Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thanks, 2016

Happy New Year's Eve! Thank GOD 2016 is finally almost over! This year has felt like many many years all rolled into one. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely some highs... but overall I'm thankful that this chapter is closing and another one is opening!

I had so many lows this year. Friendships changing, goals seeming further and further away, family emergencies... it felt never ending. The only thing getting me through this year were all of the highs that either outweighed the lows or totally masked them for a while.


I started this blog! // I've always blogged. Ever since I was 13 I've had a blog, but I've never stuck with it. This summer, partly due to being unemployed (definitely a low), I just decided to push myself to stick with it! I published a post 6 days a week and am thankful I did. I wish my schedule during the school year had been less hectic, but hopefully in the next few weeks I'll find my blogging groove again and publish more posts more consistently.

I went to the Middle East // 2016 was an interesting year for international travel, but it's now more than ever that I think it's so important! If you're staying put, the evil in the world wins. I jumped on the opportunity to go to Oman when it was announced as a Maymester term through the USC journalism school.

I (tried) to get fit // This was a huge goal of mine in 2016. I did pretty well over the summer, but unfortunately once again classes and being on a meal plan made it really difficult to workout consistently and measure my calorie intake/outtake. I'm definitely going to carry this goal over into 2017... which brings me to my next big event...

I graduated college! // I graduated early this December. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Normally people have that "crisis" their freshman year, but I decided to wait until I was out in the real world! Ha! I have a general idea... and I know I'll figure it out... but I hope it's sooner rather than later!

I found happiness // I'll end with a big cliche... but toward the end of this year I felt genuinely happy. This post goes deeper into that... but the feeling of happiness hasn't left!

The beginning of this year was really hard for me, but I got through it and through those experiences I know that I can get through almost anything. I am so excited to see what 2017 has in store!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hong Kong: Part One

My family and I just got back from a trip to Hong Kong! This was sort of like my graduation present, since I don't know if I'll ever again be able to go to China for 10 days.

Hong Kong was, to put it best, very very interesting. We had a good time and have a ton of funny and memorable stories from the trip, but it was definitely exhausting! Not to mention the 13 hour time change from Atlanta!


We fly standby, and the flight to HK is pay load optimized from Seattle, which meant that on Thursday when we first tried to get there we didn't get seats on the flight. We were stuck in Seattle for the evening... and it just so happened that the Seahawks had a football game that night! We had to buy hats and gloves (and tickets of course), but the experience was fun and it's definitely a great story! I mean, when in Rome!

FIRST NIGHT IN HONG KONG:

When we arrived in Hong Kong, it was about 7:00 at night on Saturday. (The flight left Friday at noon Pacific time.) We were obviously exhausted from traveling, and by the time we got to our hotel it was about 9:00. All we wanted was a light dinner snack before going to sleep! Little did we know... that would prove to be a challenge!

 























We stayed in the Times Square area of Hong Kong and (wrongly) assumed we would be able to find a restaurant with some snack-type food that we could eat quickly before resting. Instead we found a tiny restaurant with a giant pot of soup and three men who couldn't speak any English except for the words "yes" and "ok." We all ended up getting pretty good food (I got noodles and soup) but it was certainly a challenge, especially running on little sleep!


DAY ONE IN HONG KONG:

Our first full day in Hong Kong was packed to the brim with things to do. We woke up early (ish - with the time zone we were all awake about 7AM, 6PM the day before on the east coast!) and got started. We made our way over to Victoria Peak and took the tram up to the top. We luckily managed to have a beautiful clear day and could see out all over Hong Kong Island, as well as part of Kowloon and even the outer corner of Lantau (all islands that make up Hong Kong). The man behind us in line for the tram said he didn't see the need to go all the way up the tower, but I absolutely recommend it if you're in HK! There's no better way to grasp just how big the city is than looking over all of it.





After Victoria Peak, we went over to the Central-Mid Level Escalator, which is "the world's longest outdoor covered escalator and walkway system in the world." Definitely interesting. The escalator is only one way, so just remember... what goes up, must come down! Since it was around lunch time, we stopped just over half way up to get lunch at a Nepalese restaurant (still scarred from our experience the night before) before finishing out the escalator. 


We walked all the way down the escalators, to the ferry piers, took a boat to Kowloon, and walked to the Ladies Market. I do not recommend walking, and I don't think anybody else would either! The map made it seem like a shorter distance than it was, but toward the end of our long trek we were already to stop at one of the many McDonald's for a treat (and boost of energy).

The Ladies Market is very cool, there are tons of (fake) purses and wallets and belts, as well as actual clothing and even underwear for you to buy. There are also little trinkets that make great souvenirs. 

Once we finished at the Ladies Market we made our way to the Goldfish Market, which wasn't a far walk but literally felt like forever on our aching feet. We were instantly cheered up buy the sight of PUPPIES!! The Goldfish Market street actually had a lot of general pet stores, but walking on the sidewalk you could see tons and tons of goldfish tied up in little plastic baggies all along the walls. Many stores also had frogs and tadpoles and some even had giant blue crabs. But the puppies were our favorite parts, it's just too bad you weren't able to take any pictures of them!

After taking the subway back to the ferry pier, and getting on a boat back to Hong Kong Island... we did as any good tourists would do... we went to a restaurant called "Angus" and got pizza. Oops!

DAY TWO IN HONG KONG

This day was an even earlier start because we were going over to the island of Lantau to see the famous Big Buddha statue (formally known as the Tian Tan Buddha)! We were able to take the subway all the way over there, and then a cable car up the mountain. We bought tickets for the crystal bottom cars because the wait was (somehow) shorter, and it was fun to see us soaring over trees and water, and then spot people hiking up to the tourist town on top, Ngong Ping.



Once we were in Ngong Ping, which is kind of like a mini-Disney World town, we walked toward the Big Buddha. Pretty self explanatory, since that's what everyone else is doing up there too! The "hike" up to the Big Buddha is about 250 steps, so it really wasn't hard except for everyone stopping to take pictures along the way (ourselves definitely included!).


Once you're up there you can go inside the base and learn more about the Buddha itself and the religion of Buddhism. There are also a few shops in there that have Buddhist gifts blessed by all of the Monks. I got a Chinese knot symbol to hang above my bed that means "all my dreams will come true." Plus all of the profits from those stores go back directly to the monastery. 

We went to a Japanese noodle restaurant in the village before going back over to the Po Lin monastery. The monastery is absolutely beautiful. It looks a lot smaller than it is from the front, but goes back pretty far. The temples and altars all have beautiful tile work on the roofs in rich green and blue colors, and the Buddha shrines are all in innate gold. 




After leaving the monastery and taking the cable car back down to Lantau, we took the subway to Kowloon station and went over to the Ritz Carlton. We looked pretty funny in our sneakers and tshirts from visiting the Buddha, but there were many other tourists trying to do the same thing as us... get a drink at the World's Highest Bar! The Ozone is on the 118th floor of the Ritz Hotel and the view is spectacular. It opens at 5:00 and is definitely worth a visit to see Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon side, as well as the sunset. The view from the bar is great... but the view from the bathroom is even better!



For dinner that night we had Vietnamese and Thai (I actually had sweet and sour chicken, which I thought was usually considered a Chinese dish, but at this point I was just rolling with it) at a restaurant in the Lan Kwai Fong area. This area has a lot of bars and a lot of advertisements for happy hour deals lasting until 10pm! Nothing can be too bad about that!

DAY THREE IN HONG KONG:

Our last full day in HK was pretty relaxed. In the morning we went over to Aberdeen fishing village, on the other side of Hong Kong Island. We walked around the fish market there until the water came up above our shoes, and then took a "harbor tour" in a little boat driven by an older Chinese woman who spoke almost no English. Then we went over to the Aberdeen temple and to the Aberdeen market, where we saw many interesting sights and smells... including butchers cutting up meats and displaying all parts of the animals: hearts, kidneys, livers, intestines and more.




After leaving Aberdeen, we made our way back over to Kowloon to the Wong Tai Sin Temple. My mom and sister had seen an episode of the Amazing Race where they went to this temple... so we had to visit it too! This particular temple is famous for it's fortune telling. You get a can of sticks, each with their own number on it. Then you shake it "prayerfully" until one falls out. You then take your number to a fortune teller who asks you what you want to know about: jobs, love, family and health. I chose the job fortune, and through her broken English (even though the sign said fluent English speaker, haha) she told me I was going to get a good job and all my dreams would come true. I'm choosing to believe her, part out of desperation to find a job and part out of knowing I had just bought the Chinese knot symbol with the same message!



We then revisited the Ladies Market on our way to the famous Jade Market. China is famous for their jade sculptures and jewelry. Let me tell you though... the jade market vendors are vicious!! If you even looked at their stall for a second they would pounce on you and essentially not let you leave until you bought something! That made for good bargaining, but my mom was looking at a necklace but decided she didn't want it anymore... until the woman grabbed her arm and essentially barricaded us in the market until my mom finally agreed to buy it! 


At night we had tickets for the light show. Hong Kong is famous for their Symphony of Lights, so we decided to watch it from the tourist version of a "junk boat." You can watch the light show from almost anywhere along the water, but we wanted to be on the water to see it! Overall... we were disappointed with the show, but agreed that maybe all of the Christmas lights/decorations were in the way of some of the lights. Hey, just an excuse to come back and see it again!



The next day we boarded a ferry to Macau... so stay tuned for part two of our trip!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Athens, Greece in 72 Hours

I seriously think I could spend forever in Athens and never get tired of it. It’s definitely up there as far as the best cities I’ve ever been to. Old and new, colorful and bright… Amazing. Athens is one of those cities that you can constantly explore. I felt like every time I turned the corner I saw a new ruin or a new view of the Acropolis. I’m a giant (art) history nerd so Athens was extra incredible for me and will be for you if you’re like that too! 

I had three full days in Athens, which was plenty of time to hit the major landmarks and not feel like I missed anything. That being said, Athens could definitely be spread out to last longer than 3 days, but if you’re planning a long vacation to Greece I would definitely try to hit up some islands while you’re there!

The best part about Athens, is that they love students. With a U.S. student I.D., you get discounts on almost everything, and with a European Union student I.D. you get in for free! I used my Austrian I.D., and therefore had so much extra money to spend on food. (I ate my way through Athens and even if you’re on a strict budget I promise that you will too.) If you aren’t a student, there’s a 4 monument pass (Acropolis, Hadrian’s Library, Temple of Zeus and Hephaestus).

Let's go!

DAY ONE:


Wake up bright and early and aim to get to the Acropolis right when it opens (I believe it’s 9:00 AM in the “winter season” and 8:00 in the summer), I promise that you will not regret this. I wasn’t sure what season I was in because I was on the cusp of daylight’s saving and tourist season, so I got there around 8:30. Y’all. I had nobody in my pictures. It was incredible. I took advantage of that and walked around the park and took about 500 pictures of every angle of every building up there before I went back and read the information boards and stopped to actually recognize what I was seeing. No regrets at all. My pictures look amazing, but it was also nice that there were already other people up there to take pictures for me! (Even though I went with the selfies I had already taken anyway.) I spent about two hours up there before leaving and by the time I made my way to the exit, there were swarms of tour groups trying to get in. Seriously, go early and skip the crowd.

After the Acropolis, go to the Acropolis Museum across the street. Since you ate breakfast so early, a cool (and relatively reasonably priced) place to go is the café on top of the museum. I’m normally against this, but it looks over the Acropolis and is so beautiful when it’s nice outside! I would recommend the loukomadres (donuts with cinnamon and honey), but if those are out (and they start to run out closer to actual lunch time) you also can’t go wrong with the bread and homemade marmalade and apple jelly. Once you’re full of this wonderful food, enjoy the museum! I spent so much time just wandering around and looking at the extreme detail of all of the figures. (I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out how much these things weighed, because there’s no way they’re light.)

I was still pretty full from the Acropolis café, so I decided to do more sight seeing and headed to the Temple of Zeus. If you’re hungry, there are tons of kebab stands along the sides of the street, and the 2 slouvaki is so delicious and definitely fills you up for the price! I got into the Temple of Zeus for free (praise!), but if you’re not a student and opted not to buy the pass, I don’t know if I would recommend paying the full ticket price. Unlike the Acropolis, I spent about 15 minutes walking around the temple. It’s all in ruins now (duh), so the only thing to do is make a circle around the columns.


The next stop was definitely one of my favorites: the first Olympic stadium… Ever. (I won’t lie, I teared up.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get in free with my student I.D., but I did get a discount which made admission €1,20. Worth it. (I believe the regular price is about €5, and the audio guide is a little bit more. I opted not to get the Audio pass and just read the information from the brochure. The coolest part of this museum was the actual museum place. It wasn’t much of a museum, but in the building they have all of the posters from all modern Olympic games (beginning in 1886), and the torches used in each place. I definitely had a moment when I saw the Atlanta poster proudly displayed!

After the Olympic stadium, make your way through the park back to the Eramous street. I chose a random side street to go down for lunch, and I don’t think you can go wrong. Greek food is amazing everywhere you go in Greece.

By about 3:00 in the afternoon, I was so exhausted so I headed back to my hostel to get some rest. This is prime nap opportunity before hitting all of the rooftop bars that Athens is famous for! I would recommend “A for Athens” which is right by Monatrisaki Square, but get there early so you can sit outside! The view of the Acropolis from the roof is incredible!


DAY TWO:

Sleep in this morning, and then spend the late morning and early afternoon walking around Erasmous street and Monastiraki Square. Get some slouvaki while you're at it! 


Once you're done exploring and shopping, begin to walk toward Mount Lycabettus. You can see the mountain from almost everywhere in Athens, and let me tell you... it is a HIKE. It's long and steep at some points, but it's worth it when you get to the top. Just be sure to give yourself enough time to rest at the top before heading back down.


Head back down and go toward Syntagma Square. When I visited Athens they were in the middle of the whole "we have no money and don't want help from anyone" phase, so it was really lively and full of protests. I'm not sure what it's like most of the time but definitely a historical site nonetheless! 

At night, go back up to the Acropolis to watch the sunset. You will not be the only one with this idea, so go early. I went up there and took a book. Once I found my spot I read a little and people watched and got ready. It was really crowded and at times it didn't seem to be worth it... but it ended up being one of those sunsets that everyone clapped for when it was done. 

DAY THREE:

My last day in Athens was a relaxing one. I took the subway to the ocean and walked around a little bit, looking at all of the yachts and cruise ships that were stopped there.


Then I rode back into Athens and shopped some more before getting a good night's sleep before my early flight.

This would be a great day to see anything you feel like you missed: Hadrian's Library, the National Archaeological Museum, wandering around the University, or taking another hike up to the hill where supposedly democracy started. There is no shortage of museums and archeological sites to see, plus tons of great shopping and even better food.

Greece is amazing! The country, the food and the people are all so lovely. Definitely a must-see country at some point! Stay tuned for my Santorini guide, and for more European tips and tricks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"So what are your plans?"

Yesterday, I graduated college.


It's absolutely crazy and surreal. I graduated early, so it's even weirder knowing that in a month all of my friends will be back at school for another wild semester, full of easy classes and other fun "senior" activities.


It hasn't really been a secret that this past semester I struggled with what I wanted to do in my life. If you had asked me in the summer, I wanted to report on sports. Then in September I decided that maybe I wanted to do political reporting. Then it was news in general. Then it was social media for sports teams. Now... I still have no idea.


People constantly ask me what my plans are after graduation. I hate that question because I don't like admitting that I have no idea. But here I am, announcing it to the Internet! I have so many plans but for now, I have no idea where to start.

I'm going to focus more on this blog (the semester really got the best of me), prioritize and re-prioritize things and figure out where to go. It might take some time but I'm fully confident that eventually everything will come into place. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Salzburg, Austria in 24 Hours

So many people are gearing to study abroad this spring! I'm 100% on board. Spending a semester abroad will be, without a doubt, the best experience you have in college. You will learn and see so much, grow as a person, and come back to the U.S. more cultured and ready to take on the world.

I've decided to start a little travel series here on the blog. I hope you like it! Right now I'm aiming for every Thursday... but we will see how that goes!

First up is Salzburg, Austria.

Bear with me as I try to get through this post. Salzburg will always have a special place in my heart, since it was my home away from home for four months. I love everything about the city (except when it rains for days on end…) and there’s a lot to do, but if you’re only there for a day, here are the highlights you won't want to miss:



9:00: Get a donut (or two… or three) at Tasty Donuts on Theatergasse. You can thank me later. Personal favorites: Lady Marmalade, Cinnamon, and Berry and White. Honorable mentions: anything else.


9:30: Cross the main bridge to Getreidegasse. This is the most famous (and expensive) shopping street in Salzburg. Turn left and walk along the street until you get to Mozartplatz at the end. (“Christmas in Salzburg” is also a really cool store to go in if you get a chance! It’s on the way to Mozartplatz and features tons of painted eggs that are used as ornaments.) From Mozartplatz, make your way to the Residenzplatz, which is a block over. Spend time looking in the Dom and at the booths outside it.

10:30: Walk through St. Peter’s Cemetery next to the Dom to the other side. Make your way down the block to the Universitätplatz. Explore the booths and go inside the Universitätkirche. Pro tip: get a hotdog from one of the booths in the square. Again, you can thank me later.

11:30: Go through the alleyway toward Mozart’s Birth House. This is one of the more crowded areas of Salzburg, simply because it’s the birthplace of a prodigy. The museum is 7 with a student I.D., and cool… but it’s not necessary.

12:00: Make your way to the other end of Getreidegasse and see the horse wall. (There’s probably an actual name for this landmark, but you’ll know it when you see it.) From there take a right and cross the river on the bridge with the lovelocks. That bridge offers a fantastic view of the city! Plus it leads you right to the final stop, Mirabellgartens.



1:00: Once you’ve finished in the gardens, if the day is nice you could walk up Kaputzinerberg, off of Linzer Gasse. It’s not that hard and ends with a beautiful view of Salzburg! (Plus, there is an incredible and tiny crepe restaurant at the foot of the hill. Seriously. Amazing.)



2:00: Cross the river and make your way up Mönchberg. (Start walking toward the mountain and eventually you will find a path toward Hohensalzburg Fortress.) The hike is so worth it because at the top you will be treated to an incredible view of the city. Start by the fortress and make your way all around the back toward the Modern Art Museum. That’s my favorite view of Salzburg… Ever.

3:30: In the afternoon, there are a ton of of cute little cafes to stop by. Cafe Sacher (across the river from Getreidegasse) has amazing Sacher Torte - one of the most famous cakes in the world! You could also stop by a grocery store (or vending machine) and grab a Stiegl or two, and enjoy them down by the river. You could even tour the Stiegl brewery near the train station. This would also be a perfect time to shop for a dirndl as well. If you're trying to pack the Sound of Music highlights into this trip, you could also spend the afternoon at Hellbrunn Palace, the yellow house in the movie.



6:00: For dinner, go to Goldene Kugel on Getreide Gasse. Best schnitzel I’ve ever had in my entire life. Don't forget to order pretzels and beer to go with it!

8:00: Head across the city to Augustiner Bräuhaus for a nightcap. It's across the city, but you can easily walk to it next to the river.  This is Salzburg’s original beer, and it’s great. There are tourists, but not too many since it’s off the beaten path a little! There are a ton of locals with their own steins and reserved tables as well. A liter of beer is only €6,00 (half a liter is €3,00)





If you have an extra day in Salzburg, go up the Untersberg! It’s the giant mountain overlooking the city. (Seriously, you can’t miss it.) Get on the #25 bus at Rathaus or Mirabellplatz and buy a ticket from the driver (2,30). With a student I.D., the ticket up the mountain and back is €15, and the view is incredible! The last car down is at 5 P.M., but it’s a great place to go early and bring a picnic! There are several benches as well as two restaurants up at the top.

P.S. Check out my Europe MUST SEE List and some of my hostel recommendations!

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