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Bay Area Vacation: Mexican Breakfast

We were not hungry at all but then since we’re in the San Jose Flea Market and there are plenty of Mexican food around, we decided to drop by one of the authentic Mexican places to try out their breakfast.

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Ordering this was easy since the sign board is in English. If this had been in Spanish, we would have not even dared to attempt going in.

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Seeing so many people who had soup, we ordered the same thing. This is called Menudo and is basically soup with beef tripes. It’s $3.19 and came with …

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… two warm tortillas rolled in some aluminium foil paper. This is the best tasting tortillas I had ever tasted.

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We looked around and followed how everyone else ate it. First, we rolled up the tortilla and then dunk it in the soup. Although the soup looked very spicy but we do find it a bit bland.

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There is a small cup of spices we could add to the soup for that extra kick.

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We also got ourselves a Spicy Buritos. It is prepared fresh and warm.

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We like this one … just only $2.32.

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Frankly, we know very little about Mexican food and can’t tell you much. Are there any good authentic Mexican restaurants in Vancouver you know of?

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Bay Area Vacation: The San Jose Flea Market

Hi All: Am back. It was a hectic past week for me. First, my 2.5 year old PC decided to go slow on me all of the sudden. Everything seems to grind to a virtual halt … I think it’s all the photos that I had been dumping into it (23,000 already!). It was so slow that it took 5 minutes to just to edit ONE photo. It was that agonizingly slow. So, we decided to go get a new PC … spanking new one with Vista on it. I like Vista and boy … it’s really fast even with all the Aero stuff on Vista.

And before I had the time to properly setup the new PC, I had to travel again on work. Just got back last night and back in action. Well … that means that another travel series is now in the works.

Back to this series …

I like the motel we stayed in Santa Clara. They give better free breakfast than most of the other hotels we been to. Instead of giving the standard cold pastry and coffee, they even have a waffle making machine. I like hot breakfast. The coffee was pretty decent too.

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We picked up a brochure at the hotel about the world’s largest flea market. We thought that warrants checking out although it was not part of our plan since it’s just around the corner from Santa Clara. It is called the San Jose Flea Market on Berryessa Road.

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Locating this “no-tech” market is really easy. The parking lot is huge and reminds me of those in large theme parks. Looking at the size of the car park alone I can imagine how big this flea market is. Although there is no entrance fees for the flea market, parking costs $6.

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We went very early when they just about to open.

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This place is so big that they have street names to help people navigate around the flea market. Oh yeah, you need a map too.

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We headed off to the Produce Row first. A lot of the people there are Mexicans and I felt that Spanish are more widely spoken than English! Most of the signs here are also in Spanish.

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I tried to ask about some food that were uncommon to Canada but did not get much help. BTW, I see a lot of cactus being cut and sold here. What are they and how do they eat them? Cooked or raw?

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There were quite a variety of peanuts. I like peanuts, especially roasted ones.

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Not only peanuts but pistachios. I did not know there are so many ways to prepare pistachios.

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More snacks … they all looked so colourful.

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We did buy a pack of Charales to try. It’s dried fish … it was not quite our taste. $3.00 wasted.

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Stopped by a drinks stall. It was the most delicious and colorful looking fruit stall we had ever seen. The people who worked there were pretty nervous of my camera because I caught them chattering nervously and saying something about “camera” and then turned around. I was thinking … are they “documented”.

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The fruits in cups looked so fresh. Now, why did the world not think of the way the Mexicans prepare the fruits … cut them into strips. I think if someone think of doing this in Canada’s fairs, it would sell.

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I don’t know what we got for a drink. I just pointed to one that looked different. What is this drink anyway? It is really good.

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In this flea market, you could get almost everything you can think of. You can get carpets …

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… perfume …

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… ladies fashion, very cheap too …

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… all kinds of soccer jerseys …

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… beach towels and blankets …

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… even goldsmith and jewellery …

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… haircuts …

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… want to buy a taser gun? or bullet proof vest? or mace? they got it here too …

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… pinatas in all shapes, sizes and colours ..

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It was interesting browsing stalls like these …

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Am particularly curious over the cookwares, especially the roundish ones with a small hump in the middle … what do they use this for?

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They even have a carousel.

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If you are doing the tourist thing in San Jose, you should check this place out. It’s pretty amazing.

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Bay Area Vacation: Pho Hoa

It had been a long day at Great America where we only had hot dogs, M&Ms and chips to sustain us since breakfast. We were quite hungry by the time we got out of the theme park. We already knew where we’re gonna go for dinner that day. Where we were staying in, there seems to have a lot of Asian restaurants, in particular Korean. It had been quite a number of days since we had a full Asian meal and we really wanted rice and noodles.

Just a walk across the street from our hotel was Pho Hoa. We have already spotted that familiar name the day before. It was an unanimous choice for dinner. Besides fried rice, our boys are quite addicted to pho too.

We had been to a Pho Hoa in Richmond before. We don’t rate the pho in Richmond’s Pho Hoa as some of the best we tasted but since we’re on the road and have been missing real Asian food, this is just perfect.

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Pho Hoa is a franchise and have dozens of outlets throughout the US, Canada and Asia. They proudly pasted a big sign on their entrance about them being in the Top 400 Restaurants in America. I don’t know what the significance it is of this Top 400 rank … I guess it is a big deal here in the US.

We also found out that Pho Hoa first started in the neighboring city of San Jose. Wow … we are close to the epicenter of the Pho Hoa movement. This had gotta be good.

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In Canada, pho restaurants will give the adults hot tea and kids iced water. Did any of you notice that? I did not think of it until now and just took it for granted.

Here they gave all of us iced water. The ice is different … not in cubes or tubes but in pebble size. Nanzaro calls these ice-cutes, not cubes.

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The bean sprouts were fresh and crunchy. You can see they are not fresh if the roots are brownish. We see some people putting these bean sprouts in their pho … yucks, we hate to do that. Instead, we just munch on them while waiting for the pho to be brought to the table. Oh, we don’t use the leafy vegetable and lime too.

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Pho Hoa claimed that their food is a “healthy choice” on their menu. Well, I don’t know about that. I have always thought that it’s a “hearty” for sure. Without finding out, I always assumed that such food contains a fair bit of MSG. Also, I think red meat is not exactly healthy food, especially the cuts they serve in phos.

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All of us had pho. BTW, what’s your favourite cut? For me, I love tendons and tripe. I don’t care much for the thinly slice beef flanks. My boys love meat balls. Suanne, well, she takes whatever we had.

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I can see that our boys are bigger eaters now. Already, Arkensen have an entire large bowl of his own and his younger brother is gobbling down more out from Suanne and my bowl. By next year, we gotta adjust our dine out budget by another 33%.

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Seven bucks for each bowl of large pho. Nice meal.

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Pho Hoa on Urbanspoon

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Bay Area Vacation: Great America Park

This gotta be the highlight of the vacation for the boys. They wanted to snuck in a theme park on the vacation. I am all for it as I love roller coasters and such myself. However, Suanne vehemently protested that she will absolutely NOT go on any rides. He he he … she had a torrid time when we were in Disneyland/California Adventure and Knotts Berry Farm when we pestered her to have a go on the rides. Why even the kiddie rides freaks her out.

There are only two choices we can find for Theme Park — it is either Six Flags and Great America. Six Flags is out of the way in terms of the general direction we are heading and I think Six Flags have wilder rides. Great America seems to be a more family oriented.

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One tip about going to the park, get your tickets before you get to the park. We got ours at the hotel we were staying in. I think it was about $10 less or so per ticket.

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The one and only reason we headed to Santa Clara before going to San Francisco is because of the theme park stop.

In terms of size, Great America is no where near Disneyland although one would need at least 1 day to cover this park. The park is very compact and very walkable with lots of seats and shades around. Getting from one ride to another is pretty quick and helps us cover as much rides as we wanted.

We were there on a Saturday and expected a large crowd on a summer weekend. However, it was not as crowded as I feared. The lines were not too bad as we have seen worse in Disneyland. A long wait on the popular rides is like 15-30 minutes only.

You know, the few days before we arrived, there was a fatality in this park in the water section of the park. Apparently a toddler drowned in the newly opened wave pool. It was all over the news in Santa Clara. We did not spend any time at the water section because we did not have the time.

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The star attraction of this park is the Top Gun ride. It is a long inverted roller coaster with all imaginable turns and twists you can ever imagine. It’s based on the experience of riding in a fighter plane. We headed to this ride first.

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Arkensen went on this ride twice. Here is the video of him on the ride.

It was only after this ride we started to plan our other rides.

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We split up. Arkensen and I went for the rest of the big roller coasters while Nanzaro and Suanne went for rides which have lower height restrictions. Nanzaro is a roller coaster buff himself. He was so disappointed when he found that he was just 1 inch too short for the big rides.

This one is our favourite too. It looked like a simple ride.

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I love the name of this ride … The Invertigo. It is another inverted rollercoaster but the riders ride face-to-face. It travels both forward and backwards and gives a fun feeling of falling on top of the rider you are facing.

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The Vortex is a standup roller coaster. First time I tried a stand up roller coaster. Certainly not for those with weak knees!

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Arkensen chicken out of the Drop Zone. I am not sure why he had no problems with coasters but dare not try these drop rides. I went alone.

Foremost in my mind on this ride is the news of an accident on a similar ride somewhere in the US. A girl got her legs cut off by a snapped cable just a few weeks prior. There are two types of such rides, one that uses air to lift the chairs while the older ones uses cable to hoist the chairs … this one uses cables. I kept my legs close to the seat as much as possible.

Simple ride … go up and the wait for the drop. Just ONE drop. The view from up there is beautiful though … until the drop came.

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We met up about an hour later and went on the Star Tower. Nice ride. The gondola spins up and down give a great view of the park and the surrounding area. Good time to rest our tired feet too.

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This is a wet ride. The Whitewater Falls just brings you up and drops you down with a huge splash … both on yourself and the unknowing people who just happen to stand around the nice bridge. It was great fun to see people getting drenched.

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Talking about being drenched … the park sure know how to keep people cool.

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The “Survivor The Ride” is Nanzaro’s favourite. It looked like a simple ride but is tons of fun. He went several times.

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The Rip Roaring Rapids is another favourite of ours. It’s not as wild as it we thought it would be.

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By 2PM, I am totally knocked out. I had enough of roller coasters. There is something about the older rides … they are so jarring. I gave up on rides after that. Guess I am not getting any younger!

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… all I can see is spinning trees …

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“Dad, are you OK, dad?”

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Oh food … food in Great America is atrociously expensive and horrible. I expect to pay a “premium” for food in theme parks but at least give us decent food. The “Super Jumbo Hot Dog” costs 7 bucks and what do we get? This!!

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There were also great shows around the park. We love the magic show. It was hilarious.

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The swinging 60s show was fun too. The boys were complaining before we went in that it’s so … retro … a.k.a. so … mum and dad. But guess what, they love the show. We all enjoyed it … a lot. He he he … I was hoping the boys know now that mum and dad’s era also had our fun times … and stop saying that mum and dad is boring, OK?

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We had a GREAT TIME in Great America. I think we managed to cover about 60% of all rides but we certainly did cover all the important ones.

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Bay Area Vacation: In-N-Out Burger

I did not count on driving that far. On the map, Yosemite to Santa Clara does look near and I thought it would be Interstate road conditions all the way. A big part of the trip are on windy, narrow roads until I get to the valley.

Dang … California sure had so many fruit plantations. It was delightful driving through so many fruit stops. We stopped at one place to get some strawberries. The strawberries looked so good — big and bright red. They are very good and cheap too. We asked the guy at the stall to wash a basket for us to eat in the car but he said it’s already cleaned. We did not trust him. Since we had so much bottled water from the road trip to Death Valley, we gave it a thorough rinse before we set on our way.

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Two years ago when we had our Disneyland vacation, we noticed a lot of burger joints called In-N-Out. We did not try any that time and so made it a point to drop by one … one more food place to blog about, you see.

In-N-Out is basically a California burger place. Although they do not have as many outlets like McDonalds, Wendy’s, DQ, etc, they are very popular among Californians.

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What we like is their menu — it is so simple. They have only three, as I recall. There is the Cheeseburger and the Hamburger … and then there is the Double-Double. Off hand, you would know what burger size you want. You know, in McD’s, it’s kind of confusing sometimes making the difference between a BigMac, Big Xtra, Quarter Pounders and what nots. See that menu above the cashier’s head? Well, the menu is that simple. I like it.

The major difference in In-N-Out is their focus on freshness. The burgers and fries are made to order. So, you see a bit of a wait while they prepare your order.

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The burgers were great. Some of the best we had ever tried from a fast food place. They gave us our orders in a neatly stacked box of four … just perfect for an obsessive-compulsive person like me. Well, almost perfect … one piece of lettuce stuck out which was not a problem because I just need to push it in to make it perfect.

According to In-N-Out, they do not pre-cook anything nor do they use heating lamps. The burgers are cooked fresh and not cook-then-preheat. The lettuce were also hand-leafed rather than pre-sliced.

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Even the potatoes were whole potatoes and only cut-and-cook on-site in the restaurant. Our boys like it a lot. Even though they were no big fans of onions, they actually had onions with the burgers here.

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The boys liked it so much that they pestered us to stop in an In-N-Out everytime they see one. Suanne and I liked it too. But then since Suanne and I try not go to the same place twice because there are so many other places to try out, that stop was the one and only stop we had.

Total bill … $15.17. Nice.

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