Paper Wife: A Novel by Laila Ibrahim

In 1923, Mei Ling’s older sister falls gravely ill a few days before her arranged marriage to a man she has never met.  Mei Ling is forced to take her’s sister place.  Leaving her family in China, Mei Ling travels to America.  In order to enter the country, Mei Ling must assume the identity of the man’s deceased wife, essentially using her immigration documents as her own (a “Paper Wife”).

the paper wife

When Mei Ling befriends a young orphan girl on the ship to America, little did she know that she was creating a bond for life.  When it is Mei Ling’s turn to leave Angel Island (the unfriendly place where immigrants were housed until their entry application was approved) she is forced to leave Siew behind.  Making good on her promise to see Siew again, Mei Ling searches for the child to ensure that she is safe, only to find that Siew’s Uncle wasn’t who he appeared to be, and that Siew herself was a paper child.  This dark revelation has a damaging impact on Mei Ling and her family, who must fight to overcome the reality of Siew’s situation.

Continue reading “Paper Wife: A Novel by Laila Ibrahim”

Jægersborggade, Copenhagen

Once ruled by gangs, this cute little street in Copenhagen has been taken over by unique shops, including artist galleries, second-hand clothing stores, organic eateries, and cafes.

My boyfriend and I spent hours on this street, just popping into the little shops and browsing.  On the weekend there are limited hours (sometimes only 11-2pm), so if you plan to visit, you should pay attention to the opening hours.

Some of our favorites:

1. The Coffee Collective: Roastery and Coffeebar

20181102_1050151482861734.jpg

Copenhagen is much more expensive than in Austria.  In Austria, a good latte can be purchased for around €3-€4 at a cafe.  In Copenhagen, we spent around €6 per latte.  Since I cannot eat gluten, I left it to my boyfriend to try the Danish pastries.  The one depicted below is basically a cinnamon roll, which I am told was delicious.  And, since I am addicted to Kombucha, I had to try the coffee Kombucha.  It had a very unique flavor which I will definitely have to try to recreate at home.

20181103_145720

2. Sneakers and Coffee

We didn’t drink any coffee here, nor did we end up buying any sneakers (even though my boyfriend spent a considerable amount of time agonizing over whether to buy a pair or not), but we thought the concept was really cool and fun.

20181102_105506.jpg

3. Beyond Coffee

Okay, I realize that this is yet another coffee shop, but this place had a twist.  At Beyond Coffee they sell mushroom growing kits.  The mushrooms grow in used coffee grinds!  Since i love both mushrooms and coffee, I thought this place was super cool.  While we didn’t buy a kit (not sure whether we could take it through customs) we did buy a coffee cup made from used coffee grounds.

20181103_142902.jpg

4. Ro Chokolade

This place had great hot chocolate and other chocolate confections.  I wanted to try the Aztec hot chocolate (with spicy chili), but I was so full from brunch at Social that I couldn’t fit anything in my stomach other than the small macron.  As chocolate macron’s go, I have had better in both Linz and Bratislava, but it was still very good.

20181103_125204

Here is a general idea of what chocolates you can buy:

20181103_133445

5. Ruben Og Bobby

While this place isn’t exactly on the street (it is around the corner), I just had to share because I think it is super cool.  It is a barber shop and arcade in one!  Yes, you guessed it, you can get your hair cut while playing old school /retro arcade games!

20181102_110658.jpg

Located in the basement, this barbershop is crammed full of retro / nostalgic toys and video games from the 80’s and 90’s.  They even had boxes full of pogs and shelves full of old figurines.  It was like stepping back into my childhood.

20181102_110606

Kohr’s Frozen Custard, Pt. Pleasant Beach NJ

I have been coming to Pt. Pleasant Beach for the past 20+ years. Kohr’s frozen custard shop on the boardwalk is a staple of the Jersey Shore experience. It is the best icecream I have ever had (it is so thick and creamy). Whenever I take a lick, I am transported back to the summer of my childhood, spent playing in the waves and building castles in the sand.

Custard on the left is Pumpkin spice / vanilla twist. Custard on the right is orange / vanilla twist.

Coffee at Noon, Bayhead NJ

Coffee at Noon is a cute little shop in Bayhead that not only has a coffee bar, but also sells American handmade jewelry, soap, and other home goods. The cold brew coffee was really good (and something I needed after drinking nothing but Keurig coffee since coming back to the US).  It was a little pricey however, at a 2-for-1 price of $2.50 each cold brew. If you are in Bayhead, this would be a nice little shop to visit, even just to browse the unique handcrafted goods.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

Swedish death cleaning is the practice of decluttering your life prior to death. This book tells the story of the authors own death cleaning, as well as some stories from her past.

As I read…listened actually…to this book while hiking in the Austrian mountains (the audiobook takes less then 3 hours), I could not help to think of all the people in my life who have passed away. I could not help but to remember the difficult task of cleaning out my grandparents’ house.

This book, although being primarily about the art of death cleaning itself, is also about life, and the inevitabilty of death. The author offers practical advice for decluttering your life, so that loved ones will not be burdened with the task.

I would recommend this book for people of any age who (like myself) tend to keep far more possessions than necessary.

Hohentauern, Styria

A little more than an hour from Linz is a small village in Styria (Steirmark). During the winter time it is a great place for skiing, but during the rest of the year it is possible to hike up the skiing trails.

It is a wonderful little place for a day hiking trip. There are many trails to chose from for all levels of fitness.

It is also possible to stay for the weekend and there are several hotels in the area. I have personally not stayed in any of these hotels so I cannot make any recommendations.

If you are in the mood for a bite to eat at a cute Austrian restaurant, I would recommend the Passhöhe. Family owned and operated for more than 100 years, this place will not disappoint. However, there are not so many vegetarian or gluten free options as it is very traditional Austrian food.

Bratislava, Then and Now

When I first visited Bratislava 18 years ago, it was not yet part of the European Union.  I had traveled to Europe with my High School German class during winter break.  After visiting Vienna, Austria (see post My First Austrian Encounter), our bus traveled to Slovakia.  Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is about a 30 minute drive from Vienna.  There isn’t much to distinguish the two countries, especially now that there is no border control to speak of, except for the Soviet Era architecture of the buildings.

Back in 2000, however, it wasn’t so simple.  I wrote in my diary that our bus was boarded by boarder guards, who collected a passport and $20 from each person.  Reflecting on it now, it was probably the fee for the Visa to enter the country.  In my diary I remarked that lunch was cheap, only about $4.  I didn’t write the name of the restaurant in my diary, but I can report that lunch is no longer as cheap (but it is in no way expensive).

Having returned to Bratislava in February, 2018, I can highly recommend it for a weekend trip.  According to Google Maps, the drive from Linz to Bratislava takes about 2 hours and 28 minutes.  We left on a Saturday morning and arrived in Bratislava around early afternoon.  We stayed at the Falkensteiner.  The hotel room was decent, and the price we paid was about €60 per night.  If you want to eat breakfast at the hotel, there would be an additional fee.  We did not chose this option.

Interestingly, the Falkensteiner rooms were designed to have a window between the bathroom and the bedroom.  In the photo below, I am in the bathroom, and my boyfriend is looking in at me from the bed.  Needless to say, this feature was fun, if not also slightly creepy.

20180303_180140

 

After checking in and playing Peeping Tom, we went for a walk in Old Town, which is only about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel.  On the way we found cute little shops like the one pictured below.

40941669472_3e0fbcc1e2_z

We had not pre-selected a place to eat lunch and we figured that we would just walk around and find something.  Since Old Town is a very touristy spot, we were expecting many tourist places.  We were surprised to find a cute cafe on the main street called Enjoy Coffee.   This place sold its own blends of tea (both to enjoy at the table and to take home).

20180303_134904

As a person who is both vegetarian and gluten intolerant, I was able to find several options on the menu.  I had the mushroom buckwheat risotto with feta cheese.  My boyfriend, who is not vegetarian, had the duck sandwich.  If one has kids, this place was also extremely kid friendly, with a small play area in the back.

20180303_135914.jpg
Mushroom buckwheat risotto

After lunch, we walked around Old Town.  Since the town is rather small, it is possible to see all the tourist sites within one afternoon.  To see some good suggestions on what to do, check out this article from The Huffpost.

We had no itinerary, and found that walking around had its advantages.  Along we way we spotted:

  1. Statue of the Man at Work.  20180303_160504
  2. Old Town Hall.  When we were in Bratislava, we tried to purchase tickets to walk up to the top of the tower, but it was closed.  If you would like to do the same, go through the archway (bottom right hand of below picture).  On the other side you will find a small square.  To the right are glass doors.  You purchase the tickets inside from a very unfriendly woman who doesn’t speak any English whatsoever.  Don’t worry, there will be signs posted in English if the tower is closed.20180303_155017
  3.  Michael’s Gate:  20180303_153005

In the square by the Old Town Hall, we found (purely by chance) an awesome wine bar called Wine Not.  They have literally hundreds of different wines from all over the world, including from Slovakia.  One in particular that we absolutely loved was called Vulcanica.  It was a white wine that was self carbonated due to the fermentation process.  As lovers of all things fermented, we just had to try and we were not disappointed.  Price per bottle was around €26.  We loved it so much we ended up taking a bottle home with us.

This place is cool not only for its enormous selection, but also due to its ambiance.  It was warm and inviting, and the staff was super friendly.  They answered all of our questions regarding the wine.  If you visit on a weekend night, it is advisable to make a reservation, especially if you want to sit in the front room looking out on the square.

20180303_164715
Back room of Wine Not

For dinner, we walked from our hotel to Lemon Tree, a Thai fusion place.  Unlike the other places we had been to, Lemon Tree was a little on the expensive side.  It is located next to the American Embassy on the top floor of the building.  We stopped to take pictures in front of the American flag (because MURICKA!)–the guards with the automatic rifles were watching us closely from the other side of the fence.

40586002582_2726476117_z
Outside of the heavily fortified American Embassy

The view from the restaurant (in the background of the picture below) was of the St. Martin’s Cathedral, which I visited in 2000, but did not have the chance to again in the 2018 trip.  My fruity Prosecco drink pictured below is topped with cotton candy.  It was very tasty.

26757066648_44dba32ae0_o

The St. Martin’s Cathedral can also been seen from the Bratislava Castle.  In my diary from 2000, I wrote that the inside of the cathedral was much plainer than the cathedrals of Austria, but more decorative than the ones in America.  I also wrote that “the wooden pews were so rigid that when you sat in them, you were forced to sit straight up.”    I remarked that I was not allowed to take photos of the inside, but purchased a post card (which has been since lost to time).   Had I remembered I had visited the Cathedral back in 2000, I would have made a point to go inside for comparison.  Next time.

20180304_134820

If you like dancing to Latin music, drinking cocktails, or even smoking cigars, the place to visit in Bratislava is Cuba Libre.  This place was packed with what appeared to be locals as well as tourists.  I even observed some high local drama, as a man escorted the scantily clad woman he had been closely dancing with out of the bar.  10 minutes later he reappeared with a more demurely dressed, plainer woman, who could only have been his girlfriend.  Crisis avoided(?) People watching is hilarious.

The next day before heading back to Linz, we ate brunch at Ranno Ptacka.  The food was good, but the service was horrendous.  The waitress forgot to put my order in.  After finally noticing that I had not gotten my food (as everyone else’s food was dropped off by another waitress), she asked me “if I still wanted my food”.  To which I answered, “Of course!”

Finally, after everyone had finished eating, I received my food.  It was good, but I am not sure it was worth a 30 minute wait to receive it.  In any event, if I even find myself in Bratislava again, I would still go back there.

Lastly, on the way out of town, we visited Bratislava Castle.  We didn’t go inside, as we were tired from our previous night out.

20180304_133420

All in all, Bratislava is a great weekend trip, and one that I would recommend to anyone.

My First Austrian Encounter

March 2000

From the Diary of my 17 year old self (edited):

March 14, 2000: Breakfast is so much better in Österreich than in Italy.  The bread was excellent.  After breakfast we went to Salzburg. We had a tour with this really nice German lady.  I got a 3rd hole in my ears! I think that my mom will probably kill me.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any rubbing alcohol at the pharmacy.

20180311_214733.jpg
Mirabell Garden, Salzburg (March 2000)

March 15, 2000: It’s snowing! The flakes are huge and so much bigger than at home! Last night it was raining…awful weather.  We are going to Vienna tomorrow.  Hopefully we get to go to the disco tonight!  The Mondsee Church (Mondsee Abbey) was so large it makes American churches seem insignificant.  The Monastery was huge! It was as big as 20 High Schools put together, some stacked on top of each other!  The place we ate at for lunch was a total rip off!  They charged us 50 cents per packet of ketchup! Last time we got ketchup it didn’t cost us anything!  We just got back from the pool. We had to pay 60 shilling (to put my 17 year-old self’s annoyance in perspective, this amounted to about €4.40).  We just got back from the disco.  It was so smokey that sometimes I thought I was going to die.

March 16 2000: We just got back from seeing the palace of Maria Theresa (a.k.a. Schönbrunn Palace), the mother of Marie Antoinette.  It is so cold! The wind chill makes it even colder.  The palace was huge! It had something like 1,444 rooms in it (actually 1,441, but close enough).

20180311_214646.jpg
Schönbrunn Palace Gardens (March 2000)

Still March 16, 2000: We are now having a bus tour of Vienna.  We just passed a really big porn/erotic dancing shop.  We are talking Cherry and Web big (I have no recollection of how big this is).  We have just passed the winter palace of Maria Theresa (I believe this is the City Palace).  It had like almost 2,500 rooms.  There are so many churches here!  The ones back home are so plain in comparison (thanks 17 year old me, you already said that).  And none of them are less than a few hundred years old.

We just got back from seeing this really weird house.  It is called Hundertwasser.  Don’t ask me why it is called that.  Oh wait, I was just informed that the last name of the guy who built the apartment building meant “hundred waters”.  They named the building after him.

20180311_214553.jpg
Hundertwasserhaus (March 2000)

Still March 16, 2000: I am back at the hotel after a nap and a shower.  Everyone went swimming, but I didn’t want to pay the 60 shillings again (get over it 17 year old me, it was like literally €4.40).

March 17, 2000:  Last night we went to a Strauss concert.  It was really good.  The only problem is, was that we missed the first half of the concert because we went to the wrong Lichtenstein Palace.  But I really liked it.  I thought it was going to be boring, but it wasn’t.  Our teacher told us we had to get up this morning at 6:30 a.m., but I was like, yeah, right.  I got up at 7:00 a.m. (what a rebel I was back then).   Last night before bed, !”§$% dyed my hair brown.  I think it looks good.  Everyone likes it here but I wonder how people are going to react at home.  We just crossed the border into Slovakia…(to be continued…)