Monday, January 31, 2011

唐人街: Amsterdam's Chinatown

If you have been following my blog for a while, you must know by now that I love traveling to Amsterdam.  The city is one of my favorite spots in all of Europe, and the atmosphere is very open and welcoming. Since I have been to the city before and have visited all of the typical tourist attractions, like the heineken factory, Anne Frank house, and Van Gogh museum, it was nice to find a new part of the city that I absolutely fell in love with the moment I entered. 

Did you know that Amsterdam has a china town? I know, not what you would typically think of when you hear the word Amsterdam. The last time I was in the city, I spent sometime meandering around and stumbled upon this little gem. I did a little research and the china town in Amsterdam was founded in the 1980's in the red light district. I guess nothing goes better with prostitutes than some peking duck? They have them hanging in the windows in many authentic restaurants. 

The street signs in this neighborhood are in Dutch and in Chinese.

Amsterdam's Chinatown also has the first and biggest buddhist temple built in Chinese style in the Netherlands. It is named Fo Guang Shan He Hua temple which translates to Buddha's Light Mountain. 

You can spend time inside the temple and light candles for good luck. I spoke with the man who was tending to the temple, and he said it is tradition to either write the name of someone you want to honor on the candle, or write your own name for luck. I must say, I felt so positive when I was in the temple. It brought me back to my days in Thailand. I really admire the Buddhist religion and would like to learn more about it. In fact I think I am adding it on as a last item on my new years resolution list since today is the last day of January. 

Another guilty pleasure I love to enjoy is massage.  This Chinatown offers many different types of chinese massage, so I had to take time to get off of my feet and enjoy a head, neck, shoulder, and foot massage. It was so relaxing I even dosed off a few times. I love getting massage on vacations because I feel as though I get a recharge boost and can enter a state of total relaxation.  My advice is that if you are ever in Amsterdam, make sure to check out China Town for massage, good food, or just a new experience. Until next time, I'll see you on the internet. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flashback Friday: Uruguay

I absolutely love Friday's for so many reasons. One of the things I look forward to most Friday's is my skype date with my best friend of 21 years. Michelle and I met when we were 5, and joke because at one point of our lives she was actually taller than me. Now I'm 5'9 and she's 5'5 so I don't think she'll ever get to claim the award for the taller friend. We try to video chat every Friday to stay in touch in each other's lives.  This past summer I was a bridesmaid in her wedding and had a great time celebrating her special day in Blacksburg. This past Friday, Michelle and her husband Mark returned from their honeymoon in Uruguay, and it reminded me of the trip her and I took there when I finished graduate school back in 2006. Michelle's parents are originally from Uruguay, and she is first generation born in the USA. Since her parents have a lot of friends and family back in their native country, the family traveled back to South America every few years- and I was always so jealous I couldn't go with them. When they asked me to join them for Christmas and New Years I immediately jumped at the opportunity. After all the Guarino family was my second family growing up.

I will never forget the trip to Uruguay. Getting there was the one of the worst travel experiences I have ever had- and it all happened on Christmas day.  First of all, we had a huge storm in DC so my plane was delayed more than 5 hours.  I was suppose to land in Miami with a 6 hour layover, and due to the delay I literally had to sprint through the terminal to make it to the plane. It was a miracle I made it, and then we were on our 12 hour flight to Montevideo, Uruguay.  Once I arrived the next worst thing that could happen did. My luggage didn't make it! Now, this wouldn't have been a huge problem except for the fact that I had left the cold winter in DC and found myself in the hot summer of Uruguay without any clothes, sunscreen, or bathing suit.  I was spending a little over 3 weeks in Punta del Este where most women look like runway models- and wear thong bikinis. So to say the least the first week without my luggage was a challenge but I tried to make the best of the situation, and with Michelle it is always a good situation. Michelle is the closest thing to a sister I have, and when we are together it's always a guaranteed good time, with some trouble always lurking around the corner. Some of the highlights from the trip are in the pictures below:

Hiking on cliffs in Uruguay

Visiting the famous hotel Casa Pueblo

The Hand statue at the beach

The Guarino House- Solisomo

 Me and Michelle

 Chilling in the Hammock

 We were proud of our tans! Three weeks at the beach and I needed some aloe vera!

One of the highlights of the trip was horseback riding on the beach. The guides were really nice and let us sprint our horses across the pasture and race. I was so scared but it was exhilarating.
 One of my favorite parts about Uruguay is all of the meat! It is absolutely delicious and cooked over hot embers. Here you can see Chorizo's cooking. 

Monica (Michelle's Uruguay Buddy, Me and Michelle)

This was a bridge in La Barra. We loved driving over it so much one time we did it 5 times in a row.  We had so much fun just goofing around the entire trip. 

Now as you know sometimes when you take the road less traveled you get yourself into quite a predicament. I have had a few close calls in my years of driving, but I have never run out of gas, in the United States that is.  Michelle and I were out for one of our joy rides and then we realized we were almost out of gas. At that exact moment the car stalled and there we were stranded without money or gas miles from home. Things have a funny way of working out sometimes, and within a few minutes we noticed a large black truck pull up behind us. Then a shirtless man with six pack abs got out of the truck and came up to us asking if he could help. A few words were exchanged in spanish and before I knew it we were riding to this guys pick up to the gas station. He then invited us back to his bar, that he owned, on the beach. We hung out for a while, while he made us cocktails. We couldn't stop laughing the whole time and couldn't believe our luck. We always joke how we need to run out of gas more often to see what happens, although I am sure it will not be anywhere near as fun as that experience.

I also loved the frappe coffees in Uruguay. I made sure to get one at the airport before I left. 

Michelle and I were so lucky to spend that time together before I moved away and got a job in Richmond, VA. I am so glad her new hubby got to experience the culture of Uruguay!  Until next time, I will see you on the internet. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Flashback Friday: Viva Vienna

For this weeks Flashback Friday I decided to write about the city I was staying in the last time I was living abroad back in 2006.  I remember when I was sitting with the head of my Graduate committee Dean Sutphin, and I was presented with three options of possible study abroad opportunities. I had the opportunity to choose from: Olso, Norway, Ingolstadt, Germany, or Vienna, Austria. Being from Vienna, Virginia I knew Vienna, Austria would be the choice- it was just too coincidental not to choose that option. Austria is centrally located and would make for easy backpacking in my free time, and how many people can say they lived in two Vienna's? 

After a few phone calls and emails the Dean pulled a few strings and within a few weeks I was on my way to spend the summer working at the BOKU, The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria.  I lived in an area of the city called Grinzing which is known for one thing: wine! 

Views from Grinzing

Grocery shopping in Vienna- gotta love the cart!

Now here is the best part of the whole deal, my living accommodation. To best describe it, the accommodation housed girls who wanted to become nuns one day. Just picture me, 21 and living in this convent for girls. Ok, you can stop laughing now. In all truth, it was a really fun time and I got to make friends from girls from all over the world. Most of the girls on my hall were like me- just visiting for the summer and needing cheap rent. One of my favourite memories is when we had to come up with a scheme to get one of my friends boyfriends into the building without the nun at reception seeing. Without going into too much details, it involved me boosting him through the window. Gotta love being the tall friend who comes to the rescue!   

My job was three days a week at the University, Tuesday through Thursday. Most weeks I would take off at 4pm on Thursday and hit a night train to a different part of Europe, travel around and arrive back on Tuesday morning fresh off the train and into work. Meanwhile, I was taking two on-line classes for my graduate program. To say the least, it was a hectic summer, but one of the best I have ever had! Here are some pictures from my favourite highlights of Vienna.  


 Just walking around Vienna you see beautiful architecture and garden areas  

This is an awesome cafe' in the Natural History Museum. 

St. Stephen's Cathedral

 One of my favourite places to visit on the weekends was Vienna's famous Naschmarkt. You can see from the pictures below there was always a great selection of fresh foods. 

I have an obsession with olives....mmmm

Oysters and White Wine anyone? 

Fresh dried fruit

Sauerkraut- a staple in Germany and Austria

fresh home-made pastas

Lastly my favourite meal in Austria was fresh Schnitzel. The cafe' at BOKU had home-aid schnitzel every Tuesday, and it was the best thing to eat after a weekend away. It's traditionally served with boiled potatoes with a hint of vinegar. Delish!

I absolutely loved living in Vienna, Austria and would definitely recommend it as a travel destination if you are making your way through Europe.  Any readers out there ever been to Vienna? What were your highlights of your trip? Until next time, I will see you on the internet. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Plans for a Better Katie in 2011

I can't believe that 2011 is in full swing, and February is peeking right around the corner. I have always been one of those people who tries to make resolutions at the start of every year, and with my big transition in 2010 my 2011 resolution is to work on myself; mind, body, and soul.  I think it is a rare opportunity to have no underlying commitments at 26. I am so blessed with a well paying job, great friends and family, and also not having to worry about silly things, like bills for example. I know, I know, this is not normal. But with my great job, I am provided free housing and this gives me no excuse to not take advantage of any opportunity I think would better me as a whole. 

With holiday vacation's popping up later this year, and a visiting Virginia for one of my best friends wedding this summer, I have been working on getting back into the best physical shape I can be in. This has been a joint effort by many different lifestyles changes, some that were forced upon me. First off, I do not have a car here Scotland, so I get the great opportunity to walk everywhere. This has been something that I missed from my days of living in Austria, and I love finding new routes in the city to wander down. There is nothing like putting my ipod in and heading downtown in this city. It never fails that I run into someone I know, and love popping into a great coffee shop to have a pot of tea.

Yesterday I visited one of the most famous coffee shops in Edinburgh, The Elephant House. Now for those Harry Potter lovers out there, it has been said that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter at this coffee shop. The atmosphere is so cozy inside, and you can have your choice of tea, coffee, meal, and dessert. 
This is the view from the back window. I can see why J.K Rowling was so inspired in this place!

looks yummy doesn't it...

And now for a little bathroom humour- the toilet seat is an homage to the characters from the film. 

Back when I was a student, I had so much more time to work out and exercise.  I made a promise to myself when I moved over here to be more active, and I have been getting that ball rolling. Last November I tried out for the Women's National League here in Edinburgh and have been playing competitive volleyball three days a week. Although my body seems to be rejecting me right now, it feels great to be back on a team and play competitively.

I recently stumbled upon a little gem in Edinburgh while looking for a place to practice yoga and pilates.  Volleyball makes me super sore, and I am terrible at taking the time to stretch. Hence why I wanted to find a class that focus's on core and stretching. The Salisbury Centre is literally across the street from where I live and is the longest established holistic centre in Edinburgh. It is in a large Georgian house and offers therapies for spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. I recently went to my first ever pilates class with my co-worker Kristin, and it was super relaxing. The space we practice in and my teacher are so welcoming. For those of you who are reading this blog in Edinburgh, you should definitely check out this spot if you want to improve flexibility and strength. I hope to continue classes here throughout the spring. 

Finally I am working on being a more sustainable person overall. I have made a promise to only use my reusable bags that my mom bought for me before I moved over to the UK when out shopping. I have been doing a great job of this thus far and want to continue it through the year. They are so great and roll up to store easily inside my bag. Plus- some stores charge you for bags, so I never go anywhere without at least one of these reusable totes stored away in my bag. So there you have it, my plans for a better Katie in 2011. Until next time, I will see you on the internet.