Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Few Hours in Edmonton

Last night we wandered around the West Edmonton Mall for an hour or two and realized how attractive it must be to people facing the Edmonton winters. We escaped eventually and decided for dinner to take a chance on a place called the New Asian Village, not that far from our hotel.

We entered to find ourselves in a little bit of India, at least one of the more garish neighborhoods - it's just been redecorated. We chose the $20 dinner buffet and absolutely enjoyed it. It was a wonderful array of a whole variety of Indian dishes. It was only after we returned to the hotel to discover it had ranked so well on Trip Advisor. T.A., as experienced travelers know, isn't the last word in ratings, particularly since fans or foes can stack the ratings, but we'll personally star the New Asian Village.

After a late breakfast in our hotel this morning, we drive to Fort Edmonton Park, a starred attraction in some guides, only to discover it doesn't open until May. We're happy to walk for a half hour on one of the nature paths and enjoy the fresh air.

We next visit the Royal Alberta Museum, a magnificent place that appears to be only a few years old. We wander through the museum for a a couple of hours, and could have easily spent longer. Taxidermy as an art has never particularly appealed to us, but the exhibits in this museum take it to a new level. There were quite a few live animals as well, including a creepy collection of tarantulas - something for everyone!

In the afternoon we enjoy some time at the Telus World of Science. It's a science museum, and this one was deserted on a Tuesday afternoon. Kathy in particular loves playing the games, and we're among the last to leave at the 5:00 p.m. closing time.

We decide to chance rush hour and drive downtown to the Old Strathcona area, another recommended spot. By now it's raining fairly steadily and nothing looks that enticing so we return to the hotel.

We're now readying ourselves for tomorrow's flights back to Seattle. We ate tonight at a restaurant just around the corner, Zambelli's, on the enthusiastic recommendation of our front desk clerk ("some of the best Italian food in Edmonton"). We could say a fair amount, but let's just say that it caused us to appreciate our meal at Grazie in Seattle Southcenter the other night that much more and leave it at that.

We've really enjoyed our whirlwind visit. For a little over $300 each we've enjoyed two nights in a nice hotel, a rental car, and of course our roundtrip air tickets. On top of the 4000 qualifying and 4000 bonus miles we'll earn for this trip, we'll each receive 5,000 bonus miles from United Vacations, giving us each a total of 13,000 miles added to our United accounts, not a bad deal at all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Bright* and Early Morning SEA-DEN-YEG

*Actually, early but not so bright.

Our 5:46 a.m. flight to Denver required us at to arrive at the airport mighty early. We had to check a bag and spent a precious few minutes trying to get some assistance when the "bag check" machine refused to do business with us. The clock was ticking toward the cutoff time for the flight.

Still, it turned out to be good news. Our upgrades cleared at some point between yesterday afternoon and this morning and the agent printed out new boarding passes, allowing us to enjoy a hot breakfast on the 757 along with our coffee and orange juice.

The flight was smooth and arrived early so we've camped out in the nearest RCC and will head to the Edmonton flight in another hour. We're already upgraded on the EMB 170 (our first time in First on the 70-passenger Embraer) so United's new Unlimited Domestic Upgrades scheme is working out well for us so far. Another reason to stay on the 1K marathon awhile longer.

Update: A lovely flight on that Embraer. Row 1 C-D has a huge amount of legroom, ironically much more than the same seats on the 757. Seat Guru is just plane wrong! Despite the 80 knot headwind most of the way (according to the friendly pilot), we landed in good time, zipped through Immigration and Customs, picked up our rental car (a pleasant Nissan Sentra that oddly enough doesn't have cruise control), and arrived at the Holiday Inn Express West Edmonton about 35 minutes after leaving the airport. The hotel exceeds our expectations on first glance, being quite new and modern, and now it's time to find out where the action is, at least action suitable for us.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our "Farewell to Hong Kong" Afternoon Tea

Throughout our Conrad stay we enjoyed such wonderful breakfasts, afternoon teas (when we were there) and evening appetizers that we weren't as tempted to dine elsewhere as we might have been otherwise.

On our last afternoon we stopped by the Peking Garden in the basement of Pacific Place (on our Conrad - MTR walking route) for afternoon tea. It was a definitely a Chinese-style tea, with a three-tiered plate of dim sum goodies, anchored by two of the largest prawns that we'd ever seen, smothered in chile sauce. Yum!

Oh, the green tea was just fine as well.

New Territories: The Sam Tung Uk Museum

Riding to the end of the MTR Red Line, we had a good look at this reconstructed Hakka walled village comprising the Sam Tung Uk Museum...

The museum is now a little island of its own, surrounded by a mass of residential high rises, revealing the massive population increase that marked the the end of the Hakka traditional way of life.

The Path of Escalation

Yes, we couldn't resist a return trip up the world's longest escalator, actually a series of moving walkways and escalators that carry thousands of commuters down the hill from the "Mid Levels" in the morning and carries them back up in the afternoon.

There are views along the way and we eventually find ourselves a Thai restaurant as well.

We walk that off with a route that turns into a hike all the way uphill and downhill back to our hotel via a park containing the modest zoological garden.

Another lucky day without rain.

Cruising to Cheung Chau

Time for one more island, starting with a bumpy "fast ferry" ride...

With no cars allowed on the island, it's not surprising to see lots of bikes parked.

What a picturesque place to walk around, starting with a busy harbor full of fishing junks and live-on boats of various shapes and sizes...

Our leisurely stroll around a few blocks makes us feel like we're back in Mainland China.

A little sad to see both modern graffiti and dirty beaches...

Then it's back to Hong Kong on a slower boat, and we catch some great views of parts of the skyline.