New Zealand 1: Rain, Wine and Waiheke in Auckland

Last September 2014, I traveled to New Zealand for the first time. It was one of my favorite trips ever and I am excited to finally be able to share it on the blog.

My fiancé had a trip to NZ planned already with his groomsmen and there was no way I was going to be left behind in China for 2 weeks. So I went. With his mother :-). Thankfully Linda was awesome enough to meet me across the world and let me plan the entire trip… backpacker style. After such an incredible experience in Ireland with Shamrocker Adventures Bus Tour, I found a hop-on hop-off bus tour company called Stray NZ and went from there. But before we took off around the North Island, we met up in Auckland for a few days.

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Peter and I took the 12 hour flight from Shanghai, arriving in Auckland in the afternoon. We met with his customer who showed us around the city and took us to a nice outlook point and dinner at a great restaurant. I was surprised at how cold and windy it was! But I guess that’s what you get for traveling at the end of winter. September ended up being the perfect time to travel to NZ since it is considered the slow season. That means fewer tourists and cold weather! Hooray! It felt amazing to leave steamy hot Shanghai behind for a few weeks and escape into the wilderness.

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The next day I picked up Linda from the airport while Peter spent the day with his customer. We settled into our swanky hotel downtown and went to bed, exhausted from traveling. The next day was a flurry of drama when Peter slept through his alarm and wasn’t there to meet his friends at the airport. They ended up calling me at 5am, lost and confused. Whoops! We met the boys for a fun dinner before they began their journey in a rental car down to the South Island.

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Later boys. Girls trip starts NOW.

Linda and I stayed in Auckland for 3 days and it basically rained the entire time. Yuck. It was cold and dreary and not entirely pleasant. We shopped quite a bit and ate a lot of good food which was nice. We also stocked up on cold weather necessities like long underwear and wool hats, better prepared than sorry! But I hate big cities and was anxious to get out and see New Zealand.

On Sunday we took the ferry to Waiheke Island for a Wine Tour.

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We boarded a small tour bus and headed out towards the wineries. It was another gloomy day with a chilly rain blanketing the island which reminded me of a small-beach town in the winter. You know, except for the dramatic cliffs and wild landscape. Now THIS was the New Zealand I had imagined with rolling hills and scruffy trees dotting the green landscape. FINALLY.

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We visited a winery and olive grove for lunch, a badass brewery in a basement, and another winery with a stunning view. We sampled everything from merlots and pinots to ginger beer and lagers. It was fun! I love a day full of eating and drinking.

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My favorite was probably the hipster brewery in a basement and the Mudbrick winery, situated on a gorgeous hill overlooking the gulf.

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They had lavender plants everywhere, how lovely is that?? Apparently it is a popular wedding location as well and I can definitely see why.

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It was a nice little day-trip that had me salivating for more. We spent one final day in Auckland preparing for our bus tour and getting free facials at the Lush store. Auckland was pretty nice but I was READY TO GO.

Our backpacker bus tour was about to begin and I was nervous. Linda had never really roughed it traveling before and had never spent the night in a hostel or even in a sleeping bag. I had no idea how she would handle the constant go-go-go of the tour and the less than swanky accommodations. But I knew that she would be up for the challenge as long as I was there to support her along the way. If anything, I knew this would be a life-changing experience for the both of us as friends and as a new family.

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Goodbye Auckland!

 

Best Photos of 2014

Here it is. My favorite photos from 2014! (And last year: Best Photos of 2013)

Here are 30 of my favorite photos that I took all around the world. They include some of my favorite locations in Ireland, London, China, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, France and Florida! A lot are from Ireland, my favorite of all the places visited this year!

Precariously balanced on the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Precariously balanced on the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Night falls at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Night falls at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

London Bridge, London

London Bridge, London

Moonrise over the mountain, New Zealand

Moonrise over the mountain, New Zealand

Looking up at the Financial District, Shanghai

Looking up at the Financial District, Shanghai

London Artwalk in Shoreditch

London Artwalk in Shoreditch

Horseback riding at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Horseback riding at Blue Duck Lodge in New Zealand

Kayakers in Breton, France

Kayakers in Breton, France

Peace Hotel, Shanghai

Peace Hotel, Shanghai

Rocky beach in Zhoushang, China

Rocky beach in Zhoushang, China

Overlook at Raglan beach, New Zealand

Overlook at Raglan beach, New Zealand

Shanghai skyline

Shanghai skyline

 

Wooden birdhouse in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Wooden birdhouse in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Field of cotton in Breton, France

Field of cotton in Breton, France

Volcanic view in Jeju, South Korea

Volcanic view in Jeju, South Korea

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Foggy day at Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Foggy day at Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Cliffs of Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Cliffs of Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Brilliant sunset in St. Petersburg, Florida

Brilliant sunset in St. Petersburg, Florida

Rocks in Breton, France

Rocks in Breton, France

Bright and blue in Raglan, New Zealand

Bright and blue in Raglan, New Zealand

Farmhouse on Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Farmhouse on Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland

Bamboo Forest in Shanghai

Bamboo Forest in Shanghai

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Field of flowers at the Red Granite Coast in France

Field of flowers at the Red Granite Coast in France

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka, Japan

Dark Hedges in Ireland

Dark Hedges in Ireland

Borough Market, London

Borough Market, London

Beautiful spring blooms in St. Petersburg, Florida

Beautiful spring blooms in St. Petersburg, Florida

At the top of the world, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

At the top of the world, Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Read more about 2014 in My Year in Review

Apartment Hunting in Shanghai… we moved!

Surprise! I am back in the states after spending the last 2 weeks in Shanghai. Of course our internet was shit and our VPN stopped working so that meant absolutely no access to blogging or my emails! Lovely! I did however do some writing and photo editing so let’s catch up shall we?

I arrived in Shanghai at the end of January to some surprisingly freezing temperatures. It was 35 degrees and overcast (aka POLLUTED) with the occasional rain shower. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? The problem with China is that there is no central air-conditioning and wall units are pretty ineffective at cooling or heating large spaces. More often than not I found myself camped out in the living room under a blanket and close to the heater wearing socks and multiple sweaters while chugging hot water.

Jiuting waterway

Jiuting waterway

Good news, we moved into a new apartment!

After 3 days, 2 real estate agents, 20 potential apartments, 12 hours of walking in the cold rain and a couple botched contracts later, we actually moved in to our new place! Hooray!

I had no idea the nature of the beast that is Shanghai real estate until now and let me tell you, it was quite the learning experience. First of all, expect to look at a shit ton of apartments, most of them either nasty or grossly decorated. Second of all, bring along a Chinese-speaking friend who can help you communicate with the agents and landlords and who can help you negotiate price. And thirdly, if you are working with a local Chinese real estate agent, be prepared to walk. A LOT. It was quite exhausting.

Look at this hideous decorating. No this is not our new place!

Look at this hideous decorating. No this is not our new place!

MOST IMPORTANTLY, when you are apartment hunting you must be decisive and go with your instincts. Do not settle for a place that is less than perfect because there are thousands of places that become available every day. IT’S CRAZY. And when you decide on a place, MOVE FAST. Put in an offer THE SAME DAY or else it will most likely be gone the following day. This happened to us with the first place we wanted and we did not make that mistake again.

For us, it came down to location vs. comfort and this time we went with location! Last year we lived in a very comfortable and large apartment in a nice quiet complex in Jiuting. However, we were in a very Chinese neighborhood at least 45 minutes away from foreigner friendly places including grocery stores, restaurants and expat associations. Most of the time I took cabs into the city which gets expensive and exhausting. I would often get anxiety and stress out if I had to go anywhere, mostly because it took so much time, energy and preparation. I had to meticulously figure out where I was going and how long it would take and then download the Chinese address on my phone to show to the cabbies and remember how to say “left” “right” “straight on” and “stop” in Chinese. Somedays I wouldn’t leave the house because I was too anxious to deal with the stares or the inability to communicate. I felt very alone, which makes me so sad to think about!

Our new apartment is definitely not as nice or as big but is located in Changning which is much closer to the city center. We are a 5 minute walk to the Zhongshang Park metro stop (line 2 and 4!) and a huge shopping area with Carrefour, Starbucks, Will’s Gym and even a local vegetable market. We are also close to Jing’an and Hongqiao which are big expat areas and where Peter works.

Busy Changning District of Shanghai

Busy Changning District of Shanghai

I look forward to having easy access to the metro, the grocery store and to major expat areas so I can actually get involved with some of the great events going on in Shanghai. I am also job hunting which is intimidating but exciting!

We moved most of our stuff this past Saturday, the day before I flew back to Florida. Thankfully we don’t have much stuff at all, just some books and clothes. It is sad how little we have accumulated over the 4 years Peter has lived here. It is weird to think of Shanghai as our “home” but here we are. After our wedding in April, we will be more or less settled in Shanghai for another year or two.

Before that though there are wedding festivities to attend to! This weekend, my bridesmaids and I are traveling to Key West for my bachelorette party weekend!! I can’t believe it’s here and holy crap I am excited to spend time with my girls in the sunshine. The next week, Peter flies home so we can finish some wedding related tasks and a couple’s shower. March will be a flurry of two more showers and final wedding preparations. Then on April 18th… BOOM WE GET MARRIED.

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My plan is to smuggle as many wedding presents as I can back to China. I need all those cute kitchen gadgets in my sad China kitchen.

Anything to make this place feel more like home.

Hello Paris, Goodbye Dublin

France Day 4: We woke up at the crack of dawn and donned our increasingly heavy backpacks to walk across town to the Brest train station. For the last 5 days my feet were hurting so badly that it was a challenge to walk down the street with 40 pounds on my back. But I was determined to get on the train and SLEEP. And sleep I did. I slept for almost the entire 4 hour ride, marking each 45 minute stretch of sleep by which 1D song and album I fell asleep and woke up to. The 1d albums were the soundtrack of my trip and provided endless comfort and energy during our travels. If my sisters are reading this, they are probably thinking “omg Kirsten why are you telling people this”. No shame.

By mid-morning we pulled into Paris, bleary-eyed and directionally challenged. I was finally in the “city of love” but didn’t have enough time or energy to really get excited about being there. All we had time for was to walk a few blocks away from the train station in search of food. After trudging up and down this annoyingly hilly street for way too long, we finally found a little boulangerie where I had a freaky experience that I wrote about in my “Reflections on Europe… how travel heals all wounds” post.

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Basically while we were eating lunch we heard an old man whistling “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” while opening his shop next door. It was my grandpa T’s favorite song and we would dance to it all the time. It was a freaky experience that convinced me that although my grandpas were gone, they were with me during my travels. It definitely made me emotional but I felt at peace now that our journey was at its end.

During lunch Tasha bought us some enormous eclairs to share which were definitely the highlight of Paris. Oh and the fact that I saw the Eiffel Tower for like two seconds as we rode the airport shuttle bus out of the city. Oh well, maybe next time Paris.

After leaving Tasha and Carina, I boarded my flight to Dublin, sad to leave my travel buddies but excited to return to Ireland. Although it would only be for one night, I was determined to make the most of it. As soon as I landed in Dublin I dumped my backpack in the hotel, took the shuttle back to the airport and then the shuttle into the city. Phew! I knew that I wanted to go to the Temple Bar area but was unsure of how to get there. I was also stressing out about how the heck to get back to my hotel. Miraculously I found the first restaurant that Carina and I ate at in Dublin and went inside for another crazy Irish meal and pint of Guinness while watching the World Cup.

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Right as I was about to leave in search of live music, I heard music upstairs. So I followed the music and planted myself at the bar to watch two guys play some Irish music. I ended up chatting with these three cool girls from Canada and America who were actually staying at the same hotel and were on my flight to Toronto! It was a crazy coincidence that put me at ease almost immediately since we decided to share a cab back to the hotel.  There was no need to stress about how to get home. So instead I enjoyed my pint and got lost in the music.

It was a serendipitous ending to a wonderful and crazy journey around Europe. I am so happy I was able to spend another night in Dublin, the place where it all began. Despite being in the same place, I felt like a completely different person, more confident, happy and free. I am so glad Carina and I booked this trip and made it happen despite everything going on at home. This trip took us way out of our comfort zone (waaaaaayyyyyy out there) and pushed us to try new things and meet new people. It helped us to grow. I was almost tempted to stay in Dublin for a little bit longer but I knew that my time there was up. After 3 and half weeks traveling around Europe, I had finally let go of my sorrow. It was serendipity that my last day in Europe included the Paris whistling, stumbling upon our first Dublin restaurant again and meeting people to settle my fears of traveling back home. It was time to close this chapter and open a new page.

I will never forget our Eurotrip of 2014. And Ireland, I will certainly never forget you.

France Day 3: Medieval Towns, Salted Caramels and Biscuits galore

After our wild night dancing the evening away, we woke up bright and early for our last day trip in France. At this point we were exhausted from traveling after epic times in both Ireland and London. So we piled in the car, Carina in the driver’s seat, Tasha as navigator in the passenger seat and me in the back as the personal road-trip DJ. We first drove to Locronan, one of the oldest and best-preserved Medieval towns in France.
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It was a ridiculously beautiful old town that was TOO PRETTY. Everything was gorgeous from the stone cathedral to the adorable shop signs. We had crepes again for lunch at a creperie and went wild with the savory and sweet crepes. Then we wandered into a few shops and sampled  lots of biscuits and caramel au beurre salé (salted caramel), two regional specialties. Like I literally circled around and stuffed biscuits in my mouth for at least an hour. God, I love France.
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There was also a wagon. I took a picture for my mom. She loves flowers. And wagons?
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 Afterwards we drove to Concarneau, a walled fortress town on the water. It was a sunny and hot day but we took our time wandering the narrow streets of this fortressed city. I loved it. We also spent a lot of time deciding between various souvenirs of herbed salts, salted caramels and Breton styled ceramics. It was quite fun. We also enjoyed enormous cups of gelato, just because.
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This is the only picture I have with Tasha. Thanks for being the photographer Carina!

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After leaving the walled city we took a long detour to a beach which was a bit stressful since we were on a time crunch to return the rental car. So we literally parked, ran to the beach, stuck our toes in the ocean and ran back to the car. Haha. We returned the rental car quickly for no apparent reason because you could just park the car at the terminal at any time… so it was kind of a stressful evening for no reason.

But we made up for it by fixing Carina a delicious dinner and relaxing at the apartment… until we had to stress pack all night! We had to wake up early to take the bullet train to the Paris airport. Carina and Tasha were heading off to Turkey and Greece while I was flying back to Dublin for just the night before flying home to the States.

At this point I was ready to go home. I was tired and craving some space which definitely happens when you travel in groups and stay in hostels for so long. But I really loved France, surprisingly so. Brittany is such a beautiful region and I am so thankful that Tasha was willing to share her knowledge with us!

Onward to Paris…

France Day 2: Red Granite Coast and a Night of traditional Breton dancing

We had such a great first day in France that we were excited to get up early the next day and explore something new. We drove to yet another Breton department called la cote de Amor to see the red granite coast. And it did not disappoint.

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After a long drive around some windy roads and very small towns we finally found the proper parking lot in a very unobtrusive spot. I was not that impressed with what I saw but knew Tasha had something up her sleeve with these “red rocks” she kept raving about. We walked up a dirt path and were suddenly hit in the face with an expansive view of the sea and… yes… RED ROCKS.

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I felt like we were in some sort realism painting or Tim Burton movie set. The red rocks were enormous and had a cartoonish quality that made them seem fake. Like those fake boulders actually made from styrofoam. We were in some sort of warped French Disney World complete with a  gaggle of Italian tourists shouting about pizza.

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We took our picnic in the shade of the ginormous rocks and hoped that we weren’t crushed to bits. The sun was white hot but the shaded rock was cool to the touch. Probably anything could have happened and we wouldn’t have noticed, we were too busy devouring more baguettes and soft cheese. God I love France.

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After walking around for a bit we left the magnificent Red Rocks and drove down to Perros-Guerec, a small town on the sea. But hey what am I saying, Brittany is full of picturesque small towns on the sea. It is disgustingly cliche. We snagged some of the last baguette sandwiches from a bakery and took our lunch to the sea. It was actually really cold in the wind but we didn’t mind, we had baguettes nom nom.

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We then stopped at various beachy areas around the coast before driving back to Brest. It was an absolutely stunning day with clear blue skies and even clearer blue water. We kind of just wandered around in awe of the beauty around us. We also tried to find hidden places to pee on the side of mountains while rolling down steep cliffs in flip flops. We definitely have a sense of adventure for a bunch of roadies.

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I’m like… WHAT IS THIS BEAUTY.

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My favorite part of the day was when we found this totally random trail along a beautiful beach. So we started walking with no real agenda or direction in mind. We just wanted to see where it would take us. It took us past many beached French people and some beautiful trees. We eventually ended up at a marina and I found a field of cotton balls. It was glorious.

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We drove back to Brest and enjoyed dinner with Tasha’s roommates before heading to an epic “Fest-nos” at the Tara Inn. Fest nos means “night party” in Breton and is code for traditional Breton dancing! I was scared shitless because I am truly awful at dancing. But Breton dancing is just the kind of white-people dancing that I am actually good at! Each dance basically has 2-5 steps that you just repeat in a kind of line dance for the entire song. It’s brilliant! I felt so skilled and laughed my head off when this French man spun Carina around for about 5 hours. Oh my god I was laughing so hard. Then Tasha’s roommate did this pretty complicated Breton dance with me outside and it was so much fun!! We were a sweaty, giggly mess by the end of the night. Probably my favorite night in France overall.

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Another great day down in the books! Only one more day left in France, a little more dramatic but a whole lot of crepes to come!

2014: My Year in Review

2014-my-year-in-review

9 countries. 19 cities. 1 year.

2014 was seriously the year of travel.

I know I said that 2013 was the year of travel, but I lied. This year was bigger. It was actually full of so much traveling that I honestly FORGOT a few trips while making this list. I was lucky enough to visit and explore China, Thailand, Ireland, the UK, France, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. And don’t forget all those lovely cities in the United States including Portland ME, NYC, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Park City and Orlando. Looking back on it all, this year has been full of surprises and so much growth. It was the year of wedding planning joy in the midst of sorrow when both of my grandfather’s passed away within a month’s time. My two big trips to Europe and New Zealand were a blessing disguised as challenging backpacker bus tours that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I fell face-first into amazing experiences and friendships that I will never forgot. 2014 was the year of taking chances and trying new things while figuring out expat life in China (again) and planning one of the biggest events of my life. I cannot wait to get married to the most amazing man and continue our adventures together in Shanghai and around the world.

Let’s recap 2014!

January

I rang in the new year on St. Pete Beach with my two favorite people in the world, Peter and my bestie Carina. We watched fireworks explode entirely too close to our heads and spent the first day of 2014 nursing wicked hangovers and watching movies all day. Not my best moment but certainly memorable.

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Peter went back to China while I started wedding planning and spending a lot of time on the water in Florida. This was when I said yes to the dress and visited Carina in Orlando for her 26th birthday! The crowning point of this month was when I planned a successful Charity Auction that raised thousands of dollars for charity (which I am planning right now, help me).

February

Thankfully Peter came back to Florida for Chinese New Year and stayed for the entire month! This month was pretty hectic work-wise and wedding planning took things to a whole new level. We took our engagement photos and met with the deacon of our church. I was sad when Peter went back to China but I knew I had to stay for another huge event I had been working on since the beginning of the year.

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March

On March 10th we had a successful Charity Golf Invitational and I finally saw months of my hard work realized. It was career highlight for me and I felt immensely proud of what I had accomplished. We raised thousands of dollars for local charity and it felt absolutely amazing! The rest of March was full of relaxation (finally), hockey games, the Grand Prix, lots of yoga, and planning my return to Asia.

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April

On April 4th, I flew to Shanghai to reunite with my love in the middle of a beautiful China spring. Just a few days later after attending a hilarious Lionel Richie concert, we flew to Chiang Mai, my most favorite city in Thailand EVER, for the epic Songkran Festival. I guess I never blogged about this festival but OH MY GOD. THIS WAS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING EVER. It was basically a 3-day all-out water fight in the streets. One day we were on the ground, running around with water guns spraying everybody in sight and holing up in a street-side bar absolutely blasting everybody who passed by. The next day we were in a truck bed sitting around in traffic with thousands of people in cars, just having a massive water fight. All day. When we ran out of water we paid people on the streets to fill our trashcan with moat water and a block of ice. We were absolutely drenched from sun-up till sun-down and laughed like crazy people while having random battles with other groups of people. We had some nice locals nicely pour water over our heads for good luck and then we had the crazy backpackers who would shoot you in the face. That is why I got a nasty stye in my eye when some jerk blasted me in the face. Ew. Despite the nasty moat water and the utter exhaustion at the end of this trip, we had a blast with our friends and still got to explore a bit of the city I love. It was an insane festival, one I will NEVER forget.

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However as soon as we got back to Shanghai I found out that my grandpa passed away on our future wedding anniversary. It was a huge shock to my family so I flew home on Easter Sunday to attend the funeral. It was a very bizarre time but I was grateful to be with my family. It was also around this time that I fell deeply into the 1D fandom. Their music helped lift my spirits, the way that music does and I am grateful.

grandpasMay

This month was just a blur. Peter came back to Florida too so we did a bunch of wedding things and made sure to visit my other grandparents. On my 26th birthday I flew to Portland, Maine for a roommate reunion! Carina, Tana and I stayed at The Camp on a beautiful misty lake and basically lazed around all weekend cooking, kayaking and dancing around in our PJs to 1D. It was a wonderful getaway with my favorite girls. Sadly the next weekend my other grandpa passed away after I held his hand in hospice the night before. It was a really hard time. The day after he passed, Peter was in our friend’s wedding and I sang the first dance song with my friend. It was a beautiful wedding but I was just so sad :-(. Immediately after the wedding, Peter flew back to China and I stayed home in preparation for my big trip of the summer, Eurotrip 2014 with Carina! I was so nervous and reluctant to go but knew I had to just do it.

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June

On July 9th, Carina and I flew into Dublin and it was love at first sight!! I stayed in my first hostel, EVER, and surprisingly survived. We then spent 5 amazing days driving from Dublin to Galway and up to Belfast in a big backpacker tour bus with Shamrocker Irish Adventures. Although we were so nervous to be traveling with a big group of people we had the most amazing experience ever. EVER EVER EVER. Seriously. These 5 days in Ireland were life-changing. Go read my blog posts if you have the chance. The day we biked around the Aran Islands was my favorite. And it is true, travel heals all wounds.

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After Ireland we flew to London and lived the posh life in our friend’s Shoreditch apartment. We rested, saw all the touristy spots and partied hard. It was fun but I was glad to move on. France was a challenging part of our trip but absolutely stunning. I will always be grateful for my girls Carina and Tasha and the experiences we shared driving through the countryside. France was unexpectedly beautiful and I was sad to leave. But after 3 and half weeks in Europe, it was time to go home.

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July 

Almost immediately upon returning to the States, I flew out to Park City, Utah to be with my family for the 4th of July. I was jet lagged but had so much fun in the mountains celebrating America. It was a short but sweet trip out west and I am so happy that I decided to go.

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On July 22nd I FINALLY flew out to China to be reunited with my love. We immediately drove south to Zhoushang, China on a team building excursion in the deadly heat of summer. It was yet another bizarre China vacation complete with weird beaches, bumpy bus rides and freakishly hot mountain climbs for no apparent reason. China you keep me on my toes!

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August

This month was blazing hot and I really struggled to stay cool in the city. I was literally sweating EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. Yikes. We threw a little party at our apartment and it was really nice! Our nice Chinese neighbors loved my egg salad haha. We also spent one day out and about the Bund showing around some visitors from the States. It was a very hot and very long day but I enjoyed seeing the financial district since we don’t visit it very often (we live about 45 minutes away, Shanghai is big!).

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You can’t beat that skyline…

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This month I was also busy planning my next big trip to New Zealand! Peter was already going with his guy friends so I ended up planning a trip with his mother! On August 27th we flew to Auckland and spent one night together as a group before splitting off on our own respective trips. Linda and I stayed in Auckland for 3 days which was wet and miserable! We did go visit some wineries on Waiheke which was nice but other than that I was ready to GO and EXPLORE THE NORTH ISLAND.

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September

On September 2nd I began another big backpacker bus tour, this time with Peter’s mother! What was I thinking! Actually we ended having the most incredible trip EVER, almost rivaling Ireland. Linda and I made some incredible friends on the Stray Bus with these young European backpackers and did some amazing things in the North Island. We drove to Raglan, Mourea, Lake Aniwhenua, Taupo, Whakahoro, National Park and ended up in Wellington. It was a trip of epic proportions and full of epic scenery that you think only exists in your dreams. I was in awe.

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After 7 days of traveling around on a bus and staying in various levels of hostels, we reached the pinnacle of our trip and completed the Tongariro Crossing, a 8-hour trek past Mount Doom. With the aid of helmets and ice picks, we summited that mountain and trudged through endless snow fields to reach the end of the trail. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done but so incredibly worth it. We felt so accomplished and that beer at the end of the trail was delicious!

mount-doomSeptember

At the end of the bus tour, our group threw me a Bachelorette (Hen) party in Wellington! It was so sweet and it made me so sad to leave all my new friends. I left Linda in Auckland and flew back to China with some serious travel blues. I tried to cure my sadness by joining a ladies choir and taking up boxing lessons! We celebrated our friend’s birthday with a crazy karaoke night, my favorite! On September 27th we left from the port of Shanghai for a 4 day cruise to Japan and South Korea!

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We hung out on the boat eating, drinking and watching all the Chinese people gamble. We stopped in Fukuoka, Japan and Jeju, South Korea! I always love traveling to Japan and it was nice to finally visit South Korea. We didn’t get to see much but we did climb a mountain. It was cool.

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October 

Back in Shanghai we celebrated Golden Week by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and I got super depressed over missing the One Direction concert in Tampa. Sad face. But I resumed boxing lessons and became a dedicated student at my local Will’s gym. You can read the whole update here. I loved my trainer Ares, who spoke no English, and we had fun teaching each other different words while I jumped around and sweated like crazy. Peter and I discovered the bamboo forest and spent a couple of weekends exploring this gorgeous wooded area by our apartment. Then we were robbed and then we both got really bad food poisoning. It was bad. Then we celebrated Halloween at a weird club with our Scottish friends. It was a pretty standard month for us in China. Yup, the crazy life of expats!

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November

We flew home on November 13th and I was so grateful to be home, you have no idea. We did our Pre-Cana weekend and celebrated Peter’s birthday. On November 20th we flew to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for Drew and Julia’s wedding. Their wedding was gorgeous and so much fun, we had an amazing time with our family and friends in one of my favorite cities in the States.

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We took the train to Philadelphia and hung out at my sister’s place before Peter and I took the train to New York City. We visited both of our besties and basically ate at a lot of cool restaurants and saw a cool concert in Brooklyn. Our friends are so cool and trendy!

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Back in St. Pete we celebrated Thanksgiving, attended football parties, and put up the Christmas tree at our house before Peter flew back to China :-(. I always hate it when he leaves.

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December

December was an absolutely crazy month full of so many parties and family gatherings that left me exhausted! It was honestly a blur and I can’t remember everything that happened. All I know is that there was a selfie stick and animal onesies involved at some point. Peter came home right before Christmas and we had our normal Christmas Eve and Day craziness with my family which is always my favorite part of the holidays.

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In December we also solidified a lot of wedding plans which was GREAT but STRESSFUL. By New Years Eve I was so exhausted and just stressed out! We came full circle to ring in the new year back at St. Pete Beach, in almost the same exact spot! It was symbolic in a way to finish 2014 just the way we began. And 2014 was exactly that, a year of endings and year of new beginnings. Despite being a crazy year of work, wedding and travel planning, there are so many things that I did and accomplished. It is good to be reminded of all the good things and people in my life. It is also good to know that Oh yeah! I visited 9 countries this year and did some pretty amazing things! 2014 I pushed myself to grow and be open to new experiences despite any challenges I might face and I think I did just that. 2014, you were pretty great. 

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As for 2015, it will be the year of the wedding and the year of focusing on our life in China. It will also be the year of making new travel plans… I’m already thinking South Island of New Zealand, Ocktoberfest in Germany, and maybe a honeymoon in Norway. We shall see!