Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All Occasion Photo Greeting Cards - Nature, Landscape, Travel

For all of you who enjoy following my travels, I just came out with a line of all-occasion greeting cards displaying my landscape, nature + travel photos. They are blank and each features a different image from my domestic and international travels. The images were taken all over the world, including in Israel, Iceland, Montenegro, Portugal, Bangkok and Siem Reap in Cambodia.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Discount: Ethical + Fashionable Bags Making A Difference For Women + Girls

I met a couple of very wonderful women last week with a company called Catrinka. It's an ethical fashion accessory brand that's dedicated to investing in women and girls. All the products are made by women, and a share of the proceeds goes to education and mentoring for teen girls. Their motto is: Catrinka: buy a bag, employ a woman, educate a girl. This is completely in line with my sensibilities, especially given  that I'm a former educator who now mentors women at Barnard, the all-woman's college that's part of Columbia University, where I graduated; and the products I'm designing mostly are focused on women and girls. This company is graciously offering a discount to all my readers and followers: 10% off everything through 12/31 by using discount code: J10. Check out these chic, fashionable bags:

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Discount: Cute, Fun, Fashionable Belt Bags

I just met a very cool designer who has some cute, fun, fashionable and practical fanny packs.  Lots of different patterns and fabrics. The clutch converts to a belt bag; the tote converts to a backpack. And she graciously offered all my followers a 20% discount (Code: FREEHANDS) through January 1. Check out her collection, Beau and Ro

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Cambodia In Pictures

Though lauded for the ancient temple site of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is also a center for contemporary art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes. And, while troves of tourists descended on this magnificent complex, I wandered the streets of downtown Siem Reap, exploring what the town itself had to offer. I found out that down the street from my budget-minded and very socially responsible hotel, the Soria Moria, was an active Buddhist pagoda. It was within walking distance though I had the place to myself. There, one of the monks invited me into the principal, 100-year-old structure where they pray. 

I spent almost a week in Siem Reap and this is my YouTube video slideshow illustrating that it's a very creative mix of the old and the new. 

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gear Review: Comfortable Wool Sport Underwear

What I'm about to say I packed on my month-long trip to Southeast Asia this past summer may be one off the most surprising things you've read on my blog. That's because, though the temperature and humidity were both off the charts, I carried along three pairs of wool underwear -- and the only underwear I brought. Yes, you heard correctly, wool, Merino wool, at that. It may sound like an odd, ill-conceived choice but, in fact, it was the best thing I could've worn against my skin. I chose the Women's PhD Seamless Bikini underwear manufactured by SmartWool. They performed impeccably, keeping me comfortable -- they're ultra soft and they don't bunch up -- and dry no matter the temperature nor the activity. (I often wore them for bicycling and hiking and they easily wicked away sweat.) They also don't retain odor and they dried quickly when washed. This particular model -- and they have several -- is made with 79% Merino wool, the rest synthetic fibers. Now I'm a convert and I'm all about wearing wool panties even when I'm in New York City where it's about to snow today. (The same wool fabric that kept me comfortable in the hot weather also keeps me warm in the winter.)  And the men aren't left out in this shopping experience: SmartWool makes men's underwear as well.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2015 Landscape, Nature, Travel Photo Calendar

Right in time for the holiday season, I'm now accepting orders for my 2015 wall calendar. This 12-month calendar features 33 of my landscape, nature and travel images (including on the front and back covers) captured all over the world, including Thailand, Vietnam, Montenegro, Cambodia and Israel. Each month contains two and more often three images of mine. The calendar measures 13" x 10.4". There's a limited supply. You can purchase this calendar here or contact me for more information.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Portugal's Centro Region in Pictures

Though I visit Portugal pretty much every year, there's always something -- or more than something -- to be discovered. On my latest trip to the Centro region, I spent one day feeling like I stepped into Hogwarts, the fictional school of magic created by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter novels.  As I roamed the ornate halls and library in 13th century Coimbra University, passing some students garbed in the traditional long black cape, I found it surprising that I never realized that this university may have  provided Rowling, who once resided in Portugal, some inspiration.

This region is brimming with a rich diversity of culture. Not only is it home to one of the oldest universities in the world, but a section of the coast is lined with a dense pine forest; abandoned stone villages have been transformed into charming accommodations; and a network of bicycle paths attract cyclists, and joggers, as well as parents pushing strollers and older citizens just out for a stroll. The accommodations range from the luxe and contemporary, such as the Areias do Seixo Hotel and the Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel to the traditional (Hotel Quinta das Lagrimas) that dates back centuries and protects a spacious garden. The quaint cobbled village of Obidos is perched on a hill ringed by fortifications while the Santa Clara Monastery offers up its archeological finds for the visitor to inspect.  My short YouTube video slideshow reveals some of my finds in this lovely region.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

European Cemeteries That Resemble Botanical Gardens

It's a shame that cemeteries are typically associated with the macabre, where supernatural influences are ever present. On many of my travels, I've come to appreciate cemeteries as open-air museums and botanical gardens. I chose to visit one treasured cemetery in Lisbon, Reykjavik, Valletta, Zagreb and Helsinki for what they each could tell me about indigenous plants, renowned artists, notable politicians, and much more. Find out what I discovered about botany, architecture, and sociology in this article on the loveliest European cemeteries that I recently wrote for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Hanoi, Vietnam In Pictures

My week in Hanoi was wrapped up with visits to contemporary art galleries and bucolic parks and gardens. (All of these were steps away from an ulta chaotic traffic scene where crossing the street was  an adventure that I preferred to avoid.) The little visited Botanical Garden was a delight with the web of roots emanating from a 19th-century tree becoming a magnet for both people who want meditative solitude as well as those who just want to snap a selfie. The coffee culture is vibrant with whitewashed shops displaying edgy art, such as giant ants crawling up columns. A trip to expansive West Lake reveals a section blanketed by lotus blossoms as well as a shoreline mostly ringed by a pedestrian path. Pagodas and anchored boats acting as a combination restaurant, coffee shop,  and bar dot the periphery. And when I wanted to get above Hanoi's often frenetic vibe, I took the elevator to the twentieth floor Summit Lounge at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my one-week trip in Hanoi. 

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gear Review: Light, Mosquito-Repellant Clothing

Health and safety are always major concerns when I'm traveling alone around the world, but my month-long trip to Southeast Asia, including journeying along the Mekong River in Laos, presented some particular concerns. For one, I would be traveling during the rainy season which meant malaria was a big risk. Sure, I was taking medication -- doxycycline, an age-old drug with a long safety record -- as malaria prophylaxis. But I still needed to protect myself from other mosquito-born diseases, such as Dengue Fever, and preferred not to use any insect repellent containing DEET.

My second concern was that the weather was going to be in the high 80s with sky-high humidity. Because I would be visiting Buddhist temples and traveling to small villages where the local women dress modestly, wearing tank tops and shorts was not an option to stay cool. Whatever I wore had to be light, breathable, offer protection from insects and pack well because, of course, I wasn't checking luggage. Luckily Ex Officio came to the rescue.

I wore Ex Officio's Bugsaway Damselfly Lumen hoody with matching Bugsaway Damselfly pants that rolled up to mid-calf. Because both were manufactured with fabrics impregnated with Permethrin, no mosquitoes alighted on me during my entire trip. But the fabric also repels flies, chiggers, ants, ticks and no-see-ums. It was odorless and would last for 70 washings.

The pants have snaps so that I could easily roll 'em up. But with the mesh panels behind both knees, the pants provided plenty of ventilation even on the hottest, most humid days. The nylon fabric was extremely light-weight -- it was paper thin -- yet sturdy. (I snagged it on many a thorny bush or tree trunk when hiking and the fabric resisted it perfectly.) It easily wicked  away sweat and dried quickly.
I didn't need to wear a belt because of the secure Velcro closure. And, unlike so many adventure pants I've purchased in the past, these were stylish and fit my petite frame extremely well. I only brought two pair of pants -- only one was the Ex Officio product --  for my entire month on the road and actually ended up wearing this one almost all the time because it was so comfortable.

Constructed of a mesh weave, the hoody was cool and comfortable. Often I would wear a tank top underneath or, occasionally, when it got breezy at night, a light long-sleeve shirt. The thumb loops offered additional hand protection from the intense sun during the day. Whenever I washed it or got stuck in a rainstorm -- which was most afternoons -- it dried rapidly. The hoody itself was rather large but, given all the other fab features, this didn't detract from my love of this top. This shirt has a flattering cut and, like the pants, I wore it pretty much every day. 

I just returned from a one-week trip to Spain, where mosquitoes and intense heat and humidity clearly were not going to be a problem,. And yet I packed the Bugsaway hoody and pants in my carry on.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Laos In Pictures

Journeying along the Mekong River that courses through Laos, and driving along the rough roads that rise and dip through the lush interior, I found a wealth of treasures: riverside villages where women wove traditional textiles, wonderful coffee shops in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage city, charming waterfront chalets and restaurants in the town of Vang Vieng that's noted for its adventure sports and much more. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my two-week trip in Laos. 

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Gear Review: My Favorite Socks -- Blisters No More

      The stifling weather in Southeast Asia where I spent a month recently dictated the clothing I carried along in my carryon-only piece of luggage. And that included the kinds of socks. They couldn't promote blisters, especially because I'd be walking and hiking all day long. Since it was ultra hot and humid, I couldn't tolerate socks that warmed up my feet even warmer than they were from the ambient temperatures. Nor did I want socks that retained moisture, especially that I'd be wearing them all day long. I wanted something cushiony but one that didn't bunch up. Plus, I was only packing three pairs which meant they had to dry quickly when washed. I found the perfect socks that felt like a cloud on my feet: Balega.
       They fit my feet like a second skin which is, in fact, how the company described them. They were neither tight nor loose, with no sagging. The fabric was ultra soft and light, a blend of a synthetic that allowed my feet to breath, plus it wicked away moisture and dried quickly, along with mohair wool that was cushiony and blister-proof. Now that I've been home, I'm still hooked on these socks.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gear Review: Perfect Hot Weather Shirts

With temperatures in the high 80s, and the humidity soaring above 80%, I walked around Hanoi, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and Bangkok in perfect comfort. It wasn't because I was so well acclimatized to the hot, rainy season in Southeast Asia. (I wasn't.) I was wearing shirts that allowed me to briskly race around these towns without becoming a damp mess. Of course, I hadn't checked luggage on this month-long journey, necessitating frequently washing my clothes. Again, these shirts dried quickly and didn't wrinkled when packed in my small backpack. 

I only carried two of these Travex shirts manufactured by Eddie Bauer: One was the Adventurer Convertible shirt that allowed me to roll up the sleeves, thanks to the button tab. (I did find that the sleeves kept on unrolling despite the tab, but this was a mildly irritating problem that didn't detract from the comfort of wearing this shirt.) The second was sleeveless, referred to as the Gingham Sleeveless Camp shirt. 

They come in an array of colors and paired so well with pants, skirts and shorts that some Westerners I met on my travels wanted to order the exact same shirts. The Adventurer and the Gingham come with a sunscreen factor of 50+, are constructed of a soft, polyester/nylon fabric that easily wicks away sweat, and both have venting in the back to reduce the sweat factor. But the real surprise was the hidden zippered pocket; so hidden that it took me three days to stumble upon it.  It's perfect for some bills, credit cards or a hotel key. 

Now that I'm home, I'm still turning to both these shirts when it's hot here in New York City -- it was a humid 80 degrees F today. Because when you find high performance shirts that not only function well but also look appealing, you don't want to leave them in the drawer. 

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shoes That Make Carry-On-Only Packing Easy

Most women love shoes. I'm not one of those women -- one reason why I have no trouble traveling for a month, as I recently did in Southeast Asia, with only one carry-on bag. But it also means I have to be very picky when selecting the two pairs of shoes I choose to bring on my trips.

Both pairs -- I wear the bulkier of the two on the plane -- have to multi task. One has to look good with a dress but also be comfortable for long strolls on the beach or all-day walks on city streets. And, it should also serve as a light sports shoe for cycling or low-key hiking trips. The Chaco ZX2 Yampa sandal that I blogged about recently fits the bill.

The bulkier shoe should be lightweight, comfortable for longer walks or hikes, provide good traction on the trail, be ultra breathable because my feet hate being in closed shoes to begin with, dry quickly when wet should I go kayaking, and not suffer from odor problems with daily use. The Chaco Outcross Lace shoe met all these criteria. I wore this shoe with or without socks and never ended up with blisters nor did my feet get sweaty. The foot bed cushioned my foot so well that arch fatigue was a thing of the past. They slipped on and off easily because this model doesn't rely on a traditional lacing system. And, though I have huge (for my 5'2" height) size 9 feet, these shoes didn't exaggerate the silhouette of my feet.

Now that I'm back in New York, I continue to wear these shoes. In fact, there're comfortably on my feet now as we speak.

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