It’s been too long…

Woah. I haven’t post anything for 3 months not because life has been boring or too stressful but because I’ve been quite busy. In this interim, I decided that blogging was extremely time consuming, especially if I try to keep my posts as formal as I have in the past. SO, basically, I’m going to write half-thoughts and witless material for my sole enjoyment and amusement.

What adventures have I traversed recently?

1. Jake and I trekked parts of the Olympic Peninsula on President’s Day weekend. We foolishly summited Mt Storm King while being out of shape and having little experience scrambling over loose rocks with only a rope for safety. But we made it…only to have a view worst than parts below. Regardless, I can now claim having reached a summit of a mountain and can cross it off my bucket list.

2. My lab/work group went cross country skiing in early March. It was the first time for me and Jake, but I was the only one who didn’t get the memo that rollerblading/ice skating skills don’t apply to skiing and fell often. Jake was skiing like pro until a small incident where the sole of his boot ripped off. After a short rest for fondue at the lodge/ski rental, Jake hit the slopes on new ski boots, and I had my first snowshoe outing. Lots of snow and fun.

3. London!! Bailin, Jake, and I spent 9 days in the London area, where we spent the majority of the time museum hopping – British Museum, British Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, and the National Gallery – and castle hopping – Leeds Castle, Hampton Palace Court, Canterbury Cathedral, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London. Somehow we also managed to attend two London plays: the Mousetrap and Wicked. All of the sights and sounds were fantastic, the food not so much. Fish and chips are overrated; traditional British food in general was bland with the exception of meat pies and English afternoon tea. The British make excellent meat pies. I might make a full post about this trip later, but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures!

4. My highschool friend Xue got married at the town hall in San Francisco the April 3rd. Marie-Claire, Anwesa, Sarah, and Guy all attended. Fun mini reunion.

5. Jake and I finally saw tulips at the Skagit Tulip Festival!! Last year, we went a weekend too late to find all the fields freshly plowed without a tulip in sight. This time around, we went a weekend too early but were able to see the daffodils and some tulip fields in bloom.

Traveling is fun, beautiful, but tiring…

Cherokee Trace – Drive Thru Safari

Over the Christmas break, I was gifted tickets for a drive-thru safari on the outskirts of Tyler, Texas. Not surprisingly, I was a bit skeptical about a safari located in East Texas but away I went with the Smiths. Thirty minutes on a winding back country highway (only in Texas can you drive 75 miles/hr on a two lane highway), we arrived at Cherokee Trace. One lone building greeted us, where we purchased the entrance pass and feed (initially, 3 bags of feed but doubled to 6 total bags due to Jake’s generous overfeeding of the animals). A sign pointed us to the cattle guard entrance.

Immediately near the entrance, a horde of deer and a variety of 4-legged African animals swarmed the SUV. The liberal feeding from the hand of Jake and other past visitors, no doubt, must have ingrained some sort of food memory for the animals there because as soon as the car stopped, the animals began galloping towards it. The first set of animals were hesitant to come too close, but the second set did not. A group of zebras stuck their heads through the open car windows, obviously waiting to be hand fed despite a rule stating not to feed the critters from your hand.

The no feeding from the hand rule really made sense for preventing bird attacks. Yes, the various emus and rheas eat their pellets by walking up to it and with one swell peck, gobbling it down whole. I experimented with a pellet dangling off the car window, and it’s a scary site. The cutest moments of the safari trip were when giant herbivores stuck their snouts in (couldn’t fit their giant heads inside the car) and began dangling their tongues as if they were luring for their feed. Lots of animal slobber. And they boxed us in! It’s difficult to drive through a horde of ton-sized mammals.

We ran out of the initial 3 bags of feed around 1/4” of the way through the safari and looped back to buy more bags since the park was quite expansive. Note: I still had half a bag left because apparently I’m a scrooge when it comes to feeding the animals. I would like to point out that I minimize the amount I give them as I want to work a little for it and not to overindulge them. It’s for their well-being! Regardless of my miserly feed lot, the camel encounter near the end of the drive relieved me of all it as the camel swooped in, grabbed the bag, and proceeded to devour it as the pellets fell to the ground.

This safari turned out to be a hoot! Not only was everyone laughing the entire time, the animal encounters were amazing. It felt like an exotic animal petting zoo and at no time,  did I feel unsafe within the confines of the car. I wouldn’t recommend driving through in a small sedan or convertible but any mid-sized car should suffice. I highly recommend a visit to this place if you are in East Texas near the Tyler area. It might even be worth it if you are in the Dallas area because it’s such a great adventure!

 

 

Dublin, Ireland 2016

Continuing my mini-Europe tour – Republic of Ireland

I was there for a conference trip for 7 days(?) in early October and got to stay at the Dublin Westin, which was interestingly located across Trinity College and the Irish Houses of Parliament and oddly near the National Wax Museum. Basically, it was right downtown so I was smack in the middle of Irish nightlife near the Temple Bar area — and within walking distance of my conference.

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Let me begin my Irish travels with more rave reviews of my hotel. Essentially, they put me on the top (5th) floor for more privacy because I was staying so long. Fluffy pillows, large bath, and an amazing Irish breakfast buffet were included in my stay. The hot breakfast bar included eggs, bacon, blood sausages (blood pudding is a UK/Irish thing?), roasted tomatoes (delicious!), and eggs benedict (made-to-order). Coffee, fancy coffees, milk, and 5 juices : fresh grapefruit, apple, orange, cranberry, and pineapple juices were available. Cereals and pastries were abundant and could be topped with fresh Irish yogurt or berries or butter or honey from a honeycomb. And Irish yogurt is amazing! Very much like freshly made Greek yogurt. During my stay, I also enjoyed the cold meats, including smoked salmon and cheese spread and Irish soda bread. Overall, an amazing hotel breakfast!

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I was jet lagged most of my stay so I didn’t go to the Temple Bar area much, but I did try lots of Irish food. Traditional Irish stew and Guinness stew. Fish and chips with mushed peas? Yeah, that pea mush was interesting…well I think I like my fish and chips sans peas. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time during the day to take English tea, but I did have the best scone ever at a Irish gas station. That means that English afternoon tea must be amazing, yes?

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And more food!

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The best petrol station scone ever!

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Also, I went to my first Michelin star restaurant. Forgot the name so I guess it wasn’t that memorable? Well, I was slightly disappointed by it. It wasn’t too expensive (~20-25 lbs), good food with lots of variety. Enjoyed some escargot, pate, hake (Irish fish related to cod). Not phenomenal but well plated!

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On the topic of food, I ate quite a bit of potatoes. You can literally eat potatoes at every meal. In fact, I went to a carvery where I ordered roast beef which came with a side of mashed potatoes and bonus fingerling potatoes. Way too many potatoes for me. The Irish love for the common spud is indeed true.

Compared to Zurich, Dublin was quite trashy — pun very much intended. One of the major off-putting things about Dublin was the trash collecting. It appeared that people put their trash bags outside near the street for trash collection. It made the streets feel dirty and smelly. Not pleasant at all. Luckily, trash collecting is in the wee hours so the trash doesn’t begin to litter the streets until ~8 PM.

I escaped the city briefly and went to see the Cliffs of Moher on a tour bus. Along the way, the guide told us about Barack Obama’s ancestry in Ireland. Someone traced it back to a small village outside of Dublin and named a plaza after him. Apparently, Obama visited it sometime ago..

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After a fairly long bus ride, I reached the Cliffs of Moher. I’ve dreamt about the Mists of Avalon and King Arthur’s court and Medieval life and fantasy realms as a kid and so I felt as if I entered a very mythical site standing by the cliffs. Misty and windy. Completely magical.

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At the entrance to the cliffs were little shops and the visitor center built into the hillside; I couldn’t help thinking about Hobbits and Lord of the Rings during my visit as a result. Past the visitor center is a path that takes you part way along the Cliffs of Moher. To the left and right of the path, you can walk past the curated park paths and enter, at your own discretion, trails without a safety wall. I walked somewhat adventurously along one and thought the views were splendid, though thought best not to take a selfie too close to the edge for fear of tripping and falling to my death.

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After about 1.5 hours at the Cliffs, the tour guide picked us back up and swept us back to Dublin. Along the way, we stopped by the pretty Irish coast to look at natural limestone rock formations, saw some very cute Irish hamlets and countryside, and old castle ruins.

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I absolutely loved the rocky coastline.

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We took a detour at an abandoned monastery that had been in ruins since the reign of King Henry VIII and the English Reformation. Interestingly, I did notice some of the graves were well maintained so I wonder if the locals still use and view the place as sacred Catholic burial grounds.

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Lastly, we stopped by a gourmet Irish chocolate factory for a mini chocolate tour. Apparently, this shop is the only place in Ireland that makes chocolate directly from cocoa beans.

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Picturesque Irish chocolate factory in the middle of the countryside. Note the grass growing on the roof and sheep in the wee distance.

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Ireland was nostalgic for me. I kept hearing Celtic music in my head. I’ll have to go back again one day. Next time, I’ll take friends.

Zurich, Switzerland 2016

I was in Europe for a total of 10 days and in Zurich for 3.
Jet lagged in those 3 days and busy.

The trip started ominously with nausea caused by a new prescription. I haven’t done well on airplanes most of my life, suffering mostly from pressure-induced cabin sickness, so I was thankful that my flight time gave me another 4 hours of respite. Two Dramamine pills and one pillow helped me survive the flight to Amsterdam without feeling too ill. A sausage roll at Amsterdam airport and a 2 hour nap during my flight to Zurich completed my travel.

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Then, I had to navigate the crazy Zurich train system to get to the hotel with the one small bed, one small chair and desk, and one pathetic pillow. Another oddity (which turned out to be a normality in Europe) was that the hotel room required a card key to be inserted into a slot near the door before the lights could be turned on. As the front desk didn’t mention this, I fumbled with the light switches before I caught on. Smart girl.

A Walking City. My hotel was located next door and perhaps above a H&M. Four blocks away was probably the poshest street in Europe with all the luxury shops lined in neat rows. Ten blocks away was the hotel where the FIFA executives were arrested for corruption. Mercedes taxis lined the streets. Yep, the taxis here were Mercedes Benz.

Since I was busy with work, I didn’t get to explore much. I did get to visit the Swiss National Museum which looked like an old castle with some modern flair. A few neat exhibits — the history of Switzerland from Stone Age to modern times or Renaissance history — kept me entertained for about 2 hours. The two highlights were 1)seeing pikemen gear and how insanely long the pikes are (no wonder they destroyed cavalry units in Civ) and 2)seeing the Armanda Portrait of Elizabeth I.

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Last but not least, I ate a ton of food in Zurich. Particularly schnitzel. Off the top of my head, I had the traditional wiener schnitzel, rahm schnitzel, and Geschnetzeltes. Food at top tier restaurants was delicious as was the food at cheap places. I would say, however, that the food was somewhat heavy consisting of mostly a meat and side (either veggie or potato dish). And the popular drink choice is mineral water, which I love. Also, coffees are small. I think a coffee really means single shot expresso in Zurich.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was easy to navigate the city, and almost everyone spoke English so communication was super easy. The exchange rate was mostly 1:1 so price conversions were straightforward. The only thing that bothered me was the smoking. Lots of people still smoke. Everywhere.

Portland, OR 2016 and Mt St Helen’s

I am soo behind on my blog…

Jake and I hopped onto I5 on a late September Friday and headed for the outlet malls in Portland, OR. The drive was dark and surprisingly difficult on the eyes. (See grumpy Jake below.)We ended up staying in a Hilton on the edge of the state lines between Washington and Oregon and only made excursions into Portland to shop or eat.

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Portland can be described as the-not-as-cool-flannel-forestry-sister-city to Seattle. Too many people wear flannel; I’m not exaggerating. They love flannel so much that it rubbed off on us, and we bought some flannel shirts as well. Portland also has great food. We ate at the befittingly named Jake’s Grill and had an oyster omelette (amazing) and dungess crab eggs benedict (good but the hollandaise sauce overpowered the crab). Jake and I didn’t have time to try the neat food truck city in the middle of downtown as we decided to head out immediately after brunch. Turns out, we don’t like visiting cities.

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And instead, we decided to visit Mount St. Helen’s National Park. We drove to the park entrance where Jake had a hissy fit because the mountain was another 9o miles from the park entrance, drove back to the interstate where Jake decided that it was worth the drive and crucially where we refilled on chicken strips, and headed back up the route. It was quite a scenic drive.

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And we got to see the mountain! Most of the felled trees had rotted away so the mountain was pretty bare, though it did highlight the crevices caused by the resulting landslide after the initial volcanic eruption. The ridge on which the visitor center is located acted like a divide between dead volcanic earth and lush, fertile grounds where grass and trees grow.

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It was a fantastic weekend trip with some urban experiences and random scenic hiking. Perfect excursions in the Pacific Northwest. (Also Jake was pleasantly pleased with Mt St. Helen’s. Next stop, Mt Rainier:)

 

Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

I lived in Utah for a short 4 months and didn’t visit any of the geological wonders found in arid climates. So I decided to go see some. I flew into Salt Lake City and drove 4 hours south to Moab, UT. Moab is completely a tourist town dependent on park visitors and located in a desert valley surrounded by canyons. Very interesting feel. The middle of nowhere but full of people. I will have to admit that it is perfectly located for those interested in visiting multiple national parks in the vicinity. The Arches was a 15 minute drive from our hotel, and Canyonlands was an hour away.

Ventured to the Arches first.
Overall thoughts:

  • It was extremely touristy on shorter hiking trails, those 2-3 miles long. Longer trails had fewer people; those with “rough trailheads” aka unpaved trails had essentially 0 people. Obviously, Jake and I took the trails less traveled by, and that made all the difference.
  • There were many neat arches of various shapes and sizes, in different stages of formation that you could literally walk up to and touch.
  • Don’t overlook the other sandstone structures. The Arches National Park may be aptly named by the unique crescent architecture found there, but the park also had other interesting rock formations.
  • Views were stunning. While I didn’t watch either the sunrise or sunset, there was a serenity and majesty in sitting surrounded by Mother Nature’s touch.

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Canyonlands National Park has 3 sections, 2 of which I visited – Islands in the Sky and the Needles district

Overall thoughts:

  1. Different parts of Canyonlands offer different landscapes within itself and in comparison to the nearby Arches. The Needles ecosystem and the Islands in the Sky could have easily been mistaken for two parks instead of belonging to one.
  2. It’s the less touristy cousin of the Arches. Fewer people on the trails make the land feel more wild.
  3. I, personally, liked the Canyonlands better than the Arches. There was some mystical quality, an je ne sais quoi, about this park that spoke to me, especially the Islands in the Sky.
  4. Islands in the Sky – the view from there was amazing. I literally dangled my feet off a ledge overlooking the canyons while Jake prayed to God I wouldn’t fall to my death.
  5. Bonus Arches!!

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Zoo: Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA (2016)

Winter Admissions Price: $13.75
Summer Admissions Price: $19.95
Rainy Day Discount: 50% off

I confess that I paid only $5 for a ticket because of my MS Prime discount for winter admissions, which was quite the steal! I’ve been meaning to visit the zoo in Seattle but have either been too busy, unmotivated, and skeptical about the quality of the zoo because 1) the Seattle Aquarium was disappointing and 2) nothing really compares to the Saint Louis Zoo in terms of quality and price.

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I misjudged the zoo by its entrance but was delightfully surprised.
One of the neatest things about Washington is that the climate is that of a temperate rain forest, and this aspect means that every outdoor habitat exhibits that lushness found in a temperate rain forest. Rain, moss, coniferous trees…general greenery. Naturally maintained.

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Oftentimes, many exhibits with large mammals have little grass growing inside the enclosure, but this wasn’t the case at the Woodland Zoo. Very very refreshing to see that.

Another fun aspect about the zoo was the informational centers placed throughout the zoo. I passed by a jaguar station, a snail science house, and a replica of a small African village.

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It was such an interactive zoo. I fed some cockatiels and parakeets and watched a raptor demonstration. That was extremely neat watching falcons in flight.

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And I got to see so many animals!

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My major gripe about the zoo was the layout. I did feel like the walking paths were poorly laid out, and I got lost often trying to navigate to specific exhibits. Overall, though, this zoo was excellent. I’d recommend you check it out whenever you are in Seattle.

The New Year in Seattle 2016

2016 Edition

As you might know, I started my new job leaving my birdies and most of my belongings in Salt Lake City. I packed a car full of clothes, bedding, computers, and cooking supplies and headed up to Redmond, where I was provided temporary housing in a lovely 800 sqft 1Bd/1B apartment for a month. I’m currently living in a room with a bunch of male tech contractors that I rent month to month but planning to move soon…living out of my boxes since December 2015…

collage-2016-01-09Let’s see the rundown for the month. I moved in early December, got settled in somewhat at work, visited the parents for Christmas, and Joe visited for the New Year. I threw out my beloved tennis shoes that have been with me for over 5 years. *Tears* Explored a bit of Seattle by purchasing a CityPass for $68 which covers admission to the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, and others. Visited Pike Place as well for free.

Being on top of the Space Center actually made me feel somewhat motion sick so I didn’t spend too much time looking at the panoramic views of the city. Neat to see mountains in the distance. Worth the admission cost of $22? Maybe
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The Seattle Aquarium was nice and very kid interactive, though I do prefer the Chattanooga or Atlanta Aquarium to any aquarium I’ve visited so far. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Science Center as they really cater to children, not adults. Of course, both places are roughly $20 for admission. Ah. Come to think of it, I wasted money on the CityPass because I only attended 3 places…I blame Joe. Grr.
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Spot the Bicsaurus

Bicsaurus Sighting

Antelope Island, Salt Lake City, UT

It’s a 15 mile long island, 4.5 miles across at its widest point, and located on the Great Salt Lake. As expected, the landscape on the island reflects its salty location. The plains are lush with dry grass and barren of trees. Supposedly the island is full of pronghorn antelope, for which the island is named, but I only saw waterfowl, birds, crows, jackrabbits, and the occasional buffalo. I wonder where they get their fresh water…

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The rare Bicsaurus also happened to be on the island. She was jumping around and somewhat difficult to capture. Her appearance often changes to blend in with the scenery, and this time, she had antlers on her head.

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The Great Salt Lake

Barren Oasis

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Nathan and Bailin planned a trip to visit me in mid October. Nathan’s flight got cancelled so it was just Bailin. We played a lot of board games, ate tons of food, and also visited the Great Salt Lake, which is about a 35 minute drive west from Salt Lake City.

The immediately noticeable thing about the lake is the smell. Not only does it smell of salt (the salinity is roughly 25-30%), but it smells of dead things. We learned that the smell — courtesy of the informative video in the tiny gift shop — was due to the decaying biomass from brine shrimp and brine flies that gets regularly washed up on the shore.

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That’s not pebbly sand; that’s the rotting flesh of shrimp and fly eggs. YUM!

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Of course, this makes the Great Salt Lake a tourist attraction for migrating water fowl who come here looking for the delicious (and highly abundant) food. Somewhat surprising that a lake that hosts only two species in its water is a haven for birds. It really is a barren oasis.

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This fellow is perhaps eating his dead compatriot?

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Aside from the abundant wildlife were the neat crystallized salt veins that forms and reforms in the sand. I’ve never seen salt so structured and orderly. It really looked like face centered cubic crystal structures…

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Customarily of those visiting the lake, Bailin and I decided to jump in and see what floating in the lake felt like (in October cool weather). So we stripped down and waded in, much to the amusement of fellow visitors bundled up in their jackets. Brr..

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The water was extremely clear, which was no surprise as nothing really lives in it, and warmer than we expected. When we  had gone far enough, we just kicked our feet up and were quite buoyant. I don’t know how to describe it. I just felt lighter in the water. Look at Bailin, he’s basically on his back floating calmly.

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Yay for floating in the Great Salt Lake. Next time the Dead Sea.

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Fortunately there were water hoses available to hose ourselves off. I was pretty sparkly from the salt residue after this dip and pretended I was a Twilight vampire for a 5 minutes. Afterwards, we had dim sum for lunch. Fun trip and experience with Bailin!