Category Archives: Travel

Yosemite Trip

Discovery ViewI am overdue for posting anything about our Yosemite trip, especially so because we have just returned a month later from our trip to Disneyland. It was good to do two back-to-back vacations this year. I feel we’re getting back into the swing of having fun. Which reminds me: I can’t wait to finish my degree next June so that I can have my life back.

We went to Yosemite during the week of Thanksgiving. Going to Yosemite during the late autumn season has its pros and cons. The cons are not such a big deal though – Yosemite Falls is basically dry, and it gets really cold–especially at night. But the crowds are far smaller, and there are some fun seasonal things to do–especially in the Thanksgiving-season dining department. We were lucky in that the upper roads up to Glacier Point were still open.

Yosemite Valley & HalfdomeOn Day 1 we drove right in to Yosemite Valley and had lunch at the Yosemite Lodge. We had some fresh trout that was absolutely the best, and then went for a walk along the trails along the Merced River. We were staying at the Tenaya Lodge, which was kind of a trek from Yosemite Valley, so we set out a bit early towards the hotel.

Tenaya Lodge was very nice. Just outside the south entrance of the park, this hotel had a couple of nice restaurants both of which catered well to my gluten-free needs. All their pastas were gluten-free, not just something you request! That was cool, although of course I had to order a steak.

The next day was fun: We first did breakfast at the hotel, checked out the trickle that was Bridalveil Falls, then drove in for a hike up along the north side of Yosemite Valley. We had lunch along the riverbank and took pictures everywhere. We caught the afternoon bus tour and got a good description of the history and landmarks of Yosemite Valley. That night they had ice skating at our hotel and s’mores.

IMG_0227.JPGThe final day started with an early morning ranger wildlife discussion for the kids at the Ahwahnee Hotel – a posh old-tyme establishment in a beautiful spot in Yosemite Valley, while I caught myself breakfast in their swank restaurant. Biggest ham and cheese omelette I ever saw – must have been like 14 eggs in there. We then drove up the still-open road to Glacier Point to get the amazing views from the top of the cliffs above Yosemite Valley. Amazing view up there. We drove back towards the south end of the park and had lunch at the Wawona Hotel – not much of a gluten-free selection but at least the waiter and chef were quite knowledgeable and made sure I had a decent and untainted meal. We wrapped it up at the Mariposa Grove and toured the giant redwood trees there before heading back to our hotel and crashing. We headed home first thing the next morning. Great trip – hadn’t been back there since I was a kid, and it was lots of fun this time around.

Some more photos:

Giant Sequoia Little Yosemite Valley IMG_0191.JPG El Capitan

Transformations

Four DragonsTonight we blew off a bunch of fireworks and gave out tons of hong bao to our cousins. There were about a dozen little kids running around with sparklers and pockets full of red envelopes as the rest of us drank tea and attempted to blow our fingers off. This shot was my favorite – tried a little camera toss to catch the trails of the sparks flying around.

Earlier we went up to a place called Lover’s Harbor (։∫∫Ȇ≠) which was north of Kaohsiung on the way towards Tainan. It’s a little resort area with a harborside theater and restaurant, places to walk around and enjoy the scene, and tons of stalls selling everything from barbecued squid on a stick and lemonade to kiddie rides and Taiwanese puppets. There were several Binlang Xi Ci along the way, but alas no good opportunities for a photograph.

Two things I’ve found remarkable on this trip about Taiwan. One is that the city transformation of Kaohsiung from a polluted, industrial city to becoming one of the world’s most attractive and exciting metropolises, is truly an amazing feat. When I first came to Taiwan, I was told that the Love River was a cess pool of filth running through the city, and now after an enormous cleanup it is a gorgeous waterfront lined with parks and high-rise condos, and it is dotted with sailboats. The city streets are mostly in good repair or getting there, and some very interesting storefronts are springing up. Rail improvements are the most interesting improvement, with the HSR connecting the north and south parts of the island in less than 2 hours, MRT system to bring commuter rail to the entire city, and major renovations in many of the rail stations. Also highly interesting are the huge number of incredibly nice-looking high-rise condos going up all over the city. They look majestic.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a clear increase in the number of persons who are seriously obese. Ten years ago, everyone I met was either burly, svelte, or as skinny as a toothpick. But now, skinny is no longer the norm, and expanding waistlines are commonplace. The encroachment of McDonald’s, refined flour products, and the like is on it’s way to doing the same damage that it has done to America. We were talking about this today – it is definitely a phenomenon that is diet-related and definitely a recent trend. One thing that I have to say I actually appreciate about my celiac disease is that it forces me to avoid most junk foods and keeps me from incessant snacking. Especially in a place like Taiwan where there is absolutely no gluten-free labeling on anything, and you can assume that there’s wheat-based soy sauce on just about everything. They have never heard of celiac for the most part, so everything I eat here is homemade. Yes it sucks in that Taiwan is one of the best gastro-tourism countries around, but I like at least that most of the unhealthy stuff is off limits to me anyway…

Speaking of food – we stopped by this organic fruit stand near our house today and bought some fresh-squeezed orange juice. Oh my god it is so delicious. If I ever move here, I’m buying a place as close to that shop as I can.

Tainan Trip on HSR

Kiss and RideYesterday morning we saw the Premier of Taiwan and potential 2008 candidate Su Tseng-chang (≤) at the gorgeous new Tsoying HSR train station. He was walking around with an entourage of reporters and cameramen handing out hong bao. Yingwen ran up and got an envelope and got to exchange greetings with him, and I was kicking myself for not having charged our camera battery the night before. Aaaargh! The hong bao had NT$10 in it – a coin glued to the paper. Cute.

Leading in to the station are signs that say Kiss and Ride for the passenger drop-off area. More cute. This train station looked nicer than the KHH airport, which isn’t bad, but just remarkable considering how much money went into this facility and also considering how many of the other regional stations look. There was a Starbucks inside the station, and I fueled up on a Cappuccino before we got moving. We rode the train up just one stop to the one near Tainan and took a taxi into the Anping Harbor District – again kicking myself for not having camera juice – and visited an old building that had been so overtaken by banyan trees that the roof had literally become banyan roots. We then visited the old Dutch fort of Zeelandia and watched as they blew off three rounds from one of the old cannons, and had what looked like a delicious lunch purchased from the local street vendors up on one of the ramparts under a tree. (I can only guess that it was good from the yummy sounds they made – my restricted diet requires me to pack my own food everywhere I go.)

We took the older train from downtown Tainan station back to the Tsoying station. It is so convenient that the older trains and the new HSR all can transfer at this same location. Next time we’ll take the ride up to Taipei, which supposedly takes less than 2 hours. I’ll remember to charge the camera battery…

Taoyuan Airport Impromptu Baroque Tai Chi Ballet

It is around 7 AM and daylight is just breaking out over the Taoyuan airport in Taiwan on Chinese New Year’s Eve after a long flight from SFO, and I’m sitting waiting for a connecting flight to Kaohsiung and I’ve been studying advanced SQL techniques. I turn on my iPod and put on some noise-canceling headphones to cut out some of the din in the room, with announcements coming in over the speaker and a rather loud dehumidifier placed behind my seat. I’m listening to Hilary Hahn play the Adagio from Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E, BWV 1042. As the movement opens, this old woman gets up from her chair and starts practicing some morning Tai Chi Chuan. And it’s like I’m the sole witness to this sublime personal ballet. Her movements are graceful and limber, far beyond what you would expect from a woman of her years, and the movements of her hands in the air surrounding her seem to be in perfect step with every note being played. It is an indescribable moment of pure elegance; sublime, spontaneous beauty that will disappear with the the pre-boarding announcements coming over the loudspeaker for my next flight. For a moment there, I witnessed art – but I was the only one who knew about it.

Annapurna’s in ABQ

Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine & Chai House in Albuquerque is an excellent little alternative restaurant for gluten-free options, and a wide variety of ’em – Indian, sandwiches, and pastries. And caffeine aplenty. GF pastries – how often do you walk into a cafe with that in the case? If I lived in ABQ, I’d go there almost every morning.

This little cafe is actually two restaurants in one – the Green Light Bistro, which used to be next door, is now a part of Annapurna. For a celiac, this is awesome, because both menus contain a very generous sampling of gluten-free dishes. Mix and match, take your pick. They have dosas, soups, pastries, teff cake (low gluten, not GF), hand cut french fries with homemade dips, and plenty more.

The menus for both Annapurna and Green Light Bistro are entirely vegetarian. The markings on the menu are V for “vegan”, and GF for “gluten-free”. How cool is that? I wound up with this place after googling for “vegetarian” and “gluten-free” because I was planning a lunch with two known vegetarians, and I gotta at least keep an eye out for myself as well. One match came up, and that’s enough for me.

This is a great little meeting spot. We were getting together to discuss the Next Big Thing(tm), and the atmosphere in there seemed comfortable in a way that was somehow conducive to my own intellectual thought and creative energy. (YMMV). I liked the fact that there was free wi-fi, and most tables I saw were MacBook-wielding students frantically working on papers while bobbing their heads to the piped in ragas on the stereo system. I even heard a familiar bit of Zakir Hussein/Hariprasad Chaurasia/John McLaughlin on the hit parade. The staff there was quite helpful in helping me pick out something delicious to eat. It’s nice to have a laid back and comfortable place to retreat to like this – I plan on being back for all my ABQ trips.