48 hours in salt lake city

Fortunately, SLC is a short one hour flight from Denver. Thanks to Frontier for making travel cheap, I got a roundtrip ticket for $70 (score)! So naturally, I visited my best friend for a girls weekend getaway.

With just 48 hours, here’s all we managed to see and do.

SLC FARMERS MARKET // PIONEER PARK

I forgot to take pictures of the farmers market…but the SLC farmers market was our absolute favorite when I used to live in SLC. It’s located at the downtown Pioneer Park and runs from June to October. There’s something so fun and relaxing about walking outside, while drinking fresh squeezed limeade and exploring all of the various vendors (i.e. fresh produce, bakeries, jewelry, crafts, food stands, etc.).

LAZIZ KITCHEN

Hyunah recommended Laziz Kitchen, a Lebanese/Mediterranean eatery that serves brunch and lunch. Not only was the place incredibly charming with some of the most beautiful interior, but the food was fresh, delicious, and light!

Hyunah ordered the Shish Tawook, a grilled chicken platter that comes with rice, tabouleh salad, pita, and pickles, while I ordered the Shakshouka, an egg, tomato, onion, and pepper based skillet served with pita and a creamy goat cheese.

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dreamy interior
first time trying shakshouka

BODEGA

Bodega is one of my favorite bars in SLC for its cozy atmosphere and, of course, for its incredible speakeasy. While the top just appears to be a small bar, there’s also a speakeasy restaurant hidden below where you can order food and additional cocktails.

In order to be seated at the speakeasy though, it’s highly recommended that you make reservations since it fills quickly. Overall, this place is totally worth a visit just for its unique interior.

favorite speakeasy
bar on the top level

LAKE EFFECT

Lake Effect is definitely a classy, high-end bar with the most beautiful seating and bathrooms. Their cocktail menu is a book there’s so many choices, and they also serve delicious food. They also have live music – we got lucky with an amazing jazz band!

I got a Moscow Mule and we shared their fingerling potatoes and calamari (so good). Prices run a bit high here, but it’s great for indulging once in a while.

Ladies: the bathroom is an absolute dream. Be ready to take pictures because it’s just the perfect backdrop.

and it was all a blur

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#bathroomgoals

PUBLIK COFFEE

Publik Coffee is easily one of my favorite coffee shops in SLC. I love the urban, rustic atmosphere and the detailed craftsmanship put into the drinks and food. Whenever I come here, I usually order a latte (hot or iced) or americano and either an avocado or lox toast!

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STRAW MARKET

Straw Market is tucked away in the Avenues neighborhood. This local secret is famous for its homemade, $1 cinnamon rolls that are to die for. They also serve bomb breakfast burritos for just $3.50, an assortment of crepes, omelettes, and more.

Unfortunately, I also forgot to take pictures here…so you’ll just have to be sure to try it yourself!

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON

A short 30 minute drive from downtown SLC, and you’re lost in the mountains of Big Cottonwood Canyon. There are so many great hikes and rock climbing spots here for all your outdoor adventure needs.

Some beautiful hikes I recommend are Lake BlancheDonut Falls, Dog Lake, Desolation Lake, Lake Mary, and Lake Catherine. 

Since we barely got much sleep after a long night out, we opted for Lake Mary. It offers stunning lake and mountain views at the top and isn’t too difficult or long to hike.

scenic drives
trail to lake mary

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lake mary views

TRIO

We were feeling Italian on my last night…first delicious Carbonara and Pomodoro pasta at Trio, followed by stracciatella and almond gelato at Sweetaly.

carbonara (top) and pomodoro (bottom)

SWEETALY

chocolate fountain

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Such a fun weekend spent with my favorite human!

Love you to the moon and back, xoxo

Till next time, SLC.

-Angela

three weeks in puerto rico

My contract job at Frontier Airlines ended. I didn’t have a new job lined up. I had time on my hands – a precious commodity often scarce in a regular 9 to 5. I had a summer break for the first time in three years. I had nothing to lose but a missed opportunity. So I booked my flight to Puerto Rico, and off Cam and I set for the Caribbean. Home for the next three weeks.

Looking back, I am SO glad I did it.

We basked in the sun and got funky tan lines. We breathed the salty ocean breeze. We wrestled with vivid turquoise waves. We dipped our toes in fine, white sand. We drove windy and narrow roads in the jungle. We got lost. We climbed mountains. We explored caves. We gambled at casinos. We won. We lost. We explored historic forts and colorful, cobblestone streets by foot. We salsa danced. We had our share of beer, rum and cokes, mojitos, and piña coladas. We hiked jungles full of snails and lizards barefoot in the mud. We saw bamboo and fern trees as tall as the sky. We stumbled upon waterfalls in the rainforest. We watched an explosive sunset gradually dim on the ocean coast. We ate suckling pig, plantains, and star fruit. We got countless mosquito bites. We rode the wrong bus – a couple times. We enjoyed art. We grew fond of AC. We wandered. We laughed. We struggled. We learned. We grew. We lived. We walked out richer than when we came. And that is the beauty of travel.

LIVING LOCAL

Our first Airbnb was in Santurce on Calle Bolivar. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood and surrounded by tropical plants, we had a quite spacious Airbnb with a well-sized kitchen, dining area, large bedroom, AC (thank God), bathroom, hallway, private patio, and shared plunge pool to cool off (where you can hear chirping coqui frogs at night). Having a full kitchen and stove made it easy to cook so we didn’t have to eat out all the time.

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We decided to book different Airbnbs for each week to experience different neighborhoods throughout the city, but our first Airbnb was definitely the most comfortable and accommodating. For three weeks total, we each paid about $400 in rent. Not bad compared to normal rent back in Colorado.

Located in Santurce, a neighborhood once known to be broken, corrupt, and dangerous, now showcases a variety of colorful street art, coffee shops, and well, hipster things.

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In the first week and a half, we had seen and done all the main sights and activities San Juan has to offer. Since we didn’t have a car most of the time (we opted to only rent a car for two days to save money), we rode local buses that run back and forth from Old San Juan to Isla Verde for 75 cents each way and occasionally took an Uber for convenience.

The Modern Museum of Art, Museum of Puerto Rico, and Contemporary Art Museum all had impressive and unique art displays. All three are easily a must for anyone who has a liking for modern and contemporary art.

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OLD SAN JUAN

You haven’t really seen San Juan if you don’t visit Old San Juan. The old town enwraps you with stunning, bright colors and narrow cobblestone streets. Unlike Cuba, the paint is generally crisp and new, the buildings complete and whole.

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We also made sure to visit the Nuyorican Cafe at night where we had a few mojitos too many, watched a live salsa band, and where I salsa danced with the instructor. This place is open till 4 am! So if it takes you a while to warm up to getting on the dance floor, no worries, you have time. There were some stellar dancers…it amazes me that so many locals acquire such natural salsa skills.

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We also visited El Castillo del Cristobal and El Morro – old forts bordering the city that defended Puerto Rico from the Spaniards and Americans. Walking amongst the fort tops, you get excellent views of the ocean, city, and island landscape.

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It’s also worth visiting La Factoria for some artisan-crafted cocktails. This place made the top 50 best bars in the world for its series of hidden rooms and cocktail creations.

BEACHES

Besides the forts and museums, you mainly go to a Caribbean Island for the beach. We managed to visit the beach maybe 8 to 9 days in a row, which explains this impressive tan I’ve gotten. Beachin’ everyday (literally).

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First we visited Condado, then Ocean Park, and then trekked to Isla Verde. So we covered all the primary beaches of San Juan. My favorite – beach wise – was probably Isla Verde. While Isla Verde was more touristy and hosted several resorts, the sand was so fine and white, the ocean so clear and vivid blue, and the shore so vast.

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But this was probably my favorite beach for the memories made there. Cam climbing coconut trees and cracking them open with the sheer power of his throw, drinking fresh coconut water dripping from the crack, being a lil’ tipsy from a piña colada, running straight into the ocean with Cam, dunking each other, being massacred by massive waves.

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Ocean Park, on the other hand, has a more local feel. Bright turquoise waters, as well. It was incredibly close to our third Airbnb off of Calle Las Flores and Calle Loiza, a popular main street. Just a five-minute walk from our place made our daily beach routine that much easier.

Condado has a somewhat hotel and resort feeling, but the water is mostly clear and blue consistently. Our second Airbnb, located near the Miramar Food Trucks, was closest to Condado. So we really got to enjoy both Ocean Park and Condado the most during our stays.

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FOOD + DRINK

I was surprised to find that it actually proved difficult to find authentic and pure Puerto Rican food in San Juan. There are several chain restaurants and stores that are back in the States. Many restaurants in Santurce feature more “modern” cuisine, such as burgers, sandwiches, and salads (all things you would normally find in the U.S.), or feature various ethnic foods, such as Italian, Chinese, and Greek. If you do find Puerto Rican food in old town, it’s generally touristy or overpriced.

We wanted simple, homemade, traditional Puerto Rican food that could speak to the island’s true roots. We didn’t give up looking. Persistent, we managed to discover a local mom and popshop in a food court in Old San Juan. Unlike all the other restaurants, this place was tucked away in the back where the lights were dim. Only local, laboring men were found gathered around the table munching away. The ambiance – not so great. The food and price – excellent.

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It was called Grandma’s Kitchen and served generous portions of rice, chicken and pork, and plantains. The flavors were bold, and it was just the authentic food experience we were looking for amidst all the touristy and overpriced restaurants.

We also passed a food truck on Calle Loiza, selling stuffed arepas that were absolutely delicious. Not to mention, they were only 2 for $5! It was probably the closest thing to street food we could find.

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One evening we tried a traditional, Puerto Rican dish called Mofongo on a rooftop overlooking the city at sunset. The Mofongo was good, but it didn’t live up to what it was made to be. We also sipped piña coladas at Barrachina where the original piña colada was first invented.

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Not only did we try the original piña colada, but we also toured the Bacardi Rum Factory, which is the largest premium rum distillery in the world. The tour also included a complimentary drink of choice!

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I always love finding a country’s local marketplace where vendors sell a variety of produce. San Juan’s is called La Placita. It was much smaller than I anticipated (it had maybe five vendors total), but it fulfilled our star fruit needs. The marketplace is actually most popular and crowded at night with locals drinking, enjoying live music, and dancing the night away.

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A better marketplace for a real and local Puerto Rican experience where there’s authentic food and several vendors, selling fruits, vegetables, and a variety of other goods, can be found at Mercado de Rio Piedras. In fact, Andrew Zimmerman from Bizarre Foods made a visit here.

Here you can choose from many different food stalls, serving everything from pork, chicken, stews, and fish to rice and beans, plantains, potatoes, avocadoes, and macaroni. This was the real deal. Food served on foam plates with plastic silverware, packed with flavor. It wasn’t a trendy, new age dining experience, but it was traditional and real.

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CASINOS

One of my favorite nightlife experiences was probably our first time gambling at the Marriott casino in Condado. We tried the slot machines – fail. An easy and sure way to lose money quickly with the press of a couple buttons. We tried the roulette table – fail. Picking numbers is harder than it looks. We tried our first game of Blackjack at the table – success.

Cam went to the $10 minimum bet table and managed to walk away with $30 after betting $20! A $10 win! So we left the Casino $10 richer than when we came in despite the money lost at the slots.

We visited the casino again because we felt confident we could win again. Unfortunately, Cam walked out with the same $80 he came in with (at least not a loss), and I successfully made $32 on a $20 bet! Whoo! This time we played at a table with locals who taught us some tricks of the trade, which definitely helped me win.

I guess we didn’t learn our lesson because we made one last visit to the casino. We both walked out with a loss – $20 for me, $25 for Cam. Naturally, the only way to cope with a quick loss was to have a happy hour mojito.

BAYAMÓN

Before our road trip, we decided to try something new and went to Bayamón instead of the beach. It really came down to seeking out new sights even when we felt we had seen and done almost everything. There we found a tropical jungle with trails – that is, Julio Enrique Monagas National Park.

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Sometimes you spontaneously decide to hike the jungle even if you’re wearing a skirt and sandals, but you just roll with it. Mud all over, sweat running down limbs, and bug bites galore. We saw snails, trees with spikes, red flower petals, geckos, birds, and spiders. Eventually being dirty didn’t matter anymore because sometimes adventures are meant to be messy and unpredictable. There wasn’t another soul in sight. It was just the two of us, roaming the jungle.

TWO-DAY ROAD TRIP

The day we had been anxiously awaiting finally arrived! We rose early to pick up our rental car near the airport at 8:00 am. A compact, white Hyundai awaited us. Many of the main roads between cities require tolls, so it’s almost required, or at least highly suggested, that you purchase the Auto Express Toll Pass, which comes out to a reasonable $5 per day.

Without a car, you don’t really get a bigger picture of Puerto Rico. You only get San Juan and its city attractions. So having rented a car for only two days, we managed to see and do so much within 48 hours that showed us more of what the island is all about.

Without wasting any time, we immediately set off for Parque Nacional de las Cavernas del Río Camuy to see one of the world’s largest cave systems. Camuy is located in the Northwestern region. You’re required to join a walking tour that costs about $18 per adult and lasts about an hour and half. The caves were massive with openings to the jungle that cast light amongst the wet darkness. Within we saw lizards, scorpions, and even bats. It was incredible and completely worth it. It was probably the best cave tour I’ve been on.

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After our cave tour, we drove through the jungle towards the Hacienda San Pedro coffee farm in the mountain town of Jayuya that makes La Finca coffee sold in retail grocery stores (this is actually the coffee we bought at the grocery before we knew it was from this farm!).

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Here we were able to drink fresh coffee at their coffee shop straight from the farm. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough visitors on the weekday for them to give us a tour of the farm and coffee roasting process. So if you want a full tour, visit on the weekend instead.

Driving through the jungle, we naturally got lost (I also may not be the world’s best navigator). The roads are incredibly narrow, and the bamboo and fern trees stretch so high that they shade you from the sun. Cam is without a doubt a highly skilled driver now. He passed the real-life test of Mario Kart (jungle edition).

This cost us some valuable time, so we skipped lunch to make sure we made our next destination – Cerro Punta, the highest peak in Puerto Rico at 4,390 feet.

We pulled off the highway into a gravel parking lot, took our pre-climb photo, and set foot up the very steep road towards the summit. The hike only took about 30 to 40 minutes, but the incline made it more challenging. But, of course, this was nothing compared to climbing a Colorado fourteener, which both of us have accomplished more than just once back home.

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We made the summit before sunset and arrived to 360-degree views of the mountainous jungle faintly covered with a cascade of fog. The fog created varying shades of green in the distance. It was breathtaking. It was rewarding. It was beautiful.

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Slowly becoming a tradition, we brought two beers for a summit cheers (good thing the elevation doesn’t even compare to Colorado’s so the alcohol doesn’t affect you as much). We were on top of the island!

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After our climb, we started driving towards our Airbnb we booked in Guayama for the night. It grew late and dark. We were tired and sweaty. We arrived in Guayama, but couldn’t find the Airbnb for almost 40 minutes because there wasn’t an address and the host didn’t speak much English. Weary, we decided to drive to Ponce (the second largest city in Puerto Rico and our next stop) and found a Holiday Inn. It was so nice being able to enjoy hotel amenities for a night and rejuvenate.

The next morning we started the day exploring the European and Puerto Rican art at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, one of the most renowned art museums in Puerto Rico. It mainly hosted classical paintings, which wasn’t necessarily our favorite but, nonetheless, still enjoyable.

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We then stopped by Parque de Bombas, a historic and iconic fire station. It wasn’t particularly that interesting in my opinion, but I kept reading it was popular, so I just took a picture.

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After a visit to the art city of Ponce, we set off for El Yunque National Rainforest, all the way on the Northeast coast. On the way to the rainforest, we took Highway 184, also known as “Pork Highway”.

Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman have made their stop here to try the famous suckling pig at food stalls called “Lechoneras”. It’s a local, Puerto Rican specialty primarily found in only the mountains. A whole pig is roasted on a stick over a pit, which is then served with yellow rice and beans, and plantains.

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We drove the pork highway for a good amount of time and still didn’t see any pig. It wasn’t until the very end of the highway that we stumbled upon several Lechoneras. It was completely worth it. The food was so flavorful, fresh, authentic, and just what we were searching for all this time.

We didn’t have time to sit down and eat, so we ate in the car on the way to El Yunque. We arrived to the rainforest at 4:00 pm, just two hours prior to close. There we viewed La CoCo falls, and then did a short hike to La Pina falls. The rainforest was lush, incredibly green, and just gorgeous.

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After El Yunque, we drove further East to Laguna Grande in Fajardo. We read that the bioluminescent bay is visible at night from this area. So we stayed and watched a stunning sunset on the coast. The water never glowed blue like we expected, and we needed to start heading back to San Juan in order to check into our last Airbnb. Even though we didn’t get to see the bioluminescent bay, the sunset and views were very worthwhile.

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Everything about my time – our time – in Puerto Rico for those three weeks was about getting away and living in a different atmosphere and culture. It was about having an adventure and escaping our routines.

I have no regrets and am so happy and grateful I got to explore the Caribbean!

So, I leave it with this – next stop: Israel.

– Angela

 

 

 

changing landscapes: one month in europe

Hello! I am back on the blog, I know it’s been a while since I last posted. Things have been quite hectic the past few months with some big changes. I have moved back to Denver and left my job in investment banking in Salt Lake City to pursue new opportunities this city has to offer! Before starting a new job, I wanted to make the most of summertime by exploring more of Europe. I would describe this trip as one of city exploration – cities with changing landscapes.

Austria

Salzburg

The trip started off in Salzburg, Austria where the hills are literally alive with the sound of music. Acapella groups, opera singers, and string quartets echo from almost every corner of this quaint city.  Mozart chamber concerts at the top of a fortress, winding cobblestone paths, crisp beers overlooking Austrian sunsets, summer florals, mountain backdrops, and walking every square inch of the city.

 

Gosau // Hallstatt

From Salzburg, my boyfriend and I headed to Gosau, a mountain resort village in the Austrian Alps. Through Airbnb, we booked a traditional Austrian farmhouse with white and brown wooden structures, overlaid with vibrant flowers. We easily visited nearby towns by bus, which gave us plenty to explore in the area. The intent of staying in Gosau was to be close to Hallstatt, Austria’s oldest village known for its historic charm, lakeside views, and salt mining, while also being able to have a remote and idyllic experience in the spacious land that Gosau offers. Gosau is truly a living fairytale.

Airbnb stay // traditional Austrian farmhouse

View of the Dachstein mountain range from Gosau

From Dachstein, you can purchase a ticket for two scenic lifts that include an ice cave tour (first scenic lift) and access to the Five Finger Lookout (second scenic lift). The ice cave tours are extremely cold (definitely wear a coat and long pants!) and feature ice formations that date almost 600 years old. The Five Finger Lookout gives you incredible views of glaciers and endless mountains and lakes.

Inside the prehistoric Ice Cave

Five Finger Lookout

We made a day trip to Lake Gosausee not really knowing what to expect, yet we ended up arriving to the most stunning, close-up look of the Dachstein mountains. We spent the day taking a stroll around the lake, cliff jumping, and sun bathing on a small beach front. A relaxing day with jaw dropping views.

 Lake Gosausee

An evening bike ride through Gosau after a rainstorm

Hallstatt epitomizes traditional Austria with with its wooden houses stacked at varying angles, colorful flowers dressing the streets and windows, and lakes and mountains visible from its entire parameter. Hot chocolate rum, apple strudels, sausages and hot dogs, and beef goulash make up some of the Austrian delicacies common in these mountainous towns.

Vienna

Vienna – a vibrant, detailed, and bright city. Beautiful, white sculptures are commonly sighted at all corners. So much art and so much history. While exploring downtown Vienna, my boyfriend and I started with a tour of the Schonbrunn Palace and garden. The garden is abundant in flowers during the summertime with a paved horse carriage path that leads to a large fountain and the summer palace. After palace romping, we visited Vienna’s largest food market, Naschmarkt, to only end up continuing our gyro diet. Gyros, after all, are cheap and tasty. Anyways, I digress. After eating gyros, of course it was only fitting to go to the Prater (Austria’s largest amusement park) to ride the Black Mamba – a 360 degree rotating ride that gives you an incredible view of Vienna. At the Prater, you pay by each ride, which lets you be in control of how much you want to do. For us, one ride was plenty before feeling sick.

Next stop: Stephansplatz, renowned as Vienna’s busiest square and shopping area. Here you can see St. Stephen’s Gothic Church and eat cake like a royal at Demel’s (a bakery known for its history of cake baking for royal families). Almost all large sites in Vienna are easily accessible by metro. Just a few stops away, we went to the Leopold Art Museum, which featured exquisite artwork by Klimt and Schiele, as well as your abstract, and well, let’s just say, very interesting modern art displays.


Town of Krems-Dunnstein-Melk


Slovakia

Bratislava

Just a one hour train ride from Vienna exists a completely different landscape. One day is more than plenty to explore, as there are not many sites to see. It is more about feeling the change in atmosphere, language, and customs in such a short distance. Bratislava definitely exudes Eastern European vibes in contrast to Vienna’s Western flare. This short day trip was meant for exploring a new place by foot, not knowing what to expect, and simply experiencing a new region.

Germany

Berlin

Berlin definitely exceeded my expectations for its incredible art scene, depth of history, and sheer variety of sites to explore. Not to mention, it’s one of the most affordable cities to travel in Western Europe. My cousin and I spent a total of five days here, while four days would probably have been more fitting. What surprised me the most was the cultural diversity of Berlin. With several Syrian and Turkish refugees coming in to Germany, as well as immigrants from all over the world, you can feel its eclectic culture in its food, residential neighborhoods, art, and general ambience. In fact, Berlin is known for its currywurst (a hot dog dusted in curry powder with ketchup or mustard) and doner kebabs. They are literally everywhere.

 Checkpoint Charlie: the official border between communist East Berlin and democratic West Berlin

Remains of the Berlin Wall

Berlin Dome

View of the TV Tower

 Brandenburg Gate

The Holocaust Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe was probably my favorite visit while in Berlin. The exhibit was uniquely and creatively constructed with a sea of uneven, concrete blocks that grow taller as you walk deeper within the maze. As you walk throughout, the floors ebb up and down, a metaphor for a time of instability, disillusionment, and confusion. Besides the exhibit’s incredible maze of blocks, the memorial also features several, detailed stories of Jewish families from all over Europe during the Holocaust. These stories delve deep into individuals’ journal entries, personal letters, and day-to-day lives that truly allow you to feel the heaviness and sadness of this time.

Holocaust Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe

Hummus & Friends (a nice break from currywurst and doner kebabs)

Bode Museum: one of three on the Museum Island

Bebelplatz, notorious for Nazi book burning ceremonies

 View from the Reichstag Dome

The Reichstag

Dusseldorf // Cologne

While in the area, I made a weekend visit to Dusseldorf to reunite with my other cousin who is currently studying medicine here. She and her friends kindly showed me the best of Dusseldorf and Cologne, despite how ‘boring’ or ‘ugly’ they claim it to be. Overall, it was a great weekend spent reminiscing with cousins and making new friends and memories.

Reunited with cousin Susi after four years

We all made a day trip to Cologne, only a short thirty minute train ride away, known for its great shopping, cafes, and colorful houses such as these.

Netherlands

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a quirky city of charming, narrow houses, pretty tulips, canals and boats, more bikes than people, cannabis readily abundant in all forms, and a controversial red light district where prostitution is legal, attracting large groups of tourists every day. Spent about two days here exploring the flower market, taking a boat ride through the canals, trying different cafes, and visiting the Vincent Van Gogh art museum, which features the artist’s incredible collection across his entire career in different periods.

I made a visit to the red light district during the evening and all I could wonder was, does the legalization of prostitution actually just encourage it further? Is it a good or bad thing? Large groups of mainly male tourists walk the streets, and it saddened me that the vulgarity of the shows were being praised, paid for, and receiving so much attention. Prostitutes stand in the windows glowing with red light in lingerie, while casually looking at their phones, waiting for their next customer. They are human, people, individuals, and yet on display as objects at public disposal.

Portugal

Lisbon

So grateful and glad I made a visit to Portugal during this trip. Lisbon is absolutely beautiful with colorful buildings lined with ceramic tiles of all kinds of patterns. Smooth cobblestones pave the sidewalks of endless hills throughout the city. The coast is just a short walk away from the city center where you can see a red bridge – similar to the Golden Gate Bridge – and a large statue of Jesus Christ – similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Sao Paulo. Lisbon feels reminiscent of San Francisco with its bridge, hills, and trams, Brazil with its Christ statue, and Spain for its history, monuments, and food.

 Jeronimos Monastery

Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Pastel de Belem’s original pastel de natas

Tower of Belem

Mountain city of Sintra

Portuguese tiles

Gothic ruins

Porto 

Porto itself is smaller than Lisbon, and for that reason, I may just like it a tad more. Known for its port wine, cork crafts, eiffel tower inspired bridges, and excellent seafood, it easily kept me in awe. I began the solo travel part of my journey near the end of Lisbon and while in Porto, my last destination before heading home. Staying in a hostel dorm room with eight other girls was a great way to meet new people from all walks of life. I was at first a bit nervous to travel a new city on my own for the first time, but I am so glad I did it. I learned more about myself, and it forced me to make new friends from all over the world I would otherwise have not made. Who knew I would be having dinner till 1 am with a girl who works for the European Parliament at the Reichstag I visited just weeks prior? Who knew I would spend my day walking the city by foot, wine tasting, and cafe lounging with a girl from Innsbruck, Austria, a small mountain city just near where I had began my trip? Who knew I would be sampling pastries, sipping coffee, and shopping with a girl from Taipei, Taiwan, where my family comes from? I’ve learned life really is about the journey, not the destination.

Dinner with new friends

Wine cellar tours with Anja from Innsbruck, Austria

I wasn’t aware of this bookstore until I arrived, but the Livraria Lello & Irmao is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and ranked third most beautiful bookstore in the world! It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by this bookstore, while writing Harry Potter. She lived in Porto for about 10 years, which would explain how many of her ideas for Harry Potter were likely influenced by this magical city.

Harry Potter inspired bookstore

Overall, this was truly a fulfilling trip across changing landscapes. In one month, I was constantly learning new things: new norms, foods, languages, laws, history, art, and ways of life. The world got so big, and I became so small. I drank lots of coffee, snapped lots of pictures, wrote several entries, rode many trains, took many cat naps, read many maps, and walked more kilometers than I ever have in my life. Happy to have added more stories to my book. Now, what’s next!?

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us – unknown

Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show. – unknown

Jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul. – Jaime Lyn Beatty


Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. – Asian Proverb