Why I Travel

divi tree in aruba

This is in Aruba, the equatorial island just 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Beyond amazing beaches, green-blue ocean, luxury high-rise hotels, commercial strips with marginal restaurants, poor areas with pops of pastel and fluorescent colors and the odd stray dog, it offers an amazing ecological diversity and some special treats that can only be found on on ostrich farm*.

sunset on aruban beach

* If you go to the Ostrich Farm, be prepared to prevaricate if the customs inspector singles you out for a “survey” (e.g., full baggage search) after passing into the odd U.S. Customs checkpoint (in Aruba! So you don’t have to do customs back in the U.S.! ). We all know that indigenous plants, animals, and a variety of more obvious contraband are verboten, but when asked if I had been to a farm — say, the Ostrich Farm — I had go all mumblecore and luckily my friendly agent  — “Ham sandwich? No problemo!” — shined it on. Not sure what would happen if one confessed to having visited the wonderfully ticky-tacky Ostrich Farm prior to international travel. Judging from the dirty birdies (and I actually touched one!!) it’s probably a Def Con 5 Hazmat threat.

Slideshow here

Ps. Why I travel? Oh, just to be elsewhere. That’s about it.

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boy in fountain

click to enlarge

A night in the North End, and a fountain, and the scent of the sea.

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Summer: Boston Common

boston common

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I often arrive in a foreign city without proper walking shoes. I do arrive with a full complement of cultual ignorance, lack of historical perspective and dearth of the local lexicon. That said, it allows me to embrace the place full-heartedly (not unlike “wholeheartedly” but with a truer sense of wonder and possibility). Which means I learn on the road, so to speak; I soak in every signpost, every cobblestone, every plaque and menu and face, and, when no one’s looking,  I mouth the foreign words until they start to make sense to me. I find a city’s river and follow it as far as my feet can take me in inappropriate but stylish shoes (it’s easier not to get lost that way).

Tevere, Roma
More photos here

This time, my third visit to Rome, I finally visited the Vatican and saw the Sistine Chapel. What can one say, except that it truly is not to be missed. The immense accumulation of world-class art borders on vulgarity but it’s nice to have it all in one place. Apart from the dizzying Sistine Chapel, which you reach after traipsing about seven miles — each room more resplendent than the next and each bearing a sign promising “Sistine Chapel This Way” — my favorite room contained dozens of animal statuary (birds and goats and wolves) that was so very Narnia. I also took a walk AWAY from the tourist spots north of my hotel on Via Piave and found a secret garden that looked so beautiful. I walked all the way around it but tragicallly could never get in — it was a Monday, someone’s tomb is in there, and Monday’s are bad days for anything remotely resembling a museum or monument.

garden in rome

Other highlights included reconnecting with a great friend, visiting the new MAXXI, Museo Nazionale delle Arte del XXI Secolo (National Museum of 21st Century Art), which was highly entertaining;  an afternoon in Trastevere; a few good meals including a memorable dorado; and hitting a funky flea market (where I finally found the shoes I was looking for).

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Whirling Dervish

Below is a good example of what I’ve been attempting to do in the past few weeks. I needed exercise — and I needed something completely addictive. The Cyr wheel is. It’s simple, elegant and extremely challenging. I have: a bruised and scraped knee, almost out-of-their-socket arms (rotator cuffs?), third-degree blisters on both thumbs, and bruises on both ankles. I started with a workshop at STREB in Brooklyn. I won’t try to describe the feeling once you get spinning (and, if you’re like me, spin out of control and slam to the floor).  THIS is a great example of its balletic potential. Check out Cyr wheel on Venice Beach (YouTube) as well. Pretty amazing.

My second class was with the highly talented and beautiful Courtney Giannone at her Manhattan studio. It won’t be my last; I’m hooked.

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Paris Observations

signs, paris intersection
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the BEST part of the trip: a lunch at a real French family’s home. I managed to walk there (not all that difficult), bought macarons on the way for desert  (la di da) and had the pleasure of eating home cooked duck confit and other goodies with a dear friend, his beautiful wife, three lovely kids and a cousin. A solo trip demands something as special as the warm company of friends and a good meal on a chilly, rainy day.

I’ve been to France ten times now. I know that’s a bit excessive, but it’s in impulsive spurts a long period of time since just out of college. The first time was with the former love of my life, who dumped me in Paris (le sigh), once with a gaggle of girls (well only three but it felt to me like a gaggle), once with the ex-too-longterm boyfriend (see scary story below from the archives), once for a dear American friend’s wedding to a Frenchman, and again, five years later, to console the dear friend in the Vendee, post-divorce. The last five times were solo trips, barely planned, usually after a bad day at work.  More photos here

love_locks on bridgeThis last excursion took me to the new (to me) neighborhood around the Place de la République. I had meant to go to Mont Saint Michel but the weather was grim and I felt too lazy. And kinda sad. Paris can be inspiring and uplifting, wheeling worlds away from Stateside angst or annoyance. It was just before Christmas, so maybe that factored in.

My worst moment followed my best: I watched a man next to Notre Dame reach up his arm toward the sky while little chirping birds flew down to land on his hand. I laughed with abandon; it was quite magical (though it actually involved – natch – pieces of baguette). Watch

Love-locks on the Brooklyn Bridge!

After this, I walked behind Notre Dame (the best view in my opinion, with the ivy/moss dripping down the banks of the Seine) and stumbled upon Pont de l’Archevêché, a bridge crossing from Notre-Dame Cathedral to the Left Bank.It’s railings were covered with locks — “love locks” — that paramours had affixed, replete with initials, hearts and even locks of hair all along the bridge, presumably to anchor their love until time immemorial. Un soupir encore. This is a trend, peeps, and it’s spread to the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond. Learn more


  • It may be a cliché but all Parisians walk around with baguettes. No, I’m serious — all of them, every single one. You may not see it, but it’s there. Maybe down a pantleg, in an oversized purse, under a hat, up a sleeve. Oh yes, it’s there. And it’s also partly why Parisian’s are mostly thin — they can nibble that bread whenever they’re peckish and then never overeat at mealtimes.
  • I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to see a dog with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth lollygagging on the street.
  • As a New Yorker, that Parisian woman’s stare send chills down my spine and makes me assume I have Nutella or crème fraîche on my chin. Or baguette crumbs in my hair. So instead of staring her down in my chill American way, I hastily walk on, eyes down, picking at my face, hair and clothes like a monkey (un singe).
  • Discovered Monoprix. It’s like Walmart meets Citarella. I’m now officially poor.

From the Archives: Spider Attack!
October 21,2006  Back from Paris yet again. This time, though, there are no pictures and no movies. I forgot my camera. Which is fine, as much of the time I was not in the mood to photograph anything. I was suffering from what I now believe to be the toxins of the brown recluse spider. I won’t go into the gory details of the actual bite (and they are deliciously gory; words like “volcanic ulceration,” “necrosis” and “sinking wound,”), which I hadn’t noticed before I left. The bite was behind my knee, so I couldn’t really see it that well and easily ignored for nearly two weeks.After a couple of lovely days running around the city with C. (Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, le Marais — where we stayed — up and down the Seine, walking, walking, eating, drinking, more walking) I started feeling feverish. On the worst night, I was curled up in a ball, shivering violently, with the worst headache ever. Then I was hot, hotter than hot, burning up, opening the windows and feeling like death. I didn’t connect the spider bite until I finally got home and felt it — golfball sized now and very painful. I really should have gone to the doctor then, but I didn’t. I did go to one of the ubiquitous pharmacies and after about an hour figure out that “thermometer” is just “thermometer” but pronounced in French “Tare-mo-METrah.” Luckily I couldn’t figure out the Celcius readings but later did: 105. Yikes.The fever has finally faded and I seem to be on the mend, with just a red and tender site on my leg that kind of looks like I’ve been shot. I’m going to the dermatologist next week and I’ll be able to run my theory by him. The theory includes the fact that global warming is driving predominantly mid-Atlantic dwelling critters north to places like New York City and into my living room.

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Hola Perú!

my peruvian rug

I’m not sure when I contracted the travel bug, but it might have been from a blanket. As a young girl visiting my paternal grandparents, Tommy and Jean, I was deposited in a basement room in the suburbs of Denver – which sounds depressing, but I was surrounded by a lifetime’s collection of Navaho and Central American rugs. I didn’t learn much about that culture, then, but I can still see the patterns and colors, feel the scratchy woven fabric that smelled faintly of horses and hay. I might add that my maternal grandmother, Marion (or “Ganny”) was a professional weaver. Half a lifetime later, traditional Peruvian weavings actually did play a small part in my first trip to South America. (Note: click any photo for larger view)

I don’t weave or knit or make much of anything. I make do with words, gathering them, collecting them, letting them bubble up at odd moments. Words like Zanzibar, Bora Bora, Bimini, Thunder Bay, Cote d’Azur, Mineola, Pelham Bay, Patagonia, and hundreds of other place-names fight with the more prosaic, un-anchored words that have echoed in me over the years. I can honestly say that if I suddenly lost the ability or means to travel ever again, physically, I would still be happy, journey-wise, having been to Peru. And, in particular, Machu Picchu.

My idea of Peru was vague: an arid place with llamas and maybe mountains and dusty towns and big, teeming polluted cities with lots of old VW beatles. Machu Picchu was clearer, from photographs: a misty, spiritual mecca high in the Andes, where I’d probably not be spiritually worthy to appreciate or athletic enough to even get to. All of these descriptions are fairly accurate but come nowhere near the magnitude of the beauty of this country. What I didn’t know: there are beaches and surfers and heart-stopping vistas of snow-capped volcanos, incredible and sacred Incan ruins that defy the imagination in their construction of smooth-fitting, gigantic stones, llamas and alpaca and elusive vicuna (who cannot be domesticated; if captured, they starve themselves to death), world-class cuisine and artisans and the best hotels and spas and… And Machu Picchu. Note: I ate some llama. I didn’t love it.

Mother World

Machu Picchu
As one of the seven wonders of the world (and I don’t care which of the many lists we’re talking about) Machu Picchu is worth the trek. It wasn’t even much of a trek, for our group, traveling in relative luxury by air, bus and train, and then a little bus again, up, up, up via switch-backs high up into the Andes, until that last little moment when, after absorbing the indescribably magical vista of lush green impossibly high mountains overlooking the impossible beauty of the ancient stone ruins, one has to do the impossible: climb Waynu-Picchu, the iconic peak that looms over the whole thing, the one in the pictures. Note: I saw my first chinchilla in the ancient Incan village. It looked like a cross between a fat rabbit and a squirrel.

In the interest of ensuring that everyone who visits Machu Picchu will also tackle Waynu Picchu, I’ll say it wasn’t that bad. Seriously. I had read all the travel sites and blogs and was basically petrified and having nightmares about it for months. I definitely wasn’t one of the oldest or youngest– or thinnest or heaviest — woman in line early that morning. When it came to do it, I just did it, step by step. Drink lots of water, bring a camera (for sure), wear comfortable shoes and layers in case you get hot, stop and breathe when you need to and just keep going. It was, yes, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but in retrospect wasn’t really that bad. In fact, I wasn’t sore at all the next day, which makes no sense. The way down requires serious vigilance – one small misstep could cost you your life — but is much less strenuous. I’ll leave it there. PS. A shout out to Philippe Petit, who managed to get me over my fear of heights. Proof positive, below.

I never thought I’d need or be comfortable with a guide but now think it’s essential for places like this. Only a local, native, indigenous person of knowledge and experience can give one a true glimpse of the history and meaning of a place like Peru. I was touched by our guides, who rather than sounding rehearsed (though they had to have been) were passionate about their culture and the history of their land. It’s not a pretty tale: the majesty of the Incan culture vanquished finally by the Spanish, who built cathedrals on sacred native grounds and brought death through smallpox (via blankets? No one knows for sure.) I listened but failed to take notes, so, well, I’ll just have to go back again. It’s that good.

*  *  *

Lima (Miraflores)

Lima’s nicest neighborhood, upscale, on the beach, with cliffs and parks, including Parque del Amor
Hotel: Radisson Decapolis
Sites: Parque del Amor (by the ocean, a brief walk); Terecita de Blanca (sp?) restaurant, Inca market

Parque del Amor, Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Peru’s second most populated city. Located in the Andes at ~7,660 feet. El Misti, a snow-capped volcano, provides a breathtaking backdrop to the old city. Highlights included the enormous Santa Catalina Monastery.
Hotel: Casa Andina Private Collection


Colca Canyon
The world’s deepest canyon (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). Early in the morning, giant condors wheel in the sky on warm thermal air. Not to be missed. Our hotel, Colca Lodge, was a dream: natural hot springs to soak in, llamas wandering the hillsides, warm, inviting lodge with fireplaces (not in rooms, but the rooms are fine). Decent spa, hiking trails, views of farming terraces. The perfect place to acclimate before Cusco. At this point I’ll recommend the coca. Coca helps with altitude sickness and comes as leaves for tea, or in hard candy and toffee (widely available). It works. You don’t really feel it, but your headache and dizziness dissipate quickly. Every hotel had coca tea prepared and available for free at all times.

Colca Lodge, Spa and Hot Springs

An amazing city, World Heritage site, and “historical capital” of Peru, up in the Andes at 11,000+ feet.  Much to do and see, including Incan ruins at Sacsayhuamán. Local artisans (and the factories of Lima – beware of imitations) produce a miasma of things to buy: textiles and clothes of the finest alpaca (look for baby alpaca!) and vicuña, if you can afford (and if you can, we need to talk!). We needed the two days in Colca Canyon (~7000 feet) to acclimate in preparation for Cusco. Highly recommend that step…


Patapama Pass
Between Arequipa and Colca Canyon we drove by bus up up up into the altitude of the Andes. At our highest point (maybe 16,000 feet??) I definitely felt the thin air making me woozy. I had intermittent headaches and definite dizziness. It was interesting but the coca leaves helped a lot. At one point, our guide, Carlos, had us wrap the leaves around a piece of ash and suck on it. Apparently, the ash speeds the (mildly stimulating) effects of the coca. Brilliant, really. Around that point, we stopped near a dead volcano in a space that felt like the end of the earth, a moonscape of sorts, in a flat expanse covered with little mounds of rocks, deposited by countless travelers and locals, in an array of otherworldly creations as far as the eye could see. They’re called “Apacheta” meaning something like “the source where the flow begins.” That certainly resonated, as we were about to approach, near the Continental Divide, the site of the source of the mighty Amazon River. Oh – and no. I won’t tell you what I wished for.  Please note: High altitudes will make you look puffy and addled.


Lv New York (JFK)  11:15  PM on LAN #531 (non-stop, coach)

Ar Lima  06:10 AM
Hotel: Radisson Decapolis Miraflores (Lima’s nicest neighborhood, on the beach, very safe)
Dinner at Astrid y Gaston
Tour site(s): Old Lima, Inca market, Larcomar, a shopping center built into the cliff overlooking the ocean

Transfer to airport
Leave Lima  08:50 AM on LAN (non-stop, coach)
Arrive Arequipa  10:15 AM

Depart (by land) for Colca Canyon
Colca Lodge, Spa and Hot Springs  2 nights

Tour of Colca Canyon
More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. An early morning trip to the canyon affords spectacular views of giant condors wheeling on warm air thermals. The continental divide is nearby and the Andean mountains,

Depart (by land) for Arequipa
Tour of Monsterio de Santa Catelina and Old Arequipa
Hotel: Casa Andina Private Collection

Monday: Cusco
Leave Arequipa 10:45  LAN #2124 (non-stop, coach). Arrive Lima (LIM)  12:15 PM. Leave Lima (LIM)  1:35 PM LAN #2043 (non-stop, coach). Arrive Cusco (CUZ)  2:50 PM
Novotel Cusco – 3 nights

Restaurants: La Casona, Fallen Angel (the funkiest restaurant ever. Good food, too)

Thursday, September 01
Leave Cusco by train early morning. (Vistadome first class)
Arrive Machu Picchu Puebla
Hotel: El Mapi. Lunch at the Sanctuary (adjacent to Machu Picchu)
Frequent buses leave nearby to Machu Picchu (about 20 minute ride)

Friday, September 02

Leave Machu Picchu Puebla by train, late afternoon
Arrive in Cusco, stay one night

Saturday, September 03

Transfer to airport
Leave Cusco  15:25  LAN #2042 (non-stop), Arrive Lima  16:45. Taxi to dinner in Miraflores (Maita, excellent restaurant. Get the octopus!)
Leave Lima  23:55  LAN #530 (non-stop, coach). Arrive JFK, Sunday 8:35 am.


Celestielle Travel

If the two leaders weren’t already my friends, they certainly would have been after this trip. They are hands-on travel experts who find the very best accommodations, tours, transportation, restaurants and more at the very best value all over the world. They’re also funny, warm, smart and choose who they travel with selectively (people who appreciate adventure, culture and the joys of discovery). Highly recommend.


Radisson Decapolis Miraflores – +51 1 625 1200

Colca Lodge (Colca Valley, Peru) – +51 5 453 1191

Casa Andina Private Collection (Arequipa, Peru) – +51 5 422 6907

Novotel Cusco (Cusco, Peru) +51 84 581 033

El Mapi (Machu Picchu, Peru) +51 84 211 011



All transfers by Lima Tours +51 1 619 6911


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