It all started here...

It all started here...

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.


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.

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.


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.

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!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Birthday Cruise on Carnival Inspiration

Carnival Inspiration Baja Cruise -- January 15~19, 2018

Our last cruise was on the HAL Zuiderdam May 2017 through Norway and Scotland. Our next cruise won't be until May 2018 on the NCL Jewel. We thought it would be nice to have a short cruise just to relax and celebrating MOR's birthday in January. We have been on the same ship, same itinerary twice before so there should not be any surprises but just to get out and have a good time.

Son dropped us off at the Long Beach Port which was easy and quick. There were highway construction before getting near the port, otherwise it was a good drive down from our house. Check-in was quite efficient this time when we arrived around 11:00 A.M. We boarded almost immediately after checking in and the whole process was rather orderly comparing to the last two times. No long lines, no hassle. 

It's always exciting to be walking down the gangway to board a cruise ship, even on this short cruise.

Our cabin was not ready yet, so first thing first, the buffet we went!

First time trying out Guy's burger. Excellent! I really liked the idea of the 'toppings bar' where you can pick whatever you want to put on your burger.

Just sat around the pool to wait for the cabins.

The 'Dome' where they used to house the Spruce Goose, is now a Carnival terminal.

Muster drill was done around 4:30. Our station was at the stage area near the swimming pool. Not too bad but we had to wait for all the other stations to finish walking up to their life boats before being released. We, on the other hand, just stood there and waited until they were done because we were already so close to our life boats. No life jackets needed.

Waiting for the sail-away after the muster drill. A photo of the dome and Queen Mary.

We had any time dining which worked out fine. We generally went at around 6:00 so just the wait for them to open up for dinner. My only complaint was that the tables were so close together that you are almost like dining with other guests. There is really no privacy. We ended up talking to the guests near us on several occasion. 

My flat iron steak on the everyday menu. Good!

MOR's fish plate.




Free bottles of water and our pins as past guests.

Catalina Island -- January 16, 2018 (Tuesday)
This would be our 6th times coming to Catalina Island on a cruise ship so we wanted to do something a little different instead of just wandering around near the pier. For just the two of us, renting a golf cart for $45 an hour is hardly worth it in my opinion. We will try to explore on foot, we need the exercise anyway.

We got off the ship before 9:00 so we did not have to get tender tickets to go on shore. There was no line and we actually had to wait for the local tender to fill up before leaving. 

The iconic building of Catalina Island--the casino.

Just off the tender.

Our goal was to see how far we could walk to the Nature Center up the hill.

Plenty of golf carts around town. We went up Catalina Avenue, turned right on Tremont Street, 

then we took the street on the left which is Avalon Canyon Road.

There's the People's Park on the right with clean restrooms,

kid's playground,

and plenty of fitness equipment.

We stopped here for a little bit of exercise and fun.

Catalina Island Golf Course on the left.

The Sandtrap

famous one-dollar taco happy hour

Bird Park, which we did not visit because it looked empty from the side.

Joe Machado Field

Finally, the Nature Center. We had to wait about 15 minutes for it to open. This is a good stopping point, especially for those who would be going further up to the Botanical Garden. There are good exhibits and displays here, also some videos you can choose to watch on the screen, and it's free! We spent about half an hour in there before taking our walk back to town. By the way, there is no animals here in case you are wondering.

Looking at the road leading to Botanical Garden. We didn't think we could take that challenge.

Instead, we walked back to town. It was a really nice walk though, especially with the fine weather that day. We were just strolling along, taking our time. We had all the time we needed so it was quite relaxing and fun. As we were walking back, there were more people hiking up by now.

A picnic area off the golf course.

Back in town on Sumner Avenue

We have walked over to the casino every time so we decided not to head that way on this day.

Now this is something new! A mall called the Metropole Market Place. I don't think it was there the last time we were here. There are many shops and restaurants and a long line at the restrooms here.

After walking around a little we were ready to get back on the ship.

Back to the tender pier where many more passengers were still getting in town.

Inside the local tender, quite comfortable.

Lunch time! I got this shrimp burrito to share with MOR from the Blue Iguana. Huge!

more food

Strange looking decor at the buffet area.

Birthday card from our room steward,

and the gift card we did not use.

Dinner menu for this formal night.

Asparagus Cream Soup

Broiled Scallops, very good!

Prime Rib

Baked Japanese Sea Bass


Creme Brulee

Ensenada -- January 17, 2018 (Wednesday)

Breakfast at the buffet restaurant.

Then we just walked off to the terminal where there are many vendors selling souvenirs inside.

A Princess ship was on the other side. 

Shuttles that take people to town for a fee. I forgot how much though. 

It was actually an easy walk to town so we just head out through the port gate...

cross that bridge on to the promenade.


The plaza where the giant flag was flying.

We just followed this and then made a right turn to town.

One of the many stores and malls selling bags, clothes, and all kinds of souvenirs.

After about an hour or so we found our favorite spot for some seafood tostadas. Doesn't it look delicious?

La Guerre Rense

This is the 'must stop' place for us when in Ensenada, at the corner of Alvarado and Aldolf Lopez Mateos.

Walking back to the ship

for some lunch.

Afternoon was spent inside our cabin, totally relaxed. We did not go to any activities or shows on this cruise. Not having to adhere to any set time was just wonderful!

Dinner menu

Chicken Quesadilla

Spring Rolls

I believe this was the frog legs.

Chilled mango cream soup

roasted strip loin

seared tilapia

Blueberry pie

Sea Day - January 18, 2018 (Thursday)
One thing that is special on a Carnival cruise is their Sea Day Brunch and we made sure that we won't miss it. It's pretty much the same menu from previous years with lots of choices.

Fresh fruits

tomato soup

filet and egg

french toast



Weather turned a little cloudy on this day.

Final dinner on board the Inspiration.

Other than formal night, they have 'American Table' in the dining room. Which means no tablecloth or fancy dinnerware. We finally got a table for four this evening so we were able to stay a little away from others.

bread plate

salmon cake

Italian wedding soup

four-season salad


a side of Singapore noodle, not

Beef Tenderloin with Polenta

seared red fish filet

Our fab-four towel animals.

This ends our short cruise on the Inspiration. Back to normal life.