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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Friday, I love your face

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The last couple weeks have been a little trying, health-wise (the in-laws brought a throat-focused ailment to town with them, which left us both with tonsillitis, then I had The World’s Worst Sinus Headache for a couple days this week), but I’m finding plenty of reasons not to completely take to my bed immediately after limping home from work. Among them…

  • An anniversary dinner at a nearby Austrian restaurant, which allowed us to taste some never-before-sipped wines (even beyond the wonder of grüner veltiner!) and sigh over some pretty wonderful spätzle (and, clearly, to have more fun than ever thought possible with umlauts)
  • A flurry of online-purchase shipments, including our now-traditional anniversary album (Yes, two years in a row does a tradition make. That was some weird syntax right there.)
  • Friday Night Lights. I know I’m about five years late to the “I love the Taylors” party, but you guys…I love the Taylors. And Matt Saracen (and his grandma!), and Tim Riggins, but not Lyla Garrity. Sorry, just can’t. Even when she’s getting her locker defaced with lipstick.
  • Christmas music on Pandora. Somehow, I skipped over the segment of July in which I desperately yearn for sweater-and-hot-chocolate weather, but I’m making up for it now– the perfect counterpoint to hours of Powerpoint editing at work.
  • Moccasins, my new iteration of house-slipper. GP has been rocking the moc slippers for quite some time (you’re welcome, dude), but I had been holding out for the right pair…which I found for about $12 at Target. It’s all I can do not to just wear these everywhere during the weekends. Target, you complete me.
  • The beginning of hockey season. Not just because I get to regularly sport this shirt, but because I missed those guys. We have full-season tickets now, so I’ll get to do even more power-play-shark-mouth-hand-signaling. Joy!
Tell me, friends, what’s making your week? Also, here is a picture of me in some Sally Jesse Raphael glasses, taken in Japan. Enjoy!

This is what I would look like if I were a hipster.

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Caturday: Guess who’s coming to dinner

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When we manage to eat at the actual dining table, Sydney always makes sure he’s perched in his seat, looking beseechingly in our direction. It is awkward and hilarious to explain to guests that they’re “sitting in the cat’s chair” when they come over for dinner. (Why yes, he does have a favorite. Why do you ask?)

Japan part 3: Mt. Fuji-Five Lakes

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The side-trip that we included on our Japan voyage was to the Mt. Fuji-Five Lakes area, so named because it’s…near Mt. Fuji and the five lakes that surround it. While Mt. Fuji is only open to climbers about two months of the year (and we are not crazy mountain climber types), there is also a fair amount of reasonable hiking in the area, as well as (another) amusement park at which GP could reach his 300-coaster milestone. (Yes, 300. That is a lot.) Our destination in the area was Kawguchiko, just on the shore of Lake Kawaguchi. While the process of buying the bus tickets to get out here was among the most trying parts of the trip, language-barrier-wise, it wasn’t so bad, and after about two hours, we arrived here:

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The hotel in which we stayed was a traditional ryokan, complete with an onsen (bath) to share with dozens of naked Japanese people (single-sex, so it was mostly like a spa, but a spa at which I am the lone white lady with anything resembling hips).

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Anyway. The ryokan was lovely, and we had our very own fancy tatami room, complete with layered futons to sleep on, and a short table at which to eat our (mostly purchased at convenience stores) breakfasts and dinners.

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While nature was, of course, at least half of the draw to this area, there was definitely an ulterior motive: roller coasters! You will remember that GP is, to put it mildly, interested in roller coasters. It just so happens that there is an amusement park in the Mt. Fuji area, Fuji-Q (or Fujikyu, in it’s less-anglicized form) Highland, that has a decent handful of roller coasters, including a recently-opened record breaker called Takabisha. The record in question might be best shown in photo form, I think.

Takabisha - hanging on the edge

That right there? That’s the vertical second lift, that brings you to the landmark drop. See, first they bring you straight up one side, then they sloooowly bring you over the top. You sloooowly approach the precipice, and then you just hang there for what feels like an eternity. Then you’re taken over a 121 degree vertical drop. Because going straight down wouldn’t make you mess yourself enough. I know there are a lot of italics in this paragraph, but I have to make certain that you know how nuts this ride was. The most pleasant surprise of this at-least-a-little-terrifying-looking ride was that it was incredibly smooth– much more so than some of its neighbors, such as former record-breaker Fujiyama.

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The “4D” movement of Eejanaika. For you Californians or other coaster enthusiasts, it’s like a smoother version of X2 at Magic Mountain. For you others fortunate enough to have preserved the brain cells that we’ve likely lost riding these things, 4D means that, in addition to doing the regular spins and loops that are laid out on the track, the cars do independent flips and twists. Disorienting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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Or even the really, really, really fast Dodonpa. (Yes, 107 miles in 1.8 seconds sort of makes you forget where you left your heart…until you find it in your throat.)

One of the few rides we skipped, despite the warm temperatures (and mostly because of ridiculous humidity) was a raft ride. However, if you think that this means I didn’t put my face in this cat’s mouth for a photo, you haven’t been paying much attention.

And this concludes my three-part review of our trip to Japan. Someday I’ll finish curating and editing all the pictures we took, and of course I’ll share them, but I hope I’ve provided enough inspiration to make everyone want to take a trip to someplace that seems at least a little intimidating, whether its because of how far away it is, the possible pitfalls due to a language barrier, or the fact that there are rides there that may or may not cause brain injuries.

Japan part 2: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea

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While it’s probably a little silly of me to try and do justice to the Tokyo Disneyland Resort in a reasonably-sized post (witness GP’s trip report, which clocks in at about twenty-five thousand words– but you should read it, really!), it was such a fun part of our trip that I basically have to include it. As far as we and Disney parks go, you know the drill: we love them. Not in an over-the-top, creepy pin trader sort of way, but rather in an “isn’t it pretty amazing that these have been so wonderfully imagined and executed?” way. Given that we were taking a trip to Tokyo, and there is a Disney park in Tokyo…we pretty much had to go.

In some ways, the parks are similar to the ones we know in Anaheim and Orlando. There’s a castle…

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A Space Mountain (with the same layout as the pre-2005-refurbishment Disneyland one, even)…

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A Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (though it is pretty hilarious to see hordes of Japanese people in “Westernland”)…

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An electrical parade (though not on Main Street)…

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And even a monorail for traveling among the parks and hotels, complete with the ubiquitous ears.

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But, in just as many ways, there are wonderfully unique features at play in Tokyo. While Tokyo Disneyland is about on par with the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom for me (and neither is quite as magical as the O.G. Disneyland), DisneySea was…well, absurdly fantastic. It starts with a volcano that is the centerpiece of the park…

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Oh, sorry. Did I not mention that this volcano spews fire? And is a big feature of their much-superior presentation of Fantasmic? Silly me.

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DisneySea, as you might assume, takes advantage of its location in Tokyo Bay to use water as the through-line of all of its “lands”– from the Lost River Delta to the Arabian Seas and American Waterfront.

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I could go on and on, but someone already has. If you really want to know about the wonder of our Tokyo Disney visit (certainly not the highlight, but definitely up there), the trip report is there for the taking. I, on the other hand, will be moving on to the Mt. Fuji-Five Lakes portion of the trip. (Think fewer people, more nature, and, oddly, just as many rides. You’ll see when we get there.)

The first(ish) Japan post – out and about in Tokyo

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I’m still working on getting every single photo of the thousands that I took in Japan ready for public consumption, but I have to share how truly awesome our trip was.

First, I have to explain how we go about selecting vacation locales. Sometimes, I joke that it’s like the Olympics: we have to give all the countries an equal shot, and we welcome bids from all over. (Fine, there are no bids. But really, if places want to send me promotional materials– cheese, perhaps?– they are more than welcome.) In reality, GP and I do have a sense that the world is…well, enormous, and we only have so long (fine, the rest of our lives) to visit every place we want to see. This means that we try to take an international trip each year, and explore places closer to home in between. Since we’ve been together, we’ve been to Puerto Vallarta, Paris, Australia, London (and Blackpool!), Montreal, and Japan, with multiple trips per year to New York and Tahoe, a couple to Yosemite, and a fistful of visits to places all over the country for weddings. The point is, there’s a (sometimes intimidatingly) big world out there, and we sort of feel like we have  to see it all, while we have the means (physical, financial, etc.) to do so.

So, yes. Last year we decided that Japan would be our first foray into Asia, a continent that neither of us had visited before. The bulk of our stay would be in Tokyo, but we’d also make a side trip to the Mt. Fuji-Five Lakes area, to visit an amusement park (remember, I’m married to Dr. Roller Coaster) and take in some nature. Our airfare stalking paid off, and we finally booked our tickets for September. After some mysterious mechanical incident before our first plane took off, we ended up on a direct flight to Tokyo, rather than our intended stop-over-at-LAX route (score!), and after 11 hours and a couple sleeping pills, we were in Tokyo. We got through our first night’s dinner with a fair amount of pointing at a picture menu and nodding enthusiastically, and set out e-a-r-l-y the next morning to start sightseeing. Below is the view from our hotel room (we stayed in the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon and were pleased with the experience– it’s a Japanese hotel, of course, so nothing is very generously sized, but we enjoyed our stay).

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Our first stop? The Senso-Ji temple…

Inner gate and five-storied pagoda

Because we got up so early, we beat the majority of the eventual throngs that would gather at the shrine, which I think made it an extra-special first stop in Tokyo– it was so calm and quiet, exactly the perfect way to begin our (occasionally a bit more frenetic) trip. We also visited the Meiji shrine, though it was later in the second day– not quite as serene as the Senso-Ji.

Main gate to the Meiji shrine

Our hotel was within walking distance of the Imperial Palace grounds, on which are a series of pretty astounding gardens. For instance…

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And of course, Tokyo is brimming with people. From mini-festivals surrounding more moderately-sized shrines…

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To larger street festivals that seem to appear out of nowhere (yes, that is a McDonald’s you see in the distance)…

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To the (in?)famous Harajuku district, whose narrow streets are packed with teenagers who are so hip that it hurts a little.

THIS is where they keep all the people

And of course, it being September, baseball season was in full swing (pun totally intended). The Tokyo Dome was easily accessible, and it was simple to buy tickets (for face value, even!) online. The Yomiuri Giants may have lost that day (to the Chunichi Dragons, whose mascot, for some reason, is a koala), but we had a great time absorbing all of the traditions that the Japanese have created around baseball, from cheerleaders (yep, though they didn’t seem to be as, um…saucy? as those in the US) to rowdy cheering sections that rivaled college football.

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Oh, and something else we did while in Japan? Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. But that, friends, is another post. Say…tomorrow?