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Let Passion Unfold

Welcome to Let Passion Unfold, a blog where I write about my travel experiences, life abroad, living outside of your comfort zone, and everything in between.

Taiwan Travel: 7 Days

Planning a week long trip to Taiwan wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be. Most of the stories I had heard about Taiwan were from people who visited Taipei for a weekend and spent most of their time chilling in a bar. While that can be fun, I can do that in Shanghai so I wanted something a little different. After doing a little research, I realized there is a ton of natural beauty to explore in Taiwan, which sounded absolutely perfect! I did spend a couple days in the city of Taipei, but I spent most of my time in the surrounding areas and Hualien (east coast). 

I used Taipei as a base for four of the nights, booking a hostel in Shilin District. This allowed easy bus access to a lot of the surrounding areas on my list. There are plenty of great things to do in Taipei, as well as outside of it.

-Night Markets
-Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101
-Starbucks at Taipei 101
-Making Gondola
-National Palace Museum
-Peace Park
-National Museum of History 
-Taiwan National Museum
-C.K.S. Memorial Hall
-Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Keelung, Jiufen, Jinguashi
-Golden Waterfalls
-YinYang Sea
-Gold Mine Museum
-Jiufen Old Street
-Keelung Port

-Yangmingshan National Park

Things to Note in Taipei: 
Toilets are everywhere, not similar to Shanghai. I would still bring sanitizer and toilet paper just in case. 
Wifi is absolutely everywhere! 7-11, metro, random areas on the street.
You won't see many trash cans even though the city is very clean. Make sure that if you see one you take advantage of it.
Transportation can be (very) confusing. Stay at a good hostel so that you can ask for guidance before beginning your daily adventures.
Don't eat or drink on subway. Some foreigners might not realize, but I promise you'll be the only one casually sipping a beverage. I visited a friend of mine while there and he had even made a comment stating nobody is supposed to do that. This is not something specific to Taiwan. I've been to a few countries where this has been the case. Try to be aware of your surroundings!

GETTING AWAY FROM TAIPEI: What to do in Hualien
Taking a train to Hualien is extremely convenient, quick, affordable, and you can pick up your train tickets at most 7-11s. And trust me, those are everywhere!

We stayed at a really nice BnB in Hualien. They didn't speak English but it was so clean, had free laundry service, and was super comfortable. Hualien is rather small and you can get to most places by walking. The walk can be a little bit long though, so don't be fooled by the disproportionate map that the visitor center gives you. Hualien has a night market as well, but it is at the opposite end of the town from the visitor center and train. Expect to walk at least 20 minutes.

Things to do:
-Take a bus to Taroko Gorge National Park (bus stop is the orange building across from the visitor center, adjacent to the train station). Here you can go hiking and see Taroko Gorge. Expect confusion on the bus, you'll figure it out eventually.

-QiXingTan to play in the Pacific Ocean and get the perfect view of the Big Dipper (which is where the name QiXingTan comes from).

-Night Market
-Local food (or if that's not your thing, there's a Subway, McDonald's, and Starbucks)

Overall I had an amazing time in Taiwan, but if I'm being completely honest I thought it was a bit difficult to get around most places. Unfortunately, I found my hostel and various employees throughout the island to be less than helpful, making it difficult for a tourist to figure anything out.
In Taipei, the metro will be your best friend. I recommend downloading the Taipei Metro app which requires no internet, finds the stops nearest to you, and navigates your best route with distance in time included 
(I download this same app for different cities whenever I travel). However, there will be tourist sites that have no metro stop nearby, and that's when it gets complicated.

I originally intended to create a post that would be useful for getting around, but even after spending a week in Taiwan, I continued to struggle and don't feel completely qualified to offer too much advice. It was a really nice trip but my best advice is just to be patient. Things probably won't be easy and they won't go as planned. Just be easy-going and flexible and you'll have a wonderful time!
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The Color Run: Shanghai Edition

It isn't every day that I participate in something in China that I could also participate in back home in the States. Now, I'm not saying that I ever have any Western experiences in China, because I do. But honestly, apart from hanging out with friends or going shopping, I don't spend a lot of my spare time participating in things that I would in the U.S., for example The Color Run.

Over the weekend, I did this colorful 5K with a few friends from work. It was an amazing time, as expected, and it was cool to compare this to the time I did The Color Run in Toledo, Ohio. 

Thankfully, it was pretty much the exact same thing. I won't lie, at one point I was worried I had paid to go for a walk but eventually learned that wasn't true. Phew!

If you've never walked or ran a 5K with a rainbow of cornstarch being blasted at you, then you haven't lived. 

Okay, I'm being dramatic but it really is a ton of fun. It isn't meant to really be a race. You're welcome to run but most just walk it and play at each checkpoint, ensuring they get the most color possible on their souvenir T-shirts. 

Things I preferred in Shanghai:
//The color was sparkly! I'm pretty sure that's a new edition this year and that its at all locations. 
//They had a foam checkpoint. Instead of having color thrown on you at this point, you got to run (walk) through a bunch bubbles! Takes me back to Welcome Weekend at my university.
//We got a fun bag with more promotional goodies than the one three years ago.
//I got a medal this time!!!

//They had photo opportunities everywhere with cute displays to get in!

**I realize some of these changes may have nothing to do with it being in Shanghai but are instead examples of how this run has grown over the last few years. 

Things I preferred in Toledo:
//The run back home went through a scenic route downtown. They didn't need to set up cute displays to take photos at because Toledo has plenty of picture-worthy murals to stop at along the way. In Shanghai, it was through what will probably one day be a park, but for now it just looks like it's under construction. 
//The big festival at the end was so much better. Everyone had so much energy, throwing their color packets and rocking out to the music. It was a great atmosphere.
//I didn't have to be in a taxi for an hour just to get there. #bigcitystruggles and I didn't have to walk a half mile just to get to the 5K starting line. 
//I didn't have to go to packet pickup in Toledo. Everything was shipped to my house. This time I had to travel an hour just to get my packet. 
//This one I may be mistaken on but I really thought we got more color in Toledo. In Shanghai, the finish line was super anticlimactic. I was a bit underwhelmed when there was nothing there to really mark the ending. The only indicator we had made it was an archway that said Finish Line. Maybe I just expected too much because it was a major let down.

Honestly, both were amazing. I really enjoy doing The Color Run and would recommend it to anyone anywhere.

Have you ever participated in The Happiest 5K in the World anywhere else? Have you done a color run with a different company? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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Returning Home, to Shanghai that is!

Returning to Shanghai worried me a little bit. I remember being on my flight thinking, "What have I done?" Now, this was a pretty big deal considering I never had that moment last year. It never hit me that I was moving abroad. But this time, I knew what I was getting into, and I knew I had to be mad in order to commit to another year.

Everything about this second year has been the exact opposite of last year, well not exactly everything. Aside from the moment I considered entering panic mode on the flight, I'm extremely comfortable with this year thus far. 

Moving back here was easy. My apartment was exactly as I had left it, a truly amazing thing to come home to. The pollution has been low for the past month, a huge factor in my discontent last year. I can afford life right now, whereas last year I was trying to save and pay off debt until January. I'm comfortable with my job, when this time last year I was completely clueless. I've already begun my Chinese lessons again which are and always have been the highlight of my week. And so many of my friends are still here that I missed over the summer.

While it was great to be home and certainly wasn't a long enough trip, I'm happy I made the decision to come back.  It just feels like home, as crazy as that sounds. Summer was simply a beautiful vacation, and now I'm back to my crazy, exciting, frustrating temporary home. I'm looking forward to the rest of this year and can't wait to find out what China has in store for me this time. 

Meeting the Friendliest People in the World: Group Tour Part Two


Part two of my trip was around Ireland, probably one of the top two countries I’ve ever wanted to visit and, let me tell you, it didn’t let me down. From having the friendliest people in the world to the seemingly never-ending beautiful green scenery to presence of live music around nearly every corner, my expectations were more than exceeded. For this tour, we started and ended in Dublin enjoying some lovely Guinness both times (one of my personal all time favorite drinks), so that was a major selling point as well.

Taking the ferry over was a beautiful sight, though it was a bit rainy. If you experience motion sickness at all, or think you might, it would be a good idea to bring some medicine just in case.

Our nightly stops were in Dublin, Cork, and Galway (2 nights) before heading to Northern Ireland and back to Dublin. Here’s a quick review of each place we stopped and the places we visited in between. If you were planning a tour around Ireland, I’d definitely recommend stopping at these places!

//Temple Bar
The Temple Bar District is a definite point of interest in Dublin for anyone who’s looking for a drink, food, or sheer entertainment. It’s a lively area pretty much all the time and is usually insanely busy on the weekends. Both weekends that I visited, there were large concerts happening so I lucked out. I was able to find seats in bars and enjoy myself, and then head back to the hotel before the concerts were over and the large masses of people flooded Temple Bar. There are plenty of places to go in this area if you’re looking for a night out!

//The Guinness Storehouse
Be sure to enjoy some Guinness, even if you’re not a huge fan, this is where you’ll find the best pint. Here you can experience how Guinness was intended. It’s even better in Ireland than it is anywhere else and at the Guinness Storehouse, you can actually learn and get certified on how to pour the perfect pint. Believe me, it makes a huge difference. Trying pours done by a couple different people helped me realize how much the taste of this stout can be affected by the pour. So don’t let some other place that didn’t pour it properly ruin your opinion of this fantastic drink. If nothing else, head up to the bar on the top level to enjoy a 360 degree view of Dublin.

//Trinity College
This is Ireland’s oldest University and is beautiful to walk around. A great deal of famous people attended school there, so it’s fun to walk around and just imagine attending school with them. On campus, there is the Library of Trinity College which houses many ancient books, including the Book of Kells. It really is a great stop while in Dublin.

//The Merry Ploughboy
If you go to The Merry Ploughboy, you can enjoy a nice meal with traditional entertainment. It is a super fun evening filled with laughter, dancing, and music. It’s truly a great show and really helps to remind you that you’re in Ireland!

//Kilkenny Castle
While we were in Kilkenny, everyone took a bike tour around the city. I heard plenty of people say they enjoyed it but I actually opted out so I could save a little money and just explore on my own. One of the places I visited during my explorations was the Kilkenny Castle. It was incredibly beautiful. Check it out!

//Jameson Distillery
The Jameson Distillery was something I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. My two favorite drinks are Guinness and Jameson so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in Ireland. We had a personal tour guide through the distillery who gave a lot of insight into the process of distilling Irish whiskey and what makes it the best! It was also a great opportunity to learn a little history as well. I’d definitely recommend this tour.

//Wander, eat, drink, and listen to live music.
We didn’t do any major sight seeing in Cork. We just went out for dinner, a drink, and watched a football match. Cork is really easy to get around and is super cute. For dinner we ate at a place called Clancy’s, which was delicious. A bit of advice: some bars in Cork are 21 and up so bring your ID if you don’t look much older than that just in case! Also, drink Murphy’s instead of Guinness or else they’ll easily be able to tell you’re not from Cork. In Dublin and a lot of areas in Ireland, they will drink Guinness as their stout of choice, but in Cork they drink Murphy’s. Keep that in mind!

//Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone
Be sure to visit the Blarney Castle. I’d get there early in the morning if you have any intensions of kissing the Blarney Stone. You lay down and have to arch you back and hang upside down a little bit to kiss it, but there is someone there to guide you so don’t worry! They disinfect it after every kiss as well, but I would still go in the morning before everyone has put their lips on it for the day! It’s said that kissing the Blarney Stone will give a person the gift of gab, as if I needed help talking anymore than I already do. Haha.

Clare County
//Cliffs of Moher
These cliffs are absolutely amazing to see, a truly breath-taking experience. These also appeared in a bit of Harry Potter so that’s a super fun fact for all you HP fans out there! I’d also recommend wearing comfy shoes, or maybe even hiking boots. It can get a little muddy up there. Be prepared for the wind and cross and fences at your own risk! I saw a dog running around near the edge of the cliffs and nearly had a heart attack because I feared he would fall to his death. Just be careful if you go near the edge at all!

//Great place to purchase Claddagh rings
There are several nice shops in Galway were you can purchase a Claddagh ring. These rings are traditional worn with the heart facing you if you are taken, and the heart facing away from you if you are single. They come in a few different designs and are a nice souvenir to purchase.

//Visit the Aran Islands
Be sure to rent a bike to tour the island. It might be really exhausting but it’s worth it. If you’re really not feeling up to biking, then I recommend getting a small group together to split a horse drawn carriage. You can ride your bike up and take pictures hanging off some cliffs and be really cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone to take pictures, which I will get into in the next bullet. The Aran Islands are also known for their sweaters, which symbolize their Irish clan heritage based on the stitching, so make sure you head to the Aran Sweater Market and purchase some sweaters!

//Seriously the friendliest people in the world
So here’s a story. We had two nights in Galway and the first night was intended to be a big party night for most people on the tour. I had one drink too many and ended up losing my purse and jacket. I couldn’t remember where I took them off at and since we had spent part of the night walking around outside, my things literally could have been anywhere in the city. I hopped in a cab with a friend and searched for hours, stopping in all the places we remembered going to. Unfortunately, we had no luck finding anything so we went to the police station and made a report. At the station they told me that someone would probably turn it in because Galway is filled with kind-hearted people, and several times the day before I had seen signs and heard people talking about how Galway is known for being the friendliest city in the world. These things gave me hope but I was still worried. The following day we went to the Aran Islands, which is why I couldn’t take any pictures that entire day. I was still worried about my phone and my credit cards being in the wrong hands and how I was going to replace everything before going back to China for another year. When we returned from the islands, I grabbed a couple friends and went out searching while it was still daylight. We still had no luck so we walked back to the hotel. When we got there, we had several messages from different people saying my things had been found. A nice man found my purse outside and sent me a Facebook message, as well as my friend Chris who I had been travelling with. He wanted to make sure I got my things so he even contacted someone else and told us that he had dropped it off at the police station. I’m still sort of amazed by this man. He even messaged me to say that he hopes this didn’t ruin my vacation and that I’d be willing to return to Galway someday. If anything, his actions reassured me that Galway is an amazing city filled with amazing people and that anyone would be lucky to visit.

After touring the island (not including North Ireland, here’s that post), my favorite cities were probably Dublin and Galway, but honestly I loved all of them. I could see myself living pretty much anywhere in Ireland and I would go back to each of these places in a heartbeat. What an amazing country!
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Becoming a Unicorn in Scotland: Group Tour Part One

I’ve been traveling a lot in the past year, but recently I decided to do something a little differently. I decided to do a group tour of the UK and Ireland. I spent two days in London with my friend Chris before we hopped on a train to Edinburgh to begin our tour of Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

Fun fact about Scotland: Their national animal is a unicorn! As if I needed more reason to love this country. Here are a few highlights from my Scotland adventures!

Our first night we went to dinner for some traditional Scottish food and had a personal bagpiper performance. Truly a great welcome into the country! This was one of the perks of being a part of a group tour, a very nice touch.

This dish is called haggis. Some love it, some hate it, and some just can’t stand to think about it. I’ll let you look it up and decide on your own, but I will say that I’m usually quite picky and I ate half of it. I’ll admit I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t wrap my head around it mentally, but truthfully it’s not bad! I recommend trying it!

The following day we did a tour of the Edinburgh castle giving us an opportunity to learn about Scottish history in the form of typical Scottish humor and enjoy a wonderful view of the city.

Later on I chose to do the Scotch Whisky Experience, a tour that makes you feel like you’re on a ride at Disney! No joke. Here you can learn about the four different regions that Scotch whisky comes from, taste some, and sit in awe for a minute at one man’s personal collection of whisky, which he sold for an unknown amount. None of these were ever opened!

Our next adventure was on our way to the Highlands. We stopped at St. Andrews, Pitlochry, and finally at Loch Ness to get in a nice, refreshing swim in the 6 degree water. Needless to say, we were freezing. But who cares!? We swam with Nessie! Totally worth it.

Picture from St. Andrews – the birthplace of golf, which apparently was an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.
Super quaint city of Pitlochry

Swimming in Loch Ness. No big deal.

Next we were off to the West Highlands with an amazingly scenic drive. We stayed in a cute city on the water called Oban. We learned some Ceiligh dancing, which turned out to be super fun but incredibly hot. I got a little closer to some people than I wanted to but it was great!

Lastly we were off to Glasgow with a few stops along the way.

First we got to meet these adorable hairy coos!

Later we visited the Stirling Castle and climbed the William Wallace Monument for the ultimate view of Stirling.

We ended our Scotland trip in Glasgow with a night out to an American bar called Campus. This was quite the entertaining night because the upstairs had areas to play beer pong, flip cup, etc. My favorite was when the Scots would turn to us to ask if they were playing correctly.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Scotland and went to some really great places. My biggest recommendations would be to try some haggis, eat a deep fried Mars Bar, maybe a deep fried slice of pizza if you’re feeling up to it, enjoy the sound of some bagpipes, and visit the castles. I never learned much about Scottish history so this trip was a great chance to do exactly that. The people are great but the accent can be a little difficult to understand, especially after some alcohol! Haha.

Have you ever been to Scotland? What’s your favorite city? I would love to go back some day so if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Happy adventuring! xxx
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Two Days in London


London has been on my list of places to go for a really long time now and I can finally say I’ve been there. These past two days have been truly wonderful and I already want to go back.

London is a huge city with so much to see, but if you do it right, you can get quite a bit done in 48 hours. And if you have longer than that, then awesome for you because there are still some things I didn’t get to see that I wanted to! 

//Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (for all you Harry Potter fans out there)
//London Eye for the ultimate view of the city (I recommend doing this at night)
//Big Ben, House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey (even if you just view from the outside)
//Dinner at a pub 
//Abbey Road to see the famous crosswalk in the Beatles picture (if you’re a Beatles fan)
//St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Find a TARDIS (for the Doctor Who fans - This one is outside of Earl’s Court station)
//Enjoy a cup of tea

//Tower of London (the tour is an hour long and quite funny, do this before Westminster Abbey, they tell you something to look out for when you go)
//White Tower, the Crown Jewels, and the torture chamber (all at the Tower of London, not part of the tour)
//Tower Bridge (walk across it, there’s an amazing pub on the other side — see my review below)
//Go inside Westminster Abbey
//Buckingham Palace (if you’re lucky -and tall- you may get to see the changing of the guard. My view of it was from my phone…)
//The British Museum
//Covent Garden (especially if you’re a My Fair Lady fan)
//Hyde Park

//View London atop of St. Paul’s Cathedral
//Stonehenge (at least a half day trip — it’s quite far from the city)
//Victoria and Albert Museum
//Harry Potter Studio Tour
//Camden Market (I’ve heard it’s nice at night, but we couldn’t get the hours right so we missed the best of it)
//See a Shakespeare play at The Globe
//Primrose Hill

//Fortnum & Mason: a store near Piccadilly Circus, one floor was like a grocery store, one floor was all tea related ♡, and one floor was a restaurant. The prices weren’t exactly cheap but the food was scrumptious. I had chicken and couscous.

//Bill’s: a fancy pub near Piccadilly Circus with friendly staff and great food. I had chicken skewers, more couscous, and some bruschetta.
//The Draft House: a pub near Tower Bridge. We found a recommendation for this place on Apple Maps from Trip Advisor. Someone said the nachos were the best they’ve ever had. You may not know this about me, but I try nachos almost anywhere I can. I should really blog about it someday. Anyway, we went and ordered the nachos and beer-battered pickles for appetizers. Chris ordered a burger and I ordered chili-chicken tacos. The nachos were decent but didn’t live up to the review we read. The tacos, however, were one of the best things I’ve ever had. I highly recommend them! For a place called The Draft House, the food was far superior than the beer.
//Q: a grill in Camden Town that served us food later than they should have. We walked in and asked if the kitchen was still open, the server said yes but was then informed she had made a mistake. Lucky for us, they let us stay. We order a macaroni and cheese pie with smoked broccoli. Let me tell you, that broccoli made the dish. Loved it!

//Use a map to plan out your days. You can get so much done when you don’t have to travel back and forth. 
//Get up early, of course. Beat the lines.
//Take the Tube. For the most part, it’s really easy to navigate and if you buy a day pas for 13 pounds, you can save yourself a lot of money. Plus the stops are in very convenient locations!
//Bring an extra charging pack for your phone or camera. My phone died both days because I couldn’t charge it at the hostel at night.
//Carry change on you. Public bathrooms sometimes cost money!
//Be patient because, like any touristy place, there will be lines.
//Enjoy the journey! A short trip can be busy, but it doesn’t have to be stressful.
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