Perched in the hillside amongst a dense grove of trees was the perfect Austrian bar. As we reclined outside to soak in the spectacular panorama of the lake, music, shouts, and singing erupted from the packed interior. Inside the bar people had clearly been drinking since early in the day, providing a welcoming and engaging atmosphere that enchanted Stefje and me.
Through three layers of forest and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, we pushed through fatigued muscles to truly earn the resulting vistas. The only constant here was remarkable beauty. Frequent rains in the Soca Valley meant the entire forest floor was covered with vegetation: mosses, ferns, sapling, and thick-trunked trees made our surroundings feel more like a jungle than a pathway.
After a refreshing dip, we decided to set off for a hike along the hills in hopes of capturing a gorgeous afternoon view of the coastline. The path wasn’t too steep but it was unyielding in its incline. Switchback after switchback punished our valves and poured sweat down our backs, yet I was too occupied with the view to feel the pain. Instead, I just found myself gazing in wonder at the spoils of this natural paradise.
Amidst walking tours, an overwhelming number of pedestrians, and restaurants lining every square inch of available real estate, we kept our eyes craned upwards at a wealth of ancient architecture that transported us back in time. A long walk along the city’s port had us relishing in the atmosphere of the city: a crisp sea breeze, a hidden cove of ships, and finally a perfect sunset that struck just as we crossed the in front of the city’s largest palace.
Our group of eight took a Gondola up to the trailhead. From our new vantage point, the postcard perfect farmhouses and connecting roads evaporated into the horizon. Yet more importantly, the smell of cow manure quickly disintegrated as well. To cap things off, we were now graced by a backdrop of impressive peaks, complemented by bright green grasses and dotted with intermittent farmhouses that spilled out into the verdant valley below.
Travelers possess unique traits which enhance the world.
Talalla has achieved an odd balance as a beach town. Only foreigners and local villagers coexist on this tiny crescent of fine sand; other Sri Lanka visitors haven't yet made this a popular destination on the map. As such, old fishermen equipped with plastic bottles and long strings of hooks still navigate deftly amongst tourists and swimmers. In the streets, school children excitedly waved hello every time I passed by. Yet local acceptance hangs in a delicate balance; should Talalla follow the development cycle of its more popular sister cities along the coast, backlash is inevitable. Trash will accumulate, irresponsible visitors will propagate, and a way of life that has worked for decades will quickly dissolve away.
As our jeep rattled on through the plains, our tour guide stopped intermittently to point out plenty of animals which our eyes glossed over and he was able to spot. Jackals moved swiftly in the distance and herds of deer were spooked by oncoming cars. Monkeys rustled in the treetops, taking a break from their morning snacking to spy on us.
The last two hours of the journey were perhaps the most breathtaking. Here the speed slowed as the number of curves increased, but the stops were few and far between. Now trees began to truly dominate the landscape: the exhilarating views on both sides of the train offered dramatic cliffs, towering palm trees and thick jungle undergrowth.
What seemed like just a few minutes later we were awoken by the sun on a clear Friday morning in Budapest, eager to set off and see what the city had to offer. It only took a few minutes for our eyes to bulge with outlandish neo-classical architecture in the form of the grandiose St. Stephen’s Basilica. It hadn’t hit the priority list of our vague plans for the day, but we immediately made a detour to accommodate exploring the massive dome which rose up like a sentinel standing guard of the city center.
Our path continued across the plaza to Las Ramblas, perhaps the most famous street in Barcelona. Cutting diagonally from the plaza directly to the Mediterranean Sea, the wide avenue was packed with exactly what you might expect from any shopping experience in a developed country: McDonalds, Nike, H+M, and all the other popular brands. Yet halfway down the street we turned straight into something decidedly Spanish, La Mercado de La Boqueria. The market was an onslaught to the senses: fruits of every color were stacked to the ceiling, pungent whiffs of fresh seafood assaulted our nasal cavities, and each stall was staffed by boisterous salespeople shouting for our attention.
So far my favorite aspect of living in Amsterdam has been the ease of traveling to other wonderful European cities. In November I was lucky enough to have my parents visit in Amsterdam and after a week of exploring the Belgium and the French countryside, they agreed to meet us for a weekend in Paris.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the dietary lifestyle between Americans and their Dutch counterparts is the inclusion of gluten. Unlike the Paleo and low-carb dieters that I had grown accustomed to in the states, the residents of Holland love their bread!
The Amsterdam transportation system is dominated by the bicycle. Regardless of the distance, weather, or time of day, there’s nothing stopping Amsterdam natives from pedaling their way to the next destination. These are just my observations as an American outsider.
Dramatically set amidst long beaches and dramatic cliffs that rise directly from the ocean, Rio de Janeiro is the original home of Portuguese Royalty in the New World and centuries later, still a city of immense international importance. It’s citizens have seen it all in recent years: a corrupt government, rampant poverty amid an intense economic crisis, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Both of these international sporting spectacles have come under harsh scrutiny for their lack of planning and unfulfilled economic promise, igniting the city in opposition against establishment forces. Yet behind the tough facade lies a city of six million brash and beautiful Brazilians who are eager to demonstrate their loving pride for la cidada maravilhosa: the marvelous city.
Along the North side of the island we encountered untouched nature: striking rock facades protruding directly from the rolling green hillsides, deserted beaches without a soul in sight, and flocks of majestic birds headed out for a morning fishing trip. Following a swarm of similar boats on the same tour, our driver pulled into the pristine waters of the Laguna Azul and we all eagerly jumped in. Here the water was so clear it seemed unnaturally photoshopped, as a tiny island jutting out from the shore captured the current and provided a prime spot for fish to congregate.
Paraty is undoubtedly paradise. Stefje and I made it our mission to see as much of the islands and beaches that surround this amazing locale, so we hooked up with some other members of the hostel for a boat tour through the bay. In the distance the overgrown islands demonstrated the area’s spectacular propensity for life. Year round sunshine and winter rains ensure that nature dominates here, sprouting up thick forests, fruit trees, and palm branches spreading shade over every square inch of land.
We engaged in one of my favorite activities for getting to know a neighborhood first-hand: strapping on a pair of walking shoes and pounding the pavement one step at a time. Vila Madelena is São Paulo’s best for nightlife, with dozens upon dozens of bars coming alive in the evening hours. Yet during the day it was a curious case study as well, as just one block could include a brand new restaurant, a boutique shop, an apartment building, and an art gallery, each occupying no more than 10 meters of storefront.