Twists, Turns And Paradises Found In Indonesia

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Many things went wrong on the last part of my trip, in Indonesia. Many things also went right and now when I think of Indonesia I see it as a very appropriate ending for my trip, and it somehow tied the journey together.

I flew to Java where I was planned to meet my good friend from Finland who had been there volunteering. Before the weekend I spent a few days in Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Java. It didn’t start that great: my hostel was in a small alley and my taxi driver didn’t really know where so he just dropped me ”somewhere close”. It was raining really bad and I had no idea where I was. By asking lots of people on every street corner I finally made it with the help of some lovely people who decided to walk me there, barefoot in the rain. Personally, I didn’t really like Yogya at all, maybe this would have been different with someone else but alone it was a somewhat tricky place to be in. Also, since it was the low season there were no travellers at all really (I saw maybe 20) so it felt a little lonely. I did do a bike tour to the countryside which I really enjoyed, and we got to see different ways of making a living in the small villages and for examply some wedding preparations. It’s hard to comprehend how many people actually live in Java, the biggest island in Indonesia. Most people only know Bali when they think of Indonesia, and they truly are like different countries.

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Planting rice
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Rice for the wedding

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I took a train to Surabaya, another huge Indonesian city, after booking the ticket from a ticket machine that was completely in Indonesian (so I  really only hoped that it would make it there). I arrived late in the evening and thought that I had figured my way to the hotel with numerous screenshots from Google Maps but no, my (lack of) sense of direction failed me once again. Again, helped by some young people I spotted standing in front of a grocery store, one of them offered to drive me there with his motorbike. So there I was, without really any better idea, me and my 10 kilo backpack on another late night adventure and I really owe my sleeping that night to those people.

I met with my friend and her Indonesian friends and we were planning to go to Mount Bromo, the most famous volcano on Java. I’ll just say one thing: don’t go to Bromo on the monsoon season. Just so you don’t risk it. I’ll let these pictures tell the main story.

Mount Bromo Sunset Tour from Surabaya, Malang, Banyuwangi
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Reality

But it had it’s moments. Jamming EIGHT (8) people into a FOUR (4) person jeep (yes it was just as bad as it sounds) in the middle of the night and driving up to the mountain where it was absolutely freeeezing. Waiting and waiting for a sunrise that well, never came. It also included a flood that almost got our jeep stuck to the mud, spooning on a cold bench with my friend, surrounded by Chinese tourists and being the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. Wouldn’t change it but certainly would go there next time only if the weather forecast is absolutely perfect and it’s not the monsoon season. I was just happy to see my friend for the first time in months and also got to see a little bit of how life is for young Indonesians.

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Bromo did have its moments

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But my little Bromo adventure had its consequences. I had had great plans for Bali, I’d stay in different towns, get some beach holiday as well, do hikes and go diving. Well, after arriving in Ubud the next day I realised I was already pretty sick and had a rising fever, which ended up keeping me in bed for three days while I tried to get out even a little bit to explore Ubud. Ubud divides people, some people love it and some think it’s too crowded and busy. I really liked it and it really was what I needed at that time. I had been in Java for a while so I was happy to see some tourists and especially when I got sick to get some medicine that I knew. Ubud is packed with all things that have to do with yoga, wellness and vegetarian food. Some ridicilously good cafes/restaurants like Kafe, Watercress, The Alchemy and Three Monkeys but also some cheaper Indonesian food sold in local street restaurants, warungs. Like my personal favorite dish, Gado Gado which consists of vegetables covered in this heavenly peanut sauce with rice and usually an egg in some form. Ubud is also great to just do some walking on your own and I spent some lovely evenings walking between the rice paddies.

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One really great walk you can do independently is called Camphuan Ridge Walk, it’s stunning at sunset time

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Pura Taman Saraswati, the water temple in Ubud

After getting rid of the terrible over 39 degree fever and feeling probably the worst I ever have in my entire life, I thought: I know I won’t be able to much more than to lay down somewhere but why couldn’t I just as well lie on a beach than in this room. So I booked a boat to Gili Air, the medium sized one of the three Gili Islands between Bali and Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the most crowded of them and I hadn’t heard much good of it, and Gili Meno is really really quiet, with lots of honeymoon people on it so I thought Air would be good. And it was more than good. Any of the Gilis don’t have any motorised transport, just bikes and horses, so it was really quiet. The island is so small that you can walk around it in an hour and a half which I often did. That was almost the only thing I did really, other than laid on the beach. Watching the breathtaking sunsets became pretty much my only scheduled activity for every day and oh wow they didn’t disappoint. Gilis are famous for their sunsets and definitely for a reason.

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I had been planning to dive but I was still way too sick so I just decided to rent a snorkel from a beach bar and just snorkle on this beach which is famous for its sea turtles. I don’t know if it was the low season or what, but there were only maybe two other people snorkling both times I went. The corals were decent and there were loads of pretty fish so I was pretty happy already and wasn’t expecting to see any turtles. But then, out of nowhere this huge seaturtle appeared below me, munching on some coral. Easily lots over one meter long it was such a surreal sight and it really wasn’t afraid of me at all. It was one of those moments where you naturally just want to shout to someone that hey hey look here you cannot believe this but the best part was that there was no one around. So me and the turtle swam for maybe 45 minutes before it disappeared into the blue. I came back the next day and then saw two and it was almost as great, if you didn’t count the burning jellyfish that had surfaced from the bottom because of the wind. The people I rented the snorkle from said I got very lucky, especially seeing so big ones and twice. The turtles became one of my highlights of the whole trip, it just felt so absurd to actually swim with them, not in an aquarium, but just observing and to notice that they didn’t fear at all.

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My time in Gili Air ended up lasting longer than had I planned because I just loved the doing nothing -atmosphere so much, and it truly felt like ”holiday” for the first time. I liked Ubud so much I went back and I wanted to do another hike to Mount Batur, Bali’s volcano, and see the sunrise there. I should just leave volcanos and sunrises really, because my luck wasn’t that much better this time. It was so ironic that when we reached the top (after a truly exhausting two hour hike, the landscape is absolutely insane and at many points there isn’t a track, just steep and sharp stones) I couldn’t help  but to start laughing. At least it cleared out a bit, and the monkeys from the crater came up to look for some food from the hikers. Excercise-wise it was really good and a really challenging climb to do, but let’s just say I think I’ll leave volcanos for a while now. Suns just didn’t rise for me in Indonesia.

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Monkeys were cute though
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The crater looked so magical with the steam coming from its sides after the sun rose and it cleared a little
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This one monkey was just casually eating the offerings to the gods
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The path wasn’t really even a path to speak of, just … rolling stones and mud

For the last two nights I went to Uluwatu, or more precisely to Bingin Beach. I had decided I wanted a nice place to stay in for my last nights and I found this truly extraordinary place called the Inn Possible. It’s a hotel built on the bottom of the cliff, over 100 steps down to the beach and only accesible by foo, surrounded by the sea and changing tides (getting up at high tide became a challenge because of the high crashing waves). My taxi pulled over in front of a grocery store and one of the guys from the hotel came up to help with my bag. After some small alleys, backyards and what felt like an endless amount of steps down I came to one of the most insane places I’ve ever seen. The endless sea is absolutely mesmerising and staring at it became my main activity.

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Taking the countless steep steps down…
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… and walking under a warung to get to the hotel
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… and also getting my feet wet on the way
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My own evening lookout spot in front of my room

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Nyang-Nyang Beach is one of the less popular beaches in Uluwatu but I just don’t get why. The water there is the bluest of all Uluwatu, this guy who told me that that’s the best beach said and he was right because on the way there the color really changed. You have to take a really steep path down there but it’s worth it, although it was almost more stunning from above. I had never seen waves like these that crash like in slow motion and make such a hypnotising sound.

People have such mixed opinions about Bali but I think it really depends on where you go, at what time of the year and what you’re expecting. Bali is a big island but you should really do research on where you should go. Most people that I heard complain had mainly been on the very crowded spots like Kuta and Sanur, but with a bit of digging I think you can still see some of the old Bali in Bali, with the small temples everywhere and offerings to the gods on every streetcorner. I was really fascinated by its characteristic religion or a mix of them and how it still is present in people’s lives. Bali is a place where I definitely want to return to because I saw almost nothing, but I’d do it with someone who drives a motorbike because that seemed to be the necessity there since there’s not public transport and the taxis are expensive. But yeah, sure, if you really want to go where there aren’t any tourists then Bali maybe isn’t for you, Java could be a good option. But overall I think Bali’s not that black and white, like you either hate it or love it, as people think. Also, the people not only in Bali but in Java too were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. Everyone’s so ready to help you whether it’s getting you to see a doctor or directing you to the nicest beach it’s very overwhelming.

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My three weeks in Indonesia certainly weren’t a smooth ride but I thought it was very accurate since neither was my trip and I couldn’t be happier about it. Indonesia tested me in a lot of ways, especially by giving me the worst flu of my life that I suffered from even in Finland. It also gave me a nice tan, most beautiful sunsets, some of the best (and cheapest, like 1 € for lunch) food, friendliest people and a really diverse cultural experience, where old had mixed with new, religions mixed with each other, and culture and nature have been touched by tourism, both in good and bad.

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Sitting by the ocean on my last night in Bali, I really didn’t know if I wanted to leave or stay and I guess I still don’t. But I did leave, went home, but it wasn’t as I knew it before. The more and more time passes from my 9 weeks in Asia, the more different it looks, the more perspectives I get. These things are what I’m trying to put to paper now because since that day when I hopped on (three) planes back to Finland, nothing’s exactly felt like the same.

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Julia xxx

Unexpected Adventures In Malaysia

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Malaysia was a funny thing. It was in my itinerary as just a short layover in Kuala Lumpur, between Thailand and Singapore but things happened. Around New Year’s, southern Thailand and its islands where I was supposed to go diving, was flooding. So it became clear pretty quickly that I couldn’t go there but since I already had a flight to Bangkok (I had had to book it before entering Vietnam in case they check my onward ticket for the visa, which they in none of the countries did btw) So I went there and booked a nice hotel for myself for two nights as a Christmas present, haha. But I somehow even on this point, don’t ask how,  had forgotten that I probably should have the onward ticket when entering Thailand as well. So I realised all this in Ho Chi Minh City’s airport and had to make a decision where to go next in like half an hour. Now it’s funny but I was kind of panicking then. Kuala Lumpur seemed like the cheapest option and was sort of on the way to Singapore so I booked it.

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A Little Treasure Called Laos

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Probably the most common question I got after my trip was ”well what was your favorite place?” And answering that is just as impossible as it sounds. Instead I replied that the place I would first go again to would be Laos. Because I felt I saw a tiny glimpse of something absolutely amazing and largely undiscovered by many.

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Photo Diary From Chiang Mai

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Well it’s been a loong, quite an eventful while. The last time I wrote was before I left for my Southeast Asia journey and now here I am, back in Finland, on my very own couch. Lots of things have changed over the past two months, biggest of them being me. There are hundreds of aspects from which I could write about this trip, but I thought that first the simplest thing would be to just split the trip in parts and introduce the places I went to. So, I thought I’d do a little series since many people have been asking for something like that: first Chiang Mai, then Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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I’m Going On An Adventure!

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Soo here we go. Ahh it’s been a long long time coming. Years in my dreams, months in the planning, weeks preparing and now one day away. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a thought that then when I’m done with school, I’ll just leave for a while, all by myself. Where? Asia. Two reasons, besides the fact I’ve always loved Asia: climate and cheapness. Okay, and food. Feels far too real to say it out loud but tomorrow I’m leaving to solotravel Southeast Asia for two months. *insert a nervous giggle

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So what is my plan? Well, I have two way tickets to Bangkok since it’s the cheapest. I do have a some sort of itinerary that I’ll stick to if things don’t change which they will. But I’m very not sure yet where I’ll go. My first stop is Chiang Mai in northern Thailand but that’s all I know for sure. The thing is, I’m trying to do something very uncharacteristic for me this time: I’ve been trying not to plan too much. You know, just kind of go there and wing it, do how I feel. And trust me, the inner me hates this. For a control-freak person who plans absolutely everything from a busride inside Helsinki to a menu at every dinner party, finds out as much as possible in advance while conducting a thorough research on every place I’ll travel to, this has been extremely difficult. It has caused stress, nerve-wracking anxiety and sleepless (take this literally) nights. Why bother, you ask. Shouldn’t it be fun to go? Yes it is. I’m overly excited and I’ve been waiting for this for years but I take this also as an opportunity to try and get out of my comfort zone, where everything is carefully planned and controlled. It’s like challenging myself, as cliche as it sounds. And oh boy has it been uncomfortable. Also fun though, but mostly very…not me.

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What to take and what to leave…

One thing that’s been funny to watch has been people’s reactions when they ask who I’m going with and I just say ”alone this time”. ”WHAT?” ”WHY?” ”You tiny girl?” ”Won’t you get lonely?” Probably yes and no. I hope to meet new people better this way when traveling alone but I also know I’ll be spending lots of time alone. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing though. It’s not supposed to be a ”Eat, Pray, Love / I will go and find myself” and all that type of trip I guess, or call it what you want to, but I do take it as a chance to spend some time with me and also, as I said, as a kind of growing experience. People grow in new environments out of their comfort zones and that’s where I’ll be pushing myself. Am I more nervous going alone? Yes of course. I’ve been terrified at times (including now) but I’ll deal with it. It will all be good eventually. And do try and tell this to my grandma who thinks I’ve lost it completely and who said she ”won’t be sleeping” while I’m gone.

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Lilo is having none of this 😀 She senses somethings going on and is not enjoying it

Now I am writing this with my backpack all packed, just missing some final things. There is something very calming knowing that that’s your life for two months, in that 50 liter backpack. I’ve been from pure excitement to absolute panic and from ”I cannot do this I’ll cancel my flights” to ”I’ll be fine”. Now I’m there somewhere in between. Excited? Yes. Terrified? Yes. Panicking? Yes. But over all that I think eventually this will be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Fingers crossed,

Julia xxx

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P.S. I don’t yet know how much or if at all I’ll be updating my blog from the road. It depends on a) how good the wifi is and b) how much I have time. But you are more than welcome to join on my trip through instagram (@juliaelleonora) which I’ll probably be shamelessly spamming if the wifi only allows and at snapchat (juliaelleonora there as well)

The New York Experience

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There are places you wish to go to someday and then there are places you know that you need to go to. New York for me was one of the latter. I feel like I don’t want to write too much about it to not to spoil the whole thing but on the other hand I could spend an entire day just talking about it. I could also list every single place I saw but that wouldn’t really help. Guide books are also going to tell you a bunch of other things: Times Square isn’t nice at all but you should still go there once, go to the Empire State Building in the morning and yes, MoMA is a very nice museum and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is something you should do. Now that I have that over with I can write about why I personally fell in love with the city as much as I did.

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100 Memories Of Capri

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You know what? Never ever has choosing pictures to a post been this hard and I always pick my pictures with care. When every shot you take seems like the most beautiful postcard it’s not just wonderful but also emotionally very tiring to go through the hundreds of pictures and then try to pick the best ones out of already most gorgeous pictures. My heart bled for every pretty picture that didn’t make it here but at least it gives me the permission to keep throwbacking this trip for ages in. Sorry not sorry 😉

It’s said that Capri is “the most beautiful island in the world” and I honestly cannot say it’s wrong. Even though I’m this young I’ve been lucky to have travelled to so many incredibly beautiful places but this was one that absolutely took my breath away. I would like to come up with some other adjective than beautiful but that’s just what describes Capri best. The amount of beauty is so overwhelming and gives you the wonderful feeling like you’re being embraced by all that loveliness and glamor. Everywhere you look you feel like giving a long sigh. I do not wonder for a second why so many Hollywood stars, artists or just ordinary people want to come here for a vacation, to get married, celebrate something or just to experience its famous beauty.

I should mention here something about Italy and me. I don’t know how it started but my family has always got this thing for Italy, it’s been sort of our number one vacation destination during my childhood and I’ve loved it since the first trip there. I counted that this is probably my seventh time there: I’ve been to the northern lakes like Garda many times and then in Tuscany and twice in Rome which not surprisingly is probably my favorite city in Europe. So if I started writing about Italy and why it’s so dear to me this post would be the length of a novel so I’ll make a whole other post about that sometime.

Since Capri for me was such a special and impressive place, this time I decided to make a bit different travel story. Some places are just too beautiful for words, so why then say so much? Although I have already written more than I intended… I have carefully chosen 100 pictures (a few from Sorrento and Pompeii so that title isn’t 100% accurate) that for me captured a tiny piece of Capri’s captivating charm. It’s like a photo diary and I try to keep the stories short in the captions. This time I do believe that pictures tell more than I ever could and I hope that these little pieces of sunshine, laughter, salty sea, joy and excitement make you feel a breeze of that Mediterranean wind, taste the rich, chocolatey taste of Italian gelato and take you on that crazy taxi drive on the serpentine roads up towards heaven.

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There are two big villages, Capri and Anacapri and this is the view from Capri to Marina Grande, the big harbor, where we stayed.

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In Capri they use a lot of pattern ceramic tiles to decor for example benches and stairs.
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This is from Giardini di Augusto which is an old gorgeous garden with stunning views.

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The Gossip Club
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A sun dial which they used in the Roman time.

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We walked a lot since one of the things we wanted to do was to hike, so these following are from a gorgeous route that went by the coast and is said to be one of the prettiest coastline routes in the world.

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Lunch with a view.

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Capri village
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Via Marina Grande, a zigzag road from the harbor up to Capri village.

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The view from our hotel’s roof terrace where we had breakfast was so amazing.
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And in case you’re wondering, that mountain that you can see in some of the pictures, is Vesuvius and at its feet there’s Naples.

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Marina Grande

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We took a chair lift up to the highest point of Capri, Monte Solaro, and it was so much fun, except for my mom who’s afraid of heights and kept her eyes closed the entire time.

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No one can argue with this view.

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Torta Caprese, a famous Caprese cake with chocolate and pieces of almonds. SO GOOD. And they even make ice cream that’s flavored like that and it’s even better.
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Then we decided to walk down. That was the day when my sisters pedemeter showed 14 km which wouldn’t be bad if half of it wouldn’t be stairs. At least 750 up…

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… and 950 down. My walking the next day looked very interesting. My feet have never been that sore so it was the best and worst leg day ever.
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The route went just by the mountainside. Overall the height differences in Capri are unbelievable so there inevitably is lots of climbing and descending. Unless you use just these cute little mini buses which when passing each other go so close to each other that you can actually touch the other bus from the window. I tried.

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One of the attractions there is Villa San Michele which was owned by Axel Munthe who was this Swedish doctor, writer and physician and lived in Capri for many years. The Villa and the garden are stunning and located really on the edge so the views, again, are gorgeous.

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It would be quite nice to have a terrace like this.

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I walked past this square in Anacapri for probably five times and each time there was this same cat, almost in the same place.
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The view of Capri village and Vesuvius. It looks really like a postcard.
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Cats for sale.

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Then we took a ferry and made a day trip to the coast, Sorrento.
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… and took a local train to Pompeii, which is a place I’ve been dreaming of visiting since I first learned about it. And it really has got this extraordinary feeling in it. The ruins of the city are so well still visible that you can actually imagine the city and people walking on its streets.

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These are of course the most impressive and famous part of Pompeii, the plaster casts made of the “holes” that people who were buried inside the lava made. It’s so moving and also terrifying to really see the last positions and expressions of the people who knew they would die now. There quite in the middle were even two kids, apparently with their mom. And behind them this person who appears to be sitting and praying.

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And I made a friend! There were these ruin dogs that are just running free in the ruins.
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Back in the beautiful Sorrento.
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There was this cat and her kitten who were just chilling on this sort of roof and they were there in the morning when we arrived and in the evening when we left they had moved like two meters. The ultimate cat life.

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I could make a whole other post only about Italian ice cream since it might really be one of my favourite things on this planet. I don’t think it should be called ice cream because it’s not you know, hard, like our normal ice cream is. It’s like frozen mousse of some sort and if it says it’s strawberry flavor, it really tastes 100% strawberry and if it’s chocolate, then it’s like eating chocolate but in ice cream form. Oh I miss it already.

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Back in Capri for the last couple days.
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I though this idea of an outside gym was so fun.

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Then we, again, walked up to visit Villa Jovis, or the ruins of it, and along the way there were so many absolutely stunning gardens and houses and it was so nice and quiet.
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And a cute little family-run bar with the best orange juice.

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So this is a place were the Roman empire was run for the couple first centuries AD. It’s so high that the wind was crazy and the views even better.

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You could actually see were the rooms, chapels etc. had been and that was so cool.

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Rosemary, one of my favorite herbs.

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Love,

Julia xxx

Lovely, lovelier, London

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HEYYAAA!

It’s been a while, huh? This blog has been very much dead for a month now because I have been a lot busier than what you should be allowed to be on your summer holiday. But I don’t complain because I’ve had an amazing time in Israel for example, but that’s coming here as soon as I can get it done. But now, what would be a better way to start again than by writing about London? Yep, that’s right, there isn’t a better way.

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Tales from Beijing

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So, Beijing, China. I had been waiting for this trip for almost a year, ever since I got accepted to this project last May. To give you some information, this is my one of my high school’s international projects. We have a friend school in Beijing, so last August a group of students came to Helsinki and we hosted them, and now it was our turn to go and visit them. So, on April 17th, 12 students and two teachers left to Beijing for a week, and damn, if I could just put all my overwhelming experiences here. But there would be no point in trying to describe everything, that’s why you have travel guides, so I’ll tell my bits, my tales, the ones that made the trip what it was for me.

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