Linda & Phil are getting married!

Linda and Phil got engaged last year, but because Phil flies back and forth between Shanghai and Seattle, we weren’t able to take photos until last weekend. The couple conveniently lives downtown, so we started off on their beautiful roof deck before heading out to Post Alley and Pike Place for some obligatory Seattle shots. Only a few more days to go before the big celebration at the aquarium! Continue reading

Ancient Athens’ Acropolis & Agora

How’s that for an alliterating title? The ancient greeks had their A-game on, apparently.

The contrasting difference between colorful, idyllic Santorini and the haggard, sobering appearance of Athens was a bit jarring, so two days was just the right amount of time for us to explore the ancient ruins and wander about Plaka, the more interesting part of town. It was also a great way to end our mini tour of Europe and “recalibrate” ourselves to yearn for the states, again.

As for our first airbnb experience — it wasn’t too bad! I was a bit concerned on the way to the rental, since we passed by what clearly was the redlight district, but then the neighborhood cleaned up dramatically as we got closer to the tourist spots. Prices are also a lot more reasonable in Athens, food is decent, and navigation and communication are both easy. (They even have an Uber-like app for taxis, which came in handy for our early morning flight out!) Continue reading

The hike from Fira to Oia, Santorini

Braving the hike from Fira to Oia on a June afternoon was both the best and worst decision we made in Santorini. On one hand, every slight turn and dip in the road afforded us postcard-worthy views of the island and beyond; on the other, there was zero shade along the entire 6+ mile hike, at least half of which was barren, desolate wilderness. Thanks to the serpentine wandering throughout all the towns, we somehow ended up walking a good 12 miles (according to the Moves app anyway) — and experienced slight dehydration and heat stroke. (For the next week and a half, I also dealt with a burning and unsightly heat rash along my arms and around my neck.) Regardless, watching the sunset from the edge of Oia was so worth it, as was passing by the more isolated churches inaccessible by car. Continue reading

Vatican City

The metro stop is only four blocks from the Vatican, but it felt like such a laborious journey to the city walls, because of all the tour promoters heckling you for business. After seeing the endless line wrapped around the fortified enclave, we finally gave in to one extremely convincing sales rep, who had the scorching sun on his side that day. Regardless, cutting the line was worth it, squishing through the Vatican Museum, constantly in search of our flagless tour guide was not.

Among the many feelings I experienced in the Vatican were 1. shock at how small and unassuming the Sistine Chapel really is, and 2. awe at how enormous and spacious it actually is inside St. Peter’s. #awestruck (And the former requires you to have all shoulders and knees covered, with absolutely no photography allowed; the latter does not.) Continue reading

Ancient Rome, Modern Italy

After being “stuck” on the Venetian archipelago for one too many days, it was nice to finally pull out a map again, this time in Rome.

Funny thing: when we got on the metro from the train station, Ryan commented that there was a strangely familiar San Franciscan vibe, and when we got off, we ran straight into the gay pride parade, which we had to cross twice (with our luggages) to get to our hotel. Fun first impressions are always good, eh? Then, as soon as we dropped off our luggages and set off on foot for the famed piazzas, palazzos, and fontanas, I commented that the steep streets shaded by stone buildings showed a striking resemblance to San Francisco as well. Were we just imagining this?! Perhaps it was the Chinese restaurants, Indian businesses, and general diversity that just felt so welcoming after a few weeks in Europe — truth be told, a feeling I did not expect from Rome. Regardless, as soon as we exited a narrow alley that opened up into a giant plaza or stood in awe at the foot of an ancient ruin, we knew we were in Rome. Continue reading

The Magical World of Venezia

Venice is like a real-life, grown-up version of Disneyland: a small, contained world full of wonder and chaos at the same time. You get lost in a sea of people, marvel at the intricate and colorful buildings, go on boat rides, eat copious amounts of sweets, and wander aimlessly in circles until your body urges you to seek shelter in an overpriced restaurant.

You start to believe that the labyrinthine world was actually built as a tourist trap, until you look up, see all the laundry lines, and realize that people actually live here. In Venice. A world without cars, street lights, greenery, or even stores necessary for daily life (like Costco and Apple)… a world surrounded by water and separated from “real” civilization — and somehow once a major maritime power and wealthy renaissance city.

Welcome to…
Disneyland : The Happiest Place on Earth :: Venice : The Least ADA-accessible Place on Earth! Continue reading

Parisian Charm

When you have beautifully pruned gardens, pedestrian paths along the Seine, and museums in what were once ornate palaces and grand train stations, it’s no wonder that you’re labeled the “most romantic city” in the world. At the same time, I’ve never been in any other city where I’ve had to try so hard to please the locals — speak their language, order proper 3-course meals, and avoid inadvertent offense. Nor have I ever been so paranoid to hear “Speak English?” (and then “Hablo Espanol?” seriously?), especially when I’m trying to take a photo in peace. Oh, Paris…

But when your opera houses and city halls look like palaces and roundabouts exhibit [former] imperial glory…you can’t help but be charming and dramatic at the same time, like the residents. Continue reading

Le Marais District in Paris

After nearly a week of obligatory tourist visits (and averaging 8 miles of walking per day), we decided to take it easy the day before our flight and stick to one area. Without actually doing any research, we chose to hop off the metro at the Hotel de Ville stop and wander around. Much to our surprise, we stumbled upon the cutest historic district of all time! Even the Uniqlo is in a beautiful, historic building! Continue reading

Château de Versailles

Despite the occasional rain, the pollen count in Paris was off the charts while we were there. Thankfully, pharmacies in Europe are as plentiful as convenience stores in Asia — on every corner, with a flashing green cross instead of “7-11″. As painful as it was to walk through seemingly endless acres of landscaped gardens, it was totally worth it.

True story: Versailles is only about a 20-minute train ride from Paris; no big deal, right? Except when the “train broke down” and the station closed, so we had to walk to the next station, hop on the only other RER train going in the other direction, and wait nearly two hours to get back into the city. At least we got a mini-tour of the ‘burbs countryside! Continue reading

© 2014 Serena Wu. All rights reserved.