2013 London Watercolor Diary

Part 2: London Determined to fully live out my dream holiday, I decided to capture my trip using travel watercolors in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. I also brought along a water brush and my brand new set of Lukas travel watercolors and used black Faber Castell waterproof India ink pens. Read more

2013 Amsterdam and Scotland Watercolor Diaries

Part 1: Amsterdam + Scotland Determined to fully live out my dream holiday, I decided to capture my trip using travel watercolors in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. I also brought along a water brush and my brand new set of Lukas travel watercolors. My first few paintings in the Netherlands Read more

The Best Charleston Restaurants

Eat Like a Local: Best Charleston Restaurants Note: For the purposes of this article, I'm deeming menu items of around $10 or less as "affordable" or "inexpensive" compared to other menu items at more expensive restaurants. I was privileged enough to live in Charleston just shy of three years (2009-2012), and even Read more

Berlin in a Day

Last week, I got to see most of Berlin in a day sightseeing; the rest of my time in the city was spent applying for my Schengen Visa. I understand the purpose of outsiders having to apply for this visa for staying longer in the 26 European countries that Read more

Prague: First Impressions

I'm afraid I jinxed myself after writing that other post on travel delays. I was rescheduled three times, and my flight to London Heathrow was cancelled TWICE due to mechanical problems. As a result, I had to wait in line behind the rest of my 150 or so fellow Read more

Taiwan Engrish

When you travel to a destination that speaks a different language from the one you're familiar with, there will probably be communication issues. When I was in Taiwan, I and my fellow travelers--all from the United States--discovered many English translations on signs, t-shirts, and products that didn't quite make Read more

Paragliding in Taiwan, Wanli District

Paragliding in Taiwan

A Taiwanese friend of mine wanted to do something thrilling, so we planned a trip to Wanli–north of Taipei–to go paragliding. A group of my friends had been last year and had had a good time, but at that point, I was still new to Taipei and trying to save money until I received my first paycheck so I passed up the opportunity. Luckily, this new opportunity presented itself while I was still on summer vacation from school.

Wanli District, Taiwan

Birds eye view of Wanli. (C) Uncaged Traveler

Pre-take off

My friend called ahead the day before and the morning of our flying date to make sure the weather was safe for flying and that there were no expected storms that might cancel the trip. The company advises to call beforehand to check, as they do not take appointments. The weather happened to be great that day, with just the perfect amount of wind, so the trip was on. We met at Taipei Main Station MRT and then went by bus 1815 to Jinshan, which took about an hour. The bus stop we got off at was the Miles Bridge Station, directly across from a 7-11 and a street sign that pointed the way to the paragliding site (Mustang Paragliding Club). When we arrived, we called the shuttle service at the club for free transportation up to the launch site. (To be honest, the transportation to the top of the mountain was more terrifying than anything I actually experienced flying around eighty stories off the ground. The driver had actually just finished telling me that I should learn how to drive a manual car since they offer more control before he swerved to avoid a car coming from the opposite direction around a hilly turn).
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Posted on by Sarah V. in Asia, Places, Taipei, Taiwan Leave a comment

2013 Cardiff, Venice, and Florence Watercolor Diary

Determined to fully live out my dream holiday, I decided to capture my trip using travel watercolors in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. I also brought along a water brush and my set of Lukas travel watercolors and used black Faber Castell waterproof India ink pens. This is my Cardiff and Italy watercolor diary. See the beginning: Amsterdam and Scotland watercolor diary and part 2: London watercolor diary.

After my trip to London, I headed over to Cardiff by bus. A friend from my hometown in Kentucky who was going to university in the UK was supposed to join me for a few days in Cardiff, but she became ill and I went on alone. This was my first time in Wales, and I’ll just be honest, the driving factor for me to come to Wales and the capital city of Cardiff in the first place was my obsession with British television, science fiction, and Doctor Who. The longest running sci-fi show in history is filmed mostly in Cardiff, so I naturally went on an all-day Doctor Who filming locations bus tour (Brit Movie Tours: Doctor Who). I booked the tour ahead (and there was only one place left when I did) so be sure you book far enough in advance if you are interested in the tour if you’re ever in Cardiff (and you should be).

Doctor Who Brit Movie bus Tour

Rose’s apartment buildings on the Doctor Who Brit Movie bus tour. (C) Uncaged Traveler.

 

Leadworth and Doctor Who

Touring fictional Leadworth. (C) Uncaged Traveler

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Posted on by Sarah V. in Cardiff, Florence, Italy, Places, San Marino, Travel Stories, UK, Venice, Wales Leave a comment

Japan Expectations

Getting There

Taiwan’s observed holiday at the end of February (Memorial Day) afforded I and my fellow teacher friend and co-adventurer, Xanthe, a three day weekend, which we used to our full advantage. We booked tickets to see Japan, a first for both of us. Since tickets to Osaka were cheaper than those to Tokyo, we decided we could see both Osaka and Kyoto during our short visit. A new Japanese budget airline, Peach, had direct flights from Taiwan to Osaka, and we also decided to give the airline a go as well.

My preconceived notions and expectations of Japan before the trip were formed through a mixture of pop culture references in movies, my limited knowledge of anime and sumo wrestling, Americanized sushi, and a Styx song–which also provided the only Japanese language lesson I’d ever had as well.  We had both heard that the Japanese don’t speak much English, and communication with them is difficult and limited; however, I felt less apprehension being with my Aussie companion, Xanthe, and her small Japanese language background in primary school. Both of us thought of Japan as a highly advanced country technology wise, and we weren’t sure exactly what we’d witness in that area, but were sure it would be amazing. After all, Taiwan is pretty developed on that front and the transportation system is amazing and efficient. All of the Taiwanese we’d met rave about Japan, so we were also sure that Japan would be great as well.

After a sort of disappointing experience getting a filling meal both in Taipei airport and on Peach airlines with a very smiley Japanese flight attendant who apologized profusely because they were out of every item we wanted to order, we finally landed in Osaka KIX airport. KIX airport is on an island, so we knew we’d have to figure out a way to get from the airport to the greater Osaka area when we arrived. This proved more difficult than we’d anticipated. We messed around, not realizing that the time was an hour later in Japan than Taiwan, and ended up having to take the last bus into the city (through fault of our own and a dude at the airport who’s advice turned out to be really unhelpful) at 1:30 am. Well, it wasn’t all bad. We had to take a taxi part of the way to our Airbnb stay, and seriously enjoyed the classic look, the doily decorations on the seats, the driving on the left side of the road, and whatever black magic the driver possessed that allowed him to open our backseat door without leaving the driver’s seat.

Osaka

Osaka Castle

Beautiful and historical Osaka Castle.

Once we actually got into Osaka and began exploring, the rest of our trip went pretty smoothly. The fist day, we were initially confused with how to operate the extremely 1950s looking ticket machines to get our subway tickets, but once we got the hang of that, we enjoyed a day walking around Osaka Castle, the peach blossom garden, and Dotonbori Street.

peach blossoms

The peach blossom garden at Osaka Castle.

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Hospitality in Vietnam

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I took a short trip to Vietnam from the last week in December to the first weekend in January to Hanoi, Vietnam. Other than getting back to Taiwan, I never really put much thought into visiting other Asian countries until one of my friends from Cheb, Czech Republic, David, told me he would be in Hanoi for a few weeks in December. Anxious to see him again, I quickly got my plane tickets, applied for a visa (as in necessary for Americans), and began looking forward to the trip and the friend reunion. David’s family is Vietnamese, so some of his grandparents and extended family still reside in Vietnam, but he hadn’t been there in thirteen years.

vietnamese and Czech

My friend, David, who I was supposed to meet up with in Hanoi, and my friends Monika (also Vietnamese) and Tammy in Cheb, Czech Republic.

In fact, there is a rather large Vietnamese immigrant population in the Czech Republic, especially within in the Karlovy Vary region near Prague and in Cheb, the town I called home last year. According to a 2012 second quarter survey on the number of foreigners residing in the Czech Republic, 57,914 foreign citizens were Vietnamese, that population only smaller than Slovaks (83,481) and Ukrainians (116,371)*. In my experience in Cheb, there were many high school age Vietnamese students that I saw and made friends with. They could speak Czech, Vietnamese, AND even English–talk about hardworking! Many of their parents and families owned small convenience/food stores (called potravinys) along the streets, and in Cheb there was even a separate Vietnamese market area and shops where more traditional Vietnamese foods could be purchased. I often saw Vietnamese people in the foreign agencies that dealt with issuing visas for residing in Czech, as I frequented those places more than I would have liked to last year.

More to the point, this was my only interaction with Vietnamese people, that is to say, it was in Central Europe and far removed from Southeast Asia. I had never even technically been to what is considered that region before. A week before I was to leave, my friend’s trip was unexpectedly cancelled. We were both EXTREMELY disappointed. I wrestled with whether or not I should go ahead and go, and he thankfully informed his aunt  in Hanoi (who had worked in the U.S. before) of the situation. She agreed to help look after me while I was there, going above and beyond being a hospitable hostess. When arrived, she had prearranged a taxi to meet me at the airport and drive me to her home, she arranged a place for me to stay at a nearby hostel, she took me around Hanoi by scooter to many tourist sites, she made sure I had dinner each night (sometimes sharing her cooking or taking me out for dinner), and she let me borrow a cell phone while I was there so we could keep in contact if I was touring around on my own. All this without ever having really met me before!

 Let me just stop and say right here that I am continually amazed at the generosity of the people I have met during my travels.

She even prepared a suggested itinerary for my stay! It changed somewhat according to what I wanted to do, but here is a brief overview of my trip.

Day 1

 Ngoc Son Temple in Hoan Kiem Lake

Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

Red huc bridge Hanoi Vietnam

Cross the red huc bridge in Hoan Kiem Lake to get to Jade Island.

I left at 4 am to head to the airport in Taipei, and arrived in Hanoi around 10 am. The cab ride was about another two hours (due to traffic). David’s aunt, Thu (pronounced ‘to’), helped me settle down in my room and I took a much needed nap. Then Thu took me to walk around the streets of the Old Quarter. We walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, and over a beautiful red bridge ( The Huc Bridge) to a Buddhist temple and museum. I was surprised by the number of foreigners I saw there; I suppose I wasn’t expecting to see many considering how far away Vietnam has always seemed to me. Then we went by scooter around the city, stopping at a few other lakes and the Tran Quoc Pagoda by West Lake. We went past Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, and I got out and snapped a few pictures. We enjoyed some coconut flavored popsicles while we walked, and I had traditional noodle soup with beef (Pho) for dinner.

 

Tran Quoc Pagoda Hanoi, Vietnam

Tran Quoc Pagoda

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Posted on by Sarah V. in Asia, Hanoi, Places, Vietnam Leave a comment

A Monthly Account of an English Teacher in Taiwan (So Far)

I have been on the small[ish] island of Taiwan (or the Republic of China, as China likes to call it) since, oh, the end of last AUGUST and have written exactly zero posts about it. This needs to be fixed immediately!!!I can’t believe five months in Taiwan have already passed. Time always seems to move really slowly when you try to live in the moment and the day to day, accomplishing this or that–lesson planning, writing evaluations, exploring, making friends, etc.,–then all of a sudden, it’s whooshing past, like a great torrent of scooters on one of Taipei’s busy streets. Oh dear. There’s just so much to share. I’ll begin at the beginning…

Elephant Mountain Taipei Taiwan

Elephant Mountain in Taipei offers a great view of the city.

A Brief Recap (5 months in Taiwan)

August 2013

On August 19th, I arrived bright and early in Taipei’s main international airport. My travel flight itinerary when flying from the U.S. to another country actually went according to plan, so that was nice for a change, and already different from my last arrival in Taiwan. Apart from being dog tired from all of that airport waiting and flying, driving from the airport into Taipei and glimpsing the familiar Taipei 101 skyscraper in the distance forced a gigantic smile on my face. The experience was all so surreal.

The organization, Reach to Teach, which helped me find my ESL teaching job before I arrived, informed me that my school would have a taxi waiting for me to take me to my temporary accommodations as I was, once again, technically “homeless”. I was deposited at my temporary stay, an apartment with several rooms that other teachers of the same school were staying at until they found a more permanent home, yet I only met one of them during my time there in the first week. The Internet was not working when I arrived, and I had no idea where I was. To top it all off, I already had a letter from my school saying that I had to check-in with them the following day and to bring this and that with me. As I landed in typhoon season, rain and winds started pounding Taipei a few days later, and I had to find a place to rent within a week or begin to start paying money where I was currently staying. The other teacher and I found head office, I discovered how easy the Taipei MRT (metro) is to use, and I got a little more comfortable with my bearings. I was filling in what would become my class two days later, and I started teaching on my own the following Monday. 
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Posted on by Sarah V. in Asia, Places, Taipei, Taiwan 3 Comments

2013 London Watercolor Diary

Part 2: London

Determined to fully live out my dream holiday, I decided to capture my trip using travel watercolors in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. I also brought along a water brush and my brand new set of Lukas travel watercolors and used black Faber Castell waterproof India ink pens. This is my London watercolor diary. See the beginning: Amsterdam and Scotland watercolor diary.

Big Ben watercolor

Big Ben and London Eye. (C) Sarah, Uncaged Traveler

I’m wondering if any of you are like me in the way that I can romanticize places that I’ve never been to before. If I read about a place or see it over and over again in television or films that I adore, I begin to internalize it and imagine what it would be like to be there in person. No other place has ever had as big of a hold over me as London, however. Since I was around 15 years old, I have dreamt of going to this magical city. I have been nothing short of an Anglophile since that age, and my love for all things British has been accumulating since the young and impressionable age when I started reading Harry Potter. In high school, I did a presentation over the Tower of London. I gobbled up British-English words and phrases that were different from American-English for fun in my free time. I looked on in wonder at films that were set with London as the backdrop and was equally mesmerized by the history seen there, especially reveling in the historical connections between London and my old stomping grounds of Charleston, South Carolina. I also felt a connection to London and the UK in general through its various television shows and dramas that I can’t help but be sucked into.
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Posted on by Sarah V. in England, London, Travel Stories, UK 1 Comment

2013 Amsterdam and Scotland Watercolor Diaries

Part 1: Amsterdam + Scotland

Determined to fully live out my dream holiday, I decided to capture my trip using travel watercolors in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. I also brought along a water brush and my brand new set of Lukas travel watercolors. My first few paintings in the Netherlands were not done in the Moleskine; my American friend was bringing me the notebook when we met up later. I took along some paper of my own to suffice until then, and ended up adding some black waterproof pens that I found at The Van Gogh Museum to my kit. This begins my Amsterdam and Scotland watercolor diary.

During July 2013 and after concluding my first year of being an ESL teacher and living in the Czech Republic, I decided to take advantage of my close proximity to the many different European nations in a grandiose send-off for myself in what I could only call my dream holiday. Living in the Czech Republic, I spent my first month in Prague for my TEFL training; I also visited several cities in Germany (Nuremberg, Berlin, and Dresden, notably) for short trips and saw Vienna and Salzburg Austria in all their Christmas splendor. However, before coming to the Czech Republic, I had never stepped foot in Europe. As excited as I was to start my year long teaching adventure, my heart still longed to explore the other parts of Europe, especially the UK. To be honest, I really didn’t know much about the Czech Republic before landing there in 2012 so I didn’t realize how attached I would become to it. I knew more about the more western European countries–mainly that I wanted to spend time in them; unsurprisingly, that feeling didn’t change over the next year.

After a LONG night of saying goodbye to my Czech friends at the local pub and staying up until 3 AM packing, I headed by bus to Prague for my good friend to babysit my one big suitcase for a few weeks while I traveled with my backpack.

Amsterdam

My first stop was Amsterdam, a write-in I decided to squeeze in to see after I read John Green’s novel, “The Fault in Our Stars” while in Czech. After falling in love with the book, I knew I had to see the city that both inspired it and in which some of the novel takes place. Some of my Amsterdam story involves me getting lost…a lot. While getting lost had somewhat to do with my directionally challenged skills, it also had to do with a communication failure with my first ever Airbnb host. Prior to this, I had only heard of how great Airbnb is; after my whole experience using it in July, I am a huge fan (despite my brief moment of panic I experienced trying to find my first stay). I can see myself only ever booking Airbnb rooms in the future if possible. Not only did I get a reasonably priced room which I did not have to share with anyone else, I also met a native Dutch woman and her two children while I stayed in her home. She made me tea one afternoon, and we sat and chatted about her life as an artist, where she comes from, where she has lived abroad, and what she hopes to do in the future. She was also kind enough to lend me her bike while I was there. Now after that, WHY would I ever stay in a hotel room or hostel again?

Watercolor of Amsterdam canal

First watercolor–a canal in Amsterdam, near Westerpark, where I was staying. The watercolor I made just before I got lost trying to find my way back.  (C) Sarah, Uncaged Traveler

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Posted on by Sarah V. in Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Places, Scotland, The Netherlands, Travel Stories, UK 4 Comments

Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Why I Ran Away

Addressing my Absence

JFK Airport

The journey home: Prague to Warsaw to JFK Airport (pictured above) to Charleston Airport

Forgive my EXTREME bout of tardiness in, well, doing anything related to this blog. That list of tasks that I have not completed in an embarrassingly long time includes checking my blog emails, posting new blog entries, and replying to the postcard series that I started with my dear friend, Inge. My life lately has been busy, brilliant, confusing, and sad. To be honest, I’ve felt extremely lethargic about writing on this blog, which is sometimes normal for me out of a fear that whatever I write won’t be good enough or up to my standards. But this time, the feeling is different. The feeling, I think, has come from returning briefly from Europe to my family in the States…and then turning around and leaving again for a place that has a drastically different lifestyle and culture. To give you readers an idea of what’s been going on with me, here’s a list of what’s happened since I last updated:

1) I’ve traveled around Amsterdam, Edinburgh, London, Cardiff, Venice, Faenza, Florence, Bologna, Prague, Charleston, AND Kentucky.

2) I said GOODBYE (aka ‘see you later’ for an indeterminate amount of time) to my very dear friends in Czech and to my American *”translator” Tammy. Cried at the airport gate and on the plane. Had people give me strange looks. I think they thought I was a nervous flier. Had an 11 hour layover at JFK airport in NYC! That was AWFUL. (Calling you out, JFK–it does not help that you have a 24 hour lounge BEHIND security that I cannot reach when I arrived too early to get my boarding pass. Jerks.)
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Posted on by Sarah V. in Advice, Travel Stories Leave a comment

Postcard #6 Juice, Juice, Juice and More Juice!

Read Postcard #5 Here

Dearest Sarah!

Wow, it’s been a long time. It’s just been so busy here in South Korea that I have failed to write in a timely manner. I do hope you forgive your wayward friend. I’ve seen through some healthy facebook stalking that you are alive and well and in the US of A once again? How is it? Is there any reverse culture shock or hopes of returning to Europe before the summer ends? Do you want to go back to Amsterdam and get lost again? Or do you prefer to eat your grandmother’s cooking?

We are doing well here in South Korea. It’s summer and so very nice and warm. Everyone complains that it is hot and stuffy, but I feel like the weather is just perfect and cool. That is probably why the winters are so miserable for me, I’m naturally a summer baby. Cold air doesn’t do my spirit good. Did you know the first winter in Korea I made a list of all the things that I enjoyed about the winter, so I wouldn’t get depressed by the cold? So when I would get in a bad mood for the treacherous temperatures, I would get my list out and look at…. #11 Hot Chocolate in the winter taste good.. #21. In the winter, the apples are cheap. Let me go buy an apple to cheer up! It sorta worked. Especially when I had peanut butter in the house. Eating apples and peanut butter together, wow! Do I need to say more? And if you’ve never tried this combo, just go to Walmart right now and put yourself out of your misery! Be enlightened!

Just days ago, Juan and I finished a 15 day juice fast. For 15 days we just drank fresh vegetable and fruit juice in order to detox our bodies. Yes, we may be crazy, but we prefer it that way. It’s more fun. We bought all kinds of spinach and parsley and kale and then weird vegetables to put in our juicer to see what would happen to them.

Juice Fast, Inge Kathleen Photography, Juan Job, Fruits and Vegetables

Bright-eyed and innocent on Day 2 of our Juice Fast… On day 14, we didn’t look so happy. ©www.ingekathleen.com/blog

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Posted on by Inge K in Postcards, Travel Stories 1 Comment

Postcard #5: Literally Getting Lost in Amsterdam

Dear Inge,

Thank you for sharing your past birthday woes with me in your last postcard. The tale of your traumatizing birthday, I’m ashamed to say, helped cheer me up a bit. I definitely agree with you on one thing: the sobbing, tear-filled ‘goodbye’ must be an American thing. As one Czech friend said to me in a matter-of-fact tone, “you Americans have so many goodbyes!”. I totally get his meaning; we started saying goodbye about 2-3 weeks before we had to leave because half of the Americans were leaving before the others, so goodbye parties ensued and lasted for a good while. And even when we attempt to say our parting goodbyes, they always end up taking 10-15 minutes, like that nauseatingly stupid phone call between two lovers:

“You hang up first. No–You!”

I am amstedam

The classic tourist photo-taking spot of Amsterdam in front of the Rijksmuseum.

Anyway, you know if anything can help to dry my tears of sadness and break through my glass case of emotion, it is a holiday around Europe and to the place that I’ve wanted to go to for about ten years since I realized I was obsessed with British culture–LONDON–which I am currently enjoying. My feelings about finally being here are beyond words. The whole thing is a bit surreal–what is my life?! I am so glad that I didn’t wait to fulfill this dream until I was older, settled down, and retired; especially after I saw how the older (and also, shorter) ladies and gents in our massive group had trouble hearing our guide at the Tower of London. I think by that time, my stamina for trying to squeeze as much juice out of my trip would be overshadowed by my aches and pains and physical problems that come with age.

But I suppose I should give you an update of how I’m getting on in my travels, eh? Let’s start at the beginning, July 2nd.

I decided to try Airbnb.com for booking rooms for several reasons: 1.) the prices were much cheaper than most hotels and hostels and 2.) you get to stay with a local to get all the inside tips (and directions) on places to go. My first Airbnb experience was in Amsterdam. I flew to Amsterdam for a short visit of two days. I had been given pretty detailed directions on how to get there from the airport, but when I got off at the right bus stop, I had no idea where I was. With my large pack on my back and another large shoulder bag, I began to wander around trying to find the correct address, and thus started a series of times in which I got lost in this confusing, albeit beautiful, city.

street in Amsterdam

The street my host lived on in Amsterdam, close to the center with the confusing canals.

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Posted on by Sarah V. in Postcards, Travel Stories 4 Comments