Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Playing Around in Prague

I arrived safe and sound in the beautiful city of Prague. It is so lovely here, every street is cute and cobblestoned, and around every corner is an impressive looking gothic church. It would be so different to live in a city like this - though I think I think that about every non-North American city I visit.

I arrived last night after a pretty easy travel day (thanks to Jerry and business class aeroplan tickets!!) LOVE the business class seats that pretty much recline flat. And the airport lounges with free food and drink. So nice.

Leaving the airport, I took a bus, a subway and a metro to our hotel (easier than it sounds). The hotel is nice and modern, which is basically why I picked it. It's called the Red and Blue Design Hotel, with each room decorated in - you guessed it - red or blue. (We're in a Red room).

After I checked in, it was about 8pm so I headed back out to make sure that I stayed up until a reasonable hour before going to sleep. I walked down the major street near the hotel and checked out the big new shopping center around the subway station. Our hotel isn't in the main part of town, just a little bit away, so there isn't much going on right around it. After peering in a bunch of restaurants and looking at menus, I found a tiny cafe where a cute family was eating, and figured it was a good starting place to have dinner. I ordered smaszeny syr, which is basically battered, fried cheese. Yes, it's like my dream on a plate. It came with potatoes (apparently they could be served many different ways, I ended up with crinkle-cut fries), and mayonesa, which was actually a delicious fresh tartar sauce. Also, I had a nice sparkling raspberry juice. Not bad for about $4USD. I will try to upload a photo of the cheese soon, but you can probably imagine it - it's like a large, rectangular mozzarella stick. I couldn't finish it though, partly psychological (really, should one eat THAT much fried cheese in one sitting?), partly because it was just really filling.

After a quick stop at Tesco (a giant supermarket) for water, it was then back to the hotel to bed. This morning I woke up and had breakfast at the hotel (a decent buffet) and forced myself to go out and walk around. I was actually pretty exhausted from jetlag and the travel, so it was very tempting to just go back to sleep until Donald arrived. But I'm glad I went out, because it was is so enjoyable just walking around this city. Plus (a huge plus), the weather is awesome. It's quite cool right now, mostly sunny and not muggy nor rainy. Perfect sightseeing weather.

I walked from our hotel area (Smichov) up into Mala Strana (the are beneath the Prague castle) and then across the Vltava river via Karlov Most (the famous Charles Bridge) into Stare Mesto (Old Town). I didn't do much stopping/reading the guidebook/picture taking because I knew I'd just be doing it again with Donald.

I had lunch at a reastaurant that seemed a bit "off the beaten path" and had a lot of locals. I ordered a pork noodle dish that had no noodles. Sigh. I don't think Czech food is particularly tasty in general - hearty and filling, yes, but not really nuanced. (Yes, that includes the big slab of fried cheese I happily tucked into last night). And vegetables... hm... where are they? There is often one slice each of tomato and cucumber with your entree but that's about it. Let's hope I am proven wrong over the next couple of days!

I walked back over the Most Legii (a bridge south of the Charles bridge) and back to the hotel, where proceeded to wait for Donald's arrival (i.e., take a nice long nap). Donald came and we set out pretty much immediately for the Nove Mesto area, as we wanted to get tickets for a concert tonight. There is a summer music festival called "PROMS" on, and tonight they were playing Mahler. We go the tickets, then did some sightseeing around the concert hall. We went up the astronomical clock tower (probably the most commonly taken photo in Prague is of the clock), and walked around the Old Town Square. The concert was in the art nouveau Municipal Theater, which was recently renovated and is really quite beautiful. The concert was good, though I always wonder how people can fall asleep to something like Mahler, with all the sudden crescendos and accents.

After the concert we ended up at a microbrewery recommended by our guidebook. I'd gotten it into Donald's head that we should eat pork knuckle, a specialty here that I'd attempted to eat when I was last here 10 years ago. We got some (and picked it clean, all 1700 grams of it), along with some sour cherry beer (not bad!) and the ubiquitous dryish bread that is served here. (Again, bread, not a strong point of the Czech culinary scene.)

By then it was about 11 and we want to get up early tomorrow to tackle the Castle, so we came back to the hotel. Now it's a little studying of Prague history, and bedtime!

I'll try to post some pics tomorrow (I actually brought the camera cord this time...). It's nice to have a (Donald's) laptop and wi-fi! Hope you'll Czech out my upcoming posts! Hehe.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Now it's Eastern Europe or Bust!

Tonight I fly to Frankfurt and then on to Prague tomorrow. Donald joins me on the 7th. We'll spend a few days in Prague, then 1 night in Cesky Crumlov, and then take the night train to Krakow. After 2 days in Krakow, we'll take another night train to meet up with Peggy and Jerry in Budapest on the 15th.

Brian arrives on the 16th, so we'll all have a nice weekend in Budapest before we get on the boat to cruise down the Danube, stopping at several cities/countries and finally ending up in Istanbul for a couple of days. It should be a wonderful trip with a lot of family time! Hopefully we will post while we're away, so keep your peepers peeled!

Living the Life in Hong Kong

After my time in Vietnam, Hong Kong was pretty much 9 days of luxury. Through my dad, I had arranged to stay with my aunt Adele and uncle Bernard (my mom's brother) in their apartment in Jordan, a pretty convenient/touristy area of Kowloon. It turned out however, that their place was quite crowded (my cousin Kelvin had come back for the summer) and so I actually ended up staying in a hotel just a few doors down from them. It was really lovely, because I got to have a lot of privacy and freedom but they were just steps away.

Let's be honest. I spent most of my time eating and shopping. Sometimes with relatives, sometimes on my own. I spent time with aunt Adele, Uncle Bernard and their daughter, Adele (her name is actually Catherine but she likes to go by Adele!), who is 4.5 years old. She is incredibly smart and polite, and it was lovely to meet her. She has a really vivid imagination, and seems to have a strong moral code already. Adele and Bernard are very busy (he is a popular doctor there, and they are putting together a huge charity event) but they graciously made time to see me. We had several meals together, and even spent a day in China (just across the border, in Shenzhen). I was really humbled by their generosity and kindness.

I also spent some time with my Aunt and Uncle on my dad's side, and my cousin Milly. It was wonderful seeing them too. I have actually seen them quite a bit because they are the parents/sister of my cousin Michael, who lives in LA with his wife Valerie and kids Brian and Sabrina, and whom I spent quite a bit of time with while I lived in LA. In HK, I had some great meals with them (memorable pineapple buns, egg tarts, dim sum, and Thai food) and went up to Victoria peak with my aunt and uncle. (I will talk more about the food when I post photos, I promise!)

I was also able to see a friend from grad school, Mo, and his wife Qiao Bing while I was in HK, which was great. Mo was also a psych grad student at USC, where he met Qiao Bing (a grad student in Social work). She is now a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and he is working on some market analysis for his old advisor's husband. Small world! We had a dinner and a lunch together, and they showed me around the university which is a bit north of the city, on a hill, and quite beautiful. How fun it was to see friends in such a different context!

On my own, I did a little sightseeing - some temples, a nunnery, a pink dolphin boat cruise from Lantau Island. I guess I don't think of HK as much of a sightseeing place, more a center of commercialism. I'm sure that's unfair, and maybe I have some bias because I have been there before (last time was in 2005 for my grandfather's funeral). But don't get me wrong - I was happy to mostly just shop and eat this time around! It was pretty much exactly what I wanted after Vietnam. I'm not sure what it says about me - probably just that I like to shop - but I think in Vietnam because the country is much more poor, I felt funny spending money. In contrast, in HK where every mall has a Louis Vuitton, it felt much more... normal. Expected, even. Not that I spent THAT much money, but it was definitely fun to look! People would ask if I missed Brian or wished he was with me, and I would say, honestly, if he were here (in HK) with me, it would be a much different trip. I.e., not nearly as much shopping (but probably more eating!) and more sightseeing. That wouldn't have been bad at all, but I was really enjoying the trip I was on!

A note about food - I ate well in HK but it was definitely not on the level at which we attacked food in Japan. I guess because I was eating with relatives most of the time, I didn't really seek out specific places or even necessarily types of food. I had lovely Chinese pastries though (bakeries are all over the place, and everything is good!), several dim sum meals, and plenty of street snacks (fried squid tentacles in a paper bag, curry fish ball skewers, and pan fried noodle sheet rolls, to name a few). Oh, and probably the best wonton noodles I've ever had - chewy, toothsome, flavorful. So good.

By the end of my time in HK I was definitely ready to come home, but I also knew that I would miss the life of luxury I had been living! It certainly helped to know that I was coming home to my summer off and that I wouldn't have to go to work anytime soon, but it was a bit of a hard transition! Of course, it has been great reuniting with Brian, continuing to settle in to our new apartment, and seeing Chicago friends. Also, preparing for the next adventure in Eastern Europe!

Thanks for sticking around for the trip report on Vietnam and HK. I'll post when I FINALLY insert photos into the posts.