Friday, March 30, 2012

Full of COLOR #FriFotos

Every week on Twitter, people share photos from around the world based on a theme. I've seen other bloggers share pictures in the past, and lately I've been sharing some of my own pics. It's really fun.

This week's theme is "colorful" and since I love color so much, I decided to make an entire post about it. I hope you enjoy and log on Twitter to share your own pictures, too!

fruit stall at a market in Ecuador
hot air ballooning in Napa, California
colorful character--a barman in Germany
Tobacco Caye, Belize
left: Monet's garden in Giverny, France right: sunset on Hawaii's Big Island
lights on my parent's Christmas tree


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spencer's ABC's of Travel

Maggie did a great job with her ABC's of Travel so I thought I would give it a go as well. Enjoy!

A: Age you went on your first international trip
23. Maggie and I went to Europe and had an amazing time. We spent time in Amsterdam and Paris before going to England to meet up with my siblings. Then the five of us traveled over to Scotland and spent a week in my father's hometown, Perth. It was an unforgettable experience capped off by a wild three (or four?) days in Ireland with a fantastic Flaming Lips concert in Belfast. I'll never forget it.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where
Belikin Beer (Belize's National Beer). The actual beer is nothing special, but in the right circumstance (a hot day, Caye Caulker island, knee deep in the Caribbean water) it is a fantastic experience. They even put picnic tables in the water so you can eat your lunch and drink your beer without ever getting out of the water. How cool is that?!

Drinking beers at the Lazy Lizard bar in Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker, Belize

C: Cuisine (favorite)
It's a tough one, but recently we had some amazing sushi in Japan. I love wasabi!!

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why
Favorite: Amsterdam. The canals. Everyone rides bikes. The friendly international vibe. The cafes.

Least favorite: Dangriga, Belize. Passing through on our way to San Ignacio. Spent a night in Dangriga. Ended up in a questionable hotel room. Super dirty. Lots of bugs. Yuck.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”
We were riding bikes in along the country roads outside of Amsterdam. It was the most perfect summer day with amazing farmland and fields to accompany us on a peaceful ride. Then all of the sudden. BAM! I was not paying attention to where I was going, bumped into Maggie, and we both crashed to the ground. I ended up falling right on Maggie's bike and slicing my leg pretty badly on the gear spokes.

After some super ghetto first aid, where we tore the sleeves off of my shirt to wrap around my leg, we started biking back to the city. On the way back, we got super lost and had no idea which direction we needed to go. Seemingly from nowhere, a man on a bike rides up from behind us. He saw that we are having a hard time and asks us where we are going. "Ah, Amsterdam, okay...I am headed that direction. Follow me".

He then preceded to lead us all the way back to the city (maybe a 45 minute ride). He pointed us in the direction of a hospital and then went along his merry way. We made it to an Emergency Room where a nurse (who spoke perfect English) happily cleaned up and bandaged my leg. I didn't have insurance papers or anything with me. "Ah that's no problem", they said. "What is your address in the United States? We will send you a bill. It isn't that expensive".

I think it was at that point that I turned to Maggie and said something along the lines of "Wow. This country and its people are fucking awesome."

F: Favorite mode of transportation
To go long distances: Trains. To explore a city: BICYCLES!

G: Greatest feeling while traveling
When you arrive at a new city late at night and go to sleep knowing all the fascinating things you will get to do the next day. Then the morning arrives and you wake up. I love that initial feeling you get that first morning. The excitement is electric. There is so much to do. So much to see. Showers and breakfast are just stupid boring details you need to get out the way ASAP so you can go out and EXPLORE.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to
Coachella in 2007. All day in the blistering, unforgiving heat. It was totally worth it, but hot daaaaamn that weather was crazy. The best feeling ever was sitting on the grass after the sun finally went down, listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers and scarfing down 5 ice cream sandwiches for dinner.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
We spent two days at Chaa Creek in one of the Camp Casitas. It is a small tent-cabin campground inside one of the nicest resorts in Belize. We got massages, lounged in a really neat pool while enjoying drinks and snacks, and breakfast and dinner were both included and consisted of amazing home-cooked food in the camp area. I loved every minute of it.

J: Journey that took the longest
The 13 hour plane ride + 5 hour bus ride to get to our current home in Suncheon, South Korea. The end result was a combination of exhaustion and excitement for our new life in Korea. Long plane rides are strange...I thought I would sleep but ended up watching like 4 or 5 movies.

K: Keepsake from your travels
Maggie and I kept a journal when we traveled through Europe in 2008. We took turns writing about our travels and even added pictures/ticket stubs/other mementos from the trip. It was super fun and made for a great souvenir. We are planning to do a similar journal for our adventure through Southeast Asia next year. Maybe we will share the end result with you!

L: Let-down sight, why and where
The biggest let down for me is the sight of your home city after you have been traveling for a while. I don't think I have ever had a "let down sight" while I've been traveling.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel
When I moved to Korea and took a trip to Hong Kong for a week in July 2011, I realized how ridiculously easy it really is to travel. When people (myself included) tend to think about travel, they build it up in their head and create complications which usually end up holding back or delaying their travels. I overcomplicated things in the past. Now I see the light. This shit ain't that hard. You just gotta go for it!

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in
The night before we flew to Belize for our honeymoon, we decided to splurge and stay at a fancy hotel in San Jose. We stayed at the Cypress Hotel and it was great! We left super early the next morning to catch a flight but I wish we could have stayed at that type of hotel every night on our trip. Everything was so nice and fancy.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?
  • Goofy street art
  • Things that involve water (canals, rivers, lakes, oceans, etc)
  • Ummm....
  • Goofy street art involving water? I guess that would be my ultimate photo op

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?
22. I am a travel rookie compared to Maggie.
The Netherlands, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belize, Guatemala, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where
"The Gum Wall" in San Louis Obispo, California is a bizarre little alley with thousands upon thousands of pieces of gum stuck to the walls. It's pretty silly and awe inspiring to walk through and see the epic amount of gum that was chewed to create this living art project (the pictures don't do it justice). We added our contribution, of course.
Sticking gum onto the gum wall in SLO
San Louis Obispo, California

R: Recommended sight, event or experience
Releasing wish balloons at midnight on New Year's Eve at the Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan. We arrived too late to get a balloon, but still experienced the amazing spectacle when hundreds (maybe thousands) of people welcomed the new year by releasing their balloons into the night's sky.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling
Saving time. I will gladly pay a little more for a 3 hour bullet train instead of an 8 hour bus ride. This definitely applies more when you only have a short amount of time for your vacation. If you are slow traveling through Asia (like we plan on doing in 2013) then there is nothing wrong with taking your time and saving your money.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done
I visited Washington D.C. when I was in 8th grade on a school trip. While this is obviously "touristy", it was an event that occurred on the trip that sticks with me as a total bonehead tourist move. We were given about an hour to explore the National Mall. Some friends and I spent too much time walking around the reflecting pool and I suddenly realized that we didn't have much time to go see the Lincoln Memorial. Being the dumb 8th grader that I was I just ran up the steps and snapped a quick photo of the Lincoln statue without even really looking at it.

"Okay, now I've seen it," I thought. "Let's go back to the bus."

 I never really saw it. I never appreciated it's symbolism or power. I never got the true experience because I was in a hurry and I thought a photo would do. I am still bummed about not taking my time. Things like that are much more powerful when you take your time and experience them with the camera in your pocket.

U: Unforgettable travel memory
I have two. The first was Raggamuffin Tours' sailing adventure in Belize: 3 days on a sailboat. Snorkeling, fishing, and island hopping with a dozen rowdy adventurers. It was truly unforgettable.

The second is Yosemite. Everything about Yosemite is majestic. I will never forget walking around Yosemite Valley for the first time. One of the greatest places on earth.

V: Visas, how many and for where?
Just one! South Korea (my current home)

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?
I have no idea. Never pay much attention to wine.

X: eXcellent view and from where?
I have to agree with Maggie. The view on top of Victoria's Peak in Hong Kong is unbelievable.

A view from the top of Victoria's Peak in Hong Kong
Victoria's Peak, Hong Kong

Y: Years spent traveling?
2011 and 2012 are my first "true" travel years. Hopefully that number will continue to climb!

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?                  
I love sports. But I have yet to have a great travel moment involving sports and/or zealous fans.

So I will leave this up to our audience. Help me out with the last question! Tell me your amazing/silly/wacky sports fan story.

Best story wins a lifetime supply of high fives, redeemable anytime!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Best Time to Visit Yosemite Valley

Tunnel View - El Capitain on the left, Bridalveil Falls on the right and Half Dome in the distant center.
Yosemite National Park is a world renowned place with spectacular views but there is one downside. When a place is this beautiful and famous, there will always be heaps of people wanting to see it and 3.7 million people visit the park every year to gawk at how amazing nature can be.

When you go to see one of the most breathtaking places nature has to offer, you want to see it with as few people as possible. For me, large crowds tend to interfere with that whole connecting-with-nature thing. 

Merced River
To avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Yosemite is early-mid spring and here's why: schools aren't out for the summer yet and people still think it's too cold to visit. Once schools close for the summer, family vacations begin and the park gets more busy. Also, the warmer weather in June, July, and August attracts people.

Here's what you can expect when visiting in the spring:

On the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Valley will be mostly clear of snow but you'll still be able to see snow on the surrounding mountains. There's something about snow capped mountains that I just love.

Left: Vernal Falls Right: Upper Yosemite Falls
The waterfalls in the valley will be raging full force from all that snow melting in the warm spring sunshine. Yay! Waterfalls make me happy. :)

Carrying our extra layers at the top of the mountain, almost to Upper Yosemite Falls.
The combination of hiking and that same warm spring sun will make exploring the miles of trails enjoyable and not too hot/not too cold. It will be chilly in the morning and at night so bring layers but be prepared to peel them off as the day warms up and you get your body moving.

An empty trail in Yosemite Valley
  Most places and trails will be open (although not all, including Half Dome, check Yosemite's website for more details). There will be a fraction of the people on the trails meaning that you will be able to enjoy them without 100 other people flitting about trying to get a picture that looks like no one is around them.

Free Transportation within Yosemite Valley (photo source)
 There won't be traffic in the valley but the eco-friendly shuttle bus system will still be running to help you get around. Best part? It's FREE!
our tent cabin

There are a variety of places to sleep, from camping to a five star hotel, that are open year round. We car camped one year and stayed in a non-heated tent cabin another year. The tent cabin was an adequate mix of camping and comfort and you can get a heated one. (tip: Bring an extra sleeping bag if you can. There were plenty of blankets to keep warm but the sleeping bag was more comfortable.)
just playing in the valley
Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? When did you go and what did you think? Share your story with us!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Beauty of Ecuador

My best friend Amanda and I decided to forgo Thanksgiving with our families one year and travel to Ecuador for eight days. We didn't know a whole lot about Ecuador and we knew very little Spanish but we had a friend studying abroad there so we thought, "what the hell, let's go!"

We had an exciting time, although it was scary at times. We took night buses to make the most of our time which we later found out is one of the most dangerous things you can do. It rains practically everyday in Ecuador and the rain combined with the roads built on the cliffs of the Andes mountains are not the safest in the world. Plus, just like anywhere else, weirdos come out at night. Another scary thing was that there were no real bus stops, just street corners or seemingly random spots that the people just knew the bus would stop at.

Even though navigating the buses was a challenge, we had some great adventures walking the streets of historic Cuenca, hiking and white water rafting in the Amazon rainforest in Tena, and trying not to get too lost in Quito.

Cuenca courthouse
A family outside the courthouse. I love the mix of traditional and modern clothing.
A small town market near Cuenca. Aren't those baskets beautiful?
Left: The church is the main square of a small town near Cuenca. Right: Old woman at the market.
Viva Tena - visiting the rainforest
The work of a colony of leaf cutter ants.
Amazon spider!
Treats in the rainforest -- this tasted like sour candy!
My BFF Amanda and me, slightly blurry but still good.
Fungi of the forest. These little guys were teeny.

Part of our white water rafting trip was getting "facials" in a canyon.
An angel statue looking over the sprawl of Quito.
Left: Church bell tower in Quito. Right: The tourist attraction called the equator but it's not the real equator (lame).
Climbing church steeples. See that very top window on the steeple? We are looking out of that window in it's twin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bongeunsa Temple Tour in Seoul

Earlier this month, Maggie and I took a weekend trip to Seoul to visit Katie, Kyle, and Allie. We had a four day weekend which meant we had the rare opportunity to take part in the Bongeunsa Temple Tour (Every Thursday at 2pm). Bongeunsa is a 1,200 year temple tucked right in between gigantic buildings and a bustling city atmosphere. While it is seemingly surrounded by chaos, the inside of the temple grounds is one of the more peaceful areas in all of Seoul.

The tour was fantastic! We had a very knowledgeable guide who spoke very good English. He walked us around the entire temple area, telling stories and discussing the history of the temple. One thing that stuck with me was how peaceful and calm it was inside the temple grounds, but when you walk up a small hill you can see that the temple is literary right smack dab in the middle of a HUGE city! Buildings, apartments, streets--it feels like you are suddenly transported to a different world.

We were able to spend about ten minutes inside one of the largest temples, and we learned all about proper temple etiquette when it comes to bowing and praying. I was blown away by the amount of Buddhas inside the temple. Check out this wall...there are literally hundreds of them all lined up together.

Next stop: Tea time! But this wasn't your average tea sesh. No, we got the real deal on this tour. We all piled into a little tea room where two kind ladies taught us the proper way to prepare, brew and serve several types of teas. I think my favorite part was the side snacks that they served with the tea. We get side dishes with everything in Korea; I love it!

Then it was off to the meditation section of the tour. We all sat in a big circle where we were greeted by a Buddhist monk. He spoke through a translator and told us about his life, philosophies, and the many benefits of meditation. He taught us the proper way to meditate and even did a quick Q&A session to answer any questions we had. Awesome guy! I wish I could have snapped a photo of him, but I left my camera in my jacket. Whoops!

The last part of the tour was a flower making activity. Sweet! Arts and Crafts! If our school did this tour as a field trip, our kindergarten students would be dancing around the room at this point, hooting and hollering about the glorious fact that they get to do some sort of craft. Our project was to make colorful paper lotus flowers. It was super fun, and I even felt a little bit like a student myself while I picked out the paper and glued it all together. Now I know where all of the students' excitement comes from.

If you are in Seoul and have the Thursday off work, the Bongeunsa Tour is a great experience. You'll learn a thing or two about temple history and Buddhism, and you'll come away with a kick ass arts and crafts project to hang in your apartment.

Cost: 20,000 Won
Time: 2pm to ~4:30pm every Thursday
Phone number: 82-2-3218-4895 (English)
Bongsunsa Website
How To Get There

Have you been to Bongeunsa (or any other temple in Korea?) Share your experiences and tell us where to go next!

Monday, March 19, 2012

They Draw & Travel

I love when travel and art come together to make fantastic things and They Draw & Travel does just that with super fun maps created by artists living around the globe and collected on their site

There are over 500 maps to browse through and since anyone can submit a map, there are many styles and layouts. Most of the maps have travel advice worked into them, whether it be via text or graphics highlighting things to do. You can search through them using a variety of parameters set into three categories: vibe, region, and art style.

They also have an online shop and they are putting together a book, both from which artists receive royalties. I'd love to make something for them one day...I'll have to keep working on my drawing skills!

I found They Draw & Travel while reading the first issue of the beautiful travel magazine, Wayfare.