Most hobbies are one dimensional. Movies, baking, hiking. You participate in these hobbies because of the one specific joy that they bring you. Traveling, however, is different. When you travel, you get to take in several hobbies at once and partake in a myriad of experiences that tap into not just one, but all of the senses. As I reflect back on my two weeks in Europe (Prague, Munich, Salzburg & Vienna), I am reconnected with everything I saw, tasted, and experienced. I can just about taste the Fried cheese & beer, the savory pork & pickled cabbage, the warm apple strudel, and the sweet vanilla ice-cream that was simultaneously intertwined with & juxtaposed against the strong iced Viennese coffee.. I can see in my mind’s eye the way the Prague Castle sparkled of heaven at dawn and eerily inspired ghost stories at night. I can relive that sense of adventure and accomplishment when I retell the story of visiting the Werfen Ice Caves in Salzburg, Austria.
Unlike anything else, traveling renews my spirit. I step into a new place and am reminded how little of this world I have seen, how small I am in the scope of things, and how giant our capacity as mankind to create and connect. As I wandered through the cobble-stoned streets of Europe, I was reunited with my childhood sense of wonder. Everything was grand in size and begging to be touched. As I looked out into the Bavarian countryside or over the copper-colored rooftops of Munich, I was once again a small figure in a big world. As I chatted with an Algerian man who ”invited” me to tea during a meal in Vienna, I was once again provoked to think about the world and my place in it. These are the joys that await you when you travel. These are the joys that found me. As Alan Cohen so eloquently puts it, “it takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”
In January 2007 I embarked on what has turned out to be the most influential journey of my life thus far. I left the only country I had ever known for a land of Cypress trees, rolling hills, and cobblestone streets. A place that lured me in through promises of sunflowers, gorgeous men, endless pasta, and red wine…or more simply put, “la dolce vita.” Looking back on it almost 4 years later, it seems like a dream that I have just woken from. Everything so tangible, yet out of reach. A puzzle that was once complete is now broken into its individual pieces and jumbled up in a box labeled Italy.
Some of the pieces are clearly defined, like border pieces. Whether in or out of the box they always are the same. My homestay family for example - Gianfranco & Flora. I remember them now as if they were standing right in front of me. Gianfranco was an older gentleman, but very good looking. La dolce vita had been sweet to him. His hair silver, but his body lean and his skin sunkissed. He had the kindest eyes and would always ask in Italian, “Che cosa hai fatto oggi?” - in other words “What did you do today?” Flora symbolized what I would later come to learn as the typical Italian woman. She was a lean machine. She could make a meal and clean the house in two seconds flat. To this day, the beauty and stamina of Italian women eludes me. How could they wear 6 inch heels and navigate cobblestone streets? How could they make meals that melt in your mouth so effortlessly?…Have you ever tried actually making pasta by hand? This is a difficult skill that when done by an Italian woman, looks easy. Flora would always shout upstairs before dinner…”Criiistaal.” This was how my name sounded in Italian not “chrystal” but “criiistal.” Everyone loves to hear their own name, but when you hear it spoken in beautiful foreign tones, you almost disown your own language. Most of the sounds of Italy are not lost. I can still hear the church bells ringing outside my room. I can still hear the trumpets from the contrade boys as they practiced for “il Palio.” I can still here Pazit calling out my culture class, “Regazzi! Andiamo.”
Other pieces are less defined. They are muddled in a sea of experiences too distant to define specifically. How sweet did that nocciola gelato taste? How difficult was it to actually navigate around Italy without a strong grasp of the Italian language? What conversations were shared over wine in the Piazza del Campo?
That’s the thing about influential experiences…like most other experiences, they end before they even truly began. Despite their swiftness though, their imprint is left behind, and you are changed. That’s the craziest part. Study abroad changes you…
I am sure I could count the ways in which study abroad has changed me and there would be a long list, but in the essence of time and space, I will only note the biggest change of all - the mission to make this change accessible & viable to all.
So as Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” In other words…study abroad and see how it changes you!
So for those of you who know me…you know I’m a foodie. I like fine dining, I like casual dining, I like exploring new realms, and frequenting old haunts. My foodie habits probably all started with trips to what my family calls “the usual.” The usual is actually The Country Deli and it is the best deli in the valley. If you are a lover of breakfasts than this is THE spot. Steak & Eggs, French toast towers, omelets to die for, fresh perfectly toasted bagels, home fries that make you smile for days on end, coffee that keeps on coming, and a Cheers-like waiting staff. Growing up, when my mom said we were off to our usual I knew the weekend was off on the right foot.
Although, I guess it could also be argued that my foodie habits were equally nurtured by my mother’s home cooking: sugar n’ spice pancakes, pumpkin bread, mouthwatering chicken and rice dishes and my ultimate favorite…homemade noodles. She cooked up some good stuff!
So here I am 24 years later still frequenting “the usual” and begging mom to cook up some sugar n’ spice whenever anyone visits…except now I can add alcohol to the mix…thank God for Los Toros! Anyway, I thought since I have food on the brain (like usual) that I would share some of my deep-seeded foodie loves:
Restaurants (from the valley down to the OC):
Los Toros (Chatsworth). Best cadillac margaritas around, period. Perhaps the best mexican food too…especially if you order a cheese enchilada.
Country Deli (Chatsworth). Best homefries. Great atmosphere. If you go on a weekend morning you’ll probably sit next to the local fire department.
Koko’s. Great mediterranean food. Their rice = amazing.
The Cliff’s Edge (Silverlake) Love the vibe and crave the desserts.
Toast (Los Angeles) Great drinks, great pancakes.
Roscoes Chicken n’ Waffles (Los Angeles & Long Beach) If you haven’t had this southern cooking yet, you shouldn’t be breathing. Sounds weird, but you’ll love it…but I only go once a year because although yummy as ever…it’s not good f
C’est la Vie (Laguna Beach) Best outdoor cafe spot for an afternoon brunch. Great desserts & yummy dishes.
Yardhouse (various locations) It’s not your average chain. If you want a delicious hamburger…this is the place to grab one. Top it off with a pint of beer.
Habana (Costa Mesa) Cuban food that although pricey, is worth every fine dining penny when you’re in the mood to splurge.
Taco Mesa (Costa Mesa) It’s a cheap mexican eatery that has a great outdoor patio for those lovely summer nights. It’s not the best, but considering you can get a decent margarita for less than a buck on Monday nights & have all the pickled veggies you want….it gets a spot on my go-to list.
There used to be a time when I looked at the world and I saw black vs. white, right vs. wrong. I specifically remember a time when I said that marriage is between a man and a woman because that’s the definition…end of story.
The great thing about this world though is that it is full of color! It is not black and white. The great thing about history is that we can see our mistakes and learn from them (Nazism, Segregation, War). The great thing about words is that we can take them and redefine them. We have the power to change the world…but first that change has to start with ourselves.
Now I look at the world and I see shades of gray, my right and your right. I now am proud to say that I believe marriage is between individuals who love each other…end of story.
We must open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. When we do this, we can give and receive love and with enough love, there’s no more room for hate.
*Prop 8 overturned*