Tag Archives: city_view

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., cont’d

Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.

I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.

To begin, skydiving.  You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:

Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.

B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.

Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)

B: (worried silence)

Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.

B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”

Me: (worried silence)

B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!

Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.

After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.

As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.

Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.

After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.

Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).

Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.

Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.

We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.

Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.

After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.

Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.

The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.

From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.

But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.

Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!

Wild Boar Polenta
One of the interesting things about Orfeo, in addition to the food, was the art. All of the art in the restaurant is a derivative of a single painting. For instance, in the picture below, the decor along the wall is enlarged pieces of the painting.

The second stop was a kitchen table at Serious Pie for some of the best pizza in Seattle

Then it was Cutter’s Crab House for crab stuffed prawns

And then La Buona Tavola, aka the truffle store, aka the most delicious place on earth

Then it was on to the Steelhead Diner for to-die-for razor clam chowder

And we still weren’t finished. Our next to last stop was Von’s Gustrobistro, famous for their collection of well over 1,000 spirits and their sourdough based breads and pasta
Here we were treated to an unbelievably delicious salmon sourdough pasta
The final stop of the walking tour was the iconic Fran’s Chocolates where we got to enjoy a variety of chocolate tastings that beautifully rounded out the tour

Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.

We started with sourdough bread with mozzarella
This time, we ordered the pork belly and brussel sprout pasta
The real highlight was the drinks. With fantastic ingredients and unique presentations, the drinks were hard to beat.

For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625

Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.

After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.

It is hard to beat this view of Seattle at night

It was one of my favorite days ever.

Oh, and my new FitBit record

Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).

Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.

We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!

And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.

I love this picture of Brandon

Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.

But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Reykjavik

I knew I wanted to go to Iceland. And I knew I wanted to see the northern lights. Like really wanted to see the northern lights. So, Iceland in winter it would be. After doing some research I settled on the small group tour Northern Lights in Style. Booked through Nordic Saga, the tour was operated by the large Icelandic tour company Guðmundur Jónasson Travel. The 6 day, 5 night tour seemed to offer everything I was looking for – nice hotels; the opportunity to try great, local food; someone to drive me around the icy roads of Iceland; the opportunity to see the northern lights; and an itinerary packed with seemingly amazing things. I will talk more about the specifics of the tour itself in a later post, but for now, booking this tour is how I ended up in a cold and snowy Reykjavik on a Sunday morning in February.

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. In a country with a population of approximately 330,000, you can imagine that despite being the capital and the area in which the majority of Icelanders live, it is not a particularly large city. What it lacked in size, it more than made up for in color and character.

DSC02858

As excited as I was about being in Iceland, after an overnight flight and a long day of travel, I needed all of the help I could get to stay awake.

Before the 8 hour flight from Seattle
Before the 8 hour flight from Seattle
After the 8 hour flight from Seattle. And the 45 minute Flybus transfer to the Reykjavik bus terminal. And taking a second bus to my hotel. And walking to breakfast. Travel is not glamorous.
After the 8 hour flight from Seattle. And the 45 minute Flybus transfer to the Reykjavik bus terminal. And taking a second bus to my hotel. And walking to breakfast. Travel is not always ever glamorous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dropping off my bags at my hotel, I began to carefully tread the ice-covered sidewalks of the city. I marveled at the incredible sunrise as I made my way toward one of the city’s best bakeries. And toward coffee.

IMG_9404

IMG_9405

DSC02766

DSC02767

DSC02769After savoring a croissant, skyr, and, yes, coffee at Bakari Sandholt, I spent the morning walking around the city.

DSC02770

DSC02776

DSC02772

I could say that I had some super-specific plan to fit in as many of the city sites as possible into one day. Because I’m the type of person who usually has some super-specific plan. The reality however, is that I simply wanted to stay upright. Cold air and walking in combination with coffee seemed to do the trick for much of the day.

DSC02781

DSC02786

DSC02784

DSC02783

DSC02836

DSC02838

Using this map, I found my way to the city pond. Mostly frozen over, the edge of the pond was warmed for the geese and ducks who call the pond home year round.

DSC02788

DSC02791

DSC02789

When I was not simply enjoying the charming city of Reykjavik, I was probably shopping. I would not have much time in the city during this trip, so I made the most of my day Reykjavik even though many of the shops were closed because it was Sunday. I rambled along the shopping streets of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur. At the top of Skólavörðustígur sits the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, which I would get to explore further the following day. Side note: I would seriously love to hear how you are pronouncing the names of places in your head as you read them. Me? It sounds something like La*mumble,mumble* and Sko-blah-blah-blah and Hallawhattheheck? But maybe that’s just me.

DSC02797

DSC02798

IMG_9421

I even found my way to the weekend flea market, Kolaportið.

DSC02830

DSC02834

DSC02832

Despite my most concerted efforts, I eventually could not resist the allure of an afternoon nap in my cozy hotel bed.

So tired
I was so very tired by this point in the day

Thankfully, I was still able to sleep that evening and be ready to meet my tour group the next morning. The day began with a city tour, including stops at Hallgrímskirkja and Perlan.

DSC02926
My transportation for the week.

The Hallgrímskirkja was designed to mimic the basalt columns that develop from cooling lava. The church is known for its unique design and the large pipe organ it contains.

DSC02855

DSC02897

DSC02856

DSC02857

There is a small fee to take the elevator to the top of the tower. It is well worth it for the unbeatable view of the city.

DSC02871

DSC02867

DSC02863

DSC02862

The design of the church is lovely in its simplicity.

DSC02878

DSC02880

DSC02879I even got all fancy and recorded the organ music, which you can listen to by clicking here: IMG_9455.MOV

One of the final stops before leaving the city was Perlan, or The Pearl. The building sits on a hillside and is visible throughout much of the city. The landmark building contains one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik, where I unfortunately did not get to eat, as well as an observation deck with a 360 degree view of the city.

DSC02902

DSC02916

DSC02914

DSC02909

DSC02905

DSC02904

DSC02903

A day and a half was not nearly enough time in Reykjavik, but I enjoyed every minute of the jet lagged and caffeine fueled time that I spent there. It was the perfect place to begin my exploration of Iceland before leaving the city behind in hopes of seeing the northern lights. Would I be successful in this endeavor? Stay tuned to find out!

 

A Wintery Week in Iceland: An Introduction

I have struggled with where to begin. I obviously have little difficulty writing at length about all kinds of things, travel being one of them, but something about this trip has left me at a loss for words. What I expected, what I hoped for, what happened –  I am struggling to express any of it.

But sometimes you just have to dive in. And hope that you can even begin to do justice to the experience.

Over the months that I planned the trip, I was frequently asked, “Why Iceland?” That’s a great question. Unfortunately my best answer was, “Ummm, because it seems awesome…”

From the moment I landed in the country on a dark, cold, Sunday morning, I knew my answer, while inadequate, was also replete with truth. Awesome it was, in the truest sense of the word. Almost immediately upon my arrival, as the sun began to slowly spread its color and warmth across the snowy landscape, I began to appreciate the magic of Iceland.

DSC02767

Beauty there is not fleeting. It is temporary, of course, as is all beauty, but it does not pass quickly. Iceland is a place where the sunrise lasts for hours rather than minutes, where waves crash relentlessly and endlessly against the rocky coastline, where mountains and glaciers experience the seemingly minutest of changes. It is a beauty meant to be savored.

DSC03071

DSC03679

DSC03564

At the same time, it is a land constantly in flux. A land that has been and continues to be shaped by water and wind and earthquakes and volcanoes. A powerful place that is continually changing. At any moment, the landscape could be violently and irrevocably altered by the forces of nature.

DSC02972

DSC03502

DSC03430

DSC03252

DSC03133

So that’s where I choose to begin. With beauty and change. With magnificence and power. And the hope that as I share more about Iceland in the upcoming weeks, I can even begin to communicate what an incredible place it is.

 

South Korea: Fueled by Coffee and Friendship Part II

This series of posts is pretty much all about what not to do while traveling. It’s generally not a great idea to plan a 72-hour trip to Asia from the US, especially when considering the 30+ hours of travel time. It’s probably not the smartest approach to drink large amounts of coffee just to stay upright and functional. And, although staying active in a new time zone is an important part of counteracting jet lag, going non-stop from 6 am until after midnight the day after you arrive in a new country, definitely not recommended. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

Coffee #5: My day started earlier than desired. I woke up around 1:30 am, again around 3:45 am, and couldn’t stay in bed a minute longer at 5 am.

What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can't go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.
What do you do when you wake up at 5 am and can’t go back to sleep? Drink a cup of coffee and FaceTime your boyfriend, for whom is it is 11 am of the previous day.

Shannon and I got an extra early start toward the Lotte Hotel where we were meeting for our all day DMZ tour. We had booked a tour through VIP travel. Tuesday through Friday, the tour offers hotel pickup, but on Saturdays the tour meets at a major Seoul hotel. Knowing we did not want to miss our 8 am tour time, we left extra early to allow ourselves plenty of time to navigate the subway system. Although what I discuss below will suggest otherwise, it is actually quite simple to get around Seoul. You can buy a reloadable T-card at a 7-11 or CU store and then add money to it at the readily available kiosks inside the stations. The card can be used in the subway, for taxis, buses, and other forms of transportation. Transportation is also affordable. The entire time I was there, I put 10,000 won (less than $10) on my T-card and spent another 5,000 won for the bus ride to the airport. Loading my T-card was one of the few times I needed cash, which I had withdrawn from the ATM at the airport the night before.

DSC01770

DSC01772

DSC01779But back to the story. Good thing we left early, because we apparently lost all ability to successfully function. We could not figure out how to buy a reloadable T-card, so purchased a single ride card. Which then stopped working, leaving me unable to exit the subway station. Shannon stood on the other side of the barrier as I, only mildly panicked, figured out how to buy another card. Which also did not work (which I later realized was probably because I had not used that card to enter the subway system). Through some combination of desperation and magical thinking, I managed to get my single ride card functioning again, just in time for us to walk very quickly to our next subway…as it pulled away. Despite the series of debacles, we managed to make it to the hotel (and then, of course, take the incorrect elevator) before finally making it to the check-in desk for the tour. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult.

DSC01783

The hotel was gorgeous!
The hotel was gorgeous!

The trouble we had navigating what is actually a rather straightforward subway system could only mean one thing, time for

Coffee #6: After checking in for the tour and being directed to the bus, we had 30 minutes to find the nearby Starbucks.

DSC01785

This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign.
This picture truly captures our feelings about the iconic and beautiful green sign. We both ordered venti toffee nut lattes.

DSC01789

 Now we are prepared to tour the DMZ.

IMG_8206

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a line running 155 miles east to west across Korea, dividing the peninsula in two. After a cease fire was signed in 1953 a line, referred to as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), was literally drawn across the country in the form of regularly placed markers. The DMZ is the area on either side of the MDL – 2 kilometers to the north and 2 kilometers to the south. With a few exceptions, this area is primarily uninhabited and makes for one heck of an interesting day tour, even if one has to submit one’s passport in advance of the tour and undergo multiple security screenings. On the South Korean side, there is a highly militarized area just south of the DMZ, called the Civilian Control Area, that is also generally inaccessible to the public.

Our first stop was Dora Observatory. Located on a mountain, the observatory offers a great viewpoint of areas within the DMZ, as well as the southern part of North Korea. For about 500 won (less than 50 cents), you can use binoculars to get an even better view.

IMG_8211

DSC01803

DSC01807

DSC01806

DSC01805

DSC01804

DSC01818

After getting an overview of the area above ground, we headed underground at the 3rd Tunnel. Opportunities to take pictures were limited to prior to entering the tunnel. It is one of the four discovered tunnels that were reportedly built by North Korea in order to infiltrate South Korea.

The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery, floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
The hard hats were not superfluous. While in the tunnel, the primary sounds were shoes squeaking on the wet, rubbery floor of the tunnel and hardhats hitting the very low ceilings. Even I had a couple close calls.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnels.
We took a very steep monorail down to where the tunnel began and could walk right to the edge of where it crossed into North Korea. It was hard not to imagine soldiers quietly marching through the tunnel.

IMG_8226

IMG_8236

IMG_8234

The next stop was Dorasan Station, the northernmost train stop in South Korea. For a brief period of time trains carried freight between the two sides of the peninsula. However, there have been no trains between the two countries since 2008. The station is eerily quiet and now serves almost exclusively as a tourist destination. To me, it also seemed to represent the conflicting and mutually held beliefs expressed throughout the tour: that North Korea is the enemy and yet that reunification is desired. It is certainly a complicated part of the world with no easy solutions.

DSC01824

DSC01839

DSC01838

DSC01832

DSC01829

DSC01825

Despite the smile on my face, by this point, I was dragging. I felt terrible. I was getting a headache and all I wanted was to take a nap. Thankfully, it was time for lunch. My vegetarian bibimbap was delicious, although rather hard to capture in a photo.

DSC01845

DSC01850

DSC01848

DSC01847

Shan's dish was some type of beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.
Shan’s dish was a beef stew of sorts with all kinds of veggies.

Despite the venti coffee earlier, not even lunch was sufficient to perk me up. So…

Coffee #7: My post-lunch coffee is a type of coffee that is popular in Korea. It was powdered coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one. Not my favorite, but it got the job done. As in, I no longer felt like I was going to die within the hour. Maybe by the end of the day, but at least not within the hour.

DSC01860

DSC01862

After lunch, our first stop was Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge, a spot where prisoners were exchanged after the cease fire. It now serves as a place to commemorate, and mourn, the lifelong separation that has occurred between family and friends since the peninsula was divided.

DSC01864

DSC01885

DSC01877

DSC01873

DSC01870

And then we got to the highlight of the day, entry into the Joint Security Area. This was the most intense and controlled aspect of the tour. With multiple passport checks and detailed instructions about what to do and not do, the tension at this point was palpable. The dress code was regulated, pictures could only be taken in certain spots and for a limited amount of time, there was no bending over or using hand gestures (I’ve never felt so worried about unconsciously fixing my hair in my entire life). All of that was worth it for the opportunity to actually put a foot into North Korea. The JSA includes a series of conference rooms literally divided down the middle across the MDL where delegates from the North and South occasionally meet.

DSC01887
The small concrete line in the ground between the two buildings is the line between the North and the South.

DSC01897

DSC01893

DSC01899

DSC01888

A North Korean soldier
A North Korean soldier

DSC01905

DSC01901
Our feet are in North Korea!!!
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn't get out of the bus because THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.
On the way out of the JSA, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. We couldn’t get out of the bus because (according to our tour guide) THERE COULD BE NORTH KOREAN SOLDIERS HIDING RIGHT THERE AND THEY COULD SHOOT AT US. At least we were allowed to take a quick picture from the bus.

After a very full day, we arrived back in Seoul just as the Christmas lights were coming on in the city.

IMG_8244

Normal people would, at this point, perhaps grab a quick bite to eat and then get some rest. But us? That would just be too predictable, too boring. What do we do? We drink

Coffee #8: We regroup at a coffee shop in the nearby Lotte Department Store and plan how we are going to spend the rest of the evening, although perhaps getting back to a place where we can sleep after midnight was not exactly what we intended.

IMG_8249

The plan was walk along Cheonggyeceon, a scenic stream running through the city, until we got to the Insa-dong area for dinner and perhaps some shopping. We would end the night by taking the cable car to Seoul Tower for an overview of the city at night. Because we had not done enough for one day.

DSC01915

DSC01918

DSC01917

DSC01916

We found the stream without incident, but ended up wandering a bit trying to get to Insa-dong.
DSC01920

DSC01922

DSC01921

We eventually found the right area of town and walked around until we found the perfect spot for an extra hearty Korean dinner.

DSC01927

DSC01933

DSC01940
Enjoying the warm barley tea that was available at the table
DSC01941
Galbijjim – short ribs, rice cakes, quail eggs, and all kinds of veggies. There are no words to describe how good this was.
DSC01945
Haemul pajeon – a seafood pancake with large chunks of shrimp, crab, and octopus with strips of onion. This is what food should taste like.
We did some damage
We managed to do some damage to this food
More subway riding to get where we're going
More subway riding to get where we’re going
IMG_8254
Seoul lit up at night was magical

IMG_8265

IMG_8259

IMG_8257

IMG_8256

After dinner, a subway ride, a taxi ride, and waiting in a looooong line for the cable car to the Seoul Tower, it would be tempting to think that we were too tired to enjoy it. But that would be incorrect. The view from the top was breathtaking!

DSC01962

DSC01988

DSC01986

DSC01979

DSC01978

DSC01977

DSC01973

DSC01971

DSC01970

DSC01969

DSC01965

It was also rather romantic, which made me really miss the boyfriend.

By this point, it was about 10:30. We still had to again wait in line for the return cable car, take the cable car to the bottom, take a taxi to the closest subway station, take a series of subways back to our part of town, and then either walk back to where we were staying or wait for the bus. Incidentally, this seems like a good time to mention the Korea Subway app. It’s easy to use, especially if, like Shannon, you have a wifi egg to access the internet wherever you go. I can highly recommend both the app and the egg. When the Subway app was used in conjunction with the Visit Korea app, it was simple to figure out where I wanted to go and exactly how to get there.

We were tired.
We were tired.
One. More. Subway.
One. More. Subway.

When we got off at our station, we had a difficult decision to make. Take the 10 minute walk back on oh-so-tired feet that had already walked 8 plus miles that day or wait a few minutes in the cold for the bus. Fatigue won out and we decided to wait for the bus. And then we waited and waited and waited. We waited as multiple buses passed, none of them ours. It became a sick game where we would see a bus on the horizon, momentarily allowing our hopes to rise, only to have them dashed moments later when we discovered that it was not, in fact, our bus. After every other bus that stopped at that stop passed by, twice, and thirty minutes had passed, we decided our only option was to walk back. At this point it was midnight. We had been going since 6 am. I had arrived in the country after a 12.5 hour flight only a day before. To say I was tired was an understatement. Somehow, we managed to put one foot in front of the other to make it back. We may have taken turns groaning out loud (I can’t help but think that this would have been easier to handle 10 years ago…), spurring one another on with promises of beds and hot chocolate. In case you’re wondering, this is what I felt like at the end of the day:

Hot chocolate, not coffee!
Hot chocolate, not coffee!

It was a day I will never forget. Despite the fatigue and the sore and blistered feet, I would not change a bit of it. If I was only going to be in South Korea for 72 hours, I might as well make the most of it!

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 3

Of the things I love in this world, time alone to recharge and to think is surprisingly high on the list. I say surprising, because I absolutely love the people in my life. I have said before that they are simply the best, most wonderful, and amazing people that could possibly exist. But sometimes, I just want to be by myself. More recently, I’ve discovered that I also enjoy the luxury of alone time while traveling. Of course I love exploring with others, but exploring alone is an entirely different and utterly enjoyable experience. My last morning in Seattle, I took the opportunity to do just that. Without the pressure of conversation or the need to be aware of another person, I could fully notice.

Notice the delicious tastes and textures and sounds as I treated myself to breakfast at Shaker + Spear, the Palladian’s onsite restaurant.

IMG_6179

IMG_6183

IMG_6182

Notice the smells and the noise and the color of Pike Place Market on a Saturday morning. Notice the lives that were being lived all around me and yet were separate from my own.

DSC01512

DSC01559

DSC01550

DSC01523

DSC01522

DSC01521

DSC01520

DSC01519

DSC01516

DSC01515

DSC01513

Notice that what I really wanted to eat for lunch was the taste of authentic Chinese food, which I had been craving for months (thanks, Natalie, for the perfect recommendation!).

IMG_6204

IMG_6199

IMG_6203

IMG_6195

And notice how so very grateful I am for the people and places, the sights and sounds, the tastes and travels that make up my life. What have you noticed today?

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 2

After a pretty amazing night’s sleep thanks to the awesomeness of my bed and the room in which it was located, I awoke to a cloudy but nonetheless lovely morning. I reconnected with my friends for a low-key breakfast at Hitchcock Deli followed by more I-can’t-possibly-afford-anything-in-this-shop browsing. And another visit to the bookstore. Just because it’s awesome.

IMG_6131

IMG_6134

The day was becoming increasingly cloudy, but we decided to all head over to Seattle together on the ferry because I was going that way anyway. I love the ferry between Bainbridge and Seattle – even on a cloudy day, the views are hard to beat.

DSC01414

DSC01422

DSC01416

IMG_6139

It was sooo windy. And cold.
It was sooo windy. And cold. And did I mention windy? We had crazy hair.

DSC01453

Just about the time we arrived in Seattle, it began to rain. And by rain, I mean the sky opened up and started pouring and did not stop for hours. Basically, I spent the rest of the day cold and wet. But not even the rain could keep me from having a good time. I ended my visit with Sara and Ryan over a delicious lunch at Cafe Campagne, a spot we chose almost entirely because it had a roof and chairs and the possibility of food. We were not feeling too picky at that point. Fortunately, the french onion soup I ordered was the perfect way to warm up while momentarily drying out.

DSC01509

IMG_6155

I had a great time catching up with my friend Sara. I was sad to say goodbye as we parted ways, but I still had some fun plans in store.

But first, my hotel. My hotel of choice was the Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle. I chose to stay here based upon two things: it was a Kimpton hotel and it was within walking distance of the tour I would do that afternoon. Which was important because it was entitled the Booze n’ Bites tour. Emphasis on the word booze. Just sayin’.

This hotel was seriously cool. It was quirky and stylish and completely unique.

IMG_6173

DSC01466

DSC01459

DSC01465
I got to sleep with Leo. Every woman’s dream, right?!

DSC01461

DSC01467

DSC01468

I had just enough time to dry off before heading back into the rain. For a walking tour.

IMG_6160A few years ago, I had taken my first Savor Seattle tour. I had completely enjoyed it and knew that another trip to Seattle was the perfect opportunity to go on another one of their tours. This time, I chose the Booze n’ Bites tour, a tour focused on the food (and alcohol) culture of Seattle.

The tour began at Rachel’s Ginger Beer.

IMG_6170

It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
It might be raining just a little bit less at this point. Maybe.
DSC01472
Meeting up with my tour group. I was the only weirdo who decided to do the tour by myself. 
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB's handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
The first cocktail of the day was the Montana Mule, made with RGB’s handcrafted ginger beer and whiskey.
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio
Our second stop was Cantina de San Patricio

DSC01476

Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Taco, guacamole, and some type of really spicy drink made with green chile and jalapeño vodkas. This former Texan could not have been happier.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.
Stop #3 was Long Provincial Vietnamese, where we tried salad rolls with peanut sauce and a lemongrass martini. I was really enjoying the tour by this point.

DSC01481

Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits by this point.
Not even the persistent rain could dampen my spirits.

DSC01496

Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky...?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.
Up next was The Diller Room. It was an original Seattle speakeasy and is now a popular happy/any hour spot. I cannot remember what the drink was (something made with whisky…?), but the mushroom muffuletta is impossible to forget. I could eat that All. Day. Long.

DSC01497

Our fifth and final stop was Von's 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle's largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
Our fifth and final stop was Von’s 1000Spirits GustroBistro. This place is rumored to have Seattle’s largest collection of spirits, a claim that I definitely believe.
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour. And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked...
A cosmopolitan made with spun sugar. I will admit this was probably my favorite drink of the tour.
DSC01504
And lest you think I drank 5 cocktails in the course of a couple of hours (they were mostly half-size, by the way), I assure you I only drank the ones that I liked…

DSC01503

And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.
And then there was pizza. Wood-fired, cheesy, yummy pizza.

My second Savor Seattle tour did not disappoint. I would not hesitate to take another one of their tours in the future. I highly recommend checking them out if you are in Seattle.

After a cold and rainy day, all I really wanted to do was curl up in bed, order room service, and be my introverted self. However, I had made plans with another friend of mine, who I originally met while we were on internship in Houston and who had recently moved back to Seattle (apparently getting a PhD = knowing people everywhere). That meant drying myself off and taking an Uber (side note: how does one specify the verb form of using Uber? To Uber? Ubering? Someone please enlighten me) to a house party with a bunch of people I’ve never met. You read that correctly, I went to a house party. A party at which I only knew one person. And I almost utterly failed to document such a rare occurrence, although I did manage to snap exactly one picture.

IMG_6177

I actually had a fun time and it was a chance to catch up with another friend. Plus, travel presents the perfect opportunity for me to push myself just a bit out of my comfort zone, which is good to do now and then. But, I will admit that by the end of the night, I was ready to return to my hotel, talk to no one, and sleep with Leonardo DiCaprio, the pillow.

 

 

Couchsurfing in China: Shanghai

So there I was, at that moment when a trip was ending, memories made, with nothing left but the flight home (well, and then writing about said trip for months on end…). It is always a bittersweet moment for me. By that point, I’m usually tired, missing my bed, and missing my dog. And at the same time, I am never quite ready to leave the place where I am. I always want more – more time, more experiences, and more delicious food that I definitely cannot get at home.

But my trip ended, as all things in life do. I accepted the end of my time in China with as much equanimity as I could muster. It didn’t hurt that I managed to just squeeze in one last stop before heading to the airport. Like just barely squeezed it in. As in I went pretty much straight from security to boarding my plane. But really, that is not relevant. What is relevant is that I had approximately 6 hours to get the tiniest glimpse of the incredible city of Shanghai. Six measly hours, most of which were spent sitting in traffic while marveling at the city surrounding me.

DSC01033
Apartments such as these are typical homes. Single family houses seemed essentially nonexistent. I was amazed that the laundry hanging out of the highest windows to dry had not been blown away.
DSC01036
Pearl tower reflection

DSC01035With time for a single stop, we chose to spend our time at the Pearl Tower, with its amazing view of the never-ending skyscrapers.

DSC01041

DSC01059

DSC01056

DSC01055

DSC01053

DSC01051

DSC01048

DSC01044

It wasn’t until I was in Shanghai that I truly appreciated the population of China, the sea of people moving about in choreographed chaos. Having spent most of my time in a “small” city, my time in China would have been incomplete without at least a brief opportunity to experience the city. Plus, did I mention that the view was incredible?

DSC01064

DSC01066

DSC01065
Not such a fan of the height…

DSC01077

DSC01076

DSC01075

DSC01072

DSC01071

DSC01070And then there was the level with the glass bottom. It was literally breathtaking. As in I felt so anxious I could not breathe. And yet, I kept standing there. Perhaps because I was paralyzed by fear.

DSC01080

DSC01102
Junie was quite brave

DSC01099

DSC01098

DSC01096
Jobie takes after his mom when it comes to heights and was a little more hesitant about walking out onto the glass floor.

DSC01093

DSC01091

DSC01087
Junie is the best part of this picture

DSC01085

IMG_0195

One last day, one last city, one last stop.

DSC01106

DSC01107

My time in China was officially over. Thankfully, my trip was not quite finished. My next (and final China) post: the epilogue.

 

Couchsurfing in China: Hangzhou

One of my last days in China, as my trip was winding down and I was already (sadly) anticipating returning home, I took a day trip to the nearby and lovely city of Hangzhou. A relatively short and inexpensive bus ride from Shaoxing, Hangzhou is often described in China as “heaven on earth.” Candi, Jobie, and Junie were my tour guides, along with their friends Melissa and Alex.

DSC00783

DSC00793

DSC00787

DSC00786

DSC00784

My first view of Hangzhou
First view of Hangzhou

After dealing with an obnoxious taxi driver, our first stop of the day was the China National Tea Museum.

DSC00799

DSC00814

DSC00813

DSC00811

DSC00810
It was not just a museum, there was an actual tea farm. Farm? For some reason it seems like there should be a different word.

DSC00805

DSC00804

DSC00800

The museum displayed teapots and tea settings from throughout China’s history.

DSC00819

DSC00827

DSC00826

DSC00825

DSC00823

DSC00822

DSC00821

After being accosted (in a friendly way) by a group of Chinese students, we explored a bit more of the grounds before purchasing Hangzhou green tea – considered to be the best green tea in China.

DSC00832

DSC00837

DSC00873

DSC00877

DSC00880

DSC00879

At some point “Would you mind taking a picture of me?” turned into “Cora, do this pose.” Exhibited below, the Cora pose, the Chinese pose, the Japanese pose, and the Junie pose. I will let you decide which is which. Disclaimer: all poses are the responsibility of those behind the camera. I am in no way accountable for inaccurate poses.

DSC00864

DSC00863

DSC00862

DSC00861

DSC00868
In case you’re wondering which one was the Junie pose…

DSC00850

DSC00849

After a delicious lunch (described elsewhere) of local Hangzhou specialties such as dongpo pork and beggar’s chicken, we spent a warm afternoon madly shopping the pedestrian only Hefang Street. Shops along the street ran from kitschy to authentic and there was much more to see than could fit into a single afternoon. If you received a gift from me from my trip to China, chances are it was purchased here.

DSC00901

DSC00929
Showing off our new shoes

DSC00927

DSC00922

DSC00918

DSC00910

DSC00907

DSC00906

DSC00902

We ended a busy day with a sunset walk along West Lake, one of the highlights of Hangzhou and a primary reason that Hangzhou is considered such a beautiful city.

DSC00942

DSC00977

DSC00976

DSC00973

DSC00971

DSC00967

DSC00961

DSC00956

DSC00949

DSC00948

We hurried back to the bus terminal just in time to grab McDonald’s before taking a bus back to Shaoxing in the dark. Tired and with aching feet (happily ensconced in new shoes), I watched out the window while reminiscing on what had been a truly wonderful week in China. And it wasn’t quite over yet.

 

Couchsurfing in China: How to Fail at Travel Blogging

A travel blog may be many things. It may be a place to tell stories about far off places, a medium for sharing unique experiences, or simply a place to catalogue memories one does not want to forget. Regardless, one could argue that at a minimum there should be some communication of useful information. So today, I will thoroughly fail at travel blogging by utterly failing to communicate any potentially helpful information. You see, the thing about going to China and being an English speaker is that every. single. thing is confusing. There was not a single moment during my trip where I felt like, “I got this!” Even an attempt to buy a bottle of water independently failed miserably. Today’s post is a reflection of my continual befuddlement while in China. I cannot tell you where I went and I can barely tell you what I did. But at least I can share pretty pictures.

IMG_5554

One afternoon, Candi and Justin were occupied teaching classes and I wanted to explore a bit. One of their students, Kate, kindly offered to take me hiking on the mountain.

DSC00593

Having been told multiple names for the place – perhaps Kuaiji, perhaps Da Yu – as well as being entirely unable to read the ticket, I do not actually know the name of the place that I went. I also do not know how much it cost; I simply handed Kate money and she purchased the tickets because, you know, she actually spoke Chinese. All I know is that the mountain is across from the campus, there were multiple spots to visit on the mountain, that I visited a Buddhist temple complex, and that I climbed a lot of stairs. Seriously, if you take nothing else away from this post, take away that there were seemingly endless stairs.

DSC00557
See those seemingly tiny buildings way up at the top of the mountain in the background? Yeah, that was our destination.
DSC00585
Stairs

DSC00579

DSC00578
And more stairs

DSC00577

DSC00576
And what do you know, more stairs

DSC00574

DSC00567

DSC00566

DSC00562

DSC00560

DSC00559

Kate was a fantastic and friendly guide and I enjoyed talking with her, at least when I was not too out of breath to do so. That and the views from the top made the climb more than worthwhile.

DSC00588
It was a perfectly clear day. The haze over the city is smog.

IMG_5551

DSC00623

DSC00617

DSC00611

DSC00608

DSC00607

DSC00605

DSC00604

DSC00602

DSC00601

DSC00600

DSC00599

DSC00597

DSC00589

Basically, this post will not be at all useful if you are planning a trip to Shaoxing. Although I can recommend climbing the mountain, I cannot tell you where to go or what it will cost. This post is also not particularly informative if you are simply curious about what I did while in China. Travel blog fail.

Couchsurfing in China: Images of Shaoxing

In some ways, I hesitate to say that I’ve been to China. The country is incredibly immense and diverse and I only spent an inadequate number of days seeing one small piece of it. I spent most of my time in Shaoxing, the city where Justin and Candi live and work. They teach at Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Languages and live in an apartment on campus. My trip to China was in no way typical because I had the opportunity to experience the day-to-day life they live in Shaoxing and around Yeuxiu. Today’s post will mostly be pictures of that life. I could say something trite like “a picture is worth a thousand words” or “words could never do it justice.” But the reality is that today I’m feeling a bit lazy.

So, here are some pictures of Shaoxing and the university campus – the tiny piece of China I visited – accompanied by minimal words. Because I’m lazy.

The Apartment: 

This is the apartment building where the foreign language teachers live.
This is the apartment building where the foreign language teachers live.
The view from the apartment
The view from the apartment
The "garage," complete with outlets with which to charge the e-bikes
The “garage,” complete with outlets with which to charge the e-bikes

DSC00653

The Campus: 

Setting out to walk across campus

DSC00239

DSC00238

DSC00237

DSC00236

This is across the street from campus. So. Much. Good. Food. More on that in a later post!
This is across the street from campus. So. Much. Good. Food. More on that in a later post!

DSC00242

DSC00646

DSC00700

DSC00697

DSC00692

DSC00691

DSC00658

DSC00525

Speaking of the campus, I got to help Candi teach some of her classes! Because I am both a psychologist and a lefty, things that are practically nonexistent in China, I was a bit of an anomaly to her students. Also, you haven’t lived until you have played Balderdash using English language idioms with a group of Chinese students. It was both funny and incredibly impressive. I couldn’t help but imagine how terrible I would be if the situation were reversed.

DSC00401

DSC00399

DSC00532

DSC00527

The City: 

DSC00391

DSC00389

DSC00388
Shaoxing is known historically for calligraphy, which is commemorated by this statue. Obviously.

DSC00381

DSC00378
Starbucks!!
What was amazing to me was that Shaoxing is not considered a particularly large city - millions of people live here.
What was amazing to me was that Shaoxing is not considered a particularly large city and yet millions of people live here.

DSC00454

DSC00443

DSC00556

DSC00599
It was a sunny day – that’s smog

DSC01018

DSC01015

DSC01014

DSC01013

DSC01012

DSC01011

Today’s post is all about the pictures, fleeting glimpses of Shaoxing and Yuexiu University. Every moment was so packed with colors, noises, smells, and people. It is impossible to describe the overwhelming wonder of it, each chaotic second leaving me exhausted and wanting more. Now that I’m home, sitting in my comfortably air-conditioned, quiet, organized home, I can’t help but ask myself: when can I go back?