Choosing a Yoga Retreat

Yoga retreats take place around the globe, in Costa Rica, Greece, Canada, the US; most everywhere. At first it might seem self indulgent to gift yourself a yoga retreat or something that only the wealthy can afford, it’s true that they can be costly, but for not much more than the cost of a hotel stay, you get the added benefits of yoga classes, healthy food, a beautiful environment, and like-minded yoga people.

As a yoga teacher earning some of my income from teaching, it is on my mind to invest some of my income on the betterment of my teaching – this means attending classes, workshops, trainings, and retreats. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, spending to attend a retreat is an investment in your teaching and having a few days away from it all to practice and reflect is good for everyone.

If you are a yoga student who hasn’t made the leap into becoming a teacher, and may never will, then attending a yoga retreat is just as beneficial for you. Give yourself the gift of well spent time investing in your wellbeing. Treat yourself as memes on Instagram say.

What to Consider When Choosing a Retreat

 

Location, Location, Location

Consider where you want to practice yoga for a few days. Likely, taking time off of work and away from your family will mean that this time away is both a retreat and a vacation, so choose a place where you would like to visit. Are you a beachy person or mountains? Tied into this question is the question of travel costs – how far are you willing to travel? Remember to keep those costs in mind as well. Can you drive to the location or must you fly?

Take a look at the retreat center and make sure that it is somewhere that you want to spend your time. This website is great to find retreats. Once you have one in mind, look up the retreat centers website and find them on Facebook to look at photos. Make sure that the place jives with your desires and needs – are they vegetarian friendly? Sustainable?

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Who’s Teaching? Who Was Their Teacher? What Style of Yoga is It?

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask of any teacher that you are going to spend a fair amount of money on practicing with. There are countless different styles of yoga out there so make sure that the style that will be taught at the retreat is a style that you enjoy or have interest in learning about. Research the teacher on their social media and see who they trained with. If you can’t find the information, write them a private message or email and ask. They will be glad that you are interested in attending their retreat and should happily reply.

Find out if your local studio is hosting any retreats. It’s becoming more common for yoga studios to book retreat locations at beach locals for a few days to a week. To be able to go to a retreat with a teacher that you already have a relationship with and to get to build upon that relationship as well as get to know the other students that are attending would be a beautiful thing. Make your yoga community tighter. If you plan ahead enough you can likely benefit from early bird pricing as well to save some money.

Different styles of yoga speak to different people. Research what style of yoga will be taught at the retreat and how many classes there will be. If it is a new style to you, jump on YouTube and do a few classes to see if you’d be willing to spend the money and time to study the new style, just because it’s unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. If you are a yoga teacher, exposing yourself to a variety of styles can benefit your yoga teacher toolkit and therefore your students. How much meditation are you looking for, pranayama, service? Do the research to make sure that you are investing your valuable time and money into the right fit.

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What Are You Looking to Gain From the Retreat?

The photo above is of Jason Crandell demoing an assist in handstand at a weekend workshop that I attended in the spring. That sort of break down to challenging poses and assists to utilize as a teacher is exactly what I was looking for. As organizers and teachers if the retreat will be geared towards teachers if that is what you are looking for. Likely, may will not be as they will not be considered continued education, but there’s no harm in asking and maybe the teacher will then throw in a few teaching tips if they know that is what participants are looking for.

If you’re not a teacher or are one but just want to get away for a few days to relax, then look into what other activities the retreat offers or things to do in the area. A retreat that I researched recently had a beautiful lake and hiking trails for leisure time. Check if there are any day expeditions offered or that could be added on to make the most of your time away.

Let Go and Enjoy!

Finally, once you’ve made it to your selected weekend workshop or retreat, let go of expectations and settle in to learning. Recently I was at a workshop and the teacher said that out of the hundreds of things that he taught and said only one may speak to us as students, and to accept that possibility and take that one thing away to incorporate into our teaching and daily lives. This was reasurring to me, because sometimes things do not turn out as we were expecting, but there are always a few take aways. At the very least, enjoy some time away from your day to day responsiblities, let someone else cook for you, and do that thing that you love – yoga.

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Day Trips from Bordeaux – Bergerac

Bordeaux is a small, beautiful, French city that lies in the south-west region of France, you may have heard of the wine. Being that the city is not very big it is something to consider taking some day trips from the river city into the slow pulse of rural France. One such trip is to picturesque Bergerac.

Bergerac is quaint with gorgeous architecture everywhere (similar to Bordeaux). The town is accessible by car in an hour and 45  minute drive, or by public transportation by train. If you hire a car, then there are some fun châteaux a few miles from Bergerac that I highly recommend visiting, unfortunately, they are not possible to get to by public transport. A post on those châteaux to follow.

Bergerac

Those of you that studied French or French literature, may have heard of Bergerac in a French lit class, or at least may have heard of the famous character Cyrano de Bergerac. If the quaint architecture and cute shops don’t draw you to this little town, then maybe the statue of Cyrano will. It is situated in the cutest little European square surrounded by busy restaurants and an old church.

When you drive to Bergerac, park near the tourist office and begin your visit with a stop in the office to get a walking tour map of the town. They have them in French and English. The map displays more than 20 little stops to visit on a walking tour that lasts a little over an hour and takes you to old universities, statues, and the most scenic little nooks in the city. The architecture is historic half-timber, similar to a white Tudor house, but a lot more rustic. I read before visiting the area that in the past the space between the timber frames were filled with whatever materials could be found to save money and to use natural resources. They are postcard perfect.

 

Maison de Vin

IMG_20180904_123858.jpgWhile in the small town on the Dordogne, it’s worth a stop at the Maison de Vin. This little museum and gift shop has a some small displays and a video on the making of wine which plays in French and English, if you walk into the viewing room and it is in French, then check back for the English version. It describes the process of growing the grapes, harvesting (the vendage) and processing the grapes into wine. Once out in the beautiful courtyard, there is a wall of the history of wine from ancient days to the present, also in French and English. This is a great second best to those budget travelers who didn’t want to spend the €20 ticket price on the Cite du Vin while in Bordeaux. If you are looking for a spectacular wine learning experience, this will not be it, then you should go to the Cite du Vin, which looks great, but was beyond our budget and all of us agreed that we are not that into wine. Regardless how you feel about wine, I suggest stopping in to Maison de Vin. The entrance is on the waterfront near the river, there is an old entrance ona back street, walk around the building to find the glass fronted entrance way.

 

Chocolat Almondine

There is an old church in Bergerac that the walking map will guide you to. It is La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac. You can tour inside the church when the doors are open. Whenever there are open doors to a historic church or cathedral in a European city or town I go through those doors. There is always beauty within, with unfathomably high naves, intricate stone carvings depicting biblical scenes, and glorious stained glass. Of course, a self guided tour of a church is another tip for budget travelers, remember to respect any signage asking you to stay out of areas and remain silent.

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La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac is lovely, but there lies another gem near the church that is worthy of your visit, a pattiserie called La Mie Caline. I have to be upfront and tell you that this is a franchise. I prefer to support small, local businesses, but every time my husband and I go to Bergerac we visit this bakery and every time we have their chocolat almondine we grin from ear to ear, as much as is possible with a mouth full of flakey pastry and gooey chocolate-almond filling. Honestly, this was our first stop of our most recent tour of Bergerac with my visiting twin sister and her fiance, that has to say something for the franchise.

 

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Picnic on the Dordogne

End your day trip in Bergerac with a picnic along the Dordogne river, from which the region gets its name. Buying picnic supplies in France is simple, swing in any grocery store to get some cheese (€3-5) and fruit (€1-3) and while you’re at La Mie Caline, grab some baguettes, other options are saucisson (sausage) or pate. Of course wine is a welcome option and in this region you can’t really go wrong.

Take your picnic to the riverfront where picnic tables await. There is ample free parking, but the stairs down to the tables are very steep and fairly dilapidated, so use caution when descending and ascending. The view of the Dordogne is beyond charming.

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Long Layover, Lisbon

My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.

24hr Metro Tickets

This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.

My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.

The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.

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Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.

 

Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!

 

Get to Graça

We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.

The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!

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There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.

 

Wander

Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!

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Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.

There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.


 

No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.

Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.

A Trip to Pittsburgh – What to Do

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to see my all time favorite band in Pittsburgh – Radiohead. I won’t go on much about this, understanding that not everyone melts at Thom Yorke’s drones, but I must express that it was an amazing experience that my twin sister gifted me ten years after our first experience seeing the band. Not only did we get to see an amazing show (2 hours and 8 minutes of crooning Thom) but we also got to explore a pretty fun city. If you find yourself in the Pitts in the summer, then here are some things that you should check out.

 

The Frick’s Summer Friday’s

Pittsburgh is an old steel town and remnants of that history scatter throughout the city of three rivers. One historic reminder of the city’s past is a complex known as the Frick. The Fricks were a prominent family during the Gilded Ages of the late 1800’s that lived in a magnificently elegant mansion that is now open for tours as are an art museum and a car museum. If you are a history nerd yourself and would like to do some research into this time of American history before you visit the Frick, then check out this interesting PBS documentary on the time period which goes into the history of Pittsburgh specifically; at one hour in you can learn about a deadly gun fight between union steelworkers on strike and those hired do the job that they were refusing which was orchestrated by Mr. Frick because the bosses (Frick & Carnegie) were denying an increase in wages and in fact were dropping their wages as well as trying and succeeding to erase the unions. They didn’t tell us about that on the tour.

As a self-proclaimed history nerd I very much enjoyed walking around the old Frick mansion and listening to the experts’ knowledge of the home room by room. And although I assumed that the car museum would offer little to interest me, I was wrong. There was an exhibit on how the automobile paved the way for the suffragette movement the US and the old coaches and cars were beautiful in their own right.

 

Friday night is the night to go to the Frick in the summer months. The grounds are open, take a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy a live band. Ground floor tours of the Frick mansion run until 8pm, but no pictures inside. Don’t eat before you go because food trucks line the way up to the entrance of the grounds, do be sure to take your utensils with you though, food trucks create an awful lot of plastic waste. Fridays at the Frick run through August 31st.

 

Walk the Strip

The Strip is the downtown area of Pittsburgh buzzing with expensive tourist stalls to buy Steelers’ gear until your money runs out and bars and restaurants that lure you in with their industrial themed interior design. Parking was easy for us on a Saturday evening and no payment necessary during the weekend on the street where we parked, from the car we walked, and walked, and walked, about 20 blocks until we reached our destination of an amazing taco joint (yes, it was industrial inside.)

Our hungry bellies did not allow us many stops on the walk down to browse shops, but my nose did perk up funnily enough right in front of a Korean market where an ajuma was grilling kimchi-jeon, or something close to it – Korean savory pancakes with kimchi inside. My husband and I ordered one, each took a bite, and promptly ordered another, the greasy, spicy pancake transported me back to street food in Korea – I was in heaven. If you like Korean food and markets, then keep your eye out for the McDonald’s on the Strip, the kimichi pancakes can be found not far from there at Sambok Korean Groceries at 1735 Penn Ave.

Most types of food and drink can be found on the Strip. We passed seafood, Irish pubs, a Polish diner, etc. At the bottom of the Strip district there are many theaters, check out their websites ahead of time to find concerts, ballets, operas, etc. to entertain you during your stay. In my search for things to do in the city I was surprised to see how much comedy was happening. Lots of improv and sets, find out when and where by searching Facebook for events in Pittsburgh for the time that you’re there.

 

Bicycle Heaven & Randyland

These two sites to see are very near to each other and are by donation. Bicycle Heaven was two stories and hundreds (thousands?) of bikes. Bikes everywhere. Old bikes and parade bikes, facts about bikes, bikes in trees, Pee Wee Herman’s bike, the list goes on. It may seem like going to a museum of bikes would be for the avid cyclist only, but I recommend visiting Bicycle Heaven for everyone, from kids to adults. There is no cost, but donations welcome.

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Randyland is a colorful background for countless Instagram pictures so be sure to drag your #instagramhusband along! Bicycle Heaven are conveniently near each other, although were not aware of that and visited them on separate days. I suggest visiting both at the same time. What is Randyland? Well, it’s a building that has been painted in vibrant colors and is adorned with positive messages for visitors. Some of the art reminded me of Buddhist temples in Korea and as a whole Randyland could be described as a little brother to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

 

These are just a few things to see and do in Pittsburgh, and bonus, they’re all free! Perfect for a budget traveler. I’m sure that there is also great yoga in Pittsburgh, next time I’ll check out some studios and do reviews. Until then, history and art are pretty good ways to spend time when not doing yoga.

The Great Blue Heron Music Festival

Every year in early July there is a music festival near my hometown in western New York state – The Great Blue Heron. It’s a festival full of bluegrass music, zydeco, camping, dancing that goes until the wee hours of dawn, and so much more. Growing up I used to attend the festival as a high school student and college student. The weekend was late nights and late sleeps. Now in my 30’s I appreciate the festival for being so much more than cases of beer and no sleep.

At the most recent Blue Heron I made sure to fill my days with a schedule that had always existed, but that I had never explored, such as, you guessed it – yoga. There has always been yoga at the Blue Heron, but I never woke up in time to make a class. What a shame that turns out to be. The Revival tent where the yoga classes are held take place in the Revival Tent, a tent that kisses the end of a serene pond. Yoga is at 9am, which may not seem all that early, but to those bustin’ a move till 6am, that is an impossible time.

This year my husband and I didn’t attend the festival until Saturday morning and it was my primary goal to get to the Saturday morning yoga class, so we dropped our dear pup Fred off at grandma and grandpa’s house and arrived just in time for me to roll my mat out for class. Being that I had never attended a single yoga class at the Heron before, I was surprised to see that quite a few people set their alarms to get to the class. There were probably 20-30 people at the class and around the same amount of people attended Sunday’s class. Sunday’s class was just as good as Saturdays and both days offered completely different styles of yoga – Vinyasa and Iyengar, both were beneficial for heads and bodies aching from worldly pleasures of the day and night before.

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Another new experience for me was a sound healing, or a sound meditation on Sunday. A soft-spoken woman with an array of instruments guided a large group through a chakra balancing meditation. She encouraged us all to incorporate outside noises into the meditation, which was necessary since the festival’s beach area is practically connected to the Revival Tent which meant that sounds of children enjoying splashing in the pond were difficult to ignore, and then halfway through the meditation the truck that serviced the porta-potties (my husband and I playfully referred to it as the ‘Poop Truck’) arrived to the adjacent beach to service the porta-potties there. That was hard to peacefully incorporate, especially knowing what it was, but after a few minutes the hum of the truck doing it’s job did incorporate its way into my meditation.

It would be a long post to write about everything other than a party weekend that the IMG_20180708_122532.jpgBlue Heron offers everyone from young children to mature adults, but a short list includes a mushroom walk, star-gazing, activities almost every hour for the kids, vendors, a tent full of events specifically for teens, etc. Unfortunately the Blue Heron has a local reputation for being a drug fest full of ‘undesirables’. Is there a wide range of people at a festival of around 7,000 people – yes, so might there be people partaking in illegal substances? Yes. Are there also young families that come for a day or the entire weekend? Yes. The festival can be what you make of it. If you want to party till the sun comes up, do it. If you want to put ear plugs in and crawl into your tent at 11pm to wake up early for the 7:30 meditation and the 9am yoga, do it.

The primary draw of the festival is undoubtedly the music. The lineup has not altered much since my high school days or my last time there in 2012, and while that can seem mundane it also speaks to the artists that people enjoy their sets year after year. There’s something for everyone on the line up at the Heron, bluegrass and Americana cover people who love those styles as well as those that enjoy country music, which there are many in Chautauqua county; there’s also world music, funk, psychedelic rock, and so more.

 

For musicians, professional and aspiring, there are music workshops on Saturday and Sunday so bring your fiddle and drum. I myself always enjoy bruising up my hands at the drum circle with my djembe, which a kind man tuned for me for a donation, saying that he considers his skill a gift to the world. Whatever your opinion of hippies are, they sure are kind and warmhearted.

The event as a whole can be described as happy, warmhearted, and sustainable. Event volunteers sort through recyclables which festival goers divide initially into plastics, compostables, and waste destined for the landfill. My environmental-hippy hat tips off to organizers for making their Rainbow Recycling program such a large part of the festival. To get waste to its proper place for 7,000+ people is a commendable task.

The Blue Heron is a celebration of American culture that I was excited to share with my English husband. It had something for everyone, even more so than I remember as a younger adult. If you’re looking for a summer festival next year, keep the Blue Heron in mind and mark your calendar for the weekends surrounding July 4th, the festival is always held on the weekend before or after the holiday. We’ll definitely be there, maybe I’ll see you at yoga.

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A Victorian Farm to Table Dinner

This spring our local history museum, the Fenton, and a local historical society of Busti, NY partnered up for the second year in a row to host a Victorian Dinner. These are some of my favorite things: fundraisers for good causes, local history, and delicious, local, real food. The dressing on the salad was that Victorian costumes were encouraged, my dream event, save if there was yoga, then it would have been over the top, but it was still quite fantastic without, reasons why below.

Victorian Costumes

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I love to get creative and dress up. The creativity comes into play by piecing costumes together with pieces that I already have and by borrowing from friends and family to pull it all together. This is an ethical decision to avoid plastic packaging and to not support fast fashion.

I knew instantly what I was going to wear for a Victorian costume. Years ago I bought a frilly white top from Zara (purchased before I knew about fast fashion) that I wore to my bachelorette Downtown Abby tea party and that would work for this event because the frills give it a perfectly Victorian feel. A friend had given me a hand-me-down long black skirt that initially I considered donating on, but I held onto it just for the Victorian Dinner and I am glad that I did, also, it grew on me so I’ll keep it for regular wear.

To perfect the look I knew I needed a hat. I spoke to a coworker about this because I had a hunch that she might be the perfect person to ask. She pulled through and delivered a magnificent hat complete with a red bird on it (Put a bird on it! Any Portlandia fans reading?) The hat was red, green, and black so it worked well with my long black skirt. Another coworker lent me a pair of black booties with buttons on the sides that fit the theme.

Others at the dinner wore their costumes and there were at least half a dozen big hats. One lady told me that she rushed around that day hot gluing fake flowers to her simple, black sun hat – I love it, another DIY costume maker! Even some of the men were in elegant three piece suits complete with pocket watches. Historical Halloween in May? Yes, please!

Farm to Table

The food was mostly local from the very first course which included apple cider which was pressed at the Busti cider mill last fall and kept frozen over winter, apple butter – homemade by our tablemates, and flour and corn meal ground at the Busti grist mill that went into the dinner rolls. Soup and salad followed. The soup was potato-corn chowder that had the ends of the bacon of a pig that the caterer had purchased and had butchered.

Mains included a pot roast beef and turkey and stuffing. At least the turkey was local as the event took place during turkey season here in WNY. Root vegetables and garden asparagus accompanied the meat. The meal was served family style and seating was unassigned. Not forgetting desert, although it would have been sensible to pass on desert after taking multiple servings of the first rounds, I am glad that I did not pass on it because it was scrumptious – pound cake with rhubarb compote from the garden pictured below. Make note of the lack of plastic, real cutlery, dishes and teacups.

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After desert was served the owner of the cartering service, 3 C’s, spoke about the food, where it came from, and how it was cooked in a Victorian way. As mentioned above, most of the food was local. The meat was cooked simply without any exotic spices. Given the season of spring, the root vegetables would have been stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration or frozen food in Victorian times, so we were spoiled by having tomatoes, corn, and the apple cider at our tables.

Education & Entertainment

Before and after dinner a local troupe of musicians played period pieces on stringed instruments, speaking about the songs that they played and their history. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, banjo, and stand up bass. The music was enjoyable and made me realize how quiet it was during dinner when the band was not playing. Today we’re used to music in restaurants and bars, sometimes it plays too loudly and conversations can barely be heard; it was nice to have silence for polite conversation over dinner.

Two men spoke after dinner about local history. The first man, our tablemate and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about the Victorian era and what the local town where the event was held looked like at that time. It had a tannery, shoe maker (who got leather from the tannery), carriage maker, creamery, multiple churches, school, etc. It’s romantic to imagine a time when communities were entirely involved and mostly sustainable, when everyone knew everyone else and supported each other.

The second man to speak shared historic items from the Jamestown Police. He himself a former officer, had a box that contained an old whistle, a sheriff’s badge, a police officer’s hat, and a photo of the police force from last century. Both short talks were interesting and tied the event together.

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Two sets of couples that sat with us at our table drove down for the event from about an hour away. They told me of other such historic dinners that they had attended throughout New York State, one a candle light dinner in an old mansion at Christmas time. It makes my heart smile to know that there are others out there that enjoy learning about and celebrating history. I’ll keep my ears to the ground for other such events and am already looking forward to next year’s Victorian Farm to Table dinner locally.

Visiting Montreal

At the very end of 2017 I took a trip with my husband to visit his close friends in Quebec. It was a last-minute trip and the temperatures were brutal, averaging around -25C (-13F) most of the time,  but we managed to sight see a little and succeeded in not spending our entire trip indoors.  Here are my top highlights from our trip that I think will interest other yoga people, history nerds, and slow fashion enthusiasts out there.

First, the Yoga

There is a huge and important Sivananada ashram located an hour north of Montreal. Our friends lived north of the city as well, so the ashram was even closer to us for our stay. While visiting I attended one two-hour, beginners yoga class at the ashram. They have classes open to the public twice daily, once at 8am and again at 4pm. It costs $10/person and you can choose between the beginners’ class or an intermediate class.

The ashram is a large compound that unfortunately,I did not get to explore (remember the temperatures?) I did however step inside the registration office to pay for the class – the building was warm and welcoming. The woman at reception spoke French and fluent English. After classes there is an option to pay $10 on top of the class for a vegetarian meal, we passed on this option, but the smells were wafting around in the registration office and they were tempting me to cancel our prearranged dinner plans and stick around for the food.

The class itself was taught by whom I would guess is a student of the ashram. He led the class though pranayama at the beginning of class, which was a good 20-30 minutes long. After breathwork the asana practice began. It was a beginners class, but the teacher threw in some more challenging poses such as sirsasana. At the end there was an enjoyable savasana and the class began and ended with chants sung beautifully by the teacher and the few devotional students who somehow managed learn the minutes long chants – dedication.

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I planned to go back and attend an intermediate class, but it didn’t fit into our schedule, so I’ll have to go back on our next trip. If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out their website (hyperlinked above) for more information and schedules on themed weekends. There is lodging on sight and the schedule is that of an ashram – early morning risings for satsang and asana with karma yoga in the middle of the day and more asana in the afternoon, a busy, disciplined schedule that is fully optional, for those not quite ready to live life like a yogi.

Next, Some History

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and Montreal had some lovely history to satisfy my dorky desires. I searched Tripadvisor and Google for a historical site that interested me and was in my price range (I am a proud budget traveler), and I came across the perfect Victorian townhouse that offered guided tours by guides decked out in crinoline and waistcoats. The townhouse was  the prior home of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a Canadian politician and former Prime Minister. It is located in Old Montreal, a historic district near the river. The tour guide gave us a tour in English around the townhouse which took about an hour (there are also tours in French) and as mentioned previously, he gave the tour in head-to-to-toe Victorian attire (and he had a very endearing French Canadian  accent.)

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We visited at Christmas time so the focus of the tour was a Victorian Christmas, which is really interesting because the Victorians gave us most of the Christmas traditions that we follow to this day. The museum also had  some fun hands on experiences, such as making Christmas cards, sampling Victorian hot drinks – wasil and tea, and trying on Victorian clothes. The best part? The museum was free  during all of 2017 because it was the 150th anniversary of Canada. Although it’s now 2018 and it will no longer be free, I recommend visiting if you have some free time in Montreal, even if to simply get out of the bitter cold temperatures for a while.

Finally, Vintage Clothes

My friends knew that I was interested in doing some second-hand shopping while in Montreal and surprised me with a stop at a massive vintage store. It’s called Eva B and it’s more than a vintage clothing shop, it’s also a cafe and bistro, and in keeping with the world-wide stereotype of Canadians being extremely friendly, a woman handed us small cups of hot apple cider (in glass not in single use plastic) as soon as we walked in, she also had little bags (paper) of popcorn, too.

After searching a multitude of racks, I sadly left empty-handed, but there was a lot to choose from, most from the 70s/80s/90s. The price tags were more than I’m used to at Salvation Army, but most things were actually vintage, no H&M or Forever 21 in sight. Before leaving we grabbed a couple of hot samosas for $1 that were amazing, so that convinces me of their menu. Photos below are of the second level of the store and the front entrance, recognizable by the graffiti.

 

There’s plenty more to do in Montreal, I am sure, sadly the weather prohibited a long day trip to the city, but what I did see of it on this trip was enjoyable and entertaining. I’m already looking forward to a return when the weather is more hospitable. I’ll be back, Montreal.

Review: Flying Tree Yoga Studio, Medellin, Colombia

Do yourself a favor and visit Flying Tree Yoga Studio if you find yourself in Medellin. This intimate studio is well worth the 20 minute warm up walk from Estadio Metro Station, address: Transversal 39a #71-85, Medellín, Colombia.

Please note, I did not receive any incentives for this post; it is pure observation and opinion. Some content was provided via email with the studio. 

Class Review – Yoga Flow

Unfortunately, my schedule only allowed for one class at Flying Tree during my time in Medellin. But, boy was it a class to remember. I attended a Friday evening, English “Yoga Flow” class taught by yogi Elodie Huart. Along with five other students, Elodie guided the class with vigor and flair, through one of the toughest yoga classes I have ever taken.

My understanding of what to expect from the class occurred as we rested in child’s pose at the start of the hour-long class. At which point Elodie gleefully stated, “this is the only child’s pose of the night”, translation: “get ready for boot camp style yoga.” The class had me pushing boundaries, overheating, and there may have been a point of quietly cursing on the inside, but I loved it! The class covered a few advanced poses (think, head stand to side crow) and included pilates influences (high plank ab work). With such a manageable class size and practiced students, Elodie was able to work individually with each student according to unique needs.  It was clear she wanted to boost each student’s confidence while guiding with her expertise and talent. In fact, after the end of the class she stayed late to work longer with me on my head stand, further proving that she’s dedicated to her students’ growth.

By the end of the night I was beaming with confidence in my practice and strength. I left with an abundance of energy and felt the repercussions for about four days, a good thing. The class was more advanced that I had expected. Therefore, I would not recommend this class to someone fresh to yoga. On the other hand, please get yourself to one of Elodie’s classes if you are itching for a powerful session with a talented teacher.

More than Your Average Yoga Studio

Flying Tree offers a range of classes in both Spanish and English, which immediately drew me. For a drop in single class you’ll pay $20,000 pesos (under $7 US dollars). But if you are around for a week or more you can up your visits and save your pennies by buying their 4 class pass (must be used within 30 days) for $65,000 pesos (about $5.50 US dollars per class) or a monthly unlimited pass for $120,000 pesos ($40 US dollars). Monthly schedules can be found at their attractive website. Classes are offered in three levels: Beginners classes are taught in the gentle style, Relaxing Yoga classes are yin and restorative based, and Yoga Flow classes are for those looking for a challenge. Another bonus of the studio is that they provide mats, straps, eye pillows and bricks for students without any additional charges. This is always a plus, but is especially appreciated by travelers – hallelujah.

The studio is more than simply a yoga space. The teachers lovingly host events to encourage local and international community. The week I visited they had hosted a “Brownies & Fruta” (brownies and fruit) night after their Wednesday evening class (two things I love!). Other ways they build community are through events such as: teas, potlucks and workshops. To me, yoga is community and an extension of the self, a way to give inner peace to those around you. It’s fantastic that Flying Tree Yoga embraces their ability to encourage communal well-being. A listing of upcoming events can be found via their site.

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The studio also runs an internship program for budding teachers. The program is a month-long commitment (I completely recommend a month in Medellin) in which experienced staff work with interns to find their voice as a teacher. During the four weeks attendees take part in: a two-week Spanish language course designed for yoga to expand their student base, plan and teach classes to the Medellin yoga community, participate in workshops and nurture the self. Check our www.yogainternships.com for full details. An attractive opportunity for teachers looking to grow and travel!

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the studio offers reiki and a variety of massages, additional information can be found via their site.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I was really impressed and happy with Flying Tree Yoga. The space is calming, the staff friendly and their community based work is what the world needs more of. Beyond the links offered in this post, you can find the studio on Facebook and Instagram at, www.instagram.com/flying_tree_yoga/ and www.instagram.com/yogainternships/.

 

Auschwitz – A Remembrance

Today, January 27th, is Auschwitz Remembrance Day/Holocaust Memorial Day. Seventy-two years ago the massive and horrific concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated after five years in 20160428_104418existence as a concentration and death camp, the largest death camp of Nazi Europe. It is recorded that around 1.1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz, people whom were sent from countries all over Europe, mostly Jews, many Poles.

 

In late April of last year, I visited Poland, spending some time in Krakow. From Krakow, my boyfriend and I got on a bus to Auschwitz. We initially thought that we were too late to book a tour of the concentration camp, so we went extra early  in order to learn on our own before the gate shuts to those without tickets of tours. We arrived around 8:00 am and got in line to buy tickets as soon as we could, reserving tickets for a 10 o’clock tour. All in all we spent around 7 hours learning about the camps.

 

Before the tour we walked Auschwitz on our own and then reconvened inside with our 20160428_083822English tour, we received headphones which is how the tour guide communicated to our group throughout the day, necessary since hundreds of people were touring that day, all in different languages, we then followed our Polish tour guide from harrowing landmark to harrowing landmark.  Our guide stopped us outside the buildings and told us how the S.S. made the prisoners stand outside in freezing winter temperatures while they called roll, at times making them stand and wait for up to 24 hours straight, no food, no rest.

 

We went inside buildings that housed prisoners – prisoners whose main offenses were to defy and disagree with the Nazi Party, political prisoners. One hallway was lined with intake 20160428_090122photographs of prisoners, the last image of many them to ever be preserved in history. There were exhibitions of belongings that had been taken from the prisoners. The volume of the items piled up high on top of each other put into perspective just how many innocent men, women, and children were sent to the camp and perished there. On our tour I learned of unspeakable atrocities, of unthinkable “living” conditions, if you can call the labor-prison-death camp existence “living.” The masses of people who were thought of in by the Nazis as fit enough to work, or too weak to live. The disabled or injured were sent straight to the gas chambers while the young and healthy were put to tiresome, endless work, producing for Germany. The gate at the entrance of reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Sets You Free.”

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A display of prosthetics and braces collected at the camp before their owners met thier untimely deaths.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is separate from Auschwitz I camp. After touring Auschwitz I, our tour group got on a bus and rode for a few minutes to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This is where the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, and opposition of the Third Reich took place. The dark scene of crammed-cattle-cars slowly rolling up to the main gate of Birkenau is one that many of us have seen in Holocaust movies. Scenes that usually include smoke stacks emitting dark, thick debris. Direct signs of what was to come of many in the cattle cars. Arriving by bus decades later I was aware of what took place there and I was shocked at how extremely large the camp is. The small brick structures that housed the victims go on and on in a square grid for what seems like miles and miles.

Both camps mostly remain standing, one building that was destroyed by the Nazis before Soviet liberation was one of the larger crematoriums (photo above, next to it are the cyanide-based pesticide-pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers.) Out of fear, the Nazis set the building to fire, but of course their heinous crimes were discovered and are remembered.

While touring in late April it was eerie how beautiful the landscape was, the grass, trees, and birds have continued on after the camp was liberated and the sun was shinning during our tour. The spring beauty was an odd juxtoposition to what went on in the past there.

The natural beuty of the Polish countryside that surrounds the ugly history of the big brick buildings is a metaphor to me of how we tend to live our lives. We are mostly distracted by the simplicities of our lives, our jobs and families, and we often overlook the tragedies happening right in front of our eyes. We put our blinders on and surround ourselves in the comforting safety of ignorance instead of remembering the genocides of the past and present. We look beyond the brick buildings and focus on the trees.

This post is short and lacks all of the detail that I could have included had I written closer to my visit, but I hope that it is an insight into the largest Nazi concentration camp. May we never forget the past; we celebrate victories and advances in society, but we must also remember the dark days of history, lest we repeat them. It is an especially necessary lesson to remember at these times of created division of race and religion. A time when many world leaders leave human rights and peace and justice behind for strict nationalsim and fearmongering of immigrants and outsiders. As one Holocaust survivor wisely stated,

“The Germans were well-advanced, educated, progressive. Maybe civilization is just veneer-thin. We all need to be very careful about any hate-propaganda.This is very important. It starts as a small stream, but then it has the potential to erupt – and when it does, it’s too late to stop it.”

Long Distance Relationships – How to Deal

Living far away from home means that many relationships will be strained. Not simply romantic relationships either but family and friendships, too. Being a good daughter or friend is hard to do when you live geographically near to a person, it involves a lot of effort to visit, make phone calls, and to truly listen and be involved in the other person’s life. To be present in any relationship is a skill that is often left by the way side for Facebook feeds and other modern-day distractions. When you add distance to the mix it can be a time zone challenge to strongly maintain the relationships you leave behind.

I have been in a long distance relationship since 2010 and I have lived away from my friends and family for years at a time. Fortunately, my romantic relationship is not always long distance. We are an international couple that met while teaching in Korea, so things have always been about visas and passport stamps. In my view, I am extremely lucky for this, for even though we sacrifice not being able to physically live near to one another, we make up for it in adventures to far away locations, and we have mapped out our lives to be able to spend long spans of time together throughout the years. Reversely though while we were happily living and exploring the world together I had to give up being near to my family and he away from his, it has been years of trade-offs.

When we are apart we have had to adapt our relationship by being flexible and understanding. If you find yourself accepting a job far away from those you love, know that it will take exactly that – adaptability and flexibility. After years of living through distance, here are some tips of advice to get you through the miles apart.

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Learn Each Other’s Schedules

It takes time to get used to time zone differences. While living abroad in Korea I had to constantly know what time it was in the U.S. and remind my family of the 14 hour time difference so that we could organize Skype calls. In my first year when I was younger and enjoying Korea’s endless nightlife (quite literally the nightlife is endless because the bars don’t close until the people leave) I would phone my sister in the U.S. after returning from a night out at 4 or 5 am Korean time because I was tipsy and homesick and it made sense being that it was 2 or 3 pm on Saturday there. Drunk dialing my sister became normal.

Be sure to update your loved ones when your schedule changes. If say you get a new job, take on more work, or have any other consistent change in your day-to-day schedule. Especially when working on a romantic, long distance relationship it is vital to update your partner on even minor changes. And therefore you will expect your partner to do the same, but sometimes we forget to inform and if that happens, talk it through and be forgiving.

Work Around Each Other

At this very moment I am doing long distance. Due to my work schedule the best time for us to speak is the last half hour of my lunch break at work. That time works because it’s mid-evening in Europe for him, so every day I tell him what time I’m going to take lunch, I quickly eat, and await his call. Once he rings, I bundle up and go for a walk while we talk for 30 minutes before returning to work. Speaking to your partner for 30 minutes a day is not a lot. We message each other throughout the day to supplement and sometimes he stays up late so I can call him when I finish work. It’s not ideal, but it’s wast we have to do.

Sometimes things don’t work out and a call doesn’t get made or it gets made late, which isn’t a big deal generally, but it is when you only have those precious 30 minutes and I’ll admit that the first emotion that I feel is usually anger. Generally I express my anger, we talk about the perfectly logical reason why the call was late, and then it’s forgotten. I typically apologize for my reaction and things are fine. You have to understand when you’re in a long distance relationship that your partner is living their life, taking care of things that come up, and interacting with people who are physically near to them. While respecting schedules is important, it is just as important to allow your partner personal time and the right to live in the moment.

Live in the Present, Keep Busy

A lot of people have questioned how I can live so far away from someone who I love and I always give them the same answer,which is that I keep busy. I try to pick up my hobbies more strongly; I practice more yoga, read more books, and spend time with friends. The same was true in Korea when I was homesick for my family, it was very difficult the first year, but with time I made Korea my home and tried to live less in the past. I’m not saying of course that my family was my past, but it was absolutely necessary to be present where I was and to form relationships there so that I could thrive and be happy.

If you’re struggling and feeling lonely in a new setting then the best advice I could give you would be to get involved in the local community. Seek out culture, music, meet-up groups, yoga studios, etc. that will keep you busy and help you feel a part of the community. Loneliness and homesickness will dissipate when you feel a part of you new surroundings.

Keep Those Far Away Involved

Once you start doing all these fun new things be sure to include those back home by sending updates. Send messages on social media, blog, or go old school and write some post cards. For romantic relationships I suggest sending loads of updates, even those that are thought of as mundane. My boyfriend and I send pictures of our pets, food, clothes, the weather, anything. I’ll admit he’s much better at updating me than I am him, and I very much appreciate knowing what his day-to-day life is like without me there. Having the constant updates also makes conversations flow more smoothly since the evidence of everyday life has been seen and will more likely be remembered.

When living far away from loved ones try your best to listen well to even all of the details of their daily lives. It might seem boring to hear who your mom saw at the store yesterday, but you would want her to care about the interesting food you ate in your new foreign country, too. Both conversations are the same in that the other person can not personally relate to what is being said by the other, but try as hard as you can to show interest, to ask questions, and to stay informed on what’s going on in each others’ lives.

 

Living far away from home is tough. It’s super hard at the beginning and with time it is less hard, but it’s always difficult. In order to maintain your relationships you must put in the effort, make sacrifices, and communicate often. In all honesty I am so grateful for my long distance relationship because it has filled my life with adventure and travel. I have a family in America and a family in Europe, and not many people can say that. Sure it’s difficult, but the hard work pays off.