Archive for January, 2017

Working Week in Hong Kong

January 26, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s Thursday night, almost finished with the week. It’s been fantastic getting to know everyone in our Hong Kong office and learning about the Chinese New Year traditions. I’m starting to feel very comfortable here, of course will be leaving soon. The city (and the neighborhood I’m staying in) is so international, people assume I live here. During the working hours I’ve been conducting interviews for Hong Kong based travelers and it’s been going great.

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Monday I had a Sichuan style lunch with my colleagues nice and spicy after work I visited a cocktail bar around my apartment and had a cocktail with gin in a little bathtub. And that will be it for Hong Kong cocktail culture. Then I ate dinner at a Korean fusion place which was OK and fell asleep early.

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Tuesday for lunch I had dim sum with our small team and I tried chicken feet. Good to try as they are very popular here. You eat them by sucking off all the skin and the bit of meat for each piece, and putting the bone aside. Eh. After work I went to eat beef brisket noodle soup at a place called Kau Kee there is a line but it moves quickly. Worth it.

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Then I walked through Central area and took the metro to Kowloon to visit the Temple St Market (the websites say to go, but not worth it) and then met up with my colleague for a second bowl of noodle soup. Shrimp wanton noodle soup this time. She was showing me how to put vinegar on my noodles but accidentally gave me a big dose of Chili oil. which was okay because I like spicy. Ha!

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Wednesday for lunch we had an even bigger team lunch for different kind of Dim Sum. After work I visited the Victoria Park flower market and Lunar New Year Fair around Causeway Bay and Tin Hau stations. It was bonkers, and an interesting array of smells one after the other from stinky tofu to daffodils. That’s “nipplefruit” in the picture above.

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It was so crowded that I was nervous. Then I walked back towards the hotel past the Wan Chai area where I had more wanton noodle soup for dinner. I kept walking and bumped into a different colleague! What are the odds. Then I walked home along the pier. I stopped needing a map.

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Today for lunch I had fish balls noodle soup with a colleague, and went out to dinner with the other survey team manager based here and his wife. They took me to a traditional tea house restaurant with a great atmosphere and we ate Cantonese food which is fairly bland but good with lots of vegetables, and then to an old school dessert place.

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SO cool. Then I got foot reflexology and will head to bed. Hope you’ve had a great week!

Love, Annie

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Hi Hong Kong

January 22, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are well. I arrived in Hong Kong yesterday not to survey but to work out of the company’s Hong Kong office. It’s very exciting. The flight was direct and surprisingly easy. I sat next to a Vietnamese couple with an 8 months old baby Alice that threw up on me a little bit before we took off, but was a good sport otherwise. She didn’t cry at all and seemed to like me. I got to hold her a little. I was in a window seat in the front row of the section and even slept!. I didn’t watch any movies. Instead I read a bit and watched most of the first season of HBO’s “Ballers” which has been showing up on all the airline media sections this winter and is pretty entertaining.

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Yesterday was about agressively trying to beat jet lag and enjoying a new place. It involved walking around the piers area, dim sum brunch, and a walk up to the Peak and through the botanical gardens. I started tripping over my own toes, something that happens from time to time to indicate exhaustion even if I think everything is okay. After that I checked into the hotel and took a shower and a little nap and an alarm for 7 so I could have dinner and not be really screwed with waking up at 3am. It was a struggle to get up. But then I had a great cocktail with blueberry jam in it at a creative cocktail bar and then more dim sum. Then I did foot reflexology and believe I also fell asleep during that.

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Today I took the metro, which is great, and did the Dragon’s Back hike on the other side of Hong Kong island, then went to Din Tai Fung for lunch but got spicy wontons instead of the traditional xiao long bao. Then a little shopping around Causeway Bay area. For dinner visited a cosy French wine bar called La Cabane and had white wine and a fish dish with leeks. LOVE leeks. The guys at La Cabane were really cool and the music was also cool. They were playing a spotify playlist of summer hits from the early 2000s so maybe I’ll go back later this week. The music last night at the cocktail bar was also cool, more clubby. Trance songs I knew but different mixes. Those are always so great to hear.

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After dinner this evening I got a manicure. All ready for work tomorrow! I’m learning a lot about this major port city. I understand why my dad said it was a place he’d really like to visit, it’s very water and boats-oriented. Maybe my parents canwill sail here! Hope you have a great week.

Love, Annie

Czech this out!

January 7, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday was great and I’m so happy about the decision to visit Prague.

wp_20170106_10_25_12_proIn the morning I took the tram from the hotel past Prague Castle and walked down the large hill past the castle, over the famous Charles Bridge, and through the Jewish Quarter and Old Town. As I walked I drank more gluhwein (mulled wine) which is sold all over the place and stopped in stores along the way because it was so freezing. Prague is extremely beautiful!

wp_20170106_11_34_41_proEverywhere you turn there are buildings with details on them. I had lunch in the Old Town, traditional Goulash and beer. Also, being in the Czech Republic allows for great puns. I ask for the bill at restaurants because I couldn’t ask for the Czech with a straight face. In the afternoon I took the Metro and a bus to the Airport for my flight to Brussels. All very easy. Seems like Prague is very user-friendly, easy to get around and currently pretty inexpensive as well.

wp_20170106_11_29_36_proNow I’m in Brussels, visiting one of my best friends from college! He’s lived here for almost three years but we missed each other when I came here for work last June. We stayed in last night and chilled but will go out tonight. I’m really excited to drink Gueuze, which is kind of like a sour beer!

wp_20170107_10_58_44_proI’m sitting at a real kitchen table writing this blog, which is fantastic. My friend is still sleeping so now I’m going to go out for a walk and get some coffee! Tomorrow I’ll wake up to take an early train to the airport and head home. This has been an incredible vacation and I’m also excited to see you (family and friends 🙂 and go back to work on Monday.

Love, Annie

Auschwitz, Katowice, and Prague

January 5, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today has been a big day. I woke early to pack and got picked up from the 8:15am to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camps. My driver was Patrick, a really sweet kid from Krakow and on the hour long drive we discussed funny things about the Polish and English languages, and the weird things different people do in his car. Polish is known to be the most difficult language to learn (for English speakers, maybe for everyone).

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We drove through some pretty tough weather and after an hour arrived in Auschwitz, “Oświęcim” in Polish, which is not just the site of over a million murders, but also a town with a mall, a cinema, houses, etc. I had the tour of the camps Auschwitz I and then Auschwitz II and Birkenau. 

wp_20170105_11_15_25_proIt was interesting to finally visit after learning about the Holocaust and especially this site all my life. The heaviest places on the tour for me were the Birkenau death camp with its wide open spaces and train tracks running into the camp (pictured below), and the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz, where I saw the very distressing evidence of torture on the walls (not pictured).

wp_20170105_12_08_23_proI already knew about the atrocities, so most of what I learned from this tour aside from what it was like to physically be there were things about logistics and history. Which people went to Auschwitz and when, what parts were built when, what was different about the attitudes of the SS officers towards the prisoners after the Red Army victory in the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, and what happened to Polish people and Jewish people after the camps were liberated. It was freezing on the tour and very windy and snowy at times, but it was obvious that whatever discomfort we felt was nothing compared to the cold the prisoners had to deal with for months on end.

wp_20170105_16_09_46_proAfter the tours, which lasted about 4 hours, Patrick drove me to Katowice, a town about an hour away from Auschwitz and the departure point for my late afternoon bus and train journey to Prague. I had about two hours in Katowice, so walked around a bit and found a family-run pierogi restaurant.

wp_20170105_18_27_46_proI had not tried real pierogis yet in Poland so it was time. I had a nice glass of mulled wine, a mix dish of pierogis (mushroom was my favorite) and then it started snowing really hard so I had another glass of mulled wine and read in the restaurant until the bus.

wp_20170105_21_49_04_proThe bus was more like a little van and the ride to Ostrava, Czech Republic, was about an hour away. At the station in Ostrava, I found an earlier train to Prague. and arrived at 9:30 instead of 11:30 pm. on the train I wrote most of this blog and cleaned out some computer folders. I walked to my hotel from Prague main station and “Czeched” in. The room is very comfortable.

The guy at reception told me a little bit about Prague, helped figure out a plan for walking around tomorrow, and gave an awesome recommendation for a “beer and snacks” place in the old town called Lokal. I walked over there and had a Pilsner beer and one sausage with mustard and rye bread, and cabbage salad.

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So Czech food is very similar to Polish food, maybe even heavier. I noticed on the walk through the town that Prague seems a little “shadier” than Krakow or Warsaw with some people on the streets doing strange things. There are also a lot of drunk students. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep and another big day tomorrow.

Love,

Annie

Kraków!

January 4, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are doing well!! The past two days have been really fun and unexpectedly social!

Yesterday I took the train from Warsaw to Krakow. Took about 3 hours, and was a nice train. I read and dozed off. We passed a lot of trees and farmland. The hotel here in Krakow is nice and the location is fantastic.

wp_20170103_15_16_43_proAfter unpacking, I walked up to Wawel castle area to get some views and that was freezing, windy, and snowy. Then walked around the market square area and drank mulled wine, had some snacks, and went back to my hotel. Then went out to dinner at an iconic and historic restaurant with the guy I met on the train from the airport in Warsaw and his friend from business school. It was a great time!! After dinner we went to a vodka bar and tasted 12 vodkas and shared stories. I’m happy to have these new friends!

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This morning I took a walking tour of Jewish Krakow and learned all about the Ghetto in Krakow and what happened here during ww2, about Oskar Schindler and his factory, and about Jews and Judaism in Krakow and Poland throughout history and today. The guide, “Golden,” was fantastic. The tour company was “Free Walking Tours.” I’d recommend them for sure. I almost quit the tour after an hour because it was so cold, but am so happy to have stuck with it.

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Then I went to a hair salon to get a hair wash and dry 🙂 it was time. Very good quality and Poland is inexpensive for me, so the whole thing with a good tip cost $15! Then for an excellent lunch at a Polish restaurant. I got more hot wine and cabbage rolls kind of like the ones my Bubbie made 🙂 The tastes from Polish food are very similar to the ones we have at Jewish family events. I really love it!

wp_20170104_11_39_14_proI walked around the rest of the afternoon and then met up with a friend of my colleague’s for drinks, dinner at another great, traditional restaurant, and then more drinks! He’s from Poland but lives in Boston so I’m very excited to have another friend in Boston 🙂 I laughed a ton tonight, and deeply, which is pretty rare when I’m on the road (rare enough that I immediately take note when it happens) so that was really special.

wp_20170103_15_57_16_proTomorrow is a big day. I’m heading to a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau, then to Katowice, where I’ll catch the train through Ostrava, Czech Republic, and finally to Prague for the night.

Love, Annie

Magical History Tour

January 2, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today was a great day. First stop was the Palace of Culture and Science. I arrived before it opened so went to get a nice espresso and sandwich for breakfast. Then went back to go up to the 30th floor to see Warsaw from above. It was snowy and foggy so there wasn’t much to see but I’m still glad to have went.

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After that I took the metro to the Museum of History of the Polish Jews. I found it informative yet very busy. It wasn’t crowded, but the exhibits were not simple, somewhat hard to follow. Jewish people have lived in Warsaw for a long time. wp_20170102_11_20_34_proBefore WW2 Warsaw was 30% Jewish. Now most have either been killed or left. There were about 400 synagogues, but now there are 2. I also learned that Lodz became a major textile industry hub in the late 1800s. Now it makes sense that my ancestors (and a lot of others) worked in the textile industry when they migrated from Poland to the United States in the early 1900s. wp_20170102_13_08_41_pro

After the museum I walked to the Old Town and for a walking tour of “WW2 Warsaw.” It was freezing but great, very informative. I learned more about how the city was leveled, the two uprisings, and the reconstruction. Then ate a late lunch of sour rye soup and sausage. Really delicious!

wp_20170102_10_39_23_proThen I went on a Polish Vodka tour which was fantastic. We tasted seven kinds of Polish vodkas, a few rye, potato, herbal vodka “for your health” a infused, one made with a medieval recipe, etc. I learned about the history of vodka, history of vodka in Poland, and about drinking customs. Our guide was a real badass. wp_20170102_15_52_50_pro

Also learned that the cabbage and sausage dish I ate yesterday is called “bigos” and each family has a different recipe. And that bigos pairs well with vodka.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Krakow, try pierogi, and am not sure what else!  Hope you are great!!

Love,
Annie

 

“Cześć” and “Dziękuję”

January 1, 2017

Hi Family and Friends,

Those are two Polish words learned today. “Hi” (cheshch) and “Thank you” (jen koo yeh). They are hard to pronounce. I’ve wanted to visit Poland for a long time and am finally here for a personal vacation! The flights were easy. The first one was in the air when it became 2017 and Swiss Air gave everyone a champagne toast. And no one was sitting next to me so it was comfortable.

wp_20170101_17_12_37_proZurich airport was as I had remembered, nice, easy to tell the time, but none of the bathrooms have enough stalls so there is always a line. The second flight from Zurich to Warsaw flew next to the Alps for an hour, which was a fantastic feast of the eyes. The plane landed in Warsaw in the early afternoon and it overcast but not raining.

On the train to the city, I chatted with a guy I met at the ticket machines who was also having an issue buying a ticket. The train tickets are inexpensive and the machines don’t like large bills. One of the train stops is across the street from my hotel. It was really lucky.

Late afternoon I took the tram to the old town to walk around the Old Town. I ate real grilled cheese (literally grilled cheese only, with cranberry sauce (see picture), walked around while drinking hot wine, and then had an awesome bowl with cabbage and sausage. It was really crowded downtown. They had new years fun things set up like a skating rink, craft shops, local foods.

wp_20170101_19_02_15_proIt was beautiful but really cold. I went to get a cappuccino and almost nodded off while drinking it so went back to the hotel. Tomorrow I’ll do a free walking tour of the old city (to see it in the light this time), almost definitely try pierogis and zurek (sour rye soup), and other things are up in the air.

I contacted an informal group that puts on “vodka tours” so hopefully that will work out. It wold involve learning about vodka culture in Poland with some tastings and food pairings. Just last week I learned that broke students from this area of the world may drink vodka+beer+seltzer because that’s a great way to get drunk when money is tight.

Happy new year and hope you have a fantastic, fun, and productive year. “Na zdrowie!” (cheers!)

Love, Annie