Long Beach

I recently had such a great day visiting Long Beach in California, I just had to share! This is definitely not my first time visiting the area, but it was such a special day.

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After getting lucky with little traffic out of Los Angeles, we started off the morning right with some ice cream after breakfast.

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And then we got in line for a whale watching boat tour. I did one of these trips a few years ago and it was amazing to see marine life and enjoy the boat ride.

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So I was definitely thrilled to do it again!

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The boat ride lasts a couple hours and it’s such an exciting joy. The trip out of the harbor area is full of waves, making it feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. The wind blows sprays of water on you, but it just makes the whole experience feel that much better.

We quickly were surrounded by dolphins and their little ones. I love seeing animals in the wild. Unfortunately, you never know when a dolphin will jump out of the water or where so it’s very hard to capture a good photo. But I did my best.

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And then we got very lucky and were able to find a fin whale! 

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After finishing the amazing tour, we realized we hadn’t had our fill of marine life, so we decided to take a trip to the aquarium right around the corner. I’ve been to a few aquariums, but this one was really special. The size was perfect, the variety in animal life was spectacular, and the exhibits were wonderful to look at.

It was so much fun hanging out with guys like this during our visit

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We were even able to touch some animals in their opens tanks

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It was a great experience overall and I definitely recommend this aquarium to anyone in the area!

On Top Of The World

We started the day by grabbing breakfast at a diner called Yolk and indulged in some deliciousness because we had a long day and a lot of walking ahead of us. The weather was perfect – sunny, warm, light breeze. We walked to Michigan Avenue and made our way to 360 Chicago, which used to be known as the John Hancock Observatory. We took the elevator up 1,000 feet above ground level – more than 90s stories high. From here, the view of Lake Michigan is amazing and you can walk around and view the city from every direction.

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The views of the city from that high up are breath taking:

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We decided to be brave and try the new TILT on top of this building. You stand against the glass window, hold onto handles , and the window shifts forward 30 degrees so you are angled looking down at the city below. It was so exciting, even if a little scary!

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When you’re walking on the sidewalk, it’s easy to appreciate the skyline and how huge the city is, but when you’re looking at it all from above, it’s just incredible to see so much.

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After we took the elevator ride down, we decided that the observatory was merely a warmup and that we should keep going and visit the Skydeck at the Willis Tower. We walked a long way over, enjoying the sunshine and city excitement. The Skydeck is 1353 feet or 412 meters up or 103 floors. The minute long elevator ride has a video presentation showing how high you’re going by displaying what other famous buildings in the world you are passing in height with each increasing distance – such as the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building. Once we made it up, the views were just awesome.

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So we walked over to the section where you can stand on surrounded by glass, even under your feet and look out at the city below.

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The thrill was totally there and it was wild to have that kind of experience!

Once we made it down, we visited more of the city. We went out for coffee, walked to a nice lunch place at Millennium Park, and visited the Apple Store one last time so Rachel could try on the new Edition Watch.

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Then we made our way back to the apartment to get ready for a night out with a very special friend – the one who was letting us stay in his place. We had a blast going out to dinner and for drinks. It was a fun and exciting way to spend our last night in the big city!

So Many Exhibits!

Our second day was grey, cold, and slightly rainy – this was okay with us though because it was our museum day. It’s important to always make the best of things when you travel even if sometimes the weather can make that hard. Since I’ve had experiences like getting stuck sleeping outside in freezing temperatures in Australia with just a hoodie to stay warm or getting caught in total downpours in the Amazon without a change of clothes – a little grey in Chicago wasn’t bad and we had a plan.

We left early for breakfast at the Merchandise Mart and took the Brown Line Train and Bus 146 to get to the Field Museum of Natural History. This is one of the largest museums of its type in the world. Built in 1921, the museum has since developed a huge variety of quality permanent exhibits – enough to attract up to 2 million visitors each year!

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When we walked in, it was so exciting to see Sue, the famous tyrannosaurus rex, standing 13 feet tall in the lobby. This is the most complete and best-preserved fossil of its kind that has been discovered. Sue Hendrickson was the woman who originally found this amazing fossil, and therefore, it was named after her although they don’t know for sure if this tyrannosaurus rex was actually male or female, but they do know it was 28 when it died.

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When we visited, the temporary exhibits we were able to visit included one about Vikings and one about Voodoo. Because my family comes from Sweden, it was incredible to see what the Viking exhibit included and feel connected to all of the displays in some way. IMG_1636

Like seeing this picture of viking boat burialsIMG_1640

And knowing I’ve actually seen these burial grounds in person so close to my home in southern Sweden

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We were able to look through exhibits about various mammals, Native Americans, The Pacific Islands, gems from around the world, Ancient Egypt, an underground adventure, and see how the planet has evolved over time. IMG_1663 IMG_1649 IMG_1675 IMG_1669

This is the kind of museum you could easily spend the day in and not notice the time pass by.IMG_1668

When we finished looking around, we decided to go to the huge aquarium next door. There were so many species to look at throughout the various exhibits. We saw seahorses, starfish, exotic fish, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, and even belugas. It was so cool! I love aquariums and see sea animals from around the world.

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After we made our way through the aquarium, we headed over to the planetarium just a short walk away. It was interesting to read so much about the solar system and all of the space programs.

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We took the bus back to the apartment and promptly fell asleep before dinner because all that site seeing was exhausting! We grabbed dinner at this amazing Japanese place close to the apartment.

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It was such a great, adventure-filled day!

The Windy City

Last week I finally left Chicago O’Hare for the first time and got to see the amazing city! Chicago is huge and full of so many interesting places to visit as it is the 3rd largest city in America. From the second we got off the plane it was so exciting. We got out luggage and made our way to the Blue Line train to head into the city. The train was full of tourists and locals and the energy made us pumped for the adventures to come. We got off at Clark/Lake and walked to my friend’s apartment where we would be staying. It was warm and beautiful, so walking around and viewing everything was perfect. We couldn’t wait to get going and see what the city had to offer.

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Just look how beautiful this is!

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We spent a huge portion of our first day at the Art Institute of Chicago, a world famous museum. Because I paint and create art, I love to look at other people’s art and see famous works from around the world. The exhibits in this museum were so incredible and to actually see a work by Picasso or Matisse just blew my mind.

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The work we were privileged enough to see was so inspiring. From Impressionism to Contemporary art, sculptures to photographs, oil to watercolor – the museum had it all. Standing in front of some of the greatest works in the world is definitely a humbling experience.

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When we left the museum, we took a walk over to Millennium Park to see the famous Chicago bean, which is actually called Cloud Gate. It was built in 2006 by Anish Kapoor.

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I was definitely overwhelmed and shocked by the size when I was next to the massive sculpture. It was so cool to see the reflections of the city in the flawless stainless steel and watch all the tourists and visitors play around to get the best photos.

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It’s just such a stunning area:IMG_1608

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After spending time in the park, we walked along Michigan Avenue for some shopping and to see more sites. We looked at the Chicago Tribune building.IMG_1624

And nearby found the giant football helmets in honor of the upcoming NFL draft that will be held in Chicago for the first time since 1964. It was fun to find the Buffalo Bills’ helmet and take goofy photos.

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We kept walking along Michigan Avenue and made a stop at the giant Apple Store. Because my friend Rachel works at the store in Buffalo, the employees at this location gave us a full tour of the store and let us see all the behind the scenes action. It was definitely a cool experience! We did some shopping at other stores and had a fun walk back to the apartment, stopping at a delicious Thai restaurant for dinner. With over 10 miles of walking that day plus the brief travel getting to the city that morning, we were so tired! We went back to the apartment and met up with a couple friends of mine and crashed early.

Frozen Falls

After getting back from Los Angeles, the weather in Buffalo just sucked. It was still freezing, snowing, hailing, and just felt like it was never going to warm up. It’s hard to stay motivated and want to be outside and really do anything when the cold winter drags on so endlessly.

So my parents and I decided we needed to do something fun outside and see something beautiful. We took a short trip up to the border of the US and Canada to visit Niagara Falls!

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How lucky are we to have such a world wonder only half an hour away. I think it’s worth looking at the Falls from both sides of the border because each side has something to offer and is a little different. The Canadian side is full of tourist attractions and fun things to do and see and the American side has a lot of natural environment areas to walk around and enjoy the scenery.

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What’s really amazing about having terribly cold winters is that the Falls can actually freeze!

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Even though is was super cold outside, it’s completely worth it! It’s just so beautiful and amazing to think about how such powerful, fast moving water can be put to a stop like that.

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Every time I visit the Falls, I can’t help but imagine how wild it must have been for the first people to stumble upon such a huge waterfall, so unexpected in this kind of environment.

Excited – Planning New Trips!

I am so excited to be planning the next few months out because some amazing adventures are going to happen!

The rest of April is full of excitement! I’m going to Rochester this weekend, Chicago next week with my best friend, doing some travel for work in Canada in two weeks. I miss being on the road and getting on a plane and I’ve only been home a few weeks. Travel is just so important to me. Taking a few small trips like this between the big ones feels so good because traveling to far parts of the world just isn’t always an option!

What I’m completely looking forward to is this Summer because the traveling is going to be wonderfully insane. I have three separate European adventures all blended into one so I’ll be on that side of the world 5-6 weeks exploring from Sweden to Switzerland to Austria to Croatia. I’m going to be seeing so many new cities and countries – I just know it’s going to be incredible! The planning process is so much fun and just gives me a kind of high. Checking prices, looking up hotels, finding train routes and plane tickets, looking for a new backpack, picking dates to go – I just can’t wait! Expedia and Kayak are lifesavers in finding cheap and the right kinds of hotels or flights and they make it so easy.

It’s finally starting to warm up here in Buffalo, which means I’ll be going on some adventures around here as well. I love to go new places and feel like I’m on a trip even when I’m home because it can be so much fun and it’s important to explore your own city.

So get ready to read a lot the next few weeks!

The Weekend Always End Too Quickly – But Tomorrow will be Amazing!

I had a wonderful weekend in Los Angeles. I got to spend time with many great people. Yesterday I saw my cousin Jared – an inspirational guy, as a twenty-one year old cancer survivor, he has made it through a lot more than most and still manages to keep his head up. We had lunch on a patio right by the ocean, with a beautiful view. It was the perfect way to enjoy some LA sunshine. We spent the evening with my grandparents and some of their friends, people they’ve known since they were kids in the boarding school in Sweden during the Holocaust. The stories they tell are the kinds people make movies about. Yesterday they talked about how their letters were censored by the Nazis during the war. Their boarding school had them write letters to family members every single week, but when they were returned or when they received responses, the letters had black ink covering up many sections. My grandfather said that he took some of these letters to a police station in LA once and a special department examined them to see if they could read what was underneath the black inked out sections. It turned out that the Nazis actually chemically erased what was underneath, it wasn’t just black ink covering the words, there was nothing left under the ink to retrieve. Just one more thing lost and stolen from that time in history.

Today I went to the coolest and fanciest movie theater I’ve ever been to. Buffalo is not known for wild movie theaters, I promise, so this was a real treat. They had waiters and real food, blankets and pillows, and extremely comfortable reclining seats. It was awesome. I got to see American Sniper, which was an incredible movie and super intense. I’m really glad I was able to watch it and experience it in the theater.

Check out these seats!

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And this menu:

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I know I get easily amused and excited by the small things, but this was too awesome not to post.

Tomorrow is the big day – I’m leaving bright and early for Cambodia! I’m definitely nervous to take such a huge trip on my own, but I feel so fortunate to be able to go. So many people have asked me why I would want to go to Cambodia. Why wouldn’t I want to? I think the better question is why now. My college roommate Emily, one of my closest friends, took the brave step of signing up for the Peace Corps after she graduated from university. I got to be one of her references and the process was intense. She didn’t know where she was being sent until basically a few weeks before leaving. When she found out where she was going, I promised her I would visit because I’m probably one of the only friends she has who would be crazy enough to go on such an adventure. She has been teaching English in a village in Cambodia for about a year and a half. I’m so so so excited to see her again! I feel so lucky to have an opportunity to go to such a unique and far away place with someone I know well who happens to know her way around and enough of the language to get by – it can’t get better than that.

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Tomorrow is going to be nuts – 3 flights, 3 countries, 20 hours flight time – it’s going to be intense but amazing. I will write when I can and I can’t wait to share all of my experiences along the way!