Category Archives: Travel Adventures

Taiwan Travel: 7 Days

I used Taipei as a base for four of the nights, booking a hostel in Shilin District. This allowed easy bus access to a lot of the surrounding areas on my list. There are plenty of great things to do in Taipei, as well as outside of it.
IN THE CITY 

-Night Markets

-Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101

-Starbucks at Taipei 101

-Speakeasy: Ounce Taipei

-Maokong Gondola

-National Palace Museum
-Peace Park
-National Museum of History
-Taiwan National Museum
-C.K.S. Memorial Hall
-Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
OUTSIDE OF THE CITY
Keelung, Jiufen, Jinguashi

-Golden Waterfalls

-YinYang Sea

-Gold Mine Museum
-Jiufen Old Street
-Keelung Port

-Yangmingshan National Park

Things to Note in Taipei: 
Toilets are everywhere, not similar to Shanghai. I would still bring sanitizer and toilet paper just in case.
Wifi is absolutely everywhere! 7-11, metro, random areas on the street.
You won’t see many trash cans even though the city is very clean. Make sure that if you see one you take advantage of it.
Transportation can be (very) confusing. Stay at a good hostel so that you can ask for guidance before beginning your daily adventures.
Don’t eat or drink on subway. Some foreigners might not realize, but I promise you’ll be the only one casually sipping a beverage. I visited a friend of mine while there and he had even made a comment stating nobody is supposed to do that. This is not something specific to Taiwan. I’ve been to a few countries where this has been the case. Try to be aware of your surroundings!
GETTING AWAY FROM TAIPEI: What to do in Hualien

Taking a train to Hualien is extremely convenient, quick, affordable, and you can pick up your train tickets at most 7-11s. And trust me, those are everywhere!

We stayed at a really nice BnB in Hualien. They didn’t speak English but it was so clean, had free laundry service, and was super comfortable. Hualien is rather small and you can get to most places by walking. The walk can be a little bit long though, so don’t be fooled by the disproportionate map that the visitor center gives you. Hualien has a night market as well, but it is at the opposite end of the town from the visitor center and train. Expect to walk at least 20 minutes.

Things to do:
-Take a bus to Taroko Gorge National Park (bus stop is the orange building across from the visitor center, adjacent to the train station). Here you can go hiking and see Taroko Gorge. Expect confusion on the bus, you’ll figure it out eventually.

-QiXingTan to play in the Pacific Ocean and get the perfect view of the Big Dipper (which is where the name QiXingTan comes from).-Night Market
-Local food (or if that’s not your thing, there’s a Subway, McDonald’s, and Starbucks)

Overall I had an amazing time in Taiwan, but if I’m being completely honest I thought it was a bit difficult to get around most places. Unfortunately, I found my hostel and various employees throughout the island to be less than helpful, making it difficult for a tourist to figure anything out.
In Taipei, the metro will be your best friend. I recommend downloading the Taipei Metro app which requires no internet, finds the stops nearest to you, and navigates your best route with distance in time included

(I download this same app for different cities whenever I travel). However, there will be tourist sites that have no metro stop nearby, and that’s when it gets complicated.

I originally intended to create a post that would be useful for getting around, but even after spending a week in Taiwan, I continued to struggle and don’t feel completely qualified to offer too much advice. It was a really nice trip but my best advice is just to be patient. Things probably won’t be easy and they won’t go as planned. Just be easy-going and flexible and you’ll have a wonderful time!


Meeting the Friendliest People in the World: Group Tour Part Two

Part two of my trip was around Ireland, probably one of the top two countries I’ve ever wanted to visit and, let me tell you, it didn’t let me down. From having the friendliest people in the world to the seemingly never-ending beautiful green scenery to presence of live music around nearly every corner, my expectations were more than exceeded. For this tour, we started and ended in Dublin enjoying some lovely Guinness both times (one of my personal all time favorite drinks), so that was a major selling point as well.
Taking the ferry over was a beautiful sight, though it was a bit rainy. If you experience motion sickness at all, or think you might, it would be a good idea to bring some medicine just in case.
Our nightly stops were in Dublin, Cork, and Galway (2 nights) before heading to Northern Ireland and back to Dublin. Here’s a quick review of each place we stopped and the places we visited in between. If you were planning a tour around Ireland, I’d definitely recommend stopping at these places!
Dublin
//Temple Bar
The Temple Bar District is a definite point of interest in Dublin for anyone who’s looking for a drink, food, or sheer entertainment. It’s a lively area pretty much all the time and is usually insanely busy on the weekends. Both weekends that I visited, there were large concerts happening so I lucked out. I was able to find seats in bars and enjoy myself, and then head back to the hotel before the concerts were over and the large masses of people flooded Temple Bar. There are plenty of places to go in this area if you’re looking for a night out!
//The Guinness Storehouse
Be sure to enjoy some Guinness, even if you’re not a huge fan, this is where you’ll find the best pint. Here you can experience how Guinness was intended. It’s even better in Ireland than it is anywhere else and at the Guinness Storehouse, you can actually learn and get certified on how to pour the perfect pint. Believe me, it makes a huge difference. Trying pours done by a couple different people helped me realize how much the taste of this stout can be affected by the pour. So don’t let some other place that didn’t pour it properly ruin your opinion of this fantastic drink. If nothing else, head up to the bar on the top level to enjoy a 360 degree view of Dublin.
//Trinity College
This is Ireland’s oldest University and is beautiful to walk around. A great deal of famous people attended school there, so it’s fun to walk around and just imagine attending school with them. On campus, there is the Library of Trinity College which houses many ancient books, including the Book of Kells. It really is a great stop while in Dublin.
//The Merry Ploughboy
If you go to The Merry Ploughboy, you can enjoy a nice meal with traditional entertainment. It is a super fun evening filled with laughter, dancing, and music. It’s truly a great show and really helps to remind you that you’re in Ireland!

Kilkenny
//Kilkenny Castle
While we were in Kilkenny, everyone took a bike tour around the city. I heard plenty of people say they enjoyed it but I actually opted out so I could save a little money and just explore on my own. One of the places I visited during my explorations was the Kilkenny Castle. It was incredibly beautiful. Check it out!
Midleton
//Jameson Distillery
The Jameson Distillery was something I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. My two favorite drinks are Guinness and Jameson so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in Ireland. We had a personal tour guide through the distillery who gave a lot of insight into the process of distilling Irish whiskey and what makes it the best! It was also a great opportunity to learn a little history as well. I’d definitely recommend this tour. 
Cork
//Wander, eat, drink, and listen to live music.
We didn’t do any major sight seeing in Cork. We just went out for dinner, a drink, and watched a football match. Cork is really easy to get around and is super cute. For dinner we ate at a place called Clancy’s, which was delicious. A bit of advice: some bars in Cork are 21 and up so bring your ID if you don’t look much older than that just in case! Also, drink Murphy’s instead of Guinness or else they’ll easily be able to tell you’re not from Cork. In Dublin and a lot of areas in Ireland, they will drink Guinness as their stout of choice, but in Cork they drink Murphy’s. Keep that in mind!
//Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone
Be sure to visit the Blarney Castle. I’d get there early in the morning if you have any intensions of kissing the Blarney Stone. You lay down and have to arch you back and hang upside down a little bit to kiss it, but there is someone there to guide you so don’t worry! They disinfect it after every kiss as well, but I would still go in the morning before everyone has put their lips on it for the day! It’s said that kissing the Blarney Stone will give a person the gift of gab, as if I needed help talking anymore than I already do. Haha.
Clare County
//Cliffs of Moher
These cliffs are absolutely amazing to see, a truly breath-taking experience. These also appeared in a bit of Harry Potter so that’s a super fun fact for all you HP fans out there! I’d also recommend wearing comfy shoes, or maybe even hiking boots. It can get a little muddy up there. Be prepared for the wind and cross and fences at your own risk! I saw a dog running around near the edge of the cliffs and nearly had a heart attack because I feared he would fall to his death. Just be careful if you go near the edge at all!
Galway
//Great place to purchase Claddagh rings
There are several nice shops in Galway were you can purchase a Claddagh ring. These rings are traditional worn with the heart facing you if you are taken, and the heart facing away from you if you are single. They come in a few different designs and are a nice souvenir to purchase.
//Visit the Aran Islands
Be sure to rent a bike to tour the island. It might be really exhausting but it’s worth it. If you’re really not feeling up to biking, then I recommend getting a small group together to split a horse drawn carriage. You can ride your bike up and take pictures hanging off some cliffs and be really cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone to take pictures, which I will get into in the next bullet. The Aran Islands are also known for their sweaters, which symbolize their Irish clan heritage based on the stitching, so make sure you head to the Aran Sweater Market and purchase some sweaters!
//Seriously the friendliest people in the world
So here’s a story. We had two nights in Galway and the first night was intended to be a big party night for most people on the tour. I had one drink too many and ended up losing my purse and jacket. I couldn’t remember where I took them off at and since we had spent part of the night walking around outside, my things literally could have been anywhere in the city. I hopped in a cab with a friend and searched for hours, stopping in all the places we remembered going to. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding anything so we went to the police station and made a report. At the station they told me that someone would probably turn it in because Galway is filled with kind-hearted people, and several times the day before I had seen signs and heard people talking about how Galway is known for being the friendliest city in the world. These things gave me hope but I was still worried. The following day we went to the Aran Islands, which is why I couldn’t take any pictures that entire day. I was still worried about my phone and my credit cards being in the wrong hands and how I was going to replace everything before going back to China for another year. When we returned from the islands, I grabbed a couple friends and went out searching while it was still daylight. We still had no luck so we walked back to the hotel. When we got there, we had several messages from different people saying my things had been found. A nice man found my purse outside and sent me a Facebook message, as well as my friend Chris who I had been travelling with. He wanted to make sure I got my things so he even contacted someone else and told us that he had dropped it off at the police station. I’m still sort of amazed by this man. He even messaged me to say that he hopes this didn’t ruin my vacation and that I’d be willing to return to Galway someday. If anything, his actions reassured me that Galway is an amazing city filled with amazing people and that anyone would be lucky to visit.

After touring the island (not including Northern Ireland, here’s that post), my favorite cities were probably Dublin and Galway, but honestly I loved all of them. I could see myself living pretty much anywhere in Ireland and I would go back to each of these places in a heartbeat. What an amazing country!

Becoming a Unicorn in Scotland: Group Tour Part One

I’ve been traveling a lot in the past year, but recently I decided to do something a little differently. I decided to do a group tour of the UK and Ireland. I spent two days in London with my friend Chris before we hopped on a train to Edinburgh to begin our tour of Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

Fun fact about Scotland: Their national animal is a unicorn! As if I needed more reason to love this country. Here are a few highlights from my Scotland adventures!
Our first night we went to dinner for some traditional Scottish food and had a personal bagpiper performance. Truly a great welcome into the country! This was one of the perks of being a part of a group tour, a very nice touch.
This dish is called haggis. Some love it, some hate it, and some just can’t stand to think about it. I’ll let you look it up and decide on your own, but I will say that I’m usually quite picky and I ate half of it. I’ll admit I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t wrap my head around it mentally, but truthfully it’s not bad! I recommend trying it!
The following day we did a tour of the Edinburgh castle giving us an opportunity to learn about Scottish history in the form of typical Scottish humor and enjoy a wonderful view of the city.
Later on I chose to do the Scotch Whisky Experience, a tour that makes you feel like you’re on a ride at Disney! No joke. Here you can learn about the four different regions that Scotch whisky comes from, taste some, and sit in awe for a minute at one man’s personal collection of whisky, which he sold for an unknown amount. None of these were ever opened!
Our next adventure was on our way to the Highlands. We stopped at St. Andrews, Pitlochry, and finally at Loch Ness to get in a nice, refreshing swim in the 6 degree water. Needless to say, we were freezing. But who cares!? We swam with Nessie! Totally worth it.
Picture from St. Andrews – the birthplace of golf, which apparently was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden (just a joke).
Super quaint city of Pitlochry
Swimming in Loch Ness. No big deal.
 
Next we were off to the West Highlands with an amazingly scenic drive. We stayed in a cute city on the water called Oban. We learned some Ceiligh dancing, which turned out to be super fun but incredibly hot. I got a little closer to some people than I wanted to but it was great!
Lastly we were off to Glasgow with a few stops along the way.
First we got to meet these adorable hairy coos!
Later we visited the Stirling Castle and climbed the William Wallace Monument for the ultimate view of Stirling.
We ended our Scotland trip in Glasgow with a night out to an American bar called Campus. This was quite the entertaining night because the upstairs had areas to play beer pong, flip cup, etc. My favorite was when the Scots would turn to us to ask if they were playing correctly.
Overall, I had an amazing time in Scotland and went to some really great places. My biggest recommendations would be to try some haggis, eat a deep fried Mars Bar, maybe a deep fried slice of pizza if you’re feeling up to it, enjoy the sound of some bagpipes, and visit the castles. I never learned much about Scottish history so this trip was a great chance to do exactly that. The people are great but the accent can be a little difficult to understand, especially after some alcohol! Haha.
Have you ever been to Scotland? What’s your favorite city? I would love to go back some day so if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy adventuring! xxx

Two Days in London

London has been on my list of places to go for a really long time now and I can finally say I’ve been there. These past two days have been truly wonderful and I already want to go back.
London is a huge city with so much to see, but if you do it right, you can get quite a bit done in 48 hours. And if you have longer than that, then awesome for you because there are still some things I didn’t get to see that I wanted to! 
MY TOP PICKS
//Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (for all you Harry Potter fans out there)
//London Eye for the ultimate view of the city (I recommend doing this at night)
//Big Ben, House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey (even if you just view from the outside)
//Dinner at a pub 
//Abbey Road to see the famous crosswalk in the Beatles picture (if you’re a Beatles fan)
//St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Find a TARDIS (for the Doctor Who fans – This one is outside of Earl’s Court station)
//Enjoy a cup of tea
OTHER MUST-SEES
//Tower of London (the tour is an hour long and quite funny, do this before Westminster Abbey, they tell you something to look out for when you go)
//White Tower, the Crown Jewels, and the torture chamber (all at the Tower of London, not part of the tour)
//Tower Bridge (walk across it, there’s an amazing pub on the other side — see my review below)
//Go inside Westminster Abbey
//Buckingham Palace (if you’re lucky -and tall- you may get to see the changing of the guard. My view of it was from my phone…)
//The British Museum
//Covent Garden (especially if you’re a My Fair Lady fan)
//Hyde Park
IF WE HAD MORE TIME
//View London atop of St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Stonehenge (at least a half day trip — it’s quite far from the city)
//Victoria and Albert Museum
//Harry Potter Studio Tour
//Camden Market (I’ve heard it’s nice at night, but we couldn’t get the hours right so we missed the best of it)
//See a Shakespeare play at The Globe
//Primrose Hill
RESTAURANT REVIEWS
//Fortnum & Mason: a store near Piccadilly Circus, one floor was like a grocery store, one floor was all tea related ♡, and one floor was a restaurant. The prices weren’t exactly cheap but the food was scrumptious. I had chicken and couscous.
//Bill’s: a fancy pub near Piccadilly Circus with friendly staff and great food. I had chicken skewers, more couscous, and some bruschetta.
//The Draft House: a pub near Tower Bridge. We found a recommendation for this place on Apple Maps from Trip Advisor. Someone said the nachos were the best they’ve ever had. You may not know this about me, but I try nachos almost anywhere I can. I should really blog about it someday. Anyway, we went and ordered the nachos and beer-battered pickles for appetizers. Chris ordered a burger and I ordered chili-chicken tacos. The nachos were decent but didn’t live up to the review we read. The tacos, however, were one of the best things I’ve ever had. I highly recommend them! For a place called The Draft House, the food was far superior than the beer.
//Q: a grill in Camden Town that served us food later than they should have. We walked in and asked if the kitchen was still open, the server said yes but was then informed she had made a mistake. Lucky for us, they let us stay. We order a macaroni and cheese pie with smoked broccoli. Let me tell you, that broccoli made the dish. Loved it!
LAST BIT OF ADVICE
//Use a map to plan out your days. You can get so much done when you don’t have to travel back and forth. 
//Get up early, of course. Beat the lines.
//Take the Tube. For the most part, it’s really easy to navigate and if you buy a day pas for 13 pounds, you can save yourself a lot of money. Plus the stops are in very convenient locations!
//Bring an extra charging pack for your phone or camera. My phone died both days because I couldn’t charge it at the hostel at night.
//Carry change on you. Public bathrooms sometimes cost money!
//Be patient because, like any touristy place, there will be lines.
//Enjoy the journey! A short trip can be busy, but it doesn’t have to be stressful.

 


Layover Adventures: 7 Hours in Abu Dhabi

Just the other day, I had my first “long” layover experience with my current travel buddy, Chris. It was in Abu Dhabi and was seven hours long. At first, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but the flight was significantly cheaper so we booked. After further research, we found out that seven hours was plenty of time to go exploring; even the airport website offers advice on things to do for people who have anything longer than four hours there. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
It was incredibly easy getting out of and back into the airport, far easier than I expected. Once getting out of the airport, we took a taxi around. We knew we wanted to see the Grand Mosque, but other than that did not plan anything. The taxi driver was insanely helpful and pretty much planned a route for us. We just had to tell him what time we needed to be back at the airport and he pretty much took care of the rest.
It was a breath of fresh air being somewhere that English is spoken commonly. We didn’t have to worry about any language barriers, which made communicating out layover desires really simple. 
Visiting during Ramadan meant that not a lot of people were out during the day, since they were all fasting. In case you were wondering, the airport is a neutral area. You are allowed to eat and drink in the airport, just not outside of it. Everything was peaceful from the airport to the streets, something I’m far from used to living in Shanghai. No cars were honking or trying to squeeze their way around, the weather was hot but beautiful, and everything was felt so luxurious. Etihad Airways was glorious. Our flight in was pretty average, but it was comfortable with good entertainment, pretty much what you’d expect on any 10 hour flight. Our double-decker flight leaving Abu Dhabi exceeded expectations with extra room, amazing food, and a smooth trip (it’s amazing how well the double-decker planes handle turbulence). The taxis were fancier than an expensive Uber, and the drivers were so friendly and helpful. 
TIPPING
We definitely over-tipped our drivers, but I’m sure they were quite happy. We asked our driver if it was customary to tip, he told us between 5-20 UAD. We of course gave him the max. Our next driver who took us around for three hours, we tipped a lot. Later I asked a friend of mine if we should have tipped in the taxi or at the restaurant. He explained that in Abu Dhabi, they will not be offended if you tip, it’s not an insult to their career. However, he also explained that tips are welcome and make the employee happy. While they make plenty of money, if they do an exceptional job, go ahead and tip!
WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO SEE


Of course we visited the Grand Mosque, it was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, we went on a Friday when the Grand Mosque is closed to visitors. Our driver still let us get out and take some photos (which ended up being a recurring thing since most things were not open while we were there — it was an early morning layover). 
After the Grand Mosque, our driver took us to see the Emirates Palace, the Presidential Palace, the beach, and Ferrari World. He tried to take us to a mall which may have been cool but probably far out of our price range. They actually have a machine there which you can put your credit card in and a gold bar will pop out! 
OVERALL
This layover adventure was amazing. We were able to see so many beautiful sights in so little time. The customer service was great, everything was quiet and clean, and I now have a new place to visit in the future. As my first layover adventure, I can honestly say that they can be great. By making the most of your layover, maybe you can cross a destination off your travel list or, better yet, add to your list of extended-stay destinations! I have added to my list. Not sure when I’ll be returning, but I know I will be! And now I know that long layovers can be an opportunity for new adventure, rather than a nuisance.

3 Days in Zhangjiajie

First off, I’d just like to say that if you are traveling in China and have even the slightest interest in experiencing beautiful mountain scenery, then Zhangjiajie needs to be on your list of destinations. This place is easily one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. Hands down one of the best decisions of my life. We had three days to spend here during Dragon Boat Festival which seemed to be the perfect amount of time. The first two days were spent in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park while our last day was spent in awe on Tianmen Mountain. It is recommended by most to spend three or four days at the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park; however, seeing a good deal of the park is possible in two days if you’re willing to spend long days and don’t mind being a little sore.

Day 1: Avatar Mountains and the Attack of the Macaques
Have you ever seen Avatar? The mountains in Zhangjiajie were the basis for the setting of that movie. Whether you’re a fan or not, nobody can deny the absolute charm of these gorgeous mountains. If you’re really feeling up to it, dress up in blue and have a little fun!
We began by taking a bus to the Zhangjiajie entrance and then a cable car up. There’s a convenient path beginning nearby. This loop can easily take up one day. The path has many viewing platforms offering great sights and photo opportunities. Along this park there is an area where the Rhesus Macaques typically hangout. If you’re not fond of monkeys, this might not be the path for you. They are quite comfortable around humans and are rather tame; nonetheless, they are not against coming right up to you to rip the food out of your hands and they won’t put up with you teasing them. You would not believe how many people I saw giving these monkeys a hard time. It was extremely frustrating. I mean, look at these little guys! Why would you want to upset them?
We walked around for a bit in search of a McDonald’s that turned out to be on a different mountain. With no luck, we headed down. It took about one hour and we weren’t entirely sure if we were going the right way, so it felt like forever. If you find a lot of stairs that go down, you’re on the right track.
At the bottom of the mountain, we found a Chinese restaurant which was fairly mediocre. With a lot of time left in our day but not enough energy to continue the three hour hike along the river, we decided to take a different path and just turn back when we were ready. During this little detour, we met a cute dog. I suppose he lives there with his owner. She was washing clothes on the path. The dog quickly developed an attraction to me and wouldn’t stop following me. I had to take him back to his mama. Once we reached our stopping point, we turned around to head back. And guess who followed me again? My friend Chris actually had to pick him up and carry him home. This sweet little pup probably would have come all the way back to Shanghai with me.
Here’s where it gets crazy! While walking along this path, we were nearly attacked by a troop of monkeys. Many of them were mamas with babies, so the troop leader was quite protective and apparently felt threatened by us. After a couple failed attempts at getting past them, we decided to wait for other travelers. There’s safety in numbers right? The shameful truth is that we were outsmarted by a 9 year old who simply showed no fear, forcing the monkey to back down. Wish we had thought of that. 
Feeling defeated and exhausted, not to mention embarrassed, we took a taxi home while laughing hysterically at ourselves. That’s pretty much all you can do at that point, right?
Day 2: Tianzi Mountain and the Monsoon
Cabs are quite cheap in Zhangjiajie so instead of taking buses, we opted to just get a taxi. They come immediately. It almost seems unreal. This time we took a taxi to a different entrance, the Wulingyuan entrance. We were prepared for rain, ponchos and umbrellas ready. If you forget, don’t worry. There are plenty of people trying to make a quick 10 kuai. You can get a poncho just about anywhere, and even silly booties for your shoes!
Despite the rain, we spent our entire day out exploring Tianzi mountain. The day wasn’t quite as eventful seeing as how we weren’t attacked by monkeys, but the views were still captivating. To be honest, the bus situation was a little confusing but we eventually got it figured out. My recommendation is to take the bus to the Bailong elevator. Even though I wouldn’t spend my money on this elevator again, it’s the only way up and down the mountain. You will need tour purchase two tickets, one to go up and one to come back down. When all lifts are operating, the line moves fairly quickly. The one side is glass so you can see out as you make your way up the mountain. The unfortunate thing is that they pack you in like sardines and, unless you’re taller than everyone or pressed against the glass, you can’t see much of the view. 


After getting off the lift, you can take a bus around to explore some more. We didn’t really know what we were doing and often waited until many others got off or until they kicked us off. Sometimes you’d have to get off, walk to another stop, then get on another bus with little or no direction. As I mentioned before, the buses were confusing. During this transfer, there is actually a KFC if you’re looking for a western meal. If you’re stubbornly in search of the McDonald’s from the day before, you can take that next bus up, walk through the little shops and around a corner until you find it. We dried off there for a while. At this point we were soaked. 


From there you can continue the path towards the temple. If you go to this temple, I recommend going all the way up to the top, past the floor where everyone has their tripods set up. It’s far more peaceful and you can, for a second, forget where you are and enjoy the beauty of nature without the pushing and shoving. 


At this point we were too cold and wet to continue on, so we left the park and had dinner at a place called Happy Meal on one of the main roads outside of the exit. This meal was amazing. The menu is all in Chinese and there aren’t any pictures but if you have a little knowledge of Chinese or a translator, it’s manageable. Recommendation: the pork and green pepper dish. It’s a little spicy, as all Hunan food is, but it’s delicious. Don’t forget your rice to help dial down the heat! This restaurant also has toilet paper in the restrooms and soap at the sinks. Best way to end the night!
 
Day 3: The Breathtaking Views from Tianmen Mountain
If I had to suggest one thing to do in Zhangjiajie, it would be this. The cable car ride alone was enough to make the entire weekend worthwhile. These spectacular views were incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen before. This cableway takes about 30 minutes total and gives you a wonderful view of everything you are about to experience. 
At the top, there are several paths you can take. We covered them all in about six hours, taking long breaks in between to sit and enjoy the scenery. There are two glass walkways; you need to buy tickets, but they only cost 5 kuai. The hiking trails are lovely, and the cliffside paths are truly mesmerizing. We went the day after it rained which apparently results in thick fog, but it was still amazing. We felt like we were floating on clouds. 


After finishing up the paths on the top, we took the escalators down. Beware: these seem to be never-ending. Eventually you make it down near the hole in the mountain and the cave. Sadly, we didn’t find the cave, or at least I don’t think we did. We followed directions for it and ended up paying to ride more escalators when we could have just taken the steps. But, being inside the hole was really cool and view from below it was even better. From there, there’s just a bus to take down the winding mountain roads which seems a lot worse than it actually is. 


This can honestly take a half day if you get up early enough. I recommend arriving at the Tianmen Cableway around 7 am and beating the crowds. Trust me, you’ll be grateful at 10 am when the crowds roll in and get noisy and you’ve nearly seen everything. 
 
I could not have asked for a better trip to end the teaching year with. 

A few words of advice if you’re planning a trip like this:
// There is no toilet paper in any of the bathrooms so bring some with you.
// The toilets at Tianmen are far cleaner and some even have westerns! No squatting!
// You’ll rarely find soap so bring sanitizer with you.
// Bring water and snacks because, as expected, park prices are far more expensive. 
// Get an early start. Beat the heat and beat the crowds. 
// Stay near Wulingyuan entrance for better food, accommodation, and scenery (I wish I had known this). 
// Be brave when faced with terrifying monkeys. 
// Don’t have food out anywhere in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The monkeys will find you. 
// Come prepared for the weather and for a lot of walking. Choose the right shoes. I saw girls in heels!
// And most of all, if it rains, is insanely foggy, or something else goes wrong, stay positive. This place is beautiful. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you because these sights are something many people never get to experience. Make the most of it!

Two Days in Beijing

As someone who is hypersensitive to the pollution, I’ll admit I was a little worried about traveling to Beijing for the weekend. However, the Great Wall has been calling my name for eight months now, so I threw together a backpack, strapped on my mask, and headed to the capital on a holiday weekend.

Our train arrived late on Friday, so when we got in, we took a cab to the hutong where our hostel was. The hostel was a little less than ideal, but it served its purpose well enough.

Our first full day was dedicated to visiting the Great Wall of China. We decided to go to Mutianyu, a little bit of a trek from the city center but totally worth the travel time. We took bus 916 to MingZhuGuangChang. From there, you can take a mini-taxi, otherwise known as a person with a car. The nice part about that is they will wait for you at the ticket counter until you’re done at the Great Wall.

The Great Wall was easily my favorite part of my Beijing trip. We took a lift up and walked forever on the Wall. On the way down, we got to take a toboggan. It was so much more fun than taking a lift back down! Mutianyu was also much less crowded. I highly recommend it!

As we were leaving, we encountered a man selling t-shirts for “1 USD.” Naturally I said, “One dollar? I’ll take 12!” When I went to pay, he tried to charge me $20 a piece. After arguing with him in Chinese, I got out my converter and explained to him his conversion rate was inaccurate. He laughed and hit his head saying, “Oh no, I’m crazy. I’m crazy!” It was actually pretty funny. We chatted for a while; I did end up getting a few shirts but certainly not 12!

The following day, we visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace – all  are must-sees if you are in Beijing. If you have enough time, make sure to go into all of these places in order to get the full experience! 

For lunch we ate purple dumplings, which were delicious and unlike any dumplings I’ve ever tasted! For dinner we went to The Kro’s Nest in Sanlitun where I had the biggest pizza I have ever seen!

One thing I noticed on this trip is that tourism is different in Beijing than anywhere else I’ve been to in China. Areas where people would normally be expected to be quiet and respectful, they were not. I could chalk it up to the fact that it was a holiday weekend and it was even more crowded than normal, but I honestly don’t know.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. Having more than two full days would have been nice in order to ensure enough time to go into all of the sites and spend a while in each. Regardless, I feel very satisfied with my two day trip. Totally worth it!

Have you ever been to Beijing? On a normal day are people usually loud and taking pictures inside of temples? I was so shocked!


Why Japan was Better than Expected

Being someone who, admittedly, has never been the most worldly (meaning I thought I loved travel but had no interest in several continents), visiting my first Asian country outside of Shanghai, China was a big deal.
It has been four months since I spent four days in Japan and I still can’t help but talk about how much I absolutely loved that country. For a hot minute, I believed it was a result of living in China for months and was just eager to get out. Soon I realized that was not the case. Japan was truly amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my first Christmas away from home.

We didn’t have nearly enough time in Japan and I will definitely be back someday. I’m not finished with that country yet! Our four days were filled with excitement: Tokyo Disney, two days of skiing (with all the cute Australian boys), and a half day of site-seeing before heading back to Shanghai.
From the ski resort to the hostel to the Tokyo Skytree, everything was absolutely wonderful. The people were unbelievably friendly, organized, and tidy. It’s almost mind-boggling to think how a country could really achieve such perfection. Japan feels like Utopia. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how positively perfect Japan was. 
It’s possible this incredible shock was due to my time in Shanghai and learning that living in China is not a luxurious, clean, organized, reasonable, or patient lifestyle. Seeing the exact opposite in Japan restored my faith in humanity (sounds dramatic, I know). 
In Japan, we went skiing for a couple days so we could enjoy a white Christmas. We had our Christmas dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo, the best Christmas dinner we could have asked for. Secondly, we visited Tokyo Disney Sea. That was the first time I had been to any sort of Disney park since I was 10. I actually really enjoyed it! We spent our last day site-seeing in Tokyo. We didn’t have too much time, but we made the most of it.

 

I just can’t wrap my head around how fantastic this country seemed during those four days. I’ve had friends spend a couple weeks in Japan and have also loved it. Japan has a lot to offer and I didn’t even begin to cover it in short trip. This is definitely being added to my list of extended stay destinations!

Journey to China: Leg One and Forgetting my Passport

The day that I had been waiting for all summer was finally here. I was up late packing the night before and finishing some last minute things until about 1 a.m., determined to get in a quick three hour nap before waking up to drive to the airport.

Everything was taken care of except one small thing: making copies of all my important documents. Easy right? I made copies of everything, including my passport, separated everything in two neat piles, one that would stay at home with my mom and one that would go with me, then packed all my copies away in a folder and put my mom’s copies on the kitchen table. Eager to sleep, I went to bed thinking everything was prepared for the following morning.
After arriving at the airport the next morning, my mother and I walked in and waited in line to check my baggage. We noticed I’d need my passport to check in (le duh) so I looked in the designated passport slot of my purse – it wasn’t there. You can imagine how panicked I felt.
My mom, knowing how organized I am, figured it was somewhere else in my purse and insisted I keep looking. It took me all of five seconds to be 100% sure I left it in the scanner when I was making copies. I’m not sure if it was the tone of my voice or the look on my face that convinced her I didn’t need to look any harder, but almost instantly she said “Okay, I’ll be right back.”
At this point, I was horrified. I sat in front of the baggage check area and awaited the return of my mother. I tried to ask an employee but they weren’t very helpful or even sympathetic. I’m sure they deal with this nonsense every day and are numb to it, but really? I was freaking out as I returned to my lonely seat at the entrance of the airport. Surprisingly, the employee found me and told me she had printed off my tags and would hold them, but was going to throw them out as soon as 7:24 hit if my passport had not arrived. I thanked her and waited for my mom who, at this time, was doing 110 mph on the highway to try and make it back in time and calling everyone in my family to meet her half way.
She got in touch with my father and they joined forces to get me my passport. Unfortunately, we were still 11 minutes too late and therefore, I couldn’t get on my flight. I was disappointed but knew it wasn’t the end of the world. I’d just have to pay a steep change fee and move on. Luckily, the new lady I was working with was super awesome and told me they weren’t going to hold it against me since I forgot my passport and had been there for two hours already. They decided to waive any charges I normally would have had to pay! How awesome is that? My new flights were scheduled for the next day at the exact same times. Phew.
This worked out for the better I think. I was already arriving more than 24 hours earlier than everyone else so I had wiggle room at the school in Shanghai. Also, I was going to have to pay for a hotel room since I was arriving early. Missing my flight actually saved me money!!! I got to spend a day relaxing (for the first time in weeks) and went to a Toledo Mud Hens game with my brothers and my mom. I’d say it was a win (and the Mud Hens won too).

 

Currently, I’m sitting at my gate in Chicago’s airport waiting for my flight to Shanghai to start boarding. I’m getting really excited because there are a lot of people from China all around me. I don’t know much Chinese but just listening to them is getting me very excited to start learning the language!!! Next stop, Shanghai!