Friday, April 27, 2007

Hawaii is Nice

10 days after my last vacation, I flew to Hawaii (that, by the way, takes 4 flights and 2 days). The plan was to meet Sean at the airport in Honolulu (he'd arrive from a conference in Florida at 2pm, I'd get in at 2:45pm). With bad weather in Florida, Sean was 90 minutes late for his connecting flight in Atlanta. After only being promised a flight to get in at 8pm the next day, he very luckily got the last seat off the standby list to get in to Honolulu at 9pm that night. So when I got to Hawaii, I took at cab to Sean's apartment where his roommate let me in and that night I picked Sean up at the airport. It went fine, but I suspect that exhausted, jet-lagged, having been carless for 4 months, in the dark, in an unfamilar city, being guided by cell phone, in the rain, does not constitute ideal driving conditions.

We lazed around Oahu (and went to some very nice beaches on the North Shore), then went to Maui for the last couple days of the week. We stayed in Napili in West Maui, where from the shore you can see the islands of Molokai and Lanai. In the wintertime, these waters are full of humpback whales, but the whales were gone by the time we visited.

Hawaii is the kind of place that's so beautiful that when you're not there, you can't accurately recall how beautiful it is. This is the view from the balcony of our hotel room.

From here, at sunset, you can see sea turtles hanging out in the water, their heads bobbing out of the water.

We'd heard about a snorkeling spot further up the coast and went to check it out. There are no signs, but must be pretty well known, since three catamarans full of snorkelers showed up while we were there. Driving along a winding cliffside road, we stopped and parked on the side, where a bunch of other cars had parked. A dirt path leads down to a closed gate with a sign that says "Private Property." The sign does not continue to say "Do Not Enter." Instead, it says "Enter at Your Own Risk," and there's a helpful footpath around the gate. The path goes through a tropical forest (it's also very pretty) and across a dry riverbed. The end of the path is an old concrete boat launch at this bay, Honolua Bay. Here's a photo.

(The other side of that cliff is another snorkeling spot, which is also supposed to be nice, called Mokuleia Bay.) Facing the ocean, the right side of the bay has some amazing canyons of coral and fish; the water is very clear. There was also a ginormous school of fish that would swim around you. I think that the left side of the bay is also cool, but further from shore. At one point, one the left side, however, the coral was so close to the surface that I was little worried about swimming over it. The only downside to the spot is that it's pretty difficult to get in and out of the water. The rocks are very slippery and the best way to get back to dry land may be to beach yourself on them.

Back at our hotel, 2 resorts over is Honokeana Cove. The sign at the street says "Private Property. No Public Access." If you ignore it, and walk through the resort to the cove (not that we ever did this), there's a concrete path with a railing down to the water and the shore has a sandy bottom amid the rocks (so it's pretty easy to get in and out of the water). The water is kind of murky and the coral isn't that great and there aren't as many fish. However, swimming just a few minutes to the right side of the cove, you'll see an area where the coral/rocks don't cover the whole seabed and you can see the sandy bottom. And there we saw around 15 sea turtles. When we snorkeled here a couple years ago, I saw maybe 4-6 turtles and thought that was a great day. The turtles sleep at the bottom, hiding between and under the rocks. When I first got out there, I looked down and saw one on the bottom. I waited a few seconds to see if he was going to do anything. It didn't seem like it, so I was going to move on. When I looked up, I saw a sea turtle which seemed to have giant barnacles stuck on it right in front of me. We also saw a ginormous sea turtle which was easily longer than me (and probably 6 feet long). At one point, the barnacled turtle was swimming below this big guy, and he reached down and smacked the barnacled turtle in the head with a front flipper. The barnacled turtle got the messaged and swam further down. A couple times, a turtle was so close to me, I had to stop worrying about getting close to the turtles and worry about how to get the hell out of their way. I don't have any photos from snorkeling, but pictures probably couldn't accurately depict how cool it was.


Blogging From the Airport

The airport in Columbus, Ohio is a terribly small, boring place where you may find yourself trapped, like purgatory. Miraculously, however, they have free wireless, so in the ultimate travel geekiness, I'm blogging from the airport. I've back updated again -- that must be getting annoying -- with a March 31, 2007 post (still lacking one of the photos I wanted to add) and an April 13, 2007 post.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't Think That Japan Is the Only Place with Nice Flowers.

I saw these down the street from my apartment in Bonn.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tokyo (Tuesday)

Time to go home. After the traffic delays getting from the airport to the hotel, I decided to take the train back to the airport. It took a taxi ride to Tokyo Station and a not too short line to buy a train ticket (the Narita Express). After 10 very disorienting minutes where I couldn't figure out how to get to my platform (it's a big place!), I managed to find the right track and ask someone where to stand (the tickets have reserved seats). After that, the hour long train ride was very relaxing.

At the airport, I noticed that at the next counter there was a little girl dressed up like the English rapper, Lady Sovereign, with the side pony tail, the big round ring, a purple sweatshirt, jeans and gym shoes. She was pulling several pairs of gym shoes from one bag and putting it into another. (By the way, I know next to nothing about Lady Sovereign, except that she looks like this.) That's funny, I thought, she's not even that famous. Then it occurs to me that 12 year old girls dressed up as their favorite rapper are rarely 20-something year-old young women with lots of makeup on, traveling to London on BA with their posse, meeting their personal airline representative after ticketing. Yeah, I dozed off on that train ride, why do you ask?

After getting my boarding pass and returning my cell phone, I had some time for shopping. I'd bought some sweets to bring to work in Ginza the day before, but I was looking for some adorable Studio Ghibli stuffed animals to give to my friends' kids in Germany (okay, and a couple for me too). Jackpot. And luckily it cost basically what I had left in cash. I took a picture of all of them when I got home (I haven't had a chance to give out the presents yet, but I don't think 3 year olds read blogs, so I'm not ruining anything).

But now I had my shoulder bag and a little shopping bag. Heathrow still only allows one item per flyer. While a little shopping bag would probably pass muster, I really wasn't interested in taking that chance. But my shopping bag wouldn't fit into my shoulder bag or vice versa. I did have, however, a coat with 5 zippered pockets. That's right, I shoved stuffed animals into my pockets (it was even funnier when I arrived in Dusseldorf and it was cold and I put the coat on).

After a one hour nap on the plane and a layover in London, the trip was now running 21 hours and I still needed to get to Bonn from Dusseldorf at 10pm. 10pm at night means it's way too late to buy a train ticket from a human in Germany, so I was stuck trying to get the ticket machine to work at the airport as the minutes ticked down to the one train per hour leaving the airport. I just made it, but I needed to change trains at the Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof before arriving in Bonn, walking home and falling into bed.

This is what I've noticed about train tickets in Germany. In the U.S., you'd expect that your ticket would say, what train(s) you're riding, what time(s) the train(s) is(are), where you're traveling from and your destination, at what stop(s) you are switching trains, and maybe the platform(s). This is what my ticket (at 10pm at night after 21 hours of traveling) read: today's date, where I was traveling (Dusseldorf Airport) from and my final destination (Bonn Hauptbahnhof), and how much I paid. Fantastic.

So that's it (mostly). From Germany to Japan and back again. After most vacations -- even if I really liked them -- I'd think to myself that now I can cross that place off my list because there are plenty of places I haven't been to yet. But that was definitely the best vacation I've ever had and by midway through, all any of us could think say to ourselves was "I have to come back here." So thanks gang, thanks Takemi and Kumiko, thanks Meg, and thanks Japan. See you next time around.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Tokyo (Monday - Shinjuku Park)

In the afternoon, we went to Shinjuku Park (200 Yen). Actually, some people begged off and shook their fists and me and Eugene later because they had wanted to go to this park instead of Ueno in the morning. But it was worth it to go to both. On the other hand, Shinjuku Park was perhaps the most beautiful park I've ever seen.

One side of the park featured large lawns.

I saw these flowers at every park we visited; they look like they needed to be drawn by Autocad.

Look at those trees!

On the other side of the park, there were a series of ponds. A Chinese style house stood on the side of one pond; I took the next two pictures from there.

Eugene remarked, and I agreed, that the whole place looked like a park of perfect bonsai and all of the people were shrunk down to fit into it. Also, we agreed that we had to come back to Japan.

Vacation was inexorably coming to an end; some of the people had already left for other parts of Japan. Most everybody else were taking off tomorrow. And we all split up for dinner. I ran off to have dinner with my old high-school friend, Meg. She took me to a restaurant that is part of the same chain of restaurants as the one that Prime Minister Koizumi had once taken President Bush. She had thought about taking me to a theme restaurant -- they have Alice in Wonderland, Romeo+Juliet, Alcatraz, vampires, and ninjas (ninjas!). Afterwards we all convened at Takemi and Kumiko's apartment for tea and goodbyes.


Tokyo (Monday - Ueno Park)

Monday, I decided that I needed to binge on cherry blossoms before I left town. We went to Ueno Park, which is what I bet people think of when they think of cherry blossoms in Tokyo -- wide avenues with rows of cherry blossoms trees and people everywhere.

We ate lunch in the park under falling cherry blossom petals; there were a bunch of food stands selling squid and noodles and other food, as well as drinks (including sake).

You can see that the end of the season is approaching; there are leaves on some of those trees.

I like how the flowers bloom straight out the trunks.

I've heard that for the hanami, the office will send out the junior member to save a spot all day. I saw quite a few blue tarps taken by suits (by the way, everyone in Tokyo wears a suit, it's uncanny) with red faces, drinking something alcoholic.

This is a very pretty tree.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tokyo (On Convenience)

One of the great things about Japan (well, East Asia, or maybe East and Southeast Asia?) is 7-Eleven. Seriously. Anything you need, you can get at the convenience store. It's the place to go if you need a quick lunch or snack, stationery, toiletries, an umbrella, a magazine, a shirt, to pay your bills, or more minutes on your cell phone. And it's open 24 hours.

In Germany, you can't buy aspirin at the grocery store (or the drugstore for that matter). Pharmacies are closed Wednesday afternoon. Everything is closed Sunday. Notice that you're out of floss Saturday night? Too bad. Many stores/offices close from noon to 2-3pm every afternoon. I'd think that many Americans would say that if isn't open during lunch hour, what's the point?

And, of course, in Japan there are vending machines everywhere.

Eugene, by the way, was obsessed with these cans of Coke (aluminum cans with twist-off openings).


Tokyo (Sunday)

On Sunday, some of us went to the Edo-Tokyo museum (i.e., local history) in the morning. The first thing you notice about the building is that it's behind the building you assume is the museum (a big square building with a bright green roof). The next thing you notice is that it looks like an AT-AT (just to refresh your memory).

Finally, you start to walk across the giant plaza with the building hanging over you and somewhere from the back of your head, you think "that's no moon, it's a space station" and you start to hum "The Imperial March."

That said, the museum is pretty neat. After catching some lunch at a noodle place (I got coupons if anyone is interested), we met up with Takemi and Kumiko and the rest of the gang in Akihabara. Akihabara Electric Town is well-known as the place to go to get all the latest electronics and computer stuff. It's also well-known for anime otaku culture. On the weekends (or maybe just Sunday), they close off the street and turn it into a pedestrian mall.

Somewhere in that crowd are a couple of men dressed as cutesy female anime characters. We stopped at a store (after a quick spin through a pachinko parlor). The top-floor was devoted to selling maid outfits. It also featured a maid cafe (waitresses dress up in little maid outfits and act the part) and a partitioned area where you could pay to take pictures of scantily clad young women. Classy.

After Akihabara, we hit Omotesando Hills (by hitting Roppongi Hills, Omotesando Hills, and Tokyo Midtown, my friend Meg remarked, we were going to all the trendy Tokyo shopping complexes) and then some souvenir shopping. After all this walking around, clearly we needed a drink. So here we are at the Park Hyatt, at the bar featured in the movie Lost in Translation (here's a still from the movie for comparison).

After, we had a very nice dinner at an all-you-can-drink (for two hours, off the drink menu) place, where we sang "Happy Birthday" twice: once to Katie and once to a fellow diner as we were heading out the door. We capped off the day with karaoke. Here's the view out of our room. I'll spare you pictures of actual singing.

Fine. Stop begging.