Posted on March 21st, 2017 at 7:23 PM by admin

Our first morning was nearly a picture perfect Caribbean day. After waking up we went directly to the balcony to see the view. Since our hotel was situated on a corner, every room had an ocean view. Some rooms faced the hotel beach area while ours faced the bay and also gave us a nice view of the capital, Bridgetown. Eager to get some color we brought books and sun tan lotion down to the beach. We sat, laid, lounged and swam a bit with a few tasty rum drinks here and there. For the most part it was a wonderfully lazy day. The most exciting part of the day was in almost losing my Maui Jim sunglasses. Being an expensive gift, I only really wear them on vacation thinking that will make me less likely to lose them – ha!  We searched for them, catching glimpses now and again in between the waves, for about a half an hour. At the point that I was about to give up we heard another tourist say “What an unlikely find!” We quickly ran to him as he was trying on what he might have thought were to be his new sunglasses. He was right about one thing, though. They were an unlikely find indeed. Very glad he was there and that I hadn’t given up yet!

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The view from the hammock on the beach at our resort…pure bliss!

That evening we headed north to Oistins for the amazing fish the taxi cab driver told us about. We decided to take a ZR van, one of the public transportation options available on the island. This turned out to be quite an experience. These little white vans are not even as big as an American minivan but boy were they optimized to pack in passengers like sardines. Even the aisle ways turned into seats once the van was nearly full. I couldn’t see the speedometer but the driver took turns like this thing was a little race car, with his colleague standing at the sliding door opening and closing while the vehicle was still in motion. $2 Barbados, or $1 US, takes you anywhere on the island. On the way there the door master, as I’m going to refer to this position, let us know when we were in Oistins but on the way back we were not quite sure where to get off. I looked up, though, and noticed there were doorbells wired into the ceiling of this minivan so that you could indicate when you needed to get off. I got a good laugh at this surely aftermarket creativity and told my wife to give me her best guess at when I needed to “chime in” that we’d like to get out because she is a far superior navigator to me! Managing to keep down my exceptionally fried fresh marlin dinner I was able to enjoy the ZR van adventure. Before turning in we grabbed a few bottles of the award winning local brew, called Banks, and retired to our balcony for a unique night cap.

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We had our fresh fish dinner at De Red Snapper. They pronounce the like de and so it shall be written that way too!

The homemade bus stop bells in the ZR van- awesome DIY if i don’t say so myself.

After having already tried the hotel breakfast buffet, on day 2 we decided to just grab a quick pastry from the Cuppa Cafe coffee shop. From there we took a cab to Harrison’s Cave for a tour. The cave was quite a bit inland so we got to see more of the island on the way. At the cave we learned that Barbados, in contrast to all the other Caribbean islands, was not formed from any volcanoes but rather from the collision of the Caribbean and Atlantic plates. This also explains the caves that were formed. Conveniently the limestone caves serve as a natural water purification system for the island. We took many pictures of the stalagmites and stalactites that we were told formed over many thousands of years. Simply amazing to imagine how long this work of art has been creating itself.

 

Harrison's Cave

Some amazing cave views…

After the cave tour we decided to check out a Spanish named restaurant, Tapas, in the nearby city of Hastings. We had shark, along with some of our other seafood and fish favorites. Everything was super fresh and simply delicious. I had a mango rum drink that was to die for and the ocean side location didn’t hurt one bit either. Being only about a mile north of the hotel we decided to walk back on shoreline to our hotel to meet my parents who were just arriving on the island.

 

 

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The shoreline view from Tapas restaurant

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Walking back to the hotel from Tapas on Hastings beach….Maui Jim’s in tact!

That night we treated my parents to one of the favorite restaurants of our initial cab driver. The restaurant was called Brown Sugar and it was everything you’d expect in a restaurant with home cooking. According to our cab driver, it was a true representation of what the locals eat at home. We had a creole chowder, a grapefruit papaya salad and herb crusted snapper. We even opted for a banana crepe dessert!

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Dinner with the parents at Brown Sugar

 

On our last full day on the island we went on a tour of Bridgetown followed by a rum tasting tour.  I have to say that while there are plenty of tourists on the island at all times there are almost no “tourist shops.” We walked blocks and blocks until we found what I believe to be the one and only place where i could buy a shot glass for my collection. This is the first time I’ve ever had to try so hard to find one. It was almost exciting for it to be such a rarity! After some shopping and your typical downtown monuments we were on to the rum tour! Now by day 3 we had already sampled various rums, learning that rum can be made from cane juice as well as the molasses by-product. Our tour was of the island’s most popular rum, Mount Gay. Mount Gay rum is made from molasses and in contrast to many other rums it’s flavors come only from the traces of what’s on the island combine with the flavor that can be infused by the reused bourbon oak barrels. And just as any fermentation process, the yields depend on how long the rum is aged. Although, the climate in the Caribbean, we were told, ages the rum much faster than a cooler climate would.  I have to say that rum is probably one of my least favorite alcohols but that was before I tasted some of Mount Gay’s offerings, but then again with a name like Mount Gay, how could you really go wrong?!!?!?  The top two rums we sampled were the best I’ve ever tested. We were so impressed, in fact, that we broke down and spent a small fortune in order to bring a few more samples home.

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Mount Gay Rum Distillery

That night we were to attend a dinner event with my parents. Little did I know that this event was in a hanger that was storing none other than the famous Concorde. I had heard about this plane that flew so fast it caused sonic booms. We ate dinner under one of its giant wings and even got a quick tour of it. It was a uniquely cool experience and of course there was no shortage of rum or more good food this evening.

All in all we were really impressed with the climate, landscape and authentic, yet still charmingly sarcastic, Barbadian people.  I highly recommend a Barbados visit to all!

 

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Concorde cockpit

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Dinner in the concorde hanger

Posted on July 30th, 2016 at 7:22 PM by admin

Clearly it has been quite some time since my last post. I appreciate more and more each day the years of travel I was able to pull off in my 20s before settling down to a more grounded and stable existence in my home country, which I, by the way, also treasure. I miss traveling sometimes but also love not having to do the hard work of constantly moving and adjusting to different culture norms all the time. Ok, back to the post at hand. I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Panama City, Panama with my family. If you’re familiar with the weather in this region you might be wondering why we decided to go there during the rainy season. Our primary purpose was not a vacation but rather to take our son for his second round of stem cell treatments to help treat his cerebral palsy. His first round was back in 2009 in China. Although the China trip was very successful we wanted a closer and slightly less time consuming option which turned out to be in Panama.

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Our first several days were our vacation. We attempted to walk around the city but there is a very real lack of sidewalks in this city as well as many areas of pavement that are so damaged that they might as well have not been paved at all. Having said that, there is a beautiful boardwalk that we walked down on the first day. One day we decided to do a tour around the city and the Panama Canal. We got to see the new locks that were recently opened in order to more than double the capacity of the canal. This new portion had just opened about a month before we arrived! One of our favorite parts in town was called Casco Viejo and we returned there on another day in order to see the museum which outlined the history of the Panama Canal. We also walked around the streets and bought some souvenirs and saw some traditional dancing in the center square. We had a reasonably priced lunch with some of the best mojitos I’ve ever had! We managed to pick the one day it didn’t rain to rent a car and drive slightly north to a beach called Santa Clara. The water as very warm and the beach was very clean. It was a wonderfully relaxing day. I also wanted to mention that we found the Panamanians to be incredibly hospitable. One of the servers at our hotel practically treated us like family each day at breakfast!

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After a few days of relaxing and lots of sleeping our son started his stem cell treatments. He was not feeling so great the first day but tolerated the next 3 days of quick IV injections quite well. On the third day he started showing advancements. Before the treatments he was able to get off of couches or low beds by scooting off to his knees then falling to his butt. On this day, however, he scooted off a very high bed right on to his feet and was able to stand at the side of the bed as long as he stayed leaning on the bed. Later that day he picked himself off the floor and onto his knees and was leaning on the bed again, also something he has never been able to do unassisted.
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I’ve been lucky enough to raise this child for the past 5 years or so of his 10 years of life and seeing his breakthroughs is truly one of the happiest things I’ve ever experienced. He’s such a beautiful soul. Thank you, Naji, for making this vacation such a memorable one. I probably won’t remember where we ate dinner or the facts I learned at the Panama Canal museum but I will never forget watching that video of you getting out of the bed to stand on your own two feet. I can’t wait to see your continued advancements. A special thanks to everyone who donated and/or otherwise lent support for this trip and his treatments. You have played a huge role in Naji’s life and we are all eternally grateful.
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The trip ended a bit early for my daughter and I who returned home before my wife and son to get back to the day to day…work…soccer try outs…life!
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Posted on March 6th, 2014 at 10:40 PM by admin
Day 4 was a special day. Our group rented out the resort’s private island: Palomino Island. I’ve never been on an island with so many fun activities available. Not only could you rent kayaks and jet skis but you could also play ping pong, basketball, volleyball, paddle ball, chess, bean toss, and mini golf. I might even be missing some activities since there were so many! We also had free drinks all day and lunch. Ahhhh…..that was the life I tell ya! I got my butt whooped as usual playing Dad in ping pong. Then Naomi and I decided to try out the jet skis. Before this occasion I had only ever been on the back of one so I was excited to try out driving one. It was a blast at 30 mph. Unfortunately Naomi got a much slower jet ski but didn’t seem to mind too much as I drove circles around her.

Love the human sized chess boards!

 

Jet Skiing!!!

Another cool thing about the island was all the iguanas. I got up real close to take many pictures and they didn’t seem the least bit scared or interested in my presence. Despite having so many activities we did spend some time just laying out. Our beach chairs were only 7-8 feet from the waves rolling in and there was a nice strong wind that made us blissfully unaware of how much our skin was burning. The fairy ride out had some roller coaster like moment but the ride back was smooth sailing and what a beautiful view of the island it was from the fairy.

View of Palomino Island from the fairy


Two happy ladies!

That night we had cocktails and dinner outside on a beautiful terrace. Another wonderful vacation day had by all. Although we have another day left in Puerto Rico I will spare you all the details as it is the one day I have to spend in meetings. All small price to pay for such a wonderful vacation!
Posted on March 5th, 2014 at 8:49 PM by admin
That night we had cocktails and dinner outside on a beautiful terrace. Another wonderful vacation day had by all.

For our first full day with the parents we decided to rent a car and venture to the capital city of Old San Juan. The drive was only about an hour and it sure was worth it. Old San Juan is pretty small and we walked through just about the entire city in one afternoon.The highlights? The fortress that still stands around much of the ocean front was very scenic. The cute little houses and cobblestone streets also brought a level of charm that is surely hard to find. At a local restaurant we had our first taste of Mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish that stuffs various meats and/or seafood into mashed plantain. After a leisurely stroll through the city we had some exceptional cocktail at El Toro Salao, a Spanish-Puerto Rican fusion of a bar restaurant. I had a Summer Thyme – nothing beats fresh herbs in a cocktail. Nothing!

 

So much beauty in this city!

Loved the view uphill this cute little street!

Spanish-Puerto Rican Fusion at El Toro Salao

Mom and Dad enjoying drinks at El Toro Salao

 

Posted on March 4th, 2014 at 9:36 PM by admin
On day 2 we were ready to explore. We got up early had breakfast with cafe con leche, of course, and then headed to the lobby to meet up for our tour to the El Yunque Rainforest. As soon as we got on the bus and heard our very lively tour guide speaking English with a strong yet totally understandable Puerto Rican accent, I know it was going to be a good time. This was the kind of tour guide that is clearly entertaining enough to himself that entertaining us is a mere bonus. He told us his name but quickly told us to just call him Tooouer Guyyyyde. Typing doesn’t really do the accent justice but I think you can catch my drift. I really enjoyed his Spanglish in many sentences. It was like he didn’t even realize that he was switching between the two languages. It occurred to me that I’ve never been to a country with such impressive bilingualism. Whenever we got out of the bus he said “Vengan guys!” with which he meant “Come on guys!”


On the bus ride we were quizzed about the most common and most popular fruits and given lots of information about local sites. He also had us guess whether or not it was going to rain in the rainforest while we were there. I have to admit that this made me a little nervous as I hadn’t brought a rain jacket or a my water pouch for my $1500 camera. Luckily we determined by the humidity, the clouds and the lack of cows that it was not going to rain. Phew!! The hike we went on was about an hour. We walked down the La Mina trail to a small waterfall and then back up and out through a different trail. Many of our fellow tourers went swimming in the waterfall but I was not feeling that adventurous. Throughout the hike we saw many lizards and lots of awesome views. Being on an island the Puerto Rican Rainforest didn’t really have any mammals, which was interesting and also much less scary than say the Amazon (see my Iquitos post). At the end of the hike we went up the Yokahu Tower and had another beautiful view. On the bus ride back the tour guide suggested we stop for some local street food. Naomi and I got very excited and quickly opted in for the fried meets, rice, beans and tostones (fried plantains). Yum!

Hello little lizard!

Toooouer Guyyyyyyde does tarzan!

love the rocks, water and colors

 


As we arrived back at the hotel a frantic young man handed me a piece of paper and said “Here, take this. Its for two free drinks.”  Who could say no to that? We promptly went to the poolside bar and ordered our drinks. Afterwords we put on our suits and hung out poolside. It was a nice bit of relaxation time before my parents arrived. They were visiting some friends in Florida and were finally arriving in Puerto Rico to join us for the rest of the trip. The ended up getting in a bit late but still made our reservation at the resort’s seafood restaurant called “Stingray.”  I took the chance to try a fish I had never had before and it was delicious! Just another day in wonderful sunny Puerto Rico.
Posted on March 3rd, 2014 at 9:24 PM by admin
We took our time getting out of bed the first morning and were stunned at the beautiful view out our terrace (see banner picture above). After facebooking our view to make all of our friends jealous, we leisurely headed down to a buffet breakfast. Still tired from the previous work week and our travel day which turned out to be a little longer than expected, we decided our first day in Puerto Rico should be one of pure relaxation. So after taking a few pictures of the surroundings of the El Conquistador Resort we booked a couples massage!! Wow, we both agreed that the two masseuses that worked on us did the absolute best job of releasing our chronic back pain. They were amazing and I wanted to take them home with us so that I don’t have to deal with so much back pain. We definitely took advantage of the foot soaking after the massage which was accompanied by white wine and candied fruit. There we met a nice couple from Atlanta with whom we exchanged exciting travel stories and even some professional tips as the guy was a chef by trade and has been in the restaurant business for 20 some years (opposed to us in our first year!) After that we headed back to the concierge to book a tour to the El Yunque Rainforest the following day.

View of the golf course located at El Conquistador Resort

 

For dinner we chose the Asian steakhouse which was one of several restaurants the hotel had to offer. It was Benihana style where they cook your food at the table in front of you but instead of the shrimp trick we got spinning eggs. The guy spun an egg and then lifted it up on his metal spatula and flipped it in the air several times while it was still spinning and then he turned it to the side and let is land on the side of the spatula so it split it open – hello chicken fried rice! We were so hungry that we ordered sushi as an appetizer and then got a chicken and shrimp dish on top of it. We ended bringing most of it back to the hotel room – oops!

View from the Atlantic Terrace of the hotel

 

After dinner we could not help but head over to the ginormous game room that the resort was taunting us with. With only a few people there the cupid shuffle and Karaoke left a lot to be desired but we did enjoy the FREE air hockey and fussball (even if the table was not quite level). We also bought some tokens to shoot some hoops and take some photobooth pictures. Our first day was wonderfully relaxing and fun.
Posted on March 2nd, 2014 at 8:39 AM by admin
After a crazy work week and an extra day of work on Saturday, I was not at all looking forward to packing late at night and then getting up at 5:30am to head to the airport BUT when you are headed to Puerto Rico during the most insanely cold and snowy winter of the past decade, it seems like a small sacrifice to make. Getting up at 5:30am is somewhat hard for a non morning person (ein Morgenmuffel as they’d say in German) like myself but then again it is almost better than 7 or 8 am because at 5:30am I don’t really feel like I’ve been fully asleep yet – ha!


Anyhow, I promptly got up and headed to my disaster of a snowblower. Only having lived in my current house since September, I was a bit worried that I might make permanent enemies with the neighbors for busing out the snowblower at quarter 6 on a Sunday morning but the 4 inches on my driveway were definitely enough to cause issues getting out of the driveway so what are ya gonna do? Let’s see where was I? Ahh yes, so before I could get on with starting the most tempermental piece of machinery I’ve ever known- that is my snowblower, I had to get through the worst ever invention of a gas can that I wish I had never bought. Do you know the ones where you have to twist and pull in order for the gas to even come through the nozzle and then as if that weren’t hard enough to manage the damn thing leeks all over the place no matter how tight I twist the cap on. Seriously? And I presume this invention was supposed prevent spillage? My magical powers of careful pouring have never failed me like this piece of #@*$ invention. Now, getting back to the snowblower that requires a gentle priming and then 10 minute relaxation period before choking and starting or else it will literally blow out parts of the engine (I know because it happened twice before I learned this delicate procedure).


Ok, this has been a major digression in my travel blog as I haven’t even left my house yet, but I just had to share. Needless to say we left the house for the airport about a half an hour later than we should have. We did our best to carefully drive fast on the not so perfectly plowed and salted roads but when we arrived at the airport the line just to drop off baggage (of course we had already checked in online the night before) was like a mile long. My fiance, who is admittedly a bit bolder than myself, immediately asked the next person in line if we could cut. I mean, I probably would’ve picked out person 9-10 but this is why I picked her as a partner, no? She went for the best solution without hesitation. We got lucky and this couple let us cut. After that we were posed with the dilemma that my fiance was TSA pre approved and I was not. With another stroke of luck I got to go through the pre-approved line since we were traveling together. We managed to bypass the huge security line in record time.


After riding the shoulders of my fiance’s great work it was now my turn. I was given the go ahead (yes this has happened before) to then run to the gate so we didn’t lose our seats. Nothing like a marathon run first thing in the morning when you aren’t wearing a bra (so not comfortable on a plane!) I made it with some time to spare so that turned out to be a touch unnecessary but at least we were on the flight.


Once we were on the plane I started to get comfortable and into my “travel routine” if you will. It consists of going to sleep as fast as I possibly can and staying asleep for as long as possible. Sometimes I can manage to not even have to be conscious for take off and landing – what I deem a truly successful travel experience. So I fall asleep for what doesn’t feel like long and realize we haven’t moved yet. The captain comes on the speaker “We are de-icing the plane. Thank you for your patience.” Ok..back to sleep. A few minutes later “We have a mechanical issue and will have to return to the gate.” It is now an hour after our original take off time. Clearly we are not going to make our connection from Atlanta to Puerto Rico. We get off the plane and convince, yes convince the air line agent to put us on standby for a flight that goes out a few hours later even though it was already overbooked. We get lucky again and get on the flight. Pfew… now we have a few hours to spare before we go through the stressful process of getting all ready and then waiting at the gate to see if you will be allowed on the plane. We did, in fact, get lucky again. I will never know if it was my Skymiles that had us as such high priority on the standby list or my fiance who managed to obliviously sneak to the front of every line when we had to rebook flights, but I do know that we make a great team regardless. And this team will be arriving Puerto Rico tonight after all!


No selfies in the airport but stay tuned for pics once we arrive!
Posted on February 22nd, 2013 at 3:31 PM by admin
After a bit of crazy busy time in 2012, my fiance and I finally managed to get away on a real vacation. Not the kind where you actually have work to do but take a few extra days or hours to see some sites and visit cool places, but the kind where the sole purpose of the trip really is to relax and be away from work – YAY! Since we were looking for some sun in the middle of a Midwestern winter, we decided to head to the Dominican Republic. The flights were just about the right price so that we could cover the costs with the vouchers we received last summer after being bumped off a flight to Austin, TX. Both our leaving and return flights routed us through Atlanta so we took advantage by spending our first night in Atlanta with some close friends. We had a wonderful Spanish tapas dinner in Decatur and lots of relax time and good laughs. The next morning we were off to the sunny skies and beautiful beaches of Punta Cana.

The entrance to our hotel

We arrived in the early afternoon and got settled into our hotel. We actually switched hotels at the last minute and don’t at all regret going with the cheaper, but likely equally luxurious option. The MT Hotel suite that we booked was just $70/night! The room was extremely spacious and was equipped with A/C, jacuzzi, free cable, a small table with chairs, mini fridge, safe, walk-in closet. The price even included a small, yet tasty breakfast each morning. The hotel was located in a plaza with 3 restaurants that we also found impressive, especially the small chicken joint (Solo Pollo) and the German bar (Restaurant Bavaria).

Our Suite

...another view

Jacuzzi!!

This place really was a steal with one drawback – the distance to the beach was advertised to be about 2 km, but it was actually about 2 miles. What a difference units make! We walked down to a part of the beach called El Cortecito. Here we found almost all of the restaurants that we saw reviews for online. They were beach-side restaurants as this beach was tiny and there really wasn’t room for anything else…no sun-bathing, playing frisbee, sitting under a palm tree – nothing. You had to either patronize an establishment or be a part of one of the resorts which then had some area extended inland for such activities. We had a drink at one of the locales and then headed back of the road wondering if we could find a taxi back as we were so tired from the walk down.


Taxi? Well we couldn’t exactly find a taxi but we did notice that there were many men and boys taxiing people on mopeds and super small engine motorcycles. Did we really want to hop and and hold on to a stranger’s love handles? No, but it sure seemed to beat the idea of walking home in the dark. I only have a few words to say about it – it was an EXPERIENCE. It made us a bit sad to see these people and the tourist shop owners begging and pleading for money. Outside of the huge gated resorts, it was obvious to us that the country was very poor. As one of the natives told us on our way from the airport to the hotel, the Dominicans have very few public beaches. Most of the coastline is apparently owned by Spaniards who build these huge resorts with walls on all sides. That night we ate at Italian restaurant in our plaza. Gluten-free at this place was challenging, but it was edible for sure.


After learning our surroundings on the first day, we decided we should rent a car to go find the oh-so-rare public beach 25 kilometers north. The beach was called Macao and as soon as we arrived a nice man came and offered us a table, umbrella, two chairs and fresh fish. The fish was quite possibly the best we’d ever had. The chef called it Putu but I have not been able to figure out if it exists elsewhere and if so under what name. We devoured that fish as if we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Yum yum yum! That night we went back down to the Cortecito and had dinner at a French restaurant that had some pretty good reviews. It was romantic despite the view of the road (as opposed the beach!). We had wine, fondue and a nice relaxed evening.

Playa Macao

This beach was simply beautiful

Fresh fish on the beach!

The following day we wanted another adventure and thought we’d try out the suggestion of the woman who rented us our red mini. We drove about an hour south to the south side of the island and took a small motorboat from Bayahibe to Saona Island. It took us about a half an hour and the first 10 minutes were a bit scary. I’ve never hit the water so hard on a boat. My core was tired and my spine was whacked but we did manage to make it without getting too wet and more importantly without falling overboard. On the way we stopped at a natural swimming pool. The water really was as clear as a swimming pool. There we found and took pictures of huge starfish. Very cool! When we finally arrived at the island we were in heaven. The beach we stayed at most of the day truly lived up to its name- Playa Bonita. For lunch we ate fresh lobster, chicken and the traditional accompaniment: tostones (plantains mashed up and fried as little patties). After we got back from the island we had Mojitos and then walked to a public area of the beach to watch the sun set. Another lovely day it was! We went back to our plaza for dinner and were pleasantly surprised at how good the German restaurant was. Naomi had a very flavorful pork chop and I had some German sausage.

Star fish in the natural swimming pool

The palm tree that everyone wanted to model at

Sunset at Bayahibe

On our last day we decided to just stay at the hotel and take in our last bits of the sun pool-side, which really was a great atmosphere as well. It was a well rounded, yet relaxed little trip that didn’t break our bank. Two thumbs up for the Dominican Republic!

last day...at the pool

Posted on November 18th, 2012 at 6:50 PM by admin

Art Museum and Rocky steps

Wow, my last post, of Japan, seems like forever ago. I am happy to say that I finally managed another trip with the justification of going to a work-related conference. No, it was actually a pretty good conference. It had been a long time since I had been to the City of Brotherly Love and this trip, albeit short, ended up being my most thorough Philadelphia trip to date.

Liberty Bell!

Naomi and I spent most of our time in sessions learning about the latest and greatest in foreign language teaching, but when we had a free hour here and there we walked around Philadelphia and saw some historical/touristy sites like the Liberty Bell and the art museum (along with the Rocky steps of course). Also we had some AMAZING food. I gotta hand it to you Phily, you enticed me with your Phily Cheesesteaks but you kept me coming back for me with your Cuban, Chinese Dim Sum, Malaysian wonderfulness and oysters galore!!! Foreign languages, a very walkable city (populated by Philadephians and all the people participating in the Philadelphia Marathon), and culinary delights makes for nearly an ideal weekend away for this lady! Hope to visit you again Philadelphia!  Loved it!

Just beautiful!

Posted on July 6th, 2012 at 6:45 AM by admin
From Hiroshima we took the fastest Shinkansen to to Japan’s former capital–Kyoto. We had free time the first night we arrived and I thought I would finally take the opportunity to look for some shoes. Having heard that it is hard to find large shoe sizes here I mistakenly thought it would be easier to find small sizes. No such luck! But we did find some T-Shirts with cool sayings written in Japanese Kanji. I’ve never payed upwards of $40 for a plain T, but I figured I may never return to Japan so what the heck!?!? We ventured out on a bus that night and then ran out of money paying for the fabulously overpriced T-shirts. So we did what we had come accustomed to doing in Japan–we searched for a 7-Eleven where we could take out money without extra charges. Unfortunately we came to find out that we were in the only place in the entire city where there wasn’t a 7-Eleven within a 10 minute walk. I think we must’ve walked for almost an hour before we found one. We were tired and hungry so we did the only logical thing to do. We decided to buy “Chu hi” a wine-cooler like beverage that you can buy in just about any convenience store. Then we got back on the bus to get closer to home before seeking out a restaurant for dinner. We got lost for a few minutes on the way back since the bus dropped us off in a different spot that we got on but at least we were able to make it back to the hotel. At that point we had no energy to go back out and ended up eating a very good yet expensive hotel meal.

5'1" = Japanese giant

Day 2 in Kyoto was rainy but we still were excited to head out on our optional tour to experience first hand Buddhist Zen meditation and see some of Kyoto’s most famous temples. The rain was ideal for our meditation practice. We did a 10 minute round and then a 15 minute one. It was hard for me to not give into my eczema but in the end I only moved a couple of times. The best part of this experience was when the monk who lead us told us about how he could help us concentrate better if we were having trouble. He then pulled out a huge piece of wood (imagine a rounded off 2×4). One of our guides demonstrated. We were to bow our heads, put our hands together as if we were praying in order to request his help. I thought for sure this piece of wood was going to be used to correct our posture but the monk, who was standing right in front of me, laid the wood on our guide’s back and before I knew it he flogged the man hard about 4 times as I recall. The sound was loud and it looked incredibly painful. I was in such disbelief that I started to laugh. Was this guy for real? Would anyone in our group actually ask for that? Wait. Would anyone ask for that in general?  But they did! I kept seeing his shadow behind me with the piece of wood and had to hold back laughter as I was actually a bit scared this guy was going to hit me even if I didn’t request it. Afterwards another one of our guides told us that he hit her even though she didn’t request it. “Maybe he think I not concentrate enough,” she told us. Wow…

The monk that showed us what zen is really about!


On the way up Fushimi Inari

After our “zen” experience we headed to two temples –Ginkaku ji (Silver Pavilion) and Kinkaku ji (Gold Pavilion). The second temple was particularly special because the outside was covered in 24 carat gold. Even on our overcast day this temple shined. The water and trees behind it only added to this beautiful scenery. It was hard to take pictures in the rain but I thoroughly enjoyed this site. Our temple viewing experience was followed by a traditional Japanese meal. We sat on the floor and everything. We received a variety of small plates of mostly sushi and the main course was tofu that we were to dip in soy sauce with some other herbs to flavor it. It was actually quite good.

Cool rice bowl at lunch...

Naomi on the famous "Philosophers Walk"

love taking pics of flowers in the rain!

Temple visiting in the rain...

Lunch was followed by a visit to the handicrafts center which consisted of two buildings full of Japanese souvenirs. Naomi and I were a bit disappointed as most everything was quite overpriced but we purchased a few gifts there anyway not knowing how much time we’d have to shop later. This visit concluded our tour but we were still pumped to see one more temple–the Fushimi Inari temple. This temple had orange gates one after another leading a pathway up to the top. We got there just before dusk and didn’t have the energy to make it all the way up. It was still very unique and very enjoyable though. Afterwards we ventured out to an izakaya near the hotel. An izakaya is a restaurant in Japan that serves drinks and small plates. The one we went to only had 3 or 4 tables and was full of locals besides us. The server spoke English pretty well and seemed very excited to serve us American tourists. We tried some interesting yakatori (skewered and barbequed meats). It was a great finish to another excellent day!


The next day was our last full day in Japan. We had a wrap-up meeting in the meeting to discuss our experiences as well as provide feedback to the sponsoring organizations and afterwards we were on our own. We decided to head back into town to do some more shopping at slightly more reasonable rates than the handicraft center in order to get the rest of the things we wanted to take back from Japan. It was a nice relaxed day. We even had one last chu hi. That night was our farewell dinner which was another very traditional Japanese meal. We had 90 minutes to consume all the beer and sake we could. I must of had a couple of beers and then 7-8 shots of sake. How I didn’t feel drunk I still do not know but I was still pretty sober when we headed out on the town for some Geisha sighting. One of the guides took us out but Naomi and I got separated from the group when we went into a shop to by a gift. We did manage to see a Geisha on our own…looking pretty raggedy I might add!

Have you ever seen a cane store?!?!


 

Naomi got stuck with all the bags! Even mine..haha

The next morning we only had time to eat breakfast and pack up before heading to the airport. Sayonara Japan. It has been the trip of a lifetime!

Farewell dinner with our guide Mari and our tour buddys Steve and Jan with whom we hung out nearly every day