December 9, 2015

USA DIARIES PART 4: Surprise bridal shower and a stroll through Chinatown

August 8, 2015. Back home and just 2 days away from the #soINGlove wedding, we stealthily planned a bridal shower for Mausy. It wasn’t an easy task given the short time and her well-honed radar to pick up even the subtlest of clues and slightest hint that something was up but I’d like to think that we pulled the surprise successfully. Family and friends came with overflowing food and gifts and everybody had fun and were super competitive at the games.

August 9, 2015. On a Sunday, our LA based good friends Ruth and Isaac, brought us to Chinatown. The hanging laundries clipped on lines to prevent them from flying greeted us and signaled the delineation of the area from the rest of San Francisco. There was a functional chaotic vibe in the area so different from the rest of the city we’ve seen so far. It was huge and lively and there’s a cacophony of Asian tongue. Chinatown is successful in retaining its own identity.

We walked the streets up and down ducking in steamy dimsum restaurants debating whether we should sample the goodies in their bamboo trays, but we just had breakfast and saving room for lunch. We passed windows lined with peking ducks and whole roasted birds, passed stores with dried fruit candies, passed deeply colored fruits and vegetables spilling into the sidewalk with their skin glistening in the sun. The smell of aromatic herbal and Chinese medicine is in the air.

And then we came by a seafood store with huge aquariums.  It was unfortunate that we got there in time while a huge fish was being whacked mercilessly while still clearly alive. Poor fish was trying its darnedest to slither away and escape. The fishmonger sliced off only the tail part and brought the top half of the squirming fish back on display with gills gasping weakly. Beside it are turtle meat ripped out of their shells. I had nightmares that night. That was our cue to start walking away.

We followed our noses to find Stinking Rose for lunch. Ruth made reservations at this contemporary Californian-Italian restaurant showcasing garlic. The resto is located in North Beach, the renowned little Italy of SF.

We were promptly seated in a booth and we appreciated the restaurant’s whimsical décor. We ordered the sizzling iron skillet of mussels, shrimp and crab, the forty-clove garlic chicken roasted on the bone and Italian garlic meatloaf with pan gravy. It was more food than the 4 of us can muster but we gave it our best efforts. It was indeed garlicky and we loved all the dishes. Oddly enough, even after the Chinatown whacking scene, we still have our appetites.

In the afternoon, after driving over the notoriously curvy Lombard Street and couldn’t find parking, we were dropped off at the hotel to meet up with the family. We’ve taken residence for 2 nights at the Comfort Inn and Suites near the airport in South San Francisco so we are closer to the wedding venues and for our flight to Vegas.

Dinner was an introduction to Double-Double and animal fries at the beloved Californian burger chain In-N-Out in Daly City. It’s particularly good with thick vanilla milk shake and we’ve had it several more times for the rest of our stay.

November 19, 2015

USA DIARIES PART 3: Road trip to Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake

August 6,2015. Early morning on our second day, Ben and Mausy rented an 8-seater mini van for the 3-hour drive to the mountains bordering California and Nevada. The road trip was off to a good start when the rental company upgraded the mini van into a spiffy looking Chevrolet Suburban.

We spent the night in Harrah’s Hotel with views of the mountain and Lake Tahoe. We booked 2 rooms for all 7 of us and each of our suite was huge with 2 king size beds and a seating area with plush couches. We were particularly pleased with the 2-ensuite toilets and bath and a walk in closet in each of our rooms.

It was a day of making dreams happen, like rolling around the grass because back home in the Philippines, you have to keep off them.

For dinner, we had the best buffet in the area, which happened to be at the top floor of our hotel and had our fill of juicy fat steaks. We were prepared for a long wait as the line to get in the glass walled restaurant was occupying the whole floor winding all the way to the elevator doors but we were pleasantly surprised that we only had a little more than half an hour’s wait to get a table. We didn’t mind the wait at all even if it could have taken longer, as the view was spectacular.

August 7, 2015. From the lookout on Emerald Bay and on our way back to Pittsburg the next day, we detoured to find the Fallen Leaf Lake. Our GPS directed us through campgrounds, private owned meadows and homes and one lane wide paved roads thick with tall trees on one side and some turnouts to let cars pass through. The roads were narrow but all we encountered were polite and patient drivers waving us on with a tolerant smile.

We parked in front of a terraced timber shop cottage and picnicked on sweet fresh berries and salty hot chilis on wooden benches. A squirrel came by and patiently waited for fallen scraps looking at us with his unblinking huge glassy eyes. I know it’s a rodent but it’s too damn cute I wanted to pocket it!

This place is one of my favorites from this trip; it’s just too charming and dreamy. Like something out of a scene of a Nicolas Sparks ‘movie! There were parked kayaks and ducks swimming on the lake and umbrellas with lounge chairs set up on the waters edge. We explored the marina and just sat there bundled up in picnic blankets and scarves trying to take all the loveliness in and had such a pleasant time even if it was freezing out. Kim had to fork over $18 for a bonnet because we weren’t dressed appropriately for the cold. It was supposed to be summer!

October 25, 2015

USA DIARIES PART 2: San Francisco, California

August 5, 2015. We were rewarded with beautiful summer weather on our first day in San Francisco perfect for al fresco dining on a sunny terrace overlooking the Union Square. The infamous fog has lifted and the sky was blue.

This area is the almost too comfortably familiar San Francisco as recognized from movie scenes, TV series and books. It does hold its charm with its all too perfect and manicured appearance and I am thoroughly impressed with how everything looked too symmetrical, too clean and too unspoiled.

After lining up for a lunch table at the always-crowded Cheesecake factory, we drove through the city's steep streets to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge famous the world over.

Driving through the bridge and later on at the view deck, it was easy to see why Frommer’s guidebook considers the red suspension bridge spanning the 3-mile channel between San Francisco bay and the Pacific Ocean the most beautiful and thus most photographed bridge in the world. The usual crowd was present but we found our spot. 

In the afternoon, we roamed the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts and lounged on picnic blankets under a shady tree leaving when the winds have picked up blowing our blanket and peoples skirts. It wasn't chilly that day but very windy. We ended the day with a huge box of takeaway pizza from Costco for dinner making us happy clichés.

October 19, 2015

USA Diaries Part 1 : The Long Haul Flight

Happy to be home after our 50-day trip in the US in August-September to visit the family but major lakwatsa withdrawals now wildly kicking in.

It seems just yesterday when we were bundling up for the cold and getting scared once the weather forecast reaches the low 50s and now we’re back home complaining how hot it is here ha ha. Time flies by so fast! Especially when you are having fun!

Our first 2 weeks in the US was packed and we couldn’t be any more pleased. The trip was even more special because we were with this side of the family to break the sourdough bread (I ate my weight in sourdough bread and Angus rib eyes!) and be tourists with. The last time we were all together like this, was back in 2010 on a trip to Cebu and Bohol.

We have about a billion photos, give or take, so I’m diving into the constantly wanderlusting corners of my mind to try to document the trip in a series for posterity. I don’t want to forget anything as everyday held some fascinating detail.


August 4, 2015. We landed at the San Francisco International Airport  (IATA Code: SFO) after a 16-hour flight from Manila via Cathay Pacific with a connecting flight in Hong Kong International Airport (IATA Code: HKG). Our short 4 hours in HK was spent browsing the impressive array of duty free shops. There was no shopping to be had in the transit at least so self-restraint was aided with a generous dose of extremely good Hainanese Chicken Rice.

It was our first long haul flight and first trip outside of Asia. I was prepared for it dressed in relaxed but still presentable travel clothes - garments that doesn’t wrinkle and comfortable enough to sleep in and ballet flats for easy slip on and off.  I am always cold so I dress in layers. I am one of those persons with neck pillows, socks pulled up and with dark glasses stuck to their faces.

My carry on that goes under the seat in front of me has more than enough snacks for Kimbee (takot magutom!), books and ipad and toiletries with lots of wet wipes and a moisturizing spray. 

Kimbee swears by noise canceling headphones and crossword puzzles. 

I can sleep anywhere, even upright so I slept some easily on the flight, ate, watched a movie, played some games, read and landed. Easy. But not typical for long hauls I understand. More often than not, it is a test of endurance. Attend to your hygiene so you don’t feel disgusting and would still feel and look fresh when you land. Stay hydrated, go for a few walks and stretch.

Being confined in a flying tube for extended period of time is not most people’s idea of fun so I guess, a positive state of mind and attitude helped a good deal. I remember feeling very excited because flying long haul was still a novelty to me so the trip went by in a jiffy.

Jetlag though was a bitch but an excellent excuse to eat at odd hours.

Next up San Francisco.

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