Mexico City: A Winter Retreat to CDMX

Mexico City is full of contrasts: chaotic but also serene, modern but also rooted in millennia of Mesoamerican history and culture. Looking to escape the frigid New York winter, I’d booked my visit to CDMX based on the recommendations of many friends and colleagues. And while my stay lasted only for five days, I left realizing how much more I need to learn about the continent I currently call home — its past, its present, and its potential futures.

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Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main public square
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The Zócalo at night, as viewed from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana
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View from a pedestrian crossing near La Condesa
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Late morning stroll down a leafy street in Roma Norte
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One of many murals along the Real Mayorazgo in Xoco
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A colorful church in the colorful neighborhood of Coyoacán
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The Pyramid of the Sun, largest of the iconic pyramids at Teotihuacán
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The Polanco skyline (foreground: the Bosque de Chapultepec park)
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Saturday morning in the Parque México, La Condesa
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Central Library at National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)

 


Tim’s Highlights:

  • Food and Drink: El Cardenal, Bósforo Mezcaleria (Centro), Ojo de Agua (Condesa), Mercado de Coyoacán (Coyoacán), Contramar, Pulqueria Los Insurgentes (Roma Norte)
  • Museums: Palacio de Bellas Artes (Centro), Museo Frida Kahlo (Coyoacán), Museo Nacional de Antropología (Polanco)
  • Parks: Alameda Central (Centro), Bosque de Chapultepec, Parque México (Condesa)
  • Cafés/Other: Café El Jarocho (Coyoacán), Café NIN (Juárez), Cafebrería El Péndulo (Roma Norte)

 

Iceland’s Ring Road: The Ultimate Panoramic Road Trip

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Behind the curtain at Seljalandsfoss

I had the privilege of kicking off Summer 2019 with my good friend Jonathan on an 8-day road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road. We’re both no-frills, DIY travelers with a penchant for hiking, so we aimed for an itinerary that combined well-known landmarks with opportunities to go off the beaten path.

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Black beach at Vestrahorn mountain in southern Iceland
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A lighthouse across the fjord at Djúpivogur

Traveling around Iceland is like moving through a postcard, with breathtaking landscapes around every corner. It was also fun to experience the dramatic shifts in topography and climate across the country’s various regions, which included driving through the winding roads of eastern Iceland’s fjords during a mild snowstorm.

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The town of Seyðisfjörður in Eastern Iceland
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Fog and snow along Iceland’s Ring Road

Iceland gave me a renewed reverence for the powerful forces of nature that shape our planet, and for how the same fundamental elements — earth, wind, water, and fire — have forged themselves into endless variations of grandeur.

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One of the countless scenic views along Iceland’s Ring Road
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Crater hike in Northern Iceland’s Lake Mývatn region
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Embracing the wind at Kolugljúfur canyon

And from conversations with fellow travelers and new Icelander friends, I was also reminded that while our planet is grand, it is also small; that our commonalities are far greater than our differences; and that together, we have what it takes to build a better future.

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Across the fjord from Akureyri, Iceland
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A view of Reykjavík from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja

 

Golden State of Mind: Road Tripping California’s Pacific Coast Highway

Shortly following my brother Matt’s college graduation in May 2017, we got to spend nine days exploring the California coast. It was the first substantive trip to California for both of us, and we wanted to get a good sampling of the state, so we ended up splitting our road trip into three legs of roughly three days each in Greater Los Angeles, along the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), and in the Bay Area.

Exploring Los Angeles was more like experiencing a patchwork of completely different towns and cities — from the boardwalk of Venice Beach and Santa Monica, to a hike up and down the Griffith Park trail, to cafe hopping along Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake.

Overlook of Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory
Pacific waves at Santa Monica State Beach
Street art on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles viewed from across Echo Park Lake

The second three-day leg marked the “road trip” portion of our journey, a northward drive on California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Some of our favorite stops along the way included Santa Barbara and coastal state parks. And we enjoyed breathtaking views of the ocean from Big Sur, even though significant parts of the area were unfortunately closed due to a landslide.

El Matador State Beach, Malibu
View of Bixby Bridge and Big Sur Coast from Highway One, Monterey County
The Big Sur Coast, Monterey County

We capped off our California excursion with three days in the San Francisco Bay Area, which included some hiking in Oakland’s redwood forest, getting dim sum in Chinatown, and lots of bar hopping and taco hunting in the Mission District.

Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
Downtown San Francisco as viewed from the Golden Gate Ferry
Sausalito, Marin County
Chinatown, San Francisco
Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco
Mission District, San Francisco
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Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco

Overall, this trip gave us a solid introduction to California, but definitely left me wanting to  see more of the state, include Lake Tahoe, Napa, San Diego, and Yosemite National Park. Shoutout to my brother Matt for road tripping with me — let’s go back soon!

Battery Spencer, Sausalito

Dispatch from Seattle: Alain De Botton on a “Travelling Mind-Set”

“… The pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mind-set that we travel with than on the destination we travel to

What, then, is a travelling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting … We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present and take notes and photographs.

Home, by contrast, finds us more settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about our neighborhood … We have become habituated and therefore blind to it.”

— Alain de Botton in “On Habit,” The Art of Travel

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

— Eddie Cantor

My trips this past month have given me an opportunity to practice the acts of wandering and noticing. On returning to New York City from Portland and Seattle, I’m challenged to slow down, look carefully, and notice the little things in the neighborhoods and places I inhabit and frequent — and ultimately, to go about everyday life with a mindset more like that of a traveler.


Tim’s Highlights:

22 Hours in Portland, or an Exercise in Improvisational Travel

My default mindset for travel (and perhaps in general) is a structured one. A case in point would be my family’s recent mini-vacation to Vermont. Leading up to our trip, I studied Vermont maps, researched possible destinations, and drafted a spreadsheet-style itinerary with addresses, estimated driving times, etc., all customizable based on weather changes.

I “mixed it up” yesterday on my one-day solo trip to Portland. Aside from getting a handful of personal recommendations, I decided I would “wing it” with the 22 hours I would have in the city. It took some effort to figure out the city layout and transit system, and I had a couple moments of self-doubt — (“am I skipping out on something I should be seeing?”) — but in the end, I left Portland satisfied, and I gained a dose of confidence in my ability to wander, or to go unscripted. It was an exercise in forced spontaneity, which is something I’d like to try more often.


Tim’s Recommendations:

Dispatch from Vermont: On Hubert Butler, Local Histories, and Places of Identity Formation

Last week, I took a five-day trip with my family to Vermont. This was my first time in the state and my first extended “travel” since moving to New York City in January.

Vermont was a refreshing detour for me. After seven months in Manhattan, it was good to retreat to a state with lots of green mountains but not a single billboard, and whose largest city has fewer than 50,000 residents.

What I enjoyed most in Vermont was experiencing the many hints of local pride, which were rooted in a very specific but deep history. From listening to a long-winded but impassioned brewery tour guide to coming across an intricate alleyway mural chronicling the centuries-long story of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, I got an impression that Vermonters truly had a sense of ownership of their home state.

During one of our evenings off, I skimmed through an essay anthology I found on a bookshelf in our rental home and stumbled across a piece by the late Hubert Butler, an Irish essayist. He writes in the essay “Beside the Nore”:

I have always believed that local history is more important than national history… Where life is fully and consciously lived in our own neighborhood, we are cushioned a little from the impact of great far-off events which should be only of marginal concern to us.

Many people — myself included — move to places such as New York or Los Angeles to, at least in part, “find ourselves.” And while these journeys of identity creation may be rewarding, my brief time in Vermont has reminded me to appreciate the other neighborhoods that have formed me and my family — a blue-collar suburb in New Jersey, a mountain village in central Taiwan, a coastal town in Southern China — places with richer stories than their seemingly unassuming natures might suggest.


Tim’s Recommendations

Postcards from Taiwan, no. 2: The Hualien I Will Remember

It’s raining when we arrive in Ji’an, Hualien County late Saturday afternoon, after a 3-hour train ride from Taipei. When we arrive, I notice a sweet but tenacious fragrance that transports me back 15 years to Ah-Ma’s front yard in Nantou. My mom tells me the fragrance is from the white osmanthus flowers outside our door.

We walk around Ji’an, which is covered with fields of taro leaves shooting above the water, and surrounded by green mountains covered with wisps of clouds. It reminds my mom of her childhood village.

 

On Sunday, we visit Taroko National Park. Here, the powerful Liwu River carved a deep gorge into the marble cliffs of the Central Mountain Range. It’s the home of the Taroko tribe, one of many aboriginal groups who inhabited the island for thousands of years before my mother’s ancestors came 400 years ago.

We follow behind dozens of tourists, who are armed with iPads, smartphones, and selfie sticks, all wearing sky blue helmets to protect from falling rocks. At the Chingshui Cliffs, I catch my first glimpse of the Pacific, resplendent in turquoise even on a rainy day.

 

It’s early Monday morning in Ji’an. I slip out of bed and into my Saucony running shoes, reenacting my DC running ritual. I follow a bike path heading out of town, past grazing water buffalo, through taro fields, then along a rapid stream carrying water from the mountains.

This is the Hualien I will remember – scenes and scents no iPhone photos or Insta-poetry of mine can capture, just the asphalt under my feet, my lungs drunk on the humid air as I miss the final turn on the way home.

Postcards from Taiwan, no. 1: (Dis)Orientation in Taipei

It’s Saturday morning in Taipei, and after a 15-hour flight, it feels funny to eat breakfast and still have a full day still ahead of us.

We’re hanging out at my cousin’s apartment. My dad and my brother nap on the living room couch as a Grizzlies-Rockies game airs on TV. My mom chats excitedly with my cousin in the back room. She’s our family’s connection to Taiwan, where she spent her first 22 years before graduate school in New Jersey, where she met my dad—who was also an international student at the time, from Hong Kong.

As a kid, I learned about Taiwan from afar. I was obsessed with maps, and I thought Taiwan looked kind of like New Jersey, except without a belt around her waist. I would also repeat after my mom aloud when she spoke on the phone with my grandmother—or Ah-Ma—in Hokkien.

We visited Ah-Ma in Nantou County a couple of times when my brother and I were little. Now she’s gone. It feels funny to be back in Taiwan, to be here on vacation in my mother’s homeland, though she herself has never seen most of the places we’re going to visit.

It’s a rainy morning in Taipei. We follow my cousin through a temple, then through a series of subway trains. He leaves us at Taipei’s central transit hub, where we board a train headed southward, toward a Taiwan my mother didn’t know.