My other passport

What’s an unpleasant but necessary last minute thing when planning certain international trips? Your vaccinations. Last year I went to the travel vaccination center in preparation for my trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I got the Typhoid vaccine which is good for 3 years. I also got the Hepatitis A shot, which, if you get a booster shot after 6 months up until a year, I am now covered for life (I got mine yesterday). Now for any and all upcoming trips to Latin America, Asia, and Africa, I am one step closer to being prepared.

Passport & vaccine passport

Passport & vaccine passport

When traveling into the developing world, sometimes you need proof of certain vaccines even to get into the country. This can all be tracked by your very own vaccination passport. Getting shots is no one’s idea of a good time, but being prepared traveling into the developing world is very necessary for your health. Mosquitoes are the bane of the existence of many when it comes to nasty airborne disease. The other main concern of course is clean drinking water. To protect against these things be sure to research thoroughly which vaccines you need before entering a country. Also, make sure to do your research before you visit your physician to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

After a month in the island of Hispaniola, I was extremely grateful and humbled by the positive attitudes of many of the people who deal with hardship daily. You’ll never realize how much of a privilege clean drinking water is until you’re denied the option. More to come on this trip in a future post.

Have you gotten all your shots? Planning on a trip which requires one? Would love to hear from you!

New Year’s in Paris

I visited Paris for a couple of days and celebrated the New Year over there. What can be said that hasn’t already been said before? It’s a world renowned capital filled with culture and good food. A city of great beauty, great attractions, and of a majestic quality. There’s nothing like someone’s first trip to Paris. Except that this was my second trip so I got to enjoy it I feel in a bit of a more authentic way.

In my years of travel I’ve acquired a bit more connections so I had a free Parisian apartment to stay in this time, some friends who live there whose knowledge greatly matched any guidebook, and a better sense of travel than when I went there 3 years earlier. I had an even better time visiting Paris than my first, thanks to the company I was with.

Conciergerie


Arc du triomphe

But, I was there with 2 Paris virgins so of course I still went and saw many of the famous sights. Luckily, the Paris Museum really prevented me from breaking the bank. A 2-day pass only puts me back 42 Euro whereas one entrance alone could cost 18 Euro. And I say it’s nice to have your productive days crunched into a time frame, so that I could fully embrace wandering aimlessly for the rest of my time there. See, I’m a Libra, so balance is very important to me. Sure it’s great to see all the culturally acclaimed things in a city since history has endowed Paris with a lovely cornucopia of museums and sites, but what really interests me is what the city is really like.

Notre Dame

Well I’ll tell you…the city is its delicious food…and of course I don’t only mean French. Paris has absolutely delicious Lebanese, Ethiopian, Cambodian, and Chinese food..among many others I’m sure. What makes Paris great is that in terms of European cosmopolitan melting pots, it’s only rivaled by London. French colonialism has guaranteed a rich array of immigrants from every corner of the world to call this city their home. And although that causes problems to the French sensibility at times, that’s what makes France charming. It’s an very modern and culturally trendsetting country on one hand, and on the other it’s a country extremely steeped in its history and proud traditions of art, language, cuisine, and wine. France plays by its own rules and that’s what makes it an interesting place to visit, no matter how cliché visiting Paris can be.

Eiffel Tower

Been to Paris? What are your thoughts on what’s the best thing to see and do there?

My second home: Puerto Rico

I have the good fortune of visiting Puerto Rico very often and having a lot of connections there, after living there for a year. I’ll probably be posting about it a lot so that you can have the best trip on the island as possible (I’ve already hosted a bunch of friends while living there and helped others plan their trips there since). Here’s some myth-busting and an introduction about what you can expect in my second home, Puerto Rico.

I had the opportunity to live and work in Puerto Rico for a year, and it’s a place that is very special to me. I want people to enjoy Puerto Rico’s splendors, but I also think it’s important to bring awareness to the complex situation of this U.S. commonwealth.

A photography of Old San Juan.

The marvelous Old San Juan

Most people do not realize a few things about Puerto Rico:

  1. Puerto Ricans are US citizens.
  2. Its cosmopolitan capital, San Juan, is home to a mixture of Americans, Latinos, Europeans, Caribbean Islanders, and Asians.
  3. It is not a third world country, by any means.
  4. Puerto Ricans invented Spanglish.
  5. It has political parties with conflicting visions for the commonwealth’s future: some Puerto Ricans advocate for U.S. Statehood, some for independence from the U.S., and some would like Puerto Rico to remain exactly as it is.
A photograph of Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana

Puerto Rico is a true adventurer’s paradise, and a great first trip for people who want to explore more outside the continental U.S.A. It’s convenient, too! You don’t need a passport, the currency is the U.S. dollar, and Puerto Ricans typically speak a good mix of familiar English as well as Spanish. The people are beyond friendly, the weather is consistently great, and goods and services are inexpensive.

Puerto Rico is big enough to explore, but small enough that you can see it all in one visit. I’d recommend renting a car and driving through the countryside, where the real treasures await. Puerto Rico offers a diverse landscape, including: mountains, beaches, caves, rainforest, and desert. You can go zip-lining, check out some beautiful architecture, and sample the delectable foods and exciting nightlife.

Playa Flamenco, Culebra

I met so many people with different personalities, and from different walks of life. It’s a lot of diversity set in one small island. And everyone seems to live in relative harmony, it really feels like to be Puerto Rican is to have true brethren. Also, even though my Spanish was limited when I first arrived (and Puerto Rican Spanish isn’t the easiest to learn), I always felt welcome. Once I started making friends and my conversational Spanish improved, I really felt I had found my second home.

3El Yunque

El Yunque rainforest

San Juan gets many visitors from all over the world, and since it’s a small city, you always end up meeting a lot of new people. I’ve made great connections there with islanders and non-islanders alike. I also think that spending time in Puerto Rico provides a valuable lesson for a U.S. citizen, because it helps you to realize more fully how diverse your own country’s borders can be. The attitude change can especially be valuable for a New Yorker, since living in Puerto Rico forces you to learn how to slow down, relax, and appreciate what you have in the present. Aka acclimating and embracing island time, whether you like it or not (but how can you not like it?). Living there for only a year has profoundly affected how I view my life, now.

Here are some recommendations for your visit to Puerto Rico:

To eat:

  • Fefo’s or El Jibarito in Old San Juan for Puerto Rican food – try the mofongo/trifongo.
  • Tayzan in Condado for sushi and other Asian food – try the sweet plaintain sushi.
  • Café la Princesa in Old San Juan, for a nice date ambiance and a little bit of everything – try the seafood paella.
  • Piñones (in the beach area close to Isla Verde) for Puerto Rican food – my favorites are seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas, among many others
  • Luquillo kiosks (in the beach area close to El Yunque) for Puerto Rican food – for even more seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas (and many others)!

To drink:

  • Medalla – a brand of Puerto Rican beer (not the best, but classic to the island)
  • Chichaito – sweet shots of many flavors, which you can split with a group (available at 3 Cuernos bar in Old San Juan)
  • Acerola – a sweet cherry juice, special to Puerto Rico

Nightlife:

  • Club Brava in Isla Verde – for a night out on the club
  • La Taberna Lupulo – a bar with many microbrews and good mix of locals and tourists, in Old San Juan
  • Small Bar – the name says it all, in Condado
  • Circo – a gay club in Santurce

Sightseeing:

  • Cueva Ventana & Cueva del Indio – 2 caves to go hiking in, in Arecibo; beautiful and simple ways to enjoy nature, and just a quick 45 minute drive from San Juan
  • Bioluminescent Bay – I think the one in Vieques Island is much better, but the one in Fajardo is more accessible
  • Beaches – El Escambron in San Juan, La Montserrate in Luquillo, Crashboat in Aguadilla, Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta, Playa Sucia in Cabo Rojo, Playa Flamenco in Culebra, Sun Bay in Vieques, and Playa Escondida in Vieques
One of the many intimate natural escapes.

Waterfall in Maricao, Puerto Rico

Basically, a trip to Puerto Rico cannot disappoint. It’s a hospitable environment, with great weather, and with such a wide range of activities and adventures, there’s sure to be something for everyone. How could you go wrong?

Washington, D.C.: Capital paradise

In the last few months I returned to one of my favorite cities in the entire world, Washington, D.C. after 3 years of not visiting.

Washington, D.C. is so much more than politics and business. Sure, they bring an interesting and unique dynamic to the city, but that’s not all there is. My best friend lived there for 5 years, so I had the pleasure of visiting a bunch of times. It’s the type of city that every time you visit, you love it more. It’s a myriad of cultures mixed together. Outdoorsy like the Pacific Northwest, somewhat Southern, extremely European elegance, residents from multiple states, and nationalities from all over the globe. It really is a fair representation of the USA, since it has a little bit of everything.

The preferred mode of transport for many DC residents is bike. Cycling is an easy means of commuting, and a favorite activity for the many outdoor enthusiasts. Everywhere you go you see people cycling and jogging, it’s a city filled with fitness. Nearby hiking trails in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland are favorites to the city residents.

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Biking in Georgetown

My husband and I were visiting a friend of ours in DC, and we braved out the rain and decided to bike through Georgetown and the National Mall to see the monuments. It’s much bigger than people imagine, so walking it can possibly take more than half of a day. So we decided biking was more convenient, especially when wanting to cross the winding Tidal Basin to get to the Jefferson Memorial.

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Drizzly day at the Washington Monument

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Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial

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On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking at the Washington Memorial

What’s also nice about DC is that you can meet people from any state there. I’ve met people from Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska just to name a few. Some being the only people I’ve met from those  states. You really get a sense that it is the capital of the country. At the same time you get glimpses of southernness, even though it doesn’t look or feel southern (other than its crazy summer heat). But then you notice the slower pace, friendly locals, Chesapeake seafood, humid weather, jazz, southern BBQ and many residents from the southern states and you start to think otherwise… And of course, it’s got immigrants from all over. Most notable are the residents from El Salvador, Korea, India, Mexico, and Vietnam, which constitute the 5 largest. For a curveball, there’s an increasing amount of immigrants from the UK arriving, and there’s a good amount of Ethiopians as well.

In fact, DC is supposed to have some of the best Ethiopian food in the country, and I believe it. Little Ethiopia is concentrated on 9th street between U & T street. My favorite spot is Zenebech Injera for no-frills hearty and authentic Ethiopian cuisine. My favorite being the vegetarian combo which contains tomatoes, red lentils, collard greens, chickpea stew, cabbage, yellow split peas with the unique injera bread. For those who haven’t had Ethiopian food before, you eat everything with your hands. You wrap up the rest of the food by scooping it into the injera bread. It’s very flavorful, blending spices and tastes from East Africa and India.

Ethiopian food

My favorite part about DC is just how lovely and stroll worthy it is. It’s one of the best cities to just take a relaxing walk through, especially in the summer in the evening.

Have you been to Washington DC? What’s your favorite part about it?

Happy wanderings,

Wanderlust Guru

Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah

Wow what a blast! Hailing from New York and attending Saint Patrick’s Day in Rockaway, NY (a very very Irish neighborhood) almost every year, I thought I knew all about the wonders of Irish-American shenanigans. But boy was my mind expanded. Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day was in a complete league of its own. Unfortunately I attended during a road trip and wasn’t able to get there in time for the parade, so that was a miss. But the party was still going really strong at 4pm when I arrived, and throughout the whole night.

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick's Day

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day

There’s music everywhere, people wandering the streets making new friends, and just general good fun going on. The activity was revolving around the street right along the river and also in Savannah’s plethora of squares (I’ve never seen so many squares outside of a European city). The city is absolutely beautiful and everyone is having a great time, and the best part is you can drink openly on the streets legally just as long as it’s not in a glass bottle and it’s contained to a 16 oz cup (but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more supplies in a small knapsack as well).

Monument in one of Savannah's squares

Monument in one of Savannah’s squares

River street in Savannah

River street in Savannah

The festival has a lot of great dancing, people-watching, and food (the shrimp gumbo!!) but above all the people were really friendly and fantastic to meet. None of the bars had covers, and I found that the drinks were pretty cheap also. It definitely lives up to the hype, and I would dare to say that it’s more fun than the ones here in New York City.

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Has anyone ever been to Savannah for Saint Patrick’s Day before? I would highly recommend keeping it in mind for next year.

Myth-busting Mississippi

Mississippi may not be very high on most traveler’s itineraries, but all you need for a trip is a little curiosity. And I certainly am a curious person. I have the good fortune of having a friend from New York who lives down in Vicksburg, Mississippi who I spent a long weekend with recently.

Mississippi is a land of perseverance if there ever was any. The weather was beautiful in the winter when I visited but it’s oppressively hot and mosquito ridden the rest of the year. The threat of the mighty Mississippi River is a real one since the Mississippi Delta received the USA’s most damaging recorded flood in the past century back in 2011. Not only that, but Mississippi is also where hurricane territory meets tornado territory. Mississippi suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Evening light on the Mississippi River

Mississippi is both a shocking and surprisingly marvelous state. It’s very informative to visit and experience first hand. Since many parts of Mississippi are impoverished, many buildings are re-purposed or used in duality. In many cities in the northern USA you’ll just see them completely abandoned, even if they appear usable. In Mississippi, you’ll find a hospital that has a 5 star restaurant in it, a country style restaurant doubling as a knickknack store, a gas station that became a restaurant, and a school that became an area for shopping. Nothing goes to waste there. People hold on to possessions for life “just in case they ever need it”. People fix things, instead of throwing it away. Mississippians adjust to their circumstances.

Mississippi is also filled with surprises. I had the pleasure of visiting Natchez, which in the 1850s had the most millionaires than in any other city in the country, and Mississippi being one of the 10 richest states at the time. Thanks to this, Natchez and the state of Mississippi have impressive architecture. It is also worth noting how colorful many of the buildings are also. Natchez has beautiful antebellum mansions in every corner of the town and many have become museums that are open for visitors. It is a town located on a bluff over the Mississippi River giving it amazing scenic views looking at Louisiana on the other side.

Monmouth Plantation

Monmouth Plantation gardens

Finally, you’ll be surprised by how great the food is. You get a mix of southern food and Creole food that comes up the river from southern Louisiana. In Vicksburg, there’sT’Beaux’s Restaurant for delicious shrimp étouffée, gumbo, red beans, and pretty much everything else Creole. And on the road from Vicksburg to Natchez there’s the Old Country Store in Lorman that serves up the best fried chicken and southern food you can imagine in a very hospitable environment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been featured on the Food Network. In Jackson you can even get delicious French pastries and other baked good in the cute Fondren District. La Brioche has great gelato and macaroons.

Mississippi may have many factors that proceed to give it a bad reputation, but when you have low expectations most of the time that just leaves more room for you to be impressed. There are no absolutes when it comes to good and bad destinations to explore. Happy wandering.

Pretty architecture in downtown Jackson

Why I want to be a blogger

Hey guys I’m going underway with this blogging101 course and I wanted to tell you more about myself and my blog’s purpose.

I’m completely obsessed with travel. I’m constantly researching destinations that range from domestic to international, exotic to plain, cities to nature. And I love spreading the positivity with others who love travel or want to travel more. I’m blogging publicly to gain that sort of contact. I would love to connect with others blogging about travel or those who need advice and tips about how to travel more efficiently.

At the MOMA in New York City

I hope to accomplish a lot with this blog.  I want to bring that extra piece of inspiration for the curious person to choose a more obscure destination. I want to get and give recommendations and discuss them. And perhaps most of all I want to be able to blog full time and build a meaningful connection with an audience. And after completely today’s assignment of looking through other blogs it’s interesting to see everyone else beginning their creations as well and I understand the importance of reaching out to others so that you can participate in the community in a better way. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions and do follow! I’ll check out your blog as well.

Happy wanderings!

Ridiculous (and free) first night in Eilat, Israel

It was November 2011 in Israel. I was on a bus heading to Eilat with my crazy travel companion, a beautiful and out of her mind Jewish Argentine girl named Nena. We’re on the bus where we met this Israeli guy named Gus and his friend Azaf, who is a little person. Nena and Gus were smoking a cigarette at a pit stop before we headed into the Negev desert. Nena befriends Gus and gets us free alcohol. Gus and Azaf join us and sit with us, and Gus immediately starts pouring us vodka beverages. At 1pm. We oblige. There was minimal communication with Azaf since he doesn’t speak any English but he’s encouraging enough with his smiles. We’re laughing, and before you know it we obliterated a bottle of vodka between the four of us, and we’re in Eilat. Gus casually says “Ok well we’re going to my best friend’s Mazie’s place you should come join us for dinner”. We oblige, luggage and all, and found ourselves surrounding a coffee table with 12 other Israelis who spoke not a word of English. We were a little uncomfortable but they were feeding us and giving us all this alcohol, which doesn’t need any translation to anyone of the backpacker variety.

Suddenly, all of Mazie’s friends are gone and they suggest we go to the ice bar. Mind you, Nena had 2 shekels in her wallet, and I had 0. Gus and Mazie pay for everything, and next thing we know we have a photoshoot done and there’s 75 pictures of us donned out in the ice bar gear (several of which I was giving Azaf a piggy-back ride). We’re having fun going down the ice slide, taking shots, and taking cheesy photos. While our tour guide was distracted, Nena and I were behind the bar taking even more shots of vodka.

We get back to Mazie’s place at 1.30am. When it looked like we were going to stay in Mazie blurts out NO WE ARE GOING OUT. She calls up her friend “FatBitch” and we go to her place where we continue to drink and smoke shisha (because that’s what all Israelis like to do while pregaming). We go to a club, FatBitch buys us all shots. We are particularly alluring to the club photographer and pursues to take perhaps 40 photos of us. That night is better documented than my high school and college graduation combined, believe me. The club was fun, and the night was a success because Nena and I didn’t spend not even 1 shekel. We are walking back to Mazie’s place where she said we could stay the night. A few blocks before we arrive to Mazie’s place she flirts with a HotGardener. It’s 5am. Mazie gives HotGardener her phone number.

Gus is sleeping in Mazie’s bed, the 4 of us cuddle. We only met half a day ago. Mazie wakes us up at 8am to kick us out of bed. HotGardener is coming over for a booty call. Nena and I proceed to the kitchen. We some cereal bars and fruits. 7 minutes go by and Mazie is kicking HotGardener out of the apartment, turns out he was a one minute man. Eilat is too small of a town for this to not go unnoticed.

We leave to go to the hostel we were supposed to be checked into the night before. The HostelOwner is obviously pissed we didn’t show up. HostelOwner wants to charge us for the night even though we weren’t there. We tell HostelOwner that our bus broke down in the middle of the Negev dessert and we were stranded overnight for 11 hours before a replacement arrived and that we caught colds in the cold of the desert (this comes back to bite us in the ass later). HostelOwner doesn’t buy it. Nena threatens to bring our business elsewhere, HostelOwner abides. Jews outsmarting Jews.

Moral of the story is when traveling, go with the flow and oblige and random things will happen to you. And to travel with someone equally ridiculous and spontaneous as you.

So what was our logical next move? Not to sleep of course but to mount a camel….to be continued.

Long Island Gold Coast Part 2

Sticking to the Gold Coast theme, I also had the pleasure of visiting Oheka Castle about a month ago in Huntington, NY. It is the second largest private residency in the United States at an impressive 115,000 square footage. It is no longer a residency, and is now converted into an upscale hotel and as a site to host special events such as weddings (Kevin Jonas and Joey Fatone both had their weddings here). Scandalously enough, I learned after my visit that the owner of the castle, Gary Melius, was shot 3 times in the parking lot a mere 3 days before my visit.

I have lived on Long Island for the majority of my life, and have been around the area of these 2 estates several times, but never made it. Now I’m glad that I was able to put aside some time to explore my area more, which enriches my understanding of the history of Long Island and how it forms such a unique culture. Long Island is in the shadow of New York City, yet life remains very suburban and simple despite its proximity to the city. The island is massively overcrowded and traffic is an accepted reality of everyday life. The population is steadily on the rise, and in a place so starved for space it’s interesting to see the wide open acreage of estates such as this.  

 

Long Island Gold Coast

We all want to be able to travel more, but what to do when we’re in the stages of saving money to travel again? Well I like to look for adventure locally in the meanwhile. I’m blessed to be from the New York City area, so there’s are plenty of options in such a small area. Many may not be as fortunate. However, adventures are what you make it and there’s always a place that you have overlooked for years or just postponed going to. On your days off when you don’t have anything to do, try and do one of those things! I made a list of places that I’ve been putting off for years and have been slowly checking them off.

So yesterday I did one of those things and I drove a whopping 17 minutes from my house and went to the Old Westbury Gardens here in Long Island, New York. I even went for free thanks to a pass from my local library. The OW Gardens houses a rather large mansion known as the Westbury Mansion which is a legacy of the Gold Coast era that developed in the late 1800s and peaked during the 1920s on the 16 mile stretch on the north shore of Long Island from Great Neck to Huntington. You may be familiar with this era through the classic book, The Great Gatsby. It is also the filming location of many famous films such as North by Northwest and Cruel Intentions.

The mansion was gorgeous, filled many lavish pieces from the time period. What struck me as something peculiar was in this mansion-turned-museum they had mannequins in every room dressed as the previous owners would have, adding a more visual dimension to how these people lived in their wealth. The estate is a vast 160 acres and it has its very own lake and also many beautiful, expansive gardens. It boggles my mind that I was born and raised only 17 minutes from this opulence, but at the same time I could drive 17 minutes and be in the worst neighborhood in the South Bronx. Only in NYC my friends.