John and I have decided to take a little road trip this week. We are going to drive up to Portland, OR and poke around for a couple of days while eating some excellent seafood. It should be fun!
Day 1, Pleasanton to Ashland, OR
We get kind of a late start since I have to get B-12 shot first but by 9:40 we are on our way. Our first stop is at a random McDonald’s for egg McMuffins. We are trying to obey WW guidelines for breakfast and lunch so we omit the cheese and I only eat half the English muffin.
Although we have driven north on I-5 many times it is always interesting. After our tuna filet lunch at the Habit in Redding, we climb up out of the Central Valley towards the volcano, Mount Shasta, the most southerly volcano in the Cascade Range. It is covered in snow! We also pass the Shasta Lake reservoir and check the water levels. It looks better than a few years ago.
Later in the afternoon we reach our hotel, BW Windsor Inn, in Ashland, Oregon. We find the hotel rather dated but it is just for one night. Our room has a ridiculous array of pillows!
For dinner I have chosen the Brickroom in downtown Ashland. The food is very good and we have a great time taking pictures of the food and each other.
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.
If the first day of being in Cambodia was distressing, today is even more so. Our first stop is at a fishing village. Our guide tells us that most of the people in the countryside who are doing farming and the fishermen are uneducated. That must be nearly 80% of the people of Cambodia. The fishermen and their families look like they live in squalid, unsanitary conditions with the men going out at night to fish and returning in the morning and the women taking care of many children.
Our guide tells us that Cambodian people see the flies that are around the fish and produce in the markets are a good thing. He says if the food is not attracting flies then there must be something wrong with it. Considering that flies carry diseases, it is an odd concept. It also makes me wonder about the food we cooked yesterday!
Next we go to Independence Beach. This beach and its hotel were made famous when Jacqueline Kennedy came here in 1967 hoping to improve relations between Cambodia and the U.S. The sea looks inviting and there are benches to sit on. The garbage is a little less pronounced as this is the first place we have seen trash containers. We watch some young people enjoying the day. They go swimming in their street clothes. There are lots of tall buildings nearby. Most are unfinished. Our guide tells us that there have been problems with the Chinese construction. Inferior quality building materials have caused some of the buildings to collapse killing Cambodian people.
Our last stop is at a Buddhist complex. Traditionally becoming a monk was a way for poor boys to receive an education.
We see a demonstration of Cambodian dance, some large statues of Buddha, and a temple.
On the way back to the boat our guide, Senh, really unloads about what has happened to Cambodia and the Cambodian people. He talks about Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Pol Pot had a view of Cambodia as an agrarian socialist society. So he forcibly removed the urban population to the countryside to work or collective farms. Anyone who was considered an enemy of the Pol Pot government was killed. This included intellectuals, minorities, teachers, doctors, and certainly anyone who spoke English as they could be secret CIA operatives. These mass killings plus malnutrition and poor medical care killed between 1.5 to 2 million people, a quarter of the Cambodian people. With the approach of the 21st century Cambodia was devoid of a generation of people who could have helped the country to advance. They are still largely uneducated. Senh said that if you have no education then you do not even know what to dream about.
So we are feeling pretty sad about the conditions that these sweet, smiling people have to live in as we return to our fancy boat and have our dinner where we can send back any food that does not meet our standard and go to bed in a king size bed with clean sheets after we have seen the Cambodian people swinging in their hammocks. I think I will not post pictures of what we ate for dinner today.
Today we have a cooking class in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I am expecting Cambodia to be a lot like Vietnam but it is far behind in development. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge basically wiped out, as in killed, a whole generation of people who were educated teachers, doctors, and professionals. So Cambodia is struggling to get back on its feet and is relying on Chinese investment to help. It looks like so far it has not helped enough.
Views from the bus –
Most of the roads are partly dirt due to construction or lack of maintenance. The bus has to go very slowly, probably about 20 mph or less. Then the bus driver cannot find the Don Bosco School where we are taking our cooking course and must make u-turns in the middle of the street with motorbikes and people everywhere. Finally we reach our destination and need to walk down a hot and dusty road to the school. Everything is set up for us to cook.
We are making two dishes, Fish Amok, which is fish in a curry paste steamed in banana leaves and Khmer meat pancake with sweet fish sauce. The parts we actually do are to make the curry paste, cook the meat, make a basket out of our banana leaves, cook the pancake, and make the fish sauce. Chef makes the batter for the pancake and steams the Fish Amok.
Making a little box out of the banana leaves is harder than you might imagine. You have to fold the banana leaves just so four times and secure it with toothpicks. We are all laughing pretty hard at our feeble attempts. John has made an unrecognizable box and mine is leaking the sauce that the fish is in slowly out the sides. They go into a big steamer.
We make a spicy fish sauce with spices and chilis and coconut milk. Then we cook a combination of pork and shrimp to put inside a rice pancake. With only minor conflagrations we cook the meat. No one cooks a successful pancake. Plus they did not tell us to put the meat into the pancake and roll it inside like an omelet. Mostly everyone’s pancakes just look like scrambled eggs.
It has been great fun learning about Cambodian cuisine. The people are so lovely and sweet that it makes you so sad for the situations they live in. We especially wonder about our female tour guide. What kinds of hard times did she have to go through to get educated. She tells us that most of the girls in the country side are uneducated and marry around 16. They cannot go to school because it is not safe for them to walk to school and the Buddhist monks do not teach girls. How hard must it have been for our tour guide.
Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table. It is the same as the dinner we had a couple days earlier. I have a better picture of the apple dessert though. It is really yummy and is constructed out of thin layers of caramelized apple into the shape of an apple.
John seems almost better today but I am still going through a lot of tissues and feeling sort of miserable. We have breakfast in the room where I get a totally uncooked sausage. It is red, raw inside. Yuck! That is two culinary mishaps so far on this trip. What’s up with that!?
Today is a day at sea so we have nowhere to be. While I nap John goes to a culinary demonstration which turns out to be tiramisu. I have actually made tiramisu once with a recipe that Sarah gave me. It turned out well. I really don’t intend on ever making one again so I don’t feel bad about missing the demonstration. John also spends some time looking at the art around the ship using the Viking Art Guide App.
Around noon he comes back to get me for trivia. The topic is movies. I know one answer out of 15. John only knows a few. We are carried by the rest of the team and score a somewhat respectable 12 which is definitely a losing score. I feel like a movie dummy.
After looking at the lunch offerings in the World Cafe we decide to go down to The Restaurant which is open for lunch on sea days. Lunch is much fancier at The Restaurant than at the World Cafe.
In the afternoon I catch up with writing posts for my blog. I had gotten two days behind. Even though John takes lots of notes, once a few days have passed I have trouble remembering everything we did. It will be easy to remember what I did today because it was basically nothing. I am not going to post these entries to social media since they are mostly just about what we ate. John and I find it interesting to post all our culinary delights but most people just find it boring.
As the afternoon wears on we run into a line of thunderstorms. We go to the Explorer Lounge where we can see the lightning in action! Later we go to dinner at “The”.
As we are leaving dinner people are streaming into the Star Theater for a presentation by Patrick Roberts who is a violinist. He plays mostly pop tunes with a prerecorded backup orchestra (that is too loud.) He does do a creditable performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. We enjoy our evening.