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Pacific Northwest Vacation 2017

This post has been half-complete for about two years now, so it’s about time I finish it and get it posted! Bach in May of 2017, gem and I were both attending a friend’s wedding in Portland. Neither of us had been there, so we decided to take some extra time and explore the surrounding areas.

After flying to Portland, we checked into our AirBNB that was, in my opinion, practically in a forest. Okay, not really, but Portland definitely has a different feel than Southern California. Where as at home, I get the impression we flattened nature and paved it over, it felt like in Oregon people decided to actually live with nature.

We had dinner at Cartopia, a collection of food trucks/carts with a nice place to sit and eat. The palak paneer fries from Potato Champion were delicious.

These are the PB&J fries, which were also quite tasty.

And this is the Girl Next Door from Pyro Pizza with a ricotta goat cheese blend, oregano, rhubarb, Parmesan, Romano, basil, oil, and pepper.

I started the next day with coffee from Never Coffee. I had a Holy Grail and Nutella Puff, about which I wrote “meh” in my travel log, so I guess something didn’t do it for me. gem had a drink called the Hug along with zucchini bread.

After getting our caffeine, we started driving toward our hiking destination, Ape Cave, but we made a detour at Yale Park Recreation Area. It was really beautiful!

Here I’m about to descend into Ape Cave, one of the longest lava tubes in North America.

gem had lights and headlamps for both of us, so we were well equipped!

Ape Cave had two trails, a lower cave and an upper cave.

Lower cave was basically a stroll to a dead end, and then you return to the start.

Upper cave was a great hike in pitch black for the majority of it. This is a hike unlike the ones I usually do at home. Some of it is walking, some of it is climbing over “breakdowns,” large piles of rocks from ceiling collapses, and some of it is crawling under or between rocks. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve practiced a bit of bouldering! This was definitely a cool experience. My Runkeeper tracked it as 4 hours and 25 minutes, but I can’t remember if I was tracking the whole thing. Plus, a lot of the tracking was inaccurate underground.

We survived and made it out alive. I think gem thought we were going to be stuck down there forever.

After leaving the cave, I met this cool little guy! He came up on my fingers. Sorry, I know I shouldn’t have let him. Not shown: the snake I almost stepped on that made me yelp.

After getting cleaned up, we headed to our friends’ Kristine and Justin’s place. Kristine and Justin were the couple getting married just a few days later. gem and I met them in World of Warcraft, which is how they met as well. Kristine is out guild leader, and the two of them are our main tanks for the majority of the guild’s raiding time. Our friends Marc, Matt, Katie, Adrian, and Nate were also there, who we know from the guild as well.

Did I take any photos with my friends? No, of course not. I focused on the cat. gem goes by Mooglegem in WoW, and when Kristine and Justin got this cat, gem suggested the name “Moogle.” So, this is Moogle!

Seriously, I get a good chuckle out of the fact that I don’t have any photos of anyone else at the house that night. I do remember eating pizza, lots of talking, and learning about how Justin destroyed a bidet… twice.

This is a photo of our AirBNB we took the next day before heading out for morning coffee!

We started the day at Heart Coffee Roasters. I had a 12 oz mocha with Scandinavian cinnamon roll with cardamom. gem had an “Ick” coffee according to my notes, whatever that was, haha.

After coffee, we drove down to Koriander in Corvallis to meet our friends Hal and Mary Margaret for lunch! This was great because I hadn’t seen them recently and on top of that… they’re my friend Alex’s parents, and we didn’t tell Alex we were planning this. I texted him this photo and told him I was just grabbing lunch with some friends!

Next it was time for goat yoga!

What’s not to like? Goats? Good. Yoga? Good.

I think the goat enjoyed eating gem’s hair.

Look how cute this little goat is!

Next we headed back to Portland for dessert at Salt & Straw! I suppose it was appropriate that my first time at Salt & Straw was in Portland, as it’s based there. There are a lot of locations in Southern California now though. We got wildflower honey with ricotta walnut lace cookies, pear with blue cheese, almond brittle with salted ganache, and strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper. Yum!

We ended the day at Ground Kontrol, an awesome arcade and bar in downtown Portland. I tried the Falcon Punch (orange Stoli vodka, cranberry juice, and a splash of pineapple juice) and the Green Turtle Shell (Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin, muddled cucumber, and Cock N Bull Ginger Beer). I also ate a chili dog (shout out to Sonic) and a Luigi (pesto pizza). We played a variety of games, including some Pac-Man and The Walking Dead pinball.

This was the highlight of the night. As I walked past the machine, someone asked me to join him and some others in playing Killer Queen. He told me he already paid and I could play for free. I felt like there was a catch, but I soon learned the truth. This amazing game is for two teams of five players. While it can be played with AI controller characters, it’s much better with people. Because you pay per game and not per person, they were just looking for more players. It was a such a fun strategy game! I really love games that encourage socialization, which Killer Queen definitely does. By the end of the night, I was the one asking strangers to join and offering to teach them to play.

Here’s the guy who played most of the evening with us!

Did I mention that our AirBNB came equipped with a kitty? Heck yeah.

The next day we checked out Multnomah Falls, which was beautiful!

Here’s gem in front of the waterfall.

I have a bunch more photos on Flickr!

After checking out the gorgeous waterfall, we went to a place called Crafty Wonderland before deciding to have lunch at Pok Pok, an amazing Thai restaurant. We had spicy peanuts, spicy fish sauce wings, half chicken with dipping sauces, papaya salad, and drinking vinegars (one mint, lime, and cucumber and one strawberry and Thai basil).

Now it’s time to talk about the whole reason for the trip! This is me and Kristine at her wedding!

Look at Kristine and Justin, the happy couple! The wedding was awesome and subtly comic book themed. There were stacks of comics with Funko vinyl figures as table centerpieces, and the wedding (including the ceremony) used some great Guardians of the Galaxy music.

Here’s one of me, gem, and Kristine.

We can’t forget to use Snapchat and involve the cats 🙂

The photobooth was a ton of fun, and here’s the one photobooth picture that didn’t look sloppy drunk haha. I love that seven people in this photo were part of our raid team in WoW, and we were at the wedding of two others. I had already met everyone except one significant other previously, and I think it’s great that such real friendships could have started thanks to playing World of Warcraft together. Even though most of us don’t play together anymore, the friendships continue.

The next day included quite the adventure to get brunch from Screen Door. Our Uber had to make a lot of u-turns and detours because many streets were blocked off. There was some police search going on involving a crime of some sort, but I don’t remember the details now. But what’s important is the food. This huge brunch includes biscuits and meat gravy, beef brisket hash and eggs, praline bacon, and bacon pancakes with strawberry preserves.

Unfortunately, it was time to say good bye to kitty as we left the AirBNB and took a train to Seattle.

Luckily our AirBNB in Seattle came with these two good boys!

Hey baby I hear the blues a-callin’, tossed salads and scrambled eggs… Sorry, I just had to drop the Frasier theme song in here. Anyways, we visited the Space Needle! It was apparently the 46th Annual Northwest Folklife Festival – a cool little bonus!

Here’s the view from the Space Needle. It’s a much clearer view than the solid gray that the Eiffel Tower gave me in Paris!

Seattle Center, the location of the Space Needle and surrounding area, also featured this playground called Artists at Play! While meant for kids, gem convinced me to climb it as well. She had to coax a kid who made it to the top but was scared to climb into the chamber that you can see in the center of this photo. While I helped encourage kid, I was actually thinking “kids are allowed to do this? What if they fall?!” I was right behind the kid, so as I held on, I admit that I was also thinking “come on, hurry up kid because I’m getting tired!”

After leaving Seattle Center, we explored Seattle a bit.

And then we had dinner at Serious Pie! This appetizer was local beets, rhubarb yogurt, and pistachio butter.

We ordered two pizzas. This is yukon gold potato, rosemary, and pecorino romano.

This is soft eggs, smoked prosciutto, local greens, pecorino sardo.

The food was so good, gem left this feedback with pictures!

The next day we rented a car to drive to Treehouse Point. I’m pretty sure it was this car rental visit at which the vendor told us to pick any car from the lot… and then the lot contained one car. While we were out there, they brought a second car, and we ended up taking that new car. “Any car from the lot” isn’t much of a choice when there’s only a single car in the lot!

Treehouse Point had six amazing treehouses. The one above was Temple of the Blue Moon. They were basically like hotel rooms – furnished and with electricity. So cool.

How cool would it be to stay in a place like this?

This one was called Trillium. I love the staricase. I didn’t get a great photo of the next one, called Upper Pond.

This was Nest!

The Gazebo had a little landing underneath it. That seems like such a relaxing place to stay.

Lastly, this one was called Burl. While we only took a tour, people can also book a treehouse for an overnight stay!

Next up was a trip to Snoqualmie Falls!

Here you can see the waterfall from above. It was really pretty.

Here it is at the base. There’s a little hike down this way along with some signs that teach you about the Snoqualmie People, which consider the falls important to their spirituality.

Snoqualmie Falls has two power plants. Does this have anything to do with them? No idea. Probably?

This tunnel of rings looked very cool! Snoqualmie Falls was a pretty awesome sight, and of course, I had to stop by the gift shop on the way out for some honey and snacks. I think I picked up some postcards too.

After visiting the falls, we decided to hike Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to Stan’s Overlook.

Here are two panoramic shots from my phone. It was a little over 4 miles there and back, and it had some amazing views!

There was so much green!

A little bit of human infrastructure seeped into nature here.

This little guy at Stan’s Overlook wanted to say “hi” to me. Hiking to Stan’s Overlook and back to the parking lot was a bit over 4 miles and definitely worth it.

Here’s a bit of the trail on the way back.

All that hiking must have worked up an appetite, because we had an amazing dinner at The Black Duck Cask and Bottle in Issaquah. The photos didn’t come out great, but here they come anyways!

This is duck gravy poutine with duck added on top (for an extra cost if I recall correctly).

Look at this amazing dish! It’s mac n’ cheese with duck, cheddar, Gouda, cheese puffs, bacon, and pistachios. I can’t really remember what “cheese puffs” meant now. I can’t imagine there were something like Cheetos in it. I do remember that it was delicious.

This is the black duck pie, which I also showed above. It had duck, arugula, Worcestershire sauce, goat cheese, aioli, and pistachios.

For dessert, this is the house made cinnamon roll with blood orange glaze and white chocolate. Not shown: drinks – Uinta Cucumber Saison, Odin Strawberry Smash, and a Black Duck Mule (house infused ginger and jalapeño vodka with ginger beer).

LOOK AT THIS GOOD DOGGO THAT GREETED US WHEN WE GOT BACK TO THE AIRBNB!

The next morning, we explored Capitol Hill in Seattle

We stopped at a coffee shop called General Porpoise.

The coffee was delicious, and the sign was cute too! I had a mocha and rhubarb lemon jam donut. gem had the coconut cream donut!

Here’s gem with the sign in the door.

We also saw this sweet sign for a pizza place called Sizzle Pie!

Oh, and check out this sidewalk. Lysol rox? Uh, I guess it does actually. And the cat is cute!

Next up was Canada! We drove north across the border, stopping at Tim Horton’s for a Canadian maple donut and a double chocolate donut of course.

Next we drove over Lion’s Gate Bridge and used the Trans-Canada Highway to drive to Cypress Provincial Park, where it was suggested we could get above the city for a good view. We stopped at Barrett’s View, but thanks to the dreary day, the view wasn’t so epic. It was still fun!

Realizing I was somehow bleeding, I made a makeshift bandaid and then we headed back into the city. After a quick stop at 7-11 for bandaids, we had dinner at Peaceful Restaurant for Chinese food!

I’m not sure if we just decided to eat a lot or what, because the next thing in my notes was that we stopped at another restaurant. ANYWAYS! Check out this awesome sign for Ramen Gojiro! How could we not eat there, right? Look at the cute, chalk Godzilla!

The menu is cool looking too!

Now it’s possible that the atmosphere and theme of the restaurant is part of this, but I think this was my all time favorite ramen. We got a big plate of karaage as you can see.

And here’s the whole meal.

Before I stop talking about Ramen Gojiro, look at the art on the wall. It was awkward taking this photo since there were people, but oh well.

You’d think this travel log would involve something other than food for a second, but no. Next up was mango milk tea with boba from Sushi Home. Boba doesn’t count as more food though, right?

Now, on to something besides food! This is the Telus Garden, an office building that drew our attention due to its cool style.

Even the inside was classy. Yes, there’s water behind her. I’m sure I’d fall in if I sat there all day.

After we explored some more, we found where pizzas are grown. No, we didn’t eat there.

Anela somehow has me eating at McDonald’s in every country I visit thanks to our European vacation, so we stopped at a McDonald’s. I ordered the poutine as well as a beanie baby, which was the toy at the time, for Anela. Was it a moose? I can’t remember.

Our last noteworthy sighting in Canada was this John Fluevog store.

How wonderfully Canadian! I bet this is kind of annoying to the locals actually, but it made me smile.

So long, Canada! It was back to States for us.

During a chat with our AirBNB hosts, they recommended we look at the Space Needle from Kerry Park.

It was a great place to look at and photograph the Space Needle!

The next day was the last day of the trip, and we started it off with Starbucks at the 1st & Pike location at Pike Place Market.

It’s considered the first Starbucks store, although it’s the first store’s second location because it moved.

Here’s gem waiting for her coffee!

With our coffee, we were ready to explore the Pike Place Market. We ate at Piroshky Piroshky, bought some Johnson Berry Farm jams, saw the flying fish, and listened to a pianist named Jeffrey Circus (which could be spelled differently).

Here’s gem at the gum wall.

We had a bite to eat at Market Grill. I had Copper River Sockeye salmon. There was a map on the wall with pins signifying the hometowns of customers. We found our hometown!

There was a lot of fun chalk art outside of unicorns, each with an arrow pointing in the direction of the next one. We enjoyed following the directions and looking at them all.

I really liked the exterior of Red Cedar & Sage.

Finally, we explored the nearby Olympic Sculpture Park.

It was a nice garden and park with a variety of sculptures, benches, trees, and good views.

Here’s the Space Needle from the park!

Of course, the adventure ended with food! On the way to the airport, we stopped at The Crumpet Shop. Thanks for the fun, Seattle! That’s it for that adventure. So many great memories! 🙂

European Vacation – Sweden

Sweden was the last country on my vacation, and I was only there for a single night. It was weird knowing that it was ending!

Everything seemed designed so beautifully in Stockholm. Check out this gorgeous bench!

We took a train from the airport to our hotel, but our first actual stop was to get McDonald’s. Anela might not have been with us, but we kept her tradition alive!

We stayed in the Långholmen Hotell, a former prison that’s now a hotel.

Out front, you can see what was once a guard tower!

Looks welcoming, doesn’t it?

Despite once being a prison, the rooms were cute and quite comfortable.

After checking in, we decided to walk to the downtown area. It was a fairly long walk, and it was freezing – a big change from Roma. It started raining too. You can see us on our walk at the top of this post. There were lots of cool boats to see as we walked, like Thor here.

There were nice views of the city as well. Stockholm was a beautiful city.

Despite the weather, gem looked very happy to be exploring Sweden!

I’m pretty sure this was a church, but I guess I can’t remember for sure. This was one of the first interesting sights once we reached the busier area.

I know your mother told you dessert would spoil your appetite, but we went ahead and got ice cream at Stikki Nikki before dinner. The owners were there and were super nice too.

We had dinner at a tapas restaurant called Café Tabac after we searched for traditional Swedish food and failed. Luckily everything was delicious here. We had a few drinks in honor of Yeffe, a super drunk Swedish man gem and I met back in 2007 in Vegas. (I might be misspelling his name.) We used to joke about how Yeffe loves to drink. “What do you think Yeffe’s doing right now? I bet he’s partying and having a drink.” Was he downing shots while we had dinner? It was ten years later. Maybe he was sipping a cocktail – an older, more respectable Yeffe.

These places are crazy. Does it even get dark in Stockholm?

We took some photos in front of Riksdagshuset, the Swedish parliament house, as we walked back to our hotel.

What a terrific view! Again, I’d like to point out that it’s midnight in this photo.

Here’s another shot of gem like the one from the previous evening. It was such a nice window 🙂

I tried to leave in the morning, but Antonio tried to keep me in prison!

All three of us sat separately on the plane back to LAX, which was disappointing. I watched Pan and Anastasia, both entertaining movies, and got some sleep too.

Getting back into the States was much more of a hassle than getting into Europe. Security took forever. Here’s gem with her security photo. The security photographs don’t seem too flattering!

gem’s dad picked us up from the airport with my car that I left with him. At his house, he shared with us a delicious lunch! He’s a great chef!

After three of the best weeks of my life and eight countries (10 if you include the Vatican or count UK member countries individually), we were back in the United States. I missed traveling immediately, but it was nice to relax.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know me well enough to know I like tracking data and keeping spreadsheets. I walked 447 thousand steps while in Europe – close to 184 miles. That’s an average of 20k steps and 8.4 miles per day. Dang!

It’s a good we did that much walking too, because I’ll leave off with this photo. These are all the pizza we ate in Europe. Now of course I didn’t eat it all alone, but we certainly did a lot of eating! That walking balanced things nicely, because I had actually lost weight on the trip.

I enjoyed all the countries I visited. I know I didn’t stay a long time in any one country, but it gave me the chance to get a feel for many different places. More than any particular sight, I just enjoyed learning what each country was like. I can’t wait for the next time I get to travel internationally!

Thank you to gem for deciding to go to Europe and getting the ball rolling, my other wonderful travel companions, Anela and Antonio, and my European friends, Jessica and Andrew. You all made the trip what it was. Jessica, Andrew, gem, Anela, Antonio – you’re wonderful people. The trip would have been nothing without you. I’m so glad I got to spend that time with you. And need some help to your travel financing check this out online Payday Loan.

European Vacation – Italy

Italy was the next stop on our vacation. We visited Roma, Pompeii, and Napoli seeing all sorts of fantastic sights, including Colosseo (the Roman Coliseum) shown above.

Our first stop in Italy was to play with this dog in an apartment building that we eventually discovered was not the location of our AirBNB. It might have been the wrong building, but it was a happy mistake that led us to this dog!

Our AirBNB was a large, lovely apartment with stone floors and great kitchen and bathroom. It was near the Piramide stop, and the Piramide Cestia gave a nice visual landmark.

Italy was the first country we visited that was actually warm. We were thrilled to be able to put on some shorts and leave our jackets at home, although I admit it got a bit too hot! We stopped for a photo in front of the Colosseo on the way to find dinner.

This delicious potato, sausage, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil pizza was one of the best I had on the trip. We ordered it at Sapori e Delizie along with a ham, mushrooms, olives, and anchovies pizza as well as tiramisu and a cannoli for dessert. The second pizza was odd in that each quarter of the pizza had a different topping. How are we supposed to split that?!

We took our time walking home so we could explore, stumbling into Roma Pride. We caught it before it was at its peak, but it was fun.

For second dessert, we stopped at Il Gelato for salty peanuts, chocolate mad orange, and natural rice flavored gelato. This wouldn’t be our last gelato stop.

The next morning we started with the “Last Minute Roma” tour of the Colosseo with our tour guide, Isabella. Cameras weren’t allowed inside, but camera phones were. They could be brought inside in bags only. This proved a problem because we didn’t bring bags, but eventually they let me go inside with my DSLR on a shoulder strap. Once inside, there were tons of people taking photos. I don’t understand.

Naturally, I used it to take photos. Here’s a good shot of the upper areas as well as the lower areas. The ground floor of the Colosseum would have covered the area in the lower-left of the photo. Those were tunnels that ran underneath the floor.

Here’s a closer look right at ground level showing the tunnels. It was so cool to be walking through such an amazing structure that’s been standing for thousands of years. It’s crazy to think that I likely had ancestors who saw events here.

Some kind stranger was nice enough to take a photo of the four of us.

gem looked nice taking a short rest, although she also looks like she was questioning why I was taking a photo.

Anela and gem made friends with a horse outside the Colosseo too!

There was a small convenience store that sold this ice cream that Anela remembered liking from her childhood, so we bought some.

It didn’t look like much, but it was a nice treat.

Next we were off to the Vatican. What an amazing collection of art! Yes, I admit it wasn’t all obtained in the best ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.

I actually hadn’t realized they had such a large collection of pre-Christian art, which made for a pleasant surprise.

It must have taken so much skill and sophistication to properly capture the muscles and curves of the human body.

Look at the detail in the beard!

This was my favorite part of the museum. It seemed like the roof was glowing. Photographs don’t capture the beauty.

That didn’t stop me from trying though. Here’s a shot without us in the way.

The Vatican had a nice garden outside as well.

Even the spiral walkway was beautiful.

Not being a fan of heights, Anela didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as me, but she made it unscathed!

On our way out, we stopped by the Vatican’s post office. I purchased and sent some postcards while I was there.

We took a break from the Vatican to get some lunch at a oh-so-traditional Italian restaurant – McDonald’s! This bucket had three kinds of chicken. I think there were at least one type of chicken wing, but maybe there were two.

McDonald’s dessert game seems stronger in Italy.

After lunch we saw St. Peter’s Basilica, which was quite beautiful.

I liked the way you could see the rays of sunlight shining down.

Don’t they look lovely?

This looked really beautiful as well.

Back outside, we watched the changing of the guards.

And then we took a final selfie before leaving the Vatican.

For dinner, we bought an assortment of pizza from two fast pizzerias near our apartment. We ate a lot of pizza in Italy.

We started the next morning with a tour of Palotino and the Foro Romano (the Roman Forum). We walked through the Museo Palatino, which was short but had an interesting collection of marble samples from various regions. I jotted down “something square, Musea capitali” in my notes. Did we go there? What was that? I don’t remember.

Something tells me “LOSER” wasn’t there originally.

I don’t remember the significance of any individual building during the tour to be honest, but I liked some of these shots.

That’s a beautiful view.

This building looked really cool. I don’t know if I knew what it was at the time, but I don’t now.

Edit: gem identified it! This is the Altare ella Patria at Piazza Venezia. Thanks, gem!

Here’s a closer look at the flag and some detail of the building.

We walked to the Pantheon in Rome, a beautiful church built at the site of a former Roman temple.

There was a fountain in front that we used to cool off. We were really feeling the heat, so it was nice to dip our arms in the cool water. I sweat it was like a magic potion. You could practically see it rejuvenate Anela!

We took a nice photo in front before exploring inside the Pantheon.

We stopped by Federico Polidori’s leather shop. He’s known for hand-crafting leather goods. I actually bought one of the few pieces he didn’t make himself – an Italian army bag from 1955.

I had to haggle a bit, but I’m happy with it. It mostly got used to hold resumes and blank paper for interviews.

We stopped for pizza and pasta for lunch. I had cacio e pepe at the recommendation a friend. He was right. It sounds simple but was super delicious. Afterwards, we stopped at Very Buono Ice Cream for dessert and got another cannoli as well.

We wanted to visit a beach while we were here, so we took a train to Ostia Beach.

We got to play in the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea. I never thought I’d do that.

After splashing around, digging our feet into the sand, and collecting shells, we headed back toward our apartment. We had dinner at Novecentro Cucina & Pizza, across the street from our apartment if I remember correctly, and then headed to bed.

We started our last full day in Italy with Pompeii. Honestly, I thought it was underwhelming.

There were a few bodies in glass cases, but the bodies were removed from the ruins themselves, which I didn’t realize.

We still spent a lot of time exploring anyways. gem had to wait there so I could get a shot without other people being in the way.

Here Anela explores more ruins.

What are you pointing at, gem? I bet it’s the fact that the doorway was perfectly gem-sized.

After Pompeii, we headed to Napoli where we ate a ton more pizza. Our first stop was Donna Sofia.

We ordered two pies for the four of us, and they were both amazing. Dang, I’m hungry thinking about them.

After Donna Sofia, we went right next door to Di Matteo for more pizza. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as good as Donna Sofia!

We split up to do some shopping after Di Matteo. It started raining soon after, which was bad news for gem and Antonio since Anela and I were the only ones with umbrellas. While we shopped. a man who claimed to be the best salesman in Napoli tried to sell us some socks. I guess he wasn’t that good, because I didn’t buy any.

When we all came together again, gem brought us another pizza – this one from L’antica Pizzeria Da Michele. She had read about it, and it was apparently quite well-known for its amazing pizzas.

It was certainly delicious!

We picked up some desserts which we ended up sharing with some other tourists from the US.

After getting back to Roma, I wanted to go back to Il Gelato. I convinced the group by saying I’d buy for everybody.

There was fun art on the mirrors too! Here’s Joy from Inside Out.

And here’s Elsa from Frozen.

And lastly, here’s Olaf!

The next morning we signed our AirBNB host’s guestbook and took a train to the airport. Unfortunately, this is where Anela parted ways with the rest of us. The only thing that could cheer me up was more pizza!

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!

Ending 2015 with the Ska Luau VI and a NYE party

Following tradition, I ended 2015 by attending the Ska Luau on the 30th and going to a New Year’s Eve party at the Carters’ on the 31st. It was a lot of fun!

Ska  Luau VI

gem and I were looking good at the Ska Luau. I need to work on evening my tan.

Ska  Luau VI

The two of us were rocking our Suburban Legends shirts! The Luau featured the Magnolia Polynesian Dance Troupe, Karate in the Garage, Hooray for Our Side, Suburban Legends, and Starpool. What a sweet line up!

Ska  Luau VI

We ran into our friend Bryan who’s the trumpet player for Skapeche Mode and Failed to Victory. All the bands performed amazing sets. I’d never heard Karate in the Garage, so that was a treat. I’d only seen Hooray for Our Side once, and they gave a great performance. Suburban Legends and Starpool are two of my favorite bands, and they somehow always exceed expectations. I didn’t take many photos of Suburban Legends. There choreography is so awesome that still photos wouldn’t do them justice. However, I have some videos of them playing and dancing in the playlist at the top of this post.

Ska  Luau VI

Starpool came out in a bang of confetti!

Ska  Luau VI

Throw my hands up and shout! I love when they perform this. You can see T-bone Willy Wonka and an Oompa Loompa on stage too. My ears were ringing all day the next day.

New Year's Eve Party

I brought a lot of food to the New Year’s Eve party – brownies, lemon bars, and biscuit pizzas.

New Year's Eve PartyI told Henley that I had a gift for him in the car, and he was pretty excited. He was so adorable asking if it was time to open it yet. He needed some help getting it unwrapped! New Year's Eve Party

He seemed pretty happy with his new Buzz Lightyear! As it turns out, he had really wanted one too. While I was undoing the ties to get Buzz out of the package, Henley repeatedly gave me hugs. He’s so cute.

We suggested he open gem’s gift while I got Buzz out of the box. gem gave him a jacket that looks like a polar bear, complete with bear ears of course. He’s wearing it in that photo, although he didn’t want the hood.

New Year's Eve Party

Dev’s dog, Happy, is totally a lap dog.

New Year's Eve Party

Here’s me and Dev! He’s one of my oldet friends. We met in 8th grade.

New Year's Eve Party

I guess Mike likes my brownies! Actually, he was wondering why Dev scooped them out of the pan with a spoon.

New Year's Eve Party

gem made cheesecake ice cream as gifts and left them in a freezer. I realized that Gracie and Jon forgot to take one, so we began discussing the ice cream. Somehow we realized we could heat up my homemade brownies and serve them with gem’s homemade cheesecake ice cream.

New Year's Eve Party

Super success! A picture doesn’t really do it justice, but trust me that it was delicious.

And that was my New Year’s Eve! Thanks to Alex, Darnell, Henley, gem, Devin, Lorena, Gracie, Jon, Mike, Dev, and a couple people who I didn’t really know (sorry, I forgot names after a day already) for a fantastic end to 2015!

Thanksgiving weekend

TommyThis might not have been a Thanksgiving spent in Hawaii, but it was still nice and fairly packed full of action. I spent most of Wednesday evening attempting to create pumpkin pie blondies. While I’ll still eat them, I’d say they didn’t work out. Oh well! Thanksgiving morning I woke up at 4 to get an early start and to drive Anela to LAX. On the way home, I stopped by my dad’s to say hello and then headed home for a nap. In the afternoon, I went to my aunt’s in Redondo Beach for Thanksgiving. That’s her dog, Tommy, at the top. Tommy

He was pretty freakin’ adorable. I spent the evening with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins. It’s been great getting to know my cousins as young adults. Usually my mom, stepdad, and sometimes brother come too, but this year they didn’t come. I found out that Mom and Pete were painting the house this weekend instead. Oh well. We had a delicious meal, watching Jurassic World and Shark Tank, and played Bananagrams, Rummikub, and Triominos. My cousin Haley left fairly late in the evening to do Black Friday shopping. I didn’t even realize that stores were open at midnight. It seemed crazy to me. More on this very soon…

Ferris WheelI left a little after 11 for Irvine. After getting home, I met with gem. For Black Friday from midnight to 8 AM, Spectrum was going to have free carousel and Ferris wheel rides. Now that I knew stores were open at midnight, it made much more sense. Carousel

We started with the carousel ride, which was right next to a live DJ. Fun!

Ferris WheelNext up was the Ferris wheel. It was freezing, but it was fun! There was free ice skating as well, but we decided it was too cold for that. We went to Macy’s to look for a bathroom, and next thing I knew, we were shopping. I had to send a Snapchat to Haley. Just a few hours earlier, I thought Black Friday shopping at night was silly, yet here I was, 3 in the morning, sucked into stores. I didn’t buy anything though. Selah Laughing

After a short night of sleep, I went with gem to her parents’ for a large Thanksgiving meal. Here’s gem’s niece, Selah, laughing. She’s beautiful! I’d seen photos of her, but this was my first time meeting her. How lucky I was!

Selah Eats Ice CreamSelah liked gem’s homemade ice cream. Was that the Earl Grey or the apple pie? No idea. Selah Eats Ice Cream

She got a little on her face! 🙂

Selah SelfieShe likes playing with phones and seemed to like the camera. We took this selfie! I was careful to ensure she didn’t call 911. She did that recently at their house. Selah

Here’s Selah playing with gem’s ukulele. She hit it like a drum, but when she held it up to smash it down, gem took it away. She’s so adorable!

Musical FamilyI played two games of chess with gem’s nephew, Caleb. He kicked my butt. gem and her brothers had a family jam session too! I thought that was really cool. South Coast Plaza

After that? Black Friday shopping again somehow. There’s nothing I really want in particular, and nothing jumped out at me, but it was still fun.

Vegan ChiliOn Saturday, I visited my mom, Pete, and James. I had offered to help paint the house, but they actually had finished. We played Scrabble and ate chili. Yum! Mrs. Cronk We also came across some old school photos. Can you find me? This is from kindergarten. Mrs. Thorness And this one is from first grade. Later Saturday night I read some of Aeneid, finished Iphigenia at Aulis, and watched Big Hero 6. Exciting evening! Original Pancake House

Sunday morning I awoke early to pick up Anela from LAX. I actually drove over 350 miles this weekend, which is impressive considering I didn’t actually go out of town. On the way home, we stopped at Original Pancake House for breakfast! We had blueberry pancakes and Swedish pancakes. Tasty tasty.

Pumpkin pie blondies (with dark chocolate)

In the evening, I finished the weekend by eating leftovers and watching Frozen with gem. We also had these treats! I baked pumpkin pie blondies recently. They tasted decent though they were too strong and too soft and mushy. I considered them failures. gem thought to cover them in dark chocolate. It was a nice improvement; they were much tastier!

Cauldron Ice Cream’s beautiful and delicious desserts

S'mores puffle from Cauldron Ice Cream

Is it time to go back to Cauldron Ice Cream yet? No? Oh well – hopefully soon. I went on the weekend, and it was really cool. This is the s’mores flavor in a puffle. The puffle is a waffle cone, but it’s definitely different than what you typically imagine for ice cream. It’s apparently “Hong Kong style,” but I don’t really know what that is exactly. I expected those bubbles to literally be bubbles filled with air, but they aren’t hollow at all. They’re pure, soft deliciousness, perfect to soak up the ice cream flavor. I’m sure it’s more carbs than a typical cone, but it was great. I actually had a dream about the puffle the night before I got to try it. It didn’t disappoint.

The ice cream flavors were quite good and very interesting as well. Most of the ice creams came with toppings as well with balanced flavors combining beautifully. I ordered the s’mores ice cream. “Double chocolate ice cream layered with graham cracker. Topped with marshmallow fluff cream and then toasted for the full campfire experience.” S’mores are one of my favorite desserts, so I knew I had to try it. I love the incorporation of the graham cracker and marshmallow fluff cream. I wouldn’t expect to need the graham cracker given the similar puffle, but I appreciated the crunch (and of course the authenticity of the s’more). The marshmallow fluff cream was great; it wouldn’t have been a s’more without it.H2O Rose from Cauldron Ice CreamThe H2O Rose was also quite impressive with its notable floral flavor. It truly tasted like roses. It looked the part as well in a beautiful pink and sprinkled with rose sugar. While I didn’t take a photo of it myself, Anela provided me her photograph! While I have a thing for chocolate, the H2O Rose might have been my favorite item as an artistic whole and my second favorite flavor I tasted. See how it’s arranged like an actual rose? I should try a new flavor next time I go, but I’m really tempted to order this.

I tried more than that though. I was also impressed with the taste of the Vietnamese Coffee. Although the presentation wasn’t quite as special, it was my third favorite flavor. The Earl Grey Lavender was another floral flavor that was fun to pair with the Vietnamese Coffee. Rainbow Road was milk ice cream and Fruity Pebbles. I believe it was supposed to be topped with Fruity Pebbles as well, but they missed that in our order. While good, I think it was my least favorite flavor of the six I tried. On the plus side, it made me get a song about Rainbow Road stuck in my head. Lastly, I tried Strawberry Shortcake. It sounds like it should be unexciting, but I suppose classics are classic for a reason. This was one of the better strawberry ice creams I’ve had.

Their menu lists “September 2015 flavors,” seemingly implying that the flavors change monthly. I don’t know if they all rotate or only some, but I’ll be interested to see what happens next month However, there’s more I want to try in September still such as the Sea Salted Caramel Crunch, featuring caramel ice cream and pretzel bits. There’s also the Cirque de la Crème: “Pieces of circus animal crackers mixed throughout, for a taste of nostalgia in every bite. Topped with rainbow sprinkles and a mystery animal cracker.” Doesn’t that sound adorable? As if they hadn’t already hooked me, they end the description with “a mystery animal cracker.” Yes, please!

Stand up paddle boarding and the OC Night Market

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This weekend held a few fun things – like stand up paddle boarding! First, I had the wrong address number, and we drove 10 minutes out of the way. Next, we used East instead of West in the address and drove 10 minutes incorrectly again. Finally, we got to the board rental place and locked the keys in the car. We decided to worry about that later because it was time for Kaylin, gem, and I to have fun!18634341171_610cf22c36

gem wanted to do yoga, and then I wanted to do yoga too.18445942169_6eb740d03c

Due to wrist pain, I’ve been avoiding anything that puts pressure on my wrist, but you put a paddle board under me, and I decide I don’t care.18634341031_02bbae9314

Oof.18445940189_c6a58bacb3

I tried for a while to balance on one foot, but I just couldn’t do it. I guess that’s no big surprise.

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We got to see lots of cool animals while on the water such as this SUP dog! It fell off the board once while we watched and just swam back up to the board. It had a handle on its harness, so its owner just picked it up and put it back on the board. Adorable! We also some saw some birds of course as well as seals or sea lions. I can never tell the difference, but they were cute and liked to aarf. One kept trying to jump onto a boat; we watched him a fail a few times while we cheered him on, but he gave up. Another was just napping and started aarfing at us when we got too close.

It was a ton of fun! The wind picked up near the end, making us take forever to get back. We were on the water for a bit under three hours, and I guess it was a pretty good work out. Unfortunately, I did get sunburned, but gem gave me aloe from her aloe plant! When we got back to the beach, Kaylin stayed with us while figured out the keys. Hooray for AAA.

Akropolis in Newport Beach

After paddle boarding, gem and I grabbed lunch at Akropolis. The Greek food was amazing! We started with this huge appetizer platter. I was really craving dolma, and this platter delivered it and more. Everything was amazing.

Akropolis in Newport Beach

We also had a Greek pizza, which I considered the best pizza I’d ever eaten. gem said it was just because I’m hungry, but I think that’s a valid factor. Experience counts.

It had sauce, cheese, gyro meat, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and tzatziki. Oh, wow. It was really amazing.

I also talked with the guy working there a bit. He confirmed that it was Greek owned. He’s actually half Greek and half Persian, and he asked if I was Greek because he noticed my name on my card. Neither of us were taught Greek, although he knows Farsi, which is cool! I’d love to come back here.

oc night market

That night I went to the OC Night Market with these awesome people, gem, Anela, and Jonathan.

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We ate a bunch of tasty things like this donut with ice cream in the middle topped with chocolate chips and mini Oreos. Actually, it was just kind of meh. I don’t think the donut added anything except unneeded carbs, and I’ve had much better mint chocolate chip ice cream. But it was fun to eat it anyways haha. We also went back to the same booth that took an hour with our order last time; this time it only took a couple minutes, and the servings were much larger! Anela craved fries, so we ended up getting curry fries, garlic crab fries, and Spam fries. We all expected the Spam fries to be fries topped with Spam, but they were more literal. It was Spam cut likes fries and fried. Yummy but salty!

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My biggest goal for the night was to find Orion’s Cookery and get their new Hot Cheetos Brick, essentially a Rice Krispies Treat made with Hot Cheetos instead of Rice Krispies. They only had two left when I bought mine. Huzzah! After my first, small bite, I thought it was a little odd – not bad but not amazing – and maybe slightly stale tasting. Then I ate more, and as I took a bigger bite, I was pretty impressed. Win!

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Anela wanted the Turkish ice cream, with which she was familiar. I’d never heard of it. According to Wikipedia, it’s called dondurma and is also popular in Greece as dudurmas or kaimaki. It’s thicker than normal ice cream and more resistant to melting. The vendor let me take his picture before he got our ice cream. I liked his clothes! He makes a bit of a show of serving it, which also shows off how it’s different than our typical ice cream. He’d put it in a cone, swing it around such that typical ice cream would fall from the cone, hand it to Anela, twist and grab it back, etc. It was fun!

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And how was it?

Tasty, tasty! I’d definitely get it again, especially given the show of it. Wikipedia also mentions that that showmanship is typical of dondurma vendors. Buy some if you get the chance!

Okay, that’s it. You can stop reading. Thanks! 🙂

Happy birthday, Anela

Anela's birthday dinner

Last week was Anela’s birthday! She was too busy on her actually birthday to do much, so gem, Anela, and I had dinner on Sunday night. We went to Gen in Tustin for delicious Korean BBQ. To pass the time, we went to both Kean Coffee and 7 Leaves Cafe. The wait was about an hour and a half, but it went by quickly while we enjoyed chatting.

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gem gave Anela some macaroons with interesting flavors. She opened the French toast one and shared it with us!

The dinner itself was super tasty. We had hardly eaten that day, but we managed to put away a lot of delicious food. We did spend about two hours there, so I guess that’s no surprise.

Anela's birthday dinner

We even had dessert! I didn’t know Gen had macaroon ice cream sandwiches.

Anela's birthday dinner

I ordered the cappuccino flavor and wasn’t disappointed! I also tried the strawberry one, which was good too.

Anela's birthday dinner

We split the bill two ways, so here’s half of what we ordered. It was a really good evening!Anela's birthday dinner Korean BBQ

Look how full of meat we are.

Anela's birthday dinner

And here’s a bonus picture of Sumo.

Happy birthday, Anela!

Fun day for Labor Day

Labor Day 2014!

Homies help homies. Always.

Okay, I’ll get to that in a minute. This Labor Day I hung out with gem and Anela. We met at gem’s house and went to the Starplex Cinemas in Woodbridge for Maleficent. It was a fun movie with a different spin on Sleeping Beauty. I also really like to see the backstory of villains; it’s interesting to see how they became bad.

Because Anela forgot her swimwear and gem wanted exchange something at the Outlets at Orange, we headed that way to take care of those things. That’s where gem and I saw this sweet Adventure Time billboard and had to take a photo!

Labor Day 2014!

When we got back to gem’s, we started working on lunch. I made more of my salami roll snacks and made more salad. It was sort of like yesterday’s picnic part 2. While the main course was cooking, the three of us headed to the pool. It was busy with lots of people, but that didn’t make swimming any less fun.

Labor Day 2014!

We came home to take the ribs out of the oven. They were looking pretty delicious.

Labor Day 2014!

No, Anela! Don’t eat all the ribs!

Labor Day 2014!

So very much food. I ate about 3000 calories. Whoops.Labor Day 2014

We look good surrounded by food.

While we ate dinner, we also watched Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

Labor Day 2014!

Sumo and Angel will be in for a treat too. We had a nice pile of bones to bring home to them.

Labor Day 2014!

After dinner we watched an episode of Too Cute about adorable kittens. For dessert, we had pastries and homemade ice cream. It was really good! Anela took the rest of my salami rolls with cream cheese and cucumber, and I left a bunch of the salami rolls with cream cheese and pepperoncinis with gem. I’m happy they like them!

Labor Day was celebrated successfully! Now I just need to eat less the rest of the week.