Monday, May 8, 2017

Humans of Hanoi

With its decrepit elegance, constant tangle of traffic, blaring horns, and scents of sizzling street fare, Hanoi accosts and enraptures the senses.

The tenacious locals that bring the city to life every morning are the beating heart of Hanoi's charismatic cacophony. In all of its dilapidated beauty, Vietnam's capital is undeniably bursting with energy.

In this collection of black and white portraits, I attempt to capture the enigmatic people that effortlessly won over my heart (and my stomach). In the back of my mind, I'll always be dreaming of returning to Hanoi to experience its intoxicating charm once again.

Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante
Humans of Hanoi | Adelante


Where is the most enigmatic place 
you've ever visited?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

Venture above the Swiss Alps

As I soared up the Alps in a packed cable car, sardined between ski poles and snowboards, Switzerland's scenery left me speechless. Snowy peaks sparkled against bright cerulean skies, while pops of color flashed below me as skiers flew down the mountain. Stunned by the sublime beauty of my surroundings, I couldn't help but feel as if I were on a movie set. But in fact, I was.

Made famous by James Bond's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", the Schilthorn is a picturesque summit with unparalleled views of the Swiss Alps. Just a short day trip from Interlaken, the Schilthorn makes for the ultimate winter wonderland.

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland
Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

Perched atop a frosty summit, the Schilthorn boasts breathtaking panoramas of the "Swiss Skyline", including the commanding peaks of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch. At 2970 meters high, one can venture above the Alps and revel in its otherworldly elegance.

James Bond fans can explore an interactive Bond World exhibit or indulge on a 007 champagne brunch at Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant flaunting dramatic 360 degree views. Even those unfamiliar with the Bond series are sure to be seduced by the Schilthorn's majestic vistas of the Bernese Oberland.

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

Stopping in Mürren

Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland

To get to and from the Schilthorn, one must change cable cars in the charming village of Mürren. Tucked below the summit, this ski town feels straight out of a storybook. With its cozy chalets and spectacular scenery, it's well worth stopping in this mountainous paradise while making the trek up to the Schilthorn.

Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland
Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland

As I roamed through the snowy village of Mürren by foot, I was one of the only wanderers not traveling by skis. Every other visitor appeared to be gliding their way through town, most likely skiing back to their warm chalets to sip Swiss hot chocolate by the fire.

Seeing as Mürren is only accessible by cable car, the secluded alpine cabins and intimate fireside terraces seemed all the more romantic. The entire scene was almost too darling for words, and I was half tempted to quit my job and spend the rest of the winter hibernating here.

Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland
Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland

Getting to the Schilthorn from Interlaken

To arrive at the Schilthorn from Interlaken, one must take a train and a bus, followed by a series of cable cars. While there are a handful of ways to get to the Schilthorn, I opted for the Interlaken - Lauterbrunnen - Stechelberg - Mürren route.

Although the directions appear complicated, they're actually quite straightforward once you're boarding each cable car. Most tourists are also heading in the same direction, signage is clear, and the staff at each crossroads are more than willing to offer guidance.

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

First, take a local Berner Oberland train from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen. Once you're off the train, cross the street and catch the yellow Post bus to Stechelberg Schilthornbahn. Board the cable car in Stechelberg, then switch to another cable car in Gimmelwald towards Mürren.

Once reaching Mürren, either board the next cable car or stop to explore the quaint ski village. If you opt to head straight to the Schilthorn, catch the cable car in Mürren and switch to another one in Birg. Birg offers phenomenal views of the Bernese Oberland, as well as a Skyline Walk, a Thrill Walk, and a scenic bistro. From Birg, you can take the final cable car to the summit of the Schilthorn.

The entire journey takes about 90 minutes (without stopping in Mürren). Current timetables and fares can be found here.

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

Is it worth the splurge?

Roundtrip tickets to the Schilthorn from Interlaken Ost (without any discount rail passes) currently cost a whopping 131 CHF, which is roughly equal to $131 or 122€. Tickets can be bought right at the Interlaken Ost train station.

Though visiting the Schilthorn is one of the more expensive day trips from Interlaken, I thought the awe-inspiring scenery and overall experience was worth the extravagant price tag. While it meant that I had to say no to other adventures and forgo experiencing the local cuisine in lieu of cheap sandwiches made from stolen hostel goodies, channeling my inner Elsa above the Swiss Alps was decidedly priceless.

Visiting the Schilthorn: A Swiss Winter Wonderland

That said, good weather is imperative. It's simply not worth the splurge if skies aren't clear enough to see the Schilthorn's impressive alpine views. Don't hesitate to ask your hotel or hostel if you have any doubts about the forecast or visibility.

Mürren: Visiting the Schilthorn, Switzerland

Looking for more things to do in Switzerland?
Be sure to read about my experience with Skydive Interlaken!


Have you ever been to the Swiss Alps?
Where is your favorite winter wonderland?


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Should You Visit Israel?

Should You Visit Israel? | Adelante

I contemplated not telling my parents that I was going to Israel. I knew that my announcement would be met with apprehension, disapproval, and fear. But my tickets were bought, and my heart was set on going. Despite the political climate, no government or parental warnings could stop me.

I've always felt an inexplicable pull towards the Holy Land. Perhaps it's because most of my friends are Jewish, and they've always raved about their visits and Birthright trips. Maybe it's due to my intense fascination with Judaism, despite being raised Christian-ish. Or perhaps I was just tired of my European comfort zone, and felt ready to explore a more exotic corner of the world.

When one of my sorority sisters moved to Tel Aviv, I saw it as my golden opportunity to finally visit Israel. I booked my trip on a whim and started counting down the days.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Jaffa, Tel Aviv

Upon catching my flight from Spain, I found myself getting detained in the underbelly of Madrid-Barajas airport. As I was strip-searched and interrogated, I couldn't help but thinking, "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"

I was paralyzed with fear and doubt. "If this is happening before I even get to Tel Aviv, what's going to happen once I'm actually there?" My belongings were strewn across counters, my valuables confiscated from my carry-on, and my dignity battered and bare. I asked myself in alarm, "Is this safe? Should I really visit Israel?"

But after spending a week falling head over heels for Israel's culture, cuisine, and people, here is why my answer is an overwhelming yes!

Old City of Jerusalem | Adelante
Old City of Jerusalem

Become immersed in a captivating culture

Israel is an intriguing blend of East meets West. Ancient and modern, cozy yet exotic, its contrasting elements create a colorful amalgam of Israeli culture. The variety of ethnicities, traditions, and religious backgrounds adds to the country's magnetic diversity. From rabbis to hipsters and nightclubs to synagogues, Israel truly offers a taste of everything.

Israel's mesmerizing culture is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Throughout my trip, I was hypnotized by the country's stories, religious ceremonies, language, and culinary traditions. Rich, complex, and stimulating, the thought-provoking culture of Israel is undeniably worth experiencing firsthand.

Western Wall, Jerusalem | Adelante
Western Wall, Jerusalem | Adelante
A spiritual experience at the Western Wall

One of the most memorable experiences from my time in Israel was celebrating my first proper Shabbat. As Judaism's official day of rest, Saturdays in Israel are unusually quiet and calm. Depending on how one practices their religion, observing Shabbat can mean anything from not going to the supermarket to completely avoiding the use of light switches, lotions, or electronic devices.

I took the next 24 hours to fully unplug, detaching myself from the devices I'm normally glued to. On Friday evening I accompanied my Orthodox friend to her synagogue, and afterwards we went to a friend's house for a feast of epic proportions.

The next day was spent singing, playing cards, and having long chats around the dinner table. In a day and age where selfies and Snapchat dominate social gatherings, focusing on genuine human connection for a full 24 hours was a much needed breath of fresh air.

Explore the colorful markets

Markets have always been my favorite places to explore while traveling, but Israeli shuks are especially bursting with life. From Tel Aviv's Carmel Market to Jerusalem's famed Mahane Yehuda, the bustling markets of Israel are a lively feast for the senses.

Serving up fresh Mediterranean delights and an unparalleled array of produce, the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv seduced and consumed me. Hungry for a revitalizing dose of culture shock, I got lost among the maze of stalls peddling fresh seafood, exotic fruits, and aromatic spices.

Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante

Experience an enchanting mix of old and new

While Israel's historic sites are dazzling enough to warrant a visit within themselves, what makes the country so unique is its compelling juxtaposition of ancient and modern. From Tel Aviv's sparkling skyscrapers to the Roman ruins of Caesarea, Israel paints a provocative picture of the Middle East's past and present. In the heart of the Holy Land, Jerusalem boasts a fascinating mix of trendy and traditional.

Rather than clashing, these contrasting elements complement each other in an unexpected way. The opposing forces of old and new tell a spellbinding story about Israel's history, rendering the present all the more engaging and complex.

Tel Aviv, Israel | Adelante
Cityscapes of Tel Aviv
Caesarea, Israel | Adelante
Ancient ruins in Caesarea

Savor fresh Mediterranean cuisine

The fresh and flavorful gastronomy of Israel effortlessly enraptured my tastebuds. A haven for the health-conscious, the culinary melting pot of Israeli fare is one of the world's finest. Refreshing Mediterranean dishes with a Middle Eastern flair dominate the cuisine, enriched by the presence of fresh vegetables, savory olives, chickpeas, and exotic spices.

Every time I taste parsley, I'm transported back to my first day in Tel Aviv, when I euphorically devoured a colorful Israeli salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. I frequently daydream about the creamy hummus, crispy falafel, and comforting shakshuka I savored, and I still shamelessly order my fix of Bamba online.

Israeli breakfast | Adelante
A traditional Israeli breakfast
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Tel Aviv's Carmel Market
Israeli Cuisine | Adelante
Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and gluten-free falafel

Get a taste of hummus heaven

If foods were soulmates, then hummus would be mine. Though I've spent the greater portion of my adulthood devouring hummus stateside, the stuff here doesn't even compare to the creamy perfection of true Israeli hummus.

My wildest hummus dreams came true at Ben Sira, a hole in the wall hummusiya in Jerusalem. This no-frills, unpretentious hummus joint takes chickpeas and turns them into edible works of art. Served with the traditional fixings, you can enjoy your hummus with a fluffy pita or fresh slices of onion. (While I love sinking my teeth into a slice of onion slathered with hummus, I also snuck in my own gluten-free pita for an extra Celiac-friendly treat!)

Hummus at Ben Sira, Jerusalem | Adelante
Hummus at Ben Sira, Jerusalem

Float on the Dead Sea

While Israel's variety of beaches is nothing short of sublime, nothing quite compares to bobbing like a cork on the Dead Sea. Just a short drive from Masada's commanding ruins lies the resort town of Ein Bokek, the perfect retreat for a lazy day along the Dead Sea.

More than 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Due to the unusually high concentrations of salt, effortlessly floating in the water makes for a relaxing, otherworldly experience. Local vendors sell the sea's famed mineral mud to lather on before taking a dip.

Dead Sea, Israel | Adelante
Dead Sea, Israel | Adelante

Challenge yourself

If you go with an open mind, you're much more likely to leave enchanted. Rather than letting the media bombard you, form your own opinions. Be mindful, ask questions, and listen, but don't let the political climate define your experience (or keep you from going in the first place). Don't be afraid to be curious, but strive to refrain from judgement. Establish your views after seeing and experiencing it for yourself.

Old City of Jerusalem | Adelante

Grappling with the ups and downs of spirituality, politics, extreme sensory overload, and adrenaline rushes stretched my mind in countless ways, but in the end, I fell irreversibly in love with Israel. The food, culture, religion, people, and the country's overwhelming complexities left me captivated and positively seduced.



Have you visited Israel?
If not, would you ever consider going?



Please note that this post is not a political commentary. Please keep all comments respectful and appropriate.