King Hong Kong

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This weekend I visited Hong Kong, which was named after King Kong, the sister city to Hong Zilla, named after Godzilla.

Hong Kong is a peninsula and several islands off the coast of China. The peninsula is called Kowloon and the mountainous area above that is called the New Territories. Actual Hong Kong is an island right off of Kowloon. It’s REALLY close, like, Coronado-to-San Diego close. Aside from that, there’s another big island called Lantau (that’s where the airport and Hong Kong Disney are) and other small islands.

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(Image from ~~Google~~)

Hong Kong is its own city-state, formerly a province owned by England. In the 1990’s, it was “returned” to China, but it’s basically a sovereign nation. You don’t need a visa to visit and it’s pretty western because of the British influence.

I don’t LOVE cities. They’re too crowded, loud, and dirty, but Hong Kong changed my mind. Kowloon isn’t very clean, but the islands (at least Hong Kong and Lantau) are kept very clean considering how many people live there. Also, Hong Kong is so full of people that there are multiple levels of sidewalks to accommodate the crowds. As a result, it doesn’t feel very crowded.

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As with everything British, everything here was named after Queen Victoria.

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Victoria Peak.

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Victoria Harbor. (~~DARN I’m lookin’ fly~~)

Victoria Park, Victoria Secret, blah blah blah. It was British once WE GET IT. (So was King Kong a British king?)

But it was also very Asian. I mean, it’s in Asia, right?

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However, I expected there to be more English-speakers since Hong Kong was once a British colony, but there seemed to be just as many as there are in Taiwan. But I got by. The signs helped.

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I was really looking forward to going to the beach. Even though I’m terrified of sharks and other sea creatures, the California in me loves water. Hong Kong’s beaches did not disappoint.

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The beach even gave me tips on avoiding shark attacks. That means it was a really safe beach, right?

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(What exactly is a shark-like object?)

Even though I expected Hong Kong to be a gross Asian city, it was pretty clean and great! I loved it and actually want to visit again. Here’s a sick vid I made of my visit:

 

Taipei Museum of Drinking Water

Drinkable water is the only type of water that people should drink. However, most of us take for granted that the water we drink didn’t start that way. That’s why the museum of drinking water. People have been drinking water for forever. Why not a museum?

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This building is Naboo-worthy.

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And wedding-worthy.

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And cosplay-worthy (or is this another wedding)?

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“I’m so glad you came to my wedding at the Taipei Museum of Drinking Water.”

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Very important levers.

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I got to be Mr. Manager!

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Finding my place in the world of drinking water.

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BAAA!!” McKay found his!

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You better believe we took all the FREE drinking water we could!

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BELIEVE.

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If you call someone with good legs “leggy,” does that mean I’m “butty”?

Taipei Museum of Drinking Water 10/10 would recommend.

Do you want to see a castle?

Neuschwanstein (pronounced noy-shvon-stein) is a real-life fairy tale castle. It was built in the late 1800’s on the side of a mountain in Germany. The idea behind the architecture was to mix old and new, making it look both authentic and like something out of a storybook.

Because of its fairy tale-esque look, Walt Disney used it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, which is the same castle that was later built in Disneyland.

When I visited, it was the middle of winter. A fresh coat of snow made everything look clean and muffled any sound from the cars on the highway below. A steady drizzle of snowflakes made the air sparkle and low clouds made the castle look like it was floating in the sky.

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Here’s your Prince Charming lololololololol

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The cliffs behind the castle.
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The valley below.

Looks like crap

POOP IS FUNNY. POOP-THEMED RESTAURANTS ARE VERY VERY FUNNY.

Note: To fully enjoy this post, you need to know that squatter toilets are common in Asia and what they look like.

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Voila. (But never ever this clean.)

Just like any good joke, poop jokes have to be surprising, out-of-place, and so wrong they seem right. And that’s why having a restaurant where all the food looks like poop is funny.

Modern Toilet is located in Ximen, one of Taipei’s biggest shopping districts. If you have trouble finding it, just look for the giant toilet outside.

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Modern Toilet’s idea is simple: put normal food in bowls and dishes that look like toilets. The rest is magic.

Enjoy delicious golden curry while being reminded that poop isn’t always brown.

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Enjoy some refreshing shaved ice while reminiscing about the last time you filled a toilet to maximum capacity.

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Have some chocolate soft serve while embracing what you’ve always thought about it.

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Not only does the food look like crap, but everything in the restaurant reminds you of the special time you spend on your cell phone.

The walls.

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The lights.

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The seats.

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Even the bathroom (aka the “VIP Lounge”).

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This is a fancy potty that squirts water on your bum-bum.

Modern Toilet serves hot pot, curry, pasta, and ice cream. All meals include a dessert (poop soft serve) and beverage. The prices run from 350 NT (hot pot) to 120 NT (big ice cream) and all the dishes are big enough to split between two people. You have to spend at least 90 NT per person when you eat here (it’s a very popular joint).

If you like poop, you’ll like this restaurant.

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I like poop.

How boring is your life?

I am a BOMB teacher and all my students love/adore/want to be me. Even so, what I really live for is the weekend.

The thing is, living in the city is a drain: it’s loud, smelly, crowded, and full of concrete. I have to get out into ~nature~ once a week to rejuvenate.

Taiwan still has a lot of undeveloped land. Even though this small island is home to millions of people, the mountains and eastern coast have remained undeveloped, probably because of the steady tide of typhoons that roll in every year.

So even though the city’s loud, crowded, and smelly, I can easily escape once a week. I just hop on a bus for an hour or two and I’m free.

A waterfall or two this weekend? Sure.

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Waterfall on the hike from Houtong to Shangdiaoling.

A small mountain town next? Cool.

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Alishan

A breezy coastline? Easy.

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Longdong

Hot springs after that? *Cake.*

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Wulai

So there’s that. I probably could have and should have done something similar while I was living in the States. I mean, it’s not a small island, so there’s A LOT more ~nature~ to explore.

If you want to try having an adventure every weekend, try this app/website: TripAdvisor.com. It makes finding new places in your current location easy. Find your next adventure! Or confirm how truly boring your hometown is:

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Do burritos make us American?

I’ve been wanting Mexican food ever since I flew into Taiwan. In fact, the last meal I ate before flying to Taiwan was a burrito, chips, and salsa.

So, this weekend, after TWO MONTHS of not having Mexican food (two months and four days to be exact), I found a place called Macho Tacos in Taipei.

I was skeptical of how tasty the food would be and whether it’d be worth my money (you can get a decent meal here for 2 bucks but a burrito at this place was 5ish), but the pictures and menu online looked authentic, so I was optimistic.

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Because the menu and pics online looked so authentic, I expected to see Latinos behind the counter when I walked in (Taipei is pretty international, so I wouldn’t have been surprised), but there were just the usual Taiwanese people. That made me less optimistic, but I figured I’d give it an honest shot anyway. I ordered a macho-sized (large-ish) burrito with taco meat.

Mis amigos, I was not disappointed. The lettuce inside the burrito was crispy and fresh, the tortilla held together well and tasted normal, the ground beef was perfectly seasoned, the cilantro-lime rice tasted just like Cafe Rio, and the salsa had all the right juices and flavors. It was muy delicioso, but could have benefited from some sour cream, guacamole, and a side of chips (which you can order separately and I’ll definitely do that next time).

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While I was eating, I felt a connection with the burrito. It felt like I was eating my people’s food, a piece of home.

I remembered working with other missionaries in Russia to make Mexican food: cooking and seasoning ground beef and chili, making homemade tortillas, chopping and mixing vegetables to make salsa (which we’d eat with crackers since tortilla chips aren’t a thing in Russia).

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Why do so many Americans love Mexican food? Why did we work so hard to make it on my mission?

Americans eat lots of pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers too, which you can also buy at restaurants here, but I think Mexican food is different. Mexican food has a homemade quality and feel that other “American” foods don’t match. Homemade pizza doesn’t taste the same and to make hamburgers or hot dogs at home, you basically just buy packaged meat and buns. But you can make all the parts of a Mexican meal at home without thinking twice about it (except tortillas — homemade tortillas are a pain).

I understand that Mexicans and Americans eat different kinds of Mexican food: Americans mainly stick with tacos and burritos, along with some of our own spin-offs like nachos and chili, while Mexicans have A LOT more than that. But what we call “Mexican” is actually American to me.

So thank you, Mexicans, for giving us your best.

And not to get political but I’m going to: America is such a great country. Sure I get annoyed that the bread and chocolate aren’t as good as they are in Europe and that Americans like to whine a lot on Facebook (“MY freedoms say I can do this!” “Well MY freedoms say you can’t!”), but comparing it to other places I’ve visited (like Russia and Mexico and even Italy), it’s SO clean, SO safe, and there’s SO much less corruption that it’s selfish and unchristian that immigrating into the US is SO difficult.

I have friends from other countries who have college degrees or have even married US citizens (legitimately) yet struggle to maintain a visa or get a green card. They’ve had difficult lives and worked hard to come to America, leaving behind family and culture in exchange for the American dream, but in America they’re getting even more difficulty and harder work with little reward. If their native governments can’t recognize them for their hard work, then ours should. They can help America out just as much as burritos can.

Anyway, Macho Tacos in Taipei is very tasty and authentic. I saw some Latinos and other Americans there too, so I’m not the only one who thinks so. Walking out of the restaurant, I had to remind myself that I was still in Taiwan, my burrito having temporarily transported me home.

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MONKEYS GOT HATERS TOO

I went into a jungle the next day. By Kaohsiung is a small mountain called Shoushan and it’s a designated national park. I had been there and explored a bit the day before when Taiwan Grandma dropped me off, but I saved the heavy hiking for the next day.

I was very excited to go because there were supposed to be monkeys all up over the place. I’d only ever seen monkeys through glass or in a cage before, so I was excited to see some real ones in real nature. I mean, that’s why people come to Asia, right?

The day before the big hike, I’d looked up how to get there (without Taiwan Grandma scooting me there) and read some reviews of the park. All the reviews said the scenery was amazing, but a lot warned about the monkeys.

I knew monkeys could be a bit crazy (I’ve seen Jumanji), but these reviews said that a single monkey would appear and look all cute, then there would be millions of others surrounding you, their emotionless monkey faces staring you down as they closed in to steal whatever they could from your hands and backpack. I imagined their little monkey fingers touching me and pulling at me and bossing me around like the kindergartners I teach, which made me nervous about going into the jungle alone.

The next morning, I found my way to Shoushan and walked into the jungle. It was 100% covered in trees, the clouds and leaves blocking light from coming in. It was a legit jungle!

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There were a lot of people on the main path, but I took a side trail into what looked like a denser part of the jungle. It was only a couple minutes before I heard rustling in the branches above me and could see monkeys. They were just hanging out in the treetops, chillaxing as branches bobbed up and down in the wind. They didn’t pay much attention to me, but I was still nervous. What if one of them TOUCHED ME ? So I just stood there until a group of Asians walked by, the monkeys not paying attention to them either.

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After the Asians passed through, I decided it was safe for me to go on. A couple monkeys came out of the bushes, crossing my path as I walked. I watched as they crawled over the path, coming close but not too close. They seemed a little afraid, but not as much as squirrels or birds. More like ducks, I guess.

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I made it to the top of the mountain without being touched/jumped on/raped by the monkeys. There were a lot just hanging out in the trees and crawling along the side of the trail. They didn’t beg for food or anything. The pretty much ignored the people and the people ignored them.

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So I don’t know what’s up with all these people cyberbullying monkeys. I’m sure they can be cray, but I think that, generally, monkeys are good people.

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Wooden stairs in Shoushan.
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Path through some rocks.

Dahu Park

Visit Dahu Park in Taipei! It’s a great place to …

… see some very attractive person!

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Me.

… see some squirrel!.

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I mean, it’s probably a squirrel, butt I can’t see the head,so.

… see some cranes!

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~Very Asian.~

… see some little girl trying to hunt a duck!!!

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Little girls and animals. A must-see.

… see some people hunt fish!

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Ha! Get them fish before they get you.

… see some lady take pictures of her dog like it’s a person!!

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Spoiler alert, lady: puppies turn into dogs who get old and die.

… see nerd(s) LARPing!

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Spoiler alert: your dreams will take you as high as that broom, kid.

… feel like you’re at a classy park!!

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Duck (goose?), crane in tree, people. *nice*

… butt last, butt not least, see this cool bridge!

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The Moon Bridge is very cool. Very must-see. Very must-stand-on.

As you can see, we all need to go to Dahu Park. It makes you feel super classy and it’s v v cool. #Taipei #ShareThisPost

Elephant Mountain

You’ve heard of elephants, you’ve heard of mountains, but have you heard of Elephant Mountain? Elephant Mountain is a mountain in Taipei (A mountain in a city! What is this, Lord of the Rings?). But before I tell you what it’s like to visit, let me give you a little history.
Taipei is also known as “Elephant City” because of the elephants that rule there. It all goes back to when Babar the first elephant king came to Taiwan.  People and elephants used to live in peace. They co-owned businesses and threw parties and stuff. It was pretty cool.
Anyway, Babar crossed over from (wherever elephants are from) and was like, “We can do so much better.” So he started a war with the humans. Since elephants are so much bigger than ordinary people, the elephants won and they continue to rule Taipei and most of Taiwan (but mostly just Taipei) to this day.
It’s not a big deal. They just get to cut in lines and have preference in elections (1 elephant vote = 1,000 people votes and there are only, like, 4,000 people in Taiwan anyway so) and offer human sacrifices sometimes. But it’s mainly whatever.
Anyway, so hiking Elephant Mountain is a real snap. There’s a set of old stairs that take you to the top of the mountain in about 20 minutes. It’s a fast hike, but it’s very steep and it’s (of course humid), and (depending on when you hike it) can be pretty hot. All this translates to SWEAT SWEAT SWEAT.
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I mean, it’s just a bunch of stairs going straight up.
So, to be prepared, the most important thing to have is water and sugar water. I’d say have a half or a whole liter of normal water. Sugar water is water with electrolytes and junk added to it. Usually, I don’t approve of non-water drinks, but you’re gonna sweat so much that you’ll feel pretty terrible (I got an annoying headache) if you’re not replacing all the stuff your body’s sweating out. So, bring a bottle of sugar water (I recommend dolphin water – it tastes like a very mild Sprite without the carbonation).
What you wear doesn’t really matter. It’s not a real hike because it’s so short and it’s paved the whole way, so just wear something breathable and comfy (or maybe something you can run in if the elephants get in a sacrificey mood).
The selling point of the hike is the view you get of Taipei 101. It’s almost impossible to get a bad picture of it from on top.

I hiked it with my friend Spirit Sword (middle) and my new friend Xin Yi.
The hike up is real pretty too.
So it’s a draining hike, but the views very very pretty. There are plenty of trails to explore on the way up and on top of the mountain too, so plan to look around for a bit.

And watch out for dem elephants.

Here’s a sweet vid of the hike:

Airport chillaxin’

Well, yeah, waiting in LAX all day wasn’t super cool, but it was okay/nift. I was FINALLY able to check in at 8 pm (after being there since noon), then I flew out at midnight.
Flying at night to Asia is the way to go. I got a full night’s sleep and a nap, so jet lag hasn’t been as fierce as usual. Here’s how:
I watched the first half of Tomorrowlandand ate dinner, slept for 7 hours, finished Tomorrowland(that movie deserves more love because I love Brad Bird), took another two hour nap, woke up, had breakfast, watched Benjamin Button (basically, Brad Pitt has sex at every stage of life, starting by having sex with a young prostitute while he’s old, ending by having sex with an old lady when he’s a teenager, so you never really feel comfortable with it regardless of your opinion on premarital sex), then we landed at 5 am on Saturday Korea time. (BTW, the airplane was SO quiet: it landed as soft and gentle as Jennifer Lawrence’s lips on mine someday maybe.)
The Incheon Airport was SO nice (it’s the #2 top-ranked airport in the WORLD). It was big and clean, there were lots of nice restaurants and stores, but the real highlight was the rest area.
When you’re travelling, it can be hard and uncomfortable to be stuck in an airport for hours. Even if there’s good shopping and food, mostly you just want a nice place to sit down and rest. In this airport, it’s easy to find a quiet place to rest from travelling – there’s an entire floor dedicated to it.
On a level separated from all the hustle and bustle, there’s a spa, showers, massage chairs, a hotel, cultural displays, a cool play area (FOR KIDS?!!), and lots of soft, cushy chairs and benches where you can take naps. I think the spa and hotel cost money, but the rest of it was F R E E. It was so nice to hop in the shower and change into some fresh clothes I’d brought in my carry on. It was like getting a whole new start! (Actually, I just sat and looked at my phone after I explored for a couple hours, but I reallythought about freshening up. Maybe next time.)
#vandals
Really *fancy* bathroom.
I kno it’s a bad pic butt this guy was full-on awake, so I couldn’t take very good pics of everyone else sleeping.
Butt I did get good pics of these people sleeping.
Sleep away.
I think this was the cult part of it.
This was part of the cultural display lol 
Korea airplane, you so quiet. Be my J-Law.
Should I join? #KoreaFamous
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the movie theater. There’s also supposedly an ice rink and junk, but I didn’t see those either. Internet’s lying to me, man.
After five hours, I jumped on a plane to Taiwan. I watched a Chinese action flick (not Mulan), ate some tofu (not good), then watched the first part of Age of Adaline (not gonna finish it).
no no no
Now I’m in Taiwan. And I’m still not 100% about what exactly I’m getting paid for, but whatevs.

DON’T PANIC

Please don’t panic, but I’ve been at the airport for over FIVE HOURS with a really sketchy Wi-Fi connection. ALSO, I gave my mom my old SIM card and phone yesterday (I got a ~new~ phone), so I don’t have data right now either.Needless to say, staying connected to the Internet right now is a STRUGG.
(I’ll pause to let you catch your breath.)
On top of that, I’ll be in this airport for another seven hours and I DOUBT THE INTERNET SITUATION WILL IMPROVE MUCH.
(Another significant pause.)
Also, even if I’m able to get a steady connection, I forgot my headphones at my parents’ house, so I wouldn’t be able to watch and enjoy Internet in its entirety anyway.
(One last pause to let your mind drift into the abyss that is life without the Internet.)
Now, I know things sound really bleak right now, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. We WILL make it to Taiwan and when we get there, we’ll hook up to Wi-Fi as ASAP as possible AND we’re going to buy more data for my Taiwan SIM card. It’s just a couple hours. Or days. I’m not sure, really.
Pretty fly for a Wi-Fi.
I left the Sacramento Airport this morning at 10 am, my plane from LA leaves at midnight, I’ll land in Korea fourteen hours later, have a six-hour layover, then land in Taiwan an hour and a half after that. It’ll be noon on Saturday in Taiwan and 9 pm Friday in the States. Whew!
But being stuck in LAX isn’t so bad. Aside from the fact that I can’t check in for my next flight until 7-ish (probably) and that I have to drag around 100+ lbs. of crap in four different bags until then (like, I have to bring it all with me to get food or go to the bathroom or move or anything), I like LAX.
It looks like I’m barricading myself for a zombie apocalypse, butt really I’m just pooping.
Of course, LAX has really grumpy employees and LA itself isn’t that cool of a city anyway, but it’s still the heart of international travel for so many people. There are so many different languages and clothing styles and cultures represented here. It’s interesting to look at people and guess who’s coming to America for the first time, who’s trying to move here with their families, and who’s flying back home. SO MANY HOPES AND DREAMS AND IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL. It’s cool w/e.
The airport in Korea is gonna be really cool too. The Incheon International Airport  is supposed  to be the second-best in the world (after Singapore). There’s a movie theater, concerts, really *nice* restaurants, free storage lockers for your things, and a child’s play area. I’ll be sure to take pics for y’all.
And being on long flights is the best. Two meals and so many movies. Hours and hours and hours of movies. And if you don’t want to watch a movie, take a nap. And if you don’t want to take a nap, watch a movie. It’s such a pleasure.
My first flight to Taiwan. Look how chipper!
My main thing when I travel is just to relax. For example, this morning I was running late getting to the airport. I was stressed about it, but then I thought, “Do I want to feel stressed right now? No.” So I stopped. All through Europe, I never had a concrete plan for each day except to have A BLAST. Did I know where I’d sleep each night or what I’d eat next or how I was getting to the airport the next day? No, but it all worked out and I had A BLAST.
Travel is fun and the world is your playground. ~So dang.~

Bucket list: Road trip through the Alps

I don’t think people in the U.S. appreciate how close Italy is to Austria and Germany. I also don’t think people in the U.S. can find Austria or Germany on a map. (Tbh, I still can’t: What kind of loser looks at a map all day lol?)

So here’s a little geography (for all of us):

As we all can see, Italy is the boot at the bottom, Austria looks like a guy rolling on the ground cuz he just got kicked in the crotch with his legs above Italy, and Germany is the big green country above that.

So now we know: Italy is very close to Germany and Austria (aka Crotchstria). In fact, if you’re ever visiting Austria and you want to visit the Matterhorn (a supes cool mountain Walt Disney built), the fastest way there is to drive south into Italy, then north again.
Anyway, so northern Italy is where I first got a glimpse of the Alps. I was on a train from Milan to Verona and I could see the foothills of the Alps popping out of the ground in the otherwise flat Italian countryside. From a distance, they looked like any other mountains. After sticking around in Verona for a couple days, me and my cool Couchsurfing host decided to take a road trip to Austria.
Driving into the Alps was breathtaking. The mountains were HUGE. With gradual inclines and sheer cliffs, covered in trees and streams and snow (I’m a sucker for snow), the tops peeking into the sky and scraping clouds, I was completely blown away.
Bad pic.
Literally, no picture is good enough.
Keep in mind, I live in Utah which also has crazy cool mountains, but the Rockies look like baby mountains compared to the Alps. The further we got into Austria, the more the Alps dominated the sky.
A panoramic view I got of Walensee in Switzerland.
Eventually, I made it to Feldkirch Austria, a cool town close to the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, so I got to visit all those places in a day (Wooow! ~Such travel.~) Feldkirch’s a nifty little town with a castle, clear blue river, neat town square, and very Snow White-ish architecture.
Feldkirch and me. I am looking fly TO DEATH.
After my little jaunt through the Alps, I had to jump back on a plane in Milan, so I hopped on a bus and was back in Italy in just a couple of hours (cuz IT’S SO CLOSE).
So if you’re headed to Italy, don’t forget to check out the Alps, man!

P.S. I want to give a shoutout to Marvin Veit (pronounced “Fight!”) and his family for hosting me in Austria. It was so nice to be in a real house and eat real food after hostels and hotels and restaurants!

Fight!