Category Archives: Travel

5 Spots Within The Squares

The lawnmower roars next door as a sweet, grassy summer breeze floats through my bedroom. It’s all becoming home, more and more each day, and my daily explorations of the neighborhood and all its surrounding Squares (Porter, Davis, Harvard, Union, Inman) is beginning to pay off.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a local just yet, but I’m beginning to shed some of my New York skin. For example, I try not to walk around with my usual “don’t fuck with me” face (feel free to ask to see this some day, it’s obviously really intimidating though, so consider yourself warned). I smile at strangers sometimes. I even whisper the words “slow down” to myself when I’m walking (sometimes).

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Life moves at a very different pace in this town (oops, I mean city – sorry Somerville/Cambridge!) and, even though I’m used to a much faster pace, I think I’m beginning to catch up in this land of less intensity.

By now I’ve discovered some promising little Somerville spots, which I’d like to share with you before the Physics storm hits (yes, this would be “the calm”). Here is a short list of 5  places that have made me smile in one way or another, so far.

Statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Union Square Farmers Market – Sure, in NYC I had the (dare I say “real?”) Union Square Farmer’s Market… so I can’t exactly say this is a first. But these farmer’s markets are very different. I always dreamed of living somewhere where I could walk to a farmer’s market every Saturday and stock up on freshly baked breads, excessive amounts of leafy greens, and things I never cook with, such as rhubarb, just because I can. Now, this weekly outing will become a part of my life. Yes, there are great sources of fresh, local produce in NYC. But, for better or worse, my Saturday mornings usually led me to some delicious brunch spot instead. Having a weekly farmer’s market within walking distance is my little country fantasy coming to life! (YES, I know I am not in the “country” — give me a little more credit, people!) The Union Square Farmer’s Market might not be very big (by NYC standards), but I can still buy overpriced bags of spinach, wild flowers, or local strawberries, and end up with way more than I need for the week. Maybe a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market will begin to replace my intense Saturday brunch tradition. When in Somerville…

Casa B – The first night I met one of my roommates, she and her Romanian boyfriend took me to Casa B. Casa B is everything I never thought I’d find “just down the street.” This newish, trendy restaurant is an interesting contrast to the somewhat off-beat little neighborhood (Union Square) full of Brazilians and Koreans. But the Latin-flare tapas restaurant quickly won me over when I walked inside; it was a modern and sleek upstairs, with fresh white tables and stylish details, but more sultry and seductive downstairs — although still comfortable enough for a gathering of friends. I was immediately satisfied with its delicious orangey sangria and a summery fava bean spread, which we generously applied to plantain chips and devoured alongside a revolving selection of tapas (the most memorable of which was the tabla de ceviches and a special vegetarian dish full of fresh, local legumes and wasabi-yuca). The place earned bonus points for having kalimotxo — a very common and popular drink in Barcelona, which consists of red wine, Coca Cola, and a splash of grenadine. While the bill added up (as it always does when ordering tapas), I’d come back here the next time I have something to celebrate… Or, just because.

3 Little Figs – One of my favorite treats is an adorable cafe. This little spot is as cute as its name. While I have yet to sample its salads, sandwiches and baked goods (I know, I know… how can I even put it on the list already!?), I did sample its chai — and it passed with flying colors. Not to mention, the staff was friendly, the ambience was happy, sunny, and bright — perfect for hanging out alone or meeting a friend for coffee, and I love that it is small enough that you know you’re somewhere precious, but available enough that I can people-watch out the big glass windows (the very few people who pass by) from a solid high chair, with my chai at my side, and my physics textbook in front of me. An hour of sitting will bring in just enough customers that I am neither distracted, nor bored. And the lighthearted vibe ensures that — even if I’m studying — I’ll be happy.

Bloc 11 – This is “that cafe” that I always want to have nearby — the one with the good coffee, the hipster on his Macbook in the corner (ok, maybe that’s not a requirement), and a mean salad (I already have a favorite — the Wisteria, which consists of hard boiled egg, pear, caramelized onion, dried cranberries and almonds topped with blue cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette). Bloc 11 is going to be one of my regular spots for studying, or meeting a friend for an iced tea. That, I can promise.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – OK fine, this is in Boston not directly in Somerville, but it is going on the list anyway because I can’t NOT mention it. When my roommate described The Gardner Museum, she gave me a good idea of what to expect. It was enough to get me to go, without ever having heard of it (but apparently everyone else has). The second I walked in, it hit every love-of-humanities-and-art chord in my science-filled soul that I didn’t even know I was looking to hit. The museum is absolutely wonderful; the Moorish architecture, the impressive collection of Italian art… It’s truly a remarkable place, and I felt temporarily transported to Venice and Southern Spain while I wandered the many rooms of the palace (yep, I said palace). Built in the home of the New York City-turned Bostonian socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner, it houses her private collection of art – and a very eclectic one at that. There is plenty more to say about the museum and the art, and probably Isabella, but I’d rather you check it out for yourself. This is going to be the museum I recommend to everyone who visits me in Boston from now on. You might as well put it on your itinerary.

Side view of El Morro, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

OK, I need to dash out in the sun. Since it feels like Brazil weather out there, here’s a little music to get you in the sweaty, Brazilian summer mood. Eat a mango, play this song, and keep the AC off — we wait all year for this heat, so no complaining! Happy summer, everyone!

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Filed under Boston, Coffee, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

Danger: Thieves!

Last night I told this story to some friends, so I’ve decided to break away from the “life” posts and re-post an oldie but goodie. It’s about my tug-of-war with a thief in Spain. This answered the age old question: Are you FIGHT or FLIGHT? As future experiences would prove again and again, I continue to be all “fight” and never “flight” — for better or for worse. It’s not necessarily the smart move, but it is the way my body responds to danger. Which do you think you are: Fight or flight? (Originally published by http://glimpse.org/ in 2006.)

After living in Barcelona for four months, I was almost robbed three times. Out of the 40 Americans on my study abroad trip, only about eight of us had avoided the extreme inconvenience of losing money, credit cards and passports in another country. Somehow, I was one of them.

Week after week, I passed grown men and women sobbing on the gritty sidewalks of La Rambla, showing empty wallets and cut purse straps to unsympathetic police officers who silently nodded their heads at yet another hapless victim caught off-guard at the epicenter of Barcelona’s pickpocket scene. These people served as a reminder that I had made it another day without becoming one of them.

View from my apartment in Barcelona, with the Mediterranean Sea and La Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona, Spain.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I was fully aware that the odds were against me if I wanted to get through the semester without being robbed. Unfortunately, the city has a reputation as a breeding ground for petty thieves—artists in their own right—whose clever ruses for robbing tourists would almost demand a certain type of respect if they didn’t evoke so much anguish from their victims.

It is hard to determine exactly why Barcelona has become so infamous for pickpockets. Some Spaniards believe the thieves—many of whom are Northern African immigrants—are attempting to recover lost riches from the English tourists after four centuries of war. With its myriad tourist attractions, Barcelona has no problem attracting a constant, year-round influx of wealthy visitors who wander La Rambla in a haze of naïveté, distracted by the many sites and sounds of the vivacious neighborhood while their bags and wallets bounce temptingly at their sides.

Constant reminders to guard my belongings were sprinkled throughout the city, as well as within the literature provided by my study abroad program. I knew to be careful and to never, under any circumstances, leave my valuables unattended. It was important to remember that the thieves could be anyone: the guy who looks like a bus-boy in your restaurant, the little old lady who asks you to help her cross the street, the friendly young tourist who can’t speak English, or even the little boy who asks you to help find his mother. Thieves in Barcelona have taken their tricks to a level that could almost qualify as performance art. They are so good at what they do that sometimes even the savviest travelers become unknowing victims, unaware they have even been robbed until they try and buy a glass of sangria and find their pant pocket has been cleanly slashed open.

Spray-painted image on a corner in Barcelona, Spain.

My favorite warning was a simple, black, spray-painted image that appeared on the corners of stone walls in the tiny, dark, romantic streets of the Gothic district. In it, a two-dimensional silhouette of a woman throws her arms in the air while a male silhouette runs away with her bag. Underneath the drama of the cartoon-like image are two words of precaution written suggestively in English: “Danger: Thieves.” These two words served as a blatant reminder that tourists like me are easy and attractive targets for the professional Spanish pickpocket.

For several weeks, I saw these signs and found them funny. But the stories about my friends getting robbed kept trickling in until the signs began to take on a more ominous tone. I even began to imagine that I heard a quiet tick-tock sound every time I passed one by. Yet despite my fears that soon I would be the black, spray-painted woman with my hands up in the air, on my last day in Spain, I had yet to be robbed and I thought I was in the clear. It wasn’t until around 11 p.m., approximately six hours before I boarded a plane that would end my four-month Spanish adventure, that the spray-painted man came to life.

Since my flight was leaving early in the morning, I figured I could fit in one last night of partying before my entire Spain experience would be tied up and packaged with a nice little bow to be stored on one of the cluttered shelves in my memory. I met up with a friend of mine, who was visiting from her study abroad program in France. She had some other friends in town, but we decided to meet up for dinner together before joining the rest of the group.

Sidewalk in the Medieval city of Girona, Spain.

As a temporary resident of Barcelona, I had learned by now that Plaza Catalunya, located just at the top of the most popular street in the city, was like a flytrap for robbery victims. Unfortunately, my friend Jessica had naively planned to meet her friends in the center of the circle at 11 p.m. so that we could all go out together from there. As soon as she told me this, I had the feeling that something was going to happen. My gut, my brain and everything I had read told me not to enter the Plaza, but we had to take the risk. Jessica’s friends did not have cell phones and they were in a foreign city without guidance. We had no choice but to find them in the dreaded Plaza Catalunya, and then get on with our night as safely as possible.

After a couple glasses of wine at dinner and the euphoric excitement of meeting up with a friend in a foreign country, a slightly tipsy Jessica and I made our way toward Plaza Catalunya, arms linked and my guard stiffly up. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jessica was all smiles, unaware of the potential danger that lay ahead. Without trying to sound too worried, I asked her if she could keep her voice down, knowing that as soon as we were identified as Americans we would be an easy target for thieves.

We approached the Plaza, which is a big circle, and I felt the presence of danger like a cat senses ghosts. As we entered the circular walled-in area, a homeless man interrupted his public urination to stare at us with a threatening smile. My instinct was to turn around and get out of there as quickly as possible, but we had to find Jessica’s friends, if only to warn them to be careful, so we kept walking toward the center.

Sure enough, Jessica’s friends were late. While Jessica talked to me about France and the wonderful places she had visited, I noticed six men sitting on a bench nearby, laughing and staring at us. I wanted to get out of that circle. I wanted to play it smart, like I had all semester, but instead I had to pretend I was in control. Just beyond the walls of the Plaza were hordes of people embarking on the earliest stage of their Saturday nights. Buses were slugging along and music was overflowing from nearby restaurants, where people casually drank beer and smoked cigarettes outside without a care in the world. I wanted to be outside of the Plaza with all of them, laughing, having a beer, safe. But I wasn’t.

“I see them!” yelled Jessica, blonder and with bluer eyes than ever.

My tension began to give way as we were finally allowed to leave the circle and shed ourselves of the giant bull’s eye that seemed to follow us inside the Plaza. As we made our way from the center to the periphery, I felt someone’s glare piercing through me, so I clutched the strap of my bag tightly and picked up the pace. Jessica, still laughing and talking, motioned for her friends to stay where they were. Then, I felt someone getting closer to me from behind my back. The walls to safety were right in front of us, but we were still in Plaza Catalunya, still vulnerable, and someone was following us. We were so close.

My left arm was linked with Jessica’s right arm and my bag was slung over my left shoulder in between us, which I also clutched tightly with my left hand. Suddenly, I felt an aggressive tug that whipped me around with unexpected force. Jessica screamed and jumped to the side. I found myself on the tiled floor of Plaza Catalunya, resting on one knee and one foot, facing a young man who must have been twice as strong as me, but I still had one hand tightly gripped around the strap of my bag. I wasn’t about to let go.

What took place after that initial shock was something I cannot fully explain. The man who had pierced my sense of safety with his eyes from a distance was now standing less than a foot away from me trying to pull my bag out of my hands. He had one hand on each strap of my bag, and I had one hand holding the center of the strap. At that moment, a surge of energy overtook every inch of my body. Much to my surprise, I was not scared at all; I was furious.

I managed to get my other hand around the strap and decided the strap would have to rip from the bag before I let go. I think that is the decision that carried me through the next few seconds. Everything else in the world just dropped out of focus; there was only me and my determination not to let this thief win. As he yanked angrily and fiercely at my bag, I yanked back just as fiercely, just as angrily, while staring him right in the eyes. His look of aggression and intimidation began to fade with each extended second of our tug-o-war until my eyes began to pierce through his confidence.

Me (Tavel) looking for the famous frog on the fascade of the Universidad de Salamanca building. The bag pictured here is the one they tried to steal. Salamanca, Spain.

I don’t know where it came from, but in the loudest voice I could muster, fueled by adrenaline and anger, I yelled, “Get off!” at the man. He gave my bag a couple more yanks, but I yanked back harder, until … he gave up. Before I knew it, the man had let go and was sprinting back into the darkness of Plaza Catalunya, leaving me on the ground with a new hole in my jeans and a couple spots of blood soaking through the knee area. But there in my hand, I had my bag, which somehow—like me—did not break.

When I got up and looked around, I had chills. People were everywhere, buses and taxis and cars were just doing what they always did. Jessica was covering her mouth, looking at me, asking me if I was OK. I think I could have lifted up a bus with the adrenaline still surging through my body. As I walked away, chills still running down my spine, I realized that I was going to beat the odds after all.

This third time someone tried to rob me in Spain was the most aggressive encounter I experienced, but I didn’t throw my hands up in the air like the spray-painted woman who had warned me on random stone walls of the city to beware of thieves. And the thief lurking behind the walls of Plaza Catalunya hadn’t become the spray-painted man running away with my purse.

After the ordeal, I was still in Barcelona, I still had all the valuables I had arrived with, and I had only one more night to complete the experience of living there for a semester. When I looked down at my watch, it was only a few minutes after 11 p.m., but after four months of thinking I had gotten to know Barcelona, those few minutes after 11 p.m. changed everything.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Spain, Travel, Travel Disasters

A Brief Tour of Cairo

Time to reveal the Mystery Snapshot! But first, I want to quickly say THANK YOU to the past four weeks. My staycation has come to its inevitable end, and tomorrow I head back to school for more NYU pre-med intensity. It’s been a pleasure having a social life again, but farewell dear friends… Back into the study cave I go. (Although, I am determined to have a little more control over this semester — both academically and socially, so we’ll see how it pans out.)

Alright…

The Mystery Snapshot was taken outside of Hatshepsut’s Temple, built just outside the Valley of the Kings (Cairo, Egypt). Andy, you are the official Mystery Snapshot winner. Good job! Egypt is one of those places I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Some day, I will actually get over there. For now, I’ve got this post.

Below, guest contributor, Raechel H. explains more about Hatshepsut’s Temple and about Cairo itself. (Enjoy!)

Guest Contributor Raechel H. w Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt.

By Raechel H:

Random fact about Hatshepsut: She was the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history.  She ruled for 22 years, when she took over for her husband.  Basically, her son, Tuthmosis III was supposed to take over, but Hatshepsut declared that he was too young to assume the throne. Instead, she sent him to military school abroad, and ruled herself.  Eventually, Tuthmosis III came back, took over, and then tried to erase Hatshepsut from Egyptian history.  She built tons of temples, obelisks, and other monuments to the gods, and Tuthmosis tried to destroy all of them – thankfully he did not succeed.

What’s really cool (in my opinion) is that for the longest time it was believed that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing.  Turns out, they found the mummy of Hatshepsut’s favorite nurse in her tomb, and found a tooth in some kind of box. A few years ago, they x-rayed the box, and the tooth fit PERFECTLY in another mummy that was already in the Egyptian museum in Cairo!  So they had Hatshepsut’s mummy all along!

Foreground: courtyard of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (symbol of ancient Egypt). Background: Mubarak's National Democratic Party HQ, a symbol of Egyptian modernity

EGYPT:
Egypt is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, and especially during the past year (which is no surprise to the people that know me, I’m sure).  Egypt provides a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and modern culture, in the cross-world between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Photo by RH.

Cairo itself is an enigma of sorts; it is absolutely overflowing with people (approximately 18 million officially, but more likely close to 21 million residents), and every one of them seems to have a car. All of that on top of ancient aquaducts, pyramids at the city limits (you can see the Cairo skyline from Giza), ancient markets, and the Citadel.  Traffic in Cairo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced — absolute gridlock at all times of day, with the exception of Friday mornings when everyone is at prayer or at home.

Cairo graffiti outside voting site for Parliamentary elections. Photo by RH.

During the Revolution, I didn’t understand why my friends who live in Cairo were making such a big deal about no one being on the roads, about it being completely shut down – but now I certainly do.  The traffic itself is absolutely fascinating. Cairo drivers get into this rhythm where they’re able to find every hole in every lane as they progress down a highway or main thoroughfare, and that’s how they progress from point A to point B.  Lane lines, when present, are merely suggestions – not absolute.  And most times, you’ll see at least one car, truck, or motorbike driving the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.  As multiple Egyptians told me, this is “democracy in action – you can drive whichever way you like. If people don’t like it, they can have another revolution!”  Crazy to hear members of the Egyptian military joke about this, but it’s a good sign that people are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Solar boat, discovered in the 1980s. It was found buried in The Great Pyramid. Its purpose was to transport the Pharoah to the afterlife (in particular, to the Sun God, Ra). Photo by RH.

I was fortunate enough to be there during the Parliamentary elections – seeing lines of men and women at the polls was pretty inspiring.  I was able to hit up the Khan el-Khalili (the famous market), wandering around the Ali Muhammad mosque and the Citadel, meandering through Islamic Cairo, trying out fantastic restaurants, and walking through Tahrir Square (although we were discouraged to do so).

Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo by RH.

Obelisk built by Hatshepsut, which Tuthmosis III tried to destroy by essentially covering it up. Ironically, this just preserved the obelisk, leaving much of the original details visible. Photo by RH.

During my trip, I was able to check out Luxor. I left as Cairo started to get crazy again (there was a sit-in at Parliament that led to clashes between different sides), which was probably good timing.  Luxor is the complete opposite of Cairo: it’s pretty tiny, there are only a few hotels where tourists stay, and you absolutely have to take a cab to get from point A to point B.  Luxor is more restrictive than Cairo in that sense – in Cairo we could walk around a lot more (mainly because there were things close by, in Luxor that’s not really the case).  Since I was solo, I hired a guide and a driver (a friend of mine connected me with a good company), and saw Karnak and Luxor temples before exploring the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.

Cartouche for Ramses II, the longest ruler of Ancient Egypt (this particular cartouche is engraved all over Karnak Temple in Luxor). Photo by RH.

The guide and I talked about a lot of things — the revolution in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the impact of everything on Egyptian tourism (tourism has obviously taken a major hit, which is problematic), the efforts that the government is making to regulate and organize things a bit more (to try and give licenses so folks can set up stalls to sell things outside of tourist areas rather than letting various people bombard tourists who are trying to enjoy what they’re seeing), and Luxor itself. After everything we discussed, I left with a bit of hope that maybe Egypt, post-election, can go back to a semi-normal state.

Mosque built at what was street level before they discovered the Luxor Temple. The mosque is still a functioning prayer site. Photo by RH.

Additions to Luxor Temple made by Alexander the Great. Photo by RH.

I definitely need to go back and see more – there are tons of sites in Luxor that I was not able to explore, and I did not make it down to Aswan or along the southern border (which I’ve been told is pretty amazing).  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that happen soon – and I’m always looking for someone to travel with me if anyone is interested!

Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Egyptian Sunset. Photo by RH.

Raechel lives and works in Washington, DC; Raechel and Tavel met while Raechel was conducting a Fulbright Fellowship in Brussels, Belgium.  While Egypt was phenomenal, Raechel’s favorite place to travel is Rome, where she spent a year abroad. She hopes to continue to cross countries and continents off her bucket list, and will head to Costa Rica this Summer with her family.

So there ya have it – Egypt. THANK YOU Raechel for contributing to TwT!

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Mystery Snapshot Time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Mystery Snapshot. Call it nostalgia, call it envy, or just call it Tavel-has-an-extra-bit-of-time-during-her-last-few-days-of-vacation… Whatever you call it, here’s the deal:

I may be staying put, but I’ve still got friends traveling all over the world all the time.  So, without further ado and/or rambling about how I don’t get to travel enough anymore, here is a Mystery Snapshot provided by a mystery friend who will tell us more about it in a follow-up post later this week.

For now, can you tell me:

1) The country in which this was taken

2) The city

3) The temple

4) Any other random fact related to this — whether it is from an architectural, historical, or personal perspective

The more detailed you can get, the better. If you’ve been – tell us. If you’ve written about it, link to that post. As always, the winners will get an honorable mention and linkage to their blog (if that’s your thing) in the next post. Or if you prefer, I can just tell everyone that you are very sexy. Happy Wanderlust-ing.

Jan 2012 Mystery Snapshot

OK… GO!

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Vacation Without A Vacation

Vacation has been Heaven-sent. I cannot tell you how much I am LOVING the time off! (Or maybe I just did.) Well, calling the time “off” is generous; the fact is, I am pretty much constantly writing and editing my sample chapter for the second round of submissions to editors/publishers, and a second chance at making this lil’ book-dream of mine come true. It is thrilling and terrifying (in a good way) and my fingers and toes are crossed in every direction.

Chilling in the spring-like winter upstate this past weekend. Dutchess County, NY.

Writing and editing all break has been a welcome change from all the science. It’s challenging in its own way, but at least I’m working with words — my native tongue. I’m back to science — what I can now consider my third language, I suppose — in two weeks, and boy am I savoring the final days of freedom. Once it starts back up, I will be studying like there is no tomorrow. The amount of additional tiny pieces I have to put into place in order to get this whole grad school plan in motion is pretty overwhelming, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time for now.

New Year's Day sunset walk by the Hudson River. NY, NY.

Even though I’m sitting here, intensely  jealous of my friends who just posted photos from trips to Thailand, Egypt and South Africa last week, I know my “trip” is awesome in its own way — albeit less sexy. It stings a little to have to subdue the travel bug I’ve got constantly crawling around my mind, but I know I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’m trying to think of it as just having more time than usual to plan for my next trip. Lemme tell ya — when I get on that plane and fly somewhere far away from all this work (preferably with someone very special, TBD) — man, is that trip going to fucking blow my mind. Until then, I’ll keep looking at all of your photos, reading about all of your trips, minding my own business and attempting to keep my arms and head inside the vehicle I’m on.

Trying to make two dreams come true at the same time is actually one of the scariest and most exciting trips I’ve ever been on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to do.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel, Winter

One Year Since Ecuador

It has been one year since I lived in Ecuador.

As I sit here working on a paper about the atomic structure of copper, I want to dedicate this entry to remembering the adventures of my “old” life. Last night, I spoke with my parents about the choices that my four siblings and I have made/are making in our twenties. I spoke about how eternally grateful I am for having had the experience I did while in Ecuador. Granted, I was pretty sick most of the time, I was attempted robbed three times (but for the record – nobody got a dime off of me, echem, even with razor blades involved), my building was broken into, I had many frustrations, and at a certain point I knew that it was time for me to come home and make some decisions…  that didn’t stop me from having some of the best and most inspiring adventures of my life.

These videos, created by my then VIVA Travel Guides intern and now good friend Allison (AKA “The Traveling Bard”), capture — at least in one form — some of the experience. I guess with Thanksgiving around the corner, it seemed appropriate to recognize how grateful I am for the adventures I’ve had. I distinctly remember one bus ride, when about five friends and I made the 10 hour overnight trip from Canoa (the beach) all the way up to Quito (a 9,400 foot climb through the Andes) to head straight to work. Everyone was sleeping, and I had a window seat on the rickety, dank bus. As it climbed from sea level into the mountains, I remember watching out my window in complete awe as layer upon layer of mountains spread out from all around us. It was just our bus in the entire sea of mountains, climbing up towards the most beautiful display of stars I think I will ever see. And while everyone slept, I may or may not have gotten choked up with happiness watching the scenery go by, because I knew I was living the life I wanted to live. The world is so clear when you feel like you and the stars are the only ones in it. I was living my dream, even if it turned out to be less perfect than I had imagined. I was in the thick of life, whatever mine would turn out to be.

I went to Ecuador immediately after getting my heart broken. I didn’t know a single soul in the entire country. I took a huge risk, I took some tumbles along the way, but now — one year later — I know I will forever be LUCKY that I ever took a chance. Juan the Amoeba (for all those who remember that little sucker) may have been a surprise visitor, but he is gone now. What’s left is some pretty f-ing incredible memories. So what can I say? Take the risk. And be grateful that you did, no matter what.

I’ve got to head to my 8am class. But check these out and enjoy my cameos, if you will:

And here is my attempt to make a video (not nearly as good as Allison’s but it was my first ever!):

A special thank you to ALLISON!! Follow her @ACarlton or check her out here http://www.allisoncarlton.com/ (side note: I took her homepage photo 🙂 Yay).

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Filed under Ecuador, Life Stuff, Travel

A Moment In… Tokyo

Summer classes ended over a week ago and they start back up two weeks from today. In the last few days, I’ve been almost struck by lightning (ok fine, more like I watched it strike a tree very nearby and that is as close as I ever need to get to being hit, thank you very much), and then – five minutes before the power came back on (after being out for five hours), I found a four-leaf clover. Just sayin’ (yeah yeah, probably means shit, but lighten up people  – it’s still summer!).

I’ve decided life can be just as crazy when I’m not traveling. There is no calm before this storm, there is only storm; my “vacation” has become a whirlwind of to-do lists. With my sister’s wedding fast-approaching (it’s this weekend! WHOOHOO) I figured I should take a quick moment on TwT to escape it all and travel the farthest away that I have ever been: TOKYO, JAPAN.

You enjoy this post while I put the final touches on my Maid of Honor speech. Oh, and feel free to share your impressions of Tokyo as a comment if you’ve been!

Shibuya at night.

Tokyo is one of those places that somehow manages to combine two opposite worlds into one. In a lot of ways, it encompasses everything I dislike about NYC (Times Square — the lights, the chaos, the crowds, the fluorescent, constant noise), which is then multiplied by ten and covered in an indecipherable (to me) script, making it all the more noisy. Yet, at the same time, it is a city speckled with beautiful, clean and simple Shinto shrines that stand high above the fuss, stoic and strong. The chaos of modern Tokyo life is woven gently into the fabric of a very beautiful Japanese history, and somehow, in Tokyo, it works.

Temple near Ueno Park. (Notice the man passed out on the rooftop?)

Prayers from locals and travelers dangle on wooden postcards outside a shrine in Tokyo.

Tokyo train. You spend many hours hopping around the city on public transportation, and usually a random Japanese person sitting next to you falls asleep on your shoulder.

Me (circa 2006) with one of many very delicious udon soup bowls that drew me into a cozy Japanese bubble when the dreary February air made me want to run away.

Street near Ueno Park. Tokyo.

A fountain outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Japanese kimonos for sale on a street in Tokyo.

Paper lantern outside an Asakusa temple.

One day, I ventured to the Asakusa Senso-Ji temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) for a morning away from the modern side of the city. The smell of incense wafted through the damp February air, and people entered each temple barefoot to pray before monks and admire the beautiful Buddhist artwork.

Approaching the Central Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Central Asakusa Temple. Tokyo.

One of the coolest things about going somewhere like Japan is feeling inescapably like an outsider. In some countries, I can blend in seamlessly (well, almost). In others, like Japan, I wear my “visitor” card like a name tag everywhere I go. But somewhere between the cups of hot sake, the confusing subway lines (you try finding your stop when it is written in Japanese script! Here’s a visual.), the quiet Shinto shrines, and the neon lights of Shibuya, there is a beautiful city that can be just as quiet and zen as it is loud and in-your-face.

Hopefully I can find that place right now, as I jump around in the pleasant chaos of this so-called summer “vacation.”

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Filed under A Moment In..., Asia, Japan, Life Stuff, Travel, Winter

A Moment In… Dolores, Argentina

I have decided to begin a new TwT tradition/series called “A Moment In…”

When I get that sudden urge to fly away, and my soul feels slightly deprived of travel and suddenly inundated with wanderlust, I will satisfy it here by taking a random travel moment gone by and writing a short photo-heavy post about it. This will be a shared series, and I welcome any and all contributions. (Just email me if you want to share your own Moment In…)

To kick off this new TwT series, I invite you to take a moment and join me at an estancia in…

DOLORES, ARGENTINA.

The adorable little table and chairs on the front porch of Estancia Dos Talas where my friend Shannon and I spent the morning sipping coffee and eating magdalena cookies before going for a walk. Dolores, Argentina.

After spending a month in Buenos Aires, my friend Shannon and I craved the country. We decided to escape the city hustle and bustle for a day on an estancia, or “estate,” two/three hours away, called Estancia Dos Talas. Argentines head to estancias where they can settle in for a lengthy asado (the traditional Argentine “BBQ” with every type of meat you can imagine), glass after glass of Malbec, cabalgatas (a horseback stroll through the countryside), and, of course, a cappuccino and medialuna (the Argentine equivalent of a croissant, which is slightly smaller and sweetened by a touch of honey and absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious) in the afternoon. I hope the photos below capture some of the tranquility and beauty of a weekend escape to Dolores, Argentina, when summer is right on the brink of becoming fall…

Shannon approaches the Estancia. Dolores, Argentina.

The estancia's on-site chapel, built in honor of the daughter of the owners, who died in a car crash while visiting her favorite place in the world: Paris. Dolores, Argentina.

Horse. Estancia in Dolores, Argentina.

Trees. Dolores, Argentina.

Skeleton of a home. Dolores, Argentina.

Gaucho in the sunset. Dolores, Argentina.

Black bull on an estancia. Dolores, Argentina.

A night sky full of bats ("murcielagos"). Dolores, Argentina.

Music to get you through the post:

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Filed under A Moment In..., Argentina, Travel

Two Years of TwT

Two years. Two freakin’ years. Exactly one year ago today, I wrote this post: One Year of TwT. I was in Ecuador, unsure of (but excited about) everything, hurting from a couple of my most major heartbreaks, and trying to navigate my way through a dream job that didn’t necessarily answer my questions or quell my secret wish to be in healthcare. Two years of learning, of risk-taking, of leaps-of-faith, of putting myself out there (and yes, I’m a little sick of myself too, don’t worry). Travel writing was still a dream job in many ways, but one that I was realizing more and more may not have been my dream job, afterall.

Over 15,000 ft up, atop Ruminahui Peak with Cotopaxi Volcano and interns Allison (L) and Emily (R) in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador. October 2010.

When I started this blog, I felt wholeheartedly like travel writing was going to be my escape route from a life that was feeling a little too mediocre for me — maybe even not me at all. I needed za-za-zoo in every form. Travel became a passion to replace passion, and writing became the support that replaced support, but how could I say that even the two together were not enough? I had to dedicate myself entirely to one dream in order to know whether or not it was going to last.

Sometimes I can’t believe all that happened in the past year — coup attempts, the Galapagos Islands, the World Cup, Juan the Amoeba (grr!), quitting my job in Ecuador, moving back to NYC, applying to post-baccs, switching careers – first, in theory then it actuality, going back to school, and all the people in between. To think that I have even the slightest chance of capturing all this in book-form (pray to the publishing gods, please) is unreal, unbelievable, and yet it makes absolute sense to me right now. But, the important thing is: I lived a dream. No other way of saying it. And yes, the dream turned out to be imperfect, but it came true. (I just happen to have more dreams!)

View from the Cathedral overlooking Old Town Quito, and clouds. Summer 2010.

I am writing from the other side of my first college course since…err…college. I did it.

Yes, I learned a lot very quickly, I made new friends, and I even managed to submit my final sample chapter to my literary agent (double YAY), but the work is only intensifying right now. The hunt for an editor/publisher begins (anyone out there?! haha. OK sorry, had to.). Two days into my second semester-condensed-into-six-week course — Statistics — I am realizing that this is going to be even tougher and more time-consuming than the first course. I’ve even gotten to use a calculator for the first time in ten years (and I figured out, all by myself, how to calculate standard deviations with it). While Developmental Psychology may have wiped the dust from my brain, Statistics will hopefully grease the wheels.

You’d think, logistically, that it might get easier every class… But no. While yes, there are correlations (see, I’m already talking like I understand statistics) between Developmental Psychology and Statistics, these seem to be two very different beasts for my brain right now. And then, come fall, I will be doubling up with Chem I and Bio I (plus labs, obvi), a workload that promises to be, um, challenging for a girl who hasn’t thought about either subject in 12 years (to say the least).

Leaves in the cloud forest. Mindo, Ecuador. Summer 2010.

Meanwhile, summer keeps on glowing. I’ve spent weekends by the pool upstate, as planned, and weeknight with the occasional glass (or maybe shared bottle) of wine (but, really, mostly doing homework or studying for exams, which I will have every Monday for the next six weeks — OY).

Today, in a fruitless quest to find a dress for at least one of the four weddings I somehow plan to attend during the remainder of this summer (did I mention I’m also a maid of honor for my sister’s NOW LEGAL wedding in August!?), I tried on a way too short and tight sexy little thing because I couldn’t resist its sparkles. It was totally inappropriate. I’d be lying if I said that I am not still covered in glitter after taking it off. Only now, it feels celebratory and appropriate, like I’m my own TwT party’s confetti. But, the reality is, I’ve got to get to bed because I have my first Statistics lab in the morning.

Two years ago, I was in NYC starting this blog with a heavy heart and no clue where I was going with it. One year ago, I was in South America living a travel writing dream that made me wonder if it was enough. This year, the whole plan has shifted and I’m back in school doing pretty much the opposite. I promise I’m not insane — I’m just a very active participant in this life thing.

All of this began when I started TwT, unsure of all that would unravel in my life around it. Now, it continues with TwT. And, hopefully, all of you.

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Filed under Ecuador, Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel

That Summer Place

Summer has arrived. YAY YAY YAY. (If you haven’t picked up on this by now, I’m a major warm-weather girl.) But this year, I’m a student in the big city. I need your help getting to those special summer places we’ve all been before… The ones that give you chills of excitement during the winter, the ones for which we wait all year, the ones that come with dripping slices of watermelon and pink toenail polish — BBQs outside, humidity-heavy breezes, and road trips out of the city, the ones that are about to arrive because TODAY is the very first day of my favorite season… It’s sweet, sweet SUMMER TIME!!

View of Adirondack chair and pool at my parents' place upstate. Dutchess County, NY.

Last year I spent my summer in the perpetual spring of Quito, Ecuador. I was over 9,000 ft up in the stunning Andes mountains, but couldn’t stop dreaming about sea level. This year, I will fill my summer with as many weekends in Dutchess County by the pool as I can. Man, I love summer weekends.

No matter where future summers take me, the summers of my childhood can never be replaced. Back then, life was as simple as the crinkly grass under my feet. All I was looking for in my life was blue sea glass or an extra pretty shell. I spent each summer at a beach house on the North Shore of Greenport, LI called Rocky Bluff. My parents began renting the house with another couple before they even got married. We continued to spend our summers in Greenport until there were just too many Tavels to squeeze in the old cottage. Not to mention, rents skyrocketed as the nearby Hamptons became, well, THE Hamptons, but Greenport always remained a slice of Heaven; it had the happiness and peace of a still-undiscovered perfect place, far away from the swankiness of the it-town.

Summers revolved around life in the backyard eating corn on the cob with our neighbors, and playing imaginary games of shipwrecks with my then three siblings using the washed up driftwood, seaweed and garbage that covered the shore. Our backyard smelled constantly of ocean and honeysuckle, fruit was as ripe and fresh as I’ve ever tasted it, and we’d eat only vegetables from our overly successful garden, which we tended to daily with the help of my once organic-farmer dad and our neighbor Byron, who looked like Elvis Presley. Oh, and the fresh fruit pies from Briermere Farms – the best, freshest pies in the world. How could I ever forget the pies?!

This summer, I’m obviously doing the whole student-thing (and they weren’t kidding: it’s hard work!). I’m also writing, and working on a book dream. But no complaints! Things are off to a wonderful start. I’ve got some really good new people in the picture and great old ones, too. I’m doing my best to balance everything (school, writing, pressures of academia, friends, special friends…) with summer’s sweet charm, but  things are inevitably going to spin off-balance here and there, and that’s ok. I just hope I can get some “summer” out of this summer, while working my butt off.

Wave. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

As we all know, I’m staying put for a bit. (Read: a “bit” — this is deliberately vague, as we never really know where life will take us next. Can I please still believe in that a little?) I’ve begun wanderlust-ing for Thailand pretty hardcore. Not to mention the constant yearning to stroll beside the Alhambra with the sweet citrus scent of orange trees and ham in Southern Spain, or even the simple and constant desire to be by the sea, near wild blueberries, somewhere far away from the city…

But summer as a student in the city is different. And mine needs your help.

Because I cannot travel right now, I would like everyone to contribute — as a comment — a few sentences about their favorite summer place (how does it feel, smell, sound, and taste? where is it? why there?).  What is your ideal summer setting? Let’s all sip a sangria (or iced coffee, depending on time of day people!) while we read, and let real life and it’s imperfectly busy moments wash away with our footprints in the sand, at least for a few shared moments on TwT…

Take us to your summer place, wherever it may be, and feel free to recommend exact hotels, beaches, B&Bs, or whatever…

Now, about that sangria… I’ve gotta make some. And soon.

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Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized