The many faces of San Francisco.

San Francisco is one of those cities that is very hard for me to define. No matter how many times I visited the place (thanks to my stint in Berkeley, I had the privilege of living 45-minute BART ride away from THE San Francisco), I never felt like I got to know the city well. Perhaps it was my fault that I hardly spent a full day there just to explore – I normally visited San Francisco when I was meeting a friend or if I had to go there for a reporting assignment. But maybe it was the city’s ‘fault’, that it just had so many different things to offer.

In the end, I gave up that internal battle in my head and came to accept that it was just the way things were. Perhaps, San Francisco is just like that intriguing friend of yours who always shows a different side every time you see her. She’s not someone you are meant to figure out and fit into a box. She is just that, San Francisco, with its many facades.

She is as much the Victorian buildings that form the Seven Sisters…

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As the skyscrapers at Market Street.

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Continue reading “The many faces of San Francisco.”

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Grand Canyon camping and hiking, for dummies.

If any of you have read my ‘about me‘ page, you would agree that I could be considered as one of the worst kind of travellers, and certainly not someone you want to get stuck travelling with.

But time and again, as I mentioned, people do get tricked into travelling with me. This time round, it was 3 of my now friends that I got to know here in Berkeley who had to feel the brunt of travelling to the Grand Canyon with me.

And unlike most other trips where my annoying sides are only showing once I’m already on the road, I was already being quite a pain right through the planning stage for this trip.

I basically went into a panic episode when I found out that I would be sleeping in a tent in the freezing cold. I contemplated (out loud to my travel mates whom I barely knew at that point) about pulling out from the trip because I didn’t want to die in the cold I didn’t have any experience in winter camping. And in the process, I might have made one of my travel mates freak out a little too.

But before you discount me completely, this is the part that I’m always proud of myself. My love for travelling is often great enough to conquer my fears. So before completely deciding to bail out from the trip, I decided to go on a research rampage, finding out as much as possible about winter camping and hiking at the Grand Canyon.

How cold does it get?

Will you die sleeping outside in subzero temperature?

Are there any animals?

Can I hike in Grand Canyon without hiking shoes?

How steep are the trails?

But the real question that I was trying to answer was: Would someone like me – a beginner (and somewhat unfit) outdoor traveller, who has no skills in camping, lighting up a portable stove let alone cooking on it, setting up a tent, blowing up sleeping pad,… the list goes on (I did not tell them these. They found out on their own pretty quickly the moment we arrived at the camp site.) – be able to survive a three-day two-night camping trip and hiking at the Grand Canyon?

Continue reading “Grand Canyon camping and hiking, for dummies.”

On being constantly on the move.

Almost exactly a year ago, I made the decision to uproot myself from Singapore and move all the way up north to Denmark. I remember it was during the Easter holidays that I had a long conversation with my parents about quitting my somewhat decent-paying job and pursue something completely different (and one that is potentially not going to pay me very well).

It has definitely been one of the best decisions in my life.

I have learned a lot of new things, become a little street-wiser (although I know someone who thinks I still have a looong way to go, to the extent that I need to live on the streets in Nairobi before I can even be somewhat decent. Yep, he is brutally honest, but we are also still friends, which probably means that I agree with him), travelled to some amazing places in Europe, seen the Northern Lights and lived in two new cities (so far).

But it has also been one of the most confusing situations that I have got myself into.

I have been having a lot of difficulty in updating what’s been happening in my life on this blog. Whenever I sit in front of my computer, I simply do not know what to write. Not because nothing has been happening and that I have very few things to update. In fact, I have a whole Airbus-sized-cabin to update, but I just can’t find a way to do so.

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The A380 that brought me here.

At first I couldn’t quite place why this is the case, but these days I have come to realise that the reason I have been having some writer’s block about my own life is because things have been happening so fast that nothing has properly sunk in on me yet. I left Singapore, my home for nine years, last September, tried to settle into my new home Aarhus, only to find out a month later that my supposedly one-year stay would be cut short to mere 6 months because I got this incredible opportunity to finish my first year of Master’s at UC Berkeley. So within a span of half a year, I have had to move across three different countries in three different continents.

Continue reading “On being constantly on the move.”

‘Chasing’ the Northern Lights.

Parties and large gatherings generally confuse me. Anything that requires me to divide my attention between more than two people at the same time or where I’m required to make any kinds of small talks makes me nervous. This is why I normally retreat to the shadow of a bar the moment I get there, or speak to the same person whom I’m comfortable with for the next three hours and refuse to move my legs to speak to someone else across the room just in case I bump into a person that I have to make small talks with on the way there. It’s worked well for me so far and I think I have a mutual unspoken understanding with fellow party-goers whereby I normally ignore most people and they do me and that is the start of a beautiful friendship.

So it surprised me beyond words when, a week or so ago in the bar, people started approaching me to speak to me. I found out later that it was mainly driven by two things: my last blog post about the series of Murphy’s law happenings in December (thank you for all the messages, comments and concerns by the way. I did not expect it to cause quite a stir since I feel perfectly fine most of the time, but I am still very touched by it all); and the Northern Lights.

Until then, I thought that I was the only weirdo who wanted to see the Northern Lights so badly. I mean, someone even called me ‘crazy woman’ in my face for going even further north from Denmark to Norway during the winter when most others were travelling south in search for more warmth and the sun (I take being coined a crazy woman as a compliment by the way). But from my conversation with people and the reactions to my Northern Lights pictures, it turned out that a lot of people did want to see them, but I guess was the only weirdo who was crazy enough among my class mates to actually do it.

And since I seem to have reignited the sparks in some people to tick this off from their bucket list, I thought I would share some tips from my trip to Tromsø which I believe would be helpful in planning for Northern Lights trips (especially at the last minute).

Getting to Tromsø is not hard, considering it’s at the Arctic.
Tromsø is located in Norway (albeit a very northern part of it). This means that as long as you can get yourself to Oslo or other major cities in the Nordic countries, you will be able to find flight connections there, thanks to SAS and the more affordable Norwegian Airlines. I live in Aarhus, Denmark (a rather inaccessible city to say the least), and in order to get to Tromsø, I had to take a flight to Copenhagen, then to Oslo before finally landing at Tromsø. It was pretty straightforward, especially considering how far north Tromsø is and how Aarhus has the smallest international airport I have ever seen in my years of travelling.

Tromsø is an easy city to navigate and extremely beautiful.

Tromsø is a small city, and the airport is very accessible from the city centre. There is a direct public bus that takes you right to the city centre and to the biggest shopping mall in the city. The city centre is very easy to navigate (and this is coming from someone with a horrible sense of direction), and you can pretty much walk to all the main attractions.

Plus, the city is beautiful, both during the day (though the sun never rose during the three days we were there) and at night.

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And if you are lucky, some random Tromsø guy would approach you and teach you how to fish while you were admiring the view.

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Be prepared to spend a few nights there.
We saw the Northern Lights after our second try and people have been calling us extremely lucky. Apparently some people waited for a whole week and still did not get to see anything.

The thing about the Northern Lights is that there can be no guarantee for you to see it. We have been preached by the tour companies and the tourism websites that there are 3 necessary conditions for you to see the Northern Lights: the sky must be clear, there must not be any light pollution, and the Northern Lights itself must be active. This means that you could end up with a really cloudy day, and you could spend the whole night chasing for a clear sky and when you found an opening among the clouds, you could see all the beautiful stars twinkling at you but no Northern Lights in sight because it was not active.

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Clear sky + minimal light pollution but no Northern Lights on our first attempt. To be fair, the view was still gorgeous.

So you would have to come back the next day on a different tour and hope that all these things are aligned. I have got to be honest with you – the uncertainties can be nerve-wrecking so always be prepared for the worst!

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This was the only Northern Lights we saw on our first attempt. It lasted for about 2 minutes.

Continue reading “‘Chasing’ the Northern Lights.”

A crazy month that was December.

I realised that this turned out to be a very long post, so I have decided to give subtitles to each event (it must be the influence of all the academic writing that I had to do last semester) and you can just pick which of these interest you the most. I could have broken these into a few posts, but I think it is paramount to put them all together to show what a month it had been.

Happy New Year!

First thing first, I figured that most of you would probably not realise that I have updated the ‘about missruslee‘ page, so do check it out!

Now that it is January, I feel I can very safely talk about December last year (!!!). Some people might refer to the month as a series of unfortunate events for me, but I prefer, as I told a friend of mine who faced similar predicaments at one point in the month, to think of it as Murphy’s law being at its full force and me somehow having guardian angels in the form of strangers, neighbours and classmates.

So here goes, in chronological order:

The Prequel

To be fair, it was not entirely December’s doing. It probably started some time late November when, for reasons only the dear bus driver knows, the Aarhus Airport Bus decided to leave without me even though I was already dragging my luggage to board the bus. It was probably the first panic attack that I have had in years, when it sank on me that there was a real chance that I could have missed my flight to Copenhagen, which would mean that I would have missed my connecting flight to Shanghai, which would mean that I would have had to miss my best friend’s wedding where I was the maid of honour.

But I made it to the flight in the end. In the midst of my panic attack, two very kind strangers saw what happened (including me running after the bus with my luggage flailing), approached me, and sorted things out for me. They called a taxi, and one of them waited for me until the taxi arrived to explain the situation to the driver (since I was in no condition to speak due to the said panic attack), and the driver assured me that I would still make it for my flight and I would be compensated by the Airport Bus company for the cost of the taxi (which amounted to a whopping DKK 567 or USD 82, unheard of for me even if I decided to take a tour of Singapore in a cab).

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Still can’t believe I made it.

The Flight Delay

I think I was not destined to take the airport bus during that trip. On the way back to Aarhus, my flight from Beijing to Copenhagen was delayed by more than an hour due to the horrible weather in the capital of China.

Continue reading “A crazy month that was December.”