Reflecting on a fully present experience in Cuba.Read More
A soul charging weekend on the beachfront of LA.Read More
A recap of my two weeks in beautiful Thailand.Read More
With their packs filled and excitement high, a crew of 13 young and attractive wanderers set out to find the perfect campsite for their leader Kate’s birthday. Firewood, beer, and foil-wrapped meals lined the insides of their 65L Ospreys as they began the 1.5 mile trek out to Nordhouse Dunes.Chatter fills the air. People weave in and out as walking tempos change, leading to new connections and conversations. We feel our hiking boots softly hitting the sand while catching glimpses of the lake, as well as the familiar burn in our calves that accompanies a dune hike. Everyone’s flirting with the idea of running into sweet sweet Lake Michigan as sweat drips down our foreheads, but we all know the delayed gratification will be worthwhile.Michigan is a magical place. And there’s nothing that characterizes the Great Lakes state more than miles and miles of Lake Michigan coastline kissing sandy dunes. Cotton ball clouds line the upper troposphere and watch over us as we stake out our spot and begin setting up. Tents up, rain covers on, sleeping pads and bags out – we establish some mental semblance of home for our temporary stay in the wilderness. Indeed, this will be our community gathering area for the next 24 hours, where we will eat, drink, and laugh together around a fire.We’ve set up our home base, and we’re ready to hit the water. It’s one of those days, those perfect 70 and sunny days where you spend all daylight hours in your swimsuit on the beach. I sprint out to the water, kicking up sand and little stones in the process. Lake Michigan is sacred. There is NOTHING like swimming in one of the biggest freshwater lake in the world, surrounded by clear blue skies. The beauty and calm combined with unbelievably safe swimming conditions unlocks an overwhelming sense of serenity and peace. There’s nothing more awakening than the constant switching between swimming in the cool lake and laying on out on the warm sand.I soon hit that point where dinner time is on my mind. We cook, we eat, we burn popcorn – our night is young.The seemingly endless sunshine is, however, about to come to its conclusion for the day. Stomachs full and beers cracked open, we find ourselves back on the beach where we were earlier, this time donning sweaters and pants instead of swimsuits. Ahead of us is the blue of the lake and sky, temporarily split by a narrow beam of soft setting sunlight. We share an embrace, a few drinks, and a view of incredible clouds scattered across the sky as the sun completes its baton handoff to the moon.The night is getting darker, and our small community returns to home base where the fire we started for dinner is still going. Collective experiences, storytelling, camaraderie and love shape our final night cap.
Goodnight friends – until our next Nordhouse dream together.
Athens reminded me of China: lots of people and not enough infrastructure to support the influx. As a tourist, you often live in your own pre-curated bubble of UNESCO sights, highly rated restaurants, and westernized clubs. When your association with a city is only temporary, it's easy to ignore the harsh realities of severe economic recession, unemployment, and lack of government services that most local citizens face.
I had the unique opportunity to stay with an Airbnb host who shared both the touristy and local side of Athens with me. Through long walks in the city center, he shared what it was like to live in economic recession and how he navigated the challenges he faced. I appreciated having someone to show me around the places I read about on Tripadvisor and also the local spots like where everyone goes at night to drink beer and cool off.
Visiting my friend Sydney and her boyfriend Julian in Naxos felt like a complete dream. After landing in Athens, taking the metro to Pireaus, then patiently waiting out a 7 hour ferry ride, I was greeted by one of my best friends at the dock.
I did not anticipate the intense feelings of happiness and even nostalgia upon seeing Sydney. Perhaps it was the backdrop of so many people rushing off the ferry into their loved ones' arms, faces lit by the lights of the town. Nevertheless, my heart felt full to be in a place that meant so much to her.
Our day were filled with beaches, Greek salads, and good conversation. With so many beaches around the island, you can't really go wrong with any. Agios Prokopios is where we spent most of our time embracing the freedom of no bikini tops, followed by great post swim meals at local restaurants. I recommend Naxian for great food, pictured below.
Our goodbye took me by surprise just as much as our greeting. Upon leaving Naxos, I felt pangs of sadness and a longing to stay. We hugged goodbye, and wished each other safe travels.
Having planned and financed my trip to Europe independently, every smooth journey feels like a personal success. Every time I arrive to a new city safely or navigate to a local attraction efficiently, I smile with a sense of accomplishment. There have been a few places in particular that have elicited that combination of awe and accomplishment. Some sights are so beautiful that you can’t help but think “wow, I have dreamt about traveling here and I’m actually freaking here.” Cliffs of Moher was definitely one of these places.
Through the hostel I stayed at (Barnacle), I booked a one day trip to Cliffs of Moher with Dublin Tour Bus Company. They safely transported us to the cliffs, and our driver/guide in particular was quite witty and hilarious. After we stopped in Doolin for lunch, we were on our way to the beautiful cliffs.
Many people say to pick a sunny day to go, but sometimes you don’t have the flexibility to optimize what day. While it was disappointingly cloudy the day I went, the weather gods must have sensed my dismay and lifted the clouds for a few minutes so I could still grab some pictures. If you are indeed able to pick clearer day to go, do that, but if not, know that fog can come and go quite easily and not to worry.
A month abroad seems like a long time, but when you’re trying to visit 10 different cities it feels quite busy and quick. Every city I’ve gone to thus far I’ve wanted to stay longer, Dublin especially. I love Irish pubs, especially meeting new people there, and I wish I could have had more time to scope out hidden gems. With that said though, I definitely hit up a few good touristy spots in my short time there. 1. Guinness Storehouse
Yes, of course I went to the Guinness Storehouse like any tourist would. And yes I said things like “oh wow the Guinness tastes way better here”. But I have no shame or remorse, because it truly was a fun experience where you get to learn about the ingredients and history that go into this 200+ year old beer. Highly recommend.
2. Little Museum of Dublin
Having been a little bit more limited on time, I prioritized other things over museums since they can take a couple of hours each. The Little Museum of Dublin advertises that you can learn everything about the city in under half an hour though, so I thought it would be more digestible than a regular sized museum.
3. Irish Whiskey Museum
I was definitely pushing some limits by going to the Guinness storehouse in the morning and also doing a whiskey tasting in the evening, but it proved to be a fun (and safe J) experience. As someone who generally will shy away from liquor, I quite enjoyed the connoisseur who walked us through the tasting and actually liked drinking whiskey.
4. Temple Bar Area
The iconic temple bar was right next to the hostel I stayed it, making for a very interesting albeit noisy stay. From what locals told me it seemed like only tourists/Americans really went to Temple Bar itself, so I went to some other pubs in the area. There’s definitely a lot of different things going on so find the place of your choice
To American tourists, London takes the spotlight away from lots of other UK destinations. That would be like New York representing America – not completely inaccurate for some things, but definitely unrepresentative of the nation’s geographic and cultural diversity. I was so glad to be able to spend a weekend in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, with my hometown friend Sarah and her buddy Bethan. I felt so spoiled having my own room in Bethan’s house, and also having access to a washing machine. Aside from the comforts of home, Cardiff itself was charming and beautiful. We hit up a few of the local attractions, and it was nice to have a local to show us around.
1. Roath Lake
Everyone kept telling me that I must have brought the weather with me, because the usual Cardiff rain was replaced with beautiful and sunny blue skies. The children were out, the adults were out catching Pokemon – a relaxing Saturday for all.
2. Cardiff Bay
Nice weather brings everyone out, including all the fans for miscellaneous British rowing teams. The Bay had was quite charming with all the attractions it had to offer to residents, and the cheering of the rowing fans made the regatta atmosphere really exciting even though I didn’t know what was going.
3. Castle Coch/Red Castle
Sunday brought the rain clouds that were nowhere to be found on Saturday. Bethan brought us to a castle, and the rain actually made for a more dramatic backdrop. Being too cheap to go in, we just snapped a few pictures and made our way to dinner.
4. Sunday Roast
This born again omnivore was all about Sunday Roast. Meat meat meat we did eat eat eat!
It’s no secret that I love a good public market, and my girl Lizzie really wowed me with Borough Market. Just thinking about all the breads and meats and other food available that were there makes me drool. Anything you could ever want for lunch was there, making it a popular place to grab lunch for people working in the area.
My mouth watered as I looked into the displays, especially for baked foods. I’m a big fan of the Great British Baking Show, and it felt like I had walked into a carbo loaded dream.
After making our way around the market, I settled on Indian food for lunch and had a delicious thali of rice and 3 different vegetable curries. But don’t worry, my girl Lizzie bought me a side of DELISH BRITISH BACON so I got my meat intake that day as well!
Like New York, London can feel like a bit of a concrete jungle – although it’s a much cleaner and friendlier one. But also like its American counterpart, London has green spaces where you can escape from the chaos. I spent some time walking across Kensington Park before meeting my friend for tea near the palace.
There were lots of runners out donning hydration packs, as well as tourists and families. I was listening to a How Stuff Works podcast while enjoying the green space and nice weather, secretly thanking the weather gods for not raining on me.
I made it to the palace, and then slowly made my way over to Orangery. The entrance is quite grand – I felt mega fancy and spoiled, and really enjoyed the experience of afternoon tea with my friend Devin.
After many transit hours, ya girl finally made it to her first stop in Europe. London welcomed me with its cloudy skies and British accents, and I could not have been any more excited when the plane landed in Heathrow. Despite a sleepless red eye flight, I pulled together the energy to pack my days with sightseeing. London is so tourist friendly with its clearly labeled London Underground (“tube”) and abundant free attractions. These are just four of the freebies I enjoyed during my 2 days there!
1. National Gallery
I’m not an art history buff, so I don’t think I appreciated it as much as my friends who are read up on the subject. However, the space itself is stunning: lots of open spaces and windows, and organized by century.
2. Tate Modern Art Museum
Yes. Absolutely put this on your to do list for London, especially because there is a free 10th floor observatory that makes for great city shots. While I find it more difficult to understand and appreciate older art, modern art is often easier for me to relate to. Tate Modern's descriptions also really help you connect with an art form and overall led to a more enjoyable experience.
3. Buckingham Palace
Not going to lie, I thought this was a little overrated. I guess it’s one of those fabulously British things you may feel like you have to do as a tourist, but after about 5 minutes I had enough of selfie sticks poking me. You've made it this far to London, if you've got about 30 minutes to come take a look- especially during the summer months where there's the changing of the guards- you might as well!
4. British Museum
What a gem! Perhaps I was spoiled because my very intelligent friend sprinkled information into our time there, but there was so much here to enlighten yourself. Whether you're obsessed with a specific civilization or you're just looking to learn more about humankind, everyone will enjoy something from the British Museum.
Tokyo Skytree is not only the tallest tower in Japan, but also in the world. The roughly 2000 yen admission will get you to the 350 meter observation deck, where you can not only get incredible night views of the city but also stand on a glass floor and have your picture taken.
While my uncle and I only went to the tower, there are a lot of other attractions in the area like an aquarium, mall, and many restaurants. Definitely factor in enough time for the ticket line, and enjoy the vast expansiveness of Tokyo from 350 meters up.
While both Shinjuku and Harajuku are considered more urban and metropolitan wards of Tokyo, Shinjuku has a beautiful park where you forget the business of the city. I stopped at a red bean pancake stand on my way to Shinjuku Goen, where I snacked and journaled for a bit.
Away from the park is the Tokyo Municipal Government Building, where the top floor observatory is open to the public. Great views of Shinjuku, and also free to get in.
Later in the day, I hopped back onto the Yanamote line to head to Harajuku. I didn't see any eye popping gothic lolita or cosplay, but I did find a lot of stores selling accessories to fit any aesthetic. Overall, the vibe in Harajuku was more intimate with its higher frequency of small boutique shops/restaurants/bars. My uncle and I ended the night with a Moscow Mule at a small cafe/bar combo.
Shibuya is one of Tokyo's many wards, known for shopping and nightlife. Right when you get off the subway, you’re welcomed with Shibuya crossing. Cars and pedestrians alternate turns, and when the 90 seconds start for pedestrians it can seem like a somewhat overwhelming crowd. No one is pushing or rude, but it's still quite a sight for someone who is used to different crosswalks.
There are lots of really cool shops in Shibuya, and the experience in it of itself is worth it even if you don't purchase anything. I spent a lot of time hitting up cool shops like Tokyu Hands and Daiso, and didn't break the bank while doing so.
For lunch, I had looked up what to do on TimeOut the evening before, and headed to Zuicho Katsudon. It was a hole in the wall restaurant, and a very traditional Japanese experience where dining out is viewed as quite a utilitarian experience. You wait in line, go in, and eat; it would be quite an operational inefficiency if you expected the staff to chitchat with you.
My anxiety over what to order mounted as I waited in line, but I quickly realized that they only served one thing (katsudon, lol, duh) and I wouldn’t need to test my limited Japanese.
While waiting at Zuicho, I met another American who I grabbed a drink with at Fulgen. Their intimidatingly trendy **mixologist** (I feel like bartender doesn't quite capture his suave) made me an incredibly smooth negroni, complete with lemon zest on the rim of the glass.
It was definitely a nice vacation moment to have a Thursday afternoon cocktail without having to think twice about it.
Yokohama is Japan's most populous city, and is under an hour away from Tokyo station. My uncle happens to work there, so I tagged along and explored the city for half a day.
Around 9am, I headed from the subway station to Yamashita Park. The park stretches along Yokohama’s coastline, and provides a lot of green space to an otherwise busy city. Although it was rainy and overcast, I still appreciated the reprieve from congested urban areas.
There are a lot of restaurants, shops, and other sights to see along the coastline, and my favorite was the Hikawa Maru, a moored ship that's open to the public. After really enjoying the moored ships at Hyde Street Pier, I have grown to appreciate naval and sailing history. The Hikawa Maru especially had a lot of cultural significance in restoring postwar US-Japanese relations, and, not to mention, has been kept in tiptop condition.
Around noon, I kept walking west along the coastline and stumbled into Marine Tower. To preface, I really didn't plan anything for the day cause I actually thought my uncle worked in Shinjuku. Spontaneously finding a tower with not only an observation deck but also a low admission fee really made my day. The views of an overcast Yokohama were well worth the 750yen.
After making my way to Marine Tower, I was pretty close to Yokohama's Chinatown. I didn't stay long, considering that I was going to Beijing the next week, but it was quite lively and had many cool shops.
The long morning of extensive walking and exploring went by quickly, but ultimately the empty feeling in my stomach prompted me to check my watch. After realizing it was past 2pm, I headed to Yokohama Landmark Plaza where I enjoyed a soba lunch, and proceeded to window shop in the mall. With the rain outside, I really didn't have the energy to go outside again.
Around 6pm, my uncle got off of work and took me to the observatory deck of Landmark Tower, which is much taller than Marine Tower. While two towers in one day and one city seems redundant, I really wanted to get an evening glimpse of Yokohama. I absolutely did not regret taking my uncle up on his offer, and got some great shots of a really great city. If you have the time in your itinerary to make a trip to Yokohama, I would highly recommend it!
Deep in the town surrounding Mt.Fuji, there are many sento - Japanese public bath houses where you pay a small fee for a relaxing bathing experience. While maintaining hygiene is a highly pragmatic and respectable goal, I have found sento to be more than just a dip in a hot tub. Rather, there are certain steps in going to a sento that I see as integral to the entire experience.
First and foremost, you must take your shoes off upon entering and put them in a locker near the entryway. You spend the rest of your time either barefoot or wearing slippers, immediately triggering your body to just relax and let go.
Sento are generally single sex, so you enter your respective gender's locker room and get naked. Yay! Japanese friends and coworkers will often come to sento together as a social experience. I used to think that was the strangest thing cause everyone was naked: the idea of my boobs and butt hanging out in front of my boss was slightly unsettling. But after the first few minutes, you realize that everyone is pretty chill about it. It's only weird if you make it weird.
Before entering communal baths, you must shower first! It is a serious faux pas to go straight into the baths, as you may introduce your body's contaminants and dirty the water. Once you've cleaned yourself, you can enjoy indoor and outdoor hot tubs. When the water has volcanic minerals in it, the bath house is called an onsen. Aside from this key difference, the experience is generally the same between onsen and sento.
Given the nature of a public bath house, photography is strictly prohibited. Being a weekday morning though, I was lucky enough to have the whole sento to myself and was able to photograph the inside.
There's more to sento than just bathing though. Usually, there is a restaurant or cafe where you can get beer, ramen, or whatever else your heart desires. My go to post bath drink is chocolate milk, and my uncle had us share some sake as well.
Post meal, it is also acceptable and encouraged to lay on the tatami mats and take a short nap. The sento experience is truly about relaxation and wellness, and I felt both clean and rejuvenated after our time there.
Mt. Fuji is one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world, frequently depicted with its white tip shrouded by clouds of gray. With its public climbing season not open until July 1st though, my uncle offered to drive around the volcano and then up it as well. Since it was a rainy day and I was still recovering from jet lag, driving ended up being a good move.
The area around Mt.Fuji is incredibly peaceful. The lush green forest surrounds you as you drive through, and the water flowing through the creek is so clear. I didn't think there was much to the area besides climbing the mountain itself, so I was pleasantly surprised throughout our drive.
We caught our first glimpse of Mt. Fuji in the afternoon, after it had stopped raining and the clouds started to clear. The weather was all over the place that particular day; while in the morning all my pictures were super gray and foggy, the picture below shows a sunny and warm adventure.
We then drove up to the 2000 meter point of Mt.Fuji, where I started feeling a bit of altitude sickness. There was a small shop at the start of the trail where a senior Japanese woman gave us kombucha tea, helping to easy my nausea a little. Despite my body's reactions, I fully anticipate that I will be back again someday and actually climb Mt. Fuji. I'll be sure to have read up on altitude sickness before I embark on the next 1500 meters up to the top!
After 30+ hours of airports and airplanes, I have arrived in Tokyo. My journey started in Lansing, MI, where I then flew to Chicago and Toronto before finally getting onto a 13-hour flight to Tokyo. This was by far the most pleasant extended flying experience I have ever had. The plane was around 70% capacity, allowing there to be an open spot between my aisle seat and another patron's window seat -- freeing up additional legroom and space to sleep. Additionally, there was an outlet *AND* USB charging portal at each seat, and the flight attendants were also quite generous on alcohol. The 13 hours just flew right by.
After arriving, going through customs, picking up my overloaded Osprey from baggage claim, and getting a JR Rail Pass (highly recommend for anyone going to Japan), I immediately went to the closest convenience kiosk.
These kiosks are BALLER. From bento boxes to beer to cigarettes to newspapers, they have everything a hungry traveler could want. I picked up some sushi and water for my train ride into Tokyo via the Narita Express, for a grand sum of about $5.
My final destination was Hachioji, where my uncle lives. Getting to Hachioji required a transfer at Tokyo station, but with some confidence and broken Japanese the transition was smooth.
I was so excited to finally see my uncle when he picked me up from the station. It's been at least 7-8 years since I've seen him, and we have both changed a lot. He immediately took me to a restaurant with incredible tonkatsu, setting the bar high for this next week of food exploration!
Our final days in San Francisco were spent along the coastline, with a bike ride through the Presidio followed by a walk through Land's End.
We rented bikes from Golden Gate Park where we were earlier in the day, and rode them through the Presidio to Crissy Field. As we biked past the visitor's center, memories of field trips to Crissy Field in order to learn about ecosystems and biodiversity flooded my mind.
We finished our trip with a walk through Sutro Baths and Land's End. Land's End is such a nice area with hiking paths up through the hills and along the coastline. Filled with great views, the paths didn't have too many tourists so it was nice to be able to see everything.
The only negative thing about the trip was an iPhone screen fatality, which I quickly fixed when I got home to Michigan. It was a very small price to pay for an incredibly robust trip back to my childhood stomping grounds.