Portugal’s Pastry Penises

Cock an eye at the phallic pastries from Amarante, Portugal, which, strangely, honor a saint.

 Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Portugal’s pastry penises, they pop up (sorry, couldn’t resist) everywhere. Darling small ones covered in sugar. Massive ones big enough to share. Some are filled with, what else, cream. Porcelain ones, can openers, corkscrews line up on store shelves like soldiers at attention. It’s a penispalooza!

You see them all over the country, but they actually come from Amarante east of Porto. A lovely town where everything — the church, the bridge, the convent, a street — is named after the same man, Amarante sits at the western entrance to the Douro Valley, home to the port wine industry.

Modestly dressed women giggle as they confront an anatomically correct penis dusted with powdered sugar.

There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

In the 13th century, long after the Romans built the bridge that bears his name, a priest, now canonized, São Gonçalo, had “matchmaking abilities.”

There is no word on his personal equipment size. Given the doces fálicos (phallic sweets) or bolos (cakes) that commemorate him, however, it must have been quite something.

The fact that he was run out of town for some long-forgotten reason fuels speculation as to why he is so vividly remembered eight centuries later. Also no word on why he’s revered with pastry — malleable, rise-able, edible…shouldn’t go too far with the metaphors.

 Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

The pastries are given as gifts in January so that the recipient will have a fortuitous and fertile year. But the really big celebration is the first week in June, around São Gonçalo's feast day, when Amarante goes penis crazy.

There’s a procession, fireworks, penis bunting, fetching penis deely-boppers and a lot of pastry penis presents to single women looking for love. In other words, the world’s largest bachelorette party.

 Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

The rest of the year, modestly dressed women sit in cafés throughout the country, sipping espresso and giggling as they confront an anatomically correct, carefully circumcised and fully, shall we say, inflated penis dusted with powdered sugar. There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

Otherwise, if you miss the festa in Amarante, if you’re new to Portugal, if you haven’t seen anyone eating the equivalent of a phallic doughnut, you are left standing in the middle of Porto’s open-air market, staring into a bakery shop window thinking, “That’s not what I think it is. Is it?” –Rebecca

Herb Library: One of the Best Restaurants in Ubud, Bali

A standout farm-to-table restaurant experience so good we visited twice during our five days in Ubud.

 Looking for a place to eat in Ubud? Stop into Herb Library

Looking for a place to eat in Ubud? Stop into Herb Library

The laidback ambience of the open-air dining room was just what Wally and I needed after a full day of exploring Ubud and its surroundings. Situated at street level in front of the Alaya Jembawan hotel, the signature restaurant is an extension of the retreat’s wellness concept and a short distance from the bustling Jalan Raya Ubud, the main thoroughfare that runs through town.

 Look for this sign — and enjoy a delicious locally sourced meal

Look for this sign — and enjoy a delicious locally sourced meal

Drawing inspiration from the culture and character of its surroundings, the interior has been expertly layered by designer Zohra Bouka, incorporating a mix of pale blue and celadon green, juxtaposed with curvaceous woven rattan chairs, lending the space a relaxed boho-meets-Bali vibe. Even the drinking water was beautiful, served from a glass pitcher, infused with what appeared to be a mix of shaved carrots, cucumber, lime wheels and coriander.

Le Cordon Bleu alumnus and raw food advocate Diana von Cranach has spent decades perfecting her own interpretation of the living food movement and brings her considerable creativity to Herb Library, with its craveable variety of health-conscious cuisine. There’s a range of inventive local and sustainably grown plant-based meals for herbivores, with responsibly sourced fish and chicken options for omnivores.

There’s a range of inventive local and sustainably grown plant-based meals for herbivores, with responsibly sourced fish and chicken options for omnivores.
 Our sandwiches, the Unbelievable and the Cheese Sambal

Our sandwiches, the Unbelievable and the Cheese Sambal

After checking out their menu online, I decided that I wanted to try the Cheese Sambal, a grilled tempeh sandwich oozing with parmesan and cheddar cheese, shredded cauliflower, lemon basil and tomato sambal. I became completely obsessed with the fiery, chili-based Indonesian condiment after we sampled at least three distinctive sambal varieties at Plantation, the restaurant at the Alila, where we stayed while in Ubud. I had only previously been aware of sambal oelek, the most widely available type in the United States.

 Wally enjoys his refreshing adult beverage

Wally enjoys his refreshing adult beverage

 Duke found his coconut, ginger and banana thickie downright heavenly

Duke found his coconut, ginger and banana thickie downright heavenly

On our first visit to Herb Library, Wally and I made the rookie mistake of ordering too much food. We had arrived in the late afternoon and I was on the cusp of being hangry.

 The dragonfruit-based Red Dragoon and coconut ginger banana thickie

The dragonfruit-based Red Dragoon and coconut ginger banana thickie

We each started off with a “thickie,” their version of a smoothie — a delicious blended drink that was a meal in itself. I had the coconut milk, banana and ginger and Wally had the dragonfruit. He particularly liked the vibrancy of his and made sure I photographed it.

 The cold Carrot & Healing Roots Bisque is refreshing on a hot Bali day

The cold Carrot & Healing Roots Bisque is refreshing on a hot Bali day

Wally and I had also ordered cold soup, assuming it would be served in a small bowl. I chose the carrot and healing roots bisque and Wally, the green gazpacho. What arrived was a small tureen of each that we could have easily shared.

The generous portions of food were delicious and full of flavor. By the time our main courses arrived, we were both incredibly happy and full and ended up taking our leftovers back to our hotel. –Duke

Herb Library
Jalan Jembawan
Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia
Hours: 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily

Girls Trip to Tulum, Mexico

The best restaurants, bars and things to do in this Riviera Maya hotspot.

 Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

It was the picture of a line of topless girls on the beach (seen from behind) that really got me.

I asked my former colleague and friend Megan if she’d be willing to write up a post about her trip to Tulum, Mexico. When I visited about 15 years ago, it was a sleepy getaway from Playa del Carmen, popular with backpackers and yoga enthusiasts. Then the Hartwood came.

The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids.

Megan really captured the spirit of the coastal town that has grown up so rapidly in the past decade. –Wally

 Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Paradise Found

After spending weeks resisting responding to a chain of emails with the subject “February girls trip to Mexico!!!” I gave in and bought a flight on New Year's Eve. I didn't think I really wanted to go to Tulum with 10 girls I didn't know, but I'm easily persuaded by champagne. The girl organizing the trip was a close friend of mine, but everyone else was either an acquaintance or someone I'd never met.

 The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

Fast-forward to February 2018, and we descend upon Tulum from every corner of the U.S. and Europe (thanks to The Organizer having friends in California, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, Illinois and Germany). We rented a wicked Airbnb with a pool, two kitchens and a really hot next-door neighbor who was sunning himself in the communal pool upon arrival (we aptly named him Mexican Jesus, to give you a visual). We all decided we like this place and I decided these girls are probably pretty cool after all.

 Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Setting sight on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula after a grueling 12-hour trek from L.A. was when Tulum really hit me. The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids. Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can't do it justice.

 The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

It didn't take us long to figure out that getting cabs with 10 girls was a nightmare. As dope as it was, our house was far from the beach bars and clubs Tulum is known for. We managed by taking everything we needed for the day and night to the beach with us to minimize our commute and maximize drinking time. We spent most of our days bunkered out at the beach club our Airbnb host recommended, Aura. It wasn't anything too fancy, but it was run by three tattooed Spaniards who brought us an endless supply of margaritas and giggles, so we were happy.

 Not a bad place to spend your days…

Not a bad place to spend your days…

Megan's Best of Tulum

 The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

Top Restaurants

La Zebra Hotel: Gorge views, great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, even if you're not a guest.

Hartwood: Wood-fired restaurant with hyperlocal fare. Dinner only.

 

Top Places for Drinks

Gitano: Chic jungle restaurant. Slip on a sexy dress and be ready to dance.

Papaya Playa: Good old-fashioned beach party, from what I remember (not much).

when you happen upon the perfect daybed in the jungle #elevatedlounging

A post shared by Megan Dawson (@megpandawson) on

Top Pool

Casa Malca: Pablo Escobar's old digs turned funky-sexy hotel. Great photo op.

 Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Top Things to Do

Tulum ruins and cenotes with Sergio: Private tour of the beachfront Maya temple complex and limestone sinkholes in an air-conditioned van stocked with snacks and beer with the coolest local.

Biking along the beach strip: So much more efficient than taking cabs and also a fun way to explore.

Mayan Clay Spa: Get a mud treatment at this spa — it's insane. They massage warm mud into your whole body, including your face and hair, and then you rinse it off in an outdoor shower in the jungle.

 Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Top Place to Stay

Nativus Tulum: Glamping locale I stayed at for a night when the first round of girls left. You're literally in a tent, but a big nice tent, with a full bathroom that's outside. It's incredible, and they serve an amazing breakfast. Plus it has a private cenote and is on the beach road you'll want to be located on.

 Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Top Tips

  • Brush up on your Spanish — you'll need it.
  • Stay within walking or biking distance to the beach.
  • Get to the ruins very early in the morning to avoid crowds (and heat).

 

Favorite Moments

  • Taking the spontaneous topless photo with all the girls after too much sun and too many margaritas.
  • Trying to score weed with Mexican Jesus and failing miserably.
  • Running into my older brother, his husband, and my nephews by complete coincidence.
Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can’t do it justice.

Vampires, Pagan Gods and a Ghost Ship

Belsnickel, the magical uses of meadowsweet and the Hand of Glory play a part in the monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 6-8.

 A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

S3E6: “Red Sky at Morning”

Monster: Ghost ship

Where it’s from: All around the world, particularly England and the United States

 Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Description: This particular spectral ship is a three-masted clipper. There have been reports of ghost ships for centuries, including:

The S.S. Violet, a paddle steamer, ran aground crossing the English Channel in a snowstorm. She was sighted by a lookout at Goodwin Sands at the start of World War II. A lifeboat went out to investigate — but no ship was found.

 The  Griffon ’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon, one of the first major vessels to sail the Great Lakes, which is said to haunt Lake Michigan. Her maiden voyage in 1679 was also her last. She went down during a storm…but has been seen on the northern part of the lake ever since.



The title of the ep comes from a nautical saying:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

That is to say, that a red sunrise could mean a storm is coming.

What it does: The ghost ship of the Espírito Santo, a three-masted clipper (and an apparent invention of the show), appears every 37 years. Don’t look! If you happen to be one of the poor saps who sees the ship, you’ll end up drowning, like the woman in the shower and the man in the bathtub. The ghost ship will find a way to drown you — even if you’re just sitting in your car.

The Winchester Bros. start detecting a pattern: The ghost ship is targeting those who have spilled their family’s blood.

How to defeat it: There’s a gruesome but super helpful charm known as a Hand of Glory.

(Insert Dean joke here: “A Hand of Glory? I think I got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week.”)

 This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory has magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: It can open any lock and sometimes makes the holder invisible.

The Hand of Glory

A Hand of Glory is actually the hand (usually the right) of a hanged man who’s still swinging from the gallows — preferably during a lunar eclipse, but any ol’ night will work as well. You pickle it for 15 days, then dry it in the sun. It’s said to have magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: The Hand of Glory can open any lock and allows intruders to enter buildings undetected, sometimes making the holder invisible. The fingers burn as candles that never go out or hold a candle made from the fat of the hanged man in their grip. Once lit, it puts people to sleep or renders them motionless. In some tellings, the thief can only light a finger for each person asleep in the house; those that don’t light reveal that someone inside is awake. The lit fingers ensure that those sleeping won’t be able to be awakened.

Honestly, where can I get one of these for myself?

 A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

To break the curse of the spectral ship, the fellas summon the ghost of the brother who killed the captain of the Espírito Santo. The two ghosts destroy each other in a watery sploosh.

 On  Supernatural , vampirism is a blood-borne virus

On Supernatural, vampirism is a blood-borne virus

S3E7: “Fresh Blood”

Monster: Vampire

Where it’s from: Romania

Description: A girl named Lucy gets dosed with vampire blood at a club and turns into a vamp. In the Supernatural universe, vampirism is a virus; if you ingest a vampire’s blood, you become one.

Bright light hurts their eyes — though they do have infrared vision. And they can hear heartbeats from a block away.



A fellow hunter, Gordon, thinks our boy Sam is the Antichrist. So it’s particularly satisfying that a legendary vampire hunter like him gets turned into one of the monsters he so despises. Serves him right, the jerk.

The Winchesters were going to kill Gordon back when he was a human, so it makes it easier on their consciences to off him now that he’s a vampire.

How to defeat it: A shot of dead man’s blood knocks a vampire out.

To kill them, try decapitation or a silver bullet. (Though the novelist Anne Rice, an expert on vampires, told Marketplace, “Vampires are not particularly affected by silver bullets. Traditionally what kills vampires is a wooden stake through the heart.”

 

S3E8: “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

Monster: Pagan gods

Where it’s from: Britain

Description: At first Sam thinks they’re dealing with an evil Santa: “There’s some version of the anti-Claus in every culture. You’ve got Belsnickel, Krampus, Black Peter. Whatever you want to call it, there’s all sorts of lore.”

He continues, “Santa's brother went rogue, and now he shows up around Christmas time. But instead of bringing presents, he punishes the wicked.”

I doubt there’s a demonic counterpart to Santa in every culture, but Sammy’s right that there are quite a few.



 A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

Belsnickel, a Sinister Santa From Germany

 Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

This Christmas crazy wears a mask and often a wig, dresses in dark furs, lurks outside your house, and knocks on your door or window to announce his presence. He’s been known to give nuts, candy and small gifts to good children — but those who’ve been naughty get whipped and dragged into the woods. Belsnickel makes them pay for their bad behavior by dancing, doing tricks, singing or reciting poems for him.

It’s Sam that makes the connection to paganism.

Sam: Pretty much every Christmas tradition is pagan.

Dean: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

Sam: No, Jesus’ birthday was probably in the fall. It was actually the Winter Solstice festival that was co-opted by the church and renamed Christmas. But I mean, the Yule log, the tree, even Santa’s red suit — that’s all remnants of pagan worship.

Dean: How do you know that? What are you gonna tell me next? Easter Bunny’s Jewish?

The Winchester boys come across wreaths made of meadowsweet. Sam explains it as a powerful pagan herb that’s basically chum for their gods. “Gods were drawn to it and they’d stop by and snack on whatever was the nearest human,” he explains.

 Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Meadowsweet, though, once used to sweeten mead, is actually used in spells for love or creating a positive environment.

 Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Sam concludes they’re looking for Hold Nickar, the pagan god of the Winter Solstice, who grants clement weather. Ancient pagans (and Wiccans today) worship the Goddess, who takes the form of the Great Mother. She gives birth to the Sun King on Yule, symbolizing a beam of light in the dark of winter, promising renewed life and the return of the sun’s warmth and sustaining energy.

What it does: The Hardy Boys are the pagan gods’ newest tributes. The couple are sticklers for details and are gathering the ingredients they need for their ritual. That includes collecting blood from the Winchesters and prying off one of Sam’s fingernails. After this horrific exercise, we can only hope they’re done. But no: “Sweet Peter on a popsicle, I forgot the tooth!” the god exclaims, heading toward Dean’s mouth.

How to defeat it: Guess these gods aren’t so immortal: Wood stakes kill them…for now, that is. –Wally

Belsnickel wears a mask and wig, dresses in dark furs, and drags naughty kids into the woods, where he whips them.

Kanyakumari and the Healing Waters of Cape Cormorin

A Kovalam day trip to the southern tip of India will wash away your sins.

 The restaurants in Varkala, another day trip from Kovalam, put their fresh catches on display

The restaurants in Varkala, another day trip from Kovalam, put their fresh catches on display

Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to spiritually cleanse themselves with a quick dip?

Our friend Kelly visited the beach town of Kovalam in the state of Kerala, India. Her new friends from a yoga retreat kept talking about a day trip to the southern tip of the county and bathing in the spiritually healing waters found there.

I took one look, and said, “I’m going to get like 15 different flesh-eating bacteria if I go into this water.”

Kanyakumari is where three bodies of water meet: the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The spot is also referred as Thriveni Sangamam and amongst English speakers as Cape Comorin. It’s about a two-hour and 45-minute drive down from Kovalam. –Wally

Tell us about the day trips you took from Kovalam.

We went to Varkala, which is an hour and a half north of Kovalam. It has a similar vibe, but it skews much younger. Kovalam seems like a place where older people come to retreat.

 Varkala has a similar beachy, hippie vibe as Kovalam but skews younger

Varkala has a similar beachy, hippie vibe as Kovalam but skews younger

We also went to the southern tip of India, Kanyakumari. We visited Suchindram Temple and a couple other touristy things. The temple was white and had seven windows to symbolize the different stages of enlightenment.

 Include Suchindram Temple on a day trip to Kanyakumari

Include Suchindram Temple on a day trip to Kanyakumari

There’s this idea that if you bathe in the waters of Kanyakumari, you’ll be cleansed of your sins. I was with a bunch of super granola, hardcore yogis, and they were so all about getting in this water. I took one look, and said, “I’m going to get like 15 different flesh-eating bacteria if I go into this water.” There were tons of people there, and the water smelled bad.

 The Thiruvalluvar Statue on a small island off of Kanyakumari depicts a famous Tamil poet and philosopher. He is best known for  Thirukkural , a collection of couplets on ethics, politics, economics and love. His statue is 133 feet tall — the same number of chapters in his famous tome

The Thiruvalluvar Statue on a small island off of Kanyakumari depicts a famous Tamil poet and philosopher. He is best known for Thirukkural, a collection of couplets on ethics, politics, economics and love. His statue is 133 feet tall — the same number of chapters in his famous tome

So you didn’t end up getting in the water?

Well…they ended up talking me in. Very reluctantly, I finally got in.

 Three bodies of water converge at Kanyakumari, and local lore has it that you can wash away your sins by swimming here

Three bodies of water converge at Kanyakumari, and local lore has it that you can wash away your sins by swimming here

That’s called hippie peer pressure.

I wouldn’t put my head in. They were like, “No, you have to — otherwise your sins won’t be cleansed!” And I was like, “I’m good.”

We were pretty much the only white tourists there. A large crowd of men gathered around the area where my friends and I were bathing. People were taking videos and photos.

 

Did you find that people were fascinated with you as a white woman?

Everyone wanted to take a selfie with me. I’m on so many random people’s cell phones and Facebook pages.

At one point, I decided that I was sick of everybody looking at us, so I took pictures of them.

Ayurvedic Treatment in Kovalam

Our correspondent undergoes bizarre and intense Ayurveda practices in South India.

 Ayurveda treatments often involve an oil that smells like peanut butter, and they can be quite intense

Ayurveda treatments often involve an oil that smells like peanut butter, and they can be quite intense

The more I heard about Ayurveda, the more intrigued I became. Why the heck isn’t this a major trend here in the United States, like yoga, acupuncture, or heck, even cupping? Could someone please inform Gwyneth Paltrow she needs to start a new fad?

Our friend Kelly went off to India to attend a yoga retreat to break out of a rut in her practice. While in the beach town of Kovalam in the southern state of Kerala, she also investigated Ayurvedic treatments.

“Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences,” Kelly told us. Here she describes her intense Ayurvedic treatment during her stay in India.

You would lay down on a table and have this oil receptacle that was hung by a chain. A woman would slowly drizzle oil over your forehead, back and forth, for 20 minutes at a time.
 The quality of your hair, how oily or dry your skin is, how cold or hot you get — all of these factor into what your dosha is

The quality of your hair, how oily or dry your skin is, how cold or hot you get — all of these factor into what your dosha is

What exactly is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is the practice of balancing your body’s natural constitution, also known as your dosha. Everyone is one of three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. They’re aligned to different elements. I’m a pitta dosha, so I have certain imbalances in my body that Ayurveda tries to correct.

The doctor did an assessment. Your dosha is made up of physical traits as well as personality characteristics. As a pitta dosha, I’m supposed to eat cooling foods. There’s a whole diet I’m supposed to follow.

 The three doshas at the center of the star are aligned with different elements and characteristics

The three doshas at the center of the star are aligned with different elements and characteristics

What was the facility like?

I went to two. The first one was super sketch. I went twice and decided it was maybe violating some child labor practices. The second facility was a proper one. It was beautiful inside — a huge wooden, three- or four-story hospital.

 

Describe the Ayurvedic treatments.

If you want treatment, you have to sign up for a minimum of 10 days. Every day I went for about three hours. The way that it broke down was, they would do a massage for an hour, and then a variety of treatments, depending on where I was in the Ayurveda course.

There was a treatment where they would take cotton cloths filled with herbed powder that they would dip in really hot oil and smack all over my body. Smack, smack, smack, smack!

The Ayurvedic oil they used smelled like peanut butter. The oil is believed to cure basically everything, so they use it in almost all of their treatments.

After that, they would do a powder massage rub. There were three women who would work on you together, in unison.

There were baths with this milk substance, which they’d heat and pour over you again and again. There were herbed water baths. There was this one treatment where there was a wooden pillar with a hanging oil receptacle. You would lay down on the table and you’d have this oil receptacle that was hung by a chain, and the woman would slowly drizzle it over your forehead, creating a line, back and forth, for 20 minutes at a time.

 

What was that like?

It was very relaxing — but a lot of the treatments were actually very stressful, especially after 10 days.

There a bunch of quizzes you can take to determine what dosha you are. I’ve taken a few — and gotten varying answers. I also tend to get dual prakriti, which signifies that I’m influenced by two doshas. From what Kelly has said, that means I’m a big ol’ mess. –Wally

Yoga Escape in Kovalam, India

Experiencing Ashtanga yoga classes in Kerala taught by David Garrigues.

 The Ashtanga yoga studio in the beach town of Kovalam, where Kelly began each day

The Ashtanga yoga studio in the beach town of Kovalam, where Kelly began each day

Our friend Kelly, a delightful, brave young woman, went off to India on a whim to join a yoga retreat run by David Garrigues.

The town of Kovalam charmed Kelly — you can read about its strange walled-in sidewalks and the quirky treehouse-like B&B she stayed in here. –Wally

We do yoga to understand God and prepare ourselves for enlightenment.
 Our fearless adventurer, who had a major breakthrough in her yoga practice during her two-week stay in India

Our fearless adventurer, who had a major breakthrough in her yoga practice during her two-week stay in India

What brought you to Kovalam?

I went to practice yoga. I had been thinking about going to India for a few years, since I started practicing. I was kinda stuck in a rut with my yoga practice. I hadn’t been progressing, and I decided a good way to get out of it would be to go to India.

 

Why India?

That’s the birthplace of yoga. That’s where the Ashtanga tradition is from —  it originated in Mysore, India. Ashtanga yoga is basically a set number of postures in each of the six series. It’s super traditional. You do it every morning.

I didn’t end up going to Mysore, but I did practice with David Garrigues, a prominent Ashtanga teacher, in the South of India, in Kovalam. He’s based in Philadelphia but has been traveling around a lot.

It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things — though I don’t know if most people do a spur-of-the-moment thing with India. I made the decision very quickly. I booked the trip after thinking about it for about five minutes.

 Sometimes you need a helping hand to move past a gatekeeper pose

Sometimes you need a helping hand to move past a gatekeeper pose

What was the yoga retreat like?

Every morning, I’d get up at 6 a.m. and do yoga for about two hours. Sometimes there were sutra classes, or we’d go back in the afternoon for an asana [yoga postures] theory class.

What was interesting is I had a lot of challenges with my body over the two weeks I was there. I was in a program that was pretty physically demanding. At the same time, I was getting my body worked on three hours a day at an Ayurvedic clinic. And so the whole time I was there, I was intensely aware of the experience of being in a body. I would feel more frustrated when I couldn’t do a yoga pose. It felt more emotional than it usually does.

But by the second week, I was doing poses that I could never do. That’s a big deal in Ashtanga because in order to move to the next posture in the series, you have to be able to do the one preceding it. People get stuck at what are called gatekeeper poses. I was stuck at Marichyasana D. It’s basically a really deep twist, where you bind behind your knee. I broke through that, with an assist, and I had never come close to doing it before. And I felt like crying — it was really intense emotion.

 Some of the more intense asanas, or yoga postures

Some of the more intense asanas, or yoga postures

What appeals to you about yoga?

There are eight limbs of yoga, and asana is just one of them. It’s this all-encompassing spiritual practice to actually do yoga. There are the breathing practices, meditation and other ones. All of it ladders up to this idea that we do yoga in order to understand God and prepare ourselves for enlightenment.

It isn’t associated with any religion — that’s a common misperception. It pairs really well with Buddhism and with Hinduism, and there are definitely shared influences.

 Not a bad spot for some evening yoga

Not a bad spot for some evening yoga

How did you feel by the end of your trip?

It was the definitely healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life. I was not ready to come back. I wanted to stay.


Kovalam: A Hippie Haven in Kerala

This small beach town in South India isn’t your typical Indian experience — but it has its own intensity.

 A stay in Kovalam isn’t your typical Indian experience. As a beach town, it’s much more laidback

A stay in Kovalam isn’t your typical Indian experience. As a beach town, it’s much more laidback

Most people who travel to India don’t do so on a whim. But Kelly was at an impasse in her yoga practice and sought a spiritual kickstart. So when she saw that David Garrigues, a yoga instructor she admires, would be in a small beach town in the South of India, not five minutes had passed before she had booked her ticket.

Here Kelly shares her life-changing Indian spirit journey. –Wally

 Kelly had a magical time on her solo adventure in Kovalam

Kelly had a magical time on her solo adventure in Kovalam

In Kovalam, all of the sidewalks have very high walls built up around them. If you are passing someone, and they don’t turn their body, you will touch them. That is how tight the space is.
 All sorts of interesting people flock to Kovalam for its beaches and focus on wellness

All sorts of interesting people flock to Kovalam for its beaches and focus on wellness

Tell us about Kovalam.

It’s a small town on the beach, but super touristy. Apparently, Kovalam used to be this hippie haven. I remember on my second day there, I was sitting in this restaurant overlooking the ocean and looking around and being like, What are all these random people doing here at the edge of the world? You have these old ladies from Russia who are decked out in all of this costume jewelry, and you have the beautiful, sleek yogis and the Brazilians who are there backpacking through India, and it just seemed like such a strange group of people who had gathered there.

 Hints of the chaos of India slip into even this idyllic town

Hints of the chaos of India slip into even this idyllic town

The other thing that struck me was the overwhelming sense of anonymity. This was a place I could navigate as my true self versus the self that I have cultivated here with my friends and work.

Most of the locals spoke English, which I didn’t expect. I’ve heard a lot about India, but I think the experience of this town was a lot different. Though I will say there was a certain amount of chaos — leaving the airport in Trivandrum and getting to Kovalam was insane: people on rickshaws and bikes weaving in and out of traffic.

It seemed like everything was in a different stage of being constructed or being torn down. And there were people burning garbage, fires lining the street, and all this new construction, and in front of that, there’d be old men in loincloths selling fruit. It was this bizarre mix of new construction and old tradition.

 Johny’s Beach House is like staying in a treehouse

Johny’s Beach House is like staying in a treehouse

Where did you stay in Kovalam?

I stayed at a place called Johny’s Beach House. It was like stepping into a jungle. It’s only four rooms. But he has this huge garden — there are literally monkeys that will climb through the trees there.

 Johny himself — his warm heart is why his B&B is a top-rated place to stay in Kovalam

Johny himself — his warm heart is why his B&B is a top-rated place to stay in Kovalam

 The garden at Johny’s is filled with lush greenery — and the occasional monkey

The garden at Johny’s is filled with lush greenery — and the occasional monkey

Johny built Johny’s Beach House, this hilarious, quirky treehouse, four years ago and he’s been running it ever since. He comes from this really small village and worked his way up in the tourism industry in Kovalam and now he’s the highest-rated place to stay. Which all of the other hotels are really baffled by because they don’t understand why this tiny little treehouse four-bedroom B&B is the top-rated place. But the thing is, when people stay there, they aren’t rating the B&B itself — they’re rating Johny, because he is such a personality, with this quirky sense of humor and is super engaging and really creative. That is his space, and it’s completely a representation of him.

 Breakfast at Johny’s

Breakfast at Johny’s

Every morning Johny would make me this porridge with bananas and cardamom and different nuts when I’d get back from yoga. And I’d eat it on my balcony and read my yoga books. It was beautiful.

 

Did you ever feel unsafe in Kovalam?

There was only one time. I was coming home late. In Kovalam, the way that the town is structured — all of the sidewalks have very high walls built up around them. I bet they’re 7-foot walls. If you are passing someone, and they don’t turn their body, you will touch them. That is how tight the space is.

That was the challenge: getting anywhere. Google Maps doesn’t have all those tiny twists and turns, so I would literally allot 40 minutes to get to a place because I was like a mouse in the middle of a maze — even if it was a 5-minute walk away. Because the sidewalks were built around the homes, there would be dead ends; the sidewalk would turn into a dirt path that would go into somebody’s house. I got lost a bunch of times and one time had to be rescued.

It’s actually sad. Johnny told me that as the tourism industry took off in Kovalam, a lot of these hotels and restaurants and visitor homes built up the walls to prevent locals from entering their properties. And so in way, it was this discriminatory measure, to appeal more to the tourists.

It was a problem if you were coming toward a group of men and they didn’t make any sign of moving. That happened a few times, and it’s very intentional — people do that on purpose with women.

 A strange encounter in the walled labyrinthine sidewalks in Kovalam

A strange encounter in the walled labyrinthine sidewalks in Kovalam

There was one time I was coming home late. There was a little dog I made friends with while I was there and it hung out outside of Johny’s Beach House and it would follow me around everywhere. I would go find it in the morning and he would follow me to the market or the beach. So he was my little buddy for two weeks.

 This little fella followed Kelly everywhere she went in Kovalam and acted as her guard dog

This little fella followed Kelly everywhere she went in Kovalam and acted as her guard dog

Did you name the doggie?

He was just little Sweeters. So this one night I was walking home and there was a drunk man who I think was maybe following me. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I was starting to get that danger feeling, and a few moments later, I heard the dog start growling. Sweeters was snapping at the man. So I ran to the gate, opened it really fast and shut it.

 

What was it like being in such a small town?

Everyone watched your every move. The locals would ask, “Where are you from? Where are you staying? What are you doing?” And then they’d track me. They’d say, “Oh, I saw that you were at the blah-blah-blah the other day.” Or I’d meet somebody at a restaurant and they’d say, “You’re studying with David.” Everyone knew everyone’s business, which was really crazy.

People would ask me, “Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?” It was very intrusive.

 You’ll see offering bowls, like this one at Johny’s Beach House, all over Kerala

You’ll see offering bowls, like this one at Johny’s Beach House, all over Kerala

What was the most interesting Indian custom you encountered?

I really like the head bob. I had to ask Johny, “What does this mean?” And he was like, “Sometimes it means yes. Sometimes it means no. Sometimes it means they didn’t understand what you said.” And I was like, “Oh, that clears it up. Thanks.”

But I also found myself kind of doing it.

Because Johny and I became friends, I was able to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to as a tourist. I spent a lot of time on the back of Johny’s motorbike, clinging on for dear life, struggling to breathe through the pollution. But it was like seeing this area through the eyes of a local.

We went to this really bizarre restaurant in Trivandrum. It seemed like this restaurant was a converted version of a twisty parking garage ramp. There are all these booths along the far wall as the restaurant spirals upward. I guess it’s the place to go in Trivandrum if you want coffee or dosa, which is like a crepe.

 Kelly likes to play with her food, as seen on this houseboat restaurant

Kelly likes to play with her food, as seen on this houseboat restaurant

What was the food like in Kerala?

I’m obsessed with food. But surprisingly, I was underwhelmed.

The yoga studio that I go to in Chicago, the owner was coincidentally in Kovalam at the same time, doing a completely separate retreat. So I spent a lot of time with his people, and he had a house and has been going there for 20 years. He knows everything about Kovalam. And he had a neighbor friend, this woman, who made all of this food for us for our final meal. It was thali [the Indian version of tapas] served on a banana leaf — it was definitely the best meal that I had.

 Thali, presented on this banana leaf, consists of small bites of different dishes, much like tapas

Thali, presented on this banana leaf, consists of small bites of different dishes, much like tapas

Kelly: What does the head bob mean?

Johny: Sometimes it means yes. Sometimes it means no. Sometimes it means they didn’t understand what you said.

Kelly: Oh, that clears it up. Thanks.

The Seussian Whimsy of Gaudi’s Park Güell

If this colorful city park overlooking Barcelona is what failure looks like, sign us up!

 The colorful curves of Park Güell are like something out of a Dr. Seuss book

The colorful curves of Park Güell are like something out of a Dr. Seuss book

When industrialist Count Eusebi Güell needed help transforming Montaña Pelada, Bald Mountain, into a one-of-a-kind residential enclave, he called upon his friend Antoni Gaudí. The two shared similar ideological beliefs: Gaudí was a spiritual man whose distinctive style was influenced by his great appreciation of nature as God’s creation. His structural forms mimicked the natural world and imbued life into his architectural masterpieces.

That collaboration led to Park Güell, which was not originally designed to be a municipal park. It was conceived as a luxury residential development with 60 plots just to the north of Barcelona’s city limits by Güell, who made his fortune from the textile industry.

Güell, whom the park is named after, was inspired by the garden city movement popularized in 20th century England, which is why the English word Park was used, rather than the Catalan equivalent, Parc.

He commissioned Gaudí, the Catalan architect responsible for some of the Barcelona’s most iconic landmarks, to create the parklike neighborhood. Gaudí made the most of the site’s uneven terrain, using organic shapes paired with symbolic references to Christianity and Catalan nationalism shared by his patron, Güell. Immediately noticeable when you enter the park is the administrator’s building, with its towering blue and white chimney topped with a gothic cross flower.

 The administrative building and caretaker’s lodge are two gingerbread-like houses on the park grounds

The administrative building and caretaker’s lodge are two gingerbread-like houses on the park grounds

Making an Entrance

Wally and I arrived at the park early in the morning and were easily able to purchase tickets, which are limited to 400 people every half hour, to avoid overcrowding. A full price ticket costs 8 euros (or 7.50€ if you purchase them in advance here).

 The park is limited to 400 people every half hour

The park is limited to 400 people every half hour

Just inside the entrance are a pair of whimsical lodges that look like lifesize gingerbread houses from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” These structures, known as the caretaker’s lodge and administration building were designed to attract potential investors. The caretaker’s lodge includes an imaginatively embellished cupola, decorated with upside-down white ceramic coffee cups and supposedly was Gaudí’s way of telling the world he had giving up drinking coffee.

We paused to take a photo with a man dressed as the park’s mascot and symbol of Barcelona, the multi-colored mosaic gecko, known as El Drac, the Dragon (for a small fee, of course).

 Wally and Duke pose with El Drac, the park’s reptilian mascot

Wally and Duke pose with El Drac, the park’s reptilian mascot

Immediately before us was the magnificent grand staircase. A riot of color, its balustrade and steps are covered with shards of ceramic tiles using a technique known as trencadísis, popular with the Modernisme movement. These fragments were discarded at a nearby factory and selected with great care. The predominant blue, yellow and green tiles symbolize faith, hope and charity, and each fragment is no more than 8 to 10 inches in size.

 A mosaic sculpture of El Drac, Gaudí’s gecko — now a symbol of Barcelona

A mosaic sculpture of El Drac, Gaudí’s gecko — now a symbol of Barcelona

Perched at the base of the steps is a depiction of the beloved El Drac, created with frequent Gaudí collaborator Josep Maria Jujol. It’s plausible that Gaudí’s obsessive use of this mythological creature in his designs was influenced by his devout Catholic faith — in particular, the legend of St. George and the Dragon, symbolizing the struggle between good and evil. The likeness of the iconic El Drac is a popular souvenir choice from Barcelona, and you can purchase a variety of items inspired by Gaudí’s gecko throughout the city.

 The square above the columned grotto gets crowded with all sorts of interesting people

The square above the columned grotto gets crowded with all sorts of interesting people

The Hall of 100 Columns

After climbing the first flight of steps, Wally and I entered the Sala Hipóstila, Hall of 100 Columns, referred to by Gaudí as the Greek Theater. The pavilion is a forest of 86 columns in the Greek Doric style, mimicking trees, made of mortar and rubble simulating marble. Each of the columns leans slightly and supports the upper plaza terrace above. Rainwater is filtered through the layer of stone and sand from the terrace square and runs through drainage pipes ingeniously concealed within the columns to be collected in a cistern below.

 Amorous couples, tourists, kids playing ball and street performers all gather in Park Güell’s piazza

Amorous couples, tourists, kids playing ball and street performers all gather in Park Güell’s piazza

The entire ceiling consists of domes covered with white trencadís as well as brightly colored mosaic circles representing the four seasons and the lunar cycles.
Although this room was originally designed to hold the community’s market, today it is often used as a concert hall, due its impressive acoustics.

 An African man in traditional garb and his new friend test out the aucustics of the Hall of 100 Columns

An African man in traditional garb and his new friend test out the aucustics of the Hall of 100 Columns

The public square, an open earthen terrace, located above the hall is framed by the Banc de Trencadís, a mosaic-tiled bench curving sinuously around its perimeter.

 The undulating Banc de Trencadís is a great place to look out over the city

The undulating Banc de Trencadís is a great place to look out over the city

Wally and I stopped at the kiosk and purchased a couple beers. We found a shady spot to sit and take in the spectacular view of Barcelona before us, with the amazing La Sagrada Familia church, still under construction, in the background.

 Wally couldn’t believe they sold beer at the park

Wally couldn’t believe they sold beer at the park

 Duke says, “Salud to España and Gaudí’s fun aesthetic!’

Duke says, “Salud to España and Gaudí’s fun aesthetic!’

Incidentally, it’s also a great place to people-watch, and we dubbed one of the visitors Catalan Mema, as she was petite and quirky and had a shock of short white blonde hair like my mother. She was also having her hand kissed by an invisible man. Only at Park Güell!

 The park is full of colorful characters, including a woman who resembles Duke’s madre — and her invisible man suitor

The park is full of colorful characters, including a woman who resembles Duke’s madre — and her invisible man suitor

The back of the terrace is formed by a row of stone viaducts, remnants of the project’s original design, intended to provide residents access to their individual plots of land.

By 1914, the project was deemed a commercial failure: Not enough people wanted high-class housing so far from the city center.

 Barcelona — including la Sagrada Familia Church — stretches out below the park

Barcelona — including la Sagrada Familia Church — stretches out below the park

All that remained were the buildings described, as well as an irrigation system and meandering paths created by Gaudí in his inimitable manner. Guëll convinced Gaudí to purchase the park’s model home, designed by Gaudí’s assistant and friend Francesc Berenguer.

Despite its failings as a housing complex, the city purchased the estate in 1922 for use as a public park. But it wasn't until Gaudí’s death in 1926, that Park Guëll officially opened. If you’re visiting Barcelona and looking for an enchanting place to spend an afternoon in this remarkable city, look no further than this surreal architectural landmark. –Duke

No Fooling: The History of April Fool’s Day and Poisson d’Avril

Learn the origin of April Fool’s pranks — and check out these bizarre vintage April Fool’s Day cards.

 I’m not making this up: No one’s 100% sure how April Fool’s Day started, but it probably began when the New Year moved dates

I’m not making this up: No one’s 100% sure how April Fool’s Day started, but it probably began when the New Year moved dates

The flowers begin to bud, robins appear, and a few gorgeously warm days start to sneak their way in. Springtime in Chicago is wonderful — though Duke and I will never forget that early April trip we took to Switzerland, when they were harvesting the spaghetti from the trees. Our timing was perfect; one more week and the limp noodles hanging from the branches would no longer be al dente.

Coincidentally, Easter falls on April 1 this year, as it did in 1957, when the BBC aired a three-minute segment showing people plucking strands of spaghetti from trees. Some viewers even called the BBC, wanting to know where they could purchase their very own spaghetti tree. Of course, it was just an elaborate prank — the first televised April Fool’s Day hoax.

Because spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees, silly.

The Amusingly Mysterious Origins of April Fool’s Day

This isn’t a joke: No one’s completely sure where and when April Fool’s Day started, but they’ve got some pretty good ideas.

A favorite theory is that it has to do with the switch from the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar, to the Gregorian calendar, named for Pope Gregory XIII. The decision was made in 1563 at the Council of Trent. That meant the New Year shifted from the end of March to January 1.

A poisson d’avril symbolized an easily caught fish and, by extension, a gullible person.

Some years later, in 1582, the French made the calendar switch. Those who didn’t get the memo or refused to play by the new rules were poked fun at and had paper fish (poisson d’avril, or April fish) sneakily placed on their backs. A poisson d’avril symbolized an easily caught fish and, by extension, a gullible person.

It’s also thought that the ancient Greco-Roman festival known as Hilaria (the Day of Joy) is a precursor to April Fool’s Day. This pagan celebration began on March 25, shortly after the Vernal Equinox, to honor Cybele, Mother of the Gods, and the resurrection of her castrated lover (and in some tellings, her son!), Attis.

The festivities conclude on April 1, accompanied by feasts, games, masquerades and practical jokes — hence the association to April Fool’s Day.

Even the Indian holiday Holi, which takes place around this time of year, involves much mischief-making. Associated with the Hindu demoness, Holika, people celebrate the triumph of good over evil by throwing brightly colored powder on each other.

During the 18th century, April Fool’s Day caught on in Britain. The Scottish celebrated a two-day event that started with “hunting the gowk” (a word for the cuckoo, which represents a fool), during which people are sent on wild goose chases. This was followed by Tailie Day, where the butts of jokes had fake tails or Kick Me signs pinned to their backsides.

Have a laugh at these hilarious (and bizarre) vintage April Fool’s and poisson d’avril cards. –Wally