Space

When I was little, I’d sleep with my head closest to the window in my room. I wanted to be right next to it, and it always needed to be open, if even an inch wide, despite the weather. It could be raining, snowing, or ferociously windy – I always demanded that it be open. It drove my mom mad. To her, it was the reason I constantly came down with a cold. To me, that was okay.

I realized in college that the reason I did that was because I constantly need to feel like I’m connected to the outer world in some way. Being secluded in my little room, yet having that subtle connection to the outer world, made me feel really at peace. It was weird . . it was like I wanted to be alone, but included in a part of something larger at the same time.

Flash forward a few years, I’m still the same person. I have an addiction to the outside, and always need space and (quite literally) space to breathe. Boston is inundated with skyscrapers and tall buildings that sometimes I really think they’re taking up the room I need to breathe. I know it sounds dramatic, but living in Longwood Medical area where some of the best medical institutions in the world are packed into a tiny area can drive you crazy. Then you add all the chaos of doctors scurrying to round, nurses harassing pharmacy over their meds, and impatient patients (haha, ironic . . ) waiting to be treated and go home, and you can literally feel like you’re suffocating sometimes. It can be so stressful.

That’s why I practice self-care. That’s also why I felt like I really needed this trip to Switzerland.

I’ll vouch for all the clichés when I say that Switzerland is relentlessly beautiful. The cities I visited were impeccably clean and well-maintained, aka I wasn’t afraid to use a public restroom. All the elements fascinate. The lakes are an impenetrable teal; the grass is a vivacious green; the houses have these cute, colorful shutters; and the mountains are straight out of a Paramount logo, complacently topped with soft snow that is so light and powdery that I swear you feel like it’s floating.

I felt like I could breathe in Switzerland. I originally chose the it because from pictures, it looked like the perfect balance of city and nature. One morning, I enjoyed a cup of coffee from the balcony of my host’s home while staring off into the Swiss Alps a grasp’s away. It was dreamy. I’ll never forget waking up every morning and looking out into the landscape, eating up every angle of it, sunshine and all (P. S., got super lucky with the weather . . bright and sunny everyday and it only rained today as I sit in my departure terminal to head back to the States, :D).

It was everything I expected. Looking back, I discovered so many elements of this incredible country, from the land, to the waters, to the mountains, and even the skies.

Here are some photos and a video featuring my adventures this past week, :):

https://tinyurl.com/mc8qesy

On Traveling Alone

I’ve been on four solo trips now. I’m by no means a professional, but I do think that traveling solo has been one of the most enriching experiences in my life thus far.

You’d be amazed at what traveling alone does to you. When I was on my connecting flight to Montreal, Cananda, I started talking to the woman next to me. She was super warm and friendly, definitely not shy to strike up a conversation. She asked where I was going and who I was meeting up with. When I told her I was traveling alone to Switzerland, she looked shocked! In fact, I get that response from a lot of people. Truthfully, it’s not as bad as you might imagine.

She told me that she was coming from Boston for a work conference, and that it was her first time traveling alone. She said she did some of the Boston tours and agreed that it, in fact, felt nice. “I felt different,” she said.

When you’re put in a position where you have no expectations, society has no expectations of you, and nothing is familiar, the pressure of everyday life dissipates. Everything is totally unbiased and free game. You have no one else’s plans and needs to coordinate with. And when you’re confronted with literally no pressure from any angle, you make choices that are probably different from what you’d make at home. At least, that’s what it’s been like for me. Going on more and more of these solo trips has made me realize that while the time I spend with friends and cultivating relationships is an essential and important part of my life, most of the time I’d really rather just kick back, be outside, or try something new. You’d be surprised at what your inner-you decides when nobody is watching.

With that being said, the key to the game (for me) is planning, planning, planning. Naturally, traveling alone can get lonely. I try to keep myself moderately busy everyday to give myself something to look forward to while affording wiggle room for rest, transportation, down time, or if plans go awry. Some people might be able to wing it. But I know that if I don’t have something to fill up my time, I start feeling bad for myself and get really homesick and lonely. NOT what I want.

The second thing is to be safe. Don’t do anything that makes you feel even a little bit unsafe if you’re alone! While driving in Iceland, I was planning to hike a mountain and was driving to get there when my four-wheel drive car skidded and I lost control for about five seconds. It was enough to tell me to turn back. Similarly, I was forced to cut my hike short this past week hiking one of the trails near Sonnenberg, Switzerland. Forty-five minutes in, the trail got too icy and snow was still covering an entire portion of the top half so that I could barely see the trail. No need to be a hero. Just be safe.

I never go out after dark. If someone looks at me funny, I keep my earphones off or turn off my music to make sure I’m not being followed. Whenever possible, I keep my back to a wall so that no one sneaks up on me (I know, I’m paranoid from watching too much Forensic Files). I always designate one spot for my passport so that I know where it is at all times. I review hosts and and places a hundred times over before I commit to staying. I look up emergency codes for countries before I land. I always send my boyfriend my flight itinerary, or keep someone posted on my whereabouts just so someone always knows. Fortunately, I’ve been really lucky with all my solo encounters so far. Those are the few tidbits I have, and I’m sure I’ll figure out some more or if anyone knows some helpful hints make sure to throw them my way! Still have a day left of my trip!

The last thing is just mustering up the courage and confidence to just be awesome. Meet new people. Try to keep a few helpful phrases in your left pocket so that the locals appreciate the fact that you’re trying to learn and respect their culture. Order what you want. End your plans early if they aren’t as satisfying or fun as you thought they’d be; extend your plans just an hour or two later if it’s way more fun than you thought possible. Do things shamelessly. At dinner tonight, I noticed a couple constantly glancing over at me. I’m sure they were thinking, “What is this poor little Asian girl doing eating pizza alone at a restaurant in Switzerland?” And when I was getting ready for my fancy dinner Wednesday night and the waiter realized I was dressed up all pretty just to eat by myself, I’m pretty sure he felt bad for me and gave me a complimentary appetizer. It’s no big deal and those people will never remember you again. So do what your little heart desires! Nobody is actually watching.

Solo travel might not be for everyone, but if you’re one of those people who have always wanted to try it but are too scared or nervous to, I really encourage you to take a jump at conquering your fears. You are more awesome than you know.

The first step is, where to?

 

 

 

The Grand Canyon and Page, Arizona

About two or three years ago I was browsing my Tumblr feed when I stumbled upon one of the most breath-taking pictures of nature I’d ever seen. It was a professional photograph of Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. The colors were so exaggerated and vibrant that I knew I had to witness it for myself in person. I knew it was a picture that had been digitally retouched, so the colors were probably a little off. But I needed to know for myself, and so I tucked this trip away in the back of my mind, waiting for the right moment to go.

The right moment came when one of my best and most adventurous, out-going friends decided to go, too. We’d fly into Las Vegas and drive out to Arizona. Our trip almost didn’t happen because our departure flight got canceled (lesson learned, don’t ever opt for a budget airline ever again). Between the fiasco of buying, canceling, and repurchasing flights the night we were supposed to fly out, we didn’t think our trip would come to fruition. But we were determined to fly out, as our minds were set on doing a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon.

Long story short, we made it! Here’s a breakdown of our trip:

Day 1. Flew into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Rented our car. Got lunch at BurGR (Gordon Ramsay’s burger joint). Checked into our Airbnb. Took a swim in the pool to cool off (it was over 100 degrees). Drove to Bass Pro Shops to buy bear spray (that store is so cool, it’s like a museum and an REI joined together with an aquarium). Got ready and headed out to the Strip. Went on a ferris wheel ride, High Roller, with an all-you-can-drink open bar and amazing view of Vegas lights. Saw the water show in front of Caesars Palace. Got late night at Hash House A Go Go at the LINQ (BOMB food and pancakes twice the size of our heads). Went home and knocked out for an early drive to Arizona the next morning.

Day 2. Woke up early and made the two and a half hour drive to Zion National Park. Hiked the Emerald Pools trail. Got back in the car and drove another two and half hours to the Grand Canyon. Ate dinner, got ready for our rim-to-rim overnight hike. Packed our bags. Here are the details for our hike below. Keep in mind we took a break every hour to stay hydrated!:

Things we packed: At least 3 liters of water / Gatorade / Electrolyte replacement tablets / Protein bars and snacks / Bear spray (we were hoping this would come in handy with mountain lions, too) / Headlamps / Trekking poles (an absolute must and lifesaver. Convinced we would not have finished without these!) / DSLR camera and GoPro / LifeStraw water filter (just in case we ran out of water) / Handheld flashlight / Extra batteries/ First-aid kit consisting of gauze, ACE wraps, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, baby powder, Aleve, Moleskin for blisters / Plastic bags for trash / Hat / Sunglasses / Bug spray / Layers just in case it got cold / Watch / Cleaning wipes / Map.

6:00 PM. Begin hike at North Kaibab Trailhead.
8:00 PM. Sophia shouts “Aah I’m so excited! Bragging rights! Do it for the Gram!”
9:30 PM. Get lost by accidentally taking the Roaring Springs trail. Find our way back on the main trail and resume hiking.
10:30 PM. Reach Cottonwood Campground where we were reassured by campers that we were on the right path.
11:00 PM. Sophia starts developing her first blisters. My toes start hurting from the descent into the Canyon.
2:15 AM. Pass Phantom Ranch lodging and arrive at Boat Beach. Take a one hour break to star gaze. Tape up our blisters.
3:30 AM. Resume hiking.
4:30 AM. Cross the Colorado River. Flash our headlamps at fellow hikers who were smart enough to wake up early and hike out of the Canyon before the morning heat set in.
5:30 AM. Drink from a running stream with the LifeStraw. Sophia falls asleep while hiking. Sunrise.
6:30 AM. A hiker lies to us and tells us we have three and half miles left to hike.
8:00 AM. Come to find out we really have six miles to go.
9:00 AM. Reach Indian Gardens for our break. Cry the rest of the four and half miles remaining.
11:55 AM. Finish our hike at Bright Angel Trailhead.

Day 3. Rest after our rim-to-rim hike. Encore Beach Club by night. Sleep!

Day 4. Buy Icy-Hot for our aching shoulders. Drive out to Page, AZ to explore Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Drive back to Vegas. Club at XS and Drais. Go back to our Airbnb and sleep for forty minutes. Buy Sophia a last-minute flight home. Return our car rental and fly back to Boston.

Safe to say this was a wonderfully successful trip. A few takeaways for me included the importance of hydration, how much color really enhance my trip experiences, and friendship.

Prior to this trip, I was terrible at hydrating. I tell my patients that they should be drinking three to four bottles of water everyday, and I realize how much of a hypocrite I am after preaching this and embarking on this trip. Even during our hike where we stopped hourly for hydration, I realize how difficult it is to drink the recommended two liters a day. While my new year’s resolution (for years now) has been to drink more water, I’ve failed every time. Being petrified to lose my body to electrolyte losses and dehydration has made me reconsider the importance of drinking and treating my body as well as I wish for it to function.

And then there are the colors. When I reminisce on my previous trips to Mexico and Iceland, the images that are forever branded in my mind are the shades of blue I saw in the caves, beaches, and geysers. This trip was no different. The intensity of the blue emanating from the Colorado River around Horseshoe Bend was so deep, and yet so light and delicate that you could see the yellow from the limestone underneath, that I seriously got emotional. I’d been waiting to see that site for so long that it was fitting it was the last sight of our trip. The rest of the desert is so neutral, plain, brown and dusty that it’s a relief to see a break of blue slicing through the landscape. Despite the 112 degree weather, I felt comfortable, relaxed, and so at peace even though there were a bunch of tourists scrambling around us to capture the perfect angle. I swear, these are the scenes I live for.

The most important thing I reflected on this trip was friendship. As you age and graduate from college, you realize how hard it is to a). make new friends and b). keep those friends. There are apps out there just for adults to mingle because it’s not like you can be dropped into a environment of adults with hopes of trying to memorize everybody’s name and getting invited to the hottest party anymore. Even more so, as you get to learn someone’s personality, you realize if they’re in or if they’re out – is this someone I see myself being friends with the rest of my life? Is this person a hi-and-bye acquaintance? Or do I absolutely hate this person’s guts? Finding true and lasting friendships for me is one of my weaknesses because I tend to focus on the good sides of people, and that makes the weeding out process much more extensive.

With Sophia, well . . let me just ask you this: How many people do you know have a friend who’s willing to do something as stupid as hike the Grand Canyon during a heat wave from rim to rim without the proper training, and having never really hiked before, a week before departure?

I realized how hard it is to find people who are simply down. And on top of that, are genuinely good people who are smart, sensitive, caring, ambitious, and decent. It’s hard to find people you would willingly spend time with for hours or days on end without feeling as if you need to do anything extra or go outside of the confines of your own true personality. If you have these friends, keep them close. They will give you the adventure of a lifetime.

With that being said, this entire trip was literally a maze! Between navigating our flights, Vegas night life, the loops and curves of the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon, I could not have imagined going through all these twists and turns with anybody but this narcoleptic (seriously, she falls asleep everywhere).

Who would you want to go through life’s mazes with?

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Acadia National Park – Mt Desert, ME

I don’t like the word “perfect.” Nothing can ever be perfect, and my recent weekend trip to Acadia National Park was filled with flaws from imperfect planning, shaky weather conditions, the inability to locate wood for a reasonable price at an unreasonable time, and our campfire not starting from time to time. But if you decide not to acknowledge these minute factors, or take them as they are, I bet I could convince you that this weekend was actually perfect.

Let’s just start by saying I went with two of my best guy friends ever. Even if you just left it at that, it’s a weekend worth remembering because if you have true pals those true pals could make you forget you’re having a shitty time – no matter how whack a party could be, how disgusting the weather is, the laughs trump all. You forget the dreary circumstances.

We left for Acadia National Park on Friday, stopped by an awesome Louisiana boil restaurant in Stoneham, Massachusetts for late lunch/dinner called Loui Loui (don’t front, I know all you Asians back at home know where this place is). We left late and, needless to say, arrived pretty late to Blackwoods Campground. Forced set up our tents in the dark, we had a short fire, drank some beers and called it a night.

The next day is where all the magic happened.

Cliff Diving at Long Pond. Well, in my case, cliff jumping? For those of you who don’t know, I didn’t learn how to swim until about a month and a half ago. I know – shameful. It started to really get to me because my travel experiences were sometimes hindered by the fact that I couldn’t swim. Just to let you in on a little secret: when I went to Mexico and swam the cenotes there, I needed a life jacket!, :(. I was so disappointed in myself that I took adult swim lessons in Boston until I got fairly comfortable with the water. Fast forward a month a half later, I never imagined I’d do something as absurd as cliff jumping. It was a short cliff, but still.

Hiking the Beehive Trail, Gorham Mountain, Ocean Path Trail. These hikes are super short and connected, which made for the perfect casual day hike. They weren’t challenging at all, but fun as fuck. For example, the Beehive trail is steep at the top with limited space to step before the summit, so you have to be careful with your footing. Despite being around 500+ feet, the Beehive and Gorham summits delivered spectacular views. Oh, and we conquered a Pokemon gym up there too. And I anticipate keeping that gym title for a long time, since who checks their phones for Pokemon while hiking?

Sand Beach. We ended our hiking adventures on the beach. The water was freezing, but such a nice way to cool off for the rest of the day after sweating a ton.

Bar Harbor Lobster Company. Late lunch with fish n’ chips, lobster rolls, and a giant crab cake sandwich. Perfect yet?

Sunset at Cadillac Mountain. I’ve seen my share of sunsets in my short life, but this was easily the best sunset yet. Usually when you enjoy a sunset, the other views surrounding you are meh. I felt trapped in a 360 degree panorama of just straight up dreaminess. To my three o’clock was this hazy, periwinkle sky with subtle hues of the rainbow on top just above the water; my six o’clock was a cascade of big, green trees layered perfectly alongside the face of the mountain; my nine o’clock was a dip between the mountain and what I thought was some hill into a valley with a warm blue sky not yet touched by the sun’s setting light; and my twelve o’clock, of course, the most intense coral-red sunset. It cast such a nice pink over the rocks from where we were standing. And to make it even more visual for you, there was a strip of cloud to the right of the sun, dissecting the sky into two parts: above the cloud was still clear blue sky, as if the day had just started, and right below it was the majesty of the highlighter red/pink colors emanating from the sun as it went down. Ugh! I can’t even tell you how lovely the entire thing was.

Milky Way Gazing and Shooting Star Spotting at Sand Beach. If you don’t believe this trip was perfect just yet, this will seal the deal. We packed up our chairs and headed back to the beach, perched our sets in the sand, and literally just sat for an hour, gazing up at the stars. The last time I saw stars inundating the sky like that was during my service trip to Vietnam with my peers and mentor. Mike has always wanted to see the Milky Way, and none of us expected to see it this trip but there it was, so matter-of-factly, a faint ghost-like strip softly slashing the sky in a perfect diagonal. The tide was thrashing against the shore, and I could see and feel the tips of the trees behind me when I looked up as if they were protecting us from whatever was behind us. Do you know how small and unremarkable I felt? All this endlessness out there, and I was sitting at the heart of it with two of the best people in my life. Writing and recreating all these pieces in my head makes me tear up because I know it would be rare to have a moment like that again. To top it off, Don brought his bluetooth speaker so we were blasting Bon Iver’s “Holocene.” I saw nine shooting stars the night, the last one being the best, leaving an ephemeral streak of dark reddish-orange in the sky.

Some of the lyrics from Holocene go like this

“And at once I knew,

I was not magnificent.

And I could see for miles, miles, miles.”

Literally, how perfect and fitting! We felt tiny. Not even like a mere speck in the universe. Surrendering to all of this and just taking a breath and not worrying about my next night shift and all the drama of the world that can fill your day was pure peacefulness. We could have stayed there all night, but we couldn’t and so we packed back up at headed to camp. Ended the night with more beers, hot dogs, and bad food.

The next day we stopped by Portland, Maine to check out downtown. Got more seafood at Portland Lobster Company, tried out a new coffee joint at Bard Coffee, and sampled some beers and got some sick gear at Shipyard Brewery.

Now we’re home and back to normalcy. Easily one of my favorite moments in life, ever.

Spain

“It’s all in the details.”

You hear this quote tossed around pretty often and I think it’s true. Details, I’ve discovered, are one of the main reasons I travel – the leaves on palm trees perfectly spaced out in succession on a road you’re driving; the fine-tuned blue of the geysers that erupted in Iceland; and in Barcelona, the intricate party of colors in the tiles and mosaic of Parc Güell .

I went to Barcelona solely for one reason: to see the Casa Batlló. I learned about it during an art history class I took in high school and fell in love with how much it reminded me of “The Rainbow Fish,” a book I read in my childhood. I loved the blues and greens of the exterior, how the roof looked like the metallic scale of a fish, and the balconies that reminded me of skulls.

Days 1 & 2: Casa Batlló / La Sagrada Familia / Parc Güell / Badalona Marina & Badalona Beach / Mercado de la Boqueria / Boat stay / Sunrise on the beach

To my dismay, my visit to the actually city of Barcelona didn’t spark me as much as I thought it would. The city’s two heartthrobs – the Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia – were swarming with so many tourists it reminded me of a foreign body getting engulfed and swallowed by a macrophage in the body (there’s some nerdy nurse for ya). I couldn’t appreciate the Casa Batlló for what it was partially because there were too people around to allow me to get into my own zone, and because it felt so artificial. It was, in fact, man-made. But it didn’t have the feel of authenticity that I imagined it would when Antonio Gaudi envisioned it, probably because of all the headsets with headphones, signs, and ticket stand outside that occupied every orifice. Because of this experience, I didn’t even want to step foot into Sagrada Familia. Not to mention admission tickets were so darn expensive! I know people say you really have to go in, but I couldn’t. Instead, I opted to check out the local vendors across the street. Mike and I enjoyed a coffee at a local café. That gave me the vibes more than either place did.

What did give me goosebumps, though, was Parc Güell. This was the least anticipated attraction on my list, but it made me feel like a little kid again. Unlike the last two places, the park felt like a place where there should be lots of people, and so that really added to the environment filled with local musicians playing in courtyards and on the walking trails. I loved all the greenery and spottings of flowers. What drew me to Barcelona in the first place was the wackiness of Casa Batlló, but I was surprised to find the same feature in Parc Güell. Some parts of the park have oddly shaped walls, misshapen ceilings, and organic, asymmetrical columns. The highlight of Barcelona city itself for me, personally, was the detailing on the benches.

Designed by Gaudi in collaboration with other artists, the bench’s layout is in the shape of a sea serpent. The mosaic technique used to decorate the bench itself is call trencadis, which uses broken tile shards to create a pattern. Walking along the bench reminded me of a similar experience I had when I got to see Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” series in a museum in Paris – the objective of the painting is to walk along the wall in a oblong room observing a medley of water lilies as the background grew darker and darker. Eventually, the painting would go from light to dark, and the viewer would feel as if he or she just had the real-life experience of walking down a river by some water lilies, lost in thought until it the sun set and it was dark out. At Parc Guell, you could feel the colors jump out at you as you went from one end to the other. The details created bursts of joy as you went along. It was magical.

Luckily, my stay in Barcelona didn’t last long and the second third of our trip took place in the mountainside near the monastery of Montserrat. Mike and I stayed at an AirBnb with a gorgeous, expansive view of a mountain, relaxing lawn and hammock, and sweet swimming pool for a post-hike swim. We hiked up and down the mountain to get to the monastery, which was, pretty figuratively, like climbing up to heaven. The monastery is quiet and isolated with beautiful chambers embedded in gold for prayer. Candles can be purchased and lit and placed in a hallway for people who travel from all over the world to visit such a sacred space. The idea that people traveled so much just to pray was pretty special. I am by no means a religious person, but the fact that people can feel so close to God and be passionate to go that far was something I could respect and appreciate.

The last leg of our trip was camping (glamping?) in Besalu, Spain. We explored the medieval towns of Girona and Santa Pau and took pictures of the stars at night. It’s crazy feeling lost in the middle of no where with someone you love, fighting to get the best shots of the starry night sky. Our campground had a bar close by with the most intense red-orange leaves. Perfect way to break into fall snuggled up in an oversized sweater, sitting under a blanket of foliage, and sipping on homemade brew and coffee.

Overall, a quick, short trip to a quirky, eccentric city. Can’t wait until the next one.

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