The Magic of Medellin

“Imagine there is a line here,” said Carolina, our tour guide, as she drew an imaginary line in the pavement. “This side is the legal side, and this side is the illegal side.”

“What side do you think Colombians like to stand on?” she asked.

As a few of us gave our guesses, she answered; “We like to walk down the middle of it! Well actually, we prefer to salsa down it!” she remarked, as she casually salsa-ed down the elusive line of morals.

I was on a walking tour of the city, and Carolina was taking us through Medellin’s downtown area where people were selling, well, everything. Bootleg DVDs, fried street food, sweets, fruits, knock off sneakers, knock off soccer jerseys, hardcore porn being sold right next to a church, as well as women of a certain profession offering their company to churchgoers; literally anything you could have wanted to buy seemed to be readily available.

I had arrived in Medellin a few days prior, after relaxing at a small finca in Manizales, and as much as I loved the coffee country, I was craving some city life. And Medellin certainly delivered.

Medellin had my curiosity early on in planning my trip; my uncle had lived in Medellin in the 80s during its most tumultuous period, and I had read a lot about the city going through a renaissance in recent years. I had mixed responses to people when I told them I was going to Medellin (and Colombia in general, but especially Medellin). Many people looked at me wondering why I wanted to visit the world’s most dangerous city, alone. It seems old statistics die hard, yeah? Others, mostly people who had actually been to Medellin, couldn’t have been more excited for me and went on to tell me it’s one of their favorite cities they’ve ever been to. What I knew about Medellin was a tale of two cities; I am well aware of Pablo Escobar and the violence he brought upon the city and the rest of the country. But I’ve also read about the city’s innovation, the pride of its citizens, and how it’s been rebuilding itself and writing new chapters to its story. I guess I was eager to see it all for myself and get my own perceptions of the place.

I hit the ground running when I arrived; immediately meeting up with friends I had made in Salento, and because it was the weekend, we walked to Parque Lleras, a party area where people drink in the park and socialize before heading to bars and clubs that surround the area. Similarly downtown’s shopping area, Parque Lleras is a sight for the senses. Lots of young people dressed in their best, sharing bottles of booze and laughing in the park, with people hawking cold beers and cigarettes, among other vices. The more you imbibe and submerge yourself into the scene, the blurrier the lines get. Take a double look, that seemingly innocent transaction of buying a pack of cigarettes might have been something else. That pretty lady flirting with your friends has a deeper voice than you expected…

The next morning I felt the pain and the shame of my hangover wash over me, and it took me a while to get going. I felt the anxiety of not getting up early and exploring the city I had heard so much about, but I spent the better part of the day lounging around in my hostel with no stamina to do any sightseeing.

My guilt finally got the best of me, and I made it out of my hostel to meet a friend for lunch. Along the way, I met a few Brits who had the perfect antidote for my hangover; Cuba Libres. Lots of Cuba Libres. Through our drinks, we came up with a great plan to do some sightseeing the next day and to go to the Atlético Nacional football game, one of the only things on my list of things I really wanted to do while in Colombia.

As things turn out, the game ended up getting canceled/postponed! What?! Super bummed, but still determined, we were told there was a football game going on in Envigado, a town right outside of Medellin. A much smaller scale than a Nacional game, but hey. We ended up grabbing a beer before the game at an unassuming outdoor restaurant. As it turns out, the restaurant was just about to close, and after the grill is put away and the plastic tables and chairs are stacked up, the eatery is also the home of the people running the restaurant. Soon, the family members brought out their own tables and chairs and began socializing with each other and playing card games. Suddenly, we felt very intrusive and tried to finish our beers quickly so we could head out.

Instead of being met with annoyed faces by the restaurant/homeowners, a man came over with a bowl of snacks and sat down with us. We stumbled through a few sentences, our Spanish not holding up so well and him not being able to speak English, but eventually he called his nephew over to help translate. After a few laughs and exchanges, the man started getting emotional and grabbed a napkin to wipe a few tears from his eyes. His nephew said that he was just very overwhelmed with talking to the three of us; apparently we were only the second group of foreigners he had ever talked to and he said it was a very special moment in his life. We eventually forgot about the football match and decided sitting outside of this man’s home and sharing beers with him was a much better night out.

The next day I set out for a walking tour of the city, where our guide, Carolina, gave us a really amazing rundown of the city and its history. I learned about the paisa culture, which is the name of the people who come from that region in Colombia. I learned that paisas were originally Basque and Jewish, which I found interesting as that is my heritage as well. Carolina took us all over the city, to many places she said locals would never recommend travelers to visit as they can be kind of seedy, but these areas are part of the city nonetheless. She also gave really great examples of how Colombians continued to live their lives and be their lively selves even during the most tragic and violent times.

  

While listening to Carolina tell stories of Medellin’s most darkest days, I was simultaneously watching the current state of the city; people selling things at the market and curious passersby smile and welcome us to their city. It was touching and emotional to learn about the turmoil the people of Medellin went through not so long ago, but to see how alive the city is today. It left me feeling inspired and optimistic about life in general, to see a city go through such a rebound and to see the people along for the ride.

After becoming a bit travel weary (I was getting sick of packing my bags and hopping on a bus, or catching a flight, and checking into a new hostel every few days), coupled with the vibrancy of the city, I extended my stay and spent the remainder of my days slowly but steadily exploring the corners and nooks of Medellin.

I biked around the very hilly and lush hills of Poblado, weaved my way through the crazy traffic downtown, and somehow managed to cycle up a mountain to Pueblito Paisa to take in more views of the beautiful city.

I took the metro up to the cable cars, which bring people up to comunas that are built high up in the mountains. The views alone from the cable cars are spectacular, but getting off and exploring the neighborhoods are also a real treat… A group of us explored Santo Domingo, the streets were filled with locals enjoying sunny day.

  
We were met with curious looks whenever we venture to an area that isn’t well traversed by foreigners. Almost always, we are asked where we are from, why we are here, and how we are liking Colombia.

While admiring the brightly colored street art in Comuna 13/San Javier, a woman on her porch started asking me and the group of girls I was with such questions. Her curiousity was piqued when we all gave her different answers to where we were from (the US, Germany, Canada, and Belgium). Once we told her we had just met at our hostel, and that we were all traveling through Colombia solo, she became very interested. She invited us into her home so we could meet her daughter and grandson. Between me and the three other girls I was with, we were able to pool our Spanish speaking skills together and had a lovely chat in her living room as she passed around photos of her family and asked us about our lives.

  
  
As we left her home, we all felt like we had just stumbled into a really special, magical moment. It seemed these little chance moments were following me in Medellin; to having a beer with the man from Envigado, to being invited into that woman’s home, and to having a family cook me lunch in their home!

While I was in the Amazon, I met a family from Medellin who were staying at my hotel. Camila, who is about my age, spoke English and told me that her parents wanted to invite me over to their home and cook me lunch. Camila picked me up at my hostel, and brought me to her beautiful high rise apartment in Poblado. I was welcomed by Camila’s parents, her brother, Camila’s boyfiend, and his young daughter who was very excited to tell me all of the English words she had learned in school.

Camila’s mom prepared a delicious lunch of traditional/typical dishes of the region. Over lunch, I talked about all of the things I had done in Medellin, and everyone declared that I had seen a lot! So it was decided that instead of Camila showing me around the city, we’d go for a swim and laze around their apartment’s pool. Fine by me.

After a few hours of swimming and napping poolside, Camila drove me back closer to where I was staying in Poblado. We wandered around a bit, and I asked her about growing up in Medellin; what it was like to grow up during the city’s most violent days and to watch it transform. It was really fascinating and I felt grateful that I was able to get firsthand accounts about what it was/is like living in a city that is so captivating.

Medellin was certainly a city of extremes. Seeing the tangible vivaciousness of the people and the daily life was contagious; watching people play soccer, skateboard, and enjoy the sunshine in Parque Ciudad del Rio, the kids running about and biking down the steep hills in Santo Domingo, listening to the man shout “Empanadas!! Empanadas!!” while selling the home cooked delicacy to his neighbors in San Javier, dancing at a club in Parque Lleras in a large circle with Colombians while screaming the lyrics to a song I had just heard for the very first time, having a girl armed with a Super Soaker loaded Aguardiente squirt some of the fiery beverage into my mouth, having strangers come up to me on the street to shake my hand and welcome me to their city… This whole mish-mash of life confirmed why I love city life so much.

But then there was the sheer beauty of Medellin; nestled in the Aburrá Valley with the lush, green Andean mountains surrounding it. Every view seems to be more beautiful than the last. Is it city living that makes me feel more alive or is it the mountains? I’m not too sure, but with Medellin, you don’t have to choose. You get to have both.

 

I ended up staying in Medellin much longer than I had planned on, which seemed to be a common theme among many travelers passing through. After I finally willed myself to pack my bags and move onto my next destination, my hostel was full of people who were researching apartments and trying to figure out a way to stay in Medellin for the long term.

I’m not sure if it was me falling in love with Medellin that made me stay longer, or me knowing that my next move, up to the Caribbean coast, was to be my last destination before it was time to head back home. I thought, maybe if I just ended up staying in Medellin just a bit longer, it would somehow put a stoppage in time and my inevitable departure from Colombia…

Paradise In Coffee Country

After my journey into the jungle, I flew back to Bogota for one more night, before heading out to the coffee region of the country.

I was greeted by a friendly British girl in my dorm room named Kirsten, and we set off to explore La Candelaria a bit; we went to the Botero Museum, had fun posing with some of his brilliant portraits, and then went to a bar nearby which was excellent. It was located in a small plaza where loads of people were chilling out, playing music, drinking, and smoking. The bar was tiny and rustic, it was super cute.

The reason for my night out was to meet up with a travel blogger, whose blog I have been reading for a few years now. Dani writes a blog called Globetrotter Girls, and coincidentally we were/are traveling through Colombia at the same time, and happened to be in Bogota at the same time as well! It was so cool to meet her in person and chat about our travels.

After a great last night in Bogota, I hopped on a quick flight to Armenia, one of the cities part of Colombia’s coffee region. The moment our plane started descending, I felt my heart grow a few sizes; I was in complete awe of the beauty of the region. Lush, green mountains as far as you can see. Green plants of all sizes are speckled with colorful flowers, and you see the life of Colombians living in this area; cowboys riding horses or pulling mules and people selling food out of tiny food stands on the sides of the streets. The scenery was exactly how I pictured Colombia to be like in my mind, it was so classic and picturesque.

I took about an hour car ride from Armenia to Salento, a tiny cowboy town where I spent the majority of my time in coffee county. The town is excellent! Very small, hilly roads, and people passing by on horses frequently.

I ended up staying at an eco farm/hostel which was about a 20 minute walk from town. This place was really special. It felt like staying at a person’s guesthouse/hacienda more than a hostel, and the people I met during my time there were fabulous.

My first day I took it easy, wandered around town a bit, and just sat around my hostel and took in all of the beauty. My second day was a lot more active; I hopped in a jeep with several people I met at my hostel and we headed out for Cocora Valley to do some hiking and see the wax palms, which are Colombia’s national tree.

The hike was great, but challenging in the heat. The views were beautiful, though. About an hour or two into our hike, we made our way to a little sanctuary where humming birds fly all over the place and you can grab a refreshment. The refreshment? Chocolate con queso! And interesting combination of hot chocolate served with a side of cheese. Colombians like to dip the cheese in the chocolate, let it soak a bit, and then eat it. Strange, yeah? But it wasn’t bad! On my way up to the sanctuary, I was hot, sweaty, and tired, and I thought to myself that the last thing in the world that I want right now is some hot chocolate. But, it really did help give me a boost and gave me a second wind to complete my hike.

We eventually made our way to the valley to see all of the wax palms, and they were gorgeous. The sun was setting just as we we were finishing, and we were greeted with some spectacular views, with the mountains and palm trees becoming gorgeous silhouettes against the colorful sky.

   
 
The following day, I had intended on going horseback riding, but my day took a different route. As I was relaxing in the morning, Thomas, a German guy who I hiked with the day before, told me he was chilling with some people outside. I ventured out to join, and there sat Alex, a guy from LA, and James, an Aussie. We were just shooting the shit, and naturally the conversation shifted to politics. We all had lively chats about each of our countries’ history, culture, and political systems. Along the way, someone moseyed to reception to grab a bottle of wine, and somehow, suddenly, the sun was setting with about a dozen empty bottles of wine at our feet.

We had several people join us during our little chat, and it was really neat to watch our circle expand and contact over the hours.

  
We somehow were able to walk over to the farm’s restaurant, ate dinner, then wandered into town to a bar to watch a band perform traditional Andean music, which was great.

The next morning, I woke up miraculously hangover free, and determined to have a more active day, other than walking to and from reception to buy wine.

I took a coffee tour at a nearby finca, which was 100% organic. The clever and simple ways the farm can remain organic was really fascinating.  

  

 

After our coffee tour, a group of us went horseback riding which was incredible!! My horse, Corozzo, was a beast. He was able to navigate really steep, muddy, rocky, narrow paths, and when we had open land, he really likes to gallop. Horseback riding in Salento was absolutely gorgeous, and it made me feel like an actual cowboy (cowgirl?). I had been horseback riding before, but only on a farm, so this was my first time riding through the mountains.

We made our way to a stream with a waterfall, which was FREEZING, but we decided to swim for a moment anyways. After our swim, we made our way to a little restaurant for a beer and some patacones con queso; fried plantains mashed into chips and then topped with cheese, so good!

  

After we galloped back to our hostel (I think our horses were ready to get rid of us), we all had dinner again at the farm’s restaurant, which might have been the best meal I’ve had in Colombia so far; BBQ pork and chicken with coleslaw and an amazing spicy mango sauce. It was a really lovely dinner, at that point a large group of us had become quite close, and it felt like a big family dinner.

We then started a bonfire, and spent the rest of the evening chatting and drinking wine around the fire. It was a perfect day, beginning to end.

It was so hard to pack my bags and leave Salento. Every day was eventful, yet relaxing. And the views never got old. I could have stayed at the farm/hostel for months. But I had another stop in the coffee country before I got back to city life in Medellin.

I’ll write about my quick but relaxing time in Manizales, and then about the fascinating city of Medellin in my next post…

It’s hard to believe my trip is winding down. Every day has been a new adventure, and now that Salento is behind me, I can safely say that those days spent in that small town were some of the best days of my life.

 

Colombia Calling: First Jaunt To South America

I’m a week into my first trip to South America; a new country, a new continent. My first trip where I am flying 100% solo. Planning and taking a trip alone stirs up questions, excitement, and doubt more than other kinds of trips. I kept going through the highs and lows of wonderment; will I be safe? Will I make friends? Will my Spanish hold up?

I’ve been in Colombia for a little over a week, three different cities, and so far I can say:

 1. I’ve felt safe and totally at ease traveling alone throughout the country.

2. I’ve met so many lovely people, both Colombian and fellow travelers, who have made my time in each place very special.

3. Yes! My shoddy Spanish has been getting me around! I think I can attribute that more to friendly and helpful Colombians than my bilingual prowess.

Choosing which country to first explore in South America was difficult; it is such a large continent, but I know several friends and family members who have either lived in or traveled extensively in Colombia, and every one of them expressed how much they loved their time there. After doing my own research, well, it was an easy sell. The Amazon! The Andes! The Carribbean coast! 

I had initially planned on starting in Peru, trekking to Machu Picchu, then making my way to the Amazon and taking a boat to cross into Colombia. However, after breaking both wrists in the fall, I figured trekking in the Andes was probably not the best idea. So I had to put Peru on the back burner and focus my attention on Colombia.

My adventure started by me arriving late at night into Bogota; the next day I was graciously invited out to do some sightseeing with my friend Zach and his family. Zach works as a tour director at the same company as me, and I had only met him just a month prior in Boston. He lives in Tunja, a town a little ways outside of Bogota. His family was serendipitously in town to visit, and it was great to have some company on my first day in a new country.

Zach introduced me to his friend David, a Colombian guy living in Bogota, and after Zach and his family set out for Tunja, David took over as a tour guide and showed me around Bogota. We hit up a few museums and walked around La Candelaria. 

Later in the night, we met up with my friend Juan; he is the brother-in-law of my friend and former boss, Kelly. She put me in touch with Juan and he was so great! He invited me out to go drinking with his friends. Everyone immediately welcomed me as if I had been a longtime friend and we drank and danced the night away.

Later in the night we went to one of Juan’s friend’s apartment, and even though it was well into the early hours of the morning, they immediately put on salsa music and started dancing in their apartment. I got a kick out of it because I had heard how much Colombians love to dance and now I was witnessing it. Juan was definitely the best; he is from Cali which is the salsa capital of the world and it showed! 

The next day I was feeling the effects of the night before, so I took it easy and just wandered around the neighborhood I was staying at, Chapinero. My hostel was really chilled out, with a really diverse range of travelers. It was really nice sitting out on the patio drinking and chatting with everyone, and hanging out with the hostel’s two dogs!! Every place I’ve stayed at has had dogs. Beautiful.

That night, I watched the Super Bowl at one of Juan’s friend’s place. It was a mixture of Colombians and a few American expats looking to watch some futbol americano. I had fun explaining the rules to Juan.

The next morning I set out to fulfill a childhood dream, explore the Amazon!! Arriving in Leticia was a sensory overload; hot, muggy, people of all types zipping by on motorbikes, the sounds of the jungle buzzing in the background, with all types of Latin music blasting virtually out of every corner. It was my first taste of small town South America life.

After wandering around town a bit, I randomly chose a restaurant to eat at. The restaurant was basically a concrete patio with plastic chairs and tables. No sign or name that I know of. The server said to me as soon as I approached “solo pescado” (fish only). Okay, sounds good. A few moments later I was given some soup, and then a platter that consisted of a whole, bone-in fish, rice, beans, and a plaintain, and some delicious, fresh juice. And here I was expecting to just receive a single piece of fish. 

  
Eating here was an experience; I almost felt like I was intruding on a family BBQ, everyone else there either seemed to be close friends or family. It was nice to sit for a bit and take in Leticia life; the kids running up and down the street chasing after the ice cream vendor, motorbikes and tuk-tuks flying by, and street dogs who are savvy enough to look both ways when crossing the street, and people narrowly avoiding collisions with motorists as they cross the streets where traffic lights and stop signs don’t exist.
The next morning, it was time to set out for the jungle. Myself, along with a husband, wife, and daughter from Medellin staying at the same bed & breakfast as me were taken to Leticia’s port, another sensory overload! Leticia is on the border of Peru and Brazil, so as you go out along the river, you are staring at three different countries at once.
We made our way to a nature reserve in Peru, and spent a few hours in the jungle with our guide. He spoke no English, but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand what he was saying. Camila, who is about my age and the daughter of the family I was with, spoke English really well and helped translate which was so nice!

The rest of the day was spent kayaking, fishing, and lazing around in hammocks. I met a Colombian named Pedro who has lived in San Francisco for the past 30 years. He said he took a spontaneous trip to the Amazon, “to escape the Super Bowl”, as he put it. He was really surprised and impressed that I decided to choose Colombia as my first South American country to visit and that I was traveling alone.

The next day, we basically spent the entire day on the Amazon River, while visiting a few small towns. On this journey we saw lots of pink dolphins and crazy squirrel monkeys that had a penchant for jumping on you and giving you awkward hair massages. It was a long day, but I loved spending time around the small towns and learning about how indigenous communities lived. 

  
   
 
 

My final day in the Amazon was a special one. I set out to explore the jungle once more, by myself. I we a bit apprehensive without having the safety net of my Medellin family by my side and with Camila helping with translating, but it turned out to be incredible.

I was taken around the jungle with my guide, Ramillo, who was around my age. He spoke no English, but he did a great job explaining things to me in simple Spanish that I would understand. 

Somehow I convinced myself to go zip-lining to see the canopy. I am terrified of heights but how could I go to the Amazon rainforest and not see the canopy?? As I was climbing up to the very top, the guide on the tree’s platform must have saw the fear on my face and asked me, “Are you afraid?” in English. “Yes, very,” I responded. It actually felt cathartic to be able to express my fear in English instead of constantly repeating “Ayyy….dios mio!!”

Zip-lining through the canopies was wild and I’m glad I went through with it despite my sneaking suspicion that this was going to be how I died.

After zip-lining, Ramillo and I went kayaking down a stream; it was so peaceful and serene. Ramillo saw how much I had been bit by mosquitos, so he stopped and found a bamboo-like plant, ripped it to get the pulp, and rubbed it on my bites to stop them from itching. He also showed me a very natural repellent; tiny ants that you squish (RIP) and rub all over you. 

We had a nice swim in the stream and sat for a few hours or so talking. In Spanish! We talked about so many things; Colombia, the US, our governments, our cultures, dating, our jobs, etc. It was amazing how much we were able to convey despite my very basic speaking abilities.

Shortly after, we were greeted with a massive downpour and had some lunch (Ramillo and another guide taught me how to eat a whole, bone-in fish, thank god). After that, Ramillo walked me out of the jungle to wait for my tuk-tuk and we parted ways. It was a perfect day!

I am currently in the coffee region now, which I will write about in a separate post. But it’s been incredible. I have seen and experienced so much, and I still have a lot more to see. Trying to take it all in, one day at a time, because trips like these just fly by. Until next time, hasta luego!! 🇨🇴

Broken

wrists

“I’m not allowed to say anything, or else I’d tell you,” remarked the X-ray technician.

“Fair enough,” I shrugged.

I was sitting in the small, dark room having both of my wrists X-rayed after I took a nasty fall, while stepping off a moving boat to dock it, about an hour prior. I was in a lot of pain, but it wasn’t excruciating, I reminded myself, trying to keep positive.

“Oh my god, I feel so bad for you,” the X-ray technician declared. “How are you staying so calm? I’d be bawling my eyes out if I were you.”

Well, that’s not a good sign, I thought to myself.

The X-ray technician’s ominous remark was followed up by the no-nonsense doctor who saw me almost immediately after I had my X-rays taken.

“You broke both of your wrists,” she matter-of-factly told me.  “I could tell they were both broken the second I saw you.”

Soon, all of the doctors and nurses at the urgent care center were either laughing in disbelief or looking at me with sympathetic eyes.

“Oh, honey,” said one nurse as she walked in with bandages and splints. “Both wrists?!”

So it would seem…

Several months prior I was out celebrating with friends as I had recently landed the job of my dreams; a tour director for an international tour company.

We are sitting around a table, in a hazy post-drink bout of laughter. We all start talking about what our personal version of the “dream job” is.

“I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who direct the airplanes in,” I say. “You know, the ones with those two orange flashlights.”

I’m met with a mixture of puzzled looks and laughter. But it’s true! I’ve always been really fascinated with airplanes. Physics was never my strongest subject, so an airplane’s capability to soar through the skies and get people halfway across the world in mere hours is somewhat magical to me. Despite flying several times a year, I am still the person who parks myself by the observation deck at the airport to watch planes take off and land, and I’m constantly snapping pictures out the plane window when I’m airborne. How cool would it be to up close with planes all day and having the power to direct those magnificent beasts with my orange flashlights? Dream job, I tell you.

Since starting my actual job, I’ve been allotted more time to travel, not just for work, but the job also gives me the flexibility to take periods of time off so I can travel on my own time as well.

The night before I broke my wrists, I was researching flights to places I was planning to explore in the fall; Miami, Mexico City, and Oaxaca. JetBlue was running a promo and my flights would have only cost me around $300 total. However, for the first time since having the freedom to book such trips, I was hesitant to make the commitment. A stream of anxiety pulsed through my body and I couldn’t place why.

Was my subconscious telling me to slow down? Since starting this job, I haven’t been in one place for longer than a month or so. Maybe it wasn’t right of me to be constantly moving, instead of learning to stay put for a long period of time.

That’s all nonsense, I told myself. If it truly makes me happy, I am going to keep living that way, until it doesn’t. But still, I held off on booking my flights and sealing the deal on my trip, despite the irresistible flight price.

Less than twelve hours later, I was sitting in an urgent care center, my wrists buried beneath a bag of ice to combat the swelling and to numb the pain. Good thing I didn’t book those flights, I thought. If this was my body trying to tell me to slow down and to stay put, I was reading the message loud and clear.

The nurses finished bandaging me up. My arms were now fixed at a 90° angle; my forearms perpendicular to my biceps. I was certainly a spectacle to everyone as I was checking out of the urgent care center, where I was about to be whisked away to meet with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss my prognosis.

“What are you gonna do now?!” a nurse inquisitively asked.

My mind flashed to me partying with fellow twentysomethings in South Beach, practicing my Spanish in Mexico City, and sampling mezcal in Oaxaca. All pipe dreams now.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“You won’t be able to work!” another nurse said.

I laughed at the thought of trying to work as a tour director or a writer with two broken wrists.

“I won’t be able to do…anything,” I answered, as I started to wonder how the hell am I supposed to accomplish daily chores and necessities with my injuries.

“Hey, you know what you could do?!” said one nurse, as he was eyeing my two arms in their fixed, perpendicular state.

“You could be one of those people with the flashlights who direct the airplanes at the airport!” he proclaimed.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” I responded, with a grin on my face.

10 Movies That Will Make You Want To Travel

This time of year always makes me more restless than I usually am. I’m usually pretty good about embracing all four seasons and finding beauty in the winter; but the short days, bitter cold, and overall bleak landscape of a gray January day can make me a little stir crazy. I find myself looking up flights way more frequently than usual…

If you’re feeling like me, but could also use that extra “push” to actually follow through with some travel plans, below are nine movies that will inspire you to explore. I also threw in one movie that will definitely remind you of the chaos of travel, but sometimes that’s the fun of it…

Lost In Translation

A great movie about two Americans abroad in Japan who are at different chapters in their lives, but are both at a crossroads. Sofia Coppola’s movie both showcases the beauty and vibrant culture of Japan, while also highlighting the feel of culture shock one experiences when they are in a strange and foreign place. The movie also shows how travel throws you into situations where amazing friendships and bonds can be formed from the most unlikely people, no matter how illogical it may seem.

Amélie

A sort of love story like this only seems like it would be plausible in Paris, yeah? Amélie is a shy, young adult who finds an older man’s long forgotten treasure box filled with childhood relics. This prompts Amélie to track down the man and return it to him, anonymously. Along the way, Amélie meets the love of her life, but is too timid and shy to come forward and reveal her true self. It’s a great story about love and taking risks in life, but the whimsical cinematography and the beautiful (and very French) score composed by Yann Tiersen will probably send you over the edge and make you want to look up one-way flights to Paris…

The Darjeeling Limited

A movie about three estranged brothers who embark an a spiritual journey through India while they are still reeling from their father’s death. Wes Anderson seamlessly displays the many senses of India; from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the large cities, to the natural beauty of rural villages. Most of the film’s score features samples from classic Bollywood movies, which helps sets the tone and romanticism of the country.

See also: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Midnight in Paris

Is there any director who can romanticize a city like Woody Allen? I don’t think so. Woody Allen showcases everything that is beautiful about the magical city of Paris. In the movie, a young screenwriter is magically transported to Paris in the 1920s where he meets his literary heroes. While there, he meets a beautiful Parisian woman who longs to visit Paris in the 1890s, where she believes is when Paris must have been its most vibrant. The movie does a great job at reminding people that while it’s okay to fantasize and romanticize about a certain time and/or place, we must not forget to live in the moment and appreciate what we have.

See also: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Little Miss Sunshine

A lovely movie about a dysfunctional family who take a road trip out west so the youngest member can compete in a beauty pageant. The journey to the pageant proves to be difficult, as the family deals with everything from a broken down vehicle, a death, and a full blown meltdown. It’s a nice metaphor about how sometimes it’s more about the journey, not the destination. The movie also has breathtaking visuals of the American west that will tempt anyone to hop in their car and head out for the horizon.

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries is the film adaption of Che Guevara’s tale of taking a road trip through South America with his best friend. It was on this journey that he noticed injustices throughout the countries he visited, specifically with the indigenous populations. It’s an interesting look at such a well known figure right before he became the revolutionary he is known for today. Not only will this movie give you a glimpse into South America and a taste of the freedom that only a road trip via motorcycle could give you, but it also conveys how certain trips become so much more than fun adventures; sometimes the experience of these journeys stay with you for a long time and shape the rest of your future.

Manhattan

Another great Woody Allen film that showcases his love for Manhattan. The story revolves around a neurotic writer played by no other than Woody Allen himself, and his complicated relationships with women and his friends. While the characters are compelling by themselves, the story being set in Manhattan makes the NYC borough play a major role in the movie itself. Filmed in black and white with a musical score from George Gershwin, the movie fantastically portrays all of Manhattan’s grit and beauty. There really is no place quite like New York, and I think anyone could appreciate this movie, whether you’re a local, tourist, or someone who has still yet to check off New York City off their list of places to visit.

Fun fact: Three of Gershwin’s compositions that are featured in this movie were performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic! (The rest were performed by the New York Philharmonic, naturally.)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

If only more people were as adventurous as Ferris! Ferris Bueller decides one day to ditch school and head out for a day trip to Chicago, just because. He takes his willing girlfriend and apprehensive best friend along for the ride and they all have the time of their lives while experiencing all the great things Chicago has to offer.

The movie not only highlights the great city of Chicago, but Ferris’s spirit is something I think all travelers can relate to. Sure, not all of us might have an amazing city like Chicago as our backyard, but that shouldn’t deter you from taking spontaneous adventures for absolutely no reason at all other than to just live life to its fullest.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Okay, so maybe this movie could also make a list titled “Movies that will make you NOT want to travel”, but hear me out! Regardless of your travel experience or where you are traveling, you are always bound to run into some snags and downright terrible travel woes. It just goes with the territory. Whether it’s a missed flight, being pick-pocketed, being stranded somewhere, it happens to the best of us at some point or another. Sure, at the moment it’s terrible and awful and you are probably experiencing a whirlwind of emotions that certainly does not include happiness, BUT, who doesn’t love a good travel horror story after it’s all said and done?

Once everything is sorted out and fixed (and usually everything always ends up okay in the end!), we all love gathering around and laughing at our misfortunes at the end of the day. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles revels in travel snafus, which is partly why it’s such a hilarious movie; because we can all relate and appreciate it.

Up!

Damn you, Disney/Pixar. They always know how to make me cry. This adorable animated film is about an old widower named Carl who sets out for adventure to South America, to honor of his late wife, Ellie, who had always dreamed of going. Carl isn’t the exploring type, but his love for his wife inspires him to honor her adventurous spirit and fulfill her life-long dream. One of the best (and emotional) scenes is when Carl flips through Ellie’s scrapbook and feels dejected and full of shame because he feels as though he let Ellie down because she never made it to South America. However, he discovers Ellie had filled her scrapbook full of her biggest and exciting journey of her entire life; her marriage to Carl. It’s a sweet reminder that things don’t always turn out the way we imagine or plan them to be, but that doesn’t mean your life can’t be full of excitement and fulfillment. It also shows that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in your life and explore the world around you.

So what are you waiting for? Adventure awaits!

Wanderlusting: Trendy & Bohemian Neighborhoods Around The World

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I’ve always been a sucker for the bohemian neighborhoods/districts. It’s usually the first thing I research when I am interested in a new city. Something about the perfect blend of charm, grit, and of course, the romance of the bohemian lifestyle in general is what appeals to me. In my latest bout of wanderlusting, I decided to do some research on some of these districts in well known cities all over the world.

Kensington Market, Toronto

Nearly half of Toronto’s population are immigrants, making the fourth-largest city in North America a vibrant mixture of different cultures. Toronto’s diversity is most apparent in Kensington Market; an eclectic area filled with shops, markets, bars, and restaurants. The busy streets make for optimal people-watching, and it seems at every turn, there’s a restaurant of any kind of cuisine you could imagine.

Best juice bar in the whole world. #romeos #kensingtonmarket #toronto #summertimemadness

A photo posted by Cait S (@cait_thewildwithin) on

gohittheroad shows us a few shops (and art murals).


A cleverly named thrift store found at Kensington Market. Photo by markdpaul.

#kensingtonmarket #toronto

A photo posted by Aritta Valiense (@arittavaliense) on

A vibrantly-painted restaurant captured by arritavaliense.

#Kensington #KensingtonMarket #TO #Toronto #BaldwinStreet #Urban

A photo posted by @elwoodjimmy on

elwoodjimmy gives us a glimpse into a shop.


Bikes parked on the streets of Kensington Market, courtesy of lindsontheroad.

A close up view of a beautiful building mural, photo by jmpuse.

Latin Quarter, Paris

It’s hard not to associate the bohemian lifestyle with the Latin Quarter in Paris. This wonderfully romantic and bustling area is located on the left bank of the Seine and is filled with cafes, bistros, and narrow streets. If you’re looking to fall in love with Paris, look no further.

#LatinQuarter #Paris

A photo posted by Catherine Westlake (@catebwestlake) on

catewestlake gives us a glimpse down one of the many narrow streets in the Latin Quarter.


cevphoto captures a perfect Parisian shot; an outdoor cafe situated outside of the Saint
Michele Metro stop.

#alley #latinquarter #paris #abbyandrosesgrandadventure

A photo posted by Lauren Rose Beale (@laurenrosebeale) on

An elegant view of the Latin Quarter at night, taken by laurenrosebeale.

The exterior of a quaint restaurant found in the Latin Quarter, taken by pinaytraveller.

A photo of one of Paris’s famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore, courtesy of lisa_jobe.

Barranco, Lima

Located in Peru’s capital, Barranco is dubbed as the artsy and bohemian neighborhood of Lima. Situated beachside and filled with trendy bars, restaurants, and music clubs; many artists and musicians both live and work in this district.

#Barranco #Lima

A photo posted by Valentina Bordalí Jesam (@valebordali) on

valebordali shows us a brightly colored alleyway found in Barranco.

#barranco #lima #sunday #11mesesnoes1año

A photo posted by @chykyy2003 on

An outdoor market, captured by chykyy2003.


A massive mural found on the streets of Barranco, taken by flaviamdoig.

#lima #barranco #travel #southamerica #friday #viernes #suramerica 🌎🌞🍃

A photo posted by Melinda Escobar (@melindaescobar) on

A lovely view of Barranco, taken by melindaescobar.

#barranco

A photo posted by Roberto Zamalloa (@zamayeiyas) on

A view of a narrow alley in Barranco, courtesy of zamayeiyas.


An eclectic-decorated restaurant found in Barranco, taken by luchitoi.

Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

Hopefully someday soon I’ll find myself in Tokyo, and I plan on spending a day exploring the Shimokitazawa neighborhood. It seems like it will give me a vibe of where all the hip locals like to hang out. Loaded with boutiques, restaurants, and bars, travelers will get a taste of what’s current and hip in Japanese culture.

rebeccastephan gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of a street in Shimokitazawa.

A bicyclist hanging out on the streets of Shimokitazawa, taken by happytulle.

quaint coffee shops around #tokyo #japan #shimokitazawa

A photo posted by Angela Nepomuceno (@lush_angel) on

A collage of various coffee shops found in Shimokitazawa, courtesy of lush_angel.


A shot of a graffiti-covered building, taken by caravansofterror.

Greenwich Village, New York City

Tucked in Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village, often referred to as simply “The Village” was a haven for the Beat and counterculture movement in the 1960s. While commercialization has turned Greenwich Village into something it didn’t used to be, there’s an undeniable charm that will never die.


Washington Square Park is located in Greenwich Village and is always filled with performances of some sort. I think Washington Square Park probably ranks as one of the best places in the world to people watch. yu_timoteo captures a pianist entertaining a crowd of park goers.

Nice Manhattan dinner #greenwichvillage #dollarslices

A photo posted by Mike M (@smokedmussels) on

$2 draft beers still exist in New York City! djmoflavor takes a street shot of Greenwich Village.

The Pigeons of Greenwich Village. #greenwichvillage #nyc #historic #alley

A photo posted by scottyely (@scottyely) on

scottyely captures a flock of everyone’s favorite bird on a cobblestone street.

A peek into interesting items for sale at a shop in Greenwich Village, taken by themarketnyc.

#nyc #manhattan #greenwichvillage #greenwichstreet #nexus5

A photo posted by @daamich on

Daamich shows us an overhead view of Greenwich Village on a sunny day.

Camden Town, London

Funky shops, open air markets, and packed streets are just some of the elements you will find when browsing Camden Town, also known as just Camden, located in the Inner London borough called, you guessed it…Camden.


p_siouf shows us a stretch of shops located in Camden, many of which are adorned with outrageous decorations to attract customers.

A view of an outdoor market in Camden, taken by janapea.

Moroccan lanterns #pretty #camden

A photo posted by Lauren Fernandes (@_laurenfernandes) on

A collection of Moroccan lamps for sale at a shop, photo by 1laurenfernandes.

#camdentown #camden #london #canal #river

A photo posted by Vegan 🌾 (@natalyvrahimi) on

smirkingrevenge shows us a shot of buildings situated next to Regent’s Canal, located in Camden.

#EnglishPubs #Camden

A photo posted by Fernanda Rabelo (@fernrabelo) on

A shot of a stairwell leading down to a pub, taken by fernrabelo.

burutapen shows us an adorable rustic cafe found in Camden Town.

Local Tourist: Playing Tour Guide In My City

A few months ago, I had an amazing opportunity to take three people from Indonesia around Buffalo, NY for the day. One of my best friends, Kim, is an anthropologist and has spent a lot of time in Indonesia for field work. While there, she’s met some pretty great people and has developed friendships with many of them.

One of them is a young woman named Ferra, who works as a tour guide in Indonesia. Ferra was in the US through the Fulbright Scholar Program, a prestigious program that awards grants to students to study internationally. Through this program, Ferra has met many people from all over the globe, including a few from her home country. She was able to travel all over the US during her time here, and she and two of her other Indonesian classmates/friends came to town to pay Kim a visit. Kim is an instructor at two colleges in Western New York, and she couldn’t get off work during one of the days everyone was here, so she gave me the honor of playing tour guide for the day and showing them around town. I was thrilled and flattered that she thought of me…

I immediately started thinking of things to do and places of interest; it can be a bit of challenge because I wanted to make sure I was giving them a nice blend of places a Buffalonian would go, but I also didn’t want to skip over any essential places that I think an out of towner should experience while they are in Western New York.

I picked up the trio at Kim’s parents’ house in the early afternoon, and I immediately knew we were going to get along great because they were so warm and upbeat to me the second I met them! Each of them were from different islands of Indonesia, which was neat, because I felt like I was gaining a pretty well-rounded perspective on the country and the different cultures and ways of life. Ferra is from Borneo, Bobby, a video producer, is from Papua, and Lenny, a travel writer, is from Sumatra.

After picking them up, I drove them straight to Niagara Falls, a most definite must see for anyone in town! It was a bright and sunny day, which made it perfect to roam around and take in the sights and sounds of Niagara River and the Falls. While driving on the 190 (a highway in Buffalo), I pointed to the land across the Niagara River to our left, which happens to be Canada! They really got a kick out of that. Due to visa restrictions, none of them were allowed to venture to other countries while they were in the US, so they loved to see how close they were to another country.

We made our way to the Falls, and I was so glad to be back…I really don’t visit the Falls enough, but I guess that is what happens when you live so close to something like that. I imagine Parisians only visit the Eiffel Tower when they have friends or family from out of town visiting, and it’s quite similar to Western New Yorkers and Niagara Falls. But there is no denying that the Falls and the raging rapids of the Niagara River are both breathtaking and worth the visit. The ride to the Falls is full of anticipation; you drive alongside the Niagara River the entire time, and the rapids grow more fierce the closer you get to the Falls, and in the distance you can see the mist of the Falls once you’re about to arrive. As soon as you park and get out of the car, you can hear the roar of the Falls before you see them, and you just follow the sound until BAM, there they are in all their glory. It was really fulfilling to be with a group of people who were experiencing it for the first time, it was almost as though I was living through them and experiencing the Falls for the first time as well.

We stayed there for quite a bit; we marveled at the Falls up close and on the observation deck, and then walked around Goat Island to get a good glimpse of the rapids. We met an interesting man who is originally from Brooklyn but is now living Buffalo, and he has been all over the world. We all had a nice chat with him and shared our stories of all the places we’ve traveled to.

After the Falls, we made our way back to the city for lunch, and I had to take them to get some wings. They’ve all had wings out in Arizona, but nothing can compare to chicken wings in Buffalo! Deciding where the best wings in Buffalo are is a never ending debate amongst Buffalonians, but I knew I didn’t want to take them to the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the Buffalo wing, because honestly there are so many other great places to go. Ultimately I decided on the Pan-Am Grill at the Hotel Lafayette, and that largely had to do with the hotel itself. It’s a gorgeous and historical building inside and out, and I wanted them to experience that. Also, the Pan-Am Grill pays great homage to Buffalo’s history, so I thought that was a nice touch as well. Admittedly, I had never had the wings there before, so I was taking a bit of a gamble, but they turned out pretty good. My only complaint was that they were not spicy enough… Depending on where you get wings in Buffalo, they can be very deceptively hot, but I’m a huge fan of spice and heat, and so were my Indonesian friends. However, the wings weren’t as spicy as I’d hoped. Either way, they all devoured them and agreed, they were WAY better than any chicken wing they’ve eaten in Arizona.

After lunch, I asked whether they would be interested in visiting the Albright Knox Art Gallery or Forest Lawn Cemetery, and they wanted to visit the cemetery, so off we went. Forest Lawn is a beautiful, 269-acre cemetery that has a lot of famous and important figures buried there. They taught me to say “permisi” before taking any photos, which is a way to say “excuse me” to the spirits to make sure they were OK with us photographing their graves. All three of them were really wowed by how large it was, and I took them to a few famous graves, one being the 13th President of the United States, Millard Filmore. I also wanted to show them Rick James’s grave, but none of them were familiar with him, despite my horrific attempt at singing Super Freak, so they weren’t too keen on venturing out to visit him.

After a bit of wandering, I decided to take them to see the grain elevators and silos. These are great relics of Buffalo’s past, as Buffalo was once the largest grain supplier in the entire world. They are now abandoned and rusted, very symbolic of Buffalo’s industrial past that has come and gone; however, they have since found new life…another great allegory of Buffalo’s recent renaissance. Art shows, festivals, kayaking, and rock climbing are just some of the things offered down by the grain elevators. The area has since been renamed Silo City, and it’s a pretty neat space to enjoy a range of activities. It’s most active in the summer, so when we were down there, not much was going on, but they still loved hearing my spiel about Buffalo’s past and I think they liked the eeriness of us being alone amongst the rusted giants that used to breathe so much life into Buffalo’s livelihood.

After the grain elevators, we met up with Kim, who was just wrapping up with her classes at Buff State. I made sure to drive up Delaware Ave and down Chapin Parkway to show them the extravagant and beautiful mansions and carriages houses that were built in the late 1880s. Many of the mansions on Delaware have since been converted into office spaces and country clubs, but the homes on Chapin are still residential and they are pretty breathtaking. Even though I’ve driven by them countless times, I still find myself slowing down in my car and staring every time I happen to be driving by. They are just incredible.

We eventually met up with Kim at the HH Richardson-Olmstead Complex, which is located right next to Buff State. It’s an abandoned insane asylum that was designed by famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and the outside was designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Olmstead. Olmstead created a vast park system in Buffalo, with its focus to incorporate nature into urban living. He based his designs on the park systems in Paris, and his parks are an integral part of Buffalo’s design. You may be more familiar with his contributions to New York City, as he designed Central Park.

Anyways, the Richardson Complex is an absolutely stunning building that has a strange history given that it was an insane asylum. Add in that it’s now abandoned, and it’s become quite a point of interest for tourists and locals alike. Tours of the interior are only conducted in the summer, but viewing it from the outside is just as intriguing because it’s beautiful, with all the classic “Richardsonian Romanesque” elements that Henry Hobson Richardson designed his buildings with.

We took some pictures outside of the building, and made sure to say “permisi” to ensure that no spirits would appear in any of our photos haha…and then we decided to grab a drink. Lenny said she was in the mood for something sweet, so we decided to head to the Chocolate Bar, a swanky dessert bar in Buffalo’s entertainment district. We all ordered dessert flavored martinis and some sweets to pass around. After drinking, we ventured a block down to a restaurant/bar called The Lodge, because it has a bunch of arcade games. We ordered some more drinks and started playing skeeball, air hockey, and the longest game of pool known to man!

After our games, I thought it would be fun to head up to Allentown, which is where I usually like to hang out to drink. Allentown is filled with an eclectic choice of bars; ranging from your typical dive bars, sports bars, more swanky places, and great bars that have live music. I chose Nietzsche’s; not only are the drinks cheap with an interesting crowd, but there happened to be burlesque girls that night which I thought would be a bit different. There was also a young guy covering Madonna songs on a piano which was pretty fun. The burlesque girls were great, it was the first burlesque show for Ferra, and she seemed pretty amused.

At that point, it was pretty late in the night, and it was time to say our goodbyes. They were all heading out the next morning to continue on to New York City. My new friends gifted me a guide book on Indonesia, along with some Indonesian trinkets and a very sweet thank you card which they all signed and wrote little messages. It was so nice! They were all so appreciative that I took them around, but honestly it didn’t feel like a task at all, I had a blast and they were so much fun to talk to. I felt full of pride showing them around my city, but I was having just as much fun asking them about their lives in Indonesia and what it’s like living there.

I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to meet Ferra, Bobby, and Lenny and I now consider them my friends…even though we come from very different parts of the world, we all have very similar interests, especially when it comes to traveling and exploring. They all seemed down for going on adventures, and I think I just found some more travel companions for future travels. I’m looking forward to visiting them in Indonesia so we can swap roles and they can take me around their towns.