“Why are you doing this?” was the first question I got asked when I shared that I want to skip birthday presents and ask people to donate to a fundraising campaign instead. The question was valid and conversation that followed even made me a bit unsure of my decision … I wondered if people will be open to my ideas, if they would think that I am an attention seeker, trying to come across as all high and mighty,if they would be relentless to participate and then I talked to my Mum and as always she was supportive of my decisions, that took away any doubts I had, which proofs one more time, you should always speak to your mother first :)
Anyways, let me recap the story: with my birthday fast approaching I was feeling blue, I think many of us do, pre -birthday blues - you involuntarily start giving your life evaluation and let’s face it, more often then not you see that you are not where you’d want and/or thought you’d be. I also felt strongly that even tho my life was not as accomplished as I would want it to be, it was still a good life and I wanted to express how grateful I am for it. So I decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to raise money for a charitable cause. I’ve heard about this before and decided to give it a shot, being a bit of a nerd I did some research, I wanted to donate to a non-profit that would have a high score by charity watchdog - transparent, accountable etc, etc. I decided to go with charity.water - www.charitywater.org. This name came up in a number of lists, plus they had a 100% policy - which meant that 100% of funds they raise go towards helping people, no cuts for budgeting in day to day operations of non-profit itself, besides they promised detailed report at the end of the campaign so you can see exactly where your money is going, combined with he fact that water is essential to life itself and that so many countries still don’t have an access to clean drinking water it seamed like a no brainer, so I charged on and set up a campaign page -my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish.
What followed surprised me in many ways…
First of all turned out that it is really hard to motivate people to give money to you (even if it is not actually for you) although this must have been apparent I still was surprised how much harder it was to get a dollar then say “like” under a photo, people liked the pix on a post, or wrote how great the idea was, but none donated… My first donation had me broken into a happy dance, I have never been so happy to see virtual 25$ in my life…
Time went on - still no donations I was getting worried. My friends started coming through the closer it got to the big day and every donation made me super happy, even tho it didn’t go at all as I imagined, some even reached out to double check if this is really want I wanna do, because this no gift policy seamed a bit weird for them. This made me realize, that I might have not been fare to my friends, I was thinking I was releasing them from the agonizing pain of coming up with the gift ideas, providing them with quick and good for your soul option instead, but I failed to think that not everyone might feel the same way I do about certain things. I was in fact making them do something, they might not be comfortable with and I also secretly placed my own value on participation in my campaign, which you should never do, it is like wanting someone to love you and then expecting them to do it in the very specific way and getting upset if they didn’t, just because someone doesn’t show there love the way it is in your head doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
My birthday came and it was wonderful and I was showered with flowers and love from my friends donations or not. I saw how much I meant to them and it was amazing.
The birthday came and gone and I was still way under the campaign goal and a little upset, like I am bringing people down and then something amazing happened - one of my friends was passing on belated birthday wishes and she mentioned that donating to campaign made her feel so good, she decided to sign up for a monthly donations. This meant a world to me! To know what something I started made an effect on at least one person, made them motivated and got involved, that validated the whole experience to me, goal reached or not and this gave me an answer to the question I was faced with at the very beginning. “Why are you doing this?” - because if I can make a small difference in people’s lives I want to give it a shot and if I can make a small impact on someone’s heart, well this is just an icing on a cake. I know that in a grand scheme of things - one person is just a drop, but so many things starts with just one drop.
Week after my birthday another amazing thing happened - people I’ve only met in my life handful of times, and even relatively unknown people saw my many, probably annoying, FB/IG posts and pitched in, finally pushing me OVER my campaign goal and it felt amazing! Now thanks to my incredible friends, who handle me in my many states and go along with my many weird ideas, thanks to kindhearted acquaintances and even incredible strangers - 13 people will have an access to clean drinking water. This means 13 happy people plus super happy me.
Fundraising on any scale is hard and I have learned many things about myself doing this, I am so happy and grateful for every donation. I am sorry for such a long long post, but I wanted to explain my point of view and why I do, what I do and I hope it came across.
I also hope this might inspire you to get involved in any way you wish.
My charity water campaign is still active and will be for some time, I couldn’t figure out how to change campaign length for the life of me, but the more happy people - the better it is, so feel free to join in - my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish. No donation is small, you know my views on significance of drops.
If you wish to donate your time instead, you can join me in volunteering. More on how to volunteer in NYC here - www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/it-is-the-season-for-caring
If you read this far - thank you and
Happy clean water drinking
First time I visited Moscow I was just a baby. Big City overwhelmed me, I remember insane amount of people and trying to keep up with my mum, she had this plastic bag with her (very fancy at that time, trust me) with “baton” (something like a fat Russian baguette) in it, so I kept my focus on it, because I was really scared to get lost. We only spend half a day in Moscow, since we were transferring from one train to another. Needless to say I didn’t like Moscow back then, it didn’t help that from my point of you I could only see legs and butts of passing by people, which is not that exciting, the amount of people was also overwhelming and they covered up all of the pretty stuff that you might see around, also train stations are not the best places in particular, so that’s that.
Last time I came to Moscow was about 10 year ago, although no longer a baby, but rather a formed adult, I was still overwhelmed, everyone seemed to be always in a rush, aggravated and downright rude, I took care of my business, rolled my eyes and got the hell out.
So this time around when I took my recent trip to Moscow, I was not expecting anything, having lived in NYC for the past 7 + years I knew that crowds won’t overwhelm me, people rushing somewhere is my jam now, and I can personally speed walked past anyone on a sidewalk any time a day, sarcastic is a new black, so I was prepared to handle any type of rudeness that way.
But when I got to Moscow this time, I was pleasantly surprised, I have discovered that it is in fact - beautiful, something I managed to missed during my “baton” chasing before
Moscow met me with the sea of green, I never knew how many parks it has and everything was blooming, so truly a great time of the year to visit (late May) although I got lucky, because just a week before my visit it snowed, because Russia…
If you want to visit parks you might want to start with Muzeon Park of Arts (http://park-gorkogo.com/en/muzeon) located outside of Krymsky Val building and shared by the modern art division of Tretyakov Gallery and Central House of Artist, it is an open space scuplture garden where you can stroll down look around and enjoy the view of Moscow river, Kremlin etc…
There’s plenty of things to do and you can take one of the designated lanes for bicycles and rollerblades and zip down to Gorky Central Park which moves onto Neskuchny Garden ( http://park-gorkogo.com/en/ns) which according to the web site is advertised as a home of romantic lanes and friendly squirrels, “Neskuchny” literally means not boring, so I am guessing the squirrels are also fun…
And if you feel like you still have some energy to explore, you can follow down the Moscow River and go to Vorobyovy gory (http://park-gorkogo.com/en/vg) where you can find an observation deck with the view of Moscow, it is also a hot spot for the biker community, so you can walk around and look at variety of custom made and not so much motorcycles.
Take a moment to appreciate Main Building of Moscow State University - it is indeed monumental.
Monumental is the world that was on my mind pretty much the whole time I was in Moscow. I have gotten so used to narrow streets of Manhattan and that everything is growing only vertically here, that I was shocked by the amount of space Moscow have, forget narrow streets, it is all about width, size does matter. I think it hit me most of all when I returned to the Red Square (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/545) an adult now, standing in a middle of it, you couldn't help but feel the magnitude of where you are at, you feel the power and strength, you also feel suddenly very small and insignificant, but I guess that was one of the points of it too… Unique is the other world that comes to mind, because this architecture reflects authentic Russian style…
Fun fact the name “Red Square” does not reflect colour (Kremlin used to be white at some point) but rather reflects old Russian world “krasniy” meaning beautiful, which it is.
Another thing worth mentioning is Moscow Subway (Metro). I have travelled around a world a bit and I can honestly say that Moscow subway is one of the most beautiful in the world.
It is also truly reliable, unlike NYC subway, trains in Moscow do not suffer from identity crises, you know when B suddenly decides it wants to run like Q today, or express train last minute start making local stops, but always manages to skip yours… and while usual past time when waiting on your train in NYC includes deciding the level of cuteness among subway rats, you won’t have this opportunity in Moscow, lack of rats is one of the reasons and also trains are coming every 2 minutes (2 minutes people!) and you can see a little countdown clock, so you know exactly when the next train is coming, pretty neat, huh.
Now regarding the rudeness, I might have been extremely lucky this time around but everything I met was extremely polite, I had a number of random pleasant encounters in different places, this might have something to do with the fact that tips are not mandatory in here (again hello NYC), so servers in a restaurants are interested in providing you with the nice experience, but I also had pleasant encounters with people where tips were not involved whatsoever, I tried to get my nails done at one of the salons, but they didn’t have an opening, nevertheless they helped me remove my chipped up nail polish and insisted on me staying over for tea/coffee, who does that??
Couple of other things that stood out to me:
the amount of flower shops, everywhere you look you will find one, or two, it seems like the entire nation is concerned with getting/giving flowers, to understand how important flowers are in this culture you need to know that at some point the was a service that would provide giant flower bouquets for rent, so the girls could take pic with it and post on social media, for some extra money you could also get a luxury brands shopping bags, I mean …
the amount of foreign currency exchange places and amount of foreigners (two might be somehow connected)
Uber is super active and so it Gett, Gett was especially surprising…
the construction - seems like the whole centre is under construction, which leads to infamous traffic … also it might take some time to realize where the hell you can cross the street if you are walking or taking subway
church’s and mosque’s domes are insanely shinny regardless of there sizes even small ones are all dressed up.
feminism is not as widely promoted, so man still think you need there help and not afraid to offer it, which I gladly accepted, because my bags were heavy and I am a delicate flower, but if I am being serious it was curious to see gender roles in action in Russia, which is still very really traditional in many ways.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that it took me some years and traveling all over the world to finally appreciate Moscow, to see it in another light and I am quite happy I was able to. Sometimes beautiful, exciting, unique things are right there and you are missing it, because you are starring at the “baton” picking out of plastic bag…
If you would like to see more images of Moscow Metro please go here - dailym.ai/1WjFPNb
Happy returning to Motherland.
For the past year and I half I have been volunteering with New York Cares and last Thursday something exciting happened. I received Presidential Service Award and a letter of appreciation for the year of 2016 signed by the President Barack Obama, I am so excited to have little piece of history now in my house.
I talked about volunteering before and the ways you can get involved in, so if you want you can read more about it here www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/archives/11-2016 and as I mentioned there, I started to volunteer in a dark period in my life, when my world was falling to shreds and I was questioning everything I know about myself, friendship, love … all of the basic concepts I was once so sure of. I was morbidly depressed and while I found that it was so hard to get out and do something for myself it was easier to pick myself up and come to a project, because it was not about me… I felt like I was needed there, like I am making a difference, like my presence changes something. As corny as it sounds helping others helped me in a end and I am so happy that something that started as an escape from something so negative turned into something so positive, that now I have a physical prove that I can turn things around, that I chose love and compassion.
Right after I got my award from New York Cares office, I was picking up my friend Heide and ended up on her finance’s vlog. You can see as being all excited here (9:07) www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9V3a9Jxdo4
If you want to get involved please find more info on ways to volunteering here it-is-the-season-for-caring.html
I love NYC and I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to call this place home for the past 6 plus years, but living in NYC comes with the price. The city is so intense, the crowds, the constant movement, tiny apartments and never-ending hassle, this what gives you life, motivates you but at the same time it is what overwhelms you and you end up feeling like you just need a break, a reset button. Some people go to therapy, I practice japanese tea ceremony…
I am not gonna get into the history or describe the process in this post, I just want to share with you what it means to me, why am I doing it and how it affected my life.
Now the school I am practicing at is "Japan Association of the Tea Ceremony “ (JATC). http://www.santokuan.or.jp and unlike some of the other schools like Urusenke or Omotesenke, that were established somewhat 400th years ago, our school is relatively young and dates back 119th years (est. 1898) this what makes it's approach a modern one. Traditionally world of tea was very exclusive and available to noble and wealthy people, blood lines traditions were extremely important and procedure was dictated by the long list of rules and vigorous practice.
Being a huge tea lover I was always curious about tea ceremony, but this feeling of strictness and exclusiveness made me hesitant and unsure, this is why I was so happy when I discovered Tea Whisk - www.tea-whisk.com NYC based japanese tea ceremony school. From the very first trial lesson I was transported (and yes I realize how cheesy this word is) into another world, suddenly it all came together, the purpose of tea ceremony is creating a moment of beauty and sharing it with people. Since then I knew that I want to bring this feeling into my life, I wanted to be a part of it.
For me practicing tea ceremony is a form of meditation, escape from busy NYC life. I leave my phone in a closet and in our gadget powered world it is an accomplishment in itself and for the hour and half that follows I am totally present in a moment, focused on what’s around me. In the tea ceremony world everything has a deep meaning behind it, from greeting, to hanging scroll, to flower arrangement, to incense choice the list goes on… At the recent Hatsugama (first tea ceremony of new year) my team among other things was assigned flower decoration and the 5 of us took about 40 min deciding the best way of cutting blooming brunch, it makes you look at things differently and forces you to think deeper of the world and yourself. Every movement has a purpose, placement of each tea utensil is intentional, everything has a natural flow to it and just makes sense when you look close enough, it is quite logical and I am a big fan of logical.
It is also about community. I have met so many wonderful people from all over the world. One of the students in our school is a ceramics artist with the studio in Brooklyn and we were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to create our own tea bowls, guided by her. That was a useful lesson in many ways, as it turned out pottery is hard, very hard and it made me appreciate the craft even more now and although I was all set on creating a very feminine delicate bowl,my clay just didn’t want to go that way, so eventually I had to except the fact that I will just have to let it do it’s thing and I ended up with rather big and masculine bowl.
There is a sense of camaraderie among students and at our big events such as Hatsugama or School Showcases we always come together, helping each other and looking out for each other and it feels great.
We have been lucky enough to use Globus Washitsu space - http://nycwashitsu.com
Modeled after traditional Kyoto tea houses it brings spirit of Wabi-Sabi to NYC and completes the transporting tea ceremony experience. It is also a home to number of events promoting Japanese culture (Kimono artists, Calligraphy artists, Wagashi artists, Musicians and so on)
The heart of every school is the teacher and our master Souheki Mori is an incredible one. She loves what she does with all her heart and it shines through, her passion for beauty of tea ceremony is contagious, she keeps reminding us that when we practice or perform tea ceremony it is about experience, creating new, unique moment of harmony and sharing it with people. Like many Russian born women I have a ballet background and I am used to constant critique, every practice, every showcase people focused on technique, presentation and what you have done wrong, basically you always do something wrong, which is why this new way is so surprising to me, because our teacher never points out mistakes (even tho there are mistakes) she urges us not to get caught up in doing everything perfect and error free, rather focus on your guests and use tea ceremony as a way of showing your love and appreciation and this is what I have been trying to do with the few tea ceremonies I have been fortunate enough to host.
If you’d like to get a glimpse of what it’s like check out my friend’s vlog post www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaS9zwPr1P4&t=1s
Happy tea drinking!
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.
With 2016 wrapping itself up, I can’t help but think back to what it brought. While for me as well as many others it has been tough and in many ways surprising and challenging, I choose to focus on bright sides and be thankful for the opportunities I have been given this year. I was able to finally visit city that has been on my wish list for nearly 4 years, beautiful Cape Town, SA.
If you are smarter then me, which there’s a big chance you are, you will zip over there now, since it is summer time that side of the world and will take advantage of hot African sun. I on the other hand left NYC heat and made my move in July, evidently ending up in winter but that didn’t spoil Cape Town for me one bit.
Since I was traveling for work, I was able to stay for 2 month mixing pleasure with business whenever I could. I realize that most people don't have such luxury, so I tried to pin point the most important/can’t miss spots.
Start with Table mountain (www.tablemountain.net)
I was personally obsessed with it. I think I literally took a pix of it every time I saw it, which is basically every day, because it is hard to get outside without spotting this beauty.
There are few ways of getting to the top: easiest would be using a cableway car, there will be a bit of a line on a ground, but nothing to be too worried about, cable car moves really fast and spins round so everyone get a chance to look around and possibly take some awesome photos, the trip itself is short but exciting; you could also opt for taking a hike up the mountain, I’ve heard different versions on how hard it is, from “it is super easy and takes bit over an hour", to “what was I thinking, took over 3hours to climb” so you be the judge of your adventure levels.
Pack a little picnic and have a bite while enjoying the most spectacular view…
The mountain is flat on top and it is really easy to walk around and explore the view from each side, it is hard to describe what you see, because you need to be there and trust me, you do need to be there. It doesn’t get to be one of the 7 Nature’s World Wonders for nothing.
Head down to Camps Bay after.
It is a beautiful area and often get compared with Malibu, CA, white beach houses and gorgeous ocean views, one can see why.
Stroll down the beach and grab a bite at one of many restaurants with the view on Victoria Rd. Endless ocean with Lions head and Table Mountain as a backdrop will make your heart skip a bit. Stay for the sunset, you won’t regret it.
If you are feeling extra fancy get a room at The Bay Hotel (thebayhotel.com) Outdoor pool, stunning views and clean design.
Continue next day with Old Biscuit Mill Market (theoldbiscuitmill.co.za) in Woodstock, usually opens at 10 a.m. and it is better to make it there before noon. It really reminded me of London markets, like Brick Lane one or Camden Market. There you will find various artisans offering there product from handmade jewelry to natural cosmetics to local honey all of it in a industrial setting of former Biscuit Mill hence the name. Come hungry! Food options are endless and rather exciting, you will want to try it all and most likely you will eat too much.
Roll your food coma body to the next spot and feast your eyes on nature (Cape Town is really all about magnificent nature). Kirstenbosch (sanbi.org) is an absolute must. This botanical garden will make you feel like you are in a middle of exotic (um, hello Africa) and magical land. It’s rather big, so plan on spending several hours here exploring, roaming around or simply lying down and relaxing.
Check out the upcoming events (www.sanbi.org/events) you might get lucky and get to a summer concert or experience an open air cinema. Food wise there’s 2 options Kirstenbosch Tea room restaurant - which is more of your usual botanical garden cold sandwich cafe or Moyo that is a full on restaurant with lots of seating space. Try bunny chow - lamb ragu served in a bread bowl.
Learn that "top is better then the bottom” and hike up the Lion’s Head mountain. It was really the most beautiful hike I have ever done.
The hike itself is relatively easy except the small bit closer to the top, that made me mentally thank myself for those 2 times I went to Brooklyn Boulders, but once you make it to the top you can truly say “ I am all the way up” enjoy 360’ breathtaking views of Cape Town and meditate watching clouds slowly rolling off the nearby Table Mountain. Take a moment. Breath. Be still. Remember.
Treat yourself to an afternoon tea at Cape Grace (www.capegrace.com/#/en/Dining/AfternoonTea) if you get lucky you will grab a seat outside and enjoy scenic waterfront views.
Explore Victoria and Albert Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za). Beautiful and busy area full of shops, restaurants and small local designer markets. Take your time end explore the harbor.
Robben Island ferries (robben-island.org.za) are leaving from this point as well and if you want to get in touch with the history of SA and Nelson Mandela’s legacy you will want to visit it, but plan ahead as tickets sell out quickly and the whole trip and tour take about 4 hours.
Victoria Wharf Centre at the Waterfront is a great spot to top up your phone and change some cash, since there’s lots of exchange centers. Also if you are in a mood for sushi, one of the best sushi places is actually inside of this shopping mall - Willoughby & Co (willoughbyandco.co.za). I should mention that these are not traditional japanese sushi, but rather “creative” once which means complicated roll combinations, that still worth trying. There often times a line to be seated, but fear not you will be offered complementary wine tasting, which will make it all better.
Shop till you drop.
Start with the colorful Bo-Kaap (www.google.com/maps/place/Bo-Kaap,+Schotsche+Kloof,+Cape+Town,+South+Africa/@-33.9210611,18.4095455,16z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x1dcc676855f62c2d:0xecb3d386b6f6fa6!8m2!3d-33.9182226!4d18.4142522!6m1!1e1)
Small and rather poor neighborhood that attracts tourists with it’s bright colours and juicy colour combinations.
Make a pit stop at Honest Chocolate cafe (honestchocolate.co.za) offering artisan chocolates and vegan desserts, relax in a cozy courtyard.
Get your souvenirs fix at Green Market Square. (Burg St & Longmarket Street, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa)
Everyone has pretty much the same stuff, so take your time and look around, compare prices and bargain, its the market after all, bring cash.
If you are interested in local designers check out Merchants on a Long (merchantsonlong.com) this store showcases clothing and accessories made in Africa, even if you won’t find anything the store itself is in a beautiful historic building.
Stop by MEMEME (mememe.co.za) that features up and coming as well as established designers. Long street in general is full of little shops and vintage markets.Take your pick.
Have lunch at Kloof Street House (kloofstreethouse.co.za) great food in a beautiful setting with a lovely garden.
Grub a drink at Yours truly (yourstrulycafe.co.za) on Kloof. There are 2 locations, Kloof one is bigger and has a nice outdoor area, opt out for an evening and you will get pizza or walk over to The Power and The Glory and get a drink and pretzel hot dog…
or go all in and try Bombay Bicycle (thebombay.co.za)
Take a day tour of Cape Peninsula.
Here is where I left it to professionals and booked a day tour to explore everything Cape Peninsula has to offer. I personally booked with Cape Convoy (www.capeconvoy.co.za/capepoint.html) and was very happy with my experience. Rob was an excellent guide with the great sense of humor and we had a lovely group of people traveling with us, all around win win win situation, but of course it is up to you to decide, since most of the companies have more or less same routes.
Here you will get to see Muizenberg with its colourfull beach houses, Simon’s Town and Boulder’s Beach with African Penguins (I was most excited about) we also got to see the ostrich farm and the main attraction Cape Point, where you get to be on a very tip of a African continent and see Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, that is if you are lucky, I only saw fog that day, since weather Gods were unkind, but nevertheless I enjoyed that experience, hope you will be more lucky then I was.
Also you get to feel like an explorer gazing at the Cape of Good Hope, wrapping everything up with the most beautiful drive of your life Champan's Peak Drive. I know I have been throwing around words like the most beautiful, gorgeous and stunning a lot, but trust me if you get to see it all you will know, that it was all totally justified.
Find time to visit wine country either Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. Unfortunately I don't have much to say about it, since I haven’t had a chance to go there myself, but If you can you should, because firstly it is completely different nature then the rest of Cape Town, people often compared this part with France and secondly - wine, duh.
If you love raw adrenaline you might want to do a shark cage diving and Cape Town being the shakiest of them all is a perfect place for you to do it, this you will have to research on your own, since I find the idea of being a fish appetizer less then entertaining.
There are also crazies who want to fly and this is me all the way, so I tried paragliding in Cape Town and it was ahhhhmazing…. You get to fly off (in tandem of cause) Signal hill and enjoy the view of the Lion’s Head and the Ocean … I booked with fly cape town (flycapetown.co.za) but there are many options and everyone seem to be asking same price. I was happy with my experience, booking was easy, so was rescheduling, that I had to do few times, since weather was not on my side and couple of times, there were no fly conditions, something to keep in mind, since you might have to plan ahead, was totally worth it tho!
Be aware of Sunday, Old Biscuit Mill is closed and so are most of the shops on Long, Sunday as I come to understand is for Church and Braai (bbq/Sunday roast) with the family.
Uber everywhere. It is really easy, fast and cheap. Sometimes your uber driver might ask you to seat in front with him, since they are getting lots of heat from taxi drivers, who are really unhappy with the whole uber deal.
Cash is King, sure but try not to use ATM. Most of the stories of robberies or fraud I’ve heard involved ATM and some sort of “let me help you” situation. I used my card most of the time, but since my only no foreign transaction fee card is Amex I had some difficulties, Amex is not as widely accepted as VISA or MasterCard. If I needed cash, I usually just changed it at the V&A waterfront mall.
Safety wise, don’t be careless and walk around night time, take uber, ask him to wait if anything, it is totally normal here. Don’t show off your cash and just be aware and you will be fine.
Despite many gorgeous beaches you will probably not swim, because sharks, many many snarks and also icy cold water won’t let you.
Prepare to hear “hectic” a lot and it will mean wide range of things, prepare not to hear “Oh my God” because you are not supposed to mention Lords name in vain. “Vest” is any kind of top. “Blesser” is a sugar daddy, which I found hilarious and charming at the same time.
Prepare to drink lots of rooibos tea and “five roses” which I am still not sure what kind of tea it was, prepare to eat lots of wonderful food, papayas and dates that will make you weep.
Prepare to smile, because this people genuine kindness will most definitely make you.
Prepare to have a time of your life.
Many people have asked me lately about volunteering opportunities in NYC, so I have decided to write this short and coincidentally my very first blog post.
I myself started volunteering little over a year ago. Truth be told I was going through a rough patch in my life and felt like everything was spinning out of control and since my own life was so unstable and all over crazy I thought why not channel my frustration into something positive. Being able to help someone else in need gave me a feeling of taking control over something and seeing immediate result gave an instant validation. Sometimes when you feel hopeless in your own situation it is helpful to get out of your own head and start helping others. I am not suggesting you can fix their lives but you will make a difference, change starts with even smallest of actions. May be that’s why people been showing more and more interest in volunteering opportunities lately, when the world seem to be spinning out of control you can choose to look inwards and start with yourself, you can choose making change, choose love. In any event, if you’ve been wondering about ways to give back to community and looking for volunteering opportunities, but didn’t know where to begin or felt intimidated, this post is for you.
If you have a cause you are really passionate about you can seek out non-profits dediicated to that particular issue, they are usually pretty open and encouraging to people wanting to volunteer, you would find all the information on their related web sites.
If you know that you want to get involved, but not sure where you will be most helpful I would suggest New York Cares. This is an organization I am doing all of my volunteering through and they are making it super easy and convenient. All you need to do is register here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer
attend an orientation which you can do either at one of few locations around city or even on line and after your orientation you are good to go!
Find a project you are most interested in here - https://www.newyorkcares.org/search/projects/results
Possibilities are endless. You can work with kids or elderly, you can walk dogs, clean up parks, work at soup kitchens, food pantries or shelters etc etc… really there are so many different projects list goes on.
My advise would be to try as many as you can, so you can find what really works for you.
Also don’t wait too long before signing in for your first project, life gets in a way and sometimes you will find 6 month passed by and you are wondering what was that thing you once wanted to do.
There’s an orientation that takes place at St. Francis Xavier shelter center and usually people attending could stay for a project (shelter clean up) that’s a great way of starting, because you get to jump into action right away and see what it is all about, besides that you will be provided with the important information about shelter system in NYC, lots of things I never knew about, I can promise you, you may work out slightly dirty, but your soul will feel much brighter and you will feel like you are actually making difference.
Another great way of volunteering is getting involved together with your friends. Me and my friend Heide have this tradition now, every winter we are signing up for Winter Wishes program - getting Christmas gifts letters from underprivileged kids, teens and seniors. This is a tone of fun, you get to play Santa for a bit, great way of getting into holiday spirit. We are usually making 3 days of joy out of it. Buying gifts together, gift wrapping party and delivering gifts, Heide in a Packers - Santa hat since she is a driver and in charge, me in a reindeer antlers.
Signing up for projects is easy, you can do it on line and you will get a reminder from a team leader, along with all the useful information you may need for the project, if for some reason you can’t make it (hey, things happen, no one will judge you) just be sure to de-register on line so someone else will have an opportunity to step up, the show must go on.
Well this is pretty much it. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, need more information.