Archive for the ‘Ra Travel’Category

Berlin & Copenhagen

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Some places just feel like home from the very first moment. Some places feel familiar and comforting and put you at immediate ease. Growing up in a home that was part Jewish I never thought about Germany in that way, the history and stories that filled so much of our culture made it seem possibly foreboding and threatening. I did of course despite that partly Jewish home also go to a grammar school firmly rooted in an old German foundation with its very German philosophies (my mother was nothing less then a contradiction in every sense – it was her choice to send me to the school and when I would diligently practice the required German she would look at me and say don’t speak German in this house). At school we learned German songs, we studied the very rich and diverse history of that part of the world, we celebrated holidays in a very German fashion with Christmas markets and advent circles, with May days and a Maypole, with special and magical visits from Saint Nicholas who left our shoes filled with oranges and small gifts.

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Years ago when I first arrived in Berlin I felt it, immediately that same feeling wash over me of returning home, of being surrounded by the familiar, and put at ease at how much things made sense to me there. I always attribute it to my education and the young formidable mind but I also know it might go deeper, it is the friends I have there, it is a place that reminds me of how I grew up and in an odd way Berlin echos San Francisco to me. But I think it is more,  I remember the first time I went to Germany with reservations it all felt so much – the history, the stories, the very real ghosts, but what I found was a city that doesn’t turn away from any of that but has folded it beautifully into itself. I am always moved at how Berlin a city once decimated has decided not to just rebuild but to honor that which was destroyed – building modern structures on the base of ancient and historic structures to become new and more beautiful, how they leave whispers of their history everywhere you turn as opposed to erasing and ignoring them. I love the way the past and present and future interweave. And as someone who is partly Jewish I feel more connected to my roots and the millions of stories irrevocably connected in and to this place.

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Last month I returned to Berlin for a weekend visit with friends. I love how when I arrive at Tegel I am always flooded with the same feeling of having returned to a place that I am happy to be reunited with. I spent my weekend with friends walking the streets, talking, laughing, and remembering how much I love this city. We ate home made soup followed by the remains of sparkling wine from a previous night, followed by coffee, followed by tea. We climbed bell towers and watched the sun set. I saw parts of the wall I never visited and thought about a history so complex it only seems harder to understand on each visit as my friends tell me stories of their childhoods and their families. On this trip I kept seeing and stumbling over the Stolperstein along the street that honor where victims of the Holocaust where last known to live or work. I can never return to Berlin without somehow feeling more then I did when I arrived.

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After my weekend in Berlin I traveled to meet my friend Gina in Copenhagen a city and country I have always wanted to visit. We spent the most wonderful few days walking the streets, taking boat rides along canals from Nyhavn. We saw the stature of the Little Mermaid that graced one of my childhood books and always captured my imagination. We went to Freetown Christiana and saw how a culture can live apart but within another.

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A few years ago my father and my god mother both recommended that I start to watch the Danish TV show Borgen and it quickly became one of my favorite TV shows. I loved the characters, I loved the way they dealt with issues like sexism and politics and the darkness in our world. The characters felt to me like fully complex friends who I both loved and respected but also could see some of their stumbling points. It was so wonderful to be in the city that plays such a large role in the show and walk the streets and see the sights from the show. One day to escape the rain we even went to Cafe Wilder from the show and enjoyed our Smorrebrod and sat until the rain had passed. It felt like living in the show I so admired.

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On our last day we ventured into the Danish countryside and took the train north to the town of Helsingør and the home of the castle that is supposedly the setting for the play Hamlet. It was amazing and changed how I thought about the play to walk the old wood rooms of the castle and look out to a gray sea under a cloudy sky. It changed how I read lines about the mists and will forever impact how I see and think of one of my favorite plays. While in the charming town of Helsingør we saw that Sweden and the town of Helsingborg was close, so close in fact a ferry went every hour. And in a truly spontaneous moment Gina and I decided to take the ferry and go to Helsingborg for a short visit and a coffee. It was incredible to see how close the two cities both are and how different.

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On our train ride back into Copenhagen we stopped at the amazing Louisiana Museum for one of the most amazing art experiences of my life. Set in a small Danish town and overlooking the sea and on a clear day with views to Sweden is a museum that truly must be seen and experienced in life. A sculpture garden outside so that each view from within and outside the museum feels perfectly curated and composed. Space to breath and take in the art and let the experience of art wash over and saturate you. We saw the brave exhibit by Marina Abramovic and the singular experience of standing within Kusama’s installation Gleaming Lights Of the Souls. It all felt like the most wonderful and rewarding experience.

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Some places immediately feel like home and others make you want to change how you see the world, they open your eyes and they touch your soul. It is never lost on me how fortunate I am to travel as extensively as I have in my life. It is a commitment I made to myself on a hilltop in Tuscany and it is one that has continued to be one of the most important things in my life. To continue to see the world (both near and far). To not be afraid of that which is different then me. To challenge my preconceived notions and be willing to learn from my experiences. To see that no one country or people has everything. The world is complex and diverse and as it may seem smaller it might be more important then ever to both move together to learn from other cultures while holding onto each individual cultures heritage, history, the stories, the perspectives. Travel opens my eyes to myself and to the world. It is the greatest gift I have ever been given and in large part is the gift I continue to give myself, and hope I always will.

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16

10 2017

Beauty All Around Me – Grand Canyon & Zion

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“ With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.”
~ Navajo Blessing

For all the many countries and parts of the world I have traveled to I have always been slightly remiss in not traveling around my own country of America. It was not for a lack of interest or curiosity but it always seemed so close and other places seemed so far and I figured someday I would get around to seeing my own back yard. I have driven cross country in a blurry rush just after 9/11 when planes were still grounded, I have seen cities from coast to coast and some in the great expanse of the center; but when my German or European friends would inquire about our countries wonders like the Grand Canyon or our National Parks I would have to humbly admit to never having been. That was of course until recently.

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I worked a job in Las Vegas last month and I had the idea to finally take the road trip to see the Grand Canyon, the trip happened to coincide with my father’s 70th birthday and I invited him to join me on the road trip. We decided to center our weekend trip around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and a trip to Zion National Park. For as many places as I have visited nothing could prepare me for the views of this weekend, for the enormity of vistas, for the wide land and majestic red monuments towering, the light and how it moved and changed and gave each view an entirely new appearance.

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We hiked along steep cliffs and over smooth and ancient red rock formations, we drove and sang to the radio, we learned more about Navajo culture and were reminded how rich and complicated (and often overlooked) our history in this country is. I was left speechless at the beauty all around me in Zion and felt inadequate in gratitude to nature and our National Parks. I promised myself I would return and that I would also try to explore more of the beautiful places (especially our other National Parks).

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I returned home to last week’s news out of Charlottesville and feel so sad that the news just seems to become more and more bleak if that could even be possible. Our country is large, it is diverse, it is beautiful, but it also holds a history that we need to address and admit to or we perpetuate it. We have some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen but we risk losing it because we have learned to not look at it, or appreciate it, or recognize how important it is. We walk in beauty all around us but we threaten to destroy it ourselves. We must look and see the beauty that is around us and work to preserve it, but we must also call out and protest that which is not our proudest moments (both in history and today) and work to recognize and rectify the wrongs.

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I discovered walking beneath the red caverns of Zion and viewing the wild deer and goats that I need not travel so far from home to view beauty and wonder (although I will continue to travel as far as I can) because there is beauty before me, behind me, above me, below me, and all around me.

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18

08 2017

Magical Cartagena For Christmas

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For the second year in a row my sister and I traveled south of the border for Christmas and spent the holidays together overseas, this year we ventured to Cartagena Colombia for a week. We wandered and wondered our way through the dreamlike and beautiful colonial streets of the old walled city, we swam in turquoise waters, we basked in the magic of a city I have always dreamed of visiting.

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Our holiday excursions have become a new and memorable way to celebrate the holidays together all while deeply imbued with the memory of our mother. Christmas growing up was a special holiday in our house with dozens and dozens of guests, with pots of coffee, eggs, bagels, and more cookies then one could possibly eat, at the holiday’s very beating center was our mother in her slippers and her generous smile. To say the least a traditional Christmas together has seemed hard to contemplate these last 7 years but the last 2 years being together in a warm and foreign destination has felt like the best way to make a tradition of our own or at the very least a stepping stone from one deep tradition to the next. And to say our mother’s memory is with us is an understatement, especially in Cartagena we both kept saying to each other “mom would love this!” We could see our mom sitting with us in the cool shade of Plaza de Bolívar, we could hear her exclaim how beautiful the colorful houses with draping bougainvillea are, and we could feel her smile as we soaked in the hot sun.

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Cartagena is called the crown jewel of the caribbean and for good reason the stunning colors of the houses, the cobblestone streets that wind and keep you gasping at the beauty around each corner, the hot air that is refreshingly cooled by sea breezes. We spent our first day getting lost along the streets and wandering from Plaza to Plaza eating Paletas and then walking along the old wall that stretches between the old city and the ocean. We soaked in our small rooftop pool and ate fish and coconut rice as we sipped coconut lemonades. For the record next summer I will be making coconut lemonades all summer because where has this been all of my life?!

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We spent the next few days on a small Island in the Rosario Islands about an hour boat ride from the city. We stayed at a wonderful small eco hotel that felt more like staying with the most gracious hosts in their home. We swam in turquoise waters right off of any number of docks, we kayaked amid different islands with the sun kissing our shoulders and the warm water gently rocking us, we napped and read in hammocks, and one night we even went swimming with bioluminescent plankton in an enchanted lagoon. The days were long and slow and beautifully rich in nature. We enjoyed one of our favorite nightly pass times watching sunsets with no distractions or rush.

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We came back to Cartagena in time for Christmas in the city with Zumba in Plaza de La Trinidad and a walking street food tour on our last day. Our days were filled walking from the Getsemaní district and looking at murals to the old town and back again. We spent our time wandering and taking pictures, sitting in Plazas and drinking fresh coconuts in front of brightly painted houses.

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But this would also only be part of the story. Travel is one of my favorite things but it is not always the easiest thing, I have suffered my share of traveler tummies and achy muscles from too much walking on trips from Vietnam to Spain and in between. But after a particularly harrowing boat trip back to Cartagena on Christmas eve I was struck with one of my worst illnesses yet. Between a brutal stomach bug and body that felt like it had been hurled across the ocean (my sister got off of the boat looking like she had taken a full shower in her clothes) we moved slowly stopping often to sit on benches and just look around us at the beauty while I caught my breath. I moved slowly but also saw how kindly my sister could take care of me.

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It would also be hard to ignore the greater context in which we took this trip as we approached a new year and one that seems rather strange at first glance. As I walked through the unfamiliar streets of a new country it was hard to not think about travel and what travel might be like in the new year. I have always considered myself first and foremost a citizen of the world and I understand that in 2017 how the world might see people from America may change. I have traveled to 31 countries, that number sounds hard to believe and truly fortunate; along those trips I have talked to people my own age in Cambodia about Pol Pot, in Panama about Noriega, I have talked to people my parents age in East Germany about living with half of their family on one side of the wall and the other half on the other side, I have talked about Snowden and the Holocaust with friends from Germany, France, and England, I have been humbled, enlightened and at times flat out yelled at because of where I am from. I have always learned from the exchange and it has always broadened my view and my understanding about my own country and the world.

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I thought a lot in Columbia about travel and what it means to me and what it might look like in the years ahead. I also thought a lot about how much travel gives me and about the exchanges it brings into a life. I thought about considering myself an ambassador for the United States that I believe in (if not the one in the news). An ambassador for an America that believes in acceptance, inclusion, hope, curiosity for other people and cultures, a country that is trying to move towards love and peace. Because at the end of the day wherever I travel that is the message I wish to carry with me and leave with the people I meet.

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Helpful Cartagena Travel Links:

Casa La Fe – Hotel

Les Lezards – B&B in Getsemaní

La Mulata – Restaurant

Demente – Restaurant

La Cevicheria – Restaurant

Cafe Del Mar – Drinks and Restaurant

La Paletteria – Palletas

 

05

01 2017

Seoul South Korea

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It has been five years since I went on the RAvolution, sometimes that seems hard to believe and other times that time feels very real. I went on the RAvolution in the depths of grief to find life again and something to look forward to and hope for. Sometimes I feel so different from the person who went on that journey, more settled while still less sure, more confident while understanding the value and need to be more vulnerable, less rocked by life’s swift changes and my resounding loss. I got a lot from that year – I learned to drive, ride a bike, I traveled and it very certainly saved my life, it brought me back to life. It gave me moments of pause in my pain, it brought me friends, and it brought me to places around the world.

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It has also been five years since I was last in Asia, that is of course until a few weeks again when I went to Seoul, South Korea. I loved being back in Asia, I loved the markets overflowing with people and things for sale including the bizarre face masks made with snail and collagen. I loved the dried and fresh fish in baskets by the road, and small stalls of food hot and steaming and demanding to be eaten as I walked.

 

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I loved the Bibimbap and BBQ – hot meat dipped in sauces and wrapped in lettuce. I loved the ancient palaces that seemed to go on for eternity each building leading to another and another, some meticulously painted on every inch and some stark white and wood.

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I loved the shrines and offerings in unexpected places. I loved the legends and history.

 

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I loved hiking through Namsan Park in the early morning up to the North Seoul Tower. I loved the K-pop and crowded streets and underground malls. I loved seeing the people in traditional dress taking pictures and walking around.

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I loved the way the subway made music when it arrived in the station. And the view of the mountains that surrounded the city and the way it would make me think of M*A*S*H and watching it as a kid at a friend’s house in Berkley. Life has taken me far from home and I have loved the journey.

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I had a wonderful time getting lost and wandering. I thought a lot about why I travel and why it’s such an important part of who I am.

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I travel to find myself again, and again. To reconnect. To see myself outside my life and to gain a vantage point on my life.

I travel to challenge myself – to find a way to survive in an unknown and new way. While being lost is frustrating when I make a train to a connecting train and can learn to navigate in a new place the feeling of accomplishment is so great.

 

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I travel to see life and the world with fresh and new eyes. I travel to try to understand this life and try to understand other peoples experiences in it.

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I travel because I am curious. Because I like eating different kinds of food and I want to try them in their native countries. Because I love art and history and stories and people.

I travel to gain perspective.

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I travel because there is nothing more breathtaking then walking down a street that looks like it could be familiar in my own city and turning a corner to see an epic and ancient palace that I could never have imagined.

I travel because life is fragile and fleeting and the moments I feel the most alive are when I am traveling. Because at the end of my life if what I have to look back on and replay our my experiences I will be happy to look back on my journeys.

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Traveling is certainly not for everyone but I found again in Seoul how deeply it is a part of me and how happy it makes me and how grateful I am for the places my life has taken me. I am happy to look back on my memories of Seoul and know the city has made an indelible mark on my life.

 

고맙습니다

 

Ramona

 

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31

03 2016

Mexico for the Holidays

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It’s freezing cold in New York and Sunday night we had our first dusting of snow this winter. But my mind is still somewhere far away on a white sand beach with palm trees gently swaying in the tropical breeze and a double rainbow after a brief late afternoon shower. To say the least I wish I were still in Mexico as I remember all of the wonderful moments my sister and I shared together over the holidays this year.

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We split our time in Mexico in half with the first part in Mexico City, the vibrant city at the country’s center. My sister had spent 5 weeks in Mexico this summer so she was my guide and translator (and she did an excellent job). We stayed centrally right off the Zócalo in the historic heart of the city. I arrived half a day before my sister and with my first afternoon I strolled the crowded central streets with vendors selling their goods, food being cooked on small carts by the side of the road and people everywhere eating, walking, shopping. The colorful streets made all the more colorful with the piñatas for Christmas strung everywhere you looked.

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One of my favorite parts of Mexico City was the layers, the ages built on top of one another all still visible in places. The Aztec ruins, the colonial churches, and the modern buildings all living and gently sloping and sinking together in a city that is so alive today you can feel the echoes of its history but also the pounding of its modern heart. I visited the Templo Mayor the incredible ruins built by the Aztecs in the 14th and 15th centuries.

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One of the main reasons I have always wanted to visit Mexico City was the Frida Kahlo museum. My sister had visited La Casa Azul this summer and had said we had to come together. At the fist look the vibrant colors of the walls and the sanctuary of the garden you feel transported back to the days when Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived here entertaining Trotsky and painting. The rooms and views out to the garden, especially where Frida painted and her bedroom with the bed from which she was confined and worked often in her life, feel like you are guests in the most intimate way. Her clothes, especially the braces she wore make her words “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” come to life in ways I never could have imagined.

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We visited Diego Rivera’s awe inspiring murals at the Palacio Nacional depicting Mexico’s history; I am still amazed at the size and scope of these works. We went to Christmas mass at Catedral Metropolitana.

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We strolled the streets and squares of Coyoacán and the Historic Center. We had unbelievable dinners in restaurants from 1912 and desserts at a sweet store from 1874, and on Christmas we had the best churros and hot chocolate of my life at Churreria El Moro that has been in business since 1935.

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I discovered that my friend Jenni was in Mexico City at the same time as us and we were lucky enough to meet up for one of the highlights of the trip and one of the most special and magical Christmas gifts. We spent Christmas night with Jenni walking and looking at the lights of the Zócalo. Watching an amazing light and projection show on the side of the cathedral; searching for Tequila, eating tacos and cerveza; talking about our dreams, our disappointments, our departed parents and life in the biggest and best ways!

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Our last day in Mexico City my sister and I took the subway and a small train out to Xochimilco and the canals and semi floating gardens and the colorful trajineras (gondolas). Slowly we were punted along the network of canals with gardens and the occasional house along the shores. Other trajineras would glide past us with an occasional mariachi or vendor selling flowers or preparing and selling food. Time was slow and peaceful. It was a perfect close to our Mexico City experience.

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The second half of our trip was spent on a small island in the Caribbean called Isla Mujeres. Our hotel was on a rocky beach but with perfect ocean views and morning sunrises. It even included free yoga twice a week (which I promptly took advantage of). The center of town was a short cab ride away, or golf cart by way of hitch hiking (yep we hitch hiked a golf cart!) It had one main pedestrian street lined with restaurants and stores. The houses were colorful and the ocean air was everywhere.

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At the north end of the island is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches with perfect warm turquoise waters. We swam as pelicans dived for fish and landed feet away from us. We floated and soaked. We dug our feet into the soft white sand as the palm trees gently swayed.

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We took an exhilarating and hot bike ride to an ancient hacienda one day. My sister was very patient with me as a yelled and cursed a good portion of the way. The parts of the Island where I was not almost being hit by taxis, motorbikes, or the very present golf cart, there were moments with beautiful beach and tropical forest views. I almost ran over an iguana but all wildlife (including myself) lived to tell the tale.

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We read our books and played cards. Ate countless fish tacos and margaritas. We went to a beach bar with swings and let our feet stay in the sand. We had double rainbows and a beautiful last sunset.

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It felt like a perfect vacation to me! With someone I love, relaxed, eating, drinking, talking, swimming, seeing art, trying new things, returning to things deeply beloved. A perfect combination of adventure and rest all topped off with what I had hoped for some of the best meals I could ever imagine!

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Having grown up in a neighborhood heavily influenced by Mexican culture and people I felt instantaneously at home everywhere we went. But more then anything I felt a deeper respect, understanding, and admiration for things I have taken for granted my entire life. Everything in Mexico felt more rooted and grounded but reminiscent of my childhood. I left feeling more love both for where I was raised and for the deeper connection and roots that it has back to a country that is far richer more vibrant more diverse then I had ever known.

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Our favorite places to eat on this trip:

Cafe Popular in Mexico City – lived up to its name and was very popular on our trip.

Cafe Tacuba in Mexico City – with the best enchiladas!

Sanborns de los Azulejos in Mexico City

Churreria El Moro in Mexico City – for churros and hot chocolate that will blow you away!

La Torta Brava in Mexico City – had great tacos al pastor

Dulceria de Celaya in Mexico City – amazing sweets

Compadres on Isla Mujeres – this was our favorite place on Isla Mujeres! Great Fish Tacos

Gelateria FraSe on Isla Mujeres – our favorite dessert on Isla and for the record my sister wanted this more then the fish tacos!

Gracias y besos

Ramona y Camila

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Photo credits: Ramona Collier & Camila Martin

21

01 2016

Fall In Vermont & Almond & Syrup Thumb Print Cookies

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Having grown up in California the idea of moving to the East Coast and a place with history and four distinct seasons was always a dream. I loved the idea of cold and snowy winters (perhaps less now that I have lived through them as long as I have), the joyful bursting of green life in spring, the hot summers with smells of fresh cut grass, and the crisp autumn air and changing colors of the leaves.

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The other week I took a quick trip up to Vermont to meet friends – Anne, Beth, and Robert, on their trip through New England. Flying into Burlington the hills were a magnificent range of greens, yellows, reds, orange – a rolling cascade of color and texture.

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We took a boat ride on Lake Champlain, ate amazing food, drank amazing beers and apple ciders, ate more food with syrup, walked on colorful roads, went to a farm and watched as they made cheese, and went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory!! We soaked in all of the colors, we talked for hours, and I took great pleasure in the place and the people who shared it with me.

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As a souvenir of my time I took home some of Vermont’s famous maple syrup and the first chance I had I baked these insanely good and healthy cookies. Sweetened entirely by syrup the flavor of these cookies are sweet, rich with maple, and a perfect ode to fall.

Almond & Syrup Thumb Print Cookies (adapted from a recipe in My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow)

Ingredients:

2 cups whole spelt flour

1 ½ cups roasted and unsalted almonds crushed in a food processor

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup canola oil

½ cup real Vermont maple syrup

Your favorite jam (I used an apricot and blueberry, but raspberry has also made these cookies great).

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cookie sheet with wax paper.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until they are almost a flour consistency with some larger chunks for texture.

Combine all of the ingredients except the jam together in a large bowl. Form into tablespoonful balls and space them evenly on a cookie sheet. Using your index finger, make an indent in each cookie. Fill each indent with a small spoonful of jam. Bake until cookies are evenly browned, about 20 minutes.

Love,

Ra

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17

10 2015

New Orleans You Only Live Once

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Of the all of the places in my life that have lured me and captivated my mind many are from over sees – the lights of Paris, the temples and rice paddies of Bali – but one city in the US has stayed a fascination for me – New Orleans. I have always wanted to see the French Quarter, eat the Poor Boys, Dink the Hurricanes, hear the jazz, and catch the plastic Mardi Gras Beads. The moment I heard my work was going to New Orleans I was excited and knew I had to stay to see the city that has always called to me like Stanley Kowalski “Stella STELLA!!” in A Streetcar Named Desire.

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As luck would have it New Orleans has also been a city my father has always wanted to visit and my time was just right for him to come and meet me for a long weekend together. Nestled in the beautiful pre civil war home of some of our friends in the 7th ward just across the street from the French Quarter and the Treme district we were led through one of the most beautiful, eccentric, deeply felt weekend’s of my life.

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We were introduced to the city that is as complex as its history, as stunning as its glorious architecture, as unique as its distinctive food (yes more please!), as eccentric as its cemeteries and voodoo temples, as singular as no other city I have ever experienced! We walked the many winding streets of the French Quarter – Royal, Ursulines, Dumaine, Esplanade Ave, Elysian Fields marveling at all of the stunning colorful houses and the iron balconies. We stood below the house were Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire one of the most influential plays in my teenage life and still one of my favorite play writes to this day.

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We wandered St Louis Cemetery No. 1 and saw voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s tomb xxx, and St. Roch Cemetery No. 1 with the macabre offerings for miracles performed of prosthetic limbs and the muddy water line showing how high the water rose after Katrina. We marched along side the Mardi Gras Indians as part of a traditional Second Line Parade for the funeral of Big Chief Bo Dollis.

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We danced to the music along Frenchman Street – brass bands, jazz, and the legendary Walter “Wolfman” Washington. In the city that gave birth to jazz and rock and roll, from the beating drums of Congo Square to J&M Recording Studio where the first rock ‘n’ roll hits were recorded there is no end to the musical legacy past and present in the streets and along the corners.

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We took the street car through the Garden District and walked in Audubon and City Park. We saw our friend’s not for profit Grow Dat Youth Farms and the extraordinary work they are doing. We went to one of the best Loving Kindness meditations I have ever been a part of. We made new friends and deepened the connection with old friends.

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We ate…oh how we ate!! Po Boys at Verti Mart, Char Grilled Oyserts at Cochon and Acme, Red Beans and Rice on Monday, Muffuletta, Gumbo, Alligator, Etouffee, Spicy Crawfish and shrimp boils, and King Cakes. Every bite as good as I had hoped and wanted, every slow simmered and smothered moment as diverse and unique as the city it came from. I would (and hope) to return to New Orleans for the Oysters alone – chargrilled in butter and cheese with hot sauce (I think I might need a moment to collect myself now).

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Our friends introduced us to the complex issues of New Orleans and the Louisiana Gulf Coast of today. The people are so proud and knowledgable of the city like nothing I have experienced in the US but find so often when meeting people in foreign countries. The hardships of rebuilding, the gentrification, the struggle to keep New Orleans as singular as it is today and has always been (they have few chains and I hope it stays this way). The fact that there are no longer any public schools in New Orleans, that they have become a Charter School system and the benefits but also very real struggles this poses to the community.

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We were lucky to be in New Orleans for the start of Mardi Gras and have the experience of attending the Kriex De Viex Parade. We caught beads (no you do not have to flash anyone to get beads). My father got particularly into the Mardi Gras spirit. The way the city can be both fabulously profane and exceptionally spiritual can be especially seen in this 2 week parade season and is something I urge everyone to try to experience in their life!

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Prior to our trip my father had emailed and said he was excited about our trip to NOLO, I may have laughed to myself a little but then when I mentioned it to a friend she picked up on how smart my father was in combining NOLA (New Orleans LA) with YOLO (You Only Live Once) and we coined the term New Orlenas You Only Live Once! Because truly You Only Live Once by all means make sure at some point in that singular life that you live to find some time to find your self in New Orleans. There is no other city like it. There are no other people like the ones who live there. There is no other music, food, culture, or experience to compare to this extraordinary place. And perhaps in this one life when you do find yourself in New Orleans you will have as much fun and find as much love and friendship as I have and you will be draped in Mardi Gras Beads and finding yourself repeating the words New Orleans You Only Live Once!

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14

03 2015

Magic in Iceland

There is so much magic in Iceland one could hardly imagine it. There is magic in the earth. There is magic in the sky. There is magic in the strong winds. And there is magic and a whole lot of steam and heat in the water.

On a recent trip to Iceland I arrived with little expectations but the hope of seeing the elusive as I had heard them, Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis, and to soak in the Blue Lagoon. Beyond this I knew little about the country I was about to visit and the magic I would find there, in fact I arrived in Iceland knowing less than I had known about most places I have traveled.

We arrived early in the morning and with the long nights of winter the sun didn’t rise until 10AM we found a life of commuters and city dwellers in the dark. We spent our fist day discovering the capital of Reykjavik. I was charmed by the colorful houses, and entranced by the views of the sea and the mountains that would surprise us between streets and around corners.

The next morning we flew further north to Akureyri a small town set amidst the fiords of the arctic north. All around us was stunning nature – snow capped mountains that descended into green hills that hid houses built into their sides. Cracks in the grass and land emitted steam from deep below in the heart of the earth. We soaked in the outdoor hot pools while a gentle and cool rain fell.

That night with hardly any expectations and if we are honest a fare amount of skepticism we headed out to try to see the northern lights. Our guide helped set our expectations even lower but said no matter what we should still try.

The Northern Lights, also called Aurora Borealis, and Norðurljós in Icelandic are named for Aurora the Roman Goddess of Dawn and Boreas the Greek God of the North. While they seem mystical, magical, and unbelievably awesome they are also perhaps one of the most stunning natural phenomenon one can witness.

With a silhouette of dark mountains in the night sky behind us we sat patiently and watched as a faint glow that was almost unrecognizable started to deepen and then change color. Over the next hour the clouds departed and the sky turned slowly into a light show I could never have expected, slow moving lights that would undulate and pulse and then short flickers where it would appear to “dance”. We watched as they would come and go, faint and stronger, white, palest green, deeper green, then white again. They stretched from the open field on our right to the mountains on our left and then would flash back across. We sipped on hot chocolate to keep ourselves warm and then just as we started to think about departing a circle of light emerged above us with colors that would move and “dance” the green turned violet and red and pink! Our guide who started the night hesitant slowly over our time said the show was better and better until by the end he said it was one of the best we could have seen! We had expected so little heading out but we had gone despite our doubt and magic happened right there above us, more magic then I could ever have asked for.

We headed back into town and drank and sang and danced the rest of the dark away with gentle images of that night’s sky electrifying us.

The next day we drove towards the Lake Myvatn Area. We watched a late sunrise by the banks of Godafoss waterfall.

We drove through stunning farmland and past lava craters. At times the air smelled thick of sulfur and at other times of the smoke from smoke houses curing lamb and fish. The ground bubbled in places with hot brown mud, it hissed in places with steam, and in the stark lava fields there were crystal blue waters that would mirror and reflect the earth and sky back to us.

We had lunch at a farm by a lake. And then we saw where the earth seamed to split apart or collide together. Huge black gashes of rock and chasms where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. Steam from beneath the earth rose and the sun slipped like a red orb on the horizon. We hiked into an underground cave that had a pool that was as hot as hot tub at its base. After hiking back out, we perched on the top of a black lava rock with the crack that separated one content from another where we sat as we watched the sun set!

Once back in the south we experienced the Golden Circle. Thingvellir National Park with its green mountain peaks and lakes and forests.

We saw Geysir Hot Springs for which all other Geysers are named and the erupting spurts of water that would shoot up 2 stories into the air.

And Gullfoss waterfall with its mighty power and crashing strength of water.

Our last day we soaked in the electric blue waters of the Blue Lagoon. Amid the almost moon like environment of lava fields the blue water shocks the eyes. Then you slip into the heat and warmth of the water that rivals the Caribbean, the air outside still a cool northern reminder of where you actually are, but submerged it feels like a different place entirely. We caked natural mud on our faces, the minerals felt heavy and earthy and good. So many elements in one small place.

I went to Iceland with no idea of what to expect and found so much more than I ever could have imagined. I felt myself impressed by the kind people, the warm hearts as warm as the natural hot water that is everywhere throughout the country. I felt myself melted in a way by the understatement of such a spectacular place. I have struggled my entire life with expectations and my mother always used to say “expect nothing but hope for everything”. I never understood what she meant but somehow in Iceland I did. She meant I have to have an open mind that is willing to meet occasional disappointment but never give up the hope even when it looks unlikely and dark because somewhere there may be magic in the air. Iceland was magic and for that I am so grateful and I can’t wait to go back to experience more!

Love,

Ra

27

12 2014

Jamaica One Love

The air smelled as green as the mountains all around us. It smelled fresh and alive, like ferns, flowers, coconut, mango, banana, and was that a hint of a familiar herb I smelled? The air felt warm (ok hot), it felt inviting, refreshing, welcoming. The people felt the same as the air, just as warm, inviting, and welcoming with every greeting of ja mon and everything irie. The water was crystal blue and salty and exactly the elixir to winter in the city. It tasted like sweet jackfruit, jerk chicken with hot scotch bonnet peppers, crisp Red Stripe beer, and rum in every fashion imaginable. Everywhere we looked was beautiful, stunning, exciting – majestic mountains, thin winding roads, jungle, ocean, nature, small towns with colorful houses. There was the sound of steel drum bands, laughter, of course reggae, and the loudest crickets I have ever heard. The feeling was entirely of joy and love. Jamaica lived up to everything, One Love.

My sister and I had the most wonderful trip over thanksgiving, her first venture out of the US and we headed to a tropical island that exceeded my every hope and expectation. From the moment we flew into the island with high lush green mountains descending into thin ribbons of coastal road and then the ocean so close, palm trees gently bending in the tropical breeze it felt like a paradise.

We started our trip with 4 days by the ocean on the beach. We swam daily, we zip lined, we hiked up Dunn’s River Falls (my sister was so patient with me, that was a real hike), we kayaked, took a wind surfing lesson (so much harder than it looks and all respect to people who do this), we paddle boarded, we floated and just soaked up the beauty and the fun. We played pool (my sister may have inherited my mother’s pool sharkness), we had dinner at a beach restaurant where the floor was sand and you could hear the waves, we listened to music, my sister even got up and danced on stage, yes I said she DANCED ON STAGE (no I didn’t even initiate or encourage this)! That’s just what tropical places and a whole lot of fun can do to people.

Halfway through our trip we traveled into the “real Jamaica” as our driver and one of the favorite parts of our trip, our Rasta Deepak Chopra Chris told us. We drove through Fern Gully, up over the mountains, away from tourists and into the heart of Jamaica. We traveled through Spanish Town, and then Kingston seeing Trenchtown and the original home of Bob Marley. Our home for the next half of the trip was high in the Blue Hill Mountains above Kingston. Chris was our driver and guide both across the island and then the next day through Kingston and he earned his title because we was the most fantastic Jamaican character and filled with endless Rasta wisdom that he continued to share with us. His heart was as generous and welcoming as the country. We both loved his inspirational quotes and my sister even started to write them down, here are a few of our favorites:

Rasta Deepak Chopra Wisdom from Chris our guide and driver:

• Absorb the power of nature and let the nature rejuvenate you.
• Your strength should follow your wisdom but never overpower it.
• You are an empress, not a princess. You are angels and gifts.

We stayed at the most amazing place in the Blue Hill Mountains, once the home to Chris Blackwell the manager for Bob Marley, this was where Bob Marley came to recover after being shot in 1976. Set amid the most unbelievable nature each room has a balcony with a view. We had a fruit tree just in reach, there was mountains all around that dove and swung down into the city of Kingston far below. We sat every night and watched the sun set, we watched stars, and we watched lightning bugs. We relaxed into the slow island pace. We played checkers each night after dinner. We lived entirely in balance and immersed with nature and I tried really hard not to step on any frogs. We slept under a mosquito net and just watched the world move slowly.

We ventured into Kingston for one other day and visited the home of Bob Marley and the museum that now resides there. We sat under the mango tree in his yard where he used to play and write music and smoke his spliffs. We walked the streets in the day’s heat and humidity. We drove out to Port Royal that Chris said was once called the wickedest Port in the world. We drove up and down steep winding mountains with views of towns and their daily lives.

For me the best part of the trip was being with my sister and seeing her so happy. I watched her start to write her lists as she once did when she was younger on visits to New York. She started writing all of the new things she was trying – sugar cane, star fruit, ackee, jack fruit. To laugh so freely with her; to feel the relaxation one can only feel with family. For me it was the fist time I was with her and could think of my mother every day not sadly but in a way where I felt strangely like we were sharing this experience with her. Everywhere we went we talked about how much our mom would love this view, or that taste, how she would have enjoyed this island as much as we did. In both our hotels we had small balconies with 2 chairs and a table with an ashtray, in both places we could imagine our mother sitting there and smiling the largest warmest smile. I could imagine her not looking down on us but in some alternate universe sitting in a place just as peaceful, just as beautiful, just as warm, and her just as happy. I could imagine her there so easily and somehow I will always think of her rocking in one of the rocking chairs looking out over the mountains, fruit trees in easy reach, watching the view and just sending such love, ONE LOVE ever and always. It’s nice to imagine her in a place that my sister and I were so happy.

One Love Mon,

Ra & Camila

PS – if you are planning a trip to Jamaica and want Rasta Deepak Chopra’s number let me know I would be happy to share it.

PPS- for some great armchair travel and to imagine yourself in this gorgeous place watch the movie Marley, truly amazing!

16

12 2013

Seeing The Best In Paris, Edinburgh, and Germany

Sometimes things work out for the best, and that is exactly what happened with the last trip I just returned from. I have been trying to get back to Europe for a while. Last spring I had my heart set on a visit while work had dried up for a few months. I wanted to see Astrid and meet her new daughter, and my friend Robyn was in grad school for a year in Edinburgh, which seemed the perfect time to check out a city I had always wanted to see. Things never seemed to come together last spring, Astrid was away or I was finally working again so the time dragged out and the trip didn’t happen. I was crushed each time plans fell through especially when Astrid invited me to meet them along the Baltic at a cabin. But as I said sometimes things work our for the best even when we are frustrated when at first they do not work out how we would wish.

My summer steamed along fast and full after a dry spring of work turned into a busy summer. After 7 jobs, 17 flights, 2 trains, and one road trip I had some time off on the horizon. I knew I had to get to Germany while Astrid still had her maternity leave until November (an entire year at 60% pay in Germany, what a system!). We found a time that worked for her family and me, and then it just so happened that Robyn would be back in Edinburgh for graduation around that same time, so I could see her and Scotland as well. And as it happened when I was in San Francisco over the summer Suzanne mentioned that she was going to be doing an apartment swap around this same time with someone in Paris. This is where I should give a warning to everyone that if you are doing an apartment swap in some great city you might not want to mention it to me because I have no shame in inviting myself; and I said to Suzanne would you mind if I dropped in on you and your place in Paris. So a flurry of e-mails ensued to Astrid, Robyn, Dörte in Berlin, and Suzanne. Flights were booked and a month later I was back in Europe after a little over a year.

On my first afternoon in Paris as we walked along Pont Alexandre with views of the Eiffel Tower behind us and the Grand Palais before us Suzanne mentioned an Audrey Hepburn quote “Paris is always a good idea” and I could think of nothing more true.

It had been four years since I was last in Paris and that was right after my mom had died, on a trip where we were supposed to be there together after Astrid’s wedding. On that trip I felt the first crushing waves of grief. My hair had started falling out the week before in grotesque handfuls and in Paris I started to feel nightly panic attacks. At 4pm as the sun would set my chest would constrict and tighten to the point where I had to convince myself I was not having a heart attack and if I was that France had socialized medicine. The only thing between 4PM and 8PM that could take my mind from what felt like an elephant stamping on my weak and tender heart was to walk and walk, to keep in movement constantly until my feet and legs hurt but my chest was at some rest. I would fall asleep and say if you feel this way tomorrow morning you will fly home. I made it through that trip when the first devastating waves of grief found me, but I was still somehow relieved to be there.

On my last day I sat next to the Seine on Ile De La Cite behind Notre Dame and I was grateful for my time in that city, and I made a wish that I would come back someday. Paris was one of the first places I ever went when I was in high school; it was the first place I traveled to alone in my early 20s; it was the best place to be heartbroken after my mother’s death; and indeed as Suzanne said the quote it will always be true for me” Paris is always a good idea.” I hope after this trip that I can return yet again and again through my life.

After a few days marveling at one of the most scenic cities in the world and visiting my favorite haunts and discovering the canals a new marvel for me, I headed north drawn by bagpipes and the promise of new city. I had heard from so many people of how much they love Edinburgh and that Scotland is magic, indeed this is all true.

I was fortunate to have no rain the first two days, which is pretty unheard of. Robyn had made all of our plans for us and I met her; we had a late lunch in Princess Street Gardens, then we started to discover the city and all of its endless views. We climbed Arthur’s Seat, which was something I had dreamed of doing, as the sun was just starting to set and the heather waved in the sea breeze. We could see Edinburgh lay out before us and Leith in the distance behind us and the sea. We caught the last of sun atop Carlton Hill.

The next day I had the special experience of attending a Scottish Graduation. I walked the afternoon up and down the Royal Mile and hills of old town marveling at one view after another. I drank tea, beer, and even became a fan of whiskey.

On the last day Robyn and I took a day trip through the highlands and what magic they held. Robyn’s friends from Edinburgh had laughed and joked with us the night before about the mist and how it would drop and rise and drop and rise and indeed it did which added to the stunning mood. We visited Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen Of Scots was born. We saw mountains, lochs, waterfalls, towns, forests, and such stunning nature as the trees turned golden, amber, and red against the deep green. We visited the town and castle of Inveraray which is still in use and was in fact having a wedding the day after we were there. We paused by the shores of Loch Lomond. The country of Scotland was more than I could ever imagine, its stunning beauty and the stories that went with it enthralled me.

A long day of travel brought me to Chemnitz in Germany and Astrid. I arrived late after the children had already gone to sleep but to much excitement in the building as Astrid’s upstairs neighbor had gone into labor and was having a home birth. Nothing like being welcomed into a home with a child being born right above you. We had a lovely few days together, playing with the kids, getting to know Björn better, and catching up with Astrid. We went to two castles close by, ate apfelkuchen (apple cake) by the side of a river, walked through small towns, and went to playgrounds. There was a young boy who lived upstairs from Astrid who came with his brother to play with Astrid’s son one afternoon after school. He can’t walk but was able to get around on his own; he was 11 and he came right up to me eager to speak English. We went to the playground with him and I watched him go down fire poles that still scare me and I watched him find ways to get up and around on a play structure. It struck me as I marveled at him that he was neither scared nor letting himself be held back by anything. I was so impressed and inspired by him. I hope I can remember his strength and courage the next time I say that I can’t do something as small as it might be.

I ended my trip with a few days in Berlin, another of my favorite cities visiting Dörte. It was wonderful to be back in Berlin and Dörte is always such a fun joy for me to spend time with. I combined my time in Berlin seeing a few new things and doing some of my favorites like eating at W Imbiss and Turkish food, walking along the Spree, looking at the incredible graphite, a stroll along Under Der Linden and remembrance at the Holocaust Memorial. On this trip I finally reached the top of The Reichstag Building, which I have wanted to do for years and the views were everything that was promised. I also had read about this new life for an old school for Jewish girls that is now an arts hub with galleries, Kennedy Museum, and two restaurants including a New York style Delicatessen. Ehemalige Jüdische Mädchenschule and the building’s history are alive in the hallways and stairs and the new life that is reverberating through it is pulsing; plus it took me to a new part of town and all of the art galleries. My last night in Berlin a friend of Dörte’s encouraged us to check out this market that happens every Thursday night and hosts all of these amazing international food stalls, wine, beer, and the most electric vibe; a truly Berlin night to remember and end on.

From frustration last spring when trips kept falling through, to seeing Paris again, to experiencing Scotland’s magic, to reconnecting with dear friends who live so far away, the best found its way into my days and I am eternally grateful. To those who shared parts of this trip with me, to those who opened doors and welcomed me, to the ones I love so much an enormous thank you.

Love,

Ra

 

07

11 2013