Day 2 – Seattle

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Day 2 began with a 45-minute drive out to Westfield Southcenter, a giant shopping center in Tukwila. My Filipino friends have been raving about this franchise chain that serves authentic, delicious Filipino which was only available in the States so one of my goal for this road trip was to try it out. The closest Jollibee to Vancouver was the one in Westfield so it worked out perfectly. Anticipating long line ups, we went there as soon as the mall opened only to find out that it was shut for renovation!!! They didn’t mention anywhere on their website about this renovation! ☹

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Fortunately, the Filipino bakery shop next door, Red Ribbon, was still open so we still managed to try some delicious Filipino food! We ordered the Arroz caldo (chicken congee), palabok (noodles with sautéed pork, eggs and fried garlic), beef empanada (small calzone) and the ube overload cake. It’s a little heavy for breakfast but the food was delicious! Prices were very reasonable as well.

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All their desserts on display looks appetizing as well but we were already too full. We did purchase some butter mamon (sponge cake) and cheesy ensaimada (fluffy bread top with cheese) to bring home with us. Even though we had these pastries a few days later, they still tasted so fluffy and creamy! How I wish we had a Red Ribbon in Vancouver!

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For the good half of the day, we spent time checking out the shops in this huge mall. There are a good variety of stores with a good combination of restaurants and a large food court. They have Din Tai Fung here as well, an international Taiwanese franchise famous for its xiao long bao (another franchise that we don’t have in Vancouver ☹). They also had Christmas decorations up already which looked very pretty and festive.

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After shopping for a bit, we met up with a friend of mine who had moved down to the States for a few years to catch up over lunch in the food court.

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K had the sushi burrito and I ordered a beef teriyaki bowl. Food was decent for a food court.

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We bid farewell to my friend and we headed back into Seattle to catch up with another one of my friends who just had a baby. We spent some time catching up and headed out for an early dinner in the city. There were just soooo many restaurants that I wanted to try and not enough time to try everything! Given it was a Saturday night, some of the restaurants that I wanted to try were already fully booked a few days before hand! We ended up getting a reservation for a Japanese restaurant called Yoroshiku.

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The layout of this restaurant kind of reminds me of those hipster, trendy restaurants on Main Street in Vancouver. It was only 6:30 p.m. but the restaurant was already completely full. We got seated right away and given menus. We ordered the umami dashi ramen (bonito, kelp, school dashi stock, chashuu), ebi soba ramen (prawn with lobster broth) and a pork okonomiyaki.

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The food was soooo good!! Both the ramen were super flavourful and the ramen was cooked just right. The ramen absorbed the broth so you were able to get the flavour in each bite! The broth was rich but you could tell it was not MSG.

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The okonomiyaki was equally as delicious and authentic, reminds me of the one that I had in Osaka! Proportions were a tad smaller that I would like but that was expected for restaurants like these.

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You know food is authentic when all the chefs are Japanese! I would definitely come back next time. The long line up when we left proves that it is worth the wait!

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It was still early in the evening so we headed to Trader Joe’s to get a head start on our grocery shopping. Ever since I’ve been eating healthier, I’ve realized how much my grocery bill has gone up! Getting organic, low sodium, low fat or fresh ingredients in Vancouver is so expensive! I am so jealous how they have Trader Joe’s! Everything here is almost half the price of Vancouver even with the exchange rate being so high! They also have products here that are so unique that I haven’t seen anywhere in Vancouver…butternut squash pizza crust? Turkey bone broth?! Pumpkin pasta sauce?!?! My mind is blown…I am like a kid in a candy store whenever I come to Trader Joe’s! We did a preliminary run since we can’t get anything frozen yet and I’ve already spent $120…! Since we already bought so much stuff on this trip already, we had to spend some time back at the AirBNB to logistically figure out how we’re going to fit everything in my trunk! Day 3 still to come!

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Day 1 – Seattle

It’s been a while since my last blog entry! Life has been busy lately and I just haven’t had the time and money to travel! Hopefully there will be some opportunities to travel again before my big trip next October to Maui!

After watching Magic For Humans on Netflix, K and I completely fell in love with Justin Willman! When we heard he was going to perform at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle, we decided to make a road trip out of it! Luckily, we were able to get 4th row tickets and the tickets were only $25 USD each! Show tickets are always significantly cheaper in the States compared to Canada. It’s not fair! ☹

We headed down Friday morning and the border wait time was not too bad. After taking a short coffee break, we went full steam ahead to Pike Place Market to grab lunch and do some shopping. Pike Place Market is my favourite market of all times and it is always busy here, even on a working Friday! Make sure you park at the garage parking of the market itself as that is the cheapest lot around, only $4 per hour!

Our first stop was to grab lunch at Pike Place Chowder. There are great online reviews for this restaurant and always long line ups so we decided to give it a try. There was already a line up when we got there but fortunately it was moving quite fast.

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We probably waited less than 10 minutes. We ordered all 3 of their rolls – lobster, shrimp and crab.

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Also, we got 5 flavours of their famous chowders – clam, scallops, seafood bisque, Manhattan style chowder and a crab & oyster chowder. The bill came up to $63! That’s a pretty pricy lunch considering that it’s self serve and the small proportions! Now let’s see if the food is worth the $$… The rolls were pretty good; the buns were buttery, crunchy and stuffed with seafood.

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With regards to the chowders, they were good but not mind blowing…If we had to rank the 5, it would be the seafood bisque, scallops, clam, crab & oyster and the Manhattan last. The soups were warm and flavours were decent but I would have preferred it hot and flavours more condensed.

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You can help yourself to free oyster crackers and sourdough bread to fill up. Overall, the food was good but not good enough for me to come back again considering the cost and the wait. If you do want to try it out but don’t want to deal with the long lines, you can pre-order ahead online. However, pre-order is only limited to the chowders!

We had a little more time to explore the market on this trip so we went from floor to floor to check out all the shops. I’ve been to this market so many times but we’ve only had time to check out the first floor. Who knew there were so many interesting shops underneath! There are many vintage shops that sells clothes, records and stamps. There is also one of the oldest magic store here which is next to the Giant Shoe Museum. There is so much to see at this market you could honestly spend a whole day here! Of course, a trip to Pike Place Market is incomplete until we stock up on some truffle goodies at La Buona Tavola. Absolutely love their truffle pasta, salt and creams!

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Before we left, we also took a stroll along Pier 57. It seems like their pier has been under construction forever as it was already under construction the last time I visited! At the pier, you can check out the Miners Landing which includes several attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Great Wheel, Wings over Washington and a handful of famous seafood restaurants like Crabpot.

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Since we had more time, we explored their mini indoor amusement park which includes an arcade, a vintage carousel and some midway games. There are also many interesting statutes here that you can take photos with and don’t forget to check out their giant gumball machine!

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The Pier is a quick 5-minute walk from the Market; there are steep stairways going down on each block. Take caution as you will pass by some homeless people on the way down but the area is generally quite safe.

Cheesecake Factory is another one of our favourite American franchises. The one on Pike Place is always super busy so we decided to grab takeout this time. We went there at 4:30 p.m. and placed our order. There was a 25 minute wait so we decided to check out Gameworks across the street.

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Gameworks brings back childhood memories when my parents used to take me to play arcade games at Playdium! We need a giant arcade again in Vancouver!

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You can purchase a card with credits or play unlimited for an hour for $10. Since we were only there for a short while, we purchased 20 credits ($7).  We decided to play DDR for old time sakes. 10 credits had us dancing for 5 rounds and we were there for almost 35 minutes.

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It is actually a pretty good deal! They also have a large selection of other arcade games, a restaurant and some pretty sweet prizes. Definitely will check it out again next time we are in town!

We grabbed our takeout and headed for our AirBnB. We were starving at this point so I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the food before we devoured it! Cheesecake Factory is always so delicious! The experience is a little less satisfying now since they display the calories on their menus! Being more health conscious now, we went with the cheesecake that had the least calories….Food was so good but you can’t help to feel a little guilty when you’ve eaten your day’s worth of calories in ONE meal!  After we settled down, we headed out for the Justin Willman magic show, the main purpose of our trip!

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The show was at Neptune Theatre which is a vintage and cozy theatre in the University district. Parking was a sweet deal as it was a flat rate of $6 for the evening. We found our seats and eagerly waited for Justin Willman to come on stage! The opening act was a local comedian by the name of Kermet Apio who was absolutely hilarious. This guy deserves a Netflix show! After a good laugh, it was finally Justin’s turn! The next 1.5 hours was mind blowing! Magic is 1000x better when you are so close to the stage and you can see everything so well! Justin was funny, entertaining and amazing at story-telling. I felt like a kid again! The highlight of the trip was definitely the time when we got to talk with Justin! He also signed autographs and took a selfie with us! He was the nicest and most down to earth celebrity I’ve met! I really look forward to seeing his next show on Netflix or seeing him live again!

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I told K during the show that I needed a BBT fix and he shot me down by saying that there’s no bubble tea in the States! Funny enough, there was a Chatime just across the street from the theatre…! The night was just getting even better! The bubble tea here was decent but not as good as Vancouver and it was also more expensive too! There was a group of customers playing mah-jong at the back which was quite an interesting sight at a bubble tea restaurant! After getting gas, we headed back to our AirBnB to get some sleep. It had been a long day but we had an amazing time! Stay tune for day 2!

WHY TRIP PLANNING IS CRUCIAL FOR A GOOD VACATION

I was asking my good friend whether he would like to join me for my next Europe trip. We were discussing our traveling styles and he said that he likes to be spontaneous about what he does on vacation rather than having it all planned out beforehand. That got me thinking about when and why I started creating hour-by-hour itineraries in excel spreadsheets for my vacations…

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Yes, trip planning is A LOT OF WORK. Before I travel each time, I invest hours and hours into researching about attractions to see, what restaurants to try and what passes to buy to save money. It is time consuming but like anything in life, no pain, no gain!

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  • The process of trip planning is quite enjoyable because you actually learn a great deal about the history, culture and people of the place that you are visiting. When you understand the history or the story behind the attractions that you visit, you would appreciate the experience so much more and remember it better. For example, there are hundreds of churches in Europe, but what makes the Sistine Chapel more unique?

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  • It helps to relief that travel itch while you are not traveling! I wish I could be traveling 24/7 but unfortunately, I am only able to do one big trip every 2 years! When I feel bummed looking at my friend’s awesome vacation photos on Instagram or Facebook, trip planning is a good distraction and reminds me that there is an exciting vacation for me to look forward to!

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  • You save money and time! Doesn’t it feel great when you know you saved $20 dollars per person on admission that now you can use towards having a nice dinner? Many attractions have the option of purchasing tickets online before your visit which can be purchased at least one month in advance. Most of them offer at least a 10% discount! Some popular attractions even offer time reservation, so you show up 10 minutes before your scheduled visit and you can just walk right to the front of the line. There is so much to see on a trip and the last thing you want is to spend all that time standing in lines. If you’re traveling during peak season, some line ups could take at least an hour!

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  • Avoid disappointment! Have you showed up to an attraction that you really wanted to see on a trip but you weren’t able to because it was either closed or the line up was wayyy too long? For example, some attractions in Europe are not opened on Sundays so if you didn’t know that ahead of time, you would have wasted all that time commuting there for nothing! Also, some popular restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen are fully booked three months in advance so they do not even accept any walk-in customers.

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  • Some people argue that they just want to relax and do nothing on a vacation. To these people I ask: “Why not just do a staycation then?” If you’re going to pay a few hundred bucks for airfare and accommodation just to do nothing, I don’t think that is money well spent. And can you really say you’ve visited a place without going to their most famous landmark? A trip to Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower and going to New York without seeing the Statute of Liberty.

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  • Be a smart and safe traveller. Each country has their own unique customs and etiquettes. It is important to have a general understanding of these prior to your visit to ensure that you are respecting the culture of the place you are visiting and also for your own safety and well being. I can give you so many examples of times when I was traveling and we experienced culture shocks! Some were pleasant such as the tip-free policy in Australia and Japan but there were also hard lessons learnt – the bread they leave on the table aren’t free (they charge you based on the pieces you’ve eaten) and even boiled water is not safe for drinking in Italy (friend got traveler’s diarrhea)! For many churches in Europe, you should bring a shawl with you to cover up your arms or legs if you are traveling in the summer. Also, there may be unsafe areas that tourists should avoid. We accidentally landed ourselves in the red light district in Singapore and also boarded a bus in San Francisco in an area where there were homeless people doing drugs…

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  • Lastly and most importantly, trip planning is necessary so you CAN have a good vacation. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re on vacation is figure out how to get somewhere, where to buy tickets or what attractions to visit. After a long day of sightseeing, you just want to hit the shower and go to bed. However, if you haven’t done your trip planning, you have to do it after you get back to the hotel each night or in the morning before you go out. You probably don’t have a laptop with you either so you’ll have to navigate through your phone which is even harder.

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Whenever I am on vacation, I print my itinerary, tickets and coupons before hand and I just bring it with me on the road. As more attractions accept e-tickets, I simply just download them on my phone which reduces the hassle of losing papers and is also more environmentally friendly! I can travel mindlessly with my itinerary; simply show up at the attractions or the restaurants as they are reserved before hand and have a great time! Transportation is planned as well so we get from point to point rather than wasting time to figure out which means of transportation we will need to take. We are not burnt out from getting lost, waiting in line or walking aimlessly on the streets! We are able to see everything we wanted to see on the trip, we’re well rested each day (not doing last minute planning at night) and we feel good because we know we didn’t overpay for anything!

Trip Planning Tips

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  • Start with It is the best travel planning tool! The website has reviews from travellers who have visited the attractions before so you are getting objective reviews and useful tips for your visit. They have reviews for every possible attractions you can think of and some travellers even shared their own itineraries. There are many filters available to limit the reviews to your preference. I find Tripadvisor very useful as often times they will have information that you won’t even find on the attraction’s website (i.e. how much time you should spend there, fast track options, best time to visit, etc.). However, like other sites with user reviews, you have to sort through those really generic ones (“It was a nice place to visit”) and decide how legitimate the extreme ones are (“The service was horrible”).

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  • You do not have to be a keener like me and plan your trip by the hour in an excel spreadsheet. As an accountant, excel spreadsheets simply run in my blood! :p There are many apps out there such as Trip It which are excellent for trip planning. The app gathers all the travel itineraries in your e-mail (ie. Admission tickets, hotel booking, airfare) and organizes them for you by day. You can go in and add any other items as you like so you can have all your information in one place. I also use this as a back-up when I am too lazy to dig out the papers from my backpack!

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  • Ask around! You get the best information firsthand from your friends who have traveled to that destination before. Ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like. There are so many times where I have changed my plans after talking to a friend. If that is not an option, Google is your best friend. Sometimes when I can’t find the information elsewhere, I will just do a Google search. “Can you drink tap water in ________?” “Is it safe to travel to _____?” You will often find websites with the information that you need.

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  • Book early. The best way to save money is to book things in advance. Some attractions or trains offer significant discounts if you book before a certain time (usually 3 months) so make sure you do some research to determine the time frame.

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  • Do a free walking tour. Every city I visit now, I always do a free tour. It is the best way to get an overview about the city from a local’s point of view. The tour guides are very helpful and can recommend attractions/restaurants that only the locals know about. The tours are free but you do have to pay a small tip. It is a good idea to do it on the first day so you have time to check out some of their recommendations.

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  • Get data on your phone. Traveling with data has made my life so much easier on the road! We can search up information on google or use google map to help us navigate. It is super important when you’re traveling in a country that speaks a foreign language as you can use google translate to help you communicate with the locals. Find out who the local network providers are and where you can purchase a sim card and prepaid plan.

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Hope I have convinced you about the importance of trip planning! You will thank me afterwards! Happy planning! If you have any trip planning tips as well, please share them with me in the comment section below!