Today was my first day back at school. While it's nice to be back and see friendly faces, I know that this is going to be some of the busiest 4 to 5-ish months of my life. I know that the week of Valentine's Day, for example, that I have at least four exams. It's to be expected when you're taking 21 hours, but I am already looking forward to the end of my first week of May.
I got back from California on Wednesday. It was a very relaxing week. I read 2.5 books, watched the first season of Downton Abbey, and spent some quality time with Al. We drove around Napa Valley on Saturday (I only half-jokingly told Alastair to keep his job in Napa while I stay in school so that I can move there after I graduate, because the scenery is so exquisitely beautiful), and then we ventured to San Francisco on Sunday. Our first stop (and the only place I really took pictures) was Alcatraz (I almost just wrote "Azkaban"- the Wizard prison from Harry Potter. Seriously.). Alcatraz was a maximum-security prison from the 1930's until the middle of the 60's. It's located on an island, and the only way to get there is by boat. As you can imagine, it can make for quite an eerie setting. I went there when I was 9, and I couldn't wait to see it again as an adult.
For an especially scenic drive, we entered the city via the Golden Gate Bridge.
We parked over by Fisherman's Wharf, grabbed an early lunch at Pier 39
, and then we waited in line for the ferry to take us over to Alcatraz. The quick ferry ride was very visually-appealing, including views of the harbor, the city skyline, and some bridges and little islands that I can't name. I wondered if I would enjoy a commute like this every day. I don't mean that I would want to go to a prison every day, but just a ferry commute in general. It seems so much more relaxing than a train, a car, or a bus.
Before long, we were free to explore the island.
Just like the last time I went, we did the audio tour of the prison house. The tour was exactly the same, and it was great. It's very informative, and it doesn't supply you with superfluous information that results in boredom. The headphones and cassette player are also free. The only Alcatraz fare that we paid was for the ferry.
As to be expected, we saw a lot of tiny jail cells.
The inmates had a somewhat large recreation area. They could complain about their jail cells until the cows come home, but they couldn't complain about their views from the recreation yard. I'm sure the outdoor time was the best time of the day for many of the inmates.
Once we finished the tour, we got the next ferry back to the city.
We got back in the car and drove around Golden Gate Park, which is located on the northwest side of the city. When we got through to the other side, we saw the ocean. We parked the car and walked north to a lookout point at the Cliff House
, which is a famous restaurant with uninterrupted ocean views. We could not believe how pretty it was. San Francisco is a stunning city.
We then went to my cousin's apartment and grabbed dinner with him and his fiance. They are getting married in June in Mexico, and I am already ready to go there!
The rest of my trip revolved around being lazy while Al was at work. Now that I'm back, I'm glad that I lounged around and took some time for myself. I needed some calm before the chaos.
Even if I can't do long posts, I am going to try my best to post some short recipes. I won't have much time to cook, so my weekly meals will be easy and healthy. I'm not going to resort to microwave and take-out meals. Otherwise, I have no right to lecture busy people on healthy eating!
Saturday, like the day before, was go, Go, GO! I started my day at 7 am doing pilates in my hotel room. I downloaded an application on my phone and just did it. You gotta stay fit, even when you're away from home!
I actually brought workout clothes for the treadmill since our hotel has a small gym. It was pouring rain, however, and I had to walk outside to get there. Pilates in my own room seemed like a much better way to spend my time.
Soon after that, I had my hair and makeup trial at It's a Date at The Powder Room.
I was very happy with the way that everything turned out, and I'll get the same (or very similar) thing on my wedding day. We had to do a whole bunch of other things after the trial and I left my hair the way that it was, so I can't show you any pictures of me!The Venue
Our next task was driving in the persistent rain to Chateau St Jean.
My dad wanted to taste a few wines so that he'd have a better idea of what to serve for appetizers, dinner, etc. Since the wedding is at their winery, we have to use all of their wines with the exception of sparkling wines (since they don't make them).
Even with the rain pounding against the windshield and limiting our usually unobstructed views, the drive up the driveway was absolutely stunning.
I am so excited to get married here!
This will all look very different in a few months.
The wine tasting was a success. We still had about two hours before our TWO cake tastings, so we got lunch at a local cafe/grocery store called Fresh by Lisa Hemingway.
We just stumbled upon it on our way back from the winery, and we absolutely loved it. I got a breakfast burrito, but I made sure not to eat too much of it since we had a lot more eating ahead of us. It was like a marathon!
Our first tasting was at Fleur de Lisa
in Santa Rosa. Lisa was on Fabulous Cakes
on TLC, so we were sure that her cakes would be great (they were)! My favorites were lemon (it tasted like a lemon square!), apple caramel (very unique flavor), and chocolate espresso.
Our second tasting was at Michelle Marie's Patisserie
, which was also in Santa Rosa. We requested the flavors ahead of time, so they made us little cakes for all of us to split. It was adorable. We tried hazelnut praline (the flavor of champions), carrot cake, and chocolate raspberry. We liked them all, and we were all very impressed with the buttercream frosting.
We were thinking that we should get fondant on the cake from either bakery that we choose since it puts a nice coating on it and also stops the frosting from melting (we're having an outdoor wedding in August!), but I think we might go without it. It adds a lot of moola onto the total price of the cake, and we can coordinate the delivery time of the cake so that it won't be sitting out in the worst heat of the day.
Tuxes, Jean Rip, Dinner
After two cake tastings in a row, I thought there was a possibility that I might die from superfluous sugar intake. Luckily, that wretched feeling didn't last very long. We said goodbye to our outstanding wedding planner Amy, and then we went to our last planning stop of the day: tuxes. We stopped by a great shop in town that we will probably end up using. The issue is that the boys live in Chicago and in various parts of Australia, so we can't just ask them to go to Santa Rosa to get fitted. It seems that this shop will work through these issues with us and get the boys great tuxes regardless. I'm sure that they're used to it since people do destination weddings in Sonoma all the time.
We went back to our hotel to rest for about an hour before dinner. I was so tired from travel, wine, cake, and appointments that I just slumped into bed with all of my clothes on. I must have done something to stretch my jeans while doing this, because the only pair of jeans (and pants!) that I brought with me on the vacation ripped fully up the crotch! Luckily, I had my parents with me. My dad got a sewing kit while my mom pulled out all of her pants that she brought with her for the weekend and had me try them on. My mom's clothes didn't work, but all of my dad's years of being a doctor and stitching up patients really paid off for fixing my jeans. I'm going to throw them out since I wore them to death and they need to be replaced, but my dad's stellar sewing job (they didn't even rip along the seam!) allowed me to wear my jeans for all of the next day. I was very impressed.
I managed to fit in a 20-minute nap. I didn't need much time to get ready for dinner, because my hair and makeup still looked pretty decent from that morning. We met my cousin Timon and his girlfriend Yana for a five-star dinner at John Ash
at Vintner's Inn.
We had a lot to chat about, so it took us a while to get to the menu. While they were waiting for us to order, the staff brought us bread and corn muffins for munching. We were also given an amuse bouche to cleanse our palate that had foamed goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.
We all ordered starters. Since we were in wine country and I hadn't gotten my fair share of cheese yet, I ordered a cheese plate with three cheeses. I got a goat cheese, a blue cheese, and another one. The server said that he would pick the three best cheeses for me, but I can't remember what they all were! The plate included fresh jam, quince paste, dried figs, flat bread, and fancy crackers. I was very, very happy with this.
I could have been satisfied with my cheese plate, but we also ordered main courses. Three out of five of us ordered the seabass special. I can't remember everything that was in it (that's what happens when you wait over a week for recapping), but I know it had risotto cakes, asparagus, and a very fun rice cake thing on top. It was served on top of a lobster broth.
I took a picture of my mom's salmon, because it was so pretty. It included potato roulades and golden turnips. We all cleared our plates! We all had a wonderful time together.
Sunday was a little sad, because I was not looking forward to leaving Wine Country. Regardless, we had to go. We met with our rabbi (who is marrying us) at her synagogue early in the morning with Amy, and then we drove south. We were leaving from Oakland Airport, so we stopped by Jack London Square in Oakland for lunch. We found a restaurant called Kincaid's
along the bay. We were blown away by how nice everybody working there was, and the food was fantastic! Plus, look at those views!
I ordered the crispy fish tacos (my dad got the same thing), and I did not leave hungry or disappointed. I usually don't go for the fried food, but these tacos were worth it!
We had a nice flight back to Chicago, minus a toddler that was screaming from the time that we were waiting at our gate until the time that we landed. It was the baby from hell. I was fortunate enough to pass out for an hour and then I put on my headphones while watching my lectures for my online biochem class, so that tuned her out. It was still baffling to me that the parents did absolutely nothing to make their child be quiet. The father was actually walking around with her with a look on his face that said something like, "Isn't my daughter the cutest?". People like that really upset me. They should not be allowed on planes EVER.
Fortunately, our airport driver Pavel (he always brings us to the airport when we don't drive) picked us up and brought us a whole pizza from Giordano's (= AMAZING Chicago pizza). Man, we were happy to see the box when we got into his cab!
If you want the BEST taxi service in Chicago, you need to call Ride in Bliss
! We discovered Pavel a few years ago, and his cabs are always clean, the drivers are on time, and they will always do whatever you need to make your ride more comfortable. There is also always bottled water for you in the cab (and sometimes chocolate!). Really, call them the next time that you need a ride to either of Chicago's airports! Pavel didn't ask me to write this; I'm writing this because I truly believe it's an outstanding taxi company.
That wraps up my Sonoma recaps! Luckily, I'll have a lot more in August.
My parents and I had the best time in Sonoma Valley over the weekend. I wish I could pack another suitcase and go back there for a week or more, but I'll have to wait for the wedding in August to see it again.
We left Chicago on Friday morning and returned 48 hours later. Although it wasn't a lot of time, we fit in three tastings (one with the caterer and two cake tastings), a tour of our hotel where our guests will be staying, picking out all of the flowers with our florist, a hair and makeup trial, tasting wines for the wedding at our venue, looking for tuxes, a meeting with the rabbi, two delicious dinners, and a terrific lunch on the bay in Oakland. We didn't waste any time!
I'm not sharing pictures from all of my visits for obvious reasons: I have to keep some secrets about the wedding! I will show you a lot of pictures of food, though! Is that different from any other post?
Park Avenue Catering
On Friday, we met with our wedding planner at Park Avenue Catering
. They will be doing all of the food for our wedding, with the exception of the wedding cake. My dad really wanted to take the reins on the food throughout the planning process, so he chose this caterer and picked the menu. We tried some very creative dishes that I can't wait to display on my wedding day. I know that our guests will love them! The one dish that we're definitely going to change is the mahi mahi. We wanted a more flavorful fish, so we're going with something else. Doesn't it look gorgeous, though?
They gave us chocolates at the end of our tasting. Although we got full portions of everything, I made sure not to stuff my face. I still had room for them. I can't remember exactly what they were, but I tasted superb chocolate and raspberry and ate two of them. I would have had more, but there was nothing left on the plate. How sad.
We heard great reviews about Park Avenue Catering, and our visit with them confirmed those reviews even more. The staff was incredibly friendly, and our tasting was spectacular. I'm thrilled that we're going to have good food at our wedding!
Hilton Sonoma Valley
After our meeting with the florist, we drove to our hotel, checked in, and met with one of the events coordinators for a tour of the hotel. We liked the pictures that we saw of the property online, but we were even happier when we saw the Nectar Lounge where the after-party will be on the night of the wedding. We'll have our own space in a stunning outdoor area (with heating lamps) that's elevated above the city of Santa Rosa. It's gorgeous at night with all of the lights. We can also go inside in case it rains. That wouldn't be a problem, because the lounge and restaurant is also very nice.
My parents and I stayed in adjoining rooms; theirs had one king bed and mine had two queens. Both of the rooms were very spacious. For my friends who want to fit four in a room, you will have no problems!
I loved the way that they folded our towels.
I also used toilet paper instead of kleenex, because I didn't want to dissemble this flower:
While we were meeting in the main lobby and talking about brunch options for the day after the wedding, I saw that they were setting up a complimentary wine and cheese tasting. It was a bliss reminder that we were staying in Wine Country.
Of course, I hit the cheese-and-crackers table a few times before dinner. I also had a glass of red wine.
For those who are coming in August, don't forget to book your room!
The link is on the wedding page.
If you watch a lot of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
or love Guy Fieri as much as my parents and I do, then you might know about Guy's first restaurant: Johnny Garlic's
. The original location is about five minutes away from our hotel, so we really wanted to try it.
I loved it the second that I walked in the door, because it was anything but a "snooty" restaurant. The bar was in my face, T-shirts hung all over the walls, and a friendly hostess smiled and asked how she could help us. It reminded me of a family-friendly restaurant, but it also wasn't tacky. I could see Guy's personality in everything.
Our sever took a while to greet us, but everything went smoothly once we put in our drink orders. Wine in wine country? Yes please! The servers brought out our wine in that little jug below (one jug per glass), and then they poured it into our glass. How cute.
We got some of Guy's focaccia bread to share, which was outstanding. It was light and fluffy in the middle and had grilled onions on the outside. We dipped it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
My dad and I both got the veggie burgers for our main meal. As you see, Guy does not want us to go hungry. We chose garlic fries for our side. They tasted wonderful, but I have to warn you that I had garlic breath for 12 hours. I brushed my teeth twice, scrubbed my tongue with the toothbrush, chewed gum and ate mints. It wasn't until I had two cups of coffee the next morning that it went away. Johnny Garlic's does not take their garlic lightly!
There's a chance that people who come to the wedding will get to experience Johnny Garlic's if they are there the night before it. We don't know for sure, but it's looking better than worse. We loved the restaurant and the staff, so we'll see. If there's one thing that I do promise, it's that we not will serve the garlic fries!
Hellllooooo from Sonoma Valley!
I'm actually not in Sonoma Valley anymore (my blogging is way behind schedule), but just go with it!
On our second-to-last day in San Francisco, we spent the day in the sunshine and among the grapevines in one of northern California's glorious wine regions.
We had the luxury of hiring a driver for the day who knew his way around Sonoma very well. We worked out a schedule a few days before, so we knew exactly where we were going.
Our first stop was Gloria Ferrer Winery
It's a west coast winery with a Spanish twist and has the best olives I have ever had in my life. No match.
They make a lot of sparkling wines, and our driver Jason highly recommended that we each get a glass. Sparkling wine at 11:15 in the morning? Yes, please!
Following the recommendations from the staff, we sampled the Brut Rose and Blanc de Blancs.
Al and I both agreed that the Blanc de Blancs was the better of the two. The rose was not sweet at all, which was not what I expected. Al is not a big sparkling wine person, so I ended up finishing both glasses. I could have had many more of the Blanc de Blancs.
We sat outside on the beautiful terrace while sipping our wines. They gave us olives and almonds to munch on. They told me that they used three different kinds of olives and mixed them together to get spectacular Spanish flavors. I loved them so much that they gave me a cup-full to eat in the car. I wanted to buy a jar to take home, but they only sell them separately. Bummer.
It was a perfect morning!
Next, we went to Chateau St Jean
, which was the most important stop of the day. That's where we are getting married next year!
We were both blown away by the property. It has an elegant vibe but it is also relaxed. For the first time, I saw Al get very excited about the nuptials. An outdoor wedding is exactly what he wants!
We had a meeting at noon with our wedding planner. We sat on the patio overlooking the winery while doing a top-notch wine tasting and discussing details for our celebration.
At one point during the tasting, we got our photo op with a huge ass wine bottle on the steps of the Chateau.
This is where we are getting MARRIED! I can't believe it.
The winery gave us a list of the wines we were going to taste beforehand, and we had the opportunity to take notes on our favorites. I liked all of them, so I'm glad that my dad will make all of the executive decisions on which ones we will use. As expected, we can only use Chateau St Jean wines during the reception.
I realllly didn't want to leave Chateau St Jean, but our wedding planner had to go and Jason had more exciting places to take us.
The next stop, after a quick lunch of sandwiches from a market, was Loxton Wines
. Not only was this a good winery, but it's owned by an Australian!
I also enjoyed the winery dog, Leroy.
We had a great time tasting there and chatting to other friendly people. The owner was unfortunately on vacation, but Jason said that he would try to make sure that he's in town when all of the Aussies come next year!
Next, we went to B.R. Cohn
. I was pumped about this place, because it's owned by the manager of the Doobie Brothers. Awesome! Jason said that they usually play their music in the tasting room, but they played the Beatles while we were there. I'm still okay with that.
My favorite from the tasting was the dessert wine with chocolate dots on the side. I wish I took a photo of the tasting lists so that I actually knew which wines I was talking about!
Jason then took us to another room where we were able to sample olive oils and vinegar. Yum! I was in heaven.
Jason then showed us the area where they have concerts. What a fun winery.
Al was very excited over the collection of old cars.
Our last stop was Nicholson Ranch
, but I guess my ol' silly self forgot to take photos. They have a waterfall that runs down the hills that we were excited about seeing, but then we learned that it only runs in the winter. Like most of the wineries, it's still a very picturesque property with fantastic wine. I recommend it if you go to Sonoma. I wish I had pictures, but take a look at the website!
I didn't want to leave the sunny Sonoma Valley. As expected, the temperature dropped 20 degrees Fahrenheit and we were covered by clouds as soon as we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge. What is it with you, San Francisco?
We got dropped off by our hotel, and we swooped by the Cheesecake Factory just to see how long the wait would be. Miraculously, it was only 30 minutes. We had time to run back to our hotel, drop off our wine bottles (yes, we bought wine), change clothes and run back to Cheesecake. My pager started buzzing just as we got back there. Impeccable timing!
We got a seat on the chilly patio. I wasn't excited about it at first, but I eventually enjoyed sitting there with the view and watching the activity over Union Square.
I was still in a drinking mood, so I ordered a blueberry mojito. It did not disappoint.
Cheesecake just introduced a brand new "Skinnylicous" menu that day, which is a healthier alternative to their other meal option on their monstrous menu. I found chicken tacos on there, so I got them. They were very yum.
It came with Mexican rice on the side. No complaints there either.
We split a Snickers Cheesecake. I planned on adding a photo of that, but when I scroll through my photos on the computer from the trip, they go from Mexican rice to puppies. I guess I forgot that photo as well.
That's all I got from San Francisco! Despite my comments about the cold and overcast weather, I loved every minute of it down to the pain in my calves and bum from climbing the hills. I liked the city a lot, though I think I could happily live in Sonoma Valley! Who doesn't love sunshine and mountains and wine and cheese? At least I get to have my wedding there!
On our third day in San Francisco, we slept in and then went into uncharted territory. One of my friends from my chemistry class over the summer recommended a great lunch spot called The Grove
in Pacific Heights, and we learned that it was 30-minute walk from our hotel. It didn't take us through the most scenic parts of the city (ever heard of the Tenderloin? Not so great, and not a good place to walk around at night), but it did take us through Japan Town.
I stayed there when I was little girl, so I recognized parts of it. We would have explored, but we were hun-gry!
Al didn't believe that I actually knew where I was going, but we found our place! Pacific Heights is an adorable little area with lots of non-commercial shops and restaurants to visit. I loved the decor inside of The Grove. It had a country-western-camping-healthy sort of theme. Don't worry if that doesn't make sense. It's a fun place.
I also took advantage of the free wifi to check my e-mail on my phone.
My friend said that she had the best BLT (sandwich with bacon, lettuce and tomato) of her life there, but I was very intrigued by the sauteed pear and gorgonzola sandwich. All sandwiches came with kettle chips and a pickle, but I upgraded the chips to a cup of vegetarian chili.
I think that the sandwich was a great idea in theory, but it was so rich that I could barely finish half of it. I am a huge lover of the cheese the world has to offer, but there was too much cheese on there. The gorgonzola cheese, which is strong on its own, completely overwhelmed the taste of the pears.
Oh well. My chili was just great. I inhaled it.
Al got a big-ass chicken pot pie that came with a salad on the side. He loved his lunch.
I would definitely come back here again! It's a popular spot, and for a good reason. The staff are friendly, the menu is diverse and the decor is a lot of fun. I just need to order something different!
After lunch, we had a difficult time figuring out what to do next. I wanted to look around the Height-Ashbury neighborhood, and Al wanted to go to Alcatraz. We settled on Alcatraz, but Al got exhausted by the time we were halfway there. All of the walking around and jet lag caught up with him, so we went back to the hotel to rest.
While we did that, I made a reservation for dinner in Fisherman's Wharf at Cafe Pescatore.
My parents went there a few times on their visits, and they can't seem to get enough of that place. They highly recommended it.
Before that, I went to a quick 2.5-mile run along Market Street (I don't recommend it at rush hour- you will stop every twenty seconds for lights and have to weave in and out of crowds of people) and then got ready very quickly for dinner.
Instead of walking this time, we took the cable car. We had to wait a few times on Powell Street to find one with enough space on it, but it was worth it. What a hoot! I would never take it to work or anything, but it is a lot of fun for the tourists.
We were an hour early for our reservation, so we planned on having a drinks and walking around before our meal. To our delight, however, there were plenty of tables open. We waited at the bar for about 15 minutes while chatting to a middle-aged couple from rural Illinois, and then we got our table.
They gave us fantastic warm ciabatta rolls to start.
For my meal, I got fettucini fruti di mare. It had salmon, clams, muscles, some sort of white fish and calamari. It also had big slices of olives and chunks of tomato.Everything was mixed in a white wine sauce. I was thrilled with this meal! Al also loved his food, which was spaghetti bolognese. I also plan on coming back here when I go to San Fran again, and I will want a repeat of this meal!
After dinner, we lined up at the cable car turn-around. Lucky for us, we didn't have to wait longer than 20 minutes.
We were one of the first people in line for our car, so we got the choice of the lot. We really wanted to hang off the side since we are big dare devils. It was a good time! You just have to make sure that you don't stick your head out, or you might lose it. When you pass a car going the opposite way, you are VERY close to each other!
I have one more recap left, and that's for the wineries! I can't wait for this one!
Continuing on with the first part
of our second day, our tour bus took us over the foggy Golden Gate Bridge.
There were tons of cyclists and pedestrians going over the bridge. We had actually planned on renting a bike and going over it earlier, but it was cold outside and we didn't have windbreakers like everybody else had.
Even with the fog, it's still the most beautiful bridge I've ever seen!
It was sunnier (and warmer) when we got to the other side.
We parked in a touristy spot to take photos. I ran off to go to the bathroom (as all the good ladies do), and I gave Al my camera to take pictures.
Even with the fog, the bay looked nice.
We piled back on the bus, and I wrapped myself again in an Ikea blanket provided by the bus.
We made our way into Marin County, which houses the richest people in this country. The cliff-side houses in Sausalito reminded me of the Italian Riviera.
We got off our bus next to a yacht shop (that was our bus! the red one!) and got on a shuttle that took us to Muir Woods.
We wove in and out of mountains, and then we were there about 15 minutes later. Like many things on the California coast, it was a pretty drive.
Muir Woods is a forest full of old redwood trees, which are the tallest trees in the world. As you walk through the path, it feels like you are in an enchanted forest. The canopy is very thick and blocks out the sunlight, and it was utterly silent except for the people walking around us. We could not even hear birds.
We had an hour to walk around the path, and then we made our way back to San Francisco.
It was a hot sunny day in Sausalito, but it was very cold in the city. We high-tailed it to Ghiradelli's so that I could get a hot chocolate. I got a sea salt caramel hot chocolate, to be exact.
I sipped it up and down the hills on our walk back to our hotel until I got to the goopy stuff at the bottom. Then, I tossed it.
It was nearly 8 pm by this time, and we were starving. We would have just walked into a restaurant, but I was still in my exercise clothes since I that we were going to go on a bike ride earlier. It worked for our day activities, but not for dinner! We changed at our hotel and made it to the Cheesecake Factory by 9. There was still over an hour wait for a table for two (what??)
, so we walked the streets in search of food. Everywhere we looked, we saw long lines. We finally found a table at Sears Fine Food.
This place had a line-up out the door earlier in the morning for breakfast, but it was tame by the time we got there. We only had to wait about three minutes for a table.
I ordered a small caesar salad and a bowl of New England clam chowder. The salad wasn't overly exciting, but the clam chowder was great. New England clam chowder is usually very creamy, which I don't like. This had much more of a broth-like consistency, and the clam meat was good. No complaints there.
I didn't even mind the creepy pictures on the wall.
Sears is very famous for their breakfasts, so give it a go if you go to San Fran! We never got the chance to try it, because Al's not a very big brekky person.
Day 3 coming up!
I took a lot of pictures on the second day, so I gotta split it in half! On Sunday morning, we wandered the streets in search of breakfast. We found a cafe a block away from our hotel.
Al got a muffin and juice, and I ordered a bowl of oatmeal (made with water and not milk) with a side of brown sugar and fruit. It was steel cut oats, which are the best. I added the bananas and brown sugar to my oats, and I ate the rest of the fruit separately. It was great fruit. Sometimes, you get unlucky with the stuff you get in cafes or restaurants!
We were also approached by two women at breakfast who were leaving San Fran that day and still had two days left on their travel passes. They just gave them to us. We were able to ride the buses and cable cars as much as we wanted without paying a cent. Bargain! Some people are so nice.
We went back to Mason Street and braced the hills. I felt like I could have fallen forward. I felt like I was climbing the worst parts of Mt Lofty
This street, Filbert Street, was so steep that there were steps along the side for pedestrians. Steps always make hills easier
We walked around Grace Cathedral
on Nob Hill. It's a beautiful cathedral.
We saw our fair share of cable car stop signs.
Eventually, we found the crooked part of Lombard Street. We walked through the quiet streets for a while, and we knew that we found it when we saw groups of people gathered around taking photos. I guess I never knew that Lombard Street was so touristy!
We walked down to the bottom, which, unlike driving, was pretty much straight down.
We then walked straight north to Fisherman's Wharf. We saw parts of the area that we didn't see the day before. I was pumped to see an In-N-Out Burger, because it's one of those burger joints that you never seen in Chicago! I got a cheeseburger from there the first time that I went to LA, and it was very enjoyable.
We saw great views of the Golden Gate Bridge that were only interrupted by the fog.
We then walked over to Ghiradelli Square. I remember getting ice cream from there when I was nine. How could you forget that?
Apparently, their hot fudge sundaes are well worth the calories. I thought about it, but it was pretty cold outside.
We opted for fast and hot slices of pizza instead from a place down the street. Mine was covered in cheese and veggies.
Then, we began our super fun tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Muir Woods. We had to drive through parts of the city to get to the bridge, too.
We used the City Sightseeing
company, just because their red buses are all over the city and there was a tour starting across the street from our pizza place. Our tour tickets were valid for 48 hours (we could use them as many times as we wanted in that amount of time), and we could hop off the bus at certain points to explore. If we were doing a city tour, for example, and they were only stopping in China Town for ten minutes but we wanted to explore longer, we could get off the bus and catch the next one. That way, we were not confined to a tight tour schedule.
Our bus drivers were also very funny and informative. We had a great time.
We left Fisherman's Wharf...
...and entered the glorious streets of San Francisco. We passed lots of beautiful Victorian houses.
We went past the Palace of Fine Arts on the way to the bridge. Our tour bus was NOT supposed to go there, but I guess our driver really wanted to break the rules and show us something special. This structure was from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition that brought millions of tourists into the city from around the world. This place was unreal. I wanted to jump off the bus and run around there...except there wasn't another bus to pick me up.
That's all for part I!
Half Marathon Update
I decided that I am NOT going to run the half marathon. I didn't have enough time to train the right way, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to give up on my running! There are races all the time. Eventually, hopefully in the next year, I'll run my first half marathon. The timing just wasn't right this time.
Stay tuned for more updates!
I have been to San Francisco, and now I am back with the Aussie! I got into San Francisco on Saturday morning at 10 am, which was an hour before Al arrived there from Sydney. I picked up my bag and walked to the arrivals area in the international terminal. I love airports where you can just walk from one terminal to another!
After our little reunion, we got a taxi to our hotel right next to Union Square called the Handlery
. Al got a great deal from bookit.com
. Our room was in the older part of the hotel and was very small, but it was a fantastic location and had a nice lobby. Hotels can get very expensive in San Fran, so we were pleased.
Once we settled in, we walked down to the Embarcadero and strolled up the coast until we made it to Fisherman's Wharf.
View of Coit Tower from the Embarcadero
Fisherman's Wharf is a fun area! It's extremely touristy, but there are great views of the bay and lots of places to eat and shop.
Aquarium of the Bay at Fisherman's Wharf
It was nearly 3 pm, but many of the restaurants were still packed for lunch. We ended up going the fast food route and got fried fish. Al got fish and chips, and I got crab cakes and chips.
It hit the spot for the time being.
After lunch, we found uninterrupted views of Alcatraz.
We also found the sea lions at Pier 39.
We left Fisherman's Wharf after that, because we were freezing. We wanted to walk back to our hotel the adventurous way: over the hills. It was hard work, but we somehow found a bunch of stairs that took us away from the coast and up onto Telegraph Hill. It's a hill, if you can't tell from the name, so there were a lot of stairs. We finally found ourselves behind some homes and looking at beautiful gardens and perfect views of the water.
Of course, I enjoyed the dog artwork.
We almost made it to Coit Tower, but we decided to go back to our hotel. We figured that we'd have time on another day to go to the top (we didn't).
The hills in the city are so steep, but it's always hard to tell in these pictures.
We walked through China Town on the way back. If it wasn't for the fact that some of the writing was in English, I would have to second guess whether of not I was still in America.
Actually, I felt for a lot of the time like I wasn't in America. San Francisco has a way of making you feel like you are somewhere very far away from home. Not to mention, we were always surrounded by tourists from all over the world.
Of course, we saw a lot of cable cars!
We took a nap when we got back to our hotel, and then we went out for dinner. We tried to go to Cheesecake Factory in Macy's down the street (not so original, but Al likes his cheesecake), but there was a two hour wait. We went instead to Burger Bar
in the same building. We only had to wait about twenty minutes.
Each booth had their own TVs with a different sport. We got some kind of gridiron football championship on TV in our booth that wasn't quite the NFL. We never figured out what it was, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
To drink, I got an Agave Basil Caipirinha, which had Leblon Cachaca, fresh muddled limes and basil and agave. I wasn't exactly sure what I was drinking, but it was STRONG!
To eat, I got the SF Vegan, which was roasted eggplant, roma tomato and sauteed peppers in between two gigantic portobello mushroom caps.
I think it lacked cheese, but that would make it un-vegan! The fries on the side were fantastic. Forget about the fact that I had fries twice in one day. I was on vacation!
Part II coming soon!
Guess who has two thumbs and is done with her summer school classes???? (Pointing to myself)
Lame joke, I know. I am still thrilled to announce that I have three weeks to laze around and do pretty much whatever. I made it through what I like to call an 8-week life sciences boot camp. Finally, I am two prerequisites closer to getting my masters in nutrition.
I have more news to share, but I will save that for after my New Jersey recap.
A week ago Thursday, I went to New Jersey with my parents, my brother Ben, his girlfriend Emily and my maternal grandparents. We went to see my mom's brother, his wife and my three cousins Leia, Timon and Kailee. Leia had a baby named Molly last year, and we wanted to be there for her first birthday party! It was also my aunt's 60th birthday (and Emily's birthday as well).
Getting to New Jersey was kind of a pain. The weather was fine when we arrived at O'Hare Airport. As I sat there reading my biology book (preparing for finals), my mom pointed out that the sky turned a very dark shade of green. Usually, this means something very bad. In this case, it was very bad. By the time the thunder and lightning and very heavy rain passed over us, it was two hours past our take off time.
When we landed at Newark (with clear views of the NYC skyline!), it was 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). Yikes! The airport train that we needed to take to pick up our rental car was down, so we took a stifling hot bus there and waited while they cleaned our mini van that was supposed to be ready hours ago. Then, I took the wrong turn off the highway towards New York City. It was partially my dad's fault, since he was the navigator. Then, we got stuck in rush hour traffic that we would have avoided if our plane left on time. Then, the hotel gave away the handicapped room that my grandpa needed (they redeemed themselves by taking $100 off of our bill). By the time everything was sorted and we went into our rooms and freshened up, we were 45 minutes late for dinner.
We met at Joe's Italian Deli
in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Our New Jersey relatives were kind enough to wait for us. They had some appetizers to hold them over, and then more hot ones came out when we arrived.
Our family lives close to Joe's, and they are regulars there. I can see why. Even with the air conditioning struggling to work with the temperatures being so high, I still could have stayed there all night and eaten their food. Everything was amazing!
We got a warm breaded eggplant plate with fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, grilled red peppers, basil and balsamic vinegar. Oohhhhhh my gosh, was it good!
We also passed around plates of mussels (best mussels I have had in a long time- probably since Sydney
), warm bread with olive oil and parmesan cheese, bruschetta, gnocchi alla vodka (obviously I was a happy girl) and pasta carbonara. Everything was made from scratch at the restaurant in true Italian style, and it paid off.
You would think that I would never be able to eat a full meal after all of those passed appetizers, but I followed the crowd and did it. I ordered the "zuppa", which was not even on the menu. My cousin Timon and his girlfriend Yana strongly suggested that I get it. It was a mixture of shrimp, grilled calamari, mussels and clams on top of spaghetti with a whole bunch of marinara sauce. It was a big-ass portion, but I probably could have eaten the whole thing if I tried.
We talked heavily about going into the city since it's only an hour away from where they live, but it didn't happen. I had my own adventure in our hotel. I actually loved our hotel arrangement. Every room was a suite with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. I decided to take a suite with my parents, because I figured that Ben and Emily would distract me from studying. Emily is insanely fun. I'm not saying that my parents are boring, but I just don't feel guilty when I have to lock myself in my room and tell them not to bother me. That's just how it goes.
Anyway, a big group of New Yorkers came to the hotel for the weekend to beat the heat and play at the pool. They were the kind of people who thought it was okay to let their kids run around at all hours of the night and they could all collectively be as loud as they wanted. They also decided to congregate in the room next to ours, and they were making all sorts of noise when we got home from dinner. My mom asked them how long they were going to be gathering, and they told us it would be at least until midnight. Since my mom was crabby and tired from our stressful day, she made us switch rooms. Seriously, though, I find it to be horrifying that some people have no regard for the fact that people need to sleep! Enough of that...
I curled up on my new bed and tried to watch "Kingdom of Thrones" on our free wifi. It wasn't working out so well, so I fell asleep.
I slept late the next day and did a hotel room workout (push-ups, lunges and other stuff you don't need to do with weights) and then read a little from my bio book. We then went to Leia, Ronny and Molly's house for Molly's first birthday party!
There was a Cookie Monster pinata!
There's the birthday girl sitting on her grandpa's lap!
Molly and mommy Leia.
We stayed for a long time, so we experienced all sorts of food. I ate tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa and buffalo wings.I also ate a veggie burger with a few types of pasta salad later on. My Aunt Donna makes fantastic pesto sauce, and she added that to her pasta salad. I'd love to get my hand on her recipe, but it's top-secret.
After dinner, the kids had their fun with the pinata.
They got lots of candy!
Little Miss Molly sat in the shade and ate her egg-free cake since she is allergic to eggs.
Timon and Yana had to leave early, because they went to China the next day! They are travelling around China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and few other places around Asia for a month. Lucky people!
We went to my aunt and uncle's house for New York style pizza (the real stuff!) after the party. We also went back the next day for brunch with everybody before we had to catch our flight back to Chicago.
My aunt and uncle are watching Timon and Yana's Boxer Max while they are in China. I absolutely adored him. How cute is that punim? (If you know any Yiddish, then you know that means "face"!)
I also loved their permanent dog, Toby.
In true family fashion, we took group photos. In the front from the left: my grandpa, Leia, Molly.
Second row from the left: Kailee, me, my grandma, my mom, my aunt Donna, Donna's mom, my uncle Rob.
Back row from the left: my dad, Emily, my brother Ben, Ronnie, Timon
Toby came in for the final shots!
I made sure to spend some quality time with the pups before I left.
That was Toby looking out the window when my uncle left to take Timon to the airport! So sad and cute!
We were actually in the same airport terminal as Timon and Yana, so we ran into them outside. They are moving to San Francisco and going straight from China, so it was so sad to see Yana say goodbye to her mom and sister! They've been living away from home for a while, though. They were in Arkansas for a few years.
We then got the airport and endured another delay. Luckily, it was only about 45 minutes. I wanted something to hold me over before dinner, so I got Red Mango at the airport. I got raspberry cheesecake frozen yogurt with Fruity Pebbles and frozen raspberries on top. I wanted Cap'n Crunch on top, but they were all out!
Besides the delay, everything getting back into Chicago was a breeze. My grandpa has trouble walking, so we got to go into one of those moving carts to get us from the gate to the baggage claim area. It was so much fun! We whizzed past people through the terminal. I have no clue how our driver didn't hit anybody. He was very talented!
I do prefer walking, but this was something I couldn't pass up. It was like an amusement park ride.
Upon arrival, our loyal taxi driver Pavel picked us up. We almost always use him to get to and from the airport, so he treats us well. He bought us a family style stuffed veggie pizza. Amazing. We devoured it when we got home.
We really do love Pavel. His taxi (or should I call it a carriage?) is always stocked with cold drinks and Godiva chocolates. He sends us birthday and holiday cards every year. He is a smart and sincere business man! And since we've known him for so long, he always offers to pick us up coffee in the morning and pizza in afternoons. He really is fantastic.
If you need a taxi service and you live in the Chicago area, give Pavel
What About Australia?
Well, what else is going on? You may have figured this out already, but I am not going back to Australia for my classes. I worked so hard to make it happen, but I realized that it's just not a reality. The fees are outrageous for me as an international student, and I will struggle without a car to drive to the other side of town for a challenging class and also get to a part time job. In Chicago, I have my own car and can take classes for a quarter of the price. I also won't complete my prerequisites on time if I go to Oz. I guess that is the biggest issue! So, I am staying here.
What about Al? Good question! He's jumping on a plane to America this weekend. I'm meeting him in San Francisco on Saturday. We will enjoy a much-deserved vacation together, and we will also see our winery where we are having our wedding next year. We'll meet our wedding planner there, because we won't get to see her too many times before we get married. He'll spend another two weeks with me in Chicago until I start my next batch of classes. Then, he goes back to Oz. Crazy, right?
What About Your Half Marathon Training?
Guys, I have no idea what I will end up doing with this race. I skipped the New Jersey weekend because of the extreme heat, and I haven't done any running since then. Not only do I worry that I will not be prepared in two weeks, but I am concerned about my legs. The pain that I have in my right leg now goes into my left leg. I ran seven miles the weekend before New Jersey, and I could barely walk up and down stairs for a day. We'll just have to see. I'm going to try to run eight miles tomorrow. If I am in a lot of pain, I am probably going to make the decision to not run it. I have many more opportunities in my life to do a half marathon, and maybe this just isn't my time.
Plus, Alastair will be here when I am supposed to do it!
I think it's time to clean my room. It's messy. Let's just say that I still haven't unpacked from Australia! I have time to clean now that my boot camp is over!
On Sunday morning, I woke up at 7:30, packed up all of my things and forced Jess out of bed to drive me to the airport. Going into LAX, we passed the famous sign. I love this photo even more than other ones I have seen, because this one has Jess's hula girl in it.
I have never actually had a pleasant experience flying out of LAX (domestic, not international). People working there never seem to be organized, and the lines are always long. LAX is also several buildings, so it's a pain in the butt to go from one to the other. There is no tram to take you, and I always get harassed by homeless people when I walk.
On Sunday, I only had one real annoyance. I lined up to check my bags at Delta and waited for a good five or so minutes before a man came up to me and told me that I couldn't check my bag without a boarding pass. I had to go to the kiosk first. I know it's not the biggest of all deals since I only waited five minutes, but it was still annoying that there was NO sign. Therefore, I had no way of knowing that I needed to print my boarding pass first. It's things like that that annoy me about LAX.
Security was also a pain. I haven't been through US security since last July, so I haven't experienced the full body scanner yet. It was different, to say the least.
I was hungry when I got to my gate, so I ordered a breakfast burrito from a place called Creative Croissant. I naturally expected my burrito to be in a tortilla, but it turned out to be in a massive croissant! That's what I get for going to a place with "croissant" in the name, I guess. I still ate it, although I would have like something a little less buttery. It did taste pretty good.
I also bought a banana from there, so it helped balance out my nutrients a little bit! How many jokes can you make about a banana in my purse?
The flight from LA to Cincinnati (I couldn't get a direct flight since I procrastinated on booking it and direct flights were outrageously expensive by then) was bliss. I sat next to a nice and chatty man. We managed to hold a conversation the entire four hours. I learned a lot about the Pacific northwest region of the country, and he learned a lot about Australia.
I got a quick flight back to Chicago and arrived to a huge surprise! Another one of my besties, Irene, greeted me at the airport with my parents. This was a huge deal, because I haven't seen her in almost two years! She spent a year in Uruguay, and I missed her every time that I came back to visit. It was one of the best reunions I have had in a long time. Of course, I was happy to see my mom and dad, too. I just wasn't surprised to see them!
It was dinner time by the time I got my bag, so we all went out to Cooper's Hawk
by our house. My parents love this place, because they make their own wine there. My dad loves any place that appreciates wine as much as he does, so they eat there frequently. This was my second time there with them.
My dad bought a bottle of wine in the gift shop, and they put it in a decanter for us to drink.
We toasted to a lot of things, and one of the toasts had to do with both me and Irene getting engaged since we last saw each other. She is engaged to a Brazilian boy, so we have a lot in common in the sense that we are marrying people from other countries (that are very far away).
To eat, they gave us pretzel bread to start. It tastes exactly like a soft pretzel, but it's not covered in salt and oil. It's great bread.
Australian restaurants do not usually have big salads for main meals like we do in America, so I knew I had to order one. I actually miss those a lot when I am down under. I ordered the BBQ Ranch Chopped Chicken Salad. Ready for a mouthful of ingredients? Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, rotisserie chicken, cheddar, cilantro, corn and black bean relish, crispy onion strings, tortilla strips and BBQ sauce. I got my ranch dressing on the side so that my meal wasn't smothered in it. So delicious.
Then I came home to my puppies!