Paris for Spring Break

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On a cold, rainy day in Shanghai – how do 3 girls cheer up…?? By booking tickets to Paris for Spring Break! This was my first time traveling to Europe and I can tell you, I INSTANTLY fell in love. I see myself going back again… and again.. and again 🙂

Le Marais – 4th District

Caitlyn’s sister used to live in Paris while studying abroad and had some great insight into where we should stay in order to make the most out of our 1 week in Paris. We ended up booking an AirBandB along a beautiful road called Rue de Turenne.

Every day walking around this area, I felt like I was living like a Parisian. The markets, the cafes, the little shops, and the restaurants – it was the most addicting atmosphere I’d ever been in.

AirBandB

This loft apartment on Rue de Turenne was directly between many cafe/restaurants, as well as little shops. Although active during the day, the street quieted down in the evening hours and was never a problem for sleeping at night. Staying in the Marais was such a great option for us.

After punching in a code, you would walk down a long hallway, unlock another door, walk through the open air area, through another door, up the tiniest elevator I’ve ever been inside in my life, dropped off on the 3rd floor, walk up 1 more flight of stairs to the only apartment and door on the 4th floor – and VOILA home for the week 🙂

The place had great lighting, enough space, the bathroom was only OK, but everything else was fine. One thing I learned while in Paris – you MUST have baking soda or a special drawer for all of your favorite, unique cheeses. Our fridge smelled like a fridge at a boy’s college rental house….. ugh.

Notre Dame

Beautiful church. The amount of detail put into all the entire structure is mind-boggling. It didn’t seem too busy with tourists, and this is definitely a must see when in Paris.

Best Breakfast Ever

Each morning could not begin with a more difficult thing as making a decision on where to have breakfast?! There were so many cute little cafes!!

This morning proved to be the BEST and prompted a return visit later in the trip. Just a couple blocks down from our AirBnB was a Jewish area that housed incredible falafel restaurants, bakeries, and paper goods (ex. books, cards, paintings, etc.).

Just around the corner from that was this amazing place. I don’t remember the name, but what a way to start the morning! 🙂

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Walking Day Tour

Musee de Louvre

When you have a beautiful spring day in Paris – get some great walking shoes on, get outside and explore!

This particular day, the weather proved to be perfect while walking around and looking at all of the stunning structures of Paris.

Champs-Elysees

Very busy area! It’s in the center of a roundabout. Of course there were crazy tourists running in front of cars and standing in the intersection just to take a picture. We weren’t that stupid….

Eiffel Tower

A staple of what Americans think of, when they think of Paris. We enjoyed ourselves 🙂

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Sacre-Coeur

Although it seems a bit far from things, and the neighbor in front of the cathedral is strange….. The area behind the cathedral was much more inviting with little cafes, local artists selling their work, and musicians playing happy music.

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Walking around

I’m sure we had some set plans each day, but I always enjoyed our ability to be spontaneous with picnics. Since the weather was great once again, we decided to have a picnic at the Luxembourg Garden.

I think it was around 1PM, but after we found some chairs and uncorked the red wine – this sweet, old, Parisian man was walking by. He saw our picnic, smiled and said “Bon Appetit”. It melted my heart!

This impromptu picnic is such a great memory for me 🙂

Eiffel Tower Sunset

One afternoon, we decided to stop by the bakery, meat, cheese, and wine store (because Parisians specialize in one thing, but all shops are within feet of each other. It’s brilliant and delicious!) so we could have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Versailles

We can laugh later, but we first tried to go to Versailles on a Monday. Turns out it’s a “holiday” for Parisians. Some museums and tourist spots are closed, so make sure you check before you go! Thankfully, we were only on the first metro of our journey. Not too far yet.

This whole day I felt like my jaw was scraping across the crowd. I feel like I can’t describe the size of things or the amount of detail in order to accurately portray this place completely.

3 words could begin – Grand… Magnificent… Expensive…. are some of the first that come to mind for me.

I highly recommend visiting this city. The back, palace gardens are so beautiful. Since they are free to the public, many locals will use the space for exercise. I would LOVE to take walks here whenever I wanted.

Entrance and back garden

Inside the Palace

It was almost TOO MUCH at times. There were too many tourists crammed in the areas together. Plus, the grand scale of the room decorations was enough to make you queasy at times. It’s hard to believe that this was “normal” to some people…

Behind the palace

Peaceful paths that led to a couple restaurants, food truck, and a little shop in one area of the garden. We purchased some souvenirs from the shop, grabbed a fresh meat and cheese sandwich and continued our exploration.

Grand Trianon

This was a separate home for King Louis XIV for him and his wife at some point…

I didn’t pay attention to the history as much. I was just trying to take it all in!

Hameau of Chateau de Versailles

This was a little village built by the request of Marie Antoinette. She wanted to flee the court at times and found the charm in country life.

Giverny

This was one of my favorite things we did! The area was so peaceful. The flowers were stunning. All of it provided such a great experience.

Once the bus dropped us off near Monet’s home, we saw that there were two areas. The first we visited was on one side of the street. In order to get to this side, you had to walk in a tunnel under the street.

Monet’s Home and Garden

The garden is incredible. Some gardeners were tending the flowers. What a great summer or spring job to have!

The charm throughout the home can be seen in the colors chosen for each room and the detail of the furniture and decor. I loved it!

I enjoyed everything about my first taste of Europe- the culture, the food, and the vibe.

I could easily see myself living somewhere in this area…

Until next time Europe.. I WILL BE BACK!

 

 

Harbin, China

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One more weekend getaway organized by none other than Miss Amy Lee!

Way up in northern China, above North Korea – lies a city that hosts a world famous Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Have you ever heard of Harbin? The weather is SO COLD, but if you’re dressed appropriately this event is something you definitely have to see!

I’m a born and raised Minnesotan, but the weather I experienced this weekend was something else. 3 layers of pants/tops, 2 pairs of socks, boots, and mini hand warmers everywhere – THEN I was able to experience this incredible outdoor festival.

Holiday Inn

I know I know… Holiday Inn, really? But it was very clean, comfortable, and in a great location! Plus they had breakfast 🙂 Win win! The hotel was across from Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. Exactly the kind of street you need in order to eat some local cuisine, shop for Russian inspired souvenirs and test your tolerance for the cold weather.

Cheers!

We celebrated our arrival in this frozen tundra at an interesting spot. Enjoying cold beer, questionable fried appetizers, and a store-bought, plastic jar of caramel popcorn….. Oh well 🙂 Let’s have fun!

Saint Sophia Cathedral

Beautiful, historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral located in the heart of downtown Harbin.

I thought the inside was just as beautiful as the outside.

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Snacks?

I wish I could remember the name of this place. It was a German or Russian restaurant, I think? Amy, Laris, Margaret and I devoured sausages and many different versions of potatoes. Not sure if it was the relief from the cold, the delicious Irish coffee, or the great food – but this was a favorite stop of the day for me!

Ice Sculptures

Taking a car, bus, or gondola ride are all ways you can get across the Songhua River. Being the crazy tourists we are, we decided to walk across. The moment I grabbed Amy’s arm and looked down… I insisted immediately that we walk as fast as could. The cracks in the ice!! Ugh! It made me ill. Plus the intensity of wind amplified the coldness.

Once we got to the other side though.. the ice sculptures were so pretty! I loved seeing them all lit up.

Snow Sculptures

The next morning we returned to Sun Island in a gondola. So cool! The sculptures were once again incredible!

I enjoyed this weekend getaway a lot, not only were the sights amazing, but the company we had made the trip so much FUN!!

Yunnan Province

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For the last week of winter break, two coworkers and I traveled to the Yunnan Province of China. We flew into Dali, took a van to Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang and flew out of Shangri-La.

Since I was just coming from Japan, I didn’t think it was going to be as cold so I didn’t pack that appropriately. I failed to realize that in this part of China, people don’t have central heating, their walls aren’t insulated, and it can get pretty cold at night.

Oh well! I had the most amazing time with some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen in my life. I strongly recommend visiting this area if you can.

Dali

After taking a what seemed to be 30 minute taxi ride from the airport to our first couple night’s stay, we arrived at our hotel. So cute!! But realized quickly, no central heat. Brr!!

We spent two days walking around the laid-back town. Although it wasn’t quiet, it wasn’t exactly noisy either. Thankfully it wasn’t very crowed and for China that is a great thing to experience 🙂 The town had souvenir shops and family owned bar/restaurant/cafes all along the main streets. Great place to unwind and enjoy something crafted native to the area.

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The second day, we walked up further towards the top. We found out that most souvenir shops all sold the same things, but we did enjoy just walking around.

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Lijiang

EARLY the next morning, we took a van towards the city of Lijiang. This is where Tiger Leaping Gorge is.

We dropped our bags off at a hostel that locks things up for hiker’s overnight and we were ready to go!

Within the first 2 minutes, we were hiking straight up the first hills of the mountain. It quickly wanted you to know what you were getting in to. There were local villagers waiting at the first few points with a couple cans of soda or candy bars for the hikers. There was also an option of riding a small donkey (crap now I can’t remember if it was a horse..) and it would carry you for awhile. Along the rocky parts and steep inclines? No thank you. I’ll walk myself.

We stayed at the Naxi Family Guesthouse. The rooms were clean, views were spectacular, plus they had cold beer and locally grown food for home cooked meals. I was SO happy we stayed here.

After dinner, the owner let us sit inside the kitchen area where they had a fire to keep warm. Since it was off season, there were only two other people staying in the home stay besides ourselves that evening. We drank beer and sat by the fire with the mother and daughter of the home stay. They were so sweet. They could only speak Chinese, but my coworker Kate translated a little bit.

The electric blanket never turned on for Suzanne and I that night. It was COLD! It made waking up around 6AM a bit difficult. Thankfully, a worker cooked us a delicious breakfast before we embarked on what was one of the most challenging parts of the hike.

We got our asses kicked by a portion of the hike called the “28 bends”. If you have a moment, this hiker gave a hilarious description of what it’s like to hike this portion of the Gorge. Omg it was switchback after switchback. I had horrible flashbacks of previous hikes with a lovely Aunty of mine in Montana (hello Aunty Dolly)..

Once you finish those, the hike isn’t as strenuous. It just covers a lot of ground. There are some parts on the hike where you are walking across a path as wide as your shoe and on the other slide of the cliff is a straight plunge 3,000 feet down to the rushing river below. NOT scary at all….

The path is pretty well marked, you can tell by the footpath as well. The vertical plunge down at the very end of the hike does a number on your knees, but what an amazing feeling to tell people that you hiked the Gorge!!!

Shangri-La

We took a bus that let us grab our bags from the hostel at the beginning of the hike and rode (I think around 3 hours) to Shangri-La. I fell asleep while imagining (what I pictured it to be like) – this lush forest of mountains and valleys. When I opened my eyes, I didn’t see many mountains and this city seemed to be right in the middle of nowhere.

Dry, dead grass surrounded this structure…. The town consists of many wooden structures (shops, guesthouses, restaurants, private apartments, etc.) all connected together. There a terrible fire that burned most of the town to the ground recently. Most of the buildings were being rebuilt. There weren’t many people and there was a lot of construction going on. Maybe it would have been better to visit once everything was completed?

No matter – we were finishing the final portion of our vacation at the Bodhi Yododo Inn. We had a couple laid back days which included casual walking, beer drinking and eating 🙂

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Last Day

Kate and I spent the last day going to the Shangri-La Songzanlin Monastery. The Tibetan monastery was beautiful. And then we ended with high tea at the Shangri-La Hotel in Shangri-La. Pretty awesome 🙂

Finally, it was time to head back to Shanghai. Winter break was over. After 3 weeks on holiday, getting back into a routine is sometimes nice.

 

 

Sapporo, Japan

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I went baacckk! This time I was able to enjoy a country I love WITH family! My cousin Alicia and her husband Carl (who are living and teaching in Manila) joined me for 2 weeks of cold weather filled with plenty of food and alcohol 🙂

December 19th – January 2nd were the dates our trip.

Day1Sapporo

First stop in the morning was a little coffee place around the corner from our Airbnb. The middle photo was where we stayed. Not too bad. As you can see the Christmas spirit was in the air 🙂

German Christmas Market

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We visited a German Christmas Market in downtown Sapporo. Little did we know when the sign said “hot wine”, that’s exactly what you were getting. Not mulled wine 😦

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How else do you end the evening?

By locating Ramen alley and choosing a ramen restaurant! The moment you open up one of the doors you are hit with the warm air filled with the delicious smell of ramen.

This was my most favorite ramen of the trip!!

Chocolate Factory

Before we went into the factory, we stopped at this little diner for some food. Turns out you can get spaghetti and a burger with cheese inside together! So good 🙂

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Once we finished – it was time to check out Shiroi Koibito Park.

These workers aspire to become amazing artists with frosting!

It was starting to get dark and we decided to head back towards the German Xmas Market for some pictures with everything lit up.

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Sapporo Beer Museum

I really enjoyed going to the museum. The flight of beer was a perfect way to get the evening started. It was also a great place to escape the cold weather.

THEN the best part of all… was that we got to eat right next door – Sapporo Beer Garden. I can’t remember if it was all you can eat or what, but we put down A LOT of food.

On our way home we stopped at a local grocery store. I thought the sign was so cute 🙂

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Christmas Day!!

It was pretty much a blizzard outside and we had our heart set on going to Mount Moiwa Ropeway to see the amazing view. We could hardly see 10 feet in front of us… However we made the most of the excursion regardless of the weather!

We ended Christmas Day with a restaurant chosen at random, but it ended up being exactly what we needed 🙂

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Basketball Game

The next day we stayed around our Airbnb so we could enjoy our last night there before we moved on. Turns out, there was a huge sports arena 1 block away – maybe there would be a hockey game?!? Nope.. BUT the Levanga Hokkaido Sapporo basketball team was playing. Before the game, we found a tiny restaurant that was serving Udon noodles. Alicia and Carl thought our waitress reminded them of my mother…. In a good way, the said!

 

New Place, New Adventures

This was our last apartment that we’d be staying in. It was a bit further from the metro this time, so we made the most of our area and our final days of Japan.

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Ramen Heaven

Carl and I couldn’t get enough of the hearty bowl of amazingness. Alicia was being a good sport about letting us eat it all the time 🙂

Cozy Find

I can’t remember how we stumbled upon this place, but the drinks were good, food was good and the atmosphere was fun. Well it was mostly Carl, Alicia and I having a good time making each other laugh.

New Year’s Eve!

We went back to a favorite pub, St. John’s Wood, where we met some great friends and celebrated the new year with 🙂

 

After all that fun, my second trip to Japan within a span of two months had come to a close. I absolutely love Japan and definitely see myself going back again soon 🙂

 

 

Halloween

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Halloween is a much loved celebration at SCIS! My coworkers and school parents put together a Halloween Carnival where all students join in an afternoon of activities and fun.

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The next day was actual Halloween. Inspiration for our costumes stemmed from the Harajuku girls of Japan. We celebrated on Yongkang.

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I can’t wait to see what this year’s Halloween will bring…

Zhangjiajie

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I have to thank Amy Lee for my well-planned, weekend getaways in China this year. I can’t remember when she suggested this trip, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

On a Friday evening in October – Jess, Amy and I took a 2 and half hour flight to Zhangjiajie, China. The mountains in this area inspired the movie Avatar.

We slept well at the Pullman 🙂

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Since this mountainous area is so big, they have different areas accessible for hiking and sight seeing. Unfortunately, since it’s been awhile, I can’t remember what area we hiked up. Certain places you can be transported by bus or van. Most of the time we walked. It felt like such an accomplishment 🙂

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There weren’t a lot of people hiking along the way, so it was pretty quiet. We took our time while snapping photos, snacking, and making each other laugh.

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I didn’t foresee the temperature to change as much as it did.. Thankfully Amy and Jess had warm clothes to share 🙂

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Taking a bus to one other viewing area before going down the Bailong Elevator. Some people thought it was a great idea to pack as many as possible into the elevator because it had the space. Thankfully the elevator refused to move until a majority of people got out…

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After a good nights sleep, we woke up early to make the most of our last day. Once again, not quite sure what part we went to, but the rainy weather didn’t ruin our plans for the day. We dressed appropriately.

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The interesting mountains, beautiful water, and amazing travel partners made this trip so much fun. Although our flight got in quite late and we only got 4 hours of sleep before teaching the next day- still totally worth it!

 

October Break – 2015

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Better late than never! 🙂 Here’s a little about my trip with Caitlyn, Jess and Adam. This is where I fell in love with Japan. It began in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka .

Tokyo

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The moment we got out of the airport and walked up to our first taxi, I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. The door immediately opened and a cleanly, well dressed taxi driver got out of the car to help us with our bags. He was wearing white gloves and the taxi looked impeccably clean. I couldn’t believe this type of service waits outside of an airport (let me remind you that I’m living in China).

Done!

I love it here and want to move immediately.

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The first day we joined Caitlyn’s friend Ali and her son Clayton walking around and exploring Shibuya area in downtown Tokyo. After a delicious french breakfast, we walked around and took the metro to a local temple. A ceremony was taking place after a baby was born. I was able to get a picture of the Grandpa and Granddaughter. So cute!

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I can’t keep any of the days straight. It was awhile ago since I was there… We went to Tsukiji Fish Market. We didn’t wake up early enough for the actual auction, but that started at like 4AM. We went to a sushi restaurant right next to the auction hall. It was really good and we made some Japanese friends during lunch.

Then we ventured to Takeshita street, which is a popular place to see Harajuku fashion. It wasn’t too crazy that day, but we definitely saw some people dressed up with some interesting clothing.

That night we met up with John and Garret (also co-coworkers) to go to the Robot Restaurant. This was the most fun experience. If you ever get the chance to go to Tokyo – this is a must do! Between the light show, robots, beautiful girls, sound effects and story line – you will be 100% entertained!

Kyoto

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The next day we took the metro to Kyoto. The landscape with the mountains and the sea were beautiful to look at along the way. Once we checked into our hotel, the Grand Bach (yes they played classical music in the hallways too); we got on the metro again and went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Afterwards strolling around our hotel in the quiet city of Kyoto, we stumbled upon this delicious Ramen restaurant suggested by our hotel. I cannot begin to describe to you my love for this hearty broth, noodles, and fresh herbs all combined together. I could have eaten it for every meal.

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With our first full day in Kyoto, we visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The palace was full of tourists, but we seem to make friends along the way no matter where we go 🙂 Then we went to a golden temple called Kinkaku-ji. It was so beautiful. The leaves were just beginning to change. I’m sure it’s spectacular when the entire forest changes to orange, yellow and red. Finally ending the evening, with what else – Shabu Shabu! All you can eat for 2 hours.

Osaka

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Caitlyn and I took the metro to our last destination, Osaka. Although we had a bit of a late start, we were only able to see the Osaka Castle. We watched the sunset while taking in the beauty of the area. Of course our last meal of Ramen was my absolute favorite!

There wasn’t one part of my first Japanese experience that I didn’t like or would change. I knew I would be back soon, but I didn’t realize how soon that would be…