June Lake

Hi sweet friends!

Last week, I made a spontaneous pilgrimage to NorCal to visit June Lake, one of the places where I skied with my dad this spring. It's crazy how time slips by--I can't believe I've been out here for almost six months already! After seeing June Mountain in the winter, I knew I needed to check out the area in the warmth of summertime. 

June Mountain

Even with the five hour drive up there, the day was full and peaceful. I found a musical road in Lancaster, CA on the way, then spent the afternoon hiking around the campground and lounging at the beach. August had made the grounds hot and dry, but the waters of the lake were perfectly cool and refreshing. And I don't think any trip to June would be complete without a stop at the local brewery

June Lake

I drove around the June Lake Loop whilst eating too many hot Cheetos and scoping out some other more scenic campgrounds. I was pretty happy with the one I chose, but could've used more access to the water (like at nearby Silver Lake in the photo below). Anyway, mine was safe, bear-free, and with bathrooms so I really can't complain.

June Lake Loop

The next day including a brief visit through Yosemite, and I think that deserves a post of its own. I hope you're still out seeking summer adventures wherever in the world you are!

City Strolls

Sometimes when you're traveling alone in another country, it's tricky to know where to go and when. You'll hear conflicting reviews from all around. You'll find a recommended attraction and some will tell you never to go anywhere by yourself; you'll surely get robbed and murdered. Others laugh at you and wonder why you would even question going there in the first place; it's perfectly fine!

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I've taken baby steps in walking everywhere I can around here. And it's turned out that all the places I've wanted to see have been worthwhile and safe. I've walked to the abandoned Old Hospital and the nearby train station. Since the houses are so colorful and the city is a manageable size, it's a usually a pleasure to stroll around anywhere you can. You might even find goats and horses grazing on a regular old jaunt to the grocery store.

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Of course, I am careful and I stick to the well-traveled areas when it gets dark. But it seems that it's easy to explore most of Granada's main attractions on foot (or boat), and the most dangerous part is being in direct sunlight at mid-day. Of course, there are always taxis or horse-drawn carriages that will take you anywhere you don't feel comfortable walking.

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Temples in Thailand

I'm laughing to myself for coming to Chiang Mai, Thailand thinking I would come across maybe 2-3 temples if I went out searching for them.

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If you've ever been to Chiang Mai, you will know that that is a very silly thought because there are actually hundreds of Buddhist temples in and around the city, and it would probably be impossible to see only 2 or 3 while spending a few days here.

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My first hostel had free bicycles for borrowing, so I must have visited at least one hundred sites on the very first day. If you're not about bike riding, you should become about it because it's really one of the most wonderful ways to get to know a city.

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I'm glad to have packed my zip-off shorts-to-pants and a shawl because you never know when you're going to need to be appropriately dressed for places of worship. And I took this picture of the Buddha, even though you're not really supposed to take pictures of the Buddha, because look at this incredible gigantic statue at the top of a mountain!

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Singaporean Strolls

If you're looking for somewhere very clean, very efficient, and where nothing ever goes wrong because all preventative measures have been taken to ensure that nothing can ever go wrong, Singapore may be the place for you. It's an other-worldly city, nicer than any I've ever visited. It sort of makes you afraid to touch anything or mess anything up for fear of receiving a $500 fine or a public caning, but I didn't see anyone being fined or caned so it wasn't very scary walking around sightseeing and enjoying the cuisine in designated eating spaces.

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This is a melting pot for sure, and I ended up spending most of my time in Chinatown and Little India before exploring any Singaporean culture. It's hard to pass up $3 meals in the Chinese food stalls, but you can find similarly priced delicacies from local hawker stands. After just a day, you may find yourself pointing and gesturing for mysterious ingredients, knowing you'll end up with phenomenal results. 

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There's so much to see and do that I'm not sure three days was enough for fully uncovering this gem of a city. Fortunately, the public transportation system and flawless and will take you nearly everywhere you need to go. Unfortunately, the hostels and the people working in them are so nice that you might not ever want to leave. I'm glad I have a mini stopover on my way back to try more.

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Unique New York

I'm always proud to call New York my original home, and I can deliver some pretty haughty side-eyes when people assume I'm from Delaware or New Jersey. The Empire State was a wonderful area to sprout roots, learn, and grow. And now every visit leaves my heart feeling full and a little nostalgic.

Here are some photos from my recent visit to the Hudson Valley, including a yoga dad on his birthday and some meditative romps through the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Enjoy!

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Gone Outside

One day in July I sat here and meditated with the Oprah & Deepak 21-day meditation app and it was very nice, very hot, and very spiritual millennial of me. I am hearing a lot of people talk about summer coming to an end, and I hope that they will stop because there is a lot more ahead of us! 

Are you taking time to find some peaceful outside places near you?

Lands of Enchantment

If you're a person who thinks ticket prices make it too costly to travel, try buying this $60 tent, packing up your car, and driving over to the next state. You just might find yourself in another world.

Sometimes you can camp for $10. Sometimes you can camp for free. Sometimes it will be too windy to camp and you'll get to sleep in your car, which could have been free, if you hadn't already reserved a campsite.

However you choose to sleep in the great outdoors, get out there! There's a lot to see. 

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Chapel Hill

One positive part of growing up is that you might have more friends scattered about in more appealing places, so you can stretch your roaming limits (and budget) further than your younger network may have allowed. My friend Matt is the best kind of faraway friend who will even offer to sleep on the couch and give up their bed to let you rest your weary traveling bones. A gigantic thank you to him for taking me to all of the breweries, wood-fired pizzerias, and string-lit bars that are making Raleigh-Durham the next Austin/Denver/Brooklyn/Place for people who like food trucks and Snapchat. I didn't mind it one bit.

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Being in Chapel Hill during spring break offered a time of reflection for me. Back when 16 year old Cori was checking out schools and planning her future, baby blue t-shirts and tar-covered heels were expected to be a major part of it. I did all of the AP-ing and SAT-ing asked of me. I went to their volleyball camp. I bought a lot of blue clothing items. I learned to appreciate vinegar barbecue. But still when the decision mail came, my envelope was disappointingly skinny instead of invitingly thick.

I was devastated and confused. I cried in my room a lot and quickly formulated plans to move in with my uncle so I could apply again as an NC resident. I'm pretty sure my best friend and I forged notes from our parents to skip Chemistry class and eat waffles, because we did that a lot anyway and because there is still nothing like waffles to heal a broken teenage heart. I think I only chose to go to Delaware later on because it had flowers and brick buildings and vaguely resembled UNC.

It was a long while before my focus started to shift. During Fall semester of sophomore year, I remember gathering my printed transfer applications, ready to be filled-in and sent off in the Spring. I was so sure that I knew where I was going and that there had to have been some strange mistake. It took a few years, a trip to Argentina, and a lot of new friends to convince me otherwise. I never ended up sending those transfer applications and I stayed at Delaware for two extra years. Now I only think about Chapel Hill once a year, in March, when I become a short-term college basketball fan.

Walking around the campus during my visit with Matt reminded me the importance of letting go when my thinking mind is so certain that it knows what's best for me. I realize how much we might miss if we try to squeeze our lives into the perfect plans that we've doubtlessly determined for them. Looking back, I can't imagine my path having gone any other way than it has. If I had transferred to North Carolina, I probably never would have met so many of my best friends, checked as many study abroad countries off my list, or become the mostly well-rounded person I am now. Or maybe by some universal magic I would have ended up as the same me in exactly the same place, but I definitely don't think I would have gotten to shake former Vice President Joe Biden's hand.

So I'm sending love to you, hoping you can always find the very, very good no matter how unexpectedly your path seems to be twisting. I believe it's all working itself out.

Hidden Gems

In my yoga classes this week, I offered up the intention of looking at various aspects of our lives through the lens of a “Beginner’s Mind”.  This Zen Buddhist concept means shifting our attitude about familiar things: poses, hobbies, work, studies, relationships, etc. to view them from a new angle, by imagining that we are taking part in them for the very first time. The practice opens up space for different possibilities and perspectives as our habits and preconceptions are broken down. 

This got me thinking about applying a beginner’s mind to the places in which we live. When I first moved to Austin, my newcomer’s senses wanted to see and do everything. And taste everything, too, since I gained about 10 pounds upon moving here. I was a constant consumer of novelty. No adventure was too time-intensive, no distance too far. Heck, I’d sometimes even drive to San Antonio if the day felt right.

Now, as much as I love Austin, my endless explorations have settled into a routine list of favorite activities, restaurants, bars, and spots to spend my time. I guard my non-working hours closely, and if I’m going to drive south of the river or get on Mopac at all ever, there better be a darn good reason. I see the hot new places and excited out-of-towners moving in every day, but I feel happier (and lazier) to exist inside my usual bubble. My 2016 To-Try list doesn’t have nearly as many items crossed off as I was planning by this time in the year.

So I was excited last week when my friend Karina invited me to visit the River Place Nature Trail, a hike that was on my list, but off the beaten-path of nearby Austin trails. The 5-6 mile hike* overlooking the West Austin hills and eventually running alongside a river, helped me feel the same zest I felt when I first moved here, like there was something magical hiding under every rock I turned. 

While we accept more comfort in our cities, we give up some of the novelty and the zest for exploring. We settle into routines and responsibilities, and back out of more events if they’re further from our zone of normalcy. Our bodies and minds know this and start to become numb. We get tired more easily and aren’t as ignited by the idea of seeing something new or making a connection with a stranger. When we become experts on a subject, another person, or a city, the only way to counteract closed-mindedness or stagnation is to observe what we know from another side.

 

For the rest of this year, and hopefully thereafter, I’m trying to embrace the shiny, new or yet unseen parts of this city where I’ve lived for almost 4 years. I promise to say “yes” more times to something that sounds fun, before looking at Google Maps’ distance from my current location.  And to my fellow Austin dwellers, I promise that whatever I find, I’ll be sure to share with you.

*The trail is out and back, so you can make it as short or as long as you’d like.

Nurtured by Nature

Sometimes when you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a long vacation, you notice that similar things keep happening to you over and over again and, because of them, your vacation tends to take on a certain theme. On our latest road trip adventure, that theme turned out to be the power of Nature to make or break our plans.

We discovered that when we drove along, flying by the seats of our pants, without forcing or timing anything, we would end up seeing unexpected, mesmerizing stuff like this:

Somewhere in Utah...
Lake Powell, AZ

Lake Powell, AZ

Beginnings of the Grand Canyon

Beginnings of the Grand Canyon

And whenever we planned, plotted, and Yelped our way into a city, Nature would remind us of her right to step in and throw us a different agenda. We realized this when we were forced to sprint through the second half of our Sedona vortex hike as threatening storm clouds rolled in. And when the list of hip bars and restaurants to visit in Phoenix was cut short when we stepped out the door into the dust storm/thunder/lightning filled night. The next day, flash flooding on the interstate interrupted our quest for the best sopapillas in Albuquerque and kept us pulled over until after the restaurant had closed. And I already told y’all about the forest fires.

Storms in Sedona

Storms in Sedona

During our time in the campgrounds, our bodies learned to adjust to the schedule of the sun. We woke up early, stayed outside all day, started our fire as the sun dipped down, and went to sleep once the cinders settled into ash. We didn’t need much more than the excitement of the changing flames to keep us entertained until bedtime. When we traveled to the bigger cities, we tried to fight this newfound rhythm and go against the flow of things, but Nature had different plans for us. However, she had already let us graciously cool off in our campsite river after a 102 degree day in Zion and given us so many other lovely gifts on the trip, so we weren’t too upset about our updated schedules. Plus we still ate other sopapillas in Albuquerque and our trip to Phoenix was saved by a bomb-a** breakfast at Matt's Big Breakfast. Thanks Matt! (Asterisks because I'm pretty sure my mom and her friends make up 90% of the readers of this blog).

Sunrise outside Albuquerque

Sunrise outside Albuquerque

So, Nature, we dedicate our trip to You. We are feeling more grateful than ever for the constant reminders of your power and our own efforts to bow to you as we sit back and appreciate the way things are meant to be.

Utah, Part III

Summertime camping at popular national parks means the excitement waking up well before you want to, sometimes driving to multiple campgrounds, circling loops of tents, and asking around to find out who is leaving and when. Arriving at the right place at the right time means you'll be able to secure your spot for the night. Luckily most campers are friendly and they'll let you stake your claim to their site while they pack up, or they are park rangers and will let you know which sites have already opened or are about to. We felt very fortunate to be able to camp where we wanted every night without having to wait in huge lines or battle anyone for a section.

We followed B's family's recommendation to enter Zion from the East, which turned out to be excellent advice since you drive from not-Zion into a tunnel, and when you pop out, you're in Zion. It looks a lot like this:

Entering Zion National Park
Zion National Park

We seemed to be having even more "right place, right time" success because we soon saw a man pulled over taking pictures of bighorn sheep. B had recovered from my moose/branch and bear/deer confusion in Yellowstone, so he agreed to pull over too. I'd finally found the animal that I'd waited the whole trip to see:

Zion National Park

We saw another one about 2 minutes later, but it was so still and so close to the road that I thought it was a statue and didn't take any pictures. Note that if you see a very life-like animal in a national park, it's probably not a statue!

Zion was also the first place that I've ever been afraid of heights. Like paralyzed with fear, turn around, I'm not going levels of afraid. We had decided on a hike to Angel's Landing since we found it in a book of the most beautiful hikes in the world. On the way, there were signs reminding us to bring a lot of water and telling people who are afraid of heights that they should reconsider. It was 102 degrees and we are not afraid of heights, so we were more worried about death from dehydration than any height-related nervousness.

No problem. The majority of the hike was like this:

Angel's Landing Trail at Zion National Park

And B was wearing his "Vacation Dad" outfit so I felt very secure.

We got to what we thought was the last segment and it seemed a little scary, mostly because there were a lot of people on the trail headed in opposite directions, but we didn't think at all of turning around or not going to the top. We even took this photo saying, "Ha! Too bad for all those people who are afraid of heights. They don't know what they're missing."

Angel's Landing Zion National Park

Thennn we got over that hump and saw the real Angel's Landing summit, which features a 2-foot wide ridge trail with 1,000+ foot drop offs on both sides and looks like this:

Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

So I made us turn around and go back down! (Sorry B!) I don't regret it now since we later read that Angel's Landing is one of the deadliest hikes in the world and fit, reasonable people die there just from stumbling or missing a step. Maybe I'm getting old, but when we hiked another of the deadliest hikes (Huayna Picchu), it did not give me the same feelings of terror that this one did. I only took this one photo of the view in my frenzied fearful state:

Angel's Landing Zion National Park

We descended, avoiding the feisty rock squirrels, to do some more tourism, and I felt ok about it. But if you are a normal, athletic, confident person who wants to do it, Angel's Landing does look pretty cool and you should do it! Otherwise, Zion is a breathtaking place where you can find many other ways to entertain yourself. 

Zion National Park the Watchman

Utah, Part II

Utah's national parks are a world of dreams and magic.

Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop
Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop
Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop

We hiked the Fairyland Loop trail in Bryce Canyon to get a view of the canyons from all angles, and I can't recommend it highly enough. We spent the whole day in a constant state of amazement, and when I walked out of the tent at night to head to the bathroom (squat down at the edge of our campsite), I saw the biggest shooting star of my life. Thank you Utah for your incredible skies and scenery!

Bryce Canyon sunrise

Utah, Part I

I didn't have many expectations about visiting Salt Lake City for the first time since I hadn't heard much about it, but the name implied that there would be a lake... probably a salty one, bordering or surrounded by a city. When I dreamt of going there, I imagined taking walks near the lake, watching the sunset over the lake, or maybe even doing a few lake-related activities besides swimming because the stinging of the Dead Sea taught me better than that.

Silly me. We had an Iceland situation on our hands. 

From our pre-trip research, which tended to occur in the last hour of driving before reaching any of our destinations, we learned that the lake is 30-60 minutes outside the city and that people don't go there. Allegedly it's hot, smelly, and full of flies. So we changed our plans and instead climbed up to fancy Park City to eat delicious sandwiches, take pictures with animal statues, and watch the sky turn pink.

Salt Lake City sunset

Then we went back down to take pictures of LDS buildings and sleep, since a city full of Mormons doesn't offer much in the way of nightlife. On to the next!

Salt Lake City Utah

WOW-oming!

Phase 3 of the trip brought us to a new state for me and a new phenomenon for both of us: forest fires!

As we crossed into Wyoming, we began to notice a lot of smoke in the air and started to hear gas station gossip about nearby towns being evacuated due to wildfires in the area. We had a "wouldn't it be cool if...?" moment* and, about 10 minutes later, the universe provided. 

Wyoming wildfire
Wyoming Wildfire

 

*"Wouldn't it be cool if we could see a wildfire up close while we're conveniently protected by our car and far enough away that it won't impact our lives or our travel plans so we can go to Idaho and eat square-shaped ice cream in peace?" It was pretty sobering to see rows of homes about to be eaten by the flames and the firefighters who were in the air spraying water from helicopters or on the ground trying to push the fire back from the road. We felt guilty taking pictures while so many people's lives were being uprooted, but once-in-a-lifetime experiences sometimes call for photos and so we summoned the war photographers in us and proceeded.

Wyoming wildfires

While we were busy looking back at that (^), we didn't notice that these were slowly sneaking up on our right:

The Tetons!

The Tetons!

The Tetons gave us shelter and an unbelievable view for the night while we entertained ourselves with long hikes in inappropriate footwear. B showed off his fire-building mastery and I cooked dinner on my brand new Coleman 2-burner camp stove, which I would regrettably end up breaking on the second night of camping, but which would be fine since I'm afraid of gas explosions anyway.

Next, we went to Yellowstone and decided to do everything in one day, a decision that was exhausting but one that we still stand by. The stones were really yellow, Old Faithful erupted while we were in the parking lot, and I learned that branches often look like moose antlers and your driving partner can get upset if you call out too many animal photo opps that are actually not.

The Earth was full of hot springs and gurgling pools and was feeling very alive! WOW-oming certainly lived up to B's nickname for it since I don't think we said any words other than amazing, incredible, beautiful, awesome, and long breathless wowww's for most of this phase of the trip. We would have loved some more time to explore, but Utah (and showers) beckoned.

Chipmunk at Grand Teton National Park

Colors of Colorado

In case you haven't been paying attention, Colorado has been busy making all the other states jealous by having just about EVERYTHING to offer. The whole time we were there, it felt like nature was performing a personal show for us, and she was certainly pulling out all the stops. Making up for all the hours of flatness and windmills of the Northwest Texas drive, we crossed the NM-CO border during this sunset: 

Colorado sunset

And made our way to Denver to spend a few days with B's sister, Kelsey, who should sign up for AirBnB a.s.a.p. because she is an incredible hostess who makes us feel better than at home every time we visit. Thank you Kelsey! She took us all over the city, and of course, to Red Rocks, the concert venue of all concert venues.

Red Rocks provides enough entertainment in itself that I would see anyone play there, but lucky for us one of the most musical geniuses of all musical geniuses, Sufjan Stevens, came through to knock our socks right off.

Sufjan Stevens at Red Rocks

Among the red rocks, Father Sky and Mother Earth continued their dazzling dance by giving us this (these) rainbow(s):

Red Rocks double rainbow

After our short stay in the Mile-High City, we headed over to the Higher-Than-Mile City to find out what summer in a ski town is like. I'm sorry to break it to Killington, Mount Snow, Smuggler's Notch, and all of the other East Coast resorts of my youth, but Steamboat Springs is the real deal. Much like the rest of the Colorado, I can really only describe it using superlatives! It was the first time in my life that I wished for summer to immediately turn to winter.

Steamboat Mountain Colorado
Steamboat Resort Colorado

We spent the rest of the week hiking, tubing, eating, and shopping our way around town while enjoying some uninterrupted family time and our 2,000 sq. ft. porch! There were so many more sunsets, more rainbows, and more unforgettable views that we sometimes had to laugh in disbelief.

If you're still not convinced about Colorado's beauty, here is what the backyard of a regular old Chipotle restaurant looks like there:

Colorado Springs

We were sad to leave on Sunday (and even sadder that our alarms were set for 5 a.m.), but we packed up the car and rolled onwards to see what the rest of the Wild West had waiting for us.

A Wandering Whirlwind

We made it through Colorful Colorado, Wild Wyoming, I-Don't-Know Idaho, Utopic Utah, Astounding Arizona, Not-so-bad New Mexico, and now we're back in TOO BIG Texas! I had my first square ice cream and we learned that dust storms are a real thing to watch out for.

Square ice cream in Idaho

I imagined The Road having a lot more internet than it actually did, so I've got a backlog of adventures to tell you about. To start off, here are some signs from some states:

Hope your Monday was even half as good as an unemployed yogi's spent buried in loads of laundry, grocery goods, and car crumbs!

Namaste.

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

Travel, Behind the Scenes

As glamorous and thrilling as it appears in social media posts, at times in real life, worldwide travel can look a little different. It's not all laughing and playing and feeling #blessed as the pictures would lead you to believe. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes it's exhausting, scary, or emotional. Even taking a small step outside your comfort zone can leave you feeling a bit raw.

Sometimes "travel", a word we've come to associate with adventure and luxury, means swallowing your pride and sleeping on the floor of the airport for ten hours! Sometimes it means wearing the same pair of socks until you can smell them from outside your shoes! Sometimes it means getting homesick, even though you feel silly since you're only gone for a month and the home you're missing didn't even exist until a few years ago! But it's a feeling and you're having it. It can even mean eating grilled cheese for the 25th day in a row because your host mom is respecting your vegetarianism and you are thankful, but would like a little variety! 

Sometimes it means carrying all your stuff on your back... and your front!

Sometimes it means carrying all your stuff on your back... and your front!

In reality, there are train cancellations, miscommunication, lost suitcases, and layovers. For all the good it brings, travel can also be uncomfortable, confusing, and exasperating. And then, of course, we remember the new places, friendships, and cultures it leads us to, and somehow it all works itself out. Travel can mean so many different things to us, but in my brief 28 years of experience, it has always-- and I mean the every-single-time type of always-- been worth it.

A Taste of Tel Aviv

I fell hard for Tel Aviv and was dragged almost kicking and screaming away after a way-too-short introduction. 

Tel Aviv Israel

This city is full of life and energy, with restaurants and bars packed with young people spilling out into the streets until the middle of the night, every night. It's quite the opposite of all my mom's fears about the dreaded Middle East.

Restaurant in Tel Aviv Israel

We stopped to look up directions one day only to have 3 different people and a police officer offer to show us the way. Theirs is an innocent friendliness, too, not the kind that comes with a price or a stalker like in some foreign cities. The Israelis seem genuinely incapable of seeing you unhappy. 

We had planned to have dinner one night with my dad's former colleagues who now live in Tel Aviv. In typical Israeli fashion of going above and beyond, they picked us up from the airport, gave us a guided tour of our neighborhood, introduced us to three different flavors of halva, and ordered five desserts off the menu so we wouldn't have to choose. They even tried using their local charm (and hebrew) to talk our hotel receptionist into giving us a room with a seaside view.

Halva, a traditional sweet made from tahini or nut butters

Halva, a traditional sweet made from tahini or nut butters

And we confirmed it wasn't just the people we knew who were like this-- bartenders talked to us through dinner and delivered complimentary shots, a local man in the ocean talked to us for an hour sharing facts about his country and asking about the U.S., breakfast waiters served up mimosas and delicious homemade bread with smiles-- everyone seemed like they were constantly paying it forward without expecting anything in return. Their enthusiasm was practically bubbling over-- about Israel, Tel Aviv, and life in general-- and it was contagious.

Old Jaffa Israel

So all I can say is, if you can, get here as soon as possible! And for goodness' sake give yourself more than two days! Plus a gigantic thank you to the Steins for showing us such wonderful hospitality and introducing us to so much of Tel Aviv!

Floating in the Dead Sea

Our Big Fat Greek Vacation

Crete is an awe-inspiring land of contrasts-- a conflicting mix of old and new. It's hot, but relief comes in lightly on the sea breeze. It's rocky, but those rocks run right down to the soft sandy coast. It's dry as you head inland, yet its edges are surrounded by unforgettable water colored 10+ different shades of blue. It's got local families with naked babies bumped close up against suntanned couples on their romantic getaways. It's a place to relax, and a place to come to life, with nightly rounds of Ouzo and dancers jumping, yelling "Opa!"

It's baklava, and then more baklava... Oh wait, that's not a conflict at all. We barely managed to pull ourselves away from the temptations of our all-inclusive resort to explore nearby Heraklion, but here's what we found, plus a beachy sunset for good measure:

Heraklion Port
Heraklion Greece
Knossos ruins Heraklion Greece
Crete Greece

Magic the Dog

When traveling in Europe, Americans often cite the dining out experience as a major difference in cultures. European servers take their time, and allow you to as well. Since most of them don't work for tips to the level that American servers do, they won't hurry to turn your table or even bring the bill until you request it. For westerners this can be, at best, relaxing, and, at worst, anxiety-inducing.

Luxembourg Crepe

My mom and many of my girlfriends can attest that, by U.S. standards, I'm one who likes to linger. I've left checks unturned and had water glasses refilled long past my welcome. But last week, at a cafe in Luxembourg, when my uncle's friend Mike lights his second post-meal smoke, I feel an impatient tapping in my knee as my hands start to fidget in my lap. Thirty minutes later, as he considers a third, my American eyes roll skyward in disbelief. But grey clouds roll in across the sky threatening sudden rain, so we stay.

I sit under the cafe's tarp, the traces of our shared crepe long gone, and I'm forced to come to terms with my culture. I become frantically aware of my heart beating and my fingers purposelessly grasping at each other under the table. My mind dances in circles away from the conversation, fooling itself into thinking there is somewhere else I need to be.

But in the middle of the third cigar, something changes. A couple settles into the table next to ours with their brand new puppy in tow. His playful confusion and naive curiosity manage to distract me, and most other diners, from my plight. I forget how long we all crowd around, smiling and sharing the spark that only a baby animal can bring. When we leave the cafe, I ask his owner for the dog's name, and she translates for me, "In English it's... Magic". I smile and thank her. As I pet him and say goodbye, I wonder what other magic I've missed in my haste.