April 6, 2018
The Garcia Girls visit Japan
Table of Contents
1 Arrival, 2018-03-27, Tokyo
On Tuesday, March 25th our cousins, the Garcia Girls, came for a visit to Japan. We often stay at their parents' place in Washington state when we visit, so we are super excited to show their kids around Japan. Their flight was supposed to arrive at about 5pm, but it was delayed by an hour and didn't get in until 6pm. When I asked them for the reason of the delay, I was pretty surprised: they had been in the air for almost an hour, then turned around. The airline said that they let off a sick passenger before they got going again. I've never seen such a thing happen myself.
I was happy that I recognized the girls, and they seemed to know who I was, so there's that. We headed down to the train station and waited in line to change in the vouchers for the JR Rail Pass. Anyone coming to Japan to visit should at least look into getting a JR Rail Pass. For about the price of a round trip Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto you can get a ticket that lets you ride JR trains for free, even including the Shinkansen (except for the fastest service, "Nozomi" trains, which sadly are also the most frequent). It is an amazing deal, which probably explains why we had to wait for about an hour to exchange the voucher. Once we did though, we were able to go to the Narita express and they could ride that for free.
We met up with Lisa and Alan, and then had Ramen for dinner.
We had a busy evening planned, although that was, to some degree, an accident. I knew that they left on the 24th, and told Lisa that is when they would get here, but of course the flight lands a day after it arrives. Since we were going to travel with them, we thought it would be fun to make it unique, and also do some things that we would enjoy. Alan really loves trains, so we made a reservation on the Izumo Sunrise Express, which is an overnight sleeper car train. They have various classes of service, and we reserved four individual berths. Each berth was super tiny - I could only stand up in the doorway, the rest of the berth was the bed, and my shoulder could almost touch each wall when in bed. It was longer than I was though, for which I was grateful. Lisa and Alan slept together - and the mechanics to get that to work must have been pretty difficult. She said she didn't get much sleep with all his moving around.
The Sunrise Express does have a shower on it, but you have to pre-purchase tickets for the shower from a vending machine. By the time we had settled in the tickets were sold out. Too bad. I hear that the showers are only six minutes long, but I'm sure the girls would have appreciated a shower after the long flight from Seattle. Sadly, they didn't get one.
I changed into the Yukata provided with the berth, prepared for bed, and then laid down. It was a strange feeling, trying to sleep on a moving train. We stopped every once in a while, and I realized that, but I feel like I got some refreshing sleep all the same.
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December 17, 2017
Alan's 6th BirthdayJoetsu line. The Max Toki E4 series of trains is amazing - two floors of seating, carrying about 1634 people when two eight car trains are connected together. I have always wanted to ride in one of those trains up on the second floor. Lisa got us reserved seats in the upper floor - the upper floor are all reserved, and the lower floor is open seating - and we were off. The trains are actually on the way out, and will probably be withdrawn from service sometime in 2018. Right now these monster E4 trains are only in use on the Joetsu line, and all the previous lines that had used them are using newer trains that can go faster. These trains can only go 240 km/h (150 mph) which isn’t fast enough for Japan I guess. The fastest Shinkansen run at about 200 mph now, and around 175 mph is pretty common. I wonder if the newer trains will also be double decker; I somehow doubt it because so far I haven’t seen any plans for those, and they are likely to re-use existing designs I think. Who knows though? The Shinkansen are really popular in Japan, and a lot of effort is put into them, so maybe they will make another really high passenger capacity train. We took the Shinkansen to Takasaki, which was about an hour out of Tokyo. From there we took a special weekend-only Steam Engine train. It ran from Takasaki (a reasonably large city I think - population of about 370,000 people) to the end of the line at Yokokawa. That place has a population of about 600 people unless I am reading the PDF that I found on the web somewhere wrong. At any rate, it was a small little town. When we pulled into the station there was a local high school Taiko group playing Taiko as we came in. It was super cool. Even though it was cold outside, they were out there in short sleeves banging up a storm. We watched them for a while, and got lots of pictures of the train and the local mascots (Silky-chan and the Gunma-ken mascot) and then we went out to a local train attraction: The Usui Pass Railway Park. I couldn’t find any English information about it, but it was a large park (or maybe museum - you had to pay a fee to get in) that had lots of train related stuff. Lots of older trains, you could go inside some of them, and lots of small trains and other things for kids to ride. Which all cost money, but that is to be expected I guess. We walked around and saw some cool old trains, and even rode on their gear-toothed rail car. There is a local track that goes up into the mountains that uses a gear toothed rail apparently - there is a long hiking path that takes you to some scenic spots on it - and the place is a bit famous for that I think. After our time in the train park, we went to get lunch at a place that has been doing Station lunch boxes for the longest amount of time in Japan - 150 years or so. They have a special lunch box called the "Kamomeshi" that was pretty good! The place was called Onogiya I think. We took the steam engine back to Takasaki, but before the train left there was another performance by a local high school Taiko group. The steam train only runs on weekends, and each time it comes there are different groups doing things. The ones that were announced on the board were all Taiko groups, and sometimes there would be those local characters, or maybe not. From Takasaki we took a local train back to Isobe. Apparently Isobe is the place where the Onsen mark was popularized. We had a nice dip in the Onsen before dinner, and played some card cames (Sushi Go and Uno) before having dinner and retiring for the night. In the morning, we had a nice breakfast at the Onsen, and then took the train back to Tokyo. That means catching the once-an-hour local train from Isobe, and then transfering at Takasaki to the Shinkansen for Tokyo. We again rode on the E4 series, but this time it was a single eight car train instead of two of them connected together. We had non-reserved seating this time, which meant that we sat on the bottom floor of the train. You have very little view from the bottom floor - you mostly just see the wall of the Shinkansen track, and when you pull into the station you are literally at level with the platform. It is a bit surreal watching people’s shoes walk by. We then took the usual train route home from Tokyo station, made it back in time for a leisurely afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and had a nice dinner with them. I got a cake at the local cake shop, and we did the Happy Birthday thing. All things considered, quite a success!
December 9, 2017
2017.11 Trip to Korea
November 26, 2017
2017.10 October (work) trip to Taiwan
September 12, 2016
Family trip to Kobe
Friday, 2016-09-09: Arrival in Japan
On September 9th, my father, sister, and her two children arrived in Tokyo for a two week visit. It is rare for family to come all the way to Tokyo, but my dad is going to the International Semiconductor Laser Conference and it is held in Kobe, Japan. Alana and her kids were able to come with him, so we're having a kind of family reunion in Japan!
Since dad is going to Kobe, the whole family will come with him for the first few days. They arrived on Friday night, and L. graciously went to pick them up in our mini van. By the time they arrived back at our place, I had picked up Alan and finished with the day care parent-teacher conference. We all sat down at about 18:30 and I re-heated some Costco pizza. I had also ordered two rental futons, and we were able to lay out half of the living room as a large sleeping area. Our visitors fell asleep almost immediately, which was great, because the following day would be a big travel day.
Saturday, 2016-09-10: From Tokyo to Kobe
We planned to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kobe. Alana and Dad both bought JR Rail Passes for a week, and our kids (Alan 4, Aurelia 2, and Scout 5) are young enough to not need a seat; they can ride on an adult's lap. There was a 9:10 train that we could ride. We did have one complication: the plan was to stop in Nagoya for lunch to meet family friends. I had arranged all of that, and purchased non-reserved tickets for my wife and I, so all we had to do was get to Shinagawa station sufficiently early to exchange our JR rail passes and catch the train.
There is a bus stop right near our house that takes us to Shinagawa station, so we caught that at about 8:10, and got to Shinagawa station at about 8:25 or so. Unfortunately, the JR Rail Pass voucher exchange doesn't open until 9am at Shinagawa station! So after all our planning to get there early, we did a lot of waiting. Also, I didn't remember, but the JR Rail Pass only allows you access to the Hikari and Kodama trains, not the fastest (and most frequent!) Nozomi trains. The Hikari train that would get us to Nagoya in time for our lunch was sold out of reserved seats, so we just had to take our luck on non-reserved seating.
We were able to make it to the platform in time for the 9:11 Hikari train, so that was fine. But the train was at capacity, and the seven of us had to stand! And it was literally standing room only! The kids were able to find a little cubby hole in between two sets of seats, so that was great, but the rest of us stood. Luckily, about and hour and a bit after departure at Shizuoka station many people got off, and we secured seats. The Shinkansen is a really great travel experience. I highly recommend it.
We arrived at Nagoya in time for lunch, and had a very nice lunch with the Maeda family, Mr., Ms., and their daughter Ryoko were able to make it. After a relaxed lunch, we caught another Shinkansen on to Kobe, where there was a complimentary shuttle bus to our hotel, the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. Interestingly, my dad came to this hotel in 1983 for the same conference with mom just when the hotel had first opened - they were still apparently finishing a few things up at the time! Thirty years later it is still a nice hotel.
We were all pretty tired, so we took a walk to the nearby mall and got dinner there. The complex there has a ferris wheel, and from the hotel you get a very nice view of it. The ferris wheel has a neat lighting system which they use to put on little shows every once in a while.
I also snuck out after Alan fell asleep and got a drink with my Twin Sister at the View Bar which has, as expected, a nice view. (Keep going down to see more text. And pictures.)
Sunday, 2016-09-11: Himeji Castle
On Sunday, we took an organized trip to Himeji Castle. It is about an hour away from Kobe by bus. We stopped first for lunch at a hotel, and did the standard Japanese buffet lunch thing. They had an ice cream machine, and real ice cream too, so everyone left happy.
The castle itself was great. The grounds of the castle is quite large, and we had a long walk to get there from the parking lot, but it was a very pretty walk. The castle itself has six levels, and very steep stairs up each level. The interior itself doesn't have much in the way of exhibits or history to see, but it is all very old. The wood is worn completely smooth. Alan really enjoyed having us pull him along the floor, skiing style. There is a nice model of the grounds on the first floor, and a few other things scattered around, but as you ascend the floors get smaller and smaller. I'm actually really curious about how the castle was itself used on a day to day basis back three hundred years ago. Did the Shogun live at the top? It is fairly difficult to access!
The crowd was pretty heavily, and we actually got split up into a few groups as we went. Lisa, Alan, and I arrived at the top and there is a small temple there. We made a small donation and then headed down. Going down takes a while too - the stairs are no less steep.
On the bus ride home, Alan fell asleep on his cousin's shoulder. Lisa and I went to the Sogo department store and got some Onigiri for dinner. Not the super cute Hello Kitty inari-zushi! Alana and dad at the stuff we got them, and then Lisa, Alan, and I decided to try the super fancy restaurant at the top of the hotel that specializes in Steak. In particular, Kobe Beef. The three of us went up, and had a very nice dinner on the Teppan-yaki grill with a personal chef. The dinner was cooked in front of us, and our Chef was very nice. He was kind to Alan, and made a special large fire presentation for him. The vegetables were great, and the beef was delicious. It was very tender, and just melted in my mouth. It was great with the salts, and there were also some sauces (Ponzu, Soy Sauce, and Wasabi) if you preferred those. The view from the restaurant was very nice, with a nice view of the bay and boats. After cooking the meat, the chef cooked up some delicious garlic rice. I was super stuffed from the earlier lunch buffet, but I finished all the meat. And a good portion of the garlic rice, but not all of it. I was sad to leave it, but thought that was the smarter choice for the evening.
February 10, 2016
2016-02-06 Trip to Sapporo.
A long time ago, back in October of 2015, I heard that a new Shinkansen was being built that would connect Tokyo to Sapporo. Good news! Actually, reading the information in Wikipedia (hopefully that stays about the same as when I read it) what is opening in March this year is the Shinkansen up to Shin-Hakodate, and the extension all the way to Sapporo isn’t supposed to be complete until 2030!
At any rate, that also means though that a luxury train that goes from Ueno to Sapporo overnight called the Cassiopeia, would be discontinued. That is too bad. Two or three years back another overnight train (I believe from Kyoto to Tokyo, and then maybe on to Saporro) was discontinued. When I saw that on TV I thought it would be super cool to take the family on a trip on a train like that. So once I heard that the Cassiopeia would be discontinued, I really wanted to get a reservation on the train for the family.
So I looked into it. Turns out a lot of people had the same idea as I did. So JR instituted a lottery system for reservations. I looked at the schedule, and thought about what would be fun to do. Since I also have always wanted to go to the Snow Festival in Sapporo I arranged for a two day (or three depending on how you looked at it) three night stay (including the train, if we got that) in Sapporo. I figured it would be easier to get train tickets on the way back to Tokyo instead of on the way there, so I decided to fly there, and take the train back. JR takes reservations a month before the actual date, so I had to wait.
Until I heard back in January at some time that we didn’t get the reservation on the Cassiopia train. Well, we did still have the airline reservation and the hotel reservation, and the JR travel agent could help me set up a train trip back to Tokyo, so I arranged for that. I was a bit rushed on the phone, and later realized that I should have done something a bit different - instead of flying there on Saturday morning, then taking the train back to Tokyo on Monday as I would have with the Cassiopia schedule, I should have taken a train to Hakodate and stayed overnight there before completing the train journey back to Tokyo. As it is now, we will have three trains: Sapporo to Hakodate, Hakodate to Shin Aomori, and Shin Aomori to Tokyo, taking a total of about 10 hours! Still, Alan likes trains, and so do I, so I think we’ll still have a great time.
So on Saturday morning, we got up at about 6am, and started to get ready to go. We had a 9:30am flight from Haneda airport to Shin-Chitose airport. There is a bus that goes from basically right in front of our house to Haneda airport (the Keikyuu Limosine) so we caught that at 7:39am, and got to the airport at about 8:00am. We exchanged our vouchers for the flight, and hung out at Haneda airport for about 40 minutes before boarding. The flight to Shin-Chitose took all of an hour and a half (compare this to the ten hours or so it will take for us to return on five different trains!) and from Shin-Chitose we could take an express airport train to Sapporo that takes about 39 minutes. Normally we could, but there were so many people with the same idea that we had that the first train departing was already full, and reserved seats for the next one were sold out. We lined up and waited the 15 minutes it took for the next train to come, and somehow managed to real seats for all three of us.
Of course, Alan left his bag back at the airport. I knew we should have made him take his backpack instead. (We called the airport later and they were kind enough to mail it back to our house, so we should see it again at some point.)
We got in to Sapporo and checked in to the hotel - it was only a few minutes walk from the station. A very cold walk. We then went out in search of lunch. Alan wanted to try some Ramen, and Lisa had some recommendations from friends who had lived in Sapporo. We went to a place called “Kiraito” ramen, in a neat shopping arcade two stops away from Sapporo station. It was really good! It was a small Ramen place that had only four things on the menu: Miso Ramen, Salt Ramen, Soy Sauce Ramen, and rice. The rice is just normal white rice, so it probably shouldn’t even count as a menu item. It was really good Ramen though. I’m not a professional ramen eater, so I couldn’t give you a review of the place, but it was good. I’m sure people more familiar with Ramen would be able to tell you the difference between a typical Ramen you would get in Tokyo compared to this, but I certainly can’t. I’m not even sure if that was typical Sapporo ramen, or what that would be.
After lunch, we headed over to Oodori park, where the Snow Festival is held. They have a lot of stands selling things, and every block or so there is a big snow sculpture. There were lots of people. You can only walk in one direction, so be careful about that. If you see a thousand people walking in the opposite direction that you are going, you should cut through the park and go to the other side. We got our picture taken at the big Church modeled after some church in Macao, and saw a few more sculptures. I wanted to check out the Shinkansen sculpture, and that was pretty cool. We were getting really cold though, so we walked back to the hotel, and picked up some pocket hand-warmers and foot warmers for the second try in the afternoon. On the way back we cut through a park that had a whole bunch of igloos with art installations inside. It was really neat! They were also passing out hot conbuchya (conbu tea - basically salty seaweed tea, not my thing) and hot Calpis (hot water mixed with Calpis - surprisingly good!)
After a bit of break, we headed back out. It was dark out now, and a bit colder, but with a whole bunch of hand and foot warmers and a back warmer strapped on, it wasn’t as bad as the first time out. Since it was dark now, many of the larger sculptures were using projection-mapped projectors to add color and animation to the sculpture. The one for the Shinkansen was really cool! There were lots of people though, and I was getting mad at people who would push by my while I’m holding up Alan so he could see.
We planned for dinner at a fresh fish Izakaya, and headed out that way. One the way we stopped at the exhibit near the start of the park sponsored by the White Lovers confectionary group. It was a huge ramp and they have a snowboard exhibition. A whole bunch of snowboarders were doing tricks off the jumps and stuff there. What was really amazing is that the first kid down was 10 years old, and he did a back flip in the air. A ten year old kid. That is just crazy. Apparently, kids can start (and often do!) snowboard or skiing lessons here from age 4. Wow.
We were getting pretty cold again, but instead of walking to the restaurant above ground, we decided to pop down into the Sapporo underground. The underground is really amazing, about the length of two train stops, from Sapporo station to Oodori station. It goes all over the place. We were able to walk about 95% of the way from the park to the restaurant.
Dinner was at a small Izakaya with a real local vibe. I wish people hadn’t been smoking there though. That is unfortunately a common complaint in Japan though. I discovered a new Japanese food that is totally disgusting and that I will avoid in the future. イカワタのルイベ. It is basically taking the guts of a squid, and freezing it, and then slicing it thin. Maybe they do some other things. It is disgusting. The rest of the food was good though, very nice Sashimi, and some good fried chicken and fish. I ate too much, truth be told. We took the underground back to the hotel and rolled into bed.
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January 30, 2016
2016 January trip to Naganothe HiSE 1000, was built in 1986 and stayed in service until about 2012. The Japanese wikipedia entry on them is unsurprisingly much more detailed than the English one. I really like that these older trains (but not as old as I thought! I was guessing late 70s!) are still being used on a smaller rail line. From Yudanaka station it was a quick 5 minute ride to the Yamazakiya Ryokan. The owner Akira is really nice, and came to meet us in his van. It is a nice two story Ryokan, pretty small with the family that runs it living in it. They have two (or three?) cute kids that are running around and look like they would like to play with Alan. Across the street is an onsen. They warned us that it was pretty hot, 42 or 43 degrees C. That is what we keep our bath set to at home, so I figured it would be fine, but wow, either their thermometer is broken or ours is. That onsen was HOT. After a dip in the Onsen we went out to dinner. Just up the road was a Ramen place, run by an older woman. We were the only customers and she seemed a bit worried at first, but once we spoke some Japanese she was a bit relieved, and we got some ramen, fried rice, and gyoza. Pretty nice! We had a nice dinner, and chatted with the owner for a bit. She was very friendly and happy to talk. As we left she gave Alan two little cookies and a huge Fuji apple. We got back to the Ryokan a bit late, near 9pm. Alan really wanted to eat the apple, so he went at that for about 30 or 40 minutes, and at that point I forced him into the bath. The Ryokan has onsen too, and the temperature there was much more reasonable. It was great actually. Alan enjoyed it a bunch too. We got back to the room and did the standard bed routine, but when I turned on the TV “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was just starting and Alan was super interested in it. We watched for just a little bit before bedding down at 10pm. Alan slept soundly until I woke him at 7:15am. We agreed at breakfast at that time because the plan for Saturday was to go to a nearby Ski park and play in the snow. We had a nice breakfast at 7:30am consisting of standard Ryokan fare: some fish, rice, a nice soup, maybe some pickled vegetables, a nice mountain yam, a small vegetable salad, and some tea. It was nice quite nice. The grilled fish was Salmon I think, and also great.
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February 28, 2015
2015 Austin and Dallas tripAAAI conference in Austin, TX. Since my father lives in Dallas, it was a great chance to bring the family and take a bit of a vacation. So, we all flew out from Tokyo to Dallas, about a 12 hour flight. That is quite a bit longer than the 9 or so that we are used to when going to the West coast, but because the flight we were on was direct NRT -> DFW, and the plane left late Alan slept most of the way, and it wasn't really all that bad. We arrived at Dallas, rented a car, and drove to my dad's place. That first night we had dinner at Love and War in Texas. Lisa got the large beer, and it was very, very large. The steaks were also quite large. That turned out to be a theme all through our stay at Texas, lots of food. Lots of good food. On Monday we drove down to Austin, a nice four hour drive. We stopped at one of the nice rest areas on the way, and it had a really nice park with a neat playground for Alan to play on. We were on a relaxed schedule and didn't get in to Austin until the evening. I'm not going to talk about the conference - it was a nice conference, and had a lot of NLP that was relevant to work. Interestingly it also had a few robots on display, and Alan really liked watching them. There was a robocup soccer game that Alan thought was great. Robots! Playing soccer! The next day for lunch I met up with Lisa and Alan, and we walked across the river to 2nd street. We had lunch at La Condessa who had a great guacamole sampler. Lisa and Alan went to Zilker Park once when I was at the conference, and I have photographic evidence that they also went to the Capital building. One evening we went out and visited from friends who live down by the Whole Foods. We stopped there once or twice over the week, and got some snacks / dinner / breakfast. It is a nice Whole Foods. Another evening we went out for Ramen. That was certainly and experience. The ramen was pretty good, but the atmosphere was very different from what you get in Tokyo. More like a club with upbeat music and lots of open seating, as opposed to the small, cramped counter-only seating you usually get in Tokyo. It was also a very Austin college crowd. It made me feel old. The ramen was good though.
Midway Food Park, a neat little place where there are a bunch of food trucks hanging out in a park. It was pretty cool. They also had a nice playground that Alan spent some time at. On the drive back to Texas we detoured a bit and swung by Taylor, Texas to eat a late lunch at Louie Mueller BBQ. That was a great meal - paper for plates, great sauce, really good bbq, nice pickles, really great pulled pork (excellent when you made a little sandwich with the pickles and bread.) The place has had some great reviews, and makes the Texas Monthly list of top 10 BBQs in the state. It was definitely worth the extra 40 minutes or so to head off the highway. The town it is in is also a small, cute country town. Lots of open country on the drive around there too.
the West End Hoffbrau Steak House. I used to really like the place back when they had the Cow Bus that ran from the Steak House over to Reunion Area for the games. I would take mom there every once in a while and we would go to a game together. Anyway, we all went out to the Steak House, and it was good, but unfortunately one of their specialties was out for the night. Still, good food, and they had nice play mats for Scout and Alan to draw on while the adult ate. We had to quickly catch the DART for one or two stops to get from the West End to Victory Station, but that wasn't too tough. I was really excited to meet Dad at the American Airlines Center because then we had three generations of Evans men watching basketball together! That was great! Alan was excited to watch because I often watch the Mavs back at home, so he recognized the floor there. I was a bit worried that the area would be too loud for Scout, but he had a good time. The Mavs won, but I don't think that was what was important to Alan and Scout. I think they enjoyed the timeout entertainment as much as anything else, and walking around the arena was fun too. A month later Alan still talks about it - we were up high, "like a tree". They also really liked the popcorn. I'm surprised anyone could eat anything after the large dinner, but we somehow finished off an order of popcorn. I think Lisa's friends enjoyed it too, although I doubt they had ever watched a basketball game before. By the time we got home, Alan and Scout were both exhausted, which made things a bit difficult, but we all managed. It was lots of fun, and I'm sure I'll remember that night for a long time.
Watch the above video first. Then watch the one below. The video below is of us watching the video above and trying to do the Youkai Watch dance.
Southern Methodist University where I went as an undergrad (along with both my sisters) and where my father still teaches. We stopped by his building, and did a quick tour of the clean room. We also met up with a photographer who took our pictures. Unfortunately, it was raining, but she was great and we came away with some really nice group shots. Since we only get together maybe once every few years i really like that the last time or two we have had professional photo shoots done. We met up with even more family at the Red Lobster for dinner, and had a great time there. On our last day we all headed to the airport and started the long trek back home to Japan. It was a really great trip to Dallas, and lots of fun to see family. Alan is still talking about all the fun he had with cousin Scout and his Aunts, as well as Lisa's friends who were just great with the kids. We try to facetime with family on the weekends, but nothing replaces actually being there.
November 16, 2014
A trip to Nikko with the family
November 15, 2014
A Business Trip to China
April 5, 2014
Family Trip to Ishigaki
Last weekend, the family went for a trip to Ishigaki, Okinawa. I had never been to Okinawa at all before, and was pretty excited for the trip. Our friend Mibe was getting married, so we flew out Saturday, the wedding was Sunday, and then we stayed through Wednesday.
Ishigaki is about as far South East from Tokyo that you can get and still be in Japan. It is super close to Taiwan. Maybe the embedded Google Map to the left shows that, but I was surprised at how far away it is - a three hour flight from Tokyo!
Alan was super excited to fly on the plane. He had a great time. The ANA flight attendant gave him a cute little airplane toy, which he played with the whole time we were there (and which now I can't find.) Unfortunately, we checked out stroller on as baggage, and it came out broken. Lisa talked with them, and they said they would fix it.
We rented a car and headed out to the hotel. I think you could drive around the entire island in about four hours, and mostly it takes that long because the majority of the island has a 40 km/hr speed limit. We were staying at a nice hotel where the wedding would take place, right on the ocean. They didn't really have a nice beach, but we could walk down to the water, going over a little seawall and down to some rocky shores.
We had some great food - Ishigaki is well known for Beef - and had a lot of Orion beer.
The wedding was outdoors, and beautiful. I'm sure if you know the couple you can find some pictures somewhere. Alan was a trooper and didn't make much of a fuss during the wedding, which was pretty quick as far as those things go. I got sunburned, since I of course forgot to put on sunscreen. As always.
The standouts from this trip include a Glass Boat ride, which Alan really loved. He loved all the boats really - including a ferry we took. On the glass boat ride Alan would point to a fish, and then pretend to eat it, along with the accompanying eating sound.
We had two really nice dinners, one early on at Hitoshi which specializes in Maguro. It was great. We also had a nice Yakiniku dinner, but I can't remember the name of the place.
Another memorable moment was when we took a ferry to Taketomi Island and went on an ox-cart ride. The island is tiny. It was lots of fun though.
We did safely make it back to Tokyo, exhausted. We survived a five day vacation with a two year old, and it was great! I would still like to check out Naha, Okinawa, and see how it compared to Hawaii. I don't know when we will get a chance to do that though.
August 2, 2013
On the road: Seattle to Dallas in a 1951 Pontiac
My dad has two cars that are in Washington state: a 1951 Pontiac, and a 1954 Hudson Hornet. The Pontiac is a car that his dad (my grandfather, Chet Evans) took delivery of when he owned the garage part of the Pontiac dealership (McGillvrae Pontiac, Omak, WA), and he drove it to the dealership from Oregon before it was passed on to the original owner, after Chet installed accessories: seat covers, backup lights and possibly the heater.
My dad then bought that very same car from the original owner (who lived in Okanogan, WA) in 1978 and used it while he was teaching at the UW in Seattle. When we moved back to California in 1979, the Pontiacc was left with Grandpa in Omak, and he drove it with some regularity until the late 1990s, at which time the engine was getting low on compression and the car sat in my grandparents’ garage.
Last year after she passed, we had the Pontiac and Hudson moved to a place near Spokane, where we had work done on them to make them mechanically safe for the trip to Dallas.
The Pontiac has had a lot of work, the engine was rebuilt, the pistons cylinders were bored out, the transmission was re-built, the brakes were re-done, the front suspension was rebuilt, seatbelts were added to the seats, and so on. This summer it was ready, and timing worked out such that I would be in Seattle for work in late July.
So dad and I decided to drive the Pontiac down to Dallas, TX from Seattle, WA to get it where it needed to go.
Table of Contents
1 2013-07-23 Getting Started
I checked out of the hotel at 7:00am, and dad and I loaded up the car. We got on the road, and took I-90 out of town. We made a quick stop in Issaquah and took a few pictures of the Pontiac in front of an old Shell station that we saw there when we met some cousins for dinner once. Things went pretty well on the road, although going over Blewett pass the Pontiac had some trouble, slowing down to maybe 45mph or so. I think that's a pretty good pace for a car that is 62 years old.
We wanted to get some shopping done, but stopped for lunch first at Perkins in Ellensburg, WA.
We had wanted to find a grocery store or something, but got turned around and just ended up back on the highway. We decided to go through to Moses Lake where there was a Walmart super-center, which we thought would have just about everything we wanted.
We got an ice chest, and some ice. Some grapes, bananas, M&Ms, and water. We also got clip-on sunglasses (useful on the road!) some paper towels, mechanic's hand cleaning grease, a bunch of wrenches and a tool set, and a seat cushion for the driver. The seat cushion seemed to help Dad, but seems about the same to me. With the ice chest on the bench seat between us, we were set up pretty good.
Dad also had the radio fixed on the Pontiac. It is still the original vacuum tube radio, but there is also an ipod input on it – although the input works by connecting to the antenna input and not directly to the amplifier section. Line in didn't exist in 1951! The ipod to radio interface works pretty well, so we've been listening to some podcasts as well. The one problem is that if you have the air vents, both side windows, and both windows open, it is a bit noisy in the car and hard to hear. It is still possible though.
From Moses Lake we drove on to Spokane, and then continued on I-90 through Idaho, and into Montana. In Montana we started up another pass, but this time in the later afternoon. We slowed down a bit again, but seemed to be going ok. On the road there were a whole bunch (maybe six!) hot rodded custom model-As and model-Ts. They were from Spring Creek, TX. We'll have to check when we get internet access to see where that is, and whether we can stop there on our trip to Dallas.
On the final ascent of the pass, the temperature shot up. Generally the temperature climbs pretty high when we were going up the pass, so we would turn on the heater to max and turn on the fan to help cool down the engine. I didn't really notice a difference when the heater was on; the car was already hot, and we already had hot air blowing around, but it did seem to help the engine temperature a bit.
Probably about a mile away from the top of the pass, the engine started cutting out, and our speed fell down to about 20mph. I pulled over to the side of the highway, and shortly after the engine died.
We got out and popped the hood - the engine had definitely overheated, and the coolant blew out the overflow system's cap. It didn't look like we had an oil leak, which was good. Dad spent some time looking at some stuff, he removed the air filter and confirmed that the choke was set appropriately. (The Pontiac has an automatic choke, but it makes sense to check it.) We were also running low on gas, but verified that gas was being pumped into the carburetor. Potentially the fuel pump is a bit weak, and Dad was talking about maybe putting an electric fuel pump in once he gets the thing to Texas. Other things that might be a problem include: a clogged fuel pump, a bad coil, vapor lock (maybe related to the fuel pump, but also just because it ran hot.)
We took some time off, dad got in a quick run, I read some stuff on the kindle, and after an hour or two of a nice break – we had a chance to eat some fruit and other stuff – the car started up again. We were able to get going again, but did have another fifteen minute break when the engine quit for a second time on a second uphill portion. We pulled into a station and picked up some 50/50 antifreeze and water, filled up the gas tank, and took off again.
We pulled in to Missoula at about 22:00, and we visited with a friend of dad's before heading to a hotel.
Tomorrow we plan to change the oil, change the potentially clogged up fuel filter, and replace the coil. Then we head back out.
So today was pretty good: from 07:00 to 22:00 on the road, with a nice break on the side of the road in the middle, from Seattle, WA to Missoula, MN.
2 2013-07-24 Missoula to Ennis
In the morning Dad took the Pontiac to a shop and got the oil changed, changed the oil filter, and he changed the electrical coil. The first time he changed the coil, the car wouldn't start, but then he pulled it and put it on again and it worked. Seems a lot like debugging a program.
We got on the road, and things were good. We had lunch, and then had some trouble starting the car. Dad bought some starting fluid, and that helped a lot. So we drove some more but got stopped on an uphill climb. We did the same things we've done before (waited) and got back on the road after two hours or so.
Not too much after that the engine died again. This time dad pulled apart the carburetor, and there was a piece of the accelerator pump in the carburetor bowl. While we were working on this, a guy stopped on the road behind us. He has a '51 Pontiac as well, and he and his wife gave us some tips on stopping in Ennis. They have a NAPA auto parts store with a guy there that knows a lot about old cars, so maybe there will be some help there.
We have a few other ideas about what we can do to help the car. Insulate the metal fuel line since it seems like we are vapor locking when it gets too hot. We can also try to put some wooden clothespins on that fuel line to help radiate the heat, which is apparently a well known (but likely totally ineffective) solution as well. Also, we can try higher grade fuel. Older cars weren't designed to work with the high ethanol levels in modern fuel, and maybe higher grade fuel will help with that.
We did make it to Ennis, and stopped at the hotel that was recommended to us, ate at the restaurant that was recommended to us, and checked on when the NAPA auto parts that was recommended to us opens.
Things aren't looking too great, because the Pontiac has also now started stalling when you idle it. Maybe the idle is too low for some reason, although it is hard to figure out why.
Anyway, we'll see what happens tomorrow!
3 2013-07-25 Ennis to Yellowstone, with a lot of luck in between
We went to the Napa Auto Parts store at 8:00am when they opened up, and asked about parts for the Pontiac. We wanted to get a rebuild kit for the carburetor and an electric pump. They didn't have anything for the carburetor (we would have been shocked if they did) but they did have some electric fuel pumps. 12 volt ones. The Pontiac runs on 6 volts, but dad thought that a 12 volt pump would work, it would just work at about half capacity. We had some discussion with one of the guys at the shop who was pretty adamant that it would not work, and quoted Ohm's law. Dad knows that law pretty well, and tried to talk a bit about it, but in the end we didn't get in to any arguments and I was happy that nobody trotted out whatever degrees they might have (I think between the two of us we have 2 undergraduate Electrical Engineering degrees, and one PhD in Electrical Engineering, as well as a few other degrees not worth mentioning.) We didn't get anything at the Napa store, and headed out to the other store in town.
The other place didn't have anything that was helpful either, although they could have had a 6 volt fuel pump sent overnight. It wasn't clear whether they would be able to install it the next day. Installing the fuel pump (in line with the existing mechanical one) is a bit of a job: you have to mount it, maybe move some hoses or lines around, run electrical power to it, maybe mount a switch for it, drill some holes to get wires where they need to go, and so on. Maybe a 1-3 hour job on a good day.
While we were at the shop, we picked up some insulating wrap used to wrap exhaust headers. We thought that would help keep the fuel line cool. One of the guys there also told us that he had problems with vapor locking, and one thing that worked was to put some transmission fluid in the gas – that raises the density of the gas and raises the flash point so it is a bit harder to vaporize it. We put the wrap on the fuel line (with the help of some duct tape – and I actually did the wrapping myself) in the parking lot of the parts store. Hopefully that was helpful. It couldn't hurt anyway.
We went back to the hotel and made a few calls to parts stores in Bozeman, which is the nearest large city, and was recommended as a place that might have a 6 volt fuel pump. One place actually did have a 6 volt fuel pump in stock, and we asked about whether they knew a place that would install it. It turns out they did, and the guy could do it the same day! We told them we would be there in about an hour (it was 50 miles away) and we packed up.
After we got some gas (premium) we headed down the road to Bozeman. And the car stalled. On a straightaway. Actually, I should mention that yesterday, after putting the carburetor back together, I thought something was funny with the gas pedal. It seemed like it wouldn't go down as far as it used to, like something was stopping it about halfway down. Dad took a try at driving, and agreed that it felt strange, but after stomping on it a few times it was back to normal. That was yesterday, when basically we just limped up a bit of a hill and then went downhill from there.
Well, after the car pulled over about 800 meters from the hotel that we started at, we popped the hood and took a look. Part of the accelerator linkage was bent, and that is when Dad noticed that the previous day he had installed the linkage that sets the idle and fast idle (and is part of the automatic choke system) improperly when he put the carburetor back together! That explains why the pedal wouldn't go all the way down - until it was forced and bent the linkage. And explains why the car wouldn’t idle…
Dad used some duct tape to secure the automatic choke linkage out of the way and we were able to just barely limp up the mountain, then coast down to the flats. Bozeman was about 50 miles away, and we had a few more mountains in the way. There were some close calls where I didn't think we would make it, but in the end we were just able to clear the final uphill parts of the road, and we got to Bozeman probably at about 11:00am.
The parts store there did have a 6 volt fuel pump. We also picked up some other miscellaneous stuff, and then headed over to the shop (next door) run by a guy out of his garage. He had a truck up and had pulled the rear end on it. He took a look at the Pontiac, but was a bit negative when he realized that the job wasn't to swap out an electric fuel pump, but to install one where we never had one in the first place. That is a significantly harder job. He wasn't sure he would be able to get the car done since he had other business to finish, but after hearing out story he said he would take a look at it.
The mechanic's name was Jason, and he was just great. He was a younger guy, but really knew his stuff when talking about these older engines. He grew up working on cars apparently, and managed to move around his schedule so he could start on the pump installation right then. While he did that dad I did some work on the accelerator linkage—basically repairing the damage that we had self inflicted the previous day. We had bought some parts previously that we needed to properly reconnect the linkage, so after bending it back into place, we checked back in with Jason. He said he need an hour or two more, so we went off to lunch.
When we got back Jason was done! The pump was in, he had a switch installed nicely under the dash, and it worked great. We paid him (and gave a nice tip for all the trouble we caused him) and took off, headed for Yellowstone National Park.
I cannot stress just how amazing Jason was. He was fun to chat with, really knew his stuff, worked very quickly, and went out of his way to get us on the road again. It was really just amazing when you consider that there is no reason that any parts store really should have a 6 volt fuel pump. Those are just rare. We were very lucky that there was one near us, at a place that we could limp to in the Pontiac. Then we were super lucky that there was someone that could install it for us. That isn't the kind of job that you can do (or would want to do) easily on the roadside. You need a shop with a lift or at least a jack, power tools to cut some holes, wiring, all sorts of stuff. It is really amazing that we were able to find the right combination of parts and labor to get the Pontiac back on the road.
And it was really back on the road. We had a few hills in between us and Yellowstone, and it took them like a champ. Before, you could only give the car a little bit of gas. If you gave it too much it would cough, act like it wasn't getting any gas (which is wasn’t), and start to die. It would do that too if you just gave it a little bit of gas, it would still do that, but you could get a lot further. A bit further.
Now, if you put the pedal to the floor it would downshift and give you all it got. The engine is about 90 horsepower, so if you are used to a modern musclecar, or even just a modern* car, that isn't really much, but with the electric fuel pump (and our additional ad-hoc modifications like a wrapped fuel line, transmission fluid in the gas (only once), and premium gas) it would now power up the mountain and only lose a bit of speed. Down to about 50 instead of 20mph (or stalled.) We had lots of ups and downs, but the Pontiac took them all like a champ. We probably crossed the Continental Divide about 10 times.
Clearly this is what was giving us our problems. Before when you climbed a hill, the car would slow down, and the engine temperature would rise. Now the temperature stays pretty constant and you can go at a reasonable speed up the hill. That fits in well with what we suspect: the mechanical fuel pump wasn't able to supply enough fuel, making the engine run lean, raising the temperature, causing misfires, reducing the engine speed causing the fuel pump to pump less, reducing the fuel supply, etc. Now, we have enough fuel and the engine temperature doesn't rise.
It was just an amazing feeling. It took a while, but it even got to the point where we didn't start to worry at approaching mountains.
We made it to the Yellowstone entrance, and dad got a 65+ lifetime pass to all national parks for $10. That is cheaper than normal admission. He has no excuse not to come back. We drove around and stopped at a few places. There was one really neat geyser, and we met some nice people. Everyone seemed to like the car.
We decided that there isn't anyway way we could stay at the Old Faithful Inn (they book up in advance pretty quick) but we wanted to check at the lodge for some souvenirs and ask about a room anyway. It was about 17:30 when we pulled in to the parking lot. The place is just beautiful, old wood, huge. We asked at the registration desk whether there were any rooms open, and they said no, they had just turned some people away right before us. We asked if there were any other places to stay in the park – as young kids we stayed with the family in some cabins, and there are other places to stay here. They checked, and while they were doing that, a room at the Old Faithful Inn opened up! There was a cancellation, so we took it right away. Amazing! Our luck today has been unbelievable. Perhaps it is some sort of karmic payback for the vapor locking and hours that we have spent on the side of the road (about 6 over two days and three "stops".)
So we decided to go for a loop around the park. There is a highway that circles the park. Going by the map I guess that the full loop is about 160 miles or so. There is also a road that cuts the park in half, for about a 80 mile loop. We thought we could do that and get back by 21:00 or so. The restaurant in the Inn closes at 22:00, so we thought we would try to look around the park and come back for dinner.
We headed out and the car was great. A champ on the mountains. We saw some Bison, got out and looked at some geysers, saw an old bus (it was actually on a new chassis and engine, maybe a modern bus but made to look like the old ones) and stopped for a picture at one of the Continental Divide signs. We had crossed the Continental Divide a few times already, but didn't stop because we were going to fast. This time we were able to stop. While there we met some guys riding their bikes from Oregon to Vermont. Crazy! Two more guys cycled up and they were riding from Washington state to Argentina. Or something impossible like that (isn't there an ocean in the way?) They were all really great guys, and took some pictures of us, and then were interested in the Pontiac so we took some pictures of them. Lots of fun.
We finally did make it back to the hotel at 21:20, almost exactly three hours after we left. You could easily take a lot longer than that if you wanted to stop to get out and look at things. A full loop of the park would probably take 6 or 7 hours just driving, much longer if you actually stopped to look at stuff.
We're in the hotel room now, and while there isn't any tv or internet access, that is just about how a place like this should be.
The plan tomorrow is to get up and go for a run, then take some pictures at Old Faithful, hopefully with the Pontiac in them. Then we'll head south and see how far we can get.
Things are looking up!
4 2013-07-26 Buffaloed by buffalo
This morning dad and I got up at about 6:30am and went out for a "run". We went at dad's pace, so a brisk walk. We did about 5km out around Old Faithful and the surrounding geyser area. It was a really nice walk, with lots of interesting things to look at and some interesting signs about the geysers. It was a bit chilly, but we had enough to talk about and look at to keep our minds off of the cold.
On the way back to the hotel, within sight of it actually, we saw a strangely shaped rock in the distance. Getting closer, it turns out it was a statue of a buffalo. Getting closer, it was a buffalo. A real buffalo. That was looking at us funny. We probably should not have worn bright yellow and red shirts. A park ranger was there and yelled at us to keep at least 25 yards away. I have no idea what that distance is. We took some pictures and edged around behind the buffalo. Amazing. Just amazing.
We then packed up the Pontiac and headed out. The trip down to the South exit was very pretty. We weren't always even the slowest car on the uphills (but probably we usually were.) We drove out through the exit, and then went through the Grand Teton national park. Those mountains were amazing. There was nothing on the road until we hit Jackson Hole, where we got some gas and lunch from the Albertson's supermarket. Then we headed on to Pasoga Springs, Colorado, where a friend of dad's lives.
We were doing great, until somewhere around Utah I noticed that there was a burning smell - I had noticed it a bit before, but thought it was a forest fire off in the distance or something. Dad also noticed that the battery charge gauge indicated that we were pulling current from the battery! We pulled over in a gas station and popped the hood. The generator was not generating. That is a problem. You need to have a generator, because in order for an engine to run, you need a few things. One of them is gas (which we had some major problems with, until we got that electric fuel pump installed!) another is air, and another is a spark to ignite the fuel and cause the explosion that pushes the pistons. The spark is generated by the spark plug, which needs electricity to run it. That comes from the battery. You can't just use the battery though, it will eventually run down. So cars have generators (or alternators more likely if you have a car that is anywhere near modern) that use power from the engine to generate electricity and re-charge the battery while the engine is running. Nice. So we didn't have a generator. That was a problem.
Dad removed the generator from the battery circuit so it wouldn’t short out the voltage regulator and leave us with two broken parts. We couldn't remove it entirely because the belt that it was driven off of also drives the water pump for the cooling system. So we needed the belt to be tight to drive that, which means the generator needs to be in the belt loop. Dad actually has an older generator in the trunk, but that needs some work before we can try it (mostly it needs to be cleaned out since it was sitting outdoors since the 1960s.) What we decided to do was to buy a battery and a battery charger so that we could charge the battery overnight, and swap out for a new one if we needed during the day.
We went to a Walmart, but they didn't have anyone to help us in the automotive section. They did have a battery charger that would work for 6 volts, so we got that, and then headed out. By chance we spotted an AutoZone, so we stopped there and got a spare 6 volt battery. And some bungie cords to tighten it down, since it is the wrong shape for the battery shelf in the Pontiac, but we can probably shoe-horn it in there if we need to. Then we drove another 60 miles. In the dark. With the lights on. Which are a huge drain on the battery. The battery that is in there is a really good one though, and seemed to be fine. We decided to stop at about 10:30pm since we could get up at sunrise and drive without the lights which would be less drain on the battery (it has to power the spark plugs, remember) and would be safer to boot. So now we are charging one battery in the room and Dad is cleaning up the spare generator outside.
(A few hours later.) It is now 1:30am, and I can't believe it, but we managed to fix the car. The spare generator, an old one from Uncle Jay's Pontiac engine, actually worked. Dad cleaned it up, especially where the brushes contacted the commutator, we removed the installed generator, and put the old one in. That should have taken about 20 minutes (I guess if you are a practicing mechanic, in a shop with the right tools, and it isn't pitch black outside) but took us about two. Maybe. I'm not sure. We both thought there was no way that this would work - at worst we were back where we started - but when we started up the engine, it showed the battery being charged. Truly amazing.
I can't believe how we have had such great luck and managed to fix all these problems that have popped up. What an adventure.
Next time we do this though, the car will have a 12 volt system. This 6 volt system has made a hard task even harder!
5 2013-07-27 From Price, Utah to Tucumcari, New Mexico
There isn't much to say about today. We got up and were driving by 8am. The plan was to get going earlier, but we got some extra sleep in the interests of safety. I did most of the driving since I had a few hours more sleep than dad.
We drove, and drove, and drove. The generator generated. The fuel pump pumped. The car went. It was a great feeling. Not much happened on the road. We went on the smaller backroads, which was a lot of fun. We went through a few small towns. There was very, very little in Utah. It seemed like a sage-brush filled wasteland.
Entering into Colorado the scenery greened up a bit, and it really looked like nice country. It was a very sparse country though, and at one point I was worried that we would run out of gas since it was sometimes an hour or almost two between gas stations.
We stopped off at Pagosa Springs to visit with Sue, a friend of dad's from when he was working at JPL as a grad student and post doc. Sue and her sons Eric and Phil were the first to babysit Alana and me. They were quite nice, and had a lot of cats and dogs.
After that we headed back out. We had eaten lunch in the car earlier (Subway - a really good meal and easy to do in the car!) and didn't stop for dinner either, although we did have a lot of fruit. And Peanuts in M&M form.
We drove down into New Mexico, and parts of that place look like another planet. At one point we crested a hill and were directed to the other side of the road to detour around a helicopter that was there to (presumably) airlift someone out to the hospital. We didn't see any wrecks, so they must have been hiking or something.
We didn't run the radio at all since we were worried about the generator giving out. It was fine. Once night fell we turned on the lights, and while the generator wasn't able to give a surplus of electricity with the lights on, it was able to keep the lights from drawing from the battery.
We figure that we can use the radio tomorrow if we want, just because we were able to get the remaining distance down to about 470 miles, or about eight hours. We can probably get back on the battery alone during daytime if the generator gives out.
Anyway, we drove until about 10:45pm, and checked in to a hotel at Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tomorrow morning we'll get an early start and check out Amarillo, TX and Route 66. After that we'll head back to Dallas, and if all goes well will arrive in the late afternoon, with a whole day to spare!
6 2013-07-28 From Tucumcari to Plano
We got an early start and were on the road by 7:00am. We forgot about the time zone change, so once we entered into Texas we lost an hour. There wasn't too much going on from New Mexico into Texas. Once we got into Texas we took an exit for Historic Route 66. We road along that for quite a while, but at some point it turned into a gravel road! And then a dirt road! We had to get back onto I-40, and we stayed on until we found an exit for Cadillac Ranch.
Cadillac Ranch is an art installation that has been around since the sixties. It is basically a bunch (10) of older Cadillacs that have been jammed nose-first into the ground at a 45 degree angle or so. People are encouraged to spray paint the bodies of the cars, and they are very colorful. It is a really interesting project. There were lots of people visiting, from all over the place. We had wanted to drive the Pontiac up close to the installation but that wasn't possible. We did get some shots with the Cadillacs standing in the distance though.
We got back on the highway and drove through Amarillo. We didn't find too much Historic Route 66 stuff, unfortunately. It was just a normal city, so we got some gas and drove on. There wasn't really too much interesting out of Amarillo; we just were on some big roads for a while. Eventually we made out way to 286, which headed West pretty much across Texas until we hit I-35, and we know our way home from there.
We pulled into the house in Plano at about 5pm that evening.
Can you believe it? According to the Odometer we had come about 2700 miles, in a car that is 62 years old. We had two major failures: fuel pump not strong enough, requiring the installation of an electric fuel pump, and the generator failing, requiring replacement with an old one that was in the trunk. The chances of that old generator working were tiny, but it actually worked. Dad didn't bring it along as a back-up, but as something that he would have rebuilt once we arrived. So that was just very lucky. We were both kind of curious how far we would have been able to go just on the battery alone; we think we could have made it in about the same time with two batteries and a charger, but we never had to test that theory.
It was a really great trip. Part of the adventure of driving a classic car is dealing with the adversity that it presents: no modern conveniences (no air conditioning, power anything, comfort), very high likelihood of some sort of break down or problem, and a change of mindset to a more slow-paced, relaxed trip where we could see the sights.
Dad still has a 1954 Hudson Hornet in Washington state that he will need to get to Texas at some point. It is also being mechanically restored, and he will have the electrical system switched out to a 12 volt system since he's having the wiring redone anyway. There is a chance that we can have another adventure like this next year.
I'm looking forward to it!
*Dad’s definition of a modern car: hydraulic brakes, 12 volts and overhead valves. His definition of a luxury car: a modern car with air conditioning.
December 23, 2012
Disneyland in December
Cars land at night
Snow white's castle
Family Photo with Winnie the Pooh
Family photo at the castle
Family photo at the castle
Family photo at Disney Christmas tree
With Santa Claus
Chip and Dale!
Cars Land at night (taken by Disney photographers)
November 15, 2012
2012 November Osaka and Kyoto family trip
Alan and the Shinkansen
Alan takes a nap at lunch
Tanaka Family Seal
Alan at the temple
Tanaka family graves
Kyoto: temples and fall leaves
Everyone loves Afro Buddha
Nice Zen garden
This November, Lisa's father had a school reunion for the 50th anniversary of his school. Lisa's grandmother and father grew up in the Kyoto area, and have roots going back there very far back. Probably more than 500 years at least. Grandma also wanted to go back to hold a ceremony for Grandpa, who passed a few years back. So the whole family, Lisa, Alan, myself, Lisa's younger sister, her daughter, and her husband, Lisa's mom and dad, and Lisa's grandma all headed out to Kyoto on Friday morning, the 9th of November.
We got a Shinkansen at 8:00. The Shinkansen are a real treat to ride; since I've been living in Japan permanently I've only taken it once or twice in six years. They are fast, smooth, comfortable, and you don't have to go through any of the trouble that you do when you fly. No security. No X-ray scanning. No millimeter wave back-scattering devices. No pulling laptops out of bags. And the stations are right in the city center. We took a taxi from our house to Shinagawa station, it takes all of 15 minutes, and we board the train shortly after that. You can see on the left here a shot of Alan in front of the train. He's too young to really have an interest in trains yet, but I bet he will be one of those kids that like trains. I like trains anyway!
We arrived at Kyoto station at 10:30 and walked to our hotel, the New Miyako. That was only about a two or three minute walk (once you walk to the station exit, which can take a while since the station is pretty large.) Lisa's sister and her family were on a different train, they were coming from Shizuoka. After waiting a bit for Rie, Aki, and Yuzuna we went for lunch at a Chinese place in the hotel. Nice. We had some beer at lunch, and everyone got a kick of how Alan just passed out in front of one of the glasses. So don't take the picture the wrong way, you have to be at least 20 years old to drink alcohol in Japan.
We left our luggage at the hold and took two cabs to the shrine and they had a private ceremony for Lisa's grandpa. The temple was kensiin - I do not know the Japanese writing for that. It was a smaller place, not the kind that you see as a tourist. It had maybe four or five rooms, some in separate buildings with covered outdoor walkways between them. There were three monks, one older and two younger. I got the impression that they were family. They held a ceremony of about 40 minutes of chanting with some drums and other things to hit every once in a while. The Tanaka family seal was a few places there and in gold in the main chamber. I'll need to talk to Lisa's dad a bit more about it, but I don't know why the Tanaka family seal is displayed in the temple.
The cemetery is in a large nearby complex so we went to their graves - 7 for the Tanakas family. There are 500 years worth of Tanakas in there, according to Lisa's dad. Note that in Japan people are usually cremated, and the ashes are placed in family graves. We met with a caretaker who was talking about how they will need to repair some of the graves due to the tree roots nearby. I guess if you have a few hundred years to deal with, all sorts of things can happen. Mr. Tanaka is the 15th in the succession and likely will be the last buried in Kyoto. They also have a plot in Tokyo, near Ryokoku (the place where all the Sumo wrestling happens.)
On the way out of the cemetery, which was quite a ways up a the hill, and very large, we passed some interesting stuff. There was a temple at the top of the hill with trees whose leaves were starting to turn. Lisa took a great shot, which I've included. Also, Afro Buddha. Well, his actual name is 五劫思惟阿弥陀如来像, but I can't read that.
We went to the nearby Konkaikoumyouji temple (金戒光明寺 こんかいこうみょうじ.) They've got a website but it is only in Japanese. There is also an entry on Wikipedia but the English entry is almost bare compared to the Japanese entry. We toured around there for a bit, entering into the grounds and walking through the gardens. It was quite nice.
Sake from bamboo
A really good chirashizushi
An assortment of Japanese sweets
That famous crab in Nanba
Lots of kushiage for lunch
Another famous Osaka landmark
A nice view from Osaka Castle
We really were there!
Fugu Hire sake
Dinner was from 5pm at Nijyou Fujita (二条ふじ田) a kaiseki (traditional long form multi-course) meal. I didn't find anything in English (there is a tabeblo link) but the place was very good. Unlike most kaiseki I've had, I didn't almost explode and feel sick from overeating this time. There were a bunch of dishes, some of which I took some quick notes on. しそうのこうせん hot shiso flavored water. The waitress made some jumping origami frogs for Yuzuna and Alan. The soup used water from a temple 60 meters away. The fish was Sawara さわら cooked by Yuuanyaki ゆうあんやき 幽庵焼き which is apparently like sukiyaki for fish with some sudachi and lemon. We had a very nice selection of Japanese sweets to choose from also.
After dinner we took cabs back to the hotel and checked in. We were staying in rooms 667 to 669. It was a close call - 666 was right next door!
An expensive buffet breakfast at the hotel and then a train to Osaka. We took the local so we could sit.
We made our way by subway to Namba where we hit up the main road and eventually arrived at Daruma, a kusiage place. The tomatoes were the best. The place was packed, with people shouting all the time. If you haven't had kushiage before, it is great. Basically, it is just fried stuff on a stick. There are big communal bowls of sauce, with instructions all over the place talking about how you can't double dip. No double dipping. There is also free lettuce. Or maybe it is cabbage. I don't know. That isn't really what I am focusing on. We had a bunch of thinks, like tomatoes, potatoes, fish - there was something on the menu called "kiss". I didn't know what that was, but was of course imagining the chef kissing the batch of frying oil and frying up that, lips in pain the whole time. Of course, it turns out it was just a type of small fish that you each whole, but whatever. I like my idea better. Another good one was fried pork cutlet. I don't know if they really take a regular pork cutlet, and then fry that, but that is what I like to think. These things are all quite small by the way. There were onions, eggplant, I had some cheese, and their fried ham was good. I'm sure I'm missing lots of good things, but anyway, if you go to Osaka, try their Kushiage. No double dipping though!
We wandered around a bit and went to Nanba bashi, where we got some pictures of the famous Glico sign. It's that guy holding his arms up. The whole time we were there people were taking their pictures in front of that thing. Then we headed for the taxi stand and Osaka castle.
The castle was really nice. They let us ride the elevator since we had kids in a stroller. We wandered around a bit and went up to the observation deck. They have an entire museum in there. The place was packed, and the castle is on a huge park ground. It is really worth going to see.
Dinner was at FuguYoshi, a fugu place. Sadly, I've had fugu a few times now, and despite the domain name of this website, I'm not really a fan. A meal entirely of fugu is … not particularly a great meal, but you should at least try it once.
First up was Fugu skin with ponzu and nikogori. Next up was fugu sashimi with ponzu.
We also ordered fugu-hire, which is hot sake with two fugu fins in it. As you open the cup (it comes covered with a wooden cap) you light a match to burn off the excess alcohol. Even after doing that the sake tastes quite strong, smells terrible, and frankly just isn't that good.
After that was fugu nabe. And then egg, rice, and water is added to that leftover broth and simmered. Top off your bowl with either salt or nori and onion. That is the bit at the end that fills you up.
Desert was a grape, persimmon slice, and small ball of matcha ice cream.
We walked to Osaka station and caught a train back to the hotel. Well, everyone else did. I had a bathroom emergency (I don't think the fugu agreed with me) and caught a later train. I did eventually make it back though, and thankfully the express train did have a bathroom on board.
We rented out a minivan
Kiyomizudera: One of my favorite temples
Support structure for Kiyomizudera deck
750 ton bell at Chion-in
At Shogun Dzuka's garden
Lots of tofu
At the golden temple
Lisa and Alan at the Golden Temple
Hey, I'm busy reading here
I skipped breakfast since I didn't want to deal with fish. We rented a minibus for the day and headed out first for Kiyomizudera, which is one of my favorite temples. It has a great view of Kyoto from up on the mountain, and has a super famous balcony. It is an all wooden balcony constructed without any nails that is very high off the ground. It is really amazing. The temple is really great in fall when the trees start to turn red.
Then we took a ride to see a 750ton bell at Chion-in (知恩院神社 ちおんいん。) It isn't something that people go to all that often, but since we had a whole minivan the driver was taking us all over the place. The bell is really big. They ring it every new year, and usually it shows up on NHK TV.
After that we went way up into the mountains where few people go (we were the only ones) with a nice view of Kyoto. Too bad about the rain. The place was Shogun Dzuka's garden (将軍塚庭園 しょうぐんづかていえん.) It was a really nice garden, had some great views (or would have if it wasn't so foggy due to the rain) and would have been great to walk around at more. We had an appointment for lunch though.
Lunch was at a fancy looking yuudofu (boiled tofu) place. It had a nice garden between the multiples buildings with a koi pond. The place is called 順正 じゅんせい。They do have an English website. I took a bunch of pictures, but didn't post them here. They are on Flickr if you really want to look at more food. Alan really enjoyed watching the Koi in the pond. I'm really excited about when he gets a bit older and we can go to Zoos and stuff. He doesn't really know animal names yet, but we do read a book every night with some animals in it.
Tea and tounyuu to start with a small goma tofu. Some ginnan and miso flavored tofu kushi. Lots of tofu. Some tempura, rice, pickles, and other vegetables.
After lunch we went to kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. It was nice. There was a group of French people in kimono. You definitely should go at least once if you haven't been. I prefer some of the other temples (Kiyomizudera primarily) but this place is so famous you just can't pass it up. It is always insanely crowded though. Still, that is one impressive temple they have there.
After that we picked up our luggage from the hotel and hopped on a train back home. On the way Alan and I spent some time reading. Well, he didn't actually read with me for all that long before he started throwing his magazine around the train, but still. Cute picture I think.
August 17, 2012
The Wedding of Jana Evans and Marco Rosichelli
The family dressed up
The wedding venue
Uncle Jon, Grandpa Kirk, Lisa, and Alan
Lisa, Alan, Aunt Jane, and Dad
Scout and papa
Jana and Marco
Jana and Marco
Lots of family
Dad, Jana, and Marco
Grandpa and Jana
Jana, Scout, and Alan
Jana and Marco
Polka dot cake by Laura Kirk
And of course, dancing
So, as I mentioned in my last posting, my younger sister Jana Evans got married! Jana's been amazing since I knew her. It must have been tough growing up five years behind a pair of rambunctious twins, but she managed it. She also moved at about the start of high school from New Jersey to Texas, just to ensure that she would end up with a ridiculous accent. Or maybe because her older siblings and father all moved en-masse to Southern Methodist University. It was one or the other, I forget.
Well, she was always a kind younger sister, and never caused any problems. That I knew about. And now she's marrying a exemplar gentleman, Mr. Marco Rosichelli. Lisa, Alan, and I flew out from Tokyo for their Wedding in Helena. I had never spent much time in Montana (if at all!) so it sounded like a lot of fun to me. I was also excited to introduce Lisa to a new state and location, since we always seem to only go to one of a few pre-determined locations: San Francisco (really, Palo Alto, for work); San Diego (for my twin sister); Dallas, Texas (for my father); Seattle (for work); various small towns in Washington state (for family); or New York (for my friends.) So Montana is new to us. I also thought it would be fun to do an old-fashioned road trip.
I looked it up, and we could have flown from Seattle to Helena, but with a kid flying is tough, and I also wanted to stop along the way and visit with family. Since that would mean way too many flights to some tiny airports, instead we rented a car. And drove it 1,400 miles in a week and half. All told, it was fun. Alan slept very well in the car seat, and when he wasn't sleeping he is at the age that it is pretty clear what the problem is (bottle or diaper basically.)
We were able to stay with family and friends of family along the way, so didn't incur much in the way of hotel costs. I enjoy driving in the US, which is a change from driving in Japan, and after a good day on the road, we arrived in Helena (after staying overnight with family in Wenatchee.)
We spent some time with Jana and the family in Helena, taking a tour, hitting a Carousel, and things like that. The day of the wedding, which started at about 8pm in the evening, we dressed up and took off. (After a great steak dinner at Chubby's bar.)
The wedding was a the home of one of Jana's friends, up in the hills surrounding Helena, Montana. It was a beautiful home built into the side of the hill. Of course, all sorts of family was in attendance, as well as many friends of Marco and Jana. They both have been at the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts and have made many good friends there. A friend of their officiated the wedding, which included a traditional (of some tradition) binding using a large rope. It looked like it was pretty permanent.
Our Aunt, Laura Kirk, made the wedding cake. The cake was a quirky as Jana; a standard seeming cake on the outside, on the inside were brightly colored polka-dots of cake. It was apparently quite a trick to figure out how to do that. I don't really know the technical secrets behind it, but I think it involved cooking multiple small polka-dot shaped multi-colored cakes into a large cake.
The dancing went on into the night, and I think we just made it home before midnight. It was a great wedding, and I wish the best to the newlyweds!
July 17, 2012
What I did over the summer
View Larger Map
Lisa and Alan at Narita Airport
Alan in the bassinet
Alan and Dave at Ranger's Stadium
Dave, Alan, and Lisa at Ranger's Stadium
Helena tour with the family
Great Northern Carousel
Alan and Lisa meet Grandpa Kirk
An American 4th of July
Dad's 1948 Hudson Hornet
With cousin Scout in Omak
Grandpa Kirk and great grandkids
And Lisa's Birthday!
Two countries in one trip
Grandma's house in Omak
A drink in Leavenworth
Dinner with friends
Alana, Dad, and Scout
I'm looking at my blog, and the last time I posted was back on June 10th. Wow, that is a long time ago! So the obvious question is, what has our family been up to since then?
At the end of June, Lisa, Alan, and I flew to Dallas for a few days. Then we flew up to Washington state. We had a busy two weeks planned.
We went on a trip from Tokyo to Dallas, Dallas to Seattle, and then from there we had a bit of a classic American Road Trip. From Seattle to Omak, and then through to Helena, Montana, back to Omak, up to Osooyoos, Canada for lunch (because hey, we have our passports) and then back to Seattle, and finally back home to Tokyo. We had some stops on the way in Wenatchee and Leavenworth as well.
We had a joyous occasion for the travel: my younger sister, Jana, got married to Marco! I'll get to that in another posting.
We also celebrated the lives of two important women in my life. My mother, Judy Marie (Kirk) Evans, passed away on June 12th, and shortly thereafter on June 29th my paternal grandmother, Bessie Evans passed.
We've set up memorial obituaries for them at Pax Memoriam:
Since this was Alan's first time on an airplane, we had plenty to keep us occupied as we flew over. I was surprised that the airlines (in our case, American) had a baby bassinet that could be hooked up for us. I would have thought that you could reserve the bassinet, but it is on a first-come first-serve basis, and your plane might or might not have one. Usually they do. They have mountings for multiple bassinets, but probably only have one. They really should try to set up some sort of ordering system so that they can load the bassinet when they need it, and not bring it when they don't, and also allow more customers to make use of it. Alan slept pretty well in it on the flight out (on the flight back the timing wasn't as good and he didn't sleep as much.) Still, it was great that they had something like that.
In Dallas we met up with Dad, and also had the time to go to a Ranger's game! We saw Darvish pitch, which was great, but they lost the game (which wasn't so great.) Still, Alan got his first Major League baseball game before he hit one year old! I think that is pretty good.
From Dallas we flew to Seattle, and then drove to Wenatchee, where we stayed with our cousins for the Fourth of July. Alan got to meet a lot of cousins, and play with some fireworks. We also had a nice US style barbeque. Great food, although probably a bit too much of it. Nah.
We drove the next day to Helena Montana, where my younger sister was living. I'll get into that more in the next post. We had a lot of fun over there, and then she had an amazing wedding, and we drove back to Washington state.
We took a tour of Helena on train-type thing, and Alan rode his first Carousel at the Great Northern Carousel, which conveniently is co-located with an ice cream shop.
We drove back to Washington and prepared for the memorial services for mom and grandma. On the way we stopped at the place that my dad is having his 1948 Hudson Hornet and 1954 Pontiac repaired. Since Grandma passed, and he has kept those cars in her garage on and off since high school, he plans to drive them from Washington State to Texas. I think we'll try to accompany him on that trip, but in the meantime the cars have to have some modern components installed for safety.
I don't have much to say about the services. I think they were wonderfully done. We had services for Grandma and Mom at the same place, back to back. A lot of people were able to come, since they were held in Grandma's hometown, which is a short drive from mom's hometown. I prepared a few things and read them, but what was really nice is that many of the people that came shared memories and stories they had. It was really amazing to hear one of Grandma's students talk about how Grandma pushed her and had a big influence in her life. Grandma went back to school in her 50s and eventually earned a Master's of Education and taught at the local high school. I don't know how she was as a teacher, but she didn't put up with any nonsense and always expected the best of you. She introduced us to literature and poetry when we were young, and always had interesting activities for us when we would visit from California. One summer, she opened up her freezer and gave us snowballs that she had made and saved during the winter, since us California kids had never seen snow before.
Snowballs don't really freeze well, but that didn't stop us from having fun.
After the services, which included a wonderful song by family members, we had a live butterfly release outside of the funeral home. I don't really have a good way to express how I feel, but both mom and grandma will be greatly missed.
After the services, we had a reception at the Bread Line Cafe in Omak. A lot of family made the trip out, so Alan met a lot of cousins. We even got this great picture with Grandpa Kirk and all of the attending great grand kids. That is a lot of great grandchildren!
Finally, in the evening, even though the day was already quite long enough, we had a birthday cake for Lisa. Note that kid that is super excited to see Lisa is not our son, but my sister's son Scout, who is super cute and really likes Lisa.
The next day we took a quick trip up to Osooyoos, Canada. We had our passports, and I don't know when we'll have a chance to take a trip up to Canada again. Since grandma has passed, we won't be able to stay in Omak any more, and Brewster is a bit further (only about another hour) from the border. So it sounded like a good idea. We had a nice lunch - Poutine is ridiculous - and then headed back towards to Seattle.
We made a quick stop in Leavenworth for lunch, which is a tourist town made up to look like an old German town. We spent the night in the outskirts of Seattle with our friends the Weavers, and then were back on the plane to Tokyo.
Alan packed in a lot in his first trip to America.
March 2, 2012
A trip to Hakone with the family
Alan in his cute Yukata
Alana, Dave, and Scout at dinner
The Hakone Group at the Onsen
We took a cable car up the mountain
The top of sulfur mountain
Black Eggs and Mt. Fuji
Ropeway ride down to the lake
Pirate ships on Ashinoko (Lake Ashi)
September 24, 2011
A Wedding in New York, and a Baby Shower in DallasA Wedding in New York, and a Baby Shower in Dallas
Lisa and Starry Night
Lisa and Warhol's Marylin
Dave and Thomas Sweet Ice Cream
The Bent Spoon
Lisa and Dave at the flower gardens
Last week Lisa and I went to New York for the wedding of our friends Lena Park and Ben Grenier. This will be Lisa's second time in New York, and a welcome return for me. Because of the wedding, I also had a great chance to see a bunch of friends from grad school. We did this vacation pretty quickly, arriving Thursday evening, and flying from New York to Dallas on Monday, then back to Tokyo from Dallas on Thursday. That gave us basically three days in New York. We basically had a bunch of errands to run (shopping) but on Friday we were able to spend some time at the MOMA. You can see a picture with Lisa by Starry Night and Warhol's Marylin Monroe as proof. It is really amazing how many world class famous paintings are in that building (and how many more in storage?) We also swung by M1-5 in the evening for a get-together with Lena and Ben and lots of friends.
On Saturday we took a trip down to Princeton, primarily to visit our friends Ron and Michelle and their super cute boy Evan, but also to swing by some of the local favorites. For me, that primarily means Halo Pub, a great ice cream place. Strangely, Princeton has more ice cream parlors than bars. Michelle is convinced that the Bent Spoon is the best ice cream in Princeton, and of course you can't forget Thomas Sweet if you are talking about Princeton Ice Cream. So we decided to go for the rare Princeton Trifecta: ice cream at all three places. For dinner, we swung by perennial favorite Hoagie Haven.
We started at Thomas Sweet, where Lisa sampled their sugar free frozen yogurt. I had brownies blended into strawberry ice cream. Little Evan loves ice cream, which he calls "ice see". He also loves trucks, and even since spending a day with Evan, every time I see a truck now, I shout "truck!" We walked over to The Bent Spoon, and had some interesting ice cream there. Lisa tried the Avacado and Mango, I had a scoop of chocolate (excellent) and blood orange sherbet. They were all very good, I loved the chocolate, thought the avacado was a bit strange, and liked the blood orange sherbet but would have preferred a traditional strawberry or other type of berry. The last stop was Halo Pub, where I had more traditional strawberries on chocolate. Even though I was pretty full of ice cream, Evan didn't seem to be slowing down (Ice See!) and we did need some sort of dinner, so we went over to Hoagie Haven. Lots of our Princeton friends just love Hoagie Haven, and I like it as well, although I don't go out of my way for it. Lisa enjoyed the steak hoagie (we split a half) as well, but probably doesn't see the attraction that some of my friends have for the place.
After spending a great day with friends in Princeton (see the shot of the two of us in the flower gardens) we took the train back to New York, which was a great contrast with the trains in Tokyo. Slow, not necessarily on schedule, and perhaps not as clean as you would expect coming from Japan. She also noticed a few rats in the subway and commented on those. Another big issue with New York is that there are lots of stairs if you take the subway. Lots of stairs.
The day of the wedding, we had lunch at the Russian Tea Room. That was my first time there, and while people say it has really become a tourist trap, I thought the food was good, and I like the atmosphere. Who cares if it is a tourist location now? I ordered the trio of sliders, and was disappointed. Lisa had the Beef Stroganov and was not. We split the borscht. The tea was very nice too - I am going to drink more tea now. We have great teas out here in Japan, I can't deal with the caffeine in coffee and soda, but tea seems to be ok. After dinner, we headed uptown to Columbia, and then over to the wedding.
The wedding was at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, a beautiful church on 71st. The ceremony was shorter than I expected, and beautiful. It seemed like a fairly traditional Catholic wedding to me, but I'm not super well versed on traditional weddings, so I won't try to analyze the wedding aside from saying that it was a great ceremony and seemed to do the job.
The reception was at Del Posto downtown. The dinner was delicious, with great speeches by friends of the lovely couple, and the bride's twin sister.
After the wedding, we flew the next day to Dallas to visit with my family for a few days. My great sisters set up a baby shower for Lisa since they are not common in Japan. We had a great turnout of friends and family at the party. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to spend time with Alana's son Scout, who has grown very big!
Our Aunt Laura made some delicious cupcakes for the party, and the Butlers were gracious enough to bring sandwiches and other dinner foods. Don't misunderstand; we don't have Butlers, but Jerome and Sydney Butler did come to the party and brought the food. Alana and Jana also bought a bunch of white baby onesies and fabric markers, and the guests drew great designs for our little boy. We've got a whole bunch of fashionable clothes for our baby now.
Our mom, who has Parkinson's disease, really perks up when little Scout in the room. It was great spending time with mom and Scout, and we also were able to get a few pictures of the whole Evans family together. I don't think we've had the full family together for a few years, so that was also very nice.
We had a short trip, but it was packed with friends and family. As always time just seems to fly, and now here we are back in Tokyo. I'm hopeful that once we have our little boy we'll be able to see family back in the States again, but it might be a while before we feel up to the task of a 10+ hour flight with a little baby. Alana and Scout seem to have managed really well though, so maybe we will be able to do it also. At any rate, it was a very nice vacation! Many thanks to all the friends and family for taking the time to see us, and congratulations to Lena and Ben!
June 11, 2011
A Vacation in Singapore and Indonesia
Welcome to Nirwana Gardens
Mangrove tour charcoal mound
A bar in the ocean
We took a vacation and went to Singapore and the Bintan Island in Indonesia. We flew into Singapore from Japan on Tuesday evening, arriving a little before midnight, and went to a cheap hotel in Singapore. We woke up pretty early in order to get to the ferry terminal by 7am for a 9am ferry to Bintan. Not much sleep, but that's ok, we plan to catch up at the resort.
The ferry ride was about an hour and was very smooth. I was worried about getting seasick, but no problem. We arrived at the ferry terminal, and made it through immigration (with a bit of a stop over for me, but I eventually made it.) At the immigration office, the officer said that I had a nice beard, and then asked if I was Muslim. I'm not, but I thought that was a compliment.
We found a bus that took us to the resort, and as we arrived there was a group of people playing music and dancing to welcome us in. We got a nice cool watermelon juice and checked in. The grounds of the resort are very nice, they have a bunch of birds of paradise, a beach, a couple of restaurants, and a very nice pool. For most of the time that we were there, we spent our time at the pool relaxing and reading books. I love my kindle for outdoor reading.
On the first evening we also went out for a tour of the mangroves. We had a guide take us up the river in a little boat, and also there was an older Japanese couple with us. They couldn't speak English, so I ended up doing a bit of interpretation for them. Sometimes in the mangroves there are monkeys and other animals, but all we saw were a bunch of lizards. Also there is an old earthen oven that was used to burn some special sort of tree that turns into charcoal, which used to be a major export of the island a long time ago.
We tried a few of the restaurants affiliated with the report while we were there. We stayed two nights, so not really all that long, but it was a very relaxing stay. I think we spent all of Thursday in the pool and ocean. When we were in the ocean I felt a sharp pain on my right foot, and hurried out of the ocean. R. didn't believe me when I told her that I was attacked by a jellyfish, but it puffed up pretty good and clearly was a jellyfish sting. A few hours later it was ok, but I do not like getting stung by jellyfish.
We also had dinner at a seafood restaurant by the sea, and stopped in at their bar that was out in the ocean. One of the patrons was actually fishing while having his drink. I had a Bintan beer, and the first ingredient on the list of ingredients was "Air". I later learned that "Air" means "Water" so that made more sense once I figured that out.
On the day that we decided to relax at the pool, I read a book on my kindle, and R. read a book on a book. After lunch we got an hour massage on the beach for something like $60 for the both of us. Very nice.
Indian Vegetarian Dinner at New Madras Woodlands
We saw a bunch of temples in Little India
We hunted down some Durian Fruit
Durians for sale
On Friday morning we headed out to the Ferry terminal to return to Singapore. There is an hour difference between Singapore and Bintan, so when we got back to Singapore it was close to 1:30pm. We caught a cab back to our Singapore hotel (Hotel York near Orchard Road) and checked in. When we entered Singapore I realized that my passport was full, so we caught a cab to the US Embassy which was conveniently close. We got there just before they closed the office for adding passport pages (3pm) but they were kind enough to accept my application. Also, since Monday was a holiday and we were leaving on Tuesday (and it was Friday) they were very kind to do a rush job and add pages to my passport right then. Great!
We had a quick late lunch / early dinner at our hotel, sampling the famous Chicken Rice, and then I signed us up for the Night Safari. That is actually a really fun tour. You go to a part of the Singapore Zoo at night, and ride a tram around (or walk) at night to see a bunch of animals. Lots of people try to take pictures (no flash photography please!) and all fail because it is night. So it is one of those things that you will need to remember, instead of document.
Saturday we went to Little India for lunch and had a very nice vegetarian dinner. We ordered the lunch set, which had a whole bunch of different types of curry that you can eat with some bread and rice. It was a delicious and very filling meal. We wandered around for a bit and checked out a few of the temples in the area (quite a few!) There was even one place that had a Hindu and Buddhist temple next door to each other. After some sightseeing we stopped for a coffee in a mall, which had some Sesame Street show for the kids. I was glad to see Cookie Monster, but I never remembered him having three back-dancers.
After that we headed out to see my friend Min, and he gave us a few tips on Singapore. We decided to take him up on one of them and went out to find some Durian fruit. I am not a fan of Durian, but R. had never had any before and was excited to try it. I don't like the smell (rotten) or the consistency (slimy) or the flavor (hard to tell once you get back the smell and consistency.) We also got a bunch of other fruit like Rambutan and Longan. We actually made a dinner of just fruit after a lunch of just vegetables, and I considered it a good food day! Amazing!
So after that we headed home and go some sleep.
Hey, what is that? A Merlion! Yep, we went to Sentosa, the ridiculously overprice Singaporean vacation play-land. It is like a place that wants to be both Disneyland and Coney Island. Sentosa Island costs some amount of money to get to, and is basically a beach with a lot of attractions. That are expensive. I bought us two tickets that let us try a few of the attractions, but I think we spent over $160 or so for the two of us. Just to get there and walk around and do a few things. Way to go Singapore! Still, we got to see the famous Merlion. We went up inside his head and got to see the surrounding island, and Singapore from that vantage point. Pretty good.
What else did we do at Sentosa island? We saw the Images of Singapore museum thing, and then tried to get in line to see a 4-d movie at the 4d Magix movie theatre but we didn't have the time. We did catch a cable lift type thing down to the beach, and then saw Songs of the Sea. Songs of the Sea was a show with water and lights and lasers and people singing and fire. When it started I thought "oh man, they suckered us." It was a bunch of people (6?) on the beach singing some really campy songs that sound like it should be a Disney thing, except you don't know the characters or songs. But then they started to get accompanied by lasers and water and fire. In the end it was pretty good, but still feels like really we should have gone to Disneyland.
After that we headed back to Singapore itself, and on the way back stopped by Clarke Quay. Apparently Clarke Quay is a place with lots of bars and nightlife. So we went there to check it out. Turns out they were running the Monaco F1 race live, and it was some sort of historic race where there was a wreck and the final few laps were started after a yellow flag. Exciting. If I knew more about fast cars. R. really loves F1 though, so we had a good time.
Then went home. There were lots of bars there, although the prices were ridiculous (possibly better than Sentosa, but running pretty close.)
On our final day in Singapore we did some shopping and then headed over to the Marina Bay Sands complex. We hung out in the shopping center (and did some shopping!) and eventually headed over to Sky 57, a nice restaurant up on top of the building. The dinner was great. I took pictures of the meal, but don't really feel like posting them here. You can check them out on Flikr if you are really interested though. Very nice dinner. Before dinner though, R. went to the Casino. It was her first time at a Casino. It was probably my third or so. I'm not big on betting, because I figure if you keep at it long enough you will lose money. The only exception might be poker, where you can win money off of the other players if you are good enough. I know that I am not good enough. I don't really know how to play poker really, so I stay away from it. When I do go to casinos I will play blackjack, because I can add up to 21. Pretty much.
Anyway, R. decided to play Roulette. I explained the game to her to the best of my ability. And she won 2x the money that she started with. She turned $50 into $100. Amazing. I told her we should never go to a casino again. I also had a run of luck and turned my $50 into $200 at blackjack. So I guess I shouldn't go back to a casino again either.
After the casino and dinner it was late, and we went back to the hotel. We had to get up at 4am to catch a cab to go to the airport to get there in time for a 7am flight back to Japan. And we both had work the next day.
My foot still hurt from being viciously attacked by a jellyfish, but we did make money playing at the casino (and then spent much more than we made at the mall and dinner) so I guess in the end it was ok. I didn't get sunburned, we relaxed, tried some strange fruit, and go to read a lot and swim in both a pool and an ocean. A very nice vacation!
October 3, 2010
Fukuroda Falls shrine
Tokyo Night Driving
Last weekend R. and I took a day trip out to see Fukuroda Falls. It is about three hours by car to the North of Tokyo. We took the car out (for the first time in months) and I drove. It was supposed to be about three hours, but I think the way there took about three and half hours. I'm not a big fan of driving in Tokyo, but I have to admit that the highways in Tokyo are pretty interesting. Some of the central highways through the city are elevated to about the third or fifth story of the surrounding buildings. If I wasn't in such a panic while driving I would like to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
Anyway, once out of Tokyo, we headed through the country-side of Ibaraki prefecture. By country-side R. means that you are on smaller roads and only pass through a town or population center every twenty minutes. Or that there are only five or six cars within site at all times. Compare that to our trip through Eastern Washington state when we went two or three hours at a time without seeing cars or signs of civilization.
We had a nice trip, and got up to the waterfall. Like all things in Japan there is a fee to enter the waterfall attraction. A very reasonable fee, like $3. It was a nice waterfall, and pretty large. I haven't seen many large waterfalls, and this is apparently the third largest in Japan. So now I'm a bit curious about the other two larger ones. It is a pretty nice waterfall and the surrounding area is a bit nice too. There is a nice bridge and lots of hiking paths in the area, but our plan was to get lunch and then head home, because that will take a few hours. We really just hung out near the waterfall, but if we had more time we could have done some hiking. It would have been nice if we had the time to stay overnight and maybe try the hot springs there. It is apparently the only one in Ibaraki. I like the idea of taking a day trip though, and just getting out and doing a bit of driving - it is nice to take that car out if we are going to pay for parking it in this crazy city.
Lunch was a special type of hot pot native to the area. And pretty good. Then we headed home. Of course, on the way home there was an accident or two, and the roads into Tokyo were very busy. I think it took five hours to get home. Still, a nice day trip and fun. The most important thing is that there was this crazy road sign showing the traffic status on the major Tokyo highways. It isn't that bad, but still at speed that thing is tough to take in.
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