Saturday, May 30, 2015

Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We pre-booked an airport transfer for around 50 pounds from Heathrow to the Radisson Blu Mercer Street Hotel (which turned out to be a great price, cheaper than taxi!) and arrived around noon. There were a ton of Radisson Blu hotels around London. I chose this one because of the location, right in Covent Garden which turned out to be a great base spot while we were in London.

Radisson Blu Mercer Street Hotel

The hotel itself doesn't have a "grand" lobby, as it is situated in a pretty central area where the buildings were older and not that big. Check-in was easy enough and supposedly we were upgraded to a larger room.

Hotel Lobby

Our room was in the corner, so maybe we did get an upgrade.  It did look a little bigger than the regular rooms on the website.  It still wasn't that huge but considering we were in a pretty central location, it made sense why the rooms were smaller in general.

King Bed

I noticed that a lot of the Radisson Blu hotels were decorated very similarly. This particular one had a green and pink theme, and other Radisson Blu hotels have different colors, but very similar decor. 

Seating Area

There's a separate seating area, and bottled water was included free of charge and replenished daily and/or during turn down service, which was very nice.


The bathroom was a little on the small side -- one interesting thing was the soap, shampoo, and conditioner, were in refillable containers, which I guess is somewhat more eco-friendly rather than the typical travel size disposable containers. :)

As I mentioned, this hotel was truly in a great location. It's within a few blocks away from the Covent Garden tube station (although at the time of our stay, this station was closed for renovation) and the Leicester Square tube station was not that far away. There's plenty of shops/restaurants/small markets within walking distance, as well as the actual "Covent Garden" and theatre district. The hotel was also not too far away from Soho, Chinatown, and Piccadilly Square. All in all, I felt that this hotel was very centrally located and a good base for exploring London.

The hotel itself was nice -- not luxurious or anything like that, but clean enough and overall a good value. Did I mention that the location was great? :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Seattle Layover

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We decided to fly to Seattle the night before our long haul flight to London. We didn't want to miss our connection and thought it was a good excuse to spend the day in Seattle.

We arrived at night and took the train from SEATAC to downtown Seattle. The train took around 45 minutes and cost $3 per person one way. If time is not an issue, this is a pretty cost effective option. The train was clean and we felt pretty safe. We got off at the Westlake station and walked 3 blocks to our hotel (Hyatt Olive 8), which was located at Olive & 8th Avenue.

The guest service at check in was Brittany, and she was very friendly. She asked us what brought us to Seattle and when I told her that it was to celebrate our 5 year anniversary, she insisted on sending complimentary mimosas for us in the morning.

The Hyatt Olive 8 hotel was relatively new and had a slight modern feel. The room was quite spacious and felt clean. The amenities were standard/typical for Hyatt, but it was more than adequate for our one night stay.

Activities & Where to Eat in Seattle

We didn't really plan much and ended up spending most of the morning around the Pike Place Market area. Afterwards, we did some shopping and then headed back to rest at the hotel.

The Crumpet Shop

I read about this place called the Crumpet Shop and we walked around the market for about 20
minutes and couldn't find it. It turned the place was on 1st Ave & Pike, and not inside the market itself.

I have had crumpets before (from Whole Foods), and thought they were okay. But I was intrigued by this shop preparing crumpets with different wonderful toppings. I read online that this place gets quite packed during peak hours. Since we came pretty early in the morning, there was no line.

Dan ordered the special which included green eggs, tomatoes, and cream cheese & smoked salmon.

Green egg & salmon crumpet

Mine was a sweet flavor (of course!), called the Vermont (ricotta cheese, maple butter, and walnut).

Yummy crumpet!

Both crumpets were delicious, I wished they were toasted warm a bit more, but overall they were really good. I love how creative the toppings were, instead of just the typical butter & jam.

The Original Starbucks

Dan wanted to visit the original Starbucks, which was located not too far from the Pike Place Market. There were several reserve coffee bean flavors only at this store, and were individually poured. Dan ordered the Pike Place Reserve. This store had a slight rustic feel although still felt like a Starbucks.

Piroshky & Piroshky

We were actually not 100% full from the Crumpet shop, so we stopped by this famous place and shared the Hazelnut Chocolate Piroshky. The hazelnut tasted more custard-y, but still good. Their most famous item is the smoked salmon piroshky.

Tilikum Place Cafe

I had a hard time deciding between trying this cafe or Toulouse Petit (which serves Cajun food). I ended up choosing this place, and it was definitely good. This place is famous for the Dutch Baby, which is like a very thick custardy pancake. Their version was definitely a really good one. The outside was crisp and the middle part was soft, doughy and custardy...very yummy.

Excellent Dutch Baby!

Dan ordered the breakfast place which came with egg, bacon, toast, and pork baked beans.

After lunch, we walked back to our hotel and then took Uber to the airport for our flight to London.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

London & Paris Trip - Introduction

We booked a trip to London & Paris to celebrate our 5 year anniversary. Dan had a travel together ticket (i.e: buy one get one free) from British Airways that was about to expire, so we thought we would use our miles & the travel together ticket to book the tickets.

We did not bring M this time, so it would be our first time to travel just the two of us in a long time! :) Because we did not take her, we also didn't want to be away for too long as to not to overburden the grandparents, so we were only gone for 8 nights.

We booked our tickets almost a year in advance to make sure we got the seats that we wanted and even then it was a bit tricky. We had to route via Seattle on our way to London. So our trip ended up like this:

1 night in Seattle
3 nights in London
3 nights in Paris
1 night layover in London

We flew British Airways business class (called Club World) from Seattle to London, and then we managed to snag first class seats on our way back from London to SF! :)

The surcharges and taxes came out to be quite expensive, almost like paying a full fare economy ticket each. We figured we were using miles to basically get an "upgrade", since the out of pocket cost for the surcharges and taxes were quite hefty.

For London, we had enough Radisson points to book a three night stay at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street (awesome location), and one night at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow for our return layover.

For Paris, we booked the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.

I also have to preface that we have no pictures of our flight to London as well as the Seattle hotel, as I accidentally lost our camera on the flight (forgot to pick it up when we left the aircraft) -- so the rest of our pictures were taken using our phones.

Us in Paris

Here's our trip report:

London & Paris Trip - Introduction
Seattle Layover
Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street - London
Activities & Where to Eat in London
Park Hyatt Paris Vendome
Activities & Where to Eat in Paris
LHR - SFO on British Airways First Class
London & Paris Trip - Summary & Tips

Portugal Quick Work Trip

I (Dan) had the incredible opportunity to travel to Portugal for business recently.  Unfortunately, I was only given a few weeks notice, which didn't give us enough time to consider or plan to extend this trip for personal travel.  Marcela would have had to jump through hoops to get a tourist visa, take time off from work, plus flights weren't cheap and mileage redemption options were very limited given the short lead time.  So I went by myself.

SFO-LIS roundtrip

I flew Air France (Delta codeshare) because they had the most preferred flight times and only one layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Since Delta was not my preferred airline, I didn't have status and so flew Economy at the back of the plane.

I must admit that since we started more seriously earning and redeeming miles, I've been spoiled flying business class for nearly all of our international flights (for vacation).  Luckily, the flight from SFO to CDG was not full and there was an empty seat next to me.  The return flight (CDG to SFO), not so lucky.  It was fully packed.

Extra Seat SFO-CDG

Air France's carry-on luggage weight restrictions were very strict for Economy (max 12 kg / 26 lb).  So I had to check in my carry-on sized roller board.

Thankfully, the flights both ways were pretty uneventful, no major delays.  On-board service was fine, meals were alright, and the entertainment system was functional.

Interestingly, passport control/immigration was at CDG, the port of entry into and departure out of Europe.  I suppose because France and Portugal are both part of the Schengen Area in the EU.

Penha Longa Resort

Upon arrival at the Lisbon airport, I picked up my luggage from baggage claim and took a 30-minute cab ride to the Penha Longa Resort, where I would be staying for my business meetings over the next few days.

When the taxi turned into the entrance of the property, there was a gate guard who asked for my name, confirming I was checking in, before letting us through.  Then upon arrival at the hotel, I was warmly welcomed by name, given a cold towel to wipe my hands and face, and directed to the check-in counter.  What a great first impression!  Overall, I felt service was noticeably very good throughout my stay.

The resort was extremely beautiful with gorgeous, scenic greenery and hills.  The hotel appeared very clean, well kept, and had a business/professional vibe with a little European historic flair.  Not surprisingly, the Penha Longa is a Ritz Carlton property with all the amenities--golf course, gym, spa, pool, restaurants and bar/lounge, and even a kids play area.

Lobby Entrance

The room was nice, too.  I stayed in a standard room with two double beds on the second floor.

Entry way
Flat screen TV

Modern Bathroom
Dual Sinks
View from Balcony


Work meetings lasted two and a half full days, including dinners and networking at the bar afterwards.  On the last day, we wrapped up by lunch time, so a group of us went to a nearby town called Sintra that afternoon to sight see for a few hours.  It was about a 10 minute cab ride from the hotel.

Once we were dropped off in town, we somehow stumbled upon the (public transport) bus that would take us to the castle on top of the hill called Castelo dos Mouros.  The views were absolutely amazing from the top.

View from the top

We then walked a few kilometers to Palácio da Pena, which was interesting...and colorful.

Afterwards, we took the bus back down, and then taxi from Sintra back to the Penha Longa Resort.  I stayed that night and flew out early the next morning.

Concluding Thoughts
  • I'm glad I got the opportunity to visit Portugal for the first time, and even got a tiny bit of sightseeing in
  • The Penha Longa was a very nice resort
  • The food was fine--nothing jumped out as super spectacular or unique (not picture worthy), though all meals were at the resort.  So, at least in my mind, I didn't really get to try true "authentic" local Portuguese cuisine.
  • If I ever come back, I'd like to spend some time checking out downtown Lisbon

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Activities & Where to Eat in Tokyo

This is a continuation of our Bali & Tokyo trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

Sushi Zanmai

My brother-in-law recommended we try this place while in Tokyo. Sushi Zanmai is actually a "chain", but we were surprised how good this place was. We went to the one near Tsujiki Fish Market and ordered the Omakase and several a la carte items.

The fish tasted so fresh! I mean the restaurant was literally steps away from the fish market. :) The outstanding item was for sure the toro (fatty tuna). There was also a very interesting item, the "grass" sushi...haha


The toro melted in my mouth and did not taste like anything we had ever tasted before!
The restaurant was also quite family friendly as it's not super cramped and there's actually table seating instead of just bar seating.  There were multiple floors though, and we got seated on the 3rd floor.  So lots of steps.

We really enjoyed our meal there. We know this probably may have not be the "best" out there, but we thought it was excellent for us. Given that we were traveling with a toddler, we couldn't always seek out the best places and instead we usually sacrificed for what's more convenient.

Yakiniku Jumbo Shirokane

This was another recommendation from my brother-in-law. This place was a little bit out of the way from our hotel, but the trip was definitely worth it.

Make sure to have reservations as this place gets very full! I made reservations through our hotel concierge at the Conrad.

We ordered a couple types of meat as well as the signature Nohara yaki (must get this!). Everything was AMAZING, like melt in your mouth amazing! We could see the marbling in the cuts and knew it would taste so delicious.

Nohara yaki
Nohara yaki - cooked

The signature Nohara yaki cut was a bit expensive, as it's sold per slice -- but it was definitely excellent. We dipped it in raw egg, which probably wasn't the best idea as we both had a bit of a stomach ache the next day. Next time we'll skip the raw egg dipping sauce. :)

Pattiserie Sadaharu Aoki

I really wanted to try this place so we visited the one in Midtown.

We tried the omakase dessert, which was pretty good (but not outstanding).

I also got a couple of macaroons to try. They had some pretty unique flavors like green tea and sesame macaroons.

What was outstanding was the matcha croissant. It was probably my favorite, very unique - combining the best of Japanese and French flavors!

We also got the Green tea eclair - which I thought was ok (not as good as the matcha croissant). Price was a bit on the higher end, but we're glad we were able to try this place.


I squealed when I saw this store in Ginza. I had heard so much about this place, so to finally see a real store in person was a treat. We grabbed a couple macaroons to go and thought they were really good.

Haagen Dazs Crispy Sandwich Ice Cream

Haagen Dazs is one of my favorite ice cream brands, and whenever I'm in Asia, I always make sure to get the crispy sandwich since they don't have this available in the US!

This is basically ice cream in between 2 thin wafers. I don't know how they keep the wafer so crispy in the freezer!

Haagen Dazs crispy sandwich on the left

Tokyo Skytree Food court

We were not able to make it up to the top of the Tokyo Skytree, but we did have lunch at the food court. :)

I was so happy that there was an Ippudo Express (not quite the same as Ippudo, but I'll take it), as well as the famous Gindaco Takoyaki. The food court was really, really crowded, but we managed to find seats and really enjoyed the food. We also got katsu curry which was yummy as well.

Ippudo Express Ramen

I have had lots of takoyaki before, and I can say that Gindaco is definitely on the top of my list. It's crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Gindaco Takoyaki


Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree is one of Tokyo's newest attractions, where you can go up to the observation deck to see the city from up high.

We didn't reserve a place in advance and the line was too long when we came, so I highly recommend booking in advance.


Since we were not able to make it to the Skytree, we went to the Asakusa area, which is like Japan's old town. There's a temple in the middle and lots of shops that sells souvenirs all along the walkways. It was nice to stroll around, although it was very cold since it was January!


We wanted to visit a Hello Kitty store so our hotel concierge recommended going to Odaiba. It's actually a very "interesting" shopping center, and if I had known what it was like, I probably would have chosen to go somewhere else. The good thing from this place was we got to try green tea/vanilla ice cream swirl, as well as chocolate drizzled potato chips.

Hello Kitty Swirl
Calbee potato chips & chocolate


Since our hotel was located near Ginza, we took a stroll one night to see the shopping stores and find something to eat. We could definitely tell that it's a more upscale area. Unfortunately since it was really cold, we only went for a short walk before deciding to head back to our hotel. :)


There were several other areas that I wished we could have visited, like Omotesando, Roppongi Hills, Shibuya, and Shinjuku to name a few. To be completely honest, work had been very busy the last few months and I didn't really had to time to sit down and prioritize what to do during our layover in Tokyo, so I felt like the places we visited during this trip was a bit unorganized. Thankfully some of my Japanese coworkers actually took us out to the Skytree and Asakusa, otherwise we may have visited even more random places...haha.

We LOVED Japan, and three nights in Tokyo was definitely not enough. It did give us a good preview, and we definitely want to go back and spend more time in Tokyo and other cities in Japan. Food was amazing, even though this time we weren't really able to go to all the places we wanted. We realized now when traveling with a baby/toddler, we just have to go with the flow and convenience over trying to hit all the must hit spots. :) 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Conrad Tokyo

This is a continuation of our Bali & Tokyo trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

On our way back from Bali, we wanted to stop in Japan since I have never been. We decided on 3 nights, since by that time we would have been gone for about 3 weeks, and couldn't take too much more time off from work.

We looked into a couple different hotel options and ended up booking the Conrad Tokyo. We were very happy with our choice. We reserved the Conrad using two free nights from my CitiCard Hilton Reserve (and which also gave me automatic Gold status), and then I booked the last night via Expedia. The hotel was located just a few blocks away from Ginza, which definitely felt like an upscale area, but the immediate surrounding area felt very "business-y".


When our taxi pulled in to the entryway, there were Japanese doormen wearing long coats and white gloves to open the car door! It turned out to be just the "welcoming" area, because then we had to take the elevator to the 28th floor, where the actual lobby area was. My understanding was that the rest of the floors were actually used for office space.


The lobby was beautiful as it had huge glass walls to the ceiling with a great view of the Bay.

Bar Area with huge floor to ceiling glass

We then took another separate elevator to go to our room. This could be annoying sometimes as we would basically had to change elevators every time we wanted to go out and when we returned. Not a big deal, but definitely interesting and could be a hassle at times.

The room was quite spacious for Japan, with a beautiful bath tub, separate shower area, and double sinks.

King Bed
Glass window between bathroom & bedroom

Double sink, shower area

Service at this hotel was really, really good. Everyone at the front desk & concierge were very friendly. Usually after we got back from an outing, they would always ask how the day went and said hi to our daughter. Another day we came back to the hotel, and the cleaning service lady noticed that we had a daughter. She then rang our doorbell soon after to leave 2 small Conrad teddy bears for M, which was really sweet of her.

Due to my Hilton Gold status, we were also entitled to free breakfast at the cafe which we took full advantage of.

The breakfast buffet spread was good, and we could also order from the menu.

Overall we really enjoyed the hotel. Room was spacious and clean, and everything was very well maintained. One thing though, the hotel did feel a little stuffy/dry, maybe because it was the winter season and the heater was always on? Another negative about this hotel was that there's not really much in the immediate surrounding area. It's not a far walk to Ginza but the hotel by itself did feel a little isolated.