Category Archives: Travel

Still in a Northern California Daze

This week has been rough so far. We went up north for two weddings on consecutive weekends. Coming home Sunday night after ten days with Maggie has been tiring. We’re still trying to catch up on rest. Here’s the quick photo rundown of our trip. Sorry for the poor quality. I almost always only use the iPhone to take photos, and there is no time to post process photos anymore.

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Since we have to stop every two hours for Maggie, we took the 101. There are more places to stop, including Firestone Walker.

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Stop #2 was also Firestone Walker but a different location. Maggie enjoyed learning about barrel aging beers.

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Maggie met her cousin Myla, who played around her rather than with her.

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Maggie also got to meet her cousin Joshua. Basically none of them really acknowledged each other.

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Maggie did get to play with a pool noodle lightsaber.

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My cousin Jessica got married in a beautiful ceremony and reception that I would call ” very similar to ours but nicer.”

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After spending time in the San Jose area, we headed down to Monterey and Carmel for a little bit, stopping by the aquarium.

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Jellyfish are so cool.

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Maggie was happy as a clam.

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The open ocean tank was huge with sea turtles, tuna, and hammerhead sharks.

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We cruised the 17-mile drive and got to see The Lone Cypress.

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Point Lobos State Preserve.

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China Beach.

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After Carmel we raced to SF just to head out again across the new Bay Bridge.

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We got to go to Pixar! Unfortunately there’s a pretty strict “no photo” policy on most of the campus, so pictures are limited to the lobby areas.

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Most displays were for Monsters University since it was their latest release.

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Luigi and Guido from Cars.

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Who could forget these guys? Oooooooooooh!

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Maggie got to play in her first playground.

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She also got to enjoy oysters.

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This guy got married. There was a lot of crying.

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Maggie drove us home after a long trip. Holy crap I look exhausted.

I need a vacation from this vacation.

Gone Fishin’

I haven’t blogged in a while. There hasn’t been anything exciting lately. I work. I sleep. I eat. I turn that food into poop. Repeat.

This weekend, I got to go to Mammoth and do some fishing with the family. It’s been about eighteen years since I’ve been to Mammoth. As you can see, I haven’t lost my touch.

Catching fish…like a boss!

Last Day in Japan

We woke up to our last day in Tokyo, a little sad. In less than fifteen hours, we knew we would be on our way back to America and back to the daily grind. Since our last day fell on a Sunday, we were set on going back to Yoyogi Park, but first we needed to get some of our own picnic supplies.

Downstairs in the basement of the Shinjuku Station we had plenty of options for picnic options.

We were at the park earlier this time. People were still bringing in their picnic supplies, cases of beer and bottles of sake.

We wolfed down our food pretty quickly, but fortunately there was plenty of food being prepared by vendors in the park.

Wieners!

That’s what she said!

This time the cherry blossoms were all blooming, What a difference one week makes. There were even more people out in the park too. We were out to see what more fun and interesting people, and that’s exactly what we got.

A woman sat and painted the flowers by the lake.

We found some people that brought a bear suit to the park. How fun!

Then we saw these people having an awesome time.

We wanted to find some new friends, and we did.

This was part of the friend selection criteria. The other half was that they had to speak English and be friendly.

These girls are yelling, “Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Shot! Everybody!” Good to know the Japanese take only the best parts of American culture.

This guy had too much to drink, and he had to go into work later that same day.

There were definitely some shows going on in the park. I think this one was the ending of the first Rocky.

All the drinking in the park made me hungry. Stopped into a  Yoshinoya. It’s really not too different from America, but for some reason it doesn’t seem gross here.

Michelle wanted to pick up more snacks from one of the stores in Harajuku. Easier said than done.

After doing a little more walking around the city, we realized we were pretty tired. We knew we would miss Japan and its people, but we were ready to go home. For our last meal, we popped into Ippudo, a famous ramen shop that has made its way to NYC too.

Creamy deliciousness.

And for Michelle, spicy, creamy deliciousness.

After returning from Japan, we laid out what we bought on the kitchen table. Pretty much all snacks, many purchased in the airport because we were unable to find a money changer.

Japan is such a wonderful country, and everyone should go visit. I mean everyone. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Nicest people in the world. We could all learn a thing or two from the Japanese. Let’s start with vending machine food ordering and better tonkatsu. We can work on our manners later.

Curry by Train & Lost in Translation

One of the restaurants we had on our list to check out was Niagara Curry. It’s a well known curry spot, and it has a cool surprise. The restaurant is completely train themed from the seats to the decor.

Your curry is even delivered to your table by train!

It’s Thomas the Tank Engine!

Our dinner has arrived by train!

All food tastes better when it’s delivered by train.

Michelle went with the hot curry. She said this was pretty hot, definitely the spiciest thing we had in Japan.

When you get your meal the owners give you a ticket along with it.

Here is the owner. He gave us conductor’s hats to wear. We designated him our Japan Grandpa.

There’s even a guest book that all the patrons can sign.

After dinner we went to the Park Hyatt Hotel to cross of one of our to-do list items. Go to the hotel bar from Lost in Translation.

They add a pretty hefty cover charge to your bill after 8 PM, so as 7:45 rolled around we asked for our check. We were slow to leave though, slow enough to catch a little live music.

Traditional Hanami Party

Remember when I said Japanese people play hard? We met up with Akiko after dinner at about 8 PM. She said she got off work at 6. As 11 PM rolled around, we met up with Marie and headed to a new spot. Midnight came and went, and Michelle and I excused ourselves and headed back to our hotel a little after 1 AM. We said our goodbyes for the moment as we were planning to meet up the next day for a picnic.

Noon the next day we met up and were immediately handed drinks. At first I thought I could get used to this, but when we asked what time Akiko and Marie went home, they said they went home at about 6 AM. I don’t think I can keep up.

We were celebrating the cherry blossoms with shared food and drink. Everyone’s looking at the camera except for me.

Everyone likes taking photos of the cherry blossoms, even the locals.

Guess which snack we brought to the party?

Yay for new friends! They even gave me a beer to go. I love Japan!

Bird Land, Jiro, & Night Life

The most confusing thing about Japan is trying to find the places you are going. In Tokyo (maybe all of Japan), the addresses are numbered in order they were built on the street. On any given street 123 may be nowhere near 124. Stores and restaurants always list directions on their website showing how to get to their location, but unfortunately we can’t read Japanese.

What we would do is get as close as possible to the mark on the Google Map, and then circle the block half a dozen times until we found our destination. If we couldn’t find it, we just found something else to do that looked cool. We almost had to resort to finding an alternate meal when we couldn’t find Bird Land, a well known yakitori restaurant below street level in an office building basement.

Yakitori time! What I noticed is disposable, wooden chopsticks in Japan don’t splinter like the ones we have in the states. Why is that?

Bird Land is well known for a reason. Their mastery of the grill is evident, but it’s not just that. They put together a great meal that was well balanced. If you look through the photos above, you’ll notice there’s a dish every so often that acts as a palette cleanser, a taste bud reset button. It allows you to power through the meal without getting overloaded with too much flavor.

Halfway through the meal we realized the restaurant across the hallway was Sukiyabashi Jiro. This is a 3-star Michelin rated sushi restaurant, which is arguably the best sushi restaurant in the world. A recent documentary has made Jiro even more famous. This is not a restaurant to consider dining at unless you’ve made reservations well in advance and also have lots of money to spend on a single meal.

Here Michelle stalks a sushi legend.

That bald head is Jiro, the Wizard of Sushi! After this picture one of the employees came out and told us we couldn’t take pictures, or maybe he was telling us to come in and have free sushi. We couldn’t tell the difference so we played it safe and left.

After eating and sushi chef stalking, we met up with one of Harrison and Annie’s friends to see what night life was like. Japanese people work hard, and they play even harder. This is one of the stops of the night, a bar that make it look like St. Patrick’s Day all the time.

 

 

Asakusa & Ueno

We were already a week into our trip, and weren’t in a rush to try and see anything in particular. Plus our feet were refusing to work. We decided to just check out a couple neighborhoods to see what was going on there, but first we had to get lunch.

Bomb dot com.

The shit dot net.

Asakusa is known for the Senso-Ji, an old Buddhist temple. What’s going on around the temple is anything but a religious experience. Vendors sell snacks and souvenirs on the blocks surrounding the temple. It’s like a flea market.

This woman was making a killing in front of the temple, grilling up meats and seafood.

We opted for the octopus.

Afterward we headed to Ueno. Next to the railway there is a maze of streets for shopping. Clothes, shoes, luggage…just about anything you could want is available for sale.

Ueno Park had its cherry blossoms coming into bloom like the rest of Tokyo.

“The cherry blossoms are but a fraction of your beauty.” BONUS POINTS!

Making new friends in Meguro

After hanging out in Akihabara and being disturbed by the maid cafe, we headed to Meguro. It is unlike any neighborhood we had seen thus far. It was mostly residential, very quiet. All the shops in the area were for housewares and furniture.

There are a lot of stores that sell dishes.

Furniture stores are also pretty popular here. They have somem really great stuff, and if I wasn’t in Japan, I might have bought something. Instead we used the store as a spot to rest our aching feet.

Our feet were killing us, but I told Michelle, “Just a little farther. We should walk along the river and see if there are any cherry blossoms.” There were!

 

As the sun was beginning to lower and I was still snapping photos, Michelle called for me to come over, where she was standing with some people. They were having an all-you-can-drink hanami party. Unlike the traditional picnic, they rented out what looked like a small art gallery. The great thing is because we were visitors, they let us join then for free!

You can’t even tell Michelle is from America!

I need to work on fitting in better, chucking up deuces Japan style!

We were like rock stars at this party. While I want so badly to be more like them, they want to learn English and be more American. The one thing everyone understands is, “Do you have Facebook?” We made a lot of Facebook friends that night. After we spent a fun time making new friends and drinking, the sun was long gone. Definitely a fun way to spend the day.

 

 

Akihabara: Electronics, Toys, and Porn

Akihabara is also known as Electric Town. You can buy anything electronic, or electronics related here. There are electronics stores everywhere, but these are not like at home. Imagine Best Buy, stacked on top of Fry’s Electronics, on top of a Game Stop, which is sitting on top of a Verizon store, and then add a camera store on top of that. This would be one of the smaller stores in Akihabara.

Here is one of the multi-level electronics stores in Akihabara.

There are even stores that specialize in old video games. Remember Star Fox?

Don’t forget F-1 Race.

Akihabara also has lots of toy stores in the neighborhood, carrying a lot of action figures and models.

If electronics and action figures weren’t enough to make you think this was a guy’s neighborhood, there is a lot of porn. Just like in the electronics stores, each floor is a separate category of products. Books and comics on floor one. DVDs on two. Video games on three. Yes, they have a floor full of pornographic video games.

Mr. Doughnut!

The first time I had these was in Taiwan.  Delicious.

Do you know what is super weird? Maid cafes. I don’t understand how there is a niche for this type of place. It’s a bunch of girls dressed in maid outfits, addressing customers as master, and charging a lot of money for food and drinks.  It just seems creepy more than anything.

They do make Hello Kitty faces in your drink though. That’s a plus, right?

Tonkatsu!

This is a best tonkatsu I’ve ever had, hands down. The meat is tender, and the breading isn’t heavy. It’s light aand flaky.

If it’s even possible, the shrimp was even better. The attention to detail in the presentation is perfect with the tails fanned out on every shrimp. Well played, Japan.

Food in Kyoto

This is a bowl of ramen, loaded with green onions. Before it was ready to eat, it looked like this…

Fire!

Here’s a quick video of Michelle and I losing our eyebrows. The first half of the video is the owner holding up a bunch of cards in English to tell us not to run away screaming.

These might look familiar to some of you. We went to Din Tai Fung in Kyoto. That makes three locations we’ve been to now. Kyoto, Shanghai, and Taiwan. We’ve never been  back home in Los Angeles. Now it’s almost like we can’t go because it’s too pedestrian for us.

Standard dumplings but topped with shrimp.

Pork chop rice!

Kyoto is definitely worth a visit, though it’s not a fast-paced, modern city like Tokyo. While it’s not backwoods town, it seems to move at a slower pace, sticking to its cultural roots. We were glad to get a chance to see Kyoto, but we were also very glad to be heading back to Tokyo.

Some well deserved drinks for the train ride back.

We did a lot of walking. This is relaxation time.