Travel Destinations: Ranked

As a suggestion from my most loyal reader (my dad!), I’ve decided to compare all of the places I visited and rank them from my favorite to least favorite.

But since it’s been awhile, here’s a short recap of each place I visited:

Hawaii

I never intended to visit the islands, but having a two week layover on Oahu was the cheapest flight option. I had visited Oahu as a child, but it was nothing like I remembered! I escaped the chaotic tourism of Honolulu and stayed on the North Shore. I spent my days hiking, swimming, and enjoying the incredible mountains. At the time, the muddy hikes totally intimidated me, but looking back at the photos, it was so worth it. Definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The food was also incredible. From poke bowls to fresh papaya and huli huli chicken – the food was unique and so tasty. The islander pride also created a colorful cultural experience. The only downside was that it rained for an entire week and I was trapped inside!

Beauty: 5/5
Food: 4/5
Culture: 5/5

New Zealand

I spent the most time in this country and I love it dearly, but it was very similar to America. I hiked, swam, saw waterfalls, boated on a lake, went kayaking, and went off-roading! New Zealand really is the land of adventure and the landscape is so diverse and gorgeous. The food has a strong focus on local, healthy, and sustainable, but there aren’t any unique local delicacies like other countries have. The locals were incredibly kind and welcoming and the history of the Maori culture was interesting.

Beauty: 5/5
Food: 4/5
Culture: 4/5

Singapore

I was only here for a day, but it was a whirlwind! The country is a modern metropolis that shocked me with its extravagance. I walked 15 miles and still felt like I barely scratched the surface. It’s a small city, but so dense with culture. It’s more of a mixing pot than America! The food was a disappointment. With so many cultures, there are so many options, but nothing stood out as amazing.

Beauty: 3/5
Food: 2/5
Culture: 3/5

Vietnam

When I arrived in Vietnam, I was intimidated. Hanoi is not a beautiful city! It looks dilapidated and run down, but once I got to the country, the landscape was stunning. The real star of the trip was the food! From Bun Cha to street meat – everything was incredible. Probably the best food of the trip! We learned a little bit about Vietnamese history and culture, but it was such a touristy spot, it was hard to feel immersed.

Beauty: 2/5
Food: 5/5
Culture: 4/5

Italy

Oh boy. Most of my memories of Italy make me cringe. All of the locals I encountered were rude, flaky, and scatterbrained. The food was lackluster. The cities had plenty of beautiful architecture, but were dirty, crowded, and unpleasant. If I went to Italy and stayed in hotels, went to fancy restaurants, and had a tour guide, it would have been a much better experience. Italy on a budget is just not fun.

Beauty: 1/5
Food: 0/5
Culture: 2/5

Greece

I really enjoyed Thessaloniki, Athens, and Santorini. Mykonos was a bit less exciting than the other locations, but was still as interesting and beautiful. All of the white houses, winding alleys, and gorgeous cliffs are different from anything else I’ve ever seen. And the sunsets were perfect! The food was great at the beginning, but it becomes monotonous since most restaurants serve the same Greek specialties. The Greek culture was evident in their food and slow service, but otherwise it felt like any other island.

Beauty: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Culture: 3/5

img_8306-1

Copenhagen

I expected more from a popular Scandinavian capital. It didn’t feel like Europe but it didn’t feel like Scandinavia, either. It just felt like a regular, concrete city. I don’t think I saw a single thing I would classify as “beautiful.” The food was expensive and mediocre, but I appreciate how they have so many paleo options and salad bars. I didn’t see an ounce of local culture other than going to Christiania, the commune that rejects the Danish government.

Beauty: 1/5
Food: 2/5
Culture: 1/5

The Netherlands

Maybe I’m biased, but I love this country! Even having already explored Amsterdam for a week in 2017, I never got bored during my second visit. The canals are dreamlike and seeing the blossoming tulips was unreal. Utrecht was like a mini-Amsterdam but with more hipster inhabitants. Rotterdam was the only letdown, but only because it lacked the historical buildings and canals. The food all over the country was fresh, local, and delicious. I love Dutch culture – the bikes, the environmental concern, and the friendliness!

Beauty: 5/5
Food: 4/5
Culture: 4/5

Belgium

I was pretty burnt out by the end of my trip, but meeting an amazing host in Antwerp and two hostel friends in Brussels really made the experience better. However, the country just didn’t impress me. Antwerp only had one impressive cathedral and Brussels only had the Grand Place. Bruges was very pretty, but didn’t offer anything to do for more than a day. The food was extremely bland – the only saving grace was the beer! Who can pass up authentic Belgian beer? The culture is a mix of Dutch and French with the country split between speaking either language. If you didn’t tell me I was in Belgium, I’d have no clue. There’s no distinguishing culture.

Beauty: 1/5
Food: 3/5
Culture: 1/5

France

I’ve been to Paris before and it is stunning, but this time I only went to Northern France, so my review reflects that. Le Havre and Caen are unremarkable cities. Bayeux was the only city that impressed me with its architecture. The beaches were stunning, as well. The food in France was terrible and the difficulty in ordering and paying was even worse! On top of it all, French culture lived up to the stereotype: rude and smelly, but full of history.

Beauty: 2/5
Food: 0/5
Culture: 1/5

I took the ratings into consideration, but ultimately went with my heart to rank them. So here it is! The final list of the favorite countries I visited:

1. New Zealand
2. Hawaii
3. Netherlands
4. Greece
5. Vietnam
6. Singapore
7. Belgium
8. Copenhagen
9. France
10. Italy

Overall, it was a great trip with so many diverse places. I’m still surprised I completed it! I was so close to giving up and flying home after I was sick the entire 14 hour flight to Italy. But I’m glad I didn’t. As with everything, the trip had its ups and downs and I powered through.

I feel a bit silly listing Hawaii so high. Why did I have to travel so far when one of the top places is so close? But the mix of stunning landscape, unique and delicious food, and immersive culture distinct from America made it top the list. If I didn’t know Hawaii was in the US, I’d never guess. The trick is getting away from Honolulu and to the more relaxed and remote areas of the island. If I had only stayed in Honolulu, then I’d definitely rank Hawaii much lower.

New Zealand is a no brainer for #1. It has it all – volcanoes, glaciers, jungles, beaches, mountains, rolling green hills, caves, and the bluest lakes I’ve seen in my life! Visiting New Zealand for only a couple weeks and only seeing a few places or staying on only one island is a major mistake. I almost made that mistake last fall! Thankfully I realized there was no way to get to all the places worth seeing in such a short amount of time. That’s honestly what inspired this trip! I wondered when I’d be able to go on an extended vacation and the reality of having a career and only getting a limited number of days off hit me. I knew I’d have to go during a time when I wasn’t working… and that would be easiest while I’m still on my parents healthcare and I’m not dependent on a job for coverage. The trip came together so quickly, but with perfect timing.

So now what? I’m back in Portland and reestablishing my routine. I technically don’t have to get a job by a certain deadline, but I do have to get my own health insurance by the end of July, so having a job would certainly help cover part of that. Right now I am taking it day by day. My plan is to enjoy unemployment for as long as it’s enjoyable. Im an active person, so I know I’ll get bored sooner or later. When that day comes, I’ll take it as a sign to start finding a job! Hopefully that’s something in the food/fitness/health realm, but I’m open to whatever brings me joy.

Advertisements

Floating on the Surface

Last weekend, I took the plunge. I scheduled a “float” appointment. I’ve wanted to do it for years now, but never made the effort. I was never scared to do it, I just didn’t want to pay the lofty $60-70! The idea of floating is to spend 90 minutes in a tank filled with 10 inches of salt water. You’re meant to float on the top of the water and experience total sensory deprivation and relaxation.

Luckily I found a Groupon that lowered the cost to a reasonable $30. I read the Yelp reviews of the “spa” and they seemed to be split. Some customers loved the place, but others wrote harsh reviews. Most of the bad reviews had to do with pricing or saying “They made me cancel my appointment after I showed up 30 minutes late! So unprofessional!” So I took those with a grain of salt.

I took a leisurely walk to the spa on Saturday afternoon. It was nestled on a residential street and would have been easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. I walked up right as another customer did. We approached the door and saw a sign with an arrow, pointing to the house next door. So we walked next door and saw another sign with an arrow pointing to the first house! We were confused. After a bit of back and forth, we realized the arrows were instructing us to enter through the tiny gated alley in between the houses! So strange.

Once we opened the gate, it made sense. There was a nice courtyard with a pond and flowers and beautiful trees. We walked into the reception area and it was crowded. There was one woman working the front desk and she didn’t have an ounce of urgency. After about 8 minutes, it was my turn to check in. She took my ID and I filled out the waiver. She asked if I needed a towel. I said yes, and she handed me what can only be described as a dish towel.

She instructed me to wait on the bench and someone would show me to the tanks shortly. This little spa was busy! I saw 30-40 people come and go within the 15 minutes I spent waiting. Most people seemed to be using the spa pools or getting a massage. After awhile, a woman walked up and asked “Are you the floaters?” The guy sitting next to me said yes and we followed her to the tanks. I was a little concerned. The lockers where we were supposed to store our clothes were located all the way across the spa. We would have to strip down and then walk past the showers, sauna, relaxation room, and then into the float tank room. There were signs everywhere saying that it was a “Clothing Optional” spa and told people not to exhibit creepy behavior. What?!

I assumed it would be a normal spa with normal sized towels and a tank in a private room. I didn’t pack a swim suit. You’re supposed to float naked!

My float parter and I went to the lockers and he started to strip down. I turned around and played on my phone until I could tell he was finished and had left. I have no interest in seeing a strange hippie get naked! I changed and wrapped myself in the mini-towel as best as I could and scurried into the tank room. Luckily there wasn’t anyone in the sauna or showers, so it was okay.

The tank room had 2 tanks the size of large ice coolers. They were slightly separated by a large folding wall, but there still weren’t any doors for privacy! Each tank had a slanted door, similar to a cellar. My float partner insisted he have Tank #1… I’m not sure why, but that should have been my first warning sign!

14079794_10208239081433541_8243761451549557328_n

I put petroleum jelly on my cuts so the salt water wouldn’t irritate them and then jumped in.

The water was warm. Almost too warm! I climbed into the tank and shut the door behind me. It was dark and the air was human. I laid down in the water and let myself float. It was a little uncomfortable at first. The water was pushing my back into a weird arch that wasn’t natural. I tried moving my arms in different positions and felt that the “goal post” felt the best. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

I “relaxed” for about 20 minutes before I became bored. I couldn’t fall asleep because it was so cold! The top half of my body was above water and there was a ventilation fan that continually blew cold air into the tank! I ended up shivering most of the time and resorted to swimming around to try to stay warm. I realized I could easily just exit the tank and leave… but I paid money for this! It was kind of a cool feeling to float around on the top of the water. I had about 2 feet on either side, so I gentle pushed myself back and forth across the tank.

Before I knew it, I heard the knocking on my tank door that signaled the float was over. I listened for my float partner and waiting until he exited the room before I opened my door. I quickly grabbed my towel. The spa had become a lot busier and there were several naked people showering as I walked out. I was covered in salt water and I still had to walk home, so I needed to rinse off. I pretended to read a brochure until everyone left and I could shower in peace (as peaceful as an open shower with no wall or door could be!)

Inevitably, as soon as I started to rinse off, an old lady wandered in and started showering next to me. I’m not sure why this experience felt so awkward when I’ve already been to a naked bath house in Korea. Maybe because I was a foreigner it felt new and exciting. In America, it just felt weird. I showered as quickly as possible and put my clothes on before fully drying off.

I checked out and left the spa as soon as possible. Apparently my float included a complimentary 30 minute soak in the hot tub room… but the idea of sitting in there with more naked strangers was not something I was interested in.

I don’t think I would float again, even if it was at a more private spa. I never felt fully relaxed because I was so cold. Even if it had been warm, I don’t think I would have experienced the full sensory deprivation. My tank had flashing lights that reflected off the water and I could hear footsteps whenever anyone walked on the floor above us.

I would recommend floating if you want a unique experience, but definitely go in with low expectations!

The First Week: Complete!

It’s funny how time works. Sometimes it flies by… sometimes it crawls. This week was a bit of both.

I woke up early on Monday and gave myself plenty of time to get ready. You can’t be late for the first day! I left my apartment at 8:30 with the intent of arriving at work by 9:00am. After two years of commuting at 6:30am with no traffic, I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily my route is a simple drive down a not-so-popular road, so there wasn’t much traffic. It is only one lane, so sometimes it gets backed up when people try to make left turns, but it isn’t too bad. My commute was only 7 minutes!

My first day was filled with the basics – tax forms, signing agreements, and getting a parking pass. Everyone was so friendly! I’ll be working in the Operations department (which is really just a cluster of desks!) with two other ladies. They took me out to lunch on my first day and told me what to expect!

The office is so Portland. It is a nondescript building with no signage except a large hotdog hanging above the entrance. You enter and immediately walk up a flight of creaky stairs under a hipster mural. The lobby is complete with a pirate’s chest full of crushed PBR beer cans, a stuffed bobcat that the owner shot on her property, and a big display of rusty circular saw blades surrounding a painting of a naked lady eating ice cream. Very eclectic, for sure! There really aren’t any rooms or doors in the entire office except for the bathrooms, the owners office, and a meeting room. The rest is an open floor plan. No cubicles – just desks and fun art on the walls.

We have a shared music system that plays throughout the entire office. We can all add songs via an app on our computer. They didn’t like my techno songs, but they seemed to enjoy when I played Fleetwood Mac!

Learning names has been the hardest part. Most of the office is female 20-somethings with messy hair and tattoos. Since my legal name is Katie, that is what I have on my resume. I wanted to be polite and not correct them to “Kate” during the interview, so on the first day when they told me there are 3 other Katie’s, I offered to go by Kate!

My week has consisted of a lot of learning! After the first 2 days, my brain was fried. I had to go home and immediately go to sleep to process it all. I don’t think I had ever been more exhausted!  I’m so thrilled to have a job where I don’t sit at a desk all day. I love the variety!

The rest of the week has been more relaxed. I’ve finally gotten the hang of things and have an idea of my daily routine. I spent a good deal of time purchasing organizer containers and getting the drawers in order. Everyone is so happy!

Even though I’ve learned a lot this week, it has just flown by! It feels like just yesterday I was nervous about my first day. I’m still a little stressed out after a long week of new experiences, so I scheduled a float session.

Float tanks are pretty trendy right now. You can either go to a spa or a designated float shop. Usually you schedule a 90 minute session for about $50. Cheaper than a massage! During this time, you float in the tank to achieve total relaxation. The water is actually a salt solution designed to make you feel weightless. Apparently you can’t tell where the water ends and the air begins. It is also completely dark, so you have no perception of space. The “tank” itself can take many forms: a space-age pod, a tiny room with a cellar door, or an entire open-air room for those who are claustrophobic. I booked the medium sized room. It is about the size of a large gas station ice cooler. Everyone I know who has floated has loved it, so I guess I’ll give it a shot!

The Next Chapter

This summer has been a season of change.

My close friend Alicia moved away to go to grad school. My best friend from high school, Mackinley, moved to Portland! Several of my friends were offered new jobs, so we had many celebratory drinks.

Throughout all of this change, I realized I am stagnant.

I have a wonderful apartment that requires no more DIY improvements. I have a steady job with the same schedule and I see the same coworkers every day. I go to the same fitness classes and frequent the same bars on the weekends. Life is good… but predictable – and I started to become boring.

My friend Joe made me realize that the only way to feel fulfilled is to keep challenging yourself, especially in the workplace. Currently, I come to work, complete my list of duties, and then watch the clock until I can leave. I love talking to my coworkers, but I don’t have much passion for optometry. Even in school, I hated the chapters on learning the anatomy of the eye. I simply didn’t find it interesting! I certainly don’t want to become an optometrist or even an optician. I don’t want a career in optometry… so what am I doing here?

I accepted this position because I needed a paycheck, but I stayed because I genuinely enjoyed my coworkers and morale of the office. My first year was exciting because I was still learning the system and how to operate the machines, but now I know. Clicking the same buttons every day has become monotonous. The last two years have given me time to discover the type of work I enjoy. I LOVE when my manager gives me a hands-on project like unpacking the new contact lenses and reorganizing the lens room to make them fit. I don’t quite enjoy talking to patients on the phone and getting screamed at because we don’t have a same-day appointment. My coworkers are amazing extroverts and can strike up a conversation with anyone. They have the type of personality that makes them thrive in customer service. I’ve realized that my skills are more suited for organizational, data-based work. I am certainly friendly and helpful toward patients (I haven’t had any complaints!), but I get so much more satisfaction from completing a project than hearing a patient say “Thank you, Kate!” Different strokes for different folks.

I think my true realization occurred when I was talking to my brother and he urged me to look into project management. It’s a tricky field to get into without experience, but I started looking for any position that was operations-based. I started back in spring, but I didn’t want to settle, so I was picky. I had a couple interviews but nothing felt quite right. In June, I interviewed with a design agency. After a couple more rounds of interviews, they offered me a job!

What is my position? I think of it as being the junior office manager. Technically I’ll be working under the operations manager (and maybe someday becoming it!) and I’ll be handling all of the nitty-gritty details of logistics in the office. I asked for a general run down of my daily responsibilities and they said there is no “normal.” Each day is different, but I’ll be prepping the office for meetings, assisting design teams with projects, delivering hard copies to clients, and a lot of hands-on work putting together projects in the garage (the exact work I was looking for). I’m excited to finally get out of a desk chair!

I start this coming Monday. I know the first couple of weeks will have a learning curve, but I’m not that nervous. I am a quick learner and the company seems filled with friendly people. One of my current coworker’s friends works there! I looked at their Instagram and they definitely have a fun office environment suited for millennials. Every Friday is “bring your pet to work” day!

But when a new door opens… another must close. It was so hard to give my two weeks notice at my current job. My manager has become a close friend. I went to her house for Easter, her husband reads my blog, and I even housesat for them last weekend! It felt like I was breaking up with my Portland family. I’m most upset about not seeing my front desk mate, David. We spend 8 hours per day sitting next to each other… and even more snapchatting after work! Management has likened us to siblings because we always bicker, but deep down we really care.

I’ll also be sad to leave my lunch buddy. For the last two years, I’ve eaten lunch every day with one of the doctors. She is a mother of two, so she always gives me advice when I need it. She’s heard all of my dating stories and was one of the biggest motivators in my departure. She encouraged me not to get stuck here. While it broke my heart to tell her I was leaving, she supported me and said she knew I was capable of bigger and better things. The saddest part is knowing I will never be close to these people again. Sure, I can meet them for drinks (unlikely since they all have families), but there’s always going to be this new distance. It’s a bittersweet goodbye.

Ultimately, I’m excited for this change in my life! The only part I am bummed about is my shift in schedule. Instead of working 6:45-3:45 and avoiding traffic, I have to work the typical 9-6. The office is in the better location, though! It is in the “hip” part of the SE and should be a quicker drive. I’ll report back after my first day!

Summer Kickball League!

I wanted something new and fun to do this summer, so I joined a kickball league with two of my friends – Leila and Joe!

We signed up for the league and were placed with other players who didn’t have enough people to form an entire team. Most of the teams we play against are groups of friends or coworkers who signed up together as a team. We are the underdogs! So far our season is 0-2, but there are still 6 weeks left of the season, so we might still win a couple.

13406833_10154873491374008_7237935467870486502_n

Vote for Eyes on Broadway!

785x295.BOP_FB_Cover

The local newspaper has a yearly “Reader’s Poll” where readers nominate local businesses in a variety of categories. We won the title of “Best Eyewear Shop” in 2015… and we’ve been nominated again for 2016!

As I am in charge of our social media, I am inadvertently responsible for our victory! If you wouldn’t mind, please vote for us at the link below…

http://wweek.secondstreetapp.com/l/BOP-Voting-2016/Ballot/LocalBusinessService

It does make you enter your email and zip code, but it doesn’t send you any spam. It is just to verify that you’re an actual person!

You can find us under “Local Businesses” and then halfway down the page “Best Eyewear Shop.” Results will be published in July! Fingers crossed!

Fitness Update!

I am so close to accomplishing something I never thought possible – running an entire 5k! I’ve never been a runner, but I love challenges, so I knew I had to overcome my fear of running and sign up for the Turkey Trot. I’ve been using the 5k Runner app for the last 9 weeks and I only have 1 week left!

This journey has been eye opening. I never thought I would be able to lace up my shoes and run for 35 minutes straight. Even the first weeks of “Run 5 minutes, Walk 2 minutes” felt impossible at the time, but as I built endurance and overcame the mental block, it seems laughably easy in retrospect.

I attribute my success to two factors: scheduling my runs during my lunch breaks and listening to podcasts while I run. Once I get home from work, it is so easy to come up with excuses – “I’m so tired,” “I need to do laundry and cook before I can run!” “It’s too cold out.” But when I am trapped at work with nothing else to do, it is easy to find the time. In fact, it is a great stress reliever! I feel so much more accomplished during the rest of the day, knowing I’ve already gotten my run in. Secondly, I listen to podcasts as a way to distract myself from the agony of running. I started off the program listening only to music, but my playlist became boring after day 4. It’s true that music is a good motivator, but once I’ve heard the song several times, it loses its punch. I like listening to podcasts because they are a form a storytelling and it is totally distracting! Plus, I feel like I am simultaneously training my body AND mind.

I’ll definitely update with some photos and stats from race day. I don’t plan on aiming for speed at this point – just completion! If I can run the entire 5k without stopping, I’ll be ecstatic. Even if I finish last in my age group, I’ll be a champ. It still feels pretty surreal that I’m about to accomplish this. I’ve had the app for about 2-3 years but could never break through the 3rd week. I definitely plan on downloading the 10k Runner app, but it sounds even more scary!

In addition to running, I’ve also started my second Whole 30! I plan on dedicating the entire month of November to clean eating and eliminating sugar, dairy, grains, and legumes. Halloween definitely did a number on me and I’m sad to have wasted some progress on one extravagant weekend.

To help motivate my second Whole 30, I am participating in the app Diet Bet. It is a very interesting concept where you can join a month-long challenge. You “buy in” with $25 or $35 and are given 4 weeks to lose 4% of your weight. If you fail, you get nothing back. If you succeed, you split the pot with the other winners! I am extremely monetarily motivated, so I know I will stop at no cost to earn my money back!

Now I’m off to attend a barre class – think ballet meets cardio and lots and lots of leg shaking!