28
Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Random fun

Sometimes the best fun when you’re traveling is the random, unplanned fun.

Tibidabo

On our first day, we saw from our apartment what looked like a castle on a hill. “That’s a church,” our host’s sister told us. “And an amusement park.”

Huh? At first I thought maybe her English was off, but of course she was right. Our apartment wasn’t far from the foot of Mount Tibidabo, home of Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

— and an amusement park. Of course we had to visit.

Part of the fun was taking a funicular up the mountain (although the whole ride one woman decided to stand and face us, and on my other side, another woman kept getting up and looking anxiously around, for what I don’t know). The church itself was, well, a church. We didn’t go to the top since that was another five euros on top of the park admission. The view from the park itself was amazing enough:

In my old age, I’ve become scared of heights, but I still rode this fucking thing. I kept my eyes closed and hung on for dear life most of the time, but I still rode it. We also visited the haunted house, what they call Hotel Krueger, although it was nothing like a hotel. The line was hella long, and people would sometimes burst out screaming and running.

So was it scary? Kind of. It was more about the anticipation of someone jumping out at you (there was no physical contact, thank goodness). One guy in our group was like the canary in the coal mine: he’d jump or scream, and then we’d see the scary thing.

The only thing that really startled me was the little person. There were two oversized dolls, but it turned out one wasn’t a doll, and he casually jumped down from the shelf and started following us. Eek!

We also rode the log flume (the first drop wasn’t bad but the second one, I ended up hanging onto my friend for dear life) and the “Russian mountain” roller coaster (see more about the language of roller coasters). That was scary but fun.

Barcelona Aquarium

Not the biggest aquarium I’ve seen, but still a nice time. The highlight was definitely the penguin feeding and watching the penguins swim back and forth. At the same time I worried that they didn’t have a big enough pool to swim in.

Torre Glories

We kept seeing this phallic-shaped building from a distance and finally one day went to see it up close and personal.

Formerly known as Torre Agbar (Agbar is the name of the company that once owned it), it’s 38 stories high and was purchased by another company just this year and renamed after the nearby square. Its nicknames include “the suppository” and “penis-building.”

Beach

I didn’t go to the beach during our first visit so I felt compelled to do so this time around. While I’m not a fan of the sun — I basically turn into one big freckle — I had a lovely time.

It helped that we went to a gay nude beach. While they were plenty of in-the-buff dudes and a few heterosexual couples, there were no kids, which meant peace and quiet. I didn’t get naked but I did get in the water. Here’s evidence:

The Mediterranean is very salty. Who knew? (Lots of people probably.)

Besides getting a good dunk and reading, I also had an aperol spritz, which knocked me right out. I fell asleep for a good 20 minutes.

Gigantes y cabezudos

Our second weekend happened to fall on La Merce, a big annual festival honoring the Virgin of Grace, the patron saint of the archdiocese of Barcelona. One of the festival’s features are gigantes y cabezudos, which translates as “giants and bigheads.” Made of papier mache, a gigante is kind of a cross between a costume, a puppet, and your worst nightmare.

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We saw a couple in action on Las Ramblas, and after that I was obsessed. Just by chance one day we passed this place, which has a whole bunch of gigantes on display in their courtyard.

During the festival, we saw the gigantes dancing around again, and I visited the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, where the oldest ones are kept in a glass case. Unfortunately because of said case, it was hard to get a good picture.

Graffiti

Walking around, neither of us could resist taking pics of the great graffiti.

Here are some of my favorites:

Want more Barcelona? Check out my posts on museums and eats and drinks.


27
Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Eats and drinks

Second only to museums when I travel is trying new things to eat and drink. Barcelona was no different.

La Taverna del Born

This place was special if only because it was near our apartment and the first place we ate. I was starving and ordered too much food: croquettes and patatas bravas. I also got the first of many cappuccinos:

Teresa Carles

My friend is a vegetarian and when he finds a veggie place likes, he tends to go back a lot. Hence, our two visits to Teresa Carles (which we went to on our first trip to Barcelona as well).

We went there for dinner on our first night. I got the pappardelle with red pesto and a glass of white wine:

So good.

For dessert my friend got some kind of cake. I didn’t really like it. The icing was not icing. But I guess you can’t have everything.

Our second visit we both got salads, Italian for him and goat cheese for me, and shared a bread basket.

I guess a salad was “healthier” because of all the vegetables, but the serving of goat cheese was, um, generous shall we say. It was also delicious.

Vegatalia

My friend was excited about trying this vegetarian place for the first time, but then it turned out to be one we ate at on our last visit. It was still good though. I got what they called “brunch,” a delightful assortment of different sweet and savory eats:

The only thing I didn’t like were the kiwi. They were incredibly sour.

Casa Lola Rambla

A random pick after a long day at the amusement park (more on that later). We both felt like paella, although I was a little worried that it would be a huge serving that I wouldn’t be able to finish. But the portion turned out to be perfect.

The rice was black instead of yellow and was infused with flavor. I only wished there had been more shrimp and other seafood. Of course paella wouldn’t be complete without some sangria.

Demasié

Another favorite haunt was this bakery on Carrer de la Princesa. Their specialty are these incredible-looking cinnamon rolls in a multitude of flavors.

Our first visit they had matcha and red velvet, which we found out later was a rare occurrence. My friend got a matcha and I got a red velvet. While the matcha was good — very matcha-y — the red velvet didn’t really taste like red velvet. It was just sweet. Maybe it would have been better with a cream cheese icing.

However, my friend was hooked and kept going back. (It helped that the guy working was cute and very nice.) He was hoping for matcha but they never had them again during our visit.

La Xocolateria

While my pal was addicted to Demasié rolls, my poison was chocolate croissants. I tried a few random places, and while they were all good, La Xocolateria, which was near where we stayed, took the cake.

I went one day and asked for my usual. Luckily the guy behind the counter spoke English and offered a hazelnut. At first I said no, but then thought twice and decided what the heck, I’ll try a hazelnut.

I thought it would be similar to the almond croissants from La Boulangerie, but no. When the guy said “hazelnut,” he meant Nutella. That’s right: a croissant oozing with Nutella. Cue angel chorus.

Nutella croissants are definitely not something I want to be eating all the time, but I was curious if any places in New York sell them. Epicerie Boulud seems to be the main one although I don’t know if I’ll go out of my way to get one from there.

Raco Hofmann

We had brunch one morning at this little cafe that’s part of a theater. I had a yummy ham and cheese croissant sandwich and a cappuccino.

Satan’s Coffee Corner

We hit this spot for brunch one morning mostly because we were intrigued by the name. Turns out the food is really good too, not to mention my cortado:

My friend and I ordered polar opposites in terms of healthiness: a kind quinoa porridge with fruit for him and sausages and biscuits in gravy for me. He did, however, eat one of my biscuits.

Dionisos

Sometimes takeout is just easier, and this Greek place was right up our alley. I got the lamb and beef burger patties with all the fixings: salad, sauces, pita. It was a lot of food for not a lot of euros (unfortunately I can’t remember how much it was). I also got a can of stuffed grape leaves.

Mercado de la Boqueria

We had heard from a few people that this market was a must-see, and indeed it is, even if just for the spectacle of it:

But while it was huge, it was kind of the same thing over and over. Meat, fruit and juices, tapas, seafood, again and again, with a few egg, dried fruit, empanda, and candy stalls sprinkled in. Still, it was fun to wander up and down the aisles.

In terms of eats, I got a little cone of chorizo, quail eggs, and patatas. Turned out it was mostly lettuce filling that cone. A bit of a rip off. However, the fresh fruit cup I also got was amazing.

Santa Caterina Market

I had read online that this market was similar to Boqueria, only smaller and less crazy. It was indeed smaller, but maybe because I went on a Saturday, still pretty crazy. I liked my food better: three oversized croquettes, chicken curry, gorgonzola and nuts, and goat cheese. I liked the chicken curry best, but I don’t know if that’s because it was the first one I ate and I was hungry.

Bar Marsella

This absinthe bar was recommended to my friend. It’s supposedly the oldest bar in Barcelona and was frequented by the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, and Gaudi. While you can tell the decor was once interesting, even beautiful — especially the chandeliers — now it’s pretty rundown. However, the absinthe was still effective.

What you get is half of the glass of the potent stuff, two sugarcubes, tiny forks, and a water bottle to share. We uncapped the bottle and poured the water over the sugarcubes before realizing a small hole was pierced in the cap and you were supposed to use it like a squeeze bottle.

I got pretty drunk. Like, I could barely walk in a straight line to the bathroom. Luckily we weren’t too far from our apartment.

Bun Bo Vietnam

We first saw this place when we stumbled upon this famous kissing mural:

Then on one of my solo wanderings, I stumbled upon it again and decided to give it a try. By then it was the last day of my trip and I was craving Asian food. I got the bun, or rice noodles, with chicken. It was good overall but the vegetables kind of sucked: wilted lettuce. I don’t get it because their produce is really good. I also got an aperol spritz and for dessert, tapioca pudding.

Which kind of looks like pasta with a red sauce, but I believe that’s cinnamon. It was tasty.

Porch snacks

While eating out was fun, having meals at home was also lovely. We’d sit on the porch, eat random things, drink the wine our kind hosts left us, and read or write postcards.

One night when I was on my own, I ended up having most of a pizza I had bought from the supermarket along with half a bottle of 10 euro rose. Ah, vacation.

Up next: random fun.


26
Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Museums and culture

As you might know, every year for the past several years, I’ve had the chance to go to Europe. I thought it might not happen this year, but then I suddenly got a message from my friend about Barcelona.

I’ve been to Spain once, back in 2014 when we spent two weeks in Madrid and a couple of days in Barcelona. So I was excited to see what I had missed and to revisit some favorite places. And as with all my trips, some of those favorite places were the museums and other cultural spots.

La Sagrada Familia

During our last visit to Barcelona, we skipped La Sagrada Familia. We walked past it, but saw how long the line was and said forget it. Plus it was so frigging hot. This time we got the tickets even before we left.

In case you didn’t know, the Sagrada Familia is famous for its distinct Gaudi-esque style. Construction began in 1882 and is still going. It’s supposed to be complete by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

It was less crowded than I expected but still pretty crowded. We did a very quick walk through the church before going to the tower we had picked, the Tower of the Passion. Our other choice was the Tower of Nativity, but I read online the Passion one was slightly higher and perhaps gave a better view.

The view certainly didn’t suck:

After our time in the tower, we did an audio tour of the church itself.

I love how Gaudi incorporated his love of nature into his work.

Jewish Quarter and Ancient Synagogue

I loved visiting the Jewish Quarters of Paris and Prague so I thought I’d love Barcelona’s too. However, there wasn’t much to it, although we did get to see the oldest synagogue in Spain. It was teeny tiny because, back in the day, synagogues could only be as big as the city’s smallest church.

Museum of Design

We didn’t have plans to go to this museum, but it was in the vicinity of something else we wanted to see so we thought what the heck.

Because we hadn’t done research, we had no idea the David Bowie exhibit was there. I enjoyed it. Of course I loved all the different outfits, but I also liked learning about how he infused storytelling and his fascination with space in his songs. I mean, duh if you already know about Bowie, but I didn’t.

After I came home, I learned that the Bowie exhibit will be at the Brooklyn Museum early next year. My friend and I are so cutting edge.

Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona

Before we left I did some research on what exhibits would be open while we were there, and found this one on Bjork at the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB).

While I’m not familiar with her recent music, I’m still a Bjork fan. Back in college I was really into the Sugarcubes, specifically their Stick Around for Joy album. She was so incredible and devastating in Dancer in the Dark. Plus I love that she’s just an all-around nut.

I really liked the exhibit. Back in 2015, the MoMA had a form of it, which was widely panned. I didn’t go to it so I’m not sure how it was different, except, as The New York Times says, it included “ludicrously infantilizing and tedious” audio narration.

Thankfully there was none of that at the CCCB. The exhibit was divided into four parts. The first was a room playing her video for Black Lake on opposite walls and with surround sound. We were encouraged to walk around. I really liked the song, which seems to be about her split from the artist Matthew Barney. (Of course afterward I went down the rabbit hole of that relationship. He seems like a tool.)

The second part was a 360 degree virtual reality “experience” of Stonemilker. It was fun because she would disappear from view, you’d turn, and there she’d be.

The third part was VR again, but I couldn’t watch it. It was Mouth Mantra and it gave me motion sickness so I kept my eyes closed the whole time.

The fourth was also VR but Bjork was basically animated as a moth or fairy (I can’t remember the songs), and in that case seemed like she was really there. At one point I had no idea where she was. I looked down and she was at my feet. It was weird. Plus you had these gadgets where you could “draw” on what was basically her vagina. (Oh Bjork.)

The last part was just all of her videos. I watched one, Hunter, which was so weirdly charming. Those two words sum her up, I think.

Fundacio Joan Miro

We took a funicular up to Montjuïc (or “Jewish Mountain,” named for the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery found there) to see this museum dedicated to Joan Miro. I enjoyed it since I enjoy most museums, but I can’t say I really “get” his work. The only photograph I took was off this TARDIS sculpture by a different artist.

We also visited the Montjuïc Castle, which wasn’t that impressive. But you kind of have to go if you’re there, and it’s only five euros.

To get back down, we took the cable car. That was pretty fun and not too scary.

National Catalonia Art Museum

This was my favorite museum the last time I visited, mostly because it was a very trippy experience. I had walked about five miles in 90 plus degree heat to get there and was delirious from thirst and hunger. Plus you have to go up what felt like three escalators just to get there, and once you do, it’s this incredible view of the city. In front of the building, there are all these waterfalls, and at the foot, the Magic Fountain.

This time was less trippy. The weather was cool, overcast, and raining off and on, and we didn’t have to walk very far to get there (we came from the cable cars from Montjuïc). Instead of a chocolate muffin with frosting inside, I got a croque monsieur, which kind of sucked, although I ate the whole thing.

I liked the art though. I love how the medieval section, with its church artifacts, feels like a church. This time I went through the modern art wing, which I thought I had missed last time, but it turns out it wasn’t open when I was there. My favorites were the art nouveau furniture and decor.

Gaudi Exhibition Center

This was the last museum I went to during my trip, and it was a spur of the moment decision. I really liked it, and not just because it provided A/C and peace and quiet on a hot and crowded day. It focused on what inspired Gaudi, and included an audio tour with price of admission. What I found most fascinating were the the 3D renderings of his models that were never built.

Next up: eats and drinks!


05
Aug 17

Mini vacay, the Boston edition

Sunset over Somerville.

A couple of friends and I were supposed to go on a “girls’ getaway” last weekend. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a reasonably priced place to stay so that plan got scrapped. But I still spent a few days with my bestie in Boston.

The Greek

I got an early start to the weekend by taking Friday off and going out Thursday night.

Another friend and I met up for drinks and apps at the Greek in Tribeca. It’s a little pricey but the cocktails and food are yummy. I was trying to choose a cocktail when the bartender suddenly took the menu from me and said, “I will make something for you.” Oh um okay. I thought he was going to custom-make something because he overheard my lamenting the fact that they no longer had their ouzo-based cocktail, but it was just a cucumber and gin one off the menu.

I mean, it was good, but not what I would have chosen. Although the garnishes, Mexican cucumbers which look exactly like watermelons, were so cute. For a nosh, I had the keftedes, Greek meatballs. Yum!

The movie we saw was Girls Trip. It was enjoyable. All of the actors were good, but Tiffany Haddish was ridiculously engaging and hilarious.

Boston Burger Company

I got into town about one on Friday, and was starving despite the plethora of snacks I had brought on the bus. I was craving a burger, and this place was right near the subway station where we met. I got the Killer Bee, which comes with a stack of BBQ sauce-covered onion rings:

I swear there was an actual burger under there.

We also shared some garlic parm fries. Really hit the spot.

Fuller Craft Museum

My friend told me how when her mom visited the previous weekend, she barely wanted to do anything. She just wanted to hang out, run errands, and help my friend organize and clean her condo. I was like #weekendgoals! and decided I wouldn’t pressure myself into doing a million “fun” activities.

We did just one: visit the Fuller Craft Museum.

I enjoyed their quilt exhibit, which was different interpretations of what’s called the Bull’s Eye pattern. I ran into a lady who remarked that while the quilts were beautiful, hardly anyone would have room to hang one on their walls.

“I guess you’re right,” I said. “But you could throw it on your bed.”

“You mean use it as a blanket?” the lady asked, seemingly flabbergasted by the idea.

“Well yes. They’re quilts.”

“No, they’re not.” She pointed to the adjoining room. “Those are quilts over there. These aren’t quilts.”

“Yes, they are. They’re part of the same exhibit.”

“Oh.” She looked around. “They would make beautiful quilts.”

Yes, because they’re literally quilts.

Anyway, I also liked their permanent collection as well as the Amber Cowan Re/Collection exhibit:

What she does is take vintage glass and glassworks, and either work them into new pieces or recreate and reinterpret them. The pieces were an interesting mix of whimsical, erotic, and borderline grotesque.

The only downsides to the museum were that I was hungry and freezing the whole time. I knew it was going to be cool but I didn’t realize how cool, and while I had long pants, I didn’t have a heavy enough jacket. I would have brought a Cliff Bar for a snack, but we assumed they’d have a cafe. A woman said they used to but not anymore.

IKEAn cuisine

Besides the museum, we mostly just shopped. Friday afternoon we hit two shoe stores (I bought two pairs of shoes), Old Navy (a cute top and dress), and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Saturday, we went to IKEA.

After two hours of starving at the museum, I was really happy to chow down on some Swedish meatballs.

I got mine with the sides that come with the veggie balls. The vegetables, green beans, were the same, but instead of mashed potatoes, I got a quinoa and farro mix. We also got dessert, this delicious chocolate and hazelnut cake.

Ah, Brockton, the home of exotic IKEAn cuisine.

Eating and drinking at home

In the continued theme of a chill weekend, we ate the rest of our meals at home. Friday night my friend made scallops in a cream sauce over pasta; Saturday morning we had a hearty brunch of scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and toast; and that night we had some random snacks after our late lunch at IKEA.

We also drank quite a bit of booze.

Absinthe

My friend was on purging spree and determined to get rid of a bunch of liquor, one of which was the absinthe she bought on our trip to Prague many years ago.

Following some instructions from the Internet, I divided the small bottle into two glasses and slowly added some sugar. You’re supposed to melt the sugar slowly over a slotted spoon, but of course we didn’t have that and made do with fast-melting sugar. I sprinkled it in very slowly and kept stirring. Still, it wasn’t dissolving.

After a while I gave up and took a sip. It was SO STRONG. Like burn-a-path-of-fire down my throat strong. I looked up what kind of mixers to use with absinthe and found other instructions that said to add water. Oops. I added a little, which lightened the taste (although it still had a kick) and finally dissolved the sugar.

The absinthe got us tipsy but we weren’t freaking out. It did feel different from other alcohol. The word that keeps coming to mind is a “waviness.” My friend kept saying she felt warm throughout her body. Later when I looked in the mirror, I saw that my eyes were SO RED. I don’t think my eyes get red from other alcohol.

Becherovka bitters and Kavalan whisky

The next night we tried this, another Prague purchase. I followed a Czech mule recipe, which includes ginger beer and lime. At first I put just one ounce of the bitters, but because their alcohol content is so low, the cocktail mostly tasted like ginger beer and lime. We added at least another ounce.

It was slightly stronger, but not by much. That’s when I decided to add the Taiwan whisky that I had brought.

I tried it straight first, and it was yummy. While my friend drank hers neat, I dumped mine in my cocktail. It wasn’t terrible but not fabulous either. Still, I drank most of it, and it did the trick.

Cherry rum and Dubliner liqueur

We also tried a couple of small bottles of liquor my friend had won in some contest. The first one, a cherry rum, smelled like cough syrup to me — and tasted EXACTLY like it. It was so disgusting and the aftertaste, even worse.

The other was a Dubliner liqueur with honeycomb liqueur. It was pretty good although too sweet for me, at least after all that ginger beer.

Chilling on the porch

My last night my friend and I just sat on her porch chatting, drinking, and eating.

It was so simple yet so much fun. Sometimes the simplest things are.


22
Apr 17

A birthday trip to Beacon

In case you don’t know, Beacon is a picturesque little town in Hudson Valley. Nearby is hiking and Storm King, but our destination that day was Dia, a big modern art museum.

Getting there

The MTA offers package deals of a Metro-North train ticket plus museum admission. We took the 9:43 train — and so did everyone else it seems. The train was pretty packed maybe because it was the Saturday before Easter and beautiful weather on top of that. But we were each able to get our own seats.

The ride was only supposed to be 90 minutes, but it took two hours because of delays.

Beacon Bread Company

By the time we got there, we were starving, or at least I was. After some back and forth, we settled on the Beacon Bread Company. The food ended up being really good (I got the Basic Breakfast with sausage patties) but it took forever. Upwards of 30 minutes. Later we figured out the town was slammed with visitors and the restaurants weren’t used to having so many people.

Zora Dora’s Micro Batch Ice Cream

For dessert we went to this artisan popsicle place. Sounds so obnoxious but it was really good. I had a cookies and cream, which was made with milk instead of ice cream and not super sugary.

Dia

Finally, Dia! The museum is in what was a Nabisco factory, and still has that feeling: big open, industrial spaces. The artwork is similar to how it used to be at the Whitney. Those enormous Richard Serra installations, those head-scratching Robert Smithson pieces (although the Spiral Jetty is one of my absolute favorites)

We also relaxed on the John Chamberlain couch installation, enjoyed the Louise Bourgeois sculptures

— and had a blast fooling around in Dan Flavin’s Untitled:

While the walk back to Main Street wasn’t long, we were glad for the cheap shuttle bus.

Denning’s Point Distillery

Ellen was kind enough to treat me to a tasting flight at this distillery. But the gins, whiskies, and bourbons were so strong, I could barely drink any and was pretty much drunk immediately. Yet I still had a cocktail (a Modern Mule, natch) with plenty of free popcorn to soak it up.

Glazed Over Donuts

After the distillery, we passed a couple with donuts. We asked if the place was still open, and they said they had just closed but to “try the side entrance.” We didn’t know what that meant, but sure enough the side door was still open.

Desperate we said we’d take any three donuts they had left. We ended up with — I can’t even remember, except that caramel, peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallows were all involved.

The donuts were still warm so I had a couple of bites but saved the rest for a delectable breakfast the next morning.

Next up: Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the Easter Parade.


01
Apr 17

Los Angeles 2017: Eats and drinks

The only activities that rival visiting museums when I travel is trying new eats and drinks.

Porto’s Bakery and Cafe

On my first day, my brother and I had lunch at this popular Cuban place. And I do mean popular. It was maybe 11:30 when we got there and already a madhouse. However, the line moved quickly.

I had a milanese chicken sandwich, which was very tasty. We also got some pastries and potato balls to go, all of which were awesome.

Grand Central Market

I went to this food court three times. The first was with my brother on a weekday. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was expecting. I got a yummy sausage hash from Berlin Currywurst. I didn’t pay attention to the name of the place so I was surprised when the sauce tasted like Japanese curry.

The only thing I didn’t like was the way the guy seemed to try to trick people into getting fries. After I said yes, I realized it was $5 extra and changed my mind. Ditto with the guy behind me.

My brother got pupusas. Again, delicious.

The second time I went to Grand Central Market was with my buds. First we hit G&B Coffee where one friend had a cappuccino, another had a tumeric/ginger macadamia milk, and I had a almond macadamia latte. The milk was tasty but my latte was really good and strong.

Next was Eggslut (which, by the way, arrived in New York just days after we came back). The line was long but not insane. I got the sausage, egg, and cheese, which was amazing, and we shared a delectable biscuit.

My third time at Grand Central Market, we hit G&B Coffee and Eggslut again. I got the same things at both, and this time, since we got there at about 8:30, there was almost no line at Eggslut. My friend got the signature “slut,” a coddled egg on top of what is essentially mashed potatoes. It lived up to the hype.

At home

While eating out is fun, sometimes a home cooked meal hits the spot. So I was really happy when my sister-in-law made a lovely Korean dinner.

Not shown was a flavorful broth, chock full of umami. The next day I scarfed down the rest of the broth, plus most of the salmon.

Salt & Straw

If you’re wondering if I gained weight on this trip, unfortunately I did. Fortunately however I got to try the incredible ice cream from Salt & Straw. I had what they called the cinnamon roll, which pretty much tasted just like one in ice cream form.

Marvin

My mom was kind enough to treat my brother, sister-in-law, and me to a nice dinner. Our choice was this lovely French bistro. For an appetizer we had the jamon tomato toast, and for entrees my brother got the steak while my sister-in-law and I both got the rigatoni with Bolognese sauce. The food was really good but the service was weird. For some reason we had two waitresses. One was nice but the other was snotty. Otherwise, it was a nice dinner.

Normandie Club

After dinner at Marvin, we tried to go to karaoke. But everywhere was too expensive. So we got cocktails at this cool kind of retro bar. I can’t remember exactly what I had, except it had mezcal, tasted good, and got me pretty drunk, especially after the wine at dinner.

Angel City Brewery

While my friends and I were in the Arts District, we stopped here for a beer tasting, but not before trying on some angel wings.

We got a flight, of which I thought I’d have a sip of each, wince, and be done with it. But, surprise, surprise, I liked two of the beers, the ones on the right.

I can’t remember what they were, only that the dark one tasted of coffee and chocolate and the light one was a like a less briny pickle juice. In other words, neither tasted like beer.

Wurstküche

After hitting Angel City and another brewery, we came to this gourmet sausage place. The line went down the street, which told us the place was popular but I was wary about the wait. We took a chance and the line moved pretty quickly. I kept changing my mind. Hot Italian? Filipino maharlika? Straight-up kielbasa? I ended up choosing the chicken sausage with jalapeno and mango, and I didn’t regret it.

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

The home of the cruffin, part croissant, part muffin. One of my friends said they usually sell out of the cruffins by noon. We were there around 10 and there were cruffins galore! I got three (for myself, my brother, and sister-in-law since I was going to their place later that day) and a couple of donuts. My brother and I split a cruffin. Not only was it all muffiny and croissanty, there was a delicious filling. It reminded of me that amazing blueberry muffin I had in Barcelona at the Catalonian art museum.

Stout

We spent part of a day in Santa Monica, which was fairly easy to get to. We hopped on an express bus that took about an hour and cost only $2.75.

After battling the wind on the beach, we came here for their early bird special: everything on the menu half off between five and six. I got the Stout Burger “skinny style,” meaning no bun, just greens. The burger and toppings were really good, but the greens were drenched in some kind of lemon dressing, which was way too much for my sensitive teeth. If I ever go back, I won’t do the skinny, or will ask for the dressing on the side.

The Misfit Bar

Next was happy hour. At first we decided against this bar because it was so crowded. We walked a little but then realized the other bars were far away. Plus my friend said the Misfit had “the best happy hour in Santa Monica.” When we returned, a few seats had opened up. I had a cocktail called the Jumping Jack Flash (Old Forester bourbon, Cocchi vermouth, ginger, and mint) which got me good and tipsy.

Beards are still apparently a big thing in Santa Monica and L.A.: all the Misfit bartenders had them, as well as random guys in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, back in New York, I feel like they’ve peaked and are fading out.

Nanbankan

For my last night, my brother and sister-in-law took me to this yakitori place. Like everything I ate in L.A., it was delicious. My favorites were the tsukune, or chicken meatballs, the pork sausage, and the okra.

Want more L.A.? Check out my earlier posts on museums and other random activities.


31
Mar 17

Los Angeles 2017: Little Tokyo, Arts District, Griffith Observatory

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to head out to L.A. for a last minute trip and, although it might be hard to believe, didn’t spend all my time at museums.

Hiking

There was a trail not far from my brother and sister-in-law’s place. It felt good to walk, talk, and be close to nature. We also saw some cute ducks.

Little Tokyo

My friend and I stayed in this part of town, in fact right across the street from the ramen place my brother and sister-in-law went to a few years ago. Our hotel was pretty nice. Not too expensive, simple, and clean.

Our other friend, who is an excellent concierge-on-the-go, mapped out several places we could visit, including Fugetsu-Do, a mochi shop which has been open since 1903; a bakery where I picked up a cheese croissant and coffee roll for breakfast; Daiso, a kind of dollar store, where I got a beauty mask for fun; and the supermarket next door, where I got a blueberry cream cheese sesame bun.

The verdict on all those buns? My favorite was the blueberry cream cheese sesame, second the cheese croissant, and last the coffee bun, which was pretty boring.

Arts District

This was a fun part of town with lots of cool graffiti. A few highlights.

Disney Concert Hall

We came here not for a show but to check out the cool architecture as designed by Frank Gehry:

We went inside and there turned out to be a free audio tour, as narrated by John Lithgow. It was pretty interesting. Disney’s widow was very involved with the design. In the rooftop garden is a sculpture inspired by her love of roses and Delftware.

Griffith Observatory

We rushed out here via Uber about an hour before it closed. But that turned out to be plenty of time. We peeked through a couple of telescopes and saw one star which I can’t remember and the a double star in Orion’s belt. We also had a lovely view of the city. Inside a whole mob of people were waiting for the Tesla coil to do its thing. Later my friend explained there’s a scene in La La Land involving that.

Our Uber driver had warned us it would take a year for us to get another Uber out there to take us home so he generously offered to turn off his app and wait. Not too big of a deal since we only took about half an hour. Either way it was wonderful to have a car waiting for us to take us back to our hotel.

Escape room

It was my first time doing this and I had loads of fun with my brother and sister-in-law. At first I was like, “This is so hard!” and couldn’t figure anything out. But the clues helped. Eventually I was able to figure out a couple of things, one of which I kept wondering, “Is this real? Am I making up this pattern?” But when I finished a key fell out of the thing I had been messing with. I was so excited I jumped up and down. In the end we were able to accomplish the goal — in our case, breaking into a safe to steal diamonds — in time.

Next up: eating and drinking my way through L.A.


30
Mar 17

Los Angeles 2017: Museums

Getty Museum

Early last month I decided to take a last minute trip to L.A. One friend was going for business while another was going for fun. Plus my brother said it was good timing for him and his wife. On top of all that, I managed to find a cheap flight.

As on all my trips, I saw a buttload of museums.

The Broad

A newly opened contemporary art museum and already booked months in advance. But my brother knew about its standby line, in which you show up, wait in line, and hope you can get in.

We got there about half an hour before it opened, and the line already went down the block. However, the museum workers did a good job of letting us know how long the wait would be. They said an hour, and that’s exactly what it was. It also helped that it was beautiful out.

The space and art were fun. Lots of Jeff Koons, Jackson Pollock, and other ones I can’t name. :P I wanted to see the Infinity Mirrored Room, but there was a waiting list. Not only that, there was a line for the list. I would definitely go back.

Japanese American National Museum

I had mentioned wanting to see the George Takei exhibit. Turns out it was walking distance from the Broad so off we went.

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I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to learn it was curated by Jeff Yang. Surprised because you don’t usually see writers curating museum exhibits. That may be part of the reason I liked it. It told a cohesive story, taking highlights from Takei’s life and juxtaposing them against points in American history, from his being interned with his family at age 5, to the racism he faced trying to make it in Hollywood as an Asian American actor, to Star Trek, to coming out, to getting married.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I always enjoy going to LACMA, especially since my brother is a member and can bring a guest for free. Their special exhibit was Picasso & Rivera, which examines the paintings, etchings, and watercolors from the contemporaries and compared them to the classic works (Greek for Picasso, Mexican for Rivera) that inspired them.

The Getty

My friends and I spent a good three hours here, but I could have stayed for longer. I focused on the special exhibit, Bouchardon, which was fairly interesting, and the garden. I started to look at the Concrete Poetry exhibit, but it wasn’t that exciting to me. Maybe if I had had more time. I felt like looking at some paintings so I went over to that building (which was hard to find for me) and got in some Rembrandt, Dutch still lifes, and French Impressionists.

That’s not all! I did other stuff besides visit museums (if you can believe it). That’s coming up next.


12
Feb 17

AWP 2017, D.C. Style

It’s been a couple of years since I last went to AWP. So I was glad this year to have the opportunity to attend, thanks to one of my freelance clients, and that it was in D.C., a city that’s relatively easy for me to get to and where one of my dear high school friends lives.

Getting there

The day of my departure a snowstorm was scheduled to hit. This got my mother worried, prompting her to call me the night before.

Her: “There’s big snow coming!”
Me: “Yes, but the subway’s only a five minute walk.”
Her: “But you’ll walk in the snow!”
Me: “It’s only five minutes.”
Her: “But you have your suitcase!”
Me: “It’s only five minutes.”
Her: “But! But!”

If I wasn’t worried about traveling in the snow before her call, I certainly was afterward.

But of course getting to the subway in the morning was perfectly fine. I left so early, there was hardly any snow on the ground, and the train wasn’t even delayed. Even lovelier: I had a whole row to myself as I enjoyed my breakfast, worked on my novel, and daydreamed. There was no snow in D.C. although it was quite windy.

The sessions

Since I’ve been to AWP several times, I don’t really get too much out of the sessions. However, there were a few that I liked.

One was about university teachers using multimedia to teach writing while another was about running grassroots literary conferences. There’s one in Lancaster that sounds really cool, but its focus is creative nonfiction while I’m primarily concerned with my novel right now.

The one big session I went to was with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Adichie, as moderated by E. Ethelbert Miller. It was packed. Luckily I got there early. The reading and talk were interesting, especially in this day and age.

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

In between attending sessions and doing work for my client, I had the chance to visit the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which was walking distance to the convention center. (It’s also free so I went twice, catching up on sections I missed the first time.)

Near the front of the National Portrait Gallery is a painting of Donald Trump. It had its own rope and security guard. I asked the guard, “Are you here to make sure no one does anything to that picture?” He just laughed and shook his head like “no comment.” I wanted to take a picture but chickened out.

The portraits part of the museum was a little boring, but upstairs they also had other kinds of American art, including this “Dreamers” exhibit, which was very cool:

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There’s also a beautiful courtyard.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This museum is attached to the National Portrait Gallery so it was easy to visit (and again, free). It had a wonderful Isamu Noguchi exhibit:

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Where I ate

Needless to say, the convention center food was pretty limited. There were one or two places at the main entrance, and almost always they both had ridiculously long lines. On the convention floor there was a Jamaican stand that had pretty good curry chicken, but at $11, it was overpriced.

Luckily, Chinatown was in walking distance. Twice I ate at ShopHouse (which, sadly, has shuttered its doors). It was Chipotle for southeast Asian food. Literally. It was owned by Chipotle. I thought it was really good. The bowls were tasty and less than $10.

One night I was craving a burger, and got takeout from Fuddruckers. Again, very good. Another night I got delicious koobideh from Grill Kabob. It was overpriced but the place was full of Aghani people so at least it was probably authentic.

Catching up with a friend

My last night I had the chance to have dinner with a good friend from high school. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I last saw her. I kept thinking five or six years but it’s more like 10! Too long. We had a good long chat over Asian food and then a nice walk back to my hotel.

Next year

AWP 2018 will be taking place in Tampa. Party in my hotel room?


22
Oct 16

A Boston weekend

Now that I’ve moved back to the east coast, visits to my friend Ellen in Boston are  super-easy. With the excuse of seeing her new place, I hopped on a train last Friday after work and headed north.

Myers + Chang

My first night we went to this sort of nouveau Asian place. The executive chef, Ellen told us, was on Top Chef (and looks startlingly like another chef, albeit fictional).

We had the braised pork belly buns, grilled duck kebabs, wok-charred octopus with grilled corn, sweet and sour brussel sprouts, and another dish I can’t remember. It was all very tasty.

I also had a cocktail, the Fire Monkey Mai Tai.

This ham is turkey

The next morning Aki, who was also there for the weekend, was kind enough to make us French toast. I wanted some protein so Aki fried up some leftover ham Ellen had.

It was delicious. So delicious we wanted seconds. Unfortunately Ellen had no more ham, but Aki had brought some from home. As Ellen and I ate our second batch, one of us commented, “This ham seems dry.” Another one of us said, “This ham tastes like turkey.”

“That’s because this ham is turkey,” Aki told us.

Turned out she was using “ham” as a general descriptor for luncheon meat.

Blue Hills Reservation

The next day we headed out to the Blue Hills Reservation for a hike. We were hoping to see some fall foliage, but the leaves were still pretty green.

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It was also quite warm, making our trek a good workout. Luckily we had banh mi sandwiches from Ba Le Restaurant in Dorchester to give us strength.

Short Path Distillery

What better way to cap off a long hike than with a trip to gin and rum distillery?

Short Path Distillery offered a free tour and a free tasting. The tour was more of a talk — about the history of the place and how the gins and rums are made — but it was still interesting.

That is, except for one drunk guy who kept asking the same questions over and over. After a while even his girlfriend and friends were like, “Dude, shut up.”

The tasting was more fun because free booze. My favorites were a gin infused with star anise and this sweet hibiscus-infused rum. Aki got a bottle of that. I should have too.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

I always crave something salty after drinking so ramen from one of our favorite go-to Boston places hit the spot.

The ramen was yummy as usual. They’ve expanded their menu since I was last there. Now they have these combo dishes, which I got.

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Ramen with an egg and gyoza. I shared the gyoza.

Already looking forward to my next visit!