Hong Kong was fabulous! Lots of dumplings! Next stop Hanoi, Vietnam!
Here is a pic of the small fishing village of Tia O that we visited yesterday.
I am heading to Hong Kong today to visit my friend Phil who moved there a few months ago. I cannot wait for him to show me around! And eat dumplings of course!!! He had a few things he wanted me to bring to him so in my suit case you can find boxed mashed potatoes, gap clothes, homemade cookies from his mom in Washington, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and razors. I hope they don’t have to search my bag…
Since my company has three offices in Boston, Lucerne, and Denver they created “kickoff” to bring us all together once a year. At this conference we have workshops, talk about future goals, past successes etc, and get to know each other. Mexico was lots of talking, drinking, eating, dancing, and no sleeping—literally. On the last night my groups flight was at 7:00 am so our bus transfer picked us up at 3:30 which meant an all-nighter. My main focus these past two days has been sleep. I’m just not as young as I once was…
Below are photos of Tulum! Here we all split into groups and were each assigned a Mayan sign. My group was water. You can see us attempting to act water out below.
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About a month ago now, I had my first experience with back packing. I never imagined that carrying one night’s worth of stuff would be hard but I was wrong. Luckily on the way back I had lost some weight in wine, cheese, sausage, pumpkin bars, etc. Clearly I might not be an official backpacker considering I “had” to bring all of those items but even now looking back I would have carried them again. Tthe pumpkin bars though, that is kind of a funny story, let me explain. I thought, how perfect would a pumpkin bar be while camping? Amazing! So the night before I left I was running behind and started baking at 10 pm when I was getting up at 3 am to leave. I was rushing through the recipe and then popped then in the oven to bake. I took them out 30 minutes later and they look amazing. I let them cool and packed them up. I decided, though I don’t normally, I should try one now. Thank goodness I did. I took my first bite and immediately felt a burn on the back my throat and thought, well I bought new cloves maybe that is it? But the burn intensified and in about 30 seconds my entire mouth was on fire. What the heck?! Then I looked at my spice jars…I had accidently grabbed the cayenne pepper jar instead of the cinnamon jar. Worst baking fail ever. I was in such denial I actually still planned on packing them. I realized that when you are camping water is scarce because you have to filter it so the idea of feeding people cayenne pepper bars I decided was cruel. I sadly left them in my fridge thinking I really hope my roommate doesn’t try them.
For this hike I had the hook up; it might be my commitment issues or maybe just that I am cheap but I didn’t want to buy anything for the hike because I thought maybe this will be a one time think. My friend Alyssa had my back: clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping pillow, sleeping pad, back pack, head lamp…like I said the hook up. She even made me a survival kit that had bandaids, paper you can write on even if its wet, coffee, and of course vodka.
I guess I should finally tell you which hike it was, the conundrum hike to the hot springs, which was 8.5 miles each way. I knew it would be tough but man the last mile was rough. When we got to the camp site it was like seeing heaven. We set up our tents and then headed to the hot springs; the entire reason for doing this hike. This is when the sausage, cheese, and wine came into play. There was a rock that we used as a table and we called it “appetizer island.” Everyone in the springs gave us some interesting looks but once we offered them a taste they understood why appetizer island must become a “thing” at the springs from now on. I could not imagine sitting in the one of the worlds highest natural hot springs without munster cheese washed down with malbec…could you?
I ended up with bruised hips from the backpack and blisters on my feet but it was all worth it for the view of the sky at night so far from city lights. I have never seen anything like it.
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Barcelona was the final stop in Europe this summer. Phil and I gathered all our strength we had to get on that early morning flight from Madrid. Behind my tired and lets be honest hungover face I really did have a lot of excitement. Most of the people I had ever talked to about Spain had said Barcelona was their favorite place ,Phil included, so I was excited to see what the hype was about. Our Barcelona trip started out funny. I can say it was funny because of how it ended…let me explain. Phil is one of the best travelers I know; smart, likes to eat, packs well, easy going, the list goes on and on. But what Phil did on the flight to Barcelona was a rookie mistake. We took our seats; me at the window, Phil in the middle and and Dutch girl sat in the isle seat. I saw this hour and 20 minute flight as the only time I had to sleep. I needed to get a nap in, no a good nap, if I was going to make it through the day. We only have a day and a half in Barcelona so we have to hit the ground running. I put my sunglasses on immediately and closed my eyes. Phil instead decides to make friends with the girl next to him who talks so loud the pilot could hear. When we got off the place we went to the bathroom and when I came out he was rummaging through his backpack and then looks up in a pure panic and says, “I don’t have my passport.” Our worst fear. Earlier that morning I was asking Phil what would make him cry, you know typical travel conversation, and he said only if he lost his passport. Awesome.
He goes running back to the gate we think is ours and starts talking the gate agent. They aren’t helpful but do call down to the plane. She says its not in the seat pocket and Phil begins to sweat. He searches his bag again and mine and then walks away. I decide to just let him have his moment and I will just sit here. What else could I do? He then comes running back and tells me to grab our things because we are at the wrong gate. We had flown Vueling and there were about 10 gates with flights all leaving within the next hour so each were busy and easy to mistake for the one we had walked off of. Phil once again attempts to tell them about the lost passport and explain the situation. This gate agent is ever less helpful than the last. She says she can’t get on the plane and that they already called down and its not there. Phil is seriously panicking and pacing. He is even offering to buy a ticket at this point to Germany, where the plane is headed, just to get on the plane. The gate agent is not having it and suggest customer service. I decide I should go talk to the lady and maybe Phil’s aggressiveness, completely warranted, was putting her off and I could work my customer service magic. I simply ask if she herself can go down to the plane and take a look. She says no, like before, but then goes on to explain that since you have to take a bus to the plane she for sure can’t and directs me to customer service. This immediately raise a red flag. I told her “We didn’t take a bus we used the jet bridge is this the plane from Madrid?” We had been showing our boarding pass the entire time but now was when she tells us, “Oh its the next one.” Patience was starting to be lost. Phil jumps into action again. But once again the gate agent tells us its not there and that she can’t get on the plane. I decide again to take a step back and let Phil do his thing. He comes back over with a complete look of loss on his face. He is positive it is in his back seat pocket 12E. I decide maybe he should ask one of the people boarding because it sounds like the gate agents aren’t even trying. He goes up to a 40 something looking Spaniard and she is petrefied. At this point Phil basically looks like a terrorist. He is sweating through his shirt and shaking. I can’t believe he didn’t get arrested when he started talking to passengers. The lady was too scared to help but a German couple behind us was not. They had been sitting there waiting to get on the plane and over heard the situation. They said, “That is silly a passport is important, don’t worry if it is in 12E we will bring it up!” We watched them go down the jet bridge with our final straw of hope. Two minutes later the gate agent was walking up the ramp with the passport.
All of the above happened in about 30 minutes; I’m hoping that makes you feel a little more of the intensity that we were feeling. Phil also said later that he was more scared that his passport was gone than when he was robbed at gunpoint in college. Like I said it was intense.
There are three morals of this store: 1) there are still good people out there that will help 2) don’t fly Veuling 3) Don’t put your passport in the seat back pocket.
Our Barcelona day began an hour and half later than planned but with a pretty darn good story.
I am going to break down Barcelona into two categories: Sights and Food/Drink
Of course a major part of this section is going to be anything Gaudí since most of the major tourist attractions are his. Antoni Gaudí is an architect who used neo-Gothics art and oriental techniques and was part of the Modernista movement during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Below are pictures of one of his most famous pieces the Sagrada Família that Gaudí began in 1883 and it is expected to be finished by 2026. We also visited the Park Güell which is another Gaudí spot and probably the most famous tourist pictures you have seen. We did not get to go into the area where the benches are because there wasn’t anymore available time that day so here is a tip, plan ahead if you want to go in. This is a new change that they are charging and monitoring the amount of people inside so keep that in mind. So either go and plan on coming back when you have made a reservation or get there early in the morning. We were still able to see a good amount of the architecture without actually going in.
THE BEACH!!!!!!! We only got about an hour at the beach because the weather was pretty rainy but it was a great hour!
Castell de Montjuïc
Exploring the Gothic Quarter
Walking down les Rambles
The go-to market in Barcelona is La Boqueria. La Boqueria seemed more like an actual market where you could go and buy groceries as well as get food so we walked around oohing and ahhing at the stands. One thing I found that stopped me in my tracks and I had to resist from buying multiples was a cone full of meat or as I like to call it prosciutto cotton candy. See picture below. I of course also had paella here. The pan pictured below was completely empty and was split between two—think that explains how it was.
Happy hour was never missed; one day was at a restaurant the other was casually on the streets.
Espit Chupitos was one of my most favorite places/things we did in Barcelona. Chupitos means shots and that is exactly what this place is. A shot bar; no tables or chairs but instead just a menu of about 200 different shots they have that are about two-three euros a piece. This is every 18 year old American girls dream—or nightmare. We started with the “Harry Potter” shot which is lit of fire and sparkles and then we also had the “Diablo” shot which they put alcohol around the shot in the shape of a cross and then lit on fire. It was so much fun. I could have stayed there and kept trying different ones all night. You have to be very careful but definitely do not miss it! Perfect for pregaming.
Phil and I parted ways after a very authentic breakfast…at the airport McDonald’s. I will say though that I got toast with tomato pulp which was one of the things I really wanted to try before I left! McD’s always comes through. I hugged Phil goodbye and he headed to his Philly flight and me to my Minneapolis one.
Apparently Phil learned his lesson because I didn’t hear any stories about not having a passport to get through customs.
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Spain! I had my freedom in Spain! My freedom to do what I wanted, better yet, EAT what I wanted. What do I have to say about Madrid? I was in love. The food, the architecture, the people, the food. We rented an apartment for five of us (Yellow building below) in a great location and for three nights it was $125 per person and the place was a palace. High ceilings with exposed wood beams—it was incredible. Also on a side note after writing this post I now know why I gained 10 pounds in three weeks…
Day 1: The first day was all about the tapas. I was with my two friends who had either lived in Madrid or visited so we were all about hitting their old stomping grounds. We first went to the Mercado San Miguel. Which as I told my friends and family is literally my heaven. To simply describe it, it is a fancy market. You can stop at each stand and get a tapa for 1-3 euros and then grab a glass of wine and walk around. I had oysters, salmon, cheese, cod, and meats. This became a daily stop for us. When my friends were finally able to drag me, out because I was promised we would return, we made our way to Museo del Jamon for beer. Which literally translates to ham museum. Interesting little spot. Next stop was El Tigre for, yes, more tapas. This place is like a divey place but a must for tourist. They say the way you can tell it is a good place by the amount of garbage on the floor. This place gets an A+.We had sandwiches and paella. Once we realized we were full and our two other friends were arriving shortly and had to let them into the apartment we decided we should go home and have more tapas and more wine. I told you the first day was about the tapas. We ended our night at a bar called Taberna Lamiak. If you visit Madrid you should check it out—chill place.
Day 2: Allison and I got up and let the others sleep. We went and saw the the Royal Palace of Madrid and walked around that area. We stopped for breakfast and had café con leche and toast with eggs. We then quickly stopped buy the store to pick up some necessities for our visit to the park. We spent a few hours on a blanket in Parque del Retiro sipping on champagne, eating jamon, and cheese. It was a perfect July 4th in Madrid. Phil and I decided it also was a must to have a hot dog since it was the 4th and we are American. We then took a boat ride on the lake, Estanque del Retiro. I would totally suggest it. Not too expensive only about 8 euros and super fun. We made our way back home and of course stopped at Mercado San Miguel on the way and Chocolateria San Gines for some classic churros. The chocolate was rich not too sweet chocolate and the churros was buttery and warm. They paired perfectly and I really liked it because I’m not much of a sweet person so hit the spot. We showered quickly then headed back out to a bar to watch the France versus Germany soccer match. We then ate at 100 Montaditos and went back home to to get ready for our evening out. Phil, who had been dressed in obnoxious American get up all day, continued his theme of “American pride style” so Allison and I followed suite and put on bandannas. We then went out in Sol. We met some English friends, because of course we ended up at a Irish bar. Phil ended up making a trade for American sunglasses for his bandanna, his tie which was really what was wanted, was not an option. The next morning he still thought it was a good trade, which means it really must have been a good trade.
Day 3: Once again Allison and I were the only ones who could rally and got up early for breakfast. We got calamari sandwiches, which are known for the Madrid area, cafe con leche, and a beer. Clearly the struggle was real. I swear though that calamari sandwich was to die for, ciabatta bread, mayonnaise, thick calamari rings and lemon, put it all together and you get the best calamari sandwich ever. No it was not just because I was feeling the night from before…I swear. Saturday was the big Pride parade so that was pretty much the plan for the day. After breakfast we once again stopped at the store for the necessities aka beer. We got home and ralliedthe troops. Phil took a ridiculously amount of time to get out of bed-Phil needs to work on this before our next trip. Once everyone was dressed in their pride attire we headed out. First stop? McDonald’s for a beer. Yes McDonald’s has euro beers in Madrid. Very cultural. My friend Kevin and I stopped in at the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia on the way to the parade to see the infamous Guernica painting. It was incredible. Their was so much going on in the photo and had such an incredible story. Then we found a spot where Gran Via meets Paseo del Prado and watched the parade. We stayed for a bit then decided to head back home so we once again stopped at Mercado San Miguel. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said we went everyday. We ended up staying in, enjoying the apartment, and finishing the bottles of wine we still had. Allison’s flight was at 6 am and Phil and mine was at 10 am. Lets just say getting up and saying goodbye was hard.
Day 4: Barcelona!
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I spent my final days of group travel in Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Rome. I know, no complaining here. At this point when you are traveling with a large group of students you start to see the friendships form; this my favorite. Kids from different groups are sitting with different kids at dinner or walking together. Italy is a good place to make friends.
After my final night in Rome I got up early to leave the group to meet my friends for non organized travel in Madrid. When I woke up the next morning and had to hail my own cab and deal with the cost I realized how much I was going to miss this “prepacked” group travel, but I was ready to eat whenever and whatever I wanted!
This holes were once used to serve food; basically McD’s.
Our hotel in Sorrento, not too shabby.
Amazing fish dinner on the water in Sorrento
First steps in Capri
Caprese in Capri
Hanging with the Swiss Guards
Pantheon at night
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Venice started my group travel experience. Our group consisted of 47 students and adults; serious group travel. I know a few people cringe at the idea of traveling with this many people but let me tell you it does have its perks. You have your days planned out. You have a bus that takes you to each destination. Tickets are purchased for you. You get to cut the line. Sometimes thinking is nice. Am I convincing you yet? Maybe these photos will…
Bridge of Sighs
Piazza San Marco
The most amazing mussels and clams!
Oyster served with kiwi. I asked the server if they eat the kiwi with the oyster and they said no after and to just put pepper and lemon on the oyster. Delicious!
A campo with the pozzo(well).
Afternoon gondola ride.
In Venice we stayed at a hotel in Venezia which was right on the water and a 25 minute boat ride away from the Venice.
We stopped in at the new Brew Dog in Firenze!
Il Duomo di Firenze
Seafood rice for lunch!
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Berlin is awesome. It is full of culture and history and was my first stop in Europe. Actually Paris was but that was only a lay over. My route to Berlin was Denver to Minneapolis to Paris to Berlin. My flight out of Denver was delayed about two hours so it delayed all of my connecting flights. The airline rebooked me and I was scheduled to be taking a later flight out of Paris that would get me into Berlin only five hours later than planned, bummer but that is life. When I landed in Charles de Gaulle and tried to get my boarding pass the gate agent said my listing had been canceled and the airlines hadn’t rebooked me so now the flights were oversold and I could only get on the later flight that wouldn’t get me in till 9 pm. Not cool. I expressed my frustration since I had a ticket that showed I was confirmed on the earlier flight so I didn’t understand where the problem was. The gate agent was très agréable and tried to help me in any way. She couldn’t get me a ticket for the earlier flight but she was able to get me a 8 € meal voucher. Since I am familiar and comfortable with standby travel I asked if I could at least standby for the earlier flight since I would be here anyways. She said if I went up to customer service in the gate area they could help me. So I grabbed my bags and migrated that way. They let me on the list though they said the flight was full. I enjoyed a cappuccino and a cheese and butter baguette with my meal voucher (Thanks Delta) and then to my surprise got a seat on the earlier flight! Not just a seat but first class!
Tip of the post: DO be nice to gate agents you never know what they will give you. DO try to be standby. If you are going to wait around anyways you might as well see if you can get on. People miss connections all the time.
Now back to Berlin…
Checking out museum island.
Things to Eat
I started my first night with beer and German food! We ate at Die Berliner Republick on the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal right by our hostel. I had the curry wurst and my friend (Shanna) got the kohlrouladen which is a German cabbage roll. I loved the classic curry wurst but my friends cabbage roll took the cake. It has minced meat inside and that made the texture and consistency so light and tasted like biting into meat clouds. It also had a dark sauce on it that was rich like a red wine beef reduction that paired perfectly. I finished her plate.
Things to See
Shanna and I were lucky enough that the Berlin Gay parade was happening during our visit so that was quite the event one day. We watched the parade then followed the festivities down into Tiergarten. Here we saw the Victory column and then walked through to the Brandenburg Gate. They had a huge screen put up for the Germany verus Ghana game. It started pouring and we ended up going home to get warmer clothes so we ended up watching the game at another outdoor area we found by the metro. That is the great thing about being in Europe during the world cup, you can find a ton of places to watch the game.
To make sure we didn’t miss anything we decided to do a walking tour. We did a free one from Sandeman’s and this was my first free walking tour experience. It was awesome. I felt I learned so much and saw a lot too. The quality was great even though it was free so I highly suggest them from here on out. We tipped 10 € for the both of us; we saw a lot, learned a lot, but didn’t spend a lot.
Starting our waking tour!
Berlin Wall remains
Below is my favorite picture. That is the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus in the background and during the division of East and West Germany it was the House of Ministries, which was basically East Berlin’s government building.
Hanging with check point Charlie
Beblplatz Square – Dancing in front of the State Opera House
Liberal Memorial for the 20,000 books burned by the Nazis on May 10, 1933. There are enough shelves for the 20,000 books. There is a plaque next to the memorial that says “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen,” from Meinrich Hein’s play Almansor which was written in 1821. Which translates to “Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.
Where to stay
We stayed at Bax Pax Hostel in Mitte. It was a great location; close to the metro system (so easy and cheap to get to and from the airport; bus to undergroud) and easy to walk to places. We stayed in one of the 30 bed rooms. It wasn’t bad and it was an experience. When in Berlin might as well push yourself.
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I apologize for my lack of posts. Since I got back from Europe I have been catching up on summer activities, hanging with friends, and also catching up on sleep. With all of that meant no posts for a little over two weeks. It has been a nice little non-posting vaca but I am back and ready to share my time in Europe with you. My first post is what to do in Milan when you only have 24 hours.
1. Start with Coffee
If you are smart you will start you day off with free breakfast at your hotel/hostel but if you are like me and can’t seem to get out of bed instead head into the heart of Milan and get yourself an Italian coffee. I headed into tourist central and decided to have coffee in the Galleria next to the Duomo. Some might not suggest this but I found an infamous spot, Camparino, to sit at. When you sit down and have your coffee you are removed from the hustle and bustle of all the tourist. I started my morning with lemon pie and a cappucino. Perfetto!
2. Visit a Church
My next plan was to go into the Duomo but I quickly learned that it is not just shoulders you need to have covered but also your knees so I could not get in with my shorts. My advice for anyone visiting Italy and wanting to go into any Churches come prepared with a pashmina to either wrap around your shoulders or legs, depending on which one isn’t covered. Some churches will sell covers too.
A perfect way to see a city is by bike. If you want to bike around Milan you can rent one from BikeMI. You have to create an account online before. It is € 2.50 to create the account and then it gives you a user name and password. You go up to one of the bike stations (that are everywhere) and put your information into the kiosk then go get the bike that it tells you to. The first 30 minutes are free then € .50 per 30 minutes after that and you can only use it for two hours at a time. This is a great way to see the city but also scary because you are biking around not really knowing where you are going and you have to be careful of cars. I was trying to go see the Navigli District but no surprise I got lost. I finally just put my map away and biked around for a bit. Then I found someone nice enough to just show me where I was on my map so I could find my way back.
4. Public Transit
Use the subway system in Milan. So, so easy. I am serious if I can do it and I didn’t get lost once then anyone, including a four year old, could do it. Not sure if I was buying the correct ticket but it was € 1.50 a ride.
6. Find a Hidden Spot
For lunch I went to Panzerotti Luini and I highly suggest you do to. Italy is expensive, but this little lunch spot was cheap. It was great to watch the business men and women stop by for a quick lunch. They serve panzerotti’s that are sweet and savory; these are similar to calzones but much better. I almost feel like I am insulting it by comparing it. The dough is similar to an elephant ear dough; light and fluffy and a very simple dough flavor. Then you get the fresh tomatoes and the salty creamy mozzarella taste and voila you have magic. Be prepared for a line but it moved quick.
5. Don’t Miss Apertivo
This was my favorite discovery about Italy. Apertivo is basically happy hour but much better. Starting around 5 pm most bars/restaurants start apertivo hour. You order a cocktail like normal but you get a buffet with it for FREE! Seriously this is no joke. I couldn’t believe it was real. It was like I had died and gone to happy hour heaven. I ordered a negroni and it as € 9, yes expensive but I got dinner for free; cheese, olives, bruschetta, salad, rice, meats. I had happy hour at a bar in the Corso Como area. So so good and so so amazing.
This is my final suggestion. If you love mushrooms go to Antica Trattoria Della Pesa and get the funghi porcini pasta. This was defineitly a fine dining situation (I spending about $50 by myself #sorrynotsorry) but it is worth it. This tagliatelle pasta was the most perfectly cooked homemade pasta I have ever tasted and the sauce though no cream was incredibly creamy. Perfect bites of mushrooms that still have a bite to them. I am becoming depressed just thinking about it knowing I don’t know when I will have it again…
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