This Land Is Your Land...

...this land was made for you and me. These days it doesn't feel like it was made for everyone. Of recent, I've found myself getting depressed over the status of our nation and the political landscape that has taken over my newsfeed. To keep my chin up, I circle back to the people and places that make this country America the beautiful.

With a day off to explore earlier this month in San Francisco, I tapped into Andy, a New England transplant who now calls Oakland home. The best part of having visitors is they force you to switch up your normal schedule. He asked what I wanted to do that Saturday.  

Give me a West Coast surf lesson!

Or let's drive north to Napa and drink ourselves silly on some red wine.

Ooh, Muir Woods. I have always wanted to go there. 

Demanding, I know, sorry. While the forecast warned us of thunderstorms and severe rain, I insisted we cross the Golden Gate and adventure on. And he happily obliged, picking me up in his weathered, pickup truck, one that had made it's way cross-country with miles of stories looking thru the rear view mirror. We drove the windy roads with the fragrant scent of eucalyptus forcing myself to question why I don't stay longer than a weekend in California.

The fog blanketed the route. I made him pull over because I'm a sucker for when mother nature shows off with her color palettes. When everything just fades into nothing. Magic. Also, it made me think of the opening lyrics to Round Here, an inevitable add to any road trip playlist.

The fog blanketed the route. I made him pull over because I'm a sucker for when mother nature shows off with her color palettes. When everything just fades into nothing. Magic. Also, it made me think of the opening lyrics to Round Here, an inevitable add to any road trip playlist.

Thanks to Andy he took to me the hard-to-get-to hidden surfing village of Bolinas. It's the oldest town in coastal Marin county and it's nearly impossible to find with or without the fog... and especially hard without the help of a local! The roads there are unmarked and cell phone connection is forgotten so you can pass on Waze or Google Maps. The reward upon arrival - if you're lucky enough to find your way - makes it clear why the residents stay put.

Thanks to Andy he took to me the hard-to-get-to hidden surfing village of Bolinas. It's the oldest town in coastal Marin county and it's nearly impossible to find with or without the fog... and especially hard without the help of a local! The roads there are unmarked and cell phone connection is forgotten so you can pass on Waze or Google Maps. The reward upon arrival - if you're lucky enough to find your way - makes it clear why the residents stay put.

A selfie of one satisfied traveler.

A selfie of one satisfied traveler.

The Redwoods of Muir Woods are over 250 ft. and range in width to 14 ft. Some of these big guys are over 1,000 years old!

The Redwoods of Muir Woods are over 250 ft. and range in width to 14 ft. Some of these big guys are over 1,000 years old!

Luli inside a Redwood.

Luli inside a Redwood.

Just because the weather calls for severe rain, doesn't mean you should stay indoors. In fact, you might end up missing the normal crowds that fill a tourist attraction and rediscover an admiration that extends from California to the New York Island.

Stay bitten ;)

Oh Oakland.

You're adorable.

I spent the morning wandering around Oakland. And it was adorable. Temescal Alley is a small alleyway of a handful local shops bursting at the seams with creativity. There was inspiration within every step. And the artisans that poured their energy into these spaces were as welcoming as they were informative.

From each shop I wandered into, they willingly offered suggestions of how to make the most of my short stay in Oakland. The denim clad boys at the men's shop, Standard and Strange, right down the street from the famous fried chicken sandwiches at Bakesale Betty thoughtfully collaborated on where I should have lunch and shop. On their list... Cholita Linda, Burma SuperstarMarion and Rose, Dandelion Post and Owl and Wood.

But it was at Book/Shop where I felt the fortunate stumble of a lost traveler. The store owner, designed and built the space again blurring the borders between Scandinavia and Oakland. And he so carefully wrote down a full itinerary for me only wishing I had more time to wander. Email theintern@travelbugbites.com for that coveted piece of paper detailing his meticulous finds of Oakland.

The book shop of all book stores. A must for book lovers, designers and dreamers.

The book shop of all book stores. A must for book lovers, designers and dreamers.

Esqueleto, a destination for any jewelry aficionado.

Esqueleto, a destination for any jewelry aficionado.

Crimson Hort, a unique nursery blooming with curiosities. 

Crimson Hort, a unique nursery blooming with curiosities. 

Homestead Apothecary, filled with alllll the good vibes.

Homestead Apothecary, filled with alllll the good vibes.

Stay bitten ;)

Stay bitten ;)

Oakland or Scandinavia?

At my (fun) new job, it's already taken me to two of my favorite places: New Hampshire and California, all within the span of a month. When you're traveling for work, you're on location but still attempting to manage the details and keep up with all the East Coast emails. There's little down time but if you find the right budget-friendly place to stay, you can successfully mix business with pleasure.

After discovering that I would be an hour from San Francisco proper, I decided to skip out on staying at a big hotel for something that felt a bit more local. I shopped around looking for something near Walnut Creek and decided to take a chance on Oakland... even though it gets a bit of a wrap from the tech-heavy Bay Area. A decade ago, parts of Brooklyn were treated with the same disdain. But what I found was a new city to fall for - one bursting with creativity and charm, not to mention the cutest damn Airbnb in the land.

This luxury casita was built in the backyard of the host's home. It was well-kept and as a Creative Director with an eye for design that doesn't seem to shut, I found a place that made me feel like I was in a Scandinavian prefab home, similar to what's gracing the cover of the newest issue of Dwell

My sun-drenched studio for the weekend.

My sun-drenched studio for the weekend.

The loveliest Airbnb east of San Francisco with fresh macarons and local guide books to devour.

The loveliest Airbnb east of San Francisco with fresh macarons and local guide books to devour.

Inspiration for my bed in NY. Time for a refresh!

Inspiration for my bed in NY. Time for a refresh!

There's an orange tree in the backyard. Or maybe it was lemons. Either way it wasn't pigeons and brick, #NYCproblems.

There's an orange tree in the backyard. Or maybe it was lemons. Either way it wasn't pigeons and brick, #NYCproblems.

This cutie greets you after a full day of work. Images care of Airbnb. 

This cutie greets you after a full day of work. Images care of Airbnb

Looking for an authentic stay? A great way to get a real feel for a city is to live like a local. And chances are it'll cost you a bit less than a chain hotel! Click here to get started on Airbnb.

Stay bitten ;)

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start but somehow we look to the beginning of a new calendar year to bring about a wave of change.

My Instagram best nine but in reality, some of the best moments are left unshared. Scroll down for some of my 2016 highlights.

My Instagram best nine but in reality, some of the best moments are left unshared. Scroll down for some of my 2016 highlights.

Of the many things I've learned over the course of this tumultuous, unpredictable year is that you cannot control the timing of your life. So sorry January 1st, 2017, today isn't the day. Or maybe it is and I just don't know it yet.

2016 took to me like the ocean. Vast, filled with beauty but at times, all consuming. There was a sense of stillness and then once I felt slightly comfortable, I got tossed around and had to find my balance, time and again. Some days there were no swells and there was the tranquility reminiscent of life on a lake. And then there were days where I didn't see it coming... when a big wave would knock me under, gasping for air. I managed to brush it off, laugh at myself, get back up on the board and ride it out. Don't compromise your self worth and make sure you are learning, growing every f*cking day. Create great work, form solid relationships and if you come to the realization that you're being undervalued, move forward and move on. There will be other waves.

We all experienced significant losses this year, from the David Bowie to Carrie Fisher. Nothing had profoundly affected me like the insurmountable recent passing of my grandmother, Safta Rachel. 95 years young she was the reminder that life isn't always short. It was filled with love, great food, friendship and family. With hardships that make my waves look like puddles, she instilled a sense of courage, tolerance and strength in us all to overcome whatever comes our way.

So while I'm looking forward to where the next 364 days will take me, there's one thing I know for sure is that every day we will press reset. In the words of the classic Irish band, "I will begin again." And so will you too / U2.

Stay bitten ;)

A West Coast road trip with my family to celebrate my cousin getting married.

A West Coast road trip with my family to celebrate my cousin getting married.

Moments like these with my nephews. #helicopterauntieluli

Moments like these with my nephews. #helicopterauntieluli

A break from the endless summer days to attempt to learn to drive stick shift. 

A break from the endless summer days to attempt to learn to drive stick shift. 

Added interior designer to my resume (and discovered how much I can take on by myself)

Added interior designer to my resume (and discovered how much I can take on by myself)

Played tourist in my own city and was reminded to stay humble in the Big Apple.

Played tourist in my own city and was reminded to stay humble in the Big Apple.

Sometimes it's good to leave the neighborhood with the neighbors. 

Sometimes it's good to leave the neighborhood with the neighbors. 

That secret beach. And that transformative trip back to Nicaragua.

That secret beach. And that transformative trip back to Nicaragua.

Old friends and rose. All day, any day.

Old friends and rose. All day, any day.

Make No Plans

Some mornings it feels like I'm just going thru the motions as the Tuesdays fade into the Wednesdays. Stripe shirt off, navy tee on, rinse repeat. And then other weeks, I make one decision and it catapults change and suddenly, it's as though everything around me is different.

The last week in October was one of those weeks where the little changes amounted to big benefits. Monday, I accepted a job offer, or a great opportunity as I see it. Tuesday, a country music concert in suite seats with my mom (a rare treat for both of us, another reason to celebrate). Wednesday night, impulsively booked a flight on the way to catch-up drinks with old coworkers, now friends. Thursday night, I departed from a very rainy New York City. Late Thursday night, sent my cousin a Whats App message with my flight info and to cancel her plans. Friday night, I arrived in Israel just in time to surprise my remarkable Safta (grandmother) for dinner.

Call it spontaneous. Or erratic. Any time I've tried to make "plans" for myself, life has a funny way of interrupting my set expectations. Nice try, Lauren. So while I made a last minute "plan" and booked a flight within 24 hours of departure, it turned out that life had something larger in mind for me that week.

Stay bitten ;)

#surprisingSafta is probably the best thing I've done this year. Thanks to my cousin Inbal for coordinating everything and my aunt Miriam for taking me in without fair warning and preparing a memorable Friday night dinner with Safta.

#surprisingSafta is probably the best thing I've done this year. Thanks to my cousin Inbal for coordinating everything and my aunt Miriam for taking me in without fair warning and preparing a memorable Friday night dinner with Safta.

And one more thing. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself. "Book a flight in Business"... says the girl with sneakers and a backpack. (To justify the upgrade, I did some freelance work during my vacation, mixing business with pleasure). Here's to making the world your office.

And one more thing. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself. "Book a flight in Business"... says the girl with sneakers and a backpack. (To justify the upgrade, I did some freelance work during my vacation, mixing business with pleasure). Here's to making the world your office.

When the mascara runs

There's beauty in instability, in breaking routine, in not knowing what lies ahead. And learning to embrace and relish those detours. This past Thanksgiving Day (and pretty much every day in between) I'm grateful for where 2016 has taken me, the people I've met along the way and above all, the unwavering support and love while I (we) navigate this thing called life.

Stay bitten ;)

Little run of the mascara? All good.

Little run of the mascara? All good.

There goes the neighborhood...

It's 4:51am. I'm wide awake and can no longer blame the jet lag, trying desperately to go back to sleep. I can't say I'm hoping this was all a dream and when I wake up at 8am, the nightmare of a reality will dissipate. 

Because that's not the case. I'm very much aware that this is my reality. And yours. And in a few hours the sun will rise. And we will too.

Last night, I joked over dinner, a perfect distraction to the anxiety ridden Election Night, about content for a blog post. While two of my neighbors checked their phones giving frequent updates on another red state succumbing to that under-qualified bully, I asked if I should do a blog post on where to go if Trump wins the election. I laughed it off because sheepishly I never thought this would come to fruition. This was still an act on Saturday Night Live, right? This man is not seriously running for President. This man can't possibly win. Not in New York. Not in the United States of America.

But this is America. And we can't control the sum of all our parts. So as morning unravels, we all have a choice of where we want to go today. There has never been a greater moment to want to brexit this country and travel.

Here's my roundup of our options or the options I've briefly thought about but never really entertained. Until now. Because at the start and end of the day, this a travel blog, not a platform for politics.

 

1. Canada, eh? Convenient that I'm dating a Canadian. Inconvenient that winter is coming and I'm solar (and salt water) powered.

2. Israel. Remind me why I came home from vacation to vote? That kibbutz life by the sea is looking pretty good right now.

3. Impeachment.

4. Live abroad. Denmark? Ranked the happiest country in the world? Nicaragua? Morning surf sessions. Here are 27 other options as suggested by Business Insider.

5. Stay put. Embrace @stayathomebugbites and what feels like a really bad hangover that I just can't shake. While everyone is entitled to their opinion / vote, in my opinion, yesterday our nation went low. Today (and each day forward), let us channel Michelle Obama and go high. So we might be f*cked on a national level. GO LOCAL. Invest time in your community. Now, more than ever, prioritize the value of EDUCATION, our ENVIRONMENT and HUMAN RIGHTS. Treat your neighbors with love and respect and do what you can to improve your surroundings.

 

Whatever you decide on, it's your choice. Stay positive, stay bitten ;)

New York, on a brighter day.

New York, on a brighter day.

Stay At Home Bug Bites

I joke that @Stayathomebugbites is my recent alter ego, a less exciting younger sister to @Travelbugbites. Everyone is always asking where my next BIG trip is and where I'm headed this week but until recently, it's been a domestic few months for me. Pair it with shifting from full-time work to a freelance lifestyle, I've been trying to be financially responsible while tuning into what lies in my own backyard. No, I'm not a New Yorker with outdoor space. I'm just a calculated yet spontaneous girl taking advantage of her surroundings.

The beauty of staying put is finding that you can have a vacation right here. Yes, people pay good money to summer on the East Coast. And autumn in New York? There is plenty to fall for. 

Here's a few highlights from my day to day.

1. The new Whitney. If not for the rooftop views of the Hudson River and lower Manhattan, then for the art. Ideal to visit on a rainy day... with one of your girlfriends and her adorable son.

2. The Oculus. An instagrammer or architect's dream. 

3. MNDFL. A chic way to meditate and find peace in the busy city.

4. Chelsea Market. For the best tacos in NYC. Followed by Philly's best hummus at Dizengoff. (Yes, it's a bit touristy but always great to have a variety of food options for lunch).

5. FDR Four Freedoms Park (as seen below in the bottom right part of the photo), located on my childhood stomping grounds of Roosevelt Island. A site for a designer's eye.

See your hometown from a different vantage point, #playingtourist

See your hometown from a different vantage point, #playingtourist

Make your way down to Chinatown. This stylish theater, Metrograph, has the best candy selection and an upstairs bar / restaurant you'll want to make your new remote office or living room.   Check out the Lowline Lab, a preview of the Highline's cool underground brother. Stay bitten ;)

Make your way down to Chinatown. This stylish theater, Metrograph, has the best candy selection and an upstairs bar / restaurant you'll want to make your new remote office or living room.

 

Check out the Lowline Lab, a preview of the Highline's cool underground brother. Stay bitten ;)

When Parallel Lines Intersect

"It’s funny how sometimes you can see yourself in other people’s words, regardless of time and distance."

My friend from years past wrote me that in a recent email. Our lives are vastly different... with an ocean or two separating us, languages barriers, to name a few. But somewhere across longitudes, there’s a parallel of similarity between us.

While I don’t dive into the personal moments of making big life changes, what I will share is the part where you rise after the fall. The important thing is to acknowledge the life you had before that great love (and what a rich, travel-filled one it was), how s/he added (not subtracted) to your life experiences and how you chose to live your life after you tuck away the mementos to a shoebox, soon to be stored or tossed away. 

"It's really difficult to separate from someone who you have been spending every day of your recent life with... but I guess life goes on and it's full of surprises. I met someone right after and I feel like I'm living a whole new life now. So, not sure how you are feeling, but if I'm the living proof that things often change for the better and come when you less expect them!"

 

Her words seeped under my salty skin. And while my life (and yours) is not defined by the company we keep, it is comforting to know that we can (and will) move on whether it be in the form of a new job, hobby, relationship, or mindset. 

Stay bitten ;)

Keeping Cool

It is H-O-T in the city and the best way to cool off is to take a dip in a pool or get a good 'ol scoop of ice cream. When I heard about an interactive pop-up ice cream museum with a pool of sprinkles, I wanted to get in on the Instagram fun. With an 100,000 person waitlist (?!?!?), I opted for salt water and ice pops instead.

Until last night. Luckily, Jaclyn and I were able to score two tickets to the sold out exhibit at the Museum of Ice Cream. Dessert before dinner? That's the beauty of being an adult or as the millennials snapping selfies call it #adulting.

Accidentally sharing a sweet treat.

Accidentally sharing a sweet treat.

Similar to Hamilton, tickets to the Museum of Ice Cream are hard to come by as it is sold out thru September. There are some on Craigslist if you're willing to shell out the dough. Just across the street from The Whitney Museum, it's Willy Wonka in an art gallery space with creative art installations in each room.  For the ice cream lover, it could be the cherry on your sundae / Sunday.

Sprinkles, everywhere.

Sprinkles, everywhere.

Stay bitten ;)

All Signs Point West

When you drive 20, 40, 60 minutes out of Los Angeles or San Francisco, it seems like every small town you pass by is a destination in itself. When it comes to leaving Manhattan, unfortunately, New Jersey disappoints on that front. No fist pumps here.

Just an hour and a half north of San Francisco, on a July summer day, I found myself daydreaming out the window to a winding road flanked by redwoods as we escaped the fog and the techies, heading towards Point Reyes. The road trip was not the romanticized California ones you typically read about. It was a true test in patience from the not-so-seamless car rental process to a reminder of what it is like to travel in a packed car with your family. The '90's are back alright!

It's a rarity for us to travel together so despite the standard bickering in the car, I felt truly fortunate to have this time together.

View from Elk Refuge / Tomales Point hike

View from Elk Refuge / Tomales Point hike

We were headed to a family wedding as my cousin was getting married in Petaluma at Olympia's Valley Estate, an organic farm in Sonoma County. It is the stuff Pinterest farm-to-table wedding dreams are made of. Point Reyes, is a favorite local getaway of the now-newlywed couple, and lucky for us we got to make a weekend of it and take in some of their go-to spots. It is maintained by the US National Park Service and depending on the season you can whale watch, scout elk or birds. Best way to explore the California coast? A cliffside morning hike.

ACTIVITIES:

My sister and mom (in the red hat) looking good on our morning trek.

My sister and mom (in the red hat) looking good on our morning trek.

Elk Refuge / Tomales Point hike - 360 views of the coastline and Tomales Bay. Directions to trail head can be found here

Point Reyes Lighthouse - historic lighthouse. Directions can be found here.

Blue Water Kayak - with two locations in Marshall and Inverness to rent kayaks in Tomales Bay.

Drakes Beach - stunning cliffs and views. Not to be confused with the Canadian rapper. Directions can be found here.

Farmer's Market - outside Toby's Coffee, on Saturdays. Because who can say no to fresh California produce?

 

EATS (as recommended from the bride, pre-wedding diet):

Hog Island Oyster Co. - sustainably harvested oysters with a view of beautiful Tomales Bay. Reservations required.

Bovine Bakery - known for their sticky buns

Marin Sun Farms - outdoor and indoor dining, best burger in 50 miles!

Cowgirl Creamery - world famous cheeses and the place to get iced coffee in Point Reyes

Saltwater - delicious, sit down dinner in Iverness. The name sold me. Reservations recommended.

Marshall General Store - casual oysters and snacks with a view of Tomales Bay. No reservations needed. 

Marin French Cheese Company - the oldest operating cheese company in America!

Country living (well, for the weekend).

Country living (well, for the weekend).

That floral... a reminder to always look up!

That floral... a reminder to always look up!

A celebration of family, love and one ridiculously handsome couple. Ok, two.

A celebration of family, love and one ridiculously handsome couple. Ok, two.

Stay smitten. Stay bitten ;)

Making Waves

Let's ignore that the last post was in 2015 and act like old friends who haven't seen each other in years. We'll laugh, reminisce, inspire each other, catch up and pick up where we left off. Deal? Great.

You'll notice things look a little different over here at TBB. Under the "work" section you'll find where I've poured my creative energy into. As much as I'd love to travel for a living, you'll discover that I spend a great deal of time behind the camera, working hard creating content and enhancing a brand's identity. I'm currently providing brand and visual design consultation for individual and corporate clients. So if you have an exciting project that needs creative direction, let's get coffee (or tea, in my case) and collaborate!

If you venture to the right, there's the "Travel Bug Bites" section where you'll find all the old posts you've read and followed over the past decade. It's been almost a decade, wow (insert the grandma emoji here). If you're looking for a specific trip or destination, you can enter it in the search field and dig thru the archives of the Inca Trail, the Serengeti, Yacht Week, you name it. Over the past year, I've traveled to a handful of new places (Cabarete, Scottsdale, Marie Galante, Squam Lake, Point Reyes to name a few) and revisited some of my old favorite spots (Maine, Montauk, Maderas Village). So "stay bitten" as there will be updates shortly that will hopefully prompt you to travel more and explore this great big world.

As for the "about" section, that's me.

Stay bitten ;)

Why I Travel

About four years ago, I went to this surf / yoga camp. At the time it was called Dreamcatcher House and after the recommendation of an avid surfer (a family friend) and some trusted Trip Advisor reviews, I decided this place was worth checking out. There was one main house with a newly built guest house which we filled up for a week of much anticipated surfing lessons.

Now, that place has evolved into a village and is a beautifully curated brand boasting a furniture line as well. With a Millennial-packed Instagram following, it isn't quite as easy to book a getaway to this jungle paradise.

The beauty of this place, and probably more so in the early years, was that it was a gathering of like-minded people somewhere off the grid in Nicaragua, Costa Rica's cheaper younger brother. A mix of entrepreneurs, surfers, spiritual dreamers & doers, it attracted the kind of person who can "vacation" without electricity, forgo their reflection in the mirror and ignore the confines of a set "schedule." It appealed to the individual who without question, will pile on the back of a pickup truck for dinner, not asking where to but more so enjoying the ride there.

It's the closest thing I've experienced to as summer camp for adults without all the organized activities. And even though that week, I only surfed (ok, attempted to) for one day, what I did gain from it was a really great friend and a real reminder of why I travel. It's the people you meet along the way. Her energy, contagious. Her authenticity, enviable. Her passion for helping people, admirable.

I reconnected with Bailey before and after her 9-month project in India. Should I have visited her in India? Regretfully, yes. Instead, we brunched in Brooklyn, walked around Central Park and visited the Guggenheim. I wished her well as she heads home to start a new chapter back home in Toronto. What's next for us? Who knows? Maybe a trip to Canada or to revisit Nicaragua. Or somewhere entirely new. That's the beauty of making friends in new places.

Stay bitten ;)

Wanderlust Wednesday: Portugal

I know, I haven't posted since beginning of July. Maybe I needed a break from spending too much time in front of the computer. Or maybe, I opted to spend more time at the beach with a really great guy. Well, I realize it's been a while and in the spirit of Wanderlust Wednesday, I figure I'd give you a place we can both Google or daydream about. 

I was told at the end of the July by my friend Aaron "Your next TBB adventure MUST be to Portugal to stay at the Onyria de Marinha Resort. It's the Andaz Maui of Europe!!! It's absolutely spectacular!!"

I made a quick mental note of that and kept it top of mind. From August on, whether I was at a dinner party or chatting up some local surfers, Portugal was a constant topic of conversation. To bump Portugal to the top of my starry-eyed wishlist, my friend and well-seasoned traveler, Michelle texted me these photos from her recent stopover from a work trip in Amsterdam. Might be time to revisit that "work hard, travel harder" motto...

Stay bitten ;)


Run to (in) Cuba!

About a month ago, I went to Cuba. When I returned to the US (with working wifi) the trip took over my Instagram feed. But even more so, past reliving the trip thru photos, this one has really resonated with me. I'm in the constant mindset that there's so much of the world to see that I often opt for the new instead of revisiting a destination. 

But for me, Cuba is different
It's the pulse of Havana that permeates long after that mojito is finished.
And with that, I'm going back in November (12-16th to be exact).
And I want you to come with me! 

Join me in vibrant Havana for the Cuba Marathon, Half-Marathon or 10k. You can be a spectator if running isn't your thing. Regardless, this grants you legal entry to Cuba with all the logistics taken care of, thanks to the amazing people behind Cultural Contrast Cuba.

Use the promo code: RUNNER1 for $100 discount off the trip

Spots are limited.
Registration is due by July 31st.  
It is first-come, first-served and will sell out quickly, faster than I run that's for sure. 

Interested? Email me at lauren@travelbugbites.com.
All trip details can be found on Cultural Contrast Cuba - click here.
Feel free to share this with friends and family who might be interested in joining us!

Stay bitten ;)

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 ;)

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 ;)


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 ;)