OC Night Market

Last weekend, we attended the OC Night Market to sample some exotic foods. This event also occurs as the 626 Night Market (626 is the area code for Arcadia). It’s been a few years since I last attended, and since then, it has grown and is more organized. The cost to get into the event is $5 per person, plus parking fees at the fairground. For the price, you get access to local artisan goods, music and entertainment, and a plethora of food vendors to choose from.

I enjoyed seeing the artwork and handmade goods, it reminded me a bit of UniqueLA, an annual event of many Etsy-type vendors.

Food and drinks were very gimmicky. Are you into unicorns and rainbows? If so, you’re in luck. Did you like to mash up all your food into one bowl when you were a kid? This is the place for you. Do you like food trucks? There’s a number of them here to choose from.

Prices are not cheap. You pay for the atmosphere and the food presentation.

I tried the Takoyaki because there was a mile long line for it, so it must be good, right? It turned out to be meh, the round balls of squid stuffing was a bit too mushy and the flavor didn’t really have much of a kick to it.

My man tried the sumo hot dog and it was about the size of a dollar bill and cost ten. I think he said bacon-wrapped hot dogs with grilled onions from a street vendor tastes better.

The highlight of the night was the chicken wings Audrey got from the Belly Bombz truck, which were very tasty. She liked them so much that we had to go on a quest for more the next day for lunch.

We also liked the Puchao candy booth. They were giving away free candy and the costumed mascot was cute! I’d like one in my home, please.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend a Saturday night, but I think we’ll be skipping it for a few years and stick with our favorite restaurants.

Beverly Hills Neon Lily Pond

It’s nearing the end of the month and this art installation will soon be gone, but Portraits of Hope has lit up the pond in front of the iconic Beverly Hills sign for their good causes. Check out their website for other upcoming events and support their organization, which aims to help children and adults with illnesses, socio-economic challenges, and physical adversity, and raise awareness of these issues through art projects and educational programs.

Cinque Terre (Italy – Part 4)

I hadn't thought we'd actually be able to, but I accomplished visiting places I had pinned on my Pinterest board! If you don't know about Cinque Terre and you're going to visit Italy, try to see it! It's five (cinque) small villages along the coast of Italy by the Ligurian Sea. From Florence, we took a 2 1/2 train ride to La Spezia train station. At La Spezia, they sell Cinque Terre visitor cards so you can travel from village to village by train, take the bus, use the public restrooms (which were quite clean), access spotty wi-fi, and hike the trails. For more information, go to this site: https://cinqueterreinsider.com/2014/10/16/whats-the-deal-with-the-cinque-terre-card/ or Google "Cinque Terre visitor card".

First, we took the train from La Spezia to Monterosso al Mare. Manarola is probably the most photographed village you'll see of Cinque Terre, but Monterosso al Mare was my favorite. It's small and the beach is beautifully dotted with colorful umbrellas for the swimmers and sunbathers. We ate lunch here, sitting right above the beach with a seaside view, eating pizza, prosciutto on baguette, and bruschetta with tomatoes and seasoned anchovies (which I ordered and it was delicious).

We hopped on the train and went next to Vernazza. Vernazza was also scenic and crowded, popular with tourists, but we didn't spend a lot of time there and went on to Manarola since we wanted to get back to Florence for a late dinner and still had three remaining villages to see.

Manarola has colorful buildings pressed into the rocky hillside.

The people love sunbathing on the rocks and diving off them, as well!

We stopped for a drink at a friendly seaside cafe on our walk toward Riomaggiore, and found out from other tourists that the walkway had closed off an area due to high water, which meant we had to take the train there.

A lot of people had put locks of love randomly throughout the villages and I found it quite charming.

As it was nearing 6:30pm by the time we headed for Riomaggiore, and Florence was over two hours away, we really didn't stay there long. The entire trip was worth it and so memorable for all of us.

Ciao,
Thao

Florence (Italy – Part 3)

Florence is a very walkable and charming city, full of narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and shops and restaurants. If you're looking to buy leather products to take home with you, this is the place to visit. July in Florence is hot — mostly in the high 80s to 90s (Fahrenheit degrees).

The duomo here is very different than the one in Milan.

Its picturesque dome can be seen in a number of spots on higher ground in the city, including from the rather large Boboli Gardens.

It was a hot day to be walking the vast garden grounds, but it was worth it.

Florence is home to Michelangelo's David. There's the real one….

and the other tributes….

There were a lot of artists selling their watercolors or paintings.

There were equally as many leather vendors, more than willing to negotiate a good price on leather goods, although some store owners say the quality of leather is questionable if bought from an outdoor market (a well-known market is the San Lorenzo Market).

Our favorite gelato was at the Icy.Wine Ice Cream and Wine Gallery. It became a daily habit during the four days we stayed in Florence.

Every day, we would cross the Arno River via Ponte Vecchio. Every evening, returning to our hotel, we would cross it again, to the sound of a live musician or band playing. The locals of Florence were probably used to this and subconsciously enjoyed the music as they rode their bikes or walked home quickly, with groceries in tow, but for me, it was a part of the magical aura that surrounded the city in the evenings as the weather cooled down and everyone came out for drinks and dinner at the cafes.

Venice, Burano and Murano (Italy – Part 2)

If anyone tells you that Venice may smell too fishy to enjoy visiting, just laugh and walk away. For the past few decades (yes, I am that old), I've always wanted to travel to Venice. I finally got to go for a few days last month and I wish I could've stayed longer. It is probably my favorite city in Italy. It's everything one would imagine it to be from seeing the pictures on Pinterest, Instagram, Google images, etc. I could go on and on because this famous city surrounded by water is as beautiful as the images you've seen. But enough of my raving, because a picture is worth a thousands words.

Of course, I must start with a picture of the buildings and waterways, taken while standing on one of their numerous bridges.

Saint Mark's Basilica is an absolutely stunning architectural sight to behold!

It's a beautiful view from inside Doge's Palace.

It's a lively scene at night as well, with many, many tourists out and about late in the evening when it was cooler outside.

We also took the water bus to Burano and Murano. Burano is known for its colorful homes and lace-making. The colorful homes helped the fisherman identify theirs easily. I happen to appreciate the window decorating effort they put into each of their homes.

Murano is known for glass-making, and during our visit, we found it to be a bit more quiet than Burano (but it was evening so many businesses seemed to be closed).

We saw an open studio where the fire was burning hotly and it was over 80 degrees that day….how do they do it, work in the heat and produce such tiny works of art like the orchestra set below?

It was really hard to leave this place. I'll definitely return one day and stay for more than a few days. We'll sit to enjoy a leisurely meal at an outdoor ristorante while watching the gondolas glide by with passengers smiling and pointing at all the pretty scenery they pass. But onto Florence and Part 3 of our trip.

P.S. In case you're wondering about my excerpt summary, due to the onslaught of tourists from cruise ships who enter in droves and leave after just a few hours, Italy is a bit unhappy about the impact of those tourists to the locals and are considering limiting the number of visitors to their city or landmarks.

Italy Summer Vacation (Part 1 – Visiting Milan and Day Trips)

We just recently got back from Italy! It was such a beautiful trip with so many cities and sights to see, I wish we could've stayed longer. Our itinerary included Milan, Turin, the Lake Como cities of Varenna and Bellagio, Venice, Florence, and the picturesque postcard villages of Cinque Terre. We traveled by train and used public transportation the entire trip. Before leaving for Italy, I had purchased Eurail passes for myself, my man, and Audrey received a free pass as part of the family discount. Our hotels were all booked via hotels.com and it worked out very well, we had really great rooms and lots of space as well as comfortable beds.

Where do I begin? It was such a wonderful trip, full of walking (from eight to ten miles a day), eating gelato twice a day (morning and night), and lots of pizza, prosciutto, and pasta for most of our meals.

First stop – Milan. Obviously, the duomo is the hot gathering spot, and adjacent to it is the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II shopping center housing some big name brands too expensive for my wallet. By the way, when visiting the duomo, both in Milan and Florence, Audrey and I were asked to cover our legs since we were wearing shorts, and luckily, there were men selling long summery scarfs for us to use as wraps around our waist so we were able to get in with no issues.

Walk northwest of the duomo tourist spot and you'll encounter Castle Sforzesco and many more shops and restaurants.

Perhaps one of the most unique things we saw in Italy was the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Porta Nuova. The two buildings overflowing with greenery was stunning!

We took the train for a one day outing to Turin. I have to admit, I like Turin better than Milan. Some people say Turin is the Little Paris of Italy and I can see why. It had that Parisian feel to its outdoor cafes and little shops, and it felt clean and friendly. We went to the National Museum of Cinema while there and enjoyed it very much.

We visited a small medieval village (Borgo Medievale) located inside a large park.

There were many cute shops and gorgeous window displays.

I was impressed at how clean and inexpensive these vending machines were.

The second day trip we made while in Milan was to Lake Como. We took the train to Varenna and walked around Varenna and then took the ferry to Bellagio. This is another one of those areas where I favored Varenna (smaller, less tourists) than Bellagio, which is more well known.

Varenna had a beautiful walkway along the lake.

There were also the quaint stone steps and small winding streets to shops and cafes.

Bellagio was grand and had a rich feel to the city, perhaps it was because we spent a few hours wandering the lush grounds and gardens of the Villa Melzi.

The small cobblestone streets are well kept and clean.

The view from the ferry returning from Bellagio to Varenna was picture perfect!

I'll continue this post in Part 2, with our visit to Venice, Burano, and Murano. As I took almost a thousand pictures, it's taking some effort and time to sort through them and post just a few of my favorites. Ciao!

TLT Food – Food Truck Turned Brick and Mortar Restaurant

We recently read about TLT Food in Orange Coast magazine and decided to try it out.  They had great reviews on Yelp and the menu looked interesting, with enough variety that the three of us would all be able to find something to eat (or rather, something that Audrey could eat).  According to their website, they used to be a successful food truck called the Lime Truck, and after their successful run, they added a restaurant in Westwood, and now there is another one in Irvine Spectrum where we went this past weekend for lunch.

So do they live up expectations, considering there was a great little blurb for the restaurant in OC magazine?  The food was good, and I’d be willing to return again to try some other dishes when I’m in the area shopping.  Audrey loved the sliders that she had ordered, my man got the burrito and thought it was good but not great, and the two tacos I ordered was tasty but not the best I’ve ever had.  It may be because I don’t like shredded meat much and the pork belly taco and beef short rib taco I got were a bit mushier than I like.  Their California cuisine is a fusion of Asian and Mexican food plus a little bit of American.  I did not try the dragonfruit drink but when asked if he liked it, my man said “yes” emphatically.


The dragonfruit drink is the dark purple drink called the Tropical Thunder.  I liked that they had a soda machine with a lot of flavor options.



Below is the Brunch Taco, it has pork belly and scrambled eggs in it.  I should’ve asked for less sauce, I just don’t like mushy food.

The shorty sliders Audrey ordered are from the Kid’s Menu.  It has braised beef short ribs in it.

The brunch burrito also had scrambled eggs in it, along with a sweet and spicy steak meat.

I favored the beef short rib taco mostly due to the crispy onions because, if you recall, I don’t really like mushy food with lots of sauce when it comes to tacos.

Old Town Temecula

It’s a western style town plunked down near Lake Elsinore, and in recent years, it’s becoming more trendy and crowded with visitors.  Old Town Temecula is about 1 1/2 hours drive from Los Angeles, and being farther inland, the days can get really hot and the nights can get pretty cold.

We went there last month for Mother’s Day since I felt like treating myself to a shopping trip for antiques and vintage things.  This is the place to go if you enjoy browsing through antique malls.  The main street, aptly called “Main St.”, and “Old Town Front St.” are the main arteries, and they’re fun and noisy streets to walk and do some sightseeing.  I say “noisy” because the motorcyclists seem to enjoy cruising Main St. and a number of rich dudes in fancy cars like to also do the same.  It’s interesting to see the the old time shops and storefronts mixed in with a hip eatery like the “PUBlic House”, a store called the Olive Oil Company where olive oil tasting is offered, and a French soap-making laboratory – tres bien!

Nearby (outside of town) are a number of wineries, although we did not have the time to visit any of them.


While eating at the “PUBlic House”, it seemed the favorite spot to park your vehicle and show it off was on the corner right next to the restaurant. Even the dog catcher had to take a turn in the spotlight!

A Hike Through Wildflowers To A Waterfall

Spring is my favorite time of year to go for hikes.  Especially this year, since the drought is over and we’ve had plenty of rainfall.  Last Saturday, with mild weather and a sunny disposition, we set off for a hike to Escondido Falls in Malibu.  According to my Midwestern nieces, Malibu is where you’ll find Barbie.  On this particular day over the holiday weekend, mostly what we found were an abundance of wildflowers dotted along the trail and numerous creeks to cross.

To get to Escondido Falls, you drive up the coast from Santa Monica, or down the coast if you’re coming from the north, and find a street located off the Pacific Coast Highway called Winding Way Trail.  There is a small parking lot available that gets full quickly, so you may need to park on the side of the PCH a bit down the street.  We were lucky to pull in as someone else was pulling out of the lot.


After parking, you’ll have to walk on a small road to the start of the trail.  This normally is not a long walk except I made many pit stops to take pictures of the gorgeous homes and beautiful views (lifestyle of the rich and famous).


After you start the trail, you’ll encounter several small creeks to cross (not too difficult, especially if you’re light on your feet) and along the way, there are large trees to climb and lots of flowers to see.  I don’t know if these flowers bloom in the summer, but I’ve never seen as many variety of wildflowers on a hike before as I did at this location.


The waterfall is about an hour into the hike, and it’s actually quite tall, it was difficult to get a good, clear picture of it from far away because there were many people posing in front of it for pictures.  My favorite part, though, were the green, green ferns that were growing nearby, with water dripping off the stone and ferns.  


Feeling a bit adventurous (not to mention I like to climb), we tried to go higher up so we could get to the top of the waterfall, and some folks were telling us that there was another waterfall above the one we were gazing at.  Well, we didn’t make it all the way up.  A few young adults got a bit scared going up the slippery rocks and blocked the way for us, and my man was shaking in his tennies trying to get a grip on his way up (OK, just kidding, he did just fine but he’s not quite as limber as me), and I was a little worried Audrey might slip and fall and the social workers would come calling, so we gave up and headed down and out.  It was a great hike, though.  If you want to attempt the climb, wear climbing gloves and maybe bring a rope or claw.

Happy trails!

Downtown Santa Ana and the Artists Village

I have to admit, I didn’t grow up in California and I find all these strip malls and low profile stucco buildings quite ugly and unimaginative.  I’m always happy when I stumble upon an area that I’ve long neglected to visit and encounter a pleasant surprise with architecture that still has character, and the stores and streets echo the vibe of the artists that frequent the area.

A long time ago, one of my co-workers recommended I visit the Artists Village in Santa Ana.  They are known to have art walks and gallery openings on the weekends.  I have not yet attended these, but I did recently go to the Golden Years Vintage Market that is held there every so often, typically on a Saturday, and then wandered off to see the other artsy shops as well as hip eateries.  A cluster of places to visit are located close to Main St. and 4th Street, where you’ll find a number of options for eating and a mix of Hispanic shops next to high end clothing, books, gifts and stationery stores.  I spent an entire afternoon there and really enjoyed it.  We were also there on Cinco de Mayo, not intentionally, but the streets were blocked off with festivities and it was fun to see everyone having a good time, with the bands playing, and the collection of vintage cars that drove through.

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