Category: Travels Around USA



Touchdown, Manila! I’m back now after a month-long trip. This Oct-Nov trip had me packing and “improvising” for all 4 seasons. I know layering works but I never thought I’d experience extreme weather.

Miami was hot and humid, even in the evenings. The day we drove to Orlando and Hutchinson Island, it was in the high 20’s C. I was sweating while standing in line for my banshee ride in Avatar Land (Pandora) in Disney World. More beads of sweat as we took the boat ride to view celebrity homes in sunny Miami and checked out some Spanish Monastery. Oh, how it sizzled! It only grew more comfortable when we leisurely drove around Central Miami to feast on Joe’s stone crabs!

Peru had us moving from summer to spring. A blessing, given the rainy forecast for the day we visited Macchu Picchu. Weather was so unpredictable I had to strip to my undershirt during the day and then layer up towards late afternoons. I worked up a sweat climbing up and down this Incan sanctuary high up in the Andes. Temps dipped a bit as we moved from Aguas Calientes, Sacred Valley to Cusco and Lima.

From Peru, we flew back to Miami before flying to San Francisco, then Vegas and Utah to enjoy crisp autumn season. Halloween beckoned and the orange colors ruled the days especially when we visited Zion National Park and Red Rock Canyon. It was a great day for riverside walks and breezy, autumn afternoons.

The weekend in Lake Tahoe took over 3 hours of driving from San Francisco area. It rained, grew foggy and on our drive back, experienced snow at Donner Summit. But the lake view before that was breathtaking! By nightfall, we only managed a dinner in the hotel and a few casino hours. Slot machines bore me so I turned in early for the night while my friends played.

Back in San Francisco, we didn’t waste time visiting Napa Valley. The Riverfront, Ox Bow Public Market, the drive to Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. Earlier, I wasn’t keen on doing yet another Napa day out. Now I realize there is simply too many, too much to cover in one visit. Mondavi the last time, Beringer, Hall and Far Niente now, perhaps Calistoga’s castle and wineries next. It was an exhausting, eventful month-long trip. Covered as much ground as possible in a month. Experienced all 4 seasons in one trip. Met up with as many friends and missed just as many too! I should be making another trip if only to visit more friends I sorely miss.


It’s a matter of choice. And finances 🙄. The Napa Valley Wine Train choo choos through the valley’s towns and vineyards. At this time of the year, it should be a splendid ride sipping some vintage wine paired with a gourmet meal while one’s eyes feast on the autumn foliage running through Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. Or you can drive it!

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Yountville. This is Thomas Keller country. Per Se. French Laundry. Ad Hoc. Bouchon. Choose according to errrr….. budget. Bouchon breakfast of your favorite brew and that cluster of freshly-baked epi with the signature butter and jam should do it. If you like, take your brew and bread a few steps away to a garden table right by Thomas Keller’s organic farm just across French Laundry. Here you can enjoy the farm view, linger, and people-watch. A much better deal than watching the line at Bouchon Bakery and feeling guilty overstaying at your table.

Oakville. We missed the oldest grocery store in California here. Still operating, but with artisanal products intended for tourists/visitors rather than its measly population of 300. We should drop in next time we’re in the area. But we didn’t miss visiting the Carmelite Monastery — with its beautiful garden and pond meditation place. The vineyards around the area look newly-harvested. Thank God the recent wildfire didn’t reach this area.

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Rutherford-St. Helena. Well, if you ask me, I like St. Helena best. It is farther away but certainly worth the extra distance. For many who have done Napa and nearby Yountville, St. Helena struck me as more elegant in a casual way. More posh. We only managed to visit Far Niente, Beringer and Hall vineyards but these are truly enough for a short afternoon visit. The interior road to Far Niente is like a drive to a forest basking in its autumn colors. And the Far Niente gate — though closed the day we visited — is teeming with blooms.

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Beringer with its Rhine House and garden replete with blooms is quite a sight. On the other hand, Hall seems “ready” for its many wine-drinking guests. Before the tasting, one can stroll around the vineyard and enjoy the view. The staff were also accommodating.

St. Helena has a number of restaurants worth visiting. My friend’s favorite is Farmstead. But we went for the less formal Gott’s. The original is right here in St. Helena. This unpretentious place has a good, informal setting for “happy hours” — wine or craft beer — and a good selection of reasonably-priced soup, salad and sandwiches. I liked today’s special – a beef brisket sandwich, and enjoyed the spicy tomato soup, but I’m told their burgers are tops. Perhaps next time. St. Helena absolutely deserves another visit!

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It’s only 20 miles from the Vegas Strip. Red rock formations tower over you in this desert park where we found many hikers and rock climbers who can give you a heart attack just by watching them. If Mt. Zion National Park is too far for you (>150 miles), then it’s Red Rock Canyon for you. It’s vast. It’s red. And it’s windy the day we visited. No hiking this time, but we drove around the canyon park.

The other tourists we met look like they had late nights in the Strip. A thought crossed my mind. If they’ve been winning, I don’t think the serious gamblers would break their luck with a visit here 😜 But those who came with their families would have fun time here. There were also serious joggers as we drove around. Not for us though. We arrived noon time and the sun in all its splendour was beaming right down on us, while the wind raffled through our hair.

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Didn’t stay too long here. It was enough to view the red rocks and head back to Vegas as we were all itching for a shower and a quick nap. A few posterity shots and short drive after, we were back on the Strip in the comforts of our hotel.

Las Vegas. So many shows to watch. So many hotels and malls to visit. So many, many ways to entertain ourselves. We watched Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE (Beatles) and enjoyed it. But y’know what I enjoyed next? No, not the buffets. In fact, we didn’t do any buffet. I enjoyed the Vegas Skyline from the hotel room’s balcony. With my feet up, the view from the 56th floor was so relaxing, so peaceful despite a recent tragedy that struck Vegas.

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Last time I was here was with family. The children were still of pre-school age and they’re well into their teens now. Cirque du Soleil was already a hit then, and the dancing fountains of Bellagio were mesmerizing then as it is now.

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I still remember the other hotels, and visited the ones I missed. New hotels replaced the old ones. New restos, new malls. Still pulls a surprise. After all, it is not everyday one experiences this make-believe world. Both children and adults will love it here. Just keep their eyes covered when you meet ladies with overexposed “tops” 🙄

UTAH ROCKS!


My very first time in Utah. Done with Grand Canyon and Yosemite in the past, but not Zion National Park. It’s huge! And so so many hiking trails. A few months back, I heard a lone hiker slipped and fell to his death. Somewhere near or off Angels’ Landing. Amateurs that we are, we only managed the Riverside Walk, took the park shuttle, got off next to the final station and walked the last few kilometers towards the Visitors’ Center. We were hoping to view the sunset as we walked back but no luck. It was growing too cold for that sunset view.

Zion National Park was teeming with autumn foliage. Fall colors always get me excited, especially when I sense the dry, fallen leaves crunch under my soles. Nothing beats Mother Nature, really. The rainbow, autumn hues, spring blooms, summer fruits freshly-picked off trees, the soft pillow-like snow melting under your boots. Nature is unbeatable in its majestic beauty. Petrodollars may build all the humongous palaces, resorts and malls, war loot may have built many such religious temples and comprised a collection housed in many museos, but priceless is the beauty of Nature unfolding before one’s eyes. A beauty that readily transforms with every change of Season.

The Riverside hiking trail was very reasonable. One follows the river’s path meandering through the mountains right until the end, perhaps take off one’s boots to wade in the river water, then head back to catch the park shuttle. The Virgin River Walk is a good choice for amateur hikers. But that is not to say it is not exciting enough.

In autumn, the trees in autumn hues provide such a breathtaking backdrop that one can’t hike without stopping to take in all the beauty. The sound of a bubbling stream and the “weeping” side of the red cliffs — especially after a rain — is music to the ears of every hiker. I’ve seen young parents hiking with their young children. You’d delight in the energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun of these young fellas.

As we headed back to the Visitors Center, a crowd massed around or under the bridges spanning across the Virgin River. Many had their tripods set up, waiting for sunset. We struck a conversation with this nice couple with impressive cameras and zoom lens — obviously not first-timers like us. Yet we sense the same degree of enthusiasm in them. Truly, Nature “repeats” its cycles — sunrise & sunset, day & night, spring, summer, autumn and winter — yet, no one can accurately predict how the fading light touches the mountain peaks, or how the sunlight stirs the reflections on the river waters. Each photograph is unique. The expectations are there, but the realities sometimes pull such pleasant surprises. Who’s to say how each photo would come out?

Getting Stoned @Joe’s


I’d be quick with this one. You may be all agog strolling the Art Deco-lined streets of Miami, but not as agog over a plate of stone crabs with the special Joe’s mustard and mayo (and whatever else) dip. An institution around here, many say it would be a crime to visit Miami without dropping in.

We had salad before digging in into those fat crab claws, and a slice of chocolate pecan pie after the delightful seafood platter. Too bad they ran out of key lime pie, which I hear is another bestseller.

The place is housed in this yellow building not too far away from the Art Deco strip and that building one always sees when watching CSI Miami 🙄 . Best to go off peak hours if you want to get seated. I noticed though that many locals pick up their takeaway here. The idea crossed my mind too even AFTER we’ve lunched here. For sure, I won’t mind getting stone crabs for dinner on the same day. But then, there’s the business of checking out the nearby Art Deco buildings and the crabs would have to be left, stoned and cold, in the car. 😩

So there. Take your pick. Dine in or takeaway, or both? By the time you’re done meticulously cleaning out those claws of all the crab meat you can get, you’re ready to check out those background scenes in your favorite TV series 😜

Then head back for more.


Coming from a tropical country, I always always looked forward to trips to cool destinations. And I meant that literally. Lower temps are every tropical babe’s luxury, and I bask in the comforts of no-sweat, non-humid climates. But no, Florida is a major exception. Miami sizzles as did Manila when I left it. So, what best to do in this sunny paradise?

Bayside in South Beach offered many options. I’ve never done the tour of celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious. The boat tour of homes by the waters owned by the rich and famous beckoned and what better way to spend a hot, humid afternoon? The sea breeze will be refreshing and besides, I am now really and seriously curious.

I find it utterly mind-boggling to hear of over US$100 million homes and palm trees from Somalia costing $10,000 each. But then again, who’s to stop Dr. Frost from spending his money like a madman? Not many ladies know this doctor who invented the blue pill but many men of a certain age, stature and “habits” may remember this medicine man of Viagra fame.

And how about La Vida Loca Pop Star Ricky Martin? His white mansion confirms his sweet life on earth. Or rather, by the water. More Hollywood trivia: Michael Jackson gifting his celebrity bestie with a luxury home here. Such a generous gift for Elizabeth Taylor! Leonardo Di Carpio’s Villa looks like a location site for his movie “Great Gatsby”. And there’s also the white mansion of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.

Can i make a confession at this point? I couldn’t remember which house belongs to whom. 😔 Mi apologia. But if you come visiting, don’t be surprised to bump into Alicia Keys, Madonna, David Beckam, Shaquille O’Neal, Shakira and many other celebrities.

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Most visitors will hit the beaches and the stroll along Art Deco buildings in South Beach. Or perhaps they’d hop on a boat to view celebrity homes and if lucky, bump into suntanned Hollywood stars or the rich and famous. But I was drawn to visit this Spanish Monastery in an obscure place in North Miami Beach area. I was driven by my Miami-based friend who has not in fact visited this site the last 30 years she’s lived here.

There was a sprawling garden even before the Romanesque and pre-Gothic monastery was reconstructed here. Reconstructed, yes. The original site was in Sacramenia, Spain in 1133. That marks it a good 360 years before Columbus discovered the New World. Originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Monastery was renamed to honor the famous monk Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercian monks lived in the Monastery for 700 years until a social revolution broke out in the 1830’s. The cloisters were then seized and sadly converted into a granary and stable.

Then came William Randolph Hearst. This media tycoon bought the cloisters and outbuildings in 1925. Stone by stone, the structures were dismantled, numbered, packed and crated in hay, and transported to USA. Unfortunately, hoof and mouth disease broke out in Segovia and the 11,000 wooden crates were quarantined, broke open, and the hay burned. But the stones were not replaced back in their original numbered boxes before being stored in a warehouse in New York where the stones remained for the next 26 years!

Meanwhile, Hearst ran into financial woes and it was only a year after he died in 1952 that the collection was again sold, and then resold in 1964. A wealthy philanthropist finally purchased the cloisters for the Episcopal diocese and the Monastery has since remained here with an active Episcopalian congregation. Now popular for weddings, photo shoots and as locations for film and TV shoots, it has been maintained very well to be enjoyed by visitors. The Museum Shop houses some antique decors from the original structures such as a series of corbels, coat of arms, bas reliefs, altars and religious statues. Worth a visit, if you ask me.

Lest I forget, the first time we visited (yes, we went twice) we even met this flamenco dancer posing, posturing and dancing in the gardens. Olé!


We came for this. Happy seniors in that Happy Place. Avatar opened only last May 2017 and we simply had to try those 2 new rides: that 3D Flight of Passage on a banshee and the Na’vi River Journey through a dream-like cave world full of bioluminescent light from the Avatar movie. All inspired by that all-time top grossing film by James Cameron.

We went on a Thursday, thinking it won’t be crowded but passing by a FULL parking lot on our way to the Dolphin Hotel within the Disney compound could only mean we should expect a huge crowd. Then again, we thought the huge throng of humans in Disney’s Animal Kingdom must be there for that popular safari ride. We were wrong again. Every human seems headed for Pandora. And yes, everyone wanted to ride the banshee!

The lines for the rides were long. More than an hour. But we can’t be deprived. We drove more than 3 hours from Miami to Orlando for this, so what’s another hour? We chose the 3D banshee ride first. The line weaved through a laboratory reminiscent of scenes from the top-grossing Jim Cameron’s epic film. We even passed Jake’s avatar floating in an aquarium-like space. Finally, we were in a room, ready to be paired with our respective Avatars. Mine looked like the rest — blue, wide forehead, big eyes and all.

It was a marvelous ride. I screamed at the top of my lungs as my banshee soared high, dove low, flew through the floating boulders, got entangled with some floating trees, went through the falls, nearly collided with another banshee and other banshee-like birds, and simply paused to float in the air to take in the whole lovely panorama comprising the Na’vi world. I heard there were a few medical cases since the Flight of Passage in Disney’s Pandora opened last May. Mind you, not every collapsed person was a senior. Thankfully, I was completely aware of every minute of the ride and enjoyed it tremendously. Will I recommend it? Of course.

After “surviving” the banshee ride, we were ready for some Na’vi food. We were so curious we ended up overordering. Had a piece of the burger pod which looked like steamed Chinese buns we call “siopao” except that the Na’vi pods were dry and tasted bleh. Most reviews I’ve read recommended it though. But this Oriental knows her Chinese buns and the pods I tried just don’t make the cut. As for the grilled beef with potatoes and chimichurri sauce, we hardly touched it. Beef looked half-cooked, sauce could have been better. Another bleh. Good thing I added a kiddie meal of grilled chicken with rice which I liked. I also liked the “lumpia” (rolls filled with pineapple custard) I bought with the Na’vi drinks from the Pongu Bar. Now, the desserts looked really good but tasted overly sweet. They were left half-eaten. As for the drinks, forget the Night Blossom. They just look good but not worth a sip.

After a heavy meal of stuff we hardly enjoyed, we went for the River of Lights Show. No fireworks but the lights display in the pond in Asia World in the Animal Kingdom was worth seeing. Then, we trooped back and queued up for the boat ride through the Na’vi River. The journey didn’t elicit as much excitement as the first but it was relaxing, and cooled us through this hot, humid day. It was however just a boat ride, not much different from the “Pirates of the Carribean” or “It’s a Small World” but certainly not much more enjoyable as these last 2 Disney boat rides. And that ends our day in that Happy Place. Best part was the banshee ride. A few letdowns on the Na’vi food, but we’re too happy to be upset about it. 💕