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!

The real reason I travel

The Real Reason I Travel (2)I have been feeling uncharacteristically emotional and anxious lately. These feelings, I’m sure, are symptoms of stress from exams, lack of sleep, nervousness about my impending graduation and uncertainty about the future. This emotional tempest of late has caused me to be immensely introspective; I’ve thought deeply about who I am, who I want to be, where I came from, where I want to be and what I want to do with the rest of my life. When I try addressing each question, travel always seems to come up.

But why travel? Most people reading this blog are also travelers who I’m sure could talk for hours about why they love to travel and what travel means to them, but I’m still trying to figure out what it means to me. Of course, I love travel because I love learning about cultures different from my own, meeting people who have amazing life stories, falling in love with art and architecture and music from around the world, and meeting other travelers who are as passionate about these things as I am. Yet these factors describe only why I love traveling, not why I’m obsessed with it.

Truth is, I’m scared. What, Alexis? How does scared = obsessed?  Bear with me.

As I’ve recounted tales from my international trips to family and some older friends, I’ve usually been met with the same response, “Wow! I wish I had traveled when I was still young and healthy” or “I’m jealous! I always wanted to travel, but I got too caught up in my career and never found time…” Some are moderately regretful that they didn’t travel, others seem to be truly torn by their decisions. No matter what the level of regret they feel, I’m terrified that will be me someday.

I’m afraid of growing old and never crossing things off my bucket list. I’m afraid that any moment, a terrible accident will happen, and I’ll pass away without having fulfilled my dreams. I’m afraid of running out of time.

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Life is too damn short.

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Exactly one year ago, I lost one of the most important people in my life to brain cancer. He was more than a friend, someone I loved and who inspired me every moment we spent together. Even before he found out he was dying, Zach made the most of every minute, always chasing an adventure or story (we met in journalism class) and always seeing the best in every situation. One of the mantras he lived and swore by was,”Make each day your masterpiece,” and he did just that up to his last breath. He would have been 22 this May.

Since his death, I have vowed to honor him by in turn making each day my masterpiece. Any day can be a masterpiece if one is open, optimistic and sees beauty in everyday things, especially those things that disguise themselves as ugly. But the true way to make each day you masterpiece is to spend it doing what you love.

What I love most is traveling.

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Part of me is writing this post for my parents, to justify why I want to go abroad for a while after graduation. Like any wise, realistic parents should, they hope I get a job out the gate so I can begin earning a decent living and pay off student loans. Honestly, that is the smart and noble thing to do, and I know my parents want only what is best for me.

The other part is writing for myself, to know that if I decide to do a working holiday or teach English abroad for a year (I’ll definitely still have to work while I travel), I shouldn’t feel guilty for following my dreams. The ideal situation would be to find a job in the career field I want — public relations/marketing/research/data — that allows me to travel. Trust me, I’m searching for that job, but I can’t guarantee I will find it. Thus, in the meantime, I want to work toward fulfilling what dreams I can so my bucket list doesn’t become The List of Things I Wish I Did. I refuse pass away carrying inside me a depository of regrets.

I want to see the world before I run out of time. I want to take advantage of the fact that I am young, healthy, able, mobile, educated and, most importantly, alive.

That is the real reason I travel.

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.

12 life lessons I learned from a year of travel

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“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

2013 was the year I fell in love with travel. 2014 was the year I let that love take me all over the world. In the past 365 days since I started this blog, I traveled to three continents, nine countries and 22 cities. And that’s while being a full-time student, working 30 hours a week, interning and taking a summer class.

From climbing to the top of a huge sand dune in the Sahara Desert, to losing 50 Euros at the Monte Carlo Casino, to listening to stories wild 55-year-old Welsh woman on the train on my way to Ireland, I’ve had a whirlwind of experiences, both challenges and delights. In honor of my one year anniversary of being a Young, Broke Traveler, I’m taking time to reflect on everything I’ve learned from traveling in 2014.

Lessons I learned from each country:

  1. A small good deed goes a long way. (Canada)
    I met so many kind-hearted people in Canada. When I left some souvenirs at my hostel, the housekeeper mailed them back to D.C. for me. It was a small deed, but unbelievably kind, and inspired me to pay it forward.
  1. Nothing can bring people together the way music can. (Ireland)
    Oh man, bliss. Musicians populated nearly every street corner and pub in Dublin. And where there was music, there was a crowd of people listening and applauding. Music brought people together, connecting them and making them happy in a way no other medium can.
Dublin Musicians
Musicians played on almost every street in Dublin.

 

  1. You may speak the same language as someone, but can be having two very different conversations. (England)
    I thought I’d have a lot in common with Londoners given we speak the same language and are influenced by similar pop culture icons. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found London to be as foreign as Spain or France, with many different customs. I was glad to be wrong – I wouldn’t have learned so much otherwise.
  1. Dress well, dine well, drink wine, and appreciate art and surround yourself with good company.(France)
    Life’s too short not to.
  1. Being rich is glamorous, but really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Monaco)
    Our Contiki tour guide told our group about all the famous people who applied for citizenship in Monaco but weren’t granted because they weren’t quite rich and beautiful enough. That’s ridiculous. Yes, Monaco is the most elaborate, beautiful, expensive country I’ve been to, but its culture of stuck-up-ness and policy of exclusion make it ugly.
  1. Life doesn’t have to be rushed. Take time to stop, reflect, relax and enjoy. (Spain)
    In the U.S., it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact-paced, goal-driven, individualistic mentality. In Spain, people are still goal-driven, but take breaks from work to spend time with family, walk the dog, play with the kids, rest and have a pitcher or two of sangria – all in one day. It’s the best way to make time slow down.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
People in Spain enjoy a nice break in the afternoon.
  1. Let go and enjoy the moment. Family and friends are everything. Good food makes the world go round. (Italy)
    The second and third are a given in Italian culture. The first I learned at a karaoke bar in Florence. I’m usually nervous to go on stage and sing in front of a bunch of strangers, but at that moment, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I rocked out to Rollin’ in the Deep by Adele. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. The tequila helped…
  1. Success requires discipline and determination. But it’s okay to take a break every once in a while and have a beer. (Switzerland) 
    During the day, Zürich – one of the largest financial centers in the world– was bustling with sharply dressed business people on their phones, walking quickly, making business transactions. But those were the same people I saw at night, taking leisurely strolls by the water or drinking in the streets, cheering on Switzerland in the World Cup.
  1. You don’t need money to be happy. Peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood make you richer than money ever can. (Morocco) 
    Some of the happiest people in the world live in Morocco. While many live in poverty, they don’t wallow over what they do not have. Instead, they cherish what they do have — peace, love, trust, friendship and brotherhood – and that’s all they need. All anyone needs.
One of the happiest people I have met was a carpet craftsman in Morocco.
One of the happiest people I have met was this carpet craftsman in Morocco.

Lesson I learned about people:

  1. We’re not so different. 
    In 2014 I became friends with 29 Australians, 8 Kiwis, 7 Canadians, 5 South Africans, 5 Chinese, 3 Moroccans, 2 Japanese, an Italian, an Irish, a German and a Scott (they all spoke English). And while we came from 5 continents, we laughed at the same jokes, appreciated tights hugs, wore jeans, enjoyed a good beer (or glass of wine) and ate French fries, and hated to say goodbye. I found I have more in common with people from other countries than we have differences — because we’re all humans. Now I can’t wait to meet other people and find out what else we have in common.

Lesson I learned about myself:

  1. I’m more competent than I think.
    My trip to Europe in the summer was my first solo trip. And while I met up with a friend in London, and joined a tour group for 15 days, there were several days when I was completely on my own. Though I had some confidence in myself, I was nervous about traveling solo through countries like Italy and Switzerland where I didn’t know the language. But I struggled through the challenges – like figuring my way around Zürich – and realized I am capable of more than I thought. And it was with the new-found confidence that I felt compelled to travel to and from Casablanca alone.

Lessons I learned about travel:

  1. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
    It’s so true. I met so many kind French people, despite all the chatter that the French are rude; I felt safe in Morocco and met some of the kindest, friendliest people in the world, despite discouraging rumors about Islāmic countries; I saw productivity and achievement in Spain, despite claims that Spaniards are lazy and drink too much. The only way to truly know someone or someplace is to travel.

Travel is everything. It’s how I learn about both the world and myself. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have visited as many countries and have met as many wonderful, unforgettable people as I did in 2014. I worked hard for it and I cherished every moment. Now I’m excited to see what 2015 brings.

What lessons did you learn from travel this year?

A real life fairy tale: 5 of the world’s most enchanting landscapes

It’s cold out. Well, at least up here in the Northern Hemisphere. And while I’m stuck inside studying for my last few finals, I’m dreaming of all the warm, mystical places I’d rather be.

Luckily, my friends at Holiday Lettings of Trip Advisor helped put together this list of the most fantastical places in the world — some so fantastical that you can’t believe they really exist. From pastel-flowered tunnels to mysterious woodlands, Holiday Lettings shows the world’s most enchanting places to be.

1. Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan

The Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan

Imagine walking through a flower-wrapped tunnel with row upon row of beautiful wisteria plants, glowing with white, blue, purple and pink flowers. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re in an enticing anime scene. The scent‘s intoxicating and so much better than any perfume shop. After your sensory overload, step just outside to admire picturesque cherry trees and pretty zen gardens.

You’ll love nearby Mojiko Harbour’s quaint buildings and the historical restaurants where you can try the local speciality of cheesey baked curry. The harbour is just a 20-minute walk to the vast Kanmon Bridge, an impressive feat of engineering that offers a striking contrast with the traditional Mekari Shrine that stands directly below it. Look out for tributes of everything from seaweed to dolls.

2. Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland

The Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland

Photo credit: Kengi (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

This fantasy-type woodland looks just like a picture from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It consists of 400 pine trees that grow with a 90-degree horizontal bend at their bases before shooting up vertically towards the skies. Were they purposely grown in this way for making bent-wood furniture, the ribs of boat hulls or yokes for ox-drawn ploughs? The plans of whoever was tending the grove remain a puzzle.

Neighbouring Gryfino is one of Poland’s oldest towns. Visit the ancient St Mary’s Church, a Gothic building from the early 14th century, built with granite and brick in the shape of a Greek cross. You can walk in the Lower Oder Valley and Beech Forest Parks – they’re both extremely rich in flora and fauna. And it’s well worth trying to catch a famous Gryfino Days cultural extravaganza.

3. Lapland, Finland

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Photo credit: Chris (license) via Flickr.com

Lapland, Finland

Photo credit: edweerdt (license) via flickr.com

Lapland’s a mysterious wilderness of clear, Arctic air. The light alone is like Narnia or a norse saga. In a land known for the midnight sun that makes a brief appearance in the summer, the extreme north has kaamos, a season of ghostly blue-tinged autumn light. Then, as the long, polar nights of winter set in, witness the breath-taking aurora borealis.

You’ll want to make the most of this crystal-coated wonderland. Why not ski in downhill resorts, snowmobile through forests, mush with husky dogs, drill an ice-hole to catch a fish or watch the reindeer races in winter? You can also enjoy rafting down white-water rivers and walking through pristine national parks in summer’s endless daylight.

4. Blue Dragon River, Algarve, Portugal

Barragem de Odeleite
Photo credit: mat’s eye (edited) (license) via Flickr

Technically it’s the Odeleite River, but it’s often called by another name – the Blue Dragon. One glimpse of its unique serpentine pattern and dark blue waters curving through the Portuguese landscape, and you’ll understand why. It looks just like a mythical sea creature come to life.

Wander through Odeleite village – it’s full of charming, whitewashed houses that tumble down a gentle slope towards the water. Watch out for the medieval musicians, archers and swordsmen in the Medieval Fair in nearby Castro Marim. This is the real Algarve: striking, captivating, and all the better for it.

5. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

This island is a seductive fantasy of sparkling aqua lagoons with craggy volcanic peaks towering behind them. Its strong cocktail of ever-so-romantic and slightly spicy exotica tempts planeloads of movie stars and honeymooners. Will you succumb to Bora Bora’s charms as well?

Sample the excellent Polynesian cuisine at the Maikai Bora Bora Marina and Yacht Club – the views over the water are fabulous. Try snorkeling or diving for a different perspective of this tropical environment, or head to the legendary Marama Tattoo Studio for a traditionally designed tattoo.

From islands to enchanted forests — these places are just waiting to be explored. So whose ready to head out on a fairy tale adventure? After my last exam tomorrow, I know I sure will be.

Can you think of any place to add to this list?

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?