My Travel

Jet Set to Dubai – Part Two

This is a guest post I wrote for Marginal Boundaries. To see the original, click here.

If you read my previous post about my last-minute excursion to Dubai, this is the continuation of the first piece. If not, you can read about it hereI’m going to attempt to convey just how amazing my trip was and what a once in a lifetime opportunity it really was for me!

Buddha Bar, DubaiAs I had stated previously, I flew last minute to Dubai to visit a close friend during Labor Day week, which was during Ramadan in 2010. Dubai was outrageously humid, hot, and dry, all at the same time, but I was met by incredible hospitality in the resort, the restaurants and everywhere else during my stay. The night life in Dubai was something else — although alcoholic beverages could be consumed after sundown during Ramadan, this limitation did not directly affect the cost of mixed drinks, unfortunately. The first bar I went to was called Buddha Bar, and was located at another hotel.

However, all of the resorts had their own shuttle services which were accustomed to bringing patrons to various hotel bars and restaurants, so getting around was simple. The Buddha Bar was beautifully decorated and had a very soft and glowing ambiance. We overheard conversations in various languages, with German standing out on more than one occasion. We attempted to enjoy a more outgoing bar scene the next night, and so we went somewhere that was located within an indoor shopping center that was close to our resort. This place had types of drink stamp cards, where it was cheaper to drink more (woe was me the next morning).

Sand Dune poseThe Buddha Bar had an incredible patio, although no one was allowed to bring their beverages, although someone did and then promptly spilled their drink on the floor and on my camera, but there was a security guard with a mop in a matter of seconds to clean it up. The only downside (for me) is smoking is still allowed in bars in Dubai, so upon returning to the hotel room, every article of clothing we were wearing smelled like and ashtray. Although that didn’t stop us — we returned to the same bar my last night in Dubai and had another splendid evening.

The various malls in Dubai were extremely large and luxuriously decorated, and I also enjoyed the dining (although deli food at the grocery store was the most authentic), but my most memorable experience by far was when we decided to go for a day-trip excursion into the desert. This was very low cost, about $40 per person, all inclusive, for the entire day, and included a sand dune ride in a Jeep with a trained driver, and a drive away into the desert where tents, including a Middle Eastern buffet and a woman trained in Henna tattooing, were set up for us.

We were one twosome of just a handful, and were able to enjoy all of the amenities with little interruption. I had Henna done up my right hand and forearm, and we enjoyed the homemade food that was served. There was also a man with a pet falcon on his arm, but the most exhilarating offering was to ride on the back of a camel. A camel! Until that moment I had never known the sheer size of these creatures, and I was hoisted up on one before I could even refuse. What amazing animals!

Me and the camelThe getup from the ground on the camel’s back was a bit rocky but I just had to seize the opportunity to be atop of such a rare creature (not that they gave me much of a choice!).

While I enjoy all of the photos I took during my trip to Dubai, but I truly cherish the ones I took with the camel. My stunted size only makes the camel look that much larger, but that was part of the majesty of these creatures; just how large they are.

I entered a far-away country with few expectations, merely to find myself enjoying things more than I would ever have expected, and having the opportunity to explore the diversity this world has to offer. I was pleased with what I learned and experienced as a result of hopping on a plane at the drop of a hat totally last-minute, and being open to all of the possibilities a last-minute trip had to offer. Here’s to more of the same!


Jet Set to Dubai

This was a guest post of mine written for Marginal Boundaries. To see the original post, click here.

I have to admit, I had never entertained the idea of ever going to the Middle East in my lifetime. Considering the hostilities that have entrenched that part of the world for a while now, along with the unfortunate assumptions Americans have made as a result, many people absolutely miss what is one of the most culturally rich regions on the planet. I was the last to believe that I had been presented with a last-minute opportunity to board a plane in Denver that would take me into Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, but I am glad I seized it.

Burj KhalifaI fortunately was very close with someone who had done some contract work overseas in Afghanistan, and he was relocated temporarily to Dubai during some work changes. He was supposing, as was I, that he would only be there for a week or two, at the very most. But upon realizing it was closing in on a month and he was still living at a resort in Dubai, the idea came about that I should go visit. And why not—I only had a few shifts to have covered at my job with the prospect, and the trip was promised to be cost-free for me (I know, lucky girl).

The most exciting part about this trip is that upon believing it would maybe be too risky job-wise to hop a plane last minute to Dubai, and then deciding it was not going to happen, I found myself nevertheless purchasing a ticket the next morning, with only twenty minutes for a shower and a quick pack in order to get to the airport on time. Talk about exhilarating!

While sitting on a plane for 20 hours isn’t exactly the highlight of a trip the only good news is I was so excited to be in the middle of this unplanned adventure that the flight passed by considerably faster than I had believed it would. Upon arriving into the airport, I made sure to be polite going through customs, and I made sure to purchase alcohol at the duty-free store. I was visiting during what was Labor Day week here in 2010 in the States, which happens to fall during the holy week of Ramadan for the Muslim countries. I knew we could enjoy some adult beverages within the comfort and confines of our hotel room, as well as by the pool at the resort, but other than that it was going to be a dry trip. When I arrived I was ready for my very much needed shower and overall decompression, as I was out of sorts after traveling so last-minute and with such a limited amount of time for preparation.

Firstly, I could not believe the humidity and heat that welcomed me into Dubai. Although my northern Colorado location now feels similar, being in the desert during what is considered to still be a summer month was nothing short of physically miserable. The good news was that every taxi/private car was heavily air-conditioned. The only time I had to be outside was to walk to and from one of these vehicles (whew!).

I found Dubai to be a magical city for many reasons, but the first and most prominent thing was the incredible hospitality and grandeur that accompanied my hotel stay. This was no normal hotel; my friend was staying at the Royal Meridien Resort, which is a five-star palace (just about). The mini bar was stocked daily, room service was available around the clock, as well as service by the pool, we had our own butler who greeted us every morning, asking what our plans were, and even if he could open the curtains for us.

Our room view of the entirety of The Royal Meridien ResortThe hospitality and customer service these people offer in Dubai rivals what we have here in America, and is a far cry from the daily news that would have you believe that the Middle East is some backwards, repressed section of the planet where people still live in caves and tents. Granted, this is Dubai, known for being one of the most opulent cities on the globe, but even so the people were the kindest, most courteous and helpful people I had ever come across. Our butler rang our room phone every night to know what our dinner plans were, and if he could make any suggestions. And did I mention the in-house dry cleaning that arrived sealed in a leather box? I know, amazing!

My place of stay was just the beginning of what I was to experience in this beautiful Middle Eastern country. To be continued…

This post was written for Marginal Boundaries. It can be seen in its original form here.

I have mentioned in my blog that my father is of Colombian descent and I have also written a little about my love for Colombian cuisine (Mondongo, in particular). What I have not mentioned is that the other half of my heritage is Eastern European; specifically Russian. My mother’s side is of Jewish heritage as a result. And while it is fascinating to most just how a Colombian priest and a Russian Jew met, believe me when I say the truth behind it reveals nothing as ironic as my parent’s subsequent marriage and procreation.

Parents and I

Needless to say, I am proud of the fact that I come from two very distinguishable ethnic backgrounds, both special in their own right. And since I have experienced Colombia and what South Americans have to offer, my next adventure involves immersing myself in the Jewish culture. To do this, I am planning on visiting Israel this winter.

Now before getting ahead of myself, and also confusing anyone reading this, I will establish the specific details regarding my ability to actually visit Israel. in 1994, a not-for-profit organization was created titled Taglit Birthright Israel. Taglit, which means discovery in Hebrew, was the brainchild of various Jewish organizations, individuals and philanthropists alike, hoping to educate those of Jewish heritage about their motherland, and to also assuage any kind of hostilities or ignorance associated with Israel and foreign relations.

Any individual who can prove one of their parents is Jewish, and that they also do not actively practice any religion, or any religion other than Judaism, is cleared for potential acceptance to the Taglit Birthright program. I say potentially because unfortunately the demand is high and thousands of people apply each season to go to Israel, which exceeds the allowed number of participants. I plan on registering this fall, when the next round of applications is open, so that I can make a winter trip.

What is amazing about this program is that new individuals, as well as the Israeli government, have continued to pledge more funds in order to not only keep this program running, but to increase the number of allowed participants for each trip. An additional $105 million alone was pledged in 2011 in order to expand involvement. Clearly Israel loves the tourism, but it is profoundly touching how many Jewish individuals are willing to put forth their personal fortunes in order for strangers between the ages of 18 and 27 to visit the country of their oldest ancestors. What an amazing gift.

The Western Wall

But to get to my point, as I do digress, I had never really considered this trip unfortunately until now, and it is almost too late. My older sister has already reached 27 years of age, and my little sister turns 18 next year, by the time which I will be too old to participate. So it is up to me; I am the sole remaining daughter of my mother who can attempt to achieve the feat that is walking upon ground where our most ancient ancestors did the same. It is a great responsibility, but I am up to the challenge.

I would also very much would like to learn Hebrew. What could be more exhilarating than learning THE original language, one that is still spoken today? (And don’t start with me about learning Spanish. I know..I am still working on that and I’m a bit behind, but I can do more than one!). Either way, visiting Israel would be amazing, and I am sure it is quite the experience, Jewish or non-Jewish. So this Colombian-Jewish girl is going to get her tuchus (anyone know Yiddish?) to Israel, no matter how hard she has to try.

This is a post I wrote for Marginal Boundaries. You can find it in its original form here.

My love affair with Greece started at a somewhat younger age, and it has only become stronger with time. I have my mother to blame for this; she made me take Latin as my foreign language in high school instead of the preferred Spanish, which gave way to an interest in Roman and Greek mythology, history and architecture. And while technically the ancient Greeks had their own language separate from Latin, the two have been so intertwined over the years as to become nearly indistinguishable as father and mother of the modern English language.

Santorini, GreeceI have to admit, I was not the best Latin student. I adored my instructor, and she is still, to this day, probably the most brilliant woman I have ever met (I mean you, Ilona Thompson, if perchance you should read this). Nevertheless, she was able to excite us about the history related to the language and the region, and to the ancient civilizations that speak what are referred to now as “dead” languages (although i beg to differ on the semantics of what “dead” means).

Bordering the Aegean Sea, Greece is one of Europe’s more “tropical” locations. This is mainly on account of the island of Santorini, and the reason my affair with Greece is slowly but surely becoming an obsession with the unattainable. For now. My awareness of modern media and film urges me to insist that my desire to see Santorini has nothing to do with an underlying desire to be part of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, real or fabricated. Although it is tempting if such a sisterhood does exist and could guarantee me a trip to this island. But to me, this island is a must-see for any world traveler. The brightly colored architecture juxtaposed against the clear blue ocean is enough to make me sigh out loud just thinking about it–and I am sure will bring tears to my eyes if I get the chance to witness it in person. And my desire to see Greece in general has only increased since it was a tentative plan for my graduation gift upon receiving my Bachelors degree last year, but alas, the plan fell through.

Moon over Santorini, GreeceMy dream trip is not as far out of reach as I may have suggested: My family and I may in fact venture to Italy, and to Rome in the Spring months of 2013 to celebrate my father’s 50th anniversary since being ordained as a priest (I know, crazy.) That being said, we plan on making a week or two of the adventure, and Greece is definitely on our list of to-dos, especially since we will be so painfully close by whilst in Rome. My dream of cruising around on a scooter along the Santorini coast will hopefully become a reality, and I am ecstatic at the mere prospect.

Here is an article I wrote for Marginal Boundaries. You can find it in its original form here

I have mentioned my adventures in Colombia on my own blog, but I wanted to delve into an area I haven’t mentioned before that does not involve Colombian cuisine. I want to talk about how personally enriching it has been for me to be lucky enough to have immediate family in South America and how visiting them is so different than traveling to an unknown area with no friends or relatives in sight.

If you read my first post on my blog, I relayed how I have been visiting Colombia, albeit somewhat inconsistently, since I was eight years old. That being said, I have only ever traveled there with the intention of visiting uncles, aunts, and cousins, as well as mainly traveling for specific family functions and events (birthdays, weddings, etc.). I have been blessed to not only have people who care for me and want to see me, whether I am in Bogota or Medellin, but also to have always had somewhere to stay and relatives to show me the best places to visit, socialize, and eat. As often mentioned here at Marginal Boundaries, being able to live like a local is the best way to live in another country, and I have been given that opportunity every time I arrive in Colombia.

Family time in Poblado, MedellinDon’t get me wrong; there is nothing like visiting a new country and not knowing much about it let alone any of the locals. I have visited both Dubai and Montreal under this condition, aside from knowing my initial friend who invited me to both places. What was nice about both of these visits was that my friend who had been living in both areas for at least a month each time already knew where the best places were to eat as well as things for sightseeing. But while he knew these things, he still had not been there long enough to truly know the local secrets when it comes to scoring certain deals on local cuisine, living and shopping.

Which then brings me to my next point: this was what made the aforementioned visits interesting. I found myself enthralled by the opportunity to explore Dubai and Canada with someone who was comfortable living in both cities enough to make you feel comfortable, but who was still exploring and discovering new things that I was able to be involved with experiencing also.

What makes traveling exciting for me is often the polar opposite experiences; one can enjoy themselves immensely while in the company of family and friends who are locals and know the area, and can thus put you on the fast-track to living like a local, but one can also enjoy the unknown of a new country with only one (or no) companion. I cannot choose which way I enjoy traveling the most, merely what I have learned is that every trip is an adventure worth having.

St. Joseph's Oratory overlooking Montreal

Here is an article I wrote for Marginal Boundaries. You can find it in its original form here.

For those who have never visited Canada, it is a place filled with gorgeous architecture, good food and a nearby border. On account of these factors, it was not entirely clear that I was in another country during my first visit to Montreal in the fall of 2011. At first glance,  it resembled a number of other large cities, like Denver for example, with a large number of shopping areas, parks, and roads. I had the chance to visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral, situated up in the mountains, which has an astounding view of the city of Montreal from the top of their stairs. I did not think, however, that I would end up experiencing some of the best meals of my life in Montreal, especially a few that are dishes I have enjoyed in the U.S.

It was ironically my first meal in Canada which was by far the most memorable, and still possibly the best meal I have ever had to this day. I enjoyed a three-course lunch at the restaurant inside the Hilton Garden Inn where I was staying; this included a light vegetable-beef broth soup, a duck confit salad, and a coffee cake desert (of course not without a Bloody Mary for good measure). It has been ages since I have had any multiple-course meal, and clearly this Montreal restaurant knew what they were doing. The soup was perfectly portioned and light, which was pleasing especially for myself, since I often over-consumes appetizers and ruin the main dish. And the dessert of coffee crumble cake was particularly delightful, considering I had not had a crumble cake since I was a child. But it was the main course of duck confit that truly was an experience. I had never had duck before then, and it was soft, juicy and sweet. It went perfectly with the leafy greens it was placed next to, and I took the time to enjoy every morsel of this previously unknown dish.

I did get the chance to try a dish that is unique to Montreal, called Poutine, which consists of French fries covered in brown gravy, ground beef, and onions (if ordered traditionally), but there are a million other ways to order Poutine. I found it to be a greasy, heavy and very filling specialty, but I was determined to try some local cuisine, and I am glad I did. But I will never forget my lunch experience at the hotel, and it just goes to show you that you never know where you will have the best meal of your life.

I know that many share my love for cuisine of all sorts, but everyone has a different story as to why they enjoy certain foods so much. Mine began with my heritage (or half of it, if you will). My father is from Colombia, and his entire family is still residing in areas of Bogota , Medellin, and Cisneros, Colombia. I visited for the first time when I was eight years old, and not again until I was eighteen. I learned the hard way that I should have stayed more up to date and familiar not only with my family, but with the culture of Colombia. I was hesitant to realize that many local dishes were somewhat odd to the American eye, but I was nonetheless tempted to try what I was afraid of. This is when I first became acquainted with a thick, hearty soup Colombians know as Mondongo.

Colombia, 2011

This is a soup that includes pork, chorizo, and the mostly uncommon tripe (cow stomach/intestines), among other things. The other delectable parts of Mondongo include potatoes, cilantro, and seasonings like cumin (widely used in many Colombian dishes). The traditional way to eat it is with avocado and rice on the side, the first of which you add to the soup as you eat it, and Aji Picante, a red homemade spicy salsa of sorts.

I had enjoyed other Colombian specialties up to this point, but Mondongo was an entirely different meal of its own. Looking upon my first bowl of it, I was taken aback by the spongy nature of the tripe, but I quickly became used to the feeling of it in my mouth once I tasted the broth. This was something I had never experienced before, and I could tell that I was forever hooked. When I visited again a few years later at the age of twenty two, with my older sister in tow, she knew she would have to try it. She loved it, and over the span of that trip I consumed at least one bowl of Mondongo each day, no matter where we were going.

I have to admit that upon my most recent trip to Colombia, I had my first bowl of Mondongo, and I couldn’t bring myself to continue to eat it. I had officially maxed out on the famous soup. We all overdo things at times, and I should have known my affair with Mondongo would  come to an end at some point. I know I will be able to have and enjoy it again, but maybe not for a while. Until that time comes, I will continue to try new and unusual Colombian delicacies, hoping that with each, I practice some restraint.