My Trip to Spain: Overview

Since it is still super fresh on my mind, here is the itinerary from my recent Spain trip. Cathay finally started flying direct from Hong Kong to Madrid, so it seemed like a good time to go (starting this summer, they will also fly direct to Barcelona too!). We’ve always wanted to go and we love iberico ham!

It started off very ambitious (Madrid, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, San Sebastian, London), but due to timing (and aging), we eventually had to cut it back to just the highlights. But it was a good taste of Spain (in fact, it was delicious!), and we will definitely be back.

Day Location Accomodations Activity
 Redeye flight from Hong Kong to Madrid
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Madrid NH Collection Madrid Suecia Real Madrid game, bullfighting, Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor, San Gines
 Morning train from Madrid to Barcelona
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Barcelona Olivia Balmes Hotel Gothic Quarter, Cathedral of Barcelona, Palau de la Musica, La Pedrera/Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, La Boqueria
 Afternoon flight from Barcelona to London
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London Amba Hotel Marble Arch London Westminister Bridge, Covent Garden, Chinatown, Mayfair
Evening flight from London to Hong Kong
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My trip to Italy (Part II): Overview

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Since I got lazy and never got around to finishing reviews on my first Italy trip, I have actually already been on my second trip to Italy and just came back from my first trip to Spain. Just for record keeping purposes, here’s the summary of my second Italy trip – this time we explored the Amalfi Coast, the more “luxe” version of Cinque Terres. This time around, we tried to slow down, and spent at least two nights at each hotel to relax and enjoy each location (also cause we are getting too old to change hotels everyday). The hotels were much nicer, and there were no train rides at all. Overall a much more luxe trip. Though the bf and I were somewhat disappointed with the food on this trip – besides the pizza in Naples, the food in our last trip was MUCH better. I don’t think we even had one good tiramisu the whole time!

Day Location Accomodations Activity
 Redeye flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam
1 Amsterdam W Amsterdam Keukenhof Gardens, Coffeeshops, Ann Frank House, Dutch Pancakes, Apple pies
 Afternoon flight from Amsterdam to Naples (EasyJet)
2 Naples Hotel Piazza Bellini Di Matteo Pizza
 Morning drive from Naples to Herculean to Pompeii to Amalfi Coast
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Amalfi Coast + Ravello NH Collection Grand Hotel Conventi Di Amalfi Herculaneum, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Ravello
Morning drive from Amalfi Coast to Sorrento
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Sorrento + Positano + Capri Maison La Minervetta Positano, Le Sirenuse (La Sponda), Capri, Blue Grotto, Sorrento
Afternoon flight from Naples to Paris Orly (EasyJet)
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Paris Hotel de Seze Bistro Le Baratin, L’Ami Jean, Shopping
Evening flight from Paris to Hong Kong

My Maid of Honor Speech

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In two weeks time, I am going to be the maid of honor at my childhood BFF’s wedding in Durham. I just spent the last week working on my maid of honor speech, and I think I have finally gotten it just right. Now all I have to do is practice the delivery of it…It always sounds better in my head than in real life. I even went to a speech instructor today to get some tips and practice. Public speaking is something I want to work on and hopefully overcome.  Wish me luck!

Hello everyone, my name is V. I am N’s BFF and maid of honor. And I am so happy to be here tonight to celebrate her happily ever after with her.

N and I met when we were 8 years old in Mrs. K’s class, where we were constantly told off for talking to each other. Just so you know, N’s school record was otherwise perfect. She was a model student with a knack for Kumon. That’s one of the reasons why her family calls her “Let Let”- it means “smart” in Chinese.

Since then, while we did not go to the same secondary school or even lived in the same city most of the time, somehow N and I have miraculously kept in touch. We even manage to see each other every one or two years; in San Diego, Chicago, Iceland, Taipei, Hong Kong and now Durham. Most amazingly, each time we pick up right where we left off.

N is honestly the most genuine and nice person I know. She is a burst of energy, and through her eyes everything is awesome and amazing; from In-and-Out burgers to hotdogs in Iceland. The glass is always half full and there is always a silver lining. Whenever I am feeling down, I would call N and she would pick up the phone (even in the middle of movie night) and she would always knows exactly what to say. N also constantly reminds me of the good in people. That time we went to Taipei together, within the span of 36 hours N introduced me to 10 people (which is more than I meet in a regular year) and they were all super nice! They took us around, fed us and even bought me slippers when my shoes fell apart. She just has a way of bringing people together and bringing out the best in them.

N really is the best cheerleader and friend a girl can have, and I am lucky to have her in my life [remember to look at bride!]. Judging from the number of people, both family and friends, who have come forward to help with this wedding and the miles traveled to be here today, I am sure N also holds a very special place in many of your hearts as well. The pressure is on J, we hope you realize how incredibly lucky you are!

Speaking of the lucky man, one of my first impressions of him was through an email chain when we were planning our Iceland trip. After finalizing everything, J responded to the group for the first time with one single word “Boom.” I think there’s a cultural gap here or something, because I honestly had no idea what to make of it. What does “boom” mean? What kind of person says “boom”? I had to Google this.

Turns out the kind of person who says “boom” is someone who is fiercely loyal, generous and infinitely patient. When N and J came to Hong Kong last year, J spent two weeks just getting to know N’s big (big) family – much of which was not even in English. But he patiently smile and nodded through it all, and by all accounts scored top marks. He even indulged us, and spent a hour putting on costumes and taking silly pictures – which I get the impression is not really his thing. You should ask him to show you the superman picture some day. If that is not love, I don’t know what is. So while J is not the polo shirt wearing, tennis playing Prince Charming that N had envisioned during one of our late night chats in college, he is the Prince Charming who loves her and whom she can climb mountains, trek deserts and cross oceans together with – oh wait, they have already done that!

Please join me in raising a glass to N and J. As you embark on this new journey together, we wish you all the happiness in the world. May there be many more mountains, deserts and oceans to come. Boom.

Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica – half hearted efforts

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We had originally wanted to stay at the Fairmont Santa Monica because despite all its drawbacks (dated rooms and very average customer service), it is still probably one of the most convenient and nice hotels in the area.  Their special rate was already unavailable months ago though. So we ended up at the Meridien instead because it is still (kind of) in the area and the price was right.

I wasn’t reallyexpecting the Meridien to be 5 star quality (the Fairmont barely met it), but I was expecting a solid 4* maybe. But after 4 nights at the hotel, I was again and again surprised by how lacking the hotel is.

Location: it is supposedly in Santa Monica, but in reality it is a 15-20 minute walk from the centre of everything (or a 5 minute/$4 Uber ride). It is about 4 blocks inland from Shutters on the Beach. We enjoyed a morning run to Venice Beach (another very unimpressive place) and back. There’s really nothing much in the vicinity. A really expensive organic juice bar. A gas station. And a Walgreens.

The saving grace of all this is the complimentary valet parking, which was a big plus. It was a point of pride, after hearing others complaining about the ridiculous valet charges they are facing at other hotels!

The hotel: I am not sure when, but you can tell that the hotel was recently renovated in the not too distant past. By the artfully arranged sofas and bicycles in the lobby, as well as the art deco wallpapers and brightly coloured carpets. But you cannot just change the case and pretend you have a new iPhone.

The hardware of the Meridien is evidently outdated. You can tell by the exterior. The super dark lighting in the lobby. The hollowed designed of the hotel interior (by hollowed, I mean you look up and you can see rows of open hotel room doors – they just don’t design hotels like this anymore… ). The sad looking pool. And most of all, by the rooms.

The Room: the first thing I noticed when I entered the room was not the spaciousness nor the somewhat hip decor, but the in-unit air conditioner in the corner. I know I should be grateful that at least there is an a/c, but I have never actually stayed in a room with a in-unit a/c inside before!! It is not even the new kind.  This is the loud  and stubbornly blows straight at our heads. In the end I had to block half the vent with a brochure. You have to use primitive methods to deal with primitive hardware.

in-unit air conditioner

in-unit air conditioner

The second thing we noticed is that the lights are not centrally synchronised. You literally have to go from light to light to open it individually. We actually had to have one of our light bulbs replaced. But even after everything lit up, the room is still rather dark at night. Maybe because of its size. To their credit it was a rather large corner room.

The third thing we realized was that the hotel does not have in room dining service late at night. Not even a simple club sandwich or a pasta. They only had ready-made cold sandwiches available…. which did not sound appealing at all. When asked whether we can order take-out, the staff kindly suggested Classics Pizza (Papa Johns was not available), which delivered in about 30 minutes.

When we were trying to order the pizza online, we then noticed that the wifi signal was terribly weak/slow and erratic. The staff offered to help us restart the router twice, but to no avail. Later we tried to request another room closer to the wifi, but we were told that the corner rooms are already supposed to get good wifi….. In the end, we just relied mostly on our own mobile wifi. So if you have actual work to do and need the Internet, think twice!

The fifth thing we noticed was that there was no kettle in the room.Most hotels have it if not in the room then upon request. Unfortunately for us, the Meridien did not get the memo. They did not have a single kettle in the whole hotel. We had to ask them to send us a flask of hot water whenever we needed it. I guess it is still a step above the UNA Bologna who actually charges you for it… But given the price difference….. You would expect more from the Meridien.

We then noticed that there were no slippers. So we called again to ask for some. Yes,my hey do have slippers and will send them right up. Except when they arrived, they only gave us one pair and there were two of us. So we called again …. Turns out the whole hotel only had one pair of slippers left…..

It was only after all this that I noticed the efforts at mod decor, from the wallpapers to the photos on the wall. The bed frame was a bit of a hit or miss (mostly miss In my opinion), but at least they tried.

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A couple of days later, I was once again surprised by the hotel to find that they don’t have any cotton pads either.

TIP: Bring your own of everything!!!

The bathroom: It is clean enough. The wall paper makes it feel a bit modern. But the toilet, like the rest of the hotel’s hardware, is most definitely old. The flush was super weak. The shower while not amazing was decent. I didn’t bother to try the products.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Service: I didn’t have much contact with the staff, but overall they were nice and polite enough. It’s not their fault the hotel is so lacking.

One small policy matter that took me by surprise was that they actually CHARGE you to recieve parcels; by weight too!! Are you serious???

Pros:

  • Complimentary valet
  • Spacious rooms
  • Everyone had a balcony
  • Made an effort to renovate and modernize
  • Still probably one of the more affordable “nice” hotels in the area

Cons:

  • Outdated hardware
  • Noisy and old style in-room air conditioning
  • No in-room dining at night
  • Ran out of slippers
  • No kettle
  • Weak and erratic wifi
  • Charge for recieving parcels

Conclusion: So would I recommend this to a friend? Only if they are on a budget. It’s not perfect, but we did manage to comfortably stay 4 nights here. Just don’t expect too much. Otherwise if they are looking for somewhere nicer, I would recommend Shutters on the Beach or the Fairmont. Shutters on the Beach because we went to eat there, and it looked very cool and is right on the beach (like an expensive beach house). The Fairmont because it is super convenient location wise, and is actually walking distance from the center of Santa Monica.

Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica
Address: 530 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405, United States
Telephone: +1 310-399-9344
Email: delfina.info@lemeridiendelfina.com
Hotel Website
Tripadvisor Reviews

A toast 

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I am going to be my college best friend’s bridesmaid next week, and she just asked me if I wanted to do a toast at the rehearsal dinner. My first reaction was to say no. I hate public speeches. But then the recently more vocal and adventurous part of me said, why not? What have I got to lose? So here goes… 

Just when I thought that the University of Chicago was full of poorly dressed nerds and geeks, I met K. The epitome of style and wit. 

We immediately bonded over designer jeans and our love for steak. We laughed over how our math professor kept backing into the rubbish bin. We switched classes just because the professor was hot and had a British accent. Turns out he was also smelly and not so hot up close. We ate chicken mcnuggets when we felt guilty over a shopping spree.  And we travelled around Europe together. Taking pictures with cute policemen and running away from sketchy gondola guys. For me it was an amazing four years and it wouldn’t have been the same without K. 

During all this time, lurking in the background was D. They were always texting and calling each other. They would rush to hang up on each other first. Not because they can’t wait to end the call. But because they want to be the last one to say “I love you more.” Long distance is never easy. But somehow they made it work. 

They are the quintessential high school sweethearts. And after all these years, we can all finally breathe a sigh of relief that they are finally tying the knot tomorrow. To the soon to be Mr. and Mrs. S, I wish you all the happiness in the world. 

When in Bologna…..

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It turns out that Modena is right next to Bologna (only 30 minutes away by train). And Bologna is not only home to spaghetti bolognese (though that is already reason enough for me), but it is apparently also quite a foodie hub in general. People from all over the world come to eat and learn. So we couldn’t resist but stop by to eat and learn as well.

Learn

We have alway wanted to “take an Italian cooking class in Italy,” and Bologna seemed like the perfect place to do it.

My friend took the helm on this one and we ended up taking a private cooking class with the #1 ranked Carmelita. She’s not cheap, but she’s flexible on timing. Her work space was also quaint and very welcoming. She’s also Italian British, so was very easy to understand.

Being a novice cooker (i.e. I think putting food in a bowl of water and boiling it is cooking), I was kind of expecting the “in the interest of time, we have already prepared….” type of cooking class that we are used to here in Hong Kong. But this is actually a VERY SERIOUS type of cooking class.  When Carmelita says we are making 4 different types of pasta from scratch, she means FROM SCRATCH! Though sadly, we didn’t make bolognese. But I guess it takes a LOT more work. I hear it has much less tomato sauce than I thought.

I won’t go into the sordid details, but not only did we made our own pasta, we also cut our own spinach, grated our own cheese and made our own sauces and fillings. She kept the four of us B-U-S-Y. My legs were dying. We had no time to sit down. I have a new respect for chefs!!

My conclusion from the class was that I am not a cook, and I do not like to cook. Despite my lack of talent and disinterest, Carmelita did ensure that we our finished products (4 hours later) were delicious.

So would I recommend Carmelita? Yes, to serious cooks who loves cooking. But if you are like me and barely cook? Then probably not. Carmelita is a very serious cook. Lessons can be quite straining, and she can get a bit frustrated (though I can tell she tried really hard to hold it !). We had to take a hour nap after the lesson to recover.

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Carmelita’s Cook Italy
+39 349 007 8298
http://blog.cookitaly.com/
Tripadvisor

Eat

Cremeria Funivia

One of the best things Carmelita did (in my opinion), was introduce us to my favourite gelato store on this trip.

My friend once told me, “I am not normally a gelato person, but somehow in Italy, gelato just seems to taste better”. I was skeptical at first, but now I am akin whole hearted agreement. I made it a point to try to have one everyday in Italy. I quickly found my signature flavour as chocolate and pistachio (I didn’t used to be a pistachio person either).

Not all gelato are equal though. The most famous store in Italy is a chain store called Grom. You can find it in almost all major cities in Italy. And it is always a safe choice.

But my favourite was definitely Cremeria Funivia at the Piazza Cavour in Bologna. I cannot pinpoint exactly why, but out of all the gelato I had in Italy during this trip, this gelato still sticks with me. The flavour, the texture was perfect! There’s a huge line there for a reason. I would definitely come back!

Best gelato

Best gelato

Cremeria Funivia
Piazza Cavour 1/d e Via Porrettana 158/4d, Bologna,Italy
Tel: 051-6569365
http://www.cremeriafunivia.com/#_=_
Tripadvisor

Ps. I just read in an article that Bologna also happens to be the “gelato capital” of the world. Maybe ALL gelatos in Bologna are awesome, and we should’ve had way more!

Trattoria Anna Maria

When a friend heard that we were going to Bologna she immediately recommended Trattoria Anna Maria where she had “the best pasta of her life.” How can we not try under such recommendation?

Anna MariaTrattoria is the quintessential family owned family style Italian restaurant. The interior and style reminded me of Fat Angelo’s in Hong Kong or Maggiano’s in Chicago (the association should probably be the other way around). The concierge helped us make a reservation, but surprisingly it wasn’t really needed (guess the competition is high in Bologna).

The menu is simple and inexpensive. I don’t even remember if we ordered appetizers. But we all definitely ordered pasta. I got a tortelloni (the other signature dish) and my bf got a tagliatelle with meat sauce. I remember regretting not just getting a tagliatelle myself. The tortelloni was good, but it was too heavy for my taste. I much preferred the tagliatelle which was delicious. The tagliatelle was the thinnest we have had in Italy (in our opinion, definitely a 5 in the pasta making wheel thing!). It reminded us of Chinese noodles (which is probably where they got the idea from to begin with). And we loved this Italian version!

So is this the best pasta we have had in our lives? I wouldn’t quite put it that far, but the tagliatelle is definitely one of the best!

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Anna Maria Trattoria
Via Belle Arti 17/A, 40126 Bologna, Italy
+39 051 266894
http://www.trattoriannamaria.com/
Tripadvisor

See

Since we only had one day there, we only had about a hour or so to explore the city. But while the city is big, the old town is not that big. According to the postcards/magnets I saw in souvineer stores, the key landmarks appears to be the two towers and the fountain of neptune (which is in a huge piazza, which I assume marks the center of the old town?). Carmelita also showed us a glimpse of the hidden canals of Bologna.

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We had a busy day in Bologna, but I think we managed to do and eat all the key things. I didn’t fall in love with the city exactly, but I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back to eat.

Bologna Train Station

Just a little tip for people taking trains in and out of Bologna. Turns out that the Bologna train station is HUGE. And not only are the platforms labelled by numbers, they are labelled by directions too. So there could be more than one platform 1! We didn’t know that and was wondering why our train still hadn’t arrived at our platform yet 15 minutes to departure. We only realized 5 minutes before departure that we were at the wrong platform. We then rushed down and up flights of stairs with our many suitcases, but only managed to catch the tail of our train. Luckily, we bought the ticket from Trenitalia (the more expensive but privately ran train company in Italy) and the service was excellent. The staff was able to immediately put us on the next train to Florence.

Considered yourselves warned!

Read about the rest of my Italy trip here!

10 Things to do on your first day at work

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I recently changed jobs, and on the eve of my first day of work I suddenly felt inadequate and unprepared. It was a fresh start, and I wanted to start on the right foot. But after so many years, I felt like I had forgotten what it was like to start a new job.

I frantically looked up articles on “what to do on your first day at work.” As expected there were plenty. But frankly I didn’t find any of them very helpful. They mostly told you to test out your route to the office, show up 10-15 minutes early, smile and greet everyone with a firm handshake, bring a pen and notebook etc. Very standard stuff. But it did somewhat calm my nerves.

As I settle into my new work place little things that I wish I knew on my first day of work starts coming to mind, and I thought I’ll write them down while they are still fresh. 

  1. Do not wear white: You will probably get your employee ID made on your first day, and chances are the background is white. So unless you want to be haunted for the rest of your time at the company by your own floating head – don’t wear white!
  2. Bring your IDs: There will probably be a lot of paper work to do on your first day. If you bring all your IDs with you, so you can get that out of the way faster. And if you want to be very prepared, bring a cup too. You don’t want to trouble your colleagues into finding you one nor do you want to dehydrate yourself.
  3. Say YES: Say yes to any invitation to lunch, coffee or any sort of conversation from your new colleagues. Don’t make any concrete lunch plans with friends yet. Be ready. They are extending an olive branch. The least you can do is meet them halfway. Do also make note of your conversation afterwards so you can follow up the next time you bump into them in the hallway.
  4. Take your assistant out to lunch: Don’t just sit around, reach out too! You should be especially nice to your assistant (if you have one) because a) they will be helping you out going forward but you are probably not her only “boss”  b) they can give you amazing intel into your team, the company and benefits i.e. which insurance plan is the best.
  5. Bring a pen & notepad: Ok, this is a rather standard one. But you seriously never know when you are being called to just say hi, or be given work. Bring a pen and notepad with you whenever, just so you are not caught off guard.
  6. Read up: you are not expected to hit the road running, and chances are you will not have much to do on your first couple of days (or weeks!). Spend this “honeymoon” wisely. Finish all the compliance, human resources and set up work. More importantly, dig into the shared drives and read up! Learn as much about the firm and the product as you can. Figure out how things are organised and how things work. Study emails and see what style of the team is. That way when you do have work, you will know your way around. 
  7. Don’t OT for the sake of OTing: I know it is tempting to stay late and put in “face time” your first couple of weeks to demonstrate to your new boss your eagerness and willingness to work hard work (as instructed by the Monkey Business). But if you don’t have that much work to do to begin with, it will a) just look silly since your colleagues know you have nothing to do or worse b) look like you have time management problems. Leave that to the interns, you are too old to pretend to work! 
  8. Assume that everyone is sensitive: I think this is more applicable to larger firms. But before you figure out the lay of the land, assume  that everyone is sensitive and act accordingly. Coming from a small to a big firm, I didn’t realise how easily potentially offended people can be about what I think are small things. If unsure, ask before you act. 
  9. Just act normal: At the end of the day, they probably didn’t hire you because you were the smartest or sharpest fish in the pool (just don’t be the dumbest). They hired you because they liked you, and think that you are someone normal who they can stand spending long hours with. Just be polite, be willing to learn and be clean. Don’t interrupt other people speaking (especially not the boss), don’t be obnoxious and loud, and most importantly don’t fart aloud! It sounds fairly common sense, but you would be surprised by how hard it is to find someone “normal.”
  10. Relax: Just remember, out of all the candidates out there, they chose you! And they chose you because they believe you can do the job. They want you to do well. And they absolutely do not want to go through the hiring process again (it takes months and it is not fun!). So unless you do something really wrong, they are unlikely to fire you. So just relax and focus on doing a good job! 

The four-eyed girl

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When I was about 14, the worst thing happened. My vision started to blur and it became clear that I needed glasses. I could barely handle being pimply (I was almost caustic!). I simply couldn’t handle being 4-eyed (because wearing glasses makes it look as if you have 4 instead of 2 eyes) on top of that. That would destroy any remnants of confidence I had left after trying deluding myself that my pimples were barely visible.

So instead of getting glasses I jumped right into contact lenses. It took me a while to figure out how to jab something in my eye at first but at least the world was right again. And I can continue on the business of being a pimply pre-accutane teenager.

I wore contacts almost religiously. I never went out in public with my glasses on unless I absolutely had to (i.e. on the plane). I was scared that someone I knew would see me in my glasses. Some friends didn’t even know I wore glasses for years!

And when I discovered daily Acuvue moist during college, I couldn’t go back. It was so convenient and comfortable. I thought I could wear them forever. Who needs LASIK? It was risky and unnecessary.

So life went on. I graduated from college and started work. First as a data analyst in Chicago and then as an investor relations in Hong Kong. I spent long hours staring at the computer. At first everything was fine, I wore contacts all day from 9am to 8pm when I got home.

But then my eyes started to feel dry. It started to become difficult to remove the contacts at night. I was literally trying to peel them off my very very dry eyeballs. And on Friday nights when I get home later than usual, my eyes would feel like a desert. I would try to blink really hard and massage my eyes, but the dryness wouldn’t abate until I removed the contacts.

For the sake of vanity, I ignored the signs and soldiered through.

But then the office next door started renovating and the air got really dusty. My eyes started getting unbearably dry. So I started wearing glasses to work. At first it was temporary. Just until they finished renovating next door. Buteven after the renovations I continued to wear glasses to work everyday. What was the point of suffering through whole days of contact lens anyway? I see the same people everyday, and I didn’t need to impress them anymore. And I don’t look that bad with glasses anyway. My glasses are ridiculously expensive, so I should “show them off” more often anyway. My colleague V’s mantra – only dress up when it matters – started to make a lot of sense. I’ll just put on my contacts on special occasions when I want/need to feel pretty and confident.

At first I would put them on for work meetings and get together with friends. But as time went on, I realize that I only felt the need for contacts when I was about to meet a new bunch of people like at a work conference or a big gathering of not so close friends (who matter) – whenever I was outside my comfort zone. People are shallow by nature and are nicer to good looking people after all. My only remnant of vanity left was when I knew that lots of pictures will be taken and my 4-eyed self will be documented and possibly posted on social media for all of eternity (I.e. on birthdays and vacations).

My mom thought I was “letting go” of myself. And perhaps I was.  Vanity just didn’t seem that important anymore. My confidence did not depend on it. I thought that I had finally achieved the promised state of “being comfortable in your own skin.”

Had I? Or had I just found my comfort zone and was hiding behind my glasses?

The turning point came in the form of a new job. The dream job that I had always wanted as a fresh grad. I was not so “fresh” anymore, but I wasn’t married and tied down with kids yet either. It was going to be more work and it would mean leaving the work family that I loved. But it was a career opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I didn’t even realize I had career aspirations until then.

It prompted me to finally take the plunge to get LASIK. It had always been at the back of my mind, but the idea of surgery just sounded so scary and unnecessary. I heard that many Asian women were susceptible to dry eyes. Why do so few eye doctors themslves not get LASIK? What if I went blind for the sake of vanity and convenience? But as I prepared to step outside my comfort zone again, I resolved to stop overthinking and just do it. There was no question that I will need to put on my game face at the new job. And the prospect of pulling long hours with contacts dehydrating my eyes was just unbearable.

On the eve of my LASIK surgery, I felt nervous and somewhat excited. Not nervous that I will go blind. I have mostly convinced myself that my doctor was the best doctor available and everything will go fine (his overwhelming confidence was comforting). But a more niggling worry was whether I will get used to being back in the spotlight again; exposing all my expressions, dark circles and puffy eyes. Of being seen again. I have been hiding behind my glasses for so long and it has been so easy. I will probably have to wear makeup more often!

You know how when you are nervous, your hands start to sweat, your stomach feels like it is about to drop and your heart starts beating as if you are on a roller coaster ride? Well I felt none of those things the morning of the surgery. Maybe just a little. But nowhere near the level I get pre-job interviews. I felt oddly calm. Perfectly willing to handover my eyes to the ever capable doctor. Unlike in an interview, there was not much I can do to help anyway.

During the first part of the surgery the doctor asked me to lift my chin and don’t curl up (as one tends to do when nervous) so that the laser can get better access to my eyes. It reminded me of the time when I went skydiving. Before we jumped out of the plane, the instructor told me to lift my chin and body like a bird to better streamline ourselves. In both cases, what they asked me to do was completely anti instinctive to what I wanted to do, which was to curl up in my safety ball like an unborn baby. Being the ever trusting and obedient soul that I am under authority, I tried my best to obey. Both times, I realised that there was nothing to curl up in a ball over to begin with.

Both parts of the surgery was over with pretty quickly (it didn’t even feel like 20 minutes!). While it was nerve wracking, it was not as scary as I had anticipated. And there was no pain, just some pressure. You see a lot of light, complete darkness and then light again. Besides needing to cut the flap of my right eye twice and possibly causing the two red bruises on my right eye, everything went perfectly. The doctor was very good. He had a very reassuring and calm quality about him that makes you feel like everything is going to be alright. And that it is not even that big a deal. All I had to do was not move my eye balls.

While you are encouraged to rest your eyes during and immediately after surgery, it is amazing how much one can see during the whole process. I could see in between the two parts of surgery. And I can see directly after. Theoretically the cornea seals within minutes of being placed back, so you can actually already see right after surgery. But just in case it doesn’t stick on 100% immediately, you are encouraged to rest your eyes for the remainder of the day only squinting to see when walking or eating. That was a long night for me. Not being able to see doesn’t suit me. I finally couldn’t resist and squinted to turn on some interesting Ted talks.

I was able to remove the protective glasses and see properly again the next morning. I didn’t exactly get a “whoa I can finally wake up and see the clock” moment. It kind of slowly registered that I didnt need to reach for my glasses anymore. I didn’t have to worry about fingerprints and fog on my glasses. I can wear sunglasses whenever I want. I can travel without worrying about bringing enough contacts. Little things like that made me think whoa. The fact that I was already going out for tea the next day and shopping made me think whoa too.

3 weeks after surgery, I have almost forgotten about life with glasses. If it weren’t the need for constant eye drops and the faint red bruise in my right eye, I think I would forget that I recently had surgery. Life is back to normal. It is amazing how we can adapt to a new normal so quickly. Though today I did notice my eye bags being especially pronounced. I will most definitely need make up when I start work (in 1 day!!). Hopefully I will adapt. In the meantime I guess sunglasses will do.

UNA Bologna – Basic and Functional

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There are many options in Bologna, with a huge range of prices. From the Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni (200+ euros) to very well rated Aemilia Hotel (at <100 euros). It took me a while to settle on which hotel to pick.

  • Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni: I’ve heard great things from my friend about the Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni, but frankly it looked a bit too old fashion for me.. especially at that price. Besides, there are so many more hotels in lower price brackets there that it didn’t seem necessary.
  • Aemilia Hotel: It looked and sounded great on pictures and from the reviews. But I just couldn’t get over how far away it was from everything (and by everything I mean the town center and the train station). It just wasn’t NEAR anything. And when you travel, location is KEY.
  • NH Bologna De La Gare: This hotel is well located near the train station and looked relatively new. But if you look closely at the reviews, you will notice that it is quite bipolar. Apparently this hotel is only partially renovated. So they have nice, newly renovated rooms and then there are some very old and depressing looking ones. You have to be sure to ask for the Superior (New Style) rooms!
  • Starhotels Excelsior: To be frank, I had not considered this hotel when I did my research. Because I glanced at the pictures, and the rooms looked kind of old and frayed. But it also happens to be right next to the UNA Bologna so we walked passed several times while we were there. I was surprised to see how modern and attractive the lobby looked, and I wondered why we didn’t stay there. Someone even recently described it as a “Modern and Convenient Hotel”. I re-examined the pictures, and I’m wondering if maybe its just a poor choice of colors for the rooms? That type of navy just does not do anyone any favours.
  • I Portici Hotel: This was a serious contender, and I spent the longest time debating between this and the UNA Bologna. This is supposedly a nice boutique hotel, with its very own Michelin starred restaurant inside as well. But the pictures of the rooms doesn’t exactly scream “modern chic boutique hotel.” It frankly looked a little odd (the way they make the beds??), bare and sad. Also I read a review where a tourist couldn’t find a cab to the train station cause it was so close (but not quite close enough with suitcases!). I was horrified and even posted a question on Tripadvisor. The hotel assured us that it is very easy and they just call the cab company.. but the seed was planted.
  • UNA Bologna: In the end, I chose the UNA Bologna. Simply because it seemed the easiest. The rooms all look modern enough. It is right next to the train station. And it is cheap. Better to just pay less and get what you expect, than to pay more and bet on a wild card.

The Hotel: We pretty much got what we expected. The lobby was simple and modern. There was a no fringe quality to the hotel. You have to add money to everything. Even for better quality internet.

The staff was very nice though. And helped us make reservations at the Trattoria Anna Maria, which they say is very good (and also recommended by a friend of ours). The lobby computers are very outdated though. I would not recommend anyone using it, because after we used it we spent the longest trying to log off gmail.

The Rooms: The rooms were relatively clean and modern (exactly as pictured). The bathroom somehow feels a bit older than the rest of the room, but it was basic and functional.

The only problem with the room was that it was very very hot. We went back to take a nap during the afternoon, and it was boiling because of the sunlight (I guess light is a plus and a minus). I was so tired then that I didn’t do anything about it then. But that night, it was hot. We realized that the A/C was simply not working and called to ask the hotel about it. Apparently they were not allowed to turn on the A/C yet in April, Bologna city law. So it may not be a problem exclusive to the hotel. I suggest a high room, so you can at least open the windows to let some air in.

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Location: It is well located right across from the Bologna train station. We literally just had to trolley our suitcases across the road. It is a bit of a walk to town center though (about 15-20 minutes). But cabs are easily available at the train station. I reckon that most of the “newer” hotels are closer to the train station than the center of town.

Breakfast: Breakfast was included and not crowded. Selection was continental as usual. Very basic.

Pros:

  • Well located next to the train station
  • Modern and functional, you basically get what you see
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • No fringe, everything comes at added costs
  • A bit far from the center of town
  • Hot and somewhat stuffy rooms

Conclusion: Will recommend friehnds to come here? Sure, if they are looking for something affordable and basic for a quick stay. But if they prefer something a little nicer, I would tell them to take a look at other options.

UNA Bologna
Address: Via Pietramellara 41/43, 40121 Bologna, Italy
Telephone: +39 051 60801
Email: una.bologna@unahotels.it
Hotel Website
Tripadvisor Reviews

Best Western Premier Milano Palace – Best Hotel in Modena

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While Modena feels more “gentrified” than Parma, Modena is still by no means a touristy town. You can tell by the list of hotels available on Tripadvisor. They are mostly 3-4 star hotels which seems to have been around for a very long time….

My friend suggested we stay at the UNA Modena, which is relatively new and very affordable. But it was also quite far from everything and we didn’t have a car.

In the end we decided on the Best Western Premier Milano Palace. When we booked there wasn’t a lot of reviews or photos on Tripadvisors to go on, but I took comfort in the fact that there aren’t a lot of reviews because it has been recently renovated. Plus, it is within walking distance to the train station!

The Location: It is not exactly in the center of town. But since the town is so small the center of town is not that far away either. The hotel is located right behind a massive townhall looking structure (we never found out what it was) that overlooks a piazza leading to the main streets. It is a nice, almost scenic 5-10 minute walk. On the other side, there is the train station which is about a 5-10 minute walk away (with suitcases) across crossing-less roads (which makes for a somewhat dangerous crossing). All in all it was convenient enough for us location wise, and the quality of the hotel more than made up for it not being completely smack in the middle of town.

The Hotel: After 2 nights at the NH La Spezia, arriving at the Best Western Premier Milano Palace (the locals call it the “Milano Palace”) was a huge relief. While its entrance is somewhat non descript being part of a row of old buildings, its interior was refreshingly modern and chic. On the left is a simple reception, where the staff were friendly and efficient. On the right, there is a very chic bar area with a grand piano that leads to the breakfast room. What I loved most about the lobby was the checkered marbled floors and the mosaics. I think I see Versace?

The only downside was the elevator, which was surprisingly slow and rickety compared to the rest of the hotel. We had a few suitcases with us in the elevator and it took forever to close.

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Room: We booked the classic room, and it was everything we expected it would be. The room itself was moderately sized, clean and well decorated. The bathroom was spacious and well equipped, lined again with Versace-esque marble. And most impressively, is that it had a LEGIT HAIRDRYER. I had super happy hair that night!

The only downside was the lighting. The room was very very dark when we entered. So we pulled back to drapes thinking to let the light in. But instead of the glass window we were expecting, we encountered an authentic old school wooden window. For a moment, I thought it was fake and started to get claustrophobic. But we eventually figured out how to open it and let the light in, though it was difficult (almost as if they were not expecting us to open the window?).

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Breakfast: Breakfast was included. Given the rest of the hotel, I thought it might be promising. But I guess when they say continental they really mean continental. It was very far from my large American breakfast buffet expectations. The spread was limited (though expected since there didn’t appear to be many guests) and I didn’t eat much.

Pros:

  • Newly renovated and modern
  • Walking distance to train station and center of town
  • Legit hair dryer

Cons:

  • Slow and wonky elevators
  • Dark rooms
  • Mediocre breakfast

Conclusion: As far as I can tell, this is definitely the best hotel in Modena. I would definitely recommend it to my friends and stay here again myself!

Best Western Premier Milano Palace
Address: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 68 – 41121 – Modena
Telephone: +39 059 223011
Email: milanopalace.mo@bestwestern.it
Hotel Website
Tripadvisor Reviews

Read more about my trip to italy here!