(Almost) Birthday Reflections in Hanoi

I often like to pretend there’s an alternate reality where I never went on Remote Year.  I never saw the Instagram ad, or thought it was a hoax, or maybe even applied and was rejected.  It allows for good perspective when I imagine what Alternate Casey would be up to right now, right this very minute.  Sometimes it’s easy, routine, like a Monday morning where I’d be driving to work instead of walking along a lake in Vietnam, dodging motorbikes.  It’s especially easy watching videos of my friends’ weekends, Oh for Halloween I’d be in Hoboken in a last-minute costume dancing like a fool and probably drinking too much vodka, as opposed to being at Dracula’s castle in Romania in a last-minute costume dancing like a fool and definitely drinking too much vodka.

I thought about Alternate Casey today, as I make birthday plans (or rather, my best bud Josh makes our joint birthday plans, and I am just a pain in the ass).  What would she be doing on her 30th birthday?  How would she be feeling?

I came up with a few likely scenarios.  One, she would be in Pennsylvania, at work at my old job, getting ‘surprised’ with cake (but more likely fruit salad) in the mail room by my amazing team, and receiving a singing birthday call from my Nana and Granddad.  I’ve had that birthday before, and it was very pleasant, and I’d end up getting dinner with some friends and going home to my cold apartment (heat turns on in January) to snuggle my cat.  Not exactly the stuff of birthday legend, though I miss that cat fiercely.  Alternate Casey might be feeling mildly content but probably a little lonely, probably with a suspicion that something is missing.

Another scenario would be what I’ve threatened to do for years: drag my best girlfriends out to Las Vegas for a blowout.  The reality is that Vegas, while still one of my fave cities (true), is cold in December and the pools are closed, so it’s not an ideal time to visit.  So I imagine I’d have a handful of quite chilly drop-dead-gorgeous ladies in tow, walking the strip in impractical heels.  This would make for some funny stories, but perhaps would not be the most fulfilling birthday.  PSA to those girlfriends: my hypothetical bachelorette party IS happening in Vegas.  You have years to plan for this – no excuses.

But if I’m honest, Alternate Casey is probably about to celebrate her birthday with Mom and Dad, and maybe Austin, Tori, and Erin.  The Carr-Jones family.  With beef burgundy, some really nice cabernet sauvignon, an apple crumble pie for dessert, and a heartfelt rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ on a call with my grandparents.  This is probably one of the only times I would like to temporarily swap places with Alternate Casey, just for the day.

Just for the day.  Because truly, the real me is more comfortable with turning 30 than I ever thought I would be. No house, no kids, freelancing and entrepreneuring (yes I’m making that a word) instead of a full time job, living out of a suitcase and thoroughly depending on a group of people I met only 6 months ago.  Not exactly a scenario I ever had in mind, but it appears to be exactly what would cure me of the keeping up with the Joneses blues.  I’m half Jones, so how’s about you try keeping up with me??

 

Cambodia Saturday!

 

P.S. The best part is, no matter where I am on December 1st, I can count on Nana and Granddad to call and sing.

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Viet Noms!

Blog takeovers are so HANOING!

Ugh Casey, puns are the worst, pho real.

Welcome to my sister Tori who’s assisting me in recapping our week in Hanoi, where we ate our way through the city and lived to tell the tale.

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every single thing that went into my mouth that week.  I refuse to tally up exactly how much nem and bia hoi I had, for guilt and sanity reasons.

 

 

Saturday

Bun cuon


Tori’s first meal in Hanoi was lunch, and I took her to a local place that serves Bun cuon, which is a rice crepe filled with pork and mushrooms, topped with crispy onions. My brain was unable to understand what time zone I was in, but my tummy totally understood that this was delicious. 

 

Tiger beer

After walking for about 45 minutes, we enjoyed Vietnam’s finest brew (most percentage alcohol) overlooking the Hoan Kiem lake. Beer is plentiful in Vietnam, but it’s pretty tame if you are the craft IPA type. I happen to enjoy a lighter beer when it’s hot and humid, perfect for winter in Hanoi.

Side note that we played a game called “Try to count to 5 without hearing a horn honk.”  We both lost.

 

Obama Bun Cha


Tori’s first dinner in Asia had to be special, so we visited the spot where Anthony Bourdain took President Obama.  Metal tables, blue plastic chairs, nothing fancy or particularly nice-looking about this place, but they make a decent bun cha.  Broth, noodles, herbs, and grilled pork.  This place is much more expensive than other delicious bun cha spots (dinner was $6 and not $2), but well worth the visit.

BUN CHA!!! I hope I can find you stateside, you delicious bowl of goodness.

 

Hanoi beer


Part of the Obama combo was a local beer called, that’s right, Hanoi Beer. Thanks Obama! Good choice!

 

Ice cream pops


After dinner, we walked back along the lake and into the Night Market.  We saw a person swirling a gigantic metal pot and stopped to see what was inside – ice cream pops!  Strawberry for me, Coconut for Tor. Tip: if you are curious about something in Vietnam, just get it. Especially if there’s a crowd. ESPECIALLY if it’s food.

 

Sunday

Banh Mi, juice, coffee at Banh Mi 25


You can check out my review of a Banh Mi in my other post, but we had some delicious breakfast Tori’s first true morning. Great for a hangover. Probably, I wouldn’t know.

 

Avocado toast at Hanoi Social Club


It’s not a Sunday without Sunday brunch.  Tori and I met up with some of my friends at the Hanoi Social Club, which is a cute expat cafe where we enjoyed a cocktail and avocado toast with cheese, figs, and red onion. I was very jetlagged at this point, but it was so nice to finally meet some other Remotes!

 

Monday

Coconut

On Monday, we took a day trip to Ha Long Bay, and as we checked out a cave we found coconuts for sale!


Oh, remember how I said you should definitely try anything you might be curious about? It is not entirely foolproof. After a walk through a limestone cave, everyone was stopping to get coconuts. You drink the coconut water, then a tiny lady machetes it open for you to enjoy the coconut meat. I joined in, only to discover that coconut water is gross. So, I convinced people to drink mine because I KNEW I was going to love the coconut meat. Nope. It’s bitter and gross. I’ll be sticking to the sweet, shaved coconut of my youth, but at least now I know!

 

Corner bia hoi


After an exceedingly long bus ride back from the bay, we literally stumbled across the street to our corner bia hoi food joint.  I’ve been here about 20 times already this month, so we ordered a plate of nem (fried spring rolls) with a miso dipping sauce and a chicken/veggie stir fry.  And a beer, of course. Nem, all day, every day. Ideally while you sit on a tiny plastic chair and watch the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter.

 

Tuesday

Raw smoothies


Raw is a local juice/smoothie shop (mostly filled with expats) near the office.  A good way to get in some fresh fruit and greens in between the salty goodness of the local cuisine. Also good for a hangover. I assume, again, I wouldn’t know.

 

Bun Bo Nam Bo


My personal favorite.  Noodles, some broth, greens, and beef or pork with crispy onions. Also wins the award for the most fun to say!

 

Vietnamese coffee


Got Tori to try the crack cocaine oops I mean Vietnamese coffee – which is crazy strong coffee with condensed milk.  It’s sugary sweet and caffeinated so obviously Tori liked it. Very yummy, but it didn’t make me loopy like Casey.

 

 

Wednesday

Pho 10


What did you think Tor?

First pho! Certainly not my last, it gives you a great opportunity to perfect your chopstick skills and noodle slurp.

 

Thursday

Thanksgiving

Remote Year held a gigantic potluck in a treehouse for Thanksgiving, because if you’re gonna have a weird Asian style Thanksgiving, may as well go all out in the trees.

 


We ordered in a turkey and gravy, but everyone was responsible for making something of their own.  We got creative, with a no-bake pumpkin pie!  Turned out really well, wish I had gone back for seconds.

 

 

All in all, a delicious trip with happy hearts and tummies.  And that’s all folks!  Cheers.

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3 Days in Budapest

Last month my brave father visited me while I was living in Serbia.  After exploring Belgrade for a few days, we rented a car and took the A1/M5 north to Budapest, Hungary.

Now first of all, Fun Fact #1 about Budapest is that it’s not pronounced Budapest.  It’s BudaPESHT.  And actually, it’s Buda, and then Pesht, divided by the Danube River.  Buda is where the fortress is, and is more residential.  Pest (keep pronouncing it Pesht in your head though) is the lively part of town, with bars, restaurants, and shopping.  Dad and I got a hotel in the Jewish Quarter of Pest (Pesht) at the Hotel Continental Zara, and this was in a great location for us to get to the main Vorosmarty Square as well as explore the more trendy part of town.

Fun Fact #2 about Budapest is that all roads take you to the river (pretty much), and it’s a very walkable and easily navigated city.  We parked our car with the hotel and didn’t even need to use a taxi or public transportation the whole time.

So, what trouble did Father Phil and I get into during our three days in Hungary?

 

Monday

The drive to Budapest from Belgrade was a bit of an adventure in itself.  After stopping for hot dogs in tube buns (don’t ask) and sitting a while at the border crossing into Hungary, we made it into town and dropped our bags at the hotel.

Our first goal was to explore and find a place to eat dinner.  We wandered into a little bar called Legfelsőbb Beeróság that served 10 craft beers on tap, with dozens of other bottled craft options.  Dad and I enjoyed choosing between beers named Brewsk Willis, Invisible Bikini, and Bigfoot Meggeys.

We wandered a bit more and looked up a highly-rated restaurant nearby for dinner.  We walked in around 8pm and realized that no tables were available!  Dad and I quickly debated and decided any burger joint requiring a reservation on a Monday night had to be amazing.  So we walked to another bar, ordered jalepeno poppers, and went back for our 9pm reservation at Tuning Bar & Burger.

Tuning was absolutely amazing.  Their shtick was to project the cooktop onto the wall so you could watch as your burgers and fries were cooked.  But the food didn’t require such fanfare as it was amazing on its own – we got the Pepper burger with red-pepper sauce, a bacon-wrapped jalapeño pepper, and sriracha aioli.  Nom noms.

Legfelsobb Beerosag

 

 

Tuning Bar & Burger

 

Tuesday

Tuesday morning began with breakfast at the hotel followed by a 2 hour walking tour of the city.  We walked all over Pest (Pesht), across the Chain Bridge to Buda, and explored the Buda Castle.  Afterwards, we were quite exhausted and mildly grumpy in search of food.  So, Daddy and Daughter found a suitable option – Ice cream!  I don’t have pictures of the ridiculous artisinal sundaes (and cappuccinos) (and champagne) we had because they were embarrassingly decadent, but we got to cross off Cafe Gerbeaud off our list of To-Dos.

We had a well-deserved nap, we ate a quick dinner (goulash for Dad and pumpkin soup for me) and boarded our riverboat for a wine cruise on the Danube!

I highly recommend this experience if you ever make it over to Budapest.  We had a 2 hour cruise with live music and were able to enjoy very large samples of 7 different Hungarian wines.  We enjoyed 2 white wines, a rose, 2 red wines, and two dessert wines.  My dad and I, being the wine snobs that we are, thoroughly enjoyed discussing the different flavors and comparing them while we passed the Parliament building and crossed under the many bridges connecting Buda and Pest.

After the wine cruise, we clearly were in the right state of mind to want to try more wine.  We landed at the DiVino Wine Bar, ordered a cheese plate, and got into great conversation with the bartender/sommelier who allowed us to sample some of Hungary’s finest wine (of a much better quality than on the boat).

 

Streets of Budapest

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Chain Bridge

View of Pest from Buda

Dad and I on the River cruise – Parliament building in the background

DiVino

 

 

Wednesday

Wednesday, we walked the city (notice a theme?) and took a tour through the House of Terror, which contains exhibits and memorials about the communist and racist regimes in Hungary.  This museum was very poorly laid out and unfortunately we visited during a local school’s class trip, so while I don’t think we had the full experience, it was a good reminder of the horrors that took place not too long ago.

That evening, we explored the Ruin Pubs.  In Budapest, old, decrepit factories, warehouses, and apartment buildings have turned into a funky and eclectic bar scene.  The building may not have a roof, is covered in graffiti, and filled with an random assortment of furniture and decorations, but that makes for a fun vibe and good time.  Throw in some cheap beer and you’ve got a spot I think a lot of my fellow remotes would enjoy.  I certainly did!

For dinner, I was able to find the nerdiest restaurant possible, AKA one me and my Dad would both enjoy immensely.  The KonyvBar and Restaurant in Budapest (Budapesht) has theme dinners based on a book, and they switch up the book/menu pairing every two weeks.  While we were in town, the selected book was none other than Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Although Dad and I refrained from ordering completely off this menu (as it was full of snails and other odd dishes), we really enjoyed the ambiance and found the food to be incredible.

 

So there you have it.  Dad and I ate really well, enjoyed a good amount of Hungarian wine, and thoroughly loved exploring Budapest.  I look forward to our next adventure together!

 

KonyvBar and Restaurant

Ruin Pub

Ruin Pub (Szimpla Kert)

 

 

House of Terror

New Country, New Breakfast

My priorities upon arriving to a new country are as follows:

  1. Unpack
  2. Get google maps set up and drop a pin for my new apartment
  3. Find grocery store and buy breakfast for the following morning: yogurt/fruit/eggs
  4. Find workspace
  5. Find gym

 

Breakfast, as you can see, is towards the top of the list.  I am a breakfast person.  I like breakfast, breakfast likes me.  We get along, we need each other.

I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday evening.  It’s now Tuesday morning my time, and I’ve had a total of 3 breakfasts, which doesn’t add up but that’s okay.

Breakfast in Hanoi is not like breakfast anywhere I’ve been before.  In Spain, we had toast with tomato spread.  Portugal, I basically had wine for breakfast (Whatever. Do you boo boo).  Morocco was croissants and fruit.  Bulgaria was banitsa.  Serbia was pastries and cappuccinos.

Hanoi is all about salty and savory.  The items you’d eat for breakfast you may as well call lunch or dinner, because you can also eat them for lunch or dinner.

 

Exhibit A: Banh Mi


This is a Vietnamese street food sandwich – a baguette with pork or chicken and pickled veggies.  This was my first breakfast in Vietnam, and I was feeling a little odd about such a heavy start to the day so I ordered an egg and cheese banh mi.  DELISH.

 

Exhibit B: Banh Cuon

 

This is a steamed rice roll filled with mushrooms and ground pork, topped with crispy onions with a miso dip.  They make the rolls like a crepe, which is fun to watch.  I wasn’t super confident in this breakfast at first – not the food, but the fact I was eating it at 9am.  Luckily it was very good, but personally I’d rather enjoy this for lunch.  Will be going back.

 

 

Exhibit C: Smoothie


More my speed, happy to find this place on the walk to work.  Spinach, Mango, Banana.

 

Exhibit D: Vietnamese Coffee


This is crack.  Plain and simple.

 

Who knows what I’ll be eating tomorrow, might have to try Pho for breakfast.  Stay tuned.

Practicing Gratitude: Roommate Edition

I’ve been blessed with some pretty amazing roommates in my life, and that’s only continuing with a new roomie every month on Remote Year.  Wanted to take the time to share some gratitude for the people I rely on the most.


 

Austin: Thank you for showing me that the less things you have, the less there is to clean up.

Tori: Thanks for essentially being the same person as me so you understand everything, and also for letting me borrow all of your clothes all of the time.

 


Susie: Thank you for teaching me that the best way to power through a tough or boring task is to take small breaks.  In the form of dance parties.

 


 

Ally: Thank you for showing me that a quiet night of laughter on the couch with some Sauvignon blanc and a fuzzy puppy is the most fun you can have all week.


 

Carolyn: Thanks for proving that living with a best friend is in fact the best thing you can do.

 


 

Gianna: Thanks for teaching me to grab life by the balls, at least in the kitchen.

Cassie: Thank you for letting me learn from the way you manage clients by being an incredibly well-spoken badass. And also thanks for your spot-on playlists and playing JT on repeat.

 


 

Kelli: Thank you for reminding me that quiet time to yourself is essential and makes the big events even more fun. And for sharing a partially-broken toilet during our tummy trouble month in Morocco with zero judgment.

 


 

Alison: Thank you for inspiring me with your entrepreneurial spirit – you always bring passion to your work.

 


 

Caitlin: Thanks for teaching me how to use my words to explain what I want, and for taking that freezing 3am walk to the office wrapped in our bed comforters.

 


 

Sammy: Thank you for your perspective on living and loving as defined by you, not by anybody else.

 

Xoxo