Category Archives: General Travel

New year inspirations

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” — Freya Stark

“The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.” — Paul Theroux

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Sights along the drive

In today’s world, there are so many modes of transportation. Planes allow people to cross oceans and continents in mere hours. Boats let people sail around the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. Trains can transport people as well as goods in quick times. With all of these ways of getting around, why do people like me still do the old-fashioned road trip?

Because there are some things that can only be appreciated by driving. Because there’s something about feeling the wind in your hair while your windows are rolled down.

Take for instance, the Blue Star Memorial Highway in California. These highways are designated memorials that pay tribute to the American armed forces.

If we had flown across the country, we would have missed seeing this green lake, so green that the surrounding trees seemed brown and dark by comparison.

The green of the pine trees seems faded against the backdrop of a green lake.

Had we not driven, we would have missed this lone peak covered in snow.

Sometimes, the point of travel is not in the destination or the end point. It’s about the journey. The getting from one place to another. The sights, the smells, the process.

Above all, it’s about living in the moment. Appreciating the beauty of the world.

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the greatest airport idea

It’s been about two months since I’ve stepped foot on a plane. I’ve been a little nostalgic, to tell you the truth. The thing about traveling via planes is that there’s often a lot of down time that you have to plan for, even if you have no bags to check. It’s nearly impossible to predict traffic to and from the airport, hard to say how long security will take, and goodness knows how big of a terminal you’ll find yourself in!

I came across these images on a recent memory trip through my photo albums. You’ll never guess where I was, so I’ll just tell you. This is a courtyard in Barcelona’s airport. Yes, ladies and gents, there is an open space for passengers to sit once they’ve made it through security.  You can buy some ice cream from the Haagen Daaz, read your papers, or just bask in the Spanish sun.

For someone who didn’t get to go to the beach due to weather reasons during her time in Barcelona, being able to relax here for the 45 mintues before boarding was just wonderful.

I’m off to Munich today, write more later. a+!

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Looking back: my 7 links

One of my blog friends, James, from Plus Ultra, has nominated me to participate in TripBase’s “My 7 Links” project. The premise is simple:  Select 7 of your favourite posts in different categories, and tag up to 5 of your fellow bloggers to do the same. 

I think this is a brilliant idea to allow bloggers to think about their work and to connect to others who are also carving their niche in the blogosphere.  So without further ado, here are my 7 links.

1. Most beautiful post: Duck, duck, swan.

In April of 2011, spring came to Lyon. The greys of winter disappeared; the flowers started to bloom, and I was overall an exceedingly happy person. Things in my life were going really well and I was finally starting to be perfectly happy in my adopted home of Lyon. I wrote a post called duck, duck, swan on how I really want to take time to smell the flowers in the future.

2. Most popular post: The three coolest murals in Lyon.

One thing that Lyon is really famous for is its abundance of murals! From murals about famous Lyonnais people to books to just random murals painted on the sides of buildings, Lyon has plenty. I blogged about 3 of Lyon’s most famous murals back in April 2011 after I hosted some of my college friends, and for some reason, this post keeps getting hits!

3. Most controversial post: Greves (strikes) in France.

Back when I first arrived in France I experienced one of France’s most famous cultural elements: the strike. Whenever the government proposes something that does not resonate with the ears of its people, it seems as if all the French turn out to the streets to protest. I’m not here to argue the politics of what happened last fall (the retirement age was moved up from 60 to 62) but it was quite an experience trying to get places when all the trains kept being canceled!

4. Most helpful post: Lyon good eats-The Bouchon

A bouchon is a typical Lyonnais restaurant. It serves food that is heavy on meat and fat but all in all, it’s delicious. I wrote about my experiences with this Lyonnais comfort food and this has become one of my more popular posts. If you’re ever in Lyon, you must eat at a bouchon- after all, where else can you eat tripe, fish dumplings, and mustardy salad all in one meal?

5. Most surprisingly successful post: France’s next Elite models.

When I was out doing shopping one weekend afternoon, I had no idea that I would run across a model casting at Lyon’s largest mall/shopping center. Elite Model was casting and subsequently, the mall was packed with people! I whipped out my trusty camera and started taking photos for the blog. I had no idea that this short post would still be getting hits from search engines today!

6. Most underrated post: Travel abroad vs. living abroad.

About halfway through my stay I had this minor crisis. I was living in Europe and wanted to take advantage of all the countries at my doorstep (literally!) But at the same time, I was just beginning to form real friendships in Lyon and also was starting to find out more about the city than what tourists usually see. So this is a post where I wrote about how Lyon is beautiful. I mused about whether the travel was worth it because I was having a good time in my homebase. I was surprised that this post did not get as many hits, but maybe that’s because posts with lots of photos and stories about travel are more amusing!

7. Post I am most proud of: Letter to a college graduate.

This is a letter I wrote to myself as my time in France was wrapping up. I left France a very different person than the person I was when I first graduated from college – this may be a banal statement but it is very true. I experienced a lot of things that I never really expected to go through, and some things that I faithfully planned for did not end up the way I expected it.

Passing it on:

1. Emilienne at Bring Le Pain is one of my personal friends (and is also featured on this blog at times!) We went to college together, were in the same sorority, etc, etc. She is currently living many a girl’s dream in Paris, the city of love and amour. In her blog, she details her many weekend travels around Europe and also has a really great travel CV as well.

2. Linds from Greetings from the American girl has a marvelous blog about life as an American expat in France! She moved to France to be with her now husband and writes with a witty style. She keeps it real about her experiences in Paris but also has many tips on how to stay Americanized in France.

3. Cathy at La Prochaine Fois has been all around the world it seems. From teaching English in Evreux, France for the past two years to her current location, Taiwan, Cathy writes about travel, food, and the beauty of the world. Her blog inspires me to go look at the vast world with open, open eyes. If her blog doesn’t make you want to visit each destination she’s been to, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

4. Sasha at Flip Flop France is a young American student in Lyon, France, who moved across the pond for love. Sasha has one of the most helpful blogs about Lyon out in the blogosphere. From advice on how to deal with the markets and buy cheap groceries to advice on seeing a doctor and even a gynocologist!

5. AJ at Feel Too Good has a wonderful photo-blog that captures images from India to the United States. Her blog stays true to her motto of “every photo has something to say” for she captions all of her breathtaking images with great descriptions. Each time I visit her blog I learn something new.

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Letter to a college graduate

Dear Minh,

You’re about to embark on what can really only be described as a life-changing, soul-searching, and incredibly personal year.

There are so many things I wish I could tell you now that I’ve been here a while it’s time to go back to the USA. It’s funny. I don’t feel so different from you back when you were booking your flights. But something has changed – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is so utterly different. I wish you knew all this before you got on your flight in September; of course that is nearly as impossible as going back in time. So I want to share with you the things that we’ve learned about living abroad and traveling over the course of this year. I hope you don’t ever forget them.

I want you to remember to pay it forward. You’ll never be able to pay it back to those who changed your life. But what you can certainly do is pay it forward and hopefully impact other lives as well.

Living abroad.

Nine months is simultaneously a long time and a short time. Revel in the opportunity to spend this much time outside of your home country.

It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to feel incredibly lonely at times. Being an expatriate by definition means that you’re not at home but you don’t quite fit into your new country either. Just use these feelings to encourage yourself to explore a new culture.

You will meet lovely, welcoming friends. You will also meet those who are not as wonderful. Treasure the friendships you will make, and try not to worry so much about the others. Not everyone is like you.

Your American family and friends are only a phone call away. You will learn who your real friends are this year. Some of the relationships you maintain will be surprising to you. But if your friendships can survive the Atlantic separation, you’re doing pretty well. Keep up with your blog. It’s the easiest way to share what your new life is like.

You will start thinking like your French friends sometimes. Sometimes, you’ll even think in French. It will creep you out when you think, “j’en ai marre!” instead of, “I’m bored!” There will be a point when you start understanding everyday French conversations and when you pick up a newspaper or book and are able to understand it. One day, you might go see a French film and be surprisingly delighted at how much your comprehension has improved over the span of just a few months. At some point, your horrid American accent will slowly go away – it’ll never truly disappear but it will improve.

If work doesn’t go to your liking, make your job work for you. Use the time to learn about current events, the French language, and personally develop yourself in other ways.

Your experience working abroad will be distinctly different from those of your friends who study abroad. Neither of these types of experiences is “better” persay. They are just different. You will be incredibly immersed in your new city’s culture and all your friends will be French, not American.

You will eat more delicious things than you can imagine. You will also be surprised at how excited you get over stinky cheese, kirs/kir royales, and breakfast pastries. The produce you will find at the markets will make you actually want to learn to cook. You’ll start thinking that 1 hour is the minimum appropriate amount of time needed to eat lunch (it really is), and that food should always be savored and not rushed. You find it odd if you don’t finish a meal with cheese and tea or coffee.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

Travel.

The New York Times Travel section and Lonely Planet guides will be your best friends. You will probably be surprised at how you pore over these, day-after-day.

Keep up a blog. You’ll want to show those you love what you’ve seen. Bring a travel journal with you on your adventures. You’ll want to remember the names of the cafés you went to and the foods that you ate.

Go visit those cities in France you’re interested in. Go to the cities in France that you haven’t heard of before. Don’t restrict yourself to large, famous cities – go explore the small towns and medieval villages; go to the mountains and the countryside. If your friends invite you to their vacation homes, go!

Don’t get wrapped up in the mentality of having to do the Grand Tour of European Capitals. Conversely, do try and visit the other countries that you’re interested in.

All cathedrals start looking the same after a while. Don’t let your trip turn into an “abc” voyage – another bloody cathedral. However, for some reason, seeing castles never makes you think, “oh, another bloody castle.”

Don’t be afraid to stay in hostels and to meet other travelers. You will meet many nice men and women traveling on budgets like yourself. Even though you prefer to sleep in silence, staying in a hostel will allow you to not feel so alone when you travel by yourself.

Speaking of traveling alone, don’t be afraid of going places by yourself if you can’t find a travel companion for your trip. You’ll be thrilled when you realize that means you can wander off into whatever gardens or alleyways you find. When you randomly meet travelers abroad, you will find that you two have so much in common just by being two wandering souls. You’ll meet, have a coffee together, maybe exchange contact information, and then continue along your own paths.

When you do travel with other people, do things that make both of you happy. Otherwise you’ll have a miserable experience. Be flexible. Everything you do you have while traveling you will remember, whether it is in your travel journal, in your photos, or in your blog. Don’t be afraid to try something new or to expand your comfort zone.

You will be shocked at how much you like going to art museums. You’ll be even more shocked when you don’t really like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre but fall in love with Van Gogh in Amsterdam, Monet’s Nympheas at the Orangerie (Paris), and go gaga over the Prado’s Goya collection in Madrid.

You’ll need to bring your camera battery charger everywhere with you, but sometimes you’ll be out of luck if you don’t have the right adaptor.

Go places, but don’t forget to truly live in your city. If you feel overwhelmed by all your travels, take some time to read a book in a café while sipping a tiny French espresso.   Don’t forget to live and to relax. There’s no way that you’ll be able to finish all of France, much less Europe in such a short stay. Living in another country and experiencing its oddities and customs is a life-long process.

Don’t feel like you need to see everything in Europe and don’t be worried that you didn’t. You can always come back later.  Knowing you, Minh dear, you will certainly find your way back to this continent again.

Congratulations, Minhzie. You made it.

Love,

An older, hopefully wiser form of yourself.

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we’ll walk in fields of gold

SPOTTED: fields of gold.

WHAT: specifically, these bright yellow fields are covered in colza, a plant used to make colza oil. The stark yellow contrasts so much with the duller green of the fields and the light blue of the late afternoon sky.

WHEN: Friday, April 15, 2011.

WHERE: Somewhere between Lyon, France and Strasbourg, France.

REFLECTION: There are certainly advantages to taking high speed trains, such as the 2 hour TGV between Paris and Lyon, but sometimes a 5.5 hour train ride along the Rhine is absolutely breathtaking. You just can’t have this on a high speed rail network. The train ride between the Rhone region and the Alsace region has awed me every time.

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culture reflected through airplanes

I flew across the ocean again on Saturday- probably my last time before coming back to the States for good. I had a rather interesting set of flights; since I booked my tickets through a Star Alliance carrier, I ended up flying on two different airlines – Swiss Air and US Airways.

My first flight was a 7 am flight from Lyon to Zurich, operated by Swiss Air. I had high expectations since it was a European airline. When were still waiting to leave the gate to taxi to the runway, the flight attendants walked around offering everyone a piece of milk chocolate. Um, seriously? It was 6:50 am. I’m glad I took one since that was apparently the only food they would be giving us on the flight. Really? It was definitely a breakfast worthy flight. I’m very glad I stopped by the bakery in the Lyon airport to get my croissant, otherwise I would have been quite hungry off of a small piece of real Swiss milk chocolate.

We landed in Zurich and I was greeted with this scenery-mountains as far as you could see from the airport. The skies were a little cloudy, but oh, the blue was so bright.

Switzerland, you're such a beautiful tease, with your beautiful snow covered mountains.

The next leg of the trip was the big one, the one where I went back across the pond. This flight was operated by US Airways. I knew I should not have expected much from this flight, but I was still so disappointed when the beverage carts came around and they tried to charge 7 USD or 8 CHF (Swiss Franc) for a bottle of wine or beer. And during the snack service, after they passed around the free complimentary pretzel bag (how American!), they walked around with the real snack cart. This one had the pringles and the chips, all for the nice price of 3 USD or 4 CHF!  Lovely. Since when did people charge for food or drinks on a 9.5 hour flight around the world? I mean honestly.

Way to live up to the stereotypes of Switzerland and America, Swiss Air and US Airways. Now I’ll forever remember that Switzerland is all about chocolate and that America is too cheap to give free snacks and alcohol on transatlantic flights.

A plus.

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