Category Archives: Travels

Spring Break Plans

I’m soooo excited for Spring Break!! Just another 8 days of work, and then I get a magical 12 days off! 🙂 Linner is coming for part of my break, and I’ll be doing a bit of solo travel, too. Today I finalized my plans and I’m really looking forward to it!

When Linner arrives, we’ll have a quick staycation in Bangkok. The plan is to visit the Floating Market (new to us both), stay in a posh hotel downtown with a rooftop pool, get massages, and eat yummy Thai food. All in all, my kinda thing.

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Linner and I will travel to Krabi, Thailand and stay in Ao Nang at a sweet resort not too far from the beach. I plan to lay by the pool (hopefully I can get in, too!), relax with a pina colada or a fresh juice, and read. We’d also like to explore Ao Nang beach. Again, I hope to take a dip. Ao Nang has beautiful beaches, with huge rocks and cliffs nearby. I’d like to take a boat ride one day.


Once Linner leaves, I’ll be solo traveling to Indonesia! After a quick stop-over in Jakarta, I’ll fly to Ubud, Bali, where I will be staying at a relaxing hotel near the city. It has a pool with lounge chairs, a spa, and a good restaurant. The best part is it only cost me $34 a night, including breakfast! There’s a free area shuttle, and if I’m mobile and able to walk around, I plan on exploring. If not, I’ll lounge by the pool, reading and writing. Either way, it’ll be a relaxing trip!


This is why I live abroad…trips like this are possible and affordable. 🙂

Perks

Every country has its perks, the things that make life just a little sweeter. America has tons of perks…being able to go to one grocery store and find everything you could possibly want (and more!), endless restaurant choices, family who lives in the same country, no language barrier, TARGET!, and the list goes on.

Living in Thailand has afforded me some pretty great perks. The cost of living cheap, especially when compared to the US, and markets, restaurants, and transportation are inexpensive. One of my favorite perks, however, is the low cost of luxuries like massages, facials, blow outs, nails, etc. In the US, I never got a facial, rarely got a massage, only got a blow out when I got a haircut, and splurged on my nails. Here, I can have all of these things without breaking the bank. A massage sets me back about 6 bucks for an hour (I know…I feel like I’m robbing them), a facial is $15, gel nails are $15-20 (a little pricey in my opinion), and a blow out is about 5 bucks.

After school today, Julie and I headed to her favorite facial place, a little hole in the wall that you would never find on your own in a million years, but was recommended to her by a Thai friend. Through a long hallway, we walk past some pretty interesting smells from the various vendors selling their wares until we reach our destination. A modest shop run by one woman, it’s definitely not the spa experience you would get in the States, but we aren’t paying top dollar either, so we embrace it.

With someone already in the midst of her facial, we have to wait. I decide to hobble down a few stalls to a woman who does hair to get a hair wash and blow out. The thing I love about hair washes here is that you get a really nice head massage while she washes your hair. Lately, showering poses its challenges, so not having to wash my own hair is a plus! After my wash, she blow dries it straight, making me realize just how long my hair really is. 🙂


It was finally time for my facial! Laying back, I close my eyes while she does her magic. She follows a regiment of massaging various soaps and mild exfoliators onto my face in circular, upward motions, sponging my face clean between each different cleaner.


My favorite part, mainly because I find it so interesting, is when she uses a flat piece of wood (I think? It might be bone…who knows?) to try and smooth out my wrinkles. She uses it to massage my face, in upward motions of course, to eliminate the creases. Another thing she does is try to help define my cheekbones by using the tool to go around my cheekbones a few times. I don’t actually think this in any way smoothes or eliminates my wrinkles, but the fact that she believes it does makes me love it. Lastly, she massages a really nice cream into my skin, which leaves me with a slight glow.

There are some definite perks to living in Thailand! Kinda loving these two today. 🙂

 

Can I just go back now?

Paris is on my mind. I feel compelled to go back, and sooner rather than later. I think it’s a combination of creating my Year in Photos slice, which had lots of Paris pictures, and reading a fellow slicer‘s posts about life in France. Instead of working on my reports, which are due tonight, I’ve been researching all the best foods to eat while in Paris and using Skyscanner.com to look up ticket prices to CDG. Oh man…I’m jonesing for some Paris time!

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Paris was never really on my radar prior to my trip last year. I thought it could never live up to the hype. That it was highly overrated. A tourist trap of the extreme. Boy, was I wrong! Despite only being in Paris for 3.5 days, not to mention the fact that it was cold and rainy most of the time, I fell in love with the city of love. ❤

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It has all of my favorite things I look for in a place to visit. It’s a foodie’s haven, with more food to possibly try than time in which to do it. Full of culture, there are jaw-dropping historical monuments to visit (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur to name a few), as well as museums with world-renowned artwork. My all-time favorite museum is The Lourve. I could meander its maze of hallways for days and never tire. There’s something indescribable about that place. And it’s charm…Paris has charm for days! Every corner you turn is just so damn picturesque that you can’t stand it.

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I’ve been thinking of a few things I’d love to do on my return trip to Paris, a Paris bucket list if you will.

  • Walk up the Eiffel Tower. Last time I took the elevator, but I think I’d like to walk up next time.
  • Eat a picnic lunch of a crusty baguette, good cheese, luxurious butter, olives, roasted veggies, grapes, and macarons from Laduree for dessert in Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Have breakfast at Angelina’s at least once, but knowing me, I’d go there a couple of times. It’s just one of those iconic places you can’t miss.
  • Spend some time alone sitting at a small, quaint cafe, preferably overlooking the Seine, at an outdoor table with a large mug of warm tea, a buttery, flaky croissant, and my writer’s notebook, just observing the city pass by, jotting down ideas, observations, and musings.
  • Eat my way through this gastronomical city, mapping out my days’ activities based on where I want to eat. I want to have a plan so I can get in all the yummy foods I’ve read about, but I’ll also leave room for spontaneity, as I know hidden gems will pop up that I just have to try!
  • Get to The Lourve early, wandering my way through at my own slow pace, savoring the magic of this place. My writer’s notebook in tow, I just know I’ll stop and sit a while in front of one of my favorite pieces of art and write.
  • Take more photos, focusing in on the little details of this beautiful, charming city.
  • Get lost. I love getting lost in a new city…you never know what you’ll find!

With that…who wants to take a trip to Paris with me? 🙂

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Lost in the Medina

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Morocco is one of those one-in-a-lifetime places that most people dream about visiting, but rarely do. I was fortunate enough to live out this dream a few months ago.

Much like my typical approach to traveling, I didn’t research a ton about Morocco, deciding instead to experience it in the moment. What I did research was the food. As a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s one of my must-do’s before visiting a new place.

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Our first stop in Morocco was Fes, where the best thing to do is get lost in the maze of twists and turns called the medina. Wandering through the medina is an assault on the senses. Colorful fabrics, pottery, and paintings fight for your attention, while smells linger long after you’ve passed by, tempting you to come and have a taste. Historical treasures hide among stalls upon stalls of wares, inviting you to explore.

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As I weaved my way down the narrow alleyways between throngs of people, I found myself thinking that it couldn’t get any better, only to find out that, yes, it can. An internal battle ensued between wanting to soak it all in, experiencing it in real time and taking a photo of every beautiful and interesting thing that I encountered.

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My favorite experiences in Fes involved interacting with the locals. Meeting new people from a different culture is always interesting and fun. On one such occasion, we wandered into an art gallery tucked down a tiny alley off the main thoroughfare. Inside, we met the most colorful character imaginable. The artist, an older man in his sixties, was so full of life and personality! Despite the language barrier, he made us laugh til our sides hurt. He repeatedly said, in the deepest voice he could muster, “I’m da BOSS!” while beating his chest and doing some karate moves. During our negotiations, the faces he made were priceless, too.

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Another day we found an embroidery shop that featured hand-embroidered cloth, such as pillow cases, table cloths, napkins, etc. We even got to watch the ladies working. Seeing the delicate work that went into each piece proved that it was truly a work of art. A great find was a shop that specialized in local, organic argan oils and clay masks. The ladies educated us on the benefits of argan oil for your skin and showed us how the oil is extracted from the nut.

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Tucked away in the medina is Cafe Clock, one of our favorite places to eat, whose ambiance is second to none. It’s worth climbing the 4 flights of stairs to the top to enjoy dinner on the terrace, high above the medina below. Their menu features local Moroccan favorites as well as Western dishes. It’s vegetarian friendly, and the food and service are both top-notch. A real treat is the iced lemon tea, which is more like a tea slushy. My favorite meal was the aubergine and goat cheese quiche with salad and potato wedges. They also do a killer cooking class, which I highly recommend checking out!

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A trip to Morocco would be remiss unless you

try the mint tea. Consisting of green tea, loads of fresh mint leaves, and sugar (and sugar and sugar), it’s a distinctly sweet, fresh taste that isn’t easily forgotten. Mint tea is typically served hot and in a clear glass, and can literally be found everywhere. Most shops will even offer it for free if you have been shopping there a while.

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My food research yielded a gem that I thought would be impossible to find, but as luck would have it, I stumbled upon it, and I’m glad I did! I read about this man who sells 2 Dirham (20 cents) cookies called macarons, which are large, lightly browned cookies with a slightly crunchy outside and a chewy inside. They were described as the best peanut buttery-tasting cookie ever, and that description is dead on! I was waiting outside of a shop for my friends, when this guy walked by with a tray of cookies on his head. He was shouting “Two Dirham!” as he went by, and it wasn’t until he had passed me up that it dawned on me. Cookies for 2 Dirham! That must be the guy! I caught up with him and bought 3 cookies, one for each of us. After one bite, I was in heaven. I went back to buy a dozen more for us to munch on throughout our time in Morocco. What I’d give for another one of those…

I could seriously devote an entire blog post to all the delicious food I had in Morocco…next time!

Amsterdam in a Weekend

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Can I just tell you how much I love Amsterdam? Like I’ve been back a few days, but I’m still on a high from the loveliness that I experienced love. Like I wanna pack up and move there right now love. Like I can’t stop talking about how amazing it was love. Seriously…when can I move there?

Last Thursday, I headed to Amsterdam for a work conference, and decided to stay the weekend. It was a last minute trip, so I didn’t really have time to look into what I would see or do, nor have I ever really given much thought to traveling to Amsterdam. It was one of those “if I go, I go. If I don’t, I don’t.” situations for me. The only thing I had really heard about it was that you could do drugs there. Well, that’s not appealing to me at all, so I didn’t think much about it. Boy was I wrong! There’s so much more to Amsterdam that the drugs and the Red Light District!

My favorite things about Amsterdam can be summed up in these categories: Bikes, Food, Cheese (yes, I realize it’s food, but let’s be honest, it really needs its own category), Canals, Flowers, and Architecture.

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Bikes. First of all, they’re everywhere! All around town, you can find them chained to bridges and fences, crammed into parking lots (just for bikes), crowding sidewalks, and of course, being ridden. I love their sturdy design and the front apparatus for attaching all sorts of baskets. There are separate bike lanes on all roads, and they always have the right-of-way. I would be in heaven here!

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Food. OMG! If you are a foodie, Amsterdam is for you! I have to go back just for the sheer fact that I didn’t get to try all the foods I wanted to with the limited time I had. Not only can you get amazing cuisine from around the world (I had some pretty bad ass Thai food!), you can get some local delicacies only found in Holland! Two of my favorites were the poffertjes, pillowy little pancakes that are tasty with just a touch of butter and powdered sugar, and the most delicious cookie I’ve ever had, a double-chocolate confection that, when broken in half, reveals a melted white chocolate center. Both are pictured above. Apologies if your mouth is watering now.

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Cheese. Seriously, this was one of the highlights of my trip! I love good cheese, and I did not come across a cheese I didn’t like while I was there. In addition to my cheese plate for dinner, I visited the cheese shop three times to sample and purchase the variety of cheeses and sauces you see above. I brought home a spicy chili gouda, pesto gouda, 6 month and 12 month goat cheese, 4 month and 24 month gouda, apple cinnamon gouda, cranberry gouda, Maxima, and Old Amsterdam cheese. Additionally, I picked up some whole grain mustard, balsamic mustard, and pomegranate jam to go along with them. I cannot wait to break into them! Yumm!

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Canals. Who doesn’t love the novelty of beautiful canals running through the city? Amsterdam’s canals reminded me of Venice. I didn’t have time to take a cruise around in a boat, but next time, I’m definitely going to do it!

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Flowers. I missed tulip season by a few weeks, but that didn’t matter, flowers were everywhere! Beautiful blooms dotted the city in planters, vases, flower shop stalls, gardens, and balconies. The vibrant colors and gorgeous varieties caught my eye everywhere I went!

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Architecture. The old European feel of the city came through in the architecture. I loved the ornate designs on the old churches, the rows of townhouses and shops that lined the canals, and even the occasional leaning building. Amsterdam is definitely charming!

Overall, I highly recommend putting Amsterdam on your list! This beautiful, surprising city has catapulted to my top 5 cities around the world!

Unexpected Bump in the Road

If you know me or read my blog, you know I love to travel. Let’s be real…I live for it. Traveling is this amazingly fun adventure where you get to explore new places you’ve never been or familiar places with a different perspective. With travel comes adventure, but not always the kind you are looking for.

Case in point: Last Thursday my friend Callie and I departed for our trip to Pisa and Florence for the long weekend. We’ve had this trip planned for months. And by planned, I mean we bought our airplane tickets in December. A couple of weeks ago we booked our accommodation, too. We flew in and out of Pisa, but decided to spend the majority of our time in Florence because it’s much cooler, plus it has so much more to do. Our time in Pisa was pretty much spent on the Leaning Tower and pizza. I mean, what else do you need?

Anyhow, we arrived in Pisa later than expected due to flight delays. We hopped in a cab and headed to our hotel, this cute little B&B a stone’s throw from the tower. After being dropped off, we realized the hotel was closed. As in the door was locked, lights were out, no one was there to check us in closed. Cold, tired, and ready to crawl into our beds, we began to wonder what we should do. Of course, our phones don’t work in Italy, there was no free wifi in the random alley we happened to be in, and it was 11:30 pm, so Pisa was pretty deserted. The sign on the door said “For check in after 11pm or for emergencies, call {this number}.” That’d be cool…if we had a phone.

Selfie with the hotel…proof that we were there!

Being the resourceful people that we are, we noticed a young woman looking out of her open window about 3 stories up in the building across the alley. “Hello!” we called, “Can you help us?”

“Yeah, what do you need?” She speaks English! I thought.

“We booked this hotel for the night, but they are closed. We need to call them, but don’t have a phone. Could you call the number for us?”

After relaying the number to her, she tried twice, but no one answered. So much for emergencies.

At that point, she told us she thought she knew the building code. We tried the code she gave us several times to no avail. At that point, I was cold and frustrated and didn’t want to wait around or sleep outside, so I made the executive decision to find a new hotel. Not knowing our way around Pisa, we waited on a cab to pass by and take us to a nearby place. Luckily, it didn’t take too long. The first place we were taken was a bit bleh and not the cleanest place ever. Moving on, we decided to take the taxi driver’s recommendation of The Tower Plaza, the best hotel in town. It was definitely nice– and expensive! Oh well, at midnight, after working all day and traveling all night, I was willing to fork over the 100 Euros for a warm shower and a clean, comfy bed.

Once in the hotel room, Callie signed onto wifi and checked her email. Whaddya know, the hotel had sent her an email to explain that late check in, which is any time after 11:00 pm, means that you have to have a code to get in the door (which was included in the email). The email was sent at 10:54 pm. 10:54 pm. Six minutes before check in ended. At 10:54 pm, we were getting off the airplane, getting our bags, and making our way to the taxi rank. How in the heck is that an appropriate length of time for us to get that information? Sheesh! Oh well, we had already checked in, paid for the night, and were in our pjs. We decided to rest and deal with it the next day.

The next day was glorious. The sun was shining, yet the air was cool. We had a nice walk to the Leaning Tower, took way too many selfies and touristy poses with silly faces, and had the most delicious salad, pizza, and gelato for lunch. 

Come on…how delicious does that look?!?

After that, we walked over to the first hotel to explain the situation and ask for a refund. After much cajoling on our parts, Juliano, the front desk clerk, caved. Callie’s card would be refunded. Even though it took a while to convince him, it was a victory for us!

This was just the first of many bumps we would encounter during our 4-day weekend in Italy. Stay tuned for the other little adventures!

Layover in Paris #sol16 28 of 31

 

Today’s journey home, from Dakar, Senegal to Tirana, Albania, was a long one! We left at 1:00am Dakar time and flew to Paris, then to Rome, and then to Tirana. The whole trip was over 18 hours. But…what made the journey so much better was my layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. No, it wasn’t long enough for us to go into Paris. I wish! What made it so special was that I got to catch up with a good friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since departing Shanghai this past summer. Heather was on her way to Mauritania to begin a 2.5 month substitute teaching position, and just so happened to land in Paris 15 minutes before I did in the same terminal. Now that’s a coincidence, huh? Well, naturally, once we figured this out, we made plans to meet up in the terminal before moving onto our connecting flights.

I was coming down the escalator when I saw her. Of course, we both screeched, because that’s what you do when you see a friend you haven’t seen in forever! We hugged, and then sat down on a nearby bench to “speed catch-up.” It’s like speed dating, only instead of getting to know someone, you trade highlights of your life since you last saw one another. Sure, we keep up on social media and chat using WeChat, but that doesn’t replace really chatting, that fluidity you get in face-to-face talks can’t be matched by typing or even Skyping. All too soon, our chat came to an end, as we watched the clock and knew we needed to give each other time for our connections. The best part of our meet up is that Heather decided to come visit me in Albania this June once her contract is over. We had plans to have her come last August, but circumstances and timing prevented that from happening. I’m so stoked that she’ll be my first visitor! Here she is…how cute is she?!? 🙂

After running into Heather, Sally and I made our obligatory Starbucks run. I had my usual Iced Chai Tea Latte and a blueberry muffin. She had a Java Chip Frappaccino. We had to go through security and customs, exit the terminal, and hike to another terminal, but when you are Starbucks-deprived, you’ll go to great lengths to get it! It was yummy!

Our last stop before boarding was Laduree for some of the best macaroons in Paris. When in Paris, you must Laduree! Today’s flavors were salted caramel, raspberry, pistachio, praline, and chocolate passionfruit. The salted caramel and raspberry are my favorites, but the other flavors are new to me. I can’t wait to try them! If you’re ever in Paris (or even just the airport), do stop in and pick up a few. You won’t be sad you did!