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My Work, Photography, Wanderlust, Writing

A Country Named Mother

I finally took a trip I’d been planning for years. I knew it would be a different kind of trip, more serious and personal. In some countries more than others, maintaining contact with family is difficult. Historically, Cuba has been one of the more difficult countries, as home phones were a luxury shared between several neighbors and communications are still monitored and intercepted as seen fit. Through burgeoning access to the internet, my own family, now living in Miami, was able to make contact with family members still living in Cuba, after 30 years of silence. 

Staying in the home of family members I had only known through my mother’s stories felt like watching figures of the past come alive. In the short week I spent on this tiny island with a massive world presence, I came to know myself through knowing the many women of my family who call this country mother. 

I hope you enjoy this one, one of my most personal essays yet.

Photo from Cuba: my abuela one year younger than me

I wasn’t very conscious of my ancestry until around middle school and I wasn’t really interested until college. While some kids wanted the new Samsung Sidekick, I wanted blue eyes and a French-sounding name (and the Sidekick too, honestly). I can’t say it’s for lack of representation – no, there aren’t any Cuban Disney princesses – but I was raised in Miami where quinceñeras are a weekly event and that’s pretty damn close.

Every year I’d get the same question that only reinforced disinterest in my ancestry. Teachers asked “what makes you special?” and “where are you from?” In an age of misguided philosophies on confidence building, asking me to share my background was supposed to make me feel special; instead it felt like a popularity contest where I got front row seats to watch the interest fade from my classmates faces as I started to pronounce “Cuban.” My conflicted feelings over my ancestry created a blockade to self-acceptance. While these issues might seem trivial now, as a middle schooler, they were a memorable source of shame over identity (or lack thereof).

La calle my family lives on in La Habana

Up to that point in my life, I never felt tied to my identity in any meaningful way, Cuban culture was practically an all-encompassing part of my daily life (if scientists ever want to study the effect of daily cafecitos and pan Cubano, I’m the first volunteer). Even now, as I sit writing in a city and state I’ve never seen, the most assumed parts of my identity are pulled out for display. There’s nothing like leaving home to make you realize how much of your home is twisted up, inseparable from the person you are. Cuba was the setting for family stories told and re-told. I could imagine the small homes, barely able to contain their inhabitants; the hot sun that you were told to hide from lest you grow too dark. It was through shared memories that I spent a small part of my own childhood in my mother’s past; sharing her childhood home, joining her walks to school, briefly inhabiting a different life than my own. I had never visited her birth country, but it was simultaneously as real and imaginary as any other fairy tale. The bedtime stories I grew up on were not only of sleepy Germanic princesses, but of kids growing up on an isolated isla communista.

Cuban art with Cuban resources

There were people in my family stories that lived only in memories recalled. Family members that I knew existed, but had never seen nor spoken to I became curious about mis raíces. Reaching a level of security within myself gave me permission to dive into my own history. I wanted to know what my own personal link to my heritage was, something that couldn’t be measured and deemed common. With my upcoming trip to Cuba, suddenly all the stories my family had told me became possibilities. Where were they now? Could I meet them?

The day of my flight, I anxiously rushed into the airport, doing that belabored half jog, half crumble-under-the-weight-of-my-suitcase gait. All wasted energy as Havana Air left an hour and a half late. Nobody seemed to care though, we were on Cuban time now. I had taken many trips before to countries whose entire population is only a fraction of my city’s, countries that were 12-hours-in-the-same-chair away, yet the anxiety I felt about this trip wasn’t related to the traveling itself, but because I would be meeting family who until just a few weeks earlier, were cemented in my mind as historical figures of the past. I had only glimpsed a few pictures of the family members I’d be staying with; pixelated 300×300 Facebook photos, the type that makes you question the validity of a profile. This family and this country that existed only in my mother’s recollections of her youth were now real and they’d be picking me up when I landed.I walked out of the airport worried I wouldn’t recognize my relatives, but they were already in front of me. They’d picked me out of the crowd like they’d seen me every day for years.

Staying vegetarian in Cuba was much easier than one might imagine!

Riding from the airport in one of the iconic vintage cars Cuba is known for, I noticed a little bump of emotion building up inside me. Every direction I looked in, Cuba looked back. Giant trees let a hot sun stream through their leaves and onto my face, buildings begged for my attention in blends of color that looked like ice cream, bright and summer-y. We headed for La Habana Vieja, where my family lived. A small 1 bedroom apartment shared between 3 people and sometimes 4 when abuela visited, now shared with 5 since the addition of myself. No A/C, just a rotating standing fan that became an alter I was more dedicated to worshipping than any religious deity prior.

Sitting in a humid living room while the heavy equatorial sun cooked the building, conversation floating in and out like the flies we mindlessly swatted at – just 5 strangers who were family. The idea of family evolved to me now, as I stood in the center of this radical experiment. I observed my new family, and tried to soak up years in the few days I had. My tía’s dark, gentle eyes brimmed with a power to calm through just her gaze. She resembled my mother, like the result of an alternate storyline where my she didn’t leave Cuba. A tired yet determined look marked her—the look of a woman playing the role of two parents. You could tell she depended on herself alone, and bore the weight of sustaining her entire family. Her daughter was melting candy; pure sugar and stuck to me at every chance. She had long, thick and wavy black hair, like Rapunzel da La Habana. All my family had much darker skin than me and my new abuela was the first to point it out, almost excited by our differentness. Her own skin was a rich reddish brown, a tone that almost radiated back the hot sun it had soaked up.

Though my mother was born in the city of Guantanamo and my abuela is from the rural town of Mayari, I am Cuban-American and my primo showed me the weight that hyphen carries. He had been sitting on the couch, with a level of tension boiling in him that could be felt from every part of the tiny room we were in. Four people sharing a one-bedroom apartment with no air conditioner and no running water in the summer is a challenge by any standard and I could feel their shame in knowing what was normal for them was rough for me (some countries lack A/C because they experience a mild climate, others are simply lacking; Cuba is the latter). I was about to take a shower and my tía asked if I wanted her to heat the water in the bucket I’d be using. I declined, partially out of politeness and partially out of being covered in sweat

My primo jumped up and went on a tirade. He angrily reminded the family that I was not like them. That I wasn’t used to this situation. I wanted to melt into the couch under the weight of this searing shame he must’ve been quietly carrying since I arrived. He continued, wondering aloud why the family wouldn’t get it through their heads, “where she’s from there’s air conditioning and the water comes out of the shower head.” He shouted a last time, “Somos animals aquí. Compared to what she’s used to, we’re animals.” The intense frustration and bitter resentment born out of a stagnant present and a stillborn future is sharp and current, like a wound in reverse. While my mother’s Cuba lacked TVs and even a magazine was a treasured luxury, Cuba today has TV, magazines and even WiFi access in certain places. Of course he felt this way. Cuba was an island, not a cell block, as some might have you believe.

Land of the mamoncillo

On the living room TV, my primos were watching the same high materialism, low substance music videos that I try to forget exist in the US. No one flaunts wealth quite like someone who never had it so Cuban hip hop is an arms race of boasting. While I can brush the ugliness of consumerism off from the comfort of the US, it’s not so easy to identify the futility of materialism when your food is rationed and your mattress is sweat stained. Yet who is more vulnerable to the poisonous sense of emptiness that chasing happiness via consumerism infects you with than one who’s never even been allowed to participate?

Most of my time in Cuba was spent chasing and consuming every piece of familial history in any form it might take: stories, photos, standing in old buildings and plazas where my own mother and her mother had stood decades before me. I almost want to ask the buildings I saw if they remembered my mother. Did they remember my abuela, who walked on this cobbled path for decades? Silent pieces of concrete, soaking up bits of all the lives around them and selfishly locking these memories into themselves. It was never the buildings I wanted to see so much as the air I wanted to feel. What did it feel like 40 years ago at this exact moment as my mother walked through this plaza?

A Country Called Mother

My abuela’s niece

Traveling to a country when you’re part of its diaspora is more of a journey and less of a vacation. The souvenirs you bring back are in the form of emotional connections that weigh far heavier than any checked bag of keepsakes. Out of the stories of my tía Marta’s cigarette smoking and late night dancing, I found her best friend, who she was unable to contact for over 13 years. Out of the stories of my abuela taking two planes while smuggling a box stuffed with a live chicken meant to feed her hijas, I found her niece, who used to care for those daughters while my abuela struggled to support them. Out of the stories of my mother and her prima who entertained her as a child with an old guitar, I found my tia, who welcomed me into her (now guitar-less) home. I existed in the middle of this surreal web of family ties, aged and stretched almost slightly beyond recognition.

My trip to Cuba revealed a long line of women who were full of life, strong despite the harshest circumstances, deeply rooted trees sustaining all around them. My tía Marta (less formally known as Yaya), came from Cuba, with its slow pace and state of constant lacking, straight into New York City, as a political exile. She’s now one of the most independent women I know with a mouth of candela who maintains herself as a sought after tarot card reader. My grandmother left everything she owned, her friends and even her husband behind, to raise 3 successful daughters as a single mother who spoke no English in the US. My own mother, who had to leave behind her father and integrate herself in a foreign and often hostile country at the confusing age of 15, completed a master’s degree in her second language and now teaches that adopted language to kids born and raised in this country.  

I’d uncovered a line of incredible women spanning across generations, recalling the matriarchal Taino societies buried under colonialism, but not quite buried deeply enough. These women and their relentless and determined personalities left me in awe. I’d found a new love for my Cuban heritage when I realized that the value in my identity was not in its uniqueness or in how other people viewed it. The love for my ancestry is born out of the incredible experiences of the family members who made me the person I am. They are my ancestry. My mother’s passion, my abuela’s independence, my tia’s boldness, my primo’s ambition; this is my heritage, something so much more personal and valuable than I could understand as  a child. Something that flows from a much deeper place than any hollow nationalistic slogan could convey.

The iconic Flamboyan trees of the Caribbean

My trip ended like all my previous trips: a ride to the airport and lots of waiting. My new-found family stayed with me until the last minute. It turns out family is a kind of magic word – a word that can conjure a genuine love born of nothing more than shared genetic material.  What I keep with me isn’t the effort my family made trying to provide the food and comfort they could barely secure for themselves, but rather what they expended no effort over at all. It was only when the time came to turn my back to them and walk away that I realized how final this moment was. As I lifted my arm to wave goodbye, the simple thought that I’d never experience this particular moment again wouldn’t leave my head. With the volatility of the American-Cuban political relationship, so much could change before I returned. Most goodbyes are not truly goodbye, but more of a see you later; it feels different. This was goodbye.

 

The difficult part about following the thread of your ancestry out of the diaspora and into the motherland are the ghosts you bring back, more detailed and louder than the sparse figments you had previously only dreamed up based on a patchwork of family stories. The weight of a history extended and imbued with real breathing life: something you would never wish to be without, but always carrying with it new complexities. Even now, as I sit writing in a city and state I’ve never seen, the most assumed parts of my identity are pulled out for display. There’s nothing like leaving home to make you realize how much of your home is twisted up, inseparable from the person you are. Through the acceptance and love my family showed me, I was finally able to pick up my ancestry and, like a missing button, sewed it back on my dress and felt whole after so many years.

The most photographer-friendly country I’ve been to

These photos and this essay are so close to me, they mean so much for me to share. I know the feeling of being part of a diaspora and tracing your lineage isn’t exclusive to Cuba, so I’d love to hear how you personally relate. I’d also love to hear any and all feelings A Country Named Mother brought you, so share either in the comments or on social media here and here.

Salomé

*If you enjoyed this essay about Latin American identity, you’ll probably want to know about this problem facing indigenous South Americans.

My Work, Wanderlust, Writing

The Introvert’s Travel Guide – for Travel Latina

I wrote about the way I’ve molded my personal travel routine to better fit my introverted personality; a major change that has improved my traveling experience immeasurably. Though, if I had to measure it, I could probably measure the reduction in stress plus the physical and emotional wearing down brought on by the typical hectic travel plans.

I also shared the new method for traveling I use that cuts down the cost of accommodations to nearly zero! Reject the cookie-cutter model of travel and learn more about tailoring your trips to fit your personality from my featured piece on Travel Latina.

Have you experienced travel burn out? In my article I argue that feeling worn down stems from planning our trips using a one-trip-fits-all mentality that ignores our personal needs. What are some ways you keep travel exhaustion from interfering with your travels? Let me know in the comments or on social media here and here!

Salomé 

*Looking for a travel story to read while you procrastinate? This one might almost make you feel slightly less guilty about that procrastination. Have an interest in personal growth and travel is just one tool in your self-development kit? This thought-experiment is all you

My Work, Photography, Wanderlust

A Week in Naples (The Other Naples)

NaplesI took a road trip by myself to Naples, where I stayed in a house that came with a little dog who, albeit suspiciously, tolerated my company. The house was tucked into a quiet gated community, where I quickly blended into everyday life, taking out the trash and walking the dog as if I wasn’t actually from the chaotic North Caribbean metropolis that is Miami.

NaplesThough it’s only about an hours drive away, Naples and Miami share mostly physical geography and that’s about it. The first sign that I was not in Hialeah anymore was the abundance of those simple flashing lights that save lives: turn signals. People actually used turn signals and moved out of the left lane after passing! I quickly got used to this foreign cultural custom. Now when I talk about visiting Naples, I always mention the regular use of turn signals as if it’s some famous local monument you have to see. Driving on the Palmetto just changes a person.

NaplesIn many ways, Naples is your stereotypical Florida beach town; lots of old people and postcard worthy beaches. It’s quiet, shiny and sandy, making it a popular vacation spot amongst Floridians. Naples has a strange secret though; it’s actually one of the richest cities in the entire United States. Little old Naples with it’s population of less than 30,000 people holds 6th place in highest per capita income and a lot of those 30,000 residents are living in some of the most expensive homes in the country, with some houses selling for upwards of $40 million. Now I understand why everybody seems so pleasant here.

NaplesReally though, the people of Naples are extremely nice and at the most basic level, they actually seem to give a shit about you. Being a semi-introverted inhabitant of a major city, friendliness beyond the reach of general social niceties makes me a little nervous. The people here were so outgoing and chatty it started to ware down my anti-social armor and I found myself being…friendly. I even caught myself stopping to help a family take a vacation photo. Luckily I had progressed to this serious stage only by my last day there and a quick drive through Miami Dade county restored my callous exterior.

NaplesNaples is a strange mix of money, Florida and tranquility. The beach and sunset demand you take the time to really observe the gorgeous shows they put on everyday. My stay in Naples was so peaceful and the openness people exhibited towards me brought me to reevaluate how few words I use in my everyday interactions with others. Things move slower in Naples. At least, the people definitely do. Naples

Have you been to Naples before or are you thinking about going? Let me know what your impression of the town was or why you’re planning to visit in the comments! Start your search for the perfect Airbnb away from home here.

Salomé

Wanderlust

How I Travel (Mostly) for Free

Traveling is really my hobby at this point; I do it every chance I get and it brings me joy every time whether in the form of a lovely experience or a challenging one that helps me grow. It’s something I can’t recommend enough for other people to do if they’re hoping to develop as an individual because it’s the fastest way to become aware of your subconscious worldviews and comfort zone, things that are major obstacles when trying to improve as a person. 

Naturally, something so beneficial and enjoyable isn’t easily accessible. I’m not wealthy by any means, but I’ve been able to do more traveling than most people my age or in my situation. There absolutely are ways to help you afford traveling at least slightly more than you currently do. 

In this video, I explain the one thing I use that completely cuts out the most expensive aspect of traveling: accommodations.

Let me know if you have any questions and what you think of my method in the comments or here and here on social media!

Salomé

Wanderlust

Travel Guide: 5 Things To Do In Chicago

things to do in chicago

Cleaner than NYC and less polluted than LA, Chicago is a beautiful city with a rich and unique culture that deserves a little more recognition. If Chicago wasn’t lovingly referred to as Chiberia during the winter, I would seriously consider living there. There’s no shortage of things to do in Chicago. The brick buildings remind you of it’s history as one of the first major industrial towns in the US. Chicago has everything a city needs to make a trip worth it; great food, famous museums and tons of entertainment. I put together a list of my top 5 things to do in Chicago so you can enjoy the city as much as I did. Plus, as Kanye’s hometown, how could I not show Chi-town some love. chicago

things to do in chicago things to do in chicago

Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge

No, I’m not recommending a Chicago style pizza place for your restaurant pick, I’ll leave that to another writer that actually likes that style of pizza (no offense don’t come for me!). What I will recommend though is possibly the best sushi in the city, plus some perfectly crafted drinks. Niu offers a dish I’m still searching for back in Miami; sweet potato tempura rolls. Everything I ordered was delicious including all three types of mojitos they serve. The location is perfect; you can grab something to eat and easily get somewhere else in the city afterwards. They have a beautifully decorated upscale interior as well as an outdoor patio that’s a prime people watching spot. You really can’t go wrong eating at Niu. 

things to do in chicagothings to do in chicagothings to do in chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

A trip to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the oldest museums in the US. The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection spans over 5,000 years, containing African and Amerindian pieces to modern pieces by Cy Twombly and Jackson Pollock. One of the largest museums in the US, it has about 300,000 pieces housed in eight buildings that cover almost one million square feet; so wear comfy shoes and be prepared to spend plenty of time during your visit. 

things to do in chicagothings to do in chicago

Navy Pier

 Navy Pier is on the Chicago shoreline over looking Lake Michigan and makes for a gorgeous spot to catch the sunset. I almost wanted to find a random date just to take advantage of the scenery. After nightfall the city lights reflect off the water and there’s usually live music at the outdoor cafe. I spent my last night in Chicago watching an amazing fireworks show that’s put on during the summer every Friday totally free. Yes Chicago is in major debt but free fireworks shows are a totally legitimate use of tax dollars in my opinion.

things to do in chicago

 Taste of Chicago Festival

 Luckily my trip happened to coincide with the Taste of Chicago and though I didn’t get to spend much time checking it out, it’s a great idea to plan your trip to overlap with this festival or some of Chicago’s other awesome events like Lollapalooza or Pitchfork Music Festival. It really feels like you get the most out of your trip if you also get to see an artist you’re into while you’re there. Spending my first day in Chicago watching The Roots perform was the perfect start to my trip.

chicago

things to do in chicago things to do in chicago

Chicago’s Architecture

 Chicago is full of interesting architecture from the mid to late 1800s to now. Even if you’re not that interested in architecture it’s impossible not to notice and appreciate the unique styles of buildings throughout downtown. You’re visiting the perfect city to get introduced to the beauty of building, so take advantage of it. Here’s an awesome list of buildings that deserve some attention.

things to do in chicago

Do you have any of your own lesser known recommendations for things do to in Chicago? I had such a great time visiting the city and I feel like it’s honestly an underrated trip. Even though I’ve been several times because I have family there, each time is better than the last. I’m already excited to plan my next trip to Chicago!

Salomé

Wanderlust, Adorning the Flesh Prison

Caribbean Classic

Maxi Skirt

I had to sneak one more photoshoot into my time in Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico because this beautiful city left such an impact on me. Maxi Skirtmaxi skirtmaxi skirtmaxi skirtMaxi SkirtMaxi SkirtMaxi SkirtFashion Blogmaxi skirtmaxi skirtmaxi skirt

Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico – This is my second post from Viejo San Juan, but I’m no less in love with this city. It’s a different kind of vacation when you visit a place that shares aspects of your own culture. I felt right at home with my cafecito and ocean views. It’s funny to think that such a beautiful and unique place is no more than 3 hours away from my home; it’s true that adventure doesn’t always have to be found on the other side of the world.

Get The Look
Forever 21 top – similar pieces (X) (X) (X)
DailyLook polka dot maxi skirt – (X)
DailyLook heels & some dupes til they restock – (X) (X) (X) (X)
Gold bangles – similar piece (X)
Stacked gold ring – similar pieces (X) (X)
Brows – Urban Decay
Lip color – Maybelline in Red Revival

As a shorty, wearing clothing like long skirts and even jeans is always a process. I had to have this skirt tailored, but it fit beautifully afterwards. I always try to pair my long pieces with any shoe that has at least a small heel. How do you like to style your longer clothing? Share your short girl hacks in the comments!

Salomé

Wanderlust, Adorning the Flesh Prison

Island Goddess

Romper FashionBringing my island girl roots to center stage with this look.
Romper Fashionromper fashionRomper FashionCurly Hairwedge heelsromper fashionromper fashionromper fashioncurly hair styles

The Caribbean island of Dominica – as much as I adore the fall (it’s even my birthday season) I’m always a little sad to see summer come to an end. I’ve been staying in the Caribbean for the last 2 months, so I definitely got a memorable summer. As a Cuban-American, it’s important to me to represent my Latina heritage; one way I do so is by letting my thick natural curls be free, and yes, a little wild too. I had damaged my hair so much when I was younger by trying to wear it straight every day. Now I’m learning that my voluminous curls are unique to my identity, so I try to cut back on the heat styling and embrace them. So with my hair doing it’s thing, I threw in some classic hoop earrings to finish off this very Summer Island Goddess look.

Get The Look
Chiffon romper – (X)
DailyLook heels & some dupes til they restock – (X) (X) (X) (X)
Gold hoop earrings – (X)
Lip liner in LBB and lipstick in Blood from Colourpop 
+Tropical flower tucked in your hair 

What unique parts of yourself are you learning to love? Let me know in the comments and share some of your favorite summer goddess style tips!

Salomé

My Work, Photography, Wanderlust

The Emerald Pool in Dominica

DominicaDominicaDominicaDominicaDominicaDominica

Emerald Pool, Dominica – This tiny island in the Caribbean is full of postcard views and some of the most untouched nature that doesn’t require hours of advanced level hiking to see. The Emerald Pool in Dominica is as magical as its name leads you to imagine. Less than a 30 minute hike (but more like a walk) to and from, this is a great place for visitors with limited mobility. The mid point on the trail is the perfect place to take photos – you’ll have a mountain view from 2,248 ft. If you’re in Dominica, this is a gorgeous sight you shouldn’t miss.

Salomé

Wanderlust, My Big Important Opinions

Hotel El Convento in San Juan – Review

San Juan HotelSan Juan HotelSan Juan HotelSan Juan HotelSan Juan HotelThere’s no missing Hotel El Convento. This San Juan Hotel was first opened as a monastery in 1651, El Convento was, as it’s name suggests, a convent. 252 years later the nuns left and the location began operating as a hotel in 1962. As you enter the hotel and follow the classic black and white tiled hallway further, the courtyard appears before you like a serene and verdant oasis. The open-air hallways on every floor offer a view of the flourishing níspero fruit tree from Spain that’s been growing in their courtyard for 300 years. If it wasn’t a hotel, El Convento would definitely have been on your list of museums to visit; it’s actually the oldest member of Historic Hotels of America. Hotel El Convento has preserved the aesthetic of Old San Juan so that you can live it for yourself…“with all the luxuries of today,” as their motto goes.Hotel El ConventoHotel El ConventoHotel El ConventoHotel El ConventoThe decor in Hotel El Convento deserves a 5 star review of it’s own. Keeping in line with the Spanish colonial architecture of Old San Juan, El Convento is adorned with mahogany beams, handcrafted decorative tiles that lead you up stairs, luscious tropical plants, dangling vines and richly colored Andalusian tile floors that emanate the comfort of home most hotels lack. For art lovers, the hotel can serve as a miniature gallery where unique pieces remind you of it’s history and one floor to ceiling mural will have you craning your neck around to observe its details. It was refreshing to see one of my personal peeves about the sanitized art often used in hotels fully blown away.Floral Pattern DressHotel El ConventoSan Juan HotelSan Juan HotelI try to keep my surroundings as green as possible, despite my history as a serial plant killer. Hotel El Convento keeps it effortlessly tropical, with plants lining their many paths. I love greenery, but they take it to a whole different level with their in-house herb garden. Located on the second floor, you can wander through the open patio full of aromatic herbs destined for one of the hotel’s three restaurants. Also a prime insta-photo spot; you’re welcome!
Hotel El Convento is the perfect look out tower for Old San Juan and the bay. While their pool is not one you’ll be doing laps in (it’s a plunge pool), it and the jacuzzi are nestled amongst bright yellow flowers and thick shrubbery on a sizable terrace that offers memorable views of the city and San Juan Bay. Without a doubt, this was my favorite place to lounge around. Make sure you take a camera and watch the sunset; it’s a gorgeous sight. San Juan HotelSan Juan HotelSan Juan Hotel

When you travel often, there are a few basic things you need in a hotel room: a comfortable bed, complete silence, and soft towels. Hotel El Convento gave me all of that and way more. The rooms are intricately decorated with handcrafted furniture, marble bathrooms and every room has classic Spanish louver doors that open to Juliet balconies giving a view of either the San Juan bay, the charming city streets or the lively town square. The hotel retains much of it’s original architecture and effortlessly blends modernity into this antique atmosphere. A heavy wooden door opens up to your room, but a second see-through, soundproof door transforms the room into a peaceful and intimate abode, still allowing for the night owls among us (myself included) to hang out in the cozy sitting areas in front of each room on the open air hallway. I can only speak for the “Queen Deluxe” room, but hopefully Hotel El Convento will invite me back to expose the splendor of their Gloria Vanderbilt Suite. Hotel El ConventoSan Juan HotelSan Juan Hotel

✯✯✯✯✯ (5/5)

I’m always looking for gemmes to share with you guys, and Hotel El Convento is definitely one. Not satisfied with simply being included, El Convento was named the premier Small Luxury Hotel in all of Puerto Rico and I doubt any of it’s visitors would disagree. There are many details that make up the perfect trip and where we recuperate from all day exploration and reflect on the experiences we’ve had is an important one. Hotel El Convento not only provides a place to unwind from a trip but actually offers an experience in itself to add to your trip. Check them out; this is the type of hotel you remember, mainly because you’ll be eagerly thinking about the next time you can return.

Salomé

Wanderlust

Mother Prague

Traveling to Prague

Prague is like no other city. Before I started traveling, the Czech Republic was not even on my list of places to immediately see. I hadn’t heard much about Prague and was hoping to visit more famous cities like Tokyo and Paris. At the time, my boyfriend was writing a novel set in Prague and needed to do some real life research. So we booked the flight that brought us to the type of city that lingers with you long after you’ve returned home.

Traveling to Prague

Hradčany (Castle) District

Traveling to Prague

The Dancing House

Traveling to Prague

Balcony in the Old Town

Traveling to Prague

The Astrological Clock

Traveling to Prague

Staré Město (Old Town)

We stayed in Nové Město, which is Czech for New Town. While it’s the youngest of the towns that make up Prague’s historic center, there’s plenty of history around should you stay there. Check out Wenceslas Square, the National Museum and Theater and definitely U Fleků beer hall. 

Traveling to Prague

The Original Budweiser

Traveling to Prague

Spa Beerland – unlimited beer

Traveling to Prague

Spa Beerland – hops, malt and brewer’s yeast jacuzzi

Traveling to Prague

The original pilsner style beer

The Clydesdale horses and Labrador puppy version of Budweiser known to most of the world is not actually the original Budweiser. That title belongs to the beer known, or barely known, as Czechvar in the US and Budvar for most other countries…and it’s leaps and bounds beyond what American Budweiser makes. Though my favorite beer of the trip was Pilsner Urquell; another original, it created the beer style of pilsners. Yeah, I really got into beer during this trip, or at least, I jacuzzi-ed in some of the ingredients that make beer?
Enter Spa Beerland – proving that almost everything already exists in some spa related form. Before you start worrying LunaGemme.com is turning into a beer blog, this was basically a “…is that a beer…spa? I have no idea what that is but I’m doing it” occasion.  An hour in a private room with a jacuzzi bubbling with a mixture of malt, hops and brewer’s yeast (supposedly helpful for hair, skin and joints but my insurance doesn’t cover it so moving on) and unlimited beer on tap. Why the hell not? 10/10 recommend. 

Traveling to Prague

Omelets at Kavárna Slavia

Traveling to Prague

Apple strudel at Kavárna Slavia

Traveling to Prague

Palačinky (pancakes) with warm forest berry sauce at Kavárna Slavia

Traveling to Prague

Afghan meal at Kabul Restaurant

Traveling to Prague

Vegan meal at Gopál

Discovering the cuisine of a place is just as much a part of travel as visiting the sites. From farmer’s markets with obscure ingredients to the only Afghan restaurant in a city, the food a new place offers is an adventure. Prague is an intersection of so many cultures, which always yields a foodie’s paradise. I can’t praise the restaurants pictured above enough. 
Kavárna Slavia was my go to breakfast spot, with it’s wide picture windows letting in the lazy morning light. I tried the Czech version of pancakes there, palačinky, which is pancakes topped with a warm forest berry sauce and powdered sugar – I’ve been craving it ever since. For dinner I became a regular at Kabul Restaurant. It’s decorated so thoughtfully, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable, plus the wait staff is so friendly you’ll want them to join your meal. They serve the type of delicious food that can either begin or end your night perfectly (Find my full review of this foodie Gemme). Looking for a vegan meal will lead you to Gopál – an exclusively vegetarian restaurant. Located in a quiet courtyard with mint and pepper flourishing all around, they serve what is comfort food to me – mountainous portions of Indian food.

Traveling to PragueTraveling to PragueTraveling to Prague

One of the cities I genuinely miss, Prague has so much to offer while not overwhelming you by bursting at the seems with hyperstimulation at every corner. Because sometimes you want to spontaneously try out a beer spa and other times you just want to walk off dinner by the quiet, dimly lit Vltava River.

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” –Franz Kafka

Salomé