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Seoul Searching: My Visit to a Buddhist Temple

geumsunsa-templestay“How do we know we’re in the right religion?” That was the question I asked the bishop who visited my 5th grade classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School long ago. Even as a 10-year-old child, I questioned religion – the dogma surrounding it, the proposed path to an eventual salvation, the confines of man-made rules.south-korea-templestay I don’t remember the bishop’s words, but I remember his body language: a hesitant shift at the podium, a calm, yet confused look on his face, and the cool pace with which he delivered his answer. It was as if he had been asked this question many times before, but was uncomfortable sharing his response with a room full of young children.

south-korea-templestaySo how does one know? What leads people on their spiritual journey? I had the chance to think about these questions while on a visit to Geumsunsa Temple in South Korea. I’m not Buddhist by label. I have a Taoist devotional next to my bed, but not far from it are various healing crystals, a Virgin Mary statue, and beads gifted to me by an indigenous Brazilian shaman. That was the beauty of visiting Geumsunsa; they welcomed everyone no matter your faith or fatherland. We had a diverse group from around the world – Mexico, Hong Kong, France, Germany, and me, repping the United States of America!south-korea-templestay Tucked away in the mountains outside of Seoul, Geumsunsa is one of the Buddhist temples throughout South Korea that offer what is known as “templestay” visits to foreigners from all over the world. Depending on how much time you have and where your travels take you in South Korea, there’s a templestay to fit every tourist’s itinerary.seoul-searchingmy-visit-to-a-buddhist-templeseoul-searchingmy-visit-to-a-buddhist-templemy-visit-to-a-buddhist-temple Upon arriving to Geumsunsa, I already felt at peace. Lush fall foliage, just changing their leaves, enveloped cozy colorful dorms and nearby sitting nooks. After setting up my modest room, I changed into the temple uniform and joined the rest of our group for the beginning of our stay. Sitting amongst the trees and the cool, crisp air was the perfect setting to listen to the monk’s words and simple wisdom.geumsunsa-templestayTemple101south-korea-templestay After a ceremonial ringing of the temple bells, our group enjoyed a vegan meal together. We ate in silence, as instructed, and with a renewed focus on my food, I felt satiated and healthy. As I carefully chewed each bite, my mind wandered and my thoughts drifted from the mundane, “why did I get so much rice at the buffet?” to the random, “I wonder if Buddhists have something like Lent?”.

 

I’ve been on my own spiritual search ever since those early days in Catholic school. While other children knelt with eyes closed, waiting for the bread to turn into the body of Jesus, I peered skeptically at the ceiling, looking for something, or someone to come from the heavens and turn the priest’s unleavened bread into a holy object. south-korea-templestayOur next activity was a visit to the temple – finally! The monk prepared us for our evening meditation, and the more mentally demanding 108 prostrations that were to follow. I really had no idea what to expect, as the extent of my exploration with Buddhism was reading my “Daily Tao” at bedtime back home. This was a bit more intense.geumsunsa-templestaysouth-korea-templestaySo what is a prostration? I consider it a test of your physical and spiritual stamina in one move – and I truly didn’t think I would be able to do 108 of them. About ten minutes in, I felt fatigued, but the messages that the monk recited for us motivated my mind and body to absorb the meaning behind this physically demanding exercise. my-visit-to-a-buddhist-templeUpon finishing, we retreated to our rooms, and it was in this private space that I released all that had passed through me in the temple. I cried cleansing tears and wrote down some of the mantras I recalled, and what they meant for me.

I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.

We’ve all cursed at those exes, annoying coworkers, and the guy that cut us off in traffic, or really anyone who has made us suffer! I thought about some of those people and how they helped me to evolve into the person I am today. I felt a renewed sense of gratitude.

I prostrate in gratitude for having my family who shares happy, sad, and challenging moments together.

Hearing the word “family” sent a flood of tears down my face as I thought about my grandfather and father, whose only visits to Asia had been for fighting wars. How lucky I was to be visiting this country on my own terms, with peace and open-mindedness in my heart. I was sad that neither of them had been so lucky to travel here as I had – seeing the beauty of a new culture.

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I prostrate as a vow to blow all the jealousy, anger, and frustrations from my mind.

When I first started my company, a close friend told me that “only women with rich husbands or rich dads launch businesses like yours.” Ouch, that hurt! And it did make me angry and jealous for a time – and frustrated that I didn’t have those endless resources as some did. But I became resourceful and resilient, two things that make me an even better business woman today.

I prostrate in repentance for seeing this world as absolute right or wrong.

This led me to reflect on my faith, as something not so rigid, but fluid and evolving. I thought of all the friends I had of differing faiths: Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, Catholic, Jewish, and how at the heart of every religion seemed to be a message of love. Oh how I wished we could all be more accepting of each other and focus on our own spiritual growth, and not what others were doing wrong!

SS15I prostrate as a vow to lead my life with passion.

This is harder than it sounds! I had a flashback to a short time in 2018 when I lost steam and suffered burnout. Life as a passionate entrepreneur was taking a toll! So I got back to basics, and did things to rejuvenate myself like listen to music, exercise more, and take care of my health. Only then could I really feel the passion for my work.

I prostrate as a vow to keep focused and refrain from many distractions.

Cell phone, anyone? To combat this distracting tool, I started setting aside time for Instagram, I shut off all notification banners, and did some other things to manage my use of technology. I admit, it’s a great tool – my favorite meditation app is on my phone! But everything has it limits…

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I prostrate as a vow to be free from the ordinary standards that everyone in the world follows.

This was a memorable prostration, quite simply because it was a reminder that I was going in the right direction. My path didn’t need to look like everyone else’s. And it’s okay.

geumsunsa-templestaygeumsunsa-templestayOn the flight home from a luxury travel conference in France last year, I read through a pamphlet titled “Luxury Experiences in South Korea”. Flipping through it, I was surprised to find a segment about templestay visits in there. But as I reflected on my own templestay, I thought, yes, it was a true luxury to connect with myself. To connect with others. To connect with my soul. And this luxury is truly priceless. my-visit-to-a-buddhist-temple

Thank you, Geumsunsa Temple for the photos! 

 

 

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Casa & Mar: A Wellness Hotel in Rio de Janeiro

wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroA house and the sea. Such a simple concept, and yet that’s what makes it so elusive. What is it about the ocean, about nature, that draws us to ourselves? I had a chance to reflect on this while visiting Rio de Janeiro’s only wellness hotel, Casa & Mar.wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroCM25Set up on the cliffs outside of a small beach town north of Rio called Maricá, Casa & Mar is the perfect location to explore wellness – in every sense of the word. With sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean from every room, this ideally situated hotel is a natural gateway to healing and health.wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroSpeaking of healing and health, as I learned from Anna Bjurstam, Vice President at Six Senses Spas, during her presentation at ILTM in Cannes, “Wellness Tourism” is 25% of the global tourism market with a value of over $639 billion dollars. Just this past year showed a 14% increase in wellness travel bookings! As Anna pointed out, “wellness gateways”, a term she uses to define an experience, a person, or even a location, are a person’s first experience with health and wellness, and are often discovered on a vacation or retreat. Maybe I had just entered a wellness gateway here…

 

So why are people spending more time seeking wellness vacations? I found my answer at Casa & Mar. From the moment you enter the gates, there is a garden greeting you with fragrant flowers and fauna, including my favorite Brazilian fruit, maracujá! Walking down the path to the reception, I was welcomed by the owner of Casa & Mar, Alex Reznik. Greeting me with a guava smoothie, he told me more about the history of Casa & Mar.CM30“I had been looking for a place to build a health and wellness hotel; I searched all over the world. And I found this beautiful enclave!” Sharing more about his own health history and philosophy on fitness, Alex started my tour with a visit to the hotel’s impressive gym. With every angle overlooking the sea, I knew it would be an easy feat to stay on the treadmill and squeeze in a workout with such an incredible view! As we headed back towards the reception, I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of the glimmering pool below. I already felt better!CasaMar1What could be better than a dip in this gorgeous pool? Sitting at the pool’s edge and peering out over the vast ocean. In fact, as I gazed out over the natural beauty, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by poet Khalil Gibran: “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence.”ALEX01-yourshadowOf course, another key element of wellness is taking care of your body, both inside and out. As part of my visit to Casa & Mar, I had an evaluation of my posture by Dr. Alex Kalinin, trained in osteopathy, as well as a private sunrise session with yoga instructor, Julia Glazkova. Painfully reminded of my sedentary lifestyle back home, I knew that sitting for hours in my office chair was definitely not a key to wellness! With a spa menu that includes shiatsu, lymphatic drainage, and sports massages, just to name a few, it was hard to choose. But you must not leave Casa & Mar without trying their Signature Hammam experience. Tailored to fit your physical needs, the hammam experience uses essential oils from Brazil, clay, steam, scrubs, and of course a therapeutic massage to leave you feeling in total bliss!IMG_5441Bliss was just this. A meditative massage with the soundtrack of the sea below. I felt completely transformed! Back in my suite, I sank into my bed feeling both relaxed and rejuvenated. As the gently lapping waves lulled me to a sweet sleep, my freshly massaged limbs melted into the cool sheets, and my mind into a dreamlike state.EEAF1C30-44A5-4944-BB2A-98C776F94A0BIMG_6368IMG_6478CM5How to lure me from my dreamy suite? With the seductive aroma of freshly grilled shrimp and bananas coming from the café below! During my delectable lunch, I learned more about Mr. Reznik’s plans for future wellness-themed events around yoga, healthy cuisine, and homeopathy. Joined by guest chef, Karen Slater, who was visiting Casa & Mar to infuse the menu with some of her unique creations, we all chatted about the evolving trends in travel.CM15CM19CM18Biting into the succulent shrimps, I listened to Karen share some of her ideas for the new menu. Having owned and operated two cafes in New York, with a focus on organic, vegetarian, and vegan food, Karen highlighted the addition of grilled eggplant and sweet potatoes, and what already sounded like my new favorite – pineapple cake!wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroWith a full belly and a happy heart, Alex and I walked up to his neighboring hotel, Pousada Colonial, where he maintains a garden that fuels much of the hotel menu. Star fruit, aloe vera, papaya, grapes, mint, and so many more glorious finds in that garden! I knew Karen would be thrilled to use these local ingredients in her new menu – I’ll have to sample some of her inventive recipes on my next visit…CM6IMG_6449CM3Back at Casa & Mar, I ventured down to the rocks to get a closer view of this natural landscape that locks in the hotel from all angles. Once there, I was completely transported to another realm. There is nothing like communing with nature. As I listened to the roar of the rhythmic waves, a flood of gratitude rushed over me. Maybe this is why wellness travel is trending. To push people back to the simplicity of nature, away from our electronic lives. To open our hearts to gratitude and wonder. The longer I sat in this sacred space, the further my seaside meditation led me down a reflective path.CM24wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroCM26CM10As I thought about the name of the hotel, Casa & Mar, I flash-backed to a psychology class where I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. With basic needs of shelter, food, and health met, only then do we move on to fully appreciate and experience love, strength, and self-actualization. Health – the important element that I was reminded of here at Casa & Mar. Reminded through the food, touch, conversations, yoga, nature, and meditation that I experienced during my visit. I felt complete.CM20CM21CM7wellness-hotels-in-rio-de-janeiroBack on the patio of my suite, I remembered a quote from one of the other presenters at ILTM Cannes: “The greatest wealth is health”. As I breathed in the balmy breeze, I knew exactly what that meant. Rich in every sense of the word, I was healthy, happy, and whole. COLINAL_VISTA01

Contact me to book your visit to Rio’s Casa & Mar!

 

Credits:

Photography: Bitlab Media

Makeup: Alicia Ramirez

Wardrobe: Lenny Niemeyer & VIX by Paula Hermanny

 

 

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Seoul Food: My Favorite Spots to Eat in South Korea’s Capital

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My first meal in Seoul – Gook bob. Mmmmm!

There are two things everyone must do when traveling: find a place to sleep and eat. While there’s a wide range of options of what you’ll do in between those two critical activities: museums, shopping, hiking, guided tours, fashion shows, and so on, enjoying the local cuisine on your vacation can be some of the best memories of your trip.

I love to eat. And I’m one of those fortunate people that doesn’t have any allergies or food aversions, so I am likely to try a wide range of food while traveling the world. My most recent trip to South Korea was a daily adventure for my taste buds, and although I live in Los Angeles where there is a bustling Koreatown full of delicious Korean BBQ spots, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only had Korean food twice. Luckily, I was able to play catch up in South Korea’s capital. Here’s my list of top places to eat in Seoul, where both daring and discerning diners will leave satiated and smiling.

Maple Tree House

I was lucky enough to enjoy a proper Korean meal with some local friends who brought me to this Seoul standard for a sumptuous feast. Not knowing the names of most of the dishes, I just followed my hosts’ lead and ate what they ate. I was pleasantly surprised, but my favorite had to be the bibimbap(pictured above), which is like the ultimate Korean comfort food! Paired with berry wine, and a delectable steak appetizer that was like a better version of a lettuce wrap, my stomach was happy. What a way to start my stay in Seoul!

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Shrimp Curry at Richmond Dimsum – Yum Yum!

Richmond Dimsum

One of the best things about Seoul is its proximity to the rest of Asia, and with that, a wide range of Asian cuisine to enjoy. Make it a point to visit Richmond Dimsum in Itaewon neighborhood, and come hungry. Once you try one of Chef Danny’s Chinese creations, you’ll want to keep sampling more of his masterful menu. My friends and I had a shrimp dish that practically melted in your mouth – I couldn’t believe something could be so good! And then followed by the chef’s signature dumplings, each a different flavor: eggplant, sweet potato, and squid ink – I was in heaven! Another favorite was the shrimp curry. I’m not sure what Chef Danny does to the shrimp, but you’ll never be the same. They are amazing!

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The dumpling trio at Richmond Dimsum – it’s not enough!

Osulloc Tea House

While there’s a few of these around town, I stumbled upon the Osulloc adjacent to the Seoul Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. This place was so good, I circled back on my way out of the museum just to try something else on the menu. Wanting some fuel for intense art scoping, I started with a mild green tea(their signature blend) paired with a green tea croque monsieur. Yes you read that right! I wasn’t sure what to expect from my sandwich, but the green bread did not disappoint. Eyeing the other patrons on the way out, I noticed everyone was drinking a sort of milkshake looking thing, which I ordered on my way back after finishing up at MMCA. Paired with a traditional Korean roll cake with matcha-infused cream, I was glad I came back a second time. Try it at least once – you won’t be disappointed!

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Going green at Osulloc Tea House

Fritz at Arario Museum

I also have a sweet tooth, which can be dangerous at times, but I find that it leads me to some of the best discoveries when I travel, which is exactly what happened with Arario. The funny thing is that I had already been to the Arario Gallery on the other side of town and didn’t know that there was a related museum, which is a must-see for art lovers. But before heading into the labyrinth of rooms filled with contemporary art, I found myself drawn to the alluring aroma of coffee and cinnamon from their garden cafe called Fritz. The cinnamon roll filled with a dollop of ice cream was enough for me, but then I found out that they have three other restaurants, one of which was just mentioned in the 2019 Michelin Guide. If you’re a serious foodie, put Arario Museum on your list.

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The Cinnamon Sweet at Arario Museum – Instagram worthy!

Bann Thai

Just down the way from Arario Museum on the way to Gyeongbokgung Palace, is a Thai restaurant that had a small sign advertising that it was the best Thai restaurant in Seoul. I decided to try it, one because I was too tired to search for anything else, and I thought I’d continue on with my sampling of other Asian cuisines given my good experience at Richmond Dimsum. It was so good that I ate here twice. Their pad thai was the best I’ve had, and I’ve had quite a bit back in California! The second time I visited, I’m not sure what I ordered, but it was absolutely amazing(a spicy shrimp dish with very thin noodles). With a crowd of people filling their small upstairs restaurant during the lunch hour, I knew that there was some truth to their sign outside.

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The perfect lunch at Bann Thai

Buddhist Temple Stay

Now this isn’t a restaurant, nor will you find it on any “best of” lists besides mine, but the food that I had at the temple stay in Bukhansan National Forest was simply divine. The simplicity of the vegan food and the humble surroundings allowed me to focus on each bite. With a strict rule of no conversation during meals, I found myself focused on my food and its textures and flavors in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. If you’re vegan, you might want to visit a temple just for the food. And if you’re not, well this might make you consider going vegan a few days a week. I felt amazing after the few meals I did have and am hoping to recreate some of these dishes back home.

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Veggies never tasted so good!

While I can’t remember every place that my friends took me to eat, I suggest being open-minded when you come to Seoul. Below are photos of a grilled fish dinner that we shared one evening, and a Vietnamese feast that had me drooling over every bite.

 

 

Conrad Seoul

And last, but definitely not least is Conrad Seoul. If you don’t have the fortune of staying here, make it a point to head to the south side of Han River and enjoy their award-winning cuisine for at least one meal. Everything from their breakfast buffet to their crown jewel restaurant, 37 Grill and Bar is worth the trip. If you’re a wine lover, make it a point to visit 37 Grill and Bar and enlist the advice of expert sommelier, Nathan Kim. My chef’s tasting menu would not have been complete without his guidance. Read about my full experience here. And if you’re lucky enough to stay at Seoul’s top-ranked hotel, try the bone broth at breakfast. I know it sounds crazy, but I had seconds because that stuff is soooo good!

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Start to a great day at Conrad Seoul!

Enjoy your stay in Seoul and let me know in the comments where some of your favorite eateries are in this amazing city. I definitely plan on coming back and can’t wait to try more of Korea’s diverse dishes!

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East meets West at the Conrad Seoul breakfast buffet
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Conrad Seoul: South Korea’s Best Hotel

If you’re in the hospitality business, then you are definitely familiar with the phrase, “the customer is always right”. Those of us in the travel industry know what it means to go above and beyond to please our customers, ensuring that they have an amazing adventure, no matter where their destination takes them.Conrad1Conrad Seoul has obviously done something right in the minds of discerning customers from all over the world. The team at Conrad Seoul was just awarded “Best Hotel in South Korea” by Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards, an enviable list that highlights the best from around the globe as decided by travelers and industry experts.Conrad5So what are they doing differently from other luxury properties across South Korea, and in the rest of Asia? Well, I was lucky enough to find out on a recent visit to this world-class property ideally set at the edge of Seoul’s Han river.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner Suite_Living RoomThe most picture perfect welcome that included an assortment of treats arranged in a garden-like design, complete with a replica of my company logo, was a thoughtful surprise. What a welcome! After settling into my luxurious corner suite, of which the Conrad Seoul has 47, with wraparound views of Yeouido Park, Han River, and Seoul glittering in the distance, I decided to uncork the champagne and enjoy this enviable view.Conrad Seoul_Grand King (Executive) Corner SuiteCharting my itinerary for the next few days, I was happy to learn that Conrad Seoul is ideally situated for many of the sights I wanted to see in Seoul. Just a short drive or subway ride from Seoul Arts Center, home to an opera house, performing arts center, calligraphy museum, a design museum, and much more, Conrad Seoul is the perfect location for anyone looking to indulge in the city’s lively arts scene.Conrad9Although I couldn’t imagine leaving this luxurious oasis after looking at the spa menu, I guess my first adventure was going to be to their award-winning spa! Debating between the jet lag treatment and the Conrad signature massage, I decided to go with the latter after hearing the spa attendant’s description of the balm they used for the treatment. Enveloped in a private suite, I waited in peaceful bliss as I enjoyed a healing rooibos tea while the masseuse prepared my foot bath. Soothing all of my soreness away, I melted on to the table for my massage.

How to follow such bliss? A soothing soak back in my suite with a stunning view of Seoul in the distance. Having only been at Conrad Seoul for a short time, it was easy to see why they have earned so many accolades. The prestigious World Travel Awards just presented Conrad Seoul with four awards: Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel 2018, Asia’s Leading Luxury City Hotel 2018, South Korea’s Leading Hotel 2018, and South Korea’s Leading Business Hotel 2018. Wow!Conrad8What could pull me away from this comfortable suite? A dinner reservation at 37 Grill & Bar, Conrad Seoul’s signature restaurant on their top floor. With so many delicious options to choose from, I decided on the tasting menu accompanied by a selection of wines paired by master sommelier, Nathan Kim. Conrad Seoul_37GrillTucked into my corner table, perfect for a special occasion dinner, proposal, or anniversary celebration, I marveled at the city lights in the distance. As each course appeared, I couldn’t believe that it was so delicious! My favorite? A sumptuous seafood stew that was somehow light, yet decadent and rich at the same time. And the wine pairing was just as spectacular – a Fantini Gran Cuvée Rosé. Kudos to Nathan and the Master Chef!Conrad Seoul_37Grill_Table by Window

When Nathan returned to describe the next dish and wine pairing, I asked him how to say “perfect” in Korean. There was no other way to describe this experience! Immersion is always the best language teacher, right? Continuing with an indulgent foie gras, Nathan reappeared to walk me through the rest of the menu. Impressed by his knowledge of wine and spirits, he described the wine that he chose to accompany my next course, a cabernet sauvignon from Joseph Phelps Winery in Napa. The ideal match for this perfect 100-point glass? A local Hanwoo steak, which is known to be some of the best meat on earth. Conrad6 At the end of this magnificent meal, I was satisfied beyond words. From the fresh beet sauce served with the bread to the seasonal mango ice cream, and everything in between, 37 Grill & Bar is the crown jewel at Conrad Seoul. Sipping on my special cocktail prepared by Nathan, which he called the “French Connection” as a nod to the theme of his selections, and his recent business trip, I now knew why Conrad Seoul earned so many awards for Best Hotel in this great city. Conrad Seoul_Spiral StaircaseThe next day, my breakfast was just as impressive. With an array of both Eastern and Western breakfast items prepared in their open kitchens, I didn’t know where to start. I headed down their signature staircase, the highest and longest independent spiral staircase in Korea, and decided that I would try out some of the hotel’s other amenities. First up was their indoor golf course. After some generous coaching from Jake, their friendly staff member, I decided to try one of their seven golf courses. Conrad2Reminded of my lackluster golf swing, I decided to head over to the pool. Set at the perfect temperature, this 25 meter long pool offers a panoramic view of Seoul’s bustling business district, with the glass ceiling offering a view of the stars at night. On my tour with the hotel director, she encouraged me to indulge in a night swim to take advantage of the glittering view of both the pool, set with mosaic tiles, and the Seoul skyline above. Conrad Seoul_Pulse8_Swimming PoolClosing out my stay at Conrad Seoul, I met up with a friend at their executive lounge to recap my visit to South Korea’s most dynamic city. Having experienced all that this city has to offer, including Fashion Week, the National Hangeul Museum(my personal favorite!), and an impressive night tour of Deoksugung Palace,  I was already eager to return!Conrad Seoul_Executive LoungeAs we closed up our night, I shared with her the mantra of Conrad Seoul, “Health, luck, and success”. An obvious theme throughout my visit, I was definitely looking forward to sharing this adventure with my clients and colleagues back home. Conrad Seoul has rightfully earned every award, and beyond that has provided me with a unique experience for my first trip to South Korea. There is no other way to experience Seoul!Conrad4

Let me help you plan your trip to Conrad Seoul!

 

 

albuquerque-balloon-fiesta

Stairway to Heaven: Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta

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Heavenly bodies on the horizon

I’m not a morning person. So when I saw the itinerary for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I did a double take. 6 a.m. start time! With a little coffee, I managed to make it through the early morning(read 4 a.m.) trips from the hotel to the park, all bundled up in my layers of thermals and wool. After learning from my hotel concierge that this was the largest ballooning event in the world, I was a bit curious…

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Piñon Coffee keeping this California girl warm!

Once I saw a few of these colorful globes take to the sky before dawn, all of my fatigue melted away. The few brave balloons, known as the “Dawn Patrol”, tested the wind patterns for their fellow fiesta goers still on the ground. This scene was absolutely stunning!

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The Dawn Patrol takes flight

What’s even better than the visual of the gas balloons set against the vista of the Albuquerque mountains, is the sound of them lighting up. The powerful “whoosh” of the helium and hydrogen flooding these giant globes is almost as magical as the sound of the crowds cheering them on as they lift up to the heavens.

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Leo lighting up the early morning sky

And what a crowd! I literally saw generations of families, young and old, groups of friends, couples on honeymoons, photography clubs, and every combination of group you could think of. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is fun for everyone. If you don’t marvel at this magnificent event, then there’s something definitely wrong with you!

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No filter needed!

My family decided to attend this annual display of color to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. In between balloon fiesta fun, we got a chance to sample some of the delicious cuisine in Albuquerque, known for its generous use of red and green chiles. If you don’t like spicy – ask them for super mild. Trust me on this one!

When we weren’t eating the tasty New Mexico treats(like sopapillas), we did some shopping in the town square and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. My favorite finds were a store called Masks Y Mas, which housed art, jewelry, and of course, masks. Then just a few doors down I discovered, Off Broadway, the most decadent vintage shop that had me pulling at my purse strings as I piled my dressing room with a number of gorgeous gems. I walked away with this wool coat – perfect for the brisk New Mexico breeze!

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Vintage wool from Off Broadway keeping me warm!

After some well-deserved naps, my family and I headed back to the park to witness what is known as “Balloon Glow”. This evening event is not to be missed, as the visual of vibrant balloons against the night sky envelops you. Everywhere you turn there’s some new wonder to be seen. It’s no surprise that this is the world’s most photographed event, with over 25 million photographs being taken each year!

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Twilight Twinkle glow!

Since the balloons don’t embark at the evening events, you’ll get to wander among them in all of their colorful glory. The hum of the gas lighting up these beauties gave me the chills! And hearing the oohs and ahhs coming from everyone around you, all of us in collective childlike wonder, is enough to give you goosebumps.albuquerque-balloon-fiestaalbuquerque-balloon-fiestaIf you want the true VIP experience at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, get tickets to the Gondola Club. And don’t wait until the last minute! We waited a bit too long and were only able to get them for one morning, but we’re sooo glad we did. A hot breakfast buffet, open bar, and fire pits greeted us as we descended on the park for another early morning of fiesta fun.

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Get your tickets early!

And when you’re ready to get up close to the balloons, there’s a VIP tram waiting to drive you closer to the action. This is one of the best Gondola Club benefits since the park is over 350 acres big. The highlight of that morning was watching Annabelle, the Creamland Dairy mascot, finally come into her udderly full glory. After the team tried for a couple of days to get her up, she finally made it to the skies and set sail with the rest of her balloon friends. The crowd went wild as she was set free!

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C’mon Annabelle – you can do it!
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There she goes!
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It’s raining ice cream!

These balloons are too gorgeous for words. No filter is needed for your photos! In fact, I spent very little time editing photos because the light and color of the New Mexico sky is just perfect. Pro tip – bring an extra memory card and a portable charger. You’ll be out there from around 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so it’s good to be prepared. And bring a backpack or bag to hold your gloves, hats, etc. You’ll want to shed some layers as the sun comes up – it gets surprisingly warm!

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Space Odyssey – New Mexico style!
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The largest ballooning event in the world!
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Come back señorita!
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Star Wars action along the Albuquerque horizon
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Some of the 1,000 balloons represented!

Swirling in a serene symphony led by Mother Nature’s wispy winds, the balloons drift above your head and then eventually out of sight. The heavens, dotted with color, will leave you in awe. As I watched everyone gaze up at the sky, some of us snuggled next to our loved ones for warmth, I felt so happy to be here. What a unique experience!

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New Mexico True!

Even with the early mornings and bone-chilling cold, I would do it all over again. There’s nothing like gazing up at the sky and watching the balloons dance along the desert sky. Next time this California girl will pack her earmuffs. And I’ll make sure to get my Gondola Club tickets well in advance!

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Smiles from the most photographed event on earth!

Do you want to visit Albuquerque? Then fill out the form below!

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I Wish They All Could Be California Girls

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I first discovered the art of Robin Hiers as I was walking downstairs to the beachfront gem, The Deck. Enjoying my handsome date, and the picturesque sea scene that enveloped us, Robin’s signature beach babes, all decked out in the happiest hue of pink, caught my eye. It was at that moment that I found her on Instagram and we’ve been virtual friends ever since.laguna-beach

Robin’s art is always a cheerful interlude in my feed, and although I had never met her in person, I felt like I could sense the positivity and playfulness of her personality through her images. When I finally met her, my instincts were right. She showed up to our interview in typical California beach girl fashion: a breezy cover-up, comfortable flip-flops, and an enviable tan that she earned right here on the shores of Laguna Beach.

Having grown up in Laguna Beach, it’s no wonder Robin draws on this laid-back vibe for inspiration. “I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was 8 years old. My parents had an art gallery, ‘The Pink Palette’, and they started the annual festival Art-A-Fair, so I’ve been surrounded by art. I knew I wanted to do it – I just wasn’t sure how I’d get there!”

robin-hiers-artDiving into art full time after raising her 3 children in Boulder, Colorado, Robin has spent the last 20 years refining her style and her art. Reminiscing about her path as a career artist, she mentioned an ex-boyfriend who nudged her to return to California. “He thought my art would do really well here, but I was nervous about coming back; things had changed. But I always had my passion and talent and I feel like I am doing what I was born to do. I am at the happiest point in my life.”robin-hiers-artAnd happy is just how she wants you to feel when looking at her art. “When people see my art, I want them to close their eyes and sense how I grew up. My mom always lived near the ocean, and she’d have samba music or Billie Holiday playing. She was a character! On Sundays, we’d have champagne brunch and go to flea markets – a very non-traditional mom! It was a shabby chic champagne lifestyle; not a snobby or fancy champagne lifestyle. I want you to sense what’s cool, the sensual music, with a sense of taste.” Surrounded by her mother’s art, unique treasures, and furniture crafted by her mother’s artist friends, Robin still draws on those happy memories of her childhood to infuse her art.

Hearing Robin talk, I got the chills as I remembered the painting that captured my attention over a year ago at The Deck – a beach babe donning a bikini made out of Tab soda labels. Memories of my grandmother sipping on Tab by the pool flooded my mind, as happy tears welled in my eyes.robin-hiers-art
When I asked Robin what else inspires her art, she motioned to the exuberant scene behind us at The Deck. “This place is my idea of perfection. I mean look at the ocean – it even looks better with the orange umbrellas!” I had to agree. This Laguna Beach hotspot has all of the makings for a perfect afternoon – a gorgeous view, tasty libations, and of course, Robin’s art lining the walls.the-deck-laguna-beachIt’s also a short walk from many of the galleries and museums that Robin frequents, including the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, which showcases her work along with established and emerging artists.laguna-gallery-of-contemporary-art“Laguna is an art community. Besides the galleries, we have amazing festivals, like the Sawdust Festival which showcases local Laguna Beach artists, the Festival of Arts, and Pageant of the Masters.” Between these festivals, including the Art-A-Fair that her family started over 50 years ago, formal art institutions like the Laguna Art Museum, and numerous galleries which line PCH, Laguna Beach is an art-lover’s paradise.

 

As Robin shared more about her career path, I was intrigued and inspired by her infectious enthusiasm. “I actually went to college with the intent of study advertising and doing logos, but my professors kept pushing me towards illustration. I loved looking at the old ads from LIFE magazines from the 50’s and 60’s. And I remember my dad telling me when I was about 7 years old, ‘You could put your style on anything, Robin’, and so I did! He was a huge influence on me. I looked at my mom’s seascapes and thought ‘these aren’t happy enough!’. So I often drew sexy women having fun – maybe that was my lifelong goal,” she giggled as she tossed her hair aside.

robin-hiers-artWhat’s next for this quintessential California girl? Robin’s art is now being shown at a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, Artspace Warehouse , and she plans to take her art to an international audience in 2019. As we sipped on our colorful concoctions(my favorite being the Desert Pear Vojito) and chatted about some of our favorite international beach destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the French Riviera, and Barcelona, I felt like Robin and I were meant to be travel buddies.

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But her heart and soul will always be here in Laguna Beach. “I can be myself here – 100%! There’s a lot of happy people here and we have live music every night of the week, with a beach chic vibe that I love. My inspiration is here. It’s coming to The Deck. I’m friends with a lot of artists here in Laguna Beach and it’s so fun to see each other and trade techniques. I get inspiration from living a fun life and my bikini girls are just that – sexy, confident, and fun!”

I smiled and said, “That’s me in three words!” as I leaned back and inhaled the fresh, ocean air. And just like Robin’s art, I felt happy. where-to-see-art-in-laguna-beach

Want to see more of Robin’s art and the scene in Laguna Beach? Contact me! 

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Bienal São Paulo: A Brazilian Art Immersion

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This Brazilian Art Immersion starts in São Paulo at the Bienal, the second oldest biennial after Venice and continues at Inhotim, a work of art that spans over 5,000 acres and houses a multitude of exhibits that will transform you.

Far beyond an “art trip”, this unique experience will provide you with exposure to art directors, collectors, curators and artists, above all, exclusive access that would not be possible without the fine-tuned itinerary compiled by two Brazil travel experts.

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Inhotim Museum

Meet Your Travel Experts

bienal-sao-pauloAbout Flavia Liz: Considered an Urban Legend by Condé Nast Traveller U.K.’s “The Experts” series, Flavia Liz Di Paolo is an expert on São Paulo in the luxury segment, and offers unique work as a personal guide, catering to clients from all over the world in six languages. Her experiential tourism has garnered coverage in Delta magazine, Italian Vogue, Fortune, Travel Weekly, and plenty of Brazilian publications. With her MBA in Luxury Hotel Management, Flavia Liz is well-versed in places that very few have access, while also being a pioneer in graffiti and favela tours, which will soon be highlighted in a short documentary produced by Sant’anna Miranda Films. www.flavializ.com

bienal-sao-pauloAbout Sarah:  Having lived, worked, and traveled throughout Brazil for the past 17 years, Sarah Taylor has the unique advantage of understanding Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective and using that to help her clients have the trip of their dreams. At her firm, All Set Concierge, she provides travel services to individuals who want a unique experience. As a member of the luxury network, Virtuoso, she curates travel excursions that fit your personality and travel dreams. Her adventures throughout Brazil’s magnificent destinations can be seen here https://allsetconcierge.com/blog/

São Paulo – Brazil’s Urban Gem

About the 2018 Bienal: Considered one of the most important contemporary art events in the world, the São Paulo Bienal’s title for this year is Affective Affinities – inspired by the novel Elective Affinities by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and by the thesis “On the Affective Nature of Forms in The Work of Art” by Brazilian critic Mário Pedrosa. The 33rd Bienal, curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, shifts the conventional model of contemporary art projects and promotes the individual experience of the visitor with the works, instead of a predetermined curatorial narrative. The artists selected for the 33rd Bienal represent important aspects of art in the 1990s, a transformational moment for Latin America. “This was the first Latin American generation to create art free from the oppression of totalitarian regimes of the previous decades.” explains Pérez-Barreiro.

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The Bienal São Paulo Pavillion

Meet your Bienal guide: João Correia is an art advisor and art historian, who graduated from the Open University in London, where he also studied at the Sandler Institute and Sotheby’s Institute. As a speaker, he has presented at Yale University, University of São Paulo, and Itau Unibanco Private Bank. In addition to presenting his art expertise, João has collaborated with publications such as BBC, NBC, and CBN. He lives and works in São Paulo where he runs the art advisory company, Collezionista.

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Hotel Unique’s lobby

Your Tailored Itinerary Starts in São Paulo

Day 1 (September 13): Welcome cocktail reception and dinner at Hotel Unique. Unique is a top-ranked luxury hotel in São Paulo, the #1 hotel in South America by Conde Nast Traveller in 2016. Its inventive design, drawing on architectural greats like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, leaves you in awe.

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Galeria Millan

Day 2 (September 14): Breakfast at Unique followed by departure to Bienal. Your guides, João and Flavia Liz, will walk you through the highlights of this groundbreaking install of art from around the world. Included in the day’s programming is a lunch at Dalva e Dito, one of São Paulo’s Michelin star restaurants that features traditional Brazilian cuisine with an inventive twist. Conclude with an evening tour of Galeria Millan, which represents Brazilian Tunga, the first contemporary artist in the world to have a show at the Louvre. Galeria Millan recently participated in the Pacific Standard Time LA art event sponsored by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with past participation at Documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale.

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Dalva e Dito Restaurant

Day 3 (September 15): Continue your art immersion of São Paulo as Flavia Liz guides you on an exclusive tour of the city’s art and architectural highlights. We’ll break for lunch at Tuju, which was just awarded its second Michelin star, and is the restaurant creation of chef Ivan Ralston, who worked at two of Spain’s Michelin starred gems, El Celler de Can Rocca and Mugaritz. Our day concludes with a visit to Galeria Nara Roesler, one of the most important galleries in São Paulo, with branches in New York and Rio de Janeiro, representing seminal Brazilian artists who emerged in the 1950s, as well as current artists that dialogue with their foundation.

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Galleria Nara Roesler

Day 4 (September 16): Back to the Bienal for a closer look at the 12 individual projects selected by Gabriel Pérez Barreiro. Included in today’s events is a cocktail reception and dinner at Bossa Restaurant in the lively Jardins neighborhood. With accolades from GQ, Harpers Bazaar, and numerous Brazilian publications, Bossa is top ranked in São Paulo for dishes that are tasteful both in presentation and to the palate. The evening closes at Galeria Vermelho, designed by Brazilian Pritzker prize winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, with over 10,000 square feet dedicated to art production by both emerging and established artists.

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Galeria Vermelho

Day 5 (September 17): Museum day at your leisure! Participants will be given a list to choose from the city’s best including: Estação Pinacoteca, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu Afro Brasil, and Instituto Tomie Ohtake. After your museum visit, participants will be driven to a gallery event with Flavia Liz for a private tour of Galeria Luciana Brito. This beautiful gallery was designed by esteemed Brazilian architect Rino Levi with gardens by famed landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Our dining adventures continue at Michelin star restaurant, Maní, where we’ll witness the culinary masterpieces of Helena Rizzo, awarded the World’s Best Female Chef. Her creative contemporary cuisine puts her São Paulo restaurant in the top 50 in Latin America.

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Maní Restaurant

Day 6 (September 18): Our final day in São Paulo allows for an exclusive tour of one of São Paulo’s private collections that will prepare you for Inhotim. After this private tour, Flavia Liz will guide us to some of the city’s finest art houses including: Apto 61, a beautiful house specializing in modern Brazilian design, and Passado Composto Século XX, a modern antique shop with the best in Brazilian design. In the evening, we’ll toast a farewell to São Paulo for a closing reception at Unique Hotel including cocktails and dinner.

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The rooftop lounge at Hotel Unique

And Continues at Inhotim…

Day 7 (September 19): Check out and departure to Belo Horizonte. Once in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Brazil’s farming state, Minas Gerais, we’ll settle in to the city’s best hotel, Ouro Minas, for a welcome dinner. It’s luxurious but with the character of the Minas Gerais countryside and will be our resting point while we explore this state’s artistic gem, Museo Inhotim.

Day 8 (September 20): After a ride through the Brazilian countryside, we’ll arrive at an artistic masterpiece set over 5,000 acres. This museum, known to locals simply as “Inhotim”, is like none other in the world, and is a must see for art lovers and enthusiasts. A lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Tamborim, featuring local Minas cuisine is included, as well as private transportation and a guide throughout the museum. We’ll ride back to BH for a night of well needed rest after a long day at Inhotim.

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Adriana Varejão Pavilion at Inhotim

Day 9 (September 21): Because Inhotim is so expansive, one day is not enough! We’ll finish our tour of this outdoor museum – lunch included of course – with plenty of time to see all of the exhibits that you missed on day one. On our ride back to BH, we’ll stop at the city’s best spot for all things pão de queijo, the cheese bread that’s famous all over Brazil and will leave your taste buds wanting to book another trip to South America.

Day 10 (September 22): Departure to Belo Horizonte airport, where we will depart back to São Paulo for transfers back home or to your next Brazilian destination.

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Where art and nature intersect – Inhotim!

Reserve Your Space on the Bienal São Paulo Trip!

The Brazil Art Immersion Package price: $5,289.00, with 50% deposit due by June 29, 2018. Space is limited to 12 travelers. To reserve a space, fill out this form to begin the reservation process.

Important points:

  • Please plan to arrive in São Paulo on September 13th. All Set Concierge can help you arrange flights to/from Brazil. Your flight within Brazil to/from Belo Horizonte(with 1 piece of checked luggage) is included in the package price.
  • You will need a tourist visa to travel to/from Brazil. If you don’t already have one, All Set Concierge can refer you to a trusted agency or you can secure a tourist visa at your local Brazilian consulate.
  • Private ground transportation within Brazil is included in the package price. Transportation to/from your departure city airport is not included.
  • Daily breakfast is included, as well as all meals listed. Travelers are welcome to purchase additional meals & other incidentals on their own accounts.
  • Travel insurance is not included. If you’re interested in rates, All Set Concierge can provide a quote.

For a full list of terms & conditions, click here.

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The Library Lounge at Hotel Unique

See you in September!

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Go Green! The World’s Largest Renewable Energy Plant

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Itaipu observation deck across from the dam – wow!

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sounds easy, right? Many companies give lip service to the words eco-friendly, sustainability, and social responsibility, but the team at Itaipu Binacional is living it. On my press trip to Iguazu Falls, I was able to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest generator of renewable clean energy and witness firsthand some of their earth-friendly initiatives.

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About to head into the world’s largest green energy plant! I feel small!

As my guide Edivaldo drove me around the plant in our electric vehicle(charged by the dam of course!), he shared the story of Itaipu. “Itaipu Binacional started at the junction of the Iguaçu River and the Paraná river, with construction beginning in 1974 in response to rising oil prices and the search for renewable energy sources. A few years later, the concreting of the dam began at a pace of one 10-story building per hour.” That’s a lot of manpower! Finished in late 1983 with its initial electricity generation by mid-1984, Itaipu is still going strong. In fact, just during December 2017 the dam produced 9.2 million MWh of hydraulic energy – enough to power Brazil for six days or the city of São Paulo for three and a half months. Wow!

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Power up! But first, let me take a selfie!

Since its start, Itaipu has been a leader in ecofriendly practices. And it has the awards to prove it! In 2015, the United Nations gave Itaipu the “Water for Life” award for their “Cultivando Água Boa”(Cultivating Good Water) program which beat out 40 similar initiatives from all around the world.

Additionally, in 2010 the British magazine The New Economy, responsible for the Clean Technology and New Energy awards, recognized Itaipu as a “leader in developing renewable energy sources”. And it doesn’t stop at green energy! In 2006, Itaipu was awarded the first Pro Gender Equality Seal by the United Nations Development Fund for Women for its equal employment and labor practices. Awesome!

Whether it’s water conservation, education outreach, animal protection, or gender equality, Itaipu has been winning awards since its start. Walking along the dam’s edge, Edivaldo told me about one of their local farming programs to help low-income communities. “Itaipu has donated over 70,000 acres of soil for crops and safe farming practices, including equipment and tanks.” The result of Itaipu’s efforts? The sustaining of over 34,000 families that have benefited from this land, as well as the proliferation of food from Itaipu’s donation of chickens, goats, and hogs, ensuring everyone has enough to eat.

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At the edge of Rio Paraná

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Maimonides, Spanish philosopher

This quote couldn’t be truer than with the work at Itaipu. Besides just feeding the local communities through the farming program mentioned above, Itaipu has a structured intern program for low-income youth. Known as the “Leading a Working Life” program, this work experience gives 15-17 year olds a chance to learn about the power plant’s initiatives and continue their education in technical fields that will lead to job placements upon graduation.

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Ground control to Senhor Tom…

Standing above Latin America’s largest generator is easy. Taking in the vast views of Brazil, Paraguay and far off Argentina will hold you in awe. Going inside is where the wonder and a bit of hesitation take over! As Edivaldo led me inside these sixty-something storied turbines, my knees did get a little weak as I heard the whirring of electric energy all around me.

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One foot away from Paraguay!
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Deep inside Brazil’s largest energy source OMG!
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Are we going up there?!?!
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My renewable smile at Itaipu

Driving over to our catamaran for the sunset tour, my crew and I talked about what we could do to help with our own conservation and recycling efforts back home. A conversation about recycled water bottles prompted Edivaldo to talk about Itaipu’s outreach with local trash pickers in Iguaçu Falls. “Itaipu helps the pickers that work in dangerous conditions by donating equipment, uniforms, carts, and scales as they remove recyclable material from the streets. The company website states, ‘They are genuine environmental agents helping protect nature [and] they substantially decrease the amount of recyclable materials dumped in the environment’.” It’s true! This successful community program is now moving to other cities in Brazil like São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

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Sunset cruise over Itaipu Dam

Cruising along the gorgeous river, I was mesmerized by two of nature’s energy sources – the sun and water. I thought about all the families using this energy to power televisions, refrigerators, and of course smartphones all across Brazil and Paraguay. Wrapping up my tour back at Itaipu headquarters, I thanked Edivaldo for the amazing visit and enlightening education about some truly inventive initiatives around social responsibility and green tourism. Taking care of our natural energy sources will be something that we will all be dealing with in the years to come.

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Obrigada, Itaipu Binacional!

Let me help you plan your trip to Brazil!

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Coffee Culture: The History of Fazenda Tozan

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High above the fields at Fazenda Tozan

Novelas and coffee: two things that make up the fabric of many Brazilian evenings. So in 2008, when a novela aired to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigration to Brazil, it was another case of “art imitates life”. The novela, Haru e Natsu, told the story of a Japanese family that came to Brazil in the early 1900s to work on the coffee plantations that were in need of labor to replace the work force since slavery ended just a few years earlier.

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Former slave quarters, or “senzalas” in Portuguese, at Fazenda Tozan

Much of that novela was filmed at Fazenda Tozan, where I toured the farm, heard a bit of Brazilian history, and had one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Fazenda Tozan was founded in 1798 by a Portuguese family headed by Floriano de Camargo Peneado, and at that time, only produced sugar cane with the help of African slaves. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s when coffee made its way to the region of São Paulo state, “with an ideal climate and soil conditions” as my guide pointed out, that Fazenda Tozan jumped in on the coffee craze weaving its way through Brazil.

Fazenda Tozan wasn’t always known by this name. Its original Portuguese owners called it “Ponte Alta”, meaning high bridge, but after being in the family for a few generations, it was eventually sold to a Japanese family in 1927. The Iwasaki family, also the founders of Mitsubishi, renamed the coffee plantation Tozan, meaning “east mountain” in Japanese. A bit of a misnomer, as there are no mountains nearby Fazenda Tozan, the name survived the discrimination and detention of Japanese immigrants during World War II. After being abandoned during this tumultuous time in Brazil’s history, the Iwasaki reinvigorated the farm with new life in its later years.

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Family house at Fazenda Tozan

Listening to my guide talk about this tragic time in Brazil’s history, it reminded me of the similar situation suffered by Japanese in the United States. Walking through the fields, I thought of the contributions of immigrants here in Brazil, and around the world. With the upcoming harvest, the labor of generations past were planted firmly in this soil as my guide told me about the manual harvesting process. “We still use a manual process here at Tozan which begins by placing a cloth beneath the coffee trees to avoid the coffee cherries coming into contact with the ground. It can be damaging to the quality of the coffee.”

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Yellow coffee cherries ready for picking!

Back at the main house, my guide walked me through the process of making coffee, explaining the different colors and what they meant, as well as the cleaning process in the reception tank. But the highlight was watching one of their longtime farmers, Raimundo, do a live demo of the coffee harvesting process. His enthusiasm invigorated me the way this popular morning elixir jolts people out of bed every morning!

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Truly the only way to drink coffee!

Nothing prepared me for finally sipping on this delicious coffee at Fazenda Tozan. I had a new appreciation for the world’s most popular drink! Each sip delivered rich notes and a depth unmatched by most coffee I’ve had in my lifetime. Savoring the house special, I had a flashback of my visit to Ceja Vineyards in Sonoma, California where my tastebuds had a similar epiphany. Learning all about chardonnay and pinot noir from the inspiring Ceja women was a true gastronomic adventure!

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As I sat in the window looking out at the farm, I laughed as I thought of the droves of Americans lined up at Starbucks to guzzle down their diluted coffee drinks. What a treat to be able to enjoy something right at the source that had been harvested with such pride! Driving back to São Paulo, I thought of the many lives that helped keep this farm alive – African slaves, Japanese immigrants, and Brazilian farmers. Learning about the history of this drink made me even more grateful to have had this experience at Fazenda Tozan.

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A chapel at the edge of Fazenda Tozan

Start planning your trip to Brazil today!

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Top 5 Insights at the Travel & Adventure Show

I recently went behind the scenes at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure show, which is just one stop along the travel show’s ambitious tour throughout the United States. With my press pass, I was able to go behind the scenes and speak to some of the tour operators and country representatives about what makes their travel experience unique, and why travelers should spend their precious vacation time heading to their destinations. Here’s what I learned:

Never judge a book by its cover. Just like the old saying goes, think twice before passing judgement. Especially on a country you’ve never been to! When I spoke with Elsie from Bella Guatemala, I was surprised to learn that this Central American country could be an adventurous “girl’s trip” hot spot. How so? Well, Elsie shared with me that not only can your fellow girlfriends hike inside a volcano, but they can also follow that daring adventure with a spa trip near one of Guatemala’s picturesque lakes – awesome! And since Guatemala is one of the world’s largest producers of jade and silver, your girlfriends can participate in a jewelry making course with local artisans. Sounds fun to me!

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Relaxing at the edge of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Wellness is not a trend. Spa retreats and detox destinations made their foray into the travel landscape years ago as “alternative” travel. But if recent trends are any indication, like the $500 billion spent on wellness vacations in past years, wellness travel is here to stay. I had the lucky fortune of interviewing the cofounder and president of Wellness Tourism Association, Anne Dimon, who has been in the wellness travel sector since 2004.

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Wellness at Carillon Miami

“Wellness truly means something different to each of us, but generally it is simply the overall health of the mind, body, and spirit. When a wellness vacation is planned with intention or with a specific objective in mind AND it is the right fit, it can truly be a gift to oneself that keeps on giving,” Anne shared. I was even more thrilled to learn that Anne had helped plan the Wellness Sessions at Virtuoso Travel Week 2016 where I learned about Miami’s Carillon Wellness Resort. I excitedly told her that I had a trip to Carillon planned for April, and she smiled ear to ear when I told her about my very first wellness vacation in Spain many years ago. Stay tuned for more on Carillon…

Explore your own backyard. I’m lucky enough to live in California where there are plenty of escapes within a two hour drive, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken advantage of all that my home state has to offer. And I’m sure that can be said for most of us. A couple of my favorite discoveries at the Travel & Adventure show are right here in my own backyard! After speaking with the team from Visit 29, the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, I added this stunning natural oasis to my bucket list. Besides being an art colony to artists like Noah Purifoy, Twentynine Palms hosts the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival – a must see for all of you stargazers out there!

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Noah Purifoy outdoor museum

Another find was Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge. This luxury resort in the California High Sierra is perfect for family reunions, girls’ getaways, and year round fun – no matter what the season is! At the Travel & Adventure Show, the team shared with me some of their favorite amenities, including a private tour in their shuttle that has no roof so you can see all of the beautiful nature around you. I have to do this soon!

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Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite

Explore the “other” landmarks. Each country or travel destination has its proverbial bucket list landmark. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Peru has Macchu Picchu, New York has the Statue of Liberty, and so on. But if you want to avoid crowds and have an experience that’s just as authentic and meaningful, sometimes it’s ok to head off the beaten path.

When talking with the team from India Tourism, I was enthralled to learn about all of the other places to see besides the Taj Mahal. On the west coast of India is Maharashtra state, which is home to the historic Ajanta and Ellora caves. These exquisite specimens of architecture are also a glimpse into the country’s faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. And in central India, there’s the magnificent Khajuraho temples, a UNESCO heritage site that dates back to the powerful Chandela rulers. Definitely lots of exploring to do here!

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Khajuraho Temples

Africa is not a country. Well, I knew this already. But I often hear travelers say, “I want to go to Africa”. That’s like someone saying, “I want to visit North America”, and I think we can all agree that a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island is going to be quite different from a weekend in Cabo San Lucas.

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Lochinvar National Park, Zambia

Did you know that Africa is a continent made up of 55 nations. Wow! I admit I didn’t really understand its size and scope as a travel destination until the Travel & Adventure show when I had the chance to talk to representatives from Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and specialty tour operators highlighting a diverse range of experiences. Did you know that Rwanda is the safest country in Africa, and the 9th in the world? And that you can see gorillas, chimps, and other primates in their rainforest habitat?rwanda-chimpanzee-volcanoes

Or maybe birdwatching is more your thing…and if it is, then head south to Zambia where you can visit Lochinvar National Park and see over 400 species of birds. Amazing! There’s always the African country of Tanzania for those travelers who want that unforgettable wildlife safari or an enviable beach vacation on some of the best beaches in the world along the Zanzibar coast. My bucket list is growing…

If after reading this, you’ve added a few new places to your travel bucket list, email me to help you plan your next trip. You won’t be disappointed! I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Let me help you plan your next trip!

 

 

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