One of the events that helps to keep us sane during the pandemic is that Jonathan comes over every weekend to play tennis and have lunch with us. Outside of grocery shopping and playing tennis with John, it is about the only thing that we do.
It feels like a real event. I spend time planning what we can eat for lunch and enlisting Sarah to help. We have had burgers, sausages, tacos, and fajitas so far. I am running out of good ideas!!
Today is Alex’s birthday and we are going over to Ryan and Jon’s for a birthday brunch. Sarah has made macaroons for the occasion and John and I have gotten her a gift certificate from her favorite game streaming service and a bunch of small things from Daiso. I cannot believe that she is 14! Happy Birthday, Alex!
Today is mostly a driving day and settling into Portland. When we get up this morning it is soooo cold. Ice is on the windshield! What a big difference from home! I am really glad I bought a winter jacket.
For lunch I find a Vietnamese restaurant, Ba’s Vietnamese Comfort Food, in Albany, OR. We are looking forward to a big bowl of beef pho. Of course when we get there the only thing they are out of is beef pho. We settle for chicken pho. This pho is different from the pho we had near Vancouver. It is sweeter, the noodles are different, and does not have an egg. It also is not served with spicy condiments. When we were in Vietnam we learned the spicy food is in the North and sweeter dishes come from the South around Saigon. Maybe the owners of Ba’s came from the South.
We reach Portland around 3 PM and check into our hotel, The Benson. We stayed here in 2007 when we came up to see the U.S. win the Davis Cup. Our room is large with lots of windows but the bathroom is tiny. No place to put anything!
Our goal this afternoon is to relax, shower, check out the hotel’s Sippin’ Hour, and go to Jake’s for dinner. We need to fulfill our quest for razor clams which we have not had since 2007.
When we go to Jake’s we are not disappointed. There are razor clams on the menu! These delightful clams are only in season during the winter and are dependent on weather conditions. They dig them up by hand, pound them thin to tenderize, and fry the clam in bread crumbs. So good!
On Saturday, February 8, John and I meet Ryan and Jon for a belated 43rd birthday celebration at the Black Sheep Brasserie in San Jose. We have a really good time! We start off with a champagne toast compliments of the restaurant. Our server, Tyler, is very knowledgeable about all the things on the menu. We start with a charcuterie plate which has, among other things, a really delicious duck pate. Among the four of us we order skate wings creamy cauliflower chowder, pork cheeks, onion soup, French fries, and incredibly delicious brussels sprouts.
I am so excited to be meeting Sophie in San Antonio. I have not been with her for almost two years. Way too long! I meet her at the airport and we are all smiles and hugs. We get our rental car and head to the Residence Inn near the center of downtown.
The first night we have dinner at a Mexican place near the end of the Riverwalk called Maria Mia’s. We eat seafood tacos. There will be a lot of seafood tacos over the next few days.
One thing that we want to make sure we do is take lots of pictures of us and where we visited. I think we accomplish that goal. We turn out not to be very good at selfies but lots of times there are willing tourists to take a picture of us together. Another thing we want to accomplish is lots of talking. We definitely accomplish that! Our hotel room has a nice sitting area where we talk for hours about our kids and grandkids, our husbands, trips we have been on, the terrible state of politics in the U.S., and lots of other random stuff. It is so great!!
On our first full day we visit The Alamo. The woman we rent the audio guides from tells us that it takes about 45 minutes to use the guide and see The Alamo. Hah! She doesn’t know us! It takes us 3 hours!
The Alamo is quite small but there are so many interesting facts. I only knew that it was involved in Texas independence and that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie died there. We are hearing and seeing a lot more history than that! Lots of stuff about who was fighting there, what their causes were, and how it affected the U.S. as a whole.
Towards the end of our Alamo visit I am so tired and thirsty that I am seeing spots in front of my eyes. I think it is time for some food and a little sit-down. We walk to the nearest place we can find, Menger’s Bar, passing a statue of Teddy Roosevelt who sought volunteers for his Rough Riders while he was eating and carousing at Menger’s Bar.
It seems that the only person in the bar/restaurant is one guy. We give him our order and wait. And wait. We check with the barman who says the food is on its way. And we wait and wait. After an hour we are about ready to give up when the barman goes to the kitchen to find out what is going on. Finally we get our lunch. We are getting it for free due to the wait. Of course we had plenty to talk about and pictures to take while we waited.
After our very late lunch we go back to the room to chat and to have a little rest. Both of us fall asleep! In the evening we walk over to ORO, a restaurant in a nearby hotel. It is pretty much deserted except for some bar patrons. We have some fish and vegetables. It is pretty good although the fish is a little overcooked.
The next day is our Riverwalk day. Our introduction to the Riverwalk on the first night we were here was something like being in the middle of a food court with some water running through it. The famous San Antonio Riverwalk must be more than that! And it is. We walk up past the Alamo to La Villita, a little artsy village in San Antonio. Monday seems to be a pretty quiet day in La Villita with many shops closed or out of business. We look in one shop where they have a cross between tourist schlock and native pieces. We head down to the Riverwalk in the La Villita area. It is much prettier and quieter in this part of the Riverwalk. There are wide sidewalks with lots of flowers and the occasional bench to sit on. We take some pictures along the way.
We decide to take the little boat that plies the Riverwalk river (the San Antonio River). We meet some other people who think our idea of meeting in different places is a good one. We have a big conversation with them while waiting for the boat. On the boat our guide tells us about the history of the Riverwalk and how it was originally built for flood control. He points out the flood control features. He lets us in on what parts are natural river and what is man made. He points out a restaurant that is the oldest on the river. We decide to go there for a late lunch.
After deciding it is too cold to enjoy lunch outside we head into Casa Rio. I once again have seafood tacos and Sophie has the biggest taco salad I have ever seen!
Once again we finish lunch fairly late in the afternoon and decide to walk back to the hotel for some good girl talk and a little rest. Tonight we shall dine at Acenar, a restaurant that has been recommended. It is kind of a long walk in the dark and there are some sketchy characters along the way. We decide to walk back a different way.
Hey, I remember to take pictures of the food tonight. I have, you guessed it, fish tacos with black beans and rice. Sophie, who is still full from the gigantic lunch salad, gets three shrimp street tacos. The food is good and our walk back along the Riverwalk is pretty although pretty dark.
For our last full day of our trip we choose to go to the San Antonio Art Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden. San Antonio as it turns out has a very nice art museum. Among other things it has a Deposition panel by the workshop of Lorenzo Monaco and two John Singer Sargent portraits. There is an impressive Chinese ceramics wing and lots of early 20th century American paintings which look much like European Impressionism of the late 19th century. Sophie and I have a little fun doing our take of the Sargent portraits.
Then it is on to the Japanese Tea Garden. It is built in an abandoned quarry. It was renamed the Chinese Tea Garden during WWII when the Japanese-American architect of the garden was also thrown out of his house on the property. Anyway the architect and his family were invited back after the end of the war and the name was changed back to Japanese Tea Garden. It is lovely with water features, koi, and a great variety of plants.
For our final dinner we opt to go to the top of the Tower of the Americas. The Tower of the Americas is a 750-foot observation tower with the Chart House restaurant revolving 360 degrees near the top. It was built as the theme structure of the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68.
In order to keep the view of the surrounding city visible, it is necessary to keep the lights very low. Sophie and I have to use the flashlight feature of our phones to read the menu! Really none of our pictures turned out well at all. Here is the best one of Sophie.
The next day was departure day. We were sad to leave each other after such a wonderful time together. We have made a pact to see each other a few times a year either on the East Coast, the West Coast or somewhere in between!
Since I am not going to be home for the official Sam’s birthday party, we go over to Ryan and Jon’s for a family celebration on the actual day. It is hard to believe that Sam is 11. How time flies!
We have some gifts for Sam and Sarah has made him a bunch of cookies. Since his birthday theme is Shark Tank we get him a stuffed shark which he likes. We also give him a new Pokémon game for his Nintendo Switch and a apparatus for making copies of pictures you like by tracing.
After present-opening time, we go to Fiesta Del Mar for lunch. Alex opts to stay home. Sam has chicken street tacos, his favorite. Everyone gets something they like. After lunch I suggest some birthday dessert but Ryan and Jon have already promised a trip to an ice cream place so they head off to get ice cream and we go home.
One of the first things happening in 2020 is a visit from Eileen and Jim Kendall. They are on their way home from visiting Ali and Van, Eli and Vea. They were going to spend a night in a hotel but I suggest that if they can manage in a double bed that they are welcome to stay here. They accept and we have a nice dinner and some good conversation and, a special bonus, Jim sings and plays some of his new songs on his guitar.
I am trying to keep the menu healthy since we are still on the diet. I plan a chickpea stew and a golden beet and blood orange salad. It seems to go over well. We also kill off a couple of bottles of wine and some snacks but who’s counting that!!
We stay up laughing, talking, and reminiscing about the “old” days. But as you can see from their picture, they have hardly changed at all since our days in Hopkinton.
Lots of goings-on in December! After we managed to leave our Southeast Asian jet lag fog behind, we started off by trying to make the Vietnamese sour soup in our own kitchen. It turned out pretty well! Plus searching for ingredients at the Asian market was fun.
One of the first weekends in December Jon, Alex, and Sam came over to help decorate our Christmas tree. It turned out looking beautiful. Afterwards we all went out to lunch.
George and I celebrated our birthdays on December 8 at Albatross in Danville. I forgot to take pictures. The restaurant turned out to be quite an albatross!
Before Christmas Sarah spent four days making a Panettone and it turned out pretty much like the one we had in Florence last year. So delicious!
Unfortunately on Pilat Eve many of us were sick. Sarah was just starting to get over her bad cold and I had just caught it. Sam was sick too and Ryan stayed home with him. We had some delicious bites but saved the singing for Christmas Day at Jonathan and Ryan’s. I did make an annual favorite, rum cake!
On Christmas morning John, Sarah, and I exchanged gifts and had our traditional breakfast, bagels and lox with Schneider Weiss beer.
Later on we went to Jonathan and Ryan’s for Christmas dinner. Jon did a fabulous job cooking a a prime rib roast, mashed potatoes, death by broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and I brought along creamed spinach and John made gravy. After dinner we all sat around and sang Christmas carols following the bouncing ball on YouTube.
I spent the rest of December trying to recuperate from my cold so New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair. We made a scallop dinner for ourselves and were in bed by 10 P.M.
The last day of our trip and Bangkok is on the schedule. We have decided not to go on the excursion. We just cannot imagine a two to three hour trip each way on the bus. The temperatures today are supposed to be in the mid-90s with lots of humidity. I am still coughing from my cold and John is toured-out. We will have to visit Bangkok another time when we feel up to it.
It is lovely being on the ship without all the other people. Yesterday we could not find a seat for lunch but today we have the dining room pretty much to ourselves. Wish we still wanted to eat cruise food!
Update: 11/30/19. We are home having spent 26 hours in transit bus riding, waiting and layover, two plane rides (and the rigmarole associated with air transportation), and the car ride home. We each slept about 20 minutes over that 26 hours.
On the way to the Bangkok airport, Thailand looks much more developed than Vietnam and Cambodia. As we drive along the modern highways the terrain is flat with palm trees and little lakes and waterways. It looks a lot like Florida! There are communities of apartments which appear to have air conditioners. There is a lot of commerce and industry. I regret not seeing Bangkok on Thursday but do not regret missing the excursion. There has to be a better way to visit!
Here are three pictures of a fabulous statue in the Bangkok airport. It was so enormous that I had to take all three. It is called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Based on a Hindu story, the Devas (demons) formed an alliance with the Asuras (gods)to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among themselves. A mountain was brought as a turning point and a serpent was twisted around it to rotate the mountain. Vishnu, the chief Hindu god, sits on top of the mountain to stabilize it
Would I do this particular Viking trip again? No. I think this is mostly because the ports where Viking docked were mostly so far away from the things you wanted to see that we were scrunched on buses for hours, usually around 4 hours round trip. A 6.5 hour excursion was actually only 2.5 hours of actual experience. Trust me, an Asian bus is more suited to smaller Asians than tall and wide Americans.
On the other hand, it was an unforgettable experience. From sparkling Hong Kong with its fabulous setting, its clean, beautiful high rise towers, and wonderful every night harbor light show to Cambodia’s sad squalor we got to see four unique countries. The people were lovely. They were full of kindness and smiles for us which is amazing considering the fact that their history with outsiders from the Vietnam war to the massacre of the Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge and now the impingement of China in Hong Kong has been devastating to them.