Little surprises…

While rummaging through some old documents sitting on my desk today, I came across a letter I wrote while applying for a scholarship through the program I was to study abroad with in Paris. I completely forgot I wrote it, but it was just the surprise I needed. I read this letter and knew I wrote it, but it became so interesting to realize how my mind has evolved since writing it.

Here I am. I’ve applied for internships, worked in television production and spent my senior year trying to soak it all up, but I feel slightly unsatisfied. This letter reminded me of why I am doing all of this work. I’m not trying to get internships at Discovery Communications and others like it because I want money. I am applying to work for these specific companies because of the possibility of travel opportunities. I love cinematography and broadcasting television, but so much of my soul is based from a fire within me to travel and help other species. I don’t just want a job I want irreplaceable experiences. I am going to copy the letter I wrote here, for any of you who may have the same feeling about travel that I do. This is why I travel…this is why everything I am doing matters at all.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” 

Beginning the moment I could understand the written word and recognize rotating images on Animal Planet, Travel Channel and Discovery Channel, I became a restless soul constantly seeking the ever changing and expanding world of endless culture surrounding each corner of the planet. To me, travel became an innate obsession after watching the genocide in Africa, reading about the extinction of the Baiji White Dolphin in the Yangtze River in China and observing the timeless architecture in Paris. In no way would I sit in one place watching the world from behind a screen ever again. 

My curiosity and desire to see the world through the eyes of those living thousands of miles away grows by the day. This has resulted in flying across the world to Reykjavik, Iceland to discover the plentiful landscapes and budding philosophy based on the notion that we must care for the planet the way it cares for us. As my Icelandic tour guide Oli believed, “nature must be preserved completely. Without it, we have nothing.” 

The memory of my travels has resided deep within my heart and has been a privilege that I am grateful for as each day passes. I recognize the opportunities I have been able to grasp; a significant reason why I have chased this Parisian journey so incessantly. My goal is to understand the way the world works. I want to feel what others feel. I want to be out in the field fighting for what is right. 

Without the glories of travel, I believe imagination is limited. Just the way a dog living inside a home cannot experience the softness of the grass, a person cannot respect the differences between her and the foreigner beside her without traveling to culturally diverse countries. In order to develop an true internal acceptance of others, a person must live alongside other less fortunate or perhaps more fortunate cultures. Broadening the knowledge of how the world spins will generate empathy for those living with less. In life, this can be one of the most difficult mindsets to embrace.

I know that travel an be frightening and it can be challenging in more ways than one. This is a life lesson; that which requires bravery will muster the greatest of changes. This is the largest hope for my future: to change, to develop, to be confused, to be uncertain and to learn what it means to make a significant impact on someone’s life. 

Now, I wrote this letter before I traveled to live in Paris for four months. And to be completely honest, my feelings before the semester have only grown more intense. Still, I have learned one special lesson that I never thought I would. Sometimes, us travel fanatics tend to feel unhappy in one place for a long period of time. If we feel upset or frustrated, we look outside ourselves and want to change our environments. Perhaps our problems are from the weather, the air quality or even traffic. After I lived in Paris, I noticed that
some of the problems I would have at home still existed when I lived abroad. So I learned that my little problems weren’t from external sources at all. They were stemming from inside me. So, being here in Southern California once again, I’ve made the distinctive choice to be happy right where I am. I often complain that I want to travel, but the truth is, I am traveling right now. When I lived in Seattle, I was so eager to come here and go to school. That was my biggest adventure to date. I was going to experience college outside of my hometown because I felt just as eager to live in a new place. But a year passed and I wasn’t happy because of things that I couldn’t change. So, I wanted to up and leave once again. But what if changing my environment wasn’t the solution? What if changing my mindset was the answer.

Truthfully, it was my mindset. So reading this letter to myself now, it means something completely different than it did then. I don’t travel just because I want to see new places, I travel because I truly want to help others and make a difference in the world. I want humans to live as one with their planet, not against it. That was the reason buried deep in my heart. It took sifting through the muck surrounding it to find the authenticity I always had, but never saw.

I ended up being offered the scholarship. When they gave it to me, they had no idea their money was going toward me finding myself once again, not just funding a travel-hungry college student.

T.

Light me up

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One of the hardest parts of saying goodbye to an adventure that has defined my character indefinitely, is to remember of a quote from my favorite song. It says, “when one door closes, open a window.”

That is the best way to think of my journey living in Europe. As I sit here at the airport, nearly tearing up, I have to think of a few things. If we never end the happiest moments of our lives, we can’t truly understand the value of the experience. These may be cliché notions but I am having to reach into my pocket and take them out because I don’t want to let go. We have such a huge planet that is so vast; we can spend an entire lifetime traveling around it. Though I haven’t left Europe during the course of this trip, I am to be forever restless to discover whatever else there is out there.

To be me. To travel. To be a traveler. To be a wanderer. To be a nomad. To see a train and want to get on it. To not care where the destination is, as long as it is somewhere new. To love public transportation. To plan the next trip in the middle of the current one.  To find the greatest peace in the simplest of things. To find a few minutes to sit and watch. To buy too many travel books. To feel the most comfortable in the airport. To talk to everyone you see. To walk long distances. To love the modest lifestyle. To feel lit on fire…all the time.

I’ve learned to be comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations. My biggest joys are new mountains, rivers, new colors and new people.. I am obsessed with soaking up new cultures. Small annoyances and mishaps become funny anecdotes. Whatever problems bubble up pass so easily. My biggest fears have slowly diminished.

What is life…to be genuinely happy and to realize that people and experiences mean more than anything else out there. Joy is the sun that shines through airplane windows. Joy is a bus ticket. Joy is witnessing two separate tables of people strike up conversation with one another, despite a language barrier. Living four months traveling the world teaches the truth about life and what it should be like. All of the people out there country-hopping know exactly what I am talking about. It is the priceless education of travel.

For those of us who know what I mean, trying to “find yourself” takes a while. We all think we know what we want, what we want to do, who we want, where we want to end up and what each day means. But how can we know any of that if we don’t step out of our own backyards. I don’t mean our physical locations, I mean the comfort of our limits. We can travel the world, sure. But to be a tourist and to be immersed in a culture are so different and produce completely contrasting results. One is a photo album of all the beautiful places we’ve been. The other is a photo album of all of the nights we spent playing guitar with locals until 3 a.m., of moments we lost our passports on the train, of the tiny hostel rooms we had to cram ourselves in, of the ferries we missed, of the protein bars we had to eat because we can’t afford anything else, of the best friends we made in the most uncommon of circumstances. I love getting uncomfortable, feeling dirty and walking so much my shoes break.

And so it continues, a life of always chasing a new sunrise. Here I come, Portugal.

T.

Croatia, my love

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Eight days, good friends, ferries and locals. That was it.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed Croatia making its way into the public eye through word of mouth and mediums like ABC’s hit show The Bachelornow I’m beginning to understand why.

Croatians love their seafood, love tourists and genuinely want you to get to know their country. I spent 8 days venturing through the the town of Split and the islands of Hvar and Brač. We also hopped on a bus from Split to a seaside port called Trogir.

The country was nothing like I expected. Every person we met was so eager to help us get around, find restaurants, meet other locals and discover hidden secrets. Coming from Paris, where they seemingly hate American tourists, it was a nice change. There was the famous Diocletian’s Palace dating back to the Roman Era, where you could get lost and feel like you’re in The Gladiator. It was indescribable walking across the stone paths and stumbling upon tiny, family-owned shops and bars.

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Watching small Croatian children fish on the island of Hvar.

Split is right on the edge of the Mediterranean sea. There are restaurants lining the water just like Barcelona, but something felt different. The community is always bustling around the palace talking to each other, laughing, fishing, buying foods from the outdoor markets and playing music. As I sit here, I can’t help but crave to go back. I  loved lying by the sea in the sunshine and hearing all of the different languages being spoken.

We met a hubbub of the friendliest travelers from all over Europe and Asia. Even all of the little cats walking around seem uncharacteristically snuggly. This country might be small, but it’s the home of some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

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Public transportation in Croatia was more like having a constant tour guide. Riding the ferries was a genuine pleasure because they moved somewhat slowly, so you could sit on the top deck outside in the sunshine. The water was so blue, it almost seemed straight out of Photoshop. On any island we visited, there were young kids sitting on the side of the piers fishing beside the adult fishermen who were selling freshly caught sea bass, octopus and squid right off their boats.

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Croatia’s token octopus salad.

Cuisine in Croatia easily became comparative to what I might find in Seattle. I live on the Pacific Ocean, but it seems that the Mediterranean had something more to offer. In the morning, owners of restaurants walked to the pier, bought local seafood off the boats, and properly showed you a tray of the freshest daily options that evening. It was just magical. Our world is moving so fast, yet Croatia has the ability to slow things down. Even in gelato shops, there were machines that made daily gelato right in front of your eyes. I can’t brag enough about this country.

The first restaurant we visited was an accident and something right off Pinterest. Konoba Korta, oh how I miss you.

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Vegetable couscous with a spicy kick.
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Bacon wrapped chicken skewers with grilled vegetables.
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This was anything but your typical creamed tomato soup.

Our experience consisted of one kind server, two perfectly homemade brewed Croatian beers, a tomato soup, an octopus salad, two bacon-wrapped chicken skewers and a whole lot of smiles. When we got the check I almost dropped it when I saw the total. A meal I thought would cost $45, was only 80 Kuna, (the Croatian currency) which is equal to about $11.36. Unbelievable.

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That afternoon, we casually played soccer with some local kids who constantly made fun of our lack of skill. It was adorable.

Croatia reminds me that that even though there is a lot of darkness in the world, there’s good as well. Sometimes our minds are bogged down with such negativity, but if we take a minute to connect to one another, we can feel our purpose more easily.

Croatia, thank you!

T.

 

To bake with the Parisians

 

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About a week ago, I had the pleasure of walking to the back of a pâtisserie called Leloup Gourmand on 129 rue du Temple in Paris. This was such an amazing treat, literally. Imagine learning how to make authentic French croissants in the heart of Paris. I can honestly say that this was an experience I will never forget.

The adorable chef, Bernard Leloup, was genuinely passionate about his pastry perfections. Speaking completely in French, he told us he wanted to bake since he was very young. What an amazing career choice…to bring joy to people everyday through perfectly flakey croissant crust.

Immediately, we walked back to the kitchen. It looked just like a kitchen I would see in any restaurant, but filled with smells of Paris. Decorating the walls were mixing tools, bread knives, spatulas, dough scrapers, lemon squeezers, measuring spoons, nutcrackers and anything else you can imagine in the kitchen of a French pâtisserie.

We were warmly greeted and couldn’t help but drool the entire time we were being introduced. Monsieur Leloup was so excited to welcome us in to his haven.

The first order of business was to take a taste of pain chocolat. Pronounced (pan chowkowlah.) Pain chocolat are a traditional breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack option for any day of the year. Many of my lovely friends studying abroad have built a strong and long-lasting relationship with this simple treat.

M. Leloup carefully cut a pain chocolat in half to show us the importance of perfect layers. He showed us the small chocolate strips that are carefully rolled in to each one. He said the ingredients that make each pain chocolat is what gives us that satisfying moment of a first bite. This is not food to M. Leloup, this is artwork.

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We were given another demonstration with croissants. Because I was starving at 2:30 p.m., I couldn’t help but stare as he put the tray of freshly baked croissants on the counter top.

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We were taught exactly how to properly knead the dough, cut the pieces in to small slices and formally pull and roll the dough in order to wrap the slices into small little bits of croissant goodness. We learned to paint egg white on the top of each croissant before it is baked. This gives the croissants their crispy, tasty flavor.

My passion for food has always given me a reason to meet new people, travel and be more experimental in my life overall. I realized while M. Leloup was teaching us his ways, that spending time to care for the process of making something is just as valuable as eating what you make. Just like painters paint, writers write, and dancers dance…chefs and pâtissiers practice great patience in order to give themselves the opportunity to create something truly wonderful.IMG_3570

Among the first two treats we tasted, there were plenty of dessert recipes M. Leloup was happy to break down for us. He showed us how to make a lemon cake bar and fruit compote with fresh vanilla.

The fresh fruit compote was made with a small pinch of sugar and rhubarb. I could taste the fruit as if I had just picked it from the imaginary garden in the back.

IMG_3563M. Leloup showed us where he gets the vanilla for the compote and sure enough, he uses the freshest vanilla he can find. He pulls out the vanilla canes so we can smell just how fresh it has to be in order to evoke the best flavors.

The lemon cake bar was a simple recipe of fresh cake dough, pears and a splash of lemon juice. We watched the batter pour into the baking trays. Once baked, the cake is somewhat flat rather than puffed up like a traditional gateau. The dough was moist and sweet. I loved the addition of the pears because I feel like pear can be a underrated fruit. They really are delicious.

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I admire Europe’s love for dessert. I appreciate that Europeans seem to give themselves time to savor something, no matter if it might not be healthy for them. “Healthy” has become a relative term for me. Something “healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy for the body, it could be healthy for the soul.

T.

Let’s talk about salads.

So it’s common knowledge that salads are generally good for us. If we load a salad with ranch, which I know we love, then it might add about 500 calories to our “healthy” salad.

In Paris, I’ve come across a salad that is quickly becoming internationally famous. Its called “salade chevre chaud.” If you’ve been here, which most of my friends who are studying abroad have, then you know what this salad is. Sometimes it is just cheese melted on small toasts over arugula or some kind of bed of lettuce. Sometimes we will get les pommes de terre, or hard boiled egg with tomatoes, carrots, pomegranate, avocado, parmesan cheese, apples, walnuts, or whatever else they decide to throw in.

Still, this salad has puzzled me completely. How do the French take a simple salade chevre chaud and switch it up completely? At the St. Regis restaurant near the seine, they have the cheese melted on small toasts over a simple bed of lettuce. But in the 14th arrondissement, at a small restaurant I couldn’t find the name of, this is what they gave me.

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So there is honey on there…with cucumber. I was SO confused when the waiter put it in front of me on my tiny table. The other funny thing is, they won’t write all the salad’s ingredients on the menu. Sometimes you will get a menu in your hand or occasionally it is posted on the wall and they bring the chalkboard over to your table. This salad was fantastic. It looks good in the picture, but to be starving and see that salad placed in front of you…there’s nothing better.

We all know I love food more than anything…well, not more than yoga.

MY POINT is that when you come to Paris, which we know you all want to now, you must order a chevre chaud salad just because of how much fun it is to wonder what is going to be in it. The herbs they put in the goat cheese (that’s what chevre is) makes the salad. Or, sometimes it’s the honey drizzled all over the salad as salad dressing.

How smart is that? Honey rather than salad dressing? Think about how much we try to be smart with what we eat…yet the salad dressing we love, which might be 1,000 calories, is drenched all over the ingredients. We need to pay more attention.

But salad isn’t just about the way it tastes, it’s about the way it looks as well. The image of the salad gives your mind an impression of the experience you are about to have. The smells help with that as well.

Salad doesn’t have to be a boring bed of greens.  If you are making a salad at home, use butter lettuce. There is something about the texture and flavor that changes the dynamic of the salad. There are so many salads that are made with butter lettuce in Paris.

I think they get it.

Now go cut up some goat cheese, throw some herbs on there, cut up some toasts, bake them in the oven and make your masterpiece… 🙂

T.

Sangria: medicine for the soul

Last weekend, I was in a country that seems to understand that quality doesn’t mean a quantity of euros.

HOLA BARCELONA.

To get you to understand the environment I was in, I’ll post a landscape before I dive in to the beautifully cheap foods in Barcelona.

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Isn’t that beautiful? I know we see thousands of photoshopped landscape pictures all over advertisements and billboards, but that is an actual unedited picture…which I took.

So now you that you have an image of where I was, I will give you the low-down. Europe seems to be the most expensive area of the world, but I have discovered a city in Spain that understands how to bring in the big bucks.

It’s about quality. If you want to have a successful restaurant, you don’t need to charge thirty euros for a plate. Just IMG_0467charge fifteen euros for a pitcher of perfectly blended sangria and burritos. It really is that simple, people love burritos while in the sun… at the beach. We stumbled upon Carabela. The price range is from three-nine euros. So if you can’t afford much, you can definitely afford a gourmet meal like this one.

There were four of us in Barcelona eating at this juice and cocktail cafe and every single one of us, after trying multiple sangria mixtures throughout the city, agreed that this was the cafe we wanted to come back to three more times. That is really saying something. And here it is… so pretty.

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Those are freshly cut bananas, strawberries, oranges, limes, lemons all mixed together with some sugar, red wine and either lemonade or strawberry juice. We took a sip and starred at each other…thinking…smiling…confused… we couldn’t believe the wonderful mistake we just made. We simply walked up, were warmly greeted and sat down. That’s all! We tried sangria at other restaurants down the pier but nothing even came close.

It is truly amazing how easy it is to tell whether a restaurant takes four extra minutes to prepare their foods and drinks or if they throw it together. You think you know flavor, but when you find something that smacks you in the face with it, you begin to understand how important it is to do your research before entering a restaurant. Save those dollars for foods that do more than put nutrients into your body…find foods that make you close your eyes while you’re eating them.

And then this happened. A sandwich! A simple sandwich I could make at home, but because it was so freshly prepared, I knew it would take some time and love to accomplish this masterpiece. Avocado, lettuce, goat cheese, tomatoes and salsa on perfectly grilled toast. Not white bread you notice..this isn’t the United States.

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Remember, I don’t just blog about every food I eat while abroad. I only write about the foods that seem to jump off the plate and into my heart. I am leaving these images so large because I need you to see the intricate detail of the ingredients…it is vital you understand just how perfect the meals are.

And finally, so that you stop drooling and go find some food yourself, I’ll leave you with this last mouthful.

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Its called a magic burrito. Not because it has a wand and shouts “expelliarmus,” but because it looks like a painting and tastes like a trip to Playa del Carmen.  “Magic burrito” isn’t that actual name of it, but I am officially going to forever call it that.

In addition to the savory, tender chicken pieces, beans, cheese, some special sauce and other warm goodness, the chips and guacamole take the plate to a whole new level. You need that contrast of texture in the crunch of the chip and the cool, fresh waterfall of an avocado dip. IMG_0487

Now that you have some insight, go to Barcelona and visit this wonderful restaurant on the water. It is all outdoors, on old benches. Not to mention the adorable pup that meanders around and greets you with those puppy eyes. Take my advice because I will never write about a food that won’t move you.

T.

And they really are FRENCH fries

I thought I was getting out of the United States while abroad.

NOPE!

Hello burgers and fries.

Burgers and fries until the day I dies. Sorry I had to, because I literally mean until the day I die, because they are just so bad for you! It doesn’t make them any less delicious though, does it?

What I love is how the French seem to impose their gourmet style cooking on this basic, stereotypical American cuisine. I couldn’t believe how lovely the burgers looked…I even arrived as a vegetarian!

I have swayed a bit from my traditional ways, as it is so difficult not to. BUT- I will say that one of my fabulous friends here Charlotte, loves her yummy burgers…and she isn’t afraid to say so!

Ketchup is almost always offered with the burger and fries. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Well, you’d be surprised to receive a judgmental, “bien sur” from them. It is so funny actually, to watch French people order burgers. You will walk past a window at a café or restaurant and see four Parisians all eating a burger and fries. So why is this our American reputation? Why are we pinned as the “burger joint” country? Is it because we don’t sit down and eat our fries with a fork and knife? That is exactly why.

We eat with our hands. French people have a fork in their left hand and a knife in their right hand. ALWAYS. If you want to fit in when you visit, you have to cut your food in to tiny little pieces, no matter how hard it is to flip your fork right side up using one hand while trying not to let your food fall off the end of it. This is formally referred to as “etiquette.”

However… you are permitted to eat les crêpes, les jambons and les baguettes with your hands. Should you be writing this down?

When we think critically, food is about flavor: aromas, ingredients, balance, measurements, pairings and of course, wine. So we can think of this burger and fries crossover as a way to really understand one another. We know we can sit without speaking and understand exactly what our fellow Parisian is thinking: “Yum.”

T.