The year 2020 has just began and it already gifted me with the wonderful,magical, turquoise filled week in Zanzibar. Turned out celebrating New year in Moscow had many benefits besides spending time with my family, 9 hour direct flight to Zanzibar - new and off the beaten path location with white sand beaches and palm trees, what can be better? So when choosing where to start New Year it seemed like a no brainer.
Quick researched showed that we would not need any shots to visit Zanzibar. Now if you are traveling to or from mainland Tanzania, or crossing border to Tanzania from say Kenya you would be required to provide yellow fever vaccination certificate, but if you are going straight to Zanzibar, there won’t be any questions, also the last registered case for malaria was years ago, so most of the people opt out of taking malaria pills, since they can have side effects and overall take a toll on your health. With this sorted I grabbed my organic anti mosquito stick, ton of sunblock and started packing for the trip. Besides your usual swimwear, floppy hat and sunglasses, swimming shoes would make a valuable addition, since sea urchins are common and you wouldn’t want to step on one and ruin your trip. An important note for packing, on June 1st 2019 Tanzania banned plastic bags, more specifically it banned it's use, production, import and export, violators would face a fine of up to $ 2,000 or up to 2 years in prison, so no plastic bags while packing to Zanzibar.
The day has come and 9 hours later we swapped cold and somewhat grey Moscow skies to hot and bright Zanzibar. The adventure begins with crossing the border and I gotta tell you this was the first time when the plane I just stepped out of turned out to be bigger then the airport building… Immigration is relatively easy, you pay 50$ visa fee at the border and get a 90 day tourist visa, all seams pretty straight forward, but somehow crossing the border was kinda of a mayhem… People from the plane all rushing in at the same time, not knowing where to go and what to do and who to give forms too … The whole process seamed to be poorly organized, coupled with long trip, lack of AC and lingering dehydration it made the experience a little lacking… The good news is that this is the most stress you will ever face in Zanzibar, because after this it is all smiles, sun, palm trees and ocean so gentle, you think you are being hugged by your mother.
We opted out for staying in a small village of Bwejuu on a east coast of an island, quiet and somewhat secluded it was ideal option for us. There are plenty of hotels on a east coast and plenty of beautiful beaches, however the most popular beach is Nungwi, which located on a north of the island and is said to be least affected by tides. Keeping an eye on tides is really important, I have never seen anything like this in my life, the difference between low and high tides is drastic, water will go back for miles and miles, as fas as the eye can see, almost to the horizon - creating tide pools what you can explore, many people see colorful starfish and other marine life, sadly I wasn’t one of those people. High tide will give you the most beautiful scenery - shades of blue, turquoise and indigo, sky resting on a wide shoulders of the ocean, gentle waters embracing you, letting you know that you are where you need to be. Then the same exact spot during the low tide would be completely different, no more blue… no more water. You will see new landscape, boats are no longer floating but haphazardly “sitting" on a sand and even though the change is graduate it is so complete, that you would feel like you were moved to a different planet. Tides are controlled by the moon and would happen at the different time of the day, so the your best bet is to download the tides app on your phone, so you are always in the know, we arranged our whole schedule around tides, to make sure we get the best out of our vacation.
We didn’t want to be tired up to our hotel so we rented a scooter to explore beaches around us and venture out on a big road to get a taste of real deal, not just hotel grounds. Renting one out was relatively easy, once you show up on a beach you would be greeted by smiling locals, who would always ask you where are you from and then will say few things in your native language. These guys serve as tour guides, car rental dealers, fruit sellers, basically anything you can possibly need, they are there for you. They come by every day and always offer their services but never in an invasive way, which is really nice. You will need to bargain, it is almost expected of you. After some negotiation we settled on a 15$ a day for a scooter. To rent in Zanzibar you would need international drivers license and a special permit, that coast 10-15$, the last one is really important. The very first day we went to the neighboring Paje beach, which is much livelier than ours, it is know for kite surfing and is home to lots of kiting schools and laid-back beachfront cafes, perfect for lazy lunch. Few days later we decided to drive further away, hit the road and ventured out and hour and half away up north for a lunch at the small restaurant in Uroa. We drove by famous Jozani forest home to a Columbus monkeys and saw some real Zanzibar flair, some local shops, which are basically stalls by the side of a road, full of character. While in New York it’s not unusual to see a bodega cat leisurely stretch it’s body over the loath of bread, in Zanzibar the local shop clerk will play the role of said cat, curling up next to a pile of bananas and mangos. Driving around, peeking into day to day lives of people was an adventure in itself, but we also got a bit of excitement on a way back, we were stopped by local policemen, who got real upset once he saw, that we have all the paperwork straight, remember the special permit I told you about before, and had our helmets on, so he had no choice but to welcome us to Zanzibar and let us go on our merry way, so remember - helmet and permit and you’ll be fine.
Most of the people speak english, at least in the touristy places, but you will undoubtedly hear few Swahili words. First of all “Jambo!” - a friendly greeting always followed by a big smile. Which I gather roughly means hello and how are you all at once. The other greeting you might hear is “Habari”, I only heard is once or twice tho … you could also hear a traditional muslim “Salaam Alaikum”, which is obviously not a swahili word,but is used as a greeting widely in Stone Town or city of Zanzibar. Circling back to swahili - the next important one - “Pole pole”, which means “slowly-slowly” it is principle that rules life in Zanzibar and celebrates slow passed life, savoring the moment, enjoying the now. “Pole - pole” means you should leave your jittery New Yorker behind, it means that a cup of coffee could take a half an hour to make, it means letting go. Next up is one of my favorites “Hakuna Matata” which we all know from Timon and Pumba “means no worries, for the rest of your life, it’s a problem free philosophy”. This is basically what was happening in my head every time I heard that phrase, nearly breaking into the Lion King dance/singalong.
The word that I used most often - “Asante” and “Asante Sana” which means "thank you” and “thank you very much”. It is the littlest thing, but every time people heard it, their faces would light up and I would hear back a beautiful melody of “Ka-Ri-Bu” - “you are welcome” back. So take it from me “Asante Sana” is your ticket.
I found that people in Zanzibar are filled with kindness, at least the once I have met, nowhere else in a world I smiled so much and so intensely to everyone around me, because when you are greeted with smile, you can’t help but smile back. People, who work in our hotel were the nicest ever, it felt like they genuinely wanted to make you feel welcome and comfortable, it felt like you are being greeted by distant family members, who haven’t seen you in a while, but so happy you finally made it. So even the power outages, spotty wi-fi, none existent water pressure - nothing tarnished our mood,we never called to complain about these things, well even if we wanted to, we couldn’t call, because the phone wasn’t working as well, but really we never wanted to, would you really complain to your family about slow wi-fi? I guess the hardest part was water shortage. In Africa you start to feel that the running water in fact is a miracle and you learn to treat it as such. I have been an ambassador for Georgie Badiel foundation for many years and know a lot about clean water access in african countries (Georgie is working on providing clean drinking water for people of Burkina Faso and you can lear more about her work here - https://www.georgiebadielfoundation.org/about-gbf/.
While there are many activities you can do in Zanzibar like visiting the Stone Town, which is listed as a UNESCO heritage site, going on a "Blue Safari” to explore the marine life, seeing dolphins, visiting spice farms (spices are one of the main exports of Zanzibar) we decided that we want to have a relaxing slow passed vacation so we only got around to taking one tour - the Prison Island, romantic, right? Now despite what the name suggests the Prison Island or Changuu Island - never held any prisoners on it, even tho it was built as such and the main reason to visit it is to see new inhabitants - giant tortoises from Seychelles, that were gifted years ago and been living on that island ever since. The oldest one I saw was 134 years old, but I have heard that there are 190+ years old ones somewhere out there. Meeting these giants was an incredible experience and for someone who is over hundred years old those guys moved pretty fast, especially when they wanted to munch on greens you get when you enter the tortoise part of the island.
To get to the Changuu Island you would need to take a boat from Stone Town. The thing to remember here is that Zanzibar is predominantly muslim and while hotel areas and beaches are not restricted or censored in what tourist would wear it is advisable to keep certain dress code in mind of you find yourself walking around in Stone Town, if you say decided to visit former flat of Freddy Mercury, before he was Freddy. Of course no one would cast a stone at you if you show up in booty shorts and tank top, but I think it is important to be respectful to people who’s home you are visiting and it wouldn’t kill you to cover up for a few hours, general idea is no open back, crop tops, tank tops, basically make sure that your knees, shoulders and belly are covered and you are good to go. We paid total of 70$ for 2 people for a private tour, which included the transfer from our hotel to Stone town and back (about hour and half by car one way), boat ride to and from the island, a tour guide and admission. All in all well worth the money.
One more touristy thing we did out there was getting lunch at the famous “The Rock” restaurant, perched atop of a rock on a Pingwe beach. During the low tide you can simply walk up to it, but during the high tide it becomes an island of its own and you will need to use a boat to get to it. The scenery changes with tide and guarantees a unique experience every time. The place is beautiful and otherworldly, but this is the only restaurant in Zanzibar, where “pole-pole” principle seemed to be missing, the food came out with lightning speed and unless you ordered lobster you were not guaranteed a smile. You could really feel that you were just a number at the table, the “noon” sitting, soon to be replaced by the "2 pm’ sitting. Food is what you would expect it to be at the "restaurant with the view” and the price tag comparable to New York restaurants, all priced listed in USD, having said all of that - the place itself is worth seeing and it is definitely an experience.
Last few things about our trip. There are many concerns surrounding trips to new, unknown locations, safety being the main. Here I would say the good rule would be - “Don’t be stupid” aka don’t flash your money around, don’t leave your stuff unattended, don’t walk around alone after dark ( the sun sets around 6.30 p.m and its pitch-black soon after), pretty much the same rules I listed for visiting Cape Town - here is the link if you want to read more about my trip there - http://www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/exploring-cape-town
Hygiene - water in your faucet is not suitable for drinking, even after boiling so always drink bottled water. Wash your hands often and carry around a sanitizer for those instances there is no running water, also bring along the tissues, because toilet paper is scares some places, bring along the mosquito repellant, there might be lots of them in the evening, I used an all natural, organic, herbal stick for kids and it seemed to do the trick.
Cash - change money at the airport, before your transfer to the hotel. Currency is Tanzanian shilling but often enough locals would list prices in USD and would gladly take them as well.
Sunblock - use sunblock, even though temperatures are really high the breeze from the ocean makes sure you are never uncomfortable or sweaty, my main concern, because I despise being hot to be honest. But even if you don’t feel like you are hot, the sun is really strong, so use sunblock, wear hat, seek shade and stay hydrated.
Keep and eye on tides, while water comes in gradually it comes in strong, so you might all of a sudden find yourself far out in sea.
Last advise - smile! You will get so much further ahead if you embrace the experience and smile.
Despite the fact that after I came back from Zanzibar my mum said to me the same thing she said, when she found out I went skydiving - “Okay, so you did that. It is done, you don’t have to do it again, right ?”
Despited the long way home, which included basically being 20 hours on a road, long delays and sweaty mess of an airport unable to fit in all the passengers Zanzibar was amazing! The most unexpected and thrilling adventure of 2020 (so far) with colors so vibrant - even I am still not sure they were real. Zanzibar was a dream! and I hope you will get to live it.
Happy "Hakuna Matata".
And just like that here we are in December, the whole year gone by in a blink of an eye. I have been negligent of this blog for a number of reason one of which, I am not proud to admit, is procrastination. Nevertheless I have decided to share with you the highlight of 2019 - my watercolor exhibition.
Little over six month in making with the support of my family and friends it ended up being a truly great experience.
The decision to show my work was fueled in part by my life in a world of modeling, more specifically the rejection aspect of it. We all know the feeling, it is less then unpleasant, but it is an innate nature of modeling, like it or not, but if you choose to connect your life with the world of entertainment, you would be judged on a daily basis…
Growing up I never thought of myself as attractive or beautiful, and I sort of made my peace with it, then I moved to Saint Petersburg and was approached by scouts, I was told I could be a model - for the breath shinny moment my confidence soared “I could be a model’ what a lovely notion for a young girl’s self-esteem, the victory, however, was shot lived, because right after I found out that “my face is unbalanced”, “my torso is way too long” and “my legs are not long enough” the list goes on and on… Very quickly I realized that the industry I am joining in not as rosy as one would hope. This is rather complicated subject and I wouldn’t want to go in depth about it right now, I would just point out that the main problem for me is that modeling in many ways places the value on the way you look and it is becoming hard to separate your own “self" from the “self" that is being judged and chosen or not chosen.
It became important to me to try and find alternative ways of expression, to do something where importance lies not only in the way I look, but in what I can do - so I have decided to share my watercolor works. I need to mention that I was fortunate enough to find people that supported my idea and were so helpful during the whole process and gave me an opportunity to share my ideas.
I have been fascinated with flowers for the very long time. Seemingly fragile, they remain very strong: you can see flowers growing on a side of the mountain, at the highest altitudes; making their way through concrete in a steel jungles, that are our cities; they are striving in the harshest environments and still keep their ability to bloom.
To me a blooming flower symbolizes sheer life force, raw power of creation. There’s many lessons we can take away from it. The flower does not care if you (the beholder) think it is beautiful, the flower will bloom, no matter if you watch it or not, the flower blooms simply because it is in it’s nature… I think we can try to be the same, we can learn to do things, without the need for validation from the outside world, we can be ourselves, simply because it is our nature. So as you can see flowers became central subject for my exhibition.
The idea that something can be both gentle and strong at the same time came through many of my tea ceremony practices, that I have been studying, under graceful guidance of Souheki-san, for past four years. Tea ceremony shows you that in order to make things look seamless and effortless you need to have strong “core", you need to be grounded and balanced. If you find your “tanden”(丹田) and trust in it, your practice will flourish.
Flower celebration and tea ceremony exploration are interconnected to me, that is why I decided to hold two tea ceremony demonstrations in conjunction with my watercolor exhibition to make it more of an immersive experience. Being able to share my passion for Japanese tea ceremony and to talk about my art work, to hear what struck the cord, what people got connected to and inspired by, was surreal, in part because up until the very end I was not sure if anyone will care, if anyone would show up and if what I have even worth sharing.
Through out all the uncertainty and doubt, organizational challenges (and If you ever tried to plan anything you know that things will fall thru at the very las moment ), financial predicaments this “Flower Dreaming” project ended up being the most incredible thing that happened in 2019.
I was amazed by the support I got from my friends and loved ones, turning the idea born out of pain of rejection into the celebration of appreciation - what a great lesson for the year.
So I am guessing the point of this post is this - "do not be afraid to put yourself out there”, “take a chance” and “fear not”. And right now I am talking to myself even more then to anyone else, because I am the most scared person there is.
For 2020 - let stop being afraid, let’s live and bloom just like a flower, simply because it is our nature.
Happy New Year.
P.S. You can see my watercolor work in here www.dinarachetyrova.com/watercolor.html
January came around and filled my Instagram feed with vacation photos, it looked like everyone I know is by the sea somewhere,cue the serious case of beach envy. However an impromptu vacation seamed like such an unreachable goal, so I made myself agree with the thought that place don’t matter and I do not need a beach or sea or sun to feel good. The long bargaining process with myself was complete and by the time I have convinced myself that the bathtub with the sea salt is just as good as an actual sea my bf wrecked the game with he astonishing news aka $200 tickets for roundtrip to PR and back.
Now, I don’t know how this happened exactly, but Puerto Rico been slipping my mind this whole time, despite the fact that it has everything you need for a great vacation and I mean everything - it’s close (I live in NYC) it has palm trees, there’s Caribbean sea and practically unlimited amounts of rum and great, hospitable people. Still somehow I never made it there. Later on I realized that I have all these miles on my Delta account so I could get tickets for the trip practically free. The decision has been made - my bathtub can wait, we are going to Puerto Rico!
Neither me nor my boyfriend has ever been there, so we had no idea what to expect, where to go and where to stay, all we knew is that we wanted to stay as far as possible from San Juan, because it seamed like the most touristy part and we didn’t want anything along the lines of big resort where all you get is a very groomed up and distilled picture. We each picked a spot we wanted to visit - I chose Rincon, because I read that it is known for it’s sunsets and I am a sucker for a good sunset, my man chose Isabela because “it looked good on a map” (still not sure what it means btw) and we found a nice hotel we wanted to try out there.
It truly turned out to be a really beautiful place, rightfully known for sunsets. It is located on a edge of the western point of the island, so the sun sets right in front of you. I was a bit of a mad sunset collector, arranging activities in such a way, so to see sunset in a great spot every night, turned out the best place was our hotel all along.
It also could be called a surfer’s town with the younger crowd hanging out on the beach and at the little dive bars around. The whole atmosphere reminded me of Bally in a way.
There’s a cute lighthouse close by - Faro Punta Higüeras with the nice outdoor bar where you grab a drink or a bite and enjoy the surroundings. Keep in mind that the bar is cash only.
Bar is overlooking Playa Domes known for it’s competition level waves that attract countless surfers. It is worth stressing that this beach is strictly for surfing purposes, the waters are really choppy and there are riffs all around, so no matter how confident you are in your swimming the undertow is so strong, you really wouldn’t want to take any chances.
Curiously enough this beach used to house nuclear reactor and you can still see the dome, that gave the beach it’s name, peeking out.
Okay, so I didn’t know much about Puerto Rico prior to my visit, but one of the things I did know was Flamenco Beach, also known as one of the most beautiful beaches in a world. Naturally visiting it was high on the agenda, we booked a day trip and eagerly waited for the day to come. It indeed turned out to be the Trip. You see the Flamenco beach is located on a near by island of Culebra, where you can get by boat, leaving from Fajardo - charming place on a eastern edge aka exact opposite of Rincon, where we decided to stay. So in order to make it on time for our boat we would need to wake up at 4 a.m. and drive for 3 hours straight, if that seems like a lot add into the mix the sleepless night and some kind of stomach bug, that of course had to happen the night before big outing, multiply this by a 45 minute ride on a speedboat and you will get one of the most memorable rides in my life.
Still there are no worlds to describe how beautiful that place is and no matter how uncomfortable getting there part was - it was well worth it. I think it was one of the most magical experiences - the powdery white sands, making you feel like you are walking on a cloud, crystal clear, calm, warm water, all the shades of blue and turquoise, sky dipping into the sea - Heaven on Earth, no less.
Our trip also included the snorkeling part - but sadly I spotted very few fish, practically nothing compared to say Hawaii, which I think says a lot about the state of coral reef and serves as a very clear message of a responsibility we need to take to be conscious of our environment.
Speaking of which, i brought a bag of reusable straws with me on this trip and was annoying every bartender with my non-straw requests, but it starts with baby steps, I guess …
Even though the trip turned out to be and amazing experience - waking up at the crack of a down and driving well before sunrise have proven to be really challenging, so on our way back we decided not to do the planed El Yunque National Forest excursion.
We spend the rest of the vacation indulging in a truly vacation behavior - lounging around on a beach and drinking pinã coladas and it was the most perfect end to the spontaneous and much needed get away. I did tipped into the adventurous part of me and rode a bicycle, which may seem like a nothing to you, but I haven’t ridden a bike, since I was 11 years old, so i felt, like quiet a risk taker, when I suggested we ride some bicycles around.
There are many reasons to come back to Puerto Rico or visit for the first time:
People are very kind and welcoming, even though most of the road signs, advertising banners, grocery store labels are in Spanish, most of the people speak english and it is easy to get around and even if they don’t speak english, they would do anything they can to help you, like a really nice lady, who rescued us at the gas station, when we had trouble with making the damn pump work. The general mood of the people we met around was happy and relaxed. When you are greeted with the smile wherever you go, you can’t help but smile back.
Now, I understand that I only visited couple of places and I have heard different stories about cars being broken in and so on, but I haven’t met someone with malicious intent… and I think that if you follow simple “don’t be stupid” rule you will be fine, same can be said about NYC btw.
The food is great, really fresh and flavorful. Try the local dish called mofongo which is some sort of plantain mash usually served with some meat and sauce.
Pop in Cafeteria Progresso,if you are in Isabella, where everything is equally deep fried and delicious. Ask for a relines de papa, crunchy shell reveals mashed potatoes mixed with corn and some other veggies with the minced meat center, kinda like a meat raffaello. Average dish is $2.50 with the most expensive item $4.50 - it is a steal. To be honest that was the cheapest place we found around, because usual prices are similar to the once in NYC, drinks are cheeper tho.
The Reef in Isabella is also a really nice place with yummy, fresh sea food and a mean sangria.
Rincon is full of small dive bars and grills. Mahi mahi tacos were delicious in Calypso. In general you can rely on a google when looking for a place to eat, since now they include every spot, that’s how we found literal grill stand on a side of a road, humble surroundings - great food.
If you are planing a visit (and I think you should) keep in mind that most of the activities/attractions such as Flamenco Beach, El Yunque, Bioluminescent Bays etc all located closer to the east side of the big island, so you might want to find accommodations closer to that part.
All in all Puerto Rico turned out to be unexpectedly amazing and I would definitely love to come back again and explore more.
June is my birth month and may be for this reason the question of identity has been a lot on my mind lately… One of the most popular questions I got asked is: “Where are you from?” which is, when I simply answer: “Russia” is followed by the stream of questions along the lines - “where are your parents from (Grandparents, great grandparents and so on, it turns into a very long and not so fun game…) or people would stare at me simply and blurt out point blank - “but you are Asian” or sometimes they would very gently whisper to me the same thing, but in a tone of voice, that would suggest they letting me onto a little secret, makes me chuckle really, because, trust me I am well aware of the fact that I am Asian.
I usually end up going into the quick explanation routine. Yes, I am asian, but I was born and raised in Russia. I am half Kalmyk (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalmyks), half Kyrgyz (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrgyz_people). Kalmyks are part of Mongolian brunch and they have been living in Russia since XVII century and Kyrgyzstan is a country in Central Asia that used to be a part of Soviet Union. This is kind of an" explain yourself in under five minutes" routine that I am doing each time (minus the wikipedia links, that I include here for you guys, so you can get a little more info, if you feel so inclined) most of the times I don’t mind it really, because I would love more people to learn about diversity in Russia and world in general.
This image of someone from Russia as a blond/blue eyed person is so common, I tend to get into funny situations at times where, I would show up and people would not know what to do with me. My very first trip overseas as a model was in Singapore. The agency send a driver to pick me up at the airport to take me to model’s apartment (before you get to excited I had to reimburse my agency for that ride, because nothing in life is free). The driver had minimum information to go by - my name and the fact that I was coming from Russia and evidently he was waiting for a Russian model and then I showed up. “Hello! It’s me”. He was not having it, he kept saying no, no, I am waiting for a Russian girl. It took me a minute to convince him, that I was the one he was supposed to pick up, I even showed him my passport, so he would be at ease, I think he was worried I am just some local girl, trying to score a free ride into the city.
Growing up in Russia in my home town of Tynda in a middle of nowhere I stood out. There were not many people looking like me, so my outsides didn’t match up. Kids could be mean as we all know it and in the kindergarten I was told that I am not allowed to play with the toys, because those were for Russian kids only and I was not one of them. I won’t be going much into details of bulling, because it is in a past and probably not worth wallowing in. Just going to leave it as it was rough drawing up. One of the sentiments that I have heard most was “Go home!” which was so confusing to me, because in my mind, this was home already, I was born and raised there so where would they suggest I was supposed to be going? One thing was clear that I didn’t belong and so within me, it started that unconscious search for Home.
Things got much much better when I moved to St. Petersburg, there my part time modeling career started and soon enough I was invited to go to Singapore. I had to google it, because I had no idea, where or what exactly it was. The first international trip, I didn’t know it back then but my search for Home turned into real, geographical play. Singapore was great as the first trip, so organized and safe and proper, everybody spoke english and it was easy to get around and one more thing it was in Asia. Finally I wouldn’t stand out.
There is something liberating about blending in and I really did want to just be one of. Then there was Hong Kong and China but the even tho my outsides finally matched, the insides (cultural background, the way of thinking, language) all of it didn’t match at all. Language is one of the biggest things probably, in my mind it is a corner stone for your identity, becoming who you are, understanding those around you… And once I opened my mouth it was quite clear, I didn’t belong once again.
The amount of Chinese tourists I disappointed over the years is amazing… They rush to me in NYC Subway, they look at me hopeful in NY Common Food Pantry (where I at times volunteer) one lady singled me out on a train going from Naples to Florence, here we were in a middle of Italy and she managed to find me, only to be let down, because I had no idea what she wanted or how to help her, I don’t speak Chinese… Believe me, I tried to learn, but failed miserably.
I used to displease taxi drivers in Shanghai. You see in China before Uber showed up it used to be hard to get around, google maps are practically non existent and to get somewhere you were supposed to at least know the cross streets of where you going and you would need to say it in Chinese or at least it was supposed to sound close enough to Chinese so the driver would know where to take you, naturally on one wanted extra hassle and effort, so the drivers would usually just drive past european looking potential passengers. So my friends would put me by the side of the road to hail a cab, while they hide in a back and when the taxi driver would stop he would be unpleasantly surprised - not only there were a bunch of europeans waiting, but the only “Chinese” person won’t speak a world of Chinese … we would always end up getting where we need to go, but the drivers were NOT happy with me. I would catch judgmental looks all the way.
Here I was again, my outsides matched, but it wasn’t enough. One more time I didn’t belong.
Then there was New York, where everything changed, although it didn’t seem like it at first. When I just got to NYC I was walking down the street on my way to meet my new agency, I was passing by some construction site and got an earful from construction workers, if you ever been to NYC you know that they always have something to say, my english was not so good at the time, so I didn’t really understand them, but the word I kept hearing the most was “gorgeous”, I had no idea what it meant, but in all my previous experiences I never been called anything nice, especially passing by on a street, so I immediately assumed that it was a bad word. I thought to myself - Great, not even a day here and I am already getting called names… Then I walked into the agency and was greeted by my bookers “Hello, Girl! Here you are. You are gorgeous “ I stopped short. It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t bring me all the way to New York to insult me in my face, may be it is a good word ? I goggled it later that day to find out what it means exactly. It took me a couple of tries, it is not an easy word to spell :) and well I liked that word.
NYC changed everything for me. It became home, the one I didn’t even know I was looking for. New York brought me absolute freedom. Here I could finally walk down the street without the need to hold my breath every time I pass by big group of people, the was no need to tense up or keep on looking over my shoulder. I could be whatever I wanted to be, no one cared and I loved it. In this great city my outside and my inside finally matched up.
I love this place so much and people who make it what it is. So if you are reading this, it is my appeal to you - be kind. Change good or bad it always starts small and it always starts within. So at this challenging time and in light of recent events, now is the time to recognize that acceptance, humanism, tolerance, kindness it all starts with us, so let’s allow ourselves and each other find a place, where we would belong and be who we are, free.
NYC and LA couldn't be more different and the debate which one is better an ongoing one. You see people constantly moving from one side to another, its like a wave that comes and goes.
Truthfully I don’t think that I can say something that haven’t been said before, but I was asked to weigh in and, well I listen to you guys and appreciate you taking time to make requests, so here it goes.
My first five years or so in NYC, that was It for me. NYC was one big, all consuming love and I didn’t want to even think of something else. It was “my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest”, leaving it was inconceivable, leaving it to go to LA, well that idea wouldn’t even pop into my mind. I was quite arrogantly “hating on” west coast, even without ever being there. Los Angeles? - no thanks… Looking back at my attitude now, I can only shake my head… so silly to judge something you have never been too…
But years went by and NYC love affair got too intense, the people, the rhythm, the constant chase and people one more time… Things that were firing me up before, started draining me… add long winters, grey days into the mix … I needed to escape, so I turned to the sun. Land of palm trees, beaches and sunshine. Unthinkable became a reality. California, here I come.
When I first came to NYC thing that struck me was that it looks exactly like in a movie. The New York you see in all of the many, many films is exactly the NY in real life. It is my personal believe that you can whip up a camera, start rolling and just end up with a movie. I love to walk around the city with headphones on - city comes to live and I make my own “movie” just for me.
LA was very different. Glitz and Glamour of Hollywood, I looked and I looked but I couldn’t find it… The “Walk of Fame” turned out to be a huge disappointment, dirty and busy, with Spiderman trying to hassle you into taking a photo with him, Oscar’s backdrop turned out to be a place, one must avoid at all cost … My guess would be that it is a Times Square equivalent, only somehow even worse.
LA is not a particularly beautiful city, there are certain areas and certain houses that are (Getty Center and Getty Villa for example), but as a whole it’s not very pretty and it doesn’t feel like a city. I can’t really grasp it as a whole, or think of it as a whole. It’s pretty big and spread out, so much so, that you can spend all day getting from one part of the city to another.
NYC on the other hand, at least to me is beautiful in every way and it’s extremely walkable, walking around in NYC is one of the joys that that city gives you and that is one of the things I miss when I am out here, on a west coast. People look at you funny, when you are walking down the street, they don’t know what to make of it.
In NYC you can walk outside your door and have an adventure, you might have the most amazing day, running into people you know, going places, meeting new people. Walking outside your door in LA you gotta have a purpose, point A, point B or else you dont go out you door. There’s no exciting drop inns, or “I was just in your neighborhood”, if you want to see people you need to make plans, and double check them or better yet triple check, because people are so flaky… You could be on your way and they would cancel last moment, people make “lose plans” to meet around 2-ish, 3-ish and all other kinds of “ish”… And I really don't think that it comes from a bad place, not at all, it just seems to me that people are generally super relaxed about there plans, time, life.
This relaxed attitude is one of the good things out here - you feel less pressure, you take a breather, much needed one at times. Everyone says that the quality of life in LA is better and I think in many ways it is true. Being here makes you want to be kinder to your body, you find time to go on a hike, to exercise, you slow down and at times that what people need.
Hiking is a very big part of culture here, I think people are trying to squeeze in all the missed walking opportunities. The most popular hike of cause would be Runyon Canyon, due to its close proximity to Hollywood perhaps. also I think it might be the easiest one of all, but there are a number of beautiful hikes in Topanga and Malibu. Remember when I said that LA is not a beautiful city, it is not, but the nature here is. Drive down to Malibu and see for yourself, even the drive itself is pretty.
People here are generally friendlier and prone to loving hi fives, I have given so many, my hands hurt, friendly chit chat is a must, but sometimes that friendliness gets “aggressive” I remember when I got scolded in my building for not vocalizing my “hello”, I thought that “smile and nod” will do it, after all that was a neighbor from a rental apartment on the other side of my floor, but apparently that wasn’t enough. I feel like it’s kind of a case out here, outdoing it and taking things a bit far, like cafe Gratitude for example, which I am going to every time I am out here, because there food is really good and I am not even vegan, but ordering everything in a form of statement “I am cherished, bountiful, loved, sharing…”is simply too much. Most of the times for me end up being “I am annoyed”. One of the other examples that comes to mind when I think of LA extremes is when I offered a homeless guy at Venice Beach leftover sushi, that I was going to take home and he refused, because he was vegan, which left me confused and slightly ashamed of myself and smelling like weed, my homeless friend was puffing on a huge joint the whole time we talked…
They say NYC can be a very lonely city, it is the sentiment I’ve heard a lot and it's probably true at times, but LA is an isolated city. Think about it, you are at your home, then you get in your car, then you drive in your car, getting somewhere, running errands, working, then back to your can and home, if you live in the same neighborhood you might meet up with friends, if not that might not happen. It is a mystery to me how do people met in LA, most of your day spend in car, probably in traffic, short of rolling down the window and going “hey girl/boy” I don’t know what would people do. May be that’s why there so much catcalling in here … Like from the passing by car kind of catcalling. Side note: if any of the men are reading this, please stop, that is not an effective technique. I have never met a girl, who heard a car honking and thought - “ I must have you now”.
Turning back to good things. Despite feeling isolated at times, stuck in traffic, trapped in a banal chit chat with uber/lyft drivers along with endearment of smelly cars, somehow you wake up happy every day. The secret must me in a sun and blue skies and palm trees, those I am convinced are natural antidepressants, something about them, dangling in a skyline just makes me so happy, cue the dancing people from “LA LA land” singing “It’s another day of sun”.
There are many fun things around LA, like Universal Studios, Disney Land or Six Flags, huge parks that simply not possible to fit in NYC, the tiny hiccup you will need to drive there, it’s really hard to get around here without the car, stating the obvious, the public transportation is seemingly non existent, unlike in NYC, personally for me it is an issue, because I am a silly head, who doesn’t know how to drive. This parks are great tho, they make you feel like a kid again, so if you can make it out there, there’s point for LA right there.
Another point in LA's favor comes with a story. When I was living in Russia in many movies I watched, that were set in NYC or LA, whenever a take out food was involved, I always saw those white take out containers with a red pagoda on them. It is silly, I know, but in my mind it was engraved that that’s how food looks out there and that what people do, so when I got to NYC, about 8 years ago or so, I really wanted to get that red pagoda thing, I tried Chinese food and Thai and Vietnamese and fusion … the amount of rice I ate trying to “catch” that box… forget about Pokemon Go, that was my big obsession. Eight years in NYC and nothing, I wrote it off as a movie fiction and moved on, when randomly just last week my friend and I were ordering some Thai take out and it showed up, my long awaited red pagoda box! So point LA, it was here all along. These are the kind of trivial things that excite me, my dreams aren’t too big, but I think these tiny details that what makes live and I love to celebrate moments like these.
Despite being so different and having almost opposite energies at the end of the day both cities are filled with people chasing there dreams and you can feel it, I think that’s what I love about each of them. I appreciate them both:
LA for giving me time to breathe, for teaching how to slow down, how to take care of myself, for making me feel closer to nature. I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend time here, soaking up the sun, breathing salt water air, escaping cold winter.
and NYC? well NYC is home…
Happy coast to coast
Hello February!The time when most of the people will be giving up on there New Year resolutions. Who didn’t join the gym in January, only to shove away that workout clothes in a deep dark corner of the closet in February.
Most of us make this promise, get fit in a New Year, start exercising on Monday etc. etc, self motivation is a slippery slope and this post is all about that fit life.
If you follow me on Instagram you can see that I try my best to exercise regularly, but this was not always the case with me. In fact for years I was more of a lie down and get a bagel then do some squats kinda girl. So I am writing this hoping that it will help you stay on track or may be even motivate you to start up. I, by no means, am an expert in the field, but I think this might be a good thing, if I can do it, so can you.
First step would be to make a decision, do it because that’s something you want, not because everybody is doing it, not because it is in trend, not because someone else told you so, but because it’s a choice you make. This would be the hardest step… starting something is not easy, but it’s worth it.
I started after a bad break up. Funny expression “bad break up” like there’s ever such thing as a “good break up”. Luckily for me, it was not a first heartbreak, so I was able to manage that feeling of heart dispersing into atoms and turn in into something positive. All this energy and time I had on my hands, I decided to put it into a good use and turn my heartbreak into a six-pack ( well it’s still more like a four-pack but who’s counting).
I was not doing it alone, which brings us to the next important point, get a good support system, because it will be hard at the beginning, it will be new, you will have no idea what you doing and you will need a lot of guidance, so you won’t hurt yourself or others. I was very lucky two of my friends are great trainers, so they took me under there wing and helped me, pushed me, motivated me.
My very first session was hard, all I wanted to do was lie down on a giant rubber ball and roll around like a baby seal, but I was told, that it didn't count as exercising, apparently ...
The hardest part was the day after… Once I finally got the courage to roll out of bed, literally roll, because getting up was not an option at all, I realize that this day would be really long, its very hard to eat, drink or even put on your pants when every part of your body hurts… I would of send my trainers a hate mail, but even typing hurt… When I asked them how do I stop this pain, they said - exercise some more, I hated them a little more for such an answer, but then I did exercise more and it did help and well, I was hooked.
Next step. Set goals, but realistic goals and be patient and persistent. This is where trainers will be helpful as well. They can teach you what kind of exercises you need to do, how often and when, all of this based on what you want to achieve. Be patient and stick with things. I wanted a flat stomach, to hell with flat, I wanted a six-pack. So I would do 10 sit ups and lift up my shirt up- no? no six pack… what a scam… I would get so disappointed … Nevertheless I kept going and for the record it took around 4 month of intense abs oriented routine to get my four pack … Now if I get lazy from time to time and let it go, it takes me much less to get them back, muscles are great this way, they have a great “memory”
Choose something that you love to do, what works for you. If you are not having a good time, you won’t stick with it and if you won’t stick with it, you won’t get the results you want. Honestly there are so many options right now, you can pick and choose and try until you find something that works for you. For example I hate running. Like really I am not a runner. I even read that “Born to run” book - it did not help. The only reason I would have to run is a zombie apocalypses - but zombies are, from what I’ve seen in movies, really slow, so I should be alright just NYC walking; or a bear, but they say you are not suppose to run from a bear, so there’s really no reason for me to run, at least not voluntarily. Spin classes - not a fan as well… all of these competitive team cycling and don’t let your team down spin faster mentality, does not work for me. I mean, I just met those guys, I really don’t care if the blue team wins or a red one, I am not even sure what team is my bike in. Don’t know, don’t care, don’t want to know. Having said that - there are many people who find that this kind of exercise help them build there stamina and being a part of a team really motivates them. There’s something for everyone out there, you just need to find it.
I tried so many different things from hip hop dance classes - I looked like one of those inflatable guys attracting customers to a tire shop, to a pilates, where you needed to balance on a moving plate the whole time… It was a fun journey discovering what I like, what I need and whats most effective. Now I have my routine set up and I can do it wherever I go - in my apartment, in a gym, in a park, you name it.
It is okay to slip up every once in a while… We are all human and life gets in a way of things, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Start again and again and again, and then you will realize that you are doing this for yourself and you feel good and you won’t have to stop anymore.
If you want to make sure that I am not just saying things and that I am actually doing it you can see my little fitness videos on IG under this hashtag #fitandslimwithdindin - cheesy I know. Din din is me btw, its an old nickname that comes and goes. The good thing about the hashtag is that you can see all of the videos together - so you will see the ones shot at the beginning when I wasn’t really sure what am I doing. You’ll also see some where I am failing, which is fine, everybody does, sometimes. You will also see some transformations and dare I say progress. Subscribe to hashtag if you wish to see what I am doing, maybe get ideas, inspiration, motivation, what have you.
I hope that this little post will help you keep going or start your journey. Let me know if you have questions suggestions.
01.01.2018. The dust of 2017 just settled down and 2018 is just starting, so this seams like a good time to glance back on what this year has been. I am not super consistent with my blog and to be honest, I am not even sure if people want to see/read it, but writing things down helps me put my thoughts in order, solidify experiences and reflect on things. It is the way not to miss anything, when I write something down I get to relive all these moments one more time. So here we go.
Like any other year in anyone’s life it was a mix of up and downs, but I guess that’s what life is, it’s a wave and waves don’t die … People surprised me times a million and there were a good and bad surprises all together, some times I was left simply puzzled, not knowing what happened, how did it end this way, it’s like you want to ask all these questions, only there’s no one to ask. So i decided to just let things be and accept that it just the way it is, no chasing, no questions, no demands of explanations.
Lessons hopefully learned and I choose to keep focus on all the great moments of 2017 and there were plenty.
Last year January 1st i spend on a beach, the Brighton Beach - so no bikini necessary. I joked that I am like everyone else in my FB/IG feed and “blessed” because I am living this beach life, I was a little jealous of those who got to spend winter in sunny, warm places, ok, not little, let’s just say it - I was jealous, we all are… Little did I know that at the end of January I get to visit Bali! Looking back at 2017 now I am realizing that there’s sort of the theme to it. It is a year when many of mine long forgotten dreams came true. You know there’s a list of places you wanna visit, things you want to do and some of them you are wishing for for so long, that it moves to the back of your mind, because you think that it may not even happen, so you don’t think of it all the time, not to upset yourself. Bali was one of those thing and I still can’t believe how lucky I got… You can read more about my trip to Bali here - bit.ly/2zZZnMJ
Another awesome thing that happened last year happened in Los Angeles. I got to visit the Universal Studios and Six Flags. Growing up in Russia I wasn’t exposed to huge theme parks, I lived in a teeny tiny town after all. The only thing I knew about was Disney Land and only because they played the commercials before "Chip and Dale" would come on or "Duck Tales”, the commercials were always along the lines of - collect 10 yogurt cups for a chance to win a trip, etc,etc. I loved yogurt, I loved Disney cartoons but I never won…
So as far as Universal Studious goes, I couldn’t even want to go there, because I didn’t know that “there” existed. When I came to America, I learned about it, but I thought that I am too old to be bothered. I was wrong, a lot, like really wrong.
Universal was a blast and a splash and a hoot and a half. I loved all the rides and the studio tour, you are never too old for that,since it is simply magical and I got to be a child, who smiles so much his cheeks are hurting! Six Flags was a first too, but I was hot and scared and then hot again too many times to get the thrill of it. Still so happy I finally get to check it out.
I got to fly to Hawaii and even though I only spend a little over then 24 hours there, I still count it a huge win, because I just love it there…
My friends got married this summer and it was all together so special to me, because I introduced them to each other, what followed was totally there magic, but it makes me so happy that I, in my small way, helped them find each other, seeing them is seeing love in action and it always fills my heart. Moreover I got to be the flower girl at there wedding. Here is another dream, I didn’t know I had, come true. Again in Russia (I say that a lot) we don’t have a flower girl as a concept and later on I learned that usually it’s a role little girls from the family play, I was a 5 foot 10'' flower girl, not your ordinary wedding, huh? but considering that the groom wanter to ride in on a camel, anything goes. That’t one of the many reasons I love those guys, they live there truth and do what makes them happy. The camel didn’t happen though, the very tall, asian, twirling flower girl did :)
I got to ride in a fire department car and blow a horn! One more long time wish come true. The fact that it topped the end of amazingly fun and warm bachelorette weekend, was an icing on a cake!
I saw a super bloom at Antelope Valley, California. I grew up in a very remote town in Far East Russia, where winters are long and trees are skinny… Blooming anything was never a thing, so I am getting super excited every time I see a flower on a tree, or Good god an apple growing on a tree, to me it’s like a miracle, so seeing the whole valley of flowers, that was like magic.
I received Presidential Service Award and Letter of appreciation from President Barack Obama for my volunteering with New York Cares. I write about volunteering a lot. You can find other blogs under volunteering tag or read more here - bit.ly/2qKblGo
I got to practice art of Japanese Tea Ceremony and share my love and passion for it with my friends and family. bit.ly/2C63Lf8
I got to see The Metropolitan Museum before it opens to public. Walking through empty halls, chasing morning light is a wonderful feeling…
I reconnected with my homeland and discovered Moscow in a new light -bit.ly/2lDbFFG
I went to Spain at last. Barcelona… a dream,that I had since I was a teenage girl finally came true … - bit.ly/2C6i17N
I peeked at Vienna - a six hour layover, but still managed to find the absolute best beer and stuffed pita place, that was explained to me as a pizza with a hat on …
Even writing this list down I am overwhelmed by how good this year was and I owe many of these moment to my wonderful partner and I am thankful for him being in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of hard moment, a lot of sadness and uncertainty and some times doubt and fear, but I want to remember last year by all the glorious moments and I hope you would do the same in your life… Put a magnifying glass to all good that happen to you, relive it, feel it, multiply it.
I wish that 2018 will be a year full of amazing travel, adventure, new experiences for all of us, I wish it would be full of life, great worth living life.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
Even though I have been living in NYC for the past seven something years Christmas is still a bit of a mystery to me. You see growing up in Russia New Year was always a bigger deal… Oh how Russian people adore New Year, everything gets special attention, from foods, to decoration, to new year’s outfit, everything is in accordance with the New Year symbol (the year of rabbit and what not, I think this coming year is the dog one) we are superstitious this way… So many holiday traditions and make a wish techniques. Christmas is on the other hand gets blurred in. In Russia Christmas is January 7th - so if you are celebrating since December 31 by the time Christmas rolls in everything is a blur…
Oh and Christmas tree, in Russia the tree is meant for the New Year. It gets the same decorations and everything, but the main purpose of it is to be there so Ded Moroz (Santa) can put gifts under the tree and that actually happens on 31st.. So it’s always so surprising for me to see poor, rejected, perfectly normal Christmas trees lying on a sidewalk as early as December 26th… Every year I am thinking of saving them, but I live in a small apartment on a 5 floor walk up … so it is not going to happen.
I had many Christmases in U.S. but somehow, I always feel like I might be doing it wrong, like when are you supposed to have big dinner? Christmas eve or Christmas Day? when do you open the gifts, what do you cook? one year I ended up having dinner at Chinese restaurant ( which was pretty good), the questions are plenty. Since all of my american friends are going home for Christmas, I never get to find out how do americans do it, the proper, traditional, family way, so I make up my own…
This year me and bunch of friends rented a house upstate, around Woodstock. Thanks, airbnb… The place was beautiful, spacious and airy, surrounded by nature, something we all need to escape to after concrete jungle that NYC is… We enjoyed some quiet time, fire place/cabin living and played board games. Your girl lost miserably in the monopoly game, I manage to lose all my streets, houses and got to jail a bunch of times, the only card that was always mine was - “you won 10$ in a beauty contest” ironic, huh, despite that I had tons of fun, plus I finally get to decorate gingerbread house. It is one of those random things… I have been looking at those gingerbread house decorating kits for 7 years now and I always wanted to do that, but no one ever wanted to do that with me, so this time, I decided to do it on my own, got a bunch of helpers with demolition/eating part tho. So happy I finally get a chance to do it! Next thing on a list - piñata! hopefully that won’t take 7 years …
We also explored the area a bit and found Tibetan Monastery in a Catskills. The setting was simply beautiful, afternoon sun beaming thru the trees and prayer flags waving in the air, being a Buddhist I took it as a good luck sign…
Christmas day we woke up to the a Winter Wonderland situation outside the window, it snowed all night and everything was covered with a nice, crispy, sparkling snow. A white Christmas indeed, good luck signs all around.
I still believed it was a good luck sign, even tho, it turned out that our car got a flat tire somewhere along the way and we were faced with the challenge of dealing with this on a Christmas day. Riding all the way from upstate to NYC on a “doughnut” was a bit of an adventure. And here is a curious part - people were generally concerned with us and our car, when they would see us on a rest stops, they’d offer us a pump to put more air in the spare wheel ( everyone seemed to think we need more air), they’d shake there head in concern and wish us a safe travels and this was really nice and sweet of them, but when I called many many many tire repairs and body shops along the way, no one was willing to help, granted most places were closed due to the holidays, but even those who picked up the phone, did not want to deal with me, they would generally try to shake me off, give me someone else’s phone number or just flat out say - there’s nothing they could do. My, in my opinion, golden argument - “but it’s Christmas” and we got a flat tire and it’s cold and we need to make it back to NYC did not work at all… Most people were generally annoyed by me asking for help… I got so upset by all the rejection that I had to ask my friends to take over googling/calling duties. Finally we found one place in East Harlem. Thank you LUGO flat fix guys, you da best! So this story after all got a happy ending and we made it safe and sound.
Funny thing is that being exposed to Christmas culture mostly thru hollywood movies I really thought that - "it is Christmas" argument would work and someone (probably 6 foot handsome) will show up and help us all :D. Life is not a movie, of course, but you know what, I think we can make it better.
So no matter what you celebrate and how you celebrate, I hope you do it with the people you care for, I hope you are happy and peaceful and I hope we all be a little nicer to each other Christmas or not.
and as an admitted “Home Alone” lover - I live you with this:
“Merry Christmas, you filthy animals! and a Happy NEW YEAR”
Winter is here and for the third year in a row for me and my good friend Heide this means Winter Wishes time! In my very first blog post last November (Gosh… it has been a year already!) I talked about volunteering with New York Cares organization and all the reasons I love it.
You can check it out here if you’d like - www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/it-is-the-season-for-caring
One of my favorite things at New York Cares is the Winter Wishes program, which, you guessed it, helps to make winter wishes come true for kids, teens and senior citizens, that due to different circumstances may not get Christmas gifts at all.
I absolutely love doing this! You get to be Santa for a bit and make someone happy come Christmas, what could be better? Can you think of a better way of getting into holiday spirit and feeling the magic of the season? After all the best way of experiencing magic is making your own.
To become a Santa for a season you need to sign up for the project in advance on New York cares page - www.newyorkcares.org/search/projects/results once volunteers read and process all the letter (what a little hardworking elves) you will be matched with a kid, teen or a senior. I personally choose one in each age group :) so I am getting 3 gift letters total.
Here is an exciting part - you are getting an actual handwritten letters in a mail. I am honestly really excited each time, because I never know what to expect and it is always so fun to read what people wish for. Kids are really sweet, they usually write to Santa and decorate there letters, so special!
Every year is different, this time around I almost got a heart attack because one of my letters actually requested diamonds and I think my heart skipped a bit, how in a world can I do that, I mean I never had diamonds myself and definitely am not in a business of buying some. Thankfully quick research revealed that my lady actually asked for a perfume, phew, this I can do. I was relieved….
I remember one of this years my friend Heide, who I am doing this project with (she has her 3 gifts and I have mine) got a request for an Easy Bake Oven. This was my first encounter with one of those things and it turned out those things are big, like really big and heavy. I don’t know why, but we decided to buy it first and then ended up logging that thing around all over shopping center and Herald Square, while buying the rest of gifts. Afterwards we met some friends for a drink in East Village and then another place and another one. Amazingly we didn’t loose any of the gifts and Easy Bake Oven made it out in one piece. Thank the Lord.
So you see, Winter Wishes are fun! Me and Heide usually buy gifts together, then we get together for a gift wrapping party with christmas music and cupcakes and friends (Jarah is a master wrapper, candy canes for everyone!) and then meet up again for delivering day - that’t when we rent a car and drop gifts off at the shelters, schools, community centers, you name it. I think in this three years we’ve been all over five boroughs.
We learn as we go. The very first time we rented the car too late in a day, it got dark very fast, it was raining and we managed to get lost on a way, we also didn’t think thru that most of this places will be closed after 6 p.m. so we ended up calling everyone in a panic mode, trying to figure out how late places will be open till and how many we can hit before we need to return the car. I think we ended up delivering only one or two gifts that time.
Now we are more prepared - getting the car early in a morning and with all of the locations mapped out. It’s a piece of cake.
The gifts are always different and we talk to each other, making sure that we get the most suitable once. This year for example I got a request for a bike for a 9 year old… as you can imagine bikes are super expensive, especially good once. We considered briefly getting a gently used one, but it is my believe that gifts should be brand new and used bike, might not be safe. So long story short we decided on a skateboard and a helmet, because you know, safety first. I do hope, my guy will be happy with the gift. I know how important bikes are for kids and you always hear this stories about childhood traumas, when they asked for a bike and got a mechanic chicken instead, but skateboard is no chicken, so I am hoping my kid will be happy with Santa this year.
It has been three years and this project turned out to be a tradition of ours. It is something I am looking forward to, it is what sets the mood and lets me know the time for wonder is here. It makes me so happy to know that I can help someone’s wishes come true, that I can give joy to someone, it’s a tiny spark, but it’s mine and that’s what helps ignite the holiday cheer in my soul.
If you wanna be a part of this or want to learn more about program you can do it here - www.newyorkcares.org/winter-wishes
P.S. How do you get into Holiday Mood and what are some of your traditions?
Barcelona is without doubt the city living and breathing with Gaudí but when you think of Spain you can’t miss another great artist - Salvador Dalí and a trip to Spain won’t feel complete without paying a tribute to that man.
www.salvador-dali.org/en/museums/- this website is really helpful if you are planing to visit the Dalí museums in Spain, it gives you general overview and you can book tickets all in one place, which trust me you would want to do in advance when it comes to this museums. Even in September which is considered off season, you had to book tickets at least 3 days prior.
There are few museums, each located in a different city, so it is up to you how many and which you would prefer to visit.
We decided to do two.
Dalí Theatre-Museum. This one is located in Figueres, located about hour and half away from Barcelona when traveling by car, be advised that there will be few tolls on a road and even tho most of the booths have a card reader it is a good idea to have some cash on you, one of the booths did not want take a card, for the life of us …
If you don’t have a car or don’t know how to drive (like me for example) do not fear - there are plenty of other ways of getting to Figueres - busses and trains … more info you can find here - www.salvador-dali.org/en/museums/dali-theatre-museum-in-figueres/info-practica/com-arribar/
Figueres is actually Dalí’s hometown and the museum is located on a square across the church where he was baptized. As the name suggest the Theater-Museum was in fact a theater at one point and was bought by Dalí when it went out of business. It still has a stage and this theater feel, although you are not really sure who is on display here objects around you or you. Rooms are numbered, but you are encouraged not to pay attention to numbers and just get lost in a maze, which can be fun, but it took us forever to finally find an exit when we had enough exploring, so keeping track of things might be a good idea.
Some people invest in having a tour guide, but they are such a gamble - you can have a great one, animated and entertaining or you can get stack with someone who is just going through the motions. I just kind of eavesdropped on Russian and English speaking guides - this way I found out that Dalí was actually buried in the Museum and I was standing right on top of the his grave, rather unsettling feeling.
There are different attractions throughout the Theater where you can drop a coin in and you will be rewarded with a little entertainment. The main one is located in a courtyard - it’s a Cadillac and when you drop the coin it starts raining inside the car. There’s a little anecdote according to which Dalí was walking along the streets of Paris one evening when it started raining, it wasn’t long before he got soaked, but he had no money for a cab fare, so he just had to keep walking and he saw all these people passing him in there cars, laughing and smiling in the warmth and comfort of there shelter, that’s when he decided to create a car where it would rain inside…
Second on the agenda was Salvador Dalí house in Portlligat.
Port Lligat located right next door to Cadaques and that’t where we decided to camp out, the two are somewhat 15 minute walk from each other, so it really dosen’t matter that much where you stay. Figueres is 45 minute drive from Cadaques, so if you are planning on visiting both museums you can hit Museum Theater on a way to Cadaques, spend a night and then move onto the House. Again if you don’t have a car there’s a train, bus option www.salvador-dali.org/en/museums/house-salvador-dali-in-portlligat/info-practica/com-arribar/
With this one we tried to book in advance, but there were not tickets available on line, nevertheless the car was rented already and the hotel rooms are booked, so we decided to roll the dice and go anyways. Upon arrival to the hotel we asked the front dest woman to make a call to the museum for us and she was told that the next available tickets are only in 3 days, which would be too late. So the next morning we decided to just swing by - and we got tickets on a spot without problem, we were there at around 10.30 a.m. and the museum opens at 9.30 (opening time varies by season). You can always try your luck, but remember that, the visit is restricted to 8 people at the time in the house, which is nice, because you never feel crammed.
There are two parts to visit - the house itself and the outside areas, olive garden, various viewing spots and pool. Your visit inside the house is somewhat timed, I think its about 10 minutes or so per area, you also have a guide who tells you a little bit about the house and can answer any questions you have, our guy was saying everything in 3 languages - Spanish, French and English. I was really impressed.
Once you moved onto the outside areas you were left to your own devices - no guide, but also no timing you.
As you can imagine the House is worth visiting, there’s so much to see and notice with your hungry eyes, you don’t know how to hold everything, the stuffed bear, greeting you at the front door, decorated with many little trinkets, the bird cages and tiny cricket cages (who has cricket cages, besides Chinese cab drivers ?), the Mirror on a wall, located at the exact spot so he could see the sunrise right in his bed, Gala’s private room with incredible acoustic - the list goes one and on.
It is a funny thing describing a Museum, describing a surreal museum is twice as funny and describing the house of Salvador Dalí, well it is something else all together, so I would just post more pictures for you and leave it at that.
The place is definitely worth seeing, I was so happy we actually managed to get in and the whole experience was just so overwhelmingly magical, I couldn’t stop twirling around and jumping up and down, which ended up with me dropping and smashing my phone mercilessly, so some of the photos you’ll see are shot on a smashed up phone - hope you still enjoy :)
Few thoughts about Cadaques. Even if your main purpose is seeing the Dalí museum you still might wanna spend a night or two in here. The place is small and charming with all the ships in the marina and lots of cute restaurants, tiny roads and flowers adorned walls. There is not much going on at this place, but this was exactly a change of pace needed after the non stop moving and walking and all-around hopping we did in Barcelona. There was nowhere to rush, nowhere to run to and it was nice, so Cadaques makes a great relax after Barcelona spot. Perfect for a vacation in Spain combination...
Happy venturing into surrealism