Easy Peasy Japaneasy

Kon’nichiwa lovers! Due to a five week stay in a country with a 30 day visa restriction, I found myself in need of a visa run while residing in Thailand. Many Earharts went about this different ways – some when to Cambodia to take in the culture of Angkor Wat – others took to Laos to visit breathtaking temples – one crew even went to Disneyland in Hong Kong. After touching base with a flyboy from back home who was being stationed outside of Hiroshima and a fellow Remote festival goer I met at Tomorrowland currently living in Kyoto, I decided my government mandated break from Thailand would be facilitated with a 10 day trip to Japan.

I really need to stop booking early morning travel, at least for the rest of my time here in Asia. My trip was not off to a good start after a late night work sesh followed up with some bourbon imbibing had me miss my flight to Kuala Lumpur. Luckily there are about 30 Air Asia flights a day from CM to KL, so I paid my stupid tax and hopped on a later afternoon flight. My layover in KL was still pretty hefty, and I unknowingly entered the “cheap” air international transfer terminal – which is a desolate wasteland of nothingness – too early and was stuck, bored off my ass, for HOURS waiting on my overnight flight to Osaka. My rocky start continued when I arrived in Osaka, fell asleep on my train and missed my intended stop. Disoriented, frustrated, and stuck in the rain, I booked the nearest hotel to Namba station that I could find – which just happened to be a sex hotel, complete with tie ups, a “mini-bar” of sex toys, mood lighting, and of course, in-room karaoke. I can’t make this shit up. I’m surprised I didn’t have to pay by the hour. Kink aside, I have to say it was a good spot, which was lucky for me because not only had I landed with a yacht week level cold (see Choose the Positive) but Typhoon Lan was LITERALLY raining on my parade. I spent the next couple days catching up on some writing, catching up on some Netflix, and wandering the streets of Umbo-Namba eating all of the street foods.

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I’d had my fill of Osaka, so I headed to the train station, procured my Japan Rail Pass and boarded my first Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. My favorite part of the Shin is getting to see the gorgeous Japanese countryside. This place is epically beautiful. I even managed to snag a sunset view of Mt. Fuji. Upon arrival, I navigated the Tokyo subway system on my way to my Air BNB in Shibuya. I step out the the station and am greeted with a Times Square like view, complete with the NYCesque energy and vibe – liking Tokyo already. Momma Joe is also here, so I grab a bowl of duck ramen at a spot right around the corner from my digs that had a very Waffle House feel before meeting up with him and his friends to catch the show at the Robot Restaurant. As promised, the show is unlike anything I have ever seen before, and Momma Joe and I agree that there are no pictures or words that can even come close to describing the experience. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you ever find yourself in Tokyo – and report back to me on just how many times you think/say WTF. After the show, we grab a few drinks at Scramble (diner by day, club by night) where some locals bravely proposition our table for kisses and end the night at some back alley bar where I have some of the best pizza I’ve had since being on this trip.

A coworker from my new firm also happens to be in Tokyo, so the next day I have my first in person meeting from HPC as he and his hubs take me to their favorite Japanese curry spot – Japanese curry, btdubs, very different from Thai curry, but delicious in it’s own right. Once again, my ignorance when it comes to the metric system bites me in the ass and I over order – can’t wait to tell Starbucks about my repeat of the this – he’s already made fun of me for it in his latest post. After curry, we grab dessert, take selfies to make the rest of the HPC crew jealous, and then I head off to work for the evening. The food at the aforementioned Waffle House raman shop was so good that I went back, set up my digital douche office and worked alongside a bowl of pork raman with a side of gyoza.

Waking up to a dreary and rainy day in Tokyo was my cue to catch the Shin to Kyoto and hang out with RY group Kaizen for a couple of days. After a solid evening of society contributing, I’m invited to join the crew at World for drinks, dancing and debauchery with an Aussie band that one of the Kaizens knows from home. After some Jack, some Jose, (and one drunken Jack with Jose), we hit a McDonalds that does not serve burgers before calling it a night, er, morning. I spend the next day exploring, eating all the foods, creeping on all the people in Kimonos, and relishing in how romantic Kyoto feels. That evening, I join the some of the city team and some Kaizen for dinner at Mizuiro Club, a super quaint art cafe that you would never be able to find on your own. We order the menu (which only contains about 6 items), and discuss everything from tattoos to the Yakuza to childbirth while sipping sochu and tasting all this place has to offer, my favorite of which was the Japanese curry. The night before my departure is debauchery round 2. Kaizen’s level of boozing and boogying is right on par with Earhart, and since we are all in KL next month, I have some fears for our livers. Good thing I am stocked up on Drinkwel.

My last weekend in Japan is reserved for catching up with my flyboy in Hiroshima, so another day, another bullet train. Hangover brain strikes me hard, and after taking the train from Kyoto to Osaka where I need to switch, I hop on the wrong train and go right back to Kyoto. Face palm. Back again, and this time I’m in no mood to wait for the next train my rail pass lets me on, so I take the advice of a fellow remote, sneak on the Nozomi, and pretend I’m asleep when the ticket agent walks by. After checking into my hotel, the flyboy and I roam the streets of Hiroshima in the rain looking for a bite to eat before hitting the karaoke joints (because when in Japan) and drinking all the Japanese whiskey.

I want to breifly mention that finding a bar to drink at wasn’t as easy as it sounds. If you read this blog, you most likely know me, or have at least seen pictures of me. As a white female, racial discrimination is not something that I have ever experienced until that night in Hiroshima. The flyboy had warned me, but it wasn’t until we were denied entrance to a couple places and straight up asked to leave another that I realized he wasn’t kidding about certain establishments not serving white people. It was an odd feeling, but I shook it off and we found an amazing joint run by two women from the Philippines who were so accommodating, it erased the bitter taste in my mouth from being denied based on race.

My hangover brain is even worse the next morning, but I get my shit together enough to visit the Hiroshima War Memorial and Museum, and for a second I almost understand why we were asked to leave. It was humbling to sit and hear the survivors recount that day in 1946 – it reminded me of my walk through the 9/11 Memorial – only this time we were the dicks that caused the pain. I make a mental note that war sucks and I catch the tram to Hiroshima station and my Shin back to Osaka for my flight home.

Fun fact about Osaka – it is home to two airports – and they are not close. Hangover brain strikes again landing me at the wrong airport, and I’m thankful I decided to head to there early, because now I have to take an hour bus ride to get to the CORRECT airport. Ah well, up until this point I had ridden the the bullet trains, regular trains, the monorail, subways and trams, but no busses – so I was merely rounding out my Japanese mass transit profile. I’m busted at check in with an overweight carry-on and get my first taste of in-airport baggage fees – the stupid taxes here are really adding up, but I booked a seat in the quiet zone and I *had* the row all to myself until this woman decided she didn’t like her seat….. she apologized when she caught me giving her the stink eye, so I chose not to hold it against her.  When I landed in KL, Momma Joe was there as we were on the same flight back to Chiang Mai.  We grab some overpriced beers and chat about this crazy life before boarding our flight back to our Thailand home.

I ended up loving Japan a lot more than I had anticipated. When it wasn’t raining, the weather was a perfect high 60s/low 70s, so it was a nice escape from the oppressive heat that was Vietnam and is Thailand. The public transportation is surprisingly easy to navigate, and runs like a well oiled machine – much like everything else in Japan – the whole place is so neat and orderly. The majority of the people were super friendly, the landscapes were majestic, and the food was everything I hoped it would be and more, placing Japan on the short list of places I’ll return to.  Outside of Japan, it’s food and the Japanese themselves, Kaizen made me feel right at home, fortifying my faith even further that the Remote Nation is a unique society of those of us who really understand what life out here is like, and how we make the most out of every second while still trying to exist as human beings who need to eat, sleep, and contribute to society through our work.  I won’t go down that rabbit hole here, but IT’s latest post delves deeper in if you want a good read –  you can also get a taste of Angkor Wat, another spot I intend to return to this part of the world to see.

My faithful Lovers, I know I’m behind on the adventure.  Despite being surrounded by beauty, Thailand has brought a good bit of writer’s block to me – and not so much the inability to articulate the experience, but rather a lack of initiative and desire to devote the time to it.  That said, I won’t leave you hanging.  There are posts in the works, so stay tuned for island adventures, all that is Chiang Mai, and the upcoming lantern festival.

Specifically Yours,

SR

 

Good night Vietnam

Xin Chào Lovers. It is that time again, when I pack my life back into one single suitcase and one backpack, leave my current city of habitation behind and embark on a new adventure.  I spent my evening making a donation pile, rolling my clothes, once again debating my need for two laptops before eventually giving up to compose my latest Love Letter, which will actually be a composition of the drafts I started and never finished. Apologies Lovers… I blame the humidity.

Sapa

9/16

Oh, Lovers… I’m feeling especially romantic as I write you this Love Letter… and it has nothing to do with any actual love interest, but everything to do with the fact that I am sitting in a coffee shop nestled down an alley in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, surrounded by two story high bookshelves, sipping coconut coffee while John fills my ears, soul and heart with every stroke of the keys on the Yamaha piano situated in the corner of our chosen afternoon spot.  I couldn’t have designed a more perfect venue to tell you about my latest adventure, a two day trek through the rice fields of Sapa.  Without further ado, as John tickles the ivories, let me strike my keys and attempt give you your taste of one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken in my life.

The day started with a 6am bus ride, so sleeping after my night shift wasn’t really a thing. I thought the 4 hour bus ride would grant me a good nap, but the back of the bus and Vietnam roads don’t exactly mesh for great sleeping conditions. Some members of my tram have started to wonder if I would bleed if they cut me, or if it would just expose the wires underneath and prove I am the machine they believe me to be.

I’m at a loss for word to describe the immeasurable beauty of this place.  Guided by women from the village and their children, we descend into the valley between the tiered hills of rice fields that is Sapa, each turn more breathtaking than the last.  The hike is no joke, and on my limited sleep, balance isn’t something I’m excelling at, so I hit my ass more than a few times, but we make it to our homestay in one piece.  Our gracious hosts prepare us a feast of local fare, I chow down and hit the hay.

 

Sleep eludes me, so as it comes times for the sun to rise, I wander the streets of this valley village before it awakens for the day.  The rest of my fellow trekkers rise, we have another delicious meal at our homestay and take off to climb the rice fields back out of this hidden gem at the foot of the hills of Sapa. Muddy doesn’t begin to describe the trek, and we deem our hike “mud skiing” because you just have to embrace the slide.  All the near bust ass moves are worth it though as we reach the top of a waterfall that me, Pidg, and Prince Kib decide to crawl out on.  Not to have an adventure without blood, I proceed to slip my feet out from under me after rinsing the mud off my shoes in the cascading water and landing directly on an elbow.  Not to be outdone, another member of our crew slides into a metal roof and cuts his head open to the point of needing stitches, so we hike out of the valley and take him to get sewed up.  A local meal, a hot shower, and we’re headed home.

Ha Long Bay

9/24

I have mixed feelings about my trip to Ha Long Bay.  While it is one of the most indescribably beautiful places I’ve ever been (sensing a theme yet?), I would not recommend doing the bay in the fashion I did.  Too little sleep, too much alcohol and a poor mental state caused me to have just as many bad moments as good ones…. but everything here is growth, so I’ll chose to use my poor decisions to make better ones in the future, and keep this post to the fun moments.

We kayaked the villages on the river, where children never get educated in anything but fishing.  We toured the oyster farms and I made a (stupid) daring flip flop rescue in a marina.  We hit the beach where volleyball was played and songs were sung.  We swam with jellyfish, played chicken, trekked into caves, saw epic sunsets and enjoyed local fare. We played my new favorite game, odds, where I didn’t lose a tattoo and gained a kiss. We sang our hearts out to 90s boy bad karaoke and made dad jokes a new group theme.  All in all, the trip was a net win.

Hoi An

9/26

I witnessed an argument once where one participant claimed Thailand had the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the other rebutted that it was Vietnam.  When I saw both were on my itinerary, I vowed to see for myself, but I found myself in my last week in Vietnam and the only beaches I’d seen were on Ha Long Bay.  Despite just arriving back hours ago, after a quick text exchange with Uncle Rems and his Russian Beauty, I booked a flight out the next morning for a quick trip to see them and the beaches.

I came for the beaches, but the canals took my breath away.  I’ve never been to Venice, but I imagine if you put a Vietnamese spin on the romantic Italian town, you’d get Hoi An.  Striating the city are multiple canals, lined with palm trees and rice fields.  After a black heart filling dinner with Uncle and his Beauty, I posted up at a coffee shop on one of these canals on the edge of Ancient Town and started my shift for the evening.  A lighting storm in the background, traditional drums in the distance, and an iced egg coffee made for a truly amazing experience. Needing to take an internal call, I make my way back to my charming one room homestay and take my first ever under-a-mosquito-net conference call.  I think it was a first for my firm as well.

The next day I started at Cua Dai, walked along the water to Hidden Beach where I grabbed some lunch before continuing on to An Bang.  There’s something about the beach… the sand, the sun, the salt water…. Maybe it’s just me, but it has the power to shift my perspective, refresh my soul… something I truly needed after a difficult evening with a friend from back home.  And don’t let me forget to tell you ….. how absolutely gorgeous it was with the mountains of Cua Lao Cham as a breathtaking backdrop.

After I recharged my solar batteries, I headed to Ancient town to refresh my wardrobe with some cheap and breezy made in Vietnam gear.  I discovered my love for haggling, and didn’t pay full price for anything except my banana crepe.  An Uber to the airport in Da Nang, where the streets are lit with neon and the bridges pulsate light, two flight delays later, and I’m back home in Hanoi.

Hanoi

9/27

As I grab my helmet from my UberMoto driver and swing it onto my fresh-from-Monkey-Boxing sweat-soaked head, I only pause for a moment at the thought of how many other heads in the same condition inhabited this helmet.  I swing my legs over the bike, Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song comes pouring into my headphones, and my driver takes off for my Hanoi home.  I’m fresh back from my quick trip to Hoi An, and I’m soaking in every last bit of this city that I can.  Some of my tram is exhausted with Hanoi… the air is dirty, the streets are crowded, it’s noisy and bustling, but the same things that tire my travel mates invigorates me.  It has a buzz that energizes me, and as my moto ducks and dodges through traffic, ignoring all traffic laws, I breathe in the polluted air and stare at the shops whizzing by, taking in the lights and sounds.

This morning the tram did our New Occasional and caught sunrise from Long Bien bridge.  Not only did I cross this rickety ass bridge and not die, I got to see one of the most unique sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life…. the colors distorted by the haze that the humidity and pollution hung over the city, the best word I can use to describe it is creepy…. beautiful, but creepiest beauty I think I ever will see.

Farewell Junction

9/28

I’m sleep deprived, emotionally drained, and completely unable to perform even the simplest of tasks, but I wouldn’t trade any of that for the experience I had today. Two beautiful member of my tram led a collective on failure this month, and the culmination of it was a retreat into the hills of Vietnam to escape the chaos and the smog and come together on a level deeper than I ever imagined.  The day was slated to include meditation, trust exercises, open forums, and a fire ceremony…. all with a 7am start, meaning I powered through my night shift (again) hoping to catch some snoozes where I could.  The bus ride was a good 45 minute start, but the meditation exercise proved that it wasn’t enough, because I was out like a light by the third exercise. After an amazing lunch prepared by the staff of Maison De Tet Decor, I found a hammock on a porch that overlooked the hills and zonked out for a good three hours as the breeze rocked me into oblivion.

After my rejuvenating nap, we gathered in a room where shoes weren’t allowed and most of us sat on the floor to open up about when we had fucked up in our lives, felt like failures, and just plain couldn’t deal.  I listened intently as my family opened up about their perceived failures, a lump rising in my throat, my heart racing, and my stomach turning to knots.  I knew I had to speak up about my struggles… a friend from home had recently text me that I didn’t need a rock, because I was learning to be my own, but my realization was that I didn’t have to go learn that on my own… I’m surrounded by 46 other beautiful souls, each willing to help me along this journey…. but first I had to open up.  I had to tell them.  I had to admit that I was drowning in my emotional failures.  And I needed help.  Something I’ve never done in my life.  But this year is about facing my fears, so I dove in headfirst and bared my soul.  Outside of going on Remote Year, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.  Humbling doesn’t even begin to describe the outpouring of support I received.  As one member of my tram told me, trust begets trust.  If I trust them with my darkest side, they can trust me with theirs.. and that’s just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Hanoi

9/30

I’ve never been one for nostalgia.. call it a product of my inability to emotionally attach to things (.. people… places), but as I walk the tree lined street back to my Hanoi apartment for the last time, favorite chicken fried rice in my hand, I can’t help but appreciate that I’m going to miss this place.  Today was one of the best day I’ve had in a while.  On the heels of the above mentioned emotional farewell junction, my soul feels lighter and I’m ready to start over again in a new city, a luxury Remote Year affords me… the chance to improve, start over, and be a better version of myself every 28-35 days.  Sure, these changes can be made without a change of venue, but a new city somehow makes a fresh start even fresher.  Speaking of fresh, I got my new ink today, and I have to say it is one of my favorites.

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We lost a few of the family tonight… to solo travels and visa issues, so my heart is a little heavier, but I know that they will rejoin us, and absence makes the heart grow fonder… or so I’m told.

Let’s see… what did I miss?  THE FOOD! Bun cha and Dim Sum and Pho, oh my! On every corner, for $4 or less…. I will miss the food most of all….  Then there is Ninh Binh.  Never made it there, but The Remote Yogi did and she can tell you all about it here.

Vietnam is so strikingly gorgeous I have run out of superlatives and adjectives (is that redundant?) to describe it.  I’m personally continuing on an emotional journey to be a better version of the Random girl you all Love.  I’m sad to leave Vietnam, but I’m equally excited for what Thailand will bring.  Hopefully with less humidity.

Until next time my Lovers,

Always Randomly Yours,

SR

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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