Now that I have completed my 26th turn around the sun, I decided to make a list of the 26 places that, one way or another, helped me to become the woman I am today.
1. Santorini, Greece
If I could take a screenshot of the most beautiful vignette that has ever presented before my eyes, you would recognise the contrasting whites and blues of Santorini.
2. Lisbon, Portugal
With each passing day I feel more thankful for the place where I was born. With more than 320 sunny days per year, Lisbon warms my heart like no other place can.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
This is my second home. The cocoon to my butterfly.
4. Punta-Cana, Dominican Republic
Visiting this paradise every year for about 14 years gave a clear (and pretty unalterable) image, taste and smell to the concept of “beach” in my personal dictionary: a clear green-blue ocean, with neither too many nor too scarce waves kissing the soft white sand that burns under a bright sun in a clear sky. Latino music. And the citrus taste of my favourite cocktail, “Sex on the beach”, dancing in my mouth.
5. Brisbane, Australia
There is nothing better than a foreign love story. Mine will never let me forget this Aussie city where people live at a chilled pace but speak as fast as lightening, in an incomprehensible slang that doesn’t sound even remotely like English.
Lost in that sweet Babylonia with someone that could speak to my heart, I discovered that sea-bugs were not actually bugs, but their version of lobsters (and how delicious it was!); I swam in desert beaches that were closed because of the sharks; I went whale watching; I climbed mountains and sunbathed in lakes; and I never missed a sunset from the Kangaroo Point. Brisbane will forever be imprinted in my heart.
6. Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Everyone who is into Science knows Charles Darwin and his theory on the origin and evolution of species. Following Darwin’s footsteps and discovering the Galapagos Islands, with the same finches and the same turtles he observed and used as the living proof he needed to support his groundbreaking theories was one of the most remarkable adventures in my life.
The diversity of wildlife in these islands is impressive: cute sea lions (that are friendly to swim with, but are also able to rip off your arm if you disturb their lazy nap on the beach), blue-footed boobies (marine birds easily recognisable by their distinctive bright blue feet), large Komodo dragons and 400-kilogram giant tortoises are only some examples.
7. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I guess watching your best friend enjoying the perfect combo of being drunk and high on space cakes counts as an epic moment in one’s life, doesn’t it?
8. Príncipe, São Tomé and Príncipe
Flying on such a light aircraft as the one that takes you from São Tomé to Príncipe is a frightening but liberating experience. With only a tiny curtain dividing the cockpit from the 8 passengers allowed on board, this mini plane provides amazing views (enjoyed only for those not terrified by the inevitable turbulence) as it flies at low altitude.
9. Auschwitz, Poland
I will never forget the hot sunny day I spent walking around the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dehydration struck me not only because of the heat and sweating, but mainly from the heavy tears that streamed non-stop over my cheeks. The rooms full of human hair, the piles of shoes and suitcases left behind, the toys that were the last companions of unfortunate kids. All the black and white photos, taken on day 1 in campus, right after a full head shave and an ice cold body wash, gave hundreds of faces to the horror story those walls have to tell. I believe it is important to keep historical memories alive as a way to prevent History from repeating itself.
10. Geirangerfjord, Norway
Hearing incredible Viking stories while surrounded by fairytale waterfalls thundering water from snow-covered mountain peaks is the best way to have a break from the stressful city life I am used to. As we drove along the Trollstigen mountain road, our guide kept promising he would also tell us some stories about trolls, but those stories never came to light (and I know I will still be wondering about it in my death bed…argh!).
11. São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
The sulphurous waters of hidden hot springs stained my swimming suit and my soul. It took only a swim to regain energy and peace within. I recall the sound of endemic birds flying over our heads in synchrony. Volcanoes and two-coloured lakes framed a family trip full of joyful and bonding moments that would remain forever in my memory.
12. Bled, Slovenia
I was always happier outside. I need fresh air and pollens defying my allergies. I need sun beams kissing my skin. I need both salty and fresh waters. I need mountains to climb and bonfires to warm deep late night talks under the stars. Well, Slovenia has it all. Needless to say, I felt truly happy there.
13. Yangshuo, China
Disney’s badass princess Mulan was my first fictional role model. In 1998 I went to the cinema, for the first time in my life, to watch a brave Chinese girl go to war to protect her old sick father. The strong message this movie sent to a 4 year old feminist like myself would never abandon me: in a male dominated world, girls must keep proving they can do anything and be whoever they want to be.
When, at age 10, I started learning Mandarin, adults around me kept complimenting my wise, yet premature, plans for the future. “The Chinese will rule international economy, it is amazing how early you started investing in your future!” – they told me. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I was never such genius. I started having Mandarin classes for the same reason I stretched my eyes in front of the bathroom mirror… I wanted to be more like Mulan.
Many years later, I finally made it to China. I met around 4 Mulans in one afternoon. It turns out that “Mulan” is the name of an abundant flower in China, and many girls are named after it. Speaking Chinese helped me to get to know better each one of them. And, trust me, to me that is far more important than acing the international market…