1.24.2015

the writer's block: around the world in 8 minutes



today, my sponsors are going to take you on a whirlwind trip around the world. grab your passport and pack your bags, read on about their chosen destinations, and then head over to their blogs to say hello!


I'm Christina, the girl behind the scenes at Route Bliss. I'm a 30-something single wannabe vagabond whose practicality and realist side keeps her planted in East Texas. By weekday I write lots of reports at my job as well as daydream frequently where I want to travel to next, ways to motivate myself to getting fit for health and happiness's sake, and experimenting in the kitchen to make my favorite not so healthy foods healthier. I also like to take lots of photos of pretty things, furry critters (aka canines and felines), and beautiful destinations.

featured destination: Memphis, Tennessee

what do you consider a must-do for visitors here? Tour the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum at the Fed Ex Forum + attend a Memphis Grizzles game while you're there. Walk down Beale Street, during the day you can walk in many of the bars to sightsee. Tour the The Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel which is several blocks south of Beale Street. Ride the Main Street Trolleys -- there's several lines to choose from. Catch a musical or show at the Orpheum Theater if you're staying overnight. And, obviously tour Graceland.

what is your favorite thing to eat in Memphis? The only place my BFF and I ate at was the Kooky Canuck, a Canadian American restaurant -- we were there the day before Columbus Day aka Thanksgiving in Canada, so it was fitting. I had the Great Maple Sirloin Steak and Poutine. Both were delicious -- in fact, because the poutine was my appetizer, I couldn't finish the steak!

any fun or largely unknown facts to share? St. Jude Hospital is located in Memphis -- and they hold an annual Half Marathon and Marathon in early December. What better way to tour the sights of the city while helping a great cause!

what is your favorite part about visiting this place? There's so much history in Memphis to learn about and experience -- musically as well as civil rights.

tips for anyone traveling to this place? I've only been once -- during the day on a Sunday in the fall. If you want to experience Beale Street, be sure to stay overnight on a Friday or Saturday as many places are closed during lunchtime on Sundays. If you think you'll ride the trolley more than once, buy a day pass and ride all the lines; leave your car in a paid lot. Graceland is several miles from downtown on the south side of the city, go there first or last. Oh. and bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes as well!

learn more about Christina on her blog: Route Bliss 

read some of her favorite posts:

or follow along with:


Cynthia is a Pacific Northwest gal gone accidental expat who now lives in the Czech Republic and writes for her blog, Adventurings. In mid-2012, she and her fiance quit their jobs, moved out of their Seattle digs and started a vagabond lifestyle of traveling and work-staying their way across Europe until their arrived in their current destination: South Bohemia. On the blog you'll find her musings on expat life, travels, learning to love a lifestyle of living out of a backpack.... and now, preparations for her wedding this June!

featured destination: Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

what do you consider a must-see for visitors? Being in ČK isn't so much about what to do, but just to enjoy the picture-perfect medieval cobblestone small-town ambiance. But first time visitors should definitely check out the castle and walk down every little lane.

what is your favorite thing to eat in Český Krumlov? Strolling around the streets with an ice cream cone in hand on a warm day is perfect for me! But any month of the year, you'll find me at Laibon, a fantastic vegetarian joint in the heart of the city with its stone walls, wood tables, great riverside outdoor dining, and excellent service.

any fun or largely unknown facts to share? Český Krumlov in South Bohemia lies in the heart of the former Sudetenland-- a disputed area of the Czech Republic near the German border that was expelled of almost its entire German population after the Second World War through a Czech decree. After the expulsion, the town was very sparsely populated (almost a ghost town) and is nothing like the place you'd see today. However after the revolution, people started buying up the very cheap old buildings in the center and the town is now bustling with activity again... but you can still notice some German remnants, and German is still widely spoken in this region.

what is your favorite part about visiting? I absolutely love living next to this sweet little town-- it's a perfect place to get away if I have the day off but also the so very Bohemian nature that surrounds it: picture green rolling hills for days. Just to spend time here among the beautiful old buildings that have barely changed in a century fills me with a very positive energy.

tips for anyone traveling here? Every season is a great time of year to visit Český Krumlov and there are so many festivals going on every month, most notably the International Music Festival in July and August, the Five-Petalled Rose (Renaissance) Festival in June, and the St. Wenceslas Festival in September. For loads more ideas of what to do in any season, check out this post.

Don't forget to drink local beer a gypsy pub, take lots of photos, and try a segway tour-- much more awesome than you ever imagined it would be, I promise!

learn more about Cynthia on her blog: Adventurings

read some of her favorite posts:

or follow along with:


[Phyllis, from the istanbul affair] this blog got born from a moment of desperation my last few weeks in istanbul when i knew i wasn't ready to leave istanbul but knew i had to come back home to mississippi. i opened the blog under the pseudonym of india banks and the title desperate english teachers 62 days after i arrived back home to mississippi and discovered that i had no home, no life, and no identity left after one and a half years in istanbul. this space is where i've lived and rebuilt my life and where i now celebrate the agony of being torn between two lovers, mississippi and istanbul.

featured destination: the wheatfields of greenville, mississippi and istanbul {the two are inseparable to me}

what do you consider a must-see for visitors? greenville, mississippi - the sunsets across the bare naked wheat fields will make you cry with a sort of sad-joy

istanbul - i'm torn between the sunsets while sitting on cushions, drinking tea and watching the lovers crossing the bosphorous back and forth on a boat from kiz kulesi {maiden's tower} and sipping tea on a boat while crossing the bosphorous from the edge of asia over to the edge of europe

what is your favorite place to eat there? greenville, mississippi - Doe's Eat Place, an old house that's been converted into a restaurant. you enter through the kitchen, there's no menu, and there's no better food or company in the world.

istanbul - Çiya, a traditional Turkish restaurant where you walk in through the kitchen and point at the dishes you want that are being cooked by chefs, then you make your plate of meze and wander up a spiral staircase to eat and soak in a street view below.

any fun or largely unknown facts to share? greenville, mississippi has wild horses {i can't tell you where they are because they're my little secret but i can blindfold and take you there|} and istanbul has a great outlet mall {i can’t tell you where it is but i can blindfold and take you there}

what is your favorite part about visiting? greenville, or mississippi in general, and istanbul both come with a kind of difficult history but an extraordinary beauty. mississippi has writers, dirt. istanbul has writers, water. you will be welcomed and comforted in both places by strangers. you will be made to feel at home.

tips for anyone traveling here? for some reason i love both places in september. and to be honest, i don't plan trips. when i get an invitation, or decide i want to go somewhere, i just hop on a plane, or a train, and go. that stated, i have started making friends via social media in places i think i'll visit one day. but i would be happy to answer any specific questions about either place.

learn more about Phyllis on her blog: the istanbul affair

read some of her favorite posts:

or follow along with:

1.22.2015

Bali // Virgin Beach


last year we traveled to Bali for 10 days during our Chinese New Year break. most people picture a vacation in Bali as all white sands and pinterest-perfect tropical paradise. well, we spent more time in the jungle dodging monkeys and exploring temples on our trip, but we still made it to the shore for an afternoon.

[I found these pictures the other day when digging through my drive. seeing as they almost a year old and we are leaving in a week for this New Year's break, I figured it was time to share.]


we were a bit overwhelmed with trying to pick a beach to visit. I mean, Bali is an island and there are beaches in every direction. investigating options on pinterest just seemed like asking to be let down. so we asked the hotel for a recommendation. the driver said he would take us to a place called Virgin Beach.

the name is a bit misleading, as this place is not exactly untouched. the shore was lined with "beach clubs" where you could lounge on chairs with the expectation that you order some food and drink. but the water was blue and the sun was bright, and the massive partying crowds of Kuta we had hoped to avoid were nowhere in sight.


Virgin Beach was a bit out of the way for us from Ubud. it was a long drive and the car almost got stuck on the narrow track that winds through the jungle down to the shore. but relaxing in the sun for an afternoon was the perfect way to end our vacation in Bali. [um, and now I'm totally ready to go back to the beach.]


and now I'd like to take you to a climate the exact opposite of Bali... to introduce this month's featured sponsor and expat in Iceland: Kaelene from Unlocking Kiki. I'm always fascinated with stories from places I haven't been able to explore, and seeing bits of her life in Iceland [which sometimes looks like the moon, and only gets 4 hours of sunlight in winter] certainly keeps me entertained. read about some of her travels below, then head over to her blog for the full story!

Hey there! I am Kaelene, Kiki to my friends, and the voice behind Unlocking Kiki. I am 25 year old from Oregon and am now living the expat life in Reykjavík, Iceland. Unlocking Kiki is where I talk about transitioning to life as an expat, my attempts at fitting into the Icelandic society, and any random thoughts I may have on my mind that day.

Iceland, totally random right?? Well you know its the usual story, girl goes to Australia, girl meets boy in Australia, boy happens to be Icelandic, girl looks on map to figure out where in the hell Iceland is, fast forward three years girl officially moves to Iceland to be with boy. And that sums up how I ended up in Iceland and my love story all in one run-on sentence!

two favorite posts:  Icelandic Blooper Reel:  Let's face it, life is full of embarrassing moments, and life in a foreign language, while it is jammed packed of embarrassing moments, at least for me! Every time I read my post Icelandic Blooper Reel post it cracks me up and reminds me of all the awkward situations I have been in as well as how far I have came in my language skills.

The Trip That Changed My Life:  This post is one of my favorites about my first international trip and how it changed everything for me. I still find it amazing how one decision can affect your entire life!

travel plans for 2015:  This year we are heading to Amsterdam for Easter and back to Oregon for the summer. I am hoping to add a trip to some German Christmas markets this year as well! Lots of road trips around Iceland are definitely on the agenda. There is so much to see in this small beautiful country I call home and I am looking forward to exploring it all!

a favorite travel moment from 2014: This past summer I spent two amazing weeks in Croatia, a country that completely surprised me in the best way possible. Our trip was filled with beautiful beaches and charming towns but a real highlight was when we stumbled upon a local wine festival in Korcula. All the wineries of the island had gathered to celebrate the end of harvest. There was live music, locals dancing and laughing, and enough wine to get the whole island tipsy. Getting to experience a celebration with the locals was a wonderful experience and I will never forget it. Or the wine, the Croatian wine is delicious!

where would you dream trip take you? My dream trip would take me all over the world and never end! I just need to find a way to make traveling full time my job, that is the dream.

read more from Kaelene on her blog: Unlocking Kiki
or follow along with

1.19.2015

a Taiwanese feast


everyone knows that grandmothers cook the best food. so when our friend Sharon told us that her grandmother wanted to have a group of us up to Taipei to cook us a traditional Taiwanese feast, of course we were in! [for the sake of brevity, I'm going to just refer to Sharon's grandparents as grandma and grandpa from here.]

we arrived while grandma was still cooking, so we sipped jasmine tea and listened to grandpa show off his collections of glassware, stamps, and coins from around the world. [I was getting nostalgic about the stamps, since I helped my Dad sort through my grandfather's collection a few years ago.]



then we were ushered upstairs to the dining room, where the table was laid out with a feast of dishes. we also met Sharon's aunt and uncle. after a group photo in front of the giant light-up picture of the Canadian Rockies [that also made running water noises] we dug in.

the dishes that grandma made for us were some of her specialties, and all very traditional Taiwanese. Taiwan has a unique blend of influences from various regions of China, Japan, and many other cultures that have made their mark on Taiwan. the result is a cuisine you won't find anywhere else.


there were chicken wings with specially spiced hard boiled eggs [滷蛋.] a braised pork dish [滷肉] in a delicious gravy/broth. a melt-in-your-mouth fish dish with green onion and pork bits on top, and shrimp and vegetable stirfry.


this cold salad with seaweed, bean sprout, mushroom, and clear noodles was one of my favorites. apparently, grandma went to DinTaiFung and ate their 招牌小菜, and decided she could make a better version at home.


there was a platter piled with small bites which disappeared quickly: fried vegetable balls, vegetables wrapped in seaweed and tofu, and fried chicken rolls.


another favorite of mine was this cold tofu dish. it was in a marinade with vegetables and a strange japanese jelly "noodle" called konnyaku [also known as devil's tongue.] the texture was really interesting, almost gummy. I'm not making this sound very appetizing, but trust me, it was GOOD.


we sampled the dishes, then took seconds. and occasionally thirds. there was almost an arm wrestling match over the last fried vegetable ball, until we were reassured there were more downstairs. there was more of everything. and not just more of the foods that we had been stuffing ourselves with... more dishes to try!


the next to emerge was a giant steaming bowl of "Buddha jumps over the wall" [佛跳牆.]  Aunt Michelle explained it is called this because the dish is so tasty, even the Buddha himself would jump over a wall to eat some.


this was followed by a dish of greens sautéed in garlic and peppers - a fairly common [but really delicious] way of eating greens in Taiwan. grandma wanted to serve us a vegetable that we had never tried before. this green stemmed vegetable with tiny curls might have been my favorite thing... green things sautéed with garlic and peppers are always tasty but the best part was the name of this vegetable: DRAGON WHISKERS [龍鬚菜.] you guys know I love my dragons, and the whiskers did not disappoint.


and then came the fish ball soup [阿嬤的手工魚丸 .] this is one of those dishes that doesn't sound very appealing, but tasted a thousand times better than you'd imagine. and of course, grandma made these fish balls from scratch. starting with a fish and making it into a paste, forming it into a meatball-like lump, and cooking it in an outrageously delicious broth chock full of cilantro and green onion.


for dessert, there were FOUR dishes to try! first came the fried taro balls and sweet rice formed into little squares with fruit. then one of Taiwan's signature pastries: homemade pineapple cakes [阿媽的鳳梨酥.]


for the grand finale, there was dessert soup [湯圓.] it was a sweet broth filled with tiny balls of mochi dough and dried fruits [which were rehydrated in the soup.] I was both surprised and happy to discover that even though the gummy balls were made from glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice is actually gluten-free. hello new world of desserts I can eat!



many of the dishes we ate are becoming rare to find homemade, since they take so long to prepare. most people just go to the store and buy pre-made fish balls and pineapple cakes. I don't know that we will have the chance to eat any as good as we were served this weekend. [though we did come home with a leftover un-sliced chicken rollup, and Husband totally threw it in the toaster oven and then ate it like a burrito.]

all in all, there were SIXTEEN dishes for us to try! everything was delicious, colorful, and so very Taiwan. I'm so grateful that we had the chance to experience some of Taiwan's traditional cuisine in this manner - that Sharon's grandparents were so kind to open their home and cook us this feast.

have you ever had any of these dishes? I would highly recommend trying them if you ever have the chance. Taiwan is a great place to eat and any of these dishes would make a great addition to your list to try!
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