The Phantasmagoric Landscapes of Iceland

As I sat there in the silver, rickety tin-can of a car, bundled in my purple “omni-heat” Columbia jacket, I took off my gloves and reminded myself to breathe. According to the calendar, the days of winter were vanishing, but the snow and ice along the roads told me otherwise. I was in Reykjavík, Iceland, the northernmost capital of the world. While I was overjoyed to finally hit the (Ring) Road, I was also petrified. I had never driven in another country beside the United States before, unless you count Vancouver, BC, Canada in the peak of summer.

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I often went to Tjörnin Pond in Reykjavík to watch the swans. Photo © Chronicles of a Travel Addict

Now, Iceland is not a difficult island to explore, per se. People are very friendly, weird amenities like ice cleats and vegan snacks and puffin-shaped keychains are all readily available when you arrive in town. The problem is the space in between. In the weeks before, when I was exploring Snæfellsnes, Vík, and the Golden Circle, I couldn’t imagine venturing out on my own in a rental car. With the relentless snow, the ice that had me cursing the day I quite ice skating, and the chill that got into my bones and froze my face, I ruminated about the what-ifs.

What if I were driving alone, on a vast stretch of mountain road, and the car broke down on me? Even though it’s a so-called Ring Road, I get lost easily. With my luck, I’d be the one to die of hypothermia out in the Westfjords just because I took a wrong turn. Previous to this moment, I had relied on organized tours to explore the southwestern region of Iceland, and with good reason.

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The beach in Vík is hauntingly gorgeous in the winter. Photo © Chronicles of a Travel Addict

Nonetheless, here I was, ready to head out into the other-worldly landscapes of Iceland I had longed for ages to see. Solo travel wasn’t anything new to me, but here, it took on a new meaning. I was really, truly alone with nature, and it was as liberating as it is frightening. If you’ve never been to Iceland, you may not be aware that during winter, the horizon often appears to have no color. The black jagged mountains are juxtaposed by unending heaps of white snow, and the road you drive upon is one infinite, geothermally-heated, ribbon of grey. It mesmerizes you, stuns you, makes you question how this earth could at once be so alien and so riveting at the same time.

I had witnessed these mind-boggling landscapes in many of Bjork’s music videos, and longed to see this part of the earth. However, I wasn’t prepared for how big of an impact these terrains would have on me. Iceland is not a place that you visit and forget about; it is a country and a culture that stays with you, leaving you with a lingering sweetness on your tongue that you just can’t quite figure out. It’s a mysterious place, and there is a reason why people are flocking in droves to this island (and it’s not just the cheap WOW plane tickets).

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The earlier downpour made for some interesting colors at Gullfoss. Photo © Chronicles of a Travel Addict

While this juxtaposition may boggle you, I think I fell in love with Iceland for some of the same reasons I fell in love with India. Now, the former boasts a gender-equality and standard of living that the latter desperately lacks. The two countries are absolutely nothing alike. Except they are; they are both achingly mysterious. Despite their differences in size, social systems, and overall GDP, they align within me because they leave you reminiscing, wondering, yearning to go back.

I spent five weeks in Iceland, mainly because I a) had been wanting to go for so long and b) I refused to leave without seeing the Northern Lights (I saw them twice). However, after all of this time, you would think that I would have seen everything that I wanted to. Wrong. I saw many places that I had dreamed of, but still, there are many more that I have yet to see and experience.

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Jökulsárlón was much more beautiful than I’d imagined! Photo © Chronicles of a Travel Addict

Here are some of the wonderful experiences I had my first time in Iceland:

  • Reykjavík’s amazing vegan cuisine and street art
  • Skógafoss
  • Snæfellsnes Peninsula
  • The Golden Circle (especially the UNESCO site of Þingvellir, where the American and European tectonic plates meet)
  • The Northern Lights
  • Jökulsárlón
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Look at those gorgeous puffins! Photo credit: Promote Iceland

And here are the experiences I need to go back to have:

There is no doubt how grateful I am that I was able to spend so much time in Iceland. I learned some Icelandic, saw jaw-dropping topography, made new friends, and began to understand a bit about Iceland’s Viking roots and present-day culture. Iceland was everything I expected, and so much more. I understand why it has become such a popular destination, and just hope that its burst in tourism is met with a sustainable approach by tourists and tourism boards alike. It truly is a magical place, and there is no better destination for getting to know oneself amidst the wild, vast formations that only nature could create.

Have you been to Iceland? If so, what were your favorite sites or activities? Please share in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Going Further on the Magic Bus: Kerala Blog Express

Well before I’d read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and possibly even before Jack Kerouac changed my life with On the Road, there was just something about road trips that lured me in. I imagined myself hopping into a colorful bus or van, joined by a variety of open-minded, wanderlusting individuals, getting ready for the trip of a lifetime. I didn’t dwell much on the details, such as where we would go. All I knew is that this experience would expand my mind and test my limits. It didn’t dawn on me until after my trip this spring in Kerala, that during those 15 intense days, I had been going further on the Magic Bus.

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Jackson pushing me on the swing set… Nope, not kids at heart AT ALL… Photo via Aghil Menon

Who were we? Instead of the Ken Kesey’s ragamuffin mix of Merry Pranksters, we were 29 travel bloggers from 28 different countries. Ranging from the pensive to the exuberant, the cautious to the untamed and undeterred, we were a group of souls brought together by Kerala Tourism. As writers, photographers, vloggers, weekend warriors and professional hobos, our official mission was to explore and showcase the spectacular beauty of southern India. The real undertaking, however, was to connect with each other, learn about the complex land that welcomed us so eagerly, and all the while delve deeper into ourselves. As it was on the original Magic Bus, the true purpose was to go further into the world, not necessarily farther.

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Can you tell I’m excited for the trip?! Photo via Jinson Abraham.

Our whirlwind trip started in port city of Kochi, where we arrived a couple days early to ease ourselves into the culture and tend to our jet lag. Our March 20th, we all came together at the opening ceremony, introducing ourselves (literally, on a stage) and meeting the bus that would carry us throughout the journey. Boldly adorned with vignettes of Keralan life- from Kathakali masks to houseboats and towering coconut trees to geometric tigers to women tending tea plantations- we caught a glimpse into the colorful region we had yet to explore.

Armed with much-needed air conditioning, comfy blue seats, and the ever-important international plug sockets, we would traverse countless miles of territory in just over two weeks. Guided (and organized) by the ever-knowledgeable and saintly-patient Manoj, our Magic Bus took us through the phantasmagoric depths of Kerala. Inching through the unruly, congested city streets of Kochi to the backwaters of Alappuzha, winding through the misty mountaintops of Munnar, the verdant lands of Wayanad, and ascending to the northern heights of Kasaragod, our many hours on the bus were much, much more than a ride.

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Hanging out at a tea plantation with Jub, the only other vegan on the trip!

We shared countless moments together, chatting about travel, world affairs, and animal rights; taking pictures of each other sleeping; learning bits of the Malayalam language; singing together; sharing banana chips and cashews; afflicting each other with uncontrollable belly-laughs; holding our pressure points to stave away motion sickness; waiting for each other to stop taking photos and get back on the damn bus; working quietly on our laptops through the bumps and jolts. Over the seconds that turned into hours, and the days that blended into weeks, we would come to know and accept each other like family. And, for me, through the blithe comradery, the serious discussions, and times of silence, I came to embrace myself on a level I’d never before grasped.

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Nuthan, of “Me Met Me,” was a great inspiration throughout the trip. Photo via Jinson Abraham.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, climbing aboard Kerala Blog Express would be equivalent to going further on the Magic Bus. My journey in Kerala with 28 other travelers would not only push the limits of my mind, it would also expand my capacity for understanding, compassion, and self-acceptance. And, after 15 days, it would leave me with a connection to these other human beings that no amount of time or distance could erase.

First Impressions of Kerala, India

It’s 7:30am and I’m sitting on the restaurant patio of Xandari Resort, overlooking the harbor of Fort Kochi. As I eat a massive dosa masala with a side of fruit and plenty of black coffee, I watch the crows, clinging to boats’ metal poles with their talons, chewing on chicken feet. These aren’t feet like the dehydrated snacks so often chewed upon by men on Chinese trains; these are straight-up fresh foot bones and cartilage. Other than this intriguing/disturbing vision (is this a form of cannibalism?), I enjoy the view of this man-made river and marvel at the fact that I’m actually in fucking India. Essentially, my first impressions of Kerala are: When am I going to wake up from this trickery?

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View of Fort Kochi Harbour from the Xandari Resort pool

It’s been over 11 years since I originally planned to come to India. Instead of trying to fit India into a two-week trip back in 2006, I opted to take my time exploring Japan and China. India would surely come soon, I believed. But the years went by, and I got distracted by grad school, delving into the world of Latin American politics, and a string of relationships that left me smitten and sidetracked. Nonetheless, the desire to see this enigmatic land just grew and grew until I realized I couldn’t ignore its call.

I like to believe that things happen at certain times in our lives for a reason. Maybe in 2006 I wasn’t yet ready to delve into India. After all, that was my very first trip to Asia, and the culture shock I felt- even in Japan- was overwhelming. Maybe, if fate and destiny do exist, I was to wait all of those years so that I could fully appreciate every second of my time here, and to absorb all of the lessons this country has to offer me.  All I know is, right now, I’m exactly where I should be, and there’s no better feeling.

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Qatar’s DOHA airport has to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen

Kerala Blog Express has brought me across the Atlantic Ocean, stopping in Doha, Qatar after a 16-hour plane ride, and half way across the Indian Ocean. I’m in Kochi, a place I’d never heard of before this year, about to explore the southern state of Kerala, which also had never been on my radar. Originally, when I thought of my Indian adventure, it was to include to Golden Triangle, a few wildlife safaris, a few caves, Mumbai, and perhaps Goa. I still have the paper where I loosely planned my visit. Clearly, at the age of 24, I had no concept of how completely vast this country is.

Come to think of it, I still have no clear perception. Although I’d like to blame it on jet lag, I’m not experiencing any, and this sense of the unknown stems from a) an itinerary I have yet to see and b) having only been in India for a mere three days. Within those days, I’ve spent the majority of my time either asleep or working, so that shows you just how much I’ve experienced. These are, after all, my very first impressions of Kerala, and of India as I know it (so far).

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  1. Goats

OMG, goats! If you know anything about me, you’re aware that I’m obsessed with animals. (Even if you just take a glimpse of my Instagram account, it becomes instantaneously clear.) Riding into town from the airport, my first observation was unsurprisingly that of Kochi’s fauna. There weren’t many to speak of while driving down the left side of the freeway, but once we got onto the city streets, my eyes widened as I saw goats prancing around, crossing the street, rummaging through garbage, and being cute as all hell.

Frankly, I’d been expecting cows (after all, this is the land of the holy cow), but the ubiquitous cuteness of goats was an unexpected joy.

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  1. The billboards are astronomical.

Have you been to Vegas or Tokyo, or anywhere else with massive signage everywhere? Well, hold onto your neon posters and flashing lights, because this place is about to one-up you. The massive proportions of their billboards, combined with the powerful use of vivid color, will make you whip your head around, jaw agape. It doesn’t matter if they’re advertising 3G cell phone service, the latest Mohanlal movie (from what I’ve learned, the dude is like an Indian Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris), or jewelry that would bling the hell out of Flavor Flave, you’re going to look. And damn it, you will be curious, and you will want to know more. The billboards aren’t just signs, they’re effective arsenals of entrancement.

And, by the way, who thought that so much English language would be used over here? Why are more than half of the signs I’m seeing in characters that I can decipher?

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  1. What is Che Guevera doing all over town?

Okay, I was aware that India is a place where all different types of religions, languages, and belief systems coexisted, but I missed the memo on communism. After immersing myself in Political Science during my grad program, learning about the powerful effect guerrilla communism had throughout the world (and not just Latin America), I’m left quite puzzled. Yes, this political ideology was deep-seated in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, but I’m blown away.

Never did I think I would see red flags, imprinted with white sickles and hammers, waving defiantly in India. Never did I think that the ever-important (if not idealistic) Argentine guerrillero would maintain such a strong presence in India.

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  1. The Indian head-nod is real.

Having grown up in San Jose, California- aka The Silicon Valley- I’m fortunate to say that I’ve grown up with a widely diverse range of cultures. (I’d even argue that other cultures are what give the United States its own identity, but that’s a discussion for another time.) As such, I like to believe that I’m somewhat familiar with Indian body language as well. I’m not sure if it’s due to pressures of assimilation, or that Indians in the States have naturally changed their ways over time, but I’m telling you, the Indian head-nod is very, very real. And I love it.

I’m so glad that I watched this video explaining the intricacies of the head-nod before I came to India, because it’s in full effect here. I like it. Just like the hand gestures I picked up in Argentina, I feel like this might be something that stays with me. It makes sense.

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  1. Is this really India?

Sure, I’m sweaty as all hell in this humidity, people are dressed colorfully in their saris and lungis, but for some reason, this doesn’t feel like the India I expected. I see some reminders that this is a developing land, what with the amount of litter, the absurdly low prices, and the stray animals roaming around, but I expected something different. People told me stories of seeing dead babies on the street. Of immense poverty and desperation. Of intolerable situations that stifled their minds and their breath.

But here? I see coconut trees everywhere. People out on the streets, living their lives. Clothing stores and fruit stalls. It’s like a mix of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, without Angkor Wat or Mexican food. The traffic really ain’t that bad. It’s congested, but it reminds me of calmer version of Hanoi, Vietnam. I’ve heard that Kerala is nothing like northern Indian states, and perhaps because that’s what I’ve known, this almost seems like a different country.

And so, my first impressions of Kerala are bound to change, as I’ve only been here a few days, and have only explored a limited amount of Kochi. There is much yet to see, and I’m off to my first real day here on the press trip, off to meet the other bloggers I have not yet met, and explore this land with 29 other people that have traveled from all points of the globe to be here.

I’m beyond elated, and I can’t wait to explore what India has yet to teach me.

Excerpt from Memoir-in-Progress

“And so, like most temptations I knew I should steer away from, he drew me in even closer. He took me for rides in his junkyard car, driving to midnight lookouts high above the city of Zihuatanejo, and brought me to bars to meet his friends and echar unas chelas. He told me just enough secrets to make me feel like he really cared. Most of the time we spent in bed, grasping each other’s skin, desperately embracing and not wanting to let go of what, inevitably, we would have to leave behind. We made love continuously, as if this act would validate who we were to each other. But we both knew that what we had was fleeting. 

On the last day, he begged me to stay. It was a plea so open, so honest, and so pitiful that I wanted to stay with him, even if it was partially because I felt sorry for him. He made promises of making me so happy that I would never again yearn to see the rest of the world, because it was the world that he would give me through his love and affection. I swore I even saw tears building in those big black eyes of his, and I did want to stay. But as wrapped up as I was in this whole lust-love thing, I knew that this would never be enough.

And so I found myself, once again dragging that purple suitcase behind me. I headed through the glass doors and into the airport with dozens of mosquito bites covering my legs and a rawness between them that I had never before known. I loved this man, but I was walking away, out of his life and back into what had become of mine. I was leaving him for a promise of something much bigger than I would ever experience with him and his trite concept of love. ”

-by Cristina Luisa

Dreams of Southeast Asia: Bandung, Indonesia

It’s now been three years since I first discovered Southeast Asia. After visiting Malaysia, Borneo, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, I was hooked on the region. 2013 was quite the year.

Recently, my good friends at the Martian Arts Tattoo Studio took a well-deserved journey to some of the same places I had visited. Upon seeing their photos of familiar, yet foreign lands, nostalgia quickly crept up on me.

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One of the photos my Indonesian brothers sent me. Photo by Zulfikar SH.

Not a week later, my “brothers” from Indonesia sent me a Facebook message with a photo album, reminding me of their country’s beauty. In 2013, I serendipitously met these guys on a late-night bus ride from Penang, Malaysia, northbound to Phuket, Thailand. That’s the way it is on the road; you’re always making friends when you least expect it. They were taking a vacation from their business careers and I was drifting around, paying heed to whatever destination called me.

I didn’t plan on it, but we ended up hanging out in Phuket for quite a few days, meeting up for dinners and partying in Pattaya. The looked after me, calling me their sister, and even inspired me to write about what is takes to be a “real” backpacker. Ever since, we’ve been in contact, and the idea of visiting Indonesia has not left me.

When most people think of Indonesia, they think of the paradise of Bali. And while I would undoubtedly love to see Bali, they are many other places I’d love to see. For example, I’d love to go back to Borneo (this time, the Indonesian side!) or  visit Sumatra to see orangutans in the wild. (If you haven’t noticed, I’m a total animal lover!) I’d also love to see the capital city, Jakarta, as well as a city that’s recently come to my attention for its incredible natural landscapes- Bandung.

So, here’s my vision:

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“Bandung” by Phalinn Oi. Photo via CC Commons.

After arriving in Jakarta and exploring the capital for a few days, catching up with my brothers, I’d head south to Bandung. I’d check into the Hilton Bandung, enjoy the hotel’s facilities, and then head out to explore Braga Street in the city center, which was historically a promenade in the 1920s. Before hitting up the Grand Mosque, I’d grab a coffee at a vegan-friendly café, like LN Fortunate coffee. After exploring important sites like Gedung Sate, The Konferensi Asia Afrika Museum, and the Bandung Geological Museum, I’d then head to a late lunch or early dinner (vegan, obviously!) at Kehiidipan Tidak Pernah Berakhir or Tahu Yun-Yi.

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“Villa Isola, Bandung” by celebrityabc via CC Commons

The next day, I’d head over to Villa Isola, or Bumi Siliwangi, in the northern region of Bandung. Designed by the Dutch architect, Wolff Schoemaker, in 1933, it’s an interesting combination of Dutch and Indonesian philosophies. As it now serves as the head office for the University of Education Indonesia, it would hopefully give me some insight into the longstanding Dutch occupation of Indonesia. After roaming the grounds, I would wait around with my camera for golden hour, as there are supposed to be spectacular views of the city here.

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“Tangkuban Perahu, Bandung” by Ann Espino. Photo via CC Commons.

In the following days, I’d explore some of Bandung’s natural wonders, such as the volcano site of Tangkuban Perahu, Patenggang Lake, or Kawah Puti. Whenever I travel, I try to balance out my time spent in cities with equal immersion in nature, which is one of the reasons I’d love to visit Bandung. Tangkuban Perahu, meaning “up-turned boat,” is Bandung’s most renowned volcano with three large craters. After hiking around, I’d be sure to see Kawah Domas, the crater strewn with hot geysers. With luck on my side, it would be a clear day, and I’d be able to spot the Java Sea off in the distance before heading to the nearby Ciater tea plantations.

After a week or two of properly navigating Bandung, I would hopefully meet up with my Indonesian brothers again, heading to a lesser-known locations like Luengbata, to swim, snorkel, dive, and enjoy the underwater world of the southern hemisphere.

This, my friends, is one of my Southeast Asian dreams.

If you long to see Southeast Asia as well, traveloka.com can help you plan your adventure.

Have you traveled to Bandung or Indonesia? If so, what was your experience? What would you recommend? Please respond in the comments below!

*This is a sponsored post. However, like everything else, it is reflective of my opinions only.

5 Romantic Budget Destinations in South Korea

I’ve never been to South Korea, but I’ve been very interested in the culture as of late. I turned to Gem of Travels with a Hobo, since she specializes in South East Asian destinations. And because she travels with her significant other, I figured she’d add a bit of romance to my solo travel stories! So if you’re on a budget, and wanting to take a romantic vacation, South Korea is your place!

 

Annyeonghaseyo! The land of kimchi, bulgogi, and japchae isn’t just for spicy dishes and K-pop singers. It can also be one of the best places to say saranghae (I love you). Each year, South Korea welcomes over a thousand international visitors into its borders to for business, pleasure, and those seeking romance.

If you’re a couple traveling to Korea, you don’t need to spend a fortune to show how much you love your partner while visiting the country. I’ll be giving you the best romantic, yet budget-friendly places in South Korea below!

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Sky Rose Garden

If a dozen roses could spell out “I love you very much,” what would hundred say? The gorgeous, renowned Sky Rose Garden is the perfect place to orchestrate a sweet date. In fact, the garden is situated on top of a movie theater—one of Korea’s first.

After finishing your day activities, take your partner to a breathtaking dinner at the Sky Rose Garden on the 8th floor. Its high-rise location gives you a mesmerizing view at golden hour. Not to mention, its roses change depending on the season.

There’s no doubt that the Sky Rose Garden will make your loved one feel like they’re truly your Seoul-mate.

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Sky Guesthouse

Nothing spells romance more than indulging in picturesque views of the best spots in the city with your significant other. Just imagine waking up every day to the scenic South Korea. This is what Hobo and I experienced while staying at the Sky Guesthouse. The best part was that you don’t have to be rich like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates to enjoy its incredible views.

Sky Guesthouse is a rooftop apartment owned by a delightful Korean housewife who made us feel so comfortable. It was almost like she was an auntie that we were visiting for the summer, instead of a budget hotel manager.

The quaint apartment offers a glimpse into living life with your partner in a humble abode, chatting about the latest news, your deepest dreams, or maybe just about who won the “Wheel of Fortune.” Also, the two bedroom apartment is equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, dining area, laundry area, and heated floors (perfect for the winter!).

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Hangang River

Whether your partner is an outdoor enthusiast or not, you should go biking along the Hangang River. After all, research shows that spending time outdoors is good for us.

The Hangang River is no doubt Seoul’s most iconic symbol. It has become a major destination for recreation and relaxation. You can bike through the Yanghwa Cruise Pier, Yeouido Park, Banpo Hangang Park, Hannamdaegyo Rainbow Cafe, Gwangnaru Hangang Park, and many more locations.

Renting single bicycles costs 3,000 won/hour, tandems for 6,000 won/hour, and 15,000 won for a full day on single bikes. There are also free bikes around the trail for rent. However, they’re only available for two to three hours during the weekday and about one or two hours on weekends.

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N Seoul Tower

Some couples dreamed of writing their names on padlocks and forever sealing their love on Paris’s love lock bridge in Pont des Arts. Unfortunately, in June 2015, the French government started taking down the locks for the fear that the bridge might collapse.

If this was on your bucket list, don’t fret. South Korea has a love lock version of its own, located on the N Seoul Tower. The railings are filled with heart-shaped locks, fastening with it years of promised love. So, if you ever visit Seoul, don’t forget to make your declaration of love known to the world with a love lock.

After you lock down your love, bask in the romantic ambiance at the tower’s rooftop terrace. In fact, N Seoul Tower is a romantic hotspot, since the South Korean drama series, “My Love from the Star,” was filmed there in 2014. This is where Cheong Song-yi and Do Min-jun vowed to love each other forever.

If you want to sweep your significant other off his or her feet with a just-like-the-movies date or even ask for their hand in marriage, this is the place to do it!

 

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Photo via peacefuldumpling.com

Take them to the streets!

If you happen to be marrying a foodie (or food photographer for that matter), then a street-food food trip is a must. Although there isn’t exactly one particularly romantic spot for street food, getting lost in Korea while tasting local vegan delicacies like bibimbap or ddoekbokki is romantic (and delicious!) on its own.

The best romantic places don’t have to be like those we see in the movies, and it doesn’t have to cost you thousands to make your partner feel loved and appreciated. Sometimes, the most romantic places to be are simply where you’d enjoy it the most together.

-Gem Muzones

 

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Gem blogs at Travels with a Hobo. If you’d like to learn more about South Korea, or other destinations she has explored, check out her blog here!

 

Donald Trump Blues: My Response to the U.S. Presidential Election

It’s now been a week since I felt the San Andreas shake beneath my feet, throwing my heart to the ground and my hope into a hellish vision for the future. No, it wasn’t a real earthquake, because if it had been, I would have enjoyed it. As most everyone is aware, one week ago, Donald Trump was elected to be the next President of the United States. Even just typing those words, the reality pains me. I watched my iPhone obsessively that night, witnessing a monster take more and more of the electoral votes, while the popular votes hovered closely.

I sobbed. I sobbed harder than I did when my grandfathers and grandmothers passed, and possibly harder than I did when my aunts and cousins passed. Death and sorrow are nothing new to me. I’ve been losing people and witnessing disease and distress- in the form of cancer, diabetes, drug addiction, dementia and amputation- since elementary school. And I’ve been fighting a battle with depression for most my life.

But I’ve been in a good, hopeful place. I have so much going for me and have been working so hard to break my own barriers, crash through this fucking glass ceiling imposed upon all of us women. I’ve been making strides. I’ve been ready to take on the world and finally write my masterpiece. Shit, even my man, Bob Dylan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

That night, however, I wept like it was the deepest grievance of my life. No cucumbers could assuage the puffiness of my eyes the next day. I am currently residing in California, so the need to flee was urgent. I was so close to booking the next, cheapest flight out of the U.S. With just a click of the button, I’d be off and flying toward freedom. I mean, fuck it, right? I don’t need this country, and it sure as hell doesn’t need me, right?!

I took a few deep breaths and convinced myself to sleep through the misery. Somehow, someway, things would get better. After a few vodka tonics and bingeing alternately on comedy shows and guided meditations, curled in a fetal position, I managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

The next day, the weight of my body ached; I felt like I was dragging my spirit behind me. Its sadness, disbelief, horror, and anxiety were heavier than a dead elephant. There’s no doubt that I am a liberal, and I thought that Mitt Romney was the devil four years ago, but this is nothing in comparison. How could such a vile, narcissistic, hypocritical, pathologically lying, psychopathic manipulator come in to lead the United States? He is imperialism personified. He has no respect for women- as proven by his counts of sexual assault and ill-chosen (not to mention completely made-up) language. He wants war; he wants to “bomb the shit out of them.” And by “them,” he means everyone who is not like him- an entitled, arrogant white (supremacist) male.

He has already turned this country upside down, dividing the people of the United States based not only on their political party, but also on the color of their skin, their genitalia, their bodies’ abilities, whom they love, whom they worship, what they wear. As riots- both peaceful and violent- have ensued, I’m not sure if it is that people are showing their true colors, or just that now the feel that it’s perfectly acceptable to demonstrate hatred against others. Hatred for lack of understanding, or for seeing something in themselves they fear or whatever other “reason” they subconsciously process.

I get it; people want change. And Hillary Clinton wasn’t proposing that. People are fed up with barely getting by. They want to be rich like Trump; to be able to be an asshole like Trump, because this is ‘Merica, home of the free, of the racist, of the homophobe, of the Islamophobe, of the misogynist gun-toting, hyper-masculine, my-way-or-the-highway character who will shoot you if you try to explain climate change with solid scientific facts. People want to be free to remain ignorant and believe what they want to because this is a land made of narrow, industrial, exploitative, fuck-‘em-all kind of dreams. And to these proletariats, Trump promised them the world. He said what they wanted to hear, even if it made no sense, no clarity, no practicality, and even if he denied it the following day.

So, all Mexicans are rapists. He will build a wall because there are some “bad hombres out there.” (Um, look in the mirror lately, dude?) Immigrants don’t belong here, even though this country was founded on illegal immigration; he personally hires immigrants to work on building his empires (and refuses to pay them), and his wife is also Slovenian. (Side note- if you don’t know any Slovenian people, or haven’t been to the country, please don’t base your opinion of Slovenia on her character. It’s such a beautiful culture.) He wants women to be punished if they’ve had an abortion in the past, not to mention get rid of agencies like Planned Parenthood and reverse Roe vs. Wade. He wants to take Obamacare away from those- like myself- who finally have medical coverage because they couldn’t afford it beforehand. And, of course, Muslims in general are the reason why ISIS exists, and are the sole cause of “mass Islamic terrorism,” yet, if they feel unsafe in this country, all they have to do is reach out to somebody for help? Like, a note in the suggestion box you’ll never read, or what?

I’m ranting here, but I’ll stop myself because this could go on for weeks- or for the next four years. I am frightened that this sorry excuse for a man is going to have access to very sensitive information- not to mention stuff like nuclear power- and I believe he will start World War III. I hope to a god I don’t believe in that I’m wrong. But I have this nasty, pit-of-my-stomach terror that you get only when you fear for your life.

Due to having a vagina and breasts, I feel for my safety more than ever in this country, since Trump has given sexual assault the thumbs-up. And as a victim of said crime, as many women are, this paralyzes me. I am scared that my rights as a woman will be taken away. I fear that I won’t be let back into the country next time, since my passport stamps reveal not only that I travel often (why would a single woman do such a thing? Is she a spy?), but also that I’ve been to several Muslim countries.

Nonetheless, my concern is more for my family and friends of color, those whose parents are immigrants or immigrated themselves as children. It’s for my blood that walk around in brown skin and can’t pass for a white person like I can. (I am half-Caucasian, half-Mexican American, and my extended family has European, Asian, American, and African roots.) I fear for my family and friends in the LGBTQ community, who are or want to get married, have children. I am frightened for my friends and previous students who are Muslim and walk around in hijabs. I worry that my black friends- and the black community as a whole- will further be pushed into a marginalized life and further subjected to police brutality. I’m concerned that my disabled friends will be mocked and attacked. I worry that people with mental illnesses- such as myself- will no longer have access to the services they need in order to lead productive, healthy lives.

Correction: My anxiety is not limited to just my friends and family; I worry for everyone. I cry for everyone, as my compassion does not discriminate between those in my intimate circle and those I have yet to meet. No one deserves to be treated like shit. We’re all human beings, all of us connected, and that is why this is not just a problem for the U.S. This election’s outcome is a global fucking menace. It’s no longer just an embarrassing joke on this country; it’s a real threat to every single human being on this planet, as well as the planet itself.

 

So, stepping back, while the reality TV spectacle that was the debates refused to end, I decided that it was time to move on. I set my target for the beginning of the year, because, regardless of the election’s outcome, I needed to look for a new home. I’ve been in the country since mid-June and have been ready to hit the road again. Nonetheless, this outlandish outcome has sped up my process, and ready or not, I shall leave in January.

Now, many people promised to leave the country if Trump won. Canada’s tourism site crashed the night of the elections. I wonder if so many people promised to do so as a threat, or because they couldn’t believe that something so horrid could actually come true. Kind of like Brexit. But it did. And we’re now living in a nightmarish reality in which we have to organize and decide what to do from now on. People must decide what to tell their kids daily while this manipulative man-child seizes the country. I can’t imagine how frightened parents must be of how the future will unfold during their children’s formative years.

So many people have such deep roots in this country, or have fought so hard to assimilate in hopes that the American Dream (which, I admit, I believe is dead) will give their family more opportunities for a brighter future. Most people can’t realistically just pack up and leave. They have mortgages, cars, location-dependent careers, spouses, and children who they can’t uproot. They have places of community, like clubs, churches, and schools, that need them. They have elderly parents they have to take care of.

What I’m saying is, for most people, picking up and leaving the country isn’t ideal or practical. I have read a few articles saying that we need to stay and stick together to endure the next four years and fight whatever hell we’re put through. Friends have told me not to leave, that I’m needed here more than ever. My parents want me to stay close by, of course, and my dad told me that I may never see them again after I leave. (They’re in their 70s, but my father acts like he’s 95.) All I could say is that I’d happily take them with me wherever I settle, just as long as we don’t have to be roommates.

I’ve thought this through. I contemplated the idea of staying. After all, if I am so unpatriotic, and if I didn’t give a damn about this country, then it wouldn’t have hit me so hard, would it? The truth is, I do care, much more than I’d like to. While at times I feel that the only connection I have to the U.S. is my family and friends, just the unintentional act of being born here has given me many undeniable privileges. Like having English be my first language, or being able to earn a decent income while people around the world, much older than me, did incomparably arduous work and got paid pennies. It’s allowed me to fund my own education, both in academia and the world at large. And, most importantly, it has given me the freedom of speech, the opportunity to express myself in words, for which others are imprisoned or murdered. For this, I am indescribably, forever grateful.

While I may be wanted here, at this time, I am not needed here. I feel that I will be able to help fight against this pending regime of dictatorship better from afar. And, after all, my strongest platform is through TRAVEL. I may hold a United Statesean passport, but I am a global citizen. Like I have been doing on the road since 2003- during the Bush administration- I must continue to show others what people from the United States of America are really like. I have never taken the cop-out of pretending to be Canadian, and that won’t change. Even more so than before, I feel that it is now my responsibility to exemplify the best of the U.S. as an expat.

 

If you need someone to listen to you, there will always be Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and a million other outlets for connection. And once I get settled, if you are weary, or broke, or need refuge, my hope is to be that person who can give you shelter from the storm. The future will be tempestuous, but we will remain strong, in solidarity, no matter the distance.

What is your reaction to the outcome of this presidential election?

 

Florence, Italy: A Room with a View

Whether you are off to celebrate an anniversary, are planning a romantic getaway, or simply want to marvel at the rustic beauty Europe has to offer, Italy is an obvious choice destination. Home to some of the world’s most spectacular architecture, cobblestone streets filled with historical charm, impeccable cuisine, and some of the friendliest people you will meet, there’s just something about Italy that will leave you craving even more.

If you are looking for an unparalleled taste of Italy’s artistic and culinary culture, Florence, the capital of Tuscany, beckons your visit. Bask in remnants of the Renaissance era, visit the opera, climb to the top of the Torre de San Niccolo, and, of course, stroll along the Arno River at any time of the day. There are simply too many sites and experiences to list, not to mention enjoy in one visit.

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When you are choosing accommodations in Florence, there are many places to choose from. However, the Lungarno Hotel is one of those places that offer a bit more charm, exceeding your expectations in many ways. It is the only four-star hotel in Florence overlooking the Arno River, providing spectacular panoramic views no matter the time of day.

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The perfect day in Florence begins on the terrace, savoring a delicious breakfast and absorbing the beautiful architecture along the Arno River. After a day filled with exploration of museums, markets, gardens, and UNESCO sites, treat yourself to one of the most important activities in Italy- enjoying a delicious meal. Head to the Michelin-starred restaurant, Borgo San Jacopo, for a candle-lit dinner. Let Italy’s renowned chef, Peter Brunel, prepare you a gastronomical delight as you watch the moon reflect off of the Torre de San Niccolo and into the river.

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Chances are, when you’re in Florence, you won’t want to waste any time sleeping. Instead of retiring to your (albeit luxurious and beckoning) room, head to the Picteau Lounge Bar to get the night started. While in the art corner, sip on your favorite cocktail while admiring the works of Picasso and Cocteau. Admire the night settling over the Arno River as the city lights up and a whole new side of Florence emerges. These experiences only come once in a lifetime.

Have you been to Florence or the luxurious Lungarno Hotel? What were your favorite things to do and see while in Italy? Please comment below!

Travel Tips for Vegans: A Twitter Chat

It’s been almost three years since I decide to leave vegetarianism behind and dive all the way into veganism. Fueled with a passion for animal rights and a curiosity for culinary diversity throughout the world, I brought together my love for travel with my new way of life. I became not just an ethical traveler, but a vegan traveler as well.

Last Thursday, OneTravel invited me back for another #OneTravelChat on Twitter, and to my delight, they wanted me to discuss my experiences while traveling on a plant-based diet. If you weren’t able to make the chat, I’ve posted the questions and answers below, as well as some extra tips and suggestions. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ve taken out the hashtags, handles, and abbreviations.) I hope you enjoy them!

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“Eat more fruits and vegetables.” -An adorable sign I saw outside of Chilimos, a vegan restaurant in Tarifa, Spain.

OneTravel: Can you tell us what being vegan means?

Me: Being vegan means eating a plant-based diet free of animal products, like eggs, dairy, and honey.

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Hanging out at Pylsa Pulsa in Reykjavik, Icleand, where they have delicious vegan dogs. Nope, being vegan does not cramp my traveling style.

OneTravel: How does being vegan affect your travel routine?

Me: Traveling as a vegan doesn’t change my travels much, although I do go out of my way to eat at vegan restaurants.

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Vegan dumplings. Oh me, oh my.

OneTravel: What have been some of your favorite vegan dishes on the road?

Me: Some of my favorite global vegan dishes: Fruit salad with chile in Mexico, spinach & chickpeas in Spain, and veggie dumplings in Taiwan.

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OneTravel: Who are your favorite vegan bloggers?

Me: This is difficult, because there are so many! Some favorites are: Randi of Veggie Visa, Amelia of Plant Powered Nomad, Caryl and Paul of Vegan Food Quest, Amanda of Burger Abroad, and Kristen of Will Travel for Vegan Food.

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Ok, so many of these items you can’t bring while backpacking, but I highly recommend the Vega snack bars!

OneTravel: Is there a staple you always carry with you in case you cannot find plant-based food?

Me: I bring granola bars, oatmeal & nuts w/ me, esp. on long bus rides. There’s often not much choice at the pit stops.

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A delicious burger at b13, one of my favorite restaurants in Madrid, Spain

OneTravel: What have been your favorite vegan-friendly cities?

Me: My fave vegan-friendly cities: Reykjavik, Taipei, Madrid, Budapest, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, and many more!

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OneTravel: What are some good resources to use if you’re traveling as a vegan for the first time?

Me: Before you go, read The Vegan Word’s The Essential Vegan Travel Guide. On the road, use the Happy Cow and Veganagogo apps. Also, check out my Vegan Travel Blogger Directory for inspiration from the experts.

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Portland is the BEST  if you’re a vegan!

OneTravel: Have you ever traveled somewhere specifically for the vegan food? Where?

Me: Yes! A veggie-friendly destination is crucial. The most extreme case was moving to Portland because it’s a vegan paradise!

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It’s surprisingly easy to be vegan in Turkey. Many of the cooks and waiters are curious as to why you’re vegan, too.

OneTravel: Do you have a favorite vegan-related travel story?

Me: The best vegan travel stories involve the naysayers who’ve given veganism a go because of me. Plus making awesome, like-minded friends (even if they’re animals).

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Random, yet awesome, photo to demonstrate how much I love cats. Photographer unknown.

OneTravel: What’s the best part about being a vegan traveler?

Me: As a vegan traveler, I help others realize that we can live (& eat) happily without harming animals. That’s the best.

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Photographer unknown.

If you’re interested in becoming vegan, or the common practices in the meat and dairy industries, not to mention how much a plant-based diet helps the planet, I’d suggest checking out these documentaries on Netflix.

Are you a vegan traveler? What tips would you include here? If you have any questions or comments, please write them in the box below!

On the Decision to Ban Pit Bulls in Montreal, Canada

Here’s the truth: There are SO MANY things going on in the world today that deserve discussion. My heart bleeds every morning and every evening when I see that innocent people are not only being killed, but being targeted as well. I die a little bit more inside when I hear people talking about the threat of refugees and Muslims– individuals with whom they have never come into contact or conversed. It angers me to see sexism and objectification continue in commercials, on billboards, and especially within government officials. I feel as if I cannot breathe, that I am powerless when people are being shot down in the street because they simply exist as a black person in a racist country.

As someone who has been privileged enough to have visited many diverse countries of various religions, socioeconomic standings, and complex histories, I feel it is my responsibility to share what I have learned and attempt to educate others. I try to do so, while keeping up with the on-goings of this globe, but the truth is that I cannot fight all battles. I must choose those with which I am well-acquainted and sink deep into my skin like demon leeches.

The pit bull ban in Montreal is one of those issues. I might not be as passionate about this injustice if I had not had the chance to have grown close to a pit bull puppy years ago, who is now elderly. As I see him walk around stiffly and yelp in discomfort, my heart saddens, for I know his borrowed time on this earth is soon to be returned, and he will no longer be in my life. I’ve been crying over dog-related stories, both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, and the breed-specific legislation that just passed in Montreal is one of them.

This is about dogs, but like I said before, it’s about much, much more. It’s about tearing our families apart, and giving those without a family the punishment of death. It’s about demonizing an entire breed of dogs due to a carefully-manipulated reputation.It shows that we live in a global society in which we ALL are still very much judged and mistreated by the way that we look. That, somehow, if we fit a certain profile, and don’t hold a particular status, our lives are less important than others’. Fear is perpetuated in an all-consuming conflagration, and we let ourselves burn.

Life is scary. None of us want to be hurt, and so we recoil, allowing shit like this to happen. And if we allow these kind of perpetrations to continue on an individual level, we do so on a much, much grander scale. We let our family members continue to believe that gay marriage is wrong because it’s easier not to argue; we let our friends continue to degrade other cultures because we don’t like confrontation; we let strangers abuse themselves and each other because it’s “none of our business.”

Is this really the kind of life we want to lead? Do we want to remain isolated and afraid and skeptical of each other because we were miseducated, or because we’re afraid of consequences that most likely won’t manifest? I say this in the most sincere manner possible: FUCK THAT. Choose something you stand for and get behind it. Open yourself up to the possibility of all the progress and beautiful connection your voice could bring to the world. Change is possible.

Please sign this petition to reverse Montreal’s ban against pit bulls.

#EndBSL
#StoptheHate
#Endracism
#LetsLoveEachOther