on the bucket list

My travel bucket list will always be endless, but here are a few places that I’ve seen around recently and really hope to visit sometime in the near future:

Cape Coast Castle, Ghana

baec33c5881737f59003b6b466d0579d

If I’m being honest, I found out about this on a Snapchat story by DailyMail about Steve Harvey’s trip here. In the photos and videos, he looks barely recognizable, but also completely distraught from seeing the castle in real life. Known as the “gate of no return,” the castle was a slave trade hub where most slaves lived for months before leaving African soil for the last time, dragged off into a nonexistence by white slave traders. It’s alarming to me how embedded slavery is in our history but how we never tackle it as deeply as we should. I feel like for all the attention we give to horrors like the Holocaust we must give to slavery as well, if not more. If anything, I am surprised at myself for not having known about this earlier.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

baobabs.jpg.CROP.promo-large2
Photo via Slate

Situated between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in western Madagascar, the Avenue of the Baobabs is a line of Grandidier baobab trees. They are what’s left of what used to be a huge forest of them. Many of them are over 800 years old. It’s intriguing to me simply because it’s something you can’t find anywhere else, as is the same as much of Madagascar: 90% of its wildlife is only found in its country. Seeing anything that large and looming is sure to be awe-inspiring.

Caño Cristales River, Baru, Colombia

CAÑO_CRISTALES_–_LOS_OCHOS_01-2-2
Photo via Atlas Obscura

There is nowhere else in the world where a river like the Caño Cristales can be seen. Dubbed by some as the most beautiful river in the world, the River of Five Colors runs through the province of Meta in central Colombia, and is a part of the Serranía de la Macarena national park. For specific months in the year, the river shines red, yellow, green, blue and black as a result of the reproductive process of certain aquatic plants in the river. In the surrounding park, you can also find turtles, aquinas and iguanas. The river has been protected by the local tourism board, and has reignited itself as a tourist destination after years as a dangerous region controlled by guerillas.

Greenland

denmark-greenland-tasiilaq
Photo from Planetware

I have no specific places for this one, but just the country (or territory) in general. Having visited Denmark, Finland and Sweden a few years before, I’ve gotten an overall glimpse at Scandinavia, but those experiences have been more focused on their major cities. My trips to Iceland and Norway this summer (and Denmark again), the former especially, gave me a more in-depth look at its isolated and unique environment. Its amalgamation of crazy natural occurrences, from glaciers to fjords to waterfalls, never fail to stun.

The local culture of these places take on a more understated, minimal manner that you only notice well into the trip or once you’ve left, whether it’s the delicate (but never boring) seafood cuisine, austere architecture, boating traditions and harbors, or quiet hospitality. In my mind, Greenland takes these a step further. While Iceland is only home to 300,000 people, Greenland only has 50,000 (!) across a landmass roughly the size of Mexico. I’d love to explore its main cities like Nuuk and Ilulissat, but also its glaciers, icebergs, fjords, as well as scientific centers from WWII, the Cold War, and the Soviet era. More unique experiences include dog sledding, experiencing Inuit culture, and seeing the Northern lights.

Advertisements

porto by night

 

jpeg image-0f78bb10de77-16

 

 

jpeg image-0f78bb10de77-19

 

Porto Portugal Europe travel summer winter ribeira

 

porto from above

Travel to Porto, Portugal in the winter on the Dom Luis I Bridge. europe

Travel to Porto, Portugal in the winter on the Dom Luis I Bridge.

The view of the city from above is one of the reasons why I fell in love with Porto. From the Dom Luis I Bridge you get an unblocked view of the city and its mix of medieval and red-roofed architecture. We went over the bridge three times, twice by foot and once by tram, and each time it was right before sunset when the city had a haze over it. It was a great time to take in the view, talk to some strangers, and listen to the music flowing from the boardwalk below.

Travel to Porto, Portugal in the winter on the Dom Luis I Bridge. europe

jpeg image-08880f637d3d-5

jpeg image-44b3dde192f4-5

Travel to Porto, Portugal in the winter on the Dom Luis I Bridge. europe

jpeg image-08880f637d3d-3

These next two photos are of Porto from Gaia, which you can reach from across the bridge. It’s probably one of the best views of the city, although Gaia itself isn’t as appealing.

jpeg image-08880f637d3d-2

Travel to Porto, Portugal in the winter on the Dom Luis I Bridge. europe

vienna, austria

Vienna is…

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

….a Baroque wonderland

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

…..gorgeous winding streets

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

…academies that look like opera houses

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

JPEG image-35F50C878B82-3

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

 

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

 

Summer travel in the city of Vienna, Austria

Vienna Austria Europe travel summer city palace streets

my pre-flight routine

The week before

I’m an inherently high-maintenance gal, no thanks to my great genetics that have forced me to wear night contacts since third grade, slather on skin products that probably don’t do anything to fix my acne, take the occasional Claritin, and get sick about 15 times a year…..

That being said, there are a lot of important things I need on my person at all times. This means big bottles of makeup remover, contact solution, and moisturizer all have to fit into my backpack or my carryon. I usually order travel-size contact solution on Amazon because it’s a lot cheaper and then squeeze other things into smaller bottles (from Muji or CVS). I don’t know what I would do if my luggage got lost and I didn’t have access to these things.

The day before

Always check-in to your flight! I used to not do this but it has changed my life. It’s so much faster, especially if you don’t have luggage to check in, and you also get to choose the aisle seat and make your life 10x easier.

I make a huge personal fuss about greasy hair on the plane, having to stare at ugly nails, and feeling gross in general, even if those things don’t bother me much on regular days. If I’m in China, where services are cheap, I’ll get these things out of the way so I don’t have to think about them on the plane or on the road.

The day before a flight I get my hair done so that I get through the flight and maybe a day or two of the trip with perfect (clean) hair. And I’m honestly too tired on those first days to wash my hair anyway. It saves time and energy and makes you feel a lot better on the plane. Getting my nails done is the same, and it’s nice to have them done well for the next week or two.

The minutes before the flight

Yes, I wear makeup on the plane. I’m not at that stage of self-confidence or skin where I can just waddle onto a plane with all eyes on me and feel fine. For short flights, I just leave it on the entire time. For longer ones, I hog the plane bathroom for a good 15 minutes (sorry), take it all off and do an extra hydrating skin-care routine, and then brace for the angry stares I get when I exit. Then two hours before the flight lands, I’ll go back in and put my makeup all on again. It sounds tedious, but getting up and walking is a blessing on a 14-hour flight.

I grab all the fruit I can in the stores around my gate. Apples or fruit cups are great. I do this every single time, even if I don’t always eat them on the plane. I don’t really mind airplane food, and if it’s bad I just stick it out, so I rarely buy full meals to replace flight meals. I will, however, always buy a bottle of water because flight attendants are the hardest to get a hold of for a dumb cup of water on the plane.

I also make sure I have all my good playlists on Spotify downloaded. This last flight I had to go all 14 hours without this one song I’d been addicted to for the past week. It sucked.

I’ll pee 5 minutes before boarding time so when I come out the line is just starting. It’s not the most important to get onto the plane first, but getting a good spot to store your carryons is, and it also helps avoid finding someone already in your seat because they want to switch seats with you.

athens, greece

View of the city of Athens architecture and buildings on a European vacation sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

View of the city of Athens architecture and buildings on a European vacation sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

View of the city of Athens architecture and buildings on a European vacation sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

View of the city of Athens architecture and buildings on a European vacation sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

View of the city of Athens architecture and buildings on a European vacation sunset sunrise skyline

athens greece europe mediterranean greek travel summer city vacation athena athina ocean lake boats yacht sunset sunrise skyline

weekend in montreal

montreal canada travel montréal old port winter north america

 

 

Lunch: Les Enfants Terribles; penthouse of one of the tallest buildings in Montreal; viewing terrace but not good when it’s foggy out. Evidently

 

 

 

JPEG image-0E616BFA008C-5

 

montreal canada travel montréal old port winter north america

 

Bar: Big in Japan, $16 drinks

Club: La Vôute; free entry, $12 drinks, Old Port

Vintage shopping: Empire Exchange, Citizen Vintage, Sachika (more expensive); all on Saint Laurent Boulevard

crete, greece | κρητη

 

crete greece santorini mykonos travel rethymno chania heraklion europe

My Greek friend told me the other day that Cretans are crazy. “You’ll notice if you ever, like, talk to one,” she told me. As our first stop in Greece, I have to say I couldn’t tell the difference, but I did get the sense from our first taxi drive who drove so haphazardly we I thought we’d fly off the edge of the hills overlooking the Mediterranean.

Crete is Greece’s largest island, marked by historical landmarks like the ruins of the Minaon civilization, and often overshadowed by its touristy counterparts, Santorini and Mykonos. Crete is easily as far from what you’d picture of Greece based on Instagram thank you’d think (as is the rest of Greece, and Athens especially).

crete greece santorini mykonos travel rethymno chania heraklion europe

arrival

The day we arrived, Crete was recovering from a sweep of wildfires that had killed dozens of people. We flew in on a red-eye from Shanghai, through a transfer at Abu Dhabi, before taking the shakiest Sky Express flight to Crete. We flew from Shanghai to Athens via Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airlines. I got to listen to the fusha playing over the Etihad speakers and was forced to eat the weird mixture of Chinese ramen noodles and a ham sandwich they fed us.

I came down with something on the flight, and so I spent that first great (great) day withering in bed while my parents strolled around the city. Our hotel was perched in the middle of one of Heraklion’s many winding hills, in the center of the capital city with everything important within walking distance, but because I was sick, we took a cab, fixed the price, and had the driver drive us too all of the important sites.

rethymno

We ended up choosing three cities to visit in Crete: Heraklion, where we were staying, and then Rethymno, and Chania, both reachable by a single train that costs a few euros. In simplicity, Heraklion is a port city, Rethymno was marked by a fortress overlooking the city, and Chania has the most beautiful, bustling boardwalk I’ve ever seen.

On this fateful day I decided to forget to put on sunscreen and agree to an hour-long walk at noon. And so today, five months later, I still tan lines from the dress I wore that day. On our walk up to the Fortezza of Rethymno I saw no less than 5 groups of already-burnt Italian grandmas sunbathing in tube floats. The fortress was built by Venetians, conquered by the Ottomans, and then obliterated in World War II (except for a few buildings. It was essentially patches of dead grass surrounded by old walls.

We had a quick lunch at a mom-and-pop shop and explored its colorful winding streets.

chania

Chania (pronounced kheni-YA, not chaneeya, not khaniya, because of the accent on the a in Greek), It might have something to do with the fact that we got there at sunset. We made our way through dozens of shops and maitre-ds shouting “ni hao” at us to get to to the promenade. With the backdrop of the Mediterranean sunset and the Chanian lighthouse in the distance, we made our way around the half-circle of shops and buildings, watched fishermen fish, and children dip their toes in the water. We sat down to dinner at a restaurant facing the water and I can tell you there’s no better sight.

heraklion

We circled our back to Heraklion on the last day to see the historical sites in the capital. At Knossos Palace, we saw the ruins of the Minoan civilization (where the Minotaur legend comes from, who lived in the Labyrinth that King Minos created), which was later absorbed by the Mycenaean civilization. In the palace you’ll find the first working toilet, used by a queen at one point. The rest of the excavations can be found in the Heraklion Archaelogical Museum.

My two biggest takeaways from Crete: Chania, as with the other places, is a must-see in Greece, and that the chicken I had at the Aquila Atlantis Hotel is the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had, hands-down.

8/20 In between places

coffee train europe ice rail eurorail europass travel reading books

Fast forward a few days to today and I am sitting on an ICE train running from Frankfurt to Brussels. This morning, my family and I hustled from our hotel to the Frankfurt a.M. train station next door, heading out at 9:30 am, which is usually too early for me, but is now part of a routine I’ve become accustomed to in the past few weeks, away from a lazy summer at home.

In the station I buy one-euro coffee, a price that completely shocks me, given we’re in Europe and things are notoriously expensive. I make my way to a bookstore in search for a language book on German, something I try to do in every country. Last week, after 10 days in Greece, I had learned how to read Greek pretty fast, training myself by repeating the words off every single sign we drove past, and at the Cretan airport I picked up a book on Greek along with a Nikos Kazantzakis book after asking a worker which of his books was most famous. (I’m also have to admit I had to Google how to spell his name.) In Frankfurt, I leave the bookstore with a Noam Chomsky book instead and make a rush spring for the platform in the skylighted train station, in a place I would not guess is the most apologetic on latecomers. I blurt a danke shun to the cashier after taking my receipt, feeling bad for being that foreigner that only knows English.

The train drives incredibly fast and shaky, which does not align with the perfect image I have attained of Germany. As I write this, a girl walking in the aisle of the car has collapsed into the lap of a stranger as the train shakes. People are staring at my computer stickers, which are pretty political, and I wonder if they agree or disagree. I’ve read a chapter of the Chomsky book, called Who Rules the World?, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attempt to get my mom to read it but she rejects it. We always butt heads on the issue.

Yesterday, we left our Eastern Europe tour, bidding farewell to people we had only known for 8 days and gotten to know well in the last 3. We had gotten to know each other weirdly well, however, after being stuck on a single bus together for days on end, driving 7+ hours a day through six countries. It has always been fascinating to me how tours take complete strangers, force them together 24/7 and then leave them with only Wechat contacts to remember, but we’ve done dozens of these tours and if you’re lucky enough, you leave with even just one friend for a lifetime. I can’t imagine being a tour guide, having to lead and befriend groups and groups of people and part ways with each at the end of each week.

poland eastern europe czechia countryside travel

We are headed to Brussels now. Belgium is the last stop on our three-week trip and I can’t help but feel a bit of post-travel depression, if I can put it that way. In a few days we fly back to Shanghai and I return back to reality, flying again a week later to New York, where I start another year of college. My mind gets stuck in moments of routine and likes to mistake change as a bad thing, even though travel is the real change from reality – how I would love to spend each day of the rest of my life in a foreign place with only the blank slate of a day to fill with new cultures and friends.
czechia poland eastern europe travel

There are some small things I have become enchanted by these past few days, in which I have entered a new city almost every few hours. Most things are the same about visiting new places – I still enjoy cliché landmarks, the must-sees of a country, and being lectured on the history of something that most find boring, and I adore visiting castles and palaces of regimes long past.

But as we drove past miles and miles of European countryside, through land far from postcard-ready cities, on a drive we had begun at the break of dawn that day, I could never bring myself to close my eyes and rest when I faced so much geographical novelty outside the bus window.

There’s something refreshingly captivating from the beauty of something not calling to be seen. Between capital cities was an endless slate of bucolic landscapes: cows grazing the Hungarian countryside; clusters of Greek villages nestled in mountains; Austrian locals enjoying their 8 am on their front porch; an old Polish lady fixing her plants in a privacy that our bus inadvertently breaks when we pass by.

It hit me like a brick how stunning these places were without calling for that attention. It was refreshing to be in awe of something you aren’t prepared for. These places were not built for swathes of tourists to come click away and flit away in. In the removed-ness of these pastoral hideaways were a kind of bliss you rarely find after chasing sight after sight.

It is also in these moments where I find some of the most true of human connections. Not conversations with waiters or strangers on the street. Rather, glimpses of people in their most raw form, an acknowledgement of each other, even if only for a split-second, as your lives intersect in that flitting moment. When the Austrian locals smiled at me as our bus rumbled by their village, they were two seconds of my morning, as I was of theirs, as they sipped away at coffee in their pajamas.

And it isn’t only the countryside where you find these moments. In the crowded Old Town Square of Prague, I caught a glimpse of a Czech man poking his head out of one of the beautiful Baroque-style buildings adorning the Old Town Square, watching with a smile upon his face at the tourists enjoy street performances below. It’s a glimpse of reality in the few seconds that our paths cross, in the midst of rushing to see as much of what we’re told we need to see.

I have heard numerous people online complain that travel in Eastern Europe is tough because very few locals speak English. It is an age-old complaint that I see as the antithesis of wandering out of your home country in the first place: the place you visit is not there to be catered to you. In eight days, we visited Germany, Czechia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. In a place like Europe, traveling between a space that would take you across only a few states in America instead takes you across crossing into entirely new countries, throwing you amidst new populations you can only communicate the word “toilet?” to. It’s the beauty of the foreign that should make you want to learn more. In the case of Europe, it’s encouraging to see how strongly local cultures still stand even as the world globalizes, Europe especially, into one. A language distinction should be seen as a barrier, when you are traveling especially, but rather as a chance to see that the beauty of human connection enables us to communicate beyond the spoken.

Exploring Cave Cities in Cappadocia

Processed with VSCO with e3 preset

I forget the exact order of things that we did in Cappadocia, but at some point on our trip we were driven to Göreme National Park. It spans a region bounded by extinct volcanoes and is covered with rock formations, valleys and cave-dwelling complexes that make up the region’s famed landscape.

Continue reading “Exploring Cave Cities in Cappadocia”