Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A little namaste for your vacay: Four reason to practice yoga while traveling

***So...it is pretty obvious that I haven't been around as much as I was awhile back (I've been writing for a different audience). That audience, however, provided me the opportunity to write this piece for class, and I couldn't help but share it here as well. So while this may have been completed as part of my required coursework for my MA in Communications at Johns Hopkins University, it will now live here for your information and entertainment.***

From dawn to dusk, TLV is pure beauty.

My last trip to Tel Aviv coincided with Lilah Lavan, or White Night; one night a summer; Tel Aviv stays awake for a celebration named after the alabaster buildings that earned the municipality the nickname 'The White City." This included concerts in Bialik Square, late-night museum exhibits, and even opera productions at the most unexpected times.

My favorite part of the evening, however, was the morning; after a night up, I was looking forward to the beachfront downward dogs and child’s poses that awaited me at the Tel Aviv Port’s morning yoga, one of the final events of the night.  Yoga is an amazing exercise—it helps a body in so many ways. Personally, it is a lifesaver when I travel. I like to be active, but it is hard to accomplish when one is actually active. For that reason, I have four reasons why yoga should become anyone’s favorite travel companion.

The mountain fortress of Masada...the perfect location for
a mountain pose. 
  1. Yoga is a portable activity. It doesn’t require much equipment; even a hotel towel will do just fine as an impromptu mat if one is not available. My hotel offers large beach towels for guest that head down to the sea, and trust me, these will do just fine out in the sand or in the room for a pop-up yoga session.
  1.  It helps with the stress of travel. I am rarely motorized when in Israel; I don’t rent a car nor do often I call a cab--I tend to take the country by foot. Yoga is an amazing way to calm and stretch my screaming muscles and joints so I don't have to spend a day holed up in a hotel room. It keeps me limber enough to lumber out the door and into the new world I am exploring.
  1. It provides moments of meditation during important discoveries. There is something really meditative when armed with the ability to strike a yoga pose when the moment is right, such as at top of Masada when I wanted to practice kapalbhati and stare from the mountain into the depths of the Dead Sea in the distant and just float in that magnanimous moment for as long as my guide would let me.
  1.  The yoga community is a tight-knit bunch, and if you don’t find them they might find you. Everywhere I travel I have been able to find some sort of yoga studio; even if I don’t have an official place, any location will do. If this spot is a public location, don’t be surprise if it becomes a magnetic activity—either you are drawn to others, or other come to you to practice together.
Whether you find yourself in the Middle East, the middle of a city, or even just the middle of nowhere, there is no excuse for leaving this low-impact but high-in-rewards activity at home. As the Bhagavad Gita says, “yoga is the journey of the self, to the self, through the self;” it would be appropriate, then, for this journey of self to coincide with any adventure.
All that is left to say is namaste:)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"...I will continue to remember him": A Visit to Mount Herzl National Cemetery

Even though I have alluded to my strong reaction at Mount Herzl in an earlier post, a stroll down memory lane (otherwise known as iPhoto) while finishing a few TripAdvisor reviews brought me right back to that location, emotions an all.  For that, I decided it deserved something more than a photo and a simple thought.

So, here for you, is a complete review:

I knew my first trip to Israel was going to be salty.  The waters of the Mighty Mediterranean of course have that briny bite, and a steamy low 70 at night means plenty of sweltering sweaty days.  However, nearly two weeks into my inaugural  “trip of a lifetime,” my trial aliyah, I expected more tears; with the exception of a few weepy moments upon decent at the Ben Gurion Airport and my first visit to the sea, my eyes had remained relatively dry.

That was until I visited Theodore Herzl.

The view of Yad Vashem from Mt. Herzl
It was on my second and final day in Jerusalem when I visited both the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Mount Herzl National Cemetery. After three indescribable hours at Yad Vashem, I approached a set of steps that walked through the history of the creation of the State of Israel, from conception to declaration.  This travel through time escorts any visitor into a dense forest, rich with pines and other foliage that cast several shades of green into the ground; these flashes of chlorophyll provided ample shade along the for this weary traveler to took Jerusalem by foot (with the occasional light rail ride).   

I was completely in awe by the all-inclusive nature of Mount Herzl. There is not a sacrificed soul unwelcomed into these hallowed grounds on the Jerusalem hillside.  When following the trail that traces around this national site, numerous memorials and plots serve as “milestones on the journey to national revival,” as stated by the brochure available upon entrance.  From the post-Shoah Monument to the Last of Kin to the memorial of victims of hostilities and terror activities to the numerous military memorials that fall in between, there is not a loss that is not honored, not one casualty unaccounted for.

A photo from my Second Annual "Trip of a Lifetime" visit.
While circling these varied and valued memorials, the visitor trail places the tourist amongst the elevated plots of the Israel Defense Force members that have fallen, slightly lifting them back up in their limestone spaces.  These courageous  men and women are tucked into eternity by a blanket of well-tended shrubs, each with a little lantern set beside them, as if it were a night light for safekeeping. Row after row they rest virtually identically, only differentiated by their names, dates of births, and ages of death.

The twenty-sixth point along the path, however, is where my heart stopped. At first it was my whole body that paused at a few benches around a tree for a water break; when I looked up from my waterbottle, I had the hardest time swallowing my swig. Across from me was the final resting spot of the man that started the movement for this country that physically made me move onto my first Delta 747, which in turn had emotionally moved me for the first time in my soul’s home. 
The Final Resting Place of Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodore) Herzl

The expanse between the landscaping and Herzl is a chasm.  The tan tiles that cover the area between the visitor and Herzl reflects how he must have felt while in Austria, separated by soil and sea from the land he worked so hard to secure.  How fitting, however, how his delayed return to the precious soil has him eternally surveying the land he loved from a distance.  The writing of “The Jewish State,” the work in Basel at the Zionist Congress, the boat ride to Palestine, all for this--his visionary idea of a Jewish Homeland.

With a square-shaped white-gray rock in hand, I set out across the neutral space towards the block of black, engraved with the golden name of its inhabitant. A gentle breeze blew towards me as I walked, fluttering my maxi dress behind me, and the Israeli flag before me. I placed my stone, said my words of remembrance as well as my words of thanks.  I took a few pictures, took a few moments, and then took off towards the Malha Train Station that took me back to Tel Aviv. 
There was perfect wind for a flag shot.
And now that I have visited the land and the man behind it, I cannot imagine a life without it. Or him. When the 20th of Tammuz turns around every year, and I celebrate my Jewish life by rereading my Torah portion, it is not without thoughts of Herzl, who 109 lunisolar years to the day, at the age of 44, died of a heart condition in Austria.  Some have made a  poetic prediction that it was a broken heart for Eretz Israel; as the story goes, he commented a day before his demise that “I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” As one of his people, I am forever grateful, and hopeful of what is to come.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Jerusalem Day!

School is almost over.  Almost.

Blogging will continue.  It must.

In the meantime until these 12 days pass, here is a little something in celebration of Jerusalem Day!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Restaurant, Reviewed: Yulia's on the TLV Port

It makes total sense to review a restaurant on a fast day, doesn't it?

OK, so it may be poor timing, but I am four weeks into a new school year; anytime for blogging is poor timing.  But I am making it happen, so that's the best timing I can think of, even if it is dripping with a little irony.

Regardless of that, I cannot rave enough about Yulia, a loving little spot along the Tel Aviv Port that I enjoyed one pre-Shabbat brunch. I had walked all the way up to the organic food market, and was all the way back down when my breakfast had worn off and I was in need to rest and replenishment.  As my TripAdvisor review states, this was the greatest place to find both.

Yulia - TLV Port
Dined at on June 20, 2015
Reviewed on September 19, 2014

Dining options around the Tel Aviv Port is not the problem on a Friday at lunch time; finding an empty chair is.  All the way up the shore and all the way down I scanned for an open seat.  When I found one, it was at a little place called Yulia, and  what I found there was a great pre-Shabbat treat.

When I arrived, I was seated instantly and presented with a breakfast menu. It wasn't the largest selection I have seen, but what it lacked in options it made up for in taste. The treat I chose was a Sweet Potato Quiche (54 NIS, $15 USD), which was definitely a wise choice. The cheesy dish had an amazing crust, and was served in the Israeli tradition with a great little salad (not a traditional Israeli salad, but one just as tasty).  This and an iced coffee were enjoyed outside along a boardwalk, and made for a great dining experience.

The only real negative was service; it took longer than I would have expected for an iced coffee, but it was exceedingly busy, so I tried to keep that in mind. Overall it was a pleasant dining experience, so when in the TLV Port area, don't be afraid of Yulia's for a Friday brunch.

One Sweet (Potato) Quiche
Iced Coffee with Simple Syrup
The diner at the other table
The view from Yulia's

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Restaurant, Reviewed: Tmol Shloshim

Before my first trip to Israel last August, I was so pinterested in Tmol Shilshom. I saved picture after picture of food, drinks, books, you name it from this restaurant.  Sadly, I never made it--between the hustle and hiking around that town, I wasn't up to it.

This July, however, I was.  Even though I wasn't feeling the best and I was having the hardest time swallowing the softest food, I owed it to myself and my Pinterest board to taste the food I had dreamed off for the last two years.  As my Trip Advisor review will tell you, it was all worth it.

Trip Advisor Review of Tmol Shilshom
By KaylaLeeinTLV
Visited July 2014
Reviewed: September 6, 2014

Not too far from my Jerusalem home of the Harmony Hotel, tucked away from Yoel Solomon Street there is a restaurant. This restaurant, whose name implies "those were the days", keeps today days alive and well-fed with what I can say is the best meal I have ever eaten. Ever.

Iced Coffee with Whipped Cream (23 NIS)
Upon entering, a diner does go back in time; this restaurant calls a beautiful, 100-plus year-old building home. What has been done to this former-dwelling has created an eatery that provides ample amounts of dining options--from eating indoors with a sweeping view of Shammai Street to eating outdoors in a lovely little space that is open to the Old City area atmosphere. 

Three Cheese Lasagna (67 NIS)
This is a great place to just sit and read and enjoy and ice coffee; however, if no moments are to be wasted, enjoying dinner is a must. I read the menu before I dined, so I knew exactly what I was going to get: The Three Cheese Lasagna. I got exactly what I ordered; it was the largest, most beautiful mass of noodles and cheese in culinary creation. The more-than-generous portion was so incredibly filling, but I could not waste a single bite. This, paired with their Iced Coffee with Whipped Cream, perfected an already great day in Jerusalem. 

Let your time in this holy city be perfected, too--enjoy a meal at Tmol Shilshom.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Strangers with Fiction: Ten Shekels

So, it is already Elul.  Wow. How quickly a year goes. As we enter this month of introspection and reflection that leads up to the new year, I wanted to share a short story inspired by real-life, as observed last year in Tel Aviv.  

This piece does multiple things.  It let me work on my Hebrew.  It let me document an interesting and beautiful sight at a restaurant my first night in town.  I really got to work on descriptions.  

But most importantly, it let me think.  I hope it does for you, too.

Ten Shekels.
By Kayla Lee.
Copyright 2013/5773.

        “Rosh Chodesh! Rosh Chodesh!”
Yoav looked up from his Mesoamerican temple of receipts at the lady in the doorway of his restaurant.  He entertains all kinds in his little Mexican joint, but mostly tourists or wayward aliyot who have still yet to grasp Modern Hebrew.  That’s what he has come to know and expect from his little corner of Ben Yehuda Street; that’s what keeps the menus bilingual and his business in business.
  This lady, worn tough by the Middle Eastern sun from above and the radiant Tel Aviv heat from below, stood like a question mark in the doorway.  She repeated her call of the new month, barring her toothless grin.  Sparse gray hair corkscrewed out from her dusty, dirty, once-pink hat, now mauve from poverty.  Her purple plaid blouse creased easily to her thin shoulders, tenting over the remainder of her gaunt frame.  
  She was a Rosh Chodesh Beggar; and this was Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul coincided with August this year; vacationers paired with the observant should bode well for his business this month.
  Yoav pushed back from his office-slash-waiters station, and dug into his pocket, fishing out a ten-shekel coin; there were bigger bills to catch in that pocket, but the coin is what he hooked with his index finger.  Standing with the effort of men well twice his age of 36, he stepped of the slight landing, walking over to the lady, handing her the two-toned piece.  Her frail hands captured the token as quick as a venus fly trap. She also caught his hand and his eye contact.
“Todah.”  Thank you.   May the Creator grant you peace and comfort in this month of retrospection and the New Year.
Yoav smiled at the sincerity of this woman as she let go and left.  Closing his eyes with a soft chuckle, he turned to return to his workspace, shrugging his shoulders to one of his servers as the asked silently what that s all about.
“Rosh Chodesh” was all he could respond to his questioning wait staff. 
Secular Yoav had seen it all before: the begging, the prayers, the blessings.  In truth, though, there wasn’t enough of Rachel’s red wool in Jerusalem to make him think differently.  Regardless of which New Year was being brought in; he remained relatively confident about his life, his choices—his outlook over his bills and the growth of his business attested to this.
       Dropping his glasses back down onto nose from his graying bristle-brush hair, he watched the lady slowly progress down his street.  With one last smirk and shake of his head, Yoav went back to work balancing his books, the same company he has kept New Year in and New Year out. At one point in life he may have wished for more, but the present situation always seemed more pressing than the future; that would take care of itself, he always thought. He looked down at this past, present, and future—a pile of fading bills and crumpled receipts with one lone photograph on the desk’s horizon of The One.  Occasionally his eyes caught the one moment that camera’s flash enlightened; it was their last night of college, their first night together, and one of many moments he wished he could relive.  Most of all, it was the reminded that there are no real do overs in life, just move outs and ons. 
        With this, his cynical mind went back to that lady with those shekels.  That lady who, no matter, seemed to believe that everyone can begin anew, and she was going with those shekels.  He couldn’t wedge that thought into any little crack of his mental being. What was she going to do with that solo coin? It was just a measly ten shekels.  
  He guessed she could buy a bottle of water—those big, clear, flavored bottles, the ones that fill those corner cages all over Tel Aviv.  There had been August days where he wished he could have just one more bottle, one more sip.  She must be on her way to the AM/PM, he reasoned; she needed water.
She could also ride the bus, he thought.  Yes, she could spend however long in air conditioning on the Dan’s Number Ten.  In this heat, that would definitely be a comfort, even if it was short-lived.
If she were a coffee drinker, she could perhaps get a cappuccino, but that could be a stretch without another kind heart and another ten shekels.  Maybe that was where she went: She headed down to a corner café on Mapu Street, and she was enjoying a nice frothy coffee with a pomegranate swirled into the foam.  
      His current server on duty, Ronia (Ronnie for short), walked by in the midst of this moment. 
“Rega.”  Wait, Ronnie.  What would you do with 10 shekels?
Ronnie paused in her steps, the confusion fused to her face.  
“Ma?” What are you talking about? 
Again, Yoav asked.  What would you do with 10 shekels?
Ronnie had been employed by Yoav for the better part of five years; her ever increasing wardrobe of black, off black, and charcoal would support this.  She’s come to know and appreciate his idiosyncrasies, and that it was always best to go along with him rather than against him. But it was so more fun to make him think.
Hugging the serving tray to her chest, she shrugged her shoulders.  She didn’t know.  What would you do without it?
“Slicha?”  What are you talking about?
Think about it.  If you didn’t have it, would it matter what you could do with it? No, it wouldn’t. If you didn’t know it was an option—having just ten shekels, no more no less—would you even bother thinking about it? 
      Placing her tray down close enough to the bills to send a couple floating to the floor, she took out her coin purse, cracking it open, and revealing several selections coins that totaled to 42 shekels (and some odd arogot). 
See, she said.  I don’t have to worry about just ten shekels, because mine had 32 other to help. She returned the purse to her pocket. Imagine if I didn’t have those 32.  Imagine if I didn't have two. Then ten would really be something. 
The cook’s dinging bell incited a Pavlovian response in Ronnie, who went to retrieve the completed entrées. 
      Seriously, she continued as she piled her tray with the order; if you didn’t know you had it, would you worry about these things?  Of course not.  Now, if you found just the ten shekels on the street, a surprise at your feet, then you would have something to think about.  
      Carrying her loaded tray, she brought to the no doubt tourist or wayward aliyot her vegetarian fajitas and another bottle of Coke. The caramelized sweetness of the fresh-now-flavorful food curled through the air.  
Yoav supposed Ronnie had a point; if we don’t know what we have, we might as well not have it.  
That lady had ten whole shekels to do with what she wanted.
All Yoav had was bills.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #31 and #32

Studying literature really messes with your brain.  It makes you think everything stands for something. Nothing happens just because; it all written with purpose and intent. Sometimes we carry this thought away from the seriffed pages and into the real world.

It meant something to me that I saw and photographed this piece of art on a wall near Kikar Rabin:

As I have alluded to before, the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin was a pivotal point in my life--it was my introduction to the land I have come to love as my own.  The complexities of his assassination parallel his mission, then and now.  For him, then, I put this serendipitous crane photo to the best use possible: A Memorial to his words for our future.