Tag Archives: Italy

Reluctant Hibernation

I act like a bear in January. I cocoon on my sofa far too much and leave it reluctantly, unless, of course, I’ve got a salsa lesson, which is the best half-hour of the week. When not at salsa class (yes, some bears do dance), I skulk about our house looking for snacks—often, and I’m not joking here—smoked salmon. Fish is good for the brain and in the winter, my brain chemistry needs all the help it can get. January slays me every year (February, too, but I perk up knowing Daylight Savings and spring are just around the corner). If I could sleep away winter like bears do, I might, though I know no one would scoop the cat litter box while I hibernated. (I was disappointed to learn bears actually don’t hibernate as much as urban myth would have us believe. They’re out there in the woods, putting in the hours, which makes me think I need to get off the sofa more.)

What keeps me afloat this January is that starting in March and going into mid-May, I’ll be visiting some very gorgeous, warm places. I’ve been accepted to Sirenland, which still blows my mind, and despite a hatred (yes, hatred) of flying, I’m flying to Italy because no one has yet invented the technology to beam me there. Since I redeemed miles to make the trip, my journey is anything but direct. First I’ll be flying into Zurich, Switzerland, where I’ll spend a few days walking off a sedative hangover. Then I take a train through the Swiss Alps to Naples, Italy, which, honestly, I’m pretty stoked about. The distance is like training it from New York City to Buffalo; the idea of sitting on a train snaking through Europe will make me feel 25 again. I’m okay with this. Once in Naples, I join my fellow Sirenlanders and we pile into cars and make our way to Le Sirenuse in Positano, a jewel along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Here, I’m expecting symptoms of Impostor Syndrome to strike—and to hit hard. Italian wine consumed in socially-acceptable doses will help.

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Then in April, a four-day family spring break to Exuma, the Bahamas, because last spring break, we skied in Vermont and froze our butts off, making it feel like a repeated winter break as opposed to a true spring break. There’s a place in Exuma where we can swim with wild pigs. The pigs in Vermont are either rolling in cold mud or are transformed into charcuterie. The pigs in the Bahamas are clearly having more fun. I decided on a house rental here instead of doing the classic Caribbean-style resort. I spent four days at a resort in Mexico this past October (more on that another time), and I’m resorted-out. If I have to forage for meals every day with a house rental, so be it.

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Which brings us to May, when I leave for Havana. Oh my gosh…people, I am giddy about this trip.

Thanks to President Obama relaxing some travel restrictions, among other factors, Havana is a city in flux right now. I’m going as part of the Cuba Writers Program. In November, I started salsa lessons because I decided I can’t go back to Cuba (I was there on assignment in 2003), and not dance. When I was there 12 years ago, music was everywhere; people danced in streets, in bars, along the Melacon. I’m not a keep-the-barstool-warm kind of gal anyway. I’ve had five lessons so far with a young Colombian-American guy who is sunshine in shoes. Salsa is a mood-lifter, better than Xanax, tequila, walking in sunlight or mocking bad poetry. It is the perfect antidote to January. What I’ve learned from signing up for dance lessons is that I need to keep dancing.

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I’ll be home May 19, and after that, not really going anywhere for a while. Yes, maybe back to California in August, and always back to the Adirondacks. We can’t really afford all this travel—it’s not cheap—but when you get accepted to prestigious writing conferences, you pull out the plastic and go. And then you get the bill and spend your summer living off library DVDs and eating spaghetti knowing it was all worth it.

While eating cheap and mooching off the local library, I’ll spend the rest of the summer thinking “Was I really there???” And that’s why you take photos when you travel. It’s not to show off or maintain your perfect life via social media. It’s because the Earth is an extraordinary mix of contradictions; it is beauty and struggle; it feels large and small at the same time; it has rhythms that we’ve learned to predict and behaviors that continue to confound; it is hot and cold, harsh yet serene. The places we visit and love change like people, so to remember these places, you need a camera. Photos thread who we were then with who we are now, allowing us to look back and see ourselves sunbathing on that beautiful beach, hiking that huge mountain, posing in front of that yellowing, historic building, so we can say “Really, I was there.”

(PS: I didn’t take these photos. They came from that fascinating Black Hole known as the Internet.)

How Eating Waffles Inspired a Trip to See Pigs

This always happens with freelancing: work that actually pays slows down a bit so I turn my attention to non-paying creative writing pursuits, like this blog and a manuscript for a novel. Then work that actually pays shows up in my inbox (and for that I am very grateful if any of my editors are reading right now), creative pursuits get sidelined, deadlines are met, invoices are paid, hopefully editors are happy, and suddenly it’s been weeks since I touched my blog or manuscript.

Time to dust off the blog today, despite deadlines, to share with you our favorite Sunday morning pastime—sitting around the table planning vacations.

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I’ve mentioned my wanderlust here before, and a crumbling kitchen, not to mention two dead trees in our backyard that require professional removal, do not seem to quell my addiction in the least (a note about living in the suburbs: tree removal can cost thousands of dollars or the equivalent of an all-inclusive to the Caribbean). When the weather starts to suck, which for us is usually mid-November when all the glorious red and gold of fall has blown away, Sunday mornings are spent slowly. We slowly eat homemade gluten-free waffles while slowly perusing our various computer devices for vacation ideas. We sit at the table for hours doing this, so much so that we have spring break 2015 planned.

So what’s on the horizon after all this waffle-making and vacation-planning? Next month, we leave for Taos, New Mexico, to enjoy a Southwest Christmas, and then we’re crashing our friends’ wedding anniversary and New Year’s plans by staying at their place in Phoenix, Arizona. Returning to the Northeast after nearly two weeks out West will feel like it always does: a slap in the face. Some Jersey traffic will set us straight quickly.

Ok, but really happened over waffles was this: after we get back from the Southwest, in April, we’ll either visit Iceland for this awesome writers retreat or I’ll be squealing in multiple tongues because I will have been accepted into Sirenland, which takes place in Positano, Italy. Both conferences are fantastic, and I would be thrilled to attend either. Iceland would be a completely new experience for me. I traveled to Italy in 1996, but that was a four-day drive-through visit to Rome and Florence. The Amalfi Coast? That’s Rome’s pampered, beautifully blonde cousin, someone I need to get to know.

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While outlining Spring Break 2014, our family decided on Spring Break 2015, and it involves pigs. We haven’t been to the Caribbean in years, despite discounts constantly plastered on the Internet and at bus stops, especially during long New York City winters, so in 2015, we’re going to spend a week swimming with the pigs in the Bahamas, which is far better than swimming with the fishes here. Wild porcines have taken over a cay called Exumas, and I have just got to see what this is about. In addition to hating planes, I hate boats, but there are some promising-looking tours that take you out for snorkeling and pig paddling, so I am open-minded about this. Mike thinks the water there will taste like bacon. Not salty water. Bacon. This isn’t surprising given that we planned this trip while eating waffles.

Three Places Where I Want to Om

One sunny late afternoon while working at a dot-com in downtown Seattle, I decided to skip my usual after-work routine, which was just watching TV (back when I used to watch TV) and head to the gym to take a Monday night yoga class. My back was sore from sitting in front of a computer all day, and, after eight months of living in Seattle, I found myself wanting to embrace all that was hot and cool in Seattle in 1998: Internet cafes, Google, filet mignon encrusted with espresso chips, and yoga.

Cliche, but true–that class changed my life.

Fourteen years later, I can’t get through the week without downard facing dog, warrior poses 1, 2 and 3, ardha chandrasana and parivrtta anjaneyasana–movements that unfurl torqued muscles and mind. I’ve done Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar and Hatha, and I’m itching to take my moves on the road and practice yoga from different points on the map. I don’t have the budget or the time right now, but I’m bookmarking these yoga vacations for when the time is right:

1. Big Sky Yoga Retreat, Wilsall, Montana

Big Sky’s tagline “Add a little yeehaw to your Namaste” had me at hello. Top that with my desire to see Montana, and I’m ready to throw down plastic to get there asap. Big Sky Yoga Retreats combines a love for yoga, horseback riding and the great outdoors, and by “combine,” I mean very combined–while sitting on a horse under said Big Sky you do yoga stretches. Located in south central Montana off of US Highway 89, Wilsall is home to about 200 people and rests in the Shields River Valley near two mountain ranges: the Crazy Mountains to the west (that sounds fun, right?) and the Absaroka Mountains to the south with Shields River cutting through town and offering fresh trout, if fishing is your game. Big Sky offers several yoga packages, as well as scholarships to yogis struggling with breast cancer who want to participate in its “Cowgirls Vs. Cancer, Healing with Horses and Yoga” retreat. Three-night retreats hover around the $1,600 range, and the August retreat is already sold out.

2. Sabina, Italy

One Hundred Skies Yoga Adventures offers a weeklong getaway to Sabina, Italy, about an hour’s train ride north of Rome, where yogis practice sun salutations facing olive groves and centuries old monasteraries, such as Farfa Abbey built in the sixth or seventh century, depending on who you ask. My first and only trip to Italy was in 1996, long before blogging, Twitter and cell phones that took photos, so I’m due back for a return to capture and chronicle Italy’s beauty. One Hundred Skies Yoga retreat to Italy takes place September 29 – October 6, and for prices ranging from $1,745 to $2,295 depending on room occupancy, you enjoy morning and afternoon yoga sessions, garden to table vegetarian dining, staying in a 17th century villa, hiking, and massage.

3. The Goddess Garden, Cahuita, Limon, Costa Rica

I was originally drawn to The Goddess Garden by its name, and then was completely sold by its location. White sandy beach, white-faced monkeys, iguanas, and the sounds of the rainforest enveloping you morning, noon and night. Caressed by the Caribbean, the Goddess Garden is located on the eastern coast of Costa Rica and Cahuita National Park is the main draw. In addition to yoga, the Goddess Garden specializes in eco-tourism and offers a rainforest canopy adventure, sea and river kayaking, horseback riding on the beach, and (my favorite) baula turtle (aka leatherback sea turtle, the largest in the world) night time egg-laying tour in Gandoca, two hours from Cahuita. The Goddess Garden is home to a yoga and meditation center, and plays hostess to yoga teachers from afar who hold their retreats there. Prices run the gamut depending on the package, but for those looking to take in some pranayama amidst the jungle, Goddess Garden offers a breathtaking spot on the planet in which to do so.

I’m ready to pack the yoga mat and head to the mountains, olive groves, and the beach. If only my bank account supported my whims.

Namaste.