atlanta week 1 digest.

Monday: Delayed flight, no on-board lunch, cab driver fiascos, bank card fiascos, Cheesecake Factory.

Tuesday: Work, philly cheesesteak heaven, supermarket yields St. Francis Merlot under $20, philly cheesesteak repeat heaven.

Wednesday: Work, shopping spree at Perimeter Mall, dining spree at Seasons 52.

Thursday: Work, Stone Mountain excursion for Mexican food.

Friday: Work, talking about the Wolf man, drinks at Ship & Anchor.

Saturday: Morningside Farmer’s Market, getting lost in Virginia Highlands, 3 different eateries at 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm. Thunderstorm kills evening plans; makes me regret not packing umbrella.

Sunday: Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, crappy overpriced food at Hard Rock Cafe, chasing after the #16, Two Urban Licks, muttering obscenities about MARTA.

christmas photos are up.

Happy 2008 to all!

The Flickr album containing all the Christmas pics from Winnipeg and Gimli is now complete. I started to shoot in RAW in December, which I am now a huge fan of, but it does mean that you have to manually generate a JPEG for each RAW image you want to post to Flickr. That amounted to editing over 200 photos for the better part of this week. Holy tedium, batman!

Here’s our Christmas wrap-up:

We arrived in Winnipeg on the 21st and were greeted by the parents and a little snowstorm. Much joy reuniting with the immediate family–now grown to 11 people–and catching up with Winnipeg friends before our journey northward. Highlights included swing dancing with Nathan and Irene, hanging with the Hamilton kids at Boston Pizza for some big-screen guitar hero, and visiting Aunt Edna and Wendy.

dinner and dancing with nathan and irene

eric is a lush

the hamiltons, 2007

We trekked over to Gimli on Christmas Eve. The drive was only 1.5 hours, but when you have an irritated cat whining in her cage every few seconds, it feels a lot longer! The cottage (if you can still use the term for this giant 3-lot property) is a mere 5 minutes away from the shore of Lake Winnipeg, which has frozen over for the winter. We spent the rest of the day decorating the tree; savouring Mom’s traditional Christmas Eve feast of greek salad, tortiere, and buche noel; and fighting over the Christmas pickle. Kurt found it with his usual rough-and-tumble methods, but Jared managed to steal away Kurt’s prize for a moment.

yule log gets the thumbs up

star of wonder

christmas pickle

Christmas Day was wonderful as always but there were a few blips to our bliss. Kaleigh, who meant to join us in the morning from Winnipeg, was hit with wave after wave of migraines and had to be rushed to the Winnipeg and Gimli hospitals over the course of the day. Kurt tore his MCL (the ligament on his inside right knee) after a ball hockey incident with the fam. As he is currently training for a half-marathon on February 10th, we took him to the Gimli hospital in case the tear was more serious than we thought. He is still limping to this day but the Vancouver doctors think that he should still be able to run the half as long as Kurt doesn’t overdo it.

stuffed christmas stockings

christmas day in gimli

christmas day in gimli

On Boxing Day, I went for a photowalk with Mel and Andy, traversing the lake to visit the ice fishing shacks about 2km out. What a great adventure! We had to wade through knee-high snowdrifts along the shore and figure out whether it was safe to cross a foot-wide fissure that spanned the lake. After we saw three snowmobiles jump it in succession, we figured it could accommodate our 3 bodies gingerly stepping over it.

crossing the lake

The ice fishing huts were unoccupied save for one. The fisherman that greeted us was packing for home, but indulged Andy and I with photo ops of him and his frozen catch. It also helped that he was enamored with Mel (“Would you like a second boyfriend?”).

tundra 2

ice fishing

The family spent that evening at the Bells in East St. Paul. Susan made the most delicious lentil salad that had Lindsay, Mel, and I going for multiple helpings. The kids played a rousing game of Cranium Wow in the living room while the men had an impromptu whiskey tasting and game of dice nearby. The Hamiltons cleaned up in the dice game, with Bob, Nicky, and Kurt all winning a round or two. But my wallet didn’t appreciate the added bulk of $20 in quarters!

dinner at the bells

Us girls went on a shopping spree at Tergesen’s the next day followed by a tour of the Gimli Gingerbread Village at the nearby Icelandic Museum. The rest of the time in Gimli was real mellow. Lots of food, lots of Scrabble and Catchphrase, and lots of quality time with the Hamiltons.

gimli as gingerbread village

welsh breakfast

We got back to Winnipeg earlier than I anticipated, so the 29th was happily spent with Melissa Raquid. We caught up over lunch at Dandelion Eatery (highly recommended) and had another shopping spree along the little boutiques of Osborne Village. You wouldn’t think it, but Gimli and Winnipeg are excellent stops for funky attire!

dandelion eatery with melissa

Met up with Melissa again for a homecooked meal at her and Ryan’s. Let’s just say we had an entertaining evening =) Ryan’s friend showed up with the most amazing earring, and I couldn’t stop taking photos of their cute bulldogs. We ended the night with a bit of salsa dancing, just like old times. We even ran into fellow Vancouverites Irene and Sandra. Melissa is keen to get back into salsa now, and it too reminded me to stop working so hard and to make time for dance in the new year.

ryan and melissa's bulldogs

So that’s it…we are so happy to have spent the week with our beloved friends and family. Hope we get to see you all again within the year, as next Christmas is in the Philippines!

a gimli christmas.

Lake Winnipeg on December 12, 2007

Andy found this great webcam feed of Gimli a while back. Looks like we are going to have a really white Christmas!

Kurt and I have been visiting his family in Winnipeg now for the past 5 Christmases. This year is the first time we’ll be spending the holidays at their new cottage in Gimli, a hair’s breadth away from the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Jared tells me the lake is frozen over and ice fishing is a possibility (though I have to find myself an auger and another person in the family crazy / bored / willing enough to try it with me).

We’ll be in town Dec 21-30th, but in Gimli from the 24th on. Would love to catch up with you much-missed Winnipeggers the night of the 22nd…salsa anyone??

notes from the road, part deux.

Friday, September 28, 2007: 2271km @ 10:12am

Purchased a coffee-table book as our last souvenir: the California Directory of Fine Wineries from Ramekins. Loaded up the car for the drive north. Realized I left my green winter coat at Rob and Jen’s. Oops.

2274km @ 10:16am

Kurt: “That sucks! I only have 3 days before I have to go back to work! …Do we have time for another drink?”

[Last time he was in the office was July 20th.]

2359km @ 11:15am

Entering Cloverdale and Hwy 128 to the California coast.

2368km @ 11:24am

Listening to: A Tribe Called Quest.

Windy, twisty, backroad and the Yorkville Highlands. Glimpses of hillside vines through the woods. Autumn colours everywhere. Gorgeous against the azure sky and golden grass. The grass has a life of its own, like a lion pelt covering the hills, suede and svelte. Kurt is rounding the curves with much delight (and a tiny bit of reckless abandon).

2389km @ 11:42am

Redwoods are starting to creep in from the west.

2403km @ 11:52am

Driving through the tiny town of Boonville. It looks like it’s all of 5 blocks, and yet it still has a drive-through espresso shop.

Revisiting potential car names. Eloisa? Eliza? Elisha? Yes! Elisha!

2415km @ 12pm

Driving through miles of apple orchard. Reminiscing about our server from girl & the fig that I couldn’t stop staring at. He probably thought I was checking him out all night. Unfortunately for him, the truth was that it had taken me all night to determine that he was an emo version of Kenneth from 30 Rock.

Kenneth from 30 Rock

2426km @ 12:08pm

Sign for town of Navarro. Population: 67.

2428km @ 12:10pm

Entering the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. In an instant, we are swallowed up by towering trees and the sun is completely blocked from view.

2450km @ 12:27pm

End of redwood forest. Start of the scenic #1 Hwy along the California coast. Fantastic views of…dense fog.

along the pacific coast highway

2496km @ 1:10pm

Listening to: TV on the Radio.

Pit stop north of Fort Bragg. Rocks jutting out of the sand as the surf roars. Someone left their old jeans on a rock near our parking spot. Sand is suprisingly warm and silken to the touch, despite the bitterness of the wind.

jeans along the california coast

beautiful sand

house on the cliff

2514km @ 1:41pm

Clusters of feathery reeds grow along the coast. Feels like we’re on the inside of a goose-down pillow.

feather reed grass

2534km @ 2:00pm

Listening to: The Who: Greatest Hits.

Forest innuendo. Amazing how many you can come up with relating to “wood”.

2580km @ 2:49pm

Cheesy roadside attractions include:

  • Real Treehouse! Believe It!
  • Confusion Hill of Mystery!
  • Legend of Bigfoot!
  • Hobbiton, USA
  • The Giant Living Chimney Tree!

2605km @ 3:04pm

Ran across a post office in Phillipsville. Finally bought a stamp to send Sunday’s postcard to Kurt’s parents.

2607km @ 3:07pm

That was quick–already by the Avenue of the Giants. Hugged our respective trees and briefly pretended that we were in the Forest of Endor.

tree-hugging karen

kurt hugs another tree

2696km @ 4:13am

In Eureka, CA for some eats. Missed the turn for Taco Bell so we would up trying a local place called Philly Cheese Steak Shoppe. Kurt had one with mushrooms and green peppers while I dared to be different with mushrooms and spinach. I was feeling particularly famished so a side of coleslaw was in order. Kurt got excited by the presence of Cherry Coke on the soda fountain machine, so that is what we chose for our shared beverage.

philly cheese steak shoppe storefront

philly cheese steak with mushrooms and spinach

After lunch, it was my turn to drive. Kurt’s entries follow.

2768km @ 5:50pm

Passing through Orick, CA. Orick Brewery installed in the old town movie theatre has a marquee that reads “WELCOME HOTTIES”.

2772km @ 5:54pm

Had to stop abruptly for actual elk crossing the road…I guess the signs were right.

actual elk, crossing

2834km @ 6:43pm

In Crescent City, CA. Gas station washroom had “freedom”-scented air freshener. God bless America!

2900km @ 7:35pm

Listening to: Kurt’s NLDC 2001 CD mix.

Welcome to Oregon! Bye, California =(

3081km @ 9:30pm

Listening to: Greatest hits from the Greatest Hits of the Eighties, Vols I and II.

Kurt now back behind the wheel at Roseburg, OR. He is a dismal documenter. Perhaps he was in thrall of my amazing driving ability.

3292km @ 11:26pm

Tried to fight my terrible car narcolepsy but alas, I succumbed. Guess I’m a poor documenter too.

Pulled into the Holiday Express Inn in Salem, OR. For $90, we somehow got a room with a deliciously luxurious king-sized bed and a 4-person jacuzzi tub. Kurt took advantage of the jets and worked out the giant knot on his shoulder from driving most of the day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007: 3292km @ 9:35am

Left the hotel after a quick breakfast and a fun episode of Mythbusters (Do you get less wet if you run through the rain? Nope!).

3332km @ 10:02am

If you find yourself in Oregon, listen to 94.7FM. It’s a really cool station for alternative music. I miss Nirvana. Gotta learn “The Man Who Sold the World” on the ol’ acoustic.

3351km @ 10:12am

Listening to: Sports radio…again.

Kurt feels adventurous so we take the Portland bypass instead of driving straight through. Managed to miss most of the morning traffic. Go Kurt!

3393km @ 10:36am

Crossing the Columbia river into Washington state.

3542km @ 11:52am

Listening to: Arctic Monkeys!

Waterslide of awesome springs into view just south of Olympia. Got belated shots of it this time, despite having the camera at the ready for the past 20 miles.

glimpse of the waterslide of awesome

glimpse of the funnel of the waterslide of awesome

3571km @ 12:07pm

Was somewhat more prepared for the drive-by shooting of the Washington state capitol building. Even with that, had to contort myself into odd angles to get a fuzzy shot of it from the back passenger window.

dome of the state capitol building

3588km @ 12:17pm

Listening to: Karen’s salsa mix.

Kurt shakes his booty to a little Celia Cruz.

3595km @ 12:20pm

Took 5 seconds to take off my fleece. Consequently, missed the photo op of the little town of Tillicum. (Heh.)

3606km @ 12:27pm

Kurt: “Welcome to Tacoma: Seattle’s ugly little sister.”

3666km @ 1:05pm

Gathered photos of Safeco Field and Qwest Field. Sped through Seattle this time; the express lanes were open in our favour.

seattle stadiums

3700km @ 1:30pm

Pit stop at a Taco Bell in Everett, WA. A little wiser, we avoided the spicy chicken crunchwrap combo that came with an extra soft taco.

My turn to drive again.

3847km @ 3:37pm

Damn you Kurt, you were supposed to write in this travelogue!

peach arch border crossing

Arrived at the Peace Arch border crossing 10 minutes ago and we’re nearly at the gate! Panicked at the thought of being interrogated by the customs officer. I’d have probably confessed to our 4 extra wine bottles plus the refugees hiding in our trunk. So made Kurt take the wheel.

But note to self: aim for a Saturday afternoon border crossing the next time we are States-bound.

3847km @ 3:43pm

Exchange with the Canadian customs officer.

CO: Where’s home?
Kurt: Vancouver!
CO: How long were you gone for?
Kurt: Uh, since last Friday.
CO: So what went on?
Kurt: (Pausing to figure out what the heck that was supposed to mean)
Kurt: Um, we visited some friends in San Francisco.
CO: Total value of goods bought?
Kurt: Not much …about $200 (which is sort of true…)
CO: Okay! So long! (waves us through)

Sigh…it’s good to be back in Canada.

Observation from Kurt: As soon as we crossed into BC, it started to rain.

3895km @ 4:36pm

Elisha parked safe and sound in our spot as we lug our California spoils and car-weary selves into the comfort of our little home.

gushing about matanzas creek.

It’s been a great but long day of touring Sonoma with Rob and Jen, so I’m going to focus this post on the highlight of our first wine tasting experience in California: Matanzas Creek Winery.

[For a glimpse into the rest of our day’s adventures, view the California photosets from my Flickr homepage or on this site’s Photos section.]

Unlike the overpriced and commercialized estates of Gloria Ferrer and Chateau St. Jean (which both happen to be right off the main highway, and are fairly well-known names), Matanzas is off the beaten path, nestled in a prettily windy back road in Santa Rosa. It took us a good 15 minutes of driving from the main congregation of vineyards, and we nearly turned back, thinking we had gotten lost somewhere. Luckily, we did manage to find the entrance to this beautifully lush property, full of ivy, towering and twisting trees, and a fragrant garden of lavender.

Our tasting menu (aka “flight”) consisted of seven wines. Normally, they only offer 5 of their selection of blends and varietals, but today, they were showcasing 3 of their more distinctive merlots, so we got a nice little bonus. One of the wines was even a rosé; not the kind of rosé that I’ve been desperately seeking, but it was great to try one from the California region.

Results: the 2005 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay and the 2002 Jackson Park Merlot completely wowed our group. The four of us wound up buying 3 of the Chardonnay, which tasted to me like buttery caramel corn, and one of the merlot. This merlot is one of the best, if not the best, I’ve ever had. Bouquet smells of roasted coffee beans and plum. I could have kept my nose in that wine glass all day. It tasted even better: dark, smoky, chocolately, and oh-so-decadent. Mouthfeel like velvet. Not at all acidic or tannic. Yum yum yum!!

For you Sideways nay-sayers: you will change your mind about this grape if you ever get to try this vintage. It’s really too bad that this winery does not cater to retail stores. I may have to take it up with Lorne about getting Matanzas to ship to a PO Box in Point Roberts for a shady cross-border postal pick-up!

Matanzas’ official tasting notes of our purchased wines below (alas, we misplaced the one for the Chardonnay, so all we have is the one-liner from the tasting room price list…).

Update: Found the Chardonnay’s tasting notes from Matanzas’ website. Added below.

our two purchases from matanzas creek (see notes)

2005 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay, $29

Elegant notes of honey and melon balanced with a touch of cream.

A first glimpse of the wine reveals a pale, straw color, quite typical for a sophisticated Chardonnay. The first nose brings a delicate blend of green apple, white peach, and acacia flower, with a surprising addition of the autumn fruits pear and quince. After a swirl, the second nose reveals the more mineral note of crushed stones, the mark of an exceptional Chardonnay. The palate is round and velvety with a prolonged, flavorful finish of honey and melon. There is also a unique and subtle hint of smoke, derived from basalt, an ancient ocean floor rock found in Bennett Valley’s soil.

Although this Chardonnay was crafted with 95% malolactic fermentation, it is far from a heavy, buttery wine. Francois aims to create an elegant wine which is crafted to complement the finest foods. In addition, he is able to preserve the fullest potential of the Chardonnay by employing a Champagne-style vinification that is gentle on the fruit during crush and prevents any bitter note in the finish. If allowed to age, this wine promises to further increase in minerality and develop a luscious, butterscotch characteristic.


  • 90 Points – Robert M. Parker Jr., Wine Advocate November 2006
  • Double Gold Medal – 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
  • Silver Medal – 2006 Sonoma County Harvest Fair
  • Silver Medal – 2006 Houston Livestock Show, Rodeo and International Wine Competition


Continuing a tradition of more than a quarter century of winemaking excellence in Sonoma County’s Bennett Valley, the 2005 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay remains a Sonoma County Classic. Driven by a shared desire to surpass expectations, Vineyard Manager Brandon Axell and Winemaker Francois Cordesse have pooled their collective expertise to produce a Chardonnay that is consistently superior.

According to Francois, fruit sourcing is an art and critical to making an excellent vintage. This outstanding wine has been masterfully blended from the best fruit available in the Carneros and Bennett Valley regions, where cooler climates yield Chardonnay grapes that give the wine refined and complex characteristics. We are particularly proud of the wonderful fruit produced on our Estate-owned vineyards in Sonoma County’s newest American Viticultural Appellation (AVA), Bennett Valley. The result is a Chardonnay that is bold and fruit forward, yet soft and elegant.

  • Blend: 100% Chardonnay
  • Source: 60% Carneros, 40% Bennett Valley
  • Production Statistics: 14.5% Alcohol; 0.5 TA; 3.6 pH; 8 months barrel-aged in 1/3 new, 1/3 one-year old, 1/3 two-year old French oak

Jackson Park, Bennett Valley 2002 Merlot, $49

This is the second vintage of our single vineyard Merlot sourced from our Estate-owned vineyards in Jackson Park. The picturesque mountain vineyard is located over 900 feet above Bennett Valley’s floor and overlooks Matanzas Creek Winery. Bennett Valley provides ideal conditions for Merlot to develop due to its long growing season brought about by the coastal fog that flows into the valley from the Pacific Ocean. In addition, the unique terroir in Jackson Park has an excellent, loamy soil structure and contains Basalt, an ancient ocean floor rock that addes smoky characteristics to the fruit grown there.

The rich, deep, plum colour of this Merlot offers the first hint of its bold and fleshy personality. The initial nose whispers of dried herbs, chocolate, and fresh-cut hay. The mouth-feel is round and voluptuous with a lingering aftertaste of exotic wood. This wine can be aged for up to 10 years, developing some mineral and leather characteristics.

  • Blend: 100% Merlot
  • Vineyard Sourcing: 100% from Jackson Park
  • Production Statistics: 13.7% alcohol; 0.58 TA; 3.45 pH; aged for 15-16 months in French oak barrels, 40% new

notes from the road.

Disclaimer: There is delicate language and likely offensive topics in this travelogue to San Francisco. If you are our parents…nothing to see here. Move along…

Friday, September 14, 2007: 0km @ 9:00am

Luggage in trunk: check.
Picnic blanket: check.
Wine cooler, empty: check.
Rosé wine book, travel guides, and roadmaps: check.
Camera: check.
Acoustic guitar and songbook: check.
Coffee and soy black tea latte: check.
Passports: ………oh, shit.

5km later @ 9:20am

Passports: check.

57.4km @ 10:09am

Listening to: Arctic Monkeys, my new favourite band.

Stuck at the Pacific border crossing; an estimated hour and a half wait. Crackberried it up with work. Ted tells me to turn off the BB.

58km @ 11:18am

Oh. my. god. Not even a kilometre of progress.

Turned off the radio and played the guitar (poorly) during the long, agonizing wait.

58.3km @ 11:45am

Listening to: Eric Clapton.

Welcome to the USA! Says Kurt: “Smells like capitalism!”

Technically past the gate, but stuck in post-border construction zone. Argh.

176km @ 12:55pm

Just outside of Seattle on the I5. Kurt says we’re in the Seattle equivalent of Surrey (it turned out to be Everett; haha). Just passed a giant designer outlet mall and a really ugly casino / hotel.

195km @ 1:06pm

Listening to: Tom Petty.

Realized we haven’t named the car. Thinking of E-names for our little Elantra. Kurt rejected the obvious (Ella, after my favourite jazz singer) and my convulted rationalization for Eloïse (think ThELma and LOuISE and their road trip. plus, there’s an umlaut!).

Eva? No. Eleanor? Ew. Evie? Hmm…possibly. Erica? Not “car” enough.

Ebony? Nope–car’s blue. Elfrida? Lord, no.

Elaine, Elena, Etela, Ethel, Edith, Evelyn, Eileen, Emma, Elmee, Emily, Eugenia, Ellen? Meh.

Eeyore? Too donkeyish.

Estelle? Too Golden Girlish.

Looks like it’s down to Evie or Eloïse. Jury’s still out on this one…

232km @ 1:35pm

Oooh, space needle! First photo op.

seattle space needle

262km @ 1:57pm

I only ever see station wagons in the States.

282km @ 2:08pm

Start of Tacoma, yay!

End of HOV lane: boo.

288km @ 2:18pm

Tacoma dome! Click.

tacoma dome

308km @ 2:30pm

There’s a town in Washington called Tillicum. Seriously. Other amusing signage: Tillicum Laundromat. House of Teriyaki. $1 Chinese Food.

329km, from 2:45-3:15pm

Late lunch at Taco Bell. Shameful ignorance of the differences between a chalupa, gordita, taquito, burrito, and a crunchwrap supreme.

The hot sauces come in mild, hot, and fire. Disappointingly, all taste mild.

My spicy chicken crunchwrap combo, to my surprise, came with a side of soft taco. Thank goodness I didn’t order the meal grande. It’s a mix n’ match combo of 10 items. Pick from soft taco, hard taco, burrito, or gordita. 10 of them. Ugh.

339km @ 3:30pm

Saw the dome of the pretty state capital building in Olympia. Too late for a photo. Shucks.

366km @ 3:45pm

Listening to: Offcutts.

What the fuck kind of awesome was that?!

There is an indoor waterpark by the side of the highway where the slide shoots outside of the building, spirals around, and then shoots you out into the open into a giant vertical vortex funnel!

Went by too quickly for a photo.

Now planning a trip to said waterpark.

461km @ 4:36pm

Listening to: Greenday.

Weird bike with sweatered biker dog harnessed to the inside of a milk crate. Snap.

biker terrier

500km @ 5pm

Listening to: Jamiroquai.

Geez…8 hours of driving later and we enter the city of Vancouver? Sigh.

Oh, and Portland.

605km @ 6:27pm

Had been seeing signs along the way referring to “Enchanted Way”. I had joked that it’d lead us to the Enchanted Forest theme park that we had encountered on our Calgary road trip.

Well, it actually did! Just passed it. Looks eerily identical except with no neighbouring Miniature Land.

634km @ 6:43pm

Listening to: “Love Scene” (Joe).

This is a great sexy-sex song. But the lyrics are so very full of cheese.

’69 was a very good year / if you know what i mean my dear

707km @ 7:28pm

Listening to: David Bowie’s Greatest Hits.

Karen takes over driving. Kurt takes over travelogue.

Rockstar energy drink tastes even worse than expected. Getting dark. I can’t really read what I’m writing…

804km @ 8:30pm

Passed by “Friday Night Lights”-style football stadium with about 10,000 fans!

830km @ 8:40pm

Radar gun yells at Karen to slow down! She only reluctantly complies.

(If I was driving, she would have been screaming at me to slow the fuck down.)

848km @ 8:51pm

Karen decrees: “No horror-movie motels for tonight!”

953km @ 9:55pm

Arrived in Medford.

We go for the cheapest clean place, the Motel 6. Not horrific. Although the woman at the front desk’s teeth were a horror in dental hygiene.

Now off to dinner at Jack in the Box and to bed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007: 964km @ 7:19am

Installed Jack in the Box radio antenna. Took pictures. Trailer-trash smoker of a woman patronizing the Motel 6 is not impressed.

happy antenna

994km @ 7:40am

Listening to: World Cup Rugby on BBC World News radio station.

1014km @ 7:51am

Listening to: Beatles Anthology.

Welcome to California!

1016km @ 7:52am

Sign says that speed limit is enforced by aircraft in the state of California. This feels like something the “Governator” came up with.

1038km @ 8:04am

Karen says: “Ooooh, deer!”

[Karen’s edit: It was a doe, in case you were wondering. I know you were.]

1044km @ 8:07am

Karen points out the “hot-air balloon orgy, with Mt. Shasta as voyeur”.

(Pause ensues.)

Karen then comes to the conclusion that she is a sick fuck.

Took her long enough.

hot air balloon orgy

1185km @ 9:23am

Listening to: A Tribe Called Quest.

Traversed Shasta Lake bridge.

Karen cannot drive when hungry. Nearly took an exit because a sign distracted her.

1198km @ 9:31am

First palm tree!

1251km @ 10:05am

Denny’s at Red Bluff, CA for our breakfast pit stop.

Karen back in charge of the travelogue. Read over Kurt’s entries. He thinks he is just sooo clever.

Kurt, with a most exasperated air, explains why gubernatorial is the adjective for things related to governors. I still don’t feel that the word should start with “gub”. It just sounds strange.

And don’t get me started on lieutenant pronounced as “leftenant”.

1265km @ 11am

Listening to: sports radio.

Kurt now behind the wheel. Oil top off and re-fuel.

Kurt felt compelled to record the signage of the Chinese restaurant across the street.

chinese fast food signage

1373km @ noon

Just woke up from the best car nap. Think it was the pillow that did it.

57km left to Sacramento. Rain clouds threaten. Olive and orange orchards all along the highway.

A road sign brings to mind an old TV show called Putnam’s Prairie Emporium. Worst. Kid’s show. Ever.

1392km @ 12:12pm

Random fortress made of huge bales of hay.

1408km @ 12:20pm

Finally off the I5! Now on the I505 en route to San Francisco.

1450km @ 12:42pm

“Putah Creek” sign leads to a discussion of “bitch” versus “cunt”. Plus usage of “cunt” in North America (very taboo; considered one of the most highly offensive words one can say) versus Australia (where I have seen it used quite casually in a comic strip). Then we passed by one of them swerving on the road as she rooted around their glove compartment for 5 minutes.

1462km @ 12:48pm

Listening to: “Urban” radio.

Now on the I80 to San Francisco. A return to suburbian traffic and shitty commuter roads.

1486km @ 1pm

Just passed by the most amazing looking mini-golf we have ever seen! Just after the turnoff for the I680. Executive decision to go there on Tuesday on the way to Napa.

1497km @ 1:06pm

I am excited by the exit sign to San Rafael (where I went for Sitecore training in January).

1542km @ 1:34pm

Just paid the $4 toll for the Bay Bridge. Good thing I had some leftover USD from my trip to Atlanta in May.

Not as picturesque an entree as the Golden Gate would have given us, but the vastness of the bay is nevertheless impressive.

crossing the bay bridge

approximately 1560km @ approximately 2pm

Enjoying a bottle of Sonoma pinot noir with our hosts, Rob and Jen, in their wonderful flat in the Noe Valley. Will be experiencing San Francisco life until we head out to wine country on Tuesday.

hong kong travel diary: day 7.

Lunch was at Superstar Seafood Restaurant with Quiny, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years and who had been living in Hong Kong for the past few. Superstar is on the 10th floor of the Food Forum in Times Square.

har gow that look like penguins

After a great lunch catching up on the times, I went boutique shopping in Kimberly Mall at Times Square, on Quiny’s recommendation. Bought a pretty black dress and skirt in under 20 minutes, before calling Winnie up for a change of shopping scenery.

Met up with Winnie, who expeditiously got me thinking about my fall business wardrobe at G2000. Even called her sister so that I could get an additional 20% discount on the $1000 HKD worth of clothing I was going to splurge on. The bill was under $800 HKD in the end: well done, personal shopper!

Fell in love with Mango, another store I had a field day in in Ocean Park (TST’s main shopping centre). Have Garland to thank this time for this jewel of a store. I fit nearly everything I tried on, and everything was gorgeous. If only I had discovered this place sooner. Well, I know where my dollars are going to go the next time I make the trip out to Asia.

We started to feel peckish after all the whirlwind shopping. Headed down to Jordan Station for some good ol’ wonton soup at Mak Mun Gay. They make their dumplings, broth, and noodles all from scratch, and you can watch them at work inside their open kitchen. Our feet enjoyed the respite from wandering around Kowloon while we decided where to go next.

market street by jordan station

Turns out that our next stop was the cafe next door! Australia Dairy Co is famous as an all-day breakfast eatery. Winnie is a big fan of the double-cooked custard and eggy toast, so that is what we tried. I’m lactose intolerant to a certain degree (though that normally doesn’t stop me from pigging out on dairy) but typically don’t advertise the fact. As I picked at my custard, Winnie discovered my condition and felt bad for forcing the custard upon me (and I reiterate, Winnie, that it was no problem at all!). The custard tasted a little like dessert tofu but with a denser flavour and a wobblier consistency. Decent, but maybe something to get accustomed to. The egg toast turned out to be the very same dish that the woman and child from the congee house had had for breakfast on Thursday. It tasted exactly how I expected it to taste: wonderbread with butter and scrambled egg. I am a really big fan of many forms of breakfast egg, but unless an egg scramble is toweringly high from being whipped to the max, scrambled eggs just don’t do it for me. Maybe I’m being too much of a food snob. Shrug.

eggy toast

I had been having email tag with my cousin’s roommate, Ian, for the past few days, as he and his family would also be in town on business. Remembered to try him at his hotel and managed to get a hold of him. After some quick planning, Winnie and I met him in the lobby of the Shangri-La and proceeded to walk through Eastern Kowloon and the Avenue of Stars on the way to view the daily 8pm light show by the harbour.

karen and ian by the avenue of stars

There were plenty of tourists already crushed together like sardines by the seawall’s edge, so we found a cafe with a patio on the walk and hunkered down with some alcohol and a pretty shady dish of cold, marinated chicken. Turned out that the light show was accompanied by fireworks too, so that was a bonus. Winnie oohed and aahed at the display and went for a closer look. Us Vancouverites remained seated at the table, unphased by the show, having been quite spoiled by the firework splendour that is the Vancouver Celebration of Light.

winnie by the avenue of stars

As the light show and fireworks ended, nature decided to put on a show of its own. A brilliantly purple bolt of lightning suddenly streaked through the sky as I was taking a shot of the cityline, and right in my lens’ field of view, too. Unfortunately, I hit the shutter a fraction of a second too late. The thunder rolled across the harbour soon after and the rain started pouring down. We quickly switched tables to one protected by a large umbrella and continued to watch the storm as it passed through the city. It was a gorgeous experience and trumped the harbour light show by a gazillion degrees. I will never again complain about summer thunderstorms…just about Winnipeg summer thunderstorms =)

The three of us lingered on the patio, trading stories and hearing about Ian’s fascinatingly sordid university life in Bangkok. As the hours waned, we parted ways with Winnie and Ian and I headed back to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry. The ferry was much shorter a trip than I expected. Only a few minutes to cross. It was neat to experience being out on the water at night, if only briefly.

Our next stop was to Wan Chai, where I truly got to see the seedy underbelly of Asian nightlife. Ian picked a go-go bar at random (Hawaii Club), where I wound up buying a $50 CAD drink for a Filipino woman codenamed Christina, that one can only call a sex trade worker. You can’t even pretend that she was just an exotic dancer. The person that targeted Ian was codenamed Karen (perhaps after discovering that my name was Karen?). The two proceeded to test the boundaries of decency on myself (nah-uh) and Ian (who was a little more willing) while the mama-san continued to get us to buy beer and buy them “drinks”.

All in all, a rainbow of experiences on my last night in Hong Kong.

hong kong travel diary: day 6.

Breakfast of vegetarian dim sum along Electric Road. Essentially pointed at each item that looked good and indicated how many of each I wanted. Even with my greedy eyes, the price was well under $20 HKD. Even more bitter about my 2 $75 HKD breakfast buffets at the hotel.

Didn’t realize it was vegetarian until someone at IG told me it was their favourite vegetarian pit stop. If I had known that earlier, perhaps I could have managed to have a Meatless Wednesday in Hong Kong…ah well. That would have interfered with my culinary itinerary, anyhow.

Lunch at Pumpernickel Cafe with Winnie, Johnny, Lisa, Calvin, Matt. Ordered the fettucini with duck a la Oscar Meyer weiner (again). Spinach soup was pretty tasteless and reminded me of canned spinach. Garlic bread was amazing. Had milk tea. Calvin tried to teach the “What” game to the group to the confusion and frustration of many at the table.

smoked salmon linguini

Last day with IG. Meeting rooms were freed up in the afternoon so finally got to take a closer look at the harbour-side views from the 33rd floor. Constantly distracted by the sun setting over the water…much nicer than my view of the government building’s gravel rooftop and the condo construction along False Creek. While waiting for the team to be ready for our dinner plans, I whipped out the camera and snapped shots of the pretty sunset and the bustling rush-hour traffic. Also attempted to photograph Terence’s aquarium, but I may have scared off the fish.

sunset over hong kong island

Dinner with Marcus, James, and Johnny was at a restaurant called Red, which is part of a fitness chain, for some reason. Hong Kong architects seem to be more enthralled with glass than Vancouver ones, which says a lot, as our city is building after building of green glass. Glass elevators, floating escalators, and glass-panelled shopping malls. Not good for a person as prone to vertigo as myself. Unfortunately, I was unable to hide my strange condition from Marcus and James’ attention. Johnny’s sniggering probably didn’t help! =P

The restaurant was jam-packed so we didn’t get the chance to sit outside on the patio with great views of downtown Hong Kong. We plopped down at our table and were informed that we only had till 9:30 before we would be kicked out. We had experienced this at Rice Paper too. It seems that many restaurants work in “meal shifts”: you must eat before the end of your meal shift in order to make room for other diners. I found it quite off-putting but it seems to be standard in the fancier (or at least more popular) dining establishments in town.

Scanned the menu in my usual way, looking for those ingredients that I automatically am drawn to: risotto, eggplant, ahi tuna, mushrooms, and anything remotely french. Settled on a tomato and spinach risotto with a crisped orange roughy fillet (though the menu stated it as orange roughy accompanied by said risotto). The fish was excellent if a little on the salty side. The risotto was horrendous. Perhaps I should give up on ordering risotto altogether. (The concept of a tomato risotto stuck with me, though, so when I got home, we created a tomato and basil risotto one Meatless Wednesday that, I must say, was quite fantabulous.)

orange roughy fillet with tomato and spinach risotto

There’s always room for dessert, so I ordered the “champagne custard”, visualizing a great big dish of succulently wobbly golden flan. Instead, what resembled 2 giant Wheaties were set in front of me, each encasing less than a tablespoon of regular custard. There was no indication that champagne was present in the recipe. Was extremely disappointed with the offering, and coupled with the fact that the server was reminding us every 10 minutes that 9:30 was coming up, I was very glad for our table that tipping is not customary in Hong Kong. If only you can penalize a restaurant for poor service…

Food and service aside, dinner was nevertheless enjoyable. Marcus kept us all entertained and his lovely wife Amy joined us later for dessert. It was so nice of my colleagues to keep me company for nearly every meal. Very much appreciated, and great to get to know the people that are taking care of our project development on a more personal level.

Marcus and Amy said their goodbyes at the restaurant as they headed out for a movie, while the rest of us parted ways at the MTR station. My plan post-dinner was to get in another night of salsa dancing, this time at Jupiter Cafe in North Point. The combination of jet lag, long work hours, and long touristy hours must have gotten to me, however, and I wound up passing out before 11pm on a Friday night in the comfort of my hotel. Oh well. Probably needed the beauty sleep, anyhow!

hong kong travel diary: day 5.

Back in Hong Kong and ready for breakfast! Finally got up the nerve to try the little congee house across the street from my hotel. I was worried about the language barrier but something about me must have screamed tourist (the giant camera in hand, perhaps?). An English menu was plopped promptly down on my table.

my congee house find

My usual congee of choice includes duck or chicken. This time, I risked trying a bowl of “salty meat” (they insist it is just pork) and century egg, which is typically duck egg preserved in soot for 100 days. If you’ve never tried century egg before, the visual is a little off-putting. It looks like a slice of egg that has been gelatinously petrified and stained with black shoe polish. Tasted great: salty egg with a slight Jell-o mouthfeel. Downed the congee with relish as well as the shrimp rice roll that the combo came with. All for only $27 HKD–that hotel buffet was a total rip-off at $75 HKD!

preserved egg and salty meat (pork) congee

As with the Shanghainese cafe from Tuesday, I shared the tiny booth with total strangers. It was a little boy and his mother today, who ordered what practically everyone else at the restaurant ordered for breakfast: macaroni soup with bits of ham plus a butter and egg sandwich on white bread, crusts removed. Would have taken a photo but I don’t think they would have appreciated such an invasion of privacy…

I saw this same meal being enjoyed by other cafe dwellers on the way to work. Even arrived at the desk to find Alan eating it one morning. Was somewhat curious about the ubiquitousness of the meal but was not curious enough to ingest Wonderbread while abroad.

Lunch was at a nearby lahksa house with Johnny and Winnie. Had the roasted duck lahksa, spice level #1 of 4, as Winnie warned us of the exponential increase in heat. Neither of my lunch companions were as into spicy food as I was so I took her warning with a grain of salt. Sure enough, my broth was super mild. Winnie called the server back to give me a side of level 2 broth after boasting that I should have gotten a level 3 soup. When the broth arrived, I took one tiny sip and went beet red from the heat. Johnny was thoroughly entertained. I added a couple of spoonfuls of the new broth into my soup bowl, hid my tail between my legs, and enjoyed the best of both worlds.

duck laksa

Alan played chauffeur the rest of the evening to Lisa, Winnie, Johnny, and I. First stop was to Shatin in the New Territories. It is a 20-minute drive across the harbour and north of Kowloon. Winnie kept a running commentary on the points of interest that we passed (coincidentally, most had shopping centres attached to them!).

inside jun jun

Dinner in Shatin was at Jun Jun, a local favourite that I was privileged enough to be taken to. I am not even sure if Jun Jun has a proper interior: we sat at the end of a long curvy patio with a low tarped ceiling. The place is famous for its Shatin chicken congee and its many incarnations of pigeon. While Winnie decided what to order for the table, I taped Johnny sterilizing our dishes and chopsticks with hot tea (a common ritual at dodgier restaurants, he says).

Tonight’s menu: crispy pigeon with shrimp crackers; oyster pancake; Shatin chicken congee; vegetable and scallop stir-fry; chicken “soft bones” with deep-fried tofu. Downed with copious amounts of tea and a bottle of Hong Kong beer called Blue Girl. The pigeon looked and tasted like a leaner version of peking duck, so I quite enjoyed it (unlike the duck in the lahksa, which looked and tasted like Oscar Meyer weiner. Cringe.). Johnny plopped the pigeon’s head into my bowl at the end of the meal. Er, yum? Unfortunately, I was much too full by then to try eating it (darn).

famous shatin chicken congee

oyster pancake

vegetable and scallop stir-fry

deep-fried pigeon with shrimp crackers

pigeon head

My favourite dish was the chicken soft bones. Alan explained that it was, in fact, the cartilage from chicken feet that has been softened, battered, and deep-fried with a variety of spices. I am a huge fan of tendon as evidenced by our regular pho outings, so I suppose chicken knuckles are not a very far cry from that.

deep-fried chicken knuckles with tofu

Dinner was accompanied by a sudden and vicious summer thunderstorm. We were well protected by the tarp above our heads–no worries there. But it was a real delight for me to sit there, outdoors in the pouring rain as the thunder and lightning played, experiencing exotic food, taking in the colourful restaurant scenery, and enjoying the company of a terrific group of people.


lisa and alan

On the way back to the parking lot, Winnie and I took a quick pit stop into the KFC and McDonald’s inside the Shatin Galleria. She pointed out the differences between the North American and Asian menu offerings. You can order a side of corn with your McDonald’s combo or eat chicken curry at KFC. The Happy Meal toy selection advertised a Hello Kitty plushy, which I attempted to get for Kookie: unfortunately, Hello Kitty wasn’t available for another week yet. Another souvenir procurement foiled. Curses!

the menu at the shatin KFC

We took a different scenic route back to Kowloon and up the winding path to Victoria Peak. Conversation up the mountain included a small lesson on how to say bubble gum in Cantonese–nothing else was taught, I swear 😉

The best views from the Peak are to be had on the massive two-tiered roof of the newly constructed observation building. One has to scale several sets of floating glass elevators to reach the top. Had to fight the onset of vertigo and my fear of heights throughout the ascent and descent, but it was well worth the panic attack and the jests of my colleagues. Winnie was even nice enough to anchor me on her arm during the worst parts. Such great hosts =)

pretty glass escalators

Hong Kong at night is dazzling. My non-DSLR camera and lack of travel tripod cannot adequately convey the blaze of lights that we observed up there on that windy deck. Victoria Peak is a must-see at night, despite the crowds of tourists and the off-chance of fog / smog. The folks let me wander around to take photo and video until my battery warning started to blink. Below are the highlights of this outing:

hong kong island at night

tst and the avenue of stars

winnie, lisa, karen, johnny, alan

Got back to the hotel with just enough time for a quick change into salsa dancing apparel and a hail to a cab for my one night of dancing in Hong Kong. Tonight’s venue was a bar called Swindlers in the Wan Chai district. It’s one of the seedier neighbourhoods this side of Hong Kong Island but that night, I didn’t notice it. Swindlers itself is a narrow and intimate bar with a 15×15′ dance floor, a hallway of hardwood flooring cleared of its usual tables, and an open entranceway to the street. You could hear the enticing percussions emanating from the place from almost a block away. Getting excited!

The crowd was a mix of locals, ex-pats from Europe and Asia, and a good smattering of visiting dancers from abroad. I was warned that the scene in Hong Kong was rather small, so I didn’t expect a lot of quality dancing, but was I ever mistaken! Even the worst dancer at Swindlers was better than the average dancer you come across in Vancouver. Danced LA- and casino-style salsa with people from Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and even another Vancouverite (what a small world). Had the best salsa dance of my life with a Peruvian instructor by the name of Gino Mayaute, who now lives and teaches out of the US. Everyone should get the chance to watch this guy at work–he really is beautiful to watch, whether he is leading or following. Also happy to see that bachata is alive and well in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, my camera was already kaput from Victoria Peak so had to rely on those of my new salsa connections for a couple of snaps of the evening.

chuen chuen and karen

karen, ilan, judy

Got back to the hotel by 2am, thinking with a happy sigh that this was one of the best days of the trip thus far.