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Lessons From The Leather Man

The minute I arrived I Florence I felt a deep sense of love in my heart.  The beautiful city offered me beautiful views, fed my delicious mozzarella, presented me with wonderful art, and most importantly gave me the opportunity to open my wallet to purchase so many gorgeous items.

I knew nothing about leather before going to Florence, but I knew I was on a mission to buy some.  After shop hopping for an afternoon, I was directed to visit the Florence School of Leather or Scuola del Cuoio as the Italians call it.

The school reminded me of an episode of Project Runway.  Mannequins and designs lay everywhere.  Scraps of leather were being sewn together.  Needles and threads were meticulously moving in and out, in and out between colorful pieces of leather.

A room full of hundreds of colorful leather items, belts, purses, coin purses, luggage, keychains, and so much more greeted me as I walked through the doors.  I selected my items and took them to an old man named Vincent and a young Italian man in an apron standing behind a work bench.

Vincent neatly wrapped up my leather items and handed them to the young man.  I watched as the young man stamped my initials on my leather items.  AMP.  Anna Mary Pryatel.

It hit me.  Those initials were more than letters.  They were my identity.  They had to mean.  When people saw AMP I wanted them to think of the person, I was, kind, gentle, smart, ambitious, honest.

Vincent handed my items to me; all stamped up with AMP.  It was that day that I realized I learned a crucial lesson from the leather man, someone who didn’t even know he was teaching me a lesson.  Always try to be a better person of yourself.  Your mark, whether it’s stamped on a piece of leather or a license plate or somewhere else, is important.  It reveals your identity.

Remember always to be you and leave your mark on the world.

 

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The German Man who Never Stopped Smiling

Back and forth.  Back and forth.  He walked from the door of the restaurant to the outdoor patio for five straight hours.  Each time, carrying at least 1 liter of beer, and at times carrying up to 6 liters of beer.  The hard working old man was working on a Sunday, serving some crazy Americans who were (over)celebrating their friend’s recent Berlin marathon finish.

Back and forth.  Back and forth.  All night long, for six hours straight, he never stopped smiling.  He made sure our liters were never empty. He joked with us and laughed with us.  About three hours in, he introduced himself as Ralph.  He even began joking and dancing with us.  When he carried out the beers, we shouted, “Ralph!!!!!” applauding him for his great service.

Halfway through the night I noticed Ralph was hugging a family from afar. He gave a child a kiss on her head and hugged a few others.  I could tell they were his family by the way he treated with them.  He continued to serve us, stopping to enjoy a few minutes of family’s company who were sitting at a table inside each time he went in to refill our liters.  It wasn’t long until I noticed Ralph’s feet were deformed.  They were oddly shaped, causing him to walk on the outside of his foot.

How could this man be so happy?  He was working as a waiter on a Sunday away from his family as they enjoyed a nice dinner together.  His deformed feet and tired hands hadn’t had a rest in six hours.  He was watching his American customers have the time of their lives celebrating life.

And he never stopped smiling.  Ralph’s smile taught me something that night.  He taught me always to be happy and thankful.  Life can be tricky.  It can feel like you’re walking the same path over and over again, back and forth, with deformed feet and tired arms.  During those times, you just have to smile and be grateful that you have the opportunity to walk because things could always be worst.

Danke schoen, Ralph.

To witness Ralph’s extremely positive attitude and smile, visit him at the Bombay Indisches Restaurant in Berlin.

 

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An Unexpected German Lesson in Tipping

Tipping is always a topic of discussion while traveling abroad. In America, it’s common to tip 20%. In Italy, just a few extra Euros would bring me extra bread and a free half gallon of wine. In Prague, an extra koruna or two got you loads of gratitude and an after dinner shot for free at times. In Germany, I learned a very different lesson about tipping.

Late night Berlin celebrations led my friends and me to a feast at a bodega where we bought out the deli and wine aisle. We cheered to my friends’ recent Berlin marathon finish. Not only did he finish, but he beat his goal. Prost! Soon, cell phones were dead, and we had no way to get back to our Airbnb. My friend went inside the bodega and asked the cashier if he could plug in his phone. The man recited something in broken English and offered out his outlet. My friend took out some coins and replied “Danke. Here you go.”

The cashier motioned no with his hands. “I don’t accept tips here. I sell my products for the price they are marked. More money will not make me happy.”

“But you did something extra for me. So here’s a tip,” explained my friend.

The man motioned no again, and my friend placed the coin on the counter.

“Look at me,” demanded the cashier.

My friend looked at him.

“Being human isn’t extra,” replied the cashier and he passed the coin back to my friend.

How do you tip in Germany? You tip in kindness. Pay it forward.

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From Hosts to Friends: An Airbnb Experience in Rome

By the time, I had reached Rome, my blistered feet, overpacked suitcase of leather, and fresh mozzarella breath told the stories of my travels. Florence had given me beautiful monogrammed leather and a wonderful history of art and culture. Venice had stuffed my belly with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes drenched in balsamic vinegar. And both cities had left their mark on my feet with lots of blisters and scrapes. After three hours on a train, all I wanted to do was sleep.

So far, all my Airbnb hosts had been wonderful but I hadn’t stayed at a place with the host. We met Cassandra in Venice and Sylvia in Florence, but they did not live in their Airbnb rentals. I was a little nervous, yet excited to stay at Luca’s B&B. As someone who enjoys her space, I wondered what it would be like to have strangers as roommates in a foreign city for five days. As an Account Planner at an advertising agency, I wondered how long I could ask them a million questions before they accused me of being nosey and rude.

Nicole, Luca’s girlfriend, met us at the train station with her German accent and European hospitality. “Hello!!!” she excitedly greeted us. Max, my boyfriend, and I followed her about ten blocks to the bed and breakfast. During those ten blocks, she spoke so highly of the city and her job and her love for meeting new people. When I meet strangers, I usually have to remind myself that not everyone is looking for a new friend. And I tend to use the word “friend” loosely. “My friend who I met on the El train yesterday…I don’t know his name but he always sits on the right side on the 5 PM Red Line, and we talk about the Cubs…yeah. Him, my friend.” You get the picture.

The apartment was simple and felt like home. Luca greeted us with his strong Italian accent and hugged us as if we had known each other for years. He immediately pulled out a map and started to show us the secrets of Rome. Nichole made us an espresso and served us some food. What great hosts, I thought to myself.

As the days went on, Nicole and Luca did the typical host duties. They served us prepackaged pastries for breakfast, coffee and helped us map out our day, but at the end of each day our relationship with our hosts began to change. Suddenly, I realized we were no longer random couples meeting through Airbnb. We were friends. Friends who began to share stories about our past, learn from each other and encourage each other to be our best selves. Evenings were spent on the rooftop of the bed and breakfast, laughing about life, talking about German and Italian culture, discussing American politics and hearing Nicole’s wonderful saying “Live and let live” over and over again. By day 5, I wasn’t sad to leave Rome, but I was sad to leave my new friends who had so graciously developed a friendship with a random American couple who decided to stay at their place based on Airbnb reviews.

Over time, I’ve become a go-to person for friends and family who are looking to travel and every time I tell them about my international Airbnb experience they cringe. “You stayed at an Airbnb overseas? Those seem sketchy”. And every time I reassure them it is the best way to travel. Airbnb connects you with people, not just places.

Traveling isn’t always about the destination or the historical cities and beautiful scenery. It isn’t always about buying beautiful leather bags and shoes or eating delicious pizza. Traveling is more than a review on a website or a picture of an Airbnb apartment. Traveling is about meeting new people and connecting with human beings. Our world is huge, and the most important part of this world are the people who live on it.

If you read Luca and Nicole’s reviews, you’ll immediately want to book their Airbnb space. Be prepared to make new friends and gain a deeper understanding of Italian culture. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/121609 You’ll be telling me “Grazie” after your stay.