The Dead Sea

It was as though time pulled me into itself. Standing still in such mud-filled, salt floating wonder I beseechingly asked the question. “Aware of awareness, where does it arise from, how is it we consciously experience this finite existence?

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The hot dry emptiness and sun’s bright gaze burning away all shadows of doubt. My spirit strengthened as I eclipsed certain parts of myself while wandering. Walking through Masada I questioned how it was such a place was built.

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Ein Gedi’s waterfalls enlivening what felt to be joyful liberation and tranquility. Finding a hidden spot to relish the freshness of the waterfalls I felt the ease of the environment soak into me. Such exquisiteness.

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I chose Abraham tours for this day of sightseeing. The drive down to the Dead Sea winds with the pressure of going lower and lower and a quiet awe took over everyone on our bus. The dead sea comes into sight it’s cerulean blue amidst the sandy mountain terrain. A place of grandiose beauty filled me with awe struck wonder as the bus went lower. Surreal,  it felt like another world, with caves dotting the mountains that hid many secrets.

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Sinkholes made the roads impassable at certain points, detouring to new roads that were made. We were duly informed by our fabulous tour guide, that over the past 20 years, due to global warming, the Dead Sea has been drying up 3 meters a year. Spas built 15 years ago are now far away from what once was the shore.

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My DIATRIBE:

Such a stunning sea while floating in it, the health benefits from the sulphur to salt to mud are numerous. Yet 100 years from now, will it still be here? It put global warming into a very real perspective.

Because it’s drying up, at the beach I was at, plastics and non biodegradeble materials were stuck in the mud. I went around plucking them up and filling the garbage can, to help in the way I could, to preserve the gorgeousness of the sea.

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My mind started reeling. What is happening to the dead sea reinforced the notion that we are not prioritizing for 100-200 years from now, or our next 7 generations. How is it we have allowed the plundering of our resources to such a damaging effect on our planet?

We are polluting our air, soil and water, due to our reliance on fossil fuels and chemicals with no real solutions being offered.

What will happen to our resources? How is it they’ve become privatized and corporatized? Our reliance on fossil fuels is the biggest detriment to our environment and future, yet big money still wages itself in it. There are many more sustainable and green measures we as a race could and should be taking with our current environmental problems.

Hoping we could move into a more sustainable future in the upcoming years, to preserve the beauty of our gorgeous planet.

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xo,

Nicole

Jerusalem

“You’re not scared to be in Israel based on what they say in the news about the conflict?” I was asked many times. My answer “No, not at all.” My heart felt at home in Jerusalem, a feeling that felt like a deep surge of ancient wisdom. Knowing is hard to explain. Trusting it even more of a challenge. Explaining it can become nonsensical. This journey became a reclamation.

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Old City Walls

Old City:

The roots in Jerusalem go deep, winding throughout history with many ideas originated there still circulating throughout our world. Quite an unbelievable place given it’s the epicenter of Abrahamic religions.

Within the old city walls, there are quarters; Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. A representation of everyone living and working amongst each other within the ancient walls.

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I am not religious, but honor the core spiritual tenets religions encompass. I’ve questioned throughout my life what I believe in, which is constantly evolving as I do. Many of the prophets which are at the heart of religions have similar messages: To be a good human.

I felt a release in my heart as I walked by a church singing prayers in Aramaic, such a beautiful sound, it rang like a song. Seeing some of the stations of the cross, feeling the intensity, I was lead to the Western Wall. I didn’t plan to go, it called me to it. Here there were deep prayers happening and some singing, before Shabbat started Friday night.

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Touching the wall, leaving my note, I prayed for peace and the thought came to me:

What does peace look like? Honoring traditions and still collectively moving beyond mindsets that separate and cause wars for our future generations to have a healthy existence. Including the mindset of greed that perpetuates the corporate stronghold on our planet which is destroying our natural resources.

I felt a reclamation of unity and what has been lost and fought in the name of religions. I know in my heart there is a peaceful way for us all to live in harmony and many things are collectively dismantling so we can see what the solutions will be.

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I found a spot that had wine and cheese, people were gathered outside at tables. Here I met a group of  Palestinians. While talking I asked them about the conflict, which from a perspective in the west seems extremely tense. I was told “We’re like cousins, we work together, live together, we come here every day from Bethlehem, the sensationalism in your news is not the way it is over here.”  I was invited to go to Bethlehem, next time I visit I most certainly will.

I heard from local Israelis as well a resounding “We all just want to live our lives, hopefully in peace.”

The Holocaust Museum: 

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The building itself is ingeniously designed, leading from one room to another in a zig zagging way. Inside, the videos, pictures and remnants are intense, sad, horrendous yet important to be seen. Honoring the past and victims, so as history never repeats itself in that way.

I saw this quote, which has been circulating recently, bringing tears to my eyes:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

  ~ Martin Niemöller

Perfuniq:

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I had my own custom made perfume at Perfuniq, which my flatmate from my airbnb, whom I’ll call Mariella who is so sweet, warm and hospitable, brought me to. Here I met the owner who makes all the scents and his wife, both incredibly nice. It took about an hour, tailored for me to what I liked and my preferences,  based on my answers. A proper scent-sation. Such a brilliant place, I loooove my perfume, we decided the name is “The Painted Veil”

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Local Jerusalem:

On Saturday to honor Shabbat many places are closed. I went to a local place that was open, meaning not Kosher. I had a delicious dinner and met another American. Our discussion ranging from biology to dark matter, to the quantum enigma and more. Mind blown would be an understatement, my mind was righteously bent after conversing.

Local Jerusalem life felt like home. If you’re ever in Jerusalem I highly recommend staying at Mariella’s place, contact me if so. At this Airbnb, I was invited to eat homemade food with friends and family members of Mariella’s and learned new Israeli recipes which were so scrumptious. Like Israeli salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and lemon, so refreshing and tasty. Pita sandwiches with flavorful tahini, pickles and tuna with eggs, veggies and fresh herbs. Pasta that was so fresh tasting, most of the ingredients from the local market with a bit of spiciness that lingered in the garlic sauce.

Sai Baba.

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From experience, I understood that family is important to Israeli culture. People have migrated there from all over the world. There is a merging of cultures with similar values; cherishing family, community and tradition.

I talked love, relationships, dating, the world, culture, customs and the process of coming into self-love as a woman in our modern age, with Mariella. Even though we live thousands of miles away, our ideas were of a similar nature. Love in a relationship coming from a healthy place, being patient for the right “him’ to come along. Even if not, being happy with self no matter what. When self care is honored, it means caring for others at full capacity. Reciprocity.

I left at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, with a sendoff of beautiful wishes and a fresh pomegranate. My intentions were to release all the ways I blundered the past year and welcome with an open heart what will enter for the new year.

Toda Raba

xo,

Nicole

I’ll be posting soon about the Dead Sea and Eilat. Much more of what I experienced  will be highlighted in my memoir.

Tel Aviv

In getting lost, I tend to find more of myself. It’s beyond wandering, it’s a soul calling. Leaving Morocco on an energized note, I had a fabulous, culture-drenched time in such a unique country. The flight to Tel Aviv, I struck up conversation with the person sitting next to me, he was great and gave me a list of local and touristy things to see and do in Tel Aviv. Taking the train into Tel Aviv from the airport was clean, quick and affordable.

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I immediately felt an ease being in Tel Aviv. I found my favorite coffee spot, City Cafe which I frequented every morning. Sipping the rich, strong flavor of Israeli coffee one morning, to iced latte the next. The fantastic people there got to know me by name. My vagabond nature grounding in to the habitual aspect of every day living. Sometimes being thousands of miles from home, makes me realize that ultimately home is within.

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I had many plans of places to go, yet my spirit needed the sea. The beach had a calming strength to it, one that called me to it day after day. It felt warm and nourishing floating and swimming in the softly rolling waves as the salt, sun and air soaked into me. I had lunches at spots on the coast, watching kids learn how to surf and people enjoying their time. Everyone was super nice and loved showing me what they could about the city, and inviting me along with what they were doing.

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On my way to the beach I visited Camel Market, wandering through stands offering gifts, jewelry, fresh foods, juices, olives, cheeses, souvenirs and the likes. Each stand having a unique vibe, playing different music that perks the ears up. Stopping at some to buy fresh foods or little trinkets.

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Value was noticeably placed on fresh, seasonal foods, herbs and spices. The freshness and quality of the food blew my mind. I ate at so many phenomenal restaurants. The flavor profiles were fresh, rich, spicy or sweet, with herbs and spices that left lingering taste sensations. There were so many amazing places I stopped at, to go through them all would take up pages. I’ll highlight a few:

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North Abraxas: Usually you have to make reservations to eat here, luckily there was one spot at the bar in which I shared conversation and appetizers with those around me. The ambience was perfect, the fish so succulent and moist, freshly caught in a tomato sauce with melted cheese and veggies and scrumptiously spicy. Dipping oven baked bread into the sauce, it was so delicious I couldn’t get enough. I relinquished my normal eating habits of gluten and dairy free while traveling, it was so worthwhile.

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Supra: I decided to walk Rothschild Blvd and picked a spot that suited my fancy. I walked by Supra, then came back to it. Walking in it was quiet, I sat at the bar chatting with the awesome staff who were setting up for a party. Within an hour of eating a Georgian dish with meat and rice and blends of spices, the place was packed and there were dancers who took over the place.  Inviting me to dance up on the bar, which was AMAZING and way out of my norm.They thought I was professional contemporary dancer and kept inviting me to dance with them, for everyone. What a compliment and so fun!

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Emilia Romagna: I was strolling by on my way back from the beach and heard music playing, which was a burst of new tracks that were house,  soft bass, disco-ey middle eastern sounding. Ears piqued, I had to stop in. Here I ended up watching the chefs work their magic with chopping, mixing, cooking, breads and mediterranean freshness. I had a salad like a Caprese but with a ball of Buratta cheese, fresh tomatoes, basil and sweet yet tangy Balsamic vinaigrette and oils. Mmmmm.

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The old city,  Jaffa Port, is 4,000 years old. Walking around, soaking in the ancient grounds, feeling the depths of something deep within remembered. How long humans have created ways to connect to other parts of the world, by sea and ground, importing and exporting, to bring gems of different lands. It’s a gorgeous sight on the sea, from the old city to new city.

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I felt such a beachy yet edgy ease in Tel Aviv, so much culture and Hebrew sounded melodious and grounded. If I were to compare to America, I found it to be a blend of NYC, Miami and San Francisco totally Israeli style. Most people spoke English making it easy to get around. The music, wow, the music. Everywhere I went, it was so diverse and dynamic sounding, I was told it’s the music capital of the middle east.

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Trusting my instincts meant understanding which step to take next through listening to my heart, mind and soul, when they’re in complete alignment it is like a song, or flow. One that has a different hum and tune wherever I am.

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My mind whispered “move, go, stop, talk, play, eat, relax, process, take in the sun, or shade. Do what it is your heart is called to as you venture lands unknown yet familiar, for your inner compass always knows where to go, following it will lead you to your calling.”

 

xo,

Nicole

 

I’ll be back with more of my travels through Israel…

 

 

Morocco

When traveling, especially alone, I try to let go of expectations to understand where it is I am. This creates the mystery of adventure and the unexpected. Planning as little as possible except for where to go, I like to live in the spontaneity of what presents itself as opportunity.

TANGIER

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Even though more liberal and women have more rights than conservative muslim countries, I made sure to have my shoulders covered and wear trousers. As soon as I landed, unsure of where to go I found the people were very nice and helpful and customs was easier than many countries I’ve traveled to. It just so happened that I arrived in Morocco during their holiday, Eid al-Adha. Which I’m told is like Thanksgiving and they slaughter rams to commemorate. Most stores and restaurants are closed for 3-5 days.  My taxi driver proceeded to tell me how it is a celebration. Gratitude. Life.

C’est la vie.

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I had a taxi tour guide take me out to the Hercules cave the following day, he was very nice and I highly recommend him if you’re in Tangier for an honest tour.  The scenic drive winded around the way, stopping at Cap Spartel and seeing where the Atlantic and Mediterraanean oceans meet, across the way is Gibraltar, Spain. The medina in Tangier along the coast is a spectacular spot inside the medina walls, the Casbah is a well known artists spot with winding narrow streets painted in different colors on the coast.

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Fez

 

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I took the train from Tangier to Fez which was easy to navigate and went through the beautiful countryside with olive trees and melon farms along the way. I stayed in a restored Riad, which means palace, that was built in the 1300’s in the medina. Fez is one of the largest pedestrian only old cities in the world. I had a tour guide assigned the following day who was incredible and if you’re in Fez I highly recommend him, his name is Med.

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I was taken around the outside of the city to see the wall, and structures and views of the medina, along with another of the King’s palace, museums, parks and Jewish quarter. The mosaic work and architecture are astonishing throughout the city. Everything seemed to be moving and bustling, busy and active once the holiday passed. Loving the handmade ceramics and rugs in the markets, one of a kind pieces can be found.

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Another of the tour guides assigned to me then took me to a local home.  I was given a taste of the celebration of the holiday, eating amazing Tagine with a family of 4, a husband, wife their child and friend and I, completely Moroccan style. Such a cool experience!  I fully stuffed myself with the richness of the flavors, saffron and herbs and oil in which the meat has been cooked in for hours and falls right off the bone, with french fries on top. It is a sensory and tactile experience, eating with the hands, using chunks of bread to pick up the dish with. Relishing the moment.

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Marrakech 

I took a night bus from Fez to Marrakech, arriving at 4am. Even though the girl sitting next to me didn’t speak english, she shared with me her sandwich and help with where to go. Arabic and French are the main languages of Morocco many also speak Spanish, Berber and English. Navigating was easy through the country, especially when I would ask for help.

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I stayed at Riad Palais des Princesses. The inside had gorgeous detail of Moroccan mosaic and colors and felt luxurious in the comfort of the room there. The people were exceptionally helpful and friendly and the breakfast delicious choices from cheeses to crepes and yogurt to fresh figs and juicy apricots. I had a Hamman and massage while there which was so luxurious and relaxing. The medina in Marrakech square was easy to get to and navigate around. I become a flaneuse while traveling, perusing the markets and strolling the sights.

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The way people would come together whenever I would ask a question to help me figure it out, was the epitome of what I feel Moroccan community is. People really work together to help.

Advice: As a solo female traveler, it’s important to know boundaries. My advice is to be aware and smart when out in the medina or anywhere. It takes firmness to walk away and say no thank you.

With a blend of African, European and Arabic cultures which make up Morocco, I found it to be a fantastic, exotic experience. I’m so happy it was part of my grand adventure, I would definitely suggest going there.

I’ll be back with my adventures in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem…..

 

xo,

Nicole

 

 

Spain

I left London with a bit of nostalgia, the people of the city were so kind and friendly with their charming English way. Yet I would not let feelings of comfort get in the way of my grand adventure. Onwards to Spain.

I was presented with some difficulties arriving at the airport, flying with Ryan Air. I knew I had to pay for my extra baggage, which I was fully prepared to do. Yet I was charged over 200 euros for both flights for not checking in online and my baggage, twice. I let Ryan Air know that was outrageous and thankfully they reimbursed me for half of it.

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I arrived to Barcelona on the extremely affordable Aerobus that goes from airport and back for 5-8 euros. I was dropped off near the Gothic center where I was staying. It was warm and sunny with bustling activity in the square with fountains and throngs of people moving every which way. Walking through the small streets in the Gothic area I felt transported into medieval times with the winding, narrow streets with no cars felt like a maze of antiquity. I loved the location of my airbnb, right in the heart of Gothic center.  Sleeping like a baby the first night, I ventured out the following morning.

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My first stop was La Familia Sagrada, one of the reasons I chose Barcelona as a destination point, being a lover of Antoni Gaudi’s style of modernista and his ingenuis designs. I found the trains in Barcelona relatively easy to use, the people in Spain were nice and warm once they warmed up, and the Spanish there sounds different to the ear then what I’m used to, I found more ease with situations when speaking Spanish, which I know a bit of. Stepping out of the train stop Familia Sagrada meets you and is beyond mammoth and quite astonishing in large towers with carved, intricacy in the facade. I opted for the inside tour, which was mesmerizing with geometrical colors, fractal lights, carvings and intricate braids in the detail. It almost felt like a magical palace in some fantasy land. Quite unreal.

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I went to Guell park, on my way there was charging my phone in a cafe and met sisters from Algeria. We sat talking about our travels while our phones charged. One of the many reasons I love traveling, to meet people from all over the world who have their brilliant stories to share. Quell park had more of Gaudi’s colorful architecture. I walked around to take in nature and the quirky, unique structures.

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I decided to test myself that evening and made it a commitment to let go of my quick, expectant, insta-have it and went to dinner at a beautiful place that had an outside terrace, phone-less. In this gorgeous upper area I sat, looking around, feeling a bit awkward at first, I relaxed and took in the whole of the environment, seeing how much everyone was enjoying company and the setting. Myself included. The table sitting next to me and I started up a conversation, two couples visiting from Germany.  They were exceptionally gregarious and fun. We kept great company for the remainder of the evening. The food was exceptionally fresh seafood that tasted like it was caught that day, our server was sensational. What a brilliant place, taste and experience.

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To the beach I must go, I thought to myself, one outside of Barcelona city. There was a train that went to areas along the sea to Sitges, that took about 30 minutes. This became the first time I had actually missed a stop on the train, I realized after a lady came by asking where I was going. It wasn’t just me, there were two girls from South Korea who also missed the stop. We grouped together determined to get to Sitges and hopped on a train going back that way. We AGAIN missed the stop and ended back up in Barcelona, realizing the first train we took didn’t actually stop in Sitges! Quite the back and forth yet once there it was more than worth it.

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Sitges was like out of a mediterranean dream, walking through the Catalonian streets to find the beach, I was taken aback by the beauty along the sea, with the softly rolling waves and sun and restaurants, shops and homes up on the hills. A friend had mentioned to stop in Garaff on my way back. Which I’m so pleased I did. It had smaller beaches with less establishments, just as beautiful with cliffs and little cottages. I stopped at another Gaudi structure called Gaudi Garraf which I walked up and through, this was more like a small castle with interesting structures and design.

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I walked through the city that evening, in appreciation, for life, for living, for now, and everything bringing me to it. I had released stress I didn’t realize I was carrying until it dissolved. The stress of doing my best to make my life work, so I am my best for self, life and others. I relaxed into the feeling of contentment with exactly how life is, right now, instead of how I’d like it to be different, or in some future reality. For what is meant to, will be. As someone recently said “Work smarter, not harder”

I’ll be back with my adventures in Morocco….

xo,

Nicole

London

Thank God I’m able to make this trip. I thought to myself on the plane from Montreal to London. I sacrifice many things in life to be able to travel and have for many years, yet I wouldn’t have it any different. A somewhat transient, Bohemian lifestyle, harldly planting roots til’ now. In my mind this trip was not compromise-able, well, almost not.

I’ve heard from several people in my life that I tend to be impulsively foolish, I like to think of it as intuitively living by listening to my heart. Of course, this way can sometimes lead me places unexplored, uncomfortable and I may feel underestimated, yet, I grow. I expand. I become who I am, constantly integrating everything I’m experiencing and learning. Which is why I travel. By experiencing other cultures, other lands and other ways of being, my mind expands and I become better at being me.

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I arrived in London and immediately felt I understood the lay of the land, in rapt fascination with the architecture and detail of the older gothic structures. The English accent sounds like musical notes to the ear, I was quite entranced by it and hearing the ease with which it was spoken, I took on a few words immediately. Loo. Trousers. Pint. The tube.

About half of my trip was reuniting with people I know. Which feels so yummy for my heart and soul, to be able to travel internationally and meet with people I have treasured bonds with. Amazing, I think to myself.

I visited with a family that I know from America and had such a cozy, connecting, reuniting time. Playing with a superbly special little one, while chatting and catching up with the family and having delicious, fun meal times.

Reminding me what an impact connections leave on a life, like an imprint,  leaving me feeling blessed to have the experiences. A reason, a season or a lifetime? I have found many connections in my life I don’t need to speak to all the time, yet they remain as close as ever and when reunited the bond is what is remembered.

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I was staying close to all the tube lines in an area of London. Yet now that I know the city more, I think I’d choose to stay elsewhere. The Underground, ahhh how easy it is to navigate in London, while I LOVE to walk as much as I can, I also like to understand the train systems and I bought myself an Oyster card for the week I was in London, I had so much use out of it.

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My screen was cracked on my I phone, which gave me the perfect excuse to go to the three story store in Covent gardens, where apparently used to be where farmers would sell their produce. I walked for a bit since it was too early for Apple to open and found Trafalgar square and the Mason museum which piques my interest of secret societies and such. I walked around and was given information about the different sects and clothing and symbols, which I find fascinating.

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While waiting for my phone I flaneused about, mingling with the crowds gathered around, watching street performers defy what seemed the laws of gravity. Finding myself wandering into the stores, sampling products, perfumes, delectables and falling in love with the bustle of the area. By being phone-less I immersed myself in the sensory outputs happening around me.

I had to sign up for hot yoga classes and went to quite an obscure location yet loved the classes and heat and instructions, buying a pass for $30 I was able to use it 4 times. It was such a relief for my body, mind and spirit knowing all the traveling I was about to undertake.

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I went to Spitalfields Market, which I had heard was fun to walk around and barter in. Located in the more hip area of East London I was there more so for the experience that crossed section many streets. The sellers weren’t as aggressive as many markets I’ve been to in the world, which felt a bit more relaxed, instead of pressured.

From there I walked to the London Bridge to see a view of the famous Tower Bridge. Again reuniting with a friend we had a bite to eat in a pizzeria and walked around the South Bank, aged with preserved antiquity. We passed by what used to be an old prison. Places like that and more are so enchanting especially when so well preserved as we found to be along the Thames.

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Echoes rise up to meet us in the now, a time long past where women were in dresses and petticoats and men in their formal wear watching shows put on and meandering around as we were. A spellbinding sight along the Thames while moving through the crowds of people, the cargo ships lazily move. Across the way are buildings that are the epitome of English architecture, which I won’t pretend to know that much about, only that it’s quite unbelievable in scope of detail and design. In a spellbiding way England perfectly captures the old amidst the new, and I am quite in love with its style.

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Taking the bus to Chelsea, I was able to see more of the city and areas surrounding it. I stopped at Trafalgar, a pub, and tried light and flaky fish and chips and lots of malt vinegar and ketchup, and a beer. I find it important to try local staples wherever I’m at, it was so tasty and an added treat to my day of wandering.

I visited with a friend I hadn’t seen in years at a restaurant a friend of ours had opened. In a hip, quite cool area, walking around before arriving I found it fashion forward and fun. The food at Smokey Tails was so scrumptious, the ambience amazing, sitting outside with a view of the square and I had such a fabulous time meeting up with my dear friend. Amazingly I remember when the restaurant was in the beginning stages, to see it busy and taste how amazing the food is brought me joy.

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I went to Oxford St. to visit Liberty. On my way there I stopped in a pub to sit outside it for a bit, have a glass of process and watch all the people walk by while checking my phone since I could only do so while on wi fi.  This turned into me meeting several people, sitting at the nearby tables on this gorgeous, perfect sunny day.

One of the gentleman I was speaking with used to be a part of Parliament and he met many well known politicians throughout his time in it. I did research to confirm he was who he said he was,  I’ll call him Pablo. I learned a lot about British politics with of course, the witty British humour.

He then said, verbatim. “America could be the best nation in the world. It could be the ultimate force for good. But it needs to understand that it’s political system is damaged and outdated, until it does become a force for international good and relations it is potentially a threat, not a benefit to the order of the world.” He the went on to quote Winston Churchill “American will always do the right thing- After exhausting all the alternatives”

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I left the group of them feeling intellectually stimulated, pondering policies and systems, to gain understanding. I then meandered into Liberty. What a perfect coincidence given I love words, etymology and contrived or not so contrived meaning. Liber is Latin origin for freedom.

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My last night in London I met again with my dear friend Maria at the top of the Shard at Shang Ri La. Beautiful and opulent, the view was out of this world. We had such a blast, chatting, talking all the girly things over a bottle of wine and hor d’oeuvres, it was the perfect sendoff to Barcelona. Below was the view from above.

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l’ll be back with the next leg of this adventure in Barcelona.

xo,

Nicole

For more pictures please check out my Instagram account as it’s been quite difficult downloading them from phone to computer in a foreign country for some reason

Little Trouble in Big China

I have a more rebellious take on life. This comes from many years of practice. Not always following tradition, rules or codes. I follow my heart and internal guidance, which seems to steer me in the direction I need to go. My inner intellect knows, you could call it good intuition. China is no exception. To some this may sound foolish, to me, well, it pushes my envelope.

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HONG KONG:

The flight from Tokyo was a breeze in comparison to the flight to Japan. I’ve met some memorable people in my life on planes, trains and automobiles. Surprisingly it seems to comfortably in an awkward yet social way, help one to open up. I’ve found that these connections on PT&A are brilliant and ones that somehow create new destined paths.

Here’s what I did with two and half days in Hong Kong:

Kowloon:

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The side of Hong Kong I was staying in at the Hyatt, which was so luxurious. Needless to say, a little exploring goes a long way. The Kowloon side is busy and the roads criss cross a lot in a non linear fashion, making it easy to get lost. Never fear, there’s always a map, dear. Use one. I have learned to always have one handy. It’s easy to get lost meandering in and out of stores from jewelry to shoes to herbs to food. Especially when directionally challenged as I sometimes am. There’s always a way to get back though, that’s sometimes the fun of getting lost, is it not?

Hong Kong Island:

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Taking the ferry to the other side it’s visibly more busy, modern, think Wall Street with some of the lovely British charm still intact. I visited pubs while also eating dumplings and Chinese. Even though in a big city, the hills give it a cozy feeling. Hong Kong is quite international and most people speak english well. If I was to compare this to an American city, I think San Francisco would be the easiest comparison. Hong Kong is much smaller than Tokyo.

Ladies Market:

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Visiting the ladies market. It’s worth it to see this market at night, to get lost in the rows after rows of cheap knock offs, clothes, little gadgets and some amazingly good finds. “Here, you like this?” is asked at almost every stall stopped in. If you’re not prepared to say no, then you may spend a lot more than you bargained for. I give less than half of what they’re asking and then see. It’s ok to walk away if you don’t like what you hear.

Tian Tan Buddha:

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I was hesitant to see another Buddha since my time was so short in Hong Kong. Yet I am always allured by the spiritual principles of any practice and religion. I find truths within all of them that connect to the core of being human. The trip to Lantau Island is definitely worth it. Even after an hour and a half wait to go through luscious mountains by cable car. This twenty-five minute cable car ride is stunningly beautiful, once over several mountain tops you can see the Buddha from many kilometers away, it is a sight to behold, in an illusory way. Once there, walking through the shops to embark upon a staircase of hundreds of steps. Walking up the Buddha is larger than life, before him are the six devas, each with their offerings of flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Symbolic of the six perfections which include generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, all necessary for enlightenment.

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Indonesian 1968:

I met with friends I met on the plane and had dinner at Indonesian1968, which also has a Michelin star. Our scrumptious dinner of tasty satay was mouthwatering and savory with different sauces to entice the palate. Along with a bowl of yummy rice and curry with the spicy, warming and distinct flavors. What an incredible ambience this authentic Indonesian restaurant has, the owner came to our table and explained how his parents started the restaurant in 1968, now it’s quite epic.

After eating, why not go party a bit and see what the nightlife has to offer in Hong Kong?  Playing pool, posh lounges, watching craziness ensue in Lan Kwai Fong and Wyndham St area of Hong Kong. Fun, wild why not? I’m on a trip.

Thanksgiving:

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I wanted to experience the North American traditional holiday overseas and I was impressively inspired with my day of thanks. Before eating I went strolling and shopping in the local boutiques. Stopping to peek in at local art galleries. For this special dinner I chose Lily and Bloom, after reading article below. Lily and Bloom caters to those wanting to experience this western holiday as authentically as possible. I was treated with exceptional friendliness by the staff, noting it was the holiday and I was alone, which I purposely liked to experience a new sensation of breaking out of my comfort zone. The chef there hails from Chicago and prepares the menu and holiday meal in a meticulously, well-thought out manner. Everything was locally sourced. The flavors were extraordinary. Turkey perfectly moist, stuffing just right. Mashed potatoes and gravy with a unique twist of herbs and distinct flavorings. I even had pumpkin pie! It felt oh so homey.

I wish I would’ve had a bit more time to spend in Hong Kong, especially to have seen Victoria’s Peak which I didn’t make the time to do. Alas, the two days I was there were amazingly packed with juicy experiences that I’m super happy about. My impression of Hong Kong: Magnetizing.

 

SHANGHAI

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Shanghai immediately felt much different than Hong Kong. Busier, faster. Like NY if I had to compare it to an American city. Staying at the Marriott City center. Comfortable, business, international with a an array of a buffet that suited my every taste. The cab there from the airport was about 50 dollars. Around the city, cabs are relatively cheap.

Walking through Shanghai it’s like a glittery, colorful wonderland. Stimulation overload, very modern, futuristic almost. Someone said perfectly it’s like back to the future. In mainland China, be prepared to not use Google, including Gmail, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Unless you have access to a separate server, which I wasn’t able to finagle in the short time I was there. At first it was disconcerting. Then it felt like a break so my mind could be present to the trip.

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The pollution is obvious. This isn’t just Shanghai, it’s happening to major cities all over the world. It has hit hazardous levels in Delhi according to the BBC. I had a vision while in Shanghai of these little drone type like machines, like street sweepers. Maybe something like that could be invented? Ones that are filled with filtration and go around and clean the air? Just an idea. It really made me think about our reliance on fossil fuels and how it affects us. The monopoly on it is advantageous to those who win (money? really?) from it, but at the cost of earth and earthlings? To that I say F off and let the minds that create new technologies be allowed to create their masterpieces on our planet. Hong Kong has major stimulus if people buy electric. Fantastic. How about The Venus Project and several others who are in the (healthy) futuristic agenda? Why don’t we hear more about these types of ideas? For us all to then decide upon. Why isn’t there more collaboration happening on a global scale for a more sustainable resource based future? Why is there not more talk about this in our upcoming elections in America? It’s all of our future and planet. Do you think that’s fair? To all of us? To our planet?

I think the Paris Agreement is a start.

We have time to remedy it, I hope. Sorry to go off topic, just pondering.

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What I did with a few days in Shanghai:

Silk Museum

For many millennia, China has been known for it silk production and the silk museum highlights that. Fascinating little stop to see how silk is made. The lady who showed us was so nice and she briefly touch on the history of how silk came about, going so far as to show the silk worms in their cocoons and how the fibers are created. It’s so very silky.

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Unico to Le Chapeau (Mansion)

I went From Unico, a more upscale high energy club to the mysterious Mansion, which isn’t that easy to find. Once inside it’s like a maze of people and different rooms and crazy, unique spaces that have music ranging from EDM, minimal to trance and all the in betweens. It was packed and felt like a head spin going up and down the spiral stairs where each room had a different vibe, music, decor and it’s own element of eclectic debauchery. A very international and local group of people. If you can find it, and like to dance and take in an eccentric space, I’d highly recommend it.

Ziajiajiang

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Again firing off my navigating skills, I headed on the trains out of the city by myself, to visit a water town on the outskirts. It took about an hour and 10 minutes to get out to this preserved old city. Once there it is busy, occupied with people moving in little alleyways with ducks hanging, meats cooking, veggies boiling, selling and bartering in all the little shops one can go in. There are gardens and waterways with gondolas. It has a historically preserved history amongst the modern buildup of more industrialized Shanghai. Beautiful in an authentic Chinese way. It was tranquil and peaceful walking through the gardens.

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KTV

A trip to Asia would not be complete without trying KTV. Otherwise known as Karaoke. It’s very popular. In Shanghai I finally got a taste with a group of European friends I met. The bedazzled hallways, with mirrors and carpet makes one marvel, it’s almost decadent in a fun way. There are separate rooms that groups rent out to sing in. We sang many, many songs, most of them 90’s to now. I was belting out to Oasis. By the time I was done I felt like a superstar. Even though I probably sounded like a dying cat, it was still a blast.

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My take on Shanghai: Busy and fun, cool and weird all in one.

On that note,

I like to think of myself as adaptable, my roots aren’t always grounded in a  particular tradition, label or convention. I strive to enjoy the culture of anywhere I visit. Letting normal dispositions dissipate as I venture, to integrate and understand what is around me.

Traveling isn’t always easy and sometimes pushes me out of my comfort zone. It challenges my perceptions by expanding my horizons.Which I love.

I’m grateful to have traveled so far in my life. I know that what lies next is just a new now version of life intricately overlaying itself with mind blowing experiences.

I no longer believe in the old cliche Too good to be true, for I believe the best comes to those who are true to themselves.

xo,

Nicole

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/1882088/lets-talk-turkey-eight-places-go-hong-kong-thanksgiving-feast

Adventures in Japan

As soon as I arrived I heard, why Japan? From a local.

Well, because there is such a graceful elegance to the culture. A politeness in efficiency that makes navigating easy and there is so much to experience from the food, to the sights, to the culture, lots of shrines and Sake. 😉

All in all my flight from LA to Tokyo to Hong Kong and back was 750 dollars. A price comparable to what I’ve paid traveling to the midwest or east coast from LA. Good job Kayak.

After getting off the plane, my friend, who I’ve known since I was 15 met me in the terminal as she came in from Chicago.

Ah, the train systems. Yes.

Where the F do we go? It felt like a video game. Ding ding ding. At first it was like a puzzle in disarray, then all the pieces fit into place.

 

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DAY 1: TOKYO

We stayed at the Prince Park tower for a relatively good rate. Little did we know it was a holiday and were wondering why everyone was dressed so snazzy. 7-5-3  is a traditional rite of passage and festival day for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys, to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. How jubilant. We saw many people dressed up with their children in traditional colorful Japanese Kimonos and outfits.

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We stopped at must see Shibuya crossing which was a bit slower than usual given the observance of the holiday, nonetheless it was still busy.

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We then took the train up to Shinjuku and walked around the Shinjuku-Gyoen gardens, peaceful, zen-like and intricate classic Japanese gardens. We walked over to Hanazono shrine, hidden between the city scape. Peaceful and moving as families were there celebrating.

IMG_1213 (1)We walked around parts of Shinjuku and found alleyways with grilling Japanese kebabs.IMG_1236 (1)The Tokyo tower lit up for France. I was holding intentions for peace, healing and love. For Paris as well as the many attacks that have been happening worldwide.

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DAY 2: Tokyo

We decided to head to Harajuku, famous for teenage pop culture and quirky, colorful displays in fashion. Walking down Takeshita. We stopped at several stores, fashion forward.IMG_1283 (1)

IMG_1327 (1)Then we meandered over to Meiji Jingi shrine and observed a classic wedding taking place. Meiji Jingi sits on hundreds of acres and was built during the time of the enlightened era in Japan by Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.IMG_1291 (1).jpgIMG_1308

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a street vendor. I had to try Takoyaki after my curiosity was piqued, it was super scrumptious, melting in my mouth. Octopus rolled and topped with cheese and spices and sauces that I have no idea what they are called.

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After resting and regrouping we went to dinner at a European restaurant where we met a group of Japanese guys, who were a bit toasted and all kept exclaiming “Pasta”. Which may or may not have the same meaning translated from Japanese to English. We chimed in, still trying to figure out what it meant.

IMG_1246 (1)Day 3: Kamakura

A beautiful reprieve from the bustling and busy city. Again navigating the trains we took one an hour outside of the city to Kamakura, which was once the political center of Japan in 1192.

IMG_1354 (1)There is much historical significance and when walking through the quaint and cozy streets it feels much different than Tokyo. Below are Samurai swords.

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We went to Hasedera temple, devoted to Kannon, the Goddess of mercy and the Great Buddha, which both were quite impressive in their size as well as antiquity. There were tunnels we had to bend down into the dark into several passageways, twisting and turning, each stop temples and tiny statues everywhere. It was damp and earthen with smell of antiquity. IMG_1389 (1)

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Day 4: Kyoto

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With our well used purchase of the JR ticket we headed to Kyoto on the bullet train. I was excited to experience the bullet train which averages about 200 mph. We arrived and it was raining and a bit chilly, for lunch we went to a nearby place called Kamo which had vegetarian options. I then went wandering into Kyoto and found several bemusing shops and had an acupuncture treatment that was so very thorough.

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We ate at a little treasure that night, what we found out was an old Geisha house turned into restaurant. This special place had different rooms, sliding doors and maintained a quietness, it felt very decadent, secretive and elegant. Which is fascinating given that Kyoto is known for its prestigious Geishas. They are trained in various traditional Japanese arts such as dance and music, as well as in communication and entertaining.

 

Day 5: Kyoto

 

IMG_1419 (1)We started the day early, as seemed to be our ritual. The time change made it feel much later as we usually woke up around 6:30 am. We went to Nijō Castle, which was built in 1601, parts burnt down and was again rebuilt. It’s intricately impressive in its history and architecture. A time when empires ruled society and caste systems were more common. We then went to Kinku-Ji, the golden pavilion. It’s a golden inlaid Buddhist Zen temple and popular for tourists. While extremely busy, it was well worth the crowds to see the grandeur of this temple and its gardens.

 

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Audaciously, I wanted to find an sento onsen, to at least try it. There is a fine art of bathing which I find rather intriguing and I wanted to experience this classic tradition. I ventured alone after a recommendation from an ex-pat we met, the spot was a bit off the popular path in Kyoto.

I followed the traditions by watching how others were, not wanting to be too obnoxiously American, but also not knowing what I needed to do to follow suit. Once inside men and women are separate and there are 5 baths. One has a jacuzzi, one is electric a few are hot and they all come from hot springs below. There was an outdoor area with a cold and hot bath amidst a garden which was lovely. I felt like I left the womb when leaving, all soaked, softened and ready to go.

Day 6: Kurama 

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I wanted time to meditate and have a solo journey, navigating to me is a test of my mind and I like the challenge at times. It’s knowing where to get off and on and there are signs in English. I took the train up to Kurama. I am a Reiki master and felt the pull of this mystical place calling me to it. It is where Mikao Usui meditated for 21 days and received the Reiki healing energy.

IMG_1514 (1)Taking the train up is quite magical as one leaves the city, with tall trees and waterfalls. Walking up and through the mountains to the top shrine I meditated while a zen ceremony was taking place with a monk giving blessings.

IMG_1555 (1)It was serene and gorgeous with the autumn leaves. There were shrines to stop at on the way up, tranquil and deep in the mountains. Afterwards I went to a traditional style Japanese lunch/dinner sitting on the ground, in quiet contemplation and another onsen set amongst the mountains. Like I said, I revel in the art of bathing.

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I ate Kebabs and had Sake with friends whom I met from Japan and Taiwan after wandering into a place in Kyoto once back.

Compai!

Day 7: Tokyo

We took the bullet train back to Tokyo where we were staying in Ginza for two nights. We decided to go out in Rippongi which is the cool, hip, club area. It was fun, crazy, a bit over the top glittering club frenzy.

Day 8: Tokyo 

The food. Yum. Sushi, of course! Yet, it’s the other foods I wasn’t as familiar with that impressed me the most.
I met new friends again from wandering into a Monjayaki grill in the Tsukishima district while waiting for my Owl cafe appointment.

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It surprised me this street I found, filled with Monjayaki restaurants I went into a couple. Monja as it’s known is chopped veggies, fish or seafood, with a batter that is poured on it once the chopped portion is grilling, with a pancake like consistency, it looks wary but is delectable.

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A gem, yet again from venturing into new terrain. What an amazing way to experience a more local sensation.

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Fukuro No Mise: Owl Cafe

What a cool experience that was. Owls are one of my spirit animals so to experience so many in one place was pretty intense. All eyes on me, or so it felt, with their penetrating gazes that stare deep into the soul. I felt many things from these majestic creatures. Images and ideas of times long ago, deep in the forests and nighttime exploring.

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IMG_1497 (1)The vibe is so very Zen while bustling and busy, yes quite a paradox indeed. The people are exceptionally nice, gracious and helpful. Unbelievably so.

I feel I can let my mind escape and dream and not have to explain why I’m dreaming here. I have my setbacks show up sometimes but that’s life and traveling, is it not?

IMG_1621 (1)While dreaming and wandering in my dreamscape, especially on this trip which unexpectedly turned into visiting many temples and shrines and tuning into the realms of my spirited nature. Also, from not having my phone always connected, I felt present to the tactile world, which helped me to be with each experience, just as it was.

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Magnificent if you think about what takes place to experience what we do, the organizing structure of our universe. From the macro level, to the atomic and quantum level. We are the dreams of what came before us, those of our ancestors and creator. Conscious of creation creating in and around.

Oh glory of creation you astound.

What is your moment and can you bring it to its glory?
xo,
Nicole

I’m off to China and will post when I get back! You can also check out some of the same pics and more on my Instagram account. nicole_astara. Compai!

 

Taking Flight

I ask myself if I believe in destiny or do I co-create my reality, are they one and the same?

The manifestation of soul knows and speaks through the body in intuitive flashes and promptings. With a purpose to its calling, trusting its knowledge, I’ve moved onto a new path. As I’m entering new realms of self-discovery and owning them the word Boaz has come to me meaning strength and the unknown, which causes trepidation.

There are times when strength is taking a stand, no one outside of self knows how to do that. True strength resonates with the understanding of the soul’s whisperings.

Unflinching in the face of the unknown, viewing it as an opportunity of empowerment. What I swore could never be happening is whilst what was comfortable as I knew my life to be, has dismantled.

I’ve laid intentions and have viewed higher aspects of my living dream and where I have to let go, I find beautiful treasures unfold. Stepping away from what is unhealthy allows what is thriving to grow. Knowing that in this unknown abyss called life anything is possible.

BUDAPEST

I traveled to Budapest where I arrived feeling bogged down. I received a phenomenal massage from a healer who told me “Always care for you first, make that time happen”. Empathically releasing residue I’d been holding onto, ironically I realized I was relinquishing my heart’s calling for attainment of status quo, which goes against everything I teach to others, I had become a living contradiction .

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During the days, I strolled the boulevards, going to the famed Szeycheni baths for a dip and watching opera in the park at a castle.

At night Budapest transformed into a magically lit sight along the Danube. Taken by rickshaw on a tour, this city felt alive with softly glowing and swaying lanterns, cobblestone streets blocked off with chairs and tables, smells of grilling, musical sounds mingling, movement of people walking, dancing and romancing. An active city, with much youth amidst what has kept a jazzy glamour.

I thoroughly enjoy traveling alone at times, in the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing my surroundings or culture I expand in my ability to circumnavigate, communicate and get to know others. I left Budapest with making things happen for myself, of course with help from others as well.
In gratitude for that help always.

PRAGUE

Traveling can thrust one into a new path unexplored, unexpected, unknowing how it happens, it just does.

Heading to the train station an hour and a half early, waiting almost two hours in line I missed the original train instead taking a later one. Feeling buoyant about this turn of events with a pulsating clarity in my heart.

It was hot, one of the hottest days on record in Budapest. The train arrived and everything felt muggy and tired. I was in a meditation of sorts releasing thoughts that were no longer befitting my state of being. Moving through the impatience of delay, I looked out the window to see the lights flash off and on three times.

Which has happened before, twice actually, usually an auspicious sign of something taking place beyond my conscious mind.

What I do know is this delay caused a meeting with an incredible friend, that made my time in Prague extraordinary. The three days I was there were spent being shown around the picturesque city that felt out of a storybook.

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The architecture in Prague is preserved, the museum, churches and opera house were indescribably gorgeous. A clear and meticulous ingenuity makes up the city’s design.

Prague captured my heart; out of a movie scene, camera missing, the pictures snapped in memory.

TEPLICE

I was taken out of my comfort zone, comfortably. Also out of Prague on a mountain trip. I asked to stop at Terezin, which once was a concentration camp. I felt it important to see the depths to depravity. To not be forgotten. Feeling despair while honoring the victims I understood I came to reclaim a part of my soul.

I went to Teplice, a Bohemian mountain town also known for its healing spas where people from around the world indulge in. In an illusory fashion, I went frolicking and swimming in the mountains.
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A thunderstorm again blowing winds into the path on the ride back to Prague, the elements making their presence known. I left Prague dizzy with bliss. Bittersweet, yet knowing like most in life, experiences are forever engrained in mind and heart.

I benefit by letting go of expectations, allowing the universe to unfold its wings to me, as I to it.
Like the butterfly I feel my wings are drying after emerging from the chrysalis, a part of me vies to go back to the comfort of it, while the urge within says to

spread my wings.

Unsure, shaky, yet knowing the winds of change will take me

where I’m meant to go

taking flight

xo,

Nicole

I lost my camera in Budapest so the pictures featured are pulled from internet to give you a visual.

 

Istanbul

Istanbul, once Constantinople, a cosmopolitan city that is a Turkish Delight. I came here as a birthday present to myself, a long-awaited trip I’ve dreamt of for years. With a history of empirical rule that spans across two millenias, there lies an anciently modern feel in what is known today as Istanbul.

In Istanbul East meets West, North and South on the continental divide of Asia and Europe.
What once was the empire of the world falls, to create a new empire keeping the architecture and traditions alive with historical significance.

 

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Before traveling I had several dreams of being in the Hagia Sophia what was heard in my dream was:
AYA SOPHIA

So I booked a ticket to Istanbul. After booking it, I heard in international news of a young American woman murdered, many condolences to her family.

Needless to say, I received caring backlash for my choice. I’m a risk-taker and took the chance. More importantly, my living dream was instated in this mecca of culture and city.

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I chose to travel by myself in a country where I knew no one to experience the uncomfortably brilliant sensation that can only come from letting go of what I think the world should be and boldly appreciating it for the beauty that it is.
The people in Istanbul have been incredibly warm, generous, nice and accommodating to my American self. While I don’t speak Turkish, I understood the customs and language enough to get by with ease.

Renaissance Bosphorus:

Renaissance Bosphorus, what a gem. Like a genie in the bottle, my every wish was granted. From the staff, to the spa, to the restaurant, to the concierge.

The service was personalized in a way that I felt cared for. I was given tea when sick from the lovely lady who ran nightly guest services. I was suggested where to go and what to do by the navigator. I was questioned every time I came in how my experience was, what my favorite parts were, if I liked everything so far.
I was brought coffee and breakfast dishes in bed. What a delight.

Spa:

After 24 hours of traveling, delays and no sleep I awoke my first day at 2 pm, wondering why I had slept so long.
My energy felt heavy with travel, imbued in my state, all I could think was: relaxation and purification.
My first stop was the spa downstairs where I indulged in a traditional turkish bath, known as a Hammam.

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In this bath I laid on a marble slab in a soothing room lit up by pale blue. As I lay there, covered by a thin sheet, I was wondering what I was in store for. Then my bather gathered hot water from elaborate sinks into a large brass bucket. Dousing me head to toe thus soothing me to my core.
I stepped back in time as this ritualistic bath warmed and cleansed me. A treatment that was purification of mind, body and spirit. An honoring of myself making it to Turkey and my birthday too.

 

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With new customs intertwining an ancient stillness that envelops Instanbul,  there is movement with a slow feeling of tranquil sensuality.

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Images come to me of ancient people and smells, who were part of cultures centuries before, penetrating modern existence. Breakdowns and restructuring, changing and shifting with the times. In Istanbul there is a conglomerate of cultural reference to bygone ages. The roots of this city have a formidable, yet inviting energy.

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Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque:

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I went to Tutahnemet square where the tourist relics I wished to visit were.
Entering the square the sight of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque was overwhelmingly vast. Coming to mind were the mammoth amounts of energy taken to build such impressive structures. There lies a strength in reverence to piety, as such I praise the minds that came up with such beautiful mastery. The ability and time it took to carve such finely laid intricacy is astonishing.
The circling of what came before is still within the now, what is now will come to pass as the past, into a new wave of future = exaltation of now.

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Aya Sophia’s structure architecturally has the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence. The name translates literally to divine knowledge. I believe all creative processes we are gifted with, from the arts to science, religion to music come through a ratio as such.

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Looking at the inlaid inscriptions, still there after thousands of years I realize there is a mystery of Hagia Sophia. The inscriptions tell a story of some of the different faces and names divinity has taken throughout history. First built as a church in 532, it was rebuilt twice and changed into a Mosque in 1453 with the new Ottoman rule. A cultural treasure to beautiful architecture standing the times.

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I visited the impressive Blue Mosque. It was my first time entering a Mosque. In honor I covered my head with my hood and walked inside, taking my shoes off, revering the architectural masterpiece that it is; a larger, quieter, beautifully subdued way, with current religious practices taking place.
Mimar Sinan designed the Blue Mosqe known as Sultanhmet Mosque and many other architecturally astounding Mosques around Istanbul. He also redesigned Hagia Sophia in the mid 1500’s.

 

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Basilica Cistern:

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The underground roots of Istanbul, this cistern was built in the Byzantine empire as their ancient waterways. The passages are symmetrically perfect columns of differently carved structures, where old waters from the Belgrade forest circulated through.
With a past of mythological presence at the end of the passages there are two separate gigantic heads of Medusa; one upside down and one on its side. Ancient to the times of Constantinople, they were brought from ruins as relics. These heads are thought to be omens keeping away bad spirits

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As I walk through I feel almost breathless, chills run through. There is a beauty that is uncaptured and untouched down under. As though the times are unchanged and when walking through it can be felt in a compelling way.

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I meandered around the square, stopping before each relic to sit and have a Turkish coffee and dish. Rich flavors of the mediterranean represent Turkish fare; cheeses and spices with creamy overlays. Light foods like tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots with fish dishes. Ah, and the Turkish coffee, yum, like a rich, sweet espresso with grounds left in.

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The obelisks I knew about before knowing about. Brought here as ancient relics to the Byzantine empire, they’re about, give or take, 3,000 years old, looking over the plaza with Egyptian hieroglyphs lighting up each side, impressive and daunting with the clouds rolling in.

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In Taksim square I went to a local Hookah bar, where I experienced a more traditional Turkish feel of living with people playing backgammon and traditional card games and smoking apple flavored “Nargile” while watching football. Drinking black tea and passing the Hookah, the place was eveloped in a sweet-smelling smoke.
During Islamic prayer time, the game is silenced, at which point throughout the city chanting of prayers is heard through the speakers, known as the Azaan or rise to prayer. Exotic to my foreign ears.

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Grand Bazaar:

It’s in my opinion that this 500 year old indoor bazaar was the inception of the modern mall. The vendors sell everything from shoes, to lanterns, to silks to turkish delights, stones, jewelry, sunglasses to many things.

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Overwhelming, one brightly covered tunnel leads to another. Turning right to turn left to find myself facing what seemed like a never-ending maze of retailers selling colorful, bright products.

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Bebek, a section of the city on the Golden Horn where cafes gorgeously dot the streets, with lounge music and what I would say an Istanbul feeling along the Marmara sea. I was held in rapture by the panoramic beauty encapsulating this city, with sailboats and homes sparkling the sea, everything lazily caught up in soft winds rolling over the hills surrounding the golden horn.

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Spice Bazaar:

Walking through century old tunnels and streets bustling with intense activity. The spices of the city enticed me with their energy as I felt pulled into store after store creating a buzz in my olfactory glands. Stimulating, the spice bazaar has aromatic, rich scents. Everywhere I walked it seemed a new scent embraced me with its essence.

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Sampling the different spices like mint and saffron, cardamom pods and curry. I was left with a spicy sweetness on my lips, test tasting figs and apricots, dates and turkish delights. Selling, buying, bartering, trading, walking through the old streets aromas of roasting chestnuts, coffee and spices wafts through the air.
I stopped to have traditional lamb shish kabob and rice. Sitting at the table with a Turkish family table I don’t know, I enjoyed the simplicity being the oddly even one out.

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Appreciating the patterns of history and culture around me, this trip is an affirmation of my intentionality and the finely laid intricacy in the patterns of life.

I left on a nostalgic note, yet also in such gratitude for my home and life in Chicago.

Teşekkürler Istanbul,

Seni seviyorum

xo,
Nicole