- - - 8/7/2019 - - -

Qatar

Filed under: — Andy @ 9:08 pm

On the way back home we all had a layover in Doha, so we all spent the evening enjoying the city night market. We were able to join a walking tour where we saw the bird market, the kings racing camels, prized horses, and the falcon hospital. We all played Dama which is like a Qatar version of checkers, and finished with a dinner of camel meat.

Photo Gallery

- - - 8/4/2019 - - -

Georgia

Filed under: — Andy @ 8:52 pm

The second part of the trip was visiting Georgia. We got a new bus, a new guide, and a look at a completely different county. Even though Georgia is neighbors with Azerbaijan the differences in people, culture, and architecture were outstanding. Our first night was in Sighnaghi, a small walled town in the hills where we learned about the local wine farmers, did some zip lining, and drove an ATV all around the town. The next day we visited David Gareja caves, a rock-hewn monastery carved into a desert mountain. After that we headed off to the capital of Tbilisi. This had to have been my favorite city on the trip. It was a nice city with a river running through it with beautiful churches, old architecture, modern buildings, interesting street art, and friendly people. We visited the major sites and also checked out the botanical gardens, went into and bathed in the old sulfur baths, and wandered through a closed amusement park at night to see the views.

Photo Gallery

- - - 8/1/2019 - - -

Azerbaijan

Filed under: — Andy @ 8:50 pm

This years summer vacation was with my group of high school friends again. We spent 10 days visiting Azerbaijan and Georgia, with a short layover in Doha Qatar.

The trip was with a tour company so there were a bunch of other travelers we got to make friends with. We started in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and saw all great views and sights the city had to offer. We visited the walled old city of Baku and took some side trips to the mud volcano, fire mountain, and various museums. One of the best things about this trip was we went out of our way to find some of the best foods in the city.

We took a bus to Lahij to visit part of the Caucasus mountain range. We stayed in an old quint mountain town and I spent the next morning taking a hike up into the mountains.

The last city in Azerbaijan we visited was Sheki where we saw the old kings summer palace, as well as visited some local fruit stands, local markets, and a silk factory. We also ate some of the local specialties which included the famous Sheki Balaclava, and Sheki Plav which is a meat-fruit-rice dish baked in a crispy shell.

Photo Gallery

- - - 6/1/2019 - - -

Trip to Malaysia

Filed under: — Andy @ 6:07 am

So this year’s annual family trip was to Malaysia. We explored Kuala Lampur and also made it up to Penang Island. Everyone had a great time, and we had a lot of new experiences.

The full photo gallery is here: Malaysia Pictures

Some of the highlights of the trip were:


Going to the top of the Twin Towers.


Going to the KL Bird Park which is largest free-flight walk-in aviary in the world.


Getting to paint our own Batik art.


We took the bus up to Penang Island and explored Penang National Park.


Had some fun at the upside down museum.


We played with and fed the monkeys.


Hiked up to Batu Caves where Melina had her ice cream stolen by a monkey.

- - - 12/20/2017 - - -

Vist to the Grand Canyon and back to LA

Filed under: — Andy @ 11:25 pm

For this years trip back to LA we decided to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon.
Highlights were:
-Out of Africa Wildlife Park
-Sedona
-Meteor Crator
-Grand Canyon
-Antelope Canyon hiking
-Horseshoe bend
-Zion National Park
-Las Vegas

- - - 6/6/2017 - - -

Jeju, Korea

Filed under: — Andy @ 7:08 pm

A short trip with the family to Jeju Island in Korea.
Jeju Photos

Arrival followed by Korean BBQ:
We planned to eat as much good Korean food as we could while we were there.

Korean History Theme Park:
Interesting little park with various exhibitions that show how Korea was from the 1960’s until today.

Manjanggul Cave [UNESCO World Heritage]:
An amazing lava tunnel that is one of the longest in the world.

Maze and Cat Park:
Quick stop to run through the maze and pet the cats.

Haenyeo Museum:
Learning about the culture and history of traditional Jeju female divers.

Sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak [UNESCO World Heritage]:
We got up early to hike to the top of the peak for the sunrise. It only took about 30 minutes to get to the top, and the sunrise and seeing the crater was a nice relaxing experience.

Udo Island:
A ferrry ride to an even smaller island from the island we were visiting. We rode the hop-on-off bus around the island to see some of the nice cliffs, beaches, culture, and also ride horses.


Hiking Mt. Halla [UNESCO World Heritage]:
I got up early the next day, said goodbye to the family, and headed to the top of Mt. Halla which is the tallest mountain in South Korea. It was not a difficult hike, but it was a long hike. It took about 4 hours to get to the top. The change in scenery as I was hiking up was great. Unfortunately, Jeju had not had any rain for a while so the lake and crater were completely dry. I took a different course on the way down and got to see both sides of the mountain.


Natural Recreation Forest:
As I was hiking the mountain Suzuna and Melina took a trip to the Natural Recreation Forest near the base of the mountain for their own nature time.

Seogwipo Food Market:
Dinner that night was various Korean food items while walking around market.

World Seashell Museum:
We had a quick stop at a seashell museum, which also had some nice art pieces made out of seashells, before heading out west.

Alive Museum Jeju:
Another quick stop at a trick art mesuem that we thought Melina would enjoy.. we were wrong.

Submarine Tour:
Melina did however love the submarine tour. We got to go on an actual submarine, dive down and see lots of fish.

Yongmeori Coast:
We hiked around the small peninsula, that looks like a dragon head, to look at rock the formations.

Osulloc Tea Museum:
A widely known tea plantation in Korea. We bought some tea, looked at the tea fields, and sampled their green tea ice cream and roll cakes.

Glass Castle:
Lots of different themed exhibitions made out of glass.

Black Pork Korean BBQ:
Our last night we went to black pork street and ate some very delicious black pork BBQ.

Jeju Dongmun Traditional Market:
Our last morning we toured the nearby traditional market. No Pictures.

Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum:
It starting raining as soon as we got to the museum. No pictures.

Noodle Street - Korean Ramen:
Different than Japanese ramen, but still very good.

Jeju Mokgwana (Former Jeju Government Office):
Our last stop for a bit more culture, and to feed the fish in the pond, before heading to the airport.

See all the pictures here:
Jeju Photos

- - - 9/18/2016 - - -

Mongola

Filed under: — Andy @ 5:32 pm

Mongolia, with Josh and group.
A ten day trip with Josh, Crystal, Susana, Ward(for a day), Ochiro our awesome guide, and Ganba our comedic driver.
Mongolia Photos

Ulaanbataar(The capital):
The first thing we learned in the city is that more than a third of the countries entire population lives here. The next thing I noticed was large scale construction of apartment buildings everywhere, as I learned that the country is trying to get everyone away from living in Gers and burning coal as it is a big pollution problem for the city. Still, the city has some very nice areas and things to see. The central square was quite large and had a nice statue of Genghis Khan [actually pronounced Chinghis Khan]. We saw some monasteries, enjoyed the National Museum of Mongolian History, and enjoyed a great view of the city from the Zaisan Hill War Memorial. The last thing before we left the city was go to the amusement park, and for only $7got to go on 5 rides. Being a weekday evening the park was almost deserted, but everything was still running and we had a great time.

Eagle Valley:
The next day we took a small airplane down south to the Gobi desert. After a quick stop at the Gobi museum, we started hiking down the valley as it started to rain. Yet even with the rain, the cliffs were beautiful and the rodents were running about. I got ahead of the group and went a bit further than the usual turn around spot and the guide had to come chase me down. That night we spent our first night in a Ger camp.

Khongor Sand Dunes:
Maybe one of my favorite parts of the trip was the camel ride to the sand dunes and the hike up the near vertical face of them. By the time everyone else made it to the top we had a great view of the sunset.

Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs):
Made famous in the 1920s when American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews found a lot of dinosaur fossils and made the first discovery of fossilized dinosaur eggs. It was a very interesting place to hike around, take pictures, and pretend to look for fossils. In the evening when the sun goes down the cliffs do glow red and look like they are on fire.

Ongi Temple:
Actually temple ruins. Once a large Buddhist temple complex straddling the river, it was destroyed in 1939 when the communists took control of Mongolia. After we walked through and toured the area I took off on my own to go on a little hike to the top of the nearest peak. That evening at the Ger camp there was a very nice traditional costume show where even our guide got all dressed up.

Erdene-Zuu Monastery:
Driving on mostly unpaved roads to our next location I realized how large the Gobi desert was. Along with the surrounding steppe there was a lot of driving and downtime in the car, which we did fill a lot with car games and music. The city of Karakorum where the monastery is located was the old capital of the Mongolian empire, but again not much is left. The current monastery and accompanying museum was still an interesting cultural visit.

Ugii Lake:
A large freshwater lake with some nice lake activities. There was an archery area. We all took a boat ride and did some fishing. A Northern Pike followed my lure to the boat but decided not to bite. We went on a fun banana boat ride and did some swimming in the lake. We had fish for dinner while watching the sunset over the lake.

Hustai National Park:
We took a short horse ride when we arrived at the park, but the main attraction here was going to see the Takhi, the wild horses native to the area.

Terelj National Park:
Maybe my second favorite place on the trip because.. trees, in fall colors, and mountains. The beauty of the area was such a very different view than what we had been seeing in the Gobi desert. We visited a monastery in the mountains and a rock formation that looks like a turtle. I also took an early morning hike to not quite the top of the mountain behind our camp.

Back to Ulaanbataar:
We had one last day in the capital for some shopping, to visit the dinosaur museum, play some games at an arcade, eat Mongolian BBQ, and watch a concert complete with throat singing, dancing, and contortionists. An amazing end to an amazing trip.

See all the pictures here:
Mongolia Photos

- - - 6/18/2016 - - -

Sri Lanka

Filed under: — Andy @ 6:57 am

Our first real traveling since Melina was born and we went to Sri Lanka for a week. I knew that traveling with a one year old would be very different than if it was just the two of us, but besides some small changes in the way we travel we were really able to do most of the things we wanted to do. The major differences with this vacation was instead of using public transportation we hired a car (air conditioned) and a driver, and instead of staying in cheap dormitories we stayed in low budget hotels. We still ate as much of the local foods as we could, but also tried to get some healthy and non-spicy alternatives for Melina. Here is a short overview of the trip.

For the full photo gallery visit: Sri Lanka Photo Gallery

Our route for the week:

Negombo
Closest city to the airport. Our point of departure and return for this trip.


We explored the beach in the early morning before heading out.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Lots of elephants, also lots of tourists.

Kurunegala
We stopped here on the way to Dambula to meet up with an old Sri Lankan friend I made when I first moved to Japan. We did a home-stay at his house while his relatives showed us great hospitality, and made us the best homemade Sri Lankan foods we would have all trip. He would also accompany us for the next two days of our trip.

Minneriya National Park
The place for a safari and to see wild elephants.

Sigiriya
Like you see in the pictures, an ancient rock fortress that is not an easy climb. Still, with Melina in the carrier we made it to the top. Once at the top we were greeted with an amazing 360 view of the surroundings, as well as some wicked windy conditions. One of the highlights of the trip and a place I will not soon forget.

Dambulla Cave Temple
Ancient temple with many Buddha statues. Also Kittens.

Spice & Herbal Farm
On the way to Kandy we stopped at a Spice & Herbal Farm to get a tour of how the Sri Lankan people use a lot of the different herbs and plants Ayurvedic medicines and everyday use.

Kandy
We visited a few things around the area. Kandy Lake, the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Temple of The Tooth, Kandy Market, and also saw a traditional Kandy Dance performance (Melina slept through the entire show).

Nuwara Eliya
Up in the mountains of Sri Lanka is Nuwara Eliya the place where all the Ceylon tea is grown. Compared with the rest of the country which was very hot, Nuwara Eliya was very cold. We visited a few tea plantations and got tours of the factories complete with free tea samples. Suzuna wanted to go to have High Tea at the Grand Hotel which was also very nice.

Horton Plains National Park
My personal second favorite place in our trip. We had to get up at 5am to get there early, but the scenery was breathtaking and the 9km hiking loop around the park was one of the best hikes of my life. We were able to see the plains, forest, the World’s End cliff, streams, waterfalls, and assorted animals.

Negombo, again
For the last day of the trip we made it back to Negombo where we had a nice Sri Lankan cooking class, and visited the beach again before heading back to Japan

For the full photo gallery visit: Sri Lanka Photo Gallery

- - - 1/5/2016 - - -

Los Angeles - Other

Filed under: — Andy @ 11:09 pm

While in LA, we made it a point to go eat all the good ethnic foods and do many of the things that are not available or just very expensive in Japan.
Here is the list:
Mexican!
Philippine
Vegan-Organic
Thai
Greek
Moroccan
Italian
German
Southern Cajun
California sushi
Jewish

Melina’s favorite pastime was playing with the cat food and chasing the cats around the house.


Painting ceramics was fun

- - - 1/1/2016 - - -

Los Angeles - Rose Parade

Filed under: — Andy @ 10:55 pm

One of the things I wanted to do back in LA, was to take the wife to go see a rose parade, especially since she likes flowers and plants. I havent been to the parade since I was a kid, so I also really enjoyed going to see it once again. We also went to go see the post-parade floats up close to really see the detail involved in making them.