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On my recent visit to Europe, I had the good fortune to travel to several countries.  

As I stepped off the plane in Barcelona and later traveled through Paris and Milan, I couldn't help but be amazed (once again) at the obvious and persistent differences between life in these cities and the one I'm accustomed to in the U.S. There's a certain culture, a different "noise" and a different beat that you just don't get in American cities.

Every time I set foot on this foreign yet familiar soil, I can't help but wonder if I lived here centuries ago. The glorious architecture that reaches out from every angle, the harmonious sound of the different languages being spoken, the predictability of unfriendly Europeans, the stores that are open only at certain hours of the day, the banks that are never open when you need them—they all speak to me in a manner that suggests I have been here before, only not in this lifetime.

Perhaps the one thing I love about Europe more than anything else is the fashions that are so proudly on display everywhere you go.

This year's big fashion trend is red. Red gloves, coats, hats and boots are also conspicuous everywhere you look. In a few short blocks I passed no less than a dozen women wearing red high boots, all fully aware of the obvious fashion statement they were making. Another hit are large bags.

Parisians, Barcelonanians, and especially Milanians all make fashion statements and introduce the latest trends in their own way. The streets of these cities are packed with pedestrians rushing about their day. Busy with their lives and responsibilities, they brush against each other on the bustling streets, barely noticing the turmoil around them. Most are impeccably dressed, and the fashions vary a great deal. But whether it's a casual jeans outfit or formal Armani business suit, the different fashions all have one thing in common—expensive shoes, an expensive purse for women or briefcase for men, and a stylish watch.  

Most Europeans live in small apartments. They don't have luxurious walk-in closets full of clothes that collect dust from season to season. Instead, they choose their clothes carefully and discard them when they are done. Their wardrobes are simple, stylish and always handpicked. The French have a saying that goes something like this: "We are not so rich to buy cheap clothes." Which translates to:  "Since we can't afford a lot, will have few, but they will be the best."

I also love watching the small children hold their parents' hands as they walk the streets or sit in their strollers. Unlike here in America, most European children are dressed good enough to show up at the wedding or theater.  And they're all dressed in style.

No Red Boots for Me

Wanting to find my own pair of red high boots to wear in sunny San Diego, I hurried in and out of boutiques. But it soon became apparent that no one in Europe has calves as large as mine, and I came away empty-handed.  If Europeans can manage to fit into their boots, tuck their jeans inside the boot, and still have enough space to hide their wallet, why can't I!  

To erase my disappointment, I decided to treat myself to a manicure. When I ventured into a nearby salon, however, I discovered that a regular manicure cost 40 euros, about 65 U.S. dollars. Discouraged and frustrated, I settled for buying a red handbag instead.

Toward the end of the trip, I stood in one of Milan's famous piazzas, full of pigeons and beautiful people, breathing in the heavy air of passing cars and cigarette smoke.  Surprisingly, smoking is now only permitted in open places, something I thought would never happen in Europe.  

As I watched crowds of Italians enjoying their last cigarette before entering their office building, I suddenly felt homesick. I missed my children, my family and the quiet life that San Diego provides. I missed the friendly people who hide in their cars yet are always willing to show you the way if you are lost.  Most of all, I missed my nail lady, who for the price of 12 dollars gives the best manicure without asking a single question.

As I got on the plane to come home, I looked forward to hugging my kids and returning to a land of opportunity where my goals and dreams are up to me. Where life has a certain predictable serenity to it, and where I'm spoiled by my walk-in closet, by spacious streets that are not jammed with pedestrians, and by 24- hour supermarkets that have mini-banks in them for banks for my convenience.  

I also thought of how I will enjoy the peace and quite of home until I once again begin to yearn for the commotion of daily life among Europeans.  And then it's only a matter of time before I hop on a plane and fly across the ocean to experience the uniqueness that can only be understood here in the middle of these wonderful ancient buildings and the stories they will gladly tell if you just listen carefully.

All the best,



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