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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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Understanding What it Means to be Human: A Visit to Dachau

There I sat, twenty minutes on a train, anxiously waiting for my stop where I would exit, get on a bus and get off at the Dachau stop.  I sat twiddling my thumbs, thinking about all the movies I had seen about World War II and concentration camps.  I was nervous and felt a little guilty that I was spending a Sunday afternoon giving attention to such a horrific, historic event.

The bus was quiet, yet crowded.  Everyone seemed to look as if they were anxious about visiting Dachau.  Some people closed their eyes as if they were praying.  Others held hands.  Some quietly joked to break the silence.

Apartments lined the street leading up to Dachau.  People were going about their usual Sunday, taking the kids to the park, grocery shopping, and going on a run.  It was just another day in Germany.  For me, it was the day I realized how precious human life is.

The words “Arbeit mach frei” welcomed me to the camp.  “Work will make you free.”  I walked through the camp in silence.  It was just how the movies portrayed it.  A dreary, open space with buildings, or barracks, and a crematory in the distance.  The stories of survivors, victims, soldiers, and leaders were written on the walls of the museum.

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Standing in the middle of the camp made my heart pound.  I felt like I was reliving a nightmare I hadn’t been part of.  But the next minute, I felt a sense of relief.  A sense of relief that these memorials exist to ensure this will never happen again.  I was reminded of how precious life is and how grateful I am to get up and go to work each day, live in a safe neighborhood and not fear my government.

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As I walked in silence down the gravel road lined with tall green trees, I could hear it all.  All the stories.  Those who survived.  Those who tried to escape.  Those who were separated from their families.  Those who died.  Those who murdered.  Those who felt like they had no choice but to follow the leads of their government.  The trees told a story too.  Once, barren and skinny, now full grown and green symbolizing the Germany of today.

When I reached the end of the gravel path, ending my time at Dachau, I prayed for the first time in ages. And wondered how such a thing could happen.  The silence seemed to get quieter and I slowly walked out of the camp, suddenly understanding what it means to be a human being on this earth.

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A Not so Hostel Hostel: An Airbnb Experience in Charleston, South Carolina

Cheers to Charleston for winning the Best Small City in the U.S award! (Conde Nast)

With a week to kill between jobs, I found myself driving down to my favorite part of the United States, the South. For months, I had been pinning pictures of Charleston, South Carolina. I booked a room at the Not so Hostel Annex. Located just three blocks from the main street downtown stood a cozy little yellow house. A giant tree covered half of the front of the house and a porch swing gently swung as the humid evening breeze flew in.

The hostel was simple and instantly reminded me of my family vacations at the beach. It smelled of sand and water, a glorious smell of vacation and relaxation. My room was nothing more than a bed with a light and a nightstand, but it welcomed me with open hours after 10 hours of exploring during the day.

Perhaps the best part of my stay was meeting the host, Bailey. Bailey ran the hostel and decided to quit her full-time job to run the hostel. She wasn’t your typical host. She wasn’t running a bed and breakfast, so she didn’t serve you breakfast. She was a landlord, so she didn’t provide you extra keys or a map of the area. She was there to be a friend. She was there to ask you about your travels when you came back at night and laugh with you and listen to your excitement after you visited The Battery and the market. Her laid back attitude made the experience great.

If you get the chance to stay at the Notso Hostel Annex in Charleston, I highly recommend you get to know Baily. You’ll leave feeling inspired and rejuvenated. And you may even make a new friend.

Check out one of the rooms in the Notso Hostel Annex

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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.