Saturday, 17 September 2011

California sunshine!

This has to be the most last-minute trip we've had so far. Settled tickets and hotels only five days before the journey!

Wednesday, 17 August - plenty of wonderings...

Welcome to Tinseltown, Mr and Mrs Sito! :)

Woah... Wait wait, not so fast... We had to take an airport shuttle to the Metro station, negotiate three different Metro lines and walk three blocks before we finally reached our hotel. Along the way, we saw plenty of freeways, empty spaces and ulu areas, and some looked familiar, like this:

Do we need a car? We wondered...

I found Hollywood Stars Inn on Expedia, conveniently located in the Hollywood area, with cable TV, free wireless, toiletries etc. But it also smelled of "air-conditioned smoke" - I don't know how else to describe it! And there were brown cigarette marks on everything - bedside table, dressing table, wash basin, and there were even tiny burn holes on the curtains!

Seemed like I got us a Hotel 81 heh? *.* We just didn't see any hourly rate on display :p But for $75++ a night, it was good.

We had a Metro day pass so we headed somewhere far for dinner - Little Tokyo! We passed by the toy district but all the shops were closed by then - it was only 7 pm! - and the whole area was very eerily deserted...

Is this a city?? We wondered...

But Little Tokyo was nice enough! We settled on San Sui Tei for ramen :) and gyoza :) and Sapporo draft beer :)

Trivial: On the way home, I was randomly reciting the Japanese alphabet. And Sito went, "ramen!" I hadn't gone to r, m and n yet!! *pout*

Thursday, 18 August - reaching for the stars

And today, we went deep into Tinseltown, after a satisfying breakfast at the Macs across from our hotel, no less.

We were walking along Hollywood Boulevard, the more ulu part of it, when we saw a small group of people standing in front of a gap between two buildings... It's the Hollywood sign!

We didn't bother crossing the road, just snapped a shot from afar :p

Finally reached the beginning of the Walk of Fame, but that wasn't our destination - we hopped on a bus to Warner Bros for a studio tour!

We were early and had time to explore the shop - plenty of Harry Potter stuff!

Opening next spring :( In the UK :(

Our guide brought us to a soundstage that was just starting to be disassembled - the set for Ellen where we saw a fat cat named Smokey. We also saw the filming crew for The Mentalist!! But didn't see anyone familiar.. Can't wait for the next season..

We also went to the largest soundstage where they filmed The Perfect Storm and Poseidon. It has a huge water tank for such scenes, under ground level.

They also have a forest, where the scene of the dinosaur chasing the jeep in Jurassic Park was filmed - apparently, they went around the short trail a few times to get enough footage! Later in San Francisco, we happened to watch Jurassic Park on TV - it felt...strange :p

This picture shows part of the forest where the front of a house stands...

And here's a shot of the soundstages from outside - looks familiar? :)

The studio is like a huge factory. They produce backdrops, rooms for sitcoms etc. There is a huge building of decorative stuff and furniture where set designers go shopping! And I heard with undisguised envy about the eight miles of wardrobe and three miles of shoes and bags! *drools*

You know when people break glass bottles on heads? Special bottles, like the one I was attempting to whack Sito with!

And all these are not just for Warner Bros productions - other people may rent their soundstages, rent their furniture etc.

Can you recognise this set?

Friends! So nostalgic..

We also went to two museums in the studio. The first was a transportation museum. Plenty of cool cars from Batman and Austin Powers, but my fave is this:

They even took a picture of us and superimposed on Hogwarts Express!

The second had the entire second floor devoted to Harry Potter! Now this was feeling like a Harry Potter tour :) We got ourselves sorted - I'm a Slytherin and Sito a Hufflepuff! :p No camera allowed, unfortunately.. But we had a lot of fun there.

We ended the tour with gelato at the shop, and skipped lunch totally! For good reason, you will see...

So it was "star search" time! We went back to Hollywood Boulevard to check out the stars. The signs are on both sides of the road but we only choose one side at a time as we walked down the boulevard. Nonetheless, we managed to find a number of familiar names - Arnold, Colin Firth, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pierce Brosnan, Steven Spielberg and even Disneyland and Shrek!

Chose to show Marilyn Monroe here as she was the first Hollywood star I heard of when I was a kid:

This was from our earlier trip to Chicago, on the way to Navy Pier. I think someone commented that "it's white".. Hmm.....?!

So Sito must take a picture with Shrek again! :)

And these were at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Sito with the original Spock:

mf with Julie Andrews - check out the date!

Then we HAD to have Hooters for dinner :p Plenty of wings, onion rings and quesadillas!

What followed was the Kodak Theatre!

No, we weren't just there to pose, even though I admit I would such a thing, ha! We were there for Cirque du Soleil!

We watched Iris, a journey through Hollywood, a new production schedule to premiere only in September - so we watched the preview! Before the show started, a few characters came out to interact with the audience. Quite funny, one of them had a big fake butt! During the show, my heart just went up and down as the characters swung up and down and through the air! And I gawked at the contortionists - at some points, I didn't know where I was looking *.*

Friday, 19 August - the walking day

Time for downtown!

We started with Olvera St, where we squeezed into a little eatery and ate with many locals. The food was simple but quite yummy. The eatery has an interesting "feel", rather unlike the bigger ones we saw later down the road.

This is me, making a wish at a wishing well.. But don't be fooled by the bright blue colour of the well - it's just that, colour! Well is dry *.*

There is a historical building, like a museum, so we went to have a look and understand the history of LA.

But generally, the whole street was kind of touristy, a bit too touristy.. The upside to this trip was....


NYC cabs? Hey, weren't we in LA?!

Yes, we were! And these were only the set for CSI: NY!

We walked a lot more to reach a more bustling area. We wanted ice cream but all we saw were smoothies and juices! How frustrating to not be able to get sinful stuff! But eventually we found one little store, and finished up with bubble tea :)

Then, it was more walking, bubble tea in hand, to find a cinema. Of course, we must watch a movie in Hollywood! And we finally chanced upon a Regal cinema! Watched Conan the Barbarian in 3D - expensive! $30! But we got to hold on to the 3D glasses :p

By the time we came out of the theatre, people were knocking off and the restaurants in the area were filling up. We prefered to eat cheap that day so we walked a little and ended up in Denny's. The food was ok but the brownie was amazing! Usually, the blot of ice cream is pathetic right.. But this one, the ice cream covered the entire brownie - and no, the brownie wasn't tiny! We were very satisfied :)

Saturday, 20 August - the bus day

We decided that LA wasn't a place we wanted to live in. So we escaped to San Francisco!

Took a Chinatown bus from somewhere far from our hotel. But we didn't get lost. The bus had some problem, however, and we had to change to another bus at our lunch stop. And that was where we encountered an asshole.

We were among the last to get on the bus and there were only single seats left. We asked a chap if he would mind if we swapped seats. And he replied YES! The reply itself was acceptable but it was the tone! And the assholey look! And the bus was supposed to be fully occupied, and this chap had his bag on the inside seat and refused to even move! We found seats nearer the back of the bus; I sat with a young boy and Sito with an old man. Later, we saw that the selfish chap HAD to move his bag anyway. Bah!

But the old man next to Sito was nice. He gave us tips on where to eat haha! There was also a baby on the first bus who was right in front of us. He kept playing with us and calling us 叔叔 and 阿姨! :)

We got into San Francisco a hour later than expected. But it was good, cos we had a nice room at SW Hotel in Chinatown! At $129++, it was one of the cheapest I could find in town. The room was tiny and the queen bed wasn't really queeny but it had everything, including fluffy white towels! And no smoky smell!

The next find was even better. 金山酒楼, or Golden Mountain Restaurant, was right across from our hotel. We had one of the most fabulous char siew EVER!

Yes, we ate ALL of that :) And the complimentary dessert - not in picture - was sago :)

Sunday, 21 August - three winey pals

It's mini road trip day!

YX picked us up at 10.30 am and we went on to Castello di Amorosa where we took a tour and did some wine tasting.

The tour was really fun! We think the owner is quite a fanatic from the way he built the castle. We also learnt a lot about European castle architecture in this tour, since we didn't take guided tours when going around Europe...

We walked through the castle court yard etc, but the main tour happened in the basement. Here's us in a tunnel full of wine barrels:

They even had a torture room! With torture equipment! Yes, a real castle would have a torture room!

We had a short barrel tasting session, a two-year-old barrel, before the main tasting session, where we tasted the same wine but four-year-old. We shared so we managed to taste all 14 wines available!

Before we left, I posed at the vineyards outside :)

At the end of it, we were rather tipsy *.* So we must absorb the alcohol with KFC and A&W! :p

Check out the red and white boxes - they say KGC. This isn't pirated ok.. KGC stands for Kentucky Grilled Chicken!

The restaurant has a sign that says that the theft of mugs would be persecuted. But our rootbeer float came in a paper cup, bah!

Deciding that we couldn't drink anymore, we tried to drive to Point Reyes. But keying in "Point Reyes National Seashore" into the GPS brought us to the visitor centre, which is 45 minutes away from the coast! It was past 6 pm by then so we decided to head back to town. It was about time for YX to sleep since he just arrived from Singapore!

Not to settle for driving for nothing, I had to do something.. Being in a car, the only thing I could do was the dog-sticking-tongue-out-in-the-wind thing!

Oh, had to pump petrol on the way back. We're so used to having someone help us in Singapore!

We drove in via the Golden Gate Bridge. This turns out to be the best picture of the bridge of this trip. You'll see why...

And so we said bye bye to YX... Next we see him, it'll be with SF! We were saying four of us could go on a cruise together! :)

Not hungry at all due to the late lunch, we lazed around in the room watching Star Trek for quite a while before we headed out. But it was my foot before our stomachs - I had foot reflexology!! It wasn't cheap like back home, but it was cheaper than in Chicago and quite good. My only regret was that I couldn't pull up my skinny jeans so the auntie couldn't reach my calves..

Dinner was simply wan tan noodles. And we bought beef hor fun in black bean sauce for part 2 :p Then we watched a lot of TV and slept only at 2 am after The Mummy Returns!

Monday, 22 August - google babies!

We woke early for breakfast at the hotel. They had a decent continental breakfast, with a toaster, various spreads, cereals, juices and hot beverages. There was also a board showing the history of the owner of the hotel, quite interesting.

Then, we headed down south to meet more friends!

YR picked us up at the Mountain View Caltrain station and we stopped by Ranch 99 for some groceries before heading for Google for lunch. We bought a mooncake! :)

We parked next to a cone bike that can seat eight persons. Apparently, people have discussions while travelling from one building to another. But the thing moves really slowly. I can imagine why - the poor machine has to move some 600kg of flesh and blood!

We also saw people riding Google bikes. This is Sito posing :p

This is good to read before heading for lunch!

And finally we met XY and YJ! And they brought Little P with them - she's so cute and cheery! More on her later...

So they brought us to one of the canteens for lunch. It was way healthier than we thought it would be! I really enjoyed the yummy salads! But Sito cannot work there - the food isn't unhealthy enough for him :p

Went to the Google gift shop after lunch and along the way, chanced upon a photo gallery of Meng. I just googled him, quite funny - click on the link.

Next was Stanford. Such a beautiful weather!

We walked the grounds and took a look around the Memorial Court and went to meet CH for tea at the Stanford Bookstore. He looked so relaxed! Of course la, no more work for a while!

Then XY picked us up to go to her place, a nice little house filled with kiddy stuff :) We then picked D up from school - he didn't change much since we saw him two years ago! He grew bigger, yes, but I could have used photoshop to enlarge a photo of him from back then! D has a reputation for being hard to manage. But apparently he was shy with Sito and me so he was quite quiet. But I think he has "potential" haha!

Dinner was at Cooking Papa at Santa Clara. More Cantonese food! There was a nice dessert whose name I can't remember... Some puff..

I was carrying Little P before YJ arrived with YR and YL - wa, so many Y's! - as XY had to jaga D. P did something funny.... I felt her little hand feeling for my boobs! Um, disturbing, haha! And she was nibbling at my shoulder, which felt soooo cute! :)))) Handed her back to mummy to nurse - the little girl was hungry! :p

It was nice catching up with them over dinner, even though XY and family had to leave earlier. YR and YL dropped us at the train station, and I realised we didn't take a single picture together!! :(

Back in Chinatown, we went to a bakery near our hotel for an old fashioned cream cake and a 烧饼 to end the day, with Jurassic Park on the tele!

Tuesday, 23 August - dim sum and then some!

Today, we had no breakfast. We went in search of 皇宫 for a dim sum brunch! :)

Random shot along the walk - reminds me of childhood :)

Anyway... The best part about this place it that it has a push-cart system! We had har gow, siew mai, char siew bao, char siew cheong fun, har cheong fun, carrot cake, prawn balls and beancurd rolls, and we were so full!!

Must show everyone the cheong fun - the char siew one was the best I've ever had!

Took two buses to get to the Golden Gate Bridge and this was what greeted us:


We walked a little and managed to get some pictures after a while, still shrouded partially in fog..

Then we hopped on another bus, changed to a tram and alighted at Castro St for tea. My tea was a vile concoction of peppermint, stinging nettle (!) and dandelion. Bleah. Please, remind me to be less adventurous food-wise next time...

We took the tram again, this time for the shopping district! Bought two tank tops :) Hiao :p And a passerby helped us take a nice picture at a corner of Union Square :)

Back in Chinatown again, we found another foot reflexology place. This time, I changed into my berms before going. And the way the lady rubbed my feet reminded me of the auntie with curly hair in People's Park Complex! Suffice to say it was really, really good...

And dinner was a familiar spread:

Chilli crab! Besides the sambal kangkong, we also ordered seafood hor fun but by the time it arrived, we'd already tucked into the crab so no photo :p They also gave complimentary dessert - pulut hitam, yum!

Being not very very full, we grabbed bubble tea before heading back to the hotel, and had our mooncake! :)

We had quite a bit of bubble tea in San Francisco - they call it boba, for 波霸 as in 波霸奶茶 or so we guess. But the milk tea was pretty thick, so thick it felt like coffee sometimes!

Wednesday, 24 August - bye bye...

We did the touristy thing and ate at Fisherman's Wharf - clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl! And that wasn't enough. We had a nutella banana crepe with Mexican coke! It came in a glass bottle and tasted like childhood :)

Now, why did we zoom into on these sea lions? Cos Sito spotted the gender of the light brown sea lion - hoho!

And after four recommendations on In-N-Out Burger, from the girls, YX, YR and XY, we just had to try it and so we did! wasn't spectacular... I just liked that it had a lot of vege.

Random picture along the way - bear says "gimme some chocolate" and I couldn't agree more :p

And so we headed back to Chinatown, passed by a hair salon and decided to cut our hair! $7 for Sito and $13 for me - super cheap! Sito's haircut in Evanston usually cost $20 and that was already among the cheapest here! So we were very happy :) And if I had remembered earlier, I would have rebonded my hair too but we didn't have that much time by then :(

I thought we looked good :) Sito still does but my hair is all a mess now, sighs... Here's us almost immediately after the haircut, on the plane waiting for take-off:

It isn't very clear here but I looked like I just stepped out of the Shinji Matsuo in mid 2006!


.. is many days after our holiday! Time to plan for the next? :)

Update 25 Sep 2011

Just heard from friends that the cities of LA are more representative of LA than the downtown area we were in. Downtown is like "where mummy goes to work". We were so clueless! Well then, if we go again and if we drive...

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