Tulum: Land of Sun and Iguanas

IMG_9577Over spring break I made like your average college student and escaping the gray cold of New York, went to Mexico. However, since I do like to entertain the thought that I’m ‘slightly’ different from the pack, we decided to go to Tulum, about 2 hours from Cancun, that paragon of dubious, non-stop college partying.

If you’ve been on social media even once in the past two years, you will notice a subtle yet steady surge of posts and pictures singing Tulum’s praises. Eco-friendly, relaxing, all-natural, NOT Cancun, these are all the reasons you should go. Plus the freshwater cenotes and the multitude of ruins everywhere give everyone something to do besides lie on the beach (which is amazing, but as I’ve never been able to relax properly, not for me).Xamach Dos collageWe stayed at an super secluded eco-resort in the Sian Ka’an bio reserve – that 32 km drive on the Boca Paila from Tulum proper to our reserve took about an hour of bumping along an unpaved road, evading huge potholes filled with water from last week’s storm. But Xamach Dos was so worth it – pristine, secluded beach, cabanas almost right on the water, decorated by the proprietor, Dan. Our cabana had no windows, just a lot of mosquito netting and was guarded by a thicket of palm trees, but by the end of our stay my hair had that textured, unruly, beach-y feel sans Bumble and bumble’s surf spray. We were also lulled to sleep every night by the breeze passing through our mosquito netting and the gentle crash of the waves.IMG_9478.krIMG_9489.krIMG_9569.krDay 1 was spent bumping along the aforementioned Boca Paila, which was usually thickets of palm trees and scuttling iguanas, but could suddenly fall away to reveal a large stretch of beach and a dried up coral reef. If you continue past our resort, you would wind up in Punta Allen, where there’s great snorkeling trips and good food, like everywhere else in the Yucatan.IMG_9460.krDay 2 began with us getting up before dawn to watch the sunrise over the water. All the beaches in Yucatan face east, but you could also get lucky and find a curved beach where you can glimpse the sunset before it slips behind the palm trees.Tulum ruinsIMG_9528.krIMG_9514.krIMG_9532.krWe then dutifully headed out to the ruins at Tulum, although we were told the ones at Coba are better, since you actually get to get close and touch them. You can pay extra for a tour but it was too hot and we were too impatient. All the ruins in Tulum are roped off, but the beach is gorgeous and open to everyone. It was a wonderful way to cool off after hours in the heat. In the same vein, as we had exhausted our water supply, Jake and I grabbed a fresh coconut from a vendor right outside the ruins. To be honest, it’s an acquired taste but very hydrating and half the fun comes from the container.

We then headed off to the Mayan Clay Spa, something that was on literally every itinerary of Tulum and got a massage and Mayan Clay facial. It’s a beautiful space, the stuff you see in movies, with palm fronds and earthy tones everywhere and the owner and staff are very friendly. I looked absolutely funky once the treatment was over, but there’s a shower to wash it all off and my skin was super smooth afterwards.IMG_9542.2.krI promised myself Day 3 would be reserved for relaxing, but we set off to town once more, riding past open air stores and restaurants and colorful resorts. One of the staff at Xamach Dos recommended La Eufemia for “The best fucking tacos” (that’s their advertisement) and it did not disappoint. After a long walk through another hotel we got to the little shack on the beach with the open kitchen and mattresses on the sand. We got every kind and you could choose from a variety of sauces at the sauce bar to spice up your meal. The margaritas were also to-die for – in a burst of wild abandon I ordered a passion fruit margarita with chili salt and it did not disappoint. You can sit on the beach or inside the little shack and then wander around the entire length of the beach. Here it’s a little crowded, unlike our secluded hideaway in the Sian Ka’an.Coqui CoquiA few steps from La Eufemia is Coqui Coqui Tulum, a beautiful boutique hotel that is always booked, but also has an amazing range of fragrances and body oils all made from local Yucatan ingredients. I came away with my own gold embossed bottle of Rosas Secas, although Tobacco was a close second.IMG_9580.krWe bumped back home on what was now a familiar road and made it just in time to see this sunset over the bridge where locals come to fish every evening, despite the “No fishing” signs. We came home and spent our last night in Tulum digging into a delicious dinner and chatting with the other guests, two of whom where a couple from Cancun that came to Tulum to escape the crowds!

I could go on and on about Tulum, the perfect weather and the impossibly azure water, the slow, relaxed pace as people bike and roam everywhere and eat the delicious and fresh (and cheap!) food. When I think back on it, it still fills my heart with warmth and I will definitely go back and go through my entire bucket list or maybe just relax…(not likely).

TO STAY

Xamach Dos was a very secluded, small resort, but the beach was private and not a soul to be seen, unlike the long stretch of beach closer to Tulum. However, it is quite a drive and the food is great, but mildly overpriced compared to the equally great food closer to Tulum.

Coqui Coqui Tulum just got a face lift and having been inside, at least for their boutique, I can say it’s beautiful, with an on-site spa as well.

There are so many more hotels or boutique hotels or resorts to stay in, so you can definitely shop around for the perfect experience. For a more independent experience, I say go for Airbnb.

TO EAT

I did not have the patience to wait in line JUST to place a reservation at Hartwood, but the open air kitchen and restaurant are reported to be amazing, all food sourced locally and cooked right in front of you.

La Eufemia for tacos, sauces and amazing margaritas.

Posada Margherita, where I have not yet gone, is supposed to be great for their juices and healthy meals.

Le Nave in Tulum proper is located on main street and has amazing juices and the best seafood platter.

In general, explore, because I doubt you can go wrong in Tulum or Yucatan in general.

TO DO

Cenotes, freshwater pits that dot the Yucatan and were the main source of freshwater for the Mayans, are a great way to explore the beauty of the region and an alternative to the beach for swimming. If you grab a map you can pick and choose where to go, or join a tour group.

Mayan Clay Spa for a variety of facials, full-body massages and other offerings. They also sell the peculiar local yellow clay to take home.

Ruins in Tulum, Coba and Sian Ka’an. The ones in Sian Ka’an are impossible to find without a guide, but are lesser known and so much more fun that way. Due to our short stay we didn’t have the time to explore those, but apparently there was one right beside Xamach Dos.

TO PACK

For most of peak season, you should bring the lightest, airiest, most comfortable clothes. I walked around in linen and my panama hat and so so much sunscreen and bug spray (we went during the Zika outbreak, but were thankfully fine). Although I did have to pack a cashmere sweater and jeans for the flight back to winter wonderland.

So I tried something new with this post, what do you think?

Blue Bottled

IMG_9299.krIMG_9294.krIMG_9295.kr

This was from a week back, braving the cold to go out with my lovely friend Erica. I think this post encapsulates why I love photography so much, especially natural light photography – I never stop learning. There’s always something new to explore and some new angle to look at the thing you see every day, some new technique to try. It never stops evolving (if you call me a nerd who loves school you would be correct) and that’s why I love it.

Anyway, in addition to the semi-regular philosophic musings, there’s a NYC café guide here somewhere, namely Blue Bottle Coffee (the one in Williamsburg), one of those quintessentially cool, hardwood-floors-and-ceilings-and-tables-and-gleaming-coffee-equipment joints that also happens to be a chain but doesn’t feel like one. I’ve only tried the latte (my drink of choice between the months of September – May) and it was delicious and also warm which is all I was going for. They have a few tiny bites as edible options as well as granola and oatmeal and you have to fight for table space because it is always packed. Luckily I have a huge bag and as a Russian I rarely smile at strangers. 🙂

NYC Survival Guide: 5 Tips for the Winter

It’s cold and the winds are vicious, but there’s rarely any snow (unless it’s a freak storm, hello Winter Storm Jonas) so your average expat from other regions is hard pressed to find the justification for suffering in the city. So here’s how I, a Siberian who goes to school in New Hampshire but was raised in the South, am dealing with a New York Winter:

1. Power Through the Reading List

IMG_8709.kr

I know you have one. I have one, separated into: Books I should read but never do (to be an educated intellectual equipped for cocktail parties, pictured above…ok I read some), books I want to read, and magazines. Now that I’m off campus working in New York, I have all this free time to read and I sometimes use it to my advantage (still poring over Suitcase Magazine and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels). Reading is my lazy person’s excuse for being lazy because…ahem…technically I’m being mentally productive.

2. Stay (Become?) Active

IMG_9247.kr

I know I just had a whole blog speech about reading, but quite naturally we all want to hibernate in the winter and eat wonderful, warm, bread-y things (I wear over-sized sweaters and parkas…no one can tell until spring). I am also monumentally lazy, but last winter, when I had to go to the gym daily to practice for fencing (winter is the official fencing season…we wear so many layers we might as well compete in the cold) I felt energized and not as sluggish as during most of my winters. Depending on where you are, there’s a gym or a yoga studio on every street corner so you don’t even have to freeze to death before you get there. If you push yourself to go a few times, set up a routine, it’ll get that much easier to go. (Also I’m going to Mexico in March…and the thought of wearing a bikini terrifies me into a proper gym routine.)

3. Parks & Rec

IMG_8723.krIMG_8763.kr

Not the TV show, although that’s another great way to never go outside unless absolutely necessary. New York has so many wonderful parks – Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Washington Square, the Highline, the list goes on – that it would be a shame not to grab a moment’s peace. Which btw, looking at the color green has been scientifically proven to help alleviate eye pain and even improve vision (after hours of staring at computer screens) and going outside to get even 5 minutes of (clouded) sunshine helps alleviate SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – so you can come right back to hiding in your apartment, staying warm.

4. Coffee (Surprise!)

BasicCoffee Collage

…or a warm drink of choice. As an anemic with low blood pressure, I have to have coffee to kick start my circulation and get myself up in the morning, but it’s also been proven to lower the risk for stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s, liver cancer and other illnesses. Grab a drink and walk around a park until it’s all gone and you’re cold again (or just stay inside the cafe…you can congratulate yourself on the fact that you made it out today). Plus, imagine the Instagram opportunities – but choose wisely, not all latte art is created equal. I recommend Birch Coffee (they got my name right!) and Cafe Integral (friendly staff and inside an amazing boutique, American Two Shot)

5. Get Away

IMG_9201.krIMG_9203.kr

Because sometimes surviving a winter in New York means leaving for a place with more snow (jokes, Winter Storm Jonas), a beach, or at least some change of scenery (Jersey? Mass? Upstate NY? The possibilities are endless). On MLK-day weekend I took off to visit family in Maine and it was a restful break. Sometimes I need the space and the greenery that NY cannot provide…but we love it anyway.

Then there’s a whole slew of tips on homemade wellness for the winter, complete with Theraflu and Ricola and long underwear, but that doesn’t make for great pictures!

Enjoy the winter!

Stormpocalypse

Chelsea and Flatiron CollageIMG_9233.2.krHighLine CollageIMG_9222.kr

(P.S I really sympathized with these pigeons, a love affair carried over from my time in Paris and Siena, they were just trying to stay warm, like me)

Winter Storm Jonas swept through yesterday, inspiring hashtags and snowy artsy pictures as New Yorkers rediscover, with some horror and cleaning-out of the supermarkets, what a real winter is like. Even getting around Manhattan was difficult, but I had spent all of yesterday locked up inside so I was determined to squeeze out whatever minimal Vitamin D I could find.

We started at the High Line, train station turned urban park, running down part of the west side of the island. We ended up in Chelsea and then just wandered over to the iconic Flatiron, with a pit stop at Birch. New York’s charm is heightened by the snow, even if half the time you’re dodging icicles and up to your knees in slush. And it was great to explore other parts of the island besides SoHo.

I feel a winter survival guide coming on sometime later, as a bit of fun experimentation.

Goldilocks and Baby Blues

StreetsofSoho CollageIMG_8859.krWeekendinNYC CollageIMG_8856.ktIMG_8862.krIMG_8879.krThe first two photos are of amazing, light-brushed trees in SoHo, with so much good food and shopping around the corner. I recommend Baz Bagel for inventive bagels and an unfussy, charming NYC diner experience. The next 3 are of more playful light photos, this time at brunch in Allswell in  Williamsburg (I had the avocado toast and the latte and it was delicious) and then there’s the photo of Jake in Central Park, followed by more Central Park shenanigans. I’ll just say skating in NY anywhere is a robbery, they charge such outrageous prices for everything. But I, as always, was too content to melt away in a stream of snaps (except not really, it was freezing no matter what I wore).

Happy Tuesday!

Breakfast in SoHo

IMG_8763.krIMG_8755.krIMG_8760.krDakotahinthePark CollageIMG_8765.2.krIt was ridiculously warm today, to the point that even I shed my coat and sallied forth in only a cardigan. Had a wonderful breakfast at Balthazar Bakery in SoHo (I had the Wild Blueberry Danish and it was perfect with a latte). My shy model was Dakotah, an old friend from high school and amazing Instagrammer/Martha Stewart intern. We missed each other last year in Florence by a few hours, so it was good to actually catch up in person for once! And I also kinda coerced her into being my model…after a week of work I needed to take photos of someone, anyone, anything!

Strolled on to Washington Square Park and it was gorgeous! Have a great weekend!

D Acre Farms : Stay Home PSLs

IMG_8257.kr IMG_8260.krIMG_8302.kr IMG_8376.krIMG_8336.kr IMG_8334.krD Acres CollageIMG_8341.krIMG_8306.krIMG_8320.krIMG_8323.kr IMG_8277.krWith the fall foliage at its tipping point, right when the green bursts into vibrant yellows, oranges and reds, I decided to drag invite everyone to come get brunch at D Acre Farms. It’s an all-organic farm and quaint complex in New Hampshire, about an hour from Dartmouth, and the first Sunday of every month they host a brunch of foods grown/raised on the farm. I even walked past a clump of kale that later ended up on my plate. The food was delicious – huge vats of coffee and tea in mismatched cups while you wait for your brunch of pancakes, eggs, kale, apple strudel, potatoes and pulled pork – all grown on the farm, even the pig.

Even if you skip the brunch, it’s worth a visit to see the whole farm and crawl around a bit. I’m so sad I didn’t discover it in the summer – the summer kitchen as you can see was to-die for. A haphazard and charming décor that could totally be featured on Vogue or Condé Nast Traveler with Christmas lights and a view out onto the forest. There’s an outdoor oven and a greenhouse and a washing machine powered by a bicycle. There’s a vegetable and flower garden and an outside patio and a deck overlooking the forest. It’s so crunchy and amazing, even for people like me who adore running water and take a million showers a day.

If you can’t tell, fall is my favorite season and I just can’t wait for everyone to be tired of all my pictures of falling leaves and forests ablaze.