Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pasadena trip report + congratulations to my cousin Connie!

"Are you sure he's not an undercover NSA agent?" -- me asking Luc about the wedding videographer

The weekend had an awesome beginning as my family and aunts Jill and Yu-Hua went to Pasadena for Connie's nuptials. This was especially exciting as I hadn't been to a wedding in almost 18 years. It was great to touch base with the Shiehs again after not having seen them since Thanksgiving 2011.

The vacation was also somewhat exhausting as none of us got much sleep. I'm glad it's still the weekend. In any case, here's the trip report!

Day 1

We started out pretty early due to Pasadena being about 350 miles away and the possibility of heavy traffic in the L.A. metropolitan area. Except for a stop at Casa de Fruta in Hollister so Jill and Yu-Hua could have a look around, the drive was kind of boring given the limited number of attractions along the route. Contrary to our expectations, the traffic in L.A. turned out to be smooth and didn't cause any delays.

In the interest of time, Luc and Connie opted to have their ceremony at a courthouse. They decided to forgo the traditional wedding party - meaning no bridesmaids, groomsmen or whatnot. Despite our early arrival, we didn't get to see the couple exchange their vows because checking into the hotel and dressing up took longer than expected. While this wouldn't have been the case had we gone directly to the courthouse, Mom felt showing up dressed inappropriately would be worse than not showing up at all. That said, I don't think we missed much as Connie says the ceremony was fairly simple.

The reception began around 5 p.m. at a small restaurant called POP Champagne & Dessert Bar. There was no dancing as the venue had limited space, but that make didn't the party any less fun. The place was crowded as there were over 60 guests in total, most of whom were related to Luc as he has a large extended family. I got to meet lots of people, including Connie's friends, Luc's relatives and Cathy's boyfriend Gene. Aside from the parents and one little girl, the guests were mostly my age. I had a great time getting to know them.

Dinner consisted of two passed appetizers, followed by assorted beef sliders and macaroni cheese with truffle oil for the main course. The Shieh and Danziger families then shared funny stories about the couple during the toasts, after which we were served crème brûlée, churros and pavlova for dessert. Luc and Connie later gave their speeches and thanked everyone for coming before cutting the cake.

One feature of the cake was the Millennium Falcon topper, the reason being that Connie and Luc's aunt Armelle (who helped plan the wedding) are huge Star Wars fans. It was a nice touch, considering that I love Star Wars too. Although the cake was delicious, all of us were so full that Mom and I shared a single slice!

On the whole, the evening was nothing short of amazing. The only downer was that my father couldn't attend the wedding. Dad was tied up with an important work project and also didn't want to pass any germs around from his cold. He nonetheless showed up at the end of the night to give Connie his blessings.

Day 2

I had no more than three hours of sleep and was rather tired in the morning. It was probably due to my excitement, not to mention the sugar rush from all the desserts. The rest of the day fortunately wasn't too taxing as I later got some rest in the car.

The plan was to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum with the Shiehs and some of the couple's friends. The side trip was sadly canceled due to my aunt Cynthia not feeling well the night before. Our party therefore stopped in Old Pasadena for pictures instead. Dad says this was his favorite part of the trip.

Cynthia felt much better later in the morning and invited us and Luc to her place in L.A. for lunch. The Shiehs had a large home with three floors. It was no doubt nice to relax and hang out with my cousins. The lunch made for some wonderful family time, especially with Dad cracking all those in-law jokes. ^_^

Cathy and I accompanied Cynthia back to Pasadena as my aunt had to pick up her car from the valet. One cool attraction along Route 66 was the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, and Cynthia was kind enough to take me there. While the heat would have been the perfect excuse to get some ice cream, I decided against it due to having consumed a lot of sugar the day before. I also didn't want to risk getting sick again as I had just recovered from a cold. The Fair Oaks Pharmacy is definitely somewhere I'd like to revisit on a future trip to Pasadena.

Jill and Yu-Hua are staying with the Shiehs for the rest of their visit, leaving just me and my parents. The three of us hit the road shortly afterwards as Dad didn't want to arrive home too late. Saying goodbye to my aunts and cousins was the hardest part of the trip. There was a bit of traffic in the area, but we still managed to get back to the Bay Area earlier than expected. Our adventure ended with a nice dinner at Il Postale.

Conclusions

The highlight of this trip was obviously the reception. Seeing my cousin get married was one of the most special moments in my life. This was my first time attending a wedding in almost 18 years and so was super exciting. At any rate, I'd like to offer my congratulations to Luc and Connie, and may they find nothing but love and happiness as they begin their life together.

There is so much to do in Pasadena. One place I wanted to visit was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as I've always been interested in science. However, that wasn't an option because the facility is generally only open to the public on weekdays. Dad actually considered staying an extra night, but I didn't want to be too tired upon returning to work Monday morning. It looks like we'll have to go back to Pasadena soon!

Our biggest regret of the trip is missing the ceremony at the courthouse. Though Connie says it's not a big deal, I'm a little bummed about not being there when she and Luc officially got married. The other downside is that Dad was unable to come to the reception. I'm glad he was at least able to join us for the post-wedding lunch.

I also have a moderate case of the post-vacation blues right now; this usually doesn't happen often for short trips. Vacations come and go, but the memories from this one will undoubtedly last a long time. You can see my pictures from the wedding and the rest of the trip on Flickr. I've also uploaded two videos on YouTube.

Currently listening to: "Wake Me Up" by Avicii

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reno weekend getaway report

"All right, everyone, let's get to work." -- Dad at Rail City Casino

Summer is off to a good start as two of my aunts are visiting from overseas. Figuring we had to do something fun together, Dad took all of us to Reno and Tahoe over the weekend. The vacation was quite enjoyable aside from the intense heat.

Day 1

The trip began with a stop at Solano Town Center in Fairfield so Jill and Yu-Hua could have a look around. There wasn't anything they needed, but it was nice to get out and stretch. Our group arrived in Roseville around noon, and the nearby Maidu Regional Park was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. Though the weather was kind of warm, the park luckily had a large shaded pavilion. The picnic made for some great family time.

The route took us through Auburn and Truckee. Given that it had gotten rather hot outside, Jill and Yu-Hua opted to stay in the car. This was something my parents and I were fine with as we had been to both towns before.

Dad checked us into Hampton Inn & Suites Reno after the long drive. Our suite was spacious and had more than enough room for everyone. Jill and Yu-Hua rested at the hotel while the rest of us went to buy dinner at the nearby WinCo Foods. The artisan flatbread from Leonardi's Pizza was delicious!

We went to Grand Sierra Resort in Reno in the evening so my aunts could get a feel of what casinos in the U.S. were like. Seeing that the slots there weren't that fun, Mom suggested going to Rail City Casino in Sparks instead. The five of us played the penny slots at Rail City Casino for around two hours and actually ended up winning a few dollars. This was my favorite of the trip.

Day 2

All of us got up fairly early as the heat made it hard to sleep. The historic Virginia City awaited us after a nice breakfast at the hotel. Virginia City was a highlight of our trip to Reno and Carson City five years ago, so my parents thought Yu-Hua and Jill might be interested. But because most of the stores weren't open yet, all we did was take a couple of photos.

Our party then went back to Rail City Casino to play more slots and watch the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. Luck wasn't on our side this time, and yesterday's gains soon went back to the house. I can't say this was unexpected. As the saying goes, the house (almost) always wins.

The plan was to check out other nearby casinos and look for hiking trails in the area. However, none of us wanted to stay after the weather turned out to be even hotter than the day before. Dad made a quick stop in South Lake Tahoe so my aunts could get pictures. There were more people on the beach than we've ever seen. How they could stand the heat is beyond me.

We began heading back to the Bay Area as the heat was becoming unbearable. The five of us had a short rest at the Nyack Shell convenience store before leaving the mountains. I bought a bag of potato chips and some much-needed ice cream.

As per tradition, my family also stopped at WinCo Foods in Vacaville for groceries. Jill and Yu-Hua were impressed by the size of the store. Dad had hoped to have dinner at one of his favorite dim sum places in Fremont but later found out it had permanently closed. We therefore went to a Chinese restaurant in Milpitas instead. The crazy thing is that the power went out in the middle of the meal. Oh dear!

I'm guessing the outage was related to the heat. It was hard to see the food until Dad brought in a flashlight from the car. This kind of ruined the mood but was nonetheless an interesting experience. Sometimes it's these little mishaps that make a vacation more memorable. Other than that, the outage seemed to affect just that particular area and didn't give us any problems on the way home.

Conclusions

The biggest downside of the trip was the unexpected heat wave. It was difficult to spend more than a few minutes outside, and our plans often had to change as a result. Although the car rides were uncomfortable due to the cramped space, having companions always makes traveling much more enjoyable.

On the whole, the vacation was awesome despite the short length and triple-digit temperatures. I'd say the best part was playing the slots at Rail City Casino. This was our first time traveling with Jill and Yu-Hua since our trip Taiwan and China seven years ago, and their company made this getaway especially awesome. Speaking of which, I can't wait for my cousin Connie's wedding in Pasadena. Jill and Yu-Hua will again be joining us. I'm super excited. :-)

In the meantime, be sure to check out my photos from this trip.

Currently listening to: "Summer" by Calvin Harris

Sunday, July 6, 2014

4th of July weekend report + summer plans

I had a nice 4th of July long weekend even though my family didn't do all that much.

The fun began with lunch at Tomatina in San Mateo on the 4th. The plan was to go to Il Postale in Sunnyvale, but the place was inexplicably empty even though the doors were open. There was absolutely nobody inside, not even the waitstaff. I have no idea what was going on. At any rate, the food at Tomatina was quite good. We even got to watch part of the World Cup match between Brazil and Colombia on the restaurant's TV.

The three of us then looked for fine china at antique shops before heading home. This was somewhat exhausting as we made several stops. All of us were too tired to go anywhere to see fireworks, although I did pull a few party poppers in the evening.

Saturday and Sunday relatively uneventful. Seeing that it was fairly hot outside, I spent most of those two days studying Android development. Other than that, I reached level 85 magic in RuneScape over the weekend. W00t!

2014 summer plans

The rest of summer should also be awesome: my aunts Yu-Hua and Jill are coming over from China on the 12th and will be staying with us for a couple of weeks. The plan is to take them on a road trip to Reno this coming weekend. Two weeks after that, the five of us will be heading down to Pasadena for my cousin Connie's wedding. It will be my first time attending a wedding in almost 18 years, something I'm greatly looking forward to.

There's also a lot going on in August, starting with the annual Lab126 family picnic on the 9th. Henry's film club is taking a field trip to San Francisco the weekend after that. Last but not least, my 10-year high school reunion is at the end of the month. So yeah, I'm extremely excited for the summer. :-)

In other news...

On the subject of weddings, happy sixth anniversary to my cousin Anne and her husband Lawrence!

Currently watching: Batman: The Animated Series season 1, episode 47: "Birds of a Feather"