Favorites // FLAGSTAFF, AZ

They say it’s a small world, but Earth is a pretty big place.  I am under no impression that I’ve truly seen the world.  I’ve seen 19 countries of 200+ in existence, and how much of these countries have I really been exposed to?  I haven’t even experienced all that my own home country has to offer.

While I have many places left to explore, I have a few favorites.  One of them is Flagstaff, Arizona.  I’ve written before that home is a difficult concept for me, but in my heart, Flagstaff feels like home.  My aunt and uncle have retired from their jobs as travelling educators and settled in the area.  But maybe “settled” is the wrong word.. They are still very much on the move, and I love joining them on their adventures.

One such adventure: the nearby Chocolate Falls, located in the Painted Desert on Navajo land.  We took a bumpy drive through the dirt and dust to hike and explore and climb on the rocks.

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But there’s more to Arizona than desert.  Last summer we took a trip to Lockett Meadow for some (more) hiking and stargazing.

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It was a beautiful clear night and I saw my first shooting star!  Morning was just as pleasant.  I slept in the bed of the truck and woke with the morning light to a peaceful forest scene.  I warmed up with a cup of bitter black tea.

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Flagstaff, I hope to see you again soon.

Lomography // CINQUE TERRE 2011

Cinque Terre is a cluster of five colorful coastal towns and one of my all-time favorite destinations in Europe.  In the summer, the air is hot and sticky and the water is cool and clear.  There are plenty of shops around to grab some delicious focaccia or a scoop of gelato.  And for thrill-seekers like my friends, there are lots of cliffs and bridges to jump off of.  For me, the latter was a great opportunity to try out my Lomography Action Sampler.  Here are the results:

Jumping at Cinque Terre

Jumping at Cinque Terre

Aaaand More Jumping at Cinque Terre

Jumping at Cinque Terre Again

Jumping at Cinque Terre Again

Aaand More Jumping at Cinque Terre

Diving (!) at Cinque Terre

Diving (!) at Cinque Terre

Not the greatest photos, but fun nonetheless.  Traveling with these guys was a blast, I hope we get to do it again soon!

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The Group at Cinque Terre

Dreaming of Summer // AUSTRIA 2013

As I impatiently wait for the beginning of this summer, I reflect on my last European adventure of summer 2013.  It was a family trip to Salzburg, about a six hour drive from our home in southwest Germany.  Salzburg is a beautiful, historical city with a love for its most famous former resident, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Apologies to the history buffs and music fans, but my attention was focused mainly on the wonderful food of the city.

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Sachertorte, chocolate cake with apricot filling, from the famous Cafe Tomaselli

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Carrot Cremesuppe with my hungry brother’s hand

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Broccoli Cremesuppe with a roll

The cake was amazing, as were the soups. Another highlight of our trip was a side trip to Hallstatt, a picturesque Austrian city boasting the oldest known salt mine in the world.  Visitors can tour the depths of the salt mine, provided they agree to wear protective clothes (which look more like pajamas than anything a miner would wear).  Of course, we took full advantage!

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Hamming it up in our miner’s outfits

A more serious shot inside the mine - my brother is much more photogenic than I!

A more serious shot inside the mine – my brother is much more photogenic than I

A couple other side trips: a day spent cycling with my brother around the lakes of the area with plenty of breaks for swimming, and a visit to Sigmund-Thun Klamm, where I used my German to ask if a student discount was available to which the lady at the booth replied, “Nein, aber ich mach’ das.”  Which I understood as “No, but I’ll do it anyways.”  It’s always good to use the local language as much as possible – sometimes it pays off in unexpected ways!

Morning swim at the lake

Morning swim at the lake

Sigmund-Thun Klamm

Sigmund-Thun Klamm

It was a wonderful trip, but by far my favorite part was the part that no one had planned.  As a family we took a hike around Hallstaetter See, one of the many crystal blue lakes of the Salzburg area.  We stopped at a bridge to take a rest, when I looked down at the water and saw some kind of wooden plank protruding from a spot under the bridge.  Upon closer inspection we found a dirt path to the underside of the bridge, where there was another plank which we recognized  as an improvised diving board as well as a makeshift ladder for climbing up from the water.  We had stumbled upon a hidden gem, an golden opportunity for some spontaneous fun that we simply could not pass up.  So the family went on walking, and my brother and I started gearing up for an afternoon of jumping.

The high jump

The high jump

My brother is much more photogenic than I, as well as much braver

My brother is much more photogenic than I, as well as much braver

A Schmetterling (butterfly) friend I made while waiting for my turn to jump

A Schmetterling (butterfly) friend I made while waiting for my turn to jump

An exhilarating experience

An exhilarating experience

Basking in the glory of a perfect afternoon

Basking in the glory of a perfect afternoon

We spotted the police patrolling the waters in the boat.  He sailed towards us and yelled, “Springen Sie?” (“Are you jumping?).  I was ready to flee the scene until he pointed to the bridge overhead and said something like, “Sie koennen von oben!” (“You can jump from up there!”).  Probably the best experience I’ve ever had with the police while abroad. Not every place I visit leaves me with the desire to return, but Austria has had me dreaming of my next trip there since I left last July.  So many lakes to swim in, so many mountains and forests to hike through.. Is it summer yet?

Vicarious travel // POSTCARDS 2014

Summer = adventure.  In a few weeks, I’ll be on the road to the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and possibly somewhere on the East Coast as well.  After that, I’ll hunker down here in Indiana and finish up my undergraduate degree.  Besides some day and weekend trips, I don’t see myself traveling very far in the coming year.  So until graduation, I’ll have to get by traveling vicariously through the blogosphere and the postcards of friends and family.  Here are a few favorites from my collection:

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Hearing from fellow travelers makes me happy.  Until I can go on some adventures of my own, I’ll be living through you, so show me your corner of the world – comment with a picture, a video, a story, a destination, a link, or anything else you can think of.   Happy travels!

 

Home Base // WEST LAFAYETTE, IN

“Home” is a concept I struggle with.  Is home where I was born?  Where my family is stationed?  Where my parents are from?  Where I go to school?  Where I go for the holidays?  For military brats and other transients, there is simply no easy answer to the question, “Where are you from?”

While I can’t tell you where home is, I can tell you where I am right now.  I live in a college town in northwest Indiana called West Lafayette.  I’ve lived on both coasts of the USA, I’ve lived in the South, and I’ve lived in both Asia and Europe.  As you can imagine, I experienced a pretty serious case of culture shock when I moved to the Midwest two years ago.  I don’t know the first thing about corn or soybeans and I’ve never played Euchre.  I’ve never lived so far from hills and mountains and water.

You might think Indiana would bore me after having traveled all my life.  Well, sometimes it does.  But a true traveler knows how to adjust to his or her surroundings.  A true traveler finds wonder in any place – even at home, even in Indiana.

So I’d like to share a few highlights of the Greater Lafayette Area, starting from my window.  Call me boring, but one of my favorite pastimes is sitting by the window, watching the world go by and the seasons change.

Humid summer

Humid summer

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Frosty winter

Damp autumn

Damp autumn

And just outside, there’s plenty to do.  I make at least one cafe trip a week, usually to a little place down the street called Greyhouse.  They serve smooth-tasting fair trade coffee and boast an amazing selection loose leaf teas.  It’s a great place to read, study, or just sit and relax.

Himalayan Gold and my favorite book

Himalayan Gold and my favorite book

Once in a while I venture down the hill for a stroll around town.  It’s small and quiet most of the time, but the old brick buildings and colorful storefronts are worth the occasional visit.

Colorful downtown Lafayette

Colorful downtown Lafayette

If you only have time for a short visit in Lafayette, check out the town’s favorite local landmarks.  Grab a burger and some ice cold root beer at Triple XXX.  My favorite menu item is the Duane Purvis, known by some as the peanut butter burger.  Don’t knock it ’til you try it!  Also spend an hour or two wandering around Von’s shops, where you can find pretty much anything: books, records, trendy clothing, beads, incense, cards, toys, comics, you name it.

The Duane Purvis All American

The Duane Purvis All American

Von's shops, a West Lafayette landmark

Von’s shops, a West Lafayette landmark

Also worthwhile is a visit to campus, which is where I will be for the next two weeks finishing up school projects and studying for exams, along with the other 40,000 or so students enrolled at Purdue.  Wish us luck!  I can’t wait until the end of the semester when I can finally get back to enjoying all that our quirky little town has to offer.

LONDON 2014

Give me a campsite in the woods over a swanky downtown hotel any day.  I crave solitude.   Forests, mountains,  rivers, wildlife and fresh air make me happy.  Crowds and buildings, on the other hand, not so much.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the rich history and lively culture I find in city travel, but a day or two  is often all I can take before I start fantasizing about escaping to a desert island for some peace, quiet, and good quality alone time.

London is an exception.  I promise you, no matter who you are, no matter your background, your personality or your interests, London has at least 10 museums and 5 events and 20 restaurants that you will LOVE.  And a weekend won’t be enough.  Stay a month, at least.

Like my Venice trip a week prior, I found my airline tickets through RyanAir for about 40 Euro round trip.  And again, I found a great deal with Generator at their flagship location in Bloomsbury.  I cannot recommend Generator enough for solo travelers.  Safety, security and cleanliness are top-notch with this chain and with prices as low as 10 pounds a night, the price is unbeatable.

Now, on to the fun stuff!  I opted out of the hostel breakfast this time around and instead made a Starbucks run to fuel my travels.  Tall orange mocha for here, please!

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Orange mocha, a regional (and deliciously sweet) Starbucks menu item

London was rainy, as it often is.  Perfect for museum-hopping.  Museum 1 awaited me just two blocks from the hostel: Waitrose.  For those in the know, Waitrose is a grocery store chain in the UK, but I like to think of grocery stores as  warehouse-sized museums of food and culture that double as extensive gift shops.  I made mostly practical purchases, like nuts and fruit for snacks and breakfasts, but I couldn’t leave without splurging on some cola-infused raisins.  Most of my food experiences in London were pleasant.  Cola raisins were not.

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Cola-infused raisins.  Yes, they exist.

As you might have guessed from my gravitation towards things like cola-flavored raisins, I have a penchant for “weird.”  If you’re curious like me, you’ll love Hunterian Museum in Camden.  You’ll find everything from iridescent beetles to 18th century medical specimens to a reconstruction of the 7 ft. 7 “Irish Giant” Charles Byrne.  The Hunterian Museum does not allow photography, so you’ll have to take my word for it and visit for yourself!  Did I mention entry is free?

Another great (and also free) museum is the Grant Museum of Zoology in Bloomsbury.  Make your way through a maze of displays of neatly organized skeletons, bones and preserved animals.  Take in the enormity of the broad antlers of the Irish Elk or “Giant Deer” and not just one but three elephant skulls.  Before you leave, step into the Micrarium, where Grant holds its tiniest wonders.

A neatly organized set of bones

A set of bones in the Grant Museum of Zoology

The Grant Micrarium

The Grant Micrarium

The Micrarium

Close-up of the Micrarium

After a delicious lunch of soup and bread at Pret a Manger, the rain let up and I headed towards Trafalger Square, a tourist favorite. The fountains and statues of Trafalger square are a feast for the eyes.  I couldn’t resist a selfie with my personal favorite, pictured below.

Hahn-Cock in Trafalger Square

Hahn-Cock in Trafalger Square

The London of days past had an unfortunate reputation for bland, tasteless food.  Today’s London is foodie heaven.  The international population is huge, and the overwhelming variety of food choices reflects it.  Three meals a day was not enough to scratch the surface.  Japanese, Italian, Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, British, American… the list goes on and on.  To maximize my London food experience, I made a quick trip to Chinatown to stock up on snacks.  Red bean mochi, dried sweet potato, watermelon seeds, matcha buns, mmmm….

Chinatown snacks

Chinatown snacks

As adventurous as I am, I passed on the “Sliming Herb.”

Sliming Herb?  No thanks.

“Sliming Herb”

Sadly, my time in London came to an end much too quickly.  Like my Venice trip, this was a journey I made on my own.  Unlike my Venice trip, I stepped outside of my introvert comfort zone and made a few friends in the process.  I met a Brit who was in town for a mandala tattoo by a well-known Japanese artist.  I met an Argentinian on his way to Switzerland for an Erasmus program.  I met a half-Portuguese, half-Russian polyglot taking a vacation from his job at a travel agency in the Netherlands.  For 19 years I had completely overlooked the social aspect of travel, sometimes out of shyness, sometimes because of the language barrier, sometimes out of absorption in only my own travel party.  Meeting these fellow solo adventurers changed my mind.  I can’t wait to continue travelling, collecting stories and sharing my own.