Alaska is filled with beauty- but you have to plan well if you want to see Denali National Park as the rules are changing on how many and how people are allowed to see the park…. Click on the link below…..
Alaska is filled with beauty- but you have to plan well if you want to see Denali National Park as the rules are changing on how many and how people are allowed to see the park…. Click on the link below…..
|Life is full of surprises|
|By MASADA SIEGEL, Special to cjnews.com|
|Monday, 18 April 2011|
|Whoosh was the sound as the bat hit the baseball, which was rapidly headed in my direction. The crowd watching spring training baseball jumped to their feet, hands reaching toward the heavens.
Room at the Four Seasons at $16,000 a night
It was a storybook spring day, with the bluest of Arizona skies. We sat on a hill in the green grass, surrounded by the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms, while the trees gently swayed with the breeze.
Chris turned toward me and asked, “Where do your stories come from?”
Laughing, I said, “You see that ball. Half of my stories come out of left field. Life is full of surprises.”
His blue eyes twinkling, he playfully touched my baseball hat and said, “Tell me a story.”
Giggling, I leaned back in the cool grass and said, “A few weeks earlier, I was in Italy, on my annual Roman holiday to see good friends Elena, Ramy and Sergio. Yes, sightseeing, shopping and simply enjoying life was on the to-do list.
Florence, a magical city, was calling, so while I was bleary eyed and jet lagged, I hopped on the train and watched the cityscape turn into the rolling hills dotted with flowers.
The broad avenues were lined with shops showing the latest fashions. It was mesmerizing peering into windows filled with leather purses, sparking jewelry and glamorous clothing. The streets twisted and turned into cobblestone alleys. Everywhere you looked, from the displays in windows to the statues, was filled with phenomenal artwork.
I arrived at my palazzo. Yes, I have a vivid imagination, but no, I was staying in a place fit for a princess, with rooms ranging up to $16,000 (US) a night.
Lobby at the Four Seasons [Masada Siegel photos]
The Four Seasons in Florence was once home to the Medici family, specifically Cardinale Alessandro dei Medici, archbishop of Florence, who soon became Pope Leo XI. Walking in the hotel was like wandering around inside a painting.
A short walk from the hotel was the kosher restaurant, Ruth’s. I had been there two years earlier. In my exhausted state, I wanted to sit down and enjoy a meal, as I often eat on the run.
Alas, I walked into the restaurant, but every table was packed.
The manager, Simcha Jelinek, kindly told me to come back in 10 minutes. Wandering around outside, I asked an Italian woman for directions. She did not quite understand, but an American woman walked over and said, “Hi, I speak English. Can I help you?”
Ana, who was originally Brazilian, had lived in San Francisco, was recently divorced and was doing her own version of the book Eat, Pray, Love. Intrigued, I invited her to lunch. She told me about her adventures, and when she asked me what I did for a living, I said, “I’m a journalist – I write.”
As we were leaving, at the entrance, I stopped, dumbfounded and blurted out, “Oh my God, that’s my story.”
“What?” Ana said.
It was the fourth time I walked by the restaurant entrance, and just then I noticed that a story I wrote, 48 hours in Florence, which was published in the Jerusalem Post, was posted under the restaurant’s sign.
At that moment, Simcha was walking out, and Ana said to him, “Do you know – she’s the author of this story.”
He was so excited. He hugged me and kissed my check and said, “What a wonderful story – I gave it to the synagogue and to the other restaurants you wrote about in the neighbourhood.”
Frankly, I was stunned, never before having seen my story posted in a restaurant, no less in Florence, Italy. What made it even more special is that it was under the name of the restaurant, “Ruth’s,” which happens to be my mom’s name.
Chris started to laugh, “Wow, the most interesting things happen to you. You have great stories.”
I shook my head, “I didn’t chose to write, writing chose me. I just like stories, reading them, writing them, experiencing them.”
That reminded me of a recent conversation with actor and comedian Larry Miller, who is passionate about acting, writing and telling stories on stage.
Miller has appeared in more than 50 films and hundreds of television shows. One of the memorable moments early in his career was his role in Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.
He explained the importance of storytelling in Jewish culture. He said, “It’s because Judaism believes there is power in words. I believe with all my heart that Judaism is a word-oriented culture. It’s all about the words, sentences, inflections. It is so deeply ingrained in our people, it’s perfect.
“The Torah even stresses how important each word is. The concept of storytelling is as deeply Jewish as the commentary of the Torah.”
He grinned and continued,“ Everything I am – it’s like it’s tied up in a DNA strand, the concept of me being a storyteller without being Jewish is just impossible.”
Miller said that he doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that Judaism has such a rich history and places such value in communicating ethics and humour through storytelling, citing examples from the Torah,.
I nodded. It made sense. Judaism is a culture wrapped up in constant learning, and, most often, it is through stories that morals and meanings are conveyed.
Everyone’s words and actions reverberate around the planet, spinning like a baseball in motion, however, most of us never realize the results of what we do, for the bad and the good. Call it a coincidence, or a bit of divine intervention – either way, it makes one stop and take notice (OK, maybe after the fourth time of walking by my story).
So perhaps the lesson I learned in Florence was we don’t always need the power of a bat to hit a home run and change people’s lives, just the power of the pen.
Masada Siegel can be reached at fungirlcorrespondent.com
The snow sparkled as it whizzed past my face and the light of little diamonds danced over the slopes. As I skied down the mountain, the wind pushed the corners of my lips into a huge smile. The air tasted as pure and sweet as glacier water. At any moment, I expected a Hollywood director to walk out of the trees and yell, “Cut!”
I skied over to the stands to watch the fastest women downhill skiers in the world whiz down the slippery slopes. I was in Lake Louise, Canada, watching the Women’s World Cup ski races.
As they raced down the mountain at breakneck speeds toward the cheering fans, I couldn’t help but think about the talent, hard work, dedication and determination it takes to be an elite skier. But it also got me thinking about the greatness in all of us, the untold beauty we hide in our hearts and the magical abilities we bury deep within.
I don’t know if it is life hammering people down, bad experiences or growing up, but many people tend to lose their magic, their optimism and get stuck in downward spirals of unhappiness.
But happiness is within. Israeli author and professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught a class on positive psychology at Harvard, explained that one of the ways to be happy is to “express gratitude whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people and food to nature and a smile.”
The great outdoors is filled with many adventures, so besides skiing I decided to go dog sledding in Lake Louise. While the weather was 10 degrees below zero Celsius, I braved the elements and went for a ride.
Black, white and brown barking dogs with bright blue eyes greeted me, but as soon as we started to move, their focus shifted and we smoothly glided over the pristine white snow. The air smelled fresh, and the green trees were blanketed with snow. I could hear the majestic quiet of the wind, and the blue-tinted winter wonderland seemed straight out of the pages of a novel.
So it came as no surprise to me that in a Gallup World Poll of 155 nations, Canada, Israel, Australia and Switzerland all rank as the eighth happiest countries.
I have been lucky enough to spend time in all of them, so the high ranking seems appropriate. All four are filled with natural beauty; three out of four have beaches good for surfing, snorkeling and frolicking in the waves. They all have picturesque mountains from Ayers Rock in Australia to Masada in Israel. (OK, so I am biased about loving my namesake.) The chocolate and skiing in Canada and Switzerland are both alluring and addicting.
Always one to try to surround myself with images of brilliance and people of good character, I spent time dreamily staring out my window at the famous Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise. My mind got lost in the grandeur of the glacier and the frozen lake where I skated earlier in the day. I saw the clouds roll away from the mountains and the rays of sunlight shimmer on the treetops. It was like watching the brush strokes of an artist in action.
Touched by the ultimate work of art, I wondered why nature’s beauty evokes strong responses, often bringing people to tears.
My conclusion: Nature is real, honest and straightforward.
Nature is not afraid, nor does it hide imperfections.
It is admired for its raw beauty, not criticized.
Nature rages and expresses itself with angry storms, and cries with torrential rainfalls. Nature blows off steam with tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes.
It got me to thinking, if people would shake their fears, share their hearts and be themselves, chances are they would sparkle and radiate light just like the snow reflects the sunshine.
Every day, in every place, nature’s gifts are evident: Whether in the pure white snow, spectacular sunsets, wide open fields, glorious mountains and endless oceans or simply in a flowerpot on your windowsill.
So while it’s easy to see the diamonds sparkle in the light of Lake Louise, there is beauty surrounding you too. Take a moment to notice, appreciate and enjoy. If you do, your own inner light will glow, and you might make the world a brighter place.
The four laughing people in the black-and-white photo sitting on a wooden sled in the snowy Alps of St. Moritz intrigued me.
The picture was dated 1931, and at that time St. Moritz was the playground of the wealthy and famous. Two of the people in the photo, who regularly vacationed in Switzerland, are my German grandparents, whom I never had the opportunity to meet.
This photo inspired me to travel thousands of miles last year to see if I could spiritually connect with my smiling grandparents. If I could never meet them, then at least I could spend time in places they seemed to have enjoyed so much.
The journey on the train from Zurich is filled with green trees delicately laced with snow, majestic mountains appearing at every turn, and houses dotting the hillsides. The train twists and turns up mountain passes until you find yourself breathless – not from the journey but from the view.
St. Moritz boasts a myriad of activities for the adrenaline lover to the foodie and shopper. While it boasts a long ski season, perhaps the best time to be there is February, which is part of the high season and filled with exciting events to keep you entertained.
The skiing is second to none. One of the oldest winter vacation spots in the world, it was host to the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1948. There are four mountain areas to choose from, depending on your ability and desires. The slopes are immaculately groomed, but there are also areas that are left untouched. So if you are looking to tear it up and race down the flagpoles or if you are just looking to play in some terrific powder, St. Moritz is certainly a hot spot. Also on select Fridays there is night skiing, as one of the mountains is lit up and people can ski while under the stars.
St. Moritz, which has more than 300 sunny days a year, also has one of the most entertaining horse racing events on the planet, called the White Turf, in the first three weeks in February. It is a mix of Whistler meets the Hamptons with old European sophistication mixed in with Russian oil tycoons. It is a challenge to know where to look first – at the horses racing on the snow pulling the jockey skiers behind them or at the fur-clad fashionistas.
The first White Turf race took place in 1907. The tradition continues, only becoming bigger, more sophisticated and definitely worthy of a bet. The lowest amount you can bet is four francs. I know from personal experience that people do win, as both the horses I chose won.
While St. Moritz is pricey, there are stores that will dazzle the average shopper. There are name brands like Chanel, Burberry, Bogner, Emilio Pucci, as well as local stores that sell stunning ski gear from Timberland boots to fur coats.
For the athletic and adventurous, a must-try is kite surfing on a frozen lake. It’s similar to kite boarding, as you harness the wind while wearing skis or a snowboard and glide over the snow and ice, as opposed to doing it over water.
I took a lesson at the kite surf school in Silvaplana. My instructor showed me the basics, from how to unfold the kite without getting it tangled up to how to control it so you glide across the pristine frozen lake.
It’s similar to surfing. Once you understand the elements, you will be thrilled in ways you never imagined. It takes time to learn. I fell on my face in the snow a few times, but the fun I had was well worth the effort.
For the truly adventurous who like a taste of adrenaline, there is the Olympic Bob Run. It opened in 1904 and is the oldest bobsled track in the world, as well as the only natural ice track anywhere. The Olympic Bob Run St. Moritz-Celerina got its name after hosting the two Winter Olympics.
I decided to try it out and found myself riding next to to Reto Götschi, the 1994 Swiss Olympic silver medalist. The track is 1,612 meters, and the website boasts speed of 135 kilometers an hour, taking about 75 seconds to complete the course. That said, when an Olympic silver medalist was running the show, we completed the course in 49 seconds.
Needless to say, helmet on, I found myself racing on the track feeling the maximal centrifugal force of 5G, which is intense to say the least. It was one of the most meaningful things I did in St. Moritz.
Moments after the run, I looked at the photo of the four of us, all smiling before we were about to start traveling at breakneck speed. It brought everything back full circle, with a modern twist. The Bob Run did exist when my grandparents were in St. Moritz. While I have a sneaking suspicion they did not go for a ride, perhaps they had seen the track. And in their wildest imaginations, I doubt they would have dreamt that their granddaughter would be flying through time and space, on a sled no less, and smiling at a camera in St. Moritz.
December 1, 2010 Wednesday 2 Tevet 3871 18:27 IST
Photo by: masada siegel
Captivating Cape Town
By MASADA SIEGEL
The South African city offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities amidst a myriad of breathtaking vistas.
Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, and to sum it up in the words of the locals, it is simply stunning. The tight-knit Jewish community in South Africa dates back to the 15th century with the early explorers and directors from the Dutch East India Company. However, the first congregation in South Africa was founded in Cape Town in November 1841.
The scenic backdrop of Cape Town is Table Mountain; it has a perfect view of all the areas of the city. If you face north from the top of the mountain, you will find the city center, where the docks are filled with ships. On the west side there is a magnificent mountain range known as the Twelve Apostles. It borders a beautiful beach called Camps Bay, which is filled with bustling bars and restaurants.
On the south side, the mountains are filled with historic vineyards and the gorgeous, must-see Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Beyond the gardens and the Constantia suburbs is False Bay, which curves toward Cape Point. As you tour the mountain, over on the east side you can see Cape Town’s international airport.
Cape Town is a city filled with outdoor activities. There are adventures waiting to be had, such as windsurfing around Table Bay or jumping off Lion’s Head and paragliding close to Clifton. There are a myriad paths for mountain biking and hiking all over the city, whether it be Kirstenbosch, one of the most magnificent botanical gardens in the world, or anywhere on the huge stretches of beach.
The Jewish community is extremely welcoming, and the people I met had a wonderful sense of humor. Late one Friday afternoon, I knocked on the door of a store in Camps Bay because I wanted to buy the beach towel hanging in the window.
The shop owner, who was just closing, smiled, unlocked the door and let me in. While I was paying, he noticed my name, told me he had been to Masada, and with a wicked grin asked me, “Shouldn’t you be going to synagogue?” I smiled and agreed with him. As we got talking, I found out he was close friends with my father’s first cousin, who had died more than 10 years ago. Talk about Jewish geography.
I stayed in the Sea Point area of the city, and it felt like a mini-Israel. On Shabbat, lots of families were walking back and forth from shul. There are a few kosher restaurants to try, and even more synagogues.
While staying in Cape Town, besides enjoying the city, there are a few day trips to areas that are breathtaking. These can be taken with a tour, or you can drive yourself if you feel confident driving on what for many visitors is the other side of the road. The first is South Africa’s world-famous Cape Wine Lands around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.
The enormous mountains are filled with valleys full of vines. There are dozens of wineries where you can go wine tasting, have lunch or simply enjoy the beautiful scenery.
One winery called Spier is lovely but extremely touristy. It has a beautiful outdoor garden filled with couches where one can relax and have lunch. Women come around and, if you want, they will paint your face with traditional African symbols. I had a fallen star painted on me, symbolic of the word “lady.” Spier also has a gift shop filled with interesting African items, as well as a cheetah sanctuary where, for a nominal fee, you can pet the animals.
There are many wineries to see. While I would recommend Spier, definitely continue because the landscape changes and becomes more beautiful as you drive along toward all three cities.
Another day trip is to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. The winding roads are filled with glorious views of green mountains with steep drops into the blue ocean. This is where sailors rounded Africa en route to India. It’s not the southernmost point, which is at Cape Agulhas, but it is certainly worth a visit because of the stunning scenery.
On the way you will pass Muizenberg, a beach town that has long white sandy beaches and is where Agatha Christie went surfing 80 years ago. On this side of the peninsula, known as False Bay, the sea is warmer and some of the best whale-watching spots can be found.
This drive is dotted with little markets on the sides of the roads, filled with beautiful carvings. The vendors sell a variety of African goods, such as soapstone statues from Zimbabwe, which are gorgeous, as well as jewelry and wood items.
One of my favorite stops on this day trip was Boulders Beach. It is past Fish Hoek and south of Simon’s Town, historically an important naval base for the British and now the principal South African navy base. The well-preserved 18th-century streets are filled with shops and are architecturally pretty, but you can’t beat the penguin colony just south of town at Boulders Beach.
Boulders Beach has a nature reserve set aside for the penguins. For a small fee, you can get a wonderful view of them marching out of the ocean and hanging out. Nearby is a small beach, where the penguins were resting on the rocks and swimming alongside people in the water. I sat with the penguins for a bit and was so close to them I could touch them, truly a remarkable experience.
(From what I hear, they are often there.) Cape Town is a must-see city. To help you plan a trip there, here are a few helpful websites: www.uos.co.za/; www.jewishweb.co.za/; www.paarlonline.com/; www.simonstown.com/; http://www.southafrica.net/.
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May 1, 2009
Dara Torres stands alone as the first American woman to compete in five Olympic Games, so people tend to put her on a pedestal, but Torres is as down to earth as they come. You might be surprised, but she views herself as a working mother, who collects dust, or tarnish- but in her case it is on gold medals. She’s simply not interested in her past accomplishments; because she is too busy looking towards the future.
Torres started swimming when she was seven years old. Competitive by nature, having four older brothers certainly did not hurt in the way of keeping her on her toes. Early on she felt a connection to the water, and throughout her Olympic experiences, it kept calling her back.
In her Olympic career, she has won 12 medals, four gold, four silver, and four bronze. “I’m still improving; I just go and never stop. Twice I took a break from swimming; I felt I was done, really done. I didn’t think I would be back, but I missed the pool. Both times I came back to swimming. I made the decision and had a goal; I wanted to make the Olympics.”
Torres swam in Jewish swim meets growing up and in 2005, Torres was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. She has also spent time in Israel. “I’ve been to Israel once, I love it. My second husband asked me to marry him in Israel- and then we climbed Masada.”
Torres, who is unstoppable, was back in the pool three weeks after daughter Tessa was born, competing at a masters level swim meet. At the time, she had no thoughts of swimming competitively; she just wanted to get back into the water.
A fierce competitor, Dara’s sense of fairness and good sportsmanship shines as brightly as any of her Olympic Medals. During the Beijing Olympics, Torres had her big moment on hand where she was competing in the 50 meter individual freestyle race. Selflessly, she stopped the race, so she could alert the judges that one of her competitors had a swimsuit malfunction and needed time to change into a new suit.
When asked why she halted the race when no one else made a move, Dara explained, “I didn’t think. I just did. She was in trouble and I was just trying to do the right thing. I also want to compete against the best- it wouldn’t be right if she was not in the race, as she was ranked third in the world and I was ranked 5th. It did not affect my swimming at all- if anything it kept my mind off being so nervous.”
Dara laughed, “It was a motherly instinct that came out of me.” Motherly instinct or not, it was a shining example of a competitor who goes above and beyond and makes her country proud, not only by winning medals, but by the unlikely act of going the extra mile to help a competitor.
Her non-stop energy was evident in our interview, and Torres explained how sometimes her competitiveness spills over into her regular life. “I have always been competitive- so it’s nothing new- It just happens- it’s my nature- it’s in the genes.”
There is no doubt that winning Olympic medals at any age is spectacular, but forty-one year old Torres competed against people half her age and beat them. Many see her accomplishments as truly inspirational. While she does not view herself as a role model, she views the concept as positive. “Inspiring people, while it’s not my intention, but if comes with what I do and if it helps people to go for their dreams and not think they are too old- it’s an added bonus.”
When asked who Dara found inspirational to her, “My parents inspire me, but I also think inspiration comes from within.”
I’m a recreational swimmer myself who sometimes daydreams and writes stories in my head instead of focusing on my stroke, I wondered what went through Torres mind at practice and competitions, and was surprised by her answer.
“It could be what I need to buy at the grocery store. In college it was my homework assignments or it could be a song I heard on the radio that goes over and over in my head. At meets I have no idea; I never remember what I am thinking. It’s only when my coach says I need to do things a certain way- then I focus on what I need to change.”
Torres who is training to go to the World Championships in Rome this July has no plans for yet another Olympic games, “I take it day by day. I’m training for Worlds and don’t have a set challenge other than trying to be a good mother. I look at my training as I am a working mother and am always trying to balance having a career and my home life.”
That said, Torres has quit the sport twice before and come back to unprecedented success, so with her upbeat, positive and aggressive attitude, nothing is out of the question, except maybe to dust off those gold, silver and bronze medals.
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