If you’ve read any of those lists circulating lately about the Top 10 destinations you MUST get to this year, then you’ve most certainly heard of Kotor – only you may have no real idea as to where it is, because I surely did not prior to the summer. In continuing along my Balkans Bouncing, Kotor came as one of the most beautiful and invigorating suggestions, and I’m so happy that I went.
Kotor is an exquisite and still fairly untouched-by-tourists seaside town on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro; nestled between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina to the west and Albania to the south. Only a hop and an offered day-trip away from Dubrovnik, Kotor is virtually the opposite in terms of what you get. Where Dubrovnik is crazy expensive and crawling with tourists from all over the globe (mostly Game of Thrones fans), Kotor is still mellow and just beginning to get traction from commercial cruise liners. I’ll say it now though, it’s only a matter of time until that bay is jam-packed with Titanics. Once people hear about it the treasure chest will come flying open. So, get there now!
Initially, Kotor was ‘planned’ as a one night stay, which quickly turned into 4 nights worth. During my time there I found out I wasn’t alone in this scenario – which could be attributed to the adorably pushy front desk boy with the big brown eyes telling you to stay so you can check out an abandoned building together, or the straight up relaxation, views, and slow change of pace that are so very welcome when your back is killing from backpacks and cramped bus seats.
So, if you’re in the market for a treat to your eyes, a little burn for your thighs, and some relaxing vibes, then Kotor is just for you!
Every angle of Kotor is unbelievable, so your eyes are bound to be in constant wonder. Whether it’s from admiring the walled city from the outside, wandering amidst the old city walls, or climbing up to the top of the UNESCO protected Kotor Fortress, you will not be disappointed. I spent a lot of my time just wandering around all the little Medieval alleyways reminding myself to keep looking up.
City guard shark
I also ventured outside the old town to walk along the Adriatic and try my hardest to tackle at least one abandoned building break-in, which unfortunately to my dismay was an unsuccessful feat. There’s just something about a place left in mysterious disarray that really gets me excited, and well, in Kotor there happens to be the old Hotel Fjord. Sometime in the mid-90s the owner had money problems, forcing the prime property to never see the check-in of one single visitor. When I went to try and jump a fence, I soon noticed that there was absolutely no way in, and later found out that along with the surrounding fence, the authorities had set up cameras to prevent squatters from stealing old mattresses. Why that matters is beyond me, but I was quite displeased.
The closest I got was to the trash-laden pool at the sea’s edge, where people basked just a stone’s throw away.
Perhaps the biggest must-do in Kotor is the hike to the top of the fortress. While I am by no means an avid hiker, I do enjoy the view from the top, and the feeling of worked out thighs. Typically the hike is supposed to take a couple hours to ascend, and significantly less to get back down, however, my Kotor friend and I took a leisurely five hours to reach the view point – which was worth every single second!
Instead of entering through the designated entrance within the city walls, Michaela had been tipped off my the cute front desk boy that there’s a quicker (and free) way to start the climb from just outside the walls. So we took his tip and got on our way.
The hike up was excruciatingly hot and picturesque, causing us to stop and disrobe or pose for photos with our magnificent backdrop around nearly every turn. When we got about half way up there was an abandoned church just nestled into the mountainside. The inside was all eroded with time, with colors from old frescos faintly decorating the walls and ceiling.
It was around here that we reached a fork in the road. To the right was the entrance to the city wall path, and to the left was a suspicious sign saying cold drinks and fresh goat cheese. Initially we thought ‘nahh’ we don’t want to get killed on the side of a massive mountain, but then turned around because why not. And it was the sweetest detour we could have made!
We arrived at the home tucked high on the mountainside where a family has lived for 40 years making their own cheese, selling refreshments on the fortress path to sweltering hikers, and whose children ‘commute’ down the mountain to school everyday. We relaxed, watched the women care for their goats, ate delicious goat cheese from said goats, and enjoyed some of the most spectacular views my eyes have ever been privy to.
After almost getting stampeded by a gaggle of wild goats and a brief photoshoot, we made it inside the walls and successfully mounted the mountain. Feast your eyes on that Pterodactyl call!
When you’re done feeling the burn, it’s time to max, relax, and chillax; and there’s no better place to do just that if you’re bouncing through the Balkans. While the sea is overrun with cruisers on their daily stop-off, the shore also has this gorgeous Mediterranean vibe that just can’t be messed with. Not to mention, if you’re a beach goer used to riding and diving in waves, and dodging from impending shark attacks, you will not get that here, or really anywhere in these parts. The serene waters are perfect for playing, swimming, wading, and always people watching – which this group of 60s-ish men playing a game of dive & catch really brought home for me.
When you’ve surely worked up an appetite there is no shortage of fresh fish restaurants littering the old town. After my time in Bosnia and Serbia I seriously meated myself out, arriving in Croatia and Montenegro on a purely fish kick which did not disappoint. I treated myself to a couple fresh fish feasts at one of the oldest fish restaurants in Old Town Kotor, Scala Santa, which also happened to be just across from my amazing hostel. I left with a very happy tummy each night.
When I wasn’t busy eating or basking, I was wandering (of course). A couple times I happily stumbled on some pop up antique collections, one which was so crazy to me. This guy was selling hundreds or thousands of year old coins and weapons that his father had found in the surrounding areas. It was mind-boggling to me since I have only seen such artifacts in museums; but here I was able to hold them and really examine them with an up close eye. Definitely my kind of enjoyment!
Kotor is on all those lists for a very good reason, as it’s a little gem craving to be visited. It’s got the perfect temperament for romantic getaway or solo jaunt and anything in between.
Have you visited Kotor or anywhere else in Montenegro? What were your thoughts? Have I persuaded you to add this magical place to your travel bucket list? I hope so!
When I look back on year thirty-one, it looks like a very weird year. Nothing immediately crazy stands out to me until I actually look at it with a closer eye. Then I realize that this year was very much defined by leaps of faith, incredible travels, and was actually quite the successful year, with some (big) emotional bumps along the way.
Thirty-one started off with a romantical getaway to Brussels with Lambchops, complete with decadent Belgian chocolate aplenty and terrorist scares following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Spring time saw the Sistahood of the Traveling Yarmulkes of Diamonds and Schaeffs pop off to my fourth continent for a Moroccan getaway filled with camels and schmatas. My first full summer in years was spent exploring Greece and its downward spiral via shiny red vespa, and bouncing through the culturally rich Balkans. And now, thirty-one has come to end on a high note with a purposeful trip to New York which included passage of all Teaching Certification exams; and thank God because my entire life revolved around them for 3 months (hence the lack of bloggery).
That was a lot of happenings, and what better way to sum up the year than by highlighting year treinta y uno with thirty-two times my life saw a filter or two through the Instagram lens.
So, without further adieu…
1. Birthday & Balls In Brussels With A Babe
Lambchops and I booked a very last-minute (per the usual) jaunt to Brussels for my birthday weekend, where we drank delicious beer, ate the most decadent Belgian chocolate, visited European Parliament for my Mr. Politician man, and played with these giant silver balls at Atomium, a structure that is entirely retro inside and was originally designed for the 1958 Brussels World Fair. It was bomb, and we had lots of silly fun trying to get the perfect photo cupping these balls.
2. Dining Amidst Hemingway
I only had one spot in mind as to where I wanted to spend the night of the oldest I’d ever been, and that was at the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guiness Book of Records certificate that sits in the front window of Botin. Justin wore a vest and tie and his horrible shoes, we tried their Cochinillo, and we paid a visit to the table in the corner where one Ernest Hemingway used to sit and drink himself away before writing about how Madrid is the most difficult city to fall in love with. I agree with his drunk musings.
3. Hello Year Of The Goat!
I really miss celebrating Lunar New Year in a place where it’s celebrated, but thankfully Spain has Chinos by the bushel and two of the few friends I made in Madrid are an Asian and a pseudo Asian like I. So we went out to indulge our noodle and MSG dreams, and it was divine. Except for the tofu. It could have used some more spice.
4. Wore The Gaudiest Thing I Own
Never one to shy away from a good prop, I wore the gaudiest thing I own to take in some Gaudi on a weekend pop off to Barcelona with Jen. I realized that all I remembered about Barcelona from my 2006 trip with MayMay was Giuseppe, a nap that lasted forever, and Paella followed by some sort of free shot. So we wandered, admired all the stunning Gaudi, found his first commission off the beaten path, ate the best Patatas Bravas ever, and once again ate Paella to remember. I can also now say I have truly (soberly) visited Barcelona.
5. This Man
The seasons changed and Justin and I took in a few Tinto de Veranos terrace-side this fine gentleman. Truly a treat to the eyes and worthy of remembrance.
6. Sistahood Of The Traveling Yarmulkes
This was a trip we first only joked about, and then when everyone got on board it was pretty fabulous. Four crazy sistas who have been bickering and loving each other since the Willow Elementary days found ourselves exploring Madrid and then the most culturally shocking country I’ve ever visited – Morocco. What started out as a holiday where we were keeping our JAPpiness under lock and key, turned into an education about a place where so many religions co-exist peacefully. Morocco was colorful and vibrant and accepting, and perhaps one of the most visually intriguing places I’ve ever visited.
7. Semana Santa’s Own Ku Klux Klan
Semana Santa is Easter, or Holy Week in Spain, and I had no idea that these costumes were traditional to the holiday until the sistas and I stumbled upon them late one night. It was one of the most unsettling visions to walk in to, and we were all a bit disgusted but couldn’t stop staring. However, after some brief research, the Nazarenos actually have no correlation with the Ku Klux Klan, known to wear the same costume in white. In fact, this tradition pre-dates the KKK. Essentially the origins of why they wear these costumes is still a mystery, however their faces are covered as they are in mourning and in repentance for the sins of the past year. Can’t say I’m a fan, but I still find this cultural aspect utterly fascinating.
8. In A Boat With A Dream Boat
My dreamboat came for another visit to España, we went to Retiro Park, and he refused to let me do the rowing. How romantic.
9. Fucking Four Names!
I think it’s safe to say that everyone from our first year in Korea assumed Thomas Sean Dominic Kelly (otherwise known as 4names) fell off the face of the earth. Well, newsflash, he didn’t and he’s still alive and popped over to Spain to pay me a little visit. We did a couple Asian things, like got bubble tea and posed in front of this Korean restaurant, and then we went and drank many a glass of Vermouth and caught up about life since everyone thought he died. It was a great blast from the past.
10. Shika Shocka Hip Hopping
Two years ago Shika volunteered in the Philippines, met Dustin, came to visit him in Koko, we hit it off over fluffy whipped creamy waffles, fresh lobster, Mickey Mouse ears, and fancy bows. Since then we have become great continent hopping friends from Seoul to NYC to Madrid and back again. During her quick trip to Madrid we people watched in front of the royal palace, caught up about our boys, and enjoyed the most deliciously ginormous tomato dinner. Everything about her visit was a little bit o’ heaven.
11. An Afternoon At The Bull Fight
I still do not condone this bullfighting business, however, it also sits as one of my favorite, most Spanish experiences since arriving in the country. Before attending I was told things like “It’s an art”, “It’s so beautiful” and was eerily perturbed by that phraseology to describe something so barbaric. Then I went, met an avid bullfight goer, and witnessed the artistry first hand. It’s backwards, but it’s a huge part of Spanish culture, so to me it’s worth the experience. And boy was it. I wrote about it here if you want more of the bloody details.
12. Chef #dadbodenlacocina
Justin is quite the wizard in the kitchen, and I dearly miss having someone cook for me since he selfishly chose to depart España. Well, this night he cooked a massive Paella feast for me and his favorite Frenchies. It was a very tasty evening.
13. First Father’s Day In Four Years
2015 was the first Father’s Day I’ve actually been present for in four years. I arrived back state side the day before, and the next day we all took him to the cafe at Paradise Cove for lunch and a dip in the great big Pacific. He was so happy and I was so happy to be home to celebrate and take this photo in the most appropriate place we ever could have.
14. Our Jeanelly Became A Novak!
The first of our Fab 4 got hitched on the beach in Malibu to the amazing Alex, and it was the island party I couldn’t wait to get to! There was so much wind, so much dancing, so much wine, and so many lovers all in one place. Not to mention, I also had my first plus one to a wedding and came in tow with my handsome Greek man who got his first taste of America.
15. A Grand Tour Of Los Angeles As Promised
In 1999 two little teeny boppers promised the cute boy working at the front desk of our London hotel that we’d give him a Grand Tour (capital G and T) of Los Angeles if he ever found himself there. Well, this summer he did and the Sistas Schaeff took him on that Grand Tour. Even though he didn’t want to take us up on our long overdue offer of a trip to the happiest place on Earth, we found the next best thing. Our feet and Walt’s star will have to suffice until next time when he decides he’s only as old as he thinks he is.
16. Googling Away In Silicon Valley
Lambchops and I paid a long overdue visit to my favorite Baller in the world and his brand new bride, Michelle. We barbequed, swam, imbibed, and stayed up late gossiping like the good ol’ days, then woke up bright and early for a grand tour (there’s a trend here) of Google, which was awesome! Later that night we also got the royal treatment at Facebook when Lambros’ Godfather showed us around. I’d say this guy’s trip to America was a great giant success.
17. Countin’ It With This Gem
The guy who has always been so damn close to my heart, Mr. Yoga Master, Mr. Crystal Celebrity on Instagram, and I had a divine lunch at Veggie Grill where he gifted me this pretty Amythyst. When we first saw each other in the parking lot I don’t think I let go of him for like 5 minutes. I was SO happy! When we sat down we realized it had been about 5 years since we last saw each other, and it was like no time had passed at all. My Adam Reff is still one of the most lovely and amazing people and it was the best catch-up date I’ve had in a long long time.
18. Grouchy Gavin
I love Kendra and Justin’s little grouch! This time around he didn’t take too fondly to me, but that’s ok. I understand what ‘Terrible 2s’ means and there’s always next time Gavy boy! Auntie D still loves you and your adorable little face tremendously!
19. The Golden Gate Bridge of Greece
When we were driving through the Zagori of Epirus in the northwest part of Greece, Lambchops told me we were going to see a bridge just as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the bridge of Kokkorou was unbelievable, dates back to 1750, is one of the most famous bridges in the country, and this photo looks like I’m at the center of the earth!
20. Met Some Real Life Hitchhikers
When I was waiting in line to buy my train ticket from Thessaloniki to Sofia I cut in front of two Frenchie guys who ended up being my favorite travel companions. Turns out Alexis and Konstantin had hitchhiked all over Europe from Paris but couldn’t for the life of them get someone to hitch them out of Thessaloniki, so fate had it that we were to be train buddies to our next destination. They also happened to be the first hitchhikers I ever met (hello, we don’t do that in America) and helped me concoct the perfect travel itinerary. The day they left Sofia they pulled out all their signs and I was in awe with how much work actually goes into being a professional hitchhiker. Two thumbs up!!
21. Bosnia And Its Baklava
Perhaps my favorite destination on my Balkans Bouncing tour was Bosnia; Sarajevo in particular. I didn’t know nearly anything about the city prior to visiting, and actually still thought they were in a war that happened 20 years ago. In contrast to the war, Sarajevo and Bosnia is one of the most exquisite, interesting, and culturally diverse places I’ve ever visited, and the Baklava there is to die for. Everyday in Sarajevo I went to this specific cafe called The Baklava Shop and sat on the ornate turkish ottomans and sipped my Bosnian coffee while people watching. It was the perfect midday pick-me-up and I sorely miss the tradition.
22. The Bridge That Fairytales Are Made Of
Mostar came to me as a suggestion by those hitchhiking Frenchies I mentioned above. I spent a day in Mostar and absolutely adored it. From the cobble stoned streets, the greasy Cevapcicci, the medieval architecture, the insane war-torn history, watching daredevils jump from Stari Most, and climbing up the most claustrophobic minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque to get this photo. Mostar is definitely a place that must be put on the map of must-see destinations. In fact, make that the whole of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
23. Mounting Montenegro
I am not a hiker, in fact, I only do it to say I’ve done it or because there’s a view I absolutely can’t miss. I don’t like that #FOMO crap. And well, the hike up to the fortress in Kotor, Montenegro was definitely worthy of the hike. I even personalized it by wearing pink shorts, gold espadrilles, and silver purse. I’m never one to skimp on glitz, even while I’m sweating. My newly acquired friend and I took the long route (~5 hours worth), on our way stopped for some fresh goat cheese and Coca Cola at a home on the side of the mountain, and then admired the breathtaking fjord from high above. All of those Top 10 Places to Visit in 2016 lists put Kotor on the map and I’m just glad I got to see it before even more cruise ships begin to venture there. Truly stunning.
24. Scared Shitless In Skopje
Skopje, Macedonia was a very bizarre city. Perhaps the most bizarre I’ve visited. There are sculptures and buildings that look like they’re hundreds of years old but were built in the 2000s, it houses Shutka, home of the highest concentration of Gypsies in the world, and has the massive Millennium Cross (bigger than Jesus in Rio) high on the mountain top, which is where I stand perched here. I met a couple Turkish guys on the double decker bus up to the base of the mountain, and well, they were a couple of monkeys who wanted to get up on this gazebo. So you see, once again, #FOMO kicked in and I didn’t want any of that. To actually take this picture was a task, as it took me a solid 20 minutes to hoist my very scared tuchous up there, a couple skinned hands, and then after that was done, even longer to get me down. See what happens when #FOMO fuels you? You land on top of the world (sometimes).
25. Shuffled Through Shutka
Did you read what I wrote above about Shutka? Or this post I wrote about it a few months back? I heard about this place in passing yet again from those Frenchie hitchhikers. Shutka is just full of juxtapositions, slums, and nothing I’ve ever seen before. Those white bouquets I want to believe are leftover decoration from wedding season, which I’m really sad I didn’t get to see. I heard Gypsy weddings are a treat for the senses. Regardless, Shutka was an experience and I got scolded later for accepting an offer into a Gypsy home. Who said curiosity killed the cat?
26. Exquisite Egremni
For my last weekend in Greece, Lambchops took us to Lefkada, an island that can be reached by car from the mainland via an underground tunnel. Our destination was Egremni Beach with water so fluorescent you can’t believe it’s not highlighting words in your textbook. Not-so-fun-fact other than the moody afternoon we shared here, is that we were probably some of the last people to get to enjoy its luscious seashore. About a month later Lefkada suffered a major earthquake causing the mountain leading down to the water to completely collapse leaving a shoreless sea. Travesty.
27. LALA En España
Even though Joshua Becker was in my country of residence on a feat of love, I’m glad I was squeezed into the equation as we had a lifetime of things to catch up on. We drank lots, saw royal things, ate the best Paella in Madrid, and visited the center of this here country. All roads lead to Madrid, and I love having any chance of home visit me!
28. Scary Or Stunning?
Thank God my roomie likes to celebrar and decided to have a Halloween party at our casa. They looked more beautiful than death and I finally got to put my ‘when in Spain’ Picasso costume into action. We also have enough face paint left over if you’d like your face painted too.
29. My Life From October To December
You may have noticed an absence on here for 3 months, and well, that’s because this is what my life looked like. And it all paid off as I am now a fully certified teacher in Elementary Education and ESOL. Now to find a job.
30. Met Gorgeous Georgie Boy!
Kayla gave me the news of their new addition on my last birthday, to which I responded with a hearty “I beg your pardon, what?” Well, the adorable little man came this summer and was a huge reason I had to take my tests in New York in December, aside from it’s closer and cheaper to fly to NYC than LA. I had to meet this little slobbery boozy dinosaur, and it’s official, I’m in love!
31. Shoving Kimchi In Sammy’s Face
That’s what he gets for never visiting me in Koko. It’s actually quite shocking that he never did, but oh well, because we found ourselves in NYC’s Koreatown, and my little piece of heaven. We were walking down the main street for a little while looking for a place up to my hardcore Korean taste but everything looked super catery to tourists or white people which is a no-go for me. Sammy, being the social butterfly that he is, asked a gang of Korean guys where we should go, and at first they suggested a very white looking place. When he told them I lived in Korea they gave us the good stuff. So, here we are eating BBQ and devouring kimchi and makkoli at Jongro BBQ (which also happens to be my favorite part of Seoul). Happy tummy and fresh breath with one of my favorito homies.
32. Goodbye Chipless Passport
This is sort of funny, but it was very annoying at the time. You see, my passport expires/d on March 6, 2016 so I made the earliest appointment for renewal at the consulate in Madrid for January 7th. I made it back to America, but when I went to fly back to Madrid I was flagged and denied entry because my passport lacked 3 full months of validity on it. Whoops. Turns out Spain continues to pick and choose what they want to wave their finger at, and passport validity is one of them. Since my just shy of 3 months validity wouldn’t fly (literally), I had to run all over NYC at 12:30am looking for an open Kinkos and a CVS to take my new flawless passport photo (I had to have it retaken due to the definitely drugged up guy who took my first and rejected one) in order to make it and apply for an emergency passport the next morning to fly the following night instead. I succeeded and have since put a note in my calendar for 9.5 years from now to renew my passport at least 6 months prior to the expiration date. On a positive note, when the nice man working at the passport center announced my name he said “Wow!! We were just talking about how flawless your photo is! It’s the best passport photo we’ve ever seen!” The next 10 years of my life thanks you kind sir.
And there it is! That’s a wrap on 31! I guess now that I look back it was a pretty solid year. Now here’s to 32, which is looking to me like a big fat year of transition, and another big move. L’chaim and here’s to you 32!
30, as it would sound, was quite the transitional year for moi. Transitional sort of makes it sound like it wasn’t a good year, but au contraire my friend, au contraire. Transitional in the way that the year had so many types of ups and downs, but all for the good I’d like to think. I started my thirtieth year on the planet dedicating my day to the fashion of a rapist (unbeknownst at the time), went a bit viral on the interwebs, got heart-swollen and then heart-crushed during the wind-down of my Korean life, left the continent I never thought I wanted to live in to put a new twist on my life in the continent I dreamt of since the age of 10, found out what I’ve always been wondering – do I have a BIG VOICE? and had a couple reunions to set my heart aflame along the way.
And all of these lovely happenings were documented via the Instagrammer. So, to ring in my 31st, and the Age of Aquarius, without further adieu, I give you my thirtieth year on this great planet of our’s through the lens of my iPhone 5S and a filter or two.
1. Puddin’ Pops & Rapist Fashion
I don’t think much needs to be explained here, as the fashion is self-explanatory. However, if you must have your hand held, I rang my 30th birthday in with a dinner in which we were all required to wear a Cosby sweater, alla Bill Cosby. I made chocolate pudding cups and we enjoyed an evening in our old-man best. Naturally, my first thought once the allegations came to be was “Holy shit, I themed by birthday around a rapist!” Not many can say that and…laugh.
2. Lunar New Year In The Organ Black Market of Seoul
In Korea, and Asia for that matter, Lunar New Year is the big deal when it comes to new years. So, to fully immerse ourselves in the Lunar New Yearsness of it all, a group of us went out to China Town in Daerim, also known as one of the sketchiest parts of Seoul, and where you could very well find your organs for sale if you walk down the wrong alley. We all came back to the safe side of Seoul with all our organs in tact, and a gut full of delicious MSG. It was perfection, even if we did eat at a restaurant where dog was being served at the table just beside us.
3. Hello Baby Gavin!!
Gavin wasn’t the first baby of a friend to be born, but he was the first baby of two of my oldest friends to be born, and Auntie D met him when we was just 2 days old! Mommy Kendra was exhausted, Daddy Justin proved to be a baby whisperer, and baby Gavin had a big head from being a trickster in the birth canal. But my god, was he a dream to hold. Heart swells don’t even come close to how happy this moment made me!
4. In N Out & A Date With My Boo
Collin came down from The Bay because I specifically ordered him to. However, he came home a little bit earlier because he got in a horrendous bike accident. So, I drove my toy car rental all the way down to Riverside, which beforehand, I had no clue where it existed. I had no service on my phone, and got lost on the return home, but before I left I did get to eat In N Out on Collin’s handmade preschool plate. It was a magical day with my boo.
5. Fab 4 Bangin’ Booties
These 3 are my hearts when it comes to women. A trip around the world we are, and this winter after a champagne brunch in Manhattan Beach, we took my favorite photo of us. It’s just as perfect as those badonks.
6. The Baby Tour of Los Angeles Continued
This was a special one. Sista and I thought we’d never get to meet Kian, the newest edition to our crazy clan! But we did, and shortly after he had surgery on his head, making him the world’s cutest little race car driver. He was and IS a doll and I am obsessed with his little face!!
7. Tommy Boy & His Ego Came Back
Tommy and I got close fast, and this time he returned to Korea, professed his love, and we swapped each other’s rings for a day. We walked the Suwon Fortress on St. Patty’s Day, and drank expensive Yellowtail under a temple whilst overlooking all of Seoul. ‘Twas divine.
8. Ultimate Finds Whilst Vintage Shopping
This makes me sound like a bitch, but oh well. These 3 words sum up mine and Veny’s sentiments to a tee when it comes to new friends, particularly those LBH’s in Korea. I still regret not making this purchase. OH WELL.
9. Glamping & KPorn
We had been talking about going Glamorous Camping for quite some time, but alas that never happened. Until we stumbled upon the new Glamping bar in Itaewon on Taeho’s birthday. We sat around on beanbags and he was gifted this very special magazine by Joshua. He’s always so thoughtful with his gifts. Taeho very much enjoyed the black and white imagery.
10. Continuing the Love of Abandonment
Abandoned places that is! Joshy is my breaking-into-abandoned-places partner in crime, and for this wild ride at Yongma Land we took our third member of Destiny’s Child along for the ride. Joshy, Veny, and I nearly broke into Yongma Land, though that is entirely unnecessary. Just leave it to us to find the more ‘scenic’ route to enter an establishment. We basically went off-climbing to get in here, and once we were in we had tons of fun riding broken rides and watching creepers have cosplay photoshoots.
11. Slumbering With Snoring Ajummas
No one wanted to go out of town for this long weekend, so I took it upon myself to jet out of Seoul solo to Ganghwa-do just off the coast of Incheon. There I fulfilled my desire to do a sort-of temple stay, as I slept on a mat, in the sweltering heat, beside a bunch of snoring ajummas who kept throwing candy and fruit at me. It was an experience I will not soon forget.
12. Life in Polka Dots
Kusama Yayoi is a Japanese artist who’s work consist of one of my favorite things – POLKA DOTS! She literally lives in a polka dot world and created it for the world to see. The end of her exhibit is a room where you get to put your own dots anywhere and become one with her polka dot world. It was stunning, and smelled like feet in there.
13. Gone Viral Between Two Ding Dongs
My phallus-loving sister and I went to a penis cafe located about an hour outside of Seoul in Pocheon. The entire cafe is themed around the male ‘important part’, and after I wrote about it, my post got picked up by an online magazine and they used me and these two ding dongs as their enticing photo on Facebook. I was thrilled! What a way to make it big!!! Thanks internet!
14. Saying Goodbye Is The Worst Thing Ever Invented
A week of saying goodbye to the babies who stole my heart was quite possibly the most miserable thing I ever did. After 3 years it was time to part with my kiddos, and these boys made it so hard!
15. Lovers Getaway To Yang Yang
Perhaps one of my favorite trips done in Korea was this one to Yang Yang. Veny, Joshy, Dustin, and I rented a swanky Sonata and road tripped to the gorgeous coastal town of Yang Yang. It was bittersweet to say the least, and this photo with my first friend in Korea is perfect. We came full circle from looking haggard (if that’s even possible for her) on our first bus ride, to frolicking on the beach not wanting this amazing experience to ever end. Love my Venylove.
16. The Fucking Core
Weeding through the nut bags we were surrounded by was some work, but at the end of those 3 years I found some of the most solid friends a girl could ever ask for. For our last weekend all together we ended up at some crazy club in Gangnam. It was loud, there was seizure music, there were tears, but it was the best.
Korea is good for the Trick Eye Museums and the sex themed locales, even though the mere mention of sex causes a stir. But I’ll have you know, despite the contradictory culture, the Love Museum does NOT disappoint, as my kookster in krime and I discovered one rainy afternoon. After many phallic photos, this one of me helping The Hulk hold up some tits was a great indicator of the afternoon amazingness.
18. Dolled Up And On a Boat
What ended up being a failed attempt on ‘everyone’s last weekend together’ turned into a divine evening with these gorgeous lady lasses. We dolled up, took far too many posy pictures for my liking, and watched all the KKouples take romantic selfies of themselves under the Han River water show.
19. Straddling That Border Up North
In the movie The Interview they show all the North and South Korean military hanging out in this room watching Kim Jong Un get his ass shredded on live tele. Well, it’s a bit different in real life. You actually only get like, 5 minutes in the room, and the guards take shifts for show. Mostly. But, here we are, checking off another BIG must-do on the Korean Bucket list of life. Straddling the most heavily militarized border in the world.
20. Asianization Meets Europeanization
Getting this Spanish visa was no easy task. As an American it is near impossible to get a work visa in Europe, but thank heaven that programs like the fakakta one I’m in exist! The day I finally stared at (and immediately snapped this photo) this visa gracing MY passport, I literally let out a giant squeal. No joke. I wanted this visa in my passport since I was 10, and 20 years later shit got real. Thank you Javier at the Spanish consulate in Seoul!
21. The Saddest Day Of My Life So Far
Joshy holds the biggest chunk of my Korean heart, and being the last person I saw and shared a deliciously overpriced naengmyeon and jjigae meal with tore my heart out, despite what these cheesers may say. Saying seeya later to him turned me into a waterworks show and I did not stop crying until well after take off. It was the shittiest.day.ever.
22. I’m A Bridesmaid!
First, don’t kill me for this photo. You’ll thank me when we’re old and grey. Second, Jeanelly found her wedding dress, then asked us all to be her bridesmaids, then we had a Fab 4 slumber party filled with dress up, sexual Korean face mask selfies, and of course, watching Bridesmaids. It was only suiting.
23. Reunited With My Soldier
What are the chances that the next time I visited NYC my Israeli soldier would be there at the same time, 4 years after our last rendezvous in the Big Apple? Well, he was, and he came to Kayla and Jeanette’s birthday, and my heart could burst I was so happy to see him in front of me.
24. Imbibing Where Honest Abe Once Did
With only 2 choices of beer to choose from, light or dark, we opted for the more delicious dark at McSorley’s in NYC. My reunion with my Sammy baby was long past overdue, and seeing Shika Shocka was the cherry on top.
25. #grandmaswhorally Became A Thing
Here we have my first photo from Spain indicating that I do in fact have friends! This was also the night that the hashtag #grandmaswhorally stuck. What started out as a lazy night where none of us wanted to leave the comforts of our boudoirs (in my case, my hostel cell bed), turned into a delightful evening of sangria, homos all around, evening drinking on a terrace, and feeling old, but still young enough to kick it.
26. I Found An Apartment, That Turned Out to Be Hell
After a solid 2 full weeks of piso hunting around Malasaña, I finally found one that I should have known was too good to be true. What started off amazing, and quite hilarious, with a naked David hanging in my room, turned out to be a horrendous experience. Let’s just say THANK GOD I’M OUT OF THERE, and someone’s got some (dog) shit flying their way soon.
27. Mama Schaeff And Her Face Mask Came To Visit
My mother, the world traveler, finally came to visit me in one of my far away homes. We museum hopped, we fought, we ate tons of shitty fast food because Spain is all about the pig and Mama don’t eat the carne, and she walked into a nail salon and asked the nice ladies for a face mask because there’s too much smoke in Madrid. This is what she looked like for the duration of her stay.
28. 1999 Meets 2014
A reunion in Madrid that my 14 year old self surely would have died had she known would happen, happened. It was the best, and this cafe con leche from Federal pretty much sums up my feelings about said reunion.
29. The Asian Who Always Visits Me
Jnetty was my first visitor in Korea, and was one of my first visitors in España. Surely I love her so! So much that I snuck her into my hell hole of an apartment late night, and the next day we popped off to Sevilla and Granada, where we wandered through the stunning walls of the Alhambra in the frigid cold. She even tried her hand at the Español, and failed when she asked for the ‘jambon’. However, she greatly succeeded in getting me kicked out of my dark dungeon of a penis hanging apartment. THANK THE JAMBON ABOVE. No one tells Dani ‘no visitors allowed’.
30. Leaving Germany In the Most Jewy Way Possible
It might as well have been 1940something that snowy afternoon when I left Berlin headed for Prague. Upon entering the train, our first class tickets became null as our car was ‘out of order’. How, I’m unsure, since it was tagging along with the rest of the train just beyond the locked doors. But, out of order it was. So there I sat for 6 hours, along with about 5o other people, trying to find comfort on the train floor. Here I am finding some semblance of comfort under this man’s rear end. I could not have exited Germany in a Jewier fashion than this. It was utter perfection, and the story itself more than pays for the reimbursement we should be owed.
31. Why Yes, I Do Have A Big Voice!
For my 31st birthday weekend I popped off for a romantical rendezvous in Brussels, which despite what this blow horn might convey, was quite the quiet little town. We indulged in delicious chocolate and beer aplenty, played with aluminum balls, and even enjoyed a side of terrorist scares in the city. It was a weekend I did not want to return from!
And there you have it! My life as seen through most likely the Valencia filter with the sharpening tool on Instagram was divine. Though filled with lots of weird emotions, 30 was my favorite year yet and I can’t wait to see what 31 will dish out! If these photos left you intrigued, do follow along on Instagram at @dtschaeff.
The month of August was an utter and complete whirlwind. I’m back in LALA Land, but still whirling from the constant moving that did not stop for a month. There was packing to get out of my apartment, schlepping to Joshy’s apartment, too many emotions, and then the final schlepp to the airport which took even more out of me. Now that I’m back home, I’m suffering from major Korea withdrawals and being that emotional basket case who cries at lunch from this stupid empty feeling. Not to mention, the anxiety is mounting as my impending move date to Madrid grows nearer. I feel this ridiculous sadness as I mourn the loss of Korea, and an I-don’t-even-know what the feeling is, of moving to yet another continent with one checked bag and less than stellar Spanish in 20 days and counting. Needless to say, I’m a mumbo jumbo of so many feels and it’s stressing me out.
But, in the midst of my swirly twirly typhoon, I got nominated for a lovely Liebster Award by Courtney of Adelante! I stumbled upon Courtney’s blog when I began researching and getting hardcore legit with my move to Spain. She was featured on another blog by a past Koreana turned Spanish lass who did a low down on all of the different teaching programs in Spain. It was a natural progression to follow along with her on her journey, and not to mention, admire her stunning photography. So, thank you mucho for the nomination, I am honored and hope we can meet soon enough in España!
What is a Liebster Award, you ask?
Well, I actually had to refer to the internet because I’ve heard about it, but wasn’t quite completely in the know myself. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, in case you were curious. Essentially, the Liebster is an award awarded to bloggers by other bloggers, and in German means something along the lines of “dearest”, “beloved” and “sweetest”. It’s a bit like a chain letter, in that once you receive the award you’ve got to pass it on to other bloggers who you enjoy! Or, you can just bask in the honor and carry on with your life relishing in your adoration.
It wouldn’t be a chain letter award without rules, now would it? No one will die though if you don’t pass it on in 8453845 seconds.
Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you
Answer their 10 questions for you
Nominate 5-10 blogs that you think deserve the award
Create a set of 10 new questions for them to answer
Notify your nominees!
So now, without further adieu:
1. If teleportation were suddenly discovered, where would be the first place you’d go?
Back to Korea, just to pop in, and then I think India. I want to go to India so badly and it’s tippy top of my list. I’m so ready to get down and dirty with my feels and frustrations in a pit of filth. The filth part is an exaggeration, as I obviously would prefer cleanliness.
2. Out of all the places you’ve traveled to, which country had the best cuisine? Which had the worst?
I’m extremely biased to Korean food, because let’s face it, I’ve become so Asian since spending the last 3 years there and it’ll always hold a special place on my palate. I think it goes without saying that Korean food is my favorite foreign cuisine, but I’m going to disqualify it because I spent the most time there. Of everywhere else I’ve traveled I’ll say Vietnam because pho, vermicelli, banh mi, spring rolls, and endless Vietnamese coffee, which is the best cup o’ joe on the planet. The worst was definitely Laos. Maybe Steph and I just consistently frequented the wrong haunts, but while beef jerky is delicious, it does not a dinner make. Nor does slosh that tastes like forest.
Demolished that Sriracha red sea.
I believe this hunk of junk was called “Day Smashed Meat”.
3. If you could live in one city anywhere in the world for the rest of your life, where would you live?
Florence, no questions asked. Both times I’ve been there I just wandered and got lost and got lost again. It is my favorite city in the world and I adore it to death, even if Papa Schaeff did get pick-pocketed by a coupla gypsies slangin scarves while we were strolling through Ponte Vecchio.
2006 was the first time I met a Smart Car. In awe of the ridiculousness.
4. Is there a city or country that some people are crazy about, but you’re not interested in visiting?
Malaysia. It is the one country, particularly in Asia, that I have zero desire to visit. I’ve had a layover in Kuala Lumpur and couldn’t stand the airport. But I can say that about Shanghai’s Pudong Airport too, but I still want to go there. I also don’t like the name. I know that sounds silly, but I don’t like the sound of it and maybe that has some influence on why I don’t want to go there. Kinda like how I don’t like pork because I hate the color of it. I’m weird, I know.
5. Do you have a go-to playlist for long-haul flights? If so, what does it include?
I don’t really have any playlists on my phone, I think I’m weird like that. I usually just shuffle my songs, end up skipping past a bunch I don’t want to listen to and then go into my songs to find the one I want when shuffling proves too annoying. I’m a little ADD in that sense. However, there are a few songs that always get my travel bug bouncing, and that actually really made me pull the trigger to move abroad.
The first is Boston by Augustana. My favorite lyric comes from this song, and it’s the song I always equate with inspiring me to leave America. It’s a bit sad, but also happy in a backwards way, at least to me. The second is Dog Days are Over by Florence & the Machine. Token cliché because it’s from Eat, Pray, Love, but the words really resonate and the movie came out during the time I was applying to move to Korea, so it’s got lots of sentimental value. And last is Gypsy by Lady Gaga. This song pumps me up, and also makes me nostalgic for everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I want to go and all the people I love near and far.
6. What are three things that you can’t travel without?
A notebook, my phone which doubles as my camera (I know, I need to get a good honker already, I’ve just been a slacker), and medicine. I usually bring a little baggy of American drugs that I know I may need, usually containing some kind of stomach aide and something for feminine issues because shit gets real when you visit moist destinations. Apologies.
7. What’s your biggest pet peeve on airplanes?
Mostly just my restless leg syndrome because it takes me forever to get comfortable and I move around a lot, so I think I annoy myself maybe more than others. Oh, and people kicking my seat. Or having a middle seat. Or a more specific travel time when the flight attendant was so rude to me when I told her I didn’t eat pork and they gave away the last chicken dish (when I had specified that I don’t eat that), and she told me that I would have to deal because that was all they had left. I’m sorry. You gave my food away, make it happen. I’m flying 12 hours and hungry and paid an arm and a leg and I want to eat! This of course has only happened on American carriers.
8. What foreign language do you wish you could speak?
Since I’m going to Spain, I wish my Spanish was a million times better, though I’m hoping it’ll rush to the front of my brain ASAP. Other than that, I wish I could speak Hebrew. I used to be able to read it like a wizard, so I’d like to think that muscle memory will return if I study. I’d also like to expand my vocabulary beyond prayers and whore. Israel is on the bucket list of living, so perhaps I’ll have the chance for some progress.
I was out of practice and it was hot atop the Masada. It was a struggle, but I succeeded and became a woman.
9. What is your favorite movie about travel?
Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, which I guess is more arty, but has the travel and getting lost in a city element. But definitely Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’ve seen the movie a million times, and every time I watch it I totally relate to Cristina on the getting lost in a city and culture aspect, and the added cherry on top of getting swept away by a local. It’s so whimsical and always makes me want to teleport to Europe right then.
10. What’s one destination that you are dying to get back to?
That’s a toughy because I’ve got a handful of places I’d like to hit up again. Though I’ll give Greece this one since I went in an October when it was the end of the season on the islands. They felt a bit ghost-towny, but still beautiful. I’d definitely like to return during the high season to see what the real fuss is all about. I’ve also got a reason to return since I’ll have a local Grecian tour guide who will double as the best reunion ever!
Brotha Schaeff petting my head in front of some ruins because we are normal.
That wasn’t too bad! Now to nominate my nominees. I actually had a couple I’d like to nominate but know they’ve already been awarded. I’m not sure what the rule on that is, aside from maybe the chain breaking or them being annoyed. I don’t know! I’ll just do it because I want to and they can break it if they want to. Afterall, this is about telling other bloggers that you love them!
1. Tom of Waegook Tom. This guy CRACKS ME UP with every post. I think he’s my favorite blogger on the interwebs. I die every time. I also know you’ve been nominated because I read every post, but I guess I’m just nominating you to tell you that I love you.
2. Meagan of Life Outside of Texas. Meagan’s blog was one of the first that I stumbled upon when I was applying to come to Korea, and even though we’ve never met, we’ve virtual-talked about cool places all over Korea, and she was the inspiration for many places I visited or want to visit in Korea. Not to mention, she totally got me connected to other K-Town bloggers.
3. Nathan of Open Road Before Me. While I don’t enjoy hiking to save my life, and Nathan does tons of that, I always love reading his posts because he’s such a wonderful storyteller and paints the greatest visuals when he writes.
4. Joella of This Beijing Life. I never really had a desire to go to China, but Joella’s blog was one of the things that made China become a blip on my radar.
5. Ryan & Stephanie of Hedger’s Abroad. They always post stunning photos, and a bunch of places that I’ve traveled to in Korea and beyond were inspired by reading their tales. They’re also a super cute couple that enjoys traveling together, and I dig that.
1. What’s your most embarrassing travel story?
2. What’s the weirdest food you’ve tried?
3. What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had while traveling?
4. What song without fail will always pump you up?
5. Who was someone you met on your travels that really left a lasting impression on you?
6. How old were you when you got bit by the travel bug? Where did you go?
7. What’s the funniest place you’ve ever visited?
8. What is your preferred method of transport? Air, land or sea?
9. Have you ever gotten super sick while traveling?
10. Do you have a favorite photo from your travels?
Good luck guys! Sorry if you’ve already received the honors, but now you’re just doubly special! And once again, thank you Courtney!
As many of you know, I have been super top of the pops over here in the visitor department. So popular in fact, I actually can’t even keep track of how many people have visited me over the past 26 months, but I’d ballpark it somewhere around 15 or so. October marked by faux-teen visitor, and one of my most anticipated because it has taken her forever and a freakin day to get her JAPPY ass out to see me! But let’s remember, all good things come to those who wait!
Well, it had been nearly 2 years since Cori and I painted ourselves florescent on the beach of Koh Phangnan, so we were long overdue for a reunion of loving and bitching and bickering til death do us part. She came to the land of pig, where we ate lots of chicken, for 6 days, and then we flew our JAPpy selves on over to Tokyo for some bright lights, robots, green tea Kit Kats and some Japanese culture.
Starting with the Kokoness of her journey, I took her to all the visitor must-see hot spots, and she met most of those awesome folks who are left of my friend circle in the country. That was actually maybe the weirdest thing. This was my first visitor since nearly everyone left, and part of the fun of having visitors is introducing them to your family in your home away from home. But c’est la vie and on with the show!
First things first, I’d just like to say how impeccable our timing was upon meeting at my subway station after her arrival! As I was coming up the escalator on my way home from work, Cori was walking just past the exit! It was pretty perfect. And there was embracing and extremely loud laughing, because it wouldn’t be a Diamond & Schaeff reunion without it.
Now let’s take a little jaunt through some of the highlights shall we. As it turns out, the spicy dakgalbi with an over-abundance of ramen, was her favorite meal in Korea. The chicken, vegetable and rice cake dish is also one of my fave Korean foods as well. Nom!
We tried to kick her jet lag by going to Hongdae for some makkoli and dong dong ju times with Tim. We wanted his opinion on our new hairstyles. What do you think?
Next we visited ZEN 1, a VERY old faithful staple of Hongdae times, where we met up with Jee, and I ducked down to look like a midget for this photo.
The next day was filled with the clusterfuck that is Seoul shopping. We paraded around Myeongdong, then headed over to Namdaemun where she got acquainted with the efficiency of purchasing fancy new spectacles accompanied by prescription fillage. She also ate her second hotteok of the day while enjoying the ever-so-slight constant drizzle.
Next came my super slutty moment. We hiked up Namsan Tower and locked our love down overlooking the glorious city of Seoul. Our 23 years of sisterly love is officially locked down forever. I am a slut because this was my third display of love to be locked up. But I guess as the saying goes, third time’s a charm.
We even did this cute lovers pose on a love bench.
We began our day of culture with a smidge of a bust, as I had no clue that the huge palace, Gyeongbukgong, is closed on Tuesdays. Here we are in front of the palace door, but we could really be anywhere with massive red doors since you can’t actually see the ornateness of the palace! Grrr!
We did however meet a new friend, Darshan, who was very taken by the giddyness of the elementary students who were swarming around us. It does feel good to be a celebrity, I must admit! And in Korea’s homogenous society, there’s no shortage of celebrity status.
I ended up playing tour guide to both of them for a little bit, and introduced them to King Sejong and his concoction of Hangul (the Korean alphabet). Then in Gwanghwamun Square, we got dragged in by a very persistent ajumma for a rendition of the “Conga”, and got a taste of traditional Korean dress, dance and song before heading off to a naengmyeon and bulgogi lunch in the traditional Hanok Village.
The most fantastical part of our “Day of Culture” was by far our afternoon of traditional Hanbok dress up. We went to a place on the main Insadong road that Veny actually told me about. There you have several different options ranging from getting full hair and makeup done for a professionally airbrushed photo session, to the bare minimum of just trying on the hanbok to take your own cell phone photos in their gallery.
We opted to have our hair done in full traditional Korean fashion, and then couldn’t have chosen our hanbok any more appropriately. Cori was the Queen, and I was her faithful entertainer. We took the professional photo and then tore up that gallery area. I’m surprised we weren’t asked to vacate the premises prematurely.
The next thing we did, which I have done more than a handful of times since moving here, is something I am EXTREMELY proud of Cori for trying! Before coming, I kept telling her I was going to force her to try the live octopus, which is a super Korean thing to do, and every time she squirmed with a big fat HELL NO. Well, that got flipped upside down!
My favorite person to do the Noryangjin Fish Market with is Joshy, because he will pretty much try any slithering sea squirt that lies in those tanks. So he met up with us for the venture and helped initiate Cori into the world of live octopus eating!
On her final day in Seoul, she came to school with me and got the chance to see what a Korean elementary school is like, and meet my most adorable 4th grade baby dolls. Unfortunately my 5th and 6th graders were gone for the week so she didn’t get to meet them. I thought the 6th grade girls would especially love her because they are obsessed with all things girly and fashionable. Bummer!
Most importantly, these little peaches were SO excited to meet her, and have since thrown her name into the greeting each class! “Good morning Ms. Jin and Ms. Danielle and Ms. Wanda and Ms. Candy and Ms. Cori Di-A-mond!” Pardon the awful bottom picture, but, please take note that my little peach Paul is holding Cori’s hand. Not enough hearts to go around!! ❤
And with that, two Jewish American Princesses were off to get all kinds of Jappy in the land of Japs!
To begin, I absofuckinglutely LOVED Tokyo! I already knew I loved Japan after going to Osaka and Kyoto, but Tokyo really solidified it. As the cliche goes, it’s like a breath of fresh air stepping onto Japanese soil from Korea. People dress to their own heart’s desire instead of blending in with the next, and something about Tokyo just feels HUGE. I love Seoul, but Japan just has this huge heart pumping through it. The buildings seem bigger, the lights seem brighter, and the people make a conscious effort to not shove into you like you’re some inanimate object. Aside from their facockta subway system and the radiation, Tokyo is one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to.
We were there for 3 glorious days, and our feet shlepped us and our wallets so many places, each offering its own unique vibe, of which I’ll highlight my favorites.
1. Robots vs. Pandas vs. Dinosaurs vs. Pole Dancers in Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s Red Light District
Yes, I know what 3 letters come to mind. WTF. And that’s exactly what you should be thinking, because we were thinking it during the whole show, and I’m still thinking it now, even though my mind was utterly blown into fantastic smithereens.
After getting a few snickers from asking where Kabukicho was (this is the Red Light district), we could not find this Robot “cafe/bar” for the life of us. We actually thought it was just a cafe/bar type place where robots served you and you could come and go as you pleased. But no no. After scouring the district for quite some time, passing it unbeknownst to us several times, we decided to give up, til we met our new friend Frank, who was innocently looking for a Penguin bar while on a business trip. He remembered seeing the robots, and threw searching for said Penguin bar out the window to come find this Robot joint with us.
We found it, and it was NOT a cafe, bar, whatever you wanna call it. But rather, it was a full blown show encapsulating the above title header. And it was worth every last penny of those 5,000yen (~$50), even the horrendous bento box dinner we were served.
2. Barbie Lingerie In Harajuku
Cori’s top priority in terms of districts to see was Harajuku. These are the girls made immortal by Gwen Stefani in the early 2000s. We actually went to Harajuku a couple times over the course of our trip, but we only really saw 2 true Harajuku girls, which kind of bummed us, but mostly Cori, out. That, and we didn’t ask to get a photo of or with her because we thought for sure we’d see plenty more. Negatori Yakatori.
We may have missed out on the Harajuku girls, but we did find the Barbie lingerie store, which to me is equally, if not more, fascinating, and a bit deranged.
I also was overly and oddly excited about this Sanrio Surprises on Takeshita-dori, which smelled of gumdrops and cotton candy. I am made more aware of my Asian-ness in such moments.
There was also this creepy rabbitequin.
3. Writing A Note To Hang On the Tree Of Life At Meiji-Jinju Shrine
Cori and I took a break from Harajuku girl stalking to add a little Japanese culture to our lives. We visited Meiji-Jinju shrine, located right by Harajuku station, which is the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo and was built to honor the soul’s of Emperor Meiji and his wife. The shrine was dedicated to them in 1920, and completed in 1926.
It’s a beautiful walk into the shrine, filled with Iris gardens and so much lush greenery.
And absolutely no shortage of decorative fermenting Sake.
Once reaching the shrine, you are face to face with what I instantly called the Tree of Life. I don’t really know if that’s what it’s called, but it seemed properly suited. Here visitors have written hopes and wishes for the future, or struggles they hope for their family or friends to overcome, and just need some sort of little mighty push.
I decided I had some things that needed some push, so now they are fully displayed for the daily world to see.
4. Taking a Magic Carpet Ride & Meeting King Triton At Tokyo Disney Sea!
For starters, I had no idea that Tokyo Disney and I have been in the same grade all along! We just so happened to be there during its 30th Anniversary party! Lucky us!
If you sense an air of irritation in the photo, it’s because we were so rudely being pushed out by what I believe to be an intrusively rude Korean couple.
We went to Tokyo Disney our first night, and actually barely rode any rides. In fact, the only ride I rode was a magic carpet in Agraba. It was a solo ride though, because Miz Diamond feared her tummy would act up. Hmph. At least I was thrilled with joy to have King Triton grant me such a warm welcome to his kingdom beneath the sea!
5. Shoving Takoyaki Balls In My Face
One thing I regretted when I went to Osaka and Kyoto was being too scared to try Takoyaki, which are these fried octopus balls that are served slathered in mayo (vomit), and crispy onions. Well, I told myself that I would definitely shove them in my face this time around.
Turns out I didn’t see them anywhere, until our last day while visiting Senso-ji shrine. Due to the scarcity of them, I’m led to believe that Takoyaki is primarily a regional food of the Osaka area. Either way, I grabbed 6 balls, NOT slathered in mayo, and ate 3 of them before contracting a stomachache.
One little side note while on the topic of food, I did eat a fair amount of sushi whilst in Tokyo, because it would be an utter shame not to. But, one thing I was very aware of was the amount of searing being done to the sushi. I’m not sure if this is normal in Japan, but I saw it done so frequently that I figured they were doing it to maybe sear out some of the radiation in the fish. Who knows, but just a thought!
On our last day we decided to actually stay in our neighborhood, Asakusa, which was a remarkable hub for all the super cultural attractions. We visited Senso-ji shrine, which is another huge Shinto shrine. Despite the rain, I really loved the walk into this shrine. It felt like real old Japan, and women in traditional kimono and parisol were not a scarce site.
The shrine was gorgeous and massive on a rainy day.
And there were tons of people dropping coins into the prayer boxes and carrying on with their prayers. One of us saved the praying for later after we chose our fortunes from these here boxes.
You are supposed to politely shake that silver box, make your wish, and then pull out a numbered stick that corresponds with one of the numbered drawers. My fortune was a “small fortune” and said I have many good things coming my way if I put in the work. Cori however, well, she got bad juju and went to smirk thru her prayers.
Then we both cleansed our mouths. Nice try holy water, but not sure this is strong enough.
7. Sensory, Porn & Anime Overload in Akihabara
This was by FAR my favorite district of Tokyo. Not because of anything I very much enjoy, but because it was SO (pardon my French) fucking bizarre! Akihabara is the electronic district, which also boasts a huge porn and anime scene.
While here we saw so many different kinds of cafes being advertised, ranging from Maid cafes, to Domestic cafes, whatever the heck THAT means. Not to mention, I have never seen so much anime since my family’s family friend’s cousin used to dress up as Sailor Moon just on a regular Saturday. It was ODD.
Maybe the funniest thing though was the 6 floor porn building prominently situated right by the subway exit. The walls were plastered in Polaroids of naked girls and naked girls having sex. Then once on the floors, there was anime sex props up the ying yang, whips, dildos, vibrators, pretty much anything imaginable. And tons of people were just perusing at their leisure.
I especially loved pausing behind some creepy old man staring rather intensely at a leather whip.
Here I am with my gazoongas and kimono ready to get educated in Japanese sex culture! My, was it a thorough education!
Kind of fun fact: This is a great district to do your duty free shopping in, as duty free shops are EVERYWHERE. I had a really early flight out the next morning and wasn’t able to buy my green tea Kit Kats at the airport, so I just did it here.
8. Romancing A Spider For An Exquisite View Of The City At Roppongi Hills
Prior to visiting Tokyo, I read that going up to Tokyo Tower for the city view was quite overrated, and that the view from the 54th floor viewing deck of the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills is far more breathtaking. Not to mention, you get to see Tokyo Tower as part of your view and seduce a giant spider before making your way to the top.
It cost us between 1,500-2,000yen ($15-20) and an ear pop in the speedy elevator to the top!
9. Failing Miserably In A Japanese Photo Booth
I think it’s just an East Asian thing, the whole photo-booth-make-your-eyes-ginormous thing, but even coming from Korea, a photo booth in Japan was high marked on the to-do list! Especially since there are some pretty stunning glamour shots in mine and Cori’s past that desperately need recreation.
We found a Cherry Cherry booth and scurried in, only the whole thing was in Japanese so we had a few minor difficulties in navigation and procurement. Once we took our photos, filled with a heaping amount of awkward face, we waited for definitely over 5 minutes at the photo retrieval machine to no photos being dispensed. We then realized that we had skipped part 2. Part 2 being doodle all over and make your eye balls HUGE, obviously the most important step! Well, the language barrier interfered again and we ran out of time sans huge eyeballs, plus lots of Cherry Cherry baby.
Maybe our “thing” is just taking awful photo booth glamour shots! That’s it, it’s settled.
10. Starf*ckers Come To This Starbucks
Located smack in the middle of Shinjuku’s busiest intersection, lies the busiest Starbucks in the world. When the lights turn red, the entire intersection opens up for pedestrians and it is a massive clusterfuck of humans, which can all be seen in perfect flourescent light stricken view from the top of said Starbucks. Stopping in the middle of the intersection, you know, to document it or something, is apparently similar to asking for a death wish.
Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to highlight a couple things we attempted, but much like the glamour shots, failed at.
1. Radiation Overload At Tsukiji Fish Market
We had read about the tuna auctions that happen every morning starting at 4am on the docks at Tsukiji Fish Market. The fishermen catch fresh (radiated) tuna straight from the water and auction them off to bidders, and then everyone somehow kills themselves with radiation for breakfast.
We weren’t 4am ambitious, but we didn’t realize that the entire fish market shut down by early afternoon. Coming from Seoul, I assumed it would be open all day, but just more insane in the wee hours. I was wrong, and after mazing through the endless back warehouses of the market, this is all we saw.
So, if you decide to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, plan to get there EARLY. I imagine they close by 12 noon, so plan on making a Japanese breakfast out of the venture.
2. Hopping A Moat To The Imperial Palace
We didn’t really jump over or swim through any moats, but we didn’t get to tour the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace where Japan’s Imperial family currently lives, as it was closed the day we went. We did however get this documentation of us in front of the moat in the rain. The palace is also behind us in the distance.
3. Bicycle Riding In Nakemeguro
Biking around Nakemeguro was highlighted as a must do in Tokyo, and since one of my favorite activities to do in a foreign country is whimsically bicycle around, I was all about it. Unfortunately we were totally let down when we couldn’t find where to rent the bikes! We found a bike parking lot, but our lack of Japanese speak and the worker’s lack of English provided for no such luck.
It wasn’t all a bust though, seeing as two vintage loving gals found themselves wandering down a quaint street lined with pink lanterns and littered with vintage shops GALORE. We ate our eyeballs out!
To get here, you’ve got to get to Nakemeguro Station, and after exiting, it’s going to be down the first street you can turn down on your right.
After 10 days with each other, my Diamond and I had a wonderful trip, with a smattering of bickerings here and there, but overall just lovely! Twas another adventure to add to our chronicles of taking over this fascinatingly beautiful continent!
I really need to spank myself for the tardiness of this, but there seems to be a trend when I go on a honker of a trip. There’s just so much I want to share that I let it sit and linger until I’m like “Danielle, you need to write that NOW!” And then 2 months swoop past and here I am with a draft that’s like, 2 months old and not to my liking anymore, forcing me to start all over again. So here I sit. Finally gettin to tale telling.
Bali and some of its neighboring islands, Lombok and the Gilis, was my first trip booked as a completely solo venture. It wasn’t solo in the whole sense of the word, but it was solo in that I traveled completely on my own and retired to my own boudoir nightly, and just so happened to be in some of the same places as others at the same time so we got to exploring together.
I loved this trip to death, even though there were a couple moments of sheer pissed-off-ed-ness, but mostly it was beautiful and zen, and I really got my Eat Pray Love hippie dippy on.
I know I should really probably start with the best parts of my trip, but I’m going to start with the things that urked the crapola out of me, because in retrospect they are the funniest and my favorite stories to tell when I reminiscence on my Indonesian gallivant. Win win.
1. When I Got Abandoned Somewhere Between The Gili Islands
I started the day by telling Chrissy about the movie Open Water. Dumb. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it, but not before you go on an organized ocean exploring trip.
While snorkeling somewhere between the Gili Islands, the stupid little Indonesian boy in charge of our boat forgot to do a head count of how many people he had on board his vessel. He decided to drop us off at the sea turtle point, where we got VERY excited to see some ginormous shelled creatures! Well, me, Chrissy and our new man friend that we met on board got excited and decided to swim and follow one. Only they were beating me because I was blessed with a botched snorkel that really cramped my snorkel enjoyment. I couldn’t swim for like, 2 seconds, without gulping in water through a tiny puncture. After a bit of a chase, I looked up to get a handle on where the boat was, and to my horror the boat was zipping off, and appearing to be getting further and further away!! I of course started panicking because there was a small current and I was gradually wading into the water about 10 feet to my right that was getting a pitch shade of black.
So there I hustle, huffing and puffing through my cursed snorkel, swimming to a stupid boat that keeps getting further and further away. When finally, another boat speeds past, and I throw my arms up, screaming to him to pick me up because our moronic driver left us stranded. That man refused, and yelled that our boat was coming back.
Well, after about 5 minutes our boat decided they left some people for shark bait and came back for us. How thoughtful of them!!! I hoisted myself over that ladder and onto the boat where I ripped a new one for the giggling guy driving the boat, who just stared at me laughing and asked “Are you mad to me?” What do you think BUDDY?!
I was later chatting with a plane buddy on my flight home who told me that she had read reviews about snorkel trips in the Gilis often leaving people in the water or on island hops. SO, for those looking into a venture to the Gilis, get your balls in check before you possibly get left for shark bait.
2. That Time I Fell And Sprained My Other Ankle
My right ankle had just started to finally feel normal again when I happened to find myself in the sleepy beach town of Uluwatu in the southernmost tip of Bali. You see, Uluwatu is gorgeous, but unless you are comfortable with your life in your hands whilst operating a motorbike, or are traveling with a trustworthy somebody of who you don’t mind bestowing your life, you’re kind of screwed for getting around the city that’s built along one long windy road.
I stayed at a nice little guest house called Belong Bunter, operated by a young guy named Hank and his adorable 15 year old side kick.
I will never forget Hank because he turned into a stalker. He offered to drive me around on the back of his motorbike, which was awesome because it was free. It was not awesome because I think he thought that my nice open nature meant that I wanted to be his girlfriend. I don’t know. I’m a weirdo magnet I guess. Anyways, after his sweet welcoming ways wore off, he followed me around Padang Padang beach, and hung out in front of my room when I wasn’t talking to him which proved to be a bit much when all you want is to be with yourself after a day on the back of this guy’s bike.
So the ankle sprain. We had planned to meet by his bike at 5:30pm to go catch the sunset at Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple up on the cliff overlooking the ocean. After the beach, I retired to my room, took a shower, and then took a naked nap. At around 5pm (30 minutes early, mind you), through my window I heard “Danielle! Danielle!” In my groggy haze, I thought Hank was in my room! Startled, my naked bodice lept so fast out of bed, tried to run for cover and ate it so hard on the ground, knocking over a plant in my haste, and OF COURSE, my other ankle off its rocker. Ugh.
Another ankle to bite the dust. Night was ruined, and the rest of the evening was spent dying in bed because I could barely walk, listening to the soundtrack of a whimpering Hank outside my window sending me consoling Facebook message after Facebook message.
I probably shouldn’t have let him fondle my foot, and I should probably consider drinking whole milk.
3. This Creepy Graffiti
Indonesia is a Muslim country, I knew this before going, and everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions. It’s part of the beauty of traveling. However, this was a little alarming for a lover of the motherland to see while just wandering the back streets of tiny little Gili T. Especially since it was Ramadan, and the constant chanting blaring through the speakers was already urking me a bit.
Gaza will never go down. Fuck Israel.
A few days later. Me, Tu and my new friend Alex stumbled upon this 9/11 McDonald’s creepy graffiti in Ubud. In such a beautiful, peaceful, zen city, this is so out of place.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you some happs that definitely topped my pops list on this journey through Bali, Lombok and Gili Trawangan. In no particular order, but probably chronologically because that’s how it is in my notes and I like order amidst chaos.
1. Catching Up With KC In Kuta
Casey was my plane buddy on the flight over to Korea, and we both got stranded up in “North Korea” together once we got our school placements. He moved to Taiwan to continue teaching English once our 1st year contracts came to a close. It just so happened that we had a couple days overlapping on our planned vacations, so we met up in Bali’s version of Mexico, and strolled along the beautiful Legian beach catching up on life and all that jazz. Twas really nice to see him and meet his girlfriend.
I also learned that several of my male friends are all homosexuals. Oh Kuta!
2. Prince Ali, Fabulous He
I met up with Chrissy in Lombok, which is the biggest island neighboring Bali to the East. I got there a day later than anticipated because no fast boats were available the day I originally wanted to head out. We had one day on Lombok together, so we opted to trek out to Tiu Kelep waterfall which was a 2 hour drive from where we were staying in Sengiggi.
When we got to the first small waterfall, we acquired our guide, Ali, who was a tiny little Indonesian man with horrendous body odor and a smile filled with brown teeth for days. He didn’t understand a lick of English, except for how to ask for money, but held our bags under his raging smelly arm pits as we less-than-gracefully forded many a river, guided us through a bat-filled water tunnel, and took this fabulous collage of “blurrages”.
Bless Prince Ali and his fabulous shaky little hands.
3. Saltcheese Chocolatey Nomness
When I finally made it to Lombok after a less than speedy fast boat journey, Chrissy and I hit the ground running to Tiu Kelep so we’d hit it before sunset. Both of us were famished in any sense of the word that we know, so we stopped at a little store at the base before hiking in. We found these sandwich cookiecracker things, and inhaled them way too fast.
America and Korea and everywhere should own these for sale.
4. This Hammock At The Happiest Place On Earth
Happy House on Gili Trawangan is truly the place to stay, should you stumble into those parts. Do keep in mind though that you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle when trying to find the place. Our sweaty backs and bodices wandered for a good hour on this tiny island before we finally found it and were greeted by all things HAPPY, and a complimentary welcome breakfast. I was equally happy when I found this hammock hanging in front of our door. Turns out I’m a bit of a hammock hog when I’m happy.
5. Phalluses For Days
I’m clearly ready for any cock-fight you wish to have.
6. Taking a Vinyasa Flow Yoga Class In A Gazebo At Yoga Barn
Ubud’s claim to recent fame is Eat Pray Love, and is a hippie cultural paradise nestled inland from the east on Bali. I knew before going that I wanted to unwind there with my inner earthly weirdo for at least a day or two of my five. One of the big attractions of Ubud is it’s mysticism and Yogi lifestyle. I freakin love yoga, though I don’t do it as much as I tell myself to, so I made sure that I fit in a visit to the highly acclaimed Yoga Barn. I took a class taught by a man named Les, and it was seriously the most intense yoga class I’ve ever taken. I definitely earned that million bucks feeling when the class ended and he told us we all looked stoned. They offer package deals as well as classes on an individual basis, and if I remember correctly, an individual class is around $20USD.
Yoga Barn is awesome in that they offer way more services than just yoga classes. They have vegetarian buffet nights, movie screenings and a variety of holistic retreats and colonics if you are into getting your tubes irrigated. Put this place on your list while visiting Ubud if you know what’s good for your bodice and your noggin.
7. Bintangs With Brother Liangster
Brother Liang and I have only met two times in our lives. Once during a wild night out in Seoul when he had a less than 24 hour layover, and this time in Ubud, which was so random. Social Media is so amazing sometimes. I post to Facebook that I’m in Bali, Jeanette sees and says her brother is there too, I message him, and turns out we are in the same place at the same time and what do ya know, here we are throwin’ back some Bintangs and missing one Jnet Liangster.
8. Watching Real Live Monkey Sex
One of the big “to-do’s” in Ubud is the Monkey Forest. My friend Dion told me he was actually quite scared while walking through it, so I was pleased to have Tu as my companion for the day. And boy, was it a doozy of a journey to the forest! You see, the forest is completely open and the monkeys and humans coexist for the day. I’ve always thought monkeys were really cute, but I was kind of creeped out by them while here.
First we were greeted with a mama monkey and her dead baby monkey sprawled at her feet. Then we saw a monkey attack a woman and her bag of food because she didn’t listen and leave her food at the entrance. After walking a bit further we saw two monkeys brawl each other over a Coke bottle, only to lead us down a ways to the trifecta of cray cray.
I may have been stupid and tried to mock a monkey who appeared to be in a deep yoga leg lift. He tried to chase me, I flailed, all was good. Then a girl got bit on the hand, and then came this full mount upon the tree. Tu and I were a couple of highly amused peeping toms before the monkey sexers caught wind of our peeping and unleashed a herd similar to Planet of the Apes.
9. Seeing Katy Perry Perform Some Indonesian Traditional Dance
Katy Perry wasn’t really there, but for about $8USD, Tu and I spent an evening at Ubud Palace watching her doppelganger do some pretty intense eyeball and finger dancing in the most stunning and ornate costumes I’ve ever laid eyes on. Truly exquisite, and totally recommend checking out the Legong Of Mahabrata Traditional Dance Show should you find yourself out for an evening in Ubud. Tickets are available just out front of the palace and are sold all the way up until show time.
Pardon the blur, but Katy Perry is in the front, because where else would they put her?
10. Temple Hopping With Tu & His Wild Leopard Sarong
It was pretty wild.
Here I am in my peacock sarong, about to enter an extremely moist Elephant shrine on our day of temple hopping.
11. Watching The Sun Set On Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot temple overlooks the ocean, and at sunset, it provides for quite the exquisite photographic moment. With the people crossing over the rock to the temple, draped against the changing sunset, it’s really really beautiful.
We took too many silhouette photos of other humans and me looking like a teradactyl, and this one in attempts to make straight face with the temple itself.
12. Rice Terraces For Dayz
On mine and Tu’s day of leopard print sarong temple hopping, we also visited the Tegallalang Rice Terraces, which were stunning and lush. The village itself where the terraces are is quite touristy and there are lots of jacked up priced trinkets, but it was really gorgeous to see the steps of green for days! Ta da!
13. One Man’s Cheap Thrill Is Another Man’s Treasure
I wrote a previous post about my time at the Copi Luwak plantation and my time spent there with the lovely man, Oher. A man who lost his wife 2 years ago, has been raising his young daughter on his own, and teaching himself English to better himself and to show his daughter a brighter future, proved to be one of my favorite parts of this trip.
When he described his daughter, he mentioned that she happened to love Hello Kitty, prompting me to obviously show him my supremely Asian iPhone case and the plastic ring I happened to be wearing that I purchased in Koko for a measly 2,000won. I totally felt compelled in that moment to give him my ring for his daughter, to his utter shock. He was so grateful, and It just showed me how different our worlds are, yet small gestures are always the biggest to anyone.
He was so thrilled, I was so in awe after my life talk with him. Win win win!
14. Getting My Fortune Read By THE Ketut Liyer!
I’m sure many people reading this post are familiar with who Ketut Liyer is. If you have read Eat Pray Love or have seen the movie, then you will remember that he’s the fortune teller that Elizabeth Gilbert visits on her trip to Bali. I actually probably wouldn’t have thought to go had I not been wandering on my first afternoon and stopped to talk with a local who was trying to hustle me to let him take me around on his motorbike. He was the one to tell me that Ketut is actually hugely famous in the city, but many are skeptical of his authenticity. Maybe that was just his opinion, but I knew what was next on my list!
After a day of zipping around on the back of my new friend Gusti’s bike, we ended our day at Ketut Liyer’s house. However, he was ending early for the day due to a ceremony he was performing. No worries though, Gusti picked me up bright and early the next day so I could pick a number and get in line to hear tales of my future. You have to pick a number and wait your turn, that’s how famous he is!
I ended up waiting for about an hour and a half before it was my turn. While I was waiting I got to play with these adorable babes who live at Ketut’s guesthouse, which made the wait more enjoyable.
And finally my lucky number 7 was up! I was actually quite nervous because I didn’t quite know what to expect. I have always wanted to get my palm read, and even if Ketut is a quack, the novelty of having my fortune read by him made it well worth the $25USD to sit in his presence for 15 minutes.
It was incredibly difficult to understand him through his few dangling teeth and broken English in Indonesian tongue, so my ears were perked up about 50 notches. He basically told me that a lot of beautiful things will happen in my future. I will be very successful and fall into a great lump of money, be married once and it will be for keeps, and we will have 3 children. I may or may not have already met the man I will marry, but he seemed to believe I will meet him before I turn 30. Tick tick tick goes my biological clock!
As cheesy as this may sound, and no matter how quacktastic he may be, it was actually a huge deal for me. Even though I’ve always wanted to live abroad, Eat Pay Love really ignited that in me, and then the Florence & The Machine song Dog Days Are Over that played in the movie, was kind of like my anthem for wanting to head off even more. So, this meeting had many special meanings and felt like my time abroad came full circle.
If you head to the gem of Ubud, a trip to meet Ketut will definitely be a highlight.
15. The Cement Art Paved Streets Of Ubud
One thing I absolutely loved about the location of my hotel in Ubud was the street I was staying on, Jalan Kajeng. The whole street is paved for days with special sayings or messages that visitors past have left to remember their time in Ubud. I didn’t know until doing a little research on the street, but I guess you are able to purchase a cement stone and write a personalized message, and this is their novel way of repaving the particular street. I absolutely fell in love with it, and found myself stopping and reading and walking, stopping and reading and walking nearly every time I walked down the street.
I found a little bit of home.
And even found sista!
16. Stalking This Lady Having A Smoke Cliff side At Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is a seaside temple that was built in the 11th century to protect Bali from evil spirits. The temple itself iwas really beautiful, though my time there was overshadowed by my irritating “friend” Hank. He followed me around everywhere with a stick to hit monkeys if they came close to me. Nice gesture, but beyond annoying when I just wanted to explore on my own.
When I finally managed to ditch him, I stumbled upon this lady sitting in the shrubs having a puff puff, and thought it was so beautiful with the sunset.
Twas a lovely way to wrap up my Balinese adventures!
I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t traveling. Ever since I was little Dani Tami, my parents constantly took us out of Agoura and onto either the open rode in a 15 seater van, or piled us into a plane to some country at the other corner of the globe. It is something I’ve always known. Spring and winter break never meant staying in town, and while looking back, these are trips that I am so grateful to my parents for. From a young age, they made me have to wander, whether I knew it then or not. So really, they shouldn’t be shocked at my current locale now should they? The answer is no. So Mama and Papa Schaeff, it’s all your fault!
This week’s travel theme is about “the moment”. The moment that you know your life is changed by travel either by a place, thing, time, person, whatever. I actually quite frequently get this feeling of absolute content whenever I’m traveling that’s much different from the feeling of the normal day-to-day. It’s one of those feelings that sparks so often, even in doing normal everyday things like taking a shower, that “real life” feels so far away in that second. Actually, since living in Korea, I’ve had so many of those moments. So many “I’m so happy I’m in Korea” moments, which helped me realize that moving here was the best decision I’ve ever made.
That being said, It’s kind of hard to pick just one moment that changed my life, so I’m going to pick two. The one that started it all, and a more recent one. Full circle that shit.
I can pinpoint that moment when I knew I needed to live abroad. I was in 4th grade, on a spring break trip with my family to Paris. I remember standing in a little street shop wanting to buy one of those collectors silver spoons that people used to collect like shot glasses. Maybe they still do, but I don’t. Either way, my dad gave me a few Francs to buy it, and then we made a mad dash out to the main street and into a random burst of hail. Across the street were the larger-than-life green and gold statues gleaming down at me in my yellow puffy jacket and red beret. The cars were driving haphazardly, yet somehow weaving in and out of each other in some fashion of chaotic order which I still to this day can’t place, even with my most likely ADD. We were trying to catch a Mercedes Benz taxi. A Mercedes Benz taxi! Wow, “Paris is rich!” I thought! That smell of the ice smashing on the pavement is one that I still catch random whiffs of in moments that are fleeting, and I am instantly transported back to Paris as the little girl in the jacket that could stop traffic. After that trip, while wearing our matching Sorbonne University sweatshirts, my sister and I both told our mom that we were going to go to college at Sorbonne and live in Paris.
That didn’t happen for either of us, but I still look at that certainty as the pivotal moment of when I just knew I wasn’t going to spend my whole life living in the States.
Flash forward to adult woman “mature” life and my first solo trip to the stunning, magnificent, lush Bali! I had found a guy named Gusti who offered to take me on a half day excursion on the back of his motorbike to see some temples and a Luwak coffee plantation. The plantation was actually something that I thought was going to be a scam and I’d be just nodding my head in a polite effort to get it over with. However, after about a minute of meeting Oher, and listening to him tell me about harvesting the different kinds of coffee beans, I was totally interested. I knew I wasn’t just asking random questions to appease him. Instead, I started to find him remarkably charming in a sweet old man kind of way. After teaching about all the different kinds of beans, showing me how to crack them open, introducing me to the pooping Luwak, and letting me smell all the various herbs, we sat down to taste some coffee and indulge in conversation.
Over 10 little cups of coffee and tea, Oher asked about the places I’ve traveled, explained how he’s studied English for 4 years just by talking with customers, told me about his 10 year old daughter, Wayan, who loves Hello Kitty, and how he has been raising her on his own since his wife of 25 years passed away 2 years ago, a subject that actually brought him to tears. As he teared up, it reminded me of why I am so in love with experiencing all the world has. I love meeting people on these journeys and getting a little glimpse into their world that’s so different from my own, but fundamentally so similar when you get down to the bare bones of being a human. Here I was sitting at a hand carved wooden table with a 45ish year old man who looked well into his 60s, who spoke remarkable English for being self-taught, some snakeskin fruit and 10 empty cups of coffee, enjoying one of the best moments I’ve had while on the move.
I actually happened to be wearing a Hello Kitty ring that I bought in Korea for 2,000won. I gave it to Oher as a gift for his daughter from an American girl. He was so shocked that I was just giving it to him. I said I could buy another, it was no problem. He said thank you about a million times and was so eternally grateful for that small plastic piece of jewelry that it just made me smile.
These are moments that remind me of why I’m so happy I’m staying in Korea another year. Another year of exploring this whack but stunning continent, and after that, who knows what the next moment will be 🙂
I decided to start writing some weekly travel theme pieces that other travel blogs will be changing up each week. So look out for some random variety 🙂
I know, I know. This is beyond tardy. It has taken me a year and a day to post about mine and Stephanie’s jaunt to the beautiful cities of Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang back in February, but I am finally getting around to doing it. Holy moly, I can’t believe it’s been that long. Shame on me!!!
This time, instead of doing my typical posty post about the entire vaca, what we ate, who we ate with and at what time, I’m going to chronicle my favorite moments of the trip. So buckle up peeps!
1. Our 16 Hour Train Ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Instead of flying directly to Chiang Mai, we flew into Bangkok and opted to indulge in the journey of getting to Chiang Mai. And what reeks more of wanderlusting travel than the huff and puff of a locomotive train? We stocked up on snacks, including an accidental choosing of PICKLED mango on Miss Stephanie Anne’s part, ordered a surprisingly delicious dinner on board, got our train bunks turned down by the train maid, tucked ourselves in with a good book (50 Shades of Grey anyone?), and then buckled ourselves into bed for the night. At least I did in my coffin of a top bunk. We rolled into Chiang Mai bright and early the next morning.
2. Our guest house in Chiang Mai ~ Finlay’s Cottage.
Steph and I hadn’t booked a place for our first night in Chiang Mai, and since we were meeting Abby for a night we asked her to book us 1 night at Finlay’s Cottage, the place where she was staying. We loved this place so much that we ended up cancelling our previous reservations and it ended up being our home base for our entire stay in Chiang Mai, both before and after Laos. We loved it that much! The man and woman who run the guest house are a couple of unlikely friends, but are somehow fantastically hilarious. The woman helped us book all our day trips, got us a great tuk tuk driver, made us delicious breakfasts every morning, woke us up to make sure we ate our breakfasts every morning, cancelled our prior reservations for us and made great sarcastic conversation with us when necessary. The man is from Australia and just never returned, and the woman lived on Koh Phi Phi for 37 years as a masseuse, but when the tsunami hit she broke nearly all her bones and chose to relocate up north, and has been there ever since. They were top NOTCH!
3. Thai Cooking Class With Beery.
I love cooking but it’s something that I just don’t really have the patience or timing for. I like to think of myself as more of a “throw together whatever I have kinda chef” and it always works. I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class in Thailand since I saw MayMay took one on her trip! I figured Steph and Abby were the perfect people to do this with since they are both chef masters. We signed up for a wonderful cooking class at Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School and had a fabulously flamboyant instructor named Beery, who was just the cherry on top! It was boot camp in the most fun way possible. We started with a trip to the local market, then went to the school’s garden to smell the herbs and plants native to Thai cuisine that we’d be cooking with, and then got down to cooking! I made Pad See Ew (because it reminds me of Jessie), Kow Soi Curry and curry paste (the native curry to Chiang Mai which came recommended by MayMay), and Mango sticky rice.
4. When I Discovered That Friendship Is Hoisting Your Friend Atop An Elephant.
We went on an all-day Mahout elephant trekking course through the jungle, atop the most gorgeous and friendly and massive animal in the world. We learned key commands to “drive” them, fed them endless amounts of sugar cane and bananas, struggled to hoist ourselves atop their massive bodies, struggled yet again to steer our still hormonal lady thru a jungle trek, squealed with glee whilst sliding down her trunk, and then took the most glorious bath in the world with her even though it was filled with piles of shit, I’m sure. This is my favorite photo from the trip. I really made an ass out of myself, but at least I know who’s got me from all angles as I migrate through this world of ours.
5. Taking This Photo For National Geographic While Sitting In Tiger Pee.
We didn’t really take it for National Geographic, but we might as well have. We spent an afternoon at the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai posing with a 3 month old tiger, a 5 month old tiger, and then this full grown tiger. We even saw this guy snap at someone. OPEN WIDE and guard your life!
6. Getting Annoyed By Chinese Tourists While Trying to Observe the Long Neck Karan Tribe.
The Long Neck Karan tribe native to Chiang Mai is a bit of a circus detour, but I really wanted to see it since this tribe is the one thing that I’ve always remembered since going to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! as a child. We went, it was awkward and fascinating, and then we got annoyed by the Chinese tourists that always come in loud like they own the place with zero respect.
7. When Steph Walked Like An Ajumma Up The Massive Stairway to Wat Doi Suthep.
The greatest Wat (temple) in Chiang Mai is Wat Doi Suthep, and it’s located at the tippy top of a massive mountain. To get there you have to take a tuk tuk, to a red jeep and then walk up the insane stairway. Here is Steph getting back to her Korean roots en route to the top.
8. Riding In The Back Of A Pick Up Truck While Crossing The Laos Border.
We decided to take the slow boat journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. This consisted of a 7 hour minibus to the border, where our small group was greeted by a pick up truck, and we were instructed to hop into the bed of it and stand. Obediently we did so. FEELIN LIKE A CHOLA.
9. A Dramatic Reading Of 50 Shades of Grey In French In The Middle Of Nowhere, Laos.
We spent the night in creepy cabins in the middle of nowhere Laos as we awaited our boat ride along the Mekong the next morning. Our fellow companions were a Swiss couple and our newly made travel companion, French lassie Audrey. Their common language was French, and having never heard of the epic 50 Shades of Grey before, our new friend decided to translate the novel for his lady. It was oh so sexy.
10. The Sweetest Sendoff From Adorable Laotian Babies As We Set Off On The Mekong.
We woke up bright and early and were escorted to our private boat for our Mekong River cruise. Our escort service couldn’t have been any more adorable if it tried. Heart. Melt.
11. Our First Laotian Meal Of Various Flavors Of….Buffalo Jerky.
Steph, Audrey and I set out to try our first Laotian meal since arriving in Luang Prabang. We turned down a sleepy road in the early-to-sleep city, and perused a menu of our selected restaurant. There were so many oddly named items, so we took it upon ourselves to order the ones that stood out the most to us. I believe mine was called “Day Meat Smashed Style”. Basically, we all got variously flavored versions of buffalo jerky. Needless to say, we were not impressed and stuck to baguettes from the street food vendors for the remainder of our stay in Luang Prabang.
12. This Pleasant Lady And Her Amazing Baguettes.
This woman had such a pleasant aura about her, and call me a weirdo, but I loved watching her make her sandwiches. She was so calm, and her sandwiches were so amazing. They were massive and I scarfed them DOWN. I always got her chicken, brie, tomato, avocado, lettuce and cucumber sandwich and boy did it satisfy. I also loved that she was one of the only street food stands that had all of her food covered and away from the flies. Sanitation!!!
13. Meeting A 16 Year Old Monk Who Loves to Speak English With Foreigners.
We were making our way up to Wat Chom Si atop Pousi Hill just before sunset when we met this friendly monk, Bee. He is 16 years old and was so sweet and friendly. He told us about how he loves studying English and hopes to one day travel to America, and loves hanging out on that walk up to the top because so many foreigners come through and it gives him a chance to practice his English. It was so refreshing to meet someone as young and eager as him to learn and practice, especially after working with Korean students who a lot of the time can care less about learning English. We exchanged information and are now Facebook friends! 🙂
14. Taking This Glorious Photo Atop Pousi Hill.
Audrey was traveling by herself, and was a lovely addition to our stay in Luang Prabang. Im so glad we got this awesome photo of the three of us!
15. Going to Kuang Si Waterfall And Doing A Boob Flop Rope Jump.
We made the journey out to Kuang Si Waterfall with Audrey and 5 Germans that we met. It was a gorgeous hike in, and once there we got to swim in the springs, and if we wanted, jump from the rope hanging from the tree. I of course wanted to do it, but was deathly scared once I got up onto the tree. It was SO slippery, and I was trembling as I used the wooden stick to grab the swinging rope to clutch between my shaking hands. I was a ball of nerves! Klutzy McKlutz over here. Well, I didn’t hold high enough on the rope, and when I swung I barely swung and BOOB FLOPPED flat into the water so hard that my top came off under water. FAIL. But awesome. This is the face I made upon emerging and confirming my breasts were still in tact.
16. Observing A Man In a Diaper Walk Down The Street Carrying A Machete.
As the heading says, a man with deathly leather colored skin traipsed down the street wearing nothing but a sheet-like diaper, while carrying nothing but a machete. I felt safe.
17. Temple Hopping And Bicycle Riding.
One thing I always try to do while traveling is spend a day with a map in hand and my tuchous on a bicycle seat. It’s so whimsical and I think the best way to see a city. Luang Prabang is probably one of the best cities to do this in because it’s so small and quaint. So, we spent a day temple hopping, monk spotting and drink sipping on our bikes, and it was a beautiful, hot and sweaty day!
18. Bargaining My Face Off At The Most Colorful Night Market I’ve Ever Been To.
I LOVE night marketing while I travel, and the market in Luang Prabang exceeded my expectations. It was by far my favorite night market I’ve ever been to. The colors were so bright everywhere I turned, and the handmade items being sold were so fun and vibrant and unique. I bargained like it was my job and ended up snagging a pretty awesome travel bag for a sweet deal. I love this photo I took, and every time I look at it I just want to pop back there!
19. Meeting New Friends At The All Vegetarian Buffet At The Night Market.
While Instagramming, Steph stumbled upon a guy’s posting of this all vegetarian buffet just off of the night market. There was a massive spread of food that you put on a plate and then a guy heated it all up for you in a wok. It was for something outrageous like $5, and was so delicious! We pulled up a seat with everyone else and nommed down on our food. We met some fascinating friends from France, Argentina and Mauritius that we spent the rest of our last evening with. It’s moments like this when I realize why I love traveling.
20. Sitting In The Back Of Our Second Pick Up Truck Crossing The Thailand Border.
We did it once, and we did it twice. Southeast Asia seems to follow Mexico’s lead when it comes to border crossing, because I’ve never felt more illegal in my life. Sometimes it feels good to live life on the edge. At least we had a stamp in our passeporto.
21. Stumbling Upon This Awesome Art Shop In Chiang Mai.
On our last day in Chiang Mai, we randomly stumbled into this art studio/shop filled with a man’s artwork strewn about with every life and travel quote imaginable. We spent a wild amount of time wandering and finding the perfect purchases for ourselves and our parents. We both chose pieces for our parents with quotes about our own need to wander the world, and how no matter where we are they’re always in our hearts.
22. These Young Boys Getting Massages In Bangkok.
Because they were such babies and they looked so funny and adorable getting a group massage. I couldn’t help myself. They were 18 years old. BABIES!
23. These Gangnam Style Sandals On Khaosan Rd.
Well, because there would be no better send off back to Koko than to see Psy displayed on some footwear.
Well, there you have it. Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang in a somewhat brief pictoral nutshell. I hope you enjoyed despite my tardiness! Better late than never!!