The Right to Wed

As same-sex couples’ “right to wed” goes before the Supreme Court, I feel compelled to re-share the story of my sister’s wedding. Please read it, and share it: Two Brides, One Dress: The Story About Something Blue.

Because sometimes one dress just fits. And sometimes, two do.

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Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

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Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Science and Shoes

It was the fall after I graduated college, and I was feeling lost in a corporate dream job that, rather than inspiring me, made me question myself and what I wanted. I tried to wear the pencil skirts and the pretty shoes that all the stylish women wore around me. I tried to play the part of the working twenty-something in the sexy NYC publishing job because, for many reasons, I actually thought I belonged there, in that role, in that chair, in that office, in that skirt… But the shoes felt awkward and, while I did feel sexy in my carefully selected business-casual ensembles, sitting at my desk made me feel like an extra in a mediocre movie. As grateful as I was to be there (and as cool as it often felt, don’t get me wrong!) I usually felt more lost in that chair than found. And I wasn’t the sort of girl who could stay sitting through that feeling.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Without telling anyone, I decided to attend an information session for a career I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t even know what schools offered the degree, so I googled “Top Physical Therapy Programs NYC” and ended up at the NYU Steinhardt School, listening intently as the Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum and the future of the evolving field were explained to me. After spending the previous few months heartbroken and confused, the two hours I spent in that information session brought clarity I hadn’t had in a long time. But when I walked out, things went back to fuzzy.

As reality would have it, I was as far away as anyone could be from “qualified” for the program I wanted to attend. I had 1 out of 12 of the pre-requisites required, I had not taken the GRE, and I had absolutely no experience in the field of physical therapy. My only explanation for how I had “suddenly” gotten interested in PT was receiving treatment for a crew-related back injury my senior spring. But I think I had always been interested in the field, I just didn’t know it existed.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

I walked out of that information session in 2005 excited, invigorated, hopeful and, yes, overwhelmed. Having to complete eleven pre-requisites, from Statistics to upper-level Biology courses, seemed like an impossible boulder I could not remove from my path (which was paved with Spanish, Art History, and Archaeology courses). I tried to talk myself out of the excitement I felt, and attempted to channel it into trips and adventures around the world. Science was like those fancy shoes I wore to work; it was uncomfortable, somewhat foreign, and even in my size I wasn’t sure it was the right fit.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Now, eight years later, I am about to walk back into that very same building where that information session took place. It is a crazy feeling to say that — eleven pre-requisites, 10 grad school applications, and many years later — I will be receiving my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from that very school. Eight freakin’ years, a few broken hearts, a couple trips to the hospital, 14 different countries, an almost book deal, a lot of soul-searching, and some serious soul-finding later, I am now on the other side — of a decade, of a chapter, of a journey of some sort… And I am so ready to walk back in there! It’s going to be another challenge-and-a-half, but if I’ve learned anything in these last eight years, it’s that I can handle it.

The only remaining question is: what shoes will I wear?

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, Mexico, Photography, Ruins, School, Travel, Uncategorized, wanderlust

At the Mouth of the Well of the Itza

We approached the ancient city, with colorful dresses, hammocks and masks being sold all around us. The heat of the morning was beginning to gain power, but the approach felt easy and short compared to the 3.5 hr bus-ride from Cancun. My mouth felt suddenly dry, and I instantly regretted not taking a water with me. Nevertheless, we knew that just beyond the trees, pyramids from the Mayan city of Chichen Itza waited patiently, as they had been doing for over a thousand years.

Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

It felt particularly relevant to visit Chichen Itza now, so soon after the world was predicted to end. The world, like the structures within this city, still stands strong — although perhaps both are less strong than when they were originally “created,” many footprints ago.

Chichen Itza (its name meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza [people]”) was a major religious center on the Yucatan Peninsula from about 600-900 AD. It is now considered one of the 7 Wonders of the World, along with Machu Picchu in Peru, Petra in Jordan, and the Taj Mahal in India, to name a few. The city itself covers about 2 square miles, and is comprised of several large structures, the most famous of which being El Castillo (the Temple of Kukulkan), and also: the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, and the Court of a Thousand Columns.

Ball Court. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Ball Court. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

We emerged from a long dirt pathway shaded by large leafy trees to find ourselves in a giant clearing, with the largest and most impressive structures of the city glaring straight ahead of us. When you first see the giant pyramid, it doesn’t feel totally real. Initially, it just looks impressive and grand, like you’re on the set of an Indiana Jones movie (I hate myself a little for degrading an ancient ruin with an American movie reference — gah, so typical). And then it sinks in: this impressive structure was built hundreds of years ago, by the small hands of an ancient culture that was eventually conquered in the 1530s by the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Montejo. Many people lived and died on this turf. And along with them, many traditions.

Relief sculpture along the Ball Court walls. Chichen Itza.

Relief sculpture along the Ball Court walls. Chichen Itza.

El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulkan, is named after the feathered serpent deity of the Mayan people. At 24 meters high, with 9 square terraces and 18 platforms, marking the 18 months in the Mayan calendar. There are a total of 365 steps, marking the 365 days of the year, and 52 panels, corresponding to the 52 years in the Mayan calendar cycle. (Unfortunately, access to the top of the pyramid was closed after a tourist fell to his death.) Chichen Itza is known for its many structural mysteries, some stemming from astrology and numbers. Among them is one that still draws thousands of people every year, when during the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow of a serpent slithering down the structure is formed to perfection. With the snake, Kukulkan, being a symbol of fertility pointed down at the earth, this effect is believed to suggest the fertilization and thus fruitfulness of the city. Like in Roman culture, the rulers of a city liked to boast. This was ancient advertising.

Serpent. Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza.

Serpent. Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza.

While the Temple of Kukulkan may be the first structure to draw one’s attention, it is the Great Ball Court that becomes the most relatable structure for tourists. Spanning 150 meters and flanked by the slanted relief sculptures of ball teams playing is a giant court where a ritual Mesoamerican game was played. Although the rules of the game are still not known for certain, it seems that players — wearing pads of some sort on their thighs and arms and possibly holding large sticks — fought to keep a 7 lb ball in play, hitting it around like racquetball or field hockey while trying to get the heavy ball through a relatively small hoop 8 meters above the ground. According to my tour guide, the game could last anywhere from hours to days, and ended with sacrificing the captain of the winning team (not very good incentive, if you ask me). There were two teams of 2 to 4 players. Headdresses, gloves, and even capes may have been worn during the games, which often ended in brutal injuries, both inflicted upon by the opposite team and by the solid, heavy ball itself.

King's throne over the ball court. Chichen Itza.

King’s throne over the ball court. Chichen Itza.

The king, sitting at a throne perched over one end of the ball court, would watch the honored players who had trained their whole lives to participate in this ceremonial sport. According to the Popol Vuh and sculptures lining the sides of the ball court, it is believed that the captain of the winning team would receive the honor of being decapitated by the king, thus allowing him a direct passage to heaven. There was even speculation that these heads would end up being used as the ball for future games. (Gotta love ancient cultures — so resourceful!)

Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza.

Temple of Kukulkan. Chichen Itza.

Despite the excitement about all the gore, one of the most interesting things about this ball court (and the rest of the Mayan city) is the acoustics. Someone whispering at one end of the ball court can be heard loud and clear by a person at the other end of the ball court, more than a football field apart. These acoustics were studied and later used in theater construction by Europeans. In addition, the mysterious “chirping” echo created by clapping at the base of El Castillo was believed to mimic the call of the Quetzal bird… But it is hard to know whether or not these things are just archaeological coincidences designed to get tourists really excited.

Ball court "hoop." Chichen Itza.

Ball court “hoop.” Chichen Itza.

When standing anywhere near the Temple of Kukulkan, the Temple of the Warriors cannot be ignored. The structure, surrounded by the Court of a Thousand Columns, houses Chac Mool (“Red Tiger”), who lies in an uncomfortable position at the top of the steps looking out over the rest of the city. His position allowed for offerings (this wouldn’t be a post about the Mayans if I didn’t acknowledge that many of these sacrifices were indeed human, echem), which were made in the flat section across his midsection. Relief sculptures of Toltec warriors surround the perpetually reclined Chac Mool. Feathered serpent heads with open jaws, and even elephant tusks emerge from the walls of the temple, which housed tombs in addition to being used for religious ceremonies. The many columns spanning out from beneath this structure were extremely simple in their structure, but allowed for a tented area that was used as a giant marketplace in the city. Yes, folks: Chichen Itza was quite the happening place to be at the time. It still is.

Chac Mool. Temple of the Warriors. Chichen Itza.

Chac Mool. Temple of the Warriors. Chichen Itza.

There is plenty more to say about the details in the architecture of this city, and about the history of the Mayan people, but that is for the historians and the archaeologists to tell you (I shall refrain from pretending I know more than I do). What I can say is that visiting Chichen Itza as an ex-Spanish and archaeology major just taking the opportunity to make a quick trip to Mexico before returning to pre0med class was — unlike being the winning captain of the ball team — well, super worth it.

Columns. Chichen Itza.

Columns. Chichen Itza.

In college, I was a humanities girl. I spent years looking at art and architecture from the stance of someone trying to interpret and understand another culture through symbolism and relics. Now, I am a science student, looking at an ancient culture and trying to understand what they knew about the world long before we ever thought we could. Chichen Itza is one of those places where art, architecture, history, science (in particular, biology and physics) converge. It is a beautiful, fascinating thing when — despite our thorough understanding of the world at many different levels — so much is still unknown.

I’m glad the world didn’t end — there is still too much left to learn.

Kukulkan sculptures. Chichen Itza.

Kukulkan sculptures. Chichen Itza.

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Filed under Archaeology, Mexico, Ruins, Travel, Uncategorized

Revisiting Mexico, Yucatan-Style

The week before I left, three heads had been found on one of the beach where I was planning to stay. A few weeks earlier, a Canadian tourist had been shot in the lobby of her hotel by the crossfire of gang-related violence. That was the last time I was in Mexico, in 2006. I was 22 and headed to Acapulco, where I would embark on my first assignment as a travel writer. It was the first time I would have to travel alone and I was nervous, but more excited than anything. A dream-job was coming true for me. At the time, nothing could have been better than that.

Chichen Itza. Mexico.

Chichen Itza. Mexico.

With absolutely no training whatsoever and one month to get the job done, I was going to have to pretend (pretty well, considering it would be published) that I was an expert on four different beach resort towns  —  their hotels, bars, restaurants, music scenes, art scenes, ecotourism options, gay scenes, weekend excursions, piña coladas (this part was particularly difficult), and the exhausting list of transportation options (to name a few categories). I had been to Ixtapa as a kid, which was partially how I got the job, but upon my arrival it became very clear very quickly that one week at a Club Med in fourth grade was probably not going to help me with this assignment. I was on my own — really on my own, for the first time — and it was as terrifying as it was thrilling. But so was being 22.

That was seven years ago. When I think back, I realize I wasn’t really alone on that trip: Mexico was with me. When you travel alone in another country, you meet a lot of people (many of whom you don’t want to meet, particularly if you’re a female traveling alone), but you also spend a lot of time hanging out with yourself.  At times, the only other companion you have is the country you’re in.

During that solo trip to Mexico in the summer of 2006, I felt like I bonded with Mexico in a way I hadn’t bonded with another country before. It was my silent friend throughout a month-long journey. It shook during a brief earthquake, letting me know we were both there together, and it warmed my back during long days strolling through markets and side-streets while sampling different ice cream shops.

During that trip, I explored my own character as much as I explored Mexico’s. I had to push myself to do things on a daily basis that felt totally uncomfortable, and I had to convince myself that I was an authority on so many subjects when I couldn’t have felt more like a freshly hatched chick in a foreign world. I grew up a lot during that trip around the state of Guerrero (now a major hot spot for drug war activity). I also formed a special connection with Mexico, the friend I spent every day with for four and a half weeks. When I left, I swore that someday I’d be back.

Making a hammock. Yucatan, Mexico.

Making a hammock. Yucatan, Mexico.

That “someday” was last week. A lot has changed for both me and Mexico, but one thing hasn’t: it’s still one of my favorite countries. Maybe it’s all the bonding time we’ve had together, but I find it misunderstood. When people think of traveling to Mexico these days, they immediately think “dangerous” and “drug wars.” Yes, these two things are a large piece of Mexico’s current reality, and you do have to be careful where you go and how adventurous you get. But — and this was my third trip to Mexico — I can honestly say that I never, at any point, felt unsafe or threatened by anyone around me. The Mexican culture, history, food and landscapes are really complex and beautiful beyond the surface. Granted, I spent most of this trip at a luxurious resort, but it is still worth mentioning that there are so many layers to Mexico worth exploring.

I am guilty of misunderstanding Cancun. It was my first time in the Yucatan region, and I was hesitant to head this direction. Considering it has some of the best deals right now, I would have been silly to ignore it as an option. I am glad I didn’t.

This time around, I was one of the “other” people — the vacationers, not the guidebook writer. I had every right to sit around and do nothing on the beach of a beautiful hotel that someone else had written about, but I tried to squeeze in some culture and history too. And this time around, my career has totally changed. I am now a few months away from beginning grad school to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. In some ways, I am unrecognizable. But what about Mexico? Who had Mexico become since we last explored each other?

Skulls. Chichen Itza burial site. Mexico.

Skulls. Chichen Itza burial site. Mexico.

Before I left, I imagined Cancun would be seedy, dirty, run-down, full of bars with names like Señor Frog’s and Coco-Bongo, and with drunk American tourists to match.  What I found was pristine, white sandy beaches with the most stunning gradient of blue water. Along with relatively responsibly-tipsy Americans, I encountered Brazilian, European and Mexican tourists lining the not-overly-crowded pool and beach areas, and gorgeous landscaping at every turn. It was clearly the off-season, and with much construction (brand new hotels and malls cropping up every 100 feet), I could see how crazy this island could get (did you know Cancun is an island?). But, thankfully, crazy wasn’t what I got during my trip. Words I’d use to describe Cancun based on my recent experience would be peaceful, beautiful, refreshing… and misunderstood, by me at least. Except for the unexpected cold rain during my first two days down there, I was happily surprised by most of it. Maybe Mexico was surprised with me this time around, too.

I’ll write more about my visit to Chichen Itza in a later post. For now, I just wanted to quickly tip my hat to the Mexico I revisited. On my trip home the other day, a song came on the radio. The song was one that played all the time when I was in Mexico seven years earlier, alone and uncertain but thrilled to be doing what I was doing. I was on an adventure, if nothing else. This time around, as I listened to the song, I couldn’t help but smile: There I was — the same me, on a completely different trip to Mexico, awash in another adventure, but so much has changed. So many lessons have been learned and so many trips have occurred in-between. I couldn’t help but think about everything that had happened between that song then and that song now, like two book ends neatly holding together a collection of very different stories.

Ocean blues. Cancun, Mexico.

Ocean blues. Cancun, Mexico.

When the song ended, a new one came on. It had no direct association to a memory of any kind, so I just listened. While the nostalgia from the previous song retreated into my mind like a giant, swirling wave, it left behind some fresh, untouched sand. I thought about switching stations, but instead I just let the new song play. As I listened, the first few footprints were made in the freshly cleared sand.

I smiled to myself as I sat alone, with a crisp new tan already beginning to fade, feeling anything but alone this time around.

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Tourist in my Hometown

New York City can be a lot of things — cold, frustrating, exhausting, lonely, grey — but it never gets old, even to a native New Yorker. After spending decades living in Manhattan, a visit to my hometown can still feel exciting, invigorating, new, and perhaps above all, inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, during an unusually long break between classes, I have had the opportunity to explore my hometown in a new way. This time, I have been the visitor (complete with having to crash in other people’s apartments due to a renovation project at my parents’ place), and in many ways, I have felt like a tourist. When new opportunities enter your life in an old city, things get shaken up — it’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.

This shaken-up (not stirred) version of NYC that I am seeing is particularly well-timed, as I am pretty sure that I will be returning to Manhattan for graduate school this summer. I have mixed feelings about going home. As is usually the case, there are pros and cons to this move (I am really enjoying life in Boston! Maybe I’ll be back some day…). But, in the end, after evaluating the logistics and the life goals, attending this particular program in New York just feels like the right decision. All we can do is make “right” decisions to the best of our ability as we go, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually, you just have to make them turn into right decisions.

While I want to list all the awesome new places I got to explore (including a bar built into an old NYC carriage house where I sampled the best Manhattan I have ever had — when in Rome, right?), and the cool things I have been doing during my visit (listening to The Moth storytelling in Williamsburg, and attending a five-course chef tastings in Soho, to name a couple highlights), I thought I’d just share a few images of NYC from my trip. Over the last few weeks, this uptown girl spent a lot of time in a downtown world, complete with multiple walks around the WTC site, sky-high views of the entire city, and an early morning stroll by the Hudson River, with the pink of a new day bouncing off a surprisingly pretty NJ backdrop.

My relationship with New York City has been long, and it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like we are now moving into a new phase of life together; we’ve both grown up a lot, survived our own trials and tribulations, weathered our own storms, and risen up from the wreckage of lessons-learned. NYC is an old friend — one I know so well that it sometimes frustrates me, but one that also knows exactly how to make me smile when I need it. And no matter how many times I go to New York, or how many years I live there, it still manages to take my breath away. So NYC, I guess you could say we’re still going strong. This post is for you.

Upper West Side Street

Upper West Side Street

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Photography, Uncategorized, Winter

2013 Travel Wish Lists

The best-case scenario when writing a Travel Wish List is to already be checking off one of the destinations. For the first time in a couple years, I can say that this is exactly what I am doing right now! But my list is long, and the more places I check off, the more I seem to add. Such is the nature of wanderlust. To use a biological term, wanderlust is a positive feedback loop: the more I satisfy it, the more wanderlust I produce. It is this insatiable hunger to explore the world that keeps TwT going, so let’s dive right in and see where we’re all trying to go (at least geographically) this year…

Today, I am asking you to share your 2013 Travel Wish Lists. Please list, as a comment, up to 5 of your top destinations this year. Or, if you want, you can say where you went in 2012 and what was your favorite place.

Love in the snow. NY, NY.

Love in the snow. NY, NY.

Just to get everyone warmed up, I will begin:

1. MEXICO. Yes, I have been to Mexico before. In fact, the last time I was there, I spent a month traveling alone around the Pacific Coast as a co-author for a Frommer’s travel guidebook (which makes me feel pretty cool to say — did that really happen?! Check THIS out for proof – bam!). But life was so different then. Mexico was so different then. Needless to say, it’s time to go back. You’ll hear more about it all when I return… (YAY YAY YAY)

2. MOROCCO. This country never seems to leave my list, regrettably, because I haven’t gone yet. What’s a girl gotta do to get to Fez, Casablanca, and Marrakesh?! Every time I see photographs of Morocco, my heart skips a beat and my mouth starts watering. (This is a normal response, right?) Although it might be a wait, I already know this wait will be worth it.

3. NICARAGUA. More rugged than Costa Rica and less put-together and idyllic than many of its fellow Central American countries, Nicaragua is one of those up-and-coming travel destinations that is starting to enter the conversation just after everyone concludes that they’ve already been to Mexico, Costa Rica, and maybe Belize or Guatemala. For example: “blah blah blah…Where can we go that is not too expensive but feels exotic?… [looking at a map]… What about Nicaragua?…[ambiguous silence]… Are people going there these days?” Yes. Yes, they are. You just haven’t heard about those trips… YET.

4. COLOMBIA. Two of my friends from Ecuador recently did a trip to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and the pictures were so beautiful that it physically hurt my heart. I felt immediate guilt for not taking that trip I ALMOST took when I moved home from Ecuador [my advice: don’t let yourself live with “trips you almost took” — GO every chance you get]. Google “Tayrona” or “Taganga” to find yourself in the same, painful predicament as me. Colombia is super hot right now (like, hip/popular/cool/trendy), but I’ll take it even when it gets lukewarm. I might even prefer it that way.

5. TANZANIA. I remember being in the third grade and hearing the word “Tanzania” for the first time. Even just the sound of it made me curious… My teacher talked about Tanzania with such passion. She showed us images of its people, its animals, its landscapes, and I think that might have been when and where all my wanderlust began. Since the third grade, I have been saying that I want to go to Tanzania. How and why is it that I am STILL saying this?! Tanzania — you and I will meet some day. And when that day comes, there will be fireworks between us. I can already tell. Be ready.

GREAT. There’s my list. Now it’s YOUR turn!! Cheers to at least some of these travel dreams coming true this year. Happy 2013, everyone!

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