Tag Archives: Holiday

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!

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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

A Point Reyes Christmas!

12 Jan

James and I spent Christmas in Point Reyes this Christmas. It’s about 1.5 hours from San Francisco, so it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Christmas Eve

We’d picked up our rental car the day before, so got an early start on our trip. Here we are heading out of the city:
IMG_20171224_081946We arrived at the Point Reyes Lighthouse a little bit before it opened. There were very few people around, and on the walk to the lighthouse we saw some elk. This one crossed the road right in front of us!IMG_20171224_095757I guess he has a fancy necklace because they monitor the elk population or something?

We had some nice views of the seashore and (what I’m going to assume were) Cypress trees.
IMG_20171224_100144Before descending to the lighthouse, a warning to us all:
IMG_20171224_100802There were just a couple of other groups, and everyone was very considerately staggering themselves, so we had the lighthouse to ourselves.
IMG_20171224_101407We saw the Fresnel lens and the inside of the lighthouse. James read the lighthouse keeper’s diary and said it was basically the diary of a man slowly going mad. Apparently it was mainly complaints about how little work the other lighthouse keeper did, and also every few months he would see a boat.

The way back up – 308 steps!
IMG_20171224_102810We went to Point Reyes Station to do some grocery shopping (it was slammed!) and then headed to get our oyster lunch(es).

Our first stop was Hog Island Oysters where we ordered raw oysters, oysters with barbecue sauce, and half a Dungeness crab.
IMG_20171224_123909They sold oysters that you could take home and shuck yourself, which sounds amazing. Maybe next time!

Afterwards we went to The Marshall Store. They were more expensive than Hog Island, so if you’re getting plain oysters you should probably go elsewhere, but the smoked and barbecued oysters were incredible – and the barbecued oysters came with a giant, satisfying hunk of bread!

Hog Island Oysters had the pretty fairy lights, but it was really nice sitting on the water with our delicious oysters. IMG_20171224_140411Afterwards we headed to our rental cabin in Point Reyes, ready for an early start the next day.

Christmas Day

We got to the Palomarin trailhead around 8am to hike Alamere Falls. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the area but the parking lot was empty on Christmas Day.

It’s an 8 mile (12.8km) round trip – we actually did 10 miles (16km) because we missed the turn-off. We think there used to be an official sign but now there’s just this mysterious rock arrow pointing into some bushes.
IMG_20171225_102019On our hike back we watched from around the corner to see what people would do, and everyone took the shortcut. I guess James and I are just very untrusting people. =(

After a long and circuitous walk on an empty beach, we finally arrived!
IMG_20171225_113928The falls emptied out to the ocean, which was really cool.
MVIMG_20171225_113959
Here is James having lunch at the base while I wandered around.
IMG_20171225_114252When the tide came in it cut off the beach route that we had taken to get to the falls. The shortcut involved a bit of a scramble up a cliff. IMG_20171225_120228At the top there were several little falls before the main waterfall.
IMG_20171225_120731 We think this was the top waterfall but you can never be sure. IMG_20171225_121216
There were a lot of people on our walk back and when we got back to the carpark it was full, which was a bit surprising given that it was Christmas. But I guess I don’t know how full it would have been on a regular day to compare.

We got home, showered and napped. Then we had dinner, drank a bottle of champagne and played Exit: The Abandoned Cabin, an escape room game. It was so cosy and satisfying spending the evening solving puzzles together. What a perfect day. =)

Boxing Day

This was our cabin at sunrise.
IMG_20171226_074223 (1)After we checked out we went kayaking on Tomales Bay. It was a beautiful morning and the water was like glass.
MVIMG_20171226_110400 We spent a lot of the time following this bird around. He hated us; every time we paddled within 50 meters of him he glared at us and flew away. MVIMG_20171226_104019We saw some elk on a beach. They also weren’t happy to see us, and fell a couple of times trying to jump a ledge to get away from us. Sorry elk!
Elk at Tomales Bay failing to climb a ledge, as seen from our kayakWe stopped for lunch on Heart’s Desire beach and then continued on our kayak journey. The water had gotten quite choppy and we were fighting against the current. I say “we”, but unfortunately for James, my paddling was largely decorative.

You can tell by his happiness levels. Here we are, kayaking out:
IMG_20171226_102750 (1)And kayaking back:
IMG_20171226_124600Logistically it had been a poor decision to kayak on the day we didn’t have a hot shower immediately available, but it was the only way I could have fit everything in since the kayak place wasn’t open Christmas Day and the lighthouse wasn’t open Monday to Thursday.

But anyway, we dried off as best we could and headed back to San Francisco. It was a really wonderful way to spend the Christmas break. =)

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home (OMG my ankles were so sore after the hike) and playing with the cats. Then in the evening Jaimie and Jeff came over and we played Watson & Holmes (where we were all completely out-deduced by James).

I Still Call Australia Home

10 Oct

We just got back from three weeks in Australia! We were efficiently visiting for two weddings – Julian’s and my cousin Jon’s. Like last time, we used pretty much all our free time to catch up with friends and family (and also gorge ourselves).

Plane Anthropology

On our flight to Melbourne, our section of the plane (the blue Economy Plus area) had hardly anyone in it – behold!

Screenshot_20170904-223549I had optimistically put myself in 21L and James in 22L but had been obsessively monitoring the situation in case of a flood of newcomers to our section – I figured rows 16 (the one we vacated), 17, 18 and 20 would be my canaries in the coal mine, and if I saw those starting to fill up I’d change our seats so James and I were in the same row.

It was pretty interesting to watch people figure out that there were empty rows for the taking, and start to spread out and stake their claim. The first people to catch on were a group of guys in rows 22 and 23 – they separated and took the DEFs in row 20 and 21. The other empty rows were taken maybe 10-20 minutes after we’d sat down, and well before the boarding doors closed. 24DEF was the last to go, and after that it was people just circling around looking for empty rows. I counted eight of us who had the very best situation – an ABC or JKL row to themselves (DEF was less optimal because you didn’t have a wall to lean your back against to stretch your legs out on the seats).

I also thought it was interesting how reluctant people were to move to a row where someone was already sitting. As far as I could tell, almost everyone who started with their own row stayed that way. Everyone technically only had the right to their own seat, but clearly the seat poachers realised how desirable it was to have a row to yourself and didn’t want to be the one to take that away from someone (also a lot of people had defensively moved to the middle seat of their row).

Which brings me to the 17JKL bloc. I was particularly fascinated with it because it was one of the few filled rows. 16JKL was also full but the guy there moved to 16ABC pretty quickly, and the 16s weren’t really that desirable because the seat arms don’t lift up (which was partially why we had moved our seat allocation). But anyway, early on in the boarding process (after the 22/23 guys had spread out but before other rows had been taken) I saw a lady from 17JKL look around and realise that the blue section was likely to have empty seats. She asked a flight attendant if she could move, and I guess the flight attendant told her that after boarding she could take any empty seat, because she stayed put but kept looking around.

Which was a huge mistake, because by the time she started walking around, all the rows had been claimed, and even people who had moved (and had just as little “right” to the row as her – except for the apparently crucial part of being there first) had started to feel territorial about their space. I heard her ask to sit with a single in 17 or 18 ABC, who straight up lied to her face and told her that someone else was sitting there! She got rejected from another row and was roaming around looking for someone who was too nice to say no (from my live email updates to Cat and Ivo: “the unwanted lady just moved seats again to someone else’s row. She was like “can I join you here?” NO! Nobody wants you!!”).

Obviously she had to do it because moving would be a significant upgrade for her, but just as obviously people didn’t want her in their row because it would be a significant downgrade for them. I think she ended up in 18DEF on her third attempt.

The flight took off 30+ minutes late, but watching people tetris around was the most engrossing 30+ minutes I’ve ever spent on a plane. Also I slept nearly the whole way, sat with my legs stretched for the rest, had nobody reclined in front of me, nobody pulling my seat to get up, no lines for the toilet, and had three tray tables/seat backs to organise my stuff – highly recommended!

(I had high hopes for our return flight which was looking similarly empty, but it filled up a couple of days beforehand. So we did the only reasonable thing and upgraded to business. =P)

Catching Up

The whole point of visiting Melbourne is to catch up with family and friends, and we always make the most of it! I love our friends in Seattle and SF, but there’s nothing quite like being around the people we grew up with. We met up with my school friends, James’ school friends, James’ computer science friends, and my cousins.

Being with my cousins reminded me of when we were kids and hung out every weekend (except half of them have kids of their own now!)
IMG_20170928_163922I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but Cat said that she also got teary-eyed looking at that picture. We were so close growing up, and it’s so much fun hanging out with them – we’re only fully assembled every couple of years or so, because of Klene living in Sydney and me in San Francisco.

Last time we visited Melbourne we didn’t see as much of my parents as I would have liked, so this time we had a weekly dinner with them and Cat/Mitch.

It’s funny, because I feel like at times, Cat and mum didn’t always get along that well – Cat used to get exasperated with her easily, and mum would come to me and be like “you tell Cat to do X, because Cat won’t listen to me”. But now Cat writes all these funny, sweet anecdotes about mum on facebook, where apparently “Mama Chen” has quite the following among Cat’s friends – even some of my friends have told me they love the Mama Chen facebook updates!
21768353_10156217380865656_6916487172671501806_n (1)All of James’ high school friends have kids now, and about half of my school friends have kids. Everyone is getting so old! Here we are with James’ uni friends after a brunch catch-up:
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Stuff I Had Totally Forgotten About:

Chicken Salt

The first time we went to get fish and chips (with flake! Not that cod bullshit they have here) and they asked if we wanted regular or chicken salt, James and I were like “OMG how could we have forgotten about chicken salt???”

How is it not a thing here? Possibly for the same reason the US doesn’t have Burger Rings, chicken Twisties and chicken flavoured chips (that aren’t a novelty flavour like chicken and waffles) – Nancy said “people in the US don’t like meat-flavoured chips” (!!!)

But anyway, we brought back three different kinds of chicken salt.

Magpies

I never saw them in Seattle or SF but they’re everywhere in Melbourne. I was walking down the street and heard a magpie sing and was hit with this intense wave of nostalgia. I used to hear that sound all the time, and hearing it again after all those years felt simultaneously foreign and familiar.

Melbourne Food

It is so good, especially the Asian food. James and I reckon the best Asian restaurants we’ve been to in the US would be middle of the pack in Melbourne.

James had his first proper Melbourne coffee and said he’d forgotten how good it is – and also how strong it is! We went out to brunch with Joel, Nancy, Damo, Joan and their kids, and afterwards James said he was really jittery from the coffee – whereas Joel and Nancy made themselves another cup when they got home.

Anyway, here is a random selection of food we ate and took photos of:

My pavlova freakshake at Naughty Boy cafe:
IMG_20170917_095758Sushi platter from Shyun:
IMG_20170923_181953The “Money to Burn” cocktail at Eau de Vie:

20170925_085924-ANIMATIONEau de Vie was really fun – the cocktails were delicious and beautifully presented. We love speakeasies and didn’t realise that they were now a thing in Melbourne. Mitch had a cocktail with some fairy floss and a paper plane:
IMG_20170913_204716 I think this one involved a drink being poured into a glass full of hickory smoke. 00004IMG_00004_BURST20170913212612_COVER
Next time we go back to Melbourne James wants to do Eau de Vie’s food/cocktail tasting menu because he was absolutely in love with the place.

(Also, James fell asleep on the train ride home. It turned out he had actually started to get tired after dinner and before we went on a 20 minute hunt for a speakeasy, and certainly well before we had 3-4 drinks each at said speakeasy – but he said he was having such a good time with Cat and Mitch that he “wanted to keep the party going”).

The “Meat Fruit” at Dinner by Heston:
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Vegemite gyoza at Shizuku Ramen & Craft Beer. You can take the girl out of Australia …
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Zombie VR

Ivo said she wanted to do this, and to be honest at the start I was dubious. I mainly went along with it because I thought it would be fun to hang out with everyone – I could take or leave the VR experience, really. It was at Zero Latency in Melbourne and it ended up being amazing.

They were running a bit late so we could see the people before us. They were wearing their gear – VR set, headphones, motion capture stuff, guns, some sort of computer backpack – yelling at each other, and sort of shuffling around tentatively in this massive warehouse space. I imagine we looked just as goofy when we were doing it.IMG_20170917_205923_1It was really immersive – not just 3D but completely responsive to our actions because of those little motion capture bobble things. I can’t believe there isn’t something like this in SF!

We did the zombie and the space one, of which I think the space one was better. There was some really cool stuff, like where you walked up this torus, and when you looked down you could see your friends still down below you and it felt completely real. And walking across high platforms, hiding behind boxes, dodging baddies … it was really, really cool.

The zombie one was just a straight up shooter experience, which is why it felt a little less interesting. It was still really immersive though, and thus pretty freaky having a zombie running right at you.

Mitch did really well and ended up coming with the third highest score ever. The guy working there was really impressed! They sent us all these cool stats afterwards, like how accurate our shots were, how many points we’d scored, how far we’d moved etc. I thought the funniest stat was that during the space boss battle, all of us moved a pretty consistent distance – from 8-17 meters … except James, who apparently just spent the whole time walking around and had travelled 112 meters! WTF James!

Souvenirs

Generally stuff is way cheaper in the US so we tend not to buy too much stuff when we visit Australia. James usually replenishes his supply of Bonds undies, and I pick up some clothes, but this time we decided to go all-in on Aussie snacks:
IMG_20171001_174837Things James missed the most: banana lollies, wizz fizz and musk sticks

Things I missed the most: chicken Twisties, Burger Rings, honeycomb chocolate, noodles

You can’t really tell in the photo but there’s a couple of boxes of Wei Lih noodles that the Pringles and chicken salt are sitting on. They’re sooo much better than any other instant noodle I’ve had and I can’t find them in the US. They were $23 for a pack of five on eBay – outrageous!

James and I taped two boxes together and checked them as luggage, and they survived the trip really well. And it was only a little bit embarrassing collecting them from the carousel and carrying them through the airport. Cat reckons I’d be able to tape four boxes next time – I think definitely three, but I’m not sure if four would exceed the allowed luggage dimensions.

I also bought some sneakers from Country Road (I’m having mild regrets on that one – they look cool but they’re made of fucking neoprene and make my feet sweaty) and this awesome croissant rain coat from Gorman that I will never, ever regret:

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image from Gorman

Every time we visit, we’re surprised at how much cooler Melbourne is than we remember, and how our friends are just as wonderful as we remember. And we sort of get stars in our eyes and think about moving back even though it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes we just miss being around people who sound like us, you know?

But anyway, we’ll be back next year for Cat’s wedding!

Christmas at Mammoth and June

10 Jan

We finally made it to Mammoth for Christmas! Last year our flight kept getting cancelled but this year we managed to get ahead of the storm (we also got upgraded! Yay!)

I always love de-planing at Mammoth. The mountains are so pretty and the air is so cold and crisp. =)
IMG_20161219_162507On James’ birthday his aunt and uncle took us out for a fancy meal which was super nice of them. We had a couple of sunny, not-too-busy days to get our snow legs back before the storm. Plus lots more eating and drinking!

On the day of the storm it was cold, wet, and the visibility was pretty bad.
IMG_20161223_120034Storm days are always my favourite because the snow keeps getting refreshed and hardly anyone is on the mountain, and everyone who is there is so happy! It was definitely the best day of the trip. =)

The weather was pretty cold this time – I wore five layers most days. My gloves are pretty ratty now, so for the next trip I bought a bright pair of mittens so I’m nice and easy to find.
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All the days leading up to Christmas were pretty decent crowd-wise – last year the Christmas to New Year period was awful, so we were pleasantly surprised.

This is James looking majestic on Christmas Day.
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The highlight of the day had to be meeting up with Woolly and a random Santa!
IMG_1116 (2)It was a great way to spend Christmas morning/afternoon – the snow was nice, the sun was out, and everyone was in a good mood.

But then … disaster! As we were walking back from the resort James got paged. =( He spent the rest of the day (4pm-1:30am) on a work emergency. Here he is, looking very depressed with his festive hat and champagne flute.
IMG_20161225_184938Poor thing. =( We were all eating our delicious Christmas dinner and he was in the corner on a conference call with a plate of food.

The next day Ian, James and I headed to June Mountain to escape the Boxing Day crowds. It was busier than the last time we went but not too bad.

This is the view from the resort – gorgeous!IMG_20161226_141636I can’t remember which run I took this photo on – it was a green run that had beautiful views all the way down which made up for the fact that the snow was fairly crappy.
IMG_20161226_140628Last time Ian and I were at June we took the ski-back trail, but there wasn’t enough snow this time so we had to take the chairlift back to the parking lot.

Going down was a very different experience to going up! I was holding my snowboard and had the bar down because if the chairlift suddenly stopped I didn’t want to go tumbling down the mountain.

The most nervewracking part was when I took my phone out for some photos – the board was wedged between me and the bar, and I had a death grip on my phone … which I couldn’t even feel because my hands were so cold.

No regrets!
IMG_20161226_142151Then our last day we spent at Mammoth again, and that was our Christmas holiday! I snowboarded seven out of the eight days we were there, which isn’t bad.

It was great seeing James’ relatives again, and I’m looking forward to our next trip out!

A Visit to Google NYC

15 Dec

James has to go to New York several times a year for work and sometimes I decide to tag along because we both love the city.
IMG_20160713_135543Though I love it a lot less now I know how humid it gets in summer. I’m not sure if New York is particularly disgusting when it’s hot or if living in Seattle and San Francisco has spoiled us. Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

But yeah, James worked during the day, and in the evenings we did fun touristy things like …

Book of Mormon!
IMG_20160714_184320We got pizza afterwards. =) The top one had pepperoni and honey and it was delicious.
IMG_20160714_220500On one of James’ travel days we visited the Museum of Natural History. The insanely massive Megalodon was my favourite – it was so big its head was peeking out of the room.
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The t-rex was also cool.
IMG_20160715_103154But the main reason I joined James this trip was because I’d managed to get dinner reservations to Eleven Madison Park!

Here are our pre-dinner cocktails:
IMG_20160713_174615The food (and wine matching – with frequent refills!) was wonderful. These were our appetisers – the boxes were handmade and arrived stacked on top of each other.
IMG_20160713_175313When stacked, they looked like the chandeliers above us. =)
IMG_20160713_201044I am such a sucker for fancy butter – I just spoon it into my mouth like ice cream. The bread was also amazing and they kept offering me more and I kept taking it.
IMG_20160713_181022This one was really fun. A picnic basket was delivered to our table with little jars of condiments. (The drink was the only dud of the night. I thought it was cider but it was some sort of gross tomato flavoured thing)
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Fast forward to the end, and this was part of our dessert being made:
IMG_20160713_202649The second part was a chocolate game (apparently dessert used to involve a magic trick so I was a little bit bummed … until I saw how much chocolate they gave us!)

There were four bars of chocolate and we had to guess which was which out of coffee, smoke, maple syrup and chilli.
IMG_20160713_204922James and I guessed identically … identically wrong. We only got one out of the four correct. =(

We couldn’t finish that much chocolate so we asked for a little bag for the leftovers and they were like “oh we’ll give you a fresh set!” (We ended up taking that extra set AND our chocolate leftovers – because duh).

Afterwards we went to a swanky bar with James’ coworkers and made them play the chocolate game while we all drank cocktails. It was an awesome night. =)

James also gave me a tour of the Google NY campus. He always talks about how much cooler it is than Mountain View, and how it must be so disappointing for the NY employees whenever they visit HQ.IMG_20160715_151912The building is opposite the Chelsea Market and basically takes up a whole city block:
IMG_20160713_140539There was a cool lego room where people could make and store their own lego projects:
IMG_20160714_123900And a project display wall and a weird ladder that only Google employees were allowed to climb:
IMG_20160714_123927Someone made a replica of the Google building:
IMG_20160714_124041The area also had a lego-themed micro kitchen:
IMG_20160714_124238 With brain food.IMG_20160714_124224James really liked the temporary work spaces at the New York office. He said he normally goes to a high floor and sits somewhere with a nice view of the city but he was also fond of these impressively orange honeycombs:
IMG_20160715_160841We also found a couple of trams:
IMG_20160714_124726James was super jealous that the New York office has Killer Queen. It’s an awesome 10 player arcade game that our friends introduced us to. There’s one at Brewcade in San Francisco … but it’s not free like this one! There were a couple of guys playing while we were there so our group joined in and we had a mini battle (we won, primarily because of James’ queenly skills).
IMG_20160714_130741And this is the bouldering wall. There’s also one in Mountain View but it’s so far away that James never bothers going.
IMG_20160715_162136(Oh, and you know how you travel on bikes around the Mountain View campus? In the New York building you get little kick scooters to ride around on)

Here’s James and his team on one of the decks. It was so hot and humid that we all sought shelter inside as soon as I took the photo.
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The New York campus has a lot of cool food options – they bring in a lot of guest chefs to cook for the employees. I saw David Chang (of Momofuku fame) featured on their wall of fame. =O

This was a food truck that was inside the building, though it was closed when we toured it at the end of the day.
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Above the Chelsea Market there’s a Google cafeteria decorated like a cool loft.
IMG_20160714_133046 We ate upstairs in one of the meeting rooms. I really liked the fancy animal portraits. =)IMG_20160714_133819We did a bunch of other stuff – saw Then She Fell (an interactive play like Sleep No More), ate and drank a lot, and I did some shopping while James worked. Did you know New York has no sales tax on clothing that costs less than $110? That was a pleasant surprise. =D

Cat and Mitch are planning to visit New York next year so hopefully we can time a trip to coincide with that (although ugh, it will be in summer again).

So it looks like there will be a lot of trips to NYC in our future! (Though I hope it’s not like how we visited San Francisco a lot while we lived in Seattle and then ended up moving there and thinking … well that was a waste)

Bye NYC! See you soon!
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Indonesia: Ayana Resort & Rock Bar

13 Sep

After a couple of days of sleeping on a boat mattress and manually flushing the toilet, James and I were ready for some luxury. So at the last minute we decided to stay at the five star Ayana Resort for our final night in Bali.
IMG_20160526_181401And it was heaven.

As soon as we got out of the taxi we were greeted with a frangipani garland (there were trees all over the grounds so everywhere you went it smelled amazing). We had a delicious welcome cocktail as we checked in, and our bags were waiting for us when we got to our room.

We were pretty tired from the flight so we decided to try out the aquataonic pool before we turned in for the night.

aquatonic_pool

image from Northstar Travel

According to Ayana’s website the aquatonic pool contains 700 million liters of water directly supplied from the nearby Indian Ocean and has 12 hydromassage stations containing over 60 individual therapeutic jet streams, micro-bubbles and geysers. So basically a fancy, massage-y hot tub.

In the pool we warmed up by walking/swimming down a lane with a strong current that pushed against us. Then we swam to different stations with jets aimed at different body parts – like one would deal with shoulders, then the next our middle back, then our lower back, etc.

I don’t know how busy it is normally but we went right before closing so there was only one other couple there and we could spend as long as we liked at each station (though they recommended 2 minutes). It was super relaxing and exactly what we needed after the plane ride.

The next day we embarked on a quest to try out every single pool at Ayana, because why not?

We woke up early and headed straight to the Ocean Pool because we’d heard it was really popular. It was overcast and raining, which was a bit of a bummer, but that meant we had the pool to ourselves, so hooray!
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We hung out here for ages just looking at the water. =)

The next pool we tried was the River Pool.
IMG_20160527_084216Pretty cool, huh? I was taking photos and one of the maintenance guys showed me this vantage spot and said it was the best for photos. He was right!

This was a weirdly shaped pool at the sister hotel, Rimba. It was still raining on and off so again we were the only ones there.
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That pool overlooked several other pools. The lower pool was pretty huge – it wrapped around to the right and had a bunch of cabanas around it.
pool2To the left of the bridge there was a hot tub nook and a bar. The hot tub was great but the pool water was freezing immediately after! James had a soak right before he swam over for a morning coffee.IMG_20160527_095630We explored a couple of other pools (all the other pools!) but those were our favourites. James tried to go down the kiddy waterslide but they wouldn’t let him. =(

By the time we hit the main pool at Ayana the sun was out and it was pretty busy. The upper pool had a gorgeous view of the ocean and the hotel grounds but was super packed. We took this photo at the lower pool which was completely empty, probably it was really deep and looked more like a lap pool. In the photo you can see a bunch of people lounging at the upper edge.
IMG_20160527_115423We also dropped by the hotel’s private beach which looked nice, but no beach can really compare after the Komodo Islands. We did see some monkeys though, which was pretty cool.

And one last visit to the Ocean Pool!

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Then it was time to check out and have lunch.
IMG_20160527_135622We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and exploring.
IMG_20160527_153010Until Rock Bar opened. =D

It is built on a cliff face, looking out to the ocean. And insanely gorgeous!

The Rock Bar

image from Ayana

It’s accessed by a funicular which is also pretty cool. Right before the bar opened the staff used it to transport all the ingredients and ice (soooo many bags of ice).
IMG_20160527_080758Here we are inside it earlier in the day. I think this was after our second trip to the Ocean Pool, which is why we’re looking a bit damp. Though it was super humid, so who am I kidding – we were constantly looking a bit damp. =(
funicular2There was a long line for the funicular, unless you were a hotel guest in which case you had priority access. You could get there faster via some stairs, but I guess the trip down is half the fun!

This is the other half of Rock Bar taken from near the actual bar. Our waitress said that the fancy area across the bridge was for people staying at the villas (the super premium rooms).
IMG_20160527_155819She also said that all the good seats are reserved for hotel guests and visitors get the seats at the back, so I’m glad we didn’t go at the start of our trip when we were at a different hotel.

Look at the crazy waves!
IMG_20160527_162608Some of the tables closer to the water couldn’t be used because they were soaked. I got sprayed several times trying to time the waves for a photo, which wasn’t terrible considering how brutally hot it was.

When we were seated our waitress gave us some cold towels and an umbrella to keep the sun off. They came in very handy.
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And then we sat there and drank aaaaaalll evening. =) To be honest the drinks were pretty bad, but everyone was there for the ambiance anyway.

Our waitress was lovely – she offered to take a photo for us. Then she insisted on taking a billion pictures with us posing at different places around the bar which was very sweet but also very unnecessary.

I felt bad telling her that we didn’t really need that many photos so just went along with it. And then I felt bad just deleting them so here they are (or like, 1/20th of them anyway)!

At our seats (sorry, everything looking into the sun is just super washed out – but how great are those seats??):
IMG_20160527_171018Left of the bar:
IMG_20160527_171147At the bar:
IMG_20160527_171241Right of the bar. Our waitress/photographer told us to hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. And then we had to stand there for several minutes staring at each other while she took sooo many photos, which cracked us up.IMG_20160527_171435
It was really sweet of her. And it is nice to have (200) souvenir photos of us at Rock Bar. =) Though I was a bit photographed out when James tried to take a selfie later:
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From memory, the giant, dark hand underneath is me trying to take the phone away and the curiously pale hand on top is James trying to stop me. We may or may not have had a few by then. Good times.

And here is the bar, all pretty and glowy at night!
IMG_20160527_183043There wasn’t much of a sunset to see which was disappointing. =( But we still got to drink and admire the view until it was time for us to head to the airport, which was not a bad way to go.

I wish we could have had a couple more days at the resort to soak everything up. When we got home I told James that I don’t want to go back to Indonesia when there are so many other countries to explore, but I really want to go back to Ayana! Everything about it was perfect – the hotel was gorgeous, the restaurants were great, everyone who worked there was amazing – and it was a wonderful, luxurious end to our holiday!