Tag: museums

A Woman, A Plan, a Canal, Panam — ow! — a!

Hello! I have emerged from the decade known as 2018. I:

completed my first half of grad school, became a redhead, spent a sweltering summer in Tokyo, remembered how awesome solo-travelling is after taking my first adventure-in-solitude in three years, got a tattoo, listened to lots of live music, visited many theme parks, wrote a lot of code, learned Japanese, cooked a lot, filled myself with incandescent rage at the state of the world, connected and reconnected with friends new and old, travelled to places that remind me just how simultaneously small and large the earth can be (internationally: Japan, Malta, China, Nepal, Panama and domestically: SoCal, Oregon, Florida, NY), and listened a lot more — particularly to myself.

Overall, 2018 has been a ride. Not necessarily a wild ride (though the year did have its moments), but one of those really long rides where you can gaze peacefully out the window with a bit of wind poking through.

Not bad, but like I said, 2018 was a decade.

In comparison: so far in 2019, I have managed to get through all the endings of Bandersnatch, fly from the East coast to the West, set a Goodreads challenge that I inevitably will not fulfill, annnnnd … that’s about it. I’m going to add “wrote a blog post! FINALLY!!!” to this list, because hey, if there’s anything I have failed to do, it’s cleaning out the hard drive on my poor laptop by uploading all my Panama content.

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PANAMA, YOU SAY? So, I might have mentioned six years ago that I hadn’t had a snowy Christmas since 2003. I’m neither happy nor sad to admit that this arbitrary but personal record still holds after fifteen years:
2018: Panama
2017: Dominican Republic
2016: Costa Rica
2015: Mauritius
2014: San Francisco/Ecuador
2013: New Zealand
2012: San Diego

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Brrr.

It wasn’t that I intended to pick a place where I would never have to see snow again (as a winter baby, I actually do enjoy fresh pow), but rather, somewhere that was not too far of a flight from New York was ideal for a Christmas-to-New-Year’s vacation. I had just barely emerged from a particularly hectic and busy semester, and Panama — with all its ease in planning and chilled-out vibes — seemed like a great place to unwind. For one, it’s very easy as an American tourist to visit, but it’s still something new. Panama is a 4 hour flight from New York, they use the US dollar, they use the same outlets, and they’re on EST. As the designated crossroads of the Americas, the country straddles both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it’s the last mile before South America. Plus, Panama City is having a bit of a moment this year, as the city celebrates its 500th birthday in August!

The first half of the trip was spent in Panama City and the second half was spent in Boquete, a village in the Chiriqui province (on the Pacific side of Panama) that’s well known for its forested landscapes and outdoorsy scene. Panama City, on the other hand, has such strong Miami vibes that when I posted a photo of the Panamanian skyline on Instagram, everybody thought I was in Florida. There are high-rises and palm trees that hug the Panama Bay coastline (so much that Panama City has the fourth largest number of skyscrapers in the Americas), and the weather is sunny enough to justify multiple showers in the day but not oppressively humid enough to make you want to melt in an Alex-Mack-style puddle. However, unlike Miami, Panama City is home to its eponymous canal and its surrounding expanse of jungle. As in: I found a sloth in my first 24 hours in Panama.

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That little buddy was found in the Parque Natural Metropolitano, an actual jungle turned US military base turned park that is host to sloths, titi monkeys, and butterflies — should you know where to look. I clocked in an impressive number of steps on my Fitbit as I hauled my butt up the different trails that led to the lookout points.

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I also hiked up Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill), which is Panama City’s highest point. The walk up is not strenuous by any means (I’m coming from San Francisco, so this isn’t my first rodeo with hills), but it definitely requires a good amount of water to stay hydrated under the sun. For a twenty-minute walk, I was rewarded with panoramic views of the city and its crown jewels, including this darn canal that everybody keeps talking about. In San Francisco, I can walk up a hill for twenty minutes and get completely ensconced in fog. What gives?

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Speaking of, Christmas was spent actually crossing the Panama Canal! We took a boat tour via Canal & Bay Tours and cruised along the canal, which has scarcely changed since its inception over 100 years ago. While the ride was smooth sailing, we were flanked by tankers and cargo ships and enormous vessels as we drifted under the Bridge of Americas and into a series of three different locks. In order to be level with the sea, we had to sink down several meters, which equates to 26 million gallons of water, getting secured to 50-ft thick concrete walls, and being held back by 700-ton steel gates before the water levels were equal enough to proceed. Engineering is wild, man!

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It’s amazing that these ships, in all their enormity, were able to pass through with nary a bump or scrape. That there’s some pretty tight steering.

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Since Panama is a largely Catholic nation, a good number of places were closed Sunday the 23rd, the 24th, and the 25th, which meant that the 26th was one of the few days we could visit the Biomuseo, a biodiversity museum with a Dr. Seussian architecture that can be attributed to none other than Frank Gehry.

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The museum was also the endpoint of an hourlong stroll along Cinta Costera, Panama’s pedestrian walkway that hugs the coast.

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We took in views of Casco Viejo (above), the old town neighborhood full of brightly painted Spanish colonial-style buildings, and stopped by the Mercado de Mariscos (the fish market), where vendors were selling their catches-of-the-day left and right.

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And finally, the Panama City leg of our trip was capped off by a delicious meal at Maito, where we sampled a tasting menu that I’m still dreaming about, even to this day.

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All in all, not a bad way to spend the silly season. 🙂 Just so I’m not inundating the Internets and your eyes with 28348293 photos, the second leg of my trip (aka the more nature-y part in Boquete) will be featured in a forthcoming post. For now — happy 2019!

New York, Again.

So, last week, I:

  • turned 25 (the fact that I’m even 25 is atrocious. Seriously, where my quarter-life crisis at!)
  • survived a polar vortex
  • saw my favorite band play my favorite song which also happens to be on my favorite album (answers: Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea)
  • visited my favorite city, New York, and was reminded yet again why this city remains my fave.

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I miss museums a lot — or I guess, the easy accessibility of art museums. Meanwhile, over in SF, we won’t even have a MoMA again until 2016. 🙁

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The Samsung Galaxy Studio Pop-Up in Soho might just be the only place on earth that allows you to design T-shirts, takes ridiculous selfies of you jumping around in photobooths, serves you Sprinkles cupcakes and Illy coffee, redeem points for prizes, drool over all the Samsung swag — for free. Get on that, New Yorkers.

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And because no trip to NY would be complete without the presence of good food:

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Char Siu Mayo Don at Totto Ramen

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Totto Paitan Ramen at (where else?) Totto Ramen

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Duck confit at Balthazar

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Duck shepherd’s pie at Balthazar

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Roasted baby beet salad at Balthazar

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Macaroni au gratin at Balthazar

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Pacman shrimp dumplings at RedFarm

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Crispy skin smoked chicken at RedFarm

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Biscuit sandwich at Maysville


Cookies at Schmackary’s


A set of Ladurée macarons to celebrate the birthdaytimes

Edinburgh: On Haggis and Harry Potter

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You’d think a one hour flight would be a relatively painless affair, but in our case, getting from London to Edinburgh turned out to be a bitch and a half. For starters, there was the long train ride to Gatwick airport at butt o’clock in the morning. Actually, it was earlier than any reasonable morning hour, so let’s make that the butt crack of dawn. Annoying, but fair enough, considering we wanted to have the entire day in Scotland. Then, in the middle of our inspecting our luggage and checking our tickets, EasyJet arbitrarily closed check-in earlier than the time listed on our ticket, which meant that only one of us was able to get on the flight. Several WTFs and moments of squabbling and extraneous transfer fees later, they put my friend on a later ticket, so I ended up with a few hours to spare in Edinburgh alone.

Unfortunately, that was not my only horrific experience with EasyJet during this trip (more to come later in Amsterdam), but honestly? At this point, it’s neither here nor there, so moving on! Anyway, I got to Edinburgh, took the bus to Princes Street (the main shopping street in the city), took another bus to the hostel, checked in, dropped off the suitcase, walked through the Meadows and back to Princes Street, and grabbed lunch because I was starving and sleep-deprived at this point.

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Lunch was had at Urban Angel, a cute little cafe with an emphasis on seasonal/fresh ingredients. I ordered a mighty delicious pumpkin and butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and topped it off with a warm cup of hot chocolate. The wait took a while, much to the chagrin of my stomach, but it gave me some downtime to find some places to visit while waiting for my friend to fly in.

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After walking around for a bit, I decided to check out some of the museums, mainly the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. The former is a bit hard to describe, as it’s part history museum, part natural science museum, part technology museum, and everything else in between (taxidermy, mummies, and computers — oh my!). A total smörgåsbord as far as museums go, but that’s what makes it interesting!

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As for the National Gallery, they’ve got a small but decently-sized collection devoted to portraits. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photography, so no pictures from my end. However! If you’re into art, it’s definitely worth exploring — it’s free, too!

After going shopping on Princes Street, the lack of sleep was starting to kick in (stupid morning flights), so I went back to the hostel and took a nap to rest up — which was good timing, because my friend had flown in. As for the next day, I woke up bright and early with a singular goal in mind: visit The Elephant House.

Before you ask the three obvious questions (“Why?”, “What’s an elephant house?”, “There are elephants in Edinburgh?”), this probably merits a bit of backstory.

Anybody who’s ever known me in good capacity knows that I am a diehard Harry Potter fan. It is the one thing that can turn me into a shameless sap and the one thing where I can stay up for hours during the late night reading a 700-plus page book and the one thing that will convince me to wait an entire day for a midnight premiere. In terms of personal/emotional investment, I owe J.K. Rowling a shit ton, basically. So obviously, I had to make the pilgrimage to the Elephant House, the cafe where JKR wrote Harry Potter way, way back in the day. For any HP fan, this is like Mecca.

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As much as I love a good peanut butter and banana toast and a pot of Earl Grey for breakfast, the real highlight for me was going to the bathroom.

…which sounds incredibly disturbing and insulting on so many levels, the more I think about it. (Sorry, Elephant House!) However! The bathroom is actually famous for good reason:

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Harry Potter fans like to scrawl their messages of thanks and gratitude to the goddess herself, J.K. Rowling, on the walls of the bathroom. The notes range from the sappy and heartwarming to the downright hilarious to the so-esoteric-only-hardcore-HP-fans-would-understand (“Always.”), but they make for the best bathroom reading ever. Screw magazines and newspapers. If you ever go, be sure to check out the bottom half of the right wall of the girls’ restroom for my humble contribution:

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Looking at these photos, I regret not taking a Sharpie with me — alas!

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After breakfast, my friend and I went up to Edinburgh Castle, where we got some fantastic views of the city.

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And because it’s near impossible to talk about Scotland without at least one mention of haggis, I will say that yes, I ate haggis. And I liked it. (And no, it did not taste like cherry Chapstick.) I mean, I get that it’s not for the faint of heart or the pickiest of eaters (when’s the last time you had a craving for sheep’s stomach?), but then again, you’re talking to somebody who’s eaten fried scorpions and deep-fried grasshoppers without a single fig to give. So needless to say, we ended up ordering a plate at The Amber and finishing the entire thing, along with whisky to boot.

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Before we flew to Scotland, I was told by my friend Sabrina to get a deep-fried Mars Bar, and while I’m not one of those deep-fry-happy people, I figured why the hell not. It took a bit of Googling and walking, but we finally found a random fish fry and got our 28 billion calories’ worth of gooey, deep-fried, chocolatey goodness. Much, much better than a deep-fried Twinkie, but as far as deep-frying goes, Oreos still reign supreme for me.

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With everything checked off our proverbial to-do list, we did a lot more walking around with a bit of time to kill before our flight. My friend (the politics geek) took us to the Scottish Parliament where we got to sit in on a parliamentary debate, before we got reminded of our days in high school forensics. While exploring Edinburgh’s many closes (I wish the US had these!), we stopped by the Writers’ Museum, which is focused on Burns, Scott, and Stevenson. After a bit of window shopping, we repacked our bags for the next (and sadly, the last!) leg of our trip — Amsterdam!

Also, as a sidenote, all of my Edinburgh photos can be viewed here! You can also view all my UK photos here. 🙂