Travel and Leisure Magazine just rated this beautiful town 3 hours north of Mexico City (driving fast) as the #1 destination spot in 2014. I wonder what took me so long to experience such authenticity. Recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and almost 500 years old with its narrow cobblestone streets (leave your high heels behind), leafy courtyards and fine Colonial and Spanish architectural details, San Miquel has become an enclave full of ex-pats, artists, and entrepreneurs seeking the “good life”. The most famous building in town is the Parroquia de San Miquel, a muiltispired pink limestone towering over the center square. It is a picture postcard. We crashed both a funeral and a wedding within a day of each other at this gorgeous church. And being that the town is in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains and the weather is often described as “eternal spring” at 6100 feet above sea level, the sunrises and sunsets are quite dramatic…especially at the new Rosewood (where we stayed) rooftop bar “Luna” where you can see forever. Rich in Mexican culture, there are many weekend festivals and outdoor markets but don’t miss the local market which sells everything from food, textiles, jewelry, masks, clothing, tablecloths… you name it they sell it and everything is VERY colorful. The vibrant art (think Frida Khalo) and music scene (guitar players everywhere), keeps the town humming. We were there just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Fabrica La Aurora which is an art and design center housed in a former textile factory. San Miguel’s most buzzed about food scene is the farm to table concept with inventive dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Dishes like spicy papaya and octopus salad and quail eggs on mustard butter with arugula puree! I was looking for chips with salsa and guacamole! Hiking and biking the 24 blocks of narrow streets, alleys and paths without any traffic lights can be perilous so we headed for the hills not too far out-of-town with a guide of course to feel the pulse of the trails. Looking forward to bringing my STAT girls back for a visit.
And then were 6. How could we possibly be so far from home and not extend the journey for 4 days in Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. Just a mere connection away from Bangkok, we checked into the lap of luxury at the Four Seasons ChiangMai and that’s when we knew then this was not a STAT trip. This was a 6 star property 20 minutes removed from the city’s land of a million rice fields and covered with its own manicured level rice fields over thousands of acres. It is a world-class operation with impeccable service and we enjoyed every multiple hour Thai treatment at the spa they offered us. They even have a world-class cooking school but we were too busy having Thai massages. We ventured off property only a hand full of times to experience some local flavor. One time to hike the famous waterfall “Doi Suthep and Sankampeang” which was stunning…just look at the picture! Another to shop of course in the local food and night markets where our guide emphatically told us that Thai people eat everything from the ground except cars, everything from the sky except planes and everything from the water except submarines! We even took in an authentic Muay Thai Boxing match in the heart of the city with the locals. That was quite an experience watching women kicking each other in the face for fun. But a most memorable experience was finding Rose’s yoga Studio and taking a 3 hour class. It was heavenly and it certainly lived up to its name since ChiangMai is often referred to as the Rose of the North for its beauty and spirit. It’s a very peaceful place to visit and take in the friendly disposition of the Thai people saying Sawatdee (hello) at every passing glance. Spirit houses were everywhere in Chiang Mai as they serve as a shrine to the protective spirit of the place. I even tried to buy one to bring home but I don’t think it would go over well in front of my house. I’ll stick with the mezuzah.
The secret is out. Virtually overnight, Myanmar is on everyone’s hit list. When Rudyard Kipling coined the phrase “this is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about”, he wasn’t kidding. From the moment we 13 lucky ladies landed in Yangon, the former capital city of Myanmar, we knew we were in for the trip of a lifetime. Upon meeting our extraordinary guides Myo and Joso (you know) as we affectionately came to call him, we were completely whisked into our own Burmese Days, radically different from George Orwell’s first novel of the same name published 80 years ago. Long isolated from the outside world, Myanmar has preserved its rich cultural and religious traditions as we were enchanted on a daily basis by the exotic temples, pagodas and monasteries and by the beautiful Burmese people who are quick to smile even showing off their betel-stained teeth. We observed hundreds of Buddhist monks clad in orange and men wearing sarong-style longyis and women adorning their faces with Thanaka paste to repel the sun and attract young men… while Alison, our court jester, decided to try the later…not sure how successfully.
Our Burmese Days were incredibly active. I’m pretty sure George Orwell didn’t take to the hiking and biking trails. The terrain was absolutely spectacular. Never have I biked through a valley with 2217 temples of architectural wonder so visually stunning and thousands of years old as we did in Bagan. And hike through villages filled with school children who were thrilled to see us as Marjorie proceeded to give them all her grown children’s coveted beanie babies…those smiling faces are unforgettable. Not only was the trip planned around the Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon festival, a spectacular 8 day religious fair that takes place every year in November around the full moon, but it was also planned around the country’s donation festival time. And so according to plan since an essential part of a STAT journey is a philanthropic element, the STAT girls hosted and funded a novitiational ceremony for 7 boys and 3 girls in collaboration with Arcadia travel (our guides). Invitations were sent out to the entire village for this special…let’s call it… a Buddhist B’nai Mitzvah. Entering the monkhood is a rite of passage and they study and prepare for this day as my boys did for their Bar Mitzvah. Big difference though if you know the story of Buddha, you know that he renounced his wealth giving up all worldly goods including his hair to live a simple yet deeply profound life. It was quite a sight to witness the shaving of these boys heads. All of us dressed in traditional Burmese garb (gifted to us by our guide Joso’s sweet wife Audrey) and placed in front of the procession carrying silver bowls with flowers and the novice’s new robes, we walked around the entire village causing much fanfare and excitement among the crowds. What a privileged day. It was even a privilege to support the sweet locals selling their wares especially our friend the “pants man” who proceeded to follow us everywhere even at sunrise as we drifted high above the clouds in our hot air Balloon over Bagan.
But my heart belongs to the oh so charming Inle Lake, located in the Shan State at 2950 feet above sea level and ringed with mountains and calm crystalline water which supports 64 villages on stilts. Our welcome here was extraordinary as it was all over the country but the experience of the unusual rowing style of the local boatman using one leg while balanced on their sampans was mesmerizing. And just being a passenger on the long out board motor boats through the unique “floating Gardens” was something I will never forget. The untouched beauty is beyond anything I’ve ever seen especially the colorful markets selling ethnic local agricultural produce and handicrafts.
Our 8 day Myanmar adventure was coming to an end as we boarded our flight back to Yangon to spend our last night at the beautiful Governors Mansion. It seemed like so long ago when our trip began at the most famous site of all, the Shwedagon Golden Pagoda, where we were all blessed on the day of our birth. It stands over 300 feet high, covered with 60 tons of gold leaf and topped with a weather vane crowned with 76 carat diamond and encrusted with 3154 gold bells and 79,569 diamonds and other precious stones. This place of worship and resting place accepts 5000 pilgrims a day and we were 13 of them.
Now one week later (still jet lagged) as I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family back home, I am thankful to all my STAT girls (Alison, Gina, Marjorie,Peggy,Natalie,Minnie, Jody,Sonia,Karen,Lisa,Teri, and Monica) for bringing your own special spirit to this magical land of Myanmar and to our guides Myo and Joso (you know) who went above and beyond to make this trip a most memorable one. I give you all an A.
Everything is Beautiful and Tastes better in Italy. Especially in the Fall when the crowds disappear just as the cool temps come in. Maybe if I were born an Italian, I wouldn’t love the food so much just judging from my dislike of the Jewish cuisine. For a little over a week, we experienced the country’s diversity like nobody’s business in our rented Mercedes Wagon packed to the gills. We started in the magnificent jagged Dolomite Mountains, a UNESCO world heritage site, where we were lucky to catch the last weekend before they closed for the season. The Pizzinini family-owned Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano is on my new fav list where the wireless service (when it worked) says it all “life is a mountain not a Beach”. I knew I would love this place. The hotel is attached to 2 star Michelin St. Hubertos featuring grand Chef Norbert who shared his love of cooking with us as well as his passion for local seasonal ingredients. It was an enormous treat and made our 2 days of hiking worth every calorie. We were literally in the heart of the Dolomites so very close to both of the well known hikes in the Parco Naturale Fanes region. One could hike for weeks into Cortina staying in very comfortable refugios on these well-preserved trails. You could even hike to Venice avoiding the narrow winding driving roads we came into town on. But we chose to drive and next stop was Lake Garda, the larger but less known, closer and more intimate version of Lake Como minus a George Clooney sighting! Villa Feltrinelli is a hidden gem perched on the shore of the Lake surrounded by a national park and blessed with mediterranean climate. So Elegant a place that they even fill your toilet nightly with red roses. Most visitors stroll into the nearby village or curl up by the pool and read a book by local famous former resident DH Laurence but of course we are not most. We proceeded to use up our only day here getting lost on the picturesque hike up in the mountain towns where the lemons are as big as grapefruits only to get back just in time for our afternoon golf game on an official goat track! On the road again looking like the Jeffersons with our GPS feeling romantic heading to Verona en route to Venice. Even though I hear that Juliet’s much-visited balcony has no historical connection to Shakespeare’s characters, it still remains romantic and worth a stop to see even if the cobblestone streets lined with medieval pink-hued buildings and dozens of churches are over run by tourists. And so it goes, lunch was delicious and our car was still there with all our stuff when we got back minus a ticket. By this time in our journey, I was looking forward to the sounds of lapping water on the quay and the gondoliers operatic singing and the chug of a vaporetto buzzing by the Grand Canal. I haven’t been to Venice since my youngest was Bar Mitzvahed in the old Jewish section and I’ve never been to the Bieannale, the once every 2 year Art Extravaganza. A World’s fair of Art from live performances to off site installations all over town with every country represented but nothing for sale. The private collections are extraordinary especially the Pinault at his very own exquisite Punta della Dogana and his Rudolf Stingels at Palazzo Grassi. We were especially blessed to have had a private tour of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection and their newly acquired Schulhof gallery. Mega Walking in Venice is essential but walking in the Arsenal and Giardini is exhausting so you need to pace yourself…even if just to sit and enjoy an installation of an outdoor drive-in movie. There are no staight lines in Venice with streets so narrow with so many bridges to cross. And everyone is carrying a map so don’t bother asking directions. After 4 days of taking to the streets while staying in 3 different hotels, I feel intimate with Venice especially on our last night in Villa F, a very special place often referred to as “soho of the lagoon” because it was frequented by artists and the bon vivant but more interesting is that it used to house the courtesan’s in the 16th century. This was a perfect ending to a most excellent Italian adventure. As long as the Felsons keep saying Yes, we will keep on creating memories together.
Camp Aspen Summer 2013 has officially come to a close but not without exceeding all of my expectations! With the hint of Fall in the Air as the tips of golden aspen tree leaves are exposed, we are reminded of the cycle of life. Tis the season of shedding the old and looking forward to new beginnings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was truly an Epic Aspen Summer filled with quality time spent doing the things I love with the people I love even more. A true celebration of life in everything we do starting with the 4th of July kick off at Chez Pariser this year supporting the local talented pole DANCERS in place of cancelled fireworks. Then came the Birthdays! Whether it’s a birthday hike, bike, lunch or drinking and DANCING on the tables at Compo…we get the party going! There’s no shortage of music in the valley and the variety is astounding from old timers like Kenny Loggins, Three Dog Night, America and Chris Isaacks to new favorites like Michael Franti, Theivary Corporation, or Grace Potter. DANCING at Belly UP was the place to be after dark.
Between all the hoopla with ArtCrush and Wine Crush and entertaining visiting artists like Lorna Simpson while listening to artist lectures at Anderson Ranch like Marina Abramovic every week to participating in the Ideas festival at the Institute…it’s exhausting but exhilarating to be able to immerse yourself in this magical cultural little mountain town of Aspen….expecially since I can remember coming here as a teenager when it was a mere mining town.
But the single most memorable event of the summer 2013 was my dancing debut (in front of 350 people at the St Regis) with my very own Aspen (Santa Fe) ballet star Joseph Watson! It was an honor to be chosen to help this troupe of talented dancers raise money in order for them to continue to do what they love to do…DANCE. I’m so grateful to all of my supporters who bid me up to win.
The reality is that everyone is a winner in Aspen. You can travel around the world and back but you will never find a place more scenically beautiful than Aspen (winter,spring,summer,or fall) with these incredible bonds of friendships. Here’s to keeping the good times ahead rolling. From my favorite “Tabor” hike with my local ladies to our last “midway” hike of the season where there were as many dogs as people, I will keep this memory of Camp Aspen forever closer! Happy Fall.
El Camino de Santiago–The Way of St James–is one of the most ancient walking routes in the world and still today people come from all over to engage in this pilgrimage for many different reasons with religious, spiritual or sport among the top 3. The Way as it is often referred actually takes 40 days from start in the French Pyrenees to finish in Santiago de Compostela in Spain but you can do it over 40 years if you want to. You can walk, cycle or ride your horse! Or you can do the final section of it like the 14 of us STAT girls did and get your “Pilgrim Passport” stamped by walking at least 110 kilometers. Sounds ambitious for a week but not with my Peregrinos. Every day on the trail was filled with camaraderie and a plethora of emotions. From our opening ceremony where we broke all the rules to dancing on tables at lunch and belly laughing into the night over snoring roomies, we experienced the best of Galician hospitality. Oh the places we stayed! They were as authentic as the rhyme goes “Capilla, palomar, cipres…Pazo es!” which means Chapel, cypress and a dovecot…a country house you’ve got!” They all felt like mythical secret hideaways. We even drank the coolaid … the excellent Riberiro and Albarino wines of the area and ate a rich supply of fish including the famous pulpo gallego otherwise known as octopus. We particularly loved our daily portions of salad con tuna and yummy lentil soup with stops every couple of hours for cafe con leche in quaint little villages. This unique experience of traversing Galicia on the Camino Frances following the yellow brick road… I mean arrow… through undulating landscape of green hills grazed by cattle, native forests of oak and chestnut, insane calle lilies,wisteria,and crosses lining the fences, Eucalyptus trees and fertile river valleys could only be surpassed by the beautiful people we met along the way and the incredible chemistry we had for one another. Our 83-year-old Cynthia who has walked the Camino at least 10 times in her life (that she can remember) was our daily inspirational reminder to be grateful. And our beautiful widowed couple we met who were getting married at the Cathedral at the end of their 40 day walk reinforced us that love conquers all. Whether we walked alone in silence or together, there are as many questions as there are pilgrims about lives, loves, faith, jobs, relationships and even the meaning of life and our existence. Walking this trail brought many emotions to the surface and enabled quiet reflection for each of us. But when we came together at the end of the day after a nice hot (mostly) shower, it was quite a love fest. The bonding on this journey was beyond special as we laughed and learned from each other about love and support. Especially that there are no accidents in life except for those who take life for granted. Not us. It’s a gift. Just like the gift we gave those beautiful folks we met at the assisted living facility and the Down syndrome people who walked the last part of the Camino with us into Santiago. What a pleasure to connect with those doing wonderful things in this special corner of Spain for others. Arriving into Santiago de Compostela after a week of walking was magical and just in time for the Pilgrim’s Mass (as a jew) was perfection. Even more perfect was the Parador Nacional de los Reyes Catolicos, the 15th century hotel combining history, art and tradition that we stayed on the square for our last evening together. It is considered the oldest hotel in the world and still greeting pilgrims today. A special shout out to our guide Mike, who made our journey look effortless while sharing his immense knowledge and British sense of humor with 14 crazy ladies. I will remember this journey forever and will call upon these cherished memories to bring a smile to my face with gratitude to all of you for a Buen Camino.
As an alumni of Columbia University’s Teacher’s College a thousand years ago, I was asked to participate in their 125 year anniversary with a day long celebration of learning and reconnecting. Ok maybe it wasn’t a thousand years ago but 26 years ago seems like that to me. You Can Get There From Here: Pathways to Wellness was the title of my concurrent session which along with my fellow panelists, we explored a variety of approaches to physical and emotional well-being and the implications of emerging research in movement science.
Wellness is not linear so the part of my wellness I shared and brought to the table is spirituality, which means something different to everyone. For me, it means that there is something greater than the concrete world we live in. Life is a challenge and we all have to deal with and overcome adversity in some form or another. STAT trips challenge you physically to hike to the top of macchu Picchu in Peru or Pico Duarte in the Dominican or Mont Ventoux in France. These physical challenges serve as a metaphor for obstacles we face in life. We practice yoga to go inward (or else it’s just gym) and it teaches us that life is repetitive and has pattern like the seasons.
Participating on this panel provided an opportunity to reflect on these past 18 years of leading adventurous trips for women and how the journeys impacted their lives. My talking stick ceremony where we sit in a circle together and share our thoughts and feelings is a powerful and unifying practice whose origins stem from the very beginning of human time. It’s a profound and simple way of talking and listening and bonding the group together for an esoteric experience because the benefits or the lessons usually appear or are revealed in retrospect when you return to your home life. Dreams have the potential to become reality when you put it out into the Universe. I give women an opportunity to come out and play sometimes out of their comfort zone, go to incredible sacred places around the world, bond with other amazing women, create ever-lasting friendships and memories but also to exercise and challenge themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually, all the while encouraging them to be themselves. But more importantly, encouraging them to be the best self they can be. And therein lies the gratitude, with a heightened sense of awareness, they return home to family, friends, even employers in the life they chose. Gratitude is the benchmark for life…taking time out to be grateful for the life we have and everyone in it. NAMASTE.