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 :))

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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