Travelogue: Louisville, Kentucky (Feb 2016)

Over President’s Day weekend, we flew to Indiana (we found cheap flights!) and rented a car to drive to Kentucky. Our goal was to visit Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City, Kentucky.  The temperature was similar to New York, but with a blizzard on the way (we’ll get to that later).

Our first stop in Louisville, Kentucky: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, one of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail.

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We went on their tour ($12 per person), which included a tasting flight of 3 whiskies.

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The tasting occurs at the end of the tour in this room.

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Unlike wine, you don’t need to swirl to aerate… in fact, just don’t do it at all.

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I’m not a whiskey/bourbon drinker, but I enjoyed learning about the history and the making of them.

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Bourbon chocolate! I bought a box home.

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The gift shop had so many random things to buy… seasonings, glasses, apparel, and of course, bourbon.

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The Louisville Slugger Museum was nearby, and of course we had to take a picture of the giant bat.

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Lunch at Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse.

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They have their own beers… lots and lots of them.

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Amaaaaazing pork belly on sticks! And maple bacon popcorn. And beef jerky.

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And brisket.

Next, we went to the Derby Museum ($15 admission, discounts for AAA members!) to check out some horsies. There’s a half hour tour that takes you to the Churchill Downs Racetrack where the Kentucky Derby takes place.

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At the Derby, it’s all about the hats.

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Since it wasn’t racing season yet, they had interactive simulators where you can place bets on horses with a virtual ticket and see if you “win”.

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I didn’t win.

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He won.

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I rode this horse and won though.

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Secretariat!

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The resident horse… retired for 22 years…

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Old miniature horse. I felt bad for them because it was cold outside!

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We tried to make it to the other famous distillery, Bulleit, for their last tour but it was sold out. Last tour was at 3PM and they even had to make another tour at 3:30PM!

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Where our tasting would’ve taken place.

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So we walked around their gift shop.

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I, too, would like to journal about my whiskey experience.

The next day, we woke up early to go to Mammoth Cave for our scheduled tours.

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BUT they closed that day because of “weather”! Disappointed, we went to nearby Diamond Caverns. It was $17 per person for a one-hour guided tour.

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On the way out, we saw this:

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We were on the way back to Indianapolis, which should take 2 hours but…

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We got stuck in traffic and a blizzard for 6 hours instead.

To be continued…

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(Of course we had to have KFC in Kentucky)

Travelogue: Victoria, British Columbia (June 2015)

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, Canada, and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific coast. From Port Angeles (Washington), we took the car ferry there. I reserved ahead of time here. Sailing time is 90 minutes. You just park your car and sit upstairs or you can walk around and take pictures.

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We arrive in downtown, Victoria, right by the water and close to Chinatown and the Parliament building.

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It’s pretty cool that there are houses right on top of water.

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Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown.

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The Empress Tea Room – I made a reservation ahead of time for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. We got a table by the window and I loved the whole experience. They treat you like royalty.

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The sandwiches were delicious!

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At the end, they gave us tea to bring back home.

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The Parliament Building.

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We bought a Groupon deal for half off admission to the Butterfly Garden — well worth it. You’re free to roam around and see butterflies up close.

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Right near the Butterfly Garden is Butchart Gardens. At this point, I had gone to so many botanical gardens that I didn’t find this extraordinary. However, it was still a nice place to visit and take a stroll through its many gardens.

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Prettiest garbage can ever.

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After that, we took the car ferry to Vancouver. This time, we took BC ferries from Swartz Bay (Victoria) to Tsawwassen (Vancouver). This ferry had more food and gift shops for you to enjoy, and even a cafeteria. You can reserve here. Make sure to check their schedules and time it so that you can enjoy a full day at Victoria. We got to see the sunset when we arrived in Vancouver.

Travelogue: Portland, Oregon (May 2015)

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Our first stop in Portland: Heart Coffee. The wait for Tasty n Alder was about 45 minutes, so we conveniently crossed the street to this cafe, which served delicious lattes…

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Such clean and minimalist decor, it made for a great lazy Saturday morning.

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Potato Bravas

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“Duck… Duck… Steak!” Best of the dishes.

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Flat Iron (Washimi Wagyu with garlic roquefort compound butter)

Tasty n Alder is one of the top brunch places highly recommended by almost everyone who’s been to Portland. However, on the last day (in a future post) I had an even better experience at Screen Door. Anyhoo, brunch is wonderful in Portland but expect a long wait if you don’t get there by opening time.

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I’m not really a donut person. When my friends told me to go to Blue Star Donuts instead of the overhyped Voodoo, I obliged. Only because this was on the way to the famous bookstore, Powell’s Books (where I purchased many souvenirs…)

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OK well, I gotta admit, this was a pretty good donut.

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After spending a lot of time at Powell’s, we stopped by the Saturday Market. There are two right across from each other.

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Mango!

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The International Rose Test Garden was one of my top things to see in Portland. It’s FREE, it’s huge, and it has a gift shop that sells rose tea (BUY IT!)

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A lot of variety of roses, all different colors and sizes… some were as tall as I was.

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We also stopped by the Portland Japanese Garden next door, which was tiny and cost $9.50 per person… not worth it in my opinion because I’ve been spoiled by the one in SF.

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There was a special exhibition the day we went though, so that made up for it.

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When in Portland, must go to Salt & Straw for ice cream…

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We got the 4 scoop sampler — I enjoyed the variety and creativity, but it wasn’t anything mindblowing.

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Tidbit Food Farm and Garden – a small “food pod”, as they call it. Food pods are Portland’s term for a group of food trucks. There are several, but I chose this one; it had the most vendors open on a Sunday.

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I chose Namu, a Korean and Hawaiian fusion truck.

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This reminded me of Hawaii… the sauce was amazing, the pork was amazing, the EGGS!

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This was from a taco truck whose names I forgot (sorry).

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I love wall murals. They’re all over the Alberta Arts District. We stopped by the area just to admire them. However, my heart still belongs to Miami’s Wynwood Walls (see post here).

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Onward to Seattle.

Travelogue: Miami Beach, Fl (January 2013)

I decided to do a throwback travelogue for a memorable trip back in 2013 — Miami Beach, since I’ll be going back there January 2015! So excited about it since I had very fond memories of Miami: the beach lifestyle, everybody’s working out on the beach (beach yoga!), sunny and breezy weather, great Cuban food, amazing restaurants off the beaten path, walking around and seeing all the unique architecture and absorbing all the culture around you!

Many people think of Miami as a nightclub-party-beachy vacation, but there’s just so much more to it! Honestly, I went to bed every night before 10PM when I was there because (run-on sentence alert) I was exhausted from walking all day and seeing all the architectural gems and biking and eating and shopping (see how excited I am about Miami)!

So here is my trip from almost 2 years ago, all phone pictures because I didn’t see the need to bring my DSLR to a beachy vacation — I was SO wrong — there’s so much I want to capture on my next visit!

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We stayed the the Perry hotel, which is now completely renovated and rebranded as 1 Hotel & Homes. It was such a nice hotel despite the negative reviews on Yelp.

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The hotel had a rooftop pool overlooking the beach front completed with a bar and great service. The room was super spacious (much bigger than the picture shows here) and chic.

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They also had another huge pool on another level. It was such a good find.

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Walking around South Beach you’ll find a lot of picture ops.

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And of course, good, cheap Cuban food.

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Playa Cafe on Washington Ave– hole in the wall local Cuban food, nothing fancy and that’s the best!

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Wet Willie’s — apparently a must-stop in Miami. They have an upstairs with 20+ different alcoholic slushies for you to taste and purchase. “Call-A-Cab” was highly recommended, but we stuck with sour apple instead.  $10 is the usual size in a plastic cup, and $12 for the souvenir cup (larger size).

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Along the ocean front you’ll see a lot of tourist traps; they advertise with these giant margaritas. They can get pretty pricey.

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We walked down to Espanola Way — a street of restaurants, cafes and bars that become a salsa village at night. Or so we were told. It’s a tiny village that’s worth seeing. Very artsy and not “Miami-like”. But then again, this blog post isn’t about that scene.

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We got gelato at Milani Gelateria.

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This was a cool spot that we walked by; a picture at night and in the day time.

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There were many brunch places at the restaurants inside hotels. We tried out a couple. This was The Lantao Social Club, which has now been renovated completely (see the trend here?) and renamed The Social Club. It’s still inside the Surfcomber hotel.

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It was amazing; one of the best brunches I’ve ever had. Outdoor seating with big cushions too!

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We then walked to Lincoln Road again (seems like we were there everyday!) and got a frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity. It was my first time at this establishment even though we have one in NYC. There’s something about dining out in Miami, though, that’s different. First, they have outdoor seating in nearly most of their restaurants all year round, which can never happen in New York (snow and sleet make seats not desirable).

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More window shopping at Anthropologie.

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I found a Lululemon! It was closed though, since many places here closed at dusk…

Pubbelly was on my list of food to eat in Miami. And it was fantastic. It is SO underrated!

Highly recommend:
1) McBelly – pork belly sliders
2) Fried Chicken
3) Duck and pumpkin dumplings

We shared 5 or 6 dishes between the two of us. It’s tapas style, so the dishes aren’t huge. The rest were good, but those would be my top 3.

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We got the chocolate brownie dessert with bacon. You cannot go wrong with chocolate and bacon. It may be an acquired taste, and your companion may not ever acquire it… Which means more for you.

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There were DECOBIKE stations all around Miami Beach. They were SO convenient! …If only I didn’t fall off my bike.

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It was a laid-back kinda day everyday.

We decided to stop by one of these tourist traps along the ocean front, and it wasn’t bad! The only thing is that they lure you in with $3.99 appetizers and don’t list the prices of the drinks. This ended up being $25, but it was big enough to share, so it was okay.

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Our last dinner in Miami was a highly anticipated one at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. I made a reservation ahead of time. I was a bit disappointed as it did not live up to the hype, but it was still a good meal.

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On this trip, there was one thing I regret… that I didn’t join in this beach yoga class! I didn’t have a towel and felt awkward just barging in. 3rd St Beach Yoga, you’re on my list!

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3rd St Beach Yoga

Travelogue: Maine Day 4 (hiking & eating)

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We start the day off with breakfast in Bar Harbor. 2 Cats, a cute brunch place with bright decor.

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I was looking forward to their lobster benedict (above) and lobster omelette (below), but their strawberry butter turned out to be the best thing there.

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Inside the omelette were big chunks of lobster meat. The egg was a strange texture though, so I didn’t care much for it. After fueling up, we were ready for another day of hiking.

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We planned to hike up to the Cadillac Mountain this time, but one section of the trail was closed so we took a detour.

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Lots of blueberries on the way.

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We went up Dorr Mountain and it was pretty fun; lots of scrambling and big rocks to climb. We reached the Cadillac and went back the long route.

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It took us about 5-6 hours to complete the hike this time, and after that we looked for food on Route 3 again. But everything was closed except…

Shinbashi.

I know. Japanese food in Maine of all places?! It was pretty good!

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Lobster tempura!

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Sashimi was super fresh. Thumbs up for sushi in Maine!

Travelogue: Antigua, Guatemala (Nov 2013)

We arrived in Antigua Friday afternoon.

First thing I did after we checked into the hotel was exchange money at the bank. I only did $50 because most places there accept American dollars and credit cards. Antigua is very touristy and most people speak English.

Lunch was so good! We got seated in an outdoor garden, surrounded by birds in cages and exotic flora.

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After lunch, we went to the Mayan spa to book our massages for the next day.

Our group went our separate ways. I walked around with Rob and we explored the city. It’s totally walkable. Antigua is full of history and architectural gems.

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There are many markets where you can haggle for the souvenirs you want.

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It was a beautiful city at night, but definitely need to exercise caution when walking by yourself.

The next morning, we woke up early for a volcano hike at 6am. We booked through the hotel for $15 American dollars and then had to pay 50 Quetzales ($1=q7) at the hike. Our van driver picked us up from the hotel. It was a bit of a drive.

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The hike was only 3 miles, but it took us about 3 hours to complete it because of all the rocks and horse poop.

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(horse poop not pictured here)

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This was one of my favorite parts: there was only a narrow strip that you could walk on without tumbling down the volcano side.

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There was a cute little store almost to the top of our destination where you could purchase bracelets, necklaces, rings made with “lava” and coconut shells. Every piece of jewelry comes with a handmade baggie. They accept American dollars.

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This was my favorite part! Our tour guide saw how excited I was at seeing him roast the marshmallows that he gave me another one to roast! The natural heat from volcano rocks was actually hot enough to toast them to perfection. Delicious.

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Going down hill was more difficult but we held onto each other… great teamwork!

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We were famished after the hike, so we went back to the same outdoor garden as the day before. BEST potatoes ever. And unexpectedly, best fish sandwich I’ve ever had! (I might have been biased by excessive hunger, though)

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Mayan Spa — I purchased a package: body scrub, massage and pedicure. SO good after the hike. It cost about $60.

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After the spa, I walked around the markets some more. Night had fallen once again…

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We went to a fancy restaurant for our last night there.

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We salsa’ed the night away.

Sunday breakfast:

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I loved the Bagel Barn! Amazing bagel sandwiches. Guac! They have some unique cream cheese spreads too. Plus free wifi.

After breakfast, I decided to walk around some more.

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It was time to say goodbye.

Travelogue: San Francisco (Day 4 of 4)

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berry crepe

Our last breakfast in San Francisco: Cable Car Cafe — an unassuming, cute little diner that was situated on a hill next to the cable car track. If you go there, order a crepe and sit next to the windows. You’ll enjoy a quiet meal while people watching — or in this case, cable-car-watching.

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lemon sugar crepe

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It was the perfect ending to my first (hopefully of many) trip to San Francisco.

Travelogue: San Francisco (Day 3 of 4)

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One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had — Taylor Street Coffee Shop! Highly recommended. I can’t rave enough about their Sailor’s Hash: Hash browns topped with an omelette with shrimp, crab, bacon, jalapeno peppers, and a heaping portion of smoked salmon on top. My mom had the french toast and she liked it, which is rare (she’s more critical than I am)!

We took 2 buses to get to the Japanese Tea Garden. Mom is very much into tea, Japanese anything, and flowers. This was perfect. It was free admission because we got there before 10am (every Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays 9-10am!)

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You can reserve a tea ceremony for $25 on Wednesdays and Fridays. I tried to do that but nobody picked up when I called… so instead, I sat near them and sort of experienced it…

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We got our own mochi and tea. They offer other food items as well. Check out the gift shop before you leave!

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Right next door was the SF Botanical Garden. How convenient.

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Next up on our itinerary was Japan Town — we took 2 buses again to get there.

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Japan town had 4 main buildings that house a whole bunch of restaurants, stores, supermarkets. The streets adjacent to them were lined with residential apartments that had a Japanese flair.

It was time to go. We walked to the cable car station and took the least popular one — California-Van Ness line.

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It was a short ride, we didn’t really have to take it but hey, why not?

After we rested up at the hotel, I asked mom what she wanted for our last dinner in SF. She said “seafood”, so I Yelped a restaurant nearby with great reviews — Kim Thanh (Vietnamese), it was AMAZING.

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Sugar cane shrimp — first, you place the shrimp in the middle of the rice paper, then vermicelli noodles and veggies, and then you roll it up yourself. Shrimp was perfectly fried and full of flavor!

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What they were known for was their salt baked crab, which lived up to the hype! Seasoned with salt and pepper, fresh and meaty!

This was a day of good food.

Travelogue: San Francisco (Day 2 of 4)

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We woke up bright and early to grab a quick breakfast before we met our bus driver in front of our hotel — I booked a Muir Woods + Sausalito tour through Viatour. It was a half day tour, from 9am to approx 1pm.

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The bus dropped us off at the central Viatour place at Fisherman’s Wharf, where we switched to another bus that would bring us to Muir Woods. They gave us our vouchers and tickets there. After that, it was pretty much a self-guided tour, about an hour or so.

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I enjoy the sounds of wind sifting through leaves and the occasional birds. Once you reach the fourth bridge, you know it’s time to turn around and rummage through the gift shop for souvenirs.

After that, the bus took us to Sausalito, a quaint little town full of shops and cafes. I could’ve spent the whole day here sipping on coffee in front of an ocean view.

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This boutique is owned by a very nice lady who handpicks every item in her store; scarves, clothes, jewelry. My scarf still gets compliments to which I can reply, “Oh this? I got it from Sausalito/San Francisco!”

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On the way back, the bus driver paused at this lookout for us to take pictures. Very thoughtful. It was my mom’s dream to see the Golden Gate Bridge!

Tempura Udon
Tempura Udon
Tanin Don: barbecued marinated ribeye with egg over rice
Tanin Don: barbecued marinated ribeye with egg over rice
Sashimi Salad
Sashimi Salad

Early dinner was at Sushi Boat because we were tired of walking… 

My mom rested at the hotel while my friend picked me up to go running.

And guess where we ran?

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It’s about 1.5 miles one way — we ran across to Sausalito side and walked back to take in the sights.

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I have a thing for running bridges in other states/countries. Mission Accomplished!

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Art pieces at the park.

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She took the scenic route to show me the bay.

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Top left: Roti bun at Honeyberry.

I wanted to try pho in San Francisco since everyone keeps telling me it’s the best in the entire world except for Vietnam. So we went to Pho Phu Quoc. They’re famous for their 5 spices chicken and I can see why!

Travelogue: San Francisco (Day 1 of 4)

It was the week between my mom and my birthdays. Perfect for a girls only getaway! We went from Monday to Thursday; I can’t imagine the amount of tourists that would crowd around the city on the weekends.

This was my first trip EVER to SF, and I learned many things along the way. I’m already planning my next trip out here!

Mistake #1: At SFO (San Francisco International Airport), I purchased two one-day muni passes ($14) for both of us. It was later that I rendered them useless; you would have to take public transportation at least 7 times in a day to get your money’s worth. In other words — NOT worth getting! We walked everywhere and took the cable car only once, just for s&g. We did take the buses maybe 4 times, but they’re only $2 each way!

Mistake #2: From SFO, I decided to take a cab ($60) to the hotel in Union Square only because I was with M. We could’ve taken the BART for $8.25 and it probably would’ve taken the same amount of time. I specifically chose a hotel close to the BART and cable cars for this reason, but I didn’t want M to complain on the first day.

After we checked into the hotel, we started our adventure!

First stop: Chinatown.

We walked from Union Square to Chinatown, which took only 10-15 minutes.

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We took some obligatory Chinatown arch photos and walked down Grand Street.

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Festive decorations everywhere due to upcoming Mid-autumn Festival in September!

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You can sneak a peak at the Bay Bridge.

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Yin Du Wonton Noodle
648 Pacific Ave
(between Columbus Ave & Beckett St)

M always reminisces about the wonton noodles in Hong Kong — New York noodles just aren’t the same. San Fran came pretty close!

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(Random lady sitting across the table from us eating delicious noodles)

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Next stop: Ferry Building/Pier/Embarcadero

We walked East towards the water — about 20 minutes. This was a farther walk, and not very scenic. But we got there with no damage!

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The Ferry Building Marketplace reminded me of Chelsea Market in New York, tons of little shops out in the open, blue bottle coffee, restaurants.

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We waited a bit for the F to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, but decided to walk along the Embarcadero instead and enjoy the view!

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Got some chocolate from TCHO along the way.

Stop #3: Pier 39

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It’s actually worth checking out — more shops, restaurants, and of course the famous sea lions! Just go past the carousel and follow signs to the stairs:

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Found them!

Stop #4: Fisherman’s Wharf

Walking further, we got to the wharf. It was chow time. Rather, clam chowder time…

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Walk up the stairs to Bistro Boudin:

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We got the famous bread bowl New England clam chowder — too much bread, too little soup.

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One of the best crabcake sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.

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Really tasty crabcake inside!

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Stop #5: From the Wharf, we walked over to Ghirardelli Square.

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We went into the chocolate store, aka chocolate galore:

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In addition to the ice cream and chocolate shop, there are also cute little boutiques that sell gift items and mementos.

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Jackson and Polk — I absolutely adore this gift boutique! They have really cute, endearing jewelry, bags and trinkets.

Next to Ghirardelli Square is the main stop of one of the cable car lines — Powell-Hyde. You can see huge lines form and wrap around.

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We saw the line for the cable car and decided to walk the rest of the way back to our hotel in Union Square — I don’t recommend this for those with weak knees; SF hills are no joke!

I underestimated my mom. She walked the whole way without complaining. We stumbled onto the other attraction that I hoped to see, Lombard Street.

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It was a beautiful walk, thanks to the great weather in SF. It was 70s and sunny everyday that we were there!