Oktoberfest in Munich will be revisited next year. Yes, it was that fun. My only experience with Germany was an 8th grade German class, I was put in against my will because I missed the deadline to register for the language of my choice… which was French. But I digress. The class actually turned out to be quite handy, 11 years after the fact. Oktoberfest was a wild experience itself but walking around town had its own adventures.
1. Germans are no nonsense, and I liked it.
Straight-forward and straight to the point. A philosophy I live by and one I admire greatly. It was in abundance in Germany. A mid-western American woman on the train from Vienna to London said “Germans aren’t known for being nice.” I begged to differ. I said don’t mistake directness for mean-spirit. You Americans are so sensitive. Geez!
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Debt is a choice. Yes, a choice. I went to college. I accumulated lots of it. That was my choice. The average student debt is 25K. Ha! I WISH that was all I had, but I made my bed and now I’m laying in it. With coupons.
My parents cringe when I tell them how much I pay out in loan repayments every month. They don’t want to see me suffer like this. They wouldn’t have made this choice for me. But I made the decision and looking back, I would probably feign orphanage to get more financial aid do it again. Definitely with a few smarter adjustments but those were growing pains. My stubborn nature ignored all the parental forewarning about debt upon embarking on my college career. Now I have to deal with it. And I am. My reward was a degree from a kick-ass university, and experiences that have invaluably shaped my perspective on life. I am lucky enough to have found a job in my major, that I love, in a city I love, that allows me to live independently, not even look at Ramen noodles as a food choice and pays all my bills and then some. I don’t go a day without counting my blessings. I appreciate it greatly!!! Now were there alternatives that I could have taken to avoid all this debt? Absolutely! Go to a local college, live at home, or go to a community college for two years and then go to a university the last two years. Or just do community college/cheaper college all four years. I didn’t want to. I wanted to go big and not stay home.
My initial list consisted of VERY expensive out of state schools. My parents looked at it, blinked and laughed. “YOU WANNA GO WHERE??? ROFL” (If they knew what “ROFL” meant they would have said it 5 billion times) They said ‘that list better have ALL in-state schools and fast.’ They said one year at one of my out-of-state schools was two years at a state school that is just as good in my major. I thought about it and agreed. I got accepted to college, got little financial aid, a rinky dink scholarship and TONS of loan debt. I can’t complain though. I technically didn’t have to get a degree. But I did, I lived the dream and continue to do so. I experienced college life and I learned. Oh I learned, the hard way at that. I can proudly say I grew a hell of a lot more responsible with money. Oh believe that. I have long term and short term pay down plans, I consolidate, I cut out waste, I look for other streams of revenue, I have a 401K, I have a few savings accounts, I am on my bank account statements like white on rice, I pay down balances.
I can no longer be called the overdraft queen as my father called me in college. Every time I called him with another overdraft sob story he chastised me but still helped me out. But the last time he refused, he didn’t help me. “I’m not doing it, you are giving away all your money to the bank, just giving away your money.” I’ll tell you one thing. I didn’t overdraft after that day. I referred to all my father’s fiscal advice and applied it. The smartest thing I’ve ever done to date, was listen to Daddy SaveBucks. Yea, I made some mistakes but I am SO GLAD I made those mistakes sooner rather than later. It’s no one’s fault but my own.
“I love YOUR hair!” Joe Mazzarino exclaimed when he saw me. I laughed and said “Well I love my hair even more because of you.” He pulled out a picture of his 5-year-old daughter who inspired his Sesame Street “I Love my Hair” song. I gasped “this looks like one of the pictures that come in the frames when you buy them!” Segi’s absolutely gorgeous. Upon meeting their then, 13-month-old Ethiopian daughter, the Mazzarinos wanted to change her name to Sarafina or something close to Segi, but went with her original name. “She was Segi so we kept it.” Mazzarino made the song for his Segi but never fathomed the impact it would have, especially among adult Black women. “How did you find out about it?” he asked me. I told him @Teofillonya sent it to me then my other girlfriends sent it to me, then my co-worker sent the ‘Whip my Hair’ mash-up and everybody was just sending it to everybody. We both laughed.
Sesame Street producers were instantly receptive to Mazzarino’s song pitch, however it was at the end of the Sesame Street season, so the song had to wait until this season to air. Segi loves the song and bops around to it admittedly, to watch her curls bounce up and down.
The Mazzarinos didn’t try to have kids, they wanted a child who needed a home. Foster parenthood wasn’t a consideration because it was short term and they “didn’t want to be heartbroken.” Initially, Mazzarino and his wife was in the process of adopting from China, but when adoption opened up in Ethiopia for six million orphans, Joe said “let’s do it.” At first, they were told no but then they were told it was a simple change in some paperwork. They had to wait until after the rainy season in Ethiopia and tragically a lot of the orphans died in Segi’s orphanage because of infection during that time. He said they were very lucky Segi survived.
Amsterdam. The city just brings delight the instance the name is uttered. Why? No, it’s not the contraband or the beautiful residents or even the plastic women gyrating among the red lights. This city is the people and these people were my favorite. This city excited me. It inspired me and most importantly, it welcomed me. I had a bit of trouble when I flew in from London to Central Station, Amsterdam. I didn’t write down the address or how to get to the Flying Pig Hostel. So I was unequivocally, assed out. I shlepped around the train station for awhile then I looked up and saw a sign for the Hard Rock Cafe located at Leidseplein. YAS! they MUST have an internet cafe at this so-called Leidseplein! Thank you globalization and modern day American imperialism. I hopped on one of the trams listed on the sign to get to Leidseplein. Hopped off, into the rainy evening and there was an internet cafe…conveniently located in a coffee shop/bar. Oh joy! Ironically, my hostel was a three minute walk from Leidseplein so I lucked out. As I was exiting the bar, a bouncer playfully moved my suitcase to the side. I gave him an unenthused look, he tried to save face by recommending a place for me to eat. He excitedly suggested next door because they had “great burgers” this was met by another unenthused look. I yelled, “You think I came all the way to Amsterdam to eat burgers???” He apologized profusely (this is fun!) he pointed me in the direction of an “authentic” Dutch restaurant and bid me good luck and to not be a stranger (yea, ok, too late) I couldn’t find his fake recommendation and none of the other “pizza” “Italian” “Indian” and “Asian” neon signs appealed to me. I walked around a bit and peered into a quiet restaurant that said “Dutch food” I looked inside and there were attractive blond patrons. Jackpot! This is the real deal! This is what I ate:
After gorging myself, I rolled out onto the street and hopped on the tram and practiced my clumsy Dutch when I attempted to say the street the hostel was on. I then got a clue, pulled out my paper to show the street I was seeking,”Vossiusstraat.” “Ah it’s next stop”, the driver said. I hhaphazardly looked for a euro, he said “no, no, no, it’s next stop.” I looked at him graciously (that euro is a bottle of hard liquor water) I fell off the tram into the cold, rainy, damp, dark night and of course, didn’t know where to go. I asked a lady if she knew where the street was, she pointed me in the right direction. Finally I reached the hostel and I was ready to mingle! Red light district bound! I changed clothes, tied and buttoned up my coat and plopped on my scarves and gloves and hopped on the back of the tram and tried to blend in. I took an educated guess about where to get off. I walked into a casino and asked the doorman where the famous district was. He laughed and said “Red light district is for men” I scowled and said “Why not for women? It’s equal opportunity fun!” He laughed and showed me where to go. I stopped in a bar and started chatting with the bartenders and ended up staying there the whole entire night. These are my new buds:
Continue Reading Faces Abroad: Amsterdam…
For my birthday this year, I decided to gift myself with a 10-day trip to Europe. Solo. 5 cities, 10 days. The aghast response was common, “Oh my God, how could you do that?.” Easy, I booked a flight and boarded it.My favorite reaction was from a New Zealand native living in Switzerland visiting Munich for Oktoberfest, “Awesome!.” And that was exactly the time I had.
I have traveled solo before, during an undergrad study abroad program in London. Me and a few other students were planning our destinations during a week break during the semester. I wanted Florence to be on the list, no one else did. So I did the whole week’s break by myself. That was 4 years ago. This time, Oktoberfest was the initial reason for the adventure and subsequently other cities were added on.
I flew into London and then made my rounds to Amsterdam via plane, Prague via plane, Vienna via bus and finally Munich via train. Why solo? Because I wanted to go, so I did. I mentioned the trip to friends, some were interested but no one jumped on board. Oh well. There are moments in traveling by your lonesome that you feel lonely but they were few and far between. Here are a few tips on how to never feel solo on your solo travels.
1. Talk to anyone who says boo to you
I was on my way to the clubs at Stephensplatz and a stranger walked past me, paused and said “Hola.” I thought it was odd since the official language of Vienna was German. I said “hola” back. The Tunisian stranger thought I was Columbian or Dominican. Within an hour I was salsa dancing at a Dominican owned club yucking it up with a Dominican woman from London who just moved to Vienna.
2. Ask the locals
While renting a bike to ride around Amsterdam I asked the sales associate “hey so what do the locals do?” His eyes lit up and he automatically said “Paradiso.” It was near the bike shop and my hostel, so it was a win. Just one simple question, and I was partying with the Dutch til dawn.
3. Get lost and wander
I got lost in Prague and happened upon a wine festival. I got lost in Vienna and happened upon a bike competition and a beach with a bar under a bridge with amazing graffiti artwork. I got lost in Amsterdam and happened upon two Dutch best friends who, doubled over in laughter when I said Led Zeppellin must have gotten their name from Leidseplein (an area in Amsterdam), told me their life stories over drinks, helped me find my bike, and dropped me off at Paradiso. It’s less about the itinerary and more about the experience. Immerse yourself.
Continue Reading How to travel solo (and have the time of your life)…