Hanoi(ingly late)

Greetings from SE Asia my Lovers. Yesterday marked one week in my new home of Hanoi, and while I have spent the majority of my time either working or sleeping, I still have plenty to report on the Random front. I am truly in a different world, in every sense of the word. Europe was beautiful and romantic, not drastically different from home, and you could almost always find someone who spoke English, or you could at least fumble your way through the language. Hanoi does not afford us any of these luxuries – even if you can find “western” food, goods and influence on almost every corner.

Marky, DL, Ktunes and I all arrived in Hanoi on a 7 hour overnight flight from Dubai. I sat between the boys while they slept, unable to zonk out myself despite the copious amounts of free Jack Daniels Emirates provided. Customs was a breeze, contradictory to the horror stories we had been prepped with, but I was tired and cranky and a whiny little girl. They keys to my home (and my eventual sleep) were at the workspace (Toong) with Pigeon, so DL and I ubered/napped there to gain my access to my home and also my data – Vietnam is the one place that T-Mobile is not a thing. Our first introduction to the language barriers was arguing with our Uber driver who was supposed to carry us on, but it didn’t work out and we were left on the sidewalk with our baggage in hand. DL had a call, so we ducked into Cowboy Jack’s, a restaurant downstairs from Toong that can best be described as a Vietnamese Hooters. One business call, two plates of chicken cartilage, and a few beers later, we start our search for our Hanoi homes. The address provided to us is NOT accurate, so we spend the next HOUR dragging ourselves up and down the street, dripping with sweat, trying to find our air conditioned apartments for the month. Skeen to the rescue, we each find our destinations, I unpack a bit and go down for a much needed nap before my first taste of the night shift.

The next evening has me missing some faces, so I venture out to , my new favorite cocktail bar, to meet some fellow Earharts and have my first flaming Pho cocktail – which is every bit as delicious as it sounds. We leave Nê and wander to the corner for some actual pho, served on the sidewalk while sitting 6 inches from the ground on a plastic stool.  After lighting ourselves up with chili sauce, we move to Xofa for some iced coconut coffee to cool off in the monstrous heat and humidity.  The crew eventually breaks off, but Phil the Thrill, Bonina and I aren’t ready to turn it in, so we catch on Uber to the Old Quarter, follow some nice young expats into a ruin type bar that is entered to through a scooter rental shop, meet some english teachers (seriously, everyone here teaches english) who then take us to another corner where we drink Vietnamese beer and chat amongst our group of 20 or so until the sun comes up – sitting a corner on plastic stools 6 inches from the ground.

The next week is mainly me trying to manage the jet lag, a new work schedule (8pm-2am seems to be my jam), and one hell of a sinus infection. Its not until the end of the week that I really start to hit my groove, but a forced 10am wake up one day for Town Hall allows me to explore in the daylight, grab lunch and catch up with an Australian beauty, hit the grocery store, and stumble upon the cutest little park with a lake just a few blocks from Toong. Naps a plenty, grabbing 90 minutes here and there, I finally start to feel human enough to interact with the world, only my world now is limited to my fellow creatures of the night – those of us bound either loosely or tightly to US hours. We inhabit Toong until the wee hours of the morning, pack it in and head over to Puku, the late night joint that hosts us until sun up when we depart for our blackout shaded rooms for our 8 (or 10) hours of slumber.

The streets of Hanoi are filled with scooters and motorbikes – and the sidewalks, and the alleys, and, well, pretty much everywhere – you even see them inside.  Crossing the street was best described by Becks as a delicate game of frogger – although basic strategy dictates picking a moment, picking a speed and just going for it.  Which brings me to one of my favorite things about Hanoi: Uber. Moto. When you think about it, UberMoto makes perfect sense in the organized chaos that is the streets of Hanoi – and when you factor in that each ride only costs $.44 (read that right, forty-four cents), its a no brainer. Riding an UberMoto makes you feel like you are a part of the elite Hanoi scooter gang -each red light a new chance to be in a sea of motorbikes all revving at the same time to take off and ignore all proper traffic laws – lanes, lights, one ways – anything goes.

IMG_3459

Saturday night is ladies night, and we all get dressed up in our sexy best (much better than your Sunday best) and head to The Rooftop – a swanky joint on the 19th floor of the Saigon Hotel with expansive views of the Hanoi skyline. A girl DJ and drinks named “The Hot Lady” have us turning the joint into a dance club, because Earharts can start a dance party anywhere. Once we’ve exhausted our welcome there, we descend down to the lobby (with one daring rescue of a damsel in douchebag distress) and walk more than a few blocks in the drizzling rain to our next destination – The Toilet.  Despite it’s name, the club itself is quite swank, but the vibe is weird and we leave after not being about to dance the weirdness away.  Back to Puku, where there’s always Earharts to be found, a little sheisha, a little whiskey, and I’m home to pack for my 6am departure to Sapa (see Sleep When I’m Dead for overnighter status continued).

Week 1 recap: Hanoi is hot and humid and I mostly see it under cloak of night.  I moto as often as I can, eat food from street corners while sitting on cheap plastic stools and I questions anything that costs more than $4.  Side trips often require all nighters, and sleep is gotten where I can get it.  There’s more to come, so stick around Lovers; the Asian Random has just begun.

Specifically Yours,

SR

P.S. I know, this post is late – upon posting I only have two weeks left in Hanoi – but don’t fret, all will be revealed – I would never abandon your Love.  Kisses.

Du-Bye – The City of Excess

Welcome to the mile high edition of Specifically Random my Lovers. I am coming to you from the air somewhere between Dubai and Hanoi, a bridge between my summer in Europe and my Asian adventure. An (un)fortunate accident in preparation resulted in the addition of a city to my itinerary – Dubai, the city of Napoleon syndrome, where the biggest and the longest and the most ridiculous of everything exists around every corner. I’m not kidding you my Lovers, the mall has a Versace Home – for the most pretentious of the pretentious. Any who, welcome to the Middle East edition of SR – I hope you enjoy my take on the city of -ests.
A few weeks back, Marky and I were sitting in the workspace – we tended to be a few of the last souls left in the workspace, both tied to loosely the same hours. We we’re discussing upcoming travel plans when he realized that the visa he had so proactively attained for Vietnam would not actually be valid for our specific travel dates – his visa was Sept 1, and we traveled the upcoming Aug 26. I, being the classic overachiever that I am, had already scoped out our travel plans and knew we were breaking up a 16 hour travel day with a short stop in Dubai, so I suggested we ditch our second leg and hang out in the Middle East for a few days until his previously obtained visa allowed him entrance into the Asian part of our 12 month adventure. It was a win-win in my opinion – a chance to break up a L ON G ass travel day, a reprieve some some serious jet lag, and a chance to check a city off my bucket list. A recap of this idea to DL had him on board, and before you know it, we were concocting plans to hop off our transition flight for a Middle Eastern Adventure. We de-boarded in Dubai and were on our way to Burjaman to get settled for 5 days of a mix between murdering work, relaxation, exploration and (little would we know) ridiculousness in the UAE.
A late arrival had us all sleeping well into the afternoon the next day, but that didn’t stop DL from scoping the local scene while Marky and I attempted to catch sunset at 360 Bar. A miscalculation in both Uber drive times and haze factor caused us to miss sunset entirely, but the food made up for the mishap, and after dinner we snuck onto the deserted beach, removed our shoes, and walked through the surf under the lights of the Burj Al Arab before sneaking back out through a security gate. A (not so) quick Uber over to the Mall of the Emirates, where we wandered the expansive mall and expansive arcade that included virtual reality, a trampoline park, and every other thing you’d expect from an arcade, including skee-ball and Pac-Man. Close to mall closing time, I drag Marky down to the Shake Shack to satiate my never ending crave for cheeseburgers and (cheese) fries before we catch the LAST metro home – no joke, the staff was hurrying us through and cheering us onto the train that left just 45 seconds after we reached the station – you should have seen me double stepping the escalator in a floor length skirt.

IMG_3220

Our return times up nicely with DL’s, and we venture out of the hotel and around the corner looking for an open watering hole – no small feat in a town that frowns upon everything fun – in public at least. We stumble upon Rock Bottom, a dark, smoky, honky-tonk decorated hole in the wall that’s playing club music. A couple of highly overpriced double Jamesons for me a some beers for the boys before this place shuts down and we head up to the rooftop bar where everything is 50 AED – from Jack on the rocks to Corona – 50 AED. We drink our overpriced libations while overlooking the area, mercilessly fuck with each other, fend of some Milan douchebags (“They’re all douchebags” – DL), diffuse one total ass, and head back to the room. Realizing sunrise is only 30 minutes off, we take advantage of the floor to ceiling windows in our room (and a lamb pizza from 24 hour room service) and watch the big ball of fire ascend over the city before knocking off for the night (er, morning).

We’re all committed to taking this time to knock out some serious work, so when we finally rise, room service is ordered, command centers are set up and we get to digital nomading.  Each of us digs deep into the evening, stopping only to check out the hotel pool – which closed 10 minutes after we got there – and to walk a few block to the Lovebird Cafeteria where we have our most delicious and cheapest meal to date – two rounds of schwarma for each of us and the total was just over $10USD.  Needing a change of scenery, DL takes off to a sports bar, and I join him a few hours later for some overpriced double Jamesons – well deserved after being yelled at in Arabic outside the hotel that the bar was situated in.

We decide to spend our next evening watching the sunset from The Observatory at the Dubai Marriott Harbour. After one extremely uncomfortable walk through a bus stop of about 100 contractions workers, we make our way up to the 52nd floor, where the bar affords an epic view of the Dubai Marina, so we settle into our shifts in a high fashion form of digital douchebagging.  When the bar gets a bit rowdy and crowded, we relocated to the Dubai Mall, in search of a quaint bookshop with views of the fountain that I had read about – only to find it is now an Apple Store.  I have a call coming up, so we mad dash back to a French Bistro we had found and finish out our shifts before catching the last fountain show – or so we thought – turns out the last show is at 11:30, not 12:00.  We stare up at the Burj Khalifa  before grabbing a few cocktails at Karma Kafe and closing the night out at Rock Bottom.

Our last day in Dubai is by far the most fun as we decided to go play in the desert – dune bashing, sunsets, belly and fire dancing, bbq buffets – the day couldn’t have been better for closing out our semi-forced detour.  We close the gap between our desert adventure and our flight to Hanoi with a stop in The Irish Village where we manage to remote reality an entire corner of the bar with our luggage and technology.

If I’m being completely honest my Lovers (and we all know I believe honesty is the best policy), I did not love Dubai. Don’t get me wrong.  The architecture is amazing, and there is something big and beautiful almost every direction you look – maybe I didn’t go at the right time – maybe I didn’t see the right places, or eat at the right restaurants, drink at the right bars – but what I can tell you is I went with the right people.  If I walk away from Dubai with nothing else than the friendships previously forged and now incredibly solidified, I feel like I won at Dubai – because while I am here to see incredible places and have amazing experiences, I’m also here to create the bonds that lend themselves to lifelong relationships – something I feel the three of us achieved in Dubai, if not before.

 

Until next time my Lovers.

Specifically Yours,

SR

Lisboa

Dearest Lovers of Random – I promised a post about my latest city of habitation, Lisbon Portugal.  As referenced in my past post, Lisbon has been a different feel for me.  I’m an employed woman now and I am throughly enjoying being an accounting badass again.  I’m running a fitness challenge and have started a new weightlifting program, so I’m enjoying slinging weights again (thanks Dustin!). Budapest may have felt like home, but Lisbon feels much like my old life…. with a European twist, of course.

What can I tell you about Lisbon? Well, for starters, its dirty. In the midst of an economic rebound, there is construction everywhere, which means there is dust everywhere. Also, most of the drinking is done in the streets. So is the male relief of the by-product of that alcohol. Speaking of the drinking in the streets, Lisbon is also loud. At least my home is. Situated between the two bar districts in town, Barrio Alto and Pink Street, and having a few lively places of our own, there is always a chorus of drunken madness wafting it’s way up to my windows. Also directly beneath my window, a tram rail and a bus stop. Both run frequently. The sidewalks are narrow. The locals hate tourists. In the dead of summer, every day is hot and there are hills everywhere. But all of this is just as much a part of the unique charm of Lisbon as the tile buildings, towering staircases, stone walkways and street art filled walls. I’ve learned that Lisbon is a lot like me…. you love it for what it is, or you move on. It does not apologize for what it is.

In most cases, this dedication to culture is heartwarming and satisfying in the form of decorated plazas, delightful local dishes (I recommend the duck rice at Castro), and a wine culture that rivals any I have ever seen. Seriously, two buck chuck has nothing on the bottles you can get here for 3 euro. Some if it is better than a $50 bottle at home. There is a craft cocktail bar – 4 Caravelas – where I can walk through the door and order a Bulliet rye, and the Australian expat who owns the place automatically puts the dash of bitters that I enjoy so much and only had to ask for once. We can talk about the subtleties and differences of rye, bourbon and scotch while I sip my cocktail and it reminds me of HBG at home, because my glass is never really empty. There’s Helio, the local who runs the aforementioned Castro’s, a quaint bar and eatery offering open air seating in vintage upholstery served with a side of conversation about local culture. There’s Red Frog, a speakeasy that reminds me of Death & Co in NYC, although the door guy is a midget instead of a towering ape in a tux. There is Foxtrot, with it’s open courtyard and smoky old fashions. And one of my personal favorites, Baguettes & Cornets, a French corner bakery with the best baked treats and the friendliest staff in Europe.

But Lisbon also has a dark side, and it is ugly. I never personally experienced it, so I don’t feel I have the right to write about it, but you can read my tramily’s takes on the events of one horrible evening here and here. I have no respect for those who fuck with the people that I love, and I love my fellow Earharts deeply, so Lisbon will always carry a scar on my heart. But if I were to lump all of Lisbon in with the few neanderthals that perpetuated the events of that night, I would be no better than them.

In the spirit of open mindedness, I climbed the hills of Lisbon and watched sunrises and sunsets. I peered down it’s picturesque alleys and enjoy local wine in it’s parks. I ran along the river and watched the rising sun sparkle across it. I boarded a sailboat with friends old and new to see sunset from the Tagus and eat homemade stew between bouts of uncontrollable laughter. I wandered Pink Street and Barrio Alto after late night shifts. The Goddess visited and we sipped sangria with DL on top of a parking deck while watching the sunset over a bridge that resembles the Golden Gate. She and I swank it up at the Palácio do Governador with pool time, spa visits and girl talk in hotel rooms. I enjoy meals and drinks and late night deep chats with the 11 other souls living in my building. I do my best to make the most out of my time in Lisbon. That said, I’m not disappointed to leave.

My European adventure has come to an end. I’ll spend a few days in the Middle East before starting my life in Southeast Asia, and I don’t even have a clue what to expect, so I’m ready for anything. Stay tuned for the Random adventures: Vietnam addition.

Specifically Yours,

SR

 

Sintra in 4 hours (or less)

Boa tarde meus Amantes.  In an attempt to keep you up to date on the adventures, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: writing about a side trip the moment I’ve returned from it.  You would think that this is the most logical step: the events and sights of the day fresh in my mind, thoughts and words just ready to tumble out with precision…. but considering I haven’t even started my post on Porto yet (that trip was nearly three weeks ago), consider yourselves lucky that I found a few free moments to address you, my ever so faithful Lovers.

As my time in Lisbon is winding down (very quickly, I might add), I find myself with a laundry list of things I wanted to do while here that have not been checked off the list yet, and Sintra was one of them.  Sunrise is another, so after missing yesterday’s monthly sunrise hike with the crew (snooze and stop are too close together on my alarm), I rounded up Marky and Isaac (who also failed the initial trip) and we drug ourselves out of bed and up the hill this morning to watch the sunrise over Lisbon.  You can read more about this in my Lisbon post, but after the big ball of fire was adequately high in the sky, I made my way through the streets of Alfama to the Santa Apolina station to catch the 7:45 train to Sintra.  It is an hour train ride, and I have to be back at 2pm to knock out some work before tonight’s farewell junction, so when the train hits the station in Sintra, I’m off to the races to fit everything in before catching the 12:36 back to Lisbon.  Throw in me getting off at the wrong stop initially, and I’m down to less than 4 hours….

My first piece of advice for doing Sintra in 4 hours or less: don’t be that asshole.  Sintra deserves so much more, and I am kicking myself in the ass for not giving this castle and garden laden city it’s proper due…. alas, I vowed to do the best I could, and stubbornly did it all on foot.  From the train station, I set out and began the 1,477ft ascent to the Pena Palace, ducking into the woods at my first chance to hike the majority of the way through woods so quiet, I felt my labored breathing was disrupting the serene environment.  It is still early when I arrive at Pena, but the ticket lines are already long and a Remote Citizen who visited the day before has told me she didn’t think it was worth the wait, so I duck around the corner and make my way up to Castle of the Moors instead.  I don’t regret this decision at all, and I’m like a kid at Christmas climbing all over this castle, along the walls and up the watch towers to see all of Sintra from above.  The view is fantastic and the castle has expansive walls and nooks and crannies a plenty –  I want to stay there all day, but I’m a dick and I only have 2.5 hours to go, so it’s down the hill into the city center I go.

My previously mentioned amazing city team member Tomás (who happens to be from Sintra) has provided me with some must dos, should dos, and if-you-have-the-time dos.  I obvi only have time for the must dos, and one of those is hitting Piriquita to sample the local pastries, travesserio and queijada.  After my insane trek up the mountain and rather fun walk {hop/skip} back down, I’m famished and order one of each and an iced coffee.  Here’s the thing about Portugal: you never know what you are going to get when you order an iced coffee…. sometimes you get an iced coffee.  Sometimes you get hot coffee with ice.  Today, I got a hot cup of coffee and a glass of ice beside it… but it all works out, and the pastries are delicious.  If I didn’t have more walking to do, I would not have hesitated to order an entire box of travesserios and brought them back…. to share of course….. But I have castles to see and gardens to walk and only 1.5 hours left, so I pay the check and move on.

IMG_3174

I’ve been previously warned about how crowded Sintra is, but I’m still pretty amazed at the sheer number of people all going to do the same thing.  The next stop on my list is Quinta da Regaleira, and it is absolutely mobbed with people, even though it is just coming up on 11am.  I’m still high from my castle adventures earlier in the morning, so not even the line gets me down, but it does eat into my allotted time, so once I get through it, I kick it into high gear again so I can cover as much ground as possible.  I open the map and quickly realize that even at my fastest pace, I can only afford to hit about 10% of this place, so I steer away from the main (read: crowded) attractions and spend my time dipping through the gardens in hidden staircases and off the path trails.  The gardens are intricate and expansive, with waterfalls, lakes, grottos, caves and everything in between.  The statues are especially breathtaking, and include a hall of the gods, and my particular fave, the lion {who does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep}.  Sadly, my time here in Sintra is fast approaching it’s end, so I exit stage {garden} left and head back the the train station via the National Palace of Sintra and whatever this place is:

IMG_3191

Back safely on the train, I attempt to grab some shut eye, but a woman and her two young boys post up next to me and the younger one is still learning spacial relations, so I abandon hope at a nap, open the blinds for him and switch seats so he can plaster his face against the window.  Once I hit the Oriente station, I plunge underground to take the metro the rest of the way home, because let’s face it… you haven’t mastered a city until you’ve conquered the subway.  I navigated my two line ride back to Cais de Sorde and slid into my home office chair taking only 14 extra minutes over my planned return – leaving just a few moments for my current Love Letter to you.

As far as Sintra goes, if you come to Portugal, do as I say and not as I do.  Make time for Sintra.  I’d say 4 days.  Visit the castles early to beat the crowds.  Take Tomás’ recommendations and besides Pena and Mouros, hit Palácio de SeteaisChalet do Condessa, and Palácio de Monserrate.  Spend your afternoons on the coast at Praia da Ursa, Praia da Adraga and Praia Grande.  Spend an ENTIRE day seeing every corner of  Regaleira.  Eat your weight in travesserios.  Every day.  Don’t be an asshole like me.  Give Sintra it’s due.

Randomly yours,

 

SR