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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!

 

 

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How Yoga is changing my life

Yoga. A practice I didn’t know much about and therefore would consider boring not so long ago. A practice I will now go to India for. To become a certified yoga teacher and to learn more about the philosophy behind it.

More than just stretching

Until recently, I taught about yoga more as the mere act of stretching. When I watched a YouTube tutorial to learn more about it I soon lost interest as it seemed like really light exercise and I wanted to work out my body from head to toe. Something which yoga can provide you with as well – I just didn’t have the patience to let the video come to an end.

It took me the event of meeting a real yoga teacher to start getting to know more about the idea behind it and finally trying it out myself. I knew a bit about the philosophy already, but still never practiced. So just the act of practicing with a teacher got me to realize how much you can truly benefit from it. Connecting your body and mind at the same time I was amazed by how powerful a simple practice like this could be.

True power of Yoga

I think many of us don’t know enough about yoga or don’t know it’s true potential. We are to overrun by fitness yoga studios who sadly don’t focus on the original idea of it anymore.  I can only speak for myself here, but once I realized yoga is something for your whole body and your soul, I started to recognize and worship its true power. I’ve been practicing for four months now and I’m really seeing a change. I got calmer, more centered, I’m feeling more at peace with myself. I definitely miss it when I go without practicing for a few days. It’s something that has become part of my routine, something I enjoy doing, something that gives me new energy after an exhausting day.

Letting yourself into it

When it comes to yoga, it can help you so much if you just let yourself fully into it. What I’ve seen a lot of people neglect is letting themselves into the mood, letting themselves experience the true power of their body. Your body has so much to offer, to explore. Once you train your body and once you’re focused you also train your mind. In every yoga class I’ve been to so far, the teacher also focused on meditation, which is extremely important to me.

I meditate every day at home (more about that in the next post), but the combination with yoga led me to incredible process. Once you have completed the class and exhausted your body, your mind is clear, ready to focus and absorb your surroundings. Being in the moment, completely focused on your practice, not disturbed by any kind of sounds or noises. That’s yoga.

I want to state a quick disclaimer, that I am still not an expert in yoga. I might be after going to India, but so far, I am only talking about my own experiences and how yoga helped me personally. For, me it is always a good sign if I feel like I need to do something more often. Like I do with yoga. I love to practice at home and I usually feel much calmer afterwards. For me, practicing yoga this is also the perfect way to start my day.

Morning Yoga

Once you wake up and your muscles are still tired, you slowly help your body to awake to a new day with yoga. You let your mind focus on your body, you try not being distracted in any way while doing so. I find yoga right after waking up extremely effective. You start to feel your body in a whole other way, every movement is more intense, every time you bend over you responses with a bit of more pain. But its good pain. It’s stretching and lengthening your body and absorbing what you are really able to do. And I can guarantee you you are able to do a lot.

My personal journey

After doing yoga around four times per week now – but really intense, I can also see how my body is changing, how I feel stronger. Yoga focuses on you as a whole, not only on a certain muscle, not only on legs or arms. Its about being in harmony with every single part of your body. That’s why it’s so effective. For the first time I really felt my shoulders, my feet and hands more. Part you don’t usually work out when going to the gym.

I’m also feeling more powerful. There are certain positions in yoga that make you feel a certain way. While it is evident and scientifically proven that we feel better in a certain posture – standing straight, hands on our hips and smiling. Or that we feel worse when crouching, making a sad face and looking to the floor. Our posture can have enormous effects on how we feel. The same is true doing yoga. As this practice consists of a lot of different postures, you can experience a lot of different feelings.

Postures and feelings

I love the baby posture, for example. Whenever I do it I feel so small, so vulnerable. But that’s the beauty in it. It is okay to feel this way. If only it makes you stronger to admit that you are not a superhero and that you can be hurt sometimes.

Then there are positions I feel a strong power rushing through my body. The warrior. Standing in this position makes me feel like I could do anything and while I am standing there I keep reminding myself of this exact thought. Focusing my hand that’s pointing into distance showing me the long way I still need to go.

I chose these positions to illustrate how posture does have an effect on us and how yoga in using these postures is really powerful as well. It also helped me a lot to focus better on what I am doing in a certain moment and to take time only for myself. Yoga is a practice you dedicate to yourself – or to another person you want to transfer your energy to. But still, it remains your practice. It is your moment without any distractions, it is the here and now. It is just you and your practice, and the rest of the world can wait.

Taking time for yourself

Especially now in our modern, fast living, mobile phone addicted society we need to slow down from time to time. We need a break, we need this little time just for ourselves. Just think about it. How many minutes a day do you truly dedicate to yourself? Not to your mobile phone, not to a YouTube video. Just to yourself. I can imagine it is less than it should be.

While practicing yoga, you do take that time for yourself. You can easily spend one, two, three hours just for yourself and will see you could not benefit more from it. Being in alignment with yourself, with your thoughts is the most important think you could ever accomplish. Only being in peace with your mind will lead you to a truly happy and joyful life. But if we are constantly occupied and distracted by social media, the TV or the news we cannot reach this calmness, this peace of mind. I’m not saying I am not affected by these distractions. Of course, I am. But I know it and I’m constantly trying not to get absorbed in it. I am aware of them and yoga is constantly helping me to focus on the most important things in my life. Social media can wait. Yourself should come first.

What I also love about yoga is the energy in the room. Something you can especially feel if you practice yoga in a studio or in a group. People chanting the mantra ohm together always gives me goosebumps. You can feel something in the room, devoted people who want to practice for themselves all together. Who are dedicated to what they are doing, who are committed. A bunch of strangers but still reunited. Sharing their energy in the most beautiful way. Through practice and through mediation. For me, that’s one of the most magnificent ways yoga could impact you.

Yoga and Health

For me yoga is directly connected with my health. My physical and mental health which is so crucial to me. It is the only practice I know that trains your body and your mind at the same time. Try it out for yourself. Visit a Yoga class an observe closely how you feel afterwards. Only then you´ll understand how powerful Yoga really can be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden places in Lisbon

To be honest, until recently I fairly neglected Portugal. This country was never part of my travel plans nor did I think it ever would be. I was more in love with Spain and thought Portugal would just be a tinier Spain and not able to surprise me. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It only took me a week to fall in love with this country, particularly the city I visited. Lisbon.

This city with only 500 000 habitants was a nice break away from busy city life in Barcelona for me. Yet it is a city and has everything to offer you need. Shops as well as a lot of green areas and parcs. And the beach and the sea. So, I went on this trip to this beautiful city with my best friend whom I had not seen in half a year. Together, we went on exploring the city from the very first day on.

We decided to stay with a host on couchsurfing – which was one of the best decisions of our whole trip. Couchsurfing, for those of you who don’t know about it, is an app which enables you to stay with a person for free. It is all about the cultural exchange. You can sleep on their couch, on their floor, or in an extra bed. In exchange you offer them to learn about your culture in return. For me, this is the best way to travel. Not only is it cheap if you travel on a tight budget, but the experiences you make will stick with you a lifetime. You can make incredible connections and learn so much about a culture in so little time. Since you are staying with a local, you can also get the perfect advice about which places to visit where and where rather not to go.

For more information about couchsurfing and how to organize a budget friendly travel stay tuned! It will come up during the next weeks.

Best places to see in Lisbon

So, let’s focus on the places you need to visit when coming to Lisbon:

1. Setubal

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A beach of Setubal from above – where we started our journey

A peninsula, an hour car ride away from the city center in Lisbon. Pure paradise. A huge area of Setubal is a national park, the Parque Natural da Arrabida, where you can go hiking and swim at the most amazing beaches. As it is quite a bit away from the city, it is also not crammed with tourists. The beaches are surprisingly empty and really clean. To get there, we rented a car (60€ for a day – so not bad if shared) and drove all the way to Setubal. We didn’t have time to go hiking unfortunately, even though the green trees and nature surrounding this place really invite you to do so. We, however, decided to dedicate the whole day to the beach. We wanted to see the Praia Galaphinos – which is said to be the most beautiful beach in whole Portugal. So, we parked our car in a place a few beaches further and planned to go to the Praia Galaphinos by foot. So good so far. When we reached the first beach we were already amazed. crystal clear water, sparkling almost white sand, only a few people here and there. Our backs turned to nature, the green trees and rock faces behind us. In front of us just the sea with its waves. On this coastline, a lot of beaches are lining up on after the other, separated rocks. These rocks are so big they split the whole cost line into little bays. These bays are the most beautiful thing to see here. A bit hard to access, but worth the way.

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The water of the bay – a true little paradise

After accessing a normal beach, you will have to walk through the water and climb over rocks to get there- but it will pay off! We ended up almost alone in a bay, just a few other people joining us. The bay was small, only a few meters, but astonishingly beautiful. In front of us we could see an island which even would have been able to access via a long swim. The sea laying in front of us with its turquois blue, clean water. The water was cold – a consequence of entering the Atlantic Ocean. I just dived right into it and came out perfectly refreshed.

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After spending almost the whole day in this little place we decided we still needed to check out the most famous beach – Praia Galaphinos. So we went there before the sun was about to set – and were a bit disappointed. As we spent the whole day in the tiny bay, this beach didn’t seem that exciting anymore. Don´t get me wrong, it is a beautiful beach, surrounded by mountains and green trees with a wall of stones building up behind it. But it could not compete with that little paradise we had experienced before. These little bays are truly calm and special and I can only recommend everyone to check them out as well!

 

2. LX factory

This place in the west of Lisbon is also a bit farther away from the city center, but truly amazed me. It was a factory in the 19th century, then abandoned for many years. Now, it has been developed into an amazing urban space. A place of creativity, start-ups and small companies with the goal to be sustainable and make the world a better place. We went there by bus and entered a small little village in the city. In the entrance, there was a huge plan of the area – also in English – for foreigners to not get lost in the factory. The walls there are painted creatively, drawings and paintings of talented artists can be found everywhere. On the facades of buildings as well as in them. Other pieces of art are hanging from the ceiling or placed on the walls of houses as well. There´s so much attention to detail, every little thing decorated and made with love.

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The first store we into was a book store we almost spent an hour in. There was simply too much to see. We spent the whole morning and some part of the afternoon to explore the different brands and concepts of the factory. I even found a brand that produces vegan shoes there. Which means they don´t use anything from an animal to produce a shoe, are focusing on the environment and our impact on our planet. The brand is Nae. I am simply amazed by their concept as they use recycled plastic to produce their shoes. Every piece is hand made. For this quality, they don´t even charge too much. And they are reducing our waste by using up plastic in their shoes. Find out more about them here: Nae – Fashion with Compassion. Projects like this can be found all over the factory. Other shops produced sustainable clothes, furniture and so on. It was truly amazing to see so many different concepts in one space, all with an important thought behind it. From books to shoes to something to eat – there you will find anything your hearth desires!

3. Streets of Lisbon

You simply have to wander through the streets of Lisbon. If you just walk around the old town, you will be amazed by the narrow streets and colorful houses.

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On our first day, we wandered around without much of a plan – and those are the times we discovered the best places! The old town has a lot to offer – from the famous yellow trams to the colorful facades of houses. Then there is the river which is a beautiful place to just take a nice long walk next to the water. It can easily be mistaken for being at the sea – but from the center of Lisbon you will only access the river.  Lisbon is also a city where you can work out your legs. If you want to explore everything, you will have to walk uphill a lot. The streets are small, the walking lanes are even smaller and the city is built up on a hill as well. Walking up the small streets you will not even be able to walk up next to each other. The fact that everything was so small was also what made the city so charming for me. The walking lanes are made out of small white bricks, the streets out of grey ones. You will also discover the most beautiful parcs if you walk a bit away from the city. We started at the Praça Comércio which is the main place of Lisbon, close to the river and explored the side to our right.

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The Praça Comércio where we started to explore the city

Then we walked up the city a bit. I´m not giving so many specific directions on purpose here. The most fun thing to do for me is to just go and see what the city has to offer. On our wander tour to we-have-no-clue-where we also came across a tiny local market we would never have found if we just had followed the most important sights blindly. Of course, the historical sights are interesting and you shouldn´t miss them! But for me, strolling through the city just keeping my eyes open and seeing what it has to offer is certainly the best way to explore the city by yourself.

Body boarding at Costa da Caparica

Bodyboarding or surfing is an activity you simply have to do once in Lisbon. As Portugal is the only country with waves high enough in Europe, this is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss! If you know how to surf – go for it! If you don´t, well, you could try it out. We did as well. However, as a total beginner who doesn’t know anything about surfing and will just have time to try it out once during the holidays, body boarding might be a better option. You simply cannot learn how to surf in a day. An experience I learned the hard way with struggling under waves and surf boards hitting my head. So, once I tried out body boarding I had a much more pleasant experience. It is that cool, because you can learn it in a day – even in half an hour! A body board is half as big as a surf board and will enable you to ride on waves while laying on top of it. All you need to do is to cut the wave the right way, to jump on the wave the right time. Spending half an hour in the ocean should be enough for you to already ride over the waves! This activity is awesome, I can only recommend it. The board are not expensive to rent and you can spend a whole afternoon riding over waves! Do you need anything more?

 

5. Best sights to see

Finally, I also had to include some of Lisbon´s most famous sights. For me, sights and buildings with a long and rich history are interesting, however I feel like the previous experiences where even more unique and showed me more about the real Portuguese life. These sights are tourist attractions (or traps if you may)

 

1. Belem

This district even goes further to the west than the LX factory. The most famous sight here is the Torre de Belem.

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The Torre de Belem rising from the river

A tower which rises from the river in Lisbon. It is a UNESCO cultural heritage and it´s easy to see why. With its white walls it is rising in the middle of the sea. It is one of Lisbon’s landmarks and therefore visited by a lot of people. Still, it is worth its way. We decided to go there just to see the tower and could explore the whole district on our way. We crossed the Jardim de Belem on our way which is a very big garden, a perfect, green spot in the city to calm down and relax. There we also saw the Thai Pavilion given to Portugal by the Thai government to celebrate the 500th year of their bilateral relations. This pavilion is new, it was just situated in the parc in 2012, but nevertheless it is beautiful. As a traditional Thai architectural sight, it is easily spotable between the green trees of the parc!

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The Thai Pavilion in the Jardim de Belem

At the end of the garden you will find the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.  This monastery also offers a lot to discover. However, we just walked through there quickly as it is quite big and we mostly wanted to see the tower. From the monastery it was only a short way to the tower.

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Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

We just talked a bit more and could see the white, medieval Torre de Belem rising from the river. At the tower you can sit down close to the water and just look over the waves to relax and calm down. It´s a beautiful place , especially during the sunset when the water starts to glitter and the sun bows down on the horizon. With all the sights you can see there it is the best option to just take more time and wander around there by foot.

2. Castelo de São Jorge and viewpoints

The best viewpoint in Lisbon is the Mirador Nossa Senhora do Monte. Situated in the very heart of Lisbon you have a great view on all sides. At this viewpoint you can also explore an old monastery on top of the hill.

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The view from Mirador Nossa Senhora do Monte

Another viewpoint close to the Mirador is the Castelo de São Jorge. This old castle is just situated a 10-minutes-walk away from our previous point. So we walked up to the castle by foot again. On the way up to the castle we could see a lot of street art, graffiti covering the walls. Beautiful art, drawings. Again a statement of the creative side of Lisbon. Entering the castle we were greeted by peacocks who were running around freely. This castle was built in the 12th century, a big complex ready to be explored. Once in there you can spend half a day walking around to see everything the castle has to offer.  You can walk up the walls, look out of the small windows and discover the city from above again while imaging being sent back in time to the medieval age.

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3. Ponte Vasco da Gama and surroundings

This bridge is one of the two bridges crossing the river and is surrounded by a beautiful area. Close to the main bus station it is a very nice spot to relax during the evening. There you can see hotels at the river, the bridge in the background. We got there dropping at the Oriente metro station and walked all the along the coast side for a bit. During the sunset, this was the perfect place to be. Along the promenade you will find a lot of restaurants and new things to try out. However, we were more focused on our surroundings, the bridge, the river. A lot of locals went for a run there while the sun was slowly sinking to the horizon. It really was a little paradise.

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The Ponte Vasco da Gama in the evening

 

Another place you definitely have to see once in Lisbon: Sintra. This place is so beautiful and magical, I will devote a whole blogpost to it. This village is a whole other world on its own. So, stay tuned to read more about it next week!

 

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Vegan for 3 years – review

I’ve been a vegan for 3 years now. Wow. It struck me myself as well as time had passed so quickly. It was a good time after a right decision. A time I did a lot of reduce my impact on this earth to a minimum. A time that felt great – but was not always as easy as many might like to present it.

Growing up vegetarian

As I grew up as a vegetarian, I was used to eating healthier and more veggies than most people do. I never had a piece of meat in my life – which I am very, very grateful for. I always adored animals. When my family would go for a hike, we would often cross range land were cows were grazing and wandering around. I always went near them, to watch these beautiful animals or to pet them. However, once I realized the dairy and egg industry was not as harmless as it all seems, I cut animal products out of my life once and for all.

I have to admit that I struggled at first. No one in my family was supporting me, if only they would be annoyed that I wasn’t “eating properly”. In fact, I attempted to go vegan two times. The first time, my mum quickly talked me out of it telling me I could do whatever I want when I move out. But as long as I was living under her roof, eating her food, I would have to stay a vegetarian. I also loved cheese a lot. So, I let myself being talked out of it thinking about the delicious things I was still allowed to eat! Thinking back, I could not have been more stupid. But, that’s how you learn.

The second time though, I stuck with it, I didn’t give a fuck whom I might piss off. The images of tortured bodies and suffering beautiful and sensitive being I had been watching were too intense to ever eat what I used to again. I decided to do so a bit after Christmas, as we had a lot of home-made Christmas cookies in the house before that I still wanted to eat. And we had cheese. Really, really good cheese. I still remember the day before I decided to go vegan. I ate all of this cheese. It was still left from our Christmas dinner, it was delicious, but I just ate too much of it. Afterwards I felt really bad, but at the same time I probably needed that exact feeling to get rid of it once and for all. And it worked. After this day, I would never touch cheese again.

Being a pushy vegan

Being a “new born vegan” was not easy at first. With my new knowledge wanted to go around and preach and convert everyone to veganism I saw stuffing their face with a kebab. However, I have come to realize that this will lead to nothing but resistance. The more you push, the angrier you are, the more you might as well be talking to a wall. If people are interested in what I eat and why I am more than happy to share my story. But if they don’t – I cannot force anyone to be interested. It’s just hard to completely let go of it sometimes.

I have to admit that me being patient instead of pushy even let people to go vegan I never would have imagined. My family is way more supportive now and my mum is cooking more vegan meals as well! It took some time, but eventually they decided to adapt and to try out new ways to cook as well. Change always takes time. But if you give people time to adapt, they will get used to your new habits.

When I go out with friends I often take the opportunity to go to a vegan restaurant – where everybody is “forced” to eat vegan. Nobody ever minds that, as vegan food is just god damm delicious. That way, you can even limit the consumption of animal products of other people – and you don’t even need to fight for it! Most people love to try out new, fun foods. Nobody will ever say anything against delicious food.

Getting used to veganism

So, it’s not hard to be vegan – after a while. After a while once you accepted you cannot change the eating habits of everyone else, you can just focus on yourself. After all, that’s the only person you really can influence. I guess we all know that stereotype of that pushy vegan who introduces himself like “Hi I’m vegan!” before even telling you his name. And this is not a good thing. It rather pushes people away again and you don’t even get the chance to have a conversation to present your point of view. The thing is, in the beginning, you want to scream it out loud, you want to stand on a rooftop screaming from the top of your lungs “I FINALLY FIGUERED OUT HOW THE WORLD WORKS!” or something like that. At least that’s what I felt after I finally came to terms with the fact that being vegetarian just wasn’t enough.

Challenges of veganism

Transitioning can also be touching, it can also be challenging. I remember how sad and how frustrated I felt when especially the people I care about the most didn’t seem to share my highest values. While everybody needs to come to terms with what impact they are having on our planet themselves, I had and sometimes still have a really hard time accepting it. It is devastating to see that the people you love are stuffing their faces with hot dogs and cheesy pizza, shuffling themselves an early grave.

Or when you have just been watching a really brutal yet touching documentary of what goes on in slaughterhouses and you just feel like crouching in a corner crying because you cannot change the world. I’ve been there. I’ve sobbed uncontrollably and loudly as if my tear could bring some powerless soul back to life again. I’ve been sad and yet so angry at the same time I wanted to go out and punch someone. I felt so powerless, so helpless. But the truth is – the only one we really have influence on is our self. The only one we can really control is our self. We will never be able to change the feelings of others, their believes or their thoughts. Just think about how strong your feelings are – somebody else has the exact same feeling about him being right as well. Admitting you’re wrong is not easy and certainly takes a lot of willpower. It is easier to stay there with your hands covering your eyes pretending to see and hear nothing of what’s going on around you.

This was a very hard lesson to accept and for me, it still is. Especially when also having a boyfriend who is not vegan and doesn’t plan on following this lifestyle any time soon. This might be the hardest to accept of them all, because it is your partner, it is the person you love most in the world and yet he or she still doesn’t seem to truly understand your values. But you, too, have a choice here. Either you love that person or push them away. In the end, mutual respect is really important. And who knows what happens in the future.

I just always remember – every single vegan meal will have an impact. Every meal without meat is a start in the right direction. I’m also thinking about my grandma, who tries to bake vegan muffins or cakes for me every time I come over. I couldn’t be more grateful for that. My grandma is not the youngest anymore, so getting used to something like veganism can be a bit of a challenge. After all, she is used to bake a cake with eggs and milk. That’s what she grew up with and what she has been doing for over 60 years now. Habits that people have been following for such a long time are hard to change. Yet still she tries out new vegan things for me whenever I visit her – which I appreciate very much. If my grandma can come to accept that it is possible to bake a cake without an egg in it – there’s very big chance a lot of other people can do so, too.

Hope of veganism

All these things give me hope. And what gets my hopes up the most is our younger generation. People in their 20ties, 30ties, who are young and willing to experience. Who want to live a better, longer, healthier life. Who are willing to learn and to listen to what someone with a different opinion might have to say. I found numerous friends who were interested in my story, who wanted to cook vegan meals with me – and who were amazed of how delicious they tasted. Needless to say, not everybody went vegan after this experience. But it’s a start. They already touched veganism for a bit. Who knows what will happen next. If they were genuinely interested in the topic, I strongly believe they will follow my lead. If not, they might still limit their consumption of meat.

So, again I see it from a positive side. I feel like that’s the best message to send out there.

 

To celebrate this day, I decided to share my favorite traditional Austrian meal with you – the vegan version of…wait for it…. the famous Kaiserschmarrn!

 

Kaiserschmarrn

This dish is, for those who don’t know, one of the best things my country has to offer. Seriously. It’s freaking awesome. Something you just have to try out when visiting Austria. Kaiserscharrn is a sweet dish that we eat as a whole meal as well. You could also eat is as dessert though. It could be described as a lot of tiny pancake pieces you rip apart and fry in a pan with raisins. The traditional version uses eggs and milk – which are easily replaceable. This version is also way healthier – still not the healthiest dish in the world – but at least sugar free. So, that’s already a start!

Let’s get into it, shall we?

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Recipe

Ingredients (for 2 hungry people)

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ¼ l soy milk
  • 250 g flour
  • 75g dates
  • 100 g raisins (or more)
  • Vegan butter for the pan
  • Apple sauce

How to?

Put your dates into a container and cover them with water. Pop that container into the microwave for 4 minutes on strongest heat. That way, your dates get nice and soft quickly. If you have the time, you can also soak them overnight. After they come out of the microwave, put them aside and start peeling your bananas. Mash them with a fork, until there are no big chunks left and put them into a large bowl. Then add the flour and milk to your bananas. Mix everything until it’s well incorporated. Now you can start adding the raisins. If you love raisins as much as I do go ahead and add more! If you don’t like them, you can leave them out as well!

Then take your dates out of the water and mash them with a fork the same way you mashed the bananas. They should be soft enough to do so. If this step is still challenging, pop them back into the microwave for one more minute to soften them. Once this mixture is even, add it to the dough! These dates are the only sweetener this recipe needs!

Once your mixture is done, heat up a can and add some vegan butter to it. Then put as much dough into your pan you would making pancakes. Wait until the downside gets nice and brown – but don’t let it burn! Then flip them and wait for the other side as well. Once both sides are evenly brown, take a knife and start cutting the pancake into small pieces. Keep your pieces in the pan for a bit, stir them around occasionally to let them brown a bit more. Then take them out of the pan. Repeat this process until there is no dough left anymore. And sooner or later you’re done! Enjoy!

I served my Kaiserschmarrn with a few apple and peach slices on the side, however this is optional. The truly traditional version is served with apple sauce and plum jam. So, if you really want to stay on the traditional route – I would strongly recommend you to try these out!

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The benefits of water fasting

Or: Why I ate nothing for 6 days

Recently, I decided it was about time to give my body a break. Unhealthy eating, too much food had consumed it too much, it was about time to let it recover for a bit. That’s why I decided to try out water fasting for 6 days.

So, how does it work? Well, it’s simple: you basically just drink water and eat nothing for 6 days. Sounds extreme? The effects certainly are – but not in the way you might expect. Now I want to share my journey with you, day by day, to give you a little insight of what I experienced.

I came to fasting due to my dad who tried it out before. After I heard it was indeed possible to live completely without food for a while, I decided to follow his path. I read the great book of Rüdiger Dahlke “Bewusst fasten” See more here  (unfortunately I could not find the english translation of this book). He explained the benefits of fasting in such an interesting and intriguing way that I couldn´t wait to try it out for myself. I would recommend everyone who wants to do the same to read a book about fasting before you start. You could make a lot of mistakes in the beginning which are easily avoidable if you know about them. So, I learned, I studied and once I knew more I decided it was about time to give it a try!

Fasting journey throughout the days

Day 1:

I felt good. I was overeating so much the days before that my body needed and welcomed this break. I wasn´t hungry at all as I drank 5 liters of water during this day. I knew a had to drink a lot in order to keep my belly full and not grow hungry, so I prepared myself and bought 10 liters of water the day before I started. When I woke up, I started my day with a 10 minutes meditation as I always do. In the afternoon, I felt like moving for a bit, so I did my yoga routine. Yoga is the perfect exercise while fasting as you are not supposed to work out heavily and tire your muscles too much. Something I normally love to do lifting weights in the gym. But for a week I could live without it. Luckily, I didn’t have to work the first day, so I could completely focus on myself and get into the spirit of fasting a bit more. This time is a time you should take for yourself. It´s the time you give yourself and your body to detox, to clean, to heal. For me, especially the first day was an amazing start. I felt good about my decision. I felt strong that I could live just of water for 5 more days.

 

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Meditation – something I started way before fasting and which only grew more intense doing so

Day 2:

I started my day with 10 minutes of meditation as usual – and a big glass of water. On this day I went to work – and saw myself confronted with explaining what I was doing to other people.  As I usually eat lunch with someone else, they remarked really quickly that I wasn´t eating and started asking questions. I was open about my plans and my journey. I told them about the benefits for yourself and some certainly were impressed. Some also did not believe this was even possible. I also started to realize that my skin condition was getting better already. As my skin is normally not that smooth and I have a lot of pimples even though already in my 20ties, I wanted to see if fasting would also help clearing my skin a bit. Maybe it was just imagination, but I started to realize a slight difference even on the second day. Coming home from work my afternoon was quite busy. Writing a blog post to publish it the next day, then going to the cinema with my boyfriend. While walking to the cinema I felt that I was not as strong as normally. My legs were not made for so much walking. I was very aware of how much my energy level had dropped comparing to the previous day. But that was okay. I could still do it, I could still take a nice and long walk. It just cost me a bit more energy. This was perfectly normal though, as your energy level tends to drop significantly on the second day of fasting.

Day 3:

I woke up quite early and decided to treat myself with a bit of mint tea. Best decision ever. I felt so good in the morning, I felt like I was reborn. I started my mediation again, then went off to work. This day, I really focused on dental hygiene. I knew from my previous studies that it was more than likely to get bad breath sooner or later during your fast. As your body starts to get rid of all toxins this is the same for your breath. So, I took my toothbrush with me and cleaned my teeth often this day. I also called my mom to tell her about how everything was going so far. I felt the urge to share how I felt. When I came home, I had the sudden desire to do something productive, to study, to learn. So, I sat down for 4 hours, studying, learning about a lot of different topics that really interested me and which will be important to me in the future. I was so focused, I felt like in school again – only that I liked it and that I really wanted to focus. I learned so much in those hours and was so highly awake and focused it was incredible. I would not have imagined that. All my goals suddenly came closer and clearer in front of my eyes. I knew where I was going and even started to type this post frantically. I was motivated like never before.

Day 4:

I woke up, took a nice cold shower and started my mediation. I meditated even longer than I do normally as I really felt the urge to get further into it. Then I went to work. I felt pretty good the whole day. When I woke up I drank half a liter of water, at work I kept on drinking a lot. What I noticed this day is that I felt a bit weaker than usual. When I went up to the 3rd floor of my workplace I could feel the exhaustion and fatigue of my muscles. When I was sitting it was fine, walking as well – just climbing up the stairs posed a bit of a challenge. However, I really felt productive during this day. Like things would finally fall into pace, like I had already accomplished a lot and the day was not even close to be over. Which was an amazing push. When I came home I felt a bit tired again but got up to make a smoothie for my boyfriend. I thought this would be pure torture as I was not eating and would not even be able to taste it. But when I made the shake I felt fine. I felt good about my decision. I could look at food, I could prepare food without starving internally. Realizing that also changed was my feeling about food. I really feel like I needed to eat healthier now. Not that I am a generally unhealthy person, but lately I fall off the wagon a little bit. Now I was just craving some healthy greens and looking forward to thriving on them again on day seven. And I realized something else during this day once again. The company of people gives me a lot of energy. I went to my boyfriend´s workplace where I know quite a lot of people so far. Chatting with his colleagues which are now my friends as well pushed me up to the top of my game once again. I wasn´t feeling the tiniest bit tired or exhausted. Maybe that´s also because I´m an extrovert, so I could get a lot of energy talking to them. I also crave being in nature, being creative and just doing things I like best.

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I wanted to be out in nature so many times – everything inside me wanted to go to a green place

Day 5:

I really started to feel amazing on this day. I woke up and meditated as usual. In the morning I felt a bit weak again, but that changed throughout the day! I felt stronger and stronger while still only drinking water. During my break at work I felt the need to go for a walk and to spend some time in a natural, calm place. So I did. I went to a park, sat down and started to write down some general plans and ideas of what I want to accomplish in the next weeks. It felt incredibly good to fix my plans, my goals so that I really knew what I was striving for. Also just sitting under a tree and breathing made me feel alive all over again. After work I felt a bit tired and wanted to lay down. However, I didn´t allow myself to. I went on to do some shopping at a local fruteria – I bought some fruits and veggies I was already looking forward to on day seven. I was already excited to eat again, but I was not bothered waiting for it one more day. It felt amazing to really having the strength to go through with that decision. Everybody knows that I love food, but today I also was fine with my friends eating some amazing vegan meals in front of me and just thinking “I´m really glad I started this journey”. Again, I was surprisingly productive and met up with my friends. As I already mentioned I can draw tremendous amounts of energy just from talking to people. As an extrovert, being in contact with others is crucial for me. I even took part in a friend´s YouTube video and worked for my blog again.

Day 6:

This day was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. But let´s start from the very beginning. When I woke up I mediated – even longer than usual and decided to do some yoga at home. I felt really good after yoga as I usually do, but also realized I had to pay attention to the limits of my body. When I was feeling I couldn´t do a particular position anymore, I just went back to an easier one. Listing to my body was my most important lesson here. Afterwards I started to work at home and experienced a very stressful, exhausting and frustrating situation as I was somehow stuck and couldn´t go back nor forth. During this period of stress I was overwhelmed with a feeling of hunger, I felt the screaming urge for chocolate or something sweet. I usually treat myself in such periods as I feel I really deserve and need it, but this time I had to resist. It´s interesting to see how stress affects me and how I am dealing with it. Maybe not in the best way, as I am realizing now. Luckily I calmed down and didn´t need to stuff my face with chocolate to survive. Afterwards mastering this situation without the standard candy bar I was, again, feeling stronger. Strong enough to do some grocery shopping and carry 3 heavy bags 20 minutes to my home. That might not sound so tiring, but with having to pay attention when doing heavier physical exercise it was. But after I was at home I felt fine again. Fine enough to clean a bit and go to work again. So that´s what I did. My energy level was amazing. I would never have thought I could have as much energy without food but it´s actually so simple.

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My energy level was on top and ready to produce

What I´ve learned from my period of fasting

I definitely learned to listen to my body way better than I did before. If something is too much for me, I simply stop. If I start eating a meal and feel full after only having finished half of it, that’s okay. I simply save it for later. I will only be able to tell a bit of time after my fasting is over, but I feel like I will not go back to this very unhealthy behavior of completely ignoring what your body really needs. I also felt the urge to eat really healthy. If someone would set me a burger in front of my nose the day after my fasting ended, I could not have eaten it. During this period, it just felt too heavy and too unhealthy for me. I was more looking forward to a green smoothie and water melon. Nothing could get me more excited than knowing I would have watermelon for breakfast now. I also noticed that I could focus better, that I was way more concentrated and could get more work done in less time. The time I meditated increased, my self-awareness increased as well. As did my energy level after the 4th day. Day 3 and 4 were the worst, energy wise speaking. Afterwards, I felt completely fine. Coming to day 5 I wasn’t even hungry anymore. And from that time on I just continued to feel amazing.

 

Tipps for a better fast!

  • Fast in a quiet environment. I have to admit, I didn´t do that, but I wish I had. I felt the urge to escape to nature to often but could never do so as I am living in a really busy city. Of course, you can fast and follow your routine like I did. But I am convinced it would be even more beneficial to do so in the middle of nature for a few days.
  • Be prepared for bad breath. Take this very seriously. You have to be prepared. As you are not eating, and your body is cleaning itself, every toxin in there is coming out – resulting in bad breath. I usually had my toothbrush with me at work to avoid bothering anyone around me.
  • Drink a lot of water. I drank up to 5 liters a day. If you don´t drink enough you will feel dizzy and weak. Drinking enough will keep you full and energized. Once your belly is full you won’t even feel hungry anymore – while just drinking water. I always felt great after drinking water, I could feel the energy rushing through my veins.
  • Don´t get discouraged. Depending on how your eating behavior was before it might be hard until day 4. I still experienced a bit of hunger up to day 4 , even though I was drinking enough. Don´t get discouraged! Just stay in there a little longer and the hunger will go away eventually.
  • Get some rest. If you feel like you need some rest, lay down, rest for a while. Afterwards you will feel much better.
  • Switch up water and tea. That really made a difference for me. Even though I love water, I liked the taste of my mint tea once in a while – and you don’t get tired of water that easily.
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Switch up water and tea during your fast

  • Get into it with the right mindset. Don´t make fasting all about losing weight. Yes, it can be used in that way, yes it will have certain positive effects on our body. But everybody is different. If you get into it just thinking about losing weight you might miss out on all the other wonderful effects that go with it. Don´t be impatient to see the results.
  • Don´t get bothered by people eating food. Yes, it might be hard to see people eating your favorite food in front of you, but just keep in mind why you are doing it and what you greater you will achieve
  • After fasting, always keep in mind: if you can go without eating for 6 days you can do so much more. You have such great potential and discipline as not a lot of people would go through the same thing. Just keep that in mind the next time you´re struggling. It will lift you up again.
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Why eating healthy should not be a choice

Is what I am eating really healthy? You might not be posing this question before starting your every meal.

We all know it is important to look after our health, to care for our bodies and to eat healthy food. It´s common sense. But putting a healthy lifestyle into practise, developing and growing into a routine of being healthy is a whole different thing. However, the decision of what to eat should not give us so much freedom to decide – and here´s why.

Instant pleasure

If we eat we usually experience instant pleasure. We are excited, our mouths start to water when we think about greasy, cheesy, meaty food that will fill us with a quick and instant pleasure. When we think about a delicious chocolate cake exposing its’ rich flavours in our mouth or ice cream melting down our throat. I guess, I’ve already made you hungry, have I?

Food plays such an important and central role in our life. We eat food every day, three or more times a day. But we forget about what exactly we put into our mouths. We forget if this food is really going to nourish us in the long run. Will it help us to grow or will it eventually get us into an early grave? We tend to forget that we eat to live, not live to eat. Eating should not become the central focus of our life nor should it become neglected. We eat to live. We need nutrients to fuel us, we need oil for our body, to keep the machine going – year after year after year.

But what happens in our hectic lifestyle, when we run to the supermarket in the morning just to by a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch? What happens if we choke down our food without enjoying it, feeling empty soon afterwards and wanting more? What happens to our bodies 40, 50, 60 years from now when we grow older? Will the machine run as well as now? Or will it be rotten and broken by cheap oil and too little exercise?

All these questions – important questions – we need to ask ourselves once we put something into our mouth the next time. Will this keep me fit 60 years from now? Will this food benefit my health or will it provoke disease sooner or later? Our main cause of death heart diseases and stroke – which are proven to result from an unhealthy lifestyle.

We are so caught up in our fast living, hectic, production driven world that we forgot to take time for the little, but important things. And what could be more important than food which is directly connected to your health.

Our valuable health

Our health is the most important thing we have. Nothing can have worse impacts on our quality of life than our physical and mental health. While the second one is a whole other topic, the first one is being dealt with in a very neglected way. Especially when it comes to food we tend to strive for pleasure and for instant satisfaction. It´s natural wanting to feel good and to enjoy something. But we need to use our brain first. We cannot keep living like most people are living now. It´s neither helping the planet, nor our health, but destroying our bodies and our environment.

Healthy in the future?

Just picture yourself 60 years from now. How would you want your condition of health to be? I regularly see people who are 70, 80 years old, overweight, walking with a crouch or driving a wheelchair. While this might seem normal for some people, it should not reflect life of an old person. Who doesn’t want to be able to run around like a 40-year-old while being 80? I guess most of us do. So, we can prevent this to happen to us, we can proactively choose another way of life.

I know for sure that when I am 80 I want to be able to travel, to ride horses, to do anything I want to do. And we can. If we follow the right diet, if we think about our future we will still be happy and healthy once we´re old. If not, we will follow a sad, unhappy and unhealthy lifestyle.

A personal story

I can even tell you a personal story how eating healthy transformed my life for the better. I am a vegan and have been one for 2 and a half years now. So, I already ate healthier than most people probably. However, I do have a sweet tooth. I do like chocolate, cookies, cakes – and I still do. But not so long ago I could not get enough of them. So, once I turned vegan I looked out for the vegan opportunities. I wasn´t so concerned about my health, I wanted good food, sweets. I ate whatever I wanted – and gained quite some weight as I continued to eat more processed food and way more sugar and sweets. I felt like I needed something sweet to fulfil me, to make me happy. And so I kept on eating like this quite a while.

It was only recently that I discovered my love for healthy food again. And I can say that I won´t fall off that wagon any time soon. I´m feeling too good, I have too much energy to reconsider my choices. I love to wake up every morning to eat my smoothie bowl, my oatmeal with a ton of fruits or just a huge slice of watermelon with some grains and soy yoghurt. I could not think about something better to start my day with. But did I get back to this feeling again?

Well, it all started when I wanted to lose weight. I didn´t feel comfortable in my skin anymore, I felt too fat, my body felt blown up like balloon. Objectively speaking I know that this was just a personal feeling, I was in no sense overweight. But you don’t need to be overweight to feel uncomfortable. In fact, a lot of people I know don’t feel comfortable and have an amazing body in my opinion. But, I was like that as well, I didn´t feel comfortable in my skin, I didn´t feel good walking around in a bikini, I didn´t want to show too much of my body. I was not too self- conscious, because I accepted the way I was, but I still had the nagging feeling of not being fully happy with myself and wanted to change something about it. I knew it was possible.

Feeling confortable in my skin

So, when I moved to Barcelona I decided to eat healthy from this day on. I started to cut down the sugar, now I am almost sugar free. I still enjoy sweets, but homemade ones which I sweeten with dried fruits, raisins, dates and so on. There are so many ways to get healthier sugar than the white one you can find in every supermarket. I always cook for myself and rarely go out to eat. I like to take my time to cook because I know what I put into my food and I know what kind of food I need. You should never have an excuse not to cook. Food plays such an important role in our life that we can skip the step of producing it ourselves. Because most of the food you can buy outdoors won´t benefit your health at all. It will just give you the quick instant pleasure we talked about before.

Learn how to cook!

If you don´t know how to cook it´s time to learn – staring now! With a lot of YouTube tutorials and detailed recipes it´s not that hard anymore. Just go for the simple ones – simple can be delicious as well! You just need to give it a try, sooner or later you will figure it out.

I myself started to cook when I was young, and I am glad I enjoy it a lot. But even if I don´t feel like it after a stressful day I would still do it as I value the long-term benefits of my nutrition more than the instant pleasure of a burger.

Of course, I still go out to eat occasionally. But when I do, I pick vegan restaurants who mostly are quite healthy already. If you go out to eat only healthy – go for it! But unfortunately, there are not so many good options out there. That´s why a home cooked meal can lengthen your life significantly. Just think about it the next time you walk into a supermarket; the next time you are tempted to eat something you know will be bad for you. I am not saying you should restrict yourself and only eat salad the whole time. You should be able to thrive in food, to enjoy it and love what you are eating. But this is as possible with healthy vegan options, with sugar free options as with all other foods. Just give it a try for a week. Then compare your energy level, the way you sleep and how you feel in general. If you feel a difference, you might want to stay in there for longer.

 

To start out, here´s a recipe for a very healthy (and delicious) green smoothie:

Green smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 Banana
  • ½ green apple
  • ½ peach
  • 10 raspberries
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • A big hand full of spinach
  • ½ avocado
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemps seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • ¼ l Soy milk

 

How to?

This smoothie is packed with greens – but doesn’t taste like it at all! The fruits “cover” the taste of greens for those who are still experimenting with them – this smoothie is a good start as it won´t taste like spinach or cucumber at all! So, let´s give it a try, shall we?

Green smoothie

This green smoothie is self- explanatory. Cut all your fruits, vegetables and greens into smaller pieces and put them into a blender. If your blender is not as strong (like mine) you can do it on two times. Pour in the soy milk and last but not least the seeds. I usually take one to two tablespoons of all of them – but you can vary them however you like. Then blend it all up and you´re ready to go! This smoothie is also perfect as a breakfast or after a work out as it leaves you with a lot of important nutrients.

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This is what the finished product should look like

You want more recipes? Check out my latest ones:

Peanutbutter Curry with Butternut Squash

Banana Smoothie Bowl with Amaranth

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“Colombia – more than drugs & cocaine!”

Interview with Eric from Colombia

 

Which country do you consider to be your country?

That´s a difficult question, if you are asking for a specific country. Because I think the experiences I have in living abroad in another country are also part of my life. So for me it´s difficult to say I am from a specific country. I would say there is not a country which I consider my main country.

So would you say you have a few countries you can relate to quite well?

Well, Colombia is the country where I was born and most of my family is living there. I know a lot about their politics I´m also concerned about what happens there. But to say that this my main country – I don´t know. My main country is a very difficult question. For example now, I have the opportunity to live in Spain. And also I have been studying and doing my masters here. All these activities are part of my life and I like them as much as I would like them in another country. Like I would in Colombia or the States, or as I am doing right now in Spain.

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Colombia – the country Eric was born in

So, you are living in Spain now. Why did you choose Spain?

I chose it because my partner is from here, that´s the main reason. Last year I was in Colombia working there. But when we meet we decided to live together and Spain is the place where we can live together. The best opportunities for both of us are in Spain. If it would get difficult here we could try again in another country as we have the chance to find a job for both of us.

 

You both speak Spanish. Do you prefer a Spanish speaking country to live in?

For the language I would say that it is easier to live in a country where you can find people that speak your native language. I think it would be challenging in another country. Or maybe better. But I think the most common problems you face in another country are more related to your job or your studies.

You also did your master in Spain. How would you compare the education system in Spain to the one in Colombia?

In education they are more or less the same. If you are looking for a broad spectrum of masters I think the best option is in Spain or in other countries rather than Colombia. But if you are looking for a job I think it is quite complicated in Spain. Because there is a lot of people. So, in that sense I think it depends which kind of options and which kind of opportunities you have – in Spain, in Colombia or in any other country.

 

Do you like living in Spain?

I like living here, living here has been really good. I cannot complain about anything. The weather is perfect, it´s the best weather I`ve ever experienced, people here are nice. Jobs are not so easy. But I have this strong feeling that it is difficult to find a job if you´re around 20 or 30.

 

How long have you been living here now?

8 months.

 

Is there something you especially miss about Colombia?

My family. Most of it is my family. But the culture not really. The most important part if my family. My mum especially.

 

Could you tell me a general misconception people usually have about Colombia?

I´m sure you have already heard something about the famous drug dealer Pablo Escobar and all the issues related to him. There are some parts of his story that are true, but also others that are completely made up.

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Pablo Escobar – highly associated with Colombia, but not mirroring reality anymore

Colombia is an amazing country. But I think Colombia is a country of contrast. You can find 3 kinds of social groups there. People who are rich, who are the wealthiest of the country. The middle class, which is not so big, with a tiny social structure and the poor people – who are more than the middle class. You can see this structure in the cities. The main problems that are related to Colombia are the issues related to the people that are living in the poor areas. But Colombia is a complex country and you can find so much contrast there. Geographically you can find something from cold to Caribbean weather and really high mountains, the Andes. So we have a lot contrast geographically. Socially, people from different skin colours, black to white. You can see a lot of contrast there, culturally, socially, there are many changes. The problem is that outside we are seen “Colombians are related to cocaine, or drug dealing”. Obviously that´s like saying Spain is just about bull fights and flamenco, which is not true.

How do the differences in the country effect the people there?

Sometimes you can find a slight discrimination considering where people are living. For example, someone who is from the coast could be seen to be someone who is lazy. So, there are stereotypes related to where you come from. Even though we are Colombians we don´t have any particular problems like for example Spain has with Catalunya now. We don´t have this situation. But we have discrimination, a little sublet discrimination between us. But we are Colombians. We are very close to Venezuelans as well. I think we have many cultural issues that are similar. Like Spain and France are similar. That´s also why I think this political statement of I belong to a country doesn´t fit anymore for our time.

 

How would you notice this sublet discrimination you were talking about?

For example in Colombia there is a region called Choco. This place has been dominated

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The reagion of choco

by black people, because when they were at the beginning of the county they were forced to live outside of it. They were forced on this land. So they ended up in this state named Choco. Even there you can find discrimination from white people. Because the main population is black. They feel somehow threatened about their place. But they are not really accustomed to white people. And we have the same discrimination the other way around. For example in Bogota, the capital people are mainly white. There you can hear racist comments from people. You can hear them saying nigger or something like that. So, there is discrimination. There are two kinds of discrimination. The worst is the social discrimination according to your wealth. If you are rich, some people used to discriminate rich people as well. Nowadays that´s not that common anymore. There is discrimination in daily life. I would say that it is hidden discrimination. No one will say oh you´re black, but people would look at you weirdly.

 

Is discrimination tolerated in Colombia?

No it´s not tolerated socially. I think Colombia is a very progressive country. But socially, politically, it´s not accepted to discriminated. I think discrimination is penalized in some cases. It depends on the specific situation.

 

What´s the general reaction you normally get when you tell people “Hi, I´m Colombian”?

Well, it depends on who is on the other side. If it is someone who already was in Colombia they say “Great, it´s a beautiful country” most of the time. But for people who don´t have any idea of my country you can see them thinking like “Ah, oh Colombia, coffee,..” sometimes they say Pablo Escobar. Sometimes you can get very surprising answers.

 

Which answers were surprising to you?

The last one was Pablo Escobar. Medellin. People say Colombia oh, coffee, Sofia Vergara. But it´s a stereotype so, at the end I think it doesn´t help too much to get an image of the country, it´s just a stereotype.

 

Do you also get some comments about drug dealing?

Yeah sometimes some kinds of jokes. And I usually take them as a joke, because yeah, people sometimes try to be nice and the only thing they know sometimes is Pablo Escobar and drugs, and that´s it. So it stays a joke because they don´t know so much about the country.

 

What´s your favourite thing about Colombia?

The place where I was born – that is the most important place for me. But as I think it is a very special country. But like any other country it can have amazing people and there´s not so much difference for me between one country or another. There are countries that have a long historical background, but well, Colombia and many Latin American countries are very new. Like America.

 

What is the biggest difference between Spain and Colombia?

I think the people here are generally more educated. They have more opportunities to get education so they are more educated in general. But you can find so many differences. But that´s the main difference for me.

 

Do you have anything you would still like to clarify about Colombia?

I would say that unfortunately these action movies and series are interesting, but this

pe

One of the many movies about Pablo Escobar

causes a fake idea about the situation. And unfortunately people believed in it. So I would say that to everything related to Pablo Escobar. Yes, Pablo Escobar was real, he was a real issue in Colombia. But it was in the 90s. But the history of Colombia in the 90s was so different from now. I mean I can say that there is drug traffic. But I don´t know any specific country that doesn´t have problems with drugs. But the Pablo Escobar structure that is sold in the series is not what the reality looks like. There is no Pablo Escobar right now, or no other drug dealer in this position. Now Colombia is a country that is trying to gain back their trust in the state, the government. They have their problems. But well I think it´s doing better now than in this previous years. But especially in the 90s the situation was real difficult and in the beginning to the 2000s.

 

Anything else you would like to add?

Colombia is a nice place to visit. I haven´t been to many pleas there. I haven’t been to many touristic places and I still have to go there. I want to go to the amazon for example. Or people from outside of Colombia: there is so much to know. And it´s a changing country. I think everything is changing now.

 

Authors note

I guess I´m like most Europeans – I don’t know much about Colombia. That´s why I, again, learned a lot from this interview. We shouldn´t just focus on countries that are right in front of our nose – and especially in Europe we tend to do that. Everything a bit further away (except the US) is not really present in the news, is not really present in peoples´ minds. But these are the countries that have a lot to offer whom we have a lot to learn from as we basically don´t know anything about them. That´s why you should listen to Erics story, to any story anyone from the other side of the world can tell you – you will benefit greatly from it, I promise.

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Peanut Butter Curry with Butternut Squash

Recipe: Vegan Peanut Butter Curry

Ingredients (for 2 hungry people)

Curry

  • 2 cups of dried soy
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup of soy milk
  • 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon of tamari
  • 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons of Chili sauce
  • Curry powder
  • Paprika powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 Butternut squash
  • 3 cups of red rice
  • Vegetable stock (paste)

 

How to?

This curry is awesome. As I love peanut butter I try to use it all the time. It might not be a traditional curry but adds a nice creaminess to your curry you definitely don´t want to miss! It´s a creamy peanut butter dream. The butternut squash also goes perfectly on side with the curry. I cut mine in thick chips and they definitely come out perfectly crunchy but soft on the inside. To keep this crunchiness, I put them aside along with the red rice!

http_cdn4.rosannadavisonnutrition.comwp-contentuploads2017037-Butternut-Squash-Hacks-To-Conquer-This-Tricky-Gourd-Sept-17-2015

Butternut Squash – an orange vegetable full of vitamins!

So, let´s talk about Butternut Squash for a while! This vegetable is loaded with vitamins and has some awesome health benefits! This pumpkin provides lots of vitamin C which boosts your immune system. Vitamin C has also been proven to increase your skin condition. It´s also a good source of fiber – and therefore good for your digestive system! Find out even more health benefits here Health Benefits of Butternut Squash

So, with all these cool benefits in mind, let´s start, shall we?

 

Peanut butter curry

First of all, put your rice in a pot with water. Put ½ times as much water in your pot as rice, then add the vegetable stock to it. This helps to enhance the flavor of your rice.

Cut off the skin of your butternut squash and remove the seeds. I usually do this by cutting it in half first. Then I remove the skin of the upper half. Afterwards I cut the lower part in half again and remove the seeds with a spoon. Then I cut off the skin as well. Once you´re done removing the skin, cut up your pumpkin into thin round pieces as you cut it vertically. Then lay the pieces out on a baking tray and put them into the oven at 200°C. Bake them for about 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime, we can make our peanut butter curry. First, peal the onion and cut it into small pieces. Sauté them until they become translucent. During the time your onions are cooking, soak your dried soy. To soak it, we are going to make a spicy mixture. Put the soymilk into a cup along with your soy sauce, tamari, peanut butter and chili sauce. Mix all of the ingredients well together, then let the dried soy soak in that mixture for a little bit. Once your onions are ready, add your soy to the mixture and let it cook on medium heat. Now you can chop up your zucchini into small pieces and add them to the pan as well as your garlic. I usually slice up my garlic very thinly, to enhance its flavor. Let it simmer for 5 minutes. The last thing we are going to add is the corn as it is canned and doesn´t need to be cooked down anymore. Now we are ready to spice it up a bit! Add your curry powder, paprika powder, salt and pepper to taste. Once you´re satisfied with the taste, remove it from the heat. Your rice and pumpkin should also be done now as well. Put the pumpkin out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes.

Now we are ready to assemble and dig in! I served my butternut squash with a bit of vegan mayo; however, this is optional. It does taste amazing on its own as well.

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“All Turkish ride Camels?”

Interview with Sue from Istanbul, Turkey

http_www.bestourism.comimgitemsbig6832Turkey_Flag-of-Turkey_7909

The Turkish flag

Which country do you consider to be your country?

Can I choose countries all over the world?

Sure!

I don´t know – the world is so big. I have too many countries that I have never visited before. But from the one I have I would choose Costa Rica. Costa Rica is me.

costa

Costa Rica – the country she was impressed with the most

So what did you especially like about Costa Rica?

Nature. Everything is natural. Everything is pure. If you cut a tree on the road, for example, the government can punish you for that. Even if you just cut a little tree. And the people living there also don´t respect it if you destroy something in nature. But, actually, the main reason I like it is happiness. Because happiness is building the culture, you are learning how to be respectful to every single culture even if the are different. So yeah, I think it is Costa Rica.

How long did you live in Costa Rica?

Two and a half months, but it was – everything. I loved spending my time there.

So, you were born and raised in Turkey. How do you feel about this country?

The thing is, I had no chance to choose the place where I was born, but I have a chance to decide where I want to live. I really love my Turkey, but every country has a different mentality. Even if the country is seen as a really good country, we humans are making the country a country. So, it´s about the people. There are so many different people in Turkey – from all around the world. Even if they are Turkish, we have a lot of different types of Turkish people.

How do you feel about the people in your country?

I love people. I don´t have anything against anyone. Even if someone would do something really bad to me I´d say “Ok, they choose to do that, it´s their thing.” But I will not break down because of something like that. I love Turkish people, I love Turkish hospitality, I love Turkish smiles and I love Turkish food. But yeah, I just love people.

Do you plan on living in Turkey or do you want to keep travelling?

I want to spend my time in different countries as much as I can. From all around the world. I don´t want to limit myself to be honest. Because, yes, I was born in Turkey and my parents are Turkish, but there´s a whole planet that we are living on. So we need to see everything. Because we are maybe just living once. So we need to see everything, every culture, we need to exchange cultures.

Can you see yourself living in Costa Rica one day?

I will. I will. It´s my biggest goal in life. After my forties or after my thirty-fives I will definitely find a way. Even if I couldn´t fulfill my dreams I will live there for sure. It´s like…the purpose of my life right now.

What do you think Turkish people are known for?

https_www.turkijevisumonline.nlwp-contentuploads201503Turkish-Hospitality

The well-known Turkish hospitality

Every Turkish has morals. And we have good hospitality. Even if you are in a different region of Turkey, even if you visit a different culture in Turkey. If you really know the local Turkish people, the main thing about our culture is hospitality. You can just ask for food of someone, you can ask for a stay with someone and ask for help. And they are helpful. They are really helpful.

Could you tell me a general misconception people usually have about Turkish people?

Wow, I don´t even know where to start. People think, for example, we are living in the desert in the middle of nowhere. Turkey has a really beautiful geographical place in the world. Our landscape is really diverse.

One time I was in the States, I took an Uber and the Uber driver was really shocked when I told him that I am from Turkey.

He asked me “Really? Seriously? Can I ask you something? Can you have a boyfriend in Turkey?”

“Yes, why not?!”

“Oh, I thought that you were all wearing a hijab and you have really strict rules because of your dictatorship.”

“No, of course not”.

Once time, when I was in Costa Rica, they asked me if I was riding Camels in Turkey. They are always asking me why I am not wearing the hijab.

When I ask him “Hey, do you know where Turkey is?”

They reply “It´s in the middle east.”

No, it´s Asia, Europe and Middle-East. Mostly they are asking me “Do you have winter? Do you have seasons or do you have just one season or something?” So, I´ve already gotten a lot of weird questions.

https_s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.comoriginals42aa7742aa7754278ca2aaa87545cbb0daa798

Where Turkey really is situated

 

Do you also get questions about your religion?

Yes and most people don´t know what Islam is. For example, I am a Muslim. I´m really happy to be a Muslim. But I am living my religion on my own, I don´t have to show it to anyone. I don´t have to talk to anyone, I don´t have to convince people that I am Muslim.

What´s the general reaction of people when you say “I´m Muslim”?

Oh, the first question always is “Pork?”.

So when I´m telling them I´m vegetarian, they are like “Ah, that´s why you´re vegetarian. You are not eating pork, it´s not halal.

And I´m like “No, it´s my choice.”

People normally ask me about pork, hijab and praying five times per day. They are

hijab

The hijab – which ou don’t need to wear to be Turkish nor to be Muslim

asking why I´m drinking alcohol, why I am going out, why I am dressing the way I dress if I believe in Islam. For example, a couple of days ago I met a Turkish guy in a club who is living in Germany. He never visited Turkey before. And he thought that I couldn´t dress like I dress if I am living there. He was like “Are you Muslim? And why are you dressed like this?” It´s not your business. And in Islam, it is written that you cannot judge people. Even if they are doing something bad we cannot judge people, because of their religion, because of their believes. If you start to judge them you are out of Islam. It´s a rule, you cannot judge people.

One big topic right now is the political situation of your country. What do you think about it?

Right now, because I am far away for two and a half months, I couldn´t follow it too much. But it has been many years that we are living in this situation. Because now, once euro is 8 Turkish liras which is really good money in Turkey.

And then I always hate radicals. Like I told you before, if you believe in something, believe it by your own. Just start to think if it makes sense for you, for the people, for the community. If you think, then it´s okay. You cannot just believe something without thinking.

Now Turkey, has the same problem. Because half of the population are smiling and say “Yes, we are not supporting this. We are supporting human rights, animal rights, everything.” But, in the backyards when you hurt an animal, you just pay little amount of money in the court and you are free. But actually it doesn´t matter if it´s an animal or a human. We are the same Torturing is the same thing. And we are living in the 21st century. If you ignore this law that much, you´re not a good politician, you´re not a good leader. If you just let the people rape women, just let people kill, threat, torture. Now they started to have new rules, new laws. Before not. Because when people started to shout “It´s enough!”

For example, I don´t want to judge anyone about it, but in Germany we have a lot of Turkish people. And we are getting a lot of votes for the government from people who live there. But they are earning in euros. They are spending euros there, yes. But they are earning in euros. They can have both citizenships. When Turkish people from Turkey go abroad, they are spending Turkish lira, not euros and it´s too much.

Tourists are coming to Turkey a lot, but local people can´t go a lot out of Turkey. Because it´s expensive, because of the economy. For many years now. So, the political issues are there. This is a really a deep question. If we really start to talk about everything, it´s not going to end for one week to be honest. Because if you stared to live in Turkey, then you would understand. You cannot describe these things to people from outside. And the people I was talking about, Turkish people in other countries. They are not living in Turkey. They are not in the same situation as we are.

So do you think foreigner living abroad should be able to vote?

They should be able to vote. Of course. But they need to think. It´s really simple. They need to think. Also about the people not only about themselves only. Because it´s selfish, but it´s karma. It will return anyways. I don´t know I hate it when people are deciding something for our country even if they are not living there. They vote. I´m supporting them being able to vote. If they can think and if they can state their opinion cleverly I can accept it. I can talk about it. But they normally can´t.

Do you get a lot of questions about politics from people you meet as well?

Oh yes, today it´s my fourth time that I am talking about our political situation with someone. Some guest asked me first, and I talked with another intern from the hostel and I talked with my friend and now I´m talking to you. It´s the fourth times today. Every single day.

What´s your favorite thing about your country?

It´s cliché maybe, but whenever I go it will be my home. The smell of my country. Really, it´s different. The taste of everything is different. My family. My friends.

When I wake up I like to see green outside my window or when I walk in the street I like to say “Hey, how is it going?” to the vendors in the market halls.

Because they are always “Hey, thank you, thank you, good morning”

We have a phase in Turkey that we always say to each other. It´s not so easy to translate it to English but it´s like this: “I whish that your work will be much easier for you today.”

We always keep on saying that to each other. I think I miss people’s helpful behavior. There´s a lot of things I miss. I really miss water. Water is really tasty in Turkey.

istanbul

A view over Istanbul, Turkey

You´ve been living in Spain for a while now. What would you say is the biggest difference between Spain and Turkey?

Turkey is safer. It is. It is really safer than Barcelona. In Barcelona it was the first time that I was scared walking on the streets or at the beach in the whole world, from the places I visited. Istanbul is much safer. Barcelona is something different. When I went inside first I hated that country, and this city. Then I started to love it, because you´re getting used to it, you´re adapting. Because it´s different.

So you live in Istanbul?

Yes, but I went to most of the cities in Turkey.

Which one was your favorite?

beach

One of the many beautiful beaches in Turkey

So many. On the Asian side the beaches are perfect. The Mediterranean side is perfect. Black sea is perfect. Every part is different. When you go to the east, when you start to walk and they recognize that you´re foreign they are like

“Hey, come eat with, come stay with us you must be hungry. And sleep here.”

They are really inviting you into their home. Ii love every place in my country. I love my country. Really. I love Costa Rica too though. It´s my second home.

Do you still have some things you would like to clarify about Turkey?

Just I want people to stop believing what they are reading or seeing on television and the internet. And they are just reading that. If they come at least once to Turkey, they will understand what I mean. You cannot understand Turkey if you haven´t visited it at least once. Twice is much better. Third time is much better. But at least you need to live that experience and then you can start to say anything.

Is there something else you would like to add?

I miss bars in Istanbul. Really. They are open until the morning. My country is gorgeous. Visit Istanbul, visit Turkey. And if you´re from Europe it´s going to be cheap for you.

 

 

Authors note:

This interview left me with the strong urge of wanting to go to Turkey and experiencing this culture for myself. Especially about Turkey, I am sure a lot of people have a pre- made image in their minds. We are influenced by the things we see in the news, on social media and and sometimes we are not even considering how people living in Turkey must be feeling. That´s what I am trying to illustrate here. Growing a deep understanding of where a person really comes from is something really beautiful. Of course, all these interviews are personal, of course they do not reflect all Turkish people. Still, it gives you more insight than any news channel might do. It´s amazing how even talking to one person can shift one´s pre-made assumptions. I am a very open-minded person, but I am not unaffected by my culture and by how I´ve been conditioned. I am very aware of that. That´s why I am trying to break these habits of thinking – and inviting everyone to join and try as well!

 

 

Want to read more?

Find out more about Poland

https://theworldinbitsandpieces.com/2018/08/29/poland-is-not-russia/

Or about the United States!

https://theworldinbitsandpieces.com/2018/08/22/usa-fat-people-and-guns/