Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Welcomojito

I would think that's Spanish for "Welcome, have a mojito." Then again, my Spanish isn't so good. The mojitos on the other hand, well, that's something to write home about. 

Our first stop in Havana is where every trip to Cuba should begin or end - in the bar of Hotel Nacional. From afar, it looked as though we left Miami for The Breakers in Palm Beach. Iconic, legendary and a World Heritage Site in its' own right, Hotel Nacional is the Cuban sister of this stately Floridian resort. Upon entry into the hotel, I felt like I was stepping back in time. Maybe it was the tiles below me that revealed the year it opened, 1930. 

Call it touristy, I don't care because if it worked for the likes of Hemingway, Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Mickey Mantle, then it most certainly will please me. The courtyard, as seen in Javier Bardem's breakout film Before Night Falls, warrants a lazy afternoon or a long coffee date. Our tour group made our way through the courtyard straight to the hotel bar where we learned that a refreshing welcome cocktail would be a standard Cuban greeting going forward. Hola y muchos gracias! 

Stay bitten ;)




PBS on TBB

Last night you either rewatched the Game of Thrones finale, caught the Stanley Cup Final or spotted this travel bug hop off the bus in Havana on PBS' News Hour. All week long, at 7pm, PBS will be highlighting Cuba today, the Biennial, our visit to an organic farm on our incredible culinary trip with Cultural Contrast Cuba, featuring Chef Jamie DeRosa of Instagram-worthy Miami's Tongue & Cheek (and coming soon, Izzy's Fish & Oyster Bar). For me, I was lucky enough to catch the PBS special (albeit on a laptop) with the guys who run Cultural Contrast Cuba at Juliette, a Parisian restaurant in Williamsburg. If only we had the 30+ others in our group, we might have closed down the restaurant just as we did in the paladares in Havana.

Like what you saw? (Minus the close-up of me drinking champagne). Register for one of Cultural Contrast Cuba's upcoming trips, found here, and you will receive a $100 discount if you mention the PBS coverage before July 31, 2015. Use the promo code "PBS" in the additional notes field on their online registration form.

Stay tuned, stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Apples to Apples

It all dates back to Eve, taking a bite out of the apple after she was told many of times not to. As American citizens, we have more freedoms and liberties than the rest of our neighbors. This is the land where opportunities are more often than not good and plenty. We have become accustomed to hearing yes, rather than no. Forbidden? Rarely ever.

I'm the girl with a map hanging in my apt, with pins of where I've been, my favorite destinations, upcoming trips and ones that show places where I'd one day love to go. Cuba was one spot on the map that remained out of the question. I could not leave the Big Apple to take a bite out of a Cuban one. It was always top of mind, tempting me otherwise and like most things off limits, it only enhanced my curiosity from afar.

A little more than four months after the ban had been lifted, I was no longer tempted by the fruit of another. It was only fitting that I would sign up for a Culinary focused trip (via Cultural Contrast Cuba) to get a true taste of Cuba (and not get in trouble for it).

On May 20th, we arrived in Cuba, to an airport that felt very much like many of Caribbean airports, like everyone was on island time and the air conditioning must have been broken. Weird coincidence but Cuba gained its official independence from the US on that day in 1902, as the Republic of Cuba. And here we were, a group of 30+ Americans, looking out on foreign territory from above on that very same day, 113 years later

The window seat always excites me. When I'm not spooned up against it, with my head back, mouth open, snoring for whomever wants to take that embarrassing photo of me, I've got my face pressed looking to the world below. The change in topography from the flickering skyline to the plots of farmland, I'm continuously intrigued by the land beneath the clouds.


To finally (and legally) land in Cuba, well, that's one small step for me, one giant leap for America.

Stay bitten ;)


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: BYOP

If you get the chance to travel with either of your parents, don't hesitate, just go. If it's to Cuba on a culinary trip during the Havanna Biennial with my mom, GO.

Stay bitten ;)

The Road Less Traveled

In my eyes, my parents are pioneers. They ventured down the one pothole-clad road in Costa Rica decades before it became the highly frequented "Costa Rica." What was meant to be a cross-country vacation felt more like a jerky bull-ride for us passengers in the backseat, a stick-shift video game for my father and well, a car-sick ridden adventure for the whole family. Before the hipsters made their winter weekend getaways to Tulum, my parents took us there. They were always mapping out our next trip, forgoing the traditional in place of uncharted territory.

One place they never agreed upon was Cuba. My father, the devout Republican, would always so "No, Linda, the government does not want us going" while my mother, the bohemian-spirited Demorcrat, would suggest alternative entry points "Toronto? Grand Cayman? Mexico?"
In January of 2015, the US Government lifted the ban allowing Americans legal entry into Cuba. No, this does not mean the floodgates have opened, making way for cruise ships of tourists clad with fanny packs. Not yet. To enter Cuba, you still need to have a reason - twelve to be exact. And an organized trip provides easiest access for that.

With Cuba on the cover of just about every publication (from GQ to Travel and Leisure), it quickly became an exercised topic of conversation. Over dinner, it inevitably came up. My mom, knowing my father was still reluctant, looked hopeful to me as a travel companion, knowing that I say yes more often than no. She suggested Cuba in December, you know, when netflix season picks up in New York.

Of the many things I learned in the past year, the underlying answer is that the time is now. To do the things you love, to go to the places you've always dreamed of, to be with the people who you hold so close. Not December, not next year, but today. Mom, we must go now. I don't know where life will take me within the upcoming months but tomorrow, let's plan for Cuba.

Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brooklyn to Brookline

Of the many reasons to travel, food is so very high on my list because it brings people together in the best of ways. My campfriend Jess and his wife relocated from Brooklyn to Boston and have been putting their kitchen to good use. When they invited me up to Boston, with the chance that our other campfriend, Jenna (the head chef of Chilmark Tavern in Martha's Vineyard) would be in his kitchen, I took a cue from this month's issue of Bon Appetit magazine and showed up. On the cover, it reads "Will Fly For Food." For me, it would be a taxi, a bus ride and an amtrak. Planes, trains and automobiles, whatever the mode of transport, save me a seat at the dinner table.

Travelbugbites has been very much about the bites. Food for me has been a way to get a true taste of a city. It connects people. It forces us to try new things, whether we like it or not. And it helps bring us back to a place we once were, whether it's a summer in New Hampshire or a trip to Italy.

This past weekend in Boston, shishito peppers were on display on the Himalayan salt block. Holy shishito, this dinner was how I wish I spent every Sunday night - in the company of old friends, sharing travel stories, laughing about summer camp during our most awkward of years over some really great wine and even better food. 

The menu: to start, soup with farmer cheese. Followed by a salad derived from the Jerusalem cookbook, arugula, artichoke, lemon, herbs, smashed radish, feta and roasted hazelnuts. The meat, salt roasted pork chops with Persian cucumber, blistered shishito peppers, charred red onions, lime and mint. Porkoloni, roasted cabbage, comte, chicken stock, black pepper and lemon. Oh and for dessert, Snacko Backo brownies, ice cream and babka that I schlepped from Breads Bakery in New York.

It is gatherings like these that make me love revisiting old childhood friendships. And with the hope to have more get-togethers, here's to dinner on the Vineyard this summer.

Stay bitten ;)




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Flower Child

Coachella was nowhere to be found on my agenda. I've heard the term "Nochella" been thrown around and I'm hoping it is what I think it is. Call me old fashioned by I prefer my music festivals to center around, you know, music.

Instead, I packed my overnight bag for Washington, D.C. While a good chunk of the country headed to Palm Springs, another swarm met up in our Nation's Capital to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It is hands down the most beautiful time of year to be there. And for that reason it is very crowded. My advice is to take a cue from professional photographers and get to the Jefferson Memorial before sunrise, to get a good shot without the tourists equipped with selfie sticks.

Kids can be a big pick-me-up when you're sad about the loss of a friend. They see the joy in the everyday and make you laugh at the smallest of things. We had our own festival, of baking cookies, listening to country music (Emma's favorite), attempting to a force a Coachella-inspired flower crown on a resistant but smiley one year old. A visit with my best friend from college held much more value than the cost of a cheap bus ticket.

Stay bitten ;)





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Guy Who Turned Lemons into Lemonade

As a writer (yes, I can confidently say that, even without any formal training, because it is Alex that reaffirmed that I am this and much more), I find myself not at a loss for words over the recent news of his passing but more so flooded with too many. I can recall so many memories, it's as if they're all surfacing at once and I'm just trying to stay afloat, coming up for air as the salty waves of the Caribbean crash over me.

And that's the tough part. My brain is overwhelmed with so many finite memories that collectively, these moments feel infinite. It's been a little over a week and I'm still not ready to say goodbye to him. I don't think I'll ever be and I'm choosing to move on with my life but take him everywhere I go. I hate having to say Alex was instead of Alex is. To me, he still is. He will always be - my daily reminder to live life fully. To not hold back on saying "I love you" to the important people in my life. To say YES more than no. To chase sunsets. To travel more. Yes, more. And to smile through it all. 

When I first met Alex it was a bit of a blur. Isn't that what your early twenties are? He was a constant fixture, popping up just about everywhere from a friend's overcrowded apartment party, to a JBFCS Friends volunteer event, to Passion Pit on Governor's Island. The music-loving, happy-go-lucky guy did not miss a beat. But it wasn't until January of 2013, that I really fell for Alex Niles. The guy rivals George Clooney in the charm category. Heck, while Alex was asked to speak to fellow cancer patients, survivors and the incredible staff at the NYU Langone Medical Center, the doctor introduced him as "the hunk." The nickname stuck but I made sure to give him a hard time laughing about the Alex Niles Effect, granting him #hunk and #superhunk with every photo posted.

But it wasn't his boyish good looks, it was the way he made me (well, all of us) feel when I (we) were with him. We were all cramped on a catamaran sailing the British Virgin Islands on the infamous Yacht Week. Long after the trip had ended, after we jumped ship into 2013, our friendship really took flight. Cue Whitney Houston, because bud, I will always love you - for lunches at Parm, sweaty dance parties, green juices and afternoons of futbol, walks on the Long Beach boardwalk chasing sunsets, the career, relationship, you name it, advice, these memories all add up to something unquantifiable.

Alex became the kind of friend to me that I'll forever hold on to. His ability to continuously re-instill confidence in myself and remind me of my value is an invaluable gift from him that I cherish. But beyond that, whenever we hung out, I always came home feeling like a better version of myself. Was it that he was able to bring out the best in me by making me realize all I had to offer or was it just the laughter that ensued within minutes of hanging out? Either way it was no coincidence that his name rhymed with smiles.

There's a framed print that hangs opposite my shower. Every morning, as I rub my groggy eyes, I am given this reminder. This your life. Do what you you love, and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, quit. Life is short, live your dream, share your passion. While this may be the words to the Holstee Manifesto, I'm very much convinced this is the "Alex Niles Manifesto" and one I've adopted and adhered by. 

His reach was wide, his smile even more so. Thank you for inspiring me, among many others, always. For valuing friendship, family and health above all. For creating Curewear to help not only yourself, but others in need. For redefining the modern day hero for us all.

Alex, we'll see you on Necker Island. Or somewhere beyond the sea.
Stay bitten ;)





Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Little Rock

In February, I made my way to Little Rock, Arkansas, the hometown of our former President and quite possibly, as of this week our future President.

The weather got in the way of exploring what Little Rock has to offer. Instead, we built tents indoors, finger painted and played with firetrucks, dump trucks, and all sorts of other vehicles that two boys under four years old are fascinated with.

Next time I head to Little Rock, I expect a lot more of the aforementioned activities, regardless of the weather. But I also plan on checking out the places that made this Southern city home for the Clintons. Like the Clintons, I hope my sister and co. make their way back north because this long distance is not only making the heart grow fonder but it's giving me a dose of wanderlust mixed with heartache.

Stay bitten ;)




Monday, April 13, 2015

Guestblogger: Jennifer's First #traverbal

This week the FOMO bells screamed loud. My favorite spandex-star-suit-wearing-jam-box-playing November Project guy was leaving The Philadelphia Art Museum steps for our regularly scheduled workout to #traverbal to meet his friend in NYC. Hearing this I had to arrange for him to meet and then kidnap my college roommate and take her to her first NP workout. 

Lost in translation? The November Project is a free fitness movement that started in Boston as a way for two buddies to encourage one another in fitness. By way of positive energy and friendly recruiting they created, in my humble opinion, a movement that is changing the pulse of this country. Scratch that. The world. Nope, the universe. The November Project currently has tribes in 19 cities and continues to grow.

Seeking out new adventures is recommended right behind Vitamin D. Trust me, I'm a nurse. Last summer I tried something new and it changed my life. Eight months after my first workout I have about a 100 new friends and have been bitten by the infectious energy and spirit that November Project embodies. Oh, and I shaved 20 seconds off my mile and my a*s is a little tighter. Win win. 

There are many, I repeat many November Project traditions, expressions, hashtags. Look up #justshowup to find out. Drop a #verbal and commit to a workout. Nervous the temps aren't ideal for you? Remember Boston's winter? We are #weatherproof. Out of town for work? #traverbal and check out a new tribe in a new city. Seriously, check us out or on the book, the gram, Twitter. We are probably even on OpenTable... reservations always available.  

Always inspired by Miss Travelbugbites, I took to the calls of spontaneity and adventure and said FOMO no mo'. I took my first #traverbal (a traveling verbal) two hours north to NYC. 

Tuesday 4:30PM:
"Kanf, I'm coming!"
"What?! For real?! This means I really have to go tomorrow?!"
"Oh hell yes!" 

Wednesday 5:30AM:
Round the bend comes the star-suit-jam-box-pumpin gentleman with his cat-short wearing friend and we make the 6 mile run from the LES to The Gracie Mansion. Before the sun rose to say hello I quickly tip toed my way up town with old friends and new and music in my ears and nothing but a shit grin on my face. 

I'm sure each November Project tribe has their own flare, closeness, and weirdness. While partial to my Philly tribe I was elated to be welcomed with warm open arms and over the top personalities at The Gracie Mansion. We sprinted in loops around Gracie Mansion stopping to do various exercises. The energy was high. The workout was tough. The cameras were flashing. All standard fare.

Wrapping up the workout I learned my little bugbites friend had never been to The Gracie Mansion. We had navigated new New York territory with several dozen strangers and I had shared with her an experience that is so dear to me. I also made sure to introduce her to the NY tribe leaders so they remembered her cute little face when she indefinitely drops her own #verbal soon.


#justshowup in life, in adventure, in spontaneity, in friendship, and definitely at a November Project near you. Until then, stay bitten ;)