There’s always been a certain charm of Europe that grabs hold of you, a sense of great architecture, grand design, great food, amazing culture, and women who know how to wear a scarf effortlessly. I particularly like to be in Europe for the holiday season. It’s done so well, so elegant, old-world charm, light-handed, and all your senses are immersed in holiday cheer. Not the unabashed, neon, tinsel-town fakeness in America.
So my BFF and I decided to spend this holiday in Italy and Belgium to surround ourselves with Christkindlemarkts, gluehwein, kaesestanger pretzals, and French fries with mayo in a cone and little forks as only the Belgians and the Dutch can do so well. When we arrived in Bruges, one of our favorite towns in the world that we thought couldn’t get any more charming and quaint. Well… cue the horse-drawn carriages clip-cloppping down the cobblestone street, the smell of chestnut roasting on an open fire (no kidding), and the smell of chocolate, the sight of 18th century canal homes decked out in greenery, simple white lights and red ribbons, ice skaters on the square encircled by holiday market stalls, and holiday music piped through the streets. Bliss, simply bliss from all angles. All we needed was reindeer and some snow. It did spit rain, so we ducked into a 15th century convent turned hotel for high tea by the roaring fire in the walk-in fireplace along the canal. We were the only ones in the sumptuous drawing room replete with champagne, tea, and crumpets – just what we needed to complete the holiday mood.
Several trips and years ago we had decided to up our game in several areas of our lives. It’s funny how little things can be improved and when you string together all the areas you have stepped-up, it turns out your life has been up-leveled in interesting ways. This trip was no exception. We continued to step up our scarf game because they are plentiful in Europe, take up no room in the suitcase and don’t break. I’ve come to know that eyeglasses are much more creative and interesting in Europe than in America. Why can’t American’s have imagination when it comes to eyewear. There is no comparison. This trip was no different when we met a woman whose dad has been the creative force behind some wild and crazy designs since the 60’s. Of course, we couldn’t leave the country without a pair of hot pink and purple frames to add to the collection.
One this trip we decided to step up our balsamic vinegar and chocolate game. Visiting a tiny artisanal vinegar house in Modena was a perfect entre into the world of fine balsamic vinegars. They produce only 2000, 100ml bottles per year and the entire operation is in the attic of their 1800’s home. The sweet, tart scent of vinegar wafted throughout the home where they took such pride in aging their stash for 12-25 years completely naturally. Of course, we had to buy bottles at $65 – $130 each. The complex taste is out of this world and the consistency of heave syrup is divine. I had long stepped up from the watery balsamic of the grocery store to specialty vinegars, but had no idea this amazing concoction existed. It rocked my world.
The same held true for chocolate. The Europeans have the Americans beat to shreds in chocolate-making, bread-making and many other things. When we strolled the Galleries near the Grand Place in Brussels, the high-end chocolate shops looked like fine jewelry stores with Mary chocolates holding the seal of the royal family. Another divine sensory overload. Eat your heart out Hershey’s.
The cherry on top was the sensory overload in the Grand Place at night with a light show set to holiday music while eating a warm waffle and turning in circles to not miss a thing trying to catch a glimpse of the fabulous buildings from the 1600’s bathed in flickering lights timed perfectly with the music. It was magical, it was marvelous, it was setting the bar very high for holiday experiences European-style. Yet another area where we had up-leveled our experiences and our awareness of bigger and better things available.
What kinds of things have you up-leveled in your life? How have you stepped up in different areas of your life? What are you consciously letting go of in order to make room for newer, better things, experiences, ways of being, doing, having? From things such as pens, furniture, fabrics, foods, jewelry, books, what you watch on screens, how you choose to use your time, dishes, thoughts, habits, colleagues, job/work, friends, behavior, bed linens, towels, lingerie, bags, paper, lotions and self-care products to hotels, villas, restaurants. Treat yourself to some up-leveling at any level this year. One small thing or big leaps and be conscious of what works for you and how it feels and what feels right for you. It’s all part of continuous improvement in all areas of your life. Make an effort to notice your space, your closet, your kitchen and refrigerator. What can you improve to represent who you are or who you want to become?
I’ve decided I probably need to be in Europe the month of December from now on. It feels like home. I’ve always tried to stay off the road and out of the malls and stores between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day in America. It feels bad for me and I refuse to get caught up in the self-imposed stress of running around for sales and buying obligatory gifts that you wouldn’t normally be buying. The rushing around and fake blow-up decorations are a big turn-off for me. What feels more right is the old-school way of celebrating the holidays is how it is done in Europe. One more way of stepping it up and stepping out to enjoy what feels best for me. What do you do to feel your best and take care of your soul, your psyche, your body and your mind?
At the dentist recently, I discovered that my dental hygienist hasn’t taken a vacation in 30 years. I nearly fell out of the dentist chair on the spot when I heard the sad news. The first words out of my mouth were not diplomatic, “What the hell is that about?” I was so incredulous, I lost all sense of decorum and social graces in that moment of shock. I really count not relate on any level to that statement of not taking time for yourself in 30 years. I guess I’ve been very, very fortunate to not relate to something out of my realm of understanding. If you’re going to be a good role model for your kids or your work team, or a good leader of any type of group, you need to be inspired. What are you doing to invite awe and inspiration into your life to keep you going and keep you interested and keep you interesting?
I live for exploration, discovery, learning new things, seeing new sights and being awe-inspired every chance I get. I seek out beauty and inspiration, and surround myself with what I love as often as I can in daily life to keep the happy factor pumped up. Taking inspirational vacations is one of my favorite past times. These can be mini weekend get-aways, an overnight in a cool place, an afternoon at a local haunt, a multi-week extravaganza, or a multi-month sabbatical. I just don’t understand people who lose vacation days each year because they never took time off. This is your time, you’ve earned it. You deserve to refresh, recharge and get inspired by adding a little awe into your life.
I recently returned from a holiday Caribbean cruise and though I’ve done many, many cruises; this one held some awesome and inspirational experiences for me. Kayaking has been part of my life for a few decades and I wanted to try something I’d never done. We went kayaking at night in a bioluminescent bay that glows with movement from the organisms similar to fire flies. There are over a million organisms per gallon and they each glow only once per night when they sense motion. So off we paddled through the bay into a canopy of mangrove trees that was so narrow and so dark, you could only see the glow sticks on the kayak in front of you, the glow of the water off your paddle and from the bottom of the kayak and the glow of schools of fish you paddled through or if they jumped. It was a very eery feeling to paddle by feel instead of sight. A new and awe inspiring experience. Only when the guide turned on his head lamp could you see the tree roots hanging down from the branches, the iguanas hanging from the branches and the crabs scurrying across the roots. The tunnel of mangrove branches opened in to a lagoon a few hundred acres in size and we free paddled around and played in the water. It looked like glowing glitter as it slid down your arm. It was such a natural treat, nothing like it. We were giggly, gleeful, amazed, and agog with wonder of this ecological experience.
Coming back to the ship, I experienced a couple other types of awe and inspiration. One was the after-dinner entertainment, which is usually quite cheesy. These guys had won America’s Got Talent national talent show and now had an act in Las Vegas – Recycled Percussion. They gave everybody in the audience drum sticks and things to bang on and they put on such a highly –charged show, there wasn’t a face in the place that didn’t have a smile. They also gave out ear plugs for the faint of heart. By the end of the show everybody was boogying to the rock and roll they remembered. It was awesome. The inspiration continued as we danced our way to the after party show with the BB King Blues Club All-Star Band. The best band I had heard in countless years. They had the ship rockin’. We enjoyed them so much, it was a nightly pilgrimage to wherever they were playing and I carried home a CD so I can recapture the inspirational sounds of the classic, funky blues music.
So it turns out that experiencing awe and inspiration can come in many forms. I just Skyped with a friend in Germany who visited a surprise Monet exhibit never before shown to the world in a mansion outside of Paris. Hearing about it and experiencing it through her was vicariously inspiring. Make your list for the year – what do you want to do to invite awe and inspiration? Add these things to your Hot 100 List – you know the list I’ve been writing about for years. Your annual exercise to write down 100 things you want to have, do or be. Next on my list of awe and inspiration is experiencing the aurora borealis in Iceland and seeing Machu Picchu. What’s next for you?
Physically fleeing the scene of stress for a holiday restores personal energy. Sometimes all we have is a “holimoment” where we can purposefully escape into daydreams or meditation if we can’t physically escape to take a break. Americans lag far behind most of the world in reaping the rewards of longer vacations and time to escape the real world responsibilities.
Employers in Europe know the secret to having employees be refreshed, renewed, and recharged for more productivity is taking longer or more frequent holidays. Europeans average five weeks per year holiday time as compared to the paltry American two weeks annual vacation. If you are saving up those vacation days, or worse yet, losing them because they have expired, you are doing yourself, your family, and your colleagues a disservice by not giving them the best you can be at optimum performance levels.
We need a break to clear our minds and re-connect in order to perform at peak performance at other times. If you must hang around the office, surround yourself with items that bring back good memories or that state your affirmations boldly. Take a mental health break by gazing at your memorabilia while you wait on hold on the phone. (Research suggests we are on hold an average of 15 minutes/day or 60 hours/year). Fresh air and movement do wonders, as do office toys or a personalized treasure map of things you want to accomplish in your life.
Treasure maps are collages of pictures and words representing your desires, goals, or affirmations. These posters filled with cut and past magazine photos and headlines are a physical and mental reminder of what’s dear, and act as a magnet to attract you closer to your goals and aspirations. The more you use the powerful force of visualization; the imagery of your dreams becomes imbedded into your subconscious and you start behaving in a manner to elicit responses to move you towards your image. There have been numerous studies of athletes and performers using guided imagery and visualization to help them compete and win. When you start imagining the possibilities and show your brain concrete images, it sends your body signals to help make that image materialize.
Travel can generate excitement, adventure, intrigue, and other awesome feelings all rolled up into one package. Experience other cultures and new ways of life, or just get out of town for a weekend escape. We need this time for creative renewal in order to be our best to meet our challenges. Seeing how other cultures live gives us a fresh perspective on what may be out of kilter back home. Flexibility and an attitude of discovery go a long way in creating positive travel experiences. Where are you going next?