Category Archives: Urban

Summertime in Israel

I was scared.

And I never get scared. Well, at least not traveling.

But, like always, I was excited. It was something different, a road less traveled by my family.

We landed in Tel Aviv and the first thing I thought was how loud everything was. Even though it’s a bustling city with a lot of noisy cars, cool restaurants, and sightseeing, the best part of Tel Aviv is the old city, Jaffa.

It’s an art district with yellowing tunnels and alleyways, all twisting and winding. It’s the kind of city you want to get lost in. How cool though, these artists get to work in a 4,000 year old city, tourists like me coming into their galleries and splurging on gifts to take back home.

On our tour we saw the Floating Orange Tree of artist Ran Morin. As the title suggests it is literally a live orange tree suspended by cables. Its modernity gets lost within the antiquated walls of Jaffa.

Sometime later, we took a day to see Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. It was smotheringly hot, so we tip-toed around in the gardens from one shady tree to the next. The gardens started at the top behind the Temple and elevated down gradually, as if they were going to slowly slide down the mountain and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Before coming to one of the spiritual capitals of the world, and despite my grandmother’s protests, we swam the Dead Sea, which is completely deserving of the name. It looked like Mars on earth. Like a hallucination from a desert mind. We only stayed a couple hours because the 90+ degree water doesn’t go well with the 100+ degree heat. And one thing I thought I’d never do: walk on salt. Literally, the bottom of the sea was condensed NaCl because the water is just too salty.

But I’m just glad I didn’t get in my eyes.

Then finally we made it to the Golden City of Jerusalem. There we saw the conflicts of the Israeli territories: the second you saw the fences, you know where the territories lay. But despite ongoing conflict, there is something very raw about Jerusalem. In a city of so much belief, a reflectiveness sets over everyone. I thought about what mattered to me and what I believed in. I wrote it all down and gave it away forever in a prayer to the Wailing Wall.


P.S. New editing technique, which I learned from the amazing photographer/person, Helena.


Mallorca day seven & eight: Palma Cathedral

Those sneaky Romans. . .They built up every place they could find with gorgeous Cathedrals, even this tiny island.

An odd sight, to be honest, to be driving in your taxi to get some coffee and out of the trees pops up  “La Seu” as it is popularly called. It Overlooks the yacht docks, nestles above a grassy park (a perfect place for tourist photos), and is close to the famous Passeig des Born street (which I could give a post to all on its own–what a beautifully designed avenue).

Most enter the Cathedral square from the wore yellow stone stairways, although the actual Cathedral is made of Majorcan sandstone called “marés.” It’s a bit gothic with gargoyles sticking out of the outside and also modern with work done by Gaudí (!!!) and a mural by Miquel Barceló.

My favorite part: We came in the early evening–that time when sunlight covers the entire world in a sheet of gold–and from the inside sun was shining through the huge stain glass windows. Different shades of reds and blues and yellows sparkled on the Cathedral walls. It reminded me of what you see on your eyelids when you close them and look up to the sky.

After the Cathedral we exited into Old Town, which has winding streets and little souvenir shops here and there. We simply got ourselves lost.


Mallorca day three: una conversación

To every English speaker in the non-English speaking world: Thank you. Today was the first day this chica, who’s taken four years of Spanish, actually had a conversation with someone in Spanish.

It’s a freefall. I know how melodramatic that sounds, but anyone who has had to learn to speak a different language will agree with me.

It’s talking alien talk.

It’s listening. No, like really listening to someone.

It’s baking a cake blindfolded.

My first conversation here went with the lady giving me a manicure. I gained the courage to tell her that I speak un poco Spanish, and she said she’d practice with me. She asked me about the weather in California, sports, my family, and I, in return asked about the Catalonian accent, her home, the island. It was a slow conversation, but it was.

So now that I feel like I’ve jumped over a mountain that I’ve probably made out of a molehill, I want to offer my advice to those too afraid to speak a new language: just speak. But to someone nice, at least the first time, then it gets easier. Those laughs (at your grammatical errors) and blank stares (at your straight up made up words) you can take with less personal offense.

“You know what? I’m trying here, waiter, okay? Please stop laughing because I said I was swim in California instead of I was born in California. Gracias.


Mallorca day one: ¿habla español?

Four years of Spanish and no one would know–I’ve landed myself in a villa in Mallorca, Spain and am too scared to even say gracias to the Spanglish waiters. Oops.

The goal: Blog everyday I’m here till the fifteenth when I leave for home. This is the first time I will be actually traveling since I’ve had this blog, and I’m both excited and terrified to attempt to work everyday on something I haven’t even been able to work on every week.

Well here it goes…

Is it always like this? You have these grandiose plans of speaking impeccable monologues to every local you meet, then you get there and simple hello’s and thank you’s never leave your lips. It’s quite awkward, really, when your mother, who hates the Spanish language, speaks more of it than you.

We were ordering pans of paella today from a woman who spoke English probably worse than I spoke Spanish. My mother and her were both very confused, and I stood there completely quiet. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of the words–no, my mind was formulating (near) perfect sentences–I just couldn’t gather the courage to. And I hope I’ll gather up some courage in the next week to at least say hola a few times.


The mini-Rome’s

We were in Barcelona and I was in love with the 20th century and truly insane designs of Gaudí. But there was something about the city that was a little too…new. It wasn’t like the rest of Europe, a million years old. Thankful, we were taking a direct flight to the antiquated architecture capitals of the world: Florence, Rome, Venice–in other words, Italy.

However, my brother, contrary as he always is, suggested to my mother that the three of us rent a car and drive along the coast of France to get to the gelato and gold markets of Florence. So without a single ounce of planning we boarded our Volkswagen and headed into France. What we found, the cities we discovered were perhaps better than any Rome or Florence–they were micro-Rome’s and micro-Florence’s.

And there were millions of them.

Every tiny city we stopped in had its very own centuries-old castle or cathedral or museum, like our first city Narbonne, which with a population of 50,000 had the 800-year-old Narbonne Cathedral (a French national monument). We stayed the night in Narbonne and I laughed out loud (well, not at the time) when our room had a bidet but no toilet. How french. At least our room had a view of the Cathedral. We sipped our morning cappuccinos next to its yellowing walls.

Our next stop was Béziers, France where we visited my favorite Béziers Cathedral. We met an old man who described his travels up and down France and gave us our next destinations: Uzès, Pont du Gard, and Avignon. We felt engulfed in a different world. It’s the feeling you see a little kids get when they step into Disneyland–hey, it’s the feeling I get when I step into Disneyland. Southern France is the Disneyland of coastal road trips.

Each of the destinations we stopped at, from the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard to the gothic city of Avignon, had so much French and, annoyingly enough, Italian history. I distinctly remember us seeing a sign for a château that shined in the distance off the freeway, but driving by it because “we’ll be seeing enough of those.” And we did.

In our last stop, we drove the inch-wide streets of Avignon, literally scraping the mirrors of our rented car against its walls. We found the beautiful La Mirande hotel in Avignon. Although we didn’t get to stay there, it is my dream to come back to the boutique hotel.

Then we finally said ciao to Firenze!


A Crimean quirk

It wouldn’t be Ukraine without the strays.

Unlike your typical American neighborhood, there aren’t really things like animal shelters to house the street kitties and puppies in Ukraine or even Russia. It may seem sad to some, but to me it is my culture–they walk around, mewing, and occasionally one kid will take them in as a pet or feed them a few pieces of barbecue. Occasionally, when I see a cat in the states with that same street look, uneven fur, and fast trot, I remember my summers visiting Ukraine. I remember seeing similar cats fleet from us as my mother and I approach the old lady who sells the best damn white peaches in the whole world. Nothing tastes better than a Crimean peach. Nothing tastes more of summer days.

Ukraine is Ukraine. It is filled with its faulty imperfections, from the screeching elevator in our apartment building my brothers would always trap me in to the country’s endless search for a clean public bathroom anywhere. And some might view the strays as another health-hazardous imperfection of the country I am from, but I see these tough kitties as another Crimean (and Ukrainian) quirk, like fresh-fried Kambala fish or the sound of waves crashing on a rocky Yalta shore. So while suburban America might have bikes and toys in the streets, we have cats and dogs, and I wouldn’t change that.


Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona

Lo siento Paris and Rome, but my love is with the gothic streets of Barcelona, Spain. Of course the Cataluña seafood and my love of Spanish helped, but I think there is one reason why I fell in love with this odd, odd city: Antoni Gaudí.

If you ever visit Barcelona, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of Gaudí. He is present on corner street buildings and enormous Cathedrals alike because he built them–but I wouldn’t use the word built so much as dreamed up.

The very first day we left our ultra trendy hotel to visit Casa Milà, or La Pedrera. Honestly, from the street, La Pedrera doesn’t look much more odd than any other building lining the streets of the city, but my family and I knew because from our hotel balcony we could just make out the strange columns and curvy railings that sat on top of the roof of the building. When we finally climbed up there, we had entered an unmoving desert storm: The day was hot and sweaty and everything Gaudí built on this terrace was a rusty orange–I could feel my pale skin soaking up a sunburn off every surface, while envying the architect students who sat in the shade, sketching.

Casa Batlló is one of the two houses, along with La Pedrera, that we visited. It is a tall building with an inside that reminded me of the ocean, covered in either shattered rainbow tiles or huge blue ones. If you come into the center of the building and looked up, you could see the bright sky and sun above, just like if you looked up from the Mediterranean Sea that lines the Spanish coast. This house also had a rooftop, one a little less tan I’ll admit.

Right before we visited the monumental Sagrada Família, we stopped by Güell Parc, a beautiful Gaudí park with street vendors, a view overlooking Barcelona, and ceramic lizards. It’s a far hike upward without a taxi but so worth it. On our way there we stopped by a little shop of souvenirs where I got a canvas bag with a hand-painted watercolor on it that I still use.

But back to Sagrada Família. The unfinished Cathedral stands one hundred and seven meters tall–and they aren’t even finished building it. Still according to Gaudí’s plans, construction goes on to this day, unfortunately detracting from the view. It sits quite Eiffel tower-esquely in a grassy field all by itself. However, the building is so intricate, plastered with ornamental details, it doesn’t really need any company. Coming up closer to it, we saw that there was no square-foot of plain old wall. I cannot wait to see it finished, so see you soon Barcelona, mi amor!