Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2012 was full of traveling. It seemed like we were going somewhere almost every month.

January – Las Vegas

February – Shanghai

March – Joshua Tree

April – Toronto

May – San Francisco

June – New Orleans

August – Seattle

September – San Francisco

November – Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Narita

December – Grand Canyon, Las Vegas

Since I started writing this blog toward the end of the year, I missed a lot of the earlier highlights so here’s quick recap.

Joshua Tree: We rented a lovely secluded 3-bedroom house out in the desert.  Although we had planned on spending a considerable amount of time exploring Joshua Tree National Park, it was very windy and cold that weekend and we ended up staying in most of the time.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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Beautiful Backdrop

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

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Table outside of our rented house

Table outside of our rented house

Toronto:  The only place in Canada that I had been to before was Vancouver and I was excited to see Ontario.  Henry’s prior visits were to Ottawa and he kept telling me how boring it was. Our connecting flight was delayed and we got stuck in the Cleveland airport for hours, which was unpleasant.  When we finally arrived and got our rental car, we made an hour and a half drive in the dark to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint historic town located along Lake Ontario.  We stayed in a lovely room at Cecile’s House B&B and explored the adjacent wine region the next day. Unlike California wineries, tastings in the Niagara region are priced per sample (vs. $10-$15 for 4-6 tastings) so we were able to last through 7 wineries before we were too tired to continue.  I’m not a fan of syrupy ice wines but Henry went crazy over them and bought several bottles to take home. And while we were in the region, we also went to see Niagara Falls; I thought it was too touristy and reminded me of Hollywood (not in a good way).

The next day on our way to back to Toronto, we saw a sign along the highway advertising a go-karting place. We made a swift exit and the signs soon disappeared. We weren’t able to find the go-karts but we gave ourselves a tour of an industrial part of Hamilton and ended up getting into a fender bender with a couple of Canadians who were making an illegal u-turn.  Of course the day we got into the accident is one of three days a year that the Hamilton Police’s traffic accident department does not work. As a result, the accident wasn’t properly documented and the aftermath proved to be quite the ordeal.

After a slightly longer than planned detour, we made our way to Toronto.  Henry wanted Chinese food and I was weary of going to Chinatown since I had never seen a Chinatown I liked (SF, LA, NY, Chicago).  But surprisingly, Toronto’s Chinatown was not bad at all and we ended up having several meals there.  We also walked around nearby bohemian Kensington Market.  The next couple of days, we checked out the CN Tower, St. Lawrence Market, Steam Whistle Brewery, Toronto Island (by ferry), man-made Sugar Beach, the hip Distillery District and rode the Spadina Streetcar.  But the highlight of our trip was when I saw a car catch on fire in the middle of the street!  Overall, I really liked Toronto but early April was still a tad cold for those of us who are used to SoCal weather.  Toronto reminded me a lot of San Francisco and Seattle and I would love to explore it further in the future.

Toronto from Toronto Island

Toronto from Toronto Island

Beach on Toronto Island

Beach on Toronto Island

Car on fire!

Car on fire!

New Orleans: Out of all of the places we went to in 2012, Henry loved NOLA the most and he’s ready to pick up his bags to go again. I get it: it’s fun, the food is awesome, and it’s unpretentious. We stayed at the JW Marriott, just across the street from the French Quarter and it was a perfect base for exploration.  It was the first week of June and the humidity was already too much for us to handle.  After a quick breakfast at Café Beignet, we met Cassidy from Confederacy of Cruisers for our biking food tour.  Even though I’m extremely uncoordinated, I made it through the tour alive!  We had 4 food stops and 1 art stop and we ended up going back to our favorite, Lil Dizzy’s Café, on a different day for yummy fried chicken and gumbo.

We went on a fun airboat swamp tour with the Louisiana Tour Company and saw more alligators than I could count.  Apparently alligators have very poor eyesight so we threw large marshmallows at them for feeding.  Our tour guide had a strong accent and I could barely understand him but what I did hear was funny.  Because we wanted to get up close and personal with alligators, we also went to Insta-Gator Ranch & Hachery, where we got to pet baby alligators.

Our tour guide

Our tour guide

The Swamps

The Swamps

Henry in the airboat

Henry in the airboat

Alligators

Alligators

The BEST part of the trip was the Global Wildlife Center, about one hour away from NOLA.  We rode a wagon with dozens of kids and their parents and fed herds of animals including deer, zebras, giraffes, bison and camels.  There were also gigantic fish and friendly kangaroos.  It’s like being on a safari, except cheaper, closer, and safer.

Cute giraffe

Cute giraffe

Hungry deer?

Hungry deer?

Lots of creatures

Lots of creatures

Wagon that attracts all the animals

Wagon that attracts all the animals

We also went on a romantic gondola ride in City Park, took tours of Laura Plantation and the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery, and listened to jazz on Frenchmen Street.  Having a rental car allowed us to see so much in just 4 days. We were able to get out of the French Quarter and see everything NOLA has to offer.

Gondola

Gondola

Romantic and cheesy?

Romantic and cheesy?

We ate tons of oysters, po’ boys, crawfish, beignets, gumbo, jambalaya, and other hearty favorites.  Next time, we want to make it to the Abita Brewery; the seasonal strawberry beer is divine.

Seattle: Henry’s whole extended family in SoCal and a couple of tagalongs (me) went up to Seattle for one of his cousin’s engagement party. The party was at the Columbia Tower Club, in the tallest building in Seattle.  The women’s bathroom had a panoramic view of the city; a couple of guys snuck into the women’s bathroom just to look out the window.

For the rest of the time, when there weren’t family gatherings, Henry and I went out to see the city. Henry wanted to see Bruce Lee’s gravesite and he was able to enjoy it himself while I was on a work conference call.  One of my work associates who had gone to Seattle just the week before raved about the Chihuly Gardens at the Seattle Center so I dragged Henry along to see some amazing glass work.  David Chihuly is the guy who designed the amazing glass ceiling at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Outdoor glass garden

Outdoor glass garden

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Amazing glass

Amazing glass

Space Needle

Space Needle

Random people in Seattle Center

Random people in Seattle Center

After a nice lunch at Henry’s cousin’s new restaurant, Shabu Chic, some of the family headed over for a boat ride on Lake Union. Due to limited capacity, Henry and I volunteered to not be included on the boat ride and we went to a few breweries in SoDo. Henry is usually not a fan of craft beers but he really liked these and we even bought a growler of Manny’s at Georgetown Brewery to drink in the hotel room.

The next day we went on a Segway tour.  I had been on several Segway tours before and this one had the least training and the most freedom. Within minutes, Henry was jumping the curbs on the Segway.

On our final day of outings, we drove two hours east to the Wenatchee River to go whitewater rafting.  The rivers were low during that part of the season so the trip was broken down into a rafting portion and an inflatable kayaking portion.  After a few wet hours on the river, we drove to nearby Leavenworth, a German-style town similar to Solvang (Dutch) in Southern California.

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