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We’ll Always Have Paris.


I had been warned prior to my gap year in Europe by the University doctor who, let’s face it, must have seen hundreds of students returning from exchange programs showing symptoms of strange rashes and itchy privates. She explained quite frankly that “travel is very romantic, you might find yourself on a train, winding its way through snowcapped mountains and meet a dashing man. All of a sudden, a twenty-five year age difference doesn’t seem so bad.” She paid special attention to the temptations associated with being a young backpacker in Paris. As I set out to see the romantic city, with its rumored tree lined walkways and accordion playing bums, I swore to myself “I will not fall in love in Paris.”

Six years after my first trip to Paris I have returned, and couldn’t help but remember how badly I failed at my attempt to “NOT fall in love” in the notoriously romantic city. Thinking back, I don’t even think I lasted 24 hours before my little backpacking heart was swept away the moment I laid eyes on my bunk buddy in the “Peace and Love” youth hostel…yes, really the name of a hostel, and yes, the very reason I stayed there. Until very recently I have looked back on my love affair in Paris, and only ever remembered my Australian amore. Not what I ate, drank, smoked, paintings I saw, cathedrals I visited. On this recent trip however, I realized that not only did I fall in love in Paris when I was 19, I fell in love with Paris, and with travel six years ago. I fell in love with the way my backpack straps weighed on my shoulders as I walked to the train station and the impression my feet made in my worn Birkenstocks. A new stamp in my passport did, as it does today, make my heart flutter, and learning to order a glass of wine in French made me feel like an independent woman. I am a bit more seasoned a traveler now, but last month’s trip back to the city where it all began sent sparks flying in this backpacker’s heart.

I had just over 24hrs in Paris this time around, a time frame where you have to make a decision: “Will I make a mad dash to every landmark and tourist hot-spot in an 5-mile radius?” OR “Will I stroll the streets, snap a few artsy photos, take in some local cuisine, and maybe if I am lucky end up in a street parade?” I’ll take the latter any day. So that is what we did. Matt and I spent 24 hours with Le Grand Paris, starting quite by mistake at the Eiffel Tower. Yes, a bit touristy, BUT in my defense when I first came to Paris in 2005 I was too in-love to be bothered to see the iconic structure so I was rather pleased when we sort of bumped into it. Starting a tour from this lovely spot on the Seine allowed us easy access to the Botobus, a water taxi service that drops passengers at several spots along the river.

Back on dry ground…well I had already wet my lips with a little Bordeaux, we hopped off the Botobus at Musee De O’Rsay, strolled down Quai Voltaire, and crossed the Pont Royal Bridge into the Jardin du Carrousel. Through lush greenery, ample walkways, and Secret Garden worthy fountains we spotted the Pyramide du Louvre by renowned architect I. M Pei. I remember falling in love with architecture as well on my first trip to Paris, a love that has propelled me to visit cities since for their buildings alone: Chicago, Dubai, and Barcelona. But Paris’s architecture is uniquely innovative with centuries of design standing seamlessly together.

Although my appetite for architecture, glass, and steel had been fed, Matt still hadn’t tasted a fresh Parisian baguette and I was in the mood for a staple of French cuisine. Hoping to avoid going into a detailed explanation of Foie Gras, I took Matt to Rue Montorgueil, ducked into Comptoir de la Gastronomie as it was the Café with the fattest, healthiest bird painted on its sandwich board, and ordered nothing but bread, cheese, wine, and this savory French delicacy. Filled with duck liver and sourdough we “waddled” across Pont Louis Philippe to Ile St-Louis for a sacred desert. Eating Berthillon Ice cream feels like being in an old world love story, and I ate up both the melting treat and being in Paris with Matt.

We spent the evening perched on a bench in the Latin Quarter with a carafe of Bordeaux looking up at a slivered moon. I remember on my first trip to Paris sitting on a bottle shop floor with my hostel romance, judging a “good” wine by the depth of its indentation in the bottom of the bottle. I was so overwhelmed that for one, I was 19 years old and allowed to purchase a bottle of wine, and that I was in love in the most romantic city in the world, Paris. This past visit brought about much of the same emotion, but with a slightly more maudlin attachment to my early years as a backpacker. I realized that along with being the capital of romance, Paris is also the best place for a young traveler to start. It was for me a starting point, and now a lovely place to return again and again.

Wishing my Paris love a very happy birthday and wonderful year of travel.

Want to Visit Paris? Airline: AirFrance direct from Seattle Hotel: Hôtel Novanox, 155, bd du montparnasse – 75006 Paris Transport from Charles de Gaulle: RER Line B3 5:30am-Midnight, 40 minute trip. Visa for Americans: Nope. Travel Guide: Lonely Planet, Paris Encounter.

A World of Music, WOMAD Festival Abu Dhabi

I used to be really in to the Putumayo world music albums and listened to everything from “French Cafe” to “North African Groove.” These albums allowed me to close my eyes and get far away from my actual self, not yet traveled, and live an imagined life where I was changing the world, jumping off waterfalls, and dancing to a hole in the wall Cuban band fueled by never ending sangria. These day dreams would last for at least the 3 minutes and forty five second duration of the song, when I would wake to the realization that I had dreamt right through my bus stop and was going to have to walk up sehome hill if I wanted to make it to my Geology lab.

Years after passing Geology class and leaving my home town, I still love these albums. Now, instead of providing the soundtrack to an infinite list of imagined adventures, they are reminiscent of places I have actually seen, people I have salsa danced with, and exotic cuisine I have helped prepare. Our auditory sense has the ability to transport the mind to a re-lived memory or to create a whole new, imagined experience. The world music genre is especially intriguing because it can do both of these things at once: remind and inspire. This rang and sang true for me last month when I attended World Of Music Arts and Dance WOMAD located on Abu Dhabi’s corniche, during one of those perfectly breezy Middle Eastern Spring evenings. In one sitting I heard French folk, reggae, Iraqi jazz, African drumming and a very unique hybrid of Celtic trans…River Trans? This festival was like the ultimate mix CD with the mixed crowd of world music patrons to match.

The corniche is a prime strip of waterfront property extending four kilometers with a public beach, picnic spots, and facilities for athletes. Event planners set up two stages on opposite ends of the beach utilizing that old party trick where you space out your seating throughout the venue to encourage guests to move about and mingle. Fitting with the multi-cultural theme there were booths set up selling traditional abayas, Indian bead work and African drums.

After an inspiring performance by West African Kora harp master Toumani Diabate, music patrons migrated toward the bohemian sound of the eleven stringed Oud. Hungarian born musician Omar Bashir, best known for his mastery of the Oud was inspired at the age of five by his father musician Munir Bashir. Omar’s sound, best described as Arabic Jazz provided an intoxicating and peaceful lullaby to woo even the wildest WOMAD crowd. As I drifted off into a day dream world I couldn’t help but notice the colorful crowd illuminated by a fat and silvery moon. Rastas slowed danced with Arabian beauties and I cozied into the sand with new friends and mad appreciation for a festival that epitomizes world music.

Project Surya: We Love Japan!

This is a heads up about a special project I am participating in to raise awareness and funds to help Japan. The project is called Japan Aishteru “We love Japan” and aims to provide aid after Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami. After last year’s visit to Japan and watching this devastating story unfold I have felt saddened and helpless at the struggles this amazing country is facing. In order to show support, a group of women have pledged to dedicate 108 sun salutes through Project Surya in order to raise awareness and funds for our brothers and sisters in Japan.

The FAQS:

An estimated 30,000 people were killed in the 9.0-earthquake and tsunami that tore through Japan 250 miles northeast of Tokyo on March 10, 2011.  Over 157,600 people are currently in shelters, near the epicenter of the quake, 150,000 houses in eight prefectures are without running water and 3.2 million homes are without electricity following the strong aftershock. Japan has been left with an estimated cost of over $300 billion, this is the most expensive natural disaster in the history of our existence.

Please visit Project Surya’s web-page to find out the number of ways you can become involved in this project.

Thank you for your support!

A Taste of Dubai

Every city has its niche. None compete with Chicago Blues, Melbourne street art, or Hong Kong Dim sum chefs. If I were to pin-point Dubai’s most notable expertise it would be the city’s deliberate interweaving of architectural styles, cultures, fashions and cuisine. There was no better representation of this than last weekend’s Taste of Dubai set to a pan sizzling soundtrack and against the backdrop of media city. The yearly event boasted big name chefs Gary Rhodes, Jun Tanaka, and a sampling from restaurants new to the Dubai scene like the much talked about Ivy, set to open in May. The best part of the event, besides a gorgeous day, plenty of schmoozing and the goody bags was of course the ample wine selection…which is why most of my reporting comes from my experiences earlier in the day….before I came out of the lady’s wearing a different pair of shoes?

Dubai is a four hour trek from our home in the Western Ruwais desert, but I woke with a craving for tapas and the big city so we made the trip, checking into the event without even dropping our bags at the hotel first. The festival celebrated its fourth year in style with twenty-two restaurants serving up International fare. Between cigar pairings in the MMI lounge and crispy fish n’ chips it was difficult to decipher a favorite tasting, until I got to Certo. Chef Matteo Bertuletti’s rumored goat cheese, blueberry and porcini ravioli dish had me happily in line. An hour later, finished with my ravioli I was still in the Certo tent, Montalcino in one hand and strawberries drenched in balsamic in another, convincing me that returning to Italy would ensure that I never went hungry again.

With so much international food abundantly available in the UAE it is a shame to admit I still have a list of fare that I consistently miss while living overseas. Avocados is on that list for me, a really pricey and rare treat in many parts of the world, so you can imagine my version of a zig-zagged b-line upon spying a table of beautiful Has avocados ripe as can be. The man standing next to this table was of course an added bonus, Ruben Herrera executive chef of Maya by Richard Sandoval located inside Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort and Spa. Ruben was gracious enough to whip up some guacamole for us and let me pick his brain about the challenges of bringing Mexican food to an international audience. Ingredients for many dishes, from a simple pico de gayo to chile relleno are often difficult to find and Ruben remarked on his resistance to settle for anything but the most fresh and traditional ingredients. The hotel offers a weekend lunch at 300AED for use of all pools and facilities as well as lunch from Maya. Advance bookings required.

The celebrity stage and cooking demo classes brought food patrons, amateur chefs and culinary celebrities together in a fun way! Well known for over a dozen cook books and television show “Rhodes around Britain,” chef Gary Rhodes excited the crowd about his food and even gave a few pointers after admitting his aversion to mechanized  tools in favor of an old fashioned “hand whipped” approach. Prior to chef Rhodes was the impeccable Jun Tanaka who prepared steamed sea bass in an orange glaze so mouth-watering that the stage was rushed faster than a Justin Bieber concert in order to snag a bite.

With the evening winding down I grabbed a spot in the last cooking class of the evening with the adorable and highly talented chef Scott Price from Verre, to prepare a seared sea bass and cauliflower puree. Always the good student I grabbed a station in the front and made sure my apron cleared the bunsen burner, can’t say the same for other chefs during our course. With the menu translated into nine languages, cooking with chefs I have only previously seen on the food network who have travelled tremendous distances, and drinking an Asti Spumante imported from a region I have not visited in nearly six years, I saw Dubai not merely a melting pot for culture but as a city epitomising the postmodern ideal. Quick to grow into a world renowned hub for international cuisine, Dubai’s food makes this city a unique place to nosh. Hopefully I’ll see you back next year at Taste of Dubai!

Sand Sand Everywhere: First and Last Desert Safari

The sun may go down in the UAE but the fire still burns bright. Atop a tall spire, not quite as far in the desert distance as I would like is an instant reminder that I live in a country with the seventh largest oil reserve. This reminder, along with an expansive sand box for a backyard and a sea of women cloaked in black abayas, is exactly what I hoped for when I signed on for a year in the United Arab Emirates: to be culture shocked beyond a recognizable doubt…or anything recognizable for that matter. Oddly enough I search for these giant torches in the sky as something to break up the monotony of sand, on evenings when I could swear no life force besides myself is stirring across mile after mile of desert. While wandering through the desert may feel futile, camping in the desert is just the adventure necessary to bring this landscape to life, and I was fortunate enough to see for myself last week as I embarked on my first desert safari with  Happy Linkers tour company.

Happy Linkers operates daily trips out of Dubai with pick-ups from the Dubai Mall. So, along with fifty SABIS teachers I dawned my smartest camel riding attire and rode deep in to the Arabian desert for a night to remember. By 10 PM, hands fully henna’d, lungs brimming with sheesha, and visions of belly dance fairies shimmying in my head, the hot, white sky over the Arabian desert had switched off and the headliner entertainment came on, full horse….I mean full force. The “Horse Dance” is based off a long standing adoration with the Arabian breed, dating back nearly 4500 years. The show itself was reminiscent of a fantastic Halloween costume a friend galloped around Bellingham in whereby he represented the front half of a unicorn, laying the weight of the back half on a pair of roller skates. He easily zip from one party to the next without slowing down enough to have his tail pulled. The two men operating the horse for the safari performance must have a system worked out or at least a coin toss before shows to flip for who gets stuck in the rear.

After some Arabian rump shaking, sword swallowing and whirling dervishes, the desert reminded me of its presence and vastness by doing something that any “I told you so” landscape might do. Just when I was beginning to think of the desert as predictable, that same white sky that had just a few hours earlier cooled itself into a an indigo night cover, opened up its menacing eyes and cried great big rain drops onto our camp. I ran for a tent, Matt ran under a camel and just like that I had been tricked by the land.

The safari was my first and last time I will sign on to willingly sleep in the desert as a recreational activity, not necessarily because when the unmistakably hot sun goes out the temperature quickly drops, not because camels are far from being cuddly creatures and not because a sand pillow is much less comfortable than a bean bag chair, but because the desert scares me. It is as mysterious to me still as the first class lounge and as unpredictable as a Middle Eastern revolution. I am walking away with a losing record: Desert 1, Teach Travel Play nil.

The Grand Ole’ Mosque

 

I have come across a great deal of peculiar and remarkable sites during my travels: Cock-fighting stadiums filled with screaming fans in the Philippines, the schnee laufen team practicing with ski poles down cobblestone streets in Lucerne, Saki bombs and marriage proposals on top of Mount Fuji, and hands-down the best party I have ever crashed at the Grace Hotel during gay pride week in New York. But far and away the most breathtaking, happen upon site I have wandered upon is the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi UAE. Now you would think that I had done my homework and realized that the Sheik Zayed mosque is the number one tourist site in the United Arab Emirates, but I tend to forgo research when I am going to be living somewhere for any extended period of time because a girl’s got to have a few surprises, right? So you can imagine the delight of walking up upon this pure, white marble, piece of religious and cultural significance. It was Friday, a holy day so I thought I would just snap a few photos and keep walking because surely it was not open to the public…once again, I hadn’t done my homework, it was open!

Built recently in 2007 the grand mosque stands as the largest in the UAE and the eighth largest in the world at 22,412 square meters, boasting twenty-eight different types of marble from various countries. The marble’s stark color is even more evident as the backdrop to a sea of tourists and worshipers wearing the traditional black abaya and headscarf provided to all female visitors. Remarkably in a setting made of a notoriously echo producing material, the marble clad grand mosque remains a peaceful, silent space inside Abu Dhabi’s bustling metropolis.

I began this holy Friday staring at the small sign on my hotel ceiling that points to the direction of mecca. Waking to my alarm, the call to prayer at 5am, wondering how the religious history of a culture can be woven through an urban landscape with so much noise, pollution, and hurry. The grand mosque, and every mosque I have visited in my few short weeks here has proved that meditation, prayer, peace, are possible even in a bustling environment, especially when your religion is as old and rooted in tradition as Islam. On the way back to my sleepy desert town from Abu Dhabi, our bus driver had to make a stop. He pulled over unexpectedly, told us he would be “back in a few!” and went to a roadside mosque to pray. I’ve seen a New York minute, British tea time and an afternoon siesta, but this is my first run in with a culture that makes a habit of taking time to pray. Stumbling upon the grand mosque amidst Abu Dhabi’s high rises and sheesha haze has presented one of those “Aha!” moments, where I think I may be beginning to understand a culture. Then again, I still couldn’t tell you which way to Mecca without the pointer on my ceiling.

Blind Date with the UAE: First Impressions of My New Home

Surprise…or maybe not a surprise to some, I am off again! After accepting teaching positions with SABIS in the Western region of the United Arab Emirates, Matt and I now find ourselves in a familiar setting…an immigration office wondering “what the hell are we doing?” I have come to think of these moments just before I lay myself at the mercy of a new culture as similar to the feeling of walking into a blind date, and truth be told, I have been to more countries at this point than on blind dates and certainly had more success with the former. But with Valentine’s day upon us I thought I would take this moment to look at this unique culture as a potential love affair, one that I plan to flirt a bit with first, before opening a bottle of bubbly.

So here is what I know so far: Located on the Arabian peninsula, the UAE is comprised of 7 emirates united under one  president (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi) but each sovereign and ruled by an autonomous Sheikh. The UAE is an Islamic nation whose muslim locals make up a mere 20% of the population, the remaining 80% comprised of Expats ranging from Pakistanis to Europeans. Dubai has in the last decade soared to overwhelming wealth and development now boasting Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, as well as an indoor ski slope. The UAE has grown in recent years from oil funds while they sit on 10% of the world’s oil…not bad for a country less than half the size of Washington state!

At this point my first impressions, despite being warned about Matt and I holding hands in public, showing too much ankle and having to acquire a “drinking licence” are optimistic. Located within reach of countries that have been on my travel wish list longer than I have been “borrowing” airplane blankets, and boasting cuisine that has been salivated over by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and James Martin, I jumped at this dream date. How could I not be intrigued by  a culture so widely rumored about through media sources, and yet mysterious to the Western world? I am putting my “to-do” list on hold, rolling down my pant cuffs and borrowing a tip from an admired adventurist: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” ~Mark Twain. Hopefully my love affair with the UAE is sparked at first sight, but like most true romances, it will be a labor of patience, time and magic carpet rides🙂 And I don’t think I will have too hard a time holding off on the bubbly this dry Valentine’s….it’s prophet Muhhamed‘s birthday.

Game 4: And that’s a wrap…crap!

While I will NOT miss attending 3am games mid-week in the pouring rain after a night of watching four hours of play by other teams that I support, the thought that I may never again hear “Dae Hamin-Guk” chanted througout the day or have another chance to dawn my red devils jersey and Park-Ji Sung face mask to work nor will I be able to fill a 45 minute lesson teaching middle schoolers numerous world cup songs from around the globe…makes me wish Korea opperated in world cup mode on a regular basis.

Here’s how it went down: Korea’s tie with Nigeria 2:2 put them through to the next round of 16 teams. Fantastic game to watch! I showed up at 3am to the outdoor stadium in Ulsan with my mug of coffee in one hand and noise maker in another. Even if I decided to try and sleep through this early morning game my efforts would have been in vain, with car horns beep-ing out chants and everyone from my school principal to the old woman who sells me salt on the corner out to support Korean national heros. I was home by 6am with just enough time to re-group and head out for work…what a day!

Game four rolled around with a lot on the line for me as an American living in Korea. South Korea was due to play Uruguay in an automatic elimination round while America was taking on Ghana the same weekend. Everything went sour from here. Uruguay led with a 2:1 win over Korea and Ghana hung on in overtime with a 2:1 win over the USA. The majority of Expats in South Korea are American or English so coupling Korea’s and America’s loss with the defeat of England to Germany has put Ulsan in a funk so deep it will take more than a night of norebang and soju to cheer us up.

The world cup lives on and I am certainly still watching, but I have to wonder: What will become of the chants, the masks and the red devils? Enjoy some wrap up photos and a special congratulations to Spain for their win over Portugal!

Week 1: We Win Some and Sometimes We Get Schooled

Korea is a convenient place to watch the world cup because of the seven hour time difference between South Africa and Seoul. Games play at 8:30pm, 11:30pm and 3:30am daily so for the Korea vs Greece game fans had plenty of time to throw back a few bottles of soju, cover themselves in face paint, put on every piece of red clothing they could muster and make it to the nearest park, stage or pub before the 8:30 kick-off. Walking up to Taewha river park in Ulsan can only be described as what it must look like walking into Hell with thousands of red faced fans wearing glowing devil horns, banging drums and sticks together chanting Korean game cheers. With Jung-Soo Lee’s  first goal against Greece the audience erupted even before the fireworks did and by the second goal Korea was in a state of perpetual celebration. Hite, kimchi and dried squid were passed through the crowd, and nothing but “Dae Hanmin Guk!” could be heard for miles. I drug my cheer weary lungs home at 6am after watching a surprising draw between England and the USA and had sugar plums and Park ji Sung dancing in my head until the next afternoon.

Game two for Korea was an expected but devastating defeat against Argentina. The stadium across the street from my house in Ulsan packed 15,000 people in to watch the game live on a flat screen and dedicated fans cheered right through Higuain’s goal streak. I have always known Korea to be a patriotic country but the extent of their loyalty has not been crystal clear to me until now. It was a rough Friday at school with middle schoolers in tears pleading with me to teach them swears and insults in English that they could hurl at the Argentinian team. The one phrase that I felt appropriate and that I am sure will now never hear the end of is “you got schooled.”

With Korea’s next game to be played against Nigeria at 3am I would expect a smaller crowd this coming week, but something tells me Koreans will be out in full force to stay up through the night to support the Red Devils with unwavering adoration and pride. Stay tuned…

World Cup Fever in South Korea

 

A new and contagious epidemic is sweeping South Korea and the rest of the world and it’s not the swine flu or yellow dust. The upcoming world cup has brought out radical fans, new theme songs and every excuse to party from Seoul to Busan as a red sea of patriotic football fanatics sing praises to the “Red Devils.”

With kick off in less than a week Korea has made sure to clothe every citizen working in hospitality from hotel staff to grocery clerks in red jerseys in support of the South Korean team affectionately called “The Reds” or “The Red Devils.” Korea’s beer “Hite” has changed its label from a generic looking orange and blue motif to a series of football comic strips. Schools have held world cup themed sports days where classes compete in massive football games emulating their favorite players. Little is known about pre-game build up coming from the North Korean fans but NPR recently reported that key Northern player Jong Tae-Se has vowed to score a goal in every one of the team’s scheduled matches. Not an easy task given the tough draw the North Koreans have been stuck with.Jong Tae Se 

The most advantageous aspect of the games for us will be the live broadcast being projected onto an 80′ tall screen in the open-air stadium across the street. With the time difference from South Africa to Korea all games will be played between 8pm and 3:30am Korean time. I can safely forecast three weeks of summer nLonely Planet’s homepage ights tailgating Korean style in the very near future. Stay tuned for world cup updates from Korea and be sure to check out as bloggers from around the globe write in about their world cup experience.