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It all started here...

It all started here...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

LAX-TPE-HKG

A Short Trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan
April 9, 2018

Originally, this was planned as a family trip with longer stay in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. ChC and ET decided to cancel when a trans-pacific cruise was in the horizon after flights were booked. They would rather pay the penalties than being away from home for too long. The two of us decided to go ahead on this short two-week trip to accomplish some personal and business responsibilities.

A few days before the trip, our travel agent notified us that EVA Air canceled the flight that would take us from Taiwan to Hong Kong after our mid-day flight out from LAX to Taipei. If we keep the same flight out of LA, we would have a longer transit in Taipei waiting for the next available flight to Hong Kong which will make our arrival way too late into the night. To make better use of our time, we decided to take the midnight flight 12-hour earlier instead, with an early arrival in Hong Kong and almost like an extra day there. 

Seats were not assigned when they re-booked our flights so we had to check-in early in order to get decent seats. Fortunately, they still had two seats together but all the way at the back of the plane. 
Oh well, at least we will be sitting together. Security check was quick this time with not that many travelers and soon we were at the gate waiting for our flight.

Boarding was orderly by assigned zone numbers and flight was on time. Everything is going well so far.

Waiting for our BR 015 flight at Tom Bradley terminal.

We were surprised at how comfortable the seats were on this Boeing 777-300 ER plane. Plenty of leg space with nothing obstructing the limited movements one would need when flying close to 15 hours straight. The flight attendants really worked hard, quite different from the ones on Cathay or China Airlines. I was impressed! This was only our third time traveling EVA and the first time in economy. Our first experience with them was many years ago when they had a sale in premium economy. The last time we were with them was a couple of years ago but that was in business class using mileage redemption.

After about an hour and a half into the flight, printed menu was given out and meal served. Many airlines already did away with printed menu in economy. It is nice to actually see what they were serving.

Meal set including fresh fruit, salad, dessert and the main course for me was chicken with mash potatoes.

Very tasty for an in-flight meal.

After the meal I was able to sleep for about five hours, which was unusual. I suppose I was really tired. Woke up and watched a couple of shows on the IFE and played some Sudoku before another meal was served about two hours before landing.

A serving of Chinese porridge with salad and fresh fruits. Not my type of breakfast but it was OK.

We landed at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei on time. Quickly found the transit area where there was a long line of people waiting for security check. After about half an hour we completed the security check process and headed over to the assigned gate for our flight to Hong Kong. This time we had to take the shuttle bus to the plane parked at the remote area. While waiting at the gate, we took the opportunity to freshen up a little. I am sure we looked horrible after the long overnight flight. 

Waiting for the shuttle bus at the gate downstairs.


On the plane. This time we were seated near the middle of the plane, the last row in the main cabin.


"Welcome On Board"

They served a decent refreshment even on this short flight. Smoked turkey salad, cake, and a pack of snack. Much better than the hot pockets served on Cathay.

Arrived at Chek Lap Kok Aiport in Hong Kong.

It was quick and easy for me to go through immigration using my HK ID card. Just a quick swipe and fingerprint, I was out in a couple of minutes. MOR, on the other hand, had to wait in that long line. We had planned on him to apply for the eChannel once he went through the actual immigration process, using his Cathay frequent flyer membership card. Unfortunately, that office which is located right behind the immigration booths even though it was opened but no one was stationed inside that morning. They have made it so much easier for travelers to access eChannel by allowing people with frequent flyer status apply for the privilege. Only if they are available when needed.

Our bags were already waiting for us at the carousel since it took him that long to come out. We then stopped at the Airport Express counter to purchase our train tickets and the octopus card before getting out to the arrival hall. MOR turned 65 last year and he is now qualified for the elderly concessions on almost all public transportation in Hong Kong. A senior octopus card proofed to be very handy and economical. For the Airport Express though, instead of getting a senior rate and a regular fare, the clerk suggested getting the group rate for two which would be cheaper and that was what we paid for our one way trip to Kowloon Station that morning. I must say that the staff there was very helpful and courteous.

I just loved the Airport Express in Hong Kong. It's such a quick and easy way to get from the airport into the city. It's a little more expensive than the airport buses but quite worth it if your destination is served by one of their complimentary shuttles. Following the well-marked signs, we took a short walk from the arrival hall to the train platform and boarded the train.

Inside the Airport Express.

Platform at the airport.


After we arrived Kowloon Station, we boarded the K3 shuttle which took us to our hotel, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong TST, which is the second stop on this route. One problem with the shuttles is that getting the luggage on and off the bus is not an easy task, and don't expect any help from the driver either. 


Interesting building!

Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui
This is our third time here at this hotel. The location of this hotel made this my favorite choice when we are in Hong Kong. It is right above the K 11 mall and the Tsim Sha Tsui subway station with Nathan Road just a block away. There are many restaurants and shops in the vicinity just a short walk away. Being a platinum member of the Hyatt chain does not get us into the lounge when using our annual free nights, but who needs lounge access when there are so much to do in town anyway? 

We were definitely too early when we checked into the hotel. Fortunately, they were able to upgrade us to a harbor-view room on the 19th floor which was ready if we didn't mind being on a smoking floor. We were taken up to the room to see if the smoke condition is acceptable and found that it was fine. They also put in an air-purifier during our three-day stay there. All was well! 

What a view from our window!

Room was quite spacious and comfortably appointed.




Playing with the "Handy" cell phone that the hotel provides.

After settling in and luggage brought up by the concierge we headed out for lunch. One of the local dishes that we crave for is roast goose, which we are not able to find in California. I have read about this one-Michelin star restaurant in Wanchai that specialized in roast goose and that was where we headed. It was easy taking the subway to cross the harbor. After we got off, just a couple of blocks away from the Wanchai station.

We arrived before noon and there was a line formed outside the restaurant already. After getting our number, we joined the others outside waiting for our turn to get in. We were in line for about half an hour before being called inside to share a small table with two other customers. It's definitely a cramped space but nobody seemed to mind.

Waiting in line for lunch.

This place is called Kam's Roast Goose (226 Hennessy Road, Wanchai) an offspring of the famous Yung Kee's Restaurant.

They had the set meal during lunch which included a plate of roast goose with rice, soup or a drink and a choice of appetizer for HKD $72, less than USD $10 each. That's exactly what we ordered. A cheap Michelin meal indeed.

Oops! Forgot to take pictures of our appetizers.

House soup for the day.

It was a wonderful, delicious lunch after a long day traveling with airplane food. I was going to do some exploring but we were kind of tired. Seeing that the Immigration Department was nearby, we walked over there to inquire about the eChannel application and it was done in less than 10 minutes. Quite efficient, I'd say. From now on, MOR can use the eChannel machines instead of getting into that long line.

Then, we took the subway back to Kowloon and had a restful afternoon inside our hotel room. It was definitely nice to have arrived half a day early to give us the extra time here in the city.

Bought some egg-tarts as afternoon tea from the famous Honolulu Coffee Shop (176-178 Hennessy Road, Wanchai). I can have these everyday if I don't have the health problems.

I don't think we did much that afternoon. After the much needed rest, we got out in the evening to look for dinner. There is a tiny Chiu Chow noodle place around the corner called Kai Kee Noodle (15-19 Carnarvon Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) which we have tried a couple of times before and that was where we ended up for a simple dinner that evening.

MOR had the won ton noodle...

and I had the fish cake and fish ball rice noodle.

Fried squid balls, delicious!

"Chicken Roll", meh!

Not a very good picture of the Victoria Harbor at night. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Weekend in San Jose

We had to attend a memorial service in San Jose in January and decided to take the long drive up on Friday, spending the Saturday there, then return home on Sunday. We wanted to take the more scenic 101 going north but Caltrans was still working on the mess left after the huge fire and then flooded in the area between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It was opened for traffic but I could see the red line on the GPS that morning. Just so we won't get stuck somewhere, we headed out to Fwy 5, the Golden State Freeway. Yes, that is one long, boring stretch of highway with occasional smell of cattle between northern and southern California. It's also the fast track with much open space when there is no accident or road construction that can mess things up. 

All was good! Other than a couple of rest stops, we only stopped at Buttonwillow where we got some lunch and filled up the gas tank.

Tita's Pupuseria, Buttonwillow
Our first experience with Tita's Pupuseria was a few years back when we were driving up to Seattle. It was just a food truck right off the freeway at the Buttonwillow exit. I had never have a pupusa before in my life so I wanted to try. Since then we have stopped here a couple more times and now they actually have a restaurant nearby which makes it more comfortable with air conditioning and tables and chairs.

Not too busy on this day.

Make sure you look up at the 'specials' banner above the counter before you order. I missed it this time. I would have ordered the pupusa special for that price.


Table cloth

After going through the menu MOR ordered the beef burrito.

with rice and beans

I had the hamburger.

It was fine but not the best, especially for that price.
We saw other customers ordering big bowls of soup and asked. It was a 'beef soup' said the waitress. And the cost? $16 a bowl! I can make a whole pot for that price!
Again, order their specials instead of off the menu.

Homewood Suites by Hilton, North San Jose
We have never stayed at the Homewood but since it's a Hilton chain we should be able to get some perks, I figured. All the reviews that I read were positive and it's a new hotel in the area. The location can't be beat because it's just a couple of blocks from the church we needed to go for the memorial service. It's right off the 237 freeway on 1st Street. A quiet and newly developed area.

We arrived at around 4:00, and checked in with a very friendly clerk at the desk. She was able to upgrade us from a studio to a suite on the top floor because of my HH status. Of course, they do not have a lounge but it worked for us. This unit came with a full kitchen with everything if anyone wants to cook a meal in there. 

The living room

and the kitchen.

This hotel was opened less than two years ago.

Bedroom

Kitchen with a full-size refrigerator.

Microwave and electric stove.

Oh, I didn't notice the papers on the fridge until now. I wonder what those were?

even a dish washer




sink by the bedroom

and the separate bathroom

Not much of a view from our room but we can see 1st Street, which is basically a quiet street.

Sitting area by the elevators.
Although the drive in to the property was a little weird because of the incomplete construction work on the buildings around the hotel, there were ample parking spaces all around which makes it easy access to the entrance to our part of the building. I was really pleased with our stay here.

For dinner, we just headed over to the 99 Ranch Market plaza in Milpitas, which was just a short drive away, and found a Cantonese restaurant called Won Kee (旺記). We were surprised that it was not crowded at all.

I ordered a 3-item roast meat rice plate. An excellent value of $10.99. Look at all the meat here! I had the roast pork, crispy skin and all, roast duck and soy chicken. All very good.

MOR wanted won ton noodle and sorry to say that it was not up to par. Napa cabbage must be on sale because they had that on both of our items. This was the first time I ever saw napa cabbage in a won ton soup. And the won ton...not up to my standard and I am generally easy to please.
No big deal, we were fed and we actually left pretty happy. Then, we just walked around this huge mall checking out all the restaurants and stores in the same plaza before getting back to the hotel.
This plaza is definitely a place to stop for some food and sight seeing when in San Jose, Milpitas area.

Saturday
We didn't get downstairs for breakfast until after 9:00, figuring that it should be less crowded. The breakfast room at Homewood was spacious and we were able to find a small table for the two of us. Breakfast was quite decent, with all the things one needs for a good start of the day. They had a waffle maker like many other hotels/motels but they had enough hot food like eggs, french toasts, some kind of meat like sausages or sausage patties, potatoes, cheese omelette, etc. The best part was their fresh fruits, serving berries can be expensive but they had them both mornings we were there.

Part of my breakfast.

breakfast room

Japanese Friendship Garden
With the morning free, we decided to drive down to the Japanese Friendship Garden near downtown San Jose. We actually wanted to see how the city is like, so instead of taking the freeway, we just drove down 1st Street all the way. It was quite an interesting drive with not much traffic since it was a Saturday morning. We had problem locating the actual entrance to the park but eventually found it. The parking lot was empty which caused us to wonder if this was the right place but then more cars came in so we decided it was the right place. Parking was $6 for the day at the self-paying machine.

Entering the park.


So pretty!


The Tea House, which was closed because of the flood damage.

This sign posted the flooding line. It looked like the water level was covering half of the tea house! It didn't look like it had any damage though.



We walked all the way around and sat admiring the scenery from the hill. Very relaxing.
After about an hour, we decided to head back to the hotel. But we found that they were still cleaning our room when we were back so we went out to see the Alviso Marine County Park which is at the end of 1st Street.

Alviso Marine County Park
This has to be birds paradise! There were many different kinds of bird here as we walked towards the end of the walkway. Nice bayside park with good paths and broadwalks where you can hike, bike and bird watching. Good place to spend an hour or so.

Gate at the broadwalk. They probably lock the gates at night.

The broadwalk that leads through the swamp to the bay.

Birds!

After our short outings, we went back to our room, changed and went to the memorial service. A beautiful memorial service attended by many. A full house at this church that holds over 1000 people. We did not stay for refreshments but head back to the hotel instead because we had dinner planned.

Tomi Seafood Buffet, San Jose
We like buffets. With the prices on food serve in restaurants nowadays, buffets are good values  especially when they have a wide selection of items serve on a daily basis like our favorite Luxe Buffet in Ontario. I found out that Tomi is a very popular buffet restaurant in San Jose. Their prices are higher than Luxe but I wanted to see it for myself if they can compare. For a Saturday evening, I expected long lines and long wait so we decided to get there early. They open at 5:00 and when we got there at 4:50, there was a line already. No worries because they were still cleaning the place and once they open, we should be able to get in with no problem. 

The line when we got there. This restaurant is inside a mall.

Now we were seated and the place still looked a little empty, but only for about 15 minutes.

Snow crab, but I found them not as sweet and flavorful as Luxe.

The had a huge sushi bar with plenty of sushi/sashimi selections.

They also had the roast meat station serving Cantonese style BBQ roast duck, pork, and three or four kinds of chicken. They also had the dim sum station providing decent dim sum. All in all, I have to say that the choices are better here but Luxe still beats them in services and comfortable environment by a wide margin. This place is just too crowded. Our waitress was actually very nice but we found that she was just too busy to pay attention to all the guests. At least we tried so we could compare. I must say that it was a good meal after all.

Sunday
Time to check out of the hotel and head back home! It was good to have another good breakfast before our long drive back. I still didn't get to try the waffle machine since it was 'occupied' by kids both mornings. It was OK though, we had enough food anyway.


Yummy berries!

After checking out of the hotel, we began our journey home. It was a good drive because of no heavy traffic like the last time we were here in this area. We stopped at the Costco in Gilroy to get gas before getting on Hwy 152 which takes us back to Fwy 5. Then all the way home to have dinner with ChC. What a trip we had! Short but enjoyable.

With a short stop at a scenic point at San Luis Reservoir. Beautiful!