Day 2 in Lima: The adventure continues

Lima, Lima, Lima, Lima, Leeeeeeema

I have so much to say about this city, it is so difficult to fit into a few short blog posts (well, arguably short).

My second day in Lima was another adventure in it’s own. I woke rested and ready to take on the day. I took care of some marketing responsibilities in the morning, then set out to walk around the city, with my first stop being an ATM.

So here’s a story:

As I was crossing the street at a crosswalk, out of no where, a man on scooter turned the corner with an outstretched hand and reached for the camera around my neck. He was driving so quickly that when he grabbed the camera, the force pulled my neck along with it and I plummeted, head first, into the pavement. Thank goodness for my huge noggin and thick hair which trapped the camera strap, so he was unable to pull it off over my head in the drive-by. He sped off, unsuccessful, without even looking back.

A million thoughts raced through my head as I lay there in the middle of the street, trying to collect myself and wrap my head around what happened. People stood nearby, but the the incident happened so quickly that there was really nothing anyone could have done.

I brushed myself off, got up and walked to a sidewalk. There, I did a quick check of my body and saw that my shoulder was badly scratched up and finger was bleeding. My head hurt, too, from the direct impact with the asphalt, so I headed to a pharmacy to get some bandages. I was a mix of angry (and I am NOT an angry person) and grateful that he didn’t get away with anything. The incident could have been so much worse — he could have taken my camera, wallet, phone, passport, etc. or I could have been seriously injured…or worse. But luckily, I wasn’t hurt badly and I still had all of my belongings.

After my trip to the pharmacy, I headed back to the hostel. I needed to check out anyway so I could move to my next location. Still disheveled from the run-in with the thief, I checked in with my parents and had a relaxing cup of tea. Then I packed up, called a cab, and set out for my new hotel in Miraflores.

I was shaken by the morning’s events, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my day! After a short cab ride to Miraflores (the more developed, touristy district in Lima) I made it to my new hotel, Hotel Nobility. Oh. My. Gosh. Y’all. This was listed as a 3-star hotel but seriously is the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in (probably because I’m young and broke and can’t afford nice hotels). The service was incredible. I don’t think my hand touched a door knob the entire two days I was there. The food was exquisite (don’t get me started on the breakfast buffet).

I settled in, which was easy to do because I still didn’t have my luggage from the airport, and jetted off to walk around this new district of Lima. If anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m annoyingly partial to water — if there is a view of a lake, river, ocean, sea, etc. — I need to find it; thus I found my way to the Miraflores side of la Coasta Verde, and there, happened upon el Parque del Amor (the Love Park), a small and neatly landscaped park overlooking the water with a statue of two people embracing, entitled The Kiss.

The park nearly mirrored el Parque Güell in Barcelona in that a long, winding wall covered in colorful mosaic tiles set the perimeter. I sat in the park for a while and watched the sunset. From where I sat, I could see down the shoreline to where people were parasailing off the cliff. How I would have loved to join, but I’m sure it was costly, and I didn’t have time. Even watching, though, was a thrill.

Soon it grew dark and I headed back to the hotel to do some more work.

Monday had been a long day to say the least, but as always, the eventfulness simply added to the adventure — it’s all part of the story.

On my first day in Peru, I accidentally used the men’s bathroom

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I didn’t know what to expect of the Peruvian capital when I arrived; my focus leading up to this trip had been on studying for exams and finishing projects, and therefore I didn’t have the time to research every nook and cranny of the city like I would usually do.

But from the moment I stepped off the plane, I found the city speaks for itself. On the cab ride to my hostel, I already learned a few things about this place:

1. It’s hot. And humid. And hot.

2. There’s no distinct Peruvian look… the natives range from dark skin with larger features to light skin with narrow features and everything in between. I’ve also seen a lot of Asian Peruvians, which I have since found out are from a mass migration years ago.

3. Bright colors are a must. The buildings, the people, the shops…all adorned in bright garb or vivid paint. I love it. Being from a city (Washington, D.C.) where the color scheme ranges from gray to brown, I found the radiant shades of yellow, red, green and teal to be remarkably refreshing.

4. It’s crowded! (well, duh, it’s the capital of a huge country, Alexis)

5. It’s clean! That was the biggest surprise. The most relevant city I can think to compare Lima to is Casablanca, Morocco, because of the layout, heat and coastal environment, but the most significant difference is the cleanliness! I’ve hardly seen any litter on the streets, there are no distinct smells — not even from the ocean — and there are trash cans and recycling bins everywhere!

For the first night, I stayed in Casa Nuestra B&B, a quaint, family-owned hostel that was uniquely decorated and felt cosy and homely. My room consisted of simple, handmade furniture, bright green walls, simple lighting, and one piece of artwork hanging above the bed. The hostel owner was a friendly middle-aged mother who gave me a quick tour of the hostel while her toddler clung to her leg. He was the cutest little thing.

After I settled in and chatted with some of the other guests, I set out to explore the city. Map in hand, I found my way to the coast where there was a walking path along the top of a cliff overlooking the water. I strolled along for about a mile, stopping to take pictures. Of course, being a single, young woman who looks like a tourist, a few men approached me to say hello, but I politely brushed them off and continued on.

The view from the coast was absolutely stunning. The photos can do it more justice than I can, but I’ll do my best to describe the scene. From atop the cliff, I could see straight down to the main road that runs along the water and a few of the beaches and structures that makeup the shoreline. Looking out, my eyes danced upon electric blue waters stretching far, far out until they intersected with the clouds, forming a hazy blue mist in the distance.

n either side of me, Lima’s skyline ran parallel with the water, as if the whole city was built along the edge of the cliff. I walked along, following the path that ran parallel with them, until I began to feel tired from the sun. I left the coast, and made my way to a restaurant to grab a bite to eat and an espresso.

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Side note: when I used the bathroom at the restaurant, I thought there was just a gender-neutral toilet so I went into that room. Little did I know, the women’s bathroom was down the hallway and I used the men’s bathroom!! That explained the confused looks I got from the wait staff as I walked out…LOL)

Next, I found an art gallery on the map that piqued my interest. It wasn’t far from where I was so I left the restaurant and found my way to the gallery.

The art gallery was called Dédalo, and was actually both an art gallery and shop. On display were a mix of modern art pieces, crafts and furniture, as well as traditional Peruvian cloths, pottery, even garden decorations and plants.

I enjoyed the gallery but soon came to the realization that I wouldn’t be able to afford any of the beautiful works, so I left to walk around some more.

I followed the main road, Av. Almirante Miguel Grau, straight down until I hit the main square of downtown Barranco, Lima. I didn’t know much about what I was seeing, as far as which buildings were important landmarks and what the significance of many of the statues was, but I still appreciated the beautiful Incan and Sevillan architecture.

As the sun started to set, I grabbed a coffee and found a cozy spot to watch the cars go by and observe the locals enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. From elderly ladies chatting with each other on a bench to kids playing soccer and pulling pranks on each other while their parents tried to control them, the Peruvian people gave me plenty to be entertained with. I later walked through a beautiful small park and watched more locals laying down in the grass, talking, laughing, playing and enjoying the last few hours of the warm weekend.

The sun was nearly down by then, so I figured it was best to head back to the hostel. I got a little lost on my way there, which was terrifying once it was completely dark and I was trying not to pull out my map and look like a tourist (a.k.a.the perfect target), but after a few laps around some familiar landmarks, I found my way back to Casa Nuestra. I ended the day by spending more time with the other guests and the doing some research to prepare for the next day.

The first day in a new country always arouses a mix of emotions — excitement, uncertainty and curiosity, to name a few — and I definitely experienced all of those on my first day in this beautiful country. In a few hours, I already found plenty to love about Lima, but I went to bed excited to find new things to love the next day.

Tales from my journey to Peru (it’s a good story, for sure)

Surprise! I’m in Lima! Well, it’s not quite a surprise to those of my friends and family who I told about this trip, but I haven’t made any word to this blog yet!

A few weeks ago, the PR team at my favorite travel company, StudentUniverse, reached out to me about an opportunity to work for travel. I was instantly intrigued, and as I learned more about the opportunity, I knew it was a done deal: one week in South America in exchange for some in-location marketing on my part (for a company I’m already a huge fan of). Saying yes was a no-brainer.

Within a week, my flights and hostels were booked. The plan was for me to spend four days in Lima, Peru (two nights in Barranco, two nights in Miraflores), and three days in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, during my spring break from school. And it was a great plan… until we hit a few hiccups.

I arrived at the DCA airport Saturday morning for my 11 a.m. flight just to find that the foggy weather had caused delays for several flights, including mine. As the morning wore on, the weather worsened, til it reached the point that no planes could land in or take off from DCA whatsoever. I had to catch a flight from D.C. to New York, then New York to Lima; due to the delay leaving D.C., I knew I’d miss the connecting flight. The agents from the airline I was flying were accommodating and put me on a flight with another airline, which would then take me from D.C. to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Lima.

I reserved my spot on the flight to Atlanta accordingly, and then discovered that departure was delayed as well! The agents in D.C. assured me I would have time to make the connecting flight in Atlanta, even with the delay, so I trusted them and boarded the plane when it arrived at the gate. Unfortunately, those agents were wrong. By the time I got to Atlanta, the flight to Lima was already in the air and I was, well, not. Uh oh. After a long talk on the phone with another travel agent, I had a new flight reservation from Atlanta to Los Angeles, with a new connecting flight from LAX to Lima. Off to California it was.

The flight changes were unfortunate, but weather is weather and there’s nothing we could do. But that was just hiccup #1. The other hiccup came when I discovered I needed a visa to enter Brazil, and I didn’t have one! Whoops, should have done my research because that seems like a pretty fundamental detail to overlook, but I had been so busy with school and exams leading up to spring break that I hadn’t had time to explore travel requirements for the trip!

Luckily, the team at StudentUniverse is awesome and could act quickly to reroute my journey. Now, I’m going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the second half of the trip instead! It’s another amazing city I’ve always dreamed of visiting but figured I would have to wait until I was established and had more funds to visit — but now, I’ll be going there in three days! It’s truly unbelievable.

So, yeah, change of plans. But it’s nothing this young, broke traveler can’t handle!

I was supposed to arrive in Lima at 9:40 Saturday night, but with the delays and flight changes, I arrived 12 p.m. Sunday. It stinks losing that extra half day, but honestly, it could have been worse; I’m just so grateful and happy to be here! I did get separated from my luggage in Atlanta, though, so that’s a bummer, but the airport should be delivering it to my hostel when it arrives here on another flight.

Chugging along in yesterday socks, I still couldn’t be happier to be in South America. With a crazy start like this, the rest of the trip will hopefully be equally as eventful. I’m just hoping it’s the good kind of eventful. And hey, what’s an adventure without a few hiccups anyway?

Stay tuned for more!

New York to D.C. to Fort Lauderdale in 7 days – Part 2

As much as I love New York and D.C., sometimes it just gets too cold up here. At least that’s what my school friend Michelle and I decided when we made plans to go stay with her family in Fort Lauderdale over winter break.

My plane from D.C. landed in Fort Lauderdale around 6:30 Friday evening. Michelle had flown down a few days earlier, so she and her one of her cousin’s picked me up from the airport. I couldn’t believe I had just left 20-degree D.C. for warm, sunny 80-degree Florida. I used to airport bathroom to change out of my heavy sweater and boots into a sundress and sandals. Then we headed to straight happy hour…because why not?

Twenty minutes later, there we were on Las Olas Boulevard to meet up with her cousin’s friends for 2-for-1 drinks at Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle. After a few hours of mingling with the SoFla locals (who are all extremely tall, by the way), we left to go a family friend’s place to hang out some more. I’m not sure how I managed to stay up past 3 a.m. four days in a row, but somehow I did it. And I had a very good night’s sleep that night.

The rest of the Fort Lauderdale trip was very uneventful, but in a wonderful, relaxing way.  Saturday, Michelle and I went to the beach for a couple hours and listened to the waves crash as we talked about how happy we were to escape the cold for a while.

**Note: I didn’t bring my DSLR for this trip, so please excuse the quality of the photos from my iPhone!

That night, we hit up The Manor Complex, a wildly fun gay nightclub downtown. Neither of us are gay, but we love, love, love the Manor’s atmosphere (we had been there before) and we love to dance – and the Manor is the best place to get your groove on. We had a fantastic night.

IMG_0672Sunday morning, Michelle’s cousin’s mother, Ginger, cooked us a mouth-watering brunch complete with mimosas. Stuffed, we spent the rest of  the day walking around downtown Fort Lauderdale to burn off those waffles, eggs and potatoes.

That night, we headed to another of Michelle’s aunt/uncle’s house to have dinner. I loved spending time with her family and hearing wild stories from her great uncle. Even though I had just met them, I felt like a part of the family.

We retired early that night and got a long night’s sleep. On Monday, we just lazed around by the pool in her family’s complex and soaked in the sun. We met another of her cousins for lunch and then walked around Sawgrass Mills Mall for about an hour. Afterward, we met up with my godfather for dinner at an incredible oceanfront restaurant called JB’s On The Beach. I only see him once every few years, so it was great to catch up over a fantastic meal and great scenery.

We left dinner to meet Michelle’s cousin Alyssa and her friend for drinks. Since Michelle and I were dressed up from dinner, we decided to go an uptown bar called YOLO (really, it was the name that drew us to it) in Las Olas. We each got one of the bar’s specialty drinks and talked about life, school, and the fact that Michelle and I were dreaded going back to D.C. the next day. We had a good time nonetheless, and headed home around midnight.

IMG_0589Our plane home was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., so Michelle and I took our time packing up the next day. We took a packing break to have one last lounge by the pool before we had to leave the warm weather for good.

I’m going to pause for a second to talk about how wonderful Michelle’s family is. Her cousins and their mom let us stay for free with them and even paid for several of our meals. Ginger is the absolute sweetest woman in the world and the most selfless person I have ever met; she made sure we were comfortable at all times, offered to give us rides anywhere we needed to be, and even let us borrow her car for the weekend when she didn’t need it. The day we left for the airport, she took off from work early so she could drive us to the airport on time. I have met some amazing people in my life but none quite as selfless as this compassionate woman. I am so grateful she let us into her home and I hope she is blessed with all of the happiness in the world.

Our flight home was quick and smooth and we made it back to our apartments on campus by 11 p.m. It was another blissful trip that was way too brief. I grudgingly went back to work the next morning, as always, but at least this time I got to show off my fresh tan.

New York to D.C. to Fort Lauderdale in 7 days – Part 1

So my pre-Christmas trip to New York wasn’t my only trip to New York over my winter break. Nope, I made two more visits, with a stop home and a few days in Florida in between.

Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@ybtraveler) may have noticed that I was posting obsessively about how my Sasha was coming to New York the second week of January. Sasha and I met on our Contiki tour over the summer (she was one of the wonderful souls who looked after me when I got sick all over the Louvre) and we quickly became lifelong friends. She lives in Australia, so after our Contiki ended, I figured it would be long before I got to see her again.

FALSO.

Sasha messaged me on Facebook in October confirming that she and her family were coming to the States on holiday in January. January! We were only separated for seven months! She was going to be in New York for almost two weeks and I knew I had to go up to visit.

So we concocted a plan that I would visit her overnight in New York, then kidnap her from her family and bring her back to D.C. for a few days. She loves Obama, so naturally a trip to the White House was a must.

On the morning of Jan. 6, I headed to Union Station once more to catch another Megabus (which was only $3!!!!!!!!) to New York. It was snowing heavily that day, so there were major delays and traffic on the road, but I finally arrived in the city around 2 p.m. I walked to our meeting spot, the McDonald’s in Times Square, and instantly saw Sasha. Ahhh! We squealed, hugged and nearly cried for several minutes, then finally started making our way back to her hotel so I could put my things down.

I met Sasha’s parents, a lovely, lovely couple, and her sister Corey, and then Corey, Sasha and I headed out for pizza and stroll down Broadway. We ended up walking all the way to Central Park and took our time perusing the snowy woods and long pathways. Soon, though, the cold got the better of us and we headed back to the hotel. We met back up with her family, grabbed some food, then made our way back out to go grab some drinks.

Three Irish Pubs and several $10 drinks later, it was nearly 5 a.m. We had made some “friends” at the last pub we visited and stayed wayyyyy too late. (Connor from John Sullivan’s, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)  And we reluctantly headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

We woke late the next morning (well, afternoon) just in time to part ways with Sasha’s family and catch out Megabus back to D.C. We arrived in the city around 6:30 p.m. and took the metro back to my apartment on campus. We had an early night that night, just grabbing dinner with my Parents at the best Indian restaurant in the world, the Royal Taj in Columbia, and spending a little bit of time at my parent’s home in Columbia. Then we headed back to my apartment to unwind with some Chardonnay and finally get some sleep.

The following day was our tour day of D.C. After our wholesome breakfast of leftover Indian food, we rode the metro back into D.C. and got off at the National Mall. With a temperature of 11 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius) the ground was covered in ice and snow and we realized we didn’t want to stay out long exploring the monuments. After snapping a few photos at the Capitol and Washington Monument we sought shelter and warmth in one of my favorite museums, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

After two hours at the museum, we left to go hang out in front of the White House for a bit (Obama was apparently too busy leading the country to come out and say hi. Geez.).  Then, we headed to La Tasca, a great Spanish restaurant, to meet my roommates for happy hour. The Sangria was great, the tapas even better, and the happy hour prices were unmatched for an otherwise expensive D.C. restaurant. Even so, after three pitchers of sangria and six rounds of tapas later, Sasha and I realized we didn’t have enough money to continue partying in D.C. It sucks to be broke sometimes! Back to my apartment it was then, to continue the festivities in a much more affordable setting.

The White House
We didn’t get any pictures with Obama, but at least we got a snapshot of his house!

 

Of course, we had another late night that night. But as opposed to hanging out in bars and clubs, we hang out in my apartment building and I introduced Sasha to more of my friends from school. I was so happy everyone got along so well! Almost too well… We stayed up until 4 a.m. again just talking, laughing and dancing. I’m just happy I got to give Sasha a glimpse into the American collegiate experience.

We had yet another early morning the next day. This time I had to get Sasha back to Union Station to catch a bus back to New York, and then I had to head to the airport to get my flight to Fort Lauderdale later that afternoon.

It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to Sasha. It’s so rare to find a friend that you connect with so quickly that within days of knowing each other you know you’ll be friends forever. She is so fun and hilarious and unbelievably kind and full of life—it makes me so sad we live on exact opposite sides of the planet! But we decided that now that she has come to the U.S., it’s my turn to visit Australia. So I guess I better get to planning…

Sasha’s visit was way too short, but we packed a week’s worth of adventures into three and a half days so I can’t complain. I left her at the bus station, and got back on the metro to make my way to the airport. But as this adventure came to an end, I was about to head off on a new one, this time in sunny, sunny South Florida. 🙂

Yes, I still traveled over winter break

I haven’t written anything for a while and there’s a good reason! I’ve been on winter break and have taken a complete hiatus from everything — blogging, Twitter, working, studying — to save my sanity. I was beyond stressed out last semester with trying to balance work, school, a social life and traveling, and was incredibly burnt out by the end. To make matters worse, next semester, I’ll be working 37 hours per week (with three, maybe four jobs)  on top of five of the hardest classes I’ll be taking in college. So I needed a break.

Of course, a break for me doesn’t mean sitting still. I made sure to fit some travel in where I could. Since I’ve been extremely low on money lately, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere international, but I stuck with cool places nearby — New York, Florida and a staycation in Washington, D.C.

First stop was a day trip to New York City with my friend Brian two days before Christmas. It was super spontaneous, given that we decided to go just two days prior, but we wanted to experience New York at Christmastime.

On Dec. 23, we woke at the crack of dawn (4 a.m.) to catch our 6:30 Megabus from Union Station in D.C.  We got to the city around 11 a.m. and, after some much-needed coffee, headed to Rockefeller Center to see the iconic, 85-foot Christmas tree. Ice-skating at the center was ridiculously overpriced, so we let other people spend $50 to skate and then happily watched them glide and topple on the rink.

Next we headed to Brooklyn to have our share of world-famous pizza at Grimaldi’s. The wait was horrible. There was no waiting space inside the restaurant, so Brian and I along with maybe 50 other people waited outside in a line stretching down the sidewalk. We shivered from the cold as a slushy rain/snow mix fell from the sky. By the time we got inside we were famished, but of course, the restaurant was so packed that  it took at least half an hour to get our pizza. And service was awful; we saw our grumpy waiter only twice; once when we ordered, and once when he delivered the check (which was cash only). But let me tell you, the pizza was delish. We got half pepperoni, half meatball (toppings were a whopping $3 each) and devoured entire large, brick-oven pizza. That being said, the dish was still not exquisite enough to make up for the otherwise unsatisfactory dining experience. I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I’m going to be a repeat customer.

Grimaldi's Pizza
The rest of the day was more pleasant. Despite the cold rain, we walked around Brooklyn and got ice cream at the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, an adorable ice cream parlor with great staff that was recently featured on Food Network’s Top Ten Restaurants, a deserving award. Then we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, and went to meet some of Brian’s friends for dinner in the West Village.


The bridge was more stunning than I imagined. The long wires that stretched from the center of the bridge down to the entryways created a web-like network that was intimidating but beautiful. The lights from the cars driving below added an interesting illumination that just added to the overall aura of the bridge. And, of course, the view of the New York skyline from the peak of the bridge looked just as it does in the photos.


Later, during dinner, one of my friends from school saw something I had posted online about being in West Village and messaged me saying she was at a jazz bar just down the street! What a coinkydink! So Brian and I parted ways with his friends after dinner and went to meet my friend Lily at the Fat Cat Jazz Bar. Luckily the bar was 18+, so Brian, who is 19, could get in. I grabbed a cider from the bar and Brian and I joined Lily and her friends at a table where we talked, played games, and listened to the jazz musicians jam. But soon it was nearly 11 p.m. and Brian and I had to make it back to the pickup stop to catch our midnight bus back to D.C.

It was a long, tiring day, but an absolute blast. We were zonked by the time we got back to Union Station at 6 a.m. Christmas Eve and headed home quickly. But I had work at 10 a.m., so I only got a few hours of sleep before I had to fire up the engines again (go figure). But totally, totally worth it.

My Weekend with Karl the Fog (a.k.a in San Francisco)

Twin Peaks San Francisco

I took off on an adventure this weekend to San Francisco.The trip was impromptu, being that I flew out to meet with a company about potential post-graduate employment (ahhhh real life is just around the corner!)

This was my first visit to the West Coast. I was lucky enough have company from my parents who were also vacationing in the area. I stayed an extra day to take advantage of my visit, making the trip three days in total, Thursday night to Sunday morning.

I have lots to say about the city.

What I Liked

Several factors make me see myself living in San Francisco post-graduation.

1. Warmth.

From what I experienced and what I’ve learned, the yearly temperatures in SF range between 40 and 70 degrees. Living on the East Coast where the summers are smoldering and the winters are frigid, I’m swayed by the idea of moving somewhere with light-jacket-weather year-round. Plus, I’ve never looked that great in a parka.

2. The Coast.

Twin Peaks San Francisco

If you couldn’t tell by all the places listed on my Bucket List, I’m obsessed with waterfront cities. The San Francisco Bay or Pacific Ocean is visible from almost any hill in SF. That’s something I could definitely get used to.

3. Awesome (free) attractions.

The city is known for its high cost of living, but SF is home to plenty of free attractions. There are too many photos to post, so I’ll list only my favorites.

Golden Gate Bridge

DSC_0186Vista Point Golden Gate BridgeThe bridge was everything I thought it would be. We visited Vista Point to take photos.

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies San Francisco

Probably my favorite part of the city, the colorful, Victorian row homes were life-size gingerbread houses. The Painted Ladies were the best mix of cute and stoic, and of course I couldn’t stop thinking about Full House when I looked at them.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks San Francisco
Posing with my dad at Twin Peaks!

This set of hills provided a 360-degree view of SF, the bay and the surrounding areas. Driving up the hill was hassle-free, parking was free, and walking around was easy and safe. The view was…incredible.

Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

Pier 39 Fisherman's Warf San Francisco

From the sea lions on the docks  to the live street performers on the side walks, this boardwalk-like area gave tourists plenty to see and do.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

When I Googled “things to see in San Francisco,” this windy patch of road on Lombard Street first caught my attention. I had to go.

Though rain was falling when my parents and I went to see it, the artfully designed pathway and surrounding foliage was just as beautiful in person as it was on Google.

4. Hills.

Lombard Street San Francisco

SF streets = acute angles. I’d argue that some approached 90 degrees.  While I can see why some people would view the hills as insufferable and dangerous, I actually loved them. The ups and downs gave the landscape charisma. Plus, I’d be in hella good shape living there.

5. People.

You know the running joke that the East Coast is rude and up-tight and the West Coast is friendly and laid-back? I now see where that stereotype comes from. I’ve never encountered a space more condensed with genuine, kind-hearted Americans. From hotel staff and cab drivers to strangers we sat next to on the bus, everyone was sincerely interested in helping each other. Even friendly “Hello”s from strangers blew me away because that phenom is not so common in D.C. and New England.

Beyond the warmth, water and free sights, it was really the San Franciscans who made the trip so wonderful. The thought of being surrounded by wonderful, friendly people is what, more than anything, would drive me to relocate to San Francisco.

What I Didn’t Like So Much

While sooooooooooooo many aspects of SF are wonderful, some of the town’s characteristics ain’t so grand.

1. SF is kind of dirty.

Being such an expensive area to live in, SF surprised me with its uncleanliness. The roads and sidewalks had cracks and damage, and many reeked of urine. A layer of grime covered most of the buildings, and the cars lining the streets probably hadn’t seen a car wash in months (probably to conserve water, though).

2. SF is the most expensive U.S. city to live in.

SF’s high property values didn’t affect this short trip particularly, but cost of living is a huge factor in considering to move to SF. Consider this:  a studio apartment costs around $2,500/month to rent. The tiniest of row homes sits between $2 and $6 million, and waterfront properties were pretty much unattainable for anyone who’s not a billionaire. (Still working on that…)

3. Karl the Fog

Fog San Francisco

Sorry, Karl, but no hair products in the world could have prepared me for our date. By the time I arrived at the office where I met with the company, my hair (which took two hours to straighten) looked like a ‘fro straight from the 70s.

Yet it wasn’t the curly hair + humidity fracas that was the problem. It was the lack of sunlight that put a literal dark cloud over the trip. I’m one of those emotional people who gets easily affected by the weather, so living in a town that receives regular visits from Karl the Fog puts me off a bit.

4. Too laid back?

I didn’t mind that homeless people were everywhere. But what did bother me was that the people who had homes dressed homeless-chic.

Growing up on the East Coast and visiting many European cities, I’ve grown accustomed to people dressing up  to go to work, out to dinner, or even to the store. But SF reminded me more of a college campus, where jeans, sweatshirts and slip-on shoes were the norm for all occasions, and professional wear and hair cuts were for the try-hards.

I love the care-free atmosphere, but I also love fashion and regular grooming; so this puts me at a standstill.

San Francisco

When it comes down to it, I can say that I really, really like San Francisco. But not love. SF is beautiful in terms of landmarks, history and people, but the town does have a few ticks that would make me hesitate to move there right away.

All that really matters, though, is if I get a job there. Then, and only then, will I tolerate wearing jeans and comfortable shoes to work…

Have you been to or lived in San Francisco? What were your thoughts?

Ringing in fall the right way with the Autumn Glory Festival

What’s better than crisp autumn air, warm sweaters and a cup of pumpkin coffee? Uh, not much. Unless you pile on the excitement of a huge fall festival.

That’s right. This past weekend, I got to get away from school and head out to the mountains of my home state, Maryland, where I enjoyed all of those things and then some. October 8 – 12 marked the 47th annual Autumn Glory festival in Oakland, Maryland. This festival is listed as the no. 1 fall festival in the world by MSN.com. And I quickly learned why.

Fall is a beautiful time of year characterized by falling leaves, warm colors and outdoor traditions. Autumn Glory brought out the best of those traditions, epitomizing every essence of fall. The festival took over the entire town, where streets were blocked off for the parade, shops and street lamps were decorated with straw and pumpkins, and everyone and their mother came out to enjoy warm food and cider from countless vendors.

My travel-partner-in-crime Sarah and I rose before the sun did Saturday morning, the day of the parade, and started the day off right with a big breakfast at a local diner. Then, around 9 a.m., we drove down to Oakland’s Main Street, where the real excitement was taking place. We started off with a stroll through a farmers market, where you couldn’t count on your fingers and toes the number of people selling freshly-harvested autumn veggies — squash, apples, pumpkins, you name it — and mounds of sweet cakes, cookies and pumpkin bread. I was still full from breakfast, but I couldn’t pass up buying a few goodies to save for later.

Next, Sarah and I headed to the historic Oakland B&O Museum for an open house where we got to enjoy glimpses of model trains and train tables, and watch a video explain all of the important historical figures, like Abe Lincoln, who passed through the train station.

After a short time in the museum, we moseyed on over to an antique shop where we met up with my parents. They, too, had come out to Western Maryland for the Autumn Glory festival. Together, the four of us passed the time until the parade started by strolling up and down the streets of town, exploring the Autumn Glory activities. We got warm, fresh kettle corn from a vendor and followed with some barbecue and Italian sausages from the local fire department. We then made our way through the residential area, where locals had lined the sidewalks with chairs so everyone could get a good look at the parade.

 

As the parade’s start time drew closer, Sarah, my parents and I found a spot to situate ourselves in to watch the floats go by. After a few minutes of anticipation, we we finally watched the Southern Garrett High School band march through, marking the beginning of the 2-hour long parade.

In that two hours, we saw every kind of small-town organization represented in one way or another. Several local charities marched through, along with local dance troupes, middle schools and high schools. One of my favorite acts was an organization of veterans who dress as clowns visit sick children in hospitals to cheer them up. They all hopped on tiny vehicles and rode in the parade, some even making comedic laps around the other floats. There was also an Autumn Glory king and queen (both high school students) along with a court or a princess for every category, including Miss Maryland, Miss Appalachia, and the Queen of Canoe and Kayak Slaloming.

Then of course, there were the huge, old tractors that local farmers had taken from their fields to come drive in the parade. Oh, how precious. Watching the locals cheer on their friends and affiliate groups created such a sense of comradery. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and genuinely happy to be celebrating such a huge and important tradition. The vibe from the town was so different from the fast-paced, career-obsessed Washington, D.C. I am used to. It was refreshing, a great reminder of how family and tradition are just as important to some people as careers and money-making are to others.

After the final marching band walked through, signifying the end of the parade, Sarah, my mom and I headed to small wine shop for an Autumn Glory wine-tasting. The wine was fabulous, but we didn’t get to enjoy a huge variety because we didn’t stay too long. My dad soon picked my mom and me up in our Jeep, and we said goodbye to Sarah and headed back to our small cabin in the area for a family dinner. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

Before the weekend was over, Sarah and I also managed to make a short trip to Swallow Falls State Park, a beautiful park encompassing a long stream and waterfall (I’m also a little biased to the park’s beauty because my dad runs Swallow Falls, along with all of the state parks in Western Maryland!). Unfortunately, we chose to go on a day when the rain was generous, but we got in a decent walk to the falls without getting too wet. I have been to the falls many times before, yet somehow they never fail to impress me. The beautiful water along with the colorful red and yellow leaves made for ideal scenery and great photo opps.

Overall the weekend was a perfect escape. Autumn Glory was such a charming festival and got me sooooooooooo in the mood for fall. Escaping to the mountains in general was a great distraction from the busyness at school in my final year of college. And, of course, seeing my parents and spending time with my friend Sarah always puts a smile on my face; one that I hope will never fade. I don’t know if I’ll go back to the festival next year — heck, I don’t even know if I’ll still be in this country next year — but going forward, I’ll have  nothing but fond memories of this warm, wonderful weekend.