Snorkeling Belize’s Coral Reef

When I heard that Belize is home to the second largest coral reef in the world, I knew I needed to snorkel it. Especially since I already snorkeled the largest one – the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia. Belize’s reef stretches to be just shy of 200 miles and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During my trip to Belize, my friends and I took a tour from Belize City to visit a coral reef about 45 minutes away. The coral reef in Belize did not disappoint. spotted starfish, rays, eels, living conch and varieties of vibrant fish. Even on our way there a dolphin curiously hitched a ride in the boat’s wake. I was relieved to see that the coral at our snorkeling site was still colorful and healthy.

During my snorkeling experience, I learned that there are over 500 different types of fish at this coral reef.

After snorkeling for a little over an hour, our boat stopped at the quaint, but privately owned “Starfish Island”. The island very touristy, but relaxing in a hammock merely steps away from the Caribbean water was the perfect way to end the day. The island has plenty of lounge chairs, a swing-set in the water, playground, hammocks, a bar, restaurant, and also rentable floats and kayaks.

You can learn more about traveling Belize and seeing it’s Coral Reef here.

Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

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Walking within the torii at Fushimi Inari

During my 8 day adventure through Japan, I explored Kyoto for three days in early November. Three days was not enough time. The city instilled me with a desire to return one day and visit more of it’s ancient sites.

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. There are many protective Fox Statues along the trails of the shrine. It’s located on a mountain, and is easily accessible from the JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station. This site also has free entry and is virtually always open. It’s best to go early in the morning because the pathways of red torii became quickly congested with fellow tourists.

 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is a wooden Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a balcony overlooking Kyoto. We were fortunate to visit here during November, when all of the trees were bright with peak autumn colors. A diminutive statue of Kannon sits inside the temple’s Main Hall. While not the quickest route, we took the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station and walked about 20 minutes to reach this temple.

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View of Kyoto from Kyomizu-dera

 

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are streets sloping downhill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and into the heart of Gion’s historical district. The streets, architecture, and occasional Geisha promises to transport any tourist back in time. You can also spot Yasaka Pagoda from this area (not featured in the image below).

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Kinkakuji’s reflection in the pond

 

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) is another iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, but is distant from the main city. The Zen pavilion is layered in gold leaf and on calm days, you can witness it’s stark reflection in the pond. While the most inexpensive way to visit is by bus, we were pressed for time and took the metro to Kitaoji Station and then hired a taxi for a 10 minute ride.

 

Arashiyama is a town located in western Kyoto that’s infamous for it’s Bamboo Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). However it also has hiking trails, the Togetsukyō Bridge with gorgeous views of the river, shops, restaurants, and Tenryuji Temple another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Bridge in Arashiyama

 

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Nara is another popular tourist destination known for its Park. Inside of Nara Park are an abundance of sacred deer that will bow at you if you feed them crackers,
and also Todaiji Temple. Crackers can be bought everywhere in the park, but practice caution with some of the deer because they tend to nibble on everything. It takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes one way via metro from Kyoto Central Station.

Pontocho Alley is a narrow street along the river that boasts historical architecture like Gion. This area is close to Gion-Shijo Station and has plenty of restaurants, and fun thematic bars to explore at night. The bars are built into various floors of the buildings and can sometimes only offer limited occupancy of about 5-15 people. I wish we had more time to explore the fun bars in this area. One of my favorite bars we went to was Cafe La Siesta 8bit Edition. It’s a gamer bar with a myriad of retro consoles, hand-held games, and card games. They have a human-sized Gameboy that plays N64 and their drink menu is based off of vintage games too.

Nishiki Market is approximately a 400-year old market in downtown with over 100 stalls selling diverse foods and tourist items.

Lake Ashi and Hakone’s Hot Springs

29425232_10156834205338797_7907052753489231872_nStaying in a ryoukan (a traditional Japanese inn with an outdoor hotspring) has been at the top of my bucket list for a while, especially since I endeavored in a lot of anime and manga as a child.

Last November, I made my second trip to Japan and made sure to include this experience. Before the trip, I scoured the internet for hours before carefully selecting a ryoukan in Hakone.

Hakone is widely known for is its variety of traditional onsen, Lake Ashi, and vicinity to Mount Fuji.

On the day of our check in to the ryoukan, we took a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakone to explore Lake Ashi. We were sure to purchase the Hakone Free Pass, which cost 4,000 yen (approx 40$) from Odawara Station, and also had our luggage delivered directly to the ryoukan. While the delivery can be a little expensive, it was so worth it to not have to worry about retrieving our luggage from a locker in the train station after a long day of riding the rails and ropeways.

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Volcanic activity in Hakone

The Hakone Tozan Railway brought us to the ropeway, which passed through cloudy mountain tops and leisurely deposited us at Togendai on the shore of Lake Ashi. While it was raining when we caught the boat, we held our breaths at the possibility of spotting any views of Mount Fuji. Nonetheless, the ride on Lake Ashi was memorable.

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Torii of Peace at Lake Ashi

We went took the pirate boat to one of the few ports, Motohakone, to visit the Hakone Shrine.

The shrine dates back to the Nara period, and the cedar trees on the main path are at least 800 years old. The walk is easily accessible from the docks, and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to reach.

That evening, we took the ropeway and train back to our ryoukan at the Naka-Gora Station.

At check-in we were able to choose a time slot for when we wanted to dip in a private outdoor onsen. We were also given yukata, socks, and sandals for walking about the resort and the traditional dinner.

  • Side note, many ryoukan offer a complimentary dinner and breakfast. While I don’t eat shellfish and I’m a borderline vegetarian, I struggled to enjoy the several course dinner. Bring snacks if you’re unsure whether you will enjoy the meal.

During our hour long time slot in the evening, my boyfriend and I relaxed in a private onsen that was hidden within bamboo thickets. The private bath was especially relaxing after a day of traveling from Tokyo and touring the countryside.

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My yukata hung beside the private onsen at the ryoukan

Our hotel room was spacious with tatami flooring, a king-sized bed, and we were greeted by Japanese sweets. There was also an intimate outdoor bath on our room’s porch with a view of the autumnal countryside. Although this additional feature was a costly upgrade, the next morning I enjoyed listening to the rain fall against the leaves in the hot bath.

While it was more expensive than would have been ideal, I’m glad that my boyfriend and I were able to do this together.

There are cheaper options available to have the Lake Ashi and/or onsen experience.

  • Catch an all day tour from Tokyo.
  • Take the Shinkansen/Romance Car to Hakone, and if you’re planning on staying in the area either store your luggage in a locker or have it delivered to your next destination.
  • There are many ryoukans in this region with various onsen options, such as gender segregated hot springs, a private bath at the ryoukan that can be ‘rented’ for you and your family/partner, or a private bath attached to your room.

48 Hours in Iceland

During my first trip to Iceland, I realized that it truly is a land of ice and fire.

When I went in the summertime, theres a midnight sun that refuses to set completely. The darkest it ever became resembled twilight. It was just before 8pm when I arrived at my hostel in Reykjavik, but since it was June, I was able to enjoy the city until midnight because of the sun. I wasn’t the only tourist taking advantage of the evening’s light.

Since I was jet-lagged I only lasted the few hours, but I saw Hallgrimskirkja, Reykajavik’s iconic church with it’s prominent statue of Lief Erikson, and the Prime Minister’s Building. I walked the popular shopping street, Laugauegur, and also sat at Faxa Bay to soak in the views of the gorgeous volcanic mountain range of Esja.

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Þingvellir National Park

On my only whole day in Iceland, I went on the Golden Circle Tour with Gateway to Iceland, which is a popular tour to do from Reykjavik. I found that the tour guide, Gauti, was upbeat and incredibly knowledgable.

  • Þingvellir National Parkthe landscape here was full of Purple Alaskan Flowers and the peaks of the mountains were speckled with snow. Its not only home to the largest lake in Iceland, but also the Great Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian Plate straddles the North American Plate. Walking through the park, you can spot the fissure within the earth.
  • Gullfoss waterfalla site I found comparable to Niagara, but with views of mountains and glaciers in the far distance.
  • Haukadalur geothermal area – this is an interesting stop with diverse geysers, but most notable are Strokkur and Geysir.
  • Secret Lagoon hot spring nature bathunlike the Blue Lagoon, this is a natural hot spring. Although the facilities were small, it had an intimate and relaxed vibe. The water smoked against the cool afternoon air and the hot spring’s walls were (unexpectedly) lined with thick multi-colored algae.

On my last day with only a few hours remaining to explore, I visited Reykajavik’s Opera House, Harpa, which resembled the interesting architecture of the opera houses in Oslo and Amsterdam. I wandered more of the street Laugauegur, the downtown area, and purchased Rúgbrauð (dense rye bread that has been cooked in the earth beside a geothermal spring).

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In the late afternoon, I was on my way back to the airport via the shuttle.

While I only had about 48 hours to explore Iceland, I really enjoyed myself and plan to return.

Here are some additional suggestions for the Reykajavik area:

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier
  • Puffins and/or Whale Watching Boat Tour

3 Days in Ibiza – Off Season

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Dalt Vila – Ibiza Old Town

On our first day– we wandered around Ibiza Old town or Dalt Vila, which is a recognized UNESCO site. We received complimentary maps with walking routes at the tourist office in the centre. The old town is vibrant with pale colors, turquoise harbor views, and medieval architecture. The main castle is from 16th century and it’s one of the main sites but there are various bastions peppered along the cobblestoned pathways, Baluard de Sant Bernat, Baluard de Sant Jaume, Baluard de Sant Pere, Baluard de Sant Joan, and  Baluard de Sant Taules. The panoramic views of the Med and the city below are absolutely breathtaking. During the late afternoon, we took a ferry over to Formentera, a neighboring island. Honestly the boat ride alone was worth it by itself. There are views of Dalt Vila, Es Vedra, and many other parts of the island with dramatic slopes and sandy cliffs. The island itself was more quiet than Ibiza itself. Unfortunately the island was larger than we perceived – we didn’t have enough time to rent bikes, and the water was infested with red tide.

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View near Cova de can Marca of Sant Miguel

During the second day – we rented a car. We started out at the northwest part of the island at Cova de can Mara. Although history about the cave was intriguing, I wouldn’t recommend the bioluminescent cave. During the tour there was a light show intended to impress the visitors -except we all stood there confused. The cave cost 10 euros and last about 20 minutes. When I left – I felt scammed. Anyways – we went to eat lunch at the nearby beach, Sant Miguel. Next, we passed through the  port of San Antoni as we headed along the coast to the hippie area of Cala d’Hort, which offers expansive views of Es Vedra. As the folklore goes – Es Vedra is known to attract a lot of oddities (seek more information here). It’s the third most magnetized place on the planet. At the end of our day, we went the sunset coast and sat along a cliff’s edge to watch the sun set in the sky at Sunset Ashram in Cala Conta (Cala Comte). In fact, the parking lot overlooking the coast was the busiest spot we encountered during our road-trip.

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At Cala d’Hort with Es Vedra in the background

Since we flew out late in the afternoon on our third day, the first part was dedicated to relaxing on the beach in Talamanca. We caught the bus there and walked our way back to Ibiza’s port to catch the bus to the airport. In comparison to the various beaches explored the day earlier,  I wasn’t as impressed. Despite the nearby sounds of construction (off-season), I did enjoy myself and dozed off during while sun-bathing (sunblock was applied). 

Personally – I’m glad I didn’t go to Ibiza during its peak tourist season. I enjoy dancing – but I know during the summer the clubs are active. If I did go back during the tourist season, I would like to check out the Zoo Project. The sunny island was a necessary reprieve, before tackling our remaining finals.

Here are 5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza during the Off Season

5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza in the Off Season

At the end of my final semester in March I visited Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. One of my European friends inwardly cringed and demanded why I was going during the ‘winter’ season and not waiting for summer (ie. May to possibly September). She claimed it would be cold and there would be nothing to do, however this was not the case at all.

  1. Obviously – costs are relatively inexpensive (approx. 40-60£) compared to the tourist season (approx 128-275£). Ryanair offered an impressive last minute flight from the UK that was too good to ignore. However the lack of sun in Scotland provided additional incentive to book the trip. We found there were a variety of accommodations with fair prices.

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    Canons overlooking Old Town in Dalt Vila
  2. With a lack of tourists, the atmosphere is quiet, as opposed to coming during prime travel season (summer) in which all of the clubs are in full effect. When we visited for a few days – the vast majority of fellow traverlers were families. Areas like Dalt VilaPort San Miguel and Cala d’Hort were calm with few people. Honestly – it was the true essence of a reprieve.

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    Es Vedra photographed from Cala d’Hort Beach
  3. At the finale of March, we wore our bathing suits on the beach. In fact, I returned to Glasgow with a cherry nose and honeyed skin. At between 60-75°F, the days were comfortable enough to wear a tank paired with a skirt or shorts, but the evenings required a light jacket or jumper at around 55°F.

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    Sun slowly setting at Cala Comte on the sunset coastline
  4. During our stay, we rented a car for less than 50 euros for a full 24 hours through Avis, which included full insurance.  Most tourist sites aren’t accessible without a car. Between the two of us it was cheaper to book a car than to go on a tour that only went to 1-2 sites. We toured Cova de Can MarcaPort de San Miguel beachSan Antoni, Cala d’Hort to view Es Vedra, and Cala Comte (Cala Conte). The roads were not crowded, besides near Dalt Vila, and the majority of people were locals driving to work. This was ideal as we had downloaded the maps on my friend’s iPad, however whenever we lost satellite (85% of the journey) we relied on the combination of my roadmap, the road signs, and asked locals for directions with my basic understand of Spanish.

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    Ibiza Old Town from ferry ride to island of Formentera
  5. Although most clubs aren’t yet open during the spring – there were parties, spring festivals, and open shops around Dalt Vila. We weren’t at a loss of things to do for the duration of 3 days. I detail our 3 day itinerary in this (post), however we wished we had an additional night to visit more of the island.

However, here are somethings to keep in mind before booking a trip during the off season…

  1. Hotels or low-key shops outside of Ibiza’s immediate city centre/Old Town might be closed until summer or under construction.
  2. The busses are far and fewer in between. Instead of coming every half hour, they were scheduled to come every hour, however the busses were often late with a nonchalant tranquillo attitude. We stayed outside of Ibiza at a beach front accommodation in Playa d’en Bossa, and felt stranded whenever the bus refused to show.
  3. If you want to do sightseeing outside of Ibiza and its immediate centre, you will require a car. The bus system near Ibiza remains close to the heart of its central tourist hub. WARNING: some roads along the coastline are winding, which may make individuals susceptible to motion sickness feel ill (guilty).

Check out my 3 day itinerary here 🙂

Returning to London after 12 years…


jkasbdMy friend Lindsay and I went to London to see the Gala Performance of Doctor Faustus, which features Game of ThronesKit Harrington as the leading role (its ongoing from April-June 2016). The show was a contemporary adaptation to the late 14th century play. They made references to President Obama, and President Trump (unfortunately as the next leader of USA). Faustus (Kit) sells his soul to the devil to become famous and loved by all, but at the expense of not being able to selectively love.

Before the show, we stood behind the Paparazzi and saw several celebrities such as Alfie Allen (Theon on GOT), Natalie Dormer (Margaery on GOT), Kit’s girlfriend Rose Leslie (Ygritte on GOT), and surprisingly Tony Blair’s wife Cherie Blair.

The show was highly erotic (I didn’t mind) – as scenes unfolded extras in the background would fondle themselves, some performers were fully nude, and there were at least 2 rape scenes. This isn’t a typical theatre show – it’s not Wicked or War Horse or the Lion King. However, I would describe the play as an abstract form of ART. I went with my friend Lindsay and at first we decided it was weird – perhaps we didn’t like it – but days went by and we kept referring to and joking about certain scenes in the show. Isn’t that what a successful show does – it remains with you? If not – then I will admit I enjoyed it 🙂

Post performance, I met Kit Harrington. This entailed nearly an hours wait, and standing next to a belligerent, older man. Kit was so sweet – he tried his best to meet with every fan that was waiting for him. I was within the first 10 people he stopped to meet. Although I kept telling myself to remain composed, words failed me and my mind went blank – I gushed about how good his performance was.

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EARLIER IN THE DAY— we went to Kings Cross for the Harry Potter photo at Platform 9 & 3/4s.  12 years ago marks my first visit to the city, and the station hadn’t had the feature yet (FYI – I’m totally Ravenclaw). Our day was busy – we shopped briefly and visited the Imperial War Museum. At the museum we saw the main exhibits, the First World War galleries, the Holocaust exhibit, and the Witnesses to War. During January, we visited the concentration camps in Aushwitz, and it was surreal to be brought back to that emotional day at the IWM’s exhibit.kjg In regards to their temporary exhibits, we saw the ‘Fighting Extremes: From Ebola to ISIS,’ ‘Visions of War From Above and Below,’ and ‘Peter Lennard: Unofficial War Artist’.

We went to Trafalgar Square to capture the photo on the right… The left is
2004 with parachute pants and boys clothes vs.
2016 wearing a dress for a gala theatre performance. Trafalgar Square is a lovely spot, and you can spy Big Ben past the statue of Charles I at the end of the road.

Since I’m currently residing in Glasgow, I’ll be back in London soon to revisit other sites like the National Gallery and the British Museum.

Machrie Moor Stones at Isle of Arran

On the 5th of March, I wanted to get out of the fine city of Glasgow, and since I enjoy the coastline thats the direction I wanted to head towards. As I grew up on the coastline back home in the states, I really miss not being able to see the beach from my house. On a random Friday, I took an hour long train ride down to Androssan Harbor, coupled with an hour long ferry ride, which reminded me of the ferries that frequent Long Island.

9573_10154542208753797_7140773807402476575_nThe Isle is enormous – and boasts itself as a ‘miniature Scotland’ – I can confirm. The snow was a recent touch, as some of the locals excitedly told me.

The northern part of the isle, includes some of the highlands. There are caves, various golf courses, waterfalls, bike paths, seals, hiking trails, and Neolithic monuments. The island even has seals, except we didn’t find any during our brief time on the isle. Since I really wanted to see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, which is located on the far West side of the Isle, I took another bus ride. However this one last just short of an hour. Since the weather was so decent,  I was tricked and wore Converse. Never wear Converse when doing a hike with questionable Scottish weather – truly a rookie mistake.

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The bus deposited us off at a carpark, in front of a farmer’s field with a pathway caked with mud and sheep bits…. During our trek of approximately 30 minutes, we experienced a hailstorm, rainy downpour, and angry gusts. We had our packs with us, and I did use my (unreliable Primark) umbrella for brief stints of protection when it would cooperate against the wind. My converse were no longer black, but encrusted brown and sopping wet by the time we reached the stones in the gapping countryside. My toes were numb, and I could merely feel my heels.

It was worth it – but I’ve never been so fatigued from a 2 mile walk. I’m contributing it to the weather. There are various series of short and tall standing stones peppered throughout the fields. fs

By the time we returned to the bus stop we waited patiently for a half hour and noticed it past due. We were lucky to flag down an upcoming bus. Although the bus driver finished his shift, he explained there were no more available busses for the day, but was kind enough to offer us a free lift back to the port. Otherwise we would have been stranded, since we were pressed for time to catch our ferry back to Androssan. Unlike our earlier bus route, this driver cut through the center of the isle, which has very narrow paths. During the majority of the ride, we spoke with the friendly driver and found out him and his wife are Glaswegian! When his wife retired, they moved to the isle since that’s their favorite holiday location. I could definitely understand why!

We made it back in time to catch the ferry. That night, we stayed in a small town called Largs through an inexpensive cottage listed on Airbnb.

I’m planning to explore more of Scotland’s Isles :).