Monday, November 27, 2006

For the LOVE of Scandinavia!
(November 22-26, 2006)

Joy and me in Lilla Essington

The second I stepped off the plane, my Scandinavian love was back. Everything was so nice, so pleasant, so wonderful. I hopped on the Arlanda Express train, a beacon of efficiency and comfort, which zoomed through the beautiful countryside landscape and into the center of Stockholm in 20 minutes. After a little searching, I saw Joy approaching me in front of the coffeehouse at George - our renedevouz point. It was soooo wonderful to see her ... and in Stockholm! It was almost surreal. I do like meeting friends in different places.
Day 1: Catching up, exploration and the start of fikas
After Joy and I enjoyed our first tea time together and a little rest at her place (a standard student housing room), we headed out to town at around noon to make sure we caught at least a few hours of sunlight. Since it was my second time in Stockholm, we could bypass the tourist-y things and get into the real lifestyle. As always, our destinations are planned around meals, so of course our first item of business - lunch at Joy's favorite cafe by the water, Copacabana, where I had a yummy crayfish sandwich.

Overlooking the many canals in Stockholm, which consist of 14 separate islands connected by 57 bridges

an outdoor bar that is desolate during the winter, but still offers great views

shopping the streets of stockholm

Joy admiring some of the old architecture in the center of town

Overlooking the canals at sunset. It's not even 3pm yet.... the kid's book tells us to look to the left if you like boats and to the right if you like cars. This is to the left.

There's one of the many statues of the king who is always pointing towards the water. The sky at sunset is really beautiful.

Gamla Sans - old town. This is a very tourist populated street, but luckily there are few tourist in town in Nov. I found the same cute cafe with brick walls and the best sandwiches that I remembered from 6 years ago! Stockholm gets very festive for Christmas. This tree is one of several that went up for the holidays.

The Tunnelbana (aka subway)

The subways in Stockholm are wonderful! So quiet, clean and efficient. They are deep underground and accessed by escalators. The time the next train is coming is posted, both at the platform and at the top of the esacalator so you know if you need to haul. A coffee ad that exclaimes "Press and enjoy!" The swedes are a lot more open about their sexuality.

And now more seriously, the numerous stations serve as platforms for art.

Day 2: Walking around, cooking all day and the feast On the second day, after a little snafu on a meeting point (I attempted to use the pay phones), Joy and I walked around a little island called lilla essington where we had lovely buns. Then we had persian food for lunch (there is a lot of middle eastern cuisine due to the immigrants) and then the remainder of the day was devoted to the turkey feast!

New condos on lilla essington. Balconies are the in thing now. And all buildings have to follow a color code (and you thought they all just naturally looked color-coordinated and wonderful together). These all look appropriately colored.

ah - scoop up your potatoes at the supermarket! 9.90 crowns for a kilo (translation - $1.40/2.2 lbs = $0.64/lb)

Joy and I prepared our first turkey ever! He was 6.4 kilos = 14 lbs. We brined him the night before at Joy's boyfriend's parents graciously appointed flat. We had him packaged up in two garbage bags with salted, herb water.
Joy with the turkey in her rollie. Yes, we are rolling a 14 lb turkey in a shimmering gold suitcase thorugh the streets of Stockholm at 4 pm.
After a little stress of trying to find the apparently out of season apple cider, we put the turkey in a roasting bag with apples, onions and more herbs at an unknown temperature. 3.5 hours later .. voila!
We also made all the normal fixings from scratch - mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, mashed sweet potatoes, green sting beans, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin bread pudding (with canned pumpkin carried over from the states. No canned pumpkin in Scandinavia)
Lingonberries! Instead of cranberries we used the all time favorite Swedish lingonberry, picked fresh from the wilderness. But when we ran out, Henrick went up and down his student corridor for lingonberry jam - there is definitely no shortage! These are each 1.5+ kilos!
Thanksgiving was a success! Of course most people didn't have anything to compare to, since we celebrated with 8 swedes, 1 belgium and 1 aussie. But Joy and I thought it was good :)
Day 3: Shopping and dining with the Swedes.
After morning tea, we realized that the sun would be setting soon so we jetted out at around noon to shop and explore the city. We met up with Joy's friend, Henrick and his friend, Lucy, at a children's bookstore. I got a book to add to my international children's book collection - the famous tale of Pippilongstocking.
Centralen - I remembered this structure from a photo I took 6 years ago. I thought it was just a random snapshot, but it turns out that it is the center of the city! It's a main shopping area with one of the major department stores (Athlens - pronounced ah-leans), where we also took a fika to rest.
Dining in style
Joy's boyfriend, Otto, cooked us and some friends a fancy proper adult dinner. I got a good glimpse into social gatherings in Swedish culture. They don't go out to eat as much, but rather invite people over for dinners and gatherings. So even guys cook a lot. This mirrors their culture of once you are in the circle, you are in. Joy and I were in this night.
First course - traditional herring and the dense bread. And yummy cheese!
Alcohol! The Swedes are serious about their alcohol. Several times Joy and I, who are light drinkers, were told "We don't trust people who aren't drunk." We were also told that we were "low liquid maintenence." Hey, that's a good thing! Here we have red wine, beer and the famous Schnapps. You don't just say cheers and drink. No no. You SING a drinking song and then exclaim "Skal!" (Cheers). Here Otto (aka the flan-monster) and his cousin sing to the 4th drink, the syrupy dessert one, which Joy and I passed on.
It was great night with delicous food and great company. 3 Swedes and 2 Americans made for an interesting conversation about cultures from anything to education to travel to pop-culture to politics. Ie. their education is paid for by the government. Our left wing is their right wing.
Day 4: Final fun - city escape and city adventure.
Drottningholm - the Queen's palace. This is where the royalty lives, which is about a half hour commute outside the city. To beat the sunset, we cabbed out there at around 1 pm. I think this is the only real touristy thing we did during my trip - except there were absolutely no tourist there now.

Me in front of the palace

This is the most well-preserved royal palace in Sweden. Built in the 1600s, this castle represents European architecture for the period, giving it a postion on the UNESCO world heritage list. There is even a little Chinese palace, which Otto pointed out was based on what they thought a Chinese palace would look like - no one had actually ever gone to China. They were a little bit off.

Guard! Most Swedes serve in the military for 1 year. This is one of the post you can get-not bad.

The grounds are really beautiful, though pretty barren in the winter. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was nice to escape from the city and see the suburbs.

We stopped for lunch where Joy and I shared this shrimp smorgasbord, a traditional open-faced sandwich.

After returning to the city, we hit up the julemarket (Christmas market) at Hornstull near the water. It was very festive and I saw a real native Swede in a traditional tent and ate reindeer meat. December brings julemarkets, glogg (spiced warm red wine) and saffron buns.

Princesa torta. A slice of traditional birthday cake. Its green outside is rich, thick marzipan (almond paste). The inside consist of 3 types of cream, including a layer of jam. Yum! This was one of the last fikas that Joy and I shared.

Our last evening was spent celebrating Emily, Joy's aussie friend living in Sweden, birthday. We went to Emily's place, a typical swedish apt - a one bedroom, living room kitchen and yes, they really do have ikea furniture. Then after hitting up an Indian restuarant we went to a Debaser, a club/music venue, to see the Kooks. We waited in a queue (apparently queueing is the new in thing to do in Stockholm) to get in. We saw the encore, stuck around a bit to people watch, which is one of my favorite pasttimes. We saw lots of people in the fashion of stripe shirts and skinny jeans. Then we called it a night.

The next morning, it was off to the airport ...

Joy and I drinking hot chocolate. Svea is a slang word for Sweden - like saying Mother Sweden.

I had a wonderful time with Joy in Sweden! It was nice just to hang out and see the Sweden that Joy loves since I had apparently already done all the touristy stuff 6 years ago. So, this time, I really got to see first-hand the Swedish culture - we hung out with the Swedes, dined and shopped and chatted with them. Joy and I had many great tea times and lazy mornings, fikas, explorations and of course, non-stop chattering. I already miss Joy and the Scandinavia I grew to love. We were asked constantly by the Swedes, why did you choose Sweden? Joy and I would just look at each other with a knowing smile. Why not? I would definitely not mind living in Scandinavia again!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It was only a matter of time before I returned to a place very dear to me - Scandinavia! Scandinavia represents a series of first for me. 6 years ago... First time living abroad (in Copenhagen), first time in Europe, first time seeing the sunset at 3 pm and my first thanksgiving away from home so I guess it is fitting that I am returning for Thanksgiving again. This time it's Stockholm. My good friend, Joy, is studying in Stockholm and so I jumped at the opportunity to return close to my "homeland." Scandinavia is not a place for tourism persay, but to live. And I want to see Joy and her life in Sweden. We bonded quickly when we both learned we had a love for Scandinavia, travel, food and tea. Then we went on to share a bizarre understanding of Tokyo and fondess for Thailand. Despite both of us being world travellers, we manage to keep in touch and of course, visit each other in our random places. So, that's the background. I leave tonight for a weekend in Europe. I haven't been back to Western Europe since bidding farewell to my Copenhagen flat in Dec 2000! 35 degrees F, gray, rainy and sun setting at 3.... and I'm sooooo excited!!!! Ahhh... fond memories of my good 'ol Scandinavian days!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Viva Las Vegas! (August 25-27, 2006)

OK, so this isn't quite international travel, but when I saw the Eiffel tower and ate in Paris the first day, I thought it was blog-worthy. First of all - why Vegas? People know me and get puzzled ... a bachelorette party? Nope. A reunion with my best friends, Jane and Steph, from elementary school, and Steph is my cousin whose family owns a nice condo, hence Vegas to chill in luxury. Oh and to celebrate our birthdays which all occur in a 2.5 week time span!!!

Arrival: Steph and Jane picked me up at the airport at 1 am (re:4 am east coast time) after we were all delayed. I was sooo thrilled to see them! I hadn't seen Jane since Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Steph since my whirlwind 2 day visit to the bay area in April. Upon arriving at the condo, I knew this was going to be an excellent vacation - good company and luxurious living! (the bathroom alone will probably be bigger than my next apt!)

Day 1: the high life! After Steph and I were awaken in the wee hours by work phone calls, we groggely (is that a word?) ate at the Paris buffet (happy to get a few pieces of bacon from breakfast) and shopped, 10 minutes on the elliptical (yes! that's right. I went to the gym... 3 days in a row!), then got spa treatments - ahhh the luxury.

Are we in Paris?

It's always twighlight inside. Steph says because that is the good hour - you can stay in twighlight forever.

Steph gets food coma after devouring too many crepes.

So even though we don't gamble, we have to take a picture at least in front of the casino!

Where is the Macy's? It's behind the UFO. Only in Vegas ...

Then it was fancy girls night out so we got all decked out and hit the strip going to the new Wynn for a fancy Italian dinner (they gave us new napkins every time we went to the bathroom!)

Girls night out!!! Jane, me and Steph

Living it up! Taking the limo to the strip.

Steph and Jane in the Wynn

After dinner we head to La Reve, a Cirque-esque show on water.

The pre-show. I loved the intro where the acrobats were just swinging and diving off a tree-like structure and into the water.

Day 2: Shop and dance til we drop! So, instead of gambling we decided to invest in more solid things - CLOTHES! We went to the Vegas outlets and had pretty good luck over the course of 4 hours. Then after finding the coveted swiss orange chip ice cream at Swensen's we spent 15 minutes on the elliptical before preparing for night 2.

There's Steph always putting on make-up :)

Our second night on the strip. We went to the Rio buffet where the crabs upsetted us but the gelato redeemed everything.
The beautiful calming water show at the Bellagio.
Although we got several free passes to clubs (it's great to be in a group of girls in vegas), we were on the VIP list to Pure though so we finagled our way to the front and the big bouncer dude asked "3 girls?" We nod and he waves us in and we get the special stamp .... which means we get to see the Pussycat Dolls (Vegas version)! haha. a pleasant surprise. The show was about half an hour and while the singing was sub-par, the show as a whole was amusing.
now this is the Vegas you imagine, right?

Everyone has a pussycat doll in them.
At the Pure.
After dancing a little bit to awful music and trying to rest our feet in the special section, we left. The only place we could sit to rest and recoup was in front of the penny slot machine. So we GAMBLED a whole 1 cent! It lasted us a good 5 minutes and we lost it of course, but the sitting time was priceless. We called it a night.
Day 3: Relaxation! Steph and I dragged ourselves out of bed at the early hour of 10:30 to return to the Spa for massages and facials (yes, poor us). Then Jane and I hit the workout hardcore before retiring to the poolside for lounging and lunch and more lounging. Perfect. This is what I'm talking about when I say I'm going to Vegas! Then we lounged up in the condo where we reviewed our purchases, re-packed and watched the emmy's red carpet and commented on all the various outfits. For our final dinner we went to a local thai restaurant that was fabulous and rekindled my love for Thai food.

Contrary to what the pictures about show, we really did a LOT of relaxing and also a lot of shopping!

Then Steph and Jane drove me to the airport and we said our goodbyes and promised to reunite again, at home in the bay area of course (where Jane and Steph reside .. and yes, i will eventually return someday) and of course in Vegas!!! It was the perfect weekend. Nothing like old friends who just know you. And we had a fine balance of of eating (ok, maybe a bit too much of that), relaxation, working out, going out, shopping, and just being together. Thanks so much for an awesome weekend there girls. Can't wait to do it again!

Monday, June 12, 2006

The start of a new adventure...
So I've decided to try and keep a travel blog, since throughout my lifetime I manage to do quite a bit abroad and I don't intend on stopping anytime soon. So that way you guys can keep in the know of my jet setting lifestyle :) I got this idea from my friend, Jane, who is travelling the world this year and dedicted to blogging. I'll try to sum up my past travel experiences, but before that I'll start with my first new adventure to SE Asia - Thailand and Cambodia.
I've been interested in going to SE Asia since the end of college. My long time friend, Jane, planned on being there in May/June in the midst of her travels, so I jumped at the opportunity to go. Finagling 2.5 weeks off from work, I met up with her for Thailand and Cambodia. I had a date (May 24,2006) and location (Bangkok, Thailand) to fly into and a date (June 11, 2006) and location (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) to fly out of. Inbetween we had rough plans, but anything goes!
First stop - back to old stomping grounds.
Narita Airport in Tokyo
My polar flight went from JFK to Tokyo (~14 hrs) and then from Tokyo to Bangkok (~5 hrs). I was thrilled to at least touch foot in Japan, a place very dear to me. I had mixed feelings from memories of 2 1/2 years ago when I packed my suitcase in one months notice and moved to Tokyo, but the second I landed in Narita, my Japan love was back. During my 3 hour lay over I amused myself with all that is Japanese.

YES! It was only $5.

And fond memories of the organized trash.

I wanted to stay in Tokyo but onward to BANGKOK!


OK, these posts will be mostly pictures since Jane keeps an extensive blog. So, for more details on our actual doings and more pics or just more world travel stories, definitely check out her blog A lot of the pics are the same, or just replace her with me, but that's because certain photos jsut really tell the story!

This bustling city has been developing rapidly in the past 15 years. Most of the buildings are still old, but extensive public transportation is in place and it is the hub for S.E. Asia to the rest of the world (in 2.5 weeks I came in and out of Bangkok 4 times!).

I get into town around midnight and am soooooo excited to see Jane!!! We haven't seen each other since Christmas and here we are re-uniting ... in Bangkok!

Everything is still hopping on Khoa-san road, the main crazy backpacker strip, which we unsuccessfully tried to avoid.

The next morning we get straight to business. Jane enjoying her roti (like flat indian type bread) and chicken curry. And note, since the food was sooo amazing, it gets a post all on its own, although it will inevitably show up here too.

DAY 1: mandatory tourism
We do the obligatory visit to the Grand Palace. Despite "Professors" telling us the Palace is closed and trying to send us off in a tuk-tuk (carriage-like thing pulled by a motorbike) to who knows where (never believe those guys!) and circumferencing the whole outer wall, we make it into the Palace. It is grand indeed. We've seen many, and this one definitely ranks high on the list.

The Grand Palace

The tile work is amazing. There is so many intricate details and it is well maintained by many workers daily.

A sign of good things to come.

We pop on over to Wat Po (Wat = temple) to see the famous reclining Buddha.
It's HUGE! And I thought Japan had big Buddhas. This is also the place to get a massage in Bangkok, but we hold out.

Ahhh, to relax forever.

DAY 2: Chatachuk Weekend Market
After patiently waiting in the middle of the street to flag down the public AIR-CON bus #3, we make the comfty 30 minute ride to the famous weekend market that has endless stalls of clothes, arts and crafts, food, plants, everything and anything you want and don't want. We spend the whole day there and were so overwhelmed that we forgot to even take a picture. Sorry!

but here's Jane showing off her new dress in our guesthouse. We actually couldn't fit into most of the clothes at the market, not to mention it was too hot to try on clothes. Thai people are tiny! And it probably didn't help that we were consuming coconut and sweetened condensed milk (it's in everything!) like there was no tomorrow.

Day 3: fleeing the city...
A two hour supposedly-air-con-but-clearly-not bus ride and tiniest tuk-tuk ever later, we were so glad to be out of the city and breathe fresh air. Our goal was to steer clear of big cities as much as possible, so we found safe haven in the small town of Kanchanaburi.

Our guesthouse complex (but not our room) was on the river front. Now this is the Thailand I imagined! Lush and green.

Home of the famous death railway which was built by POW from the Allied forces during WWII under Japanese orders to make a path from Burma to Thailand. Many lives were lost. Yes, it has a lot of historical significance, but really, it looks just like a bridge.

We venture into the local night market for our usual dinner fare. A little bit of this and a little bit of that = dinner and dessert for two for $2.

Day 4: ERAWAN National Park
The reason for coming out to Kanchanaburi is to make it to the gorgeous waterfalls. After standing on the side of the road to flag down the public bus (yes, again!) we catch it for the 2 hr ride into the mountains.

There are 7 different tiers of the falls and each one is quite unique and lovely.

Tier #2: and this, my friends, IS THAILAND!!!!!

We make it all the way up to tier #7 with a few hard falls.

If you can climb it, why not? The limestone made for easy gripping.

Back to tier #5 for swimming. Ahhh paradise! Well, only after these two old sketch Thai guys stopped staring at us and left and we could've done without the snappy fish, but who is to complain?


Day 5: In and out of Bangkok with a quick sneak at a Thai house
We spend 3 hours coming back in on a bus with ridiculously loud Thai karaoke music. We spend the afternoon at Jim Thompson's house, a guy from Deleware, who ended up in Thailand during the war and help start up the silk trade again.

Beautiful traditaional (albeit fancy) thai house and lovely gardens.

We take the overnight bus to Chiang Mai (10 hours long). We had to abort our train plans because of the terrible flooding in Northern Thailand.

The seats reclined pretty far back! We rode VIP baby! (Thanks for the travel pillow Mom!)

NOW... off to Northern Thailand for more adventures!!!