Our stop motion video of most of our trip!

Colorado to Florida, Mexico, North Carolina, Israel, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, India, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, California and back to Florida! Perhaps it’s disproportionately Colorado, Florida, and Mexico but oh well! hope you all enjoy it!

much gratitude for all of you we got to share our experience with…

tommasina and julian

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From Florida to New York, and Israel to Germany

I’m laying on the bed in our green “wagon hut” at the farm in Heidelberg. It’s thundering and sprinkling outside. Julian and Fred are both taking a siesta at the main farm hut (Julian on the couch and Fred in his room) and I inconveniently just did laundry in the sink, so it’s hanging to dry but nature is giving it another rinse cycle. Reflecting on all that’s happened since Florida is a daunting task but one that’s been on my mind. My thoughts are scattered and are becoming even more so as the wind keeps slamming the door that lets in my light so I keep fashioning new doorstops (the water bottle seems to be holding though so readers may be in luck).

Florida: notes from my journal

8/1 at the Tampa International Airport

I’m not yet over the hiccups left in my throat from my tearful goodbye to my mom when three kind souls sharing coffee on the other side of security greet Julian and me with recognition of our upcoming travels. Something about these two older smartly-scarved woman and bearded man puts me at ease and I am happy to answer their questions. They pointed to our bright yellow Z-rest sleeping pads which are claiming space obnoxiously on the outside of each of our backpacks.  We discuss the merits of these silly foam things and they wish us luck on our journey. I say good-bye feeling embarrassed like a kid on her way to sleep-away camp but in better spirits.  Julian seems nervous and doesn’t want to talk. Suddenly I wish I had my I-ching cards with me [The I-pad keeps wanting to correct ‘ching’ to ‘change.’ This strikes me as funny.]

On the plane

It smells like bananas up in this club (do I always sounds like Julian?). Fog is rolling curiously out of the ceiling. (Is this normal?) Babies.

Julian and I have seats next to each other but he is already zoned out listening to Democracy Now podcasts. Our cheerfully chubby seat partner is donned in a well-worn leather jacket and I’m surprised to find that he’s a singer in a gospel band and on his way to Nashville for a concert. His advice: Do it [traveling] while you’re young. You won’t regret it. He gave us each a butterscotch candy (no ingredients listed). Julian pockets his and I’m tempted to eat mine in the spirit of generosity and gratitude. (days later I wrote in: Later during the ride found out this man is an act NRA fanatic. His second piece of advice was for us each to purchase weapons to carry with us. yikes!)

In any case, lessons so far: share with strangers, make friends with people who start conversations with you, people love to be talked to and to help others.

8/1 through 8/6 Colorado friends/TRiP reunion! in Asheville, North Carolina

During the layover in Charlotte, I finished up many notes and postcards to friends so I hope some of you were greeted with snail mail treasures from my efforts! We got into Asheville and found the $1 public bus into town (wow!). The Ipad has already helped us with WiFi in the airport so we load directions to the Food Coop for once we get off at the downtown transit center. We are tired but happy happy happy to be back in such a beautiful town on our way to the store for a yummy lunch! Julian and I each have a backpack and we walked each with a handle of my Pigs Peace grocery bag which carried our books and other miscellaneous goodies which wouldn’t fit in out bags. Upon arrival at the Coop we decide that we have $10 total to spend on lunch (so begins our spontaneous money saving strategies!)  I pick some macro sushi (brown rice, sweet rice, carrots, daikon, kale, tofu, sea veggies and pickled ginger- 6 big pieces for $4.50) and Julian goes for a passion fruit drink and some bread. We hang out and use the internets while we wait to hear from our good friend Mariana who is due soon to get off her studio-duty (she’s a potter!). Once we met up with her, we head to Firestorm Cafe where her partner and new fiancé wahoo! Travis works. Firestorm definitely lit our fire and we were psyched to hang out there. It’s basically a worker-run 99% vegan cafe (they have cow’s milk for coffee drinks) with a book-store and free space for community events.  We promptly are offered an abandoned bagel courtesy of Travis.  We masticate while ruminating on the baked goods case. I decide on a raspberry chocolate cupcake. [we end up eating a lot this day, so pictures to come!]

We get to hang out with them for a day and the next we meet up with Jackson, McKenzie, Bobby, Bryan, Rachel, and camp friends (Tim, Houston, and a few others) for Linvelle gorge-ing. A late afternoon drive with groceries and speeding ticket stops found us at Linville Gorge (though first we had to stumble our way down the headlamp-lit and stinging nettles-filled path).  We camp for a few nights next to the beautiful river.  Daylight is spent exploring the boulders and swimming holes (and jumping off cliffs, some of us at much persuasion! coughRachel and Julian!)  In any case, Julian and I find ourselves extra-dexterous due to our Vibrams. We decide to leave the fun early with Mckenzie in order to further prepare ourselves for our European adventure.  An hour shopping excursion at REI sets us up nicely. In case you’re wondering dear diligent readers, we exchanged our ginormous yellow Z-rest pads for the children’s REI brand inflatable sleeping pad (only $40!). We make our way back into town on the airport bus again, and arrange to have dinner with Travis and Mariana at Rosetta’s Kitchen.  Dinner was pretty tasty, but dessert was the best.  We shared a coffee crumble cake, pecan pie cheesecake, and my favorite the chocolate peanut butter cake.  (The frosting on the latter has oft been visited in my gustatory memories!)  The next day we spend planning planning planning before we meet up with Frank, O’Bar and Jill at the Food Coop to head out to the reunion. We pick up some snacks and start towards the cabin. Upon arrival, we marvel at the grandiose affair which Jackson arranged for us. There are endless bathrooms, bedrooms, and hang-out rooms in this shiny mountain home. The revelry had already begun so we hurried to catch up. I can summarize this event in a few words: Jungle Speed, Franzia in the pants, and hot tub.  Two nights later, Julian and I are more exhausted leaving than when we arrived, but we drive away in our posh Ford Escape rental car (and I prepare to sleep on the drive up to NYC).

Drive to NYC

Early this morning, we picked up our Craigslist rideshare fellow, a nice dreaded DeadHead named Jeremy.  He had lots of fun games to play like, naming your favorite Grateful Dead song every letter of the alphabet.  Even with my few years of typical teen-aged Dead listening, I was not a winner at this game! No worries, Jeremy quickly lost interest in our poor game playing.  After displaying his beautiful blown glass (and LED light up! whoa!) ‘pieces’ which he sells at festivals, he slept almost until Pennsylvania. Once there, he woke up to use his smartphone to get us directions to Vegan Treats, a bakery in Bethlehem. (Everyone has one of these stinkin’ phones. I’m sure my mother–who to this very week gets desperate phone calls from me asking for directions–would love for me to get one! She literally helped me out of a sticky lost situation in Tel Aviv two nights ago.)  Anyways, we drop him off at the NJ Transit Center near Newark $20 richer for his ridership. (I believe we got the short end of this deal, but renting a car was still much cheaper than flights for two from Asheville, so whatever.  May good karma come back our way!)

After some very tense direction-giving, direction-rejecting, and direction-correcting, Julian and I find our way to the rental car return at JFK (don’t ask us to recall the traffic on 34th St. in NYC!). After receiving unsolicited but much needed directions from strangers (one a business man back from Tokyo, the other a young boy whose purpose in life seemed to be directing people at the rental car return stop at the airport tram), we traveled on tram, and subway to my lovely cousin (definition-of-amicable) Kimi’s apartment. She was still out when we arrived, so we used the time to indulge in a delicious meal at my *most favorite* vegan restaurant, Peace Food Cafe. A phone call to Beth, two plane ticket purchases, a re-packing, a shower, 3 hours of sleep, and 2 hours of public transit including one bewildered hurried kiss goodbye to Julian and a flighty dash to the NJ Transit train found me back at Newark Airport ready to leave on a Birthright trip to Israel.

As I write this now twenty days later, ten days of Israel travels and ten other days have blurred together in my mind. Daily plans have a new ephemeral quality since the plans themselves change daily and change throughout the day. (Those that know me understand I am often flexible with plans to a fault so perhaps this feeling isn’t new; it’s just that the weightiness of this adventure, that everyone says ‘you will remember this for the rest of your life’ makes me question every re-scheduling and weigh pros and cons that will never leave my memory–though the durability of my memory is already something I know not to trust.) Traveling on a budget means that Julian and I have to be flexible enough to take cheap transport options like ride-share whenever possible. Meals and places to stay for the most part are decided in advance, but traveling always means that these aforementioned luxuries are negotiable. In any case, to return to the subject of memories, I’ll just offer a quick summary of my trip so far–definitely more for my benefit than for yours.

Israel: Best times were in the Bendouin Tent in the dessert. Andrew (a friend from UF) and I and a few others (Robby and Alex to name two) shared great conversations under the stars near the campfire. Andrew, Alex, and I decided to camp outside under the stars instead of in the crowded hot tent so we awoke around 5am to a glorious sunrise much like the one we witnessed a few days earlier on top of Mount Masada. We fell back asleep and woke later to crowds of other birthright trippers heading to their camel rides (poor camels barely get a rest!!). In response to their loud nearness, we practiced our Sun Salutations right on our sleeping mats. It was a lovely morning. (Little did I know I was about to take a shower and leave behind my birthday present Lucy yoga leggings in the bathroom. boo for that, but yay for someone else’s great find.) Floating in the Dead Sea, a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant in Jaffa next to live jazz band, and shopping in markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were also highlights for me.

The worst part was definitely having food sickness on the third day. I vommed four times total, and once at the Southern Wall. Whoops! Immediately afterwards we went to see the Western Wall. I wrote down a prayer note, watched people praying, and left for the walk-in clinic with Jon, one of the trip leaders. I felt so much better by the time we got in the taxi though, and the other trip leader claims I was cured by the Western Wall. It being such a holy place, I can’t really argue. The power of the space was tangible and a little overwhelming. In any case, I was fine after that.

Some highlights:

Yoga with Syria in the distance

Enjoying delicious mango and passionfruit smoothies with Tomer, Andrew and Robby

Mount Masada sunrise

My sweet friend Arielle (and fresh lemonade!)

Andrew and I enjoyed these mini-popsicles, even if they weren't what we expected...

In the beginning I was chewed out (by Customs), and by the end, I was Jew’d out. [It should be obvious to you that Julian made this joke for me.] It was fascinating seeing how Judaism manifests itself in Israeli lives, and American lives but it was so clearly just half of the conversation. How can you have a whole conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the Palestinians are only referred to as ‘terrorists’? I felt lucky to see the country, but left feeling pretty critical of the propaganda given to us. Well, of course, I was critical before I left so I suppose my expectations were met. Regardless, visiting a country full of so much sorrow, built up out of death, and perpetuating oppression and death of the Other, was utterly exhausting spiritually and physically.

UPDATED Vegan tips: many restaurants keep kosher and as such, are either meat or dairy restaurants so if you can figure out which one a place is, you can focus on less obvious items with more specificity. Explaining that veganism is like keeping kosher also helped. Things marked “parve” are most likely vegan IF they don’t have eggs or fish. (Essentially, it means ‘dairy free.’) Also, you can check the cholesterol on the back if the ingredients are only listed in Hebrew. (Only animal products contain cholesterol, so vegan products should have none.) Vegan foods that I enjoyed were: falafel and hummus (pronounced correctly of course), the spicy sauce that you can order with it, Druize pita (without cheese), halva, fruit shakes (passion fruit and mango was my favorite combination), a bag of dark chocolate wafers found at a petrol station, fruit popsicles, and white chocolate chips! This last item is for sale at any of the major vegan online retail suppliers, but it was neat to see it for sale in a normal grocery store. Not vegan, but presumed to be vegan are the marshmallows. Kosher gelatin is from fish usually, so beware. The food (apart from the gross but sufficient buffets that birthright hotels supply) was delicious and very fresh. Organic options were extremely hard to come by on the trip, but are available in grocery stores.

Okay, that’s all I have time for now! Germany and Amsterdam updates to be continued. (Julian just told me “If I were a catepillar born in a gourd, I would have bored out by now!”) Tschüß!