My 2020 Wanderlust Wishlist

With the holidays behind us and the new year officially underway, I always find myself in an auspicious state of mind, thinking of all the potential the next 365 (or, in 2020’s case, 366) days will bring. New words learned, books read, foods eaten, fears conquered and challenges overcome…

And also, new destinations discovered, whether it’s right here in my own backyard, or in the wider global backyard.

So here, in no particular order, are the top 10 destinations that I’d feel lucky to see in 2020 as part of my Wanderlust Wishlist.

Are any of these destinations on your own 2020 Wanderlust Wishlist, too? Where do you hope to travel in 2020?

  1. Slovenia
Bled, Slovenia. Source: Walkerssk via pixabay.

I first was intrigued by Slovenia watching an episode of the Netflix TV Show Chef’s Table about Hisa Franko, a restaurant in Kobarid, Slovenia. This mountainous country is still relatively off-the-beaten-path as far as Europe is concerned but that, along with tip-top hiking opportunities, picturesque towns steeped in culture and hearty food, is exactly what makes this a must-visit.

  1. Northern Italy
Brixen, Italy. Source: rottonara via Pixabay.

My heart belongs to the mountains, so you’ll notice a lot of peak-packed regions and cities on my wanderlist, with Italy’s Dolomites range holding a particularly high spot. For outdoor lovers, the Dolomites offer endless possibilities for adventures, waiting to be fuelled by risotto and red wine.

  1. Norway
Lofoten archipelago, Norway. Source: monicore via Pixabay.

There are so many reasons I admire Norway as a country: for its fidelity to democratic concepts, its environmental initiatives, and of course its untamed natural landscape. Norway also has a long, fascinating history filled with stories of Vikings, battles, shipwrecks and sagas.

  1. Russia
Moscow’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia. Source: Vlad Vasnetsov via Pixabay.

Thanks to its vast size, Russia offers up literally any type of experience to its visitors. It has beaches, mountains, picturesque city squares, geysers and mineral springs, ornate churches, thriving nightlife, even deserts. I could travel there over and over again and still be repeatedly surprised. A visit to the country’s two most prominent cities — Moscow and Saint Petersburg — would make a tasteful introduction.

  1. Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey. Source: Şinasi Müldür via Pixabay.

Straddling the modern and traditional, the trendy and the ancient, Turkey is a country of contrasts. On top of that, it’s friendly, beautiful, culturally rich and great value for money.

  1. Scotland
Neist Point, Scotland. Source: Katja S. Verhoeven via Pixabay.

If you picked out all the green hues from a box of Crayola crayons, it still wouldn’t be enough to draw the vast sweeping landscape of Scotland. Its charming medieval towns, rolling countryside spotted with Highland cattle and winding roads make the perfect backdrop for exploring.

  1. Colorado, United States
Vail, Colorado. Source: Michelle Maria via Pixabay

As far as lovely mountain towns go, you can find aplenty in the state of Colorado. From Aspen to Breckenridge, Ouray to Telluride, the wild character of the Rockies is showcased perfectly in these vibrant little towns at their base. Winter, spring, summer or fall, Colorado is worth roaming any time of year.

  1. Albania
Berat, Albania. Source: Ervin Gjata via Pixabay.

Croatia has dominated the travelsphere when it comes to the “Balkan” region, but neighbouring countries like Albania are no less spectacular. And best of all, they don’t attract nearly as many crowds. Albania touts an astonishing diversity in its landscape, ranging from the snow-capped mountains in the Prokletije (the Albanian Alps) with grade-A hiking opportunities, to the sunny seaside coast of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas and traditional Ottoman architecture in its cities. And, like its neighbour Croatia, Albania has its own share of breathtaking villages, like Berat, also known as “The City of a Thousand Windows”, or the UNESCO-designated Gjirokastra, with houses designed like small castles

  1. Vietnam
Tu Le Valley, Vietnam. Source: Dung Le Tien by Pixabay.

It’s no secret that Vietnam was considered a top foodie destination by exalted American chef Anthony Bourdain. In fact, he famously called Vietnam one of his favourite places on Earth. I’d be pretty happy spending my days indulging in feel-good delicacies like Vietnamese coffee and pho, gazing out at picturesque rice fields and searching for unique trinkets at the night market.

  1. Kenya
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Source: MonikaP via Pixabay.

There’s the famous quote that “if you can only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa – twice.” I think the same can be said for Kenya. It boasts more than 25,000 different animal species and is home to 11% of the world’s bird varieties. And like the popular movie The Lion King shows, creatures like warthogs or ostriches are sometimes equally as fascinating to observe as lions. The very backdrops where these creatures live, such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve, are themselves full of breathtaking vistas.

PY1: Through the Echoes – Has Potential, But Didn’t Live Up

What would you expect from the creative mastermind behind Cirque du Soleil?

Nothing short of spectacular, right?

Maybe it’s because of those high expectations that I was left wanting more after seeing Guy Laliberté’s newest project, PY1: Through the Echoes. But that’s exactly how I felt leaving the pyramid after seeing the show last week.

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Through the Echoes

A statement by the show’s production house Lune Rouge Entertainment (founded by Laliberté) called it “an immense 60-minute multimedia show. Audience members will be surrounded by lasers, 360-degree projections, kinetic video aerial scenery, atmospheric special effects and spectacular lighting. Immersed in high-quality soundscapes, they will explore the thread of space and time, from our origins to our possible futures, as if in a waking dream.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

And it does start out that way. After getting tickets checked outside, guests enter the first, smaller pyramid, which just has a merch section, before heading into the larger,25-metre-high one. This is where the action takes place. As soon as we entered, we noticed people before us grabbing bean bags by the door and getting comfy on the floor by a large, mysterious sphere.

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The mysterious globe represents the Earth.

We decided to do the same and, as we were one of the first inside the pyramid, got front-row seats, right in front of the embossed globe. (To be fair, in retrospect, I think the show is better experienced sitting at the back.)

We lay on our backs, looking up towards the pyramidion, calm, soothing music playing in the background. Colourful wisps of fog danced overhead, emphasized by colourful lasers. This was probably my favourite part of the entire experience. It was so relaxing, so utterly ZEN that I caught myself drifting off a few times.

The actual show is supposed to be “a technological and emotional odyssey which tells the story of life from the Big Bang until today,” according to Laliberté.

While I appreciated the fact that it truly was something unique, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, that story was entirely lost on me and overall, it wasn’t my cup of tea, especially considering the $50 price tag attached to the event (I’ve read that some people paid as little as $25, but our tickets, purchased online off the official website, came to $58.64 each after tax).

I found the imagery to be grotesque, overbearing and disjointed, without telling the story it was supposed to tell. I also expected more laser theatrics, but the show mostly featured imagery projected on the pyramid’s ceiling and walls. These images were often some sort of geometric shapes playing over and over in a sequence until the next “chapter” came on.

It felt like it was trying too hard to be innovative and cutting-edge that it crashed and burned in the process, feeling “gimmicky” instead of pushing boundaries.

That said, I felt the potential. With modern technology, we should be able to have new, mind-blowing experiences.

But this was just not it for me.

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MTL to MIA

Through the Echoes, intended to be a mobile showcase, moves to Miami in September… And it seems it won’t be missed here in Montreal.

I’m not the only one who found the show to be lackluster. According to a Montreal Gazette article published Aug. 9, the show has seen “sluggish sales”, to the point that Lune Rouge CEO Stéphane Mongeau said they have already made extensive changes to the show since it opened June 1 in Montreal.

Some of the changes include more seating, modifications to the music and the addition of augmented-reality headsets. Personally, I’m not so sure these switches will help much because for me, it wasn’t the lack of these elements that spoiled the show for me… It was the show itself.

The article does mention that the thematic DJ nights that take place at the pyramid every Friday and Saturday night have been a big hit. That’s actually an experience I’d love to check out — some good house music, a quirky setting, and an otherworldly feel.

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PY1 –  the two pyramids are quite a nice pop of colour against a dark skyline!

5 WAYS TO BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN TOWN

We often daydream of our next trip to this or that city, anticipating the adventures we’ll have, the new things and places we’ll see, the new food we’ll eat and the photos we’ll take. But with time constraints, financial difficulties or other obligations, a flight to an exotic location across the globe isn’t always a feasible option. What we don’t realize, however, is that there are people daydreaming about visiting our very own town. It’s human nature to want what we can’t have and unfortunately, this can lead to us not appreciating our surroundings. With an open mind and a small break in habit, we can set out on a local adventure that allows us to see the fascinating and exciting that our town has to offer, as though through the eyes of a tourist. 

So here are five ways you can be a tourist in your own city and discover what visitors fall in love with.

  1. GRAB YOUR CAMERA AND OPEN YOUR EYES
    One of the things we delight in while on vacation is taking photos, but in our own city, it’s hard to see our usual surroundings in a different light. Break this frame of mind by putting yourself behind the lens of your camera to notice the beauty in small things. And don’t be afraid to brave rainy weather and winter snowstorms for the possibility of a perfect shot. After all, such things never stop us when we’re travelling.

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    Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels
  2. DISCOVER A NEW CHOW SPOT
    When it comes to dining out, we tend to stick to the time-tested favourites. And it’s true, being adventurous is a risk, but it may prove to be worth taking.  Next night out, make it a point to check out a restaurant that you’ve never been to. Hit up those TripAdvisor reviews and see what new gems you can discover.

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    Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels
  3. BREAK YOUR ROUTINE
    We are creatures of habit. We’ve found comfort and contentment in the familiar routes we use to get to work or fulfill our daily chores. We’ve mastered the quickest and most convenient way of getting from point A to point B. When travelling, however, that’s rarely a priority. In a new city, we opt for the scenic route, regardless of how much longer it may take us to arrive to point B. In fact, we don’t care so much about reaching point B, as long as the walk or drive is exciting and interesting. Switch things up on your next errand and take a new path or better yet, hop on a bus or bike.
  4. DO SOME SIGHTSEEING
    As tourists in a new city, we’re on the lookout for exciting events and shows that will help us get to know our temporary home a bit better. What’s your city known for? Is it the stunning architecture? The wild nightlife? The breathtaking landscape? Think of what makes your city unique and go check it out! While the CN Tower is Toronto’s most significant landmark, you’d be surprised how many proud Torontonians I know who have never taken the elevator up the 147 floors to the top. These attractions are what make your city stand out, so get out there and get to know them.

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    Photo by Viktor Hanacek from picjumbo
  5. TAKE A HISTORY LESSON
    A town’s personality stems from its history. Go to a museum or take a guided tour to learn about you’re city’s historic hotspots and discover the story behind your city’s founding. You’ll appreciate what it’s been through and feel that much prouder to be a part of it. 

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    Photo by Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

    Do you often find yourself travel-deprived? What do you do? Do you have any other tips? I want to hear them!

Banff is overrated! My top 3 hiking spots that AREN’T in Banff

There, I said it.

Banff is overrated.

The more I wander and adventure around Alberta and British Columbia, the more I realize that the Rocky Mountains are so much more than just Banff.

When I lived in Eastern Canada, “Banff” was the only word that immediately came to mind when thinking about the Canadian Rockies, immediately conjuring up magical images of pristine views of stunning mountains, golden sunsets behind shadowed peaks and crystal clear lakes. Now, after my fair share of adventures in Banff National Park and the townsite as well as other towns and parks in the Canadian Rockies, I can say with certainty that Banff is not as magical as I used to think it is – mainly because it is jam-packed with tourists and a trip to the national park actually ends up being quite costly (entry into provincial parks in Alberta is free).

Banff is by far the most visited national park in all of Canada. According to Parks Canada, in the year period between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, 4.2 million people visited Banff National Park. The next most visited national park was Jasper, with 2.4 million visitors, then in third place, 1.2 million people visiting Saguenay-St. Lawrence in Quebec.

I’m not saying that Banff National Park isn’t beautiful – it absolutely is and it’s certainly worth a visit. What I’m saying is I just wish that other parts of the Rockies got the recognition they deserve and enticed the same kind of visitorship and admiration as Banff.

This isn’t to detract attention from Banff in any way, but in my opinion, there are significant consequences to Banff’s celebrity status and highlighting some of the other phenomenal Rocky Mountain territory is likely to alleviate some of the concerns like a declining visitor experience and sustainability and environmental concerns.

I think the solution here isn’t to discourage visiting Banff National Park – it truly is beautiful and anyone who hasn’t yet been there has a right to see it – but rather to encourage visiting other parks.

Here are some of my favourite jewels of the Alberta Rocky Mountains that aren’t in Banff National Park.

  1. Livingstone Public Land Use Zone
    This is probably the most underrated of Rocky Mountain regions. The Livingstone Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) is located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, mostly lying north of Highway 3. Being mostly a hiker, I’ve discovered so many hidden gems in this area, challenging hikes with breathtaking views, pristine lakes with not a single other person around, backcountry camping in that perfect, secret spot. This is by far my favourite area to adventure in and as far as hiking “off the beaten path”, there’s no better place, in my opinion.

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    The view from Mount Ward in the Livingstone PLUZ. The Seven Sisters and Crowsnest Mountain in the background, and the hole in Window Mountain in the foreground. On the way, you also pass the beautiful Window Mountain Lake at the base.
  2. Castle Provincial Park
    The Castle is Alberta’s newest provincial park, created in February 2017, located just south of Highway 3. I’ve never seen more wildlife than I have in this park. I’ve seen a Grizzly, a black bear, a fox, a frog, lots of deer and elk. One time I saw SEVEN moose in a single day! That’s certainly a hard-to-beat record for me. I feel like this park has more “breathing room” than the Livingstone and Peter Lougheed. What I mean by that it feels as though there’s more space between the peaks, with rolling hills, twisting rivers and sheltered forests intermingling with the mountains. I like that. This past summer, I’ve also found a few great Saskatoon berry and thimbleberry-picking spots, always a treat!

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    One of the Southfork Lakes. The lakes have many larch trees surrounding them and make a beautiful golden mirror-image in the fall.
  3. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
    If you still want the proximity to Calgary that Banff boasts, then Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis is a fantastic option. I’ve had some of my favourite hikes in this park. It’s filled with lakes and astonishing views of mountains carrying on for days dotted with tarns and alpine lakes among them. It’s more populated than the other two areas mentioned above, but you still get that “wilderness” feel if you choose the right hikes to do.

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    View from the summit of Mount Smutwood. This is one of those hikes that’s actually quite popular, but it’s still so, so worth doing! The first bit is a walk through a gorgeous marshy meadow before the uphill starts. Just on the other side of the ridge we’re sitting on are two alpine tarns.

Do you agree that Banff National Park is overrated? Have you ever been to these parks and regions?

An epic birthday celebration

As far as birthdays go, Canada’s is often celebrated in a backyard or campground over hot dogs and beer. And in all fairness, it’s a perfectly enjoyable way to spend the July 1st long weekend (minus the mosquitoes).

But this year, I spent Canada Day doing something a bit more special than that, something that highlights the splendor of this nation in a very glorious fashion.

I, along with 14 others, hiked to the summit of Crowsnest Mountain, one of the most iconic peaks in Southwest Alberta.

There’s a lot of talk about Crowsnest Mountain, about how difficult it is, how scary, how dangerous and, of course, how magnificent. I concur only with the last claim. Any mountain can be all of those things if unprepared and reckless. But with the proper gear, trustworthy hiking companions and basic mountaineering know-how, this mountain, too, becomes conquerable.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still difficult! Totalling 14 km round trip, an elevation of about 2,700 m and tricky footing on loose scree and rock, this certainly isn’t a mountain to hike willy-nilly. We had experienced hikers and scramblers guiding us and everyone had helmets, proper footwear, plenty of water and layers. We were prepared, and that’s what made Crowsnest Mountain an enjoyable, challenging and rewarding hike.

On the drive up to the base that morning, the Crow was almost completely cloud-covered, making us a bit worried that all we would see is a smoky haze when we reached the summit. But hey, we’re not a bunch of Negative Nancys, so of course we kept going with a spring in our step!

You start your way in the Atlas Staging Area precisely at marker for kilometre 7. The first third of the route, you’re walking along a clearly defined path through forest where Thimbleberry bushes grow left and right in abundance.

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The first third of the hike begins in the forest along a dirt path that turns rocky.

At the end of the forest is where, quite abruptly, the view opens up to reveal the Seven Sisters Mountain, the rock-scattered backside of Crow. The first uphill bit is climbing up a scree slope where one step forward is equal to two steps back. But take it slow and steady, try to secure your footing as much as possible on the bigger rocks, and your journey will go more smoothly.

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The most daunting part of the hike, and the section that is Crowsnest Mountain’s most defining feature, is the gully. A chain at the end of the gully is a comforting help to get up the slope. Our group didn’t really use it on the way up, but coming down, was it ever helpful!

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Our group waiting in line to go up the gully.

After that, it’s much of the same hiking along a fairly well-defined rock path to the summit and by the time we reached it, the sky had cleared (mostly) and while the clouds in the distance looked pretty threatening, we got clear 360 degree views for miles and miles, as far as Chief Mountain all the way in Montana, right by the Canada/US border. In fact, looking southeast, you can line up Turtle Mountain, Table Mountain and Chief Mountain in a straight line. I’ve heard that these three peaks, along with Crowsnest, were used as wayfinding landmarks by Indigenous populations.

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The most prominent mountain in this photo is Turtle. Behind it far in the distance, you can see Table Mountain and even farther back, Chief Mountain.

At the summit, you get a spectacular look at the Seven Sisters Mountain to the north and a bit west of that, there’s Mount Ward and the window in Allison Peak. Turning southwest, you can also see Chinook Lake and, farther back, Crowsnest, Emerald and Island Lakes. It’s just sky and mountains for days on end.

After a break, a snack and hanging a Canadian flag on an empty post at the summit (it was Canada Day, after all), we started our descent. The way down went much more quickly than the way up, save for one section: the chain. See, we strategically started the hike at around 7:30 a.m., so we were the first ones on the mountain that day. When we reached the chain, our group went up one by one to avoid rockfall for a person below.

By the time we were coming down, however, there were groups who had started much later than us and were just coming to the chain section to go up as we reached it to descend. So a bit of a traffic jam formed, you might say. We spent at least an hour at the chain as we waited for other groups to climb up, and then for our own group to climb down, again, one by one. And let me tell you, climbing down is a lot more difficult than climbing up!

Slow and steady, as they say.

We reached our vehicles just as a light rain started to fall and couldn’t help but think, “Perfect timing!” The Crow certainly is a mountain I’d prefer to visit with in good weather only.

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Happy Canada Day, you glorious country!

He dies slowly – he who does not travel, read, listen to music, find Grace in himself…

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but with the last of the tinsel off my Christmas tree, and the New Year’s day hangover nothing but a distant nightmare, I can’t help but dwell on my hopes, dreams and goals for 2018.

I think that the poem “Muere Lentamente” by Martha Medeiros (often incorrectly attributed to Pablo Neruda), sums up how I want to live out not only the coming year, but every day of my life.

Here is the original, taken from http://www.mundolatino.org/muere-lentamente-martha-medeiros/

Muere lentamente
quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito,
repitiendo todos los días los mismos trayectos,
quien no cambia de marca.
No arriesga vestir un color nuevo y no le habla a quien no conoce.

Muere lentamente
quien hace de la televisión su gurú.

Muere lentamente
quien evita una pasión,
quien prefiere el negro sobre blanco
y los puntos sobre las “íes” a un remolino de emociones,
justamente las que rescatan el brillo de los ojos
sonrisas de los bostezos,
corazones a los tropiezos y sentimientos.

Muere lentamente
quien no voltea la mesa cuando está infeliz en el trabajo,
quien no arriesga lo cierto por lo incierto para ir detrás de un sueño,
quien no se permite por lo menos una vez en la vida,
huir de los consejos sensatos.

Muere lentamente
quien no viaja,
quien no lee,
quien no oye música,
quien no encuentra gracia en si mismo.

Muere lentamente
quien destruye su amor propio,
quien no se deja ayudar.
Muere lentamente,
quien pasa los días quejándose de su mala suerte
o de la lluvia incesante.

Muere lentamente,
quien abandona un proyecto antes de iniciarlo,
no preguntando de un asunto que desconoce
o no respondiendo cuando le indagan sobre algo que sabe.

Evitemos la muerte en suaves cuotas,
recordando siempre que estar vivo exige un esfuerzo mucho mayor
que el simple hecho de respirar.

Solamente la ardiente paciencia hará que conquistemos
una espléndida felicidad.

Although the translation of any work doesn’t come close to the message and the power expressed by the original, here’s my translation into English:

He dies slowly
he who is transformed into a slave of habit
repeating the same paths each day,
he who does not change his brand.
Who does not risk to put on a new colour and who does not speak to anyone he does not know.

He dies slowly
he who has a television as his guru.

He dies slowly
he who avoids passion,
who prefers the black over white
and having all the ‘i’s dotted over a whirlwind of emotions,
precisely those that save the sparkle in the eye,
that rescue smiles from the yawns,
hearts from the stumbles and emotions.

He dies slowly
he who does not flip over the table when he is unhappy at work,
who does not risk the certain for the uncertain to go for a dream,
he who does not let himself at least once in his life
flee from reasonable rules.

He dies slowly
he who does not travel,
does not read,
does not listen to music,
does not find grace in himself.

He dies slowly
he who destroys his own love,
who does not let himself be helped.
He dies slowly
He who spends his days complaining of his bad luck
or the never-ending rain.

He dies slowly,
he who abandons a project before starting it,
who does not question matters that he doesn’t know
or not responding when he is inquired about something that he knows.

Let us avoid death in soft doses,
always remembering that to be alive requires a strength much greater
than the simple act of breathing.
Only ardent patience will allow us to conquer
a splendid happiness.

I hope that it will give everyone the push needed to get off your laurels and take the left turn off the beaten path, and not being afraid of taking a risk, making a mistake, and learning something new. So instead of wishing you a Happy New Year, I instead wish for a Happy New You!

Taken 23-12-2017 on a hike up to Ha Ling Peak in Canmore, Alberta. A Gray Jay that followed us a good chunk of the way up perches on the pine on the right.

The black and white of winter

Winter hit Crowsnest Pass with an excited exuberance at being back. November 1 greeted me with an entirely different landscape than the day before: the hum of road plows, a winter storm warning in effect, and snow – lots of it!

Mother Nature dumped about 40 cm of snow on the Pass in the past few days and while Environment Canada predicts temperatures warming up over the next few days, I think the snow is here to stay until spring.

I must admit, I love the changing of seasons, where each one brings something unique and spectacular. In winter, it’s of course the activities – the snowshoeing, sledding, skiing/snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and ahem, digging out your car. But also the comforting, cozy feeling of that first sip of hot mulled wine, the food craving for delicious, hearty stews, or the steady crunch-crunch-crunch of walking on packed snow.

With its subdued hues and colours, only in winter do we come as close as we can to seeing the world in black and white, its grayscale canvas forcing us to perceive light and shadow in a special way.

Winter is not just a season; it’s an experience.

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Crowsnest Pass, Alberta (November 2017)

I’d like to introduce you to Travel

This is a blog about travel, my Travel.

While I, like so many other people and maybe even you, love to travel, I often think, “why?” Why do I feel the need to spend a lot of money, a lot of time, and sometimes a lot of effort to physically be present in a place that I can easily see and read about in a book or, even easier, online?

I like to think of Travel as my best girlfriend. We gossip about the countries we’re currently crushing on, and the fun adventures we’ll have when we get there. Sometimes, she shows me some tough love by putting me into experiences I have to struggle through, and other times she’s the one that brings me martinis on a beach. Together with Travel, we see new places, taste new flavours, feel different climates, hear different soundscapes. Travel pushes me beyond my limits with the promise of rewarding me with new horizons of this big little world. She inspires me to be a better person and when I feel the need to escape the grind of daily life, she’s always there.

Travel is my inspiration, my partner in crime, my drive. That’s why I love her, and in this blog, I’d like to introduce you to her to maybe, in turn, inspire you.

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Metal/wire art exhibition in Barcelona, 2014.