52 hr of travel & overnight in Hong Kong

Tracy,

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The poet Robert Burns has been reminding us for many centuries, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. But if your plan is to allow for more than adequate travel time and to have a looser itinerary, then you are in a much better mood when the inevitable “going awry” happens. And this is how we found our explorations of San Francisco to be willingly truncated. So much for spending a day wandering the sites. Instead, some of our most memorable parts were the lovely conversations with various Lyft drivers, trying to navigate the flooded streets during this wild wind and rain storm. (And burritos in the mission district!)

This itinerary has certainly been a new way to travel for me. I’ve never had so many overnight layovers before. Gotta admit, it’s kind of relaxing/nice to have these breaks (with a shower and a bed in between), but it sure does take up a lot of time. We only end up with 8 nights in Bali, even though we’ll be 14 days away from home. (I’m typing this on our final flight leg, 5 hr from Hong Kong to Denpasar).

Firstly, three cheers for being planners, rule followers, and worriers. We’d decided to fly down to SFO a day early, giving us a chance to explore the city, and lots of “time padding” in case of unforeseen travel hiccups. And boy, were there ever. (I almost feel like I jinxed it somehow, as I’d been so smug before departure, thrilled we didn’t have any east coast connections so wouldn’t have worries about winter weather delays). And the universe wanted to remind me that us puny humans are not in control, when our departure weekend was hit with major wind storms all along the west coast. Hundreds of flights delayed and canceled from SFO. That morning, en route to SeaTac, many homes in Seattle were without power.

We did our due diligence and arrived at airport the recommended amount early. (in addition to possible weather delays, there have been airport security delays nationwide, as Trump’s government shutdown continues to have TSA employees forced to work without pay, and folks are being forced to call in sick, because without their paychecks they can’t afford childcare and/or need to take a paying gig in the hopes of covering rent and other life requirements.) We made it through security, bleary eyed, and bought coffee. Then relaxed at our gate. Travel is all about “hurry up and wait.”

Gate announcement: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, this flight will now be re-routed to Oakland instead, and we will provide a bus to SFO.” but it was the next sentence that was the real kicker. “Those of you with connecting flights WILL NOT MAKE THEM.” The three of us were extra glad we’d planned this “go a day early” thing, as we watched people line up at the counter or start calling airlines, trying to find other options to get there in time or reschedule their connecting flights. I guess it was a real problem all day at SFO, with many delays/cancelations. We took off over an hr late, and then landed at a different airport. We dreaded the logistics of them trying to get us all on the same shuttle bus. But there were several Alaska employees with smart tablets at baggage claim. They were booking Uber for each party. It was a pretty great solution, actually. And we had a very nice driver. But we did end up at SFO almost 3 hr late. And the weather was terrible. Heavy rains and winds. Highways flooded. Terrible traffic. So much clouds and rain one couldn’t see anything. I’m told the views across the new bridge from Oakland are nice, but we could only see rain and grey clouds so heavy it felt like we were fogged in.

And apparently the Comfort Inn San Bruno is in a strange vortex of highway on ramps/off ramps, making it a total confusing maze for all of our rideshare drivers. The room was clean and near airport, though. We’d considered either renting a car to explore the city, or taking the BART. But with the terrible weather, and being tired and hungry, we decided to grab a Lyft to the mission district. Where we grabbed burritos and tacos at El Farolito. Yum! Their Al Pastor taco remains one of my favorites! 

Our hunger sated, we began a soggy wander through the neighborhood. Explored the really amazing and well curated fantasy/sci fi bookstore Borderlands. But as the afternoon wore on, it was obvious we were too tired and wet to really enjoy any of the activities we’d planned. Most of what we wanted required walking around, a prospect unappealing in this awful weather. We thought about seeing a movie, but found ourselves almost falling asleep in our pre-movie lattes. So decided to just go back to the hotel.

We had the most enjoyable Lyft driver, Thomas. An older gay man who moved here from Indiana 32 yr ago, his “tour guide” information as we drove around was very entertaining. The freeway entrance we needed was closed (due to flooding) so we ended up on some strange side streets through warehouse district. He even sang us a song (about people being stuck on the Boston subway forever, inspired by our circuitous route, flooded roads, and wrong turns).

Going back to the hotel was exactly what our bodies needed. Semi-napping while watching the Golden Globes. The heat on full blast as our sodden clothes were suspended above the vents, praying they’d be dry by morning. Later we caught a Lyft to an area Italian restaurant for a late dinner. It was very old school and perfectly decent. Nothing “life changing” about the meal, but adequate and tasty and warm. The salad just a pile of iceberg lettuce with Shredded carrots and one peppercini. They had a delightfully old school staff. The type of guys who’d tell you they knew Sinatra, even though the math on their ages doesn’t quite work out. And they gave us each a free glass of Madeira after the meal. Then we had a decent enough night’s sleep, and off to airport in the morning. Met an older couple from San Diego whose flight the day before had been canceled entirely and were just hoping to get home finally.

Then we got to start luxuriating in our business class experience. By which I mean they gave us vouchers for the Air France lounge. Which was nice. At the end of the day, it’s just some chairs and tables with a small selection of snacks/drinks. But it’s a calmer quieter space, which is a lovely auditory Oasis at the airport. Plus Jen was using her school French skills to read L’equipe newspaper. Impressed.

Then on to our gate and our fancy lie-flat seats. The airplane was very nice. And the staff were wonderfully attentive. Felt very pampered. Plus, they had a pretty amazing selection of teas on the menu. We were more than an hr waiting on the plane from when we left the gate to when we took off (yikes!). Don’t know if that’s standard or if things were still being rerouted/weird schedules from the weather. But it was hard to complain when you’re among the 1%-ers. Honestly, it was very nice. The movie selection wasn’t great, but I think that’s more a problem with recent Hollywood films than with the airline. I’ve heard both The Meg and Skyscraper are bad and boring, but not bad enough to be fun. Still, I drank some Port while watching “The Predator”, because I’m fancy!!! And I saw silly British comedy “Swimming with Men” that was heartwarming and sweet, about some middle aged guys who start an amateur synchronized swim team.

15 hr later and we’re in Hong Kong. With so much fog/cloud cover, we can’t see anything. With semi-confidence that our bags have been checked all the way through to Indonesia, we take our carry on and head through customs and immigration. Where I was (unreasonably) sad to learn they don’t stamp our passports. They just print out a little paper receipt in lieu of a passport visa. Bummer. Totes wanted that stamp!!! Lame! Still sad about it. But not enough to ruin our excitement over getting to explore Hong Kong.

Our travel groggy selves successfully figured out how to take the correct double decker bus to our hotel in the city. It was super cheap and pretty easy, actually. And all the travel forums said our tiny “Ocean Inn” was right by an A22 bus stop, whereas taking the subway would require multiple transfers and more money. The busses had great digital screens showing upcoming stops, in English as well. It was about 45 min travel time.

Ocean Inn was the perfect spot, low budget but clean space. Great location near Jordan Rd and night Market. It’s just one small part of the 11th floor of a massive old skyscraper. 9 rooms total. Square footage is precious in Hong Kong. Our room had a double and twin bed and we were pleasantly surprised to see our own ensuite, rather than having to share a bathroom. It was a tiny combined wet room, so you could use this tiny shower nozzle as you showered standing right next to the toilet and all of the water would eventually go down the floor drain.  Online reviews had already warned us that the building’s older and a bit run-down, and that the elevator situation could be frustrating. There are only two and they often fill up before they get to your floor, when trying to descend.

We’re checked in and ready for dinner and ready for eating all the pork buns (it’s 8pm local time). I went to look up the Tim Ho Wan location near us (Michelin starred dim sum place), Google tells me it’s closing soon. What?!? I swear I’d researched this at home and found it was 24 hr. Apparently that’s just the new Singapore location. So we rush out to try to find a taxi to take us the 2 miles (it closed in a little over an hr and we didn’t know if there’d be a wait/when last orders were taken). And this is where my handy “show the taxi driver a screenshot of your destination address” method failed me. Huge. D’oh! Forgot about the whole having a different system of writing thing. And I Didn’t know how to get the address to display in Chinese characters. A helpful man on the sidewalk translated the address to the taxi driver, but driver said he didn’t know where that was. So we scrapped that destination.

My pals Joe and Laura had recommended a dumpling place: Cheung Hing Kee. It’s so good they plan their Hong Kong layovers around the hours of operation. Also Michelin recommended! And it was only half mile away. So a semi stressful wander down the misting sidewalks to try to find THIS place before it closes (the stress was my own. I don’t do well about being late, or with being lost when I have a time-dependent destination). And we find it. It’s just a window/take out space, rather than offering tables. Limited menu, I kind of want to order all 4 of the things. But woman informs me they only have one thing left, their signature dumpling, so that’s what we order. Then wandering back towards Kowloon Park to find a scenic place to eat. These pan fried dumplings are legit. Crunchy on the bottom and softer on top. While not specifically “soup dumplings” they are full of an amazing broth and flavorful filling. Probably pork? It was lovely. Not graceful to eat, but very tasty. And we had napkins!

Got to see some cranes hunting in the water feature near our bench. Me: guys, look at those cool bird statues. Them: Tracy, those are actual birds  They’re holding still because they’re hunting. D’oh! Then a very cool night time wander through Kowloon Park. It’s massive!!! Full of many interesting twists and turns and things to discover. In fact, we’re finding it harder to find our way out than we’d expected. Every time we see what we think will lead us to the street, we instead are presented with a sculpture garden, or water feature, or statues celebrating honk Kong animation, or a looping path that tajes us away from the street, or the giant public swimming pool building. Ha. It was very cool to explore, actually. But we did want to find night market before it closed.

On our walk back towards the night market, Jen spots a group of fashionable youths gathered at a take out counter, so we stop, too. “Tiger Sugar” is a bubble tea place, selling brown sugar flavored milk teas, that are very Instagram-able. They’re served with all these stripes of syrup, and after taking your photo, then you shake them up for a few minutes until fully blended. Yum.

Now the weather has changed from a fine mist to actual rain as we get to the market. Vendors have some tarps and rain coverings, which create this “perfect storm” of a heavy rain ‘drip line’ right down the middle of the walkway. Gross. Sarah very generously lends me her umbrella (she had her hooded rain jacket. I’d left my jacket at the hotel). Jen decided she wouldn’t melt and wasn’t scared of rain. But it’s hardly the most Pleasant shopping conditions, and many vendors just start packing up. We wander through a few streets of stalls, but definitely not lingering or looking to shop so intently.

On our walk back, in an effort to avoid all of the tarps and Rain drips, we hug the sidewalks behind the vendor booths. There are main floor store fronts along this way, some of them selling adult DVDs, others Electronics, or small restaurants. And then we walked through about 20 sex workers standing around behind a few Shacks. These young women were dressed in cute clubbing outfits and my initial thought as I saw a few of them was that maybe they were getting ready for a night on the town or there was a dance club nearby. But then as we walked past more, it became apparent that this was not two dozen young friends out for a night on the town. Bummer. I sent out some positive energy, hoping they’d be safe and well.

The next morning Jen headed out early to find an area bakery. She brought back a lovely selection of Hong Kong pastry for our breakfast. Coconut sweet bread, a chicken sausage roll, a lovely and mild cream bun, and a ham and egg bread. Reminded me of shopping at the bakeries at H Mart back home.

Trying to catch an elevator to go down to the lobby from the 11th floor proved as tricky as online reviews had mentioned. The elevators always seem to be full before they got to us. We decided we would need to try to go one by one. And I made it down to lobby first and waited. After watching two more elevators unload passengers without Sarah and Jen on them, I was a tiny bit worried. But turns out the ladies had bravely found the stairs and managed their way down to the lobby. There’d been some confusion as the lobby doors from the stairwell are not clearly marked, and some other doors they had tried were locked. Relieved to learn they were not trapped there forever.

Hong Kong Airlines has just opened a new Lounge for its business class at the airport. It was very lovely. Calming swooping designs, a better-than-average food selection, lots of Windows and natural light, and they piped in some natural bird song sounds. It was very soothing and lovely. Also check out this tiny baked potato. So tiny!

And this is how I’m here, on the plane, typing this update. I’ll have to see about getting some photos from Sarah and Jen and uploading those later. Again I am mostly using my digital camera, so actual photos from me with the phone be uploaded to a computer and edit it for a few months, if the past is any indication. But I should be able to get a few fun shots from Sarah and Jen’s phone and share this when I have good Wi-Fi and some free time.

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