5 Days in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

IMG_3772
Tulum Beach

So, this Christmas brought a travel first for me.  I went to Mexico!  Yes, it’s almost strange to admit I’ve never been since I was in San Diego for so long but it’s a fact.  Of course, when I went to Otay Mesa during my Kaiser residency days, I was almost in Mexico.  Early in the morning, I would worry about being too tired and missing my exit and ending up in Mexico instead of work.  That would make me late.

IMG_3750
Hotel Room Balcony

We went to Mexico with SMS’s family and had a really great time at an all-inclusive.  We went to Royal Hideaway Playacar, which was really nice.  I did some TripAdvisor reading beforehand and wasn’t too sure about the place but ultimately, it was wonderful.  It is clear that there some people on TripAdvisor who are just never going to be happy.

IMG_3798

On vacation, I read a lot and hung out at the beach.  It was delightful.  Linda and I did water aerobics one day, which featured great music and a slightly less great, but enthusiastic, instructor.  The food was really delicious and the portion sizes were perfect.   I would say most meals came out with a proper serving (aka, enough but not too much food), which was great because wasting food was minimal.  I feel that sometimes, all-inclusives (not that I’ve been to many) can serve large quantities to make people feel that they are getting more when really, it just leads to excess- in the belly and in the trash.

I went for two runs and SMS and I went for a walk on the beach.  It was really beautiful- wide, fine-sand beaches with clear blue water.

One day, the four “kids” went to Tulum, Dos Ojos cenote, and Cosme’s Taqueria for lunch.  Tulum was really beautiful.  The sun-bleached stone ruins were gorgeous and we learned a lot (but not too much:) from our guide.  Hiring a guide was definitely a good idea because the context definitely made the viewing more interesting.  Afterwards, thanks to the magic of our smartphones, we found Cosme’s taqueria which was a small spot that served up delicious tacos.  It was a great find and definitely different than the polished all-inclusive or tourist trap restaurants outside of the Tulum ruins.

IMG_3787

After lunch, we went to the “Dos Ojos” cenote, which was awesome because I had really wanted to go to a cenote after following the hashtag on Instagram for the last several months.  There are some beautiful looking ones closer to Chichen Itza, which we passed on because we didn’t want to drive all day.  But there are some along the coast and Dos Ojos is really pretty.  There are two separate cenotes, a dark and light “eye,” with a connecting tunnel that I think you could get through without SCUBA gear but I wasn’t going to try.

After 5 days, it was time to head back to California.  SMS and I returned our rental car, which was cheaper than a shuttle and gave us flexibility to go to Tulum without booking an overpriced tour.  But it was a little bit of a hassle so there was definitely a trade-off.

Back in California, we moved apartments from Mountain View to Menlo Park.  Goodbye orange tree in the front yard!  Our place in Mountain View was really nice but the commute for Mark’s new job was anything but so…we moved to Menlo Park.  The location of the new apartment is great and it’s fun to be near a new downtown to explore.

We spent New Year’s Eve in downtown San Francisco with friends.  We went to a 1920’s themed party (flappers and Great Gatsby, not suicidal bankers after the crash of 1929).  Our friend had organized a get-together of several people so it was very easy and a lot of fun.

Then it was New Year’s Day!  SMS and I started out the new year with avocado toast and good coffee so that was a delicious start.  We went to a Australian coffee shop, Bluestone Lane, in SF.  I would definitely like to go back and someday, we will get to Australia proper!

Jamestown, with and without an “E”

IMG_3482

SMS and I spent the Thanksgiving weekend in the Tidewater area of Virginia.  Since we were in such a historic part of the country, we decided to check out the former site of Jamestown, the first permenent English colony in the U.S.  SMS had been there when he was in junior high and remembered the glass blowing demonstration.  I had never been and really didn’t know that much about it which led to the following encounter-

Upon following Google Maps to Jamestown, we pulled into a large parking lot for a museum.  We walked inside, used the bathrooms, and then I went up to the ticket counter.  I was pretty sure we weren’t at the Jamestown site but I wanted to know where to go and since it was already 3 p.m, I wanted to make sure we didn’t go to the wrong place.

Me: “Excuse me, but is this where I buy tickets to Jamestown?”

Ticket lady: “[Loud Audible Sigh]  It’s been a long weekend.  Jamestown DOESN’T EXIST!!! IT HASN’T BEEN HERE SINCE 1624!!!!”

Me (slightly taken aback): “Um, I’m sorry.  But I thought there was a historic site to see?”

Ticket lady: “Look, this is Jamestowne with an ‘e.’  We’re a living history museum.  The archeologic site of Jamestown (which doesn’t exist) is down the road.”

Me: “So, do I need to buy a ticket here?”

Ticket Lady: “No.”

IMG_3520
Can’t rain on my ranger parade!

Sheesh.  What a weirdo!  While I was talking to her, she had pulled out a laminated placard showing the difference between Jamestowne with an ‘e’ and Jamestown.  Jamestown is run by the National Park Service, which is great since SMS and I have an annual pass.  That meant we could get in for free, which was perfect since we didn’t have a lot of time.

IMG_3514

First, we went to the glassblowing shop which had on-going demonstrations and was really warm from the incredibly hot oven in the center.  This was delightful since it was so cold!  We drove down to the Jamestown site proper, showed our pass, and walked to the artifact museum.  Then, we walked around the fort which hadn’t even been excavated when SMS last visited.  After looking at the fort that didn’t exist, we walked around the Newtown area, which we slightly regretted since it was so cold.  But, hey, we were there so we had to see the sights!

IMG_3523

We hopped in the car and had dinner at La Tienda, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  It was delicious!  I wished we had bigger appetites and/or a larger group because there were several dishes I wanted to try.  But, while we were there, the berenjenas con miel and judiones fritos were particular highlights!

IMG_3492

Other events from Thanksgiving weekend: I made a delicious but homely looking sweet potato pie.  It suffered in comparison next to my friend’s Cheesecake Factory worthy dessert.  Ah well.

Also, at a local restaurant, SMS had a fruit salad, Southern style: iceberg lettuce, canned fruit in syrup, and shredded cheddar cheese.  We were both slightly confused.  The restaurant is called The Grey Goose.  The doorstop goose out front was missing its head.  Apparently, this has been an ongoing saga where the head keeps getting knocked off despite trying to glue it back on.  The owner has now given up, per a shamelessly eavesdropped conversation on my part.

 

Real Housewife of Silicon Valley

So, after an amazing Napa trip with my professional wine-tasting in-laws, I took the week off and did my best impression of a Real Housewife of Silicon Valley.  Mainly, this meant that I went to expensive boutique exercise classes.  I went to my favorite SPX pilates class and realized that my core has no strength.  I also tried out Soul Cycle for the first time, which was interesting.  It’s basically a very fancy spin class that charges a LOT of money to pedal furiously in the dark led by enthusiastic instructors with excellent playlists.  I enjoyed it but was worried that I would fall off my bike during the arms section where a rider bounces up and down the handlebars in a sort-of pushup motion while standing up and pedaling very fast.  I felt that this was either going to lead to my face being bashed in or falling over.  Falling over would be bad because the bikes are very close together and I would have fallen on someone.  Fortunately, neither happened. Hooray!

Soul Cycle has a lot of aficionados who like both the workout and the positive vibes that are preached along the way.  I enjoyed myself and would definitely go if it was less expensive but since it’s not, trial membership only for me!

I also ate delicious food!  I’d grab an Americano at Alexander’s and one day, I treated myself to a shave ice at Teaspoon on Castro St.  It was delicious!

SMS and I also went to an Indian restaurant for dinner that featured seating inside of rickshaws and buses.  It was so cool!  We went after climbing at Planet Granite one night and I couldn’t believe we had never gone together before.  I loved it!

After a week of leisure, we flew down to San Diego for my cousin Jim’s wedding.  I had an awesome time hanging out with SMS, my brothers, my cousins, and my aunts & uncles.  SMS and I also tried scooters for the first time, which were a lot of fun.  I had seen my cousin on InstaStory and I knew I wanted to try.  I was definitely the slowest in the group but it was a great way to get to brunch.  My brothers, SMS and I went to brunch the Sunday after the wedding, which was a lot of fun.  One of my brothers barely had any time between brunch and his flight but he made it.  Hooray!

CA Weekend: Wooden Spoon, Windy Hill, Rose Garden

IMG_3189

SMS and I had another amazing California weekend!  The weather was gorgeous and we spent a lot of time outside.  On Saturday, we started off in San Francisco at the Wooden Spoon.  It’s located next to the Swedish-American Hall and has some Swedish-inspired dishes for breakfast/lunch/brunch.  I got the most Swedish dish of Swedish pancakes with lemon curd and lingonberry preserves.  It was delicious!  After breakfast, SMS and I took a walk to nearby Corona Heights Park and took in some pretty spectacular city views.  I went without my phone so no pictures for the blog but if you’re looking for a short urban  hike, this place fits the bill.

IMG_3155

After brunch, we headed back down the Peninsula.  We went to Thomas Fogarty Winery, where we sat outside with a glass of wine.  The wines were good and the patio was nice, but that was the only place that drinking outside was allowed for tasting room visitors.  The patio doesn’t overlook the Valley so SMS thought that it wasn’t well planned, which I agree.  We walked around the grounds and it does have a spectacular view.  A wedding was about to start and the private event spaces were gorgeous with a covered eating area that did have a view and was beautifully decorated.

The next morning, SMS made me breakfast.  We had bacon and eggs with two 2-yolk eggs- so much luck in that meal!  We had climbing plans for later that afternoon so we decided to go on a hike to Windy Hill.  We’ve been meaning to do it for awhile but other plans kept getting in the way.

IMG_3166

Windy Hill was beautiful!  We parked on a nearby street and started our hike by following the signs to Spring Meadow trail to Spring Ridge Trail.  The trail was mostly a packed road up the golden grassed hill.  There was no shade along this portion.  Then we walked along the top of the hill, following Anniversary Trail to Lost Trail.  Then, we descended down Hamms Gulch trail, which was beautiful and shaded. If (when!) we go again, SMS and I agreed that reversing the loop would be better since there would be shade during the strenuous uphill climb.  Downhill would be in the Sun and walking towards the Valley view, which is quite spectacular.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 11.33.03 AM
Unmarked copy available here.

After our hike, which was seven miles instead of my predicted five, we grabbed a quick lunch at Annachikadai where I ordered delicious pakora bread with mutton curry.  Then we went to Planet Granite and had an awesome climbing session.  I felt very strong for not having climbed recently so it gives me hope that I can get better once I’m able to train consistently.

Then we went to The Halford, a gastropub with lots of beer options.  SMS’ climbing friends are really nice and it was a great dinner.  Afterwards, we went into the Baker’s Village bakery that had a lot of Japanese-style sweets.  I was in heaven!  Looking the place up, it actually is a Korean bakery but reminds me of the not-too-sweet treats in Japan that also featured toasted sesame seeds.

IMG_3174.jpg

The next day, we took the morning off from work and grabbed breakfast followed by a walk through San Jose’s Rose Garden.  There was a sign saying that it was voted the best rose garden in the US.  It surprises me that Portland’s rose garden was beat but regardless, this is a very pretty place.  I don’t think we were there during peak rose season but it really is amazing how many there are.

Day trip to Outer Banks, NC

SMS and I decided to take a day trip to the Outer Banks earlier this month.  It was the Saturday after Labor Day so even though we were charged peak tolls, it seemed that we were into the “shoulder season” with far fewer tourists.  We had an amazing time!

We drove along the 158E and once we crossed the bridge to the Outer Banks, we took a right to head down towards Kill Devil Hill and Kitty Hawk.  Our first stop was for lunch at Pigman’s BBQ for some East Carolina-style pulled pork and ribs.  I really like the tangy, vinegar-based sauce.  We were pretty hungry and the food hit the spot!  We ate outside in the shade.  The restaurant also does picnics-to-go, which would be a nice way to have a gourmet beach feast.

IMG_2799
SMS as a plane. Next to him is the launch rail. In the background are the flight distance markers.

After Pigman, we headed to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hill.  Kill Devil Hill was the dune (now grass-covered hill) that they used to launch their gliders.  Slightly north of the hill is the site of the first four flights.  There is a launch rail that was used to help guide the plane to take-off that is still present.  Four boulders are placed marking the landing site of each of the first flights, which got progressively longer.  I didn’t realize how short the first flight was!  We walked along the path to the 4th flight boulder, which was the longest distance by far.  It was really neat.  In addition, there’s a cool juxtaposition of a modern airstrip right next to the monument so right next to the historic field is a modern airport with Cesnas flying in.

IMG_2796

We decided to head South and try to find a beach.  I saw a marker for Coquina Beach at the Wright Memorial so we headed there.  What a find!  It’s down Highway 12 about 20 minutes from Kitty Hawk.  It’s part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore so it’s completely undeveloped.  But at Coquina Beach, there is a large parking lot with plenty of spots when we were there.  Best of all, there’s a spotlessly clean bathroom, changing room and outdoor shower area which makes it SO much nicer when it comes time to leave.  Rather than sitting in damp suits with sticky sand, we were able to wash off and change.  I really liked it and can definitely see myself going back.

IMG_2804

After a few hours at the beach, we got back in the car and headed home.  We stopped at the Weeping Radish, a microbrewery in Grandy opened by an immigrant from Bavaria in the 1980s.  They follow the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot Purity Law of 1516 and both the beer and food are German-inspired.  The beer, all from the microbrewery, was really good.  I was surprised because sometimes super-small places can be uneven in quality but every beer was pretty great, although there were some I favored over others just based on personal taste.   Unfortunately, we weren’t hungry due to the size of our lunch but I bet the food there is pretty awesome. We watch the last set of the Serena-Naomi US Open, which was pretty intense.

IMG_2806
Feeding a goat!

Also, I got to feed a goat!  There were two goats outside and I went over to admire their cuteness.  A woman leaving the brewery told us that they liked branches from the tree and that I should feed them one.  So, I took a little twig and fed one of the goats.  Super cute!

Then it was time to head back.  It was a great day with lots of cool stops- a perfect day trip!  For future Outer Banks trips, I would like to go back to Coquina Beach, check out Duck, and travel to Ocracoke for an overnight (or several) based on my cousins’ recommendations.