San Francisco Trip Days 6 and 7: The Wedding (actually in Livermore) and Aftermath

Scarlett On Dad's Shoulders

The wedding day went the way these things always go. If you’re not involved you’re spending most of the day waiting around until it’s time to get your nice clothes on and go to enjoy the wedding. I went to get In-N-Out Burger for lunch and learned that Scarlett really, really likes french fries.

Scarlett enjoys some In-N-Out Burger Fries

There were various shenanigans going on like Dan, the groom, getting his hair touched up with clippers on the balcony. As I was getting ready to go, Danielle said she wanted to get a photo of Scarlett with the groomsmen. So I went to their room and, within a minute of entering, the father of the bride enters. Apparently, something has gone slightly wrong with the planning and the bride has no way to get to the wedding venue. Well, I had my rental car so I offered to drive her to Casa Real. I got to do something important during the wedding and feel like a hero!

On the way out we saw the groomsmen on the balcony. They teased that Dan had run off.

And we were off:

Dina in the car to the Wedding

The Bride Arrives at the Wedding Location 2

I got back, finished getting dressed, and headed back to Casa Real with Danielle and Scarlett in tow.

My Family at the Wedding

Wedding Sign

The bride and groom took photos before the wedding so I just hung out, took photos of them, and took turns with Danielle watching Scarlett.

Fixing Marlene's Dress

Scarlett and Grandparents at Wedding 3

Bride and Groom's Mothers

Scarlett and Danielle at the Chapel

Ready for their second kid to get married

Eventually it’s finally time for the wedding. There was a trio of strings playing the music.

Playing for the Wedding

I wasn’t really able to pay too much attention to the wedding itself since I spent all my time keeping Scarlett entertained so she would behave. That basically involved feeding her yogurt melts until the wedding was just about done – when she ran out of melts. Then she sat on my lap and played peek-a-boo with Lan.

Ready for the wedding

In fact, Lan and Nam were my entertainment during the wedding. Lan was a flower girl. She’s not quite 2.5 years old so they wisely had her join her parents rather than stay up in front of the church. But that didn’t keep her from wandering around in her row, in front of me, and even walking up to the wedding party.


My favorite part was when I told her to shush (putting my finger up to my lips). Then she went to one of the groomsmen and, when he looked at her, she told him to shush. And Nam, when he was walking up the aisle, ran the last few feet to headbutt one of the groomsmen. Because of his height it happened to be in the groin. Luckily they saw it coming and no injuries were sustained.

Anh Dat's Family at the Wedding


Then it was cocktail hour time.

Marlene's Mermaid-cut Dress


Groomsmen Lifting Marlene

They had us enter and what came next was one of the funniest, well choreographed entrances I’ve seen at a wedding:

Followed by Dan’s first dance with Marlene:

Bride and Groom's First Dance 3

And you know how these things go. When I wasn’t snapping photos I was walking around holding Scarlett’s hand as she walked through the dance floor following the other kids.

Wedding Cake

Brian gave a great best man speech. What Danielle and I didn’t know when we picked him up from the airport the day before was that he was workshopping some of his best man speech with us. He just couched it as normal conversation, but I’d say that we ended up hearing about 75% of the speech from him without knowing it. I’m sure our laughter and other responses in the car gave him confidence that he had a winner on his hands.

I also saw this kid with this crazy, crazy bib.

Crazy Bib

There was cake, of course.

Wedding Cake

and a dollar dance. The money was to help pay for the honeymoon.

Dollar Dance with his Sisters 3

Covered in Money

There was crazy little kid dancing:

Nam Dancing

And I don’t have the video, but around 2100 PST Scarlett seemed like she was ready to sleep. So I put her in her stroller and started rolling her around. A conga line formed behind me (which was awesome). When we finished she was dead asleep and remained so until the next morning.

Dance Floor

The next day we waited for everyone to wake up.

Walking through the hallway

And we all had breakfast together.

The Day After

Parents the Day After

Then everyone from New York headed out to fly back. We’d given ourselves an extra day since we had Scarlett (which made packing take a bit longer) so we just hung out in Livermore.

Out for a Walk

California Cherry Blossoms

For dinner we met up with Dave and Kendra at Casa Orozco. It wasn’t the worst food, but I wish we’d had just gone back to Dimitri’s Taverna. The following day we drove back to SFO and flew home. Once again, Scarlett was perfect on the plane. She got a little pissy around naptime, but never cried or yelled.

San Francisco Trip Day 5: Off to Livermore

Morning Snack

Today’s post makes the series name somewhat inaccurate, hence the subtitle.  We awoke and, having spent the week debating the best course of action, decided it made the most sense for us to all go to the airport to pick up the rental car since it cost the same to get out there whether it was just me or all of us. Additionally, we’d spend less gas than having me circle back around to pick up the girls.


We grabbed the car within 5 minutes (we’d been expecting it to take an hour) so we went to the cell phone parking lot to wait for Brain to arrive. After grabbing him we drove the 45 minutes out to Livermore to attend the rehearsal luncheon at Uncle Yu’s. Uncle Yu’s menu and food selection is the same as Pacificana’s – the Brooklyn restaurant where Duc holds every event that a European American might use a party hall. That is to say, it’s authentic Chinese cuisine presented in the family style. (You’ll be used to that if you’ve ever eaten at a PF Chang – although their food is considerably less authentic) There’s an emphasis on seafood, but that’s probably as much of a personal preference as it is anything else. There are three key differences between Uncle Yu’s and Pacificana. 1) Uncle Yu’s food comes out at a more American pace. You don’t feel like you have to hurry to finish your dish so they can make room for the next one 2) Since Uncle Yu’s is in Livermore, CA and Pacificana is on 8th Ave Brooklyn (Brooklyn’s Chinatown), they cater to slightly different demographics. 3) Most importantly for me, I didn’t get sick at Uncle Yu’s. I don’t know what it is about Pacificana because I can eat their Dim Sum without any issues. But every time I eat dinner there I get the worst stomach ache in the world. I’m talking – I feel so bad I want someone to kill me to put my out of my misery. I’d rather not exist than feel that pain. I’m not sure what causes it because I assume they use all the same kitchen pots/pans/etc to make the Dim Sum as they do the dinner. So if it’s a contamination or allergy issue I figured I’d get it all the time. Anyway, the food was fine.

Scarlett and Grandparents at Uncle Yu's

The real beauty was the downtown area where Uncle Yu’s is located. It looks like all the cute downtowns that aren’t real downtowns. In other words, suburban downtowns. It has a nice area for walking, not quite enough parking, and is great when the weather is nice on a lazy day. I took Scarlett to play with the fountain and watch the kids from the bride’s side play with the fountain.

Don't you want to play with the fountain?

Lincoln High Grads and Scarlett

Scarlett and Grandma and a Fountain

I also had to grab some new shoelaces for my Rockports. The laces on the right shoe had given out that morning and they were my primary walking shoe in California. Thankfully, the was a shoe store right across the street from Uncle Yu’s and the guy there was very helpful in getting me the right size shoelaces.

That night we ate at Dimitri’s Taverna. The hotel (Courtyard Marriott Livermore) had given us a list of local restaurants and the person checking us in had circled the best in each category. Dimitri’s Taverna was the circled entry for Mediterranean, which was the cuisine Duc was in the mood for. So I gathered everyone up and they agreed to go there. It’s more or less diagonally across the street from Uncle Yu’s. Great decision – turned out to be the second best food I ate on the trip. I ordered a lamb gyro and it was the best-tasting one I’d ever eaten. One of the key things they did right was the distribution of food within the pita. They made the best effort I’ve ever seen to have the tomatoes, lettuce, etc all over the pita. Too often I eat gyros where I’m only eating meat for a while and then mostly only eating the tomatoes, etc. I also really liked the tziki sauce they made. There was also a guy working there who, if he wasn’t the owner, he is the best employee they’ve got there. He made great conversation with us, made sure everything was fine, and generally seemed to know all the regulars. When he found out we were in town for a wedding he gave us free shots of some Greek alcohol. I usually abstain from alcohol (other than homemade mojitos), but decided to have a shot in celebration of the wedding and in solidarity with the group. Man, it tasted just like Robitussin! ugh!

Tomorrow’s the big wedding post! Stay “tuned”!

San Francisco Trip Day 4

Mustachioed Car

After confirming with Danielle that her family didn’t want breakfast, I went out for breakfast and saw the above mustachioed car. They’re for a service called Lyft that uses regular people as cab drivers. More about that here. The first time I learned about the way taxis are regulated was when I was at Cornell. In my experience, the taxis there were horrible. They were often late when they came at all and they charged per person rather than distance like most cabs. I wondered why someone didn’t come along and compete against them with better service. Well, because in most (if not all) jurisdictions Taxis are a regulated monopoly. The thing about monopolies is that not only do they not have an incentive to provide good customer service, they also don’t have an incentive to innovate. That’s part of why Lyft and Uber are so awesome – they have features like being able to track where your ride is – via your cell phone. You know how far they are and when to actually go outside. (Not like the many times I was freezing outside at Cornell waiting for the cabs, since they refused to call when they arrived) Then again, you’re putting your life into the hands of a random Joe. I know Taxis aren’t perfect and the ones in big cities sometimes drive like maniacs, but this nascent movement will probably die on the vine the first time someone gets kidnapped or murdered or something.

Anyway, breakfast. Diners three days in a row – not good. I ate someone that wasn’t Lori’s and it sucked – the pancakes were rubbery, the eggs didn’t taste good. But I was also sick and tired of this kind of food. After I was done eating, I found out that minds had been changed and we’d be going out for breakfast after all. So we were off to Pho 2000.

Pho Breakfast at Pho 2000

I wasn’t all that hungry – having just eaten pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage, but after all that grease I needed something to settle my stomach. So I ordered Gỏi Cuốn (Vietnamese Summer rolls). Most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to try to go cheap when you order spring or summer rolls. That was not the case with Pho 2000. They gave me plump rolls with nice fresh ingredients. It was exactly what my stomach needed!

Pho Breakfast at Pho 2000 2

Interestingly enough, the night before Danielle had remarked that it was strange there weren’t more Vietnamese restaurants in San Francisco. I told her we probably just hadn’t found the Vietnamese section, but she thought it’d probably be near Chinatown if it existed. Turned out that I was right as Pho 2000 is in San Francisco’s Little Saigon neighborhood. (More on that a little later in this post)

Little Saigon

After that we were finally able to meet up with Dave and Kendra at the Golden Gate Bridge. Danielle and I had made the decision to take advantage of Duc having a car in the city to get out to the bridge. Since we didn’t have enough room in the van to also take Dave and Kendra, they went via public transportation and had ended up there before us. Since they were done with the bridge we made plans to meet up in The Mission for lunch afterwards. They were using public transportation so they headed out right away.

Golden Gate Bridge and Purple Plants

To my non-architecture eye it appears that the Golden Gate Bridge is the same type of bridge as the The Brooklyn Bridge. While walking over the bridge I came to the conclusion that the Brooklyn Bridge is the prettier bridge. It’s stone work just looks amazing. See:

The Brooklyn Bridge


3 Generations at the Golden Gate Bridge

Also the Brooklyn Bridge lets you walk through the middle:

Brooklyn Side Brooklyn Bridge Tower

while the Golden Gate Bridge has you walk on the side:

Duc and Mai at the Golden Gate Bridge

However, the Golden Gate Bridge has the prettier scenery:

Boats at the Golden Gate Bridge

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something pretty amazing about the scale of human endeavors to create the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

New NYC Skyline

(and Brooklyn side)

All Roads Lead to Manhattan

But it’s not as nice-looking as the Golden Gate scenery. Because Scarlett was napping we didn’t explore much of the surrounding area or parks. We took off towards The Mission. I had two culinary goals while San Francisco. I wanted authentic Asian food and authentic Mexican food. I was particularly excited about the latter because I can easily get authentic Asian food in NYC. But The Mission is legendary. But how do I find the right place to eat? I tried asked a few people who lived in SF, but got no replies in time. So I turned to Yelp. The highest rated place on there was Taqueria El Farolito.

Taqueria El Farolito in The Mission

We met up with Dave and Kendra there. When Danielle walked in, we had to do an about face to discuss the food outside. The place looked like a (pardon my language) shithole. Were we sure we wanted to eat here, I was asked. All I could do was point to Yelp and hope the ratings hadn’t been artificially inflated. Anyway, the general rule with authentic food is that the more of a dump the place looks like – the more authentic it probably is. So we ordered. Danielle and her parents got steaks. The rest of us got tacos and super burritos.

Food at Taqueria El Farolito 2

Food at Taqueria El Farolito 3

Luckily for me, I was vindicated. Everyone loved it. The portions were huge and filling and very, very tasty. The place definitely deserved its ratings on Yelp. After that we went for a stroll through the mission to digest our food.

Scarlett at The Mission

We didn’t pass by too many of the famous murals, but the ones we did see were pretty amazing-looking.

Eating Chips at the Mural

After that we had to go back to our hotel because Duc and family had to head to Livermore for Mai’s hair appointment. It was time for Scarlett to take a nap, but we didn’t have her swing (that’s how she naps at home). So I took Scarlett out to Union Square in her stroller and strolled around until she fell asleep. Then I took her back to the hotel so I could have a nap. When we all awoke I told Danielle about the art show they were having on Union Square so we decided to go hang out there until it was time for dinner. Scarlett had a blast chasing pigeons and walking up to people with dogs.

What's that paper?

It was a public place full of strangers so she mostly wanted to walk holding one of our hands rather than walking independently. The pigeons there are used to humans, so it took Scarlett getting very close to cause them to fly away. She always jumped when they did that and she was up close. Makes sense, her baby brain hasn’t seen too much of that yet so it must have come as a surprise move.

Peaking out from Behind Daddy

In the end, Danielle wanted to eat at Pho 2000 again for dinner since she really liked the breakfast there and knew the food was good. So we set off to Little Saigon again.

Pho 2000

I was told before that Little Saigon (which, unless I’m misremembering, is somewhat near the Tenderloin District) was in a seedy part of town. I thought I’d seen seedy before – parts of Baltimore, parts of Miami, etc. But this was something else. There was a zombie-apocalypse level of homeless people shambling around; At least a dozen per block. There were signs on the buildings saying things like “do not buy drugs on this block”. And all kinds of stuff that made me pick up my pace. Now, I just heard a story on Marketplace that a lot of tech companies like Yelp and others are starting to buy up or rent buildings in this area because the rent is cheap. Gentrification may be controversial and it may be complicated, but this area definitely needs all the polishing it can get. As I passed by lots of Asian businesses – book stores, massage parlors, restaurants – I just thought that these business owners would probably love to see a little revitalization as well. Because I’d have a hard time recommending someone go to the place we were headed to even though the food was so great.

Going back to Pho 2000, it’s always a good sign when a restaurant has their kitchen out in the open. Not only does it promote better hygeine (your customers can see you wipe your nose on your hands and touch the food), but it also shows how fresh the ingredients going into the food are.

Back to Pho 2000 for dinner

After dinner it was back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for the next day when we’d be headed to Livermore to get ready for the wedding.

San Francisco Trip Day 3

Hotel Diva Blackout Curtain
Crazy boutique Hotel Diva Blackout Curtain

We awoke wondering what shape Scarlett would be in. We were instructed to only give her Pedialyte or ginger ale. Scarlett, being her usual picky self, was having none of it. So we decided to try milk. She was OK. The vomiting was over.

Danielle and Scarlett in the Morning

My in-laws were finally in town and staying at the same hotel. So they asked me where to get breakfast. I mentioned Lori’s and we ate there for the second day in a row. Still great service. The food’s not so great two days in a row, though. Afterward we went back to relax at the hotel since the weather was horrible – cold and rainy. The in-laws went to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Around lunch time they called and said the weather had cleared up. We decided to meet them up there but didn’t want to go through the hill again in case that’s what’d made Scarlett sick. So we decided to take the cable car.

Cable Car Tickets

This was one of the worst tourist experiences I’ve ever had. Not number one, but maybe in the top five. I headed to the Powell cable car station since it was the closest to the hotel. There were a couple cable cars parked there. There was a long line of people waiting to get on one. There was no sign or indication of where to go to buy tickets for the car. I went to a man working in a tall green cylinder who seemed he might be selling tickets for the cable car. No, he was a tourist information booth, but he did point me to an unmarked silver building where I could buy the tickets. They were $6 each way which is pretty expensive when you consider how far $6 gets you on the New York City and Washington DC. But, whatever, it’s a touristy thing so of course I was going to get fleeced.

And it’s not like I was the only person confused – everyone in line was confused. (And it turned out you could buy tickets on the car itself) I also don’t understand why the cars aren’t constantly operating. There were two empty cars just sitting there for about 20 minutes before they brought it along to where we could get on. Then it took another 15-20 minutes. So, yeah, we didn’t have to walk, but it took just as long to get to Fisherman’s Wharf.

So – I know at least two friends of mine from SF are reading this – does anyone from SF actually use it to get around to places where there isn’t a lot of parking? Or do you stick to BART trains and buses? Also, on the positive side, it was pretty freakin’ fun to ride.

Scarlett and I on a Cable Car
I love that I’m holding Scarlett up with that sign behind me. (Although a close read says not to stand with her on that OUTSIDE….still, I think it’s fun at first look. Also, I’m wearing a backpack)

We finally arrived and had lunch with the in-laws. Then it rained like crazy so we stayed there for a long time.  We did not want to take the cable car again.  What we did instead is a boring story, but we did just give our return tickets to Danielle’s cousins – Thao and Beo.  They also found the cable car process dumb and slow.  Later we all went to Scala’s for Danielle’s birthday dinner.  Scala’s was awesome.  I had a steak frites there that was the BEST steak frites I’ve ever had.  It was cooked in some kind of reduction sauce that was AWESOME.

Duc ready to eat some seafood
This is not Scala’s. Scala’s is a nice French/Italian restaurant.

Time for some ruminations related to that day:
While I was waiting in line for the cable car tickets I saw a Carl’s Jr. I hadn’t eaten there since I lived in Oregon and I didn’t eat there while I was in San Francisco. But it made me wonder why McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s can be everywhere (including all over the world), but great burger places like In and Out Burger and Carl’s Jr remain regional. I don’t know how adult Eric would feel about Carl’s Jr, but when I was in Oregon I always considered it to be the best quality of the fast food burgers. More plump and juicy meat and fresher ingredients. (Before Wendy’s really made the fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions a priority) In and Out Burger, at the very least, is great quality like a Five Guys. Someone at work today told me that it has to do with In and Out’s policy of fresh ingredients keeping them physically close to their suppliers, but surely they could find suppliers here on the east coast.

Carl's Jr

While I was in San Francisco (at least during the beginning of my stay) the World Baseball Classic was going on. I wish I’d known that ahead of time. I don’t know if there would have actually have been any time to watch it or if the tickets would have been affordable, but I think it would have been an awesome opportunity to see some international baseball that doesn’t often present itself to me. When I was discussing with Dan the possibility of him joining me on this vacation he mentioned that he would have more strongly considered it if it was baseball season since he had a goal to see a game in every major league baseball stadium in America. I wonder if he knew (I could just ask him, but I’m gathering my thoughts as they were on that day) the WBC was happening there at that time or if he knew but would prefer to see the local team play there. I wanted a photo of the stadium, but we passed by it on the way in from the airport and then never passed it again. (Not even on the way out to the airport)

2013 World Baseball Classic

San Francisco Trip Day 2

Scarlett at her first Diner

When traveling through time zones the first few days are often spent on the home city’s timezone. I ended up spending the entire trip on EST thanks to Scarlett. And that is fine because it made going back to work easy.

Vintage Car at Lori's

As I mentioned yesterday, there were a bunch of diners around our hotel. We spotted Lori’s Diner when we went to get water at Walgreens. It’s a 1950s-style diner with vintage stuff all over the walls and floors. Great breakfast (for a diner) and great staff.

Scarlett and a Wurlitzer Jukebox

We’re young and healthy so we decided to walk up from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf to go see the famous sea lions of Pier 39.  So after breakfast we went up through Chinatown, spotting this restaurant. I don’t know whether to believe its claims. Can anyone from SF substantiate it? Due to scheduling we actually ended up not having any Dim Sum in California. (Especially since they don’t open until 11AM!)

I don't know if I believe them.

Continuing north, we passed through North Beach/Little Italy. Interesting coincidence that both New York and San Francisco’s Little Italy and Chinatown are next to each other? I thought so at the time. But now that I think about it – since Italians were considered a minority back in the day, perhaps it makes sense that both minorities would end up together in the “bad part of town” (at that time)

Little Italy Park and Statue

All over San Francisco I kept seeing these trees that looked like GIANT ginger. What’s up with these trees?

These trees look like giant ginger

Most of the homes we passed were pretty basic, but this one had some pretty awesome windows:

Awesome Windows

Eventually we made our way to the Sea Lions. I’d already looked on the webcams to make sure they were there this time of year. But it was still neat to see them there and hear them barking.

Famous Pier 39 Sea Lions!

scratching an Itch 2

Scarlett really seemed to enjoy the birds and the sea lions. It’s pretty neat how she’s gone from ignoring animals about 4 months ago to being extremely intrigued by animals – especially birds and dogs.



It was pretty incredible to see how close Alcatraz is to San Francisco. It doesn’t seem all that insurmountable. Seeing it like that really emphasized how strong the currents must be to keep people from escaping via swimming. It always seems so much further in the movies. We didn’t have any desire to visit, especially with Scarlett.  But also because you had to take a boat out there and Danielle didn’t want to get seasick with how choppy the water was that day.

Alcatraz from Pier 39

Scarlett and Dad in Front of Alcatraz (I Hate this Day)

A look at the city from Fisherman’s Wharf and then we explored more of Pier 39.

San Francisco from FIsherman's Wharf

It was pretty empty there as it was still pretty early (all my photos are tagged with EST so I don’t have to remember to reset the clock when I get back home).  It’s always so weird to be in a mega-touristy area before the tourists arrive.  Seems like a ghost town.  It had a lot more people that afternoon and a LOT more people the following day.

An Empty Pier 39

We walked around there and found the docks where all the boats had to move to after the sea lions took over the other dock area.  At first they’d thought it was cute and neat that sea lions had come to chill in their docks.  Eventually it got too crowded; there are around 1000 sea lions during the peak part of the year. So the boats had to move.

Non-Sea Lion Docks

We made note of where to grab some quick grub later and started walking up Taylor. To get to Lombard Street – the Crookedest Street IN THE WORLD!

Places to get a quick seafood bite

On the way there, we passed by where the cable cars are turned around to head back to the other side of the tracks. Danielle wanted to take a photo with Scarlett, but she’d just fallen asleep. We made a note to come back on our way back home to get a photo with her on there. And we continued on towards Lombard.

Danielle by a Cable Car

You probably know that San Francisco is famous for it’s hilly streets, but you don’t truly appreciate what that means until you’re walking back and forth on those hills. There are streets so steep that large vehicles can’t navigate them.

Very Steep Grade

And there are other streets that are so steep that cars are instructed to park perpendicular rather than parallel when street parking. I was constantly afraid of losing my grip on Scarlett’s stroller and sending her to her death.

Cars Street-Parked Perpendicular

High Rising Street 2

Eventually we made it to Lombard Street. It is indeed extremely curvy. The reason for the curves is that early cars couldn’t go up the steep hill. Surprisingly, there are HOUSES (or residences, at any rate) on this street.

Lombard Curves


More Lombard Street 2

We then wound our way back to Fisherman’s Wharf to go to the Museum Mecanique. We decided to have a snack at one of the street vendors. (Many of these are just cheap versions of restaurants that are behind them) We were told the clam chowder was amazing at this place. Whoever told us that apparently eats clam chowder at horrible places because it tasted just OK to me; I’d certainly had better.


Sabella & La Torre

Sabella & La Torre Food

Of course, the seagulls there are viscous and used to humans so they’ll come right up to you to try and steal your food.

Seagull trying to eat my food

The museum was pretty awesome. It’s dedicated to arcade machines, pinball machines, and their ancestors.

Musee Mecanique

Old Pinball Machine

In bad taste? Not sure. But perhaps these weren’t originally found in San Francisco.

Earthquake! Movie

Pong Arcade Machine

Opium Den

Wurlitzer didn’t only make Jukeboxes! They also made their ancestors! Player pianos. This one, in fact, appears to have a whole bunch of instruments in it.

Scarlett and a Wurlitzer Piano

After that we took Scarlett for a ride on the two-story carousel.

Scarlett on the Carousel

And walked to our lunch destination – the Japanese place at Pier 39.

Walking to Lunch

Now, I don’t know the cause of what happened next. Perhaps Scarlett had been out too long and was mentally overwhelmed. Perhaps she’d gotten sick from all the hills we went over. But when I went to wash my hands, she lost her cool. Nothing could calm her. Not food, milk, water, carrying, or changing her diaper. Not rocking or being rolled in the stroller. She cried the entire 40 minutes it took us to walk back to our hotel from Fisherman’s Wharf. And what a walk it was.  It seems that I happened to have chosen the street with the highest hills.  I was going at a snail’s pace pushing the stroller and I’m usually a very fast walker.  After we got back anything she ate was immediately thrown up. The on-call nurse from her pediatrician’s office though she might have caught a stomach bug. And that’s possible because she was fine the next morning. (And a stomach bug can be gone as quickly as within 12 hours) We didn’t see Coit Tower because of that or get that photo of her and Danielle at the cable car since we were trying to get back to the hotel ASAP.  Other than that, we’d met our goals of what we wanted to see on our second day.

That, plus the horrible rainy weather of the next day, are why tomorrow’s entry will probably be considerably shorter.

San Francisco Trip Day 1

San Francisco - The Industrial City

We flew to San Francisco to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding, but Danielle and I had wanted to go there for years so we decided to have a week-long vacation. Scarlett was amazing on the airplane. It was her second flight in her short life. However, the flight to Florida is so short that if you can time it with a nap, it’s EASY to travel with her. The 6 hour trip to San Francisco is another matter entirely. However, we kept her entertained and that kept her calm. There were a lot of other little kids on the plane including a 2-3 year old who spent 30 minutes crying. Scarlett never cried although she does whine every now and again if she doesn’t her needs met – it only lasts a minute or two. We brought crayons and painter’s tape (to stick to the seat) and that seemed to keep her pretty well entertained. When she grew bored of that, I walked her up and back the aisle. She seemed to love seeing so many people. We went back and forth a half dozen times before I grew tired of almost falling onto her when going towards the back of the plane. (The plane was angled up)

Union Square

We stayed at Hotel Diva in the Union Square area. The hotel is quite nice. We had a king bed and a murphy bed and the room was pretty huge. The bathroom, on the other hand, was so tiny that if one person was on the toilet, the other person couldn’t wash his/her hands. The hotel was in the perfect location. Only two blocks from Union Square itself (stockton? I can’t remember), it was near two Walgreens, a bunch of diners, and some high class restaurants. More on some of that in future posts. The maintenance and cleaning staff was awesome. Special mentions to Jose Navarette who was so great to interact with. The front desk was a little unprepared to answer our questions of where stuff was, but maybe the type of guests that stay there aren’t typically looking for hole in the wall authentic Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mexican food. But why go somewhere and not sample their cuisine? If it’s your first time in San Francisco and you go eat at The Cheesecake Factory you’re doing something wrong. So we headed off towards Grant Street and Chinatown.

San Francisco's Chinatown Entrance

This trip made me realize that if you’ve seen one Chinatown (not counting DC which is NOT a Chinatown – it’s a China block ever since they razed most of it for the stadium), you’ve seen them all. San Francisco’s Chinatown was just like New York’s Chinatown with two differences: less people and less restaurants. Otherwise they’re the same – stores selling cheap knockoffs of Mickey Mouse stuff, stores selling fabric, stores selling over-expensive Eastern stuff for your house, and Chinese restaurants. SF’s Chinatown (at least on Grant Street) seemed to have a lot less noodle shops and a lot more Dim Sum places.

Scarlett and Danielle at the San Francisco Chinatown Gate

I asked Danielle if she wanted Chinese food or Vietnamese food. She wanted Viet food and we assumed that, like most places, all asian culture was represented in Chinatown. (A South Park episode had a funny sendup of this trend) We walked and walked and almost made it to Little Italy (North Beach) when we decided to try a side street.

Walking Through Chinatown in search of dinner

No luck there either, but I decided to ask one of the nail salon workers as I figured they’re most likely to know the neighborhood the work in. (I know all the places to eat near MY workplace) She directed me in the right direction and we finally found a Vietnamese place. (Little did I know – as I would later find out – we just had to go find Little Saigon which was nowhere near Chinatown) It was OK. I’d say 6/10. We hadn’t passed the Walgreens yet since it was on a street that wasn’t Grant St, we didn’t know where to get water and we needed some to reconstitute Scarlett’s formula. (Back home she was on cow milk, but that’s super annoying for travel since it tends to spoil and all) So I went into an herbal tea shop that looked like something out of an exploitation film. The guy helped me find a market where I could buy a few individual bottles.

My first San Francisco Cablecar sighting!

Grand Canyon: 9 Oct 2010

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  This is the last entry of an edited version + photo essay of my trip.  (First entry here)

9 Oct 2010 1530

The drive to Phoenix was uneventful.  I did finally get a cactus photo.

Finally, a Cactus!

I also finally got to eat at an In-n-Out Burger after having heard its praises on the Giant Bombcast and countless other west coast podcasts.

In-N-Out Burger

Danielle and I each got a Double-Double (mine without cheese) and fries.  I have to say that it’s been oversold by you left coast people.  Yeah, it’s awesome for a fast food place.  It’s leagues beyond McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, et al.  But it’s basically the same thing as a Fat Burger or 5 Guys on the East Coast.  I’m glad I ate there, but it’s a bit overblown.  Here’s an example I found on lifehacker:

Two Double Doubles and Fries

“I have only fallen in love three times in my life, and the first bite of that Double-Double was one of those times. The crispy bun complimenting the cool lettuce, the special sauce accentuating the fresh tomato, the sweet meat mixing with the salty cheese, all of it coming together in a harmonious medley of flavor thus far unseen on the American fast food landscape—I was smitten. It was the single greatest fast food meal in the history of civilization. Even though I was full, I immediately ate another Double-Double. I was nearly in tears at this meal, it was so transcendently excellent.”

I can’t wait to get back home to go through my photos.

9 Oct 2010 2207

Asi Es La Vida

For dinner we ate at a local Mexican restaurant called “Asi es la Vida”.  The ambiance was great.  The food was pretty neat – no tacos or fajitas.  I got a filet mignon with onions, poblano peppers, and cheese of some sort.  I found it really tasty.  For the first 3/4 of our dinner we were alone in the restaurant and that was awesome.  What made it even better was the fact that a hired musician was playing acoustic spanish guitar.  The highlight of the night was when Danielle realized he was playing the opening song from the movie “Desperado”, “Cancion del Mariachi”.  Then, a few songs later he played “Mi Primer Millon”  by Bacilos, a song I really like.  Near the end of our dinner I went to ask him to play “El Niagra en Bicicleta” by Juan Luis Guerra.  He didn’t know that song, so he played “Bachata Rosa”.  He played and sang it so well that  Danielle could tell how beautiful the song was, despite not knowing too much Spanish.  Hearing it reminded me of my grandmother.  It was a great experience.  I enjoyed it so much that I left him a pretty big tip when I left.  The only thing that marred the experience was that one other group came in and, of ALL the tables around, chose to sit in the table right next to ours.

Throughout this travelogue series I’ve included photos from the trip.  I’ve included only a small fraction of the photos I have available on flickr at my Grand Canyon trip set, which, in turn, is only a tenth of all the photos I shot on my trip.

Here’s the photographic equipment I used on my trip (with links if it’s still available new):
Rebel XT
Rebel XTi
EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC
50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro
EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM
Holga 120N
Garmin eTrex HCx

Grand Canyon: 8 Oct 2010 Part 2

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  Presented over the next few days is an edited version + photo essay of my trip.  (First entry here)

8 Oct 2010 2051

Grand Canyon Entrance Sign

I feel completely differently at the end of today.  My feet don’t hurt and I’m not exhausted.  I have some mild aches in my legs and very mild aches in my feet.  It’s because today was a much milder day.

Blue Bird

We started by taking a photo at the entrance sign – we didn’t notice it on day 1 and yesterday we got in too early.

Deer Licking

Then we went to the bus stop go get to the Hermit’s Rest Area.

Hermit's Rest

There we took some photos and started walking east, towards the next stop.  Along the way we saw what may have been a small road runner.

What bird is this?

We also found a spot to jsut sit and enjoy the canyon. We left when it got too noisy.  It was a spot with a bench so EVERYONE came and was all loud while taking photos.  It’s not impossible to find a nice, quiet place to contemplate the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, but it’s hard if it’s a spot where many will stop.  I recommend somewhere without any benches or to do it very early in the morning or late in the evening.

Danielle Rests

After that mile we figured it would take too long to get to the next bus stop.  So we took the bus back to the village.  (Again, the Grand Canyon is HUGE!  Very hard to see it all and still get three sqaure meals at a decent time)

We finally ate at El Tovar for lunch.  While it was also run by Xanterra, it was the nicest of the restaurants at the Grand Canyon.  The atmosphere was a whole level up from the Bright Angel restaurants.  The service was also a bit more prompt.

After lunch we stopped by the mule stables on our way east.  We kept going east towards Desert View, stopped along many of the named overlooks along the way.  At Desert View we went up to the top of the Watch Tower.  (Nothing compared to the Cornell Clocktower)

Danielle in the Watchtower

We then went to Lipan Point to see a sunset.  It was listed in the guide book as the best sunset.  We hung out there for a few hours.  The sunset was OK.  Again, I’m not sure if sunsets are better in the summer or something, but I didn’t see the rocks “reveal their colours” as both the guidebook and the visitor TV station had claimed would happen at sunset.

Almost Sunset 3

Grand Canyon: 8 Oct 2010 Part 1

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  Presented over the next few days is an edited version + photo essay of my trip.  (First entry here)
8 Oct 2010 0720

Sun Pokes Out in Grand Canyon

Yesterday was awesome and today I have the sore legs to prove it.  My legs have not been in this much pain in a long time.  I’ll get to the cause of that in a moment.  First of all, we went yesterday to see the sunrise3 at Desert View (near the Watch Tower).  Let me stress again that the park is huge!  We got up at 0430 and ended up nearly missing the 0600 sunrise.  We arrived at the inner part of the park at 0520 and I thought we’d be at Desert View by 0530 (my target time to arrive).  But no, from the South Entrance near the visitor center, it’s 25 miles to Desert View!  We made our way through the pitch black roads and ended up in the parking lot by 0550.  The drive was extra nervous as we saw the sky getting brighter and brighter despite not yet having arrived.  Then we had to frantically find our way to the lookout.  It was dark and even the outlook area was huge!  We got there as the sun was just getting ready to peek out.  The sunrise was magnificent, but I’m not sure any of the photos can match how amazing it looked.  Surprisingly enough, there was only one couple there.  A family later arrived.

Sunrise on the Western Cliffs

As the morning wore on, people would drift in for one shot and then drift back out.

Sunrise Shadows BW 2

Eventually one guy came who went into a path below.  That gave us the confidence to go out onto a cliff area and get some of the best photos of that day the trip.

Danielle waits while I explore the path at Desert View

We also finally got to see the Colorado River.  With time I was able to get Danielle to brave her way out there.  I think it was worth it as she seemed to really enjoy the view.  Quietest, most serene view of the entire tirp.

Danielle in the Desert View Path

Eventually we were cold and starving so we headed back to the Village.  On the way there we saw some female elk.  That was really neat.

Over There

Then we had a hearty second breakfast and we headed out to the Bright Angle Trail.  On the way we saw a nuthatch in the parking lot as well as a few other small birds.

About to Tackle Bright Angel Trail

We had been thoroughly scared by the guidebook and every sign and person that it would be so much harder to go up the Bright Angel Trail than to go down.  The often quoted ratio was that twice the time would be required to go up.  So I set my stopwatch as we began the descent.  It also didn’t help that we kept running into people who were going up that were huffing and puffing and saying how much harder the climb was.

Pack Mules on the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail

The trail was incredibly muddy from the previous day’s rain and littered with mule droppings.  Because the trail was so muddy, Danielle insisted on descending slowly.  She also demanded that I walk in front.  I wanted to walk behind her because I knew I’d end up leaving her behind at my pace.  But she was afraid that if I slipped, I’d come careening into her and take us both over the edge.

3 Layers of Depth

We wanted to make it to the first checkpoint – the bathrooms.  It seemed to take forever, scaring us.  In fact it took 3 hours 6 minutes to get to the toilets.

The Bright Angel Trail's First Bathrooms

These toilets were very interesting.  It was a building, not a row of portapotties, but that’s probably just to keep them from getting knocked over in a strong wind or by jerks who thing they’re funny because on the inside they’re just portas.  It’s just a cast-style toilet seat leading into a hole in the ground.  There is no plumbing – so bring whatever you need to convince yourself your hands are clean afterwards – wet naps, disinfectant, etc.  There IS a garbage can if you need to get rid of feminine products, but you’re encouraged not to use it to get rid of other stuff like plastic bottles (that didn’t stop the person who used mine before me).  We also took this time to have a water/snack break.  Since it had taken us 3 hours to get there, we decided against going any further.  (Also we were starting to get hungry for food more substantial than snacks)

The View at the Rest Stop

Defying all expectations, we made it back up in 1 hour 1 minute!  (and that’s why my legs were so sore)  But, the thing is – we weren’t winded when we got to the top.  All those people huffing and puffing on their way up were just out of shape for the speed at which they were descending and ascending.  Although I paid for it the next day with sore legs, at the time I was fine and able to carry on a conversation.  I think, had it not been muddy, we would have ended up descending a lot more quickly and, therefore, the 2:1 ratio might have held.  As it was, had we planned properly, we could have probably gone to the bottom and back up in one day.  We passed at least one person who claimed to have done it that morning.

Near the Rest Stop

After lunch we tried to go to Hopi Point to see the sunset, stopping at some of the other points along the Rim Trail that we hadn’t yet seen.  However, it was extremely windy and became way too cold for me.  So we headed back to our car and it was the earliest we left the park during our entire vacation.  (Which I can verify as I write this blog post a week later)

Danielle at Powell Overlook (From Behind)

On the way out of the part we saw a male elk, AWESOME!  Made our day!  The entire time we kept seeing female deer and female elk, so we really wanted to see a male.  The only reason we saw it was because the people in front of us rudely decided to stop traffic to watch the elk rather than pulling off the road.  We pulled off the road so we could get as many shots as we wanted.

Male Elk 2

We were tired and sweaty after our time on the Bright Angel Trail, so it felt great to get back to the hotel and shower.  Danielle talked about going back into the park to see the stars after our shower.  However, after giving each other much needed foot massages, Danielle promptly passed out and fell asleep at 1930!  She slept through dinner so I just went to the Wendy’s a couple buildings over.  I was also very tired, so I went to bed at 2100.

Strangely, we were up the next day at 0600.

Feed Me!

Grand Canyon Trip: 6 Oct 2010 Part 2

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  Presented over the next few days is an edited version + photo essay of my trip.  (First entry here)

6 Oct 2010 2022

A Guard at the Overlook

Today was both overwhelming and underwhelming.  Overwhelming because of how massive the park is.  We barely scratched the surface and yet we felt very tired at the end of the day.  Overwhelming at how many different nationalities were present.  We heard french, german, japanese, vietnamese, and The Queen’s English.  There was a constant cycling of tourists foreign and domestic at the Grand Canyon Village.  To stand there is to constantly be surrounded by Grand Canyon green horns.  It was also amazing to see so many animals.  We saw a neat type of squirrel, a mouse/chipmunk thing, dear, a woodpecker, and a beautiful blue bird.  It was so awesome – especially the blue bird.  At the end of the day, it was amazing how dark it was and how many stars there were in the sky.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera that could properly capture the night sky.  That’s why I want to get a film 35mm Canon camera.

Danielle at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon was underwhelming in two ways.  First of all, the sunset sucked compared to how amazing the guidebook made it seem it would be.  Perhaps it’s because we saw it from the “village” instead of a lookout point.

Framed Sunset
Nice....beautiful even, but not as awesome as I was led to believe

The other underwhelming part was the look of the canyon.  Again, maybe it’s where I was standing, but it looked nothing like the photos I’d seen.  Of course, it looked amazing, but it had trees and none of the crazy colours I’ve seen in photos.  Don’t know if it’s because most of those photos are from deeper in the canyon.  It was weird to see so many trees in the Grand Canyon.

Somewhat into the Valley
Too many trees and not enough orange

So what’d we do?  At first we thought the place to go was the Visitor Center.  It appears that they purposely set it away from where you want to be in order to get people parked there during the busy summers.  As it was, it was hard enough to get parking over where everything is even though it was the off season.  Turned out that we wanted to get to the Grand Canyon Village.  Once we finally got to the Grand Canyon Village, we were starving and decided to go eat at the Arizona Room.   While waiting for lunch (about 45 minutes or so) a photographer came in and let us know that there was a rainbow outside.  Danielle checked it out and told me to go photograph it.

A Grand Canyon Rainbow
One of the most beautiful things I saw that day

Despite lots of signs telling people to leave the wildlife alone and specifically not to feed them, lots of people were petting and feeding the rock squirrels.  I partially blame it on language/culture barriers and partly on people doing whatever they want if no one’s watching.  It leads to the squirrels being fearless around the humans.  One climbed on my photography book bag while I was changing lenses to take some macro shots.  I guess it thought I was taking food out of my bag.  More about their behaviour in a future post.

Rock Squirrel
Only about a foot away, with hind legs on my bookbag

We also saw the cliff chipmunks which were so cute they were definitely kawaii.  (かわいい)

Sleepy Cliff Chipmunk
Too cute!

The food at the Grand Canyon is actually really good.  They also don’t do like Disney and jack up the prices because it’s such a pain to leave the Grand Canyon.  You get very large portions with your meal and we often left a bit of it uneaten.  Overall, for the restaurants at Bright Angle Lodge, the food is great at either restaurant. The servers and hosts/hostesses are very nice and delightful to interact with.  However, the speed of service sucked!  It often seemed that they had about half as many people working there as there should have been.  It took forever to get seated (even when there were empty tables), to get the order in, and to get the check paid.  We started requesting the check while we were still eating so that we wouldn’t have to waste our vacation sitting idly in the restaurants.  Anyway, that day Danielle had the corn chowder and I had the soup of the day, a semi-spicy southwestern soup.  Unfortunately, I found out a couple days later that it had been the soup of the day for the last quarter of the year.  I had a burger with some not-really-spicy peppers and Danielle had some kind of sandwich.  (Both with fries)  We left quite sated.

We went to the Kolb house, an old photography studio, which was pretty neat.

Kolb Studio
Kolb Studio

Afterwards we saw ANOTHER rainbow!

The Second Rainbow
Rainbow #2 - boy were we lucky

Then we went on the Rim Trail towards the Hermit Trail (ie, going west).  Well, at first we stood in line to take the shuttle bus out a little deeper into the trail.  But after we didn’t get on after one or two busses came by, we were told by the bus driver that they can’t take standing riders on the first stop.  So if were to walk to the next stop we could stand and go as far as we wanted.  So we went for a walk.


Evidence of the Past Sea 2
Evidence of the Past Sea at the Grand Canyon site

Tim Burton's Grand Canyon

Eventually we got to the second bus stop where we saw the deer I mentioned above.

Hello, Mule Deer
Hello, Mule Deer

There we boarded the bus and got off at Maricopa Point, mentioned by the bus driver as a great overlook to get off at.  There we saw the blue birds and some very nice scenery.

Beautiful Blue Bird
Beautiful Blue Bird and we THINK it's a Western Scrub

Horseshoe at Maricopa

Twisted Tree

The Clouds get Ominous
Here comes the rain!

The rain came back and kept us from seeing more of the trail and being in the ideal place for the sunset  (Hopi Point).  The weather should be a lot better tomorrow.  We got to meet and talk with a British woman who was in the USA to see the South West.  She had flown into California and driven to Yosemite and a bunch of other national parks.  We had a nice conversation with her about our time in England and how driving differed between our countries.

Then we had dinner and watched the sun set.

Shadows Creep East
Closest to special colours from the sunset
Post Sunset Awesomeness
Not a horrible sunset, I've just seen better

Airplane-shaped Cloud

I’m very excited to get into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail tomorrow.

Grand Canyon Trip: 6 Oct 2010 Part 1

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  Presented over the next few days is an edited version + photo essay of my trip.  (First entry here)

6 Oct 2010 0638

I forgot to mention yesterday how neat it was to see cacti in the wild.  It’d seen them in arboretums and botanical gardens, but this was the first time I saw them growing in their natural environment.  Biggest impression:  unlike cartoons, the “arms” are not even.  Some of them even have only one “arm”.

6 Oct 2010 1125

Just got to my hotel, although they can’t check me in until 1500 or 1600.  The trip up was insane.  It rained so hard that, at points, I had to go 30 MPH just to see where I was going.  Later, during the drive, it was hailing very hard.  Near Flagstaff we saw evidence of tornadoes – electric poles ripped in half and tipped tractor trailers.  As we neared the park there was even snow on the side of the road!  I was disappointed that we are so far north that there are no cacti.  It’s all regular trees.  (Deciduous and Pine)

Grand Canyon Trip: 5 Oct 2010

While on my trip to the Grand Canyon I kept a journal of my experience in order to create an after-the-fact travelogue.  Presented over the next few days is an edited version + photo essay of my trip.

5 Oct 2010

Tomorrow I get to see the Grand Canyon!  I’ve been waiting to see it for years.  Today was pretty awesome because I got to see another thing I’d wanted to see for a while now – I saw a hummingbird for the first time.  The best part is that it was completely accidental.  We got into the rental car and, as Danielle set up the GPS, I looked up at the some flowers and saw a hummingbird.  It quickly left, so it was just being there at that exact time that allowed me to see it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me.  Hopefully I get to see it again.

We ate lunch at Barrio Cafe, an award-winning Mexican restaurant.

Barrio Cafe Parking Lot 2

The food was good and the ambiance was great.

The Inside of El Barrio Cafe
The Inside of El Barrio Cafe

The guac was weird – it had pomegranate seeds – but it tasted good.  I had carne asada tacos and Danielle had fish tacos.  It was way too much food.  Interestingly, for a Mexican restaurant, they brought bread when we sat at the table instead of chips and salsa.  It had a pimiento and green olive spread that was very interesting.  It was tasty and different from anything I’d eaten before.

Interesting Guacamole
Interesting Guacamole - with pomegranate seeds
Danielle's Salad at Barrio Cafe
Danielle's Salad at Barrio Cafe

After lunch it was pouring rain.  Just our luck that it would rain IN THE DESERT when we visit.  It rained so hard that I-10 flooded and it took us forever to get back to the hotel.

I thought Arizona was a desert!
I thought Arizona was a desert!

NYC Tet Trip Day 4

Day Two Hundred Fifty-Two:  Tet Portrait

This is part of my NYC Tet Travelogue.

See part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Unlike the previous entries, this one was written a week after the events, but it covers events from 14 Feb 2010.

Brighton Beach Boardwalk Snowed Over
The Boardwalk covered in snow

For this trip, I had only three goals ahead of time.  (Actually, three is pretty ambitious considering the amount of time we had plus the tet celebrations)  I wanted to hit up the Lomography shop, go to MOMA, and take some photos at Brighton Beach.  With the first two crossed off my list, I was ready to hit up Brighton Beach that Monday morning.  I wanted to do some seagull photography and some street photography style shots of the hundreds of people that take their morning walk on the boardwalk.  Danielle’s parents often walk the boardwalk in the morning so I opted to join them.  When I got there, it turned out that the beach and boardwalk were still covered in snow and ice from the  previous week’s snow storm.  Danielle and her mother gave up and went back home.  I decided to stay and get some gull photography.  The boardwalk was too icy to walk without risking a fall, but it was no big deal to walk on the snowy beach.

So I set about walking around the beach photographing seagulls.  I also happened to see an enterprising woman taking advantage of this rare occasion to go cross country skiing across the beach.

Cross Country Skiing on Brighton Beach

I decided to go to Coney Island to take photos of the rids covered in snow.  On the way over there, I continued taking photos of seagulls.

Seagull with Lipstick

It was very odd to be walking on what I knew was a beach, surrounded by seagulls and yet have the earth beneath me covered in snow.  Beaches are synonymous with Florida for me and I refused to call the ocean-front sand in Oregon a real beach since the water was too cold to enter.  So as I walked through the beach, I wondered if this was what it felt like to live in Alaska.  After all, those who leave near the coast in Alaska are used to beaches having snow through the winter.

Chaotic Skies

My quest to photograph Coney Island turned out to be very fortuitous because it led to me seeing someone using a large format camera.  As I was nearing Coney Island, I saw a guy with a tripod and a huge box on top that had to either be a pinhole camera or a large format camera.  Either way I figured it would be pretty neat to talk to him.  I quickened my pace and caught up with him as he was setting up for a shot of the ocean.  I asked if I could take a photo of him and he agreed upon the condition that he could take a portrait of me.  I was excited to be photographed by such a camera so I quickly agreed.  Also, he would be spending quite a bit of money for that film and to develop it (compared to a 35mm camera or a digital camera) so I felt honored.  The photographer is named Jon Feinstein and he’s the co-founder and curatorial director of the Humble Arts Foundation.

Coney Island Beach in Large Format

Coney Island actually ended up being a bit of a disappointment because it was so fenced up that I couldn’t get a good shot.

Snow-Covered Ride

Our Lunar New Year celebration was best expressed by what we did at the end of the day.  We went to one of Danielle’s aunts’ house and played traditional new year games: Vietnamese poker and Bau Cua, a game similar to the roulette wheel (without the wheel).   All the kids from the next generation were also there running around and it was a general jubilant chaos.

Bua Cua Mat
Put your money on which animals yout think will come up on the dice

Thus ended my trip and also my first real attempt at a travelogue.

Lance and the Hat

NYC Tet Trip Day 3

Russian Leica Imitations at Lomography Store

This is part of my NYC Tet Travelogue.

See part one here.

See part two here.

this was originally written on 14 Feb 2010

Life sure is strange.  This morning I was sure I’d be buying a Holga today.  After talking to Danielle, it even seemed that SHE would get one too.  She wanted to have one loaded with color film and one loaded with black and white film.  Then she asked a few questions.  I can’t remember the exact words, but it got me thinking.  Do I REALLY want a Holga?  I mean, the biggest attraction for me was the ability to medium format film.  As I mentioned on 12 Feb, it’s a connection with the past and a chance to shoot with better film than I ever did.  But the more I looked at other photographers’ Lomo results, the more I wondered if this was how I wanted to re-experience film.  What put me off the most is the fact that the results are so random.  I don’t understand how people go on vacations to places as far away as Asia with a Lomo as their sole means of capturing their experiences.  They could be getting completely blown out photos the whole time and come back without any photo memories.

And thus were the memories destroyed

I think, in the end, the more I read about Holgas, the most I realized they didn’t fit my personality.  The focus is not accurate and is often blurry even if you get the settings right.  There’s only one f-stop and it’s insanely small.  So you’re stuck mostly shooting outdoors on sunny days.  Sure, that’s mostly what I wanted to shoot with the Holga – like the Brighton Beach boardwalk, but still – I think the expense in film is what gets me the most.  I guess I have to admit it – I’m a cheap f-ing bastard.  The thought of spending $20 total for film and development is just too much to bear when I don’t even know if the entire roll will be crap.  Digital’s cost structure is just too awesome.

Of course, everything I listed as a negative is exactly what Lomography geeks tote is awesome about the Holga.  So, in the end, it’s like trying to get with a girl because everyone says she’s fun, but everything she likes to do for fun is exactly what I hate to do.  It’s not as much of a match as I first thought.  Again, I’ve definitely experienced that with relationships.  Girls I thought at first would be great fun to be with turned out to be people I couldn’t stand to talk to for more than a minute.

I think there’s still something attractive to me about trying film now that I know more about photography.  Enough that I’m sure I’ll try it. I don’t mind spending the development money if the photos have a reasonable chance of coming out good. I even think that maybe medium format would be fun to shoot.  But I think Holga won’t be the one I do it with.  And that’s a shame because it’s the only affordable option right now.  But, that’s also just life.

Walking Near the Brooklyn Bridge

In other news, I went to the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday.  I always wanted to get a shot from below the Brooklyn Bridge.  I see lots of people take these shots and I never knew how to get there.  While researching other shots to show Danielle so she could help me figure out how to get there, I saw mention of DUMBO.  DUMBO strands for down under manhattan bridge overpass.

We ended up at a different train stop than I expected to, so we had to wander around a little.  We passed by this really neat firehouse with a painting of the Brooklyn Bridge on it.  But when I went to take a photo, they were raising the the garage door.  A guy came out with a chainsaw and he saw us and played around for the camera.  He was cutting some ice and after he was done we stuck around to see if the would close the door, but after a few minutes we were getting a bit cold and bored so we just left.

A Little Too Slow on the Snap

Afterwards we continued to head for DUMBO and found Brooklyn Bridge park.  I got the shots I wanted.  Well, kinda.  I think I really wanted to get closer, but I also realized that I needed a wider lens to get the exact shot I wanted.  From where I was, my EF-S 18-55mm (on my 400D 1.6x crop factor camera), could just barely get the entire bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan in one shot.  I am anticipating getting the Sigma 10-22mm wide angle lens in the next few days (I’ve finally saved up enough money) and I’ll probably be back to try again.  I also have to figure out exactly how to get over there because the way the onramps were designed for the bridge, they a impede direct route to the bridge area by foot.

The Brooklyn Bridge
The Photo I wanted of the Brooklyn Bridge

While we were there, it appears that someone was probably shooting some portraits for an album cover.  They were definitely professional-level photographers (if not out-and-out professionals).  They had a grey Canon lens (probably EF 70-200mm f2.8L), and some assistants holding circular reflectors.  And the subject was a woman with a guitar.  So it could just as easily have been a model or fashion shoot, but we guessed it was a musician shooting for her album cover.  That wasn’t the only bit of professional stuff going on around and on the bridge.  After taking pictures we went back to the steps to ascend to the Brooklyn Bridge footpath.  For the first time, I walked from the Brooklyn side all the way to the Manhattan side.  When I first came to the Brooklyn Bridge (after getting my Fujifilm Finepix S7000) we went from Manhattan across the bridge, but we didn’t go all the way to the “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign.

Photographing An Album Cover
Ok, she's not holding a guitar in this shot, but she was before.

We took some photos that might end up using to decorate the house (Danielle had some very definite ideas in her head for what she wanted).

Manhattan Side Brooklyn Bridge Tower
Something like this, for example

Then, as we got to the Manhattan side, we saw some people filming a rap video.  It was pretty funny to see two different professional events going on in roughly the same location, but at the same time – it IS New York City.  Although it’s not commonplace, it is definitely possible to see various celebrities around the city filming movies or TV shows.  Total, we were moving for an hour with an average speed of 2.6 MPH for 2.53 miles.

Rap video on the Brooklyn Bridge
"The cat in the hat and that was that! Busta Rhymes!" - Mike Birbiglia on rap

Finally we went to a french bakery where Danielle’s dad’s best friend works.  We had tea and some sandwiches and pastries.  The food was good and the the atmosphere was great.  Definitely check it out if you’re into french pastries and french sandwiches.

French Bakery

NYC Tet Trip Day 2

God is...

Part of my NYC Tet Travelogue.  See part one here.

this entry was originally written on 13 Feb 2010

Lomography Store in Greenwich Village, NY

I went to the Lomography store yesterday and it was a very interesting experience.  The store matches the aesthetic of the Lomography movement.  It has a very casual feel to it.  It definitely belongs in Greenwich Village.  The wall is a huge collage of Lomo prints; most appeared to be of or taken in New York City.  There was a lot of repetition and it had the feel or working well as a larger work of art.  It’s worth visiting the store just to see the wall.  But the layout was also great – all the cameras are sitting on a table in the middle and you can touch them and handle them and get a feel for the camera.  I have a feeling they would have probably let me load some film in and take some shots for them to keep.  (And I might have if I hadn’t been there with others)  The table has an outline of each camera beneath it with the price of the camera listed.  The staff (well, the one woman there at that time) was very knowledgeable and helpful.  Definitely a good hire.  There were also tons of books and magazines wholly consisting of Lomographic images.

Lomography Table
The center table at the Lomography store

Being there and seeing all the cameras solidified the feeling that I wanted to own one.  Seeing the images up close, and getting to actually touch the cameras, just gave me a better feel for what Lomography was all about.  Sadly, and I felt guilty thinking this (and I still feel guilty writing it), I decided to buy my Lomos at B&H rather than at the Lomography store.  Although I wanted to support the store and its great vibe, most of the cameras were, on average, $15-$20 more expensive than at B&H.  I wish I had that kind of money to throw away, but when talking about analog photography – that’s film and film development money there!  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to buy it because B&H closes early for the Sabbath.  I thought they’d close closer to sunset, but they closed at 1300!  I should have checked first, but it worked out in the end.  Anyway!

Jumping ahead to last night (I’ll be back to yesterday afternoon in a second), I started researching what camera I wanted to get at B&H on Sunday.  And I searched around the net to find out more about Lomography – I found a few VERY anti-Lomography sites and I almost got discouraged.  But then I realized that these sites were not attacking Lomo cameras for any of reasons that I wanted to own one.  They were merely attacking the philosophy and movement – the way people attack Apple fanatics.  So I rallied and I will definitely get one on Sunday.


Back to yesterday, after lunch we went to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).  It was not only my first time, but Danielle’s first time.  She had never been because it was $20 while other museums in NYC, such as the MET, were free.  I wanted to go because I’d heard there was a pretty good photography exhibit at the MOMA.  When I started looking on the website, it turned out they were having a Tim Burton exhibit.  He is one of our favorite directors, so Danielle and I really wanted to go.  They said people had to buy timed tickets to the Tim Burton exhibit because it was so packed.  While going to buy the tickets, I looked at the membership price and realized it made a ton of sense to become a member!  It only cost $60 since I’m from out of town (over 120 miles away) and I could get up to five people in at $5 each instead of $20 each.  Since Dina, Daniel and Brian were coming as well, it was a great deal!  But what really made it a good deal for me was that there are lots more exhibits coming up that I really want to see, such as Henri Bresson-Cartier, and this way I don’t have to pay so much over a year to keep coming back.  Also, I could enter the Tim Burton exhibit whenever I wanted.

Tim Burton Exhibit at MoMA

The Tim Burton exhibit was awesome (the NY Times had panned it – said it was over-rated) – it had hundreds of sketches both relating to his movies and what amount to doodles.  There were also lots of props from his many movies.  We loved the Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride stop motion figures.  (Danielle loves the former and I love the latter)  Like lots of famous, quirky directors (like Quentin Tarentino) you may think that Burton is over-rated.  But I really like his strange style and that you can always tell a Tim Burton movie.  Really, the only negative is that it seemed as though everyone was at the MOMA just to go to this exhibit.  It was so packed – they need to invent a new word for how packed it was in there.  And that detracted a bit from the experience.

Actually, upon further reflection, this was mostly only a negative with the main Tim Burton section.  It was split across three different areas.  And my favorite (in terms of creativity) was in a lower section where they showcased a series of oversized polaroids by Tim Burton.  For about half of them he had arranged props from The Nightmare Before Christmas in a creative manner.  With some photos he had arranged the characters from the movie in portraits as if they were human models. With others he created more abstract shots such as one consisting of all the Jack Skellington heads.  Other photos contained humans in Burton-esque gothic poses and costumes.  (including a great madonna)

Danielle and Water Lillies
Danielle and one of Monet's Water Lillies

I enjoyed the other exhibits at the MOMA.  It is MUCH larger on the inside than it appears from the outside.  One of the highlights for me was the fact that I was able to identify a Picasso without knowing ahead of time that it was a Picasso.  In the five to seven years I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for art.  It’s not that my parents didn’t take us to museums as kids.  I remember going to some when we went on vacation to Philly.  And I remember going to some at other times in my childhood.  But, for whatever reason, I just never appreciated it at the time.  I was too young.  I mean, I thought Sargent Pepper was a horrible album at the time.  Some kids can appreciate classical music and art at a young age.  I wasn’t one of those.  Then again, there are other adults who don’t or can’t appreciate art and see it as too highfalutin.  The photography and paintings were great.  They also had a Monet water lilies exhibit that was very powerful.  With impressionism it may not be easy to tell exactly what the subject is, but the size of the paintings along was overwhelming.  Another painting that we all enjoyed was Matisse’s The Dance.  Danielle and I enjoyed the room with the Warhols.

Dina and Danielle in a Freaky Exhibit at MoMA
Danielle and Dina interact in one of the scary exhibits

The only thing I didn’t like was the top floor with some *really* modern art – like found art.  For example, one of the guy’s pieces was a room where each wall had a lid from a yogurt cup.  That’s it.  It wasn’t modified or arranged in a creative way.  It was just one yogurt lid per wall.  How is that art?  I don’t get it.

Danielle and Dina at MoMA Stairs
It's not creative, but it's still fun

If I had to find one fault with the MOMA it would be that the regular exhibits are perhaps a little bit too eclectic.  I would like some more surreal, cubist or impressionistic art, but I guess what they rely on are really awesome rotating exhibits.  The Tim Burton exhibit, again, was fantastic.  The regular stuff was good, but not quite as vast.  There were only a few Warhols – not more than one room, for example.  I can’t wait to visit it again to see the next exhibit.

Dina and Frida (And Brian)
Dina challenges Frida for woman with most facial hair