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astrid

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Everything posted by astrid

  1. Thank you for recommending Izakaya Rintaro! For DC-based comparisons I'd put it a thin wedge above Sushi Taro and Izakaya Seki, because everything was so well made. Really enjoyable meal and as you say, not expensive for the quality and for being in San Francisco.
  2. Had a really lovely lunch at Girl and the Fig. The steak tartare and the flounder were particularly nice. Cochon Volant BBQ was strong in everything except pork ribs, which is about average for restaurant ribs, ie barely edible. Oxbow Market is well worth a visit, though very busy even at 3:30ish. Hog Island Oysters reminded me how much I miss eating West Coast oysters on the West Coast. Definitely enjoyed the smaller tasting room and vineyards to the big boys.
  3. Thank you for the information! This pretty much clinches our trip towards 2 weeks in Portugal. We really love how easy it is to travel in Europe and just how mind-blowingly beautiful and historic every little town can be.
  4. If you have Amazon Prime, episode 6 of The Romanoffs is basically a beautifully shot travelogue of Mexico City. We met a California couple in Prague (on a foodie tour) who went to Mexico City last summer and loved everything, including food, there.
  5. Good to hear another resounding endorsement for Portugal, as we are very seriously considering it for a late February trip. We know 3 other couples who travelled there and everyone loved it. How much time do you recommend for the area? We are thinking of one week in Portugal and one week in southern Spain, but if there's lots to do in Portugal, we might stick to Portugal for most of the allotted 2 weeks plus a road trip to northern Spain.
  6. It's possible that they speak somewhat heavily accented Mandarin, but almost certainly good enough to understand and be understood by others. Even if their education is comparatively lackluster, they would have received 6 to 9 years of Pinyin based Chinese education. After that, getting by in the urban areas where they work and live most of the year is a good incentive to improve their everyday speaking skills. They are standardizing the Mandarin they learnt during primary school and that's much easier than learning Mandarin from scratch as adults. Also, keep in mind that majority of TV is in standard Mandarin, so they are getting regular exposure almost anywhere they live. The only time you are likely to encounter really hard to comprehend Mandarin is in rural areas, especially out West, where Mandarin instruction is lax and there is no incentive to improve Mandarin speech as a local speaker.
  7. Everyone in Shanghai under the age of 70 speaks excellent Mandarin. I suspect that everyone under 50 in Cantonese areas speaks excellent Mandarin. The only times where I have encounter poor spoken Mandarin is in "Mandarin" speaking areas in Western China. Learning Mandarin as an adult is very hard. In my experience, I probably only met 2 people who mastered it, a college professor who specializes in Chinese history and married a Chinese woman, and a law partner who specializes in international trade law working primarily with Taiwanese clients.
  8. Got 2 continuous weeks of vacation and desire to see tons of penguins? I know this is big ship cruising without landing, but this is the lowest price I've seen for Antarctica. https://www.celebritycruises.com/itinerary-details/14-night-antarctica-cruise-from-buenos-aires-argentina?packageID=EC14F084&sDT=2019-01-20
  9. Costco.com is currently running quite a few discounts on clothing and their $3 per piece discount, plus most items are free shipping.
  10. We are going to SF for MLK weekend. Not sure what we will be doing. SF was our stomping grounds in the first decade of the 21st century, but we haven't been back in almost 10 years. We loved the area when we were there and we were pretty sure that we would move back after a few years, but now we have neither the means or inclination to move back. Portugal or Azores would be nice for January, if you want to go a little further than the Caribbean but not too far. Charleston and Savannah or NOLA are easy getaways. Or for something different, maybe stay at a ice hotel in Canada or Scandinavia? January or February would be a nice time to visit a popular European cities if you don't mind the cold and want to avoid crowds. Also, Mexico City or Quito or Lima? Also, Quito combined with a Galapagos cruise?
  11. If distance is not a concern, I recommend Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg. I can attest that it was full on Christmas-y 10 days ago and you can't beat the atmospherics. The food and service was pretty decent too.
  12. Reporting back on our Viking River cruise. Even with two boat changes (3 boats total but we missed the more onerous one by skipping the first 2 days), it sounds like we got off rather easy compared to other recent Danube sailings. We saw everything that days 3-7 itinerary promised, albeit with some inconvenient dockings, bussings, extra packing, and a few cancelled excursions. We lucked into staying at 2 of the better ships and the service was fine, albeit nothing exceptional. There was rafting (tying river boats together as to render the perk of a balcony room useless) on the first few days, but no rafting on the latter part. That didn't affect us as we were in a cheap balcony-less cabin. Would we do it again? No! We realized that the restrictions of the river cruise itinerary doesn't give us the flexibility to explore as we would like. And while the tours were pretty well run, it's not nearly as nice as when we were traveling independently. And the passengers are not quite our crowd as vast majority are much older, travelling in groups, and seem more keyed for this type of travel. I missed certain aspects of the bigger boats more than I would have thought. The additional dining and entertainment options of ocean cruises were not available, and the river cruise schedule seemed much too busy after the lazier port schedule of ocean cruises. The food was pretty consistently good, never great, and lacking in variety and flexibility.
  13. Our first Michelin 3 star was Azurmendi. It is a cool concept and you got a lot of presentation and courses for your money, but I was just okay with most of the courses. The Paris shootings happened just as we completed our courses, so the staff was just nowhere to be found for nearly an hour (after an already long meal we were tired and very ready to head back to our Airbnb). We were utterly confused and annoyed by this service lapse after getting pretty good if cool service before. It's a little more forgiveable after we learned what happened the next day. Azurmendi didn't leave to much of an impression on me because the food didn't wow or anger me. Much stronger very positive impressions were formed during the next few days for Extebarri (1 star) and Martin Berasategui (3 star), both being in my top best 5 meals ever. And I will hate Akelarre (3 star) forever for being terrible for service AND food (+1 mentioned that I got great value out of Akelarre because I now have an anchor for restaurant related hate and disappointment).
  14. Yes, Salzburg is a confectionary fantasy of a city. Every angle is gorgeous. Definitely worth a full day or two to savor. We stayed at H+ hotel right next to the train station. I highly recommend it as a budget option because it's clean and quiet, very nice and professional staff, and incredibly convenient. Our train tickets allowed a free layover in Linz, so we walked around Linz yesterday on our way to Salzburg. It's a nice City with lots of nice museums and completely empty yet lovely churches. One thing I will say, be wary of smoking in Austrian restaurants. We tried to have dinner at a highly rated Salzburg tavern, we knew it was smoking but we were seated in an isolated area and the smoke level was fine when we went in. Then we ordered and waited almost an hour for carpaccio and steak tartare to not arrive. All the while everyone in the front room decided to light up, until my eyes watered and my sinuses burned and we finally had to cancel our order because I can't bear it anymore. I didn't feel bad leaving, there was no excuse for taking so long to prepare uncooked items when the couple next to us came in later and finished their hot dishes before we got our cold dishes, and just completely ignoring us for at least 30 minutes. We had to take decontamination showers after we got back to the hotel and I am grateful to not wake up with a sinus infection this morning. We have seen more smokers in Austria than in France, Italy, or Spain. In retrospect, it's just as well that we didn't make it to Oswald & Kalb as it's a smoking only establishment.
  15. astrid

    Vienna

    We are mostly through the Viennese leg of our trip. Foodie ambition creep got the best of us, so we ended up eating meals at 4 of the 5 current Michelin 2-stars plus Walter Bauer. We didn't make it to Oswald & Kalb, unfortunately. Overall, I think all the restaurants had strengths, but some definitely spoke to us more than others. Favorite to least favorite. Konstinin Filippou - by the 5th course or so, +1 and I decided this is one of *those meals* that surprises and changes how we think about food. Every course is delicious, unusual, challenging, tasty, awesome. Walter Bauer - this 1-star is my favorite after KF. Excellent service, superb everything else, and not expensive. It is well rated on Yelp and TripAdvisor but completely empty of customers except for us for a weekday lunch. Lots of people missing out on a really great meal of modernized and precise, but still hearty and delicious Viennese classics. And OMG good bread and butter, haven't had any butter that good since Paris 3 years ago. Palais Coburg - French cuisine in a modern but not contemporary setting. Very luxe. The food was mostly delicious and memorable, though a few of the seasoning choices were a little puzzling. It's a toss up between Steirereck and Mraz & Sohn for the bottom. Mraz hit a few pretty high notes and had a concept that we find agreeable, but what it offered is something fun at 50 euros a head (still not hitting it out of the park like a Little Serow menu at that price point), disappointing and narrow at 140 euros. It's very menu dependent and the techniques displayed were good, so another day might be much better. Steirereck had great execution but I barely remember what I ate only a day later, other than the lovely bread cart and cheese cart and the poppyseed themed last nibbles. Both are very good at what they do, but not quite my thing. +1 thinks Mraz's high notes may put it ahead of Palais Coburg. So the consensus is Steirereck was our least favorite in Vienna. To be clear, everything we had in Vienna was tasty and we had superb service everywhere except a few minor points of confusion at Palais Coburg. But at this high price point, we only felt the top two were unquestionably worth the price of admission.
  16. In Prague, we had dinner at Milada, a quick lunch at Kantyna, a bite to eat at Cafe Lounge, and a tour with Taste of Prague. We considered Field and Le Degustation, but thought the menu at Milada looked the best. Milada was just wonderful - beautiful, tranquil, amazing food, good service, all at less than $100 including tip for a 9 course dinner for two with a few non-alcoholic drinks. It's easily better (as an overall experience) than 3 of the 4 Viennese 2-stars that we ate at. I really enjoyed our Taste of Prague tour. Our guide Martin (his day job is a butcher at artisanal butchery Nase Maso, before that he was a psychiatrist in Vienna) was friendly and personable and thoughtful, very enthused and knowledgeable about food, and we had a lovely small group of 7 people. The food and drinks were very delicious and left us plenty full and happily buzzed. Their website and guide book is smart and their recommendations were spot on for us. I very highly recommend this tour for anyone finding themselves in Prague. Kantyna served generous portions of excellent carpaccio and steak tartare for less than $10. The steak tartare portion alone is enough for a normal size lunch. They also served cooked meats and let's you pick meats from the butcher case to cook to order. Cafe Lounge is a nice space and we liked the dishes we had there. It seems like a good place for a midday or afternoon break.
  17. We haven't taken the trip yet, so our reaction is based on other people's review and our interaction with their customer service. But they have been savaged on cruisecritic, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other review sites for their lack of transparency, poor contingency planning, and terrible attitude to customers' anger to being sold something much worse than what they thought they bought. When I checked Viking's ratings earlier this summer on cruisecritic, it was in the 4.5 range, now it's 4.0 and likely to drop further as water level isn't likely to recover for at least another month. Other companies offered to cancel, rebook for the future, or offer a substantial discount for the inconveniences. Viking is offering a largely worthless voucher for having its customers endure a very subpar experience. We won't review until we have been through the trip, though we plan to skip the first two days to miss the first hurdle (busing from Budapest to Vienna) and plan our side trip to Salzburg and Berchtesgaden. We may also leave early if things go badly, but we're going to give this a shot and at least have some stories to tell. But I would be extremely reluctant to book another cruise with them based on what I now know.
  18. We are fortunate compared to many of these people. We paid a relatively modest fare (though more than we have ever paid for a week of travel excluding airfare), already enjoyed a week of central Europe on our own, and this wasn't something we had been dreaming about for years. We are still pondering between salvaging this trip in part or making this stretch into a tour of Swiss Alpine rail lines. Some of the reviews are heartbreaking, people saving for years to celebrate a major milemarker, went with friends and family, and some knew that this is likely their last chance to live out that dream. I cannot believe Viking chose current cash flow over families that will remember Viking as the company that crushed grandma's dream.
  19. Nada chance. We called Viking and asked for cancellation in return for a refund, rescheduling, something. They said that since water level was act of God and they were still running the boat, we had no recourse. They explicitly told us that they would rather lose us as customers for the next 50 years, plus trips I was contemplating with my parents, then give us anything beyond a laughable 25 percent voucher that is impossible to use because almost everything within the next year is already booked. Their satisfaction guarantee means in practice, guests who tried to exercise it after a horrible experience got, at very best in the 100+ reviews I read, 25 percent refund and 25 percent voucher that must be used for a cruise sailing in less than a year. For the rest, typically best offer is $500 to sign a NDA. In some cases, it's people Viking lulled into believing everything is fine and no foreseeable problems, until they are overseas and/or onboard and no longer with recourse to use their travel insurance to cancel the trip. Many then found themselves on the bus trip from hell with up to 4 boats for a 7 night itinerary, stays changed from 1.5 days to a few hours, being bussed for hours between boats or between boats docked in remote industrial docks more than an hour from their destination, lining up for buses at 6 AM, understandably surly staff, etc. I naively thought Viking would realize the real harm that bad behavior would do to their long term prospects and accommodate their guests or at least provide the best possible accommodations under circumstances, but everything I read show that they're betting on short memories and the buck in hand.
  20. Well, our Viking River Cruise is going to be a coach tour, and based on our latest research, a very bad one full of rushed tours, no free time, early cattle calls for coach rides to nowhere, and Viking intentionally cheaping out with alternate lodgings by locating them 1+ hours from the original port. Not on the ship yet (and probably won't be, even if we end up taking a total loss on the cruise booking, the reviews of Viking mishandlings of recent trip deviations were that bad), we already experienced stonewalling customer service and intentionally deceptive communications that online reviews have eluded to. My river cruise and Viking cruise itches have been well and permanently scratched. I would tell anyone ever considering a Viking river cruise to read the 1 and 2 point reviews on cruisecritic and see what happens when Viking invokes "acts of God". I should have sought out those reviews before booking, rather than assume that Viking would naturally care about the comfort and welfare of a seemingly loyal clientele, to keep them loyal. So far, we had a couple pretty nice days in Prague (Taste of Prague tour and Milada both excellent). In Vienna, we have a surprisingly wonderful meal at Restaurant Walter Bauer and a remarkable one at Konstantin Filippou. I was underwhelmed by food at Mraz und Sohn. So far Oswald's & Kalb is not open when we can go, but we hope to get there.
  21. It looks quite dark. I do think that it makes sense to locate the living quarters on the highest and brightest part of the house. You don't need a lot of light or a view for sleeping or showering.
  22. Barra Brava is good, especially ceviche Barra Brava. We haven't been to La Canela for a couple years, but loved their ceviche back in the day.
  23. Nowadays I'd vote for Evergrain. Millworks is better for desserts and a few appetizers, but Evergrain is really solid across the entire menu and cheaper.
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