We get up early to see Ha long Bay in the first morning light. It is quite overcast this morning so the jewel-like color are muted. Nonetheless the limestone islets soaring up from the sea and topped with thick vegetation are pretty impressive. No wonder this area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will explore the islands by junk tomorrow.
Today our main activity is a trip to a farming village where we meet a family, have tea with them, and see a water puppet show. Our guide, Moon, is pretty rah rah Vietnam is the best. These best things include pearls, coffee, pretty women, rice, fishing, and being invaded. The reason why they are best at being invaded? Because of all their other best things that everyone wants. But good on her for being proud of her country.
We travel through Ha Long Bay city where there are a lot of apartment buildings and hotels which seem pretty deserted. Maybe it is not the tourist season? It takes us about an hour to get to the village. There are only nine people on our tour which is great. There are rice paddies all around the village. It is the dry season now so the rice has been harvested. They will plant again in the spring. An older lady, Mrs. Pham, welcomes us to her house, gives us hot tea, and shows us around. She has a big genealogy tree on the wall showing how her family started out with one guy and now the family has over two hundred members. We are also invited to use their bathroom which, as feared, is not western style. There is also a giant spider on the wall. I decide not to brave the facilities or the spider.
After talking for a while we head over to the water puppet theater. The puppets are made out of jackfruit wood which is light and buoyant. After a short singing segment by two ladies in a rowboat, the water puppets appear in the water from behind a screen. The stories are about rural life—planting rice and catching fish. It is told in a humorous way. We are served watermelon and cake with tea. After this we head back to the ship. Moon suggests we might stop at a pearl place but I am falling asleep and not up for a forced buying demonstration. So I vote to veto the plan. Yay! The noes win!
Later this evening we go to the Chef’s Table for dinner where we have a lovely dinner and a fine chat with the manager, chef, and sommelier. The manager tells us that we are his favorite couple and I tell him he is our favorite restaurant manager. Tonight’s dinner is Asian Panorama. All the portions are small so I feel like I can enjoy everything without feeling guilty.
We depart Hong Kong just before the escalated trouble starts. Even though we did not see any demonstrations, trying to get from place to place was difficult. I imagine that the threatened, heavy-handed response by the Chinese government will only make matters worse.
We take off for Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, which I was informed by my friend, Rose, at the nail salon, is very beautiful and the site of the most recent King Kong movie. Tomorrow we will visit a rural farm, learn about rice cultivation, and see a water puppet show. Originally we had booked a nine hour excursion to Hanoi on Monday only to find out that the nine hours are filled with 6 to 7 hours on a bus getting there and back. Too much bus time! We have also discovered that hand sanitizer and tissues have been left in our cabin to use for the less than hygienic bathroom situation on the excursions. (Oh, dear) Then on Tuesday we will board a junk for a ride among the limestone islands of Ha Long Bay.
We fritter Sunday away with dining, a port talk, and napping. The water is very calm not at all like our Atlantic crossing last year. I must publish at least one picture of our horrible meal last night. We go to the regular restaurant called The Restaurant, where we choose the “Destination Menu.” We really are hoping for some authentic Asian food. The menu consisted of a spicy shrimp appetizer (which was not spicy) and Hainanese chicken. Below is a picture of the chicken.
The chicken is a dry, bland, poached breast, with a pile of bland white rice, warm cucumber slices, and two bland sauces. It is laughably terrible. I am very sorry for the Hainanese people if this is what they eat!
Today we take a tour of Hong Kong. First we go up to Victoria peak. Originally we were supposed to take the tram but the protests have closed that avenue of transportation. The views from this highest peak are amazing. Hong Kong is a tightly packed city of 7.5 million people mostly living in endless high rises. We spend some time walking around and taking pictures.
A note about bathrooms. When we were in China several years ago many of the bathrooms were Asian style (no toilet) and we women had to line up for the one American style toilet. I had read on the internet how to manage using an Asian style porcelain hole in the ground, practiced at home, and mastered it. But I find, several years older with knee problems, and I can no longer manage it. So finding American style toilets is a concern for me and most of the ladies on the bus. Fred, our tour guide, refers to bathrooms as “happy rooms”. At first I did not understand what he was talking about. Come on, Fred, it is 2019 we can hear the word toilet without swooning!
Next it is off to the Stanley Market and we are given about an hour and a half to look around. It is a warren of very small schlock shops. John and I know that shopping is not what we want to do so we wander around for a while and decide to kill some time at a pub and have a beer and an avocado toast. We spend a pleasant 45 minutes and then head back to the bus.
Next up is a ride on a sampan. After our adventure on the Bosporus we should be wary. We take a ride around a small harbor in Aberdeen. As in Turkey, our captain speaks no English and often abandons the rudder to take pictures of the victims on the boat. At least on this boat ride we are not surrounded by super tankers! In the harbor there are lots of small working boats, luxury yachts, houseboats, and floating restaurants.
After our ride we get stuck in the monumental traffic brought on by the protests. We are supposed to be back at 1:30 but it has taken an hour and a half to go about 10 miles due to the unrest which we do not see but feel the effects of. Fred, who manages to talk the entire time, is concerned about the economic impact. There are many fewer tourists in Hong Kong. After finance tourism is the second largest industry. Fred is quite open and frank about the Chinese takeover in 1997. He says nothing much has changed. They still have freedom but no democracy. However most of his family emigrated to the US and Canada before the handover. He seems kind of on the fence about the protesters.
We have missed lunch but wisely the Viking people have left one venue open for the returning guests. It is a giant scrum of people trying to get food. I eat whatever has the fewest number of people in front of it—some fish, rice, and the dreaded “seasonal vegetables.”
Later we have a safety drill and a face-to-face immigration inspection where some officials make sure we are the people in our passports. Finally we have dinner around 8PM. We meet the very congenial manager of the Chef’s Table who invites to come as often as we would like, the chef who wants us to be as happy as possible, and the lovely team of servers. The Chef’s Table is a set menu with wine pairings. We have a nice dinner seated at a window with a view of the Hong Kong harbor light show.
It has been a very busy last couple of days with little sleep and we fall asleep immediately upon hitting our pillows. Nonetheless we only sleep for about 5 1/2 hours before jet lag catches up with us. Tomorrow is a day at sea and I imagine lots of napping.
This is definitely the year of sister visits. It has been a long time since either of them have ventured out to the West Coast. Peggy decided that Phyllis’s adventure out to see me sounded so good that she wanted to do exactly the same thing. With Sarah as our stalwart driver we ventured up to Wine Country twice, had lunch at Zeni’s, took tea in Niles, visited with Jonathan and family, and had George and Karen over for lunch. Here are some pictures from her visit.
On the 11th we drove all day to get to Boise. So not much time to hunt out things to write about although we did have lunch in Arco, Idaho, the first town of nuclear energy, and that was pretty interesting. We listened to a waitress talk about how in 1955 their town was the first to have been totally lit up by nuclear power coming from reactors at the nearby Idaho National Laboratory. She remarked that now the lab was removing nuclear waste from the ground and putting it into containers where it wouldn’t leak out. Scary stuff, I’d say.
Since we changed our plans we have to shuffle our hotels around and we cannot stay at the Residence Inn where we first booked in Boise. Instead we are staying at the Riverside Best Western Premiere which turns out to be not so premiere. I book the honeymoon suite since we like extra space and John is my honey. Unfortunately it is a rather dark suite that smells musty and whose bathroom is painted a rather unfortunate shade of dark brown.
On Thursday we are up early and ready to explore Boise! Since Boise is a state capital, the first place we visit is their be-domed building. Seriously, I will have to visit all 50 capitals to find out if there are any without domes! Idaho was admitted to the Union in 1890 and their building was completed in 1905. It’s architects went for a classical look. It has lots of columns. The three types—Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian are all represented. Atop its dome is a 5’7” eagle. We cannot find a parking space so I just run out and snap a picture and then hustle back into the car before the Capitol Cops can bother us.
The plan for the rest of the day includes the Botanic Garden, the Old Penitentiary, and the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. We also want to drive around and look at the local architecture as well. The Botanic Garden and the Old Penitentiary are right next to each other so we decide to begin there.
But, no, it is not to be! Right next to these two tourist sites is the aptly named Outlaw Field, home to large scale gatherings. Tonight is a concert by Foreigner and everything is closed! We kind of look around on our own as much as we can and no one comes to throw us out. We are hoping for a sound check since they seem to be fussing around with the amps but no luck.
The part of the Botanic Garden that we can see looks pretty scraggly. We think the better part must be behind the Foreigner stage. There is an interesting sculpture and something that looks like a mini-Stonehenge within our viewing area.
Next we meander over to the nearby closed Old Penitentiary. I am not sure why this is a tourist attraction. The Old Idaho Penitentiary functioned as a prison from 1872 to 1973. The structure started out as single cell house in the Idaho Territory in 1870. It grew into several buildings surrounded by a 17’ sandstone wall. Since we cannot get in we take some pictures of the outer walls and buildings.
After this is our drive-around time. Boise is much bigger than Helena. And in fact Idaho is the fastest growing state in the United States. The city has lots of important-looking buildings due to state government, an art museum, and a history museum. The history museum also backs up to Outlaw Field and we assume it is closed too. In the historic district are many Victorian and Craftsman style homes. The whole area is like a green island floating in the arid high desert.
We have frittered away the morning and early afternoon and I suggest we have hot dogs at Costco for lunch. John is all in. We find the Boise Costco and after a mild panic over whether either of us brought a Costco card along on the trip (I did!), head in for this yummy treat. In Boise a hot dog and a soda only costs $1.50! So for $3.00 we have a tasty lunch.
After a small siesta we go back out to see the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. It is beautiful place of contemplation. All around are quotes from civil rights leaders, old and new. Boise seems an odd place for this memorial with its Declaration of Civil Rights and moving quotes since northern Idaho is a draw for the Aryan Nation and other white supremacist groups. Indeed, the memorial was vandalized in 2017. But contributions were raised to repair the damage. Perhaps this is a very apt place for the memorial and its center with outreach programs to schools and the community.
Later for dinner we walk over to Joe’s Crab Shack and have a very mediocre dinner.
The last two days are a long trip through uninhabited country. In fact it is stunning to see how empty Montana, Idaho, and Nevada are. John and I have a long conversation in the car about how coming from a populous state such as California, Texas, or Florida cheapens your vote.
Maybe we could have made it all the way home on Friday but we stop in Reno for an overnight and finish up on Saturday. We dine in Winnemucca, Nevada on Friday for lunch and add Mexican to our list of cuisines.
On this trip, along with good old American food, we have had Canadian, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, and German food. We have enjoyed these ethnic cuisines a lot. Most of the rest of our dining has been pretty mediocre. We saw some great stuff and enjoyed our fellow travelers. I think we have thoroughly seen this part of the country with our several trips and next summer we will need to find something new to do.
I have so much love and gratitude for my traveling companion who did almost all the driving with my sometimes terrible navigation. John has an amazing breadth of knowledge and shares it with me as we travel along. I do give myself credit for planning a pretty busy trip. I book all the hotels, make dinner reservations and find interesting things to do. We make an excellent team.
This was a trip in celebration of John’s 70th birthday. I hope he and I can continue with our adventures for many years to come. Happy Birthday, John!
We are spending two days here in Vancouver. Today our plan is to go to Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. We have discovered that Canadians celebrate Labor Day too, except they call it Labour Day. This is Labour Day weekend and all the trouble I went through to avoid the holiday crowds in the U.S. is for naught. So we head out to Stanley Park as soon as it opens hoping to avoid some crowds.
Our first stop is at the Aquarium. There are not many people here yet. Yay!
Inside there is a lot of information on keeping plastics out of the sea environment. Plastics break down into micro-plastics which find their way into fish and birds. Here are some exhibits we see.
All the exhibits show the links to British Columbia—where each specie lives and what its habitat is like.
We also see a 4-D movie which is really for kids but we enjoy it. There are lots of bubbles floating around and when there is a splash we get squirted. It is fun.
After leaving the aquarium we drive around the park stopping to look at different things. There is a good view of the Lion’s Gate Bridge which we came over. I was not driving!!
We also stop at the hollow tree. It’s a dead Western Red Cedar. It apparently means a lot to the people of Vancouver because when it was damaged in a storm in 2006 and the park wanted to remove it, a big todo was made and money was raised privately to stand it back up and put a framework inside to keep it from falling down. What people do here is have their picture taken inside the tree. So that is what we did.
Later in the afternoon we go to Walmart to pick up a few needed articles like a new pillow and pillowcase to replace the one I left in Nanaimo. (Luckily they are sending it back.) We stop at Halima Grill for some lentils and brown rice. (More ethnic food!)
We don’t want to eat much today because tonight we are going out to our favorite restaurant which we try to make it up to Vancouver especially to eat in each year. Maenam is a Thai restaurant (another ethnic restaurant!) which was voted best new restaurant several years ago and is still living up to its accolade. Unusually, they have a five or six course tasting menu which gives you lots of small tastes. I also have to mention that John did a super job finding a parking space and parallel parking right across the street from the restaurant.
Next is a bunch of food pictures so we will remember what we had.
It is all delicious! Of course it is too much to eat and I have to let John finish up a few dishes which he doesn’t seem to mind at all!
I suggested to Phyllis that she might like to come out for a visit while she is not working. I was so amazed and pleased when she agreed to come. I plan a busy week that mostly works out well. We both have a great visit.
Our first adventure is on Thursday, August 1. With Sarah as our driver we take a trip up to Sonoma Wine Country. We stop at the Olive Press in the Jacuzzi Winery. We sample and buy some olive oil and vinegar and then do a small tasting of their wines. It is not busy and the man behind the bar looks like he could use some patronage.
After this we go to Imagery Winery where we have a very nice tasting. I am so glad that Phyllis enjoys the wines and the experience. She even joins the wine club! Then we hurry over to Sonoma Square for our lunch at The Girl and the Fig where we have a tasty lunch and even order dessert, a fig bread pudding with salted caramel and cocoa nibs.
Our last tasting at Three Sticks Winery in Sonoma is our least fun of the day. We had to make a reservation for a pricy tasting and tour of their adobe. The person assigned to us has a very lackluster attitude towards us. We sip their very few offerings because they are mostly sold out of everything. The tour is interesting, the wines are good, but the presentation is really lacking.
Then we are stuck in horrendous traffic on the way home.
On Friday we have a date for tea at Tyme for Tea in Niles, CA. Sarah comes with us and we order the sparkling Victorian tea which comes with a glass of champagne, scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam, various sandwiches, and desserts along with a personal choice pot of tea. It is all pretty delicious but there is so much food!! We have to bring some of the desserts home because we just cannot eat it all. And speaking of home, once more we are stuck in horrendous traffic on the way home.
On Saturday after a giant breakfast at Bill’s Cafe Phyllis and I brave the Farmer’s Market in downtown Pleasanton. We are looking for ingredients for a vegetable paella which we are planning to make tonight. There are so many stalls with so many vegetables and so many people shopping! One of the vendors is particularly aggressive with me. She keeps shoving samples that I do not want to eat in my face. We quickly buy the rest of the produce we need and head home. Later in the day we stop at the grocery store for the rest of our ingredients. The paella comes out very well and John, Phyllis, and I enjoy it. (Plus we enjoy the leftovers for several days!)
On Sunday we meet Jonathan and Ryan for lunch at Zeni’s. It is a favorite of ours and we are really hoping that Phyllis likes it. I took Peggy to lunch here and I am not sure that she really enjoyed herself although she says she liked it. Anyway, it is so great for Phyllis to see Jonathan again and he remarks to me later that he did not remember Phyllis being so funny. We all have a wonderful time with each other and the food although Phyllis cannot quite get over that the injera looks like Ace bandages!!
We head to Jon and Ryan’s afterward to meet up with Leigh, Sam, and Alex. The visit does not go quite as planned since an old friend from Iceland stops by with his daughter. The kids get very rambunctious. The friend does not seem to know that he should leave so we do.
Monday and it is time for another trip to Wine Country, this time in Napa. Sarah is our driver again. We have a lovely tasting at Sherwin Family Winery off Spring Mountain Road. The wine is good and the setting is beautiful. Phyllis signs up for the wine club and I buy a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon. Sarah busies herself taking selfies around the grounds while Phyllis and I enjoy the wines.
For lunch we stop at Gott’s Roadside, the iconic place to eat in Napa Valley, We stand in line to order and sit at picnic tables. We all have hamburgers and French fries. Remembering the terrible traffic from Thursday we decide to head for home after lunch.
Is it Tuesday already?! Tonight Phyllis is catching the red eye so at least we have today to continue our visit. We have lunch and a nice talk at Delatorre’s and for dinner we use up the rest of our Farmer’s Market produce and Sarah’s bounteous tomatoes.
Around 8:30 PM we head to SFO. I can tell that Phyllis is nervous and we are glad that we go into the terminal with her because everything is pretty confusing. Luckily she has gotten TSA pre-check so at least security is less of an ordeal. Very bravely she waves good bye and I feel teary that my little sister is on her way home after what seems like a very short visit. I hope she will come again!!!
We are excitedly looking forward to our anniversary celebration. The day has certainly started off well with a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses!
We head up to Healdsburg for an overnight and dinner at SingleThread, a restaurant which has recently received 3 Michelin stars. We have eaten at Michelin starred places before and had some incredible meals so we are looking forward to a gastronomic extravaganza.
A pictorial rendition of our dinner –
This is the most expensive meal we have ever eaten. The blandness of the first five or so dishes is overwhelming. Along with the repetitive tastes and textures we have ordered the incredibly expensive wine pairing. The first five are all mineral forward white wines from France, Germany, and Austria. The pours are tiny. We figure they are charging about $100 a 6 oz. pour. We ask the sommelier to check back with us after we try the wine so we can discuss it or maybe even ask for something different. He ignores us completely.
At one point the serving person asks me how I liked the sake. I say that sake is not my favorite due to its floral taste. She haughtily asks me where else have I eaten? Like I am some sort of rube that just came in off the potato truck. I am taken aback.
In addition to being ignored and insulted the waitstaff also speaks in hushed whispers. We cannot hear half of what they are saying. Three times we ask them to speak more loudly. They ignore our requests.
There are some really tasty vegetables and bites that stand out in this meal. I give their kitchen staff 3 stars for tweezer use. I also enjoyed their bathroom with the Japanese toilet that opens up as you walk in and shines a purple light on the bowl. The padded seat is warm and inviting.
So next year on our anniversary we will dine at a favorite restaurant which will treat us with respect, have tasty, varied dishes, more and better wine, and not cost an embarrassing amount of money.
Today we celebrate three holidays in one – Christmas, Summer Solstice, and Fourth of July! I really like this outdoor celebration of Christmas where we have a cookout and presents seem more exciting since it has been several months since the last big gift-giving extravaganza. This is our second summer Christmas. Maybe we should do it every year!
Our long awaited trip up the Northern California coast from our house all the way to Trinidad, CA starts today! Since we have a lot of stuff and people we opt to take Jon’s van. As usual the grownups have long discussions about how and where to pack everything. Alex is definitely patient during this phase of the trip.
And finally we are off! Our first stop is at the Bay Model in Sausalito. The commute traffic is still raging so we have a somewhat longer trip than we anticipated. But everyone is in good spirits and I, of course, try to fill the time with scintillating facts about our first stop.
The Bay Model was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to predict the effects of various projects that impact the bay. It is about the size of two football fields and it is scaled according to area but magnified 10X in depth. The water flows in and out to replicate the tides. We don headphones to listen to the detailed information at the 25 listening stops. Sam is amazingly gung-ho in learning about the model. He really enjoys listening to and then finding the next stop.
We have been here with Jon and Sarah probably 25 years ago so we are all seeing this with fresh eyes.
After an hour or so we get back in the van. The ride up to Eureka, our first overnight stop, is about 3.5 hours away. First order of business is finding some lunch. We decide on eating at The Habit in Santa Rosa. Everyone enjoys their hamburgers and fries (or onion rings in Zayde’s case) and Jonathan announces that The Habit will now be his go-to burger place!
We drive for a couple of hours and the kids are really excellent in the car. They listen to podcasts on their headphones and take little naps. Around Leggett, CA we stop at a gas station with expensive gas only payable in cash and definitely a kind of creepy attendant. Surviving this Deliverance moment we add a trip to the Drive-Thru tree for some ice cream. Jon’s van is really too large to drive-thru the tree comfortably but it is fun to take pictures and watch other people drive their cars through.
Our final stop before Eureka is at the Avenue of the Giants Visitor Center. Unfortunately the Center closes at 5 PM and we get there at 4:45 PM. But it is enough time to see the big cross section of redwood with its rings dated and look at the exhibit about Charles Kellogg who extinguished a flame with his voice. This feat was not duplicated again until Jonathan did it on Mythbusters a few years ago.
Now it is a sprint to Eureka where we check into the Holiday Inn Express and find some dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery Pub. We have a fine dinner of Po’Boy, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Rueben sandwich, kid-size pizza, and fish and chips. These entrees are, of course, served with piles of French fries. We are off to healthy start to our vacation!