Posts Tagged ‘travel’

LOOT! The extreme smörgåsbord brought to me by my father on his current visit. An odd variety of smoked salmon, gourmet pancake & scone mixes, and a "limited edition" Christmas pudding from Harrod's, made with vintage Port and contained in a velvet box - it cost more than many of my monthly bills

Today, the last day of 2011, is a Saturday.  What a year.  I’ve not blogged in a while, as has been the recent trend, not that I’ve not been collecting material.  So, it’s a great time to share a review of recent, and not so recent events, as some of them are quite awesome.  As for the year to come?  Well… that’s for another post, but I suspect I’ll be reading more classic literature, traveling more, and studying for a wine certification…I hope.  Enjoy the photos!

March - June: Alkalai Wine Bar, I lived in Bourgogne-wine-land every day

WINE: I transformed my career, somehow, with luck, with some concrete planning, with hard work. I went from an online marketing/editing/PR drifter and hopeless fiction writer, who worked part-time doing wine tastings, to a wine bar sommelier and cook, to an invitee representing the winery in a French exhibition, to a full-fledged winery employee.  I’m proud of myself for going for something I wanted and succeeding.  You never know what was entirely based on chance, but I know that whatever had happened, I would be working full-time in wine at this moment, whether at the winery or a restaurant or a hotel.  I learned how to leave a job I hated, work hard, ask for help (which was not easy), and ask for what I wanted (which may have been even harder).  I love my new job.

Christmas Day: Katzrin, Israel. Visit to the winery. I'm pouring our Yarden Heights Wine 2009, a Gewurtztraminer ice-wine-style dessert wine. Yummy.

Christmas: Yonatan vineyard, Golan Heights. Organic Cabernet Sauv.

TRAVEL: Hmm… where did I go…  Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny (in Normandie), Chicago, Kauai… I changed planes in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – though those aren’t supposed to count… and that’s it.  Fantastic adventures…but not as far and wide a selection of places as in years past.  I was very privileged in these, however.  They really were incredible trips.  Wine, food, laughter, hard work, hard play, art, beautiful weather – always – and especially the interesting people that I traveled with and met along the way. (on an interesting side note – after having been featured on an American Travel Channel television show, I was recognized all over the world, by random people, some of who plotzed and took photos with me and my sister).

June: the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Incredible book reading, and I met and spoke with author Nathan Englander, who graciously signed my book, in Hebrew and English. Extraordinary last day in Paris

April & June, Tel Aviv & Bordeaux: OYSTERS! Huitres!

FOOD: I cooked less this year, but ate just as heartily.  Perhaps too heartily.  The most typical New Year’s resolution may be in order for me this year.  From scrummy wine bar fare like prosciutto & Parmesan, fatty French cheese platters, and freshly steamed Thai dumplings; to oysters, foie gras, chestnut creme crepes,  Armagnac ice cream, crisp lemon squid, a simple Chateaubriand steak I’ll remember for a long time, more hearty soups than I can remember, and much much more.

March: squashing tomatoes with my bare hands for shakshuka at the wine bar

KAYAKING: an odd adventure sport I picked up and stuck with.  I suppose I needed some more exotic expensive exercise-induced adrenaline in my life.  Begun as a crazy lark in Hawaii (the Na Pali coast is rated the #2 adventure to take part in by National Geographic), I was thrilled and proud I survived the craziness, I decided to roll with the momentum and immediately join a kayak club in Tel Aviv.  It’s been interesting, and terribly challenging.  It has added another dimension to this ever-changing life.  It has also added  painful dark bruises to my legs and arms every week, and taken a large chunk out of my paycheck for water-tight clothing.  Oh well.  Life.  Better to go for it than to sit on the sidelines.

August: Kauai, Hawaii - kayaking the Na Pali coast

December: Rosh HaNikra, Israel - border of Lebanon - inside the deep caves

December: my kayak club with the Israeli navy

AND let’s end the year with some videos!  Going along with the title of this post, Tom Lehrer wrote some excellent songs that still ring true today.  In honor of all of the revolutions this year, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. In remembering all of the precarious situations that remain, Iran, North Korea, the Euro-zone crisis, the upcoming American elections, the environment going to hell, flu, honeybees dying out, and Israel practically becoming a misogynist theocracy, and of course the future of my physical, mental, and especially social fitness.  Let us hope, but more importantly, let us work hard for a better year and a safer, happier world.  And here’s some laughs and satire for us all.

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Kauai’s NaPali Coast – no roads or inhabitants on the entire western third of the island – the rugged breathtaking region can only be viewed in its entirety from the ocean

I kayaked the entire Na Pali Coast – 18 miles of rough open ocean with no “bail out” spots.  After rafting the Colorado river, National Geographic ranked kayaking the NaPali the #2 adventure in America.  And I did it.  And I survived, rather, I thrived, with flying colors.

Now – I am not an adrenaline junkie.  I hate “adventure sports” for their own sake.  You will never find me attached to a bungee or a parachute.  Hiking is cool, even difficult hiking, but I won’t ever veer from the path.  So why oh why did I sign up for what seemed like a suicide mission?  I’m not quite sure.  It’s not like anyone helped me out psychologically there — everyone I spoke to said it was really difficult, an event that would push you to the limit, and one woman even compared it to childbirth.  So why, again, would I do this?

I kayaked from the end of the north road to the end of the south road. Yes, that's about a third of the entire island.

Stress.  Life.  Powerlessness.  Who knows.  The feeling that I was not actually relaxing and having a vacation (see previous post), combined with somehow wanting to prove something to myself – prove…what?  Prove…I don’t know…that I’m not a weakling, that I can deal with life, control my body, tackle seemingly huge and scary tasks…all of that.  And kayaking in the ocean takes all of that.  You cannot think or worry or stress out about anything else because you have to be right there and only there.  In fact, if your mind wanders, you can flip your kayak or crash into cliffs or both.

Of course, being on one of the most beautiful, unique islands in the world helps — nobody can see this beautiful coastline in its entirety — except on a kayak.  Even a motorboat isn’t enough – they cannot enter the caves and nooks and crannies or land on the tiny beaches that are only accessible to small small boats like kayaks.

Miloli‘i Beach - accessible only by water - a favorite spot for monk seals, which I saw from a distance

I wish I could report that I was scared.  Before or after.  Or during.  But I wasn’t.  I think beforehand I had resigned myself to the “fate” of it all — it would be hard or easy or somewhere in between…I would survive fine or I wouldn’t and it would be a disaster.  Whatever, it would be what it would be and there was no point in worrying about it.  What I didn’t expect was that it would be as fun and smooth and effortless as it was.  Well, not effortless – the paddling was brutal – but I didn’t tire out in the first hour like I thought I would.  In fact, I was among the best.  I was paired with another single woman (what they were thinking, I don’t know – the guide could have taken one of us, and there was a single guy, too — even out the men/women ratio — but no).  We had the most solid consistent rhythmic stroke of anyone.  We NEVER flipped over.  One friendly couple, who wasn’t even fighting, flipped over 7 times!  We almost always led the pack – next to the lead guide.  Crazy.  Every other kayak had a strong man in it, strong men with decent upper body strength — I was shocked myself at how good we were doing — I had expected to be the trailing kayak who needed help flipping over every few minutes.

In any case – I have never felt my body so entirely.  It was like a full day’s meditation.  18 miles is no small feat – whether you’re walking or running or swimming or whatever.  My arms did a lot of that work.  The ocean, the cliffs, the caves, the sky, all so beautiful.  We also saw a group of small dolphins close up (I believe they were called bottle dolphins).    And talk about beating the stress out of yourself physically — there is nothing like such an intense challenge to shove all of the “everyday life” out of you.  Perspective.  I’ll be remembering this for a long, long time.

All in all – if you’re even on Kauai and you’re not a 90 pound weakling, I would highly recommend kayaking the coast.  You can only do this in the summer, though, and I wouldn’t recommend it to people with bad motion sickness issues (I usually do, but I took some new pills the night before and morning of, and had no trouble – the ginger I took with me also helped).  That said, this isn’t an airplane or a sheer drop into a valley.  People have been traveling the world in small vessels since prehistoric times.  It’s how we got to where we got.  Ancient Hawaiians lived on these remote cliffs and valleys.  It’s only natural we see these places in the way they would have.


The forbidden island Niʻihau seen in the distance

The kayak company I chose was Kayak Kauai — nicer more professional folks I’ve not met in ages.

The Na Pali National Park website — for permits on camping and hiking, as well as kayaking info.

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I am absolutely fascinated by Rolf Potts.  He is traveling the world with no luggage at all.  Everything he is carrying is on his person, in a vest and cargo trousers.  He calls it “The No Baggage Challenge.” Check this out:

Here is his route, and also the rules he is going to live by on this 42-day 12-country tour.

I’m posting this A) because it’s totally awesome; B) because I adore travel; and C) I have realistic aspirations of doing something similar, albeit different (I know that makes no sense).  I’ve done lots of research on “round-the-world” trips.  Dozens of countries, varying routes, varying modes of transportation to get to it all.  When I was 20, I challenged myself to make it across Europe and finish in Israel without leaving the ground…or water, I should say.  And I did it.  Buses, ferries, trains, an occasional taxi, and my good old two feet helped me accomplish this.  Now I’d like to see if I can do it on foot.  I’d also like to broaden my scope and do a world tour without any money (or a very set specific budget, with rules, ala Mr Potts).

Here is my fascinating discovery week:

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Working my way around the world and getting free room and board by gardening, plowing, cooking, cleaning, milking, teaching, etc, etc, etc… sounds absolutely amazing.  Now that’s an idea for a challenge, a blog, a book (although I’m pretty sure it’s been done).  1 year, dozens of countries, set max budget, and an incredible way to learn about and teach people worldwide about organic agriculture, its history, cultural differences, and future.  From the ground.

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Eating in America (continued) — Budget Vegetarian Dining Adventures

New York cuisine proved to be far more interesting than Chicago’s, although I am certain this isn’t at all a rule.  This is probably because I saw more friends, ate less at my sister’s place, and was generally “on vacation.”  Here are the places, some exceptional, some pretty mediocre, that I patronized.

  • Popover Cafe

    Popover Café – typical yuppie breakfast place with a specialty in super-inflated-fluffy popover buns (if you can call them that).  We got in early-ish (before 10:30) and didn’t have to wait for a table.  Lots of interesting egg dishes.  Funny rule in NYC – no alcohol served before 12 noon on Sundays.  I really wanted my bloody mary or mimosa.  I really did.  Finally stateside in a proper decent breakfast place, and no booze to take the edge off the weekend.  Goodness.  I made up for it that night, though.

  • Landmarc.  Ick. Ick.  Overpriced ick.  Besides a salad or something, close to no veg options of interest on the menu.  There are daily pasta specials, and one was agreed to be made for me sans meet.  The waitress went on and on about how todays risotto was great.  And I love risotto.  Better than fetuccini  alfredo any day as a veg option.  And you know what I got?  Pretty much fettuccini Alfredo.  No risotto.  We were in a hurry and I was really hungry.  I didn’t say anything.  So I’m saying something now.  First of all, if you’re a tourist in NYC – don’t go to TriBeCa besides the World Trade Center site.  Seriously, there’s nothing to see.  I really don’t want to put people down, but only wealthy artists and yuppies live seem to live there.  It’s not too pretty either.  Second, if you live there or are visiting someone who lives there, I wouldn’t go to this restaurant, especially if you don’t eat meat.  There’s a perfectly charming bakery down the block on Duane.  They’re way famous and overpriced, too, but at least you can’t mess up a cupcake or croissant too badly, and their mint tea really hit the spot when I was stuck in a huge downpour.  Just don’t eat in TriBeCa unless you do your homework.  Ugh.  At least the wine was good, and they had plenty of half-bottles.  Getting pleasantly sloshed took some of the frustration off of the crappy pasta.
  • Better Being Underground – yes that’s the name – awesomeness in a paper bag.  Tzaziki egg salad sandwich.  Incredible gourmet soup with pears and I can’t remember what else.  Not cheap but not expensive, given the amazing ingredients and speed.  It’s one of those sit-down-break-open-a-bottle-of-bubbly-just-because kind of lunches except it’s in a tiny basement without any seating and you grab what you want or wait a couple minutes while they make it for you.  Yes.  At least al fresco dining was to be had at a sweet little park across the street.
  • Food Exchange Café – At least it might be.  It could be the Oxford Café.  I can’t remember the name, so I’ve googled the entire (59th and Lexington) area, and these two seemed the likeliest candidate.  The only two options on the block, and both sound like delis.  Honestly I was only there for a few minutes.  I’m writing about it because it seemed like a typical office-worker-lunch.  Very NYC.  A hurried lunch if I’ve ever seen one.  A counter.  All the diverse, delicious sandwiches already made.  You point, they grill or not, according to what you want.  You pay somewhere else.  It comes out to you.  You stand and eat.  Or you go to a tiny park facing some giant bridge and noisy intersection on 59th.  It’s all good.  My three-cheese caprese was just that.  I miss Italy.
  • Pomme Café Astoria – it’s nice that people realize that they’ll get more business if their décor is just right.  It helps if it’s all in the right neighborhood.  And Astoria seems to be just that.  Really hip.  Lots of cool looking restaurants.  If not for the lack of high buildings and slightly shabbier look, it could be the Upper East Side, not Queens.  The food was very pretty on the plate.  My mushroom truffle risotto was perhaps the best thing I ate in NYC all week, miniscule as it was (as it should be, say I).  Again, yes, maybe I should give them a break because it is a French place, but there was nothing veg on the menu besides that risotto (an appetizer), the onion soup, and two salads.  And it was a beautiful authentic upscale French bistro menu.  Great, great, creamy, crisp crème brulee.  Just as it needed to be.  This place I would recommend.  Great drinks list.  I had Talisker and Johnny Walker Green.
  • Brooklyn Label Cafe

    Brooklyn Label Cafe – Organic tofu and cheese and potato scrambler.  Oh yeah.  My friend always gets the scrambled eggs that come with a huge side of roasted beets.  It’s delicious.  Lots of creative veg.  Lots of creative non veg.  It’s a rocking joint.  A raving recommendation from me.  It’s such a hipster spot.  Really warm and welcoming.  The food is just interesting, flavorful, and comforting.  Yay for Greenpoint!

  • Café Grumpy – Awesome green tea.  Great to work at.  Quiet.  Funky.  Yes, yes, yes.  I wish we had cafes like this in Israel.  Hip and quiet and tasty and so internet friendly you’d think it was the Skokie Public Library.  Gotta love Brooklyn!

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Philadelphia has a pretty awesome mayor named Nutter.  Nutty.

You know what’s really nütty? The Mütter Museum.

Not for the weak-stomached, this is honestly one of the most fascinating museums I have been to.  A collection of oddities like no other, the museum which is part of the Philadelphia College of Physicians began with a large donation of specimens by none other than Dr Mütter himself.  What used to be a great learning ground for would-be doctors, this 19th century fascination could today be viewed merely as a carnival freak show if it weren’t for the very thoughtful curation.

Eng and Chang

And a freak show it definitely starts out as.  You walk in and you’re immediately drawn to jar upon jar of diseased feet and hands and tongues and tumors in jars.  Then you see enlarged intestines the size of a boa constrictor.  More conjoined twins than you think are possible (most in fetus-form).  The actual post-mortem plaster cast of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, AND the liver that joined them together.  You see pocked syphilitic skulls.  You see John Wilkes Booth’s foot.  It just goes on and on and on.  Of particular interest to me:

  • Human leather.  You got it.  And this wasn’t actually an oddity of the era.  A 19th century fad, some people had the skins of their deceased loved ones tanned and then used the leather (most often) to bind books.  There was a book displayed, bound in human leather, that was actually an anatomy book!  There was an elegant human leather wallet.  At the end of the case was a long long strip of the leather, and when you looked closely, you could see it was a whole human leg.  Inscribed upon it was the name of the deceased, dates, etc.
  • Soap woman.  An odd phenomenon.  Natural human mummification that takes place in particularly humid climates.  There is a process by which we are broken down into a soap-related substance.  When this mummification takes places, it’s only partial.  It’s extremely rare that it’s complete.  And here was one full naturally-created mummy.  A woman.  Who when x-rayed was found to be around 40, had a congenital childhood disease, had a broken jaw (took place shortly before or after death), and had two four-holed buttons at her wrists.
  • Hundreds of skulls, categorized by country, gender, age, and cause of death.  Amazing!  The more I looked at them, the more differences I started seeing.  When you look at bones, you think, heck, they’re just bones, white, pretty much the same.  But these skulls.  The eye sockets are shaped and angled differently.  Eyebrow ridges are different sizes and angles.  The “faces” even have expressions.  They started resembling Commedia del’Arte masks.  Seriously
  • Heart of Gold

    The gift shop.  No kidding.  This has got to be to coolest museum gift shop ever.  You can buy stuffed plush anatomically-correct hearts.  There are soaps and candles in the shapes of skulls and hearts.  There is even a soap, clear glycerin, with tiny little conjoined-twin-fetuses inside it.  Ewww!  I bought a key chain shaped like a nose, and when you squeeze it, snot bubbles out of it!  I also got a magnet set that looks like a paper doll dress-up game – except it’s of all the organs, and they’re very real-looking.  Amazing stuff.  Fine jewelry – little gold (real) hearts.  Fine hand-made (real teeth-mark) patterned ceramics.  Go visit.

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The Mad Dash

Whoever thinks life is more exciting and glamorous in the movies doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yesterday, I woke up less than two hours before my international flight.  That’s right.  Re-enacting the Home Alone racing scene was no picnic.  The frantic getting dressed picking up the first clothing I found on the floor, the not peeing, brushing teeth, or washing face, the frantic taxi ride screaming at the driver that I’d pay whatever fine he got if he was ticketed.  The stupid Israelis (I know, I know, I shouldn’t go there) who wouldn’t let me go in front of them and thus I was the last person to check in on the flight.  God!!! The running through the airport.  The catching myself in the mirror and nearly losing it.  Especially the, “I know I forgot something…” feeling that consumed me for hours…

Other joys along the way from Tel Aviv to Chicago:

  • Sitting next to a weird know-it-all with a world clock as a watch who when I asked what time is it when we landed said it was impossible it was 12:45 exactly in Frankfurt – that with the rotation of the planet no time zone was actually one hour different from the previous – and that his watch indicated it was 12: 17.  When I pointed out that I didn’t care what the actual scientific non-daylight-savings, non-regulated-by-time-zones time was, he got huffy.

Being targeted for random special treatment in Frankfurt, aka getting my bags ripped apart by complacent airport staff. Thanks.

  • After repacking and composing myself, same airport security staff seek me out again (while I was in duty free buying a snack), asked me if I spoke Hebrew (um, sh*t, yes…), and told me to come with them.  As it happens there was an Israeli woman who spoke not one word of English or any other language besides Hebrew.  She was tres young (20), religious, scared, recently married, and pregnant.  I was asked to translate everything, including figuring out an embarrassing episode involving her trying to sneak some sort of specialized religious ink on board (they wouldn’t allow it), and forced her to check it (in a tiny woman’s black leather clutch purse), sealing it shut with a mile of tape. 20 minutes of this. I was not compensated for my trouble. Can we say upgrade? Miles? A smile? Kindness, even…?

No. This was the most terrible international flight of my life, courtesy of the bitchiest flight attendants known to man.  I don’t want to sound ageist but, hell, these women were more than 60 years old, fat, tired, grumpy, and they treated us all like mean 4th grade teachers.  I’m not kidding.  They were literally seconds from retirement, and they didn’t care how much it showed.  I was embarrassed for the airline.  AMERICAN AIRLINES, if you must know.  My seatmate was appalled, as she thought American customer service was a matter of pride to us.  So has the world changed.  One lady in particular repeatedly scolded us for the armrest sticking out and bumping her cart, shot us dirty looks, was huffy when I hesitated with my drink choice, and at the very end when I was helping said prepubescent pregnant religious girl with her customs and homeland security forms, actually yelled at us to get in our seats, that we “should have thought about that earlier, now it’s too late.”  Thanks American.

Colon Cancer Cell - the kind she studies

  • Must mention my lovely seatmate. Match made in airline seat assignment heaven. We talked for much of the 9 hours. A brilliant young scientist attending the American Association of Clinical Oncology conference being held this weekend in Chicago.  She will make waves in this field.  We talked about everything, including her cancer research and my writing and relationships and the world and travel, and goodness I’ll regret it if I won’t see her again in my lifetime.  Which isn’t likely as we’re planning on having drinks on Monday.

The famous four in Memphis, December 1956

Upon disembarking, I hit my shin somehow on a seat corner or door edge.  It started swelling so quickly, it felt the size of a golf ball protruding from my leg in under 30 seconds.  Deep Vein Thrombosis flashed across my mind and as idiotic as it was, I spent the next half hour waiting for passport check in an utterly paranoid state, wondering what to do about the throbbing and whether or not it was going to kill me.  Right.

  • My parents met me at the airport (pleasant), got me ice for my leg at McDonald’s (thankfully), whisked me away downtown to a musical called The Million Dollar Quartet, a show that is spun around a real-life evening where Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all played together at Sun Studios, and which my dad swears is going to win the Tony. Despite exhaustion being what it is, the show was very entertaining, and by the time we got him, it was almost 24 hours since I began the ill-fated journey. Or not so ill-fated.

Now I’m just overwhelmed, tired, over-worked (time always ticks everywhere in the world and clients always email).  It’s good.  Work is good.  My head is just spinning more than I’d like.  And I’m still thinking, “what did I forget…I must have forgotten something….”  But the house I grew up in is here.  Huge, full of tchochkes, bursting with food (weird as it is – my mother offered me vacuum sealed guacamole from costco this morning, alongside a selection of 5 cheeses, a defrosted cake-loaf of some sort, and commercial “fresh” squeezed carrot juice that they buy every week).

Can’t help thinking of home, my sister, the cats, the beer olympics I missed last night, the birthdays I’ll be missing, my dear sweet friends who came over to see me off the other night.  No, no.  Let’s get this visit started.

Funnies for you:

Not Always Right: a website about crazy customers, recommended to me by my seatmate. Hilarious!

Home Alone in Hindi! Yes, that’s right. You don’t need to see the whole thing. When I was searching for the airport racing scene, this was the first one to pop up several times.

Who you gonna call? Check out Improv Everywhere’s latest mission.

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