Author: Heather

I love travel, ballet, cats and my hometown of NYC.

Verdon Gorge

Um, can I go here ASAP?!

verdon gorge

That’s Verdon Gorge, in Provence, France. (Click on the photo to get a better view!) I stumbled upon this snapshot, the other day, and was instantly transfixed.

Verdon Gorge is often referred to as Europe’s Grand Canyon, though at 16 miles long and 2,300 feet deep, it’s not quite as large. (The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and a mile deep!) Still, as far as I know, the Colorado River in our stateside canyon isn’t asВ magnificently blue as the Verdon River.В Its water gets its stunning color from microalgae and fluoride.

I was struck by Verdon Gorge’s sheer beauty—and how idyllic it looks to spend a day there, drifting downstream in a raft. It reminds me of a much more dramatic variation on the annual tubing outing we embark on every year!

Besides rafting, you can also go kayaking, paragliding, climbing and a number of other outdoor activities in and around the gorge.

I’ve already added it to my travel wishlist.

(Photo via bippity boppity boo)

Another Reason to Do What You Love

…because that’s how you’ll learn the most, according to none other than Albert Einstein, himself.

I recently stumbled upon a beautiful letter he wrote to his son, Hans Albert, age 11, back in 1915. In it, he alludes to the separation between them (Hans Albert was living in another city with Einstein’s estranged wife), as well as the theory of relativity, which he’d just completed. But he wraps up the note with this sage advice:

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . .

einstein

So true. Doing something you love and seeing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown in the process is really one of the most gratifying things.

(Photo via Pinterest; quote found via Brain Pickings)

Ariel Erestingcol’s Times Square Portraits

Did you play with Perler beads when you were a kid? I did, and I loved making things out of them! (In case you need a refresher on what they are, they’re tiny colored beads that you arrange onto grids in various shapes and formations. Then, an adult would run an iron over them, thus fusing the beads together to make little plastic creations.)

Perhaps it’s the nostalgia factor, but I’m loving Ariel Erestingcol‘s Time Square portraits made by a similar method. To create them, the Los Angeles-based artist pixelated images of 42nd Street and plotted out which colored beads would go where. Then, he placed each bead onto a grid…

Ariel Erestingcol’s beadwork

Ariel Erestingcol’s beadwork

…and created plastic portraits of Times Square. Each one contains more than 5,000 beads.

ariel erestingcol times square ariel erestingcol times square

The limited edition pieces were available at CB2 and now,В unsurprisingly, appear to be sold out. I would have loved to get one! But I’m going to keep my eye out for Erestingcol’s future creations.

(Top images via CB2, bottom images via The Luxury Spot)

Ballet-versary

On Saturday, I received a very nice, unexpected email: The Ailey Extension, where I take ballet, wished me a happy anniversary. It’s been exactly four years since I started taking ballet again, after a five year hiatus.

At the time, I had no idea I was making one of the best decisions of my life. I just knew I needed a change. It was the height of the recession, and I’d recently been laid off from my job. I was scraping by with whatever freelance writing and editing projects I could get. I was in a dead-end relationship. And I was bored with the workout routine I’d had for years: going to the gym, jogging 3 miles, lifting weights.

I figured ballet might be the best way to get me out of the rut I was stuck in. I’d danced for 10 years as a kid, took a break during high school, danced through college, then stopped. Ballet had always been my favorite style. It felt natural, in a way that jazz, hip hop and tap never did. After college, I’d taken a few ballet classes, but felt so out of shape and discouraged after each, that I couldn’t bring myself to return. This time, four years ago, I felt ready to get back into it. For real.

I looked up classes at a number of NYC studios and decided to take Kat Wildish‘s advanced beginner class at Ailey. Kat’s name sounded familiar, and I thought I might have taken her, back in the day, when I was in college.В The class was at a good time and location. Plus, I’d never been to Ailey before. It seemed like the right place to start fresh.

At my first class, there were lots of people who were way better than I was. But the students represented a wide range of abilities, ages and backgrounds, which made me feel comfortable. Many seemed familiar with the class’s rhythms and routines, which indicated they came often—a good sign. And, as I was teetering during one of the first balances at the barre, Kat strolled over and told me I was balancing all wrong—and that she could push me over. Which she did. It felt like a challenge to do better, and I wanted to prove I could. (In case you’re wondering, I was balancing with my weight over my heels instead of my toes.)

When I left that class, I felt energized and inspired, instead of defeated. I started returning regularly, first once a week, then twice a week. Then three or four times a week. I started pointe, for the first time. (That’s a whole other story!) After a year, I worked up the nerve to try the Intermediate class. Over time, I began opting for that over the Advanced Beginning level. Last year, I finally felt confident enough to get onstage again (after eight years!) and perform in a few student showcases.

I was lucky to find a teacher who inspires and challenges me every class. But even so, getting back into ballet shape was a slow process! It was like relearning a language. Each class, I’d hear words and phrases I hadn’t thought of in years, and then have to remember what they were and how to do them. After flubbing combinations in the center (and feeling like an idiot), I’d go over them in my head, on subway rides home, and type them in my iPhone, so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. I’d also note down all the corrections I’d been given, and commit them to memory. (Two practices that I still do.) And I’ve worked for every iota of flexibility and extension I have!

I always loved ballet, but I appreciate it so much more as an adult. It’s wonderfully challenging, because you can study forever and never be perfect. At the same time, it’s gratifying to see how my hard work pays off, in the ways I’ve been able to improve. After a long day of sitting at a computer, it feels amazing to stretch and move to live music. Plus, it’s given me part of my identity that’s not tied to what I do for a living.

Ballet has also afforded me a consistency that’s been lacking in other areas of my life. During the past four years, I’ve changed jobs and careers, apartments and relationships. Friends have left NYC and I’ve made new ones. Mal and Peter moved away and came back. Throughout all that, I’ve been able to rely on ballet as one thing that always makes me happy and allows me to be in the moment and escape everything else.

…and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than loping along on a treadmill, day after day!

I’m looking forward to celebrating many more ballet-versaries in the years to come.

heather eng

A Few Days on Eleuthera

water cay

Recently, Mal, Peter, and our friends, Virginia and Doug, and I went to Eleuthera, one of the Bahamas’ “Out Islands.” True to that designation, Eleuthera felt wonderfully removed from everything. There were no cruise ships or mega resorts. We saw barely any other people during our time there—and, better yet, even fewer tourists. And since the island is so sparsely populated, most of the beaches we visited were pristine, and we had them to ourselves. And you know how much I love wild, isolated beaches!

Some highlights:

Our Cotton Bay Rental

Eleuthera is a long, skinny string bean of an island. It’s approximately 110 miles in length and two miles wide. Initially, I leaned toward staying in central Eleuthera, where Governor’s Harbour, the island’s largest town, is located. Most vacation rentals are there, and many, like this one, are gorgeous. Plus, the pink sand beaches of Harbour Island, which I’d written about, are not far away.

Despite those appealing factors, we ended up rentingВ Sanderling, a house in Cotton Bay, on the southern part of the island. Unlike the Governor’s Harbour options, this place was on the beach. (As opposed to a few minutes’ walk away—I know, so far.) All the bedrooms had private bathrooms.В Plus, there were no other rentals in Cotton Bay, and we wanted to be around as few other people as possible. And, best of all, the rental fee included a cook, who’d received rave reviews. Um, not having to prepare meals for a group every day? Sold!

Sanderling wasn’t swank and modern; the one-story, yellow house was built in 1959. But it was comfortably furnished, bright, airy and well-kept. Coconut trees grew on the property…

sanderling

…and a small dock out front led to a calm cove. From there, we (well, everyone but me) launched kayaks and paddled them into the ocean. Another night, we went swimming—and later found out that’s prohibited because sharks lurk there, once the sun sets! Luckily, we made it out with all of our limbs intact.

cove

The front patio had a few lounge chairs and a small table…

front porch

…and the porch, right behind it, had an additional seating area, where we played several hilarious rounds ofВ Cards Against Humanity—helped by cocktails made with Ole Nassau, a Bahamian rum.

The dining table is where we ate all the meals Ruth, the cook, prepared for us. She was lovely and her food was delicious—lots of fresh fish and veggies. Plus, Ruth hadВ worked at Sanderling for 22 years and told us about the family that owned it, as well as bits and pieces of local news and history.

sanderling porch

From the front porch, you could see through to the ocean side of the house…

sanderling

…where we spent most of our free time, just reading, relaxing and enjoying the view.

back porch

And—this was my favorite part—a short staircase led down to our very own private beach, which was beautiful and spotless.

private beach

sanderling beach

While I couldn’t have been happier with our rental, I did feel a little sad seeing how the surrounding neighborhood had deteriorated. Cotton Bay was once a fancy resort community. In 1959, Juan Trippe, founder of Pan Am, opened the exclusive Cotton Bay Club and golf course. However, after the airline went bust and hurricanes ravaged the island, the resort was abandoned. Ownership changed hands a few times, and the current owner has let it fall into disrepair. The hotel is covered in brush, and golf course looks like Jurassic Park.

cotton bay golf course

The single road winding through Cotton Bay is full of giant potholes. Half the houses are well-kept and the rest are run-down. (Despite that, we never felt unsafe.) Ruth told us that she’d like more tourism to boost the area’s economy, but not so much that it erodes the area’s peaceful setting or strains its natural resources. I couldn’t agree more.

* * *

Water Cay

Our rental came with one more amazing perk that we didn’t even know about until we got there: the use of the owner’s deep sea fishing boat and a captain!

The guys were instantly ready to fish. Given my history of seasickness in nearly every country I visited, I was a little hesitant. But once Sydney, the captain, mentioned that we’d stop at a small island to hang out and go snorkeling, as well, I was game. Besides, I figured that I’m an old pro at leaning out the back, “feeding the fish,” then getting on with a trip!

So the next morning, we boarded our boat, the Shady Lady…

shady lady

…and got on our way.

leaving the harbor

For about 20 minutes, I felt great! I was thrilled to be bouncing over the waves, watching the water turn deep blue. But once the fishing part started, things went downhill. Deep sea fishing, I learned, involves lots of slowly motoring around, trying to get fish to bite. And if a boat isn’t moving fast, I’m not feeling too well. Plus, the smell of fuel was getting to me.

I was trying to keep my breakfast down, when we got our first bite. In fact, I was so intently staring at the horizon that I didn’t even hear Sydney yell for someone to reel it in. Luckily, Peter jumped into the chair and pulled in a giant mahi. (Which I, unfortunately, didn’t get a photo of, for obvious reasons—the one below is the best I could do, in my compromised state!)

peter deep sea fishing

Sydney speared the fish, which then splattered blood all over the deck. Between that, the nausea and the fumes, I nearly lost it. Mal was feeling just as bad, as well. I don’t know who made the executive decision to take a break from fishing, but someone secured the poles and we were moving at a faster clip.

Eventually we reached paradise.

IMG_1949

I happily jumped off the boat…

jumping in

…and headed to shore.

water cay

This was the highlight of my trip. We’d landed at a deserted island with a spectacular beach—one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. The sand was perfectly round, soft white grains, and the water was amazingly clear and calm. (The only beach that might top it is Australia’sВ Whitehaven Beach.)

water cay

I found out, from Sydney, that we were on Water Cay, a tiny island that’s one-third of Schooner Cays, off the coast of Cape Eleuthera, on the island’s Caribbean side.

water cay

We snorkeled around the Shady Lady, but the only fish I saw was a barracuda—which I seem to encounter on every trip!

shady lady at water cay

And we took lots of photos.

water cay

I could have stayed forever.

But eventually, we swam back to the boat and returned to the open water. We fished long enough for Doug to catch another mahi—but not so long that I got sick—then headed back to Cotton Bay…where Ruth cooked up some of that mahi for lunch. (And lunch and dinner the day after, too!)

mahi

* * *

Governor’s Harbour Fish Fry

After our deep sea fishing excursion, we took naps, then drove an hour north to Governor’s Harbour’s Friday fish fry. (Along the way, we had trouble with our car’s radiator. Everyone who passed stopped and offered help. In what seemed like a crazy coincidence, the owner of the car rental place happened to be driving by—even though we were miles away from his town—and fixed the car. But, as Ruth later told, us, that’s Eleuthera!)

The fish fry was smaller than I expected it to be. A wooden shack near the water served food and drinks, and a DJ played music in the streets. Though it felt touristy, there were just as many, if not more, locals there. (Maybe it seemed that way because this was the first time we’d seen other groups of travelers!)

fish fry

At the stand, you had a choice of a whole fried fish (or BBQ chicken) and sides, like rice and peas, mac and cheese and potato salad.

fish fry

The fry’s signature drink is the “Rum Bubba,” a (very potent!) bright red punch spiked with lots of its namesake alcohol.

rum bubbas

The food was delicious! We each got one of these plates and devoured everything with our hands—the only way to eat a meal like that, by the beach.

fried fish

We also had conch salad. The conch man pulled the mollusk from its shell…

fresh conch

…and chopped it, along with onion, tomatoes, celery and an insanely potent pepper.

conch salad

I like spicy food, but I’ll be honest—I only had one bite! The pepper immediately spread across my tongue, and I spent the next few minutes guzzling my Rum Bubba!

conch salad

We hung around for a little, taking in the scene, chatting with other fish fry goers, and listening to the DJ. Then we hopped back in the car and drove an hour south, back to Cotton Bay.

* * *

Sammy’s Place

Besides the fish fry, we ate out one other time. Sammy’s Place is one of the few restaurants on the southern part of the island.

sammy's place

It’s a nondescript place a few blocks off the main road.

sammy's place

The lunch menu offers staples like sandwiches and burgers, along with Bahamian comfort food, like fried conch, conch fritters and mac and cheese. I enjoyed every bite of my meal, accompanied by a Kalik beer.

fried conch

* * *

Lighthouse Beach

Due to distance and time, we never made it to Harbour Island’s pink sands. But on our last day, we visited Lighthouse Beach, another pink(ish) beach at Eleuthera’s southern tip.

Lighthouse Beach is accessible via a rough, badly potholed two-mile “road.”

lighthouse beach

The bumpy ride was well-worth it, though.

lighthouse beach

Like pretty much everywhere else we went on the island, the gorgeous beach was nearly deserted; we saw only two other people.

We immediately went for a dip in the clear, calm water.

lighthouse beach

Afterwards, we walked up a small hill to enjoy the view…

lighthouse beach

…and reach two other parts of the beach.

lighthouse beach

lighthouse beach

We couldn’t resist taking photos on the weathered rocks that jutted out onto the sand.

lighthouse beach

We stayed at Lighthouse Beach until the sun started setting. I had to drag myself away from it—and from Eleuthera, itself, when it came time to fly back home, the next morning.

lighthouse beach

Stiltsville

I wouldn’t mind spending a few days out in Stiltsville. The seven houses perched upon pilings are located about a mile offshore Cape Florida, in the mud flats of Biscayne Bay.

Stilt House in Biscayne National Park.

Back in the 1930s, “Crawfish Eddie Walker” built the first house to sell bait, beer and chowder. Others soon followed—and opened up as exclusive clubs and hideaways.

Bay_Chateau

Over the years, the shacks acquiredВ notorious fameВ for the supposed debauchery that went on in them. In 1949, theВ Quarterdeck ClubВ was raided for illegal gambling, though no evidence was found. In the 1960s, theВ Bikini ClubВ offered free drinks (without having a liquor license, of course) to women dressed in the two-piece suits.

Leshaw_House

At that time,В Stiltsville had 27 houses—the most, ever. But over the years, hurricanes, fires and weather destroyed the structures.

A_Frame

Today, theВ National Parks ServiceВ owns the remaining seven buildings. (None of which existed since Stiltsville’s founding.) And no one lives there; their future usage is being debated. Some ideas are community centers, artist residences, research facilities, satellite NPS offices. In the meantime, people are granted access to the houses, on occasion—I actually learned of Stiltsville fromВ West Elm, who shot their catalog there!

…and if they ever decide to open them up as vacation rentals, you know I’ll be down there soon after!

(Photos by Brian F. Call via Stiltsville Trust, Inc.)

77 Dance Scenes in 5 Minutes

I can’t believe how cold and rainy it is, after such a gorgeous end to the holiday weekend! Hard to believe I was just BBQing at Mal’s and picnicking on Hudson.

But this gross weather is perfect for curling up inside and watching crazy YouTube videos like this: a mash-up of dance scenes from 77 movies.

I hardly ever watch movies—my friends have long stopped asking if I’ve seen whatever films they reference in conversation—but I was amazed at how many flicks I recognized in the video. (Slumdog Millionaire, Napoleon Dynamite, 500 Days of Summer, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Flashdance, American Beauty, Singin’ in the Rain…just to name a few.)

Enjoy!