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California Vacation: Jelly Belly Factory Tour

We took Route 80 which led us all the way to Reno. Reno will be our last stop where we will be spending just a couple of days and then head home.

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Along Route 80, in Fairfield CA, we made a stop at the Jelly Belly factory which made the world famous Jelly Belly. We wanted to make a stop here too because the Jelly Belly factory tour is known as the Best Factory Tour in America by Readers Digest.

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We had our brunch in Jelly Belly. It was quite a nice restaurant they have there — bright and cheery.

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And the food there are quite cheap too. Got ourselves some sandwiches and even a pizza which is shaped like a jelly belly.

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Perhaps it was a weekend and the fact that it is still the school holidays. The queue to get on the factory tour took almost 1 hr!

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At least there were things to see and do while waiting. We took turns holding our position on the queue while the others go around the place.

Ronald Reagan is a huge fan of jelly belly. The ex-president always had a jar of jelly bellies with him. There were pictures of the jelly belly jars in the white house, and the Air Force One. He was such a fan of jelly bellies that he wrote to Jelly Belly thanking the company for all the supplies during his presidency … on a White House letterhead. What an endorsement.

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There were also a number of jelly belly art and of course Ronald Reagan’s portrait is the centrepiece.

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Jelly Bellies are not just any jelly beans. They are the rolls royce of jelly beans … and they call it gourmet jelly beans. They are quite expensive.

There were a huge selection of flavours — 50 official flavours and a lot of other lesser known ones. The free sample counter is somewhat disappointing … they only allow you one miserable piece. If you want another sample, you gotta go to the back of the line and queue up again.

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There were supposed to be no pictures allowed during the factory tour. I sneaked in a few shots. I think I heard that this production line is going to be closed down and moved to somewhere in Asia. That’s sad.

The best part of the tour … you get two bags of free samples.

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We bought a few bags of Belly Flops … jelly beans that are imperfect, mostly out of shape or are stuck together during the mixing process. Those are so cheap. It was $8 for a 2 lb bag and you get 2 bags free for buying 2 bags. I thought I had too much when we bought 8 lbs of it. Guess what … I brought it to the office and my office mates gobbled up 4 lbs in 2 days. I should have bought more!

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Now, I am a fan of Jelly Bellies.

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San Francisco Vacation: Golden Gate Bridge

Got up really early in the morning on our last day in SF. We wanted to get an early start and get to Reno with lots of time to spare. We took a slight detour to Lombard Street, yes again. We walked up and down the crooked street but we (actually I) just gotta have the kick of DRIVING down Lombard St. For a change there were hardly anybody there … no hoards of tourists, no line up of cars waiting to driving down this famous street.

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You know, for that few days in SF we had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge. I know now what they mean when people say that SF is always foggy. It had been foggy everyday we were there and it’s the Golden Gate Bridge had always been shrouded in fog.

Anyway, you gotta pay toll to use the bridge but only for city bound. It’s free for outbound traffic.

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It was my last chance to take a picture of the bridge and I thought that this would be the best shot I would get.

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Well, well … the fog just suddenly cleared by the time we got to the north end of the Bridge. We turned off the Vista Point and … lo and behold …

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… the Golden Gate Bridge … well, half of it.

When it was built in the 1930s. this was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Of all the suspension bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the most famous of all … and certainly the most photographed.

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Six lanes in all … which makes it twice as large as Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge. For comparison, the Golden Gate ranks #6 longest in the world … Lions Gate is #68! You know what is the most distinguishing feature of this bridge? It’s the red colour.

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That ends our SF adventure. We had a great time and came away impressed with SF as a city. Oh yeah, it’s a city I could live in alright. We’re moving on to Reno for the last leg of our summer vacation.

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San Francisco Vacation: Melaka Restaurant in San Bruno

This buffet is unplanned … honest … cross my heart and hope to die!

We were staying in San Bruno, thereabouts. Each day driving between our hotel and the Caltrain station we can’t help but notice a restaurant called Melaka Restaurant. That word could only mean one thing in the world … it’s the name of one of the oldest city in Malaysia … and that means that it’s a Malaysian restaurant. We simply gotta check it out.

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We found out that it’s a buffet place. And what really made us stay for dinner is the irresistable price … it’s only about $8 or so per person. I can spot a Malaysian anywhere … from the way they dress, their hair style and especially the way they speak.

You know … Malaysians have their own unique English … pretty much a mix of English, Malay and Chinese … we call it Manglish. I have loaded such a song on youtube here — it is not exactly a Manglish song but more Singlish but it’s close.

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I so miss the humble noodles. The mussels were just so-so.

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The deep fried prawns was also so-so.

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The boys enjoyed the sushi.

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The calamari, the hainanese chicken and the fried chicken wings were so-so too.

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I think this one is chicken … am not sure.

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The soup was so-so.

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The pastries selection was also so-so.

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Green tea ice-cream … certainly not Malaysia.

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The food overall are not great but they were comfort food for us. We enjoyed the evening. The total came up to only $35 including tips. Not bad.

Melaka on Urbanspoon

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San Francisco Vacation: Other SF Sights

Well … I thought I share a bit more about the minor sights we visited in San Francisco. I guess it warrants mentioning because it is so … San Francisco.

If there is a Main St in San Francisco, it is Market Street. This is the main transportation corridor of the city and is akin to what Champs Elysees is to Paris. We had taken the cable car, street cars, trolleybuses from here. Right underneath the street is where the BART runs through.

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The Caltrain station is quite close to the San Francisco Giants home ground … the AT&T Park. Actually, I don’t care much about baseball nor do I understand the game at all. The only reason we are here is because of Barry Bonds — and at that time, at the threshold of breaking the all-time home run record.

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I have seen on the TV of some spectacular home-run hits in this stadium. You see, just outside the stadium is the bay and if someone hits the ball far enough out of the stadium it will fall into the water outside. That is called a “splash run”. Must have been pretty fun. I was told that people actually park their boats during game day hoping to get one of those balls.

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Another place we went to was the Ferry Building at Embarcardero. Our main reason going there was to eat at The Slanted Door. It was closed when we were there. We saw the menu though — it was quite expensive (Brian, you told me it was a cheap Vietnamese place, you rat!)

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Really … there was nothing much in the Ferry Building … at least as far as we’re concerned. We spent perhaps 10 minutes there.

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Outside the Ferry Building is more interesting. Here it is … the same type of self-cleaning toilets I had used in Paris. Oh … this ones here are messy … yucks … papers on the floor! I am not sure what the big deal is with these self-cleaning toilets. For me, it takes a long time to clean.

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We also managed to spend some time at the Palace of Fine Arts. We just took pictures, that’s all. It is a beautiful place. There is a science museum in the compound.

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San Francisco Vacation: Ghirardelli

The Ghirardelli Square is another tourist attraction located at the far eastern side of the Fishermans Wharf. We were only interested in visiting the Gihrardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. Suanne and I had fond memories of eating Ghirardelli’s icre-cream sundaes here in freezing temperatures. Back then, we had icre-cream only when the weather is hot — not so these days.

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We got free chocolates by just walking into Ghirardelli … and it is not just any cheap types but the real stuff from the popular inventory.

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The place was busy when we got there. The was a queue that goes right out of the door. We had no idea of what we wanted to order and the menu were not much of a help because everything looked so good.

We placed our order at the counter, paid for them and then given a number.

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We had to find a table ourselves. It’s a bit chaotic actually. The tables were arranged so tightly to each other that moving around is difficult. And because there are so many people, we had to quickly grab a table once one comes free … even before they clean the sticky chocolates and ice-cream from the tables.

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We ordered two ice-cream sundaes. And boy, they looked every bit decadent as it looked on their menu.

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The Butterscotch Fudge Sundae is our favourite. It has a scoop of premium butter pecan ice cream smoothered with butterscotch sauce and almond nuggets. And then there is the hot fudge sauce and topped with whipped cream and almonds. So rich … so sweet … we had to wash this down with water!

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Their classical sundae is simply called the World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae. It’s simple concoction of vanilla ice cream and lots of hot fudge sauce … and again topped with whipped cream and chopped almonds. They are so unbelievably rich … absolutely heavenly.

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They do make the chocolates on site too. We did not spend time reading over the entire process as we had to head back to catch the train back to the hotel.

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If you are in the Fishermans Wharf and even if you don’t buy any chocolates, you MUST come here and try their sundaes. I am quite sure this will leave a lasting memory on you.

Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop on Urbanspoon

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San Francisco Vacation: Boudin Sourdough

So, while in Fishermans Wharf, we also made it a point to visit the Boudin Sourdough bakery. Suanne and I had visited this bakery … oh … perhaps 15 years ago. We simply have to come back here and try their bread again.

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When we were in Boudin, we also made a side trip to their Museum and Bakery Tour. Frankly, it was not worth the money we had to pay to get into the tour. I would have wished that we get really close to the bakery but we just watched from an upstairs gallery. So, save your money.

One thing that we learned though in that tour … that there are so many food that were invented in San Francisco. Here it is … Martini, Cioppino, Popsicles, Chop Suey, Irish Coffee, Fortune Cookie, Mai Tai, and Crab Louis.

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The Boudin Sourdough Bakery is popular and busy … and perhaps a bit too chaotic for me. You order and pay from one end of the counter. You have to give them your name and when your order is ready, they’ll yell your name and you go pick it up. There were so many people milling around the area waiting to pick up their order and the place is so noisy.

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Sourdough bread was the main bread consumed in California during the Gold Rush days. So, it is pretty much part of the culture of the SF.

What is unique about sourdough is that its sourness and tanginess combines very well with seafood and soup such as chilli and chowders. We first ordered one to try but ended up getting another two more because they taste so good.

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Boudin’s famous Clam Chowder is simply the best of the best. Almost every one got this world-famous, classic, freshly baked item.

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Some people don’t get it! We saw people coming here, bought a bread bowl, finished off the chowder and then they THREW AWAY the bowl! The bread bowl is what it is all about … not the clam chowder … duh!

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You know what they told us? That you can never get sourdough bread as good as those you get in SF anywhere else in the world. They say that it is the air, the SF fog and the lacto-something bacteria combined to give it the distinct sourness. Do you believe it?

You know, what I plan to do? Am gonna go on a mini quest to find Vancouver’s answer to SF’s sourdough bread. Where do I start … any suggestion? Granville Island?

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I have not found anything equivalent in Vancouver that come close to the French Baquettes that I fell in love with in Paris. I got a loaf here in SF … no, it was terrible. When in Boudin, it’s only the Sourdough Bread that matters.

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Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

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San Francisco Vacation: Alcatraz

Alcatraz, also known as The Rock, had over the years been a lighthouse, a military outpost, a prison and now part of a national park. It is perhaps the times when it was a prison that captures the imagination of visitors the most. It lies smack right in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

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We almost missed the boat to Alcatraz. You see, we started off from the Ghirardeli Square and thought that it is just a short walk to the pier … not knowing that it is actually quite a distance. And to add to that, there were so much things to see and do in and around Pier 39 that we lost track of time. By the time we realize what time it was, we had just 15 minutes to get to the jetty. Man! We practically ran all the way there!

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The Alcatraz tour is perhaps the most popular tour in San Francisco. We bought our tickets online two weeks before the tour and even then we had only the hot afternoon tour to choose from. I heard that if you try to line up to get on board the ship, it will be a very long wait.

The prices were not cheap for the four of us … almost $100. That’s for the cruise to Alcatraz and includes the entrance and audio tour. The website for getting tickets is here.

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Once we got off the boat, there is a mandatory orientation and history of the island before we could roam the island. Although this is not a big island, the walk to the top, where the prison is, is quite steep. We spent quite a bit of time at the exhibits and film show near the base of the island before we walked up to the prison building.

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The tour was well organized which started off from the room where all new inmates were first given their prison garb and open shower.

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Each of us had an audio set to follow as we walked throughout the prison complex. It was really interesting … not only to Suanne and I but the boys was quite mesmerized too with the stories and description of the conditions in the prison.

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The prison cell below were perhaps some of the “best”. The isolation cells were worse and almost completely dark except for a small light bulb.

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Many people took pictures behind the bars … well, we had to take some for ourselves too. BTW., crime does not pay … agreed?

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I bet the view from the prison must have been tortrous for the inmates. Right from across the bay is the beautiful city of San Francisco.

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We spent most of our time just following the audio that I did not take much pictures here.

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In all, it was an entertaining tour, if I may say. My favourite part of the audio tour is where they described how two of the most famous escape attempts were carried out.

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San Francisco Vacation: Fisherman’s Wharf

What’s a trip to San Francisco without a stop at Fishermans Wharf right? It’s simply unheard of. Well, I thought that Fishermans Wharf is just a short stretch but it is not, especially when we started off at the Ghirardelli Square and cover all the way to Pier 33 (??) where we took the ferry to Alcatraz.

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The centre piece of Fishermans Wharf is undoubtedly Pier 39. To us, it’s nothing more than a place with lots of unique shops which we have no plans for shopping. It’s basically a touristy area. I was wondering if many locals actually come here to shop and eat.

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There are endless things to see here. We did not get as much time to enjoy all these performances as we liked.

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On the other side of the Pier are shops, restaurants and other attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and other small museums.

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The Hyde Street Pier is a slower and much less crowded. It’s like a museum of sort here and is actually designated as a National Park … right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Fishermans Wharf.

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The famous Bushman was at work when we were there. We saw him on TV before and were glad to see him in person. He sits behind some bushes and tries to startle people walking past. For some reason, it never ceases to entertain people. People actually tip him for startling them.

Believe it or not, I heard that he had been doing this for over 20 years already. I wonder how much he makes.

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We got Nanzaro’s caricature done because it was so unbelievably cheap. It’s just $2.75 and an extra $1 for color.

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We also took the historic streetcars which operates on the F line. We got a kick out of having to travel in these type of retro cars. It could be confusing to tourists but all these varied forms of transportation lends a lot of character to the city.

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We’ll share more about things we do and see in Fishermans Wharf over the next few days.

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