Can you imagine being on the road with this exquisite view? That is Iceland. You have everything you need at one glance.
We only had few days to spend in Reykjavik, just visited the famous destinations, but it made me feel so at home.
How can you even resist its beauty? It captivated my heart in an instant. The moment we drove out of the city, the landscape made me in awe. You see different scenes which are not usually seen in other parts of Europe (at least to my knowledge and to what I have seen so far).
I can go back to these places every single day just to breathe the fresh air, feel the cold breeze and just feel one with nature. These destinations can be reached easily. Reykjavik is easy to navigate, and you can use even google maps to go to places.
And the best part is, chasing Aurora!
At that point, I believed that if it is meant to be, no matter what, you will get it. And a miracle happened. After almost two days of searching and chasing, the northern lights were evasive. I was on the verge of losing my hope and accepting the fact that I will not witness one of the wonders of Iceland and one of God’s miracles this time. There it was, dancing under the moonlight. Pitch dark, clear sky and cold breeze!
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS APPEARED!
I was so grateful that Gabi was able to set the camera and took some fantastic shots of the Northern Lights.
A few minutes later, off we go and pack to leave the next day.
Quick travel over the long weekend away from deadlines, meetings, and emails. Off we go to the land of fire and ice, Iceland.
I am in Europe (Germany to be exact) for a 6-month assignment, and one of the things I wanted to check on the bucket list is the northern lights. And with the short stay in Europe and less than 3 hours flight would make this dream come true.
With the last sunny day of 2017 and the long weekend in Germany, perfect for a weekend getaway, Gabi and I planned the 4-day trip to Iceland. Mostly visiting the usual tourist destination and of course to chase the Aurora.
I flew to Manchester because the flights going to Reykjavik is much cheaper compared to the price departing from Munich. I do not know either, but to save some travel cost, I did it anyway.
We arrived in Reykjavik, and the first thing we did was to get the rental car (from SADcar) and visited the famous Blue Lagoon.
To be honest, Blue Lagoon is overstated and too commercialized. Since this is one of the recommendation and Gabi wanted to go and experience, we tried when we arrived. We booked the 6 PM timeslot, and as expected this is the most frequented destination in Iceland, so there are a lot of tourists but definitely not crowded because the area is also huge to accommodate a lot of people.
Blue Lagoon for me is something like “OK, I have experienced it, and will not come back.” kind of experience. It was not something extraordinary for me. It is not my preference and I respect those who would like to go back over and over to experience it.
Then as the night gets colder and colder, we headed to our hotel in Reykjavik Natura Hotel. We booked this hotel because of its proximity to the city (although we didn’t get the chance to roam around much). When we arrived, I did not know (or my oversight) the location is at the airport, which could have been a downside because Gabi is a light sleeper and very sensitive to noise. Good thing, he liked the hotel room and the windows must be thick as it was quiet and we always have a very sound sleep during the night.
We have 3 more days to explore the country and more information about the trip will be up on my next blog.
At first, I thought Grand Canyon will remain a dream…
Every travel I plan, I always make sure that I have at least one memorable experience planned, a remembrance that will surely last and can be told over and over again. I take all the time to research for uncommon destination or activity, some of them I did by myself and some with friends. Regardless, I made sure it gives me that happiness, that smile and that satisfaction. To name a few, I had my first ever solo mountain hiking in South Korea, skydiving in Australia, tried my first ever sashimi in Japan (I do not eat raw food, so this is a big deal for me), first ever bus group tour in the US – that includes a whole lot of memorable experience, my first ever glimpse of Grand Canyon.
At first, I thought Grand Canyon will remain a dream. Well, some dreams do come true if you put your heart to it and I got lucky to have one of my dreams came into reality. Before going to the US, I was still hesitant to include this on my itinerary, but I muster the courage to go alone. A road trip with strangers that led me to this amazing place, breathtaking is even an understatement!
The trip took roughly 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. We left the hotel early in the morning, to catch the sunrise on the way, stopped at Hoover Dam to get some photos and breakfast, passed by an outlet store and stayed a couple of hours and reached Grand Canyon (West Pacific Rim) just before noon.
I have seen photos of the Hoover Dam from #Instagram before and I thought, it would be good to see that place as well, but during this trip, I thought it will just be another wishful thinking. But, life can really surprise you anytime, right?
Hoover Dam is on the border of Nevada and Arizona.
I kept looking at my watch the whole time as I cannot wait to reach Grand Canyon. I was thinking whether will it be worth the effort (who am I kidding???), or will it meet my expectation, all sorts of questions that made me more excited and anxious at the same time.
Then along the dusty road, I saw the SIGN and I knew we were almost there!
The trip was definitely worth it! The view is stunning, exquisite and I was speechless. Whenever I am in a place where I cannot find the right words to define the beauty, I was totally dazed and in awe!
The group chose West Pacific Rim over the South (they call in the “true” Grand Canyon) due to its close proximity to Las Vegas. Nevertheless, the view is majestic!
Although this side of the canyon is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park, it is still, Grand Canyon!
Grand Canyon West is open to the public from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily from October through March, and from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm daily from April through September. It is open every day of the year including all major holidays. (http://www.grandcanyon.net/west-rim)
Navigating is no problem, you can go from one point to another via the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus provided in the park. There are so many things to do in the park, but I only focused on 2 destinations – Eagle and Guano Point.
Wherever I looked, the view gave me chills and happiness inside which I cannot explain. I am always fond of nature, and I must say I got even teary-eyed because of the overwhelming feeling of being so blessed to ever witness such an amazing and miraculous creation.
This place is called Eagle Point because the formation of the rocks look like an eagle spreading its wings. Can you spot the eagle?
There were also replicas of the Native American – Hualapai Village, where you can go and see inside each “teepee”.
After walking for a couple of hours, I headed to the next destination.
Hike all the way up to see the stunning panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. This is by far the most majestic view I have ever seen. I know there are others, but this is my first time to see such an amazing rock formation and unending scenery of cliffs eroded by time.
There is also another stop at Hualapai Ranch but I did not go anymore.
This is totally worth the effort, the bumpy and dusty ride along the Nevada and Arizona stretch. I am grateful for this opportunity and for God who created such an amazing scenery, it fits its name, it is indeed, GRAND!
Have you been to Grand Canyon? How was your experience?
It always surprises me how life unravel itself. The things I least expect can give the purest happiness that surely is treasured for as long as I live…
“Drop everything now
Meet me in the pouring rain
Kiss me on the sidewalk
Take away the pain
‘Cause I see, sparks fly, whenever you smile…”
Sparks Fly by Taylor Swift
This song will always remind me of Los Angeles, the city where dreams can actually come true. There was that spark that hit me. Maybe because of the California sunset or the Hollywood sign, or meeting with my good friends or just because it’s California, as simple as that.
Blue sky, cool and breezy weather, stunning scenery of sunset and mountain ranges, and contrasting city vibe – made this trip interesting, memorable and a dream come true.
When I was younger, I have always thought of traveling but never imagined that this time will come. Traveling made me realize that I am living an extraordinary life. Not everybody has the chance to see the beauty of life and how amazing our world as I see it now. Slowly, I am realizing hidden dreams, to discover how amazing the world is and to live life to the fullest.
Little did I know, a surprise side-trip adventure was waiting for me. As the plane started to descend at the Chinggis Khaan airport in Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi desert greeted me. At the arrival, it was the cold weather’s turn to say hello. I already had my winter jacket on, but it was freezing!
It was that time of the year again to reflect, restart and refocus and the place I called my second home, South Korea, was the choice of destination.
I went back to South Korea to restart my life button and experience Fall. Without a full itinerary on hand and only listed 2 activities, the rest was unplanned and unexpected.
What better way to breathe and free your mind than to be one with nature.
That’s what I did last October 2015. I hiked Seoraksan and Dobongsan mountains to experience Fall Foliage and I was not disappointed.
Seoraksan Fall Foliage Photos:
I hiked Seoraksan twice back in April 2014 and last year October 2015 (see my previous post here), the expectation of the level of difficulty was known as I had done it before, while Dobongsan was harder to climb because of its rocky hiking trail according to the reviews I’ve read.
Dobongsan is located in Bukhansan National Park and very accessible via subway train (Dobongsan Station). It’s one of the most popular hiking trail for locals, so if you hike during weekends, this hike is pretty busy with local hikers.
Despite the level of difficulty I headed my way to Dobongsan and began my Fall Foliage journey.
I was never fully geared (wore my favorite running shoes) for hiking, except the hiking stick I bought at one of the stores along the way. Thank goodness, I read somewhere that hiking stick is a must so I bought because I don’t really know what to expect, and true enough the trails were far more difficult to climb.
There were a lot of local hikers when I started, but in the end the crowd went by and I was left alone traversing the trail and enjoying the different fall colors.
As I went farther and farther, exhaustion and frustration nearly got in my way. The rocky trail made it so difficult to reach the peak, although I had lots of rest in between (and some cursing) and my 1.5-liter bottle was nearly empty not even half-way through the journey. But after a while, the weather seemed to hear my rambling and the wind got cooler and somehow eased my discomfort as I moved on.
After almost 2-km and more than an hour hike, I’ve reached the first resting spot, Madangbawi Rock, with an exquisite panoramic view. This was not even the peak and the view was already breathtaking. The pit stop was crowded by hikers. I joined the rest of the hikers and sat down for half an hour, ate my gimbap, having second thoughts whether to continue to Jaunbong Peak or not.
Since the goal was to really go on top, I decided to continue the journey. And glad I did. As I made my way to the top, the Fall Foliage was absolutely stunning. If only I can sit down and enjoy more of the scenery, I will spend more time just looking at the maple tree leaves glittering from the rays of the sun. But time is running out and still have not reached the peak and I need time to descend as well.
With my aching feet and arms and after another hour from Madangbawi Rock, I was damn shocked that I still have to climb (almost vertical) while holding on to the rustic steel bar drilled on the rock to reach the top.
I sat down and watched as the hikers made their way up and down to and from Jaunbong Peak. I was observing the other hikers how they climb up and when I was comfortable enough, I mustered the courage to try myself. I finally reached the peak with relief and awe on yet another stunning panoramic view.
I thought the trail going up was hard enough that going down will be easier, but I was TOTALLY WRONG. As I went down the rock, the footholds are wide apart making it more difficult to go down, obviously I don’t have long legs to reach one foothold to another. I slid down slowly on the foothold while hanging on to my dear life.
It took me almost 1.5 hours to descend from the mountain following the same route. I was exhausted, my arms were so tired, my legs almost collapsing, I reached the ground after a very long almost 5-hour hike.
That was it for the day! Headed back to the hostel, ate my dinner, cleaned up, had my face mask and slept soundly through the night for the next day adventure!
Somehow hiking clears my mind and makes me refocus to what is more important in life. While on top of every peak, it is as if I am closer to God, and I always whisper how grateful I am for all the blessings He has given me over the years. Forever grateful for being able to witnessed such beautiful creation.
I can really go on and on with how amazing South Korea is and still can’t get enough of its beauty.
When I was there the first time, my plans absolutely changed. My itinerary was literally thrown to the bin as I wanted to go to so many places, which are not even on my list and I know I will eventually regret if I don’t go. I told myself there’s no way I can go to all these places given the limited time to spend. But I tried anyhow.
One of the many things I want to do in Korea is to climb and hike the Korean mountains. The exquisite and breathtaking mountain view is one of the unique attractions that Korea offers to travelers apart from the famous sightseeing destinations like palaces, temples, shopping places and themed parks.
Korea is generally a safe place to visit even for female solo travelers and mountains are very safe to hike as most of the national parks are well-maintained and the hiking routes are well-trodden and crowded by a lot of local hikers. I am no professional hiker but I survived my first ever solo hike.
Seoul is unquestionably a modern city, but the people also tried to preserve its tradition and one can witness through its remnants of the fortress wall built many centuries ago. In 2014, I started my first hiking journey with Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan. Bugaksan is one of the mountains that can be climbed by beginners in the middle of Seoul and is a 342-meter high granite mountain.
It is a one-day hike, so not so bad. The night before, I slept early in preparation for my first hike.
I got up early, had my breakfast, took the train and then took my first bus ride and headed my way to the park.
(Important Tip: Most buses do not have English Translation, except for major or tourist destination stops, so it’s best for you to print your itinerary with Hangeul so you can refer to your notes vs the bus stop map)
Although I am a self-declared as someone who has no sense of direction, I was able to reached my destination – Waryong Park, where the hiking journey begins.
Follow the signs and trail to Malbawi Information Center where you will need to show your passport and register.
There are 3 possible courses: Course 1: Malbawi Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.3 km) Course 2: Sukjeongmun Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.2 km) Course 3: Changuimun Gate – Changuimun Information Center – Baegakmaru – Sukjeongmun Gate – Malbawi Information Center (2.3 km)
So I took Course 1, I presented my passport got myself registered and my visitors ID and started my way.
The Bugaksan Trail is manned by security guards and you are not allowed to take pictures as the area is close to “Blue House” or the President’s House.
With rest in between, aching feet and some sneaky photo taking, the view is really worth it.
The hike is not about the peak or the highest point, but all about the scenery and history embraced and weathered by the fortress wall. However, the view is only witnessed by those who climbed and walk the trail.
This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a lot of stairs (in my whole life) and I have no choice but to traverse the unending stairs to reach the destination. I walked leisurely and followed the well-maintained path while continuously rambling, “Almost there! Just go for it”.
Almost! But… I was only able to climb until 293m or maybe I got lost and did not find my way to Bugaksan peak (342m). Well, it was my first time and there will still be next time.
I sat down for few minutes, photo taking is still not allowed in this area. And after a little while, I decided to go and probably call it a day!
Little did I know that another unending stairs waiting on my way down… Imagine if I took the route from the other side (Course 3), I will be going up these stairs to where I started and no way I could have survived, or maybe I will, but who knows.
After the unending stairs, you will reached Changuimun Information Center, where you need to surrender your Visitor’s ID.
My first hike is over and done! Off we go on the next hike adventure in Sokcho, South Korea to climb Seoraksan. Stay tuned for my next blog update!
You can find more information about Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan here.
So now here comes the fun part of my job that requires me to travel and attend meeting overseas.
I had few days of Product Team meeting in Penzberg, Germany, where one of our manufacturing site is located. And as always and whenever the schedule permits, I always take the opportunity to visit some places. I still have leave credits and the boss said it was OK, so why not extend and explore Germany and Austria.
This adage somehow influenced my thinking about traveling around the world (this maybe far from reality but still hopeful). Unlike other travelers who quit their corporate jobs and pursued their dreams to travel, I personally have not considered that just yet.