My first “smooth” airport experience 

As I glanced outside the tinted window of the 747 jetliner, it occurred to me how lucky I am. Not only was I headed across an ocean to a country people only dream of seeing, Air Canada was nice enough to upgrade me to first class. So there I sat, writing and casually sipping a bottomless glass of champaign while fergie’s song glamorous played over and over in my head. 

While on the first leg of the journey, from Denver to Vancouver, I had the pleasure of meeting a long time resident of Longmont, Colorado who moved from Singapore in her late 20s. Though her story was interesting, I’m thankful not to have been in her shoes at the time. She was traveling with her family to soul, South Korea but her husband didn’t make it on the flight due to an issue with his boarding pass. Frantically, she was trying to coordinate with flight attendants in broken English about her options of reconnecting with him. Evidently her cellphone wasn’t working and she looked like she was about to have a complete breakdown. I know from personal experience how nerve racking and anxiety inducing situations like that can become. 

When we finally landed in Narita, the first thing that occurred to me what’s how efficient and clean this city is. Getting off the fight, my family and I were greeted by customs guards who proceeded to check my passport and declarations form before taking my photo and fingerprints. Despite the extra security measures, their system was so well thought out that we managed to get off the plane, grab our luggage, go though customs, and get on a train headed toward our hotel all in a matter of 15 minutes. For a city with a population of around 18 billion, efficiency is key I suppose.  

The train we took to the hotel was clean and equipped with free wifi. Since the airport was the first stop on the metro line, there was a little old man who went into the cabin before us and cleaned before flipping all the chairs around by hand to face in the correct direction. It stuck me how much pride he took in his work.  Every movement he made was done with precision and grace. Later, I came to realize that this is a cultural norm.  Though I have always heard the people of Japan were respectful and dedicated to their jobs,  I didn’t understand that it was to such and extreme degree. Watching even garbage men perform their daily duties here is an oddly humbling experience. 

Tokyo Bound

In exactly 4 days I will be packing up the necessities and preparing to embark on another adventure. Unlike the rest of my travels though, this time I will be headed into uncharted territory. The majority of my travels have led me to  Europe, but this time I will he headed to  Japan.  This will mark my first introduction to Asia and the mysteries that the region has to offer. Though I am a little intimated by the potential culture shock, this feeling is overridden by genuine curiosity and excitement.

In the last few days, I’ve finally had time to start research on both cultural expectations and geographic context for all the things that I hope to see.  Our trip will start in Tokyo before heading to see a local department in the town of Nakahara and finally riding the Japan Rail trains down to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Though this itinerary is pretty flexible, it is always good to set out with general idea of where we will be headed.

Even preparing for this trip has been educational. For the Japan Rail train passes, we had to order them ahead of time. Evidently they ate not actually sold in Japan since they are a promotional experiment set up by the government to help tourists and boost the economy. They must be picked up out of the country. Only visitors to the region can get them for either 1 ,7, or 14 days. While I was visiting Boulder, Colorado one day, my father sent me an address of an independent British travel company office off Pearl Street and instructed me to pick up the tickets. I walked into a brand new, yet nearly abandoned officebuilbing and took an elevator to the top floor. After giving the receptionist our last name she handed me three, antique looking, paper tickets with japanese lettering and barcodes printed on the font. I was expecting something comparable to a DC metro card. Instead, the tickets that were handed to me stirred up memories of the train tickets seen in popular children’s anime, Spirited Away.

I try my best to remain openminded and look forward to the known. I live by the philosophy that the best stories come from experiences where you walk into a situation without any preconceived notions or expectations. No matter what I might encounter, I’ll do my best to take on life one step at a time. As always, I hope to share my experiences and adventures though this blog.

Bohemian Pubs and American Politics

Last night in Budapest, my friend and I decided to try our chances at a little place called Szimpla Kert. Considered something called a “ruined pub”, Szimpla is part of a network of bars and clubs that specialize in Budapest’s bohemian culture. These establishments are located in abandoned buildings and courtyards throughout the city. They are decorated with a mixture of eccentric art and graffiti.For those of you familiar with Boulder, Colorado, this place would have fit in perfectly on Pearl Street. They serve a large variety of drinks and everyone over the age of 18 is welcome. Tip: It might be a good idea to bring an official form of identification if you plan to visit. Unlike many other establishments in Europe, they check ID for anyone that looks like they might be under 18.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the bars are the variety of people that they draw in and how relaxed everyone seems to be. People from all the world gather, hoping to mingle with interesting people. Compared with other Bars and Clubs that I have been to in Europe, people who come to Szimpla simply want to relax and take a moment to enjoy a chill night out. At the beginning of the night my friend and I were pleased to walk in and hear one of our favorite songs “All Night” playing. Szimpla mostly plays a mix of electro-swing. For anyone unfamiliar with this genre, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C7UgR_sIW0  by Parov Stelar. Although a little quirky, the lyrics and beat are sure to stick with you.

Before we knew it, we had met two students from the United Kingdom and a pair or friends from Canada taking a gap year. Talking to people in environments like this is low key one of my favorite things. Everyone is in a similar situation and everyone clearly has a passion for travel. This combination has always proven itself to make for great conversation. To hear everyone’s backstory and plans for the future of their journey is inspirational. We talked with the two guys from Canada for about an hour. We traded our best travel stories and shred tips about cities. But things really got interesting when they decided to bring up the upcoming American election. To hear an outsider’s perspective on the “circus” that people call the American Election system was humorous. For a while we debated on Hillary’s strengths while my Canadian friend referred to her as the “Attractive Boss Bitch” (he might have been a little intoxicated… to be fair) I found it relieving that everyone else in the world is horrified that we would let Donald Trump get this far in the election and they pass on their sympathies if he wins. One guy even told me that he hopes to visit the states before Donald Trump “takes over” and ruins the country.

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Szimpla during daylight hours. They serve cocktails all day, but they don’t get busy until 11 pm.

 

Labyrinth of the Vampire Cult and newly founded anxiety

So let me rewind. Our first day in Budapest, we were wandering around the outskirts of Buda Castle and just outside the Hospital Museum when we came across something peculiar. We spotted a dimly lit underground ally and decided to venture into it when the curiosity grew and we decided it was too late to turn back. It had an eerie feel to it. The dim yellow lights cast huge shadows in front of us. Water dripped from the ceilings in a way that send a shiver down your spine. Confused, we continued on looking for an exit or an end to the tunnel. Instead, we came across a ticket booth and a stairway that lead up to a side street on castle hill. There, a plaque quickly explained that the “tunnel” we were just in was actually a labyrinth where the leader of a vampire colt ( supposedly Dracula himself)  was held prisoner until his death. Honestly, I figured this was a tourist trap. But after some research, my friend and I found that the tunnels were actually legitimate and expanded underneath the entire castle. We also found that they give tours of the labyrinth. My hesitation of the tour was overruled by the argument that”no one would believe us” unless we actually took the tour for factual support.

The next day, after our morning run to Krystali Cukraszda (a delicious little bakery and espresso bar), we made our way back up to the castle and once again ascended into the darkness of the labyrinth. I was hopelessly unprepared for what was about to follow. Supposedly a self guided tour, the passage started with a brief explanation and exaggeration of the labyrinth’s history. Wax figures set the scene for a murder most foul, ect…

It wasn’t until maybe a 1/4 mile into the caves that things turned unexpected. Suddenly the wax figures stopped and was replaced with a sign explaining the complexity of the tunnels and the purposes they used to served. The sign also explained a human phenomenon about how paranoia, the dark and thick fog has the potential to mess with our heads.

I instantly felt my anxiety levels rise as I came to the realization that the only way out of the labyrinth lied within the darkness. To gain understanding about the labyrinth, you ad to experience it without outside assistance. I have a huge fear of caves and getting trapped in unescapable places. Before we knew it, we were launched into complete darkness. I couldn’t remember the last time, if ever, that I had faced with such circumstances. The darkness was solid, it fell like a curtain. Darkness is usually different. Even at night, there is moonshine, there are streetlights, or there are the little blue and red glowing lights that come from smoke detectors or a charging cellphone. But it is almost impossible to achieve absolute darkness like this. True darkness like this crushes light. Even when we tried to use cellphones, they had little effect. Miles underground, without the technology of modern society, we were suddenly transported back to the literal DARK ages. The only things that clued me into my location were echoes of water droplets and the smell of decay that came from the cave. Besides that, we were blind. It might not have been as bad if we were somewhere else, but thinking about how were were sitting in a historically proven medieval torture chamber (regardless if the vampire myth was true or not) probably pushed me over the edge. I see no shame in admitting I was terrified.

My best friend lead the way while we slowly worked our way out. If it hadn’t been for her, I probably would have lost ability to move and just died there from an anxiety attack. I still get dizzy and squeamish thinking about it.

The rest of the labyrinth turned out to be okay. Instead of darkness, it was replaced with a tick fog that they highlighted with bright with lights. Every so often you could see artifacts that they recovered form the old uses of the labyrinth. Bits of columns sat in corners while iron gates of ancient jail cells were covered in rust.

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We take a selfie with the last bit of light before we enter the labyrinth. 

Radioactive Art

Today my friend and I wandered into the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, unsure what to expect. From the outside, the museum actually looked closed. Banners draped across construction boardwalks made us question if we could even go inside. But after some investigation we finally found the front doors. From the few exhibits that we saw, my favorite was the “Explore Color” portion. There were four different rooms that divided art by blues, reds, greens,  and browns. Each room displayed different types of dishes, cloths, paintings, furniture, and other random items. One particular feature that caught my eye was an ultraviolet light that caused these jars and glasses to glow a bright, an almost bioluminescent green. Curious about it, we looked on the nearby plaque and found a description. Turns out that the secret ingredient that made the pieces glow was legitimate Uranium. As in, these pieces of art were actually radioactive. The artist supposedly designed them to make a statement about nuclear warfare and other radioactive social problems. Although the art curator seemed to feel safe being around these, I didn’t.

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The Downpour

Today in Budapest was significant  because of the amount of rain that fell. Being from Colorado, my friend and I drastically underestimated the rain in Budapest.

We woke up around 9 that morning and headed across the river to the “Buda” side of Budapest. From there we hiked to the fisherman’s bastion and castle hill. Coming from an elevation of 9,000 feet actually makes life much easier. As we passed other tourists that seemed to be breathing heavily from the hike, we were rolling in the extra oxygen. We felt like super-humans. From the top of the funicular (a little train that takes you up to the top of the hill) the view seems surreal. You can see the entirety of the city on a clear day. After we soaked in the view properly, we headed on to go explore the contents within the castle walls.  Besides pretty buildings and a few nicely kept gardens, there wasn’t too much to see until we finally found a museum, which had been suggested to me by a friend who recently studied abroad here.

Called the “Hospital Museum” it was actually a 5-mile long nuclear-proof bunker the had been transformed throughout that ages by different political parties and governments within Budapest. During its time it served as a hospital for both Soviet troops, nationalists, and German solders as a red cross certified safe place for everyone. Because of its intentional certification, the place was respected and spared by raids. During the later part of ww2 through the end of the cold war, it served as a nuclear-safe bunker.  On the tour, we had the chance to see the old generators, water storage supply units, air circulation systems for the tunnel, and giant diesel fuel tanks that could run everything in case of power loss. Fun Fact: We learned on the tour that the Hungarian word for “radiation” is actually “sugar.” My mind immediately went to “sugar cookies” and I wondered about the confusion and worry this might bring to Hungarian tourists in America.

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This is the entrance to the Hospital Museum / Nuclear Bunker

By the end of the day we ended up outside the Hungarian Parliament. This giant building is actually a little intimidating. Despite the armed guards every couple feet, its gothic pillars and tours accurately represent its prestige. When we sat down to enjoy the view, it had started to sprinkle rain. But by the time my friend and I had made it back to our hotel, we were drenched. My jeans were soaked and I could feel water squish between my toes as I walked. My hair had begun to drip onto my face. It seemed everyone was carrying around umbrellas except for us.  When we made it into the hotel, the front desk assistant gave us a look that might have been a mix of sympathy and disgust at the mud we just tracked into his clean lobby.

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Me, enjoying a calm  drizzle before the downpour.

It is the people who make the trip.

It never really gets old. It seems cliché, but it is true. Every time I fly through Europe to some new and unfamiliar destination, the people I meet amaze me. I don’t really consider myself to be much of a conversationalist but for some reason people always end up talking to me.

Today I was on my way to Budapest, catching a connecting flight through Heathrow, when my friend and I met two distinctive people. The first was a TSA officer who clearly wasn’t in the mood to deal with my optimistic outlook and the second was a Hungarian lady who attended the University of Colorado Boulder, where I currently study.

It wasn’t half an hour into our trip when someone said something strange to me. My best friend and I have this theory; whenever we are together some randomly guy will say something to one of us that takes us completely off guard. This time, it was a TSA officer in Denver. I was about to take off on an international flight with my best friend to explore an exotic city in Eastern Europe. Can you blame me for being excited? Opportunities like this are what I live for. So when he asked me why I was smiling so much, I just told him that I was excited. I wasn’t about to lie to TSA officer! To that, he replied with an overly salty and dramatic response of “Well aren’t you just a cheeseball.” A cheeseball? A cheeseball!! I have been called a lot of things, but this was a first.

For this flight, we took British Airways from Denver to Heathrow The downfall to British Airways is that they always have trouble being on time. Every single time I have flown on a direct flight on BA, which granted has only been 3 occasions, the flight inevitably ends up being delayed by at least an hour. By now I’ve learned that in order to make a connecting flight from Heathrow, you need a minimum of two hours unless you plan on booking it down the concourse. In March of 2015, I wrote about about yet another one of this airport’s many dysfunctions. But instead of having trouble with the airport this time, it was security that caught me off guard. I made the mistake of assuming that just because the Denver TSA approved my carryon items, Heathrow security check probably would would too. As I was headed down the line, I was pulled to the side and told to remove the contents of my bag and was forced to re-sort my luggage no less then three different times under the supervision of the security officer. Turns out that I had accidently left a bottle of sunscreen at the bottom of my backpack. Oops…

What this experience produced though was a friend. When I was shuffling everything so it fit back into my backpack, the Hungarian lady mentioned earlier caught sight of a CU sticker on the back of my phone. While waiting in the terminal this lead to a half hour discussion of the Culture of Boulder Colorado, the “trust fund hippies” that inhabit it, and the “communist design” of the engineering building. I use those quotations not as paraphrases, but rather as direct quotes. She clearly chose her words with precision because those might just me the most accurate descriptions I have ever heard. The quote about the design about the engineering center caught me off guard because she followed up the “communist design” comment with a personal anecdote about her experience with the communist regime. She also mentioned that in her day the Alfred Packer Grill served great panini. Personally, I still think this stands true today. Although our college may have added new additions like buffalo sharped pools and fancy community centers, they at least have managed to keep their panini priorities strait.

As we finally arrived in Budapest, I was shocked how green that the city is. I don’t mean necessarily earth friendly, but rather luscious. The trees were covered in huge leaves, many areas were landscaped in flawless lawns and flowers were abundant. Unlike many other European cities that I have visited, they also have lots of parks and greenbelt areas hidden within the city. These all make a wonderful foreground in pictures (for all you aspiring photographers out there.)

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Budapest: Here I Come

2016 has been a big year. It has changed me as person, for both good and bad reasons. The last five months of my life have been some of the most emotional ones I have ever experienced. Those who know me realize that I’m not one to openly express what I feel, it’s not in my nature. So as my first completed year of college comes to  an end, I’ve decided it is time to exercise my newfound freedom and take a trip across the globe.

When I first imaged taking this trip, I pictured being accompanied by my two best friends.  But, after a heartbreaking loss, it will only be my friend Lauren and I. Although our friend Luke won’t be able to accompany us physically, he will accompany us in our thoughts and our hearts. Although my trio may be gone, our original optimism and inclination for adventure continues. The world awaits and we will take it on with heavy hearts.

A year ago, I would have never pictured where I am today. Throwing together an international trip in only a week has been a challenge, but an exciting learning experience. I’m so thankful that I was raised with an international and opportunistic mind set. I get a thrill out of planning each and every new adventure.

This trip is unique because, unlike in the past when I had others doing my planning, the details were completely left up to my friend and I. To my surprise, the difficulty did not lie in the reservations or flights. The difficult part is getting ahold of the proper currency and learning enough of the language to get by. If you haven’t heard, Hungarian is arguably one of the most difficult languages to learn on the entire planet. According to wikipedia it has 14 vowel phonemes and 25 consonant phonemes… whatever that means. My overly American accent is not prepared to handle the sounds required to achieve proper pronunciation. It also turns out that Hungarian Forints aren’t typically kept in stock at currency exchange centers in the state of Colorado. Right now, our game plan for learning the language is to make friends on the plane during our layover from Heathrow to Budapest. As for currency, we are forced to try our luck at an airport currency exchange kiosk.

 

 

48 hours in DC

Washington, DC is a city of hustle and bustle. Personally, that’s why I am so attracted to it. The people in a city that never sleeps is usually driven by ambition and a vision.  DC is a perfect example. There is always someone new to meet, places to see, and things to try. I have a deep love for DC because whenever I am there its like I’m on top of the world.

This time around in DC, I was actually there for originally an international fraternity conference called Phi Alpha Delta. This group is composed of undergraduate students, graduate students, and also those going through law school. We are collectively committed to the end goal of finding a career in the legal profession. I was still lucky enough to find time to explore the city in the short 48 hours my group and I were there.

We spent Saturday afternoon exploring a few key Smithsonian museums. The Air and Space museum was impressive because of the space and air history artifacts put on display. This had been my second time at the museum so perhaps it was less interesting to me. But, I had never been to the Botanical Gardens or the American History Museum before.

For anyone traveling to DC in the near future, I would highly suggest the American History Museum. When you walk in its not overly impressive, but by the time you finally get to the meat of the exhibits, the content and research that has gone into the exhibits have a profound effect. There is nothing like experiencing an overview of American History where many of the decisions about the outcomes have been made. The section on American war was perhaps my favorite. It starts out with the American Revolution and slowly transitions from war to war based on a linear timeline. But as you approach later wars and more controversial wars, like the Vietnam War, they are presented in a way that becomes very real for those visiting the exhibit. I don’t think ever been so moved by an exhibit, not emotionally but mentally. The American History of war Museum at the Smithsonian left me with a deep curiosity and new perspective on quite a few things. I suggest that if you can make the time, it would be worth spending an entire day or two at this museum alone.

The botanical museum was mostly just beautiful. The diversity of plants are astounding. The most interesting rooms were probably either the endangered species room or the room that featured various medicinal plants. I have always had an interest in botany so I found this museum more interesting them my counterparts but they still enjoyed themselves. This  botanical museum could comfortably be seen in an hour or two. But make sure not to miss it. I had no idea that it was even there until this trip. It is hidden in comparison to the rest of the mall. Instead of being directly off the National Mall, it sits directly to the right of the Capitol Building.

After the Smithsonian closed we made our way up to Capitol hill and toured the outsides of the buildings in this area. From the outside, the Supreme Court was by far the most impressive. It reminded me of  ancient buildings that I’ve seen  in citifies like Vienna or Rome. Its Roman pillars were larger then most redwoods. You had to stand a couple hundred feet back from the building just to get a complete picture bottom to top, but you were free to walk up on the steps outside of the building. Perhaps less impressive from the outside but still beautiful was the Library of Congress.  Although, if you do make your way up to Capitol Hill, make sure that you do it between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:30 PM. Unfortunately, we arrived about an hour late and the doors were closed to the pubic. I would have bet though that the interior would have made up for the unimpressive exterior.

The most majestic moment that I encountered in DC was walking through the memorials during sunset. I cannot stress the beauty of the Lincoln Memorial with a gorgeous sunset behind it. The colored light was bouncing over the reflection pool and the area glowed of purple and blue.12118679_492143454288692_78464703576351655_n