Weekend trip – west Sonoma County

Weekend trip – west Sonoma County

Two weekends ago for the Cesar Chavez holiday, we took road trip over to the coast, north of SF.  We hadn’t been to the Bodega Bay before and thought it’d be fun.  We found a nice quiet Air BnB that allows dogs.  Since check in wasn’t until 3 pm, we woke up on Friday and did our normal thing and packed and finally left the house after lunchtime.  It was a relatively short drive that took us past Napa and Sonoma and through Petaluma up into Sebastopol, a small town about 7 miles west of Santa Rosa.  Our Air BnB was actually located a few more miles west of this area up in a little hill/mountain area.  I really liked that there was a grove of Redwoods right outside the getaway.


After getting settled in, we took the dog with us to one of the dog-friendly beaches, Doran Beach.  This was basically a small finger-like projection from the land and was the southern border of Bodega Bay.  When we arrived, it was low tide in Bodega and it looked more marsh-like than an actual bay.  Later on when we drove by it another day, it looked more like a bay and ocean so it was cool to see the two different levels.  Along this litter sliver of land were a bunch of people camping right by the beach and water.  The last time I camped was in MI where you drive up to the camp area and set up a tent.  Most people on this beach area had trailers or campers but also had some tents set up.  Reminded me of a different life I had.

The dog seemed to enjoy the beach though she gets tired really easily.  I ended up carrying her about 1/4 mile back to the car after we did our exploring.

I’m a supermodel!
Why so serious?!!?
Happy dog


Whale statue

We dropped the dog off at the Air Bnb and headed over to nearby Sebastopol to check out this hip new area called The Barlow.  Sometimes I am not very good at being decisive on where we should eat and The Barlow offered us a few different food options.  We settled on Vignette Pizzeria, a place for Neapolitan pizza.  I felt the pizza dough was a little too soft and soggy for me.  The center part of the pizza was extremely soft.  I noticed also that the crust was not fully cooked through.  I suspect it has to do with their really hot oven not allowing the inside to fully cook before the outside starts to char.  I will say though that the flavors were good.  Afterwards we had a beer at the Crooked Goat Brewing Company.


I had the Silver Lining (Vanilla Bean Stout) and it was pretty good.  The rest of the Barlow is comprised of multiple buildings with boutique shops, coffee shops, etc.  We also walked by an ice cream place that was making their own liquid nitrogen coffee.  The air around that whole area smelled like sugar.

The next day I made the trek over to Tomales to the Tomales Bakery and picked up a croissant, ham/cheese croissant, and their morning bun.


Overall it was tasty and then it was time to head out to the Armstrong Redwoods Natural Reserve, about a 40 minute drive north from where we were staying.  I’ve always enjoyed walking in the woods and growin up my family used to take many trips to various National and State parks all over the country.  It was already busy by the time we arrived and had to park on the road just outside the entrance area.  The forest bathing was a nice relaxing walk.


Cool tubes made by beetle larvae

Redwoods are so amazing with just how tall they are.


We stopped in Guernville (just south of the park) for some lunch at Boon Eat + Drink.  I didn’t expect to find a refined little eatery in this town because the exterior and street look like typical small towns in rural areas.  I had a decently upscale meatball pesto sandwich and a refreshing beer.

Our next stop was to Sonoma Coast State Park where the Russian River dumps into the Pacific Ocean.  I just love seeing the vastness of the ocean and watching the motion of the waves.  Something just so calming about it.  I used to go home from school on vacations and go to the beach just to watch the waves crash onto the beach.

Russian River meet Pacific ocean
Russian River meet Pacific ocean
car edit
My personal civic ad

From  the Sonoma Coast park we drove south along Hwy 1 back to Bodega and to our Air Bnb.


We just hung out amongst the little redwoods at our cottage for the rest of the afternoon.  The weather was just gorgeous.


Cool looking fork tree


Prior to dinner we were going to do a short nature walk at the Laguna Wetlands Preserve but cut it short since it seemed like it was going to be a bit of a walk.  I did find some neat trees though.

Dinner was at the Gravenstein Grill and was quite tasty.  They had all day happy hour on Saturdays and we ate in the bar area.  I had a 1/2 dozen raw oysters on the half shell and we split some tasty fish tacos and a cheese plate.  We ended the night at Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream.  It had to be good since there was a line out the door.  Who knew they were the #4 best ice cream in the US.  Overall I thought it was quite tasty.


The next morning we got up and got ready to head back to Sac.  On our way out, we stopped at Wild Flour Bread to pick up breakfast and maybe a few extra items.  The wife went with a sweet type scone and I picked up a bacon and chive scone.  We also bought one of their Wheat sourdough boules and a potato, garlic, rosemary, jack cheddar and swiss Fougasse.  The scones were huge and mine had large pieces of bacon throughout.  The bread made for some good eating for lunches for the work week.


In the end, it was a nice relaxing weekend away.  Our Air BnB host was also very nice and stayed out of our way.




Mt. Whitney Hike

Mt. Whitney Hike

***I wanted to document some past hikes/trips that I’ve taken.  I actually wrote the following shortly after the hike (way back in 2001).  I made some minor edits to the text but overall they are my words from 16 years ago. ***

It all started while I was still at school. During spring quarter of my freshman year at Northwestern University, my dad sent me an e-mail asking if I would like to participate in a hiking trip.  He informed me that the trip would be to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.  Other aspects of the trip comprised of the group being made up of five individuals.  I was the only one under the age of fifty.  The other group members included my father, my uncle, Mr. I-fu Shih, and Mr. Hsu.

To prepare for this hiking expedition, our group held practice hikes at a nearby mountain.  Mount San Antonio, a.k.a. Mount Baldy, is the third highest peak in the southern California area.  With a peak elevation of 10,064 feet, our group traversed this peak once as an entire group.  However, each member individually climbed the peak at least twice, sometimes three times, in his own separate groups.  These climbs were to help ensure that we would be in shape and ready for hiking the many miles of Mount Whitney.  There are four different trails one can take to reach the top of Mount Baldy.  I have taken two of the four routes.  The first route requires taking a chair lift to the start of the trailhead.  From the trailhead, the peak can be reached in 3.7 miles with an elevation gain of around 2,000 feet.  The other trail is considerably more difficult.  With an elevation gain close to 3,500 feet, the trail continuously climbs upwards, pushing my body’s limit.  That trail has a length of 4.3 miles.  A separate hiking experience I had to further my training occurred while on vacation in Alaska.  One of the expeditions offered at Juneau was a hiking trip.  I decided to take this expedition to help keep myself ready for hiking in the wilderness.  One other preparation tool I had been taking advantage of was that of running.  I would jog at least a mile everyday for a few weeks prior to our trip to Mount Whitney.

A few days before the trip, which was from August 31, 2001 to September 3, 2001, I bought a hiker’s backpack.  We also purchased a shirt that helps alleviate the dampness that perspiration causes.  Packing started on Thursday, the day before our departure.  Items that were brought included: a knife, a small flashlight, a pair of gloves, a baseball cap, a rag (to block the sun from the back of my neck), ziploc bags, a thin mat, a rain coat, clothes, and approximately four liters of water.  Also attached to my pack was a sleeping bag and also the fabric of the tent.  My approximate estimate is that the pack weighed approximately twenty-five to thirty pounds.

That night I became quite pensive.  I began thinking about the dangers of what we were about to undertake.  I realized that there existed many hazards on the mountain.  I had read a report of previous accidents and rescues that took place on Mount Whitney.  I began to get quite worried about our safety.  My father assured me that in case of such dangers as lightning, we would immediately turn around to safety.  Still, I felt as if there was some danger involved and had to deal with it in my own way.

The following morning I woke up around 10:00 a.m. and headed to Target to purchase a battery for my camera.  I was not about to let this opportunity pass up and not have any pictures of the wonderful scenery.  Around 11:30 a.m., Mr. Shih and Mr. Hsu showed up and we loaded the Tahoe.  Then I drove us to pick my father up and then we went to pick my uncle up.  We took the 210 freeway to the 14.  Then we took the 395 freeway and finally ended up in the city of Lone Pine, where the population is approximately 2,000 people.  We stopped by the visitor center and looked through some material about the mountain.  We also inquired about the weather and were told that the past few days had been clear and pleasant.  Our group then checked into the Best Western and settled in.  Mr. Shih and Mr. Hsu went to the Ranger station for Inyo National Forest and picked up our permits.  Permits are required on the mountain because the National Forest Service has limited the number of hikers per day on Mount Whitney.

01 Whitney from Afar
View from our motel in Lone Pine

Since it was around dinnertime, we went and ate at a local diner and talked about the hike.  From the city of Lonepine, Mount Whitney is quite visible and I took a picture of our formidable task.  After dinner we returned to our motel rooms and double-checked our supplies.  A slight problem was found because we had many items that had a scent.  Any objects with a scent must be placed in a bear proof canister, of which we only had one.  Therefore, the items that had a scent, we asked the motel to store for us, for we were to return to that hotel on Sunday night, September 2.  After checking our gear one final time, our group turned in for the night.  That night was filled with restless sleep.  My mind wandered from the hike to the camping.  I envisioned such calamities as falling off of the side of the cliff.  Eventually I did end up sleeping for a good six or seven hours.

Everybody woke up around six the next day.  We prepared everything we had and placed it into the car.  We had a light breakfast of cereal and muffins, provided by the motel.  The fourteen-mile drive up to the trailhead proved to be a nice relaxing trip.  We drove through the Alabama Hills, famous for being the set of old western movies.  Upon reaching the trailhead, we parked the car and unloaded our packs.  Each of the five members carried a hiking pack.  We all stopped at the sign at the head of the entrance and took a group picture.

21 Group at Trail Head
From left to right: Uncle Chen, Mr. Shih, Me, Ba, Mr. Hsu

The time was approximately eight o’clock when we started from the trailhead.  The trail started off relatively easy, with a nice well-beaten path.  There existed a few switchbacks and we crossed two creeks.  Finally we made our way to Lone Pine Creek which required walking along logs that had been placed for hikers to cross the wide creek.  When we reached the first creek, we stopped to take a breather.  I had not realized how much harder it was to hike with a heavy load on my back. My shoulders had already begun to hurt and we had only traveled about 0.8 miles.  We ended up taking some rests on the switchbacks.  This gave me the opportunity to look back and see a spectacular view.  I could see straight down the valley (that had long ago been carved by a glacier because of its “U” shape).  My vision was unimpeded and I could see the winding road that had taken us to the trailhead.  The day was gorgeous with not a cloud in the blue sky.

25 Looking back toward Lonepine on trail
Looking back at the valley where we parked

I knew the only way to get past the pain was to continue on and hopefully get acclimated to the pack.  We next stopped at Lone Pine Lake (well, where the turnout to Lone Pine Lake was).  We decided to eat out lunch there.  Lunch consisted of an apple and a Nutrigrain bar.  I trekked the 0.1 miles to the lake to see what view I could get.  Once I reached it, I first noticed the clarity of the lake.  The reflection off of the lake was stunning.  I could clearly make out the trees and the outline of the mountain just by looking at the water.  I pulled out my camera and took some shots.

First lake 2
First lake we came upon
First lake 3
Nice reflection

After a good half-hour rest, our group continued up some more switchbacks.  Soon, my father and I came to a clearing and we found ourselves in a small valley walking next to a beautiful meadow.  I noticed how there were many small tributaries of a creek traversing its way through the meadow.  I became entranced by watching the water move its way over rocks and through the green vegetation.

07 Meadow (near outpost camp)
08 Ba in Meadow (near outpost camp)
Ba in meadow

09 Meadow (near outpost camp)

On the other side of the meadow, we made another stop at Outpost camp.  Outpost camp is situated 3.6 miles from the trailhead and is 10,360 feet above sea level.  From Outpost camp, we hiked another 0.7 miles until we were at Mirror Lake (at an elevation of 10,640 feet).

10 Mirror Lake.jpg
Reflection lake

Just above Mirror Lake was the last place that provided tree shelter and shade.  The last tree on the Whitney Trail is not far above the lake.  After passing Mirror Lake, we hiked among boulders and rocks until finally reaching a breathtaking sight: Trailside Meadow.  Right next to the path, I saw a waterfall that trickled down into lush green shrubs and flowers, with a creek running straight through.  Located 5.3 miles from the start of the trail, our group felt it was best to rest here.  It seems as if our group took many rest breaks, but I feel that we pushed ourselves and followed a strict timetable for making it to Trail camp.  Upon leaving Trailside Meadow, a steeper incline followed with a few switchbacks and then finally, after much agonizing, we made it Trail Camp at 4:30 p.m.

16 Ba & I in Trailside Meadow
Ba and I in creek

Trail Camp is located 6.3 miles into the trail.  It is also at an elevation of 12,039 feet above sea level.  Up until this point, the highest point I had ever climbed was Mount Baldy, at an elevation of 10,064 feet.  Therefore, upon reaching this area, I was amazed that I had handled the hike so well thus far.  However, my body definitely felt the effects of the arduous hike.  Finally, we set up our tent and started to put our sleeping bags into the tent.  I felt very lethargic.  Another dilemma came up when we realized that not all of our food and trash would fit into the canister.  Eventually, some of the members in our group decided to bury it and hope that a bear would not come.  Luckily, no bears showed up.  That night’s sleep was not very good.  We squished five adult males into the single tent.  The ground was hard and uncomfortable.  I had to constantly move the dirt beneath me so as to get better cushioning.

18 Group next to Tent at Trailcamp
The group at camp
19 Mountain view from camp
View of the top from camp

Because there is not much to do once the sun sets at that altitude, everyone was in their tents and trying to sleep by seven or so at night.  This created a slight problem because I had not been accustomed to sleeping at such an early hour.  However, my body told me that I was ready to rest.  We all had to put on our long johns because the temperature had dipped quite a bit.  My estimate is that the temperature hung around the lower 30s for the night.  I tossed and turned the entire night.  Once I had to get up and upon exiting the tent, I realized the brightness of the moon.  The moon lit up most of the camp with its glow.  Throughout the night I continued taking sips of water because the high altitude causes your mouth to get dry.  Eventually I did get about two hours of continuous sleep and then we had to get up.  The time was about 5:30 a.m.  Luckily, no bears came and we dug up our food and trash and put them in our packs.

16 Sunrise from above camp.jpg

At 6:10 a.m. or so, four of us began our hike.  Mr. Hsu had become quite sick during the night and did not feel he could continue on our hike.  Therefore, the four of the remaining started our trek.  We started out traversing 97 switchbacks.  I was still half-asleep at this point.  These switchbacks took us 1,738 feet in elevation in just 2.2 miles.  Probably the hardest part of the hike, I contemplated whether we would be able to reach the summit at the rate we were hiking.  However, I knew that this was a trip that had taken much planning and I did not want to fail.

20 View of Trail Crest
View from Crest Trail
21 View from upper trail
View from Crest Trail

At the beginning of the switchbacks, I found a nice steady pace to hike.  However, I soon found that I had set my pace too quickly and became tired.  Therefore, the rest of the way up the switchbacks took an agonizingly slow and painful process.  After only two or three switchbacks, I would have to take a break to catch my breath.  By this time, Mr. Shih had continued ahead of us because he was the one in the best shape.  My uncle had stopped to take a break and have something to eat.  Therefore, my father and I made our slow but steady way up to the Trail Crest.  After two hours (8:15), we reached the Trail Crest (13,777 feet in elevation).  Two other men were at the crest as well, one of them coming up from behind me.  One of them let us use his sunscreen and told us how we had just traversed the most difficult part.  I asked him how many times he had summited Whitney and he said he had already done it twice.  We thanked him and continued on our way, now hiking on the opposite side of the mountain.  Thankfully, since it was still early in the day, the sun had not risen high enough in the sky for there to be sunlight shining on the trail.  The trail started to descend at first until it met the John Muir Trail (9.0 miles).

17 Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

From that point, the summit is another 1,015 feet in elevation covering two miles.  While walking along this trail, mostly over rocks and boulders, I kept thinking about when we would turn around.  I realized that if we were caught still trying to make it to the summit at too late of a time, then our hike to get back to the trailhead could fall into the night and darkness.  However, I also had to deal with the gorgeous view that I had from the trail.  We were now overlooking Sequoia National Park.  There were many lakes that were far below us and they were beautiful.  I also had a chance to see the Western Divide.

Finally we came to a point where we were directly behind the peak.  I was wondering if we were going to attempt to climb up the boulders directly to the summit or follow an easier path that wound around to the other side and slowly went to the top from there.  It turned out we followed the path and after another long hike (or what seemed like a long hike) I saw the hut.  From that moment, I knew that we would make it.  Upon reaching the hut, the time was 10:10, exactly four hours after we had left Trail Camp.  I went and signed my name in the register that is next to the Hut.  Then I went and sat on a boulder and looked 360 degrees.  The weather was clear and I could see in all directions.

24 Shih Ba Me at Top25 Whitney Sign

So this is what it feels like to be on top of the lower 48 states.  However, it didn’t really sink in that I was on top.  Mr. Shih, my father, and I took a picture next to the sign indicating the peak and the elevation.  Mount Whitney sits 14,496.811 feet above sea level.  I felt proud that I had made it.  I have to admit that throughout the trip, up until this point, I had felt as if I would not reach the top.  When we left camp that morning, I had said in my mind and out loud that I would stop at the Trail Crest because I was not feeling good enough to make it to the top.  However, I happily proved myself wrong.  I was especially happy that I had done this with my father.  He showed me a lot by his will to succeed.

20 View from Top
View from the top
21 View from Top
View from the top
22 View from Top
View from the top
23 Hut built by Smithsonian at top
Hut at the top built by the Smithsonian

We made our way down at 10:30 a.m. and reached Trail Camp by 1:30 p.m.  We then packed up our tent and everything and set off for the trailhead at 2:30 p.m.  I did not expect to make it to the bottom as quickly as we did.  We reached the trailhead at 6:00 p.m.  Going down the trail is quite challenging as well.  It is not as easy as some would think.  The pack that we carried still weighed a great deal and parts of the trail were quite treacherous.  We had to watch our steps so as not to fall and injure ourselves.  Luckily, I hiked with two ski poles and they help tremendously when you have to walk downhill with a heavy pack pushing you forward.  We then drove to the motel and stayed another night, driving home on September 3, 2001.

The trip took us two days.  Our hike eventually covered 21.4 miles (10.7 miles each way) and an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet.  The hours spent on that mountain will be something I will remember.  However, I take a lot more away from the mountain than just pictures and stories.  Mount Whitney showed me that I have a lot more inside of me than I presumed I did.  I never expected to be able to accomplish what I did.

It’s amazing how far technology has come in terms of digital cameras and such.  I didn’t use a digital camera for this trip and ended up scanning in pictures.  Some photo credits also belong to Mr. Shih.


Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Even though I was under the weather and tied to being close to a bathroom, the show had to go on and our trip wasn’t going to just end (even though I had fleeting thoughts of telling my wife to go ahead and I’d just go back to Tokyo and hole up in a motel until our flight home).  I’m glad that I pushed forward and finished off the trip.

From Kyoto we hopped on the Shinkansen again and continued our trip westward.  Our destination was Itsukushima, or Miyajima Island, which is located just off the coast of Hiroshima.  We initially thought we’d stop in Hiroshima first prior to heading to the island.  However given the time of day when we arrived in Hiroshima, we altered our plans and decided to go to the island first and would check out Hiroshima on our way back to Tokyo the following day.  To get to the island you need to take a ferry.  Strangely enough there are two competing companies but they operate right next to each other at the ports.  One of the ferries is operated by JR and since we had the JR pass, we could ride for free.  It was a very short trip (10 minutes) to get across the channel.


As we approached the island, we sailed right near the large Torii gate that sits in the middle of the water.  I managed to snag a few shots even though it was quite foggy.


Once we were onshore, we rang up one of the proprietors of the ryokan and within 5 minutes our host drove down to pick us up.  One thing I immediately noticed is that the streets were impossibly narrow and all the vehicles on the island were essentially shrunken versions of full size cars.  At one point we walked past the island fire department and it was cute because they looked like normal fire trucks (well normal for Japan) but were miniaturized versions.  Many of the streets only fit one car’s width so if two cars were trying to go in opposite directions on the same road, one of them would inevitably have to pull off into a small alcove to let the other pass.  Normally in the US, having to do that would create some frustration as people are in such a rush to get everywhere.  I noticed that the Japanese people do it happily and don’t mind so much.  Another cool feature of their cars is that when they stop the let someone pass, the vehicle’s engine automatically cuts out (reduces emissions I bet) and then restarts when they are ready to go again.

It was a short 5 minute drive to the Watanabe Inn, our ryokan for the night.  A ryokan is very similar to a bed and breakfast in the states.  They had capacity for I believe 5-6 rooms accommodating 2-4 guests per room.  We were lead into our room and given time before the Kaiseki-ryori dinner.


After getting settled into our room, we decided to take a quick stroll before dinner.  Right outside the ryokan leading up the mountain is a large shrine, Daisho-in.  The temple was actually closing for the evening but we managed to explore it briefly.


With some time still before dinner, we walked back down toward the water where the large Torii gate is.  While on the ferry earlier, people were walking right next to the Torii gate due to low tide.  By the time we walked over (maybe 1-2 hours later), the tide had already come in and you couldn’t access the Torii gate without a boat.


On Miyajima island, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Sika deer.  While the deer are not “tame” per se, they are not afraid of people and will come right up to you (looking for food).  The Miyajima visitor guide says not to feed the deer and that they will eat anything (including paper and the brochure from the visitor center).  I read some other online articles later that the deer are in fact starving because they are “domesticated” and don’t know how to forage for their own food anymore.  I don’t know who to believe sometimes.


A Kaiseki-ryori dinner is a multi-course dinner that was originally served for traditional tea ceremonies.  Even though my gut was still not cooperating, I was not going to miss this probably once in a lifetime experience.  To really immerse ourselves, we changed into the Yukata kimonos that were provided with the room.  They also had traditional japanese socks (Tabi) – the two-toed socks that go with the Jika-tabi (the shoes you think about when you imagine ninjas) (here).

The dinner was served on the first floor and each room had their own table to maintain some privacy for the guests.  Dinner consisted of multiple courses of both seafood (fresh fishes) and some terrestrial animals (steak).  The tempura was so light and crispy that it was great.  I also noticed that the Japanese like to serve their rice by itself.  The rice is quite tasty so maybe they don’t like to cover it up with other foods.

While we were eating, the inn employees turned down our room by setting up our bedding.


They encouraged us to take a walk down to the large Torii Gate in the water again as it is lit up at night.  One thing that really struck us was how quiet and peaceful it was to walk through the streets.  Once the last ferry leaves in the early evening, the island becomes very quiet.  At night, they light up the Torii Gate as well as the big floating shrine, Itsukushima Shrine.


To finish off a magical experience on the island, we took turns taking a bath in a traditional Japanese Cypress tub.


The following morning we walked around Itsukushima Shrine and had a traditional Japanese breakfast.


We then hopped on a speedy boat that would take us right to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  Since it was relatively early in the morning, we had the boat all to ourselves.



The boat dropped us off right next to the Atomic Bomb Dome.


The dome is the remnants of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a building that was not completely destroyed by the atomic bomb blast.  It is a symbol of peace.


We walked over to the museum and proceeded to become depressed while learning about what went on when the US decided to drop an atomic bomb on a highly populated area.  I wasn’t sure how it would impact me to walk through and learn all this information.  I’ve become quite cynical and jaded but seeing, hearing, and learning of what truly happened had quite an impact on me.  It moved me more than I would have thought.

We hopped on a bus and then took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last night in Japan.  We checked into the Dormy inn in Shibuya.  The famous Shibuya Crossing is located right outside the train station so I grabbed a few shots of how crowded it really was (the pictures don’t do it justice).


The crossing is what you see on a lot of movies including Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift and one of the Resident Evil movies.

Our final dinner in Japan was a delicious one.  I was still dealing with my GI issues but we took a quick walk over to this small Ramen shop, Ichiran.  You again buy tickets at a vending machine outside the restaurant and then wait until they have an open slot.  This ramen shop was interesting because you have your own little stall.  In front of you is where your food magically appears.  This was definitely one of the most delicious Tonkatsu ramens I’ve had before.


The following morning we went looking for a Japanese pharmacy to look for a specific type of probiotic that my sister mentioned was quite helpful.  We also stopped in a store to get some trinkets to bring home for people.


The Dormy Inn was nice because they had a breakfast buffet that we enjoyed so as not to be in a rush to get to the airport.  The room was nothing special to write home about but served its purpose.


And then it was over…we checked out and took the train back to Narita airport.  The flight back was terrible and I was in and out of the tiny plane bathrooms every 20-40 minutes.  Thankfully that whole situation has resolved.

Japan was a great trip, despite my illness.  We definitely want to go back at some time.



Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

We awoke on our first full day in Kyoto with some big plans.  There were quite a few locations we wanted to tick off our boxes in Kyoto and we only had so many days to see them.  We decided to head over to the Imperial Palace as it was supposed to be prime sakura (cherry blossom) viewing.  There is a web site that lists the various locales within Kyoto and the status of the cherry blossoms in that location – ranging from peak viewing to not blossomed.  The Imperial Palace was a short subway ride and walk from our AirBnB.

The Imperial Palace actually sits in the middle of a very large park.  Upon first entering the park, you could see that others had the same idea of checking out the cherry blossoms.  With it still being mid-morning, the lighting was actually quite good for picture-taking and so we did like the other tourists and posted in and around the trees.  We didn’t actually go to the front of the Palace and elected to check out the Shirakumo Shrine, which is located towards the south-eastern portion of the park.

After the Imperial Palace, we took the subway and went to Nijo Castle, since it was relatively nearby.  This castle was built in 1603 and is a current UNESCO world heritage site.  There were quite a few large tour buses parked out front and so I figured it’d be crowded.  This time we actually did pay the entry fee and walked through the castle grounds.  They had a few buildings you could walk through and also some well cultivated gardens.  What I noticed about the tourists is that a lot of them were from mainland China (they have a certain twang to their speech) as well as Japanese people who apparently were touring their own country.


Since it was getting to be lunch time (actually a little past), we hit up Nishiki Market.  This is a labyrinth of small alleyways, some of which are lined with many different shops and food places.  You could pick up some street food (think octopus legs on a stick, sake sampling, etc).

Since I’m a big fan of cooking, I had thought about getting a Japanese knife, since they are some of the most coveted.  There was a shop that the wife had looked up where they will engrave the knife for you after you purchase. IMG_20170405_120626IMG_20170405_120556

I picked out a multi-purpose knife and had them engrave my last name in Chinese character.

I had done quite a bit of research on various eateries throughout Kyoto.  There were a few that were located in the Nishiki Market area though we ended up not going to them.  We found this Udon noodle joint that looked like maybe it was a chain.


Nevertheless, there was a line almost out the door and it appeared to be all Japanese people so I saw that as a good sign (like in the U.S. when you go to a Chinese restaurant and most of the patrons are Chinese or same with Mexican food, etc).  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go ordering because you had to order a specific type of bowl and then noodle/soup.  Luckily it worked out and we got some delicious, quick, and relatively cheap food.


Our afternoon was then filled with more travel (subway, foot, subway).  The first stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha.  This is the main shrine of Inari.  The main thing about this place that stands out is that it is on a mountain and they have this walkway that is filled with hundreds (if not thousands) of Torii gates.  The Torii gates are the bright orange structures that most people have probably seen if they’ve looked at pictures of Japan.  This area also was packed with tourists and it felt like we were sardines at one point within the hillside of Torii gates.


I thought we could make it to the next area by walking so convinced my wife we should hoof it over.  We made our way on foot over to Rengeoin Sanjusanjendo in eastern Kyoto.  This temple is famous for its statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  In the center is an 11 foot tall seated Senju Kannon.  Surrounding this statue are 1000 standing statues of the Senju Kannon.  There are numerous other deities housed in the same building.  Unfortunately picture-taking is not allowed in the main building.


It was getting to be closer to sundown but we hopped on a bus to get to one more temple, Kiyomizu-dera.  This was up on a bit of a hill.  Because of cherry blossom season, they were gearing up to do some sort of night event that you had to purchase tickets for.  This temple was also undergoing construction.


We didn’t stay for whatever “special event” was going on that evening but headed back to our Air BnB and then found some dinner.  I tried the Kyoto style sushi, which is different than traditional.  They use more preserved fish since they’re not a coastal city.  I wasn’t too impressed with the small joint we went to but I’m sure it can be much better.


I was still hungry after dinner so picked up some snacks for before bedtime.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up feeling hot and also with some tummy issues.  I then proceeded to be up every hour or so to use the bathroom.  My entire body was also very hot and I suspect I was having fevers.  So the next day (Day 3 in Kyoto) I stayed in the AirBnB while my wife went out and explored on her own.  She did bring me this fairly tasty box from the local convenient store.


Even though I was still hitting the bathroom every 20 minutes or less, I decided to try to venture out a little bit in the late afternoon with the wife.  We elected to try taking a bus over to the Philosopher’s Path and also Higashiyama Tisho-ji.  The weather was a bit overcast and it had been raining throughout the day.  I am glad that I went to Higashiyama Tisho-ji because the views of the gardens were something else.  It looks like a postcard.  I had to find the bathroom a few times there so we didn’t stay too long and then it was back to the AirBnB for me.

The next day (Day 4 in Kyoto) was a complete wash for me as I was down and out.  I have nothing to report from that day since I didn’t leave the AirBnB.  I continued to have GI issues though the fever had abated finally.  I don’t know what it was that I contracted.  I thought at first it may just be a food poisoning type situation but the fact that this disease persisted for the remainder of the trip and even back in the States means I suspect it was something more infectious.

Up next, Miyagima Island and Hiroshima and the final day in Tokyo.


Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

Tokyo last day and Day 1 Kyoto (Japan 2017

I lost my original post for these days.  Oh well, I’ll just re-start it and not try to re-create the old one that I had made.

So it was our last day in Tokyo and at the awesome Park Hyatt.  Before leaving Tokyo I wanted to try to get at least one run in while in Japan.  I decided to head up to the fitness center in the Park Hyatt.  This is located up on the 47th floor.  If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation, there is a scene where the main characters are swimming in this pool.  I didn’t get any pictures because you’re not supposed to take pictures in the gym area.  To actually get up to the fitness center you have to go through their spa (and actually tell them you’re a guest to get up there).  They have a row of treadmills that face outward towards their floor-to-ceiling windows.  You have this great overlook of the city and being so high up you get a bird’s eye view.  It was a nice way to wake up for the day.

After sadly leaving the wonderful confines of the Park Hyatt, we made our way back to Tokyo Station by way of Shinjuku station for the ride over to Kyoto.  Prior to taking the bullet train (Shinkansen), we needed some lunch.  Within the underground mall area of Tokyo Station is Ramen Street.  This was our first experience with ordering from a vending machine.  So you walk up to a vending machine and can choose the type of Ramen you want (as well as any extras such as extra noodle, meat, other things), put money in the machine and then it spits out a ticket.  You give the ticket to the attendant and wait in the line outside the restaurant.  Once there is an open seat, they take you to it and then your food shows up.  This place also had a paper bib for you to wear in case of splatter from the ramen.  It was very tasty.


We had reserved some seats on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.  We had obtained the JR pass when we first arrived in country.  This 7-day pass allowed us to ride on the bullet train and other JR trains without paying during that time period.  We did not get the fancy JR pass that allows you to take the fastest bullet trains (they’re not faster, they just have less stops so your trips are shorter).  The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is 514 km (or 319 miles).  If you took a regular train or a bus, it would take a LONG time.  The Shinkansen gets you there in about 2.5 hours or so.  I definitely recommend that as a way to get around Japan.  They have restrooms and on some trains also have a person with a cart of food/drink (including beer) that walks by every so often.  Most people bring their own food onto the train to eat.

We arrived in Kyoto and after a transfer ended up at the train stop nearest our Air BnB.  We had never stayed at an Air BnB before so didn’t exactly know what to expect.  Our hosts were great in communications before our arrival.  The place we were staying is closest to the Higashiyama train stop.  I believe our hosts actually had multiple small units in one building.  We quickly obtained our keys and found our way into the small studio.  While it was quite cozy, it had everything you needed in a place when on vacation.  The Japanese are great about fitting everything into a small functional space.

Our AirBnB was located near the Heian Shrine.  In fact, you could see the large Torii Gate of this shrine from the balcony of our AirBnB.

Torii Gate from our balcony

By the time we had settled into our place it was dinner time.  Our hosts were kind enough to leave us a list of local eateries along with what they had there.  Since we weren’t going to the surrounding areas of Kyoto known for their Okonomiyaki, we went to a local place that had it.  They had a set 2 person course menu where you split a Okonomiyaki, sauteed noodles with vegetables and meat, cooked radish, and a pork egg omelette.  I also had a highball (mix of Suntory whiskey and club soda).

Pork Omelette
Yam…I think
Stir fry

The Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake dish that can have a variety of ingredients.


Overall I thought it was good and very filling.  After dinner, while the sun had already set, there was a local temple that you could walk through.  They had lights set up so that you had a different perspective of how temples/shrines look like in the dark.  The Shoren-in Monzeki Temple was just a short 5 minute walk from our place.  By far this one of our favorite temples to visit.  Maybe it had to do with the lighting in the dark but also because you really walked through the grounds and absorbed the feeling.


Also behind the temple were some of the giant bamboos.  These are truly stunning – I’m glad that I was able to see it because I wasn’t able to make it to the bamboo forest in the later part of the trip due to my sickness.


We stopped at Lawson’s, one of the largest convenience store chains in Japan, on our way back to the AirBnb to pick up some water as well as some snacks and beer.  They have an ice bar that is “soda” flavored, which they also have in Taiwan and I got one just for kicks.


The long day of travel was finally over and we hit the sack.