The Vatican City, Italy

July 4, 2018

Besides the Colosseum and all of the Ancient Roman ruins, what else do people tend to go to Rome to see? The Vatican City! The Vatican City is an independent state that is located within Rome. With only 110 acres of land and 1,000 people living there, it is considered the smallest state in the world! But that wasn’t what I was really interested in. Being raised Roman Catholic, it is a huge thing to be able to see the Vatican City. Here, the pope lives and carries out many important duties for the Roman Catholics.

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First on the list, St. Peter’s Square! St. Peter’s Square is located right in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter is one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and plays a very important role in the beginning of the Church. St. Peter was also the very first Bishop of Rome and pope. St. Peter’s Square was very big and mostly empty, besides the tourists. It offered a great view of the Basilica but besides that, there was not much else. The importance of the square, I suppose, lies in its purpose. I believe here, the pope sometimes holds large masses for special celebrations.

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One of the things we had to see in the Vatican City was the Sistine Chapel. This place was something I only read about. With research, I found out that the chapel is located within the Vatican Museum. So, you guessed it, we had to get a ticket for that. We booked the night we arrived in Rome and luckily got a ticket via TicketsRome. Two tickets to enter the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel cost us 59 euros. Our entry time was about 1pm. After we had met the group and the guide, he walked us in as a large group, had us wait a couple minutes, then came back and gave us each entry tickets and set us free. It seemed like a sketchy procedure but it was legit.

The museum was SO crowded. I love museums and I go to them as often as I can, but when a place is this crowded I get agitated and flustered. Even though we purchased informational audio guides (8 euros a person), the inability to relax or even look at artwork in peace was so uncomfortable.

The Vatican Museum had many artifacts, sculptures and artworks. These were more than just Roman history. There was a whole section on Egyptian history as well. The museum and overcrowding was so overwhelming. I think Coaliang and I were so frustrated, we kind of just tried to find our way to the chapel and get out! The museum was set up in a way where there was no direct path to the chapel. You had to walk through at least half the museum to find the entrance to the chapel.

The Sistine Chapel was not what I expected. I’ve gone in my fair share of chapels and this one didn’t have anything I was used to seeing. It was a huge room with very colorful paintings everywhere you looked. There were no chairs, no clear alter, and tons of people. (There were no photos allowed and many museum staff so sorry for no pictures!) I did like seeing the iconic paintings of stories in the Bible I grew up with. It was even good to point out things to Caoliang since he knew of the stories and history from our marriage prep. We didn’t spend too long in there, again, the crowds, but it was interesting to learn that this is where the cardinals gather to vote for the new pope. I also learned The Sistine Chapel is considered the pope’s chapel. The fame that this chapel gets from most of the world, is probably the painting of the ceiling, The Last Judgement by Michelangelo.

I think after we saw the chapel, Caoliang and I were done with the museum. It felt a bit suffocating to be in there and we just wanted to get some air. Museums and learning history is great but when you’ve seen hours and hours of artwork and read so much information, it starts to get a bit much.

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Before our next big item to see, St. Peter’s Basilica, we wanted to get a late lunch. Like I said before, picking the right place to eat on a trip is tricky. This meal, we didn’t do so well either. We ordered two quick pizzas from a place I didn’t even care to remember and they were terrible. I’ve had frozen pizzas better than this! The pizza was hard to cut (or even tear), the cheese was almost nonexistent and the best thing I had at this place was my bottled iced tea! Again, choosing a place near a tourist attraction, not the smartest idea. I think after this situation we will learn to be a little more picky about our restaurant selection.

After the massive crowds at the Vatican Museum, a part of me wanted to skip the Basilica and just get away from the crowds. Luckily that part of me was a tiny part! After getting over myself, we headed over to the Basilica. The entrance to the cathedral is free but you have to be in the right dress. Thankfully, Coaliang had mentioned before about the dress code so we were sure to wear the appropriate clothes this day. In the summer, it is often men and women wear shorter shorts and smaller tops, but at the Basilica you have to be sure you are covered up! To enter, you must have your shoulders covered, no low cut tops and you have to have your knees covered (or at least wear shorts long enough to hover over your knees). When we were entering, we saw a man got turned away because his shorts were too short. They also sold these paper panchos if you needed more coverage. Thankfully for us, we were good (but sweaty).

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When entering the Basilica you just immediately go into a state of awe. The ceilings are so high and so decorated. Everything was so ornate and detailed. It was amazing to be in THE church of all Catholic churches. One of the reasons this church was named after St. Peter is that his body is buried here. I read it is under the main altar. There was a mass going on at the time we entered so we couldn’t see the whole church, but just being in the space is breathtaking enough.

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Being in there I reflected and thought about why Catholic churches are so big and grand. I then came to the conclusion, maybe it’s because man was trying to capture the beauty and grandeur of what Heaven would be like. I could be wrong, but in my mind it was a pretty good fit. St. Peter’s Basilica was purely magnificent. I’m happy we didn’t pass this up. After a few prayers and purchased items from the shop, we headed out to see parts of Rome we missed.

 

Back to Rome…

The ticket we had to enter the Colosseum the day before, was also good to enter the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. We didn’t have time to make it the day before by closing time so we really wanted to be sure we take advantage of the entry ticket this day (it was our last day in Rome)! We didn’t think we would spend so much time in the Vatican as well but by the time we got out of there it was already 5pm! The only way to get to Palatine Hill in time was by taxi. So I fired up the app MyTaxi and we were off!

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With a little bit of traffic, we made it just before 6pm (they stop letting people in around this time since it closes at 7pm). While we were there, we overheard a tour guide saying the Palatine Hill was like the Beverly Hills of its time. The rich people would live on the hill with the “clean air” and everyone else below in the city with the “unclean air.”. The hill now looked like a bunch of broken brick walls. It was interesting to see but without a guide, pamphlet or much knowledge, it was hard to get a complete feel for where we were. The hill then led to the Roman Forum, again, cool to see but hard to know everything about it. Also I think the view from above was better than being actually in the Roman Forum. After this, we walked to the Trevi Fountain.

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The fountain was so crowded, as you could probably guess. It was very large with clean water and nice to look at, but the crowd that surrounded it made it impossible to get up close. I really didn’t want to get that close just because the amount of people (can you tell I don’t like crowds). To give you some history on the fountain; it was designed by the Italian architect Nicola Salvi and is 86 feet high by 161 feet wide. Also it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. After some pictures and videos we headed out of there.

Going back to the issue of finding good food while traveling…after the crap pizza in the Vatican, we were determined to eat something good! We reached out to our AirBnB host to see if he had any local suggestions. He told us about this place called Sora Margherita located in an area called the ghetto of Rome. Thankfully we were right in the neighborhood and walked the short distance over. When we arrived, the lady told us the next available table wouldn’t be free until 9:30 pm, it was 8:45 pm at the time. A 45 minute wait? This better be worth it. So to kill time, we walked around the corner and found a street bench with decent people watching. Once we returned, we saw the place was still packed and still busy. It had looked like only two servers were working and the place was small!

When we got seated, it was in a tiny table that was cornered in by other tables. This place was really local. There was nothing glitzy about it. Just harsh bright light, tight tables, lots of Italian chatter and yummy looking platters. With Antonello’s recommendation of the fried artichoke, we ordered that to start followed by fried codfish (a popular dish) and a pasta with red meat sauce. The food was much better than food we’ve had on the trip so far! Thank goodness! Since the tight space was becoming a bit much, we enjoyed our meal and then headed out. We were glad to end our Rome trip with at least a belly full of good food at a place with a lot of local charm!

Wow what a city! After the two full days in Rome, our backs were sweaty and feet were sore, but it was just the beginning of our trip! Rome, you made us feel like we were walking through history but now onto a smaller, quieter city for some different feels. Next stop, Florence!

 

xx
t.

Rome, Italy

July 2, 2018

Honeymoon has begun!! So with wrapping up Malaga, we were lucky to have TWO weeks free till Caoliang had to start work again. Many of his colleagues took this long break to go home but we took this break to see a new country and spend some time together after getting married. Where you ask? Italy! Home of pizza and pasta and people speaking with their hands!

This day was primarily a travel day. So from Malaga, we took a train to Madrid and then a flight to Rome. We didn’t arrive at Rome till the evening so really couldn’t do much. In each place we stay, we tend to look up AirBnBs for lodging. In Rome, we chose a place that wasn’t too far from the Vatican City. We had not been to Rome before but when looking at a map and using Google to figure out walking distance from things, I figured this location would be ideal. Our host, Antonello met us right outside the nearest station and kindly showed us our place. The room was small but it had everything we needed.

After dropping off our stuff, we were hungry! Luckily, Antonello recommended some places nearby that we could walk to and that were still open.

We ended up going to Buona Forchetta. It was a short 10 minute walk away and being that it was a little later in the evening, there wasn’t much car traffic or sun to slow us down. The restaurant was situated next to a residential area, the tables were all outside in front of the restaurant, and a decent amount of people were there. We ordered a pizza, spinach risotto and two beers. The food was tasty, affordable and beers necessary to celebrate the beginning of our trip. I was surprised at how cheap the pizzas at this place were. They were all about 6 to 9 euros each.

Even though this day was primarily travel. We were happy to arrive in Rome safely and to have the next two weeks free to exploring!

 

July 3, 2018

First full day! So I’m not sure if I have told you guys this before, but I’m a very plan oriented person. Before each new place or big trip, I tend to spend some time researching and creating an itinerary for the day. This helps me to feel productive and use my time wisely when going to a new place. In my opinion, I think when you don’t have much time in a new city, you have to know where you want to go and what you want to see before, so you don’t waste time on the actual day fiddling around with your phone trying to think of what to see next. Luckily, my husband doesn’t have a problem with me being so plan oriented.

So as I said, I had the two full days in Rome pretty planned out. I usually make my plans based on other travel bloggers I find via Google, using Google Maps suggested itineraries, or simply just looking at a map of the city and pulling out key interest points that Google already has suggested. From there, I check the distance and see how much time it would take to walk from point A to point B, etc.

On this day we started with Campo de’ Fiori. We took the city bus into the city to save some time and to get a better feel of where our apartment was located in relations to all the stuff we wanted to see. Campo de’ Fiori is a small market area in like a plaza area. All the vendors here sold mostly the same stuff: dried fruit, nuts, dried pasta and some cooking seasoning. The place was interesting to see but unless you were planning to buy something, little time would be spent here. I honestly wanted to buy some of the cool looking pastas but didn’t because of the lack of space in my luggage.

From there, we took a short seven minute walk to Largo di Torre Argentina. According to my research, this was a place with ruins of Pompey’s Theatre but now was a place where a bunch of cats lived. I didn’t see any cats roaming around but I did see a sign that said not to feed the cats because they already had specific food. Strange. As you could guess, we didn’t spend much time there either. Next we walked under the very hot Italian sun to Campidoglio. I’m guessing because Rome is the capital of Italy and it is high travel season, the city was very crowded. Did I mention it was hot? Anyways, Piazza del Campidoglio was laid down at the summit of Campidoglio, the most important of Rome’s seven hills, and is the first modern square to be designed in Rome. Surrounded the plaza was the Campidoglio Museum and Fontana della Dea Roma. We took this opportunity to find some shade and sip some water, along with snapping pictures and video of course. Roaming around the backside of the fountain, we saw the Roman Forum. This was actually very impressive and peaked our interests.

We didn’t exactly go down into the Roman Forum just yet, but we spent some time walking around it. It was actually more interesting to see it from above. We also saw some archaeologists working underneath a tent. I wonder, with something so old, how often do they really find new stuff?

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Rome has a few major sites that nearly every tourist who comes to Rome plans to see. One of those things, is the Colosseum. We had purchased our entry tickets online, with Tiqets, before to enter at 4:30 pm (36 euros for two people). Because it’s such a high traffic place, you must have a ticket to enter. We got to the Colosseum grounds a bit early just because everything was unfamiliar to us and we wanted to be sure we weren’t late for our time slot. Once it was our time to go in, we entered smoothly and bought two additional tickets for a guided tour (5 euros a person). When we were outside waiting in line, there are a lot of people trying to sell you tickets or tours for way more money than it should be. Before we entered, there was a man that was trying to sell us a personal guided tour for 15 euros a person. He also told me there was no guided tour inside! What a liar! I’m glad we didn’t listen to him because the reality was, there ARE guided tours inside for much cheaper! So if you plan to come to the Colosseum, beware of those salesmen!!

Our guided tour started at 5:15 pm. The group was pretty large with at least 15 people in the group. I had never really done guided tours before but in Rome they were everywhere. The tour guide would give you this listening device where you would put one ear bud in, tune into the right station, and hear the guide perfectly no matter how close or far you were from them. I thought this simple device was pretty clever for something such as guided tours (but a little wasteful because they don’t recycle the ear buds).

 

Our tour guide was a French woman who knew a lot about her history. She started telling us about the background of the Colosseum and how it got named. You’ll have to forgive me on not knowing everything she told us. It was a lot to remember! The interesting part, for me, was the information about the gladiators. Some fun facts I didn’t know before: the arena was originally covered in sand. The word “arena” comes from the latin word harenae which means sand. The sand helped absorb the blood from the fights and executions. At the Colosseum, they had many fights, even animal fights. The different animals they had ranged from lions, panthers, tigers, gorillas, giraffes, snakes, elephants, and bears. There was also an order to how the events would happen at the Colosseum. Usually executions or animal fights would come before the gladiator fights. Another fun fact: even if the rare chance a gladiator gets his freedom, he is seen as society scum. He would be equal to prostitutes and grave diggers. Why them? Grave diggers because they deal closely with death and prostitutes because just like them, they use their body for glory.

Being in the Colosseum was pretty interesting. It is such an old place with so much history, I could only imagine how crazy the stands would be during those times or what the spectators would actually see happening before them.

I have also read about a tour of the tunnels in the Colosseum. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have a booking for that so had to keep all our sights above ground.

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After the craziness of the Colosseum, we ventured back towards the city center and came across the Pantheon. The Pantheon is an old Roman temple but now used as a church. It is one of the best preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings because it has been continuously used throughout history. Sadly when we walked by it, the church was closed so we didn’t get to see inside. But the square in front of the Pantheon, Piazza della Rotondo, was very busy with street performers, tourists, and people just hanging out enjoying gelato. Before coming to Rome, I heard that is has a bad reputation for pick-pocketers. So anytime we are in a busy area, like we were in this plaza, I get a little nervous and hold my bag in the front of my body. Also because of this fact, we didn’t spend too much time in the area and quickly moved on.

Nearby, we found a whole street of restaurants. One tricky thing you hope to get right when traveling, is picking the right place to eat! We decided on Il Barroccio based on a blog I read. The restaurant was near the Pantheon and the prices reflected the location as well. We had ordered a pasta and Caprese salad. The food was mediocre and forgetful but I think because of where the place was, the prices were that high for just ok food. Also another detail, in Italy, anywhere you eat there will most likely be a “service fee” of  about 2 euros a person. I guess you could think of it as a tip.

It was soon becoming nightfall but we still wanted to fit in at least one more thing. Our AirBnB host had told us that Janiculum Terrace was really nice and romantic at night. The walk from where we were was a bit far, thirty minutes, but we figured we could walk off our food and kind of be heading in the direction of the apartment. The walk here was a bit dark and out of the way so it made me feel a little uncertain with Google’s directions. Luckily, we made it to the top of the hill and it wasn’t all that great. The botanical garden right next to it had shrubbery that blocked a lot of the city. Also, Rome is a low city with not much to see from a high point. What was there though, were people having beers outside hanging out, a bar with live music, and a truck with snacks, beverages, and souvenirs. We went about 9:30pm and spent only a short time up there before decided to make the walk back down to call it a night.

xx
t.

Malaga, Spain

June 16- July 1, 2018

The time has come! Finally I get to spend time with my new husband! As many of you may, or may not know, Caoliang had to leave back to work a couple days after we got married. It was tough to say good-bye, again, but with this situation happening so many times now, I kind of got used to it. It also helped that I was going to see him a short two weeks after though.

I’ve been asked before if I was excited to go to Spain to see him. The answer is a mixture of yes and no. Yes of course it was nice to go see my husband but a little bit of no because I feel like this chase across oceans have just become part of our normal life as a long distance couple.

Anyways, mixed feelings aside, I would be able to spend a good chunk of the summer with my husband and that would be great! The first leg of the summer would be spent in Malaga, Spain. Malaga is a coastal city on the southern coast of Spain. I was excited it would be a beach city because we all know how much I love the beach! We would spend two weeks there before have a two week break and then move to another city.

Don’t worry, I don’t plan to write a day-by-day post about each day in Malaga! Instead, in this post I will tell you about some of the things I’ve been able to enjoy while in the first city of Malaga.

CASTILLO GIBRALFARO


According to Google, Castillo Gibralfaro contains ruins of a Moorish castle fortress high atop Mount Gibralfaro which offers walkable walls and views of the city. Well said Google! This was exactly what it was. Caoliang had gone here before me so I figured I’d go check it out while he had left for work. From our apartment, I took a ten minute bus ride headed near the castle. Once at the base, it took me about a twenty minute uphill walk to get to the castle. Luckily I had read reviews about the walk and wore comfortable shoes! The views along the way were rather beautiful though. From midway, you could already see the harbor, park below, and even a bullfighting ring. Once to the top, it costed 3.5 euros to enter the castle grounds. I made it all that way so I figured I had to go inside then! Other than the castle walls, there was a small bar, bathroom, and small room that had artifacts, historical clothing, and a paper model of the castle and surrounding lands. I probably spent around 30 minutes to an hour here. Really it was just stone walls and views, little vegetation or anything beautiful inside. The views of the city were pretty cool though. The only thing I wish I brought was a hat! The sun was so strong on my forehead!! It was really that, that made my trip there a bit exhausting. The thought of having a too tanned forehead made me not stay at the castle’s edge very long. After a quick restroom break (which was pretty clean) I headed back down to ground level. Would I recommend this castle to other travelers? Hm for 3.5 euros why not. But, if you only wanted to see the view, I think that midpoint view was pretty good already. Also something I really enjoyed was walking through Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso on the way down. The flowers and greenery were really beautiful this time of year.

PLAYA LA MALAGUETA
Malaga beach was the first beach I got the pleasure of visiting. It seemed like the most popular beach because it was the closest to the city. It was very crowded with sunbathers. The odd thing I noticed was that not many people actually got into the ocean! You would think with so much sun you would need to cool off in the water but nope! I did hear the water was very cold but it was still so unusual for me to see the ocean so empty. I suppose the Spanish only like to soak up the sun. Another new thing to me that I noticed was the freedom to be topless. I had never been on a beach where people were so free! Aside from the crowd, I did like it how Malaga Beach was pretty clean and also had shower facilities for beach goers.

CAC MALAGA, MALAGA’S CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM
It is very typical of me to visit museums when going to a new city. One, they are a good way to spend the day indoors, and two, it makes you see the new city/culture from a different, artistic perspective. Luckily for me, the CAC was free! So after a short bus ride, I found myself in a large, white building with rooms divided by free standing walls. Contemporary art is one of my favorite types of art to enjoy. I feel it is more relatable than traditional art and the chances of seeing something completely new are pretty high. A couple pieces I enjoyed at this museum were a hanging structure of deflated, silver balloons, a neon sign that said “Naughty but Nice” and a sparkly, 3-D ball that hung from the ceiling. All of these pieces were very modern and were something I could imagine in a high class hotel or something. The museum wasn’t too big. I only spent about thirty minutes here before heading out. Biggest perk of this place, FREE ART!

MALAGA POLE & AERIAL STUDIO
So everyone knows doing aerial fabric has become part of my everyday life. One of the things about leaving Houston that is a bit sad is that I wouldn’t be near my aerial studio! But before leaving, Caoliang had found an aerial studio that wasn’t too far from his apartment. I quickly sent them a message to see if it would be possible to train there. To my surprise, one of the instructors, Lai messaged me straight back, despite it being 4am Malaga time!! Awesome!! I was so excited to have the A-ok to train here for a small fee. This really put my mind at ease for the time I would be away from my Houston studio. Trust me, when you train each week and then out of it for more than a month, your body truly feels the weight! At least this way, I would have a place to remind my muscles what it felt like to be on fabric. Since my time in Malaga, I have been able to come here a few times to train. The ceiling is much lower than what I am used to at Hunter Dance Center so it has been a lot of adjusting my usual practice. Lai, though, has been super sweet and a nice friend to have in a new city. She is Filipino and had moved to Malaga six years ago. She is the pole instructor here and even let me join in on one of her beginner classes. It was so difficult but also really fun! I could see how one could get addicted to pole. After getting used to the bruising first though! I was really happy to find this studio and have them be so kind to share their space with me during my time in Malaga.

With my two weeks spent in Malaga, the people from this studio really made this city special for me. Not only did they want to train with me, they also let me join their circle of friends in going to the beach, having meals, and celebrating local celebrations. Special thanks to Lai, Dora, Javi and Ursula (and all their friends) for being so welcoming!!

NOCHE DE SAN JUAN (June 23)
This night is the even of the birth of St. John the Baptist. It is a big celebration here in Malaga and I was lucky enough to be invited by Lai to join her and her friends for a night on the beach. When reading about it online, I saw that traditionally on this night, people celebrate with BBQs and bonfires. They also step over the embers or burn paper to symbolize “out with the old” and to have a new fresh start to a new season. We arrived at the beach about 9pm and left about 1 am. During this time, we watched the sun disappear and the moon come to life, bonfires and fireworks light up the night sky, tons of snacks and food to share, and light hearted conversations to bring in this local celebration.



So my time here in Malaga is coming to an end. Today is Sunday the first of July and tomorrow we are leaving for our Italian honeymoon! I’ve really enjoyed being close to a beach and having such sunny weather everyday. Also it has been amazing to be able to wake up with Caoliang and go to bed with him every night the past two weeks. The apartment we are staying in is so spacious and has everything we need. It really makes me see how life could be for us some day when we have our own place to call home and not have to leave it every few weeks! Like I mentioned before, my new friends I met through the aerial studio have really made this city for me. As a new person to the city, and only staying in the city for a few weeks, it is hard to make a routine – usual hang out, familiar faces, things to do each day – things many may not even think about, but when you switch around to new “homes” every few months, it is one of the challenges. With Lai and her group of friends, they have really made this city special for me. So I want to end my Malaga post with a massive thank you to them. Thank you so much for welcoming me with open arms and spending time with me as if you guys have known me much longer than just two weeks!!

Well Malaga it’s been fun but it’s time for us to leave soon. Thank you for keeping us safe, happy, fed, and surrounded by sun and love.

xx
t

Granada, Spain

June 25, 2018

Granda is a city in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia and only about 1 hour and 45 minutes (by bus) away from Malaga. On this day, Caoliang had a day off so we decided to go a little outside the city to see something different. Luckily for us, it was also our wedding anniversary! Happy one month of marriage to us! Only forever more to go! Anyways, with so many good things said about Granada, we had to go and see for ourselves. The bus ride wasn’t too bad there. Once we arrived, we saw some friends from Caoliang’s work that were also spending the day off in Granada. The four of us shared a taxi from the bus station to the city center.

For lunch, we went with one of Caoliang’s colleague’s recommendation for food (thanks Tyler). The place was called Bodegas Castaneda. It is a tapas bar with mostly standing space at the bar and huge pieces of ham that were hanging from the ceiling (typically seen in tapas bars). Caoliang and I love eating tapas! They are so small and perfect for sharing and trying new things at such an affordable price. We ordered about five plates and received one of the house as well. Some of the plates we had were the spanish omelette, homemade croquettes that was served with peppers, roasted pork with cheese on a piece of baguette, and ham. I usually don’t drink during the day but after Caoliang ordered a glass of sangria, I guess I had to get one too. The food was very satisfying! The food is so simple and straightforward but really nice and filling. Also everything costing us only 16 euros felt good too!

Once we finished lunch, we headed to the Alhambra since our entrance time was 2:30 pm. We had heard that they only sell a certain amount of tickets per day so we were lucky that purchasing our tickets online was so simple. One thing that was not very simple was getting to the Alhambra! I put in the destination into my Google Maps but, of course, Google showed me where it was but we didn’t know where the entrance was! Luckily we left with ample amount of time. After following the wind, some tourists, and signs – we found our way to the entrance but another confusion came up! Our ticket said our entrance time was 2:30pm. I had thought that meant our entrance to the whole Alhambra grounds, but no, it meant to the palace! Luckily I had asked the ticket lady (with 15 minutes before our entrance time) where to enter and she had told me to go ahead and go in and go straight to the palace. So even though we sped walked in the direction she had said, it still wasn’t super clear where the palace was! The place was so big! It was like walking into a little town. Thankfully, after all the confusion, we found the proper line and had made it in time. Phew!

So according to Wiki, “The Alhambra is a Nasrid “palace city”. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It is certainly Granada’s most emblematic monument and one of the most visited in Spain. It consists of a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, together with others of a residential and formal state character, the Nasrid Palaces and, lastly, the palace, gardens and orchards of El Generalife.”

We started off in one of the palaces. The palace was very crowded. I personally don’t enjoy such cramped spaces. I feel like you can’t even enjoy where you are when you are continuously dodging other people. The palace walls, floors, archways and entrances reflected the Islamic history of the Alhambra. The place was so huge it was like a maze. We had no idea which route we were suppose to walk. We were just trying to enjoy the space, following different crowds, looking for interesting views, and then suddenly we found ourselves in the exit! One of the palace’s pathways led out to an outdoor garden. We had thought it was part of the palace grounds but when we realized the way we came out was the only way to go back in, we turned back to see a sign that said “do not enter”! Oh no! When we tried to explain to the lady sitting at that doorway what had happened, she was not having it. Even with the help of a Spanish speaker, this employee had no mercy for our accident. Seeing no point in arguing with her, we just threw up our hands and left. So a palace that usually people spend and hour to two hours in, we saw in about thirty minutes. Hmph! Oh well, there were a few other places in the Alhambra that was included in our ticket that we headed to instead.

The day was so hot. I mean SO HOT! Being that everything we saw this day was outside, we spent literally the whole day sweating. I have no idea why I even spend time to do my hair in the morning. Hah!

Like mentioned above, the Alhambra also has a defensive zone called the Alcazaba. This was like an empty castle with pathways that led up to the edges where you could have a nice view of the city, but with no protection from the sun. The views were nice but man was the sun strong! Needless to say, we didn’t spend too much time there. Afterwards, we found ourselves in the General Life. The name is really confusing for us. I kept thinking, what is this General Life?

According to Wikipedia, “The Generalife is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace.” This was very beautiful. The flowers were all in bloom. Really lovely roses and leafy archways decorated the Generalife.

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I feel like Granada probably has more to offer than just the Alhambra but with only a day to spend there, it really took up all of our time. With our bus to return to Malaga at 8 pm, we headed back to the city center to find a small bite to eat before heading back. Like I had said, Granada would be nice to stay for another day to see more of the city, but with our short visit, even with the small hiccup, was a really pleasant way to spend a day off together.

Tips for Alhambra: purchase tickets beforehand, make sure you have enough time to get there, and don’t accidentally walk out of the exit!!

With My Fiancé

After our Summer together on the East Coast, Caoliang had to go back to work and back to Europe. Does being in a long distance relationship suck? Of course! But there are perks to having someone who works in cool places. You get to visit! Originally, we didn’t plan for me to come to Belgium but after being able to spend so much time together in the Summer, I missed him too much to stay away. So after two weeks, I packed a bag and was on my way to Brussels!

This was my first time in Europe so I was pretty excited. I had always wanted to go but with the fear of high costs in mind, I never got a chance to make it, until now! I spent a total of three weeks in Brussels, finding time to fit in Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges and Ghent as well. I won’t write you an essay on the three weeks but here are some high lights of each place.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM : Known for Belgian waffles and chocolate, I had to have both of these while visiting Brussels. The chocolate is so delicious! And the temptation is everywhere! The waffles on the other hand, look really yummy but are super sweet and is better shared…unless you really just have a huge sweet tooth! While in Brussels, I did a lot of walking around the city center (outside the city center there isn’t much), visited a couple museums (Royal Museums of Fine Arts and Musical Instruments Museum), and spent a fair bit of time at the Cirque tent (which happened to be next to Atomium). My most favorite thing about Brussels was The Grand Palace. It was just so monumental and awesome just to stand in and look up. There was such detail in all the structures and a marvel to be surrounded by.

 

PARIS, FRANCE : Ah, Paris, the city of lovers. How appropriate Caoliang would take me here! I never dreamed I would be able to go to Paris so soon, but when Caoliang asked me if I wanted to go, of course I said, “Why not!” We only had a day and a night in Paris so it was very difficult to see many things. We walked to as much as we could though. We started our day with a quick train ride into the city, the morning checking out Sacré-Cœur Basilica – the church grounds, insides, and top dome, then strolling around the city seeing such sights as the neighborhood Montmartre, the outside of the famous Moulin Rouge, the magnificent Louvre, and of course the symbol of Paris, The Eiffel Tower. Some of my favorite moments of Paris were watching the lights twinkle on The Eiffel Tower, strolling through Jardin du Luxembourg, and being able to see such a historical and iconic city with my love, Caoliang.

 

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS : This city actually surprised me. From it’s reputation of being a city just for stoners, I was reluctant to think anything more of it. Boy was I wrong. Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen! With canals everywhere, this city is truly something else. We decided to celebrate a year being together by taking a quick day trip to Amsterdam. Arriving by train, we saw heaps of people outside the train station. The weather was perfect and even though we only had a few hours, I was determined to see as much as we could. While in Amsterdam, we saw a couple museums (Sex Museum and Van Gogh Museum ), took a boat ride on a canal tour, walked by many coffee shops, and saw sights such as Bloemenmarkt (floating flower market) and Dam Square. Some of my favorite things in Amsterdam was the walking views and the relaxed vibe. Canals in every direction, beautiful parks, and heaps of people watching, Amsterdam really is a chill place.

 

BRUGES & GHENT, BELGIUM : These two cities I got to see on a day tour! With Caoliang at work so much of the time and me having the free time, I figured why not sign up for a day tour and get out into a different city or two while in Belgium! Luckily, my sweet friend Chloe was up to join me! We set out on a large tour bus that would be hitting up the two cities of Bruges and Ghent along the way. The two cities were much smaller than Brussels and had a different kind of charm. Bruges is also a canal city but much smaller than Amsterdam. There were cobble stone pathways and very medieval looking structures. Ghent was also very similar to Bruges with its canals and architectural structures. My favorite thing about these two cities is that I felt like I was transported back in time. It almost felt unreal how the buildings were. I said to Chloe at one point, “I feel like I’m in the medieval section of Disneyland or something. I just feel like Mickey and his friends will pop out around the corner at any minute!”

 

So this was my three weeks in Europe, part 1! I know it’s not my usual novel-long rant but I hope you guys could get a little feel for what this past September was like. Since then, it’s been back to Houston for me and off to Spain for Caoliang. Fortunately, we got to see each other for a few days this October as he came to Texas to visit me. We are super busy with wedding planning but looking forward to spending New Years together in a couple weeks. So look out for my adventure in Spain soon!

In the mean time, check out my EUROPE PT.1 compilation video of this trip!! Thanks for hanging out and catching up!!

Welcome to NYC

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This past summer was pretty full of memorable trips. Along with going to the Bahamas for the first time with my family, I also got to welcome into the country a special person to Caoliang, his twin brother Caoyang.

Having siblings is pretty important to me. I grew up with four other siblings so I know how special it is to have a sisterly or brotherly bond. Caoliang grew up with a twin brother. Both of them were energetic boys who got put into gymnastics at an early age. Fast forwarding to current day, both of them are still very active in their everyday life style even though most of the last few years have been spent apart from each other. Now there was a chance to bring Caoyang to America to study circus arts which would hopefully, bring the Wang brothers a higher chance of sticking closer together in the future.

Before Caoyang arrived into Newark Airport, Caoliang and I had a few days to explore the Big Apple together for the first time. I had traveled to the city before and remember loving everything about it then. It was weird that now coming back, I didn’t love it so much.

I never realized how disgustingly dirty New York City streets are. Literally every corner smells like urine and garbage. I had been to much more denser cities before but even those places, New York seem to beat it levels of horrid smell! I’m not sure if the city is wanting to keep its filthiness to add to the character of the city or what, but it is definitely an issue I wish the city would address.

Besides trying to hold my breath through nearly every street in Manhattan, there were other, more enjoyable things we did in the city as well. With our few days there, we walked The High Line to take a walking break and watch the cars and people go by, checked out what the MoMA had going on, and even met up with a fellow Houstonian friend who had moved to the city.

But the most special thing we did before welcoming Caoyang into the city, was get engaged. So how did it happen? What’s the story? It happened on the Brooklyn Bridge actually. I had never been there before and Caoliang was really keen on taking me there one evening. After a whole day of walking around, I wasn’t the most excited person to go. But I saw how eager he was and figured I get my lazy bum up to check out this bridge. When we arrived, it did exceed my expectations. It was really interesting to be in such an open space with so many cars passing underneath. Also being able to turn around and see buildings lit up and knowing you could literally walk to Brooklyn from there.

So we spent a good amount of time just taking photos of cars and lights and watching cyclist speed by. Finally he handed me his camera and asked me to take a photo of him standing in the center of the walk way with one of the bridge’s arches behind him. Ok, sure. I took a picture or two before he asked if I could take it from a lower vantage point. Um, all right I suppose so. As I was counting off the photo, this adorable guy pulled out a red ring box and only had a massive smile on his face. I clicked the photo and could clearly see excitement and nervousness written all over his face. He didn’t saw anything but just kept a huge grin on his face. It was very sweet and I laughed at the whole situation. After making him stand up to get out of the walk path, I listened to him go into a nervous speech about the whole thing. Finally, he gave me a chance to say yes. It’s funny to write about that night and to think back on it. But it’s a sweet story to tell and will be fun to retell in the years to come.

We spent a total of nearly two weeks in New York and Philadelphia. Meeting Caoliang’s closest family member was not so much nerve wrecking for me but more exciting. I was happy I finally can meet someone he calls family and see how he is with his brother. The whole experience of meeting him and helping him get settled into a new environment and culture was exhausting. I’ll spare you the day by day details. But at the end of it, we successfully helped him set up his new living space, show him how to get into downtown Philadelphia, and showed him how to get to his new school campus, Circadium.

To give you a little back-story on a strange sounding name for a school, Circadium is a new circus school that just recently opened up in Philadelphia. It was actually born with the name, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts but with the growth over the years, it has taken on new grounds and a new name. The creators Greg and Shana Kennedy are friends of Caoliang and have been awesome at helping Caoyang get adjusted in a new life. I also got the pleasure of meeting his couple and seeing the site of the new school. They actually purchased land and property of an old Catholic church. Once it was fully theirs, they redesigned and changed the interior to fit the needs of their students. Honestly the place looked amazing. I wish I could be attending this school!

This trip to the East Coast wasn’t finished just yet. After feeling like parents that are sending their only child off to college, Caoliang and I said farewell to Caoyang and headed back to New York City for friends’ wedding. The wedding ceremony of Guilhem and Liz Cauchoi was set in Tarrytown, New York with an amazing backdrop of a castle-like mansion, Lyndhurst. It was such a joy to witness their love and be part of this celebration. After an evening of good food, great company, and plenty of dancing, we had only one day left in the city before going our separate ways.

Any new, or old, place I get to travel with Caoliang is such a treat. Each time, I realize how lucky and blessed we are to even be able to have such trips! Because of all the great things that happened these two weeks, it will definitely be a memorable one!

Video Bonus! It’s just two seconds but put them all together and you get my whole trip!! Enjoy clips of my trip to the East Coast HERE!

TO STAY: NYC AirBnBDoubletree by Hilton TarrytownCity Rooms Chelsea
TO EAT: The Spotted Pig (NYC), Xi’An Famous Foods (NYC), RANA (NYC)

Tran Clan’s Bahamian Adventure

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As previously promised, my first actual post about travel will date back to earlier this summer, July to be exact. For the first time in a few years, my whole family would be taking a holiday together. The last time this happened was actually on my 25th birthday, four years ago! Since I had been out of the country, my family had gone on a few trips without me. It was a bummer not to be there those years but this summer I would make up for it in an awesome trip to the Bahamas!

I won’t give you a play by play but more of the high lights of this trip. I have a total of seven people in my family including myself. For this trip, however, my little sister’s boyfriend, John joined us as well. After two flights, we landed in Nassau, Bahamas. It was our first time there so everyone was pretty excited. The great thing about my siblings and I (well one of the great things) is that we all had the same mind in choosing a beach destination for our summer holiday. I love the beach and will always choose warm weather over the cold so this was great!

Originally, my mother was planning to book Atlantis All-Inclusive Resort. Now this place looked crazy! With the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, 141-acre waterscape, 11 pools, a full casino, golf course AND four miles of beach, who wouldn’t be excited for this! But, to our disappointment, Atlantis’ all-inclusive packages were fully booked. Ouch.. But that didn’t deter us from our holiday. Instead, my mother found Breezes Resort and Spa, which did have all-inclusive packages available for our dates.

Now Breezes, well if you got a chance to click the links above, you could kind of already feel what we felt in having to settle for it over Atlantis. It didn’t have the massive waterpark or the full casino, but it looked promising. Once arriving to Breezes, you could tell one thing straight away, “Man this place is dated!” With decor and architecture that looked like it was built in the 80s with no updates, this place looked like we stepped back in time. And the rooms! My little brother described it as, “Looks like where nuns sleep!” Now what he meant by that was the rooms were so simple in furniture and amenities it looked like a nun’s room in a convent.

Even though the resort wasn’t what we were picturing, the point was we were with each other and intended to enjoy this all-inclusive package as much as we could! So let the sun bathing begin!!

For the four nights we stayed there, we got a lot of sun. I mean ALOT. The sun was so strong in Nassau that sunblock was a definite necessity. Along with lying out on the beach, we of course enjoyed the clear blue waters as well. I was very impressed with Nassau and their clarity of ocean water. It felt like you were in a swimming pool!! Breezes had a netted off swimming area but even in that, we were able to see some fish and even find some starfish!

Being that Breezes was an all inclusive resort, they also had many other activities that you could partake in. Some of the things we tried were stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, a trapeze class, and volleyball. I favorite out of those was the trapeze class. It was a bit terrifying at first, being that high up but after doing it a couple times I felt like I could master it easily. It was fun to scare myself and then get over the fear.

Even though my favorite was trapeze, I think my family’s favorite was volleyball! We played so much of it and with so many players; we never had to ask anyone else if they wanted to join. This trip I also learned that my dad is pretty good at volleyball, while my mom on the other hand…needs some practice.

An all-inclusive resort is fun, but for adventure seekers like myself and my siblings, this could become a bit dull. Luckily for us, we had booked an excursion with Stuart’s Cove before our trip online. After doing research on popular Nassau excursions, my siblings and John decided on the SUB Adventure. We all gravitated toward that choice because it would be a new experience for all of us being that none of us had ever seen a SUB or partook in it before. The SUB was like an underwater Vespa. In the SUB, your head goes into this helmet that stays dry and has constant air pumping into it. Now I had done something similar to this in Boracay so felt like it would be familiar. To my surprise, it was more different than I expected.

Our SUB experience was a little rocky at first. We had an early pick up time with a shuttle that never came. We had to call Stuart’s Cove and pick a few bones with them. In the end, we got picked up and received some free goodies for them forgetting to get us. Once situated, we got taken out to a bigger boat with more people from cruise ships. It was kind of a funny site. There were some big, tough guys on the boat but they appeared so weak because they were seasick. Just imagine, both sides of the boat was people getting sick. Yikes! Had to be sure to stay at the back of the boat! Finally it was our turn. All of us got seated in our SUB and dropped into the water. You constantly have to blow out your ears to adjust to the pressure. I found myself really being aware of my breathing. I did not want to get seasick!! When we all got in the water, it was a pretty cool experience to “drive” around the ocean trying to catch up with each other and touch the pretty fish that cam around. There was this one point I saw a bunch of fish swarming John’s SUB. I thought to myself, “Cool! What a nice photo!” The hilarious thing I found out later was he only had so many fish around him because he actually threw up a little in his helmet! Free fish food!

The experiences at Breezes and the Bahamas were some to remember. The resort may not of been perfect, or the excursions arranged so well – but the time we got to spend together was. Looking back on holidays like this, I feel even more grateful for the family I got to be born into. With loving parents and siblings that actually get along, I know I am one of the lucky ones.

Video Bonus! Check out my little brother, Johnny’s awesome video from our trip to the Bahamas by clicking HERE.

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE for future posts and feel free to leave comments, ask questions, etc!

 

RESORT: breezes.com
EXCURSION: stuartcove.com

The First Post

Pressure. It’s hard not to feel some sort of pressure in writing my first post on this new blog. If you’ve followed me through the years, then you kind of know what I’m about and what I’ve been up to. But if you are someone new, welcome. Welcome to my online home where I share my life with anyone who wants to come along for the ride.

To update you guys on my current life, I decided to move back to The States about three and a half months ago. I just got done wrapping up three years in Japan as an English teacher and decided I wanted bigger things in my future that Japan couldn’t give me. Since then, I got engaged to my sweet boyfriend and have started deepening my career as an educator.

Why start a completely new blog? Well for one, my blogs have always been about my travels. I wanted to keep my family and friends in the loop about where I was, or what I got the chance to see or do while traveling. Even though I have chosen Texas to settle in for now, I still plan and intend to have travel in my life.

Travel has become a sort of habit and lifestyle. I think the universe really listened when they sent me Caoliang. With his job as a performer in a touring circus show, I get the chance to visit him in different cities and countries. His job allows us to explore new places together. Traveling together has deepened our love for each other and for the world.

In this first post, I just wanted to share the small update and catch up those of you who may be new. So as for the first few posts, it’ll be me playing catch up with Summer 2017, but I hope to deliver exciting and capturing stories that make that little travel bug in you want to get out and explore for yourselves.

It’s true what this quote says, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” In a world that can easily get comfortable and robotic, it’s good to scare ourselves with new challenges and remind ourselves to live a little (or a lot)! That’s my boat in life anyways. why don’t you jump on in!