Switzerland

I grew up in the “mountains,” which was not so much a mountain as it was a tree-filled foothill. My first time flying brought me to Chile where the Andes were never far but could be mistaken for clouds the way they towered over the city. Seeing that horizon made me long for that view for life.


So a few years later, I woke up in Switzerland to my three best friends waving. After a day of screaming over the price of the food and the childish enjoyment of knowing the German word for “exit” was “AUSFAHRT,” we arrived to Heiligenschwendi. With each mountain curve, we discovered a new picturesque house with farms and flowers to sustain their rural lifestyle. So different from the smog we knew back home, I opened my window and breathed in the most pure breath of nature; hearing nothing but the cows’ bells as they graze, the roosters’ tired songs as the sun shines its first light seen between the mountains, the winds shifting and ever-changing the clouds.


It was a moment I’d felt before. It was perfect.

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Vatican City, Vatican

August, 2017
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Growing up, I went to church every Sunday. Mostly the dead weight forced out of bed, I contributed little to my parents’ dedication to devoutness. I took the Priests’ homilies as time to continue the dream my parents interrupted. I went to CCD, a weekly religious class where I distracted the class by experimenting how long I could keep my arm raised (one whole hour) or was the endless murmur in the corner of class that kept the few close to me laughing. I took little seriously except praying and respecting the church officials, mainly out of fear.

That fear to disappoint and disrespect conflicted the doubts I began to harbor. With each life event that I begged some higher power to take care of, I was met with no response and thus, I grew angry. It was a lonely and darker time of my life where I struggled with anxiety and depression, feeling like I’d been lied to my whole life. •
I continued through the years believing in only myself. Eventually thankful for the punches that came, I began to view every occurrence as a learning experience and something positive. I breathe today a more positive, charismatic, and wholesome person than when I was lost, sad and 16 years old.

This extremely personal journey I’ve shared seems necessary in explaining the importance of my visiting Vatican City. I walked through the museum halls until the Sistine Chapel left me speechless. We walked to St. Peter’s Square just hours after Pope Francis blessed thousands. And then there I stood, in tears, from childhood nostalgia and an inexplicable completeness it gave to my past. Life was so confusing then, and it is no less today–but my confusion comes from what’s next, not questioning or angering myself by what’s already happened.


I once told a friend I never felt fear because there always felt like there was something keeping me safe. She said, “well…isn’t that God?”

It’s still a question I hold, but I’m a lot closer to the answer today than yesterday. //IMG_0122-2

Rome, Italy

August, 2017
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Most of my knowledge acquired of Rome was from childhood staples such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Mary Kate & Ashley, and Lizzie McGuire; it left me eager to explore. It was our first day and we leisurely walked around various tourist areas, each leaving us more breathless than the next; half from the beauty, half from the heat. As we were walking back to our hotel (we ditched our no-A/C hostel. Sorry Italy, that’s absurd), we saw it. It was one of the many times tears welled up on this trip; one of the few times they actually fell. The moon began to shine so we decided to come in the morning when we could enjoy it without rushing. •

So we make it back here when the lines are long and the sun is strong. Endless regrets cross my mind realizing I’d worn a grey shirt on the hottest day of my life. But we finally get in. I imagine all the blood shed, the battles won, the people jeering, the art performed, the goods sold–I’m in disbelief that I’m sweating over history. I’ve made my mark. •

I tried finding a unique camera perspective of a structure that has been around since 70 AD but it’s useless. So here is the freakin’ COLOSSEUM. //

Venice, Italy

August, 2017
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I like to imagine this scene with less people. I can see the culture that flows through this city in every canal, building, and bridge. But the truth of deterioration from tourism struck me while wandering Italian cobblestones. The labyrinthian streets of Venice that once held charm and art is now housing an endless supply of keychains and souvenirs. The innumerable sweaty forearms I glazed against my own heightened the inescapable fact that it was August in Italy and It. Was. Hot.

Then the day gets old and the city quiets. The churches can finally breathe as the tourists begin scurrying away to the next item in the itinerary of Yelp-approved dinner spots with poorly seasoned pasta and house wine. A gondola ride is an escape from the last bit of the retreating sun that has beat you all day. The oars hitting the water in a serene canal remind me of my reason to visit. But, the water that felt like my only solace is swallowing everything I see.

The reality of this sinking city is that it will be ruined and we did it.
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Madrid, Spain

July, 2017
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I had a dream to move to Spain before I’d ever even been. Many ask why I’d ever consider leaving a life of comfort, convenience, and freedom; but while I appreciate everything the United States has given me, especially with my proximity to the immersion of dozens of cultures at my doorstep, those Spanish-run convenience stores in Brooklyn pale in comparison to actually being in a foreign land. It’s knowing that down the street lies the oldest restaurant in the world, it’s being surrounded by food and traditions that date back before the US was even colonized. For me, it’s speaking the language my parents loved me in my whole life. Spanish is music to my ears–it has wrapped me in its arms, it has fed me every meal, it even reminds me of the sting on my arm from the time I talked back. It’s a familiarity and comfort of feeling like I’m home without even knowing a place. ~
While the summer sun drained me, I soaked in as much of the lively, loving, incredible city that was Madrid. I climbed to the top of the city to catch the sunset and found myself in a park. I was surrounded by young people in circles on the grass singing with guitars in hand and sharing food; a boy, no more than 5, kicking a fútbol with his dad saw me walking and passed it to me next; an elderly couple leisurely walking arm-in-arm whose love separated them from the world and all they saw were each other–still, after all those years. These are moments that happen all over the world. But to know all of these interactions began with “Hola” makes it that much more comforting. •IMG_9528

Copenhagen, Denmark

July, 2017
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Nyhavn used to be a place for sailors to imbibe and enjoy female company *ahem ahem,* but now is one of the most touristy sights to see in Copenhagen. After lunching with a Brit who voted for Brexit and an ex-pat American living in Berlin, I visited Freetown Christiana–a no-rules, hippie-esque colony–but not before getting lost through the Danish woods at night. It was like I was just minutes away from reenacting part of a Hans Christian Andersen novel!

But the most surprising part of this city is they don’t lock up their bikes. Being from the NYC area, this is absurd. But it being Scandinavia, it’s normal. I should’ve stayed here longer. •

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Stockholm, Sweden

July, 2017
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“No man is an island.”

I started and ended my solo European adventure in this chillier-than-expected Nordic country. I had 6 countries ahead of me and the daunting reality of traveling to most of them alone was settling with each mile I explored of this archipelago. There was no one next to me to point out amusing street occurrences; no one to laugh at my misfortunes as I frantically googled-translated food menus to cure my “h-anger.” ~
But I found peace on this bridge; the light wind against my face, the quiet street with distant screams of Swedes enjoying each other’s company, and the colors that painted this view–making it all the more incredible knowing it was around 10 PM. I started this trip timid to meet others and struggling to find my place. But the way I thrive is by connecting with people. So when a couple of tourists passed, I gathered the courage to mention the view. We stood in silence for a few minutes before parting ways. It was short and to some, didn’t mean much, but this view helped shape my determination in meeting as many people as I could on this trip. And I did.

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-Mariana