As I mentioned previously, when researching Ha Long Bay Sam and I found that people recommend going instead to Lan Ha Bay, an area south of Ha Long proper with the same magnificent limestone karsts. Pretty much any guesthouse on Cat Ba Island can book you kayak trip into the bay. We ended up going with a company called Asia Outdoors, which was slightly more expensive than some other options but had glowing TripAdvisor reviews.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in northern Vietnam is Ha Long Bay, an area off the coast filled with thousands of towering limestone karsts. Tourists flock there in droves to spend a couple of nights on junk boats. While the bay is supposed to be beautiful, the experience of visiting is a mixed bag. It’s extremely crowded, and decent tours get expensive fast. In addition, it’s risky booking a tour in advance because of how unpredictable the weather is (it’s often rainy, or at least too foggy to really appreciate the karsts).
Sam and I knew there had to be a better way to see the area. After a little searching, we figured out that you can travel independently to Cat Ba, an island near the bay. From there it’s easy to book day trips into Lan Ha Bay, the less touristy (but just as majestic) southern portion of the bay.
There are worse places to spend a couple of nights…
The smog was suffocating and the incessant honking ate away at our sanity. We had to get out of Hanoi. So we found ourselves on a train heading towards Ninh Binh Province, an area a couple hours south of Hanoi that we knew almost nothing about.
Motorbike taxis are a common form of transportation in Hanoi. Drivers sit on their scooters through the day, waiting for tourists or other potential passengers.
Sam and I only lasted a few more days in Hanoi. The noise was driving us crazy, and the smog made me physically ill. After just over a week in Vietnam, we boarded a train out of the city. But before we get there, I have a few more days of photos to share with you. We explored more of the city in our last days, and ate plenty of good food. I’m going to get straight to the photos and spare you a play-by-play; if you want a more in-depth account of what Sam and I have been up to check out her blog, Little Plastic Stools.
Sam and I have been in Hanoi five nights. Or has it been a month already? Trouble with time will clearly be a theme of this trip.
It’s Sam’s first trip to Hanoi, but I’ve been once before and thought I had some idea of what to expect. As it turns out, two nights with a school group left me unprepared. This city is so much crazier than I remembered. The streets are packed with motorbikes, of course, but also cars. In the Old Quarter, just walking down the road feels harrowing (sidewalks are dominated by street food vendors and parked motorbikes). High inflation means that the prices I paid just a couple years ago have as much as doubled. And the smog, how could I forget that? On a bad day you can’t see across Hoan Kiem Lake. I’ve read that the air here is as polluted as it is in Beijing.
I don’t mean to sound negative, though; we’re having a great time. We came here to eat, and the food has largely lived up to our hopes: rich phở, smoky bún chả, slippery bánh cuốn, and much more(don’t worry, I’ll talk more about food later). Prices, while higher than I remember, are still low. The two of us can eat a filling meal on the street for less than $5. Bottles of beer cost just under a buck, but you can get a glass of bia hơi for 25 cents.
I left New York City three weeks ago, but it feels like a lot longer.
On February 15th, my girlfriend Sam and I did something crazy: we packed ourselves, our things, and her dog into a 16-foot Budget truck and left the city. We drove through snow and rain for two days (she drove, actually; I played navigator) to get to her mother’s house in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. We unloaded the truck and took stock of our lives. We were, at once, both home and homeless.
Birreria, Eataly New York‘s rooftop beer garden, had a problem: though the covered space is usable year-round, it’s perceived as a summertime restaurant. This year, rather than try to convince diners that a beer garden is appropriate for winter, they decided to embrace the cold. Birreria became Baita, a celebration of the food of the Italian Alps.
At a press event, I was able to sample some of the food and drink that is available during the pop-up, which will run through mid-March. Rather than just redecorate Birreria, the team is taking this opportunity to showcase a different side of Italian dining. Nicola Farinetti, the CEO of Eataly United States, hails from Piedmont in northern Italy and wanted to feature the food of his home. At Baita, that means things like cabbage, mushrooms, and raclette, a melty cow’s milk cheese usually associated with Switzerland.
While I only tasted small samples of a few dishes, Baita seems promising. Like many of Eataly’s endeavors, there’s a clear commitment to the food that keeps the concept from feeling kitschy. You’ll find Christmas trees and fake snow, yes, but they come second to the menu. Click through the slideshow to see a few of the things I ate and drank, and thanks as always to Eataly for having me out.
Arctic char with braised red cabbage; wine mulled with cloves, cinnamon, star anise, and orange peel
Melting the raclette
Serving raclette atop roasted potatoes and smoke pork loin
Scooping off melted raclette
Polenta with anchovies
In keeping with the mountain theme, certain beers are labeled with their brewing altitude
Gnomo Cioccolato – Hot chocolate spiked with Frangelico and Galliano
I try to stay on top of my photos, but sometimes things slip through the cracks. At the beginning of October, I was invited to a dinner held as part of Identità Golose, a week of events at NYC Italian food mecca Eataly. Chefs Massimo Bottura, Andrea Migliaccio, Moreno Cedroni, and Ugo Alciati prepared four courses for guests, each highlighting a different aspect of Italian cooking. Camera in hand, I headed to the Flatiron District to check out the scene. Big thanks to Eataly for bringing me out to this great event and letting me try some fantastic food and drinks.
After weeks of demonstrations across New York City protesting the killing of black men by police officers, more than ten thousand protesters came together at Washington Square Park for the Millions March. Unlike previous protests, the march was heavily organized, with a large team of marshals directing the crowd and NYPD officers and barricades blocking side streets along the route. The march concluded at One Police Plaza with statements from family members of victims of police killings. Afterwards, groups of protestors split off, with many crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.