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Thursday, June 15, 2017

My family and biggest blog readers: Mom, Aunt Nancy, and Dad at the Pardee School Graduation

One of the first tips you read when you search "blogging tips" online is to never start a post by apologising for having not posted in a while. So, I won't apologise for having not posted in a while, but I will definitely acknowledge that time has passed between my last post and now.

First of all, I returned to the United States on May 1st. I made sure to drink champagne on every possible leg of the flight home, because I was definitely in a celebration mood. Then I was home for a week before flying to Washington DC to look for an apartment with my boyfriend. We found one... and we're officially moving to Arlington, VA in early July! 

A week later, I turned 21 in mid-May and my wonderful boyfriend took me to see Blue Man Group. I saw Blue Man Group as a kid, but it was even better the second time around! Then I embarked on Senior Week prior to my undergraduate graduation. It involved clubbing on a Monday (?!), going to a casino for the first time on Tuesday, and a Thursday clambake that my friend Lea (and my former roommate from Geneva/London) correctly described as the "least-clammy clambake ever" as it failed to have even a single clam (don't worry, there was lobster instead). 

I think that was the craziest May that anyone possibly could have had, and it was a wonderful month. 

Then I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Art's in International Relations (policy/security track with a focus on Asia) and hit the ultimate fast forward button for life. I have no idea where the first two weeks of June went, but it's mid-June already. Now I'm applying for jobs, packing to move and learning how to drive (it's about time). I have so many things to do and seemingly no time to do it. 

But that's okay. I'll learn as I go! 

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Frankly, I'm not sure how to update this blog.

I never meant to go a month without posting, but I was so busy and exhausted that it somehow slipped my mind! As you can probably expect, it was a crazy month. I travelled around Switzerland. I went to Vienna (and got my wallet stolen). I looked for apartments and jobs and drivers license laws and all the crazy things that come with post-graduation life. I learned a lot about European Union funding at my internship (it's a bore). I wanted time to go by faster so I could go home, turn 21, and graduate.

But now that I'm just under a week away from returning to the United States, I want time to slow down. I do not regret my decision to graduate a year early... I feel like a senior, and I feel ready to be done with my undergraduate degree.

I just wish these last few days in Geneva could be a little bit longer.
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Sunday, March 26, 2017

I have just returned from the most awesome weekend in Paris I could have ever dreamed of. I went with a friend of mine from the program who is also an oversized child, and it was a really fun experience. We went to Disneyland Paris the first day, and ran around to see the sites of Paris the second day. 

....I have no idea who those people are in this photo, but such is life. Anyways, the castle at Disneyland Paris is Sleeping Beauty's, and it's very fantasy-looking. I think it's because there are so many real castles in Europe, and they didn't feel like trying to compete! Anyways, there's a dragon under it which makes it pretty cool. 

I'm a huge Disney fan, so I had a great time at Disneyland Paris. We went on the Buzz Lightyear ride (twice), the Haunted Manor ride (turns out I'm still afraid of skeletons), the Peter Pan ride (my favourite), It's a Small World (why does it even exist?!) and those funny teeny cars in Tomorrowland. We also did the Alice maze, watched the parade with the amazing huge floats, went in the submarine thing with the creepy giant squid, and ate an excessive amount of sugary treats. I do not know why I decided to eat a waffle, a cake on stick, and a candy apple all in one day, but it seemed entirely necessary at the time. 

I also finally got a pair of Minnie Mouse ears! I wanted to get some in Florida but didn't for whatever reason. I was hoping to get a toy Pascal (from Tangled) but could not find a cute one. There was also a strange lack of Pooh Bear tsum tsums. Such is life... and frankly, it was probably better that I didn't go on a crazy Disney shopping spree. It's expensive!

Today we ran around actual Paris. I remember Paris as being hot and hellishly crowded, but it was a really nice day today. My friend had never been to Paris before so we saw as many iconic things as possible. We started by running past the Louvre on the way to the Arc de Triomphe. After that we wandered around the pretty streets of Paris until finding the Eiffel tower, then took the Metro to Notre Dam.  We also ate crepes and went to a neat bookstore. I do not know what I was expecting from this weekend, but this weekend vastly exceeded any and all expectations. It was so much fun!

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

... better late than never, right?

I went to Copenhagen, Denmark and Duved, Sweden like three weeks ago, and it was a lovely trip! My boyfriend Erik flew over to visit and it was so good to see him again. The trip was a bit of an adventure... Erik's luggage got lost in transit, so we had to find him a coat when we landed in Copenhagen! We spent a few days there before flying to Sweden and skiing for the rest of the week. Also, we're both terrible at taking pictures of each other, so there's exactly one couple picture at the end. Whoops.

Lego is a Danish company, and the Copenhagen Lego store had these cute Danish guards! We saw real Danish guards marching around and doing a guard change every day. 

I ate the most amazing, artsy avocado toast of my life! The red things are pomegranate seeds.

Erik is a goofball. He's lying on his snowboard after sledding down it back to the inn we stayed at. The inn was called Pensionat Mullfjället and it was nice and cozy. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the dinners were delicious! Unfortunately Erik doesn't like fish and potatoes and there were kind of a lot of those in Sweden. But there was also reindeer in every way imaginable, so that was interesting (and tasty).

I tried to snowboard the first two days and hit my head pretty hard on the second day, so I took a day off to hang out in town and recover. This is the cute little church in town. I appreciate that it's simple but still pretty. The best part about my day off is that I swapped my snowboard for skis. Turns out that while I'm a terrible snowboarder, I was a quick learner on skis. I'm not ready to come off the bunny hill any time soon, but at least I spent more time on my feet while skiing. 

I look a little dork here, but that's okay! This was taken on our last day at the inn. It was nice to see Erik again and have a proper couple's holiday. I wish I had gotten skis on the first day... but besides that it was a really fun trip. 

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Instagram is cool for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons I love it the most is how people are able to create and share comics. I'm an absolute sucker for adorable comics, so I figured I would share some of my favourite accounts. 

Gaston Millefeuille

I LOVE Gaston. Gaston is my number one motivator to learn French. Gaston is this adorable cartoon about this Parisian baker bunny who lives in a neighbourhood full of cute animal friends. I've showed Gaston comics to my French teacher and many of my French I classmates, and we all love him. He was so relatable on Saint-Valentin eating chocolate all alone on his bed :(


Cantana Comics are amazing. Cantana Comics are relatively new and have quickly gained a ton of popularity. I think it's because the comics are simple and relatable without trying too hard. The best part about the Cantana Comics to me is that they strongly resemble me and Erik. While Erik isn't super tall like John is, they both have awesome beards. The comics have also inspired me and Erik to put googley eyes on a Roomba if we ever get one. 


I know Pusheen is really popular and that a lot of the account is merchandise these days, but it doesn't mean Pusheen isn't cute. Pusheen is this silly cat that only vaguely resembles a cat, and I absolutely love him. He's so soft looking and does silly things in his little comics. I do wish they would post more proper comics on their account these days, but I still love Pusheen anyways. 

Speaking of Instagram, you should go follow me at natalie.mei where I post photos of my travels, aerial and life! 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I've been traveling a lot since returning to Geneva for my spring semester study abroad. Two weekends ago I was in Scotland with one of my best friends, and last weekend I was in Lithuania. In both locations, I stayed in hostels.  Hostels are a really good option if you're traveling alone or want to save money as a group. Along the way, I've picked up some tips for how to make the most of your hostel experience. 

1. Location is everything. 

You're probably wondering why the title picture of this blog post is the Edinburgh Castle and not a hostel. It's because there's a hostel across the street from the Edinburgh Castle that I sadly did not stay in. The point here is that getting a hostel in a good location makes your life easier. The ideal hostel location is accessible by public transport in a well-lit area close to the attractions you want. It might sound impossible, but it pays to look carefully. You never know what you'll find! Also, I try to make sure that any hostel I book is in a decent area and is reasonably well-lit. You can never be too careful. 

2. Be careful what is included at your hostel... and what is not!

Read the print carefully when you're booking hostels. I personally always go for hostels that provide linens, though I don't really care if the bed is made for me or not when I get there. I don't mind coughing up a pound/euro/franc/yuan for a towel though, because I find carrying around a towel adds a lot of unnecessary bulk to my weekend backpack. Additionally, I think 24 hour front desk is a great feature in larger hostels. 

3. If you're in a dorm room, mark your bed (territory). 

Part of hostel culture is marking whichever bed you pick with some variety of non-valuable personal item... and it's an important thing to do, otherwise the hostel might strip your bed or someone else could try to take it. I like to spread out a pair of pants, a t-shirt and a towel when I first get my bed so I don't have to worry about it later. Leaving valuables or sentimental items to mark your bed is a terrible idea, though.  I have been known to sleep with my purse and camera in my hostel bed. I also hide my money (I'm not going to say how I do it on the internet, in case someone reads it and knows exactly where to find it). I have never had anything stolen at a hostel, but I don't need to break that trend. 

4. Pay the extra dollar on HostelWorld and make your booking refundable. 

Before I continue, I'd like to say that I'm not paid a cent by HostelWorld. Anyways, HostelWorld is my personal favourite website of choice because I've never had any issues with the hostels I've booked through them and their phone app is fantastic. That being said, I've also had to last-minute cancel hostels from their site due to spontaneous trip changes. To me, it's worth paying a tiny bit of money to make your trip refundable rather than outright losing loads of cash.

5. Talk to people in your hostel. 

This one sort of depends on where you're staying, but in general, you will never meet more interesting people than the ones you'll meet in a hostel. This past weekend I met a woman who happened to live in Singapore at the same time I did! We had a great time getting to know each other and went to dinner together. The next day, two Belgian guys I met at my hostel and I went and climbed a frozen hill to the Three Crosses. 

I have met people from all over the world in different hostels and had the most interesting conversations. Even though it's not likely that you'll meet those people again, it's still fun to meet people from other cultures and share a beer together. I have learned Swedish swear words, a Hungarian traveler's opinion on climate change, and basic break dance moves from different people at hostels. While not all of those things are terribly useful, they were all interesting events at the time. 

Sure, staying in a hostel isn't exactly a glamorous experience. Sometimes the dorms are loud or there are weird people. At the end of the day, I prefer staying in hostels while traveling alone so I can meet new people wherever I go. While I don't generally stay at "party hostels",  I've always come out a hostel with a new story to tell! 

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

I have found the Baltic countries interesting since learning about their difficult place in history, but I never expected to actually go to one. Since I was back in Europe for a term, I figured Lithuania would be a good place to go for the weekend. I went by myself, stayed in a hostel and met fabulously interesting fellow traveler and local Lithuanians alike.

Vilnius is a weird city in the winter because the streets are really empty and quiet. There hardly seems to be anyone around-- but there's evidence that people live, work and party (drink) there. The bars are full and the people are quite friendly once you learn their second religion is basketball. I found it to be a city of extremes-- absolutely beautiful in some places, but decaying in others. It's proud of both its pagan and Christian heritage... it seems like it wouldn't make sense, but they fit together some how. It's a city full of sad history and human suffering, but it is also home to a very strong art scene. 

One place that is going to stay with me for a long time is the KGB museum in Vilnius. I am a firm believer that any time a city has a museum dedicated to a dark part of its history, it's worth going to visit. It was an interesting museum because it celebrated life while also explaining the suffering under the KGB. The basement of it was the KGB prison area. Of all the disturbing things in that museum,  the paddled cell with the straitjacket was the worst.  I don't think I'm ever going to forget what that room looks like. 

Vilnius was an interesting place to visit for the weekend, and I suspect it was a good introduction to the Baltic states in general. I enjoyed my time there and loved the deeply artistic energy that runs through the city. While I can't say that it was a "super fun party weekend city" that a lot of my peers travel for, I definitely think it's a good place for a solo weekend alone. 
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Sunday, February 5, 2017

I finally went to Scotland!  My friend Bram is studying in London, and we decided to meet in Edinburgh. It's one of the prettiest places I've ever been. In some ways it reminded me of Budapest, Hungary. I think it's because in both places, the people are extremely proud of their homeland and heritage. 

I learned a fair bit about Scotland over the weekend. First of all,  kilts are actually quite common and ordinary wear. Since it was the Scotland versus Ireland 6 Nations rugby game, loads of Scotsmen were out at pubs in kilts. The man on the bottom was working at the castle and gave out historical information. 

I also learned that whilst in Scotland, the chances of you coming across someone standing around on the street playing bagpipes is quite high. The man in green was standing near one of the main churches. We saw another man playing bagpipes when it was evening and I couldn't get a good picture of him, sadly. 

Bram and I decided to get tea at the Edinburgh Castle, since we were unsure of when we'd get to have tea at a castle next. The tea was excellent, and that piece of lemon-meringue cake was really good. On a side note, the whiskey samples elsewhere in the castle were also great. 

Bram and I went on a bus tour to Loch Ness and around the Highlands. The Highlands are absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit. This is Loch Ness. "Loch" means "lake" but can refer to both fresh and saltwater bodies of water. Sadly, we didn't see Nessie. 

Photos don't really capture how beautiful the highlands are, but they are absolutely wonderful. I couldn't believe I was still in Europe! It sort of felt like going to a more sloping version of New Zealand. Highland colours are also really vivid. There are lots of greens, blues, purples and browns that this photograph doesn't capture.

I loved Scotland, and I actually liked haggis! Scotland is a quirky place that is very attached to its own identity. I tend to say that I'll go back to places and then never end up doing so, but I think I'll return to Scotland for sure. I really want to do Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland in a trip some day in the future.
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Saturday, January 28, 2017

My program went to Gruyères today, and of course I went with! Gruyères is one of my favourite places in Switzerland because it tiny and charming. It was absolutely beautiful covered in snow. Gruyères  also has the best dairy products on the planet (I think), so I had no issue going back to stuff my face full of cheese and cream. There was a hot-air balloon festival going on, so we got to watch balloons take off from all over the area. Apparently people come from around the world to fly over the Alps.

Before we went to the old part of Gruyères, we went to the Cailer chocolate factory which is right next door. They had an interesting little chocolate tour that was highly dramatic but substantially less annoying than the Hershey's one (there were no singing cows, for instance). The Swiss are really good at creating dramatic displays with light and sound. They are also good at doing it with chocolate.

My evidence for the Swiss being good at chocolate displays is first the chocolate wall, and second this woman made out of chocolate that was on display in the shop. I am definitely getting spoiled with all of this good Swiss chocolate! I think I have eaten some every day. 

Then we went to Gruyères. There is a playground near this church that we all went on. We may be university students, but we are clearly still children in many respects. Frankly, being shuttled around on a bus with chaperones drives this point home further. 

This is the famous Gruyères meringue et crème double. Basically, it's a caramel-tasting meringue with this amazing double creme stuff. It's not dissimilar to crème fraîche, except that it is even richer. This sort of creme is very hard to get outside of Switzerland (actually, I'm not sure if you can), but it's absolutely delicious and completely worth trying if you are ever there. 

There were some people dressed up and singing in the center of Gruyères near the main fountain when we were getting ready to leave. They started walking towards the car park, but I still managed to snap a picture. It was a really neat experience to be able to hear people sing, and they seemed really happy to share their culture with us silly tourists. 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

 I'm finally back in Geneva!

 It feels really weird to be back in Geneva because in some ways it feels like I never left. That being said, it's colder now and the broccoli trees no longer have their signature fluff. There are differences though. I had to get a Swiss SIM card which turned into a royal adventure when it refused to work. It's been interesting getting to know people here. It's a massive group! In the summer there were only 30-ish students and 13 in my program. This time there are nearly 60 in three different programs.

The flight here was pretty good. I had a layover and Heathrow and discovered that this exists. While I did not buy anything, I could not resist taking a picture.

I also snapped a quick picture flying over France. It looks so beautiful and snowy! Apparently the snow came late this year and there wasn't any at Christmas. The Swiss economy got hurt pretty badly as a result. However, nearly a metre of snow fell the week before we got here so I guess all will be well for the Swiss. I'm more of a snowboarder than a skier, but I definitely need to take lessons before attempting anything on the Alps. It's a lot steeper and more dangerous here than it is in America.

So, just a quick update for now. I'll try to post somewhat regularly while I'm here and certainly after trips!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I had the most amazing holiday in Texas and Florida! 

My boyfriend's family lives in San Antonio, so I went down the day after Christmas to visit. I visited the Alamo (which is really quite small) and the River Walk, which is quite pretty! It reminded me of Clarke Quay in Singapore with all the shops and bars along the river. I was surprised that there was no railing along most of it-- luckily, it's quite shallow so people are easy to rescue when they fall in. 

It was really fun chilling out with my boyfriend's family and getting to know them all better. They really are the nicest people. We went bowling and I successfully avoided falling down, throwing the ball behind me, or spraining my wrist. 

After San Antonio, Erik and I flew down to Orlando to visit some of his friends from college. One of them works at Disney World, so we were able to visit. This is the beautiful tree outside Animal Kingdom... it's incredibly tall. Disney World is a cool place because everything is incredibly controlled and perfect. Everyone working there is called a "cast member" and they are very friendly at all times. I honestly think the "Disney Magic" comes from excellent service and people's willingness to suspend their disbelief and enjoy themselves. 

I re-learned that I'm terrified of roller coasters on the Expedition Everest ride during our second day at Disney. I had no idea that my scream-of-terror was so high... I probably could have broken glass. I broke down into tears at some point and sobbed through most of the ride, which was pretty embarrassing. The day got a lot better though when we went on safari and saw animals. I didn't get any particularly good photos of them though. 

 Here's a crappy photo of a giraffe. When I was a kid I had a stuffed giraffe creatively named "Giraffee", so I'm quite fond of these weird-looking animals.

We rang in 2017 by watching fireworks at Disney World, which was absolutely amazing. Disney shoots two sets of fireworks into the air at the same time so everyone in the open parks can see them, then shoot off the count-down numbers before lighting up the sky at midnight. I swear you could hear people shouting at midnight from Magic Kingdom... which was full to capacity so we couldn't go during our visit. 

My New Year's resolution is to live in the moment more. I feel like I'm always worrying about the future, but the only thing I can really control is right now.  So, in this upcoming year that is bound to be full of changes starting with flying off to Geneva in two weeks... I'm going to try and enjoy everything!

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