Vietnam part II.

Hello from Hanoi!
Hello from Hanoi!

I can’t believe it has been two years already since I’ve last visited my home country. This time I stayed for almost a month and no, it was not enough.

The amount of love I receive in Vietnam is overwhelming. Even though everybody loves to pinpoint how fat I am. At first it would piss me off but then I realised that to Vietnamese standards I really was. Everyone there is almost anorexic-skinny and actually being fat is almost a privilege. Still, my ego got hurt. And it didn’t help very much that I was there exactly during Chinese New Year which means one thing: food. Lots, lots of food.

Chinese/Lunar New Year decoration shop
Chinese/Lunar New Year decoration shop
Traditional New Years snack: thinly sliced roasted coconut covered in sugar/coffee powder, sooo good!
Traditional New Years snack: thinly sliced roasted coconut covered in sugar/coffee powder, sooo good!
Visiting a Japanese restaurant was a bit of a cliché...
Visiting a Japanese restaurant was a bit of a cliché…
... and so was the Chinese restaurant...
… and so was the Chinese restaurant…
So of course we had to get the real deal! Vietnamese tofu with spring rolls and rice noodles, omnomnom...
So of course we had to get the real deal! Vietnamese tofu with spring rolls and rice noodles, omnomnom… Yes, real Vietnamese restaurants with the best foods are not too good at food decoration.. or hygiene.. 
I present you the best pho of Hanoi.. which means.. the best pho in the world?! :O
I present you the best pho of Hanoi.. which means.. the best pho in the world?! :O

As you can see, I had plenty of opportunities to eat and I did not hesitate, haha! I gained almost two kilos and as expected my cousins kindly informed me about my chubby cheeks.

This time I also stayed for a week in Hanoi which was the best part of my trip. I love big cities… who doesn’t? Probably only my grandpa and my mom. The difference between villages and cities is unbelievable. The city is always full of people, noises, honking cars, dust and pollution,   whereas the village consists of trees, farm animals and dirty toilets – that’s it. Every time someone forced me to stay at the country side, I died a little. Luckily my grandpa has lots of animals to play with and sometimes a 3G connection … although I barely survived.

oink!
oink!
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Villige life means lots of manual (dirty) work but somehow I was enjoying the bond I was having with my family.

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If I can recommend something, it would be visiting Keangnam Landmark in Hanoi.

The view from Keangnam.
The view from Keangnam.

However, it wasn’t the view that impressed me. It was the amount of fun that was placed in there! The whole floor was full of xboxes and playstations and 3D  Tv’s. And what not: there was a 3D museum! I must say my silly mind was having a blast.

HAHAHA! If you don't think this is funny, you really have an issue.
HAHAHA! If you don’t think this is funny, you really have an issue.
Do try the egg coffee if you have a chance! It is seriously amazing. I still prefer the original Vietnamese milk coffee but this was heavenly too.
Do try the egg coffee if you have a chance! It is seriously amazing. I still prefer the original Vietnamese milk coffee but this was heavenly too.

Last but not least, I also did a bit of shopping  because.. that’s what you do when you are a girl in a cheap country, right?

Got some Japanese beverages to remind myself of how great Japan was. I was really forward to drinking the matcha latte but my little fat cousin drank it before I could open my mouth. Sigh. So that's what it is like to have a large family.
Got some Japanese beverages to remind myself of how great Japan was. I was really looking forward to drinking the matcha latte but my little fat cousin drank it before I could open my mouth. Sigh. So that’s what it is like to have a large family.
My obsession with hats got even more serious in Vietnam. Bought this one for 290k dongs (approx. $15) at Hang Bong street.
My obsession with hats got even more serious in Vietnam. Bought this one for 290k dongs (approx. $15) at Hang Bong street.
Of course, I had to find myself a beret as well. Those are impossible to find in Prague! This one is from a Hanoian chain called Non Son, haha!
Of course, I had to find myself a beret as well. Those are impossible to find in Prague! This one is from a Hanoian chain called Non Son, haha! A bit pricy, around 970K (approx. $50).
Bought this to please my grandpa who kept saying "Don't forget your roots! You have to know your culture, ancestors and history of your country." And he was right. I better start with something funny though, like this little book!
Bought this to please my grandpa who kept saying “Don’t forget your roots! You have to know your culture, ancestors and history of your country.” And he was right. I better start with something funny though, like this little book!
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Pocky all the waaaay!

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Yup, I had a good time.  I love this country so much. And it might get repetitive but I have to say it. The people of Vietnam are AWESOME! Of course, they have their flaws that I do not appreciate very much. Such as disobeying the law on regular basis, drinking and driving, bribery and often even hypocrisy. Actually, I got so mad one evening, I sat down and wrote an article I call “where is the line between etiquette and hypocrisy”. Though I haven’t published it.

In Vietnam, like in China, customs and social behaviour are very important in order to maintain your “social status/face”. And I had to do it as well. There is this person I do not particularly like yet I had to smile cheerfully whenever I met her, I had to be absolutely polite and my parents would never allow me to express my annoyance. Which was very difficult for me as I am quite honest when it comes to expressing my feelings. In Vietnam, it was perfectly normal to talk to people in the sweetest voice possible and to offer them tea with biscuits. Then, after they would leave, you could gossip about them, their mother and the friend of their cousin’s wife.

But I just sucked it up. Who am I to judge. I conformed. I was the host in this country and if this is the cost I have to pay in order to stay, I’m willing to do so. I want to become a part of this world too.

Bari!

I would have never thought I’ll visit Bari one day. In fact, I’ve never heard of Bari before around four months ago. While I was strolling the Wenceslaw sq. and wearing my sky high Jeffrey Campbells, an American guy stopped me. His surname was Browne and I remember it so well because it’s a bit like Brownie. So he was telling me that he works in a traveling company and as we were enthusiastically talking about traveling, he mentioned this little almost forgotten place, Bari.

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It reminds me Vietnam in so many ways. Narrow and tall houses painted in sunny colors, honking cars, palm trees… even the people are friendly and short just like in Vietnam, lol! My mom with 156 cm is considered average height here.

The main reason why Browne convinced me to come is very simple. F O O D. So what I was expecting were Orata fish – the ones with teeth, shrimps, crabs, mussels..

Fish market by the sea.. and yes we got ripped off!

but there is so much more!

incredibly plump olives / fresh and sweet tomatoes
Of course the sicilian cannolis! Bari is kinda one of the mafioso district.. but that can be easily forgotten while looking at those..
Of course the sicilian cannolis! Bari is kinda one of the mafioso district.. but that can be easily forgotten while looking at those..

Food from the south is just freaking good. Not only the specialities like burrata cheeseorecchiette pasta or gelato. Also very common things like butter, lemons, milk, bread and cauliflower taste better here. I don’t know why. Might be the sun, relatively humid air or just the charm of the Italians? :p

One of the things I had to get used to was the Oratio, in other words (language, haha), Opening hours. Most of the really Italian shops were opening from 9.30 – 12.30 and then again from 16.30 – 20.30. Sometimes it could vary by half an hour, depending on the owner. On the other hand, the street where big brands like H&M or Zara are located, via Sparano, is opened most of the times, from 9:30 until 20:30. Still it was very odd to me and I wish they were all opened 24/7 because Italian fashion, shoes especially, is to die for.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed Bari. Now that I am back in Prague, I miss the old Italians who greeted me “Ciao bella!” in the streets, the smell of sea and the laid-back atmosphere in general. It’s not the holiday I’d go to with my boyfriend or my girlfriends or not at least now. However, for families or old couples who just want to lie on the beach and eat some octopus with white wine.. that’s heaven.

New York

“I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.”

T. Capote

 

I have never been more excited to go on holidays than this year. Not even that time when I was sixteen and was about to travel alone to visit Tokyo. Perhaps it was because I was so young that I couldn’t appreciate it and at that very moment all I wanted to do was to stay in Prague, not to leave. 

I was trying really hard to experience New York, to engrave each moment into my poor memory. And I think I did a good job, by the end of those two wonderful weeks, I got used to the life of a New yorker, my MetroCard was successfully read for the first slide, I’ve stopped answering the omnipresent phrase from all the cashiers: “Hi guys, how are you?” and I have tried all the possible forms of Hot dogs. 

Aunt Anne's Pretzel Dog
Aunt Anne’s Pretzel Dog

 Just like everywhere else, also in New York we experienced some problems. When we first arrived, there was a huge storm, a hurricane somewhere around the corner and my iPhone kept beeping with a “Flash Flood Warning”. That is why we arrived two hours later than expected to our apartment rented through Airbnb. Oh, did I mention we had no maps to find the apartment as well? And that the owner did not answer our messages/phone calls/door bell ringing? And that our meter high bed broke? That the next morning, first thing I saw before entering Manhattan, was a dead rat in the middle of the street? 

Yet we were immensely happy. Nothing could put us down. We were in New York. 

Our home in Williamsburg.
Our home in Williamsburg.

Everything was overwhelming in New York. People, smell, skyscrapers.

2014-07-04 00.35.28And especially shopping.

2014-07-09 00.16.42I went to New York with no luggage. The only thing I had with me was probably my toothbrush and one or two dresses. On the way back home, I had super sized suitcase, a backpack and so much more. Literally everything in New York is cheaper than in Europe by 1/3. It is usually caused by the fact that a backpack for example in EU costs 100 euros whereas the very same product is 100 dollars in the US.

The brands I wanted to shop the most in NY were Brandy Melville, E.L.F., MAC, Victoria’s secret, Urban Decay and Benefit. It was mostly cosmetics so my luggage wasn’t really that full when I was returning home but I did spend quite a lot on those! 

SoHo
SoHo

Yup. My biggest love. Food. I was always so jealous when I saw people posting on 9gag or Instagram photos of American food. Everything green tea or Oreo flavored, covered in chocolate, fried in bacon and topped with rainbow sprinkles. I am definitely not exaggerating. However, American sweets were the last thing I wanted to eat. It was so humid there, the sun was shining all day and we were frying ourselves in about 35 degrees celsius. 

Sometimes we would just drink water all day and eat some bagels. You could buy 3 bagels for $1. 2014-07-04 18.10.25

On the other hand, the water bottles were quite pricey, around $3 for 1,5 liter. After few days we realized the cheapest brand is Poland spring so that became our ultimate choice. Just until we found out you could get a $1 sweet ice tea of any size in McDonalds. Don’t judge. We are just students, okay? 

Living in New York on a budget was not as difficult as I would expect. 

Vanessa's dumplings, a restaurant 20m from our apartment, so cheap and delicious! $2 for dumplings.
Vanessa’s dumplings, a restaurant 20m from our apartment, so cheap and delicious! $2 for dumplings.

And there was always something happening. 

Urban Bites
Urban Bites
The 4th of July
The 4th of July
WitchFest
WitchsFest
Summer Stage, a free festival in Central Park, where we saw Bonobo and discovered Odesza.
Summer Stage, a free festival in Central Park, where we saw Bonobo and discovered Odesza.

There were events happening every day, 24/7. Probably that is why they call New York a city that never sleeps. Everything happens in New York. Don’t be fooled though. Most nightlife I’ve seen in NY was happening between 8 – 11 pm. The shops are closing by 6 pm. Achja, I really hoped I could do shopping all the time. The only shops that were opened until 10 pm were those around Times Square (Victoria’s secret, H&M, Forever 21..).  

Times Square
Times Square

Sometimes it gets surreal and you will feel lost.

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So at those times it is the best just to get out.

Coney Island (1 - 1,5 hour by train from the Manhattan centre)
Coney Island (1 – 1,5 hour by train from the Manhattan centre)
Or simply enter some of the city's park. This is Central park with the playground and skyscrapers in the back. I loved this view.
Or simply enter some of the city’s park. This is Central park with the playground and skyscrapers in the back. I loved this view.
Or take a free ferry to Staten Island, take a look at the Statue of Liberty and enjoy the South Beach.
Or take a free ferry to Staten Island, take a look at the Statue of Liberty and enjoy the South Beach.

There is plenty of things to do in New York. I definitely recommend staying for two weeks. Then you can enjoy everything at your own pace, feel the vibes… However, as everybody was reassuring us that a week is enough for NY, we also booked two trips with Megabus. About 2 months ahead so the tickets were around $3 round trip/person.

Washington D.C., 4 hours by bus from Manhattan.
Washington D.C., 4 hours by bus from Manhattan.
And Boston. Because why the heck not?
And Boston. Because why the heck not?

I loved staying in New York. Hopefully you can sense the atmosphere from all the photos but I doubt it. The atmosphere must be experienced. I saw plenty of movies and photos of New York before but I would never expect it to be soooo … everything. It was an intense experience, surprising and tender, just like losing the virginity. New York is a big and beautiful lover that will love you and spank you and it is really only up to you if you will let yourself go and enjoy every minute.. or not. 

See you!
See you!