Vacationista: US Trip Day 24-25 (Outlet stores, departure)

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Our departure for Manila was in the evening so technically, we still had the whole day to go around. Looking outside, there was already a thin sheet of snow enveloping the grounds. Such a pretty sight! Tita again prepared a heavy breakfast for us so we’d have energy for a whole day of walking – turkey patties, fried chicken and egg and rice.

 

So as to not be hurrying later, we just decided to go to one place – the outlet stores near home. Just like in Allen, the outlet stores have the same lay out and almost same stores like Nike, Adidas, Kate Spade, Coach. But with an additional of others like a vitamin outlet store and even a kitchen store selling home equipment.

 

One of the stores that I didn’t find in Allen was the Sperry Top-Sider. I have always wanted to own one but always held off buying, telling myself that I didn’t need them. I went inside just to see and good thing I did because I chanced upon a cute pair of topsiders, in a cute design in my design and best thing is, it was on clearance! The only pair left, from $160 it was now only $20. Didn’t think twice and bought it immediately. Score!

 

After some Chinese buffet lunch, we went back home, packed our bags to keep it at the 23kgs weight limit per luggage, then made our way to the Washington Dulles International Airport.


It was so huge – like most in the US – that we needed to ride a train going to our terminal. We had the evening flight so there weren’t a lot of people but there were a lot of stores to go around to. 

We rode via Virgin America which had in flight entertainment – including news channels and TV series which was so good – and unlimited snacks and drinks. But since this was just a short flight to New York, about 40 minutes, we only had a soda and some Cheez-its.

 

Arriving at New York through the JFK International Airport, you could already feel the difference in the atmosphere. Everybody was hustling and bustling! Oh my gosh. Even with my mom’s special assistance, the staff who guided us were so haughty, I nearly had a heart attack. I am not even exaggerating. As much as I want to visit New York, I have a feeling I am not going to fully ‘love’ it because of its super fast paced life. Anyway, their terminal was huge! Imagine, 8 terminals? So again, we had to ride a train till we got to our assigned terminal, which looked pretty old. There weren’t so many stores to amuse me while I waited for our flight.

 

Finally on our flight to Seoul, I was able to breath and just relax.


 I liked our meal on that flight – cherry tomatoes with mozzarella cheese, beef with mashed potato, bread and butter, chocolate cake and guava juice.

 

For breakfast, I had the egg omelet with beans and steamed broccoli. We arrived at Seoul International Airport at around 6am so the place was deserted. Got board that I filled up a feedback form. Haha! But by 630am, the whole airport changed as people filled the hallways and store started to open up.   

 

Now on our flight to Manila, I had a light meal of porridge with ottogi rice flakes, yoghurt, pickled potato (I think it was potato) and pineapple.

 

I think 3 weeks was enough of a break for me but never enough time to be with my family, especially with my sister. But still, I am grateful that God provided me with so much resources to go on this epic vacation and that my bosses allowed me to go away during this time. I know I’ll be able to see and visit my sister again. That’s a certainty. And with my 10 year US visa, it’s just a matter of scheduling it. Thanks US for a fun vacation! =)  

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Vacationista: US Trip Day 23 (The White House, Smithsonian Museum: Air and Space Museum)

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Tita once again prepared for us breakfast fit for champions – fried egg and milkfish (bangus), turkey sausage, rice, melons and grapefruit.
 


Again, we took the car, bus, train combo to go back to the Smithsonian Mall but this time, we went down on McPherson Square station since we would first visit The White House.

 

Exiting the station, we were immediately greeted by The White House sign and a dozen or so pigeons congregating because it was freezing outside.

 

It was so much more colder today and very overcast so we had to walk quickly. This exit actually brought us to the side of The White House so we had to walk around it to see it from the front. We passed by the Treasury Department and other pretty buildings.

 

As much as I love the sunshine and greenery, I still find overcast skies and leafless tress hauntingly beautiful. I think they have a different charm and beauty. I’m weird like that.

 

Finally we saw The White House from afar. Haha! Waved hello to Pres. Obama. Chos! There are actually tours available but we didn’t include it in our itinerary. Now we have another reason to go back to DC. Hehe!

 

Walking towards the Smithsonian area, we passed by some trucks selling food and souvenirs. We bought our huge ‘gold’ coin ($3.5) at the official White House gift shop, right across the White House. I actually thought it was a magnet. Grr.

 

It was starting to snow and the walk would be long so we caught The Circulator again and made our way to The Air and Space Museum, but not before passing by some interesting sights – like a fat squirrel (hehe), a whole platter of sushi left on a bench (probably left for the nearby homeless we saw), and a popcorn store which looked like an old-school cart.  

 

Before long, we arrived at The National Air and Space Museum. I was excited for this because I really wanted to see this specific museum, but wasn’t sure if it was included in the itinerary planned by tito and tita. I find anything to do with flying fascinating. A star (?) installation greeted us at the entrance.

 

Then inside? Planes and missiles and space ships of every shape and size filled the lobby. I was ecstatic!

 


But first, lunch! Haha! We ate at the only food court in that museum which was run by McDonalds.

 

I had the buttermilk crispy chicken burger with fries which was really good – chicken was thick and juicy, lots of veggies and buns were soft and tasty.

 

After having our fill, me and my cousin went on ahead to explore the world beyond our atmosphere. There were so many beautiful artifacts!

 



One of my favorite things I spotted were the vintage Libby’s corned beef cans which the pilots brought with them. Kulit lang.
 

I also took a moment to honor the Wright brothers, whom we should thank for the lovely thing we call an airplane.

 

Dropped by the gift shop and found the astronaut suit for kids so adorable!

 

Couldn’t help myself and took home a reusable bag as souvenir because I loved the graphic design. It’s expensive at $5 but all proceeds from the gift shop are used for the museum, since all the museums have no entrance fee. Is it obvious I have a thing for reusable bags? Hehe.

 

We then made our way back but not before dropping by the grocery store, Safeway and Kmart


We bought some last minute Christmas chocolates on clearance ranging $0.50-$0.68. How insane was that? We also bought boxes of cereals, granola bars, coffee grounds, instant mac n cheese, olive oil mayo, honey roasted mayo, juice and chocolate powder and Pillsbury doughs.

 

In Kmart, was able to buy two scented candles ($1 each), two Wet n Wild lippies as my reserve ($2 each) and some flavored instant coffee ($2.14).

 

Tita prepared a wonderful dinner for us – chicken noodle soup and roasted chicken from the grocery, homemade embutido, baked salmon (super yummy), fried rice plus wine and a small assorted cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.


Vacationista: US Trip Day 22 (Smithsonian: Natural History Museum and The Circulator)

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Tita prepared a hearty breakfast for us – and we were only 5 people! Tito didn’t even eat much since he had his own type of meal. We had some beef tapa, egg omelet with tomatoes, bacon, rice and grapes.
 


Comparing to Texas, I love how Washington has an available mass transportation system. Texas is more of drive-yourself-to-everywhere kind of state since everything is so thinly spread. We stayed at Virginia, which is about an hour away from central DC. From the house, Tito drove to the bus station, parked his car at the parking lot, then we walked towards the bus stop. So glad there were clear skies for the day. He also lent me his Smartrip, this all-in-one payment card which you can use on the bus, train and even at the Smithsonian. It’s similar to our Beep card in Manila only better.

 

The bus then took us to the underground train station, which is by far my most favorite looking station because of the gorgeous ceiling.

 

Our first stop was at the Smithsonian. I was so overwhelmed when I stepped foot at the Smithsonian complex. Aside from the fact that it is huge and that the museums and other landmarks are so far from each other, I have always wanted to go there. Scenes from ‘The Night at the Museum’ movie flashed through my mind.

 

We first walked towards the Smithsonian Visitors Center, also known as The Castle, because well, it looks like a castle. Haha! 


Got a copy of the Visitor Survival Guide and map to help us navigate.

 

Mom then chose to go to the National Museum of Natural History, right across The Castle. Was greeted by a larger than life elephant. Oh so gorgeous!

 

We first decided to have lunch at the café downstairs, which was really not bad for museum food. I ordered their tomato and mozzarella baguette, some noodle soup and mac n cheese (all again shared by me, mom and cousin). Tita and tito also had some soup and chicken fingers with fries.

 

I love how their cup is made with renewable resources (dapat lang) plus their sweet green tea was really good. Hope Cherry Coke and Ginger Ale would also be readily available in Manila’s fast foods. Hehe.

 

The five of us then parted ways, with me and my cousin together. Thus started our exploration of the museum. I’m not much of a museum fan but still found a lot of interesting things.

 

Some archeologists were even working inside the museum, where you could see what they were doing. They even found a dinosaur poop and preserved it. Haha!

 

My favorite section was the mummy section because I am a fan of Egypt and would like to visit it someday. They had a real mummy there! I find Egyptians and their history quite fascinating.

 

View from the second floor.

 

My cousin and I’s next agenda was to take The Circulator, where they had a stop near the Natural History Museum. The Circulator is like a hop-on-hop-off bus that goes around the whole of the Smithsonian and National Mall area. This was a better option for us than walking since we were pressed for time, and the weather was too cold to be out and walking. You can choose which places you want to visit based on their map. Bus comes every 15 minutes. Best part is that it’s only $1 good for 2 hours for regular passengers while only $0.50 for senior citizens. So awesome! Plus, we were also able to use our Smartrip card for payment.

 

We chose 4 stops we wanted to visit:

 

The Washington Monument;

 

 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial;

 

Lincoln Memorial, my favorite of the four, which overlooked the Reflecting Pool (famous for a scene in Forrest Gump, among others). Of course, a gigantic Father Abraham sits on his throne looking down at us mere mortals.

 


The Washington Monument can still be seen standing strong and basked in the gorgeous sunset. The spot where Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech is engraved in front of the memorial with the words ‘I have a dream.’

 

And our last stop, The Capitol Building. It was already dark by the time we got at The Capitol, though it was still around 5pm, which is a disadvantage of travelling in winter – shorter days.

 

Met up with the elders (hehe) but not before catching a glimpse of The Washington Monument in a glorious wash of colors.

 

Made our way home via train and bus combo. Notice how their bus system is called the Kiss & Ride Buses? How romantic. The walk from the train to the bus was filled with tiny houses that were actually stores selling teas and coffee to little trinkets.

 

Since we arrived at our home town quite late, a quick dinner was needed and where else than at a Chinese buffet. Chinese food will always be a quick and easy choice for a filling meal. The selection was huge and very diverse – from seafood to ribs, salads to desserts, grilled to sautéed.

 

I got a little serving of a lot of viands and was curious about the tiny octopus. Mom also got some crawfish, which I tasted, and it tasted like shrimp or lobster.

 

My fortune? It said I should be good for something. I guess my current workplace is perfect for me since I work for a development organization.


So hapoy with our first day here in Washington! 

Vacationista: US Trip Day 21 (Washington DC, Amphora)

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It was the day of our departure to Washington DC. My brother-in-law bought us some donuts from Max’s again, though I chose to have my fave bagel with cream cheese and salmon for breakfast. 


Lunch was a hearty home cooked meal of grilled salmon and shrinps. Yum!. So much hugs and tears were present during our departure! Haha.

 

Our flight was in the early evening. I loved how the US has curbside check-in. As the name implies, counters are available right outside the entrance, immediately following drop off by your vehicle. Once you get inside, you just immediately proceed to the immigrations office. So convenient.

 I enjoyed our flight on Virgin America. Aside from complimentary drinks, in flight entertainment is also available. Just don’t forget to bring your earphones. If you don’t have one, you can buy a set for $3. They had games like PacMan, Asteroids and Hang Man and reruns from The Big Bang Theory, Friends and Mike & Molly. You can also rent movies with just a swipe of your card on the back of the seat. So cool and hassle free. I also loved their flight safety music video. Super catchy.

 

Finally after about 3 hours, arrived at Washington DC. The temperature here really dropped, felt like negative degrees Celsius, so my winter coat and thermals was needed. My mom’s college friends who were a couple picked us up. First order of business: late dinner at Amphora, which good thing was open 24 hours.

 

We knew the serving would no doubt be huge, plus we just wanted a light dinner as we are going to sleep anyway, so me, my cousin and mom shared a meal of grilled cheese with chicken a side of fries and fresh garden salad. So funny that me, my mom and both her friends all reached for the bill. Tito won though.


Rested in our third home for this trip.

Vacationista: US Trip Day 20 (Watter’s Creek: Frog Café, Five Guys, Sonic)

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Today was basically our last day in Texas with my sister so we tried to maximize our time together. After breakfast of pancakes and bacon and coffee, me, my sister and cousin went to Watter’s Creek again for some ‘girl’ time.
 

‘Drove through’ the post office so my sister could ‘drop’ her letters without getting out of the car. How awesome, right?

Then we visited the huge crafts store called Michael’s which had a lot of cute items. 


Afterwards, spent the afternoon with coffee and Nutella crepe with strawberry and banana at Frog. The three of us had a lovely time just chatting and bonding.

 

We also dropped by Lowe’s which made me want to build my own house already. Haha!

Since we were leaving for Washington the next day, I bought a pound of chia seeds for only $4 from Sprouts because they were really expensive in Manila (half a pound already costs Php400). Told my sister to buy more for me and just include it in the balikbayan box.

We were also gifted with our last glorious, Texan sunset.

 

For our last dinner in Texas, me and my cousin wanted an all American burger diner experience. The best we could do was at Five Guys, which was a really good choice. Peanuts were available while you wait for your order.

 

We had mini cheeseburgers, which meant only one pattie but already huge in serving, brother-in-law had the regular cheeseburger with two patties, then we all shared the large serving of Cajun fries which was a lot. I love how you can customize your burger toppings and glad they had mushrooms and caramelized onions available.  

 

I mentioned how interesting Sonic was, which has a lot of drive through counters where you just order and a staff brings out your food, for you to eat on the go. No restaurant or building is available to dine in. There were a few tables available though outside their kitchen. Just so we could experience it, we ordered a small Sonic ice cream. I initially wanted a mini ice cream because I would be the only one eating it but they ordered a small one for me. And it is huge. It’s bigger than my hand! It’s like a medium sized drink here in the Philippines. Haha. Needless to say, the ice cream was good but I didn’t even finish it, not even half way through. Note to self: request no whipping cream on top the next time I buy there.

 

Spent our last evening in the comfort and coziness of our Texas’ home.

Vacationista: US Trip Day 19 (Chipotle, Popeye’s)

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My cousin absolutely wanted to try Chipotle just for the heck of it so even though my brother-in-law would say that there are more far better Mexican restaurants available, he gave in to our request. We also wanted to try Popeye’s chicken so we compromised: bought some Popeye’s fried chicken as take out and ate it in Chipotle.

 

You choose whatever goes inside your burrito or burrito bowl. Sister had a huge burrito wrap with no rice (she only ate half of it), some guacamole bowl then a combination of pork and chicken with veggies burrito bowl. They even had their own tabasco sauce. Chipotle was ok, I guess. Cheap and quick Mexican fix.

 

I did like their paper cup and paper bag packaging though. Yey for collaborating and being more environment friendly (read the description).

Started packing our two balikbayan boxes ($97 per box shipping fee via LBC). Note to self: bring own packaging tape from Manila when I go back. Bought the most expensive tape ever in Walmart ($10)

Vacationista: US Trip Day 18 (New Year’s Day, Café Brazil)

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Started the new year right by going to our local’s church’ service. As usual, they had some coffee and Max’s donuts available, which me and mom availed since we didn’t have any breakfast.  


 

Lunch was at Café Brazil which boasted of having several different types of coffee which you can have on unlimited basis. For some reason, their coffee tasted so watered down for me. 


Me, my cousin and mom shared a set of creamy Turkey wrap and cheese panini with chicken, both with rosemary roasted potatoes, and a huge platter of fries topped with cheese. Sister had a sandwich with really good sweet potato fries while my brother-in-law had some kind of omelet.

 

We then went to another shopping complex and dropped by Ulta, a beauty store, but didn’t find anything I wanted followed by an Outlet Store nearby, where I was finally able to find some loose mineral foundation from Smashbox ($15) since I realized that mineral foundation really is the best foundation for me as it looks natural and gives me that ‘fresh, blooming face.’ Checked out Manila prices in Beauty Bar and it was P1750 so this was a good buy! 

Dinner was prepared by my brother-in-law which was a whole lot of seafood in coconut milk. It was so good! Lots of lobsters, salmon, shrimp and fish!

Vacationista: US Trip Day 17 (Costco again, New Year’s Eve)

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Early the next morning, we woke up at around 645am to greet my brother-in-law at the finish line of his 2-day fun run.


 He rewarded us by treating us to some Starbuck’s coffee and breakfast at Chick-fil-A where my cousin and I shared an egg and cheese muffin with potato tots. 
We again went to Costco because my brother-in-law wanted to buy lobsters, clam, shrimps and salmon fresh. He’ll be in charge of cooking for our New Year’s dinner tonight. Sis also bought a pack of waffles which were sooo good! I, on other hand, armed with $40 bought 5 different cheeses – 2 chunks of Smokey Gouda (which I’ve tried before and really like), Tillamook’s Colby and Monterey Jack slices, Romano and English Cheddar. Each cheese cost about $7 per pound. These were actually our heaviest items in our luggage, which totaled 4 kgs already. Wore my Gap pjs, bathrobe-looking coat and warm booties to the grocery like a typical American. Haha!

 

Smaller than the Centennial park, a quick walk to the nearby park called Country Meadows Park provided us with fresh air and a beautiful view.

 


New Year’s Eve came and we celebrated by hugging and having a little ‘bang’ with party poppers. Would you believe the staff from Walmart had to ask us if we were above 18 years old, just to buy some party poppers the size of a chocnut? Haha! Unlike in the Philippines where fireworks are easy to buy as candy, it was really, really quiet in Texas. Like deafening quiet. But you know what? I didn’t mind. I didn’t ‘look’ for or missed the Philippines-style of New Year’s with fireworks and noise. Then again, I’ve never been much for holidays. For me, holidays are a time to rest, relax away from work and bond with family. I could do away with all the extras like decorations and such. Even I don’t celebrate my own birthday. Haha. Guess I’m weird like that. I did joke though that it smelled like the Philippines when we used the party poppers, since there was a faint, barely there scent of a firecracker.

 

Our simple yet super scrumptious dinner was my brother-in-law’s shrimp pasta. Toasted the year 2017 with some fine wine.

Vacationista: US Trip Day 16 (Costco, Papasito’s, New Year’s Eve)

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Preparing for tomorrow’s New Year dinner meant a quick trip to Costco. It’s just like any huge membership-based, warehouse-style grocery – like Manila’s S&R or Landers – except that there’s less people here than its Manila counterparts. Haha! To think the New Year is coming.
 


Me and my mom started buying stuff to put in the balikbayan box. Our food haul included a 3 lb container of Folgers ground coffee, a 1.36 kg bottle of minced garlic (yey), a bottle of pureed ginger (perfect to add in dipping sauces like vinegar), two 2kg bottles of Italian sauce and a box of chocolate pretzel rods ($13), which I love because they are so yummy and I can’t find an alternative here in Manila. We also bought 200 pieces of 13 gallon drawstring kitchen bags, single sheet aluminum foils (so you don’t have to keep cutting them), 3 boxes of Afrin for my allergies, kitchen mats, a 3 piece sauce pan and a 2 organizer racks.

 

My favorite Costco buy would have to be the $7 fur lined, red wool booties, which were super comfortable and oh-so-cheap! I have a habit of buying ‘winter stuff’ for my future travels, which is a habit proven wise in my past experience. I mean, for sure I’ll have travels in cold countries in the coming years so why not buy those booties, just in case? Wore them immediately after paying for it and the next day during errands and absolutely loved them. Haha! Had to leave them behind though because no more luggage space and told my sister to include it in our next balikbayan box. Yet, she tells me she tried them on and is thinking of keeping it for herself. Told her it was only on loan for her in the time being. Haha!

We had lunch at my brother-in-law’s favorite Mexican restaurant called Papasito’s. We were lucky enough to get a table immediately since they say the place is always packed. Their match boxes are so cute with their logo in colorful designs.

They served unlimited nachos with salsa and tortillas with butter. Ordered extra cheese as dip. We then had some fresh salad and chicken fajitas which came with some rice and beans. It was huge that me, my cousin and mom shared everything. Plus, they gave us beef and chicken instead of only chicken so they made up for it by adding more chicken fillets, and not taking the beef away, so more for us. My brother-in-law ordered his favorite, which was the roasted quail (4 quails). For dessert, we had their local fried flour with vanilla ice cream and toasted almonds. It cost about $80 for everything.

 

We dropped by Stacy’s again and I finally bought the Kate Spade bag I saw days earlier in TJMaxx. I told myself that if I didn’t find any bag I liked from the outlet stores we visited in San Marcos, then I would buy this particular Kate Spade bag. I was half expecting it would no longer be available since Christmas had already gone by and I thought people would have bought everything from the store but alas, it was still there. Like, it was the last of the three. I was already willing to pay the price of $199 which I saw before but when I took a closer look, the one bag I was holding was only $159. When I compared it with the others, same style, it was the only one with that price. Talk about fate! It definitely must be for me then. Haha! Bought a $0.99 reusable bag (photo above) because the elephant design was too cute to pass up. 

 

Dropped by the Dollar Tree store again and surprise, surprise! Goodbye Christmas décor, hello Valentine’s! Hahaha! As expected, all their Christmas goodies were on half sale so we grabbed a couple of cute items to give away. Two of each kind: Frozen inspired candy canes, Santa chocolate bars, ring lollipops, and a container of hard candies.


Went also to Ross and took home these cute holiday table napkins for only $0.50 each and a tube of leather wipes ($3.5) for all my leather goods. How convenient! 


Did some more grocery shopping at Walmart (when meill the shopping end?! Haha!) and bought 5 bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo (was on promo for $1.68 each, I think) and lots of Christmas decor and chocolates all on half price off. Best buy? The cake mix for only $0.68. Yep, you read it right. 

Vacationista: US Trip Day 15 (Buc-ee’s, Collin Street Bakery)

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We took our sweet time leaving the house since we will be going back to Allen to spend the New Year there. We first dropped by Buc-ee’s for breakfast and a bit of shopping for their famous Beaver Nuggets, which are their super tasty corn puff snacks. The temperature suddenly dropped when we went there, hence, my ‘I am freezing’ photo outside the store with their beaver mascot, Buc-ee. Lots of pacute items too, inside.
 


We had some pulled pork and coffee as breakfast, which me and my mom shared.

 

Still on the highway, we also droped by Collin Street Bakery which my mom is very fond of since she too bakes fruit cakes. Went inside, had some pastries and stopped my mom from buying fruit cake as souvenir. Haha!

 


Finally at Allen, we had our late lunch at Dumpling House for some Chinese food. Ordered seafood and beef noodles, dumplings that were like Taiwan’s Xiao Long Bao, fried chicken patties and some tofu.

 

Finally arrived at home and rested our tired earthly bodies.