Amsterdamn, you fine

To be honest, I never expected to find myself traveling across the world to visit a guy I had met for 20 minutes at a pool party in Vegas a month prior. But this year has been filled with experiences and saying yes to romance or the unconventional. 

I had an amazing tour guide in Amsterdam for four days and I instantly fell in love with the architecture, the art and most of all the flowers. Amsterdam is filled with instagrammable canals, perfect GoPro biking shots and art galleries for days. Be sure to check out my Amsterdam video below! <3 

1. Anne Frank House

2. Van Gogh Museum

3. Canal Cruise

4. Bike around Vondel Park

5. Gallery Hopping

6.  Photograph IamAmsterdam sign 

7. Leidsplein

8. Bloomenmarket

9. Rembrandt Square

10. Dam Square  

11. Red Light District

12. Skylounge Rooftop in Double Tree Hotel

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24 Hours Down Under | Sydney, Australia

The Golden Coast seemed to have made a huge impact from down under to the top of my heart. (See what I did there?) I was lucky to pick up a 24 hour layover and although it was a 14 hour flight, my excitement couldn't have been more real. Upon arriving, I felt a beach town vibe (think San Clemente in Orange County) meets Boston with their very own Chinatown. What makes it so unique is the mixture of beautiful and artistic buildings mixed with old European architecture. The contrast of both types of buildings make the city look modern without forgetting their roots. Not only was I impressed by the cleanliness of the city but the fact that there was a huge Asian population and I felt completely safe walking around the area. The liveliness and the warmth of summer was so rejuvenating.

So here are things I did and recommend if you have a short amount of time:

Sydney Opera House: The infamous landmark is quite a beaut to see. Inside and out, you will be impressed by the architectural design. Don't forget to stop by the souvenir shop and see all the goodies. There's also a bar right outside where locals go at night decked out to the nines or to enjoy a lovely lunch break from all the walking around. You don't need a ticket to the show to enjoy the view of the Harbour and to sip on a Little Miss Marmalade adult beverage. Don't forget that the drinking age is 18 and not 21! The pork buns were quite delectable as well and it's hard not to fall in love with the charming Aussie bartenders.

 
Darling Harbour: The perfect combination of where the cityscape meets the water. I went in February where it is summertime so the night air was warm and they celebrated the Month of Love. There were large heart shaped platforms in the water and you could take your love bunny on a romantic gondola boat ride. I've been to many piers and instantly felt that this Harbour is the perfect Date Night spot. At Darling Park, they had little booths and a movie playing outside, the buildings lit up in colorful array and everyone was so relaxed. Perfect place to feel the night life.

Westfield Mall: Where the large Westfield needle stands. The mall and the needle were both closed but I still walked around just to check it out. It's a six story mall with the usual shops but apparently it's best to go before 9PM to see the killer view of Sydney. Also, check out Max Brennan's Chocolate Shop. They were open past 9PM even though the rest of the mall was closed.

Hyde Park: I felt so safe walking along Hyde Park by myself late at night. Definitely a different vibe from Central Park in New York. Although I did get pooped on by a bird, I still enjoyed the trek. There were some backpackers and friends just hanging out around the fountain. I highly recommend this as well.

 What I should have done as a tourist

1. Hop on hop off cruise - About 26$AUS to just ride on the cruise or around 40$AUS to hop on and off the harbour onto different islands. I heard it was fantastic.

2. Mr. Crackles - Pork Belly Rolls - recommended by my native friend Pauler. Apparently they are open until 4AM so I must try that next time.

3. Find a free show at The Arthouse Hotel playing R&B on certain nights.

Definitely a place I would consider moving to or even staying for longer than a night. It's a beautiful city with beautiful accents (I admit, I tried to copy them a couple of times).

Comment below on your Aussie experiences or if you enjoyed this post!

 

Fools Rush in Zion | Zion, Utah

A boy grabs a book and his camera, staring at the breathtaking view before him. His beautiful girlfriend looks out at the vast canyon that is Zion only seen via Angel’s Landing, a strenuous hike 5,785 feet above sea level and probably unlike any other hike you have experienced. The boy hands his camera to a fellow hiker, “Hey, Mind taking a pic?” “Of course!” she replies.

As the couple gets situated for the photo, the boy bends down on his knee, opens up the book with a cutout and in it a diamond ring shines bright. Shakily, he begins to recite what he rehearsed for days. “Would you like to start the next story of our lives together and marry me?” Cue the ukulele players Fools Rush In begins to play in the background. “Wise men say...only fools rush in and I can’t help falling in love with you.” She says yes and the 20 or so people standing on top of the rock begin to cheer and wipe away the tears. What a beautiful site to behold- love amongst nature.

Nappock (verb) meaning to nap in a hammock. Made up by Ashley.

I have never been the camping type of girl. The opportunity rarely arises and I have a fear of bugs. But that did not stop me from joining my brother along with 78 other campers for a Christian Younglife college church retreat. I love adventure and I had the month off so why not? After eight hours of a bumpy car ride in the middle seat, we made it to Zion, Utah. I highly recommend it to everyone. Not only for nature lovers but it makes one hell of a backdrop for Instagram photos. It is quite an enchantment.

Top Hikes

  1. The Narrows - Level: Strenuous - Up to 12 miles of river hiking where the water could rise up to your waist. I didn’t do this but my companions who did said it is surreal and should be experienced by everyone.
  2. Angel’s Landing - Level: Strenuous - 5 miles hike up a rock formation. About an hour and a half in, the only thing keeping you from falling off the rock is the metal chain wrapped around the formation. Highly recommended for adrenaline junkies and hiking enthusiasts. I did see kids here as well. Up to 5 hours hike roundtrip.
  3. Emerald Pools - Level: Moderate - 3 miles up to see a pool of green water. Great for kids and your camera.
  4. Weeping Rock - Level: SUPER EASY - 0.5 miles to see a curved arch rock seeping water. Still beautiful and fun to see with the family.

Other Tips: I recommend the moonlight hike. Check the moon calendar online to see when it is the brightest.

Check out the Deep Creek Cafe for a breathtaking view up on the patio and refreshing smoothies. The music and ambience are very chill and everyone there from the baristas to the customers are nice.

Fun fact: Zion in Greek is Σιών or Sión which means indeclinable - unable to go down

One love, Baddies. Please comment your thoughts! <3

 

 

 

 

 

Sakura Season | Tokyo, Japan

Imagine the brisk air caressing your skin. You’re wondering if it’s even worth going to a park when you’re originally from Southern California and 50• is considered cold in your beachland. You walk into Ueno Park, found in Tokyo off of the Ueno stop on the JR train. You walk passed food vendors and can’t help but ogle at the authentic Japanese food – green tea or pink sakura mochi on a stick, takoyaki pancakes, fried noodles, and so much festive Japanese beer. But that’s not what stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away.

It’s the cherry blossoms that overtake the park and the hundreds of people that are taking selfies with the blooming Sakura. A tear rolls down your cheek and you try to hide it from the group but you can’t contain your excitement. You feel like you’re in a complete fairy tale as you clutch onto your companion’s arm. You glance at the tiny screen of your camera, trying to match what it can capture compared to what you are experiencing. It doesn’t do it justice. Arrays of pink and white flowers envelope trees down a single lane of never ending beauty.

 

桜 or Sakura (cherry blossom) only blooms once a year at the end of March throughout April and is what brings foreigners from all over the world; me included, experiencing this indescribable beauty. The blooming of the flowers begins at the bottom of Japan and moves up north as the season rolls by. The flowers bloom and fall in a total of two weeks time, being a special time of rejuvenation for the Japanese.

 

Cherry Blossom Viewings

  1. Ueno Park: There are street food vendors throughout the park and people camp out for the festival that takes place in the evening. There is also the Ueno Zoo where you could see the cutest pandas, exotic animals and is only about 6-8 Yen. There are also a bunch of museums you could go to if you prefer the indoor.
  1. Shinjuku Gyoen: A garden that costs about 2 Yen per person and closes after 5PM. This garden is huge and has traditional teahouses, a koi pond and pure bliss.
  1. Yoyogi Park: A park in Shibuya that holds street vendors, a farmer’s market, cute little booths that hold vintage treasure, the cutest Corgi and the funniest silent street performers I have ever seen.
  1. Meiji Jingu: A Shinto shrine not too far from Yoyogi Park dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It is remarkable to see simplicity and beauty hidden in busy Tokyo. You must show respect by bowing and washing your hands and mouth at the Temizuya.

 

Entertainment

  1. Kabukichō: Known as the “red-light district” in Shinjuku. There are bright lights, karaoke bars on every corner, and great for nightlife.
  1. Shinjuku Golden Gai: Probably my favorite find throughout my whole trip. It is a network of six tiny alleyways filled with over two hundred bars that each has their own personalities. My favorite was Albatross.

    Photo is @jj.rcns not mine

  1. Robot Restaurant: Unlike anything you have ever seen in your life. It costs 7,000 Yen to go inside but think robot nation with lights and promiscuous dressed girls.
  1. Any karaoke bar: Karaoke is huge in Japan. You go to drink sake and sing the lyrics to melodies of songs you may or may not know.
  1. Pachinko slots or Sega game plaza: Grown ass adults playing video games and smoking cigarettes. What more could you ask for? Just go in to see how intense people get.

 

Stores

  1. Tsukiji Market: The largest fish market in Tokyo. It is a must see and super chaotic but the food is authentic.
  1. Muji: A minimalistic 4 story store that pretty has everything from customized canvas bags, travel gear, stationary, women’s and men’s clothes (black, white, blue, pink, beige only), a plethora of Japanese snacks, a cafeteria and furniture. My personal favorite.
  1. Disney Store Shibuya: We could not go to Disneyland but we went to the Disney store and I fell in love.
  1. Don Quijote: People who know me know how much I love Don Quijote in Hawaii. Well they have one in Shinjuku and they sell cute knick-knacks, animated costumes (bought a Pikachu onesie), cosmetics and great gag gifts.
  1. Uniqlo: Japanese are efficient and smart. So their clothes are comfortable, affordable and minimal.
  1. Yodobashi: A camera goods store with tons of electronics. If you like film photography, the film is pretty cheap and rare there.
  1. Mandarake: One of the biggest anime/manga stores in Tokyo.

 

Little tidbits I learned on my travels

  1. Japanese people walk on the left side of the walkway, drive on the left side of the car and drive on the left side the road. So when you’re walking, be sure to be courteous.
  1. The toilets. Upon arriving to Japan, you will notice that there are toilets with Bidets. Those are spouts inside the toilets that squirt water at your goods to clean you at the touch of a button. I know that sounds weird but it is definitely a must try. There are also some toilets that are hollowed in the ground. That is where you squat and let your waste flow down naturally. It is supposed to be way better for your bowel movement.
  1. The Suica card could be purchased at almost every station. It is Japan’s version of a Metro card for the subway stations. You could pre-load the card or pay as you go and you could get your name printed on it. Definitely a must for Tokyo traveling if you don’t plan on taking Uber throughout your own trip. The subway is easy with the Google Maps app and each station has its own jingle.
  1. Do not get the Acai bowl from Burger King – don't judge...we were drunk and wanted fries.
  1. Their Yoshinoya is so much better than the one back in Southern California.
  1. Don’t expect everyone to know English. Many places do now especially during Sakura season but learn a couple of phrases like:
  • “Gomennasai” – I am sorry
  • “Sumimasen” – Excuse Me
  • “Arigatou gozaimasu” – Thank you (formal)
  •  “Ikura desu ka” – How much is that?
  •  “Toire” – Bathroom
  1. If you are expecting to carry Yen around, be sure to have a coin purse. Most of their Yen is coin based. Also keep in mind that it is a bit pricy in Tokyo so save up.
  1. Their Katsu-don (fried pork cutlet with rice) is amazing. I wish I could recommend food places but I couldn’t pronounce most of the names. There are so many places to try and the Japanese take pride in their work so their food is amazing.
  1. Be prepared to take off your shoes in homes and some restaurants and stores. When I went to the dressing room in Uniqlo, I was politely asked to take off my shoes.
  1. Japanese people are nice, super adorable, and trustworthy. Most of the bikes on the streets aren’t locked up.

 

Japan is surreal and romantic in its own way. You could tell by the culture and the food that it is completely different than American customs. Some of my experiences were indescribable and you feel safe. Everyone pretty much minds their own business unless you walk into their store and they treat you like royalty. Eight days definitely is not enough to explore but there are so many more things you could do if you save enough.

 

But I will leave you with this haiku (poem) from Empress Shoken (Emperor Meiji’s wife).

 

Ever downward water flows,

But mirrors lofty mountains;

How fitting that our heart also

Be humble, but reflect high aims.

 

Translation: A down-flowing stream still reflects the image of the highest peaks above. Let your heart, in a similar manner, be humble but reflect high ideals.

I cannot stress enough the importance of travel and absorbing different cultures. If you have gone to Japan, comment below and tell me your favorite stories. I hope you enjoyed this article!

Arigatou Ninjas and Geishas,

XOXO Ashley

 

Obrigado, Sao Paulo | Brazil

Perusing the vendors and kiosks in São Paulo, Brazil, I noticed a young couple showing a lavish display of affection. Right in the center of an outdoor market in Liberdade, equivalent to a Little Tokyo, was a young teenage couple going at it as if no one was watching. As I looked around them, no one even batted an eye. I was taken back by the culture shock and not only how affectionate the Brazilians are but how accepting they are of it. For a city that has a reputation of being dangerous and impoverished, they sure love on each other.

My first time traveling to São Paulo was my first real absorption of South American culture. I had gone to Venezuela once in 2013 but was escorted by men with guns and was directly told not to leave the hotel. This time, I was lucky to receive two Brazil trips in two weeks and explore with a native Paulista.

Se - The exact center of Sao Paulo

 

From what I gathered, São Paulo has amazing coffee, $10 Havaiana slippers, has the second largest Japanese population outside of Japan, has an ever-growing hatred towards Rio, and their winter is during our summer. Walking around the city itself, I did not feel like I was in my element. The drivers do not stop for pedestrians, prostitutes hang out in front of hotels in broad daylight, I was warned countless times to beware of pick pocketing and I was constantly thinking about the Zika virus.

But I love the food, the drinks, the fruits, the passion, and the music. A girl could easily have a fun time in São Paulo.

Favorite drink: Caipirinha is the drink to try when in Brazil. It is made with the national liquor called cachaça, sugar and lime.

Favorite foods: Mortadella & pastels and can be found at the Mercadão.

Liberdade – Meaning “Liberty”, this area resides Japanese immigrants along with Chinese and Koreans. Many of the buildings are Asian influenced and they hold a market on the weekends.

Mercadão – A beautiful marketplace that attracts natives and tourists alike. You can find amazing food like fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat.

Se Catedral – The exact center of the city of São Paulo where the beautiful Se Catedral resides.

Faire Livre: Different neighborhoods have free street fairs with food and goodies during the weekend.

Currency: Reals (Ray-Als) Approx R$3 to $1USD

Words I learned:

Obrigado – Thank you

Bom Dia – Good morning

Boa Noite – Good night

Gatinho(a) – Kitten – slang for Cute guy(girl)

 

Mahjong Missions in Mongkok | Hong Kong

My newest travels took me to Hong Kong and I never expected to fall in love after 34 hours. The markets, the culture, the food, the difference from town to town and the architecture. Each and every one has its own personality. 

Transportation:

The Metro (MTR) was very convenient and fairly easy to navigate if you pay attention. If you are like me and daydream as you stare out the window, you might have a difficult time catching your exit. If you are in Hong Kong for one night, then the 24 hour Tourist pass is definitely the way to go if you're planning on making several stops. It cost $65HK which is around $8US. I had to purchase that through the customer service booth in the station. 

My recommendation, don't look down at your phone. Since Hong Kong is surrounded by water, the view is spectacular and depending on the time you go, the fog on the water is spooky yet beautiful. 

Fung Chai:

We stayed in Fung Chai which is about a 15 minute drive from the airport. Close by there is also a really crowded mall. Before taking the MTR, Vicky (coworker and new friend I met that day) and I had breakfast then walked around the shops. 

Once you get to know me, you will discover that I am an avid milk tea drinker having once worked at a boba shop once upon a time. So of course, I ordered the Hong Kong milk tea. That drink is strong! They put a ton of condensed milk but it still tastes super bitter. 

First breakfast with toast and milk tea

Funny story: I was having troubles ordering rice at the dim sum place I went to. The waitress did not speak a lick of English and I ventured off to lunch by myself. Being the ignorant person that I am, I assumed rice was the same in every country. Needless to say, Google Translate saved the day. 

 

Mongkok:

A town known for their Ladies’ Market and Sneaker Street, Mongkok is a vastly busy area with a plethora of places to go shopping. The shops range from high end stores to pitched up tents where you can haggle for the best knock offs. All of the shops are close together and piled high in sky rises, the streets are never empty and it is easy to get anxious because of the little personal space you have. 

Vicky and I were on a mission to find a dirt cheap mahjong set and knock-off Yeezy’s. Mahjong is a popular and traditional Chinese gambling game that requires ceramic tiles with Chinese characters and numbers engraved in them. Now, we were two Asian girls determined to find what we were looking for so when I tell you we were on a mission...we were on a freaking mission. We ended up finding what we both were searching for and in doing so, found a new appreciation for haggling (my mom will be so proud). 

The only down side is that the Mahjong set was the same amount as one you could find on Amazon in the states. So Vicky didn't get her set. I came back to the hotel with three knock-off Yeezy's, a real leather purse, a knock-off Daniel Wellington watch, and lingerie. 

Tsim Sha Tsui:

Most definitely the wealthier side of town where people come to eat during their business meetings. There are high end stores and the streets are constructed like British streets. Since Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997, a lot of the buildings and streets were English inspired with the double deckers and the convenient public transit. I was surprised by the beauty and culture change from Mongkok to TST. 

Victoria Harbour:

Eventually, I was drawn to the water and we ended up watching the sunset in Victoria Harbour. Since the sun sets in the East, we didn't really see it but it was still a magnificent view. Upon sitting their, marveling on our jobs and how lucky we were to see this beautiful city, a pirate ship floated by us and I was excited by how strange the picture looked. It's as if Jack Sparrow commandeered a Chinese ship and sailed it through to the 21st century amongst high rises and lighted signs amidst the fog. 

Of course, I wish we went on to the hipster side of town (Central) or was given enough time to go to Hong Kong Disney or even to the fish markets to see white dolphins. I will most definitely come back for a longer trip with a video. I hope you enjoyed this post! Be sure to comment, like, subscribe and get my weekly emails. I love you, guys and have a Happy Chinese New Year this weekend! Kung Hay Fat Choi. 

Until next time, baddies. 😘