travel Archives

January 7, 2005

There's no place like home

I went back to Louisiana and Indiana for Christmas, and I got to see a lot of people that I hadn't seen in quite awhile. Travel was hectic. My flight from Seattle to Indianapolis had a connection in Cincinatti, right after they had 20 inches of snow dumped on them. My parents ended up driving over to get me because they weren't going to fly me out for awhile. That drive took much longer than normal because of all of the people who decided to get in accidents along the way. Same thing applied for the first part of the drive to Louisiana. My return flight from Indianapolis to Seattle had two connections, and I knew it would be too good to be true if I managed to get through both of them without something awful happening. I was correct. My flight from Cincinatti to Salt Lake City was over half an hour late, so I barely made my flight to Seattle. My luggage didn't get to me until the next day.

Summary of Baton Rouge: A lot of small people grew taller. There were a lot of Chinese people. People like to tell me that I got fatter.

Summary of Indiana: I got sick. Hung out with college friends and rolled things into balls (Katamari Damacy!).

February 15, 2005

Mexico, a month or so late

Justin and I took a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from April 15-25. His parents had a deal from their timeshare where we got a condo for a week for $150, so we took advantage of that. :) The sunny weather was a nice change from the then-grey Seattle weather. I've got pictures, but they aren't all up yet.

The beaches were really pretty, though a lot of them were rockier than Florida beaches I'm used to. We had a great time taking water taxis to small villages nearby to enjoy their beaches, go snorkeling, etc.

We spent a lot of time in town, mostly walking on the Malecon (the oceanside boardwalk, full of activity especially at night) and around the less touristy Romance District and Cuale Island. The food was great and really cheap, too. We ate mostly local Mexican food, but we also tried a few of the fancier restaurants, which weren't any more expensive than normal places in the United States. The downside of the town was all of the people who would hassle us with touristy things as we'd walk by, trying to get us to buy the same cheap silver jewelry or go to their timeshare presentation. We were asked a lot if we were married, which was shocking at first, but it became a running joke later.

December 2, 2005

Novels and travels

During the month of November, I've been occupied with National Novel Writing Month, a crazy ordeal where I'm supposed to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I've attempted it in previous years, but my end of the month word counts were measly a measly 12K and 18K. This year, I got my act together, and with the help of my shiny new Thinkpad (with a battery that works! imagine that!) and some self control, I managed to cross the line with 50,026 words on November 30. It's not a terribly good novel, but the important thing is that I finished it.

We were given three days of vacation for shipping Visual Studio 2005 at the end of October, so Justin and I went up to Vancouver Island to backpack at Strathcona Provincial Park and then relax in Victoria. While driving between the two, we also stopped at Merridale Cider House and Blue Grouse Vineyards. Pictures to follow, and there's more about the trip on the website.

I went back to Indiana for Thanksgiving, which was an unpleasant trip there thanks to US Air's lack of seat space and inability to land a flight on time. Uncle Liang and Alex drove down from Ann Arbor, and we all gathered at Uncle Jen's house for a family reunion and Thanskgiving dinner. I also drove up to Chicago to hunt down some of my college friends and sing some karaoke.

June 1, 2006

a summary of adventures

It's been awhile since I've updated. In March, I went to Munich and Salzburg for a week during Purdue's Spring Break so I could bring along my (un)enthusiastic brother, Daniel. His summary: we walked a lot. We had a lot of fun, saw some great cathedrals, castles, and museums. We also did the delightfully touristy Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. The hills are aliiiiiiive!

During the month of April, the tulip people north of Seattle put on a tulip festival where lots of people flock to the fields to see all the flowers in bloom. My friend Heather and I decided to go this year to see what the fuss was all about, and we were warned about the car congestion, so we brought our bikes to ride from field to field and avoid the traffic. The flowers were beautiful -- I didn't realize there were so many different colors and shapes that tulips could be. The scenery reminded me a lot of Europe, with the bright flowers, blue skies, and mountains in the background.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Justin and I took a four day backpacking trip on the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula, starting at Rialto Beach and hiking north. Despite our bad track record with weather during these sorts of trips, we managed to stay out there as long as we planned (is that a first?), and it actually rained less than what the weather forecast predicted! In addition to the lovely scenery, we also saw a bunch of starfish, anenomes, and crabs.

A full set of pictures for all of these will hopefully be posted in the next... year?

June 22, 2007

all around the world


I've done my fair share of traveling so far this year (but not my fair share of updating). My major trip in the spring was to Southeast Asia with Mike, beginning in Bangkok and working my way down southern Thailand and the West coast of Malaysia, ending in Singapore. At this point, I think my entire family thinks I'm crazy. My dad (having watched the King & I perhaps one too many times) asked if I was going there to marry Thai royalty. My mom told me not to offend anyone. And I think I got a warning not to play with the monkeys. But despite these concerns and the blistering heat, I had a good trip. Asia was pretty different from my previous Europe trip. There were fewer "must-see" things and it was more about just walking around, eating excessive quantities of food, and taking in the culture and environment. Future destinations: Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bali, and Burma (bets on whether or not I end up in prison?).

May was a big month of weddings, so I made a few weekend trips around the country. First was Brooke's wedding at the beginning of the month in Baton Rouge. It was great to be there, and she looked so happy. I got to eat Cajun food (stuffed crab = bliss) and see my fellow "Demon Class alums" in a big childhood reunion. Is there ever such a thing as too many Chinese people? Hmm. Then over Memorial Day weekend, I made the expensive trek over to the Midwest for Dave and Stephy's wedding in Cincinnati. Got to hang out with the college gang for a few days, and I seem to be the sole member of that group who has not succumbed to the clutches of the DS. Tickets were too expensive to get me back home on Monday or Tuesday, so I went back to Indiana for a few days to hang out with the family. It's scary how similar my brothers look these days.

Some of the Asia pictures are up. I have pictures from the wedding trips as well, and they may someday make it online.

January 22, 2008

Nina visits Spain

This is repeat of the post I've been sending to the travel communities that provided me with good tips. My co-workers and I tried to squeeze in time to explore Barcelona in between work shifts during TechEd, and then Mike and I took the next week off to explore Andalucia on our own, opting for a Thanksgiving meal of oxtail and chorizo instead of the standard turkey fare. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to off-season travel, which is what I end up doing most of the time because of the main advantage: price. It's also less crowded, but that also means touristy things have shorter hours and some services stop running altogether. Weather is also tricky in Europe during the winter. We were fortunate enough to get quite a few sunny days, but it was hard to find motivation to wander around during the two days of pouring rain we experienced.

La Sagrada Familia Casa Mila - Roof
Mercat Boqueria Barri Gotic
Many people have told me that Barcelona was their favorite city in Europe, and while I'm not ready to make that call for myself, I can definitely understand where they're coming from. Tons to do, great food, beautiful architecture... what more could you ask for? Even if Gaudi isn't your cup of tea, there are plenty of Modernist and art nouveau buildings that aren't as, well, odd.

Malaga is definitely a harder city to love. It's pretty industrial-looking as you head from the airport into the tourist center, and the touristy part of town is nice, but then there's that nagging feeling that you aren't seeing the real face of the city. The Picasso Museum was nice (but overpriced), and the Alcazaba was fun to walk through. Things were pretty lively at night, complete with a pro-anarchy protest, which is always fun. The bus ride leaving Malaga passed through a section of the Costa del Sol, which led to a quick conclusion that I never want to visit there.

Parador and the Puente Nuevo View of the countryside
White buildings Plaza de Toros
Ronda must be one of the most beautifully situated towns in the world. We spent so much time staring at the spectacular views in town that we didn't bother with any of the tourist sites except the bull ring, which was definitely worth it. Unlike the one in Seville, they allow you to walk almost everywhere and visit at your own pace. The Parador there is great, and there's a deal that if you're between 20 and 30, you get a rate of 48 euros per person in your room (doesn't matter how old they are), including breakfast.

Torro del Oro Alcazar - Horseshoe arches
Plaza de Toros Giralda Tower and the Cathedral
Traveling in November doesn't come without the risk of bad weather, and here is where we hit the first day of rain. Fortunately, it was just one, so we had some time to walk around without getting wet. People say there's a lot to do in Seville, but for some reason (maybe it was just me being tired of tourist crowds), I wasn't as interested in the tourist attractions here, so we were able to see a select few sites at a leisurely pace. The Cathedral was pretty cool -- supposedly the largest in the world -- and I enjoyed the Alcazar as well, but I'm glad I saw it before visiting Granada instead of the other way around. Both of these sites are supposed to be better visited in the late afternoon when there aren't as many tour groups around, but we ended up having to see them both in the morning, which still wasn't too bad due to it being off season. We saw a flamenco show, which was really touristy, but who cares... it was good dancing.

Mezquita Guadalquivir River
Another day of rain here, so I didn't get to explore the less touristy part of the city as much as I wanted. The Mezquita is by far the most popular attraction here, and it's pretty cool. It's such a crazy contrast between the original Islamic architecture and the Christian modifications to turn it into a "Cathedral." I think Cordoba would also be much prettier in the spring or summer when the flowerpots had more blooms. I managed to squeeze in visits to the Julio Romero de Torres museum and Alcazar on Friday, when both were free.

Alhambra - Nasrid Palaces View of Granada from the Alhambra
Granada was a fun place to visit. I really liked the "free tapas with purchase of a drink" thing, and the fact that it was a university town made it a younger and more hip place. By this point in our trip, we were way too tired for much nightlife, but the music scene definitely looked interesting. The Alhambra was just amazing, definitely one of the best attractions we saw during the entire trip. Great views of the city from the Alcazaba, and I couldn't believe the intricate detail in the Nasrid Palaces that survived all these years. Pretty cold, though, especially in comparison to Cordoba.

IMG_6850 Sausage and beans at Cal Pep
Paella Pescado Frito
Oh my goodness... food is so good in Spain, and I was eating ALL the time. I think the best dining experience definitely goes to Cal Pep in Barcelona. You sit at the bar and they make most of the food in front of you. No menu, barely any English spoken... who cares, the food is amazing, and they'll tell you what to get if you don't know. Ate a lot of tapas, and we hit almost every one of Rough Guide's suggested "top 10 tapas bars in Andalucia" that were in cities we visited. Quite a few experiences where no one really spoke English and we had to order by randomly picking things we couldn't translate, but everything turned out ok. Vegetables could be hard to find, though.

General Comments
Siesta hours often apply. Things are often closed on Sundays. And Mondays. Seriously, the Spanish people know how to live life. Great place to visit, and I definitely want to go again. A few more pictures on my Flickr site. I may eventually get around to putting up more pics on a site later, but there are a LOT to go through.

July 8, 2008

Glacier National Park

For the 4th of July week, the Tang family took a family trip (the first one in awhile) to Glacier National Park in Montana. Dad flew to Seattle (so he could leave immediately after the trip for Korea) and the two of us rented a van and drove the 9 hours over, making stops at the Wild Horses Monument by the Columbia River and the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. The rest of the family took a very long and very delayed train ride from Chicago -- they ended up arriving in West Glacier hours late, at 1am!

This trip ended up being a very memorable one. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather for most of the week; despite forecasts of thunderstorms and hail for several of the days, we only had one day of real rain and one half-day of light showers. The other days were clear and provided the right skies for photographs. Though the wildlife were somewhat shy, we did see many deer (including a really pretty mule deer), two mountain goats, two wild horses, lots of cows, a big-horned sheep, and a moose. No bears, fortunately.

Big-horned sheep at Logans Pass Lake McDonald
Many Glacier Hotel Lake Josephine

Going-to-the-Sun Road was the road that went through the park, and driving through it provided beautiful views of the mountains, rivers, and valleys. There were many trailheads and viewpoints scattered along the road, so we were able to frequently stop and discover something beautiful. Logans Pass, in the middle, was still closed due to snow at the beginning of the week, but it opened up near the end of our trip, and we were able to go through. I did a lot of the driving on this road, and let's just say that it's a miracle that news headlines didn't include a story about a minivan carrying a family of six veering off a cliff.

Now that I'm pretty settled in Seattle, I don't get as many opportunities to spend time with my family, so I really treasure these moments. Usually when I go back to Indiana for Christmas, each person has a computer and spends a lot of time in front of it. The beauty of the national park is the lack of internet access, so the week really was spent interacting with each other. It's fun to see my brothers as they get older and continue to look more and more alike. Hopefully the next trip won't be too far in the future!

February 3, 2009

the travel mailing list

Parents always worry about their kids. Parents worry even more when their kids are crazy like me, backpacking to random countries where I know no one. So in an attempt to prevent my parents from having unnecessary anxiety attacks and because, well, something actually could happen to me while traveling, I started a check-in policy: call or e-mail at least once every other day. If three days passed and they didn't hear from me, then they could start calling all the foreign embassies.

Calling was pretty convenient in Germany because there was a long-distance phone place right next to the hostel, but it didn't work out so well in other countries, so I switched exclusively for e-mail. Most hostels had free internet, and even if they didn't, internet cafes were everywhere. And since most of them charged by 15 minute intervals, I figured I might as well send updates about my trip instead of a simple "hi, I'm alive." I found that a lot of computers had their USB ports exposed, allowing me to attach pictures as well. As I began to ask other friends, "Hey, do you want to get trip updates?" the check-in e-mails quickly turned into the travel mailing list I have today.

Here's an update from my recent trip to Taiwan:

Subject: [travel] ball of fat rolling down the mountain

Yes, that would be me. I've been stuffing myself full of good Taiwanese food. I think I'm enjoying the most right now is breakfast, surprisingly. We asked the hotel desk for recommendations and there's a place in the alley behind the hotel that we've been going to. They have these great egg sandwiches, and today we supplemented that with turnip cakes and pancakes with corn and tuna. I know it sounds weird, but it's actually awesome. I've had corn and tuna in a crepe, too. I guess it's an Asian thing.

Today, our main destination was Yangmingshan, a mountain near Taipei with lots of hiking trails. It's a weekday, so our bus up was filled with old people who were probably all in better shape than I was. The first trail we went on was pretty much 1.5km of stairs going straight up. At the end of that was a pretty park with pagodas and a view of the smoggy city. There were clusters of people up there, including a group of old people playing Chinese opera music. I don't really see this in the US, but it's very common here for hikers to have a little radio in their backpack blaring music as they go along. Afterwards, we walked across to some cold springs to catch a bus from there back to the city. The first minibus was full, and we squeezed on the second that came by. I thought it was already pretty bad, but at the next stop, we pushed 6 more people on. Probably like 28 people on a bus that was supposed to seat 15? Yay, a Taiwanese experience! And the driver was wearing a Santa outfit.

Yesterday, we went to the National Palace Museum and saw lots of old Chinese vessels. There was a garden onsite that was pretty and had lakes full of huge fish that would go crazy when you fed them. (we have videos) We ate lunch at DinTaiFung, the king of xiaolongbao in Taipei, and it was awesome. The service was really good, though it bordered on creepy. There was a woman who stood in front of the bathrooms and inspected each stall after someone came out to make sure that it was still clean. Dessert was at a place called Ice Monster... they had stuff like sorbet and custard with fruit pieces. I guess in Taiwan a group of people will go and order one dessert and share, but being the Americans we are, we each got a huge thing of fruit and sorbet. :D

We finished our evening off with a long session of karaoke at KTV! Initially we just wanted an hour because it was pretty late, but we had so much fun singing terrible pop songs that we ended up going for three hours.

turnip cakes xialongbao Yangmingshan

Do you not get these e-mails but wish you did? Comment or send me an e-mail and let me know.

June 28, 2009

Taiwan Part 1: Taipei with friends

National Palace Museum
I've had a request for me to update my blog more regularly. Not making any promises, but I'll at least attempt to catch up on some travel entries.

Bad weather in Seattle
Sandy and Jenni were itching to travel, but I didn't have a whole lot of vacation time, so we decided that the two of them would do a tour around Taiwan, and then I'd meet them for the last few days of their trip so we could eat and shop our way around Taipei.

The plan was great and all, but then Seattle got hit by a huge wintry hug from the heavens, with a big snowstorm followed by a week or so of the temperatures not going above freezing. Here in Hippieville, we value our salmon more than our safety, and local laws allowed only for sanding of the roads instead of salting, which was pretty much ineffective. I drove in the storm at 5mph on the highway with cars and trucks spinning out of control all around me, and I ended up having to ditch my car on the hill next to my condo because I slowed down to avoid the idiot kids who were sledding on the road and lost too much speed to make it up. I did have to walk to Safeway to finish my shopping for the trip, but I managed to get to the airport the afternoon before the next round of snow hit (and paralyzed the city/airport for awhile) and make it to warm, sunny Taiwan.

All of us had spent time in Taiwan before, but it was a really unique experience to be tourists in a place where we were used to being dragged around by our parents and other relatives. We knew what to eat, Jenni got shopping tips from a Taiwanese friend, and we knew enough of the language to communicate (my reading was surprisingly good enough to be useful!).

We spent all of our time in Taipei and surrounding areas, chowing down on oyster omelettes, zhongzi, etc. at night markets, visiting the National Palace Museum, eating way too many egg sandwiches for breakfast, hiking at Yangmingshan, sitting on old ladies' laps in the crowded bus down from Yangmingshan, and wishing the panda exhibit was open at the zoo (but also enjoying the other critters). We also wandered out to Danshui, a touristy fishing town by the water, where we ate seafood and did some shopping.

Rickrolling karaokeOk, and maybe we were a little crazy. Definitely our three hour karaoke marathon (heavily utilizing special effects on the voices) had some crazy (and some Rick Astley!). And the light saber fighting with yo tiao at a breakfast place near our hotel. And climbing on a playset shaped like a pile of poo at the zoo. And cracking up at cheap Engrish shirts at the night markets.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, and I definitely look forward to traveling more with friends. What's in store for GirlTrip v2! China? New Zealand? Greece? Hmm...
National Palace Museum Danshui Poo at the zoo Ximending

Taiwan Part 2: Reconnecting with my roots

For the second part of my Taiwan trip, I took the high speed train from Taipei down to Taichung to meet my dad, who was coming up from Taiwan. My dad's younger sister picked us up from the train station and took us to to visit my grandparents on my mom's side. They don't speak English, and my Chinese has definitely deteriorated with disuse, but the happiness at seeing relatives after such a long time is common language enough. They used to own a restaurant so they cook well, and it didn't matter that lunch was the only meal we had time to eat there -- they went all out. Six or so different dishes, including homemade dumplings and turnip cake. Yum! Apparently, I don't eat enough by Chinese grandparents' standards, but if I did, I'd be way too fat by my Chinese mother's standards...

We also made a trip to pay respects to my grandparents on my dad's side. Their ashes are stored in a big building on the outskirts of town, and I think there's something about moving them to face a certain direction every so often, so it was nontrivial to figure out where they were located. After that, my aunt took us back to the train station, and we went back to Tainan.

The next stop was Pingtung, a small city that is definitely not on any tourist route in Taiwan, but it's where my dad grew up. It was really cool to walk around the city with him and listen to stories from his childhood. Well, actually it was really hot. It must have been 80 degrees or so and sunny, so I was feeling pretty warm in my T-shirt and jeans, but to the locals, it was winter, and many of them were even wearing jackets! We went to the school where my grandfather was principal and walked around (there were some students there, even on a weekend), the all-girls school where my dad's sister went to school, the park where my dad's grandfather used to drink tea each day, the popsicle shop that my dad would buy a popsicle from every day (we bought one, of course), and much more. Some of my dad's friends from grade school were still in town and still recognized him, despite not meeting in many decades. And finally, we walked around the markets and found a replacement for my towel blanket, a gigantic towel I've had since I was a baby.

I've never been one of those people who draws family trees or "longs to visit the Motherland," but it was definitely a special experience to reconnect with my roots.

June 29, 2009

Taiwan Part 3: Hanging out with Dad

Being in Taiwan over the holidays gave me a chance to hang out with my Dad, since he was in the country to help with some university research in Tainan. In the past, we've always traveled as a family. I've spent some time with just my mom, when we went to visit universities and when she's come out to Seattle by herself. Not so much alone time with my dad. I think the 10 hour drives between Seattle and Glacier National Park last year was the longest time we'd spent together, ever. So this handful of days was really cool. I definitely have more in common with my dad than I thought as a child (ever wondered why I'm so messy? hah...). And apparently we do have more to talk about than my lack of desire to get an MBA.

We had some time in Tainan, so my dad excitedly took me around to show me the sites, including the Confucius Temple and the Chihkan Towers. The grounds at the temple were peaceful and a lot of people were sitting around, enjoying the outdoors. We noticed a group of people with cameras clustered around something, so I had to go see what it was: A SQUIRREL. Ah, Taiwan. For one of our dinners, we had the Taiwanese version of teppanyaki, a half dozen small grilled dishes fixed right before our eyes. Tasty, and not expensive at all.

When we went back to Taipei, my dad had a little downtime in between his business dinners, so I insisted on dragging him to Keelung, a spot that Sandy, Jenni, and I hadn't had time to hit before. He grumbled a bit, asking what there was to do in Keelung, and he grumbled a lot more when we arrived at a train station and it was pouring rain outside, with no indication of where anything interesting to see might be.

But I was prepared! I knew there was an information center right next to the train station, so we located it, and my dad's mood began to improve. It went down slightly when I suggested that we catch a bus to the Heping Bridge to walk down to the Heping Island park, but we managed to get there alright, thanks to my sharp eyes and ability to read the words "park" in Chinese. Despite the rain, which is supposedly a constant presence in Keelung, the park was really cool -- a beautiful pagoda, and waves crashing against weird, otherworldly rock formations.

After that, we did things my dad's way and took a cab to the Temple Mouth Night Market, a famous market of hawker stands named for its location right outside of a temple. I guess it's busier at night, but lots of food stands were still open. They're set up well for tourists, with numbered signs stating the main items the stand offered in both Chinese and English. We went for a crab soup with a bowl of sticky rice... mmmmm...

And that's it for the Taiwan updates! It was a really fun trip, and hopefully I get to return soon (and eat more food). Still haven't seen Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, or Kenting...

December 18, 2009

Pacific Northwest alpine hikes

Lake SereneLake Serene hike - Waterfalls
Having lived most of my life in Louisiana (highest elevation: Driskill "Mountain" - 535 ft, haha..) and Indiana (highest elevation: Hoosier Hill - 1257 ft), I found hikes to be rather daunting when I moved to Washington (highest elevation: Mt. Rainier - 14411 ft). After a very pathetic intern experience trying to hike up to Panorama Point at Mt. Rainier (1700 ft gain... if I'd made it all the way!) and an embarrassingly difficult hike up to Wallace Falls (1200 ft), I swore off difficult hiking for quite a few years, adamantly refusing to join friends and co-workers on hikes to Mount Si, Tiger Mountain, and Lake Serene.

But in more recent years, I've been making an attempt to incorporate more physical activity into my life, through torture classes at the gym, skiing, biking, and hot yoga. This things got me in reasonable enough shape so that after a family trip to Glacier National Park, where we did some long hikes with moderate elevation gain, I decided I was finally ready to see some alpine lakes. My co-worker Nitasha and her husband Praveen were totally onboard with the idea, and we've done a good percentage of the hikes since then as a group.

Lake Serene Hike - view from the trailLake Serene Hike - water color

Hike 1: Lake Serene - 7.2 miles, 2000 ft gain
Oh, what a way to start the hiking adventures! This year, the snow in the mountains melted really late, so we had to wait until the end of July for the trails to be reasonable without snow gear. This was a tough hike to begin with, since a good chunk of the elevation came at the end in the form of many switchbacks and stairs. But it was definitely a rewarding one, with two waterfalls at the beginning, nice valley views along the way, and a gorgeous lake at the end. The lake was still half-covered by snow, unfortunately, but we could still make out the pretty color. We did get to see some retarded people jump in the ice-cold water, swim to the snow cover, and sit on it. I believe they instantly regretted this decision. :)

Hike 2: Denny Creek - ~7 miles, ~1500 ft gain
The original plan was to do the Denny Creek/Melakwa Lake hike far enough to see the meadows for the wildflowers, eat lunch, and turn back. However, Hikers Bob (who came equipped with... an ice axe?!) and Praveen were feeling ambitious, so we pushed onwards until the rest of us, tired, weary, and with dinner plans that evening (well, that was me, anyway) insisted that we turn around. To this day, Praveen still is unhappy that we did not reach the lake. :)

"Hike" 3: Cougar Mountain - embarrassing
We were feeling lazy, so we decided to do something close to home. Cougar Mountain Park is cool about providing maps with hikes that look like they would be interesting, but they were really easy and the "viewpoints" often looked over someone's back yard. Ah well. That's where the 2008 hiking season ended for us.

Annette Lake hike
Hike 4: Annette Lake - 7.5 miles, 1700 ft gain
After coming back from India where we did two days of hiking in Himachal Pradesh, I was all excited to start hiking. We opted for something with a little less elevation than Serene, but still with a view payoff at the end. Flowers weren't as great as we would have liked, but there were nice mountain and boulder field views along the way. We got our turquoise-colored lake at the end, but it came with something else... mosquitoes. :(

Mason Lake hikeMason Lake hike
Hike 5: Mason Lake - 6 miles, 2500 ft gain
I think I'd thrown out the idea of hiking Bandera Mountain a few times before, so finally, with the promise of wildflowers and beargrass, we decided to do the Ira Spring Trail, taking the end fork to Mason Lake instead of Little Bandera, saving us about 1 mile and 300 ft. Hey, every bit counts. The flowers were as beautiful as promised, with lots of Indian paintbrush and clusters of pink flowers. Beargrass was probably a few weeks past its prime and was looking a lot less bushy, but it was still pretty. Mason Lake wasn't the best view lake, but it was a nice swimming lake and plenty of people were taking advantage of that. None of us had swimming clothes, but the boys started trying to be macho by balancing on a slimy log that dipped into the water, and you can guess the end result of that. :)

Mount Rainier - View from Sunrise viewpointMount Rainier - OhanapecoshMount Rainier - One of the Paradise hikes

Hike 6: Mount Rainier - varied
I wasn't satisfied with my intern experience being my only exposure to Mount Rainier, so I went back for a camping trip to get lots of hiking in. Didn't do anything terribly difficult, and I didn't even try to fully conquer the trail up to Panorama Point (did a good chunk of it up to the glacier vista, though) -- I just wanted great views. I unintentionally picked "Free Weekend," which saved $25 or so, but it also resulted in large crowds at Paradise on Saturday. But things were still gorgeous -- huge trees at Grove of the Patriarchs, turquoise colored lakes all over the place, mountain range views, wildflowers everywhere... This place was ridiculously gorgeous. My words don't do it justice. My pictures do a slightly better job.
Mount Rainier - wildflowersMount Rainier - wildflowersColchuck Lake

Hike 7: Colchuck Lake - 9 miles, 2200 ft gain
It was October, temperatures were dropping, and people were happy to settle into the intermediate lazy season -- when it gets too cold and rainy to do summer activities, and there isn't any snow to do winter activities. But not me! I found a weekend where it wasn't supposed to rain, and I decided that I was going to see some leaves of different colors. And in order to get this, we were heading east of the Cascades, the longest drive to a day hike we'd done to date. Jenny was the only one nuts enough to agree to be dragged along (this trip involved leaving quite early in the morning because it was a long drive, and it was starting to get dark pretty early).

The colors did not disappoint, and we started getting really excited once we crossed Stevens Pass and started seeing bright reds and oranges. We pulled over to take some pictures, and that's when we started noticing the temperatures. 30-something? Ooh, it was cold. When we got to the trailhead, I think the car was saying 31 degrees, and despite a forecast for 0% preciptation, there were bits of white dust falling from the sky. Once we started hiking, we warmed up, and there were lots of pretty colors along the way to keep us going. 9 miles definitely made for a long hike, though, especially on the way back. The lake was beautiful (though I hoped for more golden larch trees) - really big with that clear turquoise water. Colchuck Lake is the gateway to the Enchantments, probably the best backpacking trip in Washington, and we could see Aasgard Pass, the nutso climb you have to do in order to get into the Enchantments from this side. Maybe next time. :)

Colchuck Lake - fall colorsColchuck Lake

Hopefully next summer will be full of more beautiful hikes! For now, I am looking forward to hitting the ski slopes...

December 22, 2009

50 Countries Before I Die

People who know me know that I love to travel. At some points in the last few years, it seemed like I was always going somewhere. But when I count, I've actually visited quite a small number of countries: 15.

Here is the list, starred if I really want to experience more of the country:
1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. Austria * (Vienna)
5. Belgium
6. France
7. Germany * (Berlin, Romantic Road)
8. Spain * (Madrid + surrounds)
9. Switzerland
10. UK
11. India * (Rajasthan, Kerala)
12. Malaysia
13. Singapore
14. Taiwan
15. Thailand * (Chiang Mai)

So for the rest of the 50, here's a possible list:

Asia/OceaniaEuropeSouth/Central America and Africa
16. China
17. Japan
18. Korea
19. Russia
20. Indonesia
21. Vietnam
22. Cambodia
23. Laos
24. Myanmar
25. Nepal
26. Australia
27. New Zealand
28. Iceland
29. Denmark
30. Norway
31. Sweden
32. Finland
33. Netherlands
34. Ireland
35. Portugal
36. Italy
37. Hungary
38. Czech Republic
39. Romania
40. Greece
41. Croatia
42. Turkey
43. Morocco
44. Egypt
45. South Africa
46. Peru
47. Brazil
48. Argentina
49. Ecuador
50. Costa Rica

I won't even attempt to put priorities on them because that doesn't seem to be how I travel, but these are some trips that have crossed my mind:

  • SE Asia Take 2: Return to Thailand (Chiang Mai), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (+4 countries)

  • Ja: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland (+4 countries)

  • Crossing into Eastern Europe: Return to Germany (Berlin), Hungary, Czech Republic (+2 countries)

  • Southern Hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand (+2 countries)

  • Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands: Peru, Ecuador (+2 countries)

  • African Explorer/Safari: South Africa, Zambia?, Botswana? (+2? countries)

  • Indian Adventure: Return to India (Rajasthan), Nepal (+1 country)

  • Motherland: China, return to HK (+1 country)

  • Tapas and Outlets: Return to Spain (Madrid), Morocco (+1 country)

Conclusion? There's a lot to see. I don't have a lot of vacation days. And with all of these countries to visit, I don't think I can have kids. :)

White buildings in RondaDelhi, India

Longtail boats, ThailandBruges, Belgium

December 30, 2009

Christmas in California

Instead of having me do the fun redeye-to-East-Coast-then-back-to-Indianapolis Christmas series of flights, the family decided this year to leave the snowy depths of the Midwest and fly out to California for some non-freezing weather. Despite winter storms forecast for both Indianapolis and Minneapolis, they managed to make it through both airports without delays. My flight, on the other hand, that went through San Francisco, was delayed by almost an hour. Go figure.

A long time ago, we took a road trip to San Antonio around Christmas time. Then along came dinner time, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I don't remember. We searched the city for food. McDonald's - closed. Even 24-hour Denny's - closed. Finally we found a pizza place or something that was open, but everyone else was there, too, so there was an additional two hour wait. I'm certain that Daniel and I did not react favorably to this experience, and my mom was so traumatized that to this day, despite the fact that things seem to be open more often now than 10 years ago, she always ensures that we have guaranteed meal plans when traveling on a holiday.

This year's guarantee was Universal Studios. There was a deal for getting two days for the price of one, so we made a quick visit of a few hours on the 24th after we arrived, then another half day on the 25th. I've been to that Universal Studios before, so most of the rides weren't new to me. The live shows were more interesting, and the best was probably the studio tour that took us to a bunch of movie sets, including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.

You can usually count on eating at a Chinese restaurant for Christmas (something that we were unable to find in San Antonio), and we had a great big dinner with my great aunt at a Chinese seafood restaurant. Lobster, clams, honey walnut shrimp, Peking duck, etc. Nom nom nom! Unfortunately, her children and their families were all spending this holiday season with their in-laws, so we didn't get to see them. But there's talk of organizing a big Tang reunion...

The next day, we went to the Getty Villa, which my mom thought would just be a quick stop to look at a house. But after doing a short orientation tour, we spent a lot more time browsing through all of the galleries of Greek and Roman antiquities. The Getty Villa was modeled after an ancient Roman villa, so the design of the building was very interesting to see, perhaps more interesting than a lot of the stuff inside. (After awhile, all of the vases begin to look very similar...) I was dropped off in the City of Industry to attend Ke's wedding, and the rest of the family ran off to the Griffith Observatory.

We spent our last few days in the San Diego area, taking advantage of their city card to pay one price for lots of attractions, including LegoLand, the San Diego Zoo, biking around La Jolla, and a whale watching tour. I had to leave a day before everyone else because I'm still hoarding vacation time, so they got an extra day in San Diego.

And that's it for this time! Next trip: Twins' graduation trip?

January 4, 2010

Adventures in India, Part One

Nina in a Saree

This is a long overdue entry, since this trip happened in May last year, but better late than never!

My friend Yamini decided on a wedding date in June of 2009, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to attend her wedding and visit India. I was going to have a travel partner, but those plans fell through, and I found myself with a plane ticket for three weeks in India. It ended up being an oddly pieced together trip, but in the end I had a lot of fun and got to experience amazing things.

After buying tickets, I was looking at possible itineraries to explore. The state of Himachal Pradesh began to look really appealing, mainly because it was one of the few places in India at the time where the temperatures weren't blazing hot. Intrepid had a tour from Delhi into HP and Amritsar whose dates happened to work perfectly with my dates. The tour started the morning after I arrived in Delhi, and it ended with enough time for me to do a day in Agra before heading to Chennai for the wedding. So much to my mom's relief, I booked the tour, drastically shortening my alone time in India.

I think the rumors that India is really unsafe for single female travelers is mostly false. It was definitely easier to be with a tour guide for my first experience, but I would have been okay on my own, though probably harassed more. Any time I was off on my own, some guy would inevitably approach me and ask to be my friend, then follow me around for as long as I would let him. Very strange experience for me, but I did make the first guy take me to get a SIM card for my phone and to an ATM. :)

Spice Markets in DelhiShimla sunset

The tour (called "Mountains and Mystics") really showed a lot of different sides of India. We started off with some time in crazy Delhi, taking cycle rickshaws through Old Delhi and exploring the markets in 110 degree temperatures. The morning before the tour started, I'd taken a rickshaw to Humayun's Tomb, but there were definitely a lot more Delhi attractions that I didn't make it to. I was thankful we didn't stay that long because I wanted to get out of the heat. The next morning, we took an early train to Kalka, where were transferred onto the historic toy train that wound its way up, through tunnels and over pretty bridges, to the hill station of Shimla. I'd looked into the logistics of doing this trip on my own before booking the tour, and by then, there were only wait list positions open (and they were pretty high numbers) since those hot months are high season for Shimla. I was curious how we got tickets for the train. Turns out, we didn't have confirmed reservations, either, and our tour guide kept bribing the train guy, first to let us get on the train and a few times afterwards so he would let us stay on. Ah, India. :)Monks in McLeod Ganj

Shimla was quite a contrast from Delhi, the temperature drop reflecting a corresponding drop in insanity. This was where the Indians went on vacation to escape the heat. We met quite a few families who were on holiday, including one whose daughter had just gotten married. We admired her saree, and she told us that if she wasn't on her honeymoon, she'd be dressed like we were! The highlights of Shimla were the bazaars, full of little shops, the Viceroyal Lodge (which now houses a center for higher studies), and the Jakhu Temple, which was full of mean, evil monkeys. We saw one steal the glasses off a guy's head and another one eat a vendor's samosas. They rent sticks at the bottom of the hill you have to walk up, and I had to use mine to fend off an attacking monkey! He was holding someone's broken glasses, and I wanted to take a picture. However, he misinterpreted this as a trade gesture, so he dropped the glasses. I didn't think my camera was a fair swap, so I didn't give it to him, and he got mad. All of the Indians who were watching us fight found it very amusing, though.

After Shimla, we took a private vehicle with an insane driver to Dharamsala. See, it's one thing to pass a car on a 2-lane road. Then there's passing a car on a winding 2-lane road where there's not much between the outer lane and the death cliff. Then there's doing all of the above without slowing or looking for oncoming traffic. Or seeing the oncoming traffic and creating a third lane.

We spent three days in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, which we all agreed was a bit excessive. The highlights were the Tibetan things, like the Dalai Lama's residence (we got to see monks debating) and the Norblingka Institute, where we got to see Tibetan arts and crafts. But the rest of it was very touristy, geared towards hippie Westerners. The setting was very beautiful, though, and the idea was to relax for a few days before heading on our trek.

Okay, that's enough for one day. Part 2 to follow!

January 7, 2010

Adventures in India, Part Two

pic4 pic5

So continuing with my Indian adventure story... the part about the tour description that made me hesitate the most about booking it was the mention of a two day trek that was strenuous and required participants to be in great physical condition. I'm not in bad shape, but I don't consider myself to be in great physical condition, either. My tour guide didn't make it any better by harassing me and constantly asking if I wanted to change my mind about doing the trek (there was an option to ride a car to the next destination, which two people did choose).

In the end, it wasn't as bad as I expected, and the scenery along the way was gorgeous. I did get off to a bad start by falling on my butt twice because we were going downhill on a dusty trail covered with pine needles. And the climb up was really steep. I had to make the group stop a few times to catch my breath, but even with those delays, the tour guide said it was the fastest he'd ever made it up there with a group. It was a lot of fun walking through the small villages because all of the kids would get excited and follow us around, yelling, "Hi!" and asking to get their photo taken. We also picked up dogs as we walked that would follow us for the entire day and then disappear. Temporary pets!

The second day of trekking was a lot easier, and then we arrived in Chamba, where a vehicle dropped us off as close as it could get to Orchard Hut, where we spent the next few days. The idea was to get the real village experience, so the closest road was about 30 minutes downhill. I really enjoyed the stay and the Indian hospitality we experienced there from the family. The food stood out as some of the best food I ate in India, homecooked local recipes that were very different from other Indian food I'd eaten before.

Tired... looks like there will be a part three to this entry :)

January 19, 2010

Adventures in India, Part Three

It was sad to leave Orchard Hut, almost like saying goodbye to distant relatives after finally meeting them for the first time. From there, we took a car to Pathankot, where we got on a train heading to Amritsar. Since it was a relatively short train ride, we got the authentic Indian experience by riding sleeper class. Sound nice? No AC, and I believe it's the cheapest reserved seats available on the train. Finally, to give us the full authentic Indian experience, the train came to a halt for long enough to indicate that it wasn't going anywhere for awhile. People jumped on another train passing by, but we had too much luggage to move quickly, so we stood next to the train to get some air (everyone else out there was male!). Finally, we found out what the deal was: "engine broke, they are bringing another one." Awesome.

But we made it to Amritsar in time to get to the Golden Temple to see the nightly ceremony (Palki Sahib) where they bring their Holy Book from its day spot to its night spot. It was great to get the opportunity to see the Golden Temple both in the day and at night because the atmosphere was very different. The gold against the blackness of night was very majestic, but in the daytime, everything looked more peaceful (except the crowd of people trying to get inside the temple). There were people all over, bathing in the water, sleeping next to the water, eating from the free cafeteria, and chanting. For such a famous temple, it was impressive that it really felt like a holy place, not a tourist attraction.

Amritsar also marked the end of reasonable temperatures for me on this trip, going from the pleasant 70s of Chamba to a blazing 100 degrees. We also visited a modern Hindu temple in Amritsar (very different!) and Jallianwala Bagh, the site of a British massacre that is now a memorial. Finally, we made a trip to the India-Pakistan border to watch the very odd daily border closing ceremony. People packed into the stands on both sides of the border, and as they were waiting for things to begin, they played music on the Indian side and a bunch of women went down and started a dance party. Then announcers began the pep rally portion, shouting "Hindustan!" (echoed by the opposite side's "Pakistan!") followed by lines I really did not understand (though I did understand the "Allah!" shouts from the Pakistan side). Then soldiers did some funny marching, lowered the flags, and closed the border. For two countries that are supposed to not get along, they sure had to coordinate well to do this ceremony. As we followed the crowd out, I had two guys following me asking to take my picture, not an uncommon thing for foreigners in India to experience, but the fact that they were following me made me feel like a celebrity. :)

Then it was time to hop on an overnight train back to Delhi (AC this time, thank goodness!). I sadly said goodbye to my tour group after doing some shopping, and hopped on a train to Agra. The next morning I got up early enough to get to the Taj Mahal at opening time, 5am, and was rewarded by getting to experience it before all the crowds flooded in. It was really beautiful, and it's hard to get a real sense of how big it is from just looking at pictures. Agra has a number of amazing tourist sites, but otherwise it's an unpleasant place to be. Hot and polluted (I think we were at 110 degrees, but it felt hotter), full of people trying to sell you stuff or get you on their rickshaw. The heat was really killing me, so I saw the Agra Fort and then had to get back to my hotel ("No, Mr. Rickshaw Driver, I do NOT want to go to a bazaar!"). I'd already checked out, but they let me sleep in a room for a few hours for $5.

Took a train back to Delhi (it was late and then silently showed up at a different platform - I was the only person from my berth to actually make it to the right place right away), then flew out the next morning to Chennai. But that's for part 4!

pic6 pic7

April 13, 2010

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Easter Edition

I bought my tickets for the 2010 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, but I didn't really have a plan for who I was going with. The date was getting closer, and I decided to ask my mom if she was interested in flying out to join me. She had a little time before taking a bus with the twins and their classmates to their robotics competition, so she said yes and rushed to book her flight. It ended up being a really fun trip that perhaps we'll repeat again!

Portland Japanese GardensPortland Japanese Gardens

The funny way that weather works, Mom left 80 degree, sunny weather in Indiana and flew to the Pacific Northwest, which welcomed her with 40 degree weather with rain and wind. (Thankfully the hail stopped before she landed) I took the day off Friday and we drove to Portland, where we attempted to raise our spirits by looking for flowers in the Portland Japanese Gardens. Now, the Japanese would never let their flowers get out of control, but there were still some nice ones to look at, and the design of the gardens was nice. We also stopped by the nearby Rose Garden, but those hadn't bloomed yet. Walked around the Portland waterfront for awhile, made a long stop at Powell's, where we both walked out with books (how can you not?), and then headed to Eugene to spend the night there.

 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - picture from the OSF sitePride & Prejudice - picture from the OSF site 

Mom in AshlandI'd already picked out the plays before I knew my mom was coming, so they weren't the best fit in the world, but I think she enjoyed them for the most part. Our first one was "Pride & Prejudice," a very appropriate choice, though it's always going to be hard for me to appreciate any adaptation more than the BBC miniseries. That evening, we had Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," over 3 hours with two intermissions, starting at 8pm! Fortunately, it was a wonderful play with some amazing actors playing the leads. A lot of powerful, raw emotion, and all done very believably. That is one messed up family, though. The last play of the weekend was called "Well," a more non-traditional play dealing with issues like sickness/wellness and racial integration. There was a lot of jumping between scenes from the main character's past, a play within a play, etc., which kept things entertaining, but it was also a little hard to understand what the point was.

Sunday, the weather cleared up a bit, so we enjoyed nice countryside views between Ashland and Portland, where my mom caught a flight back to the Midwest. But not before we stopped for oysters! I found an oyster bar serving some Cajun food, so we enjoyed oysters on the half shell, shrimp etouffee, and an oyster po-boy. There was no shortage of good food on this trip... we found a nice restaurant in Ashland for a pre-show dinner as well.

amuse bouche from the Winchester Inn & Restaurantoysters from EaT: an Oyster Bar

I'm really liking my trips down for the festival, and the plays haven't been disappointing so far. By purchasing so far in advance, I'm able to get the cheap $20 seats, so it works out to be a good value. Next trip is planned for August... who's joining me? :)

May 31, 2010

Alice and Shawn's Wedding

Alice & Shawn (photo courtesy of Teresa Fong) I'm at that age where everyone is starting to get married. My high school friends started a long time ago, and a good number of them have kids now. But my childhood friends have taken a little longer, maybe because they're either busy getting really educated or enjoying the fun of single life. Well, this summer, that has officially changed. In June, Ben (my boyfriend when I was 3 years old!) is getting married, and the weekend before Memorial Day, Alice and Shawn tied the knot.

I've known Alice since I was seven or so. That's about twenty years. It's crazy to think of lengths of friendships in terms of lengths of relationships - at my age, a five year relationship seems long. And though we might not have a lot in common and I've spent the last ten of those years away from Louisiana, I've kept in better touch with her than anyone else from Baton Rouge. We've shared a lot of history, listened to each other's good stories and bad stories, many of them about boyfriends... shared a love of Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Vienna Teng. And after years of being a long-distance observer/confidante in her journey, it was really special to see her road of singlehood end at a beautiful ceremony in a city I called my home for a decade and a half. 

Mall of Louisiana

I really don't get back to Baton Rouge as often as I want to. The city has changed a lot and many of the people I knew have gone off to other places. Alice took me to the Mall of Louisiana to see how much it's expanded. There's now a Sephora in Baton Rouge! Still no Nordstrom, though. On one hand, it's great that Baton Rouge is becoming more of a "real city," but I think it comes at the expense of its character. The photo I snapped of the outside shopping area looked as sterile as a computer-modeled image. New residential developments mimic the identical townhouse hell that I hate seeing here in the Issaquah Highlands (and many other places). But one thing Baton Rouge has in its favor is a lot of  land, which means they don't need to knock down the old places as much. So I got to make my traditional trip to Mike Anderson's, still the same, to eat one of my favorite meals of stuffed crab, stuffed potato, and hush puppies.

Next year is my 10 year high school reunion (OLD!!!) so it looks like I'll finally make a trip back to Louisiana that isn't for a wedding. :) Until then, I'll be dreaming of crawfish.

Congratulations to Alice and Shawn!

My mom's meal - Crawfish 7 ways @ Mike Anderson'sPlane view somewhere near Baton Rouge

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