It has been so long!!!! I am so sorry for the extended silence here. I swear, in the 12 years since I started this blog, I have never had such a long silence before, and for that I sincerely apologize. After almost two years of being “stuck” in Hong Kong, Bryan and I finally flew back home to the US to see our family, friends, and business contacts.
It was a tough decision to stay away for so long, but we live in a very different world now. Hong Kong currently has one of the most stringent quarantine requirements on this planet. We knew that by traveling to the US, we would have to quarantine for 3 weeks upon return. As such, we wanted to make the absolute most out of our time outside.
And thus we embarked upon a whirlwind trip that included multiple cities in the US and in Europe. We visited so many old friends, re-visited our old haunts, and also traveled to some brand new places.
Traveling During Covid
Traveling during Covid is very, very different, but still doable. Different countries have different requirements for Covid tests, vaccinations, and (in the case of HK), quarantine bookings. It’s a maze to figure out, and all the more complicated because the situation changes sometimes daily. We ordered boxes of Covid tests that we kept in our suitcase and carried along with us just so we could self-monitor, and (at least for the US), even use those test results to comply with official requirements.
We wore KN95/KF94 masks on flights, but felt comfortable enough to take them off for short durations while we ate. If our travel time was longer than 12 hours, we would change out for fresh masks. We tried to keep a distance from people at airports, and most certainly kept our masks on at all times except while actively eating or drinking.
The Quarantine Life
I have now finally returned to Hong Kong after 3 long months, and am currently serving out my 3-week quarantine. Not surprisingly, I took thousands of photos during my time away. I am methodically working through them, and hope to share with you all the things I experienced (and learned!) while traveling during this pandemic time.
For now, below is a snapshot of things to come. Happy Christmas, Merry New Year, and have a wonderful holiday!
First Stop: Los Angeles
We flew out on the eve of our 20th wedding anniversary and landed in Los Angeles on our anniversary. We had blessed times with our extended family. Bryan’s mom cooked for us almost every day, and made all of Bryan’s favorite foods (which he hasn’t had in close to 2 years!). Because we couldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, she even hunted around and found a full-sized turkey, making us an early full-fledged Thanksgiving meal.
Disneyland and Hikes!
While in LA, we also had a chance to visit Disneyland, including the new Star Wars Land! It was really, really cool, and the Rise of the Resistance ride is absolutely worth the effort of reserving a ticket (which was virtually impossible in the morning, but do-able in the afternoon). It is probably the best Disneyland ride I’ve ever been on. They really went all out for it.
We also enjoyed the great outdoors, hiking up to the Hollywood Sign, exploring the beautiful waterways at Bolsa Chica Wetlands Wildlife Reserve, seeing miles of sand at Huntington Beach and Balboa Island, and learning about prehistoric life at La Brea Tar Pits.
LA Food + Shopping
We even did some very “American” things that we missed, such as going to Costco and Target, checking out the automatic “smart” shopping carts at Amazon Fresh, and In & Out Burgers.
We enjoyed fantastic food, visiting our favorite 1-Michelin starred Taco Maria twice (must book in advance!), and discovering others, such as DayBird (best chicken sandwich and fries!), Playa Amour (amazing chicken mole), Saigon Bakery (Vietnamese sandwiches!), Mirame (modern Mexican in Beverly Hills), and David Chang’s Majordomo (signature Bo Ssam).
4 Weeks in Boston
Ah Boston, our home of over 20 years. It was so nice to catch up with old friends, see family, and meet up with business partners after so long. We had a glorious month in Boston during the month of September, which was lovely. We stayed in the Seaport District, enjoying beautiful jogs along the ocean every morning and fantastic seafood at night.
Nostalgic Boston Eats
We tried to enjoy as much of our nostalgic favorites as possible, such as Tosci’s Grape Nut Ice Cream (yes, I bought a quart and finished it all!), lobster tails and cannoli from Mike’s Pastry, raw oysters from Row 34, the best New England IPA in the world from Trillium, my favorite lobster sandwich from Alive and Kicking in Cambridge, New Haven pizza from Frank Pepe, and the one-and-only vanilla loaf from Hi Rise Bread Company,
We had rustic Italian at Monica’s in the North End twice, once at the Trattoria, once at the Vinoteca, as well as Colin Lynch’s excellent Italian fare at Bar Mezzana. Other nice meals included a lovely patio dinner at Loyal 9 (sadly now closed), my favorite Brussels sprouts salad plus sausage pizza at Area Four, excellent fusion food at PAGU, fabulous good old American BBQ from Smoke Shack. We mourned the closing of Bergamot, yet managed to visit FAB and grab a lovely dinner at Bisq, which both sadly closed a month later.
Discovering New Eats
I discovered some excellent new places for the first time. Favorites includes Chikadee (really tasty and creative small plates!), Woods Hill Pier 4 (excellent food with ocean views!), Saltie Girl (fantastic New England seafood and tins), Will Gilson’s The Lexington (solid comfort food on a rooftop deck), and Lydia Reichert and David Punch’s Jinny’s Pizza (delicious pizzas and incredible sides!).
Weekend Trip to Maine
We took a short weekend getaway trip to Freeport and Portland Maine. We had a fantastic lunch at Eventide and an equally delicious dinner at Central Provision (where we dined on their massive outdoor patio). Of course, Maine has amazing beers, and we took full advantage!
Until Next Time, Boston
It was indeed bittersweet to leave Boston. On the one hand, it was so good for the soul to finally see friends and family, share meals together, and enjoy nostalgic memories after so long. However, it was quite clear that this Boston had changed, and was very, very different from the one we had left 20 months earlier. It was truly a reminder of how the world has changed, and it’s still unclear what the future will look like.
Napa Valley, California
We have fond memories of California’s wine region, having visited Napa and Sonoma almost annually before moving to Hong Kong. Our trip to Northern California this time was short but still really good. We caught up with some of our close friends in the Bay Area and even attended a black tie gala (I had to rush out and buy a last minute dress!). The fall colors were stunning this time of year, and we savored some magnificent wines and food.
We stayed at the Silverado Resport & Spa, and spent quiet mornings jogging along the golf course. I didn’t expect to see such beautiful foliage in Napa Valley, but we arrived during peak season to stunning colors everywhere. Recent rains also brought green hills, which was unusual this time of year.
Memorable meals included lunch overlooking expansive views of vineyards at Auberge du Soleil, a lovely wine pairing and chef’s tasting menu at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, fantastic seafood at Hog Island Oyster, rustic French food at Angèle Restaurant, farm-to-table California cuisine at Valley Bar + Bottle, and my favorite TKOs from Bouchon Bakery. We also learned about the history of two wineries: Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap, and how an apostrophe makes all the difference.
36 Hours in London
We flew into London mostly as stopover on our way to Belgium. We stayed at the St. Pancras Renaissance (highly recommended!), and had a few hours to walk around Covent Garden, where we broke down and had our first Chinese restaurant meal in over 6 weeks (at Din Tai Fung, no less!). Although it was enjoyable, the quality of the DTF outside of Asia are still subpar, in general.
Brussels and Antwerp
Belgium holds a special place for us. It was where we got stuck during our honeymoon during 9/11. It is also where we got stuck for 7 weeks during the beginning of the pandemic 20 years later. This was our first time returning since their initial lockdown. Sadly, we left Belgium just as they were locking down again due to Delta/Omicron. This time, Belgium served as our base for traveling to other parts of Europe.
Traveling During Covid: Arriving from a High Risk Country
We are thankful that we were able to enjoy Belgium during a time when things were still *relatively* open. In Belgium we needed to provide a negative Covid test before entering, and then take subsequent tests on day 2 and 7 after arriving (if coming from a high risk country, which we were). In Belgium, only fully vaccinated people were allowed to dine indoors. Most establishments will accept a paper US vaccine card, though it’s easier to have the EU Covid digital certificate. We were able to easily convert our US paper cards into EU digital certificates at pharmacies in France and Germany, (but not Belgium, frustratingly).
Belgian Food + Drink + Chocolate
I took a day trip to Antwerp and fell in love with this bustling, vibrant, and super walkable city. In Brussels I mostly worked remotely and joined Bryan for dinners. This time around, I made sure to get my favorite Brussels waffles at Maison Dandoy. I discovered the most amazing fries at Frites L’Atelier (fancy) and Friterie Tabora (street), and delicious moules frites (mussels and fries) from Cafe Georgette.
We love lambics. Although we couldn’t visit Cantillon this time, we sampled delicious lambics at Moeder Lambic while doing laundry, and at Resto Henri together with dinner (they have a fantastic lambic collection!). When we got tired of Belgian food, we revisited our favorite Italian spots, Pasta Divina and Winehouse Osteria. Oh, and we ate chocolate everyday, rotating between Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini, and Cote d’Or (part nostalgia, since Bryan’s dad used to always bring Cote d’Or back to the US for his family).
Brussels Christmas Market
We were thrilled to find out that the Brussels Christmas Market, called Winter Wonders, would open literally on our last day in Brussels. Despite the rising Covid cases, the organizers managed safety by requiring masks and vaccination to participate in the event. Winter Wonders is a grand and fantastic event that spans many, many blocks, and includes light shows every night at the Grand Place, ice skating, numerous market stands, and tons of holiday light decorations on every street. In fact, each street is in charge of deciding what kind of lights it wants to put up, and the variety is such a sight to see. I loved just walking around the different streets and admiring the lights at night.
Although I’ve been to Italy many times, one city I had never visited was the fashion capital of Milan. We only had a few days in Milan, but spent a weekend visiting the most famous sites, including the Duomo, the second largest church in Europe (only the Vatican is bigger) that took 600+ years to build, the Last Supper Painting (Il Cenacolo) by Leonardo Da Vinci, and the historic Teatro alla Scala, where we watched the opera Theodora by Handel.
We also had our taste of Milanese food, such as Osso Buco Milanese (which is different from the way I make it!), and Milanese risotto. Since Milan is so close to Alba, we also had our fair share of fresh white truffles, since it happened to be white truffle season!
Traveling During Covid
Just like in France, in Italy we had to present a negative Covid-19 test and fill out a Passenger Locator Form that detailed where we had traveled in the past couple weeks. This form allows the authorities to do contact tracing in case travelers are exposed during their travels.
Italian Alps (Solda)
I think I’m in the minority in that I’ve never been to a ski resort before. Although the official ski season had not started yet, the mountains were already full of beautiful, perfectly fluffy snow. Our resort opened especially for this conference, and thus it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves.
The views were stunning, and the fluffy snow was amazing and oh-so-perfect for snowballs. We did snow-hiking (should have been snow-shoeing except we didn’t have snow shoes) for the first time! This region of Italy is breathtakingly beautiful. Even the drive, which was 4 hours from Milan, was stunning and I couldn’t stop talking photos the entire drive.
Bryan half jokingly said “this year, we went to an Italian restaurant for Bryan’s birthday, and we went to Italy for Jen’s birthday.” Although technically true, of course the itinerary just worked out such that we were in Boston for his birthday (and got to celebrate with his best friend), while we were in Europe during my birthday. For my birthday we took a few vacation days and spent a long weekend in Tuscany.
Florence is a beautiful city that is richly abundant in history, art, and culture. It’s the heart of the Renaissance, after all, and there’s crazy amounts to see and learn. Two days was barely enough to scratch the surface. While in Florence I made sure to enjoy lots of gelato (My Sugar), Florentine steak (Buca Lapi), and loads of pasta (Il Profeta, Podere 39) with Chianti wine. After a long day of museum hopping and walking around, we celebrated my birthday at Il Palagio in the Four Seasons.
Day Trip to Chianti Classico Region
We took a day trip to the Chianti Classico Wine Region with Massi, from Italy Unfiltered, which was great. He and his wife/business partner Deb worked with us to design a custom itinerary that included their recommendations as well as our own suggestions. We visited two wineries in the Chianti Classico region (Altiero and Castello di Ama), a beautiful ancient town (Montefioralle), and even the famous butcher Dario Cecchini. I’ll share more details in a follow up post.
Ah Paris! It’s not hard to see why Paris is so many people’s favorite city in Europe. It is especially magical during Christmas, when lights sprinkle the city all over, and many places go all out on their decorations.
Traveling During Covid: Within the EU
We entered France from Belgium, both of which are part of the EU. As a result, there was no actual hard border to cross. We just had to provide a negative Covid-19 test result, fill out a passenger locator form online, and get tested again after arrival. In France it’s straightforward to just go to a government approved pharmacy to convert a US vaccine paper certificate into a European digital certificate (for a small fee). You absolutely need a Covid vaccination “Green Pass” if you want to go inside any restaurant, museum, or indoor space.
This time we dined at some excellent fine-dining restaurants, such as Pertinence, Le Baudelaire, La Dame de Pic, and Restaurant Pages. I also stopped by my favorite galette shop, Breizh Cafe, and we enjoyed excellent lunches at Petit Vendome and Cherie Charlot.
We stayed near the Opera, which meant we were walking distance to Galerie LaFayette and Au Printemps, two huge department stores that put on really impressive Christmas window displays. We also visited the Christmas Market at the Tuileries, the huge park next to the Louvre. Paris is just a really magical place, even during a pandemic. I really, really enjoyed soaking in the Christmas atmosphere that was everywhere.
Paris was our last stop before flying back to Hong Kong. While we took in the sights and smells of the magnificent city, we also knew we would soon be “locked up” under a very long quarantine. As a result, we appreciated our outdoor walks around such a beautiful place that much more.
Traveling During Covid: Hong Kong’s Infamous 3-Week Quarantine
Entering Hong Kong International Airport is an “adventure” in and of itself, which I will save for a separate post. Suffice it to say, it took us 7-hours from the time we landed to the time we arrived at our quarantine hotel.
And now we are here, close to the end of our extended time in quarantine. To be honest, I had been dreading a 3-week quarantine. I tried to dream up all sorts of ways to avoid it. However, it actually hasn’t been as bad as I thought.
I am staying at Lanson Place Causeway Bay, a new quarantine hotel. All new things have their kinks to iron out, but overall our stay has been very good. The room is lovely, and the staff have been bending over backwards to make sure the residents are comfortable.
We have a rhythm to our days. Exercise at 7:30AM; work 9:00AM - 6:00PM; Covid tests every 3-4 days; and activities at night, such as Mandarin Chinese classes, calls with friends, or TV. Meals are provided as part of the quarantine package. They vary in quality, but we usually eat it, though occasionally we order delivery or supplement. Friends may drop off food, or we’ll order fun things like jamon Iberico de Bellota and cheese to enjoy with the wine that we brought with us from our travels.
After moving from hotel to hotel, city to city, on trains, buses, cars, and planes (plus always having to make sure we had the right tests, documents, and procedures at each step), it’s almost nice to have absolutely nothing to figure out. To just sit back and relax for a change.
I will follow up with detailed posts on the noteworthy restaurants I visited plus more detailed trip summaries.
I leave you with a magical (albeit slightly blurry since I took it on a ski lift) scene of real life Christmas trees along a snowy landscape in the Italian Alps.
Stay warm, please stay safe, and have a wonderful holiday.