Browsing Category: Travel

Escaping from a salt mine in Krakow

As a way to incorporate my past travels that took place before I started this blog, I’ve decided to start Throwback Thursdays, where I’ll post about past adventures that I’ve had in other parts of the world.

I backpacked through Europe a couple years ago, and one of the most unique (and unsettling) experiences I had was exploring the salt mines in Krakow, Poland. Here is my take on the Medieval city.

Krakow, the land of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages and post offices in old school buggies. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Krakow before visiting, but I found myself enamored by the relatively small and historical city. My most notable story by far was exploring the salt mines, the oldest in the world and in operation for 700 years.

It was pretty amazing, discovering another city far beneath the earth. It’s seven levels altogether, the first level was about 400 steps down, we only made it to the 3rd level and that took 3 hours. It is a massive testament to the strength of human intellect and what we are capable of. I would not recommend going down there if you’re at all claustrophobic, however.

Once you get to the first level with a tour guide, it’s impossible to simply get out whenever you want. Part way through the tour, half of our group broke into a run to try and get to the elevators (a big no-no in the salt mine – and being that I was in the group that didn’t know about the plan to escape the salt mine, we were constantly left with the blame for the rest of the tour).

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Once our three hour tour was finished, it took another 45 minutes of waiting in lines for the two elevators that take you up to the top level in a swift 45 seconds. The elevator was another experience in itself, they squeeze eight people in a small lift with hardly any room to breathe, the only thing protecting you from falling far below are shaky wooden planks that you can see in between when you’re going up.

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I don’t think Poland is as big on safety requirements as the States. The lines themselves were a clear sign of that; hundreds of people were lined up in a small tunnel for almost an hour with no way to escape if there was an emergency. Thank god I survived to tell the tale. After spending much longer underneath the ground than we had originally planned, we went off to enjoy the rest of what Krakow had to offer for the day.

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It may not have a hundred famous sights as many of the other cities I’ve visited in Europe, but it has a charm about it that remindes me a lot of Florence, Italy (my favorite place in the world), especially the main square with street art and performers everywhere. Taking a taxi home that night, looking out at the city of Krakow, our driver started randomly blasting Backstreet Boys with the windows rolled down…yeah, Krakow is pretty sweet.

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And my favorite place in Melbourne is…

The Carlton Gardens.

My place of peace in the city. I’ve noticed myself drawn here almost every day since I first discovered these gardens a little over a week ago when I first arrived. Back in San Diego, my favorite spot was the Black’s Cliffs, with views of the calming ocean tides below and the freeing paragliders above.

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After spending over a week exploring the nooks and crannies of Melbourne, I can say without a doubt that my favorite place is the Carlton Gardens. I come here to find my happy place, to read, to write, to sit and be inspired by the simple things in life. I like the fact that I’m surrounded by a lush greenery and peace amidst the skyscrapers and busy pace of the city outside my little bubble in the gardens.

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My oasis is the Carlton Gardens.

Melbourne from a California girl’s perspective

In under a week of being here, I can already feel myself acclimating to the city, the people, the life down under. I wake up every morning with calves that are more sore than the day before, I’ve walked for hours every day to get a feel for the layout especially in the CBD, Fitzroy, and St. Kilda because those are the neighborhoods I’ll most likely end up working in. Yesterday, I had an Aussie come up and ask me directions, and I actually gave him the right ones to get to his desired destination! That was when I realized how much I’ve internalized about the city since arriving at the beginning of the week.

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Last night, I was able to hang out with a local, someone who I’ve traveled around Europe with, and she showed me the quintessential night out in Melbourne: Drinks at a rooftop bar with views that overlook the skyscrapers and Victorian churches sprinkled around the city, and ending the night at a hectic restaurant in Chinatown with hidden staircases that throw you into rooms you didn’t know existed and eating deliciously cheap dumplings. As my friend says, most of the best spots in Melbourne are the hidden ones.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this eclectic city, and so before I’m completely transformed into a pseudo-Aussie, I wanted to write a post about all the things that have intrigued me about the differences in Melbourne with my fading American mindset.

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Extremely Friendly People

Aussies are known to be very welcoming and nice people, but they seriously go over and beyond in terms of friendliness. I’ve noticed this especially in the customer service realm. The other day I walked into a cafe in Fitzroy to grab breakfast, and the owner came out and spent the whole time talking to me and giving me recommendations about what to see while I’m here in Australia. Not only this, but when I mentioned I was spending most of my day looking for work, he recommended his friend’s cafe in St. Kilda, and told me to tell the owner in St. Kilda that he sent me. Clearly, connections are an easy thing to come by in Australia.

Next, I walked into a record store, and the guy spent the whole 20 minutes or so I was in the shop chatting with me and learning about my life story, seeming to be genuinely interested in it. These instances go on, from librarians to people on the tram, it’s incredible how friendly people are, especially in as big of a city as Melbourne. I love this about Australia.

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The Coffee

I’ve already mentioned the difference between American and Aussie coffee, and since then I’ve ordered a different coffee every day (or twice a day) to decide on which one is “my drink”. I’ve ordered a long black (espresso and hot water), cappuccino (chocolate is powdered on top), skinny flat white (a skim latte put in a cappuccino cup), latte (these are still much smaller than American sized lattes), and an iced latte (the only drink exactly the same as its American counterpart). The weirdest one I’ve come across is the Aussie iced coffee. It’s espresso, milk, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate powder on top. Wow.

The thing I didn’t mention before is that the coffee in Melbourne is the best coffee I’ve tasted in my life, and I’ve tried a lot of coffee from working in a coffee shop for 2 years. It is pure caffeinated deliciousness that I look forward to every day.

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Everything is Expensive

I knew this would be the case, it’s what everyone says when they travel over to Australia, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive is expensive. Hence, why I printed out 20 resumes yesterday. Thankfully, the minimum wage here ranges form $15-$20 an hour depending on what job you do.

Here’s a little insight into the prices I’ve come across so far:

Coffee $3-$5

Myki Monthly pass $120

“Cheap” Meal $13-$15

Regularly priced meal $18-$20

Beer $7-$10

The one upside is that tipping is less of a big deal here. Basically the only time you tip is if you go to a more upscale restaurant or if you take a taxi. They don’t expect you to tip at bars or cafes, so that at least is a relief on my bank account.

The Lingo

I never know if someone is just saying hello to me, or how are you, or what’s up. Don’t even get me started on goodbyes. The key to understanding Aussie lingo is to understand that they shorten everything, literally everything.

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Pie Face and other Take Away Places

Pie Face is on almost every corner, kind of like the Starbucks of Melbourne. They specialize in meat pies, and I still have yet to go there, or to try a true meat pie. Maybe today will be the day. There are some of the same chains as there are in the States, I’ve seen a Subway and a KFC. But then there are places called “Hungry Jacks” (the knock off Burger King), or “Taco Bill”. It’s quite hilarious.

Street Art

This is an aspect of the city that I’m absolutely in love with. Almost every alleyway I look down, there is some sort of creative and beautiful street art to look at. Hosier Lane is the famous alleyway to see a lot of the best creations, but you can basically find street art everywhere. Something I wish there was more of in Southern California, where things are just a little too pristine sometimes.

My first 36 hours in Melbourne

My first 36 hours in Australia have been wonderful, yet trying and tiring, and full of hilarious fails that I’ll just label as “new experiences.” It started when I got to my apartment and it looked like a closed up store front. The door was locked and the windows looked like they hadn’t seen daylight in months. When I called my housemate, a little panicked that I was given the wrong address or that this place didn’t exist, he instructed me that the actual door to the apartment was just around the corner, the next door down. Phew, I let out a huge sigh of relief.
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I’m living with two Australian guys, who are both chill and friendly, no complaints here. Although, I’m sure it’s going to be quite the difference from living in a house full of sorority girls in San Diego, to a house of Aussie dudes in Melbourne, but I think it’s going to turn out to be a great living situation. I’m already in love with my room.
And today, I met up with a friend of my brothers, an expat who has been living here for the last couple of years, and who spent most of the day showing me around lovely Melbourne.
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Here are a few things I’ve accomplished in my first day and a half in the city.

I learned that you can’t outsmart jet lag

After I was able to have a few precious moments of shut eye on my 13 hour flight from LA to Auckland, NZ, I downed more than one free coffee on the four hour flight to Melbourne. I figured since I was arriving at 10:30am, if I could last the whole day and not go to bed until a regular hour, I could trick my body into not being jet lagged. I tried, I tried my best and I did pretty well. But by 5:00pm, I was passed out and slept for 14 hours straight. To be fair, the 17 hour time difference is a hard one to adjust to.

Went grocery shopping

It’s always strange going grocery shopping in a foreign land, but I think the weirdest thing about Australia is that it almost feels like I’m still back in the States, but in an alternate universe that has different names for everything and does everything opposite in a cool accent. Going grocery shopping, I recognized similar labels on my favorite food products, but it was as if they were all off brand. Of course, they were simply all Aussie brand names that I didn’t recognize, but I could find almost everything I could find back in the States. 
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Learned how to cross the street

This is something I’m still working on with the whole driving on the opposite side of the street thing that’s so popular in Australia. Crossing the street properly is a skill you learn from a very young age, so having the cars coming in the opposite direction you would expect goes against every instinct in my body. Even when looking both ways, there’s always a car that pops out when I’m least expecting it. It doesn’t help that the way you make a right hand turn in Melbourne is to go to the furthest left hand lane and cross multiple lanes of traffic. As I’ve said, cars literally come out of nowhere.

Ordered coffee the wrong way

I’m sure this is a common mistake with Starbucks cultured Americans coming over to the land down under, but they do not use the same names for coffee as we do, at least for the most part. I went into the coffee shop down the street this morning and ordered a black coffee, “a long black, you mean?” said the girl at the counter. “Yes…?” A long black is not American drip coffee, it is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water (kind of like an Americano but with less water). Note to self, study over Aussie coffee names before applying for barista jobs, or ordering any more coffee. 

Opened an Australian Bank Account

I walked into the National Australia Bank (NAB) and opened an account this morning. Recommended by my expat friend, NAB is nice for Americans to use in Australia because they don’t have any hidden fees when opening an account, such as banks like ANZ do, and there is no minimum balance to open an account (especially ideal for unemployed backpackers). If you plan on working at all while in Australia, I would highly recommend opening a bank account. It’s free, and you get your own local debit card so you can avoid all of the nasty international fees banks and credit cards like to charge you.
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Applied for an Australian Tax File Number

This is a necessary thing to have if you want to legally work in Melbourne, as opposed to under the table (which is actually quite common but also usually less pay). I am choosing to have more of an official presence in the Melbourne work force, so I applied for one of these today. The bummer is that I just finished filing my taxes in the States, and apparently the tax day in Australia is in June, so I have to go through all of that fun again. 

Bought a local SIM card for my phone

Telstra is the recommended carrier in Australia because they have the best coverage, they are basically the Verizon of Australia. So I went into a Telstra store today and for a measly $30 a month, I have a plan that will let me text/call locally to my heart’s desire. And I officially have an Australian phone number, I’d like to think that makes me a semi-local.IMG_3493

Learned how to use the extensive tram network in Melbourne

Maybe I haven’t learned all the ins and outs, routes and timetables like I have in San Diego, but I at least know how to get from my apartment in Port Melbourne to the center of the city (CBD) on the tram. It only takes about 10 minutes. And I also learned that the Metro card in Melbourne is called a “Myki”, and that you’re able to re-load it online as well as at any local convenience store (they have 7-11s here!)

Went sightseeing in the CBD

My expat friend Eric spent most of the morning and afternoon teaching me the ins and outs of Aussie life, and showed me around the major sights in the CBD. According to him, Melbourne is almost exactly like San Francisco, just without all the trash and hobos. I couldn’t agree more. Melbourne is an incredibly clean and safe city, especially when it comes to the public transit. I was able to eat at the Queen Victoria Market, sit at Federation Square, walk by Flinders St. Station, walk through the famous street art at Hosier Lane, and my personal favorite, go inside the State Library of Victoria. I’m also pretty sure I saw Mr. Bean, or at least a pretty sweet look-alike, as I was walking along the Yarra river this afternoon.
I’m sill adjusting and getting used to the subtle differences that Australia has to offer. I was confused when I woke up this morning and heard multiple Australian accents outside my window. I still have to pinch myself from time to time and realize that I’m actually here. That I’ve made the leap and traveled thousands of miles from home to have an unforgettable experience in Australia, but I’m enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.

Exploring my own backyard in Julian

Last weekend, I convinced my roommate to take a road trip with me to Julian, CA. I invited a few other friends, and next thing you know we had a full car and were cruising along on a beautiful Southern California day up to Julian to indulge in everything apple related.

I’m talking about the apple pie capital of the world, and it has been an hour and a half away from me this whole time I’ve lived in San Diego! I’ve been wanting to visit Julian since I heard the words apple and pie in the same sentence, and even more so in the last few months of checking off my San Diego bucket list. Unfortunately it’s hard to take those kind of road trips by yourself when you don’t have a car, and even harder to convince college students to spend their precious study time and money on gas when the words Vegas or Big Bear aren’t included.

It was one of those quintessential perfect days, it almost felt like summer until we got up to the snowy parts. Julian is an unassuming tiny town tucked away in the mountains that has the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not exaggerating when I say the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tried a lot of apple pie. If you love apple pie as I do, or just want to feel like an American for a day, this is a must visit destination for you.

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We stopped by the Julian Pie Company, and I had the original apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. It was one of the best moments of my life when I took that first bite. Afterwards, we walked around downtown Julian which consisted of a couple blocks of old western-style stores, and eventually made our way down the street to Julian Hard Cider. We talked with the owner, bought and shared some cider tasters, and I eventually decided on the cider with blackberry and blueberry infusions (“the black and blue”), it was delicious.

As we made our way home, with the sun shining its last rays, I realized that this was one of my favorite days I’ve had in 2013 so far. I also realized how many more days I want to spend this year simply exploring new towns and indulging my taste buds, the simple life of travel and exhilaration of experiencing new things. In my opinion, the secret to happiness.

To listen to our soundtrack for our road trip and exploration of Julian, click here

Considerations when moving abroad

Considerations When Moving Abroad - The Atlas Heart

My big move across the world is a little over a month away, and this realization has made me consider a few different aspects that have continuously been popping up in my stream of consciousness recently. Here are the main issues I’ve been thinking about while getting ready for my travels.

Budget

The elephant in the room, and the one that makes up most excuses for why people don’t travel. I’ve been saving for about a year for my trip. Although I’m not a trust fund baby, I have a good amount of student loans, and I don’t like giving up on the things that make life fun and exciting (i.e a night out, coffee dates with friends, movies, etc), I’ve worked two jobs for the majority of the year, so as to be able to have a good time in the present but still be able to put a little away each month.

Granted, I still have a ways to go in order to travel for most of this year, but I’ll be spending the first 6 months of my travels in Australia using my work visa. Luckily, the minimum wage is also a lot higher in Australia than it is in the States, and the Aussie dollar is actually slightly stronger right now as well. Even though the cost of living is higher down under, I’ll still be making more money while living abroad than I would be staying at home. Truly a win-win situation. 

Selling your stuff vs. paying for a storage unit

This was a question I went back and forth on constantly, until I realized how freeing it would be to get rid of the majority of my possessions. Since I’ve been a college student for the past four years, I don’t have very expensive belongings and hardly any furniture with moving almost every year from dorm room, to apartments, to townhouses. I came to the conclusion that I would actually be spending more money on a storage unit for the year than I would if I just bought what I needed when I get back.

The hardest possessions for me to give away were my clothes. But let’s be honest, I had way too many to begin with since I’ve just collected more and more since high school, getting rid of very few in the past years. I love having a great selection of clothes, but I came to the conclusion that between working most days (with a restricted dress code) and the amount of clothes I haven’t worn in over a year, that it was time to pass my wardrobe on to someone who would actually use it. Last weekend, I delivered three huge trash bags full of clothes to Goodwill…and it felt good, I felt lighter in a way.

I’m also in the process of selling my nightstand, desk and bed. I’ve found friends who are willing to look after my guitar, piano and bike while I’m traveling, so kudos to having good friends. All of the other material things I’m holding on to will be flying home with me next weekend in two big suitcases, when I visit home for the last time before I leave. Somehow, I have successfully managed to find a place for my things without a monthly storage fee.

Travel insurance, to buy or not to buy?

A question that I’m still in the process of deciding how to answer. I know the safe thing to do is to just buy the insurance, but I will only be traveling with a few electronics and I’ve realized that the cost of travel insurance for the whole year would be more than the cost of those electronics put together. I’m thankfully also blessed with having incredible health insurance while abroad, thanks to my dad’s time working for the city, so my health will at least be covered. Travel insurance is expensive, and right now I don’t think that’s a luxury I’m willing to give into. I may buy some later on in my trip, but for now I’m giving it a big resounding no.

To be fair, it really depends on your individual situation and budget. If I didn’t have health coverage abroad I would probably be leaning more towards the benefits of purchasing travel insurance, so it all depends on a multitude of considerations.

What electronics to carry while traveling

I’m a travel blogger, I’m bound to carry around a handful of electronic trinkets to help with my blogging, keep me connected, and get the most out of sharing my travels. I’ve minimalized as best I can, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance.

1 Canon Rebel T3 DSLR

1 shoot and point camera (or iPhone depending on if I can afford to buy one before I leave)

1 MacBook Air (I’m in the process of trying to find someone to buy my MacBook Pro 15″ so that I can carry a lighter alternative with me)

And that’s it. I’ll be living out of one suitcase for the year so this will have to suffice.

Finding the best way to stay in contact with those you’re leaving behind

You’re bound to leave those most special to you behind when you decide  to go on a round the world trip by yourself. For me, this comes in the form of my family, my friends from high school and college, and an off and on relationship I’ve been in for the past two years. It’s important to think about the best (and cheapest) ways to keep in contact with these people once you make the big move, and follow through in keeping those connections you hold dearest to you.

I think one of the scariest aspects of moving abroad is having your social network and safety net of connections grabbed from underneath you. To bridge the gap as much as you can between people who are continents and time zones apart, without sacrificing your travels, is a delicate balance and one that I’m sure I’ll constantly be working on in the next year.

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Don’t expect the road to be easy, but also don’t expect the worst

It’s naive to think that you’ll immediately feel at home in a foreign city, that you’ll have a solid group of friends in no time, and have an easy transition abroad. Don’t get me wrong, this can definitely be the case as it was when I moved to Italy for a summer. But there’s also a possibility that you’ll have a rough time when you first move abroad, while you’re still getting the hang of everything that is so foreign to you, such as my first year of college away from home.

The famous Lao Tzu once said to act without expectation. This is some of the best life and travel advice I’ve heard. Don’t expect things to be easy when you first move abroad, but also don’t expect the worst. You will have the best time of your life, and learn so much about yourself in the process, but it may not come as easily as you think. Hence, why it’s  important to always keep an open mind and a balanced heart while traveling.

Your plan (or lack thereof) once you get to where you’re going

When I first backpacked through Costa Rica at the age of 18 with two of my best girl friends, we planned out almost everything and all accommodations ahead of time. It was my first time abroad and I was a little nervous about things not going exactly as I imagined. Well, as I’m sure anyone who has traveled can attest, things hardly ever go exactly as you think they will when traveling. There were many instances of that in Costa Rica, including being stranded in the middle of a dirt road, miles from the nearest town because we got off on the wrong stop, and having to hitchhike with a couple locals the rest of the way. That experience ended up being one of my favorite memories from Costa Rica.

I realized with that trip, that if you just go with the flow everything is bound to work out fine, and even better in some cases. My summer in Tuscany was also fairly planned out. I did a culinary program for the first half of summer, and went on a backpacking bus tour across Europe with other 20-somethings, only traveling by myself to Paris and Dublin. Australia is the first trip I’m taking where I don’t really have a plan except to get a job and my own apartment, and I couldn’t be more excited (and a little nervous) about all the different possibilities that lie before me. I think it’s important to try out different types of trips so as to figure out what kind of traveling you like to do, whether that be a strictly guided tour through Europe or taking off and backpacking by yourself through the Amazon.

What are some important things you consider when moving or traveling abroad?

6 free things to do in Santa Cruz, CA

6 Free Things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

Okay, so maybe Santa Cruz doesn’t have as much going on as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego, and maybe I’m a little biased being that I was born and raised here, but I do believe that Santa Cruz is a place that you should visit at least once in your life. Sure, it’s a small beach town like many that exist on the West Coast, but Santa Cruz has its own little unique charm that I have yet to come across anywhere else.

I love that there are plenty of beaches within walking distance, yet also hiking trails through the beautiful redwoods right there as well. I love that there are so many locally owned stores and coffee shops, organic produce, hippies and street musicians. I love that I can get decent food in pretty much any cuisine even though it’s a relatively small town. I love that we’re so close to the big cities in the Bay Area for concerts or weekend getaways, but still tucked away in our own little community. I love that I grew up going on field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As much as I sometimes resent the fact that everything closes up by 9, I really do love Santa Cruz. As a local, here are some of my favorite free things to do, other than spending your money at the Beach Boardwalk (my first job at 16!) or the Mystery Spot, which is what most tourists do.

1. Watch the surfers from West Cliff and drive along East Cliff

West Cliff is one of my favorite places to go in Santa Cruz, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to walk or just sit and watch the ocean. In my opinion, this is the best place to watch the sunset and the surfers down below the cliffs. It’s also a pretty drive at night, listening to good music with the windows rolled down (or heater full blast depending on the season) with the twinkling lights across the bay as your background. East cliff is also worth checking out, it’s less popular than West Cliff and thus less touristy, but it has beautiful views of the ocean as well.

2. Window Shop on Pacific Avenue

I love just walking down Pacific Avenue, basically the street that makes up most of our downtown. There are so many locally owned boutiques and coffee shops that I spend whole afternoons browsing through Bookshop Santa Cruz, finding eclectic pieces of jewelry at Bunny’s, or sipping a cappuccino at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters. The coffee in Santa Cruz is some of the best I’ve tasted in my life, try as many of the locally owned coffee shops as you can, they all have their own vibe and delicious coffee.

Best places to grab food on Pacific Avenue: El Palomar, Chocolate, Taqueria Vallarta, Hoffman’s Bistro

3. Hike the DeLaveaga trails 

A great place to go on a light or strenuous hike, there are so many different trails you can go on. Also, a great place to walk your dog or have a nice morning jog with just you and the beautiful redwoods. Some of the trails overlook the disc golf course if you want to check out the game and maybe find some frisbees. Find a spot called “The Top of the World”, if you can, the view will be worth the hike, but you’ll probably come across some of the local stoners at the top since it’s a popular spot to smoke. Every time I explore more of the DeLaveaga trails, I fall a little more in love with the beauty of my hometown. For more hiking spots, check out the UC Santa Cruz trails. They offer some of the best views of Santa Cruz, and you may even come across the famous limestone kilns. Henry Cowell State Park is great place to come up and close with the giant redwood trees, but it also has a $10 entrance fee.

4. Sunny Cove Beach

One of the local secret spots that the tourists haven’t taken over yet. It’s a small beach and a little hidden and hard to get to, but it’s one of only beaches that isn’t overrun in the summer, and it’s a perfect place to lay on the beach and feel like a local. If you’re traveling with a dog, 20th Ave beach is a great dog beach with friendly owners that will strike up an easy conversation with you.

5. Walk along the Santa Cruz Wharf

Compared to a lot of wharfs I’ve visited in California, the Santa Cruz Wharf doesn’t have much to it, but if you walk to the end you get a great view of the skyline of the Beach Boardwalk and you get to see and hear the seals up close. If you’re feeling like a nice seafood dinner, go to Rivas on the Wharf, it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz and allows you to sit alongside huge windows overlooking the ocean.

6. Natural Bridges and the Monarch Butterflies 

If you want to see the beautiful Monarch butterflies up close, visit the Natural Bridges State Park. If you don’t park your car in their lot, there’s free parking on the street and free butterfly tours. The butterflies arrive in October and migrate in February. The best time to come is in November when thousands of butterflies call the Eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges their home.

Winter Break 2008 131

Other notable places to visit:

  • For live music, go to a concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz center
  • Attend a Shakespeare Santa Cruz production. The season occurs at the end of summer, from July to August, and you get to watch Shakespeare plays in the middle of the forest up at UC Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful, the acting is phenomenal, and it’s definitely worth the $20-$40 ticket price. Make sure to bring warm clothes, blankets and a picnic since it’s outside.
  • And if you’re in the area, make the short drive to Monterey to check out the world famous aquarium and a beautiful city on the bay.

Staying cheap in New York City

My first week in New York City was a learning process of what and what not to do. Here’s the short list of what I found out.

Don’t

1. Don’t pay for one of the pricey bus tours around the city. They cost anywhere from $50-$70 for the least expensive ones and they are not worth it. Although reluctant to spend that much for a tour, my sister talked me into it by saying that we would get a better feel for the layout of the city if we were chauffeured around on a bus for one of our first days there. First of all, this is not true. You don’t really get a sense of the layout when you’re whizzing by on a bus, with barely a few seconds between attractions to snap a couple generic pics before the light turns green again. Secondly, even though we bought our tickets ahead of time online, we still had to go in person to the office and wait in a line that was winding out the door for a couple hours to pick them up. After that ordeal, we had to wait in another 45 minute line at the pickup spot to actually get on the bus . Once on the bus, it was hard to hear the tour guide, especially since his mic kept going in and out. Overall, it was overpriced and time consuming to say the least.

The view of the UN building from the downtown loop of a Gray Line bus tour

2. Don’t wait in line at the Empire State Building. Maybe it’s a lot different when it’s not the holidays, but this was the most torturous part of my trip to New York. They’ll ask you multiple times throughout your doldrums of waiting in line if you want to buy the express pass. I am telling you now, buy the express pass. It sucks shelling out more money than you already have to in order to get to the top, but if I had known how many different lines there were going to be and just how long it was going to take to get to the lookout, I would’ve bought it instantly. The wait for the Empire State Building is a tricky one. There were probably seven different lines I stood in, and you can’t see the next one from where you’re waiting, so you think you’re almost to the front until they lead you to another room with hundreds of more tired and listless people who are just as annoyed and angry as you. The total wait time to get to the top without an express pass, over 3 hours.

The beginning of a very long wait to the top

3. Don’t pay full price for Broadway tickets. If you’re a student, take advantage of your status. If you go directly to the box office of where the show is playing and show your student ID, you will not only get tickets for around $20, but also 4th row seats. Broadway is very big on making sure young intellectuals have the opportunity to enjoy Broadway as much as anyone else, so they always set aside a percentage of tickets just for this purpose. Go early in the day and see what they have left for the show you wish to see. If you’re not a student, use the TKTS tickets booths and get discounts for the day of, or for a matinee the next day. My sister and I had been told that most of the decent Broadway shows sell out quickly during the holidays, so we chose to buy our tickets ahead of time, paying full price for nose bleed seats. Apparently, they always say that tickets are sold out or are about to sell out, but more often then not they still have some the day of. The one exception is for the extremely popular ones, this year those were The Lion King and Book of Morman. Broadway was still such an amazing experience, but I’ll definitely know the right way to buy tickets next time.

Do

1. Use the local metro. The NYC metro system is actually very easy to use and will take you anywhere you need to go for super cheap. There is even an iphone app for it! And as a bonus, it runs 24/7 so you can even take it home once the bars close up at 4am or anytime before. Not even in Paris does the metro run all night. The New York Metro system is truly a blessing for being so accessible.

2. Take advantage of the Free Tours by Foot. The Greenwich and Holiday Lights walking tours were some of my favorite memories from the trip. Both tour guides I had were witty, funny, and extremely knowledgable about the city. They not only made the historical facts behind the monuments and famous sights interesting, but gave you additional tips on the best places to go, things to do, and how to truly stay cheap in the city. I’m sure the tours are even better when it’s not winter, below freezing and when you can actually feel your feet and hands. If there is one thing I regret about this trip, it was not doing more of the tours offered by this company. The wealth of information you attain is well worth the amount of exercise you put in by going on one of these tours.

The Greenwich free walking tour, view of the Friends apartment

Holiday Lights free walking tour

3. Use airbnb for accommodations. Hotels in the city are one of the biggest drains on your wallet..and the hostels are a little more on the sketch side than most cities. To find a happy medium check out the airbnb site. Recommended by a friend, it is similar to an upscale couch surfing site. Somehow my sister and I were able to find affordable accommodations a few weeks before our trip during the holidays in New York City. One of my favorite aspects of where we stayed in Brooklyn was the fact that there were no hotels around us, it was all local coffee shops, pizza places, and within walking distance to downtown Williamsburg.

Near our apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

What are some of your favorite tips for staying cheap in NYC?

La Bella Vita

From the time I was very little, I can remember looking up at the sky every time a plane would fly over me on my daily walk to school. I would imagine where the people in it were going, what adventures lay ahead for them. Every time I would see an airplane in the clear blue California sky, I would make a promise to myself that someday it would soon be me on my own adventures. It became a promise that structured my whole life around when I could travel next. It began with a two week backpacking trip through Costa Rica as a graduation present to myself the summer after high school. When choosing a University to attend, the study abroad programs had a significant impact on my decision. My dream was to study abroad in college, the only problem was deciding where exactly I was going to go; I wanted to go everywhere. When it came down to it, I chose go to culinary school in Florence, Italy to learn the ways of Italian cooking, and to ultimately learn about Italian culture as a whole through their love of food.

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Living in Italy, I tasted some of the best food of my life, but there was more to it than that. The food is their culture. The family is centered around meals, bringing people together in a way that I’ve never seen in any other culture. It is completely contrary to the American way of life of constantly eating on the go; many modern families don’t even have the time to eat together anymore. A dinner in Italy is multi-course, including hours upon hours of talking, drinking wine, and eating fresh homemade food. Moreover, it’s not just in the immediate family where food brings people together. Each time I would walk into an eating establishment, I was welcomed in an affectionate manner, almost as if I was being welcomed into their home as a house guest. To be honest, that connection was not far from the truth, as I tried to eat mainly at family owned trattorias.

Florentines pride themselves on their food and the history behind it as much as their culture, because in many ways they are one and the same. My teacher at culinary school was one of the most passionate people about food that I have ever met. After every meal we would cook in our three hour span of class time, we would sit down and discuss the importance of that dish to the region from which it originated, and describe how every region in Italy is respectively proud of their food specialities. We can see why cuisine is so tied to Italian culture through how long it took for Italy to be reunited as one country. As a loose collection of regions, the food and dialect were the aspects that made one region unique from another. In this way, food gives a sense of regional and national pride in a united country that is known for its food.

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One of my favorite moments involving the culture of food in Italy was my first night in Florence, eating in view of the campanile. I had the most exquisite gorgonzola gnocchi. My meal, combined with the chilled pinot grigio and good company, gave me pause to reflect; so this is the epitome of Italian culture, taking pleasure in the simple things of life. The mentality that surrounds you in Italy is that the little pleasures in life are just as important (if not more so) than the practicalities one has to think about on a daily basis. I basked in that Tuscan night, hot but pleasant, taking it all in with my new roommates, who were just as enamored with the city as I was. That night is one of my favorite memories; I had never felt so at home in a new place as I did that evening, I knew everything was going to be alright.

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My Tuscan summer will forever be ingrained in my memory. You can read about these places all you want, but I now realize that you don’t fully know a thing about it until you can actually feel the city, hear the faint sound of the accordion player down the street every morning on my way to my favorite bar for a standing cappuccino, look at the colorful gelaterias on every block, hear the Italian like rapid fire being yelled by a mother scolding her son, or seductively spoken by the amorous couple sitting next to you in the piazza. You can feel the presence of the city everywhere: it’s so alive; it makes me happy to be so young, so malleable and open minded to the experience. I can still smell the pizza around the corner of my little apartment, and see the welcoming smiles of the Italian family as I walk in the door to my favorite restaurant. That is what Italian culture means to me. That is what makes me nostalgic and convinced that one day I will come back to a summer in Tuscany to experience it all over again.

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