MIT Reunion in Delft!

A couple of our good friends - Chris & Katy (and their newborn baby, Emily!) - moved overseas to Delft last year, just outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. A few other MIT friends - Sam & Ari - had been planning a trip to visit at the end of May, and since we switched our travels over to Europe, we got to join them! 

It was almost like we were right back at Baker (our MIT dorm)… with a few notable exceptions. Number one was obviously that we now had a baby in our midst! We had such a great time meeting and spending time with Chris and Katy’s one year old daughter, Emily. Look how adorable she is! (This was after breakfast turned yogurt playtime). 

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We had an awesome time catching up and living the Dutch life, which included eating tons of delicious food. The first night, we had this amazing spread. (Kudos to Katy and Ari on the prep work!)

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Then, since we were there on a weekend, we got to go to the Delft market! Fish is hugely popular with the locals, and one of Chris’s favorites is the raw herring at the weekend market right by their house. Also known as “soused herring”, it is first soaked in salt water to preserve it and then served cold with diced onions and pickles. To eat it, you just hold it up by the tail and take a bite off the bottom.  I wasn’t brave enough to try (the whole holding it by the tail thing was too much), but here’s a video demonstration by Chris and Sam: 

(Don’t worry, the non-adventurous among us ate a bunch of fried fish instead). 

We also did lots of exploring around town and had a BBQ at the lake. Here are a bunch of other photos from the weekend: 

Unfortunately, on our last full day in Delft, I came down with a pretty nasty flu-like bug and had to take it easy. More on that (and our complicated travels to Berlin) in the next post!

London: Harry (Potter) and the Royal Wedding

We flew into London just a few days after the Royal Wedding to find that England was still fully engrossed with the recent nuptials of Harry and Megan. There were “Harry & Megan” sushi specials, cardboard cutout masks, bobbleheads, and more. We already knew that everyone loves the queen, so no surprise to see a fair amount of queen-related merchandise, but this display in a souvenir shop surprised me a bit (one of these things is not like the other….)

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During our first day in London, we joined one of the many free walking tours — it was specifically a “West End” tour, so we got to see some of the famous sites and hear a lot about British history and the royal family. We also stumbled upon an unexpected military parade that was part of a week-long celebration for King George’s 70th birthday! (for the record, King George was nowhere to be found) 

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London also happens to be the origin of a few of my favorite fictional characters - Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes - so no visit would be complete without a visit to 221B Baker St and Platform 9 and 3/4. We had a quick visit at Baker St, and then headed to King’s Cross Station. King’s Cross has embraced it’s pop culture references and is now complete with a Platform 9 and 3/4 and adjoining Harry Potter gift shop. 

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 Just a Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff reporting to Hogwarts!

Just a Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff reporting to Hogwarts!

Lastly, the UK is not a place known for it’s stellar cuisine, but we did make sure to try a few of the staples. On our first night, we had a GIANT plate of fish and chips - good, but mostly notable for its size. The following day, we tried (meat) pies. Thought it would be something like meatloaf with an outer pie-like crust - not the case. It was actually a bowl of meat sauce (like meat sauce for pasta, but with a higher concentration of beef) with a small scoop of mashed potatoes on top. Glad I tried it, probably wouldn’t have it again. 

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After London we were off to Amsterdam for the long weekend (Memorial Day) to meet up with a few MIT friends! 

Same same, but different: An American-themed trip to Seoul

Seoul was our final stop on the Asian leg of our journey. Though we were very much intending to have a Korean experience, what we ended up having was something of a mashup between typical American pastimes and unique Korean culture. 

Our four day stay included a pro baseball game, an amusement park, a zoo (sort of..), and lots and lots of food! (Oh, and visits to Taco Bell and Costco…) If everything wasn’t in Korean, you might have thought we were right back home given our itinerary. This wasn’t totally intentional - I blame (give credit to?) one particular blog list I found on the internet of fun things to do in Seoul that led us in these directions. Thanks to its guidance, we had some hilarious adventures and Seoul was definitely a different experience than the rest of our time in Asia. Here are a few of the highlights: 

Lotte World

Lotte World is kind of like a Disney World-type amusement park with two cute chipmunks as it’s mascots (Lotty and Lorry, if you’re wondering). Lotte World is owned by Lotte Group, which is a Korean-Japanese conglomerate that seems to own a whole lot in Seoul (fun fact: their 95-year old founder was recently jailed for embezzlement…). There are “Lotte” buildings everywhere in Seoul - Lotte Marts, Lotte Hotels, Lotterias (fast food joints), etc. We found cheap “foreign visitor” tickets to the park online and decided to give it a try. 

One of Lotte World’s unique features is that it is the “largest indoor theme park in the world”. I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was pretty big (4+ stories of rides, shows, and food in an area comparable to a large mall, plus a pretty big outdoor section). There were some of the typical rides, like swinging boats, roller coasters, and haunted mansions. And then there were some of the more unusual attractions - a “hot air balloon” that takes you around the perimeter of the indoor space, or the indoor ice skating rink on the basement level. Most striking (though expected), was that nothing was in English. This meant that we had little understanding of the narrative during Sinbad’s escape or the safety instructions before departure on the hot air balloon. At this point, we were pretty good at following the crowd so we were able to manage and still have a good time. 

Here are a few photos from Lotte World: 

One aside - for a weekday during the school year, there were a whole lot of teenagers roaming around Lotte World. Something we started to notice were how many of the couples (and in some cases, groups of friends) were wearing matching outfits (not always teenagers, but mostly younger people) - to the point where we started to note them when spotted. The best part was the male/female variations on outfits; they weren’t identical and it was clear that some thought had gone into how to make a male and a female version. Unfortunately, I only was able to capture a few examples: 

 

Raccoon Cafe

Themed cafes are a big thing in Seoul. After perusing some descriptions, we decided the best one to visit would be the ‘Raccoon Cafe’. Immediately upon walking in, we were greeted by some friendly hosts - a Corgi and two pigs! Once their human came out to greet us, we were able to order drinks and then hang out in the cafe with the animals for a while. There was a separate charge to enter the actual raccoon area, but after looking at them through the glass, I opted out (look at the picture below and you’ll understand why). But I did love hanging out with the mini pig! 

Go Doosan Bears! (Pro Baseball Game)

One day we decided to find out what professional sports in Asia are like. Korea has a 10 team professional baseball league with stadiums throughout the country, including one in Seoul. Occasionally a player from the Korean league will transfer into America’s MLB (and slightly more often, players from the MLB come to Korea for more playing time). The biggest difference between the leagues though - at least from an outside perspective - is the excitement at the games. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to many a Redsox/Yankees game and witnessed the intensity of fans and the rowdiness of a World Series win in Boston. But game to game and inning to inning, I’m pretty sure the Korean fans have Americans beat. There was CONSTANT cheering (not just yelling - like coordinated singing and chanting) by EVERYONE. There were even cheerleaders and the home team had drums to sound off when something exciting happened. We were way out in the bleachers, but the huge stadium was packed, and everyone was into it, all game long! (Also they weirdly served beers with straws as if they were Slurpees from 7-11). 

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Food (and lots of it!) 

We did some serious eating in Korea. From traditional Korean meals with tons of side dishes and rice to huge platters of chicken with Hite “Extra Cold” beer, we tried them all. Here is a brief food recap: 

Thailand: Food, Beaches, and Bangkok

Food

Thailand was one of the locations we were most looking forward to in Southeast Asia, and it did not disappoint! First and foremost, the food was amazing. I’m a big fan of Thai food, so it was no surprise that Phuket and Bangkok offered some of my favorite meals of the trip. Here are some of the Thai culinary highlights: 

Phuket

Our first stop in Thailand was the beachy island of Phuket. Thailand has lots of island/beach destinations, but Phuket is likely the best known by travelers. We stayed pretty far south at Kata Beach to avoid some of the denser tourist areas around the beaches that are closer (and more convenient) to the northern airport. For me, our hotel area and the nearby beach (about a 4 min walk) was the right amount of both relaxing (quiet and not super crowded) and bustling (w/ interesting restaurants and shops to explore). We could have had a great couple of days just hanging out at the hotel by the pool: 

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But even better, we were steps away from the beach. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more beautiful and scenic beach. We were lucky to spend our evenings watching sunsets like these: 

Bangkok

After leaving the beach wonderland of Phuket, we flew to Thailand’s major city - Bangkok. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Bangkok. I knew it would be more modern than the Vietnamese cities, as one of SE Asia’s major transportation/industry hubs, but other than that, I didn’t have a good sense of what to expect going in. 

As it turns out, Bangkok is a rather large city (not unlike some of the cities we visited in China), but unlike China, the transportation system leaves something (a lot) to be desired. Many of the places we visited in Bangkok were spread out, and usually we needed to take a cab/uber to get from place to place. On top of that, traffic is terrible at pretty much all hours (we arrived after 10pm on a weeknight and sat in traffic on the highway going from the airport to our airbnb). There are a few trains and buses, but they don’t cover the city well. I guess what I’m saying is that Bangkok (and most cities in the US) could learn something about public transport from Shanghai and Hong Kong! 

One of my favorite things about Bangkok and the places we visited in Vietnam was how so many people took advantage of public spaces to exercise. In Hanoi, I went running one morning before 6am and there were already dozens of people out doing a variety of morning exercise routines - running, yoga, strength training, and even zumba/kickboxing. 

This was also true of Bangkok. One evening we went for a walk in a nearby park, and you might have thought we had inadvertently joined a road race. There were probably 1000+ people running a 1.5mi loop - all in the same direction - in this park. Then, at one end, there was a huge group exercise program taking place (see video below). I’ve dubbed them “November Project Bangkok”. 

After Bangkok we were off to our final Asian destination - Seoul, South Korea! But first, here are a few more highlights of our time in Thailand: 

Cambodia: Legends of the Hidden Temple

Was anyone else terrified by the last part of each episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple? You know, the part where kids run through an obstacle course collecting treasures while guards jump out of nowhere, capture them, and drag them away? In case you're unfamiliar with this game show kidnapping segment, see the fear it instilled here: 14 kids getting terrified by Legends of the Hidden Temple Guards

Aside from inspiring children's game shows, the temples in Cambodia are the main attraction that leads SE Asia tourists to visiting. There are thousands throughout the country, and you could spend countless hours exploring the sites and learning about their history. We only had a few days, so we stopped in Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, the biggest temple of them all. 

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is actually synonymous with Angkor Wat. Technically, Siem Reap is the city and Angkor Wat is one of the temples (and they are about 20 minutes apart), but if you're staying in Siem Reap, you're probably visiting Angkor Wat and vice versa. I don't have any actual data on this, but it definitely seemed like almost everyone in Siem Reap was either heading to Angkor Wat or had just visited. 

Needless to say, our major adventure here was visiting Angkor Wat. Since we opted for the sunrise tour, the shuttle arrived to our hotel just after 4am (we drew the short straw and were the first of five pick ups…). We arrived at Angkor Wat in total darkness around 5am, but soon were guided to the front entrance where hundreds of similarly sleep-deprived tourists had gathered for sunrise. Despite the early wake up and trekking in the dark, I’m really glad we opted for the early morning tour. Sunrise was beautiful, and it meant we got to explore the temple area before it was super packed and super hot later in the day. 

After Angkor Wat, we visited two other temples - the temple of “smiling faces” and the “jungle temple”. (The jungle temple’s claim to fame is that it was featured in a Tomb Raider movie..). They each had their own charm, but my favorite was the OG, Angkor Wat. (Sid's fave was the jungle temple). Here are a bunch of photos from our temple expedition -- first are the photos from Angkor Wat, then (though you can probably tell them apart) from smiling faces, and lastly from the jungle. Check them out! 

Pub Street

Aside from visiting the temples in Siem Reap, we spent some time hanging out by the pool and exploring the town that was built to cater to tourists. Siem Reap actually has a street called "Pub Street" in the middle of town, which has - you guessed it - dozens of restaurants and bars, almost all of which offer $0.50 - $1 beers all day. I think this photo sums up the kinds of things you can find on Pub Street (somehow, we resisted from buying a set): 

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Ice Cream Rolls!

In better news, I discovered one of the best treats in Siem Reap - "fried" ice cream rolls! It's not fried in a traditional sense (in oil), but is made in front of you on a cold plate (kind of like Coldstone) by mashing together milk, cream, sugar, and toppings (which is quickly solidifying on the plate), spreading it out super thin, and then rolling it up into a set of ice cream rolls! Though I discovered this treat in Siem Reap, it was also all over the place in Thailand, so luckily I got to have it a few times :) The whole process takes a few minutes, but here it is condensed down to about 10 seconds: 

And the final product! 

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