San Francisco, California, USA

After a long bus to SF (at this point we're so used to it, it was a breeze), we were once again welcomed with open arms by our friend Amy and her awesome BF Trevor. On the way over we joked that every billboard was for an app or a startup, but it's no joke. They not only have an app for everything, everyone uses one to three apps to accomplish any daily task. Anyway, Amy and Trev offered us everything from a bed to a quinoa burger (aren't they the cutest!?) and on top of that, they took us on a hike to see the bridge and showed us the glory that is a Señor Sisig burrito.

While our hosts were off working, we got a chance to walk around the cute coffee shops in the Mission district and got some happy hour drinks in the North Beach area. In all honesty, was a little taken aback by 1. The cold. It's California. It shouldn't be so cold and cloudy right? and 2. The insane amount of homeless people on the streets. It's clearly an issue in SF and has been for a while.. hopefully someone comes up with an app that can help them! Regardless, I loved SF and would love to return soon to see more. (Hopefully when it's not so chilly out!)

While we were there we also got a chance to explore a bit of Oakland! My friend Yelena offered up some tips on where to go, and we met up with our friends Pablo and Loid there. We had a blast! It was almost like being back in Brooklyn with a bit of a Cali twist! And self-serve cucumber water at the bars.. yum!

Los Angeles, California, USA

We're back in the US and I could not feel more counter-culture-shocked! I miss not understanding signs and having to find my way around without my phone or uber. I miss having to convert currencies and having to learn a new "thank you" and a new "cheers!". There's no denying it, I'm already missing Asia, but looking ahead, the road looks pretty good! After a few days in LA and a few in SF, we head back home to Puerto Rico! There's a lot of exciting things happening there and I'm looking forward to getting our own place. But for now, I'll continue dreaming of Khao Soi and Pad Thai for breakfast.

I had been to LA before, and to be honest, I had a good time.. but I never saw myself living here. This time around however, I've opened my mind to the idea and I'm no longer opposed to it! Strolling around Venice, getting some work done in the coffee shops down Abbot Kinney Blvd, and partying in Silver Lake, I started to feel like I finally *get it*. It's still a pain to sit in traffic all the time, but overall, it's a pretty sweet place to live.

We were WELL taken care of, with friends from high school and college left and right offering their space and schedules to accommodate us! Once again, feeling very lucky to have such good friends. Fernando and Braden gave us a couch and showed us WeHo (that means West Hollywood of COURSE..), Francesca took us on a hike to see the Hollywood sign, accompanied us to oogle at the hot bods down by Sta Monica / Venice (where we met another HS friend Regina!), and urged us groovy on over to Davey Wayne's awesomeness. Then Tito showed us K-town, Bruno and Augusto showed us downtown, and Modesto and Sam showed us Silver Lake and Echo Park! I think I got a pretty good idea of what LA is like, and I'm down to come back and explore s'more soon.

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Once we took off to Kuta, we started to see a new face to Bali. Kuta has a rawness that we didn't see in Ubud, but I was definitely into it. At some points Ubud felt almost "too clean" and polished up for tourists (probably due to the mounds of people that started pouring in after EAT, PRAY, LOVE.) There's a crazy nightlife scene and scooters and motorcycles buzzing around all over the place in Kuta. The surfer community is also very present in the shops, restaurants, and on the beach! So much so, we decided to go for a surf and made some really good friends with a local crew of surfer guys! 

Our last night in Kuta meant our last night in Asia. It was Thanksgiving, and I could not be more grateful for all of the amazing experiences we've had on this trip and for all the amazing people we met along the way. I was also especially thankful for having known one particular person.. who passed away around this time two years back.. He had a house in Bali, and I vividly remember his eyes glimmering whenever he mentioned how much he loved it. With a salty tear joining its brothers on the shore, we had one last surf session before heading to the airport. The sun was setting into the ocean with a bright orange glare and I couldn't believe it. It's time to return to the US, and soon it'll be time to start the new chapter in this book of life.

Ko Phangan, Thailand

This was our last stop in Thailand because sadly, we couldn't make it to Ko Tao (next time!) but saying goodbye to Thailand in Ko Phangan meant we'd be leaving with a Half-Moon-Party-bang!

They take kids' plastic buckets, slap on an Absolut Vodka logo on it, and call it a cup. This is the kind of madness I was expecting in Ko Phangan. Although there was a lot of that, and some more 40-people-piling-into-the-back-of a tuk-truck nonsense, the people here were surprisingly chill and awesome! It was a much bigger island than Ko Phi Phi and it seemed like there was a lot more to see than what we were able to grasp in a short time, you also have to drive to get anywhere so it made it a bit more difficult to get around. Nonetheless, here are some highlights:

  1. Beaches
    Our hostel hosts told us we didn't even go to the most beautiful beaches on the island, but even the sub-par beaches were gorgeous! One of the lazy hangover days in Phangan was pleasantly spent paddle boarding by a beautiful sunset in Baan Tai beach. The paddleboard guys even let us sneak in some extra time on the board since business was slow that day :)
     
  2. Half Moon Party
    Instead of going for the more famous "full moon party" takes place on the beach, we opted for the half moon party instead, which takes place in the jungle inland from Ban Tai and is the "perfect amount of crowded" as opposed to the full moon debauchery. Before the party, everyone has pre-drinks at the hostels while getting covered in glow-in-the-dark paint for the event! I of course, was a glow-in-the-dark partycat.
     
  3. Sunset at AmstArdam Bar
    We kept hearing about this "AmstArdam Bar" wherever we went so we felt like we had to go to see what all the hype was about. Turns out, it's a really cool relaxed terrace bar with an incredible view of the silky blue waters that surround this little piece of paradise. You're encouraged to order smoothies and watch the sunset softly envelop you in its colorful arms. We entered with a few friends and left as a family. So many great stories were told and many laughs were had. I remember wishing I could capture the moment in my memory forever.
     
  4. Guy's Bar adventure
    Friday night kicked off with buckets of drinks in Haad Rin beach. We had heard about a mysterious Guy's Bar and we heard it was only open on Fridays so we were eager to find where it was. Upon asking around, we were pointed towards a the water.. "We have to ride a boat to get there?".. So we hop on a boat and zip off into the night. When I say "into the night" I mean pitch black darkness. We all looked up to gaze at the most amazing sky I've ever seen. The constellations got lost in all the mss of stars we saw on that boat. Then, with a thump, we were dropped off at a dark jungle-y shore. Not knowing where to go from there (there seemed to be no defined path or signs), we peered into the jungle and saw a few lights in the distance. As we headed toward the lights through the branches and mud, we started to hear the faint beat of some hippy-electro-dance music growing louder and louder until, there it was. We found it. Guy's Bar. We danced off into the night until the sun started peering through the branches and the boat came back to take us home. Staring off into the sunrise we knew it was another goodbye (to Thailand) but we're not done yet! next up: Bali!

 

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

We heard a lot of mixed reviews about Ko Phi Phi from people we met during our travels but the slight chance that we wouldn't think it was amazing didn't stop us from going to check it out! One big motivational factor was that we wanted to go explore the famous beach featured in the movie "The Beach" (based on the 1996 novel by Alex Garland).

Ko Phi Phi was definitely an "adult playground" in a sense, filled with tourists and tours, but that didn't mean the playground wasn't fun, nor the tours filled with breathtaking landscapes and fun activities. Seriously. I'm not a "tour person" and most of the time I completely avoid them, but this time, it was worth it.

Our tour took us to Monkey Beach, where we got to play with adorable monkeys for a bit, then to Maya Beach AKA: The beach from the film "The Beach", then we went snorkeling in two other spots before returning to the mainland. It was a fun-filled day and we got to see some incredibly beautiful beaches, rock formations, colorful fish and monkeys! :)

That night we were surprised with a rooftop viewing of, believe it or not, "The Beach" – quite the cherry on top of a great day! We stumbled into some of the friends we met back in Pai and we all went out for drinks on the beach with a view of the stars and fire performers.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is often referred to as the unavoidable, dirty, over-crowded capital city of Thailand. And it sort of is. It’s loud and crazy and colourful and polluted; but it’s a sight worth seeing to get a well-rounded perception of what Thailand is all about. 


Night Bus to Bangkok

The double decker night bus from Chaing Mai to Bangkok may seem like a great deal. The flyer says it has AC, free snacks included, comfortable reclining chairs, and free WiFi –and it’s cheaper than the night train! Sounds amazing right? Except it’s a total scam. The Wifi was non-existent, the seats were not comfortable, the tiny bit of cookies they gave us were terrible, and the driver makes you think you’re going to crash and die every 3 minutes with the way he drives down the poorly-pavemented Thai streets. There we were stuck for the next 10 hours… 


Insects for Dinner

We arrived in Bangkok around 5:30am and checked into Born Free Hostel, an adorable, clean hostel we found near the infamous Kahosan Road, We met some other backpackers and hung out with them all day exploring and shopping in the loud streets of Bangkok. At night, we stumbled into a big local party on the street (Ban Phan Thom*). People had costumes and lights and instruments. Suddenly, a few guys went around telling people to move out of the way and before we knew it, we were front and centre to an incredible show. Two large poles were raised and fireworks were shot in the air to designate the beginning of the performance. Loud drums signal the start of the show and a huge Chinese dragon appears dancing up and down the street. A group of men climb up one of the poles and hook themselves onto it. Then they wrap the Chinese dragon around the pole with them all the way to the top, dangling it along with their own bodies. Another man climbs all the way up to the very top of the other pole and also swings back and forth with a shining light stick like he’s battling with the dragon. All of the sudden ACTUAL FIREWORKS start shooting from the dragon’s mouth for the grand finale. Little bits of ash and firework sparks fall on top of the heads of the cheering g audience leaving us tourists in complete awe. What an incredible welcoming to a crazy city. 

We walked over to Max’s Magical Thai Food in Rambuttri Alley first to grab some dinner and a free magic show. Then for dessert, we thought it would be a great idea to try yummy fried insects. The place we walked up to was actually filled with locals buying entire bags of maggots and crickets. This surprised me because I expected it to be more of a tourist trap. So we got a bagful, and tried them. Specifically, we tried grasshoppers, crickets, and maggots. They weren’t my favorite, but I guess it was an interesting experience to give them a try. 

After a few coughs and dry heaves, we decided we needed alcohol to wash down those little creepy crawlers, so we headed to Kahosan Road. On our walk over there, we stopped at a couple of nice jazz bars with live music, but the truth is, we didn’t come to Bangkok for chill jazz.. we wanted to experience the craziness that everyone talks about. The nightlife in Kahosan is pretty much purely for tourists but it is insane. Every bar is blasting a different kind of music and people can barely walk through the busy street. Neon signs at the bars read “cocktails very strong” and “we do not check ID card” and the giant buckets of mixed alcohol cost about $5. It was a fun sweaty night of bar hopping and dancing but I was happy to leave it all behind the next day and head south to the beaches!

Pai, Thailand

Pai is a tiny town in the northeastern mountains of Thailand, surrounded by rice fields, canyons, hot springs, and forests. It’s a hub for the hippies that are too chill for even Chiang Mai and want to live tucked away, off the grid, with other like-minded hippies, and drink mushroom shakes every now and then. It’s a great place… one of my favourites of the entire trip. The people we met up with here, truly made Thailand an unforgettable experience. 


The Winding Road to Pai

We had of course disregarded our friends’ suggestions of having a calm night in before our trip to Pai, and we very quickly regretted it. It’s a long bumpy ride, with no pit stops and LOTS of curves… needless to say, it’s not very hangover friendly. It was 8am and we were the four loud girls sitting in the back of minibus shuttle laughing about the events that took place the night before – everyone there hated us. But we didn’t care, we were in a blissful wonderland oblivious to other humans that were not part of our newly found friendship bubble. 

We finally arrived in the small town Pai and went in search of a guesthouse a friend of the Spanish girls had recommended. It really is a pretty small town with just 2 or 3 main streets and a couple of traffic lights. All the locals are well used to the backpackers and know exactly where all the guesthouses and hostels are –not that they can all communicate that in English, although they try! We walked about 15 minutes away from the centre of the town (considered a long distance for Pai standards) and found our little hippie paradise: Up2U Guesthouse. Ignore the silly name, and please stay in this hostel if you ever find yourself in Pai. It’s amazing. The whole place feels like a treehouse with hammocks and guitars lying around everywhere (free to use) and the bunk beds are all made of bamboo stacked all the way to the tall ceilings.

The Spanish girls’ friend Frankie was staying in that same guesthouse, and was hanging out with this awesome local girl named Ruki, who knew the all the best spots and took us out for lunch. We invited everyone in the hostel to join us and we quickly all became friends. We decided that since Cristi and I had been baptized with hippy names, everyone should also have a new nickname. Frankie became Mufasa, and then we had Moto, Coconut, Menta, Wolf, and a few others that slip my mind. It was a great crew, but the only name that really stuck was Mufasa. Lunch was amazing. Ruki taught us some Thai words and ordered us a delicious local dish that wasn’t even on the menu: seafood suki (a spicy seafood and rice noodle soup dish). In the front of the restaurant we noticed a woman boiling what looked like tiny balls of colorful play dough, which we found out was a delicious taro and coconut dessert called boualoy. Kin yuh yuh kah! (that means dig in!). 

After lunch, we all hopped on a Thai taxi and went to catch the sunset in Pai’s Grand Canyon with a bottle of wine. What an amazing view. The canyon is incredible aaand also a bit terrifying. With no kind of protection or railing or anything, anyone could easily slip and fall a long and hard way down –but that’s also what makes it so beautiful. 

After settling back into the guesthouse and taking a shower with a beautiful view of the stars (yes, the showers are pretty open to nature), we decided to walk around and find some dinner and drinks. The centre of town is filled with street food carts that offer any kind of Thai food you can imagine, and all for incredibly cheap. The spicy noodle salad was one of my favorites, made for you right there when you order it, by a lovely old woman. Other things we tried included some strange coconut dumplings, savoury rotees, tiny quail eggs, and some unique sushi.

As the night progressed, we hopped around little bars exploring and playing fun bar games and sharing laughs with our new friends. All the bars had a very relaxed, reggae-like atmosphere which we all loved. All of Pai was filled with this good, happy, energy. Throughout the night we continually ran into people we had already met and this made Thailand feel like a really small bubble. We were with the Spanish crew and we ran into people from our current guesthouse, but we also saw the French guys and part of the German crew, even some Belgian boys we had only met for a minute in the Sunday Market in Chaing Mai. Everyone was in great attitudes, ready to be best friends in an instant. We ended the night dancing around a bonfire in a well known late-night bar called Don’t Cry


Very Hot Springs

It was a slow-moving cloudy morning in Pai, perfect for sitting in a hammock with a beautiful view of the fields and getting some design work done. We had planned to go to the waterfalls, but with clouds and sprinkles of rain, the weather was perfect to check out the hot springs instead. On the way, we saw the Belgain boys we had seen the night before walking in the street barefoot, and we pretty much kidnapped them to come with us. The Pai hot springs are more well-organized and maintained for tourists than I expected; but thankfully there weren’t many tourists they day we went. The springs are split up into several little pools, each with a sign marking the temperature (like an outdoor spa of sorts). Some signs also read “No boli egg” although we definitely saw some people boiling eggs there (that’s how hot the water is in some of the pools). It was a very nice relaxing day out, but with our crew, too much relaxing was simply not allowed. It was raining, so we bought a few bottles of wine and some chips and decided to start our own little party in our hostel. Everyone joined in and the staff in the hostel even ordered pad thai to be delivered to us so that we didn’t have to go out in the rain for dinner. That night was when the Ultimate Thailand Backpackers Familia was formed: Blanca, Vero, and Mufasa from Spain, the Germans: Jesse, Antonia, Theresa, and Stephan, Steven and David from the US, Gaii and Palo (Palo was another nickname that stuck) from Holland, and a few others that came and went (like this girl we called Confetti who got far too drunk that night). 


Waterfalls

Most of the Familia decided to go to the waterfalls, but I stayed back and got some work done in the most beautiful office anyone could ever imagine. Its days like these that remind me that the perks of being a digital nomad by far surpass the small disadvantages. As the sun came down and the crew came back, we were escorted to the town center by the most adorable stray dogs that always seemed to be happy to be around us, for another night of reggae bars and good memories. We ended that night watching the sunrise as we walked back from another well known late-night bar called Sunset Bar where we made friends with the bartender who later gave us an entire bottle of Sangsom (a local Thai rum) for free. Thai people are just too friendly sometimes (right Palo?). 


We will never learn

The following morning, the whole crew went for a filling Thai breakfast (which is the same as a lunch or a dinner… food is just food there) and then we said our sad goodbyes. The minibus ride back to Chiang Mai may have been even worse than the ride coming in. I guess we’ll never learn… 


Chiang Mai, Thailand

We skipped the usual backpacker’s first day in Bangkok and directly hopped on a plane to Chiang Mai. Bags and all, we packed into a tiny tuk-tuk that took us all the way to our hostel for 110 Thai Baht… yet another currency to get used to. However, this conversion was very much in our favor – the US dollar takes you a long way in Thailand. 

Chiang Mai is super easy to navigate. In the center, you have the Old City which is surrounded by ancient walls and a square-shaped river-moat. Directions to everything are based on this square. 


Hippie Hostel Street

We stayed in Divas 2 Guesthouse in a small backpacker’s street in the North East of the Old City. This area is super hippie and chilled-out with many hostels, guesthouses, coffee shops, and restaurants… but not many locals. “Authentic” or not, It was cool to feel like a part of a nomad culture here and meet up with so many like-minded world travelers. Chiang Mai in general seemed to invite travelers to coexist with locals in a very welcoming, peaceful, harmonious way.


A Delicious Welcome

After arriving and checking in, we were starved. Marcos, a German fellow traveler who was there in the front desk, invited us to join him for a quick street food dinner. Chiang Mai has an amazing strip of street food carts North of the Old City walls. That’s where we tried our first real Pad Thai, and the Thai cowgirl’s famous pork and rice. After a delicious meal, worth well over the 60 Baht it cost us (around $1.50 for BOTH plates), we spent the rest of the night chatting with other friendly travelers on the hostel rooftop. 


Temples & Jazz

We woke up energized and ready for some sight-seeing. It was so. fucking. hot. But the blazing sun couldn’t keep us from wandering. There are amazing temples everywhere. They’re all so much more colorful than the temples and shrines we saw in Japan. Bright colored shimmering mosaics fill the white exterior walls and doors, while gold takes over most of the rooftops. On the outside of all these Wats you see a bunch of little garden-gnome-looking sculptures and mini shrines. Buddhist proverbs are also often displayed around the temple grounds. Behind or on the side of each temple, you can usually find either a huge Buddha sculpture or a large and impressive chedi (stupa). 

That night we stumbled onto a bar that had people pouring out all the way to the street. It was Tuesday at the North Gate Jazz bar. Apparently, this place has live music every night, but the best night to go is on a Tuesday because musicians come from all over Thailand to jump in line for their chance to perform in a live jazz jam session. I felt like I was in a Thai version of New Orleans. We danced the night away with a group of hispanic girls who had just got back from their yoga-meditation retreat and a group of cool guys from Melbourne. What a great night. 


More Temples, Kao Soi, and Zoe’s

We started our day, again with a mixture of coffee shop work time, and temple sight-seeing. Then, later on, we tried one of the most popular dishes from Northern Thailand: Kao Soi. Oh my. This dish. I could easily live off of JUST this dish for the rest of my days and be the happiest person. It’s a spicy creamy coconut curry that is nothing but heaven to your taste buds. I highly recommend trying it if you ever have the chance. That night we ended up in the popular night club dance strip right by our hostel. We made some new friends, Lukas and Dennis, who were both travelling alone and had just met. Soon we had surrounded ourselves with a fully international group of people (from Switzerland, Israel, England, France, Egypt, USA, and Spain) and together we partied around Zoe in Yellow (playing Backstreet Boys songs… what?), and Reggae Rock bar with live music. We ended the night in Club Spicy, one of the only few places that stays open after everything shuts down at midnight. It’s so easy to make new friends here. 


Remember remember, the 5th of November…

During the day, we walked around, got some work done, and saw some markets with amazing fresh fruits and interesting Thai snacks. As we were sipping on some fresh fruit smoothies, we were baptized by a group of hippies we met on the street: “Ceci is now Luna, and Cristi is now Papaya” they said, welcome to Thailand. 

Then, we met up with our new friend Lukas at the THC Rooftop Bar for drinks and dinner. Not really knowing where to go, we ended up back at the North Gate Jazz bar where we randomly met a group of mostly-Germans who would become one of our closest new friend groups of our trip. How it happened, I don’t know, but we ended up with about 20 people in a Thai taxi who drove us to a ladyboy bar because everything else was already closed. Then, when even that closed down, the night magically continued with beer we got from a hostel owner we met, and cards that I always keep in my purse (hey, you never know when you’ll need an extra deck for an improvised game of Kings right?!). 


Tigers

After a few moments of going back and forth on the idea… we were persuaded by Lukas to go visit the tigers in the nearby tiger sanctuary. We rented some motor bikes and carefully made our way over to Mae Rim. It’s tricky to know exactly how these people treat these beautiful but dangerous animals. They claim that they don’t sedate them, but it’s hard to be 100% sure. 

When we arrived, a friendly tiger caretaker explained how to properly interact with the big cats, as they are kept with no chains and could accidentally hurt visitors by wanting to play. The caretaker explained that the tigers on average live three times as long in captivity as they would in the wild. They are domesticated and trained to be kind and gentle to humans from the moment they are born by being held often and pampered by the staff. Once he knew we were interested in learning a bit more about their training process, he introduced each tiger with his or her name and told little stories about their personalities and about them growing up. It made me happy to see that he really did have a close connection to these animals and that he really did seem to care about their wellbeing. He explained that they use small bamboo sticks and different sounds to help train them, and that they have some relatively large areas with pools of water to play in, even though he wishes they were even bigger. They also only allow tourists to interact with tigers that are 3 years or younger in age. Older tigers are too dangerous to keep so close to non-professional care-takers so they are taken to Meeting Conservation Center (80,000 Sq.M) where they can roam around in much larger spaces and they won’t be bothered by tourists. I left the sanctuary knowing a bit more about tigers, but still with a bit of doubt on whether or not keeping them in a place like this is really in their benefit. 

That night we had our first ever Thai massages! For about $5 you can get an incredible 1 hour full-body massage, and after a long day of exploring, there’s nothing better!


Elephants

I was researching where to see elephants ever since I knew I would be visiting Thailand way back in May, to try to find the most ethical place to meet these gentle giants. I know there are many places out there that mistreat elephants and abuse them in order to make some quick money, and I would never want to support that business. I also know that elephants that are completely free in the wild, have an extremely low life rate as they are often hunted down for ivory or killed by angry farmers after they’ve stomped over or eaten their crops. I’m happy to say I left Elephant Jungle Sanctuary without a single doubt that they do the best they can to take good care of these elephants and make sure they have long and happy lives. 

We spent all day taking care of elephants. Feeding them, playing with them in the mud, and bathing them in a nearby stream. They are incredibly intelligent creatures who respond to their own names just like dogs. It was like a dream to spend those hours so close to these majestic dinosaur-like animals. 

That night we went out “just for one drink” again with our new friends from the elephant tour, Ales and Tjasa. We went out to the Saturday Night Market and then to another Jazz bar called Mojo. Later that night we met a friendly local Thai girl, Natalie, who also has an identical twin sister. We also met some Spanish ladies, Blanca and Veronica, and French boys Lucas and Benji, who we would then travel to Pai with. 


An Extra Night in Chiang Mai

We couldn’t help it… we had already been in Chiang Mai for a week, and it was time to see something new… but we stayed an extra day anyway because we loved it so much. We ended up in a new guesthouse that was a repurposed old wooden Thai house in a beautiful tucked away street. During the day, we met up with the Spanish girls, French guys, and a local guy named Bai and we up the mountains to the famous Wat Phrahat Doi Suthep in scooters.

That night, we went to check out the famous Sunday Night Market and got Thai foot massages on the street – ah the luxury! Later, we were re-united with the same crew of mostly-Germans from before who had been away trekking for 3 days and found a way to have yet another crazy night in Chiang Mai ending with drinks and toasties in front of a 7-Eleven….and I thought the North was supposed to be the relaxed and calm part of Thailand…?

Tokyo, Japan

One of the biggest surprises of Tokyo and Japan in general is how "human scale" it is, compared to what I was expecting I guess. Although some of the buildings and intersections are big, the rest of the side streets, areas like the Tsukiji fish market and a lot of the hangout streets lined with cool bars and restaurants are all pretty tiny and adorable. It makes a place like Tokyo feel more homey and less daunting and grandiose than expected.

Here's a breakdown of Tokyo based on the neighborhoods we visited:

  1. Shimokitazawa
    We stayed there. Once again, we somehow found the "Brooklyn". It's artsy, hipster and young, hella cool and a lot of tourists miss out on it because it's a bit far from the center but 100% worth checking out.
     
  2. Shinjuku
    My favorite hangout area. Walking around in this neighborhood you really can't go wrong. There's so many cool things going on! One of my favorite spots is the "Golden Gaia small strip of izakaya-style bars, tucked away in these cute narrow alleys behind the tall Shinjuku buildings. 
     
  3. Shibuya & Roppongi
    If you picture tall buildings with neon lights and crazy amounts of people rushing past a busy intersection, you're picturing Shibuya. There's a cool nightlife scene but it's a bit too hectic for me (from what I saw). I bunched Roppongi up with Shibuya because I feel like it has a similar vibe. Clubby and fun if you feel like going hard one night (we had a great time there the night before Halloween!).
     
  4. Akihabara
    The weirdest of weird can be found in Akihabara. You name it, they went there, from 7-story porn shops to "maid cafés" where flirty teen waitresses act as servants to their gross middle-aged customers. It's your go-to place for anything video game-related, anime, manga, you get the picture.

Halloween
We managed to work "Halloween in Tokyo" into our plans which meant we had to come up with a cool costume. We thought about being the "konbini krew" which meant dressing up as the three main convenience stores (which pretty much equate to gods in Asia), this video pretty much sums it up. But after seeing so many WARNING! posters that showed the danger of selfie sticks, we couldn't resist. We went as "Selfie Stick Victims". I know people have actually been hurt and I don't mean to offend, but yeah, we had to.

Kyoto, Japan

Ahhhhhhhhhhh Kyoto. Feel your body relax just saying the name.
When you think of Japan, you probably think of something hi-tech or cutting edge, and sooo many people it stresses you out. Try to re-wire your brain, and just think of Kyoto. It's a large city, but a peaceful one, where everyone rides bikes everywhere (it's quite flat so it's super easy! And you can ride on the sidewalk so there's no fear of getting hit by a car), there's temples everywhere you look, and bookshops, cute cafe's and wine bars with fascinating stories to tell. Kyoto has an energy I didn't expect to find in Japan. It's mellow vibe is definitely something I could jive to. There was definitely a cool nightlife scene there too, but we didn't venture much beyond a cool jazzy wine bar, and a Beatles bar, which is fine by me!

Some highlights include:

  1. Riding our rented bikes down the Philosopher's Path, where we got to check out a bunch of cool temples, restaurants and shops along the way.
  2. Trying some delicious Ramen and Sushi and connecting with our awesome waitress that spoke perfect spanish!
  3. Zen-ing out with our amazing yoga instructor Mark Shvemia (who translated our entire class) at Studio Bindu.
  4. Discovering the most adorable coffee shops, such as Cafe Bibliotic Hello! 
  5. Asking for a restaurant recommendation and getting WALKED right up to the door to an amazing sushi conveyor belt restaurant.
  6. Making friends that don't speak english via Beatles songs in a cute Omiya Dori izakaya.
  7. From these friends' recommendation, visiting Lennon Bar.
  8. Meeting up with some lovely Bostonian Bros walking along the Fushimi Inari Shrine! (we met up with them again later in Tokyo!)

Osaka, Japan

Osaka was our first stop in Japan… the land of Murakami, Miyazaki, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon. As our plane landed in the Osaka airport, I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve already travelled; and how far from home we were. It’s still crazy to think that this is all really happening, and that we had just landed in that far away, mystical place I knew from books and movies, but never really thought I’d get a chance to visit –Japan. One of the things I was most excited about was the food! Bring on the fresh sushi and ramen! 

At the airport, we met up with an old high school friend who had posted on Facebook about wanting to go to Japan a few weeks before. We chatted about our plans and set coordinating dates. Amazing! A fellow Boricua joining us for Japan! He had even taken a few courses in Japanese, so he was a huge help for translating and getting around. 


Japanese ATMs & US Debit/Credit Card Struggles

The very first unexpected obstacle we ran into was this: Japan is terrible for US banks. Most ATMs simply won’t accept non-Japanese bank cards. We even tried the convenient store ATMs that bloggers online suggested, but nothing worked for us. We finally figured out that we had to find our way to a post office in order to take out cash. The other thing is, that almost no restaurant, tourist site, bar, store, coffee shop accepts any kind of credit cards. Convenient stores did take card, but for the most part, we had to get used to carrying a lot of cash on us.


The Teeny-Tiniest Airbnb in Namba

We stayed in the Namba area in an apartment we found through Airbnb. It was the tiniest little apartment ever, with just baaarely enough floor space to fit the double bed; and yet we managed to fit three young adults and all our luggage. The Namba area, however, made up for the small space: bright lights, arcade games, restaurants, and bars in every corner. At first sight when walking around Namba, all you see are large arcade game stores with tons of adults in suits inside playing like kids. It sounds pretty strange, but it’s very similar to casino culture… with a little less gambling and a lot more funny sounds coming from the machines. As cool as it was to experience, this was not really our scene; but as we kept walking around, we found some amazing back alleys with tiny bars that fit about 5 to 6 people max called izakayas. Namba is filled with them!  


Magical Food of Osaka

We found some incredible restaurants nearby and tried some of the local okonomiyaki in the well known restaurant, Mizuno. Here, we found out that as part of the Japanese culture, it’s very impolite to take photographs or video of the chefs as they prepare your meal in front of you. It was truly an impressive show tho. The classic okonomiyaki (originated in Osaka) is like a savoury Japanese pancake made with a variety of ingredients. Okonomi literally means "what you like" or "what you want", and believe me, YOU WANT IT. We had to try the classic, but we also tried the signature Mizuno version, a yam-based okonomiyaki with scallops and roast pork. YUM. 

We also tried the famous local street food takoyaki (fried octopus fritters). They’re made up of a wheat flour batter, diced octopus, pickled ginger, and onion; topped with a super yummy sauce. The really impressive part however, is seeing how the street vendors prepare these little balls. It’s amazing the grace and skill they have as they quickly whip the batter around with little sticks in what looks like round-shaped cupcake trays to perfectly crisp the outer layer of the balls. 

There was one more famous local dish, but this one we purposely stayed away from.. the deadly fugu (blowfish). Many restaurants specialise in preparing this dish, but the thrill of maybe dying after eating it didn’t sound very appealing to me. 


Crazy Shopping & Our Favorite Bar

Osaka is FILLED with large shopping street malls: Shinsaibashi, Horie Tachibana (Orange Street), Amerikamura, and more. If you enjoy shopping, you’ll definitely love Osaka… I’m not much of a shopping type myself. And as a world traveler, I can’t really afford to shop much anyway - especially after 11 other countries and their souvenirs… I’ve pretty much packed up my backpack to bursting point by now! Either way, walking around, window-shopping and people-watching is still fun. The shops in the area called “Amerikamura” or “American village” - not making this up - are particularly cool because you can also admire the impressively creative store designs (exterior and interior). This area has a bit of an indie-punk feeling kind of scene where we found our favorite bar, Little Sheep. Don’t be thrown off from the english name… it’s actually really cool. We crawled down a tiny flight of stairs after following a chalkboard sign with promise of cocktails and music. This place is like someone’s tiny dark basement. Everyone takes off their shoes and cuddles on the floor with pillows and blankets. It’s awesome. Great music, great lounge-y atmosphere, great cocktails, a projector showing hip Japanese music videos, and fun games like UNO and Jenga are passed around. The bartenders we’re all the friendliest of people too. 


Lights, more lights, and food!

Dotonbori is crazy. It’s just one street, not a big metropolitan business district or anything like I had somewhat expected, but it’s so filled with neon lights and 3D signs, you might not be able to tell the difference. It packs with people day and night, seven days a week. During the day, people flock there for the food. During the night, it’s club-and-bar-central.


Cute Design & Coffee Shops

Orange Street is the place to go during the day to find cute design stores, furniture boutiques, and coffee shops. Our favourite by far was Biopic - an adorable design furniture store with a café on the first floor and a rooftop bar / restaurant. We also travelled a bit further uptown to check out a cool co-working space we had found online: "Crossing" Come on up House. It was a great place to focus with other like-minded digital nomads, and get some work done with tea and snacks. 


Tourist Sites

There’s not very many tourist sites in Osaka… but we went to see the Hozen-ji temple and the Osaka castle. They were cool, but they were kind of out-shined by the amazing food in Osaka. They were cool, but visiting Osaka seems to be much more about experiencing the crazy arcade lifestyle and tasting the delicious Osaka cuisine.

Seoul, South Korea

I never thought I could see myself living in an Asian country until I came to Seoul. The language, alphabet, food, people, and culture may be different, a lot of the lifestyle is pretty close to what I’m used to. It struck me that in fact, it was actually very easy to adapt so quickly to this new, strange place. Doing some research during our layover in Tokyo, I noticed a lot of people saying how learning the alphabet is surprisingly easy. As language geek, I had to investigate. The result? Upon arriving in Seoul I could actually read pretty much everything! The only issue is that I need to work on the vocabulary in order to understand what I’m reading but to tell you the truth, I fell in love with this new language! From a designer perspective, I also think the written Hangul characters just look so beautiful!

One of the coolest things that is immediately apparent, is the incredibly well-connected and internet-based culture. As a millennial and a freelancer, internet is a pretty important part of my daily life, so the fact that we would have access to the fastest internet in the world 24/7 for the next few days was definitely exciting for us. When traveling in South Korea, apparently it’s super common to get a “pocket wifi” AKA a device that you carry around with you (kind of like a mini router) so you can always have internet. We were able to quickly grab one at the airport and head out to meet our good friend from uni, Ashley! 

Having Ashley to show us around was a godsend! If it wasn’t for her, I’m pretty sure we would have made fools of ourselves at Korean BBQ joints, not knowing the protocol, or we would’ve offended someone by pouring our own soju (you’re supposed to pour for others). Ash and her sister Elaine sowed us around all the best neighborhoods like Itaewon, an international hub with great restaurants and a fantastic nightlife, Meyongdong which is great shopping and street food (the best combination!), Gangam, a more "exclusive" "high-end" shopping and clubbing area, and the Jung district, the historical center of the city with it's royal palaces and gorgeous temples. Last but not least, our favorite Seoul neighborhood, Hongdae! It's a lower-key, student area that's bursting with creativity. We stayed there in an airbnb and we couldn't be happier with our choice.

To get out of the city for a bit, we decided to hike Dobongsan Peak. We expected a fun hike out in nature, but we were surprised to find so much more! It was a challenging mix of hiking and rock climbing, with beautiful temples sprinkled here and there along the path. When we reached the top, we could barely believe it! It was a tough hike! (It's honestly shocking to see how many elderly people were doing it).

Delhi, India

When looking at our flight options to get from Turkey to Seoul, we noticed one potential route was going through Delhi; and just like that, we got an e-visa and booked a few days in a hotel to at least have a small taste of India.

Walking around Delhi could be described as something like entering a dream. Its enormously vibrant history is all around you, in the chaotic streets, colorful saris, stunning sunsets and sizzling street food. Total sensory overload.

Come to think of it, if I had to choose one word to describe Delhi, it would be 'intense'. As much as that intensity comes from the awe-inspiring mosques, temples, and tombs, it can also be intensely terrifying and overwhelming at times. Like crossing the street for example. There are no rules. The cars just go and you literally just have to cross and hope you're not run-over by a car, motorcycle, rickshaw, or bus. Getting 'out of your comfort zone' is an understatement. Overall it was undeniably, a thrilling, terrifying and exhilarating experience. It was absolutely unlike anything we had seen or experienced in our trip so far. I'm  also very proud to say we successfully avoided getting the "Delhi Belly" AKA getting sick from the food/water so IT'S POSSIBLE. You just have to be super careful. 

Some of the first things you will notice in Delhi are:
#1: The crazy amount of people everywhere.
The population is about 16.3 million, making it the second most populous city and second most populous urban agglomeration in India. so yeah, lots of people.

#2: Dirt and dust in the air. 
The World Health Organization ranks Delhi as the world’s worst polluted city. On a twistedly dark bright side, I thought the polluted air made it look even more stunning and dreamlike. Especially at sunrise and sunset.

#3: Poverty is very real here.
It's heartbreaking to see so many people living in such bleak conditions, but here, it's a part of life. This hardworking culture however, doesn't let that get them down. Their determination propels them forward with a high chest and a beaming smile.


The Hotel

Our friends were able to convince us to stay near Hauz Khas Village rather than staying in Paharganj (apparently backpacker’s mecca according to online blogs?). We ended up staying in The Visaya, very close to Hauz Khas - It was lovely. How often do you read that? I must have read thousands of reviews of hotels in India that sounded like horror stories. But no, our experience was very different. The hotel is modern and clean, the beds are comfortable, the Internet works, the hosts and attendants are very responsive and helpful, there’s a delicious Indian breakfast buffet - overall great! At first, we were worried about the location, because it was so far from many things we wanted to see, but this ended up not being an issue at all. The hotel is located in a quiet neighborhood, with no loud street vendors nor crazy motorcyclists. However, it’s very well connected to sites and attractions through the Metro, which worked out great for us. 


Getting Around

Because of our short time there, we wanted to make our own plans and follow our own schedule in India. We avoided tours and instead did tons of research to be ready before arriving to Delhi. Honestly, it probably wasn’t the best way to go about doing it. As much as we tried to avoid it, the best way to see Delhi on a tight schedule might just be to hire a driver for a day and ask him to take you to all the sites you’d like to see. Then, you’ll have the rest of the time to go back and explore other areas on your own. You can hire drivers through your hotel, in tourist bureaus, or even by just taking to taxi drivers at the airport. They’re not tour guides, and many don’t speak English. They just take you where you need to go and wait patiently in the car while you check out the sites. It’s definitely not the way we’re used to travelling, but it did help to go with it in the end to see a lot of sites fairly quickly. 

Other than hired drivers, there’s Uber which has recently been implemented. The drivers are very polite and professional, the cars are spacious and clean, and its super cheap compared to even the local taxis - a great way to get around if you can manage to find Internet! 

The metro is also surprisingly modern and clean. It was very cheap as well (but cash only), and a great way to get around. Try to avoid rush hours… from what we saw, some stations can get pretty hectic at certain times.


Our Favorite Sites

There are soo many breathtaking monuments and landmarks in New Delhi & Agra. I would say my personal favorites were the Lodi Gardens, the Qutub Complex, and the Taj Mahal. Other sites we visited include the Red Fort (Lal Quila), Jama Masjid, Bahai (Lotus) Temple, the India Gate, Connaught Place, Chandni Chowk, Hauz Khas, and Khan Market.


The Markets

The hustle-and-bustle is REAL.I'm still mesmerized by the madness we experienced in Delhi. It can get pretty crazy. But it’s absolutely fantastic. If you’ve ever been, you’ll understand. There’s people EVERYWHERE (mostly men to be honest) and the tuk-tuks, rickshaws, motorcycles, and cars rush by with speed, honking their way through. The smell of the street food mixed with incense and sandy dust from the street creates an atmosphere unlike any other. There’s a constant chatter of people as they buy and sell goods. It’s an experience that can either be exhilarating or terrifying… or a bit of both. 

Either way, the streets fill with color everywhere. That was my favorite thing about India. The AMAZING COLORS everywhere. Women strolling around in beautiful orange and pink saris, spices and fried foods oozing with bright purples and greens I’ve never seen in food before, hand-done signage in bright yellow, red, and turquoise, it was magic. 


The Search for Wi-Fi

It’s impossible. There’s no internet anywhere. We were very lucky to have internet in our Hotel, but it seems to be extremely difficult to find any cafés or restaurants (not even McDonalds had WiFi) that allow you to use WiFi. Some places do, but they require an Indian phone number. However, getting a phone number registered (or SIM card) apparently takes about 3 days to work… so we we’re out of luck there! Lack of connection did make traveling around a little bit more difficult, but we managed. Most people we ran into were very kind and eager to help us out. Overall though, if you’re planning on making a living off an internet-based job, maybe plan India as your vacation days and enjoy freedom from the web focusing your time elsewhere. If you’re upset you can’t instantly post a selfie on Facebook… India is probably not for you to begin with.


The Non-Crazy Side of Delhi

There were so many parts of Delhi we missed out on by only staying for such a short amount of time. Two cool non-crazy-hectic areas that we got to see were Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village. These areas are filled with cute (western-style?) shops, cafés, and restaurants with adorable rooftop bars. Definitely worth checking out to see a totally 180 degree view of New Delhi when compared to Chandi Chowk and Paharganj. Another great getaway from the wild side of Delhi is to take a nice stroll along the peaceful Lodi Gardens (they’re so beautiful, really!). 

Istanbul, Turkey

Where east meets west
Doing some research before coming here, a cheesy slogan would always come up “where east meets west”..cheesy as it may be, it’s 100% true. Beyond being the only city in the world located on two continents, Istanbul's identity is defined by its beautiful mix of "European" and "Asian" culture, food, traditions, and music. There’s an inevitable sense of enchantment in the air in Istanbul. Especially at that magic hour around sunset. It may be a combination of the birds flying over the Bosphorus, the taste of a spectacular turkish tea, the smell of the spices and kebabs, and the breathtaking views of the mosques scattered across the city landscape. It's no wonder this was the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman empires! (Funny that it isn't the capital of Turkey now...)

Sultanahmet (European Side, south of the Golden Horn)
All the main touristy things are located in the Historic Peninsula. Just to list off a few must-sees: Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque, Tokapi Palace, The Basilica Cistern, and The Grand Bazaar. A few more cool extras would be the New Mosque, the Spice Market, and checking out one of the famous Turkish Baths. I could go on forever about how beautiful each of these attractions is, but the truth is, you just have to go and see them in person. Put these on your bucket list STAT.

Taksim, Beyoğlu and Galata Tower (European Side, north of the Golden Horn)
You've probably heard of Taksim Square, considering its prominence in the news as a crucial gathering point for political protests; but coming to this area, you might find İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) as the attraction to not be missed! It's a crazy packed strip lined with stores, bars, hookah (nargile) joints, Turkish Delight shops, and street food. Its side streets reveal cozy restaurants and fruit, fish, and artisanal markets that stay open late into the night. Walking around this area at night will offer a surreal, "city-that-never-sleeps" experience that will leave you wide-eyed and ready to party! Walking all the way down İstiklal, you will see how the neighborhood transforms. A more laid-back area with chic cafés, art galleries, design firms, boutiques, and restaurants brightens up the area near Galata Tower. It's easy to spot, considering there's this huge tower (66.9-meters / 220-feet) at it's center. The 1348-year old tower overlooks the Bosphorus offering panoramic views of the city. The best is to check it out at sunset during a call to prayer.

Beşiktaş (Europen Side, futher north of the Golden Horn)
The name might sound familiar if you're a soccer fan, but there's more to see in Beşiktaş beyond the soccer stadium. Windy streets filled with bustling restaurants and possibly the best fish market in all of Istanbul make this another great area to discover. We were lucky enough to stumble in during a soccer game. All the screens were playing for the die-hard fans as they downed some Raki and Turkish-style tapas. Encouraged by the vivid energy surrounding us, we decided to do the same. Just as we sat down, a man came up to us for our oder, clearly trying to be quick so he could move back to his prime soccer-watching spot. He brought with him a huge tray of Turkish tapas for us to choose from. We pointed at the rice-filled oysters, an octopus salad, and, since we were feeling adventurous, SHEEP BRAIN. Once the game was over, we felt like locals, stumbling down to grab a taxi happy and full of delicious food and raki. 

Kadıköy (Asian Side, mainland)
This area, located in the Asian side of Istanbul, is mainly known for its incredible fish market and mellow atmosphere, but over the past few years, a new bohemian-art scene has emerged, making the new hip-place-to-be. New bars, restaurants, and vintage shops seem to be popping up around every corner in the Kadikoy area. It's the perfect place to wander and explore.

Princes' Islands (Asian Side, Sea of Marmara)
To escape the hustle-and-bustle of the city life, many flock to The Princes' Islands (known as the 'Adalar', Turkish for 'Islands'). Apparently, members of dynasties who fell out of favor were sent to exile there during Byzantine and early Ottoman period. Out of the nine, the ferry drops you off at the first four. We chose island #3, Heybeliada. The first thing you'll notice is that there are no cars. Only horse-drawn carriages and bikes! The architecture is also strikingly different from anything you'll see in the other areas of Istanbul. Charming Victorian-style beach cottages fit in perfectly with the easy-living feel of the island.

Thessaloniki, Greece

Greek-out like a local
When you think of Greece, you probably think of Athens, Mykonos or Santorini – beautiful as they may be, and well worth checking out, maybe next time you think of Greece, you should also consider Thessaloniki!

We had visited Greece once before and visited some of the main sites (Athens, Mykonos, Santorini) but we had never been to Thessaloniki. Our dear friend Thomi kindly offered us to stay at her place for a week and it proved to be the perfect opportunity to get to know a part of Greece from a local perspective.

Economic struggle bus
At this point you’re probably thinking, but isn’t Greece suffering from economic strife? The truth is, yes. Of course they’re struggling –and it was a main topic of conversation during our stay– but the positive energy of the Greeks seems to allow them to look past the troublesome time and still enjoy themselves! 

We were in Greece during the most recent elections, which would determine how the nation will be dealing with their bailout plans. It was so interesting to hear everyone’s perspective on the subject. A general consensus: the government needs more organisation, better leadership, and better distribution of wages for public vs. private organisations. We spoke to a lot of hard-working citizens that just weren’t given the opportunity to thrive because of this mismanagement. However, some did admit there are some ingrained cultural aspects in Greek culture that make them value life over work, which could lead to less ambitious (and less productive) workers. We experienced some direct effect of the population’s unease at the current economic situation, when the busses didn’t run one day because the bus drivers were on strike. As an interesting backlash to the struggle, Greeks are now passionately supporting Greek brands over their global counterparts. A perfect example of this is the Greek coffee shop Mikel. It was always PACKED.. and the Starbucks right next to it? EMPTY.

Greek values
We immediately got a sense for Greek hospitality with a very warm welcome from our host Thomi and her mother. The minute we arrived, we were already sitting amongst an array of beautifully prepared Greek food and some ‘rakomela’ to go with it! (Rakomela is like a sweet raki that is served as an aperitif in Greek culture.) It’s not for everyone but I enjoyed it! 

We quickly noticed the importance of family in Greek tradition. During our stay we met Thomi’s mom, grandmother (yaya), grandfather (papou), uncle, aunt, and cousins. It was so nice to be surrounded by such welcoming people. They really made us feel like we were part of the family (even if we couldn’t understand most of what they were saying). History and politics are other huge topics in Greece, (understandably) which allowed for some really great conversations. 

Culture & nightlife
But like I said, don’t get hung up on the current crisis, instead, let’s take a look at the really cool cultural scene in Thessaloniki. Some daytime activities include strolling through the beautifully preserved ruins scattered throughout the whole city (they can’t even build a subway because every time they dig, they find more!), riding a bike / jogging along the Paralela boardwalk, or shopping for fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, fish, and meat int he colourful markets. If you’re lucky to come at the right day, you may also get to experience the excitement of a soccer match! Everywhere you look, you’ll see pubs filled with locals getting hammered off of Tuba Libres (traditional drink retsina with coca-cola) while watching the game.

At night, have a cozy evening at a greek tavern and experience the incredibly delicious food (and rakomela!) or for a more exciting night check out Siggrou street for a cool hipster scene, or Ladadiva for a more ‘posh’ night with lots of great dance spots. For a cheap student budget alternative, Ikismiki street has a cool strip where locals hang-out with drinks from a near non-stop shop.

Transylvania Countryside, Romania

I know you want me to talk about vampires, so I will..kind of; but the truth is, they're definitely not the only cool thing about Transylvania. We got the chance to check out a few of the most adorable towns in the heart of Romania and if you're considering a Transilvania adventure, make sure not to leave these out!

Vlad the Impaler: The Real Dracula
This is the story of a guy much scarier than the Dracula you might know: Vlad III AKA "The Impaler". In 1431, Vlad's dad (Vlad II) was inducted into a knightly order, the Order of the Dragon (the original Targaryens?!). This designation earned Vlad II a new surname: Dracul, which then was passed down to his son. Having dragon as your name is pretty badass, but "drac" can also mean devil.. and this guy really lived up to his name. The Order of the Dragon was devoted to the defeat of the Turkish, or Ottoman Empire. When he was a kid, Vlad III was captured and raised by the Ottomans, but after his father and half-brother were killed by them, he wanted his revenge. After some tough years winning and losing his father's seat, he obviously was a bit pissed off. So much so, that when he finally got his throne back, he invited boyars to banquets, knowing they would challenge his authority, and then had them stabbed and impaled on spikes. Funny thing is, he is still seen as a ruler that was "harsh but just" and generally a positive character in Romania.

SIbiu: Medieval Charm
We rented a car with our beautiful new Romanian friend Andra, and drove out to Sibiu! We decided to go far fist and work our way back to Bucharest through Brasov and Sinaia. First off, the drive through the Romanian countryside is absolutely breathtaking. Surrounded by gorgeous mountains and quaint streams, we could see why some people choose Transylvania for their off-the-grid getaways. Upon arriving in Sibiu, (deemed 2007's European Capital of Culture) the first thing we noticed is how drastically different the architecture is from Bucharest's. Ignoring the hilarious fact the houses look like they have eyes, the impeccably preserved Medieval walls and Germanic architecture combine to send us off to a time long long ago; say about 900 years ago (!!!). The Saxon and Hungarian influence is not only seen in the architecture; many of the folks living here actually are German or Hungarian, some of the signage is also written in these languages, and of course–the food! No wonder this charming town used to be the capital of Transilvania.

Brasov: Dracula's Neighbor
Another adorable town in the heart of Romania is of course, Brasov. This one is quite a bit more well-known to the tourist population, probably due to it's ideal location. It's the perfect mid-point between Bucharest, some of the main ski slopes, and some of the most visited castles (Dracula's castle is only 45 min away in Bran). Like SIbiu, it's also characterised by it's quaint, medieval charm and Saxon influence. 

Sinaia: The Carpathian Pearl
If you're an outdoorsy type, you might want to consider Sinaia. It's breathtaking views of the Carpathian mountains make it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle in Bucharest. In the winter, it's a less crowded and less expensive alternative to the Alps (the Carpathian mountains are even called Tansilvania's Alps!), and in the summer, it's a perfect place to go for a hike. It's beauty even made it the summer getaway choice of the Romanian Royal family.

For more vampire fun... watch this

Bucharest, Romania

After staying in Bucharest for about a month and a half, it practically felt like home - so here's the longest post we've written as of yet! From time to time, we enjoy taking the time to really experience the culture of a place and feel like locals… and also have some more down time to get design work done! After getting a solid taste of of Romania's capital city, I would say that overall it seems to be an eclectic mix of a post-communist state and a rapidly BOOMING european-bohemian city. 

The Historic Center: A clash of the Belle Epoque and Communism
For the majority of our time here, we stayed in an apartment in the Historic Lipscani District. This older part of the city, decorated with ornate French-style architecture, would have probably extended a lot further today; but sadly, Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime and a series of strong earthquakes prevented that from being a reality. Now you just see beautiful Belle Époque buildings right across the street from big communist-era apartment blocks. Voilá, history reflects itself so vividly right before your eyes, gotta love it. But then you have the Centrul Civic District with even more notable effects of the Romanian Communist regime… the People’s Palace. It’s. HUGE. I mean, really MASSIVE. In fact, it's the heaviest building on Earth, and apparently the most expensive administrative building. Many locals say Ceausescu built it that big to match his ego (ha ha). In the 1980s, a huge amount of historical buildings were demolished in the Centrul Civic area and 40,000 people were evicted from their homes with just a day's notice to make space for 8 square km of socialist-realist style government offices and apartments. Not nice Ceausescu, not nice. We kind of ended up avoiding this part of Bucharest's center during our stay, preferring areas North of the river. There, you see a great effort to renovate the streets and old buildings... but don't expect any protection or western-style security around the construction sites!

Lipscani Nightlife: Get ready for a looong night
Getting back to Lipscani, it really does look like Paris! So much so, that it gave Bucharest the nickname “Little Paris”. It’s a super fun area to live in too. The streets are animated 24/7 with young people everywhere and bars upon bars blasting the latest top 40 hits. On weekends, you'll probably find a few latex-thonged lady-dancers or buff fire-breathers–it's totally standard club decor here. The clubs stay open all night... as in until the sunrise–sometimes even on a Tuesday.

If you'd like to stay away from the clubby naked-dancer thing, fear not! There are plenty of alternatives :) There are a few lounge-y bars in the area which we loved, like the Pura Vida rooftop bar (Sky Bar), BiutifulNomad, Bruno Wine Bar, and Bazaar; and some more laid-back "alternative-rock" bars like Mojo Club (British ex-pat bar with karaoke every night and a basement dance club) and 1974 Niste Domni si Fiii (local, cheap, rocker hangout) - Lot's of indoor-smoking happening inside both of these tho. There's also great dance bar/clubs in the area that play cooler, less-mainstream music than the bars on the main strip; like Interbelic, Control, and El Dictador

Just Outside the Center: Bohemian paradise
In between Lipscani and Piata Romana, all along the Calea Victoriei is where you'll find the artsy-bohemian crowd of locals. Once we found our way to the relaxed artsy scene in Bucharest, we really started to feel at home. Places like Gradina Eden (hidden behind Palace Stirbei), A1, and A2 were definitely among our favorite hangout spots. And traveling a bit further north, you find Terasa Baraka and Tête a Tête hidden amongst the trees of Herastrau Park. All of these bars have a very laid-back feel and usually pack up with creative-types and hipsters. Some even have hammocks and fruit smoothies, and they all also function as cafés during the day. 

Arts, Parks, & Coffee: Vampires in the daytime
A non-drinking activity we loved and would highly recommend is taking a stroll (or a morning run) through one of the many beautiful parks in Bucharest. We frequented Cismigiu Park to lay out in the sun and have a freshly squeezed portocale (orange juice) while we watched locals enjoying the little paddle boats and playing chess and backgammon. Herastrau Park is great too, only it's much bigger and has more cafés, bars, and even a skate park.


There are many art-related activities to do too. The Kulturama exhibit space in Piata Revolutiei is worth checking out to see exhibitions and artistic events that promote young talent. There are also constant art gallery shows... we went to like five of them. The art is usually really cool and creative... and the complimentary wine is always nice too. There are lots of museums and tours to check out too... but with so much to see, we didn't really fit those in.

We did however, get a lot of design work done, and got to know the best coffee shops and co-working spaces. My personal favorite was M60. The coffee, the food, the ambiance, power outlets everywhere, comfy chairs, amazing service – it just can't be beat! Other great ones include Tucano Coffee (the one by Piata Romana is the best!) and the pay by the hour co-working space Seneca Anticafe where you get a little check-in bookmark with a famous writer's name (no coffee here though, only teas). Carturesti Carusel is also worth checking out. It's a bookstore/café/event space/gallery in a beautifully reconstructed old building. Another cute but smaller spot is the Libraria Humanitas near Cismigiu Park that has a café area and a great selection of teas.

In the end, it was a bitter-sweet goodbye. We were sad to leave the great new friends we made, but thrilled to start our next adventure!

Belgrade, Serbia

We have a ton of Serbian friends from New York, so we figured we should see what their country is all about! We quickly found out that the Serbian spoken language is pretty much exactly the same as Croatian. So even though we weren't able to read any of the cyrillic, we could at least strut into Belgrade knowing how to say "please" and "thank you" ...but we also quickly learned that all the conflicts and hatred that lie between the ex-Yugoslavia countries is still very prevalent.

Our New York Serbians hooked us up with a cool friend of theirs, Alex, and he showed us around the city. At night, he took us to a really cool neighbourhood that I’m sure tourists never get to see. It was right up our alley and kind of felt like being back in Bushwick: Savamala, Belgrade's self-proclaimed Creative District. You pretty much walk from industrial and abandoned warehouses on one block to super trendy bars & clubs on the next. And all this with a splash of colorful and imaginative street art in every corner! First, we went to a cool concept-store/bar/event-space called Mikser House. It was so beautifully designed I swear I wanted to buy everything inside. Then later, we had a few drinks in Tranzita bar/lounge/club with amazing music, a cool ambiance, and a nice terrace overlooking the Sava River. Other party alternatives include more boat bars and lots of dancing in crazy late-night clubs, but we decided to skip those and have a few days of rest. In conclusion: Belgrade is beautiful and so much fun!