Tag Archives: Google

Back to Tokyo and Up (Most of) Mount Fuji

19 Aug

Day 12: Japanese Whiskey and Tokyo

In the morning we took a train to Yamazaki to tour the Suntory whiskey distillery. We had to book quite far in advance but this tour was one of the few things in Japan that James really wanted to do.
IMG_20180702_093323Even a month in advance, only the morning slot was left, so 10am whiskey it was! We explored the museum while we waited for the tour to begin.
IMG_20180702_093613 There was information about the history of the company and also whiskeys in various states of aging:IMG_20180702_094242The distillery tour was in Japanese but they gave us headphones so we were able to follow along with the audio tour.

This room was very hot and yeasty. There was a reason that all the stills were different sizes but neither James nor I can remember why. Clearly we retained a lot of information from the tour.
IMG_20180702_101028 (1)This was the room where they aged the whiskey in barrels. I don’t like the taste of scotch but this room smelled wonderful – like we were in a forest.
MVIMG_20180702_102408The tour concluded with some whiskey tastings.
IMG_20180702_103822It was quite an elaborate set-up – there were snacks, overhead slides and a little reference guide. It also confirmed for me that I just don’t like whiskey and I gave half my tastings to James. (Then later one of the tour guides came around and was impressed that I’d managed to finish all of my whiskey and I awkwardly went along with it).

There was also a paid tasting room that had a much larger selection. It was packed – though I think we got unlucky because there was a big tour group there. This was the bar:IMG_20180702_120244And the menu:MVIMG_20180702_112716James tasted six (I think) whiskeys, including the super old/rare ones. He said they were very smooth but overall he prefers Scottish whiskey.

We also stopped by the gift shop but it was lame and had the same un-aged whiskeys you can find in the US or at any 7/11 in Japan. The tour and tasting room were really fun though and I’d definitely recommend them as a mini day-trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

Afterwards we took a train to Kyoto and then the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. We bought some food at the train station to eat on our trip.

This one was so pretty – like unwrapping a little present. =)
IMG_20180702_130552When we arrived in Tokyo we stashed our luggage in one of the station lockers and went to VR Zone in Shinjuku where we played VR Mario Kart.IMG_20180702_161347We could pick up bananas and shells with our hands and throw them at our opponents and the whole thing was really immersive. It had a big catch-up system so it didn’t feel like a lot of skill was necessarily involved but it was still fun.

We played 3 other games and they were various shades of OK – Mario Kart was the clear star. VR makes me a bit nauseous so I was quite happy to limit ourselves to 4.

We retrieved our luggage and checked into the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, where they had the cousin of Haku-chan (the sake-recommending robot) on staff:
MVIMG_20180710_183331For dinner we went to a place that is known for its deep-fried gyoza:
MVIMG_20180702_203018 And its katsu gyoza: MVIMG_20180702_202503They were tasty but the regular fried gyoza were the best. We both wished we’d just gotten one or two of the novelty kind and more of the fried gyoza.

Day 13: Google and Fuji

We took it easy this day because we had plans to climb Fuji overnight. We headed to Roppongi to check out the Google office since several friends who have worked there told us it has an amazing view. We were hoping to be able to see Fuji but unfortunately it wasn’t clear enough. =(

At one of the cafes I ordered a peach soda with basil and cider jelly (and my name in Japanese I think!)
IMG_20180703_092125I was intrigued by the Ramune soda bagel:MVIMG_20180703_094432But I should have gone with one of the croissants because the bagel was disgusting. I felt bad not finishing it but it was by far the worst thing I ate in Japan.

This was one of the microkitchens:
MVIMG_20180703_100422They had a lot of Japanese snacks, and we grabbed a couple of the onigiri for our Fuji hike.IMG_20180703_100550There were also these adorable lollies! MVIMG_20180703_101647James and the Oreo Android being dynamic together:
IMG_20180703_101606We did some light shopping, grabbed lunch, then had a fortifying afternoon nap at our hotel. The hotel was really conveniently located – a 5 minute walk from Shinjuku station and and also the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to go to Mt Fuji.

We took the latest bus to the Mt Fuji Suburu Line 5th Station. There was only one store open at that time, so we bought some wooden walking sticks and started our hike a bit past 10pm.

Day 14: Fuji!

Hiking Mt Fuji overnight is called “bullet climbing” and generally not recommended. The way that most people climb Fuji is to start during the day, climb until they reach one of the mountain huts, stay there overnight, then climb again in the early morning to reach the summit by sunrise. Bullet climbing is starting in the evening and climbing throughout the night.

James and I opted to bullet climb because we really didn’t want to hike in the heat and also didn’t want to pay $70 each for a sleeping bag in a shared room at a mountain hut. It was fine. The only tricky part was the altitude, which affected James a lot more than it did me (which we expected, because he gets headaches on top of Mammoth at 11k feet).

But anyway, we were fairly well-prepared with warm layers, headlamps, and plenty of food and water. We hiked throughout the night, starting from 2800 meters (9186 feet) at the 5th Station.

We were really glad we brought our headlamps since it was dark on the trail.
MVIMG_20180703_222612You can see the shadow of James’ head on the sign post. Even before I remembered taking this photo I saw it and was like “hey, that shadow looks a lot like James’ head!”

There were several stations where we would briefly rest and get our walking sticks stamped (well, branded really). The early stamps cost 300 yen but prices went up the higher we climbed. Also some stations had multiple stamps so it ended up costing quite a bit!MVIMG_20180703_234154James and I agreed that the beginning of the hike was the hardest mentally because it was the longest stretch without a break. Later on it was steeper but there were more stations to stop at for breaks. Which was good because James had a headache and nausea from the altitude. He’s not a complainer so the fact that he even said anything meant it was pretty bad.

By the time we got to the 8th station area it was starting to get really windy, and any time we stopped walking we would instantly feel the cold. The wind forecast had been fine when we checked earlier that day, but we talked to a Canadian guy who was worried because he said the forecast was getting worse and worse.

We got to Goraikou (the final mountain hut) a bit before 3pm. It was really howling by this point and the ranger told everyone we were better off staying where we were for the sunrise because it was even windier and more overcast at the summit. We decided to take temporary shelter inside the mountain hut then continue to the top after sunrise.

Here we are inside the hut around 3:30am.IMG_20180704_034708Unfortunately the wind got even worse, and when we tried to go up the ranger said that they were no longer allowing people to summit because it was too dangerous (later we found out that Typhoon Prapiroon had just hit). IMG_20180704_041751 (1)I was so bummed. Climbing Fuji was the only reason we’d gone to Japan in the summer and we were so, so close! If we’d known that resting meant we couldn’t get to the summit we would have just kept going. When we got back to the 5th Station we talked to some people who had gotten to the summit and they said it was really awful. Apparently they couldn’t see anything and it was raining, cold, so windy that people were getting blown around, and everyone descended as quickly as they could after sunrise. But at least they got there!

And it’s not like our sunrise view was any better:
IMG_20180704_041806 We hung around for ages, hoping the wind would die down and the ranger would let us up. But no luck. =(

On the plus side, while we were waiting the clouds cleared and revealed this spectacular view: MVIMG_20180704_043433-PANO (1)Isn’t that cloud amazing?? I looked it up afterwards and it’s a lenticular cloud caused by some combination of the mountain, wind and air temperature. At the time I was so disappointed we hadn’t gotten to the summit that it didn’t register how fortunate we were to see that gorgeous view. I’m really glad we took photos!
IMG_20180704_050429Eventually we gave up and started the descent, and it was raining and windy pretty much the whole way down. A couple of times there’d be a huge gust of wind and we’d have to plant our walking sticks and hunker down so we didn’t get blown off the mountain.

We didn’t have waterproof layers on our bottom halves so got soaked (top halves were dry though!). Combined with the disappointment of not summiting, the descent and the long (damp) wait for the bus was a completely miserable experience.

We took the bus back and walked back to our hotel – thank goodness for that 5 minute commute because we were seriously gross. We showered and had a post-Fuji nap before grabbing some conveyor belt sushi for an early dinner.IMG_20180704_190050We were very pleased with the conveyor belt sushi. Obviously restaurant sushi was better, but this was cheap, decent, quick, and a fun novelty.

Then we went to a bar called Whales of August which made movie-inspired drinks, some which were kind of meh and some which were very creative.

Tangled:
MVIMG_20180704_195557 Totoro!MVIMG_20180704_201830Even the drinks with beautiful presentation weren’t great-tasting though. We’d pretty much exclusively been drinking at high-end cocktail bars in Japan and it was a stark contrast.

We did some shopping, then wandered over to check out the Shibuya crossing intersection. Honestly I don’t get why it’s a tourist attraction except maybe for people who’ve never been to a big city before. It’s a big, multi-directional crossing. Cool?

Since we were in the area we also stopped by the Hachiko statue:IMG_20180704_223334 (1)When we went back to our hotel I got all sad again about not summiting Fuji. It was the only reason we’d come during the summer (we both hate hot weather) and not getting to the top felt like a failure. Normally we would have tried again another trip but neither of us wanted to go to Japan in summer again.

We checked the forecast for our remaining days in Japan but the typhoon meant that it was raining and windy the whole time, and the only day it looked possible was our departure day – and that day was a tiny window sandwiched between two storms. So even if we changed our flights, if the first storm went longer than expected or the second storm arrived earlier, we’d be SOL again.

Plus it was the end of a long holiday with a lot of walking in very hot/humid weather so we were both tired, James already had a ton of people booking meetings with him as soon as he got back, we’d be sacrificing really great flatbed seats on our return trip with the possibility that we’d have to fly economy, and it would cost around 1k to rebook our flights/hotels/Fuji buses/the catsitter. James hated the hike since he’d had a headache and nausea for much of it (and had carried all our stuff because of my herniated disc) and pointed out that we had pretty much climbed Fuji, and the last few hundred meters didn’t make a difference except in my head.

Basically, there were a ton of practical/financial/logistical reasons I should have accepted that we weren’t going to summit Mt Fuji, and the only reason to try again was that I really, really wanted to.

You can see where this is all going. (Yes, I am aware that I’m incredibly spoiled)
IMG_20180704_043946See you soon, Fuji-san!

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Five Days in Boston!

23 May

James had to go to Boston for a work trip and we decided that I’d tag along and we’d make a mini trip of it. =)

We stayed at the Liberty Hotel, which is a former prison that housed, among others, Malcolm X. The hotel was gorgeous but we had a ton of problems with the a/c, the customer service was pretty ineffective, and overall I wouldn’t recommend staying there. At least the lobby was gorgeous:
IMG_20180513_151143
Day 1

We arrived in the afternoon and went straight to Harpoon Brewery for a tour. Behold our incredibly stylish eye protection!
IMG_20180513_163424The tour was really fun and great value – it was only $5 and included an explanation of the beer-making process, a tour of the facilities, and about 10-15 minutes of unlimited beer/cider tasting. James and I were so full afterwards.

I don’t know why James is looking so sneaky in the tasting room:
IMG_20180513_165755 The beer on tap. Their apple cider was really good – even James liked it. IMG_20180513_171215
After the tour we split a giant pretzel (made with Harpoon IPA) which was delicious, and went on a Duck tour of Boston.

I think the Duck tour is good to do at the start of your trip because it’s a nice overview of Boston. Also when we got on the water James got to steer the Duck!
IMG_20180513_184303He got a congratulatory sticker afterwards. It’s hard to read in the picture but it says “I drove a Duck”
IMG_20180513_184644Two other people took a turn after him but they weren’t as good and the captain kept having to correct it when they oversteered. At the end of the tour the captain told James he’d done a good job and James was so very pleased.

Then we took an Uber to Somerville where we ate at Highland Kitchen and had drinks at backbar. Towards the end of the night when it slowed down we got to see the bartenders teaching the hostess how to make a couple of drinks and that was pretty fun and a nice way to end our first day in Boston. =)

Day 2

On our second day we walked the Freedom Trail. You can do an organised tour but we just followed the brick trail around the city and downloaded an app that explained the historical significance of all the different stops. It’s probably the number one tourist attraction you should do in Boston, and it’s completely free!

The Granary Burying Ground – we really liked how the building loomed over the cemetery:
IMG_20180514_095318We started around 9:30am, which was a bit early to get into the State House, but did time it pretty well for us to get to Neptune Oyster 20 minutes before it opened and before a huge line formed. It was a Monday morning and by the time they opened the line had extended to the end of the street (almost double the length in the picture, but the big truck blocked the rest of the line):
IMG_20180514_111410From my research it was almost universally agreed that Neptune Oyster has the best lobster rolls in Boston. We ordered fried clams and, of course, a lobster roll each: IMG_20180514_121036They were pretty good, but having tried a couple now (one in SF and one in Boston), I think I don’t really “get” lobster rolls. They’re OK but if this is the best one I now know I wouldn’t wait in line for one. I guess I’m just not that into lobster.

Unfortunately all the butter made James feel really sick and we walked pretty slowly for the next hour. We saw Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church, which is the “one if by land, two if by sea” church. IMG_20180516_120839By the time we got to the Bunker Hill Monument James was feeling a bit better. On the way I helped some lady with directions using Google Maps and while I did that, James took some selfies with this fish:
IMG_20180514_131740 There were two selfies, because the first one he had his tongue on the wrong side. I appreciate that he corrected it. IMG_20180514_131714I think James likes things with their tongues out because they remind him of Mouse:
IMG_20180501_143345Anyway, we headed to Bunker Hill Monument and got some (free) tickets to climb it:
IMG_20180514_135645There were 294 steps to the top and it’s definitely worth doing (unless you’re claustrophobic). The views were great.
IMG_20180514_140618We finished at the Charleston Naval Yard. The USS Constitution was closed but we got to see the USS Cassin Young, a submarine destroyer.
IMG_20180514_144742 James was fascinated by the missiles, and it was pretty cool getting to look around the (very cramped) ship. IMG_20180514_145938Then we went to the USS Constitution Museum which was kind of eh. If I’d known we were going to get held up at the hotel later I would have just skipped it.

When we went back to the Liberty we went to the front desk where they said they’d fixed the a/c issue and would call us in 10 minutes when we got back to the room to check. We fell asleep waiting for the call, only to be woken up by it 2 hours later when they finally remembered us. In that time it had gotten hot again because the fix had just been temporary, so they said they’d send someone up with a key to another room. We waited 45 minutes, called again, and they finally sent someone up. But that was a ton of time wasted, and we had to do the Skywalk Observatory at night instead of sunset like we’d hoped. =/ At least our second room had a nicer view.
IMG_20180517_200142I’d definitely recommend doing the Skywalk Observatory during the day. You can’t see the water at night and the audio guide kept referring to buildings by their colour, which obviously we couldn’t see. Also the lights inside the building reflected off the glass, making it kind of hard to see.

We had late dinner and drinks at Toro, which was really good (and still busy even at 10pm).

Day 3

This was one of James’ work days so I slept in, then did some shopping on Newbury street in the afternoon. Later I met up with James and his colleagues at Yvonne’s, where we had pre-game drinks.IMG_20180515_194445 My drink came with a giant marshmallow to toast! IMG_20180515_200136We had dinner at Fenway Park where I of course had a Fenway Frank.
IMG_20180515_211323 James got a pretzel, which he was very pleased about. IMG_20180515_222422Also, are you ready to see the most low-energy nachos – and yes, I’m comfortable saying this – in the history of the world? They are so terrible. You think you can imagine how shit they are, but you cannot.
IMG_20180515_213043My God.

The game started late because of the rain and we left before the end because it was obvious the A’s were going to win, and the others had work the next morning. On the way out we found a Kaye sign!
IMG_20180515_235245
Day 4

James had work again so I went to the North End to compare cannolis from Mike’s and Modern. I have had like, two cannolis in my life, but decided I would give my opinion on the great Boston rivalry.

Mike’s:
MikeMike’s had a ton of flavours like hazelnut, limoncello and amaretto (which is the one I got). I really liked the taste and the cannoli was absolutely massive.

After I finished that monster the last thing I wanted was more cannoli but nevertheless I persevered and went to Modern:Modern
Modern was smaller (like maybe 3/4 of the size) and I imagine more traditional, with no weird flavours on offer. I liked that they filled the cannoli to order rather than having them sitting out in the pastry case.

Overall Modern was probably the better cannoli – the shell was crisper and more delicate and the ricotta filling was very light. I also preferred the smaller size. But I really like amaretto so I liked the flavour of Mike’s cannoli more, even though I think it is the inferior cannoli.

After my cannoli comparison I met up with James and we headed to Google where James had to dial into a meeting.

One of the Google microkitchens was Cheers themed!
IMG_20180516_151300“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your LDAP”IMG_20180516_151227The buildings were quite nice and compact. We found some teacups and a (non-working photo booth):
IMG_20180516_153538While James had his meeting I went and explored MIT. It has a cool little museum that I wouldn’t go out of my way for, but is a nice way to pass 30-60 minutes. They had a bunch of robotics exhibits but this was by far my favourite thing:
IMG_20180516_164523“It will take 13.7 billion years (the approximate age of the universe) for the last gear to complete one rotation”. I spent a lot of time watching those gears.

Then we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before our dinner at Giulia. I separated that dinner into its own post because this one was getting too long, but Giulia was phenomenal – James said the best meal he’s ever had and it was probably top three for me. 

Day 5

This was our last proper day in Boston. We started it at the Museum of Science and the hour we had to ourselves was really fun, but then a billion school groups descended on the museum and it was terrible.

I’m in space!
IMG_20180517_102033Here James is riding some sort of lever-operated wheelchair.
IMG_20180517_102940This exhibit used an Xbox Kinect to sense our movement and we could interact with the stuff on screen:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180517103244The main reason we went to the Museum of Science was for the lightning show. I’ve never seen lightning up close before and it was really cool and worth braving the hordes of screaming school kids to see. I didn’t get any pictures of the lightning but here is the machine that created it:
IMG_20180517_105046Afterwards we went to Fenway Park to do a tour. The guide told us about the history of the stadium, and we got to see the original (very uncomfortable!) seats, the press area and sit in the Green Monster seats:
IMG_20180517_132115(I think our seats the other night were in the lower section in the centre-left of the photo)

During the tour our guide talked about Jackie Robinson and how he broke the colour barrier. We all nodded knowingly except James, who asked what the colour barrier was, and everyone seemed very shocked. Later:

Me: Are you embarrassed that you didn’t know about the colour barrier?
James: (disdainfully) No. They’re the ones who should be embarrassed they even had a colour barrier.

In the evening we had a lateish dinner at Aria Trattoria in the North End. It was pretty good – but the food and service were a couple of significant steps down from Giulia while the price was only a single step down. (Giulia has ruined pasta for me forever). Then we went and picked up some pastries from Mike’s to take back to the hotel to eat.

We got cocktails at the bar then headed to the catwalk to eat and drink. The lobster tail from Mike’s had come highly recommended and we were both insanely disappointed to discover that it’s just pastry-wrapped cream. Look how excited I was before I tasted it:
IMG_20180517_225038Afterwards we headed back to the hotel room to pack and grab a few hours of sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.

And that was our time in Boston. =) I think we packed a lot in considering James had to work a couple of those days. The old buildings in Boston are gorgeous and I like how walkable the city is. James had some productive meetings, we ate and drank a ton, and we learned a bit more about the American revolution. All in all a very satisfying trip!

The Pampered Googlehusband

13 Apr

So a couple of weeks ago there was a shooting at YouTube. Luckily James was evacuated really quickly. He said at the time he thought it was a fire drill and when he saw some people running he thought to himself “that’s pretty immature”. He only found out it was a shooting after he was evacuated – I think finding out he was safe before he knew he was in danger was pretty much the best situation possible (I guess aside from physically not being there that day)

When he went back to work a couple of days later, Google being Google, had brought in some therapy dogs. Apparently it was a big hall just full of dogs they could hang out with for a couple of hours.
IMG_20180406_153930James: There were a lot of dogs and people didn’t realise the nice corgi was at the back. But I got the inside info from Michael.

(Also isn’t that the sweetest mental image?? A hall full of dogs and this earnest little corgi at the back, too short to be seen).

James said there are lots of balloons as well. These ones were from Facebook:
IMG_20180406_121113Despite the FB and the Facebook-coloured balloons on the left, James didn’t realise who they were from. He thought the FB stood for “Feel Better”.

There was also this cool balloon unicorn:
IMG_20180413_083710Also one of James’ former colleagues designed this logo, which Google had printed onto t-shirts for the employees:
2018-04-13 (1)OMG OMG OMG. James just messaged me as I was writing this post and said there is a therapy pig at work today!!! He didn’t get to see it but this is a photo his coworker sent him:
1230209427592596360 (1)James said he saw his coworker in the hall and she said “look at this photo of Pickles the pig.” She also told him Pickles could play the piano but James was skeptical.

He said was too busy at the gym to go see Pickles. OMG James.

Greetings From Austin

15 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, James and I met up with Will and Brian in Austin, Texas. Everyone tells us how cool Austin is, so we figured we’d do a mini group holiday and check it out. =)

Friday

One of my favourite things about Austin was all the murals. This one was on the way to brunch:
IMG_20180302_114344We ate at Congress Cafe, which was recommended by one of James’ coworkers – the food was tasty and plentiful and it was $3 sangria day!

James took this selfie to send to Brian who wouldn’t arrive until later that evening:
IMG_20180302_123814Will was appalled at his facial expression and demanded James take another picture. I think the second one makes him look like a perky turtle!IMG_20180302_124236After brunch we went to Allen’s boots to look at boots and cowboy hats.
IMG_20180302_133524James looks like a cowboy and Will looks like a middle aged lady on her way to church.

We walked around and saw a bird holding a tortilla chip. Actually we saw multiple birds with multiple tortilla chips but this is the one I got a photo of: IMG_20180302_141049And some more murals:
IMG_20180302_142035Including the most famous Austin mural:
IMG_20180302_142641Inside the mural building was an art gallery where we met a dog called Hank Jnr Jnr Jnr. Every time someone opened the door he would waddle over to greet them. He was such a good boy: IMG_20180302_143145We then headed to the university district where we saw even more murals! I think this one is also quite famous because I saw it on a souvenir t-shirt:
IMG_20180302_155149 I really liked this one, which I think James took from the car: IMG_20180302_164852Then we had a nap before heading to the Broken Spoke and leaning how to two-step. Here are some of the men learning their moves:IMG_20180302_203501Afterwards we met up with Brian for a late dinner and drinks at Stubb’s BBQ (it was meh, but AWOLNATION was playing downstairs which was pretty cool), and people watched on 6th street.

Saturday

Saturday morning we got up early to ride electric minibikes around Austin. It was with a company called Your Biker Gang and it was so much fun! We got super lucky and were the only ones on the tour – so we got a private tour for the cost of a regular one.

But first, a mural I saw on our walk over – look at the little animals!
IMG_20180303_082631Our guide was great and took a ton of photos for us. =) Here we are on a pedestrian/cyclist bridge: IMG_20180303_092205Facing the other way:
IMG_20180303_092106At the Willie Nelson statue downtown:
IMG_20180303_093504We also saw the Forever Bicycles sculpture by Ai Weiwei. Our guide said there used to be one in China as well but people kept stealing the bikes.IMG_20180303_094858
In Austin, all people try to do is climb it:IMG_20180303_095341 We stopped by another iconic Austin mural: IMG_20180303_101009After the “nice” photo was taken, the guys started trying to cover everyone’s faces. I emerged unscathed by taking advantage of my lower center of gravity.
IMG_20180303_101022 (1)I took this photo while James drove down Congress Ave towards the Capitol Building:
IMG_20180303_103343Seriously though, the bikes were really easy to ride. The fat tyres made them super stable and it was basically impossible to fall off.

We checked out the Rainey street bars, the Driskill Hotel and then headed to the Graffiti Park. Here is James staring in wonderment: IMG_20180303_105006Even the plants had graffiti on them! This blue dog was James’ favourite:
IMG_20180303_105140 Us at the top, with a great view of Austin:  IMG_20180303_105356So yeah, that was really fun. The minibikes were an unusual way to see all the major tourist attractions – we felt very smug when we passed a Segway tour. =P

Another mural from the walk back to our place:
IMG_20180303_113903We went to Coopers BBQ for lunch. Each table had a giant jar of pickled jalapenos that was incredibly spicy:
IMG_20180303_121023I feel really bad – I realised that I don’t have any photos of all the barbecue we ate that long weekend. And we ate a shit ton.

After lunch we picked up our rental car and drove to Hamilton pool IMG_20180303_151001James came prepared and brought his wetsuit.
IMG_20180303_151606Don’t be fooled by Will and Brian in their bathers – what you see in the above photo is as far as they went in the water.

The water was super cold, but James and I have been fortified by Australian oceans. And we didn’t drive all the way there to not swim.

My phone is waterproof so I was OK to bring it in the water!
IMG_20180303_152424
Once it started raining we drove back. After some showers we walked to the Congress Avenue Bridge to check out the bats. Unfortunately the rain made them shy so all we saw was a handful before we had to leave for dinner.

Austin was quite pretty in the rain though. =)
IMG_20180303_190124The steakhouse was very good (though again, we ordered too much) and it was fun getting dressed up to go out.
IMG_20180303_201349After dinner we went to one shitty speakeasy, and after Will and Brian went to bed, James and I headed to a better speakeasy (located in a parking garage – I could see cars going up and down the ramps lol). We headed back around 2am.

Sunday

How can you go to Austin without trying Franklin Barbecue?
IMG_20180304_114219Even though it was raining the line was still pretty long – apparently the wait is normally hours. I was talking to a friend in San Francisco who said that he waited three hours in line and then one of the employees came out and said there might not be any more barbecue left by the time they got to the front. =(

That didn’t happen to us, though. We had pre-ordered a couple of months ago, so got to skip the queue. IMG_20180304_115617Once again, no photos cos we took it back to our airbnb and plated it in an ugly way. But it was really good – not the best barbecue that Brian (who lives in Atlanta) has ever had, but by far the best that I’ve ever had. (The second barbecue that I’ve ever had was some of the leftover Franklin’s I had as a midnight snack and the third best was the rest of the Franklin’s I had for breakfast the next morning).

But anyway, after our lunch we headed to the Texas Capitol Building.
IMG_20180304_140729Google helpfully made this montage of Will trying to cover everyone’s faces with his coffee:

IMG_20180304_140729-ANIMATION

Inside the Capitol Building looking up:
IMG_20180304_143935-EFFECTS Inside the Capitol Building looking down: IMG_20180304_152527
I think this room was the House of Representatives:
IMG_20180304_145756 We were all supposed to make a face. Will and I look shocked, James looks like he smelled a fart, and Brian looks like a stern, pale ghost.

In the garden outside were a lot of statues, including this replica Statue of Liberty. We got a much better photo with it than we did the actual Statue of Liberty.IMG_20180304_160614Then it was time for Brian to go to the airport. =( Will, James and I headed to a bunch of breweries. This was the second one we went to, which was a combination brewery and pizzeria. Smart.
IMG_20180304_182529 They even had ciders for me: IMG_20180304_182605After our brewery run we went to the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy. Here is our bartender mixing our drinks at our table:
IMG_20180304_213537After a few drinks we headed to Rainey street. It was a drizzly Sunday night so it was nice and quiet. Here we are at a bar made out of shipping containers. IMG_20180304_232612And because I know you’re not sick of murals here’s one we saw on one of our walks that night. We actually saw this one in progress on Friday and Saturday, and finished on Sunday. =)
IMG_20180304_210916
Monday

In the morning James and Will headed to brunch while I polished off the rest of our barbecue. We checked out of our airbnb and dropped our bags off at Google Austin.

Much like Austin it was small but cool and cute. The views were fantastic.
IMG_20180305_113500In the cafeteria there was a cool food truck that was half inside: IMG_20180305_112929And half outside:
IMG_20180305_113049A wall of cardboard VR viewers: IMG_20180305_113957I played pacman while the guys went to the bathroom:
IMG_20180305_114116This was the reception area. I liked the ceiling kayak decor and that hoopy chair James is sitting in. IMG_20180305_120027Unfortunately this wasn’t working while we were there. =(
IMG_20180305_115249The original plan was for Will and James to go to a museum while I went shopping but James decided he wanted to see Black Panther at Alamo Drafthouse (we have an Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco but I guess he wanted to go in its home city) so I went with him.

Hey, this looks familiar!
IMG_20180305_122746 Overall Austin was nicer than I thought it would be. I liked how compact it was and how many cool little bars and restaurants there were.

It was already getting a bit warm while we were there, so I can’t imagine how brutal the weather would be for half the year. It’s definitely a great place to visit though – I would totally go back and eat more barbecue.IMG_20180305_151646

Days 1-4 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

27 Feb

James had to go to Seoul for a work trip so he took some leave and we burned some frequent flyer points to get me there and make a mini holiday out of it. It was all at the last minute, which goes against my need to over-plan our holidays, but somehow we managed to make it work!

Day 1 – Travel Day

We got to the airport and through security waaay faster than we thought we would (thanks TSA Pre-Check!) so started off with a boozy breakfast in the United lounge. I had some Moet and James had coffee spiked with Bailey’s, a Bloody Mary and a glass of scotch. A morning glass of scotch. =/ (When we went to our gate there was a 30 minute boarding delay and James said in the most disgruntled voice you can imagine, “we’re going to be sober by the time we get on the plane.”)

Overall it was a pretty uneventful trip (we got ramen on the flight! That was pretty exciting) and we basically slept as soon as we got to our hotel.

Day 2 – Culture Day

This day we pretty much knocked out all of the big cultural attractions of Seoul. We’re not temple/palace people so we decided just to see the main two, which I think was a good choice.

We started off with Gyeungbokgung Palace, where we saw the changing of the guard and did a tour of the grounds.
IMG_20180217_102439Afterwards we wandered over to the Korean Cultural Museum area, which had a lot of Seollal (Lunar New Year) activities and crafts. There were lots of families and people in costumes wandering around which was fun. We made these woodblock prints:
IMG_20180217_112404But had great regrets that we didn’t stop at the “Crafting Dog-Shaped Humidifier” stand (initial ironic-regret turned to actual-regret later in the trip as James’ knuckles started cracking and bleeding from the dry air!)

We really liked these statues of all the Chinese Zodiac animals (a luckily-timed shot, because the place was packed):
IMG_20180217_110948We then walked to Bukchon Hanok Village, which has hundreds of traditional Korean houses, preserved to show a 600 year old urban environment. The alleyways were quite narrow and steep, and I liked the contrast with modern Seoul in the background. =)
IMG_20180217_120303We tried a couple of places for lunch but they were closed because of Seollal. Eventually we found a street dumpling place in Insadong that seemed to be doing a brisk business and ate there.

Then we walked to Jongmyo Shrine, which is the shrine for kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Like I said earlier though, we’re not really shrine people and I think we could have skipped this to shorten the day. Though on the walk there we did find a little exercise park with this fun workout machine:

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Also at the shrine there was a raised path with a sign that said “Please do not walk on this pathway. This is for the spirits.” So now whenever James sees a bike path or something like that he tells me it’s for the spirits.

Then we headed to Namsangol Hanok Village, which had some reconstructions of what I assume were upper class Korean houses. There were some Seollal celebrations going on there too, and we made a wish that, in a few days, would be burned with thousands of other wishes.
IMG_20180217_155112Then we walked to N Seoul Tower, climbed a billion stairs, and saw some amazing views of Seoul.
IMG_20180217_164146The tower reminded us of the Space Needle in Seattle.
IMG_20180217_170254While we waited for sunset we explored the stores inside. There were a bunch of people waiting in line for a VR experience, so we figured we might as well join them to kill time.

Here we are, uncertain about what we’re even waiting for – the San Franciscan way:
IMG_20180217_171424I chose the (most popular) harness one which looked pretty impressive:Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180217174300But was actually quite shit because the harness didn’t even try to match the movement of the video. The disconnect actually made me feel super sick and I had to close my eyes while I got randomly jostled around. =(

This is James on his bike, which he said was also crappy.
IMG_20180217_174731And here he is looking at a 3D video in the tower:
IMG_20180217_175138By the time we got around to buying our tickets for the observation deck, they had a sign saying that the wait to get to the top was >70 minutes, which was way too long, so we decided to head back.

We spent a frustrating amount of time trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t closed, and in the end had some mediocre seafood fried rice. We were utterly wrecked by this time, cos we’d walked 9.5 hours and I had discovered my new boots weren’t completely broken in. =( Just in time for …

Day 3 – Hike Day

We actually ended up walking far less than we did on our first day! We spent the morning hiking (a tiny) part of the fortress wall that used to surround part of Seoul.

Here we are at the Changuimun Gate before our hike:
IMG_20180218_095843We had to sign up for a pass that allowed us access, because in the 1960s North Korean soldiers had used this portion of the wall, which is quite high-up so apparently tactically advantageous, as part of an assassination attempt on the South Korean president.

It was definitely high up. Living in San Francisco we’re pretty used to stairs, but this hike had a shit ton of stairs.
IMG_20180218_103054The military was everywhere, but they were basically all kids in their early 20s, and when we said hello (one of the few words we know in Korean) they would smile and bow at us.

Our passes!
IMG_20180218_103930 (The soldiers were definitely looking for these, because at one point I’d put my jacket back on, which hid my pass, and one of them gestured to me to pull it back out so he could see.)

This is James hamming it up next to a tree with bullet-holes from the assassination attempt: IMG_20180218_104517You can see how long the wall stretches!
IMG_20180218_112254We ended the hike at the Sukjeongmun Gate at the north. You can keep going around the whole wall but we were happy to stop since we’d done the most interesting part. =)
IMG_20180218_114158We returned our passes, then caught an Uber (which is 2-3x the cost of a cab in Seoul, so that was the only time we Ubered) to grab some lunch.

I wanted to try some stuff that we don’t normally get in the US, so had jjajangmyun, which is a Korean/Chinese fusion dish of noodles in black bean sauce.
IMG_20180218_125404It wasn’t really much to write home about. The noodle texture was really good but the dish wasn’t as flavoursome at it looked (the deep brown colour fooled me!).

James also got an Oreo churro for dessert, which he said was average and also not as exciting as it looked. =(
IMG_20180218_133121We were still knackered from the other day, so we went back to our hotel, had a nap, and then dinner and a ton of drinks in the hotel lounge (all freeeee! Thanks to James’ Marriott Gold status) and had an early night because we had another big day coming up.

Day 4 – Fun Day

Fun Day lived up to its name! We started off at the Trick-Eye Museum near Hongik. It was super tacky, but really quite fun! There were lots of photo ops with various trompe l’oeil exhibits, and you could download an app that made the exhibits interactive.
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Cheesy but cool, right? Right??

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We kept holding our phones up to all the exhibits to see how they’d change.

Magic!

IMG_20180219_104955Enormous James and Tiny Kaye – how do they make their marriage work?
IMG_20180219_104642Because James is such a cool dude, that’s how! Cowabunga!
ArtCam_2018219103951Then we exited via a mirror maze (surprisingly disorienting!) to the main area, where we entered their small ice museum. It was really cold inside and I’m pretty sure everything was some sort of plastic, not ice, but it was entertaining enough for 5-10 minutes.

Third wheel!
IMG_20180219_113708There was a cool little slide:
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Back in the lobby there was a little cafe where you could get a latte with a custom picture on top! You had to take a photo of yourself on a phone that had some special app installed (I assume) and then they printed it on your foam. Behold!
IMG_20180219_115512Afterwards we headed to a meerkat cafe which was insanely adorable. The meerkats were so curious and sweet! A couple of them took naps on James:
IMG_20180219_130836Apparently a group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. But it should be “abundance”. Look at that abundance of meerkats.
IMG_20180219_130917
They loooved standing on our shoulders and peering around.
IMG_20180219_131202 They also stuck their paws down our butt-cracks and fished around a bit. =O One of them grabbed James’ braces which he did not like, a couple of them scurried down my shirt, and one of them kept sniffing around my nose and mouth and eventually stuck his nose right up my nostril.

Me: Did you get a shot of the meerkat sticking its nose up my nose?
James: Yeah I think so.IMG_20180219_131103
(That’s the handler’s hand as she tried to dislodge my meerkat).

They also had some friendly raccoons:
00005IMG_00005_BURST20180219123819_COVERAnd wallabies.
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And if you know James you know that of course he couldn’t leave without annoying a couple of the resident cats with his friendship:
IMG_20180219_134927Afterwards we walked to Kyochon Chicken to grab some chicken and beer. It was really, really good.
IMG_20180219_145257Then we took a train to the Gangnam business district to have a peek at Google Seoul and for James to grab a coffee from the microkitchen. James said this was his favourite room:
IMG_20180219_170006 And I thought this one was pretty cool too: IMG_20180219_170202
It was less exciting than all the other Googles I’ve been to – the views were amazing, but we’d seen fantastic views our previous two days already. At least the coffee helped perk James up. =)

To finish off our sightseeing we headed to Samsung D’Light just down the road. It’s a big Samsung store on the ground floor with more conceptual stuff on the top two floors.

James tried some VR, which he said was much better than the one at N Seoul Tower (James: and we didn’t have to wait in line!!).
IMG_20180219_174342In his virtual reality he is riding a racing pig but in actual reality he is sitting in a chair.

Upstairs they had this surprisingly fun quiz thing, where you went to multiple stations and answered questions about yourself and it would ostensibly tell you about your personality, but really it was just an excuse to show off cool visuals on their awesome screens.
IMG_20180219_180003Here is James designing his ideal planet:
IMG_20180219_175817He was very proud of this picture, which had captured his movement to make an artsy composite picture (like he’s seriously proud of it – it’s now his Facebook and Google profile pic):
senseUs on the big screen!
IMG_20180219_182932There was a car racing game with a swish curved monitor, car controls and chair.IMG_20180219_180859This was some interactive display about … I want to say a composite chip maybe?
IMG_20180219_181139On the top floor there was this really awesome “house of the future”. You can see from the photo that the house was blank, but if you lifted up the tablet everything would be coloured-in on the screen with a bunch of actors and CGI showing the technology and how the house occupants used it in their everyday lives. As you moved the tablet around it would show you the section you were pointing at – on the same angle and everything!
IMG_20180219_182122(We initially didn’t realise how to use it – it was on a stand angled downwards and when we pressed start we were like “WTF it’s just a shot of people’s feet”)

We finished off our Samsung experience with even more VR (an abundance of VR!). This one was a rollercoaster. =D
IMG_20180219_183438Seriously it was so much cooler than the one at N Seoul Tower and we just walked straight on – we were the only ones there!

For dinner we had bibimbap. It was okay but very rice-heavy (I didn’t realise they didn’t come with meat because all the ones we’d had in the US did) and there was so much of it I couldn’t finish. =(
IMG_20180219_195111 James mid-bite with it all mixed together: IMG_20180219_195612It turned out James had more room – just not for rice – and he ordered some fried meat on a stick at the Myeongdong street market.
IMG_20180219_210656Then we went back to our hotel and had an early night because we were going to the Olympics the next day!

A Visit to YouTube

3 Jan

A couple of months ago (yes I am very behind – happy new year by the way!) Jaimie and I visited James at YouTube.2018-01-03 (3)We had lunch at one of the cafes – there are only a few to choose from so we ate at the one that James said always has better food. He had a bowl of soup; Jaimie and I both had two lunches (one was an Indian curry and the other was roast pork with zucchini salad) and then lunch-dessert.

They had this outside! Meeting table? Lunch table? At any rate I feel the design was flawed because Jaimie and I knocked into each other a couple of times.
2018-01-03 (2) (1)James kept hyping down the YouTube office, and while it’s true that there aren’t as many cool things as in New York or Mountain View, there were still some interesting things to see. Warning: it’s all very red.

Slide!
MVIMG_20171127_135034Non-Google employees not allowed. =(

Video immersion room! We still have no idea what this was because it was down when we were visiting. Nevertheless, we stood in line like idiots.
MVIMG_20171127_131623All the meeting rooms were named after internet memes (at least I think that’s what James said). There were lots of TVs playing different YouTube videos, and generally the internet was a big decorating theme.
IMG_20171127_131713There was some special room with a green screen and fancy recording equipment, where James said they invited YouTube creators to come and film. We couldn’t go inside but I’m not sure whether it’s because people were using it or because we weren’t allowed to see it.

Claw machine!MVIMG_20171127_133940It was calibrated harder than the Seattle office one so we didn’t win anything (Jaimie wanted one of the water bottles).

They also had baristas and a juice bar. At the coffee bar they had pastries on display and a little sticker that said “You are so thoughtful because you take just enough and come back for more”. It shamed me and I didn’t take any. I did get a jasmine ice tea though, and also a jalapeno and kale juice at the juice bar.

The others got coffee and while we waited we took photos at the YouTube news desk.
IMG_20171127_132842 (1)Afterwards James showed us the disc golf course/walking trail outside. It’s a smaller, less sprawling office than Mountain View, and a much shorter commute. He said it’s much nicer to not have tourists wandering around (present company notwithstanding).

Thanks for the YouTube tour Jamesy!
2018-01-03 (1) (1)

Google Holiday Party 2018: Wonderland

14 Dec

When James told me the Christmas party was Wonderland themed I was like “Oh nice. Winter Wonderland!”

Nah. Alice in Wonderland.IMG_20171209_195208

It was held at the Exploratorium, which is an interactive science museum, and we could look at all the exhibits (mostly) without lines.

Here is James (you’ll just have to trust me on that) in a weird helmet thing that he kept changing the colours for with a little dial on the side.
IMG_20171209_194448He used this spinning wheel to change the direction his chair turned in.
IMG_20171209_211923My favourite exhibit was the Drawing Board. The other time I went to the Exploratorium this was really hard to get a ticket for, but at the party we just walked straight on (and started a movement! I think people didn’t realise it was a thing before we did it).

We picked four colours, swung the machine how we wanted and let the momentum draw pretty patterns for us.
00082IMG_00082_BURST20171209200304_COVERWe also went to the Tactile Dome which was free for the evening (it normally costs $8-15).

There was quite a long line for it – maybe 30 minutes? But it was pretty cool – you had to take off your shoes and feel your way through this pitch black route with slides, a mini rope course, bits where you had to crouch and climb, etc.

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image from Exploratorium website

I only saw one casino table this year, but that makes sense when there is so much to do at the Exploratorium. Otherwise it was pretty similar to previous Christmas parties – open bar (no signature cocktails this year though), sushi bar, taco bar and photo booths.
IMG_20171214_111423One thing that was new was the boba tea room (a huge hit!). They had several milk teas available – Hong Kong milk tea, taro, and jasmine are the ones I remember – and it was a really nice non-alcoholic option.

I also loved the little teapot sugar cookies they had as part of the dessert buffet:
IMG_20171209_224322Adorable. (I had two!)

We did a lot of standing around and chatting with James’ coworkers so we didn’t get to see as much as we would have liked. James gets free entry to the Exploratorium as a Google perk so maybe we’ll head back another day and play with all the exhibits!