Tag Archives: Travel

Pre-departure Thoughts

February 5-7, 2017

What’s it like to leave everything I’ve known and loved for almost half a year on my own? I had gotten my acceptance letter to go on exchange at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia a few months ago and was finally leaving. There was a heavy mixture of excitement and nervousness the days leading up to my departure. Even when I was saying goodbye to some of the most important people in my life, it was only starting to hit me then that I was leaving for a while… It felt odd to utter sentimental words of a farewell because although I knew I would miss them, how was it possible to mean those words completely when I couldn’t even believe that I was leaving.

When I got to the airport and was ready to leave, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to my parents without choking on my words. I was already missing going home to them with warmly cooked food ready on the table, having them listen to me talk all about my day, and open arms to embrace me in a hug. I also received a call from my sister and a friend before I boarded the plane, and it was comforting to chat with them during my last few moments in Canada. During the first half of my flight, I sat by the window, two seats away from a huge Super Bowl fan who exploded into cheers on the quiet plane ride at random moments and a seat away from a woman who had her earphones plugged in and a book in her hand during the entire flight. Tired from staying up until 6am the night (or morning) before with last minute packing, I slept through my flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles, staring down at the snow-covered Vancouver and then at the endless sky of blue in between fluttering eyelids – the views were beautiful. Walking from one building to the other to get through customs on my own was an experience in itself. I was surrounded by people of diverse culture and ethnicity – devout monks, nervous Chinese families, hippies in silver hair and unique wear, groups of black people, and CBCs like me. I wish I could have stayed in LA to explore some more, and I wondered where everyone was going. My neighbours during the second half of my flight from LA to Australia were an elderly woman traveling with her husband and also a soon-to-be international graduate student from Mexico. I slept for half the time and then watched one and a half movies – The Great Gatsby (which I absolutely loved!) and Interstellar. The plane ride was enjoyable. I was bursting with curiosity to find out what the other side of the hemisphere looks like! Yet, it also felt like the longest plane ride ever. I’ve been on longer plane rides before and I didn’t even have enough time to finish my second movie, but perhaps the thought of being faraway from home made the distance feel further… Holding a cup of apple juice in my hand and a glass of wine in hers, the Mexican girl and I toasted to studying abroad in a new country with expectancy and smiles, and before I knew it, I was looking out onto a wide, open field of yellow grass and scattered Eucalyptus trees.

Dear Australia, you have been my dream since the beginning of my post-secondary years. I’m here – with mixed emotions of fear, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation – but I’m finally here. Here’s to five months of adventure in a country that will become my home soon.

La Verne, California

During Remembrance Day long weekend, I visited a small town in California. I was craving pasta and we stumbled upon this Italian restaurant. Their pasta meals comes with garlic bread (picture below, top left) and a soup or a salad. If you know me, you would know that I’m not a salad girl. The soup was surprisingly good. I was expecting soup similar to Olive Garden which tends to be salty but the soup was surprisingly good with little noodle pieces and it was not salty.

We ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo which was better than what we expected. The noodles were thinner than the usual fettuccine we had (thinner as in flatter). The sauce was creamy but not too thick so it wasn’t too filling. We also ordered the lasagna, which we were a bit disappointed with. The sauce was a bit on the sour side and the cheese on the top was just one big layer of cheese which made it hard to cut through. The layers was a bit lacking.

We also ordered the four cheese pizza. Their pizzas are thin crust which I like because when you have less dough you can eat a lot more (at least that’s my way of thinking). It was a cheese pizza so I didn’t expect anything to go wrong and it didn’t. I would definitely go again to try out some other items on their menu.

PASTA CUCINA RUSTICA
ADDRESS: 2086 Foothill Blvd #D, La Verne, CA 91750, USA
PHONE: +1 909-593-8800
WEBSITE: http://pastacucinarustica.net/

 

Carry-on Travel Essentials

I’m not a travel expert but I have been on quite a few flights. Carry-ons are tricky but I’ve managed to pass through security every time without any problems! So now let me show you what I bring with me on a flight in my carry-on bag.

  • backpack
    • travelling is so much easier with a backpack, I bring around my red Jansport backpack and it’s super sturdy!
  • headphones
    • Always plugged in! Keep yourself entertained and some planes have a standard audio jack so you can use your own headphones! I just use the standard iPhone ones!
  • neck pillow
    • Better than nothing! Bring a full sized pillow if you want, that’s what my best friend did. I got mine from Muji and it has a buckle clip so I can just clip it on my backpack strap.
  • slippers
    • You might want to take a stroll and stretch your legs in a long haul flight, make yourself comfortable with slippers.
  • sheet masks
    • Flights are super dry so treat your skin with something nice, plus no one will really pay attention to you anyways. Any from the Korean brands are really good, maybe Innisfree, Faceshop, Nature Republic?
  • hand cream
    • You might be able to find some in the washroom but it’s more convenient if you bring your own! I’m currently using Crabtree & Evelyn’s “La Source” hand therapy.
  • lip balm
    • Keep your lips hydrated! I use Maybelline’s Baby Lips in “Cherry Me”. There’s also a little bit of red tint so I look alive!
  • hoodie/cardigan
    • Better safe than sorry, they really blast that AC!
  • phone charger
    • You can find a USB outlet for most flights now, keep your phone alive since you’re probably going to use it the entire flight.
  • tissues
    • Bring a pack of tissues, in case of any messes.

And of course, bring your documents and dress comfortably.

Backpacking in Taiwan (Day 1): Waterfalls, Sky Lanterns, and Gratitude

I spent years obsessing over, Apple of My Eye, a Taiwanese film about a pair of high-school sweethearts, who end up breaking up due to an immature argument aroused by misunderstanding. Then, with only two days of planning, my sister and I finally had time in summer 2015 to travel to the famous filming location in Pingxi, New Taipei City to participate in the popular activity of releasing lanterns, an imitation of a scene in Apple of My Eye and a cultural practice of pleading for peace. We were reunited after a month of completing separate programs as overseas students, with her program being lessons in Chinese and mine being English-teaching in the rural town of Fuguang. The spontaneity of the trip excited us, but our lack of research resulted in several mistakes, arguments, and dangerous situations. Ultimately, though, we learnt to take care of and appreciate each another.

The air was thick with humidity the morning we left. We walked over to Tsinghua University from our aunt’s apartment in Hsinchu to catch the Kuo-Kuang eBus, a frequent shuttle bus that would took us to Taipei City in 45 minutes. Then we took a train to Badu Train Station to transfer to Pingxi via the Pingxi Branch Rail Line towards Jingtong, which took approximately two hours. During the three-and-a-half hours’ journey, my sister and I caught up about our past month. There was so much to say that even the lengthy ride did not allow enough time.

Since the day was still too bright to set off lanterns, we agreed to start exploring from Shifen, the second last stop on the railway line, and travel backwards. Walking along the train tracks through the bustling Shifen Old Street, we marveled at the low pitch roof houses and little shops selling cultural artefacts, traditional souvenirs, and street food. Never had I imagined the outskirts to be so charming; I was in awe. My favourite local delicacy was an ice cream and peanut wrap, a dessert inspired from the original run bing (spring roll).

Our first stop was the Shifen Waterfall. My sister and I took a detour to hike up it after reading signposts of its must-see beauty. It was a strenuous one-hour walk, but we admired the stone houses, hanging bamboo chimes, and danced in the middle of empty highways on the way up to relieve our minds. The unoccupied road had us assuming that the destination would be quiet, but our encounter with crowds of tourists, who we later found had taken taxis and tour buses up, proved the contrary. We watched the graceful cascades of the broadest waterfall in Taiwan plummet into the Keelung River, as the cool air refreshed our sweating faces. Boulders surrounded the river and there was a steep stairway on one side that led to different vantage points for observation of the waterfall.

After treating ourselves to pineapple slush and exploring the pathways near Shifen Waterfall, we caught the train to our next stop, Wanggu, a strangely quiet region. The landscape seemed to whisper secrets of the past. Towering over the train tracks was the destroyed Qinghe Suspension Bridge, historically used for coal mining. Since the train only came once an hour, we wandered around aimlessly. Had we done more research though, we would have discovered the Wanggu Waterfall hidden next to the station. We spent the hour laughing and singing, our voices ringing in the desolate wild. It felt like the world was ours.

There was still an hour left before the sun went down, so we hopped on the train and headed to Jingtong. We weaved in and out of numerous shops including the Jingtong Railway Story House, fascinated by the handmade objects sold and the small-town vibe of the Old Streets. We were amazed at the spectacular view beyond the village too – a mountain of trees and vertically rectangular houses enveloped in fog. There was a path to walk down and a love bridge strung with bamboo tubes of written wishes below that arched across a gently trickling river. The bamboo tubes sounded like windchimes when the breeze knocked them together. Time escaped our minds… and that was when we missed the train.

Not wanting to wait another hour, my sister suggested walking to Pingxi, which was fortunately just a station away. On the train tracks we walked – past the huge Jingtong Mining Industry Life Pavilion, secluded farms, and lonely houses – as the sky grew pitch black. I was frightened and weary, but we talked and sang into the distant skies to have our echoes keep us company.

Finally, we arrived at Pingxi. We hungrily ate wraps for dinner just before the shops closed for the night. It was only 7pm, a time when Taipei city would have just begun stirring with commotion, but it is bedtime for the rural towns.

When we reached Pingxi Sky Lantern Story House, one of the many shops that sold lanterns, the compassionate shopkeeper kindly agreed to handcraft two more multi-coloured lanterns. What I had imagined to be an experience with a crowd was now an experience solely shared with my sister. We talked about our dreams and filmed each other writing them down on the lantern as we struggled printing with the calligraphy brushes. An hour later, we were ready to release our lanterns. We couldn’t help shouting with joy, as we sent our wishes into the stars. Watching them float away was beautiful – two lone lanterns flickering in the night sky. It had truly been a dream.

After thanking the shopkeeper for staying an extra hour with us, we hurried on to check the train schedule and were relieved when it read that there was one more train departure left. By now, me and my sister were the only individuals left in the whole village. 9pm felt like midnight as we sat waiting, fearful and exhausted, for what felt like forever. When we arrived at Ruifang Station, however, we were horrified to learn that we may be homeless for the night. The hostel we had planned to stay at had no entry sign and the manager’s direction to meet him downstairs of a building suggested danger. As for the other hostels nearby, they were either occupied or required an earlier check-in time. We were almost in tears, call after call, until a manager we phoned offered us residence for the night. Although the price was two times higher than our budget for accommodation, we accepted the consequences of our ill planning.

The journey to Pingxi has been me and my sister’s most unforgettable trip to date. I can still recall the rhythm of the waterfall and the bamboo tubes, the chipped paint of the old houses, the honest faces of the local citizens, wanting to understand the secrets of the wild, and the mixture of excitement, fear, and bliss I felt during the time of. Moreover, there is something about spontaneity, the danger and adventure of it all, which has given me renewed gratitude for who I was traveling with – my sister. Throughout the ups and downs of life’s many more adventures, there is no one else I am happier to share them with than her.

cruising scandinavia

These past few years, I have fallen absolutely in love with Europe. The method of travel my family has always preferred is cruising. The way I see it is that it’s like a mobile all-inclusive resort that brings you to a new destination almost every morning. And who doesn’t love the sound of that?

We’ve cruised with a variety of different companies these past 15 years (that’s right folks, I boarded my first cruise in 2002), but have most definitely sailed with Princess the most with this Scandinavian adventure being my sixth cruise with them.

Our bucket list has always included a ton of cities situated around the Baltic Sea, so when we found this sailing in February we hopped right on to this last minute idea for a May cruise. I say last minute because usually people book cruises around a year in advance, so today I’ll spill our itinerary for our Scandinavian Cruise for those of you who are starting to plan your 2018 getaway.

Ship: Regal Princess (one of the newer ships!)
Duration: 11 days
Season: Summer, from late April to early September
Itinerary: 

  1. Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. Oslo, Norway
  3. Sea Day
  4. Warnemunde (Rostock/Berlin), Germany
  5. Sea Day
  6. Tallinn, Estonia
  7. Saint Petersburg, Russia
  8. Saint Petersburg, Russia
  9. Helsinki, Finland
  10. Nynashamn (Stockholm), Sweden
  11. Copenhagen, Denmark

Ports of Call: 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Oslo, Norway

Warnemünde, Germany

Tallinn, Estonia

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm, Sweden

We were on the first sail of the season, so it was actually quite a lot colder than I had been expecting. Definitely pack your winter gear if you go in late April/early May, it even snowed for us in some ports! What I loved about this cruise itinerary was that with 11 days and 6 ports, you see an ample amount of cities while still having time to enjoy being onboard such a beautifully designed vessel. Port days are crazy as you try to soak in and explore an entire city in around 8 hours give or take, and it’s always such a relief to climb back on board after a long day and know that you can rest and be well taken care of. There’s a reason why cruising is one of my favourite ways to travel the world.

Barcelona, Barcelona

Barcelona is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Whenever I ask someone about the places that they would like to visit in Europe, Barcelona is usually the first of the second answer. Luckily, I had the chance to explore this beautiful and unique city.

Me and my friends, we have found the place to stay from AirBnb. We stayed at a beautiful old-fashioned Spanish style apartment which was near La Rambla, which is the largest main street in  Barcelona.

There are tons of things to see and to do in Barcelona, so I would suggest you to have at least 5 days in Barcelona in order to fully explore it. One of my favourite spots in Barcelona was Parc Guell. It is a public park located on Carmel Hill. This park has been designed by the famous architect Gaudi, who is considered to be the architect of the whole city due to his unique style. Although Park Guell is far away from the city center, it is very easy to go to the park by public transportation means. So, I would recommend you to buy a pass to use in Barcelona as it is a big city and the attractions are in different locations.

And of course, one of the main attraction is Sagrada Familia! It is a large Roman Catholic Church designed by Gaudi. The church is very unique and impressive due to Gaudi’s talent and the materials and light techniques that he has used. You have to get in line in order to get a ticket to get inside. In order to avoid the wait list, you can buy your ticket online one day advance, and you can wait much less to get inside. I would definitely suggest you to get inside as Sagrada Familia is a magnificent architectural masterpiece.

Barcelona is a city with a lot to offer, and it has many beautiful places besides the main attractions. That’s why you should explore the city by walking, especially the gothic quartier. When you wonder around the city, you’ll have the chance to explore many beautiful narrow streets and european style architectural pieces.

When it comes to food, there are tons of options in Barcelona. Since we were staying right next to La Rambla, we were having our dinners on one of the restaurants at La Rambla. Personally, I adore spanish food, especially paella!! Paella is a traditional spanish dish made by rice and classic sea food. You should definitely try that! Also, we have explored a public market called Mercado de la Bouqueria.

 

 

 

 

That is a huge market full of delicious food options. And prices are much cheaper compared to the restaurants. They have fresh juices, fruits, many kinds of street food and classic spanish dishes.

You should not leave Barcelona without enjoying the beautiful beaches! In Barcelona, beaches are the areas where people come together, have some drinks and food and hang around by the nice view. The main beach is called Barceloneta. You can always go there either to sunbathe, have some picnic or just hang out with your friends. I did not have the chance to swim at the beach because the ocean was still very cold. But you can give it a try if you like!

Remix

  It is the end of a very long winter. It is the time of year where we begin to see the sky stretch out its light for just a few moments longer: where we can be caught in twilight because the sun wants to see our faces sweetly smile before it welcomes the moonlight’s watch. It is the part of a season where we are allowed to dream just a little bit longer, cry a little bit softer, and...

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Traveling to: ENGLAND

WHEN TO GO:

High Season: July – August & December
Best Weather: April – September

TIPPING:

0 – 10% Waitstaff
Bartenders: Round up £
Taxi Drivers: None
£1 Parties per bag
Tour Guides: None

ENGLAND BUCKET LIST:

— Palace of Westminster
— Tower of London
— Stonehenge
— Windsor Castle
— Buckingham Palace
— London National Gallery
— St. Paul’s Cathedral
— London’s High Street
— Shakespeare’s Home
— Guy Fawkes Night
— Tintagel Castle & Stairs

TABLE MANNERS:

— Keep your knife in your right hand & fork on your left. Don’t switch.
— Keep hands above the table even when not using cutlery.
— When finished, lay fork(tines up) & knife diagonal across the plate, handles to the bottom right.

MUST-EAT SPECIALTIES:

— Fish & Chips
— Muchy Peas
— Meat Pies
— Beef Wellington
— Full English Breakfast
— Yorkshire Pudding
— Scones & Clotted Creme
— Local Beer

BASIC ENGLISH:

— Awesome (ace)
— Bathroom (toilet/loo)
— Elevator (lift)
— Flashlight (torch)
— Unsteady (wonky)
— Nonsense (tosh)
— Exhausted (knackered)
— Loud mouth (gobby)
— Ruin (muck up)

OTHER:

— Pack rain gear no matter when you visit.
— Most pubs don’t take cards. Be sure to bring cash with you.
— A light handshake is an appropriate gesture in most circumstances.
— At the pub, individuals take turns buying rounds of drinks for their group.
— Don’t cut in any line. Brits take “queueing up” very seriously.
— Politeness is highly valued. Offer plenty of please, thank you and pardon me.

Traveling to: GREECE

WHEN TO GO:

Best Weather: April – June & September
Avoid: July – August Crowds & October Storms

TIPPING:

5 – 10% Waitstaff
Round up Bartenders
Round up Taxi Drivers
€1 Parties per bag
€5/day Tour Guides

GREECE BUCKET LIST:

— Go to the Full Moon Festival
— See the Acropolis and visit the museum in Athens
— Trek through the Samariá Gorge in Crete
— Explore the Blue Caves in Zákynthos
— Visit the Palace of Grand Master of the Knights in Rhodes

BEACHES TO VISIT:

— Voutoumi (Antipaxos)
— Megalos Simos (Elafonisos Island)
— Porto Limnionas (Ionian Islands)
— Sarakiniko Beach (Milos Island)
— Agrari Beach (Mykonos)

TABLE MANNERS:

— It is common to sample foods from others’ plates, but always ask first.
— Keep your knife in your right hand and fork in your left. Don’t switch.
— When finished, cross you life & fork on your plate, tines down.

MUST-EAT SPECIALTIES:

— Dolmades (Grape leaves stuffed with rice and fresh herbs)
— Avgolemono (Egg & lemon soup)
— Moussaka (Layered eggplant, minced meat, tomato and onion topped with béchamel sauce)
— Souvlaki (Grilled meat or veggies on a skewer or pita)
— Spanakopita (Spinach pie)
— Kourabiedes (Almond sugar cookies)
— Galaktoboureko (Custard wrapped in filo pastry with lemon syrup)
— Ouzo Liquor

BASIC GREEK:

— Hello (YAH-soo)
— Goodbye (AHN-dee-oh)
— Please (pah-rah-kah-LOH)
— Thank you (ef-hah-rees-TOH)
— You’re welcome (pah-rah-kah-LOH)
— Pardon me (see-GHNO-mee)
— English? (ang-glee-KAH)?
— Cheers! (yamas)!
— Yes (neh)
— No (OH-hee)

OTHER:

— Wine is often drunk at lunch and dinner.
— It is considered culturally impolite to simply nod. Say “yes,” instead.
— Acquaintances shake hands, friends and family embrace and kiss both cheeks (starting with the right)
— Greeks are very affectionate and open. It is not uncommon to be asked many personal questions.
— Haggling is expected at outdoor markets, but only say prices you are willing to pay.