The Filial Sons go across the United States of America.
It has been roughly a year since my brother, Nalin, and I have done a trip together. I was now newly unemployed (or funemployed as I preferred to call it) and he had a lot of leave to use from work. So the conditions were ideal for a trip and hence we decided to plan one trip together. I had discovered the travel fever and it was driving me to explore more of our world. My brother wanted to go on a trip as he felt he needed some overdue holiday. After an extensive debate that lasted all of two minutes, we settled on going to the United States of America for around two and a half weeks. We initially wanted to fly in and out of the city of San Francisco in the state of California. From there we would head to the Northwest city of Seattle and Salt Lake City. From there we would drive to the famous film site and natural landmark that is Monument Valley and onwards to Denver. We realised that if we were going to go almost all the way across the country we may as well travel all the way to New York City and fly home from there. We then decided to add the cities of Chicago and New Orleans as part of our cross-country tour. Since I turned twenty-one, my brother would be able to take me to some bars in some of these cities.
This trip would also be the perfect opportunity for me to try long-distance driving. The reasoning for this is that the best way to get from Salt Lake City to Monument Valley is to drive. We would also be continuing from there to the city of Denver in Colorado. The drive in total would be around 900 miles or 1448 kilometres. This would also give me the chance to drive on what we in Singapore call the wrong side of the road. So the trip was set. We would start in the city of San Francisco on the 7th of February and arrive in New York City on the 21st of February and fly out on the 24th. We didn’t do all the hotel bookings for this trip prior to our trip. This was because we recently discovered a new app called Hotel Tonight which gives great deals on last-minute hotel rooms. Since we were primarily going to major cities the app would work perfectly. We only booked two hotels prior to traveling to the United States for two reasons. The first reason was that we needed an address for our ESTA documentation. Since we were landing in San Francisco we booked our first hotel there. The second reason was that in Monument Valley there is only one hotel and since we were nearing a peak travel time we had to book it in advance. Most of the planning occurred when I came back from my South American getaway. We had set the departure date of this trip on the 6th of February. This left us a window of 12 days to organise flights, hotels and the rental cars. One of my concerns was that because of my young age I wouldn’t be able to rent a car. Thankfully we found a car company, "Enterprise rent-a-car", and they were able to rent me a car. However, I did have to pay extra fees to cover the insurance since I was a "young driver". After all the relevant bookings it was soon time for the two of us to head off to the United States. We were booked on a flight that originated in Bangkok. The reason as to why we had to go through Bangkok is simple. The flights turned out to be significantly cheaper compared to booking it out of Singapore. Soon we were at Terminal 1 where we would board our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. At Bangkok, we would transit to our ANA flight which would take us to Tokyo-Narita and onwards to San Francisco.
Chapter 1: SIN-BKK-NRT-SFO (7th Feb)
We arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 1 on the evening of the sixth of February to check-in for our Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. The two of us decided to just utilise carry on bags for this entire trip. This was so that transiting through the airports would be a breeze. This was the first time in our recently travel history that we would be departing from Terminal 1. We spent some time looking around the terminal to see what had changed before heading to the Royal Silk Lounge. For a popular Thai Airways destination, you would think this lounge would be more spacious. The sad truth is that the lounge was quite cramped and crowded. After the lounge visit, my brother and I boarded the A330 aircraft for the short hop to Bangkok airport. The flight was short and sweet for it was just a quick two0hour hop. After what was possibly the smoothest landing in history, we landed in Bangkok for a short layover. After spending rather a long time at transit security we arrived at the massive lounge that Thai Airways offered at their home base. After enjoying some small snacks and a couple of drinks it was time to board our short ANA flight to Tokyo, Japan. The flight was on one of the world's newest aircraft, the Boeing 787 and this would be my first time flying on this new airliner. The flight was very comfortable and after a pleasant nap, we landed in Tokyo at around seven-thirty in the morning.
We landed on a chilly Narita morning to an eight-hour layover before the nine-hour flight to San Francisco. When we landed, my brother and I decided to clear Immigration and visit the nearby town of Narita. Immigration in Japan was quick and within minutes my brother and I had proceeded to the arrival lounge to have a quick shower. After the shower. we purchased our train tickets and a travel router and hit the city of Narita. The city itself is popular among transit passengers, not a surprise due to the proximity to the airport. After about ten minutes we arrived at the JR Narita station and headed towards the main temple which was a fifteen-minute walk. While the walk was long the weather was very pleasant and ideal for wearing layers. On the way, we passed by some stalls, many of which peaked my interest as they were food stalls. The dessert stalls were the ones which particularly peaked my interest. Among the stalls, there was one stall selling pancakes in the shape of fish.
A local high-school concert band preparing for a performance near the JR Narita station
One of the streets we took going towards the Shinto Temple
One of the many stalls we passed by
Soon we were at the Shinto Temple which is right in the heart of Narita city. It was a Saturday so it was quite crowded and filled with a mixture of local Japanese tourists and patrons of the temple. The temple complex itself was quite large. Nalin and I spent, at least, two hours exploring the grounds trying to learn about this shrine. Sadly, most of the signs were in Japanese. This caused a bit of a problem as my Hiragana and Katakana reading skills are not yet up to scratch. This didn’t deter the two of us from exploring this delightful temple. After the temple run (a reference to the game intended) we decided to have a spot of lunch in this city.
The entrance to the temple
The main shrine
A traditional performance we managed to watch
One of the lovely structures you can find in this temple
Another structure on the grounds
A tranquil pond
One of the main structures
Prior to landing in Japan Nalin had looked up a small Japanese vegetarian place that was near one of the railway stations in Narita. It was around three kilometres away but with the weather being nice and cold it made sense and it would help us build a large appetite. On the way, we spotted some charming little cars in Japan which locally are known as Kei cars. The Kei cars are small cars which are designed for narrow city streets.
One of the zodiac statues we saw going towards the restaurant
A classic maroon Toyota
An example of a Kei Car
Soon we reached the restaurant and I had never felt more famished in my life. The restaurant was called “The Easy Life Café” and they specialise in vegetarian set lunches along with varieties of different cutlets. My brother and I essentially sampled half their very filling menu and accompanied it with some nice hot tea. The ideal food for a wintertime lunch.
The adorable matcha latte tea art
After the very filling lunch, we rolled towards the train station to catch the train back to Narita airport.
Waiting for the train
Once we got back we collected our suitcases, cleared immigration and headed towards the ANA lounge. We got to enjoy a hot bowl of udon noodles and some Japanese sake. While we were waiting for our flight and enjoying the sake and udon I was finishing up my blog post on my South American adventure. Nalin was partaking in some aviation photography at that time. Soon it was time to board the nine-hour flight across the pacific to San Francisco. Since it was a night flight we would be able to sleep and wake up in San Francisco in the morning.
The delicious bowl of udon
Japanese sake from the Mie Prefecture
Some of the planes we spotted at NRT
Chapter 2: Silicon Valley
We landed at San Francisco International Airport at around eight in the morning. I was worried about immigration because at the time the Zika virus was a big worry. My particular worry was that I only had stamps from countries which were affected by it. Funny enough it was my brother who had issues at immigration. It was due to the fact that Thai Airways incorrectly entered his details in for coming into the United States. We ended up being held there for an hour because the immigration staff did not know how to override the system. Eventually, the friendly supervisor fixed the issue and sent us on our way. Soon we headed towards the rental car centre where my brother had signed up with a new rental car service called Silvercar. The rent out very new Audi A4 sedans which have less than 50,000 odd kilometres on the odometer. They are a new company and they’re based out of the Bay Area. Soon we headed towards our hotel for the night. It turns out we had landed in the United States at one of the biggest days of the year, The Superbowl. This was not any Superbowl but the 50th one and it was being held in the city of San Francisco. This made is difficult for us to find hotels within San Francisco itself so we were forced to retreat to Silicon Valley. We were able to find a service apartment chain called the Hyatt House. After inputting the destination in the Audis user-friendly Sat-Nav, we headed for Silicon Valley.
After the short drive, we reached our service apartment where we would be spending the night. The next time we would journey to our hotel in the main city right by Fisherman’s Wharf. The room was spacious with a proper living room, kitchenette and two full bedrooms with what appeared to be large king sized beds. We had planned to see the Computer History Museum which showcased the history of computing. It had artifacts dating back all the way to the beginning of the twentieth century. After the museum, we intended to head to a sports bar to watch the Superbowl. Due to our jet lag and sheer laziness we ended up watching it from our service apartment.
The drive to the museum was short but it gave us a short glimpse into the tech life in this area. We saw a Tesla Supercharger and a Google Self-Driving car specifically the Lexus RX. Soon we arrived at the museum and did the tour.
We learnt about the development of the computer and how one of the first uses of the computer was for collecting census data. We also looked at computers used in warfare and weapons development. This included a model of the famous enigma machine from World War II. We also looked at the development of gaming consoles and the development of the personal computer. The first “portable” computer was around the size of a large suitcase and it weighed about fifteen kilos. While we were admiring these museum pieces, the two of us were starting to feel the effects of jetlag. We were falling asleep everywhere.
Some of the interesting computers we saw
An example of a German cypher machine from World War II
Some of the early examples of computers used in aeronautics and defence
The guidance computer from the Apollo Moon Rocket
A computer from the Mir Space Station
Deep Blue, the IBM computer that beat chess legend Gary Kasparov
The first Pixar computer
The Pong prototype
The prototype of the first Apple computer motherboard
A Google self-driving car
We decided to head back to the hotel just to catch up on some rest and wake up to watch the Superbowl. After what ended up being a two-hour nap, I woke up to find my brother was watching TV in my room and he tuned to CBS, the channel airing the game. When the game started I immediately had a problem. I found out that American football, unlike football internationally, is incredibly technical and complicated. They also stretch a game which only has an hour of play time into three hours. It is also jam-packed with advertisements. I also got to watch the famous half-time which featured artists like Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars. To my surprise, I found that it was a lot shorter than I expected. It was a bit of a shock for me as I expected the show to be much longer given the huge hype and advertising about the show internationally. The game was quite interesting even though I was sitting there not knowing what was happening. It was during this time that my brother wanted to get a spot of dinner and we looked up a good Italian restaurant that could do take away. This turned out to be a bad thing not because the food was bad but because the town where the restaurant was located was actually very nice. I felt we should’ve spent some time here as it was quaint and the people appeared to be quite friendly. Afterwards, we headed back to the service apartment to have our dinner, watch a bit more TV before settling in for the night. Tomorrow would mostly be spent on roads as we would be venturing to some scenic and fun spots in and around San Francisco.