Shanghai Museum - Shanghai, China

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“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.” - Chinese Proverb

When I stood outside the Shanghai Museum I couldn’t help but thinking the building looked like a flawless seashell hiding a beautiful pearl inside. I have always been fascinated by unconventional architecture and while my visit to Shanghai was packed with exciting sights, this was my favorite. 

But it’s not just the facade that makes it interesting. The inner lobby leads to an hypnotizing atrium. The stairs weave through three floors, taking the shape of a concrete braid rich in culture and art. They also provide the perfect spot to people watch. Locals and tourists continuously pouring through the front entrance and dispersing inside.

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The modern building opened to the public in 1996 when the museum relocated to the Huangpu District. It holds a collection of over 120,000 pieces, including ancient coins, writings, ceramics, furniture, gemstones and sculptures. Some of which are as old as 5,000 years!

While the architect, Xing Tonghe, was inspired by an ancient cooking vessel called a Ding to design the unique shape of the building, the structure (like a seashell) holds an incredible treasures inside.

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Hours:
9am - 5pm Daily

Address:
201 Renmin Avenue, Shanghai, China 200003

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Cenote Ik Kil - Yucatán, Mexico

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I jumped. I really did. I still can’t believe I did. But I did. I climbed the limestone steps and hopped into the 40 meter deep sinkhole called Ik Kil. And while Ik could’ve Killed me (had to do it), it didn’t.

Instead I swam with the sunlight peeking through the top of the cave. The rich turquoise waters hiding schools of fish freely going about their day. Vines reaching in from the top of the cave almost like curtains playing with the light.

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Ik Kil is one of Mexico’s best known cenotes. These incredible structures happen when the limestone gives in and collapses to reveal a deep pool of water within the cave. There are around 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula alone.

These underground pools were used by the Mayans as a source of water, but they also considered them sacred. They often performed rituals in which they threw valuable items into the water and some tribes also practiced human sacrifices. Jewelry and human bones have been found by archeologists within Ik Kil. It is also believed that Ik Kil was the personal bath of Mayan Kings and their families.

Today this cenote is one of the most visited ones due to its proximity to Chichen Itza. So it gets pretty crowded. The trick is to arrive before the lunch-hour tour-bus rush. Early morning dips with the cenote practically to yourself will have you feeling like a Mayan king.

And when you climb those limestone steps and look into the deep, dark water below you remember…

“Those who don’t jump will never fly.”

 

Entry fees:
Adult: MXN $70
Children: MXN $35

Address:
Carretera Costera del Golfo
3 KM away from the archeological zone of Chichen Itza, Chichen Itza 97757, Mexico

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Bondi Icebergs Club - Sydney, Australia

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"Happiness comes in waves." - unknown

I was running, as usual. But this time it wasn’t the “I like to torture myself with exercise” kind of running, this was the “I only have 10 minutes to get this photo right” kind. It was my second day in Sydney and I was meant to be on a boat to Manly (a suburb just across the harbor) in less than an hour. Time was of the essence.

I ran the full kilometer from one end of Bondi Beach to the other. Sweaty and short of breath I made it to my destination with only 4  minutes to spare. 

The Bondi Icebergs Club opened its doors in 1929 as the top spot for winter swimming. Today, its famous pool still attracts visitors from all across the world. Probably more photographers and onlookers than swimmers, and with good reason. The stunning pool nested within the Tasmanian Sea commands your attention.

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As I stood just across the entrance, I understood what the big fuss was about. The waves jumped over the rocks with full strength and came crashing into the pool. One after another, after another. I felt hypnotized by the continuity. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

There was an unspoken agreement in that moment. An agreement between mother nature and I. An agreement to always remember that no matter what happens, there is nothing bigger, nothing stronger and nothing that can’t be overcome by nature. An agreement to let things flow.

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Useful Info:
The two saltwater pools remain open year round to members and visitors alike. The main lap pool and a smaller kid’s pool have lifeguards on patrol around the clock.

Entry fees:
Adult: AUS $6.50
Children: AUS $4.50
Spectator: AUS $4.50
Towels: AUS $3.450

Address:
1 Notts Ave
Bondi Beach NSW 2026

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How-to: Afford Travel

 Vasastan, Stockholm

Vasastan, Stockholm

Many people ask me, “How can you afford to travel?” The truth is I barely can. It involves a ton of planning, and usually months of savings. Every January I choose my destinations and travel dates for the rest of the year. Then I make a plan: tracking airfare prices, hotel deals, researching the exchange rate and how to make the most of my hard-earned dollars once I land there. I also start cutting back on eating-out and random purchases. The usual ways of saving. I’m not great at it, but I keep at it. Because regardless of the cost, I believe there’s a lot more we earn from travel than what we spend.

 Swedish Institute, Stockholm

Swedish Institute, Stockholm

But I recently discovered a way to travel that allows you to learn more about your chosen destination in an affordable way, and grow your career along the way. I’m talking about grants and scholarships. Many governmental and nonprofit organizations around the world offer travel grants to foreign students and influencers to encourage international relations between nations and as a way of sharing their culture abroad. I used to think these grants were only available to students, but there are a few that are actually targeted to working adults, in order to help them develop their careers. One of the organizations offering these types of grants and scholarships is Svenska Institutet (SI).

“We have governmental grants that we provide to the countries of interest to Sweden, and that’s basically the whole world,” said Johanna Jeppsson, Deputy Head of Unit of Talent Mobility at SI.

The Swedish Institute, as it’s called in English, is an organization under Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that provides aid in two ways. One branch focuses on poverty reduction, providing scholarships to students in need who live in developing nations. The other branch focuses on promoting Sweden around the world, mostly concentrating on the U.S. and other western countries.

As an American citizen, I applied for a professional growth scholarship called the Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund. The goal of this particular fund is to give American citizens and permanent residents a chance to grow in their respective fields and contribute to the development of their societies with those learnings.  

“We are looking for what we call change makers,” said Jeppsson. “People that have an idea of how they would like to use the amount of money they receive from us, in order to change something or to create opinion.”

 Johanna Jeppsson

Johanna Jeppsson

Each person selected for this scholarship is awarded up to SEK $30,000 to pay for a study visit to Sweden ranging between two- and four-weeks. At the end of the trip, scholarship holders are requested to submit a report to SI explaining what they learned and how they accomplished the goal originally stated in their proposal.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a social media influencer to get awarded. There are many ways in which your field can influence change in society. Those involved within public administration, the environment, politics, education and business can also benefit greatly from this type of study visit. Bringing back their knowledge and influencing their community.

“We had a person from the U.S. who came here to study our transportation system,” said Jeppsson as an example. “We also had a social worker from the U.S., who came here to study how we work with the refugees, in order for her to use these methods.”

The Bicentennial Fund is only one of the scholarships offered. In 2016, the Swedish Institute sponsored 1,707 people from all different walks of life.

 Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

For me, the visit to Sweden helped me define a more focused vision for my career, this website and my social media presence. It also allowed me to experience an incredible society and a culture that, while being very different from my own, it’s incredibly easy to fall in love with. Most importantly, it allowed me to share that beautiful culture with the world.

To learn more about the Swedish Institute, visit: https://eng.si.se/

The Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund will be managed by the Sweden-American Foundation as of this year, for more information visit: http://sweamfo.se/in-english/

 

 

Extraordinary Libraries: Stockholm Stadsbibliotek

View of the Rotunda.

The Stockholm Public Library makes a big impression from the moment you set your eyes on it. The massive square building, painted orange, is topped by a rotunda in the same deep tone. From the outside, it looks as if the building was wearing a top hat.

Once inside, things only get better.

I followed the signs to the Rotunda on the top floor of the library. Walking up the steps, I gasped for air. Not because I’m totally out of shape, but because I could see the endless rows of books above me. I reached the atrium and noticed the three levels of bookshelves that surrounded me. Telling you that my jaw dropped would be an understatement.

This incredible building was designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund in the 1920s (and it’s sometimes called the Asplund Library). Today, the collection includes about 410,000 books, in addition to a wide range of audio books and other literary items.

This off-the-beaten path location is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in Stockholm. Entrance is free and the library has a small coffee shop where you can read while eating a traditional cinnamon bun.

Stockholm Stadsbibliotek
Address: Sveavägen 73, 112 80 Stockholm

Website: biblioteket.stockholm.se

Santa Lucia, A Swedish Tradition of Lights

 Lucia concert at Storkyrkan. Photo: Julie Cid

Lucia concert at Storkyrkan. Photo: Julie Cid

I sat inside a beautiful church -- Storkyrkan, a cathedral in the heart of Stockholm. The lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet. Everyone knew what was about to take place. And while I didn’t understand a word of Swedish, I, too, knew I was in the middle of something special.

Suddenly the choir director gave a swift signal and a fleet of young women and men dressed in white started singing in unison. Their melody resonated through every corner of the church and vibrated against my skin. For the next 50 minutes I was enchanted.

On December 13th swedes young and old come together to celebrate Lucia’s Day. The charming celebration involves processions of lights all across the country. They happen at schools, churches, hospitals and offices. These processions feature a young woman or a girl dressed in a white gown with a red sash tied around her waist. She also wears a unique wreath crown with lit candles on her hair.

She’s the chosen one to represent Lucia and is accompanied by a group of maidens and star boys. The maidens also wear white gowns with a red sash, but instead of a crown with candles, they wear wreaths with berries and hold a single candle in their hands. The star boys wear the same white gown and red sash, as well as a large, pointy hat decorated with stars.

They sing carols together, bringing a warm and cozy feel to an otherwise cold and dark winter day.

The festival originated in Italy hundreds of years ago. Santa Lucia represented light in what was thought to be the darkest night of the year. In fact, the first Lucia celebration recorded in Sweden dates back to the 1700s, but became popular nationwide in the 1900s. Today it is one of the most celebrated traditions.

Saffron bun. Photo: Julie Cid.

Additional to the procession and singing, there’s also one particular sweet bread bun that accompanies the celebration. The Lussekatt, or saffron bun. This bun can be bought at coffee shops, outdoor markets and bakeries everywhere during the holiday season.

Storkyrkan
Address: 1 Storkyrkobrinken, 111 28 Stockholm
Website: www.svenskakyrkan.se

Vasamuseet - The Most Visited Museum in Scandinavia

Vasamuseet, or Vasa Museum, is the most visited museum in Scandinavia according to its website. The museum is unique in that it only holds one centric piece in exhibition: The Vasa.

This majestic ship was commissioned by King Gustav II in the early 1600s. It was a warship, build to fire over 500 lbs of ammunition from each side. It carried 64 cannons, 300 soldiers and 145 sailors. However, just as strong and powerful its rise, so was its demise.

As crowds gathered to watch the ship leave the harbor, they witnessed the unthinkable. The ship sank in its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628, just 20 minutes after sailing. All but 30 of its passengers survived.

The day after the accident the Council of State and the King started looking for the responsible parties and started an Inquest. However, no one was ever punished or held responsible for what happened. Today, it’s believed that faulty design was to blame in the tragedy. After all, ships of that size and capabilities were unstable and susceptible to the technology of the times.

The vessel remained lost in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea for hundreds of years. It was 333 years later that a team of expert divers were able to raise and restore the ship.

Today the wooden ship is well above water and protected by a massive concrete building tailored to keep it safe.

Vasamuseet
Address: Galärvarvsvägen 14, 115 21 Stockholm

Website: www.vasamuseet.se

A Travel Sweater That Fits Right In

Every time I hop on a plane I get cold. I’m usually the person asking for extra blankets, then building a little cocoon with them to stay warm for the duration of the flight. So I’m always on the lookout for anything to make my travels a bit cozier.

About a month ago I received a Travel Wrap from Secret Sweater to test out. When I opened the package I saw the sweater folded within itself. I discovered it has a built-in sleeve “pocket” that makes it easy to fold the wrap into a compact square shape so you can fit into your carry-on.

Then I took it out on the road. I carried the Travel Wrap in my latest trips. It came in pretty handy during my visit to Washington, DC. Even though it was the middle of July, I ended up using it at night when the temperatures dropped and I was still outside wearing summery dresses. The fabric is super soft and warm. (But not too warm!)

I also really liked the fit. It’s loose fitting, but flattering. And more importantly it goes well with pretty much anything.

Secret Sweater manufactures its designs in California. The Travel Wrap goes for $69.95 on their website.

Los Angeles: A visit to the Getty Villa

While many people have heard of Getty Images, the unrelated Getty Villa located in Los Angeles holds just as impressive a collection. This breathtaking mansion has 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan pieces dating back to 6,500 BC. But if art history isn’t your thing, the architecture of the villa itself is sure to make you want to stay a while. With fountains hidden in various corners of the grounds and a majestic garden, it’s easy to feel like you’re walking among the Gods in Mount Olympus.

This amazing gallery was built as part of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s philanthropic projects, which also include the Getty Museum, the Getty Foundation and the Getty Trust.

The villa is located on the Pacific Coastal Highway and it’s a great place to stop while on your way to Malibu. Admission is free and parking is available at $15 per vehicle.

A ride along the West Lake - Hangzhou, China

The sky is gray and a thick fog hangs well below the clouds, yet somehow this adds a touch of vibrancy to the place. This is Hangzhou, China. A city of over 9 million people. A small city by Chinese standards, but one with big traditions and rich with folklore.

I hopped on a traditional river boat and cruised the West Lake to hear the legend of the Leifeng Pagoda. The pagoda has become a tourist destination since it was rebuilt 4 years ago. But it’s tale dates back to 925 AD, when it was originally built.

Hangzhou, China

As the story goes, a white snake disguised herself as a beautiful woman and fell in love with a young man. They fell hard for each other and finally got married. However, because she wasn’t really human, their love was forbidden. So the gods trapped her under the Leifeng Pagoda for eternity, or until the pagoda crumbled to the ground. In 1924, that’s exactly what happened. The Pagoda collapsed and the old tale regained its fire.

Today thousands of people visit the new pagoda and take river cruises around it to admire its history.