A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

Star Jumping and Toyota Kicking the world! November 14, 2008

Yesterday marked my 9 month anniversary of leaving Seattle to travel around the world!  It was an experience of a lifetime, an epic adventure. I freed the explorer inside me that has been restless since my childhood days when I explored the world in my backyard. I finally had the courage to say to that little voice…go on…PLAY! IMAGINE! CREATE! The world is your playground I told myself, it is a Traveler’s Terrene.

So here I am nine months later with some 50 gigs of photos, unforgettable memories, and a global network of new friends.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. From the people I travelled with on different legs of the trip: my older brother “Mohawk Mark” (2 months in New Zealand), college friend and dance extraordinaire Brian (3 weeks in Thailand), my childhood next door neighbor and “Sister Zesma” Suzanne (5 months throughout Southeast Asia, Turkey, Croatia and Italy), my adorable Italian former roommate Ilaria (2 weeks in Milan and a long weekend in England) and the countless backpackers I met along the way where we travelled together for a few days before parting ways (you know who you are…I HEART you…and there are too many too name!)  

At some point I’ll upload a wide selection of photos to Picasa and send a link, but for now, here is a snapshot of my trip as I Star Jumped and Toyota Kicked across the world!


Daily Challenge: Congratulate yourself! November 13, 2008

Living in the 21st century, our lives can be described with one word: busy. Each day we’re busy working from 9:00-5:00p.m. (or longer for most people), picking up the kids from school, studying for classes, washing laundry, cooking dinner…the list goes on and on.  We’re human ants–always doing something, always going somewhere.  But like ants, we don’t usually take the time to pause, step back and look at all we’ve done–hey we’re too busy, and there is work to be done right? But, even aunts need a little congratulations, don’t you think?

My challenge to you is to stop for a moment and reflect on the accomplishments in your life. One minute, five minutes or heck even take yourself out for a 1/2 hour lunch–however much time you can spare.  During this time, think about your life in general, or a recent goal perhaps, that you have accomplished. Congratulate yourself on your achievements. Smile. And, if no one’s looking, take your right hand and pat yourself on your back (I literally just did it, yes, I know it’s pretty dorky, but try it! It will at least put that smile on your face.)

Congratulate yourself on your small endeavors and your large ones.  Don’t feel inadequate if you are currently not a millionaire or a movie star–you don’t need money and glamour status to be accomplished.  To feel accomplished, you only need one thing…to make a true effort in living the life you want to lead. If you continue to chose your path based on your passions then at the end of the day you will have succeeded, you will feel accomplished because it is your life and you are living it in a way that you want

Remember, everyone finds happiness in different ways and by taking different paths. Don’t think because you are on a different road you are on the wrong road.  Whether you like 4bying on a sand dune,  slowly winding down a scenic lane, hitting mock speed around a race track or setting cruise control on the freeway–it is solely a matter of preference, not a wrong choice.  As long as you are driving the road you enjoy, than you are living a successful life and you should take a moment to say, “Go me!!! Look at all I’ve done, look how far I’ve travelled, and look how far I’ve come.” Congratulate yourself on choosing the road you want to drive, living the life you want to lead. And, if you think you are not on the right road, or are tired of the road you’re driving, who said you can’t put on your blinker, switch lanes, and take the next exit? No one didn’t. You have the foot on the pedal and the steering wheel in your hands, so what are you waiting for–go for it!

So as I challenge you to reflect and congratulate yourself on your accomplishments in life, today, I am congratulating myself on my 9 month anniversary of leaving Seattle to travel the world. (I just gave myself a little pat on my back…ahh…that felt good…) I am following my passions. I am creating life goals. And, I am enjoying cruising by myself (in a convertible with the top down if I had the choice) on a windy road through the mountains, sunlight on my face and green trees for as far as I can see.


Daily Challenge: Everyone Needs a Little Motivation November 11, 2008

I have my short and long term goals, but what about daily goals? Or even better, daily challenges.  I am competitive by nature, not the “I’m going to scratch your eyes out to win competitive”, but the “bring it on” attitude, or the “game on” I always like to say (picture the scene from Wayne’s World…).

Even though I am proactive by nature, there are times when I am lazy. Times when I procrastinate. Times when I just plain don’t care. Then…someone challenges me. “I bet you can’t do…”

 I feel a prickling sensation at the nape of my neck. I sit up straight, back arched in perfect posture, as I listen closely to what is being said…how dare someone suggest that me , a woman of the 21st century, can’t do something. I won’t claim I can do everything or rather, be good at everything, but I have enough courage to accept the challenge and try.

Has anyone heard me sing?  I am absolutely terrible. But, that didn’t keep me years ago from auditioning for a part in a musical and singing on stage in front of hundreds of people. (Mind you, after diligent practice I could sing the song quite well, but I would be your worst nightmare now if you allowed me sing to music in the car!)

Sometimes, all we really need is someone to play devil’s advocate and doubt us, assuming they know what we are and aren’t capable of doing.  Or, by contrast, sometimes, all we need is a little motivation. Someone to suggest we would be good at something or to complement us on our skills.  Whatever the case may be, sometimes we just need something to get us up and moving. To remind you to live an active life rather than a passive one. To propel you to better yourself or your situations.  To make life into a fun game, with new rules each day.  To try new things and explore. To force yourself to take risks even though you may be afraid. To humble yourself with failure, and become more confident with each success. And, the list goes on…

Each day, I will post a new challenge for myself. A mission to accomplish. (<insert mission impossible theme song here Da..da..da…da. Da..da…da..da.  Dada dddddddd….dada ddddddddd…dada.>) It will be anything from learning how to make authentic Italian homemade pasta to making a friend with a complete stranger; from volunteering a few hours at a shelter to taking a painting class. The options are endless.

My challenge to you, is to play this game with me. Write a message on the Daily Challenge post about your accomplishments or failures, stuggles or achievements with each challenge. It will be fun, it will be interactive! Given certain circumstances, you (or I) may not be able to play or achieve each challenge. Maybe you live in a small town and don’t have the ability to take a painting class or you can’t afford a babysitter to watch the children etc. Or, my challenges may not be practical for you or vice versa.  Feel free to use my challenges if you want or create your own as in the end, it’s more important that you make up challenges that fit your lifestyle and your personal desires. Either way, just challenge yourself to do something each day. Motivate yourself to better yourself in someway. It can be big or small, lighthearted or serious; it just needs to a challenge you set for yourself, a goal you try to achieve for the day.

And, don’t forget to let me know how it goes…and, even better, send me challenges to accomplish as well.

Happy brainstorming and…game on!


Fashion Week–In Review November 9, 2008

I assumed I would finish “investigating” this Fashion Week event held at Sali & Tabbachi, the hottest lounge and discoteca in Reggio Emilia, by around 6a.m. but high heels and the need for some beauty sleep, forced this girl to bed around 4.a.m.–which by all means is quite a fulfilled night of fun in my book…

So, how was it you wonder? In truth, everything a girl could imagine….

Yellow lights reflect off a white back drop lighting up a cluster of sponsor names that are projected on the screen. The runway, long and white could be mistaken for summer lounge seating, I can already imagine the half-naked bodies lying on the thin walkway like a tin of sardines basking in oil.
After talking my way into the seating area with the security guard–I find myself sitting in the front row. An “I’m an American, and a sweet smile,” works wonderful magic–better than a V.I.P. card. I am sitting alone, clear plastic modern chairs surround me. This moment could be lifted from a scene in Sex & the City…”if only my best girlfriends filled up the chairs next to me,” I think to myself. In any case, I have a smile on my face–I’m about to watch a fashion show!

The DJ, less than 20 feet in front of me in the center of the room is mixing R&B, hip hop, old school tracks and the hottest dance hits. His glass table sits behind a modern couch which is big enough to fit the three men and two women who just sat down quite comfortably, even another could squeeze in if they knew the group. One of the men could be a model himself dressed in his designer jeans, black sweater, glasses and a white thick scarf–mind you it’s not the least bit cold in the club, this accessory, like many in Italy, is merely for fashion sake. The man’s chiseled jaw reminds me of The David statue, I admire him from across the room like I would a piece of art as I wait for the show to begin.

“She Drives Me Crazy,” by The Fine Young Cannibals blasts through the speakers as cameras flash–the photographers are testing the lighting. The room, a rather bare space when I first walked in besides the line of clear plastic chairs on which I sit, and the white and red lounge chairs (the real VIP table service areas) that are in clusters and form a u-shape around the room, is now packed; overflowing actually, as people gather in the two large doorways trying to catch a glimpse of the special night’s event. In truth, there are two open seats to my left but I mistakenly put my purse on it, and I’m sure whoever is eyeing these seats assumes that I had a few girlfriends with me–what girl would come to a fashion show, let alone a lounge bar and discoteca by herself? Me, I say to myself with a smile. When you travel the world for 8 months, you become quite self reliant. I’m no longer “alone” when I’m with myself. I’m with my own best friend.

“So Cindy, what do you want to do tonight?” I often ask myself.
“Well Cindy,” I reply, “it’s a Friday night. Let’s go for a girls night out!”

So I took a map of Reggio Emilia (RE), got into my new little manual Fiat (that I’m still trying to get the hang of driving) and ventured to RE, a place that I had never driven before. To start the night off though, I took myself out for a nice little dinner at an Argentina restaurant and after a leisurely meal writing a few chapters of my book, I finally found myself in the parking lot of the club around 11:30p.m.

I checked my cellphone, it reads 12:23a.m. I was told by Nicola, the most gorgeous dark brown eyed Italian man who is a barista at a caffe’ bar, (yes, as you’ve guessed, I’ve become a regular) that things don’t usually get going until 1a.m. Quite the difference to Seattle nightlife where bars close at 2a.m. and clubs even at 4a.m.

A grey haired man equipped with with head phones, a mic and a large expensive looking camera turns his back towards me, T.V. Reporter, it reads. Without much notice, the lights begin to dim, the music suddenly changes, and a line of models enter the stage, 3 men and 3 women, wearing glasses that blink flashes of clear light which creates a starry night feel in the dark room. After the lights turn back on, a tall thin brunette walks onto the stage wearing a pair of red glasses while another pair hangs from the middle of her shirt. She struts the walk showcasing the glasses, yet, the entire crowd is more eye struck by the short red dress she wears, most of the audience sees what I see from the view in my chair, glimpses of a bare butt.

The show moves at a fast pace as the men and women models walk the catwalk sporting this season’s designs and colors of glasses, fall wardrobe, lingerie, and swimsuits. As I guessed, the color purple held a strong presence throughout the night as well as anything that was down-filled (jackets, vests, skirts etc).

After what seems like only minutes, the line of models appear back on stage, walking the runway one last time and sprinkling the floor with gold stars as they walk past. Less than a moment after the final spotlight turns off, does the working crew begin to pack up the stage and chairs to make the area back into it’s original purpose–a dance floor. I circle the crowed room, it takes me close to 10 minutes just to get to one side from the other as the number of people quadrupled since the show finished. After feigning to understand Italian to a few typical gel slicked haired men, I run into what I subconsciously hoped to find–the tallest men in the bar. I’m 5’8”, 5’10 with heels. When I stand next to a guy, I like to feel little–which is hard in Italy as the average guy is probably my normal height.
To make the night even more of a Sex and the City scene, the 2 tall, handsome men happened to be professional soccer players for Parma. Whereas many women become starstruck, for me it is usually a turnoff as most professional althletes hold true to their macho-player reputations. Surprisingly these two guys broke the stereotype, they were pure gentleman, nice and absolutely hilarious as they teased each other and me while we tried to carry on a conversation in my broken Italian and their almost non-exsistent English, which hopefully will get better in the next few weeks during the coffee and English lessons I promised to meet them for.

To wrap up my “investigative summary”, I would give this event, lounge and mix of people a well deserved, gold and shiny 5 star rating.

The question now, is what other events must the “obligated tourist” attend?…


A Girl’s Dream…Fashion Week in Italy! November 7, 2008

The great thing about travelling, is that as a tourist, it is almost your obligated duty to take part in the country’s cultural and social events. Whether it be visiting a museum, church, musical or festival–all of these things help mold and shape your perception of “history” and “life” in the country.

So, tonight, it is my “obligated duty” that I must go to Reggio Emilia (RE), to check out THE FASHION WEEK, sponsored by one of the hottest lounge and discotecas in RE. http://www.salietabacchi.com/

I plan to take a quick run before the sun sets, and then will get primped up wearing something purple (as that is thee in-fashion color of the season) and will head out for a big night out for Fashion Week. I feel as though I could be living an episode of Sex and the City, all I am missing are my best girlfriends! (I miss you all, by the way!!)

Tomorrow, I will report back on my findings…just don’t plan on any news too early because I may still be out “investigating” this cultural event at 6a.m…


It’s About Time. November 5, 2008

I remember in 2002, when I backpacked throughout Europe and studied abroad in Rome, Italy, giant PACE (peace) flags, the color of a rainbow, hung from almost every apartment window. In 2004, I lived in Perth, Australia for a year long exchange, and watched from abroad as Bush was re-elected for a second term, the weeks after which, I felt more heat and ridicule of “being an American”. In 2005, I travelled in South America for two months; my mom wanted me to sew a Canadian flag to my backpack and tell people I was from Vancouver. For the past six years that I have been travelling abroad, being an American has not been a comfortable or exciting identity to hold. Usually I get the “I’m sorry for you” look, or the “I hate Bush” comment, which for me has been okay since I agree.

This year, however, as I spent 8 months travelling around the world, there was a new feel to being an American. In fact, it was exciting to say that I was from the USA. My thoughts about the upcoming election was the first thing asked by foreigners and locals once they found out I was American. Instead of the “boo, another stupid American” glance, it was a look of excitement, “What do you think about Obama and McCain? Who do you want to win!”

“OBAMA!” I would exclaim. 98% of whom I talked to would smile back at me, their eyes lit up as they shouted, “Yes! Me too!”

It was refreshing that foreigners weren’t trying to talk to me about the war in Iraq or the IQ level of my President, instead they were looking to the future of America and the changes that would hopefully take place witha new president. Obama has quite the feat of obstacles ahead of him. He is only one man. He is not perfect. But, he is a change. He is hope for America and the international community alike.

With Barack Obama being elected as the United State’s 44th President, I finally feel great about proclaiming to the international community that, “I am American!”

And thank goodness…it’s about time.


Highlights and Memories Sections Updated! November 3, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 6:18 pm
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Phew! The last of the highlights and memories are now posted. These are just the tip of the iceberg so if you want to know more about my globetrotting days send me an email at cgswain@gmail.com or a blogpost and I would be happy to tell you more about my adventure, or answer any travel questions you may have! 

My biggest piece of advice to future travellers is not to plan too much of the travelling portion. Definitely get your life together before you leave (contact your bank, cancel your car insurance, make Dr/dentist appts, figure out your budget etc.), but as for the travelling portion, I found it more spontaneous, adventurous and fun to travel on a whim. You could prebook plane tickets like I did, although I ended up changing mine a handful of times and ended up with large change fees, so even those you may want to only plan a few months in advance to keep your options open, as with travelling–things are bound to change. 

When you arrive in a country, your first stop should be at the town’s information office or your hostel counter. You can get flyers, brochures and information on the top things to see, meet other travellers and talk to people who have been there and done that. The only pre-research I would suggest doing before arriving is to read up on the history and current state of the country. By reading a few books about the history of a country you get a broader picture of the countries past, which more often than not, has a direct influence of their current situation. It’ll also help give you some perspective on the country’s language, religions, and customs.  Briefly reading up on the current state of the country is also important to ensure that you are travelling during a safe period. (When I was travelling I missed the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Chengdu by only a week, was on an island in Thailand when the cyclone hit Burma, and evacuated Srinigar immediately when protests broke out in the city center. Some incidents are unavoidable, like natural disasters or random acts of violence, but others often can be prevented by watching the headlines and making sure that the political situations in the country are deemed safe enough to traveller.) Other than that, just take things as they come and enjoy the ride…not solely the destination!