Never a tourist in your own city?

So the saying goes, “You’re never a tourist in your own city,” but those who say it have clearly never had anyone visit them. My boyfriend arrived in Minneapolis December 21st, and after Christmas and family events had died down (in places like Brainerd/Little Falls/Randall/Elk River), we found ourselves back in Minneapolis – civilization.

We spent the first few days looking at jobs, apartments, and other big kid things before realizing: it’s MINNEAPOLIS! And I hadn’t shown Chandler anything (nor given him any reason to want to stay a while longer unless you count freezing weather, no snow, and enough sunless days in a row to make anyone depressed).

So we started our tour of Minneapolis on New Year’s Eve – at 612Brew. Chandler loves breweries and sampling local beers – I’ve always been more of a wine or gin drinker myself, but even I found something I liked here! The space was small, but between the cozy atmosphere, board games on every table, and food truck outside, the place felt like home. And their Payback Oatmeal Porter didn’t hurt either : )

My sister accompanied us as our DD (and constant entertainer) and we found ourselves weaving through downtown showing Chandler our favourite buildings, restaurants, and libraries. After a quick stop at Mesa Pizza (because yes, at the age of 24, I still crave mac ‘n’ cheese pizza), we made it back to my sister’s for a small house party to ring in the New Year.

Because things had been so calm the night before, we were able to start the next day (fairly) fresh and early. Our first stop was for brunch at Colossal Cafe. Shortly put, it was delicious. And you should eat their egg and cheese sandwich on a homemade biscuit immediately.

Then it was off to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, one of my favourite places in the city, and TripAdvisor’s top attraction in Minneapolis. After nearly four hours, we realized we had only seen 2/3 of the exhibits! Some of the art reminded us of our recent trip abroad (and made us want to go back!). Other bits reminded us you can never escape where you’ve been haha (Ethiopia):

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From fall to winter in two hours

A journey that began the morning of June 3rd ended last night when my flight landed in Minneapolis. Two and half years – that’s how long it too me to fly around the world. But I’d say I got a good amount done during that time. I’ve also seen an incredible amount of the world.

According to TripAdvisor I’ve seen 6% of the world with Chandler, and even more when factoring in what I’ve done on my own. The map below recounts everywhere we’ve gone together – which is literally everything I’ve done the last two year and a half years, with the exception of my trip to Italy summer of 2013 with my mom and sister.

Map of tripThese last two weeks were spent in DFW, Texas…the area that Chandler’s always considered home. It was really exciting to be somewhere that was familiar to at least one of us. I got to meet his family and friends, see where he grew up, and go to some of his favourite spots.

One of the first things we did was go to the Gaylord ICE Show featuring Frosty the Snowman. It was hilarious seeing people not accustomed to cold/ice go through the exhibition – and lest you think I’m mocking Texans, I’m far from used to that same cold and I’m sure I looked just as silly!

But really, the sculptures were stunning – the attention to detail was amazing and the Frosty theme was so much fun. They even had ice slides for the kiddos…which only made me want to click my heels three times to be sledding back home in Brainerd.

Gaylord ICE 1

Gaylord ICE 2

Aside from that afternoon, we had strictly fall weather in Texas…which was awesome given it’s my favourite season and I knew I had definitely missed it in Minnesota this year!

I spent Thanksgiving with Chandler’s family – it was lovely to be surrounded by a family during a holiday! The following day Chandler, his brother, and I went to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, all of which was lovely, especially the Japanese Garden. The trees were stunning and the site of them being reflected on the water was incredible.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the grounds, feeding the fish, and goofing off. All the while, the temps were high 60s, low 70s – a perfect reminder of why I love this season.

Japanese Garden 1

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Thailand: The second time around

It’s been 95 days since I left home to begin this journey – and it’s not a home I’ll be going back to. I hopped in a friend’s car at 6:30 am on July 31st and have been slowly making my way east ever since.

It’ll take me another 29 days to reach the place I used to call home, Minneapolis. But for the first time in months, it finally feels like I’m coming to the end of things. All my flights have been booked, all my days have been planned, and I’m seriously looking forward to seeing my sister’s face at MSP International Airport on December 2nd.

At the same time, it feels odd to remind myself that this trip isn’t finished. I’m not hopping on that plane tomorrow – well, I am hopping on a plane tomorrow, but that’s to Chiang Mai! And I have to admit, I’m beginning to lose steam on these blog posts.

We’re spending more and more time in each place we go (nine nights in Bangkok, two in Ayutthaya, seven in Phuket), but I’m finding that I have less and less to say. Guess that’s how you know you’ve planned a trip a little too long! Because it’s certainly not the fault of anyplace we’ve been – Bangkok is easily one of our favourite cities (throughout this trip we’ve spent a total of 16 nights there).

For these ten days in Bangkok, we did a lot of shopping, mostly at Siam Center, Siam Paragon, and Siam Discovery. What can I say? After two years in Ethiopia, we both needed serious wardrobe upgrades.

We then spent the rest of our days wandering around the area near Koh San Road (though avoiding the road itself!), eating cheap pad thai, drinking fresh pomegranate juice, and stocking up on real books to read during our upcoming beach days.

Then, we took a quick trip up to Ayutthaya. Many do this as a simple day trip, but we decided to spend a couple of nights in the town. We didn’t even bother to leave our hotel, Tamarind, that first night (with the exception of grabbing dinner at the night market down the street).

We purchased some street popcorn, corn on the cob, waffles, cantaloupe, and a Coca-Cola to split and settled into this room to enjoy our spoils and watch The Shawshank Redemption:

Tamarind Guesthouse

The next day we were rested up and ready to check out the ruins that make up Ayutthaya’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya was a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767, when the Burmese army destroyed the city, effectively collapsing the kingdom.

We started at the sites closest to our hotel and worked our way out. First came Wat Ratchaburana. Founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II, it was built on the cremation site of his two older brothers. The two brothers had fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession to their father.

Wat Ratchaburana Continue reading

Wild: from lost to found

You know that feeling you get when you read exactly the right book at exactly the right time? I got that feeling this week while reading Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. She’s a Minnesotan writer and I’d wanted to read this book for months, but I was just too busy in the months leading up to my move to Ethiopia.

And then I got here and had an urge to read every dystopian novel I had brought with, telling myself that Wild would be the perfect first book to read once I was on my own at my permanent site. I was right. I felt such a kinship with the author even though we went on incredibly different journeys over 15 years apart. It was still comforting knowing that we probably shopped at the same REI store in Minneapolis and that neither one of us could ever have guessed how profoundly we would be changed by our adventures.

There were so many passages that stayed with me long after I turned the page, but the ones I listed below are phrases that have actually passed through my own mind at some point in these last three months in Ethiopia. So if you want a glimpse into my head, here are my thoughts, put together much better than I could have ever done:

“It was a world I’d never been to and yet had known was there all along, one I’d staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I’d once been. A world that measured two feet wide and 2,663 miles long. A world called the Pacific Crest Trail.”

I found this especially fitting because I just survived PCT – Peace Corps Training. And though our PCTs took roughly the same amount of time, they were vastly different experiences. But it wasn’t until I read these words that it really sunk in why Peace Corps had become so important to me: I thought it could help turn back the clock to a time when life was simpler. A time when I could trust easily, love easily, a carefree time when I didn’t have so many questions. I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to help others, but also because I felt like I had lost myself over the last few years and thought that I could find myself again if I was given a fresh start.

***

“At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it. And then there was the real live truly doing it. The staying and doing it, in spite of everything.”

This is essentially what passed through my mind on repeat my first two weeks in Ethiopia: this is ridiculously difficult and I’m unprepared. I had romanticized what it would be like to be in Peace Corps and I was confronted with more hardships than I initially thought I could handle. Luckily, I met some incredible people along the way who helped me see that I was strong enough to stay and see this through.

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