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Beijing – Off the “Restored” Path

25 Sep

Quick: When I say “China” what is the first thing that pops into your mind? No, I’m not talking about fried rice inside a little white to-go box (although that would be the second thing I would think about), The Great Wall of course! We had the amazing opportunity to come across a “Off the Beaten Path” tour group in Beijing that takes tourists to a less visited, not restored, (actually) peaceful part of the wall with some exciting hikes and steep “rock climbing”. I’m not gonna lie, I got to feel like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible…. sometimes!

The company (cause I know you are interested) is called Back Country Beijing and they offer a very exciting 2 day trip. The most common place on the wall to visit is called Badaling, and although its grandeur is breathtaking and true to history (there has been quite a bit of restoration to this part), it is jam-packed every single day of the year. Plus, you don’t get the exciting Tom Cruise-friendly ups and downs, literally.

To keep it short and simple, we drove to a small village at the base of the mountain, had lunch at a local Chinese Farmer’s house, then hiked up for about 2 hours to the Wall. Two of the guides set up camp and started on dinner, while the other took us around the distance of 3 Guard Watch Houses. We were back after a few hours, had dinner and camped out ON THE WALL!!

That’s the Stairway to Heaven behind us!! 🙂

We got up really early to watch the sun rise, had a hearty oatmeal and coffee, then off to a very famous point popularly known as “Stairway to Heaven”…. mostly because its to steep but if you feel off or missed a step…. I’m just sayin’.

Enjoying a beautiful sun rise, freezing my butt at the same time!

Visit Miami and don’t go to South Beach!

20 Aug

I’ll be the first to say that I can appreciate art, but don’t understand a bit about it.  Last week I was lucky enough to be in Miami during the Wynwood Art Walk, a street party that happens once a month in the newly-popular Design District, just north of Downtown Miami.

Wynwood Wall. Public park, not “technically” open 24 hours, every now and then people jump the fence but it’s all good really.

I was honestly blown away by how much it has grown and gained popularity in since I moved away last year. The first (and only) time I went to Art Walk was about a year and a half ago, when it was just a couple blocks of art galleries, on one street, that stayed open past closing times, and served a little bit of wine.

Wynwood Wall park, yoga night!

I was thrilled to see that Art Walk has transformed a former dangerous and sketchy area to a carnival of Food Trucks, artesan booths, late night bars and dance clubs, and most importantly, tons of new art galleries. The sidewalks were packed and the roads occupied by flashy cars idling. We checked out a bunch of galleries, illegally consumed alcoholic beverages on the streets, food-truck-burgers and fish tacos, and danced the night away with hipsters, tourists, old folks, Miami models and more.

It was an amazing collection of all sorts of people, deprived of the usual judgmental Miami bouncers.

I have to say that what I loved most about seeing the New Art Walk was how it transformed the neighborhood: edgy street art and way better use of the warehouses and shops that used to house miami’s finest homeless!

It’s something really great to visit if ever possible, hope you enjoyed and get a chance to experience!

-Steph

More information available at : http://wynwoodartwalk.com/

Island Hopping in Brazil

18 Jul

*Coming soon: tales of a life in Shanghai. For now I am relaxing back home enjoying family, familiar places, old friends, and yummy foods.

Last week I had an unexpected but very pleasant visitor who had never been to Brazil before, so I decided to show him as many “off the beaten path” essentials so that he could have a small taste of what makes Brazil so great.

We picked Auf (nickname credits to my parents) up from the airport at about 6am and started driving down towards the coast. The final destination that day was Ilha Grande, but first we made pit stop in Paraty to show Auf one of the cities in Brazil that has preserved Portuguese colonial-style architecture. Paraty is nice to spend an hour or two and eat some quality seafood. If you’re into the diving scene, you could spend a couple days exploring life under the sea, but we were trying to make a 1:30pm ferry ride to Ilha Grande from Angra do Reis.

Ilha Grande is an amazing and beautiful place- but not for all kinds of tourists. If you are looking for neon lights and big fancy cars, please drive in the opposite direction. If fact, you can stop reading this post. If you are looking to get away from all the big city whatnots, read on…

Paraty – we were lucky to be there during the International Literary Festival

Ilha Grande is a protected “national reserve,” and the only way to get there is by boat. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island except for one 4×4 and a pick-up truck that belong to the police/emergency units on the island. Everything is done on foot or on man-powered trolleys. I’m not saying that you have to camp out and live completely rustically, but it’s a slow-paced life out there.

Vila do Abraão, view form our hike

We went to 2 major hikes in Ilha Grande. The first one was to Lopes Mendes beach. Of course there is a boat that goes around the island for a relatively inexpensive price, but because there was PLENTY of time to kill, we hiked the 6km over about 2 hours out to the beach. It was nice, calm, soft sand and almost deserted. The hike was great, but the most fun part was showing an European what Brazilian winter entails: beach.

Lopes Mendes Beach
Its not packed, but its the middle of winter!

Our second (more tiring and more exciting) hike was up to the famous Pico do Papagaio (Parrot Peak). If you look up on a clear day, towards the middle of the island from any beach, you can clearly see a mountain peak that looks like a parrot’s beak. It seems close to impossible to reach without wings, but as soon as you begin the hike up you can start to see how it’s possible to hike 1,200 meters up.

Our final stop, that tiny speck on top of the mountain to the right: Pico do Papagaio

It took an arduous 4.5 hours to climb up and down. I was too tired to even remember to take a picture of the amazing Moqueca I had for lunch to refuel, but that’ll be another story.

The view from the top is breathtaking.

The view from the top

-Steph

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