January 25, 2015

Aboard the USS Alabama

To be completely honest, Mobile doesn't seem very interesting. I don't think anyone would call it a vacation destination, and I've been told that its Vietnamese population is rapidly shrinking. However, there is at least one attraction there that is definitely worth visiting, and that is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

Panorama by Joie

Joie, Reggie and I headed over to kill some time before we ate a late lunch at Pot Au Pho, but we soon realized that we could have spent a few hours here. There's a lot to see, so set aside the whole day if possible.

You can pay your respects to Alabama's fallen at the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials. There's also a memorial to war dogs from Alabama.

Korean War memorial
All Gave Some, Some Gave All
So That This Torch Of Freedom Could Burn Always
In remembrance to these faithful war dogs and their Alabama handlers.
Vietnam War memorial
Vietnam can only be understood by those of us who were there --
-- and we don't understand it

The park has planes and tanks to see, and you can also tour submarine USS Drum. It's a perfect destination for military enthusiasts. Active and retired military receive free admission.


If it's your thing, this is a great place to take selfies galore. There are so many interesting photos you can take, especially on the ship-turned-museum. Eat your heart out, Rihanna.

Yoga everywhere!

It's really interesting to get a feel for navy life aboard the ship. You can see where soldiers sleep, take their meals, have their laundry done, get their shoes fixed, and so forth. Sometimes I get a little bored at museums, but this one was pretty engaging. The best part? Hardly a soul was around to tell us what we could and could not do.

Joie: "Are we allowed to climb onto these?"
Victoria: "There's no one to tell us no..."

You must allow yourself a lot of time to roam the park. There are three tour lines to take if you want to see everything on the battleship, and then there's the submarine. It's a pretty good deal considering it's a fun, historical, educational, American way to spend your day. Regular admission is $15, or $13 if you qualify for a discount (AAA, senior citizen, military dependent, etc.).


Thanks again to Joie and Reggie for joining me! Check out Joie's blog, Confessions of a Book Pimp, if the musings of a geek girl interest you at all. I wrote a guest post on our Alabama phoventure for her here, and her Wednesday Workout Cosplays are particularly popular.

January 20, 2015

State #26: Mobile, AL

This month I combined work and play in the best way possible - going to visit my friend Joie, who recently moved to Pensacola, and driving over to Mobile, Alabama to knock out another state. It was only an hour drive and not a difficult one, but since I don't like driving in unfamiliar places, it was fortunate that Joie's husband Reggie was at the wheel. According to my research, Pot Au Pho was the best place to check out. I love the cute name, a play on classic French beef stew pot-au-feu.


As it turns out, the interior of the restaurant was as cute as its name. I was impressed. The white-trimmed yellow color scheme reminded me of buildings I've seen in Paris. The simple decor, many arches and warm drop lights made for a very pleasant atmosphere. Pho date night, anyone?



The menu contained the usual suspects: appetizer rolls, vermicelli, rice plates, a few specialty items, and of course, pho. It was priced fairly at $7.45 for a medium bowl and $8.45 for a large, and there were even kid-sized options ($5.95, $4.95 without meat). We all ordered medium bowls since we'd had a big brunch at Cracker Barrel - pho tai for Joie and Reggie, and my usual pho tai nam.

Goi cuon

Reggie ordered some spring rolls, which had substantial portions of meat and were served with a nice, thick peanut sauce. I would have crushed the peanuts, though.

Pho tai gan

All our food came out within 10 minutes. I'd ordered pho tai nam (I order this so often, there's no way I could have said anything else), but there must have been some misunderstanding, because I got pho tai gan. Instead of flank steak, there was tendon. If anyone had checked on us after delivering our food, I would have said something, but the opportunity never came. Whatever, I ate it anyway, though I'll subtract a point from the service for not checking on us.

Overall, it was good! The broth was tasty, a little too sweet for my liking, but that was easily rectified with a big squeeze of lime. The rare steak only had a hint of pink by the time I got to it, something Joie and Reggie lamented as well, but it was tender and had nice flavor. The noodles were in a clump at the bottom, which I've never liked, but if that's my biggest complaint, I'll take it. I was impressed with Pot Au Feu, for being a nice restaurant dishing up delectable pho in Mobile, of all places. I'd definitely recommend it.

Reggie demolished his bowl!

We stopped by the Asian Food Market next door for the full cultural experience and picked up some snacks. I talked a bit to the lone employee, a Lao man, asking him what the Vietnamese population in the area was like. He said that many Vietnamese families have left the area, and I asked if different people were moving in and taking their place. No, he said, Mobile is shrinking.

Japanese candy!

It's unfortunate that the Vietnamese are deserting Mobile. I'm not sure why that is - I'm sure it's an affordable place to live and the weather seemed nice. I don't know about the job market though, and perhaps families are looking for more diversity, or maybe better schools? In any case, I hope the existing Asian establishments can stay in business. Good luck, Mobile!


Rating Breakdown:

Taste (11/14)
  • Broth flavor- 4/5
  • Noodle & meat quality- 4/5
  • Garnish selection- 1/2
  • Portion size- 2/2
Restaurant (15/16)
  • Service- 4/5
  • Cleanliness- 5/5
  • Atmosphere- 4/4
  • Speed of arrival- 2/2
Total: 26/30

Pot Au Pho, 464 Azalea Road, Mobile, AL

January 15, 2015

Vacation Eating in Singapore

When I visited Singapore for the first time last year, my mom and I packed a lot of sightseeing into a few days. Back for another vacation, I loved not feeling obligated to do anything but eat and relax. This was a vacation for me, and I was going to eat everything.

I arrived at Changi Airport around midnight, and planned to crash there until morning, to save on hotel costs. It was tricky finding a place to sleep, especially with machine gun-armed patrollers around, but I found an empty seat group and settled down with my borrowed airplane blanket and pillow for five or six hours. When I woke up, it was time to find some food!

I headed over to the food court and made a beeline for yong tau foo, a soup with a soybean and anchovy-based broth with self-selected items like fishballs, fried tofu, and greens. For a healthy and light breakfast, I had mine without noodles. Just a lot of greens and a few fishballs, please.

Yong tau foo (without noodles)

I was staying at Backpackers' Inn in Chinatown, so I sought out the delicious satay I'd eaten a year ago at the food court in the Chinatown Complex. It was just as good as I remembered, with that amazing peanut sauce. Just like in the past, I washed it down with dragonfruit juice, and it was both tasty and nostalgic.

Chicken and pork satay

One of my goals this time around was to eat at Lau Pa Sat, a popular food centre that was under renovation during my last visit. It was life-changing. After eating there, I didn't want to eat anywhere else. The selection there is huge, everything is affordable, the seating is comfortable, the renovated building is quite pretty and vey clean, and it was only a 10 minute walk from where I was staying.


Dinner the first night was char kway teow, and the one I had here was absolutely perfect. Wide noodles stir-fried with greens, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage and clams, how can you go wrong? The clams are small but plump and juicy. Imagine a savory noodle dish with little explosions of awesome. And then multiply it by yum. It was so good that I had to have it again as my last meal of the trip.

Char kway teow

Unsurprisingly, I returned to Lau Pa Sat for a few more meals. I usually finish everything I order, but the one dish that defeated me was carrot cake, a stir-fried dish with cubes of white radish and flour. It's a typical Singaporean food, so I had to have some. I'd had the white version before but never the black, so I ordered a white and black combo. The portions were huge! I'm ashamed to say I threw a third of it away. Both black and white are tasty, though; I can't say which I like better. I definitely wished I'd had a friend with me so we could have split this. Sharing is caring.

Carrot cake combo

I also had chicken rice, one of the most common and simple but tasty Singapore meals you can find. I also had an international pho experience here at Lau Pa Sat, which you can read more about here.

Chicken rice
Pho bo

Outside the food centre, satay stands line the street for a full block! They seem to cooperate and all offer the "best satay." If it was the best, I had to have it. 8 is my lucky number, so I chose that stall. While I had chicken and pork in Chinatown, I opted for chicken and mutton here. It was good, and it was a nice change having mutton, but somehow I think the one in Chinatown was better. Perhaps the novelty had worn off a little since it was my second time having satay that trip. I'd still recommend it though.

Chicken and mutton satay

I also had some snacks to tide me over between meals. Bee Cheng Hiang cooks up barbecued meat in sheets that are easy to snack on. I wanted to bring some home as a gift, but there was the danger of me eating it all, so I bought Merlion chocolate for everyone instead.

Bee Cheng Hiang barbecued meat

I had something to drink with every meal, whether it was tea, sugarcane juice, or watermelon soymilk. Yeah, I tried the last one, and it was actually quite good! In addition to classic soy milk, franchise Mr. Bean offers soy milk blended with watermelon, papaya, or honeydew. Who knew fruity soy milk could be so refreshing?

Watermelon soymilk

Gardens by the Bay had a lot going on for Christmas, including the Isetan Christmas Village. Japanese department store Isetan had Christmas gifts for purchase and sold a variety of festival snacks like takoyaki, yakisoba, and fried seafood. I had hashimaki, which is described as okonomiyaki on a stick. It's thinly fried batter, similar to that used in okonomiyaki, wrapped around chopsticks and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes, and the like.

Hashimaki

I'd been meaning to try laksa, and I got around to it on this trip. I had curry laksa, which is a coconut curry soup with noodles. I love curry, and this was quite tasty. Rich from the coconut base, spiced from the warm curry, and with a spicy kick, it's a great choice for a cold or rainy day.

Coconut laksa

For my last breakfast, I wanted a Singapore favorite, kaya toast. Kaya is a coconut custard spread commonly spread with butter on toast for breakfast. Ya Kun Kaya Toast is a well-known kaya toast chain in Singapore, dating back to the 1940s, where you can get a quality kaya toast set for a low price. Toast, two poached eggs and coffee or tea make up a basic Singaporean breakfast.

Kaya toast set

The worst meal I had was at a restaurant in Chinatown, close to my hostel. I thought meat skewers would make a nice light dinner, with a beer to wash it down. Sadly, the skewers weren't that great, the beer was crappy, and it was overpriced. Lesson learned - don't be lazy! Stick with Lau Pa Sat! haha.

Chicken skewers and Tiger beer

I found better meat skewers at a Japanese fast food place in a mall. A nice little rice bento with assorted meats and a few pickles made me a little less bitter about the previous night's poor meal.

Yakitori bento

I may have had one shitty meal, but it was lost among the many great ones and some fantastic ones over the four days I spent in Singapore. This was a perfect vacation for me. I did do some sightseeing - returning to places I loved like Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, and checking out some new places, like Merlion Park and the Asian Civilisations Museum. I missed my mom at times, especially when I could have been sharing meals and eating an even bigger variety of food, but overall this was a vacation I needed. It was lovely not worrying about anyone but myself, saving money by staying in the hostel for $15 USD a night, and just having some me time. Most importantly, I'd say I was pretty successful at eating everything.

Until next time, Singapore.

January 9, 2015

Marina Bay Sands

I am obsessed with Marina Bay Sands, a luxury hotel in Singapore, and the world's second-most expensive building. When you ask me about Singapore, I can't shut up about it.


It's an exceptional piece of architecture that stands out at any angle, any time of day.


As you can imagine, the view from the top of Marina Bay Sands is amazing. The 57th and highest story hosts the Sands SkyPark, which includes restaurants, a club, and an amazing infinity pool. There's a public observation deck that costs $23 SGD, but I opted for a drink at restaurant KU DÉ TA's Sky Bar.


Drinks here aren't cheap, unsurprisingly. I opted for the cheapest draft beer, which was $16 SGD, but even after the tip it was still cheaper than buying a ticket for the observation deck. I enjoyed the same views and a delicious beer on the top of the world.

Gardens by the Bay

It was just so beautiful up there, especially at that time of day. The sun was beginning to set, the sky was a natural masterpiece, and even when it sprinkled, everything was still grand. I even caught a rainbow stretching from city to sea.


It's my dream to stay a night here at Marina Bay Sands. I'm simply in love with the property, and only hotel guests have access to the infinity pool. Believe me when I say I want to swim on top of the world. I snagged this photo from a distance, so it's not very good-


This year, Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. It'll be a great time to visit, as special events will be held throughout the year, and Singapore hosts the SEA Games this summer. Maybe I can come back and finally stay at Marina Bay Sands? The real question is, when will they invite me for a free stay, as a prominent travel blogger? If only.


What a beautiful view, from a remarkable edifice. Even at Merlion Park the next day, I couldn't stop looking at Marina Bay Sands.

The merlion is a Singapore symbol.
A popular souvenir - merlion-shaped chocolates.

Take note, dear readers - if there's anyone out there who wants to marry me, better familiarize yourself with my favorite place in my favorite* country.

*Technically, the USA is and will always be my favorite country.