2014 Road Trip Vacations

Preparing to drive.

Thanks to perks from my company, we got a crazy good deal on our rental car – $600 to drive a shmancy 2014 Ford Focus (31 MPG) across the country. And we will be doing just that, starting tomorrow morning!
Our first stop will be the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I know! And we only have to drive through the Mojave Desert to get there! Fortunately, every car made within the last few decades has air conditioning, so I think we’ll survive. And we’ll survive in style with some mad stylings from David Sedaris. We probably have enough audiobooks to last us three trips across the country (fortunately (?), we’re flying back).
Tonight, we’re saying our goodbyes to the cat, celebrating with some homemade pizza and Biere de Chocolat, and probably getting one or two more rounds of Mario Kart 8 in before we’re cut off. Until next time!

2014 Road Trip Vacations


My cousin Carol is getting married this July! To get out there for the event, Anna and I are taking a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York. Here’s our plan so far:

  1. Leave San Francisco on Saturday, June 28 in the AM and arrive in Las Vegas in the afternoon. Spend that evening and the next day seeing the sights and eating well.
  2. Leave Las Vegas on Sunday, June 29 in the PM and arrive at Grand Canyon Village.
  3. Check the canyon out the next morning, then head for Santa Fe — a slight detour from Interstate 40, but supposedly nicer to visit than Albuquerque.
  4. Leave Santa Fe on Tuesday, July 1 in the AM for Oklahoma City.
  5. Leave Oklahoma City on Wednesday, July 2 in the AM for St. Louis.
  6. Leave St. Louis on Thursday, July 3 in the AM for Chicago. Spend a little more time there. Eat well.
  7. Leave Chicago on Friday, July 4 in the afternoon and arrive in time for fireworks in Pittsburgh.
  8. Leave Pittsburgh on Saturday, July 5 in the AM for New York.
  9. Spend the week visiting friends and family, and enjoy the wedding on Saturday, the 12th!

A few things worth note, which factored into our planning:

  • This itinerary has us driving for about 7 hours on average each day. Not too overwhelming. But we hope the extra number of days on the road doesn’t grate on us.
  • This will be a one-way road trip as we’ll be flying back, so we’ll be renting a car (which is a good idea anyway — not sure if our existing car is up for a week of long drives).
  • We considered taking Interstate 80 as it begins literally around the corner from us. The concept of staying on a single road from start to finish sounded exciting. We chose the Interstate 40 route, though, because it passes through the most cities. We’re city people and are interested in seeing other ones, and eating well as we go. A trip through Route 66 checking out all the kitsch doesn’t sound too bad, either.
  • Cities we were considering but passed up: Flagstaff instead of Grand Canyon Village (might as well spend a bit extra to stay at the attraction), and Albuquerque instead of Santa Fe (less direct, but supposedly more charming).

With that, we have questions for all of you, our friends and family:

  • Are there any can’t-miss destinations that we might be, well, missing out on? We’re still open to changing our route around if you convince us.
  • We’re not dead-set on staying in Pittsburgh. While an all-in-one sandwich at Primanti Bros. sounds enticing, we’re considering Cleveland instead. Insight on the pros and cons of each is highly encouraged!
  • We need suggestions about food! Food to bring along, food off the beaten path, and restaurants to visit at the aforementioned cities.
  • On that note, we need suggestions about everything else! Entertainment on and off the road (what to listen to, what to see, what to stop off for), how to prepare for and sustain a trip of this length, and places to stay (specifically in Las Vegas — we’re still weighing whether to stay on the strip or not).

Regardless of what we choose, we plan on using this blog to chronicle our journey! We’ll be sharing our posts, but feel free to subscribe via traditional RSS instead. For our past writings, check our our posts from our 2010 Europe Trip, and about our wedding last year.



We went to Vancouver for no reason! We stayed at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre which provided a fabulous view, and got around using only public transit. Internet-wise, not having phone data reception, we pretty much got by with what we did in Europe. Here’s the day play-by-play:


We bought the 5-line ticket for Grouse Mountain, which included 5 zipline runs, a scenic ride up the mountain, a trip up to the hub of a wind turbine with a 360° view of the surrounding area, and various shows like lumberjack contests and bird demonstrations and bears. Very much worth it.

Getting there was as simple as taking the free shuttle from Canada Place… getting back meant taking a bus then transferring to the SeaBus, which brought us across the Burrard Inlet.
We had dinner at an Italian place, Campagnolo, where we ordered far too much pizza. Was delicious, though, and provided leftovers for the morning.


After an early lunch of savory waffle sandwiches and a wasabi vanilla shake (delish) at Miura, we walked up West End toward the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. Saw sea mammals, parrots, sloths, marmosets, and a really crappy “4D” nature show, which was just a shortened episode of BBC’s Life with David Attenborough with elements unrealistically popping out (like a shark and its surrounding splashes hovering 5 feet above the water) and water being sprayed in our faces at random moments. Pretty fun!

On the way back we had even more waffles at Nero, a new place along Robson Street. We then traveled to Gastown, the original Vancouver neighborhood, had some nice drinks and chow at Pourhouse, and finished the night off with a viewing of Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson perpetuates the twee culture which I find hideous, but he’s also an amazing filmmaker so I’ll let it slide.


Granville Island was our first stop. It’s got a pretty awesome public market with some serious goodies (Nanaimo bars, elk paté, cake pops and maple candies among some of the highlights). We headed back to Chinatown for Phnom Penh, a Cambodian/Vietnamese joint. Anna had noodles and beef in a tomato broth; I had a big plate of fried frog legs.

We rented cruiser bikes and rode around the perimeter of Stanley Park, taking in some amazing views. We then proceeded to bike around the downtown perimeter and back through the park, riding along some fun forest trails.

Headed back, got some bubble tea along the way, and after taking a break at the pool back at our hotel, we went out to Kaide, a casual sushi place.


We beat the lines at Deacon’s Corner with a quick breakfast (I had pulled pork on a gigantic pancake), and it was back to the airport via SkyTrain.

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Berlin photos

The last 1/3 of our trip was spent in Berlin and Amsterdam, a significant transition from our tour de Italia. For one thing, the drivers in Berlin didn’t try to constantly run us over like in Rome.

Also, Berlin is a much more modern city in comparison to Florence and Rome. Technically, it’s old in years, but considering that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it’s still quite a young city. You can feel the new energy of the city when you’re there – tons of interesting street art, up-and-coming neighborhoods, hip restaurants and shops.

We really enjoyed our time in Berlin, simply because it’s such an interesting and dynamic place to be. We went on two walking tours by SANDEMANs – one all-encompassing tour that including a lot of history and interesting tidbits, and one “alternative” tour, which focused on Berlin street art and culture. Both were highly enjoyable, and provided solid overviews of both old and new Berlin.

Overall, while I loved every city we visited, I’m inclined to say that Berlin was my overall favorite. It’s so interesting to think about all that the city has been through in the past 100 years, how it has managed to survive, and how it continues to exist to this day. We had good beer and good food, and met some really friendly and nice people. Also, our hostel, Pfefferbett Hostel, was arguably the nicest one that we stayed in – big bunk beds, in-room lockers that locked with our room keys, comfortable and modern lobby with lots of seating, fast wi-fi, a bar and decent food.

Fall in Berlin:

We saw these crows all over Europe, which caught our attention because of all the grey patches. We looked into it, and apparently they are known as hooded crows:

The Fernsehturm:

Brandenburg Gate:

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a very interesting, subtle, thought-provoking memorial, taking up a whole square in Berlin:

More of the memorial:

This is a picture of an unkempt lawn, next to a basic parking lot, for cars that belong to residents of a nearby apartment complex. Why take a photo of this? Because it’s right above Hitler’s bunker, which is now flooded and of course not worth recovering. 

Interesting sidenote: during the World Cup in Germany in 2006, Berlin was flooded with tourists, and said tourists were constantly knocking on the nearby apartment doors, asking if this was really the location of Hitler’s bunker. The residents became so annoyed that they paid for a small sign to be placed nearby, which simply states that yes, this is the location of Hitler’s bunker.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Underground memorial for all of the books burned during World War II (sort of tough to see, but it’s a big empty room of empty book shelves):

Burgermeister! Just because.

This was one of the few buildings that didn’t get totally demolished during the wars, but it still experienced some gun shot damage. All of the white boxes that you see are where the building was hit with bullets and later repaired.

Humboldt Universitaet, where all sorts of famous people have studied – and also where the big incident of Nazi book burning once occurred:

To help pay tribute to all the books that were burned, every day there are a bunch of books on sale in front of the University for half-price:

Jeffrey in one of the exhibits at the Jewish Museum:

One of the exhibits at the Museum – a bit of an oral history exhibit:

We heart you too, Berlin:

View of the Berlin Cathedral from one of the museums on Museum Island:

One of the floors of a big artist co-op in Berlin – tons of graffiti and open studio spaces. We went on a tour of Berlin street art, but it was raining throughout the whole tour, so this was pretty much the only good photo I managed to get.

Der Voyage Vacations

Crazy Jeffrey's Travel Tipz

If you’re planning a Europe trip, there are some things you should know!

Eurail travel passes are expensive and unnecessary. It is almost always better to buy tickets from individual rail service websites (SNCF, Trenitalia, DB Bahn – use Google Chrome to automatically translate these sites) or at the station on the day of your trip. Remember to validate your tickets if required (ugh)! The Man in Seat Sixty-One gives pretty solid advice.

Couchettes (sleeping cars) are uncomfortable. If you are a light sleeper, do not use. While it seems like a way to save time and money by combining sleep and travel, chances are you’ll require a nap the next day, offsetting your time savings. You might even spend less on a plane trip plus an extra night in a hostel.

Also, don’t be afraid to fly! Plane trips are competitive with train trips and definitely get you there faster (even counting the whole security song and dance). Airlines like easyJet let you purchase carbon offsets, if you’re a hippy.

We used OffMaps ($2) to download entire city maps to our iPhones. A few dollars more ($1 per city) and we could have also downloaded an index of all of the places in each city, but instead we bookmarked where we wanted to go with the help of our laptop at the beginning of each day.

We also bought a Kindle 3G, which, while providing us with reading material for travel, also provided us with completely free Internet access everywhere. Sure, the screen’s grayscale and refreshes like a snail, but that’s a small price to pay for the ability to use a WebKit-based web browser wherever there’s a data signal. I don’t expect that this capability will be around forever, but this could even be helpful in the States, if for some reason you wanted to go without a mobile data plan for a while.

Almost everyone speaks English in every major European city. We never had any trouble finding our way through any situation. (We did come across a menu that was only in Dutch, but Google Translate on the Kindle helped us through). This isn’t to say that knowing another language doesn’t hurt – learn just one Romance language and you should be able to figure the others out relatively easily. English is half Germanic, half Romance, so we weren’t in the dark linguistically at any point.

Walking tours aren’t bad. There are definitely some tours you don’t need to take – ones that take you through a single monument like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum, for instance – but many of them, especially the ones through SANDEMANs, are fun and insightful. We toured our way through Berlin and found that it was probably the best way to see the city in a short period of time.

Finding places to see is easy. Locals and guides will often tell you to visit the same monuments. Finding places to eat, though, is probably much more important. You’ll want to consult friends who have lived or traveled where you’re going, local food blogs, travel blogs (see below!), and review sites like YelpQype and TripAdvisor, but probably as a last resort. You’ll spend half of your day eating or going to eat, so it’s important that you choose wisely. You’ll find great new routes, neighborhoods, cuisines and customs if you eat off the beaten path.

About eating: there are different payment and tipping customs wherever you go. Don’t expect to be able to leave a tip after your card is charged. Some places don’t expect to receive tips regularly, since waitstaff often receive a living wage.

Der Voyage Vacations


We, uh, arrived home just fine. Not dead. Not us!

Berlin and Amsterdam photos will follow within the next few days. I know you’ve all been on pins and needles. Fear not, we do indeed have photos of those two places, as I know photos of Berlin and Amsterdam are very hard to find otherwise.

We arrived in San Francisco around 1AM on Saturday morning, after BART trains ceased service. Thankfully, we realized that SamTrans (you know, that bus service that serves the peninsula) has 24-hour service from SFO to the city… for 2 bucks… and takes around the same time as BART… and it drops us off right outside Anna’s apartment. Uh, wow. Who needs BART?

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Food We Ate

We received countless suggestions from countless sources on what to eat and where. Here’s a selection of the really notable ones, if you suddenly find yourself in one of these cities:


  • Monmouth Coffee – Great brew, better pastries.
  • Chillies – Great chicken tikka masala. Go for the food, put up with the street touting. Try to go when you’re sure other people are there, otherwise there’ll be a waiter pacing behind you the entire time.
  • Côte – A nice chain of French places, with tasty brunch. We went to the one in SoHo.


  • Pink Flamingo – Fun pizza place with unique topping arrangements and very nice people. I had the Gandhi (saag paneer and baba ganoush) and Anna had the Cantona (8 cheeses).
  • La Crêperie de Josselin – Amaaazing place with savory buckwheat crepes. This was my second time going – I went last year when visiting Hannah as well.
  • Ladurée – Fancy dessert chain with ridiculous desserts and extremely rich hot chocolate. We ended up buying way too many macarons on our way out.
  • Spirit Café – Also my second time going, this is a great Thai place with generous servings and lots of girly cocktails (my favorite).
  • Chez Prune – A cozy local bar in Oberkampf with mulled wine (we had a lot, to commemorate our last evening in Paris).

Manarola (Cinque Terre)

  • Il Porticciolo – Tasty pasta/seafood. I had some with pomodoro and half a lobster tail, and it was only 8. Anna’s salmon ravioli was similarly tasty and cheap.
  • Trattoria dal Billy – Another good pasta place with a good seafood selection. The restaurant itself was tucked away in the hills, although conveniently just up the little street from our hotel. The power went out on us a few times during the meal – it contributed toward the quaintness factor.


  • La Mangiatoia – Our first foray into Italian pizza. Baked in wood ovens, good ingredients, good price.
  • Trattoria Anita – Home of the awesome lunch special. We had three courses for only 8.
  • Pizzeria Toto’ – Another delicious pizza place in a casual setting (we ate at the counter with plastic utensils and bottled beers).
  • Gelateria dei Neri –  Our first gelato place. Great array of flavors. Look for the photo wall of gelato cups having their picture taken in locales around the world.
  • Grom – Probably even tastier gelato with an emphasis on organic ingredients and the like. And definitely the best drinking chocolate we’d ever had. We went back for seconds the next day.


  • Antica Enoteca – We dined on the patio of this place in the pedestrian area near the Spanish Steps. I had a plate of roast beef topped with arugula – I have a bad habit of only ordering hot meals, but this was one exception I was glad I chose. Our waiter was sort of odd and closed off, but made an excellent red wine recommendation.
  • Sora Margherita – A much-acclaimed hidden-away hole-in-the-wall place in the Jewish Ghetto. We let the waitstaff order food for us – we got a giant ball of mozzarella, fried artichokes, and two courses of pasta. We were absolutely stuffed and happy.
  • Ci Lin – Really cheap and really awesome Chinese place. We were sort of tired of eating pizza and pasta for every meal, so this was a very welcome change.
  • Dar Poeta – Our favorite pizza on the trip. I had the Superbufala, which had buffalo mozzarella, olives, artichokes, even more cheese… quite amazing. Go for lunch or you’ll never get in.


  • Malzcafe – All-you-can-eat brunch for €6.50 in Prenzlauer Berg! And great fruit juice, too.
  • Dolores – Click the link; we already covered this in-depth. Despite my whining, it is a good place to get a burrito.
  • Aufsturz – We happened upon this place while waiting for a tour. Great beer selection and nice quick lunch items. But most importantly, nice and warm during a rainstorm.
  • Schneeweiß – After walking around in the rain for hours, we finally made it to this fancy little place, where I had a giant leg of goose. That hit the spot.


  • Bazar – We stopped into this spacious spot on Albert Cuypstraat while the street market was in full effect. Tasty, inexpensive Middle Eastern fare for lunch.
  • Patisserie Holtkamp – Everything looked astounding in this pastry shop. We ended up having some delicious cream puffs and eating them on a bridge in probably the most sloppy, obnoxious way possible.
  • Me Naam Naan – Good food is scarce in the city center, but we found this Thai place that offered up a great prix fixe menu with awesome beef and duck dishes, plus house wine and fresh strawberry ice cream.
  • Greenwoods – Brunch spot in the city center with great eggs benedict and a ridiculous club sandwich with homemade soda bread, capped off with a homemade scone (served with jam and cream).
  • Cafe Welling – We stopped into this quiet, well-lit place for a quick pint. A great place to relax after a walk through the nearby Vondelpark.
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ – A brewery situated in the closest windmill to the city center. They had 6 great brews on tap, and an impressive display of bottles lining the walls (we spotted some vintage bottles from Rogue, an Oregon favorite). They had little meat and cheese plates to go along with your drink, too.
Der Voyage Vacations

Time for airports!

We got up at 5:00 a.m. and checked out of our hostel. We made our way to Amsterdam Centraal, where we caught a train to the airport. Our 45-minute flight to London-Heathrow included smoked salmon and cream cheese breakfast sandwiches, still partially frozen.

We are currently at the Heathrow airport, awaiting our flight to JFK. This flight will take about eight hours, where we’ll likely entertain ourselves with in-flight movies (Despicable Me! Inception!) and books on my Kindle (Zeitoun! You should read it too. Very very very good).

Once we arrive in JFK, we’ll have another layover, then the standard 5-6 hour flight back to SFO. We gather that by the end of it all, we’ll have been awake (save for any winks caught on/between flights) for roughly 24 hours.

I’m already starting to develop some of that lovely traveler’s body odor. This does not bode well for Jeffrey and our fellow airline passengers.

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Rome photos

We are in Amsterdam! We have less than one day left. Tomorrow’s schedule: get up very very very early, take a train to Schiphol Airport, fly to Heathrow, wait at Heathrow for awhile, fly to JFK, wait at JFK for awhile, then fly back to SFO. Then spend the weekend relaxing/recovering before returning to work on Monday.

Meanwhile, here are photos from Rome! Rome is pretty intense. It’s huge, and packed with historical buildings, statues and monuments. And tourists. Apparently, November is the “off-season,” but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the hoards of people.

But you can see why so many people visit. The historical pieces of the city are huge and magnificent, and there’s so much to learn and see and enjoy. Also, the food is amazing.

A sunset greeted us for our first night in the city:

This man also greeted us. He was quite angry:

The Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II:

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum in the distance:

Statue in the square in front of the Piazza del Campidoglio:

The Colosseum:

From the square outside Vatican City (we didn’t go in, the line was way too long):

Old inscriptions in the foyer of the Santa Maria church in the Trastevere neighborhood. We committed a major crime and ate Chinese food here instead of Italian. We made up for it by eating gelato afterwards and then pizza at Dar Poeta the next day.

Inside the Colosseum:

Inside the Colosseum:

View of the Tiber River:

View of Palatine Hill from the outside:

View of the outside, from inside Palatine Hill:

More from the inside of the Palatine:

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Jüdisches Museum Berlin

We visited the Jüdisches Museum Berlin yesterday. A feat of architecture, interior design, multimedia, and overall museum experience. But all that was overshadowed by this single yarmulke.