Los Angeles

We went to LA because 3 day weekend. That picture is saying goodbye to our house from the plane. Why LA? N has lived here in California for several years and people were shocked when he admitted he had never been to LA. To be fair, it’s not much of an N place. However, there are plenty of Asians and therefore, restaurants worth visiting. So we went.

We ate at both Tsujita and Tsujita Annex on our first night. Can you tell which one the pic is from? If you look closely at the broth, you can see globules or bits of something. At first, I thought it was garlic. But it’s not. It’s fat. Delectable globules of pork fat.

The car rental agent asked “Would you like a free upgrade to something larger?” N said “No, small is great!” A good thing, too. Because our small car was this beetle. From Texas. Imagine driving up and down highway 1 in this car to visit postcard-perfect beaches. Like this one:

In LA there are some parking… issues. Permit only, paid public lots everywhere, traffic jams to get in and out of these lots… But driving further north or south gets you to nearly empty beaches. After beaching and reading Call Me by Your Name, lunch the second day was at Galbi House.

All you can eat Korean bbq. Don’t be scared by reviews saying the quality of meat is better elsewhere. You won’t be able to taste the difference. You will be grilling the bejeezus out of the meat and all you will taste is charred umami plus marinades and/or dipping sauces. Which were perfect.

The next day we went to Greystone Mansion, and the drive through Beverly Hills was the grand tour of McMansions. I was surprised: I thought the inhabitants would be rich enough to hire real architects. The land use at Greystone followed the pattern of wealthy people everywhere: inefficient, but private.

See that? It’s the private driveway — land that’s otherwise unused. We saw a 5 year old girl (not pictured) in what appeared to be a wedding dress, having a photoshoot on the grounds. Must be an LA thing.

Speaking of McMansions, here is one we found walking along the pedestrian path at Manhattan Beach:

The phrase that went through my head when I saw this was “Italianate horror.” The distressing/splotchiness of the paint was done this way on purpose to make it look old. Also love how it’s built out to within a foot of its property line and has stubby decorative columns everywhere. I have to thank Kate Wagner for the existence of McMansion Hell, which has introduced to me one of the premiere pleasures of life: gawping at McMansions and saying “What the hell…”

This next house I thought looked sweet, but I wanted to ask if it was lost. Recall, this isn’t in San Francisco. It’s beachfront property:

3 roofs, 2 balcony railings, 4 types of windows, stick-on flower details. But still adorable.

Lunch that day was at a Persian restaurant. Apparently, there is a sizable Persian community in Los Angeles dating back to the 1979 revolution. They call it Tehrangeles? We’re big fans of Persian food, and this was better than anything we’ve had in the bay area.

On our last day, we finally did something touristy and went to see the walk of fame. Neither of us recognized very many names, but we did find Ben and Jerry’s carnival promoting a new product:

That plus donut for breakfast made me feel ill. That’s about all for this trip report. I’ll leave you with a nice beach photo that reminds me of that old show “The OC” (which I used to love):

Intercontinental Bali Resort

In a stupor after my flight out of Bali was canceled, I booked a night in a club room at the Intercontinental Bali Resort. It was an enlightening experience. A few months ago we visited friends at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun and though both hotels are in the same vein (let’s create a microcosm so guests never have to step foot in reality) and the contrast was huge. The Ritz in Cancun seemed to be a copy of a Ritz elsewhere: maybe Paris or the South of France? There was no indication it was in Mexico at all. The designers at the Intercontinental at least tried to bring the ambient culture inside the hotel, albeit in a sanitized, glamorized way.

When we arrived, we were directed towards a desk for check-in. With seats. I felt like I was at a bank. We were handed fruity beverages with striped paper straws (see pic). This was amusing, but what followed was even better: the woman checking us in typed for a few seconds on her computer, looked confused, called someone up and had an entire conversation where she became frantic. After she hung up she asked us “You booked a CLUB room?” I said “Yes, but I know we’re early, it’s fine…” She said “Oh, if you booked a club room you have a special dedicated check-in in the lounge!” She was apologetic and appeared afraid that we would be angry. A man appeared from nowhere to escort us to this lounge. We sat in this lounge (pictured above), and the man took our backpacks from us. This made N nervous, but I had to remind him that we weren’t staying at a shady motel: we’d see our bags again. Then we were introduced to our excessively large room.

Our bags were magically waiting there for us. There was a bathroom within a bathroom just for the toilet and bidet. In addition to the shower and tub. But we didn’t spend that much time in the room since the grounds were huge.

There were half a dozen pools or water feature areas. Stairs with water, water under bridges, waterfalls, you name it!

Best part? It was all empty.

Everyone was gathered in one area, so the pools were just for us.

The food though? Just okay. It’s for people who value the presentation and the pleasant surroundings more than the taste and quality of the food itself. Great for Insta, meh for actually eating.

By the by, hands down the worst mie goreng I ever had in Bali. Flavorless and limp. I know, shocking, right? Probably the simplest dish (it’s instant noodles without all the soup). I was sad.

One perk of a club room is access to the club lounge where they not only give their magical check-in experience, but gorge you on breakfast, cocktail hour, and afternoon tea (pictured below). It rained during our tea time, and we sat by a window to watch the world turn into an impressionist painting.

At cocktail hour, a live pianist plays classics like “The Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Way You Look Tonight” — one song blending flawlessly into the next.

The point of staying at a hotel like this is not what you get. Sure, there’s a welcome present and free food. Yes, the concierge who does all the footwork is nice. But the main reason to stay at a place like this is what it excludes: the majority of other people. You’re paying for the space to be all yours. You’re paying not to have to be too close to others, not to have to hear their conversations or their children. To feel like you are the only person in the world except those who exist to serve you. What a feeling. Let’s live there forever.

How to escape Bali

Or, my time as a refugee from the volcanic eruptions of Mount Agung. If you’re visiting Bali and the local volcano gets agitated, spews ash, closes Denpasar (DPS) airport, then here’s what you should do:

Decide whether to stay put or run for Surabaya (SUB)

If you have more time (5-6 days) to wait for DPS to re-open, then you’ll have a better time just staying put. Past results are no indication of future performance, but the airport usually isn’t closed for more than 5 days. However, it doesn’t mean you can just relax. If you don’t want to be caught in the backlog of stranded travelers, do call your airline daily to ensure that you are issued a boarding pass for the next flight (in case of airport re-opening) every time your current flight gets canceled. The airline doesn’t necessarily do this automatically. If you decide to run for Surabaya, do so immediately after DPS is closed.

Hire a mini-bus to SUB

It’s more comfortable and usually cheaper to hire your own mini-bus to get to SUB, if you can find about 6 people to join you and split the cost. That will be 250,000-300,000 IDR per person, whereas the government subsidized mega buses are 300,000 IDR, slower and more cramped. The Indonesian government usually sends mega tour buses to DPS domestic terminal to evacuate stranded travelers to SUB. Don’t ask airport employees about it: they might not know anything. Check google, or just go to the domestic terminal and see if they’re available yet. For a mini-bus, talk to your hotel concierge or the manager of your villa to arrange transport. If you don’t do this right away, you’ll be stuck with the less comfortable big bus option because all the private vans will be booked.

Buy your plane ticket as soon as transport to SUB is booked

I made the mistake of fantasizing that I could talk to AirAsia upon arriving at SUB, and they would magically change everything for me and not charge change fees. Give up this fantasy. The line will take you 5 hours, and you’ll probably find that the best option is to take a refund and book your own tickets on a different airline anyway. So go ahead and do that when you’re sure you have a way to get to SUB. The drive takes 12 hours, but give yourself 16 just to be safe — then book your tickets out of SUB. I guarantee you things will sell out and only be more expensive the longer you wait. Request a refund for your original flights later. Get yourself out of Indonesia first.

In this situation, he who hesitates is lost. Though we fled for Surabaya, we waited one day in hopes that DPS would re-open and it didn’t. During that time, all flights out of Surabaya for the next 3 days were booked full. In the end, we were stuck in Surabaya for a few days rather than being stuck in Bali. Trust me, you will have more fun being stuck in Bali. Surabaya has a giant mosque and a giant mall. If you aren’t Muslim, you’re not allowed in the mosque. So that leaves…


I went to Portland a few weeks ago for no good reason. These are donuts from Blue Star: I only loved the lilikoi. The Mexican chocolate had spices that recalled Taiwanese beef noodle soup. Disturbing. I was going to share more food pictures, but what I ate wasn’t so much pretty as tasty. Fish sauce is popular on the food scene right now. Also, one ice cream place was having its yearly Halloween flavor specials. I sampled one with crickets and mealworms. It tasted okay, but left that gritty texture of bug bits in my mouth.

There was a theme of food windows. I saw a waffle window, a fish & chips window, and this man was performing his salesmanship out this bagel window around the corner from Voodoo Donuts. He told me about his giant 14 oz bagels. “Yeah me and my buddies were high and we thought, why not just make one BIG bagel? So we did.” Is there anything more Portland than that origin story?

We saw some art, but didn’t seek it.

We did drive an hour or so out of the way to see nature things. It mostly reminded me of Twilight though.

This was the view from Pittock Mansion on an inappropriately sunny Saturday.

Not pictured: the flight of local honey, 6 bars of chocolate, unbearably pretentious box of Earl Grey, 5 bottles of wine, artisan-hand-made blackberry sage soap, and bag of asiago black pepper puffs I got from the airport courtesy of my priority pass from CSR. Thank you Chase Bank, my closest friend*.

*by metric of frequency and volume of texts

Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).


Maui: the case for car camping

I now belong to a small community of travel hacking enthusiasts, and you wouldn’t believe the glamorous hotels they stay in for free or nearly free. A great recent example is Michael’s recent post on a trip to Japan. I guess you could say I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, and I’m here to make the case today for car camping on Maui, as I did on my trip there in February.

But why

Maui has all of its resorts on one side of the island and everything else worth seeing spread through the rest of the island. And it’s not Oahu — the roads are in parts windy, single lane, treacherous and made of dirt. Driving the famous Road to Hana takes about 3 hours, and I’m not even sure Hana itself has hotels. It barely has a supermarket — just a liquor/convenience store.

There are beaches with well-maintained public restrooms everywhere, and no one cares where you camp as long as it isn’t under a “no camping” sign.

There’s no temptation to retreat to the hotel room you’re overpaying for. You’ll never miss a sunset.

Without the rush to get here or there before dark, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at BBQ stands like this one on the road to Hana:

(With food served on a leaf, and chopsticks whittled from bamboo)

There are also great “official” campgrounds, like the one at Wai’anapanapa State Park (the black sand beach) that’s only $18 per night for up to 6 people.

Another good one is at Haleakala National Park — free with park entrance fees. It’s the best way to beat the crowd to see the sunrise, since you’ll be just 45 minutes or so from the peak.

But mostly, I’d love to encourage you to take the drive to Maui’s Upcountry. True, there isn’t much there except open fields and windmills, but it’s worth it. I’m no photographer, and I took these with a phone camera, but Upcountry is breathtaking:

Car camping will also encourage you to explore all the beaches, rather than going to the same one outside your hotel for your entire vacation. These other beaches will probably be less crowded, too.

When considering this, I tried to look for encouragement online — any evidence that someone had done this and had a good time. I didn’t find it. Let me be yours. If you are the type of traveler that doesn’t spend much time in your hotel room, if you don’t have a complicated beauty regimen, if you’re up for an adventure and seeing parts of Maui that are more for the locals, you’ll probably like car camping.

Cefalu and Isola di Ortigia

This is a the balcony of our rental near Palermo. Having meals with fat bumble bees and watercolor sunsets made me want to stay forever.

We took a day trip to Cefalu

There was a defense wall along the sea, and a path along it just on the water’s edge

Everyone wanted their picture beneath these arches

The old aqueduct system was accessible and the water, freezing cold. Refreshing!

Sort of attached to Syracuse is a small island called Ortigia.

On the recommendation of our host, we sought out the sandwiches made of smoked mozzarella. I watched in doubt as he made the sandwich: sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto, smoked fresh mozzarella, then thin sliced lemon — with the rind, olives, mushrooms and mystery sauce. I shouldn’t’ve worried though. Best sandwich ever.

The magic of this island is that there are basically no cars. Just Vespas

And a beautiful old square

At night, one of the restaurants filled the night with old white people music, the pleasant kind: Frank Sinatra.

At one end, there was a fortress. Too bad, it was closed by the time we got there. So I peeked through the gate to get this pic

I was negligent and didn’t get pictures of our pizza from Mario’s pizza. We were proud of ourselves for eating at a place that wasn’t at all popular with tourists. And it was cheap. About 5 euros for the whole meal.

Palermo and Monreale

Besides the general splendor…

And the total randomness…

(because, why not?)

(gives new meaning to the nickname “bread van”)

There’s also the food. In particular, arancini!

Not oranges, but deep fried rice balls with various savory fillings. Like bbq ribs (the Americana, of course). In Sicily, they’re really orange-sized, not like the sad meatball-sized ones you see here at Italian restaurants here.

We went to a market in search of street food and found this meat stand. Makes me think of my friend Ben, an avid carnivore.

We tried the intestine. It was shockingly delicious. So good that I kept trying to repeat the experience, looking for it in supermarkets and at roadside stands.

We also tried the octopus. Delicious, but probably even better grilled.

(Here he is before the chopping)

We took a side trip to Monreale, which is perched so high over the sea. And full of sleepy dogs.

It was one of the hottest days on our trip. Which meant dessert for lunch. Sicily is famous for the cannoli, as mentioned in the Godfather movies. With good reason. The filling is like a fluffy cream cheese, and its slight saltiness balances the rest of the sweetness well. Loved the candied orange rind.

This is called a brioche. Basically, it’s an ice cream sandwich. But with real bread.

I’ll leave you here with a nice memory from the beach near the place we stayed. There were a couple of feral dogs who decided they were our guards. They didn’t want food and they didn’t come close enough for pets, but they stayed by us all afternoon, one on either side. Just napping.

That thing back there is a “Singbox” — it’s a karaoke machine that (I think) actually grades you. Someone blasted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it.

Here’s the sunset from up in the hills

Palermo, part 1

Let me just whine briefly about the ferry between Sardinia and Sicily. First, it’s a 12 hour overnight trip. Second, they sell tickets that do not include accommodations. Even a seat costs extra. If you don’t pay for a seat — which is like an airplane seat, bolted to the floor and too close to all the other chairs — or a room (which has a narrow cot and barely enough room to turn around), then you have to sit at the “bar”. But they don’t let you get comfortable. We found a closed restaurant and slept for a few hours, but the boat police came around at 6am to wake us up. For no reason. Just to make our lives unpleasant enough that we’d consider spending $80 per person for a cot and freedom from molestation by the overeager boat staff. No thanks.

Did I mention that was my birthday? Well, at least when we got to Palermo, this was the beach

It was nap time! See how beautiful the world is with no other people around? It didn’t last. Within an hour there were too many rowdy others and hawkers of cheap inflatable balls and sunglasses, of ciambelle (donuts) and fruits, all of them hollering and hovering.

Palermo is home to hundreds of Baroque churches. These are just a few:

I might consider being religious just to go to services at this church

In the street, there was trash everywhere. Not just gum wrappers and cans, but enough clothes and trash bags to fill dozens of industrial sized dumpsters. Our host said it’s because the trash collectors are controlled by the mafia, and when the mafia’s unhappy, no one picks up the trash.

To be continued…