North Brooklyn Farms

It’s quite fascinating how social networking has evolved from a simple occasional fun thing to do, to an almost pure addiction in some cases.

And it’s also quite interesting how social networking has highlighted places that have been left out of travel books.

Well, I didn’t mean to start this life experience by spreading negative energies to my optimistic readers; let’s leave that to the haters. This New York experience I’m going to share has a lot of cool details you’ll find out about only if you stick with me for a few more thoughts.

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All I care about in my articles is to express my positive thoughts and make you feel regenerated every single time you click on my links and read my work.

 

That being said…

 

North Brooklyn Farms

 

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Instagram charmed me back in 2015; I didn’t even know how it worked at the time. So I started following random profiles, from celebrities, to friends, to places I thought were cool to keep an eye on.

It was the end of the summer when I first came across North Brooklyn Farms’ Instagram profile. I thought their incredible story, a dozen feet from the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, was something really unique. The thing that impressed me the most was the fact that they weren’t something you would find in a Rick Steves’ travel book.

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North Brooklyn Farms’ story started years ago on an undeveloped/scrapyard piece of land along the East river. I remember that time-lapse video of a handful of people cleaning the whole area with their bare hands during their free time. I was so impressed how they took a forgotten area and made a miracle: they transformed it in the most beautiful community garden; I literally witnessed a miracle documented via social network…

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So…

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When I finally had the chance to go visit New York City, a stop at North Brooklyn Farms was on top of my bucket list. I had the pleasure to meet Henry, one of the founders of the community garden, who was happily working away in the weeds on a sunny afternoon.  As Henry shared with me all about how it started, it made me appreciate their project even deeper. After talking to this incredible human being, I realized how it’s not only the place that makes a difference, it’s also the people and the atmosphere they create; and for that you need people like Henry that they never stop motivating you to write about their success stories. All I can say to this guy and his friends is CHAPPEAU!

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~

In September 2018, almost 3 years after I started to follow North Brooklyn Farms on Instagram, many things have changed…

I should be able to summarize the updates they’ve gone through since 2015 in less than 85 words:

A group of developers bought the entire area and decided to build more apartment units, retail spaces, etc, etc, etc…

I know with strong certainty that NBF’s future may be a disappointment if the architectural plan will be followed 100% by the engineers, because based on the big vision poster on the construction fences around the area, the community garden is not included in it…

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I know we live in a world where money is a big tool for molding the future but I really hope that people like Henry will continue to find the right ways to succeed and keep that place alive; either in the same location or elsewhere.

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“On the road of life, it is not where you go, but who you’re with that makes the difference.”

Good luck good people!

Saint Romedius, the bears’ protector

Far from the most popular Italian destinations, in the North close to the Austrian border, there is a magical place you should probably consider visiting while on vacation.

To be clear, I’m talking about Trentino (Italian northern region) and its pretty Val di Non.

For sure I want you to remember once in Italy, that in Val di Non, there is a path hollowed out in the rock (of course with an amazing panoramic view). This trail starts from Sanzeno, Val di Non and ends at San Romedius’ hermitage. This trail was carved and skirts the canyon of San Romedio. Before you begin, you probably should make sure you are brave enough…

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The trail

Once you reach the sanctuary, you will be impressed.

~

“Oh Signore

Fa’ che questa candela

Che io qui accendo,

Per l’intercessione di San Romedio,

Sia la luce

Con cui Tu mi illumini

Nelle difficolta che mi assillano

E nelle decisioni che prendero.”

Amen

~

God

Make sure that this candle

I light up,

For intercession of San Romedio,

Be the light

You use to light over me

And the difficulties I will have to affront

And the tough decisions I will have to make

Amen.

~

San Romedius’ Sanctuary is also well known for being one of the meditation (hyperlink to the post about meditation) destinations around the globe. It is a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Romedius, situated on a steep rock spur in the natural scenery of the Val di Non. It borders the Comuni of Sanzeno and Coredo, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy.

 

 

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The Sanctuary consists of churches (chapels) built over a period of some 900 years between 1000 and 1918. The five chapels are built into a steep wall of rock and are connected by a spectacular flight of 130 steps. Two Franciscans friars attend this site as custodians.

A first question might be:

Who is this San Romedio and why is he known as the Bears’ protector?

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Saint Romedius

Romedius lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. He was the son of the count of Thaur, the Lord of a castle near Innsbruck and owner of saltpans in the valley the river Inn. After a pilgrimage to Rome, he gave all his possessions to the church, withdrawing into a hermitage in the Val di Non in some grottoes, which still exist near the sanctuary.

 

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 The legend is that one-day Romedius, wishing to go to Trento to greet Vigilius, then bishop of the city, asked one of his disciples, David to saddle the horse. The disciple returned with the news that a bear had savaged the horse, whereupon Romedius ordered him to saddle the bear, which not only allowed this to be done but also let Romedio ride it all the way to Trento. It later lived with him a the hermitage…” – Wikipedia

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The Sanctuary

The amazing thing is that once you step inside the Sanctuary, the complete silence of that place will embrace you and will give you a sensation of peace. You will automatically forget all the issues you are struggling with. You will feel safe again. Every single step you will climb towards the top, will be like a walk towards the turn-up. Once you reach the top you will feel free.

I felt regenerated after that day trip to the sanctuary. The most important thing is that I carry that place and that experience in my heart.

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That place is one of those internal bricks that form our mental health.

I highly suggest you to stop by and live it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Orleans and its eccentric culture

I still remember how shocked I felt when I learned of the horrific news of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, leaving behind almost 108 billion in damages…

Before leaving our small Midwest town and flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, I can admit that I had some concerns on how the atmosphere would be like once landed.

All I can express after 10 days of full immersion in a city well known for its amazing food, live Jazz music, and fun, is that New Orleans won my heart and soul. As an artist, NOLA is one of the top towns to freely express yourself.

A quick amazing truth about this incredible city is that every single local reserves for you a smile and a Good Morning. It’s humbling how welcoming they are.

The curiosity brought me in the heart of the downtown and out into the suburbs. After walking every kind of sidewalk, I personally evaluate New Orleans as a 4.5/5 stars in terms of safety. Honestly the high temperatures of mid-June are more serious than the public safety. The scariest episode was when a local tried to guess where I bought my Birkenstock sandals (with a purpose to make me smile and get some coins in his cup).

After long walks in neighborhoods like The French Quarter, Garden District, Treme-Lafitte, and Faubourg Marigny, I returned back North with a huge luggage full of memories that I will always remember and be eager to share with others.

There are multiple ways to relate your vacation and try to suggest your experience to your friends. The way I would like to build the narration of my NOLA adventure is by using 5 main points: Transportation, Accommodation, Food, Entertainment, Tips.

 Transportation:

Before you even have the idea of going to NOLA, I would highly suggest you to consider buying your flight ticket at least 5 months in advance. Flying to NOLA at times can be really expensive, especially for those who love “in-budget” trips. Once you’ve landed, don’t forget to claim your luggage. The spirit of New Orleans wins your attention and you might forget something at the airport. You don’t want to pay another $36 dollars for the cab ride from downtown to the Airport.

Anyway don’t forget about the miracle of technology. This is very important! Consider having the Uber or Lyft mobile app.

Why?

First of all they can tell you straight away the quote for your anticipated ride. Second, you will save a lot of money in transportation. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I tried to use the cheaper way of moving my 3 heavy and huge luggage bags from one Airbnb to another by using the local and infamous “Streetcar”.

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New Orleans
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New Orleans Streetcar

Bad choice! Frustrating to say the least!

That’s right, for only $3 you can have a great deal with an unlimited Day pass on the streetcar. We quickly learned that it’s better for sightseeing, not for moving stuff.

Trust me, an Uber will be much less hassle. It takes you at least 5 days before you will become familiar with the Streetcar…not to mention all of the connections and different lines depending on the neighborhood you’re headed to.

Don’t be scared if you find yourself on a road called TCHOUPITOULAS. Don’t try to pronounce it. Ask a local and he will save you 10 minutes. New Orleans has strong French and Spanish influences that have continued on with the locals and you might find out incredible historical facts.

Accommodations:

In the first point, I mentioned how you should book your flight ticket with a considerable advance notice. When you have to deal with the accommodation issues, I kinda’ feel like you should book your hotel even before your flight ticket. The “in-budget” travelers know best what I’m talking about. New Orleans has really incredible hotels and, seriously, you can even find and close good deals if you are smart enough.

What to do?

Well, 6 month before your trip, use every single tool you have to find good deals. Believe me that a $180 per night hotel is a great deal. Rooms are typically charged up to $400 dollars…especially if there are conferences in that time period, and you don’t want to spend that kind of money right? You can do so many things with the money you saved by booking in advance.

But hey, there’s always somebody who will mess with their vacation preparation. The person typing these words made the same mistake. In that case don’t feel frustrated; there’s a solution to everything. If you’re not afraid of meeting a rat sometimes, then you are more than welcome to save some money by using Airbnb in the French Quarter, and maybe you will be lucky enough to live in a Shotgun House*, like we did.

Anyway, Airbnb can help you save money, but be aware that you might meet sometimes some rats or some bugs. The fact that you might find rats is because New Orleans has been there for a long time and they wash the streets every single morning. We all know that when we clean some places, these animals need to find other places where to live. Don’t be scared, they won’t attack you.

Food:

Now that you landed in Nola and found your accommodation, let me explain how to keep the starvation under control. I’m kidding, that’s going to be something really easy for you to manage especially if you know how to use a mobile app like Yelp or Trip Advisor. A huge tip I could give to you, based on my limited experience, is not to worry if you’re not a big fan of seafood. There are so many other options. You might wanna try their incredible Muffulettas sandwich. They are super large, fat and round sandwiches. Don’t be greedy and don’t let the starvation lead you. Remember that you actually can share a Muffuletta sandwich with your friend or lover and still be full after. It don’ madda ** if you’re starving, order just one and cut it in half. Big Easy (NOLA’s nickname, but I caution you from using it in town if you want to be treated as you wish) will offer you many other solutions if you don’t mind exploring the town a little bit more. If your body allows you to walk under the Southern sun and reach the VIEUX CARRE (French Quarter)’s French Market, don’t forget to try the Alligator dishes. They are even better than pork. If you can believe it?!

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As a seafood lover, you should not leave without trying their amazing raw or fried oysters, the Jambalaya, or the Creole. I won’t explain to you what those dishes are because I want you to be curious. The biggest advice I have for you instead, is to find time for yourself and go to Antoine’s Creole Restaurant. Your Facebook friends will definitely fill your post with comments and likes. You will be able to let them know that you just ate in the oldest restaurant in the United States with a history of 175 years.

Try what I mentioned in this third point and you will be able to say GUMBO YA-YA!

Entertainment:

It don’ madda if you won’t be able to explain to yourself what in the world the word LAGNIAPPE means. All you have to do (don’t forget!) while in New Orleans is:

LAISSEZ LES BONS TEMPS ROULER!

If you don’t want to check the weather every hour for tornados or storms, then LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL! Doing that you allow yourself to walk along the banks of the Mississippi River or take the pretty River Cruise for a dinner/jazz night and listen to some quality music. If an $80 dinner cruise is something you consider out of your “in-budget” trips rules, then you definitely wanna check world famous streets like Frenchmen or Bourbon street.

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You will be probably be happy to know that you’re walking along the same streets as the infamous annual Mardi Gras parade happens. Frenchmen Street and Bourbon Street are two very different places. If you’re a “party people” lover, then I would suggest you to go have a few (or more) drinks on Bourbon Street.

 

A mile long of all kinds of pubs, gentlemen clubs or jazz clubs, will definitely make you feel in the center of the world and the king of the party. Be smart though! The drinks are $10+. Cheaper drinks are very hard to find, so ask first.

 

After 5 days of exploring almost all places on Bourbon St. (Gentlemen clubs excluded) we moved to another Airbnb in Marigny, near Frenchmen Street. That was a radical, positive change. We were able to hear another kind of music and meet interesting people. Walking through the Frenchmen Art Market made me think how interesting and inspirational New Orleans could be for artists from allover the world. Marigny and its charming Frenchmen Street was definitely the right place to finally listen to great Jazz music.

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The River Cruise

Once the night is over for you, remember that along the Frenchmen Street you might meet interesting Street Chefs. Time to try the best street food ever (especially for the Wild Boar meat lovers) on an open BBQ flame.

The nights in New Orleans fly by and before you realize, your watch will indicate 8am. Pay attention! There is a good reason to leave the cozy bed! Wash your face, brush your teeth and run to Café Du Monde! For $6, you will have 3 of the authentic NOLA’ Beignet and a café au lait (coffee with milk).

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Cafe Du Monde

There’s not a better way to start the day. While there, stop and take some pictures or selfies in Jackson Square or in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. You will be amazed how well they conserved their 1724 cathedral.

 

Buy a Fleur de Lis souvenir for your mother and then walk on Royal Street. Be aware that the old-fashion couture mixed with the modern fashion of NOLA might make you empty out your wallet. Next, consider buying a book from Beckham’s bookshop about voodoo to learn about the story of that sect and its beloved Marie Laveau. That will definitely make you book on Groupon a haunted tour in the Saint Louis Cemetery No.1.

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Marie Laveau tomb

You might be interested in seeing the creepy tomb of the Queen of Voodoo and Nicholas Cage’s future tomb. You will be shocked to witness within the cemetery, the recent artifacts of a man who is allowed to practice the voodoo there.

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Saint Louis Cemetery No.1

As an American Horror Story fan, you might be happy to hear that Coven season was filmed in NOLA. If you buy your haunted tour from Groupon, the guide will stop by that specific place and let you take some photos.

If you’re a fan of alligators and not afraid of meeting them face-to-face on an airboat tour, you should definitely book a tour in the Swamp. That will cost you an entire day. As an alternative, I would find time for a Streetcar tour in the Garden District. Enjoying a relaxing walking tour of the historic mansions was one of my favorites. Sandra Bullock owns a home there!

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Garden District

Don’t forget the National World War II museum and the Plantations tours. Something I didn’t find time for, but I would be interested in if one day I will stop again in New Orleans.

Tips:

Looks like I’m nearing my 2000 words goal and I have to respect the title. Well the first tip is that you should read my future posts to find out where I stopped for those amazing lunches and dinners. Now that I went over 2000 words, a big advice I could give you is that you should definitely go visit the Louis Armstrong Park and read the story about the Congo Square! Another piece of advice…the water is not cheap. The cheapest way to drink water is a $4 gallon of water in a convenience shop. Or the $1 water bottles along the river from the local bike stands.

Thanks for reading it folks!

* The Shotgun Houses are typical New Orleans houses. They are row houses in which all rooms on one side are connected by a long single hallway. The good side is that you can open the front door and shoot a bullet straight through the back door, without hitting a single wall. Based on what a tour guide said (obviously lied) New Orleans an Louisiana is the first place in United States for the number of love murderers. You can come home and find out if somebody is in your bed and shot a bullet and put him down. Funny woman…

** typical NOLA expression to say “It doesn’t matter”

Airbnb Tales: The tower house in the jungle

One of the most important pieces of advice I feel you have to adopt while in Mexico, is to rent a car. Mexico, despite what people say or magazines narrate, should be known for much more than only Cancun. Cancun is a pretty place where you can find all kinds of fun, for every single need, but in my personal opinion you should be more curious and go explore the surrounding areas; you might be impressed.

Mexico is really a place where the biggest worry is how to manage your time in order to visit the many places you planned before leaving your home country.

The idea of not having to deal with a guide who’s waiting for you or with a group of people on a tour bus with different needs, means a lot.

Why?

Because the idea of a trip is that you want to escape from everyday habits and lead yourself into adventures the way you want with the rhythms you prefer.

Renting a car while in Mexico was the best idea ever. The contingent advice I have for you if you choose to rent a car with a company like America Car Rental is to make sure they will give you the flashy new car you picked from their website. You might find yourself driving a messy old Toyota Corolla full of problems. Once you decide on a car, you should give a look and draw on the rental form every single mark (this way your $400 for the security deposit will return in your bank account once you return the vehicle).

Once we got the car we’d expected, we started our drive due west for 1 hour and stopped what felt like in the middle of nowhere. Actually, and if I have to be honest with you, I should say that Airbnb kinda’ decided for us. After a quick search on the app we found this amazing and secluded place, Mayan village, Yucatan, Mexico .

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In the middle of the jungle, there is a house with a 5-story tower. On the top of that tower you can find a handmade terrace with this pretty and original mosaic made of local materials. That was our favorite place where to watch the stars and listen to the wild silence we had been searching for before leaving our home countries.

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The owner, Alan, is a retired U.S. teacher who found the peace in that place, teaching English as a second language to the locals, far from the craziness of big cities.

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Waking up with the “noises” of the tropical birds was the most surprisingly and unconventional alarm I had ever had. And I didn’t hate it…

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For only 36 bucks I had the comfort of a high standards hotel, but I earned something more. I regenerated all my batteries and prepared myself for a new year in the chaotic city I was currently living in.

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Thanks Alan for sharing your house with us and allowing us to have a great time!

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An unexpected meeting with Abraham Lincoln

 “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 of those hours sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln

Something incredible that I never thought would have been possible, just happened in my life…

Destiny brought me in the heart of a great family in Indianapolis (Indiana), to celebrate the American Thanksgiving Day.

Should I use the famous phrase that I like a lot?

Yeah, why not?

Because everything happens for a reason…

4 hours away from that town, exactly in Hodgenville, Kentucky, lives my good friend Jessica and her amazing parents. The destiny wanted her to take us for a tour of the Western Kentucky University’s campus, which is also the university where Jessica finished her studies.

And what is so incredible with that, and why should you be happy for me?

Well…

Hodgenville, Kentucky is well known for its amazing college football team, Hilltopper. Just kidding (I’m not kidding because it is not a good football team)(I’m kidding because I do not want to talk about college football teams), I will not talk about football.

This town that I just mentioned a phrase ago, is the hometown of one of the greatest men that had a huge influence in my life. In Hodgenville was born a head of the Whig Party, Abraham Lincoln.

Just for making this article look longer, I think you might eventually want to read a proper definition of Whiggism or Whigism.

Would that be something you might want to know?

So, Whiggism or Whigism is when…

Wait, let’s be professionals and write down a proper definition with the help of Wikipedia.

Whiggism, in North America sometimes spelled Whigism, is a historical political philosophy that grew out of theParliamentarian faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–1651). The Whigs’ key policy positions were the supremacy of Parliament (as opposed to that of the king), tolerance of Protestant dissenters, and opposition to a “Papist” (Roman Catholic) on the throne, especially James II or one of his descendants. After the huge success (from the Whig point of view) of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689, Whiggism dominated English and British politics until about 1760, although in practice it splintered into different factions.

 I hope you already figured out that they’re talking about the British Imperium…

After 1760 the Whigs lost power, apart from sharing it in some short-lived coalition governments, but Whiggism fashioned itself into a generalized belief system that emphasized innovation and liberty and was strongly held by about half of the leading families in England and Scotland, as well as most merchants, Dissenters, and the middle classes. The other great families, the Church of England, held the opposing Tory position most of the landed gentry, and officers of the army and the navy.

 Here’s how Whig Party started to become something useful to the American Patriots…

 Whiggism originally referred to the Whigs of the British Isles, but the American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies largely adopted the name of “Old Whigs”. Following independence, American Whiggism became known as republicanism. The term “Old Whigs” was also used in Britain for those Whigs who opposed Robert Walpole as part of the Country Party.

One meaning of ‘Whiggism’ given by the Oxford English Dictionary is “moderate or antiquated  “Liberalism”.

Thank you Wikipedia!

After a tour of the University of Kentucky’s campus I found an interesting statue. On a bench, the old Lincoln was sitting and watching me (actually he looks towards the direction that the artist decided when he created the sculpture). He holds 2 books on his legs. I sat down on the bench close to him and I decided it was the right moment for a picture with the man that I’d read a lot about during my life.

Over our heads a huge and dark cloud vortex was spinning fast and this huge sand gave a hard time to my fiancée and to my friend Romeo to take pictures.

I close my eyes as a natural form of defense. After I wiped my eyes from the sand, Sarah and Romeo were gone. A hand poked my shoulder, scaring me.

Hello Alexandru!”

“How are You Sir?”

I turned my head to the right and I saw him, Abraham Lincoln in the flesh. In my head I had an image of myself sitting in front of a mirror saying a typical Irish expression:

“F.ck sake, I’m dead!”

He shook my shoulder and he said:

No, you are not dead”

“But yes, we are talking for real.”

I tried to stand up and run but he pushed my body back on the bench and said:

 “Really man, don’t be scared!”

I convinced myself that there’s no reason to try to escape. After observing the way he was dressed I said:

 “Well, I’m…”

I didn’t even have time to finish my phrase…He stopped me and talked over:

“I need you to listen to me please!”

“I was looking for somebody who can just listen without talking.”

“And trust me, there’s a lot that we should talk about.”

I knew then that I couldn’t open my mouth, and I said yes with my head. I accepted to just listen.

“I don’t know where to start from…”

“It’s though my friend…”

“The future world I imagined doesn’t looks like it goes in the right direction.”

“And honestly it looks so disappointing and full of issues.”

“But you know what?”

I opened my eyes wider because I was curious with what he was about to say.

“Let’s not talk about the world and it’s issues.”

“Today I don’t have too much time…”

“…and before I let you go I want to say something to you though…”

“I’m happy to meet you today.”

“You look like a good man with an honest soul and a bright future.”

“Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t forget to be always yourself!”

“Thanks for what you will become and the huge difference you will make!”

“Good to meet you, good man!”

After those words the curiosity was craving to find out more about what he’d just said. But he was back into solid and the sun had broken the clouds.

Sarah and Romeo were still taking pictures…

…and I was still thinking of what just happened.

4 months later I ate at a Chinese Restaurant and I had a fortune cookie, which said:

…you will achieve great things

 

Does everything happen for a reason?

P.S. I know that the part with the dark clouds and the metal sculpture where Abraham Lincoln talks to me sounds a little bit like fiction…

You should always follow your head and be able to decide to think the way you want. If it helps, please consider a second hypothetical version: Me reading a piece of university’s newspaper where Abraham Lincoln talks to the readers.

Anyway thanks for reading my article till the end!

You will never become a writer if I don’t have readers. For that I want to thank you for letting me be your writer!

Airbnb Tales: Casa Misterio en Merida, Mexico

I was born 29 years ago. I lived in a country (Romania) where 15 years ago, every international leisure travel you were planning to organize was only possible thanks to these travel agents, seated on chairs scattered around a travel agency’s office.

Before I started to even think that I might be able to afford a vacation abroad, my parents relocated with my sister and me to Italy for a better life style.

I landed in a better country (better quality of life), different than the previous one, where the Internet was more commonly used. In Italy, half the people were already using their personal computers to organize and book their own trips abroad or within the country online.

The idea of the travel agencies was not disappearing, but they were losing a lot of their business. I don’t believe the main reason was due to the weakening economic times that were hitting Italy at a fast rhythm. I heard from people familiar with the problem that the reason was mostly because of the idea of saving money. I even started to think that everything was changing just because people love taking control over the situation and organize their own trips.

Whoever never thought to become his own tour operator, and create his own vacation package, is a fool.

Come on, we are proud and we trust in our personal capabilities…

By the way, during the years of many tech evolutions and with affordable Internet connection, we revolutionized the network and we moved towards the invention of many creative platforms that allows us to book our vacations faster and cheaper.

And here we are, almost 14 years from the beginning of the booking evolution.

2017…

One of the biggest and most interesting new booking platforms is Airbnb.

Airbnb is the perfect result of a revolutionary invention that you can use to book the coolest place to stay during your trips.

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photo: Airbnb.com

The day I started to use Airbnb, everything changed. You still can have what the hotels can offer, with a huge addition:

Meeting great people and hearing great stories.

Airbnb revolutionized the tourism we were accustomed to. It allows you to have access to affordable places to sleep during your visit in a new place, giving the opportunity to more people to experience the beauty of traveling.

Not only…

You can (for those who want a full immersion trip) finally have the chance to meet local people, eat authentic homemade meals and learn even more custom gests. This is the perfect mix for those who are looking for great memories and unique experiences.

Thanks to a new technology like Airbnb, I had the great opportunity to live for 3 amazing days at Casa Misterio en Merida, the vibrant capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán.

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photo: Facebook

The famous GPS navigator on your phone that brings you sad surprises once you’re back home (a $300 phone bill), brought us straight to the destination. An American woman was waiting for us on the steps of her front door. Airbnb offered us a silent neighborhood with background sounds of children playing. The moment I stepped into their house, everything changed (for the better). Every single particular thing was accurately molded to give us the perfect picture of a Mexican house. My soul started to adapt to that charming house. I instantly became part of this Mexican-American family…

Our room was on the second floor.

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photo: Casa Misterio, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

Oh gosh, I don’t even know which words to use in order to give you a perfect image of that place (I didn’t think I would’ve slept better than in a hotel, but I did). The shower was on the huge balcony overlooking the pool below, and we were able to take showers under the sunset. Close to it, we found this amazing Mexican hammock where I instantly fell asleep to the swaying warm breeze.

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photo: Casa Misterio en Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

After I entered into that house, I realized how easily we sometimes forget how beautiful the life can be. But, only if we are interested enough to search for a way to find out.

We could’ve spent $100 a night to sleep, but we decided instead to spend $100 for 3 nights.

Where is the trick?

The trick is that we were happy the day when we decided to use Airbnb. For less than a hotel room price, we got more. We got smiles, and we earned 2 new friends who made sure to give us the most beautiful 3 days in that inviting place.

Gracias Erin and Manny!

Venerable EDEL QUINN

…One day in 1937 a Dutch priest was driving an Irish girl to a Legion of Mary meeting some miles from his mission in Africa. They came to a river in such flood that the bridge across it could not even be seen. He was about to turn back when the girl cried out, “Oh Father, please go on, I’m sure Our Lady will protect us”. He was aghast but found he couldn’t resist such faith. Some men standing by formed a human chain to see if the bridge was still there. It was, so he drove on blindly. The water flooded the engine and plugs but the impetus carried the car across and up an incline at the far side. He dried the plugs and tried the starter. The car got going and they were in time for the meeting.

 

That girl was Edel Quinn and the incident typical of her story. In 1936 she had been sent from Dublin to establish the Legion in East and Central Africa. The difficulties were enormous but she met every challenge with unwavering faith and courage. When others faltered her invariable response was, “Why can’t we trust Our Lady?” or “Our Lady will see after things”.

 

This is the story of EDEL QUINN and her devotion to Mary was marked by childlike trust and utter generosity…

One day I was writing one of my short stories while sitting in a coffee shop on one of the most the well-known streets of Dublin, Grafton Street. I was looking outside, focusing on a specific area along the road. There was a group of 4 young music performers. They were singing “Hallelujah” in a very modern way, including some cool music instruments that I couldn’t identify.

As I was observing them, and waiting for the best words to flow into my next short story, a woman’s hand poked my left shoulder. In front of my eyes, the image was disappearing. My brain was preparing me for the next scene. I turned my head and I saw this huge smile on this lady’s face that had grabbed my attention. She had a disarming smile that can’t be ignored.

“What are you writing young man? What’s your story about?”

 My eyes took a quick read of the situation: an attractive woman in her late thirties, with bright blue eyes covered with these old fashioned eyeglasses she kept over her forehead, short blonde hair, with a pen in her right hand. Her left hand was holding a rosary. In front of her, a coffee and a notepad filled with notes. I thought she was a journalist.

My eyes met hers, and I answered with a simple, “Waiting for the inspiration…”

Many times under pressure, I’m not able to find the perfect response that I’d wish to give, so my response becomes really short and to the point…

She looked at me, and then she took out of her pocket a very old pocket watch. She looked at the hour and then said:

“Even when somebody hurts you, let the love, joy and peace lead you towards the right thing to do!”

 

“Our Lady will see after things!”

 

“Here, I have a present for you Alex…”

 

She took out of her bag a brochure and she handed it to me.

 

“Thanks Shyla!”

 

I looked at the front picture and then a smile reached my face. I looked in her direction but she was gone. I mean, she literally disappeared. I stood up and walked around the coffee shop and then outside…

The Vicar General of Mauritius was speaking for many, when he said I want to lay special emphasis on her constant joy; she was always smiling”…

 

Edel, in the words of a Spanish Cardinal, was an image of the eternal youth of the Church”.

 

Did I meet Edel Quinn that day? Maybe or maybe not, but since that day, I try to base my life on three words: Love, Joy and Peace.

Thank you Shyla for the unforgettable gift!

A day with Francisco afuera de Merida (Mexico)

A rock on the road makes our rental car ( Fiat Panda ) jolt and it wakes me up. A quick look on the phone to see our GPS location and I still couldn’t believe where I was… (for the entire 2 weeks I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe was finally in Mexico).

My arm was burning under the Mexican January sun. Far from Europe and any sort of issues, the biggest worry was to not forget the sunscreen lotion. And of course I forgot the lotion.

What was Mexico for me, before visiting it?

I’ll admit that for my whole life, I never considered myself a fan of Mexico. All I can say now is that: Life can teach you many little things, but only if you are willed enough, you will climb the wall of knowledge and see what’s on the other side. If you never experienced Mexico and its people firsthand, then you know nothing about Mexico and the Mexicans.

Mexico had the power to find a special place in my heart…

I don’t even want to start a sentence like:

“I thought Mexico wasn’t safe because of crime”

or

“I need to be careful not to be cheated with the money”

Only adding those words as important facts to be aware of when travelling to Mexico, would be a HUGE and SAD INSULT to all the amazing people I met during my time there.

Please don’t think that I want to exaggerate with the facts and seem a liar. Mexico gave me the opportunity to meet only great people…

Now I can smell your doubts about if you should keep reading my article.

I promise you that you will enjoy the entire amazing story about our best MotoTaxiDriverTouristGuide, Francisco.

Remember the part about me burning my arm under the sun? Well before we start the story, I would like you to know that I’m one of those people who are trying their best to talk in the local language during trips. It was after I realized that my arm was burning, when I coined a new English / Spanish term to define somebody in a certain situation: IDIHOMBRE (from the English word IDIOT and the Spanish word HOMBRE).

Our car almost hit this young man who was trying to stop us and sell a tourism package: A guided tour of 5 different Cenotes on a MotoTaxi.

It didn’t take too much of his charm and warm soul to win our curiosity and make us accept the deal. Half day of his work for only trescientos pesos ( fifteen bucks ).

Crazy right?

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to learn much about Cenotes, this natural phenomenon found in only a few places around the world, here is a Wikipedia explanation:

Cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Mayan people for sacrificial offerings.

 

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Cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies. While the best-known cenotes are large open water pools measuring tens of meters in diameter, such as those at Chicken Itza in Mexico the greatest number of cenotes are smaller sheltered sites and do not necessarily have any surface exposed water. There are over 6000 different cenotes in the Yucatan Pensinsula in Mexico alone.

 

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An explanation alone cannot describe how incredibly beautiful these Cenotes are. For all the tropical fans of European destinations (like me), after visiting this superb Peninsula, I bet you will pleasantly think differently.

We parked our car and jumped onto this MotoTaxi: a regular motorcycle without the front wheel. In order to obtain a good MotoTaxi, you need to remove the front wheel and the fork. Then add a two-wheeled cabin with a bench and a roof. Bingo! Then start your low investment business.

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photo: Francisco’s MotoTaxi

The amazing thing about this original transportation is that you have the wind that hits you and cools you on a warm Mexican day.

The first cenote had a scary ladder that we needed to climb down to reach a wooden platform over the water. I didn’t need too much prompting. I took my fiancée’s hand and we pushed each other into that crystalline and fresh water. Our guide Francisco explained to us all he knew about those cenotes…

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Amazing, just amazing.

Back to the MotoTaxi, Francisco was singing a song and I thought his voice was even better than Julio Igleasis’.

He was singing and we were enjoying the ride with goose bumps on our skin. And it was too warm for goose bumps.

Francisco is a father and husband. A simple man with a strong passion for his lands, he became the man of our trip. When I think of Mexico’s people, I think of people like him.

I will not even try to use words to describe the rest of the cenotes. I think the pictures will be more than enough…

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At the end of our trip, Francisco became nothing more than a beautiful memory that I will always remember with a huge smile on my face.

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Gracias Francisco!

Watching the Aurora Borealis through a Subaru’s sunroof

 

 

As I was watching the amazing nature display, that small newspaper clipping from back in 1998 comes back into my memories.

It was the middle of a chillingly cold winter back in Northern Romania. I came back in the house after a long Saturday afternoon outside playing with my friends in the snow. I remember how hard it was for my mother to change my clothes. I was frozen and my clothes were hard as ice. The reason we used to return home with wet clothes, starved and frozen, is because once you’re home you cannot return outside.

The rules were simple and clear:

  • If you’re wet (and a mother knows she has to wash your clothes) you’re out.
  • If you return home for a glass of water or a sandwich, and your clothes are wet, you’re out.
  • If you scream way too much and your mother hears you from the condo’s windows, you’re out.

God knows how many times we need to go through all these experiences in order to learn the secret:

If you obtain the freedom on a cold and snowy day, then you’re like a soldier during the battle. That means you cannot be thirsty, hungry or tired. Enjoy the time with your fellow friends till your mom comes on the condo’s roof top to call you inside.

I know what you might think in this moment. I bet you think we were just simple children “submissive” to our mother’s “supreme power”.

You’re wrong buddy!

We studied and we learned something important that really works in every single issue in this world:

Your individual voice is powerless, but when you’re in many, you can change minds and the rules. You can change history.

The power of unity always worked…

We used to form the begging group.

We used to go and knock at our fellow “imprisoned” friends’ door and ask for a meeting with their mother. Once she was in front of us, we would kneel in front of her and beg to let our friend outside with us. Who knows how many things we promised to those women and we didn’t follow through with. Something was always sure though: Always being respectful.

That night it didn’t work though. It didn’t work maybe because everything happens for a reason?

It was already late, but we needed to finish our toboggan track for the next day. I was the first of the team who was called inside by my mom. My fellow friends came at the eighth level where I was living, and did what needed to be done. It was dinner time and my mother was preparing it. Actually she was burning it because of my friends. They started to beg her. I was behind her.

And?

She closed the door in their face. And I was shocked. I knew that nothing would change her mind. I walked towards my room. In my head everything was wrong and unfair. Now that I think a little better, a song might be perfect for that situation:

I was alone in the dark, in my room. I was sad with the world. I was thinking, What is going to happen to our hard work?

About ten minutes later, my dad came in my room. He turned on the light. He launched an old magazine on my bed and he left.

The front page was showing this amazing picture with an amazing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) photograph. I don’t remember where that photo was taken or what the words meant. It was in German. All I could read was Aurora Borealis. I was sbalordito!…(amazed)…

I grew up with that picture in my head. For precisely 18 years. Until 5 months ago when I finally saw my first Aurora Borealis.

On that night, the woman of my life surprised me. We took our memory foam mattress for the back of her Subaru XV Crosstrek, a blanket, and some food. She told me she had a surprise. We drove North towards the infamous and formidable Sleeping Bear Dunes. We took a trail and we found the perfect parking spot. We had this amazing view in front of us. I couldn’t find a cloud on that clear sky full of stars.

I confess though…

I was a little bit scared. In that place, one could find only myself, this amazing woman of my life, and a bunch of still awake wild animals.

I couldn’t figure out why we were there. I thought that it might be one of those nights when we go stargazing and try to identify some of them.

What happened later?

She opened her Subaru’s sunroof so we were able to go safely outside to watch the waters of Lake Michigan. She looked at me and told me:

“Alex, not the stars…”

“Look at the horizon line over the water!”

I was amazed, folks! I couldn’t believe my eyes. That night we had the Aurora Borealis in front of us. What a pretty nature show. It was like when the wind blows the sand. That night the wind was blowing that amazing green light over the water. Thinking back on that night I get goose bumps. All we needed was an amazing and scary-romantic spot, a cozy car where to sleep, nature at its best, alongside the woman of my life. Without knowing, she made my dream come true.

We fell asleep with the phones close to us. We had almost 12 alarms between 10 PM and 5AM to witness the various light shows of the sky…

I’m so happy that I met you that day in Manarola, Sarah! I’m so glad my mother didn’t let me go outside that evening of 1998. I’m so happy that my father shared with me that magazine.

Does everything happen for a reason? Maybe not but what if it does happen for a reason? Anyway life is good!

The Heidelberg Project

 

… and he passed me talking to those two kids showing them which spot they could paint on. As he looked over the kids’ shoulders, he said:

“Show me the power of your creativity folks!”

Correct, the Power of Creativity is the mix of words that the people around the world use to describe the Heidelberg Project:

The Heidelberg Project, created by the US veteran Tyree Guyton and his Grandpa Sam, more than 30 years ago, is a demonstration of the power of creativity in creating hope and a bright vision for the future”.

 

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I saw an old and broken watch on a tree and it was indicating the same hour as the watch on my arm. A paint-splattered hand touched my shoulder and almost scared me, to be honest with you. I was in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood, the city’s East Side, which is in one of the well-known American hard-core inner city neighborhoods where people are afraid to walk even in daytime. I turned my head and I saw him, Tyree Guyton, the sunny man who taught me something new:

Never stop fighting for something you love

 

He wasn’t too impressed by my reaction. People like me are probably not a big deal for him anymore. While still watching the kids expressing their art, he asked me:

“What brings you here today?”

I was speechless. I couldn’t simply say that I was pulled there out of curiosity. I wanted to seem more interested and more of an expert. I didn’t want to tell him that I couldn’t understand his art. I couldn’t give a name or a title or a simple explanation at a question:

Why?

He was reading my face. I couldn’t hide it though. It was an impossible mission and I failed. He thanked the kids and then he returned to me:

“Before judging, you should walk around for a complete visit. Then come back to me and answer my question.”

Again, I didn’t know what to say. I just followed his tip and I started to walk along the street. I took a brochure and I started to read while I was wandering around the block.

The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art project in Detroit, Michigan. It is in part a political protest, which started as Tyree Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots. Many sources describe Tyree’s reaction when he returned to Heidelberg Street after serving in the army.

He was astonished to see that surrounding neighborhood looked as if a bomb went off.”

 

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At first, the project consisted of him painting a series of houses on Detroit’s Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors. The added oddity was the salvaged items affixed to the houses. His creative vision was 30+ years of constantly evolving work.

And here comes the best part…

On two occasions, the Heidelberg Project faced complete destructions by the City of Detroit. The first time was in 1991 under Mayor Coleman Young, and the second time in 1999 under Mayor Dennis Archer.

Do you want more?

Not even the massive fires of 2013 and 2014 stopped this man and his mission:

Fight for what you believe in!

After my walk around the block I started to build a thought. I realized how important it is to understand the art. I finally found the answer I had always been looking for:

The art needs to be explained. The art needs its artist in order to survive.

 

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As I was returning back to the car I saw him again. He was doing the same thing. He was inviting the people to go take a look around and then share with him their thoughts and reaction.

I walked towards him, but this time he was the one without words. I looked at him and with all my heart and honestly convinced I told him: “I’m honored to have met a special man like you Tyree!”

I was so happy to shake the hand of a man that one would be lucky to meet only once in his life.

Thanks Heidelberg Project for believing in a possible brighter future! I truly hope you will change your idea about closing the Project.

I don’t know why but as I was walking towards the car I had a song in my head and I hope you will enjoy!

 

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

 

I was born by the river in a little tent

Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die

‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

I go to the movie and I go down town

Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

Then I go to my brother

And I say, “Brother, help me please.”

But he winds up knockin’ me

Back down on my knees

 

There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

 

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

 

That’s “Merica” and it’s hidden curiosities…