The Big Easy: A NOLA Guide

I have had the amazing opportunity to do a fair bit of travel in my time, and a lot of it has been very international-focused and thinking about what places abroad I’d like to visit. For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about the amazing American cities that I haven’t yet visited, and at the top of that list has been New Orleans. So imagine when, at the end of RubyConf last year, I learned that this year’s conference would be held in NOLA! While I spent most of my time at the conference, I was still able to explore part of the city and Ben was able to join me for the weekend to explore as well.

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Based on my short time in the Crescent City, here is little guide to how I enjoyed New Orleans on this particular trip!Read More »

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Bagels, Brooklyn, Broadway | NYC 2016

Last time on NYC 2016, we wrapped up Friday with a lot of food adventuring with my brother before finishing out the evening dancing in Koreatown with Ben’s college friends. Saturday, I finally ventured off the island of Manhattan…


Saturday morning, Ben and I woke up bright-eyed and ready for something we had been waiting months to taste again: bagels. Bagels are one of those foods I really took for granted when I left the New York metropolitan area. I like them in general, but I have a special feeling when I eat the ones from my home metro region. (And while I’ll eat basically any bagel I see, I know a bad bagel.) Pizza and bagels in my home city can bring tears to my eyes. So we headed to the nearest bagel shop to us. Luckily, it was a block away and a traditional Jewish bagel joint! We were in luck!

JUST KIDDING it was Ess-a-Bagel, one of the most popular bagel shops in the city, especially among tourists. We wound up waiting in line for literally 2 hours. I loathe waiting in line, especially for food, but there weren’t many bagels shops nearby and I figured if I was going to wait for something while in New York, a really great bagel was worth it.

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Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?

I also decided to finally try a bialy! Yet another food item that I didn’t know I was taking for granted until I left the area and saw nary a mention of the traditional Polish pastry.

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A bialy, whitefish salad on everything, and lox with the works on whole wheat everything

After filling up on bagels… it was time for us to meet my friend Ying to leave the island (!!!) and head to Brooklyn for Smorgasburg. Smorgasburg is the “Brooklyn food flea market” and has become really well-known as a spot where many innovative food vendors can set up shop on the weekends for foodies to try their wares. It is home to many Instagram-famous foods, like the Ramenburger. Now I was pretty apprehensive about Smorgasburg for a bunch of reasons, like my hesitance to leave Manhattan for food when there is food aplenty all over the island, my general side-eyed skepticism of Brooklyn and Williamsburg’s hipster scene, my extreme side-eyed skepticism about the hype of the food at Smorgasburg, to name a few. But I was still excited to finally experience this foodie haven that so many people have been urging me to try out, despite already knowing that nothing would taste as good as the Instagram hype was big.Read More »

Baos & Bros| NYC 2016

Last time on NYC 2016, Ben and I came up to my home city to eat and catch up with an old friend. And we had more eating and catching up to do!


After getting some much-needed rest, it was time for me to meet up with my brother! He’s been staying in the East Village for his summer internship, so we headed over to check out his place and take him out for dinner. (I actually bumped into one of my friends on the subway trip over there! Ben teases me relentlessly for how many people I know and run into unexpectedly. This chance meeting marked unplanned encounter #1 – keep track of these, there are more coming.)

My brother was sharing the apartment of an art director for Marc Jacobs with one of his college roommates, who was working crazy long hours but still had a smile on his face when we saw him. It was a pretty nice place, and within walking distance of The Bao, where we went for dinner. I really loved the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings, aka XLB) at Joe’s Shanghai last year and wanted to compare this spot on St. Mark’s. My brother and boyfriend were both very surprised when I thought we had been a little ambitious with 6 orders of XLB and a vegetable. As it turns out, they were right; we left with plenty of room for more food.

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SO off for more food! Read More »

Rockin’ Round Rockefeller| NYC 2016

Sparing you my cheesy “Big Apple Recap-ple” titles this year. You’re welcome, and not safe in the coming years.

Just a note that I didn’t take very many photos this past trip, as I was really just trying to… take it all in. In fact, Ben and I didn’t even think to take my photos of ourselves or of each other. We’ve come to the point where we’ve visited so many times that we aren’t taking as many photographs. We’re trying to enjoy each other’s company, the company of our friends and family, and this amazing city that I have loved for so many years.

Apologies for the massive blocks of text!

Thursday

Ben and I went up to New York the weekend after Independence Day (aka a few days after returning from the wedding in Roanoke) in what has become an annual trip back to my home city, to The City. We headed up Thursday evening after work, grabbed some McNuggets at Union Station to stave off hunger, and eagerly awaited getting some of that Halal Guys combo with rice at 53rd and 6th. (We were told that the Halal Guys would open franchise locations by the summer of 2015. As you may have noticed, it is now the summer of 2016 and the locations have yet to open…) (STILLMADABOUTIT)

This was the first time that Ben and I really took advantage of good ol’ New York City yellow cabs for getting around, starting with getting from our bus stop to our hotel, which was about 2 miles away. I’ve always preferred traveling by cab over ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber, and the advertising in the cabs confirmed a lot of the reasons I had. Drivers are vetted, you know exactly where your fare charge comes from, there isn’t surge charging, and you are able to hail a cab without dealing with an app that maybe doesn’t work or picks up the wrong person or something. The reason I think those apps succeeded is because they were great apps that allowed you to summon cars when you weren’t able to wait on the road and hail a cab in a lower-traffic area. But now that New York has apps that allows you to do that with cabs, I honestly don’t see a need for Uber or Lyft. Some people are under the impression that taxis have a harder time accepting credit cards, but that’s just not true. Legally, all taxis must accept credit cards, and you can also use the app to pay for your ride as well, just like you can with other ride-sharing services. Long story short, I take yellow cabs when I’m in the city because it is really convenient and I don’t think that Uber or Lyft have changed that. (Note: Big Taxi did not pay me to say any of this. 😛)

We arrived at our hotel, totally pooped, but I managed to peel myself off the bed so we could get what we came to New York for – that chicken and rice from Halal Guys. I was maybe too exhausted to really make that trip, but dang it if it wasn’t maddeningly delicious. (Maddening because… we can’t have it at home yet. We have to make this pilgrimage to eat this simple meal.)

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Dat combo doe!

After a small mishap with the super dangerous red sauce (it is spicier than you think, I am pleading you not to underestimate it) and me wandering around the floor to find the ice machine to mollify that situation, it was time to sleep and get ready for our first full day.Read More »

Berlin

Fair warning now: All Europe posts will be photo-heavy. Some photos will be terrible because I took them from a moving bus. Also, I may not quite remember what everything is, but I am trying my best to look it up if I’ve forgotten and to not incorrectly label things.

The first city on our Baltic Capitals tour was Berlin. We had to take a bus from Warnermünde to reach inland Berlin, but the drive was so nice. We went from the rainy harbor on a beautifully scenic view of some of Germany…

One of the buses picking up tourists from Warnermünde to go to Berlin
I learned that, at least in Germany, European McDonald’s have a separate McCafe, akin to a Starbucks.

… before we arrived in front of Charlottenburg Palace.

Schloss Charlottenburg

We didn’t get to go inside, but it is spectacular just judging from its exterior. It’s the largest palace in Berlin and our first taste of this gorgeous city. Quick shout-out to our tour guide, Theo, who is an Australian ex-pat who showed us a wonderful time.

Fun fact: It was a record-high temperature of 37°C (~99°F) in Berlin the day we visited. 

I loved photographing old juxtaposed with the new all over Europe.
Berlin” is a sculpture of a broken chain, meant to symbolise how Berlin was broken by the wall during the Cold War
The Reichstag, or Reichstagsgebäude, with its glass dome so that the people can always see what their government is doing.
My family at the Brandenburg Gate, or Brandenburger Tor  (Wearing black was a poor choice on my part)

What I loved so much about Berlin is how acutely aware the city is of its history. Germans, and especially Berliners, it appeared, really feel the weight of what they’ve done in the past, both good and bad. The incredibly powerful Holocaust memorial, aka Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is one of the testaments of this mindset.

The design is excellent. It resembles a sinking cemetery built on a slope, and it is designed to make you feel uneasy as you walk through. You must pass between the stellae alone, as it is too narrow to allow a friend. You can easily lose your traveling companion at any turn. As you proceed through the memorial, the stellae get taller and taller, and you get swallowed whole by them. It is difficult to determine where the end is, or how close it is, from the center of the memorial. However, the memorial is a topic of controversy because many other groups were targeted during the Holocaust besides the Jews. This was one of the highlights of our tour and I am very grateful that, amidst our rush, Theo made sure we had time to really allow it to sink in.

19-year-old East Berliner Conrad Schumann jumping the Berlin Wall when it was just a low barbed wire fence in the ground, leaving his family behind.
He later committed suicide.
This is one of many pieces of the Berlin wall that has been converted to art.
The most interesting carpark in the world.
Underneath this carpark is where Hitler’s bunker was. The Allied forces found themselves unable to blow up the bunker (as it was… a secure bunker), so they eventually just filled it and now it’s a parking lot.

We had lunch at a place called Hofbräuhaus München, which had a lunch buffet and a live band playing some German folk music when we walked in. It was definitely way too hot for me to be eating German fare (and I don’t really like German food, to be honest). I did try a little bit of beer, since we were in Germany after all, even though I don’t really like beer. I was just glad they served it cold? I think someone told me once he was only served warm beer in Europe. (Also head cheese scares me.) (But pretzels!) The heat persisted but the fun didn’t stop!

The Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, is a Protestant “cathedral”, although it’s not an actual cathedral since it is not a Catholic institution and has no bishop presiding over it. Regardless, it’s gorgeous.
Altes Museum (“Old Museum”) is next to the Berliner Dom.

The Humboldt Box is a TEMPORARY structure that overlooks the construction site for the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace). The old-looking structure is a little sample of what the finished product will look like. That’s just one little corner. There’s actual quite a bit of debate over whether this is actually worthwhile. Older Berliners want it, a reminder of how Berlin was great, while younger Berliners think Berlin should focus on the future rather than dwell on its history.

“Mother with her Dead Son” by Käthe Kollwitz.
Placed directly under the oculus of the Neue Wache, she is exposed to all of the harsh elements that Berlin throws at her.
She represents the suffering of the civilians during the Second World War. Very powerful sculpture.
A few of the many notable alums of Humboldt University include Otto von Bismarck, Albert Einstein, the Brothers Grimm, Karl Marx, and Erwin Schrödinger.
The famous little stoplight men of East Berlin. (They wear hats!)
Berlin is fighting to keep them, even though most traces of Soviet rule in Berlin have been actively removed.
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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia because my own photo of this memorial came out a bit iffy.
This is the Nazi book burning memorial at Bebelplatz, and it depicts a room beneath your feet that contains shelves capable of holding the 20,000 books that the Nazis burned.
“Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”
Checkpoint Charlie, with a McDonald’s looming in the background. Very cool though.
Berlin Wall! Fun fact: This part of the Berlin wall was also the location of an SS bunker.
Berlin Victory Column, or Siegessäule, celebrates the then-Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and is topped by Victoria (victory)

I had an amazing time in Berlin. I love how much the city celebrates its rich history but is also very cognizant of its darker ages. With this kind of mindfulness of its past and an incredible optimism for the future, you can’t help but feel excited in Berlin.

Next time: Tallinn, Estonia!

(In case anyone was wondering, collages made for free on PicMonkey, which I also used to edit my Snow White Halloween photo.)