Monday, November 12, 2012

A White Weekend

The powder days have officially commenced as we set sail for higher land and hit the slopes.  This weekend was the first ski weekend of many to come and the fresh dusting of amply falling flakes made it the ideal way to break in the season.

After a restful night in our perfect little cabin-like condo in Dillon, we awoke to a thick layar of fluffy snow, still silently falling, inviting us to come play.  We joyfully piled on layers of ski pants and warm jackets, gathered our boards and skis, and made our way to the base of the lone ski covered pist at Keystone.  A sea of young enthusiasts were geared up from head to toe, adorning their labeled swag and hoisting colorful boards and skis.  These early season skiers are the enthusiasts that had been eagerly awaiting this moment to dig out their equipment and feel the powder beneath their feet.

We gleefully crammed into the warm gondola with a set of new friends, toasting to our arrival over a couple of early morning brewskis.  Once at the top, skis securely in place and position assumed, I glanced over at my trusted companion once more before embarking on my first Rocky Mountain run.  The fresh powder smoothly glided beneath my skis.  Gradually my motion became more fluid after years of dormant ski legs began to return.  Picking up speed I shifted side to side methodically.    A rush of joy swept over my entire body as my muscles remembered the movements perfectly and I quickly entered into the zone.

The first run was a dream, but as the day continued the mountain became more and more congested, people making their way down the single open slope at various speeds and patterns, tracking out the soft powder and replacing it with icy patches.  Eight thousand people on a single slope proved to be a hazardous scene.  We continued cycling through this one hill, but as the conditions grew more aggressive, snow pelting into our faces, creating a mask of ice, we decided to take one final run back down to the base.

Despite the overwhelming crowds, the day was deemed a success.  We warmed up over sandwiches and local brews before getting down to our skivvies and dipping into hot-tub bliss, soaking our tired legs and dipping into pure relaxation.  All that was left to do was sink into my darling's arms with a giant grin of satisfaction.

And as we returned to the condo, resting on our bed in the loft, I gazed out the window, reflecting on how absolutely fortunate I am to be here.  This weekend will be a reoccurring one as we have access to the many surrounding slopes and this fabulous place in Dillon all season long.  It is truly hard to believe that this idea that was once so far away and vague has now completely come to fruition.    Here I am, surrounded by a peaceful winter wonderland, with my sweety, and the best slopes in the world are at our finger tips, ready to be explored all season long.

The Adventure Isn't Over

I am guilty of blog neglect now that my adventure has apparently concluded.  But this morning, after reading over a friend of mine's new blog, I feel re-inspired to return to my documentation and reflection of life as I live it.  She is heading out to New Zealand on a one way ticket after spending a short two and a half months here in Denver, trying to sort out life after corporate.

As I browsed her past posts, I stumbled upon an entry she had written back in August about an epic climb to the top of Mt. Bierstadt we completed triumphantly.  The hike was incredible and a notable achievement that once upon a time I would have eagerly reflected on in Linzer's Adventure.  It was an important reminder that just because I'm not galavanting around a foreign country, life is still exciting, inspiring, and full of adventure.  So I make the hesitant commitment now to be more diligent with my writing inorder to record brilliant moments, introspective insite, and breath taking images from this new perspective.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Trifecta

As life in Denver begins to set in, a deep connection with my previous existence abroad begins to taper off.  I can’t tell if this is a natural process I should accept or if I should be grasping desperately to some remnants of a life that once was.  It's only been a matter of months since returning to the "American life", departing from Lanzarote a mere six months ago.  I can still recall the feeling of being surround by Spanish culture, driving that blue van, living the island dream.  And beyond that, I recall the constant state of being a temporary installment, a mysterious foreigner, wondrously absorbing the unfamiliar nuances of being in a different country. 

But as I contemplate and reminisce about a significantly different reality I was previously living, I have to stop myself in the daydream and acknowledge what the process has ultimately culminated to become.  In this very moment I sit two miles high, gazing upon the bare ski runs of Vail’s slopes, a short drive from my Denver home.  And what waits for me in the city are the very things I’ve been striving for and dreaming of throughout my journey, what I coined as “Linzer’s Adventure”. 

This blog began as a collection of thoughts, discoveries, and observations about life as my perspective shifted, rapidly altered my perception of the world.  I moved about from one new destination to another, experiencing a brand new world, and instantaneously opening my eyes to how different life could be.  The two and a half year journey fundamentally changed a part of me, while simultaneously helping me reconnect with who I am at my core.  Being in Madrid and on the islands, backpacking through a myriad of incredible European cities, and connecting with marvelous individuals from all around the world are experiences in which I will forever cherish.  But when I step back to reflect on the overall mission of the adventure, I see that the ultimate objective was to step away from an all too familiar world; to peel back the heavy layers of a ubiquitous way of life and attempt to discover true fulfillment.  I needed to know what direction to point my arrow in order to feed a passion that restlessly stirred beneath the surface. 

This mission was an experiment with no blueprint to follow.  And, miraculously, it worked.  All the agonizing over which lifestyle to adopt, what career could possibly fulfill me, which destination I could feasibly call home, how I would make a powerful mark on the world; it at last has begun to take shape.  OneSeed Expeditions, Denver, CO, and a slew of like-minded people seemed to float into my life like a strategically placed combo at the hand of a force much bigger than me.  And what accompanied my move and a start to a new career was a breadth of possibilities, a home amongst one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world, and (arguably the most important) a companion in which I have always searched for and knew would one day find me. 

So while I miss the time spent exploring European cities and dipping into Spanish culture, I know this is exactly where I need to be right now.  Denver may not be a permanent home and there are still many adventures far and wide to come, but this is undoubtedly exactly where I am meant to be.  If it hadn’t been for all the wandering and searching, I may never have found this perfect trifecta of a home, career, and love.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Another Pleasantville Day in Denver

Even the dogs are extra happy here

Denver, CO is a hug of a city.  With over 300 days of happy, sunny days per year, people seem to float through life in this town.  Nobody is moving too quickly whether by bike, car, or foot, it's not unusual for bars and breweries to be packed after 3 pm on any given day, and even the homeless people that fill the city seem to be happily getting on with their lives.  Money is spent on hiking boots and camping gear, epic seasonal ski passes, and shopping sprees to REI.  There is never a lack of social gatherings and the people are friendly to a point where it is a tad bizarre.  Yes, Denver is a cozy, humming, merry city that has welcomed me with open arms.  It is a rare case in the US that people have a work-to-live mentality that is quite contrary to most other major cities in the country.

With all of this said, my wanderlust, inquisitive self has to wonder, what's the catch?  Life appears so easy and pleasant here that it leaves little to be challenged.  As I cycled through the park from my lovely home to this mellow coffee shop just blocks away, people walking their dogs and engaging in Sunday afternoon chit-chat, I couldn't help but get a vibe of Pleasantville.  So why do people live in places like Manhattan, London, Miami, LA... Why do people cram into busy cities, deal with climactic challenges, work around the clock, and face ugly commutes?  Maybe because this seemingly "hard life" lends itself to an opportunity for growth and a sense of accomplishment.  A year ago I was hopping from metro to metro, dealing with my tiny, old, street facing apartment in Madrid and living a very different kind of life that was fabulous in an entirely different way.

Work accompanied by a local craft beer, straight from the office keg.

This question that has been introduced into my reality does not include a clear answer yet.  Maybe Denver is on to something.  Maybe this attitude about life takes a certain edge off that we as humans need to be able to relax and enjoy.  For now I am enjoying my hug, embracing this wonderfully easygoing lifestyle.  With weekends full of mountain hikes, camping trips, and music festivals, and the stresses of the work day ending promptly at 5 o'clock to take advantage of countless happy hour options, I am not complaining.  My desire for things like competition, struggling through the unfamiliar, being a stranger to a new land, still keeps a part of me dreaming of a future departure, but for this moment it works.  We should all have a license to be this pleasantly content, even if it is just for a snapshot in time and at the expense of some level of inner growth.  It's hard to argue life in Pleasantville.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Vision of Peace Through the Olympic Ceremonies

Admittedly the opening ceremony for the Olympics last night started off slow with several instances leaving me scratching my head and trying to piece it all together.  The dream scene seemed odd with that giant baby, and the entire first half hour consisting of a hodge-podge of people stomping around in a giant cluster were less than impressive.  Criticism is flying all over Facebook this morning, understandably so, but in the end I feel more than satisfied.

The thing is, what makes these ceremonies so special is not the cinematic or theatrical representation of the home country; it is the joining of the nations that occurs half way through and then witnessing the culmination of the entire world celebrating together in one small space.  For me, each marching group of athletes, adorning their home garb and proudly waving their flag, gave me an incredible feeling of satisfaction and appreciation.  The organization of the parade of nations is perfect, separating the various cultures and nationalities merely by alphabetical order.  And as they placed their waving banners along the grassy hill top, equally represented regardless of size or number of athletes, we could all clearly see that we are neighbors to each other, not distant foreigners.

I attribute the enjoyment of watching the commencement of these games to the traditional significance of them, what they represent, and all the boundaries they manage to cross.  As the final torch was lit and one brass flower peddle for each nation was individually set a blaze, my heart fluttered.  When the peddles rose, creating the symbolic Olympic flame, it was quite honestly an emotional moment.  This show transformed from being about Britain and became an ode to world unity.  The grand finale, sky lit up with an epic display of fireworks and Paul McCartney belting out Hey Jude as the crowd sang in unison “Nah nah nah nah- ne-nah nah, nah ne-nah nah, hey Jude!” sent goose bumps down my spine.

These global games mean more to me this year than any year prior due to my personal world exploration that has exponentially increased in recent years.  In contrast to four years ago during the last summer games, I have now lived overseas, visited many different countries, and become deeply bonded with new friends from all around the world.  In this very moment, as I await a rapidly approaching move, I am essentially without a home and have been in this situation for a while.  It brings me even closer to this idea that the world is my home and I am a global citizen.  At the same time, I feel a new appreciation for being an American, oddly enough.  After spending so much energy trying to disassociate with my home nation, watching them walk in last night in all their glory helped me to better understand where all that patriotism comes from.  We truly are a great country and for the first time in years, I’m eager to establish my home here on American soil.

What a wonderful power this athletic competition can have.  At least for this spectator, I have a heightened awareness and love for my fellow nations, and simultaneously feel so proud to cheer on the states.  Could it be possible that for this little snap shot in time we can have a fleeting image of something that somewhat resembles world peace?  If that were true, then maybe, somehow, in the words of Paul McCartney, we could begin to make it better, better, better, better…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Life is Like a Box of Golf Balls...

The best analogy I've ever been able to come up with when pondering what it may feel like for life to perfectly come together would be comparing it to golf.  Stay with me.  While I am no golfer, I have experienced the magical phenomena that occurs when the head of the club meets the tiny golf ball at the perfect angle and in the ideal spot, creating that "ping" sound that sends the ball sailing straight for it's target.  It's only happen a few times for me, but all of those other attempts where I'm hacking at the grass, whiffing the ball, or directing it in a horizontal trajectory, make these unique, dead-on hits feel incredible.  Many more skilled golfers hit the ball just fine, but still experience the "ping!" moments only on rare occasions.  But it's those pros who have found a sweet spot and stayed with it, achieving greatness in their game and rarely missing that perfect match up of ball to club, who are the people made for the game.

This is a lot like life to me as I scavenger through the various options of occupations, activities, geographies, and lifestyles.  I've experienced an increasing number of "sweet-spot" moments peppered throughout my days, becoming more frequent as I learn the lessons of life.  But then something miraculous happened.  Could I have made a whole in one?  This new job is the culmination of my pursuits and Denver appears to be a fertile breeding ground for joy.  And since accepting this new role and planning my rapidly approaching move, every shot is sailing right off the tee.  I don't know what to accredit this sensation or stroke of luck but to the same force that pros are gifted with as they consistently play on par.  I have to assume and hope that in some way I found my match and for that, every shot is lining up.  It's taken 27 years and relentless persistence, but I have this striking feeling that I may find my greatness, at least for the moment, in this next pursuit.  While it must be nice to be a golf pro, this experience proves to me that we are all pros at something, it's just a matter of taking enough swings to ultimately find the sweet spot.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A New Adventure Begins

And so it is official-- the end of one adventure ushers in the beginning of an incredible, very different new one.  After an excruciating two months of scattered ideas, disparate thoughts, and incomplete plans, the best case scenario has somehow come to fruition.  I feel compelled to write this entry as a personal reminder to not give up on the dream, no matter what anyone says or what you may have to give up to do it.  The job:  OneSeed Expeditions in Denver, CO, bringing adventurous and socially conscious travelers to sought after destinations for weeks of trekking, camping, and experiencing the local culture.  With part of the sale going toward women to start businesses in Nepal, my philanthropic contributory itch is satisfied.  My role: bringing these trips into people's lives anyway I know how and helping this incredible start up grow. For me, the mission of finding the perfect balance, that essential transition out of the epic vagabond adventure and back into functional society, is deemed a success.

As always, there has been a massive lesson learned as I fit together more pieces of the giant puzzle we call life.  There is a natural flow of things.  It's our responsibility to adamantly strive for what feels right down to our core.  I am living proof.  As the dollars dwindled and loud voices of discouraging forces challenged my big plans, I somehow managed to mottle through and keep pushing for what I knew was right.  Contemplation of settlement constantly plagued me, festering when complacency fell upon me, but I knew that it would drive me crazy to do something out of desperation that felt so wrong.

What I've discovered is that as you persist in carving out your path, the core feeling of either dread, or excitement, contentment, or discomfort become increasingly striking and impossible to ignore.  It's scary to start with nothing and figure out what to do with your life, seemingly out of mid air.  But there are signs, and when you listen to that internal voice with complete assurance and confidence, it will tell you what to do.  Have faith that there is order to it all.  Making sacrifices and being persistent and patient are part of the challenge, but in the end it's worth the roller coaster ride.

So now begins a new life.  There is hard work ahead and closing the door on this phase of free spirited travel and discovery still leaves me with twinges of sadness now and again.  With that said, finally I feel a sense of satisfaction and closure with this chapter.  Jumping back on a plane to run off to Spain or some other foreign locale is no longer a tempting distraction.  Instead I have a feeling of deep appreciation for all of those supremely meaningful experiences and, in retrospect, I can say with complete assurance that the time spent abroad, every ounce of it, was precious.  It achieved what it was intended to achieve and so much more.  Denver will bring a new type of fulfillment to the forefront as I am at last ready to dedicate my time and energy into something bigger than myself.  The previously terrifying idea of commitment is now the one thing I welcome.  Hello new life, I think we are going to get on quite well.

I leave this entry with a quote that sums it up quite perfectly:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary." -Steve Jobs

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Run Bulls Run: A San Fermin Story

The five of us pour out of our tiny Euro rental car after the long voyage from Madrid to the Basque country.  We’re decked out from head to toe in our white digs, smacked in the face by the rapid temperature drop,  and totally unprepared for what will become one of the most fantastically chaotic weekends that can only be summed up as a perfect debacle.  Little did we realize that in just moments we would be covered in red wine, dancing in the streets, and beginning a sleepless marathon with thousands of heavy party animals from all around the world.

The highly anticipated annual festival of San Fermin, held in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona, is a week long time honored tradition where hordes of crazy locals and visitors run through the streets with massive bulls taking their final journey from their corrals and into the main bull arena.   It is considered the most internationally renowned celebration in Spain. Its roots date back to as early as the 16th century but San Fermin’s boost of worldwide fame can be attributed to Earnest Hemingway’s account of his experiences in the 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.  For some, San Fermin is a chance to witness a part of history; for others it is an opportunity to party nonstop; and for those brave (or crazy) enough, it’s the possibility of being able to get a glimpse of the bulls while run alongside them.

Our group was here for all of the above.  As Spain expats, my fellow English teacher buddies and I couldn’t miss this highly anticipated event.  How perfect that a few of my dear friends and brother decided to make the voyage thousands of miles from the US to join in the revelry.   We agreed to rent one car and squeeze in to meet other friends who were already way ahead of us.

Accommodations for the week were slim pickings and cost an arm and a leg, so we jointly shared a tiny hotel room outside of town for the seven of us.  The tight sleeping arrangements were of little concern to us as we arrived and eagerly hopped on the regularly running shuttle where the party was already underway.  It dumped us off in the city center and we dove into the sea of white and red that was buzzing with excitement.

Our first mission was to make a few essential purchases:  signature logoed red scarves to finish off our uniforms, bocadillos to provide sustenance (these common Spanish hoagie sandwiches were the only food we were able to get our hands on for the entirety of the weekend), and lots and lots of red wine.  We filled giant clear plastic cups and peculiar leather satchels with cheap boxed vino tinto (red wine) and hit the streets.  Before we knew it we were completely immersed in the celebrations, jump-roping with strangers in the center of a spontaneous dance party, frolicking in the bull stables, and having an all out wine fight in Plaza de Castillo, Pamplona’s central square.  Hours slinked by as we lost all conception of time and reality.

Eventually our brave bull runners, my brother and Carolina friend, decided a bit of shut eye before their daring dash was a wise decision.  But with more of my local friends joining us to continue the all out fiesta, it took little contemplation to conclude that a few of us would probably not be seeing the inside of that hotel room before the 8 a.m. run.  We proceeded to let the good times roll as the streets became even more chaotic and the real party heated up.

More hours slipped away and before we knew it the street cleaners were clearing the way for the morning event.  My local amigo brought the three of us that remained to a spot that was prime real-estate to be front and center for the main show.  Makeshift wooden fences were constructed each morning for a select few to grab a spot above the crowd.  We wrestled and elbowed our way to a sliver of fence and at 5:00 a.m. we proceeded to shiver away the next several hours, straddling a wooden log as our buzzes wore off and a mean rush of hunger and sleepiness swept over us.  All we could do was wait and hope that we would at least get to witness my brother and friend’s proud moment as they dart by us, triumphantly outrunning a herd of agitated bulls.

Three hours have now past since we found our tiny sliver of fence to prop ourselves up on as we eagerly wait to see our companions run by.  The hunger and exhaustion have past and at this point we are simply delirious.  The others from our group have joined us, comfortably squatting behind the fence, and all of us are eagerly await the big show.  

There is a sea of heads in front of us, packed into the narrow streets of the old town and pouring out into the clearing ahead.  Thousands of adrenaline pumped runners are bouncing up and down, bursting at the seams with pent up excitement and anticipation.  Spectators craning their necks, squeezing onto the tiny balconies, and climbing anything they can find, fight for a glimpse of what is to come. Reporters take their position and rescue workers prepare stretchers for the fallen ones.  This continues for the next half hour.  Finally a ripple of shouting and intensity rushes over the jumping participants. 

The first bull tears through the crowd and a herd of men barrel past us.  My hands full with cameras and trying to prop myself up on the wobbly post, I fix my eyes on the plethora of people running for their lives.  The next several bulls run by in mere seconds.  Desperately scanning the scene for my brother, all I can see is a mass of white shirts and red scarves, and the frantic expressions of those crazy enough to take on this adventurous endeavor.  At last I catch a glimpse of one familiar face as my brother is triumphantly completing his mission. 

 It’s been less than five minutes since the run began and the crowd is already dwindling.   Once the last of the runners reach our spot, we at last can peel ourselves off of the fence and begin to make our way towards the bull ring, the bulls’ final destination.  At this point, a new level of tiredness falls upon us as we approach the 24 hour mark of this sleepless adventure.  Desperately, we search for my brother and friend becoming increasingly hopeless to finding our needle in the haystack.

Finally, after an hour, the boys proudly march into sight, glowing with elation.  We discover that after the run, the true dare devils convened at center stage within the bull ring to go toe to toe with young steers.  With nothing but a thin layer of rubber separating the sharp tips of their horns with the novice “bull fighters”, the steers frantically bucked about and crazy thrill seekers got their fix.  The boys share with us their unbelievable accounts of this rare experience.  My brother recalls: 
“There was a pack of guys, 30 of them or so, crouched down at the opening of the gate where the bulls run out.  They expected the bulls to jump over them, but to their horror, one bull lowered his head and plowed right through the bodies… The craziest one of them all was a Texan, adorning his cowboy hat.  He jumped on the back of one of the steers and rode him as if he was in a rodeo. “

Their enthusiasm pumps us up with an essential second wind.  There is nothing more to do than celebrate, so at 10 am we find the nearest eatery where we pop a bottle of bubbly and share in the revelry over bottomless glasses of cava.  We find ourselves in a new state of delirium and spend the afternoon roaming about the streets yet again, as parades march by, children and adults play in the streets, and a new batch of visitors join in the fun.  With nothing but a short siesta on the grass in the central plaza, we all are running on nonexistent fumes.

Once arriving at the final anticipated event of our journey, a live outdoor concert by a local celebrated band, we are dead.  Our mission has been accomplished: we squeezed as much excitement as possible out of our San Fermin weekend.  Like sardines, we finally crash in our tiny hotel room, all seven of us somehow managing to carve out enough space to slumber.  And in the morning, we hop back into our little car, saying farewell to San Fermin and still in a foggy state of disbelief about this incredible two days that we would not soon forget.    

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Top Five To-Dos in Madrid

The traditional Spanish capital of Madrid is often overlooked as a top European destination, getting lost in the shadows of other cities like Paris, London, and Rome.  But with a plethora of outstanding food, a world class football team, green space galore, world famous art, and rich culture Spanish culture around every turn, it is fascinating how more tourists do not flood the streets as they do in these other hotspots in Europe.  With so much goodness to take in, how can visitors possibly decide how to fit it all in?  Here is a top five list of must-do activities for those fortunate enough to discover this absolute Spanish gem.

5) Tapas, Tapas, Tapas

 From upscale eateries to tucked away bars, one thing virtually all of the restaurant establishments in Madrid have in common is tapas.  This tradition of serving a small taste of food with each beverage began centuries ago as barmen sought out a solution in the hot summer months to keep pesky insects away from patrons’ drinks.  They would place a lid on the glass that was often a small plate, and eventually began to add a snack to the top, realizing that people tended to drink more when they were eating.  Since then, the Spanish have become increasingly creative in their tapas offerings.

Some minimal bars will merely plop down a pile of potato chips or fresh olives, while others provide creative pinchos (small bites served on top of a piece of bread) topped with goat cheese, salmon, or foie gras, to name a few.  One famous tapas bar in Madrid, El Tigre in the Chueca district, offers massive plates full of rich Spanish tortilla (popular egg and potato dish), fried croquettas (breaded balls of creamy dough), and spicy chorizo (Spanish sausage), piled high and free with the purchase of a cold drink.

4) Futbol!

After winning their third consecutive world championship, mentioning team Espana is a must.  And with several of the country’s team members regularly playing for local team, Real Madrid, catching a game at Santiago Burnabea Stadium makes the top of the list for things to experience while in town.  The famous football stadium is located in the north of the city, not far from the only towering skyscrapers in Madrid.

During off season or when there is a break in the action, the impressive sports arena offers comprehensive tours year around where visitors get a sneak peek into the modern dressing rooms, presidential balcony, press box, and trophy room, along with a walk around the pitch and a full panoramic view.  When it is game time, an elite group of the world’s finest football athletes show their skills.  World Cup and Euro Cup leading goal tender, Iker Casillas, and notorious celebrity sports star, Cristiano Ronaldo, sport the white B-win jerseys and guarantee an exciting match.

3) Green Space

Walking through the streets of Madrid, gazing up at the impressive architecture boasted throughout the main roads, it’s clear that this was a capital made for a king.  This goes for the parks as well.  The most central and famous park is Parque de Retiro, which was originally created for the royal family to enjoy a peaceful get away, or retirement, from the palace.  Today, several kilometers of green expanse and hidden nooks are free rein to residents and visitors to enjoy a leisurely day at the park.  In the center of the grounds is an elaborate fountain pouring into a small lake where paddle boats are offered at a steal.  Within the grounds are also small art exhibits and the famous glass palace, Palacio de Cristal.

Madrid’s largest park, Campo de Casa, was formally hunting ground for the royal family and now offers hiking trails, sports facilities, an amusement park, and a zoo.  And if that isn’t enough green, there are numerous smaller neighborhood parks always a stone throw away.

2) Art and Museums

Art is plentiful in this culturally rich Spanish city.  The most famous of the art museums is the world renowned, Museo de Prado.  It holds seven centuries of Europe’s finest art work, including the most impressive and largest collection of Spanish paintings and sculptures.  People come from far and wide to spend hours making their way through the massive halls of this monumental structure.

For a taste of modern art work, the Riena Sofia does not disappoint.  Fascinating seasonal exhibits utilize the senses and technology to create an entire art experience and great works of modern art geniuses span the walls.  In addition to the Prado and Riena Sofia, throughout the city there are always various temporary exhibits displayed anywhere from train stations to plazas.

1) A Walk through the Old Town and Beyond

The best thing to do in Madrid is simply walk around and experience the sheer greatness of this impressive Spanish city.  The best place to lose oneself is in the old town.  Plaza Mayor is situated in the heart of Madrid and must be experienced more than seen.  The accordion plays softly, couples amble by, and patrons fill patios.  People watching here is a must.  Beyond the walls of the square is the Mercado de San Miguel, filled with the finest food products and perfectly prepared cuisine.
Not far down the old cobble stone streets, the crowd parts and the massive palace, Palacio Real, fill your view.  The spectacular grounds give way to incredible views and tours are available to get a taste of Spanish royalty.  The famous opera house, culturally rich neighborhoods like La Latina and Lavapies, and the center of Spain, Sol, are all a short walk away.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Unlocking Life's Mysterious Puzzle

For the last month I've been on a mission to find employment, a new home, and a lifestyle that suits me here in the United States.  But what I've discovered as the puzzle begins to at last come together, is that this month long search is merely the culmination of a life long pursuit up to this point in unlocking how my own personal greatness will be manifested.

Each of us has a personal greatness; a potential "sweet spot" that consists of the perfect marriage of our passion, values, and interests, and our skills, experience, and ideal occupation.  Some of us are born with the knowing of what our calling is, while others, like myself, have to dig deep within to uncover that essential match.  I believe that many people trudge along in their day to day life doing something that is just close enough to the mark that they are satisfied, performing life's duties and adapting to the situation they find themselves in.  There is no harm in this, but one never gets the opportunity to realize their own great contribution potential.

This mission of finding that match, or what I like to call that "sweet spot", is one that has become dormant during particular phases of my life, and then reared it's head in strange syncronistic moments and powerfully vivid dreams.  For me, after this current stretch of time as I proceed with my head down to focus on job applications and research, I was gifted with a blatant reminder to continue hunting while remaining aware of the bigger picture.  I've become swallowed by the sea of options that lay before me and the multitude of life altering decisions.  But this weekend, as I took a moment of rest and stepped away from all of the planning and analyzing in order to still my mind and recall the purpose of all of this, it all became clear once again.  It popped up in a lucid dream, and that dream stirred the pot once again, encouraging me to keep plugging away at finding the next step in the right direction.

The are giant question marks still hovering over head: Where will I go? What will I be doing?  With who?  When will it all begin?  How will I make it happen?  But what I do know is that it is all coming together as long as I remain patient and steadfast, following the natural course of life and not settling out of desperation, frustration, or resignation.  Everything happens for a reason and as I look back on the past five years, reflecting on how it is all leading me to my personal greatness, it all still fits into the puzzle so perfectly.  The hard work put into the IBM experience, followed by a reflective time abroad, peppered with these stalled moments in limbo have all be equally essential to finding this purpose, this calling, this greatness.

Even as I sit with no job to speak of in a temporary home, there is an exciting energy and deep reassurance that I'm on the right track.  Life has a peculiar way of working out if you trust and listen to the inner voice that is sometimes whispering and other times shouting what it is you are supposed to do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Westglow Resort and Spa

Westglow Resort and Spa made such an impression on me, I couldn't help but make it my next Examiner piece.  Escape the summer heat with a trip to the mountains as I did last weekend.  What better way to do it than while being pampered with a day of beauty?

Click here to

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Vacation that is Out of this World via The Examiner

The first installment of publications as Raleigh Travel Examiner.  Enjoy!

For many of us, imagining the most exotic destinations would include experiences like tasting street food in India, strolling down the historic streets of Rome, lounging on a beach in Fiji, or even trekking through the frozen tundra of Siberia.  But there a is new, scantly charted frontier that a select few are lining up for, and it’s only around 60 miles away (that’s less than the distance from Raleigh to Greensboro!)

Thanks to Richard Branson, billionaire adventurer and founder of the Virgin empire, and other likeminded entrepreneurs, there is a new option for those who have seen it all.  For a cool $200,000, folks now have the option to blast off in a bona fide rocket and exit the Earth’s atmosphere.  Passengers will be able to experience the ultimate thrill of being launched into space, enjoy the sensation of weightlessness, and be afforded a unique opportunity to peer down at island Earth.  But according to experts, these three tangible value points don’t come close to comparing to the core benefit of one of these trips.

Beyond intergalactic discoveries, zero gravity, and moon walks, there is an underlying mental, emotional, and even spiritual sensation that astronauts experience as they exit Earth and witness our globe from outer space.  What experts call, the Overview Effect, is a powerful sensation of instantly changed perspective that those who have undergone space travel consider to be one of the most moving experiences of their lives.  According to the select few who have ventured into outer space, there is a sudden awareness that the world is merely a fragile blue ball of life, surrounded by a thin layer of atmospheric protection.   “On my four space shuttle flights I struggled constantly to make sense of an avalanche of new sensations and perceptions,” explains four time space pilot, Thomas Jones.

Critics argue that with so many problems occurring here on Earth today, why invest the time, technology, and money on the likes of space tourism?  The response is that this Overview Effect has great philanthropic and humanitarian impactful.  Actually seeing the biosphere from an outsider’s perspective is the only way to witness how delicate the sliver of atmosphere around our planet truly is. Suddenly, individuals realize we all reside on the same landmass, creating an overwhelming sense of oneness with the entire world and a dramatically increased environmental and social consciousness.   As former space tourist Richard Garriot puts it, “Going to space is a phenomenal, life changing experience…  If we can get 10% of people into space, society would be different.”

For now, making the two hour journey above the clouds is reserved for those with hefty bank accounts and a burning desire to see what lies beyond.  Branson’s mission, however, is to pump as much of the profits back into the project as he can to create more “space ports” (airports for launches, with the flagship currently located in New Mexico) and reduce the price of a ticket significantly.  He hopes that within a decade the price of one of these thrilling rides will cost around what you would pay for a used car.  Travel agencies throughout the world are already booking tickets, including Maupin Travel, located right here in Raleigh.  And if it is not price but safety holding off potential buyers, this billionaire visionary will be on the first flight out with his two children and elderly mother, proving that this is one adventure he is completely comfortable with.

Check out the article at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New York, New York

My brother and I sit in the center of Union Square in the heart of Manhattan, taking a breather from the madness of the holiday weekend crowds stuffing the sidewalks throughout the city.  This plaza, packed with eccentric characters, colorful diversity, and bustling energy, is his comfort zone to relax and unwind as he has made living in this center of the world his paramount
dream.  For me, my senses are overloaded and I have a sensation of no escape.  Even in the “quiet” streets of Park Slope in Brooklyn where he resides, there is an energetic vibe I’m no longer used to.  This city is like an unexpected gust of wind, stirring up my plans and my perceptions.

It’s dumfounding that one month ago I was staring into the horizon, following the simple lines of the volcanoes and the sea with my eyes, not a soul to interrupt the peaceful scene.  That existence is impossible here in the utter chaos of the busiest cities in the world.   What a vastly different island than little Lanzarote… [The island of Manhattan is approximately 13 miles long and 2 miles wide, with somewhere around 13 million people situated on the island on any given work day.  Lanzarote is just shy of 40 miles long and 13 miles wide with only 125,000 people.  That means Lanzarote is 4-5 times larger with 1% occupancy. Quite the contrast and my explain why I'm just a little overwhelmed]

While there’s a stark difference between our ideas of comfort, I can relate to where he derives this absolute love for the city that never sleeps.  He can feel the undeniable energy that never fades.  It’s as though the mind and body of a person residing here begins to mimic the pulse of its environment.  How could it not?  Even I have an extra pep in my step when I hit the streets on a mission and bounce from one subway car to another.  It’s like being infused with an extra dose of adrenaline, zapping away any lethargy as the rhythm pumps new life into the people running on overdrive. Even living in Madrid can’t compare to a city like this one.  This tiny island never stops moving for a second and if you take a quiet pause for too long, it’s easy to get sucked up into an abyss.

Busy streets of Time Square

There is a tempting quality to being in a place with such a powerful presence, where the center of everything resides and where absolutely anything is possible.  It truly is where people with a dream of success come to try their hand at their ambitious goals.  But is this the feverish atmosphere that will fuel my dreams and be my own hub of triumph? Does this nonstop lifestyle inevitably lead to burn out or somehow mottle out a simple joy essential to really appreciate life? For me, the energy, while motivating and captivating, is dizzying and exhausting.  It seems to seep into people’s blood, altering their chemistry to become a part of this breathing giant.  I know I could take on this place, guns a blazing, ready to join the rat race and take on my own massive endeavors.  But I could also be sitting on the edge of a beach, watching the gently rolling tide, and fueling myself with the unmatchable power of what exists simply in nature.  This is the big question now burn a whole in my scull as I sit in the middle of the madness.

Quiet Famara Beach

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Back to Spain? Again?

Spain, Spain, Spain, you’ve done it again.  I’ve barely unpacked my bags and gotten temporarily situated here in the US and I’m already dreaming of cobblestone roads in the old towns, Spanish small talk with locals, lounges on patios for a café con hielo (coffee with ice), and long talks with my amigas (girl friends) over canas (small beers) and tapas (small snack you get with beer)...  But the thing is, I also miss the crappy stuff that we all complain about, like how Spanish people are notoriously late, or how the men stare relentlessly, or how they seem to be completely oblivious of other people walking at a different pace along the same side walk.  They may have had me grumbling from time to time, but it’s a part of the great Spanish culture I adore.

What I’m discovering through these moments of return and reflection is that sometimes plans don’t work out being clean and pretty and nicely packaged, but they always follow some kind of more destined path.  Just days ago I was organizing a plan to move to Denver and force upon myself a new life that would surely be fun and pleasant.  But I couldn’t ignore an off feeling about the plan and even my close friends could see it.  Now, as if a greater force is trying to drill a message into my brain, my closest contact in Denver, once encouraging me to move west, has revealed that she will now be departing soon after my arrival.  Beyond this discovery, other facets of the plan have been falling like a house of cards and I can do nothing more than believe that this is not meant to be.  I have learned the hard way many times that when you go against your instincts and these types of glaring signs, the results are can be disastrous.   Case in point: my hilariously bad trip to Amsterdam last June, but that’s a whole different story…

So here’s the thing that I am openly pondering here in this entry:  When do you ever hear advice like: Ignore your instincts; Take the road more traveled; Lead with your doubts and fears?  I wager to say not often and that if someone is giving you this advice, run.  My instincts are screaming to me that I need to go back to Spain, and this time for a while. For the first time, maybe ever, I am longing for some stability, but I want it in Spain.  I want to unpack my bags and stay for a while.  This visa situation is something I’ve conceded to without further consideration.  But then, when I think that other Americans have found a way to make a life work in Europe, and not just by teaching English or getting married to a European (not completely out of the question, but I mean, come on), I have to believe that if I fight for it, if I turn every stone and kick open every door that’s cracked open, I will somehow make this dream come true. 

It’s a remarkable sensation when you decide unequivocally that you believe something is right and when you want something with every bit of certainty you can muster.  And the final piece that has quieted the last of my doubts is the blessings and encouragement of every member of my family and my loving friends that reside all over the world.  It’s time to make this dream become reality, changing plan A from a fair compromise to a reach for my brass ring.  This may all be a pipe dream and I could be living in la-la land, but after almost three years with the same voice getting louder and louder, telling me to keep traveling and get my ass back to Europe, I gotta believe this is real and this is what needs to be done.  My daily quote today says it the best and we can all learn from it: 

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” –Karen Raven.  

Wanna Be Part of the 1% Club?

The next Scoop is up!  Take a walk on the moon with David:

Monday, May 21, 2012

A North Carolina Buddhist Experience

Raleigh can easily be classified as a conservative, old fashioned capital city, tucked away in the depths of the “Bible Belt”.  I tend to agree from time to time based on my many experiences.  However, this weekend I was exposed to a new side of Raleigh that left me wondering, "what other hidden nooks am I yet to discover here and have I been too quick to judge?"

Churches are very much a part of the culture in Raleigh

Sunday morning anywhere in North Carolina, you will find packed churches on virtually every street corner.  But this Sunday morning, I attended a different brand of worship at a Buddhist center downtown.  My friend here was assigned to perform a cultural study and part of that assignment was to join this congregation, recording her impressions and experience.  I went with her out of pure curiosity and as a final effort to uncover just the smallest inkling of diversity in this conventional, seemingly uniform community. 

Outside of Buddhist Temple, The Kadampa Center

What I expected: a very traditional and serious vibe with many people of Indian and Asian decent joining in silence and following strict protocol.  But just entering the parking lot, I saw scores of people dressed in jeans and flip flops, of all different demographics and backgrounds, casually strolling into the modern building in downtown Raleigh.   Upon entering, there were snacks and coffee, kids playing, adults chatting; all very typical “Raleigh” people. 

In the lobby for snacks

We removed our shoes and found a seat in one of the rapidly filling pews.  For the next hour, a monk with a tickle in his throat and an infectious laugh lead us through a very basic, happy sermon, peppered with breathing activities and quiet meditation.  Parts were very reminiscent of my Ashtanga yoga experience in Lanzarote.  There was no preaching or moments where I felt out of place or uncomfortable; just a simple reminder to keep your thoughts positive and be more present in our lives. 

Happy Monk who leads Sunday morning session

A part of me felt twinges of guilt for prejudging the people of Raleigh, southerners, even Americans, for being painfully out of touch and close-minded.  This experience for me served as a pleasant reminder that even here, in a state that recently was caught with egg on its face on a world scale due to passing terribly narrow minded legislation, there are plenty of people who don’t fit that mold.  (Side note for those of you from around the world that caught the headlines about North Carolina’s gay marriage ban:  Many of the people who voted for this were not residents of the bigger cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.  From all the individuals I spoke to since returning back to the state, they find it to be just as perplexing as I do and I’ve been hard pressed to find someone who voted for it to go through.  I also have no intention to offend anyone by making this opinionated observation.) 

A State Divided

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sneak Peak Scoop: Untapped Secrets of Lanzarote

The geographic secrets of this fascinating island were revealed to me by chance as a wacky Scott and I crossed paths and he agreed to take me on adventures I will not soon forget.  Here's an account of one excursion that truly transported me to another planet within the island. 

With sweaty palms and fingernails digging into the roll bar of Anibal, I keep my eyes sharply fixed ahead at the rocky off-road path.  As we drive through the middle of the desert I am shouting “hole!” to diligently fulfill my arbitrary task of warning our driver of giant gaps in the “road” as I hang over the top of his beloved four wheel beast.  We fly through the open expanse of sand and rocks, over small lava fields, and down steep overhangs.

We are on a quest to find what David, our bold adventure tour guide, has in store for us in what he calls the peculiar “one percent club”.   Originally from the Highlands of Scotland, this adventure junkie discovered the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands five years ago.  Since then, he has made the mysterious natural oasis of volcanoes, beaches, deserts, and caves his personal playground to be shared with those who trust him enough to hit the trails in his rugged open top Jeep he calls “Anibal”. .

On this installment of Adventure Holidays Lanzarote, we are making our way through this Canary Island’s uninhabited desert valley to crawl beneath the craggy, crusty land and into one of the massive lava tubes that was carved out by hot magma during the explosive creation of this volcanic island.   We’ve just spent the past hour discovering fascinating wonders of the volcanic landscape above ground, hiking inside the massive crater of a hollowed mountain, then scaling the side of it in order to peer over its crumbling ledge into the vacant center.  We craned our heads around, 360 degrees, gripping the sturdy rocks around us to take in the breathtaking panoramic view that resembles what you would envision of life on the moon.  Now, after a bumpy off-road expedition to a seemingly desolate spot, we arrive at a small, peculiar scar sliced out of the ground, inviting us to crawl below the superficial layer of earth to see what secrets the island holds underneath the surface. 

We switch on our headlamps and begin to crawl down into the dark unknown.  As we cautiously shuffle through the dark, rocky twists and turns of this massive lava tunnel, climbing over the pieces of the fallen rubble and ducking under the dangling mineral deposits, I feel like a kid again, exploring wondrous untapped hideaways.  We finally emerge into the sunlight after a long voyage through one of Lanzarote’s underground secrets with an enlightened perspective on how these spectacularly mystifying islands came to be.

What is truly fantastic about Lanzarote and David’s mission for his guests is that there are countless surprises yet to be experienced by the vast majority of inhabitants and visitors all over this tiny, beautiful landmass.  Beyond lava tubes and volcano hikes, tiny unmarked seaside villages, caves tucked away into cliff sides, beautiful hidden beaches, and the most spectacular outlook spots are all waiting to be revealed to those fortunate few that dare to discover them. 

You can find David’s tours at, or shoot him an email at  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Final Days of Spain

After several weeks of blog neglect, I feel utterly compelled to share the frenzy of the past month now that I’ve at last been afforded a moment for reflection and recollection.

My departure from Lanzarote was tearful and weighed heavily on my heart as I peeled myself away from the xenful island life that I grew to adore and that has effectively become a part of me.  My final day, I knew no better place to say goodbye than by taking Smurf for a drive down my favorite open road to those precious cliffs, and strolling along Famara Beach to a hidden spot between the dunes.  The beach was quiet, with clouds rolling in overhead and gusts of wind twirling around my hair and skirt.  I took this personal moment to say farewell and vow to return sooner than later.  Somehow in just a short span of time, this mysterious place managed to shake me to my core and re-center me in mind, body, and soul.

 When I at last departed, the skies had cleared and I gazed out of the airplane window at the entire island, now appearing curiously tiny.  I said goodbye to each village, watching my favorite spots pass below me, keeping my eyes locked on the land until it was at last out of site.  And as the sun sat brilliantly into the horizon over the sea, I took a deep breath and choked back my tears, repeatedly thanking this place for all it has given me. 

When I landed back in Madrid, hysteria of the big city metro on a Saturday night smacked me in the face.  I reemerged into the noise and hustle, trying hard to hold on to my inner calmness as people dashed past me and the loud noises filled my ears.  For the two days I spent here in limbo, I managed to keep out the madness, becoming starkly aware that life in a big city is definitely not conducive of relaxation or inner peace.  I quickly headed north for another breed of adventure in the Basque Country of Spain.  My adventures through San Sebastian, the tiny neighboring coastal towns, and a happy return to Pamplona are best if recounted independently in another post. 

Again refreshed from a week of more Spanish discoveries, I returned to Madrid for one more week in this incredible country I proclaim as my second home.  I filled my days reconnecting with those individuals that I hold near and dear, returning to those spots I regulared once upon a time around the capital’s center, and maintaining sanity as I dealt with life back in a metropolitan environment.  When Monday arrived, as much as I wanted to make a last minute attempt to abandon my flight and latch on to my life as a Spaniard, I reluctantly departed and made the lengthy voyage back to my inevitable base of Raleigh, North Carolina. 

This return is different, being much more brief and sandwiching a state side adventure to NYC, visitting my bro who is experiencing a whole different type of adventure. Then, in less than a month, I’ll be hitting the road, literally, and trying my hand at life back in the states, making Denver, CO “home”.  But I can’t help this overwhelming feeling from rising up inside of me and feeding a burning desire to be back in Spain sooner than later.  I found a home for myself in there it leaves me feeling lost and unfulfilled to be separate from this place.  It’s more than just a location; it’s a lifestyle, a feeling, an energy, that draws me in unyieldingly.  Still, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that if Spain truly is my destined home, I will figure out a way to settle my roots abroad, happily and legally.  Life has a funny way of working things out, so I’m going to roll with the punches, give Colorado a chance to shine, but keep Spain close to my heart, always.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Head for the Hills!

Next Scoop is out:  A pleasent day trip in Gran Ca to Arucus includes all you can drink rum and dodging peacocks

Head for the Hills: Gran Canaria Island

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Natural Beauty

Cruising down the zigzagging motorway from my tiny village of Tao to the western edge of Lanzarote for my usual biweekly yoga class, I at last allowed my hectic stream of thought melt away out of my consciousness.  As I wound my way down the LZ-401, I casually peered up into the distance, as I always do on this stretch of road.  But this time my eyes were captivated.  The late spring sunshine was feeding the sky with one last pop of brightness and as I gazed to the expansive distance, over the blank desert and tiny pueblos sprinkled about the sporadic rolling hills, I could see so perfectly the monumental Famara cliffs, towering over the town for which I was heading, and the quiet neighboring island of La Graciosa.  I make this same drive on several occasions each week, but there was something uniquely stunning that kept my eyes unyieldingly locked on the view. 

The sun appeared to be grabbing every individual crevice of the craggy precipice.  The jagged edges of the rock face with its intricate abrasive contours gently softened into a smooth rolling valley as it crept away from the islands edge, sneaking inland.  The ridges along the façade looked as though they were giant reaching fingers, outstretched to the earth’s floor, as the sun created shadows between each bend.  I watched the clouds slowly move above the sharp crown, kissing its curves to create that iconic image for which this landmark is known; the dramatic slope sliced out of the lid, rising to the heavens once more before tapering off into the ocean.  The scene presented the illusion that the entire planet was chiseled out of this one piece of remaining stone.  

As I entered my destination I pondered how a rock could have so much inspirational power. How could this colossal stone barricade create a profound emotional response, keeping me captured by its beauty and positively entranced?  But as I drove here quietly with not a sound but the idle rumble of my engine, eyes fixed on this incredible vista, I was connecting deeply with something simple yet profound.

I took one final glance at the now proximal vista until finally entering into my place of temporary sanction, the old community center of Famara, to partake in a fulfilling hour and a half of meditation and yoga.  After the time was completed, this particular session being an even more tranquil and centering experience than usual, I stepped out into the parking lot with a grin of contentment, slowly floating to my vehicle, deeply exhaling the last breaths of my previously busy day, now transformed into a mellow timeless existence.  As I began to depart, I recalled my tremendous drive down into town and took note of the now rapidly fading daylight, transforming into a clear starry night.

With my prized Famara cliffs still holding their bold pose in the night sky to the north, I turned my gaze to the south where a hint of sunlight was still peaking through the dark shadows of the rolling volcanic hills.  Only black outlines remained of the colorful mars-like mountain ridges.  It was now not the incredible presence of the rock formations that were being highlighted, but the breathtaking colors of the southern sky.  Rich deep blues hovered over head, filled with puffy dark clouds, kissed with a luminous magenta hue, and tiny twinkling pinholes poked out of the mystifying darkness.  As I scanned the sky toward the horizon, as the atmosphere met the black rolling hilltops it subtly morphed into a delicate purple hint before sinking into a feminine pink and at last revealing a tiny shimmer of white sunlight on the cusp of disappearing beyond the horizon line. 

I was once again captivated by the sheer natural magnificence that could never possibly be matched by any man made attempt.  This inconceivable view that I was resting my eyes upon took a hold of me, like a feeling of falling deeply in love all at once.  Never in my life have I felt so clear and pure, so naturally and fantastically centered.  This perfect melody of life in this one poignant moment stirred an emotional frenzy within me as I simultaneously came to the stark realization that this will need to be branded into my memory because my time here on this island is rapidly drawing to a close.  But I feel an incredible gratitude and there is no imaginable way to predict what it will feel like to be peeled away from such a peaceful existence and thrusted back into a concrete jungle filled with cars and people, noises and lights. At least I have time moment, this simply perfect moment, to look back on and deeply appreciate.  Thank you Famara cliffs and setting sun and peaceful Lanzarote.  Thank you for being so naturally and purely exquisite.