Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Part II: Lured by Rajasthan and Taj Mahal

August 20, 2017

Part II brings you dreamy images of Rajasthan, India.  This tour with daily yoga includes visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.  Please enjoy the photos.  The photos below were all taken by me except for the first two (the tiger photos).

Journey to Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra takes place from January 17 — February 3, 2018

This tour is led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and offers daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s second post, I am sharing a few of my favorite photos from travels in Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

Registration is open through the end of August 2017.  There is plenty of space for you.  View Full itinerary

One of the most exciting places we visit is Ranthambore National Park.  The park is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.  If we are lucky, we will see a tiger.  The photos below are from a few years back.  These two photos were taken by a tour participant on one of our trips with her lovely Olympus camera (so I call these two photos “Rebecca’s Tiger”).

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Ranthambore National Park and Keoladeo National Park are two of my favorite nature visits on this tour. As of the last count, Ranthambore is home to 34 adult tigers and 14 cubs.  Both Ranthambore and Keoladeo are World Heritage Sites.  Keoladeo is considered to be the richest bird sanctuary in the world.  It is located in Bharatpur and is home to 366 species of birds.  Below are a blend of photos from both national parks:

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And a bundled up Arvind-with-bird-upon-head on an early morning chilly tiger safari outing to Ranthambore:

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Another highlight of the trip is the visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Agra, the Taj Mahal.  It is massive and one of the most beautiful buildings on earth.  Arvind tells the love story behind the Taj Mahal and explains the vision behind the construction of this mausoleum so perfectly.  The first time I saw it, I was so moved by the sheer force of the site before me that I thought my legs would buckle to the ground.  I believe one must see and experience the grandeur of the Taj Mahal at least once in a lifetime!

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When I think of Rajasthan, I see colorful saris, turbans, and the warm faces of the desert people.  It is an otherworldly and welcoming part of India. L1280618

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Where else do you find a “Blue City”, vast palaces that stand out like glistening jewels in a desert landscape, and immense astrological palace observatories?

Jodhpur the Blue City

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Imagine doing early morning sun salutations on the terrace of your hotel as a pink sun rises, awakening and lifting your spirit:

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I love the photo below with cow, auto rickshaw, and outdoor pots and pans.  India is, at times, wonderfully mind boggling.

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I had to do a little climbing to be in this photo.  India is all at once complex and simple, ancient and new.

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While in the desert, the camels await you.  They make a most humorous sound.  The first time I heard a camel, I asked aloud, “What’s that sound?”  A nearby woman answered me in a matter-of-fact tone, “That is camel, madam.”  Look at how the camel is watching me do Ustrasana, Camel Pose.

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India is 1,344,664,943 beating human hearts! 

There is an India population site where the numbers keep augmenting before your very eyes.

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Part I: Lured by Images of South India

August 19, 2017

I have two back-to-back tours in India taking place January 2018.  Both of the tours are led by Arvind Singh, organized by Kelley McHenry, and both tours offer daily Hatha yoga, which I will be teaching.  In today’s post, I am sharing my favorite photos from my last trip to South India.  We will be revisiting the places below in the January 2018 travels. These trips to India will be the last I will be offering in India, only because I hope to offer yoga retreats to various areas.

I can’t capture the entire trip with these few photos, but hope to give you an idea of the beauty that is INDIA (in this case, South India).  I hope the photos will be of interest and lure you into considering joining me in January.  Or perhaps the photos will offer you an opportunity to do some armchair travel!

South India Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga takes place January 2-January 18, 2018. I am happy to announce that this trip is definitely happening.  Registered participants are already purchasing their flights.  Registration is open through the end of August 2017 View Full itinerary

Periyar Park is a reserve for the Asian elephant.  How I love this park and the elephants living there!  In the evening, the elephants in the park gather at the edge of the lake to get their fill of fresh water.  We watched them from our boat, from the middle of the lake.  In this photo, a baby is coddled and protected by two females.  The next day, we visited the park again in the early morning.  Three naturalists from the park guided us on a walking tour.  I never imagined I would walk in elephant territory, but my group and I did just that.  We got pretty close (at least I think we were close!) to these massive and lovely wild creatures.  Seeing them was thrilling!

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The photos in this blog are not in chronological order of the tour.  The photo below was taken in Mumbai, at the start of the trip.  Mumbai is not considered South India, but it is where we fly into and is a short flight to two of our destinations: the UNESCO World Heritage historical caves of Ajanta and Ellora.

Mumbai is vast.  It felt like a cultural center to me, lively and thriving. I loved visiting the Taj Hotel and the house where Gandhi lived for a while.  I was fascinated by his personal library, which still sits intact in his home.

IMG_0428The people of India are bighearted, friendly, beautiful inside-and-out, welcoming, and the children, in particular, are adorable.  Seeing the children and their proud, loving families is a great joy to experience in India:  L1340459

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L1340599Below: School kids enjoying Shiva’s Butterball (as this boulder is called).  You can see a path worn on the stone surface where the kids are playing.  The worn path is most likely created from thousands of years of kids sliding down, as two of the school girls are about to do.

L1340576When I think of South India, I think of the numerous ancient stone carvings of the temples.  Mahaballipuram has impressive stone carvings, as do the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.  It is a singular and unforgettable experience to walk among such massive carvings!

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L1340313During the journey, we stayed in some wonderful places.  The most unique overnight stay is on the houseboat in Kerala.  We relaxed and enjoyed being rocked by the waters.  The rooms are deliciously cool thanks to the air-conditioning (I don’t really like AC, but so appreciated the comfortably cool boats!).  In the afternoon, we got into smaller canoe-like boats and floated along smaller river ways to see the many houses and people living along the banks of the river.

L1350299L1350279We attended Kerala’s signature performance and classical form of dance, drama, and music called Kathakali.  It is an art form that is more than 400 years old.  Below you can see one of the Kathakali performers.  We had our own intimate and private performance. On this day, we all wore our new colorful Indian clothing.  In the second photo below, you can see our festively dressed group gathered around one of the actors from the Kathakali performance.

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12933011_1348191141863221_6997846868358269616_n-1And lastly is a photo of Maria.  We did a South Indian cooking course with Maria in her home kitchen.  I discovered Maria on line and asked Arvind to please include a cooking course with her.  After a little hesitation (Arvind had never met Maria and didn’t have much of an idea of what the experience would be like until he further researched), Arvind agreed to include Maria’s cooking course in the itinerary.  The food was some of the best we had ever eaten in South India!  She appeared to be a magician, an alchemist of sorts, as she blended her spices and demonstrated how to put the various dishes together. To top off the experience, her husband sang Hindi love songs from various movies for us as we ate our delicious dinner.  As we ate, serenaded by Maria’s husband George, Arvind’s head swayed to the live music.  Between bites of food, Arvind sported the satisfied smile of a Cheshire cat.

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  • Click here for a link to see incredible on line images of the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
  • It is so difficult to fathom how the stone sculptures and caves were carved, that some people have theories of an advanced civilization being involved in making them. Though I do not subscribe to this theory, it is fascinating to watch the following video clip to see how intricate the temples are at Ajanta and Ellora. View video
  • View one of my most popular blog posts on India: 10 Reasons Why I Love India
  • This trip is organized by Spiritual India Journeys.

PART II is coming your way next: Rajasthan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enticement

May 29, 2017

Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga

OCTOBER 29-NOVEMBER 12, 2017

I recently made a slide show for the  Japan trip coming up Autumn 2017 and found myself marveling at the various photos depicting a place and a people very dear to my heart.   Below are a few of my Japan photos I choose to share today with a description of why these, in my mind, are such enticing photographs.

Registration is now open for the Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga.  Please check out my website and join me if you can!  Meanwhile, enjoy the photos:

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island.  We visited this peaceful healing place after a day in Hiroshima. We felt heavyhearted as we left the historical horrors of Hiroshima and, by contrast, coming to this place was like listening to soothing music.  The island is considered sacred to the Japanese.  Docile deer roam the island and add to the gentle island atmosphere.  Deep red shrines punctuate this precious island, which seems to embrace its visitors. The green of the forests makes for relaxing sleep, something everyone needs when traveling.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island is photogenic at all times of the day.  Here it was sunset and the tide was out.  The Japanese have a strong esthetic sensibility.   Japan is a photographer’s paradise.

And yet another from Miyajima.  I guess you'd think this was my favorite spot.  There were many favorite days, places, and activities.  It's just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

And yet another photo of Miyajima. I guess you’d think this was my favorite spot. There were many favorite days, places, and activities throughout the trip. It’s just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto.  The music is so ethereal.  She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus she did yoga three times a week!  She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto. The koto music is so ethereal. She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished. I love her kimono.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus, I found out she did yoga three times a week! She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

Mossed over lanterns at a shrine in Nara.  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns.  Once a year, these lanterns are all lit up. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Mossed-over lanterns at a shrine in Nara:  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns. Once a year, the lanterns are all lit. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path at dusk and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Land of tenderly tended gardens.  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you and let you know you are imperfectly perfect just as you are.

Land of tenderly tended gardens:  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the stones,  the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you.  The gardens let you know you are perfectly imperfect just as you are and that life is ephemeral.

What's in a cup of tea ceremony's green tea?  Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

What’s in a cup of tea ceremony’s green tea? Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water.  How lovely the Koi of Japan.  Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently across the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water. How lovely the koi of Japan. Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently in the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don't look real.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don’t look real.  Waves and waves of tiled roofs give shelter to a culture steeped in history.

A tea house reflected in the water.  What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea.

A tea house reflected in the water. What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea!  I’d love to know what they are discussing.  How did they plan this day? “Let’s wear our kimonos tomorrow and go have tea at the tea house!”  Did they know they would be reflected in the water, photographed by this American woman, their collective dreamy image brought back home with me so I can forever dream their dream?

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts.  I enter the shrines clear of worldly concerns.

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts. I enter the shrines clean of worldly concerns.

Transformed!  Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.

Transformed! Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some of the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.  I look at this photo and my heart leaps with joy.  Such a fine group of people!  We all experienced the Japan journey together last year. 

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience.  The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide.  I would not want to do the trip without her.  She is simply amazing.  Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and people she works with is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound.  She is entertaining and she is REAL.  She is honest and hardworking.  I cannot sing her praises enough.  Suffice to say, those going on this trip are LUCKY.  Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience. The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide. I would not want to do the trip without her. She is simply amazing. Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and the people she works with (us!) is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound. She is entertaining and she is REAL. She is honest and hardworking. I cannot sing her praises enough. Suffice to say, those going on this trip in 2017 are LUCKY. Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Experience Japan for two weeks October 29-November 12, 2017.

DETAILS and TO REGISTER: http://www.frangallo.com

Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Alive in Modica

May 3, 2017

Once again…a few of my photos to share from this incredible trip.  I have slowed down in my photo taking.  I can’t compete with Rick, Gail, Monica, and Karen, who all take great photos!  They have a good eye and their cameras are so much nicer than mine is.  Compared to their cameras, my Leica seems to be a child’s toy.  Hopefully, I will get some of their photos from the yoga sessions and some of the group photos we have been taking to share with my readers.

Below: the town of Modica!  We had a cooking lesson with Chef Ninni Radicini at the cooking school, ate a wonderful lunch, and then went walking in the town of Modica with our fabuloso guide and friend, Giorgio Modica of Modica!

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On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty.  Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty. Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

Cannoli shells

Cannoli shells

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Cup of Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

And Yes, we really do yoga, twice daily!

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Fran back bends over Lisa

Fran back bends over Lisa

Greek Sicily

May 1, 2017

Who has time to write when in Sicily?  So photos will have to do.

And yes, the weather has suddenly turned very warm and perfect.

The Greeks left their mark here!  Sicily was a Greek Colony and has the most beautiful Greek ruins.  We spent yesterday in Siracusa with Eleonora as our guide.  Enjoy a few photos from yesterday.

A roadside shrine to Mother Mary:

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Below: Temple of Apollo.  Perhaps this was one of the most significant temples in ancient Greek times.  The pillars in the photo below are monolithic and it is short of a miracle that they are still standing because most of the area was leveled to the ground during the great earthquake of January 11, 1693. The earthquake was one of the biggest to ever hit Italy.  It destroyed at least 45 cities and killed more than 60,000 people.  Catania was hardest hit and two-thirds of the people of Catania lost their lives.  Many of the towns including Siracuse and Modica had to be completely rebuilt.

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The main cathedral in Ortigia is my favorite.  It was a Greek Temple whose ancient pillars are perfectly preserved because they were filled in with walls for a church.  In the photo below, you can see the Greek Temple pillars embedded in the exterior walls.  These columns, thousands of years old,  are even more beautiful from the interior.  From Greek Temple to Mosque to Catholic Church, this cathedral is remarkable.

Perfectly preserved Greek Temple

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Our group!

Our group!

Little Pink Houses/Heaven in Your Hands

April 28, 2017

If you are a Hoosier, you might think that little pink houses only exist in Indiana..or at least Indiana’s very own John Mellencamp would have you believe, through his music, that little pink houses are sprinkled throughout Indiana towns and countrysides.  Yesterday, we made the discovery of the very sweet town of Brucoli and its pink houses.  (Spell check wants me to write Broccoli, so I have to be very cautious when writing out the town name.)  Well, Brucoli has pink houses and much more!

We went to the Brucoli port to enjoy a two-hour boat ride on Piero’s Starfisher 840.  The weather was pleasant, not hot, not too windy…and plenty of sunshine. The harbor, where Piero moors his boat, used to be used by the ancient Greeks.  It is a natural harbor that has been used continuously for thousands of years.  From there, we cruised along the Ionian sea and relaxed.  We saw Turtle Rock and a 6,000 year old prehistoric village.  One cave was a prehistoric three-story high-rise, complete with carved stone steps to reach the upper floors of this natural cave.

After the boat ride, we walked around the town of Brucoli for a bit.  This precious seaside town seems to have a theme.  Part of the charm of the town is that not too much has been done to the houses to make them look perfect.  Instead, they retain their old world charm and all throughout the town, there are murals, poems on the walls, and potted flowers.  When I close my eyes and think of Brucoli, I see the potted geraniums on the iron balconies. I smell the sea air and see the blue fishing boats and fishing nets hanging out to dry.  The people are friendly.  They carry the sun in their hearts.  One woman told me about a restaurant that does not have a name!  The locals call it Il Chiosco (The Kiosk) and it serves only three dishes!  One of the dishes is a seafood pasta dish.  Next time, I will make sure a meal there is a part of this trip with the yoga group. I could have spent all day there.

After the boat ride, we went back to the villa and had a bowl of lentil soup and a big seasonal green salad.

Then off to Vendicari Nature Preserve.  Some members of our group went birding with birding experts Federico and Fabiano and the other half went on an archaeological walk with Alessandro.  Not enough time to go into great detail to say how incredible the nature preserve is and it is hard to say what the highlight of the day was.  I guess if I had to choose yesterday’s highlight, the outdoor yoga session at the tuna processing ruins was over the top fantastic.

We had our Sicilian guides join us for yoga.  They were adorable!  Alessandro had tight jeans on and was frustrated because he could barely stretch and bend in them!  Both Alessandro and Federico had never done yoga before and they did really well.  They both felt peaceful and calm afterwards.  Fabiano had tried yoga twice before and he hurt his back both times so he was afraid to try.  However, he did the session with us, loved it, and asked if there is any way I can set up a studio in Siracusa since that is where he lives.  He wondered why it was that his back did fine this time and I told him he must always warm up properly and do counter-poses after the asana (posture).  All three men, new or fairly new to yoga, spoke to me after the session and said they felt the energy of the earth coursing through their bodies and spirits.  I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear them speak of their experience.

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to experience the fullness of life. 

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to breathe and listen to birdsong.

Yoga outside at Villa Saracena is to stretch and strengthen under beautiful skies and to breathe in fresh fragrant air. 

Doing yoga in Sicily is like holding heaven in your hands.

Photos from yesterday:

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli

Brucoli

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

On the boat

On the boat

Kim and JD on the boat ride

Kim and JD on the boat ride

John and Nora on the boat

John and Nora on the boat

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Federico the birder.  The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

Federico the birder. The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro.  (Next week I will go birding)  VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times...

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro. (Next week I will go birding) VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times…

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea.  We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world.  Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts.  It was processed at these fishery points.

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea. We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world. Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts. It was processed at these fishery points.

Our yoga spot.  Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our yoga spot. Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our fabulous group:

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day!  What an experience this is!  Wonderful!

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day! What an experience this is! Wonderful!

 

Sicily for Adriana

April 27, 2017

I thought to post some of my best photos from the past two days.   This post is dedicated to my friend and co-worker from Seattle Athletic Club, Adriana Allison Brown, 34 years old, married to Aaron Brown and mother of two beautiful little girls.  She passed away two days ago on April 25, was hit by a vehicle as she was walking the crosswalk at Lenora and Western (Seattle) on her way to work at the Seattle Athletic Club as a personal fitness trainer.  I thought of Adriana all day these past two days.  She told me recently that she would like to come to Sicily one day.

I am heartbroken.

Adriana was as bright as the Sicilian Sun.

Adriana was as beautiful as the red poppies below.

Adriana “era buona comu lu pani“, a Sicilian expression which literally translates to Adriana “was as good as bread”  (see explanation below).

 

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say, "Era buonu comu lu pani" = He was as good as bread!

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all.  Bread is the staff of life. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say of that person, “E buonu (buona) comu lu pani” = He/She is as good as bread!

Old tile detail

Old tile detail

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Simple delicious ingredients for sauce alla Norma.

Simple delicious ingredients for Pasta alla Norma.

Sicilian Cat. Her name was Meow!

Sicilian Cat. His name was Meow!

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Cheese at the Siracusa Market

Cheese at the Ortigia Market

One of the pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

And ancient pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

La Campagnia (The Sicilian Countryside)

April 25, 2017

We wake up to birdsong and sunshine.  We wake up to our beautiful villa.  We make jokes about staying here forever.  We breathe and take in the smell of orange blossoms, laurel in bloom, fragrant flowers that smell of jasmine.  We wake up to the great big Ionian Sea.  I do the sea a great injustice if I attempt to describe the water as a deep blue.  It is that and more.  The sky is the same.  Both sky and sea take on different colors at different times of the day.  We cannot take enough photos…of the sea, of the smoking mountain, of the great blue sky, of the food, of the sunrises and sunsets, of each other.  It seems nearly impossible to capture it all and it seems not to be enough to simply stand still and take it all in.  But, we do that too: we stand still, breathe in the Sicilian air, draw in the Sicilian sunlight, and open our hearts to this experience.

our villa

our villa

Yesterday we had two beautiful outdoor yoga sessions.  We worked on elongation of the spine and on creating space.  And then we discovered, in our yoga sessions, how lovely the lettini (pool chairs) are.   You will see below how comfortable it is to do our ending meditation with legs up the chair, a form of viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) along the poolside.  Everyone in the yoga group is relaxed, happy, peaceful.

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style  (Woody and John!)

Hello Nora!

Hello Nora!

We drove to the countryside, passing the most beautiful green terraced fields, orange and lemon orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Fields and fields of wildflowers grow brightly in the springtime in Sicily.  We passed cows, sheep, stone houses, and bright red poppies and purple thistles growing amid dainty yellow carpets of flowers I cannot name.

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

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Thistles

Thistles

And then a visit to an organic ricotta farm.  Yes, the real deal.  We were greeted by Maria, the ricotta and cheese maker, her sister Giovanna, and Maria’s husband, Nino.  Their walls were filled with photos of their four daughters and their families, of their daughter’s wedding photos.  We watched Maria make the ricotta.  It was amazing!  They cooked so much homemade food for us. We felt like stuffed birds at the end of the visit. They served us their homemade wine, their country bread (and they also had gluten-free and dairy-free to suit some dietary needs in our group), their homemade pasta and sauce, their various cheese made from their ten cows, their prosciutto (yes, we saw the little piglets oinking around), and so much more.

Maria makes the "tuma" for the various cheese.

Maria makes the “tuma” for the various cheese.

The cow's milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

The cow’s milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a "Stir the Ricotta Asana"

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a “Stir the Ricotta Asana”

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

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Nino

Nino

A Tavola!  The feast.

A Tavola! The feast.

When it came time to leave, Maria and Giovanna packed up bags and bags of food for us to take home.  There were 14 of us at the table, but our farmer hosts had cooked enough for the army of the Roman Empire.  They kept bringing out food.  I made the mistake of not telling my group that the first dish set out on the table was just the appetizer, that there was more to come.  Oops!  Rick delighted in having our group experience Sicilian hospitality, country-style, just as my relatives have done for him time and time again.  We now have enough ricotta to last us a month, though it is meant to be eaten right away.  We will share with our caretakers and driver.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

At the end of our visit, Maria tenderly gave me a special mystery gift, all wrapped up in butcher paper.  “Here, Francesca.  This is just for you.  A little something made with love from our farm.  Take this home with you to America.”  Later, at the villa, I unwrapped the mystery gift and saw about a large hunk of prosciutto.  The real thing, crudo prosciutto, made from their own pigs, pigs lovingly raised from piglet-hood, fed on figs.  An extremely valuable chunk of meat, cured so perfectly that it can last 1-2 years.  I know the value because I know.  Of course, I will share with the group.  Even though I don’t eat prosciutto, I can still appreciate what it is.  Our unique ricotta experience was truly remarkable.

Our bus/van

Our bus/van

Sicilian Green Bean Salad

Sicilian Green Bean Salad with Capers (served last night at the villa)

Sicily: Notes to Self

April 23, 2017

Does anyone else wake up at 3am to write a blog in his or her head…and then promptly go back to sleep, later wake up at a decent time and write it down?

Sicily: Notes To Self

  • All of my hard work is worth every second of effort put forth.
  • I must believe in myself ALL OF THE TIME.
  • Some mysteries in my life will never be solved.
  • Yoga has kept me sane. Often, it is the only part of my life that makes sense.
  • The vivid dream I had of my father on my second night in Sicily is more than just a dream.
  • The smell of Sicilian orange blossoms is the most beautiful smell in the world.
  • The Beatles had it right when they said, “Love is the Answer”.
  • I must take some photos of the Sicilian wildflowers in bloom.  The poppies are particularly beautiful.
  • Sicily is a gorgeous sun-kissed, energy-loaded island that merits many more visits during my lifetime.

And some photos with captions taken yesterday and today:

Catania Shop Window

Catania Religious Shop Window

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

 Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Serena enjoys her spaghetti

Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl (slightly blurred, but I couldn’t resist posting!)

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

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Yoga this evening at the villa

Yoga this evening at the villa

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana


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