Thursday, October 30, 2008

I meant the Rivercat

Just a clarification on Tuesday's entry. There is something here in Sydney called the Jetcat. But for the past four days after work, I've ridden on a Rivercat. My bad.

I rode on the Shane Gould three times and the Evonne Goolagong once. I wondered who they were so I Googled them. Evonne Goolagong sounded familiar and that's because she was a famous tennis player in the 1970s. Shane Gould was a multiple medal-winning swimmer in the 1972 Olympics. Both of these women are Sydney natives. So I guess they name the Rivercats after famous Sydneysiders (this is what you call a person from Sydney.)

Rivercat, Rivercat, Rivercat.

Tag, I'm it

My friend KT had these questions on her blog and I am shamelessly copying from her because I, too, thought it was cool. I hereby challenge my other blogger friends to do the same. 'Cuz this stuff is INTERESTING! :-)

Outside my window right now is: Sydney harbour. The harbour bridge with the Australia and New South Wales flags flying on top. The scary-looking face at Luna Park.

My daily rhythm is: Hit the snooze button, hit the snooze button, hit the snooze button. Until I can hit the snooze button no more. (What can I say, I'm just not a morning person.) Go, go, go until around 9PM. Then wind down slowly by taking a nice bath (if I'm home) or reading in bed for a couple of hours before falling asleep.

I am thankful for: A great family, a great job, and great friends. (Copying KT word for word!)

In the kitchen: No idea because I haven't been home for two weeks.

Breakfast: This week it's been Starbucks sugar-free vanilla lattes and low fat muffins, because I don't want to pay $40 for the hotel breakfast. But when I'm at home, I usually have yogurt and granola with blueberries or strawberries on top and coffee.

I haven't found: a reason to like Sarah Palin.

Lunch: Usually some kind of salad.

Supper: This hotel has some really good spaghetti. I'm about to order it for the third time.

I am wearing: black pants, a black shirt, black socks. In other words, my uniform. LOL!

I am creating: true life stories of my own.

Bringing beauty to my home: I'm not really good at this. That's Sandy's job. :-)

I am reading: The Host by Stephenie Meyer. It's not a Twilight book but is really good.

I am hoping: for a safe and on time trip back to Indy tomorrow.

I am making plans for: going home and staying there for a very long time!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Taking the Jetcat

For the past three days, I've taken a taxi to work every morning. It's about a 30-45 minute ride from the hotel and the office. I try to be productive during this time by checking emails on the Blackberry, reviewing my daily schedule, and even making some phone calls. Because other than crossing three bridges, noticing the cool cars at the Holden dealership, and passing a restaurant called The Austrian Schnitzelhaus, the ride is pretty boring.

The ride home, however, is quite exciting. I just get one of my coworkers to drop me off at the dock. There I hop on one of Sydney Ferry's "Jetcat" catamarans and sail from Meadowbank to Circular Quay. It takes about 30 minutes and is the smoothest ride I've ever had on water. (For those of you who are so keenly aware of my lack of sea legs - my experience is mercifully NOT the same on the Jetcat. LOL!) It only costs A$5.50 so it's a bargain, too.

The weather was really *hot* the first day I took the Jetcat, so I stood on deck and let the wind blow through me. Yesterday, it was a little cooler, so I sat inside with the masses. I'll probably be back inside today, since it's misty-raining. But I'd prefer this to a taxi no matter what type of weather!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sculptures by the sea

I'm in pain. My calf muscles are killing me and my shins are screaming. Why? Because today I walked the Pacific Trail from Coogee to Bondi Beach. I have no idea how far this is, but like Australia, it's a bloody long way.

Fortunately, I was in good company: My coworker Rachel, her husband and their kids, and some friends who were visiting them from New Zealand. So it was kind of a group thing, which is good, because otherwise I would not have done it. I had told Rachel I wanted to see the Sculptures by the Sea so it was really cool of her to take me out there. All along the coast are these tiny beaches surrounded by big rocks, and they have a wonderful pathway that connects them all. So we started out at Coogee, then walked up the hill and down again to Gordon's Bay. Then up stairs and more hills to Clovelly Beach, where there was a big outdoor bowling alley. Not the bowling we do back home, but lawn bowling. Basically it was a bunch of people drinking beer and rolling balls around, LOL.

From Clovelly we climbed again, through a winding trail that led us to Waverly Cemetery. It is said here that the residents have some of the best views of Sydney. Too bad they are not able to enjoy them. Some of the tombstones are so close to the cliffs that they look like a strong wind could blow them into the water below. A construction project is underway to build something to prevent this.

Next was Bronte Beach, known as a family beach (as opposed to Bondi, I guess, which is sort of a party beach). Bronte has some very interesting "sea baths" which are pools that are somehow separate from the ocean. That keeps the jellyfish, sharks, and surfers away from the kiddies. Beyond Bronte was Tamarama - which I kept calling Taramara. That's where the sculptures began. There were about 100 of them - some weird, some stupid, others really cool and creative. We walked up the big hill that would eventually lead us to Bondi, fighting huge crowds of people to see the sculptures. I think, I hope I got some good photos.

When I got back to the hotel, I ordered spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner via room service, because I feel like I did a half marathon today. A hilly half marathon at that. So I deserve some carbs. Too bad I didn't think of dessert. :-)

It was a great day and I'm so glad I had this experience. I can't wait to see how the photos turn out.

By the way, Bondi is pronounced "Bond-eye" and Coogee is a take on an Aboriginal word that means "stinky seaweed." You never know when this useful trivia may come in handy!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paddington market

When I was in Sydney last year, my co-worker and I went to Paddington market. This Saturday-only market has several hundred vendors selling an impressive variety of handcrafted items such as jewelry, clothing, leather and woolen goods, and other "artisan" goods. I enjoyed it so much last year that I decided to go back again today. (And yes, this entry was written on Saturday, not Friday as it probably says above. Sydney is 15 hours ahead of Eastern USA time.)

I took a taxi out to Paddington. My very talkative driver was an Iraqi native who has lived in Australia for 15 years. Our conversation was mostly one-sided (with me acting as listener) and according to him, everything in the world, from US-Middle East relationships to the current situation with the economy, has been pre-determined by a small group of rich white men from North America and Europe, and there's nothing we can do to change anything: us ordinary folk are all merely serfs. The taxi fare was A$15 but I felt like he should have paid me - for therapy.

Fortunately, I was about to get some therapy of my own. Retail therapy, that is. Ahhhh, what a great day to shop in the great outdoors! The weather was absolutely perfect. I walked around, totally enjoying myself as I inspected items for sale, and chatted with the vendors and designers. A representative of Leather and Roses (one of my favorites last year) showed me their new items. I met one of the designers of the very cool Ruby Cat purses, and a jewelry designer who was doing some really unusual things with sterling silver. I had a discussion with a weaver about spinning and hand-dyeing wool - and I bought one of her beautiful scarves. And I discovered the work of Ping Lian Yeak, a young "autistic savant" who paints animals and landscapes.

I LOVE PADDINGTON MARKET. OK, I spent too much money. Or, looking at it another way - I did most of my Christmas holiday shopping today.

After leaving the Market, I began walking down Oxford Street towards the city. It was just so nice outside, and I was really enjoying the walk. I passed numerous restaurants and cafes, and made my way in and out of several independent bookstores and boutiques. Then there was a block or two of, um, shall we say "adult"-type stores (and no, I didn't check those out. LOL.) Before I knew it, I was at Hyde Park.

I didn't have a map. And we hadn't come this way in the taxi. I just "knew" where I was going, as if being led by an invisible tour guide. I popped into a Starbucks for some quiche and an iced vanilla latte, and called it lunch. Then I kept walking, past beautiful old sandstone buildings and designer shops and the first government building in Sydney. Before I knew it, I was back at Circular Quay. (By the way, the word "quay" is pronounced like "key.") I'm not exactly sure, but I probably walked two or three miles.

So now, I'm going to have room service for dinner, and spend the rest of the evening relaxing. I've got LOADS (Aussie word) of work to do, but I'm going to procrastinate on that until tomorrow.

Until next time . . .

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Land Down Under

G'day from Sydney, Australia! This is the last stop of my three-city business trip. Here in the southern hemisphere it's Spring, and the weather is perfect: sunny blue skies, 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with a fresh, gentle breeze coming off the harbor. Um, harbour. :-)

Sydney is a happy city and Australia is a happy country. At least to me. I just feel good when I'm here for some reason. Not sure if it's the clean air, or the purple-flowered jacaranda trees, or the smell of the jasmine flowers. Maybe it's the friendly people, or the totally cool Australian accent and interesting vocabulary words. Swagman. Billabong. Troppo. Shrimp on the barbie.

You see, I'm an Australiaphile. I've been one since I was five years old, ever since the day I found an old book on my parents' bookshelf called The World in 5,000 Pictures. There was a section on Australia with photos of Sydney (circa 1950) and kangaroos and sheep stations and I have been in love with - and maybe slightly obsessed with - the concept of Australia ever since.

One of the reasons I became a teacher was because I saw a documentary about the outback teachers from the Alice Springs School of the Air who taught students in remote locations via ham radio. Occasionally they would fly out to the bush in small planes to meet with the students in person. It looked so exciting. I wanted to do something like this.

I almost immigrated here in the mid 1980s. I actually filled out the paperwork - but I never sent it in, because I didn't have quite enough points (Australia has a points system for immigration). I would have had more than enough points after I completed my teaching certification, but by then, I wasn't at a point in my life where I could be that flexible.

I always knew that I would visit Australia one day. I just didn't know it would take so long to get here. But now here I am, for the second time in one year. That's right, it was this time last year - 26 October 2007 to be exact - that I was here. Interesting, huh?

Someday I'll come back and see more of the country. Sydney is great but there's a lot more to see here. I still want to see Melbourne, and the Blue Mountains, and Uluru (Ayers Rock), and the Great Barrier Reef, and the western city of Perth. I'd also like to see "the outback."

This morning my taxi driver told me that there is a great deal of expansion occuring in Western Australia ("W.A.") due to the booming mining industry. I asked him if the boom was so significant that they were needing teachers. He replied with a definitive yes. I did a quick Google search and had several hits such as this one. I love how it says "If you fancy a change . . . "

As for me, I do not currently fancy a change, but if I did, I might go for it.

I love this country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stinky tofu, frogs egg tea, and the raid at the night market

After work today, Cindy, one of my work colleagues, offered to take me out to the Night Market. She promised me that it would be extremely crowded and an authentic Taipei experience, so how could I refuse? I only wish that I could post some photos for you tonight (I have photos, but the software I use for that is on my Mac . . . back at home.)

We took a taxi across town and when we arrived, I could see that she was right about the number of people out. I don't think I've seen that many people in such a small space -- ever. There are three million people living in Taipei and 2.9 million of them were at the Night Market tonight.

Cindy recommended that we eat dinner first, noting that: "the best places to eat always have the most people around them." We walked through a building that had to be as large as a major department store back home, past one food vendor after another cooking up food on grills and griddles: oyster pancakes, pieces of "stinky" tofu (so named because of the smell of the fermentation process it goes through - and trust me, it is really bad), grilled skewered chicken butts, and the biggest sausages I've ever seen - to name a few. Cindy talked me into the pancakes and the tofu -- she said they were special Taipei dishes. I really liked the tofu. It didn't smell stinky after it was deep fried. But the oyster pancake was made with rice flour, making it just a bit too gooey for me.

Our next course was a drink, and the drink vendors were plentiful. Most drinks are made to order with various types of fruit juice or milk, or a combination thereof. Cindy suggested the "frogs egg tea" which had chunks of gelatin in it. I was leery, but . . . when in Taipei, right? Actually, it doesn't contain frogs eggs - but something akin to the bubbles in bubble tea. OK, now here's something different: the drink was topped off with black beans. How's that for a protein drink? The liquid part of it was quite tasty.

Fully satiated, we headed over to the shopping area of the Night Market, where according to Cindy, you can find anything you would possibly want to buy. I saw a lot of purses, jewelry, shoes, and clothing - not my type, but apparently very popular with the young crowd. Prices are negotiable, so bring your haggling skills.

As we fought to maintain our balance on the overcrowded pedestrian street, Cindy pointed out that the vendors with carts in the middle were illegal vendors, and that if the police came, they would quickly leave. I suddenly became aware of the walkie-talkies in the hands of these vendors, and it wasn't long after that something started buzzing. Suddenly, as if part of a performance, the illegal vendors began closing up their carts and wheeling them away. Man, were they organized! In just a few split seconds, one after another, they would disappear down the dark, narrow alleyways. Just as the last one disappeared, we saw the cop, walking up the street in his bright yellow shirt, checking the vendor licenses of the legitimate shops. I asked Cindy what would happen if an illegal vendor were caught and she said he/she would be fined . . . approximately US$10 which may not sound like a lot, but could be a lot to these vendors.

I didn't buy anything until we left the Night Market and went over to the Starbucks on the main street. (The Starbucks near my hotel was out of Taipei mugs, so I wanted to check this store to see if they had any. They did.) As I purchased my mug, the friendly cashier asked me if I was an American. I said yes, and he asked: "What state are you from?" I responded that I was originally from North Carolina, and the cashier, who couldn't have been more than 19 or 20, responded: "Michael Jordan is from North Carolina!" "Yes," I said. "And I went to school with him." Suddenly, I was almost as famous as Michael Jordan. "Really! You know Michael Jordan?" the kid asked. "Well, I had a Spanish class with him," I explained. I went on to answer about a dozen questions. It was the perfect nightcap to a very exciting evening.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sleepless in Taipei

I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan a few hours ago. It's just over 900 miles from Seoul but only took about 2 hours on EVA Air. EVA Air is a Taiwanese airline and the flight attendants really take care of you. I mean, I could not even move without the flight attendant wanting to help me shift in my seat. OK, I'm exaggerating slightly, but I must say that I am very impressed with the level of service provided by EVA Air (and also the other two Asian airlines I've flown, Cathay Pacific and China Air.)

In fact, the level of service here in Asia is outstanding in just about every arena. Hotel staff are amazing. I stayed at the Grand Intercontinental in Seoul and they made me feel like a queen. The Grand Intercontintal Seoul has probably the best breakfast buffet in the world, too. Their homemade granola is to die for - wish I had the recipe.

I'm in my new hotel tonight. It's a five star hotel (don't worry, I got a cheap corporate rate) but I haven't yet taken the time to check it out. The only thing I know is that there is a Starbucks next door, so tomorrow I'll grab a coffee on the way to work - and perhaps a Taipei mug if they have one to add to my growing collection of Starbucks city mugs.

Taipei is 12 hours ahead of Indy, so it's almost midnight as I write this (not the time below, which is Pacific time.) Anyway, I'm tired but my motor is still running. Can't blame it on jet lag this time, though as there is only one hour time difference between Taipei and Seoul. Oh, well!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Asia's largest underground shopping mall

I'm in Seoul, Korea for a few days on business. Just arrived late last night after traveling for nearly 24 hours including airport stops. Whenever I travel somewhere, I like to check out the local scene as much as possible - it actually helps me adjust to the time zone changes to get out there and walk around. Since today is a Sunday (Seoul is currently 13 hours ahead of Eastern US time, so ignore the date above as is actually October 19 as I write this), I decided to check out Asia's largest underground shopping mall. COEX Mall, which is just steps from my hotel.

This place is HUGE! It's part of Seoul's convention and exhibition (COEX) center. There's a train station. A casino. A movie theatre showing, like, 20 different movies - including four English language movies. An aquarium. Even a kimchi museum and a dental emergency center. (Let's hope I can avoid that last one.)

There are hundreds of stores here, selling pretty much anything one could possibly want to buy. Seems like they have hundreds of restaurants, too. There are all kinds of traditional Korean and Asian restaurants - everything from Korean BBQ to noodles, dim sum, sushi, pho, and everything in between. There's an Italian pasta shop and a TGI Friday's and a Pizza Hut. They've got two Starbucks cafes and several other coffee shops.

I just window shopped . . . that is, until I found Bandi and Luni's. B&L is a bookstore and it may well be the largest one I've ever been in. I'm drawn to bookstores like a magnet to steel, and this is one of the best I've ever seen in terms of selection. Of course, most of their books are in Korean, but they also have an impressive selection of Japanese and English language items. In fact, they have more English language books than most small bookstores have books. There were paperback versions of books here that we can only get in hardcover back home, such as Stephenie Meyer's The Host and Breaking Dawn. (I also saw these in paperback in Europe, so this is not necessarily unusual.) They had a whole wall of literature classics, the latest bestsellers, and one of the largest sci-fi/fantasy sections I've seen outside of the megabookstores back home.

Particularly impressive was the size of B&L's foreign language studies section, geared to Korean speakers. There were miles of aisles of books, CDs, and other tools for learning English and other languages. And this was one of the more popular sections of the store. I couldn't walk down the aisles without bumping into someone. It seems as if everyone in Korea is interested in learning a foreign language. I could not help but wonder - why don't we have this interest back home?

I bought a couple of gifts, but nothing for myself. I wanted to buy a novel set in Korea or by a Korean author, but unfortunately I didn't find anything on my own, and neither of the two store clerks I asked could help. If I have time, I'm going to do a little research online to see if I can find such a book, and then go back again and ask for it.

I'm not hungry now, but when I get hungry, I'm probably going to go to Jackie Chan's Noodles and Dim Sum restaurant. Yes, Jackie Chan the moviestar has a chain of restaurants and one of them is at COEX Mall. It's right across from the Megabox movie theatre, which as I previously mentioned is showing several movies in English. Maybe I'll take myself out later to dinner and a movie.

But first, a nap . . . jet lag is catching up with me!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Runner wannabe

I'm not a runner, but I love to read Runner's World magazine. Ironically, I started reading it back in the Fall of 2000 while recovering from an injury sustained while trying to . . . run. I became a subscriber not long after that, and have maintained my subscription for eight years. That makes it the magazine that I've subscribed to the longest.

I look forward to getting Runner's World every month. The cover layouts are always appealing, and the articles always seem to be so timely. In the most recent issue (November 2008) to arrive in my mailbox, there is a focus on environmentally-friendly running, with insightful articles on how running shoes are made, the ecological "footprint" of running, a list of the 10 "Greenest" races, "Green" clothing and gear, and tips for being a "Greener" runner.

Every month, there's an inspirational article that makes me want to get out there and start running. For example, earlier this year there was an article about a man who didn't start running until he was in his fifties. Now he's in his nineties and has run over 100 marathons. I've also seen articles about runners with disabilities who run 5Ks, half marathons, marathons, even ultra races of 50 miles or more. 

I read Runner's World from cover to cover. I've used the magazine's tips to start walking programs and to get me through several 5Ks and the Indianapolis 500 half marathon (as a walker) as well as to improve my time. I've followed tips for getting good shoe fits, good sports bras, and other clothing items. I've consulted the race calendar to look for walks/runs in my area (and am very sad that the calendar is now online only). I've entered - and once, won - one of RW's online contests. I've even purchased items advertised in RW - such as the Road ID. But so far, I'm still just a runner wannabe. 

For the past several years, my favorite columns have been the nutrition column by Liz Applegate and the "No Need for Speed" column by John "The Penguin" Bingham. (Bingham also wrote one of my favorite sports-related books, The Courage to Start - a semi-autobiographical piece describing how he went from 43 year-old overweight smoker to marathon runner.) Bingham, a self-described non-athlete, inspires millions of people with his books, articles, and presentations about the joy of participation in running: you don't have to win; it doesn't matter if you're last; what matters is that you're out there doing it.

Oh, I so want to be a runner! I so want to have a long, lean runner body. To be able to burn calories quickly. To be able to exercise practically anywhere. To wear those cute little running clothes. To be able to say things like: "Yeah, I did 18 miles yesterday" or even "I did fartleks today." (Don't know what a fartlek is? Read RW!)

Recently a new column for new runners - The Newbie Chronicles by Marc Parent - has started appearing in RW. I'm all over it like white on rice. Today I read (in the September 2008 issue) his article about his first run, and I'm more motivated than ever. 

Now if I can only just get my running shoes - the ones I purchased from a local running store where the people know how to fit you with the perfect shoe - and get out there and do it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hammocks and fallen leaves

Here is a shot of our backyard that I took on Wednesday. I just like this photo and how the fallen leaves are stuck on the hammock. There's something about this photo that says "home" to me. Maybe it's the hammock, or the birdhouse (made by my cousin Eric), or the trees or the pond. Or the combination.

The hammock is so relaxing - I could fall asleep in it. Sometimes I just lie there looking up at the sky and the tops of the trees. It's an amazing sight and feeling. I highly recommend Hatteras Hammocks - a North Carolina company! They make the best hammocks.

The leaves are getting close to peak color. I'll put some more photos up soon to show what I'm seeing outside. I love, love, love this time of year!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Everyday weirdness

I was driving south on US 31 this evening during rush hour, and noticed a foot hanging out of the trunk of a car ahead of me. This is an example of the everyday weirdness I seem to encounter. Sometimes I think I'm a magnet for weirdness. 

Weird things have happened to me all my life. How many of my faithful readers (both of you) know that I have been struck by lightning? It's true. When I was about 14 years old, I was talking on the phone during a thunderstorm. Back in 1978, the phones were directly wired (no cordless phones). My Mom used to warn me not to talk on the phone during thunderstorms, but like most other fourteen year-olds I had a pretty hard head. Lightning struck, and in a split second I was picked up (135 pounds or so) and thrown across the room. I hit the wall hard. Some people have told me I was really lucky that I didn't die. All I know is, I never talked on a corded phone during a thunderstorm anymore after that. And I started listening to my Mom more. :-)

When I was about sixteen or seventeen, I was mowing the lawn at my parents' house one Saturday, and I had this creepy sensation that someone was watching me. Instinctively, I looked up . . . and the Goodyear blimp was flying right over me!

Also in my late teens, sometime before the Stealth bomber was well-known, I was walking on our farm and had that same type of sensation that something was watching me, and I looked up and saw the strangest airplane. It was shaped like a triangle and flying really, really low and did not have a loud sound. It freaked me out so much that I ran home and never walked in that field alone again.

When I was in my early thirties, I was standing outside in the yard with my Dad, and for some reason we were looking up in the sky. Suddenly, we saw something that we both swear to this day was a UFO. It was very high but we could see its lights. It came from the west, first at a normal airplane speed, but then ZOOMed across the night sky out over the ocean. Now you might think maybe this was just some sort of military plane or satellite or something, but I'm not sure we've achieved that level of physics knowledge. You see, the plane did a fast-as-lightning zig zag right over us, with perfect precision.

So, the car with the foot hanging out may not be as interesting as some of the other weird things I've experienced, but it got me to thinking about all these things. 

Do you have any weird stories? What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

If you're going to San Francisco . . .

Did you miss me? I just returned from vacationing in California. For nearly six days, I was pretty much unplugged. No internet. No Blackberry. And only a little TV, e.g., last Thursday's Vice Presidential debate.

We flew in and out of San Jose, and spent our first two nights in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula just south of San Francisco. We stayed at the Centrella Inn, which we both highly recommend for its private cottages, lovely gardens, friendly staff, and 5:30pm wine and snacks. We found a new wine we like (Salmon Creek chardonnay) which was kind of a big deal because we don't normally like chardonnay. 

Last Thursday morning, we went on a whalewatching cruise, and "S" saw lots of humpback whales - including some up close and personal. As for me, well, let's just say I waited a little too late to take my Dramamine. I have no sea legs, and that was my last ever cruise of any type.

On Friday we drove over to Carmel-by-the-Sea and then took Highway 1 to . . . we thought to Big Sur. But we actually drove all the way down to San Simeon (home of the Hearst Castle) because we totally didn't see the cutover that's supposed to be just south of Big Sur over to the 101. Not that it mattered. Highway 1 is the type of road you could drive down all day and be totally content. An engineering feat, it's a winding rollercoaster of a road nestled snugly between the rocky Pacific coastline and a quite large mountain range. The scenery is simply breathtaking.

We spent Friday and Saturday nights at a friend's house in San Mateo, and made that our base while we ventured on to Marin County, the Napa Valley, Berkeley, and San Francisco. San Mateo is a cute small city, with lots of great shopping within walking distance of our (lucky!) friend's house.  

In Napa, we toured Beringer and did a tasting at Grgich in Rutherford. I want to do a separate entry on wine, though, so I'll save that for another time.

On Sunday, we had quite possibly the most awesome meal ever at The Slanted Door, a very famous Vietnamese restaurant overlooking the San Francisco Bay and Bay Bridge from the Ferry Building. The grapefruit and jicama salad is to die for, as are the imperial rolls and pho. The lemongrass chicken is also exceptional and made from fresh, hormone-free chicken. The Slanted Door changes their menu often, adjusting to the seasonal availability of local organic produce. I really dig that and wonder why more restaurants can't do the same.

We had an early flight to Chicago yesterday, so we opted to spend Sunday night in a motel close to the airport. It turned out to be really close to the airport . . . as in it was hard to sleep for the airplane noises. Oh, well. That was the only part of this vacation I could possibly complain about.

If you haven't been to San Francisco, put it on your list! (Same for the Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur, Napa, etc.) Don't worry about the flowers in the hair. :-)