lessons

I have a funny way of remembering things. I could spend hours feeling grumpy about a head-to-armpit incident in my morning commute and days rummaging over how annoying it is to get yet another bank holiday soaked in rain. And then – the second I’m over it (the moment I finally leave London for greener pastures), I think to myself: it wasn’t that bad, really, was it?

I admit that I started this post quite a long time ago (back when I was still living in London)  but I could not bring myself to finish it. Now that I’m in Spain, I’m slowly coming to peace with the city that, at times, was so ruthless. In fact, I find myself missing the simplest things (like, public transport, parks and cute and crowded pubs!). Good and bad, this city has taught me a few things I would have probably not learned otherwise:

St Paul's Cathedral, London

  1. The difference between a cappuccino, a latte and a flat white
  2. How to start a conversation by chatting about the weather
  3. Or London property prices
  4. Where to stand on the platform to face the carriage doors – increasing my chances of getting a seat
  5. Never to change at Waterloo
  6. Nor at Bank Station
  7. Bus beats tube (always)
  8. Food festivals are fun but also a rip off
  9. When I see a queue, I feel an urge to join it
  10. However, no matter what critics say – no food is worth queuing 2 hours for
  11. Walking – while drinking a green juice, sending an e-mail, under the rain on Oxford Street without bumping into people!
  12. There is no such thing as a quick drink after work
  13. Wednesday night has become the new Saturday night
  14. £6 for a glass of wine is normal… 
  15. …and so is paying £900 for a tiny room in zone 3…
  16. ….in a shared flat – with strangers
  17. Your postcode is a status symbol
  18. North East London is further away from Clapham than Brighton
  19. People go bonkers when the sun comes out
  20. …and in such rare occasions, it’s perfectly acceptable to cancel any appointments to spend the afternoon in the park
  21. However, cancelling plans with a friend means not seeing them for another 3 weeks
  22. Umbrellas are for out-of-towners – us Londoners throw on a hood!
  23. You burn almost as many calories going to the supermarket as you do going to the gym
  24. Nobody lives in Mayfair – it’s a myth
  25. It’s not sunday until you’ve had a roast and a Bloody Mary
  26. Gordon’s wine bar is always a winner for a first date…
  27. …except if your date doesn’t like wine…
  28. …In which case, it’s probably better to dump them before it’s too late
  29. You know there won’t be a day you’ll be completely happy…
  30. …but hey, at least you’re in London!
  31. (Bonus: you’ll just need to accept that you’ll never be able to buy a house, ha!)
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Last week, my grandpa turned 80.Despite the physical distance, we are very close – and whenever I get to go back home, I like to spend as much time as possible with him. He is a wealth of jokes and stories, and one of the most adventurous people I know. He is a doer (less of a thinker) – and I’ve always admired him profoundly for that.

Grandfather's 80s Birthday

His stories captivate people from around the Globe. Wherever we go, he will always has a memory to share that will make you think, laugh or simply love him even more than before. Occasionally, his stories are followed by one of his life lessons.

Immerse in the culture

The greatest way to build a relationship with someone else is to understand their culture and traditions. My grandpa made numerous friends and colleagues while traveling to Japan by simply not hesitating to eat what’s on his plate. Back then, Sushi hadn’t become as popular in Europe as it is today (and even less were other exotic meals such as fish heads or raw sea urchins). Not only did he try it all – but he embraced it and soon became one of them.

There’s no such thing as a language barrier

Opa speaks a few languages – but only one of them well. Still, he almost always has manages to convey his message and understand what others try to say. I have caught him speaking broken spanish with a tip of portuguese and a top of italian. I learned that it’s not necessary to be fluent to communicate – flexibility and openness to understand will already help you go a long way. Sometimes, he sits next to someone who doesn’t speak a word of German (nor spanish nor english, as a matter of fact) and 5 minutes later, they’re already having a blast. He’s a real charmer.

Everybody likes music

Even when talking to someone in another language isn’t quite easy, he always finds something in common – and usually, this is music. He surrounds himself with artists and musicians and is always up for joining a jam session anywhere he goes. Madonna knows it best: Music makes the people come together!

Don’t work too much

Whenever our conversations turn towards a more professional topic, he always tell me not to work too much. I know what he means – balance and have fun. Don’t allow work to define you and rule your life. As an entrepreneur in the fifties, he worked very hard to create and expand his business. But he always made sure to have fun, too.

I have never been fond of New Year Resolutions. I used to believe I had a short attention span and so, something that I might have considered a goal at the beginning of the year, ceased to be interesting by summer. The truth is, I wasn’t focusing my energy on things I really wanted – but on those that I thought I should want.

A recipe for disaster.

This year, however, things have changed. I have changed. I still don’t know all I want from life (does anyone, anyway?), but I do know how to listen to my gut to establish what I really want (and is realistic to achieve) at the moment.

But before thinking about my goal’s for 2013, I will share those moments of 2012 that make me feel excited and proud of myself – my badass moments of 2012.

Hiking the Great Wall of China

  • I said yes – or “hell yeah!” more often.
  • I learned how to ski. Sort of. Ok, on green and light blue pistes. But that is about to improve in the next few days I’m spending in Chamonix!
  • I learned how to cook a badass lamb tajine with a fruity Moroccan couscous.
  • I got my Competent Crew Certificate and have sailed from Tenerife to La Gomera, in the Canary Islands.
  • I attended my first bachelorette party and had my first friend getting married!
  • I visited Stockholm – a city I had on my bucket list for a very long time.
  • I realized what was making me less happy, and took the courage to changed it.
  • I quit my job as a finance manager without having another job (or source of income) in the horizon.
  • I went somewhere completely different: China.
  • I listened to my gut and decided on a career change into Event Management.
  • I learned to speak out and make my opinion clear.
  • I was part of the planning and managing of incredible events – ranging from the Notting Hill Carnival in London, to TEDx in Brighton and even a very high-end bar mitzvah.
  • I rediscovered Berlin, 10 years later.
  • As part of a fantastic team, I helped to raise over 3,000 GBP for the charity Chain of Hope.
  • I reconnected with old friends and family I hadn’t seen in 15 years.

Which have been some of your badass moments in 2012?

Phew, Five years – that’s easily said.

Lavaux, Switzerland

I first moved abroad when I was at University. Deciding to study European Business Management meant that half of my time would be spent abroad. For me, abroad was Germany. During this time, I also took the chance to do a 6 months internship in Zürich, Switzerland. I loved the city, the landscapes and the people I worked with and always promised myself I would return some day…

After graduating from my Master degree in Madrid, that opportunity came back to me: I had an offer to move back to Switzerland – this time, Lausanne. Even though it was hard to adapt to at the beginning, I fell head over heels with this lakeside city, its views over the french Alps and nearby vineyards. After two years, time had come to move on. And here I am, just celebrating the end of my 5th year abroad, from London.

So for this 5 year anniversary, I’ve prepared a list of 15 life lessons I’ve learned (some of them, the hard way).

  1. Ask questions. I used to be the sort of person at school that hoped for someone else to raise my question, or otherwise, ask after class to avoid possible embarrassment. The thing is: there is no reason to be embarrassed – There is really no such thing as a stupid question.
  2. Follow your gut. Whenever confronted with a decision that has to be made: follow your instinct. Something that doesn’t feel right is certainly wrong.
  3. If others think your ideas are crazy, then you must be on the right track. Not everyone will understand your choices and support your ideas. Don’t ever let this pull you down. The only reason to quit is because you feel it’s the right choice – not because others don’t believe in your dream.
  4. Do it, even if you don’t get paid for it. Getting paid to doing what you want is great, but very often you’ll have to start doing it, as I would say, por amor al arte (literally meaning for the love of art, or fun the fun of it).
  5. It’s OK to fail. You don’t have to be right the first time. You can be right the second. The third. Failures provide us with great learning experiences and prepare us for our big success. Never stop doing something because you’re afraid to fail – remember: the secret of winning is playing often.
  6. The most interesting experiences usually happen when you get off the beaten path. In your career and while traveling, it’s good and comfortable to have a plan – but always be ready to get off that plan whenever it feels right, as the best is waiting for you somewhere completely unexpected.
  7. Your reputation is the most valuable asset. After quitting your job or graduating from Uni, you might feel like throwing a nasty email to your boss or that competitive class mate, but this will never pay off enough to cover the huge hole you’re creating in your reputation. They say never burn the bridges. You never know when or where you’ll meet them again.
  8. You choose the way you view the World around you. A swiss village can be dead boring or incredibly charming. London can be too crowded or full of buzz. It is all in the eyes of the viewer.
  9. Laugh. Often. Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with people who will make you laugh out loud and cry of happiness. I’m pretty sure you’ll have less wrinkles and live longer.
  10. Languages are a virtue. Languages take you to places. Today, it’s quite common to see job offers asking the candidate to be able to write and speak a second language – sometimes even a third. Even when english is widely spoken, languages are very much appreciated and will open many doors!
  11. Stereotypes are only that: stereotypes. We’ve all heard about them. Spaniards always sleep siestas. The swiss clockwork punctuality. German’s don’t joke and all Latin-Americans dance. Well let me tell you something: I know Spaniards that don’t take naps, swiss that were late and germans that made me pee in my pants. Oh, and I’ve also met an awful lot of Latin-Americans that can’t dance! Always keep an open mind.
  12. You’re not as different as you think from everyone else. As soon as I started to tell people who I was quitting finance to move into events, I started to realize that so many others are on their second life or have a dream career they’d love to approach. Finding something in common with someone is much easier than you think.
  13. Learn to enjoy your own company. Do activities by yourself. Immerse in a book, go for a walk/run, visit an exhibition. Travel! Don’t wait for others to join your plan, otherwise, you’ll never do it.
  14. Stop checking your phone when you’re with other people. Seriously, I can’t think of anything more disturbing and disrespectful than sitting with friends or colleagues and realizing everyone is more engaged in their online life than in what is happening right here right now.
  15. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Time is precious, so think about you really want to do, prioritize and do it.

What valuable lessons have you learned, living abroad?

Flying over Thailand

The following short stories may make you wonder who is foolish enough to ever give me any kind of responsibility, be blind enough to describe as a person with attention to detail and, most particularly, where did all my german gens go (this, I wonder too, some times). But before misjudging me for my stupidity, please bear in mind that although theoretically we all turn into experts the more we repeat the same procedure over and over again, practically, there’s always a higher probability of screwing things up when you start doing the procedures automatically (that is, shutting off your brain).

Taking 15 to 25 planes a year does make me pack quicker, lighter, learn what to wear (or not to wear) and to quickly go through the security check at airports. But I also automate my steps, leaving a gap for misfortunate adventures when traveling. On the positive side, each of these experiences have taught me a very valuable lesson, and hopefully will avoid you committing the same.

That one little thing.

When travelling, you’ll only need three things: the flight ticket, a credit card and your passport. This little list of essentials may even be reduced to two when you’re carrying an e-ticket, as many companies now offer you getting your ticket from a machine by simple typing in your e-ticket number or scanning your passport. When one of these essentials is missing, then you’re in trouble.

On a friday evening after work, I went home to finish packing and get the train to the nearest airport. I was exhausted but also excited about visiting m friends in London. I packed everything I needed, from toothbrush to socks and ran out to catch the train. I sat down and took a deep breath and carefully ran through my mental packing list. Then I snapped. I couldn’t picture taking my passport with me.

That one time, I wish I had taken the regional train instead of the direct one to the airport. After the 50 minutes ride, I arrived to Geneva Airport already knowing already I had no chance to take the flight that night.

lesson learned:

It doesn’t really matter if you forget to pack socks, underwear or a rain coat. To travel, you only need a passport, cash and your ticket.

Everything was Nice (the French City, not the Adjective).

There was a time, where I really really wanted to learn french and registered for a one month french course for dummies (no offense for other participants) in the beautiful city of Nice, in Côte d’Azur. My flight didn’t go straight from Madrid to Nice, but went through Paris. My flight to Paris was delayed for about 3 hours, and so I missed my flight connection (not good). Me and my zero french knowledge managed to get into one of the first planes the next morning, which departed at 7am.

I was there on time, took a huge latte and sat in front of the gate that was shown on the schedules. I did realize that at some point the boarding time switched from 7:00am to 7:10am. But I was sleepy, and I believed this was just a short delay. Well, it wasn’t.

When it was time for boarding, the flight attendant scanned my ticket and the machine alerted that the ticket was not valid. “Madame”, she said, “this is not your flight, your flight has just departed”. How was this possible? The explanation: Air France has flights from Paris to Nice every 10-15 minutes, and they are all in the same terminal. They changed the gate number for my flight, and substituted this with the next flight to the same destination. They never called out my name (nor did I understand what they were announcing in french). Frustrated, after having missed two flights to Nice, I cried to the ground attendants, who kindly sat me in the next flight without additional (stupidity) costs.

Lesson learned:

Don’t judge a gate by its destination and flight time – Always check the flight number!

The Trader Syndrome.

A tiny little part of me aims to become a trader. Although in general terms I like to make plans on medium term when it comes to work and life plans, I have a very short-term view when i comes to purchasing flight tickets. I like following flight prices as if tickets were stocks trading on the stock market. I go numb when I see prices drop radically, and my mind immediately sends out “buy” commands in all directions. That’s all good if I actually was a trader. But I’m not.

The consequence of this is me buying return tickets on the wrong days because I didn’t re-check the dates of the flight or even reserving a room in the wrong hotel (being this, a hotel that was listed as one of the Gatwick Airport hotels but actually was 50 pounds in taxi away from it).

Lesson learned:

Check twice before hitting the final purchase button (specially when it’s surrounded by special offers and last-minute extras).

What about you? Do you have any shameful stories from your travels?

A friend came to visit me in Tenerife and, to break the touristic routine, I planned to go on an easy hike – maybe 3 hours. After all, Tenerife has beautiful hidden paths with amazing views, and tiny villages that offer fresh fish for half the price as any bigger and more touristic town on the island. Following some basic research, we decided on hiking from Afur to Taganana – A hike that was signalized as being between 3 and 3 and a half hours – spot on with our dreamy idea of a walk in the green. Right.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

The hike trail starts by going down the Barranco de Tamadiste (a ravine). This was relatively easy. We even came across some fellow hikers who apparently did this every week. After approximately 3km descent, we arrived at a small beach – reaching our first waving point. As tempting as the water may seem on a hot day, I don’t recommend going for a swim. This part of Tenerife is known for having very strong currents.

The trail then continues to the right, on a strongly pronounced ascent until you reach 120m above the sea. The path goes along the edge of the coast, providing hikers with rewarding views of Anaga and Los Roques de Anaga. At some times, the trail was very narrow, and we had to literally grab ourselves to the rocks and not look down – the cliffs went straight down from around 140m height. Nothing suitable for anyone afraid of heights! This was also the reason for which I have rather few pictures of this trail (I was too busy not falling into the ocean!). But I did take one picture that may just sum up the whole trail along the coast side:

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After 7kms walking along the coast and small plantations and gardens, we finally arrived to upper part of Taganana. It was only another 20-30 minutes walk down to arrive at the beach, when a kind local woman came out of her home to greet us. We told her where we came from and our plans for the rest of the day which ended with an optimistic “… and then we get the bus back to Afur“. Turns out – There was no bus back to Afur, not even near Afur. “Well… then we’ll take a cab“, we hesitated. No cabs in Taganana either. Oh dear.

The local woman advised us that the quickest way back to Afur was walking back over the mountains. At this point, I wanted to cry (did I tell you it was way past lunch time?). If things weren’t bad enough already – it was also starting to get cold and suspiciously looking like it was going to start pouring down any minute.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

So… we walked back to Afur over the mountain. For another 2 hours. I was frustrated and desperately hungry, but as we reached the top of the mountain, I started to feel proud and excited about what we had achieved. The views paid back all the breathless, waterless and foodless moments along the way.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

After about 6 hours, we were back at the start – just in time to drive back home, get a shower and work ourselves through the entire menu of one of my favourite restaurants La Rosa di Bari.

Lessons learned during my first real hike experience?

  • You can’t always trust the estimated walking hours you find at the start of a trail (or on the internet). Unless you are an expert hiker, I would recommend to add up to one hour more.
  • Wear the right footwear. This does not include flip-flops and gym trainers. I didn’t wear hiking boots but simple gym trainers and thought this would be enough. However, the sole was too flat, which made it particularly slippery.
  • Take hiking sticks with you. You may think these sticks are unnecessary, but they really come handy when walking along steep paths.
  • Be prepared for anything. We just had 1 L of water with us, to be shared among 3. We managed to refill twice on the way, but it wasn’t enough (specially on the way back). We didn’t have food because we had planned to eat fish at the beach, and consequently spent 6 hours suspiciously eyeing wild life and ground mushrooms.
  • Prepare your return. It would have been wise to research the best way to go back from Taganana to Afur after walking the 4 hours.

Practical Information

Route: From Afur to Taganana (via Playa Tamadite) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 697m
Elevation gain downhill: 697m
Length: 12 km
Duration: 5.5 – 6.5 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate (steep ascent up to La Cumbrilla)
Wikiloc:From Afur to Taganana.