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Birthday Pastries

Another year, another birthday. Nothing special this year, we’ve been busy and it has kind of snuck up on us. We’ve already had visitors and more are on the way, next week and next month. Yasu is hoping to get a full-time position as an Academic Lead at the University of Derby, so over the past few weeks we’ve been working on and preparing for his application, presentation, and job interview. We hope to have good news soon. Also, I’m hoping this will be my last birthday as a non-mother. Today I am double the age my mom was when she had me and it is about time for me to become a mom myself. We’ve been trying, so actually we hope to have double good news soon.

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Never Dreamed

Reconciliated

After years of family drama, a secret marriage, an international escape, and Yasu hiding out in different countries, today was surreal. It’s all over. One very determined Japanese mom seizing her one and only chance (her son being back in Japan for a short visit) had a very clear dream and goal and she made it happen. She didn’t mind that she had some rather hesitant participants, she pushed through and brought about a family reconciliation.

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Last Queen’s Day

Every year the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) on April 30th, a holiday in honor of our Queen Beatrix. This year she will abdicate on Queen’s Day and her first son, Willem-Alexander, will become King Willem IV.

That’s right: next year’s Queen’s Day will be King’s Day. The future king only has daughters so there will be a Queen and a Queen’s Day again someday, but I expect that may take a while. So this will be our last Queen’s Day for now.

In San Francisco we celebrate Queen’s Day today, since it’s not an official holiday here and most people need to work on Tuesday. So we donned our orange and Dutch gear (leftover from the WBC semifinal last month) and got ourselves to the Murphy Windmill in Golden Gate Park.
Yasu and I volunteered to help out this year. I originally signed up for four different volunteer duties, but somehow 3 got canceled, all for different reasons. So in the end we only helped out selling bar tickets, handing out bar wristbands, and checking IDs (since you need to be 21+ to drink alcohol in the US) for an hour. That was a lot of fun though and time just flew by.
There were food trucks. And they weren’t selling tacos, no no, they were selling Dutch food. Or at least their best imitation of Dutch fries, frikandellen en kroketten, and there was one place that was selling raw herring from the North Sea! 
That made me a happy Dutchie, since I love raw herring with chopped onions! And if you want to be really Dutch you eat it in a specific way. See me demonstrate that way below with actual herring and Yasu with a Dutch fry, since (for some inexplicable reason) he doesn’t like herring.
Any Dutch festival isn’t complete without some Indonesian food. We got ourselves some barbecued pork satays and they were delicious and very authentic.
There was a silent disco. This may sound weird, and it certainly looks really weird when you just look at it. A DJ at a turn table and a bunch of people with headphones shaking and moving their bodies to no music. Of course, when you get yourself some headphones you soon find yourself doing exactly the same. 
It was fun and we would have done it longer if we didn’t get distracted by a familiar face in the crowd of Dutchies. Our SambaFunk friend Jeroen stopped by with his parents, who are visiting from the Netherlands. Jeroen loves Dutch stroopwafels and has even made his own from scratch in the past. He was the perfect person to try out the freshly-made stroopwafels from The Stroopie Gourmet from the East Bay. Final judgement: way too much cinnamon. These stroopwafels may taste okay, but they don’t taste traditionally Dutch. Oh well.

There was a makeshift Dutch grocery store. This was a happy place filled to the brim with almost only imported goodies from the Netherlands. I had a hard time picking just a few items, I really just wanted to bring everything home. I wish Albert Heijn (my favorite Dutch supermarket chain) would just open up shop in the Bay Area already.

All in all, it was an exciting day, especially for Yasu:

Celebrating Yasu’s 28th birthday

He will forever be younger than me, but at least it’s good to know that he’s getting close to thirty as well. He turned 28 on Friday! Since we’re living on a student’s budget we’re not doing birthday gifts or anniversary gifts these days, so my only gift to him was a big birthday kiss and a gathering of friends.

We went to Japantown for some shabu shabu and to catch up with some of our favorite people! Afterwards we went for some drink at a bar called Double Dutch, which was fun, but there was nothing Dutch about it ;).
At his practicum place people get to do whatever they want for their birthdays and Yasu had an interesting idea. He wanted to play air samurai. His practicum buddies were all supposed to attack him, he would slash them with his fictional samurai sword, and the others would die spectacularly. It went splendidly, and he’ll forever have this hilarious video to relive it:
My mom sent us a huge box with Yasu’s birthday presents and also some early Christmas presents for the both of us. Which made us both happy!

She got the birthday boy a lanyard for his keys in orange (the Dutch national color and therefore Yasu’s favorite) with “Yasu’s keys” written on it in Dutch. She also found him a nice tshirt with a Dutch bicycle traffic sign (Yasu really enjoyed biking around in the Netherlands) and some upside down Japanese characters. And of course his favorite snack: Knoppers.
We would have waited to open the Christmas presents until the 25th, but she was too anxious to see how we like our gifts. She ordered us some customized iPhone covers, an eleventh monkey one for me and Yasu’s had a picture of me on it! She also got us the most adorable Dutch coffee cups we’ve ever seen, some Dutch coffee to go in it, much needed coasters, and Dutch peperkoek for me! 
Katherine and Kosuke took us to their favorite sushi place tonight and treated us to the best sushi we’ve ever had in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the restaurant is very much out of our normal way, but it’s surely is worth a long trip on the Muni bus. This was the first time I ate sushi in America and felt like it was real authentic Japanese sushi! The sushi was so good and we were so busy eating that I totally forgot to take pictures of the food, oh well,  we’ll just have to go back again.

Hotwire, blegh

We were supposed to spend the night at a 3 star hotel, booked on Hotwire. Hotwire promises bargain prices and guaranteed quality, they inform us that they have agents that visit hotels to check for quality and also use customer reviews to maintain quality hotels in their database. The catch is that you don’t find out the hotel name until after you’ve paid. Oh, and it’s non-refundable. But if you can book it cheaper anywhere else, Hotwire promises to pay you back the difference.
I had seen Hotwire prices pop up on other travel and hotel websites and commercials, so I wanted to give it a try. So I booked our first hotel of the trip through them. I chose a 3-hotel, recommended by about 90% of the previous Hotwire customers.
After I paid I got the hotel name, the Cordova Inn, I checked the hotel out online and obviously was not happy about the reviews, but hoped against hope that it was still somehow that quality 3-star hotel I was promised.
But at least, we got the rooms at a low Hotwire rate, right? Wrong. Booking it on the hotel’s own website would have been $3 cheaper. I contacted Hotwire to get them pay back the difference, as they promised, but was told I had to request that in writing and decided it was too cumbersome for that little money, when I still had so much more trip planning to do. I already deeply regretted using Hotwire just this once! Obviously, all the other hotels were not booked there.
And tonight we arrived at the hotel… Oh my… 3 stars? Is it possible to have negative stars? It was a filthy place that homeless people use to rent rooms on a weekly basis. And to make things worse (or better depending on how you think about it) our reserved and prepaid rooms were not available.
Hotwire had been notified about this in the morning and should have arranged new accomodations in the area and contacted us about this all as early as possible. It was past 7 pm and Hotwire had not contacted me at all! What the…
So I called them myself and of course they denied everything. Here we were, with 3 people dependent on my trip planning, on the very first day and we had no place to stay even though we’d already paid for it. I was upset, more than upset. I got angry on the phone, so angry it scared my mom. I did not want anything to do with them anymore, I wanted the money back, now! And I would find a new and better hotel for the night by myself. Finally, after some verbal battling with the combative Hotwire agent, I got our money back.
Conclusion: Hotwire sucks and I will never ever be tempted to use it again. I don’t like being negative on my blog, but I hope some of you who read this will learn from my mistake and stay away from Hotwire.
After this debacle we parked ourselves at Applebee’s for some calming drinks and delicious food, and while we waited for our food I used my iPhone to get us a better and cheaper hotel for the night.
Wow, what a way to start our road trip. But no worries, like I said, I only used crummy Hotwire this once, so we’re good the rest of the trip. Goodnight!

A wine education in Napa Valley

Just about an hour north from San Francisco (by car that is) lies Napa Valley, and its wine country was first on our road trip agenda this morning. Our destination was the beautiful Robert Mondavi Winery for two very interesting tours.
First, we had a Wine Tasting Basics class at 10:00! A bit early, but it was the only time they offered this and we wanted to learn how to read wine labels, how to smell, taste, and describe wine, and to know why wine is swirled. We were lucky we were the only ones to sign up for the class, so it was a private session! 
He taught us how, when and why smell wine, he told us how to judge a wine’s age from it’s color, and he taught us how to taste wine. We learned to use a kind of air sucking technique, with wine in your mouth, that makes the wine dance on your tongue and brings out so many more of the flavors in the wine. The result always surprised me, and even though you may look and sound weird doing this, I’m convinced this is the best way to enjoy your wine.
It was an enlightening experience. I used to believe I just liked the really sweet white wines, like Moscato,  and was actually dreading tasting dry white and red wines. But I learned how to taste wine, and I really enjoyed the red wines as well. I was finally able to appreciate the fuller and more complex taste of a red wine. I’ve changed, I think know I like all wine now, even red!
This Wine Tasting Basics was so much fun, even Yasu joined in and really enjoyed himself, and he detests the taste of alcohol (any and all). I really recommend this tour to all wine novices, like us. I learned so much and it’s a great way to start a day of tasting wines in Napa, which is probably why they offer this so early.
It’s amazing how tipsy you can get after just a few sips that early in the morning, but minutes after our tasting class ended we were scheduled to join a Signature Tour and Tasting (yes another tasting), so there was no time to do something about the tipsiness.
This tour was an in depth winery tour with a very knowledgeable tour guide all over the winery grounds. The tour started with some history about Robert Mondavi and his winery, which sounded quite intriguing, but I had a hard time focusing after my morning wine sipping session. I was very happy to go outside for some fresh air and to visit the baby grapes in the breathtaking vineyard.
This tour was very well organized and we learned all about how these baby grapes finally end up as a bottle of wine. And I was happy to learn that nobody’s feet were a part of the grape squashing process. Because it’s June, they’re not actually making wine right now, they just have uncountable barrels of red and white wine aging in the cellars.
This tour included another educational tasting of wines… yay! This gave us another chance to practice our new skills. And they even gave us a little piece of pizza, to be able to taste how much better red wine is with food, because it gives the tannin something else than the inside of your mouth  to grab on to. 
By the end of the morning I had tasted seven different Mondavi wines (three on the left in the tasting class, and the four on the right after the winery tour). They were all really good, but my favorite red wine will be Cabernet Sauvignon, and even though I feel I can drink any white wine, Moscato will always be my number one!
After the last tasting, we tried taking some more pictures on the beautiful grounds, but Yasu not being used to alcohol, especially not seven different kinds that early in the day, turned into a Dutchie shrinking monster. So we decided it better not to go to other Napa wineries anymore…
Instead we thought it better to get some food into our bodies, and a lot of it, so we went to Black Bear Diner, for a truly awesome lunch with great service.
After a mind-clearing lunch we feel we’re up to continue our road trip! Next stop, the Jelly Bean Factory.