Tag Archives: gem

European Vacation – Paris, France

After visiting Bruges, Belgium, we boarded a train to Kortrijk, Belgium as the first leg our day’s journey to Paris. Going to Paris was the motivation behind the whole trip – to visit our friends Jessica and Andrew in Paris. There transportation strikes happening in Belgium, but we checked in the morning and the trains were still running.

The train ride gave a little more time for some Papers, Please, but our luck ran out when we got to Kortrijk. By this time, the strike caught up with us, and trains were no longer running out of Kortrijk. And because we already used part of our tickets, we couldn’t get refunds. We ended up taking a taxi from Kortrijk, Belgium to Lille, France. Once in France, we took a train to Paris. We were late, but we got there!

I’m guessing we went to our AirBNB first, but I honestly don’t remember that. I just remember heading to Frame Brasserie where Jessica was waiting for us. Andrew was in the kitchen, preparing awesome food. For my friends who don’t know, the two of them used to live near me in California, but Andrew accepted a head chef position at Frame Brasserie, a restaurant in Paris inside the Pullman Paris Hotel.

Here’s Chef Andrew hard at work in the kitchen!

Here’s one of the dishes he prepared – foie gras on banana bread. I didn’t know those flavors would go well together, but it was amazing!

I don’t remember what each course was, but I know that I was impressed with all of it. So good!

After dinner, we went upstairs to a little balcony where we were able to watch the light show on the Eiffel Tower. It was pretty breathtaking. I wasn’t expecting to be as amazed at the Eiffel Tower as I was. It was beautiful.

Andrew gave us a little tour of the rooftop garden as well, including the chicken coop. The chickens were sleeping.

Jessica walked us back to our AirBNB, and we stopped to admire the Eiffel Tower more on the way.

Only gem and I were interested in Disneyland Park Paris, so we spent the day there.

We stopped for breakfast in Main Street, U.S.A. where I got a croque monsieur. (That’s not normally found on traditional Main Streets in the States, but I’ll forgive them. This little bird wanted some too and took a piece right out of my hand. Disney magic!

After eating, we went straight to Discoveryland, which is like Anaheim’s Tomorrowland. Instead of being purely futuristic, it’s themed after historical French figures’ visions of the future, making it retro and steampunk. It was awesome.

We rode Space Mountain Mission 2, Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain, twice in a row. It had a great steampunk feel to it and was one of my favorite rides there. The wait was seriously just a few minutes. Yes, it was a weekday, but I don’t think we ever needed to wait longer than 15 minutes. I think the one-day, two-park ticket was only about $50 (US), which is nuts. I guess Disneyland Paris isn’t as popular as the original.

Next we went on a walk-through attraction called Les Mystères du Nautilus based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Apparently there was a similar attraction in our Disneyland in the 1950’s.

After a submarine, it was time to hop in some cars for Autopia. I’m completely uninterested in the Anaheim Autopia but enjoyed the Paris Autopia!

When we heard that Buzz needed our help, we rushed to Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast to defeat the Evil Emperor Zurg!

gem even found a planet with her name in it – Gemkurnz!

After finishing with Discoveryland, we went to explore Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

I like this photo of gem and the castle despite the people in the background.

The castle had many stained glass windows. I prefer the one of Maleficent, one of my favorite Disney characters.

There’s a little balcony area on top that you can explore too!

It’s a Small World’s tribute to America started with the old west. I really enjoyed seeing this.

It also included the New York skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hollywood sign (among other things).

For lunch, we stopped at Cafe Hyperion. I believe this was the Dark Vador burger. I couldn’t resist it. That’s also how I learned that Darth Vader is Dark Vador in French.

After riding Pirates of the Caribbean, we rode Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril. Unlike its California counterpart, this is more of a traditional rollercoaster. It’s also the first Disney rollercoaster to feature an inversion! While I enjoy our more story-driven rollercoaster, this was an awesome ride!

Frozen had a little section in the park with a photo-op and some sort of performance. We didn’t stay for the performance, but we did get our photo taken before we had to rush to the second park, which we didn’t realize was closing soon.

Walt Disney Studios is Disneyland Paris’ second park, and it’s based on a movie studio.

There were a number of neat things to see in the park, especially walking through the Toy Story section that was built to a scale as if you were a toy.

The park had an excellent rollercoaster based on Finding Nemo – Crush’s Coaster. Two seats face one direction and two face the other direction, leading to awesome drops in which you’re falling backwards!

While we were inside Disneyland Park, we were wondering where the statue of Walt and Mickey was and just assumed they didn’t use it in Paris. We were wrong! It’s in Walt Disney Studios!

My notes also mention salsa, rock, and line dancing in Disney Village, which is like Paris’ Downtown Disney. I don’t remember that. Did we do it? Did we just see it?

I wanted to stop for a photo with the magic broom on the way out.

And we got one of gem as well!

Next it was back to Disneyland Park to talk to ticketing about our tickets. We had purchased tickets online in advance, which means we had printouts and not physical tickets. She was hoping for physical tickets as souvenirs. At first they said they couldn’t do it, but when gem got sad, the man got creative. He printed out one of each ticket variation and voided them before giving them to her. How nice of him!

Back inside Disneyland Park, I took a photo of gem with the greeter at Phantom Manor, which is their version of the Haunted Mansion. How spooky and cool! We actually went through Phantom Manor twice.

gem also had an encounter with Abu, who ran up to her and surprised her!

We did some shopping while in the park too. I picked up some gifts for people, but there was one gift that was just too big – a blue Buzz Lightyear figure. I have no idea why he was blue, but I wanted it for Henley. Eventually, I knew I had a solution. I purchased a big Disneyland Paris duffel bag and the toy. Now I could definitely bring it home!

We ended our Disney evening with a fireworks and light show. It seemed like a combination of Disneyland fireworks and a show like Fantasmic or World of Color. There were fireworks, but there were also plenty of lasers and projects. It was awesome!

When the park closed, we walked through Disney Village to the train, where we waited at least an hour or so for the train to leave. We were really packed in there. Then it was hard to find our way home because of construction causing street closures. We eventually found a McDonald’s with Wi-Fi that allowed us to contact Antonio and Anela. We had a key to get into the apartment, but we forgot the code to the front gate! I told Antonio what time I thought we’d be back, but we ended up taking much longer. This could have been problematic, because without Wi-Fi, my phone wouldn’t work. Luckily he happened to see my message way late – just when we got to the gate. Great timing 🙂

The next day we headed to the Eiffel Tower. The base was much bigger than I expected.

Here’s a shot looking up through the tower.

Unfortunately, we could only reach the second story that day because the rest was closed.

That didn’t stop us from enjoying the view anyways.

After we came back down from the Eiffel Tower, we met Anela, Andrew, and Jessica at the FRAME Truck where we purchased some tasty tacos. Jessica did a lot of planning for us so we could squeeze as much in as we can. Her help was invaluable!

gem looks quite thug. I don’t know what she was doing here, but it’s great.

They also brought us these delicious macarons!

After lunch, it was time to jump in front of the Eiffel Tower! Here’s Antonio, Anela, me, and gem.

And here’s Jessica, Anela, me, and Andrew. Andrew looks a little derpy.

Lots of people seem to lounge near the Eiffel Tower.

Either Jessica or Andrew took this photo of the four of us.

Here’s all six of us in front of the Eiffel Tower!

What do you do after appreciating the Eiffel Tower? Explore some creepy catacombs, of course. We played some Heads Up on our phones and variations of charades while waiting in line, but then it was time to enter.

The descent! Jessica looks too happy.

gem looks scary in the catacombs.

Jessica, don’t be mean! Don’t worry; she didn’t touch.

Lots and lots of bones.

After emerging once more, Andrew took us to She’s Cake. They use She’s cakes at Frame Brasserie.

We split a few different delicious desserts.

After eating, we visited the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris at Montmarte, which was beautiful.

Even the drinking fountains are beautiful in Paris!

When it was time for dinner, we stopped at Le Consulat.

We shared an order of escargot, which tasted very similar to typical shellfish. I enjoyed it a lot!

I did, however, have to figure out how to eat it.

After dinner, we walked past the Moulin Rouge.

We finished our day with a visit to L’arc de Triomphe.

The next day, we visited the Eiffel Tower so we could climb all the way.

It was a foggy day, but I had fun.

Here I am enjoying that view, but I felt I needed a closer look.

That’s much better!

Just look at that amazing view! Okay, the view was nothing but fog, but it was still cool.

I forget if it was this day or the previous Eiffel Tower visit, but we talked to some of the soldiers at the base. Side note, it’s still very weird to me to see soldiers with huge guns just walking around. Anyways, we asked for Anela to get a photo with them. Their reaction was strange. Some seemed to say no, some to say yes, and one walked away. After a moment, I realized what was happening. They were smoking when they weren’t allowed to be smoking. Some of them put out their cigarettes and one just walked out of view of the camera. We got our photo!

We went to a market to get some lunch. This pastry was super good.

We also sampled some pink cheese. That doesn’t look like my hand though. Whose hand is that? Anela’s? Oh well.

I managed to purchase cherries in French! It was terrible French I’m sure, but a bit of Rosetta Stone helped. Here’s our haul that we ate in Jessica and Andrew’s apartment. Not shown was the McDonald’s that we bought as well, including the Le Croque McDo. How French! Man, I’m getting hungry.

Just look at this pastry! We stopped at Le Moulin de la Croix Nivert for tarte aux pommes et Paris Brest, two amazing desserts.

With full stomachs, we visited Notre-Dame.

Next we quickly saw the Fontaine Saint Michel.

By that time, we definitely some crepes, so we stopped at Creperie de Arts.

The best part of Creperie de Arts? Le chat! This cat was just chilling.

We also stopped at Amoroso Gelato because apparently we just can’t eat enough.

Of course we visited the Louvre, but we were unable to go inside. Due to the flooding happening in Paris at the time, they were moving all the works to higher floors in case the water got into the Louvre.

That didn’t stop us from having fun and goofing around!

Look at these two lovebirds. <3

Here’s a closer shot of the building.

Speaking of the flood, here’s a look at the water. You might not be able to tell just how much water there is from this photo.

I wouldn’t want to go sit on one of those benches.

Those are cars. The Seine rose so much, cars parked along the river were now under water.

May gem present to you… the Statue of Liberty!

Here’s a shot she took of me in front of it too!

According to the journal I kept, which was just a list of things we did, we also visited L’arc de triomphe du Carrousel, but I can’t find any photos of it. I can’t believe I wouldn’t take photos, so maybe I just got them mixed up. Oops.

Edit: I did just get them mixed up! I added a photo 🙂

For dinner, we went to Frame Brasserie a second time. On this visit, Andrew ate with us rather than being in the kitchen. He had his staff keep bringing us additional dishes until we were full. Amazing. As I’d expect, everything was so good. Here’s a collage of everything we managed to eat. Keep in mind there were six of us please :0

Look, FRAME has a foosball table! I don’t know who won, but I know we had fun – probably because gem and I were both terrible.

Sadly, this is where we said our goodbyes to Jessica and Andrew.

Before heading to our apartment for the final time, we walked around the Centre Georges Pompidou, which was near where we were staying.

It looks like it’s inside-out! It’s definitely an interesting piece of architecture.

While we didn’t go inside, we were able to appreciate it from here.

I’ll end this post with a final shot of the Eiffel Tower. The next morning we left our little apartment and traveled to the airport to fly to Rome. Thanks so much to Jessica and Andrew for spending time with us, showing us around Paris, sharing delicious food, and everything else. I wish I could see you regularly, but Paris is just a bit too far to visit for a weekend!

European Vacation – Bruges, Belgium

The next stop on our trip was Bruges, Belgium. We stayed at the Hotel de Goezeput, the only hotel typical hotel we used while in Europe.

This was the most laid-back and relaxing leg of our vacation – not because we didn’t do anything, but because nothing was really planned ahead of time.

We started with our traditional McDonald’s meal.

The best part of Belgium in my opinion was Chez Albert. We ended up grabbing snacks from this shop many times and got to know the owner, Sabine.

I particularly liked this statue. It might be called “The Lovers” or some variation on that, but I couldn’t find definitive information on the Internet.

We did some wandering around the city, including some exploration of windmills.

Here’s a closer look at my friends. It looks like they were up to something.

There was a hill near one of the windmills that gem couldn’t help but roll down! I might have done so too 🙂

When we got back to the hotel, we got ready for bed. gem and Anela played Papers, Please on my laptop while I showered. Glad they enjoyed it!

We started the next day with more Chez Albert. I told you Sabine would get to know us.

Chocolate is a must in Belgium, so we did some shopping. I really liked a shop called Chocolates & Happiness, which put cute quotes on their boxes of chocolates. I bought a few boxes to take home.

Next up was the “In Bruges” walking tour by “Can You Handle It? Tours” with our tour guide, Steve. It was a fun a little tour, and the highlight was probably the beer museum. I enjoyed Arthur’s Legacy (Limited Edition), Kriek Boon (a delicious cherry beer – my favorite), and Rosso Red Fruit beer. The tour also took us to Chocolaterie de Burg, a chocolate shop that came recommended to us.

Sometimes we have to take a quick break for a photo!

Here we all are with a canal behind us.

This is the Madonna and Child, sculpted by Michelangelo, in the Church of Our Lady.

And this is a touristy photo in front of it. Honestly, it was a bit lackluster to me, but I’m glad I got to see it.

Here’s another nice shot of us together.

We found a shop with a chocolate fountain and bought some sweets mostly so we could use the fountain. I dropped some of my chocolates though. Sad times.

Oh no! We were running low on sweets! Sabine could save us though.

We had dinner at ‘t Vagevuur because it offered a discount to people from the walking tour. The discount applied to a limited menu, and I wasn’t that impressed. However, we did run into Stevie again. For those of you not keeping track, we met her on a train in the Netherlands a few days earlier. How awesome is that?

After dinner we got some drinks at a bar and then stuffed ourselves with fries covered in various toppings from a little stand before heading back to the hotel.

The next morning we got some delicious bagel sandwiches from Sanseveria on our way out of Bruges. We met a couple from Atlanta who had breakfast with us. They were in Belgium for a conference. One of them worked for the CDC and was a public health professor at a university – pretty cool. After our tasty breakfast, we took a train to Kortrijk. We were supposed to continue by train to Paris, but that’ll be a story for next time.

European Vacation – England

I visited England about 10 months ago, so it’s about time I talk about it. We flew from Copenhagen to London where security was almost as annoying as it is in the US. The rest of Europe was relatively relaxed, but getting into the UK takes some time. After landing, we took a train where we changed in the train bathroom to prepare for our first stop…

Tea time! We had tea at the Hilton West End. Unfortunately, we had to bring our luggage with us since we were cutting it close, but everything worked out fine.

I had Earl Grey tea and tomato, cucumber, salmon, and ham sandwiches. They were all delicious, and it was a lot of fun.

We took a bus to get to our AirBNB and then explored the city a bit. It was kind of fun to see places with names we recognized from the computer game, Hellgate: London such as Piccadilly Circus and Charring Cross. It was also fun to use the real London Undergrounds. I know it’s not special to those who live there, but I was a tourist and I enjoyed it!

After a quick detour to get photos of each of us in a red telephone box (because how could we not), we stopped at McDonald’s to continue trying McDonald’s in each country.

None of my photos of Big Ben turned out great since it was dark, but it was pretty cool seeing it lit up in the London sky. It’s so iconic. We also walked along the River Thames near the London Eye!

The next day we struggled to figure out the washing machine and then left on our tour of Stratford-upon-Avon, Cotswolds, Bath, and Stonehenge. Cotswolds wasn’t a destination; rather, it’s a lush area of hills and grass through which we drove on our bus tour to the other destinations. First was Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.  We went on a tour of his first home where the tour impressed upon us just how simple of a life it was during that time. They gave us a snack, and we watched some actors perform a short scene.

Next we visited Bath where the Roman Baths were built. The water wasn’t so pretty now, but at one time, people visited to bathe in the waters. The architecture was cool, but more interesting was some of the classic art – statues, tools, coins, scrolls, and more. The writings were mostly simple lists – debts and, if I recall correctly, a list of suspects from a crime.

Outside the baths was a street performer who set birds all over us. As gem and I had recently played Hatoful Boyfriend, a computer game in which you play as a young woman in a world now run by birds (it’s from Japan, okay?), we were quite excited.

Stonehenge was the last stop on our tour, and likely with good reason. This was the main attraction. It was really awesome seeing such a well-known icon up close. At the same time, and I think this applies to a lot of things, it’s less idyllic in person with huge groups of people wandering around. Of course, you can’t actually get close either.

There was an audio tour you could use while walking along as well. I used it and listened to a large portion of it, but honestly, nothing I learned really stuck with me. If you visit, I think you could safely skip it.

I do, however, remember the audio tour causing me to focus on the rock. What did it say about it? I have absolutely no idea. But I like the photo.

I also really like this photo of Antonio gazing at Stonehenge. What do you think he’s thinking about?

When we got back to London, we needed to go shopping. Anela had torn her jeans and needed a replacement. Irish John and Steve, our tour guides, were really nice. They offered to drop us off last near a store. After making her purchase, we went in search of dinner. We ended at Simply Indian, a delicious Indian restaurant in London. It was super delicious – one of the better meals we had on vacation. I have to be honest though; we had a lot of great food!

Our goal the next day was to see some British guards! Look, gem holds one of the tiny guards on her palm.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First on the agenda was a place Antonio suggested – Borough Market. There was cheese, olive oils, vinegar, honey, sausages, and even brownie samples. I ate a venison burger, more Indian food, a meat pie, and had some tea. After eating, we split up because one of us forgot our phone. I don’t even remember who it was or who went with who at this point. However, I knew how to use the underground to get back and then get where we were going to meet.

We were meeting at the Lush flagship store, across the street from a Uniqlo, about two blocks from where we’d get off the underground. Awesome. Easy enough, right? Not quite. I thought I followed the directions, but it didn’t seem right. As it turns out, a couple blocks in either direction was Lush, each across the street from a Uniqlo. What the heck?! We eventually found the correct Lush, and I had a great chat with a woman working there who’s actually half Greek.

Now it was off to Buckingham Palace and Whitehall for the changing of the guards. Anela really wanted to be able to go up to a guard who can’t respond like in films, but that’s not possible anymore. She did get a photo with this officer though! Who doesn’t like a man in uniform?

I believe this is the four us at Whitehall for the changing of the guards. It was fun!

With our mission complete, we did a little exploring and wandered the streets.

We decided we definitely had to have some fish and chips while in London, so we stopped here at The Clarence for a bite to eat and a beer.

While we were in London, we decided to try to sneak to Hogwarts. We found Platform 9 3/4 and pushed our way through! There was a bit of  line, but I enjoyed chatting and watching others have fun when it was their turn. If the participants are willing, they have each person pose once as if walking through and another jumping. They also have participants focus on the professional cameraman as well as their own. On top of that, they let us take group photos and individuals photos. It was pretty cool!

gem did a little shopping for a wand. So many choices! We didn’t actually purchase a wand, but it was fun to shop. We also met a cosplayer who goes by La Espada de Obi Wan in line. He specializes in Obi-wan and The Doctor. You can find him on Facebook as La Espada de Obi Wan!

After looking at all the goodies in the Harry Potter store, we went in search of the door used as Sherlock’s door in the show. It’s not a show I watch, but I was happy to go too. gem was certainly excited!

Our final major goal was to visit Abbey Road. There was a designated wall on which people could write or draw, which was pretty interesting. There were a decent number of tourists, but it wasn’t packed. I do feel bad for the poor drivers who just want to drive down their street!

This is the best photo I have of us. Yeah, yeah, I know we’re walking the wrong way when compared to the Beatles. We also met a tourist there who loved the Beach Boys. He must have spent at least five minutes talking about how much better the Beach Boys were than the Beatles. He wasn’t mean about it or anything, but he was certainly opinionated. His wife seemed less than amused.

We finished at Abbey Road, and moved on to exploring Soho. We ate our second fish and chips meal of the day and then grabbed some coffee at the Soho Grind, a very pleasant location.

After a good night’s rest, we quickly visited Borough Market again in the morning before heading to the airport. I had a salad, and then we prepared for our flight. Unfortunately, by luggage was overweight, so I had to check it. It wasn’t a problem though, and then we were off to Dublin!

Thanks for the memories, London!

My 31st birthday

My 31st birthday was a week and a half ago, and it was pretty great! My birthday landed on a Monday, so I planned a birthday dinner at Gen Korean BBQ with some friends for the Saturday before my birthday. Here’s Antonio, Kaleigh, Anela, gem, Edward, and me after enjoying delicious KBBQ.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before dinner, I saw Little Shop of Horrors performed live at Musical Theatre Village in Irvine with gem and Anela. I’m so glad gem found out about the show. I love the movie and had never seen it live. It was awesome! I loved the puppeteering of the Audrey II, and the actors performing both Seymour and Audrey were wonderful.

gem gave me these taco / dinosaur socks, which are perfect for Taco Tuesdays.

The Hursts had me over for dinner on Sunday. Look how big Meredith is getting! She’s adorable.

Henley picked out this delicious carrot cake for me. He informed me that the carrot on top was made out of frosting and that I had to share the cake if I wanted it. He also told me that I could lick the frosting off the candles, but I let him do that too. That kid’s one wonderful little person.

The following weekend, gem took me on a surprise trip. I knew she had something planned, but I didn’t know what. We went to Lions, Tigers & Bear, a sanctuary near San Diego. It was amazing!

I fed a bear! Yes! Seriously! This is Albert, a wonderful and gentle boy who loved his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Yep, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! What an awesome experience. We got a tour of the sanctuary and each of us had a ticket to feed one animal. gem and I both chose this beautiful grizzly bear!

The animals here are never bred and are never touched by humans unless under sedation. Guests feed them by using long tools so that they don’t get too close. The cats would all jump at the food, but Albert just lazily took the food. I love him!

Here are two of the sanctuary’s lions. The lion in the foreground was pretty aggressive. He really wanted all of his dinner at once and didn’t like how long it was taking. You should have seen him tear into his turkey leg.

This is Maverick, the tiger formally owned by Tyga the rapper. He was pretty awesome and definitely jumped for his pieces of meat! There was another tiger that was pretty crazy. He was super aggressive and would surely have torn us to pieces given the chance.

This gorgeous white tiger was cleaning himself just like a house cat.

This spotted leopard was willing to climb for his lunch. We also saw bobcats, a chicken, some peacocks, and Tom, a house cat who likes to wander around the premises. It was such an awesome experience.

Now, I know I already mentioned this, but I have to say it again…

I fed a bear! I fed Albert the grizzly bear! Look how cute he is! Thank you, gem, for the wonderful trip. And thanks too all my friends who helped celebrate or wished me a happy birthday! 🙂

Europe Vacation 2016 – Denmark

Back in May, I traveled to Europe with gem, Anela, and Antonio for a vacation starting with Denmark. Clearly I took my sweet time organizing photos and writing blog entries. The catalyst was wanting to visit our friends in Paris. When gem found a cheap flight to Copenhagen, we began to plan in earnest. Most of the tickets were purchased by the time I was laid off from Toshiba. Weird timing, but the vacation was great anyways.

We left LAX on May 20 and arrived in Copenhagen on the 21st. Using Uber was interesting since Antonio had data but none of us had voice calling, but we made it okay. The most noticeable aspect of Copenhagen was that it was incredibly bicycle-friendly.

We explored the city a bit, including this greenhouse with cool stairs and two levels.

We decided to try McDonald’s everywhere we went. I don’t remember specifics about McDonald’s in Denmark, but the quality certainly seemed higher.

We took a canal tour that was excellent. It was a great way to quickly get a feel for the city.

I don’t have much to say about this photo besides the fact that I like it.

Tortus Copenhagen is a pottery studio that Anela knew from Instagram. Unfortunately, they closed by the time we got there and wouldn’t be open again until after we left the country. Anela left a note for them, and they later followed her on Instagram!

After a lot more walking, we walked through a very beautiful park.

gem had fun impersonating statues and admiring the hedges. She has a thing for hedges.

Perhaps Anela was waiting for people to get out of the way so she could do a jumping photo. I can’t say for sure, but we did take jumping photos here.

That night we discovered something strange about Copenhagen. It stayed light pretty much all day. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it would get dark around midnight and get light again around 3 or 4. In fact, that was a problem most of our vacation. We’d lose track of time based on the sunlight!

The next day was actually day of a big race. We saw some of the runners and stopped here for some coffee. I wasn’t a big coffee drinker at home, but I learned to appreciate it much more while in Europe. Unfortunately, coffee is a lot worse in the US.

It was half race, half street entertainment, and all excitement.

Here’s a view from a bridge over one of the canals in the city.

Next we visited the Church of Our Savior, which has a tall spire with a spiral staircase that narrows as it climbs. Anela, not liking heights, did not join us. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually mentioned in Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I had previously read.

gem looks really happy here!

At the highest point were many stickers and writing that people left. Antonio signed one of the stickers here.

Anela waited down below, but I still got a photo of her.

The inside of the church was also pretty with a number of cool statues.

Next we visited Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania. It’s an autonomous or anarchist community in Copenhagen. It seemed pretty interesting, and you can read more about it on Wikipedia.

It had a lot of beautiful art inside and near it such as this on the side of a cargo container.

This blacksmith in Christiania holds a metal sign she made that I purchased as a gift for some friends of mine. I’ve seen them a few times since returning to the States, and every time I’ve failed to give it to them. I’m going to their house on New Year’s Eve, so I better look for it.

Funny story. At an airport later in my trip, there seemed to be a problem with one of our pieces of luggage. Eventually the security person pointed to my bag and asked whose it was. I said it was mine. He points to his monitor showing the x-ray’ed contents of my bag.

“This is yours?” he asked. There on the screen, 100% legible, are the words “NAKED DANCE.”

“Yeah.”

“Naked dance. You.” It was a question, but he said it more as an indignant statement.

“Yeah.” Not that I commonly partake in naked dancing (although when I’m alone in my room, who’s to say), but yes, it was mine.

He then starts laughing before saying “okay” and allowing my bag to continue.

We visited Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park and pleasure garden in Copenhagen. Do you know what a pleasure garden is? I didn’t until I looked up Tivoli Gardens on Wikipedia. It’s a garden open to the public for entertainment. Anyways, Tivoli is the oldest operating amusement park in the world. Sorry Tivoli, but you don’t hold a candle to Disneyland. Still a fun day though!

Here’s one of the streets through Tivoli lined with shops.

gem even got to play the xylophone!

After Tivoli, we did more exploring. gem wanted to join this sculpture.

I liked the Gefion Fountain featuring the Norse goddess, Gefion.

gem and Anela posed after we got done looking at the fountain.

gem thought that “cafe emma” could use a ‘g’ to make it “cafe gemma.”

One of the last things we did before dinner that night was visit The Little Mermaid, a famous sculpture that’s known to represent Copenhagen. It’s been vandalized multiple times and even beheaded. Some people are so disrespectful.

We went to Brasserie Degas for dinner because of their amazing desserts. However, when we got there we found that it was a nicer (and more expensive) restaurant than we were expecting. We got a number of desserts and shared them but decided to eat dinner somewhere else. The waiter seemed less than thrilled.

We ended up getting pizza and pasta next door. This was the first time on the trip that we noticed people getting really quiet when they heard us discuss Trump. You could feel the tension disappear when they realized we were not in support of him.

We ended our last night in Copenhagen by embarrassing ourselves a little. We joked that we should avoid walking past Brasserie Degas when we finished eating so that the waiter wouldn’t see that we simply went next door for dinner. When we walked out of the restaurant, we immediately turned the opposite way of Brasserie Degas to begin walking back to our AirBNB. Fool proof plan except for the fact that the waiter had just left and was walking to his car. He definitely saw us! Not that it matters of course. It’s our vacation, and we’ll eat where we want!

Thus ended the first country on our vacation! Copenhagen was beautiful and a bustling urban center. It was a great start to our vacation.

Hipster Ariel

gem's Ariel

Here’s a few photos of gem’s Ariel from SDCC 2016 that I didn’t post. We thought it’d be fun to take a few photos by the pool. When we got there, we found these two mermaids already swimming there. It was a nice coincidence; I’m glad I got to snap a photo of the three mermaids together!

gem's Ariel

Hipster Ariel judges all these convention fans! Ugh!

Happy Fourth of July!

Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! I went up to Vasquez Rocks recently for this photoshoot with Anela of her quite American dress.

CRW_9854

I thought I’d share some of my favorites here.

Fourth of July

The park seemed a nice place for hiking in the future, but we didn’t do much during the shoot. They apparently film a lot of TV and film here too – Star Trek, Bill & Ted’s, and the Flintstones to name a few.

For more of my photos from the shoot, you can check my Flickr.

Fourth of July

Here’s a shot Raymond (Instagram: @raymond_g583) took of us with the little fireworks!

Fourth of July

I like this one that Mike (Instagram: @dirty_caliboy_mike) took of me shooting.

Fourth of July

There was also some sweet food eating as is an obvious Fourth of July tradition. We were quite lucky that gem had so many hats! Thanks for the selfie, Antonio.

Fourth of July

Michelle was bringing a friend we didn’t know, and that friend ended up being Josh. It was a pretty funny surprise. Small world!

Fourth of July

gem wore this cute Fourth of July outfit complete with blue wig! Coincidentally, her brother wore pretty much the same outfit (besides the wig). Her family has awesome fashion sense!

Fourth of July

We also ate oh-so-much food – barbecue, meats, veggies, fruit, pizza, cheesecake, cake, ice cream, and more! This red, white, and blue ice cream was gem’s masterpiece. It was blueberry ice cream with swirls of strawberry jelly and marshmallow. It was all delicious!

What a fantastic celebration of America!

Anela’s birthday at the Alpaca Hacienda

The Alpaca Hacienda

For Anela’s birthday, I arranged a tour of the Alpaca Hacienda in Temecula. She loves alpacas, so I thought it’d be great. When I was first feeling her out about it, the conversation went something like this.

“Have you ever been to an alpaca farm?”

“Nope, ugh, that’d be terrible!” At this point, I felt confused. She wouldn’t enjoy it? Would I need to find a different gift? But then she continued. “I’d never want to leave!” Perfect.

The Alpaca Hacienda

If you didn’t get invited, don’t blame Anela. I organized it, so you can get mad at me. I promise I’ll ignore you and not care.

Anela, gem, Claudia, Tram, and I met early so we could be sure to get to Temecula in time for our tour. Claudia brought some delicious cupcakes. I’ve had banana muffins, but have you ever had a banana chocolate cupcake? I have now, and it was delicious. I also brought some orange juice, water, and homemade egg muffins for everyone.

The Alpaca Hacienda

We gave her gifts and cards too. I like making handmade cards, but this was my first attempt at one with a slide and moving parts. The little alpaca jumps the fence. It took a while to figure out the best way to do it, but I’m pretty pleased with the result.

The Alpaca Hacienda

We reached The Alpaca Hacienda about 10 minutes before our scheduled time, which was pretty perfect. Oh man, look how cute these girls were! Tina, the Ranch Event Coordinator, met us and started our tour with a little presentation about alpacas. She was wonderful. I’d been e-mailing with her since December, so it was nice to meet her. These are all female alpacas in this pen that was right next to where we were having our presentation.

04

Next it was time to feed Crown Royal! We learned that alpacas don’t really like to be touched, so the best way to get to pet him is to approach slowly and pet him gently while someone else distracts him with food! Luckily we were each given a bag of delicious (at least according to Crown Royal) food!

The Alpaca Hacienda

Thanks for the photos, gem. Feeding Crown Royal was so much fun! I’ll admit, my hand was pretty slobbery, but it was worth it. And hey, if you’re interested in having your alpaca breed with him, he’s available! I’m not sure why I decided to Google him, but I did.

The Alpaca Hacienda

After feeding Crown Royal, we learned a little about felt. One way felt is made is by applying water, pressure, and rubbing. I got the craft add-on to the tour (because of course we want to craft), so we got to make felt – or hairy soap I suppose. We were given some alpaca hair that we opened, cleaned, and then wrapped around a bar of soap with some water. We massaged it and spread it around the soap before finally using string to finish with some flair. We could use it as soap, and as the soap gets used up, the hair will continue to shrink and tighten around it, becoming felt, or we could use it as decoration. I’m going to keep mine as decoration.

The Alpaca Hacienda

Next it was time to see the males, but we took a detour to pet Dakota. Dakota is a sweet doggy that was all tuckered out. Dakota’s been protecting the alpacas from a coyote! Apparently the coyote has been coming to the ranch regularly.

The Alpaca Hacienda

The Alpaca Hacienda homes a single llama that we got to meet as well. Llamas, unlike alpacas, are quite friendly around people. This one really wanted kisses. He’d press up against our faces. I love him.

The Alpaca Hacienda

Tina was nice enough to take a photo of our whole group with an alpaca and the llama! What a good-looking bunch, eh? I had a ton of fun at the Alpaca Hacienda and definitely recommend it. We ended our afternoon in the gift shop. They had some fun finger puppets, so I bought a couple for gem. There was also a little alpaca wearing a hat. An alpaca with clothes?! I had to send Anela home with it.

I found a tea place that seemed nice on Yelp, so we headed to Snow & Crab after our tour. It was quite the eclectic restaurant – Cajun food, tea, coffee, and shaved ice. We got a round of drinks and enjoyed some conversation. gem ordered hot horchata coffee with boba. It was actually pretty good!

The Alpaca Hacienda

After our little break, we checked out the Ricardo Breceda Gallery & Sculpture Garden! It was twenty minutes out of the way but well worth it. These sculptures were amazing. Check out that octopus in the above photo!

The Alpaca Hacienda

Look, gem joined a mariachi band!

The Alpaca Hacienda

I asked another person at the sculpture garden to take our photo. There were so many different kinds of sculptures from small insects, to life-sized people, to large dinosaurs. They were all very cool. Ricardo Breceda, the artist, said they could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months to create depending on the size.

Ricardo Breceda

Next we headed back to Orange County to meet Daniel for dinner at Gen. It was time for delicious Korean BBQ! I ate so much, which is obviously customary at KBBQ. We were seated between 5:30 and 6:00 – once again perfect timing. Everything went so amazingly smoothly!

The Alpaca Hacienda

After discussing the video Tiny hamster eating a tiny pizza earlier, gem felt inspired to make a tiny taco. It was cute, but I don’t think it’s quite as a cute without a tiny animal eating it!

Next we rounded out the night at the nearby 7 Leaves Cafe for our second tea lounge of the day. You know what I just noticed as I wrote this post thanks to last years post, Happy birthday, Anela? We went to Gen as well as 7 Leaves Cafe last year for her birthday!

Everything we did that day was fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know my three new friends! Most importantly, Anela got to have a fun birthday. Happy birthday! I hope you had fun! 🙂

My 30th birthday (over a month ago)

birthday

My birthday was really amazing this year. I wasn’t feeling so happy with things around that time, but the day was so perfect and I felt so loved that it lifted my spirits immensely. I couldn’t have imagined a better day.

my birthday, henley

My plans were in the afternoon, leaving my morning free. It just so happened that Henley was playing at a park in Irvine with Alex and Darnell that morning, so things worked out perfectly. I met them at the park and had a great time. Henley was so excited to see me and is absolutely adorable. I played with him for a while, and when Darnell said I had to leave, he threw a little bit of a fit. He also wished me a happy birthday and even sang. <3

my birthday

In the afternoon, I headed to gem’s where gem, Anela, Edward, Antonio, and Kaleigh celebrated with me. And by celebrate, I mostly mean eat!

I think a collage tells the food story better than individual photographs. Let’s go clockwise. On the top-left is a strawberry shortcake mochi. Yep, that’s a piece of strawberry shortcake wrapped inside mochi. Delicious! Everything in the top-right was brought by Anela as well. Two kinds of cookies and two different kinds of pastries! Below that one is mango-jalapeño salsa I made and some pastries Antonio and Kaleigh brought from Porto’s that were delicious. Below that one is fondue! gem was the mastermind there, but she enlisted the help of some others too. We ate it with a variety of things, but I’m using a slice of apple in the photo. The bottom-right is a bacon-wrapped hot dog. The bottom-left corner shows three big desserts. gem bought the two pies – cherry and apple, and Antonio and Kaleigh brought the great tres leches cake. Lastly, the photo above that was taken before we realized the grill wasn’t working. I moved the hot dogs into the oven.

my 30th birthday

Look how beautiful that dessert plate is! gem even supplied some homemade ice cream. How many calories is on this plate alone? I don’t want to know.

smm

After eating, we played some games. gem had been raving about Spyfall, so we tried that. It’s a party game in which everybody gets a card with a location listed (such as “Sesame Street” or “Pink Paradise Stripper Bar,” both locations used when we played) except one player gets one that just says “spy.” Players take turns asking each other questions related to the location, forcing the spy to have to try to answer without actually knowing the location. It was a lot of fun! We also all made a level together in Super Mario Maker – Peter’s 30th Birthday Bash. I wrote about it on Polygons and Pixels, and you can find it by using ID BBD9-0000-01E1-1F90.

It was great to kick off my 30’s with close friends and a ton of desserts – my favorite things. Really, I’m just glad to be surrounded by so many loving, wonderful people. Thanks for making me feel special and being so special yourselves!