London: Lumiere + The Play that Goes Wrong

Upon arriving back in London for the afternoon, Google alerted Eric that the Lumiere Light Festival was starting that evening. My aunt had mentioned it previously but we assumed we would miss it. So, in between a lovely relaxing bottle of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar and our West End show, The Play That Goes Wrong, we ventured out in search of a few of the installations.

Aquarium @ Lumiere  The Wave @ Lumiere

Lve Motion @ Lumiere

Voyage @ Lumiere

While the app was helpful in finding several of the locations, a few were off by a block or not found at all. I wish we had more time to track down these art installations, but we saw as much as we could with the limited time we had.

As for the play, we very much enjoyed it but found the Comedy About a Bank Robbery funnier overall.

London: food + drink in Berkshire Co.


The Yorkshire Rose — We weren’t terribly hungry after a substantial Sunday roast lunch, so we were drawn by the options of small plates. Not too busy on a Sunday night with just two other tables in the back room. I opted for the small mussels appetizer and the small carbonara – more than enough food! Thankfully Eric ordered the small risotto because he barely finished it. Our evening was capped off by an exciting birthday song in which a candle the celebrating party brought to the restaurant exploded into a cloud of confetti! Overall, the staff was very friendly, the food was good and I would return here if we found ourselves back in Bracknell.


The Botanist — We met Eric’s co-workers here for a quick drink before dinner. I had a large glass of pinot noir and Eric opted for the “Yule Fuel” ale on draught. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good as did their curated selection of specialty cocktails.
House of Flavors — The very first time I have ever seen Scottish salmon curry on a menu, so of course I had to try it. Not disappointing! Medium spice and the perfectly cooked salmon was delicious, pairing nicely with a glass of Indian rose. Eric opted for the sizzling chicken laziz, which was a nice medium spice as well.


Cote Brasserie — We opted for this French bistro on Tuesday night and the whole experience was very good. Eric loved his starter of warm goat cheese, apples and mixed greens, and followed that with a delicious pounded flat steak and fries. My French Onion soup was better with the addition of salt and after letting it cool down for about ten minutes (seriously, why do restaurants serve soup so hot?!?) My steak tartare was good, I liked that the egg was mixed in but there were WAY too many chopped onions and the flavor became overwhelming. The chocolate cheesecake-like dessert was also on par with Eric’s meal – delicious.

Cote Brasserie  Cote Brasserie


The White Hart —  a cozy local place a half mile from our hotel, I stopped in for a quick lunch of a brie and bacon sandwich that was completely worth the 6£ price tag. Paired with a half pint of red ale and my Kindle, it was a lovely way to spend an hour outside of the hotel room. Two women with one fluffy white dog were relaxing in front of the fire after splitting a bottle of white wine. Based on our drive by on Wednesday evening, trivia night also seemed popular!

The White Hart

Duke of Edinburgh — We were in the mood for pub food, perhaps a meat pie, so we opted for the Duke of Edinburgh. Located down a narrow lane, it had a cozy vibe from the start. Eric was not disappointed with his steak and ale pie (one of the best he’s had!) and my liver pate was also great (the onion relish was amazing). We each had a pint of one of the cask ales that was malty with a bit of a dunkelweizen banana character.

Duke of Edinburgh

enjoying a pint @Duke of Edinburgh  steak and ale pie @ Duke of Edinburgh

London: Sunday Roast with Aunt Kim + Jules

We purposely left Sunday morning free to meet up with Kim and Jules, who proposed lunch at a pub on the Thames. To get out there we took the Tube to the Kew Garden station and met up at Tap on the Line pub for a quick drink, then took an Uber to The Bell & Crown for Sunday roast.

The Bell & Crown in Chiswick  The Bell & Crown in Chiswick

We arrived promptly at noon and discovered Kim had booked us a lovely Thames River view table. Our waiter was charming and I was pleased to see the menu was a la carte. I went for the traditional beef roast while Eric chose the butternut squash soup and helped me out with my Yorkshire pudding. :)  We each enjoyed a (large) glass of wine and the relaxed company.

They needed the table back by 3pm, so we snapped a quick photo along the chilly Thames and then it was time to part ways. Until next time!

lunch date w/ Kim + Jules


Shanghai 2017: overnight to Hangzhou


For the middle of our trip we decided to visit one of the nearby cities, Hangzhou, which is famous for its leafy West Lake. To get there we took the metro about 45 minutes to the cavernous Shanghai Hongqiao train station where we planned to catch the high speed train to Hangzhou. We were surprised that the metro was packed all the way to the end of the line.

The Hongqiao train station is overwhelming to say the least. We stood in line downstairs (ticket office #4) for a few minutes but after asking for advice at an English-speaking tourist booth we headed to the ticket office upstairs hoping for an English-speaking agent. After the brief security check (very common in China) we found the lines to be much shorter, and although the transaction was a bit touch and go, we managed to get the correct tickets with a return for the following day. Hooray!

buying tickets to Hangzhou

Unfortunately, the next train was full (I assume) so we had to wait an hour and a half for the train after that. To kill some time, I wandered around the station marveling at the high tech bathrooms, finding our track number, and observing the boarding procedures.

Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure and we easily found our coach and seats, pleased that we had two seats to ourselves. The 85 minute ride was smooth and we were able to use the machines in the Hangzhou metro to get a one-way ticket closer to the lake. Very glad we didn’t have our heavier carry-ons with us as we had to cross a few busy streets underground which meant quite a few sets of stairs.

Upon check-in at the Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake, we were upgraded to Club room (4th floor) with nice views and a huge bedroom with open tub and vanity area.

Sofitel lobby

our room in Hangzhou

our bathroom

Eager to get out and explore, we inquired about rental bicycles from the front desk at the hotel. The prices were 30 rmb/1 hour, 50 rmb/2 hours, 80 rmb/3 hours, 12o rmb / 4-6 hours and because of our Club upgrade we got two hours free!

We spent a leisurely three hours cycling and walking the 11km around West Lake. A lot of fun.

biking along Nanshan Road

West Lake views  Leifeng Pagoda

West Lake boat

street flatbread  Yangdi Jingxing

Yangdi Jingxing  Gushan Road

West Lake

Garden paths extend along the entire lake, with pedestrian sidewalks and bike lanes throughout most of it. Even though many of the flowers were no longer blooming, the lake was beautiful, and this was a highlight of our trip.

After returning the bikes, we each got a glass of wine at the Le Bar in the hotel lobby to make a dent in our $60 credit then wandered down the shore to see the nightly musical fountain show at 7pm.

We chose Grandma’s Home for dinner because of the great reviews but our experience was both confusing and underwhelming. We walked inside and after asking the attendant we were impatiently directed back outside, where we apparently needed to take a number from the two people who let us walk past them just a moment before. Now with a ticket we sat down and waited for our number to show up on the monitor. Five minutes later we returned to the indifferent attendant who wrote ’67’ on the back of our slip and pointed to the stairs. We walked up three levels and wandered around a bit before someone came over and asked to see our slip, then pointed us to a section. Turns out that ’67’ was our table number… many of which also have letters. Once seated, we were (thankfully) given a thick English menu with photos but many of the options had fish and/or were out of stock. After ten minutes of matching the Chinese writing from the photos to the printed menu slip (numbering the dishes would have helped tremendously, alas), we ended up with spicy noodles (small portion, best of our choices) spinach with glazed pork (spinach was good, pork was a bit too rich and sweet), and dried eel (interesting but the bones threw me off). Eh, dinner was cheap at least, 68rmb, or about $10.

We retreated back to the hotel for a nightcap, champagne for me and Talisker for Eric.


The buffet breakfast at the hotel was crazy good with abundant French and Chinese options.

breakfast buffet @ Sofitel

After breakfast we headed out to Hefang Street for souvenirs. The street was under construction for a large swath but we didn’t give up and finally found the historic section further up. So many shops with silk, snacks, knick knacks, tea and other items.

gold buddha on Hefang St

Hefang Street

We went back to the hotel to check out of the room, then used up the rest of our credit with a glass of champagne. With an extra hour and half we headed back to the lake to explore on foot until it was time to leave for our train at 3pm.

boats on West Lake

pagoda on West Lake

annoying trams on the sidewalk

Our train back uneventful, as the Hangzhou train station was less hectic, and the ride back took less time due to fewer stops. Plus, it got up to 308km/hour!

reclining on the train

Shanghai 2017: overview, arrival, and hotel

Beijing was our first trip to mainland China two years ago, and it left us with a bad taste in our mouths. Literally – the air quality was so bad when we visited that it hurt our throats. But China is a big place, so we knew we had to give it another chance when some very cheap deals popped up for Thanksgiving week, and this time we stayed closer to the coast and visited the megacity Shanghai.


Thanks to some amazing friends with system-wide AA upgrades, we were both upgraded to business class on the flight from Chicago to Shanghai. That definitely made the 15 hour flight more pleasant!

stretching legs before a 14 hour flight  bubbles and amenity bag

It took about an hour to get through customs and then a few extra minutes to figure out where to purchase the Maglev tickets and 3-day Metro passes. The weather conditions were good for the high-speed train so we got to hit the max speed – 431 km/hour!

Where We Stayed

The SSAW (Narada Boutique Hotel Shanghai) was a short walk from the metro and our room on the third floor was huge with a fancy bed, large seating area at the back and a good-sized bathroom. The shower was separated from the bedroom by a glass window with internal blinds. Thankfully the bed was nearer to the hallway because the windows were thin and the street noise was loud most of the day.

SSAW hotel lobby

our 3rd floor room @ SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund

For our second three-day stay, we asked for a room away from the road and we were given a much higher floor facing the same direction. The room was smaller and the road noise was still enough that we had to sleep with earplugs again.

Breakfast at the hotel was a large buffet spread with noodles, dumplings, pastries, juices, teas, etc. We only had trouble finding seating the first morning, after that we got there earlier found a table with no problem. It took me a while to figure out the best way to make a latte with the coffee machine but by the third morning I had it down. I also liked the pick-your-own ingredient miso soup station. The outdoor seating area would be quite nice in the summer.

First night in Shanghai

Once we got settled in, we took a walk to the Bund area – wow, what a skyline! Lots of colors and despite the chilly evening, many people enjoying the views.

Bund skyline


Afterward, we walked to Nanjing Road to admire the neon signs along the pedestrian way.

Nanjing Road

Feeling a bit hungry, we stopped in to Yang’s Dumplings for a quick dinner. We ordered the traditional pork and a cabbage variety, the pork was better. The ordering process was a bit confusing as we paid at the register on the right, then turned around to a glassed window on the left with the receipt to collect our order. Seating was first come first served but the turnover was quick. The dumplings were a bit hard to eat with chopsticks given the soup inside and crispy bottoms but we managed. :)

Mr. Yang's dumplings

I was pretty exhausted at this point, so I went back to the room and Eric went out a second time, visiting the rest of the Bund, the Waibaidu Bridge, Nanjing, etc. He received lots of propositions for massages, watches and various other suspicious activities.

Pacific NW: Willamette Valley and drive to Seattle

Stopped in at the Sweet Oregon Berry Co again for another round of raspberry and pumpkin hand pies, then headed to our old favorite Arborbrook Vineyards. Per usual, the tasting here was good, it’s really too bad the shipping is so expensive (why we chose to leave the wine club a few years back). We picked up two bottles of the Heritage Cuvee (one as a gift) and a bottle of the Guadalupe Pinot Gris, which waived our
$10 tasting fee.

more yellow vines

Arborbrook tasting room

At this point it was nearly noon, so we began our drive back to Seattle. Our friends live in South Seattle, so we met them at their place, then drove a short way to Franklin Park to let their girls run around and wear off some energy while the adults chatted. It was a beautiful fall afternoon so lots of people had the same idea!

sneak peek of downtown from Jefferson Park

Dinner was at Super Six, a Hawaiian/Pan-Asian restaurant. Thankfully we had reservations as they were busy on a Saturday night! My pork ragu noodles were very good and Eric’s Asian salad with Huli-huli chicken was also delicious. The malasada donuts for dessert were good but overpriced – $4 but you had to pay $1.50 extra to get them filled with a tiny bit of cream? The fresh chocolate chip cookie with sea salt was amazing, definitely recommended. Most importantly, we were glad to catch up with our friends.

After bidding everyone good night we drove up to Redmond to check into our hotel, relaxing with more episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Canadian Rockies: Yoho Valley Trail

On Wednesday morning we still hadn’t heard any good news from our house-sitter, but once again, I figured someone had found Riesling and would bring her into a local vet’s office or the shelter. She is chipped and I had already contacted the rescue we got her from in case the information was old.

So, we stuck with our original plan and after a filling egg, ham and cheese panini each for breakfast at the hotel, we packed up the car and headed north toward Field. Our first stop at the Spiral Tunnel lookout was a bit of a bust as haze really prevented a good view of the train tracks. A better stop was the Meeting of the Waters lookout for some views of the rapids.

Meeting of the Waters

The Takakkaw Falls area in YoHo NP was very busy, and you can see (and hear) the falls easily from the parking lot. We got our photographs and then lost the crowds on the 10km RT hike to Laughing Falls, passing Angel’s Staircase Falls (barely flowing) and Point Lace Falls on the way.

Takakkaw Falls  Takakkaw Falls

YoHo Valley Trail

Point Lace Falls  Laughing Falls

At this point we both admitted that we were worried sick over Riesling and weren’t wholly enjoying ourselves. So, once we got back to the parking lot and there was still no news, we headed to our B&B in Field and booked tickets home for the next day, cutting our trip short by two days. We also put the word out on Facebook and called our parents to let them know the bad news.

Knowing that we were going home to take up the search ourselves put us in a slightly better mood (we still held out hope that she would be found before we got home). Thankfully, the B&B owners were understanding and didn’t hold us to the two night minimum.

We had the best dinner of the trip that night at Truffle Pig.  I had spinach fettuccine with red-wine soaked figs, arugula, goat cheese and pancetta paired with a glass of pink bubbly. Eric had a local apple cider and pork picatta with black pepper spatzle, green beans and olive tapenade. Both the service and setting were lovely. Highly recommended.

spinach fetticini with red-wine soaked figs, arugula, goat cheese and pancetta @ Truffle Pig  pork picatta with black pepper spatzle, green beans and olive tapenade @ Truffle Pig