International travel benefits the brain

A recent article in The Atlantic quotes Mark Twain, who wrote in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The article goes on to talk about how travel may help us be more open-minded and increase our creativity…

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

Link to the full article…  For a More Creative Brain, Travel

Reading about The Innocents Abroad got me thinking about other classic travel books…

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck – enjoyable read while traveling in Baja, Mexico.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – enchanting memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – in 1974 he quit the London Sunday Times Magazine via telegram (“Have gone to Patagonia”) and disappeared into the then little-known and remote tip of South America.

Thank you Nikki for sharing the article and inspiring this post!

Barcelona, Spain – walk, dine, sleep

Barcelona, Spain

“Barcelona bubbles with life in its narrow Barri Gòtic alleys, along the pedestrian boulevard called the Ramblas, in the funky bohemian quarter of El Born, and throughout the chic, grid-planned part of town called the Eixample. Its Old City is made for seeing on foot, full of winding lanes that emerge into secluded squares dotted with palm trees and ringed with cafés and boutiques. The waterfront bristles with life, overlooked by the park-like setting of Montjuïc. Across the city, the architecture is colorful, playful, and unique. In this vibrant city, locals still join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral every weekend. Neighborhood festivals jam the events calendar. The cafés are filled by day, and people crowd the streets at night… If you’re in the mood to surrender to a city’s charms, let it be in Barcelona.”
~ Rick Steves

Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)
Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)

Late afternoon sunlight greets us as we walk out of the Barcelona Sants train station. Having just traveled up the coast from Valencia by high speed train we are tired but relaxed. Excited to grab a cab and get our first glance of Barcelona as we travel across the city to our hotel on the famous Las Ramblas Boulevard.

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Sunroom, Barcelona, Spain
Glorious sunroom at Hotel Praktik Rambla

Months before we decide to visit Barcelona I am visiting one of my favorite blogs – Remodelista – and read this:

“The next time you’re in Barcelona, soak up the city’s infamous architecture by staying in the Praktik Rambla, a budget design hotel housed in the historic Casa Climent Arola building. Constructed in the beginning of the 19th century by the Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (the Sagrada Familia was his commission first, as in pre-Gaudi), the grand building with is modern interiors allows you to immerse yourself seamlessly into the spirit of Barcelona.”

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona
Modern and vintage design blend well at the Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona

The Hotel Praktik Rambla renovation design conserved the original Art Nouveau elements of the building, such as the mouldings, the high ceilings, the mosaic floors (original 19th century tile work), and mixed them elegantly with parquet floors, modern lamps, vintage bathrooms, large, comfortable white beds, touches of design and elegance and, above all, loads of comfort… four days of elegance, comfort, and quiet are ours at a very reasonable rate in February.

Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.
Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.

Saturday morning we hear, then see, “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival for children. The festival takes place at many venues all over Barcelona but it is mostly in the Ciutat Vella – old city of Barcelona. The program for the Santa Eulalia festival includes many typical Catalan traditions like parades with “gegants” and other fantasy figures.

Young drummers fill the streets for "Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia" parade.
Young drummers fill the streets for “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” parade.
The Arc de Triomf
In 1888 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exhibition, and the Arc de Triomf was built as the gateway to the fair.

One of the many things I enjoy about travel is the way I become immersed in the city and area I am visiting… researching the story behind what I am seeing to satisfy my own curiosity and share in my writing.

The history of the Arc de Triomf began in late 19th century when it was built for the World Expo of 1888, which Barcelona hosted. The arch was designed by the noted Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca. The design by Vilaseca stands out from other well-known triumphal arches, in particular the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Instead of using sandstone or marble, Vilaseca decided to build the arch using red bricks.

Using bricks as the main material is a typical feature of the rather unusual architectural style the arch is built in. The arch is inspired by Muslim architecture, in particular the style is known as “Mudéjar” which emerged during the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula. The style was created by the Moors and Muslims who remained in the area after the Christians had recaptured and repopulated the whole Iberian Peninsula.

The Arc de Triomf
Today, the arch still serves as an entrance to the great Park de la Ciutadella. The arch, with its open surroundings and relaxed environment, is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.

Walking up Passeig de Gràcia we get our first taste of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s work – La Pedrera.

Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, this large apartment building was immediately dubbed “la pedrera,” or “the quarry,” because of its cliff-like walls. There are various theories regarding the source of Gaudí’s inspiration – from ocean waves to a variety of specific mountains, even a mountain crest with clouds. This unique limestone building appears sculptural, with undulating curves, and black iron balconies that contrast nicely with the lightness of the limestone.

La Pedrera or Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912. Due to its unique artistic style and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.

Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.
Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.

Barcelona is a city made for walking, a visual aesthetic feast. Window shopping and people watching are a delight… as is the casual search for the next cafe in which to enjoy a coffee, snack on some tapas, or sip a glass of wine or beer.

shopping, Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain
Window shopping along the Ramblas.
Enticing leather bags.
A window full of enticing leather bags captures my eye as we stroll Passeig de Gràcia.
graffiti, shopping, El Born, barcelona, spain
Colorful graffiti draws attention to this shop entrance in El Born.

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is rich in regard to work from the formative years in the life of the artist, up to the Blue Period. Young Picasso’s genius is revealed through the over 4000 works that make up the permanent collection, and it was stunning to see his level of accomplishment as a teenager. Opened in 1963, the museum helps us realize his deep relationship with Barcelona, one that was shaped in his adolescence and youth, and continued until his death.

The museum occupies five adjoining medieval stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries, undergoing major refurbishments over time, the most important in the 18th century. Today the elegant courtyards, galleries and staircases are as much a part of the experience as the collection inside.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
~ Pablo Picasso

Picasso Museum, La Ribera district, Barcelona, Spain
Historic outdoor courtyard in the Picasso Museum.

The Joan Miró Foundation opened to the public in 1975. Interest in a museum began after Miro’s exhibition in Barcelona, in 1968. Several figures from the art world saw the opportunity to have a space in Barcelona dedicated to the his work. The museum’s exhibits give a broad impression of Miró’s artistic development, and in accordance with his wishes, the institution also promotes the work of contemporary artists in all its aspects.

Designed by Miro’s close friend, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, the Foundation was designed in accordance with the principles of Rationalist architecture, with different spaces set around a central patio in the traditional Mediterranean style and with Sert’s characteristic skylights.

“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems,
like notes that shape music.”
~ Joan Miro

Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (phot o courtesy of the Foundation).
Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (photo courtesy of the Foundation).

Our go to place for tapas in Barcelona is Cervecería Catalana. Recommended by the hotel, it is considered one of the best places in the city. You can find all kind of tapas and “montaditos” (food on bread). The cold tapas are on display and you can order hot tapas from their menu. Several mornings began with breakfast at the bar – enjoying a tortilla (Spanish omelette) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes served warm with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce – fantastic). The large dining area is bustling and its fun to see what others have ordered. Service is skillful and helpful… located on Carrer de Mallorca, #236.

Cerveceria Catalana - delicious tapas restaurant.
Cerveceria Catalana – delicious tapas restaurant.

Los Caracoles was recommended by a fellow foodie we meet at Catalana. He visits Barcelona often and especially enjoys the rotisserie chicken at this old family restaurant located nearby in the Gothic district. Cave-like with dark wood, murals, and tiles, we pass through the bar, then kitchen, on our way to one of several dining areas.

Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.

After sharing a house salad, we enjoy the roast chicken and lamb ribs – both finger lickin’ good, and enhanced by the elegant setting and professional service.

Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.
Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

Note: Spain’s RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card”). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.

How to Stream Video When Traveling Overseas

netflix, can't stream, overseas connection, vpn
Error messages like this are all too common when traveling overseas.

Have you every been traveling overseas and had trouble connecting to Netflix, Amazon, Skype, Facebook or other video streaming and social media sites?  That’s because the websites you are trying to get to are often restricted by (or to) the country you are traveling in.  But there is an easy way to get around the restriction.  And it has the added benefits of increased security and privacy.  It’s called Virtual Private Network (VPN).  To learn how VPN works, and how to get it, see below.

I was traveling in Europe when the Super Bowl was on TV.  NBC was streaming it, but when I tried to access the NBC Super Bowl streaming web page and click on the “stream video” button, it just sat there doing nothing.  I figured the country I was in was blocking me, so I set up a VPN connection using StrongVPN, a VPN service that I have used for years, and like.  They are very fast and very secure.  (Check it out here: www.strongVPN.com).  Within seconds, I was streaming the Super Bowl.  I could have just as easily used StrongVPN to stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Skype, and any of the other websites, often blocked by foreign countries.

How Does VPN Work?

Traveling Overseas

When you are traveling outside your home country, but want to access websites in your home country as if you were there, and with additional benefits of improved security and privacy, use VPN.  The way it works is you subscribe to StrongVPN, and download a simple client app into your computer.  With one click, it connects you to your home country via StrongVPN servers in the country you are traveling in.  From that server, StrongVPN creates a virtual private network back to their server in your home country.  It usually takes just a couple seconds.  Once connected, you browse the internet just like you normally would.

vpn - virtual private network, strongvpn, strong vpn
While traveling, StrongVPN provides an fast, secure encrypted connection back to your home country.

 

The connection is very secure.  And there’s an important added advantage when you are connecting to the internet through a wi-fi connection (e.g. in your hotel, cafe, hotspot, etc.).  Wi-fi is insecure and hackers can lurk as you type passwords and such and intercept them.  StrongVPN encrypts your internet traffic before it goes over wi-fi, so it can’t be intercepted.

Your home country can be the US, UK, China, and many more.  Visit StrongVPN’s website for a complete list.

Traveling in China

China has very restrictive internet access policies.  If you are in China right now, it is possible they are blocking access to VPN websites.  If so, try this link: StrongVPN China.

vpn in china, secure, private, vpn - virtual private network, strongvpn, strong vpn
While traveling in China, StrongVPN provides an fast, secure encrypted connection back to your home country.

 

 

If you are traveling in China, and want to do some online banking or eCommerce, you will need the IP address of your home country to safely conduct your private business on the Internet while you are in another country.  StrongVPN gives you that.

In addition, China often limits access to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and streaming video websites.  StrongVPN makes it appear that you are accessing those websites from the US.  So it just works.

How to get VPN

To learn more about VPN and try it out, go here, or, if you are in China, go here.

The Quiet Traveler

The page of notes I created in my journal.

I am an introvert. Recently completing the Myers-Briggs personality test confirmed my thoughts, and reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking deepened my understanding.

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test. Cain defines introverts as those who prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. At the other end of the spectrum, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related (Myers & Briggs Foundation). Viewing these terms as opposite ends of the spectrum it makes sense that many of us spend time somewhere in between. I may spend more time on the introversion side but I can enjoy a good party and the overall high energy… I just do it my way, by spending more time with people having one-on-one conversations.

So how does being an introvert relate to my love of travel…

Flying solo for me is all about solitary time. I like to sit on the aisle where I feel there is some breathing space, and where I can get up without bothering anyone. Reading material, journal, things to do are always in my carry-on bag.

Road trips are a favorite of mine. Jay and I love having the time together without distractions. Often I drive and he reads to me, or we listen to a book on tape together. We talk, take turns napping, listen to music, research where we will stay and eat as we approach our destination.

Lately, we find ourselves choosing to spend more time in one place. Last January we spent a month in San Miguel de Allende. Experiencing the breadth of the city and all the various activities that go on there.

Slow travel, like slow food, gives us time to savor and process at a comfortable pace.

Another favorite book of mine is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestseller FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. His comment on the book Quiet ~ Finally someone has exposed the feet of clay of the extraversion industry. It is a wonder it took so long. Those who value a quiet, reflective life will feel a burden lifting from their shoulders as they read Susan Cain’s eloquent and well documented paean to introversion — and will no longer feel guilty or inferior for having made the better choice!

As Mahatma Ghandi said,  In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

US Cross Country Road Trip

A funny thing happened on the way to the wedding… we decided to convert our Honda CRV into a camper van and drive from Washington State to Maryland. We are fortunate to have some liberty with how much time we take. Initially, we were thinking a month, but as we begin to plan, five weeks seems more reasonable. To plot our round-trip route we are using an application of Google maps – My places.


View Cross Country Wedding Trip in a larger map

Our travels will be a mix of Interstate and back road driving, and we are searching for our copy of Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. First published in 1982, this is the story of the author’s journey in an old van, to see the real United States driving only the lesser roads (marked on the map in blue). Jay remembers enjoying the interviews of characters he met along the road. And describes the book being about the journey versus the destination – the idea that as we slow down we see more.

Here are some other books that cross country travelers have enjoyed:

Hearing that we will be touring South Dakota, visiting both Badlands National Park and Bear Butte State Park, a  good friend of ours, Robin, suggested we read The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Jay will be posting soon on How to Convert a Honda CRV into a Camper Van… In the meantime, let us know what books you would recommend… audio book suggestions are welcome as well.

Please follow us on our journey. See “Stay In Touch” on the right sidebar and sign up to get our posts for free via email, RSS, or Twitter. Here are links to blog posts from the journey, as they happen:

Crossing the North Cascades

Dinner in Spokane, WA

Historic Wallace, Idaho

Butte, Montanta

Yellowstone National Park

Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

The New Landscape in Iowa

Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY too

Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials

Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

Gluten-free food in airports

Gluten-free in airports often means a bag of nuts and maybe a piece of fruit… one of my favorite gluten-free blogs: Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, talks about this in her post gluten-free in airports. Change is coming and the big news from Shauna involves our own Alaska Airlines…

“I’m thrilled that Alaska Airlines has started selling a gluten-free snack pack on its flights. They sent us one a couple of months ago to see what we thought. Olives, hummus, multi-grain crackers, almonds, a fruit leather, and dark chocolate? Yes, please. I wish we were flying on Alaska each time we travel this summer, just for that pack.”

Meanwhile when you return home from your travels and are looking for creative, tasty gluten-free recipes, Shauna’s new cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story in 100 Tempting Recipes, is a delight. The New York Times names this cookbook one of the best of 2010!

Try this recipe from Shauna’s blog some night when friends are coming over…

Black Bean Roasted Pepper Hummus

1 poblano pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 15.5-ounce can black beans
1/4 of 15.5-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice 1 lime
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
pinch chili powder
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 cup sesame oil or olive oil (depending on the consistency you like for your hummus)

Roasting the pepper. Preheat the oven to 450°. Massage the olive oil onto the pepper. Put the pepper in a sauté pan and slide it into the oven. Cook, tossing occasionally to sit on another side, until the skin of the pepper starts to blacken and separate from the rest of the pepper, about 20 to 25 minutes. Pull out the pepper and put it in a bowl. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and let the pepper sit until it has cooled completely. Peel it and seed it.

Making the hummus. Put the black beans, garbanzo beans, garlic, lime juice, avocado, chili powder, and the roasted poblano pepper into a food processor. Pulse it up until everything has blended into a chunky mix. Taste, then season with salt and pepper or more of any of the ingredients you feel it is lacking. With the food processor running, drizzle in the sesame oil until the hummus has reached the consistency you desire.

(Note: it will thicken as it sits in the refrigerator, so adjust accordingly.)

Refrigerate immediately and let it sit for at least 4 hours before eating it. Well, you can swipe a taste, if you want. However, the true flavors will not emerge until the hummus has sat for a bit. Plan ahead. Feeds 4.


What to do when your flight is canceled

Earlier this month Alaska Airlines canceled our flight from Boston to Seattle after de-icing fumes filled the cabin. First we deplaned, leaving our luggage on board. Soon snacks and drinks arrived to keep us all fat & happy. I was optimistic that once the fumes had been circulated out we would re-board… but that was not to be.

When the announcement was made canceling the flight, Jay was immediately up and heading to the gate to get our luggage off the plane. He was in the first group of 10 to enter the plane (over 200 people were on board). As soon as Jay came out with our luggage we headed to the hotel. Alaska Airlines had arranged to put everyone up at the Hilton Hotel connected to the airport. If we had a cell phone we would have been calling Alaska reservations to reschedule our flight as we walked to the hotel, but we did not.

Arriving second at the Hilton we were immediately checked into a room. The reservation clerk asked for our boarding passes and we gave them to him. Up in our room, Jay was on the phone to Alaska Air. After a reasonable time on hold, an agent booked us on a flight leaving two days later – ouch!

Frustrated, but still thinking strategically, Jay decided we should have our boarding passes and went down to the hotel reception desk to retrieve them. On the trip back up in the elevator, two women from our flight were comparing notes on the flights they had been re-routed on. One was leaving the next day via Washington DC, the other had been booked on a flight three days later via LA. Long story short, another call to Alaska Air had us leaving the next day via DC. And the next day when we checked in at Delta for the commuter flight to DC they definitely wanted to see our boarding passes from the cancelled flight.

All things considered we feel Alaska Airlines handled the situation well once we were off the plane (they delayed getting us off the plane and out of the fumes). Once the flight was canceled, agents gave everyone cards to fill out asking what form of compensation they would like – miles or a coupon for another ticket for a set dollar amount. We are frequent fliers with Alaska Air and chose the miles (no one year expiration date like the coupon).

Lessons learned:

Hold onto your boarding pass

Be persistent about what you want

A recent article in the New York Times – How to Fight Back When Your Flight Is Canceledhas further suggestions:

Use Twitter for help

Increasingly airlines, including JetBlue, Southwest and Delta, are using Twitter to notify passengers of major flight cancellations and assist in rebooking.

Read the fine print

Each carrier spells out how it handles canceled flights in a “contract of carriage,” which can be found on the airline’s Web site. Print this out before you head to the airport, so when issues arise you will have the pertinent pages on hand for reference and even show to an airline employee who may not be familiar with the details.

Avoid Being Bumped

The last passengers to check in for a flight are often the first to be bumped when a flight is oversold. So be sure to check in before you head to the airport. Many airlines allow customers to check in online, as much as 24 hours in advance.

Report Lost Bags Immediately

If your bags don’t make it off the plane, report the lost luggage to airline personnel before you leave the airport.

Travel yoga

Bring your yoga practice along when you travel. I asked Djuna Mascall, our yoga teacher, for a travel yoga sequence. Something that would allow us to continue our practice while we are on the road. Here is Djuna’s travel yoga sequence with her thoughts on each pose. I have provided relevant links to the Yoga Journal, if more information or a visual is desired. So, take a deep breath and begin.

  • Sun Salutations as a way of warming up, or as a practice in and of itself. Consider practicing the B Series which includes low lunges to open up the front of the hip, as well as the simple A series.
  • Bharadvajasana, simple seated twist that can be done on the floor or in a chair. Emphasize the length of the spine, lift of the chest (sternum bone), relaxing shoulder blades. Hold the twist for several breaths to gain the full benefit to the organs.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Dog pose. This pose is great to practice with your hands on a chair or low bench, so you can really lengthen the spine and ground the heels.
  • travel yoga
    Triangle Pose

    Trikonasana – Triangle Pose. Focus on the feet, grounding the inner edge of the front foot and the outer edge of the back foot. This pose is one to do everyday to keep the hips open, spine long. It tones the legs and core. Consider practicing this pose against a wall, if you have one, to preserve good alignment.

  • Padottanasana – Standing wide legged forward bend with feet parallel, slightly pigeon toed. Consider practicing this pose with support under the hands, especially if you have been sitting a lot, to really emphasize the length of the spine.
  • Setu Bandha – the bridge pose, a back arch with the chest open. We often practice this pose with a block under the pelvis/sacrum. A wonderful pose to open the chest and front body, allows for deeper breathing, counteracts the forward slump of sitting, energizing pose if your energy is low, great for kidneys.
  • Supta Padangusthasana – supine stretch, one leg up with a strap around the foot, the other leg straight along the floor. Emphasize relaxing the back body against the floor, pressing up through the inner edge of the top foot, grounding the down leg and pushing out through the down heel. You can also take the leg to the side or across the body to open up the outer hip and lateral leg. Great for sciatic pain that can be a result of sitting for long periods. A wonderful back release for the lumbar spine.
  • Viparita Karani – legs up the wall with support under the pelvis (a folded blanket). Hold this pose for 5-10 minutes (or longer). Wonderful for the entire body, brain, spirit! Great for insomnia and for sciatic pain. Also good digestion pose.

Note from Djuna:

You can practice these poses as a series as written. You may decide to start with Supta Padangusthasana before doing any standing poses. It’s nice to get a twist in at the beginning of practice, definitely before back arch. I wouldn’t practice the back arch on it’s own (without the unwinding poses following), but any of the other poses can be done on their own.

Namaste.

Springtime in Kyoto, Japan

April 2007 found us in Tokyo and Kyoto for 10 days… I tagged along on a business trip of Jay’s. Here are some notes and impressions I jotted down at the time… this blog covers Kyoto.

Sketch with watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan
Watercolor of a shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Springtime in Kyoto… showers of cherry blossoms. There is a happiness, a festive feeling associated with the blossoms as they fly through the air, some attaching to our jackets… a sense of the seasons… time passing.

Our overnight visit to Kyoto begins with the Shinkansen – the bullet train. Japan is where regular, high-speed railways began, and in 140 minutes we are transported from Tokyo, the bustling capitol of Japan, to the relatively quiet, historic city of Kyoto. At the recommendation of a friend, we stay at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto –  a beautiful 15 story hotel above Kyoto station – centrally located and convenient for our one night stay.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto is an integral part of the architecturally striking masterpiece, the JR Kyoto Station Building, which also includes a department store, museum, musical theater, and a vast underground shopping mall. For art lovers, the elegant Hotel Granvia is home to over 1000 pieces of stunning art based on the theme of “The Contrast of Modern and Traditional Art”. The artwork of Kyoto-based artists, some of the most famous in Japan, is prominently featured among the paintings, sculptures, and industrial art on display and accentuated by photographs adorning the guest rooms.

Hotel Granvia Kyoto, JR Kyoto Station
The Hotel Granvia is an integral part of the architecturally striking JR Kyoto Station Building

Our treasured guide for this first whirlwind experience of Kyoto is Old Kyoto – A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns by Diane Durston. The author lived in Kyoto for 18 years and has compiled a very personal guide to Kyoto’s elegant past that can still be found if you are interested and willing to explore the city’s narrow, quiet side streets.

One of the pages I have turned down in Durston’s book is for the restaurant Takasebune whose lunch special is tempura. Located near the Takasegawa Canal and named after the flat boats that used to carry merchandise up the canal, Takasebune is a small family restaurant. Our “tempura teishoku” includes a generous bowl of miso soup, rice, pickles, and a basket of crisply batter-fried tempura shrimp, fish and vegetables. As recommended by Durston we dine at the tiny counter in front where we can watch all the culinary activity. Feeling like giants in this small historical space we are served a delicious, inexpensive lunch.

Takasebune known for crispy tempura and fine fish dishes
Traditional Takasebune is known for it's crispy tempura and fresh fish dishes
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry blossoms along a canal in Kyoto, Japan

After lunch we continue our walk to Ippodo Tea which Durston says” has been perfuming the neighborhood for 140 years with the finest green tea from Uji, the most famous tea producing region in Japan, just south of Kyoto”. The smell draws us in as do the old timbers and old tea jars lining the wall. Helpful clerks will steep a sample cup of tea and guide you in your purchase.

Asahi-do Ceramics is easy to find, housed in a modern building on a main street. They offer the widest selection of Kiyomizu ceramics in Kyoto (ceramics made in the area below Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple). There are two types of Kiyomizu ceramics: porcelain and earthenware. Both types are thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel and decorated by hand. Lovely selection of ceramics displayed in a gallery setting.

Our final destination requires a cab to find and is well worth it. Aizen Kobo Indigo Textiles is on a narrow backstreet in the textile district of Kyoto. Master dyer Kenichi Utsuki still works in this 120-year-old building, where he was born and raised and where his father and grandfather worked as textile artisans as well. Today his shop is one of the only places in Kyoto where handwoven, hand-dyed, and hand-embroidered garments of hon-ai or real indigo are attainable.

The key to the rich blue that Japanese indigo and Aizen Kobo are famous for is in the microorganisms produced when the indigo plant is fermented. To keep these bacteria healthy and the dye potent, Kenichi must maintain it at an optimal temperature, and feed it a carefully calculated mixture of wheat-bran powder, limestone powder, ash lye and sake.

Getting the fermentation right takes about two weeks, after which the vat of indigo can be used to dye for a few months. Depending on the kind of material being dyed and the depth of color desired, an item must be dipped and then sun-dried between 20 and 50 times, a process that often takes months. This makes the appeal of chemical indigo dye pretty obvious: with chemical-based indigo, preparation takes less than an hour and one dipping usually does the trick.

Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan
Indigo textile dyeing at Aizen Kobo in Kyoto, Japan

Stimulated by the days experiences we arrive back at the hotel exhausted. I can’t walk another step. The hotel offers an array of dining possibilities and we choose a restaurant on the top floor with sweeping views of the city. After dinner, a great bath and lights out.

Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse
Modern technology meets traditional beauty in front of a Kyoto guesthouse

Our second and last day in Kyoto. We head out early, walking a route that takes us down the narrow and quiet side streets for a glimpse of Kyoto neighborhoods and daily life. For us walking is key… bringing all the senses to bear. We delight in seeing the vacuum sitting on the perfectly clean carpet in front of the idyllic garden area of a guesthouse, as we take in the pleasant aromas of tea brewing and cakes baking.

Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan
Cake making machine at a bakery in Kyoto, Japan

Nestled in the mountains of Western Honshu, Kyoto is known as Japan’s most beautiful city and is often called “the city of a thousand temples”. Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the emperor from 794 to 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Kyoto thus spent a millennium as the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion. During this time Kyoto accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines – built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. And Kyoto was one of the very few Japanese cities to escape Allied bombings during World War II.

Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Springtime colors in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Temples in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan
Buddhist monk begging in Kyoto, Japan

After a morning of walking around the famous temples and beautiful gardens surrounding them, we find ourselves back on the Shinkansen, headed back to Tokyo and our flight back home.

Recommended Reading

Old Kyoto: The Updated Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns by Diana Durston

Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital by Judith Clancy

36 Hours in Kyoto, Japan a travel article by Jaime Gross at The New York TImes

MacBook Air: Why It’s The Best Travel Computer

Today I am updating this post on our new MacBook Air. It’s the best travel computer you can find – we won’t be going anywhere without it. Walt Mossberg reviewed it at the Wall Street Journal, and I include highlights of that review below. Of the new MacBook Air, Walt says “these are gorgeous, very thin and light, but very sturdy aluminum computers.

The new MacBook Air now features the same multi-touch trackpad technology found on the iPad. And like the iPad, it starts instantly, resumes where you left off, and has a longer battery life.  And it comes with a ultra-reliable travel-friendly Solid State Disk (SSD). Solid State Disks don’t store as much as regular disks, so you don’t want to use the MacBook Air for storing hundreds of gigabytes of multimedia, for example. But for travel, the storage capacity is fine – keep what you need on the computer, and leave the rest at home.

The new MacBook Air comes in two sizes. The base $999 model has an 11.6-inch screen (versus 9.7 inches for an iPad) and weighs 2.3 pounds (versus 1.5 pounds for an iPad). The larger – but still thin and light – model starts at $1,299, has a 13.3-inch screen, and weighs 2.9 pounds.

MacBook Air quickLinks to Amazon.com product information

MacBook Air, 11.6-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 256 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

A few months ago, I reviewed the first MacBook Air and the iPad here: My Favorite Travel Computers
As I said in that review:

The MacBook Air is my ideal travel computer. Though not as light as the iPad, it has a real keyboard. Since we are usually blogging on the road, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is easier and faster to type with than the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard.

Here are highlights from Walt Mossbergs review of the new MacBook Air:

MacBook Air Has the Feel Of an iPad In a LaptopNew MacBook Air

Some of the nicest, if little discussed, benefits of using an Apple iPad tablet are that it starts instantly, resumes where you left off, and has a long enough battery life that you aren’t constantly fretting about running out of juice or looking for a place to plug it in. And it can do a lot of things for which people use laptops.

What if somebody designed an actual laptop that worked this way—you know, a computer with a real keyboard and a larger screen that could run traditional computer software and store more files than an iPad? And what if it was almost as light and portable as an iPad? Well, somebody has, and that somebody is Apple itself.

Like their predecessors in the Air family, these are gorgeous, very thin and light, but very sturdy aluminum computers. And, like their predecessors, or like iPads and smartphones, they rely on solid-state storage—flash chips—instead of a conventional hard disk to hold all your files. But Apple has dramatically reduced the physical size of the flash storage to make room for larger sealed-in batteries, so battery life is longer. It has also cut the price from the last version of the Air, a 13-inch model that cost $1,799 with a solid-state drive.

The new models are designed to hardly ever require a traditional bootup or reboot. The idea is that you’d only reboot if you had a problem, or installed software that required a reboot, or if the machine had been idle and unplugged more than a month. But even booting is very fast.

Unlike on many netbooks, these two new Apples also have high screen resolutions so you can fit more material into their relatively small sizes. The 13-inch model has the same resolution as Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro and the 11-inch Air has greater resolution than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Also, unlike on many netbooks, they feature full-size keyboards, though the 11-inch model has reduced-size function keys.

Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs has been a bestseller on Amazon.com from the day it became available for preorder.

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues— Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

Traveling without a plan

Opening ourselves up to new experiences is part of the intrigue of travel. Our best travel stories are of the unexpected surprises along the way… positive and even seemingly negative at the time. Things that happen which give us a jolt, put us on a different trajectory, let us see a situation in a different light.

My first trip to Europe in the summer of 1976 with Jay was this way… as backpackers we alternated between camping, hosteling and our favorite – pensions – small inexpensive European hotels that often included a home cooked breakfast. Our parameters were certain cities or towns we wanted to visit and our airline tickets back to the states at summer’s end. I think we had one guide book, otherwise we would get tips from other travelers and check in at the tourist centers at the train stations.

This past February when we decided to escape the NW grey and spend the month in New Zealand I found myself fretting about how to plan a month away. How to know exactly where we wanted to go, how long we would want to stay in an area… not to mention feeling the responsibility of having to make those decisions and then implement them by doing all the research and reservation making.

So, we decided to pack our guidebooks, bring my laptop, book a hotel for our arrival in Auckland… and leave. What freedom and what fun. We found some towns we wanted to linger in and other areas where we just kept on driving. The flexibility allowed us to totally change our plans on the South island in order to spend time with our niece in Queenstown – a city we had not planned on visiting.

An offshoot of this attitude is that last minute travel can translate into last minute flight deals or other last minute savings. Emailing a day ahead for lodging in Nelson, NZ for 5 days, the reply came saying the cottages were booked but we could have the villa for the same rate. If you have access to the internet simply search on “last minute travel” and the city or area you are heading to.

This Sunday reading the New York Times travel section, I learned that the Frugal Traveler has just begun a new series “Getting Lost“. Taking it even a step further than we did, his intention is to show up in a place, and figure it out… with the goal of getting lost (literally). Here is an excerpt:

“Which is why I’ve lately been wondering, how does it feel truly not to know where you are? Are the guidebooks, GPS devices and Internet forums pointing us in the wrong direction? In our efforts to figure out where we’re going, have we lost something more important?

Hence this new series, “Getting Lost,” in which every few months I will try to lose my way all over the globe, from developing-world megalopolises to European capitals, from American sprawl to Asian archipelagos. (For the moment, I’ll avoid deep wilderness and deserts; I want to survive.) It’s a challenge that requires special preparation — that is, nonpreparation. In the past, I’ve researched destinations to death, zooming deep into Google Maps and uncovering unusual restaurants in the darkest corners of the Web. Now I am avoiding maps. I am shying away from Chowhound and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum; I will not ask my Facebook friends who they know in Moscow or Addis Ababa.

I am, in short, trying to break free of the constraints of modern travel, of a culture in which every minute is rigorously planned, and we grade destinations based on how they live up to our expectations. I want to have no expectations. I plan to show up with neither hotel reservation nor guidebook; instead of devising my own itinerary, I will let the place itself guide me, and in doing so, I will, I hope, find myself caught up in moments I never could have imagined.”

Isn’t part of the reason we travel to get out of our known environment? Embrace the mystery? We all have our own comfort level around how much to let go, but what might happen if we challenge ourselves to embrace some, if not all, of the void?


My Favorite Travel Computers

Sue and I enjoy traveling with minimal pre-planning and booking. Sure, before we start the trip we will have a general sense of what route we will take over the course of the trip, but we purposefully avoid making detailed commitments to itinerary until we are in country.

We like to get to where we are going, settle in to whatever city we landed in for a day or two, catch our breath, shake off the jet lag, and talk to the locals about what’s what. More and more now we pack a computer to help plan as we go. When we are a day or two away from moving on, we get on the internet and start researching towns, lodging, dining, and sightseeing further on down the road.

On our last trip, we really took this process to the limit. Here’s what we used the computer for most:

  • browsing the web for lodging, dining, sightseeing ideas, etc.
  • managing photos and video that we take during the trip
  • blogging the trip
  • checking email (we try not to do that too much, especially if we are cultivating “vacation mind”)

Perhaps ironically, bringing the computer along actually helped us travel with greater freedom and much less preplanning. Using our computer for travel, we felt more agile and able to respond to the interests and needs of the moment, rather than being locked in to an itinerary that had been cast in stone weeks or months before we arrived at our destination. I think one needs to be careful about getting sucked in to work, just because you have a computer. We made a conscious effort to use it to enhance the travel experience while avoiding the itch to check in to work.

When shopping for a computer for travel, the factors that we value most are:

  • light weight
  • not too big, not too small, just right
  • reliable (can take a licking and keep on ticking)
  • Mac operating system (there are plenty of PC alternatives with travel-friendly features, we just prefer Macs)

Here are our four favorite mobile computers, along with some of the distinctive travel related features:

Computer Model Weight Screen Size Battery Life Base Price
MacBook Air 3.0 lbs 13.3” 5 hours $1,499
MacBook Pro 5.6 lbs 13” to 17” 8 hours $1,199
MacBook 4.7 lbs 13.3” 7 hours $999
iPad 1.5 lbs 9.7” 10 hours $499

Though each person will have features that are important to them, for us, lightweight, a real keyboard, and ability to take a beating are critical. For that reason, the MacBook Air is the best for our needs. I detail each computer option below, highlighting the travel-friendly features that matter most.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is my ideal travel computer. Though not as light as the iPad, it has a real keyboard. Since we are usually blogging on the road, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is easier and faster to type with than the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard. In addition, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is backlit, which makes it handy for typing in a darkened plane or hotel room.

MacBook Air

An option that makes this laptop extra robust is the Solid State Disk (SSD). When I travel, if I drop the laptop, odds are if a component fails, it will be the disk drive.  Unlike a regular disk drive, the SSD has no moving parts. It is just a chip. Note that the MacBook Pro has an SSD option, but it weighs twice as much as the MacBook Air. The iPad also has SSD, and I like it for travel, but only if I won’t be typing too much.

This laptop has it all – lightweight, compact form, full keyboard, solid state disk, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 13.3″ screen – plus it is very cool.

MacBook Air quickLinks to Amazon.com product information

MacBook Air, 11.6-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 128 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Air, 13.3-Inch Laptop, 256 GB Solid State Drive,
1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Mac OS X v10.7 Lion

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is a road warriors MacBook Air. It is faster, has a bigger screen, and numerous other high-end laptop features, but it does weigh almost twice what the MacBook Air weighs. Like the Air, it has a lighted keyboard and a Solid State Disk option. This laptop is ideal for someone who needs top-end performance for work and travel, and is willing to take on the extra weight.

MacBook Pro product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  250 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 13.3″,  320 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  320 GB, 2.40GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz
MacBook Pro 15.4″,  500 GB, 2.66GHz
MacBook Pro 17.0″,  500 GB, 2.53GHz


MacBook

MacBook

For the money, this is a great travel laptop. Not as heavy as the MacBook Pro, not as light as the MacBook Air, this is a fine laptop for the occasional traveler. Note that there is no SSD option for the MacBook, so get a nice padded case for it and be gentle. If you don’t need to type much, than the iPad is a great alternative, with its lighter weight, and Solid State Disk.

MacBook product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
MacBook 2.26GHz, 250GB


iPad

iPad

iPad Keyboard DockThis is amazing travel computer. Of the four listed in this article, it is the lightest, lowest cost, has a Solid State Disk and an agile touch screen interface. Perfect for checking out websites for travel planning and such, and if you need to type alot, you can add the portable keyboard and tilt stand.

All iPad models come with built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you want to extend your network coverage further, choose iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G and sign up for access to 3G data service.

And unlike laptops, airport security usually won’t require you to remove an iPad from your carry-on bags.

iPad product information quickLinks to Amazon.com
iPad 16 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 64 GB, Wi-Fi
iPad 16 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad 64 GB, 3G (coming soon)
iPad Keyboard Dock

Travel Accessories

We carry our computers around in Case Logic neoprene cases. They absorb impact well, are easy to get into and out of, and are good looking. Here’s an example at Amazon.

When traveling abroad, you will need an adapter to plug your computer in to.  We like the Kensington Travel Adapter.  It is a clever all-in-one unit that provides plug adapters for use in more than 150 countries. Simply slide out one of the built-in plugs and plug in a laptop, cell phone, battery charger, or similar electronic device. Here’s product information at Amazon.


Wellington, NZ

Often the motels in NZ have laundry facilities and that is where I was a few hours before hitting the road for Wellington. The old washer/dryer were quite slow and a very friendly lady from Wellington stopped by with her wash. She was curious about our travels and when she heard that we were off to Wellington, suggested we cut over to the westcoast and drive south along the Tasman Sea to Wellington… which we did. At her suggestion we took a western route through Palmerston North and down the westcoast, with beautiful views of the Tasman Sea… stopping in Paraparaumu for a break and some ice cream.

We arrived in Wellington in late afternoon.  The country driving of the past week was replaced with fast moving close quarters rush hour traffic.  Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the seat of government. My acquaintance from the laundry room had also suggested we enter the city by the ferry terminals and drive along the waterfront. Doing that we passed through the Parliament district and we saw some fine historic buildings which set the tone for the city.

We checked out two hotels and decided to stay at the Museum Hotel. The Museum Hotel was initially located on the other side of the road, moving to its present site in 1993. Facing demolition to make way for the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, the 5 storey, 3500 ton structure seemed doomed, until Chris Parkin, the owner, began to investigate the possibility of relocating the entire structure. The hotel made a 120-metre journey down an inner city street on railway tracks.

Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ
Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ

Keeping with its museum past, wonderful art can be found throughout the hotel.  Here’s a picture of the lobby reception area:

Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ
Museum Hotel - lobby, Wellington, NZ

Wellington is a very walkable town.  As we found through much of New Zealand, outdoor sculpture abounds.

Wellington Sculpture, NZ
Floating sculpture in Wellington, NZ

During an evening stroll we came upon this gentleman walking his dog.  The stairs behind lead to Boulcott Bistro.

Wellington Sculpture - man and dog, NZ
Wellington Sculpture - man and dog, NZ

We had a fine meal at Boulcott Bistro.  The place is buzzing with locals.  The food was fresh and simply delicious.  We shared a Snapper on a smoked fish brandade, in a pool of red pepper puree decorated round the edges by a clam nage, accompanied by fresh green beens with basil butter and broccoli with lemon and toasted almonds.  As we have at each evening meal, we tried wines from the region – tonight is was a Dogpoint Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (just northeast from Wellington).

Boulcott Bistro, Wellington, NZ
Boulcott Bistro, Wellington, NZ

After an early dinner we took a stroll along the waterfront…

Wellington Waterfront, NZ
Wellington Waterfront, NZ

lots of action…

Wellington Canoe Team
Canoe team bring their canoe in for the evening, Wellington, NZ

and a quote that sums up the spirit of the town…

Wellington poet Lauris Edmond quote
Quote by Wellington poet Lauris Edmond - part of Wellington writers walk

Pack light & right

If you’re not going to wear it more than three times, don’t pack it! When I read this at Rick Steves’ travel website I had an aha moment and began paring down my clothing pile. My habit is to put together the clothes I think I might want to take a week or two ahead. As travel time approaches I check the weather of our destination, pull out my suitcase and start editing. This time I happened to look at Rick Steves’ website and found a helpful guide for packing… there is a guide for men as well.