Big Bear Ski Trip

February 8th, 2009

Last Monday and Tuesday we decided to make a trip to Big Bear Lake to go skiing at Snow Summit.  We have a trip to Whistler coming up, so we wanted to get some skiing in before then.

We started out on Monday morning a little after 9:00am.  We made it to Big Bear Lake at about 11:20am. Just over two hours isn’t too bad to get to some good skiing.  We decided to have lunch at Blondie Grill and Bar. They had a suprisingly good vegetarian selection.  I had a Cick N Veggie Wrap and M had a Soy Chicken Parm. My wrap was not too bad. M was suprised that her’s cam with spaghetti, but she ended up deciding that it was a good thing.  

After lunch we checked into our hotel, the Northwoods Resort. Although it was only about noon, we were able to check into out room. That was good because it allowed us to change into our ski clothes. The weather was very warm, so I just wore jeans, a t-shirt and a light fleece.

We started towards the mountain when we realized that it would probably be better to rent our skis in the Village instead of going to the base of the slope to rent. We made the right decision. We stopped at a place called Bellows and the rentals were much cheaper, skis we $12 for the first half-day and $14 for the next day. The place was empty and we got our skis quickly. The only downside was that they didn’t have any high-performance skis. Next time we’ll have to try to find a place that carries them.

We were on the slopes by about 1:00pm. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny. We took a couple of runs on the bunny slope to warm up and then starting skiing on Summit Run. A nice easy green one. We skied that until Michele got tired around 3:30. I then went for another three runs on some black diamonds until the lifts closed at 4:00p.

After skiing we headed back to the hotel and freshened up for dinner. The good thing about Northwoods is that it is right in the Village. We walked up and down the main street to look for a good place for dinner. The Himalayan Restaurant looked good, but we decided on Peppercorn Grille instead. It turned out to be a good choice. We had some salad for starters and I had Cannelloni and M had Lasagna. Both were good. For desert we had a pumpkin cheesecake. The service was good, but a little slow because they were so busy.

The next day we slept in a little and had breakfast at the hotel. We had some half-decent omelettes. We didn’t hit the slopes until about 11. We skied mostly chair 9 where M got comfortable with the intermediate runs. We had veggie burgers for lunch at the bottom lodge. I skied a bunch more black diamonds after M had had enough around 3.

It was a very enjoyable trip and we really liked doing the overnight stay, instead of rushing to get as much skiing in as possible in a single day with a bunch of driving.


Paso Robles Wine Tasting Trip

January 28th, 2009

Last week my brother and his wife were in town and we decided to take a trip up to Paso Robles to do some wine tasting.

We decided to take the scenic route there, going up PCH through Pacific Palisades and Malibu. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch. We parked on Stearn’s Wharf and ate at the Harbor Restaurant. I had Ahi Tuna Melt which were OK, but not really what we expected – they were not open faced. M had Mussels in Green Curry Broth, which she enjoyed. We had Hinano Beer, which is from Fiji. The waitress told us it was a Medium to Dark beer, but it turned out to be very light. It wasn’t bad, but I would probably not order it again.

After lunch we walked down the pier and along the beach for a little bit – before heading out again. We again chose the scenic route and took 154 towards Los Olivos. We decided to stop at a Vineyard and randomly ended up at Rusack Vineyards. We tried a wine flight and we all liked the Sangiovese, so we each bought a bottle.

After the wine tasting we headed back up 101 to Paso Robles and easily found our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Paso Robles. The hotel was nice, nothing special, but clean and comfortable. We were in the “new” building across the parking lot from the lobby. We made reservations for dinner at Artisan and opened up one of the bottles that we had bought earlier.

About 20 minutes before dinner we headed to the lobby of the hotel to get them to call us a cab. They warned us that the cab company stopped running at 9:00pm so we could be out of luck on the way home. The cab that showed up was North County Taxi. The fare was only $5.00 to the restaurant.

We got to Artisan at 7:00 and it was fairly busy – there were only 2 open tables, so we were glad we had made reservations. We weren’t expecting it to be so busy on a Wednesday. The food was very good all round. I had a crab cake for appetizer and pumpkin ravioli. M had a Gouda fondue for appetizer and the ravioli as well. I had the trio of creme brulees and M had the Chocolate Pave and Peanut Butter Ice Cream. I would definitely go back there if I was ever in Paso Robles for dinner again. We asked our waitress for a taxi and the same cab driver showed up again.

The next morning we woke up, had some free breakfast at the hotel and hit the wineries. Our first stop was Vina Robles where we had Cuvée Collection Tasting Paired with Artisan Cheeses. The cheeses were great. The Winery was new and very impressive looking. We asked about sparkling wines in the area so she suggested we try Robert Hall which was across the street. We went there, but unfortunately they no longer made the sparkling wine so we moved on.

Our next stop was Falcon Nest Winery. This was a much smaller winery compared to the last two we visited. The owner, Francesco, was pouring the wines in the tasting rooms and telling stories. We had a great time listening to him tell us about his adventures in the hotel and restaurant industries all over the world. We also had some good wines. We were the only ones there the whole time. I guess they don’t get much business on a rainy Thursday in January. After the regular four tastings (one which he poured twice by mistake), he also started giving us various “blends” by simply pouring wine from two different bottles. We ended up buying a Syrah and a Zinfandel from there. They also had lunch there that might be good for next time we are in the area.

Francesco recommended we go see his neighbor, Tom, at Rio Seco. When we got there we asked for just tastings of his red wine, but he insisted we try one white wine he was proud of, the Vio Rio – a Viognier and Orange Muscat blend. We were glad we tried this one, it was very good and we ended up buying 2 bottles. We didn’t like the reds there very much. Tom was an ex-baseball scout, and used to work for the Blue Jays so we talked about baseball and Toronto. There were also two very cute and friendly dogs there who greeted everyone when they heard a car pull up.

Next we headed to Cass Winery, where we knew that lunch was available. For lunch we had crab cakes and split a demi loaf. There was also a wine pairing, but I think our taste buds were shot by that time and we couldn’t really tell if the wine was good. We wanted dessert, but the regular chef was in Las Vegas, so they didn’t have any.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel where my brother and I went to the hot tub and had a few beers while the girls napped. That evening we decided to go to a place called Level 4 for dinner. Once again, we went to the lobby to get a taxi and the same cabbie from the night before showed up. We decided to go downtown a little earlier and see if we could find a place to have a drink before dinner. After wandering around a little bit, we couldn’t really see anything interesting.

We got to Level 4 a little early, so we had a drink at the bar. I had some Firestone DB on tap and everyone else had Algonquins. (Algonquins are 1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey, 3/4 ounce French vermouth and 3/4 ounce pineapple juice – everyone agreed that the drink were better after doubling the amount of pineapple juice.)

We were seated in the dining room which was empty except for one other table. For some reason the hostess decided to seat us right beside the other table. All four of us split an artisan cheese plate and champagne to start. The cheese was OK. For dinner I had garlic fries to start and then halibut on crispy rice. I really enjoyed everything. M had tempura shrimp, which was very good, a Caesar salad and a twice baked potato, which were OK.

As we were getting ready to pay the check the hostess came over and said someone was on the phone asking if we wanted to be picked up. It was our regular cab driver making sure we could get back to the hotel before her shift was over. That was very nice.

The next morning we checked out and drove through the rain and fog to Hearst Castle. We took Tour 2: The Casa Grande Tour. It went through many of the bedrooms, two libraries, the kitchen and the indoor pool. The castle was spectacular and the tour was pretty interesting. We were lucky that we had picked a tour that was mostly inside because it was raining most of the time.

After Hearst Castle drove a few miles up Highway One to go to the Elephant Seal viewing area. January was a great time to go because it is birthing season and there were lots of pups and their mothers on the beach. The pups were very noisy, trying to get attention from their mothers.

We headed back south and stopped in Cambria for lunch. We went to Robin’s Restaurant, which turned out to be a good choice. I had halibut tacos and M had salmon bisque and an avocado sandwich. We had carrot cake for desert. It was all good. After that we headed back to the 101 for the trip back to L.A.


Thoughts On Dubai

April 10th, 2008

Last month I made a trip to Dubai in United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar. This was my first trip to the Middle East so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

We went to Doha to watch a MotoGP race, so we didn’t really see much of the city, so I will only comment on Dubai here. The MotoGP race deserves a posting on its own.

The pace of development in Dubai is overwhelming. There are cranes and road construction absolutely everywhere. I used to think the Las Vegas strip was growing quickly, but this is on a completely different scale. The population in 1969 was 60,000. Now it is 1.8 million. Not only is there a lot of construction going on, the scale of the building is amazing. We saw Burj Dubai, the worlds tallest building, under construction. There are also huge malls going in. One condo building was saw advertised had 120 floors. It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but Burj Dubai is surrounded by a lot of other building under constructions. It’s like they just decide to build a new city and put it up in a few years.

Dubai is very cosmopolitan. 80% of the population of Dubai is from outside of the UAE. This makes English the common language for everyone. Almost everyone we met spoke very good English (there was one cabbie who seemed to have a little trouble understanding us) and all the signs that we saw were in English only or English and Arabic. Any tourist who speaks in English will have no problem getting around.

All the new development and the prominent English actually made things a little less interesting from a traveling point of view than I imagined. It is very hard to find any type of culture in Dubai. Walking through the Mall of the Emirates (currently the biggest mall outside of North America until the next mall is finished in Dubai) was like walking through a mall in any suburb in the US or Canada.

That being said there were some interesting things I hadn’t experienced before. All the loudspeakers blaring prayers from the mosques five times a day was different. We also went to check out the Souks (markets) in the older part of town (but really not that old, we have older building in L.A. and that’s not saying much). To get to the Souks we used a Dhow (ferry boat, see picture below) to cross Dubai Creek – that was a pretty interesting experience.

Overall I had a great time, but I don’t know if I would hurry back unless I had a specific reason to do so, like maybe MotoGP again next year :)


Laguna Seca MotoGP Videos

July 30th, 2007

We were at Laguna Seca for the MotoGP race last weekend. We had a great time. I think staying in an RV right beside the track and getting Flag Room passes is the way to go. Staying at the track gets rid of all the problems people have getting to and leaving the race. The flag room was a great oasis where we could sit in the shade and have some drinks and food. Two years ago we didn’t have the flag room and trying to find ways to hide from the sun was not too fun.

We’re seriously thinking of going back to Laguna Seca for next years USGP, and maybe even to Qatar to see the race in March!

I found this great video of the race highlights of the weekend. It captures some of the stuff we saw and some of the things we weren’t able to see:

2007 Laguna Seca MotoGP

Also, here is a video that shows some of the excitement of the event:

And this is a short, low quality video, but I though it captured the speed and noise of being there pretty well:


All My Vegas Trips

January 29th, 2006

This is a post to keep track of all the visits I have made to Vegas. Basically it is a list of the hotels I have stayed at. (#) indicates multiple stays. Dates indicated when I remember them. I will update it whenever I make a new trip.

Aria (January 2010)
Bally’s (2)
Barbary Coast (3)
Bellagio (June 2009)
Excalibur (?,Nov 2001, Sept 2006, Nov 2008)
Flamingo (2)
Imperial Palace
Luxor (?, Nov 2007, Aug 2009, Sept 2009)
Mandalay Bay (Aug 2007, March 2009)
MGM Grand (Nov 2006, Sept 2007, Feb 2008, Aug 2008[Signature for 1 night])
Monte Carlo(?,April 2006, Dec 2007, Jan 2009, May 2009)
New York New York
THEhotel (Dec 2006)
Treasure Island (September 2005)
Venetian (June 2008)
Wynn (October 2005, November 2009)

There are also two non-hotel trips I have taken. One way stayed at a friends (a huge mansion actually) and another was a 24-hour trip with no sleep.


The Year in Cities

January 11th, 2006

I saw this on and thought it was fun. Bloggers are making lists of cities they have spent one or more nights in. The * indicates multiple, non-consecutive nights. Here’s my list:

Los Angeles, CA*
Austin, TX*
Las Vegas, NV
Toronto, Ont
Udora, Ont*
Orillia, Ont*
Chicago, IL
Monument Channel, Ont (on Georgian Bay)
San Francisco, CA
Sunnyvale, CA
Big White, BC
Carnival Pride (Cruise Ship off the coast of Mexico)

Overall it was a very slow travel year.

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