Adventures with Karen

#AdventureswithKaren: Adventures in LA

After traveling and adventuring around the world for about eight months in 2014, the question I am most often asked since being back in Los Angeles is:

"Where was your favorite place?"

and the answer I most often use is:

"Oh gosh, every city was so different and unique. I don't know if I can choose just one!"

Some people see this as an easy way to avoid answering the question. But truthfully, I don't know if I have a strong opinion on any city in particular. The whole traveling abroad experience was surreal, and each moment in each new city was refreshing and exciting.


Athens, Greece

Tokyo, Japan

What makes it even more challenging to have a definite favorite is that I only had a few hours in some places compared to a few days in others. My memories of some cities include only the paths on which I jogged or the interior decor of hotel rooms in which I stayed. Because of that, I feel like my opinion is not as developed or informed as it should be.

Bored in some hotel somewhere in Europe

So let's skip that question.  Instead, let's talk about something else that I realized during my time abroad.

September 2015 will mark my seventh (let me repeat, seventh) year in Los Angeles, and my third year living on the Eastside (though Silverlake is hardly the Eastside, according to some). Despite my seemingly long tenure here in the city of angels, there are actually quite a few places I have yet to visit  (like the MOCA) and quite a few things I have yet to experience (like hiking the Escondido Falls in Malibu). I haven't done nearly as much exploring in the seven years I've lived in LA as I did in the two months I spent in Europe. How embarrassing it is to realize that I am a stranger to my own city!

There is a variety reasons for this lack of enthusiasm over the years for adventuring in Los Angeles including being too focused on school and dance, putting too much pressure on myself to be "productive" with my time, etc. But all of that excuse-making ends today!

Hopefully I can maintain the same spirit of adventure and exploration in this new year. Join me, won't you?

First #AdventureswithKaren back in LA at the Bootleg Bar

#AdventureswithKaren: Episode Europe Part 2

Part 2 of my #AdventureswithKaren in Europe is long over due. But as they say, "Better late than never!" Here are some highlights of the second part of my journey around Europe:

Manchester, UK:
The Northern Quarter is where all the awesome vintage shops are located. Afflecks gets a lot of hype and is a neat building to shop in, but I can't say that it's my all time favorite. The Northern Quarter is home to much better vintage boutiques including: We are CowVintage, Retro Rehab, and Pop Boutique.

Northern Quarter 

London, UK: 
Always a personal must-see is Brick Lane. The vintage shopping is excellent and the buildings are covered with art and murals:

Brick Lane

Paris, France: 
Of all of the tourist destinations in the world, Paris is likely to be a fan favorite for many. It has something for everyone to be excited about, from beautiful architecture and historical landmarks to museums (contemporary or otherwise) and amusement parks. I tried to fit a little bit of everything in during my visit:  

Arc de Triomphe

Love Lock Bridge

Disneyland Paris


Catacombs

I really enjoyed the Centre Pompidou, a five story contemporary art museum in Le Marais:


Centre Pompidou

The Louis Vuitton Foundation Center was visually stunning, and I really appreciated that they had a whole exhibit dedicated to the building's architect, Frank Gehry. The rest of the museum was a bit lackluster, and I'm not sure it was worth the 14 euro entrance fee. I would suggest simply to walk around the beautiful Jardin d'Acclimatation and take in the Louis Vuitton Foundation Center's beauty from the outside.

Louis Vuitton Foundation

Vienna, Austria: 
Something that really surprised me about Vienna was the prevalence of middle eastern food. The kebab stand's ubiquity in Vienna is similar to that of the Starbucks cafe in Manhattan. I was able to sample a few falafel boxes during my visit and was quite impressed.

Equally as impressive was the Museumsquartier, a 60,000 square meter area that is home to a variety of art museums including the MUMOK and Kundsthalle Wien (both of which were outstanding):


Mumok (Museum of Contemporary Arts)

Though the Museumsquartier is not to be missed, there are other sites in Vienna that are equally as astounding. The architecture there is grand, unique, and above all, breathtaking. There are buildings as luxurious as the Belvedere Palace, and as eclectic as the Hundertwasserhaus:



Belvedere Palace

Hundertwasserhaus

I didn't think Vienna would be so impressive a city, but I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer. 

Milan, Italy:
I had high expectations for my visit to Milan, but was unfortunately underwhelmed. The main attraction in town, was the Duomo di Milano:

Duomo de Milano

I did rather enjoy shopping in 10 Corso Como, a well curated art/design/fashion space. I couldn't afford anything on display, however, and left empty-handed after deciding against buying an 80 euro canvas tote bag. In retrospect, it was the right decision.

Zurich, Switzerland:
What I'll remember most about Zurich was its high cost of living. Public transportation was navigable, but sure did eat away at my budget. A simple salad at Tibits cost me a whopping $18, and even the HMxALEXANDERWANG pieces I purchased were somewhere between 20-30% more expensive than the listed US prices. I also wish that it hadn't been so rainy and cold when I visited:

Old Town



Barcelona, Spain:
Alas, my greatest regret about my trip to Barcelona was failing to try authentic paella. I know! It's embarrassing to admit such a blasphemy (especially to my foodie friends) but I should like to think that it gives me a reason to go back. And if not just to taste the famed rice dish, then certainly to see these beautiful places again:

Sagrada Familia

Parc Guell



Lisbon, Portugal:
What I enjoyed most about Lisbon was not the fado music or the steep and windy streets of Alfama (Lisbon's old quarter):




but the surprisingly strong vegetarian/vegan community. There was an abundance of meat-free cafes and restaurants in town, and my favorite was The Green Room:


And of course, I explored a few of the main tourist attractions:

Castle of San Jorge




Newcastle, UK:

Glasgow, Scotland:
If you told me earlier this year that there was plenty to do and see in Glasgow, Scotland I probably wouldn't have believed you. But there is in fact quite a bit more to experience in this unassuming city besides kilt shops and bars.

Just a mile outside of the city center is a charming tea house, Tchai Ovna, where you can drink endless cups of exotic teas from all over the world while playing board games (or in my case, dots). You can eat a delicious meal at the Centre for Contemporary Arts or walk among some old Victorian tombstones at the Necropolis. For those of you who are more adventurous at heart, you can even take an hour long bus ride to Loch Lomond and hike in the lush national park:


Loch Lomond


My adventures in  Europe lasted about 2 months, and there are still quite a few places I didn't get to. Hopefully my next adventures will take me to all the cities I missed! 

#AdventureswithKaren: Episode Santorini

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles in September 2008, I've been apprehensive about leaving town. I was convinced that the moment I stepped away was the moment I would be called for a big audition or a job opportunity. Even taking trips home to the Bay Area (a whopping one hour away via plane) made me anxious. 

But just a few weeks ago, a virtually guilt free opportunity for me to indulge in a vacation finally presented itself. I, along with three other gal pals, took a five day four night trip to Santorini, Greece. 

I'll be honest. I was only vaguely aware of Santorini's status as one of the top summer vacation spots in the world. But I knew that the group going was a group of wonderful ladies, so it didn't matter where we were headed. And boy, was I in for a sweet treat. While we technically had five days, the first and last days were strictly reserved for travel (it took us three flights to get to and from the island) thus allowing for only three full days of Santorini fun:

Day 1:
Our charming villa in Kamari was right on the beach, and I was able to enjoy my breakfast oceanside while lounging on a comfy beach chair. I've never experienced such unobstructed views or clear sounds of the ocean before; I was astonished by how long I sat out there, just staring at the water: 

Breakfast by the ocean
The rest of the afternoon was spent roaming around the narrow shopping streets of Thera, the main town on the island. We stuck to the pedestrian paths next to the Santorini Clock Tower, which eventually led us to a vantage point that revealed a stunning view of the city:






As the afternoon slowly dipped into the early evening, we made our way to the next town over, Oia (pronounced "EE-YAH"). The town had very similar mix of retail shops as that of Thera, and most of the stores sold either kitschy souvenirs, local products, or jewelry. I was happy to stumble upon Atlantis Books, and browsed through their small but thorough selection:

Atlantis Books

But we weren't in Oia to shop. In fact, we were in Oia for one reason and one reason only: To watch the sunset. Heeding the advice from several locals (including our host family from our villa in Kamari), we sat down for dinner at a restaurant that boasted, "the most amazing view of the sunset":


A little wine with the sunset, please

Day 2:
The next day, we went on a Santorini Sea Excursion boat tour to see more of the island. Clad in all white linen outfits, we cruised around on the Mediterranean Sea in a pirate ship styled boat:







The tour stopped at four destinations: the island of Nea Kameni (a volcano), Palia Kameni (a hot spring), Thirassia (a beach town), and Oia. We ended the day at a cozy open air bar with a pitcher of fresh sangria and watched the sunset: 




Day 3:
We began our last full day in Santorini by taking a long run/walk to Ancient Thera. It was literally an uphill battle since approximately half of the way there (about a mile and a half) was a steep incline. It was tough, but the view was worth it:


Our next activity was no less extreme. I didn't believe it at first, but four-wheeling (quad bike) is a common form of transportation for Santorini tourists. There are rental businesses everywhere, and the cost is pretty decent. For 32 euros you can rent a large two person quad bike for the day. The four of us grabbed two sturdy quads and set off to explore. We made it to the Red Sand Beach, the Black Sand Beach, Akrotiri (ancient town), and eventually Thera: 

Biker babes



Black Sand Beach

Akrotiri

Up until that point we had thought that Oia was the only place on the island with clear views of the sunset. But we discovered during dinner that they were no less beautiful in Thera. There was also the added bonus that the area was deserted (probably since everyone else was in Oia):


Miscellaneous discoveries: 
The food on the island was delicious, and I have very fond memories of hearty fava beans, fresh cucumber and tomato salads, and warm nutty brown breads. But perhaps the tastiest thing I ate during the trip was a fig sorbet. As someone who is lactose intolerant, I avoid ice cream at all costs. So imagine how ecstatic I was when the one dangerous and often avoided dessert option suddenly became available to me again, and this time in the flavor of one of my favorite fruits?

Round one, in a cup

Round two, in a cone
Also notable (but not quite as exciting) was the number of stray dogs we saw on the island. Not only were they stray and well-behaved, but they were also incredibly cute:


It took a little over an hour for me to summarize the main moments from this trip, but the memories that we made together in those short five days will certainly last me a lifetime. Thank you to the three beautiful women who made the trip unforgettable, and even more gratitude to the beautiful island of Santorini for hosting my first vacation in six years.


#AdventureswithKaren: Episode Athens

When I think of Greece I think of the scenes in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" when Alexis Bledel's character spends the summer at her grandparent's residence. The ocean glistens majestically blue against the neatly stacked, glowing white villas.

So what a surprise it was to arrive in Athens to what seemed like a normal city. No white homes. No blue ocean. No picturesque charm.

But I soon realized that I was mistaking Athens for Santorini, and that Athens is beautiful for an entirely different reason. Seamlessly integrated into the modern neighborhoods of Athens are breathtaking structures that were built thousands of years ago. Guided around by our newly adopted Greek Uncle, Spiros, our group adventure began at The Acropolis (Tourist tip: A flash of my Bruin ID got me tickets to all 6 tourist sites for only 6 euros, compared to the 12 euros paid by non-students):
The Erechtheion at The Acropolis

Next, Spiros took us to have lunch at a restaurant by the water where all the fish eaters in the group got their first pick of the daily catch. I enjoyed some perfectly grilled vegetables paired with fresh pita bread:


Our last two stops that day were the Athens flea market and the Temple of Zeus:


The Temple of Zeus



Before we departed Athens a few days later we convinced Uncle Spiros to be our tour guide again. We made our way about an hour outside of the city of Athens to Ancient Corinth. Before reaching the historic site we made a pit stop to have authentic greek yogurt, and to my surprise, to bungee jump in the Corinth Canal:


The three brave jumpers


Post-jump high
And while my first bungee jumping experience was the most memorable event of the day, the views of Greece we had at the top of Ancient Corinth were unforgettable:





Like in so many of the cities before this, I felt like I could've spent more time in Greece. It's as if I've been given a large sample platter of appetizers from around the world, each bite just big enough for me to get a taste but not big enough for me to really understand the unique flavors. And while I would in any other circumstance prefer longer stays in each city, at least this way I can suss out which places I enjoy and which places aren't worth a revisit.

Up next, I begin to tackle other parts of Europe!