I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!

I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!


After 2 days relaxing in the off-the-beaten-path island of Lampedusa, the gang took a direct evening flight out to Palermo, capital of Sicily, afterwards.



Founded by Phoenicians under the name of “Ziz” and later renamed by Greeks “Panormos”, which means “all port,” Palermo’s golden age was during Arab rule from 9th to 11th centuries AD when it became one of the most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean and Europe.



It was referred to as the “city of delights” for its gardens, mosques and palaces.



After the Normans conquered Palermo, they destroyed most of the palaces and mosques, but replaced it with a unique architectural mix of Arabesque, Romanesque, and Byzantine influences known as the “Arab-Norman Style of Sicily.”



Modern history, however, would make Sicily infamous for cosa nostra, aka the Mafia that now predominate the popular culture consciousness whenever Sicily is referred.



Let’s begin.



Starting from the west side of Palermo, we tried to visit the unique Catacombe dei Cappuccini filled with 8000 dressed up corpses and skeletons, but it was closed at the time of posting. So we walked by the 9th century neo-classical era Norman Palace instead, where the ancient chapel Cappella Palatina is also located; you can find elaborate Byzantine mosaics and paintings inside.



While here you might as well also peek inside the red-domed medieval church San Giovanni degli Eremiti:




Then working your way beginning east towards the harbor, pass through the symbolic and landmark Porto Nuovo, built in 1570.



Weave around Teatro Marmoreo and through Villa Bonanno park



As you walk east towards the water, stop by 12th century Cattedrale di Palermo:



If you pay the 12-15 euro ticket to access the rest of the cathedral, there’s the gorgeous roof:



…and the underground tombs:



Take a detour at the open-air Market Ballaro:



Head into the winding alleyways further east to find the baroque Chiesa del Gesù, built in the 1630s:



There’s also Church of San Cataldo, built in 1154 and featuring landmark Byzantine mosiacs, including Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio which lies next door.



…and equally beautiful Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria:



Inside there’s a monastery you can stroll through for a few euros:



Then swing around Genius of Palermo Statue:



…past Fontana del Garraffo:



…past Fontana del Cavallo Marino:



…and as you approach Porta Felice, you know you’ve reached the sea:



There’s also an abandoned UNESCO World Heritage Site Ponte dell’Ammiraglio (“Admiral’s Bridge”) to the south, although there’s nothing much else to do around here:



Donna and I are taking it easy from here on out, because from here it’s a long way home. Brian knows it:



Palermo to Rome to Brussels …to Paris

The original plan was fly from Palermo to Rome to Brussels to NYC. So after Donna and I parted ways at the Palermo airport, I did just that. Once arriving into Brussels, however, it felt like …something was pulling me to Paris. I don’t know why since “I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains” …but I trust my gut. 

MXMS and Carla Bruni play on and on in my head.


Passing by the very same piano that caused us to miss our flight to Lampedusa 3 days prior


While arriving into Brussels, I got on the chat with United and asked if I could change my economy Brussels to NYC flight to a free business class upgrade at no extra cost. The answer: Sure, but you’ll have to get from Brussels to Paris and take a flight from there instead. Furthermore…

  • Evie also left her ONLY charger back in Palermo, and she was going to be in Paris that night.
  • Gina and Priscilla decided on a whim yesterday to extend their layover in Paris an extra day.
  • Priscilla had something personal of mine. And her foot, which had been injured during Yacht Week and became taken under my medical attention, appeared to need extra care.
  • Gina was still probably annoyed Evie, Sabrina, Sampson, Donna and I all barged to crash in her room 5 days ago in Olbia. It was a bad goodbye; I owed her a drink.
  • We would all be in Paris after a united last minute extension of all our trips. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

These were enough signs. And so I booked the next Brussels to Paris Thalys 9388 train at 9:16pm, arriving into Paris at 10:38pm where I would crash with one of them before all our morning flights back to the USA at 10am. It would be perfect.

But as we all know with travel, “perfect” may always involve a snag where the universe tests your will: Soon after booking my train ticket, I would get emails from Thalys every 15 minutes informing me of significant track delays up to 2 hours long. Every email indicated a longer and longer delay, to the point I was worried they were going to cancel the train entirely.



And yet when there’s a will there’s a way: although I had considered giving up on the idea of Paris as the logistics seemed too prohibitive, the prior Thalys 9376 train that had been due to arrive at 7:13pm in Brussels Midi Station instead pulled into the platform in front of me at 8:50pm. It was also running nearly 2 hours late, but oddly did not show up on the departure board as a possibility.

I immediately asked if I could board this one instead, but the agent at the station informed me that my ticket I had bought for the 9:16pm 9388 train would not apply and I would not be allowed onboard 9376. Once she left, I stowed away onboard the 9376 anyway, staying in between cars looking for a place to put my bags, pretending to wait for the bathroom, and hanging out at the café until the bullet train was well already in France.

Eventually my ruse would be noticed (I’m the worst spy ever), but after a discussion with the onboard police, playing stupid showing them I had already purchased a ticket but for a different train, a copy of a negative test for COVID-19 (with a BivaxNOW self-test kit which I had done with Donna the day before…thanks Donna!), that I was fully vaccinated, and a USA passport to accompany my vaccine card, they had no legitimate reason to throw me off the train when we were already 10 minutes away from Paris Gare du Nord station. Checkmate.

And to even make it more opportune, Evie’s hotel — where I could drop off my stuff — was located immediately outside the train station. Does that sound familiar to the beginning of this trip when I had arrived into Florence train station to briefly meet Patricia? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

Evie would have travel issues of her own: her flight from Valencia almost would be cancelled by a tornado there. Nevertheless it was a false alarm as she arrived, although 45 minutes late. Then from her hotel room we both set out to meet Priscilla and Gina, surprising them both (well, really just Priscilla; Gina had said she always knew I’d had it in me to make it work) that we’d make it in time right before they went to bed. And so our goodbye 5 days ago in Olbia was extended in none other than a midnight in Paris. 

Having stayed up for our third sunrise, we felt the third time is always the charm.



Then at 8am Priscilla, Gina and I then coordinated a cab together back to CDG where we would be all leaving at similar times back for our onward connecting flights home. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

And of all the business class flights to be upgraded to for free, United would choose SWISS Airlines, with the exact same layover in the exact same city of Zurich . . .  WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.



. . . and in the exact same 7A seat I had flown to begin this trip 16 days ago. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.






The magic of the universe has and shall continue. Whether in circles or forward, probably the next step for us would be time travel.


- At time of posting in Palermo, Sicily, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


The Yacht Week Sardinia Day 3 – Natural Bay to Bonifacio: Corsica

The Yacht Week Sardinia Day 3 – Natural Bay to Bonifacio: Corsica


From Cala Gavetta, we raised our anchors at 9:30am and sailed further north to the French administered island of Corsica.



And yet before we even reached the marina, we moored briefly nearby at the seaside natural cliffs:



We jumped in here for a hour’s worth of snorkeling, as well as being able to swim to shores that could only be accessible by a yacht:






Our skipper freedove in the meantime to hunt for sea urchins:



’twas a success:



and ’twas a hit:



After an hour here we then raised our anchors and sailed in slowly into the marina like it was something out of a movie. Playing some background themes to “Jurassic Park” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” didn’t hurt.



Bonifacio is situated in the French Mediterranean on the island of Corsica. We’re no longer in Italy anymore.



Bonifacio is especially known for its lively marina and medieval clifftop citadel.



The Citadel, also called “upper town,” is perched more than 70 meters high on a cliff overlooking the sea.



Once we docked at the marina…



…we started exploring:



With the “pass monument” for 3.50 euros per person here, you can visit the Fortress of the Standard and King of Aragon’s Staircase:



We decided instead to take the train up to the top for 6 euros per person (round trip). It runs every 20-30 minutes.



Take your time among old town streets:



Some of us walked through the cemetery…



…and reached the edge for the views of where we had just snorkeled before:



We then headed back down to freshen up for dinner at Da Passano:



And conveniently enough walked to B52 next door, a local legendary nightclub.



We had a little fun.


This is me taking a nap


Ok, maybe a lot of fun.



We then returned back to our yachts afterwards at 2am for another impromptu afterparty by the boardwalk. A kind of party where even arms were cleaned.



- At time of posting in Bonifacio, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 80% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


The Longest Domestic Flight In The World, Biz Class // … & Forcing An Emergency Landing: Réunion -> Paris -> Nice -> Zurich -> Halifax -> NYC

The Longest Domestic Flight In The World, Biz Class // … & Forcing An Emergency Landing: Réunion -> Paris -> Nice -> Zurich -> Halifax -> NYC



Dearest readers, I’ll begin by documenting the longest domestic flight in the world on business class from Réunion to Paris. And then I’ll end with how I forced an emergency landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia for an in-flight medical emergency. Yeah, it escalates quickly.

36 hours ago, I was lucky enough to snag the first leg of my return home from Réunion to Paris with a domestic-level award redemption via SkyTeam on Air France.

The check-in process starts with skipping the lines!



Even though it’s a domestic flight, they still checked passports:



Lounge access at Réunion is a pleasant and simple lounge hosted by Air France. The WiFi here is worse than the general airport’s.



Once we boarded, I realized that the 2-3-2 configuration never wins:



And despite everything feeling a little dated in the hard product — especially with the in-flight entertainment showing a paltry number of films that also skipped every 3-4 seconds when playing, I did dig the high quality champagne and getting all the slippers, socks and coat hanger immediately upon seating:



They handed out a unique envelope style amenities pouch about 10 minutes after boarding:



Nice touches included CLARINS face and hand creams, cooling cream, mints, a glasses wipe, and a pen:



The oversized menu:



They began serving food about an hour after take off. The quality was exemplary, of which Air France has been known for —

Started with some light bites and smoked salmon:



I followed that up with the tender braised beef chuck:



And finished with a cheesecake and fruit salad:



I then knocked out with 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before waking up to a simple breakfast of yogurt, quiche and another fruit salad an hour and half before landing:



Once landing in Paris ORY airport, I transferred onto my second but quick 1.5 hour flight to Nice, but not before hanging out at the Air France lounge for an hour:



Then in Nice I switched from Terminal 2 to 1, kicked back for a few hours at the Library Lounge, and caught up on preparing for the next monsoons to Greenland and Egypt.



I then switched over to my third flight on SWISS Air for a 1 hour detour to Zurich:



During my 1.5 hour layover at Zurich, I made the most out of my half an hour at the SWISS Business Class Lounge next to my gate:



And then finally, upon boarding, I was able to score the highly coveted “throne” seat on Swiss Air’s 1-2-1 configuration.



This was what I’ve been waiting for:



So MUCH SPAAAACE. It makes a huge difference, especially when I’m offered champagne and a hot towel before take off:



The menu:



My amenities kit was simpler than Air France’s, but I do dig the free Victorinox bag:



Food service began about an hour after takeoff:



I opted for the cod:



Dessert was a cheese plate, a port wine, and a chocolate mousse:



Afterwards they dimmed the lights about 3 hours into the flight and from then on with all my space I studied for my upcoming oral board exams in October. The in-flight entertainment left a lot to be desired.



…and then just like that everything changes.

At around the halfway mark I hear an overhead announcement asking for immediate medical assistance. Not the first time this has happened (although back then I wasn’t even in medical school at the time).

I introduce myself as an ER physician and get to work. Within 10 minutes we get everything stabilized and I’m relaying a message to ground control for immediate ambulance transport to the nearest ER from the gate at Newark International Airport. Then 5 minutes later I discuss with the captain and pilot whether instead to land the plane at the nearest airport (Halifax). Didn’t expect to return to work so quickly.

2 hours later, things take a turn for the worse. The patient has a bloody show, heart rate rises, and systolic blood pressure drops from 140s to 120s. With the help of a former EMT and General Surgery nurse from Switzerland, we move her to the front lavatory for more space, place an IV, hang a bolus on a coat hanger for volume resuscitation, and I’m sitting on the floor of the lavatory holding her hand asking for her blood type (she doesn’t know and husband doesn’t know). I request forceps, but they don’t have it.

I then request from the captain to make an emergency landing immediately at the nearest airport (Halifax or Boston) and call for O negative blood at the gate.

Within 45 minutes we’re on the ground in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I’m giving report to the EMT crew who quickly board the plane accompanied by cautious border agents (cuz you know, we live in the age of Trump).



They quickly take her away, and she remains awake, stable, and in much better hands.



The aftermath comedown and feels becomes very real, and I become too tired to process whether I did the right thing or not, or whether I could have done any better. The free Chivas Regal 12 Yr I get right afterwards helps:



After about an hour of refueling, we took off again at 8pm where I was then persistently showered with free stuff by the flight attendants. I in turn also persistently refused over and over, but every time I came back from the bathroom, they would leave more items on my desk.

I reasoned perhaps it’s more of my business class status why they were equally, if not more stubborn with the free stuff? I remember having witnessed other passengers in business and first class receive similar items for birthdays, anniversaries, and having elite status. . .

I however did acquiesce to the free pajamas they offered from First Class to replace my blood-stained clothing.



And as a nice denouement, we all finished with some poké and fruit salad right before landing:



Who would’ve thought how within 6 hours I would go from sitting on a Business Class throne holding a glass of champagne and asking for a warm towel at take-off, to sitting on the floor of an airplane lavatory holding a stranger’s hand and asking for her blood type at landing?

An analogy to life. And I won’t apologize for recognizing this as such. Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.



And as I disembark the plane, there’s rounds of applause everywhere for me, from the gate to passport control to customs.

Am I in a movie?



I was so tired after this experience, I realized I just accidentally left behind my Invisalign case and retainers behind on the airplane after disembarking. Womp womp.



- At time of posting in Halifax, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 64% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy, rainy


Nothing Malo About Saint Malo

Nothing Malo About Saint Malo


Compared to the close call missing my flight to Paris this morning, it was relatively all gravy just chilling for an hour waiting for my train to Saint Malo at Gare Montpanarsse.



I then boarded at 11:56pm, reaching the northern city of Saint Malo at 2:14pm.



Founded by Gauls in the 1st century B.C. Saint Malo was once known as the Roman Reginca or Aletum. After the downfall of the Roman Empire and after a period of exchanging hands, Saint-Malo briefly declared itself “not French, not Breton, but Malouin” as a independent republic from 1590 to 1593, attaining infamy as the home of the corsairs, French privateers and pirates. The pirates and corsairs Saint-Malo would force ships passing up through the English Channel to pay tribute.

It was colonists from Saint Malo who first discovered, settled in and gave the Falkland Islands its French name “Îles Malouines,” which eventually led to the Spanish name “Islas Malvinas.” Jacques Cartier, who is credited as the discoverer of Canada, also lived in and sailed from Saint-Malo.

After mistakenly shelled by the British and Americans during World War II (it would be the first time the Americans would use napalm) in the belief it was occupied by the Axis Powers (only a mere 100 Nazis were present at the time), Saint Malo had to rebuild its famed walled city from complete oblivion. Today it has become of the top tourist destinations in the region of Brittany, France.

From the train station, I headed west on Avenue Louis Martin towards the old walled city.



I didn’t do much research on this trip (was too busy studying for Step 3!), so you can imagine my surprise when I came across the magical pedestrianized streets of Saint Malo’s Intramuros (walled city).



On the very edge facing the Atlantic Ocean are the ramparts, where you can take a stroll or kick back on the walls and take in the sounds of the ocean tide.



After about an hour here, I headed back in the city for a quick lunch with a crepe super corsair at wonderful Molé:



…and boarded a 5:15pm Condor Ferry for Jersey (no not New Jersey!).



- At time of posting in Saint Malo, France, it was 16 °C - Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: foggy


From The Top of Paris

From The Top of Paris


3 months ago, I started studying for my final medical licensing exam – the USMLE Step 3 – on a budget 4-day trip to the Caribbean Islands, which began in the French territory of Saint Martin’s. I’m now celebrating the conclusion of my marathon 17 hour, 2-day long exam by taking a 2-day weekend trip to the Channel Islands, which fittingly begins in the French territory of…Paris and Saint Malo, France.

As I’m waiting for my train to Saint Malo in Paris after just taking a ridiculously low-cost American Airlines flight (40% lower than the usual fare!), I realized I was just here only 5 months ago.


The Top of Paris just got served


While I’m not planning to stay too long in France (a few hours actually), I found this to be a nice bookend to a 3-month campaign to overcome probably the longest written examinations I will ever take for the rest of my life. The funny thing is that with both of those trips I only decided on going only a few days before without planning for it. This is as random as random comes.

But I can’t start this properly without a story that happened 12 hours prior: I almost didn’t make it.

After an overnight 10pm-8am shift in the Pediatrics ER at Montefiore, I headed back home for a quick 3 hour nap before heading to the airport for a 5:20pm direct American Airlines Flight #44 from JFK to Paris CDG. Unfortunately I had forgotten to budget for Friday afternoon rush hour traffic: It was already 3:40pm and I was still dilly dallying eating in my apartment figuring it would take me at most 40 minutes to get to JFK airport from my home.


With a cursory glance at Google Maps that showed it would take me an hour and 20 minutes by both public transportation and taxi to get to JFK airport, and with only an hour and 40 minutes before my flight was to depart, I scrambled, going for the subway as I figured I could shave off minutes on the commute by sprinting between transfers and taking a cab from Sutphin Blvd/Archer Avenue (~10 minutes) instead of the Air Train (~18 minutes).

But the subways moved like molasses, there were rush hour crowds, and the cab from Sutphin Blvd./Archer Ave. kept getting stuck in traffic. Nevertheless, they proved minor scares: I was still able to shave off 10 minutes off my commute and reach JFK in only an hour and 10 minutes, getting to the airport at 4:50pm, 30 minutes before my departure. And thanks to TSA PreCheck and the kindness of strangers who let me cut in line, I thought I was home free…until security flagged me for random inspection as well as setting my bag aside for an unpacking and thorough searching. WTF.

Then I suddenly remembered that international flights close their gate 20 minutes before departure, which meant instead of 27 minutes, I only had 7 minutes left to get searched and run to Gate 43 – which FYI, is “the farthest gate away in the terminal” according to a TSA Officer who took pity on my situation. To add insult to injury, there were 2 other bags ahead of mine that needed to be unpacked and searched. At this point I pretty much was resigned to my fate. I missed my flight. All my fault, of course.

But my bag was unpacked and searched and I looked at my watch and saw I had 2 minutes left. So I ran. Down escalators, up escalators, jumping and somersaulting all the way to Gate 43. And right as the doors were able to shut, I shimmied my way in. MADE IT.

I celebrated by passing out, skipping dinner and breakfast and making up for my lack of sleep after an overnight shift. A sleep very well deserved.

Our flight landed on time at 6:45am in Paris, and I was out of passport and customs by 7:15am. And having learned my lesson 5 months ago about the chaos it takes to get an SNCF ticket from the airport to Paris, I was able to hop on the next RER B train into the city.


I took this photo 5 months ago
I took this photo today


I arrived an hour later to my destination at Denfert-Roucheau where I transferred to the 4/6 trains 3 stops over to Gare Montparnasse. At this point I had about 2-3 hours to kill before the 11:56am SNCF Train #8085 from Montparnasse to Saint Malo.



So what to do? I decided to walk across the street to Paris’ tallest building, Montparnasse Tower, where for 15 euros (I had my student ID which got me a 2 euro discount) I headed up 57 floors for the highest panorama views of the city of lights.



The beautiful thing about this experience is not so much for the views but rather that there were no lines and you can stay as long as you like up here, with lounge chairs to nap and a sky bar at which you can sip champagne.



Then I just kicked it at the train station until my 11:56am train to Saint Malo was ready for boarding. Onwards!



- At time of posting in Paris, France, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


One Night In Paris

One Night In Paris

The Eiffel Tower finally get served


No, this has nothing to do with the movie (wait, what movie? You’ve been warned if you have no idea what I’m talking about), and no I’m not trying to be clickbait. This is my returning to a city I haven’t been to in over 20 years and digging up the old fading embers of my nostalgia. I’ve avoided coming back despite varied reasons ranging from multiple layovers, bouts of ephemeral romances, trip requests from other monsooners, and destination weddings. Until today.

Taking the 10:00am 80-minute Air France flight from Venice, I arrived promptly at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 12pm. My option to get into Paris was either a 40-50 euro cab/Uber ride that would take 30-40 minutes to get into the city, or the SNCF RER B Train from the airport into the city for 10 euros a person and would also take 35-40 minutes. 

I obviously chose the train.

If you’re taking the train like I did, walk over to train station that’s connected to airport (it’ll be a long 10 minute walk if you’re in terminal 2) and you can buy tickets from the kiosks. FYI it’s a total madhouse for these automated ticket kiosks as there can be multiple lines with one having 30 people and another around the corner that might have 3 people. So if you’re traveling in a group, split up to find the shortest one.

And FYI, the kiosks themselves are slow pieces of crap; it’ll take like 10 seconds to process each selections and up to a minute for a credit card transaction, which would explain for the long lines.



Even though there’s no such thing as first or second class, some cars are curiously packed while others are empty. 



I got off at Gare du Nord train station 30 minutes later and walked about 15 minutes to the eastern part of the city to check into the hotel/hostel hybrid Generator Hostel, part of the Generator Hostel franchise empire. 

Combining the quality of a 4 star hotel with the varied lodging options of a hostel, this place is over the top complete with a terrace, bar, restaurant, nightclub, café, and public meeting spaces. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it had a ballroom.


The hostel's views of Paris and Sacre Coer in the distance


However, despite all that this place has, it curiously lacks a fridge. Yes, despite its designation as a hostel/hotel, this is to ensure that no outside food are allowed and if you want to pack the food you bought at the hostel, they will refuse to put it in a fridge for you. It’s very odd.

As I mourned over too much leftover food in my room, the first 2 monsooners arrived from NYC: Ann and Joseph. Their flight on XL Airways was about 90 minutes late but eventually we were able to rendezvous and begin our day on the City Of Lights.

Our first stop was The Louvre, the world’s largest and 2nd most visited museum (after The Forbidden Palace) boasting over 38,000 pieces, one of which is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.



This was Ann’s top choice to visit in her first day in Paris other than The Eiffel Tower:


Close enough.


After a few minutes here we headed to The Catacombs of Paris, the world’s largest graveyard and ossuary, housing the remains of over 6 million people since the 1700s.

There’s always lines around the block here for this so instead of paying the normal 12 euro admission, we shelled out 29 euros per person to skip the line and see it immediately. Totally worth it.



Afterwards it was off to the main event: The Eiffel Tower: The world famous wrought iron lattice tower that was originally constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, and now serving as the timeless international symbol of Paris.



After taking a few photos here, we sauntered over to Le Poincaré for a dinner over what else: French burgers and steak, onion soup, mousse, and creme bruleé:



We then did what the French usually do and lingered some more after dinner until night fell at 10pm, where after dusk the tower is scheduled to glitter in the night for a 5-10 minute light show on the hour, every hour.



Finally to finish off the night, we headed over to glimpse the massive Arc de Triomphe, the historical French monument built in 1806 commemorating those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.



Then we walked down the 2km long Champs-Élysées, the equivalent to NYC’s 5th Avenue, before deciding to save Notre Dame and Moulin Rouge for another day and heading home for an early start tomorrow morning and our next monsoon to Luxembourg!


So what was it really like to see Paris again 20+ years later? Best way to describe it is that everything seems much much bigger than how I last remembered it. I’ll be back again.


- At time of posting in Paris, France, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 39% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny, HOT