Street dreams are made of these: Why street markets are a MUST for your travel itinerary

A feast for the senses with a hefty dose of local culture, there’s no better way to put your finger on the pulse of the city’s heartbeat than getting lost in the sensory experience that is the local street market.

Farmers markets, flea markets, vintage, mercantile – and I love them all. Each has its own set of distinct and unique treasures. I can only attest to the ones I’ve been to, but there are countless others I can’t wait to explore!

Here are some of my favorite European street markets from the past year.


 

Barcelona, Spain

La Boqueria: Produce, meat, seafood, confectionsLaBoqueria_Produce

Located steps from Barcelona’s famous La Rambla, La Boqueria is my favorite street market by far. Because I’m from a big city (San Francisco), it spoke to my love of chaotic anonymity. I’m used to pushing my way through loud, densely-packed urban areas; yet traversing this market alone is the only way to let your eyes and nose lead the way.

The moment you set foot in La Boqueria, your senses are consumed. A thousand voices fill the air at once. Vendors have mastered the art of the two-second sale as they shout prices at passersby, so be aware that making eye contact or lingering at a stall is an invitation for a sales pitch.

LaBoqueria_crowdWhether you’re in the mood for empanadas a la carte, artisanal candy by the ounce, dates by the box, or Crema Catalan-filled chocolate eggs by the handful, you won’t leave hungry. It’s also an excellent place to shop for local produce, seafood, meats and spices. I distinctly remember stands with colorful fruit smoothie cups stacked high with every combination imaginable– the fluorescent pink pitaya-coconut juice was my favorite.

Open Monday – Saturday from 8am-8:30pm. Visit boqueria.info for more information.

Tips:

  • Arrive an hour before closing for the best deals. As vendors begin to close up shop they are more inclined to slash prices since they dump much of their merchandise at day’s end.
  • The better deals are often in the back stalls.

 

London, UK

Borough Market: For conscious foodiesBoroughMarket_London

Tucked beneath the southern end of London Bridge, Borough Market is a foodie’s paradise. You can find produce, fresh seafood, meat and delicacies from around the world but it’s so much more. As one of the oldest markets in London, it’s a cultural melting pot of vendors and visitors alike.

Whether you’re in the mood for deep fried squid, cranberry bleu cheese, lemon-lime basil ice cream, organic veggie burgers or crumb cake from Cinnamon Tree Bakery, the only problem you’ll have is having only one stomach to fit it all.

Opening times vary depending on the day – the full market is open Wednesday through Saturday with select stalls open on Monday and Tuesday. Visit boroughmarket.org.uk for details.

Tips:

  • Take your lunch to Southwark Cathedral, which isn’t just the beautiful backdrop for this market, it’s also a perfect place to snag a bench and enjoy your lunch among its pink blossomed trees and grassy courtyard. The cathedral is open to the public but food is, of course, not allowed inside.
  • Free wifi is available in Market Hall, the green house area near the restrooms.

Portobello Road Market: For those who want it allPortobelloRdHomes

Portobello Road in London is really multiple markets in one, especially on Saturdays when you can shop the full lineup of stalls (select stalls are open on other days).PortobelloMarket

To accommodate the crowds, Portobello Road closes to vehicle traffic as vendors spill onto the road displaying everything from clothes, coveted British antiques, accessories, street food, vinyl records, and used books.

The Portobello Road market runs from the Notting Hill Gate tube station to Ladbroke Grove station and opens around 8:30- 9am. Closing times vary depending on the day of the week. Visit portobelloroad.co.uk for details.

Tips:

  • Food stalls are concentrated toward the Ladbroke Grove end.
  • Get there early to avoid the largest crowds.

 

Florence, Italy

Mercato Centrale: Food and leather galoreMercatoCentrale

This market spans multiple blocks, with the outdoor stalls featuring mostly leather goods (jackets, bags, belts), luggage and various apparel.

The inside of the market is basically a food lovers/chefs heaven. Not only can you find colorful, fresh produce and exotic meat, but you can also enjoy freshly prepared porcetta sandwiches, pasta, pizza and wine from Porky’s or one of the other restaurants.

Beware though, the lines can get crazy! But that’s how good the food is. And because of the crowds, it tends to be difficult to get acknowledged so you have to be aggressive and get there early.

It’s dog friendly so bring your pups if you have them. And most stalls only accept cash.

Tips:

  • Free wifi and pay toilets inside.
  • Dogs are allowed in the market, surprisingly.

 

Rome, Italycampo-de-fiori-market

Campo De’Fiori Market: Food, flowers and produce

This market is the biggest and most famous in the city. Bring plenty of Euros and put your game face on, cause you’ve never haggled until you’ve successfully negotiated a suitcase down from 50 to 25 euros. I know, I’ve done it in Italy TWICE :)

My tactic is to ask for prices, compare the different stalls, then act unimpressed at whatever price they give and walk away. Come back later, or the next day, and they’ll sell it to you for whatever you want.

Eataly and streetside mercantile market: Clothing, jewelry, vintage accessories

I don’t know the exact name of this market but it’s located just outside of Eataly near the Piramide metro station and Ostiense bus stop. This street market features clothiers and jewelry makers offering one-of-a-kind gems. If you want to bring home a unique piece of Italy, check this place out. I snagged two vintage rings which were made from the repurposed buttons of 1960’s Chanel coats!

While you’re there, do yourself a favor and wander around Eataly, a culinary funhouse with four floors of Italian delicacies including a handful of restaurants. I participated in a food show filming on the top floor when I was there in October!

Mercatino: Vintage home décor and collectibles

I still remember tearing myself away from the black crystal chandelier I so fell in love with here. With aisles of densely stacked antique furniture, record players, silverware, tea sets, crystal vases and antique China, Mercatino is a vintage-lover’s dream.

If I lived in Rome, I would furnish my entire house from Mercatino. I would serve my guests Sangiovese from my vintage purple crystal wine glasses, on my 1930’s wrought-iron side table, beneath my sexy black chandelier. It would be fabulous as f*ck.


So next time you plan a trip and someone says, “Bring me back something nice!” hit up a street market and blow their minds with a unique piece of the city.

…because nobody really likes cheesy shot glasses and refrigerator magnets. They just pretend to.

You don’t have to have it all figured out at 30.

welcome-to-reality

If we are all so unique, why should the progression of our lives follow the same timeline?

It’s time to get past the outdated idea that you’re supposed to map out your entire life before you’re even old enough to buy a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon for all those beer pong games you played last weekend in college. It’s hard enough to pick a college major, let alone make life-altering decisions when you’ve had very little life experience.

Your 20s are a time for self-discovery. And that path rarely occurs on a straight trajectory.

Yours may have looked more like this:

Success

So it’s no surprise that reaching your “Dirty 30″ might even feel like:

Mistakes are an essential and unavoidable part of life – so is change. The earlier we embrace the fact that mistakes do not equal failure so long as we apply the lessons learned, the less our lives will be driven by fear.

Here’s why you’re better equipped for life-altering decisions in your 30s:

You’re less likely to be influenced by others.
The days of fielding your dating/outfit/career choices by your five closest girlfriends should be over. That’s because you know the difference between seeking advice and needing approval, and you don’t need the latter.

So if you want to take a pottery class, learn French, or quit your job as a paralegal to turn your photography hobby into a career, you’ll decide based on what’s best for YOU (and your kids, if applicable) and not popular opinion.

You know who you are.
Therefore you begin to attract people and opportunities that truly complement you because you are radiating your true self into the world. Yay!

You’re more open-minded.
You’ve probably undergone one or more major life changes and survived, so you’re more open to new experiences and don’t freak out when things don’t go according to plan.

You made enough mistakes then to make wiser decisions now.
By now you’re probably more adept at taking calculated risks as opposed to careless ones because your brain has learned to think a few steps ahead.

Which leads me to my next point…

You’re like, mature and stuff.
Seriously. Your brain’s frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain that solves problems and anticipates consequences, does not reach full maturity until your mid-twenties. That explains SO much, right?

So that time you thought it was okay to slam Fernet shots the night before your 8am midterm and woke up feeling like death, let’s just pretend that wasn’t entirely your fault.

You’ve spent enough time in the workforce to gauge whether you’re on the right path.
Studies show two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during the first 10 years of your career. But if you haven’t spent your 20s climbing up the same corporate ladder, it’s not too late to reinvent yourself or further your education. Which leads me to my next point…

Universities are adjusting to the lifestyle of the working adult.
The prevalence of night classes, online courses, and satellite campuses are a reflection that the average college student is no longer a fresh-faced 18-year old living in a college dorm. Even well-known universities like UC Berkeley have satellite campuses in busy downtown areas so students can walk to class after work.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make college any more affordable.

But if you’re going to take out a student loan in your 30s, at least you have a better concept of debt than you did when you were fresh out of high school. And you’re less likely to waste your hard-earned money by changing your major multiple times like you may have done 10 years ago.

Solitude is less scary than it was in your 20s.
You’re more comfortable sitting in a coffee shop alone, or embracing your single-hood rather than crying over it. And that means your travel plans are not dependent on anyone else. Why wait for someone to travel with you when you can write your own travel itinerary? It’s not as scary as it sounds, I promise! If you’re like me, you’ll find it liberating.

Aside from my metabolism, I wouldn’t trade anything from my current life for what I had a decade ago. I’ve never been so sure of what I want and who I am.

Now that you know it’s not too late…go out and conquer the world you sexy, sophisticated beast!

But don’t forget to put on sunscreen first.
…and pack some healthy snacks.
…and set your out-of-office alert on your work email.

You are a grown up, after all :)

The Caged Bird Sings but it Cannot Fly: London, UK – May 1

Girl Gone International, GGI, Spread MyWings and Fly

Credit: GirlGoneInternational.com

It’s time, once again, for this little birdie to fly. Only this time, I’ll be in my second home so I’ll be staying put for a while.

Getting to London was hectic, as I wanted to avoid London Heathrow Border Control who had interrogated me several times before. According to them, I’m a flight risk because I’m unemployed and stay with my British boyfriend. **exaggerated eye roll**

So I flew from Florence to Paris, then took the Metro across town to catch the Eurostar train into London. I allowed very little timing for error. So naturally, I had nightmares about missing one of my connections.

But it all worked out. I even got to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, each in a different country…no big deal or whatever :))

3Meals3Countries

I made it look pretty on Instagram, but traveling this way is anything but glamorous. When you’re hauling ass across three countries in a day, on public transit, sweating from dragging your 18-kg luggage up and down the metro station stairs, let’s just say you don’t look sexy. At all.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hotels and taxis remove you from the reality of the country you’re visiting.

I’ve loved the adventure, the need for self-reliance, and the unpredictability of it all. When I publish my book someday, or become the VP of marketing at a tech startup and I’m ballin’ outta control, I would still travel the same way I do now.

I get a rush from traveling like this…

…from having to figure out how home appliances work in every country.

…from having to learn a new metro system.

…from struggling with a new language and stalking out free wifi like groupies do NBA players.

I’m forever changed. A fire ignited in me last year and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put it out, nor do I want to.

I read an article last year called “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels”.

It painted a portrait of the solo female traveler as this beautiful free-spirited, yet completely unattainable creature. The author went so far as to suggest that if you should fall in love with such a girl you should let her go, as if it were impossible for any man to keep us happy.

Although I can relate to parts of the article, I disagree with the author’s view that the traveling girl woman is directionless, unable to hold a steady job, wasted her college degree and is now probably a yoga teacher.

Have we progressed so little as a society that we still view “independence” and “relationship potential” as mutually exclusive traits in women?

Women aren’t your possessions. Even in a relationship or a marriage, we are not yours. We are ours. We choose to be with you so long as you continuously honor the expectations of the relationship, and vice versa.

And if you aren’t comfortable standing next to us in the spotlight or letting us lead sometimes, then I agree you should seek a woman who is comfortable taking your lead.

Besides, I have no intentions of living my entire life out of a suitcase. As much as my heart yearns to watch the sun set on a new horizon, I yearn even more for one city to call home.

And guess what? I’m living proof that women like us can and do fall in love.

It happened to me on my first day in London last year. Trust…I did not intend to! In fact, I was dead set on beating any love prospects away with a stick…and possibly a taser.

GGI_FellInLoveAbroad

I was on my “I-don’t-need-a-man” Independent Woman hype. The last thing I wanted was to fall in love overseas and then miss that person when I returned home.

My emotional walls were up pretty high. Most men would have been intimidated by that. Here I was, a California latina “slash” hip-hop journalist, with my camera and laptop in tote, with enough money in the bank to have open-ended travel plans for the foreseeable future.

What could any guy really say to me to get me to want to trade all of that in for a relationship?

That’s why nobody tried. I interviewed a lot of male artists, kept it professional, and met a lot of interesting and incredibly talented people in the process.

But it’s as if Jordan already knew we were going to be together, even before I did. He was patient and accepted that I wasn’t ready for anything serious (yet).

He didn’t want to cage me, but he made his feelings very clear from Day #1 so there was never any guessing about where he stood. He was never afraid to put his heart on the line – not for one second. He was a totally open book.

He wasn’t threatened by my independence, my prior divorce, my travel plans, or my residence in California.

He let me be me.

Yet he treated me like his Queen even before we were in a relationship. Over time, his actions and his consistency made it so that I could live without him, but I no longer wanted to. Over the next few months, we found ourselves willing to do anything to be together.

When I first started traveling, I predicted I’d end up in Barcelona or London getting some Expat job for a work visa. Meeting Jordan changed all that because we had to decide, early in our relationship, which of us would move. After spending a few months with him in London, we both decided we’d be happier together in California.

I look forward to settling down in Cali. And as strange as it may sound, I’m ready to get back to my marketing career as it’s something I‘ve worked hard to build.

But my sense of adventure, my desire to explore new street markets, watch sunsets on the beach, or get lost in the winding streets of a new city – that will remain in me always.

I smile when I admire my tan lines and know they came from different countries. My hair is frizzy and often smells of sea salt. My iPhone camera roll would rival a travel magazine. And my Facebook News Feed is full of updates from people I’ve met around the world.

GGI_Homesick

And it may mean my heart will never be fully at rest because it lives in different places, but I’m okay with that.

After all, that is the downside to all of this. I’m always missing a person, a city, or counting down the days I have left with someone I love before I have to leave them. But that also means I don’t take anyone or anything for granted.

So to the author who believes that girls women who travel are basically a lost cause when it comes to relationships, I say:

I happen to think the wildest, most beautifully plumaged bird is also the most worthwhile to pursue…

…because you can’t trap it.

You must earn its trust and affection over time so that it may choose to fly beside you, rather than sacrifice its world for yours. I was a man’s possession for over a decade and would sooner die than return to that life again.

Now that I’m back in London I get to unpack my suitcase, figure out my game plan for Cali, and spend much-needed time with the man who makes me want to fly beside him every day.

To all the men/women who hold a mirror to their woman’s light to help it reflect into the corners of the darkest room: bless you. You will raise daughters who will enter the world with all the approval they will ever need, rather than seeking it from a partner, friends, social institution, or media-warped society.

She will know her worth and her beauty. And she will never need to know why the caged bird sings…

because she will be f r e e .

Through the Fire(nze): Florence, Italy – April 23

PonteVecchio

One of my favorite shots from the whole trip: Ponte Vecchio is stunning.

I don’t think that Firenze (Florence) knows how to do “plain”. Everything is lavish and over the top.

It’s lively and bustling…and LOUD. I had to learn to stop being alarmed every time I thought I heard Italians having a heated debate. They were just having normal conversations. But with passion. And lots of hand motions. As a Latina I totally get you, Italy. We do that, too.

Like, Latina women are guilty of wearing too-small skinny jeans with rhinestones on the butt, paired with a stretchy neon orange low-cut top and heels.
…to the grocery store
…while pushing a kid in a stroller.

I saw a girl in Rome wear bright green Ugg boots with leopard leggings and gold hoop earrings…
Go ahead. Do you, boo.

I don’t know why I’m so surprised at how many tourists there are, seemingly mostly Americans. Holy crap they’re EVERY-fricking-where! I know I’m technically one of them, but I’d like to think of myself as more of a tourist ninja cause nobody ever knows I’m a foreigner.

Lavish_Firenze

And between The Jersey Shore filming at Pizzeria O’Vesuvio and the KimYe (Kim Kardashian/Kayne) wedding all taking place here, I’m pretty sure Italians secretly wish Americans and our shitty reality TV shows would stay the hell out.

I feel you, Italy. We think they’re douchebags too.

RealityTV

And while Florence might signify art and culture to most, I made it an adventure.

You can keep your 7 euro Gucci coffee with fancy sugar. I prefer haggling with street vendors and drinking Fragola liqueur straight from the bottle.

Firenze in a nutshell:

  • Taking a chance on Fragola liqueur instead of Limoncello and discovering it tastes like strawberry Quik with booze in it. Sweet Jesus.
  • Making fun of people who spend 7 euros on coffee at the Gucci Museum Café because it’s served with brown sugar shaped like the Gucci symbol.
  • Girls taking selfies kissing the Gucci sign outside the museum. Girl, STOP.GucciSignKiss
  • Girls taking pictures of each other pointing to the Statue of David’s penis.
  • Successfully haggling street vendors down from 40 to 25 euros for a new suitcase.
  • Checking out girls’ asses and wondering which have more booty: Barca girls or Firenze girls.
  • Gaining 8 lbs and immediately wanting to work out console myself with more pizza.
  • Getting neck cramps from looking up at the gorgeous domed ceilings of Orsanmichele, Santa Croce and Santa Maria di Fiore.Churches
  • Aggressive street vendors who insist on touching the small of your back while they try to glance at your ass sell you a leather bag.
  • Leather as far as the eye can see – belts, jackets, bags, wallets, you name it. In EVERY color.
  • Fake designer shades fo’ days. You need some Fucci shades, boo? They got you! Unless the cops are coming, cause then they gotta pack up and run.
  • Falling in love with Mercato Centrale, where the best food stands have the longest lines.
  • Reaching the front of the line and being shouted at by a little old Italian lady trying to seat you.
  • Feeling strangely comforted by the above.
  • Amazing street musicians in Piazza della Repubblica.MercatoCentrale
  • Italian couples making out. EVERYWHERE.
  • Best gelato ever. Bless you, Grom.
  • Getting so tired of pizza and pasta that I went to McDonalds and ordered on a machine. Because every single McDonalds I saw in Europe replaced their cashier with machines.
  • Knowing you would all judge me for admitting I ate McDonalds in Italy.

I felt a little guilty not visiting the museums, but given that I had done so in every other city, I didn’t have it in me to do anything other than eat and wander.

No matter how gorgeous the destination, traveling alone wears on you after a while. I feel like I didn’t fully appreciate my time here because I’m just so tired.

Next stop, London! It’s time to go home to my boo and enjoy not living out of a suitcase for a while. That sounds like heaven right now.

But seriously, once I’m there it’s GYM time. Like HARD.

Cause after all these months of careless eating, my ass is gonna need its own passport to get home.

Being Bulletproof: Florence, Italy – April 21

heart-in-beartrap

And just like that, I said goodbye to Cinque Terre. My time there was way too short, but that’s how it should feel when you fall in love – like your time together is never enough.

I arrived in Florence with a newfound optimism. Despite a wheel breaking on my suitcase and having to drag it three blocks from the train station to my AirBnB, I laughed it off and made a mental note to buy a new one from a street vendor later.

My AirBnB host is out of town so his neighbor let me in. She didn’t speak English but between my fluent Spanish and minimal Italian, we completely understood each other. Long story short, I have a three-bedroom flat in central Florence all to myself – buonissimo!

It’s amazing that AirBnB hosts will allow complete strangers into their homes, especially when they are out of town.

I’ve noticed hospitality is different in every country. In England, France, Ireland and Holland, my hosts were fairly hands off. It was their way of giving me privacy. But in Spain and Italy, my hosts treated me like a member of their household.

On my last night in Barcelona, my three flatmates and their friends cooked a huge dinner and invited me to join them.

In Cinque Terre, my host called me down to her kitchen to eat dinner with her and her daughter. And on my last day, she dropped me off at the train station so I wouldn’t have to drag my suitcase onto a bus.

In Rome last year, my host took me to a cooking class at Eataly and then we had lunch and chatted all afternoon.

When I was stranded in Ventimiglia during the train strike, a group of friends saw me sitting alone at a cafe and invited me to join them for dinner and bar hopping, during which the men insisted on paying for everything.

Seriously, who ARE these people?!

This sort of blind, unconditional welcome is foreign to me. It’s foreign to most Americans, I think. We tend to begin new relationships with a wall built up, which we lower slowly over time. We often keep people at a distance until we get to know them.

I had to learn that not everyone who does something nice for me wants something in return.

Sometimes we focus so much on protecting ourselves from the “wrong” people that we prevent the right people from getting close to us, too.

But living life on the defense only works when you’re under attack.

When you’ve been hurt a lot, you get accustomed to wearing that armor every day. I know that all too well.

I tend to say things like, “This is why I hate people.”

But what I really mean is, “I hate being disappointed so I would rather expect the worst from people.”

The truth is, I’m so sensitive and easily hurt that I’ve mastered the art of using cynicism and sarcasm as an emotional bulletproof vest..

…although I prefer to call it my sense of humor.

SarcasmRealShit

And you know why sarcasm is f*cking awesome?

Because you can say whatever the hell you want without being held accountable…because you were obviously kidding.

Or because you can break the ice in awkward social situations and make people laugh…or offend them. It’s their fault if they don’t get it.

Or because nobody can hurt you because you never really told them anything real about you. You can’t hurt me because you don’t know me. Haha I win.

I’m so sarcastic that people who know me expect it from me. It’s part of my personality. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of my non-American friends think I’m either a complete idiot or a total bitch based on my Facebook posts…

Just kidding. They think that because I really am a bitch.

See? I can’t even tell the difference between sarcasm and my real thoughts anymore. And that’s bad.

My blog needs more cats. And this one speaks the truth.

My blog needs more cats. And this one speaks the truth.

I instantly bond with other sarcastic people but I have probably pushed a lot of others away or given them a bad impression of me.

It could be because of the language barrier, but I’ve stopped using sarcasm during my travels because it is often taken literally. It’s refreshing because I can’t use it as a shield anymore. I’m getting comfortable speaking genuinely, even if it makes me feel vulnerable.

This experience has opened me up so much.

Being spoken to with sincerity makes me want to be sincere.

Being trusted by strangers makes me want to prove I am trustworthy.

Being invited to the dinner table makes me want to welcome new people into my life.

Getting hurt is not the worst thing that can happen. In fact, the bravest are those who have had pages torn from their lives yet remain an open book. They are the ones I admire most.

So lower your armor.

Until you do, you’re living life from inside a bulletproof case. Sure, people can’t get to you. But you can’t get to any of them either.

P.S. I went off on a tangent and didn’t talk about Florence at all in this post, but I will next time. Here are a few photos from my Instagram (instagram.com/maaridee), but I promise you it’s more gorgeous than anything I could capture. 

FirenzeHorizontalBar

Because I’m Happy: Cinque Terre, Italy – April 18

The universe has been speaking to me more and more lately.

The more trust I’ve placed within myself, the more the universe guides and provides for me. Some may call it God, but I just know it’s a force greater than all of us.

After wallowing in loneliness and anxiety for a couple of days, all of a sudden, the storm was over.

It happened in an instant.

The sun’s rays broke through the clouds and fed the hungriest corners of my soul, and a sense of peace and immense gratitude replaced the parts of me where uncertainty once resided.

In one spontaneous moment, the universe spoke to me through the innocence of a child and showed me why I was here – and it’s the same reason why we are all here on this Earth.

“Umm, are you talking about the meaning of life? Cause THAT sounds a little cray.”

Weeeeell, I wouldn’t go that far. I don’ t want y’all to think I’ve completely lost my shit. I obviously don’t have all the answers – I’m only beginning to discover my answers. But they could be yours, too.

Let me explain.

I kept letting things get to me the past few days. It all started when I arrived in Cinque Terre a day late due to the Italian train strike. And when I finally arrived and felt how life-changing this place was going to be, I wished I had another day to soak it all in. I felt cheated.

To top it off I was exhausted from country-hopping for the past two months, and the mild discomfort of living in other people’s homes was wearing on me. I felt like I was squandering away this beautiful experience by focusing on the negatives – by focusing on what I didn’t have.

Monterosso

Monterosso’s beach is magic

I continued making my way through Cinque Terre’s five villages, and on my final day I visited Monterosso and Corniglia.

Monterosso’s beaches were sunny and gorgeous. I didn’t have a swimsuit but I didn’t think twice to strip down and sunbathe as hang gliders jumped from the cliffs and landed on the beach in front of me.

With my earbuds in and Spotify on, I observed my own personal paradise to the tune of a hip hop soundtrack.

IMG_2013

Some plots of land in Corniglia remain in rubble like this one, while the home behind it still stands.

A few tanlines later, I hopped back on the train and traveled further down the coast to Corniglia, a village perched high on the Ligurian cliffsides with no beach access.

I walked around the village and noticed it was still recovering from damage caused by the floods and mudslides of 2011. Many of the structures were still being rebuilt.

Seeing as this village was still under construction, it seemed less picturesque compared to the others.

Selfishly, I wished I had ventured to Vernazza instead, or back to Riomaggiore or Manarola which had captured my heart. Since I only had three full days in Cinque Terre, I felt pressured to make use of every moment. I didn’t want to “waste time”, which in retrospect, is a very American way of thinking.

After walking through Corniglia and snapping some photos, I stopped for dinner. I claimed a table in a rustic little courtyard in front of this dilapidated church covered in scaffolding. I sipped my wine and observed the people around me.IMG_2012

All of a sudden, I hear a familiar song. It’s a song I had heard in several countries during this trip, but it didn’t resonate with me until now.

“It might seem crazy what I’m bout to say…

Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break..”

Pharrell’s song “Happy” flooded the courtyard, and a toddler at a nearby table lept out of his mother’s lap to dance!

Soon, the courtyard united in laughter, watching him shake his little diaper butt. I wanted to tell the boy’s family how much their son had made my day, but all I could mutter was “Bambino prezioso.”

They spoke no English, yet an American song transcended language and made us all feel the song’s message: happiness.

Then I started thinking about how I had also heard “Happy” at Placa Nova in Barcelona. A little boy wearing a Messi jersey stopped kicking his soccer ball around to dance, while his father watched and smiled. And in Brighton, England, a cover band sang it at a beachside cafe and people stopped eating to grab their friends by the hand to dance to it.

So what does it all mean?

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The rays of light peeking through this dark alleyway in Corniglia was another reminder to follow my sunshine…my Happy.

Well, on my walk back to the Corniglia train station, I played the song on my Spotify app and listened closely to the lyrics, with the gorgeous cliffsides of Corniglia as my backdrop.

I was inspired. I can’t explain why, but it hit me so hard.

Tears started streaming down my face from behind my shades. My pent-up anxiety and loneliness began to fade, because I felt like the song had been following me on this trip, cheering me on for finally living out my “Happy”.

I was doing what I had always been scared to do. To move away from San Francisco and leave family, friends, my career, and put myself in an unknown situation where I could fail, and fail hard. Because I didn’t have a plan, but “winging it” kinda was my plan.

It was then I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.

What I realized is…

The purpose of life isn’t to struggle and sacrifice and shut out our sense of adventure so that we can be happy someday. Life is happening around us, all the time. And most days, we miss living because we’re too busy merely existing.

… too busy commuting to a job we hate, face-down in our smartphones, surrounded with people who don’t inspire us or reciprocate our efforts, participating in obligatory activities, forcing smiles, faking enthusiasm.

And we become good at it. So good, that even we believe the lies we tell ourselves.

Day after day, doing the same thing…

Usually the safe thing…

Usually the predictable, familiar thing.

All for what?

So we can work our way up at a job to maybe get a raise that we’ll probably end up spending anyway? So we can have people around us to pass the time with so we’re not alone? So we can avoid failure by never trying?

I know this all too well. I spent my 20s working hard at things I thought would give me my Happy:
college, grad school, promotions at work, bought a house, got married…you know, typical stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with these things if you want them for the right reasons.

When I finally left my job I was raking in an enviable salary, even by San Francisco’s standards. But with every promotion, I allowed my lifestyle to become more expensive to compensate for the fact that I was missing something.

I was in a marriage where I felt like a shell of myself. I was his property and he controlled my body and mind. I spent over a decade feeling insecure and numb, living life on autopilot with a rehearsed smile.

From the outside, it looked like I had it all. But that was far from the truth.

The day I decided that starting over was less terrifying than staying on my current path is the day I began reclaiming my life.

I saw this quote just before I booked my flight to London last summer, and it resonates with me to this day: BirdTrustsInItsWings

Live your Happy today, not tomorrow or someday.

To think you can wait is presumptuous, because you may not be given the gift of tomorrow. It’s normal to procrastinate while you work up the courage to make a change, but after a while, the excuses get stale and you’re just using fear as a crutch.

If there’s something you’ve been talking about doing for years, why aren’t you actively working towards doing it? Because trust me, your friends and family are tired of hearing you talk about it already.

So shut up.

Stop talking about what you’re gonna do or what you should do and start doing it. Go chase after your Happy.

Before you go to bed tonight, do something that brings you closer to your Happy. Whether it’s browsing through job postings, taking a photography class, looking into licensing requirements for a new business, or making a long-overdue phone call to tell someone you forgive them.

Whatever it is, take a baby step towards it today.

Start by waking up every morning with gratitude for everything you love about your life, and a tenacious drive to change all that you don’t.

“Happiness is the truth”. And happiness waits for no one. Happiness chases no one. Not even you.