All posts by Jacqueline Ly

Billund, Population: 6,194

So…it’s been a while. As usual, Froggle is to blame. The uncharacteristically cold weather in London has caused his lethargy to escalate to unprecedented levels.

Without further ado, here is a story about Billund, published almost a year after the fact. Don’t worry, we’re sure it is much the same today as it was when we were there.


I’ve been obsessed with Danish “forest kindergartens” for quite some time now. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Danes are clearly at a superior stage of evolution, in which they’ve unlocked the secret to raising children: let them play! [Sigh] I wish I went to a Danish forest kindergarten…

so much fresh air!
so much fresh air!

Anyway, this is all to say that Denmark was high on my travel list. Of course, a normal person would proceed to book a ticket to Copenhagen. Not us.

We went to Billund. (Look at those glorious trees!)
Billund 2016

Where?!? Wikipedia says it’s a “small town in Jutland,” which is another way of saying, “here be dragons!”

Ah, now you’re starting to get it. Yes, Billund is on the map because it’s home to LEGO, and we were there because Evan managed to sign LEGO!

Froggle’s Fact: “There is no ‘s’ in LEGO, ever. You play with your LEGO, NOT your ‘Legos.’ The LEGO people are very strict about that. Their kool-aid was very tasty.”

While it’s very exciting—as “exciting” as business stuff can get—that Evan closed LEGO, it’s more exciting that they have Sour Cream & Onion chips in Billund.

Billund 2016

As usual, Evan travelled for business while Froggle and I traveled for leisure.


Day 1

Evan’s contact at LEGO tried to get me into Legoland by letting me borrow her season pass. Unfortunately, I got caught at the gate, and they confiscated the pass… We had arrived in the afternoon, and I would only have a few hours in the park, so I decided it wasn’t worth it to pay for admission. Instead, I hitch-hiked WiFi.

Billund 2016

The entire town of Billund basically functions as a subsidiary of LEGO’s enormous campus, and, of course, the only WiFi around were locked LEGO campus networks.

By hitching onto Legoland’s WiFi, I was able to find a cafe. Upon discovering that the cafe was actually a museum/library cafe, not a cutesy West Village cafe, I hitched onto their WiFi and found a grocery store. (My other food options were a sketchy pizza place and a weird sandwich place).

Let me tell you, the Danish grocery store was grocery-shopping heaven! It reminded me a lot of Amsterdam’s stores, which offered healthy, delicious, beautifully packaged, CHEAP options. Northern Europe is the place to be.

After hitching onto the grocery store’s crappy WiFi, I realized that the only TripAdvisor attraction, other than Legoland, that wasn’t more than seven miles away was the sculpture park. Better yet, the path wound through an amazing wildlife reserve and dumped off right in front of our hotel. So the stars do align!

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Day 2

The next day, Evan convinced me to buy the ticket to go to Legoland. I was hesitant at first, because it’s pretty expensive, but my inner kid gave in. I’ve been missing Disneyland, so Legoland was just what I needed!

I was very excited to fit into this tiny safari jeep
I was very excited to fit into this tiny safari jeep

There’s a Legoland near my house in Carlsbad, and I haven’t been since my third-grade field trip. Legoland usually consists of a lot of cool LEGO models and a few not-so-cool rides. I was pleasantly surprised! The rides were actually pretty fun.

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We don’t usually buy souvenirs in the places that we visit, but Evan got to take advantage of the 50%-off employee discount. We couldn’t refuse.

Look what we made!

Legoland Billund 2016

Just kidding! We haven’t built our Milllennium F(u)lcon yet, but we have built Manhattan!

Manhattan

 

Heffalumpy’s Hat Tips: 6.5/10 We’re suckers for theme parks and toys, but we wouldn’t recommend that you fly all the way to Billund for Legoland.

Still or Sparkling?

It’s a beautiful sunny day on the “Gold Coast” of Lake Zurich, home to the yacht-owning, investment-banking, mansion-dwelling elite of of Zurich. Two young* couples hop off the futuristic Swiss train, swaying a little from the hyper-speed inertia, and casually make their way to a cozy lakeside restaurant. It’s one of those places that’s so glamorous that it’s plain. It looks like Martha Stewart’s Swiss lakeside lodge, if there were such a thing.

The waiter, well-trained in his post, doesn’t hold the usual disdain that non-chain restaurants hold for young people. “Still or sparkling?” he asks. The table opts for still, and he returns with Acqua Panna.

The four enjoy a leisurely lunch outdoors, taking in the fresh Swiss air. They lose count, at some point, how many times the waiter has refilled their water. That’s the sign of good service: you don’t even notice they’re taking care of you.

They finish their meals, and the waiter provides the bill with the utmost grace—not too insistent, but not too aloof. The men withdraw their credit cards, and four heads hover briefly over the bill. Twenty-five francs for what is essentially mac ‘n’ cheese is only ridiculous when you’re not on the Gold Coast. This is to be expected.

Yet, with the food and wine factored in, the total seems to be mistakenly overpriced. Perhaps gratuity has already been included. No? Perhaps the still water was 15 francs per bottle and the waiter brought out three bottles over the course of lunch…

Yes, yes, it’s true. In Switzerland, where a person could bottle the tap water and outsell Fiji water, we paid 45 francs (Swiss francs to dollars are 1:1) for “Italian” Acqua Panna. Yes, it’s the same water that Costco sells in 12-packs for $10 each.

Froggle’s Fact: “In Europe, restaurants generally charge for still water, but it’s usually a flat table fee of three to five pounds or euros.”

When we confronted the waiter about failing to inform us about the charge for water, he responded, with a placid smile, “It’s the Gold Coast!”

In case you still don’t get it, when asked “still or sparkling?” the answer is always: “tap.”


To counterbalance Mr. “It’s the Gold Coast,” we also had an incredible encounter at a delicious Argentine restaurant.

We were starving after a long day of exploring, and the only appetizing place that was open late happened to be this little Argentine restaurant and juice bar. Bolstered by our credit card hubris, we began ordering pretty extravagantly. I got empanadas (obviously) and freshly squeezed juice and Evan ordered a full breakfast-for-dinner type of meal.

To our dismay, the restaurant only accepted cash, and we didn’t have enough to cover our meal… At this point, Evan thought we were going to be taken hostage to work off our debt. As it turns out, the restaurant owner was an incredibly kind and generous man, who allowed us to return the next day to pay him back.

So, if you ever lose faith in humanity, learn a foreign language, rely on the good will of others, and all will be well.


We had a very brief, very expensive, but still very enjoyable stay in Zurich. See for yourself!

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Heffalumpy’s Hat Tips: 5.5/10

Zurich is pretty neutral (ha ha!). The extra .5 is for the friendly Argentine man who fed us and trusted us. The city itself is clean and beautiful, but it’s also pretty boring and expensive. Window-shopping gets pretty old when your only options are Mont Blanc and Cartier, and you can’t even get into the store because you’re too much of a schlub. Evan’s only returned to Zurich for business day trips since.

 

*One of the four “young” people was Corey. He’s 30. He barely qualified. 🙂

Third Time’s a Charm

It’s almost a good thing that we didn’t write about Edinburgh after our first visit, since we’ve come back for a second (and third!) go round. Here’s the round-up—with special attention to the places that were worth the double-dip!
And, now that we think about it, it’s great that we went back to rectify n00b photo mistakes like this one:

Fancy a dram (or two)?

No trip to Scotland should be without Scotch, so that’s where I’ll begin. Rather than ordering something we had tried in the past, we decided to sample a flight (three whiskies) at Bow Bar, which was recommended highly on Yelp. The demographic at the bar perfectly suited us, as it catered to older folk. Yup, we’re basically 60. Like I said, the flight comes with three whiskies, and Jacqueline took two. That’s classic Jac.
Edinburgh 2015
We are not even close to being whiskey experts, but we’ve learned a few things and tried a few more. Firstly, every American should know that everything you see on TV (Glenmorangie, Macallan, Dalmore) is overpriced plebe whiskey. Ok, it’s not “plebe” whiskey (well, Dalmore is), but it definitely costs more than it should. Yes, we were heartbroken too.
As it turns out, a lot of these bigger-name distilleries have to satisfy such high demand that they are mostly likely depleted of their 10-, 12-, and 18-year stores (unless you’re willing to pay!). That leaves them with “blended whiskies,” which are forced to take the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. Oftentimes, that’s a wee three-years-old—barely a whiskey.
If you’re lucky enough to be physically in Scotland, you might as well take advantage of smaller distillers that offer just as much flavor at much more palatable prices.
Froggle’s Fact: “Whiskies are classified by region, and there are four: Lowlands (which we’ve never tried), Speyside (Bourbon-y), Highlands (more nutty, supposedly), the islands (smoky!!).”
Unless you speak Snob, you just have to taste the whiskey to know if you’ll like it. Because otherwise, you’re left with descriptions like:
“There is a pleasant sweet bacon smoke on the nose along with some peanut brittle. The whisky is full and soft on the palate with a nice bit of bite. The smoke is more akin to roasting coals rather than wood and finishes with some baking spices.” (By Stephanie Moreno for Distiller)

Oink Oink
We quickly learned that everything in Edinburgh is significantly cheaper than its London counterparts, so we spent a large part of our first trip binge-eating.
Mmmm pasta!
Mmmm pasta!
Oink is a treasure trove for pork-lovers. It’s a modern iteration of the hog roast, and these sandwiches haunt our dreams. Upon returning to Edinburgh for our second trip, it was our first stop after getting off the train—yes, even before we checked into our hotel. Jac came back a third time when she gave her cousin the grand tour of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh 2015
But we do not discriminate against farm animals. After feasting on Oink, we also went to town on wings at a place called—you guessed —Wings. We’ll forgive their lack of creativity when it comes to names because this place is basically a teenage boy’s dream come true. The walls of this establishment are plastered in cult enterprises like comics, super heroes, Star Wars, and other stuff we can’t identify. And, they offer wings, glorious wings!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside
And “cold” is the understatement of the century. We discovered the reason why Scottish wools and cashmeres are so popular. It’s f***ing frigid!
But, not to fret, the world’s greatest hot chocolate is made in Edinburgh! (At least that’s what the sign said). But Jacqueline will attest that it was absolutely delicious.
Edinburgh 2015
Yes, delicious enough for a second trip!
Note the whipped cream AND marshmallows!
Note the whipped cream AND marshmallows!
Coffee shops are not strangers to cheeky signs in front of their cafes, but this one might just take the cake.
Edinburgh 2015
Jacqueline wished that she were just a bit younger and could have been left alone, as she would gladly take a free espresso and kitten.

Feast yer eyes!

Yes, in between eating and drinking and eating, we managed to do some sight-seeing. Here are some photos of some cool old stuff!

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Oh yeah, we also climbed the tallest hill in Edinburgh, but that’s a story for another day.

Heffalumpy’s Hat Tips: 10/10 (We wish we could move to Edinburgh, because Scotland stole our hearts.)

BREAKING NEWS: You’re Not Getting Presents for Christmas…

…because Evan and I ate Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.


We found Rudolph wandering through the Norwegian woods some time in February. Evan was in Oslo meeting some guy in some place to do a business. You know, the usual.

While Evan was doing transactions and stuff, I earned my first Fitbit Cleats badge for racking up 40,000 steps in a day! Little do they know, I had a little help.

Although, you should be impressed by that step count, because “walking” around Oslo really means “ice skating” around Oslo. It snowed on our first evening there, and the snow soon turned to ice. We learned very quickly that Norwegians apparently DGAF, and have never heard of salt, sand, blue ice-melting chemicals, or plows. It’s obvious that Norwegians have acquired magical snow-shoe capabilities over the years, because they paid no mind to the deathly slippery sidewalks. There were even people out running ON THE ICE!! (Maybe their cleated gym shoes had something to do with it?)

Oslo 2016

Exploring central Oslo was not so hard because most of the snow had been trampled down. We were apparently in town during Norway’s biggest event, the Holmenkollen Ski Festival, so the entire city’s population plus those who came in for the event were huddled on a tiny hilltop on the northern side of the city. Because we are antisocial and avoid the crowds, we had the whole city to ourselves.

Architecture in Oslo is amazingly clean-cut and functional. The Oslo Opera House is known for its rooftop, which is actually a series of ramps that are open to public access and provide amazing vistas of the Oslo fjords. Evan likes to talk tough about how he’s from Boston and how cold it is there, but even he hasn’t ever seen the ocean frozen over. This was something else.

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As if standing on top of a rooftop battling freezing winds weren’t enough, we decided to walk to the other side of the city to see Vigeland Sculpture Park. We almost abandoned the plan when we realized that the sculpture park was inside of a bigger park, and that we would have to navigate our way through soggy, icy, puddly fields of grass to get there. But, after the third small and fearless Norwegian child sprinted past us through the ice and mud, we decided we would not allow ourselves to be embarrassed by three-year-olds. Thus began the trek.

An eternity later…we climbed the steps to victory!

Oslo 2016

Froggle’s Fact: “Norwegian sculptors really like naked people.”

So, after a long adventure, fueled by extremely hipster pour over coffee and comics,

we needed sustenance. And that’s why we ate Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.

Don’t worry, reindeer lovers, we paid our dues. We missed our flight back from Oslo. There is a very long-winded explanation for this, but it boils down to this: the spot on the boarding pass that usually displays “Gate Opens” time was actually a “Gate Closes” time on the Norwegian ticket and the Oslo airport does not give final flight announcements. We arrived at the airport two hours early for our flight that day, and missed the flight. Actually, we arrived at the gate while the plane was still parked outside, but the gate agent refused to let us board (because she hated us for being Americans, we’re convinced). We had to exit the departure terminal, buy new tickets, and go through security again.

We got d!cked.
We got d!cked.

After that whole fiasco, we left Norway with two exit stamps, frostbitten toes, and Njal (the newest addition to our family!)

This is Njal Svalbenson. He guards our keys.
This is Njal Svalbenson. Shhh! He doesn’t know we ate Rudolph…

All in all, though, I guess you could say we had it better than Rudolph did. Hopefully Santa has realized that it’s 2016 and he can just buy some headlights or bioluminescent algae to deck out his sleigh.

 

Heffalumpy’s Hat Tips: 6/10 (We may not be rushing to come back to Norway during the winter months, but it was a beautiful weekend!)

Dissertation Shennanigans

My BFF recently told me to “stop messing around with the academic stuff” and get back to the blog. I must oblige, because, after all, he is my BFF.

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”

I vow to go back to slapping keys randomly on a more consistent basis. Until then, here’s a game to occupy your time.

Put these map pieces back together again:

This is not an impossible task meant to distract you until our next post. I did take excellently proportional photographs that would make this task simple.