Activities

USA: 22 Hrs in Chicago, IL,23 April 2016

Chicago Skyline from U.S. Cellular Field

07 00: Boy, am I thankful that our hotel let us check in early! ZZZ 11 00: Time to haul ass. We have reservations at Mexique, a French-Mexican place I saw on Top Chef. The Chilaquiles at brunch was amazing, and brunch only cost us $30 for two of us!

Mexique - Chilaquiles

12 00: Uber to US Cellular Field. Metro would have taken too long. I tried to find their famous bacon on a stick, but I couldn’t find it. 😦

15 00: I’m not built for red-eyes. I was nodding off during the game. P.S. You can take amazing photographs of the Chicago skyline from US Cellular Field!

US Cellular Field

16 00: Chicago is a nice city. We had a nice walk around the downtown, and followed the path along the Chicago River.

Chicago

17 30: I wanted to go to a Jazz or Blues club, but the one we walked into was closed for a private event. We ended up at Dick’s Last Resort, which is more up my partner’s wheelhouse. They give rude service on purpose, and give you hats with insults. The BBQ platter was awesome!

BBQ Combo at Dick's Last Resort

19 00: Metro back to our hotel near O’Hare. There was a Dunkin Donuts shop at the metro. Score!

20 00: ZZZ. I passed out until it was time to leave for our 6 am flight the next day.

Lazy Saturday by the River, Chicago

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Taiwan – Taipei to Keelung, 14 October 2012

Our cruise was supposed to depart around 5 pm, and we had to be on board by 2 pm. So, I had the whole morning to myself to explore Taipei. Well, I actually do have a mission – find a companion for Red. Some five years ago, I bought a red Mizuno glove from Taipei. While Red is still holding strong and doing real well, I also do want to get a back-up, just in case – genius that I am – lose the glove by accident, or break it or something. I was initially planning on trying to find the old sports shop in Ximending that I bought Red from, to buy a sibling for Red, but as there was free wifi in the hotel, I spent the night googling, and chanced upon something – a sports complex with batting cages, and softball/baseball equipment sold on site.

Say hello to Taroko Sports. They have more than 10 locations across Taiwan, and within Taipei itself, they have three locations. The one most accessible for me was within short walking distance of Jiannan station on the Wenhu line. Just look out for the huge ferris wheel that’s attached to the mall Miramar. Walk towards that mall, take a left, follow the road. As you walk on the road, you should see landmarks like Victoria Hotel and a love motel across the road. (you’re kinda following the metro line)

I was definitely psyched when I arrived. It was everything that it promised to be. They have more than 8 batting cages for baseball, with speeds ranging from 80 kmph to 140 kmph. They also had 5 softball batting cages, and 2 pitching cages. Well, they have a bunch of other sports, like a mini bowling alley, and hoops, and an arcade, but I was just there for the softball. In terms of pricing, it’s slightly cheaper than the US. Their most expensive option was 200 TWD for 6 tokens (~1 USD per token), and each token is good for 20 pitches. If you buy more tokens, the prices come down, and they have various promotions. For instance, they have a ladies Wednesday, whereby girls get twice as many tokens. Through a remarkable design, they were able to pack all these into a fairly small area. You won’t get to see your ball fly much, but hey, you’re getting some practice, no?

After some fun in the cages, I headed towards their shop, which was within the premise of the sports complex. Service was amazing, and they had a huge range of gloves. I’d guess they had more than 100 different gloves from 6 different brands. As part of my secret plan is to slowly collect the colours of the rainbow for my fielding gloves, I ended up with a blue one. It’s also serendipitous that it was the best fit amongst the different gloves! So, hello Blue!

After my little morning exercise, I met my parents for lunch at Sweet Dynasty, a Hong Kong dessert/food place that has made in-roads into the Taiwanese culinary world. Previously, they were on the same side of the street of San Want Hotel, but looks like business has been brisk. They have since then moved across the street to much larger premises, just above Zara. I wasn’t feeling hungry, so I had one of their famous beancurds, but with walnut paste option. Try a bucket if you have enough fellow diners to share with you!

Post-lunch, we took a half hour cab ride from Taipei to Keelung. Not much to report, as we very quickly boarded the Superstar Aquarius. We had a good three hour before the boat’s departure, so I glanced around Keelung. The warehouses looked pretty old school. I can almost imagine them being in black and white photos!

Taroko Sports

Taroko Sports at Jiannan

Batting cage at Taroko Sports

Softball batting cages

Beancurd with walnut paste

Beancurd with Walnut Paste at Sweet Dynasty [糖朝]

Keelung Harbor

Keelung Harbor

Stateroom with Window on Superstar Aquarius

Oceanview Stateroom with Window on Superstar Aquarius

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Malaysia – Legoland (Johor Bahru), 11 October 2012

Today was a mission of three, which includes a little three year old going to Legoland. Legoland is about 10 min drive from the second-link and we managed to get across from pretty quickly, since it was a weekday. They have quite a bit of signage, but I got lost after following the signs for an exit. I needed some help from my cell phone before finding it. Hopefully others will have better luck finding it. Even after getting lost, it took a total of 45 mins from central Singapore. If you don’t have a car, many tour agencies in Singapore provide coaches from Singapore to Legoland, and along with entrance tickets, cost SGD 65 – SGD 70. The entrance was kinda weird. We had problem finding it, because they had a mall we had to walk through before we could get to the entrance.

Legoland has enough rides for different age groups. For the little ones, it might be advisable for them to be at least 90 cm, for them to be able to participate in more rides. 100-120 cm is probably better, though. If you are a roller coaster junkie, this is probably not for you. But this is good enough for the average thrill seeker. I’m pretty chicken, so I don’t really need crazy roller coasters.

As for food, it was pretty decently priced. We paid 60 RM for a family meal, which came with a 14 inch pizza and 4 sodas and 4 soups. Just glad it didn’t break the bank. One note – you might not want to go if it’s raining. They closed all the rides when there was lightning, and there are not many features that are indoors.

The Lego mart does sell pretty interesting things, particularly little lego souvenirs. For instance, they have keychains and fridge magnets. You can also get an engraving for 10 RM.

While the tickets are a little pricey, there are some options for you to get cheaper tickets:

1. 22% – Lucky Plaza. They sell tickets that they bought for groups to individuals.

2. 25% – book online 7 days in advance on the Legoland website.

3. 30% – there are some discount coupons floating around for 30%

Legoland Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia

Lego Singapore

 

Singapore made of lego

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Indonesia – Surf’s Up in Bali, 23-26 September 2012

Couple of friends and I managed to put together a short weekday trip to Bali. Only mission of trip? Ride some waves.

Apart from full service airlines (KLM, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, but to name a few) that fly from Singapore and Bali, there are also multiple budget options that head there, including Jetstar , Tiger Airways , and Airasia. Air Asia gave us the best combination of price and schedule, so we ended up taking that option. I think Lion Air flies there too, but I’m not that keen on that. To keep costs low, we stayed at Tune Hotel, which is run by the same company that operates Air Asia. It’s a no frills hotel that’s mostly clean, has a great shower, and a nice bed. We booked into the one at Kuta, and it was located at a central location, giving easy access to Kuta Beach.

Upon arrival, our first mission was to get some lunch. Previously, we ate at Warung Made on Jalan Pantai Kuta (it’s about 500 ft away from the beach) and were satisfied with the fare, so we returned. They offer cheapish and excellent Indonesia food. Our first meal was a nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado-gado (Indonesian salad with boiled veggies, tofu, and peanut sauce), which we washed down with some draft Bintang. Whole meal costs us around 50000 rupiah (~ 5 usd).

As we were still early for check-in at Tune, we ended up going for a foot massage. Recently, multiple massage places have popped up around Jalan Pantai Kuta, and their rates are vaguely the same. They cost around 5 usd for a foot massage, and 7-8 usd for a body massage, both lasting 1 hr each. Frankly I don’t know much about massages, but they all seemed pretty good.

Surfing. Well, there are actually a couple of options available in Bali, including more advanced options. But as we are beginners, we decided that a beginner’s beach break is the best option for us. Kuta is an excellent option, if you are looking for a beginner’s beach break. Equipment rental is cheap (from 4 usd a day to 4 usd for half a day, depends on your bargaining skills, and your willingness to carry a surfboard for some distance), and if you so wish, you can also hire one of the beach boys as an instructor.

Some things to note – if you are not a strong swimmer, I highly recommend that you do not do this. While the waters are shallow, the under currents are very strong. It requires a certain level of water confidence to battle the waves. Also, for a more painless surfing experience, the area that’s closest to the entrance to Kuta beach at Jalan Pantai Kuta is your best option. The further north you head, the crazier the waves get. It can be fun, but it is also exhausting. Do also watch out for surfboards headed your way. As there are many beginners out there, you never quite know if someone rams a surfboard in your direction. So heads up .

In a strange little twist, our surfing trip turned into a shopping trip, due to the intensity of the surfing. One of my friends has lovingly christened our soft boards the cheese grater. We lost quite a lot of skin after the first day, prompting us to invest in rash vests, and non-chaffing board shorts. So do try to bring some equipment, as this can be quite painful. Or if you do decide to buy, there’s a shop at the south end of the bar scene on Jalan Legian that sells surfing (and other beach) stuff for a discount.

We ended our days with cold Bintangs and beautiful sunsets by the beach.

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USA – Westport (WA), 07 June 2012

After two years of reading myself blind, I passed my PhD general exams, as of 30 May. What does this mean? I’m moving back to Asia semi-permanently. The last two years in Seattle have been magical, and I am really sorry to leave. If I could choose, and had no responsibilities, I’d have stayed, because I fell for this city. Anyway, couldn’t leave this state without going surfing the Pacific, so off I went with a partner-in-crime!

Choice? Westport. After some research about surfing in Washington State, I found a beginner’s beach break in Westport. Westport is a coastal town along the Pacific, that’s about 2.5 hrs drive from Seattle. Whether the weather cooperates, mission on!

I *erm* woke up late after pulling a late-nighter for my paper, so had a late start at 11 am. Picked up S, and then, we started the drive to Westport. Truth be told, Seattle weather wasn’t that kind. Rain, rain, low visibility. But nothing shall derail this mission. Onward!

Strangely, despite all the crazy rain, I think the heavens must have felt some pity for the heavy heart I have, for leaving this magical place. When we drove into Westport, it was actually clear, and blue. 1 pm, lunch time. I did some homework on Tripadvisor and we ended up at Bennett’s Fish Shack. It was decently fresh seafood, a simple place, whereby the entrees hovered around $10. Portions were definitely big. I had fried oysters, S had fish and chips, and a clam chowder. That chowder was almost solid in texture!

On our way to the Marina (Westhaven Drive), I spotted Steep Water Surf Shop, so after lunch, we turned back, and got our rentals there. The guy, Matt, is friendly, and helpful with information (e.g. daily state park pass that you needed to get, showers), and gave us a 1 min quickie lesson. His equipment was also in good condition, and it’s on the way to West Haven State Park. Random note – maybe I’m not clued into this, but bring your own shower amenities and towels. They have hot water shower, requires 2 quarters for maybe about 5 mins of hot water.

After getting everything, and loading up the car, we drove to West Haven State Park. Just cut through the bushes, and you’ll hit the beach. It’s a fairly typical Pacific Northwest beach … Driftwood, black sand. It was a beach break as promised, and had right and left breaks. Weather wasn’t exactly kind, but soldier on, we did. S was a total trooper in this mission. I did not manage to stand on the board, but for the first time, I learnt how to position to board to catch the wave. So, I will no longer require the services of surfer boys. Waves were breaking too fast for us to catch them.

All in all, it was an amazing day. I finally got to surf the great Pacific. Next stop – world domination!

Bennett’s Fish Shack and Westhaven Drive

Gorgeous Westport

Loaded up car with surfboards

Categories: Activities, Beach, USA | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

USA – Snoqualmie Pass, 13 Dec 2011

Winter has come early, and I was itching to do some winter sports. H has never skiied in her life, and the various ski parks near Seattle were having a half-priced Tuesday, so off we went.

Having been to Stevens Pass and knowing how daunting it can be for first timers, this time I suggested we try Snoqualmie Pass instead.

Snoqualmie Pass is an easy hour drive on the I-90 from Seattle, and it’s probably passable to get there without snow or sports tires. An when we pulled up, I knew we made the right decision. We could see the whole bunny hill, whereas the bunny hill in Stevens Pass wasn’t quite that easy.

Being a Tuesday, there were few people and tonnes of space to slowly ski around and no lines at the lifts, so that was great for the two of us. Staff there are also friendly and nice.

My only suggestion is to pack some food, because the food at the cafe is forgettable and expensive.

All in all, a fun day out!

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Yikes, and a New Trip – Peru! (1-13 June 2011)

So, once again, I have forgotten to update all my older trips, have gone on a few more since then, and am embarking on another adventure. Tsk tsk me!

Anyways, what’s up? Peru!

It is going to involve an Amazon river cruise, an overnight bus ride, domestic airplanes, and two epic rail journeys.

01 June: Getting ourselves to Peru!

02 June: Lima, Peru

03 June: Lima – Cuzco

04 June: Cuzco

05 June: Cuzco – Machu Picchu – Cuzco (scenic train journey)

06 June: Cuzco – Lima (surfing!!!)

07 June: Lima – Iquitos

08 June: Iquitos

09 June: Iquitos – Lima

10 June: Lima – Huancayo (epic rail journey on the second highest railway in the world)

11 June: Huancayo – Lima

12 June: Lime (surfing? paragliding?)

13 June: back to Seattle

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USA – Honolulu HI, 30 Mar – 03 Apr 2011

I went to Honolulu for a conference. Well, the conference is an excuse. I just wanted to go somewhere warm and beachy, and since I presented a paper, some kind souls covered the cost of the air ticket. Well, since I was in Honolulu the whole time, there is no real need for me to write up an itinerary page. I didn’t do much, except go to Waikiki, sit in the sun, and do my readings.

There were certainly some highlights on the trip.

  • Meeting up: I met up with several people, like C and the two Ms. C is now studying in UH, and so he knows the area. He kindly came down to Waikiki to meet me, and he brought me to Zippy’s, the local version of Denny, and I tried a local specialty, loco moco at his suggestion. According to C, it was a dish invented for the US army. It is a very simple and hearty dish, and given my predisposition for hearty dishes, obviously, this got two thumbs up. It is basically a large hamburger patty on two scoops of rice, topped with a sunny side up, and drowned in gravy. I loved it!
Loco Moco
  • I also bumped into J and G at the conference, and they told me about a college baseball game at UH. Well, since the sun has to set at some point, and the baseball game is in the evening, I decided to head towards UH for the baseball game. I didn’t stay till the end of the game, but it was pretty fun! And it sure as hell was packed! Go, school spirit! 🙂 (UH won, btw)
UH versus Witchat state (something like that)
  • I went surfing as well. As usual, couldn’t get on the surfboard. Maybe I’ll have better luck in Peru or Bali. Waikiki beach is definitely super good for beginners’ surfing. There are lots of long waves (ok, I don’t know the exact term) that’d give beginners a chance to catch the wave and do the ‘pop’, but well, waayyyy too many beginners! I almost got killed when someone came straight for me. I only saved myself from serious damage by jumping off the board and hiding under the board!
Beach Bums, Surfers and Diamond Head Crater in the Backdrop of Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach
Thought this hotel was pretty cool looking; endless shopping in Waikiki
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USA – Whale-Watching Day Trip: Coupeville/Whidbey Island WA, 27 March 2011

Twas grey whale watching season, and since company was in town, what better time to explore the Puget Sound area, and watch some wildlife along the way, no?

We signed up with Victoria Clipper for a Sunday day trip that’ll bring us whale-watching with trained marine biologists who work in the area, and included a two-hour stop at Whidbey Island, one of the many islands in the Puget Sound. The Victoria Clipper also offers ferry services to Victoria, British Columbia, and trips to other islands in the Puget Sound area.

Honestly, after watching the whale surface just an itsy bitsy bit, I was quite contented with my whale sighting, and just proceeded to snooze until Coupeville in Whidbey Island. Other people were certainly more determined, and some braved the relentless drizzle for more sightings of the whale, and the perfect photo to bring home. Well, it’s 10 am on a Sunday morning, and I do what I like doing best – snoozing.

After all the excitement about the whales, we arrived at Coupeville around noon, and were given two hours to explore the town. The ‘commercial’ area was pretty small, and there were quite a few restaurants near the pier. It has a small town feel, and although there are some historic sights, it would have required a car, and definitely more than two hours. With two hours to spare, what else better to do than to stuff our faces? 😛

Anyway, it was a good choice. M ordered a pasta after her first choice of clams was sold out, while I ordered a mussels in white wine sauce. The portions were generous, the price was fair (mine was 12 bucks), and it was delicious!

After our leisurely Sunday lunch at Coupeville, we boarded the boat and returned to Seattle to end our little day trip.

Grey day for Grey Whale Watching

Coupeville, Whidbey Island

Lunch of Mussels in White Wine Sauce in Coupeville

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USA – Stevens Pass Ski, 02 January 2011

The highlight of the trip – my first time skiing. We went to Stevens Pass, which is actually a real near drive to Seattle and the Eastside, for those who live there (~1-2 hours in good traffic). Anyway, it costs like 50 USD for the ski lift ticket, and equipment rental was another 30-35 USD. I don’t remember the exact details.

Erm, well, let’s just say, not a good introduction to the sport. The Stevens Pass ski was built for adrenaline junkies, but their version of a beginner’s hill was actually real scary (after having been to a real beginner’s hill). It was much closer to an intermediate hill, as there were some seriously steep straight stretches, and there were points where it was just hard to slow down, or make turns for beginners. The first time I went down, I basically just tumbled down. I almost thought I’d become a gigantic snowball mass in a cartoon fashion! Let’s just say, it was an incredibly scary experience, and it didn’t get any better the second time.

To make my money’s worth, I think I actually went about six or seven times, and after the first two times, it certain got much better. But let’s just say the first two trips were really scarring, and I started to make my way down the slopes like a granny. I think skiing is pretty fun, but I don’t think it’s going to be like what surfing is for me. 🙂

Stevens Pass

Chair Lift

I look like Krusty the Clown

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