Yoho and Radium

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On my birthday, I wanted to see the sunrise, so we started driving in the total darkness.

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Weather did not cooperate; since it was so cloudy there really was no sunrise.

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But we did get to check one thing off my list…

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Canoeing at Emerald Lake was $60 CAD (as of Sept 2017), muchhhh cheaper than Lake Louise which charged $105 CAD (per hour).

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I loved the color of this lake – so much more than all the other lakes we saw on this trip. It was also less touristy and not as crowded.

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After hitting up Takakkaw Falls, we decided we still had time to go to Radium…

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Dinner at Old Salzburg Restaurant – Austrian food which means schnitzel, spatzel, strudel!

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It was around $6 CAD to get into the Radium Hot Springs.

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It was pretty awesome soaking in a hot pool while staring off into the mountains.

On this Canadian Rockies trip, we checked off a lot of things on our bucket list! The next time we come back (and I hope we do), I want to:

  • Finally get to Maligne Lake
  • Hike to Lake O’Hara
  • See the Northern Lights
  • See more sunrises and sunsets!

Banff Lakes: Louise, Agnes, Vermilion

We started our hike from Lake Louise. It started snowing in the middle of the hike and at one point, hailing!

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The snow made for interesting pictures though.

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Mirror Lake

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Went into Lake Agnes Tea House to sit out the hail – apparently everyone else had the same idea. It was crowded, dark (no electricity), but we somehow got seats. Cash only! They take CAD and USD but will only give change back in CAD.

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Lake Agnes after the storm.

After the hike, we drove to Vermilion Lakes for sunset.

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Vermilion Lakes are a series of 3 lakes – we drove from one to another to check out the best spot for photographing the sunset. Honestly, all 3 were spectacular. We decided on the last lake since we didn’t want to risk not being able to park and miss the short window.

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The colors shifted right in front of our eyes. One of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Again, we camped out at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground (highly recommended).

Banff in September: Moraine Lake, Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass

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For my birthday last year, I decided to check out the Canadian Rockies. We stayed in Calgary the first night. The drive from Calgary to Banff was only 1.5 hours. I liked Calgary a lot – there were a lot of hip restaurants and bars, and outdoor art installations (free interactive musical see-saws!) at the Riverwalk.

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First thing we did after arriving in Banff: went on a boat and cruised around Lake Minnewanka. Then we walked around the town of Banff. I was unprepared for the cold weather in September, which gave me an excuse to buy a new down jacket (love shopping in Canada, feels like a bargain with the Canadian dollar: 1USD=1.3CAD).

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Lunch at Park Distillery – pretty good meal and extremely friendly service. Highly recommended.

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Did the touristy gondola thing.

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This view though.

We camped out that night at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground – it was perfect, clean, and I highly recommend it. Much better than Lake Louise Campground which we later on discovered.

Breakfast at The Bison – pretty good bison burger!

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We passed by the parking lot leading to Lake Louise and there were long lines of cars outside the entrance waiting to get in. For Moraine Lake, we got lucky. If you wait a bit inside the parking lot, you’ll eventually get a spot – seems like there were fast turnover rates for people visiting the lakes.

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Moraine Lake – where you go to start the hike to Larch Valley. September is the perfect time to see the golden larch trees!

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Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley

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Those larch trees.

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Loved the wide open landscape here.

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Hiking through Larch Valley was easy, but going up to Sentinel Pass was a little more strenuous. Worth it though.

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After this point, turn around and proceed to the top…

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Waiting for sunset at Moraine. There was a huge rock pile for people to scramble up. The higher you go, the bluer the lake looks. It was nice to relax here after the hike.

Cuba: strolling through the streets of Trinidad

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I hired a taxi through BestCubaGuide.com. They emailed me to make the arrangements. The price for a Modern Taxi from Havana to Trinidad was 160cuc(160 USD) back in May of 2017.  We paid the driver directly in CUC. When the driver arrived, he had his wife/partner with him. He didn’t speak much English so we communicated in Spanish. Afterwards, I made arrangements with him directly to come back the next day to pick us up.

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Havana to Trinidad by car: 4-5 hours. In between, we stopped for a bathroom/snack break. Bought a hot dog for $1 and it tasted very strange… We saw a lot of local people getting it but it didn’t jive well with us.

Once we arrived at our casa (also through Airbnb, and I highly recommend this one!), our host Yacquelin presented us with ice cold fresh mango juice which was amazing. She didn’t speak English at all so we communicated through Spanish. For some reason, I understood her more than I understood the driver — maybe she was used to tourists so she spoke slower and used more simple vocabulary? Yacquelin was the perfect host.

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The casa was a house connected to their family-owned ceramics factory, where people took tours! You can also buy souvenirs here.

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Cuba

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After our mini tour, Yacquelin helped us order a taxi to go hiking.

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We hiked to this waterfall and spent some time in the water.

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Our casa was about 15 minutes walking distance away from the city center (Plaza Mayor), so we walked through the neighborhood, which was interesting.

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My favorite part of the Cuba experience was live street music.

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What I noticed while walking through the neighborhood was that you can see through most homes and stores – there were no glass, no curtains. We saw family pictures, furniture, beds, people sitting on their couches watching television — everything could be seen from the outside. It was bizarre, like looking into someone else’s life. Passing through the neighborhood, we saw a lot of locals sitting in front of their houses just chatting and spending time with each other. It was nice to see that they weren’t on their phones typing away in silence, like we often see in the U.S. When we went back to our casa that night, we hung out on the balcony, sitting outside feeling the breezes, just like the local people. Even though it was hot, the breeze felt nicer than the AC.

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We encountered a couple of local Cuban people who asked us for our “things” — my friend’s plastic wrist band, my pusheen keychain hanging off my bag, in exchange for some goods that they were selling. It broke my heart when a father of a little boy begged and said “please, we can never get it here…” A little girl asked my friend defiantly for his wrist band, and her mother said it was her birthday (the father of the little boy also pulled the birthday card). We got the feeling that it was a common thing to do — foreigners would give away “things”, just little things that we usually don’t even notice, but they would treasure them because it was nearly impossible for them to get them. They never asked for money, just things.

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Our host recommended this restaurant, Esquerra – right next to Casa de la Musica, and they had a live band too!

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Complimentary drinks.

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Ropa Vieja

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Flan

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Casa de la musica at night.

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Casa de la musica during the day time.

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Staying at a casa meant home-cooked breakfast for $5! Our breakfast here was the best meal we had in retrospect. Yacquelin prepared all this for four of us. I LOVED THE FRESH MANGOES.

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Trinidad was my favorite part of Cuba. Definitely worth the trek.

Texas road trip: Dallas & Austin

DALLAS highlights

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  1. Walk around Deep Ellum: a neighborhood that is quirky and has lots of wall murals everywhere.

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2) Get a donut from Glazed Donut Works 

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3) Get BBQ from Pecan LodgeGet here when it opens! Beef rib is where it’s at. One of the best BBQs I’ve ever had. Also got brisket but man, that giant beef rib is SO worth it! We got there at opening time and there was already a congregation of hungry people waiting around.

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BEEF RIB.

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*A little out of the way, but if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by 9 Rabbits Bakery.

On the way to Austin, there is a stop in between that’s called Czech Stop. Open 24/7, they sell kolaches which are these:

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AUSTIN highlights

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1)  Hamilton Pool Preserve such a cool place with a waterfall and places to sit and chill. $15 per car (cash). Plenty of parking. The day we went there, the water had high levels of bacteria so we were not allowed to go in. Would’ve loved to dive right in!

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2) Salt Lick BBQ was one of the highly recommended bbq places but kinda out of the way. We still made it though! They also helped us take pictures in front of the meats that were being smoked.

3) Next, we have LA BARBECUE (Fave of the trip!!!) — I preordered via email and they didn’t have a weight minimum like Franklin’s, so it was pretty easy. We got there at opening time and there was already a huge line wrapped around a few times, but I walked right up to the window to pick up my meats. #winning

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Again, BEEF RIB IS WHERE IT’S AT.

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4) Barton Creek Greenbelt – turns out there’s some hiking in Austin.

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5) Go for sunrise at the Austin 360 Bridge aka Pennybacker Bridge A short 5-10 minute hike up to the overlook.

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6) Check out the graffiti walls at Hope Outdoor Gallery

LA: Santa Anita hiking & eating (Nov 2016)

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Started off the morning with some baked goods from Duke Bakery. Their buns are huge. Look!

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They’re like buns for giants.

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We drove to Santa Anita Canyon.

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Los Angeles 2016

Los Angeles 2016

Pretty easy hike to the waterfall (note: since there is a drought, there is a very little stream and not as much water as it used to have). Only 1.8 miles to Sturtevant Falls!

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Los Angeles 2016

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Los Angeles 2016

Los Angeles 2016

Los Angeles 2016

After hiking, we went to the Westfield Santa Anita mall nearby for food.

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Side Chick had these Hainanese chicken over rice, but what I really liked was their soy sauce egg… The yolk was golden. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’d come here just to order some eggs.

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Los Angeles 2016

Los Angeles 2016

Los Angeles 2016

Also inside the mall is Sweet Lab, which makes nitro ice cream and cereal balls infused with nitro.

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“Dragon’s breath”

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Travelogue: Arches National Park, Utah (Sept 2016)

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Note: If you want to go to Fiery Furnace, you better book months in advance! We missed out on it. You can also risk it and ask for any last minute spots at the visitors center. (More info here)

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Devil’s Garden.

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Landscape Arch is the longest of the many natural rock arches in this park.

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Time for sunset at…

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Delicate Arch.

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Walking to the middle of the arch was amazing. It was windy and the view was kind of, well, majestic. I was surprised at how polite people were, letting others have their photo opportunities and not crowding the arch.

If you plan to see the sunset at Delicate Arch, I recommend you start hiking up an hour before the sunset time (check the weather). Also, bring flashlights or headlamps. We were the only ones with headlamps so people were following our light source going down the trail afterwards. It was pitch dark.

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I really liked camping out in Utah. The campgrounds we stayed at were all really good. There were lots of convenience stores around. The Utah night sky was the best part.

The view at the campsite next morning:

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We went back to Arches.

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Windows.

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We drove back to the Mexican truck/re-purposed gas station (Tacos La Pasadita) in Green River because it was SO GOOD.

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GET THE VAMPIRAS!

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Green River is known for their melons. So many different melons and cantaloupes.

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Yellow watermelon.

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Back on the road. Next, we go to Salt Lake City!

Travelogue: Canyonlands National Park, Utah (Sept 2016)

When I told people I was going to travel to Utah for my birthday week, most reactions were “Why? Of all places?”

Other than checking off my bucket list for hiking and road tripping across 5 National Parks, what I really wanted to do was to start my day with the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands.

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The weather forecast was not looking good. We experienced torrential downpour for an hour up until we got into the actual park. After we got in, it was fine!

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The “hike” to Mesa Arch was easy, 15 minutes and you’re here. Along with fifty other photographers.

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Utah 2016

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I love sunrises. You start the day from darkness to light, and then you have a whole day ahead of you.

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Utah 2016

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After seeing the sunrise, we went to hike other trails at the park. There were many easy hikes.

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Some crater.

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Island in the Sky.

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We then took an impromptu side trip to Dead Horse Point State Park (entrance fee: $10).

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Colorado River. This view was the main attraction of the park. We spent around an hour and a half there.

On the way to dinner, we saw a rainbow.

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We ate at The Blu Pig. Southern barbecue!

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Then Moab Brewery.

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We stayed in a campground in Moab for the night, since it’s right in between Canyonlands and Arches (for the next post)!

Campsite info:
Archview RV Resort & Campground
U.S. 191 Moab, Utah 84532
435-259-7854

Travelogue: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (Sept 2016)

Back on the road.

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Stumbled into a cafe…

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…With the perfect view.

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Grand Staircase.

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Hickman Bridge. Easy hike, feels like you’re on  Mars.

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Of course if you come to Capitol Reef, you have to go to their orchards. The fruits vary by season, and when we visited in September, apples and pears were in season.

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You can pick as many as you want and eat them right on the grounds for free. But if you want to bring some home, you’ll have to pay (the prices are ridiculously cheap, it’s like you’re robbing them)

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Get some pies and jam while you’re there.

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Continuing our drive through Capitol Reef, we saw lots of cool rock formations and hidden caves. Like Oyler Mine in Grand Wash Canyon, for example, where uranium mining occurred wayyyy back when… before they found out it was dangerous.

After 3 nights of camping out, we stayed at a hotel in the town of Green River, where we found an amazing Mexican food “truck” at a former gas station.

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Their vampiras were SO good. Like quesadillas but even better.

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Tacos.

Check out La Pasadita if you’re around the area!

Next up, sunrise at Canyonlands.

Travelogue: Bryce Canyon, Utah (Sept 2016)

We camped out at Ruby’s Inn Campground (info in the previous post) so that we could get a head start on hiking at Bryce Canyon National Park the next morning.

The Fairyland Loop is an 8-mile trail that takes you all around many spectacular hoodoos and viewpoints. It was probably my favorite hike of this trip, strenuous but amazing views that I could never even have dreamed of. It takes about 4-5 hours, especially if you stop and take pictures/snack.

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Depending on which part you start at, you go up and down in elevation — going up is always harder for me… I felt like I couldn’t breathe (I know I’m weak).

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So many hoodoos.

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After the Fairyland loop, it started getting really foggy and cold — we decided to drive through the loop to stop at the various viewpoints instead of hiking another trail.

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The Amphitheater

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We drove to the end of the loop to try to get more pictures, but it became so foggy that it was impossible to see beyond two feet. So we gave up and went to the general store to get some food to cook at the campground.

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There are plenty of general stores right outside the park for everything you would possibly need. I bought stamps and postcards to send out to friends. We also bought ramen and spam and cheese.

Side note — I really liked the name of this beer but didn’t buy it:

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Ruby’s Inn Campground
300 So. Main Hwy 63,
Bryce Canyon, Utah. 84764