From Den Haag (The Hague)/Amsterdam Via United Polaris Business Class

From Den Haag (The Hague)/Amsterdam Via United Polaris Business Class


Yesterday afternoon I took Austrian Airlines’ Business Class from Vienna to Amsterdam where I got in a great 2 hour nap and try some of the best food you can get within the Star Alliance network:



I landed in Amsterdam at around 7:30pm, from where I took a 20 minute train to Amsterdam Zuid to meet up with Rik (one of my co-monsooner and YPT guides on my Extreme South America trip) for a quick beer discussing a potential trip to Afghanistan next year.



We last saw each other in Amsterdam 2 years ago!


At around 9:30 we parted ways and I headed back on the 9:35pm train towards Den Haag (aka The Hague) where I would meet up with Maureen, a monsooner whom I had first met at a café while in Paramaribo, saw me again the last time I was in Amsterdam and had kindly offerred me a couch to crash on during my layover here in The Netherlands.

I arrived into Den Haag Central Station at around 10:10pm.



I then got really lazy and took an Uber to Maureen’s flat to finally rest my weary legs and catch up with her.



We also last saw each other 2 years ago in Amsterdam!

We eventually turned it a little past 11:30 after which I got in my first real extended rest on the trip, ironically on my last night in Europe.



Saying premature goodbyes to Maureen after waking up at around 7:30am, I then took an Uber to Schipol International Airport. I totally underestimated the airport’s extremely thorough security process; I almost missed my flight even when I got to skip the lines (perks you get flying business class)!

Flying United Polaris Business/First Class (2-1-2)

Amsterdam to NYC



I finally settled into my seat 1A on my first time flying United Airline’s highly marketed Polaris Business Class. The amount of miles to acquire this was 10,000 less than usual via (60,000 miles total), which I accumulated rather quickly through — and transferred over — from my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

I could see why I was getting such a bargain.



Although your space is efficient, the hard product United Polaris offers when the seats are arranged in a 2-1-2 formation (a lot of them are trying to retrofit their aircraft to accommodate the more desirable and roomy 1-1-1- formation) are extremely cramped. It ultimately still can feel as comfortable as any other international business class if you’re not planning to do any work on the flight, as there is hardly any space to put your stuff unlike the generous desk space you’d get on ANA’s Business Class products.

Their free baggies is nicely designed but contains the usual amenities of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, facial cleansers, earplugs, eye mask, and tissues:



Point in case on how cramped things can get. Although they offer the welcome champagne, water and chocolates, you’re sharing a very small space with the guy next to you. If you both ordered the same thing, good luck not drinking from the other guy’s glass.



Their food options are thorough with 4 courses of generous offerings of salad, bread baskets, cheese, dessert wine, and a varied assortment of small bites:



After a 1 hour dinner, I got in a solid 4 hours of sleep thanks to comfy bedding they offer from Saks 5th Avenue:



About an hour before landing they serve a single course of a complete breakfast:



I landed on time at 11:30am, with another monsoon in the books.


- At time of posting in Den Haag, The Netherlands, it was 9 °C - Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy


Lovely Little Linz

Lovely Little Linz

I can’t really explain why my life has been so full of coincidences, (and no it’s not because it would “make sense” that extroverts would have an easier time running into other extroverts…my coincidences include the most skeptical of introverts as well!) but these events have been happening at such an alarmingly high rate ever since my fated trip to Egypt in 2010 that it makes me feel that I should have figured it all out by now.

From the crazy way I would run into the same people on a daily basis during my months in India, to how trips can just hit the ground running with magic with more than 10 moving parts meeting in a single point, I can only say one thing for certain: I am blessed and I am grateful. 

Whatever this all means, even if I don’t understand it, I see it and believe in it:

Our group was now Keseena, Daniela and myself.  Keseena, who like Daniela 2 years ago, was introduced to me online 2 weeks ago through a mutual friend and monsooner guide Dave Zhou. It was her first time in the USA and NYC, and she wanted to meet people (she’s from Mauritius). By the time I finally met Keseena a week later over a quick cup of coffee in NYC, she already had made plans to head onwards to DC later that night. So then I teased that she was leaving too early and would mention the following things during our 30 minute conversation:

    1. That she had yet to try the hookah at my favorite bar in NYC
    2. That she had yet to try the hookah I can make at home
    3. That she had yet to watch “Before Sunset”
    4. That she had yet to couchsurf at my place
    5. That she had yet to travel/monsoon with me
    6. And if she would decide to actually couchsurf at my place, her story would be very similar to a random Austrian girl I met 2 years ago named Daniela.

4 hours later the impossible (I mean she did show up 2 hours early for her bus!) happened: Keseena was misinformed about the bus departure time, showed up at the wrong gate, and missed her overnight bus to DC. This would lead to the following things to happen:

  1. She would meet for hookah right afterwards at my favorite bar in NYC
  2. She would head back to my place to also try my hookah to compare
  3. She would then watch “Before Sunset”
  4. She would then crash at my place on my couch
  5. She would join me on this very monsoon a few days later
  6. She would meet Daniela herself a week later, in her hometown of all places.

Daniela and Keseena are now becoming fast and close friends, all of which was sprouted by a seemingly flippant comment I made a week ago about their similarities, never ever thinking they would actually meet in person today.

You frckin’ tell me what’s going on here. I honestly have no idea:



Following an all-night bender in Vienna with Jenny and Tommy (whom I had only met recently 2-3 days ago), that led us to crashing their room in the RItz Carlton and making Gordon Ramsey’s Scrambled Eggs at 3am, the 3 of us returned to Daniela’s apartment and woke up at 7am this morning to head out for a spontaneous morning trip to see her hometown and birthplace of Linz, located on the border between Austria and Germany.

Daniela had already scheduled to hop on an 8:30am train out to get there at 9:30, and given how little we had slept last night we definitely struggled to even get out her apartment by 8am. So you can imagine how there was a lot of running and dashing up and down streets and escalators beginning from Daniela’s apartment to the tram to the underground metro to the regional WestBahn train heading to Linz.



Suffice to say, we made it just in time, after which I knocked out an hour’s nap to desperately salvage back as much sleep as I could. We arrived into a rainy morning in Linz at 9:40am.



We dropped off our bags at the left luggage facility in the train station and took the tram one stop into the main city. There Daniela walked us around her hometown, showing us around the same way I showed her around NYC 2 years ago.



We swung by New Cathedral, built in 1855 and can accommodate 20,000 worshippers:



We then had a quick healthy detox brunch at Nom Nom, and headed out towards the Main Square:



From here we took a 10 minute tram up to Pöstlingbergkirche, built in 1748 and overlooks the city of Linz.



Too bad the fog is all we could see. Nevertheless, it added to the surreal atmosphere of our day.



We spent about 10 minutes here before catching the same tram back into town.



Daniela then had us take a bus from town to the outskirts where she was born and raised. Taking a detour to check out a local bona-fide Austrian restaurant…



…we then finally arrived at and got to see her childhood apartment where we made some tea in her kitchen.



And it wouldn’t be a monsoon without some travel drama to follow: The plan now was for Daniela to drive us back in her family car to the train station, where Keseena would catch her bus out to Munich and I would take a train back to Vienna to catch my flight out to Amsterdam. However, Daniela soon found out that her car battery didn’t work and we had only about 20 minutes before our rides would depart without us. As Daniela convinced her younger brother to give Keseena a ride on his motorcycle to the train station, a cab driver would thankfully arrive out of the blue to take me there as well. 

One more crisis averted!

And after seeing a quiet corner of Daniela’s life this morning beyond all the monsooning, it was tough to finally say goodbye to her, to Keseena, and to all this, however brief it was.



But it doesn’t stop here. Once I returned to Vienna, ANOTHER coincidence happened: I just reached Platform #10 at Vienna Central Station to board my train to the airport when Jenny and Tommy (remember we had crashed their Ritz Carlton room the night before on our all-night bender in Viennawalked up right behind me to board their train that was leaving on the same time, but on the other side of platform #10.

WTF. I really can’t make this shit up.



Anyways, I’m now checked into my Austrian Airlines business class flight out (thanks to 60,000 free United miles I acquired through the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) to Amsterdam, while hanging out in the Austrian Airlines lounge at the airport and reminiscing on everything that had just happened in the past 4 days in 5 different European cities with 10 different strangers . . . 

. . . and as you can probably tell by now, there’s already a lot to unpackage.



- At time of posting in Linz, Austria, it was 8 °C - Humidity: 84% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: rainy


Viva Vienna

Viva Vienna

Yes, I’ve been to Vienna just so so many times. But I’m glad this time it would be through the eyes of a local and my friend Daniela.

After a wonderful day in Bratislava, Keseena, Maria, Daniela and I turned in at a reasonable hour, getting somewhat a full night’s rest before we spent a lazy morning taking advantage of our apartment’s laundry machine to reset our clothes. However, realizing too carelessly that Maria’s flight home would depart from Vienna (which is about an hour’s away from Bratislava) at 3pm in the afternoon, we then foolishly scrambled to catch a 10:35am Flixbus leaving from Bratislava to Vienna.

So bought the tickets at 10:05am.

Then we decided to get Daniela one more selficcino of her and her brothers at 10:15am:



Then we tried to hail a cab at 10:20am.

But we still couldn’t find one by 10:30am.

We finally got one by 10:32am.

We then called Flixbus to delay the bus for us at 10:34am.

But they denied us and told us the passengers were already checked in and heading out at 10:35am.

We soon realized our cab driver was driving in the wrong direction at 10:36am.

After finally (and futilely) getting to the bus station at 10:42am, we lept out of the cab trying to figure out when the next bus would leave (not for at least another hour) or whether we should instead take a 65 euro Uber directly to Vienna.

And as we were about to walk down the street to find the bus station entrance, I noticed what I had thought was a public bus pulling up with the route number “901” on Slovak Lines. But as the right wires crossed in my brain, I quickly recalled this was the exact bus we had booked. When we inquired the driver to see if the impossible was true, we realized that whomever we called at Flixbus was making it all up: this bus thankfully happened to be 7 minutes late, seemingly and miraculously just for us.



The bus took off the moment we boarded, with our crisis averted.



We arrived into Vienna at 11:40am, taking the subway into the main city so Maria could get in a bit of sightseeing at St Stephens Cathedral before taking the airport train home.



After saying our goodbyes to Maria, we grabbed lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant and headed to Daniela’s apartment to drop off our bags. We then went on the town, doing Vienna properly, beginning with the University of Vienna campus:






Hofburg Palace:






Outdoor Naschmarkt, where we had an amazing falafel wrap at Mr. Falafel:



At this point it started to rain, so we took shelter with pastries and tea at Vollpension:



As the rain subsided, we headed back out on Tram 1 towards the Danube Riber and walked about 10 minutes over to the northeast part of the city center to see Hundertwasserhaus, a real apartment house with real people living inside, with a style built in the vision and style of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.



Even the souvenir shop across the street, the Hundertwasser Village, was funky enough to be a sight:



Afterwards it began to rain again, so we decided to round off a wonderful day with designer cocktail drinks and amazing shisha inside at Duzi’s

Jenny W, whom we had met back in Budapest 2 days ago, would also join with her husband Tommy later on in the evening. At around midnight, the couple then kidnapped us to their hotel room at the Ritz Carlton’s, which by the way, is where Daniela used to work as a server. Uhm, SMALL WORLD..



After a soulful night talking about various topics as intense as yesterday’s in Bratislava, we headed back to Daniela’s apartment at around 2am to make Gordon Ramsey’s Scrambled Eggs like I had back in Queenstown… just because.



Oh Vienna, no matter how many times I come back, you never cease to leave an impression.


- At time of posting in Vienna, Austria, it was 2 °C - Humidity: 86% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: rain


The Brat Pack Reaches Bratislava

The Brat Pack Reaches Bratislava


Since my first visit to Europe in the city of London in 1995, it would take me 13 years to finally conquer the continental landmass of Europe.

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way than the stories and people I would spend with today in Bratislava.

Following a magical day in Budapest, we salvaged a few hours of sleep at the hostel before sadly parting ways with Aaron, Jessica, Jazmin, Anthony, and Raubern (they would go on to Croatia) and taking the 15 minute underground metro to the bus terminal to catch our 10:55am bus to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia.



The bus is a good time to catch up on sleep.



We arrived into Bratislava at 1:30pm, from where we took a 3 euro Uber from the bus station to the old town. Like the equally atmospheric old town in Ljubjlana, the old town here is compact, walkable, and splendidly magical in daytime and at night.



After checking in at our apartment at APLEND City where we would meet up with my couchsurfing friend Daniela (more on the crazy backstory on how she would join our trip here), we had a late brunch at Five Points Café, known as one of the few places to serve a “selfieccino”:



We then began our tour of the old town of Bratislava, beginning with a trek up to the Slavin War Memorial that overlooks the city from the north. Here lies the burial ground of 6845 soldiers of the Soviet army who died here during World War II.



Look to the west to catch a glimpse of Radio and Television Slovakia, which defies gravity as an upside down pyramid:



Then we headed south to Prezidentský palác, the seat of the president of Slovakia:



Afterwards we weaved around a public demonstration against the government to head up to Bratislava Castle, the former seat of Slovakian royalty and the symbol of Bratislava:



The views from here:



We then returned to Old Town beginning with Michael’s Gate, the only preserved gate of the city fortification dating back to the 14th century:



From north to south we hit up the following landmarks in old town: Kostol Zvestovania, Bratislava’s oldest church since the 1200s:



The main square with Roland’s Fountain, Old Town Hall, and the Jesuit Church:



Primatial Palace built in the Classicist style in 1781. Here is where the Peace of Pressburg was signed between France and Austria after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.



13th century Clarissine Church:



13th century St. Martin’s Cathedral, built in the Gothic style:




And if you venture south past the Most SNP Bridge, which you can walk across…



…head up to the top of the UFO Observation Tower which houses a beautiful bar and fine-dining restaurant.



We then hailed an Uber to the west of old town to find adorable Blue Church St’ Elizabeth’s, built in the Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the 20th century.



The whole tour took about 3 hours, after which we returned to the old town to grab some street food for dinner.



…before relishing in our day with travel stories over shisha at Habibi Café.

What I cannot put into words here are the endless conversations the 4 of us had since our dinner in Budapest to walking around the quiet streets of Bratislava’s Old Town, with topics ranging from love, life, coincidences, fate, destiny, the universe, and everything in between.

While I knew this trip would be special the way it came together, I would not have been able to predict that very moment in Old Town when an epiphany befell all of us as we turned the corner at Primatial Palace at dusk: That this trip was not planned as an epic “bucket list” item but rather “just another Monday.” It was a surreal eternity moment where we knew that the life we always dared to want was well already within our grasp; that in even the hardest moments we just sometimes need to step back, let go, and realize that this was always possible. 

All we would have to do next is then jump in without overthinking it, realizing we are already can live the adventures we’ve always desired.



- At time of posting in Bratislava, Slovakia, it was 3 °C - Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 18km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy


Buddha With The Best In Budapest

Buddha With The Best In Budapest


When I did Budapest by night 6 months ago, I made a promise I’d return with a group of monsooners.



A promise made is a promise kept.



It’s good to be back.



After flying in on a 8:40am Norwegian Air Shuttle flight from Stockholm, we landed at around 11:40am and took the Air Shuttle Bus straight back to the city center. We would check in where I had stayed before, Hostel One Basilica, where we would soon rendezvous with Keseena (more on the crazy backstory on how she would come to be part of the trip can be read here) who had arrived from Prague.

After checking in we did the walking tour of Budapest in the same order I did 6 months ago, so if you’d like a more comprehensive guide, head there. But some highlights:


6 months ago


We even got to go inside Saint Stephens Basilica for Sunday Mass, which I couldn’t do last time because we had gotten there too late. Not this time!



After this we ate at Terminal before taking a 2 hour nap since we were dreadfully underslept from the past 2 days. Afterwards, we took a cab to Fisherman’s Bastion for views of the city:



Then from here we headed to Széchenyi Bathhouse, the oldest in Europe and renowned for its outdoor heated baths running even during the dead of winter. It gives Iceland’s Blue Lagoon a run for its money.



Heated at a constant 28ºC (82ºF), the waters here are more than sufficient for lounging in near-freezing temperatures outside for up to 3-4 hours.



We even finally got to meet up with Jenny W of The Vibrant Med fame! (backstory on how crazy this meetup happened here).



We stayed here for nearly 3 hours. It was just too cozy to leave despite how hungry we got.



We then hailed 2 cabs back to the inner city and celebrated our last dinner together at Kiosk, one of the best meals I’ve had in Budapest.



Once dinner was over we gallivanted around Budapest during my favorite time to explore: at night.



Then we partied at one of my favorite bars in the world, Szimpla Kert:



I’m gonna miss these folks. Tomorrow: Bratislava and my last country in the continental landmass of Europe!


- At time of posting in Budapest, Hungary, it was 6 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy


Anatomy Of A Monsoon

Anatomy Of A Monsoon


You might want to refer to this while reading ahead.




A month ago I received my work schedule which revealed I would have a series of 4-5 consecutive days off from work — this usually sets in motion to create a monsoon. So for a few days I toyed with possible trip ideas which included the likes of Kuwait/Oman, Turks & Caicos, Barbados, or a road trip from Budapest through Bratislava and ending in Vienna.



Aaron Lam — a monsooner on my August 2016 Southern Africa trip, one of my newly minted guides, and a 3rd year medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (which is right across the street from my Emergency Medicine Residency at Jacobi/Montefiore) — would reach out during one of my shifts randomly asking if I could do a quick catch-up dinner in my area as his friends he was supposed to hang out with were getting held up.

So I met with him that night for an impromptu 45 minute dinner over Indian food, where he revealed to me how he was already planning a trip to Budapest — just like I was — with 4 other med students on the same dates I also had off. …MUST BE A COINCIDENCE.

Given the signs I decide to make that my next monsoon. I would meet with him and his friends in Budapest the 2 days they’re there, and then head onwards to Slovakia — the only country on the European landmass I had yet to visit.

Now it was seeing who else would want to come.


MARIA (via Sandra Davis)

Just about 9 days before the trip was to start, I had a few who seemed interested but no takers. Then just as I was prepared to go at it alone, a friend of Sandra Davis — a monsooner that had traveled with me on my February 2016 Puerto Rico trip — randomly would message me one morning if I happened to have any trips planned for her spring break dates in early April. While I told her I would be working early April, I suggested her this trip as an alternative, which she initially had no idea about.

Her name is Maria.

5 minutes later, she alters her dates and confirms her spot but then changes her mind the next morning when she finds out she can’t get the last day off. I then told her it would be possible to leave a day early if she wanted to. She then meets me the next day to submit her payment and info. No turning back now.


ESHA (and Nick)

The next day I receive another message from Esha, whom I had randomly met online and who wanted to meet me for the first time, to talk about coming on the trip.

Nick Sellers — a monsooner from my recent November 2017 Moldova trip — would later run into us at the bar (he happens to live nearby) and subsequently lends his support for her to go. MUST BE A COINCIDENCE.

She then confirms her spot on the trip the next day.

But unfortunately she changes her mind the morning after.


KESEENA (via Dave Zhou)

While this is happening, Dave Zhou — another monsooner from my Spring 2014 Cuba and Winter 2014 Palawan trips, and one of my first guides, most recently to Southeast Asia — had asked me if I could host a friend of his from Mauritius that had couchsurfed with him in Bali earlier in the year. Unfortunately, I was unable to host her given my overnight work schedule.

However, this mutual friend then decided to extend her stay in NYC for an extra few days, so we ended up meeting for a quick 30 minute-coffee in the afternoon before she had to catch her overnight bus to DC. I would tease her for leaving NYC so soon before trying shisha with me at my favorite bar. Her name is Keseena.

Later that evening after meeting another friend for dinner, I get a message from Keseena that she had missed her bus and needed an emergency place to crash. I obliged and in the course of having her rendezvou’ing with me, we would also run into the friend I had dinner with again in another part of the city (and her friend by extension, who would mention during this crazy shitshow of a coincidence that he had just hung out with Jenn — another monsooner, former partner, and former guide who went on our Spring 2015 Route 66 Road Trip, Spring 2015 Extreme South America trip, and the August 2015 Baltic Crescent trip — one hour earlier).

I end up hosting Keseena the next 2 nights at my place, as if she was destined to be a couchsurfer with me. And right as ESHA was changing her mind on the trip, Keseena wonders out loud if she could join in her stead as we head out for lunch.

As we ponder the craziness of such a last-minute decision and how we needed a sign, the very next minute Keseena gets a phone call from her colleagues with whom she had worked back in South Africa, letting her know they had just arrived in Western Europe and half-heartedly joked that she should join them for the weekend.

And within the next hour Keseena books a flight to Frankfurt and leaves right then and there. She is due to meet up with us in Budapest tomorrow after we spend this current brief 20 hour layover in Stockholm. After that we’ll link up with a local Viennese Austrian, Daniela Zarzer, who thanks to being ditched last minute (half-jesting here) by monsooner William Lau (of our Spring 2015 Route 66 Road Trip and the August 2015 Baltic Crescent trip), had also couchsurfed/crashed at my place — just as Keseena did — 1 year prior.



And last but not least: Only 24 hours ago I was surfing through my Instagram stories (they function like a snapchat where images last for a day before they disappear) where I came across and responded to a particular story asking for recommendations for what to pack for a 1 month trip to Europe. I sent over a few links, which led to a series of messages back and forth which made 2 complete strangers realize they were both departing at the same time and would be in Budapest and Vienna on the exact same days. . . .

Oh, BTW she’s in med too and we both spoke at the same APAMSA conference last year (although we hadn’t met personally then). Her name is Jenny W (of The Vibrant Med fame), and we are about to meet for the first time tomorrow in Budapest.

So here we are: The 1 that became 6, that became 5, that became 6 again, that became 8, that became 9 that became 10, all in the past 6 days. . . .10 of us brought together by a shitshow that shows how this crazy magical world of fate and destiny can bring together seemingly random strangers for seemingly unexplained reasons.

Confused? Again, this might come in handy: 



With the trip itself, today we had a 18 hour layover in Stockholm via Norwegian Air Shuttle prior to arriving at Budapest. I gotta say, the check-in process for Norwegian Air Shuttle at JFK Airport was one of the most convoluted shitshows I ever seen in Terminal 1 at JFK.

You first have to get in a 90 minute queue to check-in — which you could skip by going to the automated kiosks hidden off to the side — but then have to get in another one hour line somewhere else to get your ticket stamped — which you could also skip by going the front and asking for a stamp — and then that’s even before you get on the 45 minute line through security.

Suffice to say, I took advantage of all the skipping I could get, but even arriving 2-3 hours early barely bought us enough time to make it to our flight. But we made it.

After landing at around 1pm in Stockholm’s ARN airport, we took the 20 minute Arlanda Express shuttle train into the city.

From there we walked 10 minutes to check into our respective hostels (Aaron’s group was staying at Interhostel, which is where I stayed last time, whereas I chose to stay at Generator down the street).

After freshening up, we headed down to Gamla Stan and I led them around a similar kind of walking tour the last time I was here 31 months ago.

We even went back to Fotografiska, one of my favorite visual arts museums.

Although some of us were falling asleep at Fotografiska, we woke ourselves up with a contradictory nightcap at the world’s first permanent ice bar at the Ice Hotel:

Included in your entry ticket are ice-bar themed alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails at the bar:

We then finished the night with what I believe is Stockholm’s greatest treasure: the underground metro tour. It’s so good I literally did it again — I followed my same plan as I did 2 years ago, while I lived vicariously through this group’s first time exploring this massive underground art gallery.

I even tried to see if old age started to set in, by recreating the same pose I did 31 months ago:

31 months ago


Still got it.


- At time of posting in Stockholm, Sweden, it was 4 °C - Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 19km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy