London: Imperial War Museum, a Polish Kitchen + the death of my phone

Our flight landed early at Heathrow and because we have done this trip over a dozen times it took us no time at all to get to our hotel in Earl’s Court. As it was Saturday morning there were (unsurprisingly) no rooms available at 8am. So we dropped off our luggage and headed out in search of coffee (hot cocoa for Eric) and to waste an hour before the Imperial War Museum opened at 10am.

Chelsea stadium

Brompton Cemetery  Chelsea doorway

After grabbing two almond croissants at an Elephant & Castle Tesco, we walked over to the museum. The collection of war vehicles (tanks, SUVs, planes), bombs, and paraphernalia was impressive and the entire floor dedicated to the Holocaust with videos of survivors playing was incredibly moving. Given our post-flight haze we started to run out of energy before the WW2 display, so those artifacts warrant a future visit.

main hall @ Imperial War Museum  war planes @ Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

All that mental energy was replenished by a trip to Mamuśka, a Polish restaurant near the metro station. We split an amber ale, a small order of potato, cheese and onion pierogies (sprinkled with sour cream and crispy bacon), smalec (creamy pate served with white bread), and pork gulasz with fried chips. Everything was delicious. The atmosphere in relaxed with mostly family style seating and a few 2- and 4-top tables.

Polish tastiness


Between returning to our now-available room for a quick nap and heading out for dinner, my phone died. It restarted suddenly and then proceeded to get caught in an endless bootloop, restarting but never getting past the main ‘Google’ screen. We tried every trick we could find online but nothing worked. After contacting GoogleFi support and discovering the manufacturer’s warranty was extended for the Nexux 5X phones because of this exact issue (!!!) we realized our only solution was to ship my phone back to LG for repairs. Unfortunately, I had JUST landed in the UK for the ten-day trip, so that meant no phone for this trip and up to two weeks after I got home.

To get our minds off of this annoyance, we headed out to dinner at Rocca, an Italian restaurant that Eric had visited on his last trip. We had called ahead but the hostess wouldn’t take a reservation for two and told us just to come in. So we did and we were luckily seated straight away in the very back of the restaurant. It was pretty noisy but the service was quick and efficient, if not a little abrupt. I ordered a glass of prosecco and Eric a sauvignon doc (white) and they came out quickly. My funghi pizza was pretty good with a nice crust, but a bit on the bland side. Eric enjoyed his rabbit ragu pappardelle. Reasonable prices on the food and wine, I would return but try another dish.

We decided to try and get into Terroirs for a nightcap and were surprised to find two seats along the bar. The place eventually emptied out and the post-theatre rush we were expecting never occurred on this particular Saturday night.  This meant we had a bit more attention from the wait staff and were able to get tastings of wines before choosing. Eric choose a Slovenian white from Burja Estate and I had a Vini Viti Vinci pinot noir from Burgundy (France). Eric’s second choice was an Les Vins Pirouettes Alsatian white and mine was an unusual prosecco from Casa Belfi. All the pours are 125ml, unlike many other places where the small is 175ml and the large is 250ml! Definitely a good place to expand our wine experiences and try unusual varietals.

liquers @ Terrior

Shanghai 2017: Nanxing

After a leisurely breakfast, we spent a couple of hours Friday morning on FaceTime with family and friends wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving back in the States (where it was still Thursday evening).

After our calls home we took the subway northwest to Nanxing, known for its xiaolongbao street and Guyi Gardens. We started with lunch at Fengji Xiaolongguan, and ordering was an experience without any knowledge of Chinese. Thank goodness we knew the word ‘xiaolongbao’ so that worked, but I also ended up ordering us a soup without realizing it. Soup came out first and I was confused (and a little disappointed) but the dumplings quickly followed so all was well! Everything was tasty (even though Eric had to fish all the cilantro out of his soup). And cheap. We were both stuffed for under $6 USD.

xiaolongbao on Guyiyuan Rd

enjoying the soup dumplings

From our lunch place it was a short walk to the north entrance. After paying a modest 12rmb entry fee we entered a peaceful garden with gorgeous stone pathways, water features, pagodas and waterfalls. Like many parks in Shanghai, there were also lots of groups of old men playing cards and old women chatting on benches. We spent about 1.5 hours exploring before heading back to the hotel.

Guyi Garden map

Guyi Garden  Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden

After a quick recharge (for us and our phones), we took the subway to Jackie’s Beer Nest 2 located in the basement of the Hamburg House. Two beers for each of us – strong stouts for me, and a sour ale for Eric after his smoked beer kicked the keg after half a pint. The fried wontons made for an excellent snack with our beers.

tasty dumplings @ Jackie's Beer Nest 2

Jackie's Beer Nest 2

Curious to try a whisky bar, we walked over to MaltFun but found the place shuttered at 9pm on a Friday night with no explanation. Oh well.

Shanghai: Thanksgiving Dinner

Before we left for our relaxing trip to Hangzhou, I had made a dinner reservation for Thursday night at Cucina at the Hyatt. Unfortunately, neither of us checked WHICH Hyatt the restaurant was located in and of course, we went to the Hyatt on the Bund instead of the Grand Hyatt. Instead of just taking a cab (the fastest option), I wanted to walk and it took way longer than expected due to construction and confusing elevated walkways and long story short we arrived half an hour late and frustrated to our reservation. Boo.

Thankfully the place was not at all busy and we were seated next to the window with expansive views of the Bund. Unexpectedly, the Pearl TV Tower shut off its lights at 9pm so we only had several minutes to enjoy that building.

Service was a bit hit and miss but the wine prices were reasonable and Eric enjoyed his Caesar salad and spaghetti with meatballs. I had the 24 month aged Parma ham pizza which was perfectly fine. The highlight of the evening, however, was a delicious chocolate tart. SO GOOD.

Thanksgiving dinner views  delicious chocolate dessert

Shanghai: Qibao Ancient Town + Shanghai Circus

Rain was in the forecast and arrived as promised on Tuesday morning. After breakfast, we waited a bit for the rain to let up then jumped on the subway for about 40 minutes to Qibao Ancient Town. Exiting the subway, we were greeted with misting rain that did not let up for the rest of the day. Boo.

To help keep Eric’s camera dry, we stopped at a shoe store selling umbrellas for $1.

A short walk later and we were standing at the entry gate where a kiosk was selling prayer items and attraction tickets.

Qibao Ancient Town entrance

prayer requests

We continued to the historic old town and wandered around. Lots of strange snacks like young marinated chickens, quail eggs, and flayed squid, along with ceramic items, scarves (likely not all silk), wooden combs and jewelry. Glad we skipped the tourist pass to get into various sites as it was hard to find these places and we never located the miniatures museum which is the only one I actually wanted to see. Picked up a few gift items and then headed out after about an hour to dry off.

hundreads of quail eggs

Qibao Ancient Town

Qibao Ancient Town

Qibao Ancient Town

On the way back to subway, we stopped at J’s Beer Fairy to warm up and grab a beer. You select your beer from one of the many fridges, pay, then grab a branded glass from the fridge and a bottle opener. It was a nice, relaxed setting.

beers @ J's Beer Fairy

After picking up a pork floss donut to munch on for the trip back to the hotel, I wanted to try Dahuchun, a well-reviewed dumpling place, for dinner before the show. The cashier lady basically ignored me and took several transactions ahead of me until I finally said “one” and thrust money at her. Ugh. Dumplings were just okay, Eric liked Yang’s better.

Still hungry, Eric grabbed a pastry at a local bakery and then we headed to the Nanjing shopping street by People’s Square to waste some time before the circus.

Shanghai Circus World was easy to find and very close to the subway stop, although with poor signage on which way to go once once you exited the subway station. Since we bought tickets through the hotel we had merely picked a price we wanted to pay but not the seats or section. No worry though because we were second row! Our seats were totally fine for viewing the show even though we were off to one side. The VIP section only had 4-6 people in it the whole time. We arrived about a half hour early to a nearly empty venue but the theater quickly filled in with busloads of tourists (including a chatty mom and daughter next to me) but we both really enjoyed the show.

Shanghai Circus World

Shanghai Circus World  Shanghai Circus World

Shanghai Circus World

Acrobats, bicycles, and motorbikes in a cage lead to lots of exclamations and clapping from the audience. The 90 minute show was touristy but fun and we were happy with what we paid ($56 each) for the experience.

Shanghai: Yuyuan Gardens + Tianxifang

Our hotel was about a ten minute walk from the famous Yuyuan Gardens, so we decided to start there. After making our way through the maze of stores we found the small ticket counter, where it was all-cash. Unfortunately, purchasing our tickets to the Shanghai Circus through the hotel before we left that morning had depleted our cash reserves. Oops. So we set out to find an ATM, which was not as easy as it had been in Malaysia (especially considering all the stores), but after backtracking several blocks we found one that worked.

Cash in hand, we bought our tickets for the garden, a beautifully designed space with meandering pathways through rock gardens, nice pagodas, and old trees. Foot traffic was fairly low, so we had several opportunities to enjoy the view without other people around.

Yuyuan Old Street  tickets for Yu Garden

Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens  Yu Gardens

Yu Gardens

Jiuqu Bridge

On our wander through the market area we discovered a few interesting snacks among the numerous food stalls and shops. I tried a warm fermented yogurt drink (surprisingly good), walnut cake (tasty fresh but not so great a day later), and a bag of 5 spice beans (we think; still trying to figure out what to do with these!)

slow fermented yogurt drink - available EVERYwhere  enjoying my (warm!) yogurt drink

walnut snacks - best fresh and warm

We headed back to the hotel to drop off our shopping bags, charge our phones and do a bit of planning, then took the subway to Xianping. This area is a blend of French and Chinese influences with scenic leafy lanes, and lots of cafes and high end shops.

there are a lot of bikes in Shanghai  danger

Fuxing Park was our next stop where we discovered old ladies doing tai chi, old men playing card games while drinking green tea, and kids flying kites. The whole park felt very French, even down to the benches.

We had read that Tianxifang was an interesting place to pick up gifts so we explored the warren of alleys with boutique shops, cafes, and takeaway stands. Picked up a hanging ceramic vase and gushed over some cute dumplings (looked better than they tasted). One of the best food items on this trip was from a Korean hot dog stand – a cheddar cheese wrapped hot dog, battered and fried then drizzled with sweet chili sauce and cheese mustard. SO. Good.


adorable dumplings

Korean hot dog stand  hot dog battered, fried, coated in breadcrumbs and drizzled with sweet chili sauce. OMG.


Full for the moment, and a little tired from all the exploring, we walked over to Boxing Cat Brewery for their happy hour half-price beer. While we were deciding, the bartender poured us each a small sample of the Sweet Science Summer Ale, nice but too hoppy for us. Eric had the Smashed Pumpkin Ale and I got the King Louie Imperial Stout. Both were solid. The accompanying spiced nuts were hot – whew!

beers @ Boxing Cat Brewery

One stop up on the metro was Jackie’s Beer Nest – so small! Lots of taps, including two sours. Eric got the Jackie’s Beer Nest big sour, a raspberry lambic. I tried the Viking Imperial Wheat Stout (a collaboration between Epic Brewing and Jackie himself). A nice cozy place with many more beers to try…

taps @ Jackie's Beer Nest

Pacific NW: Efeste & exploring Bellevue

Our only wine tasting for the day was EFESTĒ to pick up our semi-annual allotment and try out some additional wines. Since it was Monday, we were the only people in the tasting room which meant a relaxed and casual tasting experience.

Working our way south, we stopped at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens which is a lovely (& free!) garden just east of downtown Bellevue. Volunteers were setting up the lights for the holiday festival so we got a sneak peek at what that is going to look like. There is a good mix of garden space and natural trail here and we will definitely be back during a different time of year.

holiday lights going up @ Bellevue Botanical Garden

Bellevue Botanical Garden

Bellevue Botanical Garden  Bellevue Botanical Garden

Finally hungry again, we stopped at Din Tai Fung and stuffed ourselves with xiaolongbao soup dumplings! We ordered 2 10-piece trays to start and then a third. So good.

xiaolongbao @ Din Tai Fung

With our parking validated for three hours, we had time to walk down the street to check out the Purple Cafe & Wine Bar for a glass of wine. We were hoping to meet another friend of mine from high school but he was swamped at work, so we stuck with one glass each and then entered rush hour traffic to get to our friend’s place in Burien.

We hung out with Jake and the dogs for a bit before grabbing a light dinner at The Point. I had the ahi sashimi appetizer and Eric went straight for dessert with the skillet cookie; we both had a local dark cider.

Pacific NW: Woodinville Wineries and hanging with friends

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel we met my friend Barb (from high school) & her husband, Jon at Davenport Cellars at noon. Phil was our wine pourer and he definitely opened up a bit when we started talking about travel and discovered we both love one of the same wineries in
the Willamette Valley (Arborbrook!).

outtake of a photo with a friend from high schoolOur next stop was a two minute walk away – J&A Winery, one of our favorites from our visit two years ago. We got there just as Dick (the winemaker) was opening the doors and hung out for a bit while he got the tasting room ready. Once again, our tasting here was memorable. Eric loved nearly all of the whites and while I was less excited about the Bourdeaux-style blends, the rose and tempranillo were delicious. We put together a case and had him package it up for us in a shipper. If we lived near this winery it would be dangerous!

At this point we needed food, so we all decided on a burger place, Tipsy Cow. Great choice! Happy hour was from 3-6pm which meant $2 off selected bar snacks. I had the Silver City Fat Scotch Ale and Eric ordered the Crooked Belgian Wit from Two Beers Brewing. To eat, we split
the Pig Tails (panko-breaded pork shoulder, fried and served with BBQ Sauce), and an order of plain and truffle fries. Everything was filling (the fry plate was enormous) and tasty.

We had time for one more beer before meeting another set of friends for dinner, so we stopped at Hellbent Brewing. My winter ale was just okay but Eric liked the guest tap sour. The space is nice with an industrial feel and lots of seating along with comfy couches.

Parting ways with Barb & Jon, we met our friend’s Mark and Marie at their house in Shoreline. They had ordered take-out pizza, so dinner was a relaxed affair. Eric caught up with the adults while I learned how to play Pokemon with the kids. :)