to travel / lo & sons hanover deluxe 2 backpack review

I recently changed my travel backpack from the Fjallraven 17″ laptop backpack to the Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe 2 backpack. While I liked the Fjallraven and its light weight, it lacked a suitcase sleeve. I really wanted a backpack with a suitcase sleeve so that my backpack can sit on top of my carry-on suitcase secured to the suitcase handle. The top handle on one of my carry-ons defaults to one direction and without the suitcase sleeve, the backpack slides right off. And while I could sit the Fjallraven on its side and tighten the straps, it was inconvenient to have to adjust the straps every time I was switching between modes. I had tried looking for alternatives to Lo & Sons, but nothing checked all the boxes as Lo & Sons did.

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to travel / orly airport & level airlines, paris to new york

I haven’t read much about my specific Level airline experience (booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, ticketed by Iberia, operated by Level). I hope someone else can benefit from it.

My Paris trip came about very casually when I was texting with a friend on how long we haven’t seen each other. I had plenty of vacation days and was forecasting some downtime. As a collector of points/miles, I had a lot of options to work with. I don’t travel as much as I used to so I have no status. The challenge was finding something that worked around the US Thanksgiving holiday when many others are also traveling, two months out. I used AA miles for the outbound flight. For the inbound flight, I wanted to return on the Saturday evening (not 6am!) or Sunday after Thanksgiving (peak travel time). While in the US, there is often not much of a difference if you book a roundtrip vs two one-ways, it’s not always the case when you’re crossing the Atlantic.

Level Airlines was the best option. They are a budget airline and owned by IAG (which owns British Airways, Iberia, etc.) The flight between Paris and New York was Saturday evening, and it operates out of Orly Airport and Newark Airport (technically not New York).

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to travel & shop / taipei, taiwan

Similar to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul, you can find all the Western brands in Taipei with crazy markups (in comparison with the US), so it’s best to stick to Asian brands. I hang out mostly in the Eastern side of Taipei so this is my point of view. Some places I mention are chains and have locations throughout the city. I shop mostly for beauty and housewares in Taipei and don’t go near the cutesy little things I used to find at the nightmarket that were since thrown out.

  • Tax Refund: With a foreign passport, you can apply for a sales tax refund if you spend over 3000 NTD (~$93) at an authorized retailer (details). Often the refund isn’t worth the trouble of remembering your passport.
  • Pay in local currency: All the places I mention are credit card friendly. If you’re not paying with an Amex or Discover and using Visa or Mastercard, you may be asked if you want to pay in USD or local currency. Always chose local currency and I hope you have a foreign fee free card. More reading: What is dynamic currency conversion, which card to use

Locations

The yellow road running East/West is Zhongxiao E Road. There are many boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in the alleys around this road. I’m using the MRT stations for reference but if you’re pressed for time, take a taxi.

  • Starting with the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station, you can find Japanese department store, Sogo, at the SW and NE corners. The NE corner is the original Sogo and I like to browse/meet people there beyond the It’s a Small World clock. There is also a large Watsons next to it and more boutique shopping and eating in the alleys behind it. The SW corner is the high-end luxury Sogo — with a Din Tai Fung in the basement.
  • Walking East, you get to the Dunhua S Road intersection which has the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station. Look two blocks SE and there is an office building with an Eslite bookstore at the lower and basement levels. This houses the 24/7 bookstore. I also like Eslite for their boutique/stationary — which isn’t 24/7 but still open pretty late. On either side of Zhongxiao E Rd east of Dunhua, you’ll find local Taiwanese department stores and lots of retail stores like Daiso, Zara, Uniqlo, etc. I normally come here for the Innisfree, a Korean skincare brand (more on this below). There is also a Mos burger and Cosmed in the alley.
  • If you go further east on Zhongxiao E Rd, you enter the new Xinyi district (Taipei City Hall MRT Station) which has Taipei 101 and many standalone department stores — Breeze, multiple Mitsukoshis, Uni-Hankyu (check out their food court – Tim Ho Wan, ramen, bakeries, etc.), 101 Mall, Bellavita, and ATT 4 Fun (Totoro). There are walkways that connect these buildings either under or overground, which is helpful if it’s raining outside.

On to the shopping.

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to travel & eat / taipei, taiwan

Looking West from the Shangri-la Far Eastern Hotel rooftop

Eating is a huge part of Asian culture. Taiwan is known for their “small eats” and Taipei does not disappoint. Asia in general is big on food trends and subject to influences from other countries and cultures. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad meal. It’s up to you how Taiwanese you want to eat. If you want to get deeper into Taiwanese cuisine, check out The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway. I personally don’t eat as much street food due to serious family meals, limited time and stomach space when I visit. I also have a list on Yelp that is disorganized and will stay that way!

Fruit. Tropical fruit here is amazing, especially in the steaming summer season. Taiwanese mangos are one of the few things that make up for having to visit Taipei in summer. To find good fruit, it is well worth a walk through a local wet market. (If you visit in the non-summer, mangos can still be found but it is nowhere as good and not as cheap.)

Taiwan mango, red dragonfruit, lychee

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) is a Taiwanese chain that’s known for their soup dumplings. They boast many flavors of soup dumplings. I am also a fan of their veggie dumplings and fried rice. Pro-tip: the truffle dumpling (center) has to be eaten with a clean spoon. If you have a good server, he will proactively offer clean utensils. It’s best to go with a large group so you can try more dishes. If you’ve been to any DTF locations, you know to expect a wait. There is one location in Taipei as of October 2016 that takes reservations Mitsukoshi A4 (新光三越信義新天地A4館). Some people only like to go to the original location, but I am fine for what is subjectively considered subpar food with no wait time. Most of their locations are in shopping districts so the wait is not bad.

Breakfast is easily one of my favorite meals and a reason to wake up early. It is carb heavy though! My favorites are rice burritos (飯糰), variants of dough with scallion and whatever else you want to add (蔥抓餅/蛋餅), and these baked scallion buns (蔥酥餅). Be careful though! If you eat too much you won’t have room for the rest of the day! Coffee is relatively expensive (local chains are must cheaper than Starbucks) and hard to find non-cow milk or skim milk options. Continue reading “to travel & eat / taipei, taiwan”

to travel & shop / portland anthropologie and future glory rockwell bags review

This post is a review of the Anthropologie store in Portland, Oregon and a few Future Glory Rockwell styles that I found there.

I visited Portland, Oregon a few weeks ago for vacation (after visiting numerous times for work). Portland is known for great food and the day trip radius has wine country and scenic views. It just happened that there are two stores that I really wanted to check out. This new Anthropologie store was one of them.

This store reopened in March 2016 as the first of their supersized destination stores. The Newport Beach store has since opened, King of Prussia, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek are on schedule for later this year. These new stores are great news if you want to check out their home goods (which is so much harder to shop for online and at Anthropologie’s price points). This store is over 25,000 square feet and has two floors. The first floor has most of the ‘showrooms’, design center, beauty area, and sale sections (at least when I visited during the tag sale). The second floor has the fitting rooms, shoe/accessories area, lingerie, activewear, more clothes, more furniture, and a small sale section. The shoe/accessories area has a dedicated salesperson similar to department stores and inventory is kept in the back.

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