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Like Lithuania, we went straight to the capital of Latvia. And just like Vilnius, we went straight into the old part of Riga. I think at this point of our massive Eurotrip, we're 'Old Towned' out. We've been to A LOT of European cities already. They all have an Old Town. But, ya know, how can you not visit this part of any European city? It's instant history and culture all rolled into one! Convenience, ftw!

Riga's Old Town is nice and lively. But insanely touristy. There's quite an active night life here, too. Rightfully so, as we've heard from other travelers, Riga is the prettier of the three Baltic capitals. Not sure about prettier, in my opinion, but it's definitely more vibrant than Vilnius. Perhaps due to the fact that there are more hostels and bars here. Maybe slightly more things to do, like the huge Farmer's Market or the Daugava river. And there's practically a mini Narvesens at every street corner! That's genius. Talk about taking the convenient store meaning to a literal level. I love that.

Anyways, there's only so much you can do in any Old Town. Grab coffee, find a bite to eat, go on a walking tour, explore a church or museum, take a walk. A long walk. And get lost. The visuals have always been my favorite part of any Old Town. I could spend hours just walking around and taking pix, which is usually the case. There's something oddly mystifying about the resiliency of the old mixed in the sea of modernity.

Another must-see tourist destination, interestingly enough, is the super modern library that looks more like an architectural masterpiece. Unmistakably looking like a pretty, shiny beacon across the river. It's really not hard to miss. You have to cross a massive bridge to get there, but totally worth it, as the cityscape views from the middle of the river is a weirdly calming experience. Everything seems so far away.

Oh! The Tree House Hostel! I don't rave about many hostels. But this one is pretty exceptional. And in Latvia of all places! Clean, comfortable, intimate. Zen environment with a Boho feel. Plants everywhere and lots of natural light streaming in. Yoga is offered and bikes are easily rentable. The layout of the hostel is set up in such a way that it's easy to socialize with other travelers. Highly, highly recommend this hostel.

Latvia will always be an indelible memory for us. Not only has it been an impressionable stay in The Baltics, but we have started our PokemonGo journey here. That's right. The PokeGo craze! It's serious business. Let me tell ya, take a 2.5hr walking tour and you'll build up a nice repertoire of Pokemons!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Riga
Stay: Tree House Hostel. ~13EUR/night for 14 bed dorm. Breakfast included.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Riga Central Market, National Library of Latvia.


-jin-

LITHUANIA 2016

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To get from East Europe to Scandinavia, we have to get through The Baltics first. So why not do a quick tour while we're passing through?

First up on our Baltic stop: Lithuania. And straight to Vilnius, it's capital.

Quite honestly, we really didn't know what to expect from The Baltics. I've heard of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia only a few times in my life, but never really care to delve further. I wasn't even sure where they were on the map! That is, until this trip.

Ok, right! So on to Vilnius and the very obvious spot to hit up in most European cities - The Old Town.

Exploring the old part of Vilnius is like finding a treasure chest full of gems. The historic. The communist. The modern. It's a pretty mix of the old and the new, granted it's quite a touristy spot, but nevertheless, makes for a pleasant visual walk when getting lost. What really sets this Old Town apart from other European Old Towns are the quaint alleyways in between the main streets. The pretty narrow paths sets the ambiance for intimate walks, and paired with cobblestones underneath your feet, it kinda feels like you're stepping back in time. There are a number of cute shops and hidden restaurants in these photogenic alleyways. All waiting to be stumbled upon. Like I said, a treasure chest.

Another interesting tidbit to check out is a small place in Vilnius that unofficially declared itself The Republic of Uzupis. It has it's own flag and anthem and 11-men military, but it's endeavors are purely artistic. Nothing is taken seriously here. Go here to take a peak at the quiet Bohemian lifestyle and to swing above the river. Yes, that's right! A swing suspended from a bridge over running water! Fun place to put a swing in my opinion!

All in all, we probably didn't do Lithuania any justice by visiting just one city. It's capital. But I think it was a nice introduction into the country and The Baltics. Now that we got a little taste of this region, my interest has been piqued. Can't wait to explore more of The Baltics!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 70-75F
Cities: Vilnius
Stay: Do Re Mi Hostel. 7.50EUR/night for a 6 bed dorm.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour and The Republic of Uzupis.


-jin-

POLAND 2016

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A week in Poland gone all too quickly. But we're on a time contraint, you see. A race against time to get through Scandinavia before August ends, and coupled with the Schengen rules, it seems we have to be extra choosey on what countries we want to spend the most time in. Le sigh. Wish it wasn't so! Need. More. Time!

Anyhoo. Traveling from Vienna, it made sense to have Krakow as our first Polish stop. Only because it was that close to Auschwitz. And then end our Polish travels in Warsaw, which is conveniently on the way to Lithuania. Our only regret? Not having time to visit Gdansk. Of which we've heard nothing but good things from fellow travelers! A port city with a unique feel that sets it apart from other cities in Poland - I'm sold!

Aside from that minor detail - Time, you def don't play fair! - I'm glad we made our way through this wonderful country, furthering our Eastern European experience into humbling perspective.

--


// KRAKOW //
We were told to go to Krakow instead of Warsaw. It's more cultural than the big city vibe of Warsaw, they say. With every intention of going to Krakow regardless (only because it's close to Auschwitz), our friends were right. Krakow holds an unmistakable huge personality of it's past in the heart of this bustling city. We've heard through the grapevine that there's a Free Food Tour, but we were unable to track it down. Bummer. If anyone has further info about this elusive Free Food Tour, please send it over!
>> Stay: Blueberry Hostel. ~$11.50/night for a 6 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Free Walking Tour. They provide a map (with discounts!) for local eats.

// AUSCHWITZ (near OSWIECIM) //
This is one of those visits that you just have to go when you're in Poland. It's an all morning thing. One could easily spend 3-4 hours in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. Though the bulk of the time is spent at Auschwitz I - that's where all the mini musuems are housed. And, indeed, you'll go through all the motions. It's mind-boggling and devastating, but at the same time profoundly eery. No doubt, it's a bit unsettling to see such calmness nowadays in a place that held unfathomable horrors in human history. We've opted out of the tour (which is 4-6 hours long) and did our own walk through instead.
>> Bus from Krakow to Auschwitz: 12PLZ one way trip. Takes a little over an hour for one way trip.

// WARSAW //
As much as I hate to admit it, Warsaw really is your typical bustling European city. It's nice. It's modern. And it's huge. Most of the cultural stuff could be found in the 'New' Old Town. New as in, Old Town was utterly devastated after WWII and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Hence the New Old. Not the Old Old. But with a bit of research, we did find a few cultural gems around the city. Though most are out of the way and not easily accessible. One that we did manage to get to: The Neon Muzeum. It's not terribly huge, but it's quaint and full of interesting tid bits from the Communist era.
>> Stay: Oki Doki Hostel. 52PLZ/night for 4 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: The Neon Muzeum. 10PLZ entrance fee.
>> Transportation: 15PLZ for 24 hour transportation. Includes all buses and tram rides.
>> Train from Krakow to Warsaw: 66PLZ. 4 hour ride.

--


When: Late June / Early July 2016
Temp: 85-89F
Cities: Krakow, Warsaw
Stay: Refer to individual towns above.


-jin-

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Hello, Vienna, my old friend! It's been 8 years!

Now this time around it's all about visiting family. Get some bonding time in with the older sister and my youngest nephew. Maybe take a much needed break from all the photographing. Yeah. Put the camera away. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the moment.

Clearly, that happened! =P

Deep down, I really wanted to photo document this trip again. Properly. I felt I haven't done it any photo justice 8 years ago, having only been in the city for 2 days. We crammed an unbelievable amount of touristy activities during that short stay. Then suddenly we were off to the next country. Now, with the gift of time, I've been given the second chance to see Vienna in a whole new perspective. Less touristy sites, more local scenes.

Yeah, local scenes. All thanks to my older sister, Nina, who showered us with nothing but hospitality and tons of souvenirs ... and sisterly memories! <3 So this is how it feels to be spoiled by an older sibling! But yeah, we couldn't have seen 'suburban' Vienna, places most tourists don't visit, without her 15 years of local living. It was such a refreshing experience! The real Vienna!

When we weren't hanging out with my sis and nephew, we walked. We walked through Stephansplatz, we walked through Naschtmarkt, we walked through Mariahilfer StraBe, we walked through some parks, we walked through the museum district - we walked through all the little streets in between. Just soaking in the city life and street visuals. Something we couldn't have fully appreciate 8 years ago.

Yes, things def felt more on a personal level with this city in 2016. We even took a break from the hostel life and AirBnb it for a bit! It was fun pretending we were locals. Sauntering downstairs to the local pub to watch a soccer match, meeting up a friend at Naschmarkt for dinner, making runs to the mini grocery store around the corner. Kinda glad we got most of the touristy stuff out of the way in 2008, because this has been a very memorable trip!

The one thing that we missed in 2008 and still missed out in 2016? It would've been cool to see a Lipizzaner horse show. But they were all sold out during our visit. Peak season, you see. No biggie. There's always next time!


--



When: June 2016
Temp: 85-89F
Cities: Vienna
AirBnb Stay: Lara & Flo's. 63EUR/night. 15 minute walk to Stephansplatz. 5 minute walk to Naschtmarkt. 15 minute walk to Gerngross.
Hostel Stay: Wombat Hostel. 21EUR/night for 7 bed dorm. There is a stamp card for freebies.
Transportation: Metro, 2.2 EUR for one way trip.


-jin-

HUNGARY 2016

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After 2.5 months of life on the road, we finally made it to the Schengen region!

Now the tough part begins. The timing. That was never my strong suit. How to squeeze ALL these countries in just 3 months?? Oi.

Welp, we're here. And Budapest is amazing! So amazing, we've stayed almost a week. We're loving the vibrancy, the youthfulness, the laid-backness. There's something about Budapest that sets it apart from just your typical big European city. More unique sites to see. More foodie treasure spots to unearth. Everyday was an adventure of the senses.

Seriously, we really did enjoy hunting down various restaurants and cocktail bars. Yes! We even dabbled in the cocktail bar scene, all due influence to a couple of close ATX friends who are major cocktail enthusiasts. (We really miss you, Kenny + Anthony! =/) When we're not hopping around for foodie finds (oof, good chimney cakes were not easy to find!), we caught a free walking tour, ran into a traveling buddy we've met back in Romania (luckily for Luke's convenience, we were the only Asians in the food truck area! =P), and painted the town red with our hostel mates.

Oh! And checked out a couple of the famous thermal baths peppered around Budapest. A must. We, of course, had to go to THE bath. Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Had to. To beat the heat (unfortunately not the crowds) we arrived late evening. As pretty as it was from the outside, the inside pools were just okay, in my opinion. Walking on wet tiles aren't really my thing (ick!) and the tiny windows gave an eery, claustrophobic aura to the early 1900's architecture.

Now the Gellert Thermal Baths were niiiiice. Uber nice. This time around we woke up around sunrise, to beat the heat AND the crowds, and hauled it over. From 8-10am we practically had the whole place to ourselves. We took our time exploring the grounds, snapped pics at a leisurely pace, and just simply enjoyed the view from the upstairs balconies. While these baths still retain the 1900's feel, everything about it is beyond classy. Very Great Gatsby-esque. Natural light flooding in, sorta in an angelic kind of way. The decor is insanely intricate and borderline opulent. I felt safe walking on rubber mats rather than wet tiles when weaving our way to the thermal baths. Yes. These are my fave thermal baths so far. I could really see myself coming back here in the distant future!

Ah, the distant future. I'm already dreaming of the next time! Now I see why everybody raves about Budapest! So much to do, so much to see, so much to eat! This is certainly not the last I'll see of Budapest.

P.S. -- Special thanks to Alexis. A fellow traveler we've hung out with in Jordan. She used to live in Budapest for a bit and sent over an extensive "insider's" recommendation list. You. Are. Awesome! Alexis! <3


--


When: June 2016
Temp: 85F
Cities: Budapest
Stay: Wombat Hostel. 5658.75HUF/night for 5 bed dorm. Get a complimentary free drink coupon upon arrival.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Szechenyi Thermal Baths (4900HUF entrance fee), Gellert Thermal Baths (5100HUF entrance fee), Central Market.

***** AS RECOMMENDED BY ALEXIS *****
- Castle Hill is the classic medieval city rebuilt after WWII; I'd say Ruszwurm Cukrászda is one of the top sights in the city.
- Andrassy Ave. It's a really nice walk down Andrassy ave from downtown to the big park (and the metro line underneath is really old, funky, and fun!).
- Szechenyi baths were my favorite of the thermal baths. It's best to go as late in the day as possible for the minimum # of tourists and kids. Plus the warm water is nicer if it's cool out.
- Rudas Baths might be a nice follow-up to the Middle East section of your travels.
- The Opera House is really neat! Soooo much gold inside. I went to a few ballet performances there and it was very fun.
- The Terror House. If you're in the mood for an excellent, but very grim museum, the Terror House is very well done. I wouldn't plan on doing much after a visit though.
- Parliament is hard to miss, though the inside is less specific to Hungary than some of the other places. The classic view is from the Batthyany metro stop right across the river, where there also was a 24-hour crepe place called Nagy Palacsintazoja when I was a student.
- Lángos and Kürtőskalács are classic junk/student food, the second floor of the Central Market is a good place to get some, or just at one of the random little sort-of-shady hole-in-the-walls in the metros.
- Szentendre is easily accessible via public transport. It's worth a visit, though pretty touristy. There's a Hungarian historical park / farm equivalent of our Willamsburg up there too.
- Debrecen. If you get the chance, Debrecen in Eastern Hungary is a nice smaller city to visit ... and if you're at all interested in horses they do demos of traditional trick riding at Hortobágy National Park which is nearby. You can get to both by train.


-jin-

SERBIA 2016

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We weren't really sure what country to head to after Romania. After all, there were a lot of factors to consider. Mostly the question of season. Now in mid June, it seems Summer in Europe is in full swing. Nothing but sun and heat. Heat and sun. And crowds of tourists to fight off, ultimately postponing our Balkan tour to head North in hopes of beating the rising temps. So a quick stop in Serbia sounded like a logical thing to do.

Why Serbia?

Well, we really needed time to sit down and gameplan our way through the Schengen region before we enter the Schengen region. Once we enter, it's a race against time as those of you who know the steep penalties of overstaying the 3 month welcome. And it's not pleasant. Especially for someone like me who frequents Europe quite often to visit family. I ain't taking my chances!

And plus we really were just curious to see how different (or similar!) Serbia is from the other Balkan countries. We've heard from fellow travelers that Belgrade and Novi Sad are quite nice to pass through. Nice day trips and such.

Nice being the word of the day here!

And they were right. Our hostel was practically walking distance from the pedestrian street full of restaurants and shops. Makes for a nice stroll. If that doesn't float your boat, a walk through a nearby fort with nice sprawling green lawns are within it's walls. Also a nice view of the Danube could be seen from the fort, as well. For a bit more of a cultural feel, a stroll through Old Town is a must, with it's cobblestones and handful of kapanas to choose from. Other than that, there weren't really much to do or see in Belgrade. The strolls did serve as nice little breaks in between our research/work at various coffee shops.

Honestly, after a whirlwind adventure travel through Bulgaria and Romania, something more on the chillaxin side was whole-heartedly welcomed! If you need a breather in between the Balkan hopping - Serbia is your place!

--

When: June 2016
Temp: 80-85F
Cities: Belgrade, Novi Sad
Stay in Belgrade: Hedonist Hostel. ~1741RSD for 8 bed dorm with 10% off Balkan Backpacker discount.
Stay in Novi Sad: Hostel Rookies. ~1100RSD for 5 bed dorm with 10% off Balkan Backpacker discount.
Recommend: Free walking tour.


-jin-

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When choosing cities to visit in Romania, you really can't go wrong with any of them. Almost every place we've visited had the quintessential European charm. Ornate facades, pretty fountains, artistic cobblestone sidewalks. All of the Old World loveliness.

In a hurry to get to Scandinavia before the summer end, we fast-tracked our vist in Romania and somehow squeezed everything we wanted to see in a week and a half. Our travel itinerary is as follows:

Bucharest >> Brasov >> Transfagarasan >> Sibiu >> Bran Castle >> Cluj >> Salina Turda >> Timisoara >> Bigar Falls.

I can see why most travelers prefer Romania over Bulgaria. It's cities are a bit more charming, aesthetically pleasing and pretty in pastels. The roads are surprisingly well-kept. The country is full of off the beaten track options, making it difficult to choose where/what to explore!

--

// BUCHAREST //
Simply a quick rest stop for us, seeing as how Bucharest was like any other major bustling European city. We really didn't see any reason to stay longer than we should. A free walking tour and a lil jaunt around the very touristy (and very pricey!) Old Town, then we trained it to Brasov.
>> Stay: Antique Hostel. 20RON/person for 10 bed dorm.
>> Restaurants: Caru'cu Bere
>> Train: 49RON/person, from Bucharest to Brasov.


// BRASOV //
The perfect base city for our day trips to other parts of the Transylvania region: Transfagarasan, Sibiu, Bran Castle. When not daytripping and getting work done at local coffee shops, we explored the nooks and crannies surrounding the tiny picturesque town square. Also spent some time foodie hunting for Ciorba, Mici, Sarmale and Papanasi.
>> Stay: Kismet Dao. 45RON/person for 10 bed dorm. Walk hostel dog, Zara, for 30 minutes and get a free drink!
>> Restaurants: Beraria Ciucas, La Ceaun
>> Coffee: Foldo, Tipografia


// TRANSFAGARASAN ROAD //
One of the things I really wanted to see in Romania. Plans to hit this place up with a few hostel mates from Brasov fell a bit short, as the road is closed til mid June. We drove over anyways hoping to catch the cable cars to the very top in an attempt to glimpse the epic mountain road full of twists and turns. But that, too, ended in a dud. After an hour wait, the cable car operator never came back down the mountain and so we jetted off in search of dinner.
>> Car Rental + Gas: 400ish RON split 4 ways. Manual drive.

// SIBIU //
Reeling from the disappointment of the Transfagarasan fail, we drove over to Sibiu to catch an early evening dindin before driving back to Brasov. And to see why so many travelers pass through this town. A town surrounded by fort walls. What we found inside - the most charming medieval town painted in lovely pastels!
>> Restaurant: Crama Sibiul Vechi

// BRAN CASTLE //
Oh yes, the famous Dracula castle as popularized by Bram Stoker. Very touristy and very crowded. But how could we not? It's freaking Dracula! Though the castle itself is very unimpressive. And not as nice as other neighboring castles. It's quite small and devoid of decor, but still a nice walkthrough.
>> Entrance Fee: 35RON for Adults, 20RON with Student ID.
>> Bus: 7RON/person. To and From Brasov.


// CLUJ //
Another quick rest stop and transitional city for Team Jincent. Cluj itself if a lively college town with a vibrant night life. But the real reason why we're here is actually 30 minutes outside the city. Salina Turda. An off the beaten path that Vince stumbled upon while doing research.
>> Stay: Transylvania Hostel. 27RON/person for 8 bed dorm.

// SALINA TURDA //
I can see why Vince was immediately drawn to this site. Not just any ordinary salt mine, but a salt mine with an 'amusement park' deep in it's belly. An oddity that I'm sure most salt mines can't boast. Boat rides, ferris wheel, ping pong court, mini golf - none of these are state-of-the-art, but they're there. All for your curiosity.
>> Entrance Fee: 20RON for Adults, 10RON with Student ID.
>> Bus: 7RON/person. From Cluj to Salina Turda. 30 minute ride.


// TIMISOARA - BIGAR FALLS //
Timisoara is another lively college town with a very vibrant plaza. But, again, that's not why we're here. We're here because the Bigar Falls is 2 hours away. Other than the Bran Castle, the Bigar Falls was one of my must sees. I instantly became smitten with the picturesque falls when I first saw it on Instagram and ever since then, it's been on my mind. Whenever we go to Romania ... Well, we're here! Nevermind that it was expensive getting to the falls and certainly quite awhiles away, the falls itself quite tiny, but I personally thought it was worth it. Makes for beautiful photo ops!
>> Stay: Freeborn Hostel. 44RON/person for 8 bed dorm.
>> Car Rental: $38 through Economy Rental. Automatic drive.


--


When: Late May / Early June 2016.
Temp: 77-83F
Cities: Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu, Cluj, Timisoara
Stay: Refer to individual towns above. Most of the hostels mentioned are part of The Balkan Backpackers program. Get 5 stamps and receive a free shot or laundry service.


-jin-

WHAT'S YOUR TRAVEL PERSONA?

WHAT'S YOUR TRAVEL PERSONAL?
Came across an interesting and slightly entertaining quiz via Refinery29:

This is The Most Accurate Travel Personality Quiz, Ever

Ok, I'll bite. How can you say no to that title?? Here's what I've got ...
WHAT'S YOUR TRAVEL PERSONAL?
I'd say it nailed it the first time. The Global Citizen! That's me! But then I took the quiz again to doubly confirm, changing just one answer, and got something totally diff. Not saying that it's all wrong the second time around. Actually, most of it is spot on - except the social media kween bit. Me? Pshaw! (I wish it was that easy!)


What's your travel personality?



-jin-

BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA

BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
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BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
BULGARIA 2016 // VELIKO TARNOVO + BUZLUDZHA
Or more like Veliko Tarnovo >> Rose Valley >> Buzludzha.

The latter being the sole reason why we were in Veliko Tarnovo, a random must-see off the beaten track. Literally. Vince had heard about the now dilapidated communist monument through a friend and some research and he HAD to go check it out. In the meantime, while he figured out logistics to Buzludzha, we befriended a ton of fellow travelers at the hostel. All of whom also heard through the traveling grapevine of this famed 'UFO' fallen to ruins.

As we excitedly chatted about this communist remnant oddity and complained at how expensive the hostel's day trip to the site is, we all eventually came to the same conclusion: Why not rent a van together? It's so much cheaper when split 7 ways and this way, we can take our sweet time.

In 2 days time, we picked up our soccer mom van, appointed the youngest of the group as soccer mom (he's also one of a handful who can drive manual), and loaded up on road trip snacks. 4 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Argentinian, 1 Kiwi. A whole day's adventure ahead of us with a mini van at our disposal. How exciting! But first, quick stop to Rose Valley, the world's largest producer of rose oil. To Rosovo we go, hoping to catch a rose festival. After driving around for a bit, we couldn't find anything remotely related to roses or festival in this tiny village. Kind of a disappointment and a minor setback, so we backtracked to Kazanlak to figure out an alternative gameplan while we lunched it out.

So here's what we came up with. Check out a nearby Rose Distillery. That way, all our rose efforts didn't go to waste! And you know what? On our drive to the distillery, ALL these rose fields mysteriously popped up! What the what!

The rose distillery itself was a nice mini diversion. It smells fantastic here and it's a way prettier version to look at than the rogue rose fields we've passed up. V and I bought Rose Rakia for our hostel mates as an aperitif (and digestif!) for dinner later that night, wandered around for a good 30 minutes, then jetted off to Buzludzha.

On our drive up the mountain and through the numerous switchbacks, we hilariously tried to play some communist music. Not an easy feat, as the internet connection deteriorated the further we ascended. Not to worry, us Americans (4 of 7 in ze mini van) came prepared with commie jokes. And sure, we even threw in a few stereotypical 'Amurica! F yeah! We can do whatever we want - We're American!" jokes.

Yah, we went there. Gotta get into the Cold War spirit! =P

Buzludzha didn't disappoint. With flashlights, we climbed through a hole of the front entrance, straight into the damp foyer filled with massive fallen ceiling pieces. Meg had brought her fiddle along and started playing an Irish tune as we tentatively walked through the debris, up the stairs, and into the enormous circular meeting hall. Where it's just as dilapidated, with colorful tile mosaics stubbornly clinging to the walls and graffitti adorning every inch. The wind whipping through the exposed beams. It's an awe-inspiring feeling, walking amidst the past whilst in the present. We, as a group, eventually commingled in the center and lingered a bit, taking it all in.

Kevin: "What's a communist walk?"

Suddenly we all started walking in a circular congo line fashion, high kicking and fist-pumping in unison. While chanting, "Da! Da! Da!" This goes on for a few giggly minutes. I must say, one of our more funnier Communist vs. Capitalist moments! If only we took a video of it! Now off to scale the top of the monument ...

Which is only an exhausting climb of 15-20 flights of stairs (ladders?) in an insanely tight space. In the dark. Occasionally passing by open closets full of freaky, questionable objects and sometimes piles of empty beer bottles. Oh, the wild imagination! 25ish minutes later we've reached the top, pass the giant shattered communist red star and up on the tippy top roof, where presumably the Communist flag used to fly. But, oh! The views! An unobstuct 360 panoramic view of the Bulgarian rolling hills and lush green forests. The perfect spot for sunset gazing.

We've tried to linger as long as possible for the sunset, sitting on top of the exposed metal beams, still cracking Communist/American jokes and still trying to play Communist songs. Anything along those comical bits to keep ourselves entertained, which is not hard to do when you're in good company. =) Even had a good laugh over Kevin's stint of an American doing Commie pull-ups: "What's your favorite American number? ... 1776!" LOL. But, alas, sunset in these lands sets at an unusually late hour. 830ish? Maybe 9. We figured it wise to leave before it gets too dark as those horrendous Bulgarian roads ain't no joke. And so we've started our slow descent.

Once we've reached the bottom and out to fresh air, we were met by a curious Bulgarian wondering the outskirts of the monument. He asked where we're from, in which soon thereafter his eyebrows shot right up when he finds we're mostly Americans, "What are you doing here??!" Lol, we're not here to commerate anything. Purely for the Communist novelty, I assure you, sir. ;-) And with that we clambored into the mini van and zoomed off towards our hostel. Towards our late night dinner and towards our late night hangout where we rehashed memories from that day.

We came into this adventure as strangers with a common love for curiousity and unknown wonders. We left as friends. The magic of travel - it never ceases to amaze!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 75F
Stay: Hostel Mostel. 20BGN/person for 10 bed dorm. Breakfast and Dinner (with Beer!) included.

Recommend: Free Walking Tour.
Off the Beaten Track: Buzludzha. Day Trip as offered by the hostel is 80BGN. Highly recommend renting a car. In our case, we rented a mini van and split the cost 7 ways. Van rental is 50BGN. Gas is 40BGN. Please note: Bulgarian roads are not in the best shape and therefore may take longer to reach destination than expected.


-jin-

BULGARIA 2016 // SOFIA + RILA MONASTERY

BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
BULGARIA 2016 // RILA MONASTERY
We were able to do a walking tour and free food tour on our brief stay in Sofia. Unfortunately, we didn't do it any photo justice. I know, I know. How dare us! Somewhere in between all of the above and meeting up Zory's friends, Maria and Vesela, for coffee and socializing with our hostel mates and catching up with the Korean dudes we've met a few weeks back in Kapadokya and waiting out the rain ... we somehow forgot to keep up with the photo documenting. Simply put, we were too caught up in the moment, so please excuse the lack of Sofia visuals! Everything's on snapchat, though! (Snapchat: missjinjin)

But I assure you, Sofia is not as bad as most travelers pegged it to be. Sure it's probably the least 'cultural' of the other Bulgarian towns, leaning more on the fast city life and vibrant night life. The very huge and very long Vitosha Boulevard full of trendy stores makes for a great leisurely stroll, and we hear from fellow hostel mates that hiking the Vitosha Mountain is quite nice, which is easily accessible at the end of the boulevard.

The one thing we did managed to photo document was our day trip to Rila Monastery offered by our hostel. Now we aren't fans of day trips provided by the hostel, mainly because it's kinda pricey and the allotted time given at these sites aren't nearly long enough for our liking. Also, these tours normally run in the middle of the day aka peak crowd hours. V and I like to spend a lot of time at certain places for photog opportunities and proper exploration, all preferably done early morn. But we didn't really have any choice as we lacked time to research the much cheaper option: car rental. (We heard roads in Bulgaria are awful.)

As expected, the 2 hours spent at Rila Monastery was way too short and rushed. The grounds were full of tourists and the noon day sunny conditions made for contrasty situations, a combination that no photog prefers. Though it's certainly worth the trip from Sofia, as it's the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Not to mention it's quite the looker with an undeniable personality. Unlike any monastery I've seen. The monks did great with this one!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 70-85F
Stay: Hostel Mostel in Sofia. 24BGN/person for 8 bed dorm en suite. Free Breakfast and Free Dinner (with beer!). If you don't want to rent a car to Rila Monastery, the hostel offers day trips for 40BGN/person.

Recommended in Sofia: Free Walking Tour and Free Food Tour.


-jin-

BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV

BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
BULGARIA 2016 // PLOVDIV
Aside from Sofia and a dilapidated Communist building in the middle of nowhere, we really didn't know where else to go in Bulgaria after hunkering down in Istanbul for 1 week. So we sent out a 'plea' for recs via Instagram. There were quite an overwhelming preference for Romania, not so much love for Bulgaria. But ONE Instagrammer did pull through and his name is Henry (@humminglion). Not only did we lucked out, I mean, we really hit the jackpot with this guy, because his girlfriend (@zorymory) happens to be Bulgarian! And one from Plovdiv! A city we've tentatively contemplated about (seems many travelers prefer Plovdiv over Sofia), but weren't quite sold until Henry and Zory came into the picture.

So with Zory's extensive list of her hometown's recs, V and I set out to explore tiny Plovdiv, the future European Capital of Culture 2019 and one of the world's oldest cities. Plovdiv has a lot to offer, it's sights easily covered in 2 days time. A mixture of ancient Greek ruins and quaint medieval masonry, with remnants of Communism mostly seen outside the touristy parts. There's a beautiful huge expanse of park goodness, 6 famous hills to climb, a long strip of very modern shops set below very old buildings that looks like a century or 2 old, and an even older part of town covered with very wonky cobblestones. There you can stumble upon many historic markers and catch a panoramic view of the city from one of the famed hills.

Most of which can be covered with a walking tour. Highly recommend, though. It's always a good idea to catch one of these. A quick history/info rundown ain't hurt nobody. In fact, we try to go to one in almost every city we visit. Half the time we end up befriending fellow tourists along the way, grabbing dinner and/or drinks afterwards. In this case, that just so very happened. And we had the best time with our new friends! 1 Belgium guy, 2 English girls, 1 Turkish dude. We all happily chatted it up over Bulgarian cuisine, trading travel stories. Lots of jokes, lots of laughs. Even properly ended the very long dinner hangout over Rakia. Nazdrave!

Coming into Bulgaria not expecting much, I must say, Plovdiv was a nice surprise!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 70-80F
Stay: Best Rest Guesthouse. 45BGN for private room, 20BGN/person for 4 bed dorm.

Recommend: 2 hour Free Walking Tour
If you have 15 minutes: 3D Movie of Plovdiv in 2nd Century AD
Eats: Grazhdanski Klubb

***** AS RECOMMENDED BY ZORY *****
- Plovdiv Roman Theatre
- Contemporary Art Center
- Old Town. The old town is pretty much the star of Plovdiv. They are some churches and museums within the Old Town that are worth checking out if you are interested in how things used to be: Ethnographic museum, St. Constantine and Elena church.
- Kapana. Known for small shops and coffee shops. Young people like to hangout in the area.
- Tsar Simeon Gardens. Small park where locals like to sit and people watch.
- Alyosha Monument on Bunarjik Hill. The statue is interesting because it represents the way communist people used to do things - big with lots of concrete. The hill has 360 view of all of Plovdiv and it's popular destination for high-school kids the go watch the sunrise after prom.
- The Dzhumaya Mosque. There is a little cafe/sweets shop in the Mosque building. They have really good Turkish tea and sweets.
- Art News Cafe is one of my fav cafes, artsy people hangout there, the bartenders are usually up to date on interesting things that are happening around the city, ask them! Get the Mursalski Tea, it's a rare tea that grows very high up in the mountains near Plovdiv.
- Apartment 101. Popular bar. Sometimes it has live music.
- Vitex 90. Get Zelevi Sarmi (traditional fermented cabbage leaves + rice dish) , Kiselo Zele S Bob (also very traditional and they make it well, it's fermented cabbage with beans) and Salata Spanak (spinach salad) . For dessert: Mliako S Oriz (milk rice pudding). They sell the food by the Kilo so that makes it great for you to try many things.
- Popular day trips that you can do with buses out of Plovdiv are: Bachkovo Monastery (similar but smaller than Rilla Monastery), Asen Fortress, Seven Rila Lakes, The Wonderful Bridges, Koprivshtitsa, Veliko Turnovo, Arbanassi.


-jin-

TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL

TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
TURKEY 2016 // ISTANBUL
This being our 2nd time in Istanbul, we really didn't have a need to go all out photo fine art crazy. If anything, we just wanted some much needed downtime and leisurely sightseeing. So we stayed a week. Took our time, woke up late, overused the hostel's resources. Caught up on Game of Thrones. Chatted with even more Internationals.

Like in 2008, we stayed in the European side of Istanbul. But 8 years ago, we were all about hitting up all the major tourist sights with our friend, Ricky, so we stayed quite close to the Old City. This time around we opted for a much different neighborhood, get a feel of another side of Istanbul. The Galata/Karakoy area seemed like a young, hip part of town. Streets lined with really cheap restaurants and cafes, unassuming tiny shops, various nooks and crannies. And that's before we even hit up the massive commercial shopping avenue of Istiklal Cadessi!

In addition to roaming the narrow, busy hipster streets with wide-eyed wonderment, we set out on a massive foodie adventure of sorts. Something we never really did the first time around in Istanbul. We sought out the best Baklava, the best Kumpir, the best Iskender Kebap, the best Islak Burger, the best Rice Pudding, the best Turkish Coffee.

Of course all that while visiting some old friends: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace. And I tell you what, only a few vivid details of these historic treasures pops into my mind from 8 years ago. It's amazing (and kinda sad) how much the mind forgets! So we visited Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque TWICE to doubly make sure it'll be harder to forget.

It's quite refreshing to see the trendy side of Istanbul. Reminds me of Austin back in the day when the new and the old seemed to live harmoniously together at one point. I firmly believe this is one of the reasons why we loved this 2nd visit way more than the first. Loved it so much Vince actually envisioned his future self living in this city!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 60-75F
Stay: Downtown Istanbul Hostel, $9 per night for 8 bedroom dorm.
Transportation: Tram/Train. 4TL per trip.

>> Istanbul Museum Pass: 5-day pass. 80TL. Valid for one entrance to the following - Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Archeological Museums, Museum for the History of Islamic Science & Technology, Istanbul Great Palace Mosaic Museum, Chora Church Museum, Rumeli Hisarı, Yıldız Palace, Galata Mevlevihanesi, Istanbul Fethiye Museum. (We've visited in BOLD.)
>> 2 Hour Bosphorus Boat Ride: 12TL.
>> Galata Tower: 25TL. Panoramic views of Istanbul and Bosphorus.
>> Also Visited: Blue Mosque, Istiklal Cadessi, Taksim Square, Grand Bazaar.


-jin-

TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE

TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE.
Travertine fail.

They were nothing like what the posters had promised. No pristine bright blue waters filling the terraces to the brim. Every single travertine - all dry!

Except the man-made ones, but what's the point?

Nothing like crossing an ocean, flying into Istanbul, flying to Kayseri, taking a van to Cappadocia, catching an overnight bus to Denizli, then hopping on a minivan to Pamukkale - only to find out the hard way that every terrace dried up. The hot spring water redirected. My excitement crushed. I don't think I've ever felt this so disappointed about a tourist sight falling short.

But ya know, not all was lost. This way, with no water, the travertines actually looks like the 'Cotton Castles' that Pamukkale is known for. Everything is just so insanely white. Yah, it was still a nice dreamy vision.

The city itself doesn't have much to offer. It's so small and full of restaurants and hotels geared toward tourists. I can see why most people only do day trips here. We were probably the 1% who decided to stay overnight, all for photography purposes. Glad we stayed an extra day, because our 2nd visit to the travertines ended up being a photo gold mine, despite no water. Once we've hiked to the top of the mountain, rounded the corner - lo and behold - an expanse of dry travertines with no tourists. We even walked upon them, taking our photos with ease, not having to fight for elbow space.

Overall, I wish there was a website that tells you whether or not the travertines are full. That be nice. Otherwise, I would have redirected our travels elsewhere in Turkey!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 60-75F
Stay: Sahin Hotel, $35/night for private room.

Bus ride from Cappadocia to Denizli: $55/person.
Entrance fee to Travertines: $30/person.


-jin-

TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA

TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.>
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA.
The land of Fairy Chimneys and sunrise hot air balloon rides. Cappadocia/Kapadokya is every bit as charming as everyone says it is! V and I woke up very early for 2 days in a row to catch these hot air balloons in their pre-dawn flight. (Opting out of riding in one due to the expensiveness, but those who've ridden it says it's worth the $$$!) Our 'cave hotel' is located on the side of a small mountain in Goreme, making the 20 minute scamper up to the top quite convenient. It's absolutely magical, seeing these balloons float over the fairy chimneys, whilst the sun peaks over the faraway mountains, the sky slowly changing hues of pinks to oranges.

Totally worth waking up at 5am for!

Goreme isn't very big - in no time we knew our way around. And it's super cheap here! The sole reason why we decided to stay a week. Mainly to catch up on work and to wait out the rain which lasted a few days. During this time, we've met a handful of people in our hostel, most notably a woman from Uruguay, who's been traveling nonstop for 7 years! Yowzers. My wanderlust hero. Her never-ending travels pretty much confirms my suspicions - there's no way we could see the world in just a year or 2! Oof.

Aside from the fairy chimneys and hot air balloons of Goreme, we did a few mini hikes around the area to Pasabag and The Open Air Museum to see various other fairy chimney shapes, in addition to taking the 'Green' tour. It's an all day, exhausting tour - but it's nice to learn about the lengthy history of the area. The underground city tour is one of the many interesting highlights included with the package - it's actually quite cool.

Traveling to Cappadocia is no easy feat. We took a 1.5hr flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, then hopped on a van provided by our cave hotel. That took another hour to Goreme. But once here, it's an instant visual feast! Fairy chimneys galore!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50-70F
Stay #1: Divan Cave Hotel, $60/night for private room.
Stay #2: Terra Vista Hostel, $8/night for 6 bed dorm.

Green Tour: $60/person. All day, lunch included.


-jin-

ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM

ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM.
Jerusalem was more of a pilgrimage rather than a fine art photographic journey for me. I didn't really have a need to take pictures other than show proof that I was actually here! And it felt good to put the camera away for a bit and just look. And feel. Feel the overwhelming religious history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in one of the world's most oldest cities.

A little downtime from the adventure-filled Jordan trip was also on the agenda in Israel. Doing short stints of sightseeing and exploring per day def helped on that path to mental recuperation. And the fact that it was Passover, many places closed down really early anyway (or close down all together!) and went Kosher, so finding beer and bread was like a needle in a haystack. The same gameplan in Jordan was also followed in Jerusalem: wake up really early, travel to certain sights, spend time at sight, then scamper back to the hostel to wait out the hottest part of the day. This usually meant we made it back in time for free breakfast. This also meant we had an uber long stretch of hours to kill before evening time.

Which we productively took advantage of.

While Vince worked remotely away in his makeshift office in the lounge, I did things like napped and showered and caught up on photog projects from past travels. That alone was one of the main reasons why we stayed a week in Jerusalem. It bothered me to have all these photos queued up - at least 3,000 images! - and not enough time to research upcoming travel destinations! So it felt more like crunch time during those downtime opportunities.

With the gift of time came along the unexpected plethora of fellow travelers we've befriended. And honestly, my favorite part of our Jerusalem trip. I don't think I ever made this many friends at a hostel other than the time I lived in those residencias in Spain. It was refreshing, if not reminiscent of my college days or Spain days, to easily talk hours on end or even get into odd adventures with these fellow wanderlusters with no care in the world. Literally, no care - no 8-5 job, no errands, no appointments, no nothing.

This is why I love traveling. And this is one of the many reasons why I love this particular hostel. But Israel is a pricey place! As much as I want to stay here longer - Israel, you're taking all my money! It was time to move on to the next country!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 60-85F
Stay: The Post Hostel. (~$27 for 10 bed dorm, ~$30 for 8 bed dorm.)

Places we visited: Mechane Yehuda Market, Old City, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, Mount of Olives, Temple Mount, Dome of Rock, West Jerusalem.


-jin-

ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI

ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI.
Siraj, our boisterous English hostel roomie, swooped in one Saturday morning with a spontaneous proposition: He'll rent a car, we'll all go to Ein Gedi, do some waterfall hiking. Him, Vince, Marcela (the Polish roomie in our 10 person room) and me.

In a few hours time, we were in that rented car with our swimming gear and off on a 2 hour roadtrip to Ein Gedi, with Siraj taking the front seat. Siraj, we collectively found out the hard way, is quite the aggressive driver. Borderline loony driving skills, really. Think most of us spent the car ride fighting off dizziness and nausea. But despite all that, we somehow still marveled at the passing, arid desertscape, watching it transform into the soothing Dead Sea scenery. That Dead Sea. It's all kinds of serene. With a hazy (salt?) cloud looming over the waters, filtering the harsh sunlight. We stopped at a cliff to take in the Dead Sea serenity for a quick minute before getting back on the road.

Now I'm fairly certain we got to Ein Gedi in 1 hour instead of 2, somehow making it in one piece, thanks to Siraj. Or thanks to God - I don't know who to thank! But nevertheless, ready to see the waterfalls that Siraj made a big fuss about. Only an hour or so hike up the mountain. In the heat. At high noon. Double oi. Luckily, there were many little waterfalls along the upward climb, each time we stopped to cool off in the waters and shade before moving on. My kind of hikage. In a few hours time, we were back down the mountain and wondering what to do next.

The Dead Sea. It's just right there! Yeah, why not?

There are a few places along the Dead Sea to enjoy the waters, just that most of them cost money to access the beach. Which kinda blows. Luckily, about 30 minutes south of Ein Gedi there's a free beach. Ein Bokek. It's not the nicest beach and it's quite crowded. But, it's free. Spent a solid hour or so, floating around in the waters and hanging out on the beach by the time dinnertime rolled around.

Floating effortlessly in the Dead Sea is quite the mixture of feelings. On one hand, it's amazing how freakishly easy it is to just float. No fear of drowning here. On the other hand, that high salt content is quite fierce. Every open skin, cut, scratch - you will instantly feel with a vengeance. It stings beyond what you'd expect. Stepping out of the waters is equally just as interesting. A layer of white, flaky salt residue appears on your skin as you're drying, the swimsuit hardening along the process. It might take a few douses underneath the open-air showers to feel somewhat clean.

But to say that you floated on one of the saltiest and lowest places on Earth? Cross that off the bucket list!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50-80F

Car Rental in Jerusalem: Middle East, 190NIS/day, only certain cars are allowed and insured in Palestine.
Dead Sea Hike/Waterfall Mountain Trail: Ein Gedi, 1.5hr drive from Jerusalem.
Free Public Dead Sea Beach: Ein Bokek, 2hr drive from Jerusalem.


-jin-

JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM

JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM.
Why is everyone so interested in Wadi Rum? And how much can you really do in the middle of the desert? We had to see for ourselves. So we booked a 1 day excursion (finding it hard to justify to stay any longer as we are not hardcore adventure travelers) and hopped on a 4 hour monotonous bus ride from Petra to Wadi Rum. Once there, it was straight into the bed of a truck, straight into adventure, straight into Bedouin country. And right away it was clear why Wadi Rum is so, so popular.

The dramatic landscape.

It's quite cinematic with the red hues and irregular rock formations. You never know what desert scene is coming up, every turn equally surprising and different from the last. The random pack of rogue camels seems to complete the fascination. In between traversing the desert, we occasionally stopped to hike through canyons that are lush and green. We even "snowboarded" down a sand dune and lunched in the shade of a mountain.

But at night was when all the magical things happened. The faint silhouette of the majestic mountains against the dark sky, sounds of night creatures in the far distance, the subtle glow of the moon bathing everything below. All this just immediately outside our tent. Enveloping us in the middle of nowhere. Perfect spot for stargazing. Unfortunately I passed out right after the traditional Bedouin dinner.

In the wee hours of the morning I could hear Vince troddling about outside our tent. For quite awhiles, it seems. Finally, he awakes me with a giddiness in his voice, "Babe! Wake up! You have to see the stars! You can actually see the Milky Way!" I threw the blanket over my shoulders and scurried outside, where he shows me a faint strip of an intergalactic dust cloud.

Ok. Not as colorful and dramatic as the galaxy dust clouds I've seen in Lake Titicaca of Peru, but I can still appreciate the night sky here. At this hour - 4:30ish? 5ish? - the moon has already descended, the sky lit up with at least a billion twinkling bright stars. As far as the eye could see. Quite dreamy stuff.

Was it worth coming out to Wadi Rum? Oh, heck yes. Undoubtedly. But a full day of the basic package was enough for us. We've actually met a girl in our Amman hostel who's done a horsebacking tour for a week in Wadi Rum. A week! Wow. Just goes to show they cater to anyone! There are even niche tour packages for mountain climbers and hikers. So whatever your heart desires, they got it. You'll leave satisfied, no matter what.

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50F LOW / 80F HIGH
Tour Company: Rum Stars (55JD/person. 1 Day + 1 Night. Jeep Tour and Bedouin Camping.)

Bus ride from Petra to Wadi Rum: 7JD/person. 4 hour.
Taxi from Wadi Rum to Aqaba: 25JD. Find people to split cost.
Bus ride from Aqaba to Amman: 6JD/person.


-jin-

JORDAN 2016 // PETRA

JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
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JORDAN 2016.
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JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
JORDAN 2016.
And thus starts Jincent's Non-Stop World Travels!

For at least an entire year.

I'm beyond excited! If not whole-heartedly relieved to live this kind of nomadic lifestyle on a much longer stint. (My husband's reasons are slightly different from mine, and I may even let him blog his perspective on here. It's always good to see both sides of the story!) I've touched on the Why's in past travel posts years ago, and I would LOVE to go into more depth about it in a future post, but til then - sit tight, kindred spirits. =)

--

So, why Jordan? Because things were getting a lil too hot for our liking in Egypt. If we had started our world travels 2 weeks prior, then it wouldn't have been a problemo. But we like to travel somewhat comfortably, if not smart, and the weather sounds reasonable in The Middle East. There, we began our journey.

Petra is much more of an adventure travel than leisure travel, as is most of Jordan. Be prepared to spend a lot of money on tourist sights. Be prepared to walk/hike A LOT through rough terrain. (This is not an understatement!) Bring a hat and plenty of water. And be prepared to have vendors constantly try to sell you stuff. (But they're polite and unaggressive, unlike other countries we've visited. A simple 'No, Thank you.' is good enough for them to leave you be.)

The 3 days we've spent at Petra were utterly exhausting. I ain't gonna lie. But the picturesque canyon views makes the hours of hiking/climbing well worth it. If done right. We woke up quite early everyday and began our hikes to various parts of the canyon around 6:30am. Mainly to beat the heat and the crowds. It's much more leisurely this way, with way more photo ops in the canyons, as well as with the camels hanging out in front of The Treasury. Not to mention an unobstructed view of The Treasury itself. Around 10am is when it gets stupid crowded around The Siq, making picture-taking a horrendous experience. By this time, we are already coming back down from our various canyon hikes and heading back to our hostel to wait out the hottest part of the day until dindin time.

There. Our not-so-secret way to enjoy Petra. A much more leisurely approach, but isn't that how it's suppose to be? To feel connected, body and soul, on all levels of travel and culture without feeling the weight of tourism? When stripped down to the basics - it's an amazing experience. The stunning desert canyon formations. The incredible history of past civilizations. The centuries old relationship between the two, nature and human. It will all mesmerize you in an instant. I promise.

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 60F LOW / 80F HIGH
Stay: The Saba'a ($30/night for private. Center of town. To the Visitor Center: 15min walk, 5min by Taxi.)
Transportation: Taxi, 2-5JD. (Haggle if you have to.)

Treasury Night Tour: 17JD/person, ~2hr.
2 Day Petra Hikes: 55JD/person.

Walk from The Visitor Center to The Siq: ~25min. Rough Terrain.
Walk from The Siq to start of The Monastery 850 step stair climb: 30-40min. Rough Terrain.
Hike up the 850 step stair climb to The Monastery: 30-40min.
Walk from The Siq to Royal Tombs: 10min.
Hike from the Royal Tombs to view The Treasury from above: 30-40min.


-jin-

CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN

CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // SALVATION MOUNTAIN.
One of the trippiest 'pilgrimmage' experiences I've had to date. Like a page out of a Dr. Seuss book. It's a surreal feeling standing on top of a rainbow mountain and seeing endless brown, brown desert land surrounding you. As far as the eye can see. Profoundly strange and yet, reassuringly peaceful. How very curious. These desert oddities never ceases to amaze me! Well worth the day trip out here, in the middle of nowhere. You will come mystified, but leave inspired!


-jin-

CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE PARK

CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
CALIFORNIA 2016 // JOSHUA TREE.
We day tripped it out of Palm Springs to spend a few hours in Joshua Tree National Park with sunset photos in mind. It was pretty much a race against time. The golden hour photoshoot disappointingly cut short. But totally worth coming out here! The desert is all kinds of magical when the sun slowly slips behind the mountain tops. The landscape softening and changing hues before your eyes. Next time we're camping/glamping here! Would love to get to know the Joshua trees on a more personal level!


-jin-