Archive for 'Travel'

Seven Years in Kentucky

It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Or maybe I’ve just kinda lost track of time, it’s all sort of blending together. This past year I can say however, has been pretty awesome.

Education

Well, I graduated in May. That is, I completed my Associate’s in Arts degree. With “High Distinction;” inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society; maintained a 4.0 GPA; accepted a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. Wow, things can only go down from there, lol. But I guess I can be proud of my accomplishments, yes, without sounding too braggart about it. I’m still pretty chronic on the procrastination front, and now at UK, that’s starting to catch up to me a bit. Still, I’m enjoying the overall experience of learning, regardless of how well, what grades and such I get in my classes.

Uncertain of where this education is going to take me, I think I’m starting to form at least some sort of a picture of where I’d like to end up. No real attachment to the outcome, but I’ve got some ideas in mind that I’d like to solidify and start to take action on over the next year.

Travel

Right after graduating, I hopped on a plane to Japan and had the grandest time. Over the past year I’ve been back a total of four times and it never gets old. Something new to see and do each time, and even some of the old stuff, I guess I could say, has started to feel new again. Kyoto was memorable for quite a few reasons. I really enjoyed it. My last trip to Japan had me in Izu, where I visited an onsen for the first time. My next trip to Japan, well who knows when, but I’ll definitely be going back.

I’ll mention in passing, the current disaster in Japan. I some ways, I wish I was there now; to help. I don’t know.

Also included in my travels this year was a trip to Hawaii. That was a great time as well. I enjoyed swimming on the beaches and just the overall atmosphere. In April, I’ll be going to Sakura-con in Seattle. I’m really enjoying traveling and hope to continue to do so, off and on for the indefinite future.

Work

No longer freelancing, I’ve accepted a position with the company I’ve been doing work for over the past couple of years. As a full time student, I’m keeping a busy schedule, but while I could be doing better, I think I’ve managed to handle both. I, for the most part, still enjoy doing what I’m doing. There are little times here and there where I really feel a sense of accomplishment, and that makes it worth it.

Health

Nothing new really, read into that what you will, haha. That said, I’ve been working out and getting into a bit better shape. No drastic changes, but it’s noticeable.

Life

What can I say, life’s good. There’s always going to be bumps and such, but me personally, I can’t really complain.

Oh, and as winter wraps up, I hadn’t thought we could top last years, but this year, the winter in Kentucky was pretty active. Add to that, driving through the blizzard when I was in New Your over Christmas break, and this winter truly has been an adventure. I love it.

6 Days in Tokyo

My last 6 days were spent in and around Tokyo. I had some ideas on where I wanted to go and generally kept myself busy, all the while still managing to miss a lot of what Tokyo has to offer.

Akihabara

I’d certainly be broke if I lived close to anything like this. Akihabara, the ever growing Electric Town, has shops full of computers and various electronics, as well as lots of anime, manga and other otaku related goods. A lot of the shops are laid out so that each floor has a specific something that they’re selling. Like on the first floor, they’d have cameras or something, the second they’d have computers and on the seventh they’d have video games, anime and action figures. Really, it was all pretty cool. I visited a couple of arcades which have a similar layout, different types of games on each floor.

There were a couple of maid cafes here, which I was tempted to stop in, lol. But decided against it, until next time when my Japanese is a bit better. It’s just one of those things I have to experience sometime.

I would come back to Akiba once more in my trip in search of some Bakugan figures to bring back as souvenirs. That said, although it originated on Japan, Bakugan apparently isn’t too popular here, so it was hard to find something, though I eventually did so. I also grabbed the latest Weekly Jump magazine, which is a thick book of manga including series like Naruto, One Piece and Bleach. I really wasn’t expecting it to be packed full of so much stuff; I basically got it though because there were some color pages of Naruto featured in it that week, heh.

Shinjuku

Plenty of skyscrapers, shopping and food. Didn’t do much but look around the city portion of it and had planned come back later at night, but ran out of time. From here however, I did take a short trip to Nakano, to Nakano Broadway, which had some interesting shopping and what not to look at.

I visited Shinjuku Gyoen (Gargen), which was pretty large and had some interesting designs and layout of the various trees, bushes and flowers. It was a nice peaceful walk compared to the city side of things.

Shibuya

Busy, busy, busy and lots of cool fashion, and shops, and stuff to do. I did a lot of walking around and throughout the stores, starting at the big 109 shops across the street as you leave the train station. That famous crosswalk was pretty cool too, the cars stop and everyone gets movin’, iconic Tokyo. I missed the famous Hachikou dog, totally forgot about it the couple of times I would come here, oops. Overall this seemed like a cool place to hang, even just during the day time or on the weekends.

I went to the Hello! Project shop here, and bought up a lot of Berryz stuff. There were a few sold out photosets that I would pick up at the some of the other stores, and I saw some stuff on the way out that I had missed. As I mentioned before, if this stuff was more accessible to me, I’d be so broke, lol.

Ueno

Took a walk through Ueno Park which connects to a lot of museums and a zoo. The park was really nice. There’s a lot to do here but I spent most of my time at the Tokyo National Museum. The museum had a lot of artifacts, statues and history to look over. Definitely enjoyed walking thought it all.

Made a trip to the Hello! Project store here to buy some more Berryz stuff. Yeah, I didn’t buy much while in Japan, but I spent a pretty penny on H!P.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo’s Eiffel Tower, only bigger. At the base looking up this thing is kind of daunting. From the top down, even more so. There were two observatories here, one at 150 meters and another at 250 meters (the tower is 333m). Nice view of the city from both. There is also a small museum inside and some shops to go along with it. One thing that was interesting was when riding the elevator to 250 m. An announcement said something to the effect of, “there will be a cracking noise, this is normal.” I just found that to be a bit amusing, lol. The ride up was a little nerve tingling, but the view is worth it.

Harajuku

Went a couple of times, but made sure one of them was on Sunday, when a lot of people were said to hang out. Another fashion spot similar, but different from Shibuya; and it’s withing walking distance of Shibuya, tho I didn’t walk the whole way, I did walk around a bit. Streets full of young people, in the shops and hanging in the park.

Visited another H!P shop and also stopped in a bunch of the other stores located along Takeshita Dori right outside the train station. The Oriental Bazaar and Kiddy Land were on my list of shopping stops as well.

The Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park were also in the immediate vicinity. A lot of walking, there was a lot to see. Yoyogi Park was huge and bustling with activity. From people playing soccer to cosplayers posing, dancing and acting for crowds, picnicking families and kendo practice/performances. A lot going on and it was great to just sit back and observe.

Odaiba

Spent a whole day here, there was a lot going on. On the ride over I noticed that there was some sort of special Pokemon promotion going on. There were a lot of cute kids and families with Pikachu hats and little booklets packed on the trains over the weekend. They went to the Pokemon Center to get info and apparently each train station had a booth setup where you could get stickers and such. You would also get a pokemon stamp to stamp in your booklet. Got to catch ’em all, haha.

Going to Odiaba I took the unmanned/automated train, the Yurikamome, over the Rainbow Bridge. It was kind of slow, but still cool that no one was driving it so to speak. I sat in the front which offered an awesome view. Coming over, I could see the giant Gundam towering in the park, was really cool.

Spent a lot of time at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Lots of interactive and informative displays on computers, technology and biology. And an Awesom-O… err an ASIMO demonstration. He was pretty cool, talking and interacting, walking, running and kicking a ball; he drew a large crowd.

Saw the mini Statue of Liberty, which was kinda funny. Apparently France had temporarily brought over a larger one for display. After it was taken back, the mini one was put up in its place. In addition to that, I did a lot of walking around to the ferris wheel, and the shopping and restaurants all that.

Photos are up on Facebook here and here.

Had a great time in Japan and hope to go back soon. The flight home was as uneventful as the flight out, and customs was a breeze; non existent really. There’s more to be said, but I’m going to leave it at that. Fun, fun, fun!

Tokyo Tour

For my first full day in Tokyo, I decided to go on a guided tour of the city. Of course I wouldn’t be hitting all of the spots in the city, but I thought it’d be a good idea to get a general view. It was a guided bus tour, so there was a bit of info about all of the spots we visited thrown in which was nice.

Picked up from the hotel, I was bused over to the bus station at Hamamatsucho, where the first half of the eightish hour tour would begin. We started things off in the World Trade Center on the 40th floor observatory which offered a nice view of the city. Was a little unlucky with the weather, but you could still see a good distance even with some clouds hanging around.

From here we hopped on the bus in transit to the next stop. On the bus, I sat with a few Perfume fans which was kinda interesting. They had asked how long I was there and what not and I made mention that I had been to a Hello! Project concert, of which they were not immediately familiar. When I mentioned Morning Musume however, it clicked. Anyway, the one guy was there for college which had just ended and so he was then with his friends visiting before leaving. So, they were kind of a hyper, younger bunch of people… yeah.

The next stop was to a 40 minute boat ride (ferry, or whatever) through the Sumida River. Was pretty cool cursing through Tokyo, though it was kinda hard to take pictures. The end point of the ride was in Asakusa, where we would visit the Kannon Temple, which is apparently the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Leading to the temple was the Nakamise Shopping Arcade, a road full of shopping for Japanese goods and food. I didn’t buy anything there, but there sure was a lot to look at.

At the main gate and inside the Kannon Temple itself, there were some pretty cool Raijin and Fuujin statues and the overall architecture of the buildings was cool. The whole experience of the temple was nice, from the holy water, the billowing smoke, the fortune/luck things, to the inside with the offering box, statues and other cool stuff.

This first half of this tour ended with a trip through Ginza and a stop at the Imperial Palace. Ginza is a place where they used to manufacture money, now they say it’s a place where they take money. A lot of big, expensive shops and brands, a nice place to go window shopping, but that’s about it with most’ budgets. While touring through Ginza, the guide talked a lot about the hard economic times.

The Imperial Palace is where the royal family lives. It’s a huge plot of land surrounded by a moat. The buildings on the inside are fairly low, so it’s not like a castle or anything. Which makes sense from both a defense and practicality standpoint. It had started to rain at this point, but we got some good views still.

On to the second half of the tour, we first headed out through Ginza over the Rainbow Bridge and on to Odaiba, the man made island in “new” Tokyo. We had dinner atop some… building, I forget the name, haha. It offered a good view as a lof of these tall buildings do and the food, a variety of sashimi, was good.

From there, we headed to the park where the giant Gundam was on display. Even at night, this thing was really impressive; so large, and detailed. This was a temporary display, so I’m glad I was able to see it.

The night ended in Roppongi Hills, with a high view of the city at night. Roppongi is one of the newer developed areas of Tokyo, and you could tell. The place was a little busy for a Tuesday, I can see that this is an active place. That said, I’ve not heard all that much good about Roppongi, that I’d be interested in anyway, so it would be my only stop in the Hills.

On the way home, it had started raining pretty hard but I got dropped off right at the hotel so it was alright. ‘Twas a good first day.

Photos are up on Facebook.

Yokohama

A day trip to Yokohama included a visit to the Ramen Museum, Chinatown and a bit of wandering around Yokohama Port. Yokohama was a straight shot from Shinagawa, so getting there via train was a piece of cake.

I had looked up the Ramen Museum before deciding to go, but the concept of what exactly went on there wasn’t too clear until I actually got there. I understood that in the basement there would be a replica of various ramen shops, but I thought it’d be more museumesque, rather than like a restaurant. Aayway, on the first floor there is some history and photos and displays of various ramen making tools and such. Simple stuff, but it’s put together well I think. There’s also a souvenir shop, tho I decided not to get anything from there.

On the bottom floor, there is a series of 9 restaurants, each representing a different area of japan. The whole floor is laid out as if it was some old town that you were walking through, the atmosphere was pretty cool. Basically what you did here was visit each one of the ramen shops where you could either get a sample of ramen, served in this mini bowl; or you could go in, sit down and eat a large bowl, selected from a wide range of ramen that one might have found served in that particular area of Japan that the ramen shop is supposed to represent. Was cool, though I managed to burn my tongue a bit. Nice variety tho, and all of it was tasty.

Next stop was to Chinatown, Japan’s largest. I’ve never been to a Chinatown or other, themed(?), area of a town like that, and so it was pretty interesting. The roads were filled with shopping, and food and other entertainment, oh and people; lot’s of people packed the streets. And the place was pretty huge, it stretched far and wide so it took a while to walk through it all.

From Chinatown I headed to the “futuristic” port. The walk took me through Yamashita Park which was pretty calm, but with a lot of people lounging and walking around. There were a few performances going on in the park, like a juggler who had gathered a large crowd. Lots of large buildings, a ferris wheel, boats and stuff could be seen on the way to the “Sky Garden”. It reminded me of the inner harbor in Baltimore a little bit, only bigger and more up to date. Well, I’ve not much to compare it to really.

Enjoyed my visit to Yokohama and there’s some stuff I missed while there, so I’d definitely make another trip if I had more time.

Photos are up on Facebook.

Nagoya

The sun sure does rise early here in the Land of The Rising Sun. Woke up at about 4:30 on Sunday and the sun was beginning its journey. Before getting ready for the day, I had checked my emails and double checked a few spots to visit in Nagoya while I was there waiting for the Hello! Project concert.

The bathroom here is pretty spacious I guess, comparatively speaking. And the water in the shower stayed hot, unlike some hotels I’ve stayed at in the past. Overall the room is pretty good; it’s in a convenient location and has a lot of sights, shops and restaurants &c right on grounds.

Packed up all of my stuff, making sure I had my concert tickets and what not, my jacket and umbrella as well, as it was supposed to rain. Then I headed down to the first floor for a hybrid American/Japanese style breakfast buffet. It was a little bit pricey, but I’ll pay for convenience. The food was good and so I just chilled there for a little bit before heading to the train station.

Entering the station, sliding the ticket into the little ticket gate was easy enough and so I proceeded downstairs to find where I would be waiting for the train. Found it, and promptly headed back up stairs into the air conditioned waiting rooms to avoid the humid heat.

After a little wait, went back and boarded the train. Pretty comfortable seats with plenty of space and the ride was fast and smooth. Arrived in Nagoya and as planned, headed out to find the concert venue before doing any other sight seeing. One issue however, I was at the wrong train station (which I hadn’t realized at the time)… and so I spent about a half hour looking for the place that obviously wasn’t going to be there. The little map I had did have a street with a 19 on it, which I saw a 19 as I exited, thought I was in the right place, lol. Anyway, I headed back to the station, got a ticket to the -next- station on the local train and found myself set straight.

The concert hall was just a few blocks away, and as I walked up to it, I had seen that a lot of people had already started gathering. I was planning to go to Nagoya Castle, but instead decided to just hang out there. About a block away, they were doing some sort of a talent show/performance thing, unrelated to the H!P concert. So I watched that for a bit and also did a bit of walking around the general area.

As for the concert itself, I have that detailed a little on my other blog. I had a great time, to say the least of the experience.

Before the second concert started, outside, it had started to rain. Only had to wait about a half an hour tho, and I was back indoors. And at the end of the night, around 9:00 PM, it was still raining, but again, it was just a skip over to the train station and I was all set to go. One problem tho, the train ticket I bought was for 8:30… oops. For some reason I wasn’t expecting the concert to last so long. Anyway, the ticket I had was for a reserved seat, so all I had to do is board with the same ticked, only, in one of the unreserved cars of the train. Pretty simple, and the ride back to Shinagawa was about as uneventful as the ride to Nagoya. Slept a little bit on the train, as I was exhausted from the days activities. Got back at around 11:00 and rested up a bit.

Don’t think I’ll be able to top this, my first full day in Japan. And still, I can’t wait to explore some more over the next week or so.

Photos are up on Facebook.

LEX > ORD > NAR > Shinagawa

LEX

Called a cab a little bit later than I probably should have. I did the online check in thing tho, so I had a few extra minuites to spare. Security check was speedy and I arrived at the gate just as they were calling my seating group. Take off from LEX was a little bit bumpy as storms had just started to roll in. It was in any case, pretty cool to see the lightning in the clouds from a different perspective.

ORD

About a four hour layover, meh. Anyway, I wasn’t able to get a boarding pass to my ANA flight either online, or in Lexington. It was early in the morning when I arrived in Chicago, so there weren’t many customer service places to ask where I was supposed to get it really. They said at the ANA counter, but there wasn’t an ANA counter setup anywhere. Didn’t waste too much time looking and instead grabbed some breakfast at McDonald’s. Eventually the flight showed up on the departures screen and I was told that ANA wouldn’t be setup until a couple hours later. Parked next to an outlet, tethered my iPhone/MacBook and just wasted some time on the internet.

ORD > NAR

The long flight. Was a Boeing 777, which I think is the biggest one flying now. I was in a window seat in the front of the economy section, which wasn’t too bad. If I recall correctly, I had an isle seat when traveling to Sweden; gave me some extra leg room in a way, not that the room here was bad, but it could have been better. The seats were overall comfortable. For long flights in the future tho, I think I’ll try and book premium when I can, just for the fun of it. Plus I’ve got special benefits with United Airlines/ANA through my bank and stuff.

The flight was pretty uneventful. I listened to a special RIP SLYME summer mix thing; they have a pretty good summer sound, which is what first caught my interest with Taiyou to Bikini last year. Watched a movie, Oppia Volleyball -_-; It was alright, not great. Other than that, I listened to my iPod most of the time. I had originally planned to sleep a lot, but only got in one to two hours.

The food was pretty good, if not a little much. But I guess it made sense for a 12+ hour flight. Steamed salmon with creamy dill sauce; Vegetable lasagna with tomato marinara; Sandwiches, ice cream and other various snacks and sides.

NAR

Customs was a bit easier than what I remembered. Tho, maybe it was the flight back from Sweden that I was thinking about being a bit more thorough. Through luggage and customs it took a little more than an hour. Exchanged the ~$200 cash I brought with me, with plans of using ATMs &c as needed.

Was going to take the train to Shinagawa and get the special discounted ticket thing they had going on. The train that stopped there wouldn’t leave for another hour tho, either that, or I would have to do a transfer which I wasn’t interesting figuring that out on my first day here. Took the bus straight to the hotel, as was originally recommended to me anyway.

Shinagawa

Check in was painless, just showed them my passport and they made a copy of my credit card. My concert tickets were there waiting for me as well, which I admit, I was just a little bit worried about. The room is nice, cool view, with a queen bed and internet access. The room also has American style plugs, which I don’t need, but it’s still nice. ‘Twas recommendation that I made use of and am happy with it.

Didn’t do much the last few hours of the day; walked around a bit, stopped by an ATM, grabbed a quick bite. I also explored the train station and grabbed some tickets for my trip to Nagoya and back. I talked with one of the ticket sellers rather than trying my hand at the automated machines. Time, date, number of people, train number, destination to/from &c is all pretty easy speaking Japanese I think, so I was able to get in and out pretty quickly. They more than likely spoke English anyway if I needed it.

Oh, and, first impressions. Well, there’s a bunch of stereotypical(?) stuff, or stuff you see I’ve seen movies and such that stood out. Sailor fuku, umm, the automatic doors, the overall housing, buildings side streets, escalators (sand on left) &c. Looking forward to exploring more.

So far so good. Well, except for the lack of pictures… I’ll get on that eventually, maybe.

Photos are up on Facebook.

Trip to Tokyo

July 17 – July 28, 2009; Tokyo, Japan. Flight is booked, hotel reserved. Will figure out the rest later…