a year in travels

I was able to travel A LOT this year. I've seen some fantastic places and made some wonderful memories. last year I posted a "recap" post with a list of ways I was awesome in 2013. this year was no less awesome, but I'm trying something different- reviewing the year through my travels. I spent time in 5 different countries in 2014, including my first ever trip south of the equator.

this post will also be full of my favorite photos + links to posts I've shared on these destinations, so if you're new around here it might give you a chance to explore.

we started off our 2014 travels with a 10-day trip to Bali, Indonesia. while I was terrified by the monkeys and somewhat disappointed by the crowds at Tanah Lot, I fell in love with the gorgeous orange stone temples. it was also a delicious experience: we had fun at a Balinese cooking class, tried Luwak coffee [harvested from mongoose poop!] and ate Mexican every day at Taco Casa.

in April, I celebrated my 29th birthday with a trip to Taroko Gorge - maybe my favorite place in Taiwan. my friend and I hiked through misty mountain trails, explored colorful temples, and soaked in a roof-top hot tub. I had been a little upset about turning 29, but the experience was so enjoyable I decided I didn't mind. [I also went back to Taroko in October... I really do love that place!]

then Husband and I took a long weekend in Tokyo to visit Disneyland. I can only begin to describe how completely and utterly magical it was. I laughed, I cried, and I felt like my heart was 25 years younger. it was also a lot of fun to take a "touristy" kind of vacation. I think there's value in all kinds of travel, and losing yourself in acting like a kid/geek/nerd at Disney is absolutely a worthwhile experience.

in June, I flew back to the states and spent a few weeks recovering from jet lag on the shores of Lake Michigan. I soaked in sunsets and climbed lighthouses, hiked through the state park and lounged by the pool.

the next few weeks were a blur of weddings, packing and unpacking, amazing tacos and protein/animal In-N-Out. we traveled from Detroit to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, to San Diego, California to Austin, Texas and then back to Taiwan.

Hong Kong wasn't an intentional trip. I had to zip over for a quick 2-day "visa vacation." it was my first time traveling solo [not for business in the US, anyway] and my experience wasn't altogether pleasant. but I did my best to make the most of the situation by indulging in some Mexican food and shooting photos from Victoria Peak.

in case you're curious, I flew at least 30,000 miles this year. my passport was stamped 10 times, and I had 3 new visas added. I had a wonderful year of travels, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of this world in 2015. [starting with New Zealand in a few weeks!]

where did you travel this year - which destinations were your favorites? and where do you want to go in 2015?

linking up with Bonnie, Courtney, Cynthia, and Yalanda for Travel Tuesday


confessions of an expat: holiday edition

Christmas is tomorrow. I'd love to say that our third such holiday overseas is going swimmingly and all is merry and bright. but in truth, it's been a rough week. it's been a rough few weeks actually. so I know this is the traditional time of year for bloggers to wrap themselves in twinkle lights and do mushy photoshoots with husbands and post gift guides and free printables... but the best I have to offer is to catch you up on life lately with a list full of random thoughts and honesty.

I am almost as terrible at writing Christmas cards as I am leaving voicemails. maybe worse, because once you write it down you have to keep it, and keep going. right now my Christmas cards [the 7 that actually made it into the post] are lost somewhere in the mail system between Taiwan and the US. my mother informed me that the birthday card I sent for my dad at the beginning of December only just arrived. oops.

I'm trying my best not to be grinchy, but I'd really love to be somewhere warm right now. I know that many of you are in temperatures lower than mine [40F] and some of you are even enjoying things like snow for the holidays. but here in Taiwan we do not have central heating, and I drive a scooter which makes the wind chill factor x500. my toes are perpetually cold. I'm thinking next year when we get a Christmas vacation we need to spend it somewhere on a beach?

we blew a fuse this weekend. not an uncommon occurrence, given the wiring in our building is a little funky. normally this would not be such a big deal, but the socket in our laundry room decided to fry itself. not all the outlets in our apartment are this sketchy. but for some reason the plug that runs our washing machine AND water heater by some janky extension cord setup is this little guy. terrifying. the outlet has since been upgraded, and I replaced the melty cord. so, yay, we have hot water for the holidays.

in blog news: I've decided to put my sponsorship program on hold for a bit, after this January. I've been thinking of making some changes and with our trip to New Zealand that seems like a good time for a break. if you are interested in snagging one of the two spots left for next month, you can get them 20% off with the code "TIMEOUT"

I'm also dreaming of another blog redesign. I've been learning so much about CSS and everything else in teaching my kids about blogging, and I'm getting itchy to use it. I also can't stop thinking about my sharpie doodles from my survey results. and several new font discoveries. but I'm not sure yet how I want to mix everything together.

but back to Christmas, since believe it or not, it's tomorrow. trying to get my spirits up and this calls for the digging out of old cat-in-antlers photos.

Husband has to teach, so we will wait until he's done with class to open gifts. we aren't doing anything major this year since we've been saving for our trip to New Zealand [actually, that's pretty major] but he's super excited to give me something he bought. and we still have a few movies left on our list to watch. I desperately need some muppets in my life. OH. and we found a bottle of gluten-free vodka, so I'm totally making myself a dirty Christmas martini.

hopefully you have a very happy holiday [whichever one or ones you celebrate] and I'll be back in a few days


Taiwan thoughts.

if I had to pick one word for Taiwan, it might be juxtaposition.

bright temples and billboards add contrast to the cement buildings that don't stand a chance of looking new for long in this climate. modern high-rises and Starbucks spring up next to ancient moats and abandoned lots. crumbling brick structures in a lush green rice field, scooters zipping down a road that winds through mist-shrouded mountains...

Taiwan can be dirty and dingy, blindingly colorful, or peaceful and refreshing. sometimes all at once.

and as much as some days I don't love it, I do love it.

and those are your Taiwan thoughts for today.

now: meet Christina of Route Bliss. photographer and road-tripper extroidinare, she also shares a little bit of everything on her blog. if you're looking for wanderlust inspiration - check out her dream destinations series. she's also got you covered for the holiday - with everything from budget-friendly last-minute gift ideas and holiday travel tips, to an adorable and festive way to turn your souvenirs into ornaments! this lady has been hanging out on my sidebar for a while now, but today you'll get a chance to know her a little better. check out her interview below, then head to her blog to say hello!

I'm Christina, the girl behind the scenes here at Route Bliss. I'm a 30-something single wannabe vagabond whose practicality and realist side keeps her planted in East Texas. By weekday I write lots of reports at my job as well as daydream frequently where I want to travel to next, ways to motivate myself to getting fit for health and happiness's sake, and experimenting in the kitchen to make my favorite not so healthy foods healthier. I also like to take lots of photos of pretty things, furry critters (aka canines and felines), and beautiful destinations.

two of your favorite posts: The post that 'launched' Route Bliss in August 2013. One of the handful of posts where its my heart instead of my brain, pouring words out on the screen.

And this post from 11.12.13 -- while its a mini night photography tutorial, its also the first astrophotography image I shot.

any travel plans or goals you have for next year? Right now I'm in the process of mapping out a huge summer roadtrip in the western US for Summer 2015. I've had the time off approved by my supervisor, but due to some major work changes in the near future, I am not revealing too much in case it has to be shortened/altered between now and then.

what is your favorite trip/vacation you've ever taken? Oh geez, that's a tough one. As a youth, both trips my family took to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon. I love the Disney parks and the stops at the natural wonders along the way, especially the Grand Canyon, are what started my love of the national parks as well as photographing our natural wonders. As an adult ... I can't choose. There's things about Vienna, Austria I loved even though it was a bittersweet trip. I loved the 2009 roadtrip I took as well as my 2013 one ... and I can't forget the parts of Route 66 I've covered so far either!

share one of your favorite travel moments from 2014. The only traveling I've done this year was to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit my best friend ... so spending time with her and capturing her engagement and bridal portraits as well as experiencing every moment of her wedding day with her.

any special plans for the holidays? Other than sleeping in for 10 straight days, absolutely nothing beyond the norm with my parents and brother on Christmas Day!

where would you dream trip take you? Either to Iceland or New Zealand.

describe yourself in 3 words: Determined. Loyal. Overachieving.

learn more about Christina on her blog: Route Bliss
and follow along with:


best search terms of 2014

from time to time, I like to take a peek at the search terms people are using to find this blog. while I appreciate all and any traffic that comes my way, some of these terms are a little unexpected. I've compiled a list of the best [and most hilarious] terms I've spotted over the past year.

if you are someone who has discovered this blog through a search engine and have stuck around long enough to be reading this post, then awesome. I don't mean you any offense by listing your search term below, and hope I was able to help you find what you were looking for. those of you who arrived here by other means and are just here to be entertained... well, enjoy!

since I fall under the umbrella of "travel blog" you can probably guess I receive a lot of traffic from travel-related searches. many of them have been standard: things to eat in Taiwan, travel essentials, Bali packing list, etc. the entertaining ones are more specific, and sometimes a little strange... though I feel I've answered most of these questions:

dress code for Wat Arun
giant spider
do most hotels provide hairdryers in Bali? [not the one I stayed at!]
where to spot monkeys in Railay
buddha in tree
sound system of lotus temple
cycling Ubud calligraphy [huh?]
Taiwan strange things
Tokyo Disneyland popcorn bucket
a golden giant in Thailand
hidden lagoon Railay
why don't Taiwanese people use soap [um, most I know DO use soap!]

another big category for terms was cats. not what I was expecting. but... it's no secret that I love cats. leaving my fuzzballs behind was one of the hardest things about becoming an expat. one said fuzzball is pictured above, on the night I adopted him in 2008. I haven't shared much about my cats on this blog since they are back in Michigan, but I've obviously posted enough about other cats to draw several feline-related searches. most notably: temple cats and Thailand, cat crazy tours Ayutthaya, cat looks like zebra, and are there a lot of cats in Thailand?  [in case you are wondering... the answer is yes.]

this may or may not be due to series of posts I titled: cats of Thailand + parts twothree. and maybe also a post on the cats of Bali. and um, and a cat cafe in Taipei.

there have also been some slightly scandalous search terms. I have no idea how they led here, I just know that they did. unlike the travel and cat-related inquiries, I'm pretty sure I did not answer any of these questions. but somehow they still led here. some of the best [?] of these terms have been:

fantasy image dusk when his lonely shore alone
how to find a husband while teaching overseas
bras to wear while swimming
my teacher's wife hot scene
how to make love like newlyweds
making out on country road

and then, we have a collection of completely random terms. these are the ones that made me giggle [or just scratch my head.] I'm sure if I dug deep enough I could find where these led to, but perhaps it's better to just enjoy these phrases completely out of context:

god of the internet
all the oreo flavors ever made
how to decorate a roof with an unnecessary thing
hot doritos
sword in lions hand stamps
oozing brick walls
I don't care because I love myself
pavilion half shirts
stinky feet in face
boiled egg wrapped in pork wrapped dumpling
thing you put in your headphone socket
how do you say do you mind if i take my tablet down stairs
reclining chair and a half
keep out room signs
love sitting on balloons

have you ever looked at the search terms leading people to your blog? what has the craziest one been?


Tokyo // Asakusa + the Sanja Matsuri festival

when we booked our stay in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, we had no idea we would be arriving in the middle of a festival. but when we emerged from the subway system, we were greeted by packed streets and the banging of drums.

since we only spent one night in actual Tokyo [the rest we were at Tokyo Disneyland] we decided to splurge stayed at The Gate Hotel. it wasn't cheap. but the views were stunning, the food was to die for, and it was right in the middle of everything. the Sensoji temple [which is the center of the Sanja Matsuri festival] was only a few short blocks away. we dropped our bags and went out to explore the nearby temple and market. and of course, gawk at the festival activities.

the Sensoji temple and surrounding buildings were gorgeous - I loved the sweeping roofs and the bold red. I did not take near as many photos as I normally would, because the area was extremely crowded. the Sanja festival is one of the largest religious celebrations in Japan, and draws up to 2 million people each year. and we unknowingly walked into the middle of it.

throughout the course of the weekend-long celebration, the streets are crowded with people both participating in and viewing the carrying of various mikoshi [or small shrines] to and from the main temple for blessings. it seemed that every street we turned down had a procession going through. even though it was unplanned [on our part] it was incredible to see this kind of cultural event in action.

the market area surrounding the temple was - if possible - even more crowded. but I'm glad we took the time to explore. one of my favorite things about traveling in Asia is going through the markets and seeing what is different or the same as other countries and cultures.

after a while, the noise and crowds started making me a bit claustrophobic. so we went a few blocks away and discovered a lovely riverside park with a great view of the Skytree and Asahi Beer buildings. [note: the Skytree is actually much taller than it looks here.] we crossed over and found a bar to have a drink in, then headed back to the hotel for dinner with a view.

though I'd love to spend more time exploring Tokyo, our experience walking into the festival unaware will be tough to beat. it really was amazing to see, planned or unplanned. if you'd like to experience the Sanja Matsuri on purpose, it is held the third weekend in May every year.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...