This week’s Wanderlust Wednesday pic is from Zaandvort, Netherlands. Zaandvort is a lovely seaside village with tons of charm. This pic is from Zaandvort’s beach on a snowy, wintery day. Forget sun and sand – try snow and sand.
San Francisco is a city I will always have a love/hate relationship with. I love the hilly beauty of the city, yet I hate the cold misty fog that always seems to set in. I love the brilliant marvel of the Golden Gate Bridge, yet I hate driving around the cities infamous hills and windy roads. I love the vibrant and bustling atmosphere of Fisherman’s Wharf, yet I hate how high strung the city can feel sometimes. Nevertheless, despite the love/hate vibe, San Francisco is truly an amazing, bustling and diverse city that everyone should visit at least once in their life. Whether you have a layover, or you’re just passing through here are my recommendations on how you can leave your heart and mark in San Francisco if you’re short on time.
1) Check Out the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the pinnacle poster child of San Francisco and for good reason – it’s absolutely photogenic. The Golden Gate Bridge has art deco elements and spans beautifully between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Whether you drive across it, walk it, or view it from across the bay it’s truly a modern marvel. One of my favorite scenic spots to view the bridge is Land’s End park. Land’s End park is usually uncrowded and there are several scenic spots to check out the bridge and capture that perfect Instagram-worthy shot.
Pier 39 is located at the edge of the Fisherman’s Wharf district and is a bustling pier with shops, arcades, and street performances. Pier 39 has an awesome street carnival vibe, and it’s great for a stroll. Strolling around the pier you also get great views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and even some sea lions.
3) Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling tourist attraction with plenty of sea food restaurants and museums. Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to just walk around, admire the marina, and check out some of the unique museums and sights in the area. There are plenty of piers to explore, with Pier 39 being the main one. One museum that I happened to stumble upon was the Musee Mecanique – which is an interactive museum of 20th-century penny arcade games and artifacts. It’s free to enter, but get your coins ready and get ready to play some air hockey and other old favorites.
4) Have a bite in China Town
I have been to a few Chinatown’s in my life (including the ones in New York and London), but San Francisco’s Chinatown feels like the real deal to me. San Francisco’s Chinatown reminds me of Hong Kong and many of the other cities I’ve ventured in while I lived in China. In fact, it was this desire for Chinese food that lured me and my adventure partner to San Francisco’s Chinatown. My adventure partner and I ate like royalty that night as we gorged on steamed pork dumplings, noodles, and coffee braised pork.
Traveling is an amazing risk when you think about it. You’re vulnerable and exposed, traveling with just a suitcase, armed with a few phrases of a foreign language, and open to anything and everything. As beautiful as travel is, it can also be full of stress and mishaps waiting to happen. After spending two years abroad, I’ve had my shares of both beautiful and stressful moments. Traveling without stress is nearly impossible, which is why I decided to start a new series – the Traveler Mishaps. In two years of travel, I have had plenty of travel mishaps. In this series, I will describe how I handled them, and how you should probably handle them if you ever find yourself having to deal with a travel misadventure while abroad. I think it’s important to not only share the great, amazing things that happen to us while we travel, but also share some of the stressful moments that made us feel a little unsafe, vulnerable, and stressed to show that travel is a beautiful risk, but one that is still worth taking.
Getting my iPhone Stolen in Shanghai, China
My iPhone has always been my lifeline, and it was even more so while I was living in China. I used my iPhone to call home, text, connect with Facebook, and check the news back home. One day I was walking back to my apartment after shopping at Miniso (an awesomely cheap store that sells everything) and buying some fruit from my favorite fruit stand, when I checked my purse for my phone. It wasn’t there! I emptied out my purse in a frenzy, throwing everything on my apartment floor. This was the one thing I had always feared! My iPhone was my connection to everything, and here it was gone.
What I Did:
After a few panicked moments that involved screaming and throwing stuff, I decided to engage my calm and rational side. I still had my iPad which had the useful “Find my iPhone” app. I decided it was worth a shot —until I remembered that my iPhone was dead and probably wouldn’t be emitting signs of life even if it was in the hands of a thief.
After cursing my inability to keep my phone charged, I decided to retrace my steps. I realized I had no idea when it could have been stolen. Was it on the bus? Was it at Miniso? Was it at the fruit stand? I decided first to check the fruit stand, which was about half a mile away. I ran to the fruit stand as fast as I could, and started looking around, attracting the suspicion of the fruit stand ladies. I smiled and pointed to a phrase in my Mandarin phrasebook that said, “My phone has been stolen” while also using my best non-verbal communication skills to imitate talking on a telephone. They smiled and looked at each other, and started talking to me in Mandarin. I smiled and shrugged, indicating I had no idea what they were saying. One of them pointed at the bus stop across the street. Hmmm, maybe I dropped it over there? Is that what they’re trying to tell me? I nodded and smiled again, and headed to the bus stop across the street. My eyes were glued to the ground, for any signs of my iPhone, which was encased in a bright coral case. Curious bus stop bystanders looked at me, probably thinking I was some crazy foreigner.
After keeping my eyes glued to ground and finding nothing, I decided my next bet would be Miniso. After all, I had spent nearly an hour in there looking for journals, pens, and sheet masks. I went to the young clerk with bright magenta lipstick and again pointed to my phrasebook. The clerk smiled nervously and went to get her manager. The manager, who also was wearing bright magenta lipstick (did their dress code policy include the stipulation that they must wear magenta lipstick?), came out and I again pointed to my “stolen phone” phrase in my phrasebook. The manager got out her phone and started typing in a translating app.
“Are you sure you lost it here?” she typed out.
I nodded yes.
“When do you think you lost it?” she typed out.
“What time were you at the store?” she typed out again.
I said one of the few Chinese words I knew, “Qi,” which meant seven in Chinese.
The manager went to a computer, where I could see surveillance images from inside the store. The manager rewound the tape back to 7PM. There I was sitting on the aisle near the journals, spending inordinate amounts of time going through each one of them. She fast forwarded the footage, which showed nothing unusual.
The manager saw my disheartened look, and typed out on her phone, “You can come back tomorrow, after we clean the store we may find it.”
I smiled and said thank you and left the store. I was losing faith by the moment, until I saw my last hope drive by – the 803 bus. I rushed onto the bus and found the usually inattentive bus attendant looking up at me, my aura of stress and panic must have caught her attention.
I pointed to my phrase book, and she shook her head indicating they she hadn’t seen a phone.
She started talking in Mandarin to a lady nearby who spoke some English.
“What kind of phone is it?” the lady asked me.
“An iPhone,” I replied.
The lady gave me a look that said I was screwed, as she translated for the bus attendant who also gave me a sad look that my search was hopeless.
The bus attendant did go a step further and called one of the other bus attendants on one of the other 803 buses asking if she had seen an iPhone. The bus attendants tone and look indicated that she had not found an iPhone.
I thanked the women and got off the bus, as I walked dejectedly back to my apartment.
I never did recover my iPhone, and to this day I have no idea when or how it was stolen, if it was stolen, or if it was lost and then stolen. I was able to get a new iPhone shipped to me by my parents from the United States, which arrived a month later and spent nearly three weeks tied up in Chinese customs.
What You Should Do:
If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, I would still say don’t lose hope. If your phone was lost you have a better chance of getting it back depending on where you are. I knew someone in Taiwan who lost his phone in a taxi after a drunken night out. The taxi driver eventually tracked him down and gave him his phone back. If your phone was actually stolen, the chances of you locating or getting it back are slim to none. Filing a police report is a hassle, but it is one step you can take. In China, I was told it was futile to do so, so I never followed up and just accepted it as a loss. The best step you can take is preventative measures – always, always, keep an eye on your phone. Today, I keep my phone in a safe place when I’m out and about and I always make sure to do a phone check to make sure it’s still nestled safely in my purse.
Share your tales of traveler mishaps in the comments!
Northern Californian beaches are unlike the sunny and warm beaches of Southern California. Northern Californian beaches are rocky, wild, and rough, a bit like Northern California itself. Compared to the sunny warmth of Southern California, Northern California is like a different world. For one, it’s colder, rainier, and prone to bouts of moody fog. It has a beauty that is different and a bit more mysterious and secluded than that of its warmer and sunnier southern counterpart.
Glass Beach is located in the small coastal town of Ft. Bragg, about three hours outside of San Francisco. Glass Beach is also known for its sea glass, which is sprinkled throughout the beach. Interestingly, sea glass is just glass, whether from bottles or windows, that has been weathered by the sea. Glass Beach has so much sea glass because back in the 40’s the residents of Ft. Bragg used Glass Beach as their garbage dump. Yep, when the residents of Ft. Bragg wanted to throw their trash away, they just threw it into the ocean.
Over time, the trash became treasure as broken bottles, windows, and even the glass from car headlights (yes they even threw their cars into the ocean) became sea glass. Today, you can see for yourself how nature has turned old trash into new treasure. The most common types of sea glass are those of the brown and green variety which come from old soda and beer bottles. The rarer types of sea glass are cobalt blue (from old glass prescription bottles) and ruby red (from old car headlights). There is a warning sign posting advising beach-goers not to take any sea glass home with them, however that doesn’t stop many from scouring the beach for sea glass to take with them.
While I definitely prefer my beaches sunny, warm, and on the smoother side, Glass Beach was a nice change with its rough terrain, interesting history, and beautiful bits of sea glass dotting the sand like jewels.
New Mexico is truly deserving of its title – “the land of enchantment.” With its deserts, mountains, plains of sage brush, and beautiful sunsets New Mexico is a land full of rapturous beauty. It also has a special place in my heart since my family has roots in New Mexico that stretch back all the way to when New Mexico was a colony of Spain.
Today, New Mexico’s Spanish colonial heritage and Catholic roots are still very much alive. New Mexico is home to many important Catholic chapels and shrines. One of the most famous Catholic shrines in New Mexico, and one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the United States is El Santuario de Chimayo.
El Santuario de Chimayo is located in the small village of Chimayo, which is located about an hour outside Santa Fe. El Santuario de Chimayo is known as “the Lourdes” of the United States, as it is known for its holy dirt, which is reputed to have healing powers. The healing properties of the dirt, and stories of miraculous healing have led many to make pilgrimages to this holy site.
There are many stories related to the origin of El Santuario de Chimayo. One story holds that during the nineteenth century Don Bernardo Abeyta, a resident of the area, saw a light shining from the local hillside. Curious as to the source of the light, Abeyta went to the hillside and dug up a crucifix. Abeyta turned over the crucifix to a Friar to bless it. Legend has it that the crucifix disappeared from the Friar’s possession and reappeared back at the spot that Abeyta found it. After this happened a third time, Abeyta and the Friar decided to build a chapel on the spot where the crucifix was found.
Today, the chapel is most known for its “holy dirt” room, where visitors are free to take some of this blessed dirt. As a little girl, I remember my grandma telling me stories about this church and about how people rubbed the dirt on whatever ailed them and found themselves cured. Outside the “holy dirt” room is a line of abandoned crutches, which people have left behind once they found themselves cured.
When I arrived at El Santuario, I felt an immediate sense of peace. The entire complex felt peaceful, even though many were traveling there to either pray for loved ones who are sick, or to leave relics of their loved ones in the form of pictures at this holy site. Even though there were a lot of tourists, a peaceful atmosphere still pervaded the chapel.
After spending an entire morning at El Santuario, the feeling of peace and calm I had stayed with me throughout the day. Visiting El Santuario de Chimayo was like entering another world. It is a place for the sick and the heartbroken, as well as those with faith and belief in miracles.
I admit I was wary when I ventured out to Shanghai Zoo. China isn’t known for its humane treatment of animals. On the contrary, China is better known for its ability to eat anything with four legs. I remember visiting a zoo when I was a high school exchange student in Kunming, China, and coming away from the experience feeling depressed and disheartened by the small enclosures and the malnourished looking animals. I decided to visit Shanghai Zoo with an open mind and hope that China had improved its efforts to provide humane treatment to its animals since my last visit nearly 10 years before. Here’s the good and the bad when it comes to Shanghai Zoo.
The Good: PANDAS!
My main motivation for visiting Shanghai Zoo was to see pandas as I just couldn’t leave China without seeing pandas. Shanghai Zoo’s panda exhibit was definitely the most crowded exhibit at the entire zoo. Even though it was crowded, it wasn’t impossible to get a good spot to watch the pandas eating bamboo and acting adorable. I’ve never seen pandas in real life before, so it was a delight to see these fuzzy balls of adorableness eating, lounging, and walking around looking for more bamboo. The pandas looked they were well taken care of and were a highlight of my zoo visit.
One of my main complaints about living in Shanghai was the lack of green space and parks. Shanghai Zoo honestly seemed more like a beautiful park with animals, since there was a lot more green space and beautiful manicured gardens than there actually were animals. Still, Shanghai Zoo was beautifully kept and I was impressed with the gardens. I visited in fall, so walking around the zoo on a beautiful day, with the autumn sun glowering ahead, was perfect.
The zoo part of “Shanghai Zoo” is actually quite small. There’s not a lot a lot of animals compared to zoo’s I’ve seen before. The zoo did have your standard bear and tiger exhibits, but beyond that there weren’t that many animals on display. The condition of the animals and the size of their enclosures were better than that of the zoo I visited in China over ten years ago, but the animals were not living in luxury.
The Bad: Bad-Behaving Tourists
The Chinese can be a bit more daring, and dare I say, inconsiderate when it comes to personal space and that includes the personal space of animals. There are several signs around the park discouraging visitors from petting the animals, antagonizing the animals, climbing into the enclosures, and giving human food to the animals. When I visited, I saw a Chinese man try to antagonize a large pelican by taking his hand in and out of the pelican’s enclosure. The pelican responded by snapping and tried to bite the inconsiderate guy’s hand off. While that was the only sign of bad visitor behavior I witnessed, I did see the remains of food wrappers in many of the animal’s enclosures.
Overall, Shanghai Zoo was miles above the zoo I visited in Kunming, yet it wasn’t the best zoo I’ve ever been to. I’ve always been a little iffy on zoos, and if you are against zoos in any way I would advise you to skip Shanghai Zoo. If you want to check out pandas, which are kept in good condition, or if you just want to enjoy one of the most beautiful green spaces in western Shanghai, than I would definitely recommend a visit Shanghai Zoo.
The Great Wall is one of China’s most famous sights and what an impressive sight it is. The Great Wall is over 13,000 miles – that’s four times the span of the United States coast to coast. In addition to its impressive mileage, the Great Wall is also impressively old – with parts of the original wall dating back from 7 BCE. The wall has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then, yet it still retains its magnificent awe factor.
I first visited the Great Wall when I was 16 years old on a high school exchange trip. We visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall which is the most popular section among tourists. Back then, we were all taken aback by how physically strenuous walking and climbing the Great Wall was. It was steep! This part of the Great Wall was also crowded with tourists, mostly because this section of the wall is in great shape considering its age.
Fast forward almost ten years later and finding myself in China yet again, I decide to visit the wild section of the Great Wall which is even more physically strenuous than the Badaling section. The Jiankou section is the wildest section of the Great Wall in the Beijing region. It’s wild, untouched, and can be dangerous if you’re not well prepared. Here are a few pointers if you’re planning on hiking the Jiankou section of the Great Wall.
Seriously get a guide. Without a guide, you risk the potential for getting lost and disoriented. The area around Jianku is very rural, with just a few small villages in the area. Guides are usually from the area and know the area very well. Since this area is less touristic than other parts of the Great Wall, it’s more difficult to find people to assist you if you get into a snafu.
This is a difficult hike with steep climbs and drops and some rock climbing is required. Our tour group even offered some rock climbing classes before the trip to get the inexperienced rock climbers some confidence. If you’re not physically fit, have little hiking experience, or pack the wrong gear then this hike is not going to be fun for you. Plenty of experienced hikers in our tour group did find the hike difficult, especially since we were planning to camp on the Great Wall and were carrying backpacks and gear. Personally, this was the most difficult hike I’ve ever done, but the views and being able to say I hiked and camped the wild Great Wall made it all so worth it in the end.
This is a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people in our tour group were unprepared. One girl wore jeans, which was not the most appropriate gear for the sunny, warm physically strenuous hike. Research weather conditions before you go and pack the right type of gear and make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. The local village does offer porters who can carry your gear and even bring you food from the village.
While camping on the Great Wall sounded romantic at the time, the actually experience was pretty uncomfortable. The wild part of the Great Wall is rocky, and there’s not a lot of smooth terrain to set up camp. Some in our tour group opted to stay at the hostel located in the small village nearby. Most of us who chose to camp on the wall woke up with back/neck pain from rocks jutting into us all night. If you decide to camp, bring a soft mat or even an air mattress to make it more comfortable.
On the last day of our hiking adventure, most of us had had reached our fill of the Great Wall and wanted to return to the village. There are shortcuts you can take that lead you back into the village without having to hike any more of the Great Wall, but there are “Great Wall Trolls” who often charge you for the privilege of using their ladder to climb down the Great Wall and take one of many shortcuts back to the village. This is technically illegal for them to do, so if you come across one and you want to use their shortcut you can do what we did – either distract the troll while members of your party use the ladder, or just climb down the wall to the ground using team work.
Once upon a time, I was addicted to Etsy. My addiction went a little like this: oooh handcrafted earrings made of vintage beads? Need them. A kawaii clay polymer necklace with a ninja and throwing star pendants? Putting it in my shopping cart. Handcrafted soap? Give me all of them! Etsy was so fun because I could find anything, including things I didn’t even know I wanted. I also liked that I was supporting artists and their work.
Fast forward a few years later and my Etsy addiction has mostly waned (I went to an Etsy-holics class and everything), but my love for all things handmade has remained. One shop I have always been interested in checking out is Firebird Bath and Body. Based out of Maryland, Firebird Bath and Body has an array of beautiful jewel-colored soaps with mysteriously beautiful scents to match. I bought a sampler pack and picked four fragrances and immediately brought them into the shower with me. Here’s what I thought.
First up, we have lavender wood. This was one of my favorites. The scent was a very woodsy lavender with essential lavender oil and a base of sandalwood, cedar, amber wood, and vetiver. It’s a sexy and darker interpretation of lavender. It didn’t smell like any other lavender I have tried. The lavender colored soap also had poppy seeds for exfoliation. I also found it gentle enough that I even tried it as a facial soap and it left my skin feeling soft and supple.
Tobacco honey is a masculine scent with notes of duh – tobacco and honey. I have decided this is what every man should smell like. This scent is magnificent! While I was worried it would smell like an old man and his pipe tobacco, this smells like a sexy rich man (who also cooks and has a private jet). The scent is also very strong and it retains on the skin for quite some time.
If I had to pick an absolute favorite this is the one! Lagoon has notes of sea moss and salt water. The aquamarine color of the soap reminds me of a hidden lagoon of crystal blue water. The scent is intoxicating and reminds me of mermaids (who seem to be having their pop culture moment along with unicorns) with its feminine, aquatic notes. It’s a beautiful soap and I will definitely repurchase it again.
Moroccan fig has an exotic scent of honeyed figs and soft florals. This is a beautifully fragranced soap with a nice deep plum color. The fragrance wasn’t too fruity or florally as it also had a nice smoky base to give it some sexiness.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of Firebird’s products. The soaps themselves performed well in the shower, leaving my skin soft and nicely fragranced. Firebird also offers fragrance oils, bath salts, and lip balms with exotic fragrances that I fully intend on trying out. If you want to check out Firebird Bath and Body on Etsy click here.
Bruges is a fairy-tale like medieval town known for the three C’s – it’s canals, cathedrals, and charm. Bruges also got a plug of publicity from the 2008 film “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Farrell and Gleeson star as two Irish hitman who flee to Bruges after a hit gone wrong. In the film, Farrell’s character hates the quaint charm of Bruges while Gleeson’s character is enchanted by the small medieval town. While I’m not an assassin, I did end up siding more with Gleeson’s character as I found Bruges full of charm and beauty. Here’s my recommendations on the top three things you can do in Bruges.
I have to admit I find the canals of Bruges more charming than those of Amsterdam. The narrow canals are picturesque and romantic. A canal tour is a great way to get your bearings around the small town. A canal tour is also a great way to get tidbits on the fairy tale like city which is full of legend and lore.
One thing you’ll notice is the abundance of swans gliding through the canals. According to legend, the swans have been in Bruges since 1448 when Emperor Maximillian was imprisoned in the city and the town administrator, Pieter Lanchais, who was part of Maximillian’s court was beheaded. The Lanchais family coat of arms featured a white swan and the Emperor ordered the swans be kept in the canals of Bruges as a reminder of the beheading. According to legend, 100 swans must be kept in the canal at all times. While it’s not the most romantic legend, don’t let it deter you from looking at the beautiful swans.
2. Visit the Bruges Belfry
The Belfry tower of Bruges dates back to 1240! The Belfry also offers incredible views of the town. To get to the top you have to climb 366 steps, or the “death stairs” as I call them. The stairway is incredibly narrow and due to this they only allow 70 people in at a time. At peak season, expect to wait in line for a while. However, the view at top is completely worth the wait.
The Historic Centre of Bruge is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage sights list for good reason – it is a stunning example of a medieval town square. The square has nicely preserved medieval buildings, cobblestone streets, and is full of shops, café’s and museums to visit. I highly recommend walking around the square and stopping at either a chocolate shop or frites stand to eat and meander or just sit and people watch.
As you can see, Bruges is a romantic medieval town with plenty of charm to go around. Some prefer Ghent, another similarly picturesque town with canals, while others (like me) have a preference for Bruges. Bruges is great for a day trip as it’s relatively small so you can see plenty of sights in a day. I think if Colin Farrell’s character had just given Bruges a chance, he would have found something really special.