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Beijing – Off the “Restored” Path

25 Sep

Quick: When I say “China” what is the first thing that pops into your mind? No, I’m not talking about fried rice inside a little white to-go box (although that would be the second thing I would think about), The Great Wall of course! We had the amazing opportunity to come across a “Off the Beaten Path” tour group in Beijing that takes tourists to a less visited, not restored, (actually) peaceful part of the wall with some exciting hikes and steep “rock climbing”. I’m not gonna lie, I got to feel like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible…. sometimes!

The company (cause I know you are interested) is called Back Country Beijing and they offer a very exciting 2 day trip. The most common place on the wall to visit is called Badaling, and although its grandeur is breathtaking and true to history (there has been quite a bit of restoration to this part), it is jam-packed every single day of the year. Plus, you don’t get the exciting Tom Cruise-friendly ups and downs, literally.

To keep it short and simple, we drove to a small village at the base of the mountain, had lunch at a local Chinese Farmer’s house, then hiked up for about 2 hours to the Wall. Two of the guides set up camp and started on dinner, while the other took us around the distance of 3 Guard Watch Houses. We were back after a few hours, had dinner and camped out ON THE WALL!!

That’s the Stairway to Heaven behind us!! 🙂

We got up really early to watch the sun rise, had a hearty oatmeal and coffee, then off to a very famous point popularly known as “Stairway to Heaven”…. mostly because its to steep but if you feel off or missed a step…. I’m just sayin’.

Enjoying a beautiful sun rise, freezing my butt at the same time!


Reader Pics: Marrakech by Gustavo Damião

5 Sep

The market Jamaa el-Fnaa was the main reason we wanted to visit Marrakech when we were studying abroad! It’s a completely unique experience and definitely worth it!

After we explored every inch of the market, we decided to drink a mint tea  at Café Glace, which has the best view of the square! The tea was just an excuse so that Gustavo, with his amazing photographic skills, could take some amazing shots, one of which is our Reader Pic of the day! Thank you Gustavo, once more!

Jamaa el-Fnaa by Gustavo Damião

Mahler 8, “Symphony of A Thousand”

31 Aug

Last week I was lucky enough to perform Mahler’s 8th symphony, aptly nicknamed “Symphony of a Thousand” as it pretty much feels like a thousand person ensemble. This might be the only time I’ll ever perform Mahler 8, as it’s one of the largest scale orchestral works in the classical repertoire.  With three distinct choruses and an extra large orchestra, our concert had about 500 performers.  Luckily, we performed in a huge music tent and had space/another balcony for most of the singers (A google search of “Mahler 8” will show you some pretty hilarious pictures of musicians piled on to each other in concert halls).

Action shot. Photo credit to

It’s really just awesome to play with choruses. Being in the middle of an orchestra is already powerful, and when large choirs start singing you can literally feel the sound all around you. To be honest, there were spots in rehearsal that I was so wrapped up in listening to the music all around me that I missed one or two entrances… oops!

Standing room only! Photo credit to

Like Beethoven 9, the libretto is about the eternal human spirit and the joy is so uplifting. The energy of so many people working together to create something beautiful is a magnificent experience, so if you ever see an advertisement for a live performance of Mahler 8, don’t even think about it – just go!


A Place to Visit in Our Own Campinas!

28 Aug

I love public spaces. Great public spaces are equalizers of society, places where socio-economic classes races, ethnicities, cultures, converge and interact in one space, where people can express themselves, meet friends, exercise, and have a good time. Public spaces, like Manhattan’s Central Park, can also provide a necessary escape from bustling city life. I just got back from a relaxing time at home in Brazil and want to boast about an underrated yet wonderful public space in Campinas: Parque Portugal.

An aerial view of Parque Portugal, courtesy of

Located around a beautiful lake, Lagoa do Taquaral, this park has everything.  A dirt track circles around the lake, passing by paddle boats shaped like swans, stretching areas, a children’s playground, an outdoor concert venue, a bird sanctuary, a mini-bamboo forest, and much more. Parque Portugal also features a swimming pool, a planetarium, a gymnasium, and much more!

Swan-shaped paddle boats, photo courtesy of

Fellow blogger Mandy and I went for a brisk walk around Parque Portugal last week and it was great. It is a great place to exercise. There are two tracks, one that circles around the outside of the park and one that circles the lake inside. Every hundred meters, there is a sign tracking how much you’ve walked. Inside the park, there are several areas to stretch, cool off, and lift weights (if you are so inspired).

There are always people walking around Parque Portugal, known to Campineiros as Taquaral, but the place really comes alive on weekends, when the paddle boats are out, the restaurants around the park are crowded, and Campineiros are out and about enjoying one of the great spaces in our city!


The Simple Life

23 Aug

My sister, aunt, and I all load up in the car on our way to the Virginia countryside. As we nostalgically sing along with our Disney Vol. 1CD (“A Whole New World” and “Hakuna Matata” amongst our favorites), the towering buildings of the busy city dwindle, as the rolling hills become more prominent.

I love our days in the country. Especially during the peach season! We stop at Hartland Orchard where they give us a white paper bag with a convenient handle on it to go pick peaches to our hearts content.

The peaches stand out from their green foliage backdrop,welcoming us to pluck one off the low hanging branch. Of course a couple of taste tests need to be made before taking all these peaches home. As my aunt bites into the first peach we share, she said it was like “a religious experience,” the peach representing all that is pure and beautiful in this world – a little exaggerated comment for a mere peach, but it was THAT good. So juicy and succulent that it’s one of those foods that you would rather eat alone so you don’t have to be under the tight constraints of proper eating manners, letting all the juices run down your arm until it drips off your elbow.

When our bag is full, we dilly-dally for a while, absorbing our surrounding, posing on a nearby tractor pretending to be bona fide countrygirls. A part of us probably wished we were – enjoying the simplicity of life rather than complicating the uncomplicated like we tend do.

Full on peaches, having probably eaten as many as are in the bag, we get back in the car, this time singing a more fitting country tune by the Dixie Chicks, and drove back the hour and a half that takes us from simplicity to commotion.


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