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”
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
This one is about my recent trip to Bali, Indonesia which was in many ways a very unusual and spontaneous one. You see, most of the traveling I do are work related, meaning it goes one of two ways: either 24 to 72 hours of airport-hotel-studio-airport or 2 to 3 month of living in a new place/country where I try to blend in and do as locals do, so this was first time in I don’t even reminder how long, when I went somewhere, for the sheer purpose of going somewhere, this was also first vacation in a really really really long time and damn, vacations are awesome, like duh …
Now, if you are traveling from NYC like me, you need to brace yourself for a long long flight of 24 hours, connections and a 13 hours time difference, so anything less then a week trip is really not worth the trouble… Besides almost everyone I know find themselves looking at there flight info, contemplating extending there trip within first 2 days, there must be something in a water…
My six or so days flew by so quickly, definitely keeping me wishing for more. More time, more adventure, more exploring, more living… but this is what I managed to see so far.
Started with the immediate desire to find a beach. It is January, it is somewhat 27 C ( 80s F) so you must go to the beach. I found that beaches are tricky in Bali, they are great for surfing, and if you are a surfer, you will be in heaven, but if you are a hopeless creature like me and not only do you not surf, but you are also a very poor swimmer, you may have to stick to the swimming in a hotel pools… Waves and currents are strong, so you might have to think twice before getting in a water… Getting in a water is made tricky by one more reason - trash. I have to be honest, never have I ever seen so much trash covering beach side and casually floating around the ocean, that made me incredibly sad and also served as a strong reminder of a personal accountability for plastic waste and recycling … Oceans and beaches are really not meant to be a trash can …
There is hope however, I was happy to learn about young activist sisters, who started a campaign for a plastic ban in Bali, you can learn more about them here - www.byebyeplasticbags.org
Now after lots of searching and driving around we stopped at Balangan Beach, which was small and less crowded, but again plastic …
Sure you can stick to numerous beach clubs and enjoy there amenities but It was important for me to see an un manicured reality and I am glad I did.
Grab a lunch at Nook - www.facebook.com/Nookbali/
it is as cozy as the name would suggest, white interior, open space and view of a rice field, great atmosphere and yummy food what else would you want?
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary Ubud - www.monkeyforestubud.com
This one I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about, my only previous interaction with monkeys was back in Russia in a kindergarten when we all took a picture with one of them and I got to tell you we both were equally terrified…
I was really happy I did visit it in the end, the place is beautiful and in fact looks like a huge park/forest where monkeys roaming around freely, they would even try to boss you around, one of the little jokers was determent to pull my skirt off, unsuccessfully I am happy to report.
There’s a temple on a grounds of this sanctuary and you will find beautiful sculptures throughout.
There are few rules when it comes to monkey encounters and they are pretty much similar to what you would hear in a NYC subway, do not display valuables, don’t leave items unattended, do not eat or drink. Monkeys are quick, like really quick and sneaky, they will still your phone, earrings, glasses what have you. I personally witnessed glasses being snatched away from someone’s head and a flip flop being used as a chew toy.
Other then that, it is really fun walking around,watching monkeys go on about there monkey business, they are a really cute creatures after all!
Ubud is a home to vast number of yoga studios and many many temples, so if you have time, you should stick around for a while.
Have a bite in cafe Bali. Cute spot with homey atmosphere so much so that plastic covers on a tables kinda make you wanna go - awww… feels like you are at someone’s grandma house. Menu features local dishes and safe pasta, sandwich, salad options. Fresh juices in fact are fresh, but this is true of any places in Bali…
Pura Uluwatu - www.bali.com/temple_Uluwatu_Pura-Luhur-Uluwatu_82.html
This Temple is pure magic! Perched on a side of a cliff, surrounded by endless ocean, stunning views guaranteed. I think my heart literally skipped the beat out there and I truly understood what beholding something is …
It gets pretty windy on top, but you feel that it is a good kind of wind, blowing all the troubles away, leaving you renewed …
Pura Uluwatu or Pura Luhur also a home to a kecak dance, which you can see on a temple grounds but I think you need to buy separate ticket for that.
As per usual - monkey alert.
Important thing to keep in mind while visiting any temple is proper attire, you will need to wear a long sarong, this goes both for men and women, if you didn’t bring your own you could borrow one at the entrance, but I would suggest bringing your own, because you know … Also keep in mind that all of the temples are functional and are meant for worship so act accordingly.
Get a drink and catch sunset at Single Fin - singlefinbali.com
Plenty of outdoor seating, great drinks, nice music and breathtaking views, grab a seat and let the nature do the rest.
Get a food poisoning. While this day might not be on your agenda it is something to be aware of, since many (myself included) have fallen a pray to Bali belly …
Lie down, pray to God, contemplate life and just wait for this to be over and accept the fact that you won’t be getting out that one day.
Come prepared and bring some remedies for stomach trouble, drink lots of water, hot black tea with sugar does the trick for me. However if you find yourself without needed medicine you can find charcoal pills in 7/11 and such, we use them in Russia all the time, they are completely natural and great absorbent, your best friend at the moment.
For someone who doesn’t know how to drive, I have a weird fondness for all things cars and bikes like watching “Top Gear” (or “Grand Tour” now) so naturally I wanted to stop by Deus Ex Machina cafe - deuscustoms.com/cafes/canggu/#about
Food is not of spectacular kind, but your eyes could feast on all the custom made bikes you could find in a adjacent store or simply parked out front.
Tanah Lot - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanah_Lot
Another picturesque site. This small temple is located on a offshore rock. You will get wet crossing over to the temple side where you can drink from a holly spring and get “blessings” but the temple itself is closed for worship only, so it is completely your call if you want to do that or not.
This temple is heavily surrounded by various markets and gift shops, which I have successfully avoided, so can’t tell you much about those, but I imagine it is busy, loud and colourful …
Grab dinner at Echo Beach Club - www.echobeachhouse.com
Ocean side views and a great BBQ that gives you a choice of various fresh fish and seafood, which can be grilled to order your way, relaxed atmosphere and beach vibes all around.
Take Shelter - www.sheltercafebali.com/#home
Bring your appetite and patience.
Healthy food spot where interior and food are equally Instagram worthy… Great Acai Bowls, beautiful presentation, but stuff is extremely slow and inattentive, get ready to wait for your food/utensils/bill for a while. Despite the slow service, I would come back again.
Pura Tirtha Empul - www.bali-indonesia.com/attractions/tirta-empul-temple.htm
Perhaps on of the largest and busiest. This water temple is knows for it’s holly spring and serves as an important pilgrimage site for many devotees.
“Holy water spring” feeds purification baths found in a main courtyard and the rest of ponds and pools..
Purification ritual is a main goal for many visitors, it is a spiritual experience so if you do choose to take part it in be aware and respectful, don’t just jump in a water and wonder about.
There are man outside the pool who can help guid you through the process, they will explain the procedure, the meaning behind it and even give you an “offering’ ( small dish made out of leaf with flowers, rice and incense stick ) necessary for the ritual, all you need to do in exchange is tip the man, they don’t really ask for it, there’s not “fixed price” but it feels like a right thing to do. I would recommend finding on of these guys ( or rather they find you) because there is a lot to keep in mind and it could get really confusing, besides you want to make sure you are doing it in a proper way.
So if you are planing on doing this cleansing ritual, please bring a change of clothes, and extra sarong because you can not wear a wet one on a temple grounds.
There’s also an inner courtyard, that is quiet and beautiful, worth taking a stroll through to gather your thoughts after the ritual… be sure to pass by koi pound on your way out, these were the biggest koi fish I have ever seen in my life.
Take advantage of close proximity to Ubud and dine at Sari Organik - www.ubudorganicmarket.com/Market-members/sari-organik
It is somewhat tricky to find, but the location is worth it. This health oriented restaurant is overlooking rice fields and located on a farm grounds, everything is truly farm to table and you can actually see the farm right in front of you.
Cute sitting areas in a garden and in the open space restaurant. Peaceful atmosphere and beautiful sunsets …
Last day. Catch up on shopping, souvenir or otherwise. I simply roamed around Seminyak, checking small boutiques out in search of local designers and unique finds. Bali is famously known for its batik, so you will definitely wanna get something made of it, options are endless…
Seminyak is full of cute cafe and restaurants, so finding a lunch spot won’t be hard.
Check out Char Char -www.balinesia.co.id/charchar.php
It’s out door staircase setting is perfect for people watching :) Lunch specials and Happy hour is also a plus.
Head down to the airport and hold back tears, you will be sad to leave this place but you will be hopeful to come back.
Get a bike rental, or someone with the bike. Traffic is rather harsh and roads aren’t that wide, so you risk being trapped in a car more, then necessary.
Uber’s are available, but not really welcomed by local taxi drivers, so in many areas they won’t be available. If you choose taxi service make sure they turn the meter on, trickery and bargain are usual, Blue Bird taxi seams to be the most reliable one, but if you are staying for a bit, do get a bike and don't forget to get a helmet. There is a penalty for riding without, plus it is necessary, huge coconut fell on a road right in front of our bike and I was really grateful I had my helmet on. If you are coming during the wet season (October-April) get a raincoat and keep it handy, it rains on and off throughout the day.
Use the sunscreen, even if it is cloudy outside, close proximity to equator means really high UV index, so it is best to be protected.
Count your cash twice when using a money exchange, it never hurts to double check things.
Stray dogs are roaming around, so you might wanna make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.
Do yourself a favor and get a massage or 5. Massage parlors are plenty and price is somewhat 8 to 25 $ ( they are equally good, just the ambience is different)
Balinese people are very spiritual and every morning starts with prayers and placing offerings, you can find them scattered everywhere, even sidewalks and in front of shops, stores and other establishments, so watch your step, kicking it to the side would be offensive.
I had an incredible time in Bali, it felt like that place is exciting in a other dimension, where time flows in different pace and you are completely at peace and worry free…
Whatever you are seeking - you will find it there. Weather you want to go chasing waterfalls, play hide n seek in rice fields, dive into any possible kind of yoga, explore endless temples, surf, relax in a swanky beach clubs or dance through the night, you can find it all there.
So come visit! Soak up the sun, soak up the happy, soak up the free.