A Christmas whirlwind

Hello and Happy New Year from sunny Singapore! Hope you haven’t missed me too much. My radio silence is owed to my favorite time of the year: the time where I get to take a two-week trip home for the holidays. This year, I spent a total of 45 hours in the air traveling between New Jersey, where I spent one week, and Portugal, where I spent another.

Departing late on December 22, I think it’s safe to say I was one of the last remaining expats to leave Singapore for Christmas. My flight, routed through Düsseldorf, landed in beautiful Newark, NJ in the afternoon on Sunday, December 23. Dad and Matt picked me up, both from the airport and also literally, with squeezes that swept me up off the ground. Hooooomeeee!!

After picking up some food at Dad’s favorite Portuguese restaurant in Newark, we headed home, where I was greeted by my other favorites: Mom, Larissa and Jason. It felt so nice to be back in the Burg. There wasn’t much to do for the rest of the evening but catch up and drinks lots and lots of wine, before passing out at the jetlagged hour of 9PM.

The next day was Christmas Eve, and I felt the buzz from the moment I woke up. The morning was spent wrapping gifts, listening to Christmas tunes, and of course, engaging in the Hayden sibling annual tradition of hitting Shake Shack to bulk up before the traditional Ukrainian Christmas meal. This tradition started because Matt used to despise some of the dishes at the meal and would always leave hungry, so Larissa and I started taking him out to lunch before we left for Christmas Eve festivities, without Mom and Dad knowing….sneaky siblings secrets. While I was there, the craziest coincidence happened: I had been trying to grab coffee or lunch with José’s two friends from INSEAD, Priyam and Vishal, who lives in Edison, NJ, but we couldn’t sync up our schedules. I got a call from José while I was housing my Shroom Stack and, sure enough, the two of them were sitting at a table 10 feet from us, right there at Shake Shack. This world we live in is TINY. And glorious.

Christmas Eve was spent at my cousins Mark and Kyra’s house in Easton, PA. As always, it was delightful: an evening filled with Eastern European dishes, wine, laughter, and recaps of the last year for those I haven’t seen. And of course, gifts for the kiddies! We stayed an extra long time this year (Michael Hayden, always full of stories!), and we arrived him close to 2AM. Haydens gone wild.

What’s next but Christmas morning? Being a bit jetlagged, I was awake very early, so I had coffee with Mom and Dad downstairs and did some reading while we waited for the others to wake up. Around 10:30AM, the three sleeping creatures finally emerged from their rooms, gifts wrapped and ready to go. We spent the next hour and a half opening gifts to the backdrop of Hanson’s Snowed In album. Perfection. I got some fun presents, like a new pair of black slides and Michelle Obama’s new autobiography, and some solid practical ones too, like new running shorts and a power pack for traveling. Great success!

Following gifts, we had a delicious brunch prepared by Chef Mama Bear, went for a walk at Duke Island Park together, and then napped before the evening festivities. That night, we went to my cousin Meghan’s, where the whole Hayden clan was waiting. Like the night before, it was so fun to be with my whole family again, and really made me miss being at home with the people that know me best. *Cue emotional crisis about living abroad*

Well, Christmas was quite the hectic few days. The next day was spent completely horizontal, by myself and other five. Dad and I had a few errands to run, but besides that, we layed around, really unable to do anything but chat, read and watch TV. Sloth life at its very best. The following morning was much the same, outside of a nice, long walk around Duke Farms. In the evening, Matt and I headed into the city to meet Larissa (who had left the day before), and the Olesnycky cousins for dinner. A gathering with that group of people is classically characterized by immense rowdiness and debauchery, and that evening did not disappoint. We roasted and toasted each other, made the best of friends with our waiter, and promised to make it annual.

The next day, Friday, contained a big highlight: HAIRCUT. As an Westerner, finding a decent haircut in Singapore is epically difficult, so I avoid it at all costs. But my hair was in bad need of trimming, so I was especially excited for a half-day of pampering, catching up with my favorite stylist Suzette (who I promised a shoutout in this post!), and all the salon goodness that comes with getting a haircut (yes fellas, ladies’ haircut experiences are the real deal). I left the Gatsby that day feeling good as new. Or fresh to death, as the kids say. Another highlight of Friday was ordering for dinner my one food request: American Chinese food. An odd request coming from Singapore, you might say, but let me make a bold statement right here: American Chinese food is legions better than the real thing. General Tso’s Chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and fortune cookies galore. So much goodness. Hey, it’s the small things.

Saturday, my last day at home. Or so I thought. After a nice day spent relaxing and going for one last leisurely hike with Dad, it was time to head to the airport. I packed almost everything I had brought, except for a small item called a passport. Only as we pulled up to Newark Airport did I realize I had left my entire bag, with my passport, laptop and wallet, in the kitchen, during the frenzy to get out the door. Face palm.

We stayed (mostly) calm, with no help from the airline or the third-party vendor I booked the ticket with (lesson learned), but I was able to get on a TAP Portugal flight the following evening and an Emirates flight back to Singapore on the 6th of January. A bit of a delay and a significantly expensive mistake to make, but I’m a bright-side person: it meant an extra day at home with my family (still didn’t make it easier to say goodbye!), including an evening of basketball watching and a family lunch at our favorite restaurant, and two extra days in Portugal with my other family. Small wins.

José, who laughed at my error but did manage to achieve the biggest eye-roll I’ve ever seen from a human being, scooped me up from the airport when I finally did reach Lisbon. The sun was just rising when I arrived, so we headed to the hotel and grabbed breakfast first thing, with a beautiful view of the city staring up at us. We had a nice, long breakfast, chatting mostly about my idiotic missing of the flight, but also about our Christmas breaks and plan for the next few days. We spent the morning relaxing, dropping our bags off in the room when it was ready, changing and freshening up, and then heading out to meet the Viana Baptista squad! Afternoon took us to a nice seaside restaurant, where we also enjoyed a nice, long meal, catching up and enjoying seeing each other again for the first time since July. Unfortunately, Pedro and Rita weren’t able to join us for lunch, but we were very much looking forward to all being together the following evening for dinner. Following lunch, we cruised around the city on our rented motorbike (with me feeling oh-so-European), grabbed a few items we needed for New Year’s Eve that night, and heading back to the hotel to primp for the night.

New Year’s Eve was spent at Zé’s friend Marta’s house (another INSEADer), who is a fabulous host and cook, so there was lots to eat and drink. His cousin João and his girlfriend Stef, who I met this summer in London, where also there, and it was great catching up. Later in the evening, Roisin and a few friends who were also spending New Years in Lisbon, came by after midnight, so I was able to see her for a bit. Just after 1AM, we headed to a bar/club in town, danced for a bit, had a few more drinks, and called it a night. Calling it a night on purpose? Staying hydrated with water between drinks throughout the night? It was the most adult New Years I have ever had. And it felt great.

Due to the late-ish night and the jetlag, the next morning passed us by, and we woke up at 2PM. I know the parents reading this right now are cringing remembering our teenage days, but hey, we needed the sleep! From there, the day was obviously a short one, but we managed to eat a healthy poke bowl lunch on the river at LOCAL, and get ourselves together in time for dinner at A Casa de Viana Baptista, where Rita and Pedro (and a few family friends, the wonderful Perloiros, who I know are reading this blog, hello!) were able to join for a fun and delicious meal. And this time, even José joined us! (Anddddd he’s going to kill me for writing this)

I have always wanted to visit his family house in Sesimbra, a coastline town about one hour south of Lisbon. We managed to wake up early on Wednesday and make the trip down, and I’m so glad we did. The weather was beautiful, with the sun shining warmly on us all day, so the drive down was great. Being there was very sentimental, as I got to see where Zé spent his summers growing up. He took me around the town, to the coastline, to the Moorish Castle of Sesimbra, and to the cape/cliff Cabo Espichel, with a beautiful view of the sea down below. After our half day of sightseeing, we headed into town for a (very) long seafood lunch, which took us into sunset; one that was colorful and extra vibrant that night. It was a lovely, lovely day, and one of my favorite of the trip. That evening, we got the chance to stop by Zé’s grandmother’s house in Lisbon for her 85th birthday, and I was even lucky enough to meet most of his aunts and uncles from Luis’ side that evening, too, as they were also at the house. Hooray! After a quick stop there, we changed quickly in the hotel and then headed out again for dinner at Zé’s friends house, Flor and João. They were great company, and had prepared a delicious dinner for us in their lovely home. We stayed for hours chatting and drinking after dinner, particularly because they had recently gotten married and were regaling tales of wedding planning. More wine, please!

We were super lazy the next morning, once again, due in part to jetlag but also in part to the noteworthy blackout curtains at the Sheraton Lisbon. I mean, world-class quality. In the afternoon, we headed into town for some shopping and walking around, followed by a visit to Zé’s friends, who just had a beautiful baby boy: just three weeks old, ah! Like I said, a very ‘adult’ trip. That evening, we went to a networking/panel event for MBA graduates like Mr. Zé, this one focused on the topic of dual-career couples. The informal panel featured two former senior partners from McKinsey who raised six children together, and it was incredibly insightful and inspiring. After the event, the two of us headed out to a casual but trendy bar in town, and had lots to discuss. The event really gave us some food for thought!

Ugh, Friday. I woke up with an uneasy stomach like I haven’t had in years, and spent most of the day resting in bed. Possible food poisoning from our seafood lunch in Sesimbra? (If so…worth it. That lunch was epic). Zé was patient and helped nurse me through the day, and helped me through our attempt to sit down to a casual lunch at a restaurant called Paleo Kitchen nearby. I wasn’t up for much, and unfortunately I had to miss the dinner he had planned for us with his friends that night. But, in the end, I was happy to relax in the hotel, watch some TV and recover.

I woke up on Saturday feeling better, but then it was Zé’s turn to be ill. His stomach condition was much more mild than mine, luckily, and we were able to engage in some low-key eating and walking around that day. We had lunch at Paleo Kitchen again, and headed to Cascais (a beach town about 30 minutes from Lisbon, convenient, beautiful and perfect for those looking to retire soon, cough cough Mom and Dad) in the afternoon. The last time I was in Portugal, in 2009 during my exchange in Madrid, I visited Cascais and was absolutely taken with its natural beauty. I had always known I wanted to go back, and I’m endlessly happy that I did. The beach and town are just as romantic and breathtaking as I remember them. We stayed about two hours, snapped a few photos, and then headed back to Lisbon for our final dinner with the VBs for this trip, which was marked by more laughter, stories, family photos, Pedro and Graça on guitar, Mariana, Rita and Alexandra singing, Luis drawing, and Zé and I taking it all in. Oh, and delicious risotto.

Sunday morning marked my last day in Portugal, and it went by quickly: breakfast, packing, airport time. This time, however, was magical in a way: Zé will be moving to Singapore at the end of January, and Pedro and Rita will get married in May, so I will see this group of wonderful humans again very, very soon. It made it much easier to say goodbye, because it was simply a ‘see you later.’

Upon my arrival back in Singapore, my good friend from Syracuse, Steph, and her boyfriend Brett, who have been traveling around Asia for the last few weeks, were in town, and I got dinner with them that night. It was a great welcome home that even further reminded me how many good people there are in my life. If this trip was in any way reflective of the upcoming year, I have a very good feeling about 2019.

Some photos from my trip to New Jersey:


Some photos from my trip to Lisbon:


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