The California Trip - A Second Time

Last year was the first time: Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

This year, we have my brother-in-law's family joining. Starting from last Saturday June 18th 2022.

  • June 18: 9-10pm - Arrived in San Francisco Airport. Stayed at Hotel 1550. 1550 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066. One of the free (gave him $2 tips) Filipino shuttle drivers for hotels in the area was kind enough to drop me off near the HS Cafe and even picked me up so I could buy dinner for the rest who took another shuttle to the hotel. Due to Tom's flight delay, I arrived first at our hotel with the food: Hainanese chicken, curry mee, etc. Dinner was okay. Could have tried other Malaysian restaurants nearby like Ipoh Garden, etc. but this trip is not about me.
  • June 19: Morning, Nadia and the other guys went to pick up the rental car (sits 7 people), took them a while I think, more than an hour. Probably the fuzz was about not having a bigger car as promised online.
    I went separate ways after plotting directions for them on google map. I went to Alcatraz Island; while they went to Twin Peaks, 16th Ave. Tiled Steps, and met me at Fisherman's Wharf. Apparently we all skipped Chinatown. We did go to walk to famous Lombard Street and boy the uphill is not for anyone weak at hiking steep road...very steep (45 deg) roads. Lombard was interesting, wondering how the residents deal with this little curvy yet beautiful road of tourist trap.
    Lastly, we headed to Baker Beach to see the sunset by the Golden Gate Bridge. It was indeed a site not many people know.
  • June 20: Drove to LA. Sadly had to skip the scenic route 1 due to time. Had Mexican food at Tacos y Tortas Chalio Coalinga on the way, seemed very blend, not sure why so many people voted for this restaurant.
    Stopped at Lake Hollywood Park (closest public access to the Hollywood sign).
    Stopped at Public Art "Urban Light" - museum. Didn't get a chance to eat Malaysian yet again which was so close to the place, thanks to Nana (Singapore's Banana Leaf). I think we ate In & Out Burgers for dinner.
    Checked in at La Mirage Inn. Indian run, we somehow ended up with the bigger room by the corner while Tom's smaller. Some cons: We must always ring the doorbell so the staff would ring us into the hotel, the ladies claimed that the bedsheets weren't clean but the manager did brought clean sheets up himself, there was no elevator for 2nd floor, had to carry big luggages up the stairs. Homeless tents still around the area in LA. We ordered Subway sandwiches for dinner (BMTs - they wanted more meat).
    Toured Hollywood Walk of Fame, paid parking using app on Hollywood Blvd. which isn't hard to find as in New York. Just like the last time Nadia and I were here. They had lots of photos. Walked into Ghirardelli (just as they opened at 10am) because I thought we could meet Jimmy Kimmel as promised by one of their crew on the street only to be told later that we got cancelled for their rehearsal as they had gotten enough people. No big deal, not his fanboy anyway, this trip is also more for Tom's than myself.
    Took photos in and around the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. Very very nice bathrooms. FangFang wasn't interested in celebrity houses, so we skipped that. Not sure where Nana got the idea otherwise.
  • June 21: Drove to Santa Monica beach for that famous 66 End of the Trail sign. Ate in MacDonald's there fore lunch.
    Visited Venice Beach. Willy mistaken it for Laguna Beach. Tried to fly drone, failed, drone app said need authorization, took me a while to do all the updates and application online. Willy bought the kids ice-creams. FangFang preferred this skater infested beach to the very crowded funfair Santa Monica Beach.
    We drove by the Rodeo Dr. and Beverly Hills sign. Bought some Panda Express-like Chinese food at Maxim Chinese Food at 6:30-ish pm. It was closing hours so we got some freebies.
  • June 22: Left Hollywood for Anaheim to drop Tom's in Disney Land which they spent the whole day enjoying. We went to Crystal Cathedral (now known as Christ Cathedral). It was definitely a grand compound and I lamented how this once went bankrupt and now bought by the Roman Catholics. They have since installed white plates that block the view through the glassy structure, claiming it to be a temperature thing. Jesus walking on Water view was interesting.
    We then checked into our hotel Anaheim Astoria Inn (16 mins walk from Disney Land).
    While the two of them slept, I went walking around the neighborhood checking out two famous spots in Anaheim: Anaheim Packing District (Like Chelsea Market) & Anaheim Marketplace (Mexican version of indoor pasar/hawkers) where I bought $2.50 drinks and later took Nadia and Willy here for Mexican dinner before closing (Willy had some fish rice, while Nadia and I shared tripa soup mixed with free pork legs). I think the residents are mostly Latinos and they love planting what seems to be oranges by their houses. It's also where I discovered that the palm trees in CA do bear fruits, it's just that nobody seems to care about them falling on the ground, took some photos.
  • June 23: Driving to Las Vegas. Checked out Joshua Trees in Mojave route: Route 40 to Kelbaker Rd. to Kelso Cima Rd. to Morning Star Mine Rd. to Route 15). Tried flying a drone for 66 Route Sign on the Barstow road (crossed between National Trails Hwy & Nebo Street) and Joshua trees and a ranger showed up. I wonder if it's due to complaints or if he's using some sort of tracking app. Gave me a warning, took a photo with Brian per Tom's request and left us alone. Lesson: National/Federal Reserves/parks - no drone. State parks, maybe.
    Stopped by the 7 Magic Mountains color art pieces - not my cup of tea, I tried to fly drone again but Tom's were done with photos quicker than I anticipated.
    Ate at Island Malaysian Cuisine, I almost forgot Nadia and I ate here before. Same ok taste as last time. I believe I had removed the mark on this restaurant due to only OK taste. Not my cup of tea. Ordered Asam Laksa, taste is there, but felt rugi still. California would have been better.
    Went swimming in Mandalay's famous pools (the not too strong wave sandy artificial beach/pool and Lazy River which is a circuit of strong current flow but for all ages with optional floaties)
    We had dinner at Viet Noodle Bar due to popularity. It's okay. Was kind of crowded.
    Checked in at Mandalay Bay Resort. Walked around Luxor Hotel (Egyptian style next to Mandalay) that was probably connected to the movie Showgirl.
  • June 24: Morning photo at the Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Not many people in the morning, we were only the next group in the line until a tour bus came with tons of tourists but we were done. W & N had argument and things got quiet. Went to Bryce Canyon, I tried my best looking up the summarized spots, don't think I missed anything important.
    Stopped by Wahweap Overlook. A new found secret spot of mine, looking at lakes/waters along with the canyons. The place is free, don't know why some posted same fee as the Glen Canyon visit.
    Stopped by Big John's again for their famous smoked ribs and ate at our Airbnb house: 216 Antelope Ave, Page, AZ. Thus far the best stay and Tom agrees. Willy liked Mandalay better. Neat clean home, well decorated. A sense of peace and family time. Tom insisted Nadia and I took the master bedroom. Willy had his own room. Tom slept on the sofa couch.
  • June 25: Rushing to catch the tour bus to Upper Antelope Canyon, but not before Willy and I bought coffees & donuts from Hot n Sweet Coffee and Donut Shop for the rest of them when we came back from the gas station to pick them up. Our tour (Antelope Slot Canyon Tours by Chief Tsosie) that was booked ahead of time (bout $100 per person) was across the street. Our driver and tour guide Alfredo was a friendly Navajo who has two wives and if I've not mistaken, 9 children. I asked about his wives' relationship, expected answer. He's good at taking photos for us. Willy gave him $20 tips.
    Next stop was Horseshoe Bend. I noticed there's an arch in the center and what apparently rocks broken down, which I am not sure was there before. Differences than last time: some parts are fenced up, and it's $10 to park in a nice parking area, which wasn't built before and was used to be a free unorganized parking compound.
    Bought some chicken at BirdHouse. FangFang liked the BBQ honey ones. After lunch I walked around the airbnb house, amazed at the area, housing architect.
    Around 6PM, I directed the guys to The Chains, where I presumed a good place to swim surrounded by somewhat canyons. We almost gave up while hiking for 10 minutes especially when a returning party with towers telling us they did not reach the beach and had to give up. I wanted to fly the drone to figure out where the beach was but I realized I didn't take the iPad cable. Brian said his feet were tired, hoping me to fly the drone. He was smart enough to know what I meant when I said I needed a flat land while the other guys had no idea what I was talking about, or rather didn't care. But someone we met there finally told us to hike further to find the water access and we pushed on, found a group of native fishing buddies who directed us to a wider, secluded side where we could easily go into the water. The smell of what I believed seagull dungs were heavy. Willy pooped. I went into water first and I couldn't believe I didn't bring my goggle because the water looked so clear and I could have been so curious about what fish they were trying to fish. This is the Colorado River just right before hitting the Lake Powell Dam. I later learned that the water had actually dropped hundreds of feet over the years. No wonder when I looked up satellite view on Google Map, our location was already in the water while hiking. The trick of this hike is to try staying on the high ground as we hiked down from the parking lot. Don't go straight down too soon or it's too steep to hike around.
    After my encouragement, the guys gradually (all of them) felt less fear of the coldness of the water, which wasn't really that cold comparing to LA Fitness' swimming pool sometimes. They all enjoyed it. We swam until around 7:15PM and headed back as the Sun was supposed to set by 7:45pm.
  • June 26: Leaving Page (I did woke up way early like 5:30AM for some drone testing), but not before stopping by the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook. Too bad Nadia didn't want to walk further, so we got only the upper half look of the dam. The plan was to see the like of this at the Hoover Dam, but that was not much fun either.
    Our first Grand Canyon stop was the Desert View Watchtower where I asked the staff for summarized spots to visit in a hurry.
    Next stop was Grandview Point. I also learned that some points (such as the Western points) were not accessible by car but by their free busses. We had no time for that.
    We did stopped by the main Grand Canyon Visitor Centor, where the major spots Mather Point and Yavapai Geology Museum were. I wish we could have time for the Trail of Time which was next to the Yavapai Museum. Took a quick camera tour of the museum and that was it.
    With Binoculars we could see some houses down by the basin of the canyons.
    We ate at the Grand Canyon Village Market & Deli - Mixed pizza (buffalo Chicken flavored half was just ok) but The Reuben was a fantastic Delicatessen meat treat.
    For Hoover Dam, I called ahead at around 5:15pm and the lady told me they were closing at 7pm for all access. She lied as I dared everyone to test it out when it was passed 7pm as we arrived. We had to cross that giant bridge in front of the dam (Rt. 93) which as no view of the dam but supposedly if we had walked on the bridge, we could get a good view of the dam. Security cleared us and so I presumed they weren't closed until sundown or 9pm at stated in Google. We dropped Tom's on the Hoover Dam Access Rd. between the state line (Nevada & Arizona) and we drove up to the free parking lots on Arizona side of the Hoover Dam Lookout to check the view. This is the back of the dam so not much to see. When by the time we picked Tom's, they also were not interested to walk the bridge to see the dam, which would have been a 15 min walk by Google's estimation.
    Back in Vegas, we had dinner at Orchid Vietnamese Restaurant. Seems much better than the previous one (Viet Noodle Bar), looks cleaner, less crowded (we were very lucky enough to park in front of it as the last car was leaving), more variety on menu. I sinned by getting the pork blood noodle soup Bun Bo Hue. Two pieces of pork blood were in it. I ate fast so nobody saw. Didn't seem to be anything much about the taste anymore. Just more of a nostalgic thing. I'll add this to the Faults Category and reflect upon it.
    Now is the "fun" part. We were at around 10PM and wanting to check into The Paris Hotel. But for some reason, Nadia forgot to mention Tom's name as she did at Mandalay for the 2nd room she booked. And this time, unlike Mandalay's very nice lady with I think French accent, this Paris Hotel Filipino looking lady didn't ask Nadia for a second name, she just flat out told Nadia that her other room was cancelled by, making us believing that this was's fault. In reality, those cancellations were made by Nadia in her chaotic arrangement of the hotels since she was doing this single-handedly. But believing that lady, Nadia booked Bally and then decided to cancel and booked Conrad (a 5 star hotel) and we walked to Bally cancel the Bally one. Had I been there with Nadia since the beginning for Paris and even Bally, I think there will be less confusion. But I left it to Nadia and Willy to handle these since it's Willy's card we use and I believed them when they told me the room was cancelled in Paris. The lady even assured me that this happens all the time with and that we should have booked directly through the hotels. I am beginning to think that this lady is just trying to be a bad salesman for her hotel and knew nothing else as to how more complicated things work. At Bally's, both Nadia and Willy's mood worsen as they faced their staff Veronica who apparently gave them a hard time with bad attitude, but I don't know the detail. Although, the Bally's last minute booking was refunded. If Nadia hadn't been too hasty to keep booking these hotels rather than going to the actual hotel itself to book. After roaming around at Conrad to cancel it because Nadia finally realized that our room at Paris should still be available and called to confirm, we learned later that Conrad couldn't cancel. But Conrad's response was too late (the next day), had it not been so, I would have had Willy stayed at the 5 star Conrad, since we couldn't cancel it by their hotel policy, and Nadia and I just go back to Paris. But we decided that all 3 of us just gave up Conrad, not knowing if the cancellation was a success, and stayed at Paris, where we met the same "Filipino" lady again to whom I left Nadia (after calming her down) to talk to since I had to get Tom out of bed and present himself for the check in of the 2nd room. When I came back with Tom, the lady was already feeling guilty at 12AM and gave us a suite (though a smoking room), but she immediately sent up a deodorizer as well as a portable bed. This suite (1674P) looks at the Eiffel tower as well as the swimming pool. One major king size BEDROOM and TWO bathrooms!!! I played Mozart's duet in Le Nozze Di Figaro as was in Shawshank as I slipped into the one with Jacuzzi tub. Enjoying a great Europian/Romanesque leisure and relaxation I never felt before.
    We all slept at past 1AM. As much as I still love Paris Resort's room style (though we could see some cons now - Motel-like service as Willy put it), especially their bathrooms suite or not, I wouldn't come here in the Summer. Too crowded, not much privacy or calm feeling as last year when Nadia and I came in the Winter.
  • June 27: Pretty much free style at this time after the return of the rental car. We thought Tom's went to Venetian so we tried to follow behind through Flamingo (almost lost my way). I tried going through the free samples I missed last time when plotting. They were nothing much. Hershey's wasn't offering, Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop wasn't offering. But Honolulu Cookie Company (across from Ghirardelli) on the market street towards the High Roller Wheel was the only one offering a free cookie sample per person. The rest were all afraid of Covid. The Hawaiian company impressed us enough to buy a couple bags of their cookies which they claim shipped straight from Hawaii. Even gave me a accumulated stamped card that's supposed to have no expiration. Spirits & Spice at the Venetian also gave a small sample drink of his self-brewed whiskey.
    We went deep into the Venetian canal center where singing and dancing were performed, to Willy's amazement. Then we learned from FangFang calling that they didn't go that far, so we went to Venetian again with them at around 8pm again. Where we also witnessed The Mirage's Volcano at 9pm (nothing much, just lots of fire and trapped crowd), and then it was Bellagio's fountain. Finally, they were beat and went back to the hotel while Willy and I ventured to the famous Ramen-Ya (Katana-ya) for dinner/supper by the little street North of Bally's. Price was around $14, normal, broth was great in my spicy Tonkotsu and I believe Willy ordered Miso. This basically was one of the two food I paid in this whole trip. The ramen for a total of around $30 and the Wicked Spoon Buffet we had the next day for around $360 including tips.
  • June 28: Checked out luggage and having them stored at Paris' Luggage Storage assistance, to whom the funny staff subtly hinted that our tip needed to be $5. Should have had him replay this for my video recording. Then I urged everyone not to wait anymore for the Wicked Spoon (it seemed to some it was good to wait in the hotel room until we got kicked out). Good thing we went early enough, the brunch wait at 11:30am at the Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon took a party of 7 people like us 20-30 minutes. To my joy, they were still serving bone marrows. All drinks were included as before. Everyone seemed to have a great time. We took some fried rice with us - it was going to be a hungry flight.
    Then we hanged at Aria (next to Cosmo), which has lots of brand name stores and less crowded. I looked into the Rolex store, asked some questions, and was given a Rolex catalogue as I flipped through it. I learned that Rolex was the first to move from pocket to wrist. And their watches (selling mechanicals only) require no battery now. Kinetic energy based. If not used for a while, must wind. Willy saw my catalogue and seemed jealous for a while.
    Aria's bathrooms were best in the area (not the one in the brand shops, but the one in its casino which require further walking - outside of the stores, across the outdoor pathway and into the lobby and casino - restrooms on the right).
    At 5pm, we went back to Paris for our luggage, gave another $5 tip, no special reaction from this other staff. Booked two Lift cars to the airport. I remembered Pak Tong's way, so I tried to talk to the driver, who's from Ethiopia, of their Christianity, recently moved from the cold Minnesota. Fang Fang and the kids were in the back. I didn't get to talk much about the Gospel. Tired.
  • June 29: Arrived Newark at around 6AM, found a Lift ride that fits all 7 people and luggage. And tried to work SPG at noon, from home, as I told Greg on Monday, who gladly permitted.
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