You Have to Eat and Drink This in Croatia

During the 10 days I spent in Croatia, I ate about 10,000 calories worth of wine, pastries, pasta and seafood per day! I know you are thinking, Where does the food go? I actually walked about 10 miles a day as well, so everything evened out!

While its hard to include all the delicious things you can find to eat and drink in Croatia, here are my top ones that made it to the list. Trust me, you will not be doing justice to yourself if you leave the country without tasting all of them!

Baby asparagus salad with boiled eggs at O’Zalata Restaurant located inside the walled city in Split. During spring, wild asparagus are found along hillsides and people pick them up while hiking. These are much thinner than what you find in US supermarkets and have a lovely crunchy texture.

Mushroom soup made with 20 different kinds of mushrooms at Gabreku 1929 Restaurant in Samobor. The restaurant, named best in this part of Croatia, collects mushrooms from all seasons, preserves them and uses it in this soup that is famous in northern Croatia. It is serve with mushroom trumpet powder and pumpkin powder. Even the bread is made fresh with local grains and corn.

When I saw people lining up to get a piece of this pie at Split waterfront, I had to taste it. Soparnik is a Swiss chard stuffed savory pie and is the most famous speciality of the Dalmatian region. It originated from pizza as a poor man food. You can find many street vendors selling their own recipe of soparnik.

The island of Hvar is famous for Peka, usually veal or lamb and potatoes cooked under an iron bell full of charcoal. My hosts, Borivoj and Zeljka Bojanic, who run Konoba Maslina Restaurant in the village of Vrisnik made me a tender grilled octopus peka. I’m sure they got the fresh catch earlier that morning. Even if you are not an octopus fan, this would make you one!

My guide, Tomi from Viator Travel took me to Pelješac peninsula near Dubrovnik where we went on a small boat into the sea with a oyster/ mussel farmer. He picked up oysters straight out of the water, shanked it open, drizzled lemon juice and hand it over to us. Could it get any fresher than this?

Zagreb has a lot of good restaurants but the best place I ate was Vinodol Restaurant. The ambiance was beautiful, but the Fuji pasta with fresh black Istrian truffles, and a glass of Istrian wine, to die for!

Why would you travel to a place to eat fruit? Because it the sweetest organic farm fresh strawberries you can find for really cheap! At Dolac Farmers Market in Zagreb, I bought a pint of giant organic sweet strawberries for $1.50 and devoured them sitting in the park.

The locals make all kinds of homemade brandies (called rakia or raki) using fruits, nuts and honey, often from their own gardens. These are then used for home consumption (before and after dinner) or sold in farmer’s markets. One of the best ones I had was at a simple kiosk located in the Craft Square in Varaždin. The lady who produced the honey brandy even raised her own bees.

I had an excellent dinner at family-owned upmarket Palatin restaurant in Varaždin. But the icing on the cake (literally speaking) was the Palatin Cake for dessert. The owner told me it was a 100-year old recipe that made this 6 layers of rich chocolate and chestnuts not too sweet yet memorable.

No visit to Samobor is complete without Kremšnite, a local pastry made with cream custard. It is served warm in this region (cold in Zagreb) and eaten for breakfast and dessert. In fact, many people come to Samobor on the weekends just to grab a piece.

I also visited many wineries in Hvar and Dubrovnik that are worth noting. Croatia produces excellent quality red and white wines, my favorite being malvazija (malvasia) from Istria, plavac mali from Dalmatia, and Dingač from Pelješac peninsula.

Food markets and souvenir shops across southern Croatia sell packets of candied dry fruits such as figs, orange, almonds, etc. These are called Arancini – orange peel with sugar, mixed with sugared almonds for healthy snacks and often served with rakia.

Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum of broken relationships in Zagreb is by far the most unique museum I have ever been to. Unlike other museums, it doesn’t carry any antiques, jewels or historic remanences. On the other hand, it displays items donated by patrons from all over the world that hold symbolic value to them personally.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

The idea of this museum was coined by two Zagreb-based artists, Olinka Vištica, a film producer, and Dražen Grubišić, a sculptor, after realizing a heartbreak. What started as a personal collection of items leftover from a broken relationship, became a 1000-item traveling museum that received audiences across Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Macedonia, the Philippines, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Items on display include everyday quirky items such as a stiletto shoe, CD’s, laundry basket, toy cars, letter, etc. Each of the items is accompanied by a personal account of the relationship, country of origin and how long the relationship lasted. I found the the notes to be particularly interesting, and rather funny, as people recounted short stories of randomly falling in love, and of inevitable heartbreaks.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

One can spend an hour or two seeing the small museum, though the museum also sells books with pictures and stories of some of the items on display. You can also find break ups on the interactive world map and read stories on the blog. Reading stories of broken relationships are perhaps the opposite of reading romantic novels, but surprisingly they don’t get you down or depressed. I feel that reading about real-life relationships that didn’t always end well makes us realize that we live in a realistic world where everything is not always perfect. It makes you feel that you are not the only one who has suffered through a heartbreak. And it makes you smile to read about how people fall in love and cherish the smallest of gifts for years to come.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

While the museum is very popular among visitors, it nearly doubles its attendance around the Valentine’s holiday. If you would like to unburden your relationship, send in your item to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

The Museum of Broken Relationships has permanent exhibits in Zagreb, Croatia and Los Angeles, California.

Always Travel With These 10 Things

Over the years I have gotten down packing to a science. Who am I kidding? I hate packing and find it to be the most dredging part about traveling. Having to decide what matching outfits, shoes, and jewelry to carry for 2 weeks that would be perfect for the weather, activities, and local culture consumes me.

However, there are a few items I have discovered that make travel easier and I never leave home without them.

1. THE BEST TRAVEL JEANS IN THE WORLD BY AVIATOR $98

This is my favorite pair of jeans ever, not just for travel. It is made of stretchable and breathable cotton, has hidden pockets to hide change, and loops for headphones. Best part is it looks really flattering!

2. POWERSHOT G9 X MARK II CAMERA BY CANON $529

I only recently discovered this camera and ditched my mirrorless Sony and Panasonic for it. The Powershot is so compact, it fits in my purse, so I don’t have to carry a seepage camera bag with all its attachments. And the 20.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor camera takes really good pictures, even in the dark.

Instead of carrying my Apple laptop charger, I now keep DART-C is, the World’s Smallest Laptop Charger® in my carryon. It is four times smaller and lighter than chargers found on the market today.

Because I am often on very long flights, I keep all my chargers and essentially in my hand luggage. The Techaway Roll with its zipped compartments makes it easy to organize cords. It’s like your cosmetic bag for technology.

I am an over packer and frequent shopper, which can lead to overweight luggage problems. This compact scale can weigh your bags, as well as serve as a battery bank. Its dual functionality eliminates the need to carry two gadgets.

Because I am often traveling by myself I think about what safety precautions can be taken. I recently found this 1-oz ultra-compact siren that emits a 120-decibel alarm that can be heard up to 300 feet away. It is safer than carrying pepper sprays.

Aromaflage is probably the only product that repels mosquitoes that cause Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever, and smells good too! I always keep a small bottle (the size of a perfume sample) in my clutch that serves dual purpose of insect repellant and fresh scent.

When changing hotel rooms frequently, it can be tough to get a good night’s sleep. In addition to my personal Tempurpedic pillow, I have now started carrying this ultra-portable humidifier.

You never know when you need a lint roller, and this one is smaller than the size of a smart phone and has a protective cover so the sheets won’t dry out. Always have one in my suitcase.

10. ZIPTUCK™ REUSABLE TRAVEL BAGS BY FULL CIRCLE $5.99

If you are a smart traveler, you will store your liquid cosmetics, medicines and snacks in air tight plastic bags. Made of reusable FDA-Grade EVA material, air tight and dishwasher safe, these are the most sturdy, practical and environment friendly storage bags I have ever found.

Do you have a favorite travel product you always carry? Do share with me by leaving a comment below…

Find and Fly – Brazilian Street Dogs Immigrate To Loving Homes Oversees

Vivian Denise Mauro is an American lady I met at the Casa Dom Inacio De Loyola in Brazil. On a sunny warm morning, we stood outside the Casa’s cafeteria and chatted like old friends, though we had just met.

Vivian told me that she first came to see John of God with a group of women from New York City in 2004. She wanted to know if God is real. At the casa, she received a special message “Vivian I love you.” It was God speaking to her directly.

After that, Vivian felt ecstatic, she was laughing and crying at the same time, and singing the Beetles Song “Love is all there is.” As the light of God shone in her life, she started living in the present, gained more energy and eventually started guiding other people to visit Abadiania.

Vivian would often find street dogs in Abadiania. This area in rural Brazil is stricken with poverty, and caring for domestic pets, let alone stray animals, is not the top priority. But Vivian connected with the dogs. She sensed them having the same feeling of abandonment that she suffered from as a child, well into her adulthood. She ended up adopting 2 Shepherd mix dogs from the street – one of them, who she named Lucky, had a tumor.

Lucky underwent many treatments, mainly chemotherapy, but finally got cured. Vivian raised USD 12,000 for his treatments and to fly him to New York with her. Lucky lived happily with Vivian for 3 years.

Then on, every time Vivian would come to Abadiania, she would try to rescue more dogs. “Ango and Sammy were the next two” she told me she has rescued 78 dogs now. Not only does Vivian drive around the villages following her intuition, capturing injured and diseased animals (in a taxi, because she doesn’t have a car), she takes them to veterinarians for rehabilitation, castration, wound care, and nurses pregnant ones. She generally does not pick up healthy dogs.

Vivian also has 10 dogs at home and feeds another 22 every day at the kennel she opened near her home. The location doesn’t have a water source, so she hauls 16 liters of water on her bike for 12 kilometer and delivers it to the dogs every single day.

Vivian has started a Stray Dog Resettlement Program where she sends rescued dogs abroad to whoever wants to adopt them. This Adopt and Fly procedure takes only 2 days and costs $500-600. She has also sent a cat to Germany. When I asked her how the animals from Abadiania have adapted to their new homes, she told me that these are special animals because they have good energy. Therefore, they behave well and lovingly adopt their families.

“In Brazil, there is not much awareness of neutering and spaying, or treating animals like family members as they do in the US,” says Vivian. There are no commercials or dog shows here that emphasize that animals have feelings. Her goal is to conduct workshops at elementary schools to educate kids about humane treatment of animals. In the meantime she has unofficially started an Association to Protect Animals of Abadiania and crowdsourcing to fund immunization against tick disease and new kennels. Click here to donate on her Go Fund Me page.

All You Need to Know About John of God in Brazil

I first heard about John of God about 10 years ago while watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah magazine editor, Susan Casey had recently travelers to Brazil and found personal healing after the passing of her father. Oprah herself traveled to the tiny village of Abadiania to interview this Miracle Man who had cured over 8 million people of life threatening illnesses, birth defects, as well as emotional and spiritual blockages.

As a journalist and spiritual person, I was eager to find out more about what was happening at the Casa Dom Inacio De Loyola.

WHO IS JOHN OF GOD?

John of God or Medium John is an ordinary Brazilian man, now in his late 70’s. He grew up very poor in rural Brazil and found out at an early age, that powerful spirits could enter his body and use it as a medium to heal people. Initially, he performed healings while he was working in the army as a tailor. Later, he opened a center where people could come for free and receiving the blessings from several spirits and other mediums.

Even though Medium John is a Christian, and believes in God, he doesn’t focus on religion. Everyone, regardless belief or religion, is welcome to the Casa. His work can be explained through a popular theory in Brazil called Spiritism, which is focusing on mediumship, where one can channel high energy beings and master spirits to guide humans and give healings through the metaphysical. Spiritism is very common belief in Brazil, as well as in India and among Native American cultures.

Though I have not had any personal experience with spirits per se, I do believe in guardian angels and the energy of the universe.

GETTING THERE

Less than two hours’ driver from Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, through rolling hills, cattle farms and country resorts, leads to Abadiania. There is a small rural town on one side of the highway where John of God resides, and a more touristy area on the other side. The “Casa area” as it’s nicknamed has one main street with a few pousadas (guesthouses), handful of restaurants, shops selling all kinds of crystals and white clothing, and a couple of massage parlors.

When I arrived in Abadiania, my guides Cecilia and Debbie were waiting for me outside Pousada Irmão Sol Irmã Lua. This was perhaps the largest and most posh pousada in town, with a garden, yoga room and lounging areas. The rooms were basic, with two small beds, a fan, and a bathroom that rarely had hot water. There was no television, air conditioner, or phone, only WiFi that functioned when it wasn’t overcast. As in the case of most businesses in Abadiania, the owners of Pousada Irmão Sol Irmã Lua had come to see John of God many decades ago, received personal healing and decided to stay and help continue his mission.

It is highly recommended that first timers and non-Portuguese speakers hire a local guide to visit the Casa, as there are rules that one must follow, and sometimes things happen too fast so important information can be missed. Also, it is very difficult to make hotel bookings on your own, as many of the pousad don’t have websites.

PREPARING FOR THE VISIT

Cecilia Zigher and Debbie Akamine had opposite personalities but worked as a team. Debbie had quit her job in top international tax firm in Sao Paulo and found love and harmony in Abadiania. She was animated, energetic and informative.

Cecilia, a native of Sweden, had traveled around the world searching for self-love and happiness, which she found when she met John of God. Cecilia was composed, thoughtful and open to sharing her own philosophies. The girls gave me a brief orientation for visiting the Casa, over a buffet dinner of Brazilian and western delicacies.

The instructions were:

  • Wear only white clothing (including underwear) so that the spirits can see your aura.
  • Write down 3 asks you want to present to John of God. These could be about your health, work, relationships, finances, or anything else that you need help with in your life.
  • Carry a small purse with some money and tissues (in case you cry). Don’t wear the purse cross body.
  • It is not allowed to take pictures of John of God.
  • Never cross your arms and legs when in the Casa grounds, as it blocks the energies from reaching you.
  • When meeting John of God, speak fast (if in Portuguese), make direct eye contact with him and hold his hand.
  • When sitting in the current room (meditation room), sit with eyes closed, arms and legs uncrossed and stay until they ask you to leave (it may be 2-3 hours).
  • Eat a big breakfast and meet at the Casa entrance at 7:30am.

Later I read Heather Cumming’s book John of God and highly recommend reading it prior to coming to the Casa. It gives you a much deeper understanding of what is exactly happening here, and how to prepare yourself to be receptive to the energies.

ARRIVING AT THE CASA

John of God sees visitors only on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8am until every person is seen.

On Wednesday morning, I walked over to the Casa, only a 10-minute walk from my hotel. There were already hundreds of people arriving by the bus loads, being dropped off in taxis, and walking over to the entrance. Everyone was wearing white and appeared calm and hopeful. I later found out that approximately 2,000 people had come to the Casa that day.

The Casa grounds were modest white ranch style building with blue accents. There was a semi-open hall where people waited, announcements and prayers were recited, and John of God would first appear. Inside were a series of basic rooms for spiritual surgeries, meditation and an infirmary. There was a beautiful garden with lots of flowers, avocado trees and benches for meditating outdoor that overlooked a beautiful valley. Besides the garden were crystal baths – individual rooms booked for 20 minute sessions that involved crystal light healing. There was also a cafeteria selling fresh juices and homemade Brazilian snacks, a soup kitchen, and a pharmacy where one could buy blessed water and passion flower herbs (if prescribed).

John of God picked this location to be the center of his spiritual practice because of its high energy. It is said that there are crystals underneath the land the valley sits on.

People often leave prayer notes at the 3 triangles at the Casa that supposedly transmitted energy. These notes are collected and taken to John of God for further blessing.

It was 8am and time to meet John of God. “Are you nervous, like you are about to see Santa Claus?” Debbie exclaimed.

To be continued…

Ten Things I Learned at The Sedona Yoga Festival

Sedona is a magical place, and when I learned that there was going to be a yoga festival taking place in Sedona, I immediately signed up! This was actually the fifth annual Sedona Yoga Festival which generally takes place in February/ March time frame. The festival lasts for 4-days and includes over 200 workshops on a variety of topics, besides yoga, that included spiritism, meditation, communication, sound therapy, healing, nutrition and more.

I have read many books on spirituality, explored different practices, do yoga off and on, and am always open to trying new things. I was excited to be hearing from the 100+ speakers coming to the festival from all over the world and eager to learn more.

Here are my top takeaways from the sessions I attended. Note, a lot of it is my own interpretation of what the speakers might have said.

There’s nobody here or out there who can hurt you more than yourself.

Heather Shereé Titus, Director of the Sedona Yoga Festival advised at the opening ceremony to love yourself, and be the love you want to see in others. It is only your own practices, behaviors and reactions that can cause you the greatest pain. You yourself allow the negative or positive energies to flow into you.

Nourish yourself with asana, meditation and inquiry before helping others.

This applies more to people who teach, help or care for others. Gina Garcia,  500-hour certified Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Across America (YAA), a non-profit corporation that teaches yoga and wellness educational programs across the country, conducted this extensive workshop.

Avoid prescription medication and alcohol to protect yourself from fallen angels. 

I did not know much about unwanted spirits attaching themselves to human bodies in the time when we are most vulnerable. Professional Energy Cleanser Herman Petrick talked about keeping a clear and balanced energy field, and how it can help with depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, re-occurring nightmares, chronic headaches, etc.

Sound is an important vibration that helps relax and quietens the mind.

“Like a dinner bell, the sound of bowls can alert you for meditation,” said Ashana in her hands-on workshop with quartz crystal singing bowls. Though I did not buy any bowls, I have started playing flute, tabla, gamelan, meditation and yoga music during meditation, before sleeping and while lounging, and it has had profound effects.

Make superfoods part of your daily diet.

Until now, I knew what superfoods generally are and tried to eat them now and then. But Jeff Breaker, who represents Purium Health Products, emphasized that eating real food can make you feel better, help recover faster and enhance the spirit. He recommended eating organic greens, whole grains, soaked nuts, and filtered water. Also, eat as much vegan as possible and add a superfood shake to your diet. I have started making my own granola with organic oats, chia, flax, almonds, dried blueberries, agave, honey and coconut.

Energy flows through the gaze of the eyes.

In the session on Drishti by Sara Elizabeth Ivanhoe (yoga spokesperson for Weight Watchers), I learned how to focus on a still image to improve my yoga postures with fluid transitions. The same can be applied to everyday life by working on the third eye to see beyond time and space.

When you want to connect with someone, look into their eyes.

Leah Misty and David Tietje of Thai Love Yoga did an interactive seminar on enhancing communication, which included Sacred Space Ritual, Soul Gazing, Thai Massage, Laughter Yoga, Connection Trio and Affirmation Circle. My husband and I gazed at each other’s eyes, gave each other gentle massages and exchanged words of gratefulness. I found this exercise very useful and repeat it every time I want to convey my message to another person in an assertive yet gentle manner.

Everyone is born with spiritual gifts. Learn to recognize and appreciate them.

I found Sunny Dawn Johnston’s workshop on intuition to be the most interesting as she talked about connecting with the spirit world. Every person has intuition, but sometimes cannot distinguish between mindless chatter and the angelic voice. To exercise receiving guidance we can raise our vibrations (through music, yoga, dance, nature), play intuitive games, and start trusting ourselves.

Chocolate is good for the soul.

Some of you may be delighted to hear that (good quality dark) chocolate heightens your sensations. In Yoga of Chocolate session, instructor Jyl Marie combined yoga poses with 100% organic Chocolate Tree chocolate tastings. Her aim was to use chocolate as a way of encouraging people to slow down and really taste, savor, and enjoy their present moment experiences, whatever they may be.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed reading this post and will come back for more!

10 Things You Must Do in Rio De Janeiro

Rio De Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Beaches, forest and mountains give the city a picturesque backdrop that can be enjoyed from practically anywhere in the city. If you are headed to Rio for the first time for vacation, here are the top 10 places you must cross off your checklist…

1. Christ The Redeemer

The 30 metres (98 ft) tall status of Jesus Christ, stretch 28 metres (92 ft) wide overlooks the city of Rio from Corcovado mountain. Built in 1931, it has become the single most famous icon of Rio and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

A 30-minute helicopter sightseeing tour over Rio offers some of the most spectacular views of the cities scenery and landmarks.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

2. Sugar Loaf Mountain

Located at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, this 396 m (1,299 ft) tall peak resembles the conical shape of a loaf of sugar. The reference originated during the 16th century sugar boom in Brazil. Take a cable car to the top to see panoramic views of the city.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

3. Niteroi

Drive over the 13 kilometers long bridge across Guanabara Bay that connects Rio to Niteroi. There are two reasons to go here – one is for the best views of Rio skyline and second is to see the architecture of famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. You can go inside the Contemporary Art Museum and take photos from the hang gliding takeoff spot at the Niteroi Municipal City Park. Also, get a good look at the range of mountain made of granite and quart that surround Rio.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

Luis Darin, is an English speaking Brazil tour guide who offers private and group cultural and sightseeing tours in Rio. Luis took me to Niteroi, Tijuca Forest, Barra and a farmers market during our day long tour. Luis customized our tour and conversations to center on my interest and had a lot to share about his hometown. 

4. Tijuca Forest

Tijuca is the world’s largest urban rainforest, and easily accessible from residential and commercial areas in Rio. Many locals go to the park for a daily jog, bike, or to picnic and swim in the waterfall on the weekends. Inside the park, there is  Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain, the Cascatinha Waterfall, the Mayrink Chapel, a pagoda-style gazebo at Vista Chinesa outlook, and the giant granite picnic table called the Mesa do Imperador.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

5. Beaches

Most people who come to Rio, enjoy the sun and sand at Copacabana and Ipanema. While these two areas have some of the best known beaches, they are also quite crowded and touristy. There are more pristine and secluded beaches within an hour drive from Rio, where the locals prefer to hang out. Perigoso, Meio, Funda and Inferno beaches are reachable only by boat. Piranha Beach, located inside an environmentally protected area is great for surfing.

6. Hang Gliding

Extreme sporting opportunities are available in many beautiful locations these days. But hang gliding is extremely popular in the Barra side of Rio. There are certified instructors, an official ticket site, and designated jumping area. Flying over Rio offers aerial views of the beaches, mountains, rainforests and favela – stark contrasts that makes this city unique!

After a flight, gliders and guides are often found at the beach, sipping on fresh  coconut water and downloading photos and videos taken during the flight.

Photo by Beto Rotor

I went tandem hang gliding with Beto Rotor from Hang Gliding Brazil, a friendly and excited instructor with over 30 years of experience. We rode in his open air jeep up the mountain, where the glider was already laid out for us. After some instructions and security harnesses, we are up in the air in no time! We took a lot of cool shots with the 3 Go Pro cameras he attached to our glider.

7. Farmers Markets

There are about 50 farmers markets held around the city every morning. The open air markets are good places to see daily life of Cariocas as they are shopping for groceries, sample tropical fruits and vegetables and also try local street foods, such as  fried empanadas, tapioca pancakes, and sugarcane juice. Download an app that allows you to locate farmer’s markets in your area in Rio.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

8. Northeast Traditions Center

If you don’t have a chance to visit the north of Brazil, you can still experience its food, culture and crafts at the Luiz Gonzaga Northeast Traditions Centre, the location for São Cristovão Fair. There are 700 permanent vendors offering food from Bahia, ice creams made with local fruits, crafts of wood, linen and more, as well as exhibitions of folk singers and dancers. You can easily spend an entire day here.

9. Barra da Tijuca

Built only 30 years ago, this new urban suburb of Rio has become one of the most developed places in Brazil. People from Rio head to Barra to enjoy its white sandy beaches, backwater restaurants located around its many lakes and rivers, quiet gardens and large shopping malls selling international brands. Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is known for having homes of celebrities and soccer stars. It is also where the summer 2016 Olympics took place.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

10. Favela

As a contrast to Barra, Rio also has the most number of favelas (shanty towns) in South America and many tourists show interest in visiting them. I personally went with a friend to Santa Marta favela, who works there to gain an insider perspective of how people live and what facilities they lack. It is definitely interesting to experience this real side of the city that makes Rio what it is. Read about my trip to the favela in Rio…

Do you have a favorite spot in Rio? Do share in the comments section below…

The Biggest Party in The World – Photos From Rio Carnival 2017

The Carnival in Rio De Janeiro is bigger than all of the carnivals around the world put together! I couldn’t fathom the scale of this statement until I experienced it for myself this February. While Carnival parties take place for 3 weeks across neighborhoods in Brazil, the grandest event is held at Rio Sambadrome on Carnival Sunday and Monday.

Never Ending Parade

The stadium is bustling with 75,000 spectators spread out over a little less than half-a mile. The parade begins at 10pm and ends at 6am. 6 samba-schools parade each night with a total of about twenty-four thousand participants. Each samba school has 45 minutes to make it across the stadium with their floats and dancers. Each samba school has to parade with a minimum of 2,000 members and a maximum of 4,500 merry makers.

Elaborate Floats

Every samba school has at least 10 floats that tell a story and are elaborately decorated with lights, motion and dancers. Some of them are as high as 3 stories! The floats I saw had ice cream, super heroes, toys, farmer, turtle, and music themes.

Outrageous Costumes

The Brazilian women who dance samba in front of the floats are some of the most talented dancers in the country. Their scantily designed costumes are embodies with lots of feathers, as they shake their bodies to the rhythm across the stadium in high heels. Samba girls have to be in excellent shape. They diet, exercise and practice for at least two months leading up to the event.

Tickets and Logistics

There are five types of tickets available for the Samba Parade in Rio: Boxes, Dress Circle, Grandstands Seats, Back Stall Seats, and Specially Handicapped. Children under 5 do not require tickets. Tickets can be purchased in Sectors 1-11, sector 5 and 9 being the most central ones.

Sambodromo Grandstand ticket prices start are $115-400 USD. This area has uncovered stadium style seating, but offers panoramic views of the entire parade. Sambadrome Special Boxes carnival tickets costs at an average range of $600 – 2,200 which includes food, drinks and company of celebrity guests. Carnival tickets go on sale in December and the earlier you buy, the cheaper they will be.

I went to see the Access Group performance on Friday night which consisted of 7 of the best samba schools as part of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival Gold Group. The performances are pretty close to those in the Special Group that perform in the Grand Parade on Monday, and the winners are chosen to participate in next year’s Special Group. Tickets for the Access events are much cheaper. I bought my ticket in Section 5 Grandstand for $20 online. Note: tickets at travel agencies are generally much more expensive.

It is advisable to take a nap on the day of the event so you can stay up all night. The facility sells snack foods and beer, but I saw many people bring coolers full of snacks and to-go cocktail jars. It is ok to take photos and videos. Unlike other crowded places in Rio, it is actually quite safe at the Sambadrome so you can bring your expensive camera. Carry some cash for snacks and taxi back. Many roads are blocked during carnival so transportation can take longer and be a bit more expensive.

~ Photos by Amanda Villa-Lobos, a native of Rio de Janeiro and official Go Eat Give photographer.

Highlights From The New York Times Travel Show 2017

We are back from The New York Times Travel Show where I spoke, signed copies of my books, and networked with dozens of travel companies from around the world. This year, it was a record breaking show with 30,099 participants and 560 companies representing over 170 countries!

On Saturday, I spoke on a panel called Global Travel Tips for Women moderated by April Merenda, owner of Gutsy Women Travel, along with Cheryl Benton of The Three Tomatoes, and Lea Lane, author of “Travel Tales I Couldn’t Put in the Guidebooks. We discussed best-practices for women traveling solo, including popular destinations (Cuba, Morocco, Bali), safety and money saving tips.

Later that afternoon, I spoke to over 50 people interested in volunteer traveling at Meet The Experts area. It was amazing to see so many people were interested in more meaningful travel rather than pure vacations. I hope they will turn up at one of our Go Eat Give trips soon!

I also signed copies of Beato Goes To Greenland and Beato Goes To Indonesia at the New York Times Bookstore. It was a humbling experience sitting next to travel legends Arthur and Pauline Frommer with my own books.

Some of our travel partners you may already know of were also there at the show. In 2016, Amanda and I traveled to Chile with family-run Vermont based company Yampu Tours and Philippines Tourism.

In the Travel for the Mind, Body and Soul section, we ran into our friends at the Art of Living Center in Boone, NC where we organized a yoga retreat last spring for Go Eat Give.  

Indian Tourism got the award for the most creative booth. They were giving out free samosas and mehndi (henna tattoo). What’s not to love?

Travel to India with Go Eat Give in 2017

This year, we are looking to partner with more tourism departments and tour operators and have plans to bring you stories from South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Georgia, Croatia, New Zealand, Russia, Uzbekistan Puerto Rico, St Lucia, British Virgin Islands, Arizona and more. Stay tuned by subscribing to the blog.

Beach, Buddha and Pagoda – How To Spend 5 Days in Myanmar

Myanmar (aka Burma) has only recently opened to tourism after lifting an embargo on foreign visitors. Tucked away in the South Asian peninsula, the country is unknown to most western tourists, except for it’s communist politics followed by a fight for democracy led by female activist Aung San Suu Kyi. A deeper dive into Myanmar’s history opens up a rich pandora of culture, religion and architecture spanning thousands of years. The country is biodiverse with beaches, mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. While it is difficult to see Myanmar in just a few days, I managed to capture a few highlights through my lens.

Yangon, the capital, is where I spent most of my time as our ship was docked there was three days. Sailing into the Irrawaddy River Delta gave way to views of muddy brown waters with nomadic fisherman on traditional boats, followed by golden domes popping out from bare villages. The city, itself is pretty small, with business buildings, hotels, tea shops, gardens and lots of pagodas. Having been cut off from the rest of the world, you won’t find any name brands or chain restaurants here. People still dress traditionally in sarongs (called longyi) and put bright creamy paste (thanaka) on their faces, while crouching on low stools on the street side cafes eating fish curry and steamed rice. It is easy to walk around, taxis are cheap, though traffic can be bad at times.

Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple houses one of the most revered reclining Buddha statues in the country. Though the original statue was built in 1899, it has been modified and reconstructed few times until the 1970s.

Dominating the Yangon skyline, Shwedagon Pagoda is spectacular by day and night. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, and perhaps the oldest Buddha stupa in the world, built between 6-10 centuries CE. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to wander around the complex of temples to absorb their splendid beauty, and maybe you would feel like spending a few minutes in silence or meditation.

In the evening, head over for dinner to Karaweik Royal Barge. Karaweik Palace was constructed in the shape of a barge as a symbol of Burmese culture and arts. It serves international buffet with cultural performances. Other restaurants I tried were Yangon Tea House, a casual and hip Burmese/ Indian restaurant, and Feel Myanmar, a traditional place where you can pick and choose your food and quantity. This is a great venue to safely try a lot of Burmese dishes that you may have seen on the streets as well.

On the other side of Yangon’s cosmopolitan city, is the township of Dala. This is the place to go if you want to see daily life of the locals – where they live, shop, study and pray. Most people cross the river on ferry boat to work in the city. Walk through the wet markets, visit a monastery, stop by an orphanage, and ride on a trishaw.


From Yangon, take a short flight to the city of Bagan, in the eastern province. It is said there were over 10,000 religious structures built in Bagan between 9-13 centuries, though only 2,000 of them still remain today. Shwesardaw offers a great lookout to many of these temples spread across the archeological area.

Though there are dozens of other temples in the area worth visiting if you have the time, Shwezigon Pagoda built by the Mon Dynasty, is covered with more than 30,000 copper plates (originally gold). The pagoda houses four huge bronze statues of Buddha, and contain his original footprints.

Lampi Island is the only marine national park in Myanmar, home to over 1000 species of animals, plants and marine life, as well as occasional sea gypsies. Here you can take a private zodiac cruise to visit the mangroves.

Further south is Shark Island, a secluded natural island perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and relaxing on the white sandy beach. There are a number of beaches and exclusive beach resorts in Myanmar, that offer opportunities to see the rich coral formations and marine life.

Located at the Myanmar-Thailand border, is the charming town of Kawthoung. With strong Indian and Muslim influences, it is a town on a hill where you can walk around and explore within a day. Kawthaung is also the starting point for Myanmar-based cruises to the vast Myeik Archipelago.

My trip to Myanmar was possible through Silverseas Discoverer Andaman Sea Expedition cruise. I was on their inaugural sailing to Myanmar, a country that should be added to your travel bucket list!