November 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 25, 2015

USA DIARIES PART 2: San Francisco, California

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

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

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

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

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

October 19, 2015

USA Diaries Part 1 : The Long Haul Flight

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Kimbee swears by noise canceling headphones and crossword puzzles. 

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

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

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

Next up San Francisco.

October 12, 2015

Vietnam Diaries: Hanoi Part 4

Aside from the (in)famous motorcycle traffic, Hanoi is also known for its pagodas.

A bit out of the way of Hoan Kiem District but a restful spot in a really busy city is Chua Tran Quoc, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The 1,450 plus year old Pagoda perfumed heavily with incence was constructed in the sixth century and sits prettily close to the water’s edge of West lake. It is so picturesque even on an overcast day.

Opening Hours: Daily from 7:30 to 11:30 and from 13:30 to 18:30
No entrance fee

Crossing the street, immediately adjacent to West Lake is Trúc Bạch Lake. We followed the delicious smell of cooking and found our lunch in one of the many restaurants along the banks. We picked the busiest place with the most number of local patrons knocking back beer and munched happily on the tastiest Vietnamese food. The mild weather made for a perfect al fresco dining.

Dessert is Bo Bia Ngot. A made to order delicious street side snack of thin crepes, sugarcane candy, freshly grated coconut and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds which is then rolled like spring rolls. A treat for 10,000 VND.

Still in the vicinity of West Lake at the cross road of Thanh Nien and QuanThanh Street is the Taoist temple of Den Quan Thanh. The name means “Place of the Gods.” The impressive white entrance gate frames the shaded yard set before the temple.

Opening hours: Daily 07:30-17:30
Entrance fee: 10,000 VND.

This second trip in Hanoi  has done nothing but solidify our love for Vietnam fixing it on top of our most favorite country and I'm just so grateful to get another chance to see and experience more of it. Hopefully, next time, we get to do our dream of exploring the whole country from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi by train. 

July 22, 2015

Vietnam Diaries: Hanoi Part 3

We made Hoan Kiem District our base in Hanoi and as soon as we step out of our hotel, we are quickly enveloped with the frenetic energy that is the Old Quarter.

It’s so easy to get lost within the 36 maze-like 13th-century streets and to blow your Vietnamese Dong on the abundance of trinkets displayed in spades fighting for your attention. Everything is all out there, piled high and wide, to be smelled, tested and bought.

Hoan Kiem Lake on the other hand is peaceful and quiet. It is in the heart of Hanoi, and a useful reference point to get your bearing.  The lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple. The pagoda sits in the center of the island and can be reached by crossing the wooden red bridge of The Huc (Morning Sunlight bridge).

Opening Hours: Daily 08:00-17:00. 
Entrance fee: 3,000 VND.

The tree shaded benches scattered around the lake is a good place to get a breather and watch the rest of the city go by while cooling down with some heart jolting ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee.

Vietnam is second only to Brazil in coffee production and the coffee culture is so big here. They have coffee anywhere and everywhere in anytime of the day and in so many variations.

Stephen, our Canadian friend we met on a Halong bay cruise told us about ca phe trung, or egg coffee and we set out to find it. We were desperately lost because of our fabulous sense of direction and was about to turn back when I look up from my map and saw the café sign just across the street. Hallelujah!

Giang Café is an ancient hole in the wall hidden on an alley on Nguyen Huu Huan Street in the city’s old quarter. It was a bit difficult to find, but their delicious sorcery served since 1946 is well worth the effort. We tried the hugely popular frothy egg coffee and the iced with yogurt and loved both. It is delicious!

I still don't know what's behind these Liliputian seats but it's fun to plop down on one of those seats spilled over the sidewalk sipping some delicious potent dark brew while motorbikes zip around sometimes just inches away from our faces.

This spot we're parked at here is just across St. Joseph's Cathedral. The in-dire-need-of-a-white-wash cathedral is one of the city's landmark, the oldest church in Hanoi and resembles Notre Dame de Paris. A must do when in Hanoi - the street side coffee drinking, people watching and St. Joseph's cathedral.

all photos taken with 
Fujifilm XA1, 
Fujinon XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6, 
Fujinon XF 27mm F2.8 

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