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Such a beautiful horizon

Written by Emmy on 9 October 2011

Two years ago, I spent the semester in Barcelona. Ever since, I have been desperate to go back.

Chaz had his homecoming to Stockholm earlier in the summer, and now it’s my turn. In the final checkpoint adventure before adulthood sets in, I’m returning to beautiful Barcelona. My sister Jessica is studying abroad in Italy this semester and we are meeting in Spain for her fall break. We’ll start in Barcelona and visit my old haunts and old friends before turning south to Valencia, the coast’s other large city. I leave tonight and my departure could not come any sooner.

Barcelona is a city full of life, art and music. When the city hosted the Olympics in 1992, Freddie Mercury, Queen’s leadman, wrote a song in its honor, which subsequently became a sort of anthem for Barcelona. While I was abroad, I took to listening to the song as I came back from weekend travels. Something about Mercury’s “Barcelona” reminded me just how much I loved the city every time I returned. So you can bet I will have this song on infinite repeat as my plane circles the city and touches down right next to the Mediterranean.

Final destination

Written by Emmy on 7 October 2011

After our picnic, we bid farewell to the Grand Canyon and hit the open road.

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Although the Grand Canyon was our last real destination, the remote North Rim is a bit far from all commercial airports. Since we planned to fly out of Phoenix in the early afternoon the next day, we had decided that we would get a bit closer to reduce pre-flight rush. So we drove the deserted highways of Arizona and made our way to the first real city beyond the canyon, Flagstaff.

Along the way, we passed mesa after mesa, cactus after cactus, and very few other cars. These are the roads that 75 miles per hour speed limits and cruise control were made for.

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The only real landmarks along the way were two national monuments, neither of which I had ever heard of before picking up the area map. Contained within the same 35-mile loop detour off the highway, the Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument are definitely removed. Wupatki, where we stopped for an emergency bathroom visit and a NPS passport stamp, is considered a sacred place among many Native American tribes. Sunset Crater, where we arrived after the visitor center had already closed, was formed by several volcanos back when Arizona was a more fiery place.

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We pulled into Flagstaff with storm clouds looming overhead. I had read all about a hotel in historic downtown Flagstaff and so reserved us a room. The Weatherford Hotel was definitely unconventional. I think there were more barstools than rooms in the establishment. Flagstaff lived its heyday in the 1800s during westward expansion. The town was christened on the country’s centennial — how it came to be named after the pole hoisting the stars and stripes. The Weatherford was a relic from that era, which meant that it lacked some more modern amenities. But upon arrival, all we really needed was a long shower to wash the canyon off of ourselves.

After washing up, we headed to Beaver Street Brewery, a restaurant highly recommended by all of our usual sources. We ordered a couple of the local brewery’s wares and tried to stick to local fare as well. We started with the thus appropriately named Arizona quesadillas, which were filled with chicken and served with sides of fresh guacamole and salsa.

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We asked our waiter what he liked best and he recommended any of the flatbread pizzas and one of the house platters. We had already decided he was pretty awesome, so we followed his directions to a tee. We split a southwestern chicken pizza, which was topped with a chicken, tons of veggies and a cilantro pesto (take that, cilantro haters — even if you might not be able to help yourselves). We also had the shrimp taco platter, which we both thought was phenomenal.

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After dinner, we strolled past the Flagstaff train station and decided to check it out. Amtrak was my primary mode of transit between home and Brown, so I became quite accustomed to delays on the Northeast Regional line. But we’re talking 15 to 30 minute delays. Apparently on the western lines, like the one that runs through Flagstaff, delays of one, two, ten hours are basically par for the course. Without an agenda for the rest of the night, we decided to sit on a bench and wait with the angsty passengers of the evening Southwest Chief.

IMG_6345While we were waiting, we must have seen ten giant freight trains roll through. Flagstaff sits on the highly trafficked Los Angeles to Chicago route of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, more commonly known by its acronym, BNSF. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many large aggressive freight trains before. We discussed the politics of transcontinental trains until the Chief finally arrived about an hour after schedule. We waited till the train had departed the station and then we retired for the evening. However, the freight didn’t stop just because we did. The trains ran all night, which was a bit more disruptive than our prior few nights under the stars had been. Price of capitalism?

We woke up in the morning and undertook our largest challenge to date. More strenuous than Half Dome, more tiring than the Grand Canyon, completed on less coffee than Angels Landing: unpacking, cleaning and repacking Dorothy. We managed to do quite a number on her in two weeks. If you happen to rent a black Dodge Grand Caravan in Phoenix anytime soon, just don’t open the stow ’n go compartments.

Before leaving Flagstaff, we managed to sneak in a quick and authentic breakfast at MartAnne’s Burrito Palace. Chaz ordered based upon the restaurant’s name and had a breakfast burrito.

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I followed their tagline — “the house that chilaquiles built” — and went with the traditional Mexican dish of scrambled eggs, tortillas, cheese and green salsa. Both portions were enormous and came with beans, rice, potatoes, lettuce and tomato, and tortillas. Breakfast was delicious, and I’m not sure I ate another full meal for the rest of the day.

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After finishing breakfast, we powered south to Phoenix. Over the course of the drive, we dropped almost 7,000 feet in elevation, a shocking accomplishment considering it never looked like we left the desert. We stopped briefly for gas and then pulled up in front of the Delta terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport. We couldn’t both bring Dorothy back, much as we would have liked to bid her a teary farewell together, because of the sheer amount of luggage we had. So Chaz took our girl home while I babysat what can only be dubbed a mountain of baggage.

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The final count on Dorothy’s odometer was 2,417.3 miles — a fairly awesome feat for two weeks. (Never mind that we flew more miles than that just to get to our starting point.) From the windows of our minivan we had seen deserts and the ocean, packed freeways and empty country roads, mountains and vast flat expanses. We had eaten (and spilled) countless meals in her confines, possibly broken a GPS system we never asked for in the first place, and listened to the same classic songs on infinite repeat. (And happily, we managed all this without damaging the car or earning a single traffic or parking ticket.) But now it was time to board our plane back east.

We flew together to Detroit, where another journey once began and others are likely still to come. “You don’t get to be silver without going to a hub a few times,” Chaz said, when I pointed out this symmetry. And so we hugged goodbye and ran to our separate planes, ending yet another fantastic voyage for the checkpoint.

Heading inland to Zion

Written by Chaz on 2 October 2011

Ambition became reality when we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to take quick showers and ready ourselves for the long drive east to Zion National Park. Everything was in the car and ready shortly afterward, and by 4:02, Dorothy was pulling away.

Los Angeles had one last chance to confuse us with its freeway system, but we were ready for it. By 5:30, we had maneuvered from the 405 to the 105 to the 605 to the 10 to the 15, making an essential stop for coffee along the highway. We watched the sun rise over the California desert.

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Interstate 15 winds east from Barstow through the Mojave Desert to the Nevada border. And as we approached the Silver State, it became clear that the casinos and outlets started immediately across the border. In fact, the town of Primm, Nev. is right up against the border, positioned as a first temptation for gamblers coming from California or a last hope for those leaving Vegas.

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Shortly afterward, around 8:30, we arrived in Vegas, where we stopped for gas, a bathroom stop and a good look at the casinos. It was my first time in the city, and my initial reaction was that it reminded me so much of Macau — which was ironic, since Emmy’s reaction to Macau was that it reminded her of Vegas.

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Northeast of Vegas, I-15 cuts through the rural northwestern corner of Arizona and winds through the Virgin River Gorge, a dramatic rock formation created by the same river that made Zion.

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We pulled off the highway in Washington City, Utah for a last supermarket stop and lunch at In-N-Out, which we had missed in California. From there, it was only a short drive into Zion, where we parked Dorothy at our campsite in Watchman Campground and walked back to the visitor center. To reduce congestion, you can’t drive into Zion Canyon, the heart of the park — you have to park and take one of the frequent shuttles. As a result, there aren’t any parking problems in the canyon, and the views are unspoiled by heavy automobile traffic.

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Zion was given its name by Mormon farmers who discovered it and believed it to be close to paradise. I really liked the idea that the park was preserved because people saw it and said to themselves: wow, this place is close to God.

After checking in at the visitor center about our best course of action, we hopped on a shuttle and rode to the Weeping Rock stop to begin exploring. The beauty of the canyon was readily apparent.

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We hiked from the shuttle stop up a steep trail toward something called Hidden Canyon. As we ascended, the views of the canyon became even more picturesque and panoramic.

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The weather was visibly deteriorating, and when we got to Hidden Canyon (surprise — it was a hidden canyon), we quickly turned back around, not wanting to get stuck on the steep trail once it became wet and slippery. We took a short detour to Weeping Rock, and as it had begun to rain, the weeping was even greater than usual.

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We walked back to the shuttle and rode up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, where we took a soaked stroll up the paved Riverside Walk along the Virgin River. The canyon gets too narrow for the road to continue, and at the end of the path, it gets too narrow for the path to continue. But, we learned, many people rent special boots to wade through the Narrows, as the section of the river is known, starting above the canyon and hiking through the water back down. It sounded really cool, and it definitely made my next-visit list.

We had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle back to the campground, as the heavy rain had apparently caused a mudslide on a section of the road. Sure enough, we passed a park ranger directing traffic around the debris in the road. According to our shuttle driver, the rainstorm was “one for the record books,” and the subsequent mudslide was “unprecedented.” When we got back to our campsite, we took advantage of a momentary lull in the rain to set the tent up at a record pace, and fortunately, the rain mostly held off for the rest of the evening.

Our campsite at Zion was one of the nicest we stayed, with a beautiful view of the canyon. We settled in to enjoy some appetizers by the fire before dinner. Naturally, given our early wakeup, we were getting quite tired.

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As the sun began to set, Emmy whipped up some apple chardonnay chicken sausage with mixed fresh vegetables.

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After a round of s’mores, we were more than ready for bed.

In which we meet Dorothy and our adventures begin

Written by Emmy on 25 September 2011

On Wednesday (September 7th — it’s been a while), we began our west coast adventure road trip. The day began early in each of our hometowns, as Chaz boarded a plane before 7 a.m. and I boarded one just afterward. Several hours and plane rides later, we reunited in the Salt Lake City airport. We nearly missed our last flight and had to be paged to the gate, though we’re not really sure how that happened because we were waiting at the gate. Mishap was avoided and we took the short flight to Fresno, Calif.

We touched down in the small airport just after noon and made our way to baggage claim. In celebration of what the region is most known for, the airport was filled with giant redwood trees (truly — they were poking out of the ceiling). We simultaneously addressed two hurdles: the baggage and the rental car. We had reserved a car as part of a great Hertz deal: rent in California and return in Arizona in exchange for a great rate. (They need more cars down south for winter vacation.) This deal guaranteed us a small car and we were prepared to take what we could get. When we reached the counter, the woman explained that due to a series of regulations, there were only two cars available to us: a Chevy Aveo, which would barely have fit the two of us, let alone our luggage, and a Dodge Grand Caravan. We weren’t thrilled about the minivan, but said we’d take it, especially since we didn’t have to pay extra since it was their mistake. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we had basically won the rental car lottery.

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Our baggage made up the vast majority of what had been on our little plane and we loaded it into the minivan, which we formally named Dorothy. For the record, we’re really not sure how we would have fit into a smaller car; we left the airport with three suitcases, a cooler, a huge box of camping supplies, two backpacks and two additional carry on bags. We then went to Trader Joe’s and loaded the car up even further with food. After making our way toward Yosemite, we bought more supplies at a second supermarket stop. Less than two hours in and Dorothy was reaching capacity.

After about 90 minutes on Highway 41, we reached the outer perimeter of Yosemite. Yosemite is a large park — larger than little old Rhode Island — and there are campgrounds throughout. We headed toward Wawona Campground for our first night, which is conveniently close to the entrance nearest to Fresno.

We set up camp and began preparing dinner after a quick appetizer of guacamole, chips and mango salsa. Camping really challenged my culinary abilities, but we persevered in an effort to eat and create beautiful food. The first night’s menu featured turkey burgers and so we tried to use charcoal, but those coals took a while longer to heat up than we might have hoped. We were aiming to eat in enough time to be able to watch sunset from Glacier Point, about a 30-minute drive from Wawona, but the burgers just weren’t cooking. So in a moment of desperation, we put them in a pan, popped them on top of the propane stove, aggressively cooked them and then ate them while en route with muenster and avocado atop honeywheat buns. Though we faced some technical difficulties, dinner could at least be classified as gourmet to go.

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Chaz navigated the winding roads of the park while I handled the car-based cuisine, a common theme throughout our trip. We got to Glacier Point, one of the best (and most accessible) overlooks in the car just as the sun was setting.

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From Glacier Point, we could see all of Yosemite Valley stretched out in front of us, waiting to be explored.

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After watching the sun dip below the mountains (and taking the obligatory 20+ sunset photos) we headed back to our tent and quickly fell asleep, tired from our day of travel and ready to wake up bright and early for adventures in the park!

Go west!

Written by Emmy on 7 September 2011

Though we have only just caught up on adventures from mid-summer, we are in fact jetting off on a new one right now. Today we kick off a two-week road trip on the west coast!

We began our journeys in our home cities — I write to you from JFK’s Delta terminal — and we will reconvene in Fresno, Calif. From there, we’ll head to Yosemite National Park, where we will spend several days exploring the natural splendors that the park has to offer.

Our journey heads to the coast from there, pausing in Napa to sample the homegrown beverages. We’ll stop in the Bay Area to catch up with friends before heading south along the scenic, waterfront Pacific Coast Highway. At Los Angeles we’ll turn east, taking a detour at lesser known Zion Canyon en route to the big attraction, the Grand Canyon. We’ll approach the canyon from the North Rim, the less trafficked and more tranquil side. After several days on the edge, we’ll head south, stopping in the quirky college town of Flagstaff, Ariz., on our way to the Phoenix airport.

As always, we’ll keep an eye and a camera lens on our plates, though it remains to be seen how applicable the lessons of Thai Cookery School will be at a campsite. We’ll keep you posted as we go. Make sure to watch our Twitter feed for more constant updates!

And with that, we are off!

Saying goodbye

Written by Chaz on 5 September 2011

I slept late on my second to last day in Sweden, and after I packed my things, we headed back to Lögla for one last gasp in the country. After the trip, and stopping at the grocery store, it was of course time for a fika. Anna had made kardemumabullar, like cinnamon rolls but with the flavor of cardamom instead of cinnamon, and sockerkakor, which we know as pound cake. They were both amazing, and it was wonderful to be back in the tranquility of the Swedish countryside.

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After one more dip in the Baltic, it was before long time for dinner: beef, halloumi again, potatoes, salad and green beans.

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After watching a rerun of the previous night’s Allsång to see if we had gotten ourselves on television — unfortunately, we had not — and looking at amazing photos from my family’s spring trip to Iceland, it was time to head to bed for my last night in Sweden.

I rose early on my last day in Sweden, determined to squeeze every last drop out of my remaining time, and we went for a long walk around the shore, ending with a swim.

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Even my last meal in Sweden was remarkable. It’s very traditional in Sweden to use a cheese slicer, the sort that scrapes off a thin slice, all the time. In fact, it was originally a Nordic invention. I had a fried egg and some sliced Swedish cheese on toast. Delicious.

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I packed up my things and we left for Stockholm’s Arlanda airport with plenty of time to spare. But when we walked into the airport, prepared for an emotional goodbye, I was hit with an entirely different emotion. The departures board grimly informed me that my KLM flight to Amsterdam had been cancelled, and it was immediately clear that there was no other flight to Amsterdam that would get me there in time for my connecting flight to the U.S.

Naturally, the ticketing office was using the kölapp system, the much more efficient alternative to lines that is only used at supermarket delis in the U.S. but is nearly universal in Sweden. (You take a little piece of paper with a number and wait for it to appear on a screen.) The numbers were being called at a glacial pace, so I bid farewell to my family, assuring them that the airline would have to do something for me.

Luckily, thanks to earning “elite” status after our trip to Asia and a trip earlier this year, I was able to take a priority kölapp slip and got rebooked after only about an hour onto Air France flights through Paris. The KLM agent even gave me a coupon for 100 Swedish crowns worth of food in the airport. And so, before too long, I was rushing for my flight, which turned out to be wearing a nice retro paint scheme.

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Before my trip, I was very curious to see my reaction to my second time in Sweden. Over the last two years, I’ve really built up Sweden in my head: wonderful people, wonderful scenery, wonderful culture, and so forth. And I wondered how much of that had a basis in reality, and how much was just me romanticizing my time abroad. I’m happy to report that Sweden, on second visit, was just as wonderful as I remembered. And I was especially surprised and pleased to realize how much progress I’ve made with the language. Even though I still have tons more work to do, I feel much more like learning Swedish is an achievable goal.

The moral of the story, of course, is that I really need to figure out a way to get back there for another extended period. Ten days just wasn’t nearly enough.

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Another departure

Written by Chaz on 5 July 2011

Two years ago, I spent a semester in Stockholm, Sweden, an experience that I documented in great detail. I had a wonderful time, learned a lot and really fell in love with the place.

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Thanks to the magic of frequent flyer miles, I’m leaving this evening for eight days back in Stockholm with my contact family. I’ll be soaking in the Swedish sun and revisiting some favorites sites in Stockholm. I’m going to keep writing in this space about my adventures, and I hope you’ll keep reading!

Home sweet home

Written by Emmy on 5 July 2011

We arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport, bleary eyed, at just after 4 a.m. on Thursday. With no flight other than ours set to take off for hours, we moved through the deserted airport quickly. In an attempt to send some love back home (and use up our extra Singapore dollars), we bought postcards, which turned into a mini-adventure as Chaz then ran around the airport looking for stamps. Finally, with postcards stamped and mailed, we boarded our flight to Tokyo. I think I slept for the entire seven hours.

We landed in Tokyo and waited on a long security line with all of the other passengers (read: Americans) transferring onto flights to New York, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and several other stateside destinations. Vernie’s final food recommendation had been to eat ramen in Tokyo’s Narita airport, but our 45-minute layover made that impossible. We even tried to get takeout, but as it turns out, small Japanese airport stalls do not have a mechanism for allowing you to carry soup onto the plane.

Flying from the U.S. to Asia (and vice versa) is long and disorienting. Things like movies and snacks and Ambien are very helpful for passing the 12 hours, but there is just no way around the longevity of traveling such a distance. On the way over, we lost a full day, which was kind of confusing, but on the way back, the whole business of time zones was even more complicated. We left Tokyo just after 3 p.m. on Thursday, and landed in New York just before 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Despite the fact that we seemed to travel backwards in time, we did live out a very full day on board our massive plane. In our final act of Asian food photography, behold, Delta’s Japanese breakfast noodles.

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We landed at JFK on time, but could not deplane for a while because there was so many people stuck in customs that we could not have fit in the building. (Knowing JFK, I thought this could have been due to ongoing back up from the turtle incident the day before.) The problem was one of building capacity. Too many planes had landed at the Delta terminal for the customs agents to handle them, and so we waited. It was almost ironic that after enduring immigrations inefficiencies in Thailand and Vietnam, the slowest process was to get back into our own country. By the time we finally cleared an hour later, all of the bags from our flight had been dumped off the conveyor belt and onto the floor.

With my rice patty hat on, we left the airport and parted ways for our respective homes (with a few days to spare before celebrating America’s birthday!).

In the coming days, we’ll be doing a bit more reflecting on our trip as a whole. We’ve also posted hundreds of photos and videos that never made it onto the blog. We just want to take a moment first to thank you for keeping up with us on our journey. We hope you enjoyed reading about our travels as much as we enjoyed recounting them to you.

Welcome to Singapore

Written by Emmy on 3 July 2011

Saturday brought even more torrential rains to Hanoi. We woke up at 5:30 a.m., hoping to check out another round of tai chi. This time I was going to go in my official outfit. But when we woke up and saw the pouring rain, we decided it would deter even the most determined Vietnamese exercisers.

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We headed back to sleep, woke up at a slightly more reasonable hour and enjoyed our last hotel buffet breakfast. We went to meet the cab we had prearranged to take us to the airport, but it never came. As the hotel attempted to call us another one, a German family also departing for the airport generously offered to let us join them — they had been touring Hanoi with a guide and a van, and had an extra row in their car. On our trip to the airport we got to hear a very flattering tale of Ho Chi Minh’s early life from the family’s guide, making it even more apparent that the Vietnamese people have been taught a filtered version of history.

Once at the airport, our new friends headed for the business class line at Singapore Air and we made a beeline for the long line at the more budget Tiger Airways. Apparently due to a technical malfunction of some kind, the desk could not print luggage tags, creating a bit of a hold up. With handwritten stickers indicating our destination on our suitcases, we were quite suspect that the bags would follow us south. We finally checked in and spent some downtime in the rather sparse Hanoi airport before boarding our plane.

Three-ish hours and a time change later, we landed in Singapore. The Singapore airport is legendary for its amenities, including a swimming pool. However, when one lands in the literally named Budget Terminal, the bonus features are not included. After claiming our suitcases — which did miraculously make it — we donned our Vietnamese rice patty hats and went to find Vernie. (We just wanted to make sure she could see us.)

Vernie lives on the eastern side of the island, not too far from the airport. At just a quarter of the size of Rhode Island, Singapore is a tiny country. The island nation is totally urbanized, covered from end to end in tall apartment buildings.

Vernie and her dad, who graciously drove us around throughout our time in Singapore, narrated our quick journey back to their apartment, giving us an intro to the city and pointing out all the sights we would get to see.

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Note: it was basically dark when we landed in Singapore. This is a sunnier view of the city.

After a quick shower, we headed out on the town. Singapore is known for its efficiency, and true to form, we were able to take the MRT — which stands for Mass Rapid Transit — straight downtown. We were not originally supposed to have a weekend night in Singapore, but following our last-minute change in travel dates, Vernie was able to plan a great Saturday night. We went to Clarke Quay, a must-see nighttime spot on any tour of Singapore. The whole area felt almost like Disney World: restaurant after restaurant, all representing a different world cuisine, and all with seating on the water. After the crowded and dirty streets of our prior stops, the perfectly immaculate and spotless streets of Singapore were a bit of a culture shock. Plus, jaywalking is illegal, a real adjustment following Hanoi.

We took a walk around the whole area before sitting down to eat at Brewerkz, a German-themed brewery. Our very Western entrees of grilled mushrooms, pesto pasta and chili could not have been a further cry from the foods we had been eating for the past three weeks. After catching up over dinner, the three of us met up with Dhiviya, one of Vernie’s friends from secondary school. Our tour of a Saturday night as Singaporeans continued with drinks on a bridge, and then our first taste of the clubbing scene.

After a fantastic night, we returned home to get some sleep in preparation for our whirlwind Singaporean foodie tour.

From Chiang Mai to Hanoi

Written by Chaz on 27 June 2011

We left Chiang Mai early on Tuesday after encountering a bit of a runaround at the airport. We arrived at the domestic terminal, since our first flight was a Thai Airways jet back to Bangkok to connect to a Qatar Airways flight to Hanoi. But we were told that since our ultimate destination was international, we had to hoof it over to the international terminal. After a few more escalators and checkpoints, our bags were successfully checked to Hanoi and we were comfortably borrowing Wi-Fi from an airport coffee shop.

The food on each of our flights was actually quite delicious. Both airlines are well-known for their in-flight service, and they didn’t fall short. Thai Airways gave us a phenomenal croissant with some kind of curry confection inside, along with a peanut butter cookie and a selection of coffee and juice.

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We had been given special stickers in Chiang Mai, and we were instructed to wear them on our shirts to identify us as transit passengers. Sure enough, they came in handy when we were led through the Bangkok airport to a security checkpoint before being left on our own to hike all the way across the several terminals, through the most upscale duty-free selection I have ever seen, to the Qatar Airways transfer desk, where we were given our second boarding passes. Our second flight was equally nice, with hot chicken sandwich wraps and a full selection of beverages.

We were met at the Hanoi airport by our hotel, and the difference between Thailand and Vietnam’s development level became immediately obvious as we left the airport and immediately began driving through rice patty after rice patty, punctuated only by dilapidated buildings. After settling into the very nice Maison D’Hanoi in central Hanoi, we headed out onto the city’s streets for a uniquely Vietnamese experience: bia hoi, or fresh beer, on a street corner. This local concoction is made every day and sold all over the city to local regulars and unsuspecting tourists for about 25 cents a glass.

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We were only able to make it to the beer stand thanks to the advice of a friend, who warned us about the insane traffic in Vietnam. And we thought traffic in Thailand was tough! In Hanoi, where 90 percent of the traffic is motorcycles, you have to just look straight ahead while crossing the street. No looking both ways — there will never be a moment when the road is clear. Instead, you have to ignore the dozens of oncoming motorcycles, trusting that they will swerve to avoid you, and walk steadily but slowly across the street. It was absolutely as terrifying as it sounds, and we are lucky to have made it out of Hanoi alive.

After our drinks, we headed to 69 Restaurant, widely reviewed as one of Hanoi’s best restaurants for authentic Vietnamese food. We started with fresh spring rolls and a Vietnamese chicken salad. We were almost taken aback by the spring rolls, which were very different from what we’d been having in Thailand, though equally different and very similar to the best Vietnamese food I’ve had back home. The salad was equally great, though again, it was very different from Thai salads. I think both of our taste buds were in shock to have a full meal in which no item was numbingly spicy.

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I had my favorite Vietnamese entree from restaurants in the U.S. for the main course: bún chả, or pork on vermicelli noodles and greens in sauce. Emmy opted for a similar dish but with fish, complete with veggie accompaniments and served over a charcoal fire to keep it sizzling hot. Because we were seated directly under a high-powered fan, the ash started getting blown at us, and we had to switch sides of the table.

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IMG_2462The dishes were excellent. They made a great change from Thai cuisine and a wonderful introduction to Vietnamese cooking. We were seated next to another table of American travelers, recent Penn grads who are also documenting their travels around Southeast Asia in a format you’ll enjoy reading. After dinner, we grabbed a quick drink at a pub recommended by one of our guidebooks, and spotted a great sign. We headed back to our hotel on the early side, exhausted from our travels and looking forward to starting early to hit Hanoi’s sights.