[Day 1] Off to Kanab, UT

We wanted to start the day early but after packing all our food in our icebox and moving things to the car, we ended up leaving the house around 10am. Our plan was to get to Las Vegas and eat lunch or late lunch and make it to Kanab around 9pm. I thought we would start seeing the fields but it wasn’t until we hit the border that I felt that we were truly on the road. We were prepared to be on the road for a while but I think the bathroom was our biggest fear. Our first stop was at a local gas station on Route 5 and luckily, they let us use the bathroom. Right before we hit the border, we also saw a truck stop that had a bathroom so plan accordingly.

We made our first stop at the Seven Magic Mountain around 3pm, a lot later than we expected. We also didn’t see the art installation until we were really close to it so I thought they were small. But once we parked at the lot and started to walk towards it, I realized that they were actually really tall!

We did see some people but most of them were wearing masks and people were distancing themselves as well. But it was still hard to get a picture with no one in it. The colors of the rocks were so bright, contrast to the bare sands of Nevada and really gave it that POP. We admired the work of Ugo Rondinone, took some pictures, stretched our bodies, and headed to the nearly picnic area (which happened to be in Las Vegas).

We brought some food that needed to be cooked and we needed a bathroom and picnic table and ended up in a park named Jesse Ellyson Picnic Area. It was a bit into the residential area but had a gazebo, picnic table, a grill, and a bathroom. However, the bathroom here was closed to the public. We took our what we needed and started cooking.

We brought my burner and camping equipment set so we had pans, pots, plates, and even bowls. We bought meat and veggie the day before and were able to enjoy our meals this way. I cooked some and my roommate cooked some and we both enjoyed it. We ended up eating around 4:30 pm so we assumed this would be our lunch and dinner and we would snack on the way if we got hungry. We filled up our gas and tried to use the bathroom at the 7-11 which was part of the gas station but they said that they were closed to the public (the horror!) but luckily, there was a gas station across the street and they had their bathroom open to the public (phew!)

Once out of Las Vegas, it was all desert again. The road went from 3-4 lanes to just 2 lanes and it got dark very quickly. And because of how dark it was, the stars were becoming visible. We ended up parking on the side of the road around 8:30 pm and just looking at the stars for a bit. And by the time we arrived at our lodge, it was close to 10pm.

We stayed at the Perry Lodge because it was walking distance from the community center where they would do the lottery in the morning. The check in was quick and the lobby area was very clean. They had hand sanitizer and were giving out masks for people who needed them.

The Lodge seemed pretty empty and they still had the vacancy sign on. They were being very careful with things so people won’t have to touch what other people have touched. So breakfast was going to be bagged and we would need to pick it up in the morning. And also, ice. They turned off their ice machine and if we wanted ice, we needed to ask front desk for a bag of it.

When we got to the room, we were surprised at how large it was. We had 2 king size beds and also had a fridge and microwave. The view out the window was just of the community center but still nice. It was very quiet and we were able to sleep in peace.

Roadtrip with my roommate (Goal: Grand Canyon)

I have been working from home since Covid-19 took off and have been loving the idea of working from home. However, after 7 month of being stuck at home, I was starting to get a case of cabin fever. So I decided that I wanted to take some time off to rejuvenate myself by taking some time off.

During this time off, I wanted to go see some open fields to make myself feel free again and I instantly thought of Grand Canyon. It was going to be a long drive (about 14 hours) and I knew I couldn’t do it all in one day and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So I asked my roommate if she wanted to come along. We had some Covid-19 scares and had to be careful but in the end, she agreed to come with.

This trip was pretty spontaneous with no actually plans except that we were going to Grand Canyon on one of the days. This was because I was planning on attending the day lottery for The Wave. I will talk more about this in the day to day write up but because of this, we needed to make plan A and plane B. Plan A was for in case we win the lottery and plan B was for in case we didn’t win the lottery.

The places that were listed to visit during our trip:

  • Grand Canyon (north rim)
  • The Wave
  • Seven Magic Mountains
  • Coral Pink Sand Dunes
  • Lake Powell
  • Horseshoe Bend
  • Antelope Canyon (on the list but couldn’t go because they were closed for Covid-19)

So for Plan A (we win the lottery)

Day 1 : Drive to Kanab, UT. On the way, see Seven Magic Mountains
Day 2: Win the lottery in the morning, drive to Page, AZ, see Horseshoe Bend
Day 3: Early morning, drive to Grand Canyon (North Rim) and head to the Wave in the afternoon
Day 4: Drive back home

And Plan B (we don’t win the lottery)

Day 1 : Drive to Kanab, UT. On the way, see Seven Magic Mountains
Day 2: Don’t win the lottery in the morning, visit the Coral Pink San Dunes, drive to Page, AZ
Day 3: See the Horseshoe Bend in the morning, drive to Grand Canyon (North Rim)
Day 4: Drive back home

These were my original plan. A bit ambitious with lots of driving but lots of nature! We also thought about renting a campervan but had to X that plan because of the drop off and pick up time. However, I would love to try camping in a campervan next time.

[Day 15] Christmas in Prague

It was Christmas day and we started the day early. We knew a lot of things were going to be closed and decided to just roam around the city and hope for the best. A lot of “things to see in Prague” are architectures so we were in luck, in that aspect.

First, we started at the Old Town Square. It was very quiet in the morning with all the Christmas market stalls closed and only a handful of people in sight. The Christmas tree was still lit and provided some light for the Square.

The Prague Astronomical Clock was next. In the morning, it looked even better since I could clearly see all the colors and details. It was really beautiful. Even though it was early morning, there were lots of people here taking photos. If you want individual photos, I recommend coming in the morning.

And we followed the road down to the Charles Bridge. On the way, we admired the old buildings and its colors, the brick road that mixed in with the new concrete roads, and the smell of fresh Trdelnik.

The view of the Bridge and from the Bridge were both amazing! There were lots of status on the Bridge that made it interesting to cross. And from the Bridge, you could see the Prague Castle and the view was just beautiful! There were not a lot of people when we got there but there were several photoshoots happening.

Once you cross the Bridge, you see a street full of shops, cafe, and restaurants. We found a small cafe and enjoyed breakfast. We only saw trdelnik at the Christmas Market and they only had 2 options (plain and nutella) but the cafe/restaurants had several different ones, including savory options. They were making it enjoyable for all occasion.

We were slowly making our way up to the Castle when someone approached us about a concert. Since it was Christmas, the family decided to make it special and bought tickets for it.

We eventually made it to the top of the hill. There was a Starbucks here that provided a good view and also a small Christmas market here as well. While taking pictures, we had a bit of a crisis and had to take a break. I ended up using the bathroom at the Starbucks and they had a turnstile entry. If you bought a drink from Starbucks, you would get a code at the bottom of the receipt. If not, you had to pay to get in, so bring coins with you!

Once the crisis was averted, we headed back towards the Castle. It was interesting because I always thought a “castle” was a one large building. However, the Prague Castle wasn’t just one building but rather a complex. It included the Saint Vitus Cathedral, the largest church in Czech Republic.

After taking this photo, it started to pour! We wanted to see the Golden Lane but decided to come back tomorrow and headed back down. Before heading home, we wanted to grab lunch and headed to a restaurant called U Glaubiců. This place was good! A bit on the pricier side but I think that has to do with location. We were seated outside and because of this, service was a bit slow. But the food was good! We ordered duck, ribs, and pork knuckle, and shared family style. The portions are pretty big so you can definitely share.

After a filling meal, we all headed back to the house and took a nap before heading out to see the concert. There were multiple concerts happening that night (even in the Prague Castle) and ours was in the Liechtenstein Palace. It was a small venue but very pretty. Getting to see a concert on Christmas day in a different country’s palace! What a dream!

I knew all the pieces so the concert was very enjoyable. We thought it was going to be an orchestra but it was only a quartet. However, they were very good and filled the room with beautiful music. What a great way to end Christmas night!

[Day 1] San Diego to Barcelona

A start to a new trip! This trip is the longer trip I’ve ever taken so I’m so excited to write about it.

First day was mostly travel day. I’ve never flown to Europe from the West Coast and wow! It was long! I try to be a frugal travel when I can be and usually that means cheap(er) flights.

I usually fly with Star Alliance because I have good status with them. So this time, it was with TAP Air Portugal. And my schedule was the following.

It was long but since it was broken down and at each airport, I got to rest up at the lounge, it didn’t feel that bad. And maybe because I took the breaks, I wasn’t hit with jetlag.

My first stop, JFK, I was in terminal 5 and it did not have any lounges I could use. So I sat close to the gate and waited. While waiting, there were people who are asking if anyone wanted to join an auction for the first class seats. I’ve never heard of this before but seemed interesting. By joining the auction, you may be able to get cheaper first class seat for a 5+hour flight. I saw several people sign up for it but this wasn’t for me.

At my second stop, Lisbon, I would have gone out to venture the city if I had more time. But with 3 hours, it wasn’t worth it. Lisbon had Priority Pass lounges as well as Star Alliance lounges. Usually, I go for Priority Pass but this time, I tried the Star Alliance lounge (TAP Premium lounge).

This lounge was great! It had a great view of the runway, had lots of great amenities including a shower, and great food and drink selection. If you are a wine drinker, this place had a wine dispenser! They also had several cheese and meat selection to go with the wine.

And after another flight, I landed in Barcelona airport. This place was a bit of a nightmare! The signs were so confusing. It took me awhile to find the exit to baggage claim and once I got my bag, I was looking for a taxi symbol. I found one and followed it and suddenly, it disappeared.

I had called a taxi using an app called FREE NOW (similar to UBER) and the driver called me to ask where I was. He did not speak much English, he waited for me to find the taxi loading area.

The taxi area very difficult to find if you follow the signs. It was very close to the exit and had a huge TAXI written on it. So keep your eyes open. You take a sloped escalator down and you will see a line of taxis. Not all taxi pick up is here so make sure you check the app to see where the pick up is exactly!

TIP: If you are going to use FREE NOW, use my promo code jin.moon to get a €5 coupon. Also, this app has a feature that presets the cost and even if the meter goes over, you will only pay the set price. Another option is that you can pay either via the app or pay in person, credit card or cash. All options are open.

I got to the airbnb and met up with my brother and sister-in-law. The place was pretty big and had separate rooms for all of us. I put my luggage in my room and we all went out for our first meal.

My first meal in Spain ended up being Italian! But no complaints because it was actually really good. We visited the restaurant BelleBuòn around 7pm and it was empty! They asked if we had reservation and even without it, they were able to seat us. We ordered a bottle of wine, pizza, and lasagna. And everything was delicious!

TIP: While in Europe, a lot of places asked for reservation. Even small cafes. So if you are set on visiting a specific restaurant or cafe, call and make a reservation!

Afterwards, while walking back to our accommodation, we noticed a beautiful building. It was the Sant Pau Art Nouveau site. We did not go inside but just the building itself was gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see more of Barcelona.

[Day 14] Night time one more time

I was planning on waking up early and maybe doing a full day tour but I decided on sleeping in a little bit more and doing another Sunset+Starlight tour with Brisa again. I could have gone to another company but I really enjoyed our tour spot yesterday and thought why change if it was good.

So I headed back to the office. On my way, there were a lot of people out in the main square area. It looked like they were having a sports day? It felt like the whole city was out. There were several sports teams including for soccer, teakwondo, and more. There were also a lot of people with instruments and people who were dressed up. I wasn’t sure what was going on but they all seemed like they were having fun.

It took about 15 minutes to get to Brisa Tours and the paper forms were almost all full! I quickly reserved a spot for the Sunset+Starlight tour by writing my name and paying inside. Since this was my second tour, they gave me a slight discount of 120 bol, instead of 130.

After reserving the spot, I walked around the area, looking for some good souvenirs. In front of one of the stores, there was a lady selling fresh orange juice. I love orange juice and since it was fresh, I couldn’t resist. One thing that was a bit different was that she squeezed the orange and then added some honey to it. Never thought of adding honey but it was good. If you like cold/chilled orange juice, this isn’t for you.

Walking around the shops, we found some good souvenirs. I bought some post cards and magnet and my companions bought different flavored salts. After buying the post card, I went back to Brisa Tours to ask about where I can find some stamps or if they had a post office. They told me that they used to have a post office but they no longer have one! WHAT?!? I guess not a lot of people here were sending and receiving physical things anymore.

With this sad news, I decided to go eat some lunch to make me feel better. Across the street from Brisa Tours, there was a new Chinese restaurant that opened up and we decided to check it out. They had some items that were Korean style Chinese cusine so we wanted to try it out. We got Jajangmyeon (blackbean noodles) and beef noodle soup. While I enjoyed the beef noodle soup, the jajangmyeon’s flavor was closer to the Chinese style. If you were expecting the Korean style flavor, you won’t find it here. I still liked both of them. They were different but good.

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel and got ready for the tour. This time, I packed my camera, tripod, extra battery, extra SD card, pancho, jacket, sunglasses, hot pack, and most importantly, extra socks. The car was packed and we started the ride with introductions and luckily, our driver was the same as yesterday! Edward!

Edward drove us to the best spot again and here, he took a ton of pictures and videos of us, individually and as a group. He was so dedicated.

*One thing to note! The person that drives you out is the DRIVER! They are not your photographers nor your guide. They may have experiences and may offer to take photos or give you information but if they don’t, DO NOT complain about it! It is not part of their duty to take photos.

Since our group got to know each other a bit, we all took photos of each other and we had a blast. The atmosphere was very different from yesterday, even the weather was different. However, I think both days were wonderful.

I think our group had good chemistry and we had so much fun taking pictures of each other even though we were complete strangers. I also think Edward contributed to that chemistry!

Once again, we waited for the sun to set completely and for the stars to come out. While it was dark, we decided to take some lettering photos with the help from Edward. He told us how to hold our phones and write the letters backwards.

We tried so many times to just get Uyuni right LOL but this one was the best shot. We were able to do everyone’s name before the stars began to show.

The stars were amazing as usual. The way the Milky Way was pointing straight at the city was just amazing. However, I personally did not like the positioning of the car and the city. I asked Edward if we could move the car just a bit and BAM!

I got the angled shot I was hoping to get. Again, this is with my camera (Sony a5) on a tripod on a timer. I had to do several test shots to get this one shot and I am super proud of myself for getting it! I look like I’m basking in starlight, just radiating. And Edward was amazing to let me on top of the car. I have been told that they don’t let people on top of the car because it damages that car too much.

After seeing my photo, everyone wanted one. So we asked Edward if it was ok and he gave us the thumbs up. So I took everyone’s photos in the poses that wanted and they all looked great! I ended up becoming a photographer for the night and it was a lot of fun. We all shared some hot packs together and stayed outside longer.

After the tour ended, the group wanted to buy me dinner for taking their photos so we went to eat some chicken. There were several churrasqueria but only this one looked open.

They didn’t have everything from their menu so we ordered that they had. The Pollo Simple. I was surprised when it came with spaghetti. I thought it would be fried rice. The chicken was really good. Very juice. But the spaghetti was a bit dry with no sauce. I think rice would have been better.

But I was full and happy and was able to go to bed extremely satisfied.

[Day 13] Off to Uyuni

We woke up early in the morning, packed up, and headed to the airport at 6:30am. The hotel was able to get us a taxi fairly quick. The city of La Paz at sunrise was beautiful. The pink tone building with the early morning light was a sight to see. The road was clear so we were able to get to the airport in no time. Check in was a breeze too and headed to grab some breakfast.

Not all the restaurants in the airport were open and we had limited options. And since we were in Bolivia, I wanted to try something Bolivian. So I got Huminta, a Bolivian style tamale, and Tikimanas, a Bolivian style empanada. They were both really flavorful and filling. I actually couldn’t finish both of them because of their size. I didn’t realize how big they would be. But my travel companions were there to help me. For both, it was 17.5 bol. Not bad for breakfast at the airport.

The airport was so small that even the check point took only about 5 minutes and they didn’t take my water away. Once we were inside, we wanted for our boarding time. It was interesting since the boarding time was the same as the last call. There were a lot of people getting to the gate at the last minute, including us!

The plane that we took was really small and the ride was pretty bumpy. Once we got to Uyuni airport, we all got off at the tarmac. The Uyuni airport was TINY. It was the smallest airport I’ve seen. They did not even have a baggage claim belt. It was just this one corner they used as the baggage claim area. They don’t check tags or anything so keep your eyes open for your bag.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The interesting thing at Uyuni was that the taxi charges per person! So they try to fill the car up before leaving. The cost from the airport was 10 bol per person. With that, no one has to worry about if you are getting cheated on your taxi fare.

I wanted to try something new while at Uyuni and decided to stay at the salt hotel. We stayed at Hotel de Sal – Casa Andina. This is not the famous salt hotel but it had salt components in the hotel and the location was decent. We were a bit early for check in, so we left our luggage here and headed to book our tours.

There were several different tour agencies in Uyuni that specialized in Salt Flat tours. We decided to go with Brisa Tours. They had a tour with a photographer (extra cost) and I wanted some good photos with the stars. I had never done night photography before and since I was already here, I thought I wanted to get some nice photos.

At these tour agencies, they have papers outside that have different type of tours that are available and how many people can sign out. Anyone can come and write their name down and pay inside to make the reservation. We planned on doing the “Sunset + starlight” tour with Photographer As, who was part of Brisa Tours. The tour itself was 130 bol and we had to pay the photographer extra $120.

After we booked our tour, we decided to venture around a bit and grab something to eat before heading out on the tour. We found the local market and noticed that it was very similar to Peru’s market. And while following our nose, we found a fried chicken booth on the back side of the market. It was a bit hidden but those are the best, right?

The fried chicken was amazing! It was close to a chicken cutlet since it was so flat. It came with rice and veggie and the best part. It was only 8 bol.

After our meal, one of my travel companion decided to cut all our hairs! She is a hair designer in South Korea and she brought most of her tools to volunteer in Peru and Bolivia. I wanted to go super short and she just chopped it all off! After my hair cut, she asked around the hotel to see if anyone else wanted a cut and ended up cutting the receptionist’s hair too.

Our tour was at 3pm so after our haircuts, we headed back to the agency. They had a 8 seater van waiting for us. We drove about 20 minutes outside the city to this house to pick up rainboots and drove another 40 minutes to the salt flats. The ride was bumpy and we were told that some parts of the salt flats have sink holes so we all have to be careful. At first, the area was just dry flats and I was really worried we wouldn’t see water since it was dry season. But once we were out there, the view just made me speechless.

The weather was just spectacular with no clouds in sight. Also, the wind wasn’t too strong so we were able to get some good reflections. There was enough water to make the reflection too. Even though it was dry season, the tour agencies all know how far to go in to get the water so you do not need to worry about it.

It was just so pretty! When we got there, it was still very bright. But the sun started to set and the view just became even more amazing. The colors of the sunset seemed different here. And it really felt like we were the only ones here. It was so quiet, so surreal. I took the time to just bask in the sun.

Once the sun was gone, we had to wait for the stars to come up. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see a lot of stars because the moonrise timing wasn’t that great for us. But slowly, stars were coming out and I was surprised that we were able to see so much of it with our naked eyes.

You could even see the Milky Way with your eyes. This picture was taken with my camera (Sony 5a) on a tripod on a timer. No filter whatsoever. Our photographer brought props that made the photos more interesting. The stars were just memorizing. I couldn’t believe I could see so much with my eyes. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was just looking up in awe. And the camera doesn’t do it justice. It was more mysterious in person and I cannot recommend the Starlight tour enough!

And one thing for sure. Make sure to wear layers or bring more clothes. Especially socks! While taking photos, we had to take off our shoes to get on the roof of the vehicle and in the process, our clothes, mostly our socks, got wet. So next time, extra socks! Also, it was extremely cold outside. Cold enough that my camera lens froze and wouldn’t focus. I had to take it inside the van to heat it up a bit before taking more photos.

After all the photos, we headed back to Uyuni. Even though it was late, everyone was so excited to have seen such a view that we kept talking about it. I definitely was amazing and worth it. I was not 100% satisfied with the pictures I took because it was my first time but it is a learning curve.

I did not plan much of Uyuni because everyone had said that everything is up to chances and luck. You might get lucky with day time weather, but not with night time weather. I heard so much of “what if” that I wanted to give myself a lot of buffer to work with.

I was debating doing a full day tour but I decided to wait to see what my body thinks the next day.

Super Bloom 2019

Have you heard of the super bloom? It’s when the wildflowers take over the parks. I’ve always heard about the super bloom but never been and everyone was talking about how this year was going to be amazing because of all the rain California has been getting. It is true. California has been getting excessive rain this winter/spring, contributing to the super bloom (And also ending the drought!)

I’m a big fan of rain so I was actually enjoying all the rain we have been getting here in California. And the super bloom? That is just a cherry on top! So this year, I did an impromptu trip. I asked a friend Friday night if she wanted to visit the Park with me Saturday morning and I’m so glad she said yes! It was a first time for both of us so we didn’t know what to do.

But there was one thing everyone told us. They said the traffic gets really bad so leave early. So we decided to leave early, that is if 8am is considered early. As a note, 8am Saturday morning had no traffic. We did not know where to start so we decided to start at the Visitor Center. The road to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is very curvy but from about 30 minutes out, you can start to see all the blooms.

The entrance to the Park

The Park has parking but it is $10 and it does get full. When we arrived, it was full but there was plenty of street parking (for free!). We parked our car on Palm Canyon Drive and walked to the Visitor Center. The flower blooms near the Visitor Center was not what I expected. I expected more of a BAM! of flowers but it was a bit sparse. The flowers were pretty but I expected more because it was the Super Bloom.

Walkway near the Visitor Center

We walked around the area before heading over to the Visitor Center. If people are first timers like me, they should visit the Visitor Center first. They have maps marking where all the flower blooms are happening and can give you information about where to go and how to get there. There were lots of places marked (up to 9!) but we didn’t want to go too far so we headed to the closest one to the Visitor Center. It was about 10 minute drive and was on Di Giorgio Road. When you are on Di Giorgio rd, you might be like “where are all the flowers?” but not to worry. Keep driving down, and this is what you will see (on the left side).

Flower field!

This was what I was expecting. Just a never ending field of flower(s). The weather was really nice this day and the wind carried the scent around, making it even better. The picture doesn’t do it justice. You have to really be there to see, feel, smell it. And I was really worried about stepping on the flowers but this field had a small road you can use to walk up and down the field.

The road to the center of the field

We spent a lot of time here just taking everything in but we knew this wasn’t the end. So we kept driving up the road. As we got to the end of the road, we saw a lot of cars parked on the side. We knew this was it because of the cars and the flowers. This area also had a trail and we walked about half a mile before turning around.

This area wasn’t as full as the previous place but it had more flowers than the Visitor Center. And the colors were so pretty! The purple, yellow, and the green just worked so well together. It was really quiet here and the walk was really easy. The flowers surrounded the the trail and you could see a lot of people taking pictures and enjoying the scenery.

If you are interested in going, you should definitely do it. I really enjoyed the morning I spent at the Park. And according to the official website, the flowers are still in full bloom. You can check the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park website for more information.