Top 10 Free Things to Do in Nashville, TN

It’s no wonder that Nashville is considered Music City. The entire metropolis permeates with music and arts. If you are around or in town, be sure to stop by these top 10 free things to do in Nashville, Tennessee, put on a pair of boots, and go honky tonkin’! 

“So honky tonk means white people hitting it hard?” – Dev, Master of None

To those who have seen this episode, kudos, I love this show! Master of None was where I first saw clips of Nashville, it seemed fun! I’ll be the first to admit that country music/living is not my style, and was unsure of how I’d feel about Nashville! But.. you never know until you try, right?

Turns out, Dev (Aziz Ansari) was pretty on point. Nashville has many, many things to do during the day. That aside, the city really comes alive at night

We had so much fun discovering the quirks of our new home. As always, I’ve come up with a budget friendly list of things to do in this new city.

Things to Do:

#10: Opry Mills Shopping

If you’re into shopping, this beautiful mall has a huge inventory of places to shop. The store is definitely decked with Christmas decorations and music- point! Highlights are advertisement of leather boots for buy 1, get 2 free! Don’t forget to stop by the stalls, where they give out delicious free samples of chocolate fudge!

#9: Opry Hotel Gaylord Resort

Right across the parking lot from the Opry Mills Shopping Mall (or take the closest walk from the IMAX theater) is the Opryland Hotel. We were recommended this spot to check out from our AirBNB host.

The hotel features 3 magnificent domes, each one with their own special attribute. Upon walking in, we weren’t even sure we were allowed in there! The place was very beautiful, hotel rooms surround the artificial tropical environment.

 

  • Delta Dome – a manmade river, where you can pay to take a river ride through the hotel; a really cool water show fountain that comes every hour or two!
  • Magnolia – pool (outdoors) and bar
  • Conservatory – an indoor jungle; very cool exotic plants (I found this out when I poked at one that oozed sticky stuff on my hand)

This hotel is comparable to the majestic hotels in Vegas (just without the casino, hehe). If you’re in town, do check it out!

#8: Walk on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

It is completely worth it to see Nashville lit up during the night. It takes about 30 minutes from one side to the other. We took fantastic photos of the opposing bridges and the Nashville skyline!

The nice thing about this bridge is that there are no cars allowed on it.​

When you get to the other side, keep an eye out for a mysterious elevator that takes you to the Cumberland Park, there was live music as well! This is an excellent place to go to take a break from the loud music downtown.

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#7: TN State Museum

Nashville’s Tennessee State Museum and Capitol Museum are free and pretty close to each other. This is a great place to learn more about Nashville’s culture and history. But look out, they’re shutting the state museum to relocate to a different location, so some of the artifacts are not in display.

While you walk around, also look out for this cool diagonal crosswalks, which were everywhere downtown! Reminded me of Shibuya Crossing in Japan.

#6: Parthenon in Centennial Park

Definitely come check out the full-sized replica of the Greek Parthenon. The closest thing to being in Athens itself!

#5: Radnor Lake State Park

After staying up an unhealthy amount the night before, you can recover the next day by taking a lovely stroll through Radnor Lake with its beautiful hikes.

Also a great opportunity for some photography!

#4: Bi-centennial Park

Don’t forget to visit this park in the middle of town, a beautiful stop for a day trip.

While you’re there, don’t forget to catch the bell towers as they go off! It rings every 15 minutes, but the hourly tunes are even more magnificent.

#3: Farmer’s Market

We loved the farmers market for its outdoors-y indoors feel. Visit to the Picnic Tap for the board games and a delicious Flight of Tennessee. There are also tons of other restaurants and an International Market, where I bought yummy persimmons.

#2: Nightlife: Live music!!

You can’t miss the Honky Tonk Highway/Music Mile/Downtown on your visit to Nashville.

It’s hard to imagine any other place like here, except for perhaps New Orleans, where bar after bar right next to each other plays live music through the night, every night. But there it is, on Honky Tonk Highway. The amazing thing is there are no cover fees anywhere! Let’s go honky tonk!

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You can’t miss the Honky Tonk Highway/Music Mile/Downtown on your visit to Nashville.

It’s hard to imagine any other place like here, except for perhaps New Orleans, where bar after bar right next to each other plays live music through the night, every night. But there it is, on Honky Tonk Highway. The amazing thing is there are no cover fees anywhere! Let’s go honky tonk!

  • The Big Bang Bar– this dueling piano bar is very popular among locals, and rightly so. We even got to hear some ragtime piano! The energy felt in the music is evident in the artists makes this top my list of favorite places on Honky Tonk highway.
  • AJ’s Good Time Bar – a 4 story bar karaoke spot with a rooftop bar! This place has great music and great energy. Love their karaoke DJ! <3 Do visit! 
  • Ms. Kelly’s – located off of the Printer’s Alley, but completely worth the visit (only several blocks away) for a night of fun karaoke. A lot of college students and locals come here to let off steam. 
  • Nudies Honky Tonk – frequently advertised as the longest bar in town. True to the fact, it is very long, with several floors of live music.

For a less touristy destination, visit the Printer’s Alley for some cool live music at night. For late nights, make sure to go with other people or take precautionary measures!

Literally every other person is a performer, a to-be performer, or incredibly musically talented.

#1: The Bluebird Cafe

If you’re in Nashville and skip everything else on the list, you must visit Bluebird! I have never cared too much for country music (though I’ve never hated it), but Bluebird had changed me. You’ll frequently hear that Bluebird was where a lot of singer/songwriters started off at.

The storytelling songs made me laugh, cry, and reflect upon life more than I’ve ever had while listening to music. These artists really knew how to tell a tale.

There is no cover fee to listen at Bluebird, however you must buy $10 in foods. We had a baked brie and a local dark beer, which were both delicious and completely worth it!

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Where to Eat:

True to our budget oriented selves, we cooked almost through our entire trip in Nashville. Because we were vegetarian, it is a little bit difficult to find a place that served us dishes that weren’t sides.

However, we found a vegetarian restaurant The Wild Cow, which had 5 star quality foods! The portions were very large for its price, and we were very happy customers. Be aware that it is very busy and you might have to wait 30 minutes to an hour without reservations.

Where to Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb with our lovely hosts Shuo and Ron. It was a great location!! It was only $40, way cheaper than all other options we had. The room was very neat and cute. He had left us free granola bars and water bottles. The kitchen and living room were very homey. This is possibly the best Airbnb I’ve ever had! If you’re interested in booking with him, here is is page link! I 100% recommend. 🙂

Sign up here for your next Airbnb and get $40 on your trip!

Get Around:

We primarily used our car during the day. Parking is free for most everywhere except for downtown. Parking downtown is free after 6pm.

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While there, we found that even on a weeknight, bars were packed! Even more coincidentally, we were there during the CMA’s (Country Music Awards, as I found out). Streets were completely blocked, people pouring out, performers mingling with visitors in the glow of the night. It was a quite sight. 

Should you go to Nashville?

Well, it depends. Do you love listening to live music? Meeting nice people? Having a good time?

I think there’s something for everyone in Nashville. You should at least give it a try and you may find that you like it as much as we did. <3

Cheers!!

 

Summer Reflections!!!

Hi everyone!!! ~~~

I’d like to thank all my readers and travel blogging companions for all the wonderful interactions through the summer. This community has been so helpful in shaping my goals, interests, and writing. I’m incredibly happy to have kick-started my blogging project over the year, and writing has been a constant source of stress relief and support.

I like to write reflections from time to time to remind myself what goals I have and where I’m at in my life. During these time in my moods, I tend to get existential, and rant about all the things I could do better. Let’s see then, shall we?

Some mini-milestones I’ve passed this summer!

Took a family vacation (We haven’t had one in years! Post to come…) to Florida, gulf side. Wow, are the beaches there beautiful.

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Started my 2nd remote job. My office is set up right in my bedroom. I was so surprised when I received my equipment set: laptop, backdrop, camera, etc. I am so thrilled to be part of this work-from-home team. Honestly, before I got my 1st remote job as an English instructor, I never knew these things existed.

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Saw Queen in New York! Who knew that I would get to be in the same breathing space as the rocking legends? Adam Lambert was fantastic. They threw a spectacular show unlike any other concert. I was up and dancing pretty much the whole way. While we’re there, we also saw some awesome shows: Regina Spektor, Dear Evan Hansen, Great Comet, Waitress

 

Went on a 3-day timeshare vacation. We’ve all heard of the horror stories and how people get stuck in these presentation for 4+ hours! We got out more than alive, loved it, and will be coming back. Aaaaand, we didn’t buy any timeshares. 😉

Hope you enjoyed my shiny new adventures! Don’t forget to let me know what you think.



Fun travels aside, these few months, I’ve been struggling with some thoughts and issues that I’d like to share. Maybe I’ll have some input from all of you.

I’ve pondering whether or not I could be doing more, career-wise. Should I give in to one of those boring 9-5 office jobs, but pays more and is more professional?

Doing something to make a difference should be today’s form of currency.

Graduate school? I’ve been constantly asked whether or not I want to go. It’s not that I don’t want to go, but the risk of spending $100K on getting a piece of paper when I could be learning from all these available online resources doesn’t make sense to me. I was fortunate enough to graduate college without debt, and I love that. I’m able to use all my hard-earned money for things I love to do. But then, there’s always that pressure from people to get an advanced degree. What’s the right answer?

I could improve….

I’m so sorry, everyone! I’ve been so off my game with keeping up with blog posts. Honestly, doing a weekly post is harder to keep up with than I could ever imagine. I admire my fellow blog challenge friends who schedule their posts. To make up for it, I’ll share this picture

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Another thing I need to keep in mind: languages and learning! I’m constantly trying to remind myself to practice my Spanish and Chinese, the languages I learned in high school and college. There are so many free online resources, yet I’m so lazy and complacent, that I’ve been slowly forgetting all these awesome lessons.

Also, music! I keep forgetting in my moments of most stress, I could be learning some new tunes on my uke, guitar, keyboards.


What are some of your goals and reflections the last few months? Cheers!

Watch Broadway Shows for Less than $40 in New York City

What are my plans tonight? Oh, nothing, just going to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

What are my plans tonight? Oh, nothing, just going to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


… Sorry, everyone. I’m really not that stuck up, I promise. I assume this is why a lot of people hate Broadway, thinking it’s where rich people go to lavishly spend all their money away. Well, I’m not rich. Not even close.

Of all things I could be doing, I never thought I would become an avid Broadway-goer. I have always loved musicals like Grease, Phantom of the Opera,Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, all Disney movies, and most recently, La La Land, but I have never been much of a theater-goer. But really, if the system allows me to see world class Broadway shows for cheap, I can’t say no… Part of me doesn’t want to write about this as it only increases competition, but I feel like it would also ignite bad karma.

We’ve all heard of Broadway before on TV shows, movies, media, etc. Broadway is a famous street that runs down New York City, known for its theatrical performances. It is one of the top tourist attractions of all time. The Broadway theater district runs from around the 42nd to the 57th street, where the famous Times Square draws millions of visitors from all over the world every day.

While Broadway shows typically range around $100-$500, we buy them at $20-$40 per ticket.

  • In the past five months, we have gone to over fifteen Broadway show tickets consisting of several Tony Award-winning & nominee musicals and other fantastic plays and off-broadway productions:
    • Hamilton ($200- face value)
    • Dear Evan Hansen ($200- face value)
    • Lion King ($30)
    • The Book of Mormon ($50)
    • Phantom of the Opera ($28)
    • Chicago ($37)
    • Kinky Boots ($42)
    • Cats ($40)
    • Sunset Boulevard ($55)
    • School of Rock ($37)
    • Miss Saigon ($39)
    • Present Laughter ($42)
    • Aladdin ($30)
    • Six Degrees of Separation ($32)
    • Avenue Q
    • In Transit
    • Arthur Miller’s The Price
    • And counting…

We did it, you can do it too.


Scoring these cheap tickets takes strategy, patience, research, and here is the secret (by order of preference):

Digital Lottery

Enter daily on each Broadway show’s site for a chance to win tickets.

  • This method is the holy grail of winning lottery tickets.  Most Broadway shows offer the option on their home page to sign up for digital lottery. We use Broadway for Broke People for the list of all the shows, their sites, lottery time, show location, and cost. The site doesn’t have everything and some information may be delayed, but is the source of a majority of our lottery wins. Since we live in New York, there is literally nothing to lose. Our best times of winning are week nights and matinee shows.

General Rush/Student Rush Only/Last Minute Purchases

Come to the box office when they open (generally around 10AM), and buy their first 30 tickets at rush prices (usually around $30-$40).

  • With popular shows, people will line up 1-2 hours earlier than box office open time. With not-so-popular shows, they may still have rush tickets available throughout the day. Personally, I’m not an early riser and usually not motivated enough to come to the box office at their opening time, but I have walked up to the box office an hour before showtime to ask for general rush tickets before. We purchased awesome seats to Miss Saigon using this method.
  • Student Rush Tickets, as the name suggests, are rush tickets only available to students. I keep my student card in my backpack at all times in case I ever feel like doing it.
  • Last minute purchases are super badass. You stroll up to the window at the very last minute and tell them that you’re only willing to pay for the show at their rush prices (even if their rush tickets are all out). The representative at the window will try to sell you the ticket at face value price, but you will stand strong. If the curtains open in the next minute, sure enough, they would rather sell you the seat for $30 than leave it empty. We bought our awesome Chicago tickets with this method.

In Person Lottery

  • This was the lottery system before digital lotteries took over. There is a 30 minute window, 2 hours before showtime, where you can put in your name to enter for a chance to win cheap tickets. These tickets are a little bit cheaper than digital lottery and requires you to be present at the time of drawing (exactly 2 hours before showtime). Wicked does daily in person lotteries, to which hundreds of people enter in. We haven’t won one yet, but hopefully, will sometime soon. 😉
    • [UPDATE!] I wrote this post earlier today, and we won lottery tickets to Wicked! The experience of entering lottery in person is so exhilarating- a feeling not so evident in winning/losing digital lotteries. I anticipated the winning so much, I felt that I was on top of the world! I was the 2nd person chosen for the winners. We paid $30/ticket in cash and went with it. It was a fabulous show, and well worth the money.

Standing Room Only (SRO)

Exactly as it sounds, you will be standing for the entire show. I’m not much of a stander, so I wouldn’t ever do this. The only one we have tried to do this one for is the famous Hamilton (which can cost over $1000 for a good seat). We came really close to getting the tickets, but not good enough.

Today Tix phone app

Awonderful resource for buying cheap tickets as well. Their prices are only a smidge more expensive than lottery tickets, and guarantees you a seat immediately. Today Tix also offers lottery chances exclusive to their app.

  • Because Today Tix already gives you seat sections to choose from, the cheapest areas are usually rear mezzanine (alll the way back), I think that lottery and rush tickets gives you a better seating option.
  • You also have an option to sign up to popular digital lotteries on there, with and increased chance of winning if you share on your social media sites!

Cancellation Line 

Finally, we’ve done a total of two cancellation line tickets, for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen- valued at $400 to $1000 per ticket. These shows are typically booked out for months in advance.

  • By sitting in line until the show starts, you get a chance of buying the ticket at face value (cheaper than they could be, but not that cheap). 
  • CONS: This is my least favorite method of securing tickets, because there is no security. You might be sitting 7+ hours for nothing. I’ve met people who have waited 12+ hours in the day to see it.
  • PROS: If you only have one day to see the show and can dedicate an entire day to see it, then go for it. These are amazing shows and completely worth seeing. 

General advice that will help you score tickets:

  • Enter for digital tickets every day. Rain or shine. I can’t stress this point enough. You can’t win if you don’t play!
  • We visit Broadway for Broke People religiously for an easy access to the list of all the shows that have digital lotteries, the cost, the location, and where they will be.
  • Keep weather in mind. The more miserable it is, the better your chances are to get tickets.
  • We’ve bought last minute cancellation tickets through Craigslist before. It’s super sketchy with all the cheap tickets going around, but if they’re offering to meet you at the theater and wait for you to go in, it’s probably legit

That’s all folks, thanks for reading!! Best of luck in your Broadway adventures (and please, please let me know if my post ever helped you)!!! 

Practical Things to Know About Moving from a Small Town to New York City

This is a message to those who wish to move to the city, but are scared of the dreaded unknown. This is a message to parents or friends who have loved ones wanting to move to city and are afraid for them.

Everything will be okay. 

When I decided to move to New York City, I have been discouraged extensively by my family. It’s expensive, I couldn’t make it. It’s dangerous. People are cunning and untrustworthy. It’s too far from home and family. The list goes on. I have lived in small mountain towns for most of my life. For the past 10 years, I dreamt of seeing the world and living the city life. I wanted to try new things and make a change on my own. Family duties and education had tied me to these mountains for longer than I would have liked. I moved to New York without friends or family there. I moved without a job paved out or plans. My biggest fear is that if I don’t do it now, then I would never do it. 


Now, living in the Big Apple for almost a year, I can say a few things about the city- things I learned, things I wish I knew, and things I want to say to encourage people to make the big step.

Yes, it is expensive, but there are ways to cut the costs. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle for most people who choose not to move to NYC. To be honest, I was quite scared myself. With a few lifestyle changes, we learned to live well in this expensive city. Between my boyfriend and I, we spend about $1000-$1500 a month on everything. We lived in Manhattan and Staten Island in our time in New York.

We don’t buy furniture. All of our furniture have been given to us for free. We have brought home 50″ TVs, mirrors, beds (with bedbug covering), tables, chairs, shelves, printers, you name it. Free stuff are given every hour of every day. People in New York live lavishly and constantly move; we are always able to find people who want to make sure their things are going to good use. Our top three resources are Craigslist, Freecycle, and the curb. 😉 

Check out my posts on free things to do in NYC: Food and Music Festival in Brooklyn and Medieval Festival in NYC

Check out how I supplement income by working from home: Earn $18-30/Hour Working from Home & On the Road

Prepare for culture shock. Coming from a small mountain town in North Carolina, I have always been a minority. The two most exotic cuisines are Mexican foods and Chinese foods. New York City is a wonderfully cultured city. Here, in just one short subway ride, I see people from all walks of life.

Your apartment will be twice the price for half the size. For about $1000/month, we share an apartment with three other people. Our apartment had one small kitchen, living room, and bathroom. We had a 12×12 room with a narrow hallway. Luckily, there are ways to minimize furniture space through wonderful inventions.

Check out cool compact bunk beds storage furniture here!

It was much more expensive than our apartment in North Carolina, but we loved the area. Walking around the area, we can find food from all around the world. People were friendly and positive energy was in the air. Of course, the further from the city, the cheaper the apartment gets. You can easily find $500-600 apartments in the Bronx, Morningside Heights (north Manhattan), Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

Public transportation is the best transportation. This is a huge change from where I lived. Instead of relying on a car to get me places, I learned to use the intricate subway system of the city. I love it. I can walk, bike, ride the subway/bus/ferry anywhere I choose. We purchased a CitiBike annual membership for $160, and it became one of our favorite free things to do together.

It’s fast and people are motivated. Either move fast or get out of my way. New York is truly the place to go to get things done. People here have places to be and things to do. It doesn’t mean that they’re rude, it’s just the lifestyle and culture of the place. I have never felt so alive and pumping with productivity as being in the city. While apartment searching, most of the roommates requirement listed “must have a job, cannot be a couch potato.” 

I have never gone negative with my finances while living here. The atmosphere and constant get things done attitude had inspired me to try so many different things. At one point, I had started to work three jobs at a time, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to try all these new things at once.

It’s a hub of constant activity and diversity. From the food, to the streets, to the clothes, to the people, New York has it all. The city is the ultimate place to experience new things. There are so many things to do. So many things to look at. Christmastime is a sight to behold. Halls decked with beautiful light and music shows. Fifth avenue bustles with shoppers and tourists. People laughing and smiling. Ice skating (please don’t go to Rockefeller) is amazingly romantic.

There are a million ways to meet people. Meetup, Couchsurfing, and Eventbrite are great resources for meeting and networking with people. From nerdy game nights to exercise groups to a party night out, they have it all.

Convenience, convenience, convenience! 

Dirt cheap international flights are a subway ride away. I subscribe to the The Flight Deal newsletter, which features daily dirt cheap flights from the biggest cities in the United States to all locations around the world. I have seen tickets to Europe as cheap as $100 dollars round trip! New York is the home to extensive interstate bus systems. For travels 5-20 hours away, I like to take an overnight bus as it is much cheaper than a plane ticket. For a five day getaway, we took a bus to Montreal, Canada for only $50!

Internet speeds are superior than the mountains. With little to nonexistent internet in the mountains, New York City is a wonderful heaven of free WiFi. All over New York are LinkNYC network that provides free google maps access, internet browsing, phone calls, and a phone/tablet charging station.

East Harlem has a wonderful network of stores nearby that made our stay heavenly. Just a few blocks walking offers parks, cheap grocery stores, laundromat, subway station, CitiBike racks, Indian cuisine buffets, karaoke bars, and more.

All things nature are man-made. With an area of about 460 square miles, New York City is home to over 30 parks, and of course, the famous Central Park. However, unless you go to upstate NYC, don’t expect to find any beautiful national parks and nature preserves. New Yorkers love to wind down at local parks after work by taking their pets out for runs, spend family time, or sit and read outside.

In contrast, NYC is home to the most impressive architectures. Some of my favorites places to admire beautiful architecture are:

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Brooklyn Promenade View of Manhattan
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Brooklyn Promenade Sunset View
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Brooklyn Bridge
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Times Square
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High Line

It was a combination of all these things that made me fall in love with the city during our first visit. There is nowhere quite like the energy of New York.


It was never our plan to stay in New York City permanently. Though there is a heartache to think that we will not be biking the beautiful Hudson River Greenway a month or a year from now, we both know that New York is not where we will will grow old. There is always a charm in the small town where I grew up. Each sunset over the Appalachian mountains, each beautiful autumn changing color, the fact that everyone knows everyone else, the hospitality and true friendships are endearing to me.

So, what’s next?

New York will always be a special place to me. It is here that I had truly become independent, and I had come out a better person. I’ve learned so much from the city. I’ve learned to speak better, to work efficiently, to think on my feet, to opened my mind and eyes, to get lost and explore. I have gained the experience I had set out to find. I can feel that it is time to set on to another adventure. We’re hoping to go to a few more Broadway shows and museums, then return home for some time to visit family. In the next year, we hope to pick up and start backpacking Asia.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and some love. <3

Guest Post: An Open Letter to Chicago

Dear Chicago,

Don’t tell Atlanta, but you’re “home” to me right now.

I was never able to explore the inner workings of that city like I have for Chicago. The past three years have been shaped by weekend outings, long L rides and some unforgettable memories. From Lollapalooza to the 606 to Portillo’s, my Chicago adventures have made me a huge fan of the city.

Sure, I don’t actually live downtown, but I’m a college student living next to a huge city. I consider myself very lucky to be able to balance a traditional university experience with the exciting, fast-paced nature of Chicago.

I remember three summers ago when I visited for the first time, the way the metallic curved metal strips of Pritzker Pavilion jutted out, unlike anything I’d seen before.

Just from walking through the streets, I can see Chicago’s industrial history reflected in many building architectures – the dark, heavy iron metals, the sturdy brown bricks…

And sure, every city has its own unique take on food, but Chicago is something else. Who says you need to leave the country to try international cuisine? So many neighborhoods each with its own specialty: Ukrainian, Mexican, Vietnamese.

Over the years, I’ve come to get to know Chicago’s different neighborhoods through the food, the shops and events that take place. Argyle, for semi-regular bowls of pho and cheap groceries, Belmont for wacky consignment stores and eccentric fusion food, and Avondale for standout high quality meals and eye-catching architecture. And of course, seeing the sunshine reflect off the Chicago River as it cuts through the city still catches my breath every time, as though to give me a visual break for when the grey and tan concrete buildings start to blend together.

I’ve loved getting to know your nooks and crannies through concerts, comedy shows and restaurants – the intersections marred with construction work and the L stop stations that I’ve come to recognize from afar. You’ve given me a greater appreciation of public transit and made me a strong advocate for the L – even riding downtown feels like a visual adventure, watching the scenery morph from suburb to city. I can sense the different Red Line stops even before the train begins to slow down.

When Evanston starts to feel monotonous and the people start to look homogenous, you’ve given me an escape, a place to go when all of the purple starts to bleed together.

I don’t know where I’ll end up after I graduate, but Chicago you set the bar really high.

Catherine


Thanks for reading!! See more of Cat at her awesome blog here.

I’m always looking for travel stories to feature. Please shoot an email or leave a message if you have a tale to tell!

10 Things to Know About Norway

Norway was recently declared the happiest country in the world, and rightly so. I love Norway for so many reasons. The country is gorgeous, and the people are free spirited and friendly. But my main reason was that it had ignited my love for traveling.

When I graduated high school, my uncle, who had immigrated to Norway over 20 years ago, insisted that I visited him in Norway.

Being born and raised in the Philippines, we’ve only talked to each other on the phones. I would talk to him for hours- about everything: my goals, school, culture, travels. When I expressed interest in Norway, he said that if I wanted to visit, he would fund my trip for me! Back then, I knew next to nothing about travel. Looking back, I realize that he must have spent a fortune for me to visit and do all the things we did.

I packed enough clothes for the month that I will be staying there. I chose them carefully, so as to not embarrass myself in front of people. I will be flying by myself to a foreign country, and will be meeting my uncle for the first time!

Culture

In the short amount of time I was there, I learned so many strange facts about the country. Here are some of my impressions:

Oslo airport smelled weird. That was literally the first thing I noticed about Norway, so I thought I’d write it down. If anyone else had been to Norway and experienced the same thing, please let me know so that I know I’m not crazy.

There were 20 hours of daylight. This is something I learned in books and school, but never expected to experience in real life. Depending on the time of the year, it never really gets dark in Norway. Mind blown. That aside, people really get up around the same time, and sleep relatively early. I had blinds in my room to keep the light from coming in.

Norway is expensive. Norway’s cost of living is almost twice the cost of living the United States. My uncle owns a repair shop in a mall, and I found out his shop was actually the size of a walk-in closet! He pays about $2000 per month to keep the shop, and only has the bare essentials for his tools and a small fridge and microwave.

Norway has very strict driving exams, and it is ridiculously expensive. There are four painstaking training stages to go through before he could even take the practice test. Each stage costs money. The entire process of training and test taking costs about $3000! If he fails any of the stages, he will need to repay and retake the training/test. To think I only spend $25 to get my driver’s license. My uncle had studied for years, and was very careful so that he doesn’t fail; while I was there, I hoped to help him study for the test. It was all in Norsk- bummer. We took the bus to get places. I didn’t mind that. I lived in a small town, I had to drive to get anywhere. Public transportation is a nice change of pace. I also noticed that instead of highway exits, Norway has roundabouts. Definitely different.

People are tall. Very, very tall. I come from a small town in the United States, so I don’t get exposed to that many tall people (or people, really), but I know when people are extraordinarily tall. The average height for a Norwegian male is almost 6 feet!

Norsk is unbearingly difficult to learn.  While I was there, I picked up on a few phrases, destination names, etc. I was very impressed that my uncle could speak it so well. Luckily, Norwegians also spoke English. Here is how to say, “How are you? Nice to meet you!”

Korleis har du det? Kjekt å treffe deg! 

People are overly generous. When I arrived in Oslo, my uncle and his friend had come to pick me up at the airport. Since my uncle didn’t have a car, his friend agreed to help drive us around on our road trips, while also taking a vacation himself. My uncle’s friends went out of their way to make me feel welcom. They took me out to restaurants, cooked me food, bought me clothes, and (my favorite) complimented me often! They showed me so many places; I felt incredibly spoiled. I went to my first IKEA there (again, I lived in a very small town). At the time, I thought it was a Norwegian mall- turns out it’s Swedish. It’s less cool, now that I’ve been to several IKEAs in the United States.

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Our backyard view of the lake

Geiranger Fjord

In 2005, Geiranger Fjord was listed as an UNESCO’s World Heritage Site for its beautiful fjord, carved in by glaciers. It is the host of several impressive waterfalls, including the Seven Sisters Falls.

Eight hours drive northwest of Oslo, Geiranger is surrounded by snow-covered peak, cliffs, wild waterfalls, and deep, green vegetation Geirangerfjord is a sight not to be missed.

The fjord was absolutely stunning. We had magnificent views of waterfalls, birds, mountain goats, and the valley. Here are some of my photo highlights of the trip:

The images speak for themselves. I felt as if I was in a lost paradise, a sort of part of heaven that I never knew about. We hiked, climbed, and trekked through places where we were completely in nature.

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View atop Geiranger.

We cozied up in this wonderful cabin for our stay there. Cooked ourselves a hearty meal as we spent time together.

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We rented a beautiful log cabin for the night.

Animals in the mountains seem to have no regard for tourists. While we were driving, a goat came by and stuck his head in our passenger window! Can we keep him please?

Vigelands Parken

Home to over 200 sculptures by Vigeland is Vigelands Parken, accomplished over a 10 year period. Vigeland Parken is also known to locals as the Sexy Park or red light district. When my uncle said that he was taking me to a red light district, I was both surprised and distressed. He told me that this park is just full of people, hanging around, naked. He refused to tell me any more.

It turned out it was just a park full of sculptures. /exhale/

Why was it called the red light district? All his sculptures are nude. Not many parks showcase nude sculptures, but this in this park, it’s the main attraction.

The park covers the Circle of Life- birth, childhood, young adult and finally old adult. It tells stories of betrayal, passion, hate, jealousy, mother’s love, regrets, death, and so many other emotions. Each sculpture seemed to tell a story.

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Together, we stand? (and make a good frame for a photo)
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The pondering twins.

There were so many fountains and gardens in the park. Walking through the entire park could take up an entire day!

Over the years, I’ve been to countless of parks, but I can honestly say there are none quite like this one. Impressive and unique. Worth the time to visit!


What made Norway a truly happy country to me is this: Despite the expensive cost of living, people have are carefree and don’t get stuck up on money. They spend on what they want, they are generous, friendly. My uncle, who owns a small repair shop in a mall, was so generous as to buy me a plane ticket to give me this amazing experience. His friends, who are perfect strangers to me, brought me shopping and bought me clothes, took me out to restaurants, made me food, and let me stay in their houses. It shows me people here just thought and lived differently from home. They care more about the other joys in life. So I ask myself this? Why can’t we all do that?

Looking forward to my next trip to Norway. 🙂

07/12


Thanks for reading!!! Questions? Comments? Let’s chat below! <3

Couchsurfing: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers for Free!

People often ask me how I can afford traveling to so many places. Truth is, traveling doesn’t need to be expensive. In my recent post, I wrote about ways to travel cheaply. In this post, I would like to elaborate on Couchsurfing, and how it changed my life.

Couchsurfing a worldwide cultural exchange program that brings together millions of hosts and travelers. It is popular with budget travelers and backpackers, and the best way to connect with locals and experience culture. Best of all, it’s a free service for all! Especially in expensive cities where hotels costs over $100/night, Couchsurfing is a lifesaver.

I have been using Couchsurfing since 2014. My first host was an expat living in Hong Kong. He lived right by the beach, where he took us on a walk to see the sunset. We had long conversations about everything. He also gave us very helpful advice while exploring Hong Kong. I felt very safe and welcomed in his home, my only regret being that I wish we could have spent more time with him! Since then I have couchsurfed in Washington, DC, Chicago, Asheville, Honduras, Guatemala, New York, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and more!

My Awesome Experiences with Couchsurfing: 

Authentic Culture and Traditions. Living with locals is the most immersive way to experience culture. We share a house with the host, sometimes with their family and pet, too! Once we’re in the house, we’re practically family.

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Here’s a photo of my Couchsurfing family in Bacalar, Mexico

Depending on the host, we sometimes also get an opportunity to meet other couchsurfers, too! Hosts often take surfers to local hangout spots (which are especially fun on national holidays) that we would never have found on our own.

Couchsurf hosts live a very interesting lifestyles. Some have traveled all over the world, some choose to live off-the-grid, and some who love meet and talk to people from all over the world. They love sharing their local culture, history, and traditions. There is always so much to learn.

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Staying at a Couchsurfing off-the-grid cabin powered by solar panels in the Big Island, Hawaii.

In Hawaii, we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful host at an off-the-grid log cabin in a tropical jungle. We were surrounded by fruit trees on all sides. We were able to walk around and pick passion fruits, jackfruits, coconuts, and other fruits to eat (for free)! We did not have access to the internet, which gave us an opportunity to write on our journals.

Food. I’ve eaten the most authentic foods while Couchsurfing. They are usually foods that locals would eat every day, and are incredibly tasty. In return, we would share our own traditional Vietnamese/American foods!

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An El Salvadorian dish prepared for us by our host’s mom.

Contributing. Unlike hotels and Airbnbs, Couchsurfing is a community. Once you stay with them, you’re like family. That means you do dishes, chores, and cooking. One important principle of being a surfer that a host once taught me, “Carry your own weight.” Contribute and don’t be a free loader!

Things to Know:

  • Read the hosts’ profile. Do not copy and paste your request to all hosts. Most host will ignore your request if your message is not personalized. They will usually include something in their description page saying, “Please include ___ in your request or I will ignore it.” It is their way of telling whether or not you’ve visited their page.
  • Be careful when sending Couchsurf requests to stay. It is important to check the hosts’ previous references and description page. Not all hosts are good people. We’ve met a host with strange behaviors and opted to leave the same night. That said, 99.9% of hosts are fantastic people. I like to see a full profile, complete with photos and hobbies so that I know more about the host before staying.
  • Each hosts’ preference is different. I’ve seen hosts who only host single travelers. I’ve seen hosts who live the nudist lifestyle (and will be walking around naked in the house). These information are written in their host profile upfront.
  • You may be sleeping on the couch, floor, bed, or tent. Over the years, I’ve met hosts who literally just have a space to set up on the floor.
  • Hosts may not spend time with you. Hosts have busy lives. They might not be there during work hours. In these cases, I like to spare my nights to spend time with hosts and get to know them.

Planning a trip and want to try Couchsurfing? Check out this article on 16 Places to Couchsurf in 2017.

What’s on your travel list this year? Please leave questions/comments below and let’s exchange!

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Stop for a Moment: Get Off Your Phone

Ever since returning from Central America, I stepped out of a world where no one needed technology to a world where everyone is dependent on it. I want to share a couple of stories.

Story of my Life 1: As a backpacker, I loved my phone. I took all my photos on it. Ancient ruins, traditional clothing and cultures, foods, landscape- you name it. I used it to keep in touch with my family and friends. One day, on our way to a new destination in Guatemala, I reached for my phone in my backpack strap- it was gone. Time stood still. It felt like one of those horror movies, the moment where you realize going down the cellar was a huge mistake. I thought back to the last few hours. I racked my brain until I remembered that earlier the same morning, a friendly Guatemalan man had helped me lift my backpack to the overhead compartment on the bus. He must have felt through the pockets and grabbed my phone, along with all my money in it. How typical of a tourist can I get, letting a stranger handle my bag? I went through the rest of the trip without my brand new iPhone 6 and credit cards. In the chaos of my panic, I suddenly felt a strange calmness. I was jolted out of that world and the need to be constantly connected. No more distractions. I was not going to be that one person checking my Facebook every second, because I didn’t have the ability to. I can immerse myself in the beauty that I was surrounded by. I can actually listen to people who are talking to me. In the end, the only truly important items that I missed were my travel photos.

Story of my Life 2: After two years of not seeing each other, I have finally reunited with my close friend from college. We’ve known each other for 5+ years, sharing countless of memories with each other. We had so much in common: parents, interests, personalities, cultures, etc. I was really excited to see her. After weeks of planning our reunion and $200 spent for an entire weekend in a Hyatt hotel in downtown Atlanta. When it was finally time for us to hang out and catch up, it became glaringly apparent that she wouldn’t stop using her phone. I’m not being over-dramatic. She literally checked her phone every other minute, responding to her boyfriend or chatting up her hometown friend, who both have seen her a few days ago. I tried to engage her with questions about her life, enticed her with all the different things we could do with our night out, etc. She would talk to me absentmindedly and half heartedly, then checked her phone every so often. I suddenly realized that I was interrupting her time with her phone. I brought my concern to her attention, told her that I was upset. She insisted that she didn’t think it was a big deal, that I should have told her earlier, that I was over-reacting. I was heartbroken; it was so unfair. It has now been almost a year since I have spoken to her. I took it to heart never to get carried away with my nose stuck in a device that I don’t see the people around me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. Without it, I would be very lost- literally and figuratively. Luckily, my body has a very natural way of preventing me from getting too technology dependent.  I get a headache from staring at an electronic screen for too long. I think that everything should be enjoyed in moderation. When you can’t control your urge to check your phone every 2 minutes, it becomes a problem.

  1. You become rude to people around you. Are you really even spending time together at that point?
  2. You become reliant. When used excessively, the devil’s box ensnares the mind. Just like the moment I realized I lost my phone. People don’t know how to cope without it. Technology, used excessively, dulls the mind, making it inept. How can you learn or remember anything when a quick Google search answers the question? It kills the curiosity that drives people.
  3. You become constantly unmotivated and distracted. When was the last time you read a book without being interrupted by the buzz of your phone and a quick Facebook check-in? Are you playing video games through the night and neglecting your dinner? Do you binge-watch TV shows on Netflix?

What am I going to do now that I get off my phone? Surprisingly, not all people in NYC glue their faces to their phones in the subway. They do a variety of things- listen to music, read, or just sit and relax before/after a day of work. In a fast-paced, high efficiency environment, I figured they learned that it is a good balance in life.

  1. Spend time with people. They’re much more interesting in person than on your chat box, I promise.
  2. Read. It might be cliched, but reading is awesome in many ways: improves focus, jogs memory, expands imagination, relaxes the mind, and takes you on an adventure! You then can talk to people about it.
  3. Play an instrument. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with work, TV, life, I like to switch gears and play some music. I play the same chords on the ukulele with every song. It’s not hard to learn. It’s just nice to hear something real once in awhile. I also like to sing. 
  4. Take a walk. I’m not a very active person on a daily basis (though I should be), but I love taking a refreshing walk once in awhile.
  5. Board games. We have an entire shelf stacked up to the ceiling of board games hoarded from over the years. Play them!

I recently bought my little brother a Minecraft Book Series Boxset for his birthday. If you have any kids in your family, you’ll know that they are obsessed with Minecraft. At the time, the box set competed with Pokemon plush toys, cool gadgets, and new clothes. As months passed by, all his toys became boring and he began to read the books. Through them, his imagination was able to expand. He still reads and re-reads them because he loves the world so much. It was not video games, but his imagination had taken place of his other senses. Imagination is the most powerful thing you have and it must be nurtured. 

I’m still trying to teach my little brother and sisters to take enjoyment in doing other things than technology. Learning to balance relationships, self, and technology is very important in happiness. Don’t let your phone take control of you. You take control of it.

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Review: Sunset Boulevard Starring Glenn Close on Broadway for $55

There’s nothing like waking up Saturday morning and finding out we won lottery tickets to the Broadway production Sunset Boulevard for $55. Widely considered the highest level of commercial theater, we were quickly hooked on Broadway performances. Typically, Broadway shows usually range about $100-$500. In the past four months, we have won over ten Broadway show lottery tickets consisting of Tony Award-winning shows Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Chicago, Kinky Boots, and School of Rock. Because we win so many shows in a short amount of time, when we won Sunset Boulevard this morning, we had to decide whether it was worth going to. Never hearing of that production before and running out of time to get there before the show, I concluded it was too much hassle to buy the tickets.


With that decision, I went about my usual morning routines. Out of curiosity, I did a casual internet search, which surprisingly revealed that the production is a revival from an award-winning Tony Musical in the 1990s with the award-winning lead actress herself performing today. Gaping at the success of this strange title, I only had minutes left before the purchasing window closes, so I quickly bought the tickets. We had just enough time to grab $1 pizza for lunch, then rush to the theater.

Sunset Boulevard tells a story of a Hollywood silent film fading star, Norma Desmond. She yearns for the glory days of the past, taking the audience through her emotional roller coaster of frustrations, insecurities, and everlasting hope. Wishing to make a “return” to Hollywood, Norma writes a script for a film. When a struggling screenwriter, Joe Gillis, accidentally stumbles into her mansion, Norma hires him as her editor. She then takes him on her roller coaster ride of a life. Without much freedom to decide his fate, Joe is forced to accompany Norma through her bouts of depression, bordering insane.

The female lead role is played by Glenn Close, the same lead actress who won the Tony Musical Award for Lead Female Actress twenty years ago. Close performed a chilling performance, her character was so fragile, determined, hopeful. Since her performance twenty years ago, Close came back with a role that matches with Norma Desmond. Both were huge stars in the past, and now coming back into the performing world. Her performance was so real, it was difficult to tell if it was Norma Desmond or Glenn Close who was on the stage. Her special return to Broadway did not disappoint. Halfway through her song “With One Look,” her voice cracked, as if it was too much strain on her. Whether it was a real strain on her voice or if she is just in character as Norma, it was hard to tell. However, it was unanimous by the end of the night that her portrayal of Norma is ever more fragile and bitter than twenty years ago.

In all the hype of Glenn Close’s performance, it might have been easy overlook other supporting characters. However, it was Michael Xavier, playing Joe Gillis, that took us into Norma’s mad world. It felt as if I was following Alice and her bizarre, wonderful and terrifying journey through Wonderland. Xavier did a fantastic job depicting the lurking horrors of the mansion through the song, “Sunset Boulevard.” Max, Norma’s trusted companion and butler, shows undying loyalty towards her. He supports her by directing all her performances and protects her from people who may hurt her.

Sunset Boulevard embodies several key themes. Norma is consumed by her desire to be famous. She is blinded by that, only believing that she is still the star the audience is waiting for. She had manipulated Joe into staying with her by threatening to suicide. Max lied to Norma to save her feelings from getting hurt. Hollywood was fake, and the fakeness is contagious; to be part of it, Joe becomes fake too. Unbeknownst to him, Joe becomes a victim of the Sunset Boulevard life.

Like many other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions such as Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Cats, his musical score turned Sunset Boulevard into a masterpiece. There was that familiar Webber signature in the theatrical  music that made it his own. While listening to the music pieces, I detect similarities that could be something from Phantom, School of Rock, and Cats.

Despite my skepticism of the musical in the beginning, I was immensely glad that I had purchased the tickets. The chilling, theatrical musical scores spun with story will keep me humming for the weeks to come.

Free New York: Food and Music Festival in Brooklyn

New York is a giant hub of free things to do. There are always free performances on the sidewalk of busy streets in NYC, from street art to live music, from people on stilts to break dancers on subways, there’s a little bit of fun for everyone. My recent favorite is listening to a saxophonist who plays breathtaking music every morning on my way to work on Wall Street. Of course, I can’t always rely on chance to lead me to these free things to do. For free, fun, non-spontaneous day outs, I rely on a mailing list that updates me on big events that go on throughout the week.

This weekend, we decided to go to the Atlantic Antic Festival and Americana Music Festival right in the heart of Brooklyn. A mash of food, music, clothing, and culture can be found at the annual Atlantic Antic Festival where 10+ blocks of Atlantic Avenue closes for hundreds of vendors to sell and thousands of people to walk through.

Being vegetarian travelers, we have learned to never expect people to have food for us. Especially in Central America and Southeast Asia, “vegetarian” can mean very different things.  I have always been very careful while eating out. One can imagine my distress when I found small chunks of chicken in my “vegetable” soup (being vegetarian isn’t really popular in Central America). That said, having food protects us from making rash and costly decisions to buy everything in sight and smell.

We walked past cool buildings full with graffiti of New York innuendos.

At the end of the Atlantic Avenue lies the Americana Music Festival. How awfully convenient for us. We were met with an amazing view of the NYC Skyline, a great crowd in high spirits, and a band that is already playing music. It was a beautiful day to be outside, good thing we came prepared.

 

With our books and sandwiches, we found a spot to sit and picnic while listening to great American Folk music playing. Brooklyn Americana Festival celebrates its 2nd anniversary this year; the festival features country, blues, and folk music in streets, bars, and piers.

As I listened to a banjo player telling the story of an interactive West Side Story, I thought of how a year later, we are once again gazing at the Manhattan Skyline as the sun sets. About this time last year, we had began our road trip around the United States, New York being one of our first destinations. I had fallen in love with the city and was determined to return. Now, here we are, living the dream life. Work on weekdays, travel in one of the world’s most touristic cities on weekends. We’ve come a very long way to get here, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

About 2 hours after settling down, we were greeted with a beautiful view of sunset over the Manhattan skyline. Growing up in the mountains, I never knew what skyscrapers were, or been on subways, or used a bike to get around. Here, in New York, I feel like the possibilities are endless.

The festival was beautiful all the way to the very end. We watched the sun go down as the stage back light and the city skyline illuminate the night sky, a marvelous sight to behold. As the festival was coming to an end, we packed up our things to head home, looking forward to the next adventure.

Floating on the Clouds: Volcán Acatenango

Everyone who visits Guatemala must visit Antigua, and anyone who visits Antigua, must try to climb Acatenango, a dormant volcano since 1972. It is the dream destinations for activities as a backpacker. Cultures, nightlife, colors, foods, nature, ruins… Guatemala has it all! One of the many reasons why Guatemala falls on the top of my favorite list is Acatenango.

Why must you climb this volcano?

Reason 1: Acatenango is a twin peak. That means, sitting right across from it is a twin sister, Fuego, who happens to be a very active and angry erupting volcano. The twin volcanoes Acatenango and Fuego draw hundreds of visits from travelers every day. Fortunately, there have been no casualties of people hiking to see the eruptions.

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Fuego, photo taken atop Acatenango

Reason 2: At over 13,000 feet high, Acatenango is the tallest volcano in Guatemala, and the third tallest in Central America. To put this in perspective, Grand Canyon is only 6000 ft deep. Therefore, scaling it is not for the faint of heart.

Not only is Acatenango very tall, the incline is ridiculously steep throughout the hike, averaging about 20 degrees incline. People who wish to scale the volcano are recommended to join a group guided hike. Cuong and I, being budget travelers and very, very brave individuals, decided to go on this trek by ourselves- no guide.

Going up 13,000 feet stressed the importance of traveling light. I only took the things that I truly needed: cellphone (which unfortunately got stolen on the bus ride there), tent and sleeping gear, outerwear, 4 liters of water (heavy, but paid off), 2 giant bags of red beans, 1 bag of apples, 1 bag of tortillas, and 1 bag of bread. All these things were essential in supplementing our energy. We also invested in two sturdy hiking sticks in preparation for the steep hike.

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This is the outfit I chose for the big hike.

The Hike took blood and sweat to climb all the way up to Acatenango. With the incline, I felt as if I was trying to climb a vertical wall. About 30 minutes into the hike, I was already out of breath. There was still over 8 hours left!

We took frequent breaks, and were able to admire the beautiful views of the nearby Guatemalan cities.

About an hour into the hike, we encountered park officials, who required that we pay an entrance fee of 50 quetzales (about $7, a pretty hefty fee for Guatemala). We thought that they may just be extorting money from us as corrupt officials. So we haggled it down to about 40Q.  It turns out they were legitimate, and were there because they started collecting fees to deter criminals and thieves away from the trail– perfect.

We set off again on long trails of dirt paths, switchbacks into the woods. Once we’re high enough, we started to see beautiful lush green floras. Large vines, thick shrubs, and huge trees surrounded us. The one downside of going on a grand hike without a guide is the inability to know where you’re going.

About halfway through the hike, we were lost. To make it worse, it started to rain. We weren’t going to make it to the peak before nightfall. Thankfully, we ran into two guys who were also hiking to the peak. Misery loves company. We were so happy to meet people who also don’t really know what they’re doing. We set up our tents next to each other and huddled to keep warm and talked through the night. Careful to not deplete our food supply, we restrained ourselves from eating large meals.

The higher we climbed, the colder it was and the thinner the trees became. Pine trees were abundant in this section of the volcano. Soon enough, we reached the cloud forest. It was bizarre to hike through the clouds, and see it around us. I thought of how being above the clouds meant that we can’t be rained on anymore.

Each we start again on the torturous, I would be reminded of why we took the break in the first place. In my head, I was kicking, screaming, and deeply regretted my decision to do this hike.

…. and then…

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Above the clouds!

There it was. A deep rumble coming from within the ground. It’s difficult to describe what I felt at the time. It was a mixture of excitement, adrenaline, and fear. It reminded me of the first time I scuba-dived with a whale shark, completely out of my comfort zone.

It was so large, dangerous and strange, yet so natural and comforting.

We were just a two miles from the lava erupting from Fuego.  We were close enough to hear and feel Fuego. The angry twin sister erupted every five minutes. Every moment I lost hope on this seemingly never-ending hike, Fuego erupted again, and renewed my determination to finish the hike.

Finally, we’ve reached the top! I thought this moment would never happen. Hours and hours of scaling up the massive volcano.

What they didn’t tell us about the peak: it was freezing cold. 

You’d think being on- or near- an erupting volcano would be at least tropical warm. Wrong. There was nothing shielding us from this force of nature. The air is paper thin, the wind is vicious, and it’s absolutely frigid cold. We set up our tent right across from Fuego, seeing first class views of the bright eruptions throughout the night.

That night, we laid wide-awake, freezing, breathing in ashes, and listening to the volcano roar. We watched as the lava fill the night sky with angry, bright red. We were enthralled by the rumble, captivated by the colors, and felt fear of mother nature’s true power. The satisfaction of watching Fuego far outweighs all the hardships we’ve been through. I can’t wait to come back.

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We set up our tent right across from Fuego, giving us first class views of the eruptions.

I would love to hear from you! Please leave your thoughts, comments, questions, and let’s exchange stories!

via Daily Prompt: Climbing

Robot Restaurant Adventures

How often can one say that they’ve been to a robot restaurant? In Japan, the strangest things in the world are easily accessible. As an avid anime and manga enthusiast, I’ve always been fascinated by Japan and its culture. One can say using “unique” to describe Japan is an understatement; Japan comes up with the weirdest and craziest inventions known to the imagination. When I first heard of Robot Restaurant (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like), I knew this was the crazy-Japan-adventure we’ve been searching for. For $40 dollars per ticket, I secured the coolest surprise dinner show for my boyfriend and I on our third night in Japan.

Robot Restaurant was located in Shinjuku- which, in my opinion, is the nerd party central of Tokyo (where you find maid cafes, anime figure collections, manga kissa hotels, pachinko arcades, etc).

Here we are with our very own robots at the entrance of the magical land of robot awesomeness.

Once we passed the entrance, we went down what were probably the best five flights of stairs of our lives. These stairs, walls, ceilings, floors, nooks, and crannies are filled with a million sparkling gems, musical lights, and glittery animations. There was always something to goggle at, and no way to see it all.

If this was all there was to the Robot Restaurant show, I would have already been impressed. But no, this was only the beginning. Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, we arrived at the waiting room before the show. The lounge, if you can believe it, was even more impressive than the staircase.

The bar lounge / waiting room was littered in colorful neon lights. Each table had several miniature robot dinosaurs walking around. While we enjoyed our drinks, we also had the entertainment of a lady-band clad in metal bikinis with wings playing soft lounge music for us.

 When it was time for the show, we were led to another room and were assigned our seats. We were then given our two bento-box meals and two drinks, which were included for us to enjoy while we watched the show.

Dinner items for us vegetarians: sushi rice with sesame seeds, radish, tofu, and fried tempura. As with most bento meals, these were very presentated. The food reminded me of dim sum plates back home. I was skeptical of whether one of the chewy-moist sides was vegetarian, but decided it was probably either mushoom or daikon (radish).

As the show started, we were introduced to beautiful set of drums decorated with dragons and phoenix.

Standing behind the colorful lantern drums are the belly dancers, beating their drums and dancing fiercely. It was an exhilarating and very attention-grasping introduction.

The hour flew by, one performance stranger than the next. I felt as if I was Alice in Wonderland. However, in a nutshell: by the end of the show, we saw Amazonian warrior fights, boxing robots, an alien-eating shark robot, huge motorcycles, a giant snake, and definitely a kung-fu panda warrior. Yes, each of the performers were masked with bright LED lights and accompanied by pounding music. The creativity never ceases; there is always something shiny to look at. I would love to take the kids here one day.

Giant Robots dancing
Robots twirling in their one-wheel motorcycles

Unfortunately, because we were in dumb-struck awe for most of the show, we were only able to take pictures of some of the acts. It was not the most romantic date in the world, but my S.O. and I walked away feeling like champions, having enjoyed a night full of fun, adventure, and feeling like kids again.