A Rainy Afternoon at Villa d’Este

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As a fan of the Italian Renaissance era, it only seemed appropriate to visit something exclusively renaissance. Before I actually set foot in Rome, I had no clue what that might be. Unsurprisingly, Rome has so much history layered within it, it’s easy to get a dose of what you’re looking for in just a leisurely walk through the cobbled streets. Everything feels historic, and many things are. What I didn’t expect was to venture out of my limited plans to find what I truly sought. But alas, the beauty of travel is that it pushes you to go out of your own way. And that’s how I came to be at Villa d’Este.

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Set not in the actual city of Rome, but in Tivoli (a small town less than an hour away) Villa d’Este was the point in my trip that I could realistically envision Renaissance life (as silly as that may sound).

I took a group tour to Tivoli on what began as a pretty mild, sunny day. Quickly, as we got closer to the town, the clouds clumped, then got low and heavy. It made me nervous. Would I be able to enjoy the lush gardens in the rain? The few pictures I’d seen of Villa d’Este all included sunshine. But still she did not disappoint. After I got a hold of myself on the slippery, rain-covered grounds and figured out a way to take picture while holding an umbrella, I was free to really absorb my surroundings. It’s easy to imagine cardinals strolling through, taking important meetings in dimly lit corners. Or to imagine ladies of the house walking arm in arm, stopping for a moment to admire one of the many fountains. It all makes you feel as though you’re peeking into a different time.

The accessible parts of the inside were surprisingly small, in the sense that the individual rooms weren’t very large. This gave a sense of coziness to otherwise empty, cold spaces. The decor, the painted ceilings, large windows, somehow brought in light and warmed everything up. In my opinion, however, the best part of this visit was the gardens. It’s what everyone looks forward to (if you take the time to look at the reviews). We were lucky that the rain wasn’t too heavy so we got to view everything at our leisure. Everything was so green and so clearly built for ultimate extravagance. There appear to be fountains and terraces at every level and in every corner. If i ever build my own home, I’m mirroring my grounds to this place!

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What I’ve learned from this small moment of my trip, aside from an easier way to work my camera’s shutter speed and aperture settings, was how rewarding it can be to just go with the flow. I know that sounds so cheesy, but it’s true! Like many moments in my travels, I hadn’t planned on going until the day before. I hadn’t even researched the place past a quick google images search. Having an itinerary can be beneficial in that it orients you. It provides you with security, knowing where you are and where you can go. But sometimes, you just have to go and experience things off the beaten path. Now to be fair, Villa d’Este is not something I would consider too off the path (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Centre), but going there was not on my list. So, I’ll count it as being that for me.

Anyway, this was my little adventure on a whim. I hope this adventure inspires you to find your road less travelled, whatever that may look like!

And as always,

Happy traveling!

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A Simple Way Travel Humbles You

You never forget your firsts.

The first time I stood beneath the Eiffel Tower I was almost two weeks into living in Paris. I’d spent those two weeks getting settled into my neighbourhood (14eme arrondissement), figuring out the metro, getting terribly lost on the metro (several times), trying to get ahead on upcoming classes, and moving into my apartment. A lot was happening, and with all of it came stress. The final hump to settling into my home of four months was getting a French bank account. I walked into a nearby Societe Generale, nervously clutching my proof of residence form and passport, hoping that I knew enough French banking vocabulary to get through this step. My final step. To my own surprise, I did and as I headed towards my bus home, full of pride, I saw another bus stop sign with the words Tour Eiffel printed on it. In that moment it occurred to me that in all my stress and worry, I’d failed to stop and take a look around. I was in Paris. So, I waited the five minutes it took for the bus to reach me, and, if I’m honest, prepared to be underwhelmed. As the bus approached her, and she grew so high that her apex seemed to almost reach up into the heavens, I instantly felt anchored. It was the most peculiar feeling. For a moment, after the confused, anxious haze those first two weeks had been, I knew where I was and felt the true weight of what that meant. But this post isn’t so much about Paris, but instead, about Rome.

My arrival to Rome was bumpy. In an attempt to save money, I’d booked a ticket with a 18 hour layover in Lisbon, which after a five hour flight (which I did not sleep on) and jet lag,  left me exhausted. The following day, I boarded a 6am flight to Rome from Lisbon, sensing the achy beginnings of the flu spreading throughout my body. Getting into the city from the airport and to my hotel seemed like another feat, marked by the inconvenience of a closed metro station (due to a worker’s strike), and two men following me as I frantically searched for a cheaper way to get to my hotel without needing to speak any Italian (which I speak zilch of). As I settled into my queen-sized bed, I immediately felt my body clinging to the clean sheets, begging for rest. And this time, my body won. I spent the first day, of a four-day trip, sleeping.

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Planning out how to get around on foot.

The following day, determined to keep the cold creeping up in my throat at bay, I walked out onto Roman streets with my camera and cough drops in reach. Now I’ve trekked through my fair share of cities, but never have I explored any city like I did Rome. I walked everywhere. I walked past everything, to everything and encountered beauty on several turns. But you never forget your real firsts.

The first time I saw the Colosseum was by accident. I was trying to find it, looking for signs, with only a weak cellphone signal, a vague idea where it might be and how I might get to it. In all my confusion (and hunger—I’d skipped lunch) I’d almost missed it. I was stopped at a red light of a random intersection and looked to my left and there it was.

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Caught by surprise.

The moment felt all too familiar. Suddenly, after the drama that it was to get to Rome, to my hotel, and all, I finally felt like I was there, in Rome. My frustration quickly turned into excitement. I walked to him, and well, it’s hard to put into words. Many people go to  popular cities and look for the “insider” experience, trying to find where the locals are and trying to do what the locals do. They steer clear of what’s touristy and too commercialized. I get it. I’m mostly the same way. But there’s something about seeing for yourself the iconic symbols you’ve only seen in magazines or in film. Famous images of tall buildings with all that history you’ve only read and wondered about. No matter how riddled with tourists those places are, when you finally reach them, they pull you in.

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It’s like for so long the most you could do was touch the waxy coating of the image, and then suddenly there you are. Not only are you the one taking the picture, you’re inside of it, interacting with it and then it’s not image at all. It’s real and so are you. It grounds you. That’s what it felt like seeing the Colosseum, like my feet were on the ground after a day of feeling like I was still stuck in the air. I love so many things about cities like Paris and Rome, things that are less well known, the people, the art, but, the things I appreciate most are those big, famed buildings. They are a sign that you’ve arrived to your destination. They’re a sign that you’re not alone in this world. People, hundreds or thousands of years ago, built those places. Those buildings have been pillaged and broken and worn with time, yet still they stand as they stood before you were ever anything and they’ll continue to exist when you are once again nothing. It’s truly the most humbling experience. A unique experience I can say I’ve only gotten from going out and seeing the world.

So, here’s to firsts! And to Rome. And I suppose to Paris. And to all that grounds you.

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Happy traveling!

-Afia

15 Pieces of Advice From My 21-Year-Old Self

So, my birthday was last week. I am officially 21 years old. Despite hiding behind my age for practically my entire life, here I am, saying it out loud (or rather writing it publicly): I am 21.

I know that for a lot people, I’m not at an age I should feel embarrassed by, but I have always been ashamed of my age. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I am the youngest. Before my little brother, I was the youngest of three. At 16, I was the youngest in my high school graduating class. At 20, I was the youngest person I knew graduating college in my year. All my friends have been at least two years older than me, if not older. I am always “the baby”. It’s always felt like a burden, a reason for people to assume things about me before getting to know me. So unless I needed to be truthful about my age (for legal reasons), I lied.

No more lying. It’s time to start settling into myself. I now feel that I have acquired enough little nuggets of wisdom worth sharing.

Here it goes:

  1. To my pre-teen and teenage self: do not put so much weight on what a person says just because they are an adult. Conversely, to my adult self: do not put so much weight on what a person says just because they’re older than you or in a position of authority. You can respect someone without allowing them to put their fears and frustrations on you. You’re not a blank canvas for some high school counselor, professor, or parent to paint themselves onto. Go after what you want, not what they tell you you can get.
  2. Molding your life around one person is usually a bad idea. No matter how permanent they may feel at the moment, you never know what will happen. It’s okay to look after yourself first. It doesn’t mean you care about the other person any less.
  3. No one can love you as much as you should love yourself. Often, especially as women, we’re led to believe our value as people is tied to the worth we’re given. That mindset leaves you craving  approval. “Am I thin enough, tall enough, smart enough, beautiful enough to be loved?” Consequently, when you’re not being approved by others,  you devalue yourself. Loving yourself unconditionally is the only way to combat this. You should love yourself fully, faults and all. It can be hard, but it is vital.
  4. One of the many keys to life, which will open many doors for you, is discipline. I still struggle with this one. Just this morning, I smashed my snooze button three times before rolling out of bed. Nonetheless, be it in your work, in your eating habits, in anything, learn to be disciplined.
  5. Never mix light and dark liquor. No matter how strong you think your stomach is, it’s never strong enough.
  6. Do not downplay your interests. My mother likes to say, “Don’t sit on your talents.” It took me a really long time to express to people that I like to write. I would always be self-deprecating and downplay my interest and my ability. Doing that with all kinds of things I liked to do–acting, photography, illustrating–left me feeling stuck and denied me the practice necessary to cultivate my skills. It left me stuck between what I was doing (nothing) and I wanted to be doing (everything). Now that I want to pursue these interests, professionally or even merely as hobbies, I feel behind. I could have finished my 10,000 hours by now. So annoying.
  7. He is not that important. Get a hobby.
  8. Learn to ride the wave. I have the habit of deleting too many things, people, and memories from my life. It’s a coping mechanism that has robbed me of remembering the good things in order to forget the bad. Learn to ride the wave. Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. Remembering the mistakes, the embarrassing moments, as painful as they are, can be helpful. It helps you learn and grow.
  9. Stop making room for people who don’t value you or your time —i.e., you don’t have to like everyone. I learned this lesson at a very young age. It’s not that you should go around disliking any and everyone who rubs you the wrong way. It is okay, however, after knowing someone or talking to someone for a little while, to distance yourself from them. Every person you meet is not meant to play a role in your life.
  10. Family is whatever you define it to be. Just because you share a grandparent with someone, doesn’t mean they love you more deeply than someone who’s shown to value you throughout your life. You can make your own family. You’re not betraying anything or anyone if that’s what you choose to do.
  11. You are no one’s punching bag. We all need to vent to people we feel close to, sure.  If, however, you’re not a licensed counselor or therapist, you are not forced to absorb someone’s bad energy or negativity all the time. When someone is always venting to you and takes what they’re struggling with out on you, it may mean that it’s time to let that soul-sucker go.
  12. If you’re on a road and you feel you’ve made a mistake, turn back.That’s another piece of advice from mom. It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to turn back. It’s hard to admit a mistake. But it’s worse to live in regret. I’ve seen it destroy people. Don’t be afraid to turn back and go elsewhere.
  13. Be kind to yourself. For this, I like the quote: “If someone spoke to you in the way you speak about yourself, would you be friends with them?” At the end of the day, you are the only person that you will have to live with for your entire life. Do you really want to spend all that that time, the only time you’ll ever have, hating yourself? Seems like an enormous waste to me.
  14. Things will happen how they’re meant to happen. You might have read this one in a fortune cookie or heard it in the form of a song (Que sera, que sera, anyone?). I’ve found this nugget of wisdom, as cliché as it is, to be the truest and most unchanging thing in my life. Many of my accomplishments, many of my closest friends, many of my most cherished memories are a result of life taking an unintended turn. It might have made me stumble onto things I’d never imagined doing, but often, they become the best things I’ve ever done.
  15. Nothing lasts forever. This should be intuitive, but I think being young has a way of making you feel like where you are is where you’ll always be. That is a dangerous way too look at life. In truth, the only constant thing about life is that it isn’t constant. There’s comfort in remembering that; at least, there is for me.

I think most of these have to do with the decisions we make and how we deal with them. I realize more and more how much my life is a culmination of every choice I’ve ever made and how I deal with the consequences of those choices. I think we forget how much power and control we have over ourselves. I know I do. I chose to endure a year at a school I was being bullied at because of a boy, who ended up publicly humiliating me in front of my whole class and his.

I’ve chosen to be lazy. I’ve chosen to give up on myself. My life, as good as it can be, as great as it has been, has been of my own making, even when things have gone horribly wrong. Sometimes, especially when things have gone horribly wrong. Knowing this doesn’t mean that I’ll stop making bad choices or that I am now immune from failure. Life has a way of bringing the bad with the good, no matter how much you try to avoid it. It just means that instead of tearing myself down for those mistakes or failings, I can pick myself up a little faster and, maybe, a little gentler.

Anyway, I’m 21. At 13, I didn’t think I’d make it this far, but here I am.

Until next year,

Afia

 

PS: It’ll be interesting to read this at 30. Perhaps, I should make an alarm for 9 years in the future. Or is that bad luck?