December 20, 2007

Seeking Black Travel Bloggers!

It's so strange. I've been scouring Blogger for other blogs by Black Travelers and oddly enough I haven't really been that successful, so I'm calling on you for help. If you're a Black Traveler with a blog, or you regularly read a blog that would be of interest to black travelers, why not send me a link?
Goofing around by the Toronto Space needle. May 2007.
For 2007 my goal is to connect to more Black Travel bloggers and to add them to this blogs blog roll. So let's get started! Feel free to post your links in comments or drop me an e-mail at info@blacktravels.com. Don't be shy. I love to hear from people to drop my the BlackTravels.com website and blog.

And in the meantime, Happy Holidays and Happy Travels!

December 9, 2007

Seeking Black Women Travel Writers.

If you're interested, drop them an e-mail. Maybe it's not to late to contribute!

BLACK WOMEN TRAVEL (edited volume)

Dear Colleagues,

Travel writing traditionally has been a white male genre - white men writing about the rest of the world, often their colonies, or ex-colonies. Over the last fifty years, men of color have joined this fraternity: V.S. Naipaul, Richard Wright and Caryl Phillips are prominent examples, challenging its traditional Eurocentrisim. The catalog of women’s travel is also growing, with works by such authors as Robyn Davidson, Rosemary Mahoney and Mary South. But the voices of black women travelers remain largely unheard. Black women travel, and this volume aims to give voice and visibility to their travels and to their experiences and interpretations of the world. Contributors’ are invited to recount their experiences with humor as well as creative and incisive analysis.

The editors of this volume are two black women - one an African American woman from Ohio and the other an African woman from Nigeria - who have traveled extensively, learning and having adventures along their journeys. Sometimes their experiences were dangerous, sometimes hilarious, sometimes they felt that they were witnessing history. Sometimes they were students, sometimes researchers, sometimes practitioners and sometimes just plain tourists. They combine humor, incisive social and political commentary and more traditional travel journaling.

The goal of this volume is to present snap shots of the world, as different late twentieth century historical moments, from the perspective, and through the eyes of black women from around the world.

If you are interested in participating in this exciting venture, we invite you to submit an abstract to the co-editors, Lynette Jackson (lajackson@uic.edu) and Anene Ejikeme (Aejikeme@trinity.edu).

Abstracts are due November 3 and completed papers March 28, 2008.

Please feel free to circulate this call for abstracts/essays.

Best wishes,

Anene Ejikeme

Department of History

Trinity University

San Antonio, TX 78212

(210) 999-7897(210) 999-8334

November 15, 2007

Morocco is a Rainbow - A Poetic Reality.

An excerpt from BlackTravels.com written by Linda Fletcher.

Traveling to different parts of the world or to different parts of the country broadens our scope of reality. If we are open minded and receptive we can experience the spiritual dimensions of travel in that not only does our physical body travel but also our soul. As I grow older I find myself adding up remembered events, places, people and experiences that remain in the recesses of my mind. I conjure up these past pleasures, enlightened insights and lessons that have enhanced, changed or moved my life further into being who I am. I have been thinking a lot about travel and realizing its depth and importance in that not only does ones perspective broaden but that also new dimensions are opened.

Lately I have become aware that I remember my travel experiences the most as if they were yesterday and in vivid details. Many years ago I traveled to Morocco and it was a beautiful soul awakening experience. This experience remains permanently in my gaze of remembered pleasant experiences. Morocco is a place where for centuries the East has met the West. I enjoyed meeting people that are living within their own tradition dating back thousands of years before the West came into existence.

The spiritual experience of the Sufis was everywhere - a visual presence, and I could see how Rembrandt was inspired by this part of the world. I could see the rainbow everywhere within my gaze, and it reminded me of Rembrandt's hidden rainbows beneath his famous paintings that influenced Europe's enlightenment.

Many of the experiences that I had while in Morocco are not easily described within a western cultural context; mainly because Morocco is ancient and predates Europe. It is a very spiritual reality - where souls are not static from consumerism, and the population has evolved as a unit; as a genetic pool of gradual variation.

I remember vividly the rich vibrant colors that were constantly set in motion in many shades of orange, reddish earth tones, blues and browns. I can still remember the henna dyed palms, hands and fingers as Moroccans went through their daily activities. Also I remember the many smells of tangerines and spearmint. The rainbow was apparent everywhere and it seemed to be a part of the culture as a reminder that life is light and that color is reflected in many dimensions and enters into our very collective being. I could see everywhere within my gaze the shifting flow of colors reflected from the sun's radiant light and the Moroccan people interacting with colors, shape, light and forms in their environment that was enhanced by songs, chants, callings and prayers.

I can remember riding on one of the local busses and looking out the window and seeing people wearing colorful clothes that looked softly meshed that blended into the terrain. The people looked as if they were softly painted into their environment as if painted by a painter as they wore coral and onyx jewelry. Their hands and hair were dyed with henna in beautiful patterns of art. I saw sheepherders blending into the terrain. I did not want to speak English because I felt that it would be an intrusion upon this sacred space and moment.

I can remember an old Arab man stretching out as if he was stretching out to God, the open spaces around him, relaxing and smoking hashish. I walked through the Atlas Mountains and I saw stars in the sky that seemed so close but yet distant. I felt ancient wisdom all around me as an old Arabic man said to me when I told him that I was an African American that, "the African American was the soul of America", as he laid stretched out under the stars.

I can still feel the aura of Tangier, Marrakech, Rabat, Tifni and the many veils of serenity in shades of black and deep blue indigo. I can never forget the smiles of the Berbers and dozing off on a bus ride and waking up and seeing an Arabic man smiling at me as if he had been guarding my sleep with prayer and meditation.

I learned the art and the many lessons of seeing each other softly and with warm contentions. I learned that our eyes can teach us about life and the many truths that lay before us waiting to be unfolded through ones' gaze upon the horizon and within ones soul and the soul of others. We can witness life through vision aided and enhancement by sight and smell.

I met people that communicated starting from a place of similarity rather than from differences. I felt the embrace of Islam in its splendor and that there was poetry to its existence. I saw poetry as the women and men worked. They moved like sculpture gliding in union with the physical environment. Through the display of cultural, beauty and art the culture of the Moroccan people touched my soul with their flow of gentle meditative energy that moved from one person to another like a gentle sea.

I looked into their eyes and I saw a unity of similarity flowing through time and that genetics had united them through the soft glow in their deep dark eyes. Reality seemed to be laid bare with no pretenses. I feel honored in experiencing this culture and this place in time. I felt a glimpse of their spiritual haven. It made me feel the indefiniteness of time, space and spirituality and that Morocco is a place to rest ones soul indefinitely in time.

October 18, 2007

Marketing to Black Travelers.

I recently ran across this old article from Black Enterprise Magazine. The first sentence reads:

"African American travelers, with an estimated $25 billion in travel spending power, are a rapidly growing market that is increasingly gaining the attention of the $440 billion U.S. travel industry."

I would love to see the updated statistics on how many Blacks are traveling each year and where they choose as their destinations. It's a 1997 article but, a decent one that worth the read. I wonder how much of that $25 billion is spent on international travel. If anyone runs across statistics on Black international travel, please post a link in comments.

October 7, 2007

Black Travelers Join the Club.

Members of Black Ski Inc., a travel group, gather after biking in Maryland.

I found this interesting article over at the Washington Post about Black travel clubs:
"Black Travelers Join the Club. African Americans Looking for Great Adventures -- And a Sense of Family -- Find Both in Organized Groups." It's definitely worth a read if you are interested in group travel or tours.

September 30, 2007

Crazy Tours of Krakow, Poland.

This morning I clicked over to yahoo, and imagine my delight and surprise when I saw one of the main headlines: Poland's Showcase of Communism Becomes Offbeat Tourist Draw. I knew right away it could be none other than Crazy Guides Communist Tours. Most people don't think Poland when they think of planning a European vacation, but the history and architecture alone is worth the trip.

Since my husband and I very much enjoyed the tour we took with them, I thought I'd repost here write-up from our weekend trip to Krakow in July:

Poland weekend 019

So eventhough I should have been home finishing stuff for my show that opens on Thursday, my husband and I spent the weekend in Poland of all places. Krakow to be exact....or Cracow.

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We met up with Kasia and Kelly my pals from NYC and later we were joined by their friends from Berlin, Timo and Franka. Kasia was in Poland visiting her family and of course we were more than happy to all meet up. And what a time we had!

Friday night we got in late after taking 2 different buses and a very bumpy flight. We were too late to join everyone for dinner so FrenchBoy and I headed to Rynek Glowny to check it out. We soon realised that "Krakow" means "party" in Polish.

Poland weekend 148

The square was absolutely packed with revelers of all ages drinking enormous Polish beers at one of the hundred or so terrace cafes. I could have sworn I even saw the Virgin Mary do a shot of Żubrówka .

Poland weekend 012

After dinner and a few very affordable cocktails we stumbled back to our hotel room and drifted off into a deep sleep only to be awaken at 3 AM by the group of drunk hooligans singing in the hotel hallway. One of many early morning impromptu sing-alongs to take place over the course of the weekend.

Saturday morning we headed over to meet Kasia & Kelly at their swank hotel. And since our free breakfast looked like this:


we decided that the buffet breakfast in their hotel restaurant was a better option.

Poland weekend 024

After I finished my 2 glasses of Prosecco we were off to the famous Salt Mines of Wieliczka which was just bizarre and quite hilarious. But if it's good enough for the Pope, Copernicus, Goethe, and Chopin ...well then I guess it was good enough for us too.

Salty Mary:

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Salty Gnomes:

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Salty Jesus:

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About 1.5 hours into the tour we couldn't take it anymore so we escaped the mines. In my humble opinion, you an only look at salt for so long.
Later that evening we all met up again for the annual Wianki Festival which used to be based on a very charming ancient Polish celebration on St. John’s Day that involved young girls floating wreaths of flowers and magic herbs with lit candles down the Vistula (Wisla) river. But apparently that was too old fashioned so the whole thing got upgraded to performances by 80's popstars and a mind-blowingly long fireworks display upon the riverbank opposite the Royal Wawel Castle.

Poland weekend 096

Yes folks---I saw Bananarama live in concert in Krakow. And those Poles can really shake it!

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After about 2 hours of sitting on wet grass watching a few musical acts we headed up to Kasia and Kelly's swank hotel room which had a panoramic view of all the events.

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Sunday was our last day in Krakow, so French Boy and I made the best of it by taking a "Crazy Communist Tour" of the Nowa Huta district of Krakow.

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Poland weekend 122


Our guide Jacob picked us up at the hotel and wisked us away to the historic communist district that was originally gifted to Krakow by Stalin himself. It later came to be one of the centers of revolution and resistance within Poland, leading to the eventual overthrow of the communist government.

Poland weekend 124

The Crazy Guides is run by a group of young guys who really know their history. We met up with another group led by Bartek and so we actually had the advantage of hearing two very different perspectives on the history of Communism in Poland. (If I remember correctly, Bartek studied Economics and Jacob studied Sociology.) The whole thing was just a real treat.

Poland weekend 125

Poland weekend 129

After our crazy tour we headed back to the hotel to change for our fancy dinner reservations at Wierzynek Restaurant which has been in business since 1364. (No that is not a typo.) It was crazy old-fashioned fancy. The hostesses wore ball gowns and the waiters brought us our main courses wearing white gloves.

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Then just when you thought it couldn't get any better the four waiters revealed our dinner entrees by by lifting the sterling-silver plate dome thingies in one perfectly choreographed motion.


After dinner we headed over to the very un-touristy Kazimierz neighborhood to hang out at a local bar----where apparently drinks are free. We each got a glass of something and the total came to $7.

Poland weekend 196

I love Krakow.

September 23, 2007

Americans Don't Travel.

I found this interesting editorial about Black Americans, travel, and "Creating Legacy" on The Coup Magazine blog, so I thought I'd give it a reprint here:

Americans don’t travel. Currently less than 30% of Americans have a US passport and even fewer travel outside of the American continents. If experience is a master teacher, then the American public has fallen behind.

While considering the 30% of passport holding Americans I began to wonder, how many black Americans were a part of that percentage. It seems that when it comes to international travel, black travelers are few and far between. There are a number of factors, of course, that contribute to this reality. Social standing and income as well as the experiences of those around you—a legacy of travel experience—are some of the most obvious issues.

According to the U.S. Census Bureauthe median income of black households is a few thousand below that of the American average. And while many people who travel develop the habit in college the bureau also reports that less than 20% of black Americans hold a bachelor’s degree. However, the U.S. Census also reports that black Americans make up a large part of American entrepreneurship, and black investors are making waves in the financial market. It is important as we make strides forward that we also consider the wealth of experience.

According to Black Meetings and Tourism magazine, African-Americans are developing more of an interest in domestic travel. The magazine reports that there has recently been a boom in what they refer to as “heritage tourism.” It’s a step in the right direction.

International travel not only provides insight into the past and various communities but it is an equalizer of experience. Traveling internationally, familiarity with different cultures translates into varied understanding; a point of view that is valued not only in the work of philosophers and social reformists but from marketing and industry standpoints. No matter how “globalized” the world becomes, how readily available cultures are made from our own homes, it remains true that nothing beats a face to face.

-Ashleigh Rae

September 12, 2007

Soul of America International Guides.

You might not know this, but over at SoulofAmerica.com there's a whole section dedicated to Black International Travels. There you can find international travel tips on Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil--just to name a few. I particularly enjoyed reading more about Monique Wells, owner of Discover Paris, and her experience cooking with the Chefs at Coconut Lagoon in Kerala, India!

If you haven’t already, stop by to read up on your next destination, or just stop by to read what other Black international travelers. And of course, if your considering Paris as a future travel destination, definitely stop by and visit Monique Wells at DiscoverParis.net for Afrocentric walking tours and custom-designed travel itineraries of the City of Lights.

August 14, 2007

Globetrotting Soul Sisters!

I am always trolling the web for anything new related to Black travelers. This week I stumbled upon a great blog podcast on Blog Talk Radio:

It's a 60 minute segment on Black International travel with the folks from Soul Planet Travel.
It's a pretty good segment that addresses some of the issues and questions that many people have about traveling internationally---including the biggest questions such as "Is it safe?" There is also plenty of information included that could be beneficial to any traveler, not just Black women.
Soul Planet Travel also has it's own channel called Black Traveler where you can take A Stroll Through Black Paris and get other travel tips and passport information.

July 29, 2007

¡Viva Venezuela!

We landed in Caracas in January of 2005 and stayed for three weeks. I travel on business a few times a year, usually to Latin America, but this was my first trip to Venezuela and I was looking forward to it. Traveling on business presents me with a set of people to get to know and with whom I immediately have something in common: we have work to get done.

As anyone who travels knows, the natives of a place are usually ready and willing to show you their country. This group was no different, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I found the business culture in Venezuela really interesting.

We usually got started at 9 A.M. each morning and by 10:30 we were breaking for ‘un cafezito’. While my co-worker thought this a frivolous waste of time, I found it extremely civilized and a lot more effective than the moronic ‘team-building’ we regularly find ourselves subjected to at the home office.


Enjoying a "cafezito".

During these coffee breaks (there was another one between lunch and quitting time) therewas time to talk and exchange information about each other. Be prepared for what will seem very personal questions by North American standards. This is pretty common in Latin America and you are expected to ask the same questions of them.

Venezuelan people run the gamut of phenotypes. You have your natural blondes, but they are in the minority. This is a country of color. And since I insist there is more than just Black and White in the world I use this term. They are comfortable with people of colorand the immediate affinity they expressed toward me was not only because I am Latino and speak Spanish. It was also because of my brown skin and curly hair, something familiar. I was pleased to be in a place where everyone does not aspire to be blond (that gets really tiresome) and the standard of beauty is not taken from Vogue or Marie Claire.

Caracas is intensely urban and the ‘feel’ of the place reminded me of São Paulo or Miami. The malls, Centros Comerciales, are vertical skyscrapers, instead of the sprawling one story kind we’re accustomed to in the States. Sambil and San Ignacio are the two we became familiar with. When you enter a restaurant in one of these places you forget completely that you‘re in a mall. The elevation (more than 10 stories) is taken advantage of and there is al fresco terrace dining with incredible views over the city.

Caracas is also very cosmopolitan, so don’t expect to be stared at because you are a foreigner. There are world class Vietnamese, (European) Spanish, Italian and Portuguese restaurants here. Try the Paella, you won’t be disappointed! Venezuela has Italian and Portuguese populations numbering in the millions, so it is common to hear these languages spoken alongside Spanish.

I always chat up the cab drivers when I travel. They know everything there is to know about their city and they’re usually great ambassadors, wanting to show you the best of what it has to offer. Caraqueños are very friendly and if you speak even a little Spanish they will gladly spend time talking. If you are a native English speaker, trust me, once the word is out you will become everyone’s tutor. Nearly everyone seems to be in school studying English.


Nationality is an interesting subject in Venezuela. On any Sunday you can stroll through the Plaza Simon Bolivar and hear President Hugo Chavez haranguing for hours on end, courtesy of the loud speakers set up almost everywhere. He rails against the Colombians and the Americans and the list goes on.

On January 22nd there was a half day parade, complete with effigies of Condoleezza Rice and George Bush, slamming live salsa music and plenty of megaphone. This is the occasion of President Chavez’ coming to power and there was plenty of anti-American rhetoric to go around. Later that day people who realized we were Americans turned out to be very curious about the States. They plied us with questions and said how glad they were that we came to their beautiful country. If you are Colombian, now that is another matter. There is a lot of tension between these two countries and this is the subject of some pretty heated café talk on Sunday afternoons.


This is a beautiful country, despite the grinding poverty in the slums above and around Caracas. The northern limit of the city is defined by a mountain known as El Avila. Our hosts were anxious to show us the recreation facilities at the top and so we planned a trip up via Teleférico (cable car). Five of us easily fit into a car and we were off into the clouds. During the ride up (and down) there is a point at which you can’t see the city below or the peak you are rising toward. Clouds surround you and there are glimpses of the carpet of jungle below. It is a sight so sublime and beautiful and humbling these words fall far short of what I want to communicate.


At the top there is an extensive entertainment complex, with restaurants, gardens, even an ice skating rink. Go figure! La India, one of my favorite Salsa singers happened to be performing live that day. Venezuelans don’t miss an opportunity to dance and we all partied for a while with the rest of the crowd. The ride back down was just as hypnotic, especially when the car came out of the clouds into a brilliant tropical sun with Caracas waiting for us down below.

The same day we were driven to a colonial town east of Caracas called El Hatillo. I am NOT a shopper! But I couldn’t prove it that day when I saw all that El Hatillo has to offer. Woven grass baskets from the Amazon, pottery from Colombia, hammocks from Brazil, this place had it all. El Hatillo has been preserved from colonial times by ordinances that prohibit changing the exterior of the buildings, although every manner of business occupies the brightly painted shells. I strongly recommend getting to El Hatillo and El Avila if you do nothing else in Caracas. Believe it or not one of the biggest treats for me was running from one customer appointment to another, eating at outdoor stands on the way and moving around and among the people. This is the whole point of traveling for me.


Caracas is a big city, with all the problems of a big city, and third world to boot. But a healthy dose of common sense, an open mind and even a little Spanish will ensure a great time among these generous and big hearted people. ¡Viva Venezuela!

July 14, 2007

The Music of Japan. By Roderick Ross


I live in Tokyo Japan where I have been residing for about 7 years. I came to Japan when I was 25 years old, and, aside from yearly trips home and a few excursions to some Asian countries and once to Brazil, I've been here the whole duration.


Upon moving here I didn't speak the language, but have gotten a good grasp of it now. Japan is still a fairly insular country where many people have still never seen anyone of any other races than Japanese. One aspect of living here is that I have become, obviously, very comfortable with the word "foreigner." Even when referring to myself, it has become natural for me as I think it has for everyone visiting here.


People have for the most part been fairly kind to me and people do go out of their way to try and speak to you in English to accommodate you. Japanese people do seem to try hard to make things as easy as they can for foreigners and you feel very little anti-foreigner sentiment. I think you really have to live and work here for a while to really notice any. The younger generation is much more open minded and often excited to meet foreigners.


Japan is a very customer oriented society. They are very much into intricate packaging of products, services and what not. But the culture of the society itself is so filled with ceremony that it is not surprising that extra time and care is given to even the smallest of things. However the detail oriented side of living here is as helpful as it is frustrating. Everything, including the simplest of things, is steeped in details that make it all a ceremony.


The attitude toward Blacks varies. First of all there are more Africans than African Americans so many have been influenced by them as much. However the American movie industry has done much to erode our credibility as intelligent people deserving of fair treatment and a great deal to promote the stereotype of a race of violent people. Sometimes the fear is evident but at times difficult to know if it is based on being Black or just a foreigner. Stereotypes are often in effect here, especially sexually and musically. But at least the stereotypes for music have created a booming field for African American musicians such as myself.


Combined with an extremely safe environment, a very high employment rate, and high standard of living, it is easy to make a living here at this time. Definitely the variety of people that one comes into contact with here (all seeking the better living that is a part of the economy here) makes it a lively and entertaining place to live.

Even so, you will learn that racism, whether it be toward African Americans, people from other countries, or even indigenous people is a part of life no matter where you go.

June 4, 2007

Moscow Then & Now

It’s been a few years since I was last in Moscow, so I was really pleased when the general manager of our network’s Russian media agency asked me to fly over to conduct some workshops for his staff. I had almost forgotten about all the paperwork involved in getting the visa, of course, but was quickly reminded once we set the dates and put the process into motion.
Although there was some initial doubt as to whether my visa would be back in time, everything worked out fine and in good time. On the morning of august 10th I was sitting in a German taxi wheeling my way to Düsseldorf airport.

The agency must have booked me super-duper-economy, because my seat was almost the last one on the plane. I guess I’m lucky they don’t seat passengers on the wings yet! The flight was fairly empty, though, so I had the entire row to myself. The flight itself was totally uneventful, so I concentrated on tackling the Russian entry forms.

When we arrived at Sheremetyevo, I was glad to see that there has been some renovation done since the very first time I landed here in 1975! I can still remember my feeling of discomfort following my initial look up at the ceiling fixtures to see the dust and grime of the ages precariously dangling off them. I remember being afraid to actually touch the grungy banisters on the stairs as I went down the steps one at a time weighed down by baggage as part of the slow-moving queues at passport control. This time the queues were filled with lots of foreign tourists which moved just as quickly (or as slowly) as they would have in Philadelphia or London. If anything, the only leftover from former ‘soviet glory’ was that the people behind the counter acted as though simply smiling would be high treason!

There was a girl waiting with my name on a sign on the other side of the barrier, but she was only there to inform me that – due to heavy traffic – the taxi that had been ordered for me would be late. After wading through a crowd of taxi drivers eager for a fare, I got a seat in the waiting area. Why wait for a taxi when there are crowds of drivers waiting for a fare, you ask? Because it’s safer! At best, you may get stiffed by a driver (who may not even be an official taxi driver, but a family man trying to earn a few extra bucks to make ends meet) who takes you to your hotel in central Moscow the long way via Siberia. That’s why most Western companies either work with a specific taxi company on a regular basis or simply have one or more drivers on their company’s payroll.

Eventually I called Sean, my contact in Russia, to let him know I’d arrived safely. Of course when my driver finally arrived he spoke NO ENGLISH! With sign language he impatiently signalled for me to sit in the back. Although I usually prefer to sit in the front seat of a taxi, I quickly complied and we set off into the city at break-neck speed.

Driving in Moscow is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The Russians not only zip from lane to lane with little attention to signalling, they also have no problem sidling right up alongside another car who doesn’t make room for them to change into the lane they need quickly enough!

Eventually we reached central Moscow. It is an absolutely stunning, heaving metropolis. Where New York reaches for the sky, Moscow spreads itself along the ground. Where New York moves forward in squares and rectangles, Moscow circles around and around itself. The architecture is mind-boggling, and much of it is fortunately being restored. There are also many of the ‘amenities’ of modern Western life, of course, like new advertising billboards and expensive Western shops.

As we turned one corner I caught my first breathtaking glimpse of the Kremlin walls and St. Basil’s cathedral, and I knew that we’d be reaching my hotel soon. When the driver pulled into the parking lot at the hotel Rossija, he looked around at his papers again, then signalled for me to stay seated and ran inside. He then came back and tried to ask me something in Russian. He then signalled for me to follow him into the hotel.

Apparently he had lost the paper that told him which hotel I was in! The women at the reception desk proceeded to say that there was no room reserved for me, but my trusty palm pilot knew better, and I was quickly given a key and directed to my room on the 12th floor.

The hotel Rossija is located just across from red square. It is one of the true landmarks of the city and boasts a grand total of 2700 rooms. And let’s just say that it – and its staff – have lost none of their peculiar ‘Soviet charm’. The hotel apparently hasn’t been updated or renovated since Brezhnev was in office. Although I didn’t stay here in the 70’s, I do remember many of the same ‘institutions’ from the hotel I did stay in, which was right across the Moskva river – like the ‘floor person’ who is in charge of all things large and small on ‘her’ floor.
For those of who’ve been to Europe before, just imagine a French concierge who’s served 15 yrs. in the Soviet army and 5 yrs. in the KGB, and that’ll be about right. There is always some dire-looking guy to check your I.D. before you head for the elevator. Even at the agency office they have some guy hanging out in the reception area to ‘filter’ unwelcome visitors. Let’s just say that all the women visiting a hotel aren’t exactly ‘ladies’, and all the ‘businessmen’ visiting your company aren’t necessarily “businessmen”.

When I unlocked my room I realized it made a double at your local motel 6 look like a complete suite in the Plaza Athenèe on the Riviera. Last time I was in Moscow I was travelling for a client, and was booked into a suite at the très ritzy ‘Baltshug Kempinski’ right across the bridge at over $400/night. However my present room was quite clean, the water pressure was good, and the bed had fresh sheets on it. There was also a café of sorts at the end of the floor, so having a snack or light meal would still not be a problem. And from the huge picture windows I had an absolutely stunning view of the Moskva river, one corner of the Kremlin.

A couple hours after I arrived, the general director from our media agency arrived to take me to dinner. Gavin took me to a Georgian restaurant not too far from the center of the city: “at Pirosmani’s”. It was really quite quaint and cosy, and I was happy to hear that people like Bill Clinton and Gerhard Schroeder had already wandered in to test the food for me. Gavin and I had a big plate of fresh parsley, purple sage, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and radishes along with our entrees and some assorted Georgian cheeses. We had Georgian bottled water (heavy on the sulfer) and a cool Russian ‘baltika’ beer to wash it all down.

Although I found the normal Russian-on-the-street about as aloof and brusque as most people consider New Yorkers to be, the colleagues I met at both offices were anything but! They were eager to work with me, had lots of questions, and were genuinely friendly and helpful. The first two workshops were held in a beautiful outdoor location – a kind of café-restaurant in the middle of a huge park near the center of the city. There are concerts held in the park in the summer, and part of the park is flooded for ice skating in the winter. The food was good, too, though I didn’t know what all of it was and some of it was unusual. For example, one day we had a kind of Russian soup specialty that was served with a small bowl of sour cream on the side. But at least there was no ‘mystery meat’ included in the recipe. Even as far back in the mid-90’s I can remember coming to Moscow and being served something that didn’t look quite like it could have been made from any animal naturally created by God!

Because we were having 3-course lunches during the workshops, I limited my dinner the first few nights to a small bag of chips and beer from the little café on this floor. Finally I got adventurous, though, and decided to grab a book and actually have a sit-down meal there. The whole place looks like it was preserved from the early 1970’s, right down to the dull plastic plants, dusty upholstery on the chairs and vinyl tablecloths. The young ladies working there were an anomaly for the hotel. Both ladies were modest and friendly, and surprisingly unafraid to smile. Although on the same floor as my room, even the view from the cafe was astonishingly retro. With very few and exceptions, the huge picture windows afforded a view over the rooftops of Moscow virtually without advertising. If it hadn’t been for the obvious warmth of the waitresses, I could have sworn I’d been sucked back into a pre-glasnost time warp!

Sunday was my only day off on this trip, so after catching up on my sleep I got dressed and headed off to Red Square. I was again overwhelmed at just how much had changed – not only since 1975, but even since the late 90’s! Again I felt the same sense of wonder and awe as I looked at the exotic, brightly colored façade of St. Basil’s, and my personal favourite, the seemingly snow-capped edifice right behind it.

Although I stopped to take a few quick photos, I knew exactly where I was headed: ‘GUM’! ‘Gum’ (pronounced: ‘goom’) is the old Soviet shopping complex. I first went there in 1975 and wandered around both perplexed and fascinated. There were stalls full of deep-piled fur hats and ankle-length fur coats. Anyone who’s ever braved a Russian winter knows exactly why these are so popular, and the main reason isn’t fashion! Of course there were also the endless rows of ‘matruschkas’, along with enamelled boxes and pins. Other shops had caviar and sparkling wine and Russian vodka.

My most tangible memory of ‘gum’ from 1975? Wandering through the main aisle from ice cream stand to ice cream stand. It was an unseasonably warm April, so ice cream was just what the doctor ordered! But coming from the land of Baskin-Robbins, how was I to fathom a country where you could only buy one flavor of ice cream?

Needless to say, my latest excursion was a totally different affair! ‘Gum’ is now a honeycomb of fashionable and very expensive) Western shops bursting with almost everything capitalism has to offer. Oh, the stackable ‘matrushka’ dolls are still there, as are the enamelled boxes as well as other handcrafted articles by entrepreneurial ‘new’ Russians. There were even the infamous cow sculptures painted brightly by local artists and posed all through the mall to look at and pose beside.

In the end, I sat at a table in a little alcove overlooking a fountain in a central and wrote some postcards while I mused about what all has happened, both in my own life as well as in the life of this historic city, since I was first here.

Submitted by T. Roach-Raschke

March 23, 2007

Váyanse a Guatemala! by Eboni Bailey

We finally made it! Against all odds: a teacher-led strike, coupled with missed flights, political unrest, and family and friends against us. It did not forecast a positive experience. Nonetheless, the trip was full of silly moments, and life-changing experiences, which have better equipped me as a world-traveler in the years to come.

We were five, from all different backgrounds and experiences, but we were all ready to embark on a new type of Spring Break challenge.After meeting my Guatemalan friend, Alejandra, in Italy some years prior, we had been planning my visit to her homeland. Finally it came to pass. I have always been up for a new and unique travel experience, especially if it involved my beloved Spanish language. I had been studying Spanish prior to my trip to Guatemala, but with discouraging grades on my Spanish grammar tests; I was in need of a boost in self-esteem, and what other way than to put it to use than in a Spanish speaking country!

Due to various flights, three out of the group arrived Friday, and of course without me! They were to meet my friend, Alejandra, in Guatemala based on my physical description. Much to my surprise, however, there were many Guatemalans of African decent, most commonly residing on the east coast of the island. In spite of this, due to my keen descriptions, they were able to meet up and spend the first night with Alejandra in the artistic city of Antigua, 45 minutes west of Guatemala City. Another friend and I arrived the following day Saturday, anxious to hit the ground running with only 6 days vacation remaining...(click here to read full trip report)