2015 Retrospective: Once In A Lifetime Experiences?

2015 started off slow — actually, with a bunch of trip cancellations/changes, as i had to spend all of January in Manhattan for work (yes, yes, there are worse places to have to be stuck for a month). at the time, i was worried it would end up being a crap year because it started out crappy, but boy, was i mistaken. indeed, i ended up canceling my January, February, and March trips, but definitely more than made up for it in the end, flying a total of 186,043 miles: significantly less than 2014’s 256,255, but i continue to be unfathomably fortunate to be able to travel like i do. (honestly, i’m waiting for it all to come crashing down, but until then…)



tunisia (early april)

it had been months since i was on a trip and Tunisia was a great place to get back into the swing of things. i have a soft spot for Francophone countries, and another for North Africa, so this was perfect. the highlight for me was the Bardo Museum, which, in my opinion, is worth a trip to Tunis. its collection of mosaics from antiquity cannot be beat.

my trip to Tunisia took place three weeks after the terrorist attack at the museumΒ in which 24 people were killed. as i was exploring the galleries, i came across a room and stairwell where a massive shooting spree took place, the bulletholes still scarring the wall. it was, to say the least, sobering, moving, and something i will never forget.

as i said at the time, though, i never felt in danger in Tunis, and i would gladly return again.

p.s. Tunisia has probably the best donuts ever:

[more posts on Tunisia]


i started the following note in March, towards the end of my Tunisia trip, as an idea for a blog post:

FullSizeRender (1)

what happened during my next trip would turn that idea on its head.

nepal (late april) [bucket list]

i wanted to see the Himalayas. i wanted to see temples and prayer flags. i wanted to be floored by nature. and all of that happened.

i couldn’t decide which video clip to show from my ultralight flight through the Himalayas near Pokhara, so here are two:

oh heck, here’s a picture of a temple with prayer flags too πŸ˜›


and then…

but yeah. as many of you know, i was there for the earthquake. if i thought, as i did in Tunis, that standing where there was a shooting was a life-changing event, no, this topped it. i won’t belabor you with what i posted in April (a four-parter on my experience), but you know, my notions from just a few weeks earlier of what made a good trip were now dust in the wind. yes, i got food poisoning from eating whatever food we could get, and yes, i did have to rough it for a night (on a random hotel’s lobby sofa), but i still had an amazing trip, no matter how you look at it. not amazing in the traditional sense (though there’s that too), but amazing in that i can’t begin to count the life lessons that i’ve learned and how much my eyes were opened to “real life” at a destination (well, more than i think it would have been otherwise; i was still very much sheltered from the worst of things). and really, isn’t that what travel is about?

what isn’t amazing, though, is my still lingering survivor’s guilt (not a lot, but it’s still always in the back of my head), but that’s another story for another day (or a therapist). over 9,000 people were killed and this Californian, who should be used to earthquakes by now, still stops in his tracks when he feels the ground rumbling from a passing heavy vehicle.

Photos from Kathmandu

[more posts on Nepal]

romania (early may)

ever since i became friends with someone from Romania in grad school, i’ve wanted to visit, and i was happy to finally be able to make that happen.

i’d always been intrigued by the Palace of the Parliament, the second-largest building in the world, after the Pentagon (mostly unoccupied…):

Bucharest is nice, but i’m glad i made the last-minute decision (literally during the trip) to take the train and spend some time in Sibiu, which i actually first heard about in grad school when it made European Capital of Culture. two of my favorite moments from the trip were discovering what some graffiti meant:

and the wonderful Holy Trinity Cathedral in Sibiu:


oh, and of course the landscape:

on my way home i happened to have an overnight layover in Moscow during Victory Day. man do they take it seriously!

[more posts on Romania]

helsinki and vienna/eurovision

i changed this trip several times (it was an award redemption and i was elite — man i’m going to miss this benefit along with lounge access) and finally settled on Helsinki because i was working on a pretty media-heavy project for work and needed fast internet. it was my first time in Helsinki since i visited in the dead of winter 2006. it’s definitely more pleasant when it’s warmer πŸ˜‰ perhaps my favorite day was when i walked up the western coast of town to the island park of Seurasaari.


though i suppose this was also a highlight (#transitgeek):

oh! i almost forgot that we uhh, had a little accident when we landed in Helsinki…

i continued on to Vienna for Eurovision, my second time (and definitely not my last).

Love love love these gay-friendly walk/don't walk signs!

my little Conchita-fandom moments:

and it was so cool to hang out with Twitter friends, too!

speaking of Twitter friends, on the way back i stopped over in London:

[more posts on Finland]

kazakhstan (june)

this trip was a bit hard to put together, but worth it! i had a cheap ticket to Moscow and needed a way to get from there to Kazakhstan. from Moscow i had an overnight flight to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), did a day tour there, then went to Almaty (Kazakhstan) for the week, ending the trip in the new capital, Astana.

yeah, quite a few fun airlines involved:

and my emoji-only review of the latter:

all three of these cities are underrated and worth a visit, IMHO. Bishkek is kind of sleepy but not bad for a day trip. Almaty is small but there’s lots of stuff in and out of town (in=Kok Tobe, out=Shymbulak ski resort with its gondola rides to the summit), and the modern architecture of Astana alone would make a trip worth it (well, for me).

oh and this:

one word of advice, though: watch where you’re going. i stepped in one of the many roadside water canals by accident and twisted my ankle — took months to fully heal!

[more posts on Kazakhstan]

middle east DO 2 (august)

following last year’s very successful Middle East DO organized by Jamison, we did it again this year, to Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait.

on the way there i had an overnight layover in Dulles and made the most of it by visiting the Udvar-Hazy museum:

but back to the Middle East: it was so much fun but let me summarize (ha) by saying it involved camels, a drive along a certain highway, and singing sand dunes in the middle of nowhere (all unrelated):

oh, i totally forgot about when i went to explore an abandoned building and discovered it was where gay hookups take place. eeep!

brazil (late august-early september) [bucket list: brasilia]

i took advantage of a cheap ticket to head on down to Iguazu Falls, but extended that to stay in Sao Paulo a couple days, and then Brasilia for the weekend. Brasilia was on my bucket list for a long time, for much the same reasons that Astana intrigued me so: a planned, modern capital — except this one happened half a century ago.

Iguazu (i actually went to the Argentina side on a day tour so i’m calling it Iguazu and not IguaΓ§u) was never really something i WANTED to do (like, it wasn’t a goal of mine), but it really is quite magnificent nonetheless!

one of my mini-goals was to take the new Sao Paulo monorail (which only runs between two stations, but whatever, my transitgeekdom needed to be satiated):

oh, and friends also took advantage of the cheap tickets and we met up for dinner!

i discovered what a brigadeiro is, all because of a button that looked like a pompom on my airbnb’s microwave:

Sao Paulo was nice but i really just wanted to go to Brasilia to see all the Niemeyer architecture. IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT.






georgia-the-country (late september-early october) [bucket list]

i’d been wanting to visit Georgia for several years now and was finally able to make it happen. i got there by way of Dubai and on the way there, i sat on a pat of butter that somehow landed in my seat when the flight attendant was picking up trays. i only noticed while walking off the plane and managed to change shorts at the airport. i got to the airbnb and, thanks to a little help from my twitter friends was able to get the butter out thanks to having a suite with a washing machine and kitchen:

there was a lot i really loved about Tbilisi — i know it probably won’t sound right when i say it, but i really appreciated the decay.


on the other hand, i really loved the modernity of this building:

i have a soft spot for Orthodox churches, so passing through one during a service was a treat:

oh, and if you go, you MUST eat khinkali!

the highlight, though, was when i did a private tour/day trip down to the David Gareja monastery on the southern border of Georgia — the disputed border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

we climbed the mountain behind the complex to reach the cave chapels on the other side and, depending on what map you look at, over to Azerbaijan:


on the way back to Tbilisi we stopped in Sighnaghi where, by chance, a wine harvest festival was taking place. YES!

the crown

at Tbilisi airport i picked up a crown from the Burger King. it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. i kept it on all the way through passport control, to the airport lounge, on the plane, on the Dubai metro to the hotel where i was staying overnight, and through check-in:

lima (october)

i took advantage of another cheap ticket to head down to Lima, this time stopping in Panama City overnight.

i headed out to the Panama Canal for the afternoon and spent the evening in the old town, Casco Viejo. quite lovely!

Can a picture get more instagrammy?

Lima, well, i didn’t have much of a chance to explore it because i had to work during the day, but i made the most of the nights by going to some of the best restaurants in the world (apparently) and splurging on their prix fixe dinners.

the first one i went to, IK Restaurante, seemed to concentrate a bit more on the showy aspects of modern cuisine:

the second, Astrid & Gaston, was more food-centric, and it showed. absolutely amazing:

the third, Central, was half showy and half foodie-y.

i would love to have another Astrid y Gaston dinner again!

on the other end of the price and fanciness spectrum were some of the best sandwiches i’ve ever had:

on my last day i did a day trip down to the boho district of Barranco — loved it, especially the artsy aspects:

By Jade Rivera

the time i crossed the country in a chicken suit

JetBlue had a crazy Halloween promo…so i decided to fly to Fort Lauderdale and back (literally get off the plane and get on another and fly back) because it was ridiculously cheap. since it was Halloween, i figured i’d be festive and dress up. i ordered a chicken onesie and…

from my seatmate on the flight out:

i don’t know exactly how their social media team organized this (it was a complete surprise), but:

chiang mai (november) [bucket list]

launching a sky lantern has been on my bucket list forever, and finally Yi Peng/Loi Krathong lined up with Thanksgiving so i was able to go. i did a lot more than launch a lantern (got a ton of massages, did a cooking class, saw many many parades, took a day trip down to Chiang Mai and over to a Laotian island), but this, this was the highlight, hands down.

since i couldn’t just celebrate Yi Peng with a lantern launch, i also launched a krathong for Loi Krathong:

one very pleasant surprise was passing by a temple during an opening ceremony for the festival. so beautiful:


oh, and since people seemed to like that i did this sort of thing, i’ll make a note of it:

tirana and paris (december)

ok, i’ll admit Tirana was kind of random, but i’m so glad i went!

i started off with a little adventure, renting a car and driving down from Tirana to Berat, an old Ottoman town with a castle on top of a hill. HINT: driving in Tirana can be, well…scary πŸ™‚


meanwhile, back in Tirana, i had always been intrigued by the old Pyramid building — an eyesore in an endearing way, i suppose?


i just couldn’t believe we (the free walking tour group i joined) climbed to the top of it!

when i travel i like to stay at Airbnbs because they’re cheaper, more spacious, and IMHO more authentic than hotels. sometimes that can backfire πŸ˜‰ i had intermittent water for over 24 hours!

midweek i flew to Paris because i hadn’t been in a while and i’ve been meaning to return (and also because i was meeting a friend from Germany there). it was lovely, as always.

it certainly wasn’t as cheap, though πŸ˜‰

as an aside:

anyways, it definitely was a good way to end the year.

here’s to a great 2016!

2 Comments on "2015 Retrospective: Once In A Lifetime Experiences?"

  1. Looks like it was a great year for you. What was your favorite place that you visited? You got to some remote locations.

    I tend to travel to more cities and to repeat ones that I like such as Barcelona, London, Paris, etc.

    Did you still see a lot of Love Locks in Paris? I’ve heard they are creeping back up after the city removed them.

    • thanks! i did see a few love locks but i didn’t go over any of the more uhh, historically-locked bridges so i’m not sure how those are looking nowadays. hmm my favorite place from last year i think has to be nepal (earthquake aside heh). friendly people, great food, amazing scenery. i’m doing a couple of repeats this year and am looking forward to them!

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