Lyra’s First Trip to Disney!

I know some people might think we are crazy to take a 16-month old to Disney and that she’ll never remember it yada yada yada, but I personally think we’re crazy not to travel with her now when she’s so easy (relatively) to travel with and not to mention FREE. I don’t know if we will go anywhere once we have to pay for her airfare and admission tickets, ha!

Chris and I had so much fun spending New Year’s Eve at Disneyland. As I said before, it really is the happiest place on Earth!

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Minnesota State Fair

…aka the new happiest place on Earth! That is, if you like to eat fried food on-a-stick, check out tractors and rodeo shows, admire butter sculptures, go on carnival rides, and watch farm animals giving birth, the Minnesota State Fair is definitely way better than Disneyland! It was so much fun, I want to go every year.

Top left to right clockwise: Fried pickles!, Blue cheese corn fritters were to die for, Big fat bacon on a stick, Spaghetti and meatballs on a stick.

Chris and I flew to Minnesota over Labor Day weekend for a wedding. The wedding was at an Environmental Learning Center in Spicer, MN which is located about 2 hours west of Minneapolis. It was so beautiful!

Compared to California, Minnesota is so green and lush…and full of corn. If there was one word to describe our whole trip, it would probably be ‘corn.’ We drove through a lot of corn fields on the way to Spicer. I’m pretty sure we ate corn at least twice a day, every day we were in Minnesota. It was really delicious.

Eating roasted corn with butter and salt at the State Fair.

My favorite part of the fair, besides the glorious yet reprehensible gluttony, was definitely the fried corn fritters with chimichurri sauce. It was utterly exquisite and perfect in all its fried glory – soft and chewy on the inside with a nice, golden crisp exterior that was well seasoned. The bleu cheese added a nice creamy, velvety texture to the corn fritter and didn’t overpower the taste of the sweet corn. It was literally the most perfect thing I’ve ever eaten. Drool.

Also high on my list was the freshly made ice cream. We ordered the chocolate vanilla sundae with strawberry rhubarb. It was to die for. I would honestly go back just to get the ice cream next year. We really liked Sweet Martha’s cookies too which I learned is an iconic institution at the MN State Fair. Imagine getting an overfilled bucket (or cone) of warm, ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookies that just melt in your mouth. In the 12 days the fair is open, Sweet Martha’s grosses $2.5 million dollars! That’s a lot of cookies.

So many things to eat, so little time (and stomach space). Next time, we’ll have to plan spending at least a few days at the fair to cover all the things we want to eat/do. I didn’t even mention there are live concerts each night! See how awesome this fair is?

Dhaka Revisited: Two Years Later

I never thought I would return to Dhaka much less ever go in the first place. But here I am!

Gulshan Avenue

It’s always nice to travel to a place of familiarity. Though I forgot how darn long it takes to get here – 14 hours from San Francisco to Hong Kong, then 4 hours to Singapore, with an 8 hour layover, then another 4 hours to Dhaka. Transiting in Singapore was actually fun in hindsight. I didn’t leave the airport this time but honestly you don’t need to. There is so much to do in Changi Airport, it’s almost like a little town.

May is supposedly the start of monsoon season but I’ve been lucky so far. There hasn’t been much rain and when there is, it doesn’t last long.

This time around since I know what to expect I am a teensy bit excited to be here (it is still Dhaka after all). Since I did all the “touristy” things last time I am looking forward to exploring more restaurants and shops, not that there are many. I’m heading out to the Nordic Club today. The clubs (American Club, Dhaka Club, British Club, etc) in Dhaka are where expats go to hang out, socialize, and drink. I can see this getting old really quickly since there are only a handful of them. OK, time to get out of this hotel! …and into another insulated area. 

Ho Chi Minh City: Hello Vietnam!

Banh mi, egg rolls and Vietnamese coffee all day, everyday. Pretty much sums up our trip. You can probably stop reading here. If you must know more, I suppose you can continue.

Chris and I decided on Vietnam after making a short list of countries we liked to visit. The runner-ups were Argentina, Costa Rica, and Thailand and we are both so happy with our decision. We have already talked about going back!

Ho Chi Minh City was brimming with energy when we arrived well past midnight. Chris and I went to a bar near our hotel in the backpacker district for a fresh coconut and to people watch. (We would be the type of people to go to a bar and order a coconut.) I am OBSESSED with anything coconut now – ask my cousin Stephenie.

There is definitely a cosmopolitan vibe to HCMC. A lot of young people and a lot of coffee shops!

My favorite site was the Ben Thanh market. There are clothing and souvenir stalls but also food stalls – both prepared and fresh produce along with meat and seafood.

It was probably the closest thing to street food we had while there. The street food looked incredible but I was a little iffy eating it after I noticed how they use water from a hose to wash the dishes. I’m thinking diarrhea on your honeymoon is something you try to avoid… And now I have officially talked about diarrhea on my blog.

My favorite Vietnamese dessert – Che Ba Mau.

The people are very friendly in this city (well almost all, there was this one taxi driver…) and the food was AAAAAMAZING. I seriously could eat Vietnamese food all the time. My absolute favorite meal was probably our breakfast banh mi from BB Banh Mi & Cafe. The baguette they used was to die for. I’m telling you, what makes a good banh mi great is all in the baguette. You can quote me on that.

On a non-food related note, I really enjoyed visiting Jade Temple. There was something so serene about watching people pray and reflect. It was a calming experience and made me feel grateful for the life I have.

We also visited the Reunification Palace which is great for a mini-crash course in Vietnam history. The one thing I might advise on skipping is the views from the Bitexco Financial Tower. It was 200,000 VND to go up to the sky deck to see 360 views of the city which was cool, but I’m not sure it’s worth 20 USD.

Chris and I absolutely loved HCMC, the pulse, the people, and the food. Though we agreed its not the city for everyone. There are some scammers out to get you (ahem, taxi man), the city is loud and crowded, and the streets maddening. I saw a t-shirt that summed up driving in Vietnam. It had a picture of a traffic light and next to the green light it said, “I can go.” Next to the yellow light it said, “I can go.” And next to the red light it said, “I can still go.” Not only are the traffic lights mere “suggestions” but all lanes on the road and even sidewalks are fair game! It was part thrilling and part terrifying to cross the road but when in Rome!

Vietnam: Our Honeymoon in 10 Photos

Vietnam was incredible! I almost don’t want to encourage people to visit because I don’t want it to be overrun with tourists, but honestly, you should go…and go now! Before it gets touristy and all…

Chris and I did a South-to-North tour of Vietnam. We started in Ho Chi Minh City, and made our way to Phu Quoc, then Hoi An and Hue, and lastly, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

Here is a glimpse of our trip:

This is the usual scene on the streets of HCMC and Hanoi: people gathered on the streets perched on little stools cooking and sharing food.

The best breakfast ever! The classic banh mi sandwich with an egg. And it only cost $1!

 Fresh coconut!

The seafood market in Hoi An:

Cha Ca Va Long – the best meal I had in all of Vietnam! White fish seasoned with fish sauce, shrimp paste, and tumeric served with fresh noodles and morning glory, topped with dill.

Girls dressed in ao dai – the Vietnamese dress.

Water buffalo in hiding:

And here’s a gratuitous #honeymoonselfie:

More pictures and details to come! I am actually taking a red eye tonight to NYC. (Please note I am not the jet-setter I appear to be.)

Portland: City of Roses and Long Lines

Chris and I left SF at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to meet my cousin, April, and her fiance, James in Portland (Oregon, not Maine!). Portland turned out to be all I imagined. There are so many trees! And people there are crazy friendly – like they say hi to you while you’re waiting on line and ask you if you need anything. Where am I? In NY, they would push right through you as if you were invisible and act offended if you said anything.

Me pretending to smell the roses.

The weather was really pleasant during the day though a bit breezy at night, but heck, I got to wear shorts so I’m not complaining. (Shorts in SF are an anomaly.) One of my favorite sights of the trip was the International Rose Test Garden, the oldest public rose garden of its kind in the US. Its a testing ground for roses with over 7,000 rose plants of about 500 varieties. I can see why Portland is nicknamed the “City of Roses.” It was unbelievably pretty!

Another highlight is the Japanese Garden right next door which is supposedly the most ‘authentic’ Japanese garden outside of Japan (mind blown). The gardens are so peaceful and serene. I really liked the sculptures and all the stones.

The most awe-inspiring sight is Multnomah Falls, the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside of Portland and really easy to get to off the highway. We hiked to the top of the falls which was about a mile each way. It was pretty steep with a lot of cutbacks but definitely worth it! Many people were dipping their feet in the water at the top. The water was freezing cold and it felt like stepping into an ice bucket – totally not refreshing.

Hee. My cousin taking a drink from the falls.

On Sunday (mistake #1) we tried to go to Pine State Biscuits around 10am (mistake #2) for brunch and apparently so was everyone else. It reminded of the Portlandia “Brunch Village” episode where people were camping for miles outside the latest hottest brunch spot all for the marionberry pancakes. Mr. Mayor, where are you?! Needless to say, none of us were patient enough to wait so we decided to go back the next day on Monday right when it opened at 7am. We did it guys. We beat the rush.

Reggie Deluxe: Fried chicken, bacon & cheese topped with gravy and a fried egg.

The biscuits were glorious! This place did not disappoint. All of their dishes are southern inspired with fried chicken and some variation on the toppings. The biscuits themselves were flaky and buttery – what more could you ask for? Except maybe some spanx to hold everything together. (For me of course, not the breakfast.) After we headed to Voodoo doughnuts because really, we didn’t get enough saturated fat and sugar for the morning. Fried dough is not easy to pass up, especially when you can order them in clever names like Butterfingerling, Dirty Snowballs, Memphis Mafia, and Captain My Captain.

There was a line (of course!) but it moved quickly so we were able to feast on donuts for our second breakfast without waiting too long. Overall, we had a great time! We got lost inside Powell’s Bookstore, went to a winery in Hood River, shopped on S. Adler Street, tasted beer flights at Deschutes Brewery, and noshed on some bites at the farmers market.

Our flight back to SF was delayed by 3 hours and Chris and I didn’t get home until 1am Tuesday morning. Yikes! Well I’m in NY now. I just arrived this morning and I’m excited to get me some real bagels! 

Joshua Tree National Park: Cooking in the Desert (Road Trip – Part 3)

Man, I like heat, but being cooked in direct sunlight is definitely not something I like. On the last leg of our road trip, Chris and I headed to the desert.

We made a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park (with U2 blasting on the stereo). Joshua trees are pretty interesting looking. They kind of have a Seussical-Tim-Burtonesque feel. And let me tell you, they do not provide much shade.

After enjoying the beaches in San Diego we drove out to Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a peculiar city. As we were driving through the (brown) mountains we could see patches of green in the valley where the city is located. Its weird to think of this ritzy and fancy place in the middle of the blazing desert. We stayed at the best Airbnb ever in the Movie Colony neighborhood. It is named so because in the 1930s, many Hollywood stars built their vacation home in Palm Springs. There’s even a 26-foot statue of Marilyn Monroe since she loved the city so much!

View of Palm Springs

What’s there to do in Palm Springs? Relax for one thing! It was awesome lounging by the pool and catching up on reading. We ordered takeout for dinner and watched the sunset by the pool too. Its a kind of life I could get used to. On the second day, we headed to Joshua Tree National Park. Its a weird place to be honest, and that just might be because of the eccentric nature of Joshua trees.

While there, we hiked Ryan Mountain which is a 3-mile trail – 1.5 miles up and 1.5 miles down. Normally I feel like 3 miles would be an easy-peasy hike for me. But I underestimated what hiking is like in 102 degrees F weather. It was so hot I seriously thought my face was melting off. It was the only time I wished there was a concession stand at the peak with AC-seating and lemonade slushies (screw nature).

Though I’m really happy we went. The views are truly unique and gorgeous.

Plus we learned its a great place for rock climbers. Apparently you can take lessons there. So who knows, maybe will even come back!