2015 Bucket List Review!

This is it, the year 2015 is more or less wrapped up. For me, this time of the year is always dedicated to re-living everything that has happened over the course of the last months. If you are one of those awesome fellas that regularly read my blog (YAY, big shout out to you guys!), you might remember my bucket list for 2015. It’s an excerpt from my infinite bucket list that I am hoping to check off in decades from now.

A bucket list really is like a to do list for me. As I have uttered several times, I simply like checking things off lists just to be excited for the next step on that list. But what I’ve learned this year is that bucket lists are a tad different. They really mostly fuel my excitement and are less straightforward than a regular to do list. I’ve learned how much I like veering off the beaten path and finding myself in situations I hadn’t planned out for myself.

So here is what I had planned and what actually happened:

Athens, Greece

Yep, that definitely happened! I still look back to this trip regularly. Not only because I relish thinking back to the incredible Greek architecture or the vast amounts of mouth-watering dishes we consumed but also because it made me learn a life-lesson right at the start of the new year: getting robbed and still managing to enjoy your trip.

Filopappou Hill Athens

Filopappou Hill Athens

Exploring Wales

I can also cross this off my list! And as a matter of fact, I could cross it off several times because I was lucky to explore Wales more than once. Every day whenever I wander through the streets that I currently call home or used to call home, I am determined to explore and look behind each hidden corner. But not only did I meander my immediate surroundings, I took three road trips around Wales!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Driving around North Wales

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Skrinkle Haven Wales

Scotland

Well, I was not able to visit Scotland this year. I was all too consumed with running around Wales or sitting at my desk in Cardiff, head fuming with thoughts about assignments or my dissertation. But Scotland, I’ll be back someday!

Alberta, Canada

Hell, yeah! Words cannot even begin to describe how much this trip impacted me. Being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding, road tripping through the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen, summitting my first mountain and just loving everyday life in rural Alberta. A trip to remember and a heart lost to Canada!

12391220_10156311755500722_7259269346134442187_n

Southeast Asia

A trip of a lifetime. My first backpacking trip and also my first time in Southeast Asia. This trip made me learn a lot about myself and about travelling. And even though we’ve been back for almost three months now, I am still basking in Bali bliss with my head in the clouds and radiant sun streams still leaving warm marks on my skin.

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Sunrise hike on Mount Batur

Jimbaran Beach Bali

Jimbaran Beach Bali

Breakfast at Crate Cafe

Breakfast at Crate Cafe

Black Forest, Prague and Barcelona

These three destinations still remain uncovered. With a year as eventful as this one and with as many accomplishments and changes happening, I am at peace with not having discovered these destinations. Instead, I focused on going back to my hometown more, admiring it with the eyes of a first-time visitor and building up an immense amount of gratefulness about having grown up here.

Well, were did I veer off the beaten path then? Being caught up in one-of-a-lifetime-experiences often doesn’t come planned. Just as my most recent trip to Japan did. Sitting at home, caught up with job applications with no immediate bucket list destinations ahead, I had never expected for such an opportunity to happen that quickly. A very dear friend and her family suddenly swooped me out of my rut and invited me to a road trip through Japan. Who would I be to say no that?! Against my I-am-an-adult-now better judgement I left my job applications instantaneously and went to rove around Japan.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Himeji Castle in Japan

It made me realize that this truly is what I love about traveling. Expect the unexpected and just go with the flow. Those are the times when you discover who you’ve always been, what drives and motivates you and how you find your utter bliss.

 

Japan – a country of paradoxes

Arriving in Japan left me starry-eyed with wonderment of everything that surrounded me. I thought I knew what to expect coming to Japan as it had been on the top of my bucket list for years. My fascination with Japan had actually started in my childhood, with me being one of the biggest fans of the Manga series Attack No. 1 or Mila Superstar in German.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

A traditional shop in Tokyo

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Shitenno-Ji temple in Osaka

Shot with DxO ONE Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

A girl wearing a kimono in ancient Kyoto

If you ever get the chance to visit Japan, be prepared to be utterly mesmerized by the country’s diversity, culture and of course, craziness. The impression that still lingers in my head is that Japan truly is a country of paradoxes. The major cities exemplify craziness in its utmost form – imagine 35 million people living in the area of Tokyo, subway stations with up to 40 exits and gazing out of the windows on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo, desperately trying to make out the borders of the city but failing entirely. Even though the city is so big in size, they still seems to fail to fit all people inside – I have never seen a city that has as many flyovers and streets stacked on top of one another.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The flyovers of Tokyo

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

View from the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Tokyo tower and the headquarters of the Asahi brewery

Shot with DxO ONE Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices

And then there’s pure calmness, a soothing atmosphere of tranquility and a culture that goes far back in history but is still excessively celebrated today. Whenever you decide to leave the Japanese mega-cities to go visit the countryside or one of the myriad buddhist temples or shinto shrines, this is the aura you will encounter. Suddenly there are no sounds blasting out of shops bursting with colourful items on display, no shop owner is shouting the newest promotional deals across the street and instead of the forest of neon signs, you find yourself in an actual forest with wild deer prancing around you.

Shot with DxO ONE Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The imperial palace in Kyoto

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Wild deer in Nara

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Scenery in Nikko

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Witnessing a wedding procession in Nikko

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Gateway to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko

Visiting Japan made me realize yet again that travel is knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen. (Mark Hertsgaard)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Japanese Garden in Kyoto

Arigatou gozai…what?!

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 17.17.16

Arigatou gozaimasu is the Japanese expression for thank you. Sounds super foreign, doesn’t it? As I knew that saying thank you and bowing is just as essential as sushi for the Japanese culture, I knew I had to memorize it somehow. The memory hook I made for myself was Koh Samui – Arigatou Koh Samui.

This small introduction into the Japanese language might already give you an idea of the challenge that traveling to Japan is. But wait for it! When you read arigatou goizamasu in latin letters, it is definitely possible to remember somehow. But what if you’re faced with the various kinds of the Japanese alphabet? The modern Japanese writing system is divided into Kanji and Kana. Kanji is a logographic way of writing, it is adopted from the Chinese alphabet. Kana is a syllabic alphabet and is divided into Hiragana (used for native Japanese words and grammar) and Katakana (used for foreign names and words). Yep, even the Japanese people get confused here.

For foreigners it definitely is not the easiest to navigate through the jungle of foreign sounds and signs. Luckily, most subway stations have signs both in Japanese and Latin alphabet. Going for dinner is a much bigger challenge. Even in cities like Osaka and Tokyo, most of them are kept solely in Japanese. If you’re lucky, they contain photos. If not, just point to whatever the person at the table next to you is having. And be surprised by what actually lands on your table!

 

Bali Bliss.


FullSizeRender

That’s what we did – made new friends, Nicole caught waves, we drank some Bintangs (the delicious Indonesian beer!), had a great time, took a break. And we definitely look back on the incredible time we had in Bali! I have never seen a place like Bali before in my life. You do find the typical tourists but more than that you find expats, yogis, surfers and those – like us – that just relished each day.

You might think it must have been hard to choose a top three for my favourite spots in Bali. While there are numerous places and activities that I could recommend you, there are three that really stand out:

1. CANGGU

This lovely spot is still rather unknown and thus reserved for expats and surfers who stay on the island a bit longer than the typical few days. It is almost impossible to describe the unique atmosphere that surrounds Canggu. The town is a collection of one of a kind shops bursting with clothes and jewelry, “cafes for days”, as well as restaurants and bars exploding with the smell and taste of mouthwatering dishes. Each with a unique little touch. My ABSOLUTE highlight will forever be the Crate Cafe on Batu Bolong. It solely opens for breakfast. Breakfasts that are out of this world – steaming hot piles of scrambled eggs on the perfect golden french toast, the rich flavours of a flat white coffee or the infamous breakfast bowls – acai, blueberries or freshly shredded coconut are just some of the incredible ingredients they use day in and day out.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

If you ever go to Crate – look out for the on wanderlust logo on one of the tables inside the cafe!

2. MOUNT BATUR

As I said on Instagram, sunrise hikes are the best hikes! The most jaw-dropping and goosebump-evoking experience of all the four weeks in Southeast Asia was our hike up Mount Batur. It is a truly mesmerizing experience to escape the bustling life in Bali to hike up a mountain during the middle of the night. Imagine getting up at 2am just to hike up a volcano while it’s still pitch black outside equipped only with the light of torches. Just at the crack of dawn you get to your destination – the top of the mountain. Sit down and take in the stunning views the sun conjures while rising up the sky and the beautiful golden light it provokes.


IMG_9154-1

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

 

3. ULUWATU

This place is located at the southern tip of Bali. It’s an enchanting place because it combines natural beauty with the best sunset party on the whole island. Start off your Sunday with a trip to Greenbowl beach, a stretch of the coastline that lays hundreds of steps down from a cliff, which take you to white sand stretches, clear blue waters and hidden away caves.

FullSizeRender.1

Don’t stay too long though. Make sure you leave the beach just in time for the famous Sunday party at Single Fin bar. It is a bar/restaurant/club built into a cliff and consists of various levels and decks. On Sundays, the Single Fin bar turns into a magical place that unites the happiest, most gorgeous people on the island just to celebrate the sunset, be thankful for the day spent and look forward to another incredible day in Bali.

IMG_9166

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

It still gives me the chills thinking about my time in Bali. I urge you to go there – whether you are a yogi, aim to catch some waves or just enjoy yourself – everything is just a little more extraordinary than usual in Bali.

Exploring Central Vietnam.

I’m sure we’ve all heard of magnificent Halong Bay and hustling Hanoi in Northern Vietnam or the enchanting Mekong Delta and colonial Saigon also known as Ho Chi Minh City in the South. But what about Central Vietnam? As Nicole and I were sure it had a lot to offer, we decided to visit this part of Vietnam and ignore the country’s most famous sights.

We chose to spend some time in Danang, particularly visiting the Hai Van Pass, travel to the Phong Nha Khe Bang National Park and wrap up our time in Vietnam with a stay in Hoi An.

Our first stop in Vietnam was Danang. The city in itself is rather unspectacular. The reason we decided to stay in Danang was we were planning to explore the Hai Van Pass, a meteorological divide between Northern and Southern Vietnam. The best way to do this is on motorcycles or scooters. Please don’t think you can just hop on a scooter and drive the Hai Van Pass if you haven’t ever driven a scooter before – it is a windy road with a bunch of obstacles. The highest peak is only accessible if you really know how to drive a motorbike, it takes you off the beaten path. The views from up there are one of a kind though!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Also, don’t underestimate the beaches that surround the Hai Van Pass. Coming back from a day on a motorbike, being all dusty and dirty, dipping into the Vietnamese sea at night is the best feeling one can imagine! A little birdie told me that you can even see glowing plankton if you’re lucky…!

IMG_8094

Our next stop was the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Definitely a hidden gem in Vietnam! I would definitely recommend you stay at the Pepperhouse Homestay. I have never met people as kind and generous as Diem and her family.

IMG_8125

Did you know that the largest cave in the world is located in Phong Nha Ke Bang? It is so huge that you can fit two Airbus A380 inside. Unfortunately we were not able to visit this cave as you currently have to pay $3.000 to get inside. Instead we visited the Paradise Cave which to me was just as jaw-dropping.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Also, definitely do one of those adventure tours with zip-lining, kayaking, mud walking and swimming inside the caves. That’s what we did and it’s definitely a one of a kind experience to swim in a pitch dark cave with bats and eels everywhere around you.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Following our stay at the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park our original plan was to take an overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily we listened to Karl, one of Diem’s family’s friends who told us we simply could not miss out on Hoi An, Vietnam’s food and garment capital. I am so happy we followed his advice! Hoi An is superb in so many ways. The atmosphere is laid back, everyone walks or bikes around the city and as it is named “the city of lanterns”, the city at night is just incredible. After the adventurous few days we had spent before, Hoi An was a welcome change with its numerous shops, restaurants and cafes that sell everything from organic smoothies, the truly delicious Vietnamese coffee to authentic local cuisine. I would definitely recommend to do a cooking class in Hoi An! Due to time constraints we weren’t able to do it but if I’ll ever be back in Hoi An, that’s on my bucket list.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

IMG_8226

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset