Monthly Archives: December 2011

Down the rabbit hole

the pier

        nom nom nom   sorry mandi

what is this i don't even

mmm kingcake

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Finally, a post about my upcoming trip! I feel like it’s easier to talk about my previous travels, because it’s only with time and distance that I realize what it was I learned from them. I find it harder to talk about upcoming journeys because a.) I am kind of superstitious about dumb things, and typing things into a blog about an upcoming trip is one of them (completely illogical, I know), b.) I have so much to do, I can’t believe that I decided now was a good time to start a blog, and c.) I don’t have any photos to post of a trip I haven’t gone on yet!

But anyway. I’m super excited right now, so much so that even after working somewhere around 10 hours today and being completely exhausted, I want to type this up! I’m so excited because I got to skype with my lovely friend who I’m going to visit and travel with in China, M., for 2 hours tonight! Our plans are coming together nicely. Now if only we can manage to find each other in Beijing…(Which is a dilemma I’d love to find myself in many times over: having to find a good friend in a foreign city so we can adventure about. A tough life indeed.)

M. is absolutely wonderful! (Hopefully she’ll forgive me for posting photos of her on the internets. ;) ) Somehow, we attended the same high school but managed to never meet one another. I ended up working at a coffee shop that M. had worked at previously (before she studied abroad in China). When we finally met after she returned to the US, we ended up becoming good friends after working some long and crazy shifts in that same coffee shop making weird raptor noises at ungodly hours, at Christmas parties playing Candyland, after adventures on abandoned piers, and over King cake and nachos.

Anyway, long story short, M. moved to China and has been working there for a few years. I said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I came to visit you in China?” And M. said, “Let’s do it!!” And thus, the epic plan to take the Trans-Mongolian to China was born. From the very first time that we talked about it, to actually discussing the minute details of when and where to meet up…it’s been a long road, but it really is a dream coming true. In exactly one month, 9,530 miles away from my current location, we’ll be meeting up again to hunt for Peking duck in Beijing. The last time we saw each other was a late night chat in a gas station parking lot in the hot and sticky humidity of Louisiana.

Some days, I feel very lucky and blessed indeed, no matter how bad or long of a day I’ve had. Today is one of those days. To know that my hard work is going to support something I love doing makes it all worth it. But getting to explore China with an amazing friend? It’s the icing on top of a sweet cake.

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A city by the sea

Calton Hill

Crisps!

Make a wish

The View from Calton Hill

Homemade pancakes!

This is a Respectable House
        Down from Arthur's Seat   The Keep

Cowgate graffiti
Up the hill

Bagel
A look out from Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh, Scotland

There’s a piece of me that feels a little pang inside every time I look at a map and see Scotland. There’s a lot to be said for being in the right place mentally before you take a journey. What that right place is, well, that’s up to you. But for me, I wish I’d taken things a little slower when I first went to Europe. Or had more time there. Or more money. Hahaha, always more money, especially for travel in Europe…but overall, I really don’t regret going. I’m so happy that I did.

I do regret, however, only spending three days in Edinburgh. My evil step-brother, P., and I had a friend studying abroad in Edinburgh, K. She is amazing. And she was the best host ever. She let us stay in her dreamy 6-person flat right near the Cowgate, fed us lentils, drew us maps, took us to the falafel bar, and put up with me doing my laundry in the bathroom that took two days to dry.

It was the first time I’d ever walked on cobblestone streets. The tangible sensation and the realization that I was somewhere older than I’d ever been – far older than my own home and country – is something I will never forget.

And I’ll never forget climbing up to Arthur’s Seat by myself, accidentally taking the long, winding, not-clearly-marked path because I am too dumb to read a very simple map. But it was glorious. As I struggled to reach the proper summit from the next hill over, the sun suddenly burst out from behind the clouds and illuminated my way up to the top. I felt wild, and free, and gloriously alive.

Oh, Edinburgh. When I think of it, when I see Scotland on a map, I think of the exact burst of emotion that welled up in me at that moment. Standing there, seeing this incredibly beautiful city spreading out from me towards the ocean, backlit by a gorgeous sky, made me ask myself some hard questions. That moment was one of the motivating factors that made me decide I wanted to travel extensively. Really, what had I done to deserve such an opportunity? Moments like those are the moments I love to experience, not just in travel, but life in general: ones that cause me to stop and think, “Damn, I am so lucky, so blessed, so happy to be here.”

On reflection, the weekend we spent there was perfect. It introduced me to train travel and made me fall in love with it. It introduced me to a lovely seaside medieval town. And it was full of laughs and good company and conversations. I’ll always remember that weekend fondly. I didn’t want to leave. I still want to move to Edinburgh, however implausible it may be. But I almost don’t want to visit it again. I worry that my first impression was so good, that I’d never want to spoil the magic of my memories of my time there. Perhaps Edinburgh will always remain a treasured memory and a wonderful dream.

An overnight train to Nice

The border?

The fountain

Cruisin' along

Lol backpacks

The square

P & the beach

Nice, France

Ahh, the French Riviera. I ended up there entirely on accident and after a harrowing 16 hours in Milano Centrale’s train station. Still, all good travel stories come out of some kind of adversity. Having to figure out how exactly to check one’s baggage when there are no clear directions for doing so, how to read the supremely unhelpful map, where to buy some lunch that isn’t way overpriced, and bribing border guards so they don’t kick you off the train – all good kinds of adversity, but mostly in retrospect. Not when you’re cranky from little sleep and worried about where you’re sleeping that night.

But being able to laugh about it afterwards with one of your best friends in the world? Worth the hardship. And it’s one of those things that makes solo travel less appealing. For all the freedom that you have when you travel by yourself, for all the great people you’ll meet along the way, sometimes it’s wonderful to be able to reminisce about the time that it took you two days to get from Rome to Paris and for a few hours, you both just hung out and enjoyed the sun and the view on the beaches in Nice.

In December, drinking horchata


   

       Rach in Hispania       

Alhambra - the view from the hostel

Granada, Spain

In Granada, we had the most incredible view of the Alhambra at night from our hostel’s windows. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still picture it perfectly in my head.  In Granada, we ran in flimsy ballet flats like madwomen so we wouldn’t miss our night entry into the Alhambra. The guards let us know how much longer we had at each checkpoint and radioed ahead so that we would be allowed in. In Granada, we got lost coming down the hill at night and had a completely insane taxi driver who drove the wrong way up one way streets. In Granada, we were accosted by a random hippie who offered us weed and gave us hugs in the square. In Granada, we wandered for hours aimlessly in the Albayzin, waiting for the tiny, hole-in-the-wall seafood shack to open up (it never did).     In Granada, we drank horchata de chufa to our hearts’ content.

In Granada, I realized that what I wanted to do was travel for as long as I could. It was the end of my first time travelling abroad and I woke up each morning there thinking, “I’m not ready to leave this yet. I don’t know if I ever will be.”

Soon, I’ll embark on my next adventure. I’ve travelled a bit since then, but I still have so much of the world to see. And a year and a half after we drank horchata in Granada, I still feel the same way.

I still want to travel as far, as much, and as long as I can. I can hardly wait.

New Year’s plans

Californiaaaa

Tu Lan

San Francisco, California, USA

It seems like every time Christmas and New Year’s holidays approach, I have new travel plans. In previous years, I’ve gone with friends to one of my favourite cities in the world, Austin, Texas, or with my family to San Antonio, Texas. However, at the beginning of 2011, I went on an adventure with a dear friend to San Francisco and Yosemite.

We spent our time in San Francisco walking, walking, and walking some more. We were very lucky, as the weather was great for most of our time there. We got lost in Golden Gate park, we found a true Southern diner that had excellent grits after wandering around the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, I kept running out into the street trying to get the perfect uphill street shot but never really did, rode the ferry to Alcatraz, had the *most* fun hanging off the railing of a streetcar, couchsurfed for the first time, met random nerds at a trivia night in a bar in Russian Hill over mulled wine and Connect Four, and then drove through a thick fog to Yosemite.

I expected to fall in love with San Francisco, considering how beautiful it was, how I’ve always idealized California, how nice the locals were (they weren’t even snobby when I said I was from the South), and all of the great things I’d heard about it over the years (including some very interesting stories told to me by a high school teacher from San Francisco in Spain). But something about the city was just too gritty for me. Something didn’t click with me. I could never see myself living there. Still, looking back through my photos and reflecting on the trip almost a year later, I realize that I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought.

This next year, I’ll be spending New Year’s Day in Moscow. I love starting off the new year by doing one of the things I love best, travelling. It makes everything seem fresh and new and all the possibilities of the future endless. Wish me luck.