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The last few years seem like a big ol’ blur, intense and jarring and confusing. I’ve emerged from the tunnel of these years with the prevalent thought, “What the *** was that???”

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When I compare the person I was a few years ago to the one I am now, I’m faced with startling contradictions. Somehow it feels I’m in exactly the same place—emotionally and physically—and at the same time a completely different person. I’m crankier, yet more empathetic; weary, yet full of wonder; terrified of everything, yet ready to barrel past the fear.

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So there’s no clarity in any of that.

For these last few years, this blog has been simply a series of one or two travel posts a year, with a year-end wrap up for good measure. It’s been in flux—just like me. I’m trying to figure out who I am after decades of work, and not much play, left me feeling like there had to be more to life. It’s been an interesting and challenging time.

I thought a lot about love this year.

Mostly, I thought about how you can fall out of love with your life and not realize it. When I look at the writing I’ve done over the last few years—which, admittedly, hasn’t been much—I see my struggle with this. I’m constantly saying how I’m living in the in-between space, in that middle place between the person I was and the one I will become. It’s unsettling, this feeling of not knowing what lies ahead.

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I’ve also begun to see the barriers I put up against love. It’s been eye opening to notice how I don’t let people in, and how I resist allowing them to really get to know me. Which is funny for a person who “sees” love everywhere I go.

Maybe all those signs of love are heavenly reminders that a life without love isn’t really much of a life at all.

Love in Marzamemi

I already have a vulnerability hangover just writing all of that.

When I think of all the interesting things I’ve done over the last few years, almost all of them began with the word no.

As a former people pleaser (and thank goodness THAT part of the program is over), I had to learn how to say no in order to put up healthy boundaries. I like the word no; it makes me feel in control. The thing is, my no’s don’t all mean the same thing.

Sometimes it means, “oh, hell no!” Or as I like to say in texts, “nooooooo.” But other times it’s an internal “hmmmm.” Much less definitive. As in, I don’t know how I feel about that, and I need to think about it. But for right now I’m gonna say, nope. 

It’s taken me almost half a century to understand this about myself. The place of no is how I process new information.

This summer, I had a series of conversations with a friend that always ended with me lamenting how I didn’t know who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. I was in the middle of a transition, and I didn’t know how to get to the other side. One day, she finally stopped me and offered incredibly wise advice.

She gently suggested that maybe I stop the hustle. That I let go of the notion that I had to achieve something to be a valid person. That I stop trying to define my life and just go live it. That I give myself that space to just be.

This was life changing. And so, I gave myself some room to just live. And to start saying yes more often.

If on January 1, you had told me I’d travel to Paris, Rome, and London (with a couple of stops in Sicily) within the span of twelve months, I’d have thought you were insane. And yet…that actually happened.

How one says that without sounding obnoxious, I don’t know. And yet.

Sometimes life presents situations you could never have imagined yourself being in. And the only thing standing between you and an unimaginably amazing place is your ability to say yes.

This year I said yes more often than not. To myself. To my friends. To adventure.

And I ended up seeing Europe’s greatest hits.

Paris: You already know I fell in love with Paris. (Click here to see the post, if you haven’t.)

Paris Ferris Wheel

Paris Window

Italy: My first love. This year we got to know each other better.

Colosseum Sun

Colosseum Detail

Should you find yourself in Rome and willing to go off the beaten path, venture out to Aventine Hill. You’ll find a line of people at a nondescript door, looking through a keyhole…which sounds insane. But when you look through it, you’ll see it’s perfectly lined up with St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican. No matter how many times I’d seen it on the internet, when I looked through it in person, I gasped.

The Keyhole

I’ve been to Sicily four times in the last couple of decades, each time visiting a different region, and each time I go, I discover a new side of it.

Ortigia Plaza

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Modica Church

We have lots of traffic in New York City, but not once has it ever been because of a goat herd.

Sheep in Sicily

London: It’s been a dream of mine to see all the lights around London at Christmas time. To say I was not disappointed is the understatement of the century. It was magical.

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London Angel 2

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Life doesn’t always feel of full of goodness in the midst of a day. But when I look back on all that I was lucky enough to do and see over the past year, how can I feel anything but grateful? Perhaps the key to life, and love, is saying yes, even just a little more.

Can we start the new year by making a few promises to ourselves? First, can we give ourselves a break? If you’re like me, you’re really hard on yourself. And it’s exhausting. It also blocks the fun. Can we invite in the fun??

Can we feel afraid and uncertain and uncomfortable, and move forward anyway? Can we open ourselves to the possibilities we don’t know exist? Can we trust that life holds good things in trust for us, and they can be ours if just give them some room?

Let’s begin by saying yes to ourselves. Magical things are waiting for us on the other side of it. Here’s to a life well lived and well loved in 2019.

xo, with goodness and grace.

If I had made a list of dream places to visit, Portugal wouldn’t have made it. So when my friend said she wanted to take a trip with a small group of loved ones for her milestone birthday, I was surprised to hear the country was at the top of her list.

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Portugal has been an under the radar destination for some time, making it a more affordable option to places like France and Italy. But travel seems to be on the upswing. Over the last two years, I’ve noticed a good many people I follow on social media posting about travel there, with mixed reviews. Some worshipped it, while others felt a deep indifference.

I fell into the former category, happily. But here’s what you need to know: Portugal is not Italy. Italy is easy to love, mainly because she can be aggressively romantic and lusty with her demands for you to love her instantly. (And, I did.) Portugal is its own locale, and it deserves to be judged for what it is. So, as with any new lover, you have to surrender the need for comparison. You have to arrive with no expectations and let Portugal show you why she deserves your love.

Lisbon, where we were based, is a shabby chic town. It is hilly like San Francisco, and much of the city is under construction. But, five minutes wandering through a Lisbon neighborhood charmed me; five days had me in the full bloom of love.

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When I arrived, my friend Dana was already at the hotel and eager to show me around our neighborhood, called Alfama.

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The first thing I discovered is art is everywhere. It is embedded into the fabric of everyday life in Lisbon. We ventured into an area filled with graffiti, where artists were encouraged to create works of art within the landscape. It was magical.

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We stopped in the Palacio Belmonte, an exquisite hotel in Alfama. There was unexpected beauty in every corner.

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When the rest of the group arrived, we took a food tour of Lisbon. Experiencing how people eat is such a great way to know a place. We stopped at the Mercado da Ribera, which has served as Lisbon’s main food market since the 1890s. Today the market is divided in half.

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One half is a traditional market that sells fresh produce, meats and fish to consumers, as well as local restaurants and bars.

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The newer section houses the Time Out market, an awesome food hall with a dizzying array of options.

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We drank copious amounts of vinho verde (or “young wine,” a refreshing white wine as light bodied as water) and sampled many delicious things on our tour…

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…but my favorite was the most famous dessert in Portugal: custard tarts.

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The tarts, also known as pastel de nata, were developed by the nuns who used egg whites to starch their habits, which left them with an abundance of egg yolks. Rather than discard them, they created this heavenly confection. Ours were from Manteigaria, reported to be some of the best in the city. While many bakeries use margarine in their crusts, Manteigaria uses 100% butter. The good news is they are only 120 calories per tart, so when you have more than one (and you will!), there’s no need to feel guilty about it.

The beauty of traveling is you dive deep into life—and eat two or three (okay, four!) pastries—with not one ounce of guilt. You meet yourself in the sweet spot of pleasure, happy to wander for hours on end. I like who I am when I’m traveling. I begin asking myself the big questions of life.

Like, why does my laundry never look this cute?

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I loved the people everywhere we went. Sweetness abounded, and while most people spoke at least a little English—a taxi driver told me the United Kingdom once ruled Portugal, so English is generally taught in schools—they were bowled over if you tried to speak Portuguese, even if only a word or two.

I can confidently say three things: bom dia (good morning), sim (yes), and obrigada (thank you). If you are a man, people were always eager to tell us, then you’d say obrigado.

Also charming were the tiles, or azulejos, we saw everywhere. They are traditionally embedded into the architecture throughout Lisbon.

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But then again, I found mostly everything to be sweetly enchanting.

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After our first cloudy morning, I realized my hotel room faced east. The light chaser that I am, I wondered if I would be able to see the sun rise each morning.

And boy, did I.

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Each morning the sun lit me up with excitement for unexpected pleasures of the day ahead.

I can’t wait to go back.

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Bom dia, with goodness and grace. xo

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