India Day 3 – Taj Mahal

Today we went on a 4 hour bus ride to Agra. This involved crazy traffic out of Delhi followed by nearly empty expressways culminating in even crazier traffic in Agra. We encountered a cow crossing the crazy Delhi traffic, farms with various herds of animals along the expressway, and a mix of free roaming cows, monkeys, donkeys, and boars on the streets of Agra.

Also on the expressway: We passed lots of hitchhikers, many of them in groups. I saw my first herd of sheep being herded by a guy with a staff. The toll plazas had motorbike-only lanes. Two Mormon missionaries rode by on their bicycles against the flow of traffic. Their direction of travel is actually not that unusual; pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, and cars all do that on a fairly regular basis. Our tour bus did the same on the streets of Agra later that night.

Shortly after we exited the expressway the Agra roads became super crazy. It was like New Delhi in a pressure cooker, with more ingredients. There were all the animals, plus more people, more narrow roads, more cars, more tuk tuks, more motorbikes, more bicycles, more speedbumps. We encountered a quintuple speedbump, followed by a dectuple speedbump. That, and there was a sometimes covered sometimes not sewer trough that ran along both sides of the street. It took us forever to go just a few miles through town. Huge props to our driver.

Once we got through town, we headed straight for the Taj Mahal. We had a seasoned guide who knew how to get us in without waiting in a single line, but getting through the masses of humanity was still pretty intense. In particular, there’s a shuttle that takes you from the ticket window to the gate. I’m pretty sure we packed about 40 people into a bus designed to seat 16. But that’s how things are here. We probably didn’t look that different from many of the vehicles we saw on the expressway.

It was all worth it to finally see the Taj Mahal. One of my coworkers told me a couple weeks ago, “It has a presence,” and when I saw it in person I immediately understood what she meant. It’s amazing in pictures and even more amazing in person.

The inside, however, is far from what you’d expect from a mausoleum. Mostly, it’s throngs of humanity shuffling through trying to take pictures of something they’re not supposed to take pictures of, all while a guard repeatedly blows his whistle to direct traffic. I was happy to exit so I could stare at its intricate walls and marvel at its majestic presence.

And take some pictures. Or else it didn’t happen.

As we exited, a call to prayer began. This is the first one I’ve heard in person.

Just one random note today: There are a lot of products from the Himalayas here, and every time I encounter one I think, “Ooh, fancy,” before I realize the Himalayas are really close by. I’m starting to think “Product of Himalaya” here is like “Made in Mexico” in the US.

India Day 2 – Camels??!!?!

Woke up super duper early and stepped out of our room. The entire hotel atrium smelled like Diwali smoke. Hooray for the ventilation in our rooms! You can’t even tell it’s all smokepocalypse out.

Started the day at the hotel buffet. Had some Indian curry, bacon and eggs, porridge with shiitake mushrooms. I heart international breakfast buffets.

Next, it was off to Humayun’s Tomb. We grabbed a taxi from the hotel. Our driver kept trying to convince us to hire him for the day… for 1,600 rupees. That’s about 24 dollars. For a day. And that’s without bargaining.

Alas, rule number one to being a tourist here is to be really good at saying, “No, thank you.” Wait, that’s rule number two. Rule number one is to only drink water from sealed bottles.

I joked that whenever I visit a new country I go around visiting really really big old buildings. Humayun’s Tomb is a really really big old building… full of dead people. It’s near other relatively big old buildings full of dead people. I guess it’s a neighborhood thing. Like Colma.

Unlike Colma, a lot of people come here to take pre-wedding photos. I get that it’s pretty but, um, this place is for dead people.

This picture doesn’t capture it, but Humayun’s Tomb is really square in many ways.

After the tomb we took an Uber over to Lajpat Nagar, where I picked up some bangles at the Central Market and Aaron got a Sherwani from one of the many wedding attire shops. Except it wasn’t as simple as that; walking in that area is an adventure in itself.

Here’s what I’ve learned about traffic here in the last day: Not only are lanes a suggestion, sidewalks are also a suggestions. When traffic gets really bad the cars will simply drive on the other side of the road, and motorcycles will drive on the sidewalk. Direction of traffic is a suggestion as well; even though the main street through Lajpat Nagar was separated by a concrete divider, as pedestrians we still had to look both ways before crossing, because a non-trivial amount of traffic would be coming from the “wrong” direction. Some stoplights are also just a suggestion. Rules are suggestions, flow is king. Here is our Uber ride into Lajpat Nagar. It’s still early and there is not much traffic on the road.

I noticed today that a lot of cars have bumper extensions, and that a lot of those extensions look well used. Also, a normal distance between cars as they pass is about 6-8 inches.

I’m also getting a feel for Indian Standard Time. I experienced it with various reservations before the trip, and we experienced it in person today waiting for Aaron’s Sherwani alterations. What do you do when you’ve already waited (we used that time to explore Central Market) and need to wait some more? Surprise lunch! We shared a Thali plate and momos.

A few more random notes. I’m scribbling things in my little notebook as I go: The parks are filled with people playing cricket on Sunday mornings. It’s possible (likely?) they play throughout the day, but I only looked in the morning. There are stray dogs everywhere. They know how to stop and look before crossing the street. There are pigeons in a lot of places too. They sound really creepy when they coo in an echoey tomb. There are guards everywhere. If you have a shop with nice things, or want people to think you have a shop with nice things, you hire a guard. There are guards at our hotel. They inspect the cars as they enter, run our bags through X-ray, and look all official about making people go through a metal detector. I consider it mostly theatre.

I get some stares here and there. If they’re staring at my face I know it’s because I’m Chinese. If they’re staring at my calves I know it’s because my capris are too revealing. That thing about covering one’s legs fully? Everyone really does it here. But hey, at least I’m not wearing daisy dukes.

Final bit of randomness: Camels heading straight into the traffic of Lajpat Nagar. Mega props to these super chill dromedaries.

– – –

Took a nap, then went to dinner. I’ve had Indian food for two straight meals now, and it pretty much tastes like the Indian food in the Bay Area. At the end of dinner we were served betel leaf shots. Interesting and new.

India Day 1 – Holy Smoke!

Hello from New Delhi! Aaron and I are here for a week to do some touring, followed by a 3 day Indian wedding.

We took an Air India nonstop flight from SFO to DEL. This was the longest flight I’ve ever been on. My back hurts just thinking about it. (Get off my lawn!)

In the week leading up to the trip, I’ve been checking the weather here. Google has pretty consistently been forecasting Smoke. When we touched down, we saw what that meant:

I’m not even sure how the airport remained operational with that little visibility. My throat burned when we walked outside. The entire city smells like a campfire.

We took a car straight from the airport to the hotel, but I saw so much during the drive. There were people all along the side of the road, standing, walking, crossing, seemingly randomly. The Asian squat is prevalent. It makes me feel inflexible. There was a lady walking while carrying something giant on her head. Median landscapers watered the plants manually, with large plastic jugs. The cars here are right hand drive; the roads are left hand traffic. Entire families travel on a single motorcycle; dad up front, kid in the middle, and mom in the back sitting sideways in her saree. Beggars tap on the windows at stoplights. Lanes are a suggestion. Horns are prevalent. It’s like driving in China, only 5 times more hectic.

I didn’t photo document any of it. It was dark and smokey.

And now it’s time for some much needed sleep.

I started an album for this trip here: Project Fi connectivity is pretty good so I’ll try to update as I go.

Boston, Aaron Edition

Penny turned 1 earlier this month. We had a birthday party for her last Sunday. I flew to Boston to attend… and Aaron came too!

It was Aaron’s first visit to Boston, so we squeezed in a ton of sightseeing alongside a good dose of noms.

Our flight arrived around 10:30 PM Saturday. My parents picked us up from the airport armed with fresh chow fun and some bao from the local Chinese bakery, then dropped us off at our Airbnb in downtown. Thanks Mom and Dad!

We had planned to stroll through Boston Common Sunday morning, but it was raining pretty hard so we just went to the Dunkies down the street and hung out until it was party time. We walked a few blocks to Grandma’s apartment where my parents picked us up. Off to Casa de Penelope!

Penny’s birthday party: Food, people, babies, football. More food, more people, more babies. There were kids gorging themselves on candies and a toddler peeing on the floor. Potty training accident.

After the party, Aaron and I took the T to dinner at Craigie on Main, where we had the tasting menu. Phytoplankton pasta! Distinctively tasty.

It cleared up on Monday, so we walked the Freedom Trail. I was pretty excited to finally do it; it’s one of those tourist things the locals never experience. There were churches and churches and the Old North Church, from which the two lanterns were hung. There was also the Old South Meeting House, which is now part historical site, part entrance to a T station. Weird. We passed through Faneuil Hall, toured the USS Constitution, and finished at the Bunker Hill Monument, which we climbed up. I love climbing tall things.

We stopped at Mike’s Pastries along the way for cannoli. Of course we did.

After the Freedom Trail, we went to Harvard Square. We strolled through campus, then had a snack at Tom’s BaoBao and Shake Shack. I would love to have a place like BaoBao here in the Bay Area. Shake Shack, on the other hand, was meh; its style is somewhere between In-N-Out and Five Guys.

Next, we headed for MIT and made a beeline to the Harvard Bridge, because why wouldn’t we visit a bridge measured in Smoots? After that we paid a visit to the Great Dome and finished with ice cream at Toscanini’s. Tosci’s totally lived up to the hype.

After a quick rest, we met up with Grandma and my parents for dinner in Chinatown. Grandma was pleased.

The next day, we grabbed our Dunkies and headed for the State House, which was closed the day before because of Columbus Day. I love visiting old government buildings. Everything is so unnecessarily big. Also, they have a lot of committees for things. I know because there’s an office for each committee in there, and we walked past a lot of them.

After the State House, we strolled down the Comm Ave Mall to the Boston Public Library, which completed renovation earlier this year. It’s now bright and airy and modern and nothing like the prison it resembled when I was in high school.

From there, we headed down Newbury Street. I picked up a shirt from Johnny Cupcakes and we stopped for ice cream at Emack & Bolio’s. The ice cream shop was too small to maintain nicely and the ice cream itself was meh, especially after Tosci’s the day before.

With ice cream in our bellies we spent a few hours at the MIT Museum, home of robots and holograms and student projects and a super interesting exhibit of Arthur Ganson kinetic sculptures. I totally want to build some!

After the museum, back to the North End, where we nommed at Pizzeria Regina, followed by a visit to Modern Pastry for more cannoli. Of course, more cannoli. If we’d had an extra day we’d have visited Maria’s Pastry Shop as well to complete the cannoli trifecta.

Strolled through the Greenway back to the apartment. I love the Greenway so much. The Central Artery was dark and dirty and loud and uninviting and I’m glad it’s gone.

Had an early dinner at O Ya with Pauline and Paul. Fancy sushi creations. After that, we went to my parents’ house and hung around watching Penny. The world revolves around Penny. She’s one lucky kiddo. I marveled at how much her dexterity and attention have developed since I saw her two months prior.

Got up at 5:30 AM the next morning and flew back to California.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I made sure to take one of us doing that thing you have to do when you’re in Boston:

Getting Our Dunkies On


Went to Blue Bottle for a macchiato just now. It was twice as expensive, took five times as long, and tasted about half as good as pretty much any of the macchiatos I had in Italy.

This experience was not unlike my first pour-over of my favorite Tesora beans when I got home last week. I’ll readjust to San Francisco’s expensive not-as-good-as-in-Italy-but-still-some-of-the-best-in-North-America coffee soon.

Italy 2016

Last year…

Alissa: Remember our freshman year we said we’d go to Italy in 20 years?
Me: No, but if I said I would I’ll go. Let’s go!

We picked out a good time of year, booked a tour, booked our tickets, and earlier this month… Italy!

Day 0: To Italy!

Finally got to fly on an A380 on the first leg of the trip. Big plane is big! I loved the live view from the tail mounted camera. Looks flight simulator unreal. Wait, I guess that means flight simulators look real.

It was trippy watching our landing; there were crosswinds so we had to glide in at an angle. Seeing it and feeling it really helps that concept sink in.

The flight was mostly uneventful save for a bout of roller coaster turbulence which happened to start while I was watching a video of some buy jumping his bike. We dropped right as he launched. Wow, it feels like I’m in the video!!!

Thanks to a short connection, a late arrival, a wonky tram door, and a carseat stuck in a security scanner, we missed our 2nd flight. We got rebooked for 3 hours later and a meal voucher. I was stoked about getting to speak French for a few hours.

A short flight later, we landed at Marco Polo. Of note: The coffee on European flights is way better than in the US.

We took a bus to Venice, then a WATER BUS to our hotel. I had my first I-know-enough-Italian-to-be-dangerous-to-myself moment when I asked where our Vaporetto stop was. A barrage of Italian later, the ticket lady looked at me staring at her blankly and said, “English?” Yes, please.

Went for a short walk in the evening. Happy hour is happening here! We had hole in the wall pizza by the slice and gelato for dinner. It was a’ight.

Day 1: Getting our Bearings in Venice

We did some wandering and people watching in the morning. I had a latte and a croissant. They were a’ight.

Then we picked up SIM cards. Armed with the power of Google, we were unstoppable… until we tried to have fabulous pasta for lunch. Alas, no reservation, no fabulous pasta. We had expensive tourist pasta instead.

The Doge is a thing here. But not like it is back home. Still, it cracked me up to no end. It’s Doge everything here. Doge bread, Doge coins, Doge gelaterias. Much wow.

Finally had a lightbulb moment about the “Grand Canal” at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Ohhh, it’s modeled after THIS!

Had some creamed cod on polenta thing for dinner. It was a’ight.

Narrow alleys and tiny bridges. No cars. Venice is busy and crowded and touristy and a giant rat maze.

Day 2: Murano

There was a mosquito in our room. I woke up with 6 bites on my forehead. That was kind of hilarious.

Went to a different coffee place, a tiny stand at the bar joint that the locals went to. Had a cappucino. It was a’ight.

Took a Vaporetto to Murano island, land of glass making. The bus stopped at cemetery island on the way. Yes, an entire island for dead people.

Went to the glass museum, did a bit of souvenir shopping, then hopped on a Vaporetto back to Venice.

Lunched on cicchetti. It’s a thing here, mostly for wine fueled happy hour, but whatever, I was hungry.

Met our tour group in the late afternoon. There were 28 of us in total. I made it a point to remember everyone’s names. It’s something I’ve always been terrible at that I’m trying to improve. I remembered everyone’s names. YAAASSSSS!! \o/

Group dinner! Had marinated sardines, seafood risotto, and tiramisu. It was pretty good.

Afterward, we went on a nighttime gondola ride. It was so peaceful. One of our gondolas had a singer, and I listened to his voice echo down the narrow canals. What a fantastic experience.

Day 3: Basilica di San Marco, Burano, Torcello

Woke up early to get an espresso (caffè) at the locals bar again. Turns out that’s what people here drink. It was fabulous. FINALLY!

The fish market downstairs from our hotel was in full swing. So were the trash collectors, who collect by hand throughout the island and cart the trash to boats.

Learned why I had so much trouble finding the fabulous pasta restaurant we couldn’t eat at a couple days back: Numbering is by district, not by street. Also learned about gondola licensing, ownership, and customization.

Next, St. Mark’s Basilica. Our local guide said it took 50 years to build and 500 years to decorate. It was amazingly ornate, with lots of gold. We stood on the balcony and admired the square.

We also learned about the clock tower, at the far right in the picture above. That thing is a piece of work!

After that, a private boat ride to Burano. Cheeriest island evar! Zipped through the lace museum and gained a newfound appreciation for lace. It’s not just doilies!

Stopped in Torcello on the way back. This was the first of the lagoon islands to be populated. Then malaria struck. Current population: 10. A very peaceful visit, much needed after the crowded bustle of Venice.

Finished the day with a delicious meal of fresh fish and light pasta. Would eat again!

Day 4: Art, Doge, and Opera

Spent the morning looking at room after room of religious art at Gallerie dell’Accademia. Apparently they weren’t allowed to paint anything other than religious art for a good long time. Zzzzz…

Had my first proper caffè macchiato at second breakfast. It was great! And second breakfast is a thing here. Two thumbs up!

Paid a visit to the Doge’s Palace in the afternoon. Giant rooms for some sort of council followed by gianter rooms for gianter councils followed by one of the giantest rooms in all of Europe. Then an armory. Medieval weapons, coooool.

From the palace we crossed the Bridge of Sighs to the prison. It seemed like a lot of prison for an island so small. I guess they liked to lock people up back then. Oh wait, we still do.

Navigated home by street sign. WIN!!!

Went to a little quintet + opera performance in the evening. It was a’ight.

I counted 21 mosquito bites on me before bed.

Day 5: To Florence!

Took a water bus to a tour bus for a drive through the Italian countryside to Florence. Had my first Italian rest stop experience. They’re fully equipped restaurant plus convenience store stations. The Autogrill we stopped at was so big it straddled both halves of the freeway. Like this one (I took this picture a few days later):

Once we reached Florence, we went on a walking tour through the city. We saw statues and tower houses and some brilliantly Clet-ified road signs. Our last stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia, where David resides. I did not expect him to be 17 feet tall. Zoiks!!

After David, we headed to dinner, where we had bruschetta, penne, gnocchi, a flaming beef roast, and a selection of desserts. Everyone said it was delicious. I thought the pasta was decent but overall the meal was just a’ight.

At this point, I started to realize the food may well have been delicious, and that I was the problem because I’m calibrated to fancy San Francisco cuisine.

Day 6: A Tower Home, Cooking Class, and The Duomo

We started the day with a visit to Palazzo Davanzati, a tower home considered fancy for its day. I concluded I would not have survived even a fancy medieval lifestyle.

Next, we learned about Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge that used to house butchers and leather tanners. Why? So their stinky waste could dump directly into the river below. This was the only bridge the Nazis did not destroy as they retreated, supposedly because Hitler specifically spared it.

Then we wound through a neighborhood of small artisan shops. There were metalworkers, tailors, frame makers, goldsmiths, lamp makers, a chandelier factory…

We stopped in a church, the one where Michelangelo ostensibly dissected corpses to learn about human anatomy. He repaid them with a Jesus statue. I guess that makes it okay.

And then… cooking class! Chef Fabrizio guided us through the creation of another giant meal: bruschetta, egg noodles with mushrooms, some sort of lemony chicken, and panna cotta. One of our tour group members who sings in a choir serenaded us as we cooked.

After lunch, I headed for the Duomo and got completely soaked by a 2 minute downpour as I was crossing a bridge. It didn’t rain after that. How lucky of me! I joked that by some miracle of Italy I’d be completely dry by the time I returned to the hotel.

The climb to the top of the Duomo went like this:
1. Wait in liiiiine.
2. Stairs, stairs, stairs.
3. Pop out on the inside of the church at the base of the dome. WHOA, DOME ART UP CLOSE. WOWOWOW.
4. Stairs up the dome, between the inner and outer layers of the structure. Like the cream of an Oreo cookie.
5. Pop out on top of the dome. Hello, amazing view! What a reward.

I find it mind boggling how long it took to build such massive structures, and how people were able to stick to the plan across so many generations. In this particular case, they built a giant church with a hole where the dome was supposed to go because they didn’t know how to do it yet. Such faith!

The Baptistry was no slouch, either.

Did a lot of walking, returned to the hotel dry. Miracle! Had a nice pizza at a local hole in the wall joint.

Day 7: Uffizi, Galileo Museum, Lampredotto, Walls

The Uffizi Gallery is a thing. So we went. It’s filled with statues with little weenies and more religious paintings than most people will ever need to see in their lifetime. I will, however, note that Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation was amazingly detailed, and upon seeing it in person I instantly understood why he was such a Big Deal. Nothing on the Internet comes close to doing it justice.

We had the rest of the day free after the Uffizi, so I headed for the Galileo Museum. It’s a journey through the early history of science: astronomy, motion, telescopes, microscopes, anatomy, static, pumps and vacuums, magnets, electricity, chemistry, pharmacy, and finally mechanical clocks. It’s also home to a few of Galileo’s fingers. WTF, people.

Lampredotto is a thing here. So I ate some. Fourth stomach of a cow sandwich for lunch! It was decent.

I zipped through the Duomo museum to view the original baptistry doors and stumbled into a room of reliquaries by accident. As I made my way back out, one of the pieces caught my eye. Is that… a finger? I looked at some other items. More body parts. Bones, teeth… suddenly everything the guides had been saying the last few days sank in. It does not pay to be a saint in the Catholic Church. WTF, PEOPLE?!!?

Headed back to the hotel for a warm weather costume change, then hiked up the hill to the nearby rose garden and Piazzale Michelangelo for some beautiful views. There were Jehovah’s Witnesses waiting for us at the top. I felt like I was at the Caltrain station.

Realized on my way back down that my hotel was just blocks from the wall that used to surround the city.

Happy hour buffets are a thing. So we did one with the group. Then we crashed. Touring is tiring!

Day 8: Wine Tasting and Rome!

My legs were tired. I was grateful for a bus day.

We stopped for lunch at a winery in Umbria. Marco the owner produces olive oil and wine, hunts and cures wild boar, and runs a bed and breakfast. We got to sample his wines alongside a spread of breads and meats and cheeses prepared by his wife. Everything was tasty, his property was beautiful, and his dogs were a pack of friendly goofs.

It rained hard after lunch. We rolled into Rome during a break in the rain and headed over to the Pantheon in time to get inside and watch the rain pour in through the oculus. How lucky are we??

After dinner, it seemed as if the rain had calmed a bit, so a bunch of us strolled into Piazza Navona, where we promptly got poured on. Diluvio! We moved to Plan B and hopped on a bus. Upon getting off at the Colosseum Metro station we found our path to the entrance flooded, so we did a Plan C hike up and around to another entrance. The hilly street we climbed was a river all the way across. Two Metro trains later we made it back to the hotel completely soaked. What an adventure!

Day 9: The Vatican

Holy crowdedness! So many people all clamoring to get into the Loot Museum! The Vatican was tiring. The Sistine Chapel was a letdown. But St. Peter’s Basilica was a sight to behold. Its huuuge. And I got to stand under His Popeness’s balcony.

After some rest, a group of us headed over to the Victor Emmanuel Monument and caught a view of the city from the top. I saw the Roman Forum from above and looked forward to exploring there the next day.

Day 10: Church on a Church on a Temple, Colosseum, Forum

We started our last official tour day at Basilica di San Clemente, a church built on a church built on a pagan temple. It’s cool to descend down through time. It’s also humid.

After that, we headed for the Colosseum. We learned a lot about its history and construction from our local guide, but didn’t get a lot of time to explore.

This is an interesting tidbit, though: Because the marble facade is long gone, you can see holes all over the remaining structure of the Colosseum. Those holes were made so scaffolding could be put in place to build up. And those arches are there for reinforcement.

Another interesting tidbit: The Colosseum was built in only 8 years. Supposedly they hired 4 teams, one for each quadrant, and promised a bonus to the team that finished first.

Next, we went to the Forum. It was fascinating to hear about the Temple of Vesta and the 4 virgins charged with keeping the flame lit. There were more temples, some of which were preserved because they had been converted into churches and maintained, others which had crumbled because they never got churchified. Ruins are rad.

Alissa had been looking forward to seeing the Ecstasy of St. Teresa, which happened to be in a church a couple blocks from our hotel, and in the afternoon she gave a talk about it to a group of us who went for a visit. After that, happy hour, followed by our final dinner with the tour group.

Our guide led one last excursion to the Trevi Fountain after dinner. It just got cleaned at the end of last year and it was big and white and all lit up. Beautiful!

Day 11: Winding Down

Had a chill post-tour day to ourselves. Checked out an Alphonse Mucha exhibit, then lunched at Tre Scalini. Tried a tartufo. It’s overrated, as is Tre Scalini. Mostly, it’s a space rental for watching the goings on at Piazza Navona. Didn’t get to check out the plaza as much as I’d have liked, but oh well. I’ll be back. After all, I’d tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain the night before.

Day 12: The Journey Home

We had multiple options for getting to the airport: taxi, bus, or train. The train seemed like an adventure, so we went with that. Walked about 10 minutes to the station, bought a ticket, then proceeded to wait on the wrong platform. Asked a janitor for directions, missed our train, caught the next one. Hooray for built in time buffers!

Had a final macchiato at the airport, then picked up a PORCHETTA sandwich. I say PORCHETTA because it was all caps sized:

Conducted all my janitorial and culinary transactions entirely in Italian. I finally got the hang of it, just in time to leave.

Thanks to an air traffic control strike at CDG, our first flight was delayed. No trip to Europe is complete without a strike, right? Glad we got to check that one off!

Flew and flew and flew and landed in… Oakland?! Wind shear issues at SFO. Spent another ~3.5 hours in the plane, then hopped across the bay.

Global Entry is da bomb. Wait, am I allowed to use those words in the same sentence?

Random Notes

Statues of today are usually white, but back in the day they were colored. We just think all the ancient statues were white because all the color’s faded away.

Rome still constructs their streets with cobblestone, by hand. No asphalt in sight!

Rome is a big polluted city and requires transportation.
Florence has vehicles but is still very walkable.
Venice has no vehicles but is way more cramped than Florence.

All three cities had public fountains that ran continuously for drinking water. Speaking of water, the sparkling water they sell is lightly fizzy, not crazy carbonated like the stuff we get in the US. They say “frizzante” on them, which means “fizzy”. It pleased me greatly that fizzy water was the official term, even if everyone just calls it water with gas.

Italian hotels are confusing mazes of hallways and room numbers that have nothing to do with where they’re actually located. Also, the showers are tiny and weird and I did not manage to shower even once without getting water on the floor.

I may be spoiled by good San Francisco fancy cuisine, but the espresso and pasta in Italy were consistently better than what we normally get here.

Our guide was amazing. Knowledgeable, thoughtful, approachable, and very experienced. Her boyfriend happened to be our bus driver for our city transfers, and he really added to our experience. The tour made everything so easy, saved us so much time getting into popular sites, and taught us a ton. Totally worth it.

I ate gelato 11 times. I consider that reasonable given all the miles we logged and steps we climbed.

I rode a heck of a lot of forms of transportation: car, plane, tram, boat (Vaporetto and private), gondola, bus (airport shuttle, tour, city), metro, train.

The full set of pictures from this trip is here.

Arrivederci, Italia!


Dropped Mom off for a hair appointment this afternoon in North Quincy, a block from where we lived our first 5 years after moving to the US.

I don’t believe much in sitting, so I spent my time walking, down Billings Rd. to Parker Elementary School. I got there right as the school bell rang. It sounded just like I remembered. I continued with a lap around the school. This was where I learned to speak English. This was where I ran into a door and fractured my skull. This was where I played kickball. This was where I won a lemon cake in a cake walk without knowing what was happening. This was where I participated in mock elections and right before stepping into the voting booth one of my classmates told me to vote for Reagan. This was where a big kid stole my lunch jello. This was where we made haystack cookies.

Haystacks don’t happen at school anymore, do they? It kills the nut allergy kids or something.

After Parker, back down the neighborhood side of the block to Hancock St. There used to be a phone booth outside the 7-Eleven (then Christie’s). One time as my friend and I walked by I noticed it said I could make a long distance call for 25 cents. So I put a quarter in and dialed 212, then asked the person who answered what state they were in to confirm that my quarter connected me to New York. Being able to call New York for a quarter was apparently a Big Deal to me. I must not have known any west coast area codes back then.

I tried to visit the library across the street from the house I lived in, but they’re closed on Fridays. :(

Next, to the pedestrian bridge over the Red Line* tracks behind the house. I walked up the ramp like I always did, and as I looked at the stairs from the ramp I remembered them to be the stairs I didn’t like to take because stairs were hard.

If you’ve ever gone anywhere with me, you know that I will always choose stairs if they’re available. Because they’re hard. Except they’re not anymore. They were when I first made that choice, but shortly after that they stopped being hard. How about that.

* I’m not scared anymore. Finally.


Last week…

Viv: I’ll be out Monday Tuesday next week.
Coworker: Where are you going?
Viv: Chicago.
Coworker: I heard there was a really good restaurant there… Alinea?
Viv: That’s why I’m going. :)

After years of talking about going to Chicago but not wanting to go if we weren’t also going to go to Alinea, I finally got over the reservation hurdle to make it happen, which involved stalking their reservation site for weeks until the dates we wanted became available.

Alinea tickets purchased. Airfare and hotel were a cinch after that.

Saturday: Arrive. Eat Donuts.

Touched down at O’Hare around 9 PM. To the L! As we rode toward downtown Aaron pointed out that we were on the Blue Line. “Like the pizza.” The Chicago deep dish pizza we get in California. Ohh…

“I’m hungry,” I said as we continued toward downtown. Pulled out my phone and Yelped us some donuts. Specifically, I Yelped us some Ice Cream Donut Sandwiches from Firecakes.

Sunday SUNDAY Sunday!

Started off the day with a visit to Intelligentsia Coffee. Their latte ain’t no Blue Bottle.

From there, we headed for the river, where Aaron had scheduled us a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. It wasn’t exactly a cruise, but it was a fantastically informative boat tour. Our docent Lindy clearly loves what she does.

Starting the trip with an architecture tour was a great idea. I appreciated the buildings around me that much more the rest of the trip.

So many spires, though. Not a fan of spires.

After we got off the boat we headed for Maggie Daley Park. Public climbing walls and a winter ice skating track. What a beautiful public recreation space.

Next, across the pedestrian bridge to Millennium Park. Lots of neat-o sculptures. And, of course…

The Bean. Check.

Bean Strut

Hungry! We hopped on the Red Line for some Chicago Dogs at Murphy’s Red Hots. (Yum!) We were joined by a ton of Cubs fans on the train. Turns out there was a game that afternoon, and we were lunching just a short walk away…

Wrigley Field. Check. I even got to meet the mascot!

Me & Clark

After that, a visit to the top of the John Hancock Center. 100 stories! Lots of rooftop pools across the city. I wonder if they turn them into skating rinks in the winter.

Back down to street level. Hungry! Pulled out my phone again and Yelped us another tasty donut shop: Do-Rite Donuts! The location we went to served a highly rated fried chicken sandwich as well, and was willing to serve it to us with a donut bun. Unfortunately, we had to save our stomachs for The Main Event later that evening.

Between donuts and our hotel, a slow stroll around the Tribune Tower, something of a mini tour around the world.

Antarctica. I touched it.

Piece of Antarctica


Spiffied up a bit at the hotel, then headed out again for an evening at Alinea, the restaurant that’s “not a restaurant”.

It’s weird to see that on their website, but it’s true. Alinea was more experience than restaurant.

They have thought through every detail from the moment you open the door to the moment you exit. They’re not just about food. They’re about the surroundings, the interactions, piquing your curiosity, delivering surprises. It’s pricey and formal, yet friendly and relaxing.

And the food. They can somehow distill entire dishes’ worth of flavor into bite sized morsels. We ate a strawberry that tasted like a tomato and a tomato that tasted like a strawberry. There was food we couldn’t recognize as such alongside entirely natural, whole items. Who knew you could eat a barnacle?

Was it worth the cost? Was it worth the trip? Absolutely.

Hey, remember that time I sang TACOCAT at a Michelin 3 star restaurant?

Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Even though there is an Al’s Beef in San Jose, we made the effort to visit the original location. Italian beef, sweet and hot peppers, dipped.

I’ve never had cow flesh melt in my mouth like that before. I may never be able to eat an Italian beef from anywhere else ever again.

MSI, a.k.a. Nerd Paradise

Aaron had come across something mentioning MSI the day before. Turns out it’s the Museum of Science and Industry. We paid it a visit, and holy moly, I may never be able to visit a science museum anywhere else ever again.

Just kidding. But MSI is serious Nerd Paradise. A++++++++++!!!!! WOULD GO AGAIN!!!


That is a real 727 mounted inside the museum.


As it turns out, there’s a trail that runs along Lake Michigan from MSI back to the downtown area. It was a beautiful afternoon so we rode Divvys back. Bikeshare FTW!

Vivvy on a Divvy

We rode that trail all the way to Buckingham Fountain. Is big!

Had our requisite deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s for dinner. Too much cheese, not enough sauce. They were like the North Beach Pizza of Chicago. That, and their greeter seemed to hate interacting with people. Meh.

I needed a walk after all that cheese, so we hoofed it back for the night view from the top of the John Hancock. Totally different experience, and totally worth going twice to compare.

Shot from a Building

It blows my mind that this is a picture from a building, not a plane.

Moar Donuts

As we got off the Green Line for lunch at Blackbird Tuesday, I spotted a mini billboard for DAM GOOD DONUTS. As I am on a donut kick these days, I immediately headed over there. This led us to the Chicago French Market, a large indoor palace of noms.

Blackbird was pretty good. Aaron said afterward that they have a Michelin star. Accidental star collection, we fancy!

After lunch, we visited Chinatown, because I’ve seen every other big city Chinatown and I wanted to compare. Chicago’s is small and boring.

Library Detour

We still had a couple hours left, and decided to check out the view from the Sears (now Willis) Tower. Got off the L and WHOA WHAT IS THIS GIANT BUILDING? The Chicago Public Library. My inner nerd couldn’t resist. And boy was I glad we went inside. What a beautiful building inside and out, with so many resources for the public.

I insisted on visiting every floor. Totally worth it when we reached the top.

Totally more randomly awesome than visiting another tower.

After that, it was off to the airport. I reflected on our jam packed three days on the Blue Line ride back to O’Hare. There were a few things that jumped out at me during my stay there.

No Guns

Saw a bunch of these all over store entrances:

The first one I saw made me wonder if Chicago was a place where people randomly burst into stores and shoot things up. But why would a little sticker prevent them from doing that? Looked it up after I got home. Turns out it has to do with concealed carry legislation. If you don’t want licensed concealed carry folks coming into your establishment with their firearms, you can legally tell them not to do so with one of these stickers. Looks terrible, bad idea, weirds out tourists, there’s got to be a better way.


Before this trip, I never even realized that cities had flags. Chicago has a really cool one. I’m particularly fond of the skyline version:

Getting Around

The L gets it done! Aside from MSI and Al’s #1 Italian Beef, we were able access everything we needed by L.

Melting Pot

I can’t quite put my finger on this, or really find a good way to describe it, but I felt like in Chicago it didn’t matter what race you were. People went to work, went about their days, did their thing. No one really stood out one way or another. It’s interesting to me that it doesn’t feel that way in the SF Bay Area. Compared to Chicago, it feels like there is a huge divide in class and culture by race here. Why is that? I don’t like it.

Back to Chicago. I like the place! Would eat, I mean, visit, again!

Bostoney Things

Had lunch today at Wahlburgers. Marky Mark wasn’t there. I want my money back.

My sister mentioned Free Brady in our family chat this evening, which caused my parents to go off on yet another anti-Deflategate tirade. They were my Facebook Boston feed come to life. No one outside of Boston seems to care, but everyone* from Boston seems to think the rest of the nation is out to get them.

Later in the evening, Dad tried to convince me that Tom Brady was a nice guy, and that instead of disliking him I should be more neutral. Except that I never said anything about disliking him. I’m indifferent, I told him, which is as neutral as I can be. I don’t think he believed me.

Sportsball team fanning**, I don’t get it. (Wait, but Mom isn’t even a fan!)

* It’s not fair to my Boston peeps who don’t care about this for me to use that word without some sort of qualifier, so here’s your qualifier.

** Yes, I do sportsball fan, but not for teams. (Unless you’re talking about always rooting against USC, which I do but can’t explain.) I choose specific athletes to fan about based on their skill and character, regardless of team.

Hawaii 2015

2015? Was there a Hawaii trip before 2015?

Yes, but it was so long ago this blog didn’t exist yet. Hawaii trip #1: 1999. Hawaii trip #2: 2015. Oahu and Oahu.

Saturday: Aloha!

Landed at the airport just after noon. Headed straight to a restaurant for some oxtail soup. It’s a thing there. A yummy yummy thing. After that, we went out for shave ice. It’s a thing there too. Another yummy yummy thing.

I was surprised by how finely shaved the ice was. It’s nothing like a snow cone. Would eat again!

Drove over the range to our house, complete with its own pool, freshwater pond, and saltwater lagoon. Wat.

Sunday: Diving?!

Headed to the dive shop with DanW and DanK, where we met up with Tom, who certified DanK.

“I was just diving yesterday with my instructor,” Tom said, “Kyle McCane.”
“Kyle McCane?!” I exclaimed, “He certified me!” #smallworldmoment

I can’t believe I’m hashtagging in my blog.

Hashtag aside, that was pretty cool.

Motored out to 30 or so feet and geared up. I rolled off the boat and immediately discovered my mask was too loose. Comfort level 50%. Captain Dan (not to be confused with the two Dans above) adjusted it for me. Comfort level 70%. Swam out to the line at the bow and set about gathering my wits. Dipped my head below the water and immediately saw a school of fish 15 feet away. Calming. Comfort level 85%. I worked out the rest once we started descending.

Saw a lot of turtles. It’s pretty crazy, the underwater world. And I do mean world. It’s completely its own place.

Held a sea cucumber. Not a spiny one. I had not idea until writing this post that there were different kinds.

Held a sea urchin. Not a spiny one. I had no idea until this dive that there were different kinds.

Had a ton of trouble controlling my buoyancy. In the past I’ve had trouble with floating away. This time I kept sinking to the bottom. Sorry, sea floor!

Got super seasick during the safety stop. Being on the boat after surfacing didn’t help. Lost my breakfast. You’re welcome, fishies!

I felt better after surrendering my breakfast, but I wasn’t feeling mentally good enough to dive again, which is too bad because I missed out on an underwater Buddha and a crap ton of turtles. I realized on the boat that until I get really comfortable with water, diving isn’t for me. Which is fine.

Because I like to count, this was dive #7.

Thanks DanK for bringing the GoPro!

Played our first game of the tournament in the evening, then ate a whole bunch of meat at our Side Street Inn team dinner.

Monday: Too Much Meat

Played our second game of the tournament, then ate more meat and rice, rice and meat. Island cuisine!

Wandered around Ala Moana Center until we couldn’t bear it anymore. Drove back to the house. People ordered pizza around 9 but I still wasn’t hungry. I ate two Cuties and a box of grape tomatoes instead. Too much meat.

Tuesday: Luau!

I was originally going to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial with a few of my teammates, but when they decided to start the day in line at 6:45 I decided to sleep in instead. Rolled with a later crew to visit the Byodo-In Temple and Pali Lookout. The lookout was overrun with feral cats and chickens. I was really impressed by how svelte and diverse the chickens were. Really makes you think about our chicken monoculture in comparison.

Tuesday night, luau! The usual cheesiness, plus some fun activities and demonstrations. I fully soaked in the cheesiness, complete with virgin (for me) pina coladas.

Wednesday: Eat Sleep Hockey

I talked about Wednesday in a previous post: Woke up at 6, played a hockey game, at a lot of meat because Hawaii, ate a custard filled croissant, played another hockey game, ate a giant shave ice, took a shower, went to dinner, went to bed at midnight.

Ah, island tournament life.

Thursday: Home!

Woke up, at a whole bunch of random foods we never got around to eating, cleaned up the house, and headed for the airport. I made sure to enjoy the lush green mountain folds one last time on our way out.

Hawaii was great. I spent every day in a tank top. My gear got rained on by a 30 second flash storm once. I ate a ton of tasty meat. I came home with some kind of weird cough cold. It was totally worth it.