Trump is Bad for Foreign Relations

In 2008 the air was filled with politics—even in Europe, the mere mention of being an American would flood the conversation with one topic: the election. It was the great election of hope, where Barak Obama was leading the Democrats to what ultimately became a victory, and Europeans watching on the sidelines were waiting to see if we could dig ourselves out of the mess George W. Bush created. Through all of my discussions, with teachers, locals, strangers and friends in Europe, I came to understand that they pay attention to our elections—more so than some of us Americans even—and that their opinions help shape the foreign outlook of the United States way beyond that one pivotal day in November.

Spoiler Alert: The day of the election, because of the time difference, I was holed up in my friend’s apartment in Florence forcing myself to stay awake as the results poured in. For a good part of a year I had paid close attention to the platform Obama had built, and I, like so many Americans, was ready to see this change he had promised us. Now, I wanted to see a part of history as it happened. Unfortunately, I fell asleep around 4 a.m. before any official call was made. But that morning, when Florence’s residents started stirring, it was clear who had won. I heard cheers from the streets—people who do not live in the United States and would not have a direct day to day interaction with the new President and his policies were ecstatic over the outcome—Obama had won.

George W. Bush was not our worst president, but he did bring upon the U.S. enough turmoil with our foreign relations to leave a bad taste in our mouths. Yes, history will cut him some slack based on the circumstances—9/11 was the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history, and something any president would struggle to deal with—but sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan brought us into a new era of bipartisanship that has only gotten worse. In 2008, Dems were unhappy with Bush and wanted a new leader who lined closer with their ideals. Today, Republicans are facing the same feeling—their distaste for Obama has made Republican leaders increasingly angry and aggressive, and as America works to crawl out of the results of the recession, voters are looking for a savior.

When you compare the two elections on that scale, you can understand why Republicans want to see one of their own back in the White House. But their candidate, Donald Trump, is not the right option.

There are so many reasons we could list as to why Donald Trump is wrong for the presidency. His racist, misogynist, aggressive, hot-headed, unnerving demeanor has turned him into one of the most hated candidates the opposition has faced. But I want to look at one small part of this list: his inability to compromise, and work with foreign leaders.

We saw firsthand this week how Trump would handle a discussion with other leaders—in Monday’s debate against Hillary Clinton, Trump’s unpredictability, and lack of control, was his own undoing. With only a few light pushes from Clinton, Trump spiraled down a rabbit hole of insults and nonsensical commentary that made him look like an utter fool. It was a taste of how he would handle difficult situations in the future—his lack of experience, and his hunger for power and praise would lead America to sever ties with countries past leaders worked tirelessly to negotiate with—it would be disastrous for our foreign policy and relations across the globe.

In my travels throughout this election season, there is one question I regularly face: Why Trump? It seems that other countries are just as confused as I am about how we got here, how of all the candidates out there, Trump was the best the Republicans could produce. Sure, some countries would celebrate a Trump presidency, but for the majority of the world, seeing Trump in office could cause a lot more problems for travelers.

It’s important to see the issues and really hear what each candidate running in this election has to offer—I, myself, have already made up my mind, but I think it’s important to look at the big picture. We’re still only one part of this big world, and if our leader refuses to work fairly and justly with other countries, and throws tantrums every time he doesn’t get his way, it will be disastrous for the millions of Americans here in the country, and scattered around the world.

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Part of the Family

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View from the Lost Iguana resort outside La Fortuna, Costa Rica

There’s pros and cons to every form of travel—whether you’re with a tour group, a self-guided trip, alone or with friends, we all have our own image of a perfect vacation. Within the millennial travel blogger realm, I see a lot of think pieces about traveling solo, with tips on what to do/ not to do, safety, or the benefits. Those are great pieces to read about, especially for me, a woman, who may face certain challenges as I backpack across Europe alone. It’s important to read up on others’ experiences and hear their advice before going on your own trek.

However, what if you decide to travel with a group? Or even more specific, what if you decide to travel with your family? On your solo adventures, the only person you have to cater to is yourself—you get to dictate which museums you visit and when, how late you want to stay at a bar, or if you should change your flight and stay on an island one extra day (tempting, right). But when you’re with a group, your needs are as equal as the others you’re traveling with, and many times you have to compromise to make sure everyone has a good time. That’s the key too—everyone needs to have fun.

Such was the case for me earlier this year when I traveled to Costa Rica. The country itself had never been high on my radar, but when an opportunity to visit my youngest sister there came up, I was sprinting out to the store to buy a guidebook. What I learned in my own research first, is that Costa Rica is a hub for adventurers (which made me wonder why I had never had it on my list before!). Between each coast you can hike in the rainforest, climb a volcano, zipline through the canopies, and surf the Atlantic or Pacific (your choice). And let’s not forget about the sloths. There are so many sloths.

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The beaches at Manuel Antonio.

If I was traveling solo, my trip would easily be booked with days and days of adventure. Instead, I was traveling with family, where each member had his/her own skill set, interests, and comfort level when it came to traveling through a new country. Originally, I had written out an itinerary similar to the trips I had organized in Europe—day to day outlines with travel, hotel options, and activities in each location. Because of the timing, I set aside two parts to the trip—a few days on the beach, and a few days up in the mountains.

Reading into the travel portion of our plans, I forgot that driving in a foreign country is never the same as driving in the U.S.—five hours of straight driving here is easy, but there, you’re venturing through winding streets up and down the mountains of the countryside (and watch out for gators!). Luckily, it was my father who suggested we hire a driver to do the heavy lifting. It was the best decision we made on that trip.

For first timers to the country, I would recommend consulting a travel guide. We went through Costa Rican Vacations (http://www.vacationscostarica.com) and they hooked us up—they set up the drivers, scheduled our tours, and booked our hotels for us for the whole week. All we had to do was show up.

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Hiking selfie in La Fortuna.

For me, going through a tour guide isn’t always my first choice—I tend to feel restricted, and without the freedom to travel at my own pace (very fast), I worry about missing something. But due to our circumstances, and the fact that none of us had traveled to Costa Rica before, this was an opportunity to put the planning in the hands of the experts. It was our priority first to have fun.

Of course, there was also compromise in our day to day decisions—the heat was difficult to deal with, so spending an entire day at the beach wasn’t ideal for everyone in our family. The cliffs made it hard for the non-hikers to get to certain beaches, and I had to learn how to sit still, but together, we were able to make memories we’d cherish forever.

During our trip we stayed in two areas: Manuel Antonio and the Arenal Volcano region. We took a few guided nature walks and got to see sloths and monkeys up close, we swam in the warm ocean, and hiked through the rainforest (on our last day in Arenal, I stepped on a viper while hiking and determined it was time to go). But what I remember (and miss) most, were the hours we spent lounging by the pool, with the gorgeous view of the ocean behind us. It’s an out of character memory for me, but those were the moments where I was able to reflect and simply enjoy the ride.

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Local Costa Rican iguana + a view in Manuel Antonio.

Namaste, with Architecture

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The studio, looking out at Boston’s Copley Square. (Credit: Vega Vitality Boston)

After months of settling in to my new life in Massachusetts, I found a wonderful yoga studio on Boylston Street overlooking Copley Square. The studio is on the top floor, level with the rooftop of the Trinity Episcopal Church, with large, clear windows offering a view of the church and the reflective 200 Clarendon Tower (also, more commonly, known as the John Hancock Tower). This juxtaposition of a sleek, modern skyscraper against the Richardsonian Romanesque peaks of the church, is a soothing image to look out to while you hold your tree pose for 30 seconds.

I’m a firm believer in the practice of calming your mind by looking out at something beautiful. It’s been discussed that staring out at the horizon can actually lower stress and anxiety, and by being outside and being active, we can live a happier and healthier life. Like many young professionals, my weekday schedule can be hectic—between meetings, sitting at my desk, writing for hours on end, and commuting home (I alternate between the train and driving the 2+ hours one way each day into Boston), having the time to be outside to clear my head becomes an occasional activity.

In a perfect world, I would have time to hike every day, but that isn’t so much of a realistic goal. When I lived in New York, I would trade in my subway commute with a walk, using the city streets as my own hiking trail. I would pass some of my favorite landmarks, enjoying the architecture and design of the city, all while getting the exercise I needed.

I should add an aside here—exercise, for me at least, is first a method of easing my anxiety. Dealing with the basic stresses of each day, my mind has a tendency to wander, and most of the time towards the negative. By creating time for myself to move, get my heart pumping, and stepping away from my phone, I’ve found a guaranteed method to lower my stress and turn my focus towards the positive—holding poses, pushing myself to do that one extra mile, pausing at the end of a hike to enjoy the view—it all helps calm me. The physical benefits of exercise are just a bonus.

So when I relocated to Boston earlier this year, my new challenge was to find a way to balance my work life, my commute, my social life, and still find time to move. My walks seemed more distant as I started following a set train schedule, and the longer I lingered in the city, the longer it would take for me to get home. I was spending too much time cramped up on a train, and I could feel myself slipping.

That is what led me to this yoga studio—I realized that while walking in Boston may not provide me the same relaxation as walking in New York did (I know, weirdest sentence ever, but walking in cities really does calm me), there were other ways to achieve it. I realized that the best thing for me was to follow a strict schedule, something that could help me set aside a specific amount of time each day to exercise.

ClassPass was my answer—through this service, paying the equivalent of a monthly gym membership, I am able to attend classes of all types and at a variety of studios before getting on my train to go home. I register ahead of time, and can do anything from yoga, to boxing, to cycling, and come out on the other side feeling stronger and at peace with my day. Instead of sitting on the train stressing over minor anxieties and letting them grow, now I would focus on the high I felt from my class, and what other activities I need to get done before the end of the week.

This week was when I finally made the connection I needed. In New York, I had the element of a view, something to look at while I cleared my mind. Walking the streets of the city always gave me that, but many of the studios I visit now are windowless, so I can only focus on the activity at hand. That’s why this moment at my yoga studio was so poignant, because as I looked out, I saw the beautiful image of modern mixed with stone, of the old against the new, of architecture, and it felt like home.

I’ve realized in my travels, that these are the moments that make your journey feel real, that when you feel that emotion of comfort mixed with awe, it can really enhance the experience. I keep a notebook on me at all times and record these moments—climbing to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire, sitting on the steps along the Trevi Fountain—making notes to remember those little moments of peace in the chaos of the city.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Happy Anniversary, Cinque Terre!

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A bench on ‘Lover’s Lane,’ part of the first leg of hiking paths through Cinque Terre.

You will have to excuse the sappy nostalgia of this weeks’ post—I discovered a recent photo a few months ago and was eager to write about the memories it stirred up in me. There’s a reason why this week is the week I write about it too, because September 8 is the eight-year anniversary of my hike through the Italian preservation known as Cinque Terre (translates to ‘Five Lands’).

If you read any travel guide, Cinque Terre is typically labeled as a ‘must-see’ for anyone visiting the Italian Riviera. It’s smaller than the trodden towns along the Amalfi Coast, but thanks to its National Park preservation status, the trails in between give you a more authentic look at the natural coastline of this country. Rick Steves (author of his self-titled series of guidebooks, aka ‘The Bible’) raves about the five towns in this region regularly, and encourages anyone planning a trip to spend at minimum two nights there. And with hiking trails, white anchovies, chilled Liguarian wine, and beaches at every stop, it’s not surprising why this place comes so highly recommended.

I think about this place all the time still, but specifically September 8, 2008. On this day, I woke on a beach hidden deep below the cliff side of Cinque Terre’s two towns of Corniglia and Vernazza.

It was actually Rick Steves’ guidebook that brought us there too–I had made friends with some hikers in my program, and we still had a few weeks left of warm, summer weather and wanted to take advantage of a trail with both stunning views and swimming. We did some research, and because of the guidebook’s heavy push to see this place, we decided it would be a great way to get that hiking fix. We took an early train from Florence’s main train station to La Spezia, a coastal town outside of Pisa, and switched there to enter the five towns. (A note if you want to visit there: Cinque Terre has its own rail system that stops in each of the five towns. You can hike between each one as well, but if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still go from town to town by train. All you need to do is buy a Cinque Terre rail pass at La Spezia train station).

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Cinque Terre has a rail system that takes you through all five towns for a good price–it’s a great alternative to see everything without having to hike.

Stop one on the train is Riomagiorre. The ride from La Spezia is only ten or so minutes long, with the final portion cutting into the rocks of the mountainside. Sitting in complete darkness, I was staring at my reflection, probably rearranging my ponytail or telling some story to my travel companions while simultaneously watching for a view to appear, when a short spurt of light poked through, revealing our first sight of the sea crashing upon the rocks. I gasped, audibly, so much so that my friend burst into laughter. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life.

Our two-day hike had a lot of similar, jaw-dropping moments—the region is stunning, with pastel homes built into the cliffs overlooking the Liguarian sea. Life moves a little slower in Cinque Terre too—the locals are up early, taking advantage of the morning to get their boats out and bring supplies down to the ocean side stores and restaurants before the tourists roll in. You forget the rest of the world for a moment, with every turn bringing you a new surprise, a new photo opportunity, and new memory to store away.

I truly believe the best way to experience a place is on foot—it gives you a chance to take the time to see everything and to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of where you are. In Cinque Terre, walking the narrow (and steep) streets in many cases is your only option too—in the five towns–Riomagiorre, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare—cars aren’t allowed in the center part of the cities (Monterosso is the exception, with wider streets for cars and a more level beach).

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Be careful on some of the trails in Cinque Terre–they can be steep and rugged. If you are not an experienced hiker, I recommend taking the train.

For the amateur hiker, I would recommend walking the first two legs, starting at Riomagiorre and walking to Manarola and onto Corniglia, which includes the popular ‘Lover’s Lane,’ complete with locks along the covered stone pathway. You will need to purchase a pass to hike (it’s less than 10 euros for the day pass, and you can purchase it at any trail entrance), and be sure to check the weather and trail conditions (depending on the season, mudslides or the threat of falling rocks will close portions of the trails). Regular hikers will find more of a challenge between the last three towns, and there is a network of trails that go through the higher peaks if you have the time to check it out.

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View looking down to Vernazza.

If I can make one recommendation though, it is this—do not miss Vernazza.

On that particular trip in 2008, we climbed down a narrow, steep path (with ropes to attached to the rock for safety), which strayed from our main path, just to get to the staircase leading to the beach. Because it was so hot, we dedicated most of our afternoon to swimming. As the sun started to set, we climbed back up into the hills and stopped in Vernazza. If you do even the most minimal amount of research on this region, Vernazza will always pop up—it’s the picturesque cove town, with a stone watchtower looming over the curved docks. Here is where I spend most of my time when I return to Cinque Terre every few years—I would recommend trying to find a room here, but book well in advanced, most travelers will have the same idea.

On this specific occasion, we only had a short stay in Vernazza. We grabbed a few bottles of wine and pizza from a local shop, and ate dinner seated by the cove that protected the small fishing boats from the rough seas around the bend. The air was still that night, and we packed our bags to hit the trail one more time, this time, to find a quiet place to camp. We went backwards, back to the beach we had found earlier in the day, and watched the sun set, feet in the sand, wine passing around between the four of us.

The beach was small, only about 400 feet from the cliffs to the breakers. Between the two borders was a large rock, and we set up our camp behind that, lying our sleeping bags in a row with only the night sky as our cover. The idea was, with the rock there, we would have some protection from the tide, giving us a chance to pack up and move if it came all the way up to the wall. I doubt I slept for more than an hour or two that night, but looking up at the stars and hearing the faint sound of waves crashing, I felt comforted—I felt home.

As expected, the tide woke us first—it hit the feet of one friend, and started a chain reaction of us waking up in a rush, and we moved to higher ground to watch the sun rise from the vineyards above our heads. But before we climbed back up the cliffs to start our second day of hiking, we wanted to leave a mark, so we scratched the name of our school and the date into the cliff side. It was our small reminder of the memory we had there, of the experience we shared.

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Leaving our mark at the beach.

I don’t want to sound too corny, but I really fell in love with Cinque Terre on that trip—it was such a new experience for me, and between the hiking, the swimming, and the camping, I pushed myself way outside of my usual comfort zone. Since that first trip, I try to go back as often as I can. I brought my family later in 2008 when my semester in Florence was ending, and I returned in 2011 with two of my other friends during our trip across Italy. For me, returning to Cinque Terre is like returning to myself—I get a chance to revisit the place that help shaped who I am today. But I also love bringing people there who have never experienced Cinque Terre before. The reaction is always the same—we sit in the dark on that train, passing through the rock, and that first blip of ocean, that first glimpse, is enough to make anyone gasp. I still do every time.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.