently and finally got away from my phone a bit, I felt really good. It felt amazing not even looking at Instagram or Facebook for a few days. Granted, as I am also working on social media this is especially hard for me, but this little break just made me so happy. I didn´t even have the urge to look what´s new I was too busy getting to know other people, other places. This was a very welcome break which kept me focused on the real world and not the one behind a screen. When I travel I mostly just use my phone to find my way on google maps, not more. For that, this little thing is quite practical as well.

Once I came home and had a little moment of quietness, I didn´t feel the urge to rush to my phone and jump onto Instagram. When I did however, I was soon to close it afterwards thinking “Nah, that´s not how I want to spend my time today.” I just needed a little break. It´s easy to get caught up in a routine. I guess most people are used to look at their phones first thing after they wake up. After all, it´s mostly the alarm that wakes you and the alarm is on your phone. Once you see all the new messages your phone has been floated with during the nights, it´s easy to stay on there and not to properly wake up taking time for yourself.

Eliminating phones in the morning

That´s why I recently started to switch my phone to airplane mode during the night. That way, I wake up without seeing any notifications or messages and can start my day more calmly. I usually wake up by my alarm as well, but it feels so good to just turn it off and then going on with my routine. I usually meditate in the morning, a bit after I wake up. Which also helps you to focus more, to stay connected to the real world. To stay connected to yourself, your body, your soul. I have a whole other blog post about meditation here. The act of meditation helps you to realize this behavior of addiction as well. Because in the end, that´s what it is. An addiction. We don´t even realize it, but I´m sure if you´re completely honest with yourself, nearly nobody can say they are not a tiny little bit addicted to their phones. We might not like to hear or admit it, but we are. And we should be alarmed about it. If we use our phones wisely, they serve us well. If we don´t, we become screen absorbed zombies, killing our brain cells with meaningless videos on Facebook.

For me, travelling always helps to break free from my phone, as does meditation. These are the two things that probably are the most useful. Thinking closely about your own behavior. In the end, you are responsible for your actions. And I´ve realized I don´t want to be consumed by my phone that much anymore. So I took some action. It might not be that easy, breakinig a long known habit never is. But you will feel much better afterwards.

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Am I having a Quarter Life Crisis?

I know, this title sounds a bit dramatic. But after thinking closely what I´ve been experiencing the last few months/year I guess that’s what describes it best. For me, a quarter life crisis means you´re lost, to some extend, you don´t know what to do and how to go on especially after finishing school. What now?

We go to school for 12 years, then we study. We do our bachelor’s degrees, then the masters. All this time we might be so caught up in the world of studying that we don´t even ask ourselves. Do I even want that?

In my case, this question came up even before. And I will tell you why.  It all happened during the past year, more or less. A year in which I had time to think and clear my head. But lets start from the very beginning.

A good student

For 12 years, I´d been a very good student. When I left school, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. While most of my friends decided to take a bit of a break from studying, a gap year, in which they travelled or engaged in some kind of social work, I had it all planned out. I was going to study journalism and political science and become a journalist writing about politics. Two years later, this plan has changed, has made a flic-flac about 180 degrees and stands now upside down on its head.

When I left school, I was not the tiniest bit interested in doing a gap year to go abroad and travel. I considered it a waste of time, I was more worried about graduating soon and starting to work. In my mind, I simply couldn´t waste this time and should rather invest it in my education. No time for fun. No time for experiences. Focus on work. How silly it sounds when I speak it out loud. How serious did I think being only 18 years old. I was more focused on making money and being able to afford a flat. I was so convinced that I wouldn´t achieve my goal as quickly and efficiently if I “wasted” my time travelling. On top of that I wanted to be a good student, a good child my parents could be proud of. After all, that was all I was used to be.

A year later

A year later, a lot has changed. I soon regretted that I didn´t take my time to travel and go abroad during a gap year. My opinion about travelling changed due to me getting to know my boyfriend who travels frequently. Once I heard about all the places he´s already been to and got inspired instantly. I felt the strong urge to do the same, to discover the world on my own. He, already, influenced me to rethink my priorities and awakened the urge of discovering, the dream to see the world and to go on adventures. Half a year later I ended up in Chile traveling by myself for the first time. Afterwards, I visited him in his home country, Brazil. The urge to travel and to discover was already awoken. And it would spread much further.

Living abroad

After I came back from my travels I applied for an exchange semester abroad, which I always wanted to do and was accepted.  In early 2018 I moved to Bordeaux. There, alone in a new city, for almost half a year, the biggest switch took place. I began to question if I even liked what I was studying. I went deep into myself and the answer was not satisfying. I knew I always wanted to write, I love writing and I always did. But somehow I was convinced that I could only follow my dream in becoming a journalist. That was my version of finding a profession in which I could do what I love while getting paid for it. Well, not quite.

I realized that becoming a journalist was not the answer at all. After all, you cannot write as creative as you want when you´re just telling the news. To do that you don´t even have to be that good of a writer. You don´t have to come up with stories, you don´t have to be creative. You just have to be able to re-phrase context. As I wanted to be creative, this was not an option anymore. I also didn´t want to pollute the world with more negativity. We all know very well that negative news sell the best and the fastest. Apparently, we like to hear about other peoples suffering. I could go on about that for a while as well, but that´s a different story. A topic for another post. I just knew now, with all clarity, that this was in no way what I wanted. I wanted to be creative, to use my writing to help people rather than to sell more negativity. I wanted to do what I love most and just make up stories and write. Journalism was dead to me soon with zero plans of engaging in this plan ever again. But what now?

Chaos

What now? I was posing that question hundreds of times. I didn´t know what to do, how to even write for a living. By this time, I was studying political science in Bordeaux, which is an interesting subject, but nothing I will further engage in the future either. I surely don´t want to become a politician nor do I want to work in that field. I know I would not be happy in this world.

My life had lost this sense of clear direction, of clear structure I had before. Before, I had a clear vision of where I would end up in five, ten years from now. Now, I didn´t have a clue at all. Everything and anything was possibly. I was overwhelmed by the countless possibilities that opened up, not knowing which direction I would finally end up in. My structure fell apart, left me with chaos in my head and a million questions. What in the world am I even doing?

I thought about travelling, about just quitting it all and travelling the world to see where I would find my answers. After I didn´t find an answer in Bordeaux, I moved to Spain to live with my boyfriend in May. There, I finally started writing again. Soon I realized that this was the activity I needed to do. It is my greatest passion, when I do so I often get caught up in the moment, I just let the words flow from my brain into my hands and type. And I could happily go on for hour without even noticing that time is flying by.

Discovering my passion

I started to practice what I love most. I started taking this blog more serious and started some other writing projects. And I enjoyed it. Following my passion has helped my greatly. It has brought some order into the chaos, has brought some structure back into my life. Even though I still don´t have a clear plan like I did before (and I probably never will) I´m not feeling that lost anymore. For now I can live with it as I finally discovered what I really want to do. In a way, I always knew it. I just forgot it on my journey.

How to discover your passion?

I know, however, that a lot of young people are not like me and sometimes don´t even know what their true passion is. I have been talking to many, many people who feel lost and don’t know what they could possibly do with their life. There are too many options, too many studies and jobs to choose from. How do you know you will end up in one you really like? You don´t. And how can you find out what you really want to do if you have no clue what to do? So many new jobs are emerging, so many new job ideas. In our world, you can basically become anything. You can become self-employed, work in an office, travel and work – the possibilities are endless and often leave us left in the paradox of choice. Too many choices – too much struggle to settle for one possible way.

I believe that this crisis or momentarily sense of not knowing where to go and what to do is normal in our modern world. With all our possibilities you have a huge list of things you could study, you could become. When I entered university, I was confronted with a long list of possible studies – some with very long and strange names which were hiding some unclear, broader meaning. For some, I still don´t know what they really stand for. However, we live in this world now and have to face its challenges. It might not be easy, but finding out what you enjoy most doing is the first step.

I can only stress how important it is there to find something you´re passionate about. Maybe you always knew it and just pushed it back in your mind like I did. Maybe you still need to find it. If you don´t know it, I would spend all my energy and time finding it out. I just can talk for myself here, but finding your true passion feels greatly liberating. It is something you are good at, you enjoy doing and you trust yourself to accomplish even more while engaging in it.

Meditation and other practices

I might write another update on this post when I feel like I have finally figured it out. So far, I can only offer my own experiences and the advice to follow your heart. It might sound cheesy, but listen deep inside you. Deep down, the answer is already there. You just need to be able to hear it. I did so through thinking, questioning, reasoning. Through meditation (learn more about mediation here). Meditating has helped me greatly and this journey too. It is by no means the solution to all your problems. You cannot expect to meditate for a few minutes and getting all the answers to your life`s problems. That´s not how it works. But it is the start of discovering what you really want deep inside. Go into yourself. Breath. Think. Once you engage in your true passion, everything will already be a bit easier. You have something that keeps you going, you have something you enjoy greatly in your life. For me, it felt truly great to go back to a childhood dream.

You can only benefit from being completely and truly honest with yourself. You might not like the answer at first – I didn´t do so either. Everything will seem chaotic and unsure at first. But in the long run, you will be so grateful of having given yourself the time to figure out what you truly want.

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Places to escape busy life of Barcelona

Barcelona.  A city most people love – especially for going on holiday. It´s the perfect place if you want to party, drink just have a good time. If you live there, however, it is a bit different.

Living in Barcelona

For me personally, Barcelona is too big of a city. It has a lot to offer, but it is very busy, touristic and doesn´t really represent the romantic picture most people here have of it. If I am telling someone I live in Barcelona I usually get a reaction like “Wow cool! So you go to the beach and party all the time, right?” That´s what comes into your head first when you think about Barcelona. Parties and beaches. People forget that this is a normal city as well. With normal people living ordinary lives. For them, the city is nothing special. Yes, it has a beach, but if you live there you rarely spend time there. In the five months I´ve been living here, I went to the beach around 4 times. Barcelona is also not the dreamy, fiery Spanish city where everybody parties at the beach the whole time, dancing Flamenco while eating tapas. It is just another big town that has become consumed by tourism, work and big businesses. It has nothing to do with the relaxed Spanish image people have of it anymore.

As you can already see, I don´t like big cities in general. For someone who loves to be in a city, who loves a lot of noise and party around them, this place will be perfect. But it´s just not the place to be for me. I am a child of nature, I need to be out in the green, I need to be surrounded by natural spaces to be happy and to feel at home.

If you are like me and need a break to breathe from a big city like Barcelona from time to time I have to places I would highly recommend going. Not far away from Barcelona, but far enough. Small, cute and typically Spanish. Not that touristic, but still known. I´m talking about Castelldefels and Montgat. Calm and quiet, perfect to take break from busy city life.

Castelldefels

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The flag of Castelldefels

This city is situated in the south of Barcelona. By train, it takes you around one hour and a half to reach it. It´s a beautiful little place. Once you hop out of the train, you will soon see a lot of mansions lining up on top of a hill. It is a rich town, a famous neighborhood a lot of known people already lived in as well. Even Messi settled there for a while and it´s not hard to see why. It is a beautiful little place, calm and quiet. If you´re that famous and seek some time for yourself, that´s the place to go.

I went to Castelldefels with my boyfriend and we had a great time. It was just a short, 2-days trip, but Castelldefels is not that big. You can easily discover the city within a day. We arrived during the night and could admire all the mansions lighting up on the hill while walking up the road to our Airbnb.

Right after our arrival we just went out to eat as it was already late. Our Airbnb was situated a 20-minutes-walk away from the city center, so we already saw a lot of the city walking into the center and back. A lot of nice villas and mansions, a lot of palm trees and fancy gardens. The air so fresh and clear. I felt more at ease instantly. It didn´t even matter that it suddenly started to rain heavily. Castelldefels is beautiful – with or without rain. The rain lasted until the next morning. When we woke up, we had an amazing view out of our hosts window. Green hills in front of us, the mansions in between, brining some color into the soft greenness of the landscape. It was early, humid, the sky covered in clouds. It was grey. But not a sad kind of grey. Just the grey after the rain had passed, ready to let the sun takeover. On a Monday, nobody was on the streets when we walked down to the beach. That´s how quiet it was.

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At the beach, we were also almost alone. Standing in the sand, our backs turning to the beautiful houses and hills behind us, in front of us the sea, lay there calm and quiet. We spent some time at the beach, then we went back to discover the city center. As we were staying at Castelldefels beach, we had to take a bus to reach the city center.

Finally there, we went to the most famous sight there is in Castelldefels – the name says it all already: the castle. Unfortunately, as we went there on a Monday we could not even enter the castle. That´s how small this city is. During the weekdays, they don´t have enough visitors to open up the gates of the castle. So, we had to admire it from outside, which was fine for us as well. To reach the castle which is situated on top of a hill we followed a brown ramp leading the way up. Just a 10-minutes-walk up a hill, then we were there. The castle is not that big, doesn´t take a long time to discover. We took our time, went around and saw everything there was to see. It was beautiful, being almost alone on top of the hill, the castle in front of us, the city laying to our feet. Only a few elderly ladies crossed our ways as well in a small park behind the castle. Apart from them, we didn’t see anybody. When we had admired the castle from all sides, we went downhill again into the city.

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The city of Castelldefels isn´t big either, the main square just consist of a church surrounded by a few shops. We quickly went through the shops and the church and decided then that it was about time to go home. There was not so much more to see. It is more a place to just be and relax. Especially Castelldefels beach is a quiet little paradise. Surrounded by nature, you can calm down and enjoy some time at the beach.

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The church at the main square

Montgat

The second place I would definitely recommend visiting is Montgat. This little village is closer to Barcelona, just 20 minutes by train. A bit farther away from this busy city and quieter, but you can still reach the city center of Barcelona within a short time. This time I went there with a good friend of mine. We just enjoyed our time by the beach which is right in front of the train station. Once you come to Montgat, you can literally jump out of the train and land at the beach.

 

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Montgat from above

Only that this beach is also more beautiful than the ones in Barcelona. As beaches in the city are quite dirty, especially in the area close to the nightclubs, I was amazed to be a clean beach with clear water again. The beaches are also not that known and therefor not that touristic. Granted, I didn´t go there during the high season of summer, but I can imagine you don´t have to fight with your neighbor over the last little bit of sand like in Barceloneta, Barcelona’s most famous beach. We spent quite a while there, then we decided to get to know the center of Montgat as well.

While walking through the streets I fell in love with Montgat almost immediately. The narrow walking lanes, the colorful houses were so beautiful, lining up next to each other. We also went up a hill where we had an amazing view over the ocean and the little village. We took few yoga pictures there, on top of the city under an old arch, then went down again.

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Practising yoga under the arc

This place is perfect to practice some yoga, swim and just enjoy your life. To calm down and get away from the stress and busyness of the city for once. Life is already busy enough and for me, it feels so calming to have a change of scenery every once in a while. To see some new places, being brought back into a world that is unhurried, unhectic and at peace.

I can only recommend exploring the surroundings of a city as well if you stay there for a longer time. Most of the times, they are even more beautiful than the actual city. Especially if you are living in a very busy city you will finally be able to escape the stress and hurried life there – at least for a while.

 

 

Do you want to read more about other beautiful places worth visiting? Read more about places in Portugal! Sintra and Lisbon – these places have a lot to offer as well.

 

 

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Why reading is so important

When I was little, I loved to read. 3-year-old me would even sit in our living room with a book in her hands “reading” out loud while turning the pages. Well, I couldn´t read yet, but I already pretended to do so as I knew all my favorite stories by heart and knew exactly where I had to turn a page. In fact, I could fool my parents into thinking I was able how to read for a short period of time.  That’s how much I always loved books.

Growing up with books

When I grew older and actually learned how to read, it soon became my favorite leisure time activity. I was such a book worm, I spend hours and hours in front of my favorite stories. Unbelievable adventures, dragons and kings. As soon as a book was laying in front of me I was entering a whole new world. I was easily captivated by it, reading on from morning until dawn. Some books left me so fascinated I could barely leave them aside when my mum called me for dinner. Then I sat at the table, anxiously waiting for our meal to be over so that I could go back to my little world again to know how the story would end.

You see, growing up with books and I always loved them. Which is a very fortunate position. My parents made sure that I would read and also read a lot of books to me when I was a child. They knew this experience would make it way easier for me to love and enjoy reading later on and I’m very grateful for that. I know it is a lot harder to enjoy reading books and to even concentrate that long if you didn’t grow up doing so.

Whenever I think back about these times I basically spent my days reading I´m still amazed. How much time did I have, how little else did I have to do then. The older I got though, the less I started to read. Not that books weren´t interesting anymore. I just grew older, had new priorities now. Going out with friends to party and dance was way more important than sitting in front of a simple book. So, the years passed by and I went from reading one book in a day, to one book a week, then one a month and then I lost count. Basically once I entered university my love to read shifted as I was loaded with so much text that I didn’t want to read even more in my free time.

Free education

It was just recently that I discovered my long-forgotten passion. Now, I am slowly starting to read more and more again. Reading is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your knowledge, your education. In fact, reading is the best education you can have. There are thousand, millions, billions books in this world about all kinds of different topics. You can learn so much by just grabbing one that peaks your attention. And this kind of education is for free.

Not completely if you buy a book – which can be pricy sometimes. But if I am thinking about how much work lays behind writing a whole book. It´s an incredible amount of time, long hours of work, frustration, dissatisfaction, tears and sweat. And yes, I am talking from experience here – in case you´re wondering. If you take all of that into consideration, I am amazed that a whole book would just be offered for 5€, 10€. That´s the price of eating out once – or even cheaper. Considering how much you can learn from just a simple book I would say spending your money on a book is ten times better than getting a burger menu.

When I started to realize how much I am missing out when I am not reading, when I am not taking advantage of all this free education. We are incredibly lucky to having the possibility to learn in so many different ways. We have libraries, book shops, you can even buy them at a garage sale.

Discovering reading again

When I started to finally read again, a whole new world opened up. I started to read famous books, started with authors like Paulo Coelho. Books from which I could greatly benefit. Just one book could change your life. If it is the right book read at the right time. Books are the home of so many different ideas and concepts. So many different point of view which will enable you to think about what the author just said, agree or disagree. To write a book people usually know a lot about a topic. So, most of the times you can learn a great deal from them.

Reading goal

To maintain my will to read and encourage myself to read as many books as currently possible, I set myself a reading goal. I want to read at least on book a month – which I was able to do for two months now. In our busy lives nowadays, it is hard to maintain the time to read. Being able to put tasks aside that seem more important or more urgent just to sit down and enjoy a book needs at least some willpower. In doing so, in opening myself up to reading once again learned so much in the last months. As I started to read books on how to improve your life, your mindset, even two or three have already created some change. I read books like The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R. Covey, The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson or the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. While reading these books I was completely present and therefore absorbed every piece of information like a sponge.

Reading and brain activity

Reading a book also is way more beneficial for yourself than starring at your smartphone or computer screen all the time. I, for example, work on the computer a lot – while writing this post I have been using one as well as in my current job. For me it feels so liberating to being free and away from a screen for a while. Giving my eyes a break and finally focus on something else than a screen.

Screens are the new problem of our generation. I see it every day – in others as well as in myself. We get consumed by social media. We think we will just go on Facebook for five minutes only to look at the watch later to see 1 hour has easily passed by. While just scamming through the feed, without thinking about anything in particular, just killing time. While doing so our brain will not be very active.

So, what happens when we just stare at a screen without doing anything? We find it relaxing, of course. But why? Because staring at a screen doing nothing doesn´t generate brain activity. The lesser the meaning of what we watch is, the less brain activity will be generated. While watching something completely meaningless, we literally don´t use our brain at all. This fact alone should be alarming. I am trying to get away from screens as much as possible, but I, too find myself consumed in social media scrolling through the feed without searching anything. I will elaborate more about this fact in next weeks post.

That´s why I value reading so much now. While reading, your brain is working, it is not falling into a numb state, accepting what it is seeing with generating little to no thought. While reading, your brain needs to work. Otherwise you couldn´t read, you wouldn´t understand what you are reading. Focusing on important content, we can actually escape this screen focused life.

Ever since I realized I´ve become too consumed by this virtual world, it feels so more relaxing and calming to go back into the world of books. As my goal is to read one book a month now I recently also discovered audiobooks.

I have to say I love audiobooks. They are so practical even if you are very busy. I usually listen to an audiobook on my way to work and on my way back, in the gym or just in the streets when I am going to a place I have been a hundred times and don´t need to focus on my way. That´s when I can fully focus on the book, on the words of the narrator. I would highly recommend listening to audiobooks on Audible (find out more about Audible here), which is an app that offers you a great variety of genres. As you can use it on your phone, you will always have it by your side. So I even get to read / listen to two books a month – one in real book, one audiobook. Which is not bad for a start.

The more I read, the more I also discover what is still out there, what I still have to learn. The more you read, the smarter you become – but you also realize more and more that you in fact know nothing and will never be able to know all the things you want to know.

Take your time to read

I can truly say, I learned so much in the past months. Reading also helped me to gain back my focus and to put down my phone more often now. I am also taking time for myself. Reading a book means taking time for yourself. It means putting other obligations aside to read a book want to read. A book you read for yourself, for nobody else. This is your time, when you can make yourself a cup of tea and just snuggle in a comfortable corner to read. To read on and on, letting time pass while you are completely absorbed and focused on the words in your book. At least that´s how it feels to me. I can easily spend hours reading and reading and reading. I would not get bored. It kind of feels like when I was a child again.

So, take your time to read! Start slowly, pick your books wisely. Set a reading goal. You will see how much you will benefit it within the first weeks already.

 

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How to travel on a budget

How come you always travel? How can you possibly afford that?

Travelling on a budget is way easier than it might seem. Once you figured out where to cut and where to spend money, it’s easy to go to a lot of places without hundred-dollar bills in your pocket. The most important parts to figure out are: accommodation and transportation. Everything else will be easy from there. But let’s start from the beginning.

Accommodation on a budget

When I travel I never book a hotel. I can happily say that my hotel time lays way in the past. Hotels, in my opinion, are the most boring experience ever. You will not get in touch with anyone while staying there as they are designed to be private and you will not meet any local people there. This way of travelling might be desirable for some people, but for a real, local experience, hotels will not be able to fullfil your needs. So, for accommodation I usually choose a hostel or couch surfing. Recently, I´ve come to prefer couch surfing over hostels and I will tell you why.

Hostels

From my experience, most hostels are mainly about partying, drinking and going out. While that might be fun for one night, I don’t need this spirit all the time. A bit of tranquillity is also nice from time to time. If you are a party person, I would definitely recommend you to stay there though. You will have the time of your life! Hostels are great for getting in to know a lot of people from a lot f different, amazing places in this world. You  can make great friend and great connections in a hostel. But you will, most likely, not get in touch with a local person.

Couch surfing

That’s why I’ve come to love couch surfing. Couch surfing is a website that enables you to stay with a local who lives at your desired travel destination – without paying anything. Yes, you read that correctly. This experience is completely for free. Find out more about it here on their website.

The couch surfing community is based on cultural exchange, trust and learning from each other. If you are staying at another person’s place, you are supposed to give something in return. This doesn´t have to be something materialistic – on the contrary. It shouldn’t just be a chocolate box you brought from your country and then you go on to ignore your host the rest of your time.

This way to travel focuses on the cultural exchange. You can share your travel experiences as well as your way of life. You simply offer something you can teach the other person. For me, that´s the perfect way to travel. You don´t only learn about a new culture, but most of the times also about another way of life. And as you are staying with a local, you can ask about the best places to go – and which places better to avoid. Couch surfing also means getting to know where the locals live and what they are doing the whole day. After all, you will be living very closely to the other person as you are sharing their flat and sleeping on their couch.

For all who have never heard about couch surfing and are a bit sceptical of how it might turn out: simply go for it. It will be the most valuable experience ever if you keep the tips below in mind. People I got to know  on couch surfing were just awesome.

Staying with someone on couch surfing you really get along with will take your travel experience to a whole other level. You will think back to this experience years later and be grateful you chose to stay with a local during your trip.

Is couch surfing safe?

I, as a woman, never had a bad experience with couch surfing, so from my experience it is save even if you are travelling alone as a woman. However, you need to be careful and rather think twice if something seems strange to you.

I have to say, I feel like 80% of couch surfing users are men. So, as a woman it will sometimes be hard to finding a place to stay with another woman. In fact, I never managed stayed with women, only with a couple once.

However, as I mentioned before, couch surfing is based on trust. Every host on couch surfing has reviews where people write about their stay with the person. If someone has a lot of good reviews, also from women who are solo travellers, I feel certainly safe to stay with them. If you choose someone who has good reviews and seems to be a genuinely nice person – and you’re the same – not much can go wrong.

Couch surfing has so many benefits. It won´t cost you a cent and will g enrich you with an experience you will never forget. You will get to know a county from a whole other side. Of course, not every couch surfing host is the same, some might be more open to go on adventures with you than others. Normally you will be able to figure this out in their description on their profile so that you can opt for the person you think you will get along with the best. I can only recommend reading the descriptions people wrote about themselves as you don´t want to end up with someone you will not get along with at all, especially if you are staying at a place for longer.

When you message a host, it is also important not to just copy and paste a message to every host you would like to stay with. While this might work in smaller cities where a host doesn´t get that many requests per day, in bigger cities, like Paris for example, it is quite hard to find a host. These hosts will ignore your messages if you just copy and paste a message and don’t stand out from the crowd. Read in their profile and tell them why you think you should stay with them. Always remember they are willing to share their home with you – you should offer something in return.

Food on a budget

When it comes to travelling, eating can be a bit difficult – if it is supposed to be cheap. I, as a vegan, have even another, additional problem: finding something to eat that is vegan. This, however, is surprisingly easier than most people think. As vegan restaurants are popping up everywhere right now, that´s not something I usually worry about. A least not in bigger cities. In smaller cities, or on the countryside, it can get a bit tricky. That’s when I usually still get my standard salad, fries or banana.

Meal prep for the journey

When I start my journey and am about to travel by plane, train or bus I take enough food with me in order not to starve waiting at the airport or in the bus. I usually prepare some cookies which are easy to take along with you. Fruits and vegetables are also easy to carry. But whatever you do, be very careful what you take to airports. Never take anything that might be considered a liquid. Never repeat my mistake wanting to fly with hummus. I was held back at the security check and had the option to either eat entire 500g of hummus right at the security patrol in the airport (what I did) or throw it away. Lesson learned. No more hummus in airports. Now I prepare a sandwich or take some fruit with me. In buses and train this is a lot easier. There you can take with you what ever your heart desires. Nuts and dried fruits are also always a good option.

What to eat in the city

Once I am in the city I am visiting I usually cook for myself. As I am mostly staying in couch surfing places or hostels there is always a kitchen where I can prepare my food – which is also cheaper than going out to eat every day. This is a great way to offer some food to my hosts or people around the hostel as well and get people interested in how delicious vegan food can be. I just love to spread the message like that as well. I don’t always cook for myself though. Sometimes I enjoy going out to eat as well. I love to see what kind of food other vegan restaurants are offering in other countries. AS I don’t do this every day I do treat myself when it comes to vegan restaurants. I will admit, this is the only time I am simply not able to save money as I always want to try out as much as possible. I am always amazed by what other places have to offer.

Sightseeing on a budget

What would be visiting a city without sightseeing? “But sightseeing is expensive!” Is it really? For me, sightseeing is the best money – saving – activity ever as it can be expensive if you choose so, but it doesn´t have to be. I just love taking pictures of famous places and walking around the city – which you can do for free.

If I come across a famous building, I don´t always enter it if it is paid. I only do so if there´s a lot to see and it will be worth it. What is worth seeing for you, you will need to estimate by yourself. For me, unusual places are worth seeing and paying for, others aren’t. Especially if you can see a lot from outside already. This is normally the case when looking at churches and some castles. A lot of famous churches you can enter for free anyways, some castles as well.

Sometimes you can enter parts and only have to pay for a certain part, most famous. This part you can either skip or pay for it if it is worth seeing. It will all depend on your interpretation. I love going to parks as well, for example, which will not cost a single cent. There are a lot of ways and tricks to save money.

What I also like to do is so mostly avoid public transportation and just walk around the city. Of course, this is only possible if the city is not too big. Otherwise you have to pay for the metro or bus. Some smaller cities you can discover by foot, which I love to do. In doing so, you just wonder around and appreciate the beauty the city has to offer. You can come across places you would never have seen if just following a travel guide. Is a much more local experience, in my opinion.

Transportation on a budget

Now we end with the beginning in mind – but how do I even get somewhere? When it comes to transportation, this will be the only time you are forced to spend money. Without transportation, without moving, well, you cannot go anywhere.

By plane

Nowadays it is easy to get a cheap flight if you choose the right time and airline. If you plan ahead and book in advance, prices are even cheaper. Once the peak season starts, flight prices go up high like the Everest – faster than you even realize it. So, if you already have a fixed destination in mind you have to book a flight to, book it as soon as possible. Sometimes even waiting for two weeks has made a big difference for me. I usually also use a search site for flights to get the cheapest one.

The best one I found so far is Kayak. There you can enter you desired travel destination and your travel dates. If you play around with the dates a bit you will soon find a suitable flight. Days when flights are offered for a good deal are usually indicated with a green point. Normally, the exact days are not that important to me, so I can choose a variety of different dates – and usually opt for the cheapest one. If I am taking a long flight, I normally have one, two or three stops in between, which makes it even cheaper. Of course, travelling like this is not that comfortable – but it fits my budget. I´d gladly give up comfort for a bit in order to afford a flight to a faraway land I always wanted to see.

By bus and train

If I am just travelling shortly and don’t need to master long distances, I opt for the bus as my means of travel. A bus is way more environmentally friendly as a plane and gets you there as well. It might take longer, but you can keep yourself busy during a 24 hours bus ride as well. I honestly have to say I love long bus rides and never get bored. I write, listen to music or read and time just flies.

So, if you don´t mind being trapped in a bus and not moving much, it´s fine. I would totally recommend it as this way to travel is quite cheap as well. In Europe, I would recommend Flixbus or Alsa which always had the cheapest options for me. Depending on the bus you can find tickets from 10 to 40€ to a lot of places. Travelling by train is also amazing. More comfortable than the bus, but also a bit more expensive usually. If that´s the only way though, I opt for it as well.

If there is no other way to get to place off the beaten track, I rent a car as well. However, this rarely happens. As going by car is not the best thing to do for the environment, I try to avoid it as best as possible. However, I would still go for it if there was no other way to get to a desired place. As this are usually the best experiences because those are places not many people know about and not many people can access.

 

Money travel hacks sum up

Here´s a little sum up of things you can always save money with:

  • Accommodation: Try out couch surfing! I can assure you will benefit a lot from it.  Only if you don’t find a host, opt for a hostel
  • Food: Pack your own food and cook for yourself! Go out to eat in restaurants only a few times, don’t make it a habit
  • Sightseeing: Walk through the city and see what it has to offer. Think about which paid sights you really want to see from the inside and which ones you can appreciate from the outside just as well.
  • Transportation: Book your flights in advance. Use a search engine to look for the cheapest flight. If you are not travelling long distances, take the bus or the train instead.

 

So, with these tips in mind – happy travelling! May your budget lead you farther from now on.

 

 

 

You didn’t read enough of  travelling yet? Thinking about going to Portugal?

Click here to read about my travel to Sintra and Lisbon!

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The Art of Meditation

Meditation. In last week’s post I talked about how practicing Yoga is changing my life right now (read more about Yoga here) – now I will dig even deeper. Meditation. But what exactly is mediation? Or rather, what is it not?

No idea about mediation?

For the longest time, I had no idea what the word actually meant. And I know a lot of people are still confused about the concept as it has remained mostly unclear. I, too, was convinced the ultimate goal of meditation was thinking about nothing, emptying your mind and just sitting there without any thought disturbing your silence. Which is impossible. So, now we know what meditation is not. But, what is it then?

What meditation really is

When you meditate your goal is not to empty your mind and think about nothing at all. Emptying your mind like a trash bin with a remaining black hole of nothing won’t work. When I still had no idea about how meditation really works I tried it out many times only to discover that it just doesn’t work. Even for Tibetan monks in the Himalayas who have practiced meditation for decades this is impossible. No matter how calm and focused we are, our mind will always interfere with thought eventually. So, the goal of mediation is not to disappear into a black hole of nothingness. It is to focus. To focus your attention on something you choose. This can be your breath, which is the most common focus in the beginning, or a mantra, or anything you want to bring your attention to. The most important thing is to stay focused during the time of your practice.

Where to start?

We all have to start from somewhere. I would recommend to start meditating at home in a quiet environment without any distractions. Choose an environment where you feel comfortable and can relax. Tell anyone who might be at home to not disturb you for the next 10 to 15 minutes. This is the time frame I would set if you are just starting without any experience. In the beginning, it is extremely hard to focus. Maybe you will also get bored, starting to think why you are even doing this. Don’t get discouraged if that happens to you. In the beginning, it will be hard, so a little bit of discouragement is normal. The most important thing is to keep practicing. I mediate every day and this routine has helped me a lot. Set a timer for however long you decide to meditate. I would take around 10 minutes to start out. If try for a shorter time, you will barely have time to get into it, if you try half an hour right at the start you might get bored and discouraged. So, 10 minutes will be a good start.

What do I do when I meditate?

Start by sitting down on the floor on a pillow. Invest either in a pillow that is made for meditation or – if you’re on a tight budget like me – sit down on a big and hard book. That does the job as well. Either way, you want your bottom just to be a few inches away from the floor. If you opt for the pillow choose a hard one as you will not be able to maintain a straight spine on a soft one. Now sit down on your pillow / book and cross your legs. Put your hands on your knees and straighten your spine. What you do with your hands can vary. You can rest your them on your lap, left and right thumb and and left and right index finger touching and forming a triangle. You can also place your hands on your knees with thumb and index finger forming a circle. The other fingers are kept straight, resting on your knees. Or you can rest your hands on top of your knees. I always opt for the second version. This way, there is more tension in your body. You don´t feel too relaxed, but also not too uneasy. Your body needs to be a bit tense to being able to focus properly. Keep your spine straight at any time. Keep your head straight as well, your eyes looking to the ground, closed. Sitting in this position try to feel your body, try to avoid any discomfort that could disturb you in your 10 minutes. Adjust your position, set your timer and start. Take a deep breath in and breath out exactly as deeply. Breathe through your nose, in and out. Focus all your attention on your breath. Just concentrate yourself and lead your attention to the air that is flowing in and out of your nose. Without any distraction, just you and your breath. For the next 10 minutes that’s all you should care about.

Staying focused

Staying focused on just one thing like your breath can be hard, especially if you are just starting to meditate. Once you sit down to concentrate yourself, you will see how hard it is to focus on just on thing, just on your breath. Your mind will constantly try to interfere and sometimes you will get carried away from your practice. You will be thinking about tomorrows lunch or the meeting with your friend this afternoon. Once you get distracted it is important that you are not too hard on yourself. We all get distracted from time to time. Once you realized your thoughts are occupied with something completely different, just go back where you were and try to focus once again. Try to observe all thoughts that emerge, but without judging them. Simply acknowledge them, accept them as what they are. Don’t try to evaluate them, don’t try to read meaning into them. Don’t get worried and think “Why am I thinking about that now?” Simply accept your thoughts. Your thoughts are part of you. You should never have to apologize for having them. Accept their essence as what they are. Then focus again.

Distractions

Sometimes you will be distracted more often than other times. Sometimes, there will be a baby crying in the neighbors flat with his dog barking, other times it will be completely quiet. Try to stay focused even with a lot of distractions around you. I have to admit that I myself am also struggling with that every single time. I can concentrate very well when it’s peacefully quiet. But when there is a lot of noise, or a lot of flies whirring around me I am losing my patience as well. It’s all a matter of practice, of course, but it does take time. I am sure that it will still take me a long time until a fly can dance around on my nose while I continue my meditation unbothered – and don’t even notice her anymore.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Now you might ask yourself: Why should I follow this practice every day? What’s in it for me? I can tell you, there’s a lot in it for you. I will only speak of my personal experience here as this is something I can explain in further depth. The following are the benefits I experienced. They might be slightly different for every other person. What I experience so frequently is that I always feel more at peace with myself after my meditation. As well as when I practice yoga, I feel more centered, more at ease with myself and the world. Meditating has helped me to become closer to my true self. If helped me discover what I want and where I want to go in the long run. In the short run, you cannot expect to sit down for 10 minutes and having all the answers to your questions afterwards. It will take a bit more time. However, it will lead you were you need to go. At least that’s what happened to me. Just the simple act of sitting down and focusing on your breath can bring such an intense clarity into your life. After a good mediation during which I was fully focused on the here and now I feel incredible afterwards. This is the ultimate goal of meditation. To be in the moment, in the present, not in the future, not in the past. To appreciate this moment and just this moment on its own. Purely. Truly. Gratefully. Once you appreciate this little moment for what it is, you will become incredibly grateful. For your life, for everything the world has to offer you. That’s the true beauty in meditation.

Forming a routine

Once you decided you want to follow the path of meditation, try to do so every day. Since I formed my routine of meditating every morning right after I wake up, I feel so much better in the morning. For me, it´s the perfect way to start out my day – peaceful and unhurried. I wake up a bit earlier than I need to every day. It’s just 15 or 20 minutes – but it does make a big difference. Meditating in the morning is beautiful. It is quiet and it´s way easier to focus than at any other time. When everyone is still sleeping, and the world is just slowly waking up you will find a certain, peaceful atmosphere which makes it easier to let yourself into the state of meditation. You feel the world is not busy so far, everything is just about to start. The quiet before the storm. And you are there to breath in the calmness the world has to offer you in this particular moment. It´s even more beautiful to meditate out in nature. In the morning, when it is still cold, when the sun is about to rise on the horizon. The perfect time to appreciate this beautiful moment. The perfect moment to take time for yourself, to show yourself that you love yourself fully and that you are willing to take this time just for you. This way of treating yourself is so simple, yet so important. Something only few people do nowadays living our busy lives in our busy world.

So, consider making letting mediation into your life. Remember, starting out might be hard, but there will be so many long – term benefits. You will feel more at peace with yourself and with others. You will feel more comfortable in your skin, more comfortable on your way. If you are a bit lost and don’t know where you’re going, it will  become clearer with time. Meditation, as well as yoga, has helped me so much and is still changing my life for the better. That´s why I want to share this with you, that´s why I would recommend everyone to try it out as well. It will have effects on you you would never have imagined.

 

 

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Sintra – the western pearl of Portugal

Last week I started telling you all about my time in Lisbon (find out more about Lisbon here) – but left out one very important destination! Sintra. I left it out on purpose however, as I wanted to tell you all about this beautiful little city in all detail. Sintra is a little town in the north west of Portugal. Situated right in a national parc, it is a little green paradise. Me and my best friend, who was my travel companion in Lisbon as well, went there by train, bought tickets for 5€ and then took a 50 minutes ride into the heart of Sintra.

From there, we started our adventure. I have to say, Sintra is a very touristic place – which I usually don’t like. I was – and still am – so in love with Lisbon because it was rather quiet, not too many people around. Sintra however, since it is such a small town, attracts a lot of visitors from all over the world. It also attracts people staying in Lisbon and its surroundings. At the train station it is indeed a bit crowded. Luckily, the natural parc is big enough for everybody to spread out later. You can sometimes even end up walking through the woods alone.

So, we started out at the train station where we already encountered a lot of people offering us tours and presumably “good deals” for a guided bus tour. Tourist traps. As we were travelling with a tight budget anyways, we decided to save money and go discover Sintra by ourselves. We looked at all the sights offered on various boards – which gives you a good overview of what´s there to see. Then we asked a local guide how to go up the hill to discover the national park. He gave us the option to go up the hill by bus, by foot or tuk tuk. These tuk tuks you will see everywhere. They are quite expensive, but also an experience with a local guide who tells you more about the city. We declined politely as we already opted for the walking by foot option before. If you walk all the way up, you will rarely encounter people who do the same. But for me it is the best way to see your surroundings and fully absorb the beautiful nature. You can also stop any time to take a picture.

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The first of the many times we stopped to take a picture – with the castle in the background

The first thing we got to see is a castle on top of a hill. Not the famous, colorful though. Well, this little village has many, many castles. We didn´t even find out which one was the first one that crossed our way.

We continued our way through the village, through all the small streets. Houses in typical southern Portuguese style crossed our way, some restaurants for hungry travelers. A very charming place.

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After an hour and a half we finally reached the entrance of the national park. From there we hiked up to our first castle – the Castelo dos Mouros. As we climbed up there we marched through the woods and jumped over rocks. A real adventure. That´s why I prefer going everywhere by foot. You cannot go through the woods with a tuk for sure. Seeing a few hidden caves we could explore on the way, this extra mile is definitely worth it. When we came near the old castle walls made out of grey rocks, I was fascinated and felt like set back in time. Green moss was climbing up the walls as a reminder that the glorious days of this castle have long been over. We could also see same ancient graves, medieval tools as well as ornaments.

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After wandering around the area of the castle for a while, we decided to proceed our way. If you are in Sintra, you have a lot to see and trust me – you won’t make it all in one day. So, we went on to the park around the Palacio da Pena – the famous colorful castle everybody comes here to see. We did as well. However, it was still early afternoon, 2 PM, the time most of the parc’s visitor were supposed to be at the castle now. The waiting time was listed as more than an hour. So, we decided to leave it for later and explore the surroundings first. There was certainly no shortage of places to see!

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Palacio da Pena – the place we were heading to

The parc surrounding the Palacio da Pena is huge. We randomly opted for a direction as we wanted to explore everything. The way we choose led us to a pavilion – without any description so we couldn´t learn more about it. Still, it was a fascinating place we spent some time in.

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The knight on top of the hill

Then we proceeded our way to the Statue of knight on top of a hill. You could even climb up there, but we preferred to admire him from afar and went on to our next destination.

The viewpoint to see the Palacio da Pena. The highest point of the national parc. The Cruz alta. On top of this hill you have an amazing view over whole Sintra. With the Palacio da Pena right in front of you. I would definitely recommend going there before exploring the palace as it gives you the chance to admire its beauty from farther away first. Once you are closer to the palace you will not have a chance to see the whole building at once. I was fascinated by the many colors this palace was shining. Bright red and yellow, easily spotable even miles away.

Finally, after seeing the palace in distance, we walked towards it afterwards. It was already 5PM in the afternoon. A perfect time to visit, as a lot of people were already leaving. There wasn´t even a queue at the entrance anymore. The later you go, the less crowded it will be. At this time we still had a lot of daylight left. We explored the palace from outside and within. Fascinated by the many details you can stay there a long time. However, the palace itself is we not as big as it seems. Especially when we walked in the rooms of princes and princesses were quite small. If this was a luxurious life in the middle age I wonder how everyone else lived. There was certainly not much comfort, not even for a queen. Every room was different though. Like the walls outside were all painted in another color, so was the inside with the design changing from room to room as well. An inside reflection of the outside.

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We walked around the palace a long time. If you want, you can easily spend up to three hours there. The views from the castle are amazing as well. As it is situated on top of a hill, you get to see the whole city of Sintra laying to your feet. When we went up, it was a bit foggy in the distance, which made our view even more beautiful as the clouds covered the woods a little bit with the trees rising above them like in a fairytale. The whole palace is a magical experience. Make sure to walk around all sides of the castle to not miss any viewpoint there is – it all will be worth seeing.

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After we had fully taken in the beauty of this place we went on to the Valley of Lakes. This Valley is beautiful – another spot that felt like a fairytale once again. This valley was astonishingly beautiful during dawn. With the sun softly shining through the green leaves, the water sparkling and reflecting his magical surroundings. In the middle there was laying the lake, green and calm right in front of us. We walked alongside the lake for a bit. In the middle of the lake, there was a tower rising from the water. Some ducks and swans were staying around as well. Pine trees were lining up in between the green leaves that brought a darker, green color between the soft green of the leaves. A truly beautiful place to end our trip, calm and peacefully.

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We wished it wouldn´t have been the end as we still wanted to visit the famous Quinta da Regaleira. A green spiral going downwards – beautiful yet when we got there we found the place closed. We even thought about going back to Sintra the next day, but we still had a lot to see in Lisbon as well.

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The Quinta da Regaleira we couldn’t enter anymore

So, if you really want to see all of Sintra, I would strongly recommend taking 2 full days to reserve them just for this village and the national park.

The village is a cute little town as well. Small streets, a lot of shops that will attract your attention. Especially in the evening when everybody is going home, this city has a very special vibe.

So, once you are in Lisbon, pay a visit to Sintra as well! Take your time and I promise you won´t regret it!