Travels

Travels: Washington, D.C.

The capital of the United States is a city frequented by tourists for its many iconic landmarks and museums and populated by some of the most powerful people in the world (including the fictional characters on Scandal and House of Cards). It is probably one of the cities that are a “must-visit” in the US.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Occurring usually in mid/late March to early/mid April, this festival celebrates the blossoming cherry blossom trees that populate the heart of DC, in particular the Tidal Basin. Thousands of visitors seek the elusive florals during the “peak bloom” before the petals all fall. The festival includes many events around the city which celebrate Japanese culture, including an annual National Cherry Blossom Parade (free) that runs along Constitution Avenue and a street festival (tickets required) with performances and people in traditional Japanese costumes, but honestly it is more like a place for vendors to sell over-priced merchandise and food. The DC Cherry Blossoms which were gifted from Japan are indeed beautiful. However, the blooms in DC lacks variety and abundance. The huge crowd is another drawback. Unless you happen to be in the area around the time they are blooming, we do not recommend going out of your way to see them.

Memorials

DC’s memorials honor the thousands of lives for which we all owe our freedom. Two stood out most to Nhi. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin has always captured a solemnity that makes one reflect. Some memorials have boastful/flamboyant displays that distract visitors from the true meaning of a memorial. Lin employed simplicity to perfection, which always encourage us to have a minute of silence as we approach the many names that fought and died for freedom. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial also stood in an ideal location where the Washington monument can be reflected on its granite. However, the National Mall is under construction and there are plans to relocate the memorial. Hopefully its new home will be equally ideal.

Another memorial that greatly impressed Nhi was Lincoln Memorial (perhaps in part because Nhi and Lincoln share the same birthday). The exterior of the memorial echoed Greek architecture. Climbing up the steps, one cannot help but look back at the Reflecting Pool and Washington monument in the background. It is truly an iconic, picturesque view and a historic landmark where Dr. Martin Luther King once made his “I Have A Dream” speech. It also reminds one of a scene from Forrest Gump – a beautiful film that captured decades of America’s history within mere hours. Heading inside the memorial, an enormous and prominent statue of Lincoln awaits. On the walls are inscriptions of his famous speeches – The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. In A.P. Writing, Nhi once had to dissect Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and it was that year in High School that she learned of pathos and the brilliance of Lincoln’s writings.

White House

Home to the President of the United States, this is the most famous “family house” in the US. We are particularly excited that its glass ceiling may be shattered in the upcoming 2016 elections. It’s time.

Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian has several museums that you can visit in DC, all for free. There are so many different exhibits that it is probably a good idea to dedicate a day just for museums (especially if you have young children). Having heard repeatedly about the famous Giant Squid (and its axon) in her neuroscience courses, Nhi was mega excited to see the squid on display. It was indeed gigantic! The National Museum of Natural History also housed many interesting exhibits, one of which allowed you to create early human versions of yourself (think broad forehead and huge nose). The National Air and Space Museum is another great hit for children (but be forewarned it isn’t as special as Kennedy’s Space Center).

Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden

The impressive cast iron Renwick Gates open their door to a charming garden. The Smithsonian Garden may be small, but it is no less captivating. Needless to say, it is only worth visiting when there are flowering plants. We found that this garden provided a more vibrant landscape of cherry blossoms (and Mulan magnolias) than the Tidal Basin. (Additionally, there is less of a huge crowd here.) The castle also offers a gorgeous backdrop.

National Arboretum

While most DC attractions can be easily accessed through public transportation of the clean and efficient Metro, the National Arboretum is not one of those. Not only is it difficult to get there by public transportation, when you are actually there, it is a hike to see the various gardens, which are inconveniently spread out. You really do need a car to enjoy the Arboretum. Consequently, we did not get to see much of the Arboretum. And most unfortunately, the parts we saw were quite bare/under construction.

National Zoo

This is probably a must-visit if you have young children. Again, it is free. The vast zoo spans 163 acres and provides ample space for its animals. It also has abundant photo-ops. We got there around closing time and therefore did not see many exhibits. The famous giant pandas were also not on display (due to cold weather). On the bright side, this offers us the perfect excuse to visit DC again (when we have kids of our own)!

Paint Nite

The newest social craze is drinking & painting. You’ve probably seen it somewhere on social media. There are several different companies that offer this service; Paint Nite is one of those. It’s an artist-led “class” where you can have fun and go home with a painting. It is not truly a class, though, as there is very little instruction provided. More than anything, it’s a 2-hour social event with art supplies provided. Of course, there is probably variability depending on your instructor/crowd. Nevertheless, it is a unique and fun activity. We would recommend it and wouldn’t mind doing it again!

We Say
As with any big city, be prepared for big crowds, bad traffic, and to walk around for many miles. It is best to use public transportation to get around as parking can be difficult and/or expensive. The DC Metro is actually quite clean and much easier to navigate than NYC’s. Do take advantage of all the free attractions! And while a visit to the Nation’s capital is a must, do consider taking a stroll along historic Georgetown. Not far from the heart of DC, this quaint neighborhood features European architect, unique boutiques, and fine dining.

Travels: New York City, Revisited

Ever since relocating to Pennsylvania (for grad school), Thanh and I have made New York City our travel destination countless times. Our latest trip was this past Valentine’s weekend, where we decided to explore the “high brow” culture of New York City.

New York Public Library

Stepping foot inside NYPL felt like we were visiting a museum. The grandeur! I kept thinking if I had daily access to this library, I would be inspired to finish all my in-progress novels and crunch out my dissertation in no time! Unluckily for us, the Rose Main Reading Room was under construction so we weren’t able to experience NYPL in all its glory. We also felt some regret that this reference library wasn’t built with loaning books in mind. I’d love to be able to get a library card and check out books!

Broadway

Truthfully, neither of us is a fan of musicals. However, the allure of Broadway and its blockbuster Wicked was too great to deny. Indeed, we feel Broadway is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be checked off. However, the production value must be combined with a great cast to deem the experience worthy of your bucks. For this reason, we may hit up Broadway in May/June to see An Act of God starring Jim Parsons. Parsons brought the brilliant Sheldon from Big Bang Theory to life and I have great expectations for his upcoming role as the Creator.

Museum of Modern Art

One can’t mention the high brow culture of NYC without mentioning MoMA. Admittedly, the main attraction for us was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. When I visit museums, I like not only to appreciate the artworks, but also the overall atmosphere. I expect a certain level of solemnity when one appreciates masterpieces. My expectations were met at the Louvre. Despite the complaints of how small the Mona Lisa was, breaths were visibly drawn and taken away. Likewise, there was an air of excitement throughout the Art Institute of Chicago. At MoMA, on the other hand, I felt a tang of disappointment. There was no great sign for Starry Night. The painting wasn’t on display in its own room or encased in glass. It felt almost like a trifle — it was just there, neither boastful nor bold. I thought that to the very least, Van Gogh deserved his own exhibition room/hall. Aside from that, my main impression of MoMA is one of eccentricity. I was prepared for weird art, but their video clips were in a separate league of absurdity and inappropriateness.

The Water Club

We felt very lucky to have gotten off the waitlist and secured our Valentine’s reservations at The Water Club. The food, while beautifully presented, fell short of delighting our tastebuds. We have tasted better in Minnesota and Europe. Frankly, we felt like we paid the big bucks for the majestic riverfront view and live music.

Cafe Duke
On our way to Broadway, we spotted Cafe Duke and decided to grab lunch. Cafe Duke is the kind of cafeteria that anyone would love to have at their work/school! We were thoroughly impressed with the vast selections from Asian to Vegan. Everything looked fresh and were quickly served to order if not already prepared for you to grab & go. The portions were quite generous and the prices were reasonable for NYC. While the taste was nothing spectacular, it was quite good and made for a quick and filling lunch.

We Say
No matter how many times we visit the “Big Apple” we can never seem to cross off all that we want to do. This time, we concentrated our activities to Uptown areas. It was certainly cleaner (and more pricey) than our usual NYC trips that include a trip or two Downtown to Chinatown. We felt rather restricted in schedule due to being confined around our Broadway show and Valentine’s Dinner reservation. To enjoy a city like NYC, spontaneity without time constraints seems more enjoyable and exciting. We’re excited to explore again!

Travels: Orange County (Anaheim, CA)

Unlike many, we are not fans of the west coast. Every time we need to travel there, some obstacles lie ahead. The first time, our luggage got lost. We were attending a wedding and Nhi almost had to purchase a new dress for the occasion. (The luggage arrived 6am on the wedding day.) The second and most recent time, our flight was delayed five hours because there was a dent in the aircraft’s wing. (They claimed a bird must have hit the plane. Poor birdie!!!) On our return flight, United Airlines was unable to confirm the checked-in luggage weight, causing a one-hour delay and consequently made us miss our connection flight. In total, we spent 32 hours at the airport + flying for the round trip. United Airlines neither apologized nor offered compensation for all of our troubles. Moral of the story? Never fly United Airlines.

Traveling issues aside, our recent trip to Anaheim was productive. Thanh attended his Mid-Year Pharmacy conference. Nhi met up with friends. And we both went on a food adventure. Nom nom nom!

Quán Hỷ

This was the first Vietnamese restaurant we dined in when we went to Anaheim for the first time together back in 2011. Since then, we’ve long yearned to eat here again and sometimes reminisce about the amazing flavors. Quán Hỷ specializes in central Vietnamese dishes – the delicacies of the ancient Imperial City of Hue. Their must-get dish is the appetizer “bánh bèo” (Vietnamese steamed rice cakes with shrimp).

Ốc & Lẩu

Hands down the best restaurant in Orange County. Although Thanh isn’t an adventurous diner, he had no problem savoring the yummy tastes of escargots. We had their house specialties of razor clams in magic sauce (seriously, so heavenly delicious) and the escargot hot pot. Be forewarned that although the service is fast, the wait time just to get in the door will be long. If you get there at 5pm, you’ll probably wait 45 minutes. If you get there around 6-7pm, the wait will most likely be 2 hours. So write down your name and run some errands before getting seated. :) We promise the food is absolutely worth it!

Lynda Sandwich

A cozy shop owned by Vietnamese pop singers (and married couple) Lynda Trang Đài and Tommy Ngo. The decor is centered around the theme of stars (aka celebrities). Many autographed photos adorned the wall nearest to the entrance. Towards the back, there is a mural of famous signatures. The entire space looks very modern and clean. They serve sandwiches as well as noodle soups. While Lynda is very proud of her secret sauce, which she personally makes, it leaves the sandwich a tad too sweet. The bread itself is very good. The filling consists of abundant vegetables and proteins. Very comparable to Lee’s Sandwiches. We also were lucky to have spotted Lynda herself. She was taking a party order and Nhi totally did the I’m-pretending-to-use-my-phone-but-actually-secretly-taking-photos-of-you… Thanh actually said hi and she nicely said hi back. :)

Uyên Thy Bistro

Uyên Thy not only owns the restaurant but also runs a cooking show on SBTN (Bếp Nhà Ta Nấu). Thanh is a huge fan of the show and credits his good cooking to her “tutelage”. The restaurant was a bit empty. The service was slow. But overall, we had a very homey experience. It felt like dining at a relative’s house. The foods have a very home-cooked vibe. We recommend this bistro if you’re missing your mom’s cooking. :)

Corner View Bakery

This bakery is also owned by Uyen Thy. It breaks Thanh’s heart to admit how terrible the bakery is. We ordered bánh bao (steamed stuffed buns), green tea cake, pandan cream puffs, and flan. The buns were dry and had very little filling. The cake was overly sweet. We couldn’t even finish what we ordered. We just want to forget the experience and pretend this bakery doesn’t exist.

Tren

Located two doors down from Ky Duyen House, Tren is a restaurant and bar owned by Vietnamese pop singer Minh Tuyết. The decor was terrible, if not nonexistent. The food was salty and consisted of mostly carbs (very little proteins were provided). The service was slow and inattentive. Our overall impression is that Minh Tuyết didn’t even try. Do your stomach a favor and dine elsewhere.

Hương Quán

This restaurant is owned by Vietnamese comedians Việt Hương and Hoài Tâm. Unlike Tren, customers can clearly detect the owners’ efforts in running their restaurant. We love their clever logo and the seasonal decorations that adorned their restaurant. The food was good, though not amazing. We thought their appetizers and desserts truly hit the mark. But their specialty entree of bún mắm fell short of expectations.

Loving Hut

We met up with a vegan friend who chose this eatery. It is a fitting name as the place is rather tiny. The walls are adorned with photos of famous vegan celebrities. Next to the cash register is a mini library containing spiritual books. So unique! We also love the foods and strongly recommend Hainam Grilled Rice.

Tebo Tebo

We always have a soft spot for tea shops (ex: Tea Garden & Tea Time). Tebo is larger than most. While it mostly serves tea, you can also order foods here. We felt their fruity drinks leaned more toward desserts than actual tea. The place was indeed busy, but service was slow and inattentive. The drinks were just average (not worth the wait), but Nhi did love their blossom tea.

Phước Lộc Thọ

You can’t mention Little Saigon without mentioning Phước Lộc Thọ (Asian Garden Mall). There is a nice food court in the center on the first floor. We personally wouldn’t do any shopping here, but it’s a nice gathering of small stores where you can find Vietnamese clothing and products. Side note: we did replace watch batteries for really cheap.

Laguna Beach

California has a full coastline of beaches, with Laguna being one of its most famous. It is indeed beautiful and offers a nice stroll to enjoy the California sunshine, but the best beach to us remains Siesta Keys in Florida with its smooth, white sand.

Downtown Disney

Walking by foot and trying to follow road signs, it is somewhat confusing to find. It was rather small and underwhelming. (Florida boasts a much more impressive Downtown Disney.) We went during the daytime, so perhaps there was nothing going on. However, as expected, Frozen was on full display. We saw Elsa everywhere!

Uber
It seems like everything is very spaced out on the west coast. Orange County lacks an easy-to-use subway/metro system. It seems the best way to get around is to have a native be your chauffeur (you can rent a car, but be warned that California drivers are crazy). Of course, such a luxury is not easy to come by. Uber made getting around a cinch with its mobile app. With the tracking GPS system and built-in payments (no money exchange occurs between you and the driver), you just need a few simple clicks to get here and there. We don’t know how Uber’s fare compares to taxi, but the convenience definitely is a big plus. You can always check the estimated fee before agreeing to each ride. We find the estimated fee has always been accurate. After each ride, Uber asks you to rate your experience and provide feedback (optional). Their manager replied to our minor negative feedback within minutes. Should you like to try Uber, let us know! We have a code for a free ride and we’d love to share it with you.

We Say
While the “Golden Coast” seems to “curse” us with headaches and troubles before we get there and after we leave, we can’t complain too much when we are there with the sunny weather and delicious, authentic, and inexpensive Vietnamese food in Orange County. We certainly wouldn’t want to live in California, but a trip now and then to visit friends and whet our appetites makes the frustration worthwhile.

Travels: Rome, Italy

We took the bullet train from Venice to Rome, passing by rural areas and graffiti towns, to enter the final leg of our honeymoon. Aroma (or Rome) is spelled backwards as Amora – love. Indeed, we fell for the ancient ruins that attract countless visitors from the modern world.

Colosseum

Standing 160 feet high and covering 6 acres to accommodate 50,000 people, the Colosseum is regarded as one of the greatest works of Roman architecture. Built around 72 AD, only 1/3 of the original Colosseum remains. This “arena of death” is where gladiators fought. The gladiator games were officially banned in 435 AD (until its reopening for the “Hunger Games” in a distant dystopia…).

Roman Forum

As the center of the Roman public life, the Forum held elections, speeches, trials, and commercial affairs. Today, the Forum is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments. However, what remains still signify an era of majestic grandeur. The Forum lit up at night and offered a serene place for reflections.

Pantheon

Built in 27 BC, the Pantheon is a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. Its dome later inspired Washington D.C.’s Capitol building. The Oculus eye in the sky (at the center of the dome) is the only available light source, giving visitors a glimpse of “Heaven”. Instead of statues of the gods, the Pantheon now houses tombs of famous Italians and the French poet Victor Hugo.

Bridge of Angels

The Bridge of Angels was completed in 134 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian for transportation across the Tiber river. Today, the bridge is solely used by pedestrians. Facing the bridge is the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was a place Popes used to hide in during seiges and wars as the castle is accessible by a raised viaduct to escape in secrecy from the Vatican.

Vatican

The morning we visited the Vatican, it was raining. This did not stop the huge crowd. Pope Francis was making a tour and giving a speech. We were too far away to hear him, but all around us, people were in tears and chanting “Papa!”. It must be a surreal moment for the religious.

Churches

There are approximately 350 churches in Rome. Despite our non-affiliation to churches, we find ourselves fascinated with the decorated architecture. Pictured above is an “unknown” church, not glorified in any travel brochures. And yet, its magnificence took our breath away. One can really visit Rome just to go on a church tour.

Rome by Night

We highly recommend exploring Rome after dark for a more intimate, romantic experience. While Paris might be nicknamed “City of Love”, it was an evening stroll among the ancient ruins of Rome with live music playing in the background that gave us a sense of amore. The structures came to life with orange, flood lighting that was reminiscent of torchlight. Everything felt grandiose and intimate all at once.

EuropeanDestinations
EuropeanDestinations made traveling to Europe a breeze. We were initially going to book everything ourselves, but we found it all very overwhelming and from our searches (adding everything up), we found EuropeanDestinations offered a reasonable price. While we are not sure if their packages will allow you to travel to Europe for the least amount of money, we are very thankful to have chosen them. Their packages include all airfare, hotels, and train (if applicable). You can modify according to your tastes (such as adding tour guides). Their customer service is readily available and helpful. We were leery about using them prior to departure just because we never used them before and didn’t know anyone who had used their service. We didn’t have any expectations and were therefore pleasantly surprised at how well everything turned out. There were no hiccups with travel. Hotels were all good and in prime locations (examples: we were walking distance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and just outside St. Mark’s Square in Venice). We would use EuropeanDestinations again and would recommend it to family and friends because of how easy and reasonable the packages are.

We Say
Paris gave us iconic structures. Venice fed our ravenous stomachs. Rome gave us a unique look into the ancient past. Honestly, we had the most difficulty writing about Rome because the very act of describing art detracts beauty from it. Rome simply needs to be experienced and appreciated.

Click here to view all photos from our honeymoon!

Travels: Venice, Italy

While Paris kept reminding us of America, Venice instantly introduced a new culture. We entered it by water taxi, marveling at the old structures surrounded by water and intricate bridges before us. We were forewarned that Venice has a foul stench, but the cold November air was nothing but pleasant. The people here are very friendly and eager to speak English. You can definitely tour Venice in a day. Should you do so, we recommend the following rough itinerary. Please note that most shops close from 1pm-3pm for “siesta” so do double check business hours when planning your day.

Caffe Florian

Start the day at the oldest coffee house in the world. It’s been in operation since 1720! Charles Dickens was a frequent customer here. Next time, Nhi will bring along a blank notebook and hopefully leave with a finished manuscript. :P We ordered two coffees and two croissants (pictured above) for the lovely price of 30 euros. No regrets. :)

Piazza San Marco

This social, religious, and political center of Venice is constantly ranked among Europe’s top attractions. We were fortunate to encounter a light morning rain, enabling a marvelous view of the piazza reflected in water. There is often live music going on. You can always count on the many pigeons that flood the square and delight young children.

Bridge of Sighs

Perhaps catch a gondola ride (for 100 euros) and steal a kiss with your loved one beneath the Bridge of Sighs, sealing eternal bliss. The bridge is made of white limestone and has windows. Its name was given by Lord Byron during the 19th century, suggesting the sighs prisoners gave as they witnessed their last view of Venice through the bridge’s windows immediately before their imprisonment. The local legend tells a separate story, of lovers sighing in bliss as they kiss beneath the bridge during sunset.

Rialto Bridge & Market

The oldest stone bridge that spans across the Grand Canal, Rialto is arguably the busiest spot in Venice. Surrounding the bridge are shops and restaurants eager to delight tourists. (We were honestly pulled into a restaurant for lunch.) A commercial and financial center, indeed. We did most of our souvenir shopping here as we couldn’t resist the beautiful creations from their famous Murano glass.

Dining

We absolutely think Venice must be experienced through one’s taste buds. The food here, especially their super fresh seafood, is divine. Dinner is served with a complimentary glass of wine. We honestly think Ristorante Trovatore was the highlight of our trip to Venice. The best Italian foods. The most friendly and personable service. We had to open a TripAdvisor account to write a glowing review for them.

We Say

Venice is small and manageable. We really think the objective here is to get lost and discover hidden charms. As we left the city, we witnessed children catching the water taxi to school. How lovely it is to have the main mode of transportation be by boat. It forces you to slow down and provides a tranquility hardly present on the road. While the businesses/attractions seem duplicative after awhile, Venice is unlike anywhere else in the world because of its unique location, cityscape, and history.

Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Rome.

Click here to view all photos from our honeymoon!

Travels: Paris, France

City of Love. City of Light. Paris has been romanticized for centuries through novels, arts, music, television, and films. But up close, what is Paris like? Below is our take.

Eiffel Tower

Among the most iconic structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the downfall of the Bastilles. At 1000 feet tall, this doubled the tallest building at that time (Washington monument). After the Paris World Fair, the tower was used by scientists to study weather and later used as a radio tower. Today, at the pinnacle of the tower, there is still a small preservation of the apartment Eiffel lived in. At night, the tower lights up and for five minutes at the top of every hour, it sparkles with dazzling lights.

Louvre Museum

One of the most visited museums in the world, the Louvre houses a magnificent quantity of artifacts and arts. Nevertheless, most visitors are here for the great Mona Lisa. We were aware of long lines, the crowd, and the fact that Mona Lisa would be behind a glaring glass and at a distance, but we were still surprised at how small the actual canvas is. Be forewarned: you will be disappointed. This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece took three years to complete. Originally, da Vinci set out to paint a landscape but he messed up. As the cost for a canvas was expensive, he painted Mona on top of his mistake. If only all of our mistakes could get transformed into world-renowned works of art. :P

Seine River

The Seine River spans 37 bridges within Paris, one of which was a shooting location for Inception. It was once the site of water sports during a Summer Olympics. The Seine is also heavily featured in films. We read raving reviews about the river cruise but honestly felt underwhelmed as we have seen these sites already by foot. The audio narration gave little new insights (although it is nice that it was multilingual).

Arc de Triomphe

Standing 164 feet tall at the western end of Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. While the arc has historical significance, it is lacking in intricacies from a purely architectural view. After all, the arc mimicked the Roman Arch of Titus, and we’ve always been partial to original works.

Champs Elysees
The grandest boulevard in Paris and arguably all of Europe, Champs Elysees has chic boutiques and high-end shopping. This area greatly reminds us of Manhattan, but cleaner. Traveling in November, we accidentally walked into a winter carnival. The smell of hot wine and roasted chestnuts was extremely inviting.

General Traveling Advice
1. Arrange in advance for travel from and to the airport with your hotel’s shuttle service. This is more secure and cost effective.

2. Never exchange currencies at the airport. You will get a better rate in the city. Most ATM’s in the city do not charge a fee for use and we found the exchange rate was on par and current. Of course, you should check with your bank first and notify them of your overseas travels. Some banks charge their own foreign transaction fees. We are thankful that Capital One 360 offers a free checking account with a debit card that was accepted at all ATM’s we encountered without accruing any extra fees.

3. If you forgot to pack a European plug adapter, use the TV’s USB port to charge your phone (if available). Your hotel may also be able to provide you with an adapter.

4. Pack melatonin to reset your sleeping cycle.

5. A rule of thumb is to dine where the locals are. Avoid restaurants that cater to tourists. Make sure the waiter gives you the same menu as the one posted outside. Plan at least two hours per meal. Yes, we’re serious. Parisians are very leisure and seemingly never in a hurry. Their service is purposefully slow.

6. Buy your souvenirs far from iconic monuments for better deals.

7. “Bonjour. Parlez vous anglais?” will get you anywhere in Paris. We were pleasantly surprised how fluent in American English the Parisian locals are. We could barely detect an accent.

8. When possible, pay with a credit card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee. You will get the most bang for your buck (as the exchange rate will always be the rate for the date of transaction). Capital One offers a no-fee MasterCard credit card that proved to be extremely useful as MasterCard was accepted at all places we went.

We Say
We felt Paris’s nicknames were undeserved. The city did not carry a romantic vibe, although a walk down the Seine River does suggest a more appropriate nickname – city of PDA (public displays of affection). :P As for City of Light, we feel the nickname better befits Las Vegas. And yes, we do believe Paris in two days is totally doable. We walked 9+ miles in a day, but you can cut down on traveling time by using the metro (be sure to download the official app prior to your arrival to help you navigate the metro).

Paris was the first leg of our honeymoon. Be sure to read our upcoming posts on Venice and Rome!

View all our honeymoon photos here!

Travels: New York City

There is no city more “American” than NYC: New York City, New York. As one of the largest, busiest, and most populated city in the US, it is bustling with diverse culture, business, and history. It is visually so iconic and recognizable because of the countless films and TV series that take place in this city. The fantastical lives on screen conjure nostalgia for the “real deal”. Indeed, there is just so much to see and do in the “Big Apple”! We’ve been here 3 times and still have more places we want to explore in future visits! For now, these are some of our favorite places in New York:

Statue of Liberty

NYC represents the melting pot of culture that is the very bloodline of the US. The Statue of Liberty is a stunning representation of the freedom, hopes, and dreams so many immigrants have when they choose to make the US their home. A short and scenic ferry ride to Staten Island allows you to see the statue up close and you get a gorgeous view of all the skyscrapers and classic architecture.

9/11 Memorial

When you think New York City, there is an automatic association of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful and haunting sight that allows visitors to remember those whose lives were so sadly cut short for a senseless act of terrorism. The large constructed “water falls” reminds visitors of the night Twin Towers which once stood. We didn’t visit the Museum, but we hear it preserves the many stories of the people whose tomorrow’s were stolen as well as a portion of America’s history that will never be forgotten. Behind the memorial stands One World Trade Center, which opened for business yesterday (11/3). The building is exactly 1776 feet tall, to commemorate America’s year of independence.

Central Park

A visit to New York City is incomplete without strolling through Central Park. This place also holds a special place in our heart as we traveled there the day after Thanh proposed. That is why Nhi’s sister painted the above canvas for our wedding. We were hopeful of catching Autumn colors, but unfortunately, the park remained entirely green. We strongly recommend taking a bike tour that would allow you to take in the entire park without exhausting all your time. The bike tour does allow you to take as many stops as you want, so be sure to take a picture in front of the Friends fountain!

Times Square

Considered the “heart” of NYC, Times Square is truly a must-see extravaganza, especially at night. It may be midnight but the bright lights, crowds, and bustling businesses will make you question the time. Truly epitomizing a city that never sleeps, Times Square is home to several broadcast television networks and showcases the latest advertisements. Tourists flock here day and night and it is the location for the annual New Years Countdown featuring a certain “ball drop” to celebrate the New Year. Surrounded by big stores and big lights, Times Square puts you at a walking distance to some of its most sought-after offerings – Broadway & shopping!

Ladurée

We had to visit this French luxury bakery known for its macarons that are flown straight from Paris. It is a rather petite shop with small arrays of delicacies. The decor of the shop, the packaging, and the appearances of the pastries were exquisite. Despite the high-end price (each macaroon was $4), we found the taste to be just average; our eyes feasted more than our stomachs.

Asian Dining

There are plenty of Asian dining options among Chinatown and Koreatown. In terms of cleanliness and aroma, Koreatown wins by a wide margin. As for food, it depends on your preference. We love Kang Suh Restaurant although it is rather pricey. The BBQ is mouthwateringly delicious. We also like their lunch boxes, which are more reasonably priced. And the squid side dish is to die for. Koreatown’s bakeries look cozy, inviting, and absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the actual taste leaves lots to be desired. If you’re in the mood for a nice, authentic Vietnamese dinner, we recommend Chinatown’s Nha Trang One (not to be mistaken with Nha Trang Centre). Their canh chua (tamarind based soup) is the best we’ve tasted. We also love their soft shell crabs. Lastly, enjoy a family meal of all-you-can-eat hot pot at 99 Favor Taste. (Really? Favor and not Flavor? A serious typo!)

Carlton Hotel

Carlton is located near Koreatown, which makes it extremely convenient for those who live to eat. :) The decor is very elegant and classy with many hidden charms. Aside from a very pleasant stay, Nhi left with more decor inspirations for our future home. :) Room service here is also very good. Their French fries are the best we’ve had. (Their steak was fine, but not extraordinary.)

5th Avenue

(Photos taken the day after Thanh proposed.)

Located in the upper side of Manhattan, “5th Avenue” is the dreamland of high-end shopaholics. Even if your budget doesn’t allow for any purchases, everyone can afford to window shop. You are near Central Park and also sprinkled among all of the window fronts and stores are gorgeous, historic architecture. For more “affordable” shopping, check out the stores on 7th Avenue, including “the largest store in the world”: an 8-story worth of Macy’s spanning an entire block!

We Say
New York City is a nice place to visit for its grandeur. But, it’s not one for habitat. Having lived in Minnesota for a good many years, Nhi believes in being nice to strangers. Well, most New Yorkers don’t tend to share that belief.

In this city, cars and taxis are not the ideal mode of transportation. You will not only pay a premium just to park (if you can find a spot) and will waste much of your precious NYC minutes stuck in traffic. Become very familiar with the MTA (New York’s public transportation system); nowadays your smartphone makes navigation a cinch! Because there’s just an overwhelming amount of potential sight seeing, we recommend lumping multiple nearby destinations in each of your planned outing so you’re not wasting too much back-and-forth travel time. Most important will be to have comfortable footwear – we walked well over 5 miles one day!