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July 2016

What’s on your bucket list?

Morocco Cambodia Maui Cairo

Andalusia Buenos Aires La Jolla Machu Picchu

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Cover photo by Jim O’Donnell In the morning, outside the Casa de Amargura, three musicians play traditional Afro-Cuban songs for passing tourists. “We quit by noon,” they told me. “It’s just too hot!”

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Editor’s Letter. . . . . . . . . 7 by Danny de la Cruz

A Walk in Cairo. . . . . 136 by Nicholas Andriani

Contributors . . . . . . . . . 8

Spanish Flair of Andalusia . . . . . . . . . 148 by Ed Cruz

5 Reasons to Fall In Love with Maui. . . . . . . . . . 10 by Ksenia Skvortsova Travel Facts & Figures. . . . . . . . . . . 26 A Temple Odyssey in Cambodia. . . . . . . . . . 32 by Danny de la Cruz Three Perfect Days in Trinidad, Cuba. . . . . . . 64 by Jim O’Donnell Morocco: a Tapestry of People and Savory Pleasures. . . . . . . . . . . 82 by Ally Phillips Travel Advice from the Travel Experts. . . . . . 114 The Art of River Cruising. . . . . . . . . . . 118 Seascapes / An Interview with Aaron Goulding. . . . . . . . . . 124 by Danny de la Cruz

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Insider’s Guide: New York City, Chicago and Cincinnati . . . . . . . . . 170 The Journey to Machu Picchu. . . . . . . . . . . . 172 by Katie Stanwyck A Greener Napa Valley Experience . . . . . . . . 178 by Doris Hobbs 5 Key Elements for a Great Travel Bucket List. . . . 182 by Barry Sproston Summer Cocktails with a Latin Twist. . . . . . . . . 192 by Trisha Antonsen Insider’s Guide: Pacific Northwest. . . . . . . . . 196 by Karista Bennett Buenos Aires: Beyond the Tango. . . . . . . . . . . . 202 by Danny de la Cruz More Travel Inspiration / Coming Soon. . . . . . . 224

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s someone who didn’t catch the travel bug until later in life, it feels like a game of catch-up as my travel bucket list seems to constantly grow with each passing year. But, having a list means that there’s always something to look forward to and dream about. It drives me forward and gets me excited. And aside from the challenge of limited vacation days (and even more so, the dreaded topic of money) each travel event becomes even more special once achieved. When I encounter people who have no desire to venture beyond their familiar surroundings or always go to the same place year after year, I have to simply shake my head. There is so much that travel can offer. It opens us up to new experiences, cultures and most importantly the people. You’ll see these aspects woven into many of the stories we’ve shared with you. And for the foodies out there, well I don’t need to explain the benefits. The funny thing is, and I actually hate to admit it, is that food is the last thing on my mind when I travel. Sure, I love to try new foods and discover fantastic places around the globe, but it’s not what drives me to travel. I go for the adventure and the experience. I want to capture that feeling of exploring a new place for the very first time. Travel can also push me out of my comfort zone since I think we often live in these little bubbles in our everyday lives. You’ll get a glimpse of this into a piece I penned on my experiences exploring some of the temples of Cambodia. But what about my bucket list, you ask? Unfortunately, there are too many places I want to go but having a

list keeps me going! At the top of my list is one destination I accidentally discovered while flipping through the TV a few years ago. As I watched the mingling of wildlife in this giant crater, it was instantly #1 on my list — the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. You’ll all be the first to know when I start packing for this trip, but enough about me. For this premiere travel issue, I’m thrilled to be able to feature the work of talented individuals who are sharing their genuine travel experiences to some unexpected places. I’m so excited to be able to lead off with our cover story on Trinidad, Cuba by our own Travel Editor, Jim O’Donnell who spends three perfect days experiencing the history, the natural beauty and the mouth-watering food that only a foodie can enjoy! Beyond Cuba, we’re hopping across five continents and starting it all off somewhere in the Pacific — so pack your bags, have your passport ready and buckle your seat belt for take off! What’s on your travel bucket list? Wishing you spectacular and safe adventures ahead,

Danny de la Cruz Publisher & Founding Editor

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Special thanks to each of the following for their contributions to our launch issue...

Nicholas Andriani

Nicholas is a multi-genre writer and explorer. Previous projects include archaeological research in Jordan and Mexico, travel and food journalism and a stint as a cheesemonger in Kansas City. His current project, a memoir titled ‘In Another Country’ is scheduled to be finished when it’s ready...

Jim O’Donnell

Jim is an award-winning writer and photographer from Taos, New Mexico. Both his photography and writing focus on the nexus of human culture and the natural world. O’Donnell is the author of Notes for the Aurora Society: 1500 Miles on Foot Across Finland and Rise and Go. Learn more at Around the World in Eighty Years and Jim O’Donnell Photography. 8

Ally Phillips

Winner of numerous cooking competitions, Ally is the first-ever brand ambassador for Dole Sunshine, has covered the 2015 and 2016 Rose Parades for Dole Sunshine. Ally’s first cookbook, Ally’s Kitchen—A Passport for Adventurous Palates, which is an Amazon Top 100 best-selling international cookbook, launched May 2015.

Trisha Antonsen

Karista Bennett

Ksenia Skvortsova

Barry Sproston

Trisha is Drizly’s Chief Cocktail Officer. Trisha never misses an opportunity to mix up something new and luckily she has many willing tastetesters at Drizly HQ. Her advice for learning how to be a better mixologist? Sit at the bar and learn from the pros. A good bartender will love to drop some knowledge on you.

Ksenia started Saffron & Honey in 2009 while living in London and working as a business consultant. Her passion for food took her back to New York, where she grew up, and back to culinary school. She graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2011.

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Karista is a food writing, farm loving chef, capturing everyday moments with extraordinary food. She works as a professional recipe developer and food photographer, living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and she is the voice behind Karista’s Kitchen.

Barry is an English traveller and expat. He spent 12 months training at a Gung Fu school learning Wing Chun, explored the island of Taiwan by scooter more than once, been tricked into eating raw horse meat sushi in Japan and tried to overcome the fear of heights by bungee jumping in Thailand. He regularly blogs about his adventures at Tools of Travel.


Travel Issue Volume 1 / Number 2 Publisher & Founding Editor Danny de la Cruz Creative Director MJ Cadiz

Ed Cruz

Ed is the author or Kirin Rise and has been studying Martial Arts for the last 34 years with a focus on the art of Wing Chun Gung Fu. He teaches a handful of dedicated students as part of Windy City Wing Chun Gung Fu and is also an avid world traveller and photographer.

Doris Hobbs

Doris is a San Francisco, bay-area based fashion blogger and writer of the fashion and personal style blog, Rich in Love Fashion. Doris connects with her readers through a classic, feminine profile, featuring accents of an era gone by.

Travel Editor Jim O’Donnell Food Editors Karista Bennett Ksenia Skvortsova Home & Garden Editor Emily Kennedy Style Editor Arnika Zinke Contributing Photographer Audrey DLC Contact Us VRAI Magazine LLC P.O. Box 62 Techny, IL 60082

...and also thanks to the following: Katie Stanwyck

Katie has always been a traveler at heart with 27 countries already under her belt. Now, she is living in Toronto writing about travel in her blog A Bite of Travel and seeing the world one step at a time.

AmaWaterways Kay Dougherty Melissa Douglas Aaron Goulding Sonja Holverson Emily Kennedy Bethany Looi Chris Owens trivago.com

General Inquiries editor@vraimagazine.com Advertising Inquiries advertising@vraimagazine.com VRAI Magazine is a digital lifestyle publication that delivers food, fashion, travel and home & garden inspiration. With a team of creatives, storytellers, authors and talented contributors, we curate stories that represent the Style of True Living. Š VRAI Magazine LLC. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means including photocopying, recording or other electronic methods without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in digital and print reviews.

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PACIFIC

Reasons

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to Fall in


Love with Maui Article and Photography by Ksenia Skvortsova

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veryone has a favorite Hawaiian island, but here are five reasons why Maui is my contender for the best place to visit. Hawaii’s second largest island feels smaller and more intimate than you may expect, strongly driven by values of culture and community. Why is Maui “the best island in the world?” Whether you’re in the mood to explore, escape, eat, entice or entertain, Maui has a little bit of everything.

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Escape: Cliff House 13


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he landscapes and seascapes surrounding Maui are truly breathtaking. But if you’re really seeking out a true escape, there is nothing like a sunset swim at Cliff House in Kapalua Bay. Generations of local kids have been coming here to dive off of the rocks and have a good time, but as the sun rolls down and the honu (turtles) come out, you feel like it is all here just for you alone. The view of the endless horizon can be mesmerizing, so don’t forget to watch your step on the way back. You’ll find local birds’ nests in the ground along the path and you can see them settle in for the night with their young. The birds are protected as part of a sanctuary looked after by a do-gooder local in a display of community and an emphasis on preservation so often found on Maui.

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“If you’re really seeking out a true escape, there is nothing like a sunset swim at Cliff House in Kapalua Bay.”

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osh Rezentes tried his hand at starting a honey hive on something of a happy whim. Coming from a longestablished family of ranchers well-known on Maui, Josh is no stranger to the hard work that it takes to make the most of the bounty of the island’s green pastures. The bright floral notes of Hunny Girl - a colloquial term of endearment here - hit you with the very first spoonful. The medley of flavors comes from the unique flora surrounding Josh’s hives, with everything from avocado trees to eucalyptus and winterberry, a local bee favorite. The small-batch honey is happily used by local chefs and you can buy yours at the AKL Lavender Farm or the Ulapalakua Ranch Store (and while you’re there, try the chili). I love the honey drizzled over sweet strawberries and coconut in an açai bowl. For more information, contact them at hunnygirlmauihoney@gmail.com / AKL Lavender Farm Ulapalakua Ranch Store, Hwy 37, Kula, HI 96790

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Entice: Local Honey

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“I love the honey drizzled over sweet strawberries and coconut in an açai bowl.” — Ksenia Skvortsova

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ure, you’ve heard about the surf and the sand but there is much to explore on Maui. Head upcountry, away from the sandy beaches and deep into the lush green hills and up windy roads. You are bound to hit some varied weather as you drive through Kula and stop off at Kula Country Farm to pick the best strawberries (March to May), sweet Kula corn, or visit the fall pumpkin patch. No matter the season, the produce stand is full of local goodies, including jams, flowers, lemonade and cookies. Keep going up to the AKL Lavender Farm for a recharge of sustainable aloha (love). Wander the fields and secret gardens, scare off some goats (just kidding, they don’t scare easily), take a deep breath of the freshest air subtly perfumed with the seven varietals of lavender grown around the grounds, then stop off for a spot of lavender tea and scones.

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AKL Lavender Farm 1100 Waipoli Road Kula, HI 96790 Kula Country Farm Kula Highway, across Rice Park, past mile marker 13 Kula, HI 96790


Explore: Upcountry

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Entertain: Maui Fridays

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lmost every Friday, the towns of Maui hold block parties and each one has a distinct flavor of its own. Expect live music, local craftsmen, plenty of eateries and kid-friendly activities at each. First Fridays are celebrated in Wailuku, the historic seat of the Maui government. Second Fridays are held along bustling Front Street in Lahaina, with local galleries and artists out in full force. Third Fridays are in my personal favorite, Makawao, a perfectly quaint town well-suited for foodies. Fourth Fridays are in Azeka in lively downtown Kihei. And Fifth Fridays, when those roll around, offer you the unique opportunity to catch a late night ferry to the neighboring island of Lana’i for a truly authentic evening. For more information: http://mauifridays.com

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Eat: Poke

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es, poke is suddenly all the rage back on the mainland, but no one makes it quite like the Hawaiians do. Even the supermarket poke is superior to all of the trendy spots back at home. A big part of that is, of course, the freshest ahi tuna, but it’s also the spot-on seasonings and the generous portions with ahi cut into sizeable cubes, not just tiny bites. The Like Poke truck, parked at a popular local food truck lunch spot in Kahului, has my favorite poke on the island. You can pick your preferred level of spice and your sides, though I would steer you towards traditional rice or the super savory curly fries. Another favorite food truck, the Maui Fresh Streatery, is known for their amazing Cuban sandwich. So if you’re more of a carnivore, you’re also in luck. Dig in before they sell out and check their social media feeds for the trucks’ locations and hours. For more information: https://www.instagram.com/ likepoke/ and http://www.mauifreshstreatery.com

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e teamed up with hotel and travel website trivago.com to get the inside scoop on travel. With the summer season fully underway, curious minds wanted to know about the most popular travel destinations, both domestic and international, as well as the answers to some other travel-related questions that we had. There are a few that may surprise you. The following information is based on 2015 searches made on trivago.com

Top 5 US destinations for US users (see images below) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Las Vegas New York Orlando Chicago Myrtle Beach

Top factors people consider first when booking their hotel Desktop searches

Mobile searches

1. 2. 3. 4.

1. 2. 3. 4.

Price Stars Location Rating

Price Location Stars Rating

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Average duration of stay

Average advance search time before booking

Three nights • •

Top amenities searched on trivago.com 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Family/Group – 44 days All Room types – 31 days

Average hotel budget (based on the average clicked price)

Beach Wifi Spa/fitness Pool Breakfast

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Family/Group - $211 All Room Types - $141

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© SeanPavonePhoto / Fotolia

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Top 5 international destinations for US users searched on trivago.com 1. London

2. Paris

3. Niagara Falls (Canada)

4. Cancun

5. Rome

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For every product you purchase, we donate one to a woman in need. High-Performance, Vegan, Luxury Cosmetics Cruelty Free • Paraben, Sulfate + Latex Free • Toxin Free thrivecausemetics.com 31


ASIA

A Temple Odyssey in Cambodia Article and Photography by Danny de la Cruz

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“The Great City“

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here’s an air of mystery as you approach the imposing gate to Angkor Thom, one crowned with massive faces that silently guard what lies ahead. Elephant sculptures with massive trunks flank the entrance on one side and my sense of curiosity grew as I walked through the somewhat narrow passageway to what was once called “The Great City”. 35


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Within the walls of Angkor Thom lies Bayon Temple and the mysterious smiling faces. There’s a calmness in the air -- a feeling of welcome and peace bestowed upon all that enter, despite the multitude of heads and faces at every turn.

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It was like a three-ring circus, complete with elephants parading up and down the path through Angkor Thom. Tuk Tuks, tour busses and countless tourists also shared the path amidst the sweltering heat of June -- all while vendors called out trying their best to grab the attention of anyone willing to check out their items for sale.

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here is no mistaking the grandeur that is Angkor Wat. Photos and videos I had seen a year prior, which led me to this adventure, paled in comparison. Our approach from the back of the complex gave us a chance to experience the temple without the throngs of tourists that were flocking from the front -- only in the center would our paths collide. On this blistering hot day armed with bottled water, a wide brim hat, cooling towel, loose cotton clothing and hiking shoes to navigate the uneven terrain, I was prepared to experience a journey over a year in the making. From detailed carvings on the walls, to beautiful spindles adorning window openings and passageways that enticed you to wander through and explore, there’s so much to see at Angkor Wat.

The climb to the top of the central tower is probably the most daunting with the steep, narrow wooden steps created to aid tourists in ascending to the highest point. But once at the top, I was able to gaze upon the massive complex spread out in all directions below — it was my chance to finally pinch myself and realize where I was standing. And as I stood there gazing out, a badly needed gust of wind billowed through the corridors of the tower and gave me a moment of respite from the unrelenting heat of the noon day. Angkor Wat is an experience of a lifetime and no words, even photographs, can truly capture the wonder that overtakes you as you explore the largest religious complex in the world.

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The iconic view from the front of the complex -- this is Angkor Wat.

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here is an intimacy and richness to Banteay Srei once you pass through the “doorway� into the temple grounds. Constructed from red sandstone, the deep hues of reds and orange envelope the complex with structures diminutive in scale compared to Angkor Wat. The intricate details carved into each structure are a vision to behold and made it one of my favorite temples to visit during this adventure.

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hile there are countless temples to explore in Cambodia, too many for one adventure, each one that I visited was unique in my eyes. Each had a distinctive personality. Ta Prohm was no exception. Made famous several years ago by the Angelina Jolie film titled Tomb Raider, I was looking forward to seeing these ruins first hand. With massive trees sprouting from the structures, Ta Prohm is a reminder of the power of nature. What man can create, no matter how grand in scale, Mother Nature will ultimately conquer it one way or another with her enduring patience. Compared to other temples, it felt as if Ta Prohm was in the exact same condition as when it was first discovered. Rather than clearing out rubble and removing all the growth, everything appeared to have been left in tact -- allowing nature to take its course.

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LATIN AMERICA

Three Perfect Days in

Article and Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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ou hear it said that the Cuban capital of Havana is a metropolis stuck in the 1950s. If that excites you then the Caribbean coastal town of Trinidad will be an added thrill. The 500-year old settlement of cobblestone streets at the base of Sierra Escambray was founded by Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéller and still feels to have its feet planted firmly in the 18th Century. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad’s brightly painted colonial architecture, palmlined plazas, outdoor music scene, breezy beaches and growing art scene make the little town the perfect place to get a sense of where Cuba came from and where it may be headed.

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t was mid-May and I sat with Yonelkis in a cool, compact bar of stained mahogany benches slurping a cold Bucanero and getting a handle on the origins of Yonelkis’ name. Outside a horse pulling a cart loaded with plumbing supplies passed down the street. The plumber called out to the driver of a blue1950-something Ford. Just as Yonelkis got to the point (which had something to do with Russians and an attempt to create new international communist names) a group of young men wearing Gay Pride colors walked into the bar and ordered a round of beers. Then they toasted each other and congratulated themselves for being farmers. They roared with laughter. They polished off the cans of beer in less than a minute, ordered another round and walked back out into the hot sun. A few minutes later three large, sweaty men who obviously were farmers walked into the bar. They ordered shots of rum, made a toast and congratulated each other for being homosexual. They all cackled and snorted like little boys, downed the rum and they too walked out into the sun. It was 11:00 am and I admit it was a bit too early for a beer but I swear, I’d only had one and that was after plenty of coffee. Was it just that my Spanish wasn’t up to Cuban colloquialisms? Maybe I just needed another beer. Yonelkis is a guide for Espiritu Travel, the New Hampshire-based travel company that specializes in tours to Cuba. Espiritu works exclusively with small, privately owned businesses: paladares and casa particulars, growing in tandem with Cuba’s emergent tourism industry. I’d joined Yonelkis and two of Espiritu’s clients, Alfons and Renate, a fantastically energetic and well-travelled 70-something couple from New Jersey, on a walking tour of Trinidad. “Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is gay,” said Yonelkis. “She had the government declare this day to be one of national unity with homosexual people and to fight for their rights.” “OK… And…” I pointed out the window at the farmers moving up the street toward the cathedral. “And today is also the national day to celebrate farmers. Someone is having a bit of fun.” The morning began with a breakfast of fruit, eggs and coffee on the roof of the Casa Media Luna, a somewhat architecturally inconsistent refurbished colonial house in the historic district. Typical of older Trinidad constructions, the home is put together around a large, square room that looks out onto the street through wrought-iron, grilled, glassless windows. That main room serves as a sort of 66

public space. Bedrooms and the kitchen radiate from the main room. In the back is a courtyard centered on a fountain with various Escher-esque stairways, patios, plazas and rooftop terraces overlooking the other similarly Escher-esque constructions ascending and descending throughout the historic district. From the roof, sipping my coffee, I could watch other people at breakfast in one flower-filled courtyard or another, a woman hanging laundry three roofs over, a waiter at a restaurant setting a table, a musician picking at his tres under a shallow eve, and shirtless men filling storage tanks with water. All this against the backdrop of the towering Santísima Trinidad Cathedral and Convento de San Francisco. Below, horse hooves clacked along the cobblestones and a little girl yelled for her brother to wait. The whole historic center was at my finger tips and yet from the rooftops I couldn’t quite figure out which alley or staircase one would use to access these hidden patios and terraces. Yonelkis helped solve that. While leading Alfons, Renate and myself through narrow streets, cool, floweredfilled courtyards and alleyways of Trinidad, he explained that it was sugar-cane that made the town what it is. “For almost two-hundred years El Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), just northeast of here, generated a huge amount of money,” he said. At one time there were around sixty sugar mills operated by 14,000 slaves. “Trinidad grew fast, like a town in the middle of a gold rush. That prosperity is written in the architecture.” Along the maze-like, ankle-twisting streets punctuated by sweet, shaded squares and plazas, the pastel array of historic domestic structures flows delightfully into official buildings, stores, cafes and two-hundred year old mansions. And then back to homes again. The earliest buildings are clearly influenced by Andalusian and North African styles while the 19th Century constructions are more complex, mixing neo-classical styles imported from Europe. The sugar boom lasted into the 1940s but there was no road to Trinidad until the 1950s. That isolation helped preserve the taste of the old days. The rich plantation owners generally didn’t live in the Valle de los Ingenios, Yonelkis explained. They preferred to be in town where they decorated their multi-level homes in marble brought as ballast from Italy, spiral staircases, elaborate wrought ironwork gates and fences, and wooden balconies. They ate from Limoges porcelain dishes and sipped French wine from glasses of Bohemian crystal. According to accounts from the 1830s, the family Cantero, one of the richest on the island, built a marble Roman bath in their Trinidad mansion. In the bath were two cherub heads. One distributed gin and the other eau de cologne. Cantero owned over 6,000 slaves.

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Trinidad has a maze-like quality thanks to the various stages of construction through its 500year history. Twice the port city was looted and burned by English and Dutch pirates. From the rooftops, hidden shaded patios and terraces appear in the most surprising places. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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Just after sunset from the bell tower of La Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, smoke from evening cooking fires fills the air. Trinidad was built on the back of slaves who worked the dozens of sugar mills in the nearby Valle de los Ingenios. The earliest architecture was influenced by North African styles. Later, European neo-classical styles dominated the town’s construction. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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We were graciously welcomed into the home of one of the older families in the area. The interior was dark and cool. The walls had recently received a fresh coat of pink paint. A rocking chair sat next to one of the tall windows facing the street. There were vases and busts on pedestals and a Soviet radio sat on top of a lace doily on a table in one corner. A brand new Chinese television flashed silently from another corner. You could smell the old and you wouldn’t have been surprised to find cobwebs in every corner but the entire home was impeccably clean. The family matriarch explained that, at one time, her ancestors had owned nearly a dozen buildings and houses in that particular barrio. In the 1960s, after the revolution, much of that was nationalized. Her family was left with just the one large house we visited. The home they had owned just next door was turned into a public library. The building across the street they had owned was now a food distribution center. She bemoaned the family loss but I had a hard time feeling too terrible for her. I’m not one who is in anyway favorable to removing someone’s personal property from their possession, but no doubt most of the wealthy families in Trinidad gained their grand positions on the forced labor of Africans, and indentured poverty-stricken Europeans. When wealth is so unjustly gained and so unevenly distributed it leaves open the door for a forced redistribution. And that is just what happened after the revolution. By evening there was a cool breeze blowing across the rooftops. I was honestly too tired to eat. But after a full day walking I wasn’t going to turn down dinner. At the Vista Gourmet I met Bolo, a wine expert and owner of the expansive rooftop paladar. The restaurant felt a bit like what one might find at a resort but the evening view over Trinidad’s old section and the waiter full of card tricks made it hard not to like. A grinning crooner, himself older than the revolution, made his way from table to table diving deep into Cuban history for some sugary covers of Isidro Camara, the legendary singer. Oh. And yes. The food. Bolo explained that over the past five years nearly fifty new paladares had opened in Trinidad and the competition was on to come up with the best menu in town. It’s tough now, he said, everyone is improving. But his wide smile told me he didn’t mind the competition. With a loaded belly I just couldn’t go anymore. I made my way to the Media Luna, took a cold shower and fell into a deep, satisfying sleep.

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If allowed just one word to describe Cubans it would “Resourceful”. Cubans appear able to build anything with next to nothing and they’ve been quick to figure out and build businesses around what tourists want. This old boy and his flowered donkey rode through the old town offering himself to tourists for pictures. In the time I was near him he made what for most Cubans is a small fortune. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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At the Casa Templo de Santeria Yemaya, Israel, the head priest explained the Santeria religion and its roots in the natural world. The African influence in Trinidad is strong, there were once over 11,000 slaves in the area. Santeria is a syncretic religion birthed from the combination of Catholicism and Yoruba spirituality from what are today Nigeria and Benin. Photography by Jim O’Donnell 71


The Tocororo or Cuban Trogan. This is Cuba’s national bird, chosen so because its colors mimic those of the national flag. Espiritu Travel’s expert nature guide Rainer pointed out this guy in Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve in the Escambray Mountains north of Trinidad. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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orth of Trinidad the Sierra del Escambray winds its way across the landscape for about 90 kilometers. The mountain range is Cuba’s second largest and looks somewhat like the battlements along a castle wall. The mountains are not particularly high but they are steep. The valleys remote. Within the sierra lies the 200 square kilometer Topes de Collantes. While often mistakenly called a national park, the Topes de Collantes is nonetheless a heavily protected area. Cuba is hands down the most ecologically diverse island in the Caribbean. There are more than 10,000 endemic species on the island. Cuba also has some of the best protected land and water in the Caribbean. Many of the protections date to the early 1960s but it wasn’t until 1992 that Castro took a formal stand for conservation and that has resulted in the legal protection of about 25% of Cuba’s land and water. On the ground implementation has been a struggle, but not a failure. Along a shaded path next to a clear river Reinier Toscano Orbea a professional nature guide working with Espiritu Travel, called for the tocororo, Cuba’s national bird. The tocororo is a trogon. Its colors mimic that of the Cuban national flag. It is a gregarious creature and a male, curious as to who was imitating his call, dropped out of the forest and onto a branch near the trail for a look. The humans watched the bird and the bird watched the humans and I wondered if he had a list. “Oh an American. I’ve seen that species before.” Reinier is impressive with the bird calls. Ten minutes later he was talking with El Pedorrera, a member of the kingfisher family that got its Cuban name, “little farter” from the sound it makes when it darts from a branch to pick an insect out of the air. Then we saw a woodpecker whiz through tree ferns to a stand of eucalyptus. Along the path that eventually led to a clear blue swimming hole, Reinier pointed out different species of pines and palms and mahogany. The air was fragrant with humus and rotting wood. Along the path spilled a seeming non-stop array of blooming yellow orchids. The Sierra hosts more than forty species of orchid and around one-hundred species of fern. Reinier pointed out various lizards, butterflies, vines, jasmine and begonia. He stopped now and again to peel out a particular nut from a certain tree or to demonstrate how Cuban farmers once used the palm trees for an impressively wide array

of daily needs from ropes to roofs. “These mountains are so steep and remote that Che and his men were able to hide out here, with the help of the coffee farmers, for months without the CIA and Batista’s troops finding them,” Reinier said. After hiking through the tropical rainforest all morning I rinsed my sweat soaked body in a frigid waterfall careening down a fifty meter cliff. Then we made our way about halfway down the mountain to a simple, two-story construction of red mud buried under towering pines, palms and banana trees next to a pond teaming with tilapia. This was El Manantial. “El Manantial. Best meal in Cuba,” Carlos Gonzales had told me earlier in the morning. “Trust me.” Carlos is the main tour leader for Espiritu Travel. “Reinier knows the place. He will take you.” Now hold on. As you may know I’m a bit of a foodie. For me, culinary explorations are one of the top reasons to go anywhere at all. While preparing for this trip I read again and again that Cuban food was nothing to write home about. Website after website and guidebook after guidebook told readers ‘you don’t go to Cuba for the food’. Well let me say right here and now…and let me say it loudly…the food in Cuba is freaking INCREDIBLE. I mean, hands down some of the freshest and best prepared food I’ve had in all the 40-some countries I’ve visited. Yes, you DO go to Cuba for the food and El Manantial is the perfect example why. On the shaded patio next to a gurgling stream that fed the tilapia pool, Oscar and Aray, the owners, served up a massive salad of fresh carrots, beets, cabbage and tomato next to a soothing vegetable soup, heavy on the garlic. The main course was barbecued chicken cooked in fragrant cumin seed. It held a hint of orange peel and pepper and the meat fell from the bone like butter. I barely had room in my stomach for the pudding-like flan. But somehow…somehow, while the house parrot watched me from the chair at the next table, I managed to squeeze it in. I fell into a food coma before we pulled out of El Manantial’s driveway. Reinier had to wake me when we arrived in Trinidad. ~~~ From the roof of the Media Luna I could hear music coursing down the narrow Trinidad streets. It was about an hour before sunset and the air had cooled enough for me to follow my ears down the stairs and past the fountain out on to the streets and towards the cathedral.

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Two cowboys walked up the cobblestone street and into a throng of Chinese tourists wearing surgical masks and latex gloves. Each Chinese tourist held an unwieldy paper map. The cowboys were silent and polite as they passed through the crowd and then turned a corner and burst into laughter. Then they stopped, did an about face and went back to the corner and just watched, seemingly enthralled. We were all watchers. The Chinese watching the Cubans and the Cubans watching the Chinese watching them and this American watching all the watching. I snapped a photo of the Cuban watchers and turned to find another Cuban watcher, a woman with a child, watching me. We both cracked up laughing. Tourism can be insane. I walked on towards the music. Every Cuban town and city has a Casa de Música but Trinidad’s is unlike any other. Think of the Spanish Steps in Rome inside a cave of sheltering trees. The stone steps of the Casa de Música sit just to the east of the cathedral. Paladares sprawl into the streets nearby. About halfway up the steps and to the left is a stage where Cuban musicians get down, belting out salsas, trovas and reggaeton while listeners and dancers have at beer and mojitos. Some of the Cuban dancers were stunning, cajoling Americans and Europeans to join in. The stairs are also an internet access point for the town and Cubans and tourists alike sit along the wide stairs clacking away at smartphones. Just before sunset Alfons and Renate joined me at a table and we savored a rather strong mojito. The Cuban bartenders don’t hold back on the rum, instead pouring as they see fit. Slightly lit with the mojito, Renate and I made a dash for the La Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco and paid the cranky guy at the door 1CUC to access the bell tower. We climbed to the top just in time to watch the sun sink behind the Sierra. A thunderhead built up and collapsed just to the north of the green mountains and we could see a sliver of Caribbean blue to the south. Below us waiters were patient outside the paladares, musicians carried their instruments towards the Casa de Música, a group of girls played in the plaza, a grandmother sucked on a cigar and the smoke from hundreds of small cooking fires wafted across the rooftops. Alfons had faithfully held our table and had fresh mojitos waiting for our return. By the time the stars were out the music was hot and fast. Tables were pushed to the side and the stairs were filled with hundreds of dancers from every corner of the world.

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After a long hike through the jungle, Russian tourists take a refreshing leap into one of the crisp pools dotting the Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve. The waterfall-filled mountains offer a cool break from the heat of Trinidad. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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t was another morning on the rooftop of Media Luna. While she scrambled my eggs, Gela told me that in Cuba it was often hard just to find the basics. Gela was the cook at Media Luna. And the maid. Actually, she seemed like she did everything and she forced food on me like an Italian grandmother. “Come!” she yelled when I asked for more coffee instead. Things like razors, pens, notebooks, markers, shampoo, shoes, sanitary napkins, hand soap…these very basic items are lacking in Cuba. Even for people with a little bit of money these things are simply hard to find. Gela asked me to tell other Americans who want to come to Cuba to bring those things along to give to folks who otherwise can’t get them. The other thing that I learned was how far just $1.00 can go in Cuba and I tipped as generously as I could. Before the heat set in I decided to get out onto the streets. I wanted to see some of the artists involved in Trinidad’s growing art scene. The visual arts have been one of the more powerful pieces of Cuba’s cultural highlights for decades but it was in the 1980s that a group of powerful young artists registered on the international scene and laid an inspirational foundation that has influenced Cuban painters ever since. The diversity of visual arts I saw during my two weeks in Cuba was astounding. At Espacio 217, a tiny gallery and workspace shared by several young painters at the edge of the historic district I met artists Rudy Rubio and William Bonilla. “We have more artists in Cuba per capita than anywhere else in the world,” said Rubio whose large paintings of Afro-Cuban women melting into…or growing from…. staircases and forests and tables, dominated the room. Many Americans think of Cuba as isolated. But that is pretty myopic. While the United States and Cuba have an estranged relationship Cuba is in touch with the rest of the world. Cubans in general are highly educated and know exactly what is going on in Europe and Asia, not to mention the rest of Latin America. The Cuban artists I met were well aware of the trends in the international art markets. That said, and as the men of Espacio 217 76

pointed out, because Cuba’s economy is run as it is, Cuban art forms are less driven by what the art market desires. “That will change as more Americans come down here and buy art,” said another Trinidad artist I visited, “but for now art in Cuba is perhaps more pure than anywhere else.” I bought two small paintings from Espacio 217 and went out to people watch. In one of the plazas three men jammed away. All were dressed in blue and green shirts and straw fedoras. One worked the Cuban tres, one the maracas and one a cajón-type instrument. A Swiss tourist danced drunkenly in circles and encouraged her embarrassed husband to take pictures. He snapped a few and then walked away disgusted. The musicians laughed. Then they packed up. “That’s enough,” the singer said. “We do this in the morning when it is cool. Now we get out of the heat.” Carlos found me wandering my way back towards Media Luna just before lunch. “I’m hungry. You’re hungry. Jump in the car, let’s go!” he said. “Best meal in Cuba!” We picked up Alfons and Renate and passed just outside of Trinidad toward the sea and the little harbor at Puerto de Casilda to the paladar La Marinera. Every day Carlos told me he was going to take me to the best meal in Cuba. And then he did. And then he did again. “How is it that every day I get the best meal of my life?” I asked him. “I told you,” he said. “Trust Carlos!” So I did. La Marinara was filled with middle-class Cubans. The patio was large and covered and cool. In the back they had an extenuated garden under a shade net. The rows were thick with lettuce greens and cabbages and beats and onions. Chickens ran in and out of the rows and the farmer pushed compost in a wheel-barrow. “This is real farm to table!” Carlos told us and ordered up a round of cold beers and the sopa de mariscos. Next came the salad and then fresh fish cooked in an orange sauce. Oh lordy. Amazing. And yes. It was another “best meal of my life”. And it wasn’t the last one I was going to have while in Cuba. “Oh. There is a place in Bayamo. The best. I’ll show you,” said Carlos.

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Cuba imports by far the majority of its food supply but there remain a large number of private gardens. On the streets of Trinidad men selling strings of garlic and onions make the rounds to the local paladares. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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At the Casa de Música singers belt out reggaeton songs celebrating the people and the culture of Cuba. The Casa is the place to be for cold beer and hot music. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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Cubans make their way through the historic district just before sunset. The Cuban government is promoting tourism in the hopes that it will help the island’s struggling economy, but huge structural problems remain as does the oppressive American embargo. Cuba is on the cusp of profound change, for good and for bad. Photography by Jim O’Donnell

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If you’d like to see more of Jim’s photography from Cuba drop by here and here. Visit Espiritu Travel here.

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AFRICA

A Tapestry of People & Savory Pleasures Article and Photography by Ally Phillips

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WP was the place that we girls had our clubhouse. And, it was a clubhouse like none other. Simply a huge, beautiful tree with a massive trunk and the tallest in the woods. “Hurry up and finish your chores,” I yelled to my two sisters, “we need to get to the KWP!” We’d cleaned out around the base of the tree that we named ‘King Wensel’, and yes, this was our palace. We could all stand around it and hold hands embracing our king. There were exposed large, gnarly curling roots that became balance beams. And, most were covered in the softest, most divine emerald green moss. This was the place that we let our imaginations soar. The place that we went to when we wanted to escape the hollers and travel the world. Jumping on our imaginary magic carpets and going anywhere was possible because of our trusty set of World Book Encyclopedias, which Mama got because she sold them door to door. We’d read about other places, other countries, what the expansive world had to offer. And, we made it come alive in our kingdom, KWP, in the woods. This time during my childhood was priceless. It set the stage for the remainder of my life of desiring adventure. Traveling. Finding places I’ve never been to. And, meeting people I haven’t met. While a picture is worth a thousand words, traveling is worth a million words. It’s a way that shapes the spirit and soul like none other. Exploring what’s in other cultures. Interacting with new people. Breaking bread with strangers. It’s all a chance to realize just how much we’re all alike rather than different. For the past forty years, I’ve traveled the world. While I’d barely left West Virginia through high school, at the age of 20 I went to Europe. It sparked in me my inner nomad. Growing up in the 1960s was ripe for that kind of movement. And, since then I’ve never looked back and regretted anything about what I’ve done and where I’ve been. “I’m flying to the Kasbah!” I shouted to the girls as we played in our clubhouse. “What’s a Kasbah? What’s there? Can we go?” They shouted back. “Sure, jump on the magic carpet... we’re going to Morocco!” Those were my earliest memories of Morocco. A land that was exotic. A place that had all this collage of enchantment— rugs, tapestries, pottery, food and camels, yes, camels. And, the Sahara!

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ll of this became a reality this past February. Yes, after over 50 years, my travels took me to Morocco. The mystic place that I’d imagined in my mind’s eye as a girl. Now it was real. Nearly two weeks there in an array of places -Marrakesh, Chefchaouen, Fes, Erfoud, Dades Gorge, Ait Benhaddou, the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert, Medinas, Riads and more, passed so quickly it made my head spin. I was immersed each and every day in a culture that defined the word oxymoron—life, customs, dress, mint tea, tagine cooking, carts and horses much like ancient times and other aspects totally 21st century— cell phones, computers, electronics, cars and crowded bustling cities. Traveling means different things to different people. Each of us has those sweet things that make travel meaningful and purposeful. For me, it’s the people. And, that’s what I want to do when I travel. Meet the people. Not just in passing. Saying hello as we check into a hotel. I want to see how they live. What life is like, truly like, each day. I want to taste their customs, make their food, break bread with them. Finding ways to do that isn’t easy all the time. But luckily for me, I’ve had global opportunities to do so. It’s almost feeling like I’m my own Anthony Bourdain in ‘Parts Unknown’—to sit down at the table with the locals, be in the kitchen and prepare a meal together, travel parts of their days with them—this is the essence of my travel. Morocco didn’t disappoint.

“For the past forty years, I’ve traveled the world. While I’d barely left West Virginia through high school, at the age of 20 I went to Europe. It sparked in me my inner nomad.” — Ally Phillips 86

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ar Meziana is a quaint and charming ‘bed and breakfast’ where we stayed in Chefchaouen, the Blue City. A collection of tasteful, eclectic Moroccan decor and bohemian flair, some of the quirkiness of the design let me know that warmth and personality resided here. When I walk into a home, I want it to ‘talk’ to me. I felt at home from the moment I walked the 50 meters rolling my luggage up to the mountain haven. In the glimmering dusk of the evening, the blue pathways and close-hugging turquoise walls of buildings shimmered on the narrow winding street, I just knew we were going someplace magical. Breakfasts in Morocco are a collection of mezze plates. Boiled eggs, dates, yogurt with some orange flower or rose water and honey, baghrir a cross between a pancake and a crumpet, jiben (a goat’s milk cheese), butter, honey, juices, tea, bread, olives in olive oil, coffee, cream, and rghaif—like a croissant with tender flaky layers, but flat, square and overlapped layers. And, this rghaif became the divine intersection in life where I met Asmaa. Yes, at Dar Meziana. Enthralled with the rghaif pastry, it’s amazing flavor and immensely delicate texture, I wanted to know how it was made. Not only did the owner give me a brief overview of how it was made, he asked me if I would like to learn to make it. Well, duh! Did I jump at this unexpected remarkable opportunity! I was going to learn to make rghaif from the person who makes it for the Dar Meziana—his wife! For several hours, we worked in the efficient and small kitchen of the Dar. I spoke no Arabic. Asmaa spoke no English. But, we communicated beautifully through our hands and making the pastry. She would demonstrate. Then I would practice. She would correct my hands. Show me the right way to stretch the dough until it was as large as the counter top and onion skin thin. I would try again to do it the right way. She would smile as she watched me struggle with the movements of my fingers, the heels of my hands—she would put her hands on mine to show me the right way. Yes, her years and years of making this glorious pastry was evident. And, in her patience with me, she smiled, and we both laughed when I turned out the ‘rogue’ rghaif and hers were simply perfection. For me, this experience created in my soul even more love for how much Asmaa and I are alike although we live thousands of miles and distinctive cultures apart.

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“For the next hour, I engaged in something that was transformative. No amount of money could replace it. No reading of books or looking at pictures could render the riveting involvement I had.” — Ally Phillips

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assan. In Arabic, it means handsome. And, this six year-old boy was strikingly handsome. Living with his mother in the Sahara Desert, they are Amazigh Berbers, people who have inhabited these harsh conditions for centuries. Their home is a collection of tents held together with sticks, poles, old blankets, rugs and ropes. Water is a premium. Hassan has three toys— his pink bike with training wheels, a red plastic bucket and an old soccer ball. When he greeted me, he was all smiles and came running towards me from the ‘salon’ tent. Like a ‘living room’, it was where we were going to have tea. Mohammed, my driver, who accompanied me to explore the desert and oasis, asked if I’d like to stop at Hassan’s. His mother would prepare us tea. He’d asked her in advance. She was gracious and wanted me to come into their home. Hassan was excited wanting to show his newly learned bike riding skills. He dashed off at record speed over the gravel and sand as the expansive desert was his playground. For the next hour, I engaged in something that was transformative. No amount of money could replace it. No reading of books or looking at pictures could render the riveting involvement I had. Invited into the salon tent, the wind billowing the covering blankets and clothes in the nearly 80 degree February temperature, Hassan’s mother prepared Moroccan tea for us. Following Hassan’s lead of removing my shoes, I ducked down and sat on the carpet covered desert ground. What followed was like being treated as royalty. Pita bread with oil, nuts and tea were served in the finest pieces. The formality of pouring the tea was done by Mohammed. Holding it high and letting the hot tea cascade into the small tea glasses showed he’d done this many times. Not a drop was spilled. Hassan chattered on about his day in Arabic, laughing, smiling and sipping the sweet drink of Morocco with his pinky perched like a small prince as he nibbled on the dried pita bread.

For more on ‘Hassan & Tea’ click here.

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eaving the comforts of home, schlepping through airports, getting dog tired traveling through multiple time zones and experiencing “inconveniences�of the non-Western world and more -- all of these things mean nothing when you capture memories like those with people of different countries and cultures. Leaving my comforts and having that spirt of adventure -- that’s what travel is for me.

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Travel Advice from the Travel Experts

Sonja Holverson Outbounding

• Prepare in advance and know the destination well so you appear confident and not lost. You can now download Google maps and use them offline and no one will know why you’re looking at your phone. They will know why you are unfolding a paper map. • If you feel uncomfortable walking on the street about the possibility (or reality) of someone following you, go into the next hotel or restaurant or other place with people and take it from there. • If you should have a real problem of any nature, it can be useful and lightweight to carry a whistle. Sonja is an expat living the Swiss life. She is also a marketing lecturer, Contributor, USA TODAY 10 Best and Co-Founder @Outbounding. Learn more about Sonja at https://about.me/sonjaholverson

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hen it comes to travel, the world is your oyster and experiences can range from the familiar to once-ina-lifetime. Regardless of the type of travel you have lined up, it’s always a good reminder to keep a few basic travel tips in mind to ensure that your experience is memorable in a good way. We reached out to five of our favorite and very different travel experts across the web who have crisscrossed the planet and pulled together some words of wisdom. Be sure to follow them for more travel insights and to tag along on their next adventure.

© Daxiao / Fotolia

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Chris Owen

Melissa Douglas

Chris Cruises

High Heels & A Backpack

• Travel With An Imaginary Friend -- Walk with your smartphone at arms length, as though you are taking photos of what you are seeing and where you are. Pointing that smartphone straight ahead is a red flag to would-be attackers approaching from the opposite direction. That’s where they need to be for the classic purse-grab-and-run attack. From their point of view, you are not the person to do this to as you are recording what you are seeing, including them. It seems simple enough but it works.

• Respect the local customs -- I know it sounds like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who ignore this. When I was travelling through Morocco there were Western women ignoring advice to cover their shoulders and legs, and walking around in short shorts and tank tops then complaining when the local men were looking at them. You wouldn’t walk through London topless with your tits flapping about would you? (Actually I’d hope they don’t flap!) Well this is the local version of that.

• Talk To Your Imaginary Friend -- If caught off guard and all of the sudden find yourself in what feels like a potentially dangerous situation, talking on the phone to your imaginary friend may keep you safe. Describe where you are and be looking around as though trying to find someone you know. Say out loud “I’m right here at (enter name of location) but I do not see you!” (allow time for imaginary friend to respond, then continue) “Oh, you can’t be far then. I’ll wait right here.”

• Be prepared for catcalls and unwanted advances -- I’m not going to tell you that you need to wear a burlap sack and dress as unattractively as possible. As above, respect the customs but ultimately, no matter what you wear, or how you look, unwanted male advances will happen, especially in places where you look different and in some parts of the world you should remember that the genders are still not equal and solo females are seen as provocative. My advice in dealing with it? Carry on as you are, act as though you haven’t even noticed.

• Be Your Imaginary Friend -- Reverse roles en route to some place on foot. Be the person trying to find you, asking and answering questions from the real you who appears to be lost, looking for a hotel recommendation (the one you are staying at is a good bet) or place to have lunch (somewhere you have dined recently is a good idea). Do that and all of the sudden another red flag appears as you become not the clueless tourist but the experienced visitor to the city. Also a bad choice for those who would do you harm. Chris is a travel writer from Orlando Florida charged with sharing frank, inside information about cruise vacations with travelers. Ranked a Top Ten Cruise Blogger by the readers of USAToday and the #9 Most Socially Shared Cruise Blog In The World.

• Trust your gut -- If someone seems overly friendly, someone’s offered to give you a lift and you’re unsure, go with your gut instinct - some things just aren’t worth the risk. To see the complete list of 16 Tips for the Solo Female Traveller, click here. Melissa is a solo traveller for the past five years, having lived in California, Australia and Thailand. She wants to go everywhere but doesn’t believe in hopping from country to country as fast as possible in order to simply cross a place off your list and gain another passport stamp.

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Kay Dougherty

Bethany Looi

Blonde Brunette Travel

BethanyLooi.com

• If you strongly disagree with a country’s culture, consider not visiting. If you want to see Iran but the idea of having to wear a headscarf and be covered up in public offends you then you might be better off not going. To go somewhere that is repressive and punishes those who do not follow the customs and to then not follow the customs is to take risks with your personal safety. • Only use ATMs attached to banks and during hours the bank is open. This is safer than using them at night, gives you a chance to get your card back if it gets “eaten” and, with many countries having armed guards at banks, it gives you a zone of protection. • Don’t take a drink from a stranger or leave a drink unattended. It’s all too easy for someone to slip something into your drink that will make you a prime target for a sexual or other assault. Buy your own drinks and stay with them. Kay is one half of the dynamic duo travel experts known as Blonde and Brunette Travel -- who just happen to be Baby-Boomer sisters, ranked by many among the top travel bloggers who travel the world at every possible opportunity. Kay is a regular contributor to the Travel section of Marco Magazine and is a resident of Marco Island in Florida.

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• You don’t have to feel pressured into doing all the major tourist attractions. Go off the beaten path by asking a local about their favorite places to hang out, eat or shop. Don’t be afraid to ask! • Always pack light because you can almost always buy anything while traveling. And, make sure all your outfits will match. For example, don’t take the funky patterned pants that only match one shirt that you have packed. Make sure it’s versatile and you can mix and match. Bethany is a college student who spends time hustling between the VaynerMedia office in NYC and most recently the official tourism board of Great Britain, VisitBritain’s New York office. Apart from attending college and working in both places, she helps small business owners create social media content and manage their social media community and platforms. She is passionate about traveling and has been to over 30 countries.

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The of River Cruising

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e’ve seen a big trend in cruising and more recently, river cruising. While cruise ships continue to get bigger and bigger and are packed with more and more things to do on board, there’s a completely different and personalized experience one can discover on board a more intimate river ship while sailing the rivers of Europe, Asia and Africa. For our Publisher & Founding Editor, Danny de la Cruz, who had the wonderful opportunity of sailing down the Mekong River aboard an AmaWaterways ship not so

long ago, “It was an experience I will never forget. Our river ship took us to points of interest along the Mekong River that we could never have experienced aboard a traditional cruise ship. I met local villagers while being welcomed into their homes and saw how they truly lived.” We turned to turned to the river cruising experts at AmaWaterways to shed some light on the big trend in river cruising and to find out more about what sets it apart from other vacation options. Special thanks to the team at AmaWaterways for inspiring us, and hopefully you!

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Article and Photos by AmaWaterways

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Touring Linz, Austria

maWaterways provides all-encompassing river cruise vacations on the most breathtaking waterways of Europe, Africa and Asia. River cruising is a great way to enjoy several destinations and the amenities of a first-class hotel where you have the opportunity to unpack once and never feel uprooted during your journey. Guests are provided with options that fit their ideal vacation — from onboard entertainment, enriching shore excursions with tours of famous landmarks, bicycles for exploring and regional meals accompanied by unlimited fine wine, beer and sodas with lunch and dinner. A major differentiator between a river cruise and a land vacation includes a guest’s opportunity to experience land programs and experience sights from the river. Land programs offered onboard are fully-hosted by a cruise manager and include daily complimentary hot buffet breakfast and a city tour and transfer from ship to hotel. In addition, AmaWaterways offers themed cruises available throughout the year and are specially designed with extra tours and activities not found on standard river cruise itineraries. Travelers can visit ancient cultures, modern museums and historical monuments that are dedicated to Europe’s rich Jewish legacy on a Jewish Heritage Cruise or discover Northern France’s artistic heritage and create your very own masterpieces with onboard paint sessions during Art Cruises.

Ready for a bike tour

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Dining under the stars in Africa

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Additionally, AmaWaterways offers more than 40 wine cruises – giving guests a chance to sail with top wine experts, featuring complimentary lectures, wine tastings, exquisite cuisine with paired wines and excursions to historic vineyards and wine cellars. It is important to research the destinations you plan to visit not only to learn about activities you can partake in, but what you need to pack for your trip. From land excursions to dinner parties, it is important to pack right. Travelers should pack light and include neutral colors so each piece of clothing can be mixed and matched to be worn multiple times. AmaWaterways’ co-owner and executive vice president, Kristin Karst suggests that guests take a less is more approach. “I have always taken a ‘less is more’ approach when

traveling. It is very rare that I check-in my luggage; and in the event of flight delays, missing a connection or losing my belongings, this has helped me become a smarter packer. I have found that packing socks or scarves inside boots or shoes creates more space in my suitcase, as does packing versatile clothing that I can layer instead of bulkier coats and sweaters. These tips also come in handy when it relates to shopping during the holidays! AmaWaterways offers several itineraries in Europe during the winter months that sail to the popular Christmas Markets, making light packing even more ideal than ever. Not only can I cross off items on my loved ones’ wish list, but I also return with a brand new wardrobe!” To learn more about AmaWaterways and their range of cruising options across Europe, Asia and Africa, visit them at http://www.amawaterways.com

Winery tasting in Europe

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African safari by boat

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NORTH AMERICA

Seasc Interview by Danny de la Cruz /

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capes Photography by Aaron Goulding

Aaron Goulding Photography - “LOVE” Wave photographed at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, CA. Looking out of the tube.

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What came first, your love of the ocean or your love of photography? How did it come about?

The ocean! My Mom took me to the beach all of my younger years but it wasn’t until I turned 15 that I was hooked. I had a friend that I used to take the bus with from Fullerton straight up Brookhurst to Huntington Beach. We started out stand-up surfing but I realized after a few long bus-rides and many hours of trying that surfing wasn’t for me, so I borrowed a friend’s bodyboard. I caught my first wave on the shore break and got tubed, but then severely crushed on the shore and I was in love. I went on to compete as a bodyboarder and was ranked 4th in the State. What brought your two loves together? What was the driving force? I became really interested in Photography in the late 80s when me and a friend would trade off taking photos of each other at beach breaks like “The Wedge” in Newport Beach. It was so much fun and what was so cool is you got to see the action twice! We shot with slide film and it usually took about 2–3 weeks to see your images. At the time many of my friends were really into photography and I asked a lot of questions. Also, we had several photographers that would follow us around to capture images for some of the bodyboarding magazines so I would pick their brains too. On my 18th birthday in 1991, I purchased my first Nikon at my Dad’s camera store thinking he’d give me a deal. Nope! Paid full price! Some Dad right? That’s another story for another time. Anyhow, I used that camera to do nature and portrait photography as well as capture moments from some of my travels. I was even hired by Wade Cook, (at the time was a famed multimillionaire) to photograph his seminars. He traded me $20,000 in books and training on how to make a million dollars in 3 years. I learned so much! That was sort of the icing on the cake for me and pretty much stuck in the back of my head that at some point I could do both, ocean and photography. We love your oceanscapes and underwater photography. How do you go about setting up those shots? Can you share a tip or secret with us? Thank you! A lot of the images from the water are nearly impossible to set up, however, I call it forecasting. There is a way to forecast your best opportunity to capture a stunning image. I look at weather, water clarity, tides, swell, sunrise, sundown, moon-set, moonrise and many other things to help ensure that I have the best chances of getting what I want. 126

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Aaron Goulding Photography - “Selfie” Captured on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii


You’ve traveled to many places. Can you tell us three of your most favorite places? Oh Wow, that’s tough! The tiny island of Tavarua in Fiji is #2 because I fell in love with the culture, the surf and the lifestyle. Surf and fish all day and lots of exploring. #3 would be Bali, Indonesia and the surrounding smaller islands and villages for most of the same reasons I mentioned before, but my #1 favorite place on the entire planet is San Diego, California! We have the best climate, surf, lifestyle, food and diverse cultures that surround us. I am so in love with the city in which I live. Do you recall a moment that you captured with your camera that completely caught you off guard when it happened? Oh yes, I certainly can! I was photographing a stand-up paddle boarder, Scott Chandler, for a cover of a magazine at Punta Puerto Escondido from a jet ski. All of a sudden out of no where the giant rays began leaping out of the water and appeared to be coming straight for me. At first I was in shock and then instinct kicked in and I began photographing this magical and beautiful moment as they proceeded with their mating dance. I later found out they are called Mobula Rays and they leap out of the water to create a splash large enough to attract a mate. Totally lucky and so enamored by the experience. Can you tell us more about Sound Art? I am so glad you asked! Sound Art is a new innovative way to display art and listen to music simultaneously. Speakers are encased in a box covered by one of my images on canvas. These pieces are blue-thooth capable and come with a charger. The charge on some of these displays can last for up to 30 hours. The canvas is about 1.5”–2” thick and ranges in size from 8x10 up to 72x48. The larger the piece, the more speakers it has. It is unreal and has amazing sound quality. When people look at your photography, what do you want them to take away? Freedom. Everything is constantly moving and changing and I do my best to capture certain states of these changes or movements in life so that others don’t have to chase them, instead they can sit back and enjoy the view of freedom. This is my passion.

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Aaron Goulding Photography - “Infinity” A working pier for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and one of La Jolla’s iconic structures.

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Aaron Goulding Photography - “Graceland� Photographed at sunset in La Jolla, CA just after a winter storm passed through.

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Aaron Goulding Photography Grey whales migrating off the coast of La Jolla, CA

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Aaron Goulding Photography - “Dancing on the Sea” Mobula Rays leaping off the coast of Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

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VRAI Magazine


A Walk in Cairo: City of Contradictions Article by Nicholas Andriani

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airo is a city split between two very different but very inseparable worlds. On one hand, it is a world of cursed mummies, of extinct jackal-headed gods and pyramids and secretive rituals to access immortality. While on the other hand and more recently, it is a world of turmoil and revolution, an African city with a European voice. And now more than ever that voice is being heard and I absolutely had to see it for myself. So one lazy spring afternoon when a call came from a familiar friend who just so happened to be working in Cairo (I was working in Jordan at the time), I hopped on the first boat to Egypt and hitchhiked to Cairo. I had gone off to Egypt seeking One Thousand and One Arabian Nights only to find a city of immense contradictions.

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© sunsinger / Fotolia

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t could have been a mirage were it not for the petrolhaze that hung upon the horizon like a beacon indicating the physical presence of a city straight ahead. I had just traded the luxurious comfort of Egypt’s national bus line to hitch in a decrepit, burnt-orange jeep with a Mercedes emblem plastered to the hood. On we sped along a tight desert highway swallowed by golden swaths of sand which crept over the asphalt as if to swallow the road. “The bandits are very, very active,” said Salim, my driver, rolling his ‘r’s, hand-rolled cigarette casting smoke signals around the cabin as he orchestrated the conversation. “This is why I say do not go again to the Sinai. Take boat. The water is not troubled with these tribal feuds.” Several months earlier a group of tourists were kidnapped by marauding Bedouin in some sort of

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al-Qaeda endorsed terrorism. The peninsula itself has been plagued with lawlessness since the revolution, since the overthrow of President Mubarak. Resulting in chaos, political and economical, this allowed for alQaeda to resurface, declaring a caliphate of the Sinai putting everyone on edge, especially the disenfranchised tribes of the East. Hoping to sway the conversation to something less politically charged I asked about Egyptian literature. “Best Egypt book… best book… Quran!” He burst out in laughter, then continued “Obviously! Wait, OK. Best Egyptian book… The Yacoubian Building. Read it, yes?” I told him I would. All at once the desert bloomed into cheap cinderblock huts, replacing the rural adobes that had peppered the highway hitherto. New, old, abandoned, remodeled complexes came together into an earthen mess of rebar

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and urbanity, where men in long cloaks led camels through great fields of spring crops while boys played in the sand. A truckload of donkeys roared past. And another, hee-ing and haw-ing. I spun in my seat as Cairo closed in. The skyline was filled with minarets, towering high above the city -- turrets of the castle that is Cairo. The buildings that weren’t plain cinderblock were decorated in wildly imaginative accents, floral and geometric patterns with wooden latticework called mashrabiya. Latticed rooms are a remnant of the past, like a one-way mirror they offer a view out into the streets while providing privacy within homes, hammams, harems or smoky hookah lounges. This, and in this devilishly hot desert country to be without some form of “air conditioning” would be sufficient to drive one insane! Past the Airport we merged into a stream of traffic that ran along an ancient mudbrick wall, right into stalled traffic where yet another donkey stood in the road and

men shouted at one another, making progress seem impossible, and greater asses of themselves than the donkey. Salim mumbled something in Arabic. He parked the car and offered to guide me through the city. “La shukran, Salim, no worries. I think,” I looked around, held up a wet finger in the hot breeze, the way you might to gather wind direction on a hike, to prove that I could handle the city on my own, “I know exactly where I’m headed…” I lied with blind faith and not wanting to impose. “Look here” He replied, pointing a finger towards the large gate before us, “Bab al-Futuh. The Gate of Conquests.” I nodded, unfastening my seat belt, feeling more confident now that I had a landmark. Soon as I stepped out he rocked the truck into gear, yelled “Ma salaama! Go with God!” pulled out into the stream of traffic that had resumed and was gone. A moment of panic set in. 139


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was alone in Egypt. Alone in Africa. My rucksack was suddenly more than I could bear and the hot Egyptian sun bore through my hat, skin sizzling like bacon. I chanced a break in traffic, crossed the street to the towering gate called Bab al-Futuh. It stood high above the stuccoed madina walls with its rounded entrance, Moorish looking tile and unusual, stubby minaret that projected into the heavens above. This minaret is one of the oldest in the world, belonging to the al-Hakim mosque, the first notable site beyond the gate. I planted myself under its cool shadow and studied a plaque that read that the gate was built in 1078. Upon exiting Bab al-Futuh a familiar, sweet odor filled the air. It wasn’t until I reached the other side and made my way down a dusty side street that I found the source — a market of pickup trucks with fully loaded beds, stacked tall with garlic and onions. My stomach turned in hunger. A plume of smoke escaped among the trucks and I found a grill where a man roasted sweet potatoes. I fumbled for spare coins in my pocket, approaching the man, salivating, excited for a taste of Egyptian street food. And then a burst of static cracked the air. Everything stood still, the pigeons lining the eaves above froze in space, the market-goers stood in their place. “Allahu-akbar!” The airwaves filled with echoes from countless muezzins that poured over the city. As the call to prayer summoned a pious few it struck me, just left me dumbfounded, by the majority of people whose actions suggested they could care less, as they continued on their pursuit of vanquishing hoards of Angry Birds on their iPhones or continued shopping. After the prayer ended. I turned back to the food cart and the vendor was gone! The whole market and the only one to leave for prayers was the damned potato merchant. Al-Hakim mosque is the first monument in the bazaar and originally stood outside the medina walls of what was an early iteration of Cairo. In fact, all off this, Muizz Street, within the medina, was at one time known as Fustat. Fustat went on to become Cairo but it all began here, as a one kilometer stretch of city. The archaeologist in me pulled with might to dedicate my one day in Egypt to the pyramids, but the curious wanderer, foodie, Arabic loving traveler in me chose Muizz Street. The 140

beating artery. The life source. Ground zero for what would become the second largest city in Africa. And still! It retained the charm of a thousand years ago. The entrance is sleek marble with Quranic verses that dance across the facade like modern billboards. I peeked into the mosque, not sure if I would be welcome to gawk upon the pious so I stood at the door half watching the kneeling, bending, prostrating, praying Muslims, half inspecting the architecture. The prayer hall is surprisingly large with a capacity of over 4,000, according to a man smoking hookah just outside the mosque. He then jumped into an impromptu history lesson. “Yes, yes,” He held out his hand, a common gesture for this is going to cost you, or baksheesh. I proffered him 20 pounds, “This, Hakim, it build by sixth Fatimid caliph, Hakim bi-amir Allah!” he shouted the name “and then Napoleon used it and then the Crusaders.” “Huh? The Crusaders. Crusaders after Napoleon?” I challenged, shaking my head, stroking my chin inquisitively. “Crusaders who?” “From the North. The Crusades, I tell you!” He coughed, took a deep leathery pull from the hookah. I had enough of his lesson and wondered why he wasn’t praying. He exhaled a lengthy puff in my direction. It slithered in beside me, the smell of apple flavored tobacco filled the air. From the marble entrance the space opens to a long corridor, a colonnade of countless arches above forest green carpet with little geometric patterns. The ceiling is dark, tall with wooden rafters and cross-sections that run between the columns like Greek entablatures. Cyan curtains shaded the interior from dusty sunbeams and from disorienting the people within who faced the qibla—which stands to represent the direction in which prayers are to be cast, towards Mecca. An elegant, square courtyard opens at the center of the mosque where children scurried, chasing pigeons. In the center stood a gnarly fountain that reflected the style of alHakim’s unusual, hollowed out minarets while at two corners were low, common round fountains that were dried out. Heading for the exit I noticed the gold leaf tile that decorated the qibla and decided to explore the halls further but found little of interest.

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Š Amr Hassanein / Fotolia

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shop-till-you-drop atmosphere took over as prayer rugs were exchanged for shopping bags; as families all but trampled one another for groceries and cheap accessories—2 dollar “Ray Bans” were the hot item of the day; as the streets became full of activity, tight and bursting at the seams once again. I nearly cried out seeing that the holy, roasting glorious sweet potato grill had vanished into the labyrinth. Within moments of being swept up with the flow of traffic I felt overwhelmingly lost. The old buildings of the Arabian Nights loomed above the dark alley. Focused

shoppers scurried to and fro between old-world spice markets and something of an old-world outdoor stripmall — imagine a street for finials, an alley of precious metals, silver, gold everywhere gold, a row of charming, a district of questionable food stalls, an open plaza of vegetables and butchery, a square of textile merchants. Taking in all the sights, the sounds and the smells all the while swatting at sales pitches. “Hello, my friend, nice to have met you--good price for you!” I shake my head, shout “La, shukran,” an Arabic

© Mirek Hejnicki / Fotolia

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comeback, meaning “no, thanks,” that usually stops even the most aggressive merchants. I wasn’t here to shop so I kept my eyes forward, or looking up at the fine craftsmanship of the 14th century buildings that surrounded me. My ears were open to the nuances of Egyptian Arabic, my nose picked up the fine wafting grilled meats that rekindle the burning, hungry madman inside and I made my way to the nearest cubbyhole where a young man was slaving behind the counter of a sweltering kitchen. In one fell swoop I ordered everything off the menu, granted that consisted of ful, falafel and

cucumber slices with a yogurt drink that had blended lemons and dates. The ful was new to me — essentially an Egyptian dish that took the classic hummus recipe, kicked out the garbanzos, replaced them with fava beans and garlic. A thick pour of olive oil covered the velvety bean dip that I scooped out with crispy fried balls of spiced falafel. Within moments I had feasted, drank the tangy yogurt drink and hardly spent a couple dollars. How soothing! I inhaled every morsel, every drop of olive oil before thanking the vendor who again responded with a friendly “ahlan wa sahlan,” hello and welcome to Cairo.

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s I set back out on my quest to the coffee shop, I was promptly accosted by a mustached young man who thrust a knock-off designer purse at me and began haggling with great determination and anger when I refused to play along. “La shukran,” I laughed at first, “not really my style!” He didn’t understand. Looked to the left, to the right, checked his six, then, “Ok, ok. I tell you… Good price, name it, what you want to pay?” he looked around nervously again and I grew angry and dropped the bag to walk away. He pursued. Then, from behind the salesman a hand reached out and spat smacked him across the face, his little mustache wrinkled. I fought back a laugh. The hand, the weapon, belonged to an elderly man dressed in long white robes and the traditional red-checkered headwrap. He reached out to me next. I nearly jumped, expecting the hand to hit my face next but instead the hand reached for my wrist. “Oh, my, are you ok? Is everything OK? Is this man harassing you?” He looked so concerned, like a judge evaluating a war crime. I played down the annoyance and he released my wrist, but held tight to the salesman. Then, heart beating at normal

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rate the robed man smiled, then exploded the most carefree, rambunctious laugh. The salesman laughed and was released and they shook hands, then shook mine and the salesman went off on his way. “Salaam alaykum,” again the robed man reached his hand out, “Abdul Rashad, call me Rash. RashishRashash. Haha. See this and this?” He pulled at his clean, ankle-length robe, at his keffiyeh. “It is all ceremony. Then again, life is ceremony, eh?” He nudged me like a good ‘ole boy. Rashish was, of all things, American. Born and raised in New York, grew up with Egyptian parents but converted to Islam later in life. This might explain his casual attitude and interest in vegetarianism. Islamic hippy could be a fitting way to describe Rashish. What’s more, the pesky salesman he had just wafted away was his nephew! Abdul smiled, thanked me for my time, I thanked him in kind. He said “ahlan wa sahlan,” welcome to Cairo, and was gone. I was again transported to medieval Cairo, in another dimension between here and there. Such is how my mind copes around sites like these. The people, selling handbags and falafels are transmutet into 11th century jesters, peddlers, peasants, bakers, sabile bound, kuttab educated citizens of Arabia.

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Š Gina Sanders / Fotolia

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ight was quickly falling. The once hot sunkissed alley walls were now cool to the touch and shops were being mopped out, which is done to keep the dust levels down at the end of the day. Moments after Abdul left, I latched onto a tour group that moved through the crowd of merchants with ease... “OK, OK. Before us, we have one of the finest remnants of Islamic architecture in the world. Can anyone name this site?” The old grey haired maybeEgyptian tour guide in a beat up sport coat squinting through tiny pupils looked around expectantly. I shrugged. “The Qalawun Complex. And this, on the right, the Mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun. Second in grandeur to the Taj Mahal.” “Ah, yes, yes, that’s right,” everyone agreed, “hear hear.” This really impressed me and I believed him. The building is ornamented with pure white marble, like most monuments on this damn glorious street but is constructed with a towering arcade of unique pointed arches along the facade and a great minaret on the far right. To the left is a Madrassa, an Islamic school done up in the same style, arcade carved into the length. “Shall we?” The guide waved his arm in the direction of the entrance. As we stood blindly adjusting to the cool darkness I felt conspicuous with this great massive 70L pack on my back, almost as if I shouldn’t be allowed indoors, especially not into a museum. The shock from stepping indoors was still wearing off when the guide continued professing his love.

“Ah. Yes. Oh, yes. This door. This door shows a great example of 13th century craftsmanship. Bronze. Note the geometric patterns. Beautiful.” He said, looking upon the door for a moment too long. Apparently the entire building is pieced together with remnants of palaces and structures of a time forgotten, completely lost or never having existed at all. We made terrible time touring the complex and had only stepped into yet another vaulted room before I made the decision to continue down Muizz Street. Time had gotten ahead of me and it was apparent that I couldn’t make it to the coffee shop without help. “Al-Fishawy?” I asked, the first passerby, a young woman. She smiled, nodded and motioned to follow. I immediately realize this could have taken me hours as we turned, left, left, right, down this and that alley, left, slight left, right. “Your destination will be on your left” a voice in my head mused, lending a voice to the good samaritan who then stopped. I followed her gaze upwards to the sign that read “Al-Fishawy.” “Ahlan wa sahlan.” She smiled and was gone. At this end of Khan el-Khalili the roar of shoppers, of buyers and pushers settled down, replaced by the sharp clinking of cutlery and the smell of roasting coffee. I stepped into al-Fishawy. Looked around and found the familiar face I had come to Cairo to meet...

Image © Egyptian Studio / Fotolia

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Spanish Photography by Ed Cruz

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Andalusia

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Stunning clifftop views from Ronda, Spain

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A view of Granada, Spain from the Hotel Alhambra Palace

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The courtyard of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain

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The ornate interior of the Alhambra Palace

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Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain

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The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain

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Seville Cathedral in Seville, Spain - the third largest Roman Catholic church in the world

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Overlooking the city of Seville from the Giralda Bell Tower of the Seville Cathedral

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Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla in Seville, Spain

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A Flamenco performance at the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain.

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The beautiful arches of the 8th Century La Mezquita in ‘ Cordoba, Spain -- once one of the world’s largest mosques, now a Roman Catholic cathedral.

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An Insider’s Guide:

New York City, Chicago & Cincinnati W

Ksenia Skvortsova

NYC Food Editor, VRAI Magazine New York City

Thrift shop in the East Village.

e asked our editors to share some of their favorite places and things to do in their respective cities. Since the team is spread out across the country, we knew it would be a great mix of answers. And to see some of the places to explore in the Pacific Northwest, check out what our Food Editor, Karista Bennett shared with us on page 196.

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Eat oysters on the deck of the Grand Banks fishing boat. Meet my best friend for a (clandestine) drink on the steps of The Met at sunset. Sit in Washington Square Park and listen to local buskers, like my favorite sax player. Start the morning with positive energy by dancing at Daybreaker.

VRAI Magazine


Emily Kennedy

Home & Garden Editor, VRAI Magazine Cincinnati

Danny de la Cruz

Publisher & Founding Editor, VRAI Magazine Chicago

Discover the city and its breathtaking skyline from a different perspective -- see it from the river on a Chicago Architectural River Cruise. Indulge in donuts at Glazed & Infused in Fulton Market or savor the buttermilk donuts at Do-Right Donuts. Escape from the city (and crowds) with a day up north at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Chicago is filled with great neighborhoods such as Andersonville on the north side or the hip area of Wicker Park just west of the city, both with an array of great restaurants and quirky little shops. When in Chicago, you just have to have a deep dish pizza and there is only one place to go - Lou Malnatis. You are very welcome!

Cincinnati Museum Center —the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science and a Children’s Museum—are housed in an Art Deco style train station. Take a historical walking tour through some of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s most iconic neighborhoods in the American Legacy Tours. Explore original, century-old Cincinnati brewery lagering tunnels on the Underground Tour or dive into Newport, Kentucky’s seedy past on the Gangster Tour. The American Sign Museum is a quirky yet incredible collection of nostalgic American signage and neon signs. Most Cincinnatians will tell you check out LaRosa’s pizzerias, but my personal local pick is Dewey’s Pizza -- delicious, unique pizza combinations, fun names, and a relaxed neighborhood feel. My favorite is the Green Lantern. Billed as a Japanese GastroPub and sushi bar, Kaze serves up amazing dishes. You’ve got to try a Tokio Mule, the Kobe sliders and a Crunchy Scallop roll.

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Machu Picchu

LATIN AMERICA

Article and Photography by Katie Stanwyck

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t’s one of the most intense, beautiful and exhilarating hikes I have ever done in my life, and trust me I’ve done my fair share of them. The hike I’m referring to is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It tests you both physically and mentally as you scale mountain after mountain and various terrains. The best part is that final prize of seeing the sacred Machu Picchu -- it is even more worth it than you could have ever imagined. The growth of tourists to the area is warranted, it’s a breathtaking site that will blow you away. However, if you have Machu Picchu on your bucket list, you may have to do it pretty soon. While I was there, we were told that the incredible site is actually slowly sinking. This fact in itself is starting to bring tourists in who didn’t think they would do the trek for several years. When I booked the trip with a couple of friends I was pretty nervous, I wasn’t exactly perfectly fit. I liked eating pizza, drinking wine and watching Netflix. So, I had to get it together. By the time we were on the plane, I still wasn’t perfectly fit and in all honesty, I didn’t feel prepared at all. This brings me to my first point. You don’t need to be the fittest person in the world to do the Inca Trail, you do need to train, but you don’t need to be an athlete or marathon runner. The best part of the Inca Trail is that you have options. Lots of people think that the only trek available is the 4-day, but 5-day and 2-days exist. If you don’t want to do the trek, but still want to see Machu Picchu, you can even take a train to Aguas Calientes and take the bus. Most tours start in the perfect spot, Cuzco, Peru. This historical spot is the perfect place to begin your journey as there’s tons of Incan history, amazing restaurants, bars and it will give you a chance to get used to the new altitude. Cuzco holds a rich amount of history and holds Peruvian culture dear to its heart. Head to the main market, make sure to take a free day tour and eat at Green Point (an amazing vegan restaurant).

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One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is the possibility of getting altitude sickness. The symptoms can vary from person-to-person but a few common ones are headaches, nausea, tiredness and shortness of breath. You can get medication to avoid it, but always be aware of how you’re feeling while you’re there.

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If you are thinking about doing the Inca Trail any time soon, one big piece of advice would be booking it in advance. By in advance, I mean 6 – 8 months in advance. There’s only a certain amount of permits available and you can only do the trek with a tour, not to mention how in demand it is.

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Now onto the good stuff, what do you bring? Other than the altitude pills, here are a few of my recommendations: • Lots of hair elastics if you have long hair • Your iPod, phone or whatever you use for music, I needed some serious tunes when I would get tired • Baggy shirts, they’re my favorite to hike in since they’re so breathable • A good day pack • Small umbrella • Raincoat • Water bottle • Walking boots or shoes • Sleeping bag (your tour might provide one, but I would take my own) • Headband • Sunglasses • Flashlight Make sure before you head out that you do a quick search on everything you need — if you forget something you can’t stop and pick it up! If I could give you one last piece of advice, it would be to just do it. Yes, it’s an intimidating trek, but it’s worth it and you can definitely make it through. Once you do, it will change your life.

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A Greener

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Napa Valley Experience

Article by Doris Hobbs

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he Napa Valley is one of the most popular and prominent touring destinations for wine lovers worldwide, with more than 400 wineries to experience. Many inns and companies offer tours of the prominent wineries that are spread amongst the lush verdant vines, elegant winecountry cuisine and premier shopping destinations. Many trust in third generation Napa Valley natives Adam and Andrea Hedemark, owners of Luxury Electric Wine Tours (LEWT) for their comprehensive knowledge and reputation with the varietals of wine and preferred culinary recommendations. Years ago, it was hard to find a transportation service which would conveniently provide visitors with zero-emissions, green, let alone, an ecologically friendly tour without a gas surcharge. “We are different from everyone because all of our vehicles are 100% electric. We’re not only helping our guests get around Napa Valley safely while they taste wine, but we are also helping the environment by using electric vehicles,” states Andrea. A leader over the past three years in the tour marketplace and the only Electric Transportation Company currently in the Napa Valley and family owned. Ranked with achievements as a green innovator in the luxury excursion industry for their eco-friendly tour in both the Napa and Sonoma Valley, LEWT provides visitors with guided tours of an unlimited selection of winery choices through their Tesla Model S Sedan tours and up to four wineries with their All-Electric Land Yacht Excursion. Visitors can

expect a flight of premier wine tasting at a number of Napa’s highly recognized destinations including: Miner Family Winery, David Fulton Winery, and Del Dotto Vineyards. Tasting room fees and meals aren’t included, essentially making it a unique alternative to a traditional wine tour - Sort of the Easy Jet of wine tasting. With each curated tour led by a clear insight on the rich history and exciting activities available within the Napa Valley, guest are encouraged to connect with their drivers on their winery expedition. In addition LEWT offers Culinary Experience tours which take guests to a number of historic and famous Napa Valley restaurants in between selected wineries, bakeries and olive oil producers along the way. “From day one, we’ve wanted to offer more than just a tour, we wanted to create unforgettable experiences for our guests in a green, earth-friendly way,” explains Adam. “LEWT isn’t just a company, it’s our passion.” From luxurious tours that allow you to connect to both the country side and city life of what Napa offers, visitors seeking a ladies getaway, perhaps wine tasting and tours with Quixote, Mumm and Silver Trident Winery are in order followed by a relaxing afternoon of pampering at a premier day spa. Visitors are encouraged to book with LEWT for corporate meetings, family gatherings, and friends get together as all reservations from the vehicle to venue are carefully planned through LEWT creating an ease for their guest’s. “People from all over the world trust us with their vacations, and there’s no better feeling or measure of success,” states Andrea.

Images courtesy of LEWT

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Exclusively for VRAI Magazine readers, Luxury Electric Wine Tours is offering a 10% discount on either the Tesla or the Land Yacht, Monday through Thursday only. Six (6) hour minimum. For more information, call today at (707) 363-0740 or visit lewtnv.com 181


ASIA and beyond

“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

s t n e m e l E 5 Key t a e r G a r fo t s i L t e k c u Travel B

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bucket list is a list of all the goals and life experiences you want to achieve before you pass away. Most travellers I have met keep a bucket list of activities either written down or memorized for a later date. Like them, I decided it would be a good idea to create a travel bucket list. What started out as few rough scribbles on a piece of paper later turned into quite a substantial list. Due to our responsibilities and obligations, it’s almost inevitable that most of our waking hours revolve around day-to-day activities. Sometimes it’s easy to feel your days are passing you by without anything to show for them. Having a travel bucket list is an important reminder of what is important to you without including the usual material pressures. Quite simply, a travel bucket list is just like planning all the future highlights you want from travel and life. Consider this question: If tomorrow were the last day on the planet, what would you wish you could have done? There’s no right or wrong answer here -- only you know deep down what is important for you. However, I have found there are five key elements to any great travel bucket list.

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ver since a trip to Indonesia in 2005 ignited my passion for travel, I’ve been a big believer of integrating travelling into my life. Travelling, in my opinion, is one of the best activities available to broaden your mind. Travelling doesn’t require any particular skill set, university degree, family or professional connections. As long as you own a passport, have no past criminal convictions and are not bankrupt, there’s no reason not to expand your horizons. Finding yourself walking a new land forces you to embrace new cultures, new people and even a new way of thinking - just about everything you can think of that takes you out of your comfort zone! It doesn’t matter if you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, are down the shops, or at the beach, it’s easy to get talking. From other travellers interested in having a chat, to curious locals who want to know where you’re from and what your travel plans are. While I’m certainly a long way off visiting every county, I’ve managed to visit many that were on my travel bucket list and even lived in a couple. In the last year alone I’ve visited Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, Borneo, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Some were for the first time; others were the 3rd, 4th and 5th visits. What countries would you visit if next week if taking time off work wasn’t an issue?

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EXPERIENCE

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ravelling is not limited to simply arriving and crossing a country off the list. There’s also plenty of experiences to be had. Consider how many attractions, historical sites, festivals and natural wonders are in your city or town. Well, now we’ve removed borders and that list just got a lot bigger. Being a motor racing fan for most of my life, one experience on my list was watching the Formula One race cars speed down the streets of Monaco. Sure I’ve seen it many times live on TV. However, I wanted to see what it was like in person, breath in the sea air, hear the engine sounds and most of all walk along the same track that I watched Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell battle it out as a kid. Sounds expensive right? Sure it was - but how much are your dreams worth? It’s one thing to read about a place or event, but its total different experience to see it in person. Some other experiences I’ve had chance cross off my bucket list are: • Visiting the complex Joint Security Area within the North/South Korea DMZ • Riding the fastest roller coaster in the world • Spending Christmas and New years camping and off-roading on the largest sand island in the world • Riding around Taiwan by scooter • Seeing the sunrise at the historic Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat What experiences would you have if money wasn’t an obstacle?

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earning is the art of acquiring new or improving on existing knowledge, skills and habits. Sadly many of us believe learning stops once we finish school or university. Travelling opens the door to an array of customs and traditions that you may not even know existed. Have you ever wanted to know if Pad Thai tasted better at your local takeaway or in Bangkok, Thailand? Well, its time to find out. Learning to cook local food or learning a local language are two great ways to connect with local people while you travel in their country. It’s never easy to learn a new language, but it can be very satisfying to ask the local lady how much the fruit is and understand her response - even if it’s only a few words. Learning can take the form of something simple like spending the afternoon at the local museum familiarizing yourself with a country’s past, to something more extreme like putting your life on hold by spending 12 months at a Marital Arts school learning Wing Chun daily. I have enjoyed both. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 21-year-old graduate or a 61-year-old professor, you will always be a student of life. There’s always something new to learn. If you had no social pressures restricting you what would you learn?

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PUSH

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ome of the greatest accomplishments throughout the history of humanity have been achieved by those who harnessed the ability to push through incredible amounts of physical and mental pain. In some ways, I see myself as one of the laziest people that I know. I can sleep for 12 hours straight and comfortably sit behind a laptop for the other 12. Still, somehow, I’ve managed to push myself physically and mentally well beyond what I thought my limitations were, and continue to do so whenever possible. Finishing a race or sporting event is a common goal that often gets included on a travel bucket list. Taking part in a race isn’t an easy task, and many of us know that it requires countless hours of training and hard work that goes above and beyond the actual event. Yet training and competing not only develop you in your physical strength and endurance, but also your mental mindset, will and attitude. Pushing yourself to and beyond your limit will give you a hit of one of the greatest natural drugs available. There’s plenty of ways to push yourself while travelling and I have: • Finishing the gruelling Spartan obstacle course race during 34°C heat. • Trained Navy Seals style for 24 hours straight with an Ex Military combative’s instructor. • Roughed it without a tent in the Australian Outback while learning the very important life skill of how to survive. • Tried to overcome my fears of heights by bungee jumping Thailand. • Gone from never having a bike license to battling it out in Asia’s most chaotic cities by scooter. Pushing yourself can mean something entirely different to each of us. Going out of your comfort zone could mean eating chicken’s feet in Hong Kong or travelling to a scary place such as Chernobyl. If there was no possibility of failing what would you do?

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o real travel bucket list would be complete without giving something back in return. Helping others in whatever way we can is one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Communities are always on the lookout for volunteers and choosing to volunteer as a way to see the world offers a lifestyle that not everyone can handle, but is incredibly fulfilling to those that crave travel and want to make a difference every day. Volunteer programs offer terms as short as a few weeks and as long as a few years. The places that need volunteers are in areas of the world that don’t have as many amenities and conveniences so volunteers must be prepared to be submerged in a lifestyle where the most important aspects are helping their community and making a difference. Even if volunteering is not something that appeals, then how about giving back to the travel community and opening your home to travellers? Couchsurfing is a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities who share their life, their world, their journey. Couchsurfing connects travellers with a worldwide network of individuals willing to share in meaningful ways, making travel a genuinely social experience. It’s by no coincidence that my travel experiences have become richer since I first stayed with and hosted Couchsurfers. Will you be remembered as a person that always took or someone who gave back?

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Summer

Cocktails Article by Trisha Antonsen

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et-setting to exotic destinations not in the cards for you this summer? Fear not. At Drizly when we get the itch to travel we mix up cocktail concoctions to transport our taste buds around the world. With the summer season and the 2016 Olympics in Rio around the corner, we’ve been focusing on some of our favorite South American drinks. Latin cocktails are becoming quite popular stateside. You’ve definitely heard of a Mojito (rum, mint, lime and soda) and most likely have seen a Caipirinha and Pisco Sour on cocktail menus at your favorite drinking spots. All these cocktails focus on bright citrus flavors mingled with rum-like spirits for the ultimate refreshing libation. We whipped up two of our favorite drinks using a slight twist on the traditional recipes.

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irst up the Pisco Sour. Both Peru and Chile stake a claim to this cocktail and the drink’s base spirit Pisco. (For what it’s worth, earliest printed documents trace this drink back to an American bartender in Lima, Peru.) Each country has their own unique preparation and their own varieties of Pisco. In Peru, Pisco, key lime, simple syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters make up their national drink. While in Chile, they combine Pisco, Pica lime juice and powdered sugar. We tried both preparations to see which we preferred and then added a little heat to our recipe.

2 oz Pisco 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice 1 oz Jalapeno Infused Simple Syrup 1 egg white Ice Angostura Bitters 1. In a metal cocktail shaker add Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and ice. Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. 2. Strain cocktail into glass and discard ice in the shaker. Pour the mixture back into the same chilled shaker and shake again for another 30 seconds to a minute. (This is called a reverse dry shake and enables the egg proteins to break down into a rich frothy foam.) 3. Pour cocktail into a coupe glass with all foam and top with 2-3 dashes of bitters. 193


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ext up, the famous Chilean drink the Terremoto. The direct translation of this word is “earthquake” and is said to trace back to the 1985 Earthquake in Santiago when two German reporters were served traditional Chilean white wine with pineapple ice cream and exclaimed that the effects of the drink were as strong as an earthquake. A name was born. We searched high and low for Pipeño, the drink’s key ingredient but had to settle for another semi-sweet white wine that worked just fine.

1 Bottle of Semi-Sweet or Sweet Riesling 6 tablespoons of Pineapple Sherbet or Sorbet 3-4 Dashes of Grenadine Fernet (optional) 1. In a large pitcher combine the wine, sherbet and grenadine. 2. Using a wooden spoon stir the mixture breaking up all the sherbet. 3. Serve immediately with another small scoop of sherbet on top. (Optional: Add ½-1 oz Fernet floater as is traditional in some Chilean bars.)

For more summer cocktail ideas, visit Drizly.com

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More from VRAI Magazine Get your copy of our digital recipe book with seasonal recipes created by the Food Editors of VRAI Magazine. Click here.

May 2016

The New Adventure:

21 Tips for a Perfect Winter Wedding

Planning a Winter Wedding? Get inspiration and tips to make it a magical event. Click here.

Honeymooners on Tour Winter Beauty Guide

Small Bites

for an Enticing Wedding Menu

A Floral Fantasy:

Creations by The Flower Chef

Feature Article the Leanne Marshall Wedding Collection 1

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An Insider’s Guide:

Pacific Northwest by Karista Bennett, VRAI Magazine Food Editor

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live in an incredibly diverse and beautiful region of the United States. Mountain ranges, agricultural valleys, a stunning coastline on the Pacific ocean, high dessert, James Beard award winning chefs and restaurants, wineries and craft beer. Oregon is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, cultural events and foodies! Here are just five of my favorite places: Bend, Oregon is at the top of my list. The restaurants never disappoint, inspiring me to be a better chef and the landscape reminds me of a few old western movies I watched as a kid. Bend is a resort town located in the high desert in central Oregon. Bend is known for its gorgeous ski resort called Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort with the most incredible downhill, cross country, snow boarding, snow shoeing and snowmobiling trails available. It’s also a destination during the summer with white water river rafting, biking, hiking, paddle boarding and simply hanging out to enjoy the craft beer.

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Newport, Oregon may just tie Bend for first place. It’s not far from the Willamette Valley where I live, so we frequent this middle coast area as much as possible. I am completely smitten with our enchanting coastline. It’s just as beautiful in the winter as it is during the summer. Cool water makes for a chilly dip in the Pacific, but wet or dry suited boarders still surf year round. My favorite restaurant, Local Ocean Seafood, is located in Newport. Creative, highly flavored and seasonal dishes that are prepared by the most talented chef’s. Many Oregonians and visitors from Washington state visit Cannon Beach, Oregon, which is also quite delightful and proudly displays some gorgeous Inns, Bed and Breakfasts and quaint hotels. Not far from Cannon Beach is Astoria, Oregon which is where the well known movies, Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies were filmed. Portland, Oregon is an experience. The International Rose Test Garden is a stunning sight to behold and makes a perfect afternoon activity. Not far from the garden is our favorite bookstore that takes up an entire city block, Powell’s City of Books -- a Portland landmark since 1971. Of course, Voodoo Doughnuts can’t be missed as well as the downtown food carts. Award winning restaurants dot the landscape and a trip to Portland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Saturday market.

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Wine Country is located in several regions of Oregon but my favorite wineries and vineyards are in the North Willamette Valley. Day tours or weekends can be spent wine touring and tasting and of course dining. Pinot Noir is Oregon’s most prized wine and is celebrated world wide as one of the best tasting and award winning wines. I can tell you from experience, I completely agree. I’m a huge fan of Pinot Noir and now the proud member of several local wine clubs. Ashland, Oregon is home to the Tony Award winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The OSF is one of the oldest and largest professional non-profit theaters in the nation. They have an eight-month season of eleven plays and runs an extensive theater education program. Ashland is an old gold rush town now transformed into an adorable downtown and a world class artistic destination.

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Coming this September We’re excited to announce the upcoming launch of a new Pacific Northwest food & lifestyle magazine from Karista’s Kitchen.

For more information, contact editor@vraimagazine.com

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Buenos Aires: Beyond the

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LATIN AMERICA

Article and Photography by Danny de la Cruz

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hhh the Tango, the dance of passion and the driving force for my recent exploration of the magnificent city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. And yes, during several occasions while exploring the various barrios (neighborhoods) of Buenos Aires, I would encounter passionate dancers performing the tango in the streets, the parks and even at cafes. But there is so much more to this European-esque city to the south and exploring the distinctive neighborhoods on foot is the only way to discover it all. During eight days last November/December, I wandered the streets of Buenos Aires and ventured out one day to the province to see a different side of the city. Come discover Buenos Aires with me.

Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Show -- a beautiful evening of dinner, songs and tango performances. As a sumptuous dinner came to a close, the lights dimmed and the story of Carlos Gardel flashed on a large screen on the stage. What followed was a range of tango dances and songs backed by a live orchestra, captivating the audience. If you aren’t a tango lover to begin with, you will be by the end of the evening.

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The posh, modern side of Buenos Aires. Gleaming high rises, museums, modern structures dotting the river on one side and countless, yes, countless eateries housed in brick buildings once used for the port now line the grand avenue on the opposite bank. And during the exploration of this area, I had the chance to enjoy some ~ wonderful steak at La Cabana which has been around since the 1930s. You can’t miss the location because there’s a large, stuffed cow ready to greet you before you enter. Once inside, the restaurant is decorated with deep wood tones and leather-clad menus setting the tone for an incredible meal. You’ll never have a better piece of steak than in Buenos Aires and your taste buds will thank me.

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Located in La Boca neighborhood, this famed street, well actually more like an alley, is known for its brightly painted structures that simply bring a smile to your face. Once an eyesore, one man slowly transformed the area by painting pastel colors to the houses and ultimately creating this pedestrianfriendly tourist attraction. Once you arrive at the end of the street, you’ll be greeted with tango dancers performing and offering to pose with you for a photo, while numerous shops and cafes are located on Magallanes, the next street over. Filled with beautiful color and music everywhere, it’s a lively area to explore.

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Located in the San Telmo neighborhood, this antiques fair stretches for blocks and is filled with almost 300 stands selling everything you can imagine. For the shopper, it’s a paradise that occurs every Sunday throughout the year. We started out at the Plaza de Mayo and walked all the way down to the end, about 11 blocks, simply exploring every stand possible. There are numerous eateries along the way and yes, tons of people-watching. Tip: Bring comfortable shoes that can handle cobblestone streets from one end to the other.

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‘ Located in the center of the city, the famed opera house is considered one of the best in the world. Beyond the amazing acoustics, discover beautiful stained glass, archways, grand staircases, columns with details reminiscent of European palaces and a breathtaking theater. English tours are available and so be sure to carve out some time from your sightseeing schedule. To learn more about the theater, click here.

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‘ was buried here but beyond I knew that Eva Peron that, the cemetery was a mystery to me. Little did I know that this would be the place in Buenos Aires that I would visit twice simply to capture the beauty of death. Located in the Recoleta neighborhood, the cemetery was a quick walk from the hotel. What’s ironic is that the cemetery is surrounded by countless restaurants, high-end boutiques and hotels, parks and a modern shopping mall on the other side of one wall with great views into the cemetery. The tombs/mausoleums are all above ground lining narrow walkways throughout the complex. Each one appeared to outshine the one next to it -- more elaborate, more beautiful, more grand than the next. Statues adorned countless tombs from weeping angels to children and their beloved pets. The cemetery is a photographer’s dream and I could have spent a whole day just wondering around, getting lost in the pathways taking photos. But alas, there is so much to see and do in Buenos Aires.

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Located in the city center and overlooking Plaza de Mayo, the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral is the main Catholic church in the city. Its exterior is extremely deceptive with its stately columns and almost bank-like facade. Had I not known about it, I would have walked right by and missed its impressive interior. 218

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A day trip from the city led us to the province of Buenos Aires, not to be confused with the city of. On this day, it was to experience the life of a gaucho at Estancia Santa Susana. Filled with wagon rides, horseback riding, dance performances and an assortment of grilled cuts of meat and salads for lunch, our day culminated with the gauchos performing on horseback. For a city boy who hasn’t been on a horse since he was a teenager, this day in the country was a refreshing break and actually a lot of fun. The gauchos are truly entertaining and though I knew it was all staged, it was a wonderful experience.

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Visit us at VRAI Magazine to discover more of this amazing world!

September -- We’re launching a new food & lifestyle magazine from the Pacific Northwest together with Chef Karista Bennett of Karista’s Kitchen. November -- Get ready for the holidays with our VRAI Magazine Holiday Issue. If you’d like to be a contributor to any of these upcoming magazine editions please contact us at editor@vraimagazine.com or to advertise/be a sponsor, contact us at advertising@vraimagazine.com 224

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Connect with us and see another side of VRAI Magazine

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VRAI Magazine: The Travel Issue, July 2016  

Travel with us across five continents as we bring amazing destinations to life and share travel tips, fun facts and so much more. What's on...

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