Wandering through the Valley

Some random photos I took over the last few years in the Santa Ynez valley. It's amazing to see so much water in the top photo (that lake has almost dried up because of the major drought we've been having).

The Vineyards of Santa Ynez

Right after I moved to Santa Barbara, I went on an afternoon trip over the San Marcos Pass... and to the Santa Ynez Valley. I knew a little bit about the vineyards in the area, but had not ventured out there for several years. At the time, I had a rental car, no map, and my phone had just died. Therefore, I thought I would wander around and see what I could find. During that trip, I stumbled upon three vineyards that are still amongst my favorites in the region: Bridlewood, Brander, and Beckmen (just realized that they all begin with the letter 'B').

Bridlewood: Delicious Syrah wines and beautiful grounds. The property was once home to an Arabian horse farm and an equestrian rehabilitation center. The design of the winery pays homage to California's historic missions, with a Spanish-style bell tower, breezy verandas and a fountain surrounded by a stone courtyard.

Brander: Probably best known for their Sauvignon Blanc, they also have some fantastic reds. My favorites are the Cabernet Reserve, Bouchet (blend), and F-Red (Cabernet Franc). The tasting room is a bit cozier that the vineyards in the area, but the great wine and friendly service keeps me coming back.

Beckmen: Specializes in estate-grown Rhone Varietals. This vineyard is tucked away from the main road (not quite sure how I found it)... and the grapes are grown on a 365 acre ranch called Purisima Mountain Vineyard. It is an incredibly beautiful landscape.

Autumn in Santa Ynez

A few photos taken during the Autumn season in Santa Ynez (Yes... California does have "seasons").

The Master

Taking a peak into the kitchen of a Michelin starred dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong (Tim Ho Wan). 

Eating and Waiting in Hong Kong

One of my favorite things to do in Hong Kong is eat (especially after spending a couple of weeks in China). It has everything from high end fine dining to cheap/delicious street food. On my last trip to Asia, I had one free day in Hong Kong... so I decided to spend it exploring the various eateries that the locals enjoy. One thing to note is that Hong Kong's population is the 4th most dense in the world. Therefore, if you go to a popular restaurant (that doesn't accept reservations), you will need to be prepared to wait.

A trip to Hong Kong would not be complete without stopping at one dim sum restaurant. Therefore, I started off my day at Tim Ho Wan. Tim Ho Wan is the least expensive Michelin starred restaurant in the world. The waiting time at the original location in Mong Kok could take over 3 hours on a weekend. However, they have since expanded... and I only had to wait an hour. When you arrive, you need to check in with a hostess and she will give you a piece of paper with a number. You're free to wander off and shop in the connected mall... but make sure to come back before they call your number (or you will be placed on the bottom of the list). The most famous item on the menu (and my favorite) is the BBQ pork buns. They add a sweet glaze to the buns and then bake them... which gives it a crunchy but light texture. The inside is a mixture of barbecue sauce and tender pork. The rest of the food was also really good... but the hour wait was worth it for this one dish.

I ate so much dim sum for brunch, that I was not hungry again until later in the evening. Since I happened to be on the Hong Kong side, I decided to try a new/famous Ramen restaurant called Ichiran. Ichiran started in Japan and just recently opened up their first location in Hong Kong (in 2014). The restaurant is open 24 hours... and regardless of the time you go, there will always be a long queue. On this particular evening, I had to wait for 2 hours. If you plan to wait, it's not that big of an issue (Hong Kong does not have an "open container law... so I recommend picking up a few beers at the 7-11 around the corner). The menu at Ichiran is very simple... you only have one option: Tonkotsu Ramen noodles. It's a straight forward Japanese classic that Ichiran has perfected. You do have the option to customize the dish... and can specify the strength of broth, less or more garlic/onion, added vegetables, egg, and type of noodle. I would also suggest ordering kae dama, which let's you get a refill of noodles for just a few dollars (in case you have extra broth). Ichiran also has their own branded water that is served ice cold from your own personal tap. It was a very nice dinner.

After dinner, I went to Cong Sao Star Dessert. This is a very popular Hong Kong style dessert place... and I had to wait about 45 minutes to get inside (which gave me a chance to digest some food). This restaurant is famous for its sago soup (variation of tapioca pudding). Sago soup is not my favorite dessert, but it was nice to get a cool/refreshing treat on a warm night. I also recommend the durian pancake.

All in all, it was a very successful day of eating!

Floating Above the Metropolis

One of my favorite things to do when in Hong Kong is to go to the top of tall buildings and look down. A lot of the buildings have rooftop terraces where you can enjoy a drink while floating on top of the city. During my last trip, I packed my high powered zoom lens and focused in on a few interesting scenes. It's nice that many of the rooftops are open air with no glass walls... provides a much clearer view (just have to be careful after having a few drinks).

Sepia Dreams in Hong Kong

During my last trip to Asia (in May 2014), I spent 2 days and 1 night in Hong Kong. I was staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Kowloon and was lucky enough to get a harbor view room. I arrived in Hong Kong a bit later than planned on a Saturday (don't recommend driving across the border from China to Hong Kong on a holiday weekend... ridiculous traffic!!)... and did not get a chance to enjoy the room that day (wanted to get out and do some shopping/eating!). When I finally did get back to my room on Saturday evening, I was too tired to even close the shades and passed out. The next morning I awoke to the sunrise. I had been out late the previous evening and was planning to sleep in... so I got out of my bed to close the shades. However, when I got to the window, I could see that the lighting on the city was spectacular. The sun had just peaked above the horizon and it was hitting the buildings at a nice angle. Therefore, I decided to take a few photos from my room before going back to sleep. As I look closer at these photos, I can't help but be amazed at the apartments and townhouses situated on Victoria Peak (the mountain behind Hong Kong City). If you're lucky enough to have 50+ million dollars lying around, you can put your name in the queue to try purchasing one.

Maldives - Conquering the Sea

These are my last photos from the Maldives. It was nice to slowly upload them over the last few weeks and enjoy the moments all over again. The Maldives is an extremely beautiful and unique place... and I hope to visit again. Thank you to The Perfect Wave for helping me to book the trip and thank you to the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Island for providing luxurious accommodations.

I took these photos from a sandbar that formed between the surrounding islands. During low tide, you could almost walk to the sandbar (just had a deep section surrounding the island)... and during high tide, it was completely covered. The easiest method of navigating to the sliver of sand was by kayak or stand up paddle board (I tried both methods). The feeling of being surrounded by water with only a spec of dry land to rest was a surreal experience.

On this particular afternoon, I decided to paddle out right after lunch. I could see some dark clouds forming in the distance, but was hoping that they would pass to the north. The squalls in the Maldives move incredibly fast... and can form at any minute. If you're caught in the middle of one, you will be drenched in just a few moments and the vast amount of wind makes it difficult to traverse by water (I basically would have been stuck hiding under the kayak until the squall passed). When I started paddling, the sky was bright blue... but as I made it to the sand bar, the dark clouds were getting closer and closer. It turned out that the squall was headed in my direction. So after relaxing for a short time, I decided to pack up and head back to the safety of the lagoon. As I made it back to the shore, I could feel the first few gusts of wind on my back as the torrential downpour followed shortly after.

Maldives - Last Light

An ocean bird enjoying the last few moments of the day as the sun begins set.

Maldives - The Villa

Located on the Eastern edge of Kandoomaa Fushi was the villa I stayed in (while at the Holiday Inn Resort). It was situated directly in front of an amazing surf spot, Kandooma Right.... and provided a beautiful ocean view. The villa was 2 stories... the bottom floor was an open air living space and the top of was an (air conditioned) bedroom. This is the view from the water (just outside of the surf break). 

Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads...

When I got to the Maldives, I couldn't help but think of the Back to the Future quote: "Where we're going, we don't need roads." From the moment my plane landed on the tiny island next to Male, I did not see a car. In place of standard taxi cabs, boats are waiting to transport you to your final destination (recommend learning how to swim before traveling here).

Life in the Maldives revolves around the ocean. Not only does it act as their super highways... but it also provides them with sustenance and is their primary source of income (tourism, fishing, etc..). What's ironic is that the same thing they cannot live without, may someday destroy their way of life. When talking with the locals, there was a consistent concern about global warming and the rising oceans. I hope that such a beautiful place like the Maldives never goes away... but I am glad I was able to visit the islands while they are still afloat.

Maldives - The Lagoon

Located on the western edge of Kandoomaa Fushi was a beautiful lagoon that connected three islands... the island I stayed on (Kandoomaa Fushi), the local island of Guraidhoo, and the uninhabited island of Lhosfushi. The average depth of the lagoon was only a couple of feet and the water was crystal clear. It was very relaxing to sit at the water's edge and just gaze into the water.

The people living on the local island of Guraidhoo were predominantly Muslim and strictly followed the traditions of that religion. Many of the women were fully covered in black, no alcohol was allowed on the island, and we could hear the call to prayer five times per day. I thought it was interesting to see such a different and unique culture separated by only a shallow lagoon. It was unexpected to look across and see women on the beach that were covered in black robes and veils.