friends, Jordan, travel

Jordan – Desert Castles and Dead Sea

Day 2 of our tour was extended to a full day with the addition of visits to 3 different desert castles, free of charge! We aren’t quite sure as to why but, we won’t complain.

  1. Qasr Amra ¬†(Amra Palace) – one of the best well known desert castles in modern day Jordan as it depicts an early example of Islamic art and architecture. Only the foundation of ¬†the castle complex remains and a small cabin which was meant for a retreat house. ¬†Amra Palace is particularly famous for its well kept frescoes (mural painting technique) all alongside the interior walls of the building. Most of the art shows hunting, biblical figures, dancing and some nudity ….which makes the building sound very questionable given it also has a large bathouse, haha.
  2. Qasr Al-Azraq (Azraq Castle) – known as the Blue Fortress as it used to hold a lot of water which was then transported to other cities for¬†use. It’s strategic value was due to its location by an oasis which was the only permanent water source in the desert area. The basalt used to construct the castle reminded me of medieval ¬†European castles more than what I would have imagined in the Middle East.
  3. Qasr Al-Kharanah (Alharana Palace) – whether this building is really a “castle” per se or not is unclear as it does not appear to have been¬†used for military purposes. There are no slits in the walls for arrow / boulder attacks against intruders. It’s location is also not close to any body of water to make it very useful as a resting spot for travelers. However it is remained intact extremely well and we were able to walk around and through the floors of the castle. The layout of the castle is perfectly symmetrical.

For the majority of the tour (and for the entirety of our time at Azraq Castle) there were very few to no other tourists. Which again is very amazing for photographs and to be able to view the ruins in it’s true form. However, it is also extremely saddening to realize how much tourism, which Jordan relies heavily on, has declined due to the current political situation in the Middle East and the fear that many of us have towards the region.

Jordan, I have felt was quite safe during my visit…for the rest of the Middle Eastern countries nearby I am not knowledgeable enough to say for sure :S But many of the surrounding countries are not encouraged to be visited at all by the Canadian Government so I will heed their advice.

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Here is me making a fearful face at 250KM from Iraq.

In the afternoon we made our way to The Dead Sea. Due to the high and increasing temperatures (our tour guide says), it’s possible it will dry up in 50 years time. Currently there are considerations to funnel water from the Red Sea to continue to¬†preserving the body of water. I read many reviews online where people had written that it would burn if you had any cuts on your skin (even small hangnails, or if you recently shaved), but I didn’t particularly have any issues to note. It was also advised to wear an older swimsuit as the saline may damage the colour – but again, I didn’t notice any difference in my swimsuit although I did bring an older one in case too.

I wasn’t extremely impressed with the amount of floating the salty water helped, probably because I’m generally a good swimmer and don’t have issues floating. However, when I went into a regular pool to try and float I definitely did notice a difference. The way the Dead Sea works is it is sectioned off to various private beaches and beaches owned by adjacent hotels, so the area you can really swim in width wise isn’t that big.

As we were swimming towards shore we realized that other than many smooth rocks there were also chunks of what looked like salt (or some sort of salt material). It would be solidified but when you break the piece off and squish it a bit, it would turn into powder and melt away into the water. ¬† Embarrassingly enough, we decided that it would be a great skin exfoliant. Whether it works or not we will not know : ‘) ¬† Jordan weather made our skin extremely dry. ¬† *side note: upon googling apparently there can be salt cubes found! I’m quite sad I didn’t see any.¬†

Dead Sea is also famous for its mud to be used for beauty in the form of various masks, moisturizers, soaps etc. It’s not accessible easily just in the rock bed so it wasn’t like we could just scoop some up while we were floating around to apply on ourselves. They did have some available to purchase to use…but I didn’t want to wash my face given that I was wearing contacts and the saline water would burn my eyes. I was very happy to find some mini mask packages to buy as souvenirs for friends, as everyone wants beautiful skin right? ¬†Sorry boys, I didn’t get you any though.

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Jordan, travel

Jordan – Jerash & Ajloun Castle

Back in January, Alicia and I spontaneously bought a flight deal from Toronto to Dubai for 2 weeks and decided to choose another country to go to for 1 week within that time from Dubai. The country we chose in the end was Jordan. I was a bit worried about the safety and travelling around on our own, so we opted for a tour. We chose a 6 day tour through Viator (which was operated by Zaid Travels).¬† In summary, the tour really did bring us to most of what there was to do and see in Jordan and we ended up getting some additional activities added on to the itinerary too. The only thing that was not so great about this tour was 1) We got put into a bilingual tour probably due to low popularity of the tour itself…and our guide was more so a Spanish guide than English one.¬† 2) Lunch was not included but the tour would bring us to places to eat…however they were either always lunch buffets or on our last day a “home cooked” meal…which all of them always costed 12 JOD, which is like near 24 CAD!!!! That was a huge gripe for us.¬†¬† Overall I would still recommend it if you are interested in visiting and touring Jordan and want a guide or trip organizer as they planned everything out. You can always request specifically and English guide and pack your own lunch to omit my issues.

Our tour originally consisted of only 6 travelers, us 2 and¬†4 Mexican aunties. Later on for Petra and Wadi Rum, another 2 Spanish uncles¬†joined us too. Unfortunately due to language barrier we couldn’t befriend them that easily.

First day we went to Jerash to view its ancient ruins – which is one of the most well preserved Roman ruins in the world.

We got a special English speaking local guide that brought us around the ruins who was very knowledgeable and charismatic – we enjoyed Jerash very much and is definitely a place to go if you visit Amman (as it is only about 50km north). I think Jerash was one of my favourite trip moments because there was so much beautiful sights to see. Tourism is quite low in Jordan right now unfortunately for the country, but it made it very easy to take great photos. It was also the first day that we experienced Middle Eastern “Spring” weather…as you can see my attempts to be more conservative failed quickly as the jacket came off.

 

Later in the afternoon we visited Ajloun Castle, an Islamic fortress built in 1185 and used too defend against Crusaders invasions. After seeing Jerash ruins in the morning it was not as exciting in comparison, nor was it as pretty in architectural design!

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Day 1 turned out much more exciting than we had anticipated so we were very eager and looking forward to the rest of the week in Jordan.

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food, toronto

MeNami

TLDR: Pass on MeNami Рextremely poor customer service and underwhelming and overpriced food. 

If you’ve been following me on social media long enough, you probably have noticed that I no longer write “food blog” type posts any more. I felt that my writing wasn’t very good over time and that I was writing more to have a post than to truly share an interesting experience. ¬†Nowadays I only write about certain restaurants that I go to that are more unique / new, but it has still been quite rare.

Maybe because I don’t really take pictures much any more,¬†or I already post it on Instagram that there is no point to write about it twice. Recently¬†I’ve started doing Yelp reviews though if you’re interested you can follow me there.

Anyway, the main point of this post is because I am still very disgruntled about my dining experience at MeNami last night and I feel the need to reflect the restaurant more justly as from what I see on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Yelp), it has been extremely and inaccurately overhyped.

First of all, I LOVE udon. And I have been wanting to try out MeNami since it started popping up on my newsfeed upon its inception. Specifically their Mentaiko Cream Udon as Toronto has FINALLY started to get onto the mentaiko train. So, I was quite looking forward to trying the restaurant out as I’ve seen many pictures and read many Instagram captions of people gushing over the dish. As mentioned earlier on how I just recently joined Yelp – I did go a bit crazy with reading all the reviews prior to my visit, and there did seem to be a bit of a trend of some complaints over¬†service. I’m usually not too picky on service especially for Asian restaurants honestly and especially since I knew that going in, I had low expectations.

However, MeNami literally brings forth a new low of poor customer service.

1) Upon entering the restaurant I walked straight to the host desk as there was a crowd of people already waiting and had eye contact with the hostess twice. She makes no acknowledgement of me nor attempts to offer to assist me soon, and continues on to do various other tasks for about a good 5-10 minutes. There were 3 other wait staff who scurried around the bar/host desk area who also ignored us. I guess maybe they cannot tell who was already helped and who wasn’t but it was more of the fact that they did not try to see if anyone needed help that was the issue. Eventually when the hostess decides to make her way to the desk she still did not try to ask me if I needed a table and I had to ask her if I could put my name down (on their list which was visible). ¬† It’s funny because there were some customers who she paid attention to right away as they walked in and also some other ones that were given the cold shoulder just like us. The inside joke we made is that we weren’t good looking enough (read: rich looking enough).

2) After a half hour wait for seats (which was expected for a popular new restaurant) we had to wait for another 20 minutes to find a waiter to take our order. They all literally scurry back and forth past us and pay us no attention so flagging them down was extremely difficult. And we sat RIGHT by the bar / cash register so it was not like we were in a back corner that was not very visible.   It makes one wonder whether the long wait for tables is due to their lack of efficient wait staff resulting in low table turnovers.

3) We never got our teas refilled during the whole dinner, yet we saw the table beside us get refilled twice (once where the bartender himself purposely left the bar to refill their waters). I know it sounds stupid, like why didn’t we just ask for water? I have no problems putting my hand up and flagging them down or speaking more loudly to ask for service…however it is excruciatingly difficult when they literally do not even LOOK at you to do so.

4) This is a bit of a petty complaint but given the service provided thus far it just added to the fumes. The waitress/hostess kept walking between my chair and another customer’s chair and consistently would be shoving my chair as she squeezes through. She could’ve said excuse me, or sorry for doing so – as I’m SURE she must’ve felt it. Or she could have been less lazy and just walked properly in the actual aisles created between tables.

5) They tried to bring us an alcoholic drink that we didn’t order and also nearly tried to bring us a 3rd udon dish. Not really a complaint, but it goes to show how poorly organized their wait staff are – and these were the only times that any of the wait staff engaged in conversation with us first! Not once did they ever come to ask us how our meal was or if we wanted any more water/drinks/food etc. ¬†And they track their orders on an iPad! How did it go wrong?

Now, if the udon was great and delicious, it would make up for a bit of the experience…but it wasn’t!! Matt got the Tsuke Shrimp Tempura Udon and I went for the Black Sesame Beef Udon (to try something different for once).

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I didn’t try any of Matt’s but he didn’t like how there was only one shrimp tempura. For mine, it was mostly just weird. It tasted too sweet from the black sesame sauce and reminded me more of a dessert. The dish had very few¬†bits of beef and spinach so my dish was 90% pure udon, and mind you, this is a $15 dish. All in all, the¬†black sesame was a failed innovative attempt as while¬†it¬†wasn’t necessarily bad tasting, it had a confusing flavour profile and makes you wonder why this is even a dish to begin with.¬† Personally I like the Udon Carbonara at Inspire much much more, or if you are ever in San Fran, Udon Mugizo is amazing too for udon fusion type dishes.

Maybe their raved dishes Mentaiko Cream Udon and Corn Kakiage are very good, I didn’t try either to make a comment – but I can’t imagine it is good enough to justify the prices that they are charging whatsover as from what I saw it was still also about 90% plain udon. I’ve always preferred Urbanspoon over Yelp because I feel that from my reading experience on Yelp that reviewers tend to give high ratings extremely easily painting an inaccurate picture to readers on the quality of a restaurant and of their dishes.¬†Unfortunately we no longer have Urbanspoon and Zomato sadly is unable to truly take it’s place as a successor. And that is the main reason why I have decided to make Yelp reviews now, to try to help provide ¬†more accurate and unbiased reviews (and also to get on their Elite event list :P).

Trying to be the Yelp hero our city needsūüėÄ (Matt will kill me if he sees me butchering ¬†this The Dark Knight quote). Let’s see how long my passion for reviewing lasts.

 

MeNami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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food, San Francisco, travel

Christmas in The Golden State

When in San Francisco, you have to give some love to the Warriors right? It just so happened that the Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game was playing in Oakland on Christmas Day, so we decided to get tickets to watch it. I mean, it was their first re-match in the season since last year’s NBA finals! Now, I’m not a huge basketball fan whatsoever¬†(this is the 3rd game I’ve gone to, read about my awesome 2nd time experience sitting courtside)¬†and only watch when it’s a social thing during Raptors playoffs season and finals…however, I agreed to paying the extremely pricey ticket because Matt was already going on the whole trip for me, so figured we should do something that’s more for him.

We supported opposing teams, and I, of course, was on the winning team!!!! #katsucurry To note, these were the teams we rooted for at the last finals too..which I also won, by the way:)  I had to shush Matt when he kept cheering for the Cavaliers because obviously primarily everyone in the crowd was a Warriors fan as it is a home game. JUST in case there were some bigoted fans that would start an argument over choice of teams:/

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To the left of the guy in the Santa hat.

Drake was also at the game! #The6ix

For dinner, I had pre-booked a reservation at The Crab House at Pier 39 via OpenTable. We think a large herd of tourists were ushered there because there were so many Asian tourists specifically at that restaurant. I was quite worried that we would have to wait beyond our reserved time due to the large crowd in front, but they were very timely and we were seated almost exactly as scheduled.

The meal was pleasant – menu was quite similar to the likes of The Keg. We ordered less than we anticipated so were quite pleased with our not-too expensive bill. We are both very frugal at times…. especially when it is just us 2. We started with the Bruschetta and a Crab Chowder Bread Bowl, and then shared the Mussel, Shrimp & Crab Iron Skillet combo.

I’m wearing a bib that they provided by the way, which Matt refused to wear until we started eating so it wouldn’t be in his photos.

Our last full day was on Boxing Day, which apparently is a thing in US too. Sales were good, but the Canadian Dollar was poor. I impulsively bought several Lululemon pants which after conversion on my credit card, I’m not too sure if I even got a discount…

We had our last meal at our favourite place BonChon, in San Mateo. This was our 3rd time eating it…we always forget to take pictures previously because we always got take out and dived right into it. ¬† Amusingly enough Bea & Leander bumped into us there where they were going to grab take out home too, haha. ¬†That’s how much we love it.

The evening was spent again at Bea and Leander’s where we played board games until about 4am when they drove us to the airport for our early morning flight. Worked out perfectly for all of us:) They are major night owls and probably were less tired than we were! ¬†Side note: Don’t fly American Airlines/Delta Air…we had delays for both of our flights home, one being for over an hour long. If our connecting flight wasn’t also pushed/delayed we would’ve missed it. And there’s also no food!

All in all, it was a great week to spend some time away from the city and to see Bea again. I have a bunch of other close girlfriends in Toronto, but no one exactly like her. It was sometimes shocking (since it has been a while) yet extremely lovely and nostalgic when we have the exact same opinion on very silly simple things or have the same reaction. At those times, I remember instantly exactly why we are such good friends. It’s a bit bittersweet at the same time knowing that we can’t hang out as frequent as we used to. We’ll have to come back again, or vacation together at another place:) !! My only regret is not taking more pictures together!

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food, San Francisco, travel

San Francisco

I had looked up a few tourist spots to hit up while in San Francisco which Matt and I went around to do on our own. We booked a few days at the San Francisco Downtown Hostel to save on money as it was even cheaper than Airbnb and in a much better location in the city core.

One of the most picturesque things we did was a mini hike to Lands End where you can get a nice¬†view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought it was chilly, and I definitely did NOT look like a Canadian there as I was all wrapped up in a scarf and headband. But I was ready for the photographsūüėČ

We also had a mini photoshoot of ourselves..

While exiting Lands End’s hike paths we somehow ended up in the middle of a golf course :S Still not quite sure if this is a public one or private..

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Because I know Matt likes science, we went to both California Academy of Sciences and Exploratorium (we liked the latter more). It had a lot of hands on activities and stations, and must say it is better than Ontario Science Center. Matt tried to teach me physics…and as we spent time at almost every single station, we only made it through 2/5 “areas” before I got tired and hungry. All I’ve learnt is that there are magnets in motors (who knew? not me) and why sunsets are yellow.

Food wise, we visited Japantown which was not bad (great udon at Udon Mugizo restaurant! and they have quite legit crepe stores just like Harajuku!). Our other favourite place to eat was Super Duper Burgers. You HAVE to get their garlic fries, it is the BOMB!!!

The Ferry Building another must see attraction, was also very nice, we purchased the famous Blue Bottle Coffee and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, as we were frequently having wine & cheese at Bea’s place throughout the week. They did have their market going on the same day, but as it was raining, and outdoors, we skipped it.

Our evenings were mostly spent at Bea and Leander’s playing board games, doing “wine & cheese” and watching movies. It was very nostalgic to simply hang out with them so casually especially when back in the day Bea was someone I used to see probably every week! ¬†There isn’t too much tourist attractions to do in San Francisco so one week was just about right.

Next post will be the wrap up of our San Francisco trip on our Christmas Day spent watching the Warriors vs. Cavaliers game in Oakland!

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San Francisco, travel

Yosemite

We had scheduled for a 2 day, 1 night trip at Yosemite right before holiday time officially kicks in and before prices go crazy. We opted for the cheapest option – a heated tent at Camp Curry. Everyone I told was in shock that we would cheap out so much to live in a tent. ¬†But surprisingly and to our delight, it wasn’t that bad at all if you just plan to simply sleep in it. It’s a mini cabin size but has tent-like tarp walls instead of log cabin.

Originally we had intended to borrow a ZipCar which Matt signed up for shortly before we flew out to SF, however his account still had not validated in time for us to use. Thankfully, SF being most technologically advanced, they had an app made for borrowing cars! Getaround would allow you to search for cars (make, year, location parked, price) and once chosen with a start time, the app would allow you to unlock the car via WiFi, to enter the car and grab the physical keys!! How amazing is that?

Unfortunately this car did not come with a navigation system as expected so we navigated our way the old-school way, with a physical map. I’m horrible with directions but luckily for us the way to Yosemite wasn’t too difficult to guide out. Though we did get lost a few times from missing our exit (one time being because I fell asleep and Matt didn’t want to wake me up yet). ¬†However, the weather was not on our side for this trip. Bea always tells me how it never rains in SF and how they are in a drought…and the ONE day we go on a road trip, it rains all day. Our 5-6 hour drive ended up being around an 8 hour drive and we arrived quite late in the evening. We were so happy when we first saw the welcoming Yosemite sign :’)

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The glorious Yosemite National Park sign we were waiting for all day and night.

For a note, if you ever go to Yosemite in the winter, apparently tire tracks are a thing, and they may be required if there is snow. Although its quite temperate in the Bay area, it’s chilly up in Yosemite! It wasn’t cold enough that we needed the tracks, but snow was visible in the valley of Yosemite. Which makes total sense considering people ski up there too.

With the snow and rainy weather that was unexpected, we didn’t really have the gear, nor the time to do any hikes – we initially wanted to do a day hike on both days. ¬†It rained the whole night as well, so the next morning we decided to just do a driving tour of Yosemite Valley and did a very small 20 minute hike to Lower Yosemite Falls – just to have met some landmark. ¬†I would also like to note that Arcteryx jackets are my new love, not only did it work amazingly in my Peru trip, it worked extremely well for the rain in SF. I have the Beta LT worn if anyone is curious..

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We also saw a reindeer on the way out of Yosemite. Such in the Christmas theme!

Driving back to SF was progressively sunny though!

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View is like one of those Windows screensaver / backgrounds

We stayed the night at Bea and Leander’s and got to try Crawfish Fusion (similar to Boiling Crab in Las Vegas, and Captain’s Boil in Toronto!) and played a bunch of board games. We got them Quantum for Christmas and everyone loves it. Though be cautioned that it can ruin relationships….

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Garlic Butter was our favourite flavour and clams! Crawfish is decidedly too difficult to de-shell.

I’d definitely like to go back to Yosemite¬†again sometime to do some actual hiking! And take better photos of course.

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food, friends, San Francisco, travel

San Mateo

I’ve slated my trip to San Francisco for probably a good year ever since my best friend Beatrice moved there semi-permanently for work. At my previous employment, I had mandatory vacation holidays to be taken around Christmas for 2 week office closure so that ended up being the most optimal time for me to go, despite high holiday prices. I had been planning to go alone at first but luckily, Matt ended up joining me on the trip:)

Bea and her boyfriend Leander live in the San Mateo area so we had spent our first 2 days living at their apartment and checking out their area.

Our first meal was off to a great and impressive start at Pokeatery which was very ” So Cal”. I feel like this would be a huge hit in Toronto especially in the financial district. It’s also extremely easy to prepare as it’s basically a salad…however seafood prices are high for importing. Any takers on trying to make this into a business?

As I loved all things Japan-related we also tried to visit the Japanese Tea Garden but unfortunately it was closed. Matt and I ventured there the next morning though. The garden isn’t that exciting but it reminds me of my memories of visiting gardens in Japan‚̧

Dinner on our first night was a bit awkward as we sort of crashed Bea and Leander’s friend’s surprise birthday.¬†We wanted to cheap out and get¬†fried chicken from BonChon (their fav and we also love it now) afterwards so we literally shared 2 appetizers amongst the 4 of us, but everyone else seemed to have split the entire bill completely evenly by all. It ended up being $50 USD each while our 2 appetizers didn’t even add up to $50 in total. Luckily, Leander stepped up for all of us to dispute the charge, and we were able to pay $50 for Matt and myself – which was acceptable as we did partake in some of the shared appetizers and wine (ordered for the table by someone else)

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Later in the evening, they brought us to Twin Peaks to see the SF skyline too. Great view, but didn’t turn out well in photos due to the¬†night¬†sky. In addition, as it was much colder than expected, I couldn’t bear to stand outside for very long.

The next morning, Matt and I explored on our own as everyone else was still sleeping and went to Ike’s Place¬†(highly recommended by Leander) and back to the Tea Garden. In the afternoon we toured around Stanford and headed to Testarossa Winery for wine tasting tour! Their friend Wayne had a friend who was working there and was able to get us into their more VIP tours. We were able to get 2 bottles of Chardonnay for about $40USD (with employee pricing) and it waived our tasting fee as well.

I was so excited to go home and drink it, but I ended up being tipsy from the wine tasting and I passed out after dinner very quickly. I believe Matt drank most of it as he had a new found love for Chardonnay.

We both try to appreciate wine & cheese now, which is also why if you hang out with us you’ll notice our frequent suggestions of socials and get-togethers to being “wine & cheese” themed.

 

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