Cronut Accomplished! [New York City, Food]

Waiting in line for Cronuts!

Somehow, even someone who has lived in Vietnam the last seven years knows about Cronuts, the mix of donut and croissant into one supposedly amazing piece of sugary delight. Thus, when I had a chance to spend two days in New York City (first visit as an adult), I put that on my To Do list.

And now accomplished.

Since demand is so high, the bakery recommends that people get to the bakery by 7AM (it opens at 8AM) on weekdays, which receive less traffic. After waking up at 6AM, I got on the D train from Brooklyn and got to the Dominique Ansel Bakery (at 189 Spring St, New York, NY 10012) at 7:15 AM. At that point the line was already around the corner, so I had fears I would wait a few hours and be deprived. Before the shop opened, a bakery employee gave (photo above) everyone in line a small hot chocolate, a very nice gesture. Once the bakery opens, you’re not simply just handed cronuts, so the line actually moves really slowly. People are ordering and eating, and I actually made my order at 9:45 AM. On this day, it would probably would have been ok to arrive around 8AM and still have gotten cronuts – when I finished eating after 10AM, there were still people in line.

Waiting in line from 7:15 AM for Cronuts.

For $17 plus taxes and tremendous feelings of gluttony, I got:

1 Cronut

1 DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann)

1 Waffogato

I only picked the other two things because I had seen them mentioned favorably on Yelp before going. The Bakery certainly isn’t cheap, but I decided to just do it. I had to eat a broccoli-spinach-tomato-egg salad for lunch afterwards to somewhat offset my guilt (I will probably need a week or two to truly offset it).

Waffogato

Waffogato

First in the mouth was the Waffagato, an ice cream waffle (it seemed like a waffle made of ice cream) with coffee. It is good, and unique, at least from my limited experience. It costs $7.

DKA - Dominique’s Kouign Amann

DKA - Dominique’s Kouign Amann

Next was the DAK. Do you like croissants? Do you like buttered sugar toast (I used to make these as a kid)? If so, you will like this, because that is what it is: a buttered-sugar croissant. $5. I love it.

Cronut!

Cronut!

Finally, the cronut, which comes in its own fancy packaging and is also $5 (I bought another for a friend who could not make it).

Cronut!

Cronut!

The cronut was a bit much for me. Perhaps I should have eaten it first, but I think my feelings would be the same. Eating half would have been enough for me and it feels very heavy. Like the other two items, it is definitely good, but it didn’t surprise me as much as the DAK did. If I were to order anything again in the future, it would definitely be the DAK.

If you’ve been to the Dominique Ansel Bakery, let me know if you agree with my thoughts!

Corrupt Metro “Cops” in Madrid, Spain

It would have been a good couple of weeks for Ha and I, but both weeks have been negatively affected by bad incidents in Madrid. A week and a half ago, Ha lost her wallet (with credit and bank cards and cash). We are not even sure what happened, whether it was dropped or stolen. We weren’t walking in crowded areas, and then just noticed it was gone while preparing to buy food at supermarket CarreFour in Salamanca.

Today, we lost 30 euros (about $40 USD) to Metro (the subway train in Madrid) cops. After entering our tickets into the gates at De Quevedo and taking a short trip, we got off at San Bernardo to transfer to another train. In the station transfer, we were stopped by ticket checkers. However, I had not received my ticket back from the machine when I entered originally – I did not think this was a big deal because it was my last ride on that ticket anyway, and in Madrid, you do not enter your tickets on exit as with other subways (thus, I did not need it).

When they stopped us, Ha was cleared since she had a ticket. I explained that I did not receive a ticket from the machine. The officer said it did not matter, regulations said anyone without a ticket had to pay 30 euros. I told him they could check the video of the station to see that I in fact had used a ticket, but he and the other staff said it did not matter repeatedly. When we tried to go back to De Quevedo so we could find the lost ticket, they stopped us and said we could not. With heated arguments, it was clear they did not care whether I actually had paid my way or not, they wanted money. There were 5 people total, 2 ticket checkers with one “boss” (their term) and 2 security staff, one male, one female.

(It was a difficult situation both ways as Ha and I do not know Spanish, and their English was lacking)

At one point, one of the male staff spoke harshly to Ha in Spanish for an extended amount of time even though she repeatedly told him she did not speak Spanish (in Spanish).

I did not know what we could do other than pay at this point and then asked to pay via credit card; they refused, saying they could not leave the station in order for me to use the credit card. This was a problem as Ha and I were short on cash because of the previous stolen wallet incident. We felt this situation was terrible, as they wanted us to pay, yet made it very difficult to do so. Ha told them to call the (real) police, and they said they would. We were hoping the police could view the previous station footage and see that I did nothing wrong. I asked how long it would take for the real police to get there, they said they did not know. They said it could be 15 minutes or two hours. They also said that if they called the police, we would need to pay 300 euros in order to pay the police “service” fee.

In general, we felt they were trying to intimidate us into paying, particularly as they could have guessed (knowing no Spanish and clearly not being European) we were not native.

While they said they had called the police, I doubted they did. I was not afraid of the police, but I was cognizant that I did not know Spanish law, so we did need to be careful. I did not believe the police were coming any time soon, and Ha and I needed to get to IE Business School for a meeting. I also did not have my passport on me (I have heard that police may retain foreigners who do not have passports on them), and was concerned about a situation in which I might be held until things could be cleared things up, which would have resulted in even more time lost. I could not even be sure that the police who were supposed to be coming could speak English with us. After thinking it over for a few more minutes, we prepared the cash and gave it to them and left. I think we were in argument with them for 10 to 15 minutes total. They issued the ticket below:

Madrid Metro Ticket

If you look at the ticket (it’s one sided), there is no phone number, no name of the person who issued the ticket – there is no recourse for complaint or way to talk to the person responsible for the department. I wanted to make a formal complaint in how they handled the situation, but there is no way to do it, other than writing this blog post and this Metro web site contact form. When I asked for some kind of business card, they said they did not have one.

Overall, I am very upset about this experience. Of course, I can understand the Metro’s side in wanting to regulate ticket sales. However, the way we were treated was disrespectful and I got the feeling that many of the things they said, particularly about the real police officers being called, were lies. In fact, the only reason I can assume these Metro cops were real is because other train travelers also stopped to let their tickets be reviewed, and the staff dressed “official.”

An irony here is that the Metro is concerned with people illegally using the Metro for free, yet they allow people to set up shop and sell bootleg DVDs and fake handbags inside the stations with no problem.

What bothers me even more about this situation is that some stations do not have people staffing the ticket areas at all times. The question then is, if the machine had let me through and not returned my ticket, and then I noticed and had wanted to get my ticket back, who would I have talked to? There would be no one there. I would have likely just taken the train (as I had paid for the ticket) and then again, been forced to pay the fine even though I was innocent and a paying customer. Again, I would have taken the penalty despite no fault.

How ridiculous is that?

(edit: as of May 18th, 10 days after the incident, the Madrid Metro had not responded to my complaint submitted on their website. Thanks a lot, guys!)

ChoiBongRo, Where Anyone Can Find a Neighborhood Basketball Court in Vietnam

ChoiBongRo (Small)

Over the past few months, Ha and I have been working on launching ChoiBongRo.com (translated, it means Play Basketball). It’s where people can lookup nearby basketball courts all over Vietnam in both English and Tieng Viet.

Since coming to Vietnam in 2006, I found that it is very difficult to find places to play basketball. Vietnam differs from the United States in that there are very few places to play…anything. Walk around and you will occasionally see kids playing in small cement lots, sometimes accidentally launching balls into busy roads. There are not even many fields (pitches) to play football (soccer), which is easily the most popular sport in Vietnam (volleyball may be second). Almost all the basketball courts in the country are at schools, but they often not well maintained. Universities may have courts, but these are normally crowded. Many others are only available for use by organized teams, and even when available, their booking fees are somewhat expensive for young kids. Thus, it’s hard to imagine how Vietnam can be competitive in sports when youth play spaces are rare all over the country.

Despite all the new real estate developments in the cities, there has not been a similar emphasis on recreational space. Even in large housing developments for upper tier housing, a small play space is added as an afterthought rather than a key feature of the development. Outside the cities, in the provinces, there may be more land space for recreational areas, but these spaces are not being developed for play either. This is making it easier for today’s youth to simply stay home and watch tv or play mobile / iPad games. Because of this and the rise of costs for “real food”, which is promoting consumption of boxed, manufactured, and frozen food, I have no doubt that malnutrition and obesity will be a real challenge to Vietnam over the next twenty years, just as the problem is rising in Western countries today.

ChoiBongRo is a resource that we hope those living in Vietnam will embrace and share their own discoveries to help other current and future basketball players develop their loves for the game. We want to make it easier to go outside and play. Vietnamese youth, both girls and boys, need spaces to work on their games, learn the sport, play pickup basketball, shoot around – just exercise and have fun.

Right now, the website is currently very simple. We have listed some of the main courts in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, but we need help! As we can get more submissions and user traffic, I hope to find sponsors that will help finance the development of the site (nothing too fancy, just further development and optimization of its WordPress theme. I would love to hear from players what they need to support growing basketball as a sport to understand what should be developed after that). I’ve chosen this map-based theme as it has a responsive layout built in and helps users visually find and browse courts in their geographical area whether they are using a PC, tablet, or mobile phone.

If you love basketball or know someone who does, please share the website with friends so it can be discovered by more people.

Thanks, and remember www.choibongro.com!

Buying Football Jerseys for Cheap in Madrid, Spain

If you are looking for where to buy a Spain-inspired football (soccer) souvenir like a club or national team jersey (shirts) while in Madrid, check out a Deportes Halcon. I absolutely love collecting jerseys, but only ones at a good price, and I found a good keepsake of my travels in Spain.

Ha and I each got Adidas Spain National Team jerseys (Climacool) on clearance for 20 euros each ($28). These jerseys normally retail for $80 and over.

Ha’s 2013 Spain jersey with 2010 FIFA World Cup champions patch:

I got an authentic Spain jersey as well, but mine was a 2012 jersey celebrating Spain’s second consecutive Euro win:

Other items, such as this current year’s Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid jerseys and jackets were on sale for 30% off (Teams are about to release next year’s jerseys). In doing more research, I found reviews of this shop in Spanish on Yelp, with Google Translate testifying that Deportes Halcon is a considered a great shop for well priced and discounted sports clothes and gear.

Below is a storefront picture of the one nearby Ha’s apartment in Salamanca.

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For more locations, check out below or their official website.

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The Real Madrid Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (Stadium) Tour

Over the weekend, Ha and I took a trip to visit the home of Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo, Santiago Bernabeu! (Book a tour online here, but you can also just buy tickets at the stadium)

It is mostly as a stadium tour should be, lots of great access to special areas around the stadium and football pitch (field), but Real Madrid also has a great museum with tons of old jerseys, trophies, and other relics from team history. There is a tremendous amount to see, such as old match billings, game shoes from legends such as David Beckham, jerseys, and even Cristiano Ronaldo’s Ballon D’or trophy from last year. You can sit in the VIP seats near the field, the seats the reserves and coaches sit in on the field, and take a photo in the post-match press room. As you might expect, there is also huge official team store in which you can likely get anything you want or imagine with a Real Madrid logo on it, including your own personalized jersey to take home.

There were a couple of negatives from our trip, however. The first is that the tour costs 19 Euros ($27), and it’s not really a tour. It’s self-guided, so it’s more of an “open house”. For reference, the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners tours that I have been to cost $22 and $10 respectively, and are actual guided tours. Then again, the Real Madrid tour is packed! I am guessing at least a couple of thousand people go through each day, an amazing number. The stadium itself is not ugly by any means, but it doesn’t look like a super new modern stadium either, which it isn’t.

The other negative is that we were not allowed to view the locker rooms and entrance tunnel. I think this may have been because we went on a game day, but this wasn’t mentioned clearly on the website. We were at the stadium 12 hours before game time, and the website mentions things may be closed 5 hours before game time. If we had known this, we definitely would have gone on another day.

More photos below, and all photos can be seen here: http://ispithotfire.smugmug.com/2014/Estadio-Santiago-Bernab%C3%A9u/i-MTWZ8NM