Northern Europe Trip Report: St. Petersburg

Our second port day was in St. Petersburg, Russia! I never thought I’d make it to Russia in my lifetime. Bucket list item for sure.

Tue, June 2
We were in port for about 15 hours and I wanted to make the most of our time so we booked a private guide & driver with SPB Tours. It was definitely a splurge but it was well worth it to do everything on our own time.

Upon arrival in port, we quickly inhaled our breakfast (room service bagels & coffee) and headed over to immigration. We went through relatively quickly and got new stamps in our passports. Woot!

Once outside, we easily found our tour guide V (short for a name I unfortunately can’t remember) and driver Anton. They treated us to a fantastic – but fast-paced – day! Right away they whisked us away for an approximately 45 minute drive to the Peterhof Palace. We got to see some of the residential areas on the way and my first impression was that St. Petersburg is much more European than I imagined. That was quite unexpected.



Here’s Rob at the entrance gates to the Grand Palace and the Upper Gardens. Immediately we saw the grandeur and opulence with all the gold on the exteriors.



The gorgeous exterior of the Grand Palace! Getting through that crowd of people at the entrance doors was insane. We had early entry before general admission and we had to push our way inside because no one wanted to move aside to let us in. UGH. Not to mention that we also had to go through coat check and put on shoe covers to protect the parquet floors.

Sadly, no photos are allowed inside. :(

V lead us through the palace and we got to see a variety of rooms (throne room, dining room, sitting room, study, etc) — all of which are incredibly lavish. We spent about an hour admiring the interiors.



Upon exiting the palace, this is the view of the Lower Gardens and the Grand Cascade, which is the iconic ensemble of fountains that runs from the northern facade of the Grand Palace all the way to the canal. It’s spectacular!



That’s us with the Grand Cascade!



The fountains are just gorgeous.
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Northern Europe Trip Report: Tallinn

From Copenhagen, we set sail on the Disney Magic for two weeks. The first week took us to the Baltics where our first port of call was…



Tallinn, Estonia!

Mon, June 1



Our view of the town while eating breakfast on deck 10. So lovely! It was super windy as we sat outside so I figured I should go back to our stateroom and get a jacket and an umbrella just in case. So of course, as soon as we went outside, the sun started to come out and it progressively got warmer as we walked. Grrr. Oh well.

Heading into the cruise, I had limited knowledge of Tallinn outside of what I read in guide books and travel blogs so to make the most of our short time in port, we scheduled a private walking tour scheduled with Andrew of Est Adventures. I love having the freedom to customize our tours and go at our own pace (as long as the price is right, ha). We did the Essential Tallinn tour, which is 3 hours and is spent walking all around the old town — both the upper and lower portions.



Andrew picked us up right at the port and we enjoyed a leisurely walk over to the town. We passed the Linnahall, which is currently a concert & sports venue and formerly hosted Olympics events when Moscow held the 1980 Summer games as Tallinn was the capital of the Estonian SSR at the time.



The edge of Old Town starts at the Fat Margaret Tower, about a ten minute walk from the port. It’s located on Pikk, which is a main arterial through the town.



Along our walk, we saw St. Olaf’s Church



The former KGB headquarters where supposedly they found a mincing machine (!!!) when it was evacuated. The building is being turned into luxury apartments now.

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Northern Europe Trip Report: Copenhagen

It’s been awhile! Life has been a whirlwind lately… Rob started a new job, we “ran” (ok, walked) our first 5k, went on an amazing Northern Europe vacation, headed down to San Diego Comic-Con, among other events.

I always love to re-live our travel so here’s the start to what will likely be a very long and drawn out Northern Europe trip report. We took two back-to-back 7-day cruises on the Disney Magic — the first week took us to the Baltics and the second week to the Norwegian fjords. I’ll start with our day in Copenhagen, which was the starting point for our adventure!

Fri, 5/29
We booked a food tour with Copenhagen Food Tours on our first morning. We did the 4-hour Culinary Experience walking tour and oh man, we ate so much!



We met our guide and the rest of our group at the Torvehallerne Market. We discovered we were the youngest ones on the tour, which pretty much became a pattern throughout our vacation. I guess we have older sensibilities. HA. (As an aside, when we were back in Copenhagen two weeks later after our cruise, we went back to Torvehallerne Market to try the fish & ships at Fiskerikajen on the recommendation of a friend — it’s THE BEST. So so good and compared to everything else in this city, it was a bargain).



We started out at the market with samples of artisan cheese to see if we could taste the difference between the same types of cheese that used ingredients from different areas of Denmark. One was more crumbly and the other was more creamy, which I preferred. I wish I could remember the name of the cheese! It also came with a blue cheese that was way too strong for me and some gooseberry jam to complement. YUM! This was paired with an amazing apple wine that I really liked. I wish we had gone back to get a bottle!



The next tasting was of Danish snack foods. We had crackers (one with preserves, the other with mustard), a piece of licorice (icky – not a licorice fan at all), white chocolate covered licorice (better because the chocolate overpowered the licorice flavor) and a super yummy and not sticky caramel. We washed all of that down with rhubarb juice and a strong shot of schnapps. WOWZERS.



From the market, we walked over to the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens where we took a quick break to relax and enjoy the beautiful (and unusually warm) weather. Here we enjoyed a couple samplings of honey — one grainy and the other more traditional and smooth. Hard to pick a favorite!



Lunch was a sampling of four open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød, a Danish specialty. They came on rye bread with a variety of toppings — halibut, chicken salad, beef sirloin and cheese. They were AH-MAY-ZING! I loved all of them though my favorites were the halibut and chicken salad for sure.

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Tokyo Trip Report: Part 3

Rob & I are headed on vacation again this week (squeeeee!!!) so I should probably finish up this Tokyo trip report. Here’s the scoop on our last day!

Friday, 2/20

On our last day in Tokyo, we headed to Kawazu, which is about 2.5 hours from Tokyo by train. Kawazu is known for their early blossoming sakura (cherry blossoms). Their flowering period is late February & March compared to late March & April in the rest of the country. Someday we’ll make it back to Japan for more cherry blossom viewing!



Even the train was decorated in honor of the sakura. Love it.



Rob is ready to go!



I picked out this Sakura latte at the convenience store to go with the theme of the day.

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Tokyo Trip Report: Part 2

Back to Tokyo!

Thursday, 2/19

Sebastian’s birthday! :)



We all did our own thing in the morning (I went shopping at Tokyu Hands – very important!) but we met up for lunch at… SIZZLER! LOL. It was across the street from our hotel so we’d been joking about going at some point during our trip. Sebastian’s birthday lunch was the perfect opportunity! It was better than I remember. Plus, the cheese toast was so NOMMY!

During the planning for our trip, we would randomly get together to discuss things to do. We happened to watch this video where the hosts visit Ishikawa Brewery while sake tasting in Tokyo. Since sake tasting was also on our wishlist, I got in touch with the brewery to set up our own tour of the grounds.

Our tour was at 3pm and since the brewery is about 45 minutes away from Shinjuku, we headed over there right after lunch.



The grounds of the brewery.



Our complimentary tour started in the storehouse. Oh man, when we walked in, the smell of alcohol was so strong. I don’t even like alcohol but it smelled so good!



Our guide walked us through the facilities while telling us about the history of the brewery. Above is a cauldron that was used to make beer during the Meiji period.



This is the spring water well that runs under the brewery’s sacred tree. Up until 50 years ago, this water was the main source for sake brewing.

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Tokyo Trip Report: Part 1

From Hong Kong, Rob, Rob & I flew over to Tokyo to meet up with our friend Sebastian for five days in this awesome city.

WE HAD SUCH A GREAT TIME. I want to go BACK! I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Japan.

Some highlights…

Monday, 2/16

Woke up early to head to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market for sushi breakfast. OH YES.



Instead of lining up at one of the more popular restaurants, we just randomly chose one that looked good.



AND OMG, IT WAS. The fish was incredibly fresh and oh so tasty. I think this meal ruined all sushi for me back at home.



Spent the rest of the day toy shopping. :) We started on Character Street at the Tokyo Station, then headed to Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Ginza and ended in the Akihabara neighborhood.

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Macau (+Hong Kong) Trip Report

Laziness strikes again!

So last month we traveled to Asia with friends — first stop was Hong Kong where we took a day trip to Macau.

I should back up and say that I enjoyed my last couple of visits to Hong Kong but it was a challenging experience this time. Not only was it incredibly crowded (expected due to Chinese New Year), we also encountered quite a bit of rudeness — from pushing and cutting in lines to terrible customer service. I’m usually a pushover so my personal tendency is to ignore things like this but it’s harder to brush off when you’re in a group and want to make sure everyone is happy. It wasn’t so bad that I’d never go back… ask me again in a year. :)

On our first day together we decided to take a day trip to Macau. None of us had ever been — yay for new travel destinations! we took the Turbojet ferry to get there from the Kowloon side of Hong Kong.



The group! Bright-eyed and bushy tailed! Hehe.

The trip over to Macau was only an hour long. Upon arrival, we were immediately targeted by crazy aggressive people trying to convince us to book tours. One lady kept following my friend Rob even though he kept saying we had plans. YIKES! We also had the worst customer service at the information desk when we asked for directions to the hotel shuttles. The day wasn’t exactly getting off to a good start.



We took one of the hotel shuttles to the central area of the Macau peninsula. From there, we walked down the main drag to Senado Square, which is basically a town square/meeting place. Above is the City Hall. I loved the blend of Portuguese and Chinese architecture found in all the buildings in the square.



That’s us in front of a Lunar New Year display! I got stuck holding the selfie stick.



I’m sure Senado Square would be so beautiful at night when all the lanterns are lit up.



I wanted to see the ruins so we continued along the pathway (and made a pit stop at McDonald’s so we could all share the Prosperity Sharing box of chicken nuggets & wings – so good!). It’s lined with bakeries and souvenir shops and is absolutely crowded with people.

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Canada Trip Report: Vancouver

A few weeks ago, my blog celebrated its 13th birthday on January 17th! Happy Birthday Blog!

So I’m finally getting around to finishing up this trip report from our time in Canada last year. Our final stop was Vancouver, which is my favorite travel destination. I just love this city!



We only had a couple of days in the city and luckily the weather was fantastic. I absolutely love this view of the harbour looking towards North Van.



It was a lovely morning to walk along the Coal Harbour Seawall.





We always enjoy watching the seaplanes land and take off in the harbour.

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Canada Trip Report: Niagara Falls

Happy New Year everyone!

The holidays have gone by in an absolute blur, as per usual. I’m in the process of taking down the Christmas tree (yes, still) and all our holiday decorations and I’m sad to put everything away. They represent my favorite time of year! But it’s a new year and I’m looking forward to new adventures and everything else 2015 has to bring.

So I want to pick up my Canada trip report again. I’ve covered Montreal & Toronto so now here is the Niagara Falls installment.

Wed, 9/3
Niagara Falls day!

I had originally considered a bus tour from Toronto but none of them offered all of the options I wanted (most of them skipped a few of the sights since the drive to/from takes 3+ hours alone). So I figured we’d drive there on our own, do a tour then stay overnight. We picked up our rental car from Avis and then we were on our way! Except not really. The GPS that came with our car wasn’t working properly – it wasn’t tracking our location accurately. Luckily I had a general sense of where we were or we probably would have started following the directions. After about 10-15 mins of driving around in circles, it finally found our location and we hopped on the freeway. There was no traffic so we arrived at Niagara on the Lake in about 90 mins.



Niagara on the Lake is a small, quiet town located just before the main tourist area.



The main drag is just one long street lined with souvenir shops and boutiques. Rob noticed right away that we were the youngest people there – lots of seniors in big tour groups. Just a random observation. We spent a little while browsing in the various stores then headed over to our next destination – Inniskillin winery.



We discovered Inniskillin a few years ago during our first meal at the chef’s counter at Napa Rose. Rob had ordered the wine flight and received an Inniskillin icewine during dessert. It was so good! Even I can drink it! Because it’s basically like juice. :) The winery is located in Niagara on the Lake so we decided to stop by. We didn’t have too much time so we couldn’t go on the winery tour which was an hour long (and only $5) so instead we opted to do an icewine tasting.



We tried the two sparkling icewine varieties since we’re already familiar with their classic options. Oh man, the sparkling icewines are incredible. The one in the red bottle in particular, especially with dark chocolate.



Next we drove to our hotel Sheraton on the Falls, which is right in the middle of all the action.

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fall tv 14

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you celebrate)!

Oh man. I haven’t blogged about TV in 2 years. TWO years! That’s insane.

I’m still watching A LOT of TV but not participating in online discussions or general fandom anymore. That’s what happens when you get older — no more time! But I still like sharing my random thoughts so thought I’d list my TV schedule here… :)

SUNDAYS:
Brooklyn 99
– LOLARIOUS. I never used to be a sitcom person but I’ve come around lately. The characters make this show for me. They get into some of the most ridiculous situations but somehow it all works because they’re all so well drawn. My absolute favorite is Captain Holt. His deadpan delivery is AWESOME.

The Good Wife – Still one of my favorite shows on the air right now. But I’m bummed that they’re finally giving Cary a real storyline and it’s kind of killing his character.

I gave up on Once Upon a Time last season when they introduced Peter Pan. Didn’t work for me at all. I wonder if the new Frozen arc is worth trying to catch up.

MONDAYS:
Gotham
– I want to like this show much more than I do. The idea of exploring Gotham before Batman is intriguing. Plus I have a soft spot for Ben McKenzie. Unfortunately this has not become appointment viewing. I can’t pinpoint exactly why that is — I guess a combination of the formulaic weekly procedural storylines and the show taking itself too seriously. Also not a fan of Barbara.

Stopped watching The Originals. I got all the way through the first season but it just wasn’t grabbing me (not even with the promise of seeing Elijah every week :P). Also gave up on The Blacklist. The characters drove me crazy.

TUESDAYS:
One of my favorite nights of television!
The Mindy Project – THE BEST! I adore this show. And absolutely love the theme song. I do wish they could find more for Jeremy to do, though. I’m still not sure why they had to introduce Peter — they just sidelined Jeremy even more! Sigh.

New Girl – Still watching but it’s not my favorite. Mostly because they’ve gone SUPER over the top with the characterizations. Like, Schmidt is just straight up crazy now. He used to be my favorite!

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – Ahhh, this show. Last season was rough. It was promising in the beginning, then it hit a creative rut, and finally it reached its potential once it had the chance to capitalize on Captain America’s storyline over in the cinematic universe. That momentum has definitely carried over to this season — I just wish the creative resurgence would equal a rise in ratings too!

The Flash – My favorite new show of the season. This show spun out of my other favorite show Arrow. It’s considerably lighter and funnier and that’s a good thing. They need to loop in poor Iris, though — her pretty much being the only main character who doesn’t know about Barry’s alter ego makes her look really clueless.

I also watched the first episode of Selfie and didn’t love it (I guess lots of people felt the same way since it’s been cancelled). I love John Cho, though — why can’t he get cast on a good show?!

WEDNESDAYS:
Arrow
– Love this show. It’s probably my favorite right now. The storylines are entertaining and I really truly like the cast and characters. They make me root for the show so hard. I even like Laurel. I just wish they knew what to do with her.

ABC Comedy Block – Modern Family, Black-ish, The Goldbergs – Lately I’ve been enjoying sitcoms more and more — mostly because there’s less of a time commitment and almost no emotional investment, lol. I was a little worried Black-ish would be cringe-worthy but I think it balances thoughtful commentary with comedy really well. And The Goldbergs is just a gem.

THURSDAYS:
Big Bang Theory – I do think they could do better by the female characters but I find the show entertaining so I guess I’m not that easily offended.

How To Get Away With Murder – UGH. This show is not good. AND YET I KEEP WATCHING. The mystery and terrible characters keep me coming back. I can’t help it. It’s a short season, 15 episodes, so I’m going to stick it out.

Scandal – I’m not sure why I watch this show either. I enjoyed the fast pace and shock value of the first two seasons but now I’m having a hard time rooting for anyone. I’m a sucker, though, so I’m sure I’ll finish off the season to satisfy my curiosity.

I’ve also been recording The Vampire Diaries but haven’t felt compelled to watch. I guess I have vampire fatigue.

FRIDAYS:
Hawaii 5-0
– Yes, I still watch this show. The cases of the week are pretty weak but I’m here for the characters and their relationships anyway.

I’ll watch Glee, Hart of Dixie and Downton Abbey when they’re back on the air. I also want to check out Jane the Virgin.

Rob watches The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy so I know enough to have opinions (ie. Gemma suuuuucks and I can’t wait for Jax to confront her).

I also tried watching Breaking Bad but it was so depressing and intense I couldn’t make it past the first half of season one. Homeland seemed promising but I finished the first season and just never felt the urge to keep going.

So what are all of you watching? Anything I’m missing?