Tag Archives: 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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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.


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.


An older, hopefully wiser form of yourself.

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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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Air France

Something I’ve learned through my travels is that it is very possible to learn about a country’s culture by travelling that country’s specific airline. Perhaps this is a sentiment that only holds true for my adopted country of France, but for my business trip to the states this past week, I was blown away at the gourmet food that was served on Air France on both legs of my journey. Of course, the typical beverage services were offered so I will not mention the drink carts here, but I think the other stuff is worth at least a mention. Keep in mind that we were travelling ECONOMY class. I can only imagine what business or first would have been like. I hear it’s a full French meal that includes an amuse bouche.

LYS (lyon) — CDG (paris): early morning flight with petit déjeuner

  1. for breakfast, we were served our choice of a croissant, a pain au chocolat, or pain aux raisins.
  2. It was served with coffee, hot chocolate, or tea to dip in.

These pastries were not individually wrapped; instead, the flight attendant just offered us a box of pastries and told us to pick out what we wanted. I imagine this means that the pastries were freshly baked because all french people know that you can’t serve croissants that were baked over 24 hours beforehand.

CDG (paris) — BOS (boston): trans Atlantic flight with a déjeuner (lunch).

  1. we were given a MENU so we would know what we were eating.
  2. we started with an apératif of champagne
  3. the salad (entrée)was a coleslaw of cabbages and smoked salmon (saumon fumé)
  4. main course (plat) was our choice of a creamy chicken pasta or hachis parmentier (beef and mashed potato pie)
  5. of course, we were served our choice of white or red wine (or both!) and we were offered boxes of little french baguettes
  6. we also had a slice of camembert cheese also with bread if we so desired
  7. dessert was a tarte normandie – apple tart à la northeen France style
  8. we concluded the meal with a digestif, our choice of a poire william or cognac (or both!).

You see that bread and cheese and wine are integral to french culture if that is what they serve on their planes. I can’t wait to see what Air France is going to serve on my return flight from BOS to CDG this Sunday.

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winter wonderland

I wavered for a long time on the title of this post. The alternate title for this post would have been “why I love trains” but I think the title I eventually settled on was better.

We had our first snowfall in France this past weekend. I seem to have followed it around as I scampered north to the Alsace region of France – the part that borders Germany and Switzerland. I had a 4 hour train ride up to Mulhouse on Sunday. And below, my friends, is what I saw, under grey skies filled with endless clouds.

This was my first impression of the French countryside under a blanket of snow.

A little while later, we started following this river.

A split second later, another shot-

I wish I knew the name of this river, but alas, I don’t even know where we were when we passed by this area. Nonetheless, I think it would be brilliant to live in one of these quaint little villages.

Maybe in one of these houses?

I think the views during the winter would just be so phenomenal from these hills.

These photos seem so ephemeral to me. I have no doubt that when I take the same journey north up to Strasbourg in a few weeks, I will pass by the same river and the same homes. But will I recognize these places again? The chances of that happening are so slim. But never fear, I will try my hardest to keep my eyes open and inquisitive on the ride, if only to capture fleeting moments like this on a train.

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