Posts Tagged ‘europe’

Central/Eastern European souvenirs

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This most recent trip to Europe allowed me to revisit some places I hadn’t been to in 9 years and also check out new places that have been on my wishlist. It was a lot of fun and I got some gifts along the way to remember each place by!

Our first official stop was Praha (Prague). There were so many artists, musicians, and crafters to be found everywhere. In one of of the shops, I got my first souvenir – a little metal cup. One of the few that wasn’t a glossy finish, which appealed to me.

teal metal cup with owl designs

I liked the matte look and the funky owls!

Then as we were walking across Charles Bridge, perusing the various vendors, I saw a guy selling these adorable paintings! I just had to have one since he had such a fun style and had cats in each piece. This one is perfect because it has the cat couple, plus two extra cats – just like me, Panda, and our cats.

original artwork of prague with cats and hot air balloons at night

I loved that this incorporated cats and had cute little hot air balloons.

Next up was Warszawa (Warsaw), where we explored a massive park and the Neon Muzeum, all the while eating peirogis. I managed to add to my growing collection of TOUS jewelry (this is the 4th piece) and find some local folk art. I’m very happy with the usefulness of the giant coaster, which will be good for putting pots on.

tous onyx bear necklace from warsaw

When we saw a TOUS store at one of the shopping centers, we couldn’t resist. I finally got something from the onyx collection I’d been eyeing!

brightly-colored coaster with roosters and flowers

I originally saw a tote bag with a similar design, but I have so many bags that I was determined to find this look and feel on a different product.

Then we were off to Wien (Vienna) to fulfill my long-awaited dream of seeing the Spanish Riding School. We also went to tour one of Mozart’s homes and the Haus der Musik. When we came across the stalls by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, I found the opportunity to get something with the word “Vienna” on it. I liked the handmade nature of these glass cups that are perfect for holding a tea light.

glass cup for candles with colorful stained-glass scene handpainted on

We had just a few Euros left, but I really liked this one because the name was easily visible (unlike the others where Vienna was along the bottom). We had to pay in a combo of Euros and dollars!

After that, it was down to Split in Croatia. We enjoyed exploring the city of Split, where I found the amazing backpack that is perfect for my needs. We spent a whole day going up to Krka National Park for the waterfalls (freezing cold water, but totally worth it!). And of course, we just had to go out to Hvar Island to check it out. My favorite was going over to Palmizana, a smaller island off of Hvar.

drawstring backpack with elephant design from split, croatia

All pockets open and close with a magnet, which I love. There are side pockets inside as well as zippered areas inside and on the back. All sorts of storage options!

box of lavender buds and essential oil drops, plus bonus pouch of lavender buds from hvar in croatia

Apparently there are lots of lavender fields in the area, so at Hvar I got this adorable box filled with lavender buds. There’s a bottle of essential oil inside as well, to help enhance the scent with a few drops every now and then. The lady kindly gave me a pouch as a bonus.

Finally, rounding out the trip was Budapest, with fantastic views from the Buda side. I loved getting goulash nearly every meal and we got to relax at the Szechenyi thermal baths. Up at Citadella, I saw a tower of mugs (think Christmas tree shape, except everything hanging is mugs) and knew I had to get one. I wasn’t crazy about any of the color combos, so I waited to find them again elsewhere until I decided on this funky one.

giant polka-dotted mug from budapest

My ladybug mug, as it will be known. It’s really a bowl with a handle and I can just about stick my entire face in it.

So these are all the items I have to remind me of this super fun trip to Central/Eastern Europe! I tried to get things I would use and not just stuff to put on a shelf. There’s so much more that I would have liked to have gotten, but that will have to wait for next time. 🙂

European goodies

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Panda and I had a fun time on our tour of Europe and came home with some great items! Most of our focus was on eating local food, seeing the historical sites, and exploring the cities – but I still managed to bring back some things.

bags of pasta, bottle of olive oil, and bar of chocolate from italy
In Italy, I insisted on finding some fun pasta. I had an amazing Milka bar that then prompted the purchase of this giant one. And that bottle of olive oil came from our dinner meal, where the restaurant explained that oil olive is best enjoyed fresh, so when you purchase bread and oil, you get your own bottle to use. Anything unused can be taken home.

chocolate bars, bamboo utensils, mug, hot chocolate powder, and gingerbread from france
In France I had to get something from the Eiffel Tower, as I’m wont to do when I go. Lately I’ve been into unique mugs, so this one with legs caught my interest. At Versailles we had lunch at Angelina and I saw a loaf of gingerbread with honey that sounded good. At Orly airport there was an amazing shop of treats (mostly candy, just the way I like it). I found flavors of Toblerones that I never heard of before! The Oreo Milka looked too good to pass up and the guy kindly offered a discount on the hot chocolate tins, which are gifts for the folks who helped watch the cats while we were gone. Finally, we ate at Exki in the airport and I was a total sucker for their bamboo utensils and grabbed at set to use at work.

empty glass yogurt jars and tea forte tea bags
At the hotel in Paris, they had adorable yogurts in glass containers that we rinsed out and kept, along with fun tea boxes.

sauce bowls, tous earrings, shot glass, and drinks from spain
In Spain our big purchase was the Tous earrings, which is a brand Panda loves because of the cute bear designs. They’re Spanish, so we were hoping for a good selection and were rewarded with not only that, but excellent prices as well. It happened to be located in an El Corte Ingles shopping center that offered a loyalty card for 10% of your purchase value towards the next one. The amount earned from the earrings was exactly enough to get the three sauce bowls – perfect since I’ve wanted that sort of thing for a long time. Then the points earned from that plus 0.45€ was enough to get that shot glass for my collection! Love the bonus items we got. 🙂 The two drinks were from the hotel.

swedish chocolate bar from germany airport
On our way home we had a few more Euros left and one of the only things that we could get for 4,20€ or less was this bar of chocolate (from Sweden, nonetheless)!

The Italian way of life

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After Panda and I got to spend some time in Rome and the surrounding area, we learned a lot about Italian culture. I don’t seem to remember much of it from my first time in the country, either because I didn’t experience things the same, didn’t notice that time around, or forgot after all these years. I mean, it’s been 8 years! So here are some observations about how Italians seem to live their lives – while I still remember them all.

-They say “prego” a lot. Apparently this is a word that can mean many things in many contexts, so it is both highly useful for those who know it and highly confusing for those who don’t. Half the time I was wondering what the prego was supposed to imply in each given situation. The only one I got a hang of was when service folks used it to see if you needed anything. I’m pretty sure Panda used it a few times at times when it made no sense. 😛

-There are a lot of smokers, everywhere. At least they are on the streets and not inside! I’d forgotten how many more smokers you encounter on the streets of Europe and it’s really rather unpleasant. I’m always holding my breath, ducking clouds of smoke, and hoping I don’t stink of it myself by the end of the day.

roma trastavere train station in rome-Public transportation (and life) seems pretty lax. We got on many a train where our tickets weren’t checked at all. Not sure if the underground metro worked the same since we never ended up using that. The schedule generally works well, but the last night, we had a train that was 85 minutes late! At one point I found myself wondering why I wasn’t upset and why nobody else seemed upset either. That also seems to go with the generally lax approach. For us, it was because we were on vacation and just heading back to the hotel. No need to fret. For locals, perhaps they never even considered it a problem.

-Personal space is either nonexistent or like a one-inch radius from your body. I had multiple instances where people got too close for comfort, but they didn’t seem to notice a thing. At first it was just a couple who sat at the same bar stool area that Panda and I were eating at in McDonald’s (yes, we tried a local one). Out of all of the empty areas in the restaurant, they chose to be two seats away from us at the same table. I would have gotten a table to ourselves. Then there was a guy on the bus who swayed with the turns of the vehicle. Sometimes that meant bumping into me, despite the fact that he had a good two feet in front of him and even more to the sides. It was especially cringe-worthy because he reeked of cigarette smells. He also managed to brush hands with Panda when they were holding the same pole. At our stop, we both got off relieved to have some breathing room. Finally, there were the people who sat directly behind us on a long bench even though the entire rest of it was empty. And it was a loooong bench! I mean, you could easily seat at least 20 people on each side. Why did they have to come back to back with us, leaving just inches between our bodies? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too Americanized. Funny enough though, this is something I expect in Asia, so I might not even notice it there.

-Street performers and hawkers are abound. Tons of musicians will perform all over the place and random people walk up to you casually selling battery packs for your devices, selfie sticks, flowers, or toys. For these type of people, the best policy for me has been no eye contact. Once you give them attention, they won’t leave you alone!

-In Rome for sure, but maybe more of Italy, they have little water spigots all over the place, which act as water fountains. The water never stops running out of them and you can go grab a few sips or fill up your water bottle at any of them. In fact, I remember my tour guide from my previous visit mentioning that all water fountains in Rome have drinking water – except Trevi Fountain. So hey, you really can’t go thirsty, can you?

And when it comes to food, oh my! What a difference…

italian outdoor seating on roads-First of all, they have some interesting outdoor seating. Oftentimes it’s a few tables and chairs that are actually on the road, off the curb. In more busy areas, they have a little barrier to create a sort of “room” for people to sit in. This would be life-threatening in the states, but in Italy it’s the norm!

-Just about every restaurant has morning and evening hours, with a break in the middle. Between 3-7, your meal options are very limited, so if you like to have dinner at 5 or 6, you better do your research. Dinners start late and go late in this part of the world. Personally, I’d rather eat earlier and get home.

-As you get each course, they tend to take away the food of the previous course. It seems irrelevant if you’ve still got a hunk of food on your plate. At first we were startled by this, but now I make sure to explain that I haven’t finished. I’m partial to eating a little bit of each course and switching between more than one at a time. This is why I love tapas, izakaya, dim sum, etc.

-This is the land of “beware what you ask for.” They tend to charge for all things, including bread, water, and sometimes even olive oil. If you really don’t care for it, don’t ask for it! Just say no (or no thanks).

ristochicco fettucine and roasted potatoes

I wanted fettucine with a tomato-based sauce, but they only offered a cream-based one that night.

-Menus are quite set (little to no flexibility to request modifications to a dish) and very seasonal – to the point that it’s a day to day, hour to hour kind of thing. That means that you can look forward to much fresher options, but it also means that the awesome picture you saw on Yelp may not be applicable to your visit. (Yes, that happened to me. Sad times.) I’ve seen some restaurants with very strict rules on ordering with no straying from exactly how the dishes are offered. The chefs are in control and rather finicky too. I’m not used to such particular ways and it doesn’t bode well for a picky eater like myself.

-Service is always slow. I’m not sure if it’s because of the relaxed pace of life or the fact that these establishments appear perpetually understaffed. Or if they’re “understaffed” by American standards because everyone takes it slow and they don’t need to go any faster. Either way, we’ve had to plan extra time for meals because we know it will take forever to get our order in, get leftovers boxed, and finally receive and pay our bill.

So there you go! Some of the lessons learned from our observations of how Italians do things. Have you experienced this too? What did I miss in my list?

Escape Monthly November: Hawaii Box review

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This is the first true repeat theme that they’ve done, so of course I was curious to see how much overlap it would have with the previous box. I personally don’t feel this was as good as the first box and especially having received that one, this was rather disappointing. Even just looking at it without considering what I had previously, I didn’t feel like the value and variety were there. I guess I prefer boxes with more smaller items versus a larger-ticket item or some medium ones. I’m starting to carefully evaluate the value I perceive I’m gaining from these boxes to decide how much longer I’ll stay with them. Another box or two that are under par might make me end my subscription, but for now I’m really intrigued with the possibilities for next month’s box.

Escape Monthly is just under $40 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – see end of post) and comes with a variety of food, home, skincare items themed around a city/region. Each box comes with a guide for that area. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral commission program.

escape monthly november hawaii box products showing escape monthly november hawaii box info card escape monthly november hawaii box info card opened with details of products included(click to enlarge and read full messaging)

Everything here was new to me, so that was great for introducing me to different items. I like that some of them went full out with the British look while others are just products you might go for any day as you shop around.

Here’s what came in the box:

Moon Handbooks guide to Maui – Well, at the least it’s good that they didn’t send the same guidebook. Last time I got the Big Island and this time I have Maui, which are perfect since so far I’ve only been to Oahu. With all that new territory still waiting for me to explore, both of the guidebooks I have will be useful.

Hawaiian Host Kona Glazed Macadamia nuts – As always, I’m not into nuts (though macadamia nuts are at least tolerable and even enjoyable at times). What really kills this for me is the coffee flavoring, so I’ve passed it on to Panda for him to eat. I doubt another flavor would have persuaded me otherwise anyway though.

Hawaiian Rainforest Naturals Stress Release Bath Crystals – This was the only entirely new brand to show up and I think it’s pretty cool. I love bath stuff, so this will be great for my next bath when I’m looking to soak away the stress. This pouch is gently sweet and almost reminiscent of baby powder. I find it wonderful that the ingredients are responsibly sourced from the Hawaiian rainforest and I’d love to go there on my next trip. I’m curious what flower essences went into this one, which would have been a nice thing to outline along with the directions for use.

Royal Hawaiian Orchards Kona Coffee Banana Macadamia Crunch – Again with the coffee flavor! I think with one, that should have been enough for this box and they should have included a different flavor. I would have been fine with receiving the same flavor I did with the last box (papaya lime) since that was pretty unique and tasty. Unfortunately, I can’t stand coffee flavored stuff, so this has been put in Panda’s pile as well. Pity.

Honey Girl Organics Face & Eye Creme and Night Creme – This is the exact same thing from the last box. I wish they’d included any other products from this line, since I would have been happy to try those, but I don’t want repeats of the same items! I sure hope someone would want to trade for this. I’ve barely even used the first set since I have so many other products I’m using too.

Personal Paradise Noni Papaya Pineapple shampoo – We received this brand in the last box, but I like that we get to try their shampoo this time. I like how they have very tropically-inspired scents and I’m looking forward to how my hair will smell after this one. I like the packaging for this brand and I like the lotion that I got in the other box, which I’ve already used up. Now this is how to repeat a brand across different boxes.

Personal Paradise Noni Papaya Pineapple body lotion – This lotion is definitely a lighter scent than the coconut lime one I got in the original Hawaii box, but I like it as well. It’s so refreshing and the lotion is a great consistency. It absorbs into my skin really well and softens my hands right away! I’ll totally be using this until it’s completely empty too, just like the other tube I had. I’m glad I get to try another one of their lovely scents.

seashell lei  – The bonus item was again a lei, though a different design. I like the use of some cowry shells to change up the pattern and I’ll add this to my growing collection of seashell leis from Hawaii.

Well, it was an ok box, but I was to feel more excited about what I’m getting. I think something with koa wood would have been cool, like the bookmark I’d bought on my recent trip to Hawaii. What’s your impression of this Hawaii Escape Monthly box? If you want to sign up, try one of these codes (not sure which ones are still active): MYESCAPE or YULETIDE for 20% off the lifetime of your subscription or GIFTESCAPE for 25% off.

escape monthly november hawaii box info card back with preview of next month's box theme of europe

To round up the year is a more general theme, with all sorts of possibilities! I look forward to some European delights. This will help me decide if I should actively consider cancelling this subscription or if I should continue on for awhile. Bring on the good stuff!

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. 🙂 All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

George of Aegina

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guy and girl sitting at outdoor table having tea in greece

A most gracious host.

Meet George. I found myself taking a ride with him on his moped all around Aegina when I was visiting Greece back in 2007. My friend and I had explored Athens the day before and we decided to split paths for the day since I wanted to check out this little island and he wanted to see some museums. After arriving, I took a cute little carriage ride before finding my way to the beach. It was not the most welcoming for bare feet (all rocks and urchins and barnacles) but I insisted on at least getting my feet wet in the Aegean Sea.

pile of about two dozen little seashells with white and pinkish orange stripesThat’s where I met George. He was at the beach, picking sea shells. He liked to collect these cute little pinkish orange ones of a similar size. When he found he could speak to me in English, he was excited to practice. So we chatted, he sharing how I could use these shells to make a nice necklace or bracelet and I learning more about the region. He gave me all the shells we found so I could make something to wear. I still have them, but never quite got around to putting something together.

shadows of two people riding on moped

Our shadows from atop the moped!

He was such a sweet man that when he asked if I wanted to see more of the island, I decided to take him up on his offer. He had a little moped that he drove around and we went off, on the one large looping road that takes you all around the island. We first went clockwise along the coast, checking out cool sights like tables and chairs right at the ocean’s edge, beautiful homes and resorts, and an amazing coastline the entire way. After awhile, we turned around and headed back towards the main area of town where the port was. I can’t remember if we kept going along the other side of the island first or if we stopped for tea, but I think the tea came last. He showed me the teeny movie theater where he worked, a nice little shopping area with many vendors, and some old historical sites. As it was nearing time to part, he asked me to have some tea with him at a cafe right across from port. I enjoyed a nice pot of Greek tea with some random plants in there. When I left, he gave me a slip of paper with his address so I could write to him.

After the excitement and insanity of 5 weeks of traveling throughout most of Europe after that, the piece of paper got put to the wayside and eventually misplaced. I think I might still have it buried somewhere in all my stuff, but I haven’t found it. I always regretted not writing to him while I still had his address and I wonder if he thinks of me (and wonders why I never wrote). I hope he’s still doing well, putting on movies for his fellow islanders and enjoying moped rides around town. I’ll think fondly of him from time to time and send well wishes his way. He lives in a beautiful, peaceful little part of the world that holds a special place in my heart. Thanks to him, I got to enjoy it in a way I never would have otherwise.

The Wanderlust Tag

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Some background (feel free to skip if you’re a busy busy person!)…

The other day, I got a text from a friend (Maven) who suggested I check out Wonderly. When I went, I found they were interviewing Miss Glamorazzi who is apparently something of a YouTube star. In her interview, she mentioned her favorite YouTuber is essiebutton… and that’s how I got to this point. You see, one of the videos that essiebutton posted was the Wanderlust Tag that’s going around YouTube. It was started by amandamuse and I’ve seen some videos popping up with that tag now. Personally, it was something I really liked thinking about and talking about, so I decided to take a risk and film myself in the video. So far all my YouTube videos have been unboxings where I show it from my perspective. I mean, do you really need to look at me as I show you products? I hope not cuz that’s my style. Howeverrr for the tag videos, it would be strange to not talk to the camera and to ease into it, I decided to do it at night when the lighting is more forgiving. My skin is in a horrible state right now and I feel no need to document that.

Ok now the real meat of it:

I liked making the video and discussing the answers with Panda so much that I’m gonna blog about it. After all, I’m a blogger at heart, merely testing the waters of vlogging for now. You can watch the video if you’d like; this time around I will discuss the answers in relation to Panda’s and how our answers may differ (or not!).

picture and shiny seal of visa to study in uk

Big smiles!

1. What’s your most treasured passport stamp?
My answer: It’s actually a visa sticker, which I got so I could go study abroad in the UK my third year of college. That was a wonderful experience and look at how happy I was in the photo!
His answer: Uhh, he doesn’t have one yet! So it will have to be the one he gets when we go to the UK later this year. 🙂 Hopefully we’ll rack up some more soon enough.

2. Can you recite your passport # from memory if asked?
My answer: The first three digits of my old one, but I just got a new one a few weeks ago so definitely no. At one point I could since I was filling it out a lot, but nowadays it’s a distant memory.
His answer: No (I mean, he hasn’t had to use it so…). But he’s probably the type to memorize it before going on a trip abroad, just in case. We shall see when he leaves the country for the first time later this year!

sitting in first class seat of plane with headphones on

If first class was cheaper I’d do it all the time.

3. Preferred method of travel; planes, trains or automobiles?
My answer: Trains are a ton of fun! When I was kid, the ones in China gave out super fun little keychain toys – it was a 3D puzzle that formed a sphere. I loved that thing! And I enjoy being able to get up as I want and enjoy the landscape flying by. I certainly don’t mind planes as long as I get a window seat, but they’re not that exciting anymore.
His answer: Planes for the service (well he’s like a gold or platinum member so he gets spoiled and often gets upgraded to first class free – of course he’d like that!) or a car for the views. He’s never really experienced trains (only short-distance ones) so maybe he’d like that. We’ll see after he rides some more in the UK, but I’d really like to take him on an overnight ride sometime.

4. Top 3 travel items?
My answer: Camera (total photo addict – I’d love a DSLR soon), jacket or blanket (gotta stay warm! and we’re both sensitive to the cold), and toiletries (gotta stay clean right?). I’m totally cool with traveling light since I’m going places to see the places, not to bring all my stuff with me. However, I might need to bring a large suitcase to carry all the things I acquire while on the road…
His answer: Headphones (so he can be in his own little world), jacket (also to stay warm), and phone (to stay connected).

5. Hostel or hotel?
My answer: Hostel if I’m traveling alone, since it’s such a great way to meet people and share experiences with fellow travelers. Hotel if I’m with family or friends, since we’ll probably just stick to ourselves and we can split the cost.
His answer: Hotel! He’s like a gold member with a hotel chain so there are perks plus you earn points. Oh, and he’s never stayed at a hostel.

6. Are you a repeat visitor or do you explore new places?
waikiki beach sand and palm treesMy answer: New places! I am all about new, new, new and trying to hit up as many places as possible while I can. Then when I’m older I know which places offer the experiences I’m looking for in my next vacation, whether it’s beautiful scenery or a lively atmosphere or tons of history.
His answer: Repeat visitor to Hawaii! Well, we haven’t yet returned since his first visit last summer, but it looks like we’ll be going there every other year (last year he got to choose our vacation destination and next year is his turn again). I’ll try to convince him to go to a different island/region each time so it’s not toooo repetitive for me.

7. Do you read up on your destination (culture,history,safety) or do you wing it?
My answer: A little bit, just so I know what attractions I might want to visit/explore, but otherwise I rely on my basic knowledge of the place.
His answer: He not only reads up on it, he actually contacts the local tourist office and requests more material! Lol, what a dork. 🙂

8. Favorite travel website?
My answer: Gogobot, because there are awesome people on it helping you plan your trips and give advice, plus there are reviews and guides and trip planning tools. I love the vibe on there and I actually get to meet local Gogoboters through events!
His answer: TripAdvisor (or TripAdvisory as he calls it, hehe). There is a lot of useful information that he likes to arm himself with ahead of time.

9. Where would you recommend a friend to visit?
thai temple in bangkokMy answer: Bangkok, Thailand. It’s a beautiful country and Bangkok is a city offering a ton to see and do. You can do a day trip out to the Tiger Temple and float on a river raft and ride an elephant and learn about historical battles or you can stay in the city and go shopping at Chatuchak Market and the Night Market and enjoy the best pad thai cooked outside and get pampered at spas.
His answer: Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. We went there last summer and he had so much fun he wants to keep going back, so naturally he’d recommend it to anyone! It’s a great tropical paradise where you can get away from your normal routine and feel like you’ve gone to another country, but not have to deal with currency exchanges and roaming charges and language barriers.

10. You’re leaving tomorrow, money is no object, where are you going?
My answer: EVERYWHERE! I’d pick up and start going to every single country and city I was ever interested in (bringing Panda with me, of course) and then I’d hop on a shuttle to go into orbit around the earth and enjoy weightlessness and spectacular views.
His answer: London, since we’re already planned for it and he has a good idea of what there is to see, where we can stay, and what we can do. In other words, much of the prep work is done so he doesn’t have to worry about cramming it all in in one night before leaving!

As you can see, we take very different approaches towards traveling. If Panda could have his way, he’d get tons of information from the tourist office and read up on it, we’d fly first class to our destination, get a nice rental car, stay at a classy hotel, check out a few places of interest, but mostly hang out and relax at the hotel enjoying free food at the executive lounge, relaxing and playing by/in the pool, and enjoying some delicious dinners at local restaurants. Meanwhile, I’d be the pack up and go randomly as opportunity strikes, fly economy, then take various forms of public transportation to a decently-located hostel or hotel (depending on the price/availability), spend all day out and about exploring the city and surrounds, grab whatever street food we can find, and jam pack as many experiences as possible. We’ve found a pretty happy medium where I get enough exploration and he gets enough relaxation, so I think our travel styles are actually pretty compatible.

Oh the places we’ll go!

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Well-worn and well-used!

Well-worn and well-used!

Suddenly, a whole new world is opening up to me.  I am getting an opportunity to travel when I hadn’t thought of it before and it is a wondrous thing!  I’m especially pleased because I’ve been wanting to explore this part of the world, but it’s hard to fit in weekend trips when all I want to do is sleep.  I’m reminiscing of my days spent exploring the wonders of Europe, with little more than my Eurail pass and train schedule to guide my way.  It was an uncertain, yet exciting time and things didn’t always work out so well, but in the end it was certainly all worth it.  My second time around was more stable and my friend and I had pretty stable places to stay, but even then we found ourselves wandering the streets of Paris for three hours until about 3 AM, trying to find our way back to the hotel in the early hours of my birthday.  Adventurous with a tinge of mystery and risk (though not quite danger, thankfully).

So now, fantastical images are filling my head of all the lovely places I can go and the fun things I can do.  Explore the coasts and beaches?  I’m there!  Take a little ride along the river?  I’d love to!  Ride an elephant?  Show me the way! From luxury to wild, including massages and mudbaths or toughing it out in the middle of nowhere, I’d love to go do it.  I just need to find all the cool things to do and plan out this amazing expedition.  Of course, I’m also going to be cautious and try to find some buddies to come along or stay with friends along the way, but if all else fails, I’ve traveled solo before and I’ll just be smart about where I go and how I act.  I’ve certainly had to take many random precautions before just so I wouldn’t be picked out as a target.  That would mean leaving the valuables at home and traveling relatively light with just one little suitcase.  But hey, that’s all part of the fun of it!

Maybe now I can get up close and personal with some other creatures!

Maybe now I can get up close and personal with some other creatures!

At this point everything is very tentative, but I’m quite sure I will be doing a fair share of exploring, though the actual cities and number of countries I manage to make it to is completely up in the air.  So is my final departure date from Singapore, which I’m looking to move up by a few weeks (upwards of a month).  After all, I don’t want to spend too much time traveling and there’s no point in staying too much longer since I’ve got a great feel for the company culture here and much of the work I do is completely doable from a remote location.  Plus, I miss Panda terribly, there’s no sense in troubling too many people for too long with a complicated living situation, and though I really enjoy the people and vibe of C&S, I’ve never been a fan of working at a desk.  There will be so much I will miss about this place when it really comes time to head off indefinitely, but there’s also no sense in stretching resources thin when there’s no real reason to.

And thus I enter another transitional period of my life.  🙂

Amazing Race: some observations

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When I went online today to try to find new episodes of the shows I started to follow recently, I found that apparently the seasons have ended.  I guess that makes sense in retrospect, seeing how dramatic the finale for House was, but I guess I didn’t quite see it for Lie to Me.  Well, once I found out, I tried to figure out when the next seasons start, but I guess they don’t tell you that.  Perhaps people who watch TV just know this, just like any schoolchild can tell you what month they start school.  Unfortunately, that is not knowledge I have had since sometime in middle school, so I’m quite out of the loop.  Thus, in an effort to do an activity that doesn’t require much out of me but is still relatively engaging, I thought I’d check out the latest season of the Amazing Race, which I have read about when Tammy and Victor won as the first Asian-American team.

What struck me was the relationships, the unpredictability, and the rush and intensity of it all.  First and most importantly, any sort of show like this that challenges people to work together under high stress situations tells you a lot about their personalities and relationship.  You watch as they get frustrated with what is going on and some people blame themselves, some people blame others, while some people will blame the situation itself.  And in terms of dealing with that stress, there are those who lash out at their partner, those who get upset with themselves, and those who are impatient or even rude to the locals.  It’s interesting to see the different coping mechanisms that come into play when these people are under stress.  Certainly anyone would start to crack and show their faults and again and again I would see power struggles within the teams, with one partner trying to be more dominant.  Usually this was because of their personal relationship as family or significant others.  It seemed to happen less so with the teams that were coworkers and friends.

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photo credit:

Observing all of that made me evaluate myself and how I would behave under those circumstances.  I think I’d want to be the dominant one and would in turn be the one dishing out more criticism.  Of course, all of imagination towards how I could compete is in the scenario in which I would go with Panda.  So I’m thinking of the dynamics of our relationship, where I assert myself far more and tend to be more expressive when it comes to sharing my feelings and gripes.  So for me, the hardest thing would be to let go and not always control, but step back and let him do his thing.  The good thing with us is that whenever we get into a disagreement, at the bottom of it we both just want things to go well.  And though we’ll misunderstand each other, we’re both working hard to make things better, in our own ways.  As for how I’d treat the people along the way, I know I’d thank them a lot for their help, but I don’t know if I’d get exasperated when the communication barriers get in the way and delay things.  I can be impatient and demanding, and I may not always be able to be the gracious person I’d like to be.  I’m still working on that.  Don’t shows like this make you reevaluate yourself and your life too?

Secondly, there was the unpredictability of the situation.  Until the moment you step on that mat and hear you’ve been eliminated, there’s nearly always hope.  Time and again teams have yo-yoed from leading to lagging and back again and oftentimes they get back on an even playing field due to travel restrictions.  Plus, you never know exactly what’s going on with all the other teams, so even though you may have a good idea, something unexpected could have gotten in the way.  It’s a huge lesson in hope that I think people need to grasp better.  It’s too often that I see expressions of defeat and despair that end up in glee and joy when they discover that things weren’t as bad as they thought.  At the same time, there are great examples of people who don’t give up and fight to the last bit, no matter how badly off course they get.  That’s the beauty of it – this fighting courage that they get when it comes down to the wire.

Sometimes you just gotta go for it.

Sometimes you just gotta go for it.

Similarly, in life, so many people say negative things about what they think can’t happen only to be proven wrong.  I know I hold myself back a lot because I’m afraid of venturing out to be wrong.  However, everywhere you read, the most common thing that self-made successful people share is a certain level of bravery in taking risks and trying.  This is a topic addressed often in entrepreneurship.  If you want to do something and make something of yourself, you need to go out and attempt all kinds of crazy ideas.  Sure, lots of things will fall flat and you’ll probably get shot down more than you’d ever care for, but then you just have to pick yourselves up and keep going, taking what you’ve learned from each lesson to build on to your repertoire of knowledge.  I want to be like that since I want to be an entrepreneur and I hope shows like this are encouraging more people to act like that as well.

Finally, the intensity of the race and the pace that it goes at (which I’m sure is highly misrepresented in the show) is astonishing sometimes.  The one thing I don’t like about this premise is that people rush through these countries so quickly that they only get a glimpse of what things are like there.  It’s not true travel and tourism in the way that I value it.  So it makes me wonder how much down time they get and if they even have time to go check out some things they may have wanted to.  I think the worst thing would be to finally go to a place you’ve been dreaming of only to run around like maniacs trying to track down the right clues.  For their sake, I hope they get to do some of their own traveling, though it doesn’t really look like it.  I’m sure everyone is so focused on conserving their energy for the race and preparing themselves to take on challenges that they probably aren’t even in the right mindset to truly enjoy the cities they pass through.  It’s the one big downside I see to this great big game.

Me and my bags, dragged all around Europe.

Me and my bags, dragged all around Europe.

Though granted, I started to get nostalgic for my travels through Europe, like the 5 weeks I spent gallavanting around from Portugal to Hungary, Greece to Sweden, spanning 21 cities.  It was a similar mad rush, with me averaging 1.5 days per city, including travel time.  I had a basic plan that changed a few times depending on when I could catch trains, if I could book hostels, and where I felt like going next.  There’s a beauty and freedom in that kind of travel, where you only really know where you’re going to be in the next two days, but no more.  I had similar frustrations with missing trains, running with a rucksack on my back while dragging a suitcase behind me, and getting lost or stranded.  Additionally, I had to deal with extra fees when my luggage got too heavy for the small, cheap airlines that fly around locally.  The moment I arrived into a city, I’d get a map, go online, and find all the historical landmarks, museums, and other tourist attractions I was interested in visiting.  From there I’d map out my plan of action and go from there.  It was 5 full weeks of banking it from one place to another, trying out all kinds of cuisine I could find, and still managing to enjoy some hotspots and take a breather.  It was quite fun to travel like that and I miss it, though I do plan on going back to see things more in depth in the future and spend some time getting more immersed in the cultural feel.

So all in all, it was a very reflective experience that allowed me to think about my own life.  Which I think we should always be doing.  🙂

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