MIAMI MAMI

|| Travel Date || 27 July 2017 – 31 July 2017

Typically when I travel, the purpose is to experience exotic food, beautiful culture, and incredible architecture/nature, but my intentions for Miami was simply to help throw Halu (my best friend and sister-in-law) the best bachelorette party ever. There was six of us total and although most of the long weekend was spent heavily drinking, we did experience a lot of what Miami has to offer.

We landed Thursday afternoon and headed straight to Miami Beach. We stayed on Collins Ave. at The Confidante hotel, a boutique hotel perfectly located near South Beach and just across the highway from the mainland. We quickly got ready and headed out to Wynwood for the night. Wynwood is an iconic arts district covered with graffiti and murals on nearly every touchable surface, I highly recommend walking around and exploring, even if you’re just walking from bar to bar. We started off with dinner and drinks at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, a tapas-style latin restaurant donned with a Shepard Fairey mural and mixed modern art creating a really cool, artsy vibe. We then walked over to Beaker & Gray for more drinks (late night happy hour there is great) before heading to Wood Tavern to drink and dance. The outdoor section of the tavern was really fun, it was packed all night with a live DJ and it was the best way to start our trip.

 

Friday we started off at the pool of our hotel, we rented a cabana and spent the day drinking shots of tequila and chasing with pitchers of Spicy Chinos (Mezcal, Tequila, Mango, Jalapeño, Lime, Cilantro, Agave), I’m honestly only incorporating the ingredients here so that I can remake this cocktail every summer for the rest of my life. Our hotel was located right on the beach, so we’d jump in the pool, run out to the ocean, drink some more, and repeat. Our server even got us a portable speaker so that we could play music by the pool, we essentially turned The Backyard into a full on day party. Now this was a bachelorette party, so after a quick nap and a few pink wigs later, we ended up at the strip club, LaBare… and that’s all I’m going to say about that 😉 Later that night we went to E11EVEN, a multi-level nightclub open 24/7 with burlesque dancers and bottle service. We  danced and drank until nearly four in the morning before we relocated to Heart, an after-hours nightclub just across the street. Miami does not stop. It was incredible that this was just our first full day and yet we were already having so much fun. 

  

On Saturday, the pouring rain changed our plans a bit, but it was much needed after the previous day of nonstop drinking. We took it easy through the afternoon and then headed down to Sweet Liberty for happy hour. If you’re a fan of oysters, then you should definitely stop there for happy hour with $0.75 oysters and $5 rosé. After 72 oysters and many glasses of rosé later, we (literally) waited out the storm before heading back to our hotel to get ready for the night. We went a little out of the way for dinner to Mignonette, but it was well worth it for the seafood towers and champagne, if you’re looking for great seafood without the pretentious bullshit, definitely check it out. We then headed to Do Not Sit On The Furniture in South Beach, it has a very locals-only vibe, it’s dimly-lit and all deep house music. Not going to lie, wasn’t really my scene, but it was cool for what it was!

Sunday morning we stopped at Orange Blossom for brunch before we headed out to Biscayne Bay for the day. We rented a chartered catamaran through boat.me, sort of like an airbnb service – but for yachts. The experience was incredibly seamless and our captain was awesome. We cruised through the lagoon, jumped into the ocean, and once again day-drank copious amounts of alcohol. It was truly well worth the money to do, especially split up between friends, I just wish they had something like this in LA! When we returned back to the mainland, we went to the legendary Versailles for cuban sandwiches, plantains, mojitos, and coconut flan. There’s always a crazy long line, but it moves quickly; we waited at most twenty-minutes for a table, and for a dinner under $20, I’m down. That night, the new club, Mr. Jones, opened. Although Sunday nights aren’t exactly ideal for going out, we decided to check it out as it was our last night in town. There were tray-passed hors d’oeuvres which were actually pretty tasty and vodka-infused gummies which were actually pretty disgusting. The music was fun and the crowd was chill, but by 3am, pizza and my bed sounded amazing.

Monday morning we simply laid by the pool, had breakfast at the hotel, and then relaxed before checking out. We cruised down to South Beach to get a late lunch at Sushi Song, did some touristy souvenir shopping, then headed to the airport. I was so sad to go, but my liver and my credit card were very happy we were leaving. This was my first bachelorette party and to be quite honest, I don’t know how anyone else is going to top it.

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New York, New York

|| Travel Date || 10 March 2016 – 14 March 2016

It’s pretty crazy to think that I have traveled to fourteen different countries, yet I have only been to a handful of states. I learned how to snowboard in Utah, I have driven to Arizona a couple times, really only visited Nevada for Las Vegas, and I visited two of the Hawaiian islands. So it seemed only right that I finally made it to the East Coast (with the exception of an international layover). I had been wanting to go to New York for many years and I simply needed an excuse to book a trip. I had enough air miles, I always had friends offering up hospitality, I could eat my body weight in street food and die happy, so really there was nothing holding me back.

I woke up one morning to an Instagram notification that my Austrian cousin, Nora, had tagged me in a photo. I smiled thinking it was probably a throwback or something from Europe and I eagerly swiped open to see. Instead, it was a picture of New York with a caption exclaiming that she just booked her flight. Absolutely thrilled, I texted her immediately to confirm the authenticity of the caption, and the next thing I knew, I was booking my flight to New York too. I didn’t really have a plan, I just booked a long weekend (Thursday – Monday) and figured I’d wing it.

 

I landed at JFK on Thursday evening, made my way to the city, and I checked into my boutique hotel just around the corner from Time Square. I quickly dropped off my bags and immediately began my night. At the time, I was working remotely for a company based in New York, so I reached out to my boss, Brian, to show me around the city. We started at the rooftop of The Press Lounge, the dramatic panoramic views of the city paired with a few cocktails was the perfect combination for a bougie intro to the city. My rule for drinking is that there has to be food as well, especially when we’re switching from liquor to beer to liquor to more liquor to… So we made our way to The Gotham West Market, a large marketplace with various restaurant pop-ups serving exotic cuisine from all over the world. It was really difficult to pick just one place, but I parked my ass on a stool at Cannibal and splurged on a pigs head cuban and a beer. It sounds aggressive, but it was really delicious. Then we switched it up at Maysville for muscles with smoked jalapeño and paprika aioli, cauliflower filled pasta drizzled in a brown butter sauce with walnuts and ricotta, all paired with an artfully crafted Boulevardier. Naturally after all of this unreal gourmet eating and drinking you’d think we’d be stuffed, right? Well, that was the case until we went to Eataly. Flashback to my favorite restaurant in Venice, Italy when I ate at the perfectly executed Rossopomodoro. It’s more of a new-age Italian style restaurant, but still with phenomenal ingredients and extensive options. When I saw the familiar sign hanging above a massive stone pizza oven, my eyes watered up as I joyfully ran to the hostess. I asked her, if this was indeed the same Rossopomodoro as in Venice? She smiled warmly and in a perfectly eloquent Italian accent exclaimed, “yes, it is!” So I shamelessly ordered an entire pizza and forced Brian to finish the box with me. As if the evening couldn’t get any more ridiculous, we finished it off in Times Square like a couple of tourists starring off at the bright lights casually 10lbs heavier.

  

The next morning I met up with my Austrian family for a day of exploring and museums. I swear, I didn’t just go to New York to eat everything. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), strolled through Grand Central Park admiring the stretch of nature located in the center of the concrete jungle, shopped on 5th Street (well window shopped, only thing I bought was a phone charger), and eventually ended at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). We opted to walk everywhere that day to be able to appreciate the architecture and experience as much of the city that we could. Everything is so close in proximity so it’s really easy to get anywhere by foot. Later that night, I went to Aldo Sohm for a glass of Pinot Noir from Patagonia, some chef’s choice cheese pairings and cured salami. It’s actually comical how much money I spent eating and drinking in New York, I really wanted to try everything. The money I saved staying with friends was in-turn spent on extravagant consumption. That evening I stayed at my friend Allegra’s home in The Upper East side, after a long night of drinking and a lot of walking, it was nice to just stay in and watch Sex In The City. It seemed rather appropriate that the first time I actually watched a full episode was in NYC.

 
 

At this point, I was right back to my typical vagabond ways. I grabbed my bags and headed down to East Village where I would stay at my other friend’s apartment for the remaining two nights. Of course, I wasn’t going to cross town without hitting up a few more iconic touristy destinations, Grand Central Terminal, The Empire State Building, etc. When I eventually arrived in East Village, my friend Ana wasn’t off work yet, so I met up with her boyfriend that I hadn’t met prior to showing up at his front door. Surprisingly, he was really cool to let a stranger in his apartment and grab dinner with me. I was beyond excited to learn that their apartment was just two doors down from Momofuku Noodle Bar. After some epic ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and a poached egg on top, we headed across town to The Standard, High Line for their Biergarten and rooftop ~views~. By that time, Ana was finally off work and we joyfully reunited after too many years apart. We started bar-hopping and ended up at some weirdly awesome places. After stopping by what felt like a high school frat party mixed with a grungy underground bar with some spectacular moments caught on snapchat, we finally headed back home. The next morning we crossed the bridge to get lunch at Randolph in Williamsburg, aka hipster heaven, we got a pitcher of a strawberry/cucumber/vodka/basic cocktail and I splurged on a fried spicy chicken sandwich with coleslaw and waffle fries, because duhh. The remainder of the day was spent exploring Brooklyn. I love getting lost within new places and just walking around for hours. Brooklyn is so different from Manhattan and it was really cool to experience the extreme contrast. After a long day, we returned back to Manhattan in the Lower East Side to check out the iconic, Katz’s Deli. As I’m sure you can imagine it was incredible, I gained another 10lbs and further solidified my love for New York. The next morning I was sadly off to the airport, I felt like I blinked and my spontaneous trip was already over. I stopped at Black Seed for one last bagel in New York and some Stumptown Coffee before rushing off to JFK.

Usually when I write about a trip, I feel like there’s more of a guide or educational purpose, but this was really just a tale of massive consumption. I’m not mad about it though if you aren’t? I know I’ll be back to New York plenty more times in my life, but this was definitely an amazing experience for a first-timer. As always if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or if you just want to chat, feel free to write below!

Over to O’ahu

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|| Travel Date || 1 June 2015 – 23 June 2015

About a month prior to my departure, I was catching up with an old friend at a restaurant in Santa Barbara. At the time, she was working for a travel company that organized trips for recent high school graduates to various tropical destinations. Every summer they send their employees along for three weeks to help execute the program. Pretty amazing gig, right? It’s technically considered volunteering, therefore the chaperones aren’t paid hourly – but the flight, the hotel, and activities are covered on top of a generous weekly stipend. It seemed like the perfect situation while I was in between jobs and I grew evermore envious as she continued explaining the perks. I needed to know how I could get on board (literally). When she informed me that they still needed additional staff, I immediately leaped on the opportunity. Before I knew it, I was booking my trip back to the islands. Luckily the company was extremely flexible with the flights. As long as I was available on the day they needed me and the cost of my flight was comparable to what they anticipated paying, they didn’t mind when or where I departed to. Therefore, I managed to squeeze a vacation back to Kaua’i before working in O’ahu. All I had to pay for was my connecting flight between the two islands.

It’s impossible to summarize the days leading up to the program, the three weeks of “work”, and the final days before departing back home. There’s just way too many adventures and stories to tell. I hiked breathtaking trails, laid on every beach I could, splurged on amazing food, and I never stopped exploring. To try and simplify everything wouldn’t give proper justice to O’ahu. So rather than explaining the trip in it’s entirety, I’m going to highlight my favorite parts by category and leave the rest to your imagination.

Hikes

Although some of these hikes I did are now illegal, there are still many beautiful hikes that you can do legally! If you do choose an illegal trail, please be cautious and do your due diligence before exploring. For instance, The Haʻikū Stairs (Stairway to Heaven) and Sacred Falls are the two most popular illegal hikes, both of which are illegal because of multiple fatal incidents. While some hikes are illegal for safety reasons, many are illegal for preservation purposes and are actually legal for locals. Again, I don’t suggest breaking the law, but below are the hikes that I did:

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The Kalihi Ice Ponds are located within a small neighborhood off of the Likelike Hwy and the trail head is fairly difficult to find, but it’s a quick hike and worth every moment. After a short partially paved trail is a narrow muddy pathway down to the ice ponds. Grab hold onto the supported rope as you navigate your way down the slippery path. At the bottom of the pathway are multiple layers of ponds and waterfalls with massive cliffs and bone-chilling, cold water. Ok, it’s not that cold, but in comparison to how warm the ocean is, these ponds were really, really cold. Take a refreshing dip in the ponds and explore the various paths through the jungle, it’s nice to find a hidden gem not overrun with tourists.

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Makapu’u Tom Tom Trail, where to even begin? So this hike was one of the hardest and most emotional hikes I have ever been on. We got lost, I almost slipped off a three-thousand foot cliff, I got a second-degree sunburn, I was dehydrated, I had multiple cuts and bruises, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. With that said, it was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever witnessed and I learned some amazing life lessons during my eight-hour trek. Do note, this hike is highly illegal for safety reasons, hence why I nearly died when I slipped at the cliff edge and held onto nothing but the mountain for dear life.

 

Lulumahu Falls, the neat thing about this hike is the amount of diversity it has to offer. You begin your voyage through a bamboo forest until you reach an open valley, within the valley are graffitied cement walls radiating an almost abandoned and untouched vibe. Just a little further is a muddy pathway along a narrow stream, surrounded by lush vegetation and massive rocks, and finally ending at a beautiful waterfall. It’s always rewarding to hike a long trail to a destination rather than just a loop. In my opinion, standing under the waterfall and letting the chilly water cool you down after climbing up a muddy trail is the best feeling ever.

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Maunawili Valley, similar to the Lulumahu trail, Maunawili is a lush hike to a beautiful waterfall, but Maunawili also has breathtaking views of the valley from up above. It has a very Jurassic Park-esque vibe to it. Maunawili is also a much smaller waterfall and thus is one you can safely jump off of and into the cool water. I feel like this hike is pretty underrated for how amazing it is – I highly recommend this hike! Easy to access the trail head and tons of free neighborhood parking.

Beaches

Waikiki, the most obnoxiously touristy part of the island, but a must. The beach itself is overly populated and very small, but the shops, restaurants, and people watching along the boardwalk are worth checking out. Waikiki is also rich in history, rent a long board and ride the waves just like Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku.

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Waimea Bay, located up in the North Shore is a very popular, fairly crowded cove. Waimea is well known for the huge rocks to dive off of and plenty of room to bbq and make an entire day trip out of it.

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Banzai Pipeline, most people know of this beach simply because of the annual surf competition, but during the off months, it’s actually a rather quiet and very beautiful beach. Plus, the beachside mansions are pretty neat to look at too, #goals.

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Lanikai, hands down one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. There’s something magical about this place that I cannot explain, the sand is soft like cashmere and the ocean is crystal clear. Lanikai is located on the East Side of the island directly across from the Mokulua Islands or “Mokes.” Watching the sunrise over the islands is one of the most captivating, therapeutic, and potentially romantic sights ever. Gentleman, take note, a proposal here is basically a guaranteed yes.

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Papa’iloa Beach, tucked away behind some luxurious homes is the best spot for spotting sea turtles. They are everywhere. Extremely skittish, but they can be seen surfing all over the place. Palm trees lined the beach creating the perfect amount of shade to cool off under between swimming and tanning.

Food

With the exception of the occasional Ramen Bowl at the infamous Ramen Nakamura, my diet consisted mainly of fish and fruit. O’ahu is well known for their Food Trucks and understandably so – some of my best meals were served from a rusty old truck parked off the side of the highway. Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp and The Elephant Truck are my absolute favorites.

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Of course, there’s the touristy musts of the Hawaiian Islands. If it’s your first time in Hawaii, I highly recommend going to a Luau. They’re a bit expensive, but it’s totally worth it for the amazing dinner, talented performers, and the entire experience. Germaine’s Luau serves up a traditional Kalua Pig slow roasted in the ground with hot rocks until cooked to perfection. There’s a full buffet with traditional Hawaiian dishes if pork isn’t your thing or if you just want to eat everything like me. Now, if you’re a pineapple fiend like myself, you’ll have to check out the Dole Plantation or at least find a store that serves Dole Whips, aka the greatest pineapple soft serve in the world. As tasty as Hawaiian Shaved Ice is, it’s got nothing on a Dole Whip.

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If you’re on the go and looking to grab something cheap and fast, stop by an ABC Store (they’re practically on every corner) for anything from sandwiches to drinks to fruit and all your basic convenient store needs. While you’re checking out the local markets, be sure to stop by Foodland and get some fresh poké! Also, a bit harder to find, but Honey Cream Pineapple is sometimes at the Whole Foods in Kailua near Lanikai. Honey Cream Pineapple from Frankie’s Nursery is one of the most amazingly sweet and juicy trademarked fruits that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. I even brought a few back to the mainland for my friends and family to try.

Towns

While you can easily drive around the entire island in just a few hours, there’s a few places that you need to make sure you don’t just pass through. Obviously if I haven’t stressed enough how amazing the North Shore is, you must spend as much time as possible up there. Haleiwa is a small historic town within the North Shore, check out the Old Town and bring cash! I’m not much of a souvenir shopper but there’s some really neat shopping and tasty food over there. Plus, it’s a really cute town to see even if you don’t want to spend any money. The Westside of the island is unfortunately a bit too industrial for my liking; With the exception of Aulani, the Disney Hotel, there isn’t much to see over there. As I said before, Waikiki is a touristy must. There’s so much history in Waikiki and tons to do and see, although my favorite part of the island is the nature, it’s still fun to check out the city. The Eastside is where most of the locals live, it’s stunningly beautiful and very cozy. You’ll definitely get that small town vibe when you’re driving around the east. Last, but not least, you must check out the center of the island. Some of the best hikes are just off of the Likelike Hwy. The views alone as you cruise along the highway are worth the detour.

Activities

It’s an obvious must to rent a surfboard or snorkel gear and get out in the crystal clear ocean, but there are so many other water activities worth checking out too. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, check out H2O Water Sports, a few of my coworkers and I went parasailing and conquered the banana boat. Parasailing is as epic as I imagined, being up in the air and looking over the island with a birds-eye-view was really breathtaking. I could not stop smiling the entire time I was up there.

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On the other hand, the banana boat was the exact opposite of what I expected. I cannot even put in to words how much f**king fun that was. A large inflatable raft pulled by a high-speed jet ski seems like it could be a good time, but when Tony drove up with a cigar in his mouth and a huge smirk across his face, I immediately knew that we were in deep shit. Of course, I mean that in the best way possible. The goal as a rider is to hold on as tight as possible and to not fall off, but good ol’ Tony’s goal was to make sure we didn’t see the light of day. Usually the drivers are playful, drive safely, and will take the occasional sharp turn to knock off a rider, everyone laughs, the rider hops back on, and the fun continues. Instead it was a vicious high-speed battle of Tony whipping back and forth until each and every one of us eventually launched off into the water. Now, if you’re looking for something a bit more mellow than that, check out the sunset catamaran rides in Waikiki. The picturesque views and Friday Firework shows are worth every penny.

With that said – I must wrap this up. If you have any questions or want to hear more about anything above, please feel free to comment below! As always, have fun and happy traveling!

Stopping by Salzburg

|| Travel Date || 26 December 2014

After a dreamlike train ride through the snowy Austrian Alps, I arrived in Salzburg. I had been very conscientious about utilizing public transit everywhere I possibly could, but at this point, I had too much luggage and it was far too heavy to handle alone. I’m stubborn, but this was just not manageable. I took a taxi directly from the train station, through a snowy canyon, atop a large mountain, to my bed & breakfast. Flash back to before I left for Europe, I asked my Bavarian grandmother what I should do in Austria, she smiled and requested that I stay the night at a B&B. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the breakfast since I had my flight very early in the morning, but I very-much-so enjoyed the bed and view in my private room.

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After dropping off my luggage and reducing my 110lbs of baggage to a manageable 5lb purse, I was off. I walked down a steep path through the snow and literally danced in excitement. I don’t get to see snow often, so on the rare occasion when I’m in the midst of a storm, I cannot contain my excitement. Snowflakes fluttered down as I strolled to the nearest bus stop and rode into town. I only had a German map and no expectations (or plan) for Salzburg. I simply waited until the bus arrived in a lovely looking area, close to where there seemed to be a fair amount of people around, and I hopped off.

I arrived in a courtyard surrounded by Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Schloss Mirabell, and Mozart-Wohnhaus. Or in English… A 17th-century palace, a monumental church, and Mozart’s house. I didn’t have more than just a moment to quickly pass by each structure, but it was amazing just to be there. I walked a little further, crossed the Salzach (river) and found myself in the oldest part of town. The streets grew narrower and the buildings were rich with history. Every corner unveiled another breathtaking view until I finally made my way to Fortress Hohensalzburg, the 11th-century fortress perched atop the city hilltop. It was getting late and I unfortunately didn’t have the time to fully explore the castle, but the view above the city was worth the climb. I continued walking and ended up at the Christkindlmarkt. At this point the adrenaline began to wear off and walking around in the snow quickly caught up to me. In addition, since it was a holiday, everything began closing extra early. I stopped for a quick hot punsch and a brätwurst before scurrying back to my bus stop to head home.

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Of course, I didn’t study up on my bus time table and soon realized that the next bus wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another hour and a half. So… ha… now what? I looked around for the only open hospitality, Hotel Sacher Salzburg, a swanky hotel located right on the river. I wobbled my half frozen ass inside and requested a table, the maître d’ rudely looked me up and down and sat me in a corner table away from the fur-coated guests. I ordered a soup and a beer, for they were only items on the menu that I could understand. The waiter brought me my soup and a newspaper then disappeared. Shortly after the rest of the restaurant cleared and I was alone. I sat in complete, eerie silence for an hour, finally flagged someone down so that I could pay my bill and I left. I never got my beer. With barely a minute to spare, I found the correct bus and quickly headed home. I have to say, I’m used to traveling alone and don’t get lonely easy, but the bizarre silence in town and back at the B&B made me really eager to come home. I packed my life away and got to bed early, for the next day was about to be a very long, long day

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Wanna go to Ljublijana?

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|| Travel Date || 22 December 2014

When I arrived in Klagenfurt, I had no expectations. As the guest, I simply left the week up to my family. One evening, as we all sat around the dinner table, they asked if there was anything specific that I wanted to do. They began rattling off various ideas of things to do, places to see, food to eat, etc. One of the suggestions was taking a day trip to Slovenia. As a Los Angeles native, it baffles me to ever-so-casually drive to another state for the day – let alone another country for the day.

I immediately questioned how feasible this was, but they just warmly smiled and said, “Not a problem at all – We’ll go Monday!” A few days later, I was waking up at the crack of dawn and piling in the car with nothing but the three-thousand layers on my body. Just as I would take a canyon through the mountains to get to the beach, we took a canyon through the alps to get to Slovenia. Sure enough, taking the canyon is easier than the Autobahn, because within a few short hours we were in Ljubljana. We pulled into an underground parking structure and walked up a flight of stairs into the center of town. The unexpectedly lively town felt like a mixture of Italy and Austria. A river flowing through the center of town had multiple bridges crossing it, reminiscent of Firenze.

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Still in shock that I was in a new country, I blindly followed my family as they knowingly navigated the town. We went straight to the farmers market and grabbed fresh produce for dinner that evening before continuing through town. The crisp, bone-chilling air began to wear down at my seemingly excessive layers, so we stopped inside a cafe to warm up. We each ordered a coffee as well as a few pastries and cakes to share for the table. We then began our trek to Ljubljana Castle atop the hill. This mid 15th century castle overlooks the entire city with exceptional panoramic views. We made our way through the castle and back down the hill to an older part of the town. The cobblestone streets became more narrow and rough as we walked through this historic neighborhood.

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After an afternoon of walking and window shopping, we stopped for a late lunch at the trendy restaurant, AS Aperitivo restaurant and bar by Nika Zupanc. A beautiful river cascaded from the interior of the restaurant out to the exterior with a gorgeous stone entry all built around a 150 year old tree. The interior design was just as unique and welcoming as the exterior. The five of us grabbed a table by the fireplace and Nora and I each ordered a spritz before indulging in yet another amazing meal. We continued to explore town before stopping one last time for a hot chocolate. Now, as an American, I know hot chocolate as a thin liquid drink, interchangeably referred to as hot cocoa. Unbeknownst to me, Europeans know hot chocolate as the literal creation of hot melted chocolate, apparently hot cocoa is a completely different drink. I looked down at my mug of thick, pure chocolate and didn’t know what to do. Do I pick it up and drink it? Do I use a spoon? My puzzled look made my cousins laugh, they didn’t understand how I didn’t know that hot chocolate would be hot chocolate… I took one sip and felt every tooth in my jaw quiver. I could sense my dentist shaking his head in disapproval. Needless to say, I had about 1/5th of the mug before raising my metaphorical white flag and having Cora conquer the rest.

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Before heading home, we stood along the bridge just in time to watch the sun set. The town was just as lively as it was when we arrived. Even in the cold, people lined the streets and sat along the river at the various outdoor cafes as if it were summer. Incredibly vivid shades of pink and indigo grew in the sunset while live music played in the background as a large boat cruised down the river. I smiled and thought to myself how amazing it was to see so much within such a short period of time. We piled back in the car and whisked away back to Austria!

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Christmas in Klagenfurt

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|| Travel Date || 19 December 2014 – 26 December 2014

Growing up, my grandmother always told me stories about my Austrian heritage. She spoke so fondly of her memories in Vienna and how I had to visit. Before my second European trip began, I didn’t even know I had living Austrian relatives. Within a few email exchanges, I was set to meet everyone for the first time during my trip to Vienna. I was extremely nervous meeting my relatives. No one besides my grandmother had ever met our relatives and I had no idea what to expect. They fortunately exceeded all expectations and were ridiculously kind to me. After spending only a week together, they warmly invited me to spend the holidays with them — Fast forward to sitting in a charter bus driving across the Italian border back to Austria, I began reflecting on those past couple of months. It’s amazing how much had happened since that first email. I actually felt like I was going home for the holidays, yet I was still over 6,000 miles away from Los Angeles.

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I arrived in Klagenfurt, a small suburban town in the south of Austria. I was picked up by my aunt Christine and whisked away to their gorgeous historic manor. I was absolutely amazed. I was so accustomed to hostels and staying in petite European apartments that being inside of such a gorgeous (and sizable) home was an unexpected treat. After a brief tour, I was shown to my room where I relaxed until the rest of my relatives arrived from Vienna. At sunset, we went to a local jazz concert in the center of town. Between each song, the performers would discuss the piece in German and converse with the audience. Not knowing a word of German, I sat there like a deer in headlights and drank multiple Spritzers to avoid eye contact. At least the music was lovely. The following morning, I received the grand tour of Klagenfurt. We walked around the foggy streets as my cousins, Nora and Cora, proudly explained each historic detail of their hometown. We concluded the tour at the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) and grabbed some fire roasted chestnuts for the ride home. My numb fingers trembled each time I slipped my gloves off to crack open a chestnut, but it was totally worth it. Every night my relatives would make an unreal home cooked meal with the freshest seasonal ingredients, all delicately made from scratch. After dinner, Nora would braid my hair based on whatever YouTube tutorial she had discovered. She luckily loves braiding hair just as much as I love people playing with my hair. Throughout the week, I saw elegant castles of all shapes and sizes, Lake Worthersee where my relatives spends their summer days, and we even hiked up a peak for a quaint view of the town. With just a few days before Christmas, every day was full of festive activities. One night, after a few glasses of prosecco, we drunkenly decorated the Christmas tree while playing German Christmas jingles. Even thousands of miles away, it’s funny how similar our family traditions are.

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The following day we all packed in the car and drove down to Slovenia for a day trip to Ljubljana. It still baffles me how close countries are in Europe, my relatives explore neighboring countries like I explore neighboring cities back home. We drove the canyons through the mountains and in just a couple of hours we were sipping hot chocolate in another country planning our day. We left shortly after sunset to avoid traffic heading back into Austria. Just like a toddler, I quickly fell asleep in the car and woke up just as we pulled into the garage back home. After a long day out and an even longer day ahead, I decided to call it a night. The next morning, Nora and I woke up early to go to the snow. Even though I began snowboarding when I was nine-years-old, living in Southern California has limited me to how often I can go and which mountains I can easily access. Therefore, having the opportunity to board in the Austrian Alps was incredible, even if it was very early in the season, I was beyond grateful. We went to the top of Gerlitzen and spent hours riding each open trail over and over again. We took a brief break for some wienerschnitzel and a large Edelweiß Weißbier (German Hefeweizen brewed in Austria) between lifts. I could only imagine what Gerlitzen looks like during peak season, I never wanted to leave.

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On Christmas Eve, I met even more distant relatives and shared drink after drink before and after every meal. We drank traditional hot punsch, sipped homemade infused rum, had bottles of wine, and even more bottles of prosecco. I honestly don’t know how we consumed as much as we did. Fortunately for the sake of my liver, we ate just as much as we drank. After dessert we all sat around the tree to open presents. I brought my glass of prosecco to the tree with the impression that I would be watching everyone else open gifts while I drank. Suddenly I was surrounded by piles of gifts, all elaborately wrapped and intricately packaged just for me. I shyly began to open my gifts and with every gift unwrapped, I felt a lump in my throat grow bigger and bigger until I was doing everything in my power to hold back my tears. In Vienna, I complimented this adorable beanie that my aunt Christine wore — so she bought cashmere and hand-knitted me a custom beanie just like hers. My cousin Cora copied and translated a family cook book and even converted the units of measurements so that I could make each recipe back home. While window shopping in Vienna with Nora, I pointed out a cashmere beanie (I have a thing for beanies) that I adored and regretfully didn’t buy. After I left, she bought it for me and saved it until I saw her again on Christmas. My uncle, Helmut, even tracked down rum chocolate for me because of a conversation we had months prior. Every gift was extremely sentimental and personal, I am so fortunate to be related to such thoughtful people. Ich liebe dich alle so sehr! On Christmas day, we took one last drive through the countryside, we had one last amazing meal together, and we relaxed before I had to pack up one last time. The following morning, I had to say a very difficult goodbye. Having to accept the uncertainty of when I would ever see my relatives again was the hardest part. Up until this point, I had been fortunate enough to live within a thirty mile radius of my entire extended family. Therefore, to have relatives this far away from home was (and still is) extremely difficult. With just one day before my international flight home, I hopped on a train, and headed to my final destination.

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In and Out of Italy

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|| Travel Date || 28 October 2014 – 6 November 2014
|| Travel Date || 12 November 2014 – 19 November 2014
|| Travel Date || 2 December 2014 – 4 December 2014
|| Travel Date || 16 December 2014 – 19 December 2014

After many weeks of nonstop traveling city to city, I was ready to settle down and recuperate. I took an overnight train from Wien Westbahnhof to Bologna Centrale and went straight to my friend’s apartment in the center of town. She’s currently studying abroad at the University of Bologna, so she was able to give me the grand tour of her city. We walked the streets and explored all of the historic charm that Bologna has to offer. In America, most students graduate from their university in either May or June, whereas in Italy, students can graduate any given day of the week. Therefore, almost every single day I saw recent graduates drunkenly roaming the streets celebrating in traditional handmade costumes (which were quite hilarious). To be completely honest, my week in Bologna was really just focused on eating as much as physically possible; I had bolognese on anything and everything. I missed Italian cuisine dearly and quickly rekindled my love affair with carbs.

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Before I left for Europe, I specifically remember a conversation I had with my cousin. After explaining my tentative plans, he informed me that I could only stay in Europe for ninety cumulative days without a visa. Being a stubborn fool, I argued that that rule was enforced per country and as long as I didn’t stay in a single country for more than ninety days, I would be fine. I was 100% incorrect. It wasn’t until I had a similar conversation with a friend in Bologna that I finally decided to do some extensive Schengen Area research. Without a valid reason to get a visa, I was heartbroken to discover that my travels were going to come to an end much sooner than anticipated. I also realized that if I wanted to return to my family in Austria for the holidays, legally I would have to leave the Schengen Area for a week before I hit my ninety day limit. Within hours, I had booked a spontaneous trip to Israel (outside of Schengen Area) departing in three days, as well as my return flight home. I left my luggage with my friend in Bologna and packed a small backpack for Tel Aviv.

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When I returned back to Bologna from Israel, I gathered my ever-growing luggage and headed down to Florence. I was a bit stressed out after missing my first train, but the moment I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella train station, all of my worries diminished. After previously studying abroad in Florence, it was incredibly nostalgic to return back to my second home. I stayed with my friend Sofia and her wonderful family in Sesto Fiorentino, a quaint town just outside of the city center. I was greeted with warm hugs and homemade brownies topped with a “Welcome Carissa” icing drizzle across each chocolatey bite. It’s so rare to find such kind hearted people willing to welcome a stranger in their home and to treat me like family; I seriously love them. When la mia madre Italiana wasn’t cooking at home, we would go out to our favorite restaurants in town. Some nights we even had two dinners just because it was so delicious. We took a day trip down to Chianti through the rainy vineyards and drank as much Chianti Classico as we could. As we were searching for another vineyard in Radda, we stumbled across Ristorante La Bottega, and decided to stop in for lunch. I recognized immediately that it was a Michelin rated restaurant, which seemed bizarre since the dishes were priced around 5-15€. We were pleased to find that the inexpensive tab did not compromise the supreme quality. We ordered rabbit, veal, and pasta all drizzled with black truffle. We had multiple glasses of wine and even a tiramisu all for about 40€, a lunch that should have cost easily 150€. Highly recommend it! Back in town, I saw all of my old friends and made even more new friends. However, after a week in Florence, I was ready to continue traveling. I left my luggage with Sofia and departed for Brussels, then Amsterdam, and finally to London. I returned back to Florence, switched out my winter coats for my bikinis, and headed to Tenerife. Since I booked my first month of traveling in advance, I was able to fly with major airlines for a cheaper fare. While being spontaneous was fun, I unfortunately had to fly with EasyJet and RyanAir in order to not spend a fortune. Although the budget airline tickets were cheaper, I was limited to a carry-on bag. That was why I kept leaving my luggage in Italy and continuously flying in and out of the country. Luckily, my friends were extremely helpful in lending me some closet space for my suburban of a suitcase. After nearly two weeks in Tenerife, I finally returned to Italy one last time. I gathered my belongings in Florence and took a train up to Venice.

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After quite the hectic morning – yes I missed another train, and no I don’t want to talk about it – I arrived in Venice. When I first visited Venice, I was there for only half of a day, so it was important to me to be able to at least stay a night along the canals. Upon arrival, I purchased an unlimited 72-hour vaporetto pass for twenty-four euro and headed to my hostel. My father and his girlfriend happened to be traveling through Italy at the same time, so we all met at the famous Harry’s Bar for drinks before heading off to dinner. The next day, I took the vaporetto to the island of Murano for a glass blowing tour as well as some light souvenir shopping. Since it was off season, the master glass blower was on vacation – but luckily I was still able to watch his apprentice mess around. After Murano, I continued on to the island of Burano. I explored the bright, colorful homes along the canals just before a spectacular sunset. Venice to this day is probably one of my favorite cities, there’s just something so magical and charming about it. I was a bit numb after a long, chilly boat ride back to my hostel, so I warmed up with a couple of drinks at the hostel bar. Feeling pretty amazing, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner for my last night. I went to Rossopomodoro and ate more food than a family of four. I started off with a platter of bruschetta with juicy pomodori, followed by a creamy pasta dish (o paccarettino con friarelli e ricotta di bufala con spolverata di pecorino), a montoresa pizza (mozzarella, pomodorini, salsiccia napoletana, funghi porcini, trifoliate e grana), and a tiramisu with a nutella drizzle, all complimented by a large glass of vino. I then wobbled back to my hostel and just as I was about to ascend up the staircase to my room, the bartender stopped me. We chatted and he suggested that I stay downstairs and drink. I laughed and explained that after the long day I had and the ample amount of liquor consumed, I was ready to get into my hamburger / hot dog / fries onesie and sleep. He gave me a quizzical look and said something along the lines of, “If you put on that onesie and drink at my bar, you won’t have to pay for a single drink.” Needless to say, I got drunk at that bar in that onesie until finally going to bed at around six in the morning. Two hours later, I was waking up for my bus ride to Austria. Arrivederci Italia, as always, you are dearly missed.

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