May 1, 2011

Papparoti, He Wrote

Filed under: Food, Travel — Chris @ 6:04 pm

In my post last week, I totally forgot to mention one of our favorite parts of visiting Vietnam: Papparoti. They sell “Malaysian style buns,” delightful fist-sized pastries with a nugget of butter (or buttery substance) in the center, topped with some kind of (supposedly coffee-flavored) streusel, served hot out of the oven from a counter on the sidewalk for less than a dollar. We ate at least one of these every single day we were in Hanoi.
Top - Pappa Roti, Glen Waverley AUD2.20
Somebody in New York needs to get on franchising one of these immediately. They’ve already got them in Australia and Pasadena. (Pasadena, for Pete’s sake. Are we going to let those jerks lord it over us?!) This has all the makings of a white hot foodie fad that would last six months and end in bankruptcy. Doesn’t that sound like something you would like to be involved in?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of avlxyz on Flickr.


April 17, 2011


Filed under: Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 11:47 am

I’ve posted pictures from our recent trip to Vietnam, highly recommended if you like street food, motorbikes, and rice paddies.

Among the Rice Paddies

A few quick tips:

  • Visa-on-arrival is definitely the way to go. I spent a week trying to call the embassy to arrange a regular visa and got nowhere. Then I went to, filled out a form, and 24 hours later I had all my paperwork. And, for some reason, it’s cheaper than a regular visa. The only “catch” is you have to stop at the office at the airport to pick up your visa before you go through passport control. It added a grand total of maybe 10 minutes to the process.
  • Halong Bay is pretty nice (although we were cursed with mediocre weather), but you should know what to expect. We were hoping for something more like our boat trip in Kerala—a few relaxing days drifting on the water and being served surprisingly delicious meals. The two and three day tours that are sold by every tourist shop in Hanoi, on the other hand, really are tours with tour guides, excursions to crowded attractions, and scheduled thirty minutes pit stops at road-side handicraft emporia. If you’re tour-averse, as we are, you’d be better off to make your own way to Halong City or Cat Ba and then rent a private boat for the day. (I have no idea how much that would cost, but the package tours aren’t cheap anyway.)
    Coffee in Halong Bay
  • It will surprise no one, having been featured on international television and hyped to death on the Internet, but Phương’s bánh mì in Hoi An really is the best I’ve ever had. It’s very different in style and flavor from the classic New York bánh mì—less emphasis on crisp veggies and cilantro, more layers of meaty flavor, with an ingenious fried egg on top. Oddly, it was the only bánh mì we had in Vietnam that could hold a candle to Ba Xuyên (although, of course, there was embarrassment of other kinds of delightful food).
    The Phương Special

April 25, 2010

Iceland Report, Part 2: Haimaey

Filed under: Iceland, Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 4:03 pm

A puffin

Today’s subject is Haimaey, the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands). The key attractions on Haimaey are the lava flows of Eldfell, dramatic ocean cliffs, and lots and lots of puffins. The following are not attractions on Haimaey: nightlife, comfortable hotels, a large selection of quality restaurants, or accurate maps.

H recommends that you stay at the campsite on the North side of the island. I was intrigued by a little hostel that we passed on the Southern part of the island (here, I believe), but I can find no information about it on the Internet. Perhaps they don’t welcome foreign tourists.

The thing to do in Haimaey, if you’re not a rock climber (and I’m not), is to walk along the coast and spot puffins. The trail on the West side of the island starts rather vaguely near the golf course. Walk down Hamarsvegur to somewhere near the clubhouse, cut across the course to the top of the cliffs, then turn South. At this point, you’ll still be on the golf course and may be in the way. As you head further South, the course will end and you will find yourself on a reasonably unambiguous hiking trail, continuing pretty much uninterrupted down to the Southern tip of the island.

On the Southern tip, you are face with a choice: double back the way you came, walking up the Western coast, or forge ahead to the East, where the trail is not nearly so well marked and you will be blocked from making a full circuit by the airstrip in the center of the island. Taking the (bad) advice of The Rough Guide, we tried the latter course. It starts off well, with an interesting black sand beach, but then the trail sort of disappears. We reached a fence with no stile and were forced to scramble up a fairly steep hill and then improvise.

Not that it was a total loss. There were ponies

Feeding the pony dandelion greens

and sheep


but in the end, we had to walk at least a kilometer back into town, sore and tired, along the puffinless road.


A last word of advice: don’t bother trying the puffin, it’s not very tasty. Instead, have a delicious lamb “boat” sandwich with crispy fried onions.

January 23, 2010

Iceland Report, Part 1: Reykjavik

Filed under: Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 12:40 pm

Here we are, just five months since I got back from Iceland, and I’m already prepared to blog about it. First up, some random tips on vacationing in Reykjavik..

  • Be prepared for schizophrenic weather. I’m pretty sure not a day passed that it wasn’t sunny and warm and one point and chilly and wet at another, oftentimes alternating between the two several times through the day. (This was in August. Can’t vouch for the other 11 months of the year.)
  • I didn’t go to Iceland expecting to eat anything particularly delicious—what I expected was to choke down some rotted shark or dried herring—so I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the lamb “boat” sandwich, a delightful combination of thinly sliced grillled lamb, crispy fried onions, various pickles, and the mysterious hlölli sauce (some kind of jazzed-up mayonnaise). You can get these at Hlölla Bátar, right in the center of Reykjavik, or at any number of takeout joints all over the place and they’re always pretty damn good even when they’re not great.
  • Crispy fried onions! They should be on everything!
  • Despite the all-important Bill Clinton endorsement and long lines of tourists and relentless hype from the world media, I’m not sure I’m on board with Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s just a pretty good hot dog, albeit with lots of tasty crispy fried onions.
  • Skip the whale meat. It tastes like environmental exploitation (i.e., chewy and gamey).
  • The Nauthólsvík geothermal beach in Reykjavik isn’t particularly well advertised in the tourist literature, because it is publicly owned and absolutely free of charge. It’s a bit of a pain to get to if you don’t (as we didn’t) figure out the municipal buses, but it’s not that big a deal and it’s worth a trip. Walk South from the BSI bus terminal around the airport. You’ll pass a ball field, a University dorm (or something), and a discouraging shipping container or two. (You could, if you like, go by way of Perlan, which would probably make more sense.) They have a changing room and showers at the beach, with bins for your clothes (no lockers). The beach surrounds a small geothermally heated lagoon—the water is cool to warmish and doesn’t get deeper than 4 or 5 feet. There’s a hot tub built into the beach that spills over into the lagoon, but that seems to be given over to the splashing children. The adults congregate in a long, shallow hotter hot tub up near the changing rooms (though there’s quite a bit of splashing up there too, to be honest).
  • A lot of Icelandic beer is light beer (2.5% alcohol or less)—I think light beer is all you can buy in grocery stores and certain cafes. If you want a real beer, it’s safer to order one of the widely available imported brands, e.g., Tuborg or Grolsch.

[UPDATE] Also, you might be wondering: is the Blue Lagoon a tourist trap? Is it worth the money? Yes and yes! You should go! It’s totally fun!

August 19, 2009


Filed under: Iceland — Chris @ 7:49 am

Photo op at Hekla

The full set is here.

August 2, 2008

Camping at Wrights Lake

Filed under: Travel — Chris @ 5:48 pm

H at Grouse Lake

Originally uploaded by C+H

More pictures here

October 29, 2007

Getting to the Florence Airport (If You’re a Cheapskate)

Filed under: Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 4:39 pm

I don’t recommend flying in to the Florence airport in general—it’s cheap and convenient to get to Pisa or Rome by train—but it may be the case that your itinerary just works out that way. There is an “official” airport shuttle bus which will take you to the Santa Maria Novella train station for 4.50 Euros (about US $7). But if you are intrepid and very, very cheap, you can take a regular city bus to and from the airport in about the same amount of time for just 1.20 Euros. This is an especially reasonable option if you have to get to the airport from downtown in the middle of the day.

I’ll give the instructions from the train station to the airport. To get to the train station, reverse them.

You need to take the 29 or 30 bus, which go every 20 or 30 minutes through most of the day.

First, buy a bus ticket. There are several newstands that sell bus tickets inside the train station.

The buses start on Via Luigi Alamanni, near the NW corner of the train station. If you are in the train station, facing the trains, turn left, walk out of the station, cross the street, turn right, walk down the sidewalk and cross one street. The bus stop (along with many others) is along this block. The train station is ringed with various bus terminals, so you’ll have to be careful to find the right one (29 or 30, they’re at the same stop).

Get on the bus and, of course, stamp your ticket. The trip takes 15 or 20 minutes. The bus will take a few turns and then travel primarily down Via Francesco Baracca, a big wide thoroughfare with strip malls and gas stations on it. You want to get off on Via Pratese. You’ll know you’re getting near it when you pass a big fork in the road (Via Pistoiese) and you’ll know you’re there when the bus lurches decidedly leftward after having travelled straight a good long while. Press the button to get the bus to stop.

You’ll be on the North side of Via Pratese. Here’s a map that might help. Walk back the way the bus came to Via Del Motrone and turn left. Don’t fret, you’re almost there. The street winds for 100m or so and you’ll reach a big complicated intersection with an overpass. That’s the A11 freeway. If you peer under the overpass, you’ll see the entrance to the airport.

Cross this intersection, being careful not to die. You are now at the airport. Congratulations, you have saved yourself 3 Euros!

Italy Report

Filed under: Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 3:46 pm

We have returned from our trip to Italy, thoroughly relaxed and unprepared for real life. The pictures are on Flickr. A taste…

Here’s what it feels like to pay 9 Euros just to get into the Boboli Gardens.
9 Frikkin Euros!

But here’s what we looked like most of the time.
Napping off a bottle of wine

And here’s the kind of thing one could expect “strolling” around Cinque terre.
Another cat, more scenery

Unfortunately, here’s how we felt by the time we got to the airport.
We hate the Hotel Garibaldi Relais

Random points:

  • My 30th birthday passed uneventfully. I was last in Italy on my 21st birthday, and I now plan to spend every birthday congruent with 21 modulo 9 somewhere in Italy, drunk on red wine.
  • Antico Noe still exists! Cibrèo is still awesome! And it’s still impossible to grok the menu! (Unless you ask!)
  • We need some instruction on how to properly book hotel rooms in Europe. We booked through the Internet and, in each case, paid too much for too little. For instance, we booked an “apartment” in Florence. We thought this meant we would have a small kitchen. It actually meant no front desk and no maid service, period.

    In two out of three cases, the accommodations were disappointing but not disastrous. However, in the last case, I must tell you that Hotel Garibaldi Relais on Via Pratese in Florence is a scam. It is a dank, unhappy place run by unpleasant people; it has a sewer-y smell; the proprietor has spammed various online booking sites with listings under multiple names (e.g., B&B Caffelatte) and fake positive reviews (e.g., this gem from Crivellaro in Alabama (!): “It was so lovely ambience and good and friendy staff.
    During the afternoon it’s literally italian caffellatte in a romantic hall of small hotel.”); they claim it’s “close to everything” when it is actually across the street from the airport; and so on.

  • The Fiddler’s Elbow, which seemed to me on last visit a terrible place, over-stuffed with drunken foreigners, is a very fine place to pass the time over a pint instead of sitting in your stinky hotel room.

[UPDATE] In the interest of PageRank boosting (will it work if I admit that?) and general piling on, here’s H’s review of the decripit hotel…

April 22, 2007

The Universe (Sort Of) Hates Me…

Filed under: India, Not Tech — Chris @ 6:42 pm

Well… Let’s call it a patent dislike.

I specifically left the house this afternoon to get my wedding band resized—an errand I’ve been meaning to run for about six months now*—only to find that every jewelry store in Park Slope is closed on Sunday. What’s the deal?

But you know who is open on Sunday? The 5th Avenue empanada lady. You know how much an empanada costs? A dollar twenty-five. And you know what they are? Delicious.

Eat that, universe,

* The band has seemed a little too big since I got back from India, probably because of the 10 pounds I lost there (which have oddly stayed off, even after I returned to my customary diet of cow, pig, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream). The band has fallen off my finger twice: once on the street in Sunset Park and once on the beach in California. I haven’t determined the precise combination of external/internal/body temperature and humidity/sweatiness that puts it in the danger zone, but I find that I self-consciously walk around with my hand curled in a fist, lest the band leap from my finger and into a sewer and/or the jaws of a whale.

[UPDATE] Upper East Side jewellers have a better work ethic, but $80 to shrink a platinum band a half size? Is that really how much it costs?

April 7, 2007

एक्ष्केल्लेन्त् वर्क, टोबी

Filed under: India, Not Tech, Waste of Time — Chris @ 4:21 pm

Mr. Kellner (who else?) wins the prize, which is no prize. Bonus points if you know where it came from. BTW, my browser doesn’t even render this script properly. Something to do with the right-to-left text.

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