Globe Trotter: US#1: Los Angeles and Las Vegas’ giant fantasies

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‘Living in America, at the end of the millenium… you’re what you own’

And what I was owning, fully conscious of my luck of being one of the too-few people on Earth able to move because they longed to, was a cabin-sized suitcase, a small backpack and my passport opened to a border officer. My Mum and brother were on my side. We had left Lyon, France, two days ago, to take a plane to Germany. After our second plane was cancelled, we’ve had to go to Warsaw, Poland, to take the third one, and after hours of flights and hours of queuing up, here we were, eventually.

In Los Angeles, California, United States of America, for the first time in my life.

 

My family had decide months before to go on this trip, the first one we would do during Summer holidays. It was a dream of my brother’s to go to the US and after I studied it for a year already, I thought it was high time for me to see it with my own eyes. After years of watching American movies, having American food and hearing about the ‘American dream’, I finally had the opportunity to go at the source. We would spend two weeks on the West Coast; cross California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada; go to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Monument Valley. All those, with a group of fifty other people and a guide, as for the first time ever, we’ve decided to go on an organized trip.

 

We arrived exhausted but delighted to finally be there and eager to learn. From the first few minutes I spent on the American soil, I couldn’t have a more bursting and loud memories. I remember lights, lights everywhere as if life in this town was a constant feast, the highest buildings I’ve ever seen and the largest road. As soon as we’ve gone out of the airport and met the driver who would take us to our hotel, an incident had happen that had make me realize I clearly was not in France anymore. The driver was looking for his car on an endless carpark; at some point, he pushed a button on a remote control, noticed a car whose highlights had light up, and hopefully opened the car’s door before snapping it stressfully and telling us, ‘That is not my car’. He had just make another driver, in a car exactly similar to his, freak out.

 

On the way to our hotel, this adorable former immigrant let my brother play with all possible gadgets in the car – and there were so many – while telling us his story, after I asked him where he was from since he sounded exactly like a friend of mine coming for Romania. He told he himself, Sebi, was Romanian and had come to Los Angeles to become an actor – ‘but I didn’t try hard enough, I only tried six months’. He added, joyfully, that in Los Angeles everything was about money, was fake and was a fantasy, and continued with the stories of the celebs he had seen in bars thanks to his work. It was fantastic to meet such an open-minded and extraverted person at our arrival; this trip has started the right way, and everything I discovered for the two weeks that followed made me realize how impressive a country this multi-faced land is.

 

LOS ANGELES, California

However, we only visited Los Angeles two weeks after our arrival, and after touring four different American states in an exhausting but amazingly rewarding trip. Coming back to Los Angeles was a bit sad, as it meant the end of this beautiful journey; but getting to see this town was like being thrown within a postcard, and seeing with one’s own eyes something one has known for years from photos and reputation. The first glance we took at the letters ‘Hollywood’ on the hill really felt like something; it was as if we’ve entered a story that went well beyond us. It might sound crazy; but getting to see the very place we’ve get glimpses of in movies and books, made me feel extraordinarily grateful.

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We also walked through the moving Walk of Fame, its pink and Bordeaux stars and its multiples shops selling awards ranging from ‘Best musician’ to ‘Best roommate’. We put our hands and feet on to the foot- and fingerprints of so many celebrities, Meryl Streep, Clark Gable, Tim Burton! We were laughing at ourselves, admitting this ambiguity of feeling like we were living something extraordinary, while doing the same thing as million of tourists before us who probably thought, too, ‘My foot is only half of Will Smith’s’, ‘Marilyn Monroe really had long fingers, way longer than mine’

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Eventually, we went to Venice Beach, a beautiful and crazy area that gathers both the worst  and most greasy fast-foods, the most dedicated body-builders of Los Angeles, more souvenirs shops for us to count them all, topless guys playing basketball and whose skills made my outraged brother complain that ‘Players clearly aren’t that good in France!’, and people trying all possible existing sports including swinging in a hoop or dancing with rollerblades.

 

LAS VEGAS, Nevada

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A few days ago, we’ve been to Las Vegas that, as my Mother kept repeating for weeks before, actually is ‘the town of excessiveness’. It’s not even about the gigantic sign ‘Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ at the entrance. It’s not, either, about the dozens of wedding chapels all over the streets; or about the Stratosphere tower, the highest tower in Las Vegas, on which people can do rides that consist into plunging into the void; or about the people literally flying above one’s head on Fremont Street yodel; or about the fact that they rebuilt an Eiffel Tower, Venice, the Coliseum, an Egyptian Pyramid… and many more, within the town.

IMG_6324.JPGGoing to Las Vegas is like entering a new world, one that never sleeps, a fantasy based on lights and colors and money. We stayed open-mouthed in front of the endless casinos’ flashing machines, occupied by players whom we could see but who could apparently see nothing but the game they were losing their souls or gaining their life with. As we were lucky enough to tour the town by night, we could go in all the town’s most extraordinary hotels. From outside already, they looked fascinating and it was about the one that would be the most incredible sub-real. In two hours of touring the town, we went through many countries and atmospheres without even living Nevada. We saw the Excalibur, my favorite-looking by far, built to look like a Middle-Age castle; the Luxor, with its full-size sphinge and its pyramid whose beam caresses the evening’s Vegas; the  Caesar Palace with its marble stairs, Coliseum and Roman statues; the Bellagio, with its hundreds of flowers building patterns within the hall; the Venetian, that reproduced Venise’s canals and where it is possible to do gondola rides. Gondola rides, in a hotel! And what impressed with the most, is that not only did they dig canals in their hotel, they also did it on the second floor.

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But I think that the one hotel I liked the most was the Paris Las Vegas, that features an Eiffel Tower and a Montgolfière, but also a beautiful casino with the names of the Parisian metro stations. This place was wonderfully poetic, as a midsummer night’s dream, and I loved the fact that this was the idea Americans had of my country.

Nevertheless, I think that the best memories I’ll keep from Las Vegas will be about food, and more specifically, about a very famous restaurant called Umami Burgers. I am not a huge fan of burgers usually, and not eating meat clearly does not help; but we were unanimous: those were the best burgers we’ve ever had. I personally tried the semi-cooked tuna, ginger and wasabi one, and it was amongst the purest and most delicate scents I’ve ever had. So, if you ever go to Las Vegas and have 15€ to spend, do not play them in a Casino, go have a burger at Umami!

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This is the first article of a probably very long series, for me to write about all the marvels I witnessed in the US. At least three other articles are to be expected, on respectively, the Natural wonders (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon…); what I discovered of the American culture; and San Francisco! Keep reading 🙂

Globe Trotter: ‘Les Vendanges’, a Costa Rican’s Experience Picking Grapes

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En la vida hay que ser piso’e tierra. I have a number of quotes my mom used to tell me memorized; this is one of the simplest and one of my favorites. In life you have to be “piso de tierra”, which translates to “dirt floor”; in essence, it stresses the importance of a humble life. It means understanding that when stripped of riches, or wealth or power, we are simply beings that come from nature and from dirt, and that we are not superior to any of our fellow humans. It was through this desire to find humility and to challenge myself that I decided to participate in les vendanges, the annual grape harvest in Burgundy, France.

I had heard various things about les vendanges, from both media and people. My initial idea of it was that of a trans-generational activity with people from all ages working in vineyards, singing songs, making jokes and, later, eating, drinking and enjoying their time together. Evidently, I also knew it was hard work; after all it was still an agricultural job. This became more and more clear after I had signed up for it. When I began discussing my plans to participate with friends and acquaintances, many reacted the same way: “It’s really hard work”. All of a sudden, the tone from “great cultural experience” changed to “exhausting labor”. A friend from work even said her 26-year-old husband tried it and gave up after a day of work. The comments made me more apprehensive about participating but encouraged me, given that this only reinforced my original motivation of doing hard work. Thus, the night before my first day, I packed myself some lunch and made sure to have a decent night’s sleep.

The alarm went off at 5:45 in the morning. After making toast and preparing my bag I put on pants on top of my shorts and three layers on my upper body. I left my apartment, heading for the train station through the chilly, empty Dijon streets. The train sped through large fields and little towns as the sun woke, slowly covering all of the green vegetation in my eye reach. At 7h20 we arrived at my destination: Meursault. A small group got down with me and we all found a small bus the managers had sent for us. I immediately noticed that I was the youngest. When we got to the chateau, I found a group of three my age in the corner. Except for them, the managers and myself, I soon realized everyone in the room was an African immigrant, many of them were from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, I learned later. The reason this fact stood out to me was because it implied to me that employers were specifically looking for cheap labor. I briefly spoke to one of the managers who made me sign a few documents and, after having some coffee and biscuits, we headed off to the vineyards in three different trucks. One of the young guys invited me to join their truck, even if we hadn’t yet spoken. Feeling slightly out of place, with everyone knowing where to go, I followed him.

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The Work

Indeed, it was hard work. This was not obvious until later, however. The first day, because I did not know anyone, I put my headphones on and followed the limited instructions I had been given. Crouching, removing leaves to see the bunches of grapes better, cutting them with the pruning shears they had provided and putting them in my bucket. I would continue doing this and empty my bucket periodically when the Porteurs (carriers) came close to me. They had large buckets strapped to their backs and their job was to collect the bunches of grapes from the coupeurs (cutters), like myself, then to go dump them into the trucks. I later calculated that these men- they were exclusively male- were carrying between 30 and 40 kilos back and forth throughout the day; as much as my body hurt later that week, I still cannot imagine taking their position.

In the first three minutes of the job, I cut my finger with the shears. It burnt but was not bleeding too bad, so I decided to ignore it and continue. Other than this, the first two hours rushed by fairly swiftly; they were repetitive but painless, and they had given me plenty of time to listen to a podcast and music. It was surprising to see people stop so soon, but I followed without complaining. The managers arrived, brought out sandwiches, water and wine. I decided not to have the latter on my first day. We soon went back to the vineyards for another two hours. These were slightly more tiring, but still easily bearable. After the 30-minutes lunch break is when my legs and arms began feeling a bit tired, but I persisted as I had in other physical activities during my lifetime. It was in the last 2 hours that the amount of work I had been doing really began weighing on me. My legs felt sore, my lower back had an intense pain and my shoulders felt perpetually uncomfortable. I was very relieved when I heard our bosses yelling from the other side of the field to go back. After going to the chateau and changing, they dropped us off at the train station and I dozed off for the 40-minutes trip.

The following day, I woke up with pain all over my body. It was what I had expected all along, but my mental preparation did not lessen the pain in any way. I repeated my morning routine and savored every minute of the train ride, enjoying the stunning change of color scheme in the French countryside. I forced myself to continue my job despite the aching, and an hour into our arrival at the vineyards I no longer felt pain in a certain spot, just fatigue. By the end of the day, after hours of crouching, squatting, kneeling and sweating, the fatigue was truly getting the best of me. I had heard people often passed out while doing the job, because it’s often the first physical job they do. I thought of how back in Costa Rica I had helped in reforestation projects and a few building tasks, but how nothing compared to this. One of my bosses, knowing my origins, asked if I had ever picked coffee. I thought of how picking coffee was thought of as a very “lower class” job in my country, mainly done by Nicaraguan immigrants. This was an instant reflection of what the culture of the vendanges is slowly changing into. It certainly gave me something to think about while cutting the grapes. I should have at least tried picking coffee once, I kept thinking.

After getting home the second day, I cleaned my room, cooked dinner and then intended to take an hour-long nap at 8pm. My 9pm alarm did not wake me, and I slept 10 hours until 6am, only to wake up feeling even more sore than the previous morning. People had told me, and I knew it, just like with sports the third day was the worst, when you must bear the soreness of both the first and second day. I looked at my hands, scratched from reaching into vines all day, looked at my shoulders, burnt from late August’s sun, and smiled in pain, knowing that this was exactly what I had signed up for. The third day was by far the hardest, my legs hurt every squat and my back stung whenever I bowed down. And then the fourth day, I was ok. It was a very strange feeling where I was exhausted, but it didn’t bother me to continue working. At the end of every day I was ready to stop, hungry thirsty and sleepy, but not sore, not necessarily in pain.

In terms of work, I found precisely what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I had to start the harvest late because of my internship dates and could only do 6 days, yet these were enough to challenge me and satisfy my desire for self-achievement. Beyond that, I was satisfied in a philosophical aspect, as I had been working with nature and, in a way, doing exactly what my body was made to do: gather fruit. As you might expect, though, I doubt I would have been happy continuing for much longer and the experience also helped me appreciate office work and life as a student. That in itself is what made the experience so powerful as well: knowing I didn’t have to do this for the rest of my life and doing it next to people who were not fortunate enough to say the same with certainty. This work showed me what I could do in many ways, but it mainly taught me about what many people have to do; and in doing so it gave me great respect for all that part of the human community that allows the rest of us to have food on our tables at night.

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// 2 tips on picking grapes //

  • Try not to cut any grape in half. The juice will cover your sheers and your hands will become sticky, making it much more uncomfortable to continue the work. The longer you can continue with clean shears the best.
  • When you see several bunches bundled together, you can put your bucket on the bottom, move the leaves with one of your hands, cut with the other and let the fruit fall on its own.

Globe Trotter: Advice From a Traveler Who Lost Her Luggage More Than Once

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‘Ma’am, the plane left five minutes ago. You must go to the counter to know what to do.’

That’s how I learnt I would be stuck in Frankfurt for at least a day, on my way to the United States.

 

Throwback.

 

Last Summer, I went to the United States for the very first time in my life. My family had decide to book an organized trip to make the most out of the ten days we would have there. First there was a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, then from there to Los Angeles – flying with a company which for its own reputation will remain anonymous ( was cheaper). So we got up at 4 am on that Tuesday morning, took a plane from Paris, and arrived in Frankfurt to know that the airport was fully blocked because of a security incident. We were parked for five hours in an airport hall, and our plane took off without even calling out for passengers, leaving many people behind

 

We safely arrived to Los Angeles a day later, after more than ten hours of queuing for tickets in two days. However, the situation was solved quickly enough for us to be able to laugh about it a month after. It also made me think over the hardships that a traveler can meet, even though they remain very light when considered through the realm of the luck we already have to travel, freely and without constraints. I however noticed that in the four long trips I have been lucky enough to experience, only one went perfectly well (with no lost suitcase or blocked airport). Indeed, our suitcase was lost for five days when we went to the Seychelles island, our plane was cancelled when we went to New Zealand, leaving us stuck in Australia, but at least we could do some tourism in Sydney whereas queuing up in Frankfurt’s airport doesn’t offer much of an entertainment. I thus came up with these advice, for people who love to travel as much as I do, and will still love to travel no matter the number of lost suitcases, blocked airports or cancelled planes…

 

  1. Always take the vital minimum in the cabin with you

The day after we were told we couldn’t take the right plane to Los Angeles, all people stuck in Frankfurt were divided between a handful of different planes to finally reach the US. Some of them went through Manchester, Paris, or even – as was our case – Warsaw. At all moments of the process, we were told our suitcases would leave in exactly the same plane as the passenger and that we would get them back as soon as we’d arrive in Los Angeles. That sounded too good to be true; to me, that was impossible; either the suitcases would have left in the plane we should have taken, or they would stay in Frankfurt. Turned out – to my disappointment – that I was right, and all families that had suitcases checked-in didn’t get them back for at least a week.

My family was the only one that had decide to keep everything with us in the cabin – which means we didn’t have much, as the weight and size are limited, but as least we had some. We were able to share some first-necessity goods with the others; toothpaste, tampons, medicines… From now on, we’ll always travel with at least some clothes and necessary items in the cabin with us!

  1. Find other travelers

As soon as we learnt our plane had taken off without us, my family and I started running to The Company’s counter to see what to do. After a long race through Frankfurt still partially blocked airport, we found the place – wasn’t that difficult, there already were 200 people queuing up. We would spend six hours in front of this counter; the company hadn’t brought enough people to help. Finally, it turned out the counter could not give new plane tickets but only an accommodation for the night.

Nevertheless, after asking all people we could see, we managed to find other travelers who should also have been in the plane to Los Angeles. We gathered altogether and spent those six hours talking, getting to know each other, the situation making us closer than we would have been without this. We called ourselves the Frankfurt’s Shipwrecked Squad and stayed together the whole time. The next day, one of the Squad figured out which line to choose, so that we could leave Frankfurt. When we eventually arrived to the United States, our trip was even better, as all Frankfurt’s Castaways felt like a large group of friends that had gone through an adventure together.

 

  1. Carefully divide your belongings in case you lose a suitcase

Four years ago, my parents decided to take my brother and I on a trip to an earthly paradise, the Seychelles Islands, where they’ve had their honeymoon. As soon as we arrived, after a long flight that left me delighted – I had just discover we were given food and could watch movies in a plane, which made my 13-years-old-self overjoyed -, I was caught by the Seychelles’ unique atmosphere. The air was so hot I could literally feel it, there were palm trees everywhere and the airport looked like kind of an exotic treehouse. However, nothing perfect is made to last; after two long hours of waiting for our suitcases under the warmth, we found out one of them hadn’t arrived. We were told it had most probably been put into another plane, which means that by the time it would take to find out where it was and to bring it back, we would have to wait at least three days. It finally arrived five days later.

It eventually turned out that we’d been lucky enough to lose the least useful suitcase, but half of our clothes, swimsuits, solar creams and those highly necessary items had been left out. If you have two suitcases,divide everything between them – clothes, pads, everything. We never know.

 

  1. Always keep a small backpack with you during the flight

When one decides to keep all their belonging in the cabin, one ends up with a ten kilos-luggage to carry by hand and to put on the shelf above their seat. Then, one quickly understands that there’s nothing as annoying, in a plane, as someone trying to get their luggage from this shelf during the flight. As a 1,60m dwarf that does not even weigh 50kg, I could picture what would happen if I tried. I’d have to climb on the next passenger’s seat, which would probably coincide with turbulence ensuring that my suitcase would fall on someone’s head, as would I.

That might have been a bit too dramatic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier I had chosen to bring a small backpack with me, to put under the seat in front of me. I first thought I couldn’t fit more than a book and a box of tissue, but this small backpack with black and white elephant patterns turned out being more useful than even I could have imagined. It made me think of my roommate – who happens to be the Honduran Keeper! – and never travels without her tiny little backpack, that already went to France, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and so many different countries. That became the ultimate goal for my backpack, too.

 

  1. Take every hardship as an opportunity

In 2015, my family and I went to New Zealand, to follow the steps of the movie The Lord of the Rings. I’ll remember this trip as one of the happiest moments in my life – now that I think about it, most of the ‘happiest moments in my life’ are related to traveling. However, after we arrived in Sydney, we were confronted to an unexpected hardship. There was wind that day; and the company that should have taken us from Australia to New Zealand had its reputation to maintain; it never had any accident, and was determined to not take any risk. Our flight was cancelled and we were stuck for a whole day in Sydney.

We were terribly sad. We had less than ten days to spend in Kiwiland and one of them was being withdrawn from us; moreover, a Lord of the Rings tour was planned for this day and that was what we’ve been the most looking forward to.

But finally, that was literally the best thing that happened to our trip. My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera – which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap – and saw the Harbour Bridge. Even better; the tour guide accepted to work on Christmas day, two days later, for us to still be able to do this Lord of the Rings Tour, and we spent an unbelievably awesome couple of hours with him. Bob turned out to be the best guide we could have had and made us feel like we were involved in the movie. Without our flight being cancelled, and without the Kiwis being amongst the most pragmatic, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, that would have never been possible.

 

Finally, all those advice can be summed up into one: always believe that things happen for a reason, and that we can make the best out of anything. If our flight to New Zealand hadn’t been cancelled, we wouldn’t have seen Sydney and meet Bob the Awesome Tour Guide. If Frankfurt’s airport and That Company’s jobs hadn’t been awfully done, such a solidarity would have never been triggered between Frankfurt’s Castaways, and so one. Keep smiling, and keep traveling!

 

 

Globe Trotter: Naples: An Organized Chaos

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At 7:15 in the morning on the dot, on a warm June day, a train arriving from Rome stopped at the Stazione Napoli Centrale. I set foot out of it knowing only rumors I’d heard about Naples from Italian friends, and only having seen a couple pictures of the city on the Internet. The air was thick with humidity, and the rising sun announced a hot weather to come. My friends and I began walking towards the center. Soon enough we had left the crowded train station and were walking down littered, deserted streets, where we would only see small groups of locals in old clothes, glaring at our clearly foreign outfits. The streets smelled, and I began feeling a familiar sense of alarm that I had often felt in various Costa Rican cities, but only seldom in a European one. In retrospective, this was the calm before the storm.

Eventually, we reached busier streets, and as time passed more and more people, as well as vehicles, began swarming out. We arrived at a 4-lane main street with a crosswalk right in front of us; however, no car seemed interested in the slightest reduction of speed. We looked closer while we waited to, maybe, get a nice driver who’d stop for these three tourists. We then realized that close to us there was an uncontrolled intersection with 4 lanes perpendicular to the main street, with cars transiting just as fast. As a group of cars crossed the intersection, we began crossing as well. A few cars on the main street managed to cut through anyway and at our sight decided to swerve rather than slow down. After crossing, I began seeing several motorcyclists with no helmet, large construction zones that seemed abandoned and the huge residential buildings with drying laundry covering most of the windows. I began getting an idea of the kind of place I was in.

The trip to Naples had been spontaneous. We had been staying in Tuscany and had already seen both Rome and Florence. After having had nonstop Italian food for over a week, visiting the birthplace of Pizza seemed appropriate. Thus, we decided to stay a night in Rome and part on a daytrip early the morning after, with the main objective of seeking the best pizza we’d ever tasted. Train tickets were relatively cheap, and the ride was only slightly over an hour.

The pedestrian center had a whole different, yet equally muddled aesthetic. We paced down narrow streets between large housing structures, where, at the base, many homes had their doors open, with no one inside; presumably, because there was not much to steal. We reached a major plaza and, finally, we were surrounded by tourists as well as hundreds of street sellers and artists. The lack of care for public infrastructure, the utter disregard for basic laws and the steering-wheel locks in parked cars all pointed towards the poorness and, frankly, the dangers of the city. My feeling of discomfort, however, began to disappear and it slowly turned into an adventurous and curious sensation. Particularly because I was astonished by the city’s disorder that contrasted its ancient richness, seen through its astonishing architecture and monuments, as well as its natural beauty of coasts, mountains and surrounding islands. It felt like Naples fate had taken a wrong turn at some point in its history.

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Neapolis, the city’s original name meant new city. It was founded around 600 BC as a Greek settlement and taken over by the Roman empire a couple hundred years later. It changed hands various times during the middle ages, belonging to both France and Spain at separate times, becoming a duchy at one point and eventually joining Sicily to form a kingdom. Considered a powerful city, it was an area of dispute and power for centuries. During the Renaissance, Naples was the home of various celebrated artists, symbolized by monuments, architecture and literature. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the capital began to see trouble: at the time of its unification to Italy. Naples was no longer the capital. For the first 10 years of the Kingdom, it was extremely far from the centralized government, located in Turin first and then in Florence. Massive emigration, government negligence and a cholera epidemic were all factors of the city’s slow fall from grace. To top it off, during the Second World War, Naples was the city to receive most bombs in the country. The city’s postwar recovery was slow and is yet another cause of the city’s present state.

Even understanding the historical background, the city’s environment is something to admire. It gives off the impression that the city was abandoned, and the inhabitants now populate its ruins. The city’s ordered chaos was what I imagined Northern African cities such as Marrakech or Tripoli would look like, and as the day advanced, I wanted more of it. It reminded me of how various American friends had mentioned that visiting Costa Rica gave them a sense of adventure and danger that they didn’t get back home.

Given that I already came from such a place, it hadn’t crossed my mind that visiting other poor/undeveloped (for Western standards) area would give me the same feeling. It definitely did, and, ever since, I’ve been contemplating at the amount of ways of living humans have. The average Neapolitan lives a life of much more insecurity than I have (I haven’t even mentioned the Mafia yet), but what I have been accepting is: that is all that it is, a different way of living. And that was exactly the core of my amazement. The fact that these people’s way of living: dealing with danger, noise, heat and much more was so distant to the way I live my life currently. The trip was a reminder of how most of the world lives in that situation: uncertainty and struggle. Now, knowing that Naples is only the tip of the iceberg, I crave to see more of this, more places, more people, more dangers that show the diversity and the resilience of our species. I crave to see how my fellow human beings deal with the challenges of nature, of ourselves and of everything that we have created.

PS. We most definitely found the best Pizza we had ever tasted in Naples.

El Salvador’s Globetrotter: A Day in Disneyland Paris, France

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Whenever the word Disney comes up, I always feel a rush of nostalgia and happiness as I recall many movies and shows from my childhood and sing-alongs with my family and friends. And when I think of Disneyland, I always think of the words many have used to describe it before me: The Happiest Place on Earth. After having spent my entire first year of university in France without having visited Disneyland Paris, I knew it would be the perfect way to close this chapter and celebrate the end of a great year.

On Sunday, May 20th, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland with a few friends. We decided we wanted to spend the entire day at the resort, visiting both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, so our day started early as we made our way to the train station at 8 a.m. We arrived at the park at 9:30 a.m., and decided to head to Disney Studios first, trying to beat the crowds for larger rides.

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Nothing felt better than rushing through a 5-minute wait line for the first ride we hit – the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. And then there was the ride itself – I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed the thrill of being on a rollercoaster, especially one in the dark where you never knew what was coming.

It was only our first ride that allowed for a short waiting time, as the park had already begun to fill out by the time we headed to our next stop: the Tower of Terror. Waiting in line is not always a pleasant experience, but when you’re with friends the wait seems a lot shorter than it actually is. One of my favorite things about Disneyland is the way the waiting areas for rides are filled with thematic decoration that can be very detailed and makes the wait a whole lot more interesting. For the Tower of Terror, we noted how much work has to be put in to make a place look as old and abandoned as the hotel, while at the same time keeping it clean. The ride is probably one of my favorites, as I always enjoy the suspense of not knowing when you’re going to drop – the thrill it gives is indescribable.

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We then went on the Studio Tram Tour, where we got to see behind-the-scenes movie effects, and on the Ratatouille ride, before we decided to head over to Disneyland for the rest of the day.

As much as I enjoyed Disney Studios, there’s always something magical about walking into Disneyland and seeing Main Street lined with colorful buildings, all leading to the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the center of the park. I thought it was a nice variation in the castle, as opposed to having Cinderella’s castle, since it made Disneyland Paris stand out from its other sister parks.

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As soon as we arrived, we walked past the castle and headed straight to Hyperspace Mountain, a ride that we had been looking forward to during the entire day. As we had already reached 1 p.m., the park was significantly fuller and the line took longer, but with the constant changing of environments, time flew. The ride was breathtaking and made me feel as if my stomach was in my throat as it plummeted us into the darkness at high speeds. I enjoyed that thrill so much that I would love to go back just to go on it again.

Although I love Disneyland and the experience as a whole, next came what was possibly the most difficult adventure of the day: finding a place to get lunch. While Disneyland is definitely covered with places where one can find food at multiple stands scattered throughout the park, we decided we would cross the park to be closer to the next rides we wanted to hit. We also felt like we needed to find somewhere to sit for a while, considering how we had been going non-stop since our arrival. You always expect lines for rides to be quite long when you’re at Disneyland, but you can sometimes forget how long the lines for food indoors can get when it’s close to 2 p.m. and the sun is blazing with a great intensity. Despite the struggle that getting to the front of the line was, we managed to make our way and even found a table large enough for our group to sit at.

Once we renewed our energies we tried to get Fast Passes for any of the rides we still hadn’t been on and ended up at Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. After getting the passes we thought it would be a good idea to go for a slower ride since we had just eaten, so we made our way over to Pirates of the Caribbean for what was probably one of the longest lines we had been in so far. Still, I never cease to admire the dedication that Disney puts into decorating the waiting areas. This is something we discussed as we constantly walked into different areas and rooms, with the new environments making the wait seem shorter than it actually was.

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After the ride, we headed back to The Temple of Peril with our FastPass tickets and stopped for ice-cream before deciding to tackle what would be the longest wait of all: the line to ride Big Thunder Mountain. Ice-cream in hand, we made our way to the line and slowly edged along. Since we had been standing for the majority of the day, the line became a sort of game to try to find what spots we could sit on for a few seconds, since it wasn’t moving too quickly. Conversations among our group and taking pictures kept us entertained as we wove through the maze that was the line. Still, the wait felt worthwhile once we got on the rollercoaster and sped up and around the mountain.

By the time we were done, we realized we had to make our way back to the train station in order to make it back home on time. That didn’t stop us from grabbing dinner to-go at Five Guys, and eating that dinner on the RER as we headed back towards Gare de L’Est at 9:30 p.m.

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Overall, visiting Disneyland Paris was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my time in France and I would love to go back someday if only to visit some of the smaller and niche rides, since we did manage to hit most of the available major rides at both parks.

I’ll leave you off with some of my Disneyland Tips for anyone who plans on visiting anytime soon:

  • Check the weather and prepare accordingly: We were lucky to have a sunny day during our visit, but that also meant having to bring sunscreen in order to not end up red at the end of the day.
  • Bring lots of water and snacks: Waiting along in lines is more exhausting than it appears, and you can get pretty thirsty after a while, and despite how much food is available at the parks, it’s more wallet-friendly to pack a few snacks.
  • Arrive early to make the best of your day: It’s definitely possible to visit both parks in a single day if you’re on a time constraint, but you can only do so by getting there early so you can experience the full day.
  • Get a map: Though it might seem alright to wander around, our map was definitely helpful in finding the rides we wanted to go on from the start of the day and making our way through the park.
  • Enjoy yourselves!

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