Yes, it’s just me.

Growing up as an identical twin, I’ve always had someone to lean on/depend on. It has always been a struggle for me to try new things on my own. Solo-ing was a nightmare to me. Eating out alone? Never. Taking a class alone? Never. Taking a trip alone? Heeellllll no. However, living in NYC has slowly changed my heart. In this city, you can do whatever you want and be whoever you want. How can anyone judge when NYC comprises of such an eclectic group of people?

I’ve recently read a few blogs that encourage women to embark on a solo trip because it was a great way to discover things about yourself  and for you to be courageously independent. After thinking more about this, I decided I had to make a solo trip of my own.

I found an ideal mini hiking trip to Bear Mountain State Park in upper NY on the Short Line bus site. It was a late Friday night and I had been staring at the ticket site for over an hour. My audacious side won the mental battle and I finally clicked the Submit button.

I woke up the next morning at 6:30 AM to catch the bus. To be honest, waking up that early was probably the hardest part of the trip. Ha.

Once the bus arrived at Bear Mountain Inn, I grabbed my map and was ready to go. I stopped by the bathroom and bumped into a girl who looked at my strangely and asked “Are you hiking by yourself?”. This question triggered my self doubt, but I plainly stated “Yes, it’s just me”. I left the bathroom in a hurry. Uncertainty about my solo trip consumed me.

Once I started on the trail and took a deep breath of the fresh air, I was feeling ok again. A group was ahead of me and one of the members looked at me and asked (once again), “Are you hiking by yourself?”. I stated, with more confidence this time, “Yes. It’s just me.” They offered me to join their group- which I kindly declined. I was on a mission. A solo mission.  justme

I was lost for an hour. The trail markers were unclear and I started jogging to find the right path to take. I originally wanted to hike the Appalachian trail (~6miles), but ended up going on a completely different path. This path consisted of a “Timber Rattlesnake Habitat Ahead” sign; mini waterfall where I could see large fish swimming around; and challenging climbs.Dangerous and adventurous. It was awesome.

justme1

I loved it. Loved it all! Maybe it was my enthusiasm for hiking or the beautiful weather. All I know is that I’m definitely doing more solo trips. Below are some selfies (which were laborious to take, ha).

justme2

My favorite part was sitting over the water. I passed a river that had a thick log in the middle (top left corner of picture below) and climbed to the middle of it. I sat on the log with my feet dangling over the clear water flowing beneath me. The sound of rushing water accompanied with birds chirping abolished all my fears and worries. It was perfect.

I was on my way back and encountered another waterfall with a long narrow concrete path above it. I crawled over to the concrete and sat on it. The powerful waterfall splashed beneath me. I wanted to jump in for a swim, but saw a huge NO SWIMMING sign. I guess my hand in the cool water would suffice for now.

justme3

I finished my hike earlier than expected and had an hour to spare before the bus came back. So I wandered around the park and sat on the benches (pictured below). Bear Mountain Inn was a beautiful place. I can see why so many families come here on the weekend for a getaway. The view was stunningly peaceful.

justme4

My first solo trip was an overall success. There were a few troubles along the way, but I am certain there will be more solo trips (or classes or meals or anything!) in my future. This solo trip not only help me gain confidence in doing things on my own, but also to take charge of what I truly want to accomplish:  courageous independence.

Beautifully Wrecked Destinations

It’s finally spring in NYC! Sun! Flowers! Grass! Concrete….and more concrete….and buildings….

I had been in the city for 2.5 months and the outdoorsy-side of me began to yelp for attention. Thus, the SO and I planned a trip to Catskills for a weekend getaway (or more like he planned it due to my persistent complaining…).

Since most of the hotels near Catskills were overpriced, we decided to live at an Airbnb place that was near a small city called Beacon, NY. With our rental car ready to go, we were off to the land of tall trees and fresh air!

During this trip, we went on two hikes: one in Beacon, NY and second in Catskills. Both of the final hiking destinations not only had breathtaking views (as expected), but also had beautifully wrecked machinery from the 1900s.

Beacon, NY is a mere 1.5 hour scenic drive away from Manhattan. Our check in wasn’t until the afternoon so we decided to be aggressive and started our trip with a ~1mile hike up Mount Beacon. The trail had an old incline railway that was built for a hotel on the summit (top right). It was supposedly a popular tourist attraction in the early 1900s, but the hotel burned down in the 1920s.

The trail was easy to find and a overall rated Medium-level hike. It had  steep uphills and a few rocky areas that required more balance.

beacon1

Since it was only about a 1 mile hike, we quickly reached the top and saw a wrecked building on top. Curiosity got the best of us so we climbed up and saw that it was the old engine for the railway. Cool beans!

beacon2

The view was spectacular! A beautifully wrecked destination. Just as I was taking it all in, I realized there was a path behind the building. The adventure continues!

beacon7

The path led to a cliff that overlooked the entire city and Hudson river. Being able to go from a city where you feel so small to a place where you feel like a giant portrays the true meaning of relativity. In NYC, I’m just one out of millions. On top of Mount Beacon, it was just me and R****, overlooking the city and pretending we run this town.

beacon3

After our hike, we stopped by the small town to grab a bite to eat. There were only a few options, but the place we went to (called The Hop) was delicious! Who says small towns don’t have good food?! Trarafo ftw!

beacon4

After lunch, we finally got to check in to our Airbnb place- which turned out to be awesome! They had a basketball court, lake for kayaking, peaceful view from our room. It was perfect. We took a power nap and continued our active yet relaxing adventure. We played Horse and kayaked. As the boat gently rocked side to side with the sun setting in the background and no one in sight, my heart was calm and I couldn’t have been happier.

beacon5 beaconbeacon6

The next day, we woke up around 8AM to get an early start on our 9 mile hike. We went on the Stoppel Point path that was a bit difficult to find because the start was randomly in the middle of the road (about a 5min walk from the parking lot)- pictured below.

catskills4

Unfortunately, it rained the night before so everything was muddy and slippery. I would rate this trail a High-Medium because there wasn’t really a pathway to walk. Every step required stepping on stones (or mud) and a good bit of climbing. Thankfully, there were trail markers that led the way so there was no way of getting lost.

catskills1

2 hours into the hike, we hadn’t seen a single person on the trail. What seemed spooky at first turned out to be a delightful. For our entire 9 mile route, we didn’t see a single fellow hiker. Our heavy breathing, birds chirping, chipmunks scurrying, natural water running- this, ladies and gentlemen, is tranquility at its best.

catskills2

We finally reached a flat cliff that provided an astounding view of the Catskills area. Most hikers would’ve thought this was the end, but R****’s research showed that if we continued, we would see an old jet plane that crashed in the 1980s. About 1.5-2miles and three false alarms later (some of the rocks looked like a plane from afar…), we found it! Another beautifully wrecked destination. The story behind the plane can be read here.

catskills3

catskillscatskills5

Another successful trip! After replenishing myself with a few rigorous hikes + quality time with the SO, I was ready to return to the concrete jungle.

Failure and Success

During a lazy afternoon, I was browsing through various articles and stumbled upon a New York Times article about Graffiti Art in the City. You can see it here. And then…..I suddenly came up with the brilliant idea of using this article to create my personal graffiti tour.

Fortunately, I had a friend who was daring enough to join my adventure of wandering through the streets of NYC. To contribute, she added the idea of tracking down Banksy’s work. (FYI: Banksy is a pseudonymous UK-based graffiti artist) What seemed to be an awesome idea at first, turned out to be….scary.

Let me explain.

We decided to have our tour in Brooklyn. Home of the hipsters and artists. We went to the first spot where Banksy’s work was suppose to be, but it was erased. Fail. Then we wandered deeper into Brooklyn. Maybe a little too far.

Before we knew it, we ended up in a super ghetto part of Brooklyn where we were probably the only Caucasian and Asian people for miles. It was a scary interesting experience. Pro is that there were food trucks that had cheap delicious empanadas! Con is we missed Banksy again. The top picture shows Banksy’s original work (credits to Pinterest) and lower picture shows us pointing to the original spot. His work was erased again…

banksy

At this point, our personal tour was a miserable failure. We had been walking for 2.5 hours and had seen nothing but empty walls. But no worries, we continued to our next stop: The Bushwick Collective!

(Note: we ended up taking a 5 min cab ride to our destination because things started to look really shady…)

When we arrived, we were handsomely rewarded with multiple walls of beautiful graffiti. Each with its own style and message. Success! My favorite ones are pictured below.

bushwick1 bushwick2 bushwick3

I was surprised that the entire area was dead empty. It made it seem like we were truly in our own personal graffiti tour that had been sectioned off specially for us. It was peaceful and riveting at the same time. The pictures below portray the empty streets.

photo (2) photo 2 (2)

This mini field trip started as  failure and ended up being a great success. Not only did we walk for four solid hours (burning those calories), but also got to appreciate all the different graffiti work in a rarely-silent NYC.

You Butter Try This

Butterlane cupcake class. $30 Groupon. I’m in.

This is my third cooking class in NYC and it has been by far my favorite. I may be biased because I’m a cupcake fanatic (well….pretty much an all-desserts fanatic), but my other two friends agreed it was an amazeballs class.

The venue is much smaller than expected, but I mean, it’s New York. Mneh. There were three tables with various ingredients set for us. Each table was in charge of baking one type of cupcake. We chose the banana cream cheese table. Yumssss. There were about 3-5 people per table so even if you came alone, you’re bound to meet a new friend. Most people want to work together to make that perfect cupcake!

The class was taught by a Butterlane employee who definitely knew what she was talking about. Not only did she talk about the basics of baking (what ingredients to use/what to mix first), she also provided helpful tips for using vanilla beans, decorating properly, holding a spreading knife, using regular flour vs bread flour, etc.

One of best parts is that each table has a whole jar of tasting sticks to use throughout the class. I’ll take some of that cake batter any day. That sweet buttery batter…

The class taught me how to bake three cupcakes: vanilla, chocolate, banana and create six icing flavors: choco, choco raspberry, cream cheese, cinnamon cream cheese (my favorite), regular vanilla, and vanilla bean. All the cupcakes were joyrides for my taste buds.

Below are pictures from the class. The pictures don’t properly portray the class’s sweet appeal. Just imagine making scrumptious cupcakes, meeting new people, learning about baking– all with a buttery candy aroma hugging you. Heaven.

butterlane2

The Groupon originally stated 4 cupcakes so when we were told we could take home 10 cupcakes, my inner fat girl squealed so hard. Oh yesssss. Trarafo-ing.

Loved this class. Butterlane also offers a $50 decorating class that I may sign up for in the very near future….

butterlane

Concrete Jungle to Snowy Wonderland

Living in NYC can be overwhelming at times, especially for a semi-introvert like me. Thus, I started searching for day trip ideas and voila, Tuxedo Ridge.

I’ve never been skiing/snowboarding so when I saw an awesome deal by Coach USA/Short Line, I had to go. It was $52.50 for lift tickets and round trip bus service! Within an hour bus ride, I escaped the concrete jungle and arrived at a snowy wonderland:

tuxedo 3.1

Tuxedo Ridge is perfect for beginners and families. It has one bunny hill,  three blue squares and three black diamonds. The bunny hill even has a lift so you can practice getting off without having to go to a blue square (Top left). I wanted to be adventurous and decided to start with snowboarding! Many people would say this was a huge mistake, but I had a blast (although my knees and butt probably didn’t).

FYI, I met a guy who took the snowboarding lesson and he stated that it was useless/waste of money. Fortunately, my friend was kind enough to patiently teach me!

tuxedo1

For lunch, we ate at the Ridge Pub. I ordered three sliders and fries (right)- which were sub par. Mneh….I was here for the snowboarding anyway. It was nice to eat next to the window and watch all the other skiers/snowboarders race down the slopes (left).

tuxedo2

After going on the bunny slope a few more times, my friend encouraged me to move onto a blue square route (Tiger West). For the first try, I pretty much tumbled down. There was a point where I  laid face down in the snow because my body was exhausted from falling and getting up numerous times. I went on the Tiger West route two more times before my body begged me to stop.

The overall trip was not only an ideal escape from the city, but also a great workout. My entire body was sore for the next two days!

tuxedo3

After taking the bus back to the city, we ate at BCD Tofu House in Koreatown. After devouring all the small plates (top picture) and my kimchi beef soondubu (bottom right), I couldn’t have had a more satisfying ending to my snowy wonderland day trip.

tuxedo4

The Brooklyn Marathon AKA The Broken Marathon

I wish my first race post was a positive one…BUT, this marathon was one of the most disappointing races I’ve done! On Nov 17 2013, I ran the Brooklyn Full Marathon in Prospect Park hosted by NYCRUNS. 

Lesson learned: Always pay the extra cash for a race hosted by a well-established running company (ex: NYRR)

I originally signed up for this race because I wanted to try something different and knew this was going to be a small race. After all, I planned on training for only one month so this race was just a fun distraction from work. It was probably a good thing I didn’t take it too seriously or else this review would be much more….unpleasant.

The package pickup was at a JackRabbit Sports store in Brooklyn. Rather than being greeted with the usual “Good luck tomorrow!”, the person gave me my bib and asked if I wanted to buy their hoodie. When I said no and tried to ask for clearer directions about the start line, the volunteers just told me to just refer to their website.

Side note: I think it’s important to mention that their website has the vaguest details about “The Course”. (http://www.thebrooklynmarathon.com/)

SMH.

The race consisted of six large loops and three small loops around the park. By mile 15, I wanted to quit and wobble right out of that park. Trees, concrete, grass..(2 hours later)…same trees, same concrete, same grass…*rips hair out*. Not only was it annoying to keep track of how many loops you’ve done, but also the mile markers were very confusing. I had no idea how many miles I had left- which threw off my pace for the majority of the run. I started to pace myself based on the number of loops I had left. Here’s what happened:

Pre-marathon directions: 2 small loops –> 6 large loops –> 1 small loop –> FINISH
Being the meticulous person that I am, I printed two maps out/marked the loops and did a practice large loop run in Prospect Park.

During the marathon: 2.5 small loops (“Hmm, that seemed a little longer than 2 loops”) –> 5 large loops (@_@) –> last large loop (“OMG, I still have one more small loop left. I better slow down.”) –> 0.5 small loop –> FINISH (“WHAT. THAT WAS NOT ONE FULL LOOP. GAHHHH DSAJDKLA”)

Finish time was 4:32. Damn it.

Yes, I was frustrated. But no worries, there was always the post race snacks to look forward to. I was underwhelmed with the post-race “celebration”. It was really just five tables stacked with food, heavily guarded by volunteers. The entire setting made me feel guilty for grabbing a second bagel. Sorry that I’m starving after running a marathon? Food included bagels, strawberries/blueberries, hot chocolate, and donuts. Trarafo without a decent rafo is just TRAgic. Zing!

Online reviews raved about how unique and special the Brooklyn Marathon medals were. I don’t know if this year was a bad year, but the medal was pretty much a flat over-sized piece of metal. Oh hey, congrats! Here’s your metal! *Ha.ha…ha* (picture below)

Other goodies included a long sleeve dri-fit shirt (probably the best thing from the race) and beanie.

Overall, I would not recommend doing a full marathon with NYCRUNS.  If you’re someone who enjoys an enthusiastic crowd, a scenic route and festive post-race celebration, my suggestion is to look for NYRR races.

Additional note: My colleague also participated in NYCRUNS hot chocolate 10M run in Jan 2014. It sucked balls. Like no-free-t-shirt-but-here’s-a-free-mug SUCKED.

brooklynmarathon

Crepes and Brunch in Houston, TX

Surprisingly, my first food post will be about restaurants in Houston, TX. Despite my residency in NYC, I occasionally visit Houston as a result of a heavily invested LDR.

I LOVE crepes. During my brief trip, I tried two places: Melange Creperie and Sweet Paris.

The first picture is from Melange Creperie. Yes, Houston has food carts! I have this preconceived notion that savory crepes are more filling and since I eat like an obese man, I ordered their Havij Polo. It turned out to be vegetarian and DELICIOUS.  If you’re a meat lover, you can always add ham to your order. My SO and I finished ours in five minutes. The crepe was filled with saffron rice and sauteed carrots. We added an egg for an extra buck (highly recommended). Rather than dumping an egg or placing scrambled eggs inside, the cart chef broke the egg onto the crepe skin, chopped it and spread it over the entire area of the crepe. Ending result? Every bite is complimented with a thin layer of moist egg on a crispy crepe shell. *drools*

Note: We went around 10am on a Saturday morning and there was a 20 minute wait. Also, I got hungry again after two hours, but that could just be me. Ha

melange creperie

The second picture is from Sweet Paris. When the crepes came out, my first thought was that the portions are HUGE. I give extra stars for large portions ;) The two pictures on the right is the Le Mexicain and the bottom left corner is the La Canadienne. Both crepes are from their breakfast menu (served until 3pm).

Le Mexicain had scrambled eggs, queso fresco, refried beans, cumin and cinnamon spiced carnitas, avocado and cilantro. This was scrumptious; however, there was too much refried beans and too little avocado. I prefer my crepes on the crispier side so this one was a little too soft for my liking. I would compare the overall taste to a regular burrito.

La Canadienne had cheese, scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon and maple syrup. The description makes it sound like a boring breakfast taco BUT the maple syrup created a unique taste. A bite of moist potatoes/eggs and crispy bacon and a splash of maple syrup convinced me to come back again.

Sweet Paris has an adorable setting (both indoors and outdoors). It’s perfect for a date with your girlfriends.

sweet paris

The third picture is from Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine. We’ve heard a lot of buzz about brunch so decided to give it a shot. Items pictured:

-  Upper left: Appetizer, Taquitos de Pollo  (stuffed with chicken and guacamole/black bean paste sides). This was good, but not worth $8.50.
- Upper right: Side, Tamales (stuffed with a thick cheese and green/red peppers). Comes with four for $7. The outer layer melts in your mouth and you’re left with a nice chunk of cheesy peppers.
- Lower right: Entree, Enchiladas de Pollo (usual chicken enchiladas). Nothing special and the chicken was dry. $17 could be better spent elsewhere.
-Lower left: Entree, Chile Relleno de Almuerzo (poblano with egg, chorizo and potatoes). So good and filling. There was a good ratio of egg/chorizo/potatoes. Good knowing that I didn’t just get full off of potatoes. $13 for this? Hell yes.

Hugos brunch

I’ve had pretty good luck with restaurants during my visit! Houston, I will be back. :)

Define: TraRaFo

Trarafo

[truh-rey-foh]

noun
1.When life is defined by three things: TRAveling, RAces, FOod.
Sally’s Instagram pictures epitomized trarafo.

After living in 11 cities in four countries on two continents, I figured it was time to start blogging. In fact, it was time to come up with a word to define my eccentric life: Trarafo. Yeah, that sounds cool.

After 24 years, I have reached a state of trarafo. Other than being the typical analyst at a big bank, I’m an avid traveler, racer and eater. This blog documents my trarafoic experiences.

*Deep breath* Here it goes.

Brief Summary:

Places I’ve lived:
Charleston, SC
Arlington, TX
Houston, TX
Beijing, China
Xiamen, Fujian, China
Singapore, Singapore
Austin, TX
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Dallas, TX
Columbus, OH
New York, NY

Places I’ve traveled:
San Francisco, CA
New Orleans, LA
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Chicago, IL
Roanoke, VA
San Antonio, TX
Washington, D.C.
Kauai, HI
Denver, CO
Louisville, KY
Atlanta, GA
Somewhere in NJ
Los Angeles, CA
London, UK
Paris, France
Brussels, Belgium*
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg*
Taipei, Taiwan*
Taichung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Kenting, Taiwan
Shanghai, China*
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China*
Lijiang, Yunnan, China*
Xi’an, Shaanxi, China*
Pingyao, Shanxi, China
Qingdao, Shandong, China*
Changsha, Hunan, China
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
Macao, China
Sapporo, Japan
Bangkok, Thailand*
Krabi, Thailand*
Phuket, Thailand*
Boracay, Philippines*
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia*
Bali, Indonesia*
Jakarta, Indonesia
Copenhagen, Denmark*
Berlin, Germany*
Vienna, Austria*
Prague, Czech Republic*
Johannesburg, South Africa (Incl Soweto)*
Gaborone, Botswana
Kathmandu, Nepal*
Sydney, Australia
San Salvador, El Salvador
Nassau, Bahamas
Cancun, Mexico

*Must go.

Races/Marathons:
ZOOMA 5K in Austin
Susan G. Komen race for the cure in Austin and NYC
Warrior Dash
Austin Marathon 2010
Brooklyn Marathon 2013
Other random races that I forgot about.

Food:
Too many to list…